February 10th, 2016 — 7:18pm
Embrace of the Serpent
(In native language and in Spanish and Portuguese with English subtitles)
This movie was out of our comfort zone and for the most part out of our understanding zone. The purpose of this 2 hours and five minute film was to provide insight into the thinking of native people living in the Amazon region at the turn of the 20th Century, which probably reflected much of the way things have been for hundreds of years in the past. We also understand that there are still isolated groups of people living in this area today who think, speak, and believe in the metaphoric mysticism, which was conveyed in this film.
We did meet the filmmakers, director, and screenwriter, Ciro Guerra and his wife who was a producer of the film, Cristina Gallego. On the basis of seeing this film and hearing them speak, we appreciate that they are obviously very knowledgeable and thoughtful about film making and about the people and culture they are depicting in this movie. We should add that they shared with us that in order to protect the film crew and actors that they brought into the Amazon, they obtained standard film insurance but also hired a Shaman to provide protection for everyone.
The movie is based on the true story of two European explorers who travelled decades apart down the Amazon River, which is bordered by the territory the size of the United States, which includes parts of several South American countries. In this fictionalized account, each of them was shown to have the same native guide. The details of the story are not as important as it is to appreciate the way of thinking of the natives which are spiritual, mystical, close to nature, and rooted in the characteristics of the jungle. It was also a clear statement about the damage that the white man has done to their culture in the quest to exploit the trees that produce rubber, as well as in the attempt to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.
This film is the Colombian foreign film entry for the Academy Awards and was chosen as one of the five finalists. Despite this acknowledgment from the Academy, we found it overly long and not well constructed. We cannot recommend that you spend your time watching it (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History
February 3rd, 2016 — 2:55am
(Spanish with English Subtitles)
Havana is one of the most interesting and exciting cities in which to set a movie. This is particularly so when the beat and the rhythm of Cuban music is an important part of the film. But this is not a typical musical, drama or love story. The story uses the backdrop of a subculture of gay young men, female impersonators and prostitution to tell a poignant tale of a relationship between a father and a son who reunite after years apart.
This movie is the brainchild of Irish director, Paddy Breathnach who, after a visit to Cuba, visualized how this project might work and teamed up with screenwriter, Mark O’Halloran, to bring it to fruition. This mostly Irish production team then went on to put together a wonderful cast of Cuban actors and filmed this moving story in Cuba. The fact that they received the blessing of the Cuban government shows how things have come a long way in the Pearl of the Antilles
Hector Medina plays Jesus, a young gay Cuban man, who lives in severe poverty. He begins performing at a nightclub of female impersonators. Angel (played by veteran Cuban actor Jorge Perugorria), his long-lost father recently released from jail, has found him and moved in with him in an attempt to control his life. There is a recurrent theme of people trying to find some kind of family relationships. Not only is this perceived in the relationship between Jesus and Angel, but also in the character of Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia) who exudes the strength of his character by his relationship with the female impersonators who worked for him and by his powerful singing (lip-sync of course)
In fact, it is this universal yearning for human connections that has the potential to allow so many people to relate to this film . The director, Mr. Breathnach, discussed with our screening audience how he chose not to translate the words of the songs that were sung (lip-sync) by the main characters, yet it was these powerful music renditions, which clearly touched our emotions and were the strength of this movie which we highly recommend.
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
January 26th, 2016 — 9:03pm
In the Shadow of Women-sp
(French with English subtitles)
You probably will not see this movie unless perhaps you are taking a course about French films. We also don’t think you are missing anything. It is directed by Philippe Garrel who we were told by two experts in this genre has a following among such afficiandos.
The movie is in black and white as is the story. The theme is infidelity. Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau) are seemingly a happily married couple, although Pierre really doesn’t seem happy about anything. They are filmmakers and are making a documentary in which they are interviewing a supposed hero of the French resistance who is reviewing all his heroic acts during World War II. However, it turns out that he is lying and deceiving the filmmakers. He really turned in all his friends to the Nazis. Pierre is also doing a bit of deceiving as he is having an affair with Elisabeth (Lena Paugam). This would seem to be very unfair to his wife, Manon, as she seems to be very dedicated to the marriage. However, despite this initial impression Manon is having a secret liaison with her lover. When circumstances lead both Pierre and Manon to confess to each other, they both become furious and split up. They meet sometime later at the funeral of the subject of their documentary film and quickly end up passionately in each other’s arms.
We obviously have not avoided providing spoilers since we doubt most of our readers will see this movie. As we ponded the meaning or message of the film, we saw very few clues to the background of the characters. We appreciated the echo of deception in the subject of Pierre and Manon’s documentary film and the deception in their lives. Was this a morality story? We think not. One of the native French movie experts discussing this film at our screening stated that in France as compared to America “Infidelity is not a moral issue.” She agreed however that this doesn’t mean that the participants might not have personal emotional responses. We saw a very little of such responses and certainly, as we stated, there was no understanding of the meaning of the infidelity to each of the characters.
The title of the film suggests that there is something more meaningful in infidelity to women than to men. This is an interesting point but certainly was not developed in the movie. We understand that the screenwriters Jean-Claude Carriere, Caroline Deruas and Arlette Langmann have a very fine reputation in France as does the director. Mr. Garrel is a master of black and white and the filming of the streets and the alleys kept a consistent atmosphere and mood of the film. The third party voice-over helped to fill in some of the details of the story. However, one of us felt they should have edited in about a half hour more to the 73 minutes running time in order to develop some insight into the characters. But the other one of us felt the best part of the film was that it was short! (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign
January 21st, 2016 — 1:59am
RAMS (Icelandic with English subtitles)
This was the Icelandic film entry for best picture in the Oscar foreign film category. It did not make the final cut for nomination. It is written and directed by Grimur Hakornason and stars two experienced Icelandic actors Sigurdur Sigurjonsson and Theodor Juliosson who play two brothers. The film is set in the mountains of rural Iceland in a small sheep farming community. This is definitely not a familiar setting for American film goers. What is familiar is that we are presented with a story of a sibling conflict. There are two brothers with adjacent sheep farms who have not spoken to each other in more than 40 years. An outbreak of sheep disease (scrapies) is dramatically discovered which requires the slaughtering of everyone’s sheep in this small community, which would take away their livelihood for at least the next two years. It would also mean the wiping out of the stock of animals that has been in these two brother’s family for many generations.
There are lots of moments of drama and tension in this movie. Certainly, the filmmaker, who we met at our screening, knew this setting quite well. He mastered the depiction of man and sheep in the beautiful countryside and the deadly snowstorms that can occur. He injected a subtle sense of humor into the various serious dilemmas, which the characters are facing.
Of course, the main theme of this story is the antagonism between these two brothers. As mental health professionals, we know that this universal theme can be one of the most painful conflicts of the human condition and often plays out with many heartbreaking, heartwarming and fascinating variations. By taking on this issue, the filmmaker had the opportunity to provide not only new insights into this universal story, but also to enrich it by highlighting the cultural layers from the Icelandic setting.
We are sorry to say, in our opinion this movie did not live up to the potential possibilities we envisioned for it. We know nothing about the brother’s family, childhood or any insight whatsoever into the nature of their conflicts that led to 40 years of not talking to each other despite living within sight of each other’s houses. There are no other family members in this story. The two older main characters are seemingly single with no spouses or children. In fact, there are no significant friends in the movie although we see the townspeople occasionally interacting with them. The film while trying to show us a poignant ending, still gave us no insight into the characters who are doing the emoting. The direction, acting, photography, editing were of high quality. We understand that this movie was well received in Iceland. We can only imagine how well it would have gone if there had been more of a story. (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Foreign
January 13th, 2016 — 6:01am
The Brand New Testament- sp
This is a French/Belgium foreign film directed and co-written by Jaco Van Dormael that was nominated for a Golden Globe Award this year. It is a full-blown irreverent satire on religion that borders on the ridiculous, but will extract some laughs from most people. It has distribution thus far in 50 countries but not yet in the United States, so you will probably have to go to Netflix, if you are inclined to see it.
In this story, God (Benoit Polevoorde) is a middle-aged guy running a computer in a special room in his middle class house where he lives with his wife who seems to be a mousy downtrodden woman. His teenage daughter (Pili Groyne), who is the sister of Jesus, at night sneaks into daddy’s office and sends an email to everyone on the planet, telling them exactly when they will die. This has lots of implications to people individually as well as for world peace. Then, for some reason, the daughter of God decides that she should have a new set of apostles perhaps because she is a little competitive with her brother. Each apostle has a different theme, the satirical implications of which we seem to have missed.
We only recognize one of the actresses in this film and that was Catherine Deneuve. Her character was having sex with a gorilla. There is not more to say about the film. Although we cannot recommend this movie, we realize your curiosity might get the best of you (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Comedy, Foreign
January 4th, 2016 — 2:10am
Two Days, One Night- nf
This French film with subtitles in English has a simple premise. It is done very well and the lead actress, Marion Cotillard who plays Sandra is magnificent. The film held our interest and our emotions for 1 hour and 36 minutes.
Sandra is a Belgian housewife who works in a factory that makes solar panels. There is a divisive labor issue in her workplace.. Apparently, after Sandra was out of work for a brief time (suggestion is that it was for depression), her boss decided that the workgroup could vote whether to have her come back, but if she does come back, they could not afford to give everyone the thousand euro bonus. Due to a question raised about the voting procedure, there will be a redo vote on Monday but everyone knows that if they vote for Sandra to come back to work, they all will lose the projected thousand euro bonus.
With the urging of her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) who works as a waiter in a fast-food restaurant, Sandra tries to visit the 15 or 16 co-workers at their homes over the weekend to ask them to vote to keep her on and forego the bonus. The interchange that she has with her co-workers as she visits most of them gives us an insight into the struggles of these working people, as well as their moral character. They all desperately need the bonus but just about half of them seemed to be willing to vote for Sandra to return to work.
Then at one point when Sandra feels she has lost a key vote and will lose the election, she does something quite drastic. Then when she learns that the key vote is actually going to support her, she confesses to what she has done but now is in good spirits win or lose and is ready to take on the world. Here is where the film and the director/writers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne who are brothers, leaves us or part ways with us. We can’t accept this simplistic view of human nature and the psychological make-up that someone can turn around as quickly as this and be prepared to live happily ever after no matter what happens. As engaging as the buildup may have been, we don’t think the movie delivers. We vote for pass on it . (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign
October 25th, 2015 — 9:16pm
The Farewell Party -nf
It is a fitting coincidence that just a few weeks ago, Governor Brown signed into law, California’s Right to Die law which makes it the 5th state to have such legislation. This law will give terminally ill patients in California the option to end their lives by swallowing a lethal dose of physician prescribed drugs after certain conditions are met.
This very well done Israeli film, with English subtitles, directed and written by the duo of Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit addresses this very issue. It is a sensitive but yet comedic plot which mostly takes place in a luxurious assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Yehezkel (Ze’ev Revach) and his wife, Levana (Levana Finkelstein) have good friends, Yana (Aliza Rosen) and Max (Samuel Wolfe). Max is painfully dying and wants to end his life. The doctors want to continue treating him despite his suffering and the inability to relieve his pain. His wife, wants something to be done to end his suffering and asks their friends to help. They meet another resident of the assisted living facility, Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar) who has experience ending lives with fatal doses of drugs. He is a veterinarian who has obviously put down many animals. and he agrees to help them. Yehezkel is an inventor of sorts and designs a machine in which the patient can push a button and have the deadly drugs injected for a painless death which they do for Max. Word spreads around the assisted living facility and this team does the deed another time. Levana does not favor what her husband and the others are doing. However, she begins to reconsider when she realizes that she has a progressive dementia.
So this well-written sensitive story with some wonderful comic touches puts this important subject under the microscope. The acting by these veteran actors is magnificent. The cinematography is very well done. The film received 14 nominations for the Israeli Oscar and won for best director with Revach winning for best actor. It is not easy to walk the line between drama and comedy on a subject such as death and assisted suicide but this film negotiates it quite well.
It is interesting to note that Israel has had an assisted suicide law for about 10 years. But in these situations, the “devil is in the details” and the values of these laws has to be closely examined to determine how well they serve the terminally ill and their families. It is a movie such as this one that can stimulate meaningful discussions, which can address the concerns that are involved in these situations. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
October 8th, 2015 — 9:58pm
Aram, Aram – sp
This is an independent film that deals with the universal problem of a new generation of immigrants having its young people gravitate towards gangs to protect and assert themselves. Director/writer/cinematographer, Christopher Chambers became interested in the Armenian culture in Los Angeles, a subject that he knew very little about when he began this project. This particular group came to the United States from the old Soviet Union and were hardworking, usually poor people. Chambers wanted the story to be very authentic so he decided to cast only Armenians as his lead actors and to have most of the film in their native language (with subtitles), which he did not speak. He was quite clear, however, about the story that he wanted to tell. John Roohinian was chosen in an open audition to play Aram, a 12-year-old boy who came to live in the United States in Los Angeles with his grandfather. Sevak Hakoyan, a young man who was studying acting was chosen to play Hakop, the Armanian gang leader. The casting of Arsen, the young boy’s grandfather who wanted to keep his grandson on the straight and narrow path, involved tracking down Levon Sharafyan, an experienced Armenian actor, who is well known in Armenian films and Armenian television. Much to his surprise, film maker, Christopher Chambers found him living in the Los Angeles area and the rest is history as he magnificently played the all important grandfather with sensitivity and, of course, with authenticity.
This is an artistic film with wonderful camera work and editing by Mr. Chambers. Although most of the dialogue, which is translated into subtitles is conveyed by excellent acting and direction, the final portion of the film, which was also filled with action, tension, emotion and sentimentality is essentially without dialogue. The essence of the story is simple but worth telling. This movie deserves to be seen, not only by the usual movie goers but also by students in our city schools where the film will resonate with many of the new generation of young people from immigrant families and should, strike a meaningful chord with them. (2015).
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign
September 30th, 2015 — 10:41pm
Legend – sp
Most Americans have probably never heard of the Kray Brothers, Reggie and Ron. They were legendary gangsters active in the 1940s who were well known in England as were gangsters, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bonnie and Clyde in the U.S. and immortalized by books and movies. After studying the Kray twin brothers and their criminal exploits, American writer/director, Brian Helgeland decided to undertake this film project. He brought to the table considerable experience among which included L.A. Confidential for which he won the Oscar for the best-adapted screen play and 42, The Story of Jackie Robinson on which he was also the writer/director.
Helgeland connected with British actor Tom Hardy and they decided that Hardy would play both identical twin brothers although their appearance, demeanor and personalities were quite different. Hardy had previously received a great deal of acclaim for his work on both sides of the pond. However this role had to be a challenge for the director and the actor, which would require the use of body doubles, skillful editing and all sorts of special techniques. The result was quite realistic. Both guys were tough as nails and each with a distinct personality. Ron was openly “homosexual” and it was clearly stated that he takes the active role not only at sex but in violence. He also is depicted as somewhat mentally unbalanced. Reggie, perhaps the better looking brother, but just as tough, also falls in love with Francis (Emily Browning). She is a slightly built but very attractive, sweet, not at all like a gangster moll but hopelessly wanting Reggie to go straight. It is her voice that narrates the film a la Sunset Boulevard. While we could develop empathy for her, the tragic heroine, we felt very little feelings for the gangster brothers.
So not caring about the main characters and not very good enough reasons to sit through a lot of violence, we had one more additional problem with the film. This British movie was made for the Brits and we could not understand at least third of the heavily accented British or Cockney speech. We knew what was going on but it was almost like we had to use our weak high school training in a foreign language to get the gist of much of the dialogue. So the only possible reason for us to recommend that you see this film if you don’t speak this language, would be to see the amazing accomplishment of Tom Hardy taking on these two infamous British criminals. However, our conclusion is that you should pass on it. (2015)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Crime, Drama, Foreign
September 23rd, 2015 — 5:31am
LABYRINTH OF LIES -sp
To us, one of the most important and memorable aspects of this outstanding film is that the current generation of German filmmakers and the people related to this industry, have decided to make this movie the 2015 entry from Germany to the Oscars for best foreign film. Doing this also reflects the monumental theme of this movie, which is the responsibility of the German people for Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
The story is based on actual events and follows a young German prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) in Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1960s as he becomes aware that identifiable people now living in Germany were responsible for murder in the Auschwitz Camp during World War II. Although the Nuremberg trials, which occurred shortly after World War II nearly 20 years previously, were monumental in the prosecution of members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes, those trials were carried out by the victorious allies. In the film, which depicts a true story, we see, probably for the first time ever, a government trying to prosecute its own former soldiers. The question of who was guilty and was there any family spared having a war criminal among them is raised. As one of the characters states, the only innocent people were those who weren’t born yet or who were small children when all these events happened.
It matters very little that the main focus is on Johann Radmann who is the prosecutor played magnificently by Alexander Fehling, who was in reality a composite of three prosecutors in real life. All the characters in the movie are true to life and very believable. One of them, Fritz Bauer, played by the famous German actor, Gert Voss, has a famous legal institute now named in his honor. One of the buildings where the archival records were being searched in the film is the actual location of where the well kept records of the Nazi regime are now stored for historical examination.
Director/writer Giulio Ricciarelli has been very thoughtful in his choices, so as not to make the movie a recapitulation or a reenactment of the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, he puts the focus on the impact on the people living in post-war Germany. One interesting point that was made very clear was that most of the German people at the time, depicted in the film, did not know about Auschwitz nor did they want to know about it.
We were reminded that our recent personal observations have shown that most contemporary Germans no longer deny their history. This was very clear to us in our recent visit to Berlin, where we saw the names of displaced Jews embedded in plaques on the sidewalks in front of their former houses. We also visited the very complete and well-done Holocaust museum as well as many other points of remembrance. This film clearly created an honest reflection of German history, which was not known to most of us. It was a powerful and beautifully done work of fact, emotion and importance. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Uncategorized