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'I used to dance on the street as a kid for money. We fastened tin onto our shoes. Things you do to survive...', 24 May 2015

James Gray co-wrote (with Richard Menello who had worked with Gray on his other films and who died in 2013) and directed this slow moving but insightful film about the immigration topic that swirls through the media at the present time. His previous films – 'Little Odessa', 'We Own the Night, 'The Yards' and 'Two Lovers' are similar in feeling – dark, many repeated actors, coloration of the film product. But THE IMMIGRANT reflects the history of us all – all of us in the USA being immigrants in our lives or our histories – and as such it is very much like being given access to a personal scrapbook of survival in a new land.

The film opens in 1921 on Ellis Island. In search of a new start and the American dream, Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard, superb!) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) sail to New York from their native Poland. When they reach Ellis Island, doctors discover that Magda is ill with tuberculosis, and the two women are separated. Ewa is released onto the mean streets of Manhattan while her sister is quarantined. Alone, with nowhere to turn and desperate to reunite with Magda, she quickly falls prey to Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a charming but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution. And then one day, Ewa encounters Bruno's cousin, the debonair magician Orlando (Jeremy Renner). He sweeps Ewa off her feet and quickly becomes her only chance to escape the nightmare in which she finds herself. Bruno owns a men's club run by Belva (Dagmara Dominczyk) in which the girl's Bruno has 'saved' perform burlesque for the drinking men. In many ways Bruno is a caring a kind man but has a manic streak that colors the loves of everyone around him. He is the epitome of the immigrants who took (take?) advantage of frighten and desperate immigrants for money and power.

The film is very slow, sort of a one-note song, but the acting is excellent and the cinematography by Darius Khondi captures the claustrophobic effect of living in secrecy and in less than suitable conditions. Though the film drags on a bit too long it does bring to our attention the trials of entering this country as an immigrant.

Curling (2010)
A small circle of off-center individuals in an isolated, snow-bound Quebec, 21 May 2015

Denis Côté both wrote and directed this very strange yet intriguing film CURLING. The film is a thinking person's film, rather slow, in a minimalist approach to story and filming, yet the theme is universal and important - self-imposed isolation, fear and connection between people as exemplified by a bizarre father daughter relationship. Of note, the father and daughter of the film are in real life father and daughter. That adds. The title? Curling is a sport in which players slide stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area which is segmented into four concentric circles. So be ready to past together the fragments of the film that are at times disturbing and at times humorous.

Set on the fringe of society, in a remote part of the countryside, CURLING takes a keen look at the unusual private life of a father and his daughter. Between his unremarkable jobs, Jean- Francois Sauvageau (Emmanuel Bilodeau) devotes an awkward energy to Julyvonne (Philomène Bilodeau). The two are isolated, with the father blocking his daughter by projecting his inhibiting lack of life into her, keeping her safe by making her stay small. She doesn't go to school, doesn't have any friends, doesn't have much contact with the outside world and so she is naively dependent on her shy introverted father to provide her with nothing - no TV, no computer, no mobile phone, the occasional rationed out bit of music from the Hi-fi. The fragile balance of their relationship will be jeopardized by some very dreary circumstances: Julyvonne finds a pile of frozen bodies and seeks some sort of solace to keep going back to be with them; a little boy goes missing; a trucker checks out of a motel room and leaves blood splattered everywhere. No real resolution to any of these incidents - and that fits the film - Little fragments that dangle in the wind like weird wind chimes that make this examination of isolation in today's society refreshingly unique. In French with English subtitles.

Miss Julie (2014)
6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Survival of the fittest, 10 May 2015

August Strindberg wrote his play MISS JULIE in 1888 and while it is often performed today by classical repertory companies, the story is strong and deserves the very frank and stage-like production that brilliant actress Liv Ullmann brings to the screenplay adaptation and directs with a sure hand.

The story is set on Midsummer's Eve on the estate of a Count in Fermanagh, Ireland. Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain in a brilliant performance), the young woman of the title, is drawn to a senior servant, a valet named Jean (Colin Farrell also quite brilliant), who is particularly well traveled, well mannered and well read. The action takes place in the kitchen of Miss Julie's father's manor, where Jean's fiancée, a servant named Kathleen (Samantha Morton), cooks and sometimes sleeps while Jean and Miss Julie talk. On this night the relationship between Miss Julie and Jean escalates rapidly to feelings of love and is subsequently consummated. Over the course of the story Miss Julie and Jean battle until Jean convinces her that the only way to escape her predicament is to commit suicide.

While the acting and cinematography and production values are excellent, the aspect of Liv Ullmann's emphasis on Strindberg's reason for committing this work to the public – as one historian phrased it well, 'Miss Julie and Jean, as vying against each other in an evolutionary "life and death" battle for a survival of the fittest. The character, Miss Julie, represents the last of an old aristocratic breed about to die out. Whereas Jean represents one who is clambering upwards, and who is more fit to thrive because he is better able to adapt in terms of the "life roles" he can take on. The play contains a variety of themes, partly because Miss Julie's actions are motivated by a range of factors and influences: her class, her desires and impulsive nature, her father, and the dynamic traumas of her family histories.'

The musical score is brilliant – various combinations of violin, cello and piano with works by Schubert and Bach performed by Håvard Gimse, piano, Truls Mørk, cello and Arve Tellefsen, violin. The music is an integral part of the atmosphere. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, May 15

Taken 3 (2014)
'Why do you have to be so damn honorable?', 4 May 2015

Luc Besson offers is third round of the very popular Liam Neeson series TAKEN, changing the name a bit to TAK3N (a little too cutesy) but retaining the smart dialogue and non-stop action of the first two. This one is directed by Olivier Megaton who also drove TAKEN 2 into fame. For all the comparisons and whispered criticisms of this version not being up to the previous two installments, this third installment works for other reasons.

Why it is so important to continuing using the Russians as bad guys becomes a bit tiresome, but here it works on a more sophisticated level. To recap, Liam Neeson returns as ex-covert operative Bryan Mills, whose long awaited reconciliation with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen, don't blink or you'll miss her) is tragically cut short when she is brutally murdered. Consumed with rage, and framed for the crime, he goes on the run to evade the relentless pursuit of the CIA, FBI and the police. For one last time, Mills must use his "particular set of skills," to track down the real killers, exact his unique brand of justice, and protect the only thing that matters to him now - his daughter (Maggie Grace). The role of Lenore's husband is polished by Dougray Scott, Forest Whitaker brings an uncanny veracity to his role as a policeman, and the supporting rolls on both sides of the story are well managed by Don Harvey, Sam Spruell, Dylan Bruno, Leland Orser, David Warshofsky, Andrew Howard et al.The interaction between Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace make the somewhat disjointed plot hold together. It is a TAKEN formula movie - and that is a major compliment for lovers of thrillers. Will there be a TAKEN 4? Probably.

Fetishes – the positives and the negatives, 3 May 2015

Stephen Lance wrote the story and adapted it for the screen with Gerard Lee and then directed it. It is an Australian film and is the debut for Lance and as such it is rather impressive.

The subject matter of BDSM seems to be growing in popularity, certainly in book and subsequently in films. But what Lance manages to do with this microanalytic form of exploring the extremes of human emotions through the parameters of physical poles of pleasure versus pain works much better than most. Perhaps that is due to the fact that he relies less on in your face on the screen acting out of the whips and chains and torture and agony that always seem so false when attempting to make a story and instead concentrates on why these extremes of acting out represent needs and psychological holds in need of patching. It also helps immensely that he elected to cast the devastatingly beautiful and gifted actress Emmanuelle Béart in the pivotal role of the Dominatrix. She is credible. The story is as follows: It's a long hot summer for Charlie Boyd (Harrison Gilbertson). He's sixteen, his hormones are raging and he's just found out his mother (Rachel Blake) is having an affair with his father's (Hugh Parker) best friend. One thing takes his mind off his problems, the mysterious woman Maggie (Emmanuelle Béart) down the street who has visitors day and night, and has just advertised for a gardener. But she is forgotten when a tragic family event tumbles Charlie into a world of pain, a pain so intense Charlie thinks no-one can help him. He's wrong. Someone can. Maggie, the beautiful French stranger. She's a professional, and she specialises in pain. Giving it, exploring it, sharing it, all for money. So Charlie falls in love, and despite herself so does she, drawn to this troubled boy who takes all the pain she can give and uses it to heal himself. And as Charlie heals, he turns that healing back onto her, his Mistress.

A talented Aussie cast adds a flavor to the film and as far as stories that address BDSM, this is one of the more successful ones. Grady Harp, May 15

An important film, especially during the present, 27 April 2015

GOD'S SLAVE ('Esclavo de Dios') is not only an impressive film it is an important film for many reasons. It brings to light the ongoing acts of terrorism by focusing on an historical even that occurred in 1994 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Fernando Butazzoni wrote the stunning script for this film which was directed by the very young Joel Novoa. The actual incident on which it is based is important: The AMIA bombing was an attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building. It occurred in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds. It was Argentina's deadliest bombing ever. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of 200,000, the largest in Latin America and sixth in the world outside Israel. In the days following the bombing, Israel sent Mossad agents to Argentina to investigate. The Israeli Police also sent a team of four forensic scientists to assist with the building of ante mortem files and victim identification; the IDF sent personnel to help the Argentines with body extrication. Argentina closed its borders after the attack, fearing more terrorists could enter. It was thought possible that the bombers entered Argentina through the Triple Frontier, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Argentina's intelligence agency, the Secretaría de Inteligencia (SIDE), is said to have set up a network of surveillance called 'Centauro' in Paraguay.

Butazzoni has taken this tragedy and backtracked to the childhood times of both the Arab would-be suicide bomber and the Jewish investigator – each having witnessed indelible atrocities at the hands of the two groups – Muslims and Jews. This, then, is the story of Ahmed and David, the two extremist characters, one Islamic and the other Jewish, who cross paths while being in the opposite side of the conflict in the A.M.I.A bombings that took place in 1994 in Buenos Aires. The action shows the tragedies in 1975 Lebanon where Ahmed witnesses the slaughter of his father at the hands of the Jews (and the character of David is important here). The action switches to Caracus, Venezuela 1990 where Ahmed, now a grown man, is sent for his mission: he is to marry, have children, and await his 'destiny' to become a suicide bomber to kill Jews. We meet all of Ahmed's friends and his family and we watch David gathering data to thwart what he knows in an incipient bombing. His call for his destiny comes with order to fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1994 to await his hour. How Ahmed's assignment turns out and David's role in that result is the suspense that would ruin the impact of the film if shared.

Ahmed is subtly portrayed by Mohammed Alkhaldi and David by an equally powerful Vando Villamil. The film is in Spanish, Arabic, and a bit of French (?) with English subtitles. The musical score by Emilio Kauderer is particularly fine, the large cast is excellent, and the direction by Joel Novoa is brilliant. Perhaps this film will help more people understand the roots of terrorism and then help end it. Highly Recommended film from the always dependable Film Movement.

Wild (2014)
10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
'How wild it was, to let it be.', 26 April 2015

Jean-Marc Vallée directs Nick Hornby's bumpy transcription of Cheryl Strayed's memoir and the result is a very long song. The two-hour running time feels as long as the time it took Strayed to walk the 1,100 mile Pacific Coast Trail solo.

For those few who aren't familiar with the story, 'With the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed has lost all hope. After years of reckless, destructive behavior, she makes a rash decision. With absolutely no experience, driven only by sheer determination, Cheryl hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddens, strengthen, and ultimately heals her.'

Everyone praises Reese Witherspoon's performance so finding it tiresome is not a possible response. Much of the problem with this film is that 1) it is just too long, 2) the time on the trail is repetitive and not really redeeming, 3) the jumping around from past to present is clunky though Laura Dern and Thomas Sadowsi do rescue those portions, and 4) other than words on the screen in the last frame, is there any change in this character that we have observed in the hopscotch fashion of telling the story that is noticeable? Girl and brother are devastated by their mother's death so girl turns to alcohol, drugs, and frequent anonymous only to recreate a mother's influence in a sort of warped way by getting out and hiking. Must have missed something in the details.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Disambiguation, 26 April 2015

This little French film from Film Movement was originally called "Arrête ou je continue" (Stop or I'll continue): now it is IF YOU WON'T' I WILL.' It seems many viewers are missing the point of this very delicately composed eulogy on marriage. Written and directed by Sophie Fillières this is one of the more sensitive examinations of prolonged relationships or marriages whose glow has dimmed and needs to alter. Others have shown the bitter finality of divorce, the distancing that can end in mental and even physical abuse – exit paths for marriage. But this little exquisite film has the ability to observe the increasingly flattening of response to a couple as they find the spark of sensuality has faded along with the maturing of children and allowing their lives to supersede that of the couple's togetherness.

Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos) and Pierre (Mathieu Amalric) have been together a long time. Passion and spontaneity have given way to predictability and cold shoulders. On a hike together one afternoon, Pomme declares her independence by deciding to stay in the woods rather than return to an underwhelming life with Pierre. Pierre tries to get back to normal, despite his worry over her whereabouts and the indelible sense that he's missing his better half. Meanwhile, Pomme begins an extended meditation in the forest on where her own life should go next, with or without Pierre. In the end, both are left to contemplate the strength and meaning of each other's commitment.

If viewers find the film dissociative and lacking focus in the beginning – many feel they just don't understand what the film is doing at first – then that is likely the point Sophie Fillières is making: those little moments of chipping away at the bond of marriage that if unheeded result in fractures and dissolution are subtle. But with the assistance of both Devos and Amalric as the couple the film makes its poignant point extraordinarily well.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
'Be careful what you wish for', 23 April 2015

Stephen Sondheim's clever, witty and winsome INTO THE WOODS has moved from 1987 Broadway theater to the big screen and it is a successful transition. Few thought the Sondheim/James Lapine piece would make it on film because it is, after all, a musical – a piece that is almost completely sung, with characters who are from fairy tales – a category that can hardly compete with the current gluttonous appetite for loud killer action and potty mouth sexual innuendos and it is not derived from a Marvel comic book.

But for those who enjoy theatre, well-composed music, opera and operetta this is a richly rewarding experience. INTO THE WOODS s a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales in a musical format that follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel-all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them. The cat is outstanding singing their own roles as opposed to having them produced off camera by professional singers. Meryl Streep as the Witch is not only a beautifully developed character but she sings very well indeed. The same can be said for Emily Blunt, James Corden (he IS talented), Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone (well remembered for his Gavroche in Les Misérables), Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Depp (always willing to take chances and stretch his abilities), the underused Billy Magnussen, Lilla Crawford, and Chris Pine (as the Prince, with a grossly out of character au courant 5 o'clock shadow beard that breaks the mood of fairy tales)

It is a show that either your like or you hate – depending on sensitivity to this medium. But it is so nice to see something creative on the big screen that doesn't depend on body count and car explosions and breasts to maintain the audiences attention. The last part of the story gets a bit Hallmarky, but even that is in keeping with the happily ever after flow of Sondheim's little jewel. Grady Harp, April 15

31 out of 46 people found the following review useful:
'If you think that this war isn't changing you you're wrong.', 19 April 2015

Why do we as a species just keep killing, making war, destroying countries, making surviving soldiers' minds scared and dysfunctional? For those of us who have been through extended combat in wars throughout the last century and into the present answers to those questions escape us. But despite the lurid subject matter of watching men kill men under the umbrella of 'war', films such as this keep our eyes focused on the pity of war. Jason Hall adapted the book of the true events as recorded in their book by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and James DeFelice and form all the facts molded a story that gives us a distilled version of the four tours of duty in Iraq as a navy Seal Sniper that 'won' Chris Kyle 160 kills and in doing so allowed us to witness the moral and mental deterioration of a man's soul. This film SHOULD be seen.

Chris Kyle was a Texan who wanted to become a rodeo cowboy, but in his thirties he found out that maybe his life needed something different, something where he could express his real talent, something that could help America in its fight against terrorism. Post 9/11 happened, so he joined the SEALs in order to become a sniper. After marrying Taya, Kyle and the other members of the team are called for their first tour of Iraq. Kyle's struggle isn't with his missions, but about his relationship with the reality of the war and, once returned at home, how he manages to handle it with his urban life, his wife and kids. It does not end well for anyone.

Clint Eastwood's direction is razor sharp and he doesn't miss a step. Bradley Cooper brings an astonishingly fine performance in allowing us to see all aspects of this driven man. Sienna Miller is excellent as his sensitive wife, and there are poignant little character vignettes by Jake McDorman as Biggles, Luke Grimes, Sammy Sheik as the Iraqi counterpart to Chris, Navid Negahan, Jonathan Groff, Cory Hardrict, Keir O'Donnell and many other in this huge cast. The cinematography is so realistic it is difficult to watch and the locations in Morocco are disturbing real. The film will keep you awake after seeing it, and it should.

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