Friday Film Focus – Leftoverture 2008 (Part 1)

It happens every year. Even with the experience of 200+ theatrical releases (and resulting reviews), we can’t get to everything in a wholly timely fashion. Sometimes, it’s an issue of region. Not every critic lives in a metropolitan hotbed like NYC or LA. In other circumstances, it’s a question of priority. Some titles are just more important than others. Over the next two weeks, we here at SE&L hope to remedy some of our 2008 slights. First up, an incredible animated documentary, the last of the Holocaust themed films from the year, and yet another masterpiece from Mike Leigh. So let’s indulge in a little ‘Leftoverture’, shall we? It’s got to be better that what’s playing at the local Cineplex:

Happy-Go-Lucky [rating: 9]

Like anyone given over to giggling more than griping, Poppy – and as an indirect result, Happy-Go-Lucky – slowly becomes addictive.

Poppy is what you would call “self-contained”. She exists within her own unique little universe, content to be a free thinking, free spirited 30 year old independent. She doesn’t balk at the thought of home and family, but finds the liberated looseness of her current life far more fulfilling. She adores her flatmate Zoe, defends her sister Suzy, dotes on the students in her elementary school class, and engulfs life with a kind of zeal matched only by her desire to do the same for others. Unfortunately, Poppy lives in post-millennial London, a city of dark secrets and even darker people. Still, as the star of Mike Leigh’s magnificent Happy-Go-Lucky, she’s always going to try and connect. It’s the reaction from those she’s reaching out to that’s far more telling. read full review…

Waltz with Bashir [rating: 8]

Waltz with Bashir (is) the best of all possible documentaries – wildly entertaining, keenly informative, and wholly unforgettable.

It’s an exercise in memory, an attempt to recall the unfathomable and unimaginable. It’s animation taking the place of atrocity, the literal spoils of war witnessed in stylized, striking visuals. It’s the story of men who would rather forget, of a time two decades before when the Middle East was measured by chest-pumping challenges and baffling back and forth advances. It’s a documentary and a denouncement, an explanation and an exaggeration – and in the end, it’s one of 2008’s best films, a wildly inventive and shockingly effective cartoon trance that takes us deep into the heart of human darkness and then delves even deeper. read full review…

Defiance [rating: 6]

Defiance is without a doubt the best of the Holocaust themed films from 2008. Unfortunately, that may be faint praise indeed.

The Holocaust remains, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate expression of evil in our lifetime. Outside the obvious elements of genocide and the organized political support for same, the inherent concept that human beings could actually do something like this to each other resonates as the most shocking sentiment of all. So naturally, any story about the struggle against such unfathomable wickedness immediately gets out attention. We don’t really care about the details or the factual fallacies. We just want vengeance, and it better be more than a mere ‘eye for an eye’. When he stumbled upon the story of the Bielski Brothers, Jewish rebels that saved thousand of their fellow persecuted peoples in 1940s Belarus, filmmaker Edward Zwick must have realized he had the makings of one of the most important World War II films ever. Unfortunately, Defiance misses its major opportunities, focusing instead on ancillary issues unimportant to the final cause. read full review…