Category: History


Selma

December 20th, 2014 — 11:47pm

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Selma- It is hard to believe that this is the first docudrama about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. who is played by David Oyelowo. The screenplay by Paul Webb and superb directing by Ava DuVernay chose to examine one specific event in the historic 13 year career of this civil rights icon and that is the March from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery, which took place in 1965. The first steps towards desegregation had occurred 10 years earlier when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in front of a bus which led to the Montgomery bus boycott, coordinated by Martin Luther King Jr. Blacks had the right to vote but were blocked by the local registrars using tactics dramatically shown when Annie Lee Cooper, magnificently played by Oprah Winfrey, attempts to register to vote. As is clearly explained in this film, this denial based on racial discrimination was not only illegal in and of itself but it was further compounded by allowing juries to be all white since proof of voter registration was required to serve on juries in the South. It also kept the biased white politicians in their leadership positions. This state of affairs led to a first futile attempt to peacefully march to the courthouse steps by King and his followers, which is brutally disbanded by the local police. There were very revealing depictions of the behind the scenes discussions of King and his associates who included Rev. Abernathy, John Lewis and many others. The film showed those favoring a more violent confrontation such as the leaders of SNCC as well as interactions between King and Malcolm X. There are also several scenes between King and President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) where Johnson expects King to delay his demonstration for a year or two so the President, elected by a landslide a year earlier, could pursue other agendas including programs within his “war on poverty.” As shown in this movie, it is not one of Johnson’s finest moments. King does not take no for an answer and we see the results as thousands of people including many whites, especially clergy in all denominations descend on Selma. The reliving the historic march from Selma to Montgomery sent chills up our spines as we were captivated by the visual effects including black and white clips of the actual event which took place almost 50 years ago. So often Martin Luther King Jr. is viewed by new generations as an almost mythical person. He has a national holiday named after him, streets have his name and it is is said in the same breath as other great Americans such as George Washington and Abe Lincoln. In this film he is shown to be a real person who at times seems anxious and scared and even has his human foibles as we see in a dramatic confrontational interaction with his wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). Other very fine actors in this movie include Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth and Martin Sheen.   King comes alive with a tremendous performance by David Oyelowo who is a Shakespearean actor by training and an experienced film actor. Producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner who we met at our screening related how Oyelowo was drawn to his part with an almost mystical destiny. He gained 30 pounds to resemble King and his oration of King’s words knocked it out of the ball park and could not have been better. This movie took us back in time and allowed us to experience one of the great moments in American history with all the fear, pain and tragedy, yet ultimate triumph of that march from Selma to Montgomery. (2014)

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Foxcatcher

November 24th, 2014 — 6:39am

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Foxcatcher rm- Steve Carell establishes himself as a serious actor as he plays John Dupont, one of the wealthy children of the Dupont family. He seems filled with his own narcissism but yet insecure and desperate to prove to his mother and the world that he is a wonderful, worthwhile person. He is going to try to do this by investing in his great passion and that is wrestling. He envisions himself as a wrestling coach and father figure to what he hopes will be the US championship team of the 1988 Olympics. This film is based on a true story with a screenplay by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye and is directed by Bennett Miller. It is mainly about three characters, Dupont, Mark Schultz ( Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) The latter two are brothers who have already won Olympic Gold Medals in wrestling. Mark comes across as quite introverted, islolated pliable and almost too wooden as he quickly agrees to move to the the Dupont estate and train for the next Olympics. It is hard to say if his rather blunted personality is what was intended by the story or perhaps it is some underacting by Tatum. David, the older brother and already a family man with a wife and two kids is also in a coaching mode, exudes warmth and relatedness, all of which is projected quite well by Ruffalo. He ultimately decides to bring his wife (Sienna Miller) and two kids to join the US wrestling team on the Dupont estate under the irrational auspicious of John Dupont. The ambivalent relationship and tension between the two brothers is subtle and interesting to ponder. Vanessa Redgrave has a brief role as the Dupont mother who loves valuable horses and doesn’t think very highly of wrestling much to the despair of her son John. If you were into high school or college wrestling you may appreciate all the wrestling moves in the various scenes on the mats. The plot is also     interesting to grapple with in this sad but very interesting story. (2014)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History, Sport

Rosewater

November 16th, 2014 — 7:46pm

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Rosewater-rm Before we discuss this movie, we should try to answer the question of why would Jon Stewart, the host of the Daily Show, on the Comedy Central Network, want to make his debut as a feature film director in a movie about the 2009 Presidential election in Iran. That was the election where incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated Houssein Mousavi. This election sparked mass demonstrations in the street, which were harshly put down by the government. The defeated candidate was put on house arrest which we believe is still current and he was among many people imprisoned including a a journalist working for Newsweek magazine by the name of Maziar Behari. Behari had appeared in a clearly satirical piece for the Stewart show where it was jokingly mentioned that he could have been been a spy. Thus the connection that must have sparked Stewarts interest which ultimately led him to be a first time director of this movie for which he also wrote the screenplay. It is all about Maziar Behari who was ripped away from his mother’s house with whom he was staying while covering the election, while his pregnant wife was in London. Gael Garcia Bernal, an accomplished Mexican actor, does a great job playing Behari. The film provides an insight into the valiant but futile protests that were made of this election after the hopes of the opposition were dashed. Behari appeared to become a symbol of the masses who try to rise up when they feel they are treated unfairly especially when they are offered an election that they came to feel was fraudulent. He also reminds us of generations of young people who develop values that lead them to fight for what they believe even though it appears that they will be defeated. In this case we learn that Behari’s father and sister both were imprisoned at various times by the reigning Iranian governments and both died in jail at different times. Behari is tortured with the goal of making him confess to being a spy for the West so he can be televised making a confession. The interaction between him and his interrogator who was well played by Kim Badnia is one of the higlights of the movie. In this regard Stewart was able to work in a subtle satirical element, which mocked the prison officials who worked on Behari while still taking seriously the oppressive threat of the tyrannical government. One of us felt that the movie dragged at times but in the end we were well informed and its message was quite clear. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, History

The Imitation Game

November 14th, 2014 — 6:00am

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The Imitation Game- sp The Turing Test is a method that is supposed to help determine if artificial intelligence built into a modern computer is indistinguishable from the human mind. There was only an indirect subtle reference to this test in this movie, which however, was all about the complicated yet very human mind of Alan Turing. This is a Bio-Pic with a screenplay by Graham Moore adapted from a biography by Andrew Hughes as well as other books written about this man. It is produced by Graham Moore, Nina Grossman and Teddy Schwarzman who shepherded it through a few incarnations where it was almost made by a major studio but ultimately ended up as an independent production in the hands of the Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (known for The Headhunters) starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Alan Turing. The movie dramatically reminds us of horrendous threat of Nazi Germany to the world during WWII and introduces us to the team led by Turing that is working in Bletchley Park in England trying to break the German Enigma code which could give the allies the edge to win the war. One of the team members is a woman by the name of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) whose great intelligence stands out and gets the attention of the leader who becomes very close to her. Alan Turing is shown to us as a brilliant young man with a personality often shown to be associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It turns out Turing also is homosexual which he had to keep as a deep secret as during those times because it was a crime itself punished at best with chemicals (hormonal castration). Mixed into the film is a touch of espionage where you least expected it to be. Breaking the Nazi code would mean the saving of millions of lives and the defeat of Germany. Yet it must be a gigantic secret because if it were known, the Germans might change the code. Recounting how all of this done was a great cinematic accomplishment led by a sensitive, nuanced and multilayered performance by Cumberbatch who is certain to receive an Oscar nomination for best actor. In addition to Knightley there are excellent supporting performances by Mathew Goode (who may be recognized as recently playing The Good Wife’s opposing attorney in that TV series), Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and Charles Dance. In the end this is the story of a tragic hero who saved many millions of lives and who is probably the father or the grandfather of the modern day computer but yet was never truly appreciated during his life. This movie, which was made by a dedicated team that wanted to rectify this situation, deserves to be credited as one of the outstanding movies of the year (2014)

1 comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

Last Days in Viet Nam

August 21st, 2014 — 7:00pm

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Last Days in Vietnam-sp- Even if you were around in 1975 during the U.S pullout from South Vietnam, the true story of how it went down is probably not the way you remember it. Even that iconic photograph of people climbing up a ladder into a helicopter from what you thought was the U.S Embassy was not the U.S. Embassy. Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who realized that there was an interesting story here to be told. Together with her co-producer Keven McAlester and their team she researched the subject, dug out archive documents and film footage, followed leads, set up interviews with former CIA agents, American soldiers, as well as Vietnamese who got out and some that didn’t. She also was able to interview one of the key surviving players who surrounded and advised President Ford during those final days. That was none other than Henry Kissinger who had been Secretary of State for both Ford and President Nixon. Nixon actually looks quite good in the view of the historical circumstances, which are presented here. It was under his watch that the peace accord of !973 was signed which was followed by the withdrawal of US Troops. We are then shown in 1975 shortly after Nixon resigned from office that the North Vietnam troops began the march towards Saigon. The implication was clearly stated that they would have been afraid to do so if Nixon were in office. We then see how President Ford was not able to get Congress to raise money to support any effort to stop this new aggression.

The real story here was the denial by U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin of the threatening attack that was underway, spilling down towards Saigon with the ultimate evacuation of all the Americans and the desperate attempt to get out bythe South Vietnamese who were connected to the Americans. Rather than use an authoritative narrator, the filmmakers chose to use the faces and the voices of the Americans and Vietnamese who lived through those harrowing days who told their own stories. The latter group knew that if they did not get out, they stood a good chance of being killed or severely punished. In fact in the final credits we learn that some of these narrators subsequently spent years in “ reeducation camps” before making their way to the United States. We learn that the final dramatic evacuation was not only by helicopter but also by sea. The helicopters flew out thousands of evacuees to a flotilla of ships led by the USS Kirk.

A good documentary often relies on some fresh views of the historical event. In this case, that was not only provided by American and Vietnamese survivors of this unusual evacuation telling their tales but also by the discovery of a box full of 8mm movie film taken by one of the sailors aboard the USS Kirk almost 40 years ago. These movies provided a vivid picture of the thousands of civilians packed aboard these ships as they attempted to get to Manila. They also showed a never to be forgotten sequence of movie scenes of a gigantic Chinook helicopter that was too large and heavy to land on the US ship. Instead the Vietnamese pilot who was trying to save his family and others had to do a remarkable maneuver where he hovered so his young children could be dropped and caught by the sailors below. He then did what experts feel was an extremely difficult task of climbing out of his pilot gear, ditching his gigantic helicopter into the sea with its spinning blades disintegrating, while he jumped out into the water and swam to safety of the nearby vessel. This amazing accomplishment was narrated by his now grown son who had been seen as one of the young children being dropped out of the Chinook.

There were several moral questions raised by this film. The big question was did the U.S. have a commitment to its ally, South Vietnam when the North Vietnamese broke the Paris Peace Accord and invaded South Vietnam. What was the meaning of the refusal of Congress to provide funds and the failure of the President to send troops back there? Did the U.S have a commitment to the many civilians and their families who had worked for the US and would be targets if they were not evacuated? Were several U.S. officers within the embassy wrong when they disobeyed orders and organized secret “ black opps” plans for evacuating civilians when the Ambassador had not authorized this to be done.? There also was a promise to all those Vietnamese who were allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy grounds for evacuation, that they would definitely be rescued. However once the Ambassador left, after most of the people were evacuated, there were 420 Vietnamese left behind who had been promised evacuation. Finally, is there any lesson here that we can glean that can be applied to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has left and now the situation is deteriorating?

When a documentary film can prevent a fresh view of history and stir up new questions, which even pertain to our current time, we have to view it as a successful endeavor that should be seen.(2014)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, War

The Queen

August 1st, 2014 — 6:53pm

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The Queen-nf- As Americans we never quite understood how and why the British people hold their royal family in such esteem. Also, while being full grown adult at the time of the auto accident that claimed the life of Princess Diana, who was by then divorced from Prince Charles, we never understood why there was such a big deal about her funeral. Well, this more or less docudrama focuses on both of these subjects. Thanks to the screenplay by Peter Morgan and the direction David Frears, plus the outstanding acting by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, we are treated to a sophisticated exploration of inner workings of the royal court and what is purported be an accurate rendition of the complicated feeling of all the players in this drama. A fascinating story unravels, which shows the Queen and the royal family with the exception of Prince Charles, reluctant to make a big deal, a royal funeral or any public statements about the sudden tragic death of Diana. Whereas the people of Great Britain and eventually people around the world who were taken up with her life style and her many charitable good deeds were very much affected and were drawn to follow her funeral and participate in the grieving, the royal family felt that she was no longer royalty and there should be just a private funeral. Actual film clips of the large numbers of tearful people in the streets and many inundating the outside of Buckingham Palace with flowers were shown. Blair appreciates the importance to the British people to grieve this loss and realized the mistake that the Queen was making by staying in her country home, not returning to Buckingham Palace and raising the flag at half mast. At one point he even detected a growing sentiment that could lead to the British people wanting to perhaps even remove the monarchy, which they had revered for hundred of years. He tried to counsel the Queen and she responds. In another source we found information that reported that the writer Peter Morgan reconstructed the events of the week after the death of Princess Diana through extensive interviews with many unnamed sources close to the real Prime Minister and the royal family. Many of these sources were able to corroborate the accounts of others, giving Morgan enough information to imagine the intervening scenes, which were portrayed in the movie. Helen Mirren was at her best in this film and won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The film itself won the most coveted award of an Academy Award Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. But perhaps the highest compliment for Ms. Mirren was the observation by the writer Mr. Morgan that, by the end of production, crewmembers who had been accustomed to slouching or relaxing when they addressed her were standing straight up and respectfully folding their hands behind their backs. She was the Queen. (2006)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Oranges and Sunshine

July 7th, 2014 — 12:08am

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Oranges and Sunshine-nf This film is a good example of how we might rate a film 3/5 and yet highly recommend it as one that should be seen by anyone who cares about social injustice. There are many better examples of dramatic films with unforgettable performances by talented actors and directors, which will win Academy Award nominations. But this Australian film directed by Jim Loach with a screenplay by Rona Munro plods along but rivets our attention because it tells the true story of a historical event that we and we are sure many other people had no idea had occurred. It is about a British social worker by the name of Margaret Humphreys who in the 1980s stumbles upon the situation that in the 1940s and 50s the British government deported to Australia young children born to troubled poor mothers who couldn’t care for their kids. The mothers were often told that the children were being adopted in England by various couples although if they did make efforts they would not be able to track them down. The truth was that they lived in various orphanages in Australia in very dire circumstances, were treated very badly and many were abused. During this blight on British history there were 130,000 children who went through this pipeline to Australia. They never had a chance to find out who their mothers were and whether they were still alive. Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) at first took on the task of trying to help some of these now adults find their mothers. She then devoted herself to exposing this great injustice in addition to reuniting these adults with their mothers when possible. We see how she set up a program in Australia where most of these orphans lived and held some reunions with each other. We also see a scene in a monastery, which may have been the site of some of the stories of abuse. There was a scary episode where an intruder who seems to be warning her to cease her efforts, threatens Ms. Humphreys at night. It is a weakness of the film that we never learn more about the nature of these threats. Ms. Humphrey made efforts to publicize the story of these mass deportations in the media and to get the government to help in her endeavors. She spent an increasing amount of time in Australia, away from her own family. Some of the horrors that the children went through are related in excellent performances by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. We learn during the credits at the end of the film that it was not until 2010 that the British government acknowledged its mistake and the Prime Minister apologized. It was at that point that we learned of the tremendous number of children that had gone through this disruption of their lives with all its repercussions. As a sidebar we are reminded of the large number of films that we have seen as well as some true life stories that we have heard, which  in some way recount the desire to reunite with one’s biological parents. Of course in the situations recounted in this film, these people did not have parents who adopted them. Some discussion of this topic can be found in MB’s blog http://www.psychiatrytalk.com/2014/04/the-search-for-a-persons-biological-identity/  (2011)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History

Belle

June 22nd, 2014 — 5:24am

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Belle-rm- This is a complicated film which deals with slavery, race relations in England in the latter part of the 18th century, women’s dependency on men, love, relationships, a tragic event at sea and an historic legal case. Yet in the end you come away with a sense of satisfaction, that things are working out for the best. The film is based on a true story written by Misa Sagay and Amma Asante who also directed this film and showed her sensitivity to the many issues covered in this story. The story revolves around Dido (Gugu Mbaatha-Raw), an illegitimate mixed race child of a Royal Navy admiral who brings his young daughter to be raised by his aristocratic uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkerson) and his wife Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) while he goes off to sea. The Mansfields are also raising another child Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) born to another member of the family who is not around. The two girls become very close as they grow to marriageable age. Great Uncle Mansfield also happens to be the Chief Justice of England who is about to rule on an important case concerned with the Zong Massacre. This involved a ship at sea that was transporting slaves from Africa and threw a number of them overboard to drown claiming they were out of drinking water and had to do this in order to survive and subsequently made a claim to their insurance company for their “lost cargo.” The story also shows the somewhat formal courtship of these now young women, the importance of the presence or absence of a dowry, and the view and treatment of women at this time and place. Of course the racial factor is also high lighted as there is this unique situation of a black girl being raised in the aristocratic home and now receiving a proposal of marriage from the men who come courting these women. There are tense moving interactions between the various characters as well a dramatic courtroom scene by Tom Wilkerson who we feel deserves special recognition among an outstanding cast. At the conclusion of the film we see a large completed oil painting of the two young women who are the centerpiece of the film and which was being painted earlier in the story. Then during the rolling of the credits we see another large painting of the actual women who are depicted in the story and are told where the real canvas is hanging. This reminder of the historical truth of all the themes shown in this film, makes it quite a memorable accomplishment.(2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Romance

The Monuments Men

February 15th, 2014 — 10:05pm

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The Monuments Men -Guest Review

This is a guest review by Ron Turco, M.D.  Dr. Turco is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Portalnd, Oregon. He is Chair of the Committee on Art, Culture and Creativity of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatrythe-monuments-men-poster02

I read with substantial disappointment David Denby’s shallow and un-insightful review of George Clooney’s new film “The Monuments Men.” (New Yorker – Feb. 17-24, 2014).He compares this film to the old Frankenheimer movie “The Train.”  There is no comparison, as the train was not historically accurate and barely mentioned in passing Rose Valland, Temporary Custodian at the Jeu de Paume whose influence was so important in the discovery of looted works in France, at the risk of her own life, that she received the French Legion of Honor and the Medal of Resistance becoming a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, making her one of the most decorated women in France. She also received a Medal of Freedom from the United States in 1948 and an Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany. It was her book “Le Front deL’Art” that was the basis of the 1965 movie  “The Train”, a movie in which she was only briefly mentioned, although she had also received a commission in the French First Army.

 The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts and and Archives section (MFAA) of the military, attempting to save as much of the culture of Europe and Western Civilization as possible and were willing to fight and die for something greater than themselves. Some were killed in combat.

George Clooney has done an outstanding job with his film “The Monuments Men” and in reminding us that the story of The Holocaust must be told over and over again in different ways and at different times. He masterfully and in sometimes direct or subtle ways brings out the Nazi horror and disregard for human life. Mr Denby has missed the point entirely in his understanding of these heroes and heroines and mentions that most of the works were returned to private collectors. That is not completely true. The works were returned to the countries of origin or to the Jews from whom they were stolen. In the film George Clooney also does an excellent job in presenting the value and importance of the sacrifices of the MFAA people, a job that was endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and strongly supported by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many of these people went on, after the war, to make substantial contributions to art and culture. Private First Class Lincoln Kirstein founded the legendary New York City Ballet as one of the most important cultural figures of his generation. Second Lieutenant James J. Rorimer, who worked closely with Rose Valland, was instrumental in founding the Met’s medieval collections branch, the Cloisters. “The Monuments Men” film is very close to the facts (a few minor changes, as with all films, including “Lincoln” and “The Navajo Code Talkers”). The acting is superb and I highly recommend this film, especially to young people who may not have an understanding of the broad ramifications of The Holocaust or the history of these brave people. John Edsel’s scholarly book “The Monuments Men” should be required reading in high schools throughout our country. (2014)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, War

Savings Mr. Banks

December 21st, 2013 — 8:46pm

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Saving Mr. Banks -rm  In order to fully appreciate and analyze this movie, you should have read the book Mary Poppins and also have seen the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Not having immediate recall of either one we had to pay close attention to the story and sometimes felt that we were missing something. The outline of the plot for this film is clearly shown in the publicity for the movie. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who actually died two years after the Mary Poppins movie was released was determined to keep a 20 year-old promise to his two daughters and bring this famous book to the screen. To make his movie he needed the permission of the British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who was fearful that “disneyfying” her story would take away something very dear to her. What that something was, is the essence of this movie. After much reflection and discussion we concluded that it was her image of her father as a creative, caring and fun loving man who gave her the ability to develop a wonderful fantasy life, which is reflected in her writings. While she may have been able to paint this picture in her books, she herself was an inhibited, desiccated, uptight woman in her personal life who identified more with the father who never delivered for his family and actually died when she was a small girl. The movie directed by John Leo Hancock uses flashbacks to the author’s early childhood in Australia as we learn the full extent of the father’s life. Would an upbeat Disney musical keep alive forever the image that Travers might like to achieve? While this storyline by itself is no great shakes and most of it is obvious from the beginning, we were surprised by the emotional impact that it achieved on us. From the first breakthrough that P.L. Travers shows as she responds to a musical number by the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) who were the song writing team for the proposed Poppins movie, to the emotional response that Travers has to the movie premier which she attended, although not invited, we realized that we were identifying with her desire to preserve her loving image of her dad, Mr. Banks. Hanks and Thompson are suburb as are the rest of the cast, including Colin Farrell as the father and Paul Giamatti who plays the sympathetic limo driver who takes Travers around. Bradley Whitford does a good job as the screenwriter who is constantly arguing with Travers. There are 39 hours of audiotape of these actual heated discussions. Since the real Travers insisted that they be tape- recorded we get a sample of them as the credits roll at the end of the movie. Kudos though have to be given to the delicate screen play by Kelly Marcel along with Hancock’s direction which extracted some of the universal emotions towards beloved parents which we all can understand. The net result is a film not to be missed. (2013)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

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