In the Land of Blood and Honey-nf –Most people probably have some understanding that there was a very bitter civil war in the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia and Herzegovina which took place between 1992-1995. The acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie who has served as UN Goodwill Ambassador during her travels learned some the details of the horrors of this conflict which included attempts at ethnic cleansing mostly by the Bosnian Serbs against the Bosnian Croats many of whom have Moslem background. This led her to write this screenplay which she directed and co-produced. It is the story of Danijel (Goran Kostic), a Bosnian Serb soldier serving under his father’s command who encounters his pre-war girl friend, Ajla (Zana Marjonovic) when she is captured by his troops and forced to work as a sex slave. She has seen the able bodied men of her city rounded up and systematically executed while so many of the women are brutally raped and made to serve the captors. Yet she is drawn into this complex and conflicted relationship with Danijel. In a most painful 2 hours and 7 minutes the horrors of this war taking place in and around the city of Sarajevo which is in a state of siege are shown. There were many graphic and dramatic scenes. Using women as hostage shields as the Serbs approached their enemy who were firing from a building was quite unforgettable. Some of the dialog between the characters attempted to describe the history of this conflict but it is much too complex for it to be clearly appreciated . We are given the impression that the Serbs were the really bad people in this conflict, which was probably true. The romance between the two lovers is also shown to be quite complex and we are never sure of Ajla’s true feelings about her captor/lover. Both of the lead actors were born in this region of the world and there were two versions of the film made, one in English and the other in their native language. It must of have been quite an accomplishment for Jolie to pull off the latter feat. It was difficult enough for us to absorb the full meaning of this terrible period of history even in English. (2011)
50/50- nf A 27 year old single guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets a diagnosis of cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival. His girl friend (Bryce Dallas Howard) gets him a boney dog but can’t handle the situation and they break up. His mother (Angelica Huston) as usual tries to smother him. His best buddy (Seth Rogen) sticks by him and decides that this will be a great pick up line to get girls. Rogen’s comedic style carries the movie and allows a painful subject to be appreciated in a more palatable manner. Admittedly as a psychiatrist and a social worker who have trained medical students and physicians how to talk to patients, it was disappointing to see the cancer specialist as being quite insensitive. It also was a little disheartening to see the student therapist (Anna Kendrick) who was supposed to help him deal with the situation, act out a romantic crush that she developed for him. But it was done in good taste and, after all, it is only a movie. On the other hand the back-story for the film is quite authentic. As shown in the bonus feature of the DVD, the script writer (Will Reiser) actually lived this story and his best friend who stood by him through this ordeal was Seth Rogen. (2011)
Bernie-sp This film is what you might call a dark comedy in that it is funny but about a somewhat morbid subject. It is set in a small east Texas town. The story features numerous characters from this town who like a Greek chorus comment on the main protagonist, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). He was most beloved man to just about all the folks, even after he did something which according to any law, especially Texas law, should be unforgivable. Tiede is an assistant funeral director, comforter of those grieving, a creative employee, a talented musical director, actor and ultimately even a generous philanthropist. Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) is one of the many widows who Bernie genuinely wants to comfort. She differs from the other widows we meet in two ways. She is ultra wealthy and ultra nasty. Danny Buck (Matthew McConnaughey, somehow made to be more lanky than hunky) is the local district attorney who has the job to call it like it is, even if the town folks Greek Chorus feels otherwise. We get the feeling from the producer Judd Payne, who spoke at our screening and grew up in such an area, as did writer and director Richard Linklater, that you have to be from that kind of a small western or southern town to appreciate how authentically the average folks in the film were depicted. To us they seemed somewhat stereotyped even after we learned many of these character actors were from small towns in this area.
Black’s portrayal dominates the screen as he gets into the skin of his unusual character. it also gives him a little chance to dance and sing in addition to emoting. The end result is more than just a fun experience as you come away with some questions to ponder in analyzing the films resolution. (2012
Beginners- nf We chose to see this movie after Christopher Plummer was awarded the Oscar as best supporting actor for playing a dying 75 year old man who reveals to Oliver his son (Ewan McGregor) that he is gay and wants to come out. He finds a lover , Andy (Goran Visnjic-we remember him from the “ER” TV series ) and has his brief time as a man in love. During this time Oliver meets a quirky beautiful French actress (Melanie Laurent). They are both drawn to each other and it becomes apparent that they both have trouble with relationships perhaps because of the nature of their parent’s relationships. He, having a hidden gay dad, a mom who thought she could fix him and was depicted as not feeling fulfilled. She, with a father who confesses his despair and suicidal thoughts to her rather than to his wife. Director Mike Mill’s put together this story based on his own relationship with his own father and attempts to fill in the picture with mostly skillful shifts of time sequences. It isn’t the story that gives the movie value but it is the complex portrayal of the characters which is done very well. However, with the exception of Oliver we don’t have much of a back-story of the other characters, so in the end, the movie didn’t meet it’s full potential or our expectations. (2011)
Footnote – sp Imagine a father and son both working in the same scholarly professional field. The son receives wide recognition that has always eluded the father. One day the father receives a phone call telling him that he has finally been awarded the countries top award for work. in his field. The son receives a frantic phone call to come to a special meeting where he was told that his father was mistakenly notified by the person who made the call who thought she was calling the son. This is part of the original premise of this screenplay by Joesph Cedar who also directed the movie and earned for this Israeli entry one of the five nominations for best foreign films in this year’s Oscar race. This film examines the father (Sholomo Bar Aha) son (Lior Ashkenazi ) relationship in the context where the father does not respect the academic work of the son . The movie is set in the esoteric world of Talmudic scholars specializing in philology (which is the study of language in written historical documents), which in this case takes place at an academic department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Bar Aha who is a well known television and stage actor in Israel, has very few lines in the film which he dominates with his presence and his ultimate dilemma . The unique plot is riveting at times and while there are universal conflicts embedded in the story, some of the lack of empathy that father has for son and son has for his own son will be difficult to identify with by most of the audience. You will leave the film, stimulated and provoked, but not likely very satisfied.(2011),
The Forgiveness of Blood- sp This film takes us to a place in northern Albania about which we know very little. We see people living in a rural setting filled with horse drawn carts and pickup trucks but yet homes with satellite TV and the Internet as well as teenagers going to school and hanging out with cell phones. Then we are introduced to the existence of a practice that has been in existence for at least a half of a millennium of blood feuds that occur when someone has killed a person and revenge is exacted on the members of the murderers family by the dead person’s family. This means that the males of the targeted family must stay hidden at home away from work or school or risk being killed. This leaves the wife and the daughters with the task of going to work. Although this form of justice takes place outside the nascent legal system of this former communist country, it can be modified by mutually agreed upon mediator with a besa (or truce) being arranged all under guidelines of some ancient set of oral rules passed down through the many generations. The story of how this phenomena was recognized by an American filmmaker who started off with no special connection to Albania and was turned into a script and then a movie is almost as interesting as the film itself. Joshua Marston (director and writer of Maria Full of Grace) after hearing about these feuds decided to travel to Albania and try to make a movie about it. He made a connection with Andamion Murataj, an Albanian filmmaker living and working in New York for the past 15 years. They traveled to Albania, visiting as many people, families and schools to understand this widespread situation which has been still estimated to effect thousands of people in the last 20 years. They wrote a screenplay which shows their story through the eyes of an 18 year old boy who is caught in the middle of such a feud when his father kills another man in a fight over the right to drive his horse pulled delivery truck over another man’s property. Many of the actors especially the teenagers and younger siblings were chosen from improvised casting sessions in local schools. The resultant film is a very professional, realistic depiction of the painful impact on the families of the blood feud, especially on the children. The filmmakers tendency to linger on the experience that the targeted family members were going through made you appreciate their despair although at times it seems that we were living through it in real time. Nevertheless, you come away from this movie moved and informed about an ancient practice that continues in modern times in a distant land. (2011)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- rm It is very fitting that on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 a major movie should emerge that captures the personal emotion that so many New Yorkers experienced as over 3000 lives were evaporated in just a few hours with probably close to 10,000 children losing a parent. The screenplay by Eric Roth (who also wrote Forest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, achieved this feat by not only recreating the pieces of horror that so many people went through that day but it went several steps further and deeper. The movie exposed the idealized bond between father and son which when it is there, is the most extreme tragedy to lose. We also come to appreciate how sad it is when it was never there and what could have been. Just as you think that this is just about the father-son attachments, we are shown the love and attachment that a surviving mother might have to her grieving child. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are excellent as the parents as is Thomas Horn as a quirky pre-teen (possibly with Asbergers Syndrome) who finds a way to speak or show what he is thinking and feeling. John Goodman, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright turned in great performances in smaller but key roles in the film. Stephen Daldry should get kudos if not some tangible award for pulling all this together as the director. However it is Max Von Sydow the veteran 83 year old actor, who plays the old man with a special connection to the others, who never utters one word in the movie but may have turned in the standout performance of this film. The storyline may be considered by some to be a little contrived but we understood it to be an allegory where a a young boy’s trip through the five boroughs of Manhattan is a search for growth in himself. We found this movie to be a tear jerker in no uncertain terms. All Americans identified and connected to those fateful events. But if you were in New York during 9/11 and even if you were fortunate enough not to have lost a loved one, you had to have been affected by what was going on around you. We recalled the cars in our suburban parking lot that were not picked up that evening by the commuters who never came home. We remember the thousands of homemade posters that were put up all over Manhattan describing their loved ones who were listed “as missing” when it was clear that they really had perished. We know all our lives will never be same again. Having lived through this, makes this film all the more meaningful. It will be interesting to see if people are ready to see this movie or if the painful hype that invariably will accompany it will keep it from being a big box office success. If New Yorkers were the only ones voting it might emerge as the Oscar winner but in any case this movie will be part of the history which will define this past decade. (2011)
Undefeated- sp Friday night football is a great American tradition throughout many parts of the United States where families watch their high school boys battle it out for the glory of the their schools . For so many of these football warriors, it is the prelude to moving into the real world and starting their careers which for many will include further training in college. Win or lose their high school football memories should be one of the many experiences, which will add to their development as young adults. However members of the Manassas High School football team in Memphis Tennessee who are black, poor, most without fathers almost all have close relatives who have recently been in jail, don’t have too much to look forward. They certainly might not be inclined to get too much out of their football experience. That is until Bill Courtney, owner of a nearby lumber factory decides to volunteer his time and knowledge to be the team football coach. Courtney missed growing up with a father and in addition to raising his own kids, he gives of himself to be a father figure to this team. Within 6 years he has instilled in the players who are drawn to the team, a philosophy of teamwork and recognition that it is how you deal with loss and setback that will make the difference in life. Rich Middlemas, a junior movie executive read in a local newspaper about some of the transformations occurring in the team. He convinces filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T,J Martin to go to Memphis and shoot some film of what is going on there. They are able to get funding to spend a year with with this team and shoot within a 9-month period 500 hours of film which is boiled down to 113 minutes of an intimate documentary of these young men and their quest for a successful football season. It particularly captures the personal stories of three of them and reveals the inspirational nature of Mr. Courtney. The team does something that no other football team from Manassas has ever done and that is make it to the playoffs. And Mr. Middlemas does something that very few documentary filmmakers have ever done and that is to be nominated for an Oscar. (2011)
P.S. The movie won an Oscar !!
Hugo –rm _ The movie open with a beautiful scene of Paris with snow flakes falling. The 3D effect is fantastic. It actually almost feels as if the snow is falling on the audience. This is followed by a breathtaking run through the railroad station taking full advantage of the three dimensional technique that is being used. However, by the end of the film we concluded that we could have done without the 3D effect and the movie would have been just as good and the glasses were a tad uncomfortable anyway. This film has all the ingredients of a successful movie. First of all it has Martin Scorsese fully behind it as director and a producer. It is a movie about movies which almost always is an attraction to movie goers (and critics and award givers). It has appealing child actors (Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz) and a delightful grandfather figure played by Ben Kinglsey. It also has Sacha Baron Cohen as the railway policeman who is the scary threat on one hand but a humorous injured soul on the other. Oh yes, there is also a dog – a big tough mean dog but any dog always seems to push up the positive rating meter especially for young people. There are moving moments when a young boy’s father dies and he is searching for a bond with his lost Dad. He meets a grandfather figure who can’t think about his own lost glorious past because it is too painful to contemplate. There is clash, suspense, action, resolution and a grand finale. While this certainly is a children’s movie probably for nine and ten year olds and older, it is also made for us adults who are not only young at heart but always want to learn a little history. The book by Brian Selznick and the screen play by John Logan is telling us the story of Georges Meilies who was a French illusionist and filmmaker who became very famous for many special techniques which he developed during the early days of cinema. He suffered a decline and tragic losses and was alienated from his earlier great successes. He ultimately became recognized and revered once again in his senior years. The real story of how this came about was not the fairy tale story, which is depicted in this movie, which is quite delightful and resonates with all our fantasies and sentimentality. The bonus treat here is that we also see lots or real footage of classic French movie clips, many by the real Georges Meilies. So when we toss our 3D glasses in the bin on the way out – the memory and the good feeling of the movie will stay with us. (2011)
Declaration of War- sp- This movie is the French entry, for the best foreign picture in the 2011 Oscar Awards. It is the story of a young couple who fall in love and have a child who turns out to have a brain tumor. It almost could have been a documentary as they are relentlessly followed through every step of their ordeal. We have had a great deal of experience in our professional lives seeing patients and families who go through the very personal issues in and out of the hospital that these two young parents had to deal with. In that respect there were no revealing surprises Also who among us has not personally had to have discussion with family members about serious medical issues that someone close to us is going through? Everything about this movie was authentic. In fact the screen writers and stars of this movie Valerie Donzelli (who also directed) and Jeremie Elkaim have been a couple in real life who have had a child with a serious medical problem. They have stated that this film is not an exact mirror of their life experience but they were able to draw upon it to create the emotional experience which they portrayed so well. This was one of love for their child and for each other, support from their families and for each other as well as optimism and determinism. They were able to cinematically create special moments between them which provided insight into how they were attempting to cope. These are two very appealing persons and it was easy to identify with their youthful exuberance which made it all the more difficult to have to also identify with their fear and anxiety. We came away from the film experience having shared the ordeal of the people in the film with the hope that we and our loved ones could have strength of character that they showed, should we have to face such a crisis. (2011)