Tag: documentary

Movie Review: Vals Im Bashir (Waltz With Bashir) (2008)


Using Flash animation to surrealistically describe the horrors of the 1982 Lebanon War, Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir has been assigned the niche category of animated documentary. This is a topic I know very little about, so my opinion on the movie is very ill-informed. I saw it mainly for the animation, as I was extremely interested to see how Flash would translate into a feature-length dramatic film. My feelings are… mixed.

Upon the realization that he doesn’t remember most of his time as a soldier during the war, with exception of a recurring vision of the Sabra and Satila massacre in Beirut, Folman embarks on a series of interviews with former comrades in an attempt to fill in the blanks. The film therefore unfolds as a collection of short stories: remembrances conversationally narrated by former Israeli soldiers. One man was stranded in enemy territory after his tank was attacked. Escaping to the shore, he swam for hours until he spotted the other tanks from his unit making their way down the beach. Another recalls a fearless, unarmed reporter walking calmly down the street amidst copious gunfire as his terrified cameraman crawled in front of him. The stories all lead up to the massacre, ending with gruesome live-action footage from the event. It is a pretty unsettling experience.

Like I said, I don’t know anything about this conflict. My more-informed friends have told me this film is a great stride for Israel because it doesn’t really choose sides or glorify war as a necessary action. This I commend. Unfortunately I think that a lot of it assumed a knowledge of both this specific conflict as well as the soldiering life in general. I understand that it was all based on real events and memories, and the interview style resulted in conversational, non-expository storytelling, but I felt a little lost at parts or unable to fully grasp what was going on or who certain people were. This has happened to me often with war stories- I could not get a handle on A Farewell to Arms because the narrator kept changing locations and nothing was ever explained (ugh I hated that book). I would assume that anyone who could relate to it or just has more interest in war would have been much more engrossed by the plot (as opposed to someone like me, who has avoided most war-related movies or books). It was still a very affecting film- intense and real.


I was there for the animation, anyway. The backgrounds were excellent, composed of fiery skies and detailed buildings, with good textures. The direction was good, especially the opening scene in which rabid dogs careen through the streets and the fantasy involving a young man sailing atop a large blue woman. The character design and movement, though, were less than exceptional. There was often not enough detail to tell people apart (which is important when the only characters in your movie are dark-haired white guys). I think a lot of it has to do with Flash as an animating platform, not the artists themselves. It gives everything this weird flat sheen and the colors don’t seem to fit. The lines are too thick. When shown close up, no one’s movements look natural enough, though for this film they seemed to be attempting a rotoscope effect with the interviews. It’s a lot of little things, and to me it was very noticeable and did detract a bit from my overall appreciation.

I’m sure the animation defects wouldn’t bother most people, and I definitely applaud Folman for experimenting with the art form when most animated movies are CG and for kids. I hope the animated documentary becomes a viable form of the genre (I still have to see Chicago 10, but that’s the only other one I know of). Waltz with Bashir remains a very powerful documentary about a terrifying and ever-present conflict as well as the mental after-effects of battle. I haven’t seen the other Best Foreign Film nominees and since obviously Let The Right One In isn’t getting the respect it deserves, I hope this wins for its show of uniqueness.

Movie Review: American Teen (2008)

I missed American Teen over the summer but had heard such good things about it, I was pretty excited to catch it on DVD. Unfortunately I found it sort of trite and uninteresting. For a year, documentarian Nanette Burstein followed four high school seniors and their friends in Warsaw, Indiana, each a member of a different 80’s teen comedy stereotype. It combines phone conversations, basketball games, parties, interviews and more in an attempt to capture the exalted, un-capturable times of “average” white people in high school.

There’s Megan, the bitchy homecoming queen. She’s head of the dance committees and incredibly self-absorbed. Her morals seem fairly skewed, and the audience can feel free to hate her for most of the film. Then you find out her family had experienced an awful trauma and wonder if you should have judged so harshly. (Personally I think that’s no excuse for being as heartless as she comes off in the film, though I understand editing could have made her seem worse.) Also she has problems because oh no her entire family attended Notre Dame and so she has to go to Notre Dame because god forbid she disappoint her parents and think for herself! Plus, this means she has to get good grades and like, study.

There’s Colin, the school’s biggest basketball star. His dad has totally pressured him into being a one-minded athlete so that he can get into school on a basketball scholarship. He doesn’t really do much besides practice, go to games, and worry about scouts. I don’t remember much else about his story really, except that everyone thought he was nice. And he ruined some games because he was nervous.

There’s Jake, the band geek who spends most of his time playing video games and wishing he had a girlfriend. He manages to woo a pretty freshman bandmate, who doesn’t yet realize he is a “loser”, but they don’t have much in common, and he is sort of off-putting, and she is sort of a jerk, so it doesn’t work out. He dreams of being a studly hero like Link, and hopes to find more acceptance in college. Watch his adventures of finding a prom date! (Why he wanted to go to prom, considering his general lack of friends and apparent distaste for large social interactions, I cannot comprehend.) Also there’s a very teen-movie-moment when his older brother gets him way drunk at a crazy bar.

There’s Heather, the unstable artist who wishes for nothing more than to go to California and make movies. She lives with her grandma (her mother suffers from mental problems and her dad lives somewhere else- I forget what was up with him, sorry). She has a variety of interests and passions: playing in a band and taking photographs and painting and doing wacky things. She lives in fear of inheriting bipolar disorder. She has a lot of setbacks (mainly, she is mistreated by two jerky boyfriends) but manages to push forward through all of the bullshit, graduate, and move on to bigger and better things (presumably). It seems she’s really the film’s heroine, being the most interesting and idiosyncratic.

Throughout American Teen are interspersed several animated montages, which I think were meant to serve as innovative and more interesting storytelling devices. I found them out of place and overly-dramatic. The editing itself didn’t always fit well together, either. I was often very confused about how much time had passed or even what season they were in. Having fairly recently been through senior year myself, I found it frustrating that I couldn’t always relate my own experiences to theirs since it was chopped up so weirdly. Also one guy suddenly tried to become a main character halfway through the film (he’s the “hunky” one), and that irked me. He was uninteresting and an asshole, and I didn’t understand why I was suddenly supposed to care as much about him as the other main four.

Well overall this movie was just sort of… boring? I didn’t really care about any of the kids except for Heather, but she’s only 1/4 of the narrative. I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do: Break down high school stereotypes! Show the world that no one truly fits into their pre-assigned boxes! Rah! And that’s admirable, but I didn’t feel it was necessary. That whole thing’s been done numerous times. Admittedly, since I went to an all-girl’s private school, I didn’t really observe many of these “cliques” that allegedly show up in public high schools, so maybe this sort of message still is very apt? I can’t say. It’s an admirable goal to promote individuality and warn against being judgmental, sure, but I just didn’t find this film to be particularly special. I hope Megan, Colin, Jake, and Heather are doing well these days but that’s about as far as my interest extends.