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Director Michael Haneke's film 'The White Ribbon' is a brilliantly paced slow burn into the secrets of a small town somewhere in north Germany. Haneke also wrote the screenplay setting it just before 1914 and the run up to WWI. He shot his masterpiece in magnificent black and white, which places your imagination as close to this period of time as most would imagine. True to many of Haneke's recent films, we see the worst of human nature. Yet his ability to bring you so close to each character secures you to your seat motivating your internal desire to see how it all plays out.
Strange things are set in motion inside this tight community when someone plants a trap causing the town's doctor to take a fall from his horse causing him serious injuries. His two kids lost their mother in a mysterious death 5 years earlier, which resulted in the town's midwife looking after the children as the doctor spends months in recovery in an out-of- town hospital.
The spiritual leader of the community, a Protestant pastor is a strict, guilt-slinging father of 5 kids for which he provides severe punishment so they become 'pure' adults. You have the Baron and wife who are disliked by most as they employ about half the town. They too have dirty secrets. The Barons steward and his wife and kids struggle as he tries to keep his family in line.
Adults start dying, children are tortured, yet no one can find the culprits. The story is narrated by the schoolteacher, a new town resident, who recalls the story years after the war to the best of his recollection.
'The White Ribbon' won the Palm d'Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It's also nominated for 2 Oscars, Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.
Seek this film out. Your taste in cinema will change forever.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Best modern war film to hit the big screen in years..........
Shortly after my drafted, eldest brother returned from Vietnam he encouraged me not to go anywhere near the Armed Forces. I took his advice.
Instead, I'm a fifty-something year old who has viewed WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam and the recent middle-eastern conflicts on television and the big screen. Each story does its best to share what life is like for so many soldiers in the heat of battle. Five minutes into this film my wife leans over to whisper, "this doesn't feel like a film." She was right it wasn't just a film it was an experience.
After watching 'The Hurt Locker' I slowly walked out of the theater feeling for the first time I gained a far deeper understanding of what battle is like in current wars. It's an experience so many men and woman should bathe themselves in to better understand words like dedication, honor, liberty and freedom.
'The Hurt Locker' is a film surrounding three men, aged twenty-something, whose job is to disable improvised explosive devices (IEDs), found on roadsides, buildings or anywhere they can kill or immobilize their targets. While other soldiers find shelter this team walks up to the device, finds the trigger and attempts to render it useless. They do all this while knowing the many locals who peer through doorways, windows and rooftops could be holding the trigger. This film puts you dead in the middle of this team as you too count the number of days left before your unit is rotated out of hell. 'The Hurt Locker' is not a violent or graphically difficult film to watch. It's an extremely intense, real-life drama that may stay with you long after you leave the theater.
I encourage everyone to seek out this film. If you can't, please recommend that others see it. They will gain insight to a world experienced by few.
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
A very entertaining, who's running this con screenplay.
Not since the 2000 Argentine hit 'Nine Queens' (Nueve reinas) or the better-known 1973 film 'The Sting,' has there been a more entertaining, who's running this con, screenplay than 'The Brothers Bloom'.
Penelople (Rachel Weisz) is a rich, eccentric 'Jersey' heiress with nothing to do but collect other people's hobbies becomes 'the mark' of con artist Brothers Bloom.
Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) grew up parentless and products of the foster home system (the first10 minutes of this film provide some wonderful footage of how and why these two were motivated to complete their first pre-teen scam.) It's hilarious.
Years pass and after many a con, the two reunite in Montenegro where Stephen does his best to convince Bloom to do one final scam of Penelople and her riches. Reluctant Bloom leaves with elder brother for New Jersey where they join a near mute explosives expert and sidekick Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi.) They conduct surveillance on Penelople while Stephen unveils his elaborate plan.
'Brothers Bloom' is an adventure with laughs, missteps, cons gone wrong and many twists and turns which will have you wondering, who is scamming who? The film takes you from Serbia to Prague and St. Petersburg with the sophistication and elegance each city brings to the screen. Ruffalo, Brody, Weisz and Kikuchi are all unique in their roles yet they are perfectly cast for this easy to follow and unpredictable plot.
See 'The Brothers Bloom'! Getting conned has rarely been this much fun.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
One of the best films in 2008!
"Slumdog what?" Get off the Internet, rush down to your local independent theater and checkout one of the best films this year!
'Slumdog Millionaire' is based on 'Q&A', a 2005 novel by Vikas Swarup. His novel tells a story about Malik, a young orphan, who has never read a book or gone to school. This young 'slumdog' makes his life begging, stealing and running hustles in and around the streets of Mumbai, India.
The screenplay introduces the young man Malik (Dev Patel) being tortured by police after being removed from a taping of the Indian version of the television show 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' for cheating. After unsuccessful attempts to get Malik to confess the police permit him to tell his story.
Director Danny Boyle sets his film through a series of flashbacks with Malik sharing his life experiences, which include his brother Salim, and friend, Latika. He explains how his experiences provided him the answers for winning 20 million rupees. But for Malik no amount of money can get him what he really wants from his tough life.
'Slumdog Millionaire' combines the excitement of a popular game show with the difficult lives of many children in Mumbai. Coupled with moments of humor and the natural desire to root for an underdog, this uplifting film is both inspiring and definitely worth viewing.
Best Aussie comedy since 'The Dish'
'Kenny' is the best Australian comedy I've seen since the 2000 hit 'The Dish.' Kenny (Shane Jacobson) who stars, co-wrote & co-produced this film calls himself a plumber. He is completely committed to his portable toilet job and his sense of responsibility is far more serious than most folks doing any other type of work. The job requires him to stage, keep clean, fix and protect portable toilets. He runs a crew who maintain a portable toilet fleet of various shapes, sizes & amenities. He serves concerts, drag races and even the prestigious Melbourne Cup, the Kentucky Derby of down-under.
No matter what the event, Kenny sees the human waste of society while struggling to make their 'pottying' experiences as pleasant as possible. (he even keeps track of complaints.)
Kenny has a family -- an ex-wife who manipulates him with his divorce-victim son (Jessie Jacobson), his ill and cranky dad (Ronald Jacobson) and his high society brother. (Clayton Jacobson) As you can tell, this is a talented family project, so real that the film provides the fascinating, genuine documentary flavor throughout.
'Kenny' is not a bodily waste slinging, slipping, sliding or covered in waste flick. It's a laugh out loud comedy that provides an intimate look at a man and his life that will have you wetting your undies.
Note: The film distributor increases your pleasure by adding subtitles throughout the film reducing the need to spend 10-minutes adjusting to a tasty Aussie accent.
Seek out 'Kenny'; your job will never feel the same again.
A wonderful thrill ride.......
Imagine being an American on an old soviet era train, for a multi-day crossing of cold yet breathtaking Siberia. And to spice things up, you find yourself in the midst of a murder a drug running operation and Russian cop Grinko (Ben Kingsley) who's attempting to uncover your involvement with it all. Multiply all this by five and you will begin to appreciate the most suspenseful film I've seen in years.
Transsiberian is a screenplay starring Roy (Woody Harrelson), a train enthusiast and his unhappy wife Jennie (Emily Mortimer). They are Americans who start their journey in Beijing in an attempt to cross Siberia and end their journey in Moscow. Soon after leaving China they are joined by mysterious cabin mates, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) a Spaniard, and his young American companion Abby (Kate Mara).
On an early train stop Roy becomes absorbed with examining old train engines. So much so that he misses his train which sends his wife in a panic which starts a chain of events which will have you chewing your nails down to nubs. Are they innocent, being framed or just clueless in regards to safe international travel?
Transsiberian is not a slasher or horror flick; it's a deceptive drama-mystery thrill ride that will keep you unsettled for several minutes after exiting the theatre. If you are up for a tension filled 21st century suspense spectacle, this film is for you!
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Woody's best work in years!!
I've always been a fan of Woody Allen's ability to write. 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' is probably Woody's best work in years. His film stars Vicky (Rebecca Hall) who early in the film fills the screen with prudish discussion and her love for her fiancée. Then there is Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) who is openly trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.
The anchors in this film are Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), fresh from his Oscar win for 'No Country For Old Men', his fiery ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz) and the stunning city of Barcelona.
The screenplay starts with a slow narration where we find American tourists and best friends, Vicky & Cristina, having just arrived in Barcelona to spend 2-months in the beautiful, gorgeous, Catalonian city. The two quickly meet the high-flying, sexy artist Juan Antonio who invites them for a long weekend while pointing out he would enjoy their company in bed. Vicky is insulted while Cristina is interested and very much attracted to Juan Antonio.
The film hastens when Cristina & Juan Antonio convince Vicky to come along. The acting and dialogue are fresh, funny and unpredictable. Maria Elena steals the show when she surprisingly shows up and keeps you guessing throughout the film. The chemistry and timing are impeccable; all this reminding you of the Woody of old.
'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' is a romantic comedy set in a most beautiful part of the world with an excellent script, spicy soundtrack and amazing twists and turns. The film is wonderfully entertaining and truly a feast for the eyes. Don't miss it!
Le scaphandre et le papillon (2007)
The films places you inside the author's head and keeps you there.
Earlier this year, a good friend, avid reader and film buff informed me that one of her favorite books was the basis for a film which recently won awards at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. I knew nothing of the novel or the film so she offered me the book to read. I enjoyed the story but didn't completely appreciate its depth until I recently got a sneak peek at the film.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, (Mathieu Amalric) a popular editor of the French fashion magazine 'Elle.' At age 43 he is stricken with a stroke leaving him with lock-in syndrome, a medical condition that, except for his left eye, rendered him completely immobile. In fear of his right eye becoming "septic" doctors quickly stitched the eye shut.
This sealing of that eye is an early scene, which is so perfectly shot that it places you inside Bauby's head and body, and keeps you there for the entire film. You see the world as he views it while desiring to be free of the paralyzing feeling of a sinking diving bell. At other times, with his imagination, you find yourself fluttering as free as a butterfly.
Bauby wrote his story with the use of a unique sequence of letters specifically designed so he could blink his eye to communicate as he created every single word of his story.
This film is in no way depressing. The cinematography is brilliantly captured. Everyone was completely captivated by the screenplay as we experienced life deep inside Bauby's body, mind and soul. For the entire 2+ hours, you won't want to be anyplace else.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
The best 'feel good' film of 2007!!
It's always a treat to walk into a theater and leave after viewing something great - something I didn't expect.
The independent film 'Lars and the Real Girl' is just that. It's promoted as a comedy about a guy who's in love with a sex doll, yet the film is the type everyone should see and you can even consider taking your kids. (It's rated PG-13)
Lars (Ryan Gosling) is an introvert, who holds an office job and lives in a northern mid-west town. His pad is a modified garage next to his deceased parents' home. His brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and pregnant, caring sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer) live in the large house on the property.
One day Lars meets a friend (the doll) on the internet and has her shipped to his home. Being the gentleman that he is, Lars asks Gus and Karin if his quest can stay in the main house until they get to know each other better. This sets off a chain of events that involve the local doctor, minister, his co-workers and ultimately, the entire town.
It's a story of openness and the importance of allowing what you first think is unacceptable and different, is actually completely acceptable. The film draws you in, changes your initial beliefs and provides a wonderful message at the same time. It's a heartwarming, feel good film that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. Lars and his ''real girl' taught me more about life and love. It will do the same for you.
Mon meilleur ami (2006)
One of the best French films since 'Ridicule'
Most folks who know me fully understand my love for foreign film. A few close friends know French cinema is probably my least desired international cinema. Fact is I haven't enjoyed a French film since the 1996 period piece 'Ridicule' which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film that year. All that changed more than a decade later after watching the French comedy 'Mon meilleur ami' (which has been given the English title 'My Best Friend'.)
The film stars popular French actor Daniel Auteuil whose character, François Coste, is a tough art dealer, wonderful in his craft but has no personal or meaningful relationships. He regularly attends dinner with a group of associates who pointedly make clear that if he died no one would attend his funeral. François is so shocked and embarrassed that he bets a vase, worth 200,000 euro, that he can produce his best friend within 10 days.
François quickly finds he has no friends; even is daughter who occupies his home won't speak to him. His quest to become sociable and win friends is hilarious. Eventually, he meets Bruno Bouley (Dany Boon) a divorced cab driver who is an encyclopedia of unique facts yet magnificently sociable. Bruno gets nervous under pressure but has dreams of using his knowledge to compete on a game show which ultimately lands a spot on the French version of 'Who Want's To Be A Millionaire.' François convinces Bruno to help him get along with others and the chemistry between the two produce nothing less than comedic magic on screen. The two become friends until François does something completely revolting and they go their separate ways.
'Mon meilleur ami' is brilliant comedy, which is very serious about the essence of having a best friend to turn to when you need them most.