Les Miserables with Anne Hathaway, 2012 — Powerful and riveting

http://youtu.be/S2sXJ69TLIk http://youtu.be/lLXR_-GyHug A few weeks ago, when my husband and I saw the preview  for Les Miserables, I said, “I want to see that.”  I usually like movies with Anne Hathaway, so that sold me a bit right there.  But Les Miserables is a famous play that I’ve never seen.  I wanted to increase my cultural awareness. My … Continue reading

Life of Pi entertaining and thought-provoking

I just got back from seeing the movie Life of Pi. Although the movie was fanciful, I had no trouble suspending disbelief. My husband seemed equally captivated. I can’t even imagine seeing this movie without the 3-D effects. The visuals are stunning. The ending is thought-provoking, and I won’t say more than that for fear of giving it away. It’s much more than the story of a boy and a tiger.

The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix — Like its lead character, no future

We scanned the newspaper, looking for a movie to go to. Arkansas Democrat Gazette reviewer Piers Marchant gave The Master a 90/100. The movie starred Joaquin Phoenix! “How can we go wrong?” we thought.

When only a dozen or so people entered the theater, that might have been a tip-off that it was time to request our money back. Movies, like restaurants, attract crowds when they’re good. An empty parking lot is a warning sign.

But what we needed here wasn’t a warning sign, but a wall preventing entry. This movie was horrible. Joaquin Phoenix gave his usual, splendid performance as a disturbed individual. But the character had absolutely no redeeming features. None. I frankly didn’t care what happened to him because he was so repulsive.

The supporting characters were equally repulsive or, at best, flat. Didn’t much care what happened to them either.

The film meandered, and went nowhere. The “big reveal” at the end of the movie was subtle enough that my husband missed it entirely. My reaction was more like, “That’s it?”

Basically, The Master is a two hour and sixteen minute character study of a man who becomes brain dead after years of drinking his own moonshine , which he concocts using a variety of substances including turpentine. There’s no dramatic change in the character’s thinking. Understandable since he isn’t even capable of thinking.

Save your money. Watch the trailer. It’s actually more interesting (and thankfully shorter) than the film. And if you’re thinking the trailer seems pointless and weird — well then, you’ve captured the essence of The Master.

Director Jay Russell speaks at the 2012 Little Rock Film Festival

Director Jay Russell spoke at the 2012 Little Rock Film Festival. Russell’s film credits include My Dog Skip, The Water Horse, and Tuck Everlasting. Jay presented a clip of his first major film End of the Line, which according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), tells the story of “two railroad workers from Clifford, Arkansas [who] become heroes when they hijack … Continue reading

Producers Tim Jackson and Courtney Pledger discuss pitching movies

According to producer Tim Jackson, colleague Courtney Pledger is an expert at pitching stories. “She would stand in hallways holding up a book saying, ‘this would make a great movie.’ She has built a career on finding [and marketing] material.” Together, Tim and Courtney gave tips to young filmmakers on “hip pocket pitches” at the … Continue reading

The World Before Her — a gem at the Little Rock Film Festival

One of the exciting things about a film festival, is that you never know what you’re going to stumble upon. Quality ranges from awful to exceptional. The World Before Her, directed by Nisha Pahuja, is that occasional gem. And having walked out of at least one film with shaky, out-of-focus cinematography (Beasts of the Southern Wild), I feel compelled to say that it’s a joy to watch a film with something to say, artfully stated, with crisp imagery (cinematographer Mrinal Desai).

The movie follows two extremes in modern India. Young women in a Hindu nationalist camp learn to become dangerous militants,  soldiers in an upcoming war with Christians, Muslims, and anyone else threatening Indian culture (as they perceive it). Another group of young women submit themselves to painful skin bleaching and Botox sessions, in order to win the Miss India Pageant. The prize? Being embraced by the modern world.

At the “Indian taliban” camp, the most militant girls lead the newcomers. Pachi is one of these leaders. She admittedly enjoys terrifying her charges, and lives a life largely controlled both by the camp and her domineering father. Her father beats her, and then become angry when she cries. He boasts that he burned her foot with a hot iron when, at seven years of age, she lied about doing her homework. In response, says Pachi, “I’m becoming heartless.” She reprimands herself. Her father has a right to beat her. After all, he helped give birth to her and then allowed her to live, even though she was a girl.

The film also follows beauty contestant Ruhi and her very supportive family. Ruhi’s mother hopes that she wins the pageant, so that she can escape the small town in which they live and enter a world where there are choices. But even as Ruhi and those competing against her prepare, they find themselves in Burka-like garb. The girls are draped in white sheets, so that only their legs are exposed for a photo shoot. It’s a perverse fantasy of the photographer to shoot only “strong, muscular legs” undistracted by womens’ beautiful bodies or personalities.

Because the movie is fascinating, I’d like to tell you more. But it would be a crime to spoil such a wonderful film. Enjoy the trailer but, more importantly, be sure to watch the movie.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a great movie

Last weekend, my husband and I went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The premise of the film is that several financially-strapped British retirees decide to move to India, where the pound might go farther. But the story is much more than a fish-out-of-water tale. Instead, it deals with the dilemmas faced by many individuals as they age in a society that worships youth and pushes older people aside. This delicate, thought-provoking theme could make for some dreary storytelling. Instead the audience is drawn in by the film’s warmth and humor.

As the audience left the theater, middle-aged people had tears in their eyes. Older men and women smiled broadly — someone had finally understood. Everyone seemed uplifted — assured that, at any age, life can be an adventure.

Jeff Nichols – Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories

From June 10, 2011 Following a screening of his 2004 film, Shotgun Stories, at the fifth‑annual Little Rock Film Festival, producer‑director Jeff Nichols was interviewed by film critic Philip Martin. At the Cannes Film Festival, Nichols’ latest film, Take Shelter, won the Critics’ Week competition against seven other films, as well as the Society of Dramatic … Continue reading

Filipino Amerasians Left by the Ship

From June 8, 2011

On Saturday, June 4, I saw Left by the Ship at the fifth‑annual Little Rock Film Festival. The documentary follows the stories of Amerasian children born in the Philippines. Their Filipino mothers were forced into prostitution by poverty. Their American fathers were servicemen who have since left the country—and their children—behind. The children are the only Amerasians fathered by servicemen not recognized as American citizens by the U.S. government.

Director‑producers Emma Rossi Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati were present after the screening for a Q&A session.

The pair started making the film in 2007. They made connections with Filipino families through Emma’s mother, who was a peace activist and knew former Filipino prostitutes.

Someone in the audience asked whether the gray, threatening skies in the movie were intentional—included to reinforce the children’s plight. Said Alberto, “It rained all of the time. We were stuck in the room because of the weather, so we were forced to [shoot out the window].”

“We were the whole crew,” he said. The pair used two cameras, and filmed during three production trips lasting two months each. Emma and Alberto funded the first production trips. “We didn’t get a salary for more than three years,” said Emma.

Emma says that, in the Philippines, family is important. Someone not having family is considered nothing. Family is that “one thing that is richness in poverty.

Left by the Ship will be appearing on PBS next spring.

The Conversation with a blind assassin

From June 8, 2011 The Conversation was a featured short at the 2011 Little Rock Film Festival. It’s about the abilities and frustrations of a hired gun, who happens to be blind. Visually impaired director, Leon Tidwell, says that “good comedy comes from frustration. A lot of these things are me… No, I’m not a … Continue reading