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Life Itself (2014)
Enthusiastic Thumbs Up!
Life Itself, a comprehensive, honest biography of film critic and 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner Roger Ebert's life, (based on Ebert's own memoir of the same name, and directed by Steve James of Hoop Dreams), is a great movie; I think Roger would have given it a hearty Thumbs Up.
Ebert had a modest upbringing in Urbana, Illinois, quickly rose in the ranks as a reporter and then film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, going on to educate and influence the world about the power and beauty of films, and specifically, the ability of a cinematic experience to expand our worldview and compassion.
I watched Ebert's various film critique shows for decades, beginning when I was a kid. I used to record the shows and watch them to help me determine which movies I might want to see. In viewing this very well organized, touching and witty documentary, I realized what an impact Roger Ebert had on my life.
His early drive as a writer, a voice of political reason, young carousing, social alchoholic, (who later got and remained sober), with a bent for Russ Meyers films as well as film classics, foreign and independent fare, and a wholly passionate approach to his work as film reviewer is covered, as well as his rivalry-inspired chemistry with fellow critic and long-time TV show partner, Gene Siskel. Some of the footage with Siskel is hysterical. Friends and colleagues, (including Martin Scorsese and also, Gene Siskel's widow, Marlene Iglitzen), as well as his wife, Chaz Ebert give revealing, sizzling , heartful interviews. Roger himself also has much screentime as he is interviewed in the hospital late into his illness.
In the last decade of his life, Roger had cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands and his lower jaw was removed, leaving him disfigured and unable to speak or eat normally. Regardless of this awful physical predicament, Roger glowed with love for his wife and family, and life itself, and he remained steadfast in his fervor for his work.
I give Life Itself an enthusiastic THUMBS UP!
Fugitive Pieces (2007)
A ten and some tears
"To live with ghosts requires solitude."
Anne Michaels wrote a novel about a Jakob Beer, a Polish Jew who ran away to escape the Nazi's after they took his sister and parents. Jeremy Podeswa turned the novel into a poetic film of stunning beauty and depth. Stephen Dillane, (a new favorite actor), and Robbie Kay, (turning in a remarkable performance), play Jakob as a man and boy. This is a journey of survival, integrity, and a love story between Jakob and a Greek archeologist, Athos Roussos, (played with hearbreaking nuance by Rade Sherbedgia), who saved him and raised him. I give this film a ten and some tears.
Die Unsichtbaren (2017)
Unique and moving docudrama focused on four Jews who remained in Berlin during WWII
Die Unsichtbaren / The Invisibles (2017)
This film is absolutely unique; it combines interviews with four remarkable Jewish people that, through all odds, managed to survive the Nazi invasions in Berlin along with a feature film type story that depicts these four as youth in 1943, and also includes vintage clips. The interviews are priceless; the actors are engaging and excellent; and each storyline is intriguing on it's own. Although each of the four stories is separate without intersecting with the others, the narrative is captivating and the film flows along and mesmerizes. Die Unsichtbaren depicts the courage, wits, and resistance of both the Jewish survivors and the German citizens who put themselves in harm's way to help them. I highly recommend this film.
The Jewish Journey: America (2015)
A good documentary
THE JEWISH JOURNEY: AMERICA (2015)
This PBS documentary traces Jewish immigration to the United States. Using a series of stunning black and white authentic photos along with interviews of Jewish writers, scholars, and immigrants from diverse countries, Andrew Goldberg presents a clear story in captivating images and deeply personal narratives that cover various aspects of the Jewish journey to America for five hundred years. Being a second generation descendant of Jewish families from Eastern European cities and shtetls, and studying the history of the Jews on my own, I knew some of the information presented already. This film however, flushed out a more expansive view of Jewish immigrants from a wide array of homelands than I have gotten from reading. The film presents history of what daily life was like before they came; the reasons for choosing America during certain years; challenges of the physical journey; and what they faced, (for better and worse), in America before and after aid was set up to help assimilate new Jewish immigrants. I found the personal accounts fascinating and moving. The film is only 55 minutes; if this subject interests you, I recommend it. It was hard to watch in light of the plight of current immigrants who are fleeing bad situations in their home countries for America.
Wonderful Film for Leonard Cohen fans
LEONARD COHEN UNDER REVIEW - 1934-1977
Leonard Cohen - Under Review 1934-1977 is basically a chronological review of the first four+ decades of Leonard's life largely via a journey through his albums: Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, and Death of a Ladies' Man, which are critiqued and cooed over by a Cohen loving clan including:
Official biographer, Ira Nadel; Leonard's guitarist and band leader, Ron Cornelius; Producer on the New Skin For The Old Ceremony and New Positions albums, John Lissauer; Studio owner/engineer, Death of A Ladies' Man, David Gold; Cohen's backing vocalist, Ronee Blakley; Producer of Songs of Leonard Cohen, John Simon; Music Editor from Village Voice, Robert Christgau; Rolling Stone magazine's Anthony De Curtis and more.
The film weaves together musical performances, photos, videos, and interviews with Leonard. We see his background in Montréal, Canada and learn about his Jewish roots and love for his heritage. We learn how he was swept up by literature and poets Elliot, Keats, and Lorca and then follow his path to Greenwich Village in 1955 where he engaged with the folk music and beat poetry scene.
Then he discovered the Grecian Island, Hydra, a Bohemian artistic haven. In Greece, Leonard fell in love, wrote two novels, and then ended up back again in Greenwich Village where he began his music career. We see him move to Tennessee and immerse himself into his recordings there. Then there is the Phil Spector wall-of-sound bumbler, a non-harmonious marriage of musical worlds that birthed an album that Leonard couldn't embrace as his own.
A considerable part of the film is footage of the colleagues who praise him and twinkle at the mention of his name. I understand this, as when it comes to Leonard Cohen, I'm a teenager with a crush, infatuated with the totality of his being -- If you love Leonard like I do, this film will quench you like a cool shower on a sweltering day. In fact, I feel parched right now and must see this movie again.
Gorgeous film, interesting, very good, but not a masterpiece like Renoir's paintings - I might call it Andrée and Jean
Visually, this film is a stunning, sumptuous soak in The Côte d'Azur; the costumes are delicious, whether they are on or off. The nudity of Renoir's models is bewitching and graceful, fully natural to the setting, and non-gratuitous.
The time is 1915. Michel Bouquet turns in a wonderful performance as renowned Impressionistic artist Pierre Auguste-Renoir in his late seventies, riddled with painful arthritis, which renders him an invalid prone to icing his hands so that he can continue painting. The fact that Renoir got his start painting porcelin plates is presented to the audience repeatedly so we never forget this foundational fact, which many of the characters hammer home; his young model rebels against the pious story in a moment of rage by smashing a few of the precious plates to the ground in a communal staff kitchen setting.
The artiste and his art developed into a unit; inseparable; existing for each other, to the exclusion of others, including youngest son, Claude, "Coco," a melancholy lad who resents both his elder father, "the boss," and his deceased mother, and struggles to find his way and worth in the trappings of a tantalizing yet paralyzing paradise. Coco's storyline in the film felt sad and unfinished, like a painting abandoned midway.
The main plot focuses on the relationships bewteen Andrée Heuschling, Renoir's last model, Renoir himself, and his son Jean, home convalescing from a limp-inducing leg injury, (and subsequent surgery), he sustained in his service in the Great, gory, World War. Andrée went on to become Catherine Hessling, wife of Jean Renoir, who became a brilliant filmmaker. As Catherine, she starred in many of his films before retiring. Christa Théret played this lush role with boldness, bravado, and beestung beauty. Vincent Rottier played Jean with equanimity and pliancy; his was the story I followed most assiduously. I am keen to see more of both of these actors.
The pace of the film is languid; the beauty is encompassing; the characters have some complexity, but are not drawn incredibly deep. I found myself replaying some of the dialougue that stood out for me. Here are a few lines I particulary liked in context:
"How is it being carried by women?"
"Dear boy, the Renoirs refuse to paint the world black."
"I aged ten years during the war for scumbags like you."
"No hats or flowers. Take that off." "If you told me what you wanted." "You can't explain a painting you have to feel it. Go see Titian's courtesans at the Louvre. If they don't make you want to caress them then you've understood nothing at all. Where are you going?" "To the Louvre."
"The pain passes, but beauty remains."
"I paint like a child." "That's a good thing. My whole life, I tried to paint like a child. Without knowing anything... Without thinking..."
Seat 25 (2017)
The film never took off
SEAT 25 (2017)
Seat 25 was recommended to me by someone whose artistic talent and sensibility I respect. I like when friends refer films to me because it gets me to look beyond the films I would choose for myself. Sometimes I love their movie referrals, and other times, as in the case of Seat 25, I don't.
I did enjoy the performance by the lead actress, Madeleine Cooke, who also is a co-writer and producer of the project. She played the main character Faye Banks with a clear presence that gave access to her feelings of alienation in ways I felt were easily accessible. And depressing. Faye is a woman in a beige, uninspiring marriage and a thankless job as a Employment Termination Assistant, an axeman who delivers the news to poor souls that they are fired. Her family is physically and emotionally unavailable; her sister is a negative sterotype of a proclaimed free spirit who is in actuality a freeloader. Faye's husband is portrayed as a one dimensional man going through his days on auto-pilot, escaping to console games, life cliques, ("we're going to try for a baby now, it's the next logical step"), and briefcase-in-hand, bland morning exits.
Faye feels like an alien on planet earth and has been captivated by Mars since she was a child, and so naturally when a lottery for a ticket on a shuttle to Mars comes up, Faye applies... and is chosen to go. I'm not a believer in the idea that life on Mars is realistic or desirable, so I was out of this narrative from it's inception. I settled in to watch the film as a metaphor, and managed to find a few interesting moments in her interactions with her neighbor Peter, a stay-at-home dad, and with Teodor, one of the employees she fired; I hoped these relationships would go somewhere substantial, but I ultimately felt they were pawns to manipulative the story in ways I found void of meaningful impact.
Artistically I appreciated the cinematography; Faye's colorful, quirky wardrobe; and the set designs, even in her very beige house.
For me, Seat 25 never took off.
Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2005)
Disjointed film, but still recommended for Leonard Cohen fans
LEONARD COHEN - I'M YOUR MAN (2005)
I'm an unabashed Leonard Cohen fan who has been watching documentaries about this poetic luminary for the past month. I like them all because of the subject; I've been uplifted and inspired by several of them. I wanted to like this one, Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man, more than I did; the film felt to be a disjointed mix of performances by a wide range of musicians doing Cohen covers and some interviews with Leonard in which we hear a bit about Suzanne, the Chelsea Hotel, his time as a monk, (I found that part quite interesting), etc. The camera angle seemed oddly fixated on his nose.
The musical performances from the 2005 tribute show, "Came So Far for Beauty" at the Sydney Opera House were hit and miss. Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Perla Batella, and Anohni were highlights for me, and the topper was when Leonard himself sang Tower of Song with U2. I recommend this film for fans of Leonard although this is not my top pick of the documentaries about him.
One More Line (2009)
Colorful and down to earth look at the life of Ferndale, CA illustrator, Jack Mays
ONE MORE LINE, (2009)
One More Line is a documentary is about the relationship between a man and his town, Ferndale, California. After the 1992 earthquake destroyed his art studio, artist and cartoonist Jack Mays took to the streets of Victorian Ferndale to draw each street, building, and resident, and in doing so, he himself became a fixture of the community sitting in his plastic chair daily for fifteen years and drawing. The film is filled with Jack's colored pencil impressions of Ferndale, a town that was only a scant few miles from the first college I attended in Humboldt County: College of the Redwoods. My memories of Ferndale had to do with it's association with the Kinetic Sculpture Race, a fun, creative, annual event in the county, and it's quaint, colorful Main Street. The film gave me a chance to get to know Ferndale through the story of Jack's artistic love affair with his township. Jack is affable, emits integrity, and his presence is comforting; the filmmakers Carrie Grant and John Howarth chronicle his journey of self-driven town illustrator through his cancer diagnosis. Jack was focused on art for art's sake, and didn't display his work until until he was asked to in order to raise funds to help someone. This is a beautiful film about an artist and his life.
"I'm not interested in making art for the art world, but in making art for Ferndale," Jack Mays
Chaplin made me smile
Spectacularly entertaining from start to finish, Chaplin was the role of a lifetime for the brilliantly talented Robert Downey Jr. in pefect harmony with the splay of Richard Attenborough's grandiose direction, supported by an ememble cast that shot for the stars and hit their marks, a stunning musical score by John Barry, all guided by the expert hand of genius Sven Nykvist's Cinematography. On a personal note, I knew Sven well; I worked with him soon after he shot Chaplin, and loved him dearly.
The film was adapted by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman from the books My Autobiography by Chaplin and Chaplin: His Life and Art by film critic David Robinson.
A friend and I were recently talking about how film biopics often veer from the absolute truth of the main subject's life. I'm not sure why this is. If you can overlook that in this lengthy film, (that does not seem too long for the story it tells), then it's a captivating ride. RDJ adopted the mannerisms of Chaplin and his Tramp; RDJ's face is not only stunningly beautiful in this picture, (except for the rubbery old age face piece), but perfectly expressive. His acting seemed unselfconscious and effortless and it was easy to be spellbound with his character in a character.
The shining cast includes: Paul Rhys (as brother, Sid Chaplin); Moria Kelly (as Hetty Kelly and Oona O'Neil Chaplin). Kevin Kline is delightful as Douglas Fairbanks Jr,; the friendship chemistry between his character and RDJ's Charlie feels real and Klein is always a treat to watch. Geraldine Chaplin uses such skill to portray her own grandmother, Hannah Chaplin. Dan Aykroyd plays silent comedy filmmaker Mack Sennett in his wonderfully unique Aykroyd way. Anthony Hopkins has a small role as a book editor, there to provide exposition and carry the lengthy movie along. Marisa Tomei, Penelope Anne Miller, Milla Jovovich, Nancy Travis, and Diane Lane all play women in Charlie's life -- each actress plays her part to the hilt; Marita Patillo as Mary Pickford, John Thaw, James Woods, David Duchovny, and more grace this film.
In sweeping fashion the film covers: Charlie's difficult childhood of poverty in the slums of East London, abandonment, and maternal insanity; his protectiveness of his brother Sid's Jewish heritage, and their multi-dimensional personal and business relationship; Charlie's move to America and story of becoming head of his own studios making eighty-one movies in which he threw every part of himself into as writer, actor, director, even creating his own scores. As mentioned his friendship with action star Doug Fairbanks is featured along with a bit about United Artists. Charlie's personal life is presented in an episodic fashion woven through the film that might have felt annoying except for the great acting chops of each actress and of Downey as well.
Early on, we see Chaplin at a dinner with friends and J. Edgar Hoover, who robustly objects to Charlie using his films to make political statements, which Hoover deems are not good for the country; Charlie rancourously disagrees with him. Moving forward we see Hoover obsessed with finding a way to stop Chaplin, culminating in Charlie being blacklisted during the McCarthy era Red Scare post World War II. While on vacation out of the country, Charlie gets word he has been exiled from the U.S., and has to leave behind the studio empire he built there.
If you want to see a documentary about Charlie Chaplin, this is not it; if you like a well made glossy Hollywood movie biopic from time to time, this might just make you "Smile." I feel inspired now to revisit Charlie Chaplin's most well known films and learn more about him.
Woman Walks Ahead (2017)
Good movie that altered facts -- could have been a great movie
WOMAN WALKS AHEAD
"Your society values people by how much you have; ours by how much we give away."
The film - 'based on' a true story - focuses on the developing friendship of artist Caroline Weldon with Teton Dakota Indian chief Sitting Bull. The facts of the story have been changed in a way to distort the truth: In 1889, feminist Indian Rights Activist Caroline Weldon from Brooklyn, New York, a member of the National Indian Defense Association, reached out to Sitting Bull as an advocate at a time when tension over several issues including division and sale of parts of the Great Sioux Reservation were high. She made the trip to North Dakota with her son. In the movie, Caroline Weldon came alone as a lonely widow searching for herself, on a mission to paint the portrait of Sitting Bull. Also at this time, a religious "Ghost Dance Movement" was spreading eastward to the Plains; it called on the Indians to dance and chant for the rising up of deceased relatives and return of the buffalo. When the movement reached Standing Rock, the dancers danced at Sitting Bull's camp. The nearby white settlers were alarmed, and Sitting Bull was shot during his arrest.
While I understand that this story focused on the relationship between Catherine and Sitting Bull, so much of their lives were passed over or skewed.
I came away feeling mixed about this movie: the New Mexico landscapes are striking; I enjoyed this look at the life and culture of the Plains Indians; the relationship bewteen Jessica Chastain, (Caroline Weldon), and Michael Greyeyes, (Sitting Bull) was moving, and their acting was strong, but the story was misleading. Still, I think it's a film worth seeing, but I don't understand why this story wasn't told historically as it's such an important piece of history. What did they think they were improving by doing a bait and switch on facts?
A world without shadows
Two years ago a friend of mine raved about this movie, Maudie; she loved it and said that knowing me, I would too. I watched a preview and mistakenly thought it looked like a Hallmark movie, which is not the kind of film I was after. Well, I was wrong; Maudie is not an overly sentimental Hallmark-type movie; it's genuinely touching, wonderfully cast and acted, and unburdened by a maniplulative script or cloying direction, but rather, it's a strong, delicate story based on the life of Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis.
Maud was born bent, and suffered from severe arthritis; Sally Hawkins delighfully captured the physical and character traits of this vulnerable, creative, fiesty, persevering, and forthright woman as she finds independence from her emotionally abusive family by answering an ad, "live-in or keep house," for a bachelor in his forties.
The homeowner is a poor, struggling recluse, Everett Lewis, played beautifully by Ethan Hawke. Everett was so unlikeable at times, the only thing that kept me open to his relationship with Maud is that Ethan's portrayal hit a finessed balance of Everett's onerous nature with his hidden human side that was unfoldng under Maud's simple spell. Juxtiposed with Everett's harshness is the fact that Sally's Maud exudes self confidence, joy, the ability to speak up for herself, and to follow her passion for painting. As an artist myself, I reveled in watching Maud blissfully paint her bright, happy pictures all over the walls, furniture, wooden boards, and cards; I know this feeling and have done it a bit myself. Beginning with one kind patron, Maude's small paintings become sought after and she achieves a degree of artistic notoriety in her life.
Everyone did their job well in this production: casting, location scouts, (the scenery is gorgeous), hair and makeup, music, editing, set design, and so on. Bringing Everett around to those times where he embodies hs love for his wife were moments so hard won that they gift the audience with some heartfelt heft. This lovely, artistic, character study will not be for everyone, but it was for me... to the tune of ten stars.
Obituaries have next to nothing to do with death, and absolutely everything to do with life
I found this documentary about the obit writers at the New York Times fascinating, uplifting, full of life, and beautifully shot down to subtle details such as the fact that Margalit Fox's georgeous tapestry scarf matches the aqua blue of the antiquish tyewriter in the left rear of her shots. The chaotic disarray of the news clip room, the morgue, managed by curator, Jeff Roth, (in cuffed short shirtsleeves and narrow tie), who has worked there since 1993, sings with bulging, sliding files of yellowed history. As a professional organizer, my instincts might otherwise have been to "have a go" at bringing array to this laudable photo and article repository, (which seems by all tokens to be long past any point of return), yet I was captivated by the messy poetry in this story, very well told by Vanessa Gould.
"It's the job nobody thinks they want, a kind of Siberia," obit writer Margalit Fox says, "but it's the best beat in journalism because you're paid to tell peoples' stories. Obituaries have next to nothing to do with death, and absolutely everything to do with life."
The unique tasks of an obit writer, as well as the delight in encapsulating and honoring someone's life, are well presented in this film. Writer William Grimes explains, "A fortunate death for me is one that occurs and you hear about it at 9:00 a.m. and you have all day to put something together. The unfortunate death for me is the one that occurs and you hear about it when you're getting ready to leave... You walk out the door, and an editor comes over to you and says, 'Not so fast.'"
Among many riveting through-lines in the film was Bruce Weber's coverage of the death of William P. Wilson, the man who insisted on a single pole podium and applied Kennedy's light makeup before the Nixon Kennedy debate. Just days after the election, Kennedy himself acknowledged, "It was the TV more than anything else that turned the tide." The film offers up minute aspects of how Weber wrote this story, while also weaving in historic information of many other notable lives in order to illustrate how this obit team works to do justice to them at their time of death.
The obit mistake and the pre-written obits are discussed with flourish and wit, but retain humanity and reverence to life. Even the cubicles in each interview served, to me, (someone who has never worked in such a workspace), as a character in the film as the lilting music by composer Joel Goodman punctuated each Annie Hall-esque narrative observation. The NYT's obit crew are wry, grounded, quick-on-the uptake, talented journalists, the perfect team, compelling and compelled, to get this job done. Director of photography, Ben Wolf, did a spectacular job including a dazzling array of newsreels and vintage photo clips.
This film is unsentimental, yet moving; weighty, but inspiriting. I give it ten stars and highly recommend this movie. If you hate it, don't kill me.
Stories We Tell (2012)
I felt deflated, uncomfortable, and was not deeply moved by this film
THE STORIES WE TELL (2012)
Canadian actress, writer, director, producer Sarah Polley made an out-of-the-box documentary about her own family secret: her charming, whirlwind-of-a-woman mother, Diane Polley, died of cancer when Sarah was eleven, and it was "joked" through her childhood that Sarah's father was an actor Diane had an affair while appearing in a play in Montréal; this is confirmed by a DNA test when Sarah is twenty-seven, only it turns out to be a different man than most in her family thought it was.
In this film, Sarah interviews the four siblings she grew up with, her biological father and newfound sister, friends of her mother, including the man who was rumored to be Sarah's bio dad. At the heart of the interviews is the man who raised her, actor Michael Polley, reading a self-depricating memoir he wrote about his curmudgeonly life with Diane, (the life of the party), and scenes of Sarah having a sit-down with her biological father, movie producer and theatre director Harry Gulkin.
After recording the stories, Sarah used 8mm film to recreate the events spoken about and then wove these bits in with the interview / narratives, along with some home movies.
I liked some of the players, especially her siblings, who seemed genuinely supportive of Sarah, which is not always a trait found in families. The throughline about the man who raised her felt inauthentic and sad to me.
I appreciated the novalty of Sarah's artistic approach to working through this personal life revelation via a creative, probing documentary, however it felt both too personal, yet not personal enough to me. I would have preferred to hear Sarah's own unblanched narrative rather than her steady direction to her father to repeat lines he was reciting and snatches of her reading emails she sent to both of her fathers. I felt deflated, uncomfortable, and was not deeply moved by this film.
Danny Collins (2015)
Good but not deeply memorable
DANNY COLLINS (2015)
Al Pacino as aging rockstar Danny Collins seemed weirdly miscast to me, but hey, it's Pacino and he pulled it off in movie star style. This story was loosely inspired by an event in folk singer Steve Tilson's life: Tilson recieved an encouraging letter from John Lennon, (with Lennon's phone number on it), decades after it was sent. He wonders how it might have changed his life if he got the letter at the time it was written. In this film, the rocker goes through a Hollywood movie sort of change and goes to New Jersey to make things right with a son he never met. In fact, in real life Tilson has several children that he has solid relationships with. The cast, including Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, and Christopher Plummer, all turn out solid performances, (Bening is fantastic, actually), but the enjoyable movie never catches fire with me. I thought it was good, but not great; easy to watch, but it felt contrived and not deeply memorable to me.
A Place of Truth (2013)
Wonderful documentary about a young, busking poet
A PLACE OF TRUTH (2013)
This documentary shadows twenty-one year old busking street poet Abi Mott's life on the road. I had to see this as it combines many of my favorite topics: slice-of-life and character study stories, busking, poetry, and life on the road. Abi is a creative soul who radiates authenticity, has a gift for connecting with people, and seems to truly exist in the moment . As a businesswoman, her pitch is, "Name a price. Pick a subject. Get a poem." After a breakup leads her to San Francisco where her nomadic journey begins, we travel with her to several destinations, including New Orleans, as she wheels around her portable workspace searching for suitable spaces to share her art. Her thoughtful, life affirming, individually requested poems are good to excellent, move her customers, and are written instantly on a vintage typewriter. In Abi's words, "I'll write you a poem. I'm not going to tell you it's the best poem you've ever read, but it will be true to... now." If these topics resonate with you, I recommend this fine film.
Life Itself (2018)
I avoided the critical reviews and adored this film!
LIFE ITSELF (2018)
I came to this movie a year late and though a few friends recommended it, I managed to avoid reading any reviews about it, which turned out to be a very good thing because the critics panned it, but like many other fans, I adored it!
The intro with Morgan Freeman's voice set the offbeat tone; I was interested immediately. Bring on the Bob Dylan soundtrack and obsession of Dylan from one of the first unreliable narrators, and I was all in. Well, maybe I had a toe that was out. Aspects of the story ask the audience to suspend belief and each time I questioned whether I wanted to do that or not something truly amazing, (like Antonio Bandaras' monologue as the wealthy owner of an olive ranch), would pull me gladly back in the orbit of this unconventional film. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Antonio's acting. Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, and Annette Bening were also terrific in this weirdly interwoven, multi-generational, transcontinental, whimsical and moving narrative.
Un sac de billes (2017)
An important and powerful movie, brilliantly done!
A BAG OF MARBLES (2017)
This is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time.
In 1941, Paris is occupied by the Nazi's. Ten-year-old Joseph and twelve-year-old Maurice, the two youngest sons of Russian Jewish immigrants Roman and Anna, come home from school for a quick dinner of soup, after which they are handed cash and a hand drawn map with directions they must memorize in order to make the trip on foot by themselves from Paris to Nice; there, the plan is to meet up with their parents a safe distance from the police round-ups in Paris. Roman, who owns a barbershop, has concluded that traveling alone is less conspicuous than trying to escape as a family unit.
Before the boys leave, Roman gives Joseph a lesson of how to deny he is a Jew; every time he asks his son, "Are you a Jew?" Joseph answers, "No," and Roman slaps him on his face, viscerally demonstrating what his sons might encounter during their journey. The boys are told not to trust anyone, there will be cons out there, and then, just like that, they are off on their own, heading away down the cobblestone street as Anna and Roman watch in tears from the window.
Earlier that afternoon, Joseph, (played by a precious and utterly honest Dorian Le Clech), traded his yellow Star of David patch for a bag of marbles, not fully understanding his religion, why he is being persecuted, or by whom. His innocence shines like the moon in a pitch black sky through the grueling situations that unfold over the course of this film. Jo's boyhood is lost to these ugly circumstsnces, but his boyish spirit beautifully endures throughout, which increases the drama and full investment in this story.
Traveling alone over mountaintops in France, heading for the Free Zone, the sweeping scenery brings to mind "The Sound of Music," but there are no choruses of Do Re Mi in this film. The boys encounter some cons, as they had been forewarned of, and also some helpers, including a young guide, and two men who risk their own safety to protect the lives of the young brothers. The boys are alternatively scrappy, scared, and brave as they pull on wisdom and perseverence to get them through terrible situations. I see this as a buddy picture as these devoted brothers fight for their lives together through rough and spectacular terrain.
I think that middle school children and teens as well as adults would get something from this excellent film.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Great music, Oscar Issac showcase, weird dark character study
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)
Oscar Issac is currently one of my favorite actors based on his performance in Inside Llewyn Davis and Life Itself; he's a talented performer with depth, vision, and charisma, even when playing the King of the couch-sleeping cads and a rat to several cats in this movie. Because he's such a jerk, I found it impossible to root for Llewyn Davis, a down-on-his-luck, (some of it self created), underappreciated folk singer struggling with his messed up life and flailing career, but whenever he played guitar and sang, I couldn't help but be drawn in; his musical adeptness and passion for it was the guy's redeeming quality, if indeed he had any.
The story is said to incorporate anecdotes based on Dave Van Ronk's life as a folksinger in the early 1960's in Greenwich Village, playing clubs like the Gaslight Cafe, where, in the film, he sees a young Bob Dylan perform one night in what I thought was a perfect film moment.
The film bustles with the Coen Brother's complex character studies; creative dark humor; unexpected plot turns in the anti-hero's odyssey, (including a road trip from hell with a deft John Goodman as a heroin addicted jazz player); adroit cinematography; and a splendid soundtrack by Coen collaborator, the tremendous T Bone Burnett, which is largely filled with songs adapted from traditional folk tunes. Included in the playlist is an outstanding version of 500 Miles, sung by the trio of Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, (who give delightful performances as Llewyn's friends), and Garrett Hedlund, as an up and coming star who, much to the chagrin of Llewyn, is outshining him.
This film is worth watching for the music alone, then add to that this finely polished ensemble of actors and intriguing filmmaking -- it's a great watch, mesmerizing and fun, though ultimately dark... definitely not uplifting.
Nuanced and truthful character study
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (2018)
In this coming-of-age film based on a YA novel of the same name, the graciously talented Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Cameron Post, a gay seventeen-year-old whose guardians send her to a fundamentalist Christian gay-therapy conversion camp after her boyfriend discovers her and her best friend Coley in a sexually intimate situation in a car during a Homecoming dance. I wasn't sure how I would react to this story because of the despicable religious concept behind trying to convert a person into a mold of who you think they should be, using the mirage of scripture as the false foundation on which to build this abuse, but I thought it was very well done. I recommend it.
Chloe's performance is nuanced, vulnerable, strong, and truthful, and lifts a good, important script into something memorable and substantial. The story was fairly predictable in terms of the events, but touching, witty, and compelling thanks to the subtle production and an excellent cast, (including Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck as Cameron's rebel friends-in-arms; Jennifer Ehle as the principle camp controller, Dr. Lydia Marsh, sister of the conflicted Reverend Rick played by John Gallagher Jr.).
Gallager created a surpringly compassionate character given my viewpoint on the subject, thanks also to this well crafted production that allowed the characters to breathe in many dimensions. Ehle, brilliant in her role of tough-love conversion therapist, was oh-so-easy to abhor. The whole misnomered tough-love-I'm-going-to-fix-you theme was served up beautifully to illustrate the debasement of the LGBTQ community, but also fair game for any shove-you-in-a-box-that-I-have-defined, self-righteous schlock.
After a self-inflicted tragedy befalls one of the student-disciples, (how could that not be an inevitable outcome when one is hated and rejected to one's core?), an investigator comes to interview the disciple-members to get feedback on how they are doing. He doesn't seem all that keen to blow the whistle on the program but finally concedes to notate Cameron's forthright observation, "How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?"
Experimental filmmaking, character study
CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN (2005)
Browsing through the indie films included on Amazon, I stumbled upon Conversations with Other Women, staring Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter. I like both of these actors and I love movies that are conversations between people, so I thought I'd give it a go. The music of Carla Bruni pulled me in immediately and right away I noticed that Eckhart and Bonham Carter were at the top of their games. I read that they shot eighty-two pages of dialogue in only twelve days of principal photography; having worked for decades on films and productions, I found this remarkable. The film is a study of two people who share a past romance and meet up at his sister's wedding in New York. The woman traveled all the way from London to be a bridesmaid in a very bridesmaidy dress in this stereotypical wedding party where she doesn't seem to belong at all -- as the film unfolds, it appears that she came for him. The film is shot with a lot of split screens; there are moments this feels gimmicky, but mostly I was caught up in the immediacy of the connection, past and present, of these two fine actors giving a compelling character / relationship study.
Something, Anything (2014)
This film took me by surprise
SOMETHING, ANYTHING (2014)
This film took me by surprise. In the first few minutes I guarded myself against what I expected would be a sappy sentimental journey, however the story and understated handling of it soon moved into territory that drew me into the silence. Yes, this is another indie movie with a loud, quiet presence.
Peggy, (Margaret), is the female Pretender. She tries to follow the path that is set out for her of supposed happiness. At the conclusion of the film I looked back to the introduction of Peggy's character and appreciate what a nuanced portrayal the actress, Ashley Shelton, gave.
Something/Anything will always be a Todd Rundgren album I love, but now it is also a slice-of-life tale that follows a young woman as, after a personal tragedy and betrayal, she pares down the superficial and searches for sanity and salvation in any sense of the word. The religious aspects made me uncomfortable, as religious aspects do, but they serve here to tell the story of this seeker who is eventualy found by fireflies and true loving friendship.
With 18:18 minutes left in the film a lamp is shown, which is the exact same stained glass firefly lamp that sits on my dresser and has been a beautiful part of my surrounding for decades since I fell for it in a little shop in Chicago. That was a fun bonus for me. If you don't know the lamp in person, it would be impossible to tell that it is made up of images of fireflies -- a lovely touch by the filmmakers who imbued their character study project with this kind of heart all the way through.
55 Steps (2017)
An important movie about patient rights, and the lack of them
55 STEPS (2017)
I was drawn to this movie because of the topic of patient safety; I found it hard to watch because the film felt like it tried too hard to tug at viewers emotions and the main character seemed exaggerated to me, but I did cry at the end, so something worked.
I am inspired by this real life story and incredibly saddened at the same time: the fact that doctors cover for the medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex is one that pains me every day. I applaud the efforts of Eleanor Riese and her lawyers, who I view as heroes, but how far have we come? Informed consent and a patient's right to choose is still violated across the board in the medical field every day, which is why I'm so busy working hard on these issues.
Livingston's music and message are marvelous
LIVINGSTON TAYLOR: LIFE IS GOOD (2018)
I asked my friends what documentaries they had seen most recently. My friend Hank told me about this one about Livingston Taylor, American singer-songwriter and folk musician. Livingston has been a faculty member at Berklee College of Music since 1989.
I already love Livingston's music, so I was down for it, then Hank said, "There are things Liv says that remind me of the attitude that you have about things, Sasha. I think you will like this if you ever have time." I was skeptical but intrigued, and sure enough. I related to Livingston a lot at the core and enjoyed getting to learn about his unique, passionate, authentic, loving, and creative being and basically just soak him in.
The students that were highlighted in the film are all extremely talented. I was also struck by the tonal similarity of all of the brilliant Taylor clan. I thoroughly enjoyed this film!
Award-winning documentarian Tracey Anarella shows Livingston as the amazing renaissance man that he is. I recommend this movie for the man and the music.
Beautiful Boy (2018)
I loved the actors, didn't love the film
BEAUTIFUL BOY (2018)
It took me over a week to watch this movie. I can't see clearly to recommend it or not. The cast is spectacular. I was a nanny for Nic Sheff when he was a toddler. My job was to love him and take care of him and I did. Memories of taking long walks, playing at the park, drawing with and reading to him, peeling grapes, singing, dancing, running, hanging out with the other nanny and his other bright, beautiful boy charge, the sippy cup, brushing his hair out of his beautiful eyes, sleeping over and listening for any sound of need or distress, his smile, his laugh, I loved this boy. The movie was wrenching for me to watch. I left the job because the hours were often 24/7 and I was young and needed to go to school; have my own life. Vicki had let me into her home to help with her son. I liked her a lot. It was a hard decision for me to leave. I didn't want to leave Nic. Beyond my personal memories from a very long time ago, I would not have watched this film through.