Ararat: A Movie Review

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, the movie Ararat tells the story of a young man whose life was changed while making a film about the Armenian genocide in Turkey during 1915. Over one million Armenians were brutally slaughtered by the Turks on the pretense that they were a threat to national security. The film recounts these events as a the young man Raffi (David Alpay) is being interrogated by a customs officer (Christopher Plummer) on his return from Turkey were he has just visited his ancestral homeland.

I really want to like this film (I have now seen it three times), but I can only give it a fair rating (6 out of 10). I can’t place my finger on exactly what I think is wrong with the movie. Overall the acting is good (the film also stars Eric Bogosian, Bruce Greenwood, Arsinee Khanjian and Elias Koteas). Alpay and Plummer stand out in their roles, and I particularly liked Plummer’s more understated acting in this film as opposed to some of his other recent work. I guess I have to agree with a view more professional reviewers quoted below.

One reviewer (Harvey S. Karten, Compuserve) has stated that Ararat is “A difficult but worthy film that bites off more than it can chew by linking the massacre of Armenians in 1915 with some difficult relationships in the present.” Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post wrote, “The Armenian genocide deserves a more engaged and honest treatment,” and Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter added, “Canada’s Atom Egoyan gets in touch with his Armenian roots in the highly ambitious “Ararat,” an intricately scripted, beautifully photographed meditation on redemption and reconciliation. But while obviously an extremely personal work, it remains inextricably stuck in an emotionally unavailable rut.”

There is one great scene in the film however that deserves further mention. In it Raffi confronts Ali (Elias Koteas), a half-Turkish actor who has just completed playing his role as Jevdet Bey, a rather heinous character in the Turkish army (the following quote is courtesy of the Internet Movie Database:

Raffi: Were you serious about what you told him?
Ali: What?
Raffi: That you don’t think it happened?
Ali: What, the genocide?
Raffi: Yeah.
Ali: Are you gonna shoot me or something? Look, I never heard about any of this stuff when I was growing up. You know? I did some research for the part. From what I read there were deportations and lots of people died. Armenians and Turks. It was World War 1.
Raffi: But Turkey wasn’t at war with the Armenians. I mean, just like Germany wasn’t at war with the Jews. They were citizens. They were expecting to be protected. That scene you just shot was based on an eyewitness account. Your character Jevdet Bey, the only reason they put him in Van was to carry out the complete extermination of the Armenian population in Van. There were telegrams, there were communicators…
Ali: Look I’m not saying that something didn’t happen.
Raffi: Something…
Ali: Look, I was born here. So were you right?
Raffi: Yeah.
Ali: This is a new country. So let’s just drop the f**king history and get on with it. No one’s gonna wreck your home. No one’s gonna destroy you family. Hmm? So let’s go inside and uncork this thing and celebrate. Hmm?
Raffi: Do you know what Adolf Hitler told his military commanders to convince them that his plan would work? “Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?”
Ali: And nobody did. Nobody does.

It is a shame that more people are not aware of this sad chapter in human history. In fact, the Turkish government still denies after more than 90 years that the genocide ever took place. Perhaps the best reason to view this film is to acquaint one’s self with these events.

The film is rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity and language and is probably inappropriate for children under 15 given the graphic violence that is both shown and implied.

My Favorite Movies of 2009

Below you will find a list of my favorite 16 films of 2009.  Why 16?  Why not.  Let me know what you think.

16. ‘Watchmen
An intriguing adaption of Alan Moore’s graphic novel that raises some great questions for watchers to consider.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

15. ’Bright Star’
A lovely love story that is quietly and exquisitely told and beautifully filmed.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

14. ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’
We see a grown-up Harry Potter and a movie in which violence and love abound.  This is the best adaption of the Potter books since Cuaron’s third installment in the series.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

13. ‘Coraline’
A beautiful stop-motion animated film from the strange and imaginative mind of Neil Gaimen.  The movie lives up to his book.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

12. ‘The Princess and the Frog’
A traditionally animated film that features Disney’s first African-American princess.  A charming, fun movie for all ages.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

11. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’
Spike Jonze  does a great job of adapting Maurice Sendak’s original, and very short, work.  The music alone is worth the price of admission. Let the wild rumpus begin.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

10. ‘Up’
A touching and delightful film.  The opening section is worthy of a full movie all by itself.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

9. ‘The Blind Side’
An inspirational film of love and acceptance and hope.  It succeeds in conveying its message without being preachy.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

8. ‘Zombieland’
A bloody (what do you expect from a zoombie movie) but fun movie.  Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg are great in their roles and Bill Murray’s cameo is priceless.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

7. ‘District 9’
As another has said, “Neill Blomkamp’s first feature gave us something new: a sci-fi movie with brains.”  It is a brilliant allegory against segregation, it is also one of a few movies that deserve a sequel.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

6. ‘Star Trek’
An exciting movie and great reboot of ‘Star Trek’ by J.J. Abrams.  It would be rated even higher if it hadn’t erased all of future history of the all the Star Trek series and movies.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

5. ‘Avatar’
The story is nothing new, but the movie is still amazing.  It needs to be seen on the big screen and in 3-D, if at all possible.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

4. ‘Inglourious Basterds’
It has been called a Jewish revenge film, and maybe it is, but this movie, set in an alternate history of WW 2, is vintage Quentin Tarantino.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

3. ‘The Road’
This faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book by the same name is both horrifying and beautiful.  A father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) try to survive in a post-apocalyptic America, and we are mesmerized watching their story.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

2. ‘Up in the Air’
Jason Reitman, 32-year-old director extraordinaire has now made three fantastic films:  ‘Thank You for Smoking,’ ‘Juno’ and now ‘Up In the Air’.’  A near perfect film featuring great work by George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

1. ‘(500) Days of Summer’
A romantic comedies that is not, I repeat not, a love story.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel give great performances. The most fun I had at the movies this past year.
Watch the Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes Reviews

And here are some movies that haven’t seen yet that very well may cause me to reorder and redo everything listed above.

The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
The White Ribbon
An Education
Gran Torino
Sunshine Cleaning

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The Visitor – A Short Review

Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (the man who brought us the excellent “The Station Agent”),  “The Visitor is another film about how we sometimes form community with people who were previously strangers to us.  Richard Jenkins does a great job as the lead character Walter Vale in the film, playing a professor who has been going through the motions of life since his wife’s death several years previously.  On a trip to an academic conference in NYC, he encounters the illegal immigrants Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Tarek’s girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira), who have been squatting in his little-used apartment there.

Tarek and Zainab help to reinvigorate Vale.  This is especially true of Tarek, who begins to give Vale drumming lessons.  After Tarek’s arrest, Vale becomes even more involved in the lives of these two immigrants and ultimately meets Tarek’s mother, played beautifully by Hiam Abbass.  In fact, all four primary actors perform admirably.

Though one can see the ending coming from a mile away, the journey there is a very good one, and I recommend this film, giving it 8 out of 10 stars.


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