WHEN A TELEVISION PROGRAM shows graphic scenes of blood, violence or medical procedures I have to avert my eyes. If the setting is make believe then I can handle seeing it; but if it is real or depicted accurately I have a hard time viewing it. Because of this I had to stop watching a particular TV series set in a hospital; the patients’ injuries and the doctors operating were all too real. This may sound weird but the sight of blood does not actually disturb me; it is the open wounds or peeling back body tissue to reveal internal organs that gross me out. Seeing the body broken or damaged is more upsetting to me than just looking at a pool of blood on the floor. Unlike me I have a friend who cannot even look at a bloodspot, for it will cause them to have nightmares. Whether it is an open wound or a drop of blood from a finger prick, they will be haunted by it. I AM USED TO people being squeamish about body functions and injuries, but I do not understand those people who actively seek out such scenes. You may have experienced them for they are the ones who purposely slow down at car accidents to catch a glimpse of the destruction and/or injuries. This infuriates me; for the life of me I do not understand why someone wants to stop and stare at such scenes. Please keep in mind I am not referring to the drivers who slow down for safety reasons; I am talking about the ones who are clear to drive, some in the lanes furthest from the accident, but creep along either staring or snapping photos. Who and why would one want to show pictures of such things? I think I have told you in a previous review about a couple I knew who would listen to the news and if possible would try to drive to the location of an accident just to see what happened. Sorry but this makes no sense to me; it wasn’t like they wanted to offer any help. You have no idea how relieved I was that this Oscar nominated and film festival winning documentary came up with a novel way to tell its story. DURING THE YEARS BETWEEN 1975 and 1979 Cambodia suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Writer and director Rithy Panh (The Land of the Wandering Souls, Paper Cannot Wrap Ember) found a way to tell his story. Narrated by Randal Douc (The Sea Wall, Le Chemin) and Jean-Baptiste Phou (White Soldier, FLA), the use and combination of clay figures and archival footage were both creative and brilliant. I realize some viewers may balk at watching a film with clay figures, but I have to tell you it made this story just as real as if they used actual actors. Doing it this way gave the movie a twinge of unearthliness but yet still told what I felt was an accurate story. I do not know if I could have sat all the way through watching the atrocities that were being done. Though this time period took place over 35 years ago I still felt it was relevant. This is just my opinion but it still seems to happen; when one group of people take over with claims of prosperity and growth, it is only meant for them.
3 ½ stars — DVD
THE HONEYMOON phase is a real thing in a burgeoning relationship. However it can be quite deceptive for the individuals. I have seen many couples during this period who were bubbly and giddy in love, freely participating in public displays of affection. To the outsider they appeared perfectly in synch and for all intents and purposes they might have been. But it is here where that deception comes into play. With the couple exploring their love connection they might begin to feel that they could be together forever…and they just might succeed. But when 2 people never go past this faze to their real daily world, any slight obstacle can trip them up with drastic consequences. They were so focused on the happy, joyful, loving experiences they never took the time to really learn about each other. Even if some individuals are conscious about the different phases to a relationship they may fear showing their faults or quirks to their partner in love. RELATIONSHIPS take work sometimes; it would be great if everything was simple and easy but most people are complicated. From my past experiences I have learned to express my feelings more and not hide my quirks so far in the future hopes. The reason being I need a person to love me for who I am, instead of them focusing on the good stuff and thinking the difficult things will disappear or worse yet that they can change them in me. Going into a relationship with the idea you can change someone is the quickest way to kill the relationship. I mentioned in an earlier review about being with someone who resented me teaching fitness at night, but there have been others who thought they could change me to suit their needs. I will say it helps if a person will talk about their needs instead of going into a relationship under the pretense the person they are in love with will figure it out. I may not be an expert in the relationship department but I do know a relationship needs communication and respect. Feel free to take a gander at this Oscar nominated romantic drama to see what I mean. DISSIMILAR backgrounds and beliefs were not a concern for Elise and Didier, played by Veerle Baetens (The Ardennes, Code 37-TV) and Johan Heldenbergh (The Zookeeper’s Wife, The Brand New Testament), when they first met. Their love of bluegrass music and physical attraction to each other was a good start to begin a relationship. They were setting themselves up for a fall when their lives took an unexpected turn. This film festival winning musical movie also starred Nell Cattrysse (Labyrinthus, Het Vonnis) as Maybelle and Geert Van Rampelberg (The Treatment, The Memory of a Killer) as William. I thought the acting was excellent because to me Didier and Elise came across as a real couple. The script surprised me and I will tell you why. Normally I am not a fan of a story jumping back and forth in time; but in this case, it worked to break up the intensity of the situation with the musical numbers and home life scenes. There was honesty in the script, where I felt myself getting drawn into the lives of these people. As I stated earlier relationships are not always easy. Flemish and Dutch were spoken with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars – DVD
SACRIFICE may be too strong of a word; I prefer saying compromise. Maybe I feel this way because when I was younger the only time I would be aware of the word and its meaning was in stories and movies. A sacrifice involved killing, either human or animal. Just look at the film King Kong where the villagers make an offering to Kong. So when it comes to relationships I tend to avoid saying sacrifice; though if they made me mad enough—just kidding. For me compromising is an essential part of being in a relationship. There have been several couples I have known where one person was so needy, they were never satisfied with the amount of changes their significant other had gone through to please them. More times than not resentment filters into the relationship and from there everything quickly goes downhill. This of course can turn out completely different when one participant has low self-esteem. FROM a recent relationship I experienced some of this firsthand. We were still in the early stages where everything was great and exciting. A couple of times I was questioned about my teaching schedule; I took it as a sign of interest. After a couple of months we had a talk about finding places in our schedules where we could spend more time together. I offered a couple of options where I could fit in some of my chores during the week to free up more open time on the weekend. This seemed a doable solution so life went on as we became more attached to each other. It was around the 6-7 month mark when I was asked if I could join them for some function. My schedule did not allow it and they seemed to understand. Sure enough a few weeks went by before they started an argument and threw this back at me. It turns out they resented me teaching at night; something I was doing way before we had met. From my point of view they wanted me to make the sacrifice and stop teaching; I think you can guess what happened—I still am teaching classes. ARTISTS Noriko and Ushio Shinohara would have to give up something to make their relationship work, but would it be fair? Written and directed by Zachary Heinzerling (Hugh the Hunter, P.O.V-TV) this film festival winning documentary was nominated for an Oscar. Spanning their 40 year marriage I enjoyed seeing how the creativity came out of these 2 artists along with their artistic son Alex. It was fascinating to see how emotions play such an important role in an artist’s life. Ushio is known as the boxing artist and I could easily see where some of his work was therapeutic. The things he made using cardboard were incredible. However Noriko’s story was the stronger one for me because one could really see the progression she made throughout the years of their marriage. Another aspect I enjoyed about this film was the use of animation with some of Noriko’s artwork. I, like many others I am sure, have heard how artists suffer for their art. Now I do not want to say there was suffering on display here; but it was interesting to see what people do for the sake of their art. Whether one thinks there was sacrifice or compromise in the Shinohara’s relationship does not matter; what does is how it all fits together. Parts of the movie were spoken in Japanese with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars — DVD
RARELY did I ever pass by the gleaming glass ball, filled with chewy delights. Since I always made sure I had change in my pocket before I would go, it was a given I would stop in front of the gumball machine. There were six colors used for the gumballs: blue, red, yellow, green, orange and purple. Here is the thing though; out of the colors I only wanted a red or blue colored gumball. Since I could not choose which gumball would get deposited into the metal cup hanging below the metal slide that came out of the machine’s lower jaw, I would keep depositing coins into the machine until I got one of the 2 colors. Sometimes I would have depleted all the coins in my pocket and still not get the “right” gumball. In my young mind I assumed each colored gumball tasted different based on its color. I had no desire for the green or yellow ones and the others just did not appeal to me. It wasn’t until a friend of mine bought me a gumball because I had no change and told me to at least try the purple colored one that came out of the machine. It was then that I discovered all the gumballs tasted the same; I was making a judgment solely on the outside color. GRATEFULLY a lesson like that was a good start in becoming aware that there is more behind the surface of people and things. An example I have used before is, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Recently a friend was telling me about the injustice taking place in their department. They were in the middle of hiring new people and one of the employees on the hiring committee mentioned they should hire a particular person because of the candidate’s skin color. I immediately assumed everyone on the committee would be shocked like I was by such an offensive statement. Instead imagine how stunned I was when my friend told me that was not the case; only a couple of the people on the committee offered a disparaging look in response to the ridiculous statement, nothing was said by anyone. This reminded me that just because I may not see discrimination does not mean it does not happen. I think that is why this Oscar nominated documentary is an important film. BASED on an unfinished manuscript by author James Baldwin (Where the Heart Is), the words in this movie are just as current now as when they were first spoken. Directed by Raoul Peck (Sometimes in April, Lumumba), this film festival winning movie was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Legend of Tarzan). I enjoyed the way the director pieced together archival clips of James speaking and debating at different venues. His manuscript was going to be a narrative piece about the assassinations of his three friends Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers; though the piece was written years ago the discussions in this movie were just as relevant today. A well done film like this one is worth a look and would be a good reminder that society still has a long way to go to with focusing on the things that lie below the surfaces of people.
3 1/3 stars
It felt like I was taking a walk through history. They were giving me a tour of their home, pointing out numerous artifacts. I say artifacts because there was pottery, paintings, tapestries, along with dinnerware items such as bowls and spoons. All of it quite old and displayed everywhere. It was fascinating to me because I knew this person was able to trace their family back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition which started around the late 1400s. Think about that for a second; this homeowner knew about their family members for the past half a dozen centuries; it literally boggled my mind. My tour of the house was almost done but the best was being saved for last. We walked into a room that appeared to be part library, part den. Two walls of the room had rows of bookcases lined across, each filled with hardcover books. At the juncture where the two sides would have met there was an opening or let me say a small alcove. It wasn’t big enough for someone to freely walk into; however, it had enough space for this ornately carved wooden pedestal. As I was directed to it I was told it contained the family’s most precious item. Sealed in a glass box was an extremely old book. It was his great, great, great (I don’t remember how many times they said great) grandfather’s prayer book. This small plain looking book had been handed down from generation to generation. I stared at it imagining how many relatives must have held this book before it was sealed up. As they were telling me about the book’s history there was a twinge of sadness to their voice. I soon found out they were the last of their family; there was no one left to take possession of this treasured item at their death. SOMEWHERE deep in the Amazon was a sacred plant with healing powers. Two scientists would devote their lives to find this elusive miracle. It possibly could take their life. Starring newcomer Nilbio Torres as young Karamakate, newcomer Antonio Bolivar as old Karamakate, Jan Bijvoet (The Broken Circle Breakdown, Borgman) as Theo and Brionne Davis (Avenged, Gentleman Explorers) as Evan; this Oscar nominated and film festival winning adventure biography had a lush, beautiful look that was shot in black and white. For those familiar with the works of Werner Herzog, this film had a similar vibe to it. The original story took me a short time to understand due to the two separate story lines; but afterwards, I enjoyed the way the parallel stories created the world these characters lived in. You could tell the camera work was carefully thought out because there were shots that lingered for the perfect amount of time to convey the feelings. Even some of the camera angles were so well placed to add an extra sense of curiosity for the viewer that I almost wished English was spoken so I would not have to read any subtitles. But I want to say the subtitles in this drama were easy to read and I did not feel like I missed anything. I only hope this will not be the director’s last film. Spanish, Portuguese, Aboriginal and German were spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars — DVD
It may have only been a snippet of a conversation or a brief moment seeing someone in the middle of an activity, but it was all you needed to make an assumption. With all the ways humans now can communicate with each other, I feel we lost the most important part: face to face. For me face to face provides the adjectives or better yet the emotions, the intentions to a person’s conversations. However, there is a pitfall embedded in this way of communicating. Have you noticed how people tend to believe someone if they talk louder or give an impassioned speech? I abhor talking or mentioning politics, but I have only recently noticed that after politicians debate or give speeches, the news services provide a fact check on the politicians’ claims. It is amazing to me how many falsehoods these news sources reveal. The scary part about this is how some people do not care if things are true or not, they just want to be part of a group or majority. I still remember a fight that took place after school hours. One of the combatants had spread a rumor about the other; so there was a small crowd circling the two fighters, cheering and yelling. They believed the rumor was true. It looked like a school of piranha for the scene turned into a feeding frenzy, where bystanders were adding punches and kicks when the opportunity presented itself. You know it only takes one person to plant a seed of an idea into people’s minds before that group mentality mindset takes over to motivate individuals to become joiners. As adults we should know better, but what if that seed came out of a child’s mouth? STRUGGLING to get back on his feet after a bitter divorce Lucas, played by Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal-TV), had a steady teaching job and was fighting for equal visitation rights for his son Marcus, played by relative newcomer Lasse Fogelstrom. Plans changed when the principal of the school heard what one of the students named Klara, played by newcomer Annika Wedderkopp, said about Lucas. This Oscar nominated and film festival winning movie was an intense, thought provoking drama. With Thomas Bo Larsen (The Celebration, Pusher) playing Theo as part of the cast, the acting was outstanding. The actors were so good that they kept me glued to the TV screen, tensely wondering what was going to happen next. I can see why this picture was nominated for best foreign movie by the academy. Even the newcomers of the cast were just as convincing as the adults in this story. I have been a fan of Mads for some time and after you see him in this role I believe you will feel the same way. After the movie was over I stayed seated, going over the story in my head. Do not be surprised if you too mull over the story in your head. Danish was spoken with English subtitles.
4 stars — DVD
The majority of the people who asked me if I was paying attention never knew how much attention I was actually devoting to them. I was probably studying their face as they were speaking to me. Looking at the shape of their ears, studying the color of their eyes, listening to the sound of their speech, checking their teeth for any errant food particles, noticing any unusual smells wafting off of them; I was trying to expand and fine-tune my senses. Our five senses, some say six, is something I never took for granted. I thought everyone practiced exercising their senses; it never occurred to me that someone would not be doing it. Growing up I thought the more I used my hearing the farther and clearer it would be able to hear sounds. The idea of hearing a colony of ants on the sidewalk as they systematically moved particles of sand fascinated me to no end; I thought with practice one day I would hear them. Little did I know in the adult world hearing or should I say listening would almost be a lost art form. I have encountered so many people who do not hear what a person is telling them. The same can be said about seeing; haven’t you ever walked down the street with a friend and at some point asked them if they saw that stranger standing at the store window or say bus stop? They did not see anyone and have no idea what you are talking about. I have had this happen to me more times than I can count. There is so much going around us in our daily lives that I cannot imagine not being able to experience even a little of it each day. If you are not totally convinced maybe this beautiful drama will help you. TEN year old Mui, played by relative newcomer Man San Lu, was sent to live with a family who had experienced a tragic loss, to become their servant. Nothing was taken for granted in this household. This film festival winner and Oscar nominated movie had a gentle, quiet story. I say quiet because scenes focused on some of the simplest things but were able to produce exquisite results. With a beautiful music score I thought the script was well done and the actors such as Tran Nu Yenkhe (The Vertical Ray of the Sun, Cyclo) as the adult Mui and relative newcomer Thi Loc Truong as La mere were all totally believable. I enjoyed the way the story moved forward; things were subtly introduced instead of being too overt. In some ways I felt this produced calmness to the story even when there was an issue brewing underneath the surface. In addition, the use of dialog was kept to a minimum. This was the type of picture one could easily sit down to watch and absorb the action with one’s senses. Vietnamese was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
The person asked me what movies I had seen the past weekend. I started going down the list of films and when I came to this movie they stopped me and asked, “How was it?” I made a few quick comments, not wanting to give too much away about the film. They looked at me and told me they believed it happened. I asked them what happened and they said the Holocaust. Their comment tripped up my brain momentarily; what did they mean they believed it happened, like there was any doubt? I did not respond to the comment because, to tell you the truth, I did not want to hear the answer. Were they a non-believer at some point or did their family and friends convince them the Holocaust never happened; I just did not want to get into a discussion about it with this person. However our brief conversation stayed with me for the day. I felt their comment could have come from a disrespectful, ignorant or hateful type of place. For someone to say the Holocaust never occurred would be a slap in the face to all of those who had suffered and died. I sat throughout the day wondering if this person ever met someone who had a relative or friend perish in the concentration camps or who had their forearm tattoed with a number, showing those now they survived the camps. If this person had seen the movie I could then assume their comment was meant for what they had seen because it was so intimate and personal. SAUL Auslander, played by relative newcomer Geza Rohrig, was forced to be part of a group of men who had to remove the dead bodies from the concentration camp’s gas chamber. When a boy was discovered still breathing among the dead, Saul morally could not ignore the boy’s breaths though it could get him killed. This Oscar nominated historic drama was utterly powerful on the movie screen. The director, by filming behind Saul’s head, turned this story into an intimate experience for the viewers. I felt as if I was part of Saul’s group, sharing all the horrors and terrors the men were experiencing at the time. This film festival winner may not be easy for some viewers who have not been exposed previously to Holocaust stories. I, myself, felt the director had taken this into consideration because most of the challenging scenes were set in the background just out of focus. This tactic allowed the viewer to remain with Saul and see exactly what was happening but maybe not at full force. One other thing I want to mention about the way this story was filmed. With such close shots there was a frenetic pace at times that added intensity to the scenes. It does not matter whether Saul was based on an actual individual because this film was just as real as the actual Holocaust. Hungarian and German was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars
On the side of my neighbor’s house are 2 vines that have been there since I moved into my place. They started out small and separate from each other, barely poking out of the ground. As the years passed the vines grew, inching their way up the bricked wall. Then one year the two vines crossed paths, suddenly and unexpectedly. It was as if they went on a date where they shared stories about themselves. From that first contact the two vines were inseparable as their leaves multiplied into a growing family. The bricks became less visible the more the couple grew old. And I do mean couple since they took care of each other whether it was a stern icy wind trying to knock them off the side of the house or intense hot sunlight turning their leaves brown and dry. The two vines supported each other with affection and kindness. They were my elderly couple living right next door and they represented the same qualities that I believed should be in every loving relationship. I have mentioned previously my ideal description of two people who are together. They stand shoulder to shoulder supporting each other through good and bad times. Each one encourages the other, loving them unconditionally with honesty and respect. This type of groundwork allows the relationship to be strong, so any of the hardships that life throws their way can be handled with dignity and courage. In turn this makes for a solid and committed relationship. I have seen such relationships besides those that appeared the same until a secret revealed a crack of doubt. SOON to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary Geoff Mercer, played by Tom Courtenay (Quartet, Doctor Zhivago), received news that a woman he had a relationship with years ago was found frozen in the Swiss Alps. The news not only had an affect on him but on his wife Kate, played by Charlotte Rampling (Melancholia, The Duchess). This film festival winning, Oscar nominated drama was an ideal showcase for Charlotte and Tom to flourish with their acting abilities. With Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes franchise, Gandhi) as part of the cast playing Lena, this was a movie that did not have much action taking place on the outside; the story was more internalized by the characters, think of it as being more cerebral. Not only did I feel the direction was beautiful, I thought the cinematography was wonderful. Certain shots were held longer so the viewer could watch the characters act without speaking a word. This was what I consider an adult film because the story dealt with issues that affect a more mature crowd. Charlotte and Tom truly were brilliant in their roles; for all things considered they were this couple who were about to celebrate their anniversary. I felt I had known them as long as those 2 vines on my neighbor’s house, even with all those thorns and leaves that have weathered storms.
3 1/4 stars
There are times where it is easier to connect with a stranger than a person you know. I witness this multiple times as an instructor or when I am out of synch with my daily routine. Ah yes the daily routine; you know, where we get set into a pattern and begin repeating it every day. If there was a contest I absolutely would be a finalist since I find comfort and calmness in keeping a routine. When I am out of my daily rituals, like on vacation, I become more available to strike up a conversation with strangers. Taking it a step further I find it easy to have a conversation with a blind date. Recently I was out with a friend and we were talking about dating. They have a 2 date limit; in other words, if they do not feel something after 2 dates they end it. They said the hardest part of the process was being honest and telling the person they are not interested. I absolutely agree because though it is hard, I feel it is harder not to say anything and leave a person in limbo hoping things just drift apart. What I find even worse is when a person stops communicating, ignoring your texts and phone calls. I wonder if the ease in talking or not talking to a stranger is because a person can be whoever they want to be, since there is no history between them. Maybe they relish the opportunity to reinvent themselves and in turn become more open or available for new experiences. This Oscar nominated, animated movie showed more feelings than many humans I have met. AUTHOR Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, Seven Years in Tibet), was traveling out of state to be the guest speaker at a convention. His life was about to change thanks to convention attendee Lisa Hesselman, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Road to Perdition). This film festival winner brilliantly used stop motion animation that brought the puppets alive. With a script that was part comedy, part drama; I became fascinated with the story, losing sense that these puppets were not real people. It was a surreal experience for me. There were several astute observations about the human condition throughout the script thanks to co-writer and co-director Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation). It did take time for me to actually get into the story; I found the beginning of the movie slow. By the way this is absolutely not a film for young people since the puppets get into adult situations. Overall I was most impressed with the technical aspects of this picture; it must have taken an incredibly long time to get the puppets to move in such a seamless way. From the script there certainly was enough situations that would lend themselves to topics of conversation afterwards. I would have liked to have heard what other people were saying about the movie, but I was on my schedule and had to leave the theater.
3 1/4 stars