Films

DC digest

The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it.   

-- George Bernard Shaw

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Film Tips and Tweets from Rozanne Weissman  


    Screened and highly recommend THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE. The mix of animals 🐘 children 👶 women, Nazis, and World War II told from a 
    When the Nazis invade Poland, the Zabinskis are forced to report to the Reich's newly appointed chief zoologist. The Zabinskis covertly work with the Resistance to save the lives of hundreds of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. They have been honored as part of the 'Righteous Among Nations,' non-Jews who aided Jews during the Holocaust. This story has special meaning for me. My father from Poland was the only one to to get to the US because of a fortune teller. ALL other members of his family were killed by the Nazis.
    woman's perspective captivated me. Critics aren't as kind. Ignore them.

    T
    he scene: Poland 🇵🇱 1939 at the Warsaw Zoo run by Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski. It's a true story.

     






  1. Screened & LOVED romantic musical #LaLaLand w/lots of #Oscar buzz. 
  2. Stars #EmmaStone & @RyanGosling as struggling actress & jazz musician.pic.twitter.com/4MgG6f2LP7

















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Screened comedy 'Why Him?' ‬Racy. Raunchy. R-rated. Mediocre script. Hilarious bathroom toilet scene! Stars James Franco as a Silicon Valley multi-billionaire techie covered in tattoos who scores low on social skills. Not a fan of Franco. 2-hr escape.‬ MUCH needed. LAUGHTER! I'll go anywhere/see anything for a laugh after being 'electionally depressed' for 6 months!

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Screened & recommend terrific 
 



Screened & recommend @AlliedMovie #WWII romantic thriller. Stars Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard. 
  1.  




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Wide-ranging Themes in New Movies This Season

Film Reviews by Rozanne Weissman

THE END OF THE TOUR  Terrific film. Jason Segel is compelling as the late author David Foster Wallace, being interviewed during a 1996 book tour by Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg. The film is based on Lipsky's bestseller Although Of Course You End Up Becoming YourselfImagine a male-bonding 'road trip' film with chain smoking, junk food, and serious probing conversation. At a Q&A following a screening in Washington, DC, Segel said he found it “more terrifying playing a real person vs. fictional. You have to capture their essence. The role was a real departure for me.”


SAMBA 
Terrific, timely, French immigration film. Talented Omar Sy plays an illegal immigrant from Senegal, living in France for 10 years doing menial jobs. Sorrow, romance. By the same team that created “Intouchables,” which I loved in 2012.  In French with English subtitles.  (Scroll way down on this page for Intouchables review.)


RICKI AND THE FLASH
  Meryl Streep stars as an aging rock musician in wild black leather outfits, with braids on one side of her head, and eight rings on her guitar-strumming fingers. She learned to play the guitar realistically for the film – she really gets into every role – with help from famed '80s rocker Rick Springfield, who plays her band mate and bed mate. Streep's actual daughter Mamie Gummer – check out the amazing resemblance – plays her alienated daughter, a basket case who tried to commit suicide and is going through a bitter divorce. She remains in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers even when the dysfunctional family goes to a fine restaurant. Dysfunctional probably because mother Streep left her three young kids in Indiana while she pursued her rocker dreams in California. She winds up playing regularly with her band in a small joint and working as a supermarket cashier. I have mixed thoughts about this film, which is directed by Oscar winner Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno). I never believed the story, and it's neatly wrapped up at the end. Other reviewers have been kinder.


BOULEVARD
The late Robin Williams' last film is a sad little art house film that won't see the audiences of most of the talented actor's other films. Leaving the earth on that note is as sad as his suicide by hanging last August when he was dealing with the demons of depression, alcoholism, and  Parkinson's disease. Williams plays Nolan Mack, a closeted homosexual married man tentatively beginning to explore his true sexuality at age 60 but never actually having sex. Our hearts go out to the tortured Nolan in this serious performance. Williams highly diverse body of work and box office hits continue to speak for him: "Good Morning, Vietnam," "Good Will Hunting," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Dead Poets Society," "Awakenings," "The Fisher King," "Hook," "Jumanji," "The Birdcage," "Night at the Museum" franchise,  and of course his role as former President Dwight Eisenhower in "Lee Daniels' The Butler." We remember him for that and for his manic, rollicking TV interviews. May he finally rest in peace.


JACK STRONG  
Intriguing Polish political thriller tells the true story of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, who singlehandedly wages a battle against the Soviets from his position deep inside the system, passing secrets to NATO and the CIA.  Music evokes the Cold War era.

 

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TRAINWRECK

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman


Imagine all of your most hilarious sexual experiences and thoughts on the big screen. And reverse the stereotypical roles so that the woman is the sexually adventurous, commitment-phobic, one-time-only hookup type and you've got a TRAINWRECK.   The equation for this hilarious film:  Director Judd Apatow + screenwriter/star Amy Schumer = great team!  Cleveland star basketball player LeBron James gains new career as good actor! It's got enough rom-com for women and enough sports figures & cheerleaders for men.  

SYNOPSIS:  
Since she was a little girl, it's been drilled into Amy's head by her rascal of a dad that monogamy isn't realistic. Now a magazine writer, Amy lives by that credo-enjoying what she feels is an uninhibited life free from stifling, boring romantic commitment-but in actuality, she's kind of in a rut. When she finds herself starting to fall for the subject of the new article she's writing, a charming and successful sports doctor named Aaron Conners, Amy starts to wonder if other grown-ups, including this guy who really seems to like her, might be on to something.

Universal Pictures (2hrs). Opens July 17.
CAST: Amy Schumer (screenwriter), Bill Header, Colin Quinn
DIR: Judd Apatow 
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AMY
Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

Screened jazz singer Amy Winehouse documentary directed by Asif Kapadia. Like many other well-known singers, she burned bright and died way too young in a downward and sad spiral.

Early clips show the Brit as a playful and somewhat mischievous Jewish girl.

Plagued by an addictive personality, bulimia, alcohol, and then a boyfriend-turned husband who introduced her to crack cocaine and heroin, Winehouse also attracted other leeches from her father to a later manager who value...d money more than her well being. She was also constantly plagued by paparazzi.

I LOVED the scenes with the legendary Tony Bennett treating her kindly and gently when the nervous singer asked for a "do over" when they sang together for his album and then eulogizing her at the end of the doc as among the jazz greats.

SYNOPSIS:  From BAFTA Award-winning director Asif Kapadia (SENNA), AMY tells the incredible story of six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse - in her own words. Featuring extensive unseen archival footage and previously unheard tracks, this strikingly modern, moving and vital film shines a light on our culture and the world we live in today. A once-in-a-generation talent, Amy Winehouse was a musician that captured the world's attention with her unforgettable voice and charisma. A pure jazz artist in the most authentic sense, Amy poured her heart and soul into her music, expressing personal struggles and pain through her intimate lyrics. The combination of her raw honesty and virtuosity resulted in some of the most unique and adored songs of our time.

Amy became an international sensation, experiencing a meteoric rise to fame she had never sought nor expected. The relentless and invasive media attention, coupled with Amy's troubled relationships and addictions, led her into a tragic cycle of self-destruction, resulting in her untimely death at age 27. Four years later, Asif Kapadia's powerful documentary invites audiences to remember and celebrate Amy as a brilliant artist while asking ourselves how it was that we watched her disappear in front of our eyes.
A24 (2hrs). Opens July 10.
DIR: Asif Kapadia 

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Self/Less

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman


Screened SCI-FI thriller 'Self/Less' tonight. Imagine Ben Kingsley's consciousness transferred into the younger body of Ryan Reynolds. Interesting concept. Mixed review. Kingsley plays a terminally ill billionaire who buys a chance for eternal life through an experimental medical procedure through a secret organization that transfers his consciousness into the cadaver of Ryan Reynolds. Ah, but that cadaver wasn't created in a lab as Kingsley's character thought. And saying more would be a spoiler alert. In a Q&A following the film, American University neuroscientist Dr. Mark Laubach observes: "It's amazing we still don't know where brain stores things."
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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman


Just screened "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" tonight. I LOVED the first film & enjoyed the sequel. There are too few films that have great ensemble casts who are all stars in their own right, humor, dancing, fun. It's #2 to the first film in every way & still better than much of what's out there.



Synopsis:  THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is the expansionist dream of Sonny, and it's making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life, Sunaina. Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, has only a single remaining vacancy - posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy and Lavinia. Evelyn and Douglas have now joined the Jaipur workforce, and are wondering where their regular dates for Chilla pancakes will lead, while Norman and Carol are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship, as Madge juggles two eligible and very wealthy suitors. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co-manager of the hotel, Muriel, the keeper of everyone's secrets. As the demands of a traditional Indian wedding threaten to engulf them all, an unexpected way forward presents itself.
20th Century Fox (2hr 2min). Opens March 6.
CAST: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, David Strathairn, Richard Gere
DIR: John Madden 
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THE IMITATION GAME 

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

Screened must-see biopic "The Imitation Game" nominated for 5 Golden Globes. Brit Benedict Cumberbatch is terrific as eccentric & brilliant mathematician & cryptographer Alan Turing whose cracking of the Nazi's Enigma 
code was responsible for the ultimate Allies' win of World War II. His work on constructing "the machine," which helped break the code, was the precursor of the computer.

What's most intriguing: after breaking the unbreakable code, they kept it secret from the government, military, & people while the mathematicians & code breakers devised statistical probabilities of how many Nazi military maneuvers they could reveal without the Nazis knowing their code was broken. The code breakers basically held life & death decisions in their hands.

Despite what he had accomplished, Turing suffers a dire fate after being outed as a homosexual.

The film jolts viewers constantly into the past, present, & future – so much so that I'm thinking of seeing the film again in a month.

SYNOPSIS:  During the winter of 1952, British authorities entered the home of mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing to investigate a reported burglary. They instead ended up arresting Turing himself on charges of 'gross indecency', an accusation that would lead to his devastating conviction for the criminal offense of homosexuality - little did officials know, they were actually incriminating the pioneer of modern-day computing. Famously leading a motley group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers, he was credited with cracking the so-called unbreakable codes of Germany's World War II Enigma machine. An intense and haunting portrayal of a brilliant, complicated man, THE IMITATION GAME follows a genius who under nail-biting pressure helped to shorten the war and, in turn, save thousands of lives.
Weinstein Company (1hr 53min). Opens in DC December 12.
CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech
DIR: Morten Tyldum

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The Two Faces of January

Mini-Review by Rozanne Weissmann


Screened book adaptation thriller The Two Faces of January – Crime, betrayal, survival in Greece/Turkey in 60's. Gorgeous scenery & cast: Oscar Isaac plays American expat tour guide who connects with well-heeled tourists Kirsten Dunst & Viggo Mortensen.


SYNOPSIS:  Screenwriter Hossein Amini makes a stylish directing debut with this sleek thriller set in Greece and Istanbul in 1962. Intrigue begins at the Parthenon when a glamorous, wealthy American couple-the charismatic Chester MacFarland and his alluring young wife Collete -meet Rydal, a Greek-speaking American who is working as a tour guide, scamming female tourists on the side. Instead of becoming his latest marks, the two befriend him, but a murder at the couple's hotel puts all three on the run together and creates a precarious bond between them as the trio's allegiance is put to the test. Their journey takes them from Greece to Turkey, and to a dramatic finale played out in the back alleys of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train).
Magnolia Pictures (96min). Opens October 3.

CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac
DIR: Hossein Amini (screenwrite of Drive, The Wings of the Dove) 



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And So It Goes

Movie Review by Donna Christenson


"And So It Goes" might be aptly applied not just as a title but as a description of how the film itself proceeds.  After getting off to a very sluggish start, the predictable storyline picks up a little momentum and becomes a rather touching diversion.

And who knew Diane Keaton could sing?  Her befuddled "Annie Hall" as a senior citizen plays well against Michael Douglas' curmudgeonly neighbor. Director Rob Reiner also acts the role of Keaton’s piano-playing would-be suitor.  But the real scene-stealer is sweet little Sterling Jerins, whose acting skills and accomplishments by the age of ten would put older actresses to shame. 

As in life, one thing leads to another ...and so it goes. 


SYNOPSIS:
  And So It Goes is a romantic comedy drama film directed by Rob Reiner and written by Mark Andrus. The film stars Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton and Sterling Jerins. A self-centered realtor enlists the help of his neighbor when he's suddenly left in charge of the granddaughter he didn't know existed until his estranged son dropped her off at his home.

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The Hornet's Nest 

Mini-review by Rozanne Weissman


Screened The Hornet's Nest documentary film.   ABC-TV embedded wartime correspondent Mike Boettcher & his son Carlos provide frontline footage of nine-day battle in Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. "There is a disconnect by 99% of public re our war," said Boettcher after the screening. The film shows the tremendous sacrifice & loss of young men, appropriately released around Memorial Day. It's a hard repetitive film to watch. The last 10 minutes are especially important to watch and offer a totally different tone. My heart goes out to vets & their families. I still have little idea what we accomplished there for 13 long years.

 

 

 

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Finding Vivian Maier

Mini-review by Rozanne Weissman


Screened unique, fascinating documentary, "Finding Vivian Maier."  Virtually unknown photographer had some 100,000 negatives which were rarely printed 

until after her death. Extraordinary photographic eye captured others despite her own scrambled brain.

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THE SQUARE

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

THE SQUARE, nominated for an Academy award for best documentary, immerses viewers in the Egyptian revolution over the past three years — from the 2011 Arab Spring economic and political mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square which toppled the dictatorial president Hosni Mubarak, through military intimidation and rule, followed by the election of Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim brotherhood and massive demonstrations a year later in 2013 against military and religious oppression and calling for his successful ouster. And now the military rules again.

Filmed on the streets, in hospitals and offices, and in Tahrir Square with the protesters, THE SQUARE won the audience award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Since the story was still ongoing at that time, American-born and Harvard-educated Egyptian American director Jehan Noujaim, who lived in Egypt as a youth and teenager, returned to Egypt to shoot new close-up footage of the bloody religious and secular June 30, 2013 demonstrations and re-edit the film. 

Filming on the front lines of history, Noujaim captured shootings and beatings of civilians around the square as well as the chaos, idealism, perseverance, and highs and lows of political fights. Noujaim revealed in an early screening of THE SQUARE that she lost five cameras and hours of footage and was arrested in the process of making this film, which is still censored in Egypt. 

“Editing is a messy process. We had 1600 hours of footage—edited down to 100 minutes—and followed a number of characters. I wanted to show human characters the audience can relate to and show their interconnectedness,” she added. 

While the documentary interviews many, it follows three primary people and their experiences in the square—youthful and passionately committed activist and narrator Ahmed Hassan, a middle-aged father and conflicted member of the Muslim Brotherhood Magdy Ashour, and articulate activist British/Egyptian actor and star of THE KITE RUNNER Khalid Abdalla. I first encountered Abdalla at a 2007 screening of The Kite Runner—a film that has stayed with me while so many others are long forgotten. 

“This is the most personal and life-changing film for me,” related Noujaim. “The 2011 demonstrations were a magical time when people of different religions came together and felt that they were stakeholders in the process.  In a documentary, the filmmaker has no idea what happens next. THE SQUARE was not just documenting the record of what was going on, we were part of what’s happening. Every inch we gained is a mile in the future. We know there is no white knight or knight in shining armor—it’s us.”

When Ahmed Hassan was on camera and when Noujaim was talking, I was reminded of my own youthful participation in massive US protests for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War, which seemed never ending and never changing. In retrospect, these actions influenced Presidents, ended a war, and led to desegregation of schools, facilities, and organizations, and significantly greater opportunities for minorities. Everything isn’t perfect but it’s so much better. And I was also reminded of my early days at NEA and successful fights for integration of black and white Southern teacher organizations and for teacher bargaining rights. Hopefully Egyptian protestors in this film can also ultimately see a more democratic Egypt that’s representative and respectful of all of its citizens of every religion and viewpoint.

I encourage you to see the documentary because Egypt is at the epicenter of many Middle East and world issues. This is a time when social media not only affected what happened on the ground but will also continue to affect change. If the film isn’t playing in your city, it’s available through Netflix.

 

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Multiple Film Reviews

By Rozanne Weissman

 

The last quarter of the year generally includes the best films leading into the big movie-going holidays and Oscar nominations. I’ve screened a number of good films prior to their opening, and there are still more that have already opened in theaters which are on my must-see list. My first two films reviewed are adapted from books.

PHILOMENA tells the heartfelt story of a retired Irish nurse, played masterfully by Judi Dench, whose child was taken from her by nuns in Ireland and sold by them for adoption in the US when she was just a young unwed teenager. The film is an adaptation of a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, a true story by BBC foreign correspondent “turned spin doctor” Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan who also co-wrote the screenplay). Sixsmith, a lapsed Catholic, helped Philomena track down her son who had been sold 50 years earlier. The nuns and the Catholic Church don’t fare well in the book or film. Scenes showing the way they treated Philomena are heartbreaking to watch—such as when they denied Philomena pain relief during her breech birth as penance for her "indecency." They also destroyed adoption records.

Coogan, known for comedy, turns the screenplay into an “odd couple road trip” through Ireland and the US with Philomena (Dench) and Sixsmith (Coogan) playing effectively off each other, whether on comedic bantering or discussing weighty issues of faith and forgiveness where their perspectives differ. PHILOMENA won best screenplay at the Venice International Film Festival. Dame Judi Dench as usual is phenomenal. She plays the role with spunk, compassion, and forgiveness. Renowned and prolific English director Stephen Frears—known for directing The Queen, High Fidelity, My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, and Dirty Pretty Things—masterly directs this film. He’s currently making a film about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Following the film screening, actor-screenwriter Steve Coogan participated in a Q&A (shown at left with DC Film Society President Michael Kyrioglou). “I optioned the book after reading a newspaper article and spent time with both Martin and Philomena,” said Coogan. “The film is about the journey, not the destination. The hardest thing was constructing the film so that it lifted us up versus dwelling on anger and tragedy. I used comedy to support the drama.”

Saying more would necessitate a “spoiler alert.” This is a film well worth seeing.

 

THE BOOK THIEF  took me back to my youth when I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and marveled at how a girl my age went through the Holocaust and still believed that people were really still good at heart. Based on an internationally best-selling young adult Holocaust novel of the same name by Markus Zusak’s, THE BOOK THIEF is the only film I’ve ever seen narrated by Death (Roger Allam). It’s the story of initially scared and illiterate Liesel Meminger, whose brother dies enroute to their new foster home in Nazi Germany. Sophie Nélisse, who plays Liesel, brings Liesel to life and carries the film with future star assurance. Another outstanding and endearing performance: Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush), compassionate foster father who teaches Liesel to read and write after she is bullied at school. He is an absolute delight as we watch his unrestrained affection for his foster daughter in contrast to his seemingly gruff wife Rosa (Emily Watson). A house painter, he gets joy from Liesel and playing the accordion – even to change the atmosphere in an air raid shelter.

Regarding the title of the book and film: Liesel, who has grown to love books, is goaded by the school bully to toss a book into a flaming bonfire – a Nazi book burning ceremony. After everyone leaves, she reaches into the coals, steals the smoldering book, and hides it under her coat. She is observed by the wife of the burgermeister (mayor) who finds her brave and secretly provides Liesel regular access to their home library each time she delivers laundry. Later she steals a book from there.

While we see war in the film tangentially through air raids, Nazi attire, a house-by-house search by Nazi officers for hidden Jews, a book burning, and the march of prisoners wearing Jewish stars, this is a film that focuses more on storytelling – on reading, writing, human growth, and tender relationships. The relationships of Liesel and her parents, Liesel and her blonde-haired neighbor and best friend Rudy, and Liesel and Jewish refugee Max (Ben Schnetzer) who is hidden in their basement because his father saved Hans during World War I. Director Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”) garners good performances from all. This is a film that spans ages—adults and teens can see it together.

While some reviews criticize the film for glossing over the realities of war, that may not be fair. This is a film seen through the eyes of the young. Youth in war-torn lands don’t get into the weeds – they create their own worlds to survive.

 

THE DELIVERY MAN. Hollywood “pulled out all the stops” promoting screenings of this film in 100 cities simultaneously, with a taped opening by actor Vince Vaughn. I wish they would show such muscle supporting better films. Prejudices upfront: I’m not a fan of films starring Vaughn. As an actor, Vaughn strikes me as “Johnny one note.” I don’t see him as a leading man with the acting range of so many other film stars that are able to move from comedy to drama--like  Mathew Conaughey expanding his range in Mud or his latest film Dallas Buyers Club. Nothing about this film rings true. Of course, it is a pretty wild story.

David Wosniak (Vaughn), an immature, under achieving but kindhearted meat delivery man for his family's butcher shop, discovers that his stint in the 80's as a sperm donor for money somehow resulted in a whopping 533 successful pregnancies. The “frequent donor” is code-named Starbuck. Now in their 20's, more than 100 adoptees learned that they share the same biological father and are suing the errant fertility clinic to obtain the real identity of Starbuck.

 

THE DELIVERY MAN is a remake of a significantly better and more delightful French Canadian runaway hit film STARBUCK. That film – also directed by Ken Scott – was endearing. My best advice: Do not waste your money seeing this American version. Contact Netflix to get a DVD of STARBUCK, make your own popcorn, and enjoy a cheaper, better experience. My more detailed review of STARBUCK is on my new “leopard-themed” marketing communications website: http://rozanneweissman.com/film-food-reviews/  

 


GRAVITY
is a 3-D visual WOW. We’re in outer space in zero gravity with the crew and sitting on the edge of our seats for much of the 90-minute thriller. Outstanding Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and his long-time cinematographer create breathtaking visuals through long camera movements, live-action, computer-generated imagery, and newer technologies which weren’t available until recently. Writing in The Washington Post, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Arizona Representative and shooting survivor Gabby Giffords, said Cuaron captured what it looks like inside and outside of the space craft. He added that “as astronauts, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney captured the intensity and horror of their situation – essentially a fight for survival in space.”

Their spacecraft is obliterated. And the two are stranded in space with massive debris flying towards them. GRAVITY is Sandra Bullock’s film. She carries the entire film playing medical engineer Ryan Stone – and a lonely job it was according to reports since she was filmed alone for most of the film, having to display terror and all other emotions with nothing and no one to act against. That’s a difficult acting challenge. She’s dealing with motion sickness on her first space flight as she’s tumbling around and then fighting for survival with oxygen deprivation. And we on the edge of our seats rally for her.

My only criticism: the film didn’t have enough of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (the charming George Clooney). And, spoiler alert, I can’t tell you why.

This is a film meant for the really big screen – 3-D IMAX if possible, not streaming on your computer or Netflix DVD. Think big screen, big popcorn, big sound – or even scarier the eerie silence of outer space.

 

MUSCLE SHOALS. The tiny Alabama town of Muscle Shoals on the banks of the Tennessee River saw all the greats in the musical world as they came there to discover, hone, and record their sound – Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, Traffic, Paul Simon, Jimmy Cliff, Alicia Keys, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and the list goes on. First-time filmmaker Greg "Freddy" Camalier explores in this documentary how this segregated Alabama town bridges races and was the source of some of the greatest American music of the 1960s and '70s. Music producer Rick Hall established FAME Studios with a house band called “the Swampers” and drew in the talent. Camalier did his research and gets too much into the weeds for my taste of what ultimately became two competing recording studios – FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound, established by the Swampers. However, if you love the music of this era – soul, blues, rock, hillbilly, spirituals – and the people who made this music, the film is worth seeing.

 

THE FIFTH ESTATE. What could be timelier in the world we live in than secrecy, privacy, and the trafficking of classified information? Every day there are more leaks. As a former journalist and investigative reporter for Jack Anderson for a stint while on sabbatical from NEA, I’m interested and intrigued about the story behind such stories. While the reviews haven’t been great for THE FIFTH ESTATE, I wanted to know more about WikiLeaks egotistical Australian founder Julian Assange, his charisma and paranoia, what drove him, and the stories he uncovered. If you have the same interest, see it. Otherwise, it may not be your cup of tea.

I also recommend CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (although Tom Hanks’ attempted New England accent didn’t work for me) and ENOUGH SAID. I haven’t yet personally seen but have heard good things about WADJDA, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, ALL IS LOST, ABOUT TIME.

 

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LAST VEGAS

Film review by Donna Christenson &  Rozanne Weissman

What do you get when four "best friends" from childhood break out of their retirement ruts to reunite for a last hurrah in Las Vegas?  When the best friends are Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) and they later meet Mary Steenburgen, what you get is great fun.  These well-seasoned actors can carry a sometimes predictable script to levels it would otherwise not achieve, both in humor and with insights into how old patterns of behavior (and old wounds) influence how we go forward in life.  It's charming, and there are enough witty, playful barbs to keep you entertained.  

You might say it's like HANGOVER for the AARP demographic! Oops, that’s us. Sometimes, after lots of heavy, meaningful films, the ups and downs of daily life, and the constant barrage of bad news in the media, we all need a few good laughs, and  LAST VEGAS provides just that.

Sporting a perpetual tan of the same strange, orange-toned color of Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, Billy (Michael Douglas) proposes to a much-younger woman while delivering a eulogy at a funeral ...perhaps feeling his own mortality ...and that prompts the trip to Las Vegas  as the oldsters gather together to throw Billy a bachelor party.  Though they kid that he’s getting married to an “infant” less than half his age, these are the same men who manage to become  judges for a bikini contest of women one quarter their age! That’s LAST VEGAS.

Playing long-term childhood friends from Brooklyn with various idiosyncrasies, history, and baggage accumulated over six or seven decades since childhood, the acting pros display the chemistry, bantering, name calling, and grudges of old friends.  Mary Steenburgen, as lounge singer Diana, adds to the mix of talented acting pros that make the film worthwhile.

SYNOPSIS:  Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been best friends since childhood. So when Billy, the group's sworn bachelor, finally proposes to his thirty-something (of course) girlfriend, the four head to Las Vegas with a plan to stop acting their age and relive their glory days. However, upon arriving, the four quickly realize that the decades have transformed Sin City and tested their friendship in ways they never imagined. The Rat Pack may have once played the Sands and Cirque du Soleil may now rule the Strip, but it's these four who are taking over Vegas.

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Multiple Film Reviews

By Rozanne Weissman

 

I’ve seen some 30 film screenings since my last www.DCdigest.com reviews. These are the films I recommend seeing:

Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The film arose from a Washington Post story about a black butler who served eight Presidents of the United States – from Eisenhower through Reagan administrations. Forest Whitaker stars as Cecil Gaines (the real butler was named Eugene Allen) who rose from a Georgia sharecropper to a White House butler. Oprah Winfrey plays his alcoholic wife. Both performances are excellent.

Gaines’ apolitical, hard-working, keep-your-head-down tenure is interspersed and contrasted with his oldest son Louis’ (David Oyelowo) civil rights activism. At college he joined the Freedom Riders and then Black Panthers. The film spans some of the most important, turbulent, historical civil rights actions of our lives, including the aftermath of Emmett Till’s murder, the Woolworth’s sit in, and enactment of Voting Rights legislation. It brought back so many memories of this nation’s prejudice and inhumanity and what it took to start turning it around – also depicted in the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize.” The Vietnam War is also part of the backdrop – Gaines’ youngest son goes there to fight.

There are some powerful early scenes of the young Gaines watching the boss shoot his father and taking his mother to be raped. She never recovered mentally from these experiences. And the ending was touching – I cried.

Some casting missteps created unfortunate distractions for me. Since filmmakers already had big draws of Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey and others, heaven knows why they resorted to recruiting and miscasting well-known stars in cameo roles as US Presidents – can you imagine Robin Williams as President Dwight Eisenhower? John Cusack as Richard Nixon? The much younger Liev Schreiber playing the much older Lyndon Baines Johnson infamously ordering folks around while he was on the toilet? Neither could I. However, Jane Fonda as First Lady Nancy Reagan was quite good. Word is that well-known white stars were cast because Hollywood doesn’t believe that black travels well in the lucrative foreign market. It’s about time that more films like this demonstrate that it can.

 

Jobs. Prejudices upfront: I’m a big fan of Apple and Steve Jobs (my first computer was a Mac, and my iPhone5 and I are joined at the hand) and was looking forward to learning more about Jobs’ earlier years from dropping out of college through his return to Apple years after being unceremoniously dumped as CEO by Apple’s board– the timeframe covered by Jobs. It shows Jobs warts and all – driven, dismissive, transformative, combative, and an utter cad when it came to a pregnant girlfriend. The film takes us back to a world without computers at every desktop – those long-ago days when I started working on typewriters and even teletypes.

Biggest drawback: I always felt like I was watching Ashton Kutcher PLAY Steve Jobs. When I watch a really good actor/actress in the role of someone well known, they seem to "channel" the person – get inside of them and BECOME THEM for a while. Think Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Recently attending Broadway-bound “One Night with Janis Joplin” with NEARO member Ann Kurzius, I found it uncanny how Mary Bridget Davies brought Joplin back to life down to her unique singing and speaking voice. Ashton Kutcher may have tried to adopt Jobs’ mannerisms and even became a fruitarian, but he just doesn’t have the acting chops to play this role.

In the Q&A following the screening with director Joshua Michael Stern and star Josh Gad (who played Steve Wozniak), the most interesting thing I learned was that Steve Jobs childhood home where he created the first motherboard in its garage was actually in the film. The calendar with President Jimmy Carter was still on the wall. They revealed, “Ashton was obsessed with Jobs – even went on a fruit diet. Jobs was always about what was next. He showed love through his products.”

The Jobs film serves as a prequel of what most of us know of Steve Jobs. Frankly, I can’t wait to see the upcoming Sony Pictures untitled Jobs’ film by Aaron Sorkin based on the Walter Isaacson book. It has the support of Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak – which this film didn’t.

Fruitvale Station. The timing could not have been better to draw attention to this true film. In a criminal trial that captivated nationwide attention, the Florida jury had just found white, self-styled neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman not guilty in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old black youth Trayvon Martin. Similarly, the subject of Fruitvale Station, Oscar Grant, an unarmed young black man of 22, was shot and killed on New Year’s Day 2009 by a white transit policeman in Oakland, California. In this case, however, the murder was captured by horrified passengers on their smart phones so there is little question of what really happened.

Fruitvale Station has deservedly walked off with awards at Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals for first-time film director Ryan Coogler, just 27, who doesn’t sugarcoat Oscar’s story. He lets the day before the shooting unfold as we bear witness to Oscar’s troubled life, turnaround, and needless death.

In a finely nuanced performance, Michael B Jordan (HBO’s “The Wire”) plays Oscar in all his contradictory human complexities – impulsive, angry, flawed yet helpful, caring, and loving. Struggling with his past as a drug dealer that landed him in prison, Oscar attempts to break old habits and turn his life around leading into his short-lived new year. We see him as adoring father to his daughter Tatiana (Arianna Neil) and loving son to his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) – both extremely well acted. Sadly and tragically, his mother blames herself for encouraging him to take the BART train on New Year’s Eve because it’s “safer” than being on the roads.

 

The Hunt is a gripping Danish drama about a kindergarten teacher accused of pedophilia. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) lost his job as a teacher as he was also dealing with a difficult divorce. Forced to start over and be separated from his beloved son, he becomes a kindergarten teacher who has a wonderful relationship with his students and with residents of his new small Danish hunting town. His life is shattered by a child’s lie which spreads and turns a community against him in a virtual mob mentality. The child is the daughter of his best friend. Mikkelsen’s deft portrayal of Lucas is outstanding. It’s no wonder he won the Best Actor Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This is a terrific film.

 

The Attack. In Hebrew and Arabic and moving between Tel Aviv, Nazareth, and Nablus, the film seems to start as a marital love story between a prominent Palestinian assimilated surgeon who lives in Tel Aviv, Amin (Ali Sulimon), and his stunning wife, Silham (Reymond Amsalem), originally from Nazareth. They make a dashing couple. The film moves swiftly from lovemaking and establishing scenes to a 3 AM call to the surgeon to identify his wife’s body – or what’s left of it, only the upper part. Silham is accused of being a Palestinian terrorist, of strapping explosives to herself and blowing up 11 children celebrating a birthday in a restaurant along with other patrons and herself.

Despite the evidence, Amin believes there must be some mistake and goes to Nazareth and Nablus on a search for answers. There, Silham’s image is everywhere; she is revered as a terrorist martyr. The Attack raises a profound question: Do we really know another person, no matter how close we think we are? The film is compelling, well acted, and worth seeing.

 

Twenty Feet from Stardom. The music and soundtrack are great. The story is fascinating. Award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the diverse backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. The backup singers cover a range of styles, genres, and eras of popular music. Each backup singer has an interesting personal story to share – the conflicts, heartbreaks, sacrifices, and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others in the shadows of superstardom. In this film, aided by rare archival footage, the gifted backup singers take center stage to intimate interviews with superstars – Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Mick Jagger.

 

Still Mine. As we NEARO members have watched our parents’ age and are aging ourselves, Still Mine is an especially endearing film. It’s a Canadian love story about a couple in their 80s who still enjoy a lovely bond and making love. In a true story about building a new home and an old relationship, Craig (James Cromwell) tries to build a more manageable home for his most likely early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia-plagued wife Irene (Genevieve Bujold). Both actors are outstanding. Craig, a farmer, runs into continuous bureaucratic hurdles on code violations. They get pushback from their grown children and support from an engineer grandson and lawyer. It’s a touching and wonderful film.



Also worth seeing: The Way Way Back, Before Midnight, and Blue Jasmine.

 

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No-holds-Bard:  Shakespeare As We Like It in Much Ado About Nothing
Film review by Donna Christenson

 

Joss Whedon’s modern update of “Much Ado About Nothing” is a delightful romp, a film to make even avowed haters of Shakespeare change their minds.  I wish it had been available years ago when I was teaching Shakespeare to young students who, like many people today, probably thought stilted, stuffy Elizabethans had little appeal or relevance to their lives.   

What often is overlooked is the fact that four hundred years ago Shakespeare was writing for the often bawdy entertainment of his contemporary audience, engaging them with humor, sexuality and wit, as well as deeper “serious” drama and emotions.  That may be a revelation to many as they watch the very gifted but largely-unknown actors in this film speak his words and convey his jokes as casually and fluently as characters on your favorite sit-com might for today’s writers. 

For those not familiar with the storyline, it follows the parallel romances between the young star-struck Claudio (Fran Kranz) with Leonato's daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), contrasted with that of the more worldly Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and his verbal sparring partner Beatrice (Amy Acker).  The witty exchanges between the latter pair might remind you of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, or perhaps Bogey and Bacall. 

Filmed in director Joss Whedon’s own posh poolside home in the California hills in only twelve days, this trendy, no-holds-Bard take is as modern as the iPhones and limos and spiked hairstyles you see rendered in this classic black-and-white film.   One can only hope Whedon will do more of this delight-filled genre in place of a steady diet of blockbusters. 

SYNOPSIS :  Much Ado About Nothing is a 2012 American independent romantic comedy film adapted for the screen, produced, and directed by Joss Whedon, from William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The film stars Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher and Jillian Morgese.

The first feature film by Bellwether Pictures, Much Ado About Nothing premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, and is set to have its North American theatrical release on June 21, 2013.     (Synopsis from Wikipedia)

 


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STARBUCK

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

I thoroughly enjoyed STARBUCK, a French Canadian comedy that’s a runaway hit in Québec. A crowd pleaser written and directed by Ken Scott, it also won the audience award at the Palm Springs international film Festival. Please, please, please see this French Canadian film set in Montréal and not the (most likely) dumbed down Americanized version of Starbuck without French subtitles being made by DreamWorks starring Vince Vaughn. There’s no way it will be as good; chances are great that it will be sappier.

 

David Wosniak (Patrick Huard), 42, an immature, under-achieving but kindhearted meat delivery man for his family's butcher shop, discovers that his stint in the 80s as a sperm donor for money somehow resulted in a whopping 533 successful pregnancies. The “frequent donor” (I wonder if there were an “awards” program) is code-named Starbuck. Now in their 20s, more than 100 adoptees learned that they share the same biological father and are suing the errant fertility clinic to obtain the real identity of Starbuck.

 

The story headlines in all media and is the subject of both laughter and derision. In an effort to keep David’s anonymity, his friend Paul (Antoine Bertrand), an actual dad who lives with his kids, becomes his attorney.

 

The film gets more amusing as David, curious about his progeny, spies on the youths and surreptitiously not only enters but also changes some of their lives for the better. And, then, he even joins the group of his offspring, pretending with a prefabricated story to be one of them.

 

And, did I mention there’s also a girlfriend (Julie le Breton) with a little surprise? Must end here to avoid the need for spoiler alerts.

 

SYNOPSIS:  Patrick Huard stars as David Wozniak, a 42-year old lovable but perpetual screw up who finally decides to take control of his life. A habitual sperm donor in his youth, he discovers that he's the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are trying to force the fertility clinic to reveal the true identity of the prolific donor code-name Starbuck.

A runaway box office success in Quebec, STARBUCK premiered at the Toronto Film Festival as a Gala Presentation. (English language remake rights for this all too human comedy were sold to Dreamworks. Starring Vince Vaughn, the American remake is currently set to be released under the title THE DELIVERY MAN on October 4. 


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FILM SNIPPETS

BY ROZANNE WEISSMAN 


THE GREAT GATSBY. Captures the excesses of the '20s with its own over-the-top excesses in 3D. Fabulous costumes and cinematography.  Needs cutting. Stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, whose personal friendship is apparent in the film. I'm not a great fan of Leo and often wonder: Why does he get every juicy role when he doesn't always seem to fit the part? But this film is also not his best work. See it because it's Gatsby, but frankly it's no Titanic.

 

QUARTET. Remember Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate? Well now he's all grown up and at age 75 is a first-time director of this lovely film that is worth seeing. The film's setting: Beecham House, a retirement home for opera singers and classical musicians in the English countryside. The superb  cast, including Maggie Smith who plays a celebrated British soprano, works together on a fund-raising gala to celebrate  Verdi’s birthday.

“Quartet” deals with what happens when a performing artist’s physical gifts fail with the years. I loved the classical music and the relationship of the characters to each other as the aging process changes them. See this little jewel.


MUD
. Demonstrating that even hunk Mathew McConaughey can look totally unappealing covered in mud and tattoos with a snaggletooth smile, the film reeks of the heat and humidity of a Delta summer. McConaughey is quite good as Mud, the mysterious, temporary, lone inhabitant in hiding on a tiny island on the Mississippi River. His young co-stars, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, who have interesting back stories, discover Mud and also walk off with the film. See it.


THE COMPANY YOU KEEP.  Highly recommend this excellent film directed and acted by Robert Redford. Perhaps it's just that I well remember the intense times and bitter battles of the '60s and 70s. Redford plays a wanted but actually innocent Weatherman/Weather Underground fugitive living under an assumed identity, a lawyer with a daughter. Susan Sarandon and Julie Christie play other fugitives in this thriller. Shia LeBeouf plays an enterprising reporter.

 
THE KINGS OF SUMMER. This coming-of-age comedy premiered to rave reviews at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Three teenage friends--Joe, Patrick and the eccentric and unpredictable Biaggio--disappear from their homes  to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land. Free from their parents' rules, their idyllic summer quickly becomes a test of friendship as two like the same girl who is brought into and disturbs their male paradise.


PEEPLES. Can you imagine the gorgeous Kerry Washington (ABC-TV's hit show Scandal and gripping slave role in Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained) in love with Craig Robinson? Neither could I. Enough said about this executive produced Tyler Perry poorly written unbelievable film.  

Also highly recommend: THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST and DISCONNECT.

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Multiple Film Reviews

By Rozanne Weissman

 

So many good movies. So little time for a part-time film critic to write detailed reviews of each. Consequently, many mini-reviews follow a few longer reviews.

 

ARGO. A must-see, substantive political thriller directed by and starring Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, a CIA expert in disguises and extricating captives from tough situations. It’s based on a little-known true story in 1979 during the Carter administration at the height of the Iran hostage situation — a main factor in Carter’s downfall. Mendez comes up with a harebrained scheme to get six American diplomats—who had escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s residence—out of Tehran. The scheme: Mendez impersonates a film producer who arrives in Iran with his crew to scout locations for his alleged upcoming, off-the-wall science-fiction film. Amusing scenes when he deals with the revolutionary government’s cultural ministers and “rehearses” the Americans to play members of the film crew as a strategy to get them safely out of the country. Well-written script by Chris Terrio. Superb cast. 

It was fascinating to learn this story through the film. Politically, the Carter administration could not take credit for this rescue of six of the Americans—although it was a highly successful American mission. President Carter’s albatross was the relentless Iranian hostage crisis which spawned the ABC-TV “Nightline” program with Ted Koppel counting off the days that American hostages were held captive. Daily, it reminded Americans that the administration was ineffective in getting hostages released. As Iran thumbed its nose at poor Jimmy Carter who couldn’t catch a break, I stood in front of the White House as released hostages were received by the new President Ronald Reagan.

 

ZERO DARK THIRTY. Another must-see docudrama about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden who was responsible for the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, since termed 9/11.  “Zero Dark Thirty” refers to the darkness and secrecy of the lengthy hunt for bin Laden and the half past midnight raid.

Director Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win a directing Oscar for her masterful film The Hurt Locker, weaves together an emotional tale from a unique opening sequence with 911 calls of trapped people in the World Trade Center—audio only against a blank screen. Cut to a riveting and troubling scene in a putrid prison two years later where a CIA official interrogates and tortures—including water boarding—a detainee. Politicos and others are up in arms over the graphic torture scene—excuse me, ahem, “enhanced interrogation”—claiming it distorts the role torture played in ultimately capturing bin Laden. Bigelow and script writer Mark Boal are in the crosshairs. But, frankly, the scenes are no more graphic than water boarding of an innocent man in the film Rendition—but not as many people saw that film.

 Ten years of bureaucracy, wading through documents, following leads, and listening to and analyzing voices and “chatter” to detect patterns could make for a tedious film. So the film centers around a main character named Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young single-minded CIA operative who spent all her time tracking bin Laden. And, the “boys” over at Langley aren’t happy over a woman getting the credit in the film. The pace steps up in latter scenes leading to the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 striking bin Laden’s Pakistan compound and killing him. No spoiler alert here: we all know how it ended. I found it hard to relate the SEALS depicted in the Navy-sanctioned film Act of Valor to the SEALS depicted in this film.

 

LINCOLN. Another must see film.  Former NEA staffers will particularly find of interest the political machinations behind enactment of the 13th amendment to the Constitution against slavery—not so different from today’s lobbying and political fights minus digital and social media. Lincoln was much more involved than I was aware. Daniel Day-Lewis inhabits the spirit of Lincoln. His performance is superb.

 

QUARTET. I loved this film! It’s a delight directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith. In a home for retired British musicians, the geriatric set is getting ready for the annual concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday. The acting, opera, and classical music are wonderful. It’s almost as much fun as The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel. Ronald Harwood adapted his play to the big screen. And, it’s Hoffman’s directorial debut at age 75. Hard to forget the young Hoffman in The Graduate.

 

LES MISERABLES. Not as good as the stage musical, which I saw a number of times, but still worth seeing. Anne Hathaway as Fantine is terrific singing the iconic song "I Dreamed a Dream" while having to cry and sing simultaneously. Other stars didn’t have the “singing chops” for a musical.

 Personal note: The film brought to mind my first time seeing Les Mis. As a birthday present, I gave my then 10-year-old niece from Cleveland a trip to Washington DC to visit auntie Rozanne and see Les Miserables at the Kennedy Center. Afterwards, she turned to me and said, “This is the best play I have EVER seen in my WHOLE life!” This year, I gave her a Regal gift card to see the film; she revealed the DC trip was one of her best memories of childhood.

 

ANNA KARENINA. The cinematography is fabulous. Keira Knightley is gorgeous and sensual in this tale of love, adultery, manners, and aristocracy. Most of the critics loved it and found the staging highly creative. I disliked the theater/stage and light opera concept for the film. Leo Tolstoy would turn over in his grave.

 

DJANGO UNCHAINED. As a black free slave turned bounty hunter, Jamie Foxx is terrific in director Quentin Tarantino's southern revenge spaghetti Western. Of course, with Quentin Tarantino, there will be blood—and lots of it. And, in this film, also guts, gore, and whips. If you can’t stand violent films, don’t go.

 

SAFE HAVEN.  Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, it stars Dancing with the Stars Champion ballroom dancer and choreographer Julianne Hough (brother and fellow dancer Derek Hough) who flees from an abusive marriage to a policeman and encounters widower Josh Duhamel, with two winsome kids, who plays the male lead and her romance interest. I took lots of Kleenex expecting a tear jerker. Actually, less Kleenex, more tense thriller which moves it out of “chick flick” realm and makes it more acceptable for men.

 

SIDE EFFECTS. It’s a psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderberg and starring Rooney Mara as a young depressed New Yorker, Jude Law as her psychiatrist, and Channing Tatum – with his clothes on – as her husband who was released from prison for insider trading. And then there’s the beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones as her former psychiatrist. Sex, drugs, greed, murder, pharmacological sales pitches for psychiatric drugs including antidepressants such as the fictitious Rx Ablixa—all wrapped up into one film. And it contains more unexpected twists and turns than a cocktail of those drugs. Interesting but implausible; perhaps it needs a quick fix Rx.

 

GANGSTER SQUAD. Off-the-book cops fight dirty to keep mob outa old LA. Video game shoot-'em-up feel. Great cinematography and luscious wardrobe of that timeframe. Mob: 0, cops 2, film 2 1/2.

 

ON THE ROAD. Based on Jack Kerouac’s 1957 beatnik novel. Pot, sex, experimentation. Strong cinematography, music. Miscast. Brought back memories of writing on my old manual typewriter!

 

THE GUILT TRIP. Barbra Streisand plays Seth Rogen’s overbearing Jewish mom. She 'kvetches' about her son on cross-country road trip. Oy vey!

 

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. Car chases. Car crashes. Repeat. Excessive shooting. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat Constant survival of Bruce Willis and “son” tests credibility. Lame story. Forget character development or caring about any of these people. Don’t waste your money!

 

I have heard very good things about both Rust and Bone and Amour which I haven’t seen as of this writing. Film colleagues have complained enough about the inaccuracy of Hyde Park on Hudson that I never bothered to see it.

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SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Film Review by Barbara Twigg

I loved “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Early on before seeing it, the apparent football sub-theme was a little off-putting, but in the hands of uber-fan Robert DeNiro it provides a great Philadelphia context (Eagles, that is).  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are both over-the-top characters, in a serious/humorous vein.  Cooper’s obsession with reconciling with his ex-wife is painful—you want to hit him over the head with a frying pan. Lawrence is a fast-talking force of nature, however bent.  How they find their way through the morass of their many issues makes for a very entertaining, funny, and moving film.  There’s even some great dancing in it as Cooper so tentatively struggles to please.

SYNOPSIS: Life doesn't always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything -- his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat's parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Rated  R; 2 hours.

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THE IMPOSSIBLE

Film Review by Barbara Twigg

Based on the true story of a Spanish family that survived the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, “The Impossible” is a well-made rendering of the epic disaster and its aftermath of lost and stranded people, overwhelmed hospitals, and frantic searches.  That said, the movie is pretty much exactly what you would expect.  Naomi Watts does a good job of suffering, the three sons are very cute, and Ewan McGregor is a noble father who won’t give up.  It’s a good effort, and a respectful tribute to the unspeakable tragedy of the event, but as a movie, I could probably have skipped it.

SYNOPSIS:  Maria, Henry and their three sons begin their winter vacation in Thailand, looking forward to a few days in tropical paradise. But on the morning of December 26th, as the family relaxes around the pool after their Christmas festivities the night before, a terrifying roar rises up from the center of the earth. As Maria freezes in fear, a huge wall of black water races across the hotel grounds toward her. PG-13, 1 hour 47 minutes

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Film Tweet by Rozanne Weissman
Screened The Guilt Trip w/ @BarbraStreisand & @Sethrogen. Overbearing Jewish mom 'kvetches' about son on cross-country road trip. Oy vey!

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FLIGHT

Film Review by Barbara Twigg

After the scary ads and previews of plane trauma, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see “Flight”, but I’m very glad I did.  Yes, the opening bad weather and scenes of airplane turbulence are nail-biting, but the bulk of the movie follows the harder battle of Captain Whip Whitaker against his own personal demons as the airline investigation proceeds.  This is a serious movie; substance abuse is not pretty. But Denzel Washington’s performance is so fine and compelling that the film becomes a first class adult drama. Yet Flight is not a complete downer of a movie either.  Instead, it offers a complex story of a flawed hero who flies his own route to self-discovery and redemption.

SYNOPSIS:  In this action-packed mystery thriller, Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, who miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe. After the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more is learned, more questions than answers arise as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on that plane. Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman. Directed by Robert Zemeckis Rated: R, 2 hrs 18 min.
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THE SESSIONS

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 THE SESSIONS is that rare, must-see adult film about a difficult subject — a 38-year-old paralyzed man confined much of the time to an iron lung who decides he wants to lose his virginity. When is the last time a film dealt maturely and humanely with the sexual life of a disabled character?

With the help of sex therapist/surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt) and his Catholic priest (William H. Macy), California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), who had polio since age 6, turns his sexual desires into reality.

THE SESSIONS is touching without being maudlin, empathetic without being pitying, and humorous without being slapstick — all so rare in today's film offerings. The indie drama based on a true story owes that to a top-notch screenplay and directing — both by Ben Lewin, a polio survivor himself -- and a talented ensemble cast.  It's no wonder the film was one of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival breakout hits with two awards.

Lewin got the idea for the film on reading O'Brien's article "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” and then watched Breathing Lessons, a 1996 Oscar-winning short about O'Brien.

We see O'Brien living on his own, with nearby Berkeley students acting as caregivers for such needs as bathing or wheeling him to church on a gurney with a portable respirator. A crush on an attractive caregiver sparks O'Brien's romantic and sexual thoughts.

Among the more humorous scenes: O'Brien confessing his sexual longings in detail to his priest in church within hearing distance of parishioners. I wondered about Macy in the priest role, but he did quite well, especially as he appeared somewhat embarrassed by the dilemma and then determined God would probably offer dispensation for out-of-wedlock sex.

Hawks did a noteworthy job playing O'Brien. Prone for the entire movie, Hawks still dominates the screen and his role. He is powerful and poignant, vulnerable and courageous. And funny, which lends lightness to the situation and is a departure from his heavier roles. It's a physically demanding role because O'Brien's spine was locked in a tortured curve. His head was barely able to move -- he had to use a mouth stick to dial the phone. His breathing and voice were labored. Hawks used a large piece of foam to curve the left side of his back and reportedly practiced using the mouth stick and read every bit of O'Brien's poetry and writings to get inside the man.

Hunt, in full frontal nudity, is fabulous from the time she explains the role of a sex surrogate and the reason for limited sessions with the surrogate to reduce chances for emotional involvement to the various sex scenes that are fraught with peril. We go with the film's flow because of Hunt's commanding and sensitive performance. As the story plays out, we see that feelings on both sides emerge nonetheless. And that makes the film even more real.

SYNOPSIS:  Based on the poignantly optimistic autobiographical writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, THE SESSIONS (originally titled The Surrogate) tells the triumphant story of a man confined to an iron lung (John Hawkes, Academy Award nominee for Winter's Bone) who is determined—at age 38—to lose his virginity. With the help of a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) and the guidance of his therapists and priest (William H. Macy), he sets out to make his dream a reality. Told with sensitivity and humor, this crowd-pleaser is winner of two awards at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival: the Audience Award for drama and the Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting in a drama.

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ARBITRAGE

Film Review by Barbara Twigg
(with Donna Christenson)

Richard Gere is at his silver-haired best in “Arbitrage,” a yummy peek inside the life of  Manhattan’s uber-riche, as the screws tighten, both personally and professionally.  Can money fix all problems of overreaching?  Will the audience root for his downfall, or his survival? There’s plenty of suspense and tension as this well-made, contemporary melodrama unfolds.  Susan Sarandon looks great, too, as Gere’s society wife, and Nate Parker has a terrific role as the Harlem late night, last resort, who is being pressured to  “snitch.” 

A second opinion:  I would have recommended this movie if for nothing else than just to watch the very appealing Richard Gere, and I'm sure most women in the audience would agree!  However, the intriguing plot in the fascinating world of high finance and luxury, combined with excellent acting from Gere in what turns out to be one of his best efforts yet (as well as solid performances from the rest of the cast), all make this film well worth seeing for both sexes.    --Donna Christenson

SYNOPSIS:  When we first meet New York hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller (Richard Gere) on the eve of his 60th birthday, he appears the very portrait of success in American business and family life. But behind the gilded walls of his mansion, Miller is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire to a major bank before the depths of his fraud are revealed. Struggling to conceal his duplicity from loyal wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and brilliant daughter and heir-apparent Brooke (Brit Marling), Miller's also balancing an affair with French art-dealer Julie Cote (Laetetia Casta). Just as he's about to unload his troubled empire, an unexpected error forces him to juggle family, business, and crime with the aid of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a face from Miller's past. -- R, 1 hr. 40 min. 

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TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE

Film Review by Barbara Twigg
(with Rozanne Weissman)

Too bad this pleasant little baseball movie follows Brad Pitt’s compelling “Moneyball” on the topic of baseball scouting.  Makes it seem a little less fresh, although the focus on Clint Eastwood’s cranky, whispery scout persona and his lawyer daughter, Amy Adams, takes a much different path through the rural high school ball fields of the south.  It’s a fairly predictable, but watchable nine innings of film, with a nice, romantic role for Justin Timberlake who burned out his young arm and now aspires, with some resignation, to being an announcer for the Boston Red Sox.  If you take a break from watching the Nats and buy a ticket for this movie, you won’t strike out. 

A second opinion:  Grizzly Clint Eastwood  didn't talk to a chair--he kicked it & called it Feng Shui!  Amy Adams is terrific as Eastwood's daughter. Justin Timberlake (surprise surprise) plays romance interest in this baseball/relationship film.   --Rozanne Weissman

SYNOPSIS:  An aging baseball scout (Clint Eastwood) with failing sight hits the road with his estranged daughter (Amy Adams) to pursue a promising young ballplayer, and they learn just how much they have in common as they make their way from Georgia to North Carolina in this sports drama produced and directed by frequent Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz. Also featuring Justin Timberlake and John Goodman. PG-13 

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LAWLESS

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

It's the prohibition-and-depression-era 1930s that gave rise to money-making moonshine production which turned hills an orange hue from illegal fire-burning stills. The film LAWLESS opens during that time in the hills of Franklin County, Virginia, termed "The Wettest County in the World," as is the novel by the same name on which the film is based.

LAWLESS is a gangster-type film which rivals the notorious gangster Al Capone era in Chicago for explicit violence, blood, and gore.  The film follows the rebellious, bootlegging Bondurant brothers who run a small family roadhouse/gas station as well as a thriving bootleg business which has gained a local monopoly in Franklin County.

The three famous brothers have very distinct personalities and are excellently cast and played. Howard (Jason Clarke), the oldest and drunkest, is a shell-shocked war veteran who provides the backup muscle. No one wants to mess with fast-charging, defiant Forrest (Tom Hardy), the middle brother and brains of the operation, who uses few words and has the reputation of being invulnerable to death. And, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest and gentlest — also the narrator/protagonist — just tries to keep up, gain his brothers' respect, and especially make Forrest proud so that he'll be promoted from the wimpy role of driver or lookout.

Despite their vicious acts, we wind up caring about the brothers—they’re the "good guys" against the law and other "bad guys" who all want a share of the brothers' profits.

The local competition is horning in on the action. Then comes from Chicago crooked government Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce), a flamboyant looking dandy on the outside who is pure evil to the core. His performance is top-notch. Forrest and the other Bondurants refuse to pay a monthly toll on their illegal activities which initiates escalating graphic vicious violence. Characters and relationships develop and evolve, adding depth and poignancy.

A little spice is added for a bit of romance and balance to the more brutal sequences. Maggie (Jessica Chastain) is fabulous as a fan dancer from Chicago who gets a job in the roadhouse and has her eye on gruff Forrest who barely notices initially. And Jack woos Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), a Mennonite preacher's daughter. Talk about an odd romantic choice for a swaggering wannabe gangster.

The fabulous ensemble cast also includes Gary Oldman, who plays gangster Floyd Banner, and Dane DeHaan who plays the disabled Cricket, Jack's best friend and the secret to their moonshine production success.

Among my favorite things: the superlative score — a mix of hillbilly, bluegrass, and punk — by screenwriter Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and the film's cool website: http://lawless-film.com/. (Wait until the home screen distillation process is complete, then click on the word "menu" on the left side, and then "about".  Spend some time roaming around the rest of the site.)

Cave produced an intriguing screenplay adaptation of the book, "The Wettest County in the World," authored by Matt Bondurant, which chronicles a mix of fiction and truth about the legendary exploits of his grandfather Jack and two great-uncles, Forrest and Howard.

In a Washington DC screening of the film, Matt Bondurant, a native of Alexandria, Virginia, describes his family in the 1930s as "regular people in extraordinary circumstances" who then became "model citizens." We see that in a montage at the end of the film.

Expertly directed by John Hillcoat, the film competed at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for the coveted Palme d’Or.

SYNOPSIS:   LAWLESS is the true story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers: bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Virginia. In this epic outlaw tale, inspired by true-life tales of author Matt Bondurant’s family in his novel “The Wettest County in the World,” the loyalty of three brothers is put to the test against the backdrop of the nation’s most notorious crime wave.

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CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER

Film reviewed by Barbara Twigg and Donna Christenson

 

Co-written by Harvard grad Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” presents an entertaining mixture of emotions, both funny and poignant, as the two 30-something marrieds work their complicated way toward a possible divorce.  They are obviously best friends and humor-compatible, presenting a relationship that offers an enviable slice of fun.  But marriage is many-sided, and Celeste and Jesse go back and forth between the silliness, the love, and the frustrating, slowly making their way toward a final separation that often seems the wrong choice.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this film—the trials and tribulations of an LA  couple half my age—but the script is strong and the performances appealing,.  The subject matter:  love and marriage – speaks to most of us, at any age.   --Barbara Twigg

Editor’s Note:  If you don’t see something of yourself in this movie, you probably have your eyes (or your mind) closed.  Rashida Jones has simultaneously created characters who feel completely real as individuals , while at the same time they resonate universally regarding the issues and choices we all have to make in life.  What we value in ourselves and others, how being “right” can conflict with being happy, what it takes to heal a broken heart, and the often-immediate  ramifications of our choices  are all a part of  this honest and charming film.  –Donna Christenson

SYNOPSIS:  Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) met in high school, married young and are growing apart. Now thirty, Celeste is the driven owner of her own media consulting firm, Jesse is once again unemployed and in no particular rush to do anything with his life. Celeste is convinced that divorcing Jesse is the right thing to do -- she is on her way up, he is on his way nowhere, and if they do it now instead of later, they can remain supportive friends. Jesse passively accepts this transition into friendship, even though he is still in love with her. As the reality of their separation sets in, Celeste slowly and painfully realizes she has been cavalier about their relationship, and her decision, which once seemed mature and progressive, now seems impulsive and selfish. But her timing with Jesse is less than fortuitous.   1 hr 29 minutes, Rated R

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RUBY SPARKS

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

It's about time for an intriguing romantic fantasy film for those who want a break from this summer's shoot-em-up, over-the-top big blockbusters. And RUBY SPARKS offers just such a break, and it's a good "date movie" for men and women alike. 

For those of us who loved the beguiling "Little Miss Sunshine," the same directorial (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris), script writing (Zoe Kazan), and acting team (Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan) returns with another jewel of a film. With the proper buzz and the addition of social media and word of mouth, their second feature could be another hit.  

In real life, Dano and Kazan have been together five years. Perhaps, then, it's no wonder that RUBY SPARKS deals with the big issue of control in a relationship.

At a film screening in Washington DC, Zoe Kazan reveals in a personal appearance that she was inspired in writing the script by two things:

  • a discarded mannequin in the trash—she imagined it then coming to life
  • the Greek myth of the sculptor Pygmalion who fell in love with one of his creations, only to see it come to life

Paul Dano plays a somewhat nerdy, bespectacled, LA novelist Calvin, who at age 19 wrote a literary sensation of massive proportions that he can't top a decade later. Women still flock to him. Friends and his agent try to reassure him. To overcome his writer's block, Calvin's shrink (Elliott Gould) gives him a one-page writing assignment.

Working on his romanticized manual Olympic typewriter, Calvin types away and makes a breakthrough by creating a character named Ruby who will love and inspire him. His very own muse. The pages flow. Fantasy turns into reality when he discovers Ruby (Zoe Kazan) a redhead with beautiful blue eyes, in the flesh, sitting on his couch, behaving exactly as he wrote her. And, if he wants to change her, he just writes something else: a great cook, loving, obedient, fluent in French....

In a hilarious scene, Calvin invites his brother Harry (Chris Messina) over to demonstrate that Ruby is real. Harry challenges Calvin to write something to see if Ruby follows suit. And she does. What power! It's that very power or control over another that is the crux of this tale.

In one of the most challenging scenes later in the film, Calvin quickly types changing scenarios with conflicting commands, manipulating Ruby and turning her almost manic in the process like the scene from "The Red Shoes"—complete with the symbolism of red shoes whether worn by Ruby or carried by a dog. "This was a really hard scene to get into," reveals Zoe, who was outstanding in this role with its multiple personality shifts.

Playing interesting supporting roles with great talent: Calvin's mother (Annette Bening), a new-age type who lives in Big Sur with her artist lover (Antonio Banderas).

What happens when Calvin stops writing? What happens when Ruby changes in unexpected ways when Calvin isn't pulling the strings? Ah, for that you have to see the film. It's humorous, clever, and worthwhile. Enjoy! 

 

SYNOPSIS

A novelist struggling with writer's block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence. Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career but is now struggling with his writing - as well as his romantic life. Finally, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby who inspires him. When Calvin finds Ruby (Zoe Kazan), in the flesh, sitting on his couch about a week later, he is completely flabbergasted that his words have turned into a living, breathing person.

  

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MAGIC MIKE

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

"MAGIC MIKE" is a great film to see on a hot night. That's when a heavily air conditioned movie theater is really appreciated. And, if you're a female, you may really appreciate that AC when Channing Tatum in the lead role as one of the gyrating, incredibly limber male strippers at Club Xquisite is seen in multiple close ups. And club owner played by Matthew McConaughey isn't wearing much either.

I actually went to the film to see why The Washington Post gave this movie 3 stars and "The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel" -- which I loved -- only 1 1/2 stars.

I still don't know why. But I do have one major suggestion to improve the MAGIC MIKE experience: IMAX 3D!!!

Since word is there will be a sequel, let's demand IMAX 3D.


SYNOPSIS: 
Channing Tatum stars in this drama following an upstart male stripper (Alex Pettyfer) who is mentored by a veteran dancer, played by TatumSteven Soderbergh directed from a script by Reid Carolin, whose screenplay was inspired byTatum's work as a stripper before he made it in Hollywood.  Matthew McConaugheyMatt Bomer,Joe ManganielloCody Horn, and Olivia Munn co-star. 


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MOONRISE KINGDOM

Film review by Barbara Twigg

 

Having not cared for a lot of Wes Anderson’s earlier films, like Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaum’s (too weird for my taste), I went cautiously to Moonrise Kingdom, especially since the previews looked, well, weird.  But to my surprise, I, and my merry movie band of three others, quite liked this film.  Yes, it is strange and over the top.  But it is also highly imaginative, and at its core, a love story—of two juvenile misfits.  Perhaps this streak of warmth, however packaged in chaos and explosive narrative, is what gives this film its heart.  That even makes it a great date movie, however bizarre its trappings.

SYNOPSIS                      

Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two twelve-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore -- and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in more ways than anyone can handle. Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff. Edward Norton is a Khaki Scout troop leader. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand portray the young girl's parents. The cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the boy and girl. Directed by Wes Anderson. PG-13, 1 hr. 33 min. 

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TRISHNA

Film Review by Barbara Twigg

 

I can’t say that I enjoyed Trishna, but I did appreciate it.  It’s tough going watching the lovely Freida Pinto naively, yet poignantly, hopefully, making decisions that you know are not leading to a happy ending.   Pinto does a wonderful job of submerging her actress glory into the role of a rural Indian girl, although her beauty permeates the film at all times, and transfixes her upper class lover.  Filmed in India, the movie also offers a fascinating look at both rural and urban life in a country where much is changing within the ever present context of an ancient culture.

SYNOPSIS:  Based on Thomas Hardy's classic novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Trishna tells the story of one woman whose life is destroyed by a combination of love and circumstances. Set in contemporary Rajasthan, Trishna (Freida Pinto) meets a wealthy young British businessman Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed) who has come to India to work in his father's hotel business. After an accident destroys her father's Jeep, Trishna goes to work for Jay, and they fall in love. But despite their feelings for each other, they cannot escape the conflicting pressures of a rural society which is changing rapidly through industrialisation, urbanisation and, above all, education. Trishna's tragedy is that she is torn between the traditions of her family life and the dreams and ambitions that her education has given her.  1  hour 48 minutes, in English and some Hindi.


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SAVAGES

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

Near the opening of SAVAGES, model and actress of "Gossip Girl" fame Blake Lively (called O in the film—short for Ophelia) saunters down Laguna Beach. As the narrator of the film, O tells us that she might not actually be alive. Going back in time, in the first few minutes of the film, O has hot-and-heavy, back-to-back sex with two very different young men who are not only best friends but also business partners. First, there's hard-bodied, unemotional, tattooed former U.S. Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch) followed by sensitive, loving, Buddhist biologist and UC Berkeley graduate Ben (Aaron Johnson). 

"Yes, I'm with both of them," our free-spirited narrator O reveals to us. Together, the two guys provide the traits she desires in a man. It's kind of like a woman who thinks: If only I had this from this man and that from another man, I’d have the perfect man. But O acts on that thought. Their three-way relationship and deep friendship is open and sometimes turns into a ménage et trois. 

And their lucrative business? They are sophisticated, independent growers and sellers of some of the best designer marijuana around as Ben puts his botany skills to use.

That's what interrupts their sexual bliss. What starts out as a love story turns into an action-packed drama that progresses to the dark side when the Mexican drug cartel, known as the Baja Cartel, wants a piece of the action and doesn't take no for an answer. Interestingly, the exceptionally violent cartel is led by a beautiful woman, Elena Sanchez (a.k.a Elena La Reina) (Salma Hayek) and her henchmen Miguel (a.k.a. Lado) (Benicio del Toro). Rounding out the ensemble cast is corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Denis (John Travolta) who is chunky and with a severely receding hairline in this role.

Saying more would result in spoiler alerts throughout. While some film critics criticize the young trio as not standing up to the more experienced veteran actors, I don't necessarily agree. The stoner business executives act like a lot of today's young, less experienced entrepreneurs. 

SAVAGES is action-packed, extremely violent, bloody, dark, gory, brutal, gruesome, sexual, tense, and, yes, savagein other words, generally not my type of film. But, I loved Savages. 

Why? Like the dizzying plot, the superb, diverse cinematography and score kept moving and changing. Gifted director Oliver Stone interspersed breathtaking cinematography of scenes of Laguna Beach in Southern California where most of the film took place with images of brutal torture, including beheadings, by drug lords in Mexico. Throughout the film, Stone also used reverse tones, editing that suggested altered states and time warps when his characters were high on pot, movement from color to black and white film, and computer-generated images. It was powerful and captivating. I also gasped "WOW" when I experienced Stone's opening cinematography in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Based on Don Winslow's 2010 best-selling novel of the same name, the screenplay adaptation for Savages was written by Shane Salerno, Wilson, and Stone. 


SYNOPSIS: 

Entrepreneurs Ben, a peaceful and charitable marijuana producer, and friend Chon, a former Navy SEAL, run a lucrative, homegrown industry—raising some of the best weed ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with Ophelia. Life is idyllic in their Southern California town... until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands that the trio partners with them. When the merciless head of the BC, Elena and her enforcer, Lado, underestimate the unbreakable bond of the three friends, Ben and Chon—with the reluctant assistance of a dirty DEA agent—wage a seemingly unwinnable war against the cartel. And so begins a series of increasingly vicious ploys and maneuvers in a high stakes, savage battle of wills.

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HYSTERIA

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

HYSTERIA is hysterical! While my friends have been reading "50 Shades of Gray" Books 1-3 Trilogy, I chuckled through and thoroughly enjoyed a Victorian era late 19th century comedy set in London. Women suffering from an epidemic of "hysteria"—which encompassed a wide range of maladies from insomnia to exhaustion, nervousness, depression, cramps, and sexual frustration—are treated by male doctors who massage their "lady parts" to the point of "paroxysmal convulsions" for relief. 

It sure beat the typical medical treatment of the day— bleeding and leeches! Of course, the male doctors of this era assumed that orgasm could only be reached with penetration of the "male member." Satisfied women who knew better filled the waiting room of Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), London's leading specialist in women's medicine, when young and handsome Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is brought in to assist in this massage technique leading to orgasms. 

Not to fear, in this comedy of manners about a delicate subject, the women are dressed and decently covered under a partial makeshift curtain or drape while their bloomers are presumably off and their feet are in stirrups to provide the best access. It is the Victorian era so we see none of the titillating details. The facial expressions tell the tale. 

Popular Dr. Granville is so booked up in this lucrative and posh practice that his poor hand suffers from what today we would recognize as repetitive stress-induced carpal tunnel syndrome. Enter his friend the wealthy Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) who is dabbling in electricity and has developed an awkward-looking electrical feather duster. Its vibrations seem to help Dr. Granville and provide a germ of an idea to modify the gadget into a makeshift vibrator to treat hysteria. And, at the end of the film we see the change and modification of vibrators through the ages—worth a good laugh. 

And of course, there must be a side story, or a bit of romance, to a loosely based film about the invention of the vibrator. Granville lives with the doctor and his two daughters, the very attractive and proper Victorian Emily Dalrymple (Felicity Jones) and the very improper Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who's a real pistol. Much to her high-class, snobbish father’s dismay, Charlotte is a rebellious crusader, who works with the poor at a settlement house and champions for them and for women in general.  She even voices her belief that women in the not too distant future will be able to have the final say about their own welfare and bodies. Ah, how surprised she would be that even in today's world there is an ongoing debate about women's reproductive rights. 

SYNOPSIS:  HYSTERIA is a romantic comedy directed by Tanya Wexler and scripted by Stephen and Jonah Lisa Dyer, set in the Victorian era. The film's title refers to the once-common medical diagnosis of female hysteria and how the medical management of hysteria led to the invention of the vibrator. It's very loosely based on history.

Mortimer Granville is a brilliant young doctor in London in the 1880s; he takes modern science as seriously as he does his solemn Hippocratic Oath. Unfortunately, his rigour goes unappreciated by most of his peers. They dismiss Dr. Granville's enthusiasm for what they deem faddish new ideas—ideas such as his sanitation and "germ theory." And he finds himself bounced from employer to employer. Granville is nearly ready to give up on medicine altogether when he meets and becomes part of the practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple, London's "foremost specialist in women's medicine." That lofty title means that Dalrymple is an expert in "hysteria," a malaise diagnosed so liberally that Dalrymple hypothesizes at least half the city's women are sufferers. To ease these patients' stress, he has developed a form of therapy that involves the careful manual stimula­tion of a certain female body part. In this period of sexual repression, it never occurs to Dalrymple that these housewives are experiencing something more basic and natural than a mysterious epidemic of insanity: sexual desire. 

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THE INTOUCHABLES

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

I loved the French film THE INTOUCHABLES (translates literally as Untouchable). It was a delightful surprise. How, I wondered, could the French create a feel-good dramatic comedy about an improbable match—a wealthy white quadriplegic Philippe (Francois Cluzet) and a street-smart, large, black, bald live-in caregiver Driss (Omar Sy) from the projects with no care-giving experience or seeming empathy —and turn a low-budget film with no stars into a box office smash in France? And it was inspired by a true story, no less.

The film opens at night as Driss is speeding in Phillipe's Maserati through the streets of Paris, with Philippe in the passenger seat. The police pursue and catch themand you've got to see the rest to appreciate how the two improvise and play off each other by that point in their friendship. The story of the day-by-day growth of their relationship is told in flashback. 

Philippe and his assistant Magalie are interviewing potential live-in caregivers when they come across Driss who flirts shamelessly, dresses inappropriately, and clearly does not want to be hired. He just wants a signature showing he was interviewed and rejected to continue receiving welfare benefits. To his surprise when he returns the next day, Driss is put on a trial period and begins the job where strength to lift his quadriplegic boss is a major factor. 

It becomes more of a "buddy film" as the two men from very different worlds share improbable and colorful experiences together, learn from each other, and grow in the process.

SYNOPSIS:  An irreverent, uplifting comedy about friendship, trust and human possibility, The Intouchables has broken box office records in its native France and across Europe. Based on a true story of friendship between a handicapped millionaire (Francois Cluzet) and his street smart ex-con caretaker (Omar Sy), The Intouchables depicts an unlikely camaraderie rooted in honesty and humor between two individuals who, on the surface, would seem to have nothing in common. 

Philippe reveals to Driss that he became paralysed after a paragliding accident. His wife died and they were childless. So he adopted a daughter, who behaves in a spoiled manner. Driss persuades Philippe to begin being strict with her. 

Directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, the film was nominated for a total of nine 2012 César Awards, France’s equivalent to the Oscars, including Best Picture, and winning Best Actor for breakout star Omar Sy, and won the Grand Prize at the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival.

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FOR GREATER GLORY

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman


When some 20 nuns raced up the stairs in the dark, habits flowing, as the film screening of "For Greater Glory" began, I knew this wasn't your typical advance film screening filled with film critics/reviewers, bloggers, and film enthusiasts. Many in the audience were enthusiasts of a different type, religious enthusiasts from the Catholic Church, wanting to see a film which depicted the little-known, true-story of the vicious government persecution of Catholics for practicing their religion in Mexico in the 1920s.

How could this possibly happen in Mexico, which I visited a number of times and thought of as a Catholic country, I wondered? And why hadn't I heard about it while in Mexico or even in the history books? From that standpoint, the film was an awakening. Known in Mexico as "Cristiada," the film is a box office sensation there.

As the heavy-handed film opens, we see nonviolent protests and marches in response to Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles’ (Ruben Blades) attempt to outlaw public worship and secularize the country. Then, a boycott of Mexican businesses angered the president who ordered his military to enforce the anticlerical laws with deadly force. Indiscriminately and brutally, the military shot worshipers, destroyed cathedrals, and publicly executed priests.

Enter a boy, José Luis Sánchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri), 14, who walks away with the film. Mentored by Father Christopher, a parish priest played by the incomparable Peter O'Toole, the youth pleads with the priest to escape and offers sanctuary in his home as government forces reached the church. Refusing, Father Christopher asked: "Who are you if you don't stand up for what you believe?" He was shot by a firing squad as José watched from his hiding place.  José convinced his mother to let him join the disorganized ragtag rebellion, and off he rode with a young friend to participate in the Cristero War (1926-29).

 Just as the priest mentored him, José is taken under wing and treated as a son by Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, an atheist and decorated general hired to lead the many warring factions. Gorostieta is played superbly by Cuban-born Andy Garcia and his very Catholic wife played less than superbly by “Desperate Housewives” Eva Longoria. While carrying the flag during battle, José is captured and tortured by government forces. 

SPOILER ALERT: You may not want to read this paragraph if you plan to see the film: A Christ-like figure with all the symbolism throughout the torture to his ending, José is repeatedly told that he will be spared if he renounces Christ and abandons the Cristeros. "They're only words," he is told. The teenager never relents and ultimately becomes a martyr along with others there who fought for what they believed. 

The movie gets into the Mexican threat to US oil interests which then, as now, gets the attention of the President of United States. President Calvin Coolidge sent Ambassador Dwight Morrow to Mexico with specific instruction to avoid war. During a clandestine meeting with Mexican Bishops on a train, Morrow was visibly shaken to see Cristeros hanging from every telephone pole.

Numerous endorsements by Catholic leaders for the film explicitly connect it to the current clash between church and state in the US today. And, this is where I have a huge problem. The film can stand on its own. It doesn't need to be a propaganda piece for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fight against the Obama administration's birth control mandate and its upcoming June 21 to July 4 "Fortnight for Freedom," in dioceses across the nation. It's preposterous to equate the attempted wholesale demolition of the Catholic Church, its priests, and practitioners in Mexico depicted in "For Greater Glory" to modern-day politics where a case can be made for either side.

SYNOPSIS

What price would you pay for freedom? In the exhilarating action epic FOR GREATER GLORY an impassioned group of men and women each make the decision to risk it all for family, faith and the very future of their country, as the film's adventure unfolds against the long-hidden, true story of the 1920s Cristero War, ¬the daring people¹s revolt that rocked 20th Century North America.

Academy Award® nominee Andy Garcia headlines an acclaimed cast as General Gorostieta, the retired military man who at first thinks he has nothing personal at stake as he and his wife (Golden Globe nominee Eva Longoria) watch Mexico fall into a violent civil war. Yet the man who hesitates in joining the cause will soon become the resistance's most inspiring and self-sacrificing leader, as he begins to see the cost of religious persecution on his countrymen . . . and transforms a rag-tag band of rebels into a heroic force to be reckoned with.  The General faces impossible odds against a powerful and ruthless government.  Yet is those he meets on the journey ¬ youthful idealists, feisty renegades and, most of all, one remarkable teenager named Jose ¬ who reveal to him how courage and belief are forged even when justice seems lost.

Director Dean Wright brings a visual power honed from years as a leading Hollywood effects guru ¬ on such blockbusters as TITANIC, THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and CHRONICLES OF NARNIA ¬ to this real-life tale that has never been told on screen before.  The film is written by Michael Love.  The producer is Pablo Jose Barroso.  Garcia and Longoria lead a stellar multinational cast that includes the legendary Peter O¹Toole, rapidly rising star Oscar Isaac (DRIVE), recording star and actor Ruben Blades (SAFE HOUSE), Bruce Greenwood (STAR TREK, SUPER 8), Nestor Carbonell (THE DARK NIGHT RISES), Bruce McGill (LINCOLN), Santiago Cabrera (³Heroes,² CHE), Oscar®-nominated Catalina Sandino Moreno (MARIA FULL OF GRACE) and Eduardo Verástegui (BELLA).

Shooting on historic locations throughout Mexico, the equally accomplished behind the scenes team includes director of photography Eduardo Martinez Solares (BAD HABITS), Oscar®-nominated editor Richard Francis-Bruce (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, SEVEN, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER¹S STONE), production designer Salvador Parra (VOLVER) and Oscar®-winning composer James Horner (AVATAR, TITANIC, BRAVEHEART).
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THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman 

Screened "The Five-Year Engagement."  It's at least three years too long and nowhere near as funny, raunchy, or smart as "Bridesmaids"-- despite the fact that their marketing promotion is tying in the Judd Apatow connection.  He produced Bridesmaids as well as this romantic comedy.

Disappointing in comparison-- or otherwise.  Just ** stars.

SYNOPSISThe director and writer/star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall re-team for the irreverent comedy The Five-Year Engagement. Beginning where most romantic comedies end, the new film from director Nicholas Stoller, producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Rodney Rothman (Get Him to the Greek) looks at what happens when an engaged couple, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, keeps getting tripped up on the long walk down the aisle. The film was written by Segel and Stoller.

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Salmon Fishing in Yemen

Review by Barbara Twigg

"Salmon Fishing in Yemen" is a very appealing British film  featuring a quite attractive sheik with a gorgeous Scottish estate for fishing, who wants to spend a not so small fortune to bring salmon to dry Yemen.  With Ewan McGregor as a somewhat nerdy, but very charming government fishery expert coerced into taking on the seemingly impossible project with Emily Blunt.  Don't let the strange sounding title keep you away from this very entertaining movie-- funny, different, and romantic.   I could see Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn being perfectly cast in the title roles. 

SYNOPSIS:  A handful of curious Brits become fish out of water when they get mixed up in the dream project of an eccentric sheikh in this satiric comedy. Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is a scientist specializing in establishing fisheries who's muddling through a midlife crisis and a marriage that's going sour when he's approached by Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) with an unusual proposition. Maxwell works for the prime minister of Yemen, and, in tandem with a remarkably wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked), he wants to introduce sport fishing to the Middle East as a way to promote better international relations. Jones isn't interested at first, but between Maxwell's aggressive enthusiasm and the beauty of Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a lovely businesswoman hired by the sheikh to make his dream a reality, he changes his mind and sets out to create a fully stocked lake in the midst of a desert. 

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BOY 

Film Review and Q&A with Director 
By Rozanne Weissman

BOY is a hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age tale about heroes, magic, and Michael Jackson. The indie film takes place in a rural Maori community on the East Coast of New Zealand in 1984 when Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and music video were still mega-hits. Boy has broken records as the highest grossing film in New Zealand. It's got a tougher road in the US but is well worth seeing.

Following the film screening, Boy’s script writer, director, and star New Zealand-born Taika Waititi, named as one of Variety magazine's  "ten new directors to watch" in 2007, conducted a fun, off-the-wall Q&A where there was no censorship between the brain and mouth. 

“I’ll invite you to ‘Q’ me and I’ll ‘A’ you,” Waititi instructs the audience. In response to a question as to where he found the unknown kids who star in the film, he playfully responds, “In chat rooms.” Actually, he found the native kids in schools. None had acted before. He actually found the engaging lead, who plays Boy (James Rolleston), just three days before shooting began after firing his predecessor when he turned into an adolescent with voice changes. He describes James as innocent and curious. It's a combination that plays well against Boy's fantasy hero father, Alamein (Taika Waititi himself), who turns out to be less than a mere mortal—but he sure shakes his stuff in elaborate musical numbers.

On why use native people, the director responds, "Because they're interesting." On why he's self-distributing the film and on the road shilling for his movie: "It’s an independent film that takes place in a country people cannot locate on the map, with a cast of unknowns, and virtually no promotional budget so I'm rolling it out from town to town. I cut out the middlemen because they suck." Why not get Harvey Weinstein to help: "But then you have to work with Harvey Weinstein!"

Why the focus on hero worship and Michael Jackson: "Anyone who was brown or black and doing well was appealing to New Zealand kids. What 11-year-old couldn't relate to a pop star earning millions and spending it on his own castle and zoo?" Did Michael Jackson know about the film? "He died at the end of filming, but his kids saw it.
"
In response to what’s next, he blurts out, “A comedy about vampires.” On how to become a scriptwriter, director, and actor, he advises, "Get a shit job that inspires you to be better." His inspirational "shit" job was stripping on a TV show and having to eat tuna four times a day to look buff.


SYNOPSIS
The year is 1984, and on the rural East Coast of New Zealand in Waihau Bay, Michael Jackson is king and "Thriller" is changing kids' lives. 
Here we meet Boy, an 11-year-old dreamer who adores Michael Jackson and lives on a farm with his Gran, a goat called Leaf, his younger brother, Rocky (who thinks he has super powers), and a tribe of deserted cousins. Shortly after Gran leaves for a Tangihanga (funeral) in Wellington for a week, Boy's other hero, his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi or Taika Cohen, his mother’s maiden name), appears out of the blue with two odd sidekicks. 

Alamein had been the subject of Boy's fantasies; he imagines him as a deep sea diver, war hero, and a close relation of Michael Jackson (he can even dance like him). Having imagined a heroic version of his father during his seven- year absence in jail for robbery, Boy comes face to face with the real version—an incompetent hoodlum who has returned only to find a bag of money he buried years before. Boy is forced to confront the man he thought he remembered, find his own potential, and learn to get along without the hero he had been hoping for and live a better life than his dad's.
Paladin (90 min). Opens in DC March 30.
CAST: James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi
DIR/WRITER: Taika Waititi

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JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

When I left the film screening of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a Japanese subtitled documentary about Japan’s—and also the world’s—most famous sushi chef, Jiro Ono, I craved sushi.

That craving wasn't fed by the most expensive sushi offering at Whole Foods or other mediocre morsels in Washington, DC.  I wanted to travel to Tokyo and sample all the sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro with nine other patrons at the prestigious, tiny basement restaurant that only seats 10. And I wanted to watch the now 86-year-old restaurant owner and his two sons work their magic with raw fish and egg custard.

Apprentices, including Jiro's sons, work for at least 10 years to gain mastery, "get it right," and continue to improve with the eagle eyes of their perfectionistic taskmaster Jiro watching and evaluating every move.

It seemed odd to me that the documentary was accompanied by classical music by Philip Glass, Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. Nice though it was and much as I appreciate classical music, I would have preferred Japanese music to set the true tone. I actually found the music disconcerting.

SYNOPSIS:  JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.

For most of his life, Jiro has been mastering the art of making sushi, but even at his age he sees himself still striving for perfection, working from sunrise to well beyond sunset to taste every piece of fish; meticulously train his employees; and carefully mold and finesse the impeccable presentation of each sushi creation. At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the worthy heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow.

The feature film debut of director David Gelb, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a thoughtful and elegant meditation on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world, and a loving yet complicated father.


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AMERICAN REUNION

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman


What's there to say about the film "American Reunion:" It's racy, raunchy, and funny from start to finish. It's a summer-kind-of movie that debuted early—just like our warmer-than-normal winter.  American Reunion continues the "American Pie" story a decade later as the same cast returns for their high school reunion. 

If you liked "The Hangover" and the "American Pie" series as well as "Bridesmaids," you'll probably like this. Just remember: Laughter is jogging for the internal organs. And few of our organs get enough such exercise in our nation's capital.


SYNOPSIS:  In the comedy American Reunion, all the American Pie characters we met a little more than a decade ago return to East Great Falls, Michigan, for their high-school reunion. In one long-overdue weekend, they discover what has changed, who hasn’t, and that time and distance can’t break the bonds of friendship.

It was summer 1999 when four small-town Michigan boys began a quest to lose their virginity. In the years that have passed, Jim and Michelle married while Kevin and Vicky said goodbye. Oz and Heather grew apart, but Finch still longs for Stifler’s mom. Now these lifelong friends have come home as adults to reminisce about—and get inspired by—the hormonal teens who launched a comedy legend.

They discover how their lives have developed as they gather for their high school reunion. How has life treated Michelle, Jim, Heather, Oz, Kevin, Vicky, Finch, Stiffler, and Stiffler's mom? In the summer of 1999, it was four boys on a quest to lose their virginity. In 2012, it's American Pie's little Kara who now is a bouncy, sexy high school senior looking for the perfect guy to help her  lose her virginity.

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Filmfest DC: The Washington, DC International Film Festival
Announces Schedule of More Than 80 Washington, DC Premieres 
  
Festival Spotlights International Comedies and Caribbean Journeys
From April 12 – 22, 2012
 
 
WASHINGTON—In its 26th year, Filmfest DC: The Washington, DC International Film Festival continues its commitment of bringing new and award-winning cinema from around the world to the nation’s capital. From April 12 – 22, Filmfest DC presents more than 80 films from more than 35 countries at top venues in Washington, DC. A full list of films, locations and screening times is now available on the Filmfest DC website, filmfestdc.org.
 
This year, the District’s oldest and largest film festival focuses on “The Lighter Side” with a slate of new international comedies from countries such as France, Argentina, Italy and Japan. Also featured will be Caribbean Journeys, a groundbreaking program of new work from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The DC premiere of Marley, a documentary that paints a moving portrait of the reggae star, will receive its Washington, DC premiere. Calypso Rose about the legendary calypso singer and RasTa: A Soul’s Journey, featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter, will have their American premieres at the festival.
 
“The festival’s Caribbean Journeys series helps give voice to the vibrant people of a culture rarely appreciated beyond the sun and sand,” said longtime festival director, Tony Gittens. “We’re also excited to explore how humor varies across cultures with our series of international comedies. But, more important, we’re hoping these films will showcase cinema’s unique ability to bring people together to enjoy a shared experience.”
 
More than a dozen international guests (see below) are expected to appear and discuss their films, including the director behind Monsieur Lazhar, a 2012 Oscar® finalist for Best Foreign Language Film, and the producer of Pink Ribbons, Inc., a controversial documentary that investigates corporate campaigns to fight breast cancer. This film is part of the festival’s Justice Matters series, designed to draw attention to social justice issues. Other special sections include Global Rhythms, a series of music films, Lunafest, an array of short films by, for and about women, and Filmfest DC for KIDS.
 
WHEN - April 12 – 22, 2012

WHERE

Avalon Theatre: 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Embassy of France: 4101 Reservoir Road, NW
Goethe-Institut Washington: 812 Seventh Street, NW
Landmark's E Street Cinema: 555 11th Street, NW
National Gallery of Art: East Building Auditorium, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Naval Heritage Center: 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Regal Cinemas Gallery Place: 701 7th Street, NW

TICKETS

Tickets will be available beginning March 26th on the tickets page of the Filmfest DC website, by calling 1-800-996-4774 or on-site at Goethe Institut Washington. General Admission tickets are $11 unless otherwise noted. Free events are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Discount passes are available online.

SPECIAL SERIES

The Lighter Side
In this series of international comedies, Filmfest DC explores humor across various cultures. Please click here for more information and a full list of films.

Caribbean Journeys
This groundbreaking new film series offers a glimpse into the historically artistic and culturally diverse Caribbean region. Please click here for more information and a full list of films.

Justice Matters
This series of films, specifically curated for the Washington, DC audience, explores social justice issues. Please click here for more information and a full list of films.
 
SPECIAL EVENTS

Opening Night – Regal Cinemas Gallery Place, Tickets: $25
Hosted by multi-Emmy® award-winning WJLA entertainment reporter, Arch Campbell, the celebration on April 12 at 7pm will feature the Washington, DC premiere of the Canadian comedy and box office hit Starbuck. A party at Bar Louie in Chinatown will follow.
 
Closing Night – Embassy of France, Tickets: $20
On April 22, Filmfest DC will continue its comedic theme with the French blockbuster The Intouchables, screening at 3pm and 7pm. A reception will take place between the screenings.

Filmfest DC for KIDS – Goethe-Institut Washington, Tickets: $5
Eleanor's Secret, a family-friendly film, screens Saturday, April 14 at 2:30pm and Saturday, April 21 at 2:30pm.
 
FREE EVENTS

Personal Connections to Public Stories: From Idea to Projection
Taking place at Busboys & Poets on 5th and K Streets, NW, this panel discussion will explore the variety of relationships that filmmakers have to the subject or topic of their films. Doors open at 10:00am on Saturday, April 14, and the panel discussion begins at 10:30am. Please click here for more information.

Screenings at the National Gallery of Art
Presented in association with the centennial celebration of the 1912 Japanese gift of cherry trees to Washington, DC, the following Japanese films will screen: 
Hanezu: Sunday, April 22, 4:30pm
Late Spring: Saturday, April 21, 2:30pm
Sansho the Bailiff: Sunday, April 15, 4:00pm

AWARDS

Cash awards will be made in the Circle Jury Award Competition, the Justice Matters Series and in the new First Features sections. Filmfest DC will also present two audience awards, and the SIGNIS jury will present an award. For more information regarding awards and a full list of competition films and award sponsors, please click here.


SCREENERS, INTERVIEWS AND PHOTOS

A limited number of select screeners are available to the press upon request.
In addition to special guests, Filmfest DC Director Tony Gittens and Filmfest DC Deputy Director Shirin Ghareeb, are available for interviews.
High-resolution photos are available to download on the press page of the Filmfest DC website.
Major Filmfest DC sponsors include: University of the District of Columbia, National Endowment for the Arts, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Mayor’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, AMTRAK, WJLA Channel 7 and 8 is our Official Television Station, WAMU 88.5 is our Official Radio Station, WPFW is the Caribbean Journeys media sponsor, and Modus Hotels is our Official Hotel.
 
The Filmfest DC public information line is 202-628-FILM and its website is filmfestdc.org.
 
Please contact Jordan Stinnett, jstinnett@scottcircle.com; w: (202) 207-3662; c: (239) 938-4960 with media-related inquiries.
  
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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 By Barbara Twigg

I hope the over-50, non-theater going set takes a chance on leaving their homes to see this film.   Filmed in India, it captures its colorful chaos (said my friend who's been there twice, although the real India is much more crowded), as the newly-minted, expatriate Brits  adjust in varying measure to dramatic change.  The inimitable Maggie Smith, most recently seen as the haughty aristocrat in PBS's  "Downton Abbey," portrays a cockney, bigoted, retired housekeeper with her customary flair and verve, as she seeks a bargain-priced hip replacement in an Indian hospital.  Dev Patel, from "Slumdog Millionaire," may verge on an Indian stereotype, but he does it with such grandiose style and over-the-top well-meaning energy that his role, as the hotel's proprietor,  is terrific. There are some predictable situations, but the film is funny and touching, with lots of great lines.


Synopsis:  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
follows a group of British retirees who decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self.  Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life can begin again when you let go of the past.  Stars Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith.


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HUGO

       review by Barbara Twigg

Nominated for 11 Academy Awards including best picture, Hugo achieves what director Martin Scorsese set out to do, and more ... make a film his kids could see.  Based on Brian Selznick's 2008 Caldecott award-winning children's book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," Hugo is a lovely piece of work that can find an appreciative audience of any age.   Gorgeous and colorful with 3-D depth, Hugo traces the struggles of a Paris orphan to live on his own and evade the orphan-snatching clutches of a the train station's policeman, played by Sasha Baron Cohen in an inspired piece of casting. The movie becomes fascinating to students of early film in the second half when it explores the early work (1902) of French film pioneer, Georges Melies.  I had not previously heard of him, but seeing the original clips of this magician of film was a treat.  Yes, Hugo is a PG children's movie, but rich and layered for all to enjoy.

SYNOPSIS:  Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.  Directed by Martin Scorsese.  Stars Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen, and two wonderful young actors, British Asa Butterfield and American Chloe Grace Moretz.  PG: 126 minutes.

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Act of Valor

 Review by Rozanne Weissman

With Navy SEALS in the news for their daring helicopter rescue of a US aid worker held hostage by pirates in Somalia and their raid in Pakistan where they killed terrorist Osama Ben Laden, it's captivating to see eight active duty Navy SEALS –rather than actors – play dramatized versions of themselves in the action-adventure film "Act of Valor."

And, weapons firing live ammunition also add authenticity and a shot of adrenaline to the hybrid documentary/narrative feature film. Imagine being an extra in that film without hazardous duty pay!

Battle scenes were shot during pre-existing live SEAL training missions, plotted out and blocked by the troops themselves, with cameras placed atop their helmets for a first-hand view of the action, revealed co-director Mike "Mouse" McCoy at the first Washington DC film screening, appropriately at the United States Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue. The screening was filled with appreciative servicemen, wounded warriors, board members of the Memorial, and others.

The fast-paced action moves from Costa Rica to Mexicali to Somalia and Ukraine as the SEALS track a terrorist cell that aims to bring about the economic collapse of the United States through unique undetectable bombs. And, they also conduct a daring boat-air-lifted-to-a-helicopter rescue of an attractive female CIA operative being held hostage and tortured in Mexico. While the plot is fictional, the film includes re-enactments of actual combat missions and high-impact surprise assaults. It feels like going behind the scenes into dangerous, adrenaline-high missions and combat.

And that's exactly what the Navy wanted for this recruiting video for the SEALs and the U.S. armed forces' first feature-length recruiting film. Let's just say it has their "SEAL of approval." They gave unprecedented access to the Bandito Brothers production company and its filmmakers and directors Scott Waugh and McCoy who had previously produced commercials and videos for the military.

When producing a video for the Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen, who operate and maintain small craft used to support special operations missions, particularly those of SEALS, the filmmakers came up with the idea of an action movie about this elite and covert fighting force.

The filmmakers spent two years working around SEAL deployments in order to get the eight troops in their movie. In addition to the SEALS, the pilots and submarine crews in the film are also real members of the military. And the U.S. Navy parachute team did the jumps.

Described McCoy, "It's a humbling experience and a treat to tell how good these guys are and to deal with the SEAL ethos." What was the hardest shot in the film? "The submarine shot," he noted.

The military's measure of success for the film won't be box office results but new Navy SEAL recruits. At the Q&A following the film Vice Adm. John Totushek stated, "We want to attract the right people -- young people with the desire and drive who see what we do and are convinced it's for them."

SYNOPSIS:  A Navy SEAL squad goes on a covert operation in Yugoslavia to rescue a kidnapped CIA officer, while also taking down terrorists who aim to strike America.

An unprecedented blend of real-life heroism and original filmmaking, Act of Valor stars a group of active-duty Navy SEALs in a powerful story of contemporary global anti-terrorism. Inspired by true events, the film combines stunning combat sequences, up-to-the minute battlefield technology and heart-pumping emotion for the ultimate action adventure.

Act of Valor takes audiences deep into the secretive world of the most elite, highly trained group of warriors in the modern world. When the rescue of a kidnapped CIA operative leads to the discovery of a deadly terrorist plot against the U.S., a team of SEALs is dispatched on a worldwide manhunt. As the valiant men of Bandito Platoon race to stop a coordinated attack that could kill and wound thousands of American civilians, they must balance their commitment to country, team and their families back home.
Directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh.  Written by Kurt Johnstad.  Relativity Media (1hr 41min)


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PINA 
dance, dance otherwise we are lost
 
Reviewed by Rozanne Weissman, Barbara Twigg and Donna Christenson


If you LOVE modern dance and watching the wonderful ways the body moves, put on your 3D glasses and twirl into the movie theater to see PINA. If you don't, don't go.
--Rozanne

Nominated for Best Documentary in this year's Academy Awards, Wim Wenders' PINA is a dazzling display of modern dance.  The 3-D does not so much reach out into the audience  (yes, some raindrops and curtains come your way), but instead provides the visual depth that brings the sensuality of the dance alive.  Though an aficionado of modern dance, I had not heard of the choreographer Pina Bausch before, yet was in awe of the breadth of her creativity,  The variety of movement and theatrical tableaux continually held my interest, though at 100 minutes, it seemed a little long-- too much of a good thing can still be too much.  I would heartily recommend this film to anyone who loves dance, or who wants to explore the world of modern art translated into human movement.  It's the Hirshhorn of dance.  Others could find it insufferable.
--Barbara

There are some marvelous moments in PINA, and I agree with both Rozanne & Barbara that it will be LOVED by some and of no interest whatsoever to others.  I would note that when you go to the theater for a modern dance performance, the evening usually includes an intermission …which would have been a welcome break during what was often a very intense presentation.  A very restless film critic (who shall go unnamed) was sitting next to me during the preview screening, constantly checking his watch …and that’s not a good sign!  The moment the film ended (and before an additional dance segment showed up along with the credits), he grabbed his fedora (that’s an identity clue!) and dashed out to escape. 
--Donna

SYNOPSIS

PINA is a feature-length dance film in 3D with the ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, featuring the unique and inspiring art of the great German choreographer, who died in the summer of 2009. Director Wim Wenders, who also made the popular "Buena Vista Social Club," takes the audience on a sensual, visually stunning journey of discovery into a new dimension: straight onto the stage with the legendary Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch ensemble, where he follows the dancers out of the theatre into the city and the surrounding areas of Wuppertal - the place, which for 35 years was the home and centre for Pina Bausch's creativity.

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A Separation
by Barbara Twigg

The Golden Globe winner this year for Best Foreign Language Film, Iran's "A Separation" is not an easy watch.  There's lots of bickering, Iranian style, though the issues are universal ones:  the burden of taking care of an aging parent, played against the stresses of marriage and the needs of an 11 year old daughter.  The film offers a fascinating look at Iranian family court, and the efforts of an overwhelmed judge to sort out the facts of complex situations.   By the end, my friends and I felt exhausted from the struggle, further complicated by the issues of the woman the couple hires to take care of the difficult father.  It's a good and interesting film, though sometimes tiresome and repetitive-- but perhaps that's the point?

SYNOPSIS:  A married couple is faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers. Directed and written by Asghar Farhadi   PG-13, 123 minutes


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'IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY'

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 Angelina Jolie's directorial debut film, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," is powerful, gripping, dark, and bloody. It deals with the three-year war of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s.

Not unlike Hotel Rwanda, it's an important film to view, think about, and discuss. Both are the stories of man's inhumanity to man, of unimaginable violence and atrocities — including to women who are raped and used as human shields and children who are killed — while the world watches and does nothing. 

Appropriately, it premiered in the nation's capital at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum a couple days before I screened it. It seems we never learn. Watching it, I was constantly reminded of my father's haunted look and the sad sound of his voice when he talked about losing his entire family in the Holocaust. "Why was I the only one who survived?" he questioned. 

This is not a star's vanity project. For Jolie, who not only directed but also wrote and produced the film, it was a story that she needed to tell. It represents Jolie's worldview and concerns as a humanitarian activist, goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and mother of children who are a mini-United Nations.

It's a high risk, politically complex, serious drama starring a cast of unknowns speaking in three languages—Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian —with subtitles. Not exactly designed to fill seats in American theaters.

As the film opens, an attractive Muslim artist Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) meets a Serbian policeman, Danijel (Goran Kostic) at a nightclub. Sparks fly as they dance and flirt until a bomb blast rocks the place. Prior to this, the film notes in opening text that Muslims, Christians, Serbs, and Croats coexisted peacefully before the outbreak of war in 1992, triggered by the republic's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav-backed Serbian army occupies the city and begins its campaign of ethnic cleansing. Serving as an officer in the Serbian army and recognizing Ajla among the prisoners, Danijel saves her from being raped by a fellow officer in a twist of fate which frames the story.

Portrayed initially as a more sensitive man who hates killing, Danijel maintains a protective watch over Ajla, ultimately installing her in private quarters where they can make love and Ajla can paint, away from the abuse and harassment of the other soldiers. The relationship between the captor and his captive always has an uneasy tension. Who can be trusted and how far?

Despite these interludes, the film is dark throughout — so much so that you want to avert your eyes or say enough already or STOP! While it may be painful to watch, it's nothing like the pain of the participants in the real drama. It's worth seeing and supporting a new director who takes a sizable risk.

Here's a little secret: Jolie's husband Brad Pitt appeared in the film, although it can't even be considered a cameo. Washington DC writer Carol Joynt thought she spotted him in the film and asked Pitt, hobbling around with a torn ACL at the Holocaust Museum. In her Washingtonian blog, she reports on his so-far secret 15 seconds: "Pitt lights up, a big smile. 'Yes, that was me,' he says. 'You noticed. I got killed. I worked it for all I could. I went down twice. I wanted more blood, but no, the director. . . .'”

 SYNOPSIS:  

Set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War that tore the Balkan region apart in the 1990s, In the Land of Blood and Honey tells the story of Danijel (Goran Kostić) and Ajla (Zana Marjanović), two Bosnians from different sides of a brutal ethnic conflict. 

Danijel, a Bosnian Serb police officer, and Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim artist, meet before the war and clearly like each other, but their relationship is changed as violence engulfs the country. Months later, Danijel is soldier fighting for the Serbs, serving under his father, General Nebojsa Vukojevich (Rade Šerbedžija), as an officer in the Bosnian Serb Army. He and Ajla come face to face again when she is taken from the apartment she shares with her sister, Lejla (Vanesa Glodjo), and Lejla's infant child by troops under Danijel's command. She is held captive in the camp he oversees. 

As the conflict takes hold of their lives, their relationship changes and grows darker, their motives and connection to one another become ambiguous and their allegiances grow uncertain. In the Land of Blood and Honey portrays the incredible emotional, moral, and physical toll that the war takes on individuals as well as the consequences that stem from the lack of political will to intervene in a society stricken with conflict. 

FilmDistrict (2hrs 7min)
CAST: Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Vanessa Glodjo, Rade Serbedzija, Boris Ler
DIR: Angelina Jolie

 

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THE ARTIST

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

In a love affair with the early days of Hollywood when films were black and white and silent and the story was told through facial expressions and body language, French Director  Michel Hazanavicius recreated that era in his highly acclaimed new film "The Artist." 

A friend who travels to film festivals around the world and tips me off to films to see alerted me to this film a while back. When he said it was a silent, early-Hollywood-style film that I would love, I responded, "You've got to be kidding!" "And," he added, "it's directed by a Frenchman."  I raised my eyebrows even higher. 

Turns out "The Artist" is a charming delight that has attracted Academy award nominations buzz. The film has already garnered six Golden Globe nominations, the most of any film in the 69th Hollywood Foreign Press awards, including best motion picture, comedy, or musical. And it has three nominations for the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards.

The lack of words means the film easily crosses international borders. It's beloved by French cinema audiences as well as critics and audiences in the US.  Hazanavicius effectively mines the nostalgia of simpler times as well as the retro fever demonstrated by Emmy-and-Golden-Globe-winning TV shows like AMC's "Mad Men," which depicts Madison Ave. and the advertising world of the 60s. 

The film stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a dapper, self-absorbed, silent-era movie star with a pencil-thin mustache. It also stars Bérénice Bejo, Michel Hazanavicius' second wife, an Argentine native, who plays the effervescent Peppy Miller. She first meets Valentin as an adoring fan and then as an extra on the set of his latest film. Both stars turn in excellent performances. Dujardin won the Best Actor Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered.

 

As Wall Street crashes in 1929, Valentin's movie studio head Al Zimmer, played by John Goodman, debuts talkies for which Valentin is ill suited.  At a time of economic turmoil and technological change, Peppy rises as a big star while Valentin, who refuses to change, hits bottom as his career ends with the arrival of talkies. He moves from a luxurious home to a tiny, dingy apartment and has to fire his loyal chauffeur Clifton (played by James Cromwell) who hasn't been paid for a year. He goes to work for Peppy.

 

Valentin's saving grace is his "best friend" Uggie, a Jack Russell terrier who follows him everywhere and steals the show.  Perhaps The Artist might not have risen to such heights of acclaim were it not for the expressive, endearing dog.  The dog, Uggie, makes Valentin seem more human during both his highs and lows, and — along with accompanying music and good acting —saves this silent picture some 70 years after talkies took over the industry.

 

 

SYNOPSIS:  Silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) attends the premiere of his film A Russian Affair. Outside the theater, Valentin is posing for pictures for the paparazzi when a woman, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), admiring Valentin while lost in a sea of adoring fans, drops her purse. She bends down to get it, but is accidentally pushed into Valentin. She ends up photographed, and the next day, she is on the front page of a newspaper, with the headline "Who's That Girl?"

SPOILER ALERT: We've deleted the rest of the synopsis so we don't spoil it for you by letting you know how this film turns out.


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Man on a Ledge
by Barbara Twigg


"Man on a Ledge" will have you on the edge of your seat.  This fast-paced, ingeniously plotted thriller places the Aussie  star of Avatar, Sam Worthington, precariously on the ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.  From its dizzying start to satisfying finish, the film makes a fine contribution to the caper genre, adding its own twists and turns as it borrows elements from such cinematic forerunners  as "The Fugitive," "Ocean's 11" and "The Italian Job."   Sporting only one short car chase, and a good one at that, the film draws its excitement instead from a clever script, roof-top thrills and humorous touches.  The  fine ensemble cast includes Kyra Sedgwick as a pushy New York TV reporter,  and a spunky turn by the sexy Floridian, Genesis Rodriguez, of "Entourage."    A great Saturday night movie.

SYNOPSIS  An ex-cop turned con threatens to jump to his death from a Manhattan hotel rooftop. The nearest New York Police officer immediately responds to a screaming woman and calls dispatch. More Officers arrive with SWAT and tactical command along with fire-fighters. The police then dispatches a female police psychologist personally requested to talk him down from the ledge. However, things aren't as straightforward and clear-cut as they appear to be.  Directed by Asger Leth  Starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks and Jamie Bell  Running time:  102 minutes, PG-13

 

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THE IRON LADY

By Barbara Twigg and Donna Christenson

12/14/11  You would be forgiven if you thought the opening scene of “The Iron Lady” was actually  news footage of the real Margaret Thatcher, so perfectly complete is Meryl Streep’s transformation to portray the aging doyenne.  What can one say about yet another stellar performance by Meryl Streep, this time tackling the very complex former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher? 

In her remarks recently at the Washington, DC preview screening of "The Iron Lady linked to Streep's support for the planned National Women's History Museum, Streep explained that in her view "The Iron Ladyis not a "biopic",

 but a look back at a life, at the end of it, by the woman who lived it.  The "looking back" focuses on the elderly Thatcher, struggling with the onset of memory loss and confusion.  Fascinating and very enjoyable, the film takes a somewhat low key approach.  Its portrayal of the difficulties Thatcher had as a woman in the 1950's with an interest in politics made for compelling viewing for the many U.S. Congressional women in the audience, including Senators Barbara Mikulski, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Amy Klobuchar and Barbara Boxer.  Thatcher, as portrayed, seems to have managed quite effectively to have a strong marriage and good relationships with her twin son and daughter-- while making the tough decisions that came her way, including the 1982 Falklands war with Argentina.  The film seems quite even-handed in its depiction of Thatcher as a politician, wife, and mother-- at least to the arms-length viewer.  It will be interesting to learn how well the Streep portrayal captures Thatcher's essence for those who knew her personally.   


Brandishing her own handbag, Streep also pointed out that Margaret Thatcher always carried a rather intimidating one, filled with a range of useful items including a collection of 3 x 5 cards covered with quotations.  Among the favorites was one from Disreali:  “Never apologize for showing feeling.  When you do so, you apologize for the truth.”   

Synopsis:  THE IRON LADY is a  surprising and intimate portrait of Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female Prime Minister of The United Kingdom. One of the 20th century's most famous and influential women, Thatcher came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male dominated world.
Weinstein Company (1hr 45min). Opens Dec. 30.
CAST: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Olivia Colman, Anthony Head, Richard E Grant
DIR: Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia, numerous theatre & opera productions in London)     


Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming “The Iron Lady.” (Alex Bailey/The Weinstein Company)

For additional photos from this event, take a look at our www.DCdigest.com Photo Gallery page.  
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EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE 

Film Review by Rozanne Weissman

 

12/13/11   Grief -stricken over his father's death by terrorists in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, precocious Oskar Schell, 11, wanders around New York City shaking his tambourine and clearly suffering from depression, anger, panic attacks, and alienation. He seems to be on the verge of an emotional breakdown.

Yet, oddly enough, no one in the film, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," seems to notice his odd behavior or his wandering all over New York meeting with strangers unsupervised. Why, I wondered watching his extremely disturbing behavior, didn't his mother or grandmother take him for grief or psychological therapy?

Young Thomas Horn, who plays Oskar, carries the film with a virtuoso if not perhaps somewhat over-the-top performance. I almost didn't notice at first that Sandra Bullock played his mother; it was a low-key performance for her. Although only appearing in the beginning of the film, Tom Hanks as Oskar's father leaves his mark because of the strong relationship and intellectual connection between the boy and his father who is killed. He turned problems into challenging games and explorations.

After his father's death, Oskar rummages around in his closet and breaks a blue vase containing a tiny envelope marked "Black." Inside is what appears to be a safe-deposit box key. Obsessed with finding the right person named Black and unlocking the secret to his father's key which he believes is intended for him, Oskar goes through phone books and organizes his individual search through the five boroughs of New York. He travels alone meeting strangers and photographing each documenting his quest. In some ways it seems to connect him with his deceased father and their joint love of mysterious quests.

Steeped in numbers—yet not quite as intense as Dustin Hoffman's character in "Rain Man"— Oskar counts, categorizes, and assigns numbers to everything. Computer savvy, bright, and research-oriented, Oskar's interests are diverse. Clearly lonely, Oskar longs for the best-friend-bond he had with his father— so much so that he takes with him for company on his quest an old man who doesn't speak, referred to only as "the renter" of a room in his beloved grandmother's apartment.

The film is based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel of the same name. It's directed with the fine touch of Stephen Daldry ("Billie Elliot," "The Hours," "The Reader," and "Moneyball"). It arrives in limited release on Dec. 25 and expands nationwide in late January. 

This is the second film I've reviewed this month which relates to grieving and loss. The other is "We Bought a Zoo." As someone whose losses still remain fresh, I was touched by both in different ways. I encourage you to see both films.

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FILM TWEET:  
Screened "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."  Fell asleep 3x.  Confusing even for those awake.  Tip: Study names, roles, org chart, code names before.
--Rozanne
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MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

by Barbara Twigg and Donna Christenson

12/12/11  Not every actor would take on the nearly impossible challenge of portraying an icon, especially one as complex as a world-wide sex symbol like Marilyn Monroe who also somehow managed to project a sense of innocence and vulnerability.  That she even tried is to Michelle Williams’ credit; that she succeeded as much as she did makes this a must-see movie.  Michelle Williams gives her all to bring Marilyn Monroe to the screen and does it quite well, save for the fact that her small frame cannot channel the magnetic, physical presence of Monroe herself.   Williams evokes a wide range of Monroe’s characteristics, and at times and from certain angles, you might actually believe you’ve glimpsed the real thing.

And Marilyn Monroe isn’t the only icon portrayed in the film.  Although he doesn't look like him, Kenneth Branagh is also terrific as a cranky Sir Lawrence Olivier struggling to deal with Marilyn's lateness to the film set and her various insecurities.  Julia Ormond captures the essence of Vivien Leigh (best known for her role as Scarlett in Gone With The Wind).  And beautifully-freckled Eddie Redmayne, a tall, classic young Brit who manages to befriend Marilyn by earning her trust, spends a dream week in her company.   It's also an insider’s view of on-the-set filmmaking, and a bittersweet look at the delicate package that was Marilyn Monroe, the young, aspiring actress.   

SYNOPSIS

In the early summer of 1956, 23 year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), just down from Oxford and determined to make his way in the film business, worked as a lowly assistant on the set of 'The Prince and the Showgirl'. That film  famously united Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), who was also on honeymoon with her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). Nearly 40 years on, his diary account The Prince, the Showgirl and Me was published, but one week was missing and this was published some years later as My Week with Marilyn - this is the story of that week. When Arthur Miller leaves England, the coast is clear for Colin to introduce Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life; an idyllic week in which he escorted a Monroe desperate to get away from her retinue of Hollywood hangers-on and the pressures of work.  By turns comic and poignant, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN offers an uncommonly intimate look at the Hollywood icon, charting the brief, charged connection she forged with a young man who came to understand her better than anyone.   
Weinstein Co (1hr 41min). CAST: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Dougray Scott.   -- Directed By: Simon Curtis  Written By: Adrian Hodges and Colin Clark 

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We Bought a Zoo

Two views from  Rozanne Weissman and Donna Christenson

12/2/11  "We Bought a Zoo" stars the talented Matt Damon as Benjamin, a recent widower with two children who is struggling for ways to help his family and himself emerge from grief. Dealing with too many memories in the house and area where they lived in southern California and with a rebellious teenage son who is expelled from school, Benjamin moves his family to the countryside. Their new home includes a broken down zoo of some 200 animals and their keepers. 

To meet standards and reopen, the dilapidated zoo needs a lot of work and money. The physical repair process to the structure also includes human growth, change, and renewal.

While there is a strong ensemble cast of topnotch actors including Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church, for me, precocious seven-year-old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and the wild animals walk off with the show. But that may be just me, since I worked and consulted for public broadcasting, Discovery, and Animal Planet. Whether you're interested in the animals or humans, you'll find a lot to like in "We Bought a Zoo."
 -- Rozanne Weissman 

Especially around the holidays, it's great to see a movie that is engaging for people of all ages …appropriate for children but nuanced enough to remain appealing to adults.    Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one will identify with the difficulties of moving on with one’s life after a loss, and of the complicated layers involved as each person tries to deal with it in his or her own way, sometimes without realizing the impact it has on others.  Both funny and poignant, one of the film's best lines suggests that when you travel through the various stages of grief you should stop before zebras get involved! 

At the screening I attended everyone I spoke with enjoyed this film.  "We Bought a Zoo" is heartwarming and sweet without becoming treacle.
--Donna Christenson

SYNOPSIS:  A recently widowed father (Matt Damon) purchases a home which contains a zoo in its backyard. The film is based on a memoir by Benjamin Mee about how the author and his family used their life savings to buy Dartmoor Zoological Park, a dilapidated zoo, replete with 200 exotic animals facing destruction, in the English countryside. The locale in the film is moved to California.

More details about the actors from Wikipedia:

We Bought a Zoo is a comedy-drama directed by Cameron Crowe starring Matt DamonThomas Haden ChurchColin Ford, Scarlett Johansson, Desi Lydic, Patrick Fugit, and Elle Fanning.

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War Horse

11/28/11  Having seen and adored the play "War Horse" in New York, a theatrical work of great imagination and artistry, I may not be the best person to give an objective appraisal of Steven Spielberg's film version.  Spielberg can make movies with a heavy touch, and this falls into that category-- for example, using an overly dramatic sunset to frame the closing scene.  That said, there are tremendous battle scenes of cavalry charging toward their inevitable destruction, and the horrible waste of war-- although not so horrible and graphic as to disqualify the film for its PG-13 rating, which it certainly needs to reach the younger audience.   It tells a good boy-loves-horse story within the horrific context of World War I, which has not received the cinematic coverage that World War II has.   I did shed some tears, but was not so moved as by the play, which conveyed the suggestion of war and the suffering of its horses so powerfully (four million horses died in WW I).  The tone/style of the movie seems directed at a younger audience by means of the "Spielberg touch," but it becomes a strong family picture for adults as well.  In a very interesting live Q&A with Spielberg afterwards, the renowned director described his film as "old-fashioned," classic story-telling that all ages could enjoy.  (Read Barbara’s review of the Broadway theatrical version of “War Horse” on the Theater page of www.DCdigest.com )

SYNOPSIS

DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse,” director Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure, is a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War. “War Horse” begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets—British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter—before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land.  A successful book, it was turned into a hugely successful international theatrical hit now showing in London and New York   Running time:   2hrs 26 minutes

--Barbara Twigg

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Les femmes du 6eme etage

11/22/11 A thoroughly enjoyable film, "Les femmes du 6eme etage," follows the eye-opening journey of a stiff French stockbroker as he discovers the lives of the maids who live in the small, dilapidated upper floor rooms of his elegant apartment building.  With lots of colorful characters and the French light touch, the movie touches on the social class separation, marriage, love, and the lack thereof, weaving an entertaining and very human look at an upstairs/downstairs situation in upper class Paris.

SYNOPSIS: The Women On The 6th Floor, a comedy set in 1960 Paris, follows a rich couple as their lives are turned upside down by a group of Spanish maids. In French with subtitles, starring Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain, Natalie Verbeke, Carmen Maura and Lola Duenas.  Director: Phillippe Le Guay 1 hour 25 minutes 

--Barbara Twigg
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Into the Abyss

11/7/11  I screened "Into the Abyss," a documentary by filmmaker Werner Herzog that had a high score on Rotten Tomatoes and was hailed by critics.  After the film’s debut at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, critics called it “extraordinary” (New York Times) and “undeniably profound” (Variety).  I asked myself: Did we see the same film? I truly hated it. It's one of the few films I walked out of and was happy to return home to my TV to watch the end of "Dancing with the Stars" (JR was inspirational!) and "Castle" instead.

Why did I hate it? It's surely not because I don't appreciate good documentaries. After all, I worked as VP Corporate Communications in the public broadcasting industry and marketing communications consultant for Discovery--both noted for outstanding docs.  It's not the topic. An exploration of the human consequences of a triple homicide in Texas with interviews of the victims’ families and the convicted killers struck me as interesting.  But I found the interviewing style deadly, the questions lacking, and the cinematography and editing dreadful.  I was bored rather than intrigued. I'm glad I left early. If you're like the critics, go. If you're like me, stay home and watch TV.

SYNOPSIS:  In his fascinating exploration of a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, master filmmaker Werner Herzog probes the human psyche to explore why people kill--and why a state kills. In intimate conversations with those involved, including 28-year-old death row inmate Michael Perry (scheduled to die within eight days of appearing on-screen), Herzog achieves what he describes as "a gaze into the abyss of the human soul." Herzog's inquiries also extend to the families of the victims and perpetrators as well as a state executioner and pastor who've been with death row prisoners as they've taken their final breaths. 

Herzog, who maintains a strong opposition to the death penalty, unveils layers of humanity, both cold and compassionate. As he's so often done before, Herzog's investigation makes an enlightening trip out of ominous territory.

--Rozanne Weissman 

 

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The Double

11/2/11  On a recent night I chose to screen "The Double," a thriller starring Richard Gere rather than a more substantive film "Anonymous", which I left to others to review.   Why?  Richard Gere.  Be still my heart!  But, nonetheless, only 2* stars.  On the plus side, the story reminded me of my days as an investigative reporter for columnist Jack Anderson.

SYNOPSIS:   The story kicks off with the mysterious murder of a senator bearing the marks of a Soviet assassin, who was long thought to be dead. To hunt down the killer, a retired CIA operative (Richard Gere), who spent his career going toe-to-toe with his Soviet nemesis, is teamed with a young FBI agent (Topher Grace) to unravel the mystery of a senator's murder. 

Also starring Martin Sheen, who was terrific in "The Way"-- a must see little film where Sheen's slow character evolution is masterfully played.  It's produced by his son -- no not that off-the-wall son Charlie but his son Emilio Estevez.

 -- Rozanne 

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MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

10/25/11  Just screened "MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE", a psychological thriller.  Sundance loved it. I didn't. Too many holes in the story prior to Martha's two years in a cult in upstate New York.  Then there's the disturbing back-and-forth between her time in the cult and afterward when Martha reunites with her estranged sister.  Irritating ending.  Don't waste your money!

Elizabeth Olson, the younger sister of the Olson twins, however, gives a break-out performance in the lead role of Martha. She's someone to watch--could be a future star.

SYNOPSIS:  The film stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a young woman rapidly unraveling amidst her attempt to reclaim a normal life after fleeing from a cult and its charismatic leader (John Hawkes). Seeking help from her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), Martha is unable and unwilling to reveal the truth about her disappearance. When her memories trigger a chilling paranoia that her former cult could still be pursuing her, the line between Martha's reality and delusion begins to blur.

-- Rozanne 

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THE WAY

10/24/11   "The Way" is a lovely, understated film following the silently grieving Martin Sheen, a California ophthalmologist, as he spontaneously decides to walk the Camino de Santiago,  the 500 mile, medieval  spiritual route, after flying to France to pick up the body of his son, who was killed on the first day of his planned pilgrimage (played by real life son, director and writer of the film,  Emilio Estevez).   Sheen falls in with a motley cast of characters, making their own pilgrimages for varying reasons (from losing weight to conquering writers'  block).   It becomes a road picture, with a spiritual twist, playing out against the backdrop of the gorgeous Spanish countryside and charming towns.   The film takes its time, walking not racing.  I was happy to spend a couple of hours in its company.   At the very least, it will start you thinking of planning a trip to France or Spain. 

SYNOPSISMartin Sheen plays Tom, an irascible American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son (played by Emilio Estevez), killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son's desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn't plan on, is the profound impact the journey will have on him and his "California Bubble Life". Inexperienced as a trekker, Tom soon discovers that he will not be alone on this journey. -- (C) Icon  PG-13, 1 hr. 55 min. Written and directed By: Emilio Estevez

--Barbara

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The Big Year


10/17/11  Three of the unlikeliest actors to portray fanatical bird watchers--Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson--star in "The Big Year."  In real life, the actors can barely recognize one bird from another. In the film, they are rival birders who have taken off a year of their lives to crisscross the country in a heavy-duty competition to spot the most bird species as well as the most elusive and rare birds. The competition is fierce for the #1 slot as the men try to one up each other "because no one ever remembers the one who came in second."  The life-changing journey of each of the men coincides with various challenges in their lives. Will any of them realize that there are more important things in life than being the #1 birder in the nation?

Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley and Me) teamed with screenwriter Howard Franklin to adapt author Mark Obmascik's novel of the same name.
For me, there is much lacking in the film including believability. The birds deserve better!  Not memorable roles for any of the actors. 2 1/2 stars.
 

Synopsis: Everyone is searching for something - and Stu Preissler, Brad Harris and Kenny Bostick are determined to not only find their "something," but to be the very best at it. For Stu, Brad and Kenny, that means being the world's greatest .birder. An extraordinary race becomes a transformative journey for wealthy industrialist Stu, computer code-writer Brad, and successful contractor Kenny, who race across the continent on a Big Year, a whirlwind competition to see who can spot the most species of birds in North America within one calendar year.
Fox. Opens October 14.
CAST: Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Brian Dennehy, Anjelica Huston, Rosamund Pike, Joel McHale, Kevin Pollack, JoBeth Williams
DIR: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me)

--Rozanne Weissman
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Contagion

10/10/11  A cinematic imperative to wash your hands, Contagion moves quickly like the viral replication it chronicles.   It's engaging and entertaining in a life-threatening, medical mystery, garbage piling up, apocalyptic kind of way, as US and world health officials struggle to develop an immunization.  The film is pretty much exactly what you would expect, nothing more.  I could have skipped it, but those who especially enjoy the epidemic genre will like this one.

SYNOPSIS:
  Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart. -- (C) Warner Bros. PG-13, 1 hr. 46 min. Directed By: Steven Soderbergh, starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lawrence Fishburne, Kat Winslett, and Jude Law, the latter as a smarmy, entrepreneurial blogger for the desperate.

--Barbara
 
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THE HEDGEHOG

9/30/11   Having read and loved the book on which the  film The Hedgehog is based, seeing the movie was a necessary pilgrimage.   While it is a quite faithful rendering, I left somewhat uninvolved and I'm not sure why.  Probably because I had been so emotionally moved by the book.  Maybe because the casting and directing of Renee, the concierge, was a bit too glum.   Did she ever crack a smile in the film?  Did she display any wisp of charm that could captivate the dashing Japanese gentleman?  The plump hedgehog was much on display, the elegance a little too hidden.  Maybe that was intentional, to reinforce the great distance that Renee would have to travel toward a different life and self-image.  Still, a nicely-done French film.

Synopsis: 

Inspired by the beloved New York Times bestseller, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, The Hedgehog is the timely story of Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) a young girl bent on ending it all on her upcoming twelfth birthday. Using her father's old camcorder to chronicle the hypocrisy she sees in adults, Paloma begins to learn about life from the grumpy building concierge, Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko). When Paloma's camera reveals the extensive secret library in Renée's back room, and that the often gruff matron reads Tolstoy to her cat, Paloma begins to understand that there are allies to be found beneath the prickliest of exteriors. As the unlikely friendship deepens, Paloma's own coming of age becomes a much less pessimistic prospect.    -- (C) NeoClassics Films    1 hr. 40 min

 --Barbara

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MONEYBALL

9/8/11   You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy “MONEYBALL”  -- fans of numbers, statistics, thinking outside the box, changing your attitude to change your outcome, feel-good movies, or how to play the game of life  -- all will be rooting for this one. 

As general manager of a major league baseball team, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) says he hates to lose even more than he wants to win, and that’s an important distinction.  Rather than savoring the success of taking his team all the way to the play-offs, the fact that they lost the final game wipes out his satisfaction.  (No, I didn’t just give away the ending …this is the set-up at the beginning of the film.)

On the surface this is a story about the little guys with limited resources changing the game to compete with the big money, a concept we might all be wise to consider in our own situations.  In addition, it parallels the approach of the positive psychology movement of identifying and building on an individual’s strengths, rather than focusing on problems.  The result is like a jigsaw puzzle where all of the jumbled, disparate but necessary pieces have been assembled and what emerges are the collaborative accomplishments of an inter-dependent team rather than the individual achievements of a collection of all-stars.

As a promising young ballplayer, Beane was told that one day when he believes in himself he will achieve his potential, but that feeling of success continued to elude him.  Sometimes your expectations may not only prevent you from reaching your goal, they may actually keep you from realizing that you have already hit a home run. 

Synopsis:  Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A's, one day has an epiphany: Baseball's conventional wisdom is all wrong. Faced with a tight budget, Beane must reinvent his team by outsmarting the richer ball clubs. Joining forces with Ivy League graduate Peter Brand, Beane prepares to challenge old-school traditions. He recruits bargain-bin players whom the scouts have labeled as flawed, but have game-winning potential. Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Michael Lewis.
Sony. Opens September 23.
CAST: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman
DIR: Bennett Miller (Capote)

  --Donna
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OUR IDIOT BROTHER

9/6/11  If every dysfunctional family had siblings as charming as OUR IDIOT BROTHER (and his sisters), they might be able to put the “fun” back into dysfunctional.  Though the story line strains credulity, an excellent ensemble cast including Paul Rudd, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, and Zooey Deschanel makes the characters believable and appealing.  Though you’ll sometimes want to reach out and shake some sense into Ned, you’ll be glad you had a chance to hang out with all of them for a while. 

Synopsis:  Every family has one: the sibling who is always just a little bit behind the curve when it comes to getting his life together. For sisters Liz, Miranda and Natalie, OUR IDIOT BROTHER is their perennially upbeat brother Ned, an erstwhile organic farmer whose willingness to rely on the honesty of mankind is a less-than-optimum strategy for a tidy, trouble-free existence. Ned may be utterly lacking in common sense, but he is their brother and so, after his girlfriend dumps him and boots him off the farm, his sisters once again come to his rescue. As Liz, Miranda and Natalie each take a turn at housing Ned, their brother's unfailing commitment to honesty creates more than a few messes in their comfortable routines. But as each of their lives begins to unravel, Ned's family comes to realize that maybe, in believing and trusting the people around him; Ned isn't such an idiot after all.    
CAST: Paul Rudd, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel;  DIR: Jesse Peretz (The Ex, The Chateau); The Weinstein Company (96min). Opens August 26

--Donna

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Screened powerful true film, Machine Gun Preacher. Ex-con, druggie, PA hillbilly Sam Childers finds calling protecting Sudan's orphans. 3***

Synopsis:  The story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who've been forced to become soldiers.   

Starring Gerard Butler, the film tells the story of Sam Childers (Butler), a converted drug-dealer who makes it his personal responsibility to save hundreds of kidnapped and orphaned children in Sudan.

 --Rozanne 

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NAMES OF LOVE  (LE NOM DE GENS)

8/29/11  Names of Love was a perfect film with which to escape the hurricane power outage-- a fast-paced French romantic comedy, matching a half-Algerian French bohemian with a serious, older bachelor who does autopsies on dead fowl to track viruses.   It's classic French humor, with a slightly out of place sub-plot regarding Arthur Martin's Jewish family history that takes a few serious detours.   Yet family history has shaped both Baya and Arthur's lives-- the scene in which their parents meet is terrific.  Most of the film employs a zany touch, and the irrepressible Baya (Sara Forestier) lights up the screen.

SYNOPSIS:  YOUNG EXTROVERT BAYA BENMAHMOUD (SARA FORESTIER) LIVES BY THIS CLASSIC MOTTO: "MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR." IN ORDER TO CONVERT THEM TO HER CAUSE, SHE SLEEPS WITH HER POLITICAL ENEMIES - WHICH MEANS A LOT OF MEN, BECAUSE EVERY CONSERVATIVE IS HER ENEMY. SO FAR, SHE'S GOTTEN GOOD RESULTS. UNTIL SHE MEETS ARTHUR MARTIN (JACQUES BOUDET), 40-SOMETHING. SHE FIGURES THAT WITH SUCH A COMMON NAME (THERE ARE MORE THAN 10,000 ARTHUR MARTINS IN FRANCE), HE'S BOUND TO BE A REAL CONSERVATIVE AND THUS HARD TO CONVERT. YET, NAMES ARE TREACHEROUS AND THINGS AREN'T ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM. BAHIA AND ARTHUR ARE AS DIFFERENT AS TWO PEOPLE CAN BE. SO WHEN THEY FALL IN LOVE, SPARKS FLY... -- (C) MUSIC BOX FILMS   R, 1 HR. 40 MIN.   IN FRENCH WITH SUBTITLES

--Barbara
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'One Day' - Film Review and Discussion with Washington Post Film Critic and a Relationship Guru

By Rozanne Weissman

The romantic comedy "One Day" which follows Em and Dex for two decades leaves much to be desired. Anne Hathaway is truly terrible as Em, and her British "accent" is worse. There is little chemistry between the leads who are poorly cast, the story is choppy, and the script is disappointing.

However, the Washington Post Live - sponsored film at the West End and discussion afterward with the Post duo of Chief Film Critic Ann Hornaday and Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax and moderated by Mary Jordan provided much more food for thought, as did delicious food afterward at Ris.

The big issues for panelists and audience discussion: Can you marry your best friend and have it work? Why do girls like bad boys? Why do these characters even find each other appealing? Haven't we seen this movie before in 10+ other films? How many of Carolyn Hax's questions from readers deal with romantic love?  ("All but the ones that deal with the in-laws," she quipped.)

"Initial chemistry that endures is hard. Chemistry over time will last. People get along better when they get over themselves. That's why high school reunions are interesting," Hax adds.

Hornaday says she "judges each film on its own merits and asks three questions: What is the film trying to do, does it succeed, and was it worth doing?"

Clearly she was miffed at an unexpected twist or what she described as a "monkey wrench" later in the film. "It made me mad. I felt ambushed, cheated, angry," she states. "And there was a pivotal moment early in the film. The later reveal from the book to the screen didn't work."

What makes a good romantic comedy?   "Chemistry," emphasizes Hornaday. "You can't fake chemistry.   'Friends with Benefits' was a little vulgar -- a sex com -- but had chemistry.  And 'Adjustment Bureau,' not a romantic comedy, had irresistible chemistry."

SYNOPSIS:  Twenty years. Two people…

Directed by Lone Scherfig (director of An Education, Academy Award-nominated for Best Picture), the motion picture One Day is adapted for the screen by David Nicholls from his bestselling novel One Day.

After one day together – July 15th, 1988, their college graduation – Emma Morley (Academy Award nominee Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe) begin a friendship that will last a lifetime. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition who dreams of making the world a better place. He is a wealthy charmer who dreams that the world will be his playground.

For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced over several July 15ths in their lives. Together and apart, we see Dex and Em through their friendship and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. Somewhere along their journey, these two people realize that what they are searching and hoping for has been there for them all along. As the true meaning of that one day back in 1988 is revealed, they come to terms with the nature of love and life itself.

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8/22/11   Filmed on the ragged Irish Coast (Galway, I believe), "The Guard" is an entertaining clash of a bumbling Irish police officer (or so he seems) and an Ivy League black American FBI agent as they take on murderous British drug smugglers.  Although the plot is a serious one, with nasty villains at work, the film is quite funny, full of local color and characters.  "The Guard" makes for a fine evening out.  -- but be sure to turn up your ears,  since some of the accents are hard to understand and I know I missed a lot of good lines.

Synopsis: The Guard is a comedic fish-out-of-water tale of murder, blackmail, drug trafficking and rural police corruption. Two policemen must join forces to take on an international drug- smuggling gang - one, an unorthodox Irish policeman and the other, a straitlaced FBI agent. Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleason) is an eccentric small-town cop with a confrontational and crass personality and a subversive sense of humor. A longtime policeman in County Galway, Boyle is a maverick with his own moral code. He has seen enough of the world to know there isn't much to it and has had plenty of time to think about it. When a fellow police officer disappears and Boyle's small town becomes key to a large drug trafficking investigation, he is forced to at least feign interest when dealing with the humorless FBI agent Wendell Everett
(Don Cheadle) assigned to the case. -- (C) Sony Pictures  Runs 1 hr. 36 min.

--Barbara

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'The Debt' -  Film Review with Director John Madden

By Rozanne Weissman 

British director John Madden came from "across the pond" to a film screening in the nation's capital to talk about his excellent new thriller "The Debt."  

Adapted from a smaller Israeli film in Hebrew, Madden turned "The Debt" into a tense, nail-biting international thriller with what he descibed as a "dense dramatic core" for a wider audience.
  Madden's challenge was to find six skilled actors to play his three main characters-- three young Mossad agents (Israeli intelligence) on a difficult mission in East Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal and their 30-year older version. 

 
"It posits the idea of looking back at our younger selves," explains Madden. It's a good story. It delves into the falability in human behavior under tremendous pressure, political expediency, changes in moral perspective, and complicated relationships. I wanted the head, the heart, and the gut involved."

And the source of the film's title? "It's not a word we like hearing in current times, Madden chuckles. "The Debt could be Israel's debt to the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis, the three characters who were indebted to each other, or the debt to truth."

Highly unusual: The director watched the film with the screening audience since he hadn't seen it in a year and has to produce the DVD. The film was stuck in movie limbo as companies involved get bought, sold, and closed. 

Review from Barbara Twigg:  I'd say it was a mission impossible style thriller, with psychological twists and multi-generation consequences, and without the technological over-dazzle.    It dazzles instead with strong narrative story-telling, and genuine nail-biting excitement.

Review from Donna Christenson:  Well worth seeing!  We all three agree!  A gripping thriller intertwined with a psychological drama in which choices made early in life play out in very different ways and have long-term ramifications for each of the characters.  Thirty years later, how does one reconcile the outcomes ...and how does each pay The Debt

 
SYNOPSIS:  The story begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel and Stephan about their former colleague David. All three have been venerated for decades by Israel because of the secret mission that they embarked on for their country back in 1965-1966, when the trio tracked down Nazi war criminal Dr. Dieter Vogel, the feared Surgeon of Birkenau, in East Berlin.While Rachel found herself grappling with romantic feelings during the mission, the net around Vogel was tightened by using her as bait. At great risk, and at considerable personal cost, the team's mission was accomplished - or was it? The suspense builds in and across two different time periods, with startling action and surprising revelations that compel Rachel to take matters into her own hands.   Focus Features. Runs 1 hr. 56 min
CAST: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Sam Worthington, Jesper Christensen 
 
DIR: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs Brown, Captain Corelli's Mandolin)   


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5 Days of War  - Film Review & Director Interview

By Rozanne Weissman

8/17/11     In the first US film screening of 5 Days of War, Finnish film director Renny Harlin reveals to a Washington, DC audience: "I wanted to do something that would touch me more than a 'popcorn movie,' and I threatened my agent that I wanted better stories."

His agent put him together with Georgians (people from the Republic of Georgia) who came to Hollywood knowing no one. They wanted the story told of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia.  To the criticism on blogs that this film is anti-Russia propaganda, Harlin responds, "I took a point of view based on facts, eye witnesses, and research. This is not a documentary; it's a feature film not a history lesson." Georgians, however, have partially financed the film, which is totally digital.

So what's it like to film in Georgia which has no film industry? "It was logistically insane," said Harlin. "We had to bring equipment and crew from elsewhere. Tanks and helicopters were already there. There were 18 languages spoken on the set. It was raw and emotional for Georgians a year later. I didn't have to tell the extras how to feel during the evacuation scene. And during the testimonials at the end when people showed photos and talked of loved ones killed, everyone in the studio was in tears."  The DVD will likely contain more testimonials.

Some behind-the-scenes stories shared by the director:

Val Kilmer, who played the "Dutchman" and is known for coming up with crazy ideas, suggested that he be filmed in a bubble bath while talking on the phone vs skyping at his computer. Done.

Andy Garcia, who played the president of Georgia, answered the real ringing red phone in the real president's office, not knowing who it was, saying, "I can't talk; we're shooting a film." And he hung up!

• For the battle scenes in Gori, Stalin's birthplace, a huge statue of Stalin dominated the square. After contentious debate, it was to be removed before filming. A plea from filmmakers extended removal a few weeks.

SYNOPSIS:  5 DAYS OF WAR starts with a brief scene in Iraq where the Georgian contingent of the coalition forces saves the life of an American reporter Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend). After Anders loses a close female reporting colleagues Miriam Eisner (Heather Graham) --most likely a lover-- in Iraq, he returns to Los Angeles devastated and haunted.  He soon goes to Georgia on the advice of the "Dutchman" (Val Kilmer) in Tbilisi, who suspects that a large conflict is brewing. He and his cameraman Sebastian Ganz delve deeper into Georgian life as conflict escalates and they get caught in the crossfire when an air raid strikes a local wedding they stumble upon. With the help of a Georgian soldier who saved them in Iraq, their mission becomes to get their report out of the country to raise awareness of violence they have witnessed against civilians.

In this portrayal of courage under fire, acclaimed director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) combines heart pounding action with real human drama, as he tells the riveting story of this war reporter caught behind enemy lines during the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. As a nation fights for its survival, a coalition of international reporters and local Georgians risk their lives to tell the true human cost of military conflict. Filmed for six weeks on location, 5 DAYS OF WAR is a riveting, suspenseful portrait of courage under fire in a military hot zone in the republic of Georgia, on the eve of a Russian invasion.

Reunited with a small, intrepid band of war reporters in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Anders and cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle), head north, toward the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, just in time to witness a Russian airstrike on the peaceful village of Vaziani. While Russian bombs rain down, Anders and Sebastian boldly document the devastation, then shuttle survivors to a military hospital in Gori, with the help of a brave and beautiful, Georgian school teacher, named Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Unable to break his story through the noise of Russian propaganda and a world distracted by the Olympics in China, Anders and Sebastian race back to the battle zone to help a desperate Tatia find her missing family. Caught in the crossfire of full-scale combat and witness to the murder of civilians in another Russian assault, Anders records the evidence that will shock the world. But before he can act, Anders is captured, along with Sebastian and Tatia, by the architects of these atrocities, the ruthless Colonel Demidov (Rade Serbedjiza) and his mercenary killer, Daniil (Mikko Nousiainen). Just when all seems lost they are rescued in a daring raid by a Georgian soldier, Captain Rezo (Johnathon Schaech). Anders and his friends must stand and fight for their freedom and their cause in a final battle in the city of Gori. Ultimately, while President Saakashvilli (Andy Garcia) seeks help from his allies, Anders faces one last test of courage as he strives to save Tatia’s life by sacrificing everything but the truth.

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8/17/11   Screened documentary SENNA on Formula One legendary race car driver Brazilian Ayrton Senna. He's a delight.   Archival footage uneven.   2**

SYNOPSIS:  Spanning his years as a Formula One race driver from 1984 to his untimely death a decade later, SENNA explores the life and work of the triple world champion, his physical and spiritual achievements on the track, his quest for perfection and the mythical status he has since attained. Far more than a film for Formula One fans, SENNA unfolds a remarkable story in a remarkable manner, eschewing many standard documentary techniques in favor of a more cinematic approach that makes full use of astounding footage, much of which is drawn from Formula One archives and previously unseen.  The film has been made with the full co-operation of the family of Ayrton Senna, who had given permission for this to be the first documentary feature film about his life; Formula One Management, who have provided footage not previously seen theatrically; and the Ayrton Senna Institute, the charitable foundation established after his death which provides educational opportunities to millions of deprived Brazilian children.  1hr 44min. DIR: Asif Kapadia (The Warrior, Far North)

-- Rozanne 

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8/14/11  Director Joseph Dorman, "Sholem Aleichem Laughing in the Darkness," urged Washington, DC audiences to bring children & grandchildren to the documentary film about a well-known Jewish writer whose stories became the basis of the Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof."

In the style of Ken Burns who has produced a number of documentary series for PBS ("Civil War," "Baseball," and upcoming "Prohibition"), Dorman pans his camera over still photos and tells a story ranging from turbulent times in Russia and eastern Europe and back and forth to the US twice. He intersperses still photos with a variety of experts talking, including the writer's granddaughter, Bel Kaufman. Dorman follows the numerous personal and professional rises and falls of Sholem Aleichem and his humorous outlook expressed in his Yiddish writings.  He expressed a desire for help to bring the documentary, which took him 10 years to produce, to schools, senior living facilities, and nursing homes -- particularly as the Yiddish language dies off.
SYNOPSIS:  Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness tells the tale of the rebellious genius who created an entirely new literature. Plumbing the depths of a Jewish world locked in crisis and on the cusp of profound change, he captured that world with brilliant humor. Sholem Aleichem was not just a witness to the creation of a new modern Jewish identity, but one of the very men who shaped it.

That identity was forged in the cauldron of change and anti-Semitic violence that was 19th century Eastern Europe—the world of our grandparents and great grandparents. Yiddish literature was the best witness to this Jewish transformation and nowhere was this more acutely true than in the stories of Sholem Aleichem. Far from the folksy author many mistake him to be, he was, on the contrary, a sophisticated artist, the equal of Chekhov or Gogol, his biting humor a precursor to Woody Allen and Philip Roth.

Using rarely seen photographs and archive footage, the voices of actors Peter Riegert and Rachel Dratch, and interviews with leading experts and the author’s own granddaughter, author Bel Kauffmann, the film brings to life as never before Sholem Aleichem’s world and his timeless stories.

His work left lasting legacies in Israel and the Soviet Union, as well as in America where he died in 1916. His funeral, attended by some 200,000 people, was the largest public funeral New York City had ever witnessed and announced the arrival of the American Jewish community as a force to be reckoned with. In the following decades, Sholem Aleichem’s work, especially his Teyve stories, would be adapted for the stage and ultimately find international success through the musical adaptation Fiddler on the Roof.

Sholem Aleichem’s work: “was exploring one question,” explains critic Dan Miron. “How to adopt to modernity and yet not lose the continuity of a civilization that was Jewish. Clearly the answers given by Sholem Aleichem 100 years ago cannot be the answers given today. But what you can learn from him is how to negotiate an answer. Or even how to ask the question.”

--Rozanne

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8/8/11    "Sarah's Key" is a gripping World War II drama that follows the dreadful experiences of a Jewish family during the Vel' D'Hiv roundup in 1942 in Paris by their fellow French,  and the split-second decision by ten-year Sarah who, with the best of intentions, unwittingly unleashes a tragic series of events.  Uh-oh, that sounds pretty grim, but the film is excellent.  It blends the historical story cleverly with a contemporary narrative as journalist Kristen Scott Thomas investigates a possible  mystery behind the Paris apartment that she and her husband are starting to renovate.   It's strong World War II material, but well worth the watching.   There's nothing too graphically awful, but the psychological burden carried through life by the  young Sarah will break your heart.

Synopsis:  Julia Jarmond, an American journalist married to a Frenchman, is commissioned to write an article about the notorious Vel d'Hiv round up, which took place in Paris, in 1942. She stumbles upon a family secret which will link her forever to the destiny of a young Jewish girl, Sarah. Julia learns that the apartment she and her husband Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers - especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive - the more she uncovers about Bertrand's family, about France and, finally, herself. -- (C) Official Site    Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, in English and French, starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Frédéric Pierrot, Niels Arestrup, Aidan Quinn. Based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay. 1 hr. 51 min., PG-13

--Barbara
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8/3/11   Screened "50/50" based loosely on real-life story of screenwriter Will Reiser. A cancer diagnosis for a 27-year-old man affects his cheating girlfriend, outrageous best friend, over-protective mother, and dad w/Alzheimer's.

Add to the mix an inexperienced female therapist and wisecracking fellow chemo patients for humor & touching drama. Doesn't open until late Sept. Worth seeing.

Synopsis of plot and actors:
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27 year old man who is otherwise in excellent health is diagnosed with cancer. He breaks the news to his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best friend (Seth Rogen) and his mother (Anjelica Huston), who is also dealing with her husband (and Adam's father) who has Alzheimer's disease. Each deals with the news and subsequent treatment in different ways. In the middle of it all, Adam also seeks therapy from a young and inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick), assigned to him by the hospital, and befriends several older, wisecracking chemotherapy patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer).

-- Rozanne 

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8/2/11  Screened "The Change-Up" starring Ryan Reynolds & Jason Bateman. Raunchy & fluffy like a good summer beach read but w/out any mystery.  A few laughs to offset depressing debt ceiling divisiveness. 

Synopsis:
  
Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman star in The Change-Up, from director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), writers Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (The Hangover) and producer Neal Moritz (Fast & Furious, Click). The R-rated comedy takes the traditional body-switching movie, ties it up tightly and throws it off a cliff.

Growing up together, Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman) were inseparable best friends, but as the years have passed they've slowly drifted apart. While Dave is an overworked lawyer, husband and father of three, Mitch has remained a single, quasi-employed man-child who has never met a responsibility he liked. To Mitch, Dave has it all: beautiful wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), kids who adore him and a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm. To Dave, living Mitch's stress free life without obligation or consequence would be a dream come true.

Following a drunken night out together, Mitch and Dave's worlds are turned upside down when they wake up in each other's bodies and proceed to freak the &*#@ out.  Despite the freedom from their normal routines and habits, the guys soon discover that each other's lives are nowhere near as rosy as they once seemed. Further complicating matters are Dave's sexy legal associate, Sabrina (Olivia Wilde), and Mitch's estranged father (Alan Arkin). With time not on their side, Mitch and Dave comically struggle to avoid completely destroying each other's lives before they can find a way to get their old ones back

-- Rozanne 

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July 29, 2011   "How to Live Forever" documentary film director revealed tonight that well-known fitness guru Jack LaLanne had told him he hated exercise: "You leave a warm bed and a hot woman for a cold gym."

Film is definitely worth seeing. Diverse ages in audience stayed for talk and Q&A.

Synopsis:  Director Mark Wexler embarks on a worldwide trek to investigate just what it means to grow old and what it could mean to really live forever. But whose advice should he take? Does a chain-smoking, beer-drinking centenarian marathoner have all the answers? What about an elder porn star? Wexler contrasts these unusual characters with the insights of health, fitness and life-extension experts in his engaging new documentary, which challenges our notions of youth and aging with comic poignancy. Begun as a study in life-extension, HOW TO LIVE FOREVER evolves into a thought-provoking examination of what truly gives life meaning.

-- Rozanne 

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7/20/11  Screened "30 Minutes or Less" film tonight. Critique: it's not worth even 30 minutes. Run the other way if you're over 18.  Rating:  Minus 1*
-- Rozanne

Synopsis:  Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson star in the comedy 30 MINUTES OR LESS. Two fledgling criminals kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, and inform him that he has mere hours to rob a bank, or else...
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7/10/11   "What would it be like to meet yourself in a mirror earth?" asked director Mike Cahill at sci-fi film screening of "Another Earth" tonight (July 10). 

That's the premise behind the film where  a bright young woman, played by actress Brit Marling, is accepted into MIT's astrophysics program and aspires to explore the cosmos. As she witnesses the discovery of a duplicate Earth while driving one night, she hits a car of a brilliant composer. The crash kills his pregnant wife and child and puts the composer into a coma.  Four years in prison ensue. Then her life becomes entwined with the unknowing composer before she has the guts to reveal who she really is. Cahill and actress Marling tonight revealed that the small budget film had to do a lot of improvising just to create snow scenes--out of ice shavings from ice rink and mixing diaper shreds w/water.

Audience at film screening had mixed reactions about the film. I give it 1*.... But I'm not a  super drama sci-fi fan and found the premise dumb.
-- Rozanne 

Synopsis:  In ANOTHER EARTH, Rhoda Williams, a bright young woman accepted into MIT's astrophysics program, aspires to explore the cosmos. A brilliant composer, John Burroughs, has just reached the pinnacle of his profession and is about to have a second child. On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, tragedy strikes and the lives of these strangers become irrevocably intertwined.
Fox Searchlight (92 min). Opens in DC July 29.
CAST: William Mapother (Lost, In the Bedroom), Brit Marling, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor
DIRWRITER/PROD: Mike Cahill 
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7/9/11  Screened must-see, poignant, film-adaptation of novel "The Help" told from perspective of black maids in Jackson, MS during the 1960s.   See it!   4****

Synopsis:  The Help  Based on one of the most talked about books in years and a #1 New York Times best-selling phenomenon, THE HELP tells the story of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny - three very different, extraordinary women in Mississippi during the 1960s, who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. From their improbable alliance a remarkable sisterhood emerges, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to be crossed-even if it means bringing everyone in town face-to-face with the changing times.
Buena Vista Pictures. Opens August 10.
CAST: Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Chris Lowell, Sissy Spacek, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel
DIR: Tate Taylor 

-- Rozanne 

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5/27/11   Screened Woody Allen's new film "Midnight in Paris."  It's an absolute delight!  Who knew Owen Wilson could channel Woody Allen?  **** Four stars.  See it.  
--Rozanne  

Synopsis:   Midnight In Paris  is a romantic comedy about a family traveling to the French capital for business. The party includes a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better.
Sony PIctures Classics (1hr 34min). Opens in DC May 27.
CAST: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard
DIR/WITER: Woody Allen

-- Rozanne 
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  5/5/11 Two views on "Beginners"

Screened "Beginners," a tender, intimate exploration of relationships.  Father joyously comes out at 75 and really loves.  Son converses w/dog, establishes relationship w/dad to the touching end in hospice. Good direction by Mike Mills and performances by Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer.  Go!  4****
-- Rozanne 

Someone said "It's never too late to have a happy childhood", and, while you can't change your past, you can sometimes be fortunate enough to learn from it and begin from where you are to live fully in the present, creating a more joyful future.  "Beginners" is a beautifully-realized film that captures the subtle, intimate moments that shape the lives of a father and son, exploring the evolving impact of one relationship on others as each begins anew.  Filmed with elegant simplicity, it is well worth seeing! --Donna

Synopsis:  A comedy/drama about how deeply funny and transformative life can be, even at its most serious moments. BEGINNERS imaginatively explores the hilarity, confusion, and surprises of love through the evolving consciousness of Oliver. Oliver meets the irreverent and unpredictable Anna only months after his father Hal has passed away. This new love floods Oliver with memories of his father who - following 44 years of marriage - came out of the closet at age 75 to live a full, energized, and wonderfully tumultuous gay life. The upheavals of Hal's new honesty, by turns funny and moving, brought father and son closer than they'd ever been able to be. Now Oliver endeavors to love Anna with all the bravery, humor, and hope that his father taught him. Focus Features. Opens June 3
CAST: Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, Christopher Plummer
DIR: Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) 

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4/14/11  Screened w/critics tonight strange French film "Rubber" where tire comes to life & makes people's heads explode.  
There is "no reason" to see it.
You can only understand the humor of this assessment if you saw the film-- but I wouldn't advise it. Rating it a -* (minus 1star).
-- Rozanne

Official Selection - 2010 Cannes International Film Festival, 2010 Fantastic Fest & 2010 AFI Film Festival
"It examines the relationship between an audience, art and the artist, while also being about, yup, a tire that develops the ability to blow up people's heads." -Todd Gilchrist, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy Blog

Synopsis:  RUBBER is the story of Robert, an inanimate tire that has been abandoned in the desert, and suddenly and inexplicably comes to life. As Robert roams the bleak landscape, he discovers that he possesses terrifying telepathic powers that give him the ability to destroy anything he wishes without having to move. At first content to prey on small desert creatures and various discarded objects, his attention soon turns to humans, especially a beautiful and mysterious woman who crosses his path. Leaving a swath of destruction across the desert landscape, Robert becomes a chaotic force to be reckoned with, and truly a movie villain for the ages. Directed by legendary electro musician Quentin Dupieux (Steak, Nonfilm), aka Mr. Oizo, RUBBER is a smart, funny and wholly original tribute to the cinematic concept of "no reason."

Magnolia Pictures (85 min) 

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3/25/11   Screened absolutely wonderful film, "The Music Never Stopped."  Former hippie amnesiac with brain tumor can't create new memories.  Estranged from his father for 20 years, he reconnects & finds pieces of his memory through music he loved by Dylan & particularly the Grateful Dead.   I urge you to see it.  4****      -- Rozanne 

Synopsis:  The Music Never Stopped  An engineer is unable to communicate with his long lost 35-year-old son, a former hippie, who has a brain tumor preventing him from creating new memories until they discover that they can communicate through music, including Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead.
Roadside Attractions (1hr 45min). Opens March 18.
CAST: Lou Taylor Pucci, J. K. Simmons, Julia Ormond, Cara Seymour, Mia Maestro
DIR: Jim Kohlberg (Trumbo, Two Family House) 
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3/15/11   Two views on Limitless

 Screened action-thriller "Limitless" --enough twists & turns to keep brain synapses firing. Bradley Cooper and Robert 
De Niro are great!  NZT is better! Worth seeing!  --Rozanne

Limitless describes the possibilities on NZT, and this film takes you to its limitless heights. Excellent cinematography and editing lets you experience the high as the character does, and you'll think "I want some of that!"  Bradley Cooper will charm you in his best performance to date.  Gripping action adventure, limitless thrills ...though some will wish there had been limits on the gore. --Donna 

Synopsis:  Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro star in Limitless, a paranoia-fueled action thriller about an unsuccessful writer whose life is transformed by a top-secret “smart drug” that allows him to use 100% of his brain and become a perfect version of himself. His enhanced abilities soon attract shadowy forces that threaten his new life in this darkly comic and provocative film.

Aspiring author Eddie Morra (Cooper) is suffering from chronic writer’s block, but his life changes instantly when an old friend introduces him to NZT, a revolutionary new pharmaceutical that allows him to tap his full potential. With every synapse crackling, Eddie can recall everything he has ever read, seen or heard, learn any language in a day, comprehend complex equations and beguile anyone he meets—as long as he keeps taking the untested drug.

Soon Eddie takes Wall Street by storm, parlaying a small stake into millions. His accomplishments catch the eye of mega-mogul Carl Van Loon (De Niro), who invites him to help broker the largest merger in corporate history. But they also bring Eddie to the attention of people willing to do anything to get their hands on his stash of NZT. With his life in jeopardy and the drug’s brutal side effects taking their toll, Eddie dodges mysterious stalkers, a vicious gangster and an intense police investigation as he attempts to hang on to his dwindling supply long enough to outwit his enemies.

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3/14/11   Two views:

Screened legal drama "The Lincoln Lawyer."  Matthew McConaughey plays sassy LA defense lawyer operating from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. License plate 'NTGUILTY.'   Shirt off only 1x. Sorry, ladies. He does a good job of carrying the film with all its twists and turns. 4****.  -- Rozanne 

Slick, smart and suspenseful …The Lincoln Lawyer keeps you engaged as L.A. criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) matches wits with street-fighters, inmates and millionaires. Raises intriguing issues regarding the obligation to provide a good defense regardless of guilt or innocence, and justice versus the law.  As Haller’s ex-wife, Marisa Tomei strikes all the right notes.  Fast-paced escapist entertainment but thought provoking.   --Donna

Synopsis:  Mickey Haller is a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln sedan. Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career: defending Louis Roulet, a Beverly Hills playboy accused of rape and attempted murder. But the seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly game of survival for Haller.
Lionsgate (2hrs). Opens March 18.
CAST:Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas
DIR: Brad Furman
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3/9/11  Screened Jane Eyre. From Spanish-language film about Mexican gangs, director Cary Fukunaga turns his talents to brooding Gothic romance.  Go.  -- Rozanne 

Synopsis:  Jane Eyre flees Thornfield House, where she works as a governess for wealthy Edward Rochester. The isolated and imposing residence - and Mr. Rochester's coldness - have sorely tested the young woman's resilience, forged years earlier when she was orphaned. As Jane reflects upon her past and recovers her natural curiosity, she will return to Mr. Rochester - and the terrible secret that he is hiding.
Focus Features. Opens March 11.
CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins
DIR: Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) 

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2/25/11   Screened little jewel from Sundance, "Win Win" w/Paul Giamatti who plays a down-on-his-luck NJ lawyer who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach. A dishonest decision while trying to support his family snowballs.  Q&A afterward w/writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) & high school wrestler Alex Shaffer who played such a role in the film. He revealed that the only time he acted before was a 6th grade play. He's good.  McCarthy is skilled at balancing drama and comedy and painting a range of human relationships.  See it.  -- Rozanne 

 Synopsis:  WIN WIN explores the depths and nuances of human relationships in this new film about the allegiances and bonds between unlikely characters. Disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty, who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a star athlete through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy's mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything. McCarthy's deft touch with balancing drama and comedy, broken hearts and poignant humanity is at play
Fox Searchlight (1hr 46min) . Opens March 18.
CAST: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale
DIR/WRITER: Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) 

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 2/23/11  Screened Farrelly Brothers crazy, sophomoric new comedy "Hall Pass." Wives give 2 male buddies 1 week free pass to do anything. 1 * Star.   --Rozanne
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2/9/11  Two views:


Screened Spanish drama "Even the Rain" w/Gael Garcia Bernal. Starts slow and builds.  Story: Film crew shooting epic in Bolivia to hold down costs brings to life Christopher Columbus' exploitation of native Indians while they exploit Bolivian natives in film for $2 day. Real life violent demonstrations over water wars threaten film. Producer transforms into human being. See it. --Rozanne


 Intense, thought-provoking drama, Even The Rain cleverly blends the film within a film (and an additional documentary film being made about the production of the epic film) to provide insights that will resonate with the current struggles of oppression and rebellion in the news today.  Raises the issue of observation versus participation, and how each effects the situation and the individual.  Well worth seeing!  (Note that it is largely in Spanish with sub-titles.)  --Donna


 Synopsis:  A Spanish film crew arrives in Bolivia to make a film about Columbus in the New World. Idealistic director Sebastian wants to denounce the injustices of the past, focusing on exploitation of the indigenous people. Practical producer Costa, working on a tight budget, has chosen Bolivia, one of Latin America's poorest countries, to stand in for Santo Domingo because extras will work for only $2 a day. After an open casting call almost degenerates into a riot, Sebastian hires outspoken Daniel to play the rebel Indian leader. But when the locals begin demonstrations against a multinational's plans to privatize water -- even the rain -- Daniel is in the thick of them, endangering the film's shooting schedule. The thought-provoking screenplay cunningly parallels the Spanish conquest of the Americas with the modern spread of capitalism. This fascinating mixture of past and present, fiction and fact, features spectacular scenes of the period film within a film.
Vitagraph Films (1hr 43min). Opens February 18
CAST: Gael García Bernal, Luis Tosar, Juan Carlos Aduviri
DIR: Icíar Bollaín (Take My Eyes) 

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 2/7/11  Two views:   

Film Tweet: Screened Sundance selection "Cedar Rapids" w/critics tonight. It's super slapstick, folksy, racy. Tip: Stay through the credits.  --Rozanne

I must disagree with Rozanne.  I not only did not stay through the credits, I found it impossible to stay through the film itself.  Many films filled with ridiculous situations and potty humor are wildly popular, so there must be many people who enjoy sophomoric humor.  I can only recommend this film if you are one of them.  --Donna

Synopsis: In Miguel Arteta's new comedy CEDAR RAPIDS, to call insurance agent Tim Lippe, "naïve" is a gross understatement. He's never left his small hometown. He's never stayed at a hotel. And he's never experienced anything like Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sent to represent his company at the annual insurance convention, Tim is soon distracted by three convention veterans who will show him the ropes and push his boundaries. For a guy who plays everything by the book, this convention will be anything but conventional.

FoxSearchlight Films (86min) . Opens Feb. 11.
CAST: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
DIR: Miguel Arteta 

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1/21/11  "Black Swan"  Gripping psychological thriller with brilliant performances including Natalie Portman's Golden Globe-winning portrayal of a ballerina's obsession as she struggles with conflicting demons in the role of a lifetime. This is a MUST SEE film, and also one of those films you will enjoy more if you refrain from reading much about it before seeing it. You can safely read the synopsis below, carefully edited to avoid ruining your unfolding enjoyment of the film.  --Donna 

 Synopsis: A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet, BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER), BLACK SWAN takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect. BLACK SWAN follows the story of Nina (Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter's professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her

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1/21/11  Film Tweet

Screened
"No Strings Attached" role-reversal-sexual-romp-romantic-comedy starring Ashton Kutcher & Natalie Portman. Grade: C+ Risqué light. --Rozanne
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1/5/11 Film Tweet:

Screened ridiculous film "Season of the Witch." Crusade battles in 1300s. Church fights evil/nonbelievers. Nicolas Cage badly miscast. No *   --Rozanne

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1/4/11   Screened "Blue Valentine" .  Two reviews:

Initially sexually passionate marriage disintegrates, told through flash-backs & flash-forwards. 3 *** stars  -- Rozanne .

Outstanding performances by both leading actors, each of whom change distinctively over the course of their relationship.  Watching the disintegration of a marriage is as uncomfortable as some of the positions in which the characters find themselves.  Be prepared to squirm, especially if your own relationship is less than you'd like it to be.  What is lacking is enough about whether either character has tried to change things ...you may be left with the vague feeling that one of them didn't give the other a fair chance.  --Donna 


"Blue Valentine" is the story of love found and love lost told in moments past and present. This honest and moving portrait follows Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams who star as Dean and Cindy, a married couple who spend a night away from their daughter in an attempt to save their failing marriage. Juxtaposed with playful scenes that trace their romantic courtship six years prior, Gosling and Williams journey through the brutal heartbreak that comes with fading love and broken promises.

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12/29/10  It's here ...this season's feel-good movie!  You won't think so when you hear the plot:  In "HOW DO YOU KNOW"Reese Witherspoon's lifetime dream of a baseball career ends abruptly when she is cut from the team, Paul Rudd's troubles include a Federal indictment, and Owen Wilson is a happily-shallow multi-millionaire sports star.  And don't expect saccharin from the irascible Jack Nicholson!  Even when their troubles seem to obliterate any hope of looking past them, a coach can be implored to "Give me the positives" or a friend can insist that you must "Deny a voice to the thing that is falling apart".  You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll come away quoting these charming characters as you consider how their life lessons apply to your own. 
 --Donna

"HOW DO YOU KNOW"

James L. Brooks, the Academy Award-winning director of such memorable motion picture classics as “Broadcast News,” “Terms of Endearment” and “As Good As It Gets,” brings his incisive wit, wisdom and masterful storytelling talent to his new comedy, “How Do You Know,” starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson.

How do you know when you’ve found the right one?  Lisa Jorgenson (Witherspoon), facing a difficult transition in her life and desperately needing a distraction, unexpectedly throws herself into a relationship with Matty (Wilson), a celebrity ball-player who is admittedly self-centered.  What she thought was a fling turns into something much more – she is stunned not only that he seems to be falling for her, but that his bravado masks a genuinely sweet personality. How do you know when you’re in trouble?  Like Lisa, George Madison (Rudd) is having a real run of bad fortune: his girlfriend has left him, he’s facing financial ruin, and he’s the target of a federal investigation over shady deals made by the company he runs for his father (Nicholson).  But instead of taking the time to focus on the many issues in his life, he focuses on Lisa after a mutual friend sets them up. How do you know when you’re in luck?  Discover that sometimes you can know what it means to have something wonderful happen when it seems like everything else is falling apart.

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12/13/10  Film Tweet: 

"MADE IN DAGENHAM" film screening. Female English workers of '60s fight Ford Motor for equal pay. Women today stand on their shoulders.        

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12/8/10  Film Tweet:  
Totally downhearted tonight. Thought screening of new Jim Carrey film "I Love You Phillip Morris" would turn it around. Don't waste your $$!

-- Rozanne 

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Film Tweet:  

Screened fantasy action martial arts film "Warrior's Way." Asian assassin hides in American Old West circus town. Baby girl walks off w/film.  

 -- Rozanne 

"THE WARRIOR'S WAY"
(2010) (Dong-gun Jang, Kate Bosworth) 
Action/Adventure: An Asian warrior assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands.  South Korean actor and swordsman Jang Dong Gun is an enigmatic assassin who flees to a desert town in the American Old West when he refuses to kill a baby belonging to a rival clan and Kate Bosworth is a sassy, dagger-throwing American woman with a tortured past.  It all runs 100 or so minutes, but easily should have been around 85 (like most films of this nature that aren't shown to reviewers before they open).  Rated R, the film contains stylized and bloody violence, profanity, some partial nudity, peril, potentially imitative behavior and various thematic elements. 

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Screened silly comedy "Morning Glory." Morning TV team: frenetic Rachel McAdams, surly Harrison Ford, pissed Diane Keaton provide a few laughs.    -- Rozanne 

"MORNING GLORY"
Newly hired as a producer on a national morning-news program called ``Daybreak,'' Becky Fuller decides to revitalize the low-rated show by bringing in legendary anchorman Mike Pomeroy. Pomeroy, however, refuses to do puff pieces like celebrity gossip and fashion, and clashes with his co-host. Meanwhile, Becky's romance with a colleague begins to unravel, leaving her struggling to save her relationship, her job and ``Daybreak'' itself.
Paramount Pictures Opens Nov. 10
CAST: Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford, Rachel McAdams, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum
DIR: Roger Michell

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NEVER LET ME GO is a v
ery well-acted and thought-provoking film.  Setting it in the recent past instead of the future was a good choice ...made it harder to dismiss it as fantasy, so the possibility felt very real and therefore more threatening.  --Donna

"NEVER LET ME GO"

 In his highly acclaimed novel Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) created a remarkable story of love, loss and hidden truths. In it he posed the fundamental question: What makes us human? Kathy, Tommy and Ruth live in a world and a time that feel familiar to us, but are not quite like anything we know. They spend their childhood at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. When they leave the shelter of the school and the terrible truth of their fate is revealed to them, they must also confront the deep feelings of love, jealousy and betrayal that threaten to pull them apart.
Fox Searchlight Pictures (1 hr 43 min). Opens Sept. 24
CAST: Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins
DIR: Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo, Bee Season)



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