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Ajami

 Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson 
Rating (out of 5): ***

Scandar Copti, a Palestinian, and Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew, teamed up to direct the crime drama Ajami. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film, which seems more a result of that behind-the-scenes achievement than anything that occurs onscreen. Indeed, comparing it to some of Amos Gitai's better films (Yom Yom, Kadosh, etc.) it feels rather graceless, and compared to something like City of God,Ajami feels practically inert.

And yet the film is still effective in its own, small way. It follows several characters in five overlapping chapters, all set in one multi-ethnic section of Jaffa, near Tel Aviv. It begins as a man working on a car is gunned down in the street. It turns out that the real target was the neighbor who sold him the car, Omar (Shahir Kabaha), an Arab Israeli. Worse, Omar is in love with Hadir (Ranin Karim), who is the right race, but the wrong religion; they can't be together. There's another revenge shooting, a botched drug sale, a cop searching for his missing brother, and another illicit romance, between a Jew and a Palestinian.

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New and Coming Releases: August 17, 2010.

   

The dog days of August don't mean we get all dogs on DVDs; some very intriguing titles out this week, full of sleepers, including one from Criterion. More inside

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Four Seasons Lodge

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): **½

"I was the only one of 300 people left alive," explains a Holocaust survivor who now spends some of each summer along with others of his kind in an isolated rural resort in New York's Catskill Mountains. Because this seasonal holiday has been going on for 25 years, time and attrition has culled the group's membership considerably -- and will even more before Four Seasons Lodge has drawn to a close.

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New and Coming Releases: August 10, 2010.

 

For what looks on the surface like a minor releasing week, there sure is a number of gems on DVD today, including two Zwigoff treats from Criterion, two indie sleepers, Gondry, escapist comedies and one from Bollywood. Check it.

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The Secret of the Grain (Criterion)

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****½

Abdel Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain turned up in America late in 2008 and, thought it was sparsely released, made a few critics' top ten lists. But in France, it was a major critical success and placed on Cahiers du Cinema's list of the ten best films of the decade. (On Film Comment's list of the best of the decade, it came it at #125.) This could be due to a cultural level that French people could see in the film that Americans could not appreciate; it takes place in the world of Arabs living in France and speaking mostly French. The French original title is the much better La graine et le mulet (The Grain and the Mullet) - as in couscous and fish, and besides relating to the immigrant experience, Americans can definitely appreciate -- at the very least -- that it's one of the best food movies of the decade.

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A PROPHET DVD Giveaway!

prophet Academy Award nominated A Prophet (2009, Best Foreign Language Film) details the gritty prison career of a nineteen-year-old Malik (Tahar Rahim, 2009 European Film Award Winner for Best Actor). Arriving at the jail, he is cornered by the leader of the ruling Corsican gang (Niels Arestrup, 2009 César Award, Winner for Best Supporting Actor) and forced to carry out a number of dangerous missions including drug trafficking and brutal hits. Over time Malik is able to earn the gang leader’s confidence and rise up the prison ranks, all the while secretly devising his own plans. The new DVD includes commentary with director Jacques Audiard, Rahim and co-screenwriter Thomas Bidegain. And now you have a chance to win that DVD thanks to a giveaway sponsored by GreenCine and Sony Pictures Classics.

 

To enter, email contest@greencine.com and include your name, email address, mailing address, and, if you're a GreenCine member, your username in the email, and "A Prophet" in the subject header. Entries without all this information will not be considered. (You will not be added to a mailing list!). One winner will be selected at random from all valid entries. You must be a US resident to enter. The deadline to enter is August 23. Winner will be notified by e-mail and announced in future editions of the GreenCine Dispatch newsletter.

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Early Kurosawa

Originally appeared on GreenCine Daily for release of the AK100 set. They are now being issued as part of Criterion's The First Films of Akira Kurosawa set.

1. The Most Beautiful

By Andrew Grant


The Most Beautiful

Likely the rarest and least-seen title in the AK 100 box set, The Most Beautiful (1944) is Kurosawa's second directorial effort, made one year after his successful debut, the Judo-themed Sanshiro Sugata. A bit of a sophomore slump, this overt bit of war propaganda is hard to praise from both an aesthetic and narrative perspective, but it's not without its merits.

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The Art of the Steal

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Though The Art Of the Steal gives lip-service to the city of Philadelphia and to the art mavens and corporate culture that -- according to the film -- have stolen the entire Barnes Collection away from its rightful owners and placed it in the hands of sleazebag "connoisseurs," its heart and mind are firmly with the original Barnes Foundation and Albert C. Barnes who began it. This is the man, after all, who managed to amass a collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern art that is now valued at more than 25 billion dollars.

Director & cinematographer Don Argott went to school in Philadelphia and so would seem to know the byways (and alleyways) of big business, fund raisers and local cultural figures and politicians. He puts all of this to good use in his documentary, one of the most anger-producing films I’ve has seen in some time. All right: it's not dolphin slaughter we're viewing, or that Texas-based cancer-curing Dr. Burzynski, who the medical establishment wants to put out of business. But if you care anything about art, law, the concept of ownership and the right to bequeath one's estate, then The Art of the Steal should make you sit up, take notice and wrestle with ideas regarding justice, right and wrong that are front and center in this estimable documentary.

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New and Coming Releases: July 27, 2010

A quiet week but several gems are out on DVD this week including two from Criterion, a sleeper from Italy and krakens are released.

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Vincere

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

I first saw Vincere when it had its American premiere during last year's New York Film Festival, but the film -- directed and co-written (with Daniella Ceselli) by Marco Bellocchio -- is so smart, dark and telling that it easily rewards a second viewing. Marco Bellocchio's skills as a filmmaker have only grown as he has aged.

Bellocchio tells his version of Benito Mussolini (aka Il Duce) as combination black comedy, opera, history, horror, politics, and masochistic love story of the woman who fixated on Mr. M, married him and fathered his child. In that role you'll discover a very different side of popular Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Ferzan Ozpetek's Facing Windows), who at times seems very nearly feral in this film, while getting yet another taste of the fellow who may well be the most talented, versatile and charismatic young actor in Italy, Filippo Timi (who starred in a different Ozpetek film, Saturn in Opposition.

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