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'Okay?' 'Okay.' Perhaps, 'okay' will be our 'always.', 25 July 2015

Based on John Green's immensely popular novel by the same name, adapted for the screen with extreme skill by Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber, and directed with sensitivity and taste by Josh Boone THE FAULT IN OUR STARS steps so far beyond expectations that it may just be another Nicholas Sparks young adults tearjerkers and actually becomes one of the more impressive dialogues about death and dying and the meaning and importance of love. Add to that a cast of young actors (an experienced actors) who 'live' their roles and the result is a film that should be experienced by everyone.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort) are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that Hazel's other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. Add to that the presence of Gus' best friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) who also has cancer which makes him lose his eyes (and his mental stability at times) and we have a trio of youth facing enormous odds who end up discovering the real meaning of being alive in the world and the importance of love. Hazel's parents are (for once in film) sincerely supportive in the face of a dying child and realistically portrayed by the brilliant Laura Dern and Sam Trammel. Hazel and Gus travel to Amsterdam to visit Hazel's favorite novelist Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) and discover he is a smarmy drunk who lives with the compassionate Lidewij (Lotte Verbeek). Sharing how the story plays out would involve spoilers for those who have not read the book.

The on screen chemistry between Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgot sends this film into that rarefied realm of becoming a classic. But for this viewer, even more important is the lesson it offers about the process and concept and meaning and insignificance of death as an ending: it is a continuation.

A One Star Turn, 19 July 2015

Jeffrey Tambor is so very fine in this television series that concerns a mature father of three girls finally coming to grips with his true sexuality – a transgender – that it is unfortunate that the rest of the characters created by Jill Soloway and the actors portraying them are so stereotypical that the value of the show is diluted.

The little blurb about the story (for those who have for some reason now noticed that this series is in the Emmy talk for this fall) states: 'An LA family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone's secrets to spill out.'

Maybe it is partly due to the hyperpublicity of the Caitlyn Jenner story that lends an aura of 'also ran' to the tale, but in this particular point in our history with all the equality issues on their way to resolution at last, this series could have been more grounded in the reality of what is becoming a wider acceptance of transgender identity.

But for all its flaws, TRANSPARENT (a particularly fine choice of a title!) remains Jeffrey Tambor's moment to shine! Grady Harp, July 15

'They'll never admit to what they did, because if they admit to one thing, they'll have to admit to it all.', 18 July 2015

'I have to do what I can to keep these memories alive, because people forget-especially the young.' Maria Altman. What a wonder of a film this is! Unfortunately it was released so early in the year that by the time the Academy Awards come 'round few will remember to place Helen Mirren's name on the list of Best Actress nominees.

Simon Curtis directs this near docudrama with a flair for genuine feeling, for art, for music, and for history. Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and based on books and notes by both Maria Altman and E. Randol Schönberg the script rings true and while providing a fine story it also reminds us of the atrocities inflicted upon the world by Hitler's Third Reich.

The story is straight forward: the 80 year old Maria Altman (a radiant Dame Helen Mirren) engages a rookie young lawyer E. Randol Schönberg (finally an excellent acting role for Ryan Reynolds) who happens to be the grandson of the brilliant Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg to help her retrieve the painting 'Adele' (now simply known as 'Woman in Gold') – a Gustav Klimt painting belonging to her family and was stolen by the Nazis and is hanging in Austria's Belvedere. Randy is married (Katie Holmes) and has a child and another on the way and finally gets a new job with a law firm, so he is loathe to accompany Maria on a trip to Austria in an attempt to restitute the theft of her aunt Adele. When Randy learns of the value of the painting together with the other Klimt paints that belong to Maria he joins her (with making money in time). Through a well developed relationship between Maria and Randy and a very fine series of flashbacks to the time when the Nazi's were condemning Jews to death camps and stealing their property Randy and Maria ultimately triumph in what seems to be an impossible quest. In doing so Randy gains an appreciation for his background, his miraculous grandfather, and the realities of the Holocaust that is his heritage.

In addition to Mirren and Reynolds the cast is consistently excellent – especially Daniel Brühl, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Allan Corduner, Moritz Bleibtreu and all the others. The film also sensitively includes a performance of Arnold Schönberg's string sextet Verklärte Nacht – another act of homage among the many this film makes to the Austrian Jews who escaped to America. It is an enriching experience, worthy of many awards. Grady Harp, July 15

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
'There's no such thing as an ending; just a place where you leave the story.', 16 July 2015

'There's no such thing as an ending; just a place where you leave the story.' For those charmed by the original BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL be prepared for an also ran very long and low on sparkle runner up. The story the second time around forgot about the appeal of the first story – a charming Indian lad making the best out of a bad situation by creating a cozy and entertaining Indian rest home for aging English folk acted by an outstanding cast of winners. Perhaps that is because this time the screenplay is the invention of Ol Parker who in the first film relied on the charm of Deborah Moggach's novel: he needs her storyline in this version. And he needs a tighter director than John Madden who somehow forgot the themes of the original and let this version go on its own.

Start with Dev Patel who proved in other films and the television series THE NEWSROOM that he can be a fine actor. In this version he is a rude, unlikeable brat. The presence of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and the barely noticed appearance of David Strathairn and Richard Gere make the shaky dialog work as well as can be expected, but the purpose of the entry and retreat of others is unnecessary.

The company lays out the plot: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the expansionist dream of Sonny (Dev Patel), and it's making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life, Sunaina (Tina Desai). Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, has only a single remaining vacancy - posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig). Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) have now joined the Jaipur workforce, and are wondering where their regular dates for Chilla pancakes will lead, while Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship, as Madge (Celia Imrie) juggles two eligible and very wealthy suitors. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co- manager of the hotel, Muriel (Maggie Smith), the keeper of everyone's secrets.

You can take it from there. OK to see for free…..

'I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do' - Gertrude Stein, 14 July 2015

Documentaries, well timed, make a difference. Especially when they are of the quality of this 1989-91 documentary about black men loving black men. TONGUES UNTIED was written and directed and narrated by Marton Riggs who with assistance from other gay Black men, especially poet Essex Hemphill, celebrates Black men loving Black men as a revolutionary act. The film intercuts footage of Hemphill reciting his poetry, Riggs telling the story of his growing up, scenes of men in social intercourse and dance, and various comic riffs, including a visit to the "Institute of Snap!thology," where men take lessons in how to snap their fingers: the sling snap, the point snap, the diva snap. The film closes with obituaries for victims of AIDS and archival footage of the civil rights movement placed next to footage of Black men marching in a gay pride parade.

The film is a lyrical exploration of black gay identity in the United States. Made during a historical period marked by the onset of the AIDS crisis, the works navigate desire, love, loss, and mourning to engage and question sexual and political repression, expression, and deviation.

Riggs's stories are fierce examples of homophobia and racism: the man refused entry to a gay bar because of his color; the college student left bleeding on the sidewalk after a gay-bashing; the loneliness and isolation of the drag queen. The stories also affirm the black gay male experience: protest marches, smoky bars, snap divas, humorous musicology, and vogue dancing. It is as timely today as it was in 1991 when it was aired on PBS, setting off a wild debate about the National Endowment for the Arts funding for art with nudity, gay themes, and pointed political commentary. Impressive and important.

A Pastoral, 14 July 2015

Roberto Minervini is an Italian director who elected to share this sensitive coming of age story about 14 year old girl in a family of goat farmers in Texas. Without the benefits of a cast of actors he manages to create not a documentary but instead a quiet observation of what life is like in the rural parts of a too fast world – a place where values are different if not always better.

Sara is a young girl raised in a family of goat farmers. Her parents home-school their twelve children, rigorously following the precepts of the Bible. Like her sisters, Sara is taught to be a devout woman, subservient to men while keeping her emotional and physical purity intact until marriage. When Sara meets Colby, a young amateur bull rider, she is thrown into crisis, questioning the only way of life she has ever known. STOP THE POUNDING HEART is an exploration of adolescence, family and social values, gender roles, and religion in the rural American South. With minimal dialogue, amateur non-actors, and majestically beautiful cinematography this is a film that is a pastoral. It deserves our attention.

For the love of a dog, 12 July 2015

Nicholas Vanier directed this adaptation of Cécile Aubry's novel (adaptation and screenplay by director Vanier with Juliette Sales and Fabien Suarez) n a film that is in both French and German with English subtitles. The result is a film for the heart – a reminder that during the atrocities of WW II there were moments of meaningful relationships, especially between animals and people (remember 'War Horse'?).

The film is set during WWII in the snowy Alps of occupied France, on the border of Switzerland. Six year old Sébastien (Félix Bossuet), raised and adopted by his grandfather, is lonely and dreaming of the day his mother will return from America for him. He befriends an enormous yet gentle sheepdog Belle who quickly becomes his best friend and protector. With Nazis in the village rooting out the resistance fighters helping Jewish refugees cross the border, Belle and Sébastien's loyalty to each other and the village that has embraced them both will be put to the test.

The scenery is magnificent and the acting by the young and gifted Félix Bossuet is extraordinary. It is a moment of devotion and love and caring and protection during WW II that creates a strong sense of caring about the true meaning of friendship.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Greed and familial destruction, 6 July 2015

Directed by Paolo Virzi based on the novel by American author Stephen Amidon this film is one of those that requires full attention so that the myriad aspects of individual views of a lifestyle and an incident seep in slowly.

The destinies of two families are irrevocably tied together after a cyclist is hit off the road by a jeep in the night before Christmas Eve. The intertwined cast of characters are Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a small-time real estate agent who dreams of bigger things, Serena Ossola (Matilde Gioli), his teenage daughter who dates a spoiled rich brat, Carla Bruneschi (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi – beautiful and brilliant as always), an actress who has given up her career to marry a wealthy businessman, Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni), her husband, a powerful player, Massimiliano Bernaschi (Guglielmo Pinelli), the troubled son of the Bernaschis', Roberta Ossola (Valeria Golino), a psychologist, Dino's second wife, Donato Russomano (Luigi Lo Cascio), a brilliant drama teacher who is enamored by Carla, Luca Ambrosini (Giovanni Anzaldo), a teenager frowned upon by others, and an anonymous cyclist. They are all shareholders of the human capital. The story is divided into four chapters, seen from the point of view of three characters, plus a final chapter. The score was written and performed by Amy Winehouse. In Italian with English subtitles.

A tough movie to watch but on made with sophistication.

"What a fool honesty is." ― William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 5 July 2015

Eric Rohmer (1920 – 2010) was a genius, a director who was able to make combustible films that leave traces on our minds like the romances in this particular film. A TALE OF WINTER is one of the four seasons quadrant of films that hold him in very high esteem among cinema buffs. Thanks to the efforts of Big World Pictures it is now available on DVD.

Felicie (Charlotte Véry) and Charles (Frédéric van den Driessche) have a serious if whirlwind holiday romance. Due to a mix-up on addresses they lose contact, and five years later at Christmas-time Felicie is a hairdresser living with her mother in a cold Paris with a daughter (from Charles) as a reminder of that long-ago summer. For male companionship she oscillates between hairdresser Maxence (Michel Voletti) and the intellectual Loic (Hervé Furic), but seems unable to commit to either as the memory of Charles and what might have been hangs over everything. The plot centers on Félicie's shifting allegiances to the three men in her life, with an abortive move to another city, a strange experience in the cathedral of Nevers, and a performance of Shakespeare's 'The Winter's Tale' among the stations on a roundabout journey that finally brings her face to face with the most basic issues of destiny and faith.

Rohmer gently guides us through the portals of love in all its forms and few can match his gifts. Making this film widely available is a true gift.

Still (2014/II)
Street violence and psychological deterioration, 5 July 2015

Simon Blake makes an impressive debut as the writer and director of this edgy, gritty film that is not afraid to take more chances than most. The film is very dark, very slow, and explores the tragedies that happen on the streets daily and yet in Simon's hands it is mesmerizing, largely due to the cast's credible performances.

Set in North London, 'Still' is a gritty and atmospheric thriller about the violent disintegration of a man and father. Tom Carver (Aidan Gillen) is a man stumbling blindly towards a crossroad in his life, thrown out of focus by the death of his teenage son Stephen in a hit and run accident a year earlier. His ex-wife Rachel (Amanda Mealing) moves on, a new girlfriend Christina (Elodie Yung) moves into his squalid apartment, but Tom's life as a photographer is reduced to taking school portraits and drinking excessively and using drugs with his smarmy journalist buddy Ed (Jonathan Slinger). He becomes involved in a feud with a teenage gang after a seemingly harmless collision with a young kid. As the feud becomes more horrifying, Carver's world starts to unravel forcing him to make decisions that will change his life forever. His confrontation with one of the neighborhood gang, Carl (Sonny Green), reveals secrets about his life he has not faced and drives him to perform and act he would have never considered before his son's death. The ending is a stunningly stark and long moment of truth.

Aidan Gillen is particularly fine in evolving his rather bland character into a man driven to acts by re-molded anger. The supporting cast is excellent – especially the vivid confrontation between Gillen and Sonny Green. It is a long and sad song but it has its merits.

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