Saturday, January 31, 2015

2014 Denny Awards - Pt 3 - Most Compelling Performances (Female)

Part 3/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards).

Part I - Best Films
Part II - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Female)


CHILD (female)
    Most Compelling:

              Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie in Annie [2014].  Okay, it's not the traditional Depression Era "Orphan Annie" or of the 70s-era musical (still set during the Great Depression).  However, by moving the story to the present day and turning the precocious vaguely Irish looking Orphan Annie into a precocious African American "Foster Kid" Annie the story IMHO did gain a greater bite / relevance.
    Honorable Mentions:
              Anastasija Marčenkaitė [IMDb] as 10-12 year old Stalin era Lithuanian deportee Mariya in The Excursionist (orig. Ekskursantė) [2013].  The film, primarily a Lithuanian production with some fairly famous Russian actors/actresses costarring, follows the story of the fictionalized 10-12 year old finding her way back to her village in Lithuania from Siberia after her mother died.
                Ana from Trip to Timbuktu (orig. Viaje a Tombuctú) [2013] first a child and then young adult growing-up in Lima, Peru during the Shining Path insurgency of the 1980s-90s.
               Valeria Conejo [IMDb] and Aura Dinarte [IMDb] in Red Princeses (orig. Princesas Rojas) [2013] as two sisters, Claudia and Antonia, 10 and 8 years old, daughters of increasingly disillusioned Sandinista "believers" from Costa Rica during the Contra Wars in Nicaragua during the 1980s. The film is about the family's return to Costa Rica and the two daughters' reintegration into (regular) Costa Rican society after having lived most of their early lives in pro-Communist Sandinista Nicaragua. 
                Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana) in The Book of Life [2014] a children's animated film about the Mexican Day of the Dead (Nov 2).
                Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) in the children's animated film How to Train Your Dragon 2 [2014].
                Anfisa Vistingauzen [IMDb] []*[]* as the adorable 8-10 year old "Ksyusha" whose parents are contemplating divorce in the Russian disaster film Metro (orig. Метро) [2013].  This is something that the always Russians did really, really well (even in the Soviet Era).  The little kids in their films are almost always _adorable_.  

TEEN (female)
    Most Compelling:

                    Anoushka Medina as Crystal in the Romeo & Juliet based For Love in the Caserio (orig. Por Amor en el Caserío) [2013] set in the Caserio projects of San Juan, PR.
    Honorable Mentions: 
                    Shailene Woodley as Tris the principal heroine in the film Divergent [2014] (based on the post Apocalyptic teenage girl oriented book series by the same name).
                    Shailene Woodley as teenage cancer patient Haze Tarlan Parvaneh [IMDb] [Cin] [SC]*l in the weepy teenage/cancer patient romance The Fault in our Stars [2014].
                    Azul Zorrilla as Carla in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors [2013] the 15 year old older sister of her 12-year-old and moderately autistic brother, who since the family's poor, Hispanic and probably undocumented and both parents work, she's often primarily responsible for.
                   Farzana Dua Elahe as Mahira the happy-go-lucky 15 year old headscarf wearing daughter in the Pakistani/Indian Muslim immigrant family around which the film The Hundred Foot Journey [2014] is built.
                     Tarlan Parvaneh [IMDb] [Cin] [SC]* as Negin in The Wedlock (orig. Zendegi Moshtarak-e Aghaye Mahmoodi va Banoo) [2013] as the gum-chewing, pink iPod listening Tehran-born/living 14 year old having a blast watching her more conservative stay-at-home mom and her hipper, more liberal "career woman" home decorator cousin (both are educated) argue about "her future" ;-).
                   Haley Steinfeld as Violet in Begin Again [2014], the awkward teenage child of divorce who still loves both of her parents even though they had smashed their marriage.
                    Shiela Vand as "the Girl" a slight/demure/NOT AT ALL "attention-grabbing" Iranian vampire dressed generally in slacks, a smart if ever understated black-and-white thin-striped shirt, and generally covered with a chador in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night [2014].  NO ONE _ever_ seems "to see her coming" as she walks the streets of her dusty Iranian town, swooping down then to "deal out vengeance on the guilty."  She also has _a really cute cat_ ;-). 
                   Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the continuing post-Apocalyptic teenage girl oriented saga Hunger Games: Mocking Jay - Part 1 [2014].
                   Lorelei Linklater as Mason, Jr's a few years older sister Samantha in Boyhood [2014], the remarkable film of the current year that was filmed with the same cast over a span of 10 years to follow Mason, Jr and his sister growing up, again as "regular children" (of divorce).  

YOUNG ADULT (female)
     Most Compelling:
                     Anastasia Dumitrescu [IMDb] []* in the title role of Christina in Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013], possibly the classiest / most demure / sexiest female zombie/vampire EVER.  Set in Romania of the 1920s, think "Anna Karenina" / "a flapper" but ... dead ;-).  Yes, the Romanians show the world how vampire story-telling is done ;-)
     Honorable Mentions: 
                      Keira Knightly as the musician Greta in Begin Again [2014] who gets dumped in possibly the worst possible way by her (also musician) boyfriend as soon as he gets the slightest whiff of fame.  What now?
                     Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle in Belle [2013], the early 19-century mixed race daughter of a British sea captain and an African slave, whose country gentleman uncle who raised her ended up being instrumental (as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales) in bringing the end to the Slave Trade.
                     Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed a 20-something young woman who took the loss of her mother to cancer really, really hard and finally decides to "walk herself into becoming once again the woman her mother thought she was" in Wild [2014]
                    Marion Cotillard [IMDb] []* as Sandra, a young wife and mother, already struggling with depression in Two Days, One Night (orig. Deux Jours, Une Nuit) [2014] who's given the weekend by her boss to convince her coworkers to keep her on (at essentially their expense ...).  Seems hopeless, but her husband (out of concern for her) asks her to try anyway.
                     Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde-Hawking, the (ex)wife of world-renowned theoretical physicist but also ALS suffering Steven Hawking, in The Theory of Everything [2014].
                     Pantea Bahram [Cin] [SC]* as Rashan, a Tehran elementary school teacher, in the film The Bright Day (orig. Rooz-e Roshan) [2013] who takes it upon herself to try to prove the innocence of the father of one of her students in a murder that he probably didn't commit of the son of a fairly powerful/well connected family.
                     Dandara de Morais [IMDb] [] as Shirley an Afro-Brazilian 20-something in August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] who's returned "from the city" (probably Salvador but it could be Sao Paulo) to take care of her grandmother in a small hamlet by the sea in NE Brazil where time seems to stand still (and doesn't seem to mind).
                     America Ferrera as Helen the still young (early-mid 30 something) wife of Hispanic Civil Rights legend Cesar Chavez in the biopic, Cesar Chaves [2014], yet the mother of their 6-7 children that they had together.   IMHO she absolutely NAILED the role of being a young Hispanic mother trying to "keep order" _with love_ over so many many kids even as her husband (_also_ a good guy) was "often away."
                     Ana from Trip to Timbuktu (orig. Viaje a Tombuctú) [2013] first a child and then young adult growing-up in Lima, Peru during the Shining Path insurgency of the 1980s-90s.
                     Agata Buzek [IMDb] []* as Kasia, a young Polish, educated, faithful, young adult in Foreign Body (Obce ciało) [2014] who's found a boyfriend, Mario, while in Italy but also feels that God may be calling her to be a nun.  A surprisingly intelligent film about discernment.
                     Zoe Kazan as amiable, ever smiling, (super) well organized, 20-something, professional, Chantry in What if... [2014], who finds that the heart has to play a role if one's gonna keep being amiable, and ever-smiling through life.  A great relationship flick.
                     Gugu Mbatha-Raw as 20-something hip-hop superstar Noni with a pushy mother in Beyond the Lights [2014] who has to figure out what's real.

ADULT (female)
    Most Compelling:

                      Julianne Moore as Alice in Still Alice [2014], whose first 50 years of life have been more-or-less wonderful -- great husband, three grown children, one already married, a great career -- and then she finds that she has early onset Alzheimers...
    Honorable Mentions:
                       Paulina Garcia [IMDb] []* in the title role of Gloria [2013], a long divorced (over 10 years) late 40s-early-50 something woman from Santiago, Chile whose kids have grown, long-since moved out, and kinda think of her as a fossil (when they think of her at all).  But she's "not dead yet" ;-).  Her role is positively inspirational for those who fear that they may be already dead. 
                       Luminiţa Gheorghiu [IMDb] []* as Emilia and Agata Kulesza [IMDb] []* []* as "Red Wanda" in I'm an Old Communist Hag (orig. Sunt o babă comunistă) [2013] and Ida [2013] respectively, two strong women who don't necessarily remember Communism to have been completely bad.
                        Petra Špalková [IMDb] [CSFD]* as Karla in Like Never Before (orig. Jako Nikdy) [2013], the 40-something once "muse", since "long-time companion" (though never getting around to getting married) of "a famous artist" named Vladimir, 25 years her senior.  Vlad's now dying of lung cancer and she's realizing that when he dies, she's going to be "out on the street." 

ELDER (female)
    Most Compelling:

                        Oprah Winfrey as Rosa Parks-like character Annie Lee Cooper in Selma [2014] who just got tired of living her entire life in and around Selma, Alabama without ever being allowed to vote for/against the public officials that would greatly effect the destiny of her life.
    Honorable Mentions:
                        Bharati Achrekar as "Auntie" who, living in the apartment above her (lead character) niece in The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013], we never see but always has a lot of pretty good, gentle advice.
                        Stanisława Celińska [IMDb] []* as the Mother Superior in the film Foreign Body (Obce ciało) [2014] who quite serenely helps the young adult Kasia discern her vocation.  When Kasia expresses her fear that she'd disappoint the Mother Superior if she chose to leave the Convent the Mother Superior responds to her very nicely: "Kasia, my dear, the heavens and the earth will not come to an end if you decide not to become a nun."  
                        Raisa Ryazanova* [IMDb] []* as Baba Nadya a lovely Russian Orthodox woman living in Siberia who initially saves the 12 year old Lithuanian girl Mariya from certain death by the elements in The Excursionist (orig. Ekskursantė) [2013] and then helps set her on her way back home to Lithuania.

HERO / VILLAIN (female)
    Most Compelling:

                    Shailene Woodley as Tris the principal heroine in the film Divergent [2014] and probably the nicest / gentlest (even though she becomes a warrior) of the teenage heroines in the current wave of combative "post-Apocalyptic" teen oriented tales that are so popular in the U.S.A. these days.   
    Honorable Mentions:
                    Shiela Vand as the seemingly "inconsequential" / almost invisible "young Iranian vampire in a chador" in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night [2014] who nonethless quitely deals out vengeance on the guilty as she walks the streets of her dusty Iranian town at night.
                    Anastasia Dumitrescu [IMDb] []* as the truly "hot" (seductive) Romanian Vampire Christina in Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013].  She'd bring the downfall of many, many young men, AND YET THERE'S ALSO A "BACKSTORY" WITH HER AS WELL.
                     Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss continuing in The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay - Part 1 [2014] the original (re)incarnation of the "Joan of Arc" archetype in the current wave of "post-Apocalyptic" teen oriented tales that are so popular here these days.  Still hers remains a compelling (and positive) character.
                     Jennifer Lawrence as the shape-shifting Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past [2014].  It's an interesting (and very evocative) survival strategy.
                     Agnieszka Grochowska [IMDb] []* as Kris the principal villainness / seductress in Foreign Body (Obce ciało) [2014].  Raised in Poland by a Communist, aunt she becomes a confused Darwinistic Capitalist / radical Feminist after the edifice of the Communist ideology fell.  But her basic problem appeared to be "how to make a mark" in a world that she's going to participate in for only 20-30-40 years (of a 60-80 year lifespan) and then "disappear", that is, eventually die (like her aunt did). It's a rather frustrating proposition to be an ambitious materialist ...

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2014 Denny Awards - Pt 2 - Most Compelling Performances (Male)

Part 2/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films

Part II - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Female)

CHILD (male)
    Most Compelling:

             Félix Bossuet [IMDb] []* as the initially orphan boy Sébastien in Belle and Sebastian (orig. Belle et Sébastien) [2013] [IMDb] []* who along with Belle, a big furry sheepdog (also initially "a stray"), team-up to take on the Nazis in a French Alpine town somewhere near the Swiss border in possibly the cutest Resistance movie EVER.

    Honorable Mentions:
              Noah Wiseman as Samuel 7 y.o., rather "hyper" / "with a very active imagination," probably A.D.D. in the Australian low budget children's thriller / scary  / horror movie The Babadook [2014].

TEEN (male)
    Most Compelling:

               Toni Revolori as the young "lobby boy" Zero Mustafa in The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014].  We've all "been there" as we've all had to start life / adulthood "somewhere."  Though "Zero's" life was by no means without tragedy, he was fortunate at least to have run into such useful /  interesting mentor.
    Honorable Mentions:
               Ellar Coltrane as the central character, Mason, Jr, in Boyhood [2014], who we watch "grow-up" in this very, very unique movie, filmed with the same cast over 10 years.
                Jesus Sanchez-Velez as Ricky, Jr, in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors [2013] a 13-y/o Hispanic boy, moderately autistic, living with his family in Rockaway Beach, NY, near the subway stop ...
                Tomasz Ziętek [IMDb] []*, Marcel Sabat [IMDb] []*, et al as Rudy, Zośka, et al, in Stones for the Rampart (orig. Kamienie na szaniec) [2014], members of a POLISH BOYSCOUT GROUP that fought as part of the Polish Home Army resistance during WW II.  This was the "Red Dawn" movies but FOR REAL.
               Dylan O'Brian as the central character, Thomas, in The Maze Runner [2014], probably (IMHO) the most interesting of the boy-oriented "post Apocalyptic" book series made into movies during these past few years.

     Most Compelling:
               Filip Pławiak [IMDb] []* as the late-teen/young adult Adam Sikora in One Way Ticket to the Moon (orig. Bilet na Księżyc) [2013] representing ALL THE YOUNG PEOPLE ACROSS COMMUNIST-ERA CENTRAL / EASTERN EUROPE WHO OFTEN FOUND THAT THEY HAD TO "GROW-UP REALLY FAST" in order to find freedom or even to save their lives.  
     Honorable Mentions:
                Geová Manoel dos Santos [IMDb] []* as Jeison in August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] an Afro-Brazilian young man living in a small coastal village in North-Eastern Brazil living with very few possessions and also very, very few cares in the world.
                 Zenzo Ngqobe as the listless / unemployed J-burg, South Africa residing 20-something Joseph / Atang Mokoenya who is asked by his father to bury him to back in their home country of Lesotho in The Forgotten Kingdom [2013]
                 Daniel Radcliffe as good/patient guy Wallace in the Rom/Com What If ... [2013].
                 Riccardo Leonelli [IMDb] []* as Angelo in Foreign Body (Obce ciało) [2014] an Italian young adult / professional in love with a Polish young woman his age who he met as part of one or another Catholic Young Adult Movement existing these days.  She, however, is not sure, wondering if she's being called by God to be a nun.  He, both quite nicely and perhaps QUITE HEROICALLY ... WAITS.  An excellent film about a young Catholic man who's trying very hard to be true to his faith.

ADULT (male)
    Most Compelling:

                  Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) [2014] an actor who's become famous (and lived off the fame) for playing a cartoonish superhero Birdman "CAAAW..." and is really desperate to reinvent himself and be(come) taken  seriously as a (serious) actor. 
    Honorable Mentions:
                   Kevin Kline as Matthias Gold in My Old Lady [2014] a 50 something serial loser who's never amounted to anything in life who finds to his surprise that his dirt-bag (yet far more successful) father had bequeathed him an apartment in Paris, 'cept (of course) there's "a catch."  But the catch, of course, proves interesting.
                     Ethan Hawke as the father in Boyhood [2014] who had to "grow" himself over the years to become a father worthy of the name.

ELDER (male)
    Most Compelling:
                     Brendan Gleeson as Fr. James in the Graham Green-like story Calvary [2014].  Sentenced to die in a weeks time by an anonymous voice in the Confessional one Sunday morning, he spends the rest of his time, doing exactly what he's always done in the rural Irish coastal town where he's been parish priest -- simply continuing to "mind the flock" even if it's not necessarily all that grateful.   
    Honorable Mentions:
                       Patrick Stewart and y Ian McKellen as the aging rivals in the Marvel comics based X-Men: Days of Future Past [2014], seeking to "set things right" for future generations before they pass.
                        Irrfan Khan as Saajan Fernandez, older, always probably somewhat stiff and perhaps overly-proper, but now also, recently, widowed in The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013], whose life gets unexpectedly interesting again when the wrong lunch box arrives at his desk one day at his office in Mumbai.  But, of course, that lunchbox was intended for someone else ... A great story about the challenges of "doing the right thing" at any age ... 
                       Robert Duvall in the title role in the film The Judge [2014] about a judge in a small town in Southern Indiana who's tried to live life in an ordered and honest way and has sought to teach this to his children (now grown) and grandchildren.
                       J.K. Simmons as the "mentor figure" Fletcher in Whiplash [2014], who will truly stop at nothing to "leave a mark" in his students.

    Most Compelling:                       

                Tomasz Ziętek [IMDb] []*, Marcel Sabat [IMDb] []*, et al as Rudy, Zośka, et al, in Stones for the Rampart (orig. Kamienie na szaniec) [2014], members of a POLISH BOYSCOUT GROUP that fought as part of the Polish Home Army resistance during WW II.  Again, this was about the heroism of the "Red Dawn" films but FOR REAL.
    Honorable Mentions:
                  Brendan Gleeson as Fr. James in Calvary [2014].  No matter what others may do, one can still live honestly and in peace with God and (most of) his people.
                  Robert Duvall in the title role in The Judge [2014].  Again, honestly has its rightful place of honor.
                  J.K. Simmons as the "mentor figure" Fletcher in Whiplash [2014].  Nothing justifies destroying OTHER PEOPLE for an ideal.  One should "work on oneself" first.
                   Bradley Cooper as U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle in American Sniper [2014] if nothing else, a complex (hence compelling) hero.  He saved a lot of people by killing a lot of other people, in a mission that wasn't entirely honest to begin with (the people that he killed had their point of view / and often patriotism as well).
                   Luke Evans as Vlad the Impaler in Dracula Untold [2014].  Vlad arguably sold his soul to the Devil to try to protect his people from the Ottoman Turk invaders. 

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2014 Denny Awards - Part 1 (Best Films)

Part 1/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films of 2014
Part II - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles  (Female)

       Best -         
             Chef [2014] - R (strange rating, probably for lang.) - 4 Stars - apparently a single work / kitchen scene with a lot of bad words gave this movie an R rating but otherwise this film is about as family oriented as it gets.  The father must choose between his career and his 10 y/o son and ... comes to choose wisely ;-)
       Honorable Mentions -
              Rio 2 [2014] - G / A-I - 4 Stars - no questions here.  A technically excellent and reliably safe family oriented movie here about a family of ... parrots ;-)
              Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - continues and with Robin Williams' passing probably brings to an end another excellent family friendly film built around a father and son relationship.
               Cantinflas [2014] - PG - 4 Stars - lovely family oriented Hollywood movie, fully bilingual, about comic genius / "Mexico's Charlie Chaplin" Cantinflas and who, despite being "a star" was also a family man.
               Belle and Sebastian (orig. Belle et Sébastien) [2013]  - (UR would be PG) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Lovely film but probably will never be seen most American kids because, well ... it's IN FRENCH ;-).  It's about an orphan kid, Sebastian, who gets taken in by a nice family and who, along with his lovely sheep dog Belle (also a originally a stray) "work together" then to "fight the Nazis"  Never has the Resistance been SOOO cute ;-).
               The Babadook [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - a different kind of "family oriented movie" but honestly with the exception of _really small kids_ probably _the best_ "really scary movie" that the whole family could enjoy to come out in a long, long time.  About a "story book monster" named "Mister Babadook" who knocks on the door "Duk - Duk - Duk" and if you let him in, he'll NEVER, EVER LEAVE ;-)

        Best - 
              Divergent [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - honestly in good part about a family with maturing teens in very stressed (indeed "post-Apocalyptic") circumstances that still finds a way to "work together."
        Honorable Mentions -  
              Stand Clear of the Closing Doors [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - 3 1/2 Stars - a family, Hispanic, probably undocumented, has to ALSO deal with a 12-y/o moderately autistic son.
              The Hundred Foot Journey [2014] - PG / A-III - 4 Stars - Pakistani / Indian Muslim family living in England moves to France so that the oldest son could pursue career as a chef.
              Chef [2014] - R (strange rating, probably for lang.) - 4 Stars - See above

BEST INTERGENERATIONAL FILMS (Best Family Centered Films for Adults) -
         Best -
               Still Alice [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - 50-yo univ. prof with loving husband, three grown kids comes down with early onset Alzheimers.     
         Honorable Mentions -
               Boyhood [2014] - R / L - 4 Stars - intergenerational "phenom" certainly one of the best American pictures of the year, but despite its title is really aimed at an adult intergenerational audience. 
               Cinemanovels [2013] - R - Canada (subtitled at times) - 3 Stars - An adult daughter working to forgive her beloved "national icon" father, now deceased, who she remembers as having abandoned her and her mother for "HIS muse" / "love of HIS life" when SHE was child.
               Colette [2013] - UR (would be R) - Czech Rep (Eng. dubbed) - 3 1/2 Stars - a very poignant and different kind of Holocaust movie - No "Bielski brothers with guns" here. Mom/Dad, Grandma/Grandpa, honestly, how did you survive the Holocaust?
               Gloria [2013] - R - Chile (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - In case you think your 50 y/o mom is already "dead" / "not worthy" of (much further serious) consideration ;-).
               My Old Lady [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - 50-something, never made much of himself son confronting the legacy of his far more successful but otherwise generally dirt-bag, now deceased father.
              The Forgotten Kingdom [2013] - UR (would be R) - South Africa / Lesotho (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Listless 20-something son living in J-burg (in the city) must go back to Lesotho (in the country) to bury his father.
              The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013] - PG - India (subtitled at times) - 4 Stars - an inter-generational "love story" (of sorts) built around the simple misdirection of a single lunch box in sprawling Mumbai one day.
              The Theory of Everything [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - the story of renowned theoretical physicist Steven Hawkins and his wife / family that's taken care of him.
              Wild [2014] - R - Drama - 3 1/2 Stars - a young lost woman decides to "walk her way back" to being the woman her beloved mother thought she was.

         Best -
               Big Hero 6 [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - a little boy must learn to be nice even if he wants to turn the inflatable / balloon-like robot that his older brother left him into a "Iron-Man" like "superhero" ;-)
         Honorable Mentions -
                The Lego Movie [2014] - PG / A-I - 4 Stars - just an unbelievably cute movie with little other social value (besides its unbelievable cuteness ;-)
                 Annie [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - remake of the musical "Annie" but set in the present day rather than during the Depression Era.  The movie's still cute but also with more of a bite.
                 The Book of Life [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - lovely "Halloween"-like movie based on the traditions of the Mexican "Day of the Dead" (Nov 2).

         Best - 
               Guardians of the Galaxy [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Probably the funnest teenage oriented movie of the year.  Soon after a little boy's mother dies (of cancer), he's "abducted by aliens." Life's never the same, but IT IS ... interesting ;-).
         Honorable Mentions -
               Dracula Untold [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - The (mostly true) story of Vlad the Impaler who made a "deal with the Devil" to (try to) save his people.
               The Maze Runner [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - probably the best of the boy oriented "post apocalyptic" thrillers being written and made into movies these days.
               Stones for the Rampart (orig. Kamienie na szaniec) [2014]- UR (would be R) - Poland (subtitled) - 4 Stars - kinda like the "Red Dawn [2012] [1984]" movies but FOR REAL.  About A BOY SCOUT TROOP that fought with the Polish Resistance (Home Army) during WW II.

         Best -
                Divergent [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Probably the best of these teen-oriented post-Apocalyptic sagas put on the screen as of now.
         Honorable Mentions -
                The Fault in Our Stars [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - She's got cancer, he's got cancer, but they're in love.  A great sappy teenage drama / love story.
                 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1 [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - another of the teen-oriented post-Apocalyptic series (pt 3/4), one that IMHO is improving with each installment.

        Best -
                  Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb [2014] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - a blissful run through so many historical (and prehistorical ;-) figures in so little time and an invitation to study them all.  The link to wikipedia is right here ;-)
        Honorable Mentions -     
                  Belle [2013] - PG - 3 1/2 Stars / The Invisible Woman [2013] - R - 3 Stars - the two invisible English women of the 19th century, one black, one white, but both with their place in history. 
                  Colette [2013] - UR (would be R) - Czech Rep (Eng. dubbed) - 3 1/2 Stars - A story of survival INSIDE Auschwitz. //  Aftermath (orig. Pokłosie) [2013] - UR (would be R) - Noir-ish Historical Drama about Holocaust secrets that remain in the Polish countryside - 4+ Stars  
                  Selma [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars - not perfect but L.B.J.'s _good name_ with live and the point of demonstrations at Selma were not about LBJ but about the 20-30 million African Americans who finally got their constitutional right to vote back.
                  Cesar Chavez [2013] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - Lovely dramatization of CATHOLIC, Hispanic, Migrant Workers' Rights advocate Cesar Chavez. 

                  Dracula Untold [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - so you wonder why the Balkans are such a mess.
                  The German Doctor (orig. Wakolda) [2013] - UR (would be R) - Argentina (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Historical drama about Nazi War criminal Joseph Mengele's time in a notorious town in Argentina's Patagonia region.
                    Generation War (orig. Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter) [2013] - UR (would be R) - Historical Drama - 4 Stars - Two part movie / originally a miniseries about 5 young Germans (one Jewish) who "came of age" during WW II.
                    Words and Pictures [2014] - PG-13 - 2 1/2 Stars  - fun teen accessible film that asks the question what's more important / impactful: "words" or "pictures."  

         Best - 
                     A Dream of Iron (orig. Cheol-ae-kum) [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - South Korea (subtitled) - 3 Stars - a visual reflection about Man and his Mastery of the Environment
         Honorable Mentions -
                     August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] (UR would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4 Stars - a "small, personalist film" about a young Afro-Brazilian couple living in North Eastern coastal Brazil.  How much does one really need to be happy?
                     Citizenfour [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Documentary made in real time about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as he leaked information about the extent of NSA surveillance of the American / World's population.  It may all be needed to frustrate deeply hidden terrorist plots, but IMHO he was right, we do need to at least discuss it / give some kind of societal consent.
                      Repentance [2014] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - African American drama / thriller that asks the question of what truly constitutes "repentance."
                      Two Days, One Night (orig. Deux Jours, Une Nuit) [2014] - PG-13 - Belgium/France (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Reminds us of the question: What are the values/benefits of work?   It is only about monetary compensation that we get from it, or are there other values/benefits to work?
                      Words and Pictures [2014] - PG-13 - 2 1/2 Stars  - fun teen accessible film that asks the question what's more important / impactful: "words" or "pictures."   And ALSO asks if "a teacher that is flawed can still have a (POSITIVE) impact?"

         Best -
                     August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] (UR would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4 Stars - fascinating film centered on a young Afro-Brazilian couple living in North Eastern coastal Brazil.
         Honorable Mentions 
                     Locke [2013] - R - United Kingdom - 4+ Stars - at the end of work one day, a civil engineer, Locke, decides the time has come to come straight / fix his life.  Two hours of "hands-free" cell phone conversations (all while driving) follow ;-)     
                     The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013] - PG - India (subtitled at times) - 4 Stars - a LOVELY story build around the mis-delivery of a single lunch box to an office worker in sprawling Mumbai one day. 
                     The Stranger by the Lake (orig. L'inconnu du Lac) [2013] - UR (would be R / NC-17) - France (subtitled) - 3 Stars - an excellent gay-themed film / thriller that simply takes place alongside a random lake somewhere in rural France during the summer.
                     My Old Lady [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Just a well staged, well acted, tight little (family) drama that honestly keeps you guessing all the way to the end.
                     Two Days, One Night (orig. Deux Jours, Une Nuit) [2014] - PG-13 - Belgium (subtitled) 4 Stars - A woman who had been on extended sick-leave (for depression...) is given a weekend by her boss to convince her coworkers to take her back (at their expense).
                     A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - Horror / Drama - 4 Stars - possibly the coolest vampire movie in long, long time, and without need of a lot of special effects.
                     The Babadook [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - Great "really scary movie" / "horror film" that reminds us again that a lot special effects are _not_ necessary to scare the daylights out of us if the story is good ;-)

            Best -
                      The Song [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 4+ Stars - IMHO the most creative of the year's openly religious films, basically retelling the story of the Biblical King Solomon but setting it in the present day: The son of a flawed but beloved "country music legend" (named David King ;-), sets out to "step out of the shadow" of his sooo famous dad.  Many personal adventures, trials and tribulations ensue ...                       
            Honorable Mentions -     
                       Calvary [2014] - R / L - Drama - 4+ Stars - Graham Greene-like story of an Irish priest who is "sentenced to die in a week's time" by a penitent he encounters in the Confessional one Sunday morning.  Why?  For the sins of other priests in the Church's present-day sexual abuse crisis.  The film then follows the priest over the week that follows as "the clock ticks down..."
                        Son of God [2014] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - the "Gospel portion" of the History Channel's The Bible [2013] TV Series released as a stand-alone movie.  Viewers who know and enjoy the Bible will enjoy how the film-makers apply the Scriptures in the film.  Also IMHO the best/most credible/balanced portrayal of Mary Magdalene in recent film.
                        Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago [2013] - UR would be PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - a documentary that follows six different "pilgrims" and pilgrims who set out to walk the Camino de Santiago de Campostella one recent summer.
                         Leviathan (orig. Левиафан) [2014] - R - Russia (subtitled) - 3 Stars - A powerful Russian film challenging the (in this case, Russian Orthodox) Church to stand up and _become_ what it would like itself to be: "the conscience of the people."  The film includes a telling reference to the notorious protest made by Pussy Riot at a Moscow cathedral some years ago.

            Best -
                           Begin Again [2014] - R / A-III - 4 Stars - One of the best young-adult post-breakup movies ever made.
            Honorable Mentions - 
                           What If [2014] - PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars - Excellent RomCom on the value of friendship before "jumping in the sack."
                            Life After Beth [2013] - R - 3 Stars - Fun RomCom about someone having trouble "letting go" even after ... she's DEAD ;-)            
                            Foreign Body (Obce ciało) [2014] - UR (would be R) - Poland/Italy (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Polish film by a fairly famous director about two young adults (she even seriously discerning if she'd want to be / was being called to be a nun) who _do_ "actually believe."

            For the Cinematography -
                     Best -
                             The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] - R / A-III - 1 1/2 Stars (w. expl.)- created a stunning, uniquely stylized storybook "European lost world"
                     Honorable Mentions -
                              Miss Christina (orig. Domnisoara Christina) [2013] - UR (would be R) -  Romania (subtitled) - 4 Stars - a ROMANIAN "vampire movie" ;-) / rarely did a vampire look _so good_ ;-)
                             Sin City: A Dame To Kill For [2014] - R / O - 2 Stars w. Expl. - made in high contrast B&W, the film looks honestly like a moving graphic novel. 
                             A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [2014] - R - Iran-Exiles (subtitled) - 4 Stars - again filmed in high contrast B&W one of the _coolest_ looking films of the year.
                           A Dream of Iron (orig. Cheol-ae-kum) [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - South Korea (subtitled) - 3 Stars - the awesomeness of the imagery lends support to the argument that we (humanity) are really coming to "plant our flag" / dominate this world.
                             The Stranger by the Lake (orig. L'inconnu du Lac) [2013] - UR (would be R / NC-17) - France (subtitled) - 3 Stars - the lovely laziness of the imagery here helps one to feel like one's "on vacation" as well
                             Mr. Turner [2013] - R - 2 1/2 Stars - some of the landscape shots honestly look like the paintings made by the artist.
                             Repentance [2014] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - filmed out in New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou and one honestly feels that one is there.
                             Nightcrawler [2014] - R / L - 3 1/2 Stars - filmed almost entirely at night the cinematography expresses perfectly the creepiness of the film  
                             Big Eyes [2014] - PG-13 - 1 Star w. Expl. - again, the cinematography makes one feel like one has entered the hyper-real comercial "Andy Warhol"-ness of the time and place (San Francisco in the 1950s-early 60s) portrayed.
                           300: Rise of an Empire [2014] - R / L - 2 stars - made in a high contrast stylized manner, again the "hyper-reality" makes you feel like you are _right there_ 
                            Dracula Untold [2014] - 3 1/2 Stars - stylized cinematography makes one feel the Balkan Christians' pain during that extremely difficult time of the Ottoman invasions.
                             Hercules [2014] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - again the stylized cinematography makes one feel that "one is there" with "Herc and his crew" in ancient Greece
                             The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies [2014] - PG-13 / A-II - 3 Stars - a "final ticket to Middle Earth" for a while.  If you like this kind of world, it has been one heck of an enjoyable ride ;-)
            For Originality / Tightness of Story -  
                      Best -  
                             Boyhood [2014] - R / L - 4 Stars - American indie film, filmed with the same principal cast over the course of 10 years to tell the story of a typical American boy growing-up
                     Honorable Mentions - 
                            Locke [2013] - R - 4+ Stars - follows the story of middle-aged man/civil engineer making some fairly key decisions about his life while "commuting home" one evening and placing the key cell-phone calls to the key players as he drives. 
                            The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] - R / A-III - 1 1/2 Stars - tells basically the story of "the lost Hapsburg Empire" of Central Europe in a very interesting/visually stylized sort of way. 

                            My Old Lady [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - originally a stage play, tells the story of a 50 or so year old man confronting (and being confronted by) the legacy of his far more successful but also problematic and, more to the point, recently deceased, father
                            The Lunchbox (orig. Dabba) [2013] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - tells the story of an entire romance of sorts, caused by the random misdirection of a lunch box delivered to the wrong person one afternoon in Mumbai.
                            Tricked (orig. Steekspel) [2012] - PG-13 - 3 Stars - a Dutch film that was recently assembled in ten 4 minute segments over the span of a year by a national television audience writing-in its suggestions as to how the story should proceed after each successive 4 minute segment was made and aired on Dutch TV.                  
                            Repentance [2014] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - a tight African American centered "indie film" set in New Orleans and the Louisiana Bayou that asks some fairly universal questions about repentence and atonement for a single tragedy / crime.
                            August Winds (orig. Ventos de Agosto) [2014] (UR would be R) - Brazil (subtitled) - 4 Stars - again a tight little story about a young couple living out their lives in a small, random coastal hamlet in North Eastern Brazil where time like everywhere else passes but also like everywhere else almost imperceptibly. 
                           The Babadook [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - a great little "scary movie" for the whole family that reminds viewers again that a good scary story need not involve complex special effects.

            Best -
                      Citizenfour [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - documentary about the motives / actions of former NSA contractor / leaker Edward Snowden
            Honorable Mentions -
                       The Fourth Partition / Czwarta Dzielnica [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - 3 1/2 Stars - Excellent Chicago based documentary about Poland's immigrant community in Chicago in the late-19th and early 20th centuries and its contributions both to the building-up of the United States into the modern industrial state that it became and to the creation of a modern independent Poland following WW II.
                       Life Itself [2014] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - lovely documentary about the life and especially the final years legendary Midwestern / Chicago film-critic Roger Ebert
                       A Dream of Iron (orig. Cheol-ae-kum) [2013] - UR (would be PG-13) - South Korea (subtitled) - 3 Stars - a visual reflection on Humanity's ever increasing dominance over Nature.
                       The Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (orig. небесные жены луговых мари) [2012] - a documentary of sorts organized around some 20 or so folk tales of the Meadow Mari (a Finno-Ugric people) living on the banks of the central Volga.  The Maris are called "the last authentic pagans of Europe" and as such offer anthropologists today a window into the practices of pre-Christian Europe.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Black or White [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

BET coverage
TheSource coverage

Black or White [2014] (screenplay and directed by Mike Binder) is IMHO yet another film that's actually _better_ than it may seem at first.  However since it is about race, I do believe it would have benefited from clearer African American input, that is, it would have benefited if the writing credits had included an African American voice and perhaps if an African American had served as co-director.

I write this because as good, even excellent, as the film is _in parts_, it's obvious at the end of the day that the film was made by a white people, perhaps by _very well-meaning_ white people, but by white people nonetheless.  Why?   Without revealing how this story ends (and it's not easy to do so here), I'm more or less certain that if the film's "writing team" had included an African American or two it would have ended differently.

YET THERE ARE GOOD / THOUGHT PROVOKING CHALLENGES to both African American and white viewers in this story about two grandparents Elliot Anderson, white (played by Kevin Costner), and Rowena (Weena) Jeffers, black (played by Octavia Spencer) fighting over custody of their 7-8 year old mixed race grand-daughter Eloise Anderson (played by Jillian Estrell).

But then why is the film about TWO GRANDPARENTS, one black one white, fighting over a granddaughter?  Where are THE PARENTS of Eloise?

Well Eloise's mother, white, (Elliot and his wife's daughter), died in childbirth because she was 17 at the time and had run-away / sought shelter from her parents because she knew that the father Reggie Davis (played by André Holland), 23, was black and feared what her parents would do if/when they found out.  Eloise's father, Reggie (Rowena's son), was also out of the picture because as a troubled, fatherless youth (his dad was shot and killed when he was young), he's spent most of Eloise's 7 years of life in jail for stupid/directionless crimes of a troubled young person -- drugs, assault/battery, etc.

Upon hearing of their daughter's death and their grand-daughter Eloise's birth, Elliot and his wife took Eloise in and raised her.  But it was pretty clear fairly early in the film that Elliot's wife did most of the raising.

Things would have continued on this way, with Elliot and his wife raising their mixed race grand-daughter as their own and only a very peripheral presence of Rowena and her large African American family, if not for the sudden death of Elliot's wife due to a car accident at the beginning of the story.   With Elliot's wife's death, Rowena becomes concerned that Eloise not be simply abandoned to her white grandfather who Rowena frankly doubted had the capacity to raise her well.

Why?  Well the families _did_ (come to) know each other over the years.  Elliot it turned out did know, quite well, where in South Central Los Angeles Rowena and her family lived.  And Rowena's family did clearly know him -- as perhaps the "somewhat arrogant white guy" who probably did the driving when he and his wife did _very occasionally_ take their grand-daughter down to Rowena and her family so that she could see them.  And Rowena would have known that Elloit's wife would have been doing most of the raising of Eloise anyway.  Finally, Rowena may have honestly mistrusted men.  After all, Reggie's father (her previous husband/boyfriend), had been killed for unknown reasons earlier, and Reggie himself had (even by her own estimation) not turned out well.  Finally, she would have seen Elliot's non-involvement in Eloise's upbringing prior to his wife's death.

So ... there it is.  Rowena's concern for her grand-daughter is initially dismissed out-of-hand by Elliot.  BUT Rowena and her family were _more_ than just "Reggie" and even more than just "Reggie and Rowena."  She had a large family.  She herself is _hard working_.  We discover that she owns TWO HOUSES OUT THERE IN SOUTH CENTRAL L.A. AND _FIVE_ BUSINESSES (okay some run out of her garage but FIVE LEGITIMATE BUSINESSES).  Beyond this, she had a brother,  Jeremiah (played by Anthony Mackie) WHO WAS A LAWYER.  SO ... Rowena and her family were not _defenseless_ anymore.  And so they took Elliot to court ... over custody of Eloise.

And the rest of the film ensues ...

 The film the proceeds, often painfully, through the objective failings and then misconceptions that both Elliot and Rowena / her family had of each other.

And the film does invite, again painfully, viewers, both black and white, to "grow"

African American viewers are "reminded" of the ENORMOUS DAMAGE THAT THE "REGGIES" IN THEIR MIDST DO TO ALL AFRICAN AMERICANS (But does _anybody_ need to be "reminded" of this? -- And there are plenty of pretty stupid WHITE "Bubba's" out there too...)

More interestingly perhaps, whites are reminded that if they say that they "don't like black people" that they really have to be _far more specific_ because while there was the troubled "Reggie" in this film, there are FOUR OR FIVE COUNTER EXAMPLES of AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO REALLY SHOULD BE EMBRACED and EVEN APPLAUDED BY THE LARGER (NATIONAL / WORLD) COMMUNITY:  There's (1) Rowena herself WITH HER TWO HOUSES and FIVE BUSINESSES.  She's A VERITABLE POSTER CHILD OF HARD-WORK AND ENTREPRENEURISM, (2) there's her brother WHO'S A SOLID, EVEN ERUDITE COURT ROOM LAWYER, (3) There's THE JUDGE, African-American, in the case (played by Paula Newsome) who's a PARAGON OF NO NONSENSE CALM DECORUM AND ORDER and (4) there's an earnest super-hardworking African college student named Duvan Araga (played by Mpho Kaoho) who Elliot hires to tutor Eloise with her school work after his wife dies, (5) Finally, there's the rest of Rowena's LOVELY LARGE FAMILY that's nice, smiling, supportive of each other and others, including Elliot (!), when in need.

So then if one says that one "doesn't like black people" WHICH OF THESE "BLACK PEOPLE" DOESN'T ONE LIKE?  AND THEN HONESTLY WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS (!!)

So this is not a bad film ... just a very painful film and one that honestly probably would have benefited from the African American _input_ that it appears to otherwise advocate for. 

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