Tangerines- sp Most Americans don’t know very much about the various regions of the former Soviet Union and regional wars that have occurred there over the years. For example in the 1990s there were intense battles between the Chechens and the Georgians who were fighting over land formerly lived in by people from Estonia most of whom fled back to Estonia. If these historical facts don’t mean much to you, it isn’t necessary to study maps of this area to appreciate this film. The plot is relatively simple. Ivo, an Estonian man has stayed behind to build wooden crates to help harvest a crop of tangerines, which are grown on his friend’s nearby farm. Some bloody encounters between the warring factions leave several soldiers dead and 2 injured at Ivo’s doorstep. What develops is a moving drama between these two soldiers on opposing sides and the two civilians who attempt to rescue them The story was written in two weeks by Zaza Urushadze who also eventually directed the movie after it was set up for a 30 day shoot by producer Ivo Felt. The film emerges as good of an anti-war movie that you will have ever seen. The acting is suburb with starring roles by very well known actors in their region of the world. They are: Lembit Ulfsak, Mikheil Meskhi, Giorgi Nakhashidze, Elmo Niiganen and Raivo Trass. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe and currently is one of the nominees for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. It has English subtitles and deserves to be translated into many different languages and shown all over the world. It may be a little while until is passes through your local Art Movie theatre but it is worth tracking down and seeing it when it becomes available. (2015)
Still Alice- rm We were moved to see film because of all the pre Academy Award hype about the performance of Julianne Moore. After seeing this film we agree that she did a tremendous job playing a college professor who has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and probably deserves an Oscar. The overall movie disappointed us. Alice Howland ( Ms. Moore) is happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who is forgetting words and having memory lapses. She receives a diagnosis of this relatively rare disease which inevitably has a fairly rapid downhill course. Ms. Moore’s performance is nuanced and her struggle is very painful and easy to empathize with. Her facial expressions convey what we imagine are her internal feelings. Her eyes portray her fear and then the diminished attention and intellectual ability. It is a remarkable performance. It is helped by her gradual change in makeup and hair appearance. The screenplay which was written by director Richard Glatzer is based on novel by Lisa Genova, was focused almost completely on Alice despite having an excellent cast and potential story lines that could have made this in our opinion a much better movie. We learn in this film that this is an inherited disease and once you have the gene you will inevitably get the disease. It is possible to do genetic testing and that is offered to her three children played by Kristin Stewart, Shane McRae and Hunter Parrish. One daughter declined to be tested, one son tested negative and a third daughter who was trying to become pregnant tested positive. We are not shown anything about their struggle and their decision process, which is one of the major areas of ethical discussions in the world of modern genetics. Her husband is played by Alec Baldwin, who in our opinion turns in an uncharacteristically bland performance. Perhaps again it is the choice of the screenwriter/director to keep the main focus on Ms. Moore. This may be why we don’t see the internal struggle of the husband and his remarkable decision in what would seem to be the final phase of his wife’s illness, to decide to take a job out of town. It could have been a tour de force if we could more fully appreciate what this family was going through as well as the devastation conveyed so well by Ms. Moore. (2015)
Wild Tales sp – Damiean Szifron is a young Argentinian director and playwright who had a drawer full of short screenplays all of which have an element of revenge that more or less spins out of control. He put six of them together for an anthology that ended being the Argentina entry in the Academy Awards for the best foreign films. Out of the 82 entries from all over the world, this became one of the six nominated in this category for an Oscar. By taking each storyline to a point of seeing the main character or characters losing control, Szifron also has created at times a hilarious comedy. The acting is great as apparently some of the best actors in Argentina were drawn to this project. It starts off with a airline flight where the passengers realize that everyone is in some way connected to the same guy from their past who they learn has taken over the cockpit of their plane.. The movie concludes with a wedding scene that you will never forget and may even have some elements in it with which you will identify. Although they are not all very pretty, they will have you laughing. Each of the sections of this movie, while different in content, do flow together. The editing is crisp, the camera views are thoughtful, the music appropriately carries the mood and the subtitles are very readable if you don’t understand Spanish. It is a most creative, brilliantly executed film that is well worth seeing! (2015)
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)
Searching For Sugarman nf -In the 1970s there was a rock singer by the name “Rodriquez” much in the style of Bob Dylan who by many accounts was as good if not better than Dylan. His lyrics were right on for the times and his voice as clear (not like BD) as a bell. He was out of Detroit and a few of the music impresarios who produced many stars of Mo-town thought he was fantastic. His story is the subject of this movie directed by Malik Bendjelloul which won the 2013 Academy Award Oscar for the best Documentary Film. Rodriquez’s music which is played throughout the film will catch your attention Take a quick listen here. For some reason he didn’t catch on and his records didn’t sell. He had played in some dives in Detroit for a while and there were rumors of his death or attempted suicide on stage. (Spoiler Alert!) He didn’t die and in fact he just faded away and for the next 25 years or so, Rodriquez lived in a modest house and worked in construction and demolition. He was a quiet hard working man who had three wonderful daughters. He still enjoyed playing on the guitar now and then but he basically melted into the woodwork as a working guy living in a depressed difficult city. However on the other side of the world in South Africa unbeknownst to him and the record producers who dumped him when he didn’t sell, his records were picked up by other labels and for many years he was “Bigger than Elvis.” His words and music became the voice of the young generation of mostly whites who felt apartheid was wrong but were suppressed by the oppressive government of South Africa. 100.000s, if not perhaps millions, of his records were sold. He received no royalties and hadn’t the slightest idea that his name was a household name there. Every young person including many of the popular musicians who became of age in the 80s and early 90s in South Africa knew his music and so many felt they were greatly influenced by it. There were a handful of people in South Africa, writers and music people, who wondered why they didn’t know more about him. Two guys tried to find out what happened and how did he die – was it really on stage? Somebody set up a website reflecting the curiosity of whatever happened to him. Lo and behold one of his daughters living in the U.S. saw the website. The story of how the people in South Africa found him and how he found South Africa will be a touching moment that you will not forget. The reunion concert with thousands of fans in ecstasy singing along with him was an amazing piece of cinema. This was a great subject for a documentary film as it allowed the viewers to share this unforgettable moment and this amazing story. (2012)
Facing Fear-sp We doubt very much that most of the readers of this blog will see this short documentary film (20 minutes) that has been nominated for an Academy Award. However, when it turns up on TV you should take the time to see it and if you are involved with educating people about bullying, overcoming prejudice and similar issues, you will want a copy of this DVD when it comes out.
As a 13 year-old, Mathew Boger was literally thrown out of his house when he told his mother that he was gay. He ended up spending most of the next few years living in the street of Los Angeles. Tim Zale grew up part of neo-Nazi Skinhead gang with a large tomahawk hair cut on his mostly shaven head. He and his buddies would cruise the streets of Los Angeles getting into fights and bullying some of the homeless people they encountered. This was to be the case late one night in front of a well- known LA hamburger place where Zale and his pals encountered Boger alone in the street. They beat him up and while he was on the ground Zale delivered kicks to head and face with a boot that had a razor in the toe. They left him believing he was dead.
Boger survived, but the hate and persistent anger at his attackers was part of his fantasy life for many years. Both young men moved on with their lives. Zale went to school, ultimately received a Masters Degree and had a family. His thinking began to change when he saw some of his hate and prejudice towards various groups being verbalized by his own son. Boger established a long-term relationship and eventually got a job as an administrator in charge of tours at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. By coincidence, Zale began to volunteer to give tours and lectures to the public at this iconic museum, which is best known for graphic depiction and personal stories of the horrors caused by Nazis during the Holocaust. During his time there Zale would share how his thinking had evolved over the years. One day they both were lecturing a group together and by the details Zale was describing of his youth, Boger realized that Zale was part of the group that almost killed him. They began to have private discussions and both immediately knew that it was Zale who delivered the nearly fatal blow to his new colleague at the museum and left him for dead twenty-five years before.
Director and Producer Jason Cohen very skillfully weaved the narrative told by both men with very effective images of the streets of Los Angeles. There were some photographs of Zale and his buddies in their earlier days as skin-heads but there were no photos available of Bogart as the homeless street kid. Miraculously, Bogart’s sister had some old films of him as an infant and a small child with his very attractive mother. Credit should also be give to Director of Photography Svetlana Cvetko, who won an Academy Award for Inside Job and veteran Editor and Co-Producer Tom Christopher who has worked in the past with George Lucas and others.
The tremendous value of this film is to watch up close the ruminations of Bogart and Zale as they examine their feelings about each other and what happened in the past. Bogart’s incredible journey to forgive not only Zale but also his mother is quite remarkable. Zale’s task to face Boger and ask for forgiveness and then also to forgive himself is also quite dramatic as well.
We cannot think of a better teaching tool to show to students as well as victims and perpetrators of prejudice. It can only be a wonderful instrument to stimulate discussion, self-reflection and insight. The filmmakers, having received this unexpected recognition of an Academy Award nomination, plan to have their work available to those who want to see it and use it for these purposes. For more information about the film you can go to their website: http://www.facingfearmovie.com/ (2014)
August: Osage County sp– Meryl Streep has done it again as she turns in what has to be a sure thing for another Oscar nomination as best actress and we wouldn’t be surprised if Julia Roberts snags one for her supporting role. These two are part of the most dysfunctional family configurations that you can imagine as they gather in the matriarch’s (Meryl Streep) house after the patriarch(Sam Shepherd) has just killed himself. The setting is bleak but beautiful (if that is possible) Osage County in Oklahoma. The three daughters who come home, are played by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson. A husband and boyfriend are played by Ewan McGregor and Dermot Mulroney. Margo Martindale is great as the almost equally mean sister of Steep’s character and her grown son is inhabited by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. Her husband is wonderfully acted by Chris Cooper. The Director is John Wells who is best known for his television work on ER, West Wing, Shameless, Southland and many other shows. He certainly found the right touch to work with this all star cast as the interaction which develops over the post funeral dinner is spellbinding as are the subplots with the various family members. The screenplay is written by Tracy Letts who originally wrote it as a highly successful Broadway play which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Wells, in a post screening discussion, stated that he hoped the audience will find a little of their own families in this depiction which we believe is a stretch as much of the family interrelationships were horrendous although fascinating. Streep’s character is anyone’s worst nightmare as a shrew, cruel insensitive pill popping mother about whom we can only gain insight and understanding when we hear her talk about her own mother. Is it ever possible to get away from such a bad piece of luck as to be born into this family? In one sense the movie is a study of how family members might be able to escape from such a toxic environment. We can only imagine how this witch-like matriarch might feel if she is finally abandoned and left alone with her native American housekeeper (perfectly played by Misty Upham). (2013)
Barbara- sp This is the 2012 entry from Germany in the Oscar race for best foreign film. It is a throwback to the 1980s and a view of East Germany a little less than 10 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story revolves around Barbara (Nina Hoss) a doctor who has been sent to the boonies ( a small hospital in the countryside of East Germany.) Her wish and her goal is to escape from this oppressive country and she has a plan to do it. However, she is constantly under the watchful scrutiny of the secret police as well as that of her colleague Andre (Ronald Fehrfeld).
She also has a keen awareness of the hardship and cruelty which the government causes the people around her especially a few of the young patients at her hospital who we have a chance to meet. This is the 5th movie that Nina Hoss has made with Director Christian Pelzold and the most successful one in Germany. Hoss’ intense depiction of the emotions of her character is done with few words. The storyline is slow to develop but the suspense and the drama are very well done. (2012)
The Grand Canyon nf– After recently seeing Director/Writer Larry Kasden’s latest film Darling Companion and liking it very much we decided to view this 1991 film also directed by Kasden and co- written with his wife Meg Kasden. This film was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay. It is set and made in Los Angeles about one year before the LA Riots. It is about people from different parts of town whose lives intersect due to some random circumstances. Kevin Kline plays Mac, a successful attorney who goes off the beaten path in more than one way but finds himself seemingly rescued by Simon (Danny Glover), a tow truck driver. Their lives and their life styles reflect their different social, racial and economic settings. The important people in each of their lives are struggling with their own identities and life crisis. Mack’s wife Claire (Mary McDonnell) questions her marriage and tries to deal with her feelings as she is watching her teenage son grow up and have his first romance. She has to decide how to fulfill her own life as well as that of a newborn abandoned child who she discovers while out jogging. Simon’s sister (Afre Woodard), on the other side of town is trying to figure out how to raise her teenage son who can’t see any other choices than being a gang member. Everyone’s lives are intersecting. Not only does the film contrast different life styles in Los Angeles that are only a few minutes car ride away from each other but also puts a mirror to the personal decisions that each person has to make. Kasden uses an ensemble cast of excellent actors and it seems that he has chosen Steve Martin to play the character closest to himself. In a non-comedic role Martin is Davis, a movie producer who wants to make honest films that show the human condition even if they contain realistic violent action that he does best. We come away from this movie reflecting that we are each a tiny spec in this universe that we can’t control but we still have decisions to make that can make a difference. (1991)
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)