Feature Films


Reviews by Lois Siegel


The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Directed by Stephan Elliott, 104 minutes, 1994, Australia

A wonderful comedy about two drag queens and a transsexual woman performer who travel across the Australian outback from Sydney to Alice Springs in a bus named Priscilla. Their shows are terrific and funny, the acting is outstanding:
Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp. During their travels, they confront the homophobic attitudes of rural Australia.

Academy Award, Best Costume Design, Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel, 1995
Seattle International Film Festival
, Best Actor Terence Stamp, Best Film


American Splendor, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini,101 minutes, 2003, USA

Documentary and fiction are combined in this very unusual film about Harvey Pekar who is known for his autobiographical comic book "American Splendor." Sundance International Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize; Academy Award Nomination: Best Screenplay. Cannes International Film Festival: Fipresci Award (International Film Critics Association Award). 
 
Angels & Insects Directed by Philip Haas, 116 minutes, 1995, USA/UK

The film is based on the novel  "Morpho Eugenia" by A.S. Byatt. Byatt won the Booker Prize for her novel, "Possession." It's also interesting to note that she's the sister of novelist Margaret Drabble.  Angels and Insects is an infestation of sexual mores, where wealthy society has its secrets, and to survive, one must escape. The film stars Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas.  Both are excellent, as well as Annette Badland as Lady Alabaster and Douglas Henshall as Edgar Alabaster.




As It is in Heaven,
Directed by Kay Pollak, 132 minutes, 2004, Sweden

There have been many feel-good documentary choir films in the past.  “Close Harmony,” USA, features two generations: fourth and fifth graders who give a concert combined with seniors. The film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject (1982). “Cool and Crazy” (2001) focuses on a men’s choir from Norway. “Young at Heart, 2007, U.K. proved “You’re never too old to Rock.” These 70 and 80-year-olds swing with the Bee Gees, James Brown and the Pointer Sisters. They definitely are “Stayin Alive.” 


Daniel Dareus (Michael Nyqvist)


“As It Is in Heaven” is a feature film. Daniel Dareus (Michael Nyqvist), an accomplished orchestra director, quits his stressful job for health reasons. He decides to retire to his hometown village in the Swedish countryside – a location of good and bad memories, where he first played the violin and was bullied by other kids.


The town’s people have one small, not so great, choir. Once they discover that Dareus is a musician, they recruit him to improve the quality of their singing.  The usual process evolves – they slowly get better, but one of the country toughs is still there, older, but just as nasty. In a small town, gossip and rivalries disrupt every activity. Everyone’s business is everyone’s business. Despite all this, the choir survives. There’s a wonderful sequence towards the end of the film that expresses the contagious joy of music. 

“As It Is in Heaven” received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (2005).


Away from Her, Directed by Sarah Polley, 110 minutes, 2007, Canada

Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, and Olympia Dukakis

One of the best Canadian films ever...
And definitely one of the best love stories
Superb acting giving a sense of reality to an emotional situation

Sarah Polly confronts a difficult subject with maturity and sensitivity in this film
based on a short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro.

In the film, Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie) have been married for 50 years.
We are given hints that their relationship has not always been without problems,
but they are now at a time of their lives when all is good.

But we quickly realize that something has started to go wrong. 
Fiona is showing signs of mental deterioration.
Alzheimer's is the definite suspect.
What's interesting about this film is that it focuses not just on the victim of the disease,
but specifically on the emotions of the husband who truly loves his wife
 and is desperately afraid of losing her. Gordon Pinsent's performance is outstanding.

Begin Again, Directed by Irish Writer-Director John Carney, 104 minutes, 2013, U.S.A.

If you're a musician, I think you will love this film. If you're not a musician, you still will. It's definitely a feel-good movie.  Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has been in the music business in New York City.  He was very successful, creating hits, but now he drinks. He split with his wife (Catherine Keener) and occasionally sees his teenage daughter who dresses  like "Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver," - "American Apparel" sexy. He's quickly moving downhill. 

Dan drives a once fancy car now on its last legs.  He listens to CDs of wannabe stars as he drives whose music he mostly hates and tosses the really bad ones out the window as he downs alcohol and pills.

In a somewhat drunken stupor, Dan enters a bar and discovers Greta (Keira Knightley) as she performs a song she wrote "Lost Stars." She has been dumped by her not so interesting boyfriend who has sold out to the music industry. Dan is attracted to the song, and he orchestrates the tune in his head in an elaborate arrangement.  It's a wonderful sequence because we learn how music is constructed with its many layers into a full track as he visualizes it happening.

Now he has to convince Greta that he can promote her and the song. He comes up with the idea of an independent record label.... recording all over the New York City outdoors with his car as a mobile studio.  He finds talented young student musicians and some pros offering a deal on the back end. Anyone in show business knows that this means deferred payment - the money may or may not come through.

Recordings take place in a row boat, a subway station, the rooftop of a tall building....

There's a wonderful beat box sequence in the film when Dan is recruiting a few professional musicians and another great scene when Dan has to bribe a group of noisy young kids in an alley to keep quiet while he's recording.

What happens to the recording reflects the power of social media.

Stay for the credits at the end of the film...the story continues.

Note:  John Carney also directed "Once," a romantic story about musicians and their struggles.  Academy Award,  Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song, Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová - "Falling Slowly."
 

Review by Lois Siegel
Trailer

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Directed by John Madden, 124 minutes, 2012, U.K.

When I first heard the title of this film, I thought, what an awful title. I will never remember it. The problem was, I didn't understand how it fit the film. That all chanced once I saw "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." The title suddenly was perfect.

The Marigold Hotel is advertised as the dream retirement spot for those ready for a change in life - the elderly who are no longer working. The ads convey a sense of luxury.

A disparate group of British hopefuls descend on India with anxious anticipation.  They are lonely and financially insecure. They are looking for excitement in an exotic land.

The cast is outstanding:  Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith,
Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton. In their age bracket, you can't get much better than that.


                             Judi Dench



What they encounter is not exactly what appeared in the ads. Instead they discover a rather dilapidated building, that was once a palace.

Greeting them is Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). You'll remember him as the star of "Slumdog Millionaire." Sonny runs the hotel. His enthusiasm gushes and overflows. He's a mixture of the the right kind of
ambition and energy to make this endeavor work. Hyperactive is an understatement.


                            Dev Patel

The film becomes an adult fairytale about growing old and accepting one's fate. But life isn't over yet for these strangers. They still have some living to do, so don't count them out.
Humor abounds.

These seven adventurers have lots of adjustments to make. One is the food.  "If I can't pronounce it,
I don't eat it," Maggie Smith blurts out.

There are great street scenes in this "Geographic Magazine" of the Eastern World.  It's an assault on the senses. The crowds are overwhelming - a riot of noise and color. There are elephants on the road.
"Dive into it, and you'll swim out the other side," they are encouraged.

Coping is Step No. 1. and then adapting to their new environment. They can't bring back the past. They can only live in the present.

"Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, then it's not the end," Sonny insists.

The film oozes with charm.

See this film. It's one of the best this year.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel


Bloody Sunday,  Directed by Paul Greengrass, 110 minutes, 2002, U.K./Ireland

"Bloody Sunday" reveals the events of a peace march in Northern Ireland, January 30, 1972,  that ended in tragedy.


                               Ivan Cooper

Activist Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt) is the organizer who leads the people of Derry into tragedy, despite warnings by the British that they will not permit a march. A trigger-happy group of British soldiers kill 13 protesters and wounds 14 unarmed marchers. British authorities whitewash the incident.

Because the film is shot in hand-held, documentary style, a real sense of being there forces the viewer to identify with everyone involved. The film is shot chronologically, in short sections, cutting back and forth between the marchers and the British army.

Berlin International Film Festival, Golden Berlin Bear, Paul Greengrass; Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Competition - Paul Greengrass.
Sundance,  Audience Award, World Cinema - Paul Greengrass, 2002.

Blow-up , directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, 111 minutes, 1966, U.K./Italy



The film could be any photographer's adventure or fantasy. A young David Hemmings plays a fashion photographer who happens upon a strange scene one day while in the park. His camera may have captured a murder.  Also featured are Vanessa Redgrave, model Veruschka, Jane Birkin, and The Yardbirds.

Hemmings explains, "Antonioni painted the park in Woolwich a complete green: bark of trees, fences, grass leaves and various other odd spots. Took about two days while we waited, laying certain claim to the old adage that movie making is fundamentally 'Hurry up and Wait.'"

"The original story, as translated into English, was called "A Girl, A Photographer, and a Beautiful April Morning, and that is what Antonioni wanted to call the film. Finally, "Blow-Up" was the decision, and all earlier versions of the story were changed to reflect that."

"The studio used in the film was owned by photographer John Cowan." The film is based on an intriguing short story by Julio Cortazar.
Cannes Film Festival, Golden Palm, 1967.


The Brave One, directed by Neil Jordan, 119 minutes, 2007, USA

Jodi Foster and Terrence Howard give outstanding performances in this drama about brutalized robbery victims in New York City.


Erica Bain (Foster) is a radio host. She becomes an unlikely vigilante after her fiancé is murdered one summer night by thugs in a park.  Detective Mercer (Howard) is the investigating cop on the case.


                   Terrence Howard

Irish Director Neil Jordan is known for his outstanding films "The Crying Game,"
"Mona Lisa," and "The Butcher Boy."


Neil Jordan


Pane e tulipani (Bread and Tulips), directed by Silvio Soldini, 114 minutes, 2000, Italy

Guild of German Art House Cinemas, Guild Film Silver Award for Foreign Film, Silvio Soldini.
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, Silver Ribbon
Swiss Film Award, Best Actor, Bruno Ganz
U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Film Discovery Jury Award, Best Screenplay, Doriana Leondeff, Silvio Soldini


Capote, directed by
Bennett Miller, 98 minutes, 2005, USA

"Capote" is one of the most riveting films in a long time. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance is so strong, that I suspect many men will squirm watching his effeminate gestures and mannerisms and hearing that high-pitched voice. But there is no doubt that the contrast of seeing Capote such as he is in backwoods Kansas in the 1950s will make everyone uneasy. He just doesn't fit into the landscape. Place all this into the context of a brutal murder, and you have the makings of a very strange story.  And Capote manipulates those around him to get the story he wants. We also realize that writing is not an easy occupation. The research, time, travel, and patience required becomes evident over the four-year period Capote writes his book "In Cold Blood."


                   Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote
                 with
Catherine Keener as Harper Lee

As the film jumps back and forth from a lively New York  party scene to a much more sedate Kansas tranquility, we are amazed by Capote's ability to deal with it all.  It also becomes evident that we will never really get to know Capote. And that is what makes his character so fascinating.

Carnage, Directed by Roman Polanski, 78 minutes, France | Germany | Poland | Spain
Based on the play "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza

Starring
Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christophe Waltz


There is something special about viewing a film with outstanding actors.
Their talent binds the film and makes the story relevant. In "Carnage,"
 one location is transformed into a small world, revealing the lives of two couples. At first they are quite polite, but then, with the aid of alcohol, their other selves appear, brimming with  accusations, revelations, and embarrassments. The film is a history of relationships
 and how they are never perfect.

"Carnage" starts with a seemly innocent scene during
the opening titles. We see young schoolboys outside being boys. 
They talk, they jostle, they fight.

What happens next is the real story... how parents become involved
and try to handle the situation when one boy has been harmed by another.


Christophe Waltz, Kate Winslet

The film becomes a cross between "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966),
and "Lord of the Flies."   "Virginia Woolf," directed by Mike Nichols starred
 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as an older couple
who sling brutal accusations at each other
in the presence of a younger couple, George Segal and Sandy Dennis.
The film won five Oscars.

"Lord of the Flies," (1990), directed by Harry Hook, focuses on a group
 of young boys who, stranded on an island without adult supervision,
lose their dignity and become savages.

In Polanski's film, what starts as civilized behavior between four adults,
quickly deteriorates into a spectacle of unpleasant occurrences and
unbecoming actions.

It's when a bottle of 18-year-old Scotch is opened
that the secrets pour out as the couples tell stories about each other
and tensions and emotions are pushed to extremes.



The characters are strong, the shooting is amazing for a small location
and the film is 'theatre' at its best.

Trailer
Review by Lois Siegel

Culture.pl
Polanski


Caught on a Train, directed by Peter Duffell, 1980, U.K./USA
BBC Production in Association with Time Life Films

You can’t beat BBC drama.  There’s something compelling about good actors and a good script that’s well directed.  The twists and turns of this story that’s unpredictable will hold your attention, even if you don’t like everything that takes place.  You’ll find yourself fascinated with the characters, and you become involved in their lives.

The train is a major character in the film.  It’s like a moving home with visitors who live there for a short period of time, bringing their peculiar lives along with them. We glimpse snippets of their personalities as they try to co-exist in small compartments.

In the film, a young, English businessman (Michael Kitchen) is confronted with an overbearing elderly Viennese lady (Dame Peggy Ashcroft).  They repel and attract each other as they move through the night on the Ostend-Vienna express.


Chef
Producer, Director, Writer, Actor Jon Favreau (a talented “one-man band”), 115 minutes, 2014, USA

Owners of restaurants (Dustin Hoffman) and their chefs (Jon Favreau) don’t always get along.  Add a famous food critic to the mix (Oliver Platt), and you have good conflict to get the story going. The restaurant critic is coming to the restaurant, and the owner wants his chef to present a traditionally favorite menu.  The chef doesn’t agree. He wants to prepare something new, but he does what he’s told.  The critic pans the food. One bad review, and the story thickens.  The film has a predictable storyline, but excellent actors make it work… and the A-list of celebrities does the trick: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Gary Clark Jr., Gary Shandling, and Amy Sedaris.

Our chef finds a solution. He opens a food truck business, and the adventure is on.

What makes Chef unusual is a 10-year-old kid (Emjay Anthony) who plays Percy, the chef’s son. He doesn’t have cutesy lines like most kids in films. He’s sensitive, intelligent, and sincere.  His charm makes the film work, as do the terrific cameo scenes.  One features Robert Downey Jr. wearing blue disposable polypropylene shoe covers, the kind you are given in your doctors’ office in winter to keep the floor clean. Downey’s performance is definitely delightfully off- the- wall. And there’s a fun sequence with comedian Russell Peters playing a Miami cop.

Watch the credits at the end of the film.  Favreau is coached by Roy Choi, Korean-American chef on How to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Choi created the gourmet Korean taco truck, Kogi. He’s one of the founders of the food truck movement, and he was named Food and Wine Magazine’s
Best New Chef, 2010. He plays himself in the film.

Chef is a funny and “yum” film to watch.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel


Les Choristes (The Choir), directed by
Christophe Barratier, 96 minutes, 2004,  France


A touching story with excellent casting and the familiar drama of bad guys versus good guys. Clément Mathieu undertakes the daunting task of teaching music at a boy's boarding school where discipline is rigid and humanity non-existent. His choir transforms the lives of those he inspires through music.


Academy Awards, nominated Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Bruno Coulais (composer), Christophe Barratier (lyricist) -
For the song "Look To Your Path (Vois Sur Ton Chemin)" and Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, France.
Austin Film Festival,
Audience Award,
Best Narrative Feature. Bangkok International Film Festival, Best Director. César Awards France, Best Music Written for a Film, Best Sound. European Film Awards, Best Composer. Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival, Jury Award Best Film.


The Chumscrubber, Directed by
Arie Posin, 108 minutes, 2005, USA/Germany

A dark version of the TV comedy "Weeds,"  this film is a very funny look into a suburban neighborhood where all the people are in dreamland, on some kind of fantasy pill. Cast includes Glenn Close, Allison Janney, William Fichtner and Jamie Bell, but it's Ralph Fiennes who is hilarious as a fiancé gone berserk.

 
Ralph Fiennes

The City of Your Final Destination, Directed by James Ivory, 118 minutes, 2010, USA

A young academic travels to South American to convince a family (brother, widow,  mistress) that he should write the authorized biography of the famous deceased writer Jules Gund.  This film has epic dimensions as a history of the unusual Gund family. It spans time and reveals the complex living situation of a multi-layered family having fled German and now living in a sprawling mansion in the countryside of Uruguay.  The intertwining of lives evolves as the film progresses.

The acting is superb:  Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Omar Metwally, Alexandra Maria Lara, and the
screenplay, of course is written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She is part of the triumvirate: Merchant, Ivory, Jhabvala. Based on the novel by Peter Cameron.

The film is excellent.


Coco Avant Chanel
Directed by Anne Fontaine

Whether you like biographies or not, see this film for the clothes and the outstanding cinematography.  Both are excellent. There are already rumblings of an Oscar for wardrobe.  The acting is superb. Audrey Tautou plays Coco, the famous French fashion designer whose work reflected a more masculine look, stressing simplicity.  Her designs were elegant and sophisticated, rather than overstated and flamboyant.  She dressed in pants suits with vests and ties, minus the fluff of the times where ladies wore jewellery “showing off their silverware.”  Coco wore black to high-class parties when all the other women were dressed in white.

She strongly influenced fashion in the 20th Century, and her career lasted 60 years. “Coco Avant Chanel” is a romantic, unpredictable biography.


The Commitments, Directed by Alan Parker, 118 minutes, 1991, Ireland, UK, USA

This film has become a band classic. It never grows old. The images of Dublin’s tough North Side are wonderful. Our first glimpses of Jimmy Rabbitte are at a flee market filled with wonderful pictures of amateur musicians and peddlers. We meet Jimmy as he is trying to sell CDs and T-Shirts from a satchel he lugs around from booth-to-booth.


Jimmy wants to be a band manager. We watch as he assembles a motley gang, mostly of unemployed musicians, to form a soul band.  He checks out a local wedding where a guitar player uses a beer glass (full) to play his instrument like a Dobro (rather than fingering chords, the Dobro player usually uses a metal slide). Jimmy figures a Soul Band will sell.  He puts an announcement in the local paper: “Have You got soul,” and we see a hilarious array of hopefuls who knock on his family’s door to audition. There’s a lovely collage including a bad harmonica player, singing, tap dancing girls, a guy with a tall, pink Mohawk, some out-of-tune singers, a terrible heavy-rock player, and a guy who plays a guitar perched on his head. The best musician is a bagpiper, but he isn’t exactly soul.

Jimmy’s father sings Elvis.  Jimmy: “Elvis is not soul.”  Father: “Elvis is God.”
A guy shows up doing a Cajun version of Elvis.  Jimmy’s father yells, “Blasphemy.”
The scene is hilarious.


Jimmy does collect some good musicians: There’s 45-year-old trumpet player, Joey "The Lips" Fagan who likes being around young girls and a 16-year-old, large, paunchy singer Deco (Andrew Strong, son of Irish soul singer Rob Strong). His rendition of
"Mustang Sally" is outstanding.  

Jimmy doesn’t have much money, but he promises them, “Lads, when this band’s happening, you will be fighting women off. They’ll be throwing their knickers on the stage.”  He makes a good sell.

There’s great music throughout the film, and if you’ve ever played in a band or had illusions about playing in one, this film is a ‘must-see.’

Trailer


The Damned United
Directed by Tom Hooper

You don’t need to know anything about football (soccer) to enjoy this film.

It’s essentially about greed, blind ambition, and true friendship.

Michael Sheen, who played an excellent Tony Blair in “The Queen,” is Brian Clough, a British football manager.  He seeks the most coveted job in England, Head of the Leeds team.  It’s a steep climb to the top, but this is something he really wants. He’s obsessed.

Sheen’s a wonderful actor and a delight to watch. There’s rivalry between Clough and the current manager of Leeds United, Don Revie (Colm Meaney, egged-on by dirty football plays by Revie’s team.  The production design by Eve Stewart, who won an Emmy for Art Direction for “Elizabeth I,” reflects the 60s and 70s, complete with tacky wallpaper. “The Damned United” is based on real people and events. Black and white documentary newsreel footage is interspersed as the story moves back and forth in time.

You’ll also see Jim Broadbent as Derby County's chairman Sam Longson and Timothy Spall as Clough's assistant Peter Taylor. 


Dan in Real Life, Directed by
Peter Hedges, 98 minutes, 2007, USA

If you like light comedies, this is the perfect film for you.  Dan (Steve Carell) is a single father with three daughters. He writes an advice column in the local newspaper. Ironically, in real life, what he needs is advice on how to find a wife. He drags his kids to occasional weekends with all the relatives in the country.  On one such visit, he meets a lovely woman in a bookstore, but there are complications that will keep you laughing.

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards,
Nominated Critics Choice Award, Best Comedy Movie, 2008

Dans La Maison
(In the House)
Directed by Francois Ozon, 105 minutes, 2012, France


                    Ernst Umhauer and Fabrice Luchini

Take “Fatal Attraction” and add some bizarre twists… and you have the haunting film “Dans La Maison.” 

Location: Lycee Gustave Flaubert, a high school where they’ve just instituted obligatory uniforms, so that everyone will be equal. But in this film, not everyone is equal.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) teaches French Literature. First assignment: 24 hours in the Life of a Teenager…. What did you do over the weekend? His students bore him. They write:  “I don’t like Sundays. I like Saturdays.” Their observations are mundane, about cell phones and pizza.  He calls them barbarians.

But then Germain comes across a paper that intrigues him. Enter 16-year-old Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer).  His paper describes an ‘invasion’ into the life of a family: father, mother, son. Claude has been observing the “family,” particularly the wife of Rapha Artole, from afar. To get closer to them, he offers to tutor the family's teenage son, a classmate, who is doing poorly with math. "There's always a way to enter a house," Claude says. He writes: “The singular scent of a middle-class woman...She has the eye color of the sofa" – to be continued.
Claude claims to be following a normal family. He's too young to know that 'normal' is a relative term.

Germain is intrigued. He reads the paper to his wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas). She warns Germain that this situation could be dangerous, but Germain sees Claude as a rebel… someone to mentor and encourage.  Germain crosses the line between teacher/pupil. He becomes involved, obsessed with helping this young man. He allows Claude to continue with his examination of the family.

Essentially, Claude evolves into the "Peeping Tom" that he knows will excite Germain.      

                               

The relationship with the 'normal' family grows more complicated as Claude continues writing his episodes of what happens in the house. And with each paper he submits to Germain, it's clear he's becoming more daring as he explores his little experiment with the life of his chosen family.  We watch the disturbing effect this has on Germain.

What is real becomes confused with what is imagined... except for the harsh reality of Claude’s real family life, revealed only at the end of the film.

Message: Be careful how engaged you become with someone else’s life.

Trailer (French)
 Review by Lois Siegel


The Decline of the American Empire, Directed by Denys Arcand, 102 minutes, 1986, Quebec


Denys Arcand

Men talk about women and women talk about men.  It's clever and humorous, and you haven't seen another film like this one.  What has become of the relationships among the sexes? A quiet interlude in the country reveals all.

The film won 9 Genie Awards in 1987: Best Motion Picture, Best Achievement in Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Film Editing, and the Golden Reel Award.


Dialogue avec mon jardinier, directed by Jean Becker, 104 minutes, 2007, France

A charming film, "Dialogue avec mon jardinier," presents two men who are direct opposites. Although they were in the same class in grade school, pulling a childish prank on their teacher, they went their separate ways. One became a painter,
the other a railroad labourer and eventually the painter’s gardener.

From different worlds, they reflect on their lives and influence each other. The gardener, although not from a cultured environment, has a way of affecting his more sophisticated friend by revealing his way of seeing the world and appreciating a simple life. The painter takes times to look at things and interpret them abstractly.  The gardener works with his hands; the painter is more cerebral. 



The film is full of wonderful, humorous details about people... other characters in their worlds. They become caring friends and, in a sense, begin to depend on each other. They create nicknames   Dupinceau (Daniel Auteuil) and Dujardin (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). Darroussin is outstanding as a sensitive, down-to-earth, caring man, and Auteuil's character begins to change and become more like him as their lives intertwine.

This is a lovely film about friendship.

 
Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Jean Becker, Daniel Auteuil


The Dreamlife of Angels, directed by Erick Zonca, 113 minutes, 1998, France

The female leads are terrific: Elodie Bouchez (Isa) and Natacha Regnier (Marie). Two young women try to get by with little money and no real ambition.

Elephant, directed by Gus Van Sant, 81 minutes, 2003, USA

This film is terrific.  It's a very stylized approach to the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, but the images create such an eerie atmosphere, that you can't help being constantly involved in what is happening. Long tracking shots, overlapping scenes that are suddenly discovered when the same scene re-occurs minutes later from a different angle. The content focuses on a day-in-the-life of a school. You are never sure what will happen next.  

The story develops slowly, with cameo appearances in classrooms or in the hallways of the school as to what the students are doing or thinking about. The main 'villains' are so glib about their lives that it's impossible to understand why they decide to kill for the fun of it. The focus of the film is limited basically to a few select students in the school, but these students represent a range of teenage frustrations, concerns, and desires.
Festival De Cannes, Best Director, 2003; Palme D'Or Festival De Cannes, 2003;
New York Film Critics Circle Awards,
Best Cinematographer, Harris Savides; Village Voice Film Critics Poll, Best Director, Gus Van Sant, Best Cinematographer, Harris Savides.
 
 El Sol del membrillo (The Quince Tree, aka The Dream of Light) directed by Victor Erice, 133 minutes, 1992, Spain

A slow, contemplative study of a painter at work, combining documentary and fiction.  The Spanish artist, Antonio Lopez Garcia, plays himself.  Filmed with the extreme care.
Cannes Film Festival: Fipresci Award & Jury Prize.

Embrassez Qui Vous Voudrez (See How They Run), directed by Michel Blanc, 2002, France/U.K./Italy

Michel Blanc also plays the psychotically jealous husband in the film
.
I saw this film at the
Montreal World Film Festival, 2002. Great cast, including Charlotte Rampling and Jacques Dutronc. A comedy: instead of a 'ménage
ŕ trois,' it's more a 'ménage ŕ 13.'



Entre Les Murs (The Class)
Directed by Laurent Cantet, 128 minutes, 2008, France

starCannes Film Festival Palme d’Orstar

The students in a high school in a tough Parisian neighborhood
 and a teacher who tries to find ways to reach his multi-cultural students
are the stars of this film.
The African, Arab and Asian 14-15-year-olds trigger
the stark realization that life is different in other parts of the world.



It's a portrait of the kind of school that you can hardly imagine.
The students are brash and undisciplined.
They have come from elsewhere and are trying to eke out a life in a new country.

Entre Les Murs will certainly expose you to a classroom you haven't experienced before.

The subject of teacher versus students has been tackled before
 in both fiction films and documentaries:

Blackboard Jungle  (Richard Brooks, USA, 1955)


Blackboard Jungle

High School (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1968)


High School

Une Vie du Prof, (Hervé Chabalier, France, 1994)
Chabalier's film inspired
Le Plus beau métier du monde, starring Gerard Depardieu (
Gérard Lauzier, France, 1996)

The Elementary School (Jan Sverák, Czechoslovakia, 1991)


The Elementary School

Ętre et avoir (Nicolas Philibert, France, 2002)

Trailer Review by Xan Brooks

The Class by David Davidson


Even Emus Need to Dance, directed by Michael Rubbo, 2007, Australia

"Emus" is an experiment in improvisational acting.  The film revolves around the life of an elderly lady who lives in a large house. Her greedy sons-in law want to take over her home and sell it in order to pay off debts. The film is very interesting.  It mixes fiction and documentary, based on true stories from the people of Maleny, with non-professional actors. No rehearsal were allowed.
It may be the beginning of the new Australian Dogme cinema. Definitely a unique approach to filmmaking in the hinterlands.


The Experiment, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, 120 minutes, 2001, Germany

The film is based on a famous experiment conducted at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California in 1971. Twenty-four male students participated in a psychological study of the effects of prison life, guards versus prisoners, and the resulting power struggle. The study was shut down after six days to avoid impending disaster.

Fay Grim, directed by
Hal Hartley,  118 minutes, 2006, U.S.A./Germany

Hal Hartley is, as Jay Stone of The Ottawa Citizen calls him, fiercely independent. Don't expect a regular, run-of-the-mill type of film with "Fay Grim."  But if you like off-beat films, then this is the film for you.  It's a comedy - a spoof on thriller films, and everything about it is unconventional. Even the cinematography by
Sarah Cawley is askew, with the framing of the actors at a slight angle.

But the film is intriguing because it is unpredictable and funny in a camp sort of way. And there are lines like "Anything that can be sold is worth publishing."  The film follows Fay Grim (Parker Posey), who gets involved with a CIA agent (Jeff Goldblum) and runs off to Paris to locate notebooks that belonged to her ex-husband who has vanished.  She did a deal to spring her brother, a famous poet, who was in jail for abetting a crime... or something like that.  The story is confusing, but that doesn't matter, it's part of the fun and the tongue-in-cheek attack on these kinds of whodunit films.  Everyone is very earnest, everyone shoots everyone, and everyone is a spy.

The film is very stylized, but Parker Posey is perfect for her "Grim" role.  My only complaint is that the film is too long. It's a strange thriller and worth a look for those who like over-the-top, but still engaging, weird films.


Festival in Cannes directed by Henry Jaglom, 100 minutes, 2001, USA

Comedy: It's all hype when it comes to making deals in this film. Everyone is trying to get an edge and do the next deal or make their first deal. Every funny cliché is exploited, but it all seems so real. If you are in or interested in the film business, a must-see.

Fists in the Pocket, Directed by Marco Bellocchio  108 minutes, 1965, Italy

Lou Castel gives an outstanding performance  as Alessandro, an epileptic sociopath who lives with his dysfunctional family in a decaying villa. He's the second oldest of four children. His mother is blind; she doesn't see the cat eating off her plate. Augusto is the eldest. Other siblings are Leone, who is developmentally disabled, and Giulia, who is psychologically unstable.


Lou Castel

The family is isolated. Their relationships are strained, incestual, and sadistic.  It's the ultimate dysfunctional bourgeois family living in a decadent villa.


I Pugni in Tasca (1965) was one of 15 titles selected by New York's Museum of Modern Art for its "Second Act" retrospective of post-war Italian cinema in the spring 2000.

Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, Silver Ribbon, Best Original Story, Marco Bellocchio, 1966
Lorcano Interational Film Festival, Silver Sail, Marco Bellocchio, 1965.



April 8-14 2011

Funkytown
Directed by Daniel Roby
Written by Steve Galluccio

Down and Out in Montreal

It's not just that Montréal was disco funky in the mid to late 70s. It was also a vibrant place to be where life was changing quickly. In 1976 Montréal was awarded the Olympics and Crescent Street was blocked off every night for partying athletes and beautiful people. René Lévesque founded the Parti Quebecois and became the 23rd Premier of Quebec. and businesses started leaving for Toronto.
In 1977, the French language was declared the official language of Quebec.  And in 1979, Billboard Magazine called Montreal the second-most important market in North America for disco music, with its 50 dance clubs, including  Kébek Elektric, the Limelight, and Régines.

The film "Funkytown" centres around stories of seven people affected by the fast-moving scene in the city. Bastien Lavallée (Patrick Huard) is a central figure. Based on the true story of Alain Montpetit, we follow his downfall from radio and television fame to his destructive dependence on cocaine and a failed affair with a young wannabe starlet and a suspicious murder in NYC.

Another story depicts the flamboyantly gay Jonathan Aaronson (Paul Doucet) based on the life of Douglas Leopold, aka Coco, who threw wild debaucheries at his spacious loft on Queen Street in Old Montreal. No pun intended. A hammock was strung between beams, clothes were in open cupboards, two telephones sat side-by-side on a pillow, and the telephone never stopped ringing.  The bathroom was wall-to-wall photos, some of famous people, almost all included the occupant: Douglas Leopold.

He was an entertainment and gossip columnist, as well as a publicist, and hosted parties at Régines at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.  I wrote about him in "Cinema Canada." Douglas: "I just realized I have to be in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City - all in three hours. I just keep saying 'Yes' to everyone. I raised $4000 myself this weekend by going on stage at Place Des Arts. Maybe I should raffle someone's jock strap from the Alouettes."


Photo by Lois Siegel
Douglas Leopold and The Great Antonio
Montreal World Film Festival
1985

In "Funkytown," The Starlight disco is fashioned on the former Limelight on Stanley Street. There's a special floor for "homos."  It's the era of gay-bashing....where homosexuals meet under a bridge - the designated gay pick up spot.  Sex was often traded for stardom. Music promoters who represented future stars were known to hold their auditions in hot tubs, if you get my drift. They also dubbed other singers voices over their lip-syncing favorite sex objects who couldn't sing worth a damn.

Essentially, the film is about people who mess up their lives. The characters are classics. If you have any nostalgia for Montreal in the 70s-80s, this is a film you'll want to see or if you don't really know Montreal, you'll get a taste of what it was like in the disco years.

Canada, 132 minutes,  Bilingual: In English and French with English subtitles.

Review by Lois Siegel

Gran Torino, Directed by Clint Eastwood, 116 minutes, USA/Australia, 2008


Walt Kowalski, Korean War Veteran


Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) plays a great curmudgeon - a tough, grumpy, old bigot who lives alone in a neighborhood that is being taken over by Asians in "Gran Torino." He's racist and doesn't like these foreign "gooks," as he calls them, moving in. He refuses to let them touch his property or to help them in any way. But his neighbors don't give up trying to be friends with him. After they invite him over for a BBQ, he softens. Then he becomes their protector. When a gang harasses the neighborhood boy, he steps in with his guy, and he means business.

The family next door becomes more important to him than his own greedy, overweight family who would rather stash him in a retirement home and take over his possessions. The 1972 Gran Torino is Walt's car. It becomes an offering of love and respect for those he really loves.


Clint Eastwood

The film is filled with humor and good characters. Steve Campanelli, camera and Steadicam operator, wrote: "We shot it in 32 days, and we finished before lunch about 50% of the time! Crazy!."
See it. "Gran Torino" is the highest grossing movie of Eastwood's career and you won't forget "Walt." Eastwood turns 79 in May. He's still going strong.


Photo by Anthony Michael Rivetti
(L-R) Director Clint Eastwood, camera operator Steve Campanelli, 1st Assistant Camera Bill Coe,  and actor Bee Vang on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures
'Gran Torino.' The film stars Clint Eastwood and is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.


Grazie, Zia , (Thank You, Aunt) directed by Salvatore Samperi, 94 minutes, 1968, Italy

 In the same genre as I Pugni in Tasca: disabilities and dangerous games.


The Greatest Game Ever Played, directed by
Bill Paxton, 120 minutes, 2005, USA

The Greatest Game in the film is golf.  Based on a true story, it focuses on the 1913 U.S. Open tournament when a young, amateur golfer,
20-year-old American Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), defeated his idol, 1900 US Open Champion, Englishman, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). The film reveals class differences and the prejudice towards those from the other side of the tracks.


Shia LaBeouf

The acting and cinematography are very good,
and a special treat is 10-year-old Eddie Lowery (Josh Flitter).
He’s a short, chubby caddy, full of energy and determination.


Shia LaBeouf, Josh Flitter

The Greatest Game is good viewing for the entire family; it’s produced by Walt Disney Pictures.

 
Groove, directed by Greg Harrison, 86 minutes, 2000,  USA
 
One night at an all-night San Francisco underground Rave. The story is the characters.


"We'd throw a rave for 30 seconds and then yell, 'Cut!' and say, 'OK, it was great.
But when you freak out, make sure you freak out a little to the left.'"
— Greg Harrison

Happiness, Directed by Todd Solontz, 134 minutes, 1998, USA
 
Starring Jane Adams, Jon Lovitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Baker, and Ben Gazzara.

 
Dylan Baker

Solontz is one of the most interesting and daring directors around. In this film he focuses on the 'perfect' dysfunctional family. He also directed "Welcome to the Dollhouse."  Great black humor.

Haute Cuisine

"Les saveurs du Palais"


Directed by

95 minutes, 2012, France

"Haute Cuisine" is based on "Mes carnets de cuisine. Du Périgord ŕ l'Elysée",
 the memories of Daničle Delpeuch, the first and only female chef
having worked for the French President Fran
çois Mitterrand at the Palais de l'Elysée.

This is the best food film I have seen. It's a 'must-see' for Foodies
or anyone who loves to eat.   It's not just the exquisite food that will fascinate you,
but it's the story and the lovely way it unfolds. There are actually two stories that are intertwined, a before and after. One takes place at the Palais de l'Elysée,
the other on - the Crozet Islands,  sub-Antarctica Territories.

The film focuses on Hortense (Catherine Frot), who is strong-minded and determined in her task to create simple, but delicious food based on her grandmother's recipes
'Cuisine de Mere" - food the president loves.  Frot is terrific in her role as a very competent 'chef.' She works in the private kitchen of the President, with a talented assistant.  The general kitchen is run by an old-fashioned, traditional chef in an all-male kitchen filled with macho young men. They call Hortense "Madame Du Barry," after the official mistress to 
Louis XV.

The beautifully photographed cuisine will amaze you. There will be recipes you have not seen before. They are created with precision and deliberate care. Be prepared to be immersed in impeccable food throughout the film.

Conflict begins when the meals for the president have to be altered because of heath concerns.  When Hortense decides she can no longer contend with the authorities control
over her kitchen, she quits and answers an ad for a male, 25-year-old cook. Her credentials, obviously, are good. She gets the job - at a remote research base on an archipelago in the middle of nowhere, in the southern Indian Ocean, in stunning contrast
 to her previous palatial setting. But, smart lady that she is, Hortense creates the same splendid food for the workers as she did at the Palais de l'Elysée. The effect is heartwarming.

Review by Lois Siegel
Trailer

L'Hermine


Photo: Jérôme Prébois / Albertine Productions - Gaumont

Directed by Christian Vincent
98 minutes, 2015, France
In French with English Subtitles
Starring Fabrice Luchini and Sidse Babett Knudsen

I will see any film with Fabrice Luchini. His acting is superb. In "L'Hermine, he plays Racine, a criminal judge who insists on being referred to as "Court President Racine." The people who work around him don't like him. The defense knows that he often hands out harsh sentences.

Conflict arises when Racine recognizes one of the jurors - a lady ... someone who treated him after an accident... someone he secretly loves.

The backdrop to all this is a serious trial involving the death of a 7-month old baby. It's not an easy situation. The man charged with a possible murder insists that he is not guilty. He keeps repeating: "I did not kill Melissa" whenever he is asked a question. His wife looks like a basket case on drugs. She's is rather unresponsive and dreary. As we follow the proceedings, we learn how difficult criminal cases can be. They can't always be judged because there is often reasonable doubt. Proof has to be solid to convict. Justice is theatre. We may never know the truth.

An interesting detail throughout the trial are the drawings of an artist who sketches the various characters involved in the trial. The images are excellent.

We eventually learn that Racine's favorite juror is Ditte Lorensen-Coteret (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a 45-year-old divorcee with two kids. She's originally from Copenhagen, but she has been in France for 20 years.

We meet Ditte's daughter. The kid is constantly on her phone. She gets calls every few minutes. That's what teenage kids do - they are addicted to their simple lives of immediate contact with each other. They live online. They are extremely irritating.

Essentially, L'Hermine is a love story. The Hermine - or ferret has fur that turns from brown and white to all white in the winter.... Racine wears a white fur in court. This reflects the judge's personality. It can change like the Hermine's fur. And it's not always what it appears to be on the surface, not unlike the situation with the trial. We can only guess the outcome.

Review by Lois Siegel
Trailer


A History of Violence, Directed by David Cronenberg, 96 minutes, 2005, USA

Tom Stall runs a local diner. One day two robbers come through the front door just as he’s about to close, and Tom reacts to defend himself, his store, and his customers. He kills the would-be robbers with amazing swiftness, saving everyone’s lives. Tom is declared an American hero, but being a hero is not always what it’s alleged to be. Sometimes it’s a bad thing. People begin to question why Tom is so good at killing people, and the sheriff starts making assumptions. Where does a country boy develop these skills?

The multiple twists in “A History of Violence” keeps the viewer riveted. “A History of Violence” is a film you will not forget.


            Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall

A History of Violence: A Story of Second Chances by Lois Siegel


The Hurt Locker,
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, 131 minutes, 2008, USA

This action-packed film is intense and informative. It’s about an elite U.S. Army bomb squad unit in Iraq that finds and dismantles deadly explosives. Jeremy Renner plays Staff Sergeant William James. He’s a live wire who takes lots of chances and doesn’t care about danger.  Renner likes the buzz that it gives him. “War is a drug.” His job is a lethal business, but he’s good at it. And being in Iraq is the perfect location for that everyday charge.  



The film is often shot in handheld close-up … you feel like you are right there, part of a news documentary taking place as you watch. Also, you learn something about this type of bomb squad and the inhumane techniques insurgents use to hide bombs.

You may recognize Renner as Detective Jason Walsh in the TV show “The Unusuals,” a great comedy/drama cop show that was, unfortunately, discontinued.



Thom Best

Ice Men, directed by Thom Best, 108 minutes, 2004, Canada

"The Big Chill" with men.  This Canadian drama looks more like an American film because of its slickness, strong acting, and skilled cinematography. "Ice Men" is Best's feature directorial debut. He's better known as a Toronto cinematographer.

As director of photography, his work includes "Men with Brooms" (2003). He was also cinematographer for all four seasons of the North American version of the TV series "Queer as Folk," and he directed two of the episodes himself.

Martin Cummins as Vaughn

"Ice Men" focuses on the relationships of five men spending the weekend together at a cottage. Within a short period of time, their lives change.

Ian Tracey as Trevor

Budget for the film was close to $1 million.
Contact:  Rick Warden, producer.

World Premiere: Montreal World Film Festival, 2004
Image et Nation Film Festival, Montreal, 2004
Atlantic Film Festival, 2004

 
I Know Where I'm Going, Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 92 minutes, 1945,  U.K.

 
Starring Wendy Hiller (Joan Webster) and Roger Livesey (Torquil MacNeil).

Great performances from both.  Wendy Hiller also starred in the 1938 classic "Pygmalion."  In "I Know Where I'm Going," she plays another shrew who needs to be tamed.  Roger Livesey with his wonderful voice does a good job as a handsome navel officer in this romantic comedy.

The weather is a main character in this film. Hiller, the young woman, heads for the Scottish Hebrides where she plans to marry an old, wealthy industrialist. She is more interested in the money than she is in him. City girl comes to the country. But bad weather prevents her reaching him on a secluded island, and she finds herself falling for another very patient man, the absentee Laird of Killoran, a striking contrast to Hiller's anxious character.

Filming locations: Mull, Argyll, Scotland, U.K., including Duart, Moy, and Torosay castles and The Gulf of Corryvreckan, Carsaig Pier, and Tobermory.


Tobermory

Roger Livesey was starring in a West End play at the time, so he never went on location.  All his scenes were shot in the studio. A double was used for long shots. Cinematographer Erwin Hillier didn't use a light meter during the shooting of the film. Erwin's first professional job was as a camera assistant on Fritz Lang's first sound film, M (1931), starring Peter Lorre.

The film is completely different from director Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960).


The Impossible
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, 114 Minutes, 2012, Spain
PG: Not Recommended for Young Children


In December 2004, a devastating  tsunami struck the Southeast Coast of Asia. Without warning, thousands of people were swept away to their deaths.  We know the story from newspapers - we just don't know the details. There were survivors... severely injured... mentally and physically. Families were torn apart.  Children disappeared, never to be seen again. Thousands were orphaned. But the newspapers don't provide the pictures, the feelings, the sounds of this disaster. The movie does.  It's a very emotional film.

The direction is excellent, the cinematography by
Óscar Faura outstanding: floating lamps in the sky on Christmas Eve, close-ups of bugs and debris. You feel like you are there, experiencing every moment.

The film is called "The Impossible."  It could also be identified as unfailing perseverance. Based on a true story about a real Spanish family, it follows a family (British in the film) on vacation in Thailand.  They are happy,  enjoying fun on the beach - a landscape that unexpectedly becomes the worst nightmare of their lives.


Because the family is divided when the tsunami hits, we follow their struggle to reunite in two parts.... following the mother and a son and the father and two sons.

An amazing young talent is Tom Holland, who plays the eldest son, Lucas. He shows maturity beyond his years and is definitely someone to watch.

"The Impossible" intersperses moments of happiness among the many moments of sorrow. Devastation is everywhere on the screen. When the camera pulls back to reveal miles of destruction, it's almost impossible to imagine what it might be like to be on the ground.... and then the camera moves in to put you right into the situation.

Veteran actress Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin, appears in a cameo role as an old woman talking to 7-year-old Thomas (Samuel Joslin) ... she's terrific.

The film is an enormous production with hundreds of crew members, 15 stunt people, and  over 100 special effects and visual effects artists. A tsunami is created, including underwater photography.  Everything looks real. You begin to understand what it was like being there as dangerous debris comes rushing past you... skeletons of cars moving quickly with the current, large structures, trees...

Then you feel the silence... and the reoccurring sound as another tsunami approaches. and then there's the chaos of the aftermath. Thai natives help rescue people, others transport bodies in the back of open-air trucks.  Separated from families, injured people move recklessly on dirt roads - thousands look for relatives in makeshift shelters. Names are scribbled on scraps of paper. Medical staff are obviously overwhelmed.

"The Impossible" is a film about humanity under the worst circumstances imaginable.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel

Inside Man, Directed by Spike Lee, 129 minutes, 2006, USA

Spike Lee's best, slickest film yet.  A great action/thriller written by Russell Gewirtz that never stops moving. The film also keeps you guessing as to what is happening. 



 The basic premise is a bank robbery planned by a Dalton Russell (Clive Owen)
 who knows exactly what he is doing, but there's much more going on.


 Jodie Foster
Smooth Power


Clive Owen


Christopher Plummer


Willem Dafoe
 Denziel Washington


Excellent acting
and eye-catching photography by
Matthew Libatique.

The opening and closing music is terrific.
"Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint (featuring Panjabi MC)"
Written by A.R. Rahman, Sampooran Singh Gulzar (as Gulzar) & MC Punjabi
Performed by Sapna Awasthi &
Sukhwinder Singh


Insomnia, directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg, 97 minutes, 1997, Norway
Inside the Head of a Killer by John Kerkhoven


Irena Palm, Directed by Sam Garbarski, 103 minutes, 2007,
Belgium/ Luxembourg / UK / Germany/ France



Marianne Faithfull, of 60s rock star groupie fame, gives an outstanding performance in this unconventional approach to fundraising to support a sick grandson. In Soho, London's red light district, grandma is admired for her strong hands.  Essentially, this is a love story. Beware: This is not the type of film that will be reviewed in the “Ladies’ Home Journal.”


          Sam Garbarski and Marianne Faithfull

The life of singer Marianne Faithfull, former wild girl of rock, is to be made into a film.

The Italian, Directed by Andrei Kravchuk, 99 minutes, 2006, Russia

Starring: Kolya Spiridonov, Maria Kuznetsova, Dariya Lesnikova
Director of Photography:
Aleksandr Burov


Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov)

The cinematography is outstanding in this film about children as commodities -
orphans sold by greedy individuals who are only interested
in the money they bring in.
The acting and the visual landscape create a timeless, memorable film.



Berlin International Film Festival: Best Feature Film
Academy Awards, Official Selection from Russia
Best Foreign Language Film 2005
Toronto Film Festival: Official Selection

 Rated Parental Guidance
 Mature Theme, Language May Offend



Children Sold as Objects by Lois Siegel


Italian for Beginners, Directed by Lone Scherfig, 97 minutes, 2000, Denmark

The idiosyncrasies of the characters make this film unpredictable and captivating. No one is perfect, but their quirkiness works out in the end. Romance a la mode.

Berlin International Film Festival:
Silver Bear Jury Prize: Lone Scherfig
FIPRESCI AWARD: For advancing the Dogme movement
 by permitting the cast to bring humanity and humour to her film.
Prize of the Ecumenical Jury

Lonely Hearts Club by John Kerkhoven


Junebug, Directed by
Phil Morrison, 107 minutes, 2005, USA

One of the most interesting films to appear in 2005, "Junebug" doesn't rely on violence, nor does it make fun of its unusual characters.   Instead, it relies on pure drama -  the simple interactions between a family.  Shot in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the setting and tone of the southern town give the film an authentic reality to the life of its inhabitants. Amy Adam's performance is outstanding.  She creates an unforgettable character. All the acting is at such a strong level that you can't help but be impressed. It's obvious that Phil Morrison is a director to watch, and Angus MacLachlan is a very talented writer. The January 23, 2006 issue of Newsweek listed "Junebug" its DVD "pick of the week," calling it "one of the greatest, best-acted films of 2005 you've never heard of."  The film also has a great selection of classical music.


                       Cast

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams; Central Ohio Film Critics, Breakthrough Film Artist Amy Adams
For her performance; Gotham Awards, Breakthrough Amy Adams; National Society of Film Critics, Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams; San Francisco Film Critics Circle, Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams; Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards, Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams; Sundance Film Festival, Dramatic, Amy Adams, For her performance.


Kill the Irishman, Directed by
Jonathan Hensleigh, 106 minutes, 2011, USA

The film is based on a true story... 36 bombings during the summer of 1976 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Danny Greene survived it all. He was Irish, and he was tough.  The story focuses on the 70s when Greene worked for the mob. There's a documentary element with flashbacks to the real criminals.  The character actors are outstanding: Ray Stevenson as Greene, Vincent D'Onofrio (Law and Order: Criminal Intent), Christopher Walken, Paul Sorvino, Steven R. Schirripa (The Sopranos).

Lantana, Directed by Ray Lawrence (II), 121 minutes, 2001, Australia
 
Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey, this murder mystery has good acting, twists and turns, and passion. It works on many levels simultaneously, with each new person somehow being connected to another in the film.

Laundry, Directed by  Junichi Mori, 126 minutes, 2001, Japan

This charming film focuses on a young man who has suffered a brain injury. He meets his match in a young lady who hasher own problems. Some beautiful photography, lovely story, great acting.

The screenplay for "Laundry" received  Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award.

Learning to Drive, Directed by Isabel Coixet, 90 minutes, 2015, UK, USA

 
Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson


In many ways, Learning to Drive is a “love story,” but it’s not your usual romantic fare. It’s a strong connection between very good friends. The main characters come from very different cultures, and as their stories constantly intercut, we gain a perspective on how some people’s lives are not always like our own.

Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) is a literary critic. She works at home, and that’s where her life has been – stuck in books. Her 21-year-marriage loses its luster, and her husband, instead of having a mid-life crisis where he buys a sports car, has an affair. Reality hits when Wendy realizes he has left for good and isn’t coming home.

At the insistence of her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer), Wendy decides to learn how to drive.  All this time, she didn’t have to. Her husband drove her.  Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a Sikh Indian, becomes her instructor. He’s struck by her sadness and wants to help her live an active life again.

Darwan lives in a rooming house in Queens. He teaches driving during the day and drives taxi at night just to survive. He’s not rich, and he’s not married. His sister’s son lives with him. We see glimpses of his life during religious services, cooking at home, doing laundry, and watching cricket matches with the guys in the rooming house. In his country, marriages are arranged.

He gives Wendy driving lessons, but he also adds words of wisdom… Driving:  You must see everything. Be aware of living.

When bullies harass him in the street yelling “Osama,” he says, “You can’t always trust people to behave properly. People think I look dangerous.”   But he seems to take things in stride….This is the way things are.

Wendy faces various driving obstacles: night driving and crossing a bridge. Darwan calls it “The road in the sky.”  He warns her about road rage “Be calm, and in life as well.”  You can arrive in 1, 2, or 3 pieces. His philosophy hits home. The film is full of subtle humor.

Darwan faces his own challenges: His sister in India sends a wife to him - someone he has never met. He meets her in the airport by holding up a placard with her name on it: Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury).  That is the ‘romantic’ setting where he first meets her. She doesn’t speak much English, is uneducated, and scared.

There are changes in both Darwan and Wendy’s lives. Wendy gets ‘fixed up’ with Peter (Matt Salinger - son of J.D.) at a restaurant dinner party.  Jasleen watches TV to learn English. All their lives are constantly intercut in the film.  It’s only when Jasleen finally ventures outside the small apartment that her life comes alive.  The film seems to be saying:  One has to make life happen. It’s up to you.

Passing the driving test is just a backdrop for the real stories in the film.
Darwan and Wendy have a solid friendship that could lead to something more, but they live very different lives and because of this, they must move on.  
Stay for the credits. The story continues visually.

Review by Lois Siegel
Trailer


The Life of David Gale, directed by Alan Parker,  130 minutes, 2003, USA/Germany

Stars Kevin Spacey as a philosophy professor who takes his ideals to the extreme to prove a point.
Great acting, lots of twists and turns. 


The Little Fugitive

Directed by Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, 1953, U.S.A.

“The Little Fugitive” is an independent, low-budget film gem from the past, situated in Brooklyn, New York.  Children often have a natural ability to act.  This one feels more like a documentary than a feature film.  Joey Norton (Richie Andrusco) and Lennie Norton (Richard Brewster) are excellent as two brothers who fight like other siblings, but who deep-down really care for each other.


Richard Brewster and Richie Andrusco


The story entails a misunderstanding.  Seven-year-old Joey thinks he has killed his older brother Lennie. It’s all a practical joke, but Joey is duped and runs away.  

His destination: Coney Island – every kid’s dream – where there’s a grand amusement park with a merry-go-round, and bumper cars, with pony rides, a beach and cotton candy.  Joey takes sneaks money from home and heads out to a fantastic adventure.  We follow him as he wanders round the park, exploring the fun such a place has to offer.  Shot in black and white, we view scenes of the crowds of Coney Island and people on the streets of New York, accompanied by a haunting soundtrack played on a lone harmonica.


Richie Andrusco and Jay Williams (Pony-Ride Man)

“The Little Fugitive” is perfect for the holiday season. It’s a great film to see with your kids or to view alone, reminiscent of times past.

Little Girl Blue (Tagnosti), directed by Alice Nellis, 2007. Czech Republic


The Lives of Others, Directed by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, 137 minutes, 2006, Germany

In a repressed society, everyone fears everyone else.  There are informants who work for the government. They may be regular employees of that government, or they may be people on the street who are paid to inform, or who are threatened and then succumb to becoming informants.



Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich
Mühe)


It's not a happy situation. Suicide is the only escape for some. In "The Lives of Others," a member of the secret police (Stasi) is assigned to wire the apartment of a well-known writer and listen in on his everyday movements and conversations.


The agent,
Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), is the focal point of the film as he becomes more and more involved in the lives of those he is stalking. His life becomes intertwined with theirs...and, in a strange sense, they become his family, people he cares about and will protect at all costs.

In 2007, the film won an Academy Award:  Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Germany.


Loose Cannons, Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek, 110 minutes, 2010, Italy



Life is not always full of happiness if you follow what everyone tells you to do. What you really want in life is the most important decision you can make. "Loose Cannons" is a film about achieving happiness despite the desires of other people, including your family.  It's the history of a well-off Italian family, focusing on Tommaso, a young man who is not 'out of the closet.'  We meet him as he is struggling, yearning to be free from hiding from his true self. 

"Loose Cannons" is not all serious. There are wonderful, humorous moments that will make you laugh out loud.

Trailer

Lovely and Amazing, Directed by Nicole Holofcener, 89 minutes, 2001, USA

Dysfunctional families make for interesting films.  Raven Goodwin steals the show as 9-year-old Annie Marks. She wasn't predictable, and her strong attitude added spirit to the film. She did what made sense to her, despite what others wanted. More a chick-flick than a macho man's movie.

 
Maman est chez le coiffeur (Mother is at the Hairdresser's), Directed by
Léa Pool, 97 minutes,
2008, Canada

          
Léa Pool's film starts out with an idyllic scene filled with kids in the country. School is out. Summer fun lies ahead. We focus on three children: a teenage girl, her pre-teen brother and her younger brother.
Mother is a journalist; father is a doctor. But it isn't long until we sense that all is not right in the family.
 


 Photo: Pedro Ruiz
 Léa Pool


And gradually we see that everyone in the neighborhood has their problems.
It's 1966. Personal problems were not advertised as they are today. Dysfunctional families were just as prevalent though.

The film was shot in Beloeil, Québec, a small town, population 19,353, in southwestern Quebec, west of Montreal. A sense of isolation is created.

The acting is superb. Gabriel Arcand (nicknamed Mr. Fly)  is a lovable, mysterious deaf man living near a lake, selling flies for fishing.  The point-of-view is  from the perspective of the young teenage daughter, Élise, played by Marianne Fortier.



 Marianne Fortier


Outstanding is the performance of a very young Hugo St-Onge-Paquin as Benoit, a slightly backward, disturbed young child.



Hugo St-Onge-Paquin

Me and You and Everyone We Know, directed by Miranda July, 90 minutes, 2005, USA

There's something captivating about this film. It's definitely unpredictable and, thus, refreshing.   The dysfunctional family at its best, we watch as a father in the midst of separating from his wife,  sets his hands on fire as his two boys watch. Brandon Ratcliff is amazing in his role as the young  Robby Swersey. 

Other characters include an artist lady who talks to herself. There are wonderful scenes with an evil lady who deals with the business of art.   The relationships between all the people in this film are bizarre. There are no conventional relationships in this film.

"Me and You" took the Special Jury Prize at Sundance It won at Cannes, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Forth Worth, Philadelphia, StockholmThis says something about a film.  It’s unique and unpredictable and the interrelations between the characters will keep you guessing, laughing and cringing.


        Miranda July

A very young boy gets on the Internet and explores computer ‘dating.'

 
      Brandon Ratcliff

art gallery snobs are everything you wish they weren’t, but know they are, and one wishes there were more films like this, bold enough to tell it like it is.

Sundance Festival, Special Jury Prize, Originality of Vision, 2005; Cannes, Camera d'Or, 2005; Philadelphia Film Festival, Best First Feature, 2005; Los Angeles Film Festival, Audience Award - Best Narrative Feature; Newport International Film Festival, Best Director, Audience Award, 2005


Mid-August Lunch
(Pranzo di ferragosto:  Italy’s biggest summer holiday)
Director, writer, lead actor
Gianni Di Gregorio, 75 minutes, 2008, Italy

“Mid-August Lunch” is a celebration of old age.  You might think that a film peopled by the elderly would be boring. It’s not.  It’s delightful and charming.

Gianni lives with his mother (Valeria De Franciscis), 93. 
He doesn’t have a job and likes going to the tavern. Problem: he owes three years’ rent on their small apartment. 

A solution is offered by his building manager who wants to spend the holiday with a lady friend.  If Gianni takes care of his mother, the manager will reduce Gianni’s debt.   The manager also turns up with an auntie, and Gianni’s doctor dumps his mother on him as well.

Gianni becomes cook and caretaker. 
 


Gianni Di Gregorio

The film feels like a documentary. The doctor’s mother craves macaroni and cheese, even though her digestive system will revolt, and a small TV set becomes an object of desire. 

A certain “joie de vivre” makes us feel good as we watch these aging individuals celebrate a special holiday in style.  We realize that memories of the past are all these ladies have left, but they can still enjoy life, concentrating on little details that add to their experience:  lovely flowers, fine china, fresh fish from the river.   And we realize that the simple things in life and good friendships are the most precious things we have.



Trailer


Monsieur Ibrahim, Directed by François Dupeyron, 94 minutes, 2003, France


Outstanding performances by Omar Sharif
as Monsieur Ibrahim and Pierre Boulanger as Momo in this touching film about a relationship between an old Muslim shopkeeper and a young boy coming of age.


Chicago International Film Festival, Best Male Performance: Pierre Boulanger, 2003; César Awards, Best Actor (Meilleur acteur), Omar Sharif, 2004; Venice Film Festival, Audience Award, Best Actor
Omar Sharif.


Mohamed Saďd Fellag

Monsieur Lazhar
Based on a one-man play by Evelyne de Cheneličre
Directed by Philippe Falardeau, 1hr 34 minutes, Quebec, 2011

Oscar Nominee "Best Foreign Language Film"

The opening moments of "Monsieur Lazhar"
are filled with happy children outside
 a Montreal elementary school, early one morning.
This is their world...where they face
the same problems all kids face.

But this day their lives are going to change.
Something happens at the school that no one could predict.
Something happens that rips the protective shield
that schools are supposed to provide.



Grade 6 students, 11- 12-years-olds, suddenly have to face
 the reality of a tragedy. Enter Monsieur Lazhar,
 an Algerian immigrant who becomes their new teacher.
We soon learn that his own circumstances
 are not that different from that of his students.

Monsieur Lazhar has his own problems,
but he is most concerned with the lives of his students.
In a way, he's the perfect mentor for this situation.
Defying academic regulations, he chooses to take risks
in order to help his class of young, confused, hurting children.

This film is a must see. The casting is excellent.
The children excel, the directing is precise. 
The photography is sensitive.
and
Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamed Saďd Fellag) is perfect
in his role of a stranger in new surroundings.
We feel for him as he tries to survive in a foreign world
- his previous world also having been torn apart.
We respect and cheer his courage.

The film is in French and Arabic with English subtitles, PG.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel

Montreal Main, Directed by Frank Vitale, 86 minutes, 1974, Canada


Uncertain Identities: Montreal Main (1974)
                          by
Peter Harcourt

Review by skykid

  Mostly Martha Directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, 107 minutes, 2002, Germany

The story focuses on an 8-year-old who loses her mother in a car accident. Martha is a chef. She 'inherits' the child. Sergio is the 'counter' chef. He doesn't always get along with Martha in the kitchen. The film is full of amazing culinary delights and good chemistry between Martha and Sergio by the film's end.

The acting by Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellito is wonderful, and 10-year-old Maxime Foerste is a real find. Castellito’s charm will remind you of Marcello Mastrioni.

Creteil International Women's Film Festival, France, Grand Prix; European Film Awards: Best Actor Sergio Castellito; German Film Awards: Outstanding Individual Achievement, Actress: Martina Gedeck; German  Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actress: Martina Gedeck.
The Mozart Brothers, Directed by Suzanne Osten, 111 minutes, 1986,  Sweden

All the people involved in this avant-garde theatre production are crazy.


Mr. Holland's Opus, directed by Stephen Herek, 145 minutes, 1995, USA

With this wonderful cast: Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Jay Thomas, Terrence Howard, Jean Louisa Kelly, and starring Richard Dreyfuss,  you can't go wrong.


Richard Dreyfuss

The story is about a composer who takes a job teaching music in a local, small town high school.


Olympia Dukakis and William H. Macy

At first he hates the job and becomes frustrated because the students are terrible musicians.
Finally he understands that they won't get better unless he really works with them.
He begins meeting with the students one-on-one, and then he starts to see improvements.



His life turns around as he realizes that he loves teaching music.
The film is full of humor and emotional moments.

A history of the time from the 1960's to the 1990's is brilliantly captured through photographs
 as the years move on. The film follows Mr. Holland until he is forced to retire.



 Mr. Holland is consumed by a desire
 to continue his work with the students of John F. Kennedy High School,
but because of budget cuts to the arts, this will not be possible.


Richard Dreyfuss and Jay Thomas

Dreyfuss was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Mr. Turner

Writer/Director: Mike Leigh
UK, France, Germany, 150 minutes, 2014
Biographical Drama: British Painter J. M. W. Turner (
1775–1851)



Mr. Turner is a must see for anyone interested in the arts or history.
The film covers the last quarter century of the painter’s life starting when he is 51–years-old. Nineteenth-century England is recreated in detail. It’s a fascinating history lesson with pictures of the era and scenes of epic proportions, much like the paintings of Turner - sensitive impressions of light and colour.

By the age of 14, Turner was in the British Royal Academy of Arts, but he wasn’t like prodigies we are accustomed to.  He came from a working class family. His demeanor was rather brusque. He constantly grunted, was rather sullen, and quite eccentric.

Image result for mr turner awards

Actor Timothy Spall plays a captivating Turner, who is intently focused on his painting. He travels in order to find magnificent land and seascapes. At one point we see him
strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm. 

An unusual character, Turner has lovers, but remains single.  He’s not a family man.
He’s visited by a lady who claims he is the father of her two children. Turner will have nothing to do with her or her daughters. He has a dedicated housekeeper who occasionally satisfies his sexual needs, and he frequents brothels but also mingles with aristocrats, artists and architects.

The film opens on a vast landscape with a windmill. People appear out of the background. A man is sketching: J. M. W. Turner. He lives with his father in his London studio. The elder Turner, a former barber, becomes his studio assistant. His mother spent time in St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics.  As a painter, Turner experiments with materials, sometimes stabbing the canvas with his brush. He blows powder on a painting, uses his finger and a cloth to rub it, and even spits to bind the pigments. Other artists laugh and make fun of him. He’s is not always appreciated.

Image result for mr turner awards

But we do sometimes see his sensitive side, once when he is listening to a woman play the piano and another time when he sketches a young prostitute and then cries when he discovers she is only 22-years-old. Michael Leigh’s screenplay: “Turner now breaks down. Uncontrollable tears grow into a painful howl of despair.”

Turner consults with a Mrs. Somerville, a “natural philosopher” who experiments with magnetic properties and prisms of colour.  She says,

It is my strong belief that all things on this earth are connected. Nothing exists in isolation. You are a man of great vision, Mr. Turner. The universe is chaotic and you make us see it.”

Spall spent almost two years learning how to paint in preparation for his role.  He says, “Turner knew he was a man of destiny.”

This cinematographic masterpiece has been nominated for four Oscars:  Cinematography: Dick Pope, Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran, Original Score: Gary Yershon, and Production Design: Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts.

Spall won Best Actor at Cannes, along with Pope who won a Special Jury Prize for Cinematography.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel

My Beautiful Laundrette

Directed by Stephen Frears
U.K. , 97 minutes, 1985

As the titles move through the spin dry sequences to swirl onto the screen, the viewer immediately knows that something unusual is up.  “My Beautiful Laundrette” washes its way into your heart and makes you wish you could also bring your laundry to England and meet the characters on the screen.

This film has a bit of everything: politics, social comment, punks, good guys, band guys, cars, trains, love, and soap suds.

Ali is an alcoholic, ex-Pakistani journalist who lives with his son Omar in a run-down flat. Omar is enticed into the world of riches by his businessman Uncle Nasser who wants to help his brother. He gives Omar a job. The film reeks of nepotism, but Omar’s uncle makes him pay his dues, - by washing expensive cars for a few days.  Then Nasser promotes him to accountant and presents him with a car. Next, Omar is given his uncle’s failing laundrette to operate in a punk-infested district of London as a final test.

Omar re-decorates the place into a slick, state-of-the-art, fashionable, colorful gallery where the delighted local clientele slither in.  But Omar doesn’t transform the place single-handedly.  He recruits an old school chum – Johnny, a lower-class, two-toned punk.

The duo is charming in their attraction to each other, and unpredictable is the key to this movie. Nothing happens as one might expect, and everything happens at once.

All the other characters in “Laundrette” are equally marvelous.  There are hilarious scenes with traditional Pakistani superstitions clashing with modern living, including a successful attempt at voodoo by a wife towards her husband’s mistress. There’s also a scene with greasy punks who crawl over a stalled car, terrorizing the inhabitants.

One location is particularly haunting.  A labyrinth of trains, constantly moving in all directions, passes outside a decrepit apartment building creating a cacophony of images and sounds.  The effect is stunning.

You may not recognize him, but Johnny is played by a young Daniel Day-Lewis.

You will be exposed to a new world when you enter “My Beautiful Laundrette.”   Your wash will never look the same.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel


My Family and Other Animals, based on the book by Gerald Durrell, directed by Sheree Folkson
Masterpiece Theatre, 90 minutes, 2005, U.K.

The drama is
Gerald Durrell's classic account of growing up on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930's.
Twelve-year-old Gerald is fascinated by animals. He collects them and studies them.
They overrun the family home.  The acting is superb in this tale of adventures and challenge
in a series of country villas, away from the rest of society on the brink of war.
The characters are diverse and entertaining. The eldest son, Larry, is a writer  soon to be the famous Laurence Durrell, the next son, Leslie, is obsessed with guns, the daughter, Margo, is at the age where all she thinks about is flirting with men.
Good film for the entire family.

Film Clip


My Life Without Me, Directed by 
Isabel Coixet,  106 minutes, 2003, Spain/Canada

What would you do if you were told you were going to die?  Would you make a list of the things you want to do? Would they include making a stranger fall in love with you, even though you are married and have two children?  Ann (Sarah Polley) does all of this and more. The cast is excellent: Laurie (Amanda Plummer), Lee (Mark Ruffalo), Dr. Thompson (Julian Richings), and Ann's mother (Deborah Harry). The two little girls who play Ann's daughters are perfect for their roles.

The film deals with real issues, but it's very quirky.  How many men do you know who don't bother to buy food or furniture for their apartments?

The writing is outstanding and unpredictable. Isabel Coixet wrote the script based on the short story "Pretending the Bed is a Raft" by Nanci Kincaid.  Pedro Almodovar is one of the Executive Producers.


Nói albínói (Nói the Albino), Directed by Dagur Kári, 90 minutes, 2003, Iceland

Iceland is a country that most of us know little about. The film
takes place in a remote village in cut off in winter from the rest of the world. The extremely isolated area is surrounded by mountains, creating an eerie effect. Snow is everywhere.



Nói, the main character, barely exists. His life is going nowhere. He's still in high school but hates it.  He constantly cuts class and wanders around the village in his own dreamland. He lives with his grandmother, who is not all there. Her life consists of doing jigsaw puzzles and shooting a shotgun to wake him up in the morning.



The humor is often very bizarre, and the film is unpredictable.

This is not an easy film to watch, but, despite this, you may be intrigued to see what happens next.



Edinburgh International Festival, New Director's Award - Special Mention, 2003
Rotterdam International Festival, MovieZone Award, 2003
Denver International Film Festival, Best European Film, 2003


Năo Por Acaso (
Not By Chance), Directed by Philippe Barcinski, 90 minutes, 2007, Brazil

Barcinski is known for his short films; he’s won over 40 awards. “Not by Chance” is his first feature. He spent five years developing the screenplay. Time well spent.  The film is complex, sensitive and impressive

The story follows a sequence of occurrences in the lives of two men in Săo Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world: Pedro (Rodrigo Santoro), who loves to play snooker and works as a carpenter making pool tables and Enio (Leonardo Medeiros), who is a city traffic engineer.


Traffic Controller Enio (Leonardo Medeiros)

Life is unpredictable.  In the film each of these men loses a woman he loves in separate accidents. Their lives suddenly change, and they slowly realize that because they have been obsessed with, in one case the intricacies of playing a game, or in the other, regulating the complex set up of city streets, they cannot fully enjoy life because real life cannot be controlled.


Pedro (Rodrigo Santoro)


Chicago International Film Festival
, Silver Hugo, New Director, Philippe Barcinski, 2007

Life is Unpredictable by Lois Siegel


Once, Directed by John Carney, 85 minutes, 2006, Ireland

"Once" is a terrific film. Be patient with the opening moments; the film just keeps getting better. It's a romantic love story about a Guy (Glen Hansard) and a Girl (
Markéta Irglová) who meet by chance on the street, and their relationship  isn't predictable.  The two main characters are naturals, and their original music makes the film work. John Carney's direction is outstanding as he creates one charming moment after another.


Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

 The song "Falling Slowly" is a magical duet that will stay with you long after you have seen the film. Shot in 17 days, it shows an image of Dublin from times past... a working class city. It's a film possessed by music, and it's a touching story about would-be musicians and the struggles they go through to produce their first recording.

Academy Award,  Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song, Glen Hansard,
Markéta Irglová -
"Falling Slowly."

News: The critically acclaimed, low-budget musical film is set for a stage adaptation. Award-winning theatre producers John N. Hart Jr., Jeffrey Sine and Frederick Zollo have purchased worldwide theatrical rights to adapt writer-director and musician John Carney's film for Broadway.




One Hour Photo, Written and Directed by Mark Romanek, 96 minutes, 2002, USA

Robin Williams is outstanding as Sy Parrish, who we quickly realize is very creepy when compared to normal people who go about their days with a variety of activities.  He's a loner, lives in a sterile, dull apartment and doesn't have much of a life.  Sy has this thing about being part of a family. To 'brighten' his days, he makes copies of other people's photos for himself. He can do this because he's the photo guy at the neighborhood Big Box Store. His obsession becomes obvious when we see his wall of photos....those he has collected over the years from the rolls of film of one family.  An eerie feeling hovers over this film when Sy begins to stalk this family, watching what they read, what they do, and finally their marital problems. To say that Williams is a genius is an understatement.
His acting is superb.

The Director of Photography is Jeff Cronenweth. Jeff's shooting style is strong. The way he shoots the rows of merchandise in the box store, the way Williams is captured on the screen, and the final moments of the film as he sits in a secluded room at the police station....all lead to a solid vision reflecting the world of a very disturbed man.

Eriq La Salle (Detective James Van Der Zee) is impressive in his role as a detective.  His feelings are apparent as he attentively listens as Sy relates the tragic upbringing he experienced as a child.

The film is so well crafted, that it holds your attention throughout.  And the strength of the film is the realization that any of us could be stalked at any time.  We are all vulnerable.


Our Lady of the Assassins, Directed by Barbet Schroeder, 98 minutes, 2000, Columbia

The film explores the relationship between a man in his 60s and a 16-year-old boy. "Assassins" is a haunting film because the poverty, isolation and violent atmosphere keep coming back at you. Where we live, how we survive, what concerns us and the importance of the individual are all considerations. Filmed in Medellin,  a city that displays the sign:  ''No dumping of corpses.''


Venice Film Festival, The President of the Italian Senate's Gold Medal, Barbet Schroeder.
 
Pauline en Paulette, Directed by Lieven Debrauwer, 78 minutes, 2000, Belgium

Terrific acting by Dora van der Groen
as a 66-year-old mentally retarded lady dependent on her sisters.

Selection of the Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, 2001
Prize of the Ecumenical Jury - Special Mention, 2001
Flanders International Film Festival:  Joseph Plateau Award for Best Belgian Actress, Dora van der Groen and Ann Petersen,  Best Belgian Director, Best Belgian Film, Best Belgian Screenplay, 2001


Philomena, Directed by Stephen Frears, 98 minutes, 2013, U.K., U.S., France

"Philomena" is a sad film. It follows the story of a retired Irish Nurse who, as  a pregnant, unwed teenager, was sent to a convent. Her child, Anthony, was kept separate from her at the residence, and she could only see him one hour a day. The action of the nuns at the convent seems cruel and unusual punishment. Children at the convent were fair game for adoption. The nuns burnt records and sold babies to Americans for 1000 pounds (1952). Philomena loses track of her child. The Catholic 'sisters of little mercy' don't seem to care about the real mother.

   The story is 'inspired by true events' and is based on the book  "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee," by Martin Sixsmith. Judi Dench plays Lee and Steve Coogan plays Sixsmith, a journalist who has lost his job and who needs work. He pitches the story to an editor and begins to investigate what happened to Anthony. Together he and Lee begin the process of finding what has happened to her son.

Besides the story of evil nuns, tracking down Anthony reveals all sorts of surprises, twists and turns. It's an amazing journey. And the relationship between Sixsmith and Lee is precious. There is mutual respect, kindness, and persistence in this incredible experience. The story unravels gradually, revealing many layers. As T. S. Eliot observed:  We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. (The Four Quartets)


Stephen Frears, Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

The director, Stephen Frears, you might remember from "My Beautiful Laundrette" and "The Queen."  He's a very accomplished director.
The acting is outstanding. It's a difficult film, but well-worth seeing.

Review by Lois Siegel
Trailer


Pitch Perfect, Directed by Jason Moore, 112 Minutes, 2012, USA
PG-13


Fat Amy

“Glee on Steroids”

“Pitch Perfect” makes “Glee” look like “The Sound of Music.”
Be ready for visual surprises
(don’t eat a big lasagna dinner before coming to the show) and sex talk.
The variety of characters is wonderful:  Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) does a ‘creative’ mermaid dance and Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) whispers her way into stardom, “I set fires to feel joy.”  
Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an amazing talent,
with perfect timing and charm, her singing is terrific.
You may remember her in “Up in the Air,” the George Clooney flick.
She plays a know-it-all, young keener whose job is to fire people.
For her role,  Kendrick was
nominated for an Academy Award -
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (2009).

The story centers around the “Rock Stars” of A Capella –
organized nerd singing competitions for university students.
“They sing with their mouths.” 

Barden University is the setting.  Would-be singers audition
for the various choral groups. Reminiscent of the great auditions scenes
in “Taking Off” directed by Milos Forman (1971) and in “The Commitments,”
directed by Alan Parker (1991), the short clips in “Pitch Perfect”
are highlighted by the performance of Beca
who pulls off a rhythm-perfect, percussion riff,
flipping and drumming on a large cup.  


Fat Amy and Beca

Beca likes modern music and wants to be a DJ.
Her father, who teaches Comparative Literature at Barden,
wants her to join a club and be part of the world.
He promises to send her to L.A. if she does.
With this incentive, Beca checks out the school Activities Fair
and hooks up with the “Bellas” -
unaware of their ‘stick-in-the-mud’ director who orchestrates tunes
from ‘the middle ages.’  
She has no idea what she’s in for: some of the competition
is A Capella with Sock Puppets….

The announcers (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks)
who run a great ‘play-by-play’ during the musical competitions,
are hilarious.

“Pitch Perfect” has great energy and humor.
If “Glee” doesn’t do it for you, this film certainly will.

Review by Lois Siegel

 


Please Give
Directed by Nicole Holofcener, 90 minutes, 2010, USA


“Please Give” is not your conventional film. It’s about New Yorkers who try to make the best of their routine lives. The film opens with a humorous tune about “a man who has no chin, and a man who has no neck…. Some folks lose and some folks win,”- a twisted take on the saying, “I felt sorry that I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.”  This ditty is accompanied by close-ups of breasts of all sizes being positioned for mammograms - lots of flabby images from different angles

The film bounces back and forth between comedy and the not so funny.  It’s quirky and full of people’s idiosyncrasies.  We focus on Kate (Catherine Keener). She’s married to Alex (Oliver Platt). They have a teenage daughter who wants $200 jeans for her birthday. 

Kate and Alex run a shady business. They descend like vultures to buy furniture from the children of elderly dead people and then resell everything at a hugh profit. They are the ambulance chasers of the table and chair business.  Kate obsessively gives money to people on the street…. $5 here, $5 there. Perhaps this relieves her guilt. Her daughter hates this. She wants expensive jeans.

Two sisters supervise the care of their grandmother (Ann Morgan Guilbert) who lives next door to Kate and Alex.  The grandmother has sold Kate and Alex her apartment, but she is allowed to live there until she dies.  She already is mostly dead, and her life becomes an obituary watch. Guilbert’s  performance is outstanding.  She’s brash and to the point. She doesn’t care what people think.  Great casting.


Ann Morgan Guilbert


“Please Give” is full of good details.  Sometimes you will laugh, sometimes you will cry.
It’s a wonderful mixture of emotions.  

Review by Lois Siegel


Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story, 4-hour miniseries, 2006, Canada
Directed by John N. Smith

This CBC Television miniseries first aired in 2006.  The acting is excellent, especially Michael Therriault as Douglas and Kristin Booth as his wife.
The scriptwriter is Smith’s son Bruce, who adds a good dose of humor to the production.

“Prairie Giant” is a history lesson. It reveals the steadfastness of the politician who oversaw the legislation of Canada’s first universal healthcare program as Premier of Saskatchewan. Douglas and his Canadian Commonwealth Federation introduced other important social programs: The Bill of Rights, government insurance, the eight-hour work day, and government funding for the arts (something our current government seems to be eliminating).


The film tells the story of a small-town pastor in the 1930s who fights poverty and injustice. He’s an excellent speaker and has the power to change what people think. When he enters politics, he becomes the first socialist elected leader in North American. 

"Prairie Giant" features some of Canada’s best actors and has excellent production values. Included are extra features: The making of the production and a tour of the set - both interesting additions.
Providence, Directed by Alain Renais, 104 minutes, 1977, France
Renais creates a type of stream of consciousness. The style of the film becomes part of the story.


Pygmalion, Directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, 89 minutes, 1938, USA
"Pygmalion" is a wonderfully entertaining version of 'the taming of the shrew.'



Based on the play of the same name by George Bernard Shaw, who is credited with scenario and dialogue, the film introduces us to Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller), a street urchin, who is transformed by Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) into a lady who can speak the most proper English and fool all the high class socialites she meets. A fine romantic comedy.


Leslie Howard



Quartet
Directed by Dustin Hoffman, 98 Minutes, 2012, UK
British Comedy/Drama
Dustin Hoffman's directing debut
 

You don't have to love opera or classical music to love this film.  It's charming and delightful. See it. 

Yes, Quartet deals with old age, but we will all be there.  And the film is actually uplifting because of the energy of the characters. The location is Beecham House, a lovely home for retired musicians. It's named after Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor and impresario. We are told his father made money selling laxatives.

Beecham is a countryside mansion. It's upscale, but the residents are fighting for survival.  They need money to keep it going. They've scheduled a fundraising concert. These are not the elderly who sit around all day. They practice their voices and instruments. We see them in rehearsal.
It's evident that music and their co-habitants fulfill their lives. Not everyone has visitors.

We hear their arguments about music. They insult each other. The dialogue overflows with  humor.

A new arrival appears who has a history with one of the residents.  Conflict occurs. 

There are characters... particularly Wilf (Billy Connolly)
who is a womanizer and very naughty boy. He pinches women's behinds every chance he gets.



Dustin Hoffman (right)


The cast is outstanding:  You will remember these exceptional actors/entertainers from the past:  Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Tom Courtenay (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner), Billy Connolly (comedian), and Pauline Collins (
Shirley Valentine)
.  And pay attention to the credits at the end of the film. The cast includes famous musicians and actors who are no longer in the public eye, but who were once recognized as some of the best. These instrumentalists and singers perform throughout the film. The screen is filled with music.  In the credits, you will see their images and then a former professional photo of them with their names.  What a wonderful idea.

These former stars are tucked away in Beecham, but when they advertise their concert, people come. Their talents are not forgotten. It's a concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday - a gala to celebrate life.

"Old age is not for sissies."

Quartet is filmed in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England on the east bank of the River Thames.
The Music:  Puccini, Rossini, Saint-Saens, Boccherini, Gilbert and Sullivan, Haydn, La Traviata, Rigoletto, The Mikado, , Pavarotti....

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel


The Real Blonde, Directed by Tom DiCillo, 105 minutes,1997,  USA

Great comedy-spoof on the entertainment business.  If you liked "Living in Oblivion," you'll love this one. Cast: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Daryl Hannah, Matthew Modine, Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner, Buck Henry, Marlo Thomas and Maxwell Caulfield.

The Ride (Jizda), Directed by
Jan Svěrák , 90 minutes, 1994, Czech Republic

Filled with humor, this film is a road movie like you've never seen before.
Radek and Franta, pick up a hitchhiker, and their lives change.  Svěrák  also directed "Kolja" (1996), Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film. His father, Zdenek Svěrák , played the lead.  Jan Svěrák studied documentary filmmaking at the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague.


Roman Holiday, Directed by William Wyler, 118 minutes, 1953, USA
Filmed in Italy, Audrey Hepburn plays a pampered princess who is fed up with the monotonous routine of her life.  She flees for 48 hours, meets an American newspaper man (Gregory Peck) and learns there’s more to life than fulfilling her royal obligations. A delightful, romantic comedy, this 1953 film continues to entertain. Hepburn won an Oscar for Best Actress.


The Ron Clark Story, Directed by
Randa Haines,  90 minutes, U.S./Canada

This Made-for-TV film is the story of one man's belief that he can teach kids, any kids, to learn. Matthew Perry plays a small-town, rural North Carolina teacher who moves to New York City after he sees an ad in a newspaper "Teachers Wanted." He finds a job in Harlem. The story is based on true events.
Safe, Directed by Todd Haynes, 119 minutes, 1995, USA

What happens when the world takes over and you become super sensitive to everything around you. The stark, long shots in an expensive, grand suburban home are riveting. The individuals within become objects in their environments.
The Salton Sea, Directed by D. J. Caruso, 103 minutes, 2002, USA

 
The Salton Sea is a very bizarre film well-worth watching. You have not seen anything quite like it. Val Kilmer is good in this one, and Vincent D'Onofreo is probably one of the creepiest characters in filmland as Pooh- Bear the nose less. D'Onofreo is know for his chameleon portrayals. He gained 40 pounds for his role. Other actors include Anthony La Paglia.


Schultze Gets the Blues, Directed by Michael Schorr, 107 minutes, 2003, Germany

The discovery of Zydeco music leads the recently retired Schultze to a new life. He
travels from his Germany polka land to the more hip Louisiana back country.
Accordion in hand, he discovers another world. The film is slow moving, but worth the wait.


Snow Cake, Directed by Marc Evans       U.K./ Canada, 2006

This unusual film will capture your attention as it unveils the relationships between people who are thrown together as the result of an accident. The acting is excellent, and the storytelling is full of surprises. "Snow Cake" stars Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss, who won a Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. All the starring actors deserve awards.


Alan Rickman

Weaver gives a superb performance as a high-functioning autistic lady.  Rickman displays a full range of emotions of a man torn by the past, trying to confront his future.
 


Sigourney Weaver

Sigourney Weaver prepared for her role as Linda by spending time with Ros Blackburn, a high-functioning autistic woman from England. Although not a direct portrayal of Ros (who in real life cannot live independently and cannot read or write), many of Ros's mannerisms and characteristics are very apparent in Linda, as well as the passion for trampolining and things sparkly. Ros Blackburn gives public talks on what it is like to experience life as a person with autism.



Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman

"Autism is the inability to single out people as special, separate, unique entities  -  different from bits of
the furniture, different from even the family pet dog," Blackburn says.

Snowcake was shot in 27 days in Wawa, Ontario. The writer, Angela Pell, has an autistic son.


The Social Network, Directed by David Fincher, 120 minutes, 2010, U.S.A.
Executive Producers: Aaron Sorkin and Kevin Spacey

It’s not that often that a geeky film captures the minds of large audiences. “The Social Network” does just that.  It’s brilliant. It’s the tale everyone wanted to hear: the origins of Facebook: “You Don’t Get to 500 Million Friends Without Making a Few Enemies.”  And Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, made a few enemies.

Basically, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is hired by a group that has the idea for a social network on the Internet. He runs off with the idea and pursues it himself, developing what we know as Facebook today – the lifeline of millions of people, some of whom practically live online, feeding it new information about themselves every day, telling all to a gossip hungry populace.


Jesse Eisenberg

The film flips back and forth between the lawsuits that ensued when those who had the original idea for the network discover that Zuckerberg has beat them to it.   What happened to cause the riffs between the main characters is revealed in stages.  At first, this moving back and forth in time is a bit confusing, but we soon understand the sequence of events.

It’s the story of head shark versus mini sharks, dotted with lawyers. 


Eisenberg/Zuckerberg
Justin Timberlake/Sean Parker
Andrew Garfield/Eduardo Saverin

 "Kingdom of the Nerds"
Review by Lois Siegel


Soft Fruit, Directed by Christina Andreef, Black comedy, 101 minutes, 1999, Australia

Executive Producer Jane Campion.
Australian Film Institute:
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Russell Dykstra

Best Performance by an an Actress in a Supporting Role: Sacha Horler
Australian Guild of Screen Composers:
Best Original Music for a Soundtrack: Anthony Partos
FIPRESCI AWARD: Christina Andreef -
For the genuine expression of dramatic family reunion in a post-Chekhov style and with the unique Australian humour.

Torino International Festival of Young Cinema:
Jury Special Prize, International Feature Film Competition: Christina Andreef


Songcatcher, Directed by Maggie Greenwald, 109 minutes, 2000, USA

“Songcatcher” is a study of how country folk music originated from Scottish and Irish ballads sung in the 1600s by people who came to America and settled in Appalachia. In 1907, musicologist Doctor Lily Penleric visits her sister in the mountains of Appalachia. She discovers people who know the songs that have been passed down over generations by immigrants in the area. Penleric begins to document the history of the music and record the songs on wax cylinders.

The soundtrack is outstanding, including traditional music by singer/songwriter/musician Emmylou Harris, bluesman Taj Mahal, alt-country singer Iris DeMent, and bluegrass singer Hazel Dickens.

The Sundance Film Festival: Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Ensemble Performance


"Appalachian Song Collector"
by
Paal Juliussen

 


Still Mine
Directed by Michael McGowan, 102 minutes, 2012, Canada


James Cromwell  and Genevičve Bujold

There’s something to be said about persistence. Some people know what they want and stick to it – risking all.

“Still Mine” is about getting older and facing limitations. The Morrison’s, Craig and Irene, face life changes. Irene shows signs of Alzheimer’s. Craig needs to find ways to protect her.  At times, the film is predictable regarding the process of Alzheimer’s, but it is also full of surprises, twists and turns that keep us interested.

The acting is superb; casting choices excellent.  Genevičve Bujold (Irene) gives an outstanding portrayal of a senior experiencing obstacles she doesn’t always understand or remember.  The talented James Cromwell (Craig), is inspiring as her husband, devoted to the well-being of his wife. As a solution to their new challenges, Craig decides to build a new house on his country farmland – a one-story home where his wife can be safe from second floor falls. He’s a skilled carpenter, so this seems to be a good decision.

There are the usual exchanges with adult children who are very concerned about their parents who live alone on a farm. Craig can handle that, but when he starts building without the required permits, he gets into trouble with an insensitive government bureaucrat Rick (Jonathan Potts) who reads off construction rules like an automaton. Potts skilfully plays a very dislikeable character. To fight “City Hall,” Craig hires his long-time friend/lawyer Gary (the engaging Campbell Scott, son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst).  

“Still Mine” is an emotional film, but it’s also uplifting because a determined individual with a meritorious cause is someone to celebrate.

It is important to note that the film is based on a true New Brunswick story. The real Craig Morrison built things for 70 years.
Director Michael McGowan has conscientiously told his story with care and concern.

See the film.  It’s about self-reliance and freedom, and it’s a wonderful love story.
                                                                   Trailer
                                                         Review by Lois Siegel


Stuck, Directed by Stuart Gordon, 85 minutes, 2007, Canada, USA, UK Germany
Thriller

What first attracted me to this film was that Stephen Rea and Mena Suvari were acting in it. I really like Rea, and I couldn't imagine he would act in a bad film... so I was curious. I didn't know anything about the film.  Then I learned it was based on a true story... but 'based' is  a loose word.... it doesn't really end up following that real story, and that saves it.

"Stuck" is a thriller. It never lets you down. Not for a minute. Even the opening scenes in an old-folks home lend reality to the real world of care workers. It's not a fun place to be.

The basic story focuses on an accident.  A young social worker gets drunk and runs down a homeless man... not your usual homeless man, but one who had a job and was laid off. The bureaucracy of a bad social system destroys him,  and he is left on the street.




The film is not easy to watch. There is blood and violence committed by desperate people. Stephen Rea is excellent....in a difficult role. Mena Suvari is over the top at times, but her character comes through.

It's the kind of film that doesn't let you move away...you want to see what happens...and the ending is a surprise.

"Stuck" was shot in Saint John, New Brunswick.


Super 8 Stories, Directed by Emir Kusturica, 90 minutes, 2001, Serbia-Croatia

"Super 8 Stories" is frantic, hilarious, unpredictable documentary filmmaking at its best. The film is filled with music by Kusturica's "No Smoking Orchestra," a Balkan punk band. Chicago International Film Festival, Silver Plaque, Best Documentary.

Sweet Dreams, Directed by Saso Podgorsek, 110 minutes, 2001, Slovenia

A coming of age film, circa 1970 Yugoslavia, filled with humor and charm.
Slovene Film Festival, Vesna, Best Feature Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actress.

Sweet Land, Directed by Ali Selim, 110 minutes, 2005, U.S.A.

If you like beautifully shot, romantic films, directed with style, then you will like this film. "Sweet Land" isn't overly sweet.  Its charming, humorous and touching in a sophisticated way. The location is rural Minnesota in the 1920's. The story centers on an arranged marriage and the complexity of a German immigrating to American. Inge arrives to what may see the middle of nowhere... small town farm country, to marry a young Norwegian farmer, Olaf.

The film took Selim 15 years to finance. While working on the script, he directed television commercials. No Hollywood studios were interested in making the film. The film was shot in 24 days, and local residents served as extras and provided farming props.

The acting is superb. You might recognize  Alex Kingston who plays Brownie in the film. She's best known as Dr. Elizabeth Corday on television's “ER.”  "Sweet Land" also stars Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee, Lois Smith, Ned Beatty, John Heard,  and Alan Cumming.

And the cinematography by David Tumblety is breathtaking.

After years of struggling to make it in the film industry, Selim is finally there. He recently  directed six episodes of "In Treatment," the Emmy-winning HBO drama starring Gabriel Byrne as a not-as-steady-as-he-seems shrink with a steady stream of high-profile patients. And he has co-written a script
with "Sweet Land" star Tim Guinee for Philip Seymour Hoffman's company about the 1963 college basketball season in which Mississippi State finally agreed to participate in an integrated NCAA tournament.  Selim now lives in L.A.

Trailer


                   Ali Selim


The Swimmer

Directed by Frank Perry, Screenplay Eleanor Perry, 95 minutes, 1968, U.S.A.

This is the same couple who made the classic film “David and Lisa,” the story of David, a teenager in a mental hospital and his relationship with Lisa, who suffers from schizophrenia.

In “The Swimmer,” Burt Lancaster (Ned Merrill) stars as a bored, Connecticut suburbanite who decides to travel home via the swimming pools of his wealthy neighborhood friends. He encounters women, some from his past, along the way in a waterland where dreams don’t come true. With an excellent performance by Lancaster, we see Merrill's life unfold before us. He's an out-of-work advertising executive caught in the present, remembering better days in the past.

The film is based on a story by John Cheever.

Trailer

 
Swimming Pool, Directed by Francois Ozon, 110 minutes, 2003, France/UK

Charlotte Rampling plays a wonderful vamp in this thriller. The moral of the story:
never trust a writer.
 

Take This Waltz
Directed and Written by Sarah Polley, 116 Minutes, 2011, Canada
Music: “Take This Waltz” by Leonard Cohen


 Margot (Michelle Williams) with Daniel (Luke Kirby)


Some people will never be happy with their situation in life.
To ease their pain, they dream.

Margot (Michelle Williams) lives with Lou (Seth Rogen). He works at home writing chicken cookbooks. 
She has some kind of job writing for Parks Canada.  They play stupid little games with each other,
threatening murder with dangerous weapons, but that's about it for amusement.
When they go out to eat, Lou doesn't talk. He's only into the food. Margot is bored.

She meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) while working on a story at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia.
 Then she sits in the same row as he is on the plane back to Toronto.
Then she finds out he lives across the street. And away we go......
The film is sexy. The best sex is verbal. Sitting in a cafe,
Margot asks Daniel to tell him what he would do to her. He does - in explicit detail.
If this doesn't turn you on, nothing will.


Daniel (Luke Kirby)

The film is funny.
You can't have Sarah Silverman (Margot's "Alcoholics Anonymous" sister-in-law - Geraldine) in a film
and not laugh out loud whenever she appears. Silverman is terrific.  But so are all the actors. Damien Atkins as the Aquafit Instructor is hilarious. The casting is excellent.


Geraldine (Sarah Silverman)

The problem with extra-marital affairs is that you take all your demons with you.
Changing partners doesn't change you.  And as Geraldine says, "A happy life is not always guaranteed."
In this case, we aren't really sure what is real and what is only in Margot's head,
but the journey with her is quite outstanding and memorable. It just might hit home.
 
 Ladies, don't take your husband with you to see this film.
 Tell him to see it on his own or not....
 
 Trailer

 
 
Review by Lois Siegel


Tango, Directed by Carlos Saura, 115 minutes, 1998, Spain
The city is Buenos Aires, Argentina. Film director Mario Suarez is trying to make the quintessential tango film. Love complicates the situation. "Tango" is a  creative delight, full of emotion and amazing visuals.

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Directed by Azazel Jacobs, 105 minutes, 2011, USA

 
We've all seen coming of age films, but "Terri," about a teenage fat boy who
wears pyjamas everywhere he goes because they feel good,
is a bit different. Yes, he's harassed at school by his
classmates, but he takes most of this in stride.

Terri Thompson (Jacob Wysocki) has responsibilities that other kids don't have. He is the  sole caregiver for his Uncle James (
"The Office's" Creed Bratton) who is only lucid some of the time.
He must have Alzheimer's or dementia...all we know is that he forgets things and takes lots of pills.

The film is about life and survival.  It's about how people relate and how
they take care of each other. It's slow moving,
but this gives you time to  think about what is happening.

Terri is a misfit, and he becomes part of a never-ending procession
of 'bad' kids who have to go to the principal's office for various offenses.

 The vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), is special. He
dotes on his collection of weird kids.
Fitzgerald  sums it up:  "Life's  a mess, dude. People do the
best they can. I screw up all the time because that's what people do."

Terri is about all the mistakes we make and how we just keep
hanging in there....doing the best we can.

The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival.
That should tell you something.


Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel

The Theory of Everything, Directed by James Marsh, 2014, U.K.


Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones)
Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne)

The Theory of Everything is a romantic story revealing the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. It also shows the devastating effects of Lou Gehrig’s disease on a man who has become one of the most famous
scientists in the world, despite his severe physical limitations.

Science: Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist. He tries to mathematically explain how the universe works. Hawking is known for recognizing that radiation is released by black holes.

The story starts in Cambridge, England, 1963.  Hawking is a cosmology student, studying evolution.
He meets Jane Wyatt, who is studying medieval Spanish poetry. He’s an atheist. She’s a member of the Church of England.  Opposites attract.

The story progresses quickly. Hawking begins to drop things.  When his condition becomes worse, he’s diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given only two years to live. Depression sets in.  It’s Wyatt who saves him. She refuses to abandon him. They marry, and she supports him in any way she can.

The film is outstanding as a biographical portrait.  Science is referred to but not developed to any extent. This is a film about people’s lives and how they cope with the unexpected. Wyatt and Hawking’s fortitude through these tenuous times is amazing. And whatever turns their relationship takes, they persevere.

The acting by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones is superb.

Review by Lois Siegel

Trailer


They Shall Have Music, Directed by Archie Mayo, 105 minutes, 1939, USA

This 1939 film will delight the entire family. It tells the story of a young boy who, running away from home and the law, stumbles onto a music school for poor children. The children at the school are  played by members of the Peter Meremblum California Youth Symphony Orchestra. Their performances are outstanding.

The highlight of the film for classical music lovers are the live performances by Jascha Heifetz
.  He plays the "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" by Camille Saint-Saëns with an orchestra conducted by Alfred Newman.  The scenes where Jascha Heifetz is seen performing were actually directed by William Wyler. Because of Heifetz' schedule, Sam Goldwyn had to complete those scenes before he had assigned a director to film the rest of the movie.

 
Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Directed by
Rodrigo García
, 109 minutes, 2000, USA

The film has a great cast of actors: Glenn Close, Cameron Diaz, Calista Flockhart, Holly Hunter, and Gregory Hines. Written  and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez ("One Hundred Years of Solitude"), the writing is reminiscent  of Raymond  Carver - rather depressing stuff.
It won "Un Certain Regard" at Cannes 2000.

3 Backyards, Directed by Eric Mendelsohn, 88 minutes, 2010, USA

One of the most interesting and unusual films I’ve seen in a long time is “3 Backyards.”  It’s the exploration of three lives in one day in their lives, three stories that are interwoven with each other.  The pacing is slow and at the beginning, you are not sure what is happening or what the theme is, but the stories grow on you and by the end you are puzzled and transfixed on this peek into various lives of individuals caught in a world they don’t always understand.

The acting is superb: Edie Falco (Sopranos), Kathryn Erb (Law and Order: Criminal Intent), Elias Koteas (Crash), Embeth Davidtz (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo),  Danai Gurira, Rachel Resheff.


          Elias Koteas

“3 Backyards” won the Sundance Directing Award 2010. Mendelsohn is the only director who has achieved this award twice, first for “Judy Berlin” 1999. 

      Trailer


Together, Directed by Kaige Chen, 116 minutes,
2002, China

A child violin prodigy travels with his peasant father to Beijing to pursue a career in music. The scenes of China are wonderful. The performance music is actually played by Li Chuanyun, a former prodigy who studied at Juilliard, not the boy acting in the film.
San Sebastian International Film Festival: Best Director, Kaige Chen, 2002.
Florida Film Festival:
Audience Award, Best International Feature Film, 2003.



Too Far to Go, Directed by Fielder Cooke, 98 minutes, USA

Sometimes life has a way of forcing people apart, either through their own doing or because of circumstances. Cooke is a superb director. Every moment of the film is riveting. Based on a series of short stories by John Updike, "Too Far to Go" stands out from other films because of its precise language. Every word conveys a sharp meaning - revealing the deterioration of a relationship that is disintegrating after 20 years of marriage.  For Richard (Michael Moriarty ) and Joan (Blythe Danner) Maple, divorce is ahead. Neither one really likes the idea, but it is inevitable, the result of a series of extramarital affairs. Their experiences together are not without memories. Flashbacks of happier times are inserted into the reality of the present. The film is sad because, in some ways, they really do still like each other.


2 Days in the Valley, Directed by John Herzfeld, 104 minutes, 1996, USA

Great acting, humor and constant unpredictable action, murder by day and night. Sympathetic characters versus the bad guys, but there are good and bad guys on both sides of the action. Very strange. Very entertaining.

Two-Lane Blacktop, Directed by Monte Hellman, 102 minutes, 1971, USA

This classic film is a must see for anyone who likes fast cars and road movies. Two drag racing fanatics, obsessed with their cars, race across the countryside.  James Taylor stars in the film as The Driver of a 1955 souped-up Chevy. 


Actor Warren Oats, his older rival, aka G.T.O., shows off his 1970 Pontiac. The Mechanic is Dennis Wilson, drummer for The Beach Boys. And then there is Laurie Bird, The Girl, a strange, hippy drifter who moves from one car to another, on her way to nowhere.


They all seem to bond in a bi
zarre friendship. Winning the race becomes secondary to something else along a lonesome road always stretching ahead.


"Two Lane Blacktop" is an unusual trip with a variety of hitchhikers and wonderful small-town scenery and townies in the southern states.

But don't expect any depth to the limited dialogue.

G.T.O.: I go fast enough.
The Driver: You can never go fast enough.

Trailer


Venus, Directed by Roger Michell, 95 minutes, 2006, U.K.
Starring Peter O'Toole, 75-years-old, still kicking

Growing old is not fun, unless you find out ways to make it more fun. Maurice (Peter O'Toole) does his best to do just this. He's an aging actor looking for a sensual diversion. He targets the niece, Jesse (Jodie Whittaker) of his best friend, Ian (Leslie Phillips). What else is there  for old folks to do. Share pills ...the blue colors are good ones.  What is there for an old man to look forward to: rectal exams, needle pricks. An old actor can play a corpse.  That's about it.  Or you can check out the obituaries every day to see who gets the most column space. "When you die, everyone wants to be your friend," Ian says.  But you can't even cut your own toenails.

The film becomes a bit of a taming of the shrew.  The unrefined niece has rough edges.  O'Toole offers poetry like no one else can in an attempt to soften her up, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day...."  Shakespeare and Maurice at his best.

The film is touching and humorous. Perhaps O'Toole's Swan Song.

"Venus" was written by the talented Hanif Kureishi, author of "My Beautiful Laundrette," directed by Stephen Frears. An extra treat: Vanessa Redgrave plays Maurice's estranged-wife.

Vénus Beauté (institut), Directed by Tonie Marshall, 105 minutes, 1999, France

This film will test your patience with the up and down emotions of its main characters.
 
But keep with it until the end. It's just quirky enough to work.

César Awards, 2000,
 Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Young Actress.
2000 Seattle International Film Festival: Best Actress (Nathalie Baye).


Waitress, Directed by Adrienne Shelly, 107 minutes, 2007, USA

Can she bake a cherry pie? She sure can. This quirky comedy starts slowly, but you quickly get sucked in to the off-beat nature of the film. It's not predictable, and the acting is fine for this type of film - it's fun with good characters. Adrienne Shelly, the director, skillfully plays Dawn, a wallflower type, and
Jeremy Sisto, that creepy, psychotic "Six Feet Under" guy: Billy Chenowith (Brenda’s younger brother), plays Earl, aka Earlie.... and he's as creepy as ever. Eddie Jemison is wonderful as Ogie... he looks like the name sounds. Ogie writes spur-of-the-moment poetry....  and uses his verse to woo Dawn.

The main character is Jenna (
Keri Russell) a small town waitress at Joe's Diner. She pregnant, has a nasty husband, but also has a knack for making wonderful pies, which she names according to her mood. I didn't like the ending of the film at all. It fell into the Hollywood, 'riding off into the sunset' melodrama, but the rest of the film was worth it.

Shelly is b
est known for her association with independent filmmaker Hal Hartley.

The tragedy of this film is that it was Adrienne Shelly's last.  She was murdered November 1, 2006 in NYC. Shelly died before learning her film, "Waitress," had been accepted by the Sundance Film Festival.



Waydowntown, Directed by Gary Burns, 87 min., 2000, Canada

Young office workers stake a month's salary on a bet to see who can stay indoors the longest.
Good humor, inventive scenes,  Don McKellar as Brad creates a wonderful character. Great comedy.


The Way Way Back, Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, 103 min., 2013, USA

There have been many Coming-of-Age films over the years:  The 1959 classic “400 Blows” by Truffaut starring Jean-Pierre Léaud; Gregory’s Girl, 1981 Scottish comedy, written and directed by Bill Forsyth, starring John Gordon Sinclair, and 1991 “Flirting” by Australian John Duigan, starring Noah Taylor, Thandie Newton and Nicole Kidman.

Fast forward to 2013, “The Way Way Back,” directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, centers around Duncan (Liam James), 14, who is shy and awkward around others. His mother is dating Trent (Steve Carell), who plays a really irritating, self-centered, obnoxious divorcee. He’s very good at this, having lots of experience on the TV show “The Office.”

We pick them up as they are driving with Trent’s bratty daughter to his summer cottage in a small village.  Upon their arrival, we meet a ‘gang’ of reprehensible cottagers who are loud and loathsome. This may turn you off the film, but wait.  Give it time. It gets much better. We need to know what Duncan is up against.

Enter Sam Rockwell, who plays Owen. Sam works at Water Wizz water park. He’s a laid-back, hilarious beach guy who loves a good time. His antics are entertaining and endearing. His lines keep us laughing. And he becomes a mentor for Duncan. The water park is a refuge for Duncan and for the audience.  It offers relief from the sad reality of family life that has gone wrong – where dysfunctional relationships are the norm.  The water park scenes will keep you laughing.

Incidentally, both of the film’s directors appear in the film and are very funny in their water park roles as Roddy and Lewis.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel

http://blog.asianinny.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Le-Week-end-e1390942334120.jpg
Le Week-End, Directed by Roger Michell, 93 minutes, U.K./France, 2013

If you remember the 60s and 70s, you may be living this film. “Le Week-End plunges us into the life of Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan). They travel by train to Paris, where they honeymooned 30 years ago, but we soon learn that everything they have dreamed about is not quite the same. They are older, they move slower, their relationship is fraught with conflict of desires. When the inexpensive hotel they’ve chosen is disappointing, Meg flees, Nick in chase, to a fancy location, with an elegant suite and rooms with a view. All that’s required is a credit card. Nick worries about money. “What if we live longer,” he says. Meg wants to enjoy life now. She raids the well-stocked refrigerator as he frets.

Little things about Nick bother Meg.  She complains when he makes noise as he eats. “People don’t change,” Nick says. “They do,” Meg retorts. “They get worse.” The lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” play in the background: “How does it feel, how does it feel? To be without a home - Like a complete unknown - Like a rolling stone?”

Meg wants a new start…excitement. Nick doesn’t want his life to change. He dreads being deserted. He loves her very much and clings a bit. Despite their differences, they have adventures together. They don’t have a lot of money to spend, so they find solutions. Laughter abounds.

Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan)


By accident, they run into Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), an old friend. He’s a successful writer. “It’s a bad day for the English language,” quips Nick about Morgan’s books.  But Morgan makes money - something Nick would love to do. Nick is a philosophy professor who is being forced into early retirement.  Morgan is flamboyant, excitable, vain and obviously rich. His son from a former marriage is visiting from the States. He says of his father, “Even his emails are loud.” Morgan has a new, younger wife who adores him for the moment. He knows this won’t last, but for now she’s his “Mona Lisa.” He invites Nick and Meg to a dinner party celebrating his new book in his expensive abode situated in a good Parisian neighborhood. The guests all have credentials: writers, sculptors, professors, journalists. It’s here that unexpected revelations occur, changing the way we look at Nick and Meg. We begin to understand love and friendship and life goes on…

http://rogermooresmovienation.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/jeff2.jpg
Nick (Jim Broadbent), Meg (Lindsay Duncan), Morgan (Jeff Goldblum)

Le Week-End is a love story, although you’re not always sure during the first part of the film.  It’s like Ernest Hemingway’s Moveable Feast: “Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.” “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

The acting is stellar. The writing masterful, filled with humour, as well as sadness. Writer Hanif Kureishi is known for his comedy dramas. You may remember that he’s the screenwriter of “My Beautiful Laundrette,” directed by Stephen Frears.

Trailer
Review by Lois Siegel


Words and Pictures, Directed by Fred Schepisi, 111 minutes, 2014, U.S.A.


Juliette Binoche, Clive Owen


Words and Pictures is a romantic comedy.  The film opens cross-cutting between the two main characters - the images take place at the same time in two different locations. We see them getting ready to go somewhere early morning. That somewhere happens to be an upscale prep school. They are both teachers.  Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) is an artist and new to the school, and Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) is an English instructor. He's been there for many years.
Delsanto is also handicapped and walks with difficulty, using a cane. She has rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The two main characters go through a series of conflicts in a love/hate/love relationship. The screenwriter is Gerald Di Pego.  What makes this film work, besides the excellent acting, is the cleverly written humour and the interesting discussions about words and pictures by the two protagonists. 

Most of the students only care about getting into a good school after they graduate. Grades are key. Marcus calls then Droids, as in robots possessing artificial intelligence.

Delsanto is described as a painter who is known as The Icicle.  It's rumoured that she caned a student at her last school. But she's been a successful artist, selling her work.  Marcus, once a talented writer, is now an alcoholic.

Delsanto teaches Honours Art, the Marcus teaches Honours English. Delsanto talks about skill plus feeling... painting is a fine art. She says that words are lies and a trap. That doesn't go over well with Marcus.
He loves the power of words. He cares about them and plays word games, challenging others. 

The 'war' is on. Marcus challenges Delsanto to a Words versus Pictures assembly in front of the entire school.


Trailer
Review by Lois Siegel


A Year in Provence, Directed by David Tucker, 90 minutes each episode, broken into the four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, U. K, 1993. Produced by BBC-TV, in association with the Arts & Entertainment Network.

A Year in Provence,” is a delightful film based on the book by Peter Mayle of the same name.  The Mayles leave their London digs and their busy lives and flee to a 200-year-old farmhouse in Provence to indulge in what they assume will be the French joie de vivre.  But these ideas suddenly change as they face many unexpected traditions and a much slower pace in the countryside. One humorous situation after another occurs as they learn to deal with everyday challenges.

“A Year in Provence” stars John Thaw as Peter Mayle and Lindsay Duncan as Annie Mayle. The acting is superb.  "A Year in Provence" is a wonderful film about life in Southern France.


Young
Törless, Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, 87 minutes, 1966, Germany

Based on the book "The Confusions of Young Törless," (1906) by Austrian writer Robert Musil, "Young Törless" is a chilling tale of things to come. The film focuses on Matthieu Carriere who plays Luther, an intelligent boy attending an Austrian military boarding school.  He's shy and an observer.  Luther watches his classmates' sadistic behavior and abuse of power.  The time is the early 1900s. 



Filmed in black and white, the stark light and shadows convey a sense of gloom as Luther discovers:
"There's not an evil world and a good world. They exist together in the same world."

 

"Young Törless" won the 1966 Cannes Film Festival International Critic's Prize for First-Time Director. Volker Schlöndorff worked as an assistant director with well-known French filmmakers Louis Malle and Alain Resnais. He went on to win many awards for his films. There's a wonderful interview with  Schlöndorff on the DVD.


Emily Blunt

The Young Victoria, Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, 100 minutes, 2009, UK & USA

A palace can be a prison, the young Victoria insists when we first meet her. Indeed, she can’t even
walk down the stairs by herself.  Someone has to accompany her and hold her hand.  When you are a Royal, there are strict rules to be obeyed.  Victoria adheres to them until she becomes the new Queen, then she begins to exercise her new-found power. But she has to learn that people have agendas, and she doesn’t always make the right decisions, with dire consequences.


Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend

Aside from politics, the film is a romantic period piece about Victoria’s life with Prince Albert. It is intriguing to view because of the elaborate sets, the costumes, and the re-enactment of life at the time. The acting is superb: Victoria (Emily Blunt),  Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) and King William (wonderfully interpreted by Jim Broadbent).

Trailer

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