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Snowden (2016)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Further opens the debate between freedom and security, 25 September 2016
8/10

In 1848, Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay that he called "Civil Disobedience." That essay expressed the view that when a person's conscience and the laws clash, that person must follow his or her conscience. Thoreau himself set an example by refusing to pay taxes as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican-American War. This idea of a citizen's right to disobey unjust laws has also been demonstrated in such events as the Boston Tea Party, the civil rights struggles in the South during the 1960s, Gandhi's non-violent revolution in India, the fight in South Africa against apartheid, and many others.

In that tradition, 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former American intelligence contractor, leaked classified information to the press in 2013 that revealed the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on U.S. citizens. His action led to his passport being cancelled and his being stranded in Moscow where he has remained. If he returns home, he will be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act and legally prohibited from speaking to a jury about his motivations. Oliver Stone ("Platoon," "Savages"), whose 1991 film JFK dramatized widespread doubts about the official version of the JFK assassination, is back with a hard-hitting docudrama about Edward Snowden. The film, simply called Snowden, was co-written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald and based on the books "The Snowden Files," by Luke Harding, and "Time of the Octopus," by Anatoly Kucherena.

It is basically a solid but conventional biopic that lacks the exhilarating pace of Stone's earlier films and does not provide any new information that is not available in Laura Poitras' Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour, but further opens the debate between freedom and security. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Looper") as the introverted whistleblower whose actions opened up a debate about balancing individual rights with the need for security. The film opens with a scene that those who have seen the documentary will be familiar with, the gathering in a Hong Kong hotel room of Snowden (Levitt), director Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo, "The Big Short"), and Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zahary Quinto, "Star Trek Beyond") and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson, "Selma"). The tension is palpable as the young whistleblower shows them the proof of the illegal acts committed by U.S. intelligence in the name of national security.

The anxiety keeps building as they await the leak of the explosive material to the Manchester Guardian in England and Snowden fears he could be arrested or even killed at any time. The film then flashes ten years back to fill in Snowden's back story, including his relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley, "Allegiance") and his brief military career where his training to be a Green Beret was cut short after a fall revealed two broken legs. Though he lacks the academic background, Snowden goes to work for the CIA, hired by fictional CIA instructor Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans, "Alice Through the Looking Glass") after impressive qualifying test results. It is there that he learns of secret surveillance of foreign governments such as the hacking of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone and the gathering of data on U.S. citizens whether under suspicion of terrorism or not.

He is disturbed when Gabriel, a hang-loose fellow employee, (Ben Schnetzer) allows him an unauthorized peak at a comprehensive NSA search engine called XKeyscore, and the "optic nerve" that can monitor every phone and computer or even the screen itself. The danger is there, Snowden realized, "when everything you've ever done, every purchase you've ever made, everywhere you've ever traveled with a cell phone in your pocket is suddenly available to third parties." When Snowden asks him about FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) which requires a warrant for these types of searches, Gabe tells him FISA is simply a government-controlled rubber stamp for government surveillance.

The line is finally crossed for Snowden when he is asked to find derogatory personal data on a Pakistani banker (Bhasker Patel), and then compromise him by making a false report about his drunk driving. While credit must be given to Stone for tackling an important subject and Snowden definitely has a strong point of view, I have some reservations about the film's glorification of a man whose full story has yet to be told. It does succeed, however, in allowing a wider audience to hear Snowden's point of view about the abuses that can happen if there is too much emphasis is placed on national security at the expense of civil liberties. Snowden said, "Privacy is the fountainhead of all our rights, from which all rights are derived. It's what makes you an individual. Freedom of speech doesn't have much room if you don't have the protected space."

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not quite fully satisfying, 25 September 2016
8/10

The question of whether the ends justify the means boils down to this: if a goal is morally important enough, is any method of achieving it acceptable? Socrates said, "It is never right to do wrong, and never right to take revenge; nor is it right to give evil, or in the case of one who has suffered some injury, to attempt to get even." The question dominates Scottish director David Mackenzie's ("Starred Up") Hell or High Water, a modern genre Western set in West Texas in which two brothers, the unemployed Toby (Chris Pine) and the ex-con Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), rob various branches of the Texas Midlands Bank in order to to meet overdue alimony payments to Toby's divorced wife Debbie (Marin Ireland).

They also want to prevent foreclosure of their deceased mother's ranch by the same chain of banks. Toby also recognizes that the oil discovered on the property influenced the bank to sell their mother a mortgage she could not repay. He calculates that if he pays off the mortgage he can then put the property in the names of his two sons, Justin (John-Paul Howard) and Randy (Christopher W. Garcia), and guarantee them a better life than he and his brother have had. The film lets us know repeatedly that the banks are the villains.

Sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a burly, good-natured but cynical officer who is near retirement has been assigned to the case. He tells his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) when he spots the Bank Manager, "That looks like a man who could foreclose on a house." After Alberto, who is part Mexican and part Native-American, tells Hamilton how the American Indians were robbed of their property, he says "Now, it's the banks who are doing the robbing." Toby later explains that he robbed banks because he's been poor his whole life. "It's like a disease passed on from one generation to the next," he says, then adds, "But not my boys."

The film is location-specific and we don't have to ask where we are. Giles Nuttgen's cinematography assures us we are in the Southwest (the film was shot in New Mexico) with dusty landscapes, oil rigs, a burning sun, billboards wanting to know if you are "In-Debt?", and decaying towns filled with abandoned homes. Writer Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplay for Sicario, offers clichéd portraits of rough-hewn good ol' boy types who look like they would just as soon shoot you as say hello, a cantankerous waitress in the T-Bone Diner played by eight-eight-year-old Margaret Bowman who knows what you want to order even before you open your mouth, and a sheriff who playfully teases his partner with racial jokes, some funny, most not.

The two brother bank robbers are very different. Tanner is a trigger-happy sociopath who has just been released from serving ten years in prison, while his brother, though looking as raunchy as his brother, is shown as being meek, thoughtful, and careful. Neither are very proficient bank robbers. One time they arrived at the bank not knowing it has been closed up, another time they get there before the manager even arrives with his keys to open the banks.

After bigger banks are hit and Tanner kills two people, the inevitable chase scene takes place that leads to the desert, then to the mountains where some issues are resolved and others are not. Hell or High Water is a highly entertaining if not quite fully satisfying film that respects its characters enough to make them fully dimensional. It also has a rare social conscience. As far as whether or not the ends justify the means - you choose.

Beautiful and poetic, 19 September 2016
9/10

In a quiet moment in Natalie Portman's ("Knight of Cups") beautiful and poetic A Tale of Love and Darkness, a mother says to her young son "If you have to choose between telling a lie or insulting someone, choose to be generous." When the boy asks her whether or not it is alright to lie, she replies, "Sometimes... yes. It's better to be sensitive than to be honest." It is an important lesson, one I wish I had learned earlier in my life. Written and directed by Portman, who also stars as Fania, Amos' (Amir Tessler) troubled mother, the film is based on the memoir of Israeli novelist and journalist Amos Oz and is set in Jerusalem in the critical period before the transition from the British mandate in Palestine to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 following the Arab-Israeli War.

Opening in 1945 after the Klausner's escape from the desecration of a once vibrant culture in Eastern Europe, it is the story of the early influences in Oz's life that propelled him to become a famous writer. As narrated by Moni Moshonov and told from the viewpoint of the older Amos Oz recollecting his past, the film attempts to probe the depths of a family whose dream of a land of milk and honey becomes darker as it progresses, telling us that the worst thing that can happen to a dream is that it is fulfilled. Amos' father Arieh (Gilad Kahana, "The Man in the Wall") is a librarian who has just published is first novel and desperately wants to achieve the success of his own father, historian Joseph Klausner. Though he does not succeed, he never stops being thankful for Israel, telling his son, "You'll be bullied in school, but not because you're Jewish." We learn early in the film that Amos' mother Fania blames herself for leaving behind a life of wealth. It is a self-inflicted wound exacerbated by her own mother's verbal cruelty, one that is manifested by insomnia, migraine headaches, and a long struggle with depression that ended with her suicide at the young age of 38. Fania is a story teller whose stories, fables, and tales of far-away lands continue to enrich Amos' life and Amos himself begins to tell stories to keep bullies from attacking him at school. The humble Amos denies that he is sensitive, saying he wants to be a farmer or a dog murderer and goes to work on a kibbutz, but the sensitive can do nothing about who they are but only attempt to share it and make it real for others.

Amos' story is depicted in the context of the short-lived joy after the U.N.'s vote to partition Palestine and the Arab attacks on Jerusalem that killed many of the family's friends and neighbors. Their home becomes a shelter for those fleeing the Arab bombs and the real consequences of Zionism and the ideal of statehood become apparent, a society caught between memories of the holocaust and fears that it will happen again. As Fania's growing depression and her drift from reality dominates the landscape, the film loses a measure of dramatic impact, yet it remains compelling and literate, attesting to the way the promise of Israel has been shattered by strident voices fighting centuries-old struggles for domination.

A Tale of Love and Darkness is an intimate film, a film of memory, one told in incidents and flashbacks. Like a film of Terence Malick, it talks in whispers, a language that exists only in the soul. There is little plot to describe, only moods and gestures. Fania's death is the film's central theme and it remains a mystery, buried in the enigma of a woman who has forgotten how to dream, yet it is transcended by the death of the dream of two vibrant cultures living together in peace and brotherhood. Early in the film, Amos is on his best behavior at a party in the home of a Palestinian neighbor. When he meets an Arab girl who can speak Hebrew, there is an immediate connection and he tells her that "there is room for two peoples in this land," but the dream ends suddenly when Amos, playing at being Tarzan, falls from a tree when the chains of a swing break injuring a little girl and the sudden chasm between the two cultures becomes a sad portent of the future.

Often overwrought, 18 September 2016
8/10

The conflict between satisfying one's emotional needs and doing the right thing is spotlighted in Derek Cianfrance's ("The Place Beyond the Pines") intense drama The Light Between Oceans. Set in 1918, the film is based on M. L. Stedman's debut novel, a work of sparse and understated beauty. Tom Shelbourne (Michael Fassbender, "X-Men: Apocalypse"), a traumatized World War 1 veteran, has taken a job as a lighthouse keeper on the remote island of Janus off the coast of Western Australia. We later learn that his decision to isolate himself from a life of comfort arose from his guilt about surviving the war when so many of his fellow soldiers were killed.

Tom's solitary life is changed, however, when he meets his boss's daughter, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"). After a brief romance and courtship consisting in large part of heartfelt exchanges of letters, Tom and Isabel are married and hope to raise their family on Janus. After two tragic miscarriages, a boat miraculously washes ashore carrying the body of a dead man and a very much alive infant girl. Since Isabel's second miscarriage has been kept secret from her family and friends, they decide to keep the little girl they name Lucy and raise her as their own.

Though Tom knows that the decision cannot be justified either legally or morally, he lets his heart rule, basing his choice on what it will mean for his wife's happiness. It is a choice that is fraught with unknown pitfalls that soon become real when a chance encounter with a woman weeping at an empty grave mourning her husband and daughter leads to an ever spiraling chain of events that capture the torment of a man caught between his love for his family and the despair of a distraught woman (Rachel Weisz, "Youth") whom he has the power to help.

The Light Between Oceans tells a compelling story that has enough intrinsic power to touch us deeply. Rather than probing the soulfulness of its characters in a way that is subtle and nuanced, however, the film is often overwrought and fails to involve us on a level that feels authentic, short circuiting its emotional force with an intrusive musical score that signals how we are supposed to think and feel.

The moments that do evoke real emotions come from simple situations told without straining for effect: the reading of passionate letters between Tom and Isabel, a woman crying at an empty grave, and a little girl now known as Lucy Grace, (Florence Clery) joyously riding with her grandfather (Bryan Brown, "Gods of Egypt"). Moments like this convey a sense of the great film that could have been made if everyone involved was not trying so hard to make The Light Between Oceans into an epic.

Weiner (2016)
A powerful exposé of a voracious media, 13 September 2016
9/10

Directed by Josh Kriegman, Anthony Weiner's former Chief of Staff, and Elyse Steinberg, Weiner is a compelling documentary about the rise and fall of former Democratic New York Congressman Anthony Weiner whose promising career floundered on revelations of an Internet sexting scandal. Underneath all the sleazy revelations, however, it is an exposé of a voracious media and a stark realization of the depths to which our democracy has descended. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the film traces the career of Anthony Weiner from his days as a passionate spokesman for the powerless in Congress to his resignation from Congress and his comeback campaign for Mayor of New York.

The scandal which forced him to resign from Congress involved neither criminal behavior nor corruption but an inappropriate exchange of sexually explicit text messages and photos with a number of different women while living with his wife, Huma Abedin, a long-time Clinton confidant, whose marriage is shown to suffer under constant strain. Most of the film takes place during the 2013 New York Mayoralty race and provides an insightful look at the nitty-gritty of a political campaign as Kriegman and Steinberg track Weiner's rallies, fund raising calls to donors, staff meetings, parades, and other campaign activities. It is a picture of an energetic, communicative candidate, open about his past indiscretions, who tells the voters that his problems are a thing of the past and that he can be trusted to run the city in a competent, humane, and progressive manner.

At one point the polls show Weiner in the lead with 25% of the vote, but his advantage is short-lived and fades rapidly after the revelation by a former porn star of another cyber-episode in which photos and text messages were sent under the pseudonym "Carlos Danger, a revelation that leaves the candidate, his family, staff, and supporters in a state of shock.Much to the chagrin of his wife, Weiner refuses to give up his campaign and Huma, tired of putting on a brave face before the camera, is heard saying, "it's like living a nightmare." Of course, the new scandal provides a field day for the cruel jokes of late night comedians who are so eager to yuk about the man's last name and his sordid behavior that they don't even notice they are talking about a human being in pain.

The scandal also provides a titillating story for the reporters of cable news shows. In one interview, a smug Lawrence O'Donnell badgers Weiner by repeatedly asking him, "What's wrong with you?", a question that only serves to delight the viewer's need to violate another person's privacy, feed their voyeurism, and stay aloof from self-examination.

On the campaign trail, the candidate, who decides to stay in the race, wants to talk about issues such as housing and jobs, but reporters want only to discuss his sexual behavior, issues which he does his best to avoid. The theater of the absurd becomes even weirder when Weiner's sexting companion, Sidney Leathers, a Trump supporter, shows up at the candidate's campaign headquarters looking for a confrontation and Weiner is forced to flee through the back door of a McDonald's restaurant.

Through it all, though, Weiner comes across as a good man but one with serious problems whose explanations come across as self-serving in light of the damage done to his family and his legion of committed supporters. Though it can be depressing, Weiner is a gripping film that does not judge the candidate's actions but simply chronicles the self-destruction of a once promising progressive voice. The fact that he was in therapy for years without any measurable results calls into question society's proclivity to marginalize alternative therapies in favor of so-called "mental health professionals," whether or not they produce results.

While Weiner enlightens and entertains, it does not probe any real feelings, either those of Anthony or Huma, does not discuss the nature of compulsive behavior, or question Weiner's judgment as a husband or parent. In maintaining its distance, it contributes to the exploitation and marginalization of an emotionally damaged human being who needs supportive treatment and compassion. While Weiner may have been guilty of lying, disregarding the needs of his family, and being run by an out-of-control ego, his election would still not have threatened our freedoms, the U.S. constitution, or the peace of the world, but the media, in its relentless pursuit of ratings and false equivalencies, cannot make such subtle distinctions.

A musical tribute and a poetic statement about the creative process, 28 August 2016
8/10

Winner of the Silver Medal in the Music Category at the 1984 New York International Film and Television Festival and the Special Jury Award at the Banff Television Festival 1985, Christopher Nupen's two-part look at the life of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is both a musical tribute and a poetic statement about the creative process. Separated into segments, Jean Sibelius: The Early Years, and Jean Sibelius: Maturity and Silence, the film traces the composer's life from its beginnings in rural Finland to his death at age 91 in 1957 using excerpts from Sibelius' writings and those of his wife Aino, old photographs, performances of some of his best known works conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, and gorgeous scenes of the Finland's forest, lakes, and clouds.

After an introduction by the director, Sibelius is seen in 1939 in his last public appearance conducting a performance of the Andante Festivo, one of his most deeply felt works. Discussed in the film is Sibelius' goal to be a virtuoso violinist, his bout with a throat tumor, his struggles with alcoholism and self-confidence, his retreat from the city to a secluded country home, his musical silence during the last thirty years, and his failure to produce the Eighth Symphony that musicians and critics all over the world desperately wanted.

Excerpts are heard of Sibelius major works including Finlandia, Tapiola, Kullervo, Karelia Suite, the Violin Concerto, and each of his seven symphonies (with the unexplained exception of the Sixth) but not always to their advantage, stirring crescendos trumping Sibelius' tender, lyrical passages. The works, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, unfortunately often with too much focus on the conductor's dramatics, are enhanced by Sibelius' own words. As Nupen describes them, "they are extremely telling words, extremely poetic words, extremely deeply felt words. This man cared more than anything else that he had to compose music, and that he wanted to reach people with that music …… It's telling the story, but it's the story of the work and what it has to tell us today."

Unfortunately, there are no interviews with musicologists and artists who might provide a deeper appreciation of the music, as in Phil Grabsky's In Search of" series. Deficient also is the expressive and searching narration of the Grabsky films. Here the British narrator talks in a soporific monotone without the expressiveness needed to sustain interest. What does come through, however, in spite of the film's flaws, is the sublime music of one of the twentieth century's great masters. Listening to Sibelius' Second and Fifth Symphonies especially as performed by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra is an unforgettable musical experience.

Although Sibelius was considered as the greatest symphonist of the twentieth century during his peak creative years, his reputation began to suffer during the 1960s but documentaries such as this will help to reestablish his greatness. According to director Christopher Nupen, "His music has lasted and I believe that it will continue to last, whatever fashion may do...his voice is inimitable, unmistakable and for me unforgettable. My first encounters with it opened up a whole new world that remains with me." In the words of Ralph Vaughan Williams, "You (Sibelius) have lit a candle in the world of music that will never go out." If you are a lover of Sibelius' music as I am, I would recommend this documentary for a broad overview of his life and, if you know little or nothing about him, this is a good introduction.

A musical tribute and a poetic statement about the creative process, 28 August 2016
8/10

Winner of the Silver Medal in the Music Category at the 1984 New York International Film and Television Festival and the Special Jury Award at the Banff Television Festival 1985, Christopher Nupen's two-part look at the life of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is both a musical tribute and a poetic statement about the creative process. Separated into segments, Jean Sibelius: The Early Years, and Jean Sibelius: Maturity and Silence, the film traces the composer's life from its beginnings in rural Finland to his death at age 91 in 1957 using excerpts from Sibelius' writings and those of his wife Aino, old photographs, performances of some of his best known works conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, and gorgeous scenes of the Finland's forest, lakes, and clouds.

After an introduction by the director, Sibelius is seen in 1939 in his last public appearance conducting a performance of the Andante Festivo, one of his most deeply felt works. Discussed in the film is Sibelius' goal to be a virtuoso violinist, his bout with a throat tumor, his struggles with alcoholism and self-confidence, his retreat from the city to a secluded country home, his musical silence during the last thirty years, and his failure to produce the Eighth Symphony that musicians and critics all over the world desperately wanted.

Excerpts are heard of Sibelius major works including Finlandia, Tapiola, Kullervo, Karelia Suite, the Violin Concerto, and each of his seven symphonies (with the unexplained exception of the Sixth) but not always to their advantage, stirring crescendos trumping Sibelius' tender, lyrical passages. The works, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, unfortunately often with too much focus on the conductor's dramatics, are enhanced by Sibelius' own words. As Nupen describes them, "they are extremely telling words, extremely poetic words, extremely deeply felt words. This man cared more than anything else that he had to compose music, and that he wanted to reach people with that music …… It's telling the story, but it's the story of the work and what it has to tell us today." Unfortunately, there are no interviews with musicologists and artists who might provide a deeper appreciation of the music, as in Phil Grabsky's In Search of" series. Deficient also is the expressive and searching narration of the Grabsky films. Here the British narrator talks in a soporific monotone without the expressiveness needed to sustain interest. What does come through, however, in spite of the film's flaws, is the sublime music of one of the twentieth century's great masters. Listening to Sibelius' Second and Fifth Symphonies especially as performed by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra is an unforgettable musical experience.

Although Sibelius was considered as the greatest symphonist of the twentieth century during his peak creative years, his reputation began to suffer during the 1960s but documentaries such as this will help to reestablish his greatness. According to director Christopher Nupen, "His music has lasted and I believe that it will continue to last, whatever fashion may do...his voice is inimitable, unmistakable and for me unforgettable. My first encounters with it opened up a whole new world that remains with me." In the words of Ralph Vaughan Williams, "You (Sibelius) have lit a candle in the world of music that will never go out." If you are a lover of Sibelius' music as I am, I would recommend this documentary for a broad overview of his life and, if you know little or nothing about him, this is a good introduction.

Little Men (2016)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
About the miracle of friendship, 28 August 2016
10/10

American philosopher William James said that, "Reality, life, experience, concreteness, immediacy, use what word you will, exceeds our logic, overflows, and surrounds it." This statement is especially true for children whose goals and dreams are subject not only to the real problems they face but are in part determined by their parent's ability to handle their own life. Ira Sachs affecting drama, Little Men, looks at life from the point of view of two young men on the cusp of adolescence whose friendship is threatened by a family squabble that has no easy solution. Co-written by the director and Mauricio Zacharias, the film follows on the heels of Sachs' 2014 Love is Strange, the story of a gay couple and how they are forced to vacate their New York City residence as a result of gentrification, a theme that plays also role in Little Men.

13-year-old boys, Jake (Theo Taplitz), a non-observing Jew and Tony (Michael Barbieri), who goes to Catholic school, are drawn together when Jake's parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), move into an apartment in Brooklyn vacated by the death of Jake's grandfather. The apartment is located above a dress shop owned by his grandfather's long time friend, Chilean seamstress Leonor (Paulina Garcia, "Gloria"), who has been paying a lower rent as a result of their friendship. The boys possess exceptional artistic talent. Jake is a painter who hopes that his portfolio will land him in the LaGuardia School of the Performing Arts, even as his drawing of yellow stars against the background of a green sky is dismissed by his middle-brow, middle-school teacher.

Compared to the sensitive Jake who keeps to himself and has few friends, Tony, an aspiring actor, is outgoing with excess energy to burn, a dynamo whose best scene is a back and forth exchange with his drama coach, an exercise in letting go of restraint and reaching for full self-expression. Speaking rapidly with a Brooklyn accent, Tony, who wants to join Jake in the LaGuardia School, puts on a good act of being on top of things but the sadness stemming from the lack of a father in his life is visible. One is reminded of the Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri's reflection that, "the need to create art is often connected to a need to heal something." Brian informs Leonor that he has to triple her rent because his acting roles bring in little money and he does not want to have to completely rely on his wife's income. Though he tries to reach an amicable agreement, his position strengthens Leonor's intransigence and encourages Brian's sister (Talia Balsam) to push for her eviction in order to bolster the family's income. As their families bicker, Jake and Tony try their best to stay away from the conflict, riding their roller blades and scooters around the neighborhood with joyous abandon to the energizing score of Dickon Hinchliffe suggesting that this moment of their youth will last forever. Unfortunately, however, their parents only dig in their heels, Leonor snarkily asserting that she was closer to Brian's father than he was and Kathy tells Leonor that she is trained in conflict resolution though she does not offer any such resolution.

As Jake and Tony's friendship becomes strained, they embark on their secret weapon - the silent treatment - but the children's weapons against their more powerful parent's ends, as it often does in heartfelt tears. Little Men is a thoughtful and moving film that contains some of the year's most honest and nuanced performances from Taplitz, Barbieri and Kinnear. There are no villains in the film and each character has what is on the surface a reasonable position, but what is lost is the compassion to step back and see things from a broader perspective, one that transcends immediate needs.

Brian shows some awareness of this when he breaks down in tears while alone, suggesting that looking out for one's own self-interest while admirable in many respects may cut us off from relationships we cherish. Little Men operates on several levels. It is about gentrification and class interests, but its most potent message is about the miracle of friendship and coming to terms with growing up. Jake and Tony have found the kind of friendship that is rare for any age. Though they are different people with different interests, they have a bond that is akin to love, one that, like other attachments in life, will not last even though it will always contain moments so real that they may forever remain etched in the core of their being.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Engrossing and well put together, 17 August 2016
8/10

Shot in three days with a crew of two by writer, producer, director and cinematographer Jarno Lee Vinsencius, the short film Darkness Falls, (Morkret Faller) takes us to places even the most avid science fiction fan could not have imagined. Winner of the award for "Best Cinematography" at Roswell Film Festival and "Best Sci-Fi Short" at the Outlanta Con Film Fest," the film opens in a gorgeously filmed snow-covered forest. A young woman, Melissa (Joanna Haggblom), wakes up in a snow-covered forest with no recollection of how she got there. After running from the scene and checking into a remote motel, she receives an urgent note from someone named David (Demis Tzivis) who she doesn't know telling her that he knows exactly what is happening and asks her to meet him in a furtive location.

As Melissa slowly begins to remember who and where she is, the tension completely grips the viewer and doesn't let go until the final reveal. Though the acting can be wooden and some of the dialogue (especially that of the motel caretaker) does not fit into the mood of the film, the experience is so engrossing and well put together that the objections become irrelevant and the film stands as a first-rate thriller and hopefully a career boost for the first-time director.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A sincere and heartfelt film, 14 August 2016
9/10

Fitting certain decades into neat little categories are repeated often enough that they have become unquestioned clichés, for example, the 50s were an age of conformity, the 60s an age of youth revolt, and the 70s the so-called "Me Generation." As in all generalizations, there is some aspect of truth even when there is a different reality that does not fit into the stereotypes. Based on the novel by Philip Roth, first-time director James Schamus' Indignation is the story of an individual who was willing to challenge prevailing attitudes. Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is a young Jewish intellectual brought up in a liberal environment who struggles to find his voice in an Ohio college that is a bastion of social conservatism.

Set in 1951 in Newark, N.J., tired of having to cope with the anxieties of his parents, dad Max (Danny Burstein), a kosher butcher, and mom Esther (Linda Emond) about going off to fight in the Korean War, Marcus enrolls on a scholarship to the fictional Winesburg College in Ohio, a school whose social and cultural attitudes present a hefty challenge. Marcus is intellectually precocious but socially constrained and sexually repressed and the breakout performance by Logan Lerman ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") fully captures him in all his Rothian complexity.

The fact that he has two Jewish roommates, Bert (Ben Rosenfield) and Ron (Philip Ettinger) is of very little comfort since they are both obnoxious hypocrites. Marcus is very cautious about his social activities, declining an invitation by Sonny Cottler (Pico Alexander) to join the Jewish fraternity. When he goes on a date with Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), an "experienced" blond-haired Gentile who shocks him by performing oral sex on him, an action in which the confused Marcus wasn't sure if he was coming or going. Overly concerned about what may have been the damage to his Cadillac LaSalle that Marcus borrowed, Ron reacts by punching his roommate in the mouth. Needless to say, this does not endear him to his dorm mates and prompts Marcus to find quieter living arrangements - by himself.

This action prompts a call from the self-righteous Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) to come in for an interview that takes fifteen minutes of screen time, a tour-de-farce (sic) which is both sad and funny and a master class in turning verbal sparring into an art form. While the Dean takes a welcome interest in Marcus, the interview turns into a riff on the Spanish Inquisition as the student is bombarded with questions about his application for school - why his father's occupation was listed as "butcher" rather than as "kosher butcher," why he did not put Jewish as his religious preference, why he couldn't work out his differences with his roommates, and why he has had only one date since school started. The only thing he wasn't asked is whether or not he was circumcised.

Sputtering and obsequious at first, Marcus gains strength as the interview goes on. Showing that, as Romain Rolland put it in "Jean-Christophe," he is not a sheep but a wolf that has teeth and wasn't made for the pasture, he lets the good Dean know in no uncertain terms that, as an atheist, he resents being forced to attend chapel services at least ten times a year and vigorously asserts his atheism by citing Bertrand Russell (whose character the Dean attacks), and lets the old boy know that he is his own man and that if he wants to move away from his insufferable roommates, he will do just that. Vomiting on the Dean's trophies and collapsing from the pain of an appendicitis attack was not in his plan, however, but life has a way of deciding the lessons it wants to teach.

Marcus is unwilling to let the good times roll and his relationship with Olivia takes a darker turn when he finds out that she has had a troubled past and once tried to commit suicide, though we never learn any details. Though their connection is deep and Marcus is a young man whose head is screwed on right, his continued revolt against authority and conflict with his parents does not serve him well. As philosopher Henri Bergson said, "Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance." Though Indignation is a slow burn that keeps the lid on its emotions, it ultimately succeeds in moving us deeply. Much more than another corporate product with an uplifting message to make sure that waterworks turn into greenbacks, it is a sincere and heartfelt film that illuminates the struggle against a suffocating conformity, a struggle that is just as relevant today as it was in 1950.


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