Welcome to the Film Club. Every month or so, we meet to watch and talk about films. On this page you'll find our views of films from the past few years. Since we're Christians, our views may differ from the standard film reviews you find in the newspapers and online. We also have some favourites which have done well at film festivals, but haven't exactly been blockbusters. In many cases, there's a link to trailers of the movies that you can watch on your computer.
So, we hope these film reviews are helpful the next time you're looking for a movie to watch this isn't typical Hollywood fare ( although we do review some of those, too). Please feel free to contact us if you have any ideas of films we might like.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This is an unusual film. The critics said so; I had the chance to share in 2 discussions about it and I could watch it again and still find it sticking in my mind. A number of critics listed as a top ten movie for 2012 and a few put it right at the bottom. Here are a few random quotes “I doubt anyone will understand it immediately. But it still a fascinating film” – “Fully formed and beautiful, whether you like it or not” – “sheer poetry on screen: an explosion of joy in the midst of startling squalor and one of the most visceral original films to come along in a while” – “most gallingly overrated ; a comfortable middle-class fantasy of the moral purity of abject poverty”.
The film centres on two main characters, a father and a young daughter living “off the grid” in makeshift accommodation in swampy terrain not far from a large city protected by a levee. Both actors are unknown although the 6 year old girl did get nominated for an Oscar as best leading lady. Early focus is on the father’s efforts to strengthen the survival skills of the young girl. We learn that there is a community of sorts also living in shacks nearby and we see a small gathering of children being taught by a local woman about the approaching catastrophe that climate change may bring their way.
Then a hurricane hits and nature wreaks havoc. Some flee for higher ground but the hardy independent ones stay put. First instinct is to identify this as New Orleans and hurricane Katrina. Since the story is narrated by the 6 year old talking to herself we recognize part of what we are viewing is her imagination. She sees the event in the context of her teacher’s warning about the melting of the polar ice caps, setting free frozen prehistoric creatures named aurochs. The magic realism of film portrays these as real hazards of the hurricane and this takes the film away from New Orleans and into a world view of the future. And the aurochs can be seen as a representation of a child’s fear.
The state intervenes and orders evacuation. The father who is seriously ill requires medical help and the city is seen through the girl’s eyes as place with rules, paper work, full of strangers, where sick people are plugged into the wall. The film contains allegories and leaves one pondering what actually occurs and what is the child’s attempt to deal with all that life can throw at you, including the breakdown of the world she knows and returns to.
In both discussions some people found the film depressing, with too much annoying hand held camera work and little point to the poverty of choosing to live independent isolated lives . Others however found it engaging and challenging, perhaps reflecting some of the compromises comfortable living requires. Might there be parallels when local communities in Latin America reject the development of mines which alter their traditional way of life with the promise of new prosperity, or farming communities resist drilling for oil despite corporate assurances of safety and environmental sensitivity.
The viewer’s reaction may even depend on one’s level of comfort with allegory and metaphor.
Reviewed by Bill Davis
In November the Video group saw The Descendants, the award winning 2011 release starring George Clooney and Hawaiian scenery! It was a box office hit and many in the group were watching it a second time. The film tells the story of a man and his two daughters dealing his realization of his wife's extramarital affair while she lies in a coma with no hope of recovery. This man is also the trustee of an extended family land trust which is confronted with a decision to develop or fight to maintain the land in a natural state.
We commend the film to you for interesting characters and fine acting, an engaging plot with room to explore your own dilemmas about redemption in light of difficult histories and lovely scenery, both the natural and human kind.
We are all descendants, both within our families, and more broadly as a congregation and even a country. Injustices of the past, misdemeanours and particular turns of events are part of our inheritance and our decisions about what to do in these realities make us more or less human. This film gives an example of one man's wrestling with this. its heartwarming with substance. A good choice for a winter evening.
Milk is the story of a real life gay leader, Harvey Milk, in the 1970s who managed to get elected to office in San Francisco. Sean Penn won an Oscar for his portrayal of the lead character and it was an impressive achievement. The film is interspersed with actual footage of the time, including Anita Bryant, that reminds us of the depth of the struggle and the cost of taking sides. Even though viewers know the ending, the film holds our attention. And as we celebrate the progress, we recall that Proposition 8 was passed in the State of California (banning gay marriage) about the same time as the film debuted. The sexual content is explicit and exploitive.
Doubt is a play that has been made into a movie. The cast is first rate. The scene is set in a Roman Catholic parish undergoing transition, The Mother Superior runs many things including the school. She is rigid and controlling and wise in her experience. As a woman she is without formal power in the structures of her church. Most of the sisters are older and 'semi retired'. A young novitiate represents the audience. The young priest represents the intrusion of reality and change in the parish. We watch the power struggle through the young sister's admiration for the Father and the Mother Superior. Things come to a boil when the one black student, ill at ease among the Irish Catholic classmates, is befriended by the priest. We detect signs the priest is gay. There is no proof of inappropriate conduct. The most compelling moment ironically comes from the boy's mother. She was nominated as best supporting actress for a 5-minute truth telling that solves nothing but puts the dilemma in real life terms.
Slumdog Millionaire won many awards including best picture. It is definitely a 'feel good' film, replete with a Bollywood finale. Out of the graphic crowding and poverty in the big Indian city emerges a bright naive youth who has acquired knowledge along the way to survival, sufficient to answer progressively more difficult questions on a popular TV program as he reaches for the huge prize.
The Reader is adopted from a novel and portrays the relationship between a German teenager and a female tram worker 15 years his senior. They are an unlikely match -he a professor's bright son and she a lonely illiterate working person. Through coincidence a chance meeting develops into a mutual sexual relationship. Clearly for her the satisfaction has a lot to do with reading and through him the world of literature. Her life changes and she vanishes for a period of time only to reappear when he, as a law student, is observing a trial for war crimes. The curse of illiteracy and the failure to act responsibly mar both their lives. Kate Winslett deservedly won the best actress award for a brilliantly nuanced performance.
I've Loved you for So Long is a French film about a released prisoner's return to society. Kirsten Scott Thomas, not even nominated for an Oscar, was hands down our choice as best actress.
Rachel Getting Married shot like wedding video on hand held camera, was a great study of one family member returning from rehab to participate in her sister's wedding. More dysfunctional family material - but extraordinarily well done.
Two excellent Canadian films - Amal, an Indian folk story about an illiterate rickshaw driver, reflects on the real values that lead to happiness, and The Necessities of Life, the story of an Inuit man brought to Montreal 50 years ago to be treated for TB. The lead actor won the Genie for best actor in a Canadian film.
Waltz with Bashir is a remarkable animated feature on the Israeli excursion into Lebanon in 1982 and its effect on participating Israeli soldiers years later. This did win many animation film awards.
Sin Nombre. This film weaves together the stories of two young people whose paths cross in tragic circumstances. A Mexican youth has joined a gang in Chiapas where the code requires strict loyalty and brutality. A poor Honduran family makes the desperate decision to try to cross the border to join relatives in the US. The flow of human traffic to the US border puts families and their belongings on trains passing through Mexico, where the Mexican gangs regularly plunder the helpless travelers. As a plundering is occurring the Mexican gang member, smarting from the murder of his forbidden girl friend by the gang leader, turns on the leader to prevent another abuse of a female passenger on the train roof. The power of the film is the desperation of all the principle characters. The drama unfolds and grips you to the very end. Will the family, or at least the main character, the daughter, navigate the border crossing? Can the young man, now traveling with the Hondurans escape the revenge of the gang? This is not for the squeamish viewer. In the process many borders are crossed and one can only cheer for and admire these powerless underdogs.
Before seeing the film, Babies, and to mark the beginning of Advent, the BSUC film group followed a different template and began by reading Isaiah chapter 11.
The film begins with women in Namibia, Mongolia, the USA, and Japan who are soon to give birth and follows the new-borns till their first birthday. There's lots of hope, peace, joy, and love as the camera adroitly cuts back and forth, without any narrative, from culture to culture. It is remarkable how differently the children are being socialized; yet, how familiar and similar the events of the first year of life are across our one, human family that lives all over the earth.
The Isaiah passage marks the end of the "old"and introduces the "new" church cycle. Certainly nothing will be the same for the four selected families; yet the future of each child is strongly hinted at. In Isaiah the reader goes from a familiar vision of the world to one that God intends, as a little child, God's Messiah, leads the way.
The Namibian child is immediately socialized with other babies and children, sharing nipples and life clustered under a shade tree with no fathers at hand and freedom to explore the immediate rural landscape, eating and playing, while his "mothers" sit busily attending to daily household chores. Following his birth in a medical facility the securely swaddled Mongolian baby rides a motorcycle across trackless, hilly terrain to live among cattle, a rooster and a rival older brother. The Japanese baby begins life in a much more sophisticated medical facility than the Mongolian one and sees the world from the windows of a highrise and shortly in a day care centre. The American baby has caring, "new age" parents who each takes an active role in tending to the child's perceived needs with books, a playground, yoga classes, and a cat. This child, not surprisingly, has lots of "things".
The differences in environment are enormous. The parallels in development are striking. The editor has chosen 4 children from established levels of their society in order to enhance similarities. But this entertaining film made us think that the "peaceful kingdom" of Isaiah is not remote but as close as our children. In 80 minutes there's cause for laughter, much that is "cute", and some surprising insights into other cultures.
The Messenger. The Messenger tells the tales and follows the consequences for two US army personnel who deliver the death notices of fellow soldiers to their families. When someone dies in combat, the US Army no longer sends a message but a messenger who must deliver the news within four hours of the death. Each death is described in army code to convey heroic action and delivered according to a set formula.
Though the film is about war, it never focuses on the war. Rather the anger, denial, negotiation, and final acceptance of the personal consequences for the two messengers are followed closely with considerable insight and sensitivity. As you may well expect, the Film Group reacted with a variety of emotion and personal reflection. Most found the series of dramatic and yet nuanced performances powerful, emotional, and painfully thought-provoking. The understated music and music-overs of the film keep the 'real' world always in close juxtaposition and strongly support the intensity and vulnerability of the acting.
The Messenger is a subtle, beautiful, poignant, and dramatic portrayal of how many confront the reality of the sudden death of a loved one and reveals the struggle and victory of the human spirit in the midst of ruthless, unbending, and blind Army discipline.
The Hurt Locker. Here is a low budget film that attracted a much smaller audience than others nominated for best film, but managed to win that award. Despite some graphic violence viewers found the story gripping.
Brothers stars Tobey Maguire, in a role that is quite different from most of his other films, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The older brother, a successful student/athlete/military leader, returns from being missing in action for some time to find his failure of a younger brother not only rehabilitated from prison but playing the role of uncle to his children and handy man around his home. Family tensions go back many years. The film is well crafted and acted and displays the effects of war on the whole family. It too has some graphic violence.
A Serious Man. Our film group saw this and found it surprisingly funny. It is Jewish humour and not everyone finds it amusing. The leading man takes every aspect of his life seriously and nothing works. His rabbis, his family, his students, his brother, his neighbours, barely notice him and everything he touches falls apart. The humour is dark and ironic.
A Single Man. Colin Firth gives an extraordinary performance as a gay man living in California in the 1960s. His private life with his partner is totally separated from his career as a teacher and from his immediate neighbours. Suddenly his life changes dramatically. The scene where he receives confirmation from his partner's parents, that the funeral for his partner, killed in a car accident, will be 'just for family' is riveting. The ending seems contrived but that is the ending in the book from which the film is drawn. The recreation of 1960s Los Angeles is a perfect setting for a life suddenly empty.
An Education. Strong acting performances come from a young English actress Carrey Mulligan and a somewhat older actor Peter Sarsgaard. The teenager, a student at a girls' school, catches a glimpse of how much the world has to offer when a man 10 years her senior appears to offer her a short cut to the excitement of travel and the good life. As the charmer captivates her and her parents, we grow increasingly fearful that she is headed for disaster. In a strange way, despite her youth, she appears to set limits and controls on her relationship and manages her education.
Broken Embraces. Pedro Almodovar offers another lush complex movie, again starring Penelope Cruz. Frequents cuts back and forth - a film about making and remaking a movie - Cruz is cast in many roles and in most scenes. Photography is remarkable - the movie is sensual and the plot twists keep you engaged.
The Secret In Their Eyes. Last year's best foreign film. It is in the theatres now (May). The film cuts from present to past and from memory to truth. It is a murder, a frustrated romance, a suspense, a political commentary set in Argentina, where justice is not the point. The creation of a novel by a retired criminal investigator sets the stage for recreating a story and sorting between differing memories and realities. Another excellent ensemble cast in a well-nuanced film.
In this deeply spiritual film (The title comes from Psalm 82:6-7) there are no “Gods” just men. They are a group of monks living and working in the countryside of Algeria and the men who oppose them.
The film deals with the monks’ lives and choices, the impact of these on hostile forces and the events, which lead to the climax and denouement of the story. (It is based on true events of 1996). .
The central figures are Trappists, one of the strictest orders of the Roman Catholic Church. They lead simple, austere lives of prayer, work and silence and support themselves chiefly through manual labour – living harmoniously among their Muslim neighbours. Scenes of their daily round of prayer, work on the land, selling produce at market, being of service in their neighbourhood – these underline the focus in their lives. .
Prayer is the cornerstone on which all else is built; there is Liturgy daily and the “Hours” of the Office, which is made up chiefly of psalms and reading – are changed at specific times in the 24 hour day – parts in unison, solo- response, or in three-part harmony. Reverence and devotion mark these common prayertimes. .
Into this tranquil setting comes terrorist action in the area against “outsiders”. Muslim extremism, and an offer of army protection of the monks by the corrupt government both lead the monks to fear that remaining in the country means death. .
To leave their origins are in France – or remain and continue faithful to the commitment made many years past – that is the decision each man must make; it is the central focus of the film. The coming to that decision, a struggle deep and painful, unfolds within each as he searches his soul, prays and endures anguish. Every man grapples with fear, doubt and faith. We note the more intense male bonding in their ordeal; in a crisis moment they move should to shoulder, arms encircling. Tension mounts as the hatred of both extremists and government forces grows, and violence escalates. .
The struggle these men endure is the same struggle every one of us is subject to – albeit in less epic proportions – to make, in difficult circumstances, decisions that are truly life-affirming. .
The terrible cost of their decision, fully faced, honestly accepted, forms the finale of this gripping, thought-provoking film – an ending tragic but triumphant. .
What a delightful and insightful film! And what a variety of opinion it generated! Everyone made a comment. No passion for fashion was required to enjoy this absorbing documentary portrait.
A few moments into the film the legendary street-fashion photographer and society chronicler for The New York Times darts into Manhattan traffic. William J. Cunningham (born 1929) is well-known for his candid street photography. Fast, intensely focused and apparently able to tune out all but the shot he’s after, Cunningham is an unlikely 82-year-old who will “do anything for the shot,” His photographs have captured the passing scene on the streets of Manhattan every day and provide a visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of fashion in New York. In 2008 Cunningham was awarded the title, Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
Director Richard Press shadows the octogenarian, and makes his modest lifestyle, integrity, and radical work ethic central. The film is a carefully crafted reflection on what it takes to fully engage the NYC fashion district, and it offers an astute snapshot of fashion’s avarice. Cunningham’s cheerful asceticism is so out of step with the city! The film quietly asks whether his self-deprivation and single-minded focus on surface aesthetics (“If it isn’t something a woman can wear, I’m not interested”) have taken a heavy, unacknowledged toll. Decide for yourself at the heartbreaking ending.
This documentary is full of surprises. It gets to know the intensely private, and honestly dedicated, bicycle-riding, free-spirited, Manhattan street fashion photographer and takes a fascinating look at his process, his subjects, his life, his apartment, and his neighbors. It reveals the work that goes into capturing a portrait of an artist and into documenting NYC’s evolving sense of style.
When I previewed films for the Bloor Street News Letter, I described this film as follows: Tilda Swinton, often overlooked as an accomplished actor, plays a Russian woman married into a wealthy family from Milan. While the patriarch dominates every aspect of the family’s successful business and social life, she is not discontented as much adrift. The sons are being groomed to take over the business and face high expectations. The photography is stunning. As unexpected events occur, Swinton’s portrayal of a woman who has lost her identity is riveting. This is a film largely overlooked but worth discussing.
After discussing the film with our group, I stand by my first description, but expand it to reflect our discussion. As we watched, I grew aware of the extended sequence of a passionate encounter between the mother and a younger man. How would our group deal with this sequence? Should I have posted “warning contains excessive nudity and passion”? Indeed the film can be faulted for dwelling excessively on shots of lovemaking, food preparation and scenery, as symbols of sensuality and emotion. The film contrasts the stark home, a long rectangular building in winter, with outside scenes with vibrant colour and teeming nature. Again the symbolism is excessive and detailed.
As we meet the family, life is sterile. There is action on the ground floor where the servants buzz about. The second floor is set aside for formal events like business dinners or family occasions: all structured and extravagant. The top floor is like a dorm; a long corridor and many closed doors, where the family sleeps and retreats. Mother commonly withdraws during the social occasions to the solitude of her room.
An outsider, who has met her son through racing, interrupts a family occasion to deliver a gift, something he has baked. The sensuality of food is introduced. Her son is drawn to this young chef and so eventually is the mother. Suddenly desperation and a lack of inner grounding drive her to cast aside normal discretion and plunge into a reckless and explicit affair. Coincidentally, her daughter has left for school and is herself discarding a local boyfriend for a lesbian relationship. This is a secret shared only between the daughter and mother; one of the few open relationships.
Our discussion ranged over a number of issues:
How do we deal with her apparent lack of concern for the son she loves, when she risks destroying his relationship both with his friend and with her? Can we accept that desperation causes people to suspend reason and plunge passionately into any avenue of escape? Is it shortsighted escapism? What were the options? If people do what they have to do in the short term, how are we to act as judge?
The companionship between the oldest son and the chef seems to go beyond racing competitors. Yet the son is engaged to be married, and seems genuinely committed. How do we understand attractions in life? A poignant scene occurs when the family has gathered at the hospital waiting for a report regarding the son who has had an accident. His fiancée, who was present when it occurred, is totally ignored. How does an entire family become so insensitive?
What does the title mean? Passion is an element of love but much less. We often say God is love. While we may question the existence of God, we seem to accept love. The most compelling example of love in the film was probably the maid, who attended the mother and who comforted the oldest son. The absence of real love brings on the crisis that swallows the entire family and others with them.
This is the true story of Valerie Plame, a CIA agent specializing in non-proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons programs, whose cover is blown when her husband tries to set the record straight about Iraq shopping for nuclear material in Africa, a case made by President Bush in a State of the Union Address.
The film is compelling in that it is true and reveals a smear campaign played out to support the American interests in favour of invading Iraq. The central characters, Plame and Wilson, her husband, approach life very differently. When Plame recommends her husband (a retired diplomat with extensive experience in Afirca) to investigate the alleged purchase of uranium material by Iraq, he discovers that Iraq is not actively developing weapons of mass destruction. Wilson actively challenges the president’s claims. Plame, with her CIA training resists rocking the boat. It is Plame who initially pays the price as her role as a CIA agent is made public and she is forced from her job. As Wilson goes on TV and accepts invitations to speak at universities, the government moves to discredit him as well. Two people, with best interests at heart, are vilified and to this day face ostracization by both the American public and American officials. One fights back; one withdraws, but in the end “you can’t fight city hall”.
Historically correct, the film does deal only with the central characters. Although it may seem that the film extends more empathy to the couple than the American political characters of the time, the film accurately depicts the facts of the case. The film, however, is not a documentary of the time period or of the specific event. Instead it presents the story through the eyes of the main characters thus giving the viewer an insight into the demands of professional life, ethical values, and the repercussions of running against the prevailing political philosophy. This aspect of the film is done well. The viewer sees the flaws in the characters, the ponderousness of the bureaucracy, and the paranoia of the American people. At issue in the end is why this matter created so little fuss at the time and why, to this day, the couple, whose commitment to their country remains unchallenged, does not have the American public championing their cause.
Also, of concern is the fact that that a federal crime was committed in the act of revealing a CIA identity and the perpetrator(s) of the crime were not all charged and only one was convicted – an act later commuted by Bush. Far worse, the film reinforces the fact that the American public was lied to and went to war under false pretences. This accusation – underscored by the film – and supported by other actions worldwide, has resulted in the death of many soldiers and civilians, horrific injuries to immense numbers, and chaos in a country. The film presents a case for openness and integrity in all aspects of government.
By staying focused on the central characters the film also accurately portrays many issues of modern marriage. Plame and Wilson share the challenges of parenthood, running a house, and work responsibilities. There are realistic scenes and emotions. Temperaments are tested and marital strife apparent as stress from the usual and also the unique situation overwhelm the participants. This is not a “Leave it to Beaver” family. There are strong wills and career aspirations along side the American dream. The film is real, sensitive to the character’s personalities, yet honest in the day to day routines it shows.
Unusual to the film is the way the director laid out the scenes. The first half of the film concerns the issue at hand. The second part delves more into the functionality of the family, the relationship of the couple, and the resulting bridging mechanisms that two people make to find meaning in their new work and their lives. There is no happy ending. Instead the viewer sees raw emotions and two lives challenged by the circumstances they entered. They must rebuild their lives and rebuild their relationship.
The film portrays a legacy that needs to find its rightful place in world events. It further reinforces the responsibility of the individual to understand current issues and advocate for solutions based on honest, fully informed material.
Far removed from the type of Hollywood film that many watch, this film should be on the list for all Americans to see. It remains to be seen if more then discerning individuals will see the film.
Based upon a real event, Made in Dagenham is a modern historical drama recounting the strike by 187 female sewing machinists working at a Ford Motors factory in a suburb of east London. The workers stage a strike to combat a discriminatory job classification as unskilled labourers. Within days, the factory is shut down as the supply of upholstered seats is exhausted and the men who make up the rest of the work force are laid off. Many of the men, including some of the women’s husbands, are not very supportive of their colleagues, even though the women have respected and supported the men on their not infrequent work stoppages in the past.
The use of authentic Ford advertisements of the era, costumes, hair styles, and nearly universal use of bicycles by the workers clearly sets the movie in a particular time and space, as does the hot and leaky factory where the women work. Brief glimpses of the housing estates that many of the workers live in lacks some authenticity due to the lack of children and youth that would have over-run the streets and hallways. The strain of economic hardship is apparent as families and friends quarrel amongst themselves. Director Nigel Cole injects humour when he depicts the federal Minister of Labour’s male underlings as sexist, bumbling fools, not unlike the factory executives who cannot imagine why women would expect to be paid anything close to what their male co-workers earn. The American negotiator sent in to bring this work-stoppage to a quick end is portrayed as a stereotypical arrogant bully. The Minister of Labour, played by Miranda Richardson, is no fan of bullies and ends up supporting the women in their quest for a more equitable settlement. Eventually, this work action inspired the passage in 1970 of the Equal Pay Act, which may have been one of the lasting pieces of legislation of the Labour Government of Harold Wilson.
An insightful side story is the mutual respect and admiration that develops between a main labour activist Rita O’Grady, played by Sally Hawkins, and Lisa Hopkins, played by Rosamund Pike, who is the 31-year old trophy wife of a Ford executive who treats her like a fool despite her degree from Cambridge. Bob Hoskins’ role as a crafty shop steward Albert Passingham is worth mentioning as he encourages O’Grady in particular to fight for equality, something that his own mother never lived to see. This is a wonderful glimpse into working class life and struggles and the growing support for women’s rights to equal pay and greater equality in general in a time not that long ago.
London River is a tense drama that provokes a variety of reaction to terrorist threats and realities as it unravels the tale of an Christian English woman living in Guernsey and an Islamic African man working in France, who learn of the subway bombing in London. The woman’s daughter’s apartment is in a largely Arabic section of London. The owner of the apartment who does not speak English provides a key accepting his tenant’s mother. Cultural difference and shock are powerfully portrayed.
The tall, dignified African moves among the same people, trying to find his son whom he has not seen for almost 20 years. As the two parents check hospital and police records and follow leads, they discover a relationship between their children.
Attitudes are challenged; respect and acceptance of each other are difficult. And the persistent efforts of the parents, the police, and the friends of their children demonstrate the challenges of the biblical text overheard at the beginning of the film: “you have heard it said love your friends and hate your enemies, but I (Jesus) say to you, love your enemies.”
As the two parents’ go home without their children, the Muslim chants a “Nunc Dimittis” in his own tongue.
The cast includes Brenda Blethyn, a renowned English actor and Sotigui Kouyate who won the best actor award at the Berlin festival and died a few months later. This film was largely overlooked by the public when it opened at the TIFF Lightbox and played for only a few weeks there and in one other theatre in Toronto. It was released on DVD simultaneously. Not picked up for North American distribution, the BBC sponsored film has enjoyed considerable success in Great Britain. Was it rejected in North America because of its positive depiction of Islam?
Our Film group discussed this film after it had won a Golden Globe award and another from the British film industry but before we knew its fate at the Academy Awards. Here are several impressions:
The dialogue is crisp, well paced and well delivered. The movie holds your attention throughout a long running time.
The film is a dramatization, not a documentary. It tells story of how Facebook was created and the degree to which its creator Mark Zuckerberg borrowed - stole – profited from others, who deserved more credit or payment than was given. The actual decision of who is right or wrong is not the point of the film. Nor can we decide the accuracy of the portrayal of its many characters.
Mark Zuckerberg is quickly established as a genius, socially inept, dismissive of others, exceptionally gifted on computers and desperate for recognition (particularly admission to a club for the gifted).
His Harvard residence mates are interested primarily in girls and sex.
The Winklevoss twins are born to privilege and are on the rowing team. Their father can and does pull strings when needed.
Life at Harvard apparently revolves around frat parties pretty much run by male students where female students seem keen to attend and disrobe.
The person who appears most badly treated is Eduardo Saverin, (Mark’s closest, if not only friend at school). He enables the development of Facebook by putting up the start up capital and is then cheated out of his place in the company. He is the one person who has a sympathetic role. Coincidently he actually served as an advisor to the filmmakers. An array of school officials and lawyers all appear as competent at what they do, but no match for Zuckerberg’s disinterested sharp responses.
Sean Parker the founder of Napster adds to the collection of flawed personalities. After bringing the recording industry down with his creation of Napster, he is bankrupt by lawsuits and proud of his accomplishments. He becomes Zuckerberg’s primary advisor, a constant organizer of cocaine parties and high living.
Interwoven into the plot are lawsuits against Zuckerberg launched by the Winklevoss twins who claim their idea for the Social Network was stolen and by Saverin who claims Parker and Zuckerberg maneuvered him out of his position so that he lost not only his capital but also his original share of ownership.
The film traces the incredible growth of Facebook. After hacking unto a few Ivy League computers to obtain student names and pictures, Zuckerberg makes the decision to hack Stanford in California. Parker is awaking in the bed of a Stanford student. She is eager to get to class and he has nowhere to go. Before she sets out she needs to check her facebook to keep in touch with chums. Parker is blown away by the concept and sets out to contact Zuckerberg. The group watches as “friends” pass1 million. What was a simple attempt to humiliate a girl who offended him in 2003 has grown into an essential service. The Winklevoss twins at a rowing competition in England discover students there are watching the event on Facebook. Overnight this has spanned the world. A vehicle targeting university students has been adopted by younger people and grandparents worldwide with millions of friends, making Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history.
“What doth it profit a man if he gain the world and loses his soul?” Is the lust for constant connection a substitution of breadth and pace for depth and thoughtfulness in today’s world? Where will the next 10 years take us?
The motive for launching Facebook was Zuckerberg’s anger at being dumped by a girl. When Parker enters the Facebook world, his main fixation (apart from partying) is revenge on an investor who won a lawsuit against him. “Success” can grow from the most unusual motivation.
The stereotyping of Jewish male and Asian female students is distasteful.
The depiction of university life should terrify any parent.
The argument over intellectual property is a high stakes business. The twins accepted a settlement of $65 million with a signed agreement to desist and are apparently now asking for more. Eduardo Savarin settled for an undisclosed amount (said to be $650 million). Parker made nothing out of his Napster program except for a reputation.
After the lawsuits settle Zuckerberg is shown trying to become a “friend” to the girl who dumped him a few years earlier. Has he learned anything?
Lots to discuss.
This French mystery/action film is unlike most of our memories of French films. It moves quickly, although it runs for over two hours. It features one lengthy chase sequence, apparently unnecessary until we learn the reason for it at the end of the film. There are a number of violent murders, generally by shooting, and some bloody corpses. The film includes a series of sub-plots, sometimes illustrating aspects of French life (black immigrants vs police; pediatric medical consultations; show horses) and shows us both dedicated and twisted police officers. There are so many times that the film seems to have come to a climax that it could almost be cut up into a T.V. series.
For all that, it features some fine performances and a plot of sufficient complexity to keep most viewers guessing until the end. The lead/hero is a pediatrician played by Francois Cluzet (we know he is a good guy because he works so well with children). He seems a nice guy, but seems to be implicated in several violent murders, including that of his wife eight years before the start of the action. Gradually it begins to look as if he is being set-up by a group of violent criminals whose motivation is murky until the film ends. A series of clues help us gradually anticipate various aspects of the denouement, but the full picture awaits the last few frames.
A cleverly-plotted, well performed action mystery. Cluzet won a best actor award and Guillaume Canet was named best director in France in 2007. It was released in France in 2006, in the U.K. in 2007 and in the U.S. in 2008. An English remake is said to have been planned, although both a sub-titled and a dubbed version is available on DVD.
Notes by Karl Jaffary
In the movie Monsieur Lazhar, a substitute teacher enters the lives of the students after their teacher commits suicide in their classroom. Class re-commences in a classroom painted and refitted to remove all presence of a much loved teacher. Fulfilling its professional responsibilities the school board brings in a professional grief counselor to help students talk about death and its affect on them as individuals and as a class. The school’s healing process is formal and presented in such a way that the children are not inclined to talk about the worries they have about blame, fear, or loss. Instead, it is the substitute teacher, carrying his own burdens of life and death, who helps the children regain the ability to experience joy in their lives and to define themselves in relation to events happening in their live.
Developed from a one-character play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere, the movie Monsieur Lazhar pierces cultural and age gaps with the underlying emotions of grief, guilt, mourning and maturity. Underlying these themes is the pervading vulnerability of characters caught up in tragic events which have had and will continue to have a profound effect on their lives. The movie, filmed in a format which keeps the environment s anchored in simplicity, has wonderful moments of humour, reality, and honest struggle.
Often in situations of death one talks of having closure. Never throughout the movie is this term used. Instead characters are made aware of moments of wonder and laughter with the persons who have died. The students are able to talk about their teacher’s class management as M. Lazhar used his personal childhood memories of a different school system to cover the academic processes of the classroom. For M. Lazhar the moments are bittersweet as the children gain understanding. They are moving on with their lives enriched with the comfort of knowing a teacher has understood their concerns. They are growing in strength with his gentle guidance and openness to deal with whatever they ask.
At the same time the growth of the children allows M Lazhar to face the grief of his past. Opening his long awaited package brings sadness yet a goodbye that anchors M. Lazhar fully in the present. His story parallels that of the children yet evolves on a more international stage. Both stories of tragedy are subtly woven throughout the scenes. The parallel stories bring the audience to a greater understanding of the necessity of all ages understanding the impact of death and the process of grieving. The movie also raises the importance of each person needing his or her own timeframe for dealing with loss.
The themes of the movie are presented in scenes (the school yard and classroom) familiar to all ages groups. With this backdrop the director is able to have individuals deal with some of the tragic realities of life. Against the background of the innocence of the school yard children grow more mature, more accepting, and firm in budding relationships. Adults are able to reflect on the joys of youth intermingled with the thoughts that youth is a precious time and that the skills of coping with the realities of life are built in those days and forged in the days of adulthood.
The audience sees the importance of developing strong relationships. Some of those relationships will be short term, some long term, some end by mutual consent, and some be grievously torn apart. Whatever the case each life is enriched by ties to other people. The movie emphasizes the role of pertinent adults in a child’s life and that this role may not always be played by parents. It established the importance of empathy and affection for all ages.
The cinematography is direct and clear. There are no special effects and altered lighting. The starkness of many of the physical attributes of the scenes allows the audience to focus clearly on the themes. Character physique and facial expressions imply emotion. The audience is given complete access to the immediate action. Camera length is close and facial scenes are frequent.
The movie, Monsieur Lazhar, is to be praised for its richness of emotion, its strong manner with dealing with a subject always difficult to discuss, and its ability to allow the audience to calmly and with integrity understand the layers of life that surround all of us.
The Separation (winner of the Acadamy award for best foreign film 2011)
This complex, painful, fascinating, intensely nuanced Iranian drama exposes a network of personal and social fault lines that reveal the terrible, sadness of fractured relationships and examine the politics of family, sex, theocracy, and class.
The middle-class, contemporary household consists of parents who have been married for 14 years, their intelligent, sensitive 11-year-old daughter, and a grandfather with Alzheimer's who is in need of constant care. Both parents work and are ambitious for their daughter's education. The mother wants to leave Iran for a country with more opportunities for women generally and for her daughter in particular. The father says they must stay in Iran to look after his father.
From the very first scene the couple make their case to us, the audience. Both have some justice on their side, but there is no right and wrong. Everyone tells the truth, and everyone tells lies as they make ferocious appeals to justice and to law. Angry denunciations fly back and forth, and all the adults nurse grievances. All sides can be justified, and an all-or-nothing judicial war will bring destruction. The three women in the film see that some sort of face-saving compromise will somehow have to be cobbled together, but the men do not. Class matters as much as gender. There is conflict everywhere.
Each character is aware of their rights and of how angry they feel. The women become aware of their double responsibility: to find a solution that works for all and to persuade the men to accept it.
The film pitches a complex, moral dilemma with an urgent sense of reality. The viewers shall be the judge in the end because what the film does not show what it actively leaves to the viewer is as important to its ethically teasing dynamics as what it reveals. Our moral compass swings all over the place as we see the dilemma from various viewpoints. We are left to ask with Pilate, what is truth? We see through a glass darkly, indeed.
Poetry When one is responsible for choosing a film for the group to watch, you judge success by the ensuing discussion and the length of time people refer back to the film weeks later.
Poetry could only be given a high rating on this measuring scale.
It is a Korean sub titled film. It centres on a grandmother who we learn early on is worried about a gradual decline in her memory. It won a number of international awards – many for the leading actress and also for cinematography. Apparently the actress was well known in Korea but had been retired for some time. She read the script and came out of retirement. Our grandmother has a love of colour and nature.
For those who thrive on symbolism, the opening scene shows young boys playing on the bank of a river away from any sign of urban life. Their play is briefly interrupted by something floating downstream. The river is crossed many times in the course of the film and returns in the closing scenes. A symbol of the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life itself. Our grandmother has a love of colour and nature.
She is well dressed and determined to be responsible for her own life. She is “parenting” a surly teen aged boy, while her daughter holds a well-paying job in a large distant city.
When we first encounter her she is heading into town for a doctor’s appointment. An ambulance rushes into the hospital. We are aware it brings the body of a suicide victim who jumped from a bridge into the river. The young girl’s mother is grieving publically outside the hospital as the grandmother leaves her appointment.
Many threads connect throughout the film. Our grandmother withholds any concern about memory loss from her daughter, who phones about her doctor’s visit. She notes a public sign about a Poetry class and decides to join, hoping it will slow any memory loss. She helps maintain her independence by being a care giver for an older stroke victim.
Subsequently she learns that the suicide victim comes from her grandson’s school and that she had been abused by 6 boys including her grandson. 5 fathers have called a meeting to which she in invited. They are raising money to pay off the mother of the suicide victim to keep the matter quiet and keep the school out of trouble. They inform her of the share that she will be expected to contribute. Patriarchy at its worst. She is asked by the fathers, not only to pay her share, but to visit the mother to initiate a discussion of payment The poetry course continues and grandmother is its most faithful attender, gradually making friends and exploring poetry.
As the plot unfolds ambiguity abounds. Why did her visit totally overlook any discussion? How will she handle her grandson? How will she raise money and why? What happens after she writes her poem and leaves it at class, summons her daughter home, packs her bag and leaves? What are we to imagine as she crosses the bridge and we see the same view of the river that began the film?
We explored many themes – memory loss and aging – patriarchy – poetry as therapy – her relationship with the older stroke victim and his family – the possible reconnection with the young mother in a rural setting – her action to restore justice.
The film was highly rated by the film class at school, ahead of many nominations for best film at the Academy Awards. It may seem a bit long but there is little one could find to cut from it.
IN A BETTER WORLD (winner best foreign language film – Oscar 2010)
The film focused on two families. In one family a mother had died of cancer and the father brought his only child, a boy, to stay with his grandmother in Denmark, while he commuted back and forth to London. In the second family, the parents were separated because the father had done something, never revealed in the film, that his doctor wife could not forgive. Here too the father commuted between Africa where he served a medical outpost and his home town in Denmark.
This movie raised many issues and contrasts for me.
The contrasts between the warm gold tan and deeper brown of the African country and the blue and white rather plain textures of Denmark’s countryside.
When the grieving son arrives in Denmark, he sees the doctor’s son being constantly bullied at school. He becomes a defender and friend for this boy. It seems to serve as an outlet for his anger and grief. Our discussion noted how adults often fail to address the early death of a family member with children. The boys undertake daring exploits one of which leads to some serious consequences.
The doctor, who is serving in Africa, seems a model citizen whether in his role serving his huge African clientele or back in Denmark where he tries to set an example of nonviolence for his family. Yet his ethical boundaries were crossed when he turned away a client, who crossed the boundary of respect for another human.
Every person in the film was striving for a better world. Each faced particular obstacles and compromises. As viewers we were drawn into each person’s world and individual perspective. We had a lot to discuss when the film ended.
The movie was very compelling on many levels ---Music – Acting – Scenery - Ethical Issues.
I would like to see it again.
This satisfying sub-titled French film recounts the life of a conservative Paris couple whose lives are turned upside down by a small group of Spanish maids. A middle aged, conservative investment consultant and his status-seeking socialite wife, a self admitted ‘country girl’, discover albeit at different times that despite being materially rich they are poor in terms of ‘joy ‘ in their lives.
Although the film is a commentary on 1960’s French social class structure and could be ‘heavy’, it turns out to be delightfully sunny and refreshing when the Spanish maids unwittingly open the husband’s eyes to the very real narrowness and poverty in his and his wife’s lives. A ‘feel good’ note comes in the form of the husband’s discovery and pursuit of what gives meaning and joy in his life. The maids’ fun and earthy zest for life is in stark contrast to the couple that lives down below.
One may wonder what it is about his encounter with the maids that has opened his eyes after all these years. His wife is slower to discover the folly of the self-imposed poverty of life until near the end of the film. We, the viewers, are left asking ourselves whether we too have blind spots yet to be discovered that prevent us from living joyfully.
Our group found parallels in our own city with the Philippine nannies that build their own community while serving well off local families.