"A Brilliant Young Mind", "About Elly", "Clouds of Silas Maria", "Gemma Bovery", "GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem", "Seymour: An Introduction", "The Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight", "The Farewell Party", "The Kugelmass Episode", "The Salt of the Earth", "While We Were Young", "Wild Tales", Films, Movies
Ten films for you to keep in mind. Six of these are in the theaters now.
Five of the ten get my highest ratings — four and a half or five stars.
A Brilliant Young Mind *****
You’ll have to wait for the summer for this one — Samuel Goldwyn Films just purchased the US distribution rights — but mark it down. It’s a very good one.
A Brilliant Young Mind is Morgan Matthews’ drama about a 16 year old autistic math prodigy; it was inspired by Matthews’ own 2007 documentary, Beautiful Young Minds. That documentary followed the young British International Mathematical Olympiad team through their selection process, their training, and the actual contest itself in 2006.
This ‘follow up’ film is based on one of the British team participants, Daniel Lightwing, but it is not a documentary. Rather, with a story written by James Graham, Matthews has given us a look inside the life and mind of a young autistic boy that is the best film I’ve seen on this subject.
Basically, it is the story of Nathan (played superbly by Asa Butterfield) and his journey in and partially out of his isolated world. When his father is killed in an automobile accident, Nathan withdraws further into his autistic isolation, using his mathematical genius to try to cope with what has become a terrifying world.
I won’t add more particulars or spoilers, other than to say that a series of events occur that bring you into his world and his struggles as well as into the world of his mother and a number of other young prodigies (some who are also autistic).
Not only is Asa Butterfield’s acting wonderful, so too is Sally Hawkins’ (his mother), Rafe Spall’s (his teacher), Jo Yang’s (a young Chinese math contestant), and another half dozen contestants.
This film reminds me of the book and play The Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight, which also brings the reader/audience into a world they probably do not know.
For those who want to know about life on the ‘autistic spectrum’, who want an understanding of what that life is, both for the individuals who struggle with it and the families who struggle along too, be sure to see this film when it’s released this summer.
About Elly ****1/2
One of my favorite films a couple of years ago was A Separation, a film that eventually won an Oscar in 2012 for Best Foreign Language Film. Director Ashgard Farhadi’s follow up film, The Past, was one I also liked, tho not as much as A Separation.
Now a old/new film is out in the theaters in the US (tho I haven’t noticed its availability in DC yet). I say old/new as it was made in 2009 but never released here until this month because of a dispute over distribution rights. I liked this one too, tho not quite as much as A Separation.
About Elly is a psychological thriller about a group of middle class Iranian friends who embark on a holiday. What starts out as joyous adventure soon turns into tragedy as one member of the party disappears. What takes place in the remainder of the film is less about the individual who disappears and more about those who brought her to the party.
Again, I’ll refrain from spoilers, but know that it is more than just a thriller. Film critic David Bordwell captures some of what Farhadi directs with this: “Gripping as sheer storytelling, the plot smoothly raises some unusual moral questions. It touches on masculine honor, on the way a thoughtless laugh can wound someone’s feelings, on the extent to which we try to take charge of others’ fates. I can’t recall another film that so deeply examines the risks of telling lies to spare someone grief. But no more talk: The less you know in advance, the better.”
Clouds of Silas Maria *****
We saw this film in the Philadelphia film festival last year and liked it very much. It is now in a number of theaters around the country.
Here’s what I wrote in October, 2014:
“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.”
Clouds of Silas Maria is now being shown in theaters around the country.
Gemma Bovery ****
Our film club gave this one a rating of 95% (Excellent or Good), and 99% of those rating it said they’d recommend it to others. I suspect it will not be in the theaters for at least a few months.
I wasn’t quite so enthused about it, but you might want to check it out for yourselves.
It’s a story of an English couple (Gemma & Charles Bouvery) who move to a quiet French village, where the baker — a Madame Bovery fan — seems to think Gemma and Charles are ‘reenacting’ the life of his favorite characters from the Flaubert novel. (This reminded me of a wonderful short story by Woody Allen’s The Kugelmass Episode, which, if you’ve never read it, consider yourself deprived. If you click on the above link, you can read Allen’s very short story.)
I won’t try to reconstruct the complicated and comical story depicted in Gemma Bovery as I’m not sure I could, but the acting and direction are good. And don’t we all think we might like to live in a small French village that has wonderful bread?
GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem *****
Another film we saw at the Philadelphia Film Festival that we liked very much. It was also in various other film festivals around the country and now has been showing in theaters more widely.
Again, from an earlier MillersTime post:
“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.”
We liked it so much that when it appeared at our DC Cinema Club this year, we saw it again.
Seymour: An Introduction *****
This wonderful film — a documentary — is out now, tho I fear it won’t be around too long.
Calling it a Gentle Gem (referring both to the film and to its subject), I wrote about it just a few weeks ago and highly recommended it for anyone who is a teacher, a parent, a lover of music or involved in the arts in any way.
The Farewell Party ****
Another film we saw recently in our cinema club, which means it probably won’t be out for a few months at least.
At first this 2014 film seems to be just another story of friends aging, this time in a Jerusalem retirement home. Then, when one of the group is diagnosed with a life ending illness, things turn weird and dark. Should friends help friends end their life?
The Farewell Party takes on the issue of euthanasia in both a serious and a comic tone. Initially, the story, making use of a machine that would allow self-administered doses of lethal drugs, seemed unreal.
But somehow, as the film continues, the co-directors Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit find a way to pull the audience into this serious issue (because of their use of comedy?).
I don’t know if this film will make it to theaters around this country, but it is being shown at various film festivals, including some here in the US.
Our film club gave The Farewell Party a rating of 97.6% (Excellent or Good) and a 100% Recommend to friends rating.
I’m curious as to what others think of this film.
The Salt of the Earth ****
This one we saw at the Miami Film Festival in March, and it’s now in local theaters.
March 12, 2015 MillersTime min-review:
“Another Oscar nominee, this one for Best Documentary Feature.
“Having recently seen an exhibit in NYC of photographer Sebastião Salgado’s wonderful black and white photos, we were enthused about seeing a film about his life and his work.
“The film explores two journeys, Salgado’s many trips to photograph both the beauty and the ugliness of our world and an inner journey of how those trips and what he saw and photographed affected him.
“Not only do we see what he photographed, we hear him discuss the trips, the photos, and most of all what happened to him as a result of taking those photos.”
While We Were Young **1/2
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are a forty something couple whose lives seem to be stuck, that is until they get involved with a young couple whose life style seems exciting.
And for me, that was about where this film went off track. As Josh (Stiller) and Cordelia (Watts) get involved with this younger couple, they seem to find some excitement and new energy.
But none of it seemed real to me. While there are some amusing scenes, and the issues raised are good ones, it all seemed pretty phony to me. While the acting is actually pretty good, when I don’t like any of the people being portrayed, it’s hard for me to like the film.
While We Were Young is available in theaters around the country.
Wild Tales ****
Another one from the Miami Film Festival and one that is currently in the theaters. If you see it, I’d be interested in which of the sketches you liked best:
From my March 12, 2015 post:
“One of the nominees for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year and now out in theaters around the country, Wild Tales was the opening night film at Miami’s 32nd Film Festival.
“Almost like a series of short stories around a similar theme, you see six sketches about the extremes to which anger and revenge can take us.
Not for everyone, but there is a lot to like in at least three or four of the ‘vignettes’.
The audience in Miami loved it. They laughed frequently and clapped when it ended.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** *
PS – As I was finishing this post, my wife Ellen asked if I had included “that one we saw recently in London.” “What was that,” I asked. “You know, the one about the German soldier billeted in a French estate.” I had to Google it to get the title, Suite Francaise. Then I recalled it but could not remember enough about it to rate it here. Ellen says we liked it very much. I do remember loving the book by the same title, tho. The film is available in England but not here as of yet.