Following our third vaccine, we ventured to Philadelphia for one of our favorite pre-pandemic annual events – The Philadelphia Film Festival. A long-time and dear friend was involved in launching this film festival many years ago, and we’ve used the film event to continue and extend our friendship.
Over the years, we become friends with their friends, gotten to know a bit of Philadelphia beyond the movies, and decided that this is a festival for us. The curating is superb, the logistics are easy and smooth, and the two major theaters where the films are shown are within a easy 20 minute walk of each other, giving us a chance to stretch our legs or get a bite to eat.
This year we stretched our usual four-day attendance to eight days, and invited one of our friends to join us. Generally, we didn’t see more than three films a day…which was a pretty relaxed pace for us.
We saw a lot of very good films, as you’ll see below, and we’ve briefly noted what we liked about them. We’re not writing overall reviews of each film — we have provided links to professional reviews — but we did have a few over all takeaways which we are happy to share: not all movies have happy endings, in fact some movies seem to haves no endings at all. (At least one we saw was interminable.) We saw a number of truly wonderful films produced in Iran, Palestine, Italy, featuring strong female roles; deeply acted dramas about families, and a number of really terrific films featuring nonprofessional actors. We saw films from “masters of cinema” and first time directors. The geography of the films spanned a good part of the world. It was an impressive experience.
And what a delight to be back in movie theaters– socially distanced and masked, and with vaccination and IDs required to attend. It felt comfortable, familiar, and rejuvenating.
(Note: A number of these films are already available in theaters or on one of the various streaming services. Click on the title of any film below to read a critic’s review.)
Bestof the Best ( five stars from us both):
Belfast: Set in the city the title suggests, we see the impact of “the troubles” throughthe eyes of one family and particularly through the eyes and experiences of a nine-year old boy. Shot in black and white, nearly everything about this film is perfect: acting, direction, story, and filming.
Amira: This is a ‘small’ but moving film about a Palestinian girl coming of age who learns that her father is not a lauded terrorist who has been incarnated in prison for many years. It’s a story that shakes the entire culture of her family and how she moves forward in life.
Ballad of a White Cow: An Iranian drama about a woman whose husband was wrongly executed, having been blamed for a crime against the state which he did not commit. You’ll be riveted throughout the entire film.
A Chiara: An Italian drama about a teenager whose father is deeply involved in the world of the drug trade. Great story telling and good acting, largely with nonprofessional actors. This one is full of ethical questions and dilemmas the family and the teenager must face.
Paper & Glue: This is a remarkable documentary – truly a must see — about the work of the street artist JR and the impact of his art and activism throughout the world. Perhaps our favorite film of the Festival.
Mass: Another must see. This is an incredibly acted four-person drama. Two couples meet together to discuss the impacts on both families of a school shooting by the son of one couple which led to the death of the other couple’s son. This is, as you can perhaps imagine, a highly emotional drama.
Hester Street: This is a restoration of this classic film about life on the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century. This version maybe hard to find, but it’s not only a delight; it’s also relevant to today’s world.
The Braves: This is an inspiring story about the friendship of two young women struggling to become actresses, a story of mutual support, dedication, and friendship.
Almost as Good (four stars):
The French Dispatch: If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you’ll love this. We found the story hard to follow, but that’s not the point here. It’s superb film making.
Captain Volkonogov Escaped: A good story, with good acting, and a look inside Russia’s authoritarian and dark underbelly. Very usual subject matter, superbly filmed, and filled with suspense.
Bernstein’s Wall: Somewhat of a bio-pic (a portrait actually) of Leonard Bernstein as told through his own eyes and own voice via clips, photographs, his own writing, and letters. We found it engaging and learned much we did not know about Bernstein.
A Hero: This film – with it sometimes confounding plot and multiplying ethical choices — was disappointing. It does, however, give the viewer quite a bit to discuss to try to sort it all out, which we’re not sure we ever did! We had given Asghar Farhadi’s previous full-length features five stars, but this one didn’t match A Separation or The Salesman.
C’Mon C’Mon: A lovely, and already much praised film, superbly acted, about uncle and his nephew who form a bond with each other.
Luzzu: This is another ‘small’ film, with nonprofessional actors. The story involves a Maltese fisherman who struggles to hold on to his father and his ancestors’ old ways as they clash with modern life and his marriage.
The Worst Person in the World: A strong female character searching for her way in life and love, beautifully filmed. But there might be only one likeable person in the entire film. The title of the film becomes very clear by the end of it.
Not on Our ‘Must See’ List (mostly three stars)
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain: Wonderful acting by Benedict Cumberbatch can’t save this tale of Louis Wain, a British artist known for his drawings of cats. At times it seemed like a Disney-produced children’s film.
Our American Family: This documentary is about five members of a Philadelphia family and their struggles with generational addiction. This film ends well.
Three Minutes-A Lengthening: This was an effort to create a larger story from a recently recovered three-minute segment of a 16mm homemade movie about a Polish town just before World War II. It’s an attempt to piece together the lives of its 3,000 Jewish residents just prior to their deportation and deaths (which they do not know is coming.)
Brother’s Keeper: This boarding school drama takes place in Eastern Turkey and illustrates the uncaring administration and staff of the school, when a boy becomes critically ill and his friend tries to save him.
Memoria: Critics and curators unanimously loved this. Audiences not at all. Ellen walked out half way through it.
Thanks again to BS and FH for suggesting that we hear from others about what they’re watching and enjoying during these troubling times.
So here’s the first list, and as soon as 15 more of you send in your choices, I’ll post a second version of this. Send me your recent most favorite movies and/or TV Series at Samesty84@gmail.com.
Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee (Film). Absorbing storytelling, intense performances make this worth watching. Though long, it kept our attention and offered lots to discuss with friends who also watched the film. Note: there is a significant amount of violence.
My Brilliant Friend, based on the book, Italian with sub titles (Film). A saga with lots of characters that centers around two friends who grow from childhood to adulthood in Napoli. Lots of subplots, commentaries on gender and socio-economic disparities, mid-20th century southern Italy, and twists and turns in relationships (business, romance, family feuds) kept me interested. Note: the subtitles are not always easy to read.
Schitt’s Creek (TV Series) is funny, sometimes poignant, full of social commentary and quirky characters. The story of a wealthy family that loses it all, moves to small town they purchased back in the day as a joke, and live in the motel. It comes in short doses. Perfect for binging or watching an episode or two before drifting off.
Only show I would add to Edan Orgad’s submission below is This is Us. (TV Series).
Bill & Kay Plitt:
Kay and I were “fishing” for a film tonight, having seen most of the ones on your second round (Movie Favorites – May 27, 2020) and loved all of them that stood the test of increasing the levels of depression that surround us. We were looking for “feel good.”
The Secret of Roan Inish (Film) is fed from a novel called Secret by Ron Mor Skerry. Here is the description: “Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is a young 10 year old Irish girl with an unusual family history, including a long-missing baby brother. When she goes to live with her grandparents on the west coast of Ireland, Fiona hears stories about her ancestors, tales that involve mythical creatures called selkies who can shift from seal to human form. After Fiona ends up on the small island of Roan Inish, her family’s ancestral home, she believes she may have found her little brother living by the sea.”
Fiona is really the star of the film, but each of the five main characters of the story, are unique. She carries the story with her indefatigable faith in the legend. The secret is shared by elder story tellers of this fishing village located off the coast of Ireland. The penny flute and other Irish instruments weave a legend with inspiring music and wonderfully timed photography and blends the natural world with the world of fantasy . IT is a beautiful story, gentle and sweet based on the novel.
It’s on Amazon Prime. It was filmed in 1994, and you may have seen it long ago. It really does need the big screen and good speakers that grab the gift of photography and music it shares.
Last Dance (TV Series). WOW. Watched the first episode last night. This is the Michael Jordan documentary.
For Life. (TV Series). This was inspired by the life of Issac Wright Jr. and is a fictional series about a legal and family drama. The main character is in prison and becomes a lawyer who helps other inmates while he fights his own sentence for a crime he did not commit.
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes) tells the story of an orthodox woman who flies from her arranged marriage to start a new life.
Broadchurch (TV Series). Incredible acting (especially by Olivia Colman–who I didn’t know has won numerous accolades including an Academy Award, three Golden Globes and SAG among others), cinematography, and sound are actually at the heart of this three season detective series taking place in England. Warning–the plot lines are dark but bring home the conflicts of the more disturbing aspects of real life.
Money Heist (TV Series) A crime drama from Spain about a group of thieves who rob Spain’s most secure financial institutions. The plot, though, weaves its way from politics to corruption to interpersonal relationships to create a four season TV series, with a fifth supposedly on way– that is a real “page-turner.”
TV Shows that come to mind – Fauda, Ozark, Peaky Blinders, The Witcher, Stranger Things, and Narcos (and all related series to Narcos).
Films – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,Venom, Zombie, Land Double Tap (cult following movie), The Irishman,Angel Has Fallen, Equalizer 1 and 2…
TV Shows: Ozark, Billions, Luther, and Workin’ Moms.
Both are crime dramas from UK. Dark but excellent acting.
Also enjoyed Rebellion (TV Series) and Normal People ( TV Series) – both set in Ireland.
The Money Heist (TV Series). Spanish with English subtitles and tells a most compelling story with incredible character development and absolutely thrilling and nail biting action. You will sans doute fall in love with every single character and marvel at the twists and turns in the plot. It was, interestingly, a flop in Spain but turned Europe and the U.S. on its ear as the trailer shows.
The Winslow Boy (Film) Based on a true story with a first rate cast that takes place in WWI England. It captures a period very different from our own but not so alien as to be unfamiliar. It has a great cast and, although the finale isn’t really ever in doubt, it is completely satisfying.
Self-Made: The Enduring Legacy of Madam CJ Walker (TV Series). CJ Walker was America’s first self-made woman millionaire. She was a black washerwoman, born in 1867 just after the Civil War, who became an entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist. This four-part Neflix series is based on a book by her great-great granddaughter.
It’s an amazing story of someone who had a dream and perseverance and a belief that making money should be for profit and “to help your neighbor.” In her case, helping her neighbor meant bringing dignity and options to black women’s lives. She did this by creating a beauty product for hair that was sold door-to-door by women “sales agents” and in hundreds of salons across the country. She opened a factory and met with investors in an era when women, let alone a black woman, did not do that. She promoted a standard of beauty, she said, that was not the beauty of the “Gibson girl”, but the beauty of “women that look like me.” Her daughter opened the salon in New York City and was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance. With Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) as Madam CJ Walker, supported by a great cast, this is a film worth seeing and reflecting on.
With all that is going on, I started watching some things about James Baldwin. A documentary called Take This Hammer. A PBS show called ThePrice of the Ticket. A movie called I Am Not Your Negro. It all started when a video came up on my computer about a debate he had with William F. Buckley at Cambridge.
Orphan Black (TV Series). By the time Lane and I finish (five seasons with 10 episodes each) we will have streamed all 50 episode on Amazon. The title has nothing to do with the current controversy about race
Wikimedia.org says: Orphan Black is a Canadian science fiction thriller television series created by screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett, starring Tatiana Maslany …” Google “Orphan Black” for interesting information.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
Zoey’s Incredible Playlist (TV Series). I’m going through the slow loss of my father as he loses his memory and slowly his personality. This is a lovely (and funny) example of how another woman is handling the slow loss of her own father, which is why it was recommended to me in the first place.
Madame Secretary (TV Series). The relationship that Secretary McCord (Tea Leoni — who does a wonderful job) has with her husband (Tim Daly — also great) is a magnificent example of how a modern power couple can make it all work (life, family, job, passion, etc.), which is what pulled me into this show in the first place. But given the debacle that is now our foreign policy, it’s lovely to witness how an empathetic and strong diplomat navigates the waters. Yes, Hollywood, but the personality and compassionate driving force behind the decisions are more interesting than the scripted results.
Mike & Linda Weinroth:
A Place to Call Home (TV Series). We’ve been binge watching all 56 episodes and particularly enjoyed this series.
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes). Enjoyed this too.
Chernobyl (TV series). Gripping and clear, well-acted, at times intensely personal, much easier to understand than the book.
Line of Duty (TV Series). Thrilling contemporary crime series set in England. Edge of your chair stuff. Influenced by Helen Mirren’s series, below, which set the bar.
Prime Suspect (TV series – multiple years starting in 1992). All starring Helen Mirren and set in London. Amazing how contemporary they still feel. Sets the highest bar for police investigation drama. Deeply influential on later crime video and ilm efforts. Very good on evolution of the career of the main character.
Unorthodox (Film in four episodes). Superb acting; story of a young Hasidic wife who fled NYC for Europe to escape her community; culturally revelatory.
From her mother: “Samantha (age 4+) is very into The Little Mermaid (Film – animation).
One, thing that I really like is Netflex’s Queen of the South (TV Series). I am on the 4th year of episode’s and am terribly “hooked.” About a woman in Mexico from a poor background who becomes THE drug king (queen) of Mexico and moves to the USA (New Orleans). Great acting! Great show! I am hooked!
Watched Ozark (AmazonPrime TV series)….very good! About a dad in a family who gets the family in a real mess.
Watched Sneaky Pete in another TV Series on Amazon Prime about a con man who takes another man’s identity (from jail) and uses his identity. Great show!I loved it!
Da 5 Bloods (brand new Spike Film). About guys going back to Vietnam to bring back one of there guys and to find the ‘gold’ they left behind. It is their story. It is good but hard to watch! I loved it. But others did not!
Da 5 Bloodsis Spike Lee’s newest Film. It is an anguished retelling of the Vietnam War, it’s ramifications on those who fought it, and a plea that we should not forget who really suffered. Delroy Lindo gives an unbelievable performance as a Trump loving veteran suffering from profound PTSD. The movie is a bit long, and while it has some humor, it is a very serious film.
Last Tango in Halifax(TV Series). Ah, love among the older set. With a cast led by Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, what could go wrong? Essentially a comedy, there is a lot to chew on, because the characters are very complex. There are three seasons on Netflix (and I think it is now on PBS), and there is at least one more season. Every now and then I wish we had put on subtitles; that Northern British accent can be hard to decipher.
A long time friend suggested that we try to do with at home movies & TV shows as we’re doing with our Favorite Reads posts. He, and others have said the same, is continuing to look for satisfying films and shows while he and his wife continue to spend most of their time at home.
As you may have noticed from some of our earlier posts about movies, we’re watching more than we ever have before. In fact, our son-in-law convinced us to get a smart TV, which is much smarter than we are, and sometimes even allows us to watch something we’ve identified that we might like.
So, let’s give it a shot:
Send in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) titles of two movies or tv series that you have particularly enjoyed since you have been largely self-isolating at home.
Write up to two sentences about your choice(s), one about what the movie/show is about and one about why it was enjoyable for you (escapism, something new, thrilling, nostalgic, great story, good acting, etc.).
As soon as I get 15 responses, I’ll post what you send. And perhaps that will encourage others to do the same.
(PS – In addition to the above, Ellen and I will continue to post our movie reviews, as soon as we get enough to make for a decent post.
We’ve seen an incredible mix of films in the seven plus weeks while under quarantine, not withstanding the challenges of learning how to use our new very smart TV — clearly smarter than we are. If it wasn’t for our son-in-law’s two socially distanced visits and frequent phone consultations, there were be no movie reviews.
I do not like watching movies at home. I want someone else to curate them for me; I want a movie theater that smells of popcorn (even if I am not eating any); I want other people in a theater along side me and that feeling of community when you enter or exit a theater knowing that you might see or just saw something exciting, interesting, or provocative; I want a screen 20 times larger than me so I will literally be engulfed by the story; I want movies to provoke or educate me, not just mindlessly entertain me; I don’t want to fool with making the technology work. And from what we’ve seen thus far, the made-for-TV-movies are no match for films produced by studios (even if some high profile actors have roles).
That said, we have seen a number of films that we do recommend, which we rated four or five stars. Only a few of them would have held me in a traditional movie theater, but since that is not an option, below are some we’ve enjoyed. (We have also included a guest review of one TV series from our good friend FMH that we will take to heart.)
We are going to list at the bottom a few films that we didn’t like enough or didn’t watch all the way through to help you avoid them. (I think for all of them, they were simply “too dark” for these times.) Most of these we recommend can help you happily wile away a few hours. Note: All the films came out in the last year or two (or more recently) unless noted otherwise.
Luce (2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard ****
This is an imperfect but very interesting recent film. A liberal white family (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) has adopted a (then) 7-year-old former Eritrean child soldier, and raises him in Arlington, Virginia. We meet Luce (played wonderfully by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in his senior year in high school – a star debater, overall student, and favorite of everyone at his school. The plot begins to thicken when Luce is challenged about what appears to be dangerous political beliefs. His African-American History teacher (played by Olivia Spencer) confronts the parents with what she believes is a serious concern. Plot twists ensue. As the parents try to figure out just who their son really is, the film gets even more complex with new evidence added to further explore his character. The film raises a number of interesting questions pertaining to race, adoption, parenting, and living up to expectations.
(Note from Richard: If there are a half a dozen or so of you who would be interested in a Zoom discussion after seeing Luce, let me know. I think there are issues raised and enough to explore in the film that would make for a ‘virtual movie club’ discussion.)
Atlantics (2019 – Netflix):
Ellen **** Richard ***
This is what we used to call an “art film.” It is a film that critics love and the audience not so much. We appreciated its story and its art, but it’s probably not for everyone. The story is a classic: a forbidden romance, a threatened labor strike, immigration heartbreak, and a mix with mysticism (including shape-shifting characters), set in Dakar, Senegal. The setting is an exotic diversion. With a little post viewing conversation, we figured it out.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020 Amazon Prime):
Ellen ***** Richard ****
This is not a film I would recommend to everyone (remember my recommendation for Parasite?), but it’s an important one and should be more widely seen than it will be. Be prepared for an emotional 95 minutes of an extraordinarily intimate story of a 17-year-old girl who discovers an unwanted pregnancy. You will watch uncomfortably as she and her cousin travel out of their rural Pennsylvania town to New York to seek an abortion. The films rings true of the upset, confusion, and worry this teenager feels. At times I thought I was watching a documentary, deepening that feeling is the film’s painfully slow-pace.
The film was released March 13 and has been wildly heralded by the critics. The lead character, Autumn, is played by Sidney Flanigan, and her cousin, Skylar ,is played by Talia Ryder. Both are superb. The Director is Eliza Hittman. The Wall Street Journal called it “a film that has to be seen.” The New York Times said it was “a low-key knockout.”
This movie is not relief from the pandemic, so you might want to save it for later. And, as Richard wisely said about it, “If you’re looking for ‘entertainment,’ this film is not for you.”
Richard Jewell (2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen ***** Richard ****
Let’s start with the fact that this is a Clint Eastwood film. We like his films. We find them edgy, political, tightly directed, and engaging — and this one is not an exception. You probably remember this story: During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta a bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic, killing two, injuring 100. A security guard, Richard Jewell, appears to have been a hero that day, discovering the bomb, helping to evacuate the area. Then the FBI names him the prime suspect in the bombing and the movie begins. It’s very engaging.
Richard: “On the advice CT, I saw this before I read the book – The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle by Kent Alexander, Kevin Salwen (NF). I liked the book even more than the film.
Motherless Brooklyn(2019 Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard ****
Our good friend DP recommended this film, and we really enjoyed it. (As DP said in an email, “I love any movies about Brooklyn, but in spite of that prejudice, I think you’ll like this one too.” We trust her movie judgment after some 45+ years of knowing each other.)
The vaguely “Noir-ish” movie is set in 1957 in New York and focuses on the “bad guy” culture. A struggling private investigator (Lionel, played by Edward Norton, who directed and produced the film) decides that he and his compatriots must solve the murder of their boss (Frank Mina, played by Bruce Willis) after a rival monstrously killed him for unknown reasons. (Mina was a nice guy and made his mark on those he hired; in fact, he had rescued some of them from orphanages and trained them as private investigators.) Alec Baldwin plays a developer — Moses Randolph — a character loosely based on Robert Moses. The film unfurls issues of development in the city, tension between the white real estate speculators and the African-American home owners. The plot is suspenseful with a number of surprises. This movie has just about everything I think makes a good movie: great acting, great production, engaging and a provocative subject. Audiences have liked it more than critics.
Honeyland(2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard *****
This is an extraordinarily beautifully produced documentary about a woman – a beekeeper — who lives in a very remote location with her aging mother in Macadonia. It is directed Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, and focuses on the life and labors of this one woman. In an extraordinary effort, the filmmakers spent three years with Hatidze; her mother, Nazife; and the late-arriving people next door. There is very little dialogue, and the film is large impressionistic and has the most amazing photography.
AO Scott of NYT wrote: “The opening minutes of Honeyland are as astonishing — as sublime and strange and full of human and natural beauty — as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie.” This was a film that we didn’t have a chance to at last Fall’s Philadelphia Film Festival, and it’s worth seeing on your TV screen.
Richard: Superb Cinematography
Sneakers (1992 – Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, You Tube):
Ellen **** Richard ****
I am not much of a fan of watching “old movies,” but I found this very entertaining. First of all, I think it was one of the early big “heist movies” (e.g., a bunch of cool guys develop an elaborate plan to steal something from a bunch of bad guys). And for this movie it’s really about those cool guys: It stars Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, and David Strathairn as members of a San Francisco-based counter security firm who find out about a device that can decode government secret messages. It’s got all the razzle-dazzle you’d expect, twists and turns, wondering who are the bad guys, who are the good guys. It’s just two hours of fun.
Richard: Good Escapist Film.
Babies(2010 – Amazon Prime, Hulu Starz):
Ellen: ***** Richard ****
I did not see this film when it first came out 10 years go and was delighted to find it online. This is a French documentary, looking at four babies born and raised (until the age of two) in different parts of the world. It is equal parts charming and adorable, allowing the viewer to examine how each of these children thrive in their own environment. For those who are at loss for lack of travel in these times, the film will take you to distant corners of the earth to meet Bayar in Mongolia; Ponjiao in Namibia; Mari in Tokyo; and Hattie in San Francisco. This film is perfect relief from the pandemic.
Richard: Five stars the first time I saw it, not quite so enthralled on this second viewing.
Self-Made: The Enduring Legacy of Madam CJ Walker (2020 – Netflix Series):
Review by FH:
Madam CJ Walker was America’s first self-made woman millionaire. She was a black washerwoman, born in 1867 just after the Civil War, who became an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and social activist. This four-part Netflix series is based on a book by her great-great granddaughter.
It’s an amazing story of someone who had a dream and perseverance and a belief that making money should be for profit and “to help your neighbor.” In her case, helping her neighbor meant bringing dignity and options to black women’s lives. She did this by creating a beauty product for hair that was sold door-to-door by women “sales agents” and in hundreds of salons across the country. She opened a factory and met with investors in an era when women, let alone a Black woman, did not do that. She promoted a standard of beauty, she said, that was not the beauty of the “Gibson girl”, but the beauty of “women that look like me.” Her daughter opened the salon in New York City and was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
With Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) as Madam CJ Walker, supported by a great cast, this is a film worth seeing and reflecting on.
PS: Skip these two:
Bad Education (2019). This was the oddest movie we’ve seen in a long time. It got a very solid review from The New York Times. It’s based on a real story of corruption in a Long Island public school system. It has two big stars – Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, but the acting was wooden, the production was beyond boring, and it had both the look and feel of a movie made by a high school class in their backyard. Two questions arise: why would Jackman and Janney agree to be in such a movie; is this reflective of the quality of all HBO movies? Skip it.
Spenser Confidential (2020). This is a Boston-based police corruption “action comedy.” We saw no humor and way too much blood.
We were back in Philadelphia this year for their terrific film festival, having missed last year because of other travel. This was our 5th or 6th year attending, and every year we enjoy our long weekend, crammed with outstanding films.
How many films can you see in a day you might ask?. Our record one year was five; generally our pace is three, but if we try hard enough (and decide not to eat anything other than popcorn), we can make four. Not surprisingly we can’t recall all the film names from memory, but, astonishingly, we remember the story, the direction, or cinematography, or the overall impact of each one. Not every film we saw this time is ‘for us,’ but we’ve come to appreciate what film artists are doing as they hone their craft.
There was great diversity in our choices this year. The films we saw came from around the world: Australia, Korea, Austria, France, the Vatican, Romania, China, England, and the US. There were documentaries (Vardaby Agnes, The Australian Dream, Leftover Women); commentaries about current social/economic inequities (Parasite, So Long My Son, Les Miserables, Sorry We Missed You); stories of modern day heroes (A Hidden Life, Just Mercy,The Two Popes,); insights into modern day life (Marriage Story). Some of the films we saw fit more than one of these categories.
So, in the order we saw them:
Parasite – Ellen ***** Richard ***
An avant-garde South Korean film by well-known director Bong Joon-Ho, this film focuses on the economic and social disparity between the poor and wealthy in ways that are sometimes outrageous, laugh-out-loud funny, shocking, and horrifying. A working poor family — mother, father, son, and daughter (all talented in some way but out of work and living on the edge) — worm their way into an upper class, clueless household to take advantage of them. The confidence game the family plays comes unraveled in unpredictable ways, with horrifying consequences. The plot and dialogue were clever and constantly surprising. But there were times when I had to cover my eyes.
Parasite is not a film for everyone (Richard gave it only three stars) and was certainly ‘over the top’ for me, but standing back and judging a film not from the perspective of “did I like it,” I can say this is a fine movie, if you can take it.
Just Mercy – Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is a bio-epic of a personal hero of ours – Bryan Stevenson – the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization that has become a tireless and successful crusader for wrongfully accused death-row inmates in the Alabama prison system (and elsewhere around the country). The film is based on Stevenson’s book of the same title, which I know has justifiably been popular among MillersTime.net readers. Two strong actors play the lead roles: Michael B. Jordan is cast as Stevenson; Jamie Foxx is cast as the inmate, Walter McMillan, whose wrongful conviction is the focus of this powerful story. The producer was Destin Daniel Cretton.
The film reveals how the state of Alabama made up murder charges against McMillan for the killing of a young white girl, and for which he is wrongfully convicted. It tells the story of how Stevenson and his team fought for his release. It is populated with other real clients of Stevenson’s, telling their own compelling stories. It also compellingly documents the steadfastness of Bryan Stevenson and his team at the beginning of their work some 30 years ago.
The greatness of this film is in the narrative, although the acting, particularly by Foxx, is very compelling. In sum, this film documents the ongoing unequal justice system that is driven by racism and hate.Adding to the evening was an after-film discussion that included Stevenson himself along with others involved in making the movie. Just Mercy is a must-see (and a must-read if you have not already done so).
Sorry We Missed You – Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film offers a devastating social critique featuring a hard-working British couple taken advantage of by an employment and economic system that doesn’t provide adequate pay or personal support in their jobs. In the “gig” economy in which they operate, this family faces increasing financial debt along with emotional trauma of their children. As the husband and wife strive to cope, they are dragged further and further down. These are good people, beset by a system that simply doesn’t care.
Ken Loach who has tackled unfairness of political and economic systems in the past directs this British film. (This one is similar in tone and approach to another one we “enjoyed” several years ago in Philly, I Daniel Blake.) The acting is superb with Kris Kitchen and Debbie Honeywood in the leading roles. The movie is difficult to watch as the family spirals out of control. There are no solutions at the end.
(Richard: Probably my favorite of the 12 we saw.
Leftover Women–Ellen **** Richard ****
Are Chinese women who reach their late 20s and early 30s “past their prime” for marriage? It appears that a lot of people in China think that way, and the pressure that is put on the unmarried women (many of them with professional careers) is old fashioned in this modern world. This is a story of a Chinese cultural transition (or lack thereof) regarding marriage.
In this thoughtful Chinese documentary (directed by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam (oddly, both Israeli)) we learn about the marriage markets and government organized meet-ups as men and women search for mates (China has 30 million more men of marriageable age than women), and the pressures that women not yet married face from their families is enormous.
The film presents three personal stories: the first is of a woman lawyer who wants to marry but is already considered too old and too “aggressive.” (She ultimately finds a mate and makes compromises to live as good a life as she can); the second woman, under severe pressure from her family to find a mate, ultimately leaves China for a new and single life in Europe, losing her family in the process; and the third can’t seem to satisfy her mother who criticizes every possibility as inadequate.
The film is most moving in the very private and personal conversations with their families, all of which are filmed in real time.
This is a very thought-provoking movie. See it if you can. E
The Whistlers –Ellen * Richard **
A modern day international crime caper with a dozen or so major actors from one of Romania’s “new wave” directors — Corneliu Porumboiu. It was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys (were there any good guys?). You need a diagram to keep the “game” straight, and without it, you’ll likely be as lost as we were.
The essential story is that a bad cop from Romania goes to the Canary Islands to learn a secret whistling language that is key to pulling off a heist, which involves collecting millions of “dollars” hidden in mattresses. This cop is joined by a femme fatale with a subplot of attempting to keep her boyfriend out of jail. All of the antics of this bunch take place in the dark, further obscuring who is doing what to whom or why.
The audience at Cannes apparently loved it. We did not.
So Long My Son – Ellen ***** Richard *****
I rolled my eyes as I sat down for this three-hour Chinese drama focusing on the impact of the one-child policy on two different families over a 40+ year period. But I got up three hours (and five minutes) later impressed by this well-paced, complicated, and tragic story. The director was Wang Xiaoshuai.
The film unfolds as a mixed chronology of these families’ lives, and while it was somewhat confusing at times, the whole was more than equal to the sum of its parts. It presents a different narrative of the initiation of China’s one child policy and the psychological/social impact on their lives. This is a story of unspoken secrets, sorrow, and resentments. No spoilers here.
If you’re interested in China’s cultural and political history, this is a must see.
A Hidden Life – Ellen ***** Richard ****
This French period drama (set in 1943) is based on the true story of a devout Catholic man (Franz Jagerstatter, played by August Diehl)) who refused to pledge his support to the Nazi party. The family lives in an idyllic Austrian community, which becomes increasingly hostile toward him and his family until (and even after) his eventual arrest. Jagerstatter’s wife (played by Valerie Pachner) stands by his side as she continues to farm their land and raise her children. Her husband’s steadfastness in his principled opposition to the Nazis drives the beauty of the film.
The film’s director is Terrence Malick, and the film has dramatic pace (fueled by music) and stunning cinematography. There is little dialogue and the thoughts and feelings are portrayed (slowly!)essentially though lighting, soundtrack and impressionistic images.This film came highly recommended, and we can see why. I suspect this will be nominated as a Best Foreign Film, and it could well win.
I personally found it a bit over dramatic.
The Australian Dream – Ellen **** Richard *****
We were attracted to this documentary because of our recent travels to Australia and our continued interest in the lives of the Aboriginal people. The film tells the story of one of the greatest players of the Australian Football League — Adam Goodes — and traces the rise of both Goodes’ career as a sports icon and fighter for indigenous peoples’ rights. Goodes was attacked and vilified for his outspokenness, particularly after he was named “Australian Of the Year” in 2014. The film presents a sobering reminder of the continuing racism and hatred that plagues every country in the world.
The Australian Dream is composed of actual game footage, spliced with interviews with various observers of the political phenomena created by Goodes. Together these interviews present a multifaceted examination of Goodes’ sports activism and its impact.
This film was executive produced by former Australian basketballer (and current Philadelphia 76er) Ben Simmons by Good Thing Productions and Passion Pictures. Simmons was present at the film to discuss it afterwards.
Varda by Agnes – Ellen ***** Richard *****
Wow. Just Wow.
We are latecomers to the superb talents of film director Agnes Varda and her phenomenal career. (We saw our first film by and about her several years ago at this same festival). This French documentary, which she directs and in which she is the only actor, was produced just before her death at age 90 in March of this year. It provides a time capsule of her 60-year career work in a charming, self-effacing way.
The structure of the movie is quite simple. We see and listen to a series of lectures that Varda is delivering to audiences in which she is discussing her inspirations, her creative process, and the goals of her work. These lectures are illustrated with examples of specific excerpts from her films. It is very much a “show” and not “tell” documentary. She discusses her work as a feminist, a woman sympathetic to the poor and downtrodden, and her love for her husband. It’s a phenomenal story – a memoir — of the artist by the artist. It is also an inspiration for others: artists, directors, and photographers.
It’s a must see. I was mesmerized by it, perhaps because of my continued interest in my ‘second career,’ photography.’ I wish I had taken notes. (Richard: So see it again if it becomes available.
Les Miserables –Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film takes its title from the Victor Hugo book of the same name, but updates the situation to modern times. Do not go expecting a movie version of the play. What makes this French film so compelling is that the situation it depicts hasn’t changed since Victor Hugo published his book in 1862. It’s stunning and shocking.
The story: a new cop on the beat (played by Damien Bonnard) is paired with a racist cop (Alexis Manenti) and his driver (Djebril Zonga) who have highly suspect ways for keeping the peace. As they patrol their territory – largely a poor outlying Muslim neighborhood in Paris – problems develop and tensions between power factions in the neighborhood escalate quickly into an all out community riot. The police suddenly face a situation they can no longer control.
This is an all too familiar story of the suppressed and harassed lower classes and police brutality and while it takes place in Paris, it could be Baltimore or St. Louis. The ending is brutal, a warning, a primal scream.
A first time feature director Ladj Ly directs the film. I suspect we’ll hear more about him when it’s Academy Award time.
The Two Popes – Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film has US, UK, Italian, and Argentine roots. And, perhaps appropriately, we must thank God for the subtitles, since Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Latin and English are all spoken in the film. The director is Fernando Meirelles. The acting of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce will take your breath away. The dialogue is witty and brilliant, and amusing.
The film based on a 2012 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis (then known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio). Pope Benedict summons the Cardinal (an outspoken critic) to meet with him as faces a series of scandals and considers retirement (something that hadn’t been done in over six centuries). The intellectual jousting and sharing of ideas (they are ideological opposites) between these two men is mesmerizing and brilliant. I didn’t want it to end.
This will hit the big screens. It too is a must-see.
Marriage Story – Ellen **** Richard ****
The more I think about this film the less I l liked it. There is some very fine acting in parts (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are the film’s stars), and it conveys the pitfalls of modern day marriage and divorce in a very subtle and compelling way. But something is missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. The director Is Noah Baumbach who is well known for various films about family relationships. Perhaps the characters are a bit too formulaic (self-interested, career driven New Yorkers) for my tastes.
Here we have a lovely young couple in New York: he is an up and coming stage director in New York; she’s an up and coming actress, very involved in his work. They have a young child. The wife is drawn to Los Angeles for a new role and uses that as an opportunity to take a break from coupledom, ultimately deciding she wants a divorce, an amicable divorce. But soon that amicable divorce becomes complicated, and mean and nasty, and out of the couples’ control. (Very stereotypical lawyers fight to get whatever they can get for their clients.) There are heart-rendering moments of love, heart-break, and fury which will tug at you.
I suspect this will be a popular film, despite my hesitations about it.
Before the Philly Film Festival we saw three films that are now generally available in movie theaters. A few highlights from them:
By The Grace of God–Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is the story of three men who take on the Catholic Church after experiencing abuse from the same priest during their youth. What separates this film from others that deal with similar topics are the intimate portraits of each of these now middle-age men. The attempts of the church to excuse, coverup and take no action against one specific priest speak is ab outrage. The courage of the men to bring the issue forward was beyond brave. It was well filmed and acted.
The film is based on a true story in Lyon, France. There was a recent conviction (March 2019) of the Cardinal of Lyon for concealing the conduct of the priest.
We highly recommend it.
** *** **
Pain and Glory –Ellen ***** Richard ****
This was an absolutely stunning film by the great writer and director Pedro Almodovar. It tells the story of a retired film director (played by Antonio Banderas) and his accomplishments and failures. It is exquisitely filmed and a story hauntingly told. Penelope Cruz is cast as the director’s mother and she is as mesmerizing as always.
** *** **
Downton Abbey –Ellen * Richard **
I was a fan of the TV series. But the money it cost to make this two+ hour manufactured, multiple plot, extravaganza should have been spent on another TV season. In the film the characters were caricatures of themselves, the plot trite. and disjointed and the end was sappy.
We continue to enjoy everything about the October annual Philadelphia Film Festival (from which we returned recently): the selection of films; the ease of getting into them; the proximity of all the theaters for easy walking between them; and our long-time Philly based-friends and their friends with whom we have seen dozens of films over the years.
This year was no different. Over the course of the first weekend, we saw a total of 12 films (our goal had been 13, but I called “uncle” at the end of the 12th one!), and of this total five were outstanding; and four were very good. Only one or two didn’t seem to meet their own objectives, or, in one case, the film didn’t match the description. (And be sure to watch out for the late night films that operate under the genre of “Graveyard Shift.” You might just end up in a horror film!)
One of the things we’ve learned over the years, especially when we go to a film festival and see multiple films in just a few days, is that we enjoy many different kinds of films and that for us a five-star review can go equally to a big box office, big studio type film where the public appeal is obvious, to a small, independent, foreign film whose goal is small but compelling. And we use a set of criteria for our evaluations that we learned from a Washington Post film critic: What was the director trying to do? Did s/he do it well? Was it worth doing? All the films we rated four or five stars met each of the these criteria with flying colors.
Trust us on these films. When they come your way, and most of them will, go see them.
Here are those with five stars from both of us:
Ben Is Back *****
Most opening night films, such as this one was, tend to disappoint, but
not this time. This one is a tautly told story of a Mom (Julia Roberts) desperate to help her drug-addicted son (Lucas Hedges). It is as intimate portrait as you are likely to find on the ongoing opioid addiction and what it does to families. It’s a powerful story, brilliantly acted (though it took me a few minutes to “get over” Julia Roberts, the actress), tightly edited, and an emotionally searing film that leaves you gripping your seat until the end.
The film was written and directed by Peter Hedges, Lucas Hedges’ father. He spoke and answered questions at the end of the Opening Night screening, and it was clear from the audience’s comments that the film struck a powerful note for many of those in attendance, particularly individuals who had personal connections to the opioid crisis sweeping the nation.
Green Book *****
This film just makes you feel good, really good. It takes place in the early 1970’s and is a portrait of racial tolerance in the making. Mahershala Ali (as Dr. Don Shirley) plays a world class concert black pianist who hires the Bronx born, Italian-American, Viggo Mortensen (played by Tony Lip) as his driver for a concert tour in the Deep South. Together the pianist and his driver negotiate the racism they find along the way and emerge better people for it. This film will be compared to Driving Miss Daisy, but this version has more humor and quirkiness to it than its predecessor. It feels genuine, and both actors, along with the writer, are responsible for a heart warming and delightful viewing experience.
(Writer and Director: Peter Farrelly. USA – Many Audience Awards, including 2018 People’s Choice Award at Toronto)
Everybody Knows *****
When a film stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and the director is Asghar Farhadi (former films include A Separation and The Salesman), the likelihood that you have a winning film is strong. A family wedding in a beautiful rural Spanish town sets the scene. Long held family jealousies and past history come to play is this compelling, complicated family drama, where deep secrets (or perhaps not so secret) are revealed in tantalizing fashion that will take several minutes and help from whomever joins you at the film, to sort out at the end. It’s both a “who done it” and a story about the larger human condition. The film is richly filmed and deeply satisfying. The acting is superb.
(Director: Asghar Farhadi, Spain)
The Guilty *****
This is a small Danish film that has the power of an atomic bomb. It’s only 85 minutes long and is shot entirely in the control room of a police emergency response center. Here we see sidelined Danish Policy Officer Asger (played by Jakob Cedergren) who has been assigned to this call center while he awaits a decision about his future. In trying to respond to an emergency call, he gets deeply into making assumptions and taking actions as he tries to find a missing woman and her assailant. It’s a nail-biting scenario for the viewer as the story unfolds in real time, with grim consequences. Phenomenal acting, filming, and direction.
(Director: Gustave Moller; Denmark, first feature film – Many awards, including the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, 2018, Cannes.)
A Private War. *****
Based on the true story of the renowned war correspondent and
journalist Marie Colvin (played by Rosamund Pike), this film is a compelling,
gripping story that takes place in various war zones around the world, though principally in Syria. The narrative, filming, and acting combine to make a powerful case for Colvin’s reporting and is a tribute to reporters everywhere.
(Director: Matthew Heinerman, USA)
** *** ** **
Even though this next group of films received less than five stars from your rating duo (all these were four stars or four and a half stars), they are each in their own way compelling films that make it worth while seeking them out.
Roma is a terrific black and white film that provides an intimate view of an upper middle class family (in personal crisis) in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the 1970’s. Core to the family’s story is the relationship with their two household servants, especially that of Cleo (played by Yalitza Aparcio), the nanny to the four children. Filled with luminous film-making and painstaking details, this film explores the ins and outs of family life in multiple dimensions.
(Director: Alfonso Cuarno, Mexico – Numerous awards, including Winner, Best Film, 2018, Venice Film Festival)
And Breathe Normally ****
This film is the second one we saw with an immigration theme: a woman from Guinea-Bissau tries to enter Iceland on a false passport and is detained. She is put into a holding center for months while her application for asylum is being considered. In a parallel story a young single mother is struggling with her own life in Iceland, living out of her car with her child. She eventually takes a training position as a Passport Officer. In the course of doing her job, she is, in part, responsible for the detention of the African woman. These two women — both living on the margins — form a kind of inter-dependency that is touching and gives meaning to both of them. Eventually, the Passport Officer insures that the immigrant gets on her way to her final destination.
While this film has a slow start, midway it catches on. It presents yet another interesting look at today’s immigration crises through excellent acting, a strong narrative, and subtle filming. If the topic interests you, see if you can find the film.
(Director: Isold Uggadottir. Iceland – Winner Best Directing – World Cinema – Dramatic at 2018 Sundance)
This movie is a perfect example of a small and meaningful foreign film. Indeed, it felt rather like the foreign produced films that we saw 20 years ago. It is the story of a middle age man (Beshay, played by first time actor Rady Gamal) who has been cured of (but deformed by) leprosy and who sets out on a journey to find “his” people. He travels the length of Egypt in this quest and is joined by a young boy. It’s a road film, following the adventures and misadventures of Beshay and his young friend and their perseverance to the end.
It’s a sensitively portrayed film with a rich rewarding end.
(Director: A.B Shawky – Numerous awards including at Cannes and Philadelphia)
Another small but powerful foreign film, this one is about a young Moroccan woman, Sofia (played by Maha Alemi) who to her surprise gives birth to a child in a society where having an out of wedlock child is severely punishable and results in great disgrace to her upper middle class family.
The film is intended to be a commentary on the old fashioned mores of the country, but it is more. The not so naïve Sofia plots her way out of the situation with unflinching dishonesty and betrayal of her family’s values, even as she tries to protect them.
There are number of very interesting characters in this film, not the least of which are the boy accused of being the father of the child, his family members, Sophia’s cousin who helps her through the birth, and her own parents. This film is a very thoughtful presentation of a society mired in outdated mores.
(Director: Meryem Benim’Barek – Best Screen Play, 2018 at Cannes)
** *** ** **
The films we saw that just didn’t work for us included Overlord (a horror film that appeared to be a heart pounding thriller about the Allies invading France on D Day); Transit, a modern day immigration story which hearkened back to the days of French Jews fleeing the Nazis; and Shoplifters, a quirky Japanese film about grifters who made up a most unusual modern family.
There were several others films that we missed that we look forward to seeing in the theaters, including Widows, If Beal Street Could Talk, Cold War, Birds of Passage, and The Favorite.
Finally, we just received an email from our Philadelphia friends with recommendations for films that they saw, and particularly recommend, over the second week of the festival.
The Favorite Amin Treat Me Like Fire All Square Shirkers Butterflies Birds of Passage Egg The Biggest Little Farm
If we used a 10 point scale on which to rate films, this one would get 15. It won the audience award at the Miami Film Festival (we missed it there), and it’s easy to see why.
This movie tells the story of an 88-year-old Polish Jewish man who escaped, barely alive, from a Nazi labor camp, and after being nurtured back to life by a childhood Christian friend, immigrates to Argentina where he marries, raises three daughters and lives to old age. As he is losing his health and his daughters are about to move him into a nursing home, he leaves his home — alone — to make his way back to Poland to try – improbable as it sounds – to reunite with the friend that he hasn’t seen in 70 years. The trip in an on-going saga and is full of lovely, caring people (including one estranged daughter) who help him make his way “home.” It’s a beautiful story.
This is a film of extraordinary exploration of character. The main character,
Abraham Bursztein, is exquisitely acted by Miguel Ángel Solá. He is a man of no
compromise, sternness, manners, practicality, and humor. Each of the characters (his daughters, the people he meets on his journey) are very well drawn and well acted. It is filled with flashbacks of both the good times of his youth and the indescribable horrors he experienced under Nazi occupation of Poland. Powered by wonderfully composed klezmer music, the film is moving and comes to a satisfying end.
The old adage ”first you laugh, then you cry” is apt. This is one of the most
enjoyable films we have seen in a long time. It’s a must-see.
(Ed. Note 5/17/18: The Last Suit just received the Audience Award for Best Narrative.)
Israel: Stories of Modern Days:
Ellen ***** Richard *****
The first thing I said at the end of this documentary was “I wish had a transcript.”
This film consists of interviews of 10 prominent contemporary Israel authors,
including two I have read extensively over the years – Amos Oz and David
Grossman. It was produced in celebration of the celebration of Israel’s 70th
Anniversary and is brilliantly edited to discuss many topics, including the authors’
thoughts on contemporary Israeli politics, the power of literature, the connections between the historical and contemporary Hebrew language, and religion.
That makes it sound dull and dry but it was anything but.
I doubt this film will be widely shown, and that’s too bad. I would definitely
recommend finding a way to listen to the incredibly articulate and thoughtful voices of the literary giants interviewed.
Ellen *** Richard ***
This film was billed as having been nominated for 13 Israeli Academy Awards,
including Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay etc., and it played to nearly a sold out audience in one of the larger venues during the Jewish Film
Described as tragicomedy in which a confirmed bachelor — Ariel — learns he long ago, had a son –a 19-year-old who recently had a fatal accident. He tries to connect to the world of this unknown son by visiting his school, meeting some of his friends, and developing a friendship with teacher that the son adored. It had some moments of laughter at the silliness of some of those efforts, and there was a tug at your heartstrings occasionally as he groped his way. But for me it was boring, disjointed, and ridiculous at times. (And besides the subtitles were very difficult to read.)
When I returned from the theater I checked to see if the film indeed had won any of the Oscar Awards for which it had been nominated. Not a one. Needless to say I was not surprised. One reviewer remarked that the multiple nominations was “… simply a case of an established director being rewarded by his cronies.” Sounds right to me.
Ellen **** Richard ****
A beautifully filmed (think of almost every scene as looking like a Vermeer painting — this is a Dutch film) post Holocaust mystery about the lies a father told his family about how he lived through the Holocaust. It’s a complex story, sometimes hard to follow, but in the end, most of the pieces fit together splendidly.
The film begins with the prodigal daughter returning to visit her ageing father and mother in Holland. As soon as she arrives, early memories of her childhood in the home begin to haunt her, followed soon by real attacks on her and her family by a person unknown. The film delves deeply into each character, and all are well-acted. While there are a few pieces of the puzzle that we had trouble figuring out, in the end the detective work is worth it. This is an engaging and thoughtful movie.
The Hero takes the viewer through on a complicated and tightly-woven story that comes together to a explosive ending.
We saw this film with friends, and we discussed whether it fits into the category of the morally ambiguous realm of whether the end was justified. That question makes the entire film even more interesting. I won’t spoil either the end of the story or our opinions about that in this review.
The film was written and directed by an Oscar nominated filmmaker Menno Meyjes who was the co-writer for The Color Purple, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.)
Heading Home – The Tale of Team Israel:
Ellen ***** Richard ***** (no claim of objectivity here)
Who knew that Israel had a baseball team…much less one that defied all odds to become one of the great underdog stories of the 2017 World Baseball Classic?
If you’re Jewish, and love baseball, this film is an absolute must-see. (Though I suspect it will be difficult to find in any local theater.)
This is a documentary about the process and the success of putting together of a team for Israel’s participation in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the impact it had on its players, and the highs and lows of winning, and losing. There’s even a role for the “Mensch on the Bench”, the team mascot.
Since Israel did not have an indigenous team, they were able to select players who had a Jewish background (players whose mother or father or grandparents were Jewish) to play for the team. They discovered a number of former U.S. Major League players and recruited them, including Ike Davis, Ryan Lavanway, Josh Zeidi, and Cory Decker. The entire team was invited to Israel to learn more about their past, drum up support for their efforts with local people, and to practice for the Baseball Classic. As the story unfolds, this film becomes both a sports drama and an exploration of Jewish identity.
We took our nine year old grandson to this documentary, and he loved it too, telling us “That was amazing, I’ve never see anything like this.”
(Ed. Note 5/17/18: Heading Home just received the Audience Award for Best Documentary.)
The Shape of Water –Ellen ***** (Richard Didn’t See it)
Wonderful. Engrossing. Clever. Satisfying.
Take a deep sigh, hold your breath, and submerge yourself into a theater playing this film. Just sink into the world created by the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. This fantasy — which I had been putting off seeing because those sorts of movies are just not my thing — is thoroughly moving and enjoyable. It’s also very creative and clever with superb acting. It well-deserves its Best Picture (and 12 other Oscar nominations) for which it is nominated.
When summarized, the story seems odd and off-putting, but as it unfolds on the screen, it’s not: a young, mute lonely woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), is a building cleaner at a super secretive government laboratory when she discovers a captive Amazonian human-like sea creature that is being held for unknown, but presumably experimental purposes. She extends herself to it, and it responds to her. The time is 1962 and the Russians want to steal it from the US who has it locked in a top secret laboratory. She needs to save the creature from both of them. She has two friends who will help. One small warning: there are a few gruesome scenes, but they only add to the surrealism of the film. Don’t be turned off by the plot.
The film is filled with fascinating characters and wonderful acting, from Hawkins herself to Octavia Spence, Doug Jones, and Michael Shannon. The staging is so richly detailed you want to disappear into it. My advice is just to given into it and cheer for our heroine. Let the film wash over you. You won’t regret it.
(Sorry about the play on words but I couldn’t resist…)
A Fantastic Woman – Ellen **** Richard ****
What I love about the DC Cinema Club is that we see films we might not otherwise left to our own choosing. That’s definitely the case with A Fantastic Woman. What you see is not what you get in this film.
It is a very sympathetic and sometimes heart-wrenching portrayal of a trans woman and the struggles she faces to become the woman she is as well as how she moves forward after losing her lover. There are wonderful cinematic moments to illustrate her struggles and terrific acting throughout. Daniela Vega (Marina) has been nominated for an academy award for her performance and the film has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film Category.
Marina is a singer and a waitress in a coffee shop and she is in a relationship with Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a man two decades her senior. One evening he falls ill and dies and the drama begins, unfolding slowly with considerable melodrama. His family forbids her from attending his funeral. But she insists on paying tribute to her lover.
The film is a tender love story and a story about the struggle to be true to who you are. It is a tense, well-filmed and emotional drama. It’s worth a see.
Phantom Thread – Ellen **** Richard ****
Another non-mainstream film and even though nominated for a Best Picture Award, I recommend it somewhat cautiously.
If you like/love looking at Daniel Day Lewis (count me in) it’s a must-see. If you like a story where two unlikable characters clash and the woman “wins” (my view), then this is the picture for you. If you love a film where the actions of the women characters are more manipulative than those of the men, go see this movie. (In this latter style, it reminded me of the 2017 film Lady Macbeth. See my review of that film).
But not a lot happens in this taut psychological drama. Lewis plays a perfection-obsessed famous London-based courtier — Reynolds Woodcock — in the 1950’s. His latest muse is Alma (well-played by Vicky Krieps), a former waitress in a country inn where he had dinner one evening. He dresses her gloriously (though the costuming was less inspiring than I expected). They marry, and his self-centered life is disrupted. When he appears to begin to tire of her, she sets about to prove just how much he needs her.
The film is lit throughout in undertones of beige, rose, and violet, which is very appealing and adds to the overall somber tone of the film and to the relationship between the two protagonists.
Although this film received six various Academy Award Nominations, I’d see this film for Daniel Day Lewis’ performance alone.
** ** ** ** ** ** **
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was rated Excellent or Good by 90+ per cent of our Sunday Cinema Club. We both saw it, but didn’t have time to review it. We both would have rated it four stars.
People often say the reason they love the movies is because they offer an escape. But that’s not why we enjoy them. We love movies because they tell stories, show us worlds and places we will never know first hand, teach us lessons about life, breathe life into historical or political moments, and/or make us question what we think we already understand.
Come to think of it, we love movies for the very same reasons we love books and love to travel.
For us, a “great movie” has to have a good story; strong, believable, and well acted characters; great directing; with cinematography, music, and production that adds to the whole. We’re not fans of comedy, satire, or overly intellectual films, where nothing much happens for two hours. And while we can appreciate a “critic’s film” (i.e., a film that critics love but audiences don’t), only sometimes do they rise to the top of both our lists.
We’ve averaged about a movie a week this year (actually a bit more since we rarely review the movies we don’t really like, ones that are already super popular, or the “big theater” shows). That’s not a bad record considering the time we travel, how much we read, how much time one of us spends watching baseball in the summer, and missing this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival which we so enjoy.
Also, we love going out to the movies. Seeing a film in a theater somehow seems more special than watching one at home, which we rarely do. (We did recently watch one at home, our first Netflix movie – Mudbound – thanks to the technical assistance of daughter Annie, as some aspects of the modern TV are still a mystery to us.)
Below is a listing — recap list — of the films this year which have received a top rating from at least one of us. We are not going to pull out our top ten for you, even if we could decide on a ten best. Just browse the list and link to our earlier reviews to see if certain ones might appeal. You can also save this list by printing out this post.
(Note: We ran out of time to review the last four films we’ve seen (Darkest Hour, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Mudbound, and The Post), but we’ve included them on this list because we give all of them a top rating. So for sure, check them out in your theaters.)
And let us know what you’re planning to see over the holidays or what you’ve seen this year that we should try to see too.
Films Either One or Both of Us Rated Four or Five Stars
For the past few years Ellen and I have been attending the opening weekend of the annual Philadelphia Film Festival with friends from that City of Brotherly Love. Generally, from Thursday’s opening film through Sunday evening we see about a dozen films. We’ve grown fond of that October event, and sadly, we missed it this year as we were on a long planned trip to China (more on that to come soon in other posts).
But thanks to an email from Philly, I post below one person’s reactions to this year’s festival and the films she saw between Oct. 19-29. Although said movie lover was not writing for an audience, she kindly gave us permission to pass on her quick thoughts about the films she saw, many of which will reach your local theaters in the coming year.
We thought the Festival was terrific this year. The films I particularly recommend are listed below. You can look up the descriptions in this Program Guide.
I, Tonya(p.29) – Great performances. Funny, weird, crazy. Was the Opening Night film.
Faces Places (p.40) – Charming and very well done.
In the Fade (p.41) – German Oscar submission. Superb, Heavy. Amazing performance by Diane Kruger.
Jane (p.42) – Just released. Documentary. Features previously lost footage of Jane Goodall from the 60s.
Borg/McEnroe (p. 47) – Don’t need to be a tennis fan to appreciate this.
A Ciambra (p.50) – Italian Oscar submission.
The Square (p.56) – Just released. Some of the reviews have not been great, but we thought it was well done and very interesting.
Custody (p.63) – Very heavy. Great acting. Remarkably accomplished for a first feature.
In Syria (p.5) – Very well done. Entire film takes place in an apartment. Intense and disturbing.
On Body and Soul (p.55) – Amazing film. Love story takes place in a slaughterhouse.
AlphaGo (p.81) – Documentary. Got a great audience response.
Bobbi Jene (p.74) – Documentary about an American dancer in an Israeli dance group moving back to U.S. Very intimate love story, startling honest. Very impressive.
Django (p. 85) – Docudrama.
Nothing we saw wasn’t worth seeing, but for one reason or another, I did not include the following films, which I also saw: Sweet Country, Thoroughbreds, Bad Lucky Goat, Brimstone and Glory, Most Beautiful Island, Spoor, Montparnasse Bienvenue, Marlin the Murderer in Four Acts, and The Wound.
(Ed. Note: Jane, The Square, and Faces Places are all in the DC area now, and I, Tonyawill be here soon.)
You can bet we’ll return to Philly next October. It is easy to get into almost every film you want to see (Opening Night is usually the only totally sold out film – though I noticed this year the wonderful Philadelphia Film Society added additional screenings of that film). The various theaters are generally within walking distance of each other, and the price, especially the package price for a weekend, is beyond reasonable.
If you have seen or see any of the above, please feel free to leave a Comment on this post for others to see.
I graduated from college in the late 1960’s and majored in sociology. Though my working career focused on political accountability, I’ve learned since my retirement that I never really gave up that early interest of addressing social problems and thinking about how society and institutions work (or don’t work). In fact, these interests drove much of my interest in “politics.” (But I digress)
I also find that the books and films I most enjoy most these days focus on these topics. To wit, the last two films presented by the DC Cinema Club — Lucky and The Florida Project. Both of these are stunning – five star, must-sees, one-of-a kind, leave-you-stunned-in-your-seat-kind-of-movies. (And, unusually, Richard agrees with my 5 star ratings on both these films.)
The Florida Project***** is set in a budget motel (“The Magic Castle”) outside of Disney World in Florida. This narrative driven film focuses on the chaotic life of a six-year old girl and her rebellious 23-year old mother (played by Bria Vinaite). Although it is a fictionalized recounting of the lives of people living on the edge, it feels at times like a documentary. The acting is genius, particularly that of Willem Dafoe – the caretaker of the hotel –and the young girl Moonee (played by actor Brooklynn Kimberly Price). It is a life that would be hard to imagine any of the children escaping from unscathed, and so it’s also a very sad film. The story is gripping until the very end.
The Florida Project is an accomplished film from director Sean Baker who has produced two other films (Starlet 2012) and Tangerine (2015) which also focus on people most of us don’t know (or often don’t care about). After you see the well-reviewedThe Florida Project, you won’t forget the children, the parents, nor the “community” that surrounds them.
Lucky *****is a different sort of film, this one character driven. It is the story of an old man, one who essentially plays himself at age 93, and the quirky characters who live in his desert town. The performance of Harry Dean Stanton (a long time accomplished actor who died just a few months after the film was complete) is a masterpiece – a tour de force. I’m not sure that Richard and I have ever seen anything quite like it before. One reviewer called it … “at once a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton as well as a meditation on morality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection.” This is a poignant film that doesn’t overdue its theme. It is also one that will stay with you.
Columbus***** is another 5-star, award-winning film we have seen in the last month that is must see. The story sounds kind of wonky: the son of a Korean-American well-known architect (played by John Cho) comes to Columbus, Indiana (a small Midwestern town known for its modern architecture). While waiting for his ailing (and estranged) father to recover from a sudden illness, the son develops a friendship with a young woman (played by Haley Lou Richardson) who is biding her post high-school career working at the local library and still living with her mother who increasingly depends on daughter for emotional support. The story is underpinned by exquisite cinematography and perfect pace. There is much talk of life, independence, architecture, and families. It is a film about the power of intellect and friendship. This is the directorial film debut for Kogonada, and it’s stunning.
All three of the above films are now showing (or will be shortly) in the DC area. Put ’em on your list, and let others know what you think if you get to see them.
A fourth film we’ve seen in recent weeks is Dina*** (Richard ****) which has gotten better reviews than I give it. This is the story of the life of a woman on the autism spectrum, focusing mostly on her relationship with the man she marries. The cinematography is pale and wan which lends the film a sober feeling. As one might expect, Dina’s life is a difficult life – always a bit out of sync with the world, her friends, her community. She is a sympathetic character – at times both funny and sad – without the ability to read nonverbal clues of those in her life. The movie is well-acted, but leaves you feeling a bit dreary. I wouldn’t rush to see this one: Two of my three three stars are for effort. Richard rates it a bit higher, probably because he has worked with a similar population at some points in his career and says, “the depiction of the character is quite true to life.”
Summer seems like the worst season for new films, particularly the month of August. We probably saw fewer films this month than any other this year (in part because we were on grandparent watch for two plus weeks), and in part because what there was to see just didn’t appeal. (Big box office hits just aren’t our thing.) But we soldiered on and tried to pick the best out there. We didn’t like The Big Sick, The Trip to Spain, or Tulip Fever. All of these failed in some basic way: narrative, screen play, cinematography, or acting – some of them failed on all four of these criteria.
Enough said about those three somewhat popular films.
Four films did standout, and Richard and I recommend all of them to you. In order that we saw them:
Detroit (Ellen **** Richard ****1/2)
This is a stunning film about the Detroit riots of 1967 – a mixture of original news footage and reenactments of the police brutality that aided and abetted the violence. It is a horrific story, and it’s based on facts. It’s a story that didn’t end in Detroit. It’s a complex film — and it’s not perfect — but we very much recommend it. You will walk away from it shaken and with a better understanding of the forces at work in Detroit in 1967 and today. The director of this film directed two other dramatic films (The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), and Detroit is engaging in the same manner.
Wind River (Ellen ***** Richard ****1/2)
This film tells a gripping story centering around a murder on a Native American reservation in Wyoming. The lead actor (Elizabeth Olson) is a rookie FBI agent sent to investigate the crime. She enters a world of misogynist white men. and the story delves deep into a multitude of prejudices against women and Native Americans. The film keeps you glued to the edge your seat with great story telling, beautiful scenery, and throbbing pace. It’s gorgeously photographed and very well acted. All together it is a very compelling and moving thriller.
Step(Ellen **** Richard ***1/2)
This film is a close-to-home documentary that focuses on the lives of young Black women in Baltimore who attend a Charter school. The goal for the first graduating class is to have 100% of the students be accepted to college, most of whom would be the first in their families to attend college. In addition to their rigorous classwork, supportive counseling, and many other services and opportunities available to these teens is the “Step Team” — a metaphor for their life. The film is filled with intimate interviews with three of the young women on that Step Team and their families; Step competitions; and the young women’s struggles to succeed. It is straightforward, hopeful reporting.
Columbus (Ellen ***** Richard *****)
This is a brilliant film, perhaps the best we have seen all summer. It takes place in a small mid-western town (Columbus, Indiana) noted for its architectural diversity, modernity, and excellence. The story is about relationships: a son and his father (a well-known architectural scholar who has fallen ill in this city); a young woman and her mother (the daughter fears leaving this town because of the support she provides her mother); and the unlikely relationship of this son and this daughter. An overarching theme is what one sees and understands about architecture and how “physical space can affect emotions,” according to one reviewer. The pace is purposely slow and steady, and it unfolds in one beautiful scene after another. The photography is magnificent. The acting is moving, particularly that of Hailey Lu Richardson as Casey, the daughter. From beginning to end Columbus is an entirely satisfying and beautiful film. (Note: this film is a directorial debut for the South Korean based Kogonda, who is also the screenwriter.)
Notes from the Editor:
1. With this post I am pleased to report that Ellen Miller has agreed to become the prime film reviewer for MillersTime. Because of the overwhelming positive reception to an earlier film review posting by Ellen and because I find film reviewing the least enjoyable part of this blog, I am delighted to be relieved of what has become a chore for me. Know that while Ellen and I generally agree about the films we see, there are some differences, though they are not significant (see the star ratings which we give without knowing each other’s rating). Plus, I will no doubt add some thoughts on occasion.
2. If you check out the Rotten Tomatoes‘ scoring of films as one way to judge if a film may have interest for you, I highly recommend the article, Rotten Tomatoes, Explained. I found it quite informative and believe it will change I look at their ratings, both the ones by Critics and by Audiences.
So it happened again, this time at Sunday’s DC Cinema Club film: I knew nothing about the film — Past Life — we were going to see, and then I was totally captivated by it. (As I’ve written before, often my expectations overwhelm the reality of a play, a book, or a film, and I am left disappointed.) As the lights were dimmed, we read a synopsis:
Inspired by true events, Past Life tracks the daring 1977 trans-European odyssey of two sisters — one an introverted ambitious classical music composer, and the other a combative liberal magazine editor. As they try to unravel a disturbing wartime mystery that has cast a foreboding shadow on their entire lives, they realized that freedom from the shackles of the past requires painful sacrifices, as does the struggle to discover one’s unique voice.
What followed was 109 minutes of being transfixed. The story largely focuses on three characters, a father and his two daughters and is about the Holocaust and its after-effects. Set in 1977 and based on true events, it’s told almost as a suspense story and through the eyes of each of the three main characters and several minor ones too. (I am curious to know just how closely and how accurately the writer-director Avi Nesher depicts the actual events, and I’ve ordered the diary upon which it is based.)
All three of the main characters are intriguing individuals, and each of their stories, as well as the interrelationships of these characters, is engrossing. The performances of all three (Joy Rieger as Sephi Milch, Nell Tagar as Nana Milch-Kotler, and Doron Tavory as Baruch Milch) are convincing and compelling. The story moves along so quickly that you barely have time to catch your breath and understand what just happened before you’re confronted with new information.
Had I been told before hand that this was “Holocaust film,’ I might have avoided it, or at least ‘approached’ it differently. But knowing nothing in advance, I simply absorbed what director Nesher presented. Once again I learned there is always one more heart-breaking story about that horrific time and that it continues to affect long after the actual events occurred.
Add this well-told Israel-Polish film to your ‘to see’ list, though I’m not sure it will make it to the major theaters. Maybe you can catch it at one of the Jewish film festivals that now take place in many cities throughout the country.
We’ve seen a number of films over the past couple of months which I have not mentioned on MillersTime. Too much else going on, perhaps. Nothing stands out as must sees, but here are five that we saw last week at the D.C. International Film Fest. (Yes. We have film festival here) We rate the films independently, using a scale of one to five stars.
The African Doctor ****(Ellen ****) This is a “feel good” movie, also based upon a true story, about a Congolese doctor who moves his family to a small village outside of Paris and about their struggles to earn the villagers’ trust. Biography. Comedy. Drama.
Death in Sarajevo ***(Ellen****) This is an award winning film, full of clever, fast dialogue and good acting, that looks at life in Sarajevo in 2015 on the 100th anniversary of the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Drama.
Goldstone *** (Ellen**** ) This is also an award winning film (Australian) and is about an Aboriginal federal cop who comes to a frontier town in Queensland searching for a lost girl. There are two interrelated stories. Ellen found the film and the production first rate. Myself, not so much. Crime. Thriller.
Searchers (Maliglutit) **** (Ellen**** ) This is a Canadian film about an Inuk man seeking revenge for the kidnapping of his wife and daughter in the Arctic. Mesmerizing photography and story, with subtitles. Drama.
Solitaire *** (Ellen ****) This is a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” story of a Lebanese girl and her Syrian boyfriend and what happens when their two families meet. Again, Ellen liked it more than I. Comedy. Drama.
We certainly saw a range of films over four days at the current Miami Film Festival. There were two that were outstanding (one we had seen at the October Philly Festival but including it here as our friends loved it every bit as much as we did.)
While there were several we saw that I enjoyed and rated positively, there are only two of the six/seven that go into the “put on your list’ category, and one in the category of ‘definitely avoid’.
As we’ve found with other film festivals we’ve attended, it’s delightful to go with friends and to chat about each film as well as enjoy good food and friendship.
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a NY Fixer *** (Ellen ****)
This opening night film of the 34th Miami Film Festival drew a full house at the wonderful Olympia theater in downtown Miami. I thought it was a bit of a strange choice to start the festival. Ellen, however, thought it was a “typical opening night choice, a film for critics, one that would unlikely gain a large audience.” She rated it much more highly than I did.
Richard Gere stars as Norman Oppenheimer, a ‘fixer’ whose raison d’etre appears to be connect people (and make money in the process?). As the film develops and as Norman continues to present himself as someone who knows everyone, even if he doesn’t, he remains a bit of a mysterious person, and we see him in this singular role throughout the film. Because of having ingratiated himself with an Israeli Foreign Minister, who later becomes Israel’s Prime Minister, he finds himself at the center of a major scandal.
And that’s when things become confusing for me. Is this a film about an individual, a character study, or is it more about broader issues, including, though not limited to, the lengths to which Israeli will go to protect its policy of control over its status? Of course, a film can have more than one focus, but it’s title indicates its about the ‘fixer.’
For me, writer-director Joseph Cedar (Footnote) is not clear about what his primary purpose is, and he fills the almost two-hour film (it seemed much longer) with strands that are sometimes hard to follow and are confusing. Richard Gere’s performance is strong, if singularly focused, but that may be because of the script.
Know that others with whom I saw the film, liked it much more than I did.
Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith **** (Ellen ****)
This documentary film is about a judge I suspect most Americans do not ‘know’ but nevertheless has been at the center of numerous decisions of major importance to our country over the past half century.
The film focuses on four major decisions of Detroit Judge Damon Keith and places them in context of what was happening both in and beyond Detroit.
It is also a portrayal of someone who seems to be an individual of remarkable kindness, strong intellect, and high personal integrity.
Now, 95 years of age, Judge Keith is still an active judge, although he has moved from his position as the Chief Judge of the US District Court, Eastern District of Michigan to Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, one of the highest courts in the land.
Walk With Me introduces its audiences to an individual well worth knowing.
Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World **** (Ellen ****)
A feel good movie about an orphanage (Our Little Roses) for 70 girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
I may not have read the previews of this documentary carefully enough and so was surprised to find that the orphanage was largely a happy place where good things were happening for girls who had been abandoned by their families.
The film follows a young Episcopal priest, Spencer Reece, who has chosen to spend a year at Our Little Roses teaching poetry to the girls there.
Although the girls are initially a bit suspicious of Reece and don’t know or have much interest in poetry, they find his gentleness and interest in their stories helps them open up about some of the sadness, fears, and worries they have. Through Reece’s ‘work’ with them, some of the girls clearly benefit from being able express their feelings about what has brought them to the orphanage and how they look at their future.
Frantz ***** (Ellen *****)
We saw this wonderful film in Philly, and our friends with whom we were attending the Miami Film Festival confirmed what I wrote about Frantz previously:
“Unquestionably our favorite film of the entire (Philadelphia) festival. This is a romantic film about love, loss, family and late stage of coming of age. It takes place just after WWI focusing on the fiance of a dead German soldier (and his family) and a mysterious French soldier whose lives intertwine in unimaginable ways.
“From every aspect — the story, the photography, the acting, the directing, and the production, we both couldn’t imagine a better film.”
Their Finest***1/2 (Ellen****)
A story about telling a story.
This British film follows several screenwriters who have been tasked with creating a ‘propaganda’ film to encourage the British populace (and Americans too) to support their war effort in the early years of WWII.
The film is based on the novel The Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans and largely focuses on Catrin Cole, a young woman (wonderfully played by Gemma Aterton) who has been brought into the British Ministry of Information’s Film Division to give ‘female’ perspective to a film that will hopefully support the war.
And so Their Finest becomes both a story about this first time screenwriter who finds herself having success (in what has been largely a male dominated world) as well as the actual making of the propaganda film.
There is a wonderful performance by Bill Nighy, as an aging actor who is part of the cast and who Cole is able to engage in a role that revives his acting career.
Female Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) gives us an entertaining and sometimes humorous if not necessarily a profound or satisfying story (stories).
AfterImage***** (Ellen *****)
Our favorite film of this festival.
AfterImage is/was the final film of the award winning Polish director Andrzej Wajda (someone whose work I don’t know but will now seek out). And it’s captivating.
It’s the story of artist (Strzeminski) who is also a teacher and an author and who faces an increasingly totalitarian regime in Poland. We see his attempts to stay true to his vision(s) of art at a time when Stalinist ideology/realism takes over the art world in post war Poland.
It’s a history lesson as well as a riveting personal story of an individual whose commitment to his work and beliefs are tested when a society will no longer allow for individual freedom of expression.
Again, the story, the photography, the acting, the direction, and the production all come together to make for an outstanding film.
The Bar – 1/2* (Ellen****)
I never thought I’d rate a film lower than The Lobster.
I was wrong.
You’ll have to ask Ellen what she could possibly be thinking to give such a disasterous movie a rating of four stars. (Perhaps she’ll explain herself in the Comment section of this post.)
One of the (many) wonderful choices that being retired allows is the ability to see movies whenever you want — during the week, during the day, two in a row on the same day, or 15 over four days at a film festival.
And we’ve done all of the above.
Most of the end-of-the year lists of “Best” Films have been published already, and most come from critics who review films/books for a living.
I don’t have any special film knowledge and just tend to write about how much I liked various films for whatever reasons. Below is a list of many (tho not all) of the films Ellen and I saw in 2016, largely ones that I rated three stars or higher (out of a system of 1-5 stars). If Ellen had a different rating from mine, I have put her ratings in parentheses.
As I was constructing this post, I thought of adjusting a few of the ratings (up or down) but decided to leave the ratings the way I made them a day or two after seeing each film.
These starred categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three star ones were more problematic films for me but still may be worth checking out. Three starred ones were even more problematic. If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review (The Lobster, for example).
If you click on the linked titles below, you will get to my mini-review of that film on MillersTime. For four of the more recent ones, however, I have not yet written about them.
I have also attached a link to a listing of these films that you can print out in the event you like to do that sort of thing.