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Into the Wild-Movie Review *** 10/13/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, American, Based on true story, César Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, David di Donatello Awards, Drama, Emotional Drama, Golden Globes, Highly recommended, Movies, National Board of Review, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Young Artists Awards.
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INTO THE WILD (American) 2007 ***
Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless
Adapted from the book by Jon Krakauer

Screenplay written and directed by Sean Penn
Starring Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, and Hal Holbrook

Into the Wild received many awards and nominations, too numerous to list here.

In the early 1990s, Christopher McCandless graduates from college but does not follow the path to law school that his parents (played by Harden and Hurt) expect. Instead, he takes all the anger he feels toward his dysfunctional family and escapes from civilization, intending to live totally in the wild, completely untethered to society. Renaming himself Alexander Supertramp, he does so – for a time.

Outstanding cinematography and performances by respected actors make this a film definitely worth seeing. Hirsch does a superb job of balancing anger toward his parents and openness to life. Hal Holbrook plays a kindly grandfatherly type who is one of several interesting people who cross Alexander’s path. A young Kristen Stewart, who appears as a brief romantic interest, shows her singing ability.

Author Jon Krakauer has authored other bestselling books about the wilderness, including Into Thin Air, about climbing Mt. Everest. McCandless himself left behind photographs and journals. For a wealth of related information and links, check here.

Highly recommended. (#170 on IMDB’s Top 250)

149 min. Rated R.


City of God-Movie Review *** 03/16/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Academy Awards, Action/Thriller, Autobiographical, Based on true story, British Independent Film Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Ciinema Brazil Grand Prize, Crime, Independent Spirit Awards, Toronto International Film Festival.
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City of God (Brazilian/Portuguese) 2002 ***
Cidade de Deus

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Paulo Lins
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Starring Alexandre Rodrigues and Leandro Firmino da Hora

Among many other wins and nominations :
NOMINATED, Best Cinematography; Best Director (Meirelles); Best Film Editing; Best Adapted Screenplay, Academy Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Film, British Independent Film Awards
WINNER, Best Foreign Language Film-Brazil, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
WINNER and NOMINATED in many categories, Cinema Brazil Grand Prize
NOMINATED, Best Foreign Film (Meirelles), Independent Spirit Awards
WINNER, Visions Award-Special Citation (Meirelles), Toronto International Film Festival

The story follows a few decades of boys growing up in the drug-infested world of one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (shanty towns). Most will eventually take their places as thieves and killers. L’il Dice (Firmino da Hora) gets a taste for killing early on. He earns the name L’il Z and becomes an undisputed drug lord given to unpredictable acts of violence. Rocket (Rodrigues) narrates the film. Watching the inaction and corruption of the police, he wants no part of the gang violence that surrounds him – he wants to become a photographer.

Watch the Special Features for a look at some footage that shows how true-to-life the film is. There is a followup DVD based on a television series called City of Men that I also recommend – more to follow in another post.

Highly recommended.

130 min. Rated R. Violence and drug use.


Kabei: Our Mother-Movie Review *** 07/09/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Drama, Emotional Drama, Japanese language film, Movies.
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Kabei: Our Mother (Japanese) 2008

Among other nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Yoshinaga), Asian Film Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Yoshinaga); Best Director (Yamada); Best Screenplay (Emiko Hiramatsu and Yoji Yamada) and several other nominations, Awards of the Japanese Academy
NOMINATED, Golden Berlin Bear (Yamada), Berlin International Film Festival

Directed by Yoji Yamada
Starring Sayuri Yoshinaga, Tadanobu Asano, Mirai Shida, Bando Mitsugoro, Rei Dan, and Miku Sato

In Tokyo in 1940, writer and scholar Shigeru Nogami (Mitsugoro) is arrested and accused of “thought crimes.” His wife Kayo (Yoshinaga) must take care of their two daughters, the thoughtful Hatsuko (Shida) and the spunky Teruyo (Sato). As war begins and her husband remains in prison, Kayo tries to keep a cheerful home and optimistic attitude for the girls.

A touching and uplifting story, with some lighthearted moments. Highly recommended.

Director Yoji Yamada previously worked with famed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. Kabei is based on the memoirs of Japanese novelist Teruyo Nogami, who also worked with Kurosawa as script supervisor on some of his earlier films.

133 min. Unrated. Adult themes, but suitable for older children.


The Last Stage-Movie Review *** 03/21/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Drama, Movies, Polish language film, World War II.

The Last Stage (Polish) 1948/2010
Ostatni Etap

Winner, Crystal Globe (Writers Jakubowska and Schneider), Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Nominated, Best Film, BAFTA Awards

Directed by Wanda Jakubowska
Written by Wanda Jakubowska and Gerda Schneider
Starring Edward Dziewonski, Tatjana Grojecka, Antonina Gordon Gorecka, Barbara Drapinska, Aleksandra Slaska

A black and white film about Auschwitz, based on true events and filmed soon after the happenings that are recorded. The film was recently rediscovered and released on DVD.

A group of women imprisoned in the Nazi camp band together to survive. One of the women, Marta Weiss (Drapinska), has been selected to act as interpreter.

The film is based on events in the life of director Wanda Jakubowska, who was imprisoned in a concentration camp. Considering how closely this film was to the actual events, the story is even more powerful and moving.

105 min. Unrated. Adult themes.


Milk-Movie Review 02/14/2011

Posted by Films to consider in American, Based on true story, Biographical, Movies.
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Milk (American) 2008

Among many awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Penn); Best Writing-Screenplay Written for the Screen (Black), Academy Awards
Nominated in 6 other categories, including Best Director; Music; Screenplay; Supporting Actor (Brolin); Motion Picture, Academy Awards

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black
Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Alison Pill, and Diego Luna

Based on the true story of Harvey Milk, the charismatic man who was the first openly gay to hold public office in a big city when he was elected City Supervisor in San Francisco in the turbulent 1970s. The film starts with a recording made by Milk and meant to be listened to in the event of his assassination. It then backtracks several years to show how he moved to San Francisco, and how he got involved in issues in his local community, and then in broader issues having to do with gay rights and human rights.

Once again Sean Penn impresses me with his acting ability. He transforms himself physically, not just through his facial expression and personality, but even in the way he carries himself. I recently watched I Am Sam (2001) and although I found fault with other performances in that film, his portrayal of a mentally retarded man was exceptional.

Gus Van Sant also directed Paranoid Park (see my review of that) and Good Will Hunting.

I also watched the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk afterward (see below for info). This film, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1985, contains actual footage of Harvey Milk but doesn’t cover as much about his personal relationships. It also follows up on the trial, verdict, sentencing, and eventual suicide of Dan White, the former city supervisor who shot and killed Milk and San Francisco Mayor Moscone, and the violence that erupted after his sentencing.

129 min. Rated R. Some sexual content and violence.

For the documentary:
The Times of Harvey Milk (20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition)

The Farewell-Movie Review 01/24/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Biographical, German language film, Light Drama, Movies.
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The Farewell (German) 2000
Abschied – Brechts letzter Sommer

Directed by Jan Schütte
Written by Klaus Pohl
Starring Josef Bierbichler

The peculiar, emotional, and sometimes amusing dynamics of the “extended family” of famous playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht (Bierbichler) during what turns out to be one of the last days of his life in 1956.

Included in the menagerie that surround him at his vacation cottage are his wife and daughter, his assistants, his current and former mistresses, and a philosopher/political activist about to be arrested for treason along with his wife (who is also a lover of Brecht). Plans to return to Berlin that day are underway so that Brecht can rehearse one of his plays. Although his health isn’t good, he continues to write through all the activity and tensions around him. And, most especially, he wants his missing hat.

More psychological portrait of an artist than action-oriented plot.

91 min. Not rated. Some nudity.



The Wind That Shakes the Barley-Movie Review 10/20/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Drama, Irish film, Movies.
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The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Irish) 2006

Winner, Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival

Directed by Ken Loach, written by Paul Laverty
Starring Cillian Murphy as Damien and Pádraic Delaney as Teddy

In Ireland in 1920, citizens have started taking a stand against the British crown by fighting for the right to create an Irish Republic. The British fight back, using raids, torture, intimidation, and murder.

The O’Donovan family in County Cork has two sons: the younger one is Damien, who studied to be a doctor and plans to practice in London; the elder is Teddy, who is already in command of the local unit of the newly-formed Irish Republican Army.

Damien witnesses two violent events that change his mind about the course of his life; he joins his brother and becomes a respected member of the unit. As the fighting escalates, the brothers are faced with growing differences in their views about its purpose. What one considers an acceptable treaty with the British, the other sees as intolerable surrender of the goal of complete Irish independence. Finally, each brother must make a terrible decision.

According to Wikipedia, this film “set a record in Ireland as the highest-grossing Irish-made independent film ever.”

127 min. Not rated. Violence.

La Vie en Rose-Movie Review 08/04/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Biographical, Drama, French language film, Movies, Musical.
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La Vie en Rose (French) 2007

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Actress (Cotillard), Academy Awards
Winner, Best Actress (Cotillard), Musical, Golden Globes

Directed by Olivier Dahan
Starring Marion Cotillard, who also stars in the 2010 film Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Based on the troubled life of Edith Piaf, a French singer popular during the 1940s and 50s. Piaf’s voice and style of singing is full of emotion and immediately recognizable.

Most of the accolades about this film center around the performance by Marion Cotillard, specifically her immersion into the role of Piaf, as Cotillard transformed herself into the singer’s emotional and, it almost seems, physical presence. Those accolades are well deserved, but I found myself reacting to her portrayal of Piaf with mixed (ultimately positive) feelings.

There are apparently many versions of Piaf’s life story. The diminutive (4′ 8″) singer, who was known as the “little sparrow,” had a terrible young life, growing up mostly on the streets of Paris in dismal circumstances. She certainly made the best out of the gift of her powerful voice, overcoming various physical ailments as well. As her fame grew, however, Piaf was shown displaying the mercurial temperament of “une artiste,” and she lost my sympathy for a time. But as soon as another of her moving songs was included, I forgot about her outbursts and simply enjoyed.

140 min. Rated PG-13.


The Motorcycle Diaries-Movie Review 07/22/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Biographical, Light Drama, Movies, South American/Spanish language film, Spanish language film.
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The Motorcycle Diaries (South American/Spanish) 2004

Directed by Walter Salles
Starring Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna

In the early 1950s, an unlikely pair of friends leave Buenos Aires for a trip across the South American continent on a rickety old bike, “two lives running parallel for a while.” One is easygoing Alberto Granado, a biochemist whose only goal is to finish the journey on his 30th birthday. The second is the studious Ernesto (“Che”) Guevera, an asthmatic med student with a special interest in leprosy research. Their itinerary will take them from Buenos Aires to the Guajira Peninsula in Venezuela, with a stop at the San Pablo leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon.

With a backdrop of spectacular scenery, the film follows the pair’s many mishaps and adventures, some serious and some amusing, and portrays Guevara’s growing awareness of the plight of the poor on the South American continent, which contributed to his later political choices. Based on the true story, and including entries from Guevara’s diaries. Be sure to watch the Special Features, which includes photos and an interview with Granado.

126 min. Rated R.

Munich-Movie Review 07/13/2010

Posted by Films to consider in American, Based on true story, Israeli language film, Movies, Thriller.
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Munich (American/Israeli) 2006

Among other awards:
Nominee, Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay, Academy Awards
Nominee, Best Director; Best Screenplay, Golden Globes
Best Actor (Eric Bana), Australian Film Institute

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Based on the book Vengeance, by George Jonas.

The film follows a plan to take revenge for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Recruited to lead the five-man squad of assassins is former Golda Meir bodyguard Avner (played by Eric Bana), a young man dedicated to the cause of his Israeli homeland. After the squad carries out some successful executions, a couple of Avner’s own men get killed and one commits suicide. He becomes increasingly (and understandably) paranoid that he, his wife, and baby daughter are targets of the enemy.

I especially liked Bana’s performance as Avner tries to balance his desire for revenge with his increasingly emotional reactions to his assignment.

164 min. Rated R. Note: There is a lot of bloody violence and many explosions.