A Soul Kitchen Still Here (Weekly Links)

soul kitchen

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week:

Soul Kitchen. “Joyous.”

Lebanon. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

It will be interesting to see what people take away from “Lebanon,” a new film from Israel. Will they remember its disenchanted picture of service during the 1982 Lebanon war, or will they remember the incredible technical achievement of making a movie that takes place almost entirely within a tank?

Director Samuel Maoz was himself a young Israeli soldier in 1982, and he drew on his own experiences for this story of a tank crew during a day in battle. It’s supposed to be routine duty.

Four men are inside the tank as it rolls into a bombed-out town. The interior is dark, damp, and hot. Some liquid is sloshing around on the floor. Oil occasionally seeps down a wall. The gun operator is Shmulik (Yoav Donat), who looks through the viewfinder and sees a narrow circle of the world outside. Within minutes, he learns the harrowing lesson of what firing his weapon really means—and what failing to fire it might also mean.

Breaking up the tense atmosphere within the tank are the periodic visits by a superior officer (Zohar Strauss), who offers ambiguous explanations and rosy assurances that everything will be just fine. And then suddenly he’s not around anymore.

At first the film’s concept seems as gimmicky as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat,” a movie set entirely in a lifeboat after a ship sinks. But no: by being trapped in the tank, we experience the same sort of confusion and ignorance the soldiers do. There’s a moment when a Phalangist—a Lebanese Christian apparently allied with the Israelis—comes into the tank. He’s played by Ashraf Barhom, a rising star who appeared in “The Kingdom” and “Agora.”

He tells the soldiers, who have uneasily taken a POW into their midst, that they must all evacuate the tank, or they’ll be blown up. But should they? Who is this guy, anyway? What if it’s a trap? Why can’t they get their own officers on the radio?

This sequence expresses combat confusion as well as any I’ve seen in a movie. And much of it is because, like the soldiers, we don’t have any idea what’s out there, beyond the edges of the viewfinder.

Moaz gets as much out of the sound of war—the grinding of the tank’s treads, the eerie clicking of the viewfinder—as he does from his limited visual field. I don’t know whether he has any other movies in him, since this one comes so powerfully from his own life experience. But he leaves a mark just with this movie alone.

I’m Still Here. “He portrays a jerky, abusive blowhard with complete authority.”

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop. “Begins in a hysterical pitch and barely quiets down after that.”

And I talk with Steve Scher on KUOW’s “Weekday” about Lebanon and other movies confined by a limited perspective, including Rear Window and Paranormal Activity: listen here. The movie bit kicks in around 23:40 into it.

Movie Diary 9/2/2010

Machete (Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis, 2010). Finally, the trailer from Grindhouse springs to feature-length life. While acknowledging that the trailer probably could not be improved upon, the movie doesn’t disappoint. (full review 9/3)

Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, 2009). A battle zone, seen from the inside of (and indeed raging inside) an Israeli tank during the 1982 Lebanon war. Das Boot looks romantic by comparison. (full review 9/10)

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (Jean-Francois Richet, 2008). The second part of the crime saga, with Vincent Cassel rampaging through a blunt object of a character. Not pretty, but effective. (full review 9/3)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oliver Stone, 2010). Is it possible to feel conflicted about Gordon Gekko? It is if you’re Oliver Stone. (full review 9/24)

Catfish (Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, 2010). A fake documentary (the filmmakers say it’s real) with a reasonably interesting subject. I don’t get this genre. I can’t enjoy the art of such a movie because it’s trying to convince me it’s real, but I can’t enjoy the reality of it because it smells fake. So just please tell me what it is first, so we can all go about our business. (full review 9/24)