THERE ARE SOME FAMILY GATHERINGS THAT require a program to keep the cast of characters clear in one’s mind. I will avoid talking about my own since it would be easy for the family members to identify themselves in my stories. There have been many occasions where I have been included in another family’s event. From somber to joyful I have discovered each family has their own “baggage” whether they acknowledge it or not. Also, it has reaffirmed in me the belief that there is no such thing as a “normal” family. I was included in a friend’s family dinner where two sisters did not speak to each other because they had an argument months (yes, that is right months) ago. Do you have any idea how challenging it is to carry on a conversation where you have to address each person separately on the same topic? They never made eye contact nor referred to the other in any way; it was uncomfortable for me and yet the parents sat at the dining room table as if nothing in the world was wrong. The wildest part of it was when food was being passed around the table. Neither sister would hand the other any food going around; instead, would put it on the table to make the other sibling stand up and reach for it. Crazy, isn’t it? AT THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM, I have been at family functions where nothing was held back; family members were sharing the most intimate details about their personal lives. In other words, WTMI (way too much information). There would be no need for me to hear what type of physical characteristics a relative is looking for in a mate. Or how about sitting around the living room as 3 relatives get into a heated argument, calling each other names and swearing at the top of their lungs. I remember looking around to get a cue on how to react, but the other relatives were just sitting there sipping their cups of coffee and nibbling on their snacks as if nothing was taking place. At one point I thought I was entering a boxing match as the yelling relatives were getting up into each other’s faces. Now I come from a point of view where everyone has the right to express their feelings; but not during a heated argument. It should be a calm setting with no fear of retaliation. If you are curious to see an example of a family with issues, then feel free to observe what takes place with the family in this dramatic crime mystery. RETURNING TO HER SMALL HOME TOWN for her sister’s wedding was to be a happy occasion for Laura, played by Penelope Cruz (The Counsellor, Broken Embraces). But when a tragic event took place, the cracks beneath the family’s surface spread further apart. This film festival winning movie also starred Javier Bardem (The Sea Inside, No Country for Old Men) as Paco, Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes, Wild Tales) as Alejandro, Edward Fernandez (Biutiful, The Man with Thousand Faces) as Fernando and Barbara Lennie (Magical Girl, El Nino) as Bea. The acting in this film was excellent; whether it was joyful or heart wrenching, I was feeling the characters’ emotional states. With the acting so strong, this picture needed a tightly written script to keep the actors aloft. At times I felt some scenes went flat; luckily, there were not many of them. The other criticism I have has to do with the ending. It seemed to tidy as if it wanted to wrap up the story quickly. Otherwise, this picture still kept my interest as I wondered what other things this family had hidden below the surface. Spanish was spoken with English subtitles.
2 ½ 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 is getting harder and harder not to turn into a cynic these days. Before the internet (boy, don’t I sound older than dirt) it was easier to believe the things people were saying were true. Not that there weren’t criminal elements throughout society; let us say there were less tools of the trade for a criminal to use to scam someone. Though I believe everyone is born with good and bad tendencies, I lean more towards the thought people are telling me the truth. My reasoning is to look at what they are saying and wonder what gain would come from them lying to me. As you can imagine I have been burned in the past, gratefully at very little loss. There have been people I know who were taken by scam artists and do you know what one of the saddest remarks has been for them to agree with the transaction? “They had a nice face” or “They were so polite” are excuses I have heard. Personally I have always had issues about judgements being made based on a person’s appearance. Whether a person is perceived to be pretty or not should have no bearing on a person’s character. Besides, what is the definition of pretty or handsome? What one person finds beautiful another person may find ugly. So now with the internet as a major part of our lives, criminally minded individuals can be whatever they want to be or what the victim wants them to be. How scary is that? For everyone, but especially those of you who were born after the internet, take a look at how the characters worked their trade in this crime thriller. JUAN, played by Gaston Pauls (Nuts for Love, Iluminados por el Fuego), had that innocent looking face that would fit perfectly into Marcos’, played by Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes, Son of the Bride), scheme to sell counterfeit stamps. This film festival winning drama was an absolute twisted, wild ride written and directed by Fabian Bielinsky (The Aura, Sleepwalker). Though these were con artists one could not help but follow them throughout this film with its multiple stories. I thought the acting was terrific as the actors were able to be totally serious yet deliver some sly and wicked humor. Including Leticia Bredice (Burnt Money, The One-TV) as Valerie, I enjoyed the way the story and everyone in it were like jigsaw puzzle pieces that were attempting to fit into spots before finding their correct places. At one point I felt scenes were bordering on being unrealistic but it became a passing thought because I was getting deeper into following the story. On one level one could be horrified about witnessing a crime taking place; but on the other hand, this movie was meant to entertain and it did. Just reading the synopsis about this picture doesn’t convey how fun it was to watch this DVD. Spanish was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
It can be a struggle but I prefer being known for my actions than my profession. When I meet new people, I refrain from telling them I am a credit manager or a cycle and yoga instructor. Like most individuals, there are things I do to earn a living and there are things I do because I love doing them. There are times when someone hears I am a credit manager and forms false assumptions about me. Some people think I am all about the dollar or I have a tough personality. The same holds true if someone learns I am in the fitness industry. It is assumed that I only eat well balanced, healthy meals and can easily do any type of physical activity. Now grant you, I can easily figure out what each person’s share of a restaurant tab should be and I am a fast walker; but I do not want to be one of those individuals who live to work. I want to work to live. It is not always so easy to achieve. The main character in this Spanish dramedy was a perfect example. Catalina Saavedra (Old Cats, Trapped) was Raquel, a family’s maid for over 20 years. Her life had become so intertwined with them that she did not think of anything else but the family. When her employers Pilar and Mundo, played by Claudia Celedon (La Perra, Old Cats) and Alejandro Goic (No, Gloria), tried to hire additional help for the household, Raquel’s world was shaken to the point where she felt she had to defend her turf from the new intruders. This film festival winner had multiple scenes of humor and sadness, led by the wonderful acting of Catalina as Raquel. Having no experience with household servants, I was fascinated with the subtle nuances and posturing that took place between family members and hired help. With the introduction of Lucy, played by Mariana Loyola (The Dancer and the Thief, Cachimba), I enjoyed the way the story blossomed open. This was a touching movie that followed one person’s journey in discovering life. Spanish with English subtitles.
3 1/4 stars — DVD