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Depressing Iranian Drama
Emad and Rana are a middle class couple living in an apartment building in Iran, which, for some unexplained reason, is being demolished without evacuating the tenants first. I guess the building codes in the Middle East are not as strict as here in America. The brooding husband and wife are forced to move to another place which had a mysterious previous occupant. Apparently, the woman who lived there was a prostitute with an extensive clientele. Emad is on his way home to the new domicile when his wife suffers a vicious, violent attack. Apparently, she has been mistaken for the last tenant. The couple are an actor and actress who are performing the very American play by Arthur Miller, "Death of a Salesman." They are working at a small theater which, I guess, is the Iranian equivalent to off Broadway here in New York. Emad also works as a school teacher to pay their living expenses. The film moves back and forth between the stage play and Emad's obsession with catching his wife's attacker. This is a thoroughly depressing journey, and although the lead actors are excellent, I was totally drained emotionally by the not so happy ending. The Salesman is nominated for best Foreign film at the Oscar's, but personally I would pick "A Man Called Ove" as a better choice.
En man som heter Ove (2015)
Rolf Lassgard is a recently widowed fifty nine year-old Swede who visits the grave site of his recently departed wife. Ove promises to join his beloved, and, early on, he places a rope around his neck, steps on to a stool and, without giving away the result, begins a sometimes funny and often sad and sentimental journey told through flashbacks of his life with Sonja. He meets the beautiful young lady on a train and they marry and he works for the railroad and she finishes college to become a teacher. Ove becomes the neighborhood's rule enforcer and head of the town council. His new neighbor is a Swedish man with an Iranian wife with two little girls. At first he resents the lively and sometimes noisy and happy family, but after getting to know them, he discovers that they are good and decent human beings who really care about him. I was drawn into Ove's world and Lassgard is perfectly cast in the lead role as the lonely and bitter man. This has a good chance to be the best foreign film at the Academy Awards and I would not argue the choice.
Japan in the 16th Century
16 February 2017 The basis for this film is a best selling novel written by a Japanese Catholic writer in the 1960's. Two Jesuit priests from Portugal are sent to Japan for two reasons. Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe are looking for Father Ferreira, who has disappeared with the rumor of having renounced his faith. Along the way, the good reverends discover groups of Catholics in hiding. The punishment for practicing the tenets of the church of Rome are quite brutal, including a crucifixion from low tide to high tide with the unfortunate parishioner's death by drowning. Rodrigues and Garrpe will be severely tested by government officials who claim to be defending their one true religion, Buddhism. This all leads to some deep theological and philosophical discussions and some horrendous and inventive acts of not so gentle persuasion. The two hours plus here will not restore your faith in humanity or religion. Martin Scorcese released a newer, more technically adept version in 2016. This 1971 original tells the same story with some slight variations. Both films are filled with the director's good intentions and each has succeeded in producing works of art that will at least cause the viewers to think about the meaning of life.
Martin Scorcese puts his creative heart on the screen for two hours and forty minutes with this extremely personal religious voyage through 1600's Buddhist Japan. Jesuit missionaries, Rodrigues(Andrew Garfield) and Garuppe(Adam Driver) are sent to Japan to search for Father Ferreira(Liam Neeson), who has disappeared and allegedly renounced his faith in order to avoid torture and execution by the Japanese. The pair of priests encounter Catholic converts on their journey and conduct mass in secret because of the severe penalties, including crucifixion, for those practicing the banned religion. Garfield is tremendous as Father Rodrigues and Liam Neeson transcends the deeply moving material, as Scorcese allows his actors to shine, including a mostly Japanese cast. The last fifteen minutes are as memorable as anything I have ever seen. The tortures on display are excruciating to watch, but are historically accurate and necessary. 2016 is a strange year for film, as we have the releases of both Silence and La La Land. The latter has a best director nomination but Martin Scorcese was ignored by the Academy; what a disgrace. Time will prove this to be major mistake.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Mel Gibson may be a racist lunatic in his real world life, but he is one hell of a movie director. His eye for detail in Hacksaw Ridge is impeccable. Andrew Garfield is Desmond Doss, a deeply religious man who will not carry a weapon or kill due to his Seventh Day Adventist upbringing. Early on, he encounters a bureaucratic wall, as the military informs him of the necessity of carrying a gun in combat. Doss eventually is able to travel to Japan as a medic and winds up in some extremely vicious and bloody battles near Okinawa in 1945, just before the end of World War II. The fighting scenes are fairly typical of previous war films and the basic training insult laden, politically incorrect drill sergeant are lifted from Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." Mel can be forgiven for this, as the character development is fully realized by Garfield and the supporting cast never hits a false note. The last few minutes are a beautiful tribute to a real American hero and Hacksaw Ridge is one of the ten best movies of the year.
Denzel and Viola are Great
Fences is a filmed version of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play. Troy Maxson(Denzel Washington) is a retired Negro league baseball player seething with regret and anger because of the pre-Jackie Robinson era rules barring the participation of black men in the national past time. Instead of fame and fortune, Troy earns his living as a sanitation worker. One of his sons shows promise as a high school football player with the opportunity of a college scholarship. Troy constantly lectures the family of their continuing oppression by white society in all areas of life. Rose(Viola Davis) is subjected to a constant barrage of "what if's" and "poor me" by her angry and unpleasant husband. Later on, Troy makes a startling confession to Ruby, which leads to an Academy Award stealing scene by Viola Davis. Denzel is great,as usual, and does a fine directing job. Fences is easily one of the ten best movies of the year.
From the grinding poverty of Calcutta to the serenity of Tasmania, Australia, Lion takes the audience on a tour of the world culture as well as I have ever seen. Dev Patel(Slumdog Millionaire) is the star here, as a thirty year old man haunted by his past as a five year old street orphan searching for his mother. It begins with the little boy riding a train to Calcutta and winding up at a prison like shelter surrounded by other orphans. Saroo (Patel), as the child, has the good luck of being adopted by a loving Australian couple. Nicole Kidman is excellent as his mother and Rooney Mara is also good as his American girlfriend. The story is heart wrenching with a cast that includes a few very young kids who are nothing short of amazing. Lion may well be the best film of 2016.
La La Land (2016)
Ryan Gosling proves to be one the most versatile actors working today with his performance in LA La Land. Who knew that he could also sing and dance. My previous favorite film of his is Lars and the Real Doll in which he plays an oddball who falls in love with a mail order doll and his family and friends to along with his illusions. His partner here is Emma Stone as an aspiring actress who works as a waitress and struggles to survive. Gosling is a jazz pianist, and, of course, they fall in love as they pursue their dreams. The music is good, including John Legend as a singer and band leader who provides an established star for Gosling to work with. I am not a fan of the musical genre, especially actors singing lines at each other. I find the format tedious. I was able to overcome my previous prejudices and actually sit back and appreciate the story. The ending in not a typically Hollywood one, so La La Land is one of the best movies of 2016.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Hidden Figures is, as the title states exactly that. Three black women math geniuses, along with several others, were used as human computers to calculate intricate formulas necessary for the first manned space shots in 1961. The film is an important history lesson about race and expectations in America. The struggles endured by these brave women is heart breaking. This was the time of separate but equal schools, bathrooms, drinking fountains, and every other facet of life that we now take for granted in a supposed post racial country. John Glenn is shown to be a true hero, not just as the first man in space, but as a color blind human being who puts his faith on a brilliant black woman whose calculations he would rely on for a successful space mission. A bit too long at over two hours, but still one of the ten best movies of the year with a great ensemble cast.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
The star of this film is Sennia Nanua, a little girl who plays Melanie, a precocious kid with a disease which has turned her and others into your typical flesh eating zombies. She is the subject of government experiments led by a doctor, played by the only American in the cast, Glenn Close. The Doctor needs Melanie to create a vaccine to stop the plague from destroying the human race. Blood is spilled with great frequency, but the acting and script keep The Girl With All The Gifts moving along and keep it one of the better living dead movies in a while. The British accents are a bit thick, and the background music is overwhelming at times, but these shortcomings are not that major. The ending is not what I expected and I can recommend this due to the great performance by Ms. Nanua.