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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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Serdtse mira (2018)
8/10
Veterinarian Between Two Worlds
12 November 2018
Core of the World (in English) - In the fir and spruce forest of a remote region a young veterinarian, Egor, struggles to keep a mauled dog from dying. He is employed, housed and fed by Nikolai, a breeder of foxes and dogs, who recommends that Egor look for other employment if he is so keen on saving the dog. But Egor persists anyway, gaining the sympathy of Nikolai's daughter Dasha in the process. Terrified of intimacy, keeping his emotions bottled up inside, and preferring the company of animals to people, Egor seems not only incapable of giving Dasha anything in return, but a danger to himself. When animal rights activists inadvertently harm the foxes, Egor becomes alarmingly unhinged.

I am drawn to these stories of loners who sit precariously on the edge of human society, where reality and fantasy blur. It is a wonderful theme, compellingly told, with capable acting and beautiful boreal forest scenery. It could use better dialogue, but altogether it is intriguing and satisfying. Seen at the 2018 Toronto international film festival.
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Touch Me Not (I) (2018)
8/10
Daring, Personal & Raw
11 November 2018
How you were loved reveals how you love. Since guilt and fear often get in the way, Touch Me Not explores the real experiences of some who set out to widen their horizons, break conventions and confront prejudices. "With maybe 15 to 20 years of good health" one asks, "do I want to continue as I am living?" The film explores different perspectives on human relationships and opens new doors and possibilities of body and mind.

Daring, personal and raw, Touch Me Not proceeds in voyeur-like fashion and invites dialogue about intimacy. Winner of golden bear at the Berlin film festival. North American premiere seen at the 2018 Toronto international film festival.
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6/10
Imaginative, Original and Refreshing
11 November 2018
In a parallel universe of the not so distant future a lone young woman, Jessica, leads a band of male orphans rejected by the outside world for their violent tendencies. Her influence calms their will to create mayhem. Without Jessica these misfits are easy prey to the security forces who wish to eliminate them. Together they form a strike force protecting similarity situated male youth. With Jessica there is no blame, and all are free to leave. She searches for ways that the orphans can be happy again. "Bad things don't last forever," Jessica declares "we have to stop them from happening." Yet when one of the more vulnerable members of the group is killed, even Jessica struggles to contain their rage.

This original and refreshingly independent film contains attractive scenery, characters and actors, and wonderful ideas. Departed relatives reappear to talk to the living, there are night swims in the moonlight and the landscape seems to come alive to protect its residents. Given a better budget, organization and acting talent, this film could go somewhere. World premiere seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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Loro 2 (2018)
9/10
Politics is Entertainment Now
9 November 2018
Politics is entertainment now. Just one long performance. Witness Silvio Berlusconi who foreshadows the rise of Trump (the two are remarkably similar). Loro satirizes Berlusconi as he starts to lose his grip on power about ten years ago. Under Berlusconi the route to influence and authority is not through enlightenment or better ways of doing business, but trafficking young women, reality shows, lavish parties, yachts and cocaine.

Loro doesn't just take a dim view of Berlusconi, it provides a realistic portrayal of the man. We see the charming salesman who understands human nature and capitalizes on this knowledge. Truth is in tone of voice. "I don't know," says Berlusconi "I understand." Toni Servillo's brilliant performance as Berlusconi heightens this effect. The average Italian, Berlusconi maintains, has the intelligence of second grader. Altruism is the best way to be selfish, for in this way he appears to be good. The ultimate judgement is left to Berlusconi's wife Veronica. "You had the opportunity to help Italy and its people," she says "but you helped yourself instead."

Besides Veronica, there are intriguing portraits of other characters in Berlusconi's orbit. One of them is a very successful, intelligent and beguiling escort. "Girls like me," she says "are stupid when we dream."

Loro provides a fascinating, raw, imaginative and frightening look into the realities of modern politics from the uniquely in-your-face Italian vantage point. It is as wacky as it is cerebral. The film is fast paced and jarring in a good way. Seat shaking base music, rapid dialogue, incredible island villas, stylish clothes, impressive machinery and eye-popping nudity kept me on the edge of my seat. Loro is disjointed at times because there is so much going on, but the general effect is pleasing. The ending of the film is totally unique and perfect for the subject matter; what is important hopefully survives the disaster of modern politics. Knowledge and interest in Italian politics is recommended. Seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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Loro (2018)
9/10
Politics is Entertainment
9 November 2018
Politics is entertainment now. Just one long performance. Witness Silvio Berlusconi who foreshadows the rise of Trump (the two are remarkably similar). Loro satirizes Berlusconi as he starts to lose his grip on power about ten years ago. Under Berlusconi the route to influence and authority is not through enlightenment or better ways of doing business, but trafficking young women, reality shows, lavish parties, yachts and cocaine.

Loro doesn't just take a dim view of Berlusconi, it provides a realistic portrayal of the man. We see the charming salesman who understands human nature and capitalizes on this knowledge. Truth is in tone of voice. "I don't know," says Berlusconi "I understand." Toni Servillo's brilliant performance as Berlusconi heightens this effect. The average Italian, Berlusconi maintains, has the intelligence of second grader. Altruism is the best way to be selfish, for in this way he appears to be good. The ultimate judgement is left to Berlusconi's wife Veronica. "You had the opportunity to help Italy and its people," she says "but you helped yourself instead."

Besides Veronica, there are intriguing portraits of other characters in Berlusconi's orbit. One of them is a very successful, intelligent and beguiling escort. "Girls like me," she says "are stupid when we dream."

Loro provides a fascinating, raw, imaginative and frightening look into the realities of modern politics from the uniquely in-your-face Italian vantage point. It is as wacky as it is cerebral. The film is fast paced and jarring in a good way. Seat shaking base music, rapid dialogue, incredible island villas, stylish clothes, impressive machinery and eye-popping nudity kept me on the edge of my seat. Loro is disjointed at times because there is so much going on, but the general effect is pleasing. The ending of the film is totally unique and perfect for the subject matter; what is important hopefully survives the disaster of modern politics. Knowledge and interest in Italian politics is recommended. Seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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Vision (I) (2018)
9/10
Ethereal and Radiant; Restoring the Balance of Nature
8 November 2018
The misty cedar forests and mountains of Japan are rumored to contain a rare medicinal fungus so powerful that it cures weaknesses of the soul. This is what lures Jeanne (Juliette Binoche) from France. An amiable yet skeptical forest ranger, Tomo, helps her search. In waterfalls, the soothing sounds of mountain hawks and Japanese cicadas, and gentle breezes, Jeanne and Tomo discover a world beyond the barriers of language and culture. Happiness is communicated in touch. Scents are realized as soon as they are imagined. We are never alone. Love and nature are like waves, they never stop. It is then, however, that a close friend of Tomo - a fellow keeper of the forest - disappears. Storms and darkness intensify. Jeanne and Tomo are left to wonder what can restore the balance.

Vision follows a typical Japanese anime theme about renewing the spirit of nature. This theme is ethereal, radiant and immensely fulfilling, yet the director manages to keep the film grounded and tangible. Binoche, versatile and sympathetic, helps her manage this feat. Like one of those little shrines that one sees throughout the country, the unique and charming culture of Japan is auspicious and resplendent. Certain nuances of Vision could be better managed including some awkward scenes and a cheesy CGI marred ending. Seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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Jinpa (2018)
8/10
Karma, Luck & Parallel Universes
7 November 2018
Strange things happen to a jovial truck driver named Jinpa on a desolate road in the high plains of Tibet. After accidently running over a sheep, Jinpa picks up a hitchhiker who is bent on revenge for the murder of his father. The man does not look like the killing type to Jinpa, so he decides to follow the man to see how things turn out. Karma, luck and parallel universes combine along the way to guide Jinpa, along with the sheep he hit, to the next stages of life.

The soft natural light, gentle pace and exotic locations of the film are alluring and soothing to experience. The simple appearance of the film and straightforward performances by the actors, obscure a more complex and sophisticated narrative. It is a fascinating glimpse of a remote corner of the world with vibrant, happy and colorfully dressed people with intriguing and vastly different customs than are own. Tea/gambling/alcohol houses are centers of town life, for instance, and people are free to carry on intimate relationships with whomever they please (such things are not the focus of the film, just aspects of it). Seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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The Load (2018)
8/10
A Simple Haul Gets Complicated
7 November 2018
Vlada is a solitary truck driver in war torn Kosovo of 1999. Because jobs are few and far between, he happily accepts an assignment to haul locked and hidden cargo to Belgrade. Once you make a decision, Vlada figures, things get easier as you go along. He is so wrong in this assumption. In the next 24 hours Vlada will experience repeated shocks as the cruelties of war are impressed upon him even by seemingly innocuous things such as a lighter, pen, hitchiker and marble.

Vlada's encounters reveal how easy it is for the average person to get entangled in something sinister and beyond their comprehension. It is an intriguing yet somber reflection on war and the scars it inflicts on people. Leon Lucev won awards for his stoic and unassuming portrayal of Vlada. The film is a bit predictable. Critically acclaimed at Cannes and seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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9/10
Witty and Beautiful
4 November 2018
The wind rises as Sinan and Hatice kiss at a spring on the outskirts of the forest. It is the threshold of many things, not merely the forest. A few steps in the right direction will lead to love and the fulfillment of dreams. The wrong steps invite heartbreak and the crushing weight of societal expectations. Which way to go?! While Sinan inspires Hatice to let her hair down, a big step in Turkey, he can't seem to help himself. The gambling addiction, fawning desire to please and wild schemes of his father are not where Sinan wants to go, yet understanding his father is the key to understanding himself, for better or worse. Wild pears are isolated misfits, and so are father and son.

This witty and beautiful film is full of metaphors, wonderful imagery and deep, intriguing conversations. The film revolves around many interesting themes. Among these themes is that ruptures in the soul should be treated with joy and patience for they help us discover who we are. The cinematography is luminous, mesmerizing and far ranging from lamp lit streets at night, rainfall and close-ups of Hatice's flowing hair. I want to linger in each place. It is a long film, but for what it reveals about contemporary Turkish society and human nature, it is a fantastic bargain and worth the price. From the director of Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
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