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Waiting for Usher
8 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Ariel, an economist, now based in New York, is preparing to go to his hometown, Buenos Aires with Monica, an aspiring ballerina. His father interrupts his preparations for the trip with the request of a pair of Nike sneakers with Velcro ties for a friend who is in hospital and needs those shoes. Needless to say, Ariel only finds regular sneakers, something his father did not want.

Thus begins this story that to this viewer reminds of the "prodigal son" parable. Ariel gets back to the place of his birth, a place he hardly recognizes. Having been brought up as Jewish, his past comes back to confront him in unexpected ways. Being away from the religion of his childhood, Ariel is resentful of of the environment where he has come back to. His father, Usher, is the spirit of a foundation that helps the poor Jewish inhabitants of the Buenos Aires' neighborhood called "Once". Usher is everywhere, but his interaction with Ariel and the people of his community is always done on the phone. We never see this man, although his presence looms large throughout the story.

We get to know the reason for Ariel's resentment against his parents. Usher, being so involved in the community, neglects to attend an important date with Ariel. An absent mother also contributes to Ariel's unhappiness. To make matters worse, Usher keeps pressing his son to get involved in things he cannot attend himself. Slowly, but surely, Ariel comes to understand the role of his father and the way a lot of people depend on the kindness of Usher. Ariel's involvement takes him back to his Jewish roots and understands his father's mission. Ariel might have been away from his religion, but he rediscovers the importance of his upbringing. Then there is the presence of the mysterious Eva, a helper at the foundation with problems of her own. The attraction between Ariel and Eva plays a lot with the outcome of the story.

Daniel Burman, one of the best directors working in the Argentine cinema, sets this story in the colorful location where life is not easy for most of the poor older Jews eking a living in a city. Mr. Burman knows the people well; his tale of reconnecting with one's faith and acceptance works well as he spins his tale with a light touch that works in unexpected ways. Alan Sabbagh, who plays Ariel is perfect as the man at the center of the story. He gives a performance that is consistent of the type of character he plays. Mr. Sabbagh is the main reason for watching the film. Lovely Julieta Zilberberg is perfectly mysterious as Eva. As far as the main character, we get to see him in the last section of the film. He is a "presence" always heard, but never seen.
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The Lifeguard (2013)
Forever 29
3 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Leigh, a writer in New York, is involved in a bad relationship. Her life in the big city is not going anywhere. What is a young woman without a meaningful relationship to do? Leigh decides to go back home to the small town where she grew up. The return to her parents house turns out to be exactly the opposite of what she was expecting. When her mother recriminates for being thirty and not knowing what she really wants, Leigh gets offended. Why, she is only 29!

In such a small community, the jobs are not exactly plentiful. Applying for the lifeguard job at the town's pool means a minimum wage salary, but living home, Leigh figures, she can pull it off. In Going to see her old pals Mel and Todd, Leigh figures she will rekindle her teen age years, but evidently she has never heard of the old adage: you can never go home again.

What follows is Leigh's own discovery that as at almost thirty, those wonderful youth memories are nothing but that: memories. Her involvement with young Jason will only end badly. Her friends from the past prove to be living in a different world from her reality. Even life at home turns for the worst as her mother cannot put up with an adult daughter trying to act as a teen ager.

Liz W. Garcia wrote and directed this indie film that chronicles a life of a woman at a time when confusion and lack of direction, create a conflict within Leigh as she attempts to relive her past with bad results. Ms. Garcia has given the film a great look, although some things in the story do not add up to create the complex character this young woman is supposed to be. The acting, in general, is good. The director gets excellent results from her cast. Kristen Bell's Leigh feels right. Mamie Gummer gives a credible performance as Mel. David Lambert as Jason shows possibilities for a good career in films. Amy Madigan does not have much to do as Leigh's mother.

John Peters captures the rural setting, as well as the Manhattan scenes in glorious tones. The film score is by Fred Avril.
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En plats i solen (2012 Video)
Mediterranean sun
31 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Someone is seen securing a house from the outside, as the episode begins. This person is up to no good, so when gas is filtered to the interior through the air conditioning vents, we watch, in horror, as a boy, first, then a woman succumb to the lethal gas.

Meanwhile, Annika is asked by Schyman, her boss, if she would like to take over for the retiring Spiken, and be in charge of the news division. Annika reaction could not be more explicit: she is a natural reporter, what would she do stuck in an office? Naturally, she would be miserable. The job goes to the odious Patrik Nilsson, a man with no talent. In the first staff meeting Annika, who has picked up the news about a family being asphyxiated in Malaga because they are Swedes. Patrik decides to get rid of his nemesis by sending her to investigate the strange incident.

Annika, like anyone unfamiliar with a foreign country, has problems following the trail that will allow her to perform her duties as a criminal journalist. Her luck changes as she goes to see Niklas Linde, a Swedish police liaison, working in Malaga. What Annika is not prepared for the web of crime surrounding the death of the well known Swedish athlete Sebastian Soderstrom, his wife Veronika, and the two children. She will also go through a complicated scheme of how drugs are sent to Sweden via Spain.

Annika is told by Linde to hire a local translator. She gets more than what she bargained for in the person of the duplicitous Carita who obviously is well connected in Spain, as well as in Stockholm. Her investigation will take her to Gibraltar and Tangier, where she goes looking for Suzette Soderstrom, a missing piece in the puzzle. Finally, she will get into a confrontation with the kingpin of the drug trade, in which she could lose her life.

The final episode of this fine Swedish series came with a bang. Based on the work of Liza Marklund, the episode was adapted for television by Alex Haridi, and directed with fantastic pacing by Peter Flinth. The episode moves fast, leaving the viewer wanting more. In Marin Crepin, the creators of the series struck gold. This young actress is terrific. Her Annika is a complex young woman, balancing a career she loves, with her own personal life, which suffers on account of the hours she spends away from home, and family. The rest of the ensemble players are just as wonderful.

One can only hope there will be another season soon.
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30 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A police patrol car is called to investigate about shots in an apartment. Nina Hoffman, the female cop, has reasons to fear the worst, after all, she knows the occupants of the place, her friends David and Julia Lindholm. The discovery of David's bleeding body, makes Nina think of the worst, the fate of Julia and her son Alexander. Julia is hysterical, and babbling, but little Alexander is missing.

Thus, begins the fifth episode in the series about a courageous young newspaper reporter, Annika Bengtzon, who is sent to get information on the tragedy. Being both policemen, the Lindholms' case takes priority within the department. Nina, who is contacted by Annika,is reluctant to share any news about her friends. After all, there is a secret code of honor with the police, not to reveal anything that might be wrong among its members.

Annika gets lucky when she talks to the man in charge of the department of police, Christer Bure, an enigmatic man who has a lot at stake if the facts about his personal life are revealed. One thing that comes clear is that Bure and David Lindholm have had a lot in common, not only as members of the police, but have been involved in a business enterprise that has made a lot of money.

At the same time, Annika, is going through a terrible time in her own life. Having separated from Thomas, she wants total custody of Kalle and Ellen, the children both want. Because of the nature of her work, Annika gets into trouble when it comes to the care of the kids, something Thomas constantly makes a point in his favor. Added to the situation is the threat to Annika's life from the people connected from Bure, masked people who are constantly following her.

Directed by Ulf Kvensler, this chapter follows the basic premise presented in the books by Liza Marklund. The Swedish television adaptation is by Antonia Pyk, who wrote a plausible treatment that works well in the medium. The central character is played by Marin Crepin, a young actress who exudes intelligence, as well as the smarts for the jobs she is assigned to cover. The wonderful supporting cast does a wonders to follow Ulf Kvensler's direction.
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The ghost of the past
29 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
We are given a recreation of a terrorist incident where a military plane is blown by persons obviously against the government. To aggravate things, no one of the perpetrators were ever caught. Now, after so many years, Benny, a journalist who never lost interest in the case, is the victim of a voluntary hit and run as he is getting home. Linus, a young man coming home from a hockey practice, witnesses in the shadows how the driver, not content with having struck the victim, returns and runs over his moribund body.

Annika Bengtzon is asked to go to the town of Lulea to get information on the incident. She finds herself in a hostile environment, as it appears no one in town welcomes her presence. She gets lucky in finding Linus, the young hockey player, who tells her what he saw. Unknown to Linus, the same assassin, has a surprise for him, when the unknown man returns to take care of him.

Annika's own life is in turmoil. Her domestic situation is a mess. To make matters worse, her own husband, Thomas begins an affair with a colleague, something Annika discovers in a strange fashion. At the office, her situation could not be more complicated with her boss. With the help of Bertil, Annika is able to go to the past and the activities of the Red Fox leftist gang. She will come close to being a casualty, but her intelligent approach to the case, helps her unmask the culprits, in a surprising ending.

Directed with style by Agnetta Fagerstrom-Olsson, this series is a winner. Based on Liza Marklund's novels, the figure of an indefatigable newspaper reporter, Annika Bengtzon is a woman with high principles who believes in the pursuit of justice by the power given to her by the newspaper where she is clearly, the star. This episode was adapted by Bjorn Paqualin and Antonia Pyk. The casting of Malin Crepin is key to the success of this series. A lot of Swedish excellent players, many seen in other series, show up here to create an ensemble unit that probably made the director happy to rely on them to deliver.
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Poupoupidou (2011)
Happy birthday, Mr. President
15 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A pleasant surprise this film turned out to be, when it showed unexpectedly on an international cable channel recently. The story is set in a part of France that, for all practical purposes, could have happened in Alaska, or Siberia,since this town, in the Franche-Comte region of the country, is one of the coldest spots in Europe.

David Rousseau, a crime writer, travels to hear the disposition of a relative's will, where he gets nothing out of the estate. On his way home, he stumbles into a murder that has shaken the community. A young beauty, Candice Lecouer, is found dead in a snowed field. Something does not fit well with David. He had sneaked into the morgue, where he examined the dead woman's body, discovering signs she had been murdered, something which he is an expert in the field. David Rousseau's investigation traces the young woman's life, which reveals the details of the crime Candice was a victim.

Directed by Gerald Hustache-Mathieu, who co-wrote the screenplay with Juliette Sales, keeps the viewer involved in the crime that was committed. The plot capitalizes on the fact the murdered woman identified with Marilyn Monroe, her idol, whose legendary life intertwines with Candice's own. The young French counterpart was coveted by many of the citizens of Mouth in ways that both lives parallel the famous model, right down to their choices of men who loved her and those who desired Candice for their own passions. David Rousseau retraces step by step the murder of the local beauty, by comparing events in both women.

Jean-Paul Rouve does a credible job with his David, a man who not being a detective, but with his writing experience, knows where to go to find justice. Sophie Quinton's Candice is wonderful to watch. She exudes intelligence and beauty. Gullaume Gouix, seen as the friendly local police, is a nice addition to the film.
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Trespass (2011)
Beware of the repairman
12 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
"Trespass" directed by Joel Schumacher, shows how even with the best intentions, projects with what appear the right ingredients can be derailed by plots that might look as sure hits, but end up as misfires. The main problem lies in the screenplay by Karl Gajdusek, an exercise in futility that does not make much sense.

This type of crime drama relies on such ingredients as isolated homes where the inhabitants are vulnerable to home invasions as the one we see at the heart of the movie. A beautiful woman, who might, or might not have had an affair with a repairman, a rebellious daughter and a husband who might be hiding things from his wife, figure prominently in the plot. The invading criminals, after the initial surprise, one realizes are just posturing, pointing guns to the head that will never be fired.

Nicolas Cage, for a change, does not play the action hero he has been used to play in the movies. Nicole Kidman has the difficult task to appear playing a double role. There are no chemistry between these two, and wonders what kept them together.
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Shakespeare in love
12 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
William Shakespeare's world is shattered when he meets Leonor, a Spanish lady from Castille. He decides to follow the beautiful woman to Spain. Unknown to William, Leonor, is the intended woman for the widower Duke of Obanto, a powerful man. The shock for Leonor in finding that William has followed her, could not come at the worst time, she is going to marry the Duke.

The arrival of Miguel De Cervantes to the Obanto's castle, creates a tension in the household as he immediately falls under Leonor's spell. Leonor, torn between the attentions of the two suitors is in a quandary, will she marry the Duke, or should she follow her heart?

An intriguing idea by Ines Paris which brings together two giants of literature together in this fictionalized tale of romance and love. Ms. Paris gives the comedy whimsical turns as Shakespeare gets inspired to write tragedies starting to write Othelo and there are nods to Don Quixote, as Cervantes rides with Sancho, the servant, to the windmills. The director, working on a text of Sixto Calero, adapted the material with Miguel Angel Gomez and Eva Cruz. The tone is picaresque, something that adds to the enjoyment of the comedy.

Beautiful Elena Anaya appears as Leonor. The wonderful Will Kemp is seen as Shakespeare, and Jose Luis Galiardo plays Cervantes. Among the supporting players are veteran Geraldine Chaplin, Jose Maria Pou, Malena Alterio, and Jorge Calvo who has a lot of funny moments as Sancho.

Nestor Calvo, the cinematographer gets the most of the castles where the film was shot, as well as the beautiful Castillian countryside. The musical score by Stephen Warbeck plays well in the background.
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Mains armées (2012)
Armed hands
11 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
A French crime thriller by Pierre Jolivet, shown lately on a cable channel showed a lot of promise, so we decided to watch. A Marseille based detective, Lucas Scali, is following the trail of a Serbian gang trafficking arms belonging to NATO, stolen from the conflict in that country. Scali and his team follow the criminals to Paris, where his estranged daughter, Maya, also a police detective has been involved in an investigation with illegal drugs being pushed by the same Serbian criminals.

The encounter of father and daughter could not have been less auspicious. Maya, working with a dirty police superior, Julien Bass, has been sharing illicit money and drugs, from the different busts all over Paris. Maya resentment on a father she only saw on rare occasions, comes to work with her own team. Her loyalty to Bass comes into play as she realizes the judgment error in teaming up with a dirty superior as she joins forces with her father's team, something that will make her reflect on aspects of her life breaking the same laws she was asked to uphold.

The basic problem with the screenplay lies in the fact that most things remain unexplained as the actions meanders wildly all over the place without logic. Mr. Jolivet wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Simon Michael. The cast is headed by Roschdy Zem, a busy actor in the French screen. He is made up as an older man, in contrast with most of his other roles. Best in the film is Leila Bekhti, who is excellent as the woman playing both sides of the law. Marc Lavoine does justice to Bass, the dirty detective. The supporting players do good following M. Jolivet's direction.
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Robot & Frank (2012)
The help
11 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Frank, an aging one time high class thief, is facing a difficult stage in his life. He has become forgetful and his son, Hunter, cannot cope making the trip to check on the old man forever. The solution? How about a robot to help him with ordinary things around the house and be his companion, not that he asks for it. To his amazement, Frank becomes dependent of the latest gadget in his daily life.

The small town where Frank lives, has seen the invasion of the newly rich who have bought into everything in the village and surrounding areas. Frank has read almost every book in the local library, which Jennifer, the old librarian, tells him is going to close for reforms, as well as reopen with a new vision. Frank finds himself at a loss with these developments, so he wants to teach some of the hateful newcomers there is still life in the old man.

A delightful comedy directed with wit and style by Jake Schrier was a surprise when it was shown on cable recently. Written by Christopher Ford, the film has its heart in the right place. Frank resents the intrusion in his world by all these strangers invading his way of life, making it more difficult for him to cope with his life as he ages and cannot accept changes to things he holds dear. It is his desire for justice that prompts him to take matters into his own hands, mocking the superficiality as well as the greed of the newcomers. The robot presents a new reality to his way of thinking, rejecting the good aspects of being helped, at first, then adapting the device to his own needs.

The great Frank Langella gives life to Frank. The actor is the whole reason for watching this movie because one can identify with a man that cannot comprehend what is going on in his world, as his mind plays tricks on him. The older man does not welcome changes to his way of living. Mr. Langella is a joy to watch. Susan Sarandon plays Jennifer, the librarian, who we learn later in the film has a deep connection to Frank. Peter Saarsgard is heard as the voice of the robot. James Marsden and Liv Tyler complete the cast.
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