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: 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: Boyhood — 4.5 stars


SUMMARY: Boyhood captures the growing up years of Mason Evans, Jr. and shows us how messy life can be… in a whole new way.

DETAILS: Boyhood is a coming of age story that is told in a whole new manner. One of the beautiful elements of this film is that it was shot over a twelve year period using the same actors throughout, so literally we watch our protagonist age before our very eyes. The film begins when Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is six and ends on his first day of college life. In those growing up years we see divorces, remarriages, family moves, the loss of friends and the making of new ones, teenage struggles, and the guts of what blended families can look like. It’s a sad story on many levels as father figures come and go from Mason’s life and yet his real father (Ethan Hawke) is always there for weekend visits, regardless of what disaster is going on in Mason’s homelife. Mason’s mother (Patricia Arquette – Academy Award Winner for Best Actress in a Supporting Role) does her best to better herself along the way through education and trying to marry good men, but the baggage they bring is always a new form of disfunction; drinking, rage, intolerance, control, etc. The film shows the ugly side of divorce, failed marriages, blended families, and broken homes in a powerful way and yet it also shows us that the bloodline that runs from mother and father to son is often the only thing that can hold us together. Nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture, the film is 2 hours and 45 minutes, but it didn’t feel long. We get to know our characters in ways that traditional motion pictures can only attempt to do through makeup and the artificial aging of characters. Boyhood shows hairstyles, weight gains, weight losses, growth spurts, pimples, and facial hair like no other film has ever done… because it’s what the actors brought with them to the set year after year of production on this epic film. Written and Directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood is a well done, unique film that is truly one of a kind and worthy of viewing.

SCORE: 4.5 out of 5 stars
ACADEMY AWARD – Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Patricia Arquette)

Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark — 4.5 stars


SUMMARY: Archaeologist Indiana Jones races to find and secure the lost ark of the covenant before the Nazi’s use it to conquer the world.

DETAILS: This film in many ways is timeless. Although it was originally released in 1981 the story and the storytelling still hold up amazingly well. Harrison Ford plays Henry Walton Jones, Jr. (aka Indiana Jones) in this film that re-defined adventure films for a new generation. Indiana Jones is a tireless, adventure seeking archaeologist who is deathly afraid of snakes and who only wants his discoveries to benefit his university’s museum. Jones learns of a search in Egypt for the lost ark of the covenant. This ark is the Biblically described, gold-plated, acacia wood chest that held the stone tablets of the 10 commandments, Aaron’s rod (that continually budded), a jar of manna (the daily food God provided for the Israelite’s in the wilderness), and the first Torah scroll that was written by Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament). The only thing standing between Jones and the ark is an army of Nazi’s that are trying to find it first in an attempt to secure victory for Hitler. This film is a fantastic Steven Spielberg and George Lucas collaboration and Harrison Ford does an amazing job creating adventure character that will out live all of us. Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for 9 Academy Awards in 1982 including Best Picture and it won 4 (Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects). One of the reasons this film is timeless is that it was created as a period piece set in the 1930’s and as such it didn’t suffer from the stylistic and musical trappings of 1980’s filmmaking. The only piece of this film that screams 1980’s are the melting effects of the evil characters at the end of the story. Although they were brilliantly created and amazingly well done, the effects available today certainly make these appear dated. Regardless, this classic is definitely worth watching. Introduce it to your teenagers. You won’t regret it. By the way, this film was originally released as Raiders of the Lost Ark and then as the franchise took off it was later re-released as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

SCORE: 4.5 out of 5

Film Review: La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) — 3.5 stars


SUMMARY: An aging socialite realizes that the social scene he rules leaves him wanting a greater beauty.

DETAILS: Winner of the 2013 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, La Grande Bellezza tells the story of Jep Gambardella (wonderfully played by Toni Servillo). Jep is an aging socialite who rules the night life in Rome, but when he turns 65 he begins to realize that there is much more to life than the social scene he helped build. He discovers that his first love from his youth has died. She had married and spent her life with another man but, unbeknownst to anyone but her diary, she secretly longed for Jep. This begins Jep search for a greater beauty in this wonderful world. Beautifully shot on Italian locations, La Grande Bellezza contains subtle echoes of the book of Ecclesiastes… simple hints that “all is vanity”. There is a good bit of female nudity throughout this 2 hour and 20 minute production, but the film is enjoyable and one that even though I didn’t feel like I “got it”, I didn’t want the credits to roll. I was enjoying my time in Jep’s world and I was captivated by Toni Servillo’s performance. I will definitely track him down in other films.

SCORE: 3.5 out of 5 stars
ACADEMY AWARD: Best Foreign Language Film

Film Review: Antonia’s LIne — 3.5 stars


SUMMARY: Antonia returns to her small, Dutch community of quirky, wonderful characters where she leaves a legacy of love and laughter in the midst of life’s pains.

DETAILS: Winner of the 1995 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Antonia’s Line shows the connectedness of family and community and the lineage we leave behind. Following World War II, Antonia and her daughter return to the village of her birth. The cast of this film is filled with wonderfully, quirky characters who breathe much life into the first half of this film. As the film progresses we see that Antonia and her line do not really need men (other than for occasional sex). Antonia ages throughout the story and we eventually see her line develop. The film is rated R for a reason, but the fun, quirky characters make this a fun film to watch.

SCORE: 3.5 out of 5

Karakter (Character) — 4.5 out of 5 stars


SUMMARY: A bastard child is strengthened by every opposing move his father makes

DETAILS: 1920’s Netherlands is the beautiful backdrop for this film about a boy who’s mother was impregnated by the town’s oppressive bailiff. The story begins with the death of the father on the day the son becomes a lawyer and the son his the last to see his father alive… a bloody visit where we don’t know all the details. The story then takes us back in time as we learn of the boy’s origins, his struggles to make a life for himself, his mother’s continual rejection of his father, and his father’s continual attempts to make life difficult for his own son… a conflict designed to build Character.

This film won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1997.

SCORE: 4.5 out of 5


Born Into Brothels — 3.5 out of 5 stars

Good look into the lives of children of the brothels. A woman comes alongside them a teaches the love of photography. One student stands out with his passion and skills.

SCORE: 3.5 out of 5