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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Relationships > Melodrama > Israel > WWII > Nazis > Fascism > Germany > Drugs > Malaysia > Oppression > All Eyes Off Me (2021*)/A Bag Of Marbles (2017*)/Chess Story (2021*)/Return To Paradise (1998/ViaVision/Imprint Region Free Import Blu-ray)/200 Meters (2020/*all Film Movement DVDs)/Women Talking (202

All Eyes Off Me (2021*)/A Bag Of Marbles (2017*)/Chess Story (2021*)/Return To Paradise (1998/ViaVision/Imprint Region Free Import Blu-ray)/200 Meters (2020/*all Film Movement DVDs)/Women Talking (2022/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)

Picture: C/C/C/B/C+/B & C+ Sound: C+/C+/C+/B-/C+/B & C Extras: C/C-/C/B-/B-/D Films: C+/B-/C+/C+/B-/C+

PLEASE NOTE: The Return To Paradise Import Blu-ray is now only available from our friends at ViaVision Entertainment in Australia, can play on all 4K and Blu-ray player and can be ordered from the link below.

Now for some new drama releases, mostly imports, one Oscar winner and a curio....

We start with Hadas Ben Aroya's All Eyes Off Me (2021) as a young woman (Elishelva Weil) getting pregnant by her lover Max, but keeps missing telling him while getting involved with an older man, as Max has another girlfriend, Avishag. The latter relationship involves cold, rough sexual fantasies, et al, and the result is all involved here are in pretty toxic relationships and conditions.

At 80 minutes, the film does not get the chance to wallow in this melodrama much, but it also does not get much of a chance to develop anything new with it or any kind of character study. Cheers to the actors for daring to take on the subject matter and a few moments ring both true and sad, but overall, the film does not really work or deliver in ways it thinks it was. For the most interested viewer only.

Extras include the short film
Daddy's Girl by Lena Hudson and trailers.

Christian Duguay's A Bag Of Marbles (2017) is one of those films that is aimed at children and family audiences, yet is about a serious subject. This one has a ten-year-old young Jewish boy with his family in France when the Nazis invade. Living in Paris, he is unaware of exactly what is going on and when playing marbles, trades his yellow star for a marble, which could give them all away or cause other troubles.

With troubles already mounting and the beginning of a long nightmare, the family knows they have to escape or expect the worst. Thew twist is they send him and his brother alone to a so-called 'free zone' hoping it will up their chances of survival. Of course, this may seem unwise in one sense, but the situation was so sickening and awful, maybe not as bad as it might first sound.

I was on the fence with this one, not finding it very memorable in general, but having some good moments and though it could have gone very bad very quickly, it at least managed to take its situation seriously and not hit any major false notes. Based on Joseph Joffo's autobiographical novel, looks like they stuck to it. Worth a look for those interested.

A trailer is the only extra.

Philpp Stolzl's Chess Story (2021) also involved the Nazis, this time as Dr. Joseph Bartok (a fine performance by Oliver Masucci) in 1938 Vienna tries to flee to the United states as the Nazis invade, he used to be a notary for the rich elite there and they want any information he has, then is locked up when he says no. A book on great chess matches comes into his possession and he gets focused on that versus his potentially grim fate.

There are parts of this that worked and I liked the performances and invoking of the period, though some of the CGI visuals were too lacking by any standard, but I did not buy the ending and felt we've seen a little too much of this before. It even reminded me of Gilliam's cut of Brazil (1984) a bit, but it is worth a look for those interested. Just expect uneveness.

Extras include the short film
Der Tunnel by Christoph Daniel & Marc Schmidheiny and trailers.

Joseph Ruben's Return To Paradise (1998) is a very mixed film, starting with a filmmaker who was very successful in teen-sploitation drive-in films from the 1970s into the early 1980s, trying to become more serious and 'legitimate; as it were in a production that was part of a strange, brief-lived studio and was not the hit that was hoped for despite some solid talent present.

Vince Vaughn and David Conrad play friends visiting Malaysa, in possession of illegal drugs, that land up with a fellow-partier, played by Joaquin Phoenix in an impressive performance, but it is he who gets arrested long after the other guys have returned home to The United States. A few years later, a reporter (the late, underrated Anne Heche) discovers the government has arrested and imprisoned the guy left behind and tells the guys at home they need to go back and help free him. She'll even join them.

Of course, this sounds like Alan Parker's Midnight Express (1978, reviewed elsewhere on this site) but is never as gritty, palpable, believable, dark or edgy. That film was written by Oliver Stone and this by the still-solid Wesley Strict and Bruce Robinson. Maybe they were trying to do different things here to avoid the similarities, as that older film takes place in Turkey, plus this was based on a french film a few years older.

The love story between Heche and Vaughn never worked and it looks much worse now, while we get one of the many odd supporting turns at the time by the now-infamous Jada Pinkett-Smith which seemed a bit contrived then and seems more disposable than ever now. That is not totally on her, but...

Of course, we get some great visual shots throughout no matter where it was lensed, but now more than ever, it is a curio and especially also being a pre-9/11 release, odder still. If you can handle all that and are really interested, that would be the only reason to see it.

The last point, this was one fo the few major releases of the short-lived Polygram Studios, the then-independent mini-major arm of then-independent Polygram Records, encouraged by all the hits and success they had with Universal Pictures with their Gramercy Pictures shingle. However, the guys running it got rude, smart and ignorant with Robert Altman over his underrated mystery movie The Gingerbread Man that he made for that studio form a John Grisham story that had never been published.

They did not like his cut, which was just fine, or the way test audiences reacted. They took the film out of his hands, kept recutting it and retesting it, getting worse results each time. They gave up and let him have his cut, but were so spiteful, they just dumped the film. The Hollywood talent of the time were not happy, retaliated by not working with them and the company never really got off the ground and even had some bombs.

The final nail in the coffin was when MCA/Universal bought Polygram and megred the two companies. The guys running the mini-studio said they were going to keep making films no matter what. Soon after, they were let go and the studio folded. That is why Universal owns their small catalog now.

Set along the border of where Palestine and Israel meet, 200 Meters (2020) is a drama that tells the story of a Palestinian construction worker with a family in Israel, a mere 200 meters across the border (a literal wall) from where he lives on the West Bank in Palestine. Mustafa (portrayed by Ali Suliman), establishes a routine with his wife, Salwa, and children that allows for him to work in Palestine, spend the evenings afterwards with them, and then say goodnight across the border in the most unconventional of ways.

The arrangement seems to work, until Mustafa cannot get back across the border due to an expired work visa; his documents are seized and he must stay the weekend in Palestine. While frustrating and certainly inconvenient, it's not really an issue until he receives word that his son has been injured and, upon realizing he cannot cross the border at the checkpoint as he normally would, sets off to find alternate ways of transport across the border to be reunited with his family.

The majority of the rest of film is actually set in a series of vehicles, as Mustafa has hired a smuggler to transport him - along with several others - across the border. Tensions rise among the various caravanners: Anne (portrayed by Anna Unterberger), Kifah (portrayed by Motaz Malhees), Mustafa himself, and others as they continue their treacherous journey, never knowing what the next moment will bring.

Overall, the film has a thriller-like feel to it at times, with gripping moments heightening both the dramatic and the more mundane moments enough to keep the viewer engaged and invested in the characters' successes... ultimately, viewers want Mustafa to make it across the border. A modern-day odyssey of sorts, the plot line of 200 Meters is perhaps strongest when looked at as a contemplation piece, because it causes the viewer to reflect. It's not overly dramatic or thrilling, but it is a real-life artistic expression of life under occupation, and viewers wonder... what would it be like for me?

The film is in Arabic, mostly, with sections of Hebrew and English, and includes English subtitles. A Film Movement film, it runs for a total of 96 minutes.

Extras include trailers, a Feature-Length Audio Commentary track with director Ameen Nayfeh and the bonus short film The Crossing, also directed by Ameen Nayfeh (Palestine | Arabic with English subtitles | 10 minutes:) Three siblings anxious to visit their ailing grandfather on the other side of the Palestine-Israel border encounter difficulties at the checkpoint.

Finally, Sarah Polley's Women Talking (2022) surprised as few people by winning the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award and I can buy that, especially because that is the highliught of a film that is a bit off and, at least in this format, was not happy with the visuals of at all. She also has a great cast with the likes of Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Ben Wishlaw, Frances McDormand and Jesse Buckley, so they work and are good here.

Why the aspect ratio framing has to be as wide as Khartoum or Ben-Hur, the Heston versions, is a strange choice that backfires a bit and makes the events distracting as the ultra-wide frame is on the wasted side. The result is a good film, but not a great one, though I need to see a solid 4K version before I make my final judgment on it, but the idea that these women could even talk under suppressed conditions and that it was happening in recent years is making a statement.

Now for playback performance. Despite being the oldest entry here, the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Paradise looks the best, is the only one shot on photochemical film (35mm) and the HD master is in decent shape from decent 35mm materials. The 1080p 2.76 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Talking is a new HD shoot that looks a little odd here and 'almost' black & white, but not exactly. Since this is not a 4K release, it might look much better that way the remake of Dune did in 4K versus the almost washed-out Blu-ray, which could not handle its advanced darkness.

Both films also offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, but Paradise adds a PCM 2.0 Stereo mix that is a little better, convincing and naturalistic. The anamorphically enhanced Talking DVD is all the more weak and its lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix does not allow us to hear the 'talking' as well.

The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 images (save 1.85 X 1 on Eyes) are a little on the soft side, possibly because it was shot on older HD cameras whose quality did not age well or were/was not good to begin with. Meters seems a little better, but not by much. As for the sound on Eyes (Hebrew,) Marbles and Chess (German,) we get both lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Marbles offers a multi-lingual track including English, German, Yiddish and Russian. The mixes are about even and play just fine, but maybe a lossless version would sound better in all cases and Meters is just lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and as good as any of the other DVDs.

To order the Return To Paradise import Blu-ray, go to this link for it and many more exclusive releases, starting at:


- Nicholas Sheffo and Christen Stroh (Meters)


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