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Wadjda-DVD Review *** 01/24/2015

Posted by Films to consider in Arabic language film, BAFTA Awards, Drama, Independent Spirit Awards, Light Drama, Movies, National Board of Review, Satellite Awards, Vancouver International Film Festival.
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Wadjda (Saudi Arabia) 2012 ***

Written and directed by Haifaa Al Mansour
Starring Waad Mohammed and Reem Abdullah

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Film-Non-English Language, BAFTA Awards
NOMINATED, Best First Feature, Independent Spirit Awards
NOMINATED, Best Motion Picture-International Film, Satellite Awards
WINNER, Freedome of Expression Award, National Board of Review, USA
WINNER, Most Popular International First Feature, Vancouver International Film Festival

Wajdja (Mohammed) is a feisty ten-year-old girl who attends a strict girls’ school in Saudi Arabia. Wajdja wants to get a bicycle, but her mother (Abdullah) patiently explains that girls aren’t supposed to ride bicycles.

When Wajdja, who is not a very dedicated student, hears about a prize competition at school, she is determined to win so that she can buy a bicycle for herself.

According to IMDB, Wajdja was both the first feature-length film set entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature-length film by a female Saudi director. The story, while set within such a conservative society, is lighthearted and often outright funny. Mohammed’s Wajdja is charmingly recognizable as a typical high-spirited and stubborn pre-teen girl.

Highly recommended. ***

98 min. Rated PG.

For more info:
Wadjda (Two Disc Combo: Blu-ray / DVD)

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Nebraska-DVD Review *** 11/23/2014

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, AFI Awards, American, Cannes Film Festival, Comedy, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, Light Drama, Movies.
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NEBRASKA (American) 2013 ***

Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and Will Forte

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Picture; Best Leading Actor (Dern); Best Supporting Actress (Squibb); Best Cinematography; Best Director (Payne), Best Original Screenplay, Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Picture; Best Actor (Dern); Best Supporting Actress (Squibb); Best Director (Payne), Best Screenplay, Golden Globes
WINNER, Movie of the Year, AFI Awards
WINNER, Best Actor (Dern), NOMINATED, Palme d’Or (Payne), Cannes Film Festival
WINNER, Best First Screenplay (Bob Nelson); NOMINATED, Best Feature; Best Director (Payne); Best Male Lead (Dern); Best Supporting Female (Squibb); Best Supporting Male (Forte), Independent Spirit Awards

When senile and curmudgeonly Woody Grant (Dern) becomes convinced that he must travel to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to claim the grand prize, neither his wife Kate (Squibb) nor his younger son David (Forte) can change his mind. David decides to take his father on a trip that includes a family reunion and a visit to the prize headquarters.

This film must have been up against some tough award competition; although it was nominated for many, it only won a few. Bruce Dern and June Squibb will surely remind you of some couple you know. Bob Odenkirk (lately of Breaking Bad fame) appears as the older son. Alexander Payne also directed Sideways and The Descendents.

*** Highly recommended.

114 min. Rated R.

For more info:
Nebraska

Fruitvale Station-DVD Review *** 09/04/2014

Posted by Films to consider in American, Based on true events, Cannes Film Festival, Drama, Emotional Drama, Independent Spirit Awards, Movies, Satellite Awards, Sundance Film Festival.
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Fruitvale Station (American) 2013 ***
Based on true events

Directed by Ryan Coogler
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, and Ariana Neal

Among other awards and nominations too numerous to list here:
WINNER, Un Certain Regard-Avenir Prize; NOMINATED, Golden Camera; NOMINATED, Un Certain Regard Award (All for Ryan Coogler), Cannes Film Festival
WINNER, Best First Feature (Coogler); NOMINATED, Best Male Lead (Jordan); Best Supporting Female (Diaz), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Breakthrough Performance Award (Jordan), Satellite Awards
WINNER, Audience Award-Dramatic; WINNER, Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic (both Coogler), Sundance Film Festival

At the end of 2008, Oscar Grant (Jordan) is a 22-year-old resident of the Bay Area who has had his share of ups and downs. He is determined to fix his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina (Diaz) and make a better life for his 4-year-old daughter Tatiana (Neal). But a trip to the city for New Year’s Eve turns tragic when a fight on the subway brings police, and Oscar and his friends get singled out as trouble.

Director Ryan Coogler based his telling of Oscar Grant’s story on personal interviews with family members and close friends. With a great cast that includes Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) as Oscar’s mother, the audience gets a balanced picture of a young man who’s charming but fits right into his tough environment. It’s frightening to see such a realistic portrayal of a situation escalating out of control, but a good reminder that it can happen anywhere, anytime.

Highly recommended.
85 min. Rated R.

For more info:
Fruitvale Station

Safety Not Guaranteed-DVD Review 05/24/2014

Posted by Films to consider in ALMA Awards, American, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Fantasy, Independent Spirit Awards, Romance, Romantic comedy, Sundance Film Festival.
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SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (American) 2012
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, and Karan Soni

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Favorite Movie Actress-Comedy/Musical (Plaza), ALMA Awards
NOMINATED, Most Promising Filmmaker (Trevorrow), Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
WINNER, Best First Screenplay (Derek Connolly); NOMINATED, Best First Feature, Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (Connolly); NOMINATED, Grand Jury Prize-Dramatic (Trevorrow), Sundance Film Festival

Darius (Plaza) is a lowly intern at a Seattle feature magazine. She volunteers to accompany coworkers Jeff (Johnson) and Arnau (Soni) to follow up on a quirky classified ad. As Darius gets to know its creator, self-proclaimed time traveler Kenneth (Duplass), she begins to question whether he is as delusional as everyone else thinks.

An unusual and enjoyable story. The movie was filmed in Seattle, with a low-key cast of actors who lend an unaffected charm to its telling.

86 min. Rated R.

For more info:
Safety Not Guaranteed

A Time for Drunken Horses – DVD Review *** 07/21/2013

Posted by dmbinder in Cannes Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Drama, Independent Spirit Awards, Kurdish language film, Movies, National Board of Review.
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A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES (Iranian) 2000 ***
Zamani barayé masti asbha

Written and directed by Bahman Ghobadi
Starring Ayoub Ahmadi, Rojin Younessi, Amaneh Ekhtiar-dini, and Madi Ekhtiar-dini

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, FIPRESCI Prize, WINNER, Golden Camera, both Ghobadi, Cannes Film Festival
WINNER, Silver Hugo-Special Jury Prize, Chicago International Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film, Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Freedom of Expression Award; WINNER, NBR Award-Top Foreign Films, National Board of Review, USA

In a Kurdish family living at the border between Iran and Iraq, 12-year-old Ayoub becomes the head of the household of four siblings when his father dies. His brother Madi is severely handicapped and needs immediate medical attention. Rojin, the older daughter, is forced into an arranged marriage in order to get the money for his surgery, but Ayoub chooses to enter the dangerous world of smuggling across the border.

It’s difficult to explain the story behind A Time for Drunken Horses without making it seem like something you might not want to watch. The film is commonly called heartbreaking (and it is), as viewers are given an intimate glimpse of life in this harshly beautiful area of the world. The children, who are not professional actors, will draw you immediately into their world of struggles and strengths.

I’ve also seen (and recommend) the very different 2009 film by director Bahman Ghobadi, called No One Knows About Persian Cats, about a band trying to leave Iran. I’ll post it sometime soon.

*** Highly recommended.

80 min. Not rated. Difficult subject matter.

For more info:
Time For Drunken Horses

Bernie-DVD Review 06/09/2013

Posted by dmbinder in American, Based on true events, Comedy, Crime, Golden Globes, Gotham Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Light Drama, Movies, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle Awards.
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Bernie (American) 2011
Based on actual events

Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Shirley MacLaine

Among other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Black), Golden Globes
NOMINATED, Best Ensemble Cast (McConaughey, Black, MacLaine; Best Film, Gotham Awards
NOMINATED, Best Feature; Best Male Lead (Black), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Top Ten Independent Films, National Board of Review
WINNER, Best Supporting Actor (McConaughey); Second Place-Best Actor (Black), New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Bernie Tiede (Black) moves to the small town of Carthage, TX and finds work at a funeral parlor. He proceeds to impress the entire town with his engaging and caring personality. He even wins over Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine) the wealthy, curmudgeonly widow of the bank president, a task that was thought to be impossible. But Mrs. Nugent gradually shows her true colors, and Bernie concludes that the way she treats everyone, including himself, is just not right.

A funny, documentary-style telling of events that surely fall into the category of “truth can be stranger than fiction.”

Jack Black especially amazes with his singing voice (who knew?), and Shirley MacLaine’s facial expression is spot on for her character.

99 min. Rated PG-13.

For more info:
Bernie

The Secret of Roan Inish-DVD Review 10/12/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Folktale, Independent Spirit Awards, Irish film, John Sayles, Light Drama, Movies.
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The Secret of Roan Inish (Irish/English) 1995
Island of the Seals

Directed by John Sayles
Starring Jeni Courtney and Pat Slowey

Among one award and several other nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Director (Sayles); Best Feature; Best Screenplay, Independent Spirit Awards

A little off the beaten path: a friend recommended this movie, which is a retelling of the Irish folktale about the island of Roan Inish, the island of the selkies – seals who are said to take human form. I enjoyed it much more than I expected.

Fiona, aged ten, is sent to live with her grandparents across from the island of Roan Inish that they (and she) used to call home. When she gets curious about the local legends about the island, she finds out about her own family history and about her baby brother.

Director Sayles tells the tale without being overly sweet or sentimental; credit in this respect should be also given to the young actress Jeni Courtney in her introductory role. Apparently, she did not go on to act in many other pieces (only three are listed on IMDb).

A great movie for kids and adults.

102 min. Rated PG.

Check it out on Netflix
or
Amazon: The Secret of Roan Inish

The Descendants-DVD Review 10/07/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, Light Drama, Young Artists Awards.
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The Descendants (American) 2011

Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Amara Miller

Among many other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Writing; Best Adapted Screenplay (Alexander Payne et al.); NOMINATED, Best Director (Payne); Best Picture; Best Leading Actor (Clooney), Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Clooney), NOMINATED, Best Director (Payne); Best Supporting Actress (Woodley); Best Screenplay, Golden Globes
WINNER, Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actress (Woodley); NOMINATED, Best Director (Payne); Best Feature, Independent Spirit Awards

WINNER-tied, Best Young Actress in a Feature Film (Miller), Young Artist Awards

When his wife has an accident that leaves her on life support, Matt King (Clooney) has to get more involved with the day-to-day lives of his two daughters (Woodley and Miller) while also dealing with the discovery that his wife had an affair.

The story takes place in Hawaii and ties in with Matt’s attempts to make a profitable land deal for his extended family members, who are heirs to a large parcel of beautiful and unspoiled land.

Despite its overriding premise, the film does have humorous moments. It was very well received at awards ceremonies (what I’ve listed above doesn’t begin to cover them). I thought it was very good (not great) and worth watching, especially for the scenery (which includes Mr. Clooney).

115 min. Rated R.

Check it out on Netflix
or
Amazon: The Descendants

The Last Station-DVD Review*** 07/29/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Based on a novel, Biographical, British, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Hessian Film Award, Highly recommended, Independent Spirit Awards, Michael Hoffman, Movies, Romance, Satellite Awards.
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The Last Station (British) 2009 ***
Based on Jay Parini’s 1990 novel, The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy’s Last Year

Directed by Michael Hoffman
Starring Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, and Paul Giamatti

Among other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Mirren); Best Supporting Actor (Plummer), Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Mirren); Best Supporting Actor (Plummer), Golden Globes
WINNER, Best International Literature Adaptation (Hoffman), Hessian Film Award
NOMINATED, Best Director (Hoffman); Best Feature; Best Female Lead (Mirren); Best Screenplay (Hoffman); Best Supporting Male (Plummer), Independent Spirit Awards
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (McAvoy), Satellite Awards

As renowned and beloved author Leo Tolstoy’s (Plummer) life approaches its end, unwanted drama surrounds him in the form of his family and associates. His associates aim to convince Tolstoy that, in his final will, his works should become the property of the Russian people; his passionate wife, Countess Sofya (Mirren), fears that she and her children will be left with nothing.

Plummer’s Tolstoy tries (but doesn’t always manage) to retain a sense of peaceful dignity as he contends with his distraught wife. Mirren’s Sofya pulls no punches with increasingly erratic behavior as she once again puts in an outstanding performance that makes this a film worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

112 min. Rated R.

Check it out on Netflix
or
Amazon The Last Station

The Messenger-DVD Review *** 06/17/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Berlin International Film Festival, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Drama, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Gotham Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Oren Moverman, Samantha Morton, San Diego Film Critics Society Awards.
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The Messenger (American) 2009 ***

Directed by Oren Moverman
Written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
Starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, and Samantha Morton

Among many awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson); Best Original Screenplay (Camon and Moverman), Academy Awards
WINNER, Peace Film Award (Moverman); Silver Berlin Bear-Best Screenplay (Camon and Moverman); Golden Berlin Bear (Moverman), Berlin International Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson), Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson), Golden Globes
NOMINATED, Breakthrough Award (Foster), Gotham Awards
WINNER, Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson); NOMINATED, Best First Feature; Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actress (Morton), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Best Supporting Actress (MORTON); 2nd PLACE-Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson); NOMINATED, Best Actor (Foster), San Diego Film Critics Society Awards

Returning from Iraq, injured and with three months of service left, Will Montgomery (Foster) gets assigned to Casualty Notification and is paired up with career officer Tony Stone (Harrelson), a recovering alcoholic. Their job is to inform the next of kin, in person and as soon as possible, when a loved one has been killed in the line of duty. The range of emotions they must deal with in the family members corresponds to the range of emotions they must face in themselves.

As noted above, Woody Harrelson received much-deserved acclaim for his role as the tough-minded captain trying to break in the new messenger. I also thought Ben Foster did an outstanding job as the younger, more vulnerable, and, in some respects, more mature Will Montgomery.

Highly recommended.

112 min. Rated R. Adult themes.

Check it out on Netflix
or
Amazon The Messenger