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I can’t wait to do this again.

With the encouragement from friends in Philadelphia who have been doing this for years, my wife and I spent three days last weekend at the 23rd Philadelphia Film Festival.

From Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon, we saw 11 films. The opening evening we saw two, the next day four, then three, and finally two before we had to head home.

We saw big films, small ones, foreign films, US films, well known actors, first time ones, small stories and big ones, and a few with similar themes. The two or three times a director, producer, or actor spoke and answered questions following a film, we enjoyed that and learned something about what we had just seen. The length of the films varied from 82-134 minutes, plus we saw one short (21 minutes); so I guess that actually makes 12 films in all.

We bought a weekend pass which gave us first entry into any film we wanted to see, and therefore we had no problem getting into any of the films we chose. Generally, there were five time slots a day, with three different films in each time slot. The printed program pretty accurately described each film, and as a result, and in concert with our friends, we chose the 11 listed below, which I have rated and mini-reviewed.

Excellent – *****

  • Mommy
  • The Imitation Game
  • Clouds of Sils Maria
  • GETT, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Very Good or Good – ****1/2 or ****

  • Two Days, One Night
  • The Way He Looks
  • St. Vincent
  • Manos Sucias
  • Glass Chin
  • Cracks in Concrete

Not So Good – ***

  • Birdman

***                ***                   ***                   ***                   ***

mommy.MV5BNjYxMzA3Mzk4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM5Nzk3MTE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_Mommy *****

This Canadian film was the longest one we saw, and perhaps because it came closest to the work I did in my professional life, I was particularly intrigued by it.

It’s the story of a single mother Diane (Anne Dorval) whose out of control and very disturbed son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon) is kicked out of an institution for setting a fire in the cafeteria. She brings him home and tries to manage his behaviors and life. She gets unexpected help from a neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clement).

The three performances are outstanding, particularly Pilon’s.

Mommy was the co-recipient of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes this year.

Imitation.MV5BNDkwNTEyMzkzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTAwNzk3MjE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_The Imitation Game *****

This USA/UK film is quite closely based on a true story, and what a story it is.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), genius, eccentric, gay, obsessive, brilliant mathematician, is hired by the British government during WWII to join a team that is trying to break Germany’s Enigma code. If successful at doing so, they can change the course of the war.

The story of what Turing does both during the war and after it is over has only recently been told.

If you don’t know anything about Turing, put The Imitation Game on your ‘to see list.’ Actually, even if you know about him (and know that what he did helped usher in the age of the computer), I suspect you will learn from the film.

It was the winner of the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Clouds..MV5BMjMzNzc4OTg0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQwODU3MjE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_Clouds of Sils Maria *****

Aging actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is convinced to return to the play that made her famous many years earlier, this time not as the young star (Choloe Grace Moritz) but as the older woman.

Much of the film involves a story within a story as  Binoche rehearses for the play with the help of her personal, young assistant Valentin (Kristen Stewart), who has her own strong views about acting, aging, and life.

Wonderful acting, a good script, and excellent photography make for a fine film.

GETT.MV5BMjI3MTMxNDc3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA3MjA4MTE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem *****

Viviane (Ronit Ikabetz) has been unhappily married to Elisha (Simon Abkarian) for many years and now lives apart from him and her child, though she continues to pay her portion of the mortgage and to cook for her family each day.

But Elisha will not give her a GETT, the (his) permission for a divorce. Vivane goes to the Rabbinical Court, the only legal authority that can settle her case.  For the next five years, we follow the ‘trial’ of Viviane Amsalem.

All action in the film takes place in a small courtroom with a handful of wonderful actors. Their performances are riveting, and the photography adds immeasurably to the telling of this story.

This film took the top prize at the Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars) and will be Israeli’s submission for Best Foreign Film at the next Oscars.

two days.32ce9f2a-035d-41af-8394-9eff9a89e84d-460x276Two Days, One Night ****1/2

I liked this Belgium/French film much more than Ellen did.

It is the story of Sandra (Marion Cotillard) who after being out of work because of sickness is supposed to return to work at a solar power plant. Her company decides to give her coworkers a choice: get their annual bonuses and Sandra loses her job, or Sandra returns and they get no bonuses. Her coworkers vote to keep their bonuses.

With the encouragement of a female coworker and the decision of a manager, Sandra is given the opportunity for another vote. What Sandra does over the weekend preceding the vote, with the encouragement of her husband, and what happens on Monday is the drama of this film.

It’s Sandra’s story, but it’s also the story of her coworkers and their struggles with whether to forgo their much needed and expected bonuses or to support a coworker at a loss to their income.

124394_galThe Way He Looks ****1/2

A coming of age story set in Brazil, focused on a blind teenager who is struggling to gain independence from his worrying and controlling family.

Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) and Giovani (Tess Amorinm) are schoolmates and best friends. A new student Gabriel (Fabio Audi) arrives, and that’s when the complications arise as Leonardo and Gabriel gradually become aware of their feelings for each other.

Good performances by all three young actors in a small, somewhat understated film that adds a slight twist to the common theme of a first love.

ccc.5767Cracks in Concrete ****

An Austrian/German film that tells the story of a father, who has been released after serving a 20-year sentence for having killed someone.

Following his release, Ertan (Muratham Muslu) is not allowed to contact his former wife, but when he sees that their son Mikail (Alechan Tagaev), now a teenager, is headed for trouble, he tries to get involved and help. Initially, Ertan tries to help from a distance but eventually is drawn into the world that has captured his son.

Good photography, good acting, particularly from the Mikail, and an ending that we did not see coming made this a good choice for all of us who saw it.

Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Portrait Studio - Day 3Glass Chin ****

Portrayed as a boxing film, Glass Chin has almost no fight scenes. Rather, it is the story of a former boxer’s life after his career ended when he lost a fight at Madison Square Garden.

In an effort to regain some recognition and a role for himself in the world (a better life than he currently has),  Bud (Corey Stoll) goes to work for a shady deal maker, J.J. (Billy Crudup). And that’s where he runs into trouble.

Good acting and a good story make for a very good film in this 87 minute, low budget gem.

St. vincent.MV5BMjA2MTU4MDI3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY1NTA1MjE@._V1__SX1383_SY656_St. Vincent ****

Bill Murray being Bill Murray.

Yes. He’s still around, and he can still carry a film.

In this story he plays the role of hard drinking, gambling, and largely broke man (Vincent). He ‘finds’ himself babysitting for 12-year-old Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) who with his recently divorced, hard working mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) have just moved in next door.

It won’t spoil the film to tell you that some good things happen between Vincent and Oliver, and there are lessons in this film for all of us. There are good performances by Murray and the young Lieberher.

manos.41ee6b4e18ed7e95a3faa1e980000f43_largeManos Sucias ****

I suspect that this short (82 minute) Columbian/Spanish film will not make it to American theaters unless it wins some award. It is the first film for this director, Josef Wladyka, and it’s a good one.

With some echoes of Cracks in Concrete (see above), it tells the story of an elder brother Jacobo who tries to help out his younger sibling Delio (Delio has become involved in the drug trade). Both brothers want to escape from their difficult life in rural Columbia.

The heart of the film portrays what happens as they take on the task of delivering a large shipment of cocaine.

Neither brother is a professional actor, but they, and the story of their journey and their relationship, give the audience a good sense of what life is like in a corner of the world most of us knowing nothing about.

124336_galBirdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)***

There was a lot of excitement about this Opening Night film. Critics seemed to love the film.

Not so much me.

It’s the story of an aging, formerly successful actor who is trying produce (and star in) a Broadway play as a way of restoring his career and fame. Michael Keaton plays the lead role, and Edward Norton plays the role of a younger actor who threatens to take the limelight from Keaton (shades of Clouds of Sils Maria, above). Both Keaton and Norton are terrific, as are the supporting actors and actresses.

Most of the action takes place on and behind stage in a Broadway theater, and some above Broadway as Keaton (Riggan/Birdman) ‘flies’ around New York City and displays other ‘magical’ powers. That was where the director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) lost me. Ellen (my spouse) was less generous, saying the film was “overwrought, repetitious, and pretentious.”


Two films we didn’t get to see but which others seemed to find particularly worthy were Breathe and Girlhood. Girlhood apparently has been a favorite at various recent International Film Festivals.