I wish it was not the case but I cast a cynical eye towards a kind gesture from a stranger these days. Where I first noticed a change had taken place over me was when I used to travel to Georgia. People were saying thank you for the simplest things, besides opening doors for each other. I realized I had not seen such actions for a long time. Then there were incidents I witnessed that began altering my perceptions. I used to know someone who was always eager to share their recipes with anyone who asked for them, but would leave out one small item from the list of ingredients. During my daily commute I cannot remember the last time someone slowed down to let me pull into traffic or merge into another lane due to construction. It seems as if people are becoming more isolated and protective of their surroundings. I partially understand it because of all the news that gets reported on Ponzi schemes, fake charities and internet scams. Last summer I answered the knock at my front door and there was a high schooler who was selling discounted subscriptions for the local newspapers. Yep, you are right; I gave him $20.00 but never saw a single newspaper. Life is hard and I would say it is partially due to the modern world we live in; however, one only has to look at history to see it is not a modern phenomenon. You could also see a horrifying example in this Cannes Film Festival nominated drama. Set in the early 1920s Ewa Cybulska and her sister Magda, played by Marion Cotillard (Contagion, The Dark Knight Rises) and Angela Sarafyan (Paranoia, Love Hurts), traveled from Poland to America to start a new life. During processing at Ellis Island Magda was quarantined, leaving Ewa to fend for herself on the streets of New York City. She had to rely on the kindness of strangers and Bruno Weiss, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Her, Walk the Line), was eager to welcome and help her. Marion Cotillard was made to do this romantic mystery movie. Her eyes alone could have done all the talking for her, she was mesmerizing. The story was filled with many opportunities to create a powerful piece; however, it never gelled for me. I did not believe Joaquin’s character, finding his performance odd. It really was a shame because the sets and scenes were beautifully appointed. Jeremy Renner (American Hustle, The Town) was a welcomed addition to the story playing the magician Emil. I wish I could offer a kind gesture to this film by giving it a higher rating but truthfully it does not warrant it.
2 2/3 stars
When I arrived at the city in the new state I was visiting, I drove my rental car to the eastern part of town. There spanning the length of a city block was a mural painted on a brick wall, depicting the struggles immigrants had who settled in the area. After spending some time examining the fine detailed work I noticed a community center across the street. I walked over to it to see if I could use their restroom before driving off to another part of town. Once inside I saw a tired looking woman sitting behind a long formica counter. Hearing my footsteps, the woman slowly raised her face up until her eyes made contact with mine. With a look of shock creeping on her face she asked me what I was doing there. I explained how I stopped to see the mural across the street. When I asked if I could use the restroom she muttered something in a low voice, then told me to use the private restroom behind her, not the one down the hallway. It seemed odd but I did as she told me. At the end of the day back at my hotel, I asked the front desk clerk if they had ever seen the mural across town. A stunned look came across her face as she asked if I had gone and seen it yet. When I said yes, she nearly hissed at me that I should have never gone, it was a bad area; no one in their right mind would be caught there. When I asked her how I would have known she told me it was easy, just look at what was walking around there. I was sensing she might be prejudiced so I decided to drop it and go to my room. I was reminded of this incident while watching this exquisite, Oscar nominated film. The message in this movie was told in such a delicate and lovely way; I was totally engrossed with the story. Raised to fear the other, rodents lived underground away from the bears who resided above. Rules were in place to keep each away from the other until young Celestine, voiced by newcomer Pauline Brunner, accidentally met street musician Ernest, voiced by Lambert Wilson (Of Gods and Men, Sahara). Their friendship would go against everything in place that kept the two groups apart. This Cannes Film Festival winning movie was enchanting with its uncluttered and simple artwork that magically told a beautiful story. I saw the original version of this dramatic comedy in French with English subtitles, though I found out later there was an English version. Without preaching or browbeating the audience, this film had a wonderful message that bears repeating.
3 1/2 stars
There is a method to my madness, just hear me out. Until I see a movie I avoid reading any reviews of it. I want to know as little as possible about a film, only allowing myself to see the movie trailer, though sometimes the trailer is better than the whole picture. After I have seen the movie then I will look at some of the reviews. This is why in my reviews I barely mention any particular scene details or facts about the story line. With today’s review, this is the perfect example to show you why I prefer to blindly walk into a theater with my mind an open and blank slate. I had no idea this dramatic mystery was directed by Asghar Farhadi (About Elly) who directed one of my favorite films of 2011, A Separation. Gratefully I did not know which movies won at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival because this movie was a winner. The only thing I knew when I went to see this picture was it had subtitles. The movie started and I immediately found myself in Paris, witnessing a separated couple finishing up the process of their divorce. There were children involved from past and present relationships; however, hanging over everyone like a dense fog, hampering everyone’s senses was a woman in a coma. Every scene in this movie had an authentic sense of true emotion; the cast could have easily been a friend, relative or acquaintance of yours because they never came across as if they were actors acting. They were just being real. Let me name a few of the exceptional performers: there was Berenice Bejo (The Artist, A Knight’s Tale) as the soon to be ex-wife Marie Brisson; Ali Mosaffa (Leila, The Last Step) as the Iranian husband Ahmad and Tahar Rahim (A Prophet, The Eagle) as the live-in boyfriend Samir. I felt as if I was a guest invited into the lives of these individuals, sitting with them when they were eating, wanting to comfort them when they were sad. There were no special effects needed, no sudden unexplained turns in the story that would leave one wondering; all that was there were genuine feelings of fear, guilt, love and doubt. This film is one of the reasons why I love going to the movies. I do not have to pack an overnight bag, wait in long security lines or dress in a particular way; yet, I do get to leave all the things that make up my daily life and experience for a moment how other people live their lives. The dialog was done in French and Persian languages with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars
The guards go after the one that is not bloody. This was told to a friend of mine, who was doing one on one work with a prison inmate. The prisoner was told if he got into a fight he should not fight back, for the guards assume the non-bloody combatant was the instigator. I was surprised to hear the guards would act on assumptions before facts; but then, I realized so many people make assumptions solely based on a person’s looks. In grade school when teams had to be formed during gym, I was usually one of the last ones to be picked. I was large and uncomfortable with my size. However, during a game of Bombardment my classmates discovered I could throw a fast accurate ball. For all future games I suddenly was picked much earlier to be on someone’s team. Even today I am sensitive about people who make assumptions. In the scheme of things my experiences were trivial compared to the events in this powerful movie, based on a true story. Twenty-two year old Oscar Grant with his girlfriend Sophina, played by Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails, Chronicle) and Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind, Raising Victor Vargas), decided to take the train into the city to celebrate New Year’s Eve with their friends. It was a ride that would shake up the California Bay Area community. Not knowing anything about this story, I do not know how accurate it was with its portrayal of the events that took place. From a movie standpoint, I thought the acting was raw and real. Michael and Octavia Spencer (The Help, Seven Pounds), who played his character’s mother Wanda, were incredible. Kevin Durand (Real Steel, I Am Number Four) as Officer Caruso was so good he scared me. The hand held filming with its shakiness did not work for me except in the scenes on the train. Overall I thought the story was well presented except for a few parts that seemed unnecessary, like the dog scene. This Sundance and Cannes Film Festival winner could be used as a case study on the effects perceptions and assumptions have on society. There were a couple of brief scenes where blood was shown.
3 1/4 stars
Each person has their own way of handling the pressures and stress of daily living. For some people their stress builds up like overstuffed pieces of luggage that they try to balance as they trudge through the day. Other individuals get lost into books or spend their day seeking out rich, decadent foods to use in stuffing their feelings deeper inside of themselves. Depending on the level of stress I am experiencing, I will either focus on exercising or short circuit my brain by watching television shows and movies. For some reason visual stimuli is the fastest way to get my brain to take a deep breath and release the taut strangle hold it has over my body. This dramatic story showed two points of view on the pressures affecting the Canvel family. Louis de Lencquesaing (Elles, In a Rush) played Moon Films studio owner Gregoire Canvel. The mounting financial obligations on the company were taking a toll on Gregoire and his family. Chiara Caselli (Beyond the Clouds, Sleepless) played his wife Sylvia who expected her husband to be present and available for her and their children. The sensitive story in this Cannes Film Festival winner showed how stress affected each family member. I was particularly moved by the oldest daughter Clemence, played by Alice de Lencquesaing (Water Lilies, Summer Hours). As a movie buff I found the behind the scenes aspect of movie making interesting. The scenes depicting the family’s casual events I found touching and realistic, enjoying their interactions. By the end of the film I questioned my feelings about having seen it. I thought the emotional aspects were all valid, but I felt as if I was still missing something. Maybe from my own experiences I wanted to see stronger reactions from the characters; the ending seemed too abrupt for me. Everyone handles stress differently; it is not something to judge. One can only remain supportive of each other as they find their way through life. French with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
There were two extreme examples of love I saw when growing up. One was a married couple who lived in our apartment building. They bickered and argued almost every day; their voices sometimes reaching the decibels of a roaring jet engine. Though they fought constantly they still were affectionate to each other. The other example was Tony and Maria from the movie West Side Story. It was the scene in the gymnasium where all the lights dim except for a spotlight on each of them; as they see the other for the first time, from across a crowded gym floor. I preferred this example, believing it would happen to me when I fall in love. It took a long time before I experienced something close to that scene from the movie and I thought I would live happily ever after. We learn by example and sometimes those examples give mixed messages. This beautifully filmed drama showed different ways people were motivated by love. Part thriller and part coming of age tale; the story revolved around 14 year old friends Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and Neckbone, played by newcomer Jacob Lofland. Upon discovering a mysterious stranger living in a boat stuck up in a tree, the two boys agreed to help him reunite with the love of his life. Matthew McConaughey (The Paperboy, Magic Mike) played the stranger who called himself Mud and Reese Witherspoon (This Means War, Walk the Line) played his girlfriend Juniper. Matthew and Tye were the big standouts in this richly textured film. I was impressed with Matthew taking this edgy role and making it his own, similar to what he did in Killer Joe. Tye reminded me of a young Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), having that same type of face that easily expresses emotions. The supporting cast enriched this film. Sam Shepard (Safe House, The Right Stuff) was excellent as sharpshooter Tom Blankenship. I only wished the gifted Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Runaways) as Neckbone’s Uncle Galen had a bigger role. This Cannes Film Festival nominee told a multilayered story that was filled with diverse characters. The only commonality shared among the individuals was the effects of a shared or fading love.
3 1/2 stars
There is a correlation between hopelessness and fantasy. The more I felt my reality was bleak, the more I turned inward. When I was picked on back in school, I turned to martial arts movies to fuel my imagination. In my mind I became a skilled practitioner of the ancient martial arts, able to defend myself with my lightning fast karate chops. Upon reaching the legal age to enter a bar, I would go to nightclubs that had dancing. I could spend hours watching everyone dance while I became more self-conscious of the extra weight I was carrying with me. It was then that I would imagine I was a slender, chiseled go-go dancer who would whip the crowd into a fever pitch; while the disco beats pounded up against the walls. These were the things I did to compensate for feeling hopeless and alone. That sense of bleakness struck me while watching this Cannes Film Festival winning movie. Newcomer Katie Jarvis played Mia, an angry fifteen year old teenager living with her mother Joanne, played by Kierston Wareing (It’s a Free World, Bonded by Blood) and little sister Tyler, played by newcomer Rebecca Griffiths, in the poor area of a British town. With a mother who showed little interest in her and having been kicked out of school; the days blended together for Mia. The only respite she experienced was when she was dancing to music. It was not until her mother brought home the curious stranger named Connor, played by Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, A Dangerous Method), that Mia got her first glimmer of hope. The story was made believable with its excellent directing and dialog. Besides Michael’s well done acting, I was amazed at how good Katie was in her role. It was my understanding the director found Katie by chance at a train station, where Katie was arguing with her boyfriend from across the train tracks. Though I was surprised by certain events, the movie stayed true to its gritty reality. Take if from someone who knows, a single positive remark can store an abundant amount of fuel to propel one’s dream. One brief scene with blood.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
Everyone handles death in their own way. My grandfather’s death from a heart attack was a shock to the entire family. His death was the first one I experienced. I found it perplexing; because after the cemetery for the next seven days we all had to meet at my oldest aunt’s house, where it seemed like we were having a party. People kept showing up each day, bringing enough food to share with everyone. For my grandmother’s death it was a different experience. She had dementia and was living in a nursing home for several years. By the time she died, it was more of a relief than sadness for most of us. Death in this intensely graphic movie was overpowering. While making love in the next room the couple’s 2 year old son climbed out his bedroom window and fell to his death. Williem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Hunter) played the grief-stricken father and Charlotte Gainsbourg (21 Grams, Do Not Disturb) the mother. To deal with their overwhelming loss they traveled to their remote cabin in the woods, to work on their devastated marriage. The loss of their son was the catalyst that brought to the surface the couple’s deep fears, making a bad situation worse. One of the reasons I wanted to see this film was due to Charlotte winning the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Granted her intense acting was painfully exquisite as was William’s; but, the subject matter was outrageous to me. With graphic scenes of sex and bloody violence, I found this movie obscenely indulgent on the part of writer and director Lars von Trier (Dogville, Melancholia). When I wasn’t wincing from some of the violent scenes, I could appreciate the other scenes that were breathtakingly artistic. The loss of a child has to be one of the most painful things in a parent’s life. As the viewer, it was painful to watch this film and I felt I lost two hours of my time.
1 3/4 stars — DVD