Film Review: A Separation — 4 stars


SUMMARY: An Iranian man’s wife leaves him to care for their daughter and his aging father. The woman he hires to help brings a new set of problems that may just ruin his family and his good name.

DETAILS: A Separation is an Iranian film (The Separation of Nader and Simin) that won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards. Also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, A Separation tells the story of the tragic breakup of an Iranian middle class couple, Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), and explores the consequences of their decision that includes lies, deceit, miscarriage/murder, child custody, and ultimately a quest for justice. The story begins with Simin attempting to divorce her husband who refuses to leave the country with her in order to stay and care for his aging father who suffers with Alzheimer’s. Their separation forces Nader to find a caregiver for his father and this is where their troubles begin. Nader hires a woman from a lower class who desperately needs work, but who (due to the intimate nature of care-giving involved) is forced to lie about her employment. A Separation beautifully explores the issues of class, marriage, parental care, sin, love, and the tragedy of a couple splitting up. The film is a slow and steady, beautifully shot, dramatic piece that I highly recommend for anyone desiring a glimpse into modern day Islamic life. The aging, nearly silent, grandfather in the film is wonderfully played by Ali-Asghar Shahbazi whose actions, mannerisms, and portrayal of a man with Alzheimers should have earned him a nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. This film proves that the power of storytelling is truly a universal gift.

SCORE: 4.0 out of 5 stars
ACADEMY AWARD: Best Foreign Language Film

Film Review: Intimate Stranger — 3 stars


SUMMARY: The compelling, tragic, global story of Joseph Cassuto, a man who loved his work more than his family.

DETAILS: Intimate Stranger is the story of Joseph Cassuto, an average, hardworking Jewish man whose life changed drastically due to WWII. Living in Egypt prior to the war, Joseph had a lovely wife and four children and a very successful career exporting Egyptian cotton to Japan, but following Pearl Harbor his life and career would take a drastic turn. His American wife and his two youngest children were able to return to America just prior to the war breaking out with the thought that Dad and the others would soon join them. But as fate would have it, it would be several years before they would arrive in Brooklyn, and in America, their successful father was a nobody. Mr. Cassuto soon started rebuilding his relationships with the Japanese and he eventually would live in Japan, away from his family, for 11 months of the year. As he became more loved by the Japanese, he became more hated by his own family. The best quote of the film is by one of his own sons who said, “I never met anybody who disliked him, other than the immediate family.” Intimate Stranger was made by Cassuto’s grandson Alan Berliner and is a great look at a man who busied himself too much with his career at the expense of those who should have loved him the most.

SCORE: 3 out of 5 stars

Film Review: The Sapphires — 3.5 stars


SUMMARY: Based on a true story, an Indigenous girls band from Australia earns the opportunity to travel to Vietnam to entertain the American troops during the war.

DETAILS: The Sapphires is That Thing You Do meets soul music and the Vietnam War. A group of Indigenous singers in Australia catch the attention of a makeshift music promoter (Chris O’Dowd) who helps them transition from country to soul music and take their show to Vietnam. Loosely based on a true story, their new manager secures an audition in Melbourne that will change their lives. The girl singers (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell) change their name to The Sapphires, and head to war-torn Vietnam to entertain the American servicemen. The Sapphires contains romance, laughter, and a fantastic soundtrack of 1960’s soulful music. The film deals with issues of race, belonging, and the universal language of music. Although I mentioned That Thing You Do to create a mental picture, this film doesn’t quite reach the same mark as that Tom Hanks classic. Ultimately, The Sapphires wants to soar at great heights, but instead settles for a low, but elegant glide across the screen… but regardless, this film does have a great soundtrack and is worth watching.

SCORE: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Film Review: La Ragazza del Lago (The Girl by the Lake) — 2 stars

ONE WORD REVIEW: Disappointing

SUMMARY: The body of a woman who everyone knew is discovered near an Italian lake and the small town investigator must determine who is guilty of the crime… but no one is talking.

DETAILS: Alright, let it be known that the only reason I watched this film is because I wanted to see Toni Servillo’s performance. I had enjoyed his acting in La Grande Bellezza and wanted to see some of his other films, but La Ragazza del Lago (The Girl by the Lake) left me disappointed on several levels. It’s the story of a woman’s body who is discovered naked, covered with a coat, by the lake in a small town in the Italian alps. The film begins with mystery and intrigue and the web is spun, but by the story’s end, you realize that most of the web was irrelevant. It just didn’t come together like it could have. Servillo’s performance is not up to his screen presence in La Grande Bellezza, but ultimately, this story just falls flat. Spend your 95 minutes on something more worthwhile.

SCORE: 2 out of 5 stars

Film Review: Man with a Movie Camera — 5 stars


SUMMARY: A celebration of modernism as seen through the eyes of a 1929 Soviet Silent Filmmaker.

DETAILS: Man with a Movie Camera is the most magical display of early filmmaking and avant-garde editing I have ever seen. A Russian film made in 1929 by Dziga Vertov, this silent picture celebrates machinery, industry, ingenuity, and beauty in ways no other film ever has. From weddings and divorces to funerals and childbirth we see the juxtaposition of emotion and imagery. It is certainly the earliest film about the art of filmmaking that I’ve seen and perhaps the first one ever made. It showcases the work and creativity of the Camera Man throughout the picture, even making him superhuman in a god-like scene where he looms like a giant above the city and the populace. There is also a special section featuring the film editor and her critically creative work. Man with a Movie Camera is edited amazingly well, with quick cuts, fast pacing, a beautiful images. Director Dziga Vertov was lightyears ahead of his time. I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves movies and especially to any student of film or any filmmaker. You won’t be disappointed.

SCORE: 5 out of 5 stars

Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs — 3 stars


SUMMARY: A rookie FBI agent must trust her instincts and a locked up psychopathic cannibal in order to prevent a another psychopath from killing again.

DETAILS: It’s hard to believe that an entire generation has grown up since The Silence of the Lambs was originally released. The story was so unbelievably frightening back in 1991… a cannibal named Hannibal Lecter that gets inside your mind and literally under your skin (Anthony Hopkins), a novice FBI agent who is uncertain about herself (Jodie Foster), and a plot involving suspense, the skinning of kidnapped humans, and a transsexual antagonist who lodges sphinx moths in the throats of his deceased victims. I remember seeing this film with my wife back in the 90’s. For years I could make the rat-like noise that Hopkins makes with his tongue repeatedly striking his teeth and it would freak my wife out and of course it would typically be proceeded by my best Hannibal Lecter impersonation, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” Unfortunately, time has passed and the world is literally a different place than it was in 1991. Perhaps the film was so shocking at the time, but we have all been so continually shocked since, that the film’s shock-factor has lost it’s punch. Perhaps there has been so much talk of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transvestites in recent years, that the antagonist is not nearly as “out there” any longer. Perhaps it’s that there are several scenes where the suspension of disbelief is not enough to justify the actions of the characters (i.e. how our heroine finds the murderer, how Lecter knows where to call her at graduation, etc.). Or perhaps it’s just simply because I knew how it was going to turn out. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards and winner of 5 including Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Hopkins), and Best Actress (Foster) this film is definitely worth watching… but it’s just not what it was back in 1991.

SCORE: 3 out of 5 stars
ACADEMY AWARD WINNER: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress

Film Review: Monica & David — 4 stars


SUMMARY: In spite of them both having Down Syndrome, Monica & David marry and start their lives together.

DETAILS: Monica & David have Down Syndrome… and yet they won’t let that stop them from being happily married. Although dependent on Monica’s mother and step-father, Monica & David begin their lives together and show us that love is so much more than what we typically expect it to be. The film covers the stresses of the first year of marriage including a big family move, David’s adjustment to diabetes, and the thought of losing those you love. We also see the struggles of their parents who ultimately fear the day when they are dead and gone and can no longer care for and protect the children they love so much. I watched this film because I have a 6 year old daughter with Down Syndrome and I often look into her beautiful blue eyes and wonder what her future will hold. I have 5 other kids who I know will do okay out in the world, but it’s my youngest, the one with Down’s that I worry the most about… and she’s only 6. Monica & David is uplifting and inspiring. I highly recommend this film because it will show you that just because someone has Down Syndrome, it doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams and aspirations. Monica & David captures the humor, the resilience, and the heart that is Down Syndrome.

SCORE: 4 out of 5 stars