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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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Saving Mr. Banks-DVD Review *** 11/06/2014

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Based on true events, Empire Awards, Golden Globes, Irish Film and Television Awards, Light Drama, Movies, Satellite Awards.
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Saving Mr. Banks (American) 2013 ***
Based on real events

Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, and Colin Farrell

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Actress (Thompson), Empire Awards, UK
NOMINATED, Best Original Score, Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress-Drama (Thompson), Golden Globes
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actor-Film (Farrell), Irish Film and Television Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Thompson); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hanks); Best Motion Picture, Satellite Awards

In the early 1960s, Walt Disney (Hanks), at the helm of the successful Disney Studios, is determined to fulfill a promise made to his daughters: that he will make a movie of their favorite book, Mary Poppins. Used to getting his way, he sets out to convince the stubborn author, P. L. Travers (Thompson), to give him the rights, pledging that the musical he has planned will honor her story. As negotiations continue, flashbacks reveal the author’s less-than-perfect childhood that inspired the tale.

I was prepared to merely “like” this movie but found that I truly enjoyed it. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson play off each other very effectively as Disney vs. Travers. Colin Farrell does well as Miss Travers’ charming but ne’er-do-well father, who encourages his young daughter’s flights of fancy. Note that the end credits have actual tapes from the negotiations and meetings that mirror what is shown in the film.

Highly recommended. ***

125 min. Rated PG-13.

For more info:
Saving Mr. Banks

The Butler-DVD Review 09/22/2014

Posted by Films to consider in American, BAFTA Awards, Based on true events, Drama, Emotional Drama, Historical Drama, Image Awards, Movies, Satellite Awards.
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The Butler (American) 2013
aka Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Based on true events

Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Elijah Kelley, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Supporting Actress (Winfrey), BAFTA Awards
NOMINATED, Outstanding Male Actor-Lead (Whitaker); Outstanding Female Actor-Supporting (Winfrey), Screen Actors Guild Awards
WINNER, Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture (Whitaker); Outstanding Supporting Actor (Oyelowo, Howard, and Gooding); NOMINATED, Outstanding Motion Picture; Outstanding Supporting Actress (Winfrey)
Outstanding Writing (Danny Strong); Outstanding Directing (Daniels), Image Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Whitaker); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Winfrey), Satellite Awards

Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) grows up in the deep South, where he is given the chance to be a house servant instead of working in the fields. He excels and makes his way North; he is eventually hired as one of the White House butler staff. Cecil serves through eight presidencies, often putting the needs of his job above those of his wife, Gloria (Winfrey) and sons. The film follows Cecil through the turbulent decades of the Civil Rights movement, which causes estrangement between Cecil and his older son Louis (Oyelowo), and the Vietnam War, which takes the life of his younger son Charlie (Kelley).

The screenplay is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House from 1952-1986.

132 min. Rated PG-13.

For more info:
Lee Daniels’ The Butler

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

Animal Kingdom-DVD Review *** 06/25/2014

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Action/Thriller, Australian, Australian Film Institute, Australian Writers Guild, Chlotrudis Awards, Golden Globes, Movies, Satellite Awards, Sundance Film Festival, Suspense.
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ANIMAL KINGDOM (Australian) 2010 ***

Written and directed by David Michôd
Starring Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Ben Mendelsohn, and Sullivan Stapleton

Among many other wins and nominations (too many to list; here are just the wins from one):
WINNER, Samsung Mobile AFI Award for Best Film (Liz Watts); Best Direction (Michôd); Best Lead Actor (Mendelsohn); Best Lead Actress (Weaver); Best Supporting Actor (Edgerton); Best Editing (Luke Doolan); Best Original Music Score (Antony Partos, Sam Petty); Macquarie AFI Award for Best Original Screenplay (Michôd), AFI Members Choice Award (Liz Watts); Readers’ Choice Award (Liz Watts), Australian Film Institute

When teenager Josh “J” Cody’s (Frecheville) mother dies from a heroin overdose, he gets reacquainted with the rest of her family. And what a family it is. Grandmother Janine (Weaver), who is affectionately referred to as Smurf, is the matriarch. She has three sons, each of whom is in his own way a hardened criminal. Janine herself will stop at nothing to keep her family together.

A very suspenseful thriller from start to finish. Jacki Weaver, who might be familiar from her role as a very different mother, Dolores in Silver Linings Playbook, gives a chilling performance as a mother who is overly involved in her sons’ lives. Director Michôd has a more recent film, The Rover, which has received excellent reviews from viewers.

Highly recommended for a good action thriller.

113 min. Rated R.
For more info:
Animal Kingdom

The Big Lebowski-DVD Review 04/20/2014

Posted by Films to consider in Action/Thriller, American, Berlin International Film Festival, Comedy, Dark Comedy, Empire Awards, European Film Awards, Joel Coen, Movies, Satellite Awards.
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The Big Lebowski (American) 1998

Written by Joel and Ethan Coen
Directed by Joel Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore

Among other awards and (mostly) nominations:
NOMINATED, Golden Berlin Bear (Coen), Berlin International Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Film (Coen), Empire Awards, UK
Nominated, Screen International Award (Coen), European Film Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actor-Comedy or Musical (Bridges); Best Supporting Actor (Goodman); Best Supporting Actress (Moore), Satellite Awards

The Dude (Bridges) likes his lifestyle on the casual side. For him, smoking pot and bowling with his friends describes a typical good day. But it turns out his real name, Jeffrey Lebowski, is the same as that of a very rich and powerful guy. Because of a mixup the Dude gets involved in a kooky kidnapping scheme, when all he wants is his rug back. It really ties the room together.

If you haven’t seen this movie–or haven’t seen it for a while–it’s definitely worth a look. The dialogue, while replete with foul language, is non-stop funny.

119 min. Rated R (Language, drug, sexuality, and violence)

For more info:
The Big Lebowski (Widescreen Collector’s Edition)

Kon Tiki-DVD Review *** 11/11/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Adventure, Amanda Awards, Based on true events, European Film Awards, Golden Globes, Movies, Norwegian Int'l Film Festival, Norwegian language film, Palm Springs International Film Festival, Satellite Awards.
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Kon Tiki (Norwegian) 2012 ***
Based on true events, as also recorded in a book and documentary film by Thor Heyerdahl.

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring Pal Sverre Hagen and Odd Magnus Williamson

Click here for IMDB’s complete list of awards and nominations
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes

Very interesting and engaging story of a real-life adventure, undertaken by a group of Norwegians (and one Swede) led by Thor Heyerdahl. In 1947, with little to no experience on the open seas, they set out to prove Heyerdahl’s idea that the Polynesian Islands were long ago populated by people from Peru.

The men construct a raft using mostly methods and materials thought to be used by Peruvian sailors 1500 years ago. After sailing nearly 5,000 miles westward across the open waters of the Pacific Ocean, they make landfall in Polynesia after 101 days. They survived against some incredible odds, and their story has become a legend in Norway and elsewhere.

I watched the Norwegian version of the film, but there is an English version, which in this case I suggest watching. The English subtitles left something to be desired, and I had to keep stopping the movie to read them. The Special Features are worthwhile mostly for some interviews with Heyerdahl and with people who knew him.

Look for the original documentary created by Thor Heyerdahl, which includes actual footage shot on board the raft. This film won an Academy Award in 1951. Although the documentary gives the impression that they did not have much in the way of difficulties, the later film (and apparently the book, which I have not read) understandably shows otherwise.

Highly recommended.

118 min. Rated PG-13.

For more info (this is the English language version):
Kon-Tiki

A Royal Affair-DVD Review *** 10/28/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Based on true events, Bodil Awards, César Awards, Danish language film, Drama, Emotional Drama, European Film Awards, Golden Globes, Historical Drama, Movies, Philadelphia Film Festival, Romance, Satellite Awards.
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A ROYAL AFFAIR (Danish) 2012 ***

Directed by Nicolaj Arcel
Starring Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard

Among many other awards and nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Academy Awards
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, César Awards

Based on true events during the reign of Denmark’s King Christian VII (Følsgaard). When young Princess Caroline (Vikander) is “imported” from England to become his queen, it soon becomes apparent that the king is not in his right mind. Queen Caroline and the king’s German doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mikkelsen) fall in love, and together they try to put things right in the country.

Mads Mikkelsen adds a gentler touch to his character than might be expected from some of his other roles, and Alicia Vikander has a regal presence befitting her role of queen. But it is Mikkel Følsgaard who deserves special mention; in his first movie role, he plays a complicated, increasingly manic character, who is nominally in charge of an entire country’s fate.

Highly recommended if you like this kind of movie (and I do). ***

138 min. Rated R.

For more info:
A Royal Affair

Café de flore-DVD Review *** 03/19/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Atlantic Film Festival, Drama, Emotional Drama, French (Canadian) language film, Genie Awards, Highly recommended, Jean-Marc Vallée, Jutra Awards, Movies, Romance, Satellite Awards, Toronto Film Critics Association Awards, Vancouver Film Critics Circle.
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Café de flore (Canadian/French) 2011 ***

Written and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Vanessa Paradis, Evelyne Brochu, Hélène Florent, Kevin Parent, and Marin Gerrier

Among other wins and nominations:
WINNER, Best Canadian Feature, Atlantic Film Festival
WINNER, Best Leading Actress (Paradis); NOMINATED, Best Director (Vallée); Best Motion Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Gerrier); Best Supporting Actress (Florent); Best Screenplay (Vallée), Genie Awards
WINNER, Best Actress (Paradis); Best Cinematography; NOMINATED, Best Director (Vallée), Jutra Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Florent), Satellite Awards
NOMINATED, Best Canadian Film (Vallée), Toronto Film Critics Association Awards
WINNER, Best Canadian Film (Vallée); Best Supporting Actress (Florent); NOMINATED, Best Actress (Paradis); Best Director, Vancouver Film Critics Circle

Café de flore is a somewhat complicated story, the result of two intertwined, and seemingly unrelated, tales about love from different time periods. In one, in late 1970s Paris, a young woman struggles to raise her Down Syndrome son; in the other, a modern Montreal family copes with the parents’ split and the father’s new marriage.

I admit that for a time I mostly stuck with the film because of the great soundtrack, and the way the director beautifully juxtaposed scenes from the two time periods. Eventually the story did make enough sense to make the watching more than worthwhile.

Acclaimed actress Vanessa Paradis (who plays the mother in the earlier time period) is a popular French singer/actress who lived with Johnny Depp for a number of years (they have two children). I recently saw her in the just-okay French comedy Heart Breaker.

Café de flore is the only film credited to the remarkable, award-winning young Marin Gerrier, who portrays her son.

Highly recommended.

120 min. Rated R.

For more info:
Cafe De Flore DVD

White Material-DVD Review 11/11/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, French language film, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics Awards, Satellite Awards, Venice Film Festival, Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards.
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White Material (French) 2009
The Criterion Collection

Directed by Claire Denis
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Isaach De Bankolé, and Nicolas Duvauchelle

WINNER, Top Five Foreign Films, National Board of Review, USA
THIRD PLACE, Best Foreign Language Film (Denis), National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Satellite Awards
NOMINATED, Golden Lion (Denis), Venice Film Festival
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Language Film, Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards

As civil unrest invades the countryside, Maria Vial (Huppert), a headstrong but not totally rational white woman, is determined to remain on the African coffee plantation that has been in her family for generations.

Isabelle Huppert is physically slight and somewhat vulnerable-looking; her portrayal of Maria Vial combines that appearance with an inner strength that inexplicably refuses to acknowledge the very real physical and emotional dangers facing herself and her family. At times the story does seem disjointed and confusing; this I think is mostly because there are so many different factions active, and the story covers a very short span of time (about two days). Still, Huppert’s performance (as well as those of the other actors named above) definitely makes it worthwhile watching.

105 min. Not rated. Adults and older teens.

Check it out on Amazon: White Material (The Criterion Collection)
or
Netflix