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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.
Waitress - Honor Adrienne Shelly for her wonderful film.
Waitress is a delicious comedy about Jenna, (Keri Russell) a discontented waitress living in the south with an amazing knack for creating pies that relay her feelings. She is in a terrible marriage with Earl (Jeremy Sisco) who plays her unreasonable and controlling husband. The bright spots in her life are her co-worker waitresses, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly). Becky is in her 40's with an invalid husband but is completely obsessed with how gravity has treated her left breast. Dawn, the unique one in the group can't find a good man and has resorted to 5-minute dates as a last resort.
They all work at 'Joe's Pie Diner' where Jenna whips up the most hilarious ingredients and names for pies imaginable. She finds out she's pregnant but doesn't want the child because it will prevent her escaping her husband and starting a new life. Becky and Dawn are excited about the 'little girl' on the way and give Jenna a baby book in which she writes a letter to her soon-to-be offspring. This narration, Jenna's pie-making, and perfectly cast characters all blend together and make a most appetizing comedy. You even get Old Joe (Andy Griffith) a mature, hilarious yet picky patron and owner of the diner.
Indie film star, Adrienne Shelly who wrote, directed, and played 'Dawn' in this film, was murdered in her New York apartment last November just prior to her best work being released at Sundance. Honor her by enjoying the growth of independent cinema and Shelly's wonderful ability to make us laugh.
Go see Waitress. As the film's tagline says, "If only life were as easy as pie."
Away from Her (2006)
A masterpiece in cinema
The Canadian film 'Away from Her' is a story of Grant (Gordan Pinsent) who is coping with his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) as she fades into Alzheimer's disease after a 50-year marriage. Fiona understands she is "loosing her mind" but is prepared to transition to an institution even though Grant resists and doesn't want to spend one moment 'away from her.'
The story is told in flashback but this screenplay is as intimate as they come. Within the first few scenes of this film you know you are in for something truly special. You begin to feel the possibilities of your grandparents, your parents and even yourselves making the tough adjustment of loosing a partner or someone you have spent the best part of your life with. Suddenly, you experience the most difficult task of not having them with you.
Credit the beauty of this screenplay to 28-year-old director Sarah Polly, who directed her first film at age 20. She has a skill and maturity that far exceeds many of her more seasoned peers. Her expertise shines through in every scene. Nothing is wasted. Each scene will keep you riveted in your seat as she manages to weave tiny bits of humor throughout.
'Away from Her' is a film you should share with your partner, parents and grandparents. It's a story that will teach us about a reality we may all face one day.
Don't miss it.
Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
A wonderful coming-of-age story
Everything is Illuminated is a coming-of-age story about a grandfather and his grandson who operate a family tour business in rural Russia. The business takes Jews to reconnect with lost family members and memories leading up to the war. The grandfather started the business but it is currently being run by his son. He is tired and weary of the business so he pretends to be blind. He even has an insane "seeing eye" dog called, Sammy Davis, Jr. (Jr.) While the film is set in Russia, the grandson loves the 1980s hip-hop culture and everything American.
An American Jew arrives, prompting both grandfather and grandson to reluctantly take him to a little known town in search of his Russian heritage. The adventure is the crux of the film, at times is humorous, intimate but always engaging. You too, will find yourself in that small Ukrainian vehicle in search of a past, and you are sure to be surprised at what you find.
A critic of world cinema once said, a lover of cinema "is far less troubled by the idea of having sat through something he thought was lousy than he was by the notion of possibly missing something great." I walked into the theater to see a movie, I walked out having had an amazing experience.
Don't miss an opportunity to experience if for yourself
A tough look at an accident can trigger worldly percussions
Every once in a while I see a film which won't let go of me.
Babel, a film by the young and serious Mexican writer and director, Alejandro González Iñárritu continues to play in my mind. Inarritu has directed two of my favorite films Amores Perros and 21 Grams. All three of these films have no nonsense themes with multiple story lines all, which reveal a connection as the film plays itself.
In Babel, you get four stories, a young seemingly depressed teen and her dad in Tokyo, a Mexican nanny and housekeeper living in San Diego needing to attend her son's wedding in Mexico, young brothers minding a herd of sheep in Morocco and an American couple traveling through northern Africa.
The film rotates between each storyline, all very intense, emotional and at times hard to watch. You will not be entertained by this film but for those interested in being encompassed with how serious events in different parts of this shrinking world can be miss-communicated based on individual perspectives, Babel is a film to see.
You may walk out of the theater drained and exhausted but you will gain another important aspect of life for people outside our borders.
Little Children (2006)
A sensitive subject filmed with style and grace
In August 2006 I recommended 'Little Miss Sunshine' an adult comedy with an elementary name. Today you are encouraged to experience 'Little Children', a film making reference to the young but its cinema - as adult as they come.
The film is set in suburban Massachusetts, where young parents spend time with their lone offspring in parks or at the neighborhood pool. You have a stay-at-home father, (Patrick Wilson) caring for his young son while grappling with a domineering wife. You have a mother (Kate Winslet*) married to a guy so far removed that he disappears for much of the film. You then have a former cop forced into retirement after a terrible accident. Finally you get (Jackie Earle Haley) a recently released sex offender living in a community where his face is posted on every light pole and billboard in town.
Just like in many stories about suburbia you get gossip, unhappy relationships, desperate housewives, house-husband and the not-so-welcoming book club.
The real meat in this film is Haley who lives with his loving, aging mother while struggling to survive his demons coupled with a hostile community. He brings great depth and insight to the role of a convicted sex offender. Haley's Oscar nominated Best-Supporting role will astonish you as in one moment he is quite charming on a date yet in another moment you are horrified by him. Later, you stand with him in his difficult struggle. He is real, humane, complex and pained. The film provides an interesting look at his situation with not once condoning his past behavior.
Little Children confronts a sensitive topic for many adults. But if you withhold judgment and let the film unfold you will no doubt have a broader viewpoint of this subject.
Pedro Almodovar & Penelope Cruz at their very best!!
My first experience with Penelope Cruz was in 1992 while watching the film from Spain, Jamon Jamon. At the time Cruz was only 18, but she looked much younger, she appeared to be 'used' (by U.S. standards) by the filmmaker in this sexy Spanish comedy.
A few years later I saw the 1988 film by director Pedro Almodovar, 'Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown'. There was an immediate impression left on me because of the film's style, direction and careful presentation of women's situations. Since then Almodovar has made many great films and he has become a director known around the world. So much so, that recently, in my small town, a 'Pedro Almodovar Film Festival' was held featuring such works as 'All About My Mother', 'Bad Education' and my favorite, 'Talk To Her'.
Pedro Almodovar's latest venture, 'Volver' is a reunion with Penelope Cruz, who through the years has become, Spain's screen goddess. Together they put out some of their best work. Volver (meaning to return, or come back) is a story about Raimunda (Cruz) whose estranged mother cautiously returns to settle some long-standing painful issues. Raimunda wants little to do with her as she is facing difficult issues of her own. The plot is much more than a mother/daughter relationship; it involves the family, community and years of deceit.
Almodovar wrote and directs this film with such precision you instantly relate to each character; Raimunda's teen daughter Paula, who carries a terrible secret, her timid sister, Sole and others. The film is beautifully shot, has a steady pace, great moments of humor and several surprises you never see coming.
Volver is a film every female should see. Almodovar loves women and is masterful in putting on screen the very best in womanly situations. We guys could learn a trick or two from him.
And if you hesitate to see great cinema because English is not the spoken language, you'll be missing one of the best films of the year.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
A wonderful ending to the ROCKY franchise
Thirty years ago in 1976, America was celebrating its bicentennial, Jimmy Carter was elected president and ROCKY hit the screens starting a franchise in film. The character, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) started a series of "cheer the underdog" films. The Rocky-concept was re-created, sometimes better than others, in 1979, 1982, 1985, and in 1990.
Today at age 60,Stallone looks his age, arteries bulge from his chest even when he's relaxed. He looks like a tired father or grandpa. The years have taken its toll on this character but he uses all this to his advantage.
In this film, Rocky is depressed, his wife, Adrian died 4-years ago, and his son, has little to do with him because he "casts a big shadow." But Rocky is still highly respected in "Philly." Fans stop him on the streets to take photos with cell phones and everyone still calls him the champ. To keep busy, Balboa runs a small South Philly restaurant named after his wife.
Someone develops a computer-generated program matching long-retired Rocky Balboa pound-for-pound with the current, undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champ, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver). Dixon is mostly disliked in boxing circles but his camp feels he should hold an exhibition fight with Balboa for another multi-million dollar, Pay-Per-View payday.
You get the standard clichés and motivational speeches, which are all updated and very well done, but you also get many humorous one-liners from Rocky and the solid cast. With grace, skill and maturity, the veteran Stallone does a wonderful job writing, starring and directing this final episode. Anyone ages 40 and above will enjoy this film while being pleasantly surprised with the scorecards at the end of this contest.
ROCKY! ROCKY! ROCKY!
Blood Diamond (2006)
Another fine piece by director Edward Zwick
A few years back I had the pleasure of visiting Antwerp, Belgium, a place many deem "the diamond capital of the world." Never before or since have I been in a location where I was surrounded by so much "bling". Storefronts had so many diamonds on display you would think they should be better kept in some European version of Fort Knox.
The film Blood Diamond puts an entirely new spin on Antwerp, the diamond industry and that pricey stone you might be wearing around your neck, on your ring finger, or in your ears (mine are cubic-Zs). Set in the West African country of Sierra Leone during the 1990s, this historical-adventure-drama covers a time when the country was in turmoil. Warlords, smugglers and the diamond syndicate all play roles in a refugee exodus, and the killing and enslaving of men to work the diamond fields. The title refers to diamonds which are harvested, smuggled and traded to finance the purchase of weapons used in Civil War.
Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) stars as a fisherman who has his family torn apart and instead of being killed, is sent to work mining diamonds where he finds and hides a large stone. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) a former mercenary, diamond-smuggler, middleman, you-name-it, is looking to score with that stone and exit the business for good. Writer Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) is tired of writing shallow stories about less than newsworthy events; she is looking for information about major players in the diamond trade. They all come together in a fast paced, adventure packed piece of film-making that is brutal at times but never boring. The film has a pleasant, unanticipated ending, something hard to pull off in a film of this kind.
Director/Producer Edward Zwick is probably the best in Hollywood at taking a big budget feature film with a historical theme and carefully relay a message without lecturing his audience. His earlier works include a story of the first all-black U.S. Civil War company in "Glory" a film, which resulted in Denzel Washington winning his first Oscar. Zwick takes credit for works like The Last Samurai, Shakespeare in Love, Traffic and Courage Under Fire. He is second to no one when it comes to balancing a historical event with action-drama entertainment. Edward Zwick is one of few L.A. directors who still works within the Hollywood establishment yet is able to put out good quality film.
Check out Blood Diamond, your "bling" may never look the same again.
Not perfect - but well worth re-visiting a time in American history
Back in June 1968, I was just 13 and living in the tropics when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. The occurrence happened within minutes of him winning the California presidential primary. At that age and location, I can honestly say, I have no idea what I was doing when RFK was shot.
The film Bobby is the creation of Emilio Estevez who wrote, directed and has a supporting role. The entire story is set at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel on the final day of Kennedy's life. Approximately 20 characters, all guests, campaign workers or hotel staff provide fictional mini-stories for much of the screenplay. The drama is laced with original footage of Bobby's run for president. There are images of him interacting with people of various economic, ethnic and racial backgrounds, while appearing to be quite comfortable and sincere with his surroundings.
Early in the film, I found myself having difficulty transitioning from grainy, nearly 40-year- old footage to fresh clean shots of the 5 or more story lines. Eventually, that passes and two or three of the stories find depth and grab my interests. The film is loaded with well-known actors all giving acceptable performances. The stand-outs are Laurence Fishburne, a senior member of the kitchen staff. There is also Sharon Stone, who with or without the proper undergarments has never impressed me. She delivers the film's best performance while doing, hair, nails and make-up in the hotel's beauty shop.
Estevez does a nice job transforming me to this period in history when America was wrestling with Vietnam War casualties, and anti-war protests, the Civil Rights Movement, class and social struggles and the recent 2-month earlier killing of MLK Jr. All this leads to the eventual murder of Bobby by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan.
The film concludes with the audio track of a marvelous speech by Bobby Kennedy as we view footage of the times, and the results of the assassination on the multiple actors in the film.
Bobby is not a flawless film but for anyone around my age or younger, this film will touch your heart and give a new perspective to the many who still say, "I remember what I was doing when "
Casa de Areia (2005)
A wonderful 60-year mother/daughter journey
Casa de Areia, better known in English speaking countries by the title, House of Sand, is a magnificently shot film of three generations of mothers and daughters covering a 60-year struggle to fulfill a dream.
The story is set in an isolated white dessert dunes in the northern Brazil . The beautiful sand swells become characters in the film as they change with time. The landscape is heightened when sapphire waters speckle the dunes as far as one can see.
In 1910, this seldom visited locale is the place where Vasco brings his younger wife, Aurea (Fernanda Torres) and her mother, Dona Maria (Fernanda Montenegro ) to settle and build a homestead. Before long, Vasco dies leaving his pregnant wife and mother-in-law trapped in a place they cannot escape.
Montenegro, who in 1999, was nominated for Best Actress for her role in the international film, Central Station, once again shows how one can communicate so much without saying a word. At one point in this film she leaves and returns to play her own daughter who is now grown and has an adult child. Her widowed daughter also trades places to play that adult child. All this might sound confusing but its not. The film evolves through many years at a pace which creates a comfort level allowing you to accept these women as they transition through each role. The depth of the relationships between the two are so entwined on screen you find it easier to understand knowing they are real-life mother and daughter.
Casa de Areia takes you on a journey you are happy to be a part of. It's a journey, although difficult at times, that is well worth the adventure and an adventure never performed in American cinema.
The Queen (2006)
Mirren is amazing as the Queen of England
It didn't take long after meeting my wife to find she was an admirer of Princess Diana. Considering Diana's good looks, fashion sense, humanitarian work and popularity it was easy to understand her worldwide appeal.
With that in mind, on a weekend morning in August 1997, I crawled out of bed, turned on the "telly" to hear breaking news of a major car accident involving Lady Di in Paris. Knowing my wife would never forgive me for not waking her up, - I did. For the remainder of that morning and early afternoon we sat glued to our television trying to gain whatever information became available.
This film is an intimate look at how the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II, had difficulty juggling her personal sentiments, royal tradition, and the feelings of her British subjects as the death of Lady Diana stuns all of England and the world.
I'm no expert on British royalty, however Helen Mirren* blew me away as the Queen. Her presence, her stiff upper lip, quiet grace, and overall royal behavior were pleasing to watch. She was able to manage this difficult role yet show a Queen who is not perfect, but was able to realize that fact and adjust to the needs of her people.
Mirren's performance is already generating lots of Oscar talk about a nod for Best Actress in a Leading role. After watching this film, I would have to agree.
Death of a President (2006)
A good film, don't let the title keep you away
This film, Death of a President had been labeled "controversial" long before the product hit U.S. shores. British director and co-writer, Gabriel Range first introduced his film on U.K. television, and later at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the International Critic's prize. This film has been given limited release in U.S.
This docudrama opens with preparation for a presidential visit and speech at a Chicago hotel. You get a glimpse of the president's speech writer and an individual heading the Secret Service as they position themselves and prepare to protect the Commander in Chief. You get brief looks at large groups of protesters waiting in the streets to welcome the President.
And just like the title says - the President dies. All that happens in the first 20-minutes. The remaining 70-minutes of this film carefully details the hunt and investigation to find the killer. The impact on two minority families who may or may not be associated with the event. You see how an ethnic group becomes suspect and how hundreds are picked up for questioning. You get a peek at how the world receives the event and how the current phrases "terror attack" and "Al-Quida" are tossed into the mix.
The film is frightening because each and every scene is plausible. It's tightly written, directed and edited. The actors, who range from a close assistant to the President and First Lady to a spouse who may never see their innocent partner again, are all excellently cast.
Contrary to popular belief, Death of a President does not advocate the killing of a leader; instead it takes a credible look at America and the possible events following such an occurrence.
Trust me - this one you don't want to miss.
She stood against Hitler's regime
This film is based on a true story about Sophie Schroll, a student at the University of Munich where both she and her brother are charged with distributing anti-Nazi literature in 1943. They are captured, interrogated, tried and sentenced. The film focuses on Sophie and her steadfast defiance against Hitler's Nazi regime.
Sophie is a hero in Germany. Her stand against Hitler's march across Europe and incredible bravery will have you questioning what you would do in her circumstance.
At 21 years of age, Sophie has more courage in her smallest finger than I have during my half-century on this earth.
Don't miss it!
*This film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Why We Fight (2005)
Eisenhower was right
In 1961 during his exit speech, President Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans of the dangers of a "military-industrial complex". The documentary "Why We Fight" focuses on this topic. This film is not a "docudrama" like election year's "Fahrenheit 9/11" but rather an extremely serious, eye-opening look at the Pentagon, its military suppliers, congress and the role our past and present administrations have played in supporting the "complex". The film details how the complex plays a huge role in why our U.S. leadership manufactures motives to go to war. The title "Why We Fight" comes from a series of 1942-1945 propaganda films leading to and through WWII.
If you have interest in why our government systematically continues to flex its military authority "Why We Fight" is a film you don't want to miss.
*This film won the 2005 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Lackawanna Blues (2005)
Merkerson is amazing
Every once in a while a film comes along with characters we all know and love. A film where you see people you know portrayed on screen. It's cinema very at its best.
Lackawanna Blues is that film. Set in 1960s upstate New York, the story surrounds a rock- solid woman, who is the foundation for her community. This, based on a true story film, is told from a child she accepted as her own. This child, Ruben Santiago-Hudson wrote the screenplay.
*Emmy winner, S. Epatha Merkerson stars as Nanny, a woman who has wit, drive and determination for helping others in her boarding home. She does this as she wrestles with infidelity from her young lover, Bill Crosby, played by the **Oscar nominated Terrence Howard.
But make no mistake; see this film for the amazing performance of Merkerson, who is brilliant in this role. She encompasses a person we have all known, and perhaps love.
Lackawanna Blues is already on DVD; be sure to pick it up at your local video story today.
*Merkerson has already won an Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild for this role.
**Howard has an Oscar nomination for his role in Hustle & Flow.