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Saint Maud (2019)
9/10
Spell-binding; female driven thriller in male dominated genre
15 September 2019
"Tis better to be that which we destroy," claimed Macbeth "than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." A young Christian hospice nurse, Maud, struggles with this notion when she is charged with taking care of cancer stricken Amanda. The pair are opposites save for arrogance and self-righteousness. "Nothing worth trying comes easy" is Maud's mantra, yet she gains little traction with Amanda. In doubt, desperation and loneliness, Maud doubles down on her distorted beliefs and spirals out of control.

This tense and spell-binding film employs compelling techniques including pulse quickening ambient sound, funnel clouds that mirror Maud's disordered state of mind, sideways and upside-down camerawork to portray drunken delirium and more. A female perspective in this male-dominated genre is refreshing and fascinating. Morfydd Clark (Maud) and Jennifer Ehle (Amanda) are fantastic in their portrayals. An intriguing bit of information was revealed in the question and answer session after the film's shocking conclusion; Morfydd is Welsh and when she appears to speak in tongues, she is actually speaking Welsh that is slowed down enough to be almost unrecognizable. The production crew was careful not to dwell in one location so the setting might appear to be anywhere. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
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7/10
The outside world is fraught with peril, but also with joy
14 September 2019
Seconda is gripped with acute agoraphobia and has not left home in nine months. Her clingy parents encouraged the situation to begin with, yet with Seconda approaching middle age they realize that they held on to her too tight. Unfortunately, they can't raise her twice. When mom dies and dad disappears, Seconda is left to face her own demons. Attempting to connect to the outside world is fraught with peril, but also eased by joy.

Despite some unsettling circumstances, Love Me Tender carries a heartwarming message that we have more in common with others than we initially believe. I loved how Seconda turned her weaknesses into strengths. I loved what the film has to say about mental health. We are all a little batty and the unfortunate circumstances of others demands compassion not harsh judgments. While the delivery of the film theme leaves something to be desired in terms of acting and depth, the omissions may be forgiven considering the film's limited resources. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
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6/10
Spectacular and Terrifying
13 September 2019
A meteorite strikes earth, carries with it some powerful extraterrestrial influences and transforms its environment in spectacular and terrifying ways. The worst fears and weaknesses of each person it reaches are manifested in ways peculiar to them.

This HP Lovecraft story includes some of the best, well-crafted CGI I have yet seen. Nicolas Cage stars and performs well in his characteristic unhinged way. Color Out of Space includes a faithful portrayal of whippoorwills, which I hear in Ontario on Gillies Lake and so I vouch for the faithfulness of the depiction. I wish for depth in dialogue and acting. Filmed on location in Portugal. The director and all the actors were present and responded to audience questions at this world premiere at the Toronto international film festival.
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Ema (2019)
9/10
Flame Thrower
11 September 2019
A traffic light burns late at night in Valparaiso. This strange opening scene sets an unusual and colorful tone for the rest of Ema. Gradually it is understood how the light caught fire. Mysterious undercurrents and unusual passions swirl in human hearts. Dialogue, setting, music, dance scenes and characters follow similar rhythms and are typified most by Ema herself. She is a ball of fire. Energetic, devious and unpredictable, she prowls the streets of Valparaiso seeking sparks to reignite her damaged marriage, abandonment of her adopted son, struggling dance career and volatile self.

Sometimes there is no script. This is true in acting as well as life. According to Pablo Larrain at the Toronto international film festival, the actors received plot cues only at the last minute. Fluidity and dynamism were the results. The actors explored a new language. Traditional boundaries were also pushed with sexuality, family, the atmospheric and hypnotic music, dance and more. The film toys with notions of what is feminine and masculine. Mariana di Girolamo (Ema) is perfect for the role. Gael Garcia Bernal (Ema's hubby Gaston) is reunited with Pablo Larrain (nominated for three Oscars for the film Jackie). While I prefer thought and depth to the dialogue, the non-scripted acting achieves some intriguing results. The Valparaiso scenery is as thrilling as Mariana di Girolamo.
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9/10
Great Character, Bad Companions
19 August 2019
Dreams prove the existence of the soul, but absent brains there is not a soul to keep. In this 50-year-old true story Rapayet is a self-made and independent man wooing a young woman, Zaida, from the Wayuu tribe of North Colombia. With the help of connections and a large quantity of weed, Rapayet gains a girl. He is respectful, gentle, wise and opportunistic. Unfortunately, his companions are not. Greed and carelessness combine with a headstrong mother-in-law to contend with Rapayet's good intentions.

From the creators of the academy award nominated The Embrace of the Serpent, Birds of Passage takes this cartel tale to unexpected places. For instance when I expected a night attack on Rapayet, instead there is a serenade. Truth is stranger than fiction. The blend of professional and non-professional actors works out well. It is extremely interesting to see Wayuu customs and traditions clash with technology and money. The film-makers are adept at this sort of portrayal. I wish the title, its accompanying theme and the dream sequences were developed further. There was some good banter between characters, but there should have been more depth here too. Overall a fascinating and visually appealing glimpse at Wayuu ways and intriguing characters.
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9/10
To Fear and To Love
14 August 2019
A train departs a station in 1974 and two lovers, Irene and Benjamin, part before they come together. "Te mo" is to fear and "te amo" is to love. Love and fear at the same moment. This multi-layered, rich, brutal and beautiful film revolves around this dichotomy in many ways.

Decades after the train left the station, Benjamin is unhappily retired from a prosecutor's office. He does not like what he sees in the mirror. An unsolved case, a savage rape and murder, weighs heavily on his mind, as does Irene. Benjamin and Irene worked on the case together and as it unraveled, so did they. So with more purposes than one, Benjamin resumes investigating the murder. New discoveries and different perspectives instill hope in Benjamin for solving the mysteries and memories that haunt him. People may change but their passions don't.

The justice system is not clean or simple in any country, and this brilliant film reveals how complex and ugly it can be. The Secret in Their Eyes seamlessly combines multiple genres including crime thriller, romance and drama. There is appealing depth to the story, characters, themes, acting and photography. The characters, for example, are not one dimensional. They are vulnerable, make mistakes, regret choices and, in sum, are fully human. Themes revolve around memories, justice, love, vengeance and more. Soledad Villamil (Irene) and Ricardo Darín (Benjamin) perform amazingly well together. The chemistry is palpable. The film won the Academy Award for best foreign language film.
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8/10
You Are Who You Choose to Be
4 August 2019
You are who you choose to be. Some sort of rocket falls from space along the Maine coast in 1957. A gigantic robot emerges and cuts a swath through the boreal forest on the way to a small town. It could be a weapon of the Soviets, a monster, an alien invader bent on destroying the earth, and more. When the iron giant encounters in its path a nine-year-old boy, Hogarth, it displays gentleness, keen intelligence and the innocence of a child. Hogarth is not the only one, of course, who knows about the robot. A fearful, negative and self-centered government agent attempts to corner the iron giant and triggers some adverse and alarming reactions. As the US Army responds, the robot and boy have only each other to turn to.

While this animated feature is simple and straightforward in appearance, it carries a profound and touching message. There are many people who want you to live in a box they built for themselves, full of fear and negativity, yet we should decide for ourselves who we want to be. Even Superman or Superwoman are not out of reach, as the Iron Giant reveals. Brad Bird, one of the inspirations behind the rising Pixar Studio, reveals in this film why he is worth a damn. The film has depth, heart, soul and humor.
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10/10
Rite of Passage for Young Woman
4 August 2019
With the lights of a city full of indifferent and preoccupied people below, a young witch makes her way across the night sky on a broom with her cat. While Kiki has magical powers and is not a normal thirteen-year-old girl, she feels the same pangs of loneliness, isolation and disillusionment as anyone else. Kiki's path is a rite of passage that everyone makes, or should make, in their lives.

Bathed in the light of the full moon, confident, smiling and stout of heart, Kiki begins her journey from home in good form. She finds a promising town by the ocean just as she hoped. What is unexpected is for people to be unkind to her. Kiki's powers wax and wane depending on her emotional state. The more listless and jaded she becomes, the more she risks being shunned and becoming a perpetual outsider. However, there are those who appreciate her charm and unique gifts and accept her for who she is. Through kindness, laughter, and looking inside herself for inspiration, Kiki blazes a path towards independence and serenity.

The luminous light blue sea, colorful wildflowers, reflections in windows, the glow of streetlamps, shadows, fashionable clothes (for the 80s), the way the wind moves tree branches, moonlight and other realistic and fanciful details characteristic of Studio Ghibli are here. The impressive depth does not end with the quality of the animation. Fantastic revelations about human nature, compelling themes, delightful sounds of birds, crickets and wind, the supportive view of animals, artists and the natural world, the foreign intrigue and more, all add to the thrill of the film. Above all there is no superficial feeling about the film despite its fanciful nature. For all its lofty achievements it is down to earth and just plain enjoyable. Surprisingly Stockholm serves as artistic inspiration for the animators. Kiki's story is based on a children's book by Eiko Kadono.
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8/10
Food and Relationships are Much Alike
4 August 2019
Preparing food is a lot like making and sustaining relationships; mixing hot and cold, balancing flavors, starting with good ingredients or not, being creative, adding spice and trying new things without losing identity and soul.

A master chef and his trio of mature and live-at-home daughters are each single, unattached and in a funk. Despite living under one roof they move in separate spheres and hardly communicate. Only Sunday dinners, painstakingly made by the father, bind them together. Passions flare as each family member finds themselves on the cusp of a new relationship. Ingredients long held in deep freeze are brought to the boiling point, disparate flavors combine, and the results are unexpected and startling. The point is to savor the dish and not interfere with the cook making it, for we hardly know enough to prepare our own meal much less those of other people.

Director Ang Lee is a master at metaphor and stewing passions. Even at this early stage in his career you may witness his power and prowess in such respects. A warning: do not watch this film on an empty stomach, for the cooking scenes will make your mouth water and whatever is in your pantry - be it raw flour or curry powder - will certainly be consumed in a fit of madness and feeding frenzy.
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10/10
Vastly Underestimated Gem
11 March 2019
Snowfall on the streets of New York City on the eve of the new year 1958 is both magical and devastating. A crestfallen executive, Norville, stands high on the edge of an office tower looking to jump. Before taking the final step there is a flashback to his arrival in the city and an account of what led Norville to this extreme. It is the story of crashed stock, broken hearts, con jobs, bullying and a rat race that could consume such a vulnerable soul, yet also the uncommon passion, big ideas, childlike trust and awkward insight that might save him. Truths uncovered by Amy, an enterprising reporter, will confirm that Norville is either wise or an imbecile, but first she needs to confront some uncomfortable truths about herself.

This folksy, endearing, funny, romantic and magical film is vastly underestimated and one of my favorites. Failure threatens to lure Norville to despair, but fortunately this box office bomb did not lead the Coens to such a fate. It boggles my mind to think where the Coens went awry, for the Hudsucker Proxy is full of intriguing characters from Norville and Amy to Buzz the elevator boy. Cinematographer Roger Deakins provides ethereal dreamscapes of snowfall in the big city and the hissing machinery of a manufacturing behemoth. The remarkable and beautiful studio images created by Deakins are much better than even the surprising views delivered by modern drones. Tim Robbins (Norville), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Amy)and Paul Newman do not fail to entertain. The out-of-the-box dialogue genius and imaginative scenes we come to expect from the Coens are present here. The film captures the 1950s feeling and Americana so well. There are enduring themes revolving around the meaning of success, vanity, looking inside yourself, and more. What made Forrest Gump, released the same year and with similar characters and storylines, such a spectacular success (it earned 50 times more than this film)? The Hudsucker Proxy was criticized for not taking itself seriously, but there is magic here if the film is given space to work. If you haven't already, give the Hudsucker Proxy a second chance, just as Norville deserves.
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9/10
an enemy of an enemy is a friend
28 February 2019
At first glance Lisbeth and Mikael have nothing in common. The former is a shady tattooed young hacker with an explosive temper and the latter is a nerdy traditional journalist and family man with a penchant for jogging in the woods to ease a troubled mind. Despite their differences, Lisbeth and Mikael collide in more ways than one. As Mikael investigates an unsolved murder perpetrated 40 years ago in a remote northern town, he quickly wades in over his head. Lisbeth's skillset could be helpful to Mikael, but since cooperation isn't her style he had better hope there is truth to the old saying; an enemy of an enemy is a friend.

Produced at a mere $13 million, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo became a worldwide sensation which returned ten times that amount. It did a number of things right including turning the crime thriller genre on its head, frequent role reversals, unpredictability, compelling characters that hit rock bottom and claw their way back, casting the talented Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, and more. There is depth without pretentiousness. Old school thrills come in modern packaging. Nothing is as it seems ("fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air," - Macbeth). Intriguing themes include trusting instincts, redemption and determining the appropriate punishment for evil deeds. There are flashes of disturbing and brutal violence and rape.

For the Brits it was the best film NOT in the English language. The Swedish version of the film is more authentic and realistic than the latter Hollywood adaptation. For one thing, Michael Nyqvist is more vulnerable and believable as Mikael than strapping Daniel Craig. The Hollywood version, despite such drawbacks, is still worthwhile as it includes interesting plot twists and is very stylish. The film is based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.
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8/10
Darkness Swallows Boy and Could Consume Girl
21 January 2019
A little owl calling in the night, the murmur of the wind as it moves through the forest and the light of the moon in the water. They communicate somehow; this boy who vanished without a trace and the girl, Luna, who gave her heart and refuses to forget him. As days turn into months, life in Luna's remote village returns to normal, but she does not. The same darkness that swallowed the boy could consume the girl.

Based on real life, Sicilian Ghost Story provides a vision of Italy at odds with a typical and simplistic glimpse of the country. Dreams become tangible and humans communicate in supernatural ways, among other abnormal things. The camera itself descends into water and characters are viewed at odd angles and in strange light. The opening of the film, glimmers of light and eerie ambient sounds in a cave combined with ghostly electronic tones, is especially good. It sets the stage for the unexpected, peculiar and dark story. While some scenes are awkward and slow moving the film is as fascinating and extraordinary as ancient Roman columns by the sea. Sicilian Ghost Story surfaced at Cannes in 2017 and is available in Netflix "saved jail."
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8/10
Riveting and Emotional Performance by Emma
15 January 2019
High Court judge Fiona Maye is meticulous, brief and extremely well prepared. Deviances from established protocol or the issue at hand are not tolerated for a moment. Jolts to Fiona's ordered and complex world come in the forms of a restless, bored spouse and a young man, Adam, on the verge of dying because the religious doctrine of his parents will not allow the blood transfusion he desperately needs. Inner turmoil and pent up emotions cause Fiona to act out of character and the consequences are swift and severe both in Adam's case and Fiona's personal life. In darkness and despair Fiona searches for a jewel she can hang onto.

Emma Thompson (Fiona) is amazing. Her riveting and emotional performance carries the film and moved me in ways I didn't imagine. The film title is a bit misleading. Despite reading a review in advance, I still thought the primary theme would be something of a documentary of the development or implementation of the Children Act and therefore something of a snoozeapalooza. It is nothing of the sort. While it does concern the Children Act, it is mostly a character driven drama. Any realistic portrayal of a country's justice system should be accompanied by a snooze alert, but this film is realistic enough without drifting into the realm of dreamland. The film is based on a book by Ian McEwan.
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8/10
Complicated Machinery of Justice
15 January 2019
Justice is more a role of the dice than we expect.

Fresh from a third murder and freely admitting the crime, Misumi is in a surprising state of calm when first speaking to his defense attorney Shigemori. This strange behavior combines with inconsistent testimony and shifting motives to give Shigemori an unsettling feeling about his client. "Don't waste your time trying to figure him out," Shigemori is warned "let him get what he deserves." But this does not sit well with him either. Instead Shigemori attempts to understand Misumi and indulge his changing whims. Perhaps in this way they can get to the truth and the real heart of the matter.

The machinery of justice is complicated, time consuming and unwieldy. Finding the truth is more difficult than imagined. Justice is often by default. The Third Murder explores how futures are decided for people with little heed to what is done by, for and against them. The insight into the Japanese justice system is intriguing. Wonderful acting is complemented by creative camera work. There are frequent and beneficial pauses that give space for reflections and to soothing ambient sounds such as the wind in the tree branches. Still, some scenes are difficult to figure out even after turning them over in my mind continuously.
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9/10
Justice is a Fragile Balance
7 January 2019
Judgment is a monster that can scarcely be seen, much less fought. It cuts inward as well as outward.

Beth is on the rebound after a long prison sentence and attempting to regain custody of a young son from her sister. Jess provides discount legal counsel to those who otherwise could not afford it. Her antagonists include hot-headed clients, a haughty judge and, most notably, a disapproving mother. Peter is discovering that the war in Afghanistan was just the beginning of his world being turned upside down. Each character grapples with temper, temptation, the cruelty of others and the cold, vice-like talons of judgment. To get the results they deserve and achieve harmony from dissonance, Beth, Peter and Jess may need to lighten their reactions, or to strike fast and hard. Justice in any case is a fragile balance.

Who We Are Now is totally enthralling. It manages to be witty without being pretentious. The characters, aided by fine acting, defy expectations and are suitably multi-faceted and intriguing. The film offers profound insight into the American justice system as well as the human heart, the foundation and life line of the entire system. Underlying the film is the belief that we are capable of change. It will keep you thinking long after the screen dims.
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The Wrestler (2008)
9/10
Craving the Roar of the Crowd
19 December 2018
The roar of the crowd is something that pro wrestler Randy "the Ram" craves, but decades past his prime, it is not nearly enough to pay the bills. Evicted from a trailer home, working long hours at a grocery deli counter, alienated from relatives and addicted to expensive and lethal cocktails of synthetic hormones, pain killers, alcohol and blow, Randy has one foot in the grave. When the inevitable heart attack finally comes, the Ram is warned to avoid any strenuous activity. Remarkably, Randy takes in stride what to him should be a death sentence. He sets his mind up to make amends with his estranged daughter, woo the woman of his dreams (a kind-hearted stripper in denial), and give up the sport he loves. As the Ram, Randy endures severe beatings, razor blade cuts and staple gun wounds all over his body, among lesser evils, but the real world just might be tougher than this.

A killer story, career-resurrecting performance by Mickey Rourke, and amazing support by Marisa Tomei (Randy's love interest), help make this film one of the most beloved sports films of all time. What happens to the Ram is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking, for Randy is charming and likeable even as he wallows in well-deserved pain and ignominy. The film is colorful and beautiful in form, it flows well from one scene to the next, and each of the characters is recognizable, relevant, balanced, unpredictable and, unlike many sports films, closer to the all too human truth.
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8/10
Battle of the Creeps
14 December 2018
Rich and corruptible women in Beaumont-sur-Mer keep Lawrence (Michael Caine) busy and profitable. He is a sophisticated and experienced con man with a reliable support network that provides intelligence, cover stories and a steady stream of targets. When Freddy (Steve Martin), a rude and simple-minded American con-artist, moves into the territory, Lawrence has a lot of trouble trying to get rid of this unwelcome competition. In a wager, the loser of which agrees to leave town, Freddy and Lawrence both set their sights on a rich and vulnerable female tourist who just got off the plane from America. The two endearing and creative scoundrels pretend to be a wide variety of characters including European royalty, a world-famous German psychologist, an Australian military man and a handicapped war veteran in desperate need of an operation, to try to defeat each other once and for all.

After seeing the film for the second time and with 30 years between showings, I am pleased to say it lost nothing of its humor and vitality. The story is captivating and humorous on its own, but Steve Martin and Michael Caine are the heart and soul of the film and take it up so many levels. Excellent casting! It is entertaining to see the film just to watch them interact. The scene with Caine whacking Martin's legs that Martin is trying so hard to pretend are paralyzed, I laughed so hard I could barely breath. "He's so happy he's crying!" The Caine/Martin chemistry more than makes up for the soundtrack that would give "Punky Brewster the Movie" a bad name!

One bad thing about the film is that the creators want you to believe, generally, that women are gullible and can't take care of themselves. If you buy that notion then you are more likely to be buy into the film. Hopefully the places where people instantly buy into that premise are becoming few and far between.
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9/10
Creative Genius & Remarkable Imagination
5 December 2018
18th Century artillery from an invading Turkish sultan's army intermittently pummels a besieged European coastal city. During lulls in the bombardment people gather in a theater to try to forget their troubles and to revel in the stories of the adventures of the mythical Baron Munchausen. Tonight is different however. An old man claiming to be the Baron and the cause of the war, creates a disturbance on stage. Noxious city authorities dismiss the man as a deluded old fool, but something hopeful and magical about him inspires people to believe he is telling the truth. Competing versions of reality vie for the attention of the war weary populace as the "real" Baron sets out to defy not only the sultan and the town's disbelievers, but death itself. Those on his side include a trio of beautiful ladies, a little terrier and a mischievous yet plucky little girl.

Thirty years after its release and the creative genius and remarkable imagination of this film defies the advent of CGI and stands the test of time. Gilliam's bizarre yet prescient, colorful and extraordinary vision equals the best of machine and human artistry alike. A love and respect for stories and their transformative power continues to shine as well. The career reviving performance of Jonathan Neville as the Baron also helps make this film a gem to behold. Neville is assisted ably by a young Sarah Polley, Robin Williams, Uma Thurman and even a brief appearance by Sting, among others. Watching this film you cannot help but be infected by its upbeat and buoyant spirit. The film did not do so well in terms of profits, but thankfully such a thing is not the sole arbiter of a film's worth.
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8/10
Filling in the Blanks; Life of Shakespeare
3 December 2018
In London of 1593 an ambitious and talented young poet, Will, needs inspiration, characters, plot and muse for the romance he is writing. He finds everything and more in the shape of Viola, a mysterious and beautiful noblewoman in search of adventure, poetry and love. Viola, in turn, finds what she seeks in Will. When a jealous rival for Viola's affections, writers block, mistaken identities, a theater owner with a large debt to pay, and the Queen of England threaten to thwart the two lovers, Will begins to make up the story - what we now know as Romeo and Juliet - as things go along. Fact and fiction then combine, and it is hard to tell one from the other in this "misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms, feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, and still-waking sleep." (Romeo and Juliet)

Shakespeare in Love ingeniously and indelicately adds touches of humanity, humor, intrigue and, of course, romance to the often stale and very limited facts that are known about Shakespeare's life and the history of Romeo and Juliet. In making Shakespeare fresh and interesting to a wider audience, and reading between the lines, the film won seven Academy Awards including best picture, actress, supporting actress, writing, music, art/set decoration and costume design. I loved all the nods to Shakespeare's actual work and true history. Gwyneth Paltrow, vivacious and charming, fits the character of Viola perfectly. Judi Dench plays the role of the sharp, caustic and quick-witted Queen Elizabeth equally well. Other A list actors include Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck and Rupert Everett. It baffles the mind that this achieved an "R" rating!
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The Guardians (2017)
9/10
Nontraditional Female World War I Characters
2 December 2018
Roles for women in First World War films are usually restricted to lovers left behind, grieving mothers or romantic trysts. Here the camera lingers on different female characters who fought a different kind of war.

Hortense and her daughter Solange are running a farm in the absence of male relatives. Desperate for a farmhand, Hortense reluctantly hires an orphan, Francine, who turns out to be perfect for the job. Amiable, responsible and a hard worker, everyone loves her. But they love her too much, for jealousy raises its ugly head. The family, out of fear that she might not love them as much as they love her, drives Francine away. Francine initially takes it in stride, as she habitually does, singing, writing, working, not giving up on love, and happy despite adversity. It is then that Francine discovers she is pregnant which could lead her back to the family farm, deeper in misfortune, or something beyond both.

The Guardians is a unique, unexpected and fascinating take on World War I. The feeling of just how good it is builds and near the ending it hit me like a sudden and strong wind. I loved watching and listening to Francine sing so happily, despite her pain. It gives meaning to Shakespeare's words; "when we for recompense have praised the vile, it stains the glory in that happy verse which aptly sings the good." The Guardians includes fantastic cinematography, wonderful wardrobes and stellar performances, especially by the leads. The front line of the war and the tragic sacrifice of soldiers there, looms in the background as one of the sub themes. Recently available on Netflix.
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Transit (I) (2018)
9/10
Can a man tell a woman the dirty truth to save his life?! Stay tuned to find out!
17 November 2018
A new regime is cracking down on immigrants, hard. Georg is not an immigrant, so he is not worried. This is until immigrants are lumped together with those the regime doesn't like. Random people are arrested and herded into buildings. Later there are traces of blood. "Order must be maintained," it is said. Now even Georg is scared. He assumes another man's identity and flees. Along the way he is bound to meet Marie, the wife of the man whose identity Georg just took. When he falls for Marie, Georg is in a real bind. Marie can't leave without her husband, Georg can't leave without Marie, and, of course, horror upon horrors, a man can't reveal his true identity nor tell the truth that he is a scoundrel to the woman he loves! Or can he?!

Transit deftly and artfully turns the tables and provides fresh perspectives on a number of compelling subjects. To begin with, it combines present and past, specifically World War II, so that it is unclear which is which. On the immigration issue, Germans are beholden to the Mexican government for transit passports. Regarding the relations between men and women, a man has to admit he is wrong before he can escape severe harm and/or death. We all know how that turns out, LOL! These are just some of the juicy themes of Transit. It is delightfully deep and could leave you mulling things over long after the film ending, as in my case, about the various meanings and connections to the world and yourself.

Such a hell as an ethnic cleansing, which looms in the background of Transit but without the graphic details, can happen anytime and anywhere. I know this is true, for just recently I viewed the bullet scared and burnt remains of homes in Croatia that used to belong to friendly neighbors.

Transit is a little disorganized and the police round-ups are awkward and unrealistic, but the film really is alluring and mind-bending as a whole. It also improves with time. From reading a bad review, I was expecting something different. Transit is based on a novel by Anna Seghers. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
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JT LeRoy (2018)
8/10
A Real-life Avatar
15 November 2018
"The truth," said Oscar Wilde "is rarely pure and never simple." This is the case in the true story and stranger than fiction tale of Savannah, a real life avatar for the fictional author JT LeRoy. When JT writes a best seller about his life as a gender mysterious truck stop sex worker, there is intense pressure for the author to reveal himself. Savannah (Kristen Stewart) is convinced by her sister-in-law, the real author, to pose as JT. Savannah does this well, in fact too well. She plays JT for years, falls in love as JT, and the story gets to the Cannes film festival before Savannah is outed as a fraud. But JT is loved for giving people the freedom to be whoever they want and to explore the darker regions of the human experience, and such will never die. Sometimes lies are truer than the truth.

JT LeRoy is fascinating and relevant because everyone, to one extent or another, wears masks and no one is really who they say they are. The film explores how something like JT could happen, primarily with regard to Savannah, and the ramifications for the people involved. Stewart does a wonderful job in the role. Surprisingly, 90% of the film was shot in Winnipeg. Savannah and Justin Kelly attended the same Toronto international film festival showing that I did.
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Maya (I) (2018)
9/10
The Wild, Exotic Heart of India
14 November 2018
Just released from captivity in Syria, Gabriel abandons everything he knows, including his wife, to return to a childhood home in Goa, India. He is intent upon becoming something other than a victim and regaining a positive outlook on life. The beatings and torture Gabriel suffered pale in comparison to the guilt and helplessness he feels. Mixing with crowds along the ocean shore, the pulse of the dance clubs and the beautiful people within, tropical breezes, moped rides at night, the rising sun, and the wild, exotic heart of India, help him to heal. The clincher is Maya, the college-aged daughter of his godfather. Love is within reach, but Gabriel is hesitant. "You have to know what you want," he dismissively tells the younger woman. That soft voice in the night calling out his name, is it Maya or the return of guilt and fear?

Maya is shot mostly on location in India. The country around Goa is beautiful and Hansen-Løve has a knack for including the landscape in the narrative. The acting and romantic chemistry are as hot as the country. I quite agree with the philosophy of Gabriel, immersing myself in nature and out of the ordinary terrains and people, to restore balance and well-being. Dialogue depth is lacking, but overall an intriguing and resplendent film. Mia Hansen-Løve is the director of Things to Come and Eden. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
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Teen Spirit (2018)
9/10
powerful, genuine and electrifying
13 November 2018
Open-mic night on the Isle of Wight, singing to her horse and dancing alone in her room, shy 17 year old Violet (Elle Fanning) needs a lot of luck to become the pop star of her dreams. But according to Vlad, the sole person that claps for Violet on open-mic night, luck has nothing to do with her talent. A former opera singer and famous in Croatia, Vlad just might know what he is talking about. With Vlad encouraging Violet to work on her breathing and range of voice, and despite thinly veiled threats from Violet's single mom as well as from competing singers, the odd duo enters a televised musical talent program called Teen Spirit. "Sing from your heart" says Vlad "it's your soul and spirit that people will see." Helpful advice, but a lot of people want to tell Violet what to do and she does not know who to trust.

Despite a wee bit of predictability, Teen Spirit is powerful, genuine and electrifying. Fanning is ideal for the part. Her moods, alternating from hopeful to despair, are perfectly compatible with her character as well as the ups and downs of the story. The music and singing are wonderful too. "I am dancing on my own, right over here," Violet sings "why can't you see me?!" All I wish for is a little more depth to the dialogue. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
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Hidden Man (2018)
8/10
fast paced, funny, creative, playful & romantic
13 November 2018
A real man never boasts, but speaks from the heart. 100 years ago a young man, Li, who follows this advice, narrowly escapes being shot, a burning home and certain death. Unfortunately his relations are not so lucky. Adopted by an American father and raised to be a fighter and spy, Li relishes the chance to return to China and avenge the murders. It is the 1930s and the situation is made more complicated by the Japanese occupation. While Li speaks from his heart and is a good man, it is not certain - even to him - where his loyalty lies; to mission, vendetta or, upon meeting beautiful women, love.

Hidden Man is fast paced, funny, creative, playful, romantic and sexy in addition to being an martial arts action film. The stunts and twists in the plot are varied and unexpected. The creative, refreshing and ingenious film makers employ decoys, historical touchstones, competing interests, biking on rooftops, prominent roles for women, grenades and other surprise weapons, medical references, throwbacks to classic action films and more. Despite showing marks of censorship (hardly showing any skin, for example) and proceeding too fast at times, Hidden Man is thrilling and fun to watch. It is the final film of a trilogy. Seen at the Toronto international film festival.
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