EVERY YEAR AT THIS TIME ME and a variety of family members would make our pilgrimage to the wealthy suburb where all the fancy holiday decorations lived. We were a caravan of cars that traveled close to each other as we made our way along the city streets, always staying in the right lane. Nothing I saw compared to the decorations that were on display in this neighborhood. There was one house we drove by, where we would roll down our windows, because they had a full mechanical chorus singing on the front lawn. The house next door had life sized wooden soldiers that reminded me of the Laurel and Hardy movie, “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” The soldiers were lined up all along the walkway leading up to the house’s double front doors, besides protecting the edges of the front lawn. One of my favorite houses had a group of elf puppets dancing and twirling across the front porch while a waving Santa and his reindeer were parked on top of the roof. As a little kid it seemed as if we were riding up and down the neighborhood’s streets for hours because of so many decorated houses. Some houses displayed the same decorations year after year; but others always had something new each holiday season. Though there were not many, I always felt bad for the houses that only had a couple of decorations or a single string of lights. AT SOME POINT AS I WAS getting older, I began to question the purpose for someone to have so many elaborate decorations; what did these items represent to the owners? Did having more decorations mean that one was more religious? I wondered if all the displays were due to that “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. For someone to celebrate the holiday, they had to have decorations? I took it a step further; how did it come to pass that putting up decorations was part of the holiday. And what about having a tree in the house; what was the reason for getting ornaments and hanging them on the tree? I started looking at everything and wanted to know where and how did all these customs come into being. Even Santa Claus, what took place centuries ago that people began to talk about a man with flying reindeer, who was able to leave a present in every single decorated house around the world? There are times when I hear someone talk about the amount of presents they have to buy and how much stress this places on them, where I wonder why do they have to buy so much stuff; what does all this stuff have to do with celebrating the holiday? Well, I finally can get some answers because of this Oscar nominated animated movie. SENT TO A REMOTE TOWN TO open a post office, the postmaster’s son Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, Listen Up Philip), finds a place where all the citizens are fighting each other. The last thing they want to do is mail a letter. If he wants to get back home, he will need to find a way to get people to use the mail. With J.K. Simmons (21 Bridges, Whiplash) voicing Klaus, Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Celeste & Jesse Forever) voicing Alva, Will Sasso (The Three Stooges, Southland Tales) voicing Mr. Ellingboe and Joan Cusack (In & Out, Working Girl) voicing Mrs. Krum; this film festival winning adventure comedy was a pure treat to watch. The story was laid out beautifully, which goes the same for the old-fashioned animation. It may be possible that younger viewers may not get the wonderful message embedded into the script, but it would be okay because there were so many entertaining scenes throughout the picture. I could absolutely see this film becoming a holiday classic; it was so well done on every level.
3 ½ stars
THE FIRST THING THAT CAME TO mind when I saw him at a party, was remembering how greedy he was when he was a little kid. Now before you say a lot of small children did greedy things, let me tell you what I thought about this one. When I was small there was not one candy dish, I passed up without taking a piece or two of candy. This kid was different. He would take a piece of candy; but when no one was looking, he would go back and load up his pockets with several pieces. Have I convinced you about him yet? I remember there was a dinner and we were all sitting around the dining room table. There was one roll left in a basket on the table; an adult was reaching for the basket when this greedy kid quickly made a grab for the bread. It did not matter that he had not finished the roll on his plate; he had to make sure he could get another one. He got scolded for being so rude, but he did not care because when he grabbed the roll, he made sure to take a bite out of it before putting it down on his plate, next to his other half eaten roll. I am telling you; he was not a nice little boy. NOW YEARS LATER HERE I WAS having a meal with him being present. We were all eating at a restaurant and it was determined that we would be splitting the bill. It was easier to divide it by the amount of people instead of breaking down what each person ordered. As the waitress took our orders, I noticed pretty much everyone was ordering similar things. When it came time for him to tell the waitress what he wanted, he ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. I was still looking at the menu at the time, so I saw the price. He also ordered an alcoholic drink. Because people were talking no one noticed or if they did, it probably did not register with them that he was ordering an expensive dish. Part of me wanted to say something, but I decided to keep my mouth shut. And if I needed any more proof to validate my belief about him, when the breadbasket on the table had only one item left in it, he grabbed the last piece despite not finishing the bread he still had on his dinner plate. Some people, like him, are born greedy; others learn it. Feel free to see what you think about the main characters in this dramatic, crime thriller. WHEN THREE MEN DISCOVERED A CRASHED plane in the woods, they found two things inside: a dead pilot and millions in cash. Each of them had an idea on what to do next. With Bill Paxton (Twister, Apollo 13) as Hank, Bridget Fonda (Single White Female, Lake Placid) as Sarah, Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa franchise, The Man Who Wasn’t There) as Jacob, Brent Briscoe (The Green Mile, Sling Blade) as Lou and Chelcie Ross (Basic Instinct, Grey’s Anatomy-TV) as Carl; this film festival winning, Oscar nominated movie was a solid production. It was refreshing to watch a character driven story that was well acted and direct. I found myself getting hooked into the plot early and enjoyed all the twists and turns along the way. The cast truly looked connected and in rhythm with each other as their emotions went on full display. Being an “older” film, I enjoyed seeing the sets and outdoor scenes that depicted a different period of time. Lastly, it always amazes me what greed can do to a person and because of that, I was especially curious watching how it would play a part in this thought-provoking drama.
3 ¼ stars
THOUGH HER EYES WERE COVERED WITH OVERSIZED sunglasses, the sun was reflected in each lens to make it look like she had stars in her eyes. I stared at the photograph for some time, wondering if the photographer realized that when they captured the image. Hanging next to this photograph was one that depicted something completely different. It was done in black and white and at first glance I thought it was a photo of a closed toilet seat. The camera had shot it from the front at eye level to the seat. I assumed the photographer was attracted to the dark splotches on the seat’s rims; personally, I thought it looked nasty. As I read the information card next to the photograph it turned out the subject of the photo was actually a small bunch of ripe bananas, done in closeup. I was surprised and had to look back at the photo hanging on the wall. Now that I knew what it was I could make out the three bananas stacked on each other; what a hoot! In photography I have always gotten a kick out of taking photos of ordinary things in such a way as to play with the viewer’s perceptions of it, turning the subject into something extraordinary. AS I WALKED AROUND THE GALLERY I saw some gorgeous photographs. When the subject was human, I spent more time in front of it wondering why the person was photographed; what was their back story? One photo had an elderly woman sitting on a park bench. She was knitting a scarf while wearing it. The finished end was draped around her neck then rolled down her chest to her hands that held two large knitting needles. The needles looked like they were pointing to one spot. I wondered why the woman was sitting outside with her knitting; was she waiting for someone, did she like sitting outdoors because of the lighting and temperature? Did the photographer even know her, I wondered? Usually I have seen people knitting in waiting rooms; this photo piqued my curiosity. There were other photographs that showed individuals in a variety of emotional states. Coming out of one of the photos was an anguished looking woman who looked like her skin was melting; she looked deflated and sad. I came up with a few scenarios that all ended in some type of tragedy. But isn’t that what art is supposed to do; make one think and react to its content? That is exactly what was taking place in this film festival winning drama; the subject’s story came to life right before my eyes. CLEO, PLAYED BY NEWCOMER YALTA APARICIO, was the maid for a middle-class family that had some issues behind its façade. Set in Mexico City during the 1970s, this movie also starred Marina de Tavira (The Skies-TV; Love, Pain and Vice Versa) as Sra. Sofia, newcomer Diego Cortina Autrey as Tono, newcomer Carlos Peralta as Paco and newcomer Jorge Antonio Guerrero as Fermin. Directed and written by Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men), this film was visually stunning. Shot in black and white, Alfonso took his time with each scene. There was always something else going on besides the main subject in the scenes, filling up each frame with feelings and emotions. The story essentially was basic; there was very little action to speak of until the last half of the film. In fact, I found the script somewhat slow at times and felt Alfonso was spending too much time on some shots. For newcomers I was surprised to see how well the cast did with the script. I only wished there was more to the story. This was one of the most beautifully filmed pictures I have ever seen; however, I found out the back story of some subjects may not always be so exciting.
3 ½ stars
BEING A WITNESS TO an employer degrading an employee, yelling for all to hear, then immediately turn around and become this kind, solicitous salesperson for a consumer is enough to turn my stomach. The transformation seemed effortless, nothing like what I saw Dr. Jekyll go through to become Mr. Hyde from the movie. There are different labels like “two-faced, backstabbing and double-dealer” to describe a person who acts one way to one person then a different way to someone else. I worked at a company where the owner loved to be out in front with the shoppers. If you were able to hear him you would think he was the warmest, most helpful man you ever met. It was a façade because as soon as he returned to his office in the back he acted like he was king of the world; I am not exaggerating when I tell you he would have an employee from the warehouse clean his hairbrush. I know, it was totally disgusting and believe me he had the employees doing a lot more things for him. NOTHING HAS CHANGED SINCE I worked there many years ago. Presently what is going on in the world is no better with people in power harassing those with lesser power. I know I mentioned the historian and moralist Lord Acton before, but what he said is just as relevant now as it was in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Maybe the last sentence is not as true today or maybe it is me with wishful thinking. Yet there have been so many instances where the head of some company or organization is the perfect figurehead for their place but in their personal life they are different or even opposite. Can you imagine the president of let us say a shelter for abused victims being caught abusing their spouse? Experiencing that sense of power tends to make a person feel infallible; it turns out that is not always the case. AS THE MUSEUM IS ABOUT to launch a new exhibit its chief art curator Christian’s, played by Claes Bang (The Bridge-TV, Rule No. 1), personal life begins to fall apart. This Oscar nominated and film festival winning comedic drama also starred Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale-TV, The One I Love) as Anne, Dominic West (Chicago, The Forgotten) as Julian, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes franchise, Kong: Skull Island) as Oleg and Christopher Laesso (The Bridge, Darkland) as Michael. The thing that impressed me about this film was the script; there were several themes taking place at the same time, yet they were not confusing. I will say however the script was too long; it needed some editing to bring down the running time of this DVD. There were also some scenes that I found foolish, where I felt they would not have happened like that in real life. It was interesting how the writers were able to incorporate some topical themes into the story, where I was still thinking about this movie for some time after. With the competent actors, interesting story and thought provoking scenes; I found this movie to be an interesting choice for Sweden to have submitted to the Oscar committee. English, Swedish and Danish were spoken in this picture with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
I was a witness to it though I did not know I was watching something significant taking place. Visiting a friend at her house, we were sitting and talking while her kids were playing on the floor. I was not aware something was brewing but her daughter got upset over her sibling grabbing a toy from out of her hands. The little girl slapped her brother and he began to cry. My friend verbally disciplined them, saying something I thought most parents would say to an unruly child; I did not pay much mind to it. But right after my friend said it she stopped cold, turned to me and said, “Oh no, I just turned into my mother!” My puzzled look was her cue to tell me what she just told her kids was the same line her mother used to say to her when she was young. Now I understood; she reached that point in time, whether she wanted to believe it or not, when she discovered she was turning into her mother. Haven’t many of us gone through the same thing? It does not have to be a verbal thing; it could be some particular action that you find yourself doing that one of your parents used to do. WHAT I find just as impactful if not more is the time when you first objectively see yourself in someone else. For me it happened at a birthday party for a friend. There was a guy there who must have been angry about something. We were sitting around playing a game and this person would get upset if someone on his team did not succeed in the task. His competiveness was not relatable to me but his expressed anger is what connected to me. I have to tell you it startled me when I realized I probably make the people in my life just as uncomfortable with the anger I carried inside of me. This happened years ago but wouldn’t you know it, there was something about the main character in this comedic drama that struck a chord in me. THOUGH no longer president of the association Ove, played by Rolf Lassgard (Under the Sun, The Hunters), made his daily rounds to make sure everything was in order. Trouble was all he saw when his new neighbor Parvaneh, played by Bahar Pars (When Darkness Falls, Dreams), and her family drove into his mailbox. This film festival winner is Sweden’s entry into the Best Foreign Film category at the 2017 Academy Awards. It totally deserves to be there because I thought the story and the acting were excellent. With Filip Berg (Eternal Summer, Deano and Nige’s Best Last Day Ever) as Ove som ung and Sofie Gallerspang (Monica Z, Innocent Mara-TV Movie) as Brud; I felt the writers did a beautiful job of intertwining the 2 story lines of past and present. The directing was a little heavy where one would almost feel they were being manipulated but Rolf was outstanding enough to make everything real in this picture. This was a well done picture now please excuse me as I go take a good look at myself in the mirror. Swedish and Persian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars
In a few days the big event will be upon us. I know it will be worth everything I endured the past year. There was the teen movie where the audience looked like it was separated into different groups, huddled by the campfire glow from their cell phones, texting away. I recall the small cluster of elderly people behind me who I assumed were addicted to hard candies based on the crackling, unwrapping noises that pierced the still air throughout most of the movie. All of these things will melt from my memories as the flood of winning Oscar nominees settle into fresh impressions. This was a tough year for me with a few of the categories because the competition was so close. I have my pre-Oscar meal planned, washed my soft cozy afghan and dusted the big screened television; so, I am ready for my favorite day of the year. I really do not have a bucket list but one day I want to be part of the audience sitting at the Oscar telecast. Better yet, I would do almost anything to be a seat filler. If the chance ever comes I already know I would leave behind a tastefully wrapped chocolate candy on each celebrity’s seat upon my departure. Please find below my choices for who I feel should receive the Oscar this year.
BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
This was a tough call because I feel Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave deserves it just as much as Matthew. I would prefer a tie here; however, I feel the academy will choose Matthew based on his recent body of work.
BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
If anyone can grab this from Cate it will be Judi Dench for Philomena. This is tough but I decided on Cate for her different moods on display.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
His role was more complicated to pull off and he was brilliant with his performance.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave
I actually was leaning towards Jennifer Lawrence for the longest time but the more I thought about it I decided Lupita was extra special. The dark horse here would be June Squibb for Nebraska, but Lupita deserves the win.
BEST DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
This was the hardest one for me to make a decision. Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity deserves this just as much as Steve McQueen. The new technology he created for the cameras, the difficulty in pushing actors who were alone in many scenes; it was amazing work. However, I am choosing Steve based on the variety of cast and scenes in this film. He kept me absolutely engaged throughout the film.
BEST PICTURE: 12 Years a Slave
Since the beginning I have been telling everyone that this film needs to be shown in every classroom. Being based on a true story only made this movie more incredible for me.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gravity
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: Frozen
I only saw 3 out of the 5 nominees and if I had seen The Wind Rises my answer may have been different.
VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity
So another year comes to a close and I want to thank each of you for your encouragement, support, comments and total acceptance of me; a part neurotic, obsessive, film lover.
There is a risk venturing into something without having some prior knowledge on what you will do or see. I do not know if I would call myself a risk taker, but I prefer seeing a movie with as little information about it as possible. Call me an adventurer. This is why I keep my reviews short, not divulging too much information. If I am going to ask someone about a movie it would be to ask if there is a good time to run out and use the restroom. Being the way I am, there have been movies I have gone to where I have pleaded with my watch to speed up; the movie was that awful. However, I am willing to take my chances. When I go to a movie such as this one, I enjoy the surprise of experiencing a wonderful film. For example, I did not know this adventure film was an Oscar and Golden Globe nominee for best foreign film. The international version that was done in English was what I saw at the theater. The movie was a dramatization about famous adventurer Thor Heyerdal’s 1947 attempt to cross 4,700 miles of the Pacific Ocean, to prove that Polynesia could have been settled by natives from South America. Having seen the trailer for this film, I had to wonder if the movie would be able to keep my attention. Since I had seen the movie Life of Pi, I was not expecting this film to be as beautiful. Now here came the surprise: this movie was beautiful in its own way. I am sure scenes were added to keep a sense of drama and suspense for the viewer, but it worked. I was never bored, just astounded these men willingly agreed to sail across the Pacific Ocean on a wooden raft. The only thing missing from the story was getting more background information on each member of the crew. I wanted to know what drove them to commit to such a risky endeavor. Pal Sverre Hagen (Troubled Water, Amor) and Agnes Kittelson (Happy Happy, Tag) were admirable playing Thor and Liv Heyerdal. By taking a risk in going to this movie, I was rewarded with seeing an engaging film about an amazing feat. One brief scene with blood.
3 1/4 stars
For a small German village there seemed to be an ever increasing amount of mysterious incidents. It began when the doctor, played by Rainer Bock (War Horse, My Best Enemy), was thrown from his horse by a thin wire strung across the path. We learned of these events from the school teacher, played by Christian Friedel (Chicken with Plums), who played a sympathetic character in this film. The cinematography was exquisite, with almost each frame worthy enough to be hung in an art museum. And this was why the movie worked so well; amongst such beautiful visuals there was an underlying uneasiness as a menacing evil was taking hold. In the beginning of this amazing film, the pacing was kept to a slow pace as we were being introduced to the villagers. With some of the incidents having violent overtones, the villagers became afraid and suspicious that the person or persons responsible could easily be a neighbor. I would classify this former Oscar nominee as a dramatic mystery. For those who are uncomfortable with the sight of blood, there is only one quick scene and I would gladly share with you where it took place in this movie. German with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
Sometimes a father and son have a mercurial relationship. I have seen instances where the father was disappointed his son did not meet his expectations. Or there was the father that always tried to upstage his child in being the center of attention. In this dramatic movie, father and son Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik, played by Shlomo Bar-Aba (Half a Ton of Bronze, Kvalim) and Lior Ashkenazi (Walk on Water, Kalevet) respectively, were both scholars at Jerusalem University. Where the son sought the limelight and alcolades from his peers; the father focused on a narrow range of study, seeming to ignore the establishment. But was that really the case when Eliezer was mistakenly phoned with news he would be the recipient of a prestigious award? Having seen the trailer for this movie and with it being an Oscar nominee, I expected much from this film. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the story. There were some humorous scenes, but the more I watched the characters, the less I cared about them. Without that connection, my overall feeling for this film was one of boredom. As the credits were rolling a thought came to me–I hope I was not turning into a one of those reviewers with high expectations, just because a film received a nomination.
The issues of elder care and child care are not unique to this movie’s family; they easily could be concerns for anyone around the world. But it is the choices made by husband Nader, played by Peyman Maadi (About Elly) and wife Simin, played by Leila Hatami (The Deserted Station, Leila), that make this movie an incredible experience. Riveting with emotional depth and strong characters, I immediately was taken in with the story, forgetting this was a movie, it seemed so real. Simin wants to move to another country, so her daughter can have a better life; Nader wants to stay in Iran to take care of his father, in decline with Alzheimer’s disease. From these conflicts, others emerge that only increase the tensions building up inside the characters. I absolutely understand why this amazing film was chosen as an Oscar nominee for best foreign movie. As the credits began to roll, the rest of the audience joined me in honoring this film with our applause. Persian with English subtitles.