Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Captain Phillips"


In this thrilling, hard-driving action film, true-life sea captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks in his boy-next-door amicable best) is portrayed as a hard-working merchant mariner – responsible first to his duty (delivering cargo) and then for protecting his crew.

Cmdr Castellano and Capt Phillips of the USS Bainbridge
The film opens with Phillips expressing his growing concern about how with today’s economy his son won’t be able to find employment. This burden distracts him from seeing the negative impact of international companies: dumping nuclear waste off of the Somali coastline and illegally trolling for fish. (A theme that too many of us can relate to. In our daily struggle to keep a job, we don’t have the time or energy to register the impact of international trade on the rest of the world.)

In a ruthlessly realistic scene, we see the results: former Somali fishermen fighting over knat (an additive, green leaf) and to be hired for the only available job – a cargo ship pirate. It is only when Captain Phillips is thrown into a life and death struggle with his captors (lead with fierce determination by Oscar nominated Barkhad Adbi) does he begin to understand their desperation. The movie isn't overly sympathetic to the pirates as it reveals that none of their bounty will be going back to help the rest of the village.

Capt Phillips was held captive by Somali pirates in this life boat 

As with the negative relationship between the global recession and global warming, there are no easy answers. “Captain Phillips” is a must-see for the rising tension in the action and in global trade.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

"Captain Phillips" also received well-deserved nominations for:  Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray), Best Editing (Christopher Rouse), and Best Picture. Paul Greengrass was cheated out of a Best Director nomination. "Captain Phillips," was my pick for Best Picture in 2014.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Nightcrawler" Thrilling Fable of the American Dream.

In my zeal to see the Oscar nominated films, I wasn’t in a hurry to watch, “Nightcrawler." From the trailer it appeared to be just another slick Hollywood thriller.  But since thrillers are more fun on the big screen, I figured I’d better catch it before it was pulled from the theater, replaced by the recent Best Picture nominees.

Nightcrawler,” is more than a thriller, it’s a fable about the American Dream.

Unable to find a job in this economy, Lou Bloom (award-winner Jake Gyllenhaal) is desperate to make a living. He is a wily night scavenger – stealing scrap metal or doing whatever he can to make money until he can find a way to get in the game. He tells a perspective employer that he works hard to get ahead, but he has to be in the game in order to win it. Like the American public, he has been sold the American Dream and will do anything to get it.  He happens onto a profitable way to make a living, videotaping gruesome crime scenes for the local news. He learns from another news videographer, (nightcrawler) that “if it bleeds, it leads.”  

An integral part of selling the American Dream are the images presented in the media. The viewers are the consumers buying the American Dream. Local news stations employ fear mongering to increase their ratings so they can sell more advertising, so corporations can sell more products to the consumer.

In, “Nightcrawler,” affluent people are the consumers that make the whole system work.  The media manipulates their fears to get them to watch the programs. The best-selling images show urban crime creeping into the suburbs. The local news station buys and sells images of bloody carjackings and home invasions perpetrated by minorities.

But writer/director Dan Gilroy pushes the envelope even farther by presenting the moral quandary:  How far would you go to get that money shot? When you get to the crime scene before the cops, do you get the graphic footage or do you help the victim? This is a metaphor for an important theme in politics today: capitalism vs. humanity.


The movie becomes even more frightening as we discover that Bloom will do absolutely anything to get the money shot.  His homeless “intern” Rick, (Riz Ahmed) isn’t a person to him at all, but a means to make more money. He doesn't take care of his one employee, but puts him in the line of fire. Through Rick’s eyes we see and feel the danger as their red Challenger speeds to the next crime scene.  Seen from his perspective inside the car, these are the most thrilling “chase scenes” I have ever watched. My heart was in my throat through most of the movie. But what makes it scarier is that the female news editor (Rene Russo) has bought into this myth that we should do whatever it takes to make money. In this day and age, we reward sociopaths and accept them as players in our capitalistic society.  Only it’s happening in broad daylight.

If there is any justice in Hollywood, Dan Gilroy will win a Best Screenplay nod for his brilliant script. Why wasn't, "Nightcrawler,"- one of the most well-reviewed, entertaining movies of the year - nominated for best picture? I’ll leave that to you to figure out. Writer/director Dan Gilroy put together a great team that believed in his vision. Together they created the movie they wanted to make without interference from financial backers.  I call that inspiring.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Long March to Freedom

The controversy around Ava DuVernay's depiction of President Johnson in, "Selma," got me thinking about the challenge of writing a movie about historical figures. Being a writer, I know how difficult it is to write about a real person - especially someone who is as well-known and beloved as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. The sheer scope of their life stories is daunting. What do you include and what do you leave out? How do you capture the life of a person in two hours? As an artist, you hope to capture a glimpse of their spirit. A writer attempts to create meaning out of life events. That is a tall order for men who meant so much to so many people. A friend of mine admitted that he didn't want to see, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," because writer William Nicholson chose to include Mandela cheating on his first wife and endangering his family. Similarly, writer Paul Webb and director Ava DuVernay included this same weakness in their portrait of Martin Luther King. I believe that the writers showed great courage in sharing these great men's weaknesses. Illuminating the real men behind the legends is what makes these movies so powerful!

In both movies, their wives are portrayed as partners in the fight for civil rights. "Selma," makes it clear that Coretta enabled Martin Luther King to be the face of the civil rights movement by supporting him financially and caring for their children at home. The film concentrates on a shorter period in history to take a more personal look at Martin's and Coretta's relationship and the effect the struggles of the civil rights movement had on them. They risked their lives walking side by side at the peaceful demonstration in, "Selma" 

In, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," Nelson’s story is contrasted with Winnie's tragic story. While Mandela was in jail, it was his wife Winnie who led the Apartheid and Free Mandela movements. The movie captures her growing hatred as she witnesses violence towards her people and she endures torture at the hands of their white oppressors. When Mandela is finally released from prison, Winnie demands that he use his power to overthrow the white government. But the visionary Mandela finds the strength and wisdom to transcend the urge for revenge or justice. He has learned that the only way for Africa to be whole again is through cooperation and forgiveness.

What makes these movies so inspiring is that their subjects weren't perfect, but they accomplished great things. These flawed men and women sacrificed everything to bring freedom to their people.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal
reelinspiration.blogspot.com


Monday, January 19, 2015

Celebrate Martin Luther King Day with, "Selma"


I went away from the screening feeling empowered to write an inspiring review of Best Picture Nominee,Selma.” I was deeply moved by the image of marchers from diverse religions, black and white, standing together against injustice and inhumanity. These people risked their lives for the rights we enjoy today. And the themes are still so relevant in this time of racial discord and disillusionment with those in power. 

After a two hour bus ride home, I was struggling to remember what I was going to write. I knew I wanted to include an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s closing speech at Montgomery, so I googled it. I was shocked to find that it wasn't King's actual words. I was appalled that the African-American filmmakers (including Oprah!) couldn't get the rights to use the speeches because of copyright laws. Doesn't Martin Luther King's legacy belong to all of us? The rights had been sold to a rich white man. Steven Spielberg will probably do justice to Martin Luther King’s life as he did with, “Schindler’s List.” But the symbolism is still down-heartening – a rich white man buying up intellectual property for his vision of Martin Luther King. I was so thrown that I couldn't face writing this for days. 

Then there was the controversy around the accuracy of the film's depiction of President Lyndon Johnson as a deterrent to the march at Selma. Personally, I feel that filmmakers have a responsibility to be truthful in capturing important historical events. I listened to director Ava DuVernay‘s explanation that, "Selma," was her artistic vision. She suggested that people research it for themselves. I took up the challenge and found that President Johnson's involvement was not black and white. He was first and foremost a Southern politician. While he may have intended to pass the civil rights law, he was cautious not to lose too many voters. I believe that the movie is DuVernay's honest take on the events. Her vision is to invite the audience into the spirit of the movement from the point of view of its black protagonists. Yes, protagonists - plural. It was greater than just one man. It was a community coming together to figure out the best way to accomplish their civil rights objectives.

The movie shows how African-Americans were humiliated, threatened with losing their jobs, beaten or even killed for attempting to vote in the South. A group of civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo), decide that the best course of action is to fight for the unobstructed right to vote. King meets with President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to request that he pass the Voting Rights Act. But the president’s goal is to keep a handle on the civil rights movement and he is interested in uncovering King’s next course of action. He claims that there is too much on his plate, including fighting poverty, to pass a Voting Rights Act.


The activists decide to bring attention to the issue by holding a non-violent demonstration in Selma, Alabama. As the protesters kneel down before Sheriff Jim Clark, a police officer strikes an elderly man who has difficulty kneeling. When two protesters intervene to protect the man, the police respond with a vicious attack. The protesters flee, but the policemen are unrelenting in their pursuit. One young man helps his family escape into a restaurant, where they pretend to be eating. The policemen track them down and shoot the young man in cold blood. Spurred on by this tragedy, the community rallies together. They organize a non-violent march from Selma.

Governor Wallace commissions Sheriff Jim Clark to teach them a lesson. When the peaceful marchers reach the end of a Edmund Pettus Bridge, Sheriff Jim Clark is waiting. He sics his armed state troopers on them. The nation watches, horrified, as the marchers are savagely beaten as white citizens cheer from the sidelines. Martian Luther King sends out a call to his fellow clergy to stand with him as they march again. Moved by the inhumanity, they come to show their support. It is inspiring to see black and white people from all religions joining arms and standing together.
 
The reason I wanted to include the excerpt from 
his Montgomery speech is that it still rings true today. Martin Luther King educates the nation on how after the emancipation, the Southern aristocracy was afraid of the freed slaves organizing with the poor whites for better working conditions, so they passed the Jim Crow segregation laws to separate them. The inherent message was no matter how low the white man was, the blacks were lower. (This is similar to the way our current politicians use undocumented immigrants as scapegoats, blaming them for causing the recession by taking the poor man’s jobs. Eighteen billion dollars was spent last year on immigrant enforcement. In Arizona, they passed a law that takes away our rights. Policemen can stop us on the street to ask for our papers. Of course, it is only brown-skinned people that they stop. Arizona has also disregarded the Voting Rights Act by requiring identification in order to vote.)

Witnessing the inhumane treatment of the marchers in Selma created more understanding of the plight of African Americans - which allowed President Lyndon Johnson to finally pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965. I hope that witnessing these events in, "Selma," will remind us of the difficult battle that was waged to achieve these rights, so we won’t allow them to be taken away.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

I will be writing about Director Ava DuVernay in an upcoming Reel Inspiration post, "Women Directors." Meanwhile, read more about it in Scott Mendelson's excellent article, "Why Ava DuVernay's "Selma" Oscar Snub Matters."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Spare Parts"

In Search of "Spare Parts" and the American Dream...

Carl Hayden Community High School Falcon Robotics Club


Overwhelmed by the myriad of Oscar nominated films in the Cineplex, I had overlooked the one little indie comedy on the marquee. The only thing I heard about it was that it was set in Arizona, but was shot in New Mexico to benefit from their tax incentives. (Don’t get me started…) Like the Hispanic families of the inner-city robotics team, I didn't have great expectations. But it was impossible not to be inspired by this true story of four poor undocumented high school students’ courage and determination to pursue a better life through robotics. They decide to compete against the country’s best including the reigning champions, MIT. It is awe inspiring watching them figure out how to make an underwater robot with an $800 budget, PVC piping and other, “spare parts.”

Spare Parts,” is based on an article, “La Vida Robot” in Wired magazine. Writer Joshua David explained, “I wanted to write about the amazing thing they had done. If no one tells the stories, the real stories of people trying to do amazing things and succeeding, then the stereotypes persist. I want America to be as good as it can be. I like to find stories that emphasize the people that make the country great.”

Sure, it looks like a TV movie of the week. The school seemed too bright and clean to be the tough school it is made out to be. Director Sean McNamara and screenwriter Elissa Matsueda give it a comic tone to showcase the strengths of comedian George Lopez and to make it accessible to a larger audience. And they succeed. This is the first laugh-out-loud comedy I've seen in quite a while.

The movie may have been even more powerful if they portrayed more of the true day-to-day prejudices and challenges that these undocumented teens faced. The computer teacher (Marisa Tomei) sums it up, “Every day in a hundred ways they are told that they are hopeless, that they are beyond hope.“ The filmmakers make it accessible to more people by not casting blame. But they do show the results of being treated like a criminal - that you start to behave like a criminal. The brother of one of the team members has bought into this myth and has become a delinquent.

These teens have come to this country with their families to pursue the American Dream. After being rejected for the military, an enterprising young man starts the robotic team in hopes that the competition will lead to employment so he can support his family. In a heartbreaking scene, his mother confesses, "I told you anything could be yours. I don't think I was right."

The teens show incredible courage by continuing to work towards the competition despite daunting challenges such as: supporting a family, protecting a delinquent brother, being tracked down by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), being homeless, and fear of being deported. Keep in mind this all happened in Phoenix, Arizona where Sheriff Joe Arpaio imprisons undocumented people in tent city while it is 110 degrees outside, in a state where ethnic studies (that promote self-esteem and success in school) are illegal.

“Spare Parts” is an empowering underdog story that shows we can do anything we set our mind to. But it is so much more than that. Actor Esai Morales hopes that this movie will broaden what it means to be an American and our definition of the American Dream.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Read, "The Real-Life Teachers of "Spare Parts" on What's Wrong with US Schools."

UPDATE: News of what came of the Carl Hayden Community High School Falcon Robotics team. 

Read my thoughts on, "What's Really Happening on the Arizona/Mexican Border."

Read my review of, "Under the Same Moon."

For more information on the struggles of undocumented workers, watch the documentary, "Immigrant Nation."

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Enough Said"

At first glance, “Enough Said,” appears to be just another quirky little, self-deprecating romantic comedy. But writer/director Nicole Holofcener gives us something much more down to earth and real. It is actually a different kind of love triangle. Two recent divorcees, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini), find comfort in sharing life’s changes until Eva unwittingly befriends her new beau’s ex-wife (Catherine Keener) and starts seeing Albert through his ex-wife’s disgruntled eyes.

I actually watched this film a second time for the warm feeling it left me. A recent divorcee myself, I found comfort in sharing their post-divorce challenges. Like Albert and Eva, I was reeling from the thought of my kid leaving for college. After coping with shared custody, empty nest syndrome hit like a ton of bricks. But Eva and Albert discover that sharing coping strategies and jokes makes it a little easier. I cringed as Eva allowed Albert’s ex to vent about him. But I understood how, after going through a broken marriage, she was afraid of making the same mistake twice. Like so many of us in the dating world, she set impossibly high standards so she wouldn't  be hurt again. When the conflict comes to a head, Eva and Albert must decide if sharing their messy lives is worth the effort. This isn't escapist romance. It’s down to earth, awkward, and sometimes comforting like sharing your life.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blospot.com

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Her"

Through Theodore's eyes we see, "Her." 
In this SciFi romance, society continues in the direction that it is already heading during this cyberage – playing with the paradox of how we can be constantly connected through social media yet less intimately connected. We have replaced personal interactions with text messages. Even on a physical level sex has been replaced by safe cybersex. The art of letter writing has been lost with the advent of chat, creating an industry for personal correspondence writers. Writer/Director Spike Jonze explores this theme with his main character, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a professional letter writer who specializes in drafting touching, intimate love letters while being totally shut down by fear in his personal life.


Instead of creating a hollow, unfeeling world of SciFi technology, Jonze creates a world where people still strive for human connection. Using the rules of artificial intelligence as a guide, Jonze makes it seem totally feasible that an operating system could be conversational and interactive. After Theodore downloads his own personal assistant operating system (Scarlett Johansson), she introduces herself: “Hi, I’m here. I’m Samantha.” Theodore is taken aback by the beautiful imperfections in her voice. When she wakes him up the next morning, she surprises him by exhibiting a sense of humor. Programmed to anticipate his every need (while making no demands of him), it’s not difficult to believe that Theodore falls for “her.” "Her," really isn't a her at all, but a projection of himself and what he wants in a woman. When Theodore shares the news of this relationship with his ex-wife, she responds, “You’re dating a computer? You always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with anything real. I'm glad you found someone.”

One of the delightful things about their romance is that the filmmaker can’t rely on physical attractiveness to show us why these characters come together. We watch how they inspire each other to grow. Samantha actually helps Theodore face his fear, enabling him to have a real relationship. Jonze, Phoenix, and Johansson have created a uniquely heartfelt love story in, “Her.”

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Monday, January 12, 2015

"12 Years a Slave"

Director Steve McQueen with Best Picture Oscar
Best Picture winner, “12 Years a Slave,” is based on the empowering true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American musician and freeman, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery.

There have been many movies about the plight of the slaves. But “12 Years a Slave,” by director Steve McQueen and Oscar award-winning adapter, John Ridley, transcends the others by illuminating the importance of not only surviving, but surviving with dignity. When Solomon (Chiwetu Ejiofor) is first kidnapped, he insists that he is a freeman. In an attempt to break his spirit, his captors beat him within an inch of his life. A fellow captive advises him that if he wants to survive, he must keep a low profile and not let them know he can read and write. The hopelessness of his situation finally sets in as other slaves fail gravely in their attempts to escape. He decides to cooperate, but continues exercising to keep up his strength so he is prepared when the opportunity to escape arises. But he soon observes that cooperation doesn’t save his fellow slaves from abuse. They are considered property and are whipped or killed at their master’s whim.

SPOILER AHEAD:

Solomon finally decides to risk everything to realize himself. He demonstrates his intelligence by engineering a way for logs to be carried across the river. The master is pleased and rewards him with a violin – a show of respect (and a possible way for him to earn money to buy his freedom). The white foreman becomes jealous and attacks him, but now Solomon fights back like a man. Later, the foreman returns to hang him. The master runs the foreman off, but leaves Solomon hanging from the noose barely able to hold up his weight on his tip toes. The master punishes the foreman for messing with his property, and sends a message to Solomon to stay in his place.

The film also examines the lives of the slaves who chose to please their masters. A spirited young slave, Patsey, (Best Actress winner Lupita Nyong’o) captures her master’s attention by cheerfully picking more cotton then the rest of the slaves. He watches her dancing in the slave quarters, entranced, longing to capture her jubilant spirit. When his wife protests, he insists on keeping his slave and suggests that his wife leave if she doesn’t like it. The wife finds little ways to belittle Patsey’s dignity like depriving her of soap. Believing she is entitled to special treatment as the master’s favorite, Patsey goes off to fetch some for herself. Furious at her for trying to escape, the master beats her. She pleads with him - explaining that she was just getting soap and that she has earned the right to keep herself clean. But this angers him even more. Egged on by his wife, he forces Solomon to beat her to demonstrate to both of them that he can do what he wants with his property.

Despite his captors’ best efforts to break his spirit, Solomon Northup never gives up his identity. By exhibiting his strength as a man, he plants a seed of thought – I am a man and no man’s property! By surviving with dignity, he liberates himself and others.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal 
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Wadjda," shows respect for Saudi culture while standing up for human rights.

A boy peddles up to ten-year-old Wadjda (plucky Waad Mohammed), snatches the hijab from her head and plays keep away. She tries to grab it, but he speeds off on his bike. She yells after him, boasting that she will beat him in a race - once she gets a bike.

Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour at "Wadjda" screening 
Wadjda,” is a deceptively simple story of a girl’s pursuit of money to buy a bike. But it’s more than that. Wadjda is courageously challenging Saudi patriarchal traditions. Saudi girls are forbidden to ride bikes because it is seen as dangerous to their virtue. Wadjda shouldn’t even be talking to the boy on the street because he isn’t in her family circle. She seems freer without the stolen hijab despite knowing that she will be admonished when she arrives at school. Cheeky Wadjda is always pushing the boundaries of what she can get away with. Under her black abaya, she wears white tennis shoes. When her principal (Saudi TV star Ahd) insists that she wear proper school shoes, Wadjda colors her tennies black with a marker.

There is great power in this. Society changes with small acts of defiance. When someone has the courage to stand up for themselves by performing the unjustly forbidden act, it liberates others to do the same. It is akin to a black teen sitting at a “whites only” lunch counter. This simple act of moxie has an impact on the boy. He is so intrigued by Wadjda’s single-minded pursuit that he lets her practice riding his bike. There is hope for the next generation yet.

Female writer/director, Haifaa Al-Mansour, gives us a rare peak into the home life of Saudi women. I was surprised to find that they enjoy shopping at malls for the latest fashions that can only be worn in front of family. It appears that Wadjda is allowed to express herself freely in the confines of her room.

Wadjda’s father (Sultan Al Assaf) seems to love her. He brings her a little gift when he has been away. But we soon discover that he has gone looking for a new wife. His parents are pressuring him to replace Wadjda’s mother because she can’t bear him a son.

Unfortunately, Wadjda’s mother (played by Saudi television star Reen Abdullah) is a product of the patriarchal society that is displacing her. She refuses to accept a job closer to home because the female employees don’t cover their faces. She forbids Wadjda from buying the bike. But she is too busy trying to hold onto her husband to notice Wadjda’s many financial schemes. She proudly helps her daughter prepare for a Quran recitation contest not realizing that Wadjda has entered to win money for the bike.

In the attempt to belong, Wadjda hangs her name on an empty branch of the family tree. Later she discovers that it has been removed because she isn’t a man. It becomes clear that this patriarchal society wasn’t created to benefit her or her mom. They must learn the delicate balance between respecting their beloved land while standing up for themselves.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Jana’s note: It is an incredible accomplishment that this film even got made. It is the first feature film shot in Saudi Arabia. What makes it even more ground-breaking is that it was directed by a Saudi woman! The director's journey is actually an example of the theme of challenging unjust Saudi patriarchal traditions, while showing respect to the culture. Director Haifaa Al-Mansour refrained from being in the presence of men not in her family circle by watching the shoot on a monitor from inside a tent and sending messengers back and forth or using a two-way radio to convey her adjustments to the actors. While standing up to unjust practices, the movie makes it clear that there is much about Saudi society that the director loves.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Most Inspiring Films of 2013!


It’s that time of year when I share my most inspiring films list. Imagine my surprise to find that I hadn’t done last year’s list! I hadn’t even written a review in over a year! And it was such a great year for film! So I’m making it right by catching up now. I will be posting the longer version of each of these reviews throughout the month. I hope to have the 2014 list finished in time for the Oscars.

There are some enlightening reoccurring themes on my most inspiring films list. The common message in the romances was overcoming fear to make room for love. Six of the films on my list were inspired by empowering true stories. The hero in each film stood up against human rights injustices in their own way. They let their light shine!

Marianne Williamson's words illuminate the theme beautifully, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I hope these films inspire you to shine in the New Year!

Movie blessings!

Jana

10) “Mud”

Writer/director Jeff Nicols slops through murky Mississippi backwaters and gritty, dirty life on the delta to make, “Mud.” Ellis (Tye Sheridon) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) set off on a Mississippi river raft adventure. While exploring a small island, they discover a mysterious fugitive called Mud (charismatic Matthew McConaughey). Ellis was recently sideswiped by his parent’s ugly breakup and his first crush with an older girl. So when Mud spins a yarn about his undying love for his high school sweetheart, Ellis puts his faith in true love and does what he can to reunite them. Through his example, they learn the power of loyalty in the face of human fallibility.

9) "Nebraska"

Woody’s family is dumbfounded as the booze-addled, obstinate Woody (Bruce Dern) sets off on a 900 mile trek across Nebraska to claim his bogus million dollar sweepstakes winnings. And nobody seems to know why, even Woody. Perhaps it’s to avoid his imminent mortality. Maybe it’s a last ditch effort to do something with his wasted life. Director Alexander Payne gives us comic relief in the form of Woody’s ornery, long suffering wife (scene stealer June Squibb) as the foul-mouthed voice of reason, “I never even knew the son of a bitch wanted to be a millionaire. He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it.” Woody’s responsible son (Will Forte) is called in to talk some sense into the old man. But when Woody won’t be dissuaded, his son sees a chance to bond with the father he never knew. He longs to uncover some meaning in this cross-country trip. Perhaps it’s a need to reconnect with his family roots. But when they are reunited, the men in the family all sit in the living room blankly staring at the television set. The two brothers barely relate to each other aside from some complacent muttering about which sports teams are playing. We feel his son’s frustration as Woody runs off to get sloshed at local dives, spouting off about his big windfall. Woody pacifies his exasperated son with, “Have a beer with your old man. Be somebody.” The story livens up when his wife comes to “rescue” Woody. As the family deals with unresolved issues and greedy hometown “friends” and relatives, we see a little bit about what made Woody, well…woody. Payne paints a stark, yet quirky portrait of family responsibility and the silent isolation and resignation of rural America.

8) "Philomena"

For 50 years, Philomena (Judi Dench) has longed for the son who was taken from her by the nuns entrusted with their keeping. Ashamed of being an unwed mother, she kept that secret all those years. Philomena finally sets off on a journey to find her son with political reporter, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan). Martin isn’t thrilled about doing a human interest story, but he needs the job. Director Stephen Frears takes us on an “odd couple” road trip. Their differences are exaggerated for comic effect: Philomena’s small town naivety contrasting Martin’s world-weary cynicism. When Martin politely asks her how she is, she goes on …and on…about her hip replacement. She is portrayed as a sort of everymom. An ex-Catholic, Martin voices an issue many can relate to – how the church shames people for having sex. He can’t understand why Philomena would protect the nuns who shamed unwed mothers into indentured servitude and then sold off their babies. But Philomena’s faith is not limited to a flawed institution; it is built on God’s forgiveness. By the end, Martin sees the importance of this “everymom” story. By sharing her story, she gives permission for other mothers to seek out their children.

7) "Enough Said"
At first glance, “Enough Said,” appears to be just another quirky little, self-deprecating romantic comedy. But writer/director Nicole Holofcener gives us something much more down to earth and real. Two recent divorcees, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini) find comfort in sharing life’s changes until Eva unwittingly befriends her new beau’s ex-wife (Catherine Keener). Albert and Eva are both suffering from the onset of empty nest syndrome as their kids prepare to leave for college. Sharing coping strategies and jokes makes it a little easier. But Eva is scared of making the same mistake twice and starts to see Albert through his ex-wife’s disgruntled eyes. When the conflict comes to a head, Eva and Albert must decide if sharing their messy lives is worth the effort. This isn't escapist romance. It’s down to earth, awkward, and sometimes comforting like sharing your life.

6) "Dallas Buyers Club"

Real-life bull-ridin’ playboy Ron Woodroof (Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey) is reckless with his life - until he is diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. The good ol’ boy is ostracized by his friends for being what he detests the most – a homosexual. Ron finds out that there are no government approved HIV drugs. The “lucky” AIDS patients are being used as lab rats. Ron takes it on himself to track down alternative treatments. When he can’t afford the drugs on his own, he is forced to team up with street smart, transgender AIDS patient Rayon (Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto) to bring in other customers. They bypass government regulations on selling illegal drugs by starting a Buyers Club where patients pay for memberships and get drugs for free. Through their shared struggle for dignity and acceptance, the men develop a grudging respect for each other. Ron Woodroof may be doing it for all the wrong reasons, but he ends up helping AIDS patients and growing in the process.

5) "12 Years a Slave"

Best Picture winner, “12 Years a Slave,” is based on the empowering true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American musician and freeman, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. There have been many movies about the plight of the slaves. But “Twelve Years a Slave,” by director Steve McQueen and award-winning adapter, John Ridley, transcends the others by illuminating the importance of not only fighting to survive, but also fighting for your dignity. When Solomon (Chiwetu Ejiofor) is first kidnapped, he insists that he is a freeman. In an attempt to break his spirit, his captors beat him within an inch of his life. A fellow captive advises him that if he wants to survive, he must keep a low profile and not to let them know he can read and write. The hopelessness of his situation sets in as other slaves fail gravely in their attempts to escape. He decides to cooperate, but continues exercising to keep up his strength so he is prepared when the opportunity to escape arises. But he soon observes that cooperation doesn’t save his fellow slaves from abuse. They are considered property and are whipped or killed at their master’s whim. Despite the slave masters’ best efforts to break his spirit, Solomon Northup refuses to give up his identity as a man. Through his example, he plants a seed of thought – I am a man and no man’s property! By fighting to survive with dignity, he liberates himself and others.

OSCAR ALERT: Lupita Nyong'o won Best Supporting Actress and John Ridley won Best Adapted Screenplay.

4) "Her"

This SciFi romance explores the paradox of how we can be constantly connected through social media yet less intimately connected. In the new computer age, we have replaced personal interactions with text messages. Even sex has been replaced by safe cybersex. The art of letter writing has been lost with the advent of chat, creating an industry for personal correspondence writers like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). Theodore specializes in drafting touching, intimate love letters despite being totally shut down in his personal life. Instead of creating a hollow, unfeeling world of SciFi technology, Director Spike Jonze creates a world where people still strive for human connection. When Theodore downloads his own personal assistant operating system, (Scarlett Johansson) Theodore is taken aback by the lovely imperfections in her voice. Programmed to anticipate his every need (while making no demands of him), it’s not difficult to believe that Theodore falls for “Her.” One of the delightful things about this romance, is that the filmmaker can’t rely on physical attractiveness to show us why these characters come together. Their affection is evident as they encourage each other’s growth.

3) "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"

What makes this biopic so powerful is the courage director Justin Chadwick and writer William Nicholson demonstrated in choosing to show the much revered human rights leader’s weaknesses (such as cheating on his first wife and endangering his family). It is important to convey that this flawed man sacrificed everything to bring freedom to his people. Due attention is also given to Winnie who led the anti-Apartheid and Free Mandela movements while her husband was in jail. The film captures her growing hatred as she witnesses violence towards her people and endures torture at the hands of their white oppressors. Despite Winnie urging him overthrow the government, Nelson Mandela finds the strength and wisdom to transcend the desire for revenge or justice. Instead, he promotes cooperation and forgiveness as the means to heal South Africa.

2) "Captain Phillips"

In this thrilling, hard-driving action film, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is portrayed as a hard-working merchant mariner – responsible first to his duty (delivering cargo) and then for protecting his crew. The film opens with Phillips expressing his growing concern about how with today’s economy his son won’t be able to find employment. This burden distracts him from seeing the negative impact of international companies: dumping nuclear waste off of the Somali coastline and illegally trolling for fish. We witness the results as former Somali fishermen fight over knat (an additive green leaf) and to be hired for the only available job – a cargo ship pirate. The movie isn’t overly sympathetic to the pirates (led with fierce determination by Barkhad Adbi) when it reveals that none of their bounty will be going back to help the rest of the village. “Captain Phillips” is a must-see for the rising tension in the action and global trade.



1) "Wadjda"

“Wadjda,” by female writer/director Haifaa Al, is a deceptively simple story of a Saudi girl’s pursuit of money to buy a bike. Saudi girls are actually forbidden to ride bikes because it is seen as dangerous to their virtue. By pursuing this goal, Wadjda courageously challenges Saudi patriarchal traditions. Cheeky Wadjda is always pushing the boundaries of what she can get away with. Under her black burka, she wears white tennis shoes. When her principal insists that she wear black school shoes, she colors her tennies with a black marker. In this patriarchal society, Wadjda doesn't know where she belongs. While father seems to love her and her mother, we soon discover that he is looking for a new wife. His parents are pressuring him to replace her mom because she can’t bear him a son. Her mother (Saudi television star Reen Abdullah) is a product of the patriarchal society that is displacing her. She refuses to accept a job closer to home because the female employees don’t cover their faces. She forbids Wadjda from buying the bike. But she is too busy trying to hold onto her husband to notice Wadjda’s attempt to win money for the bike in a Quran recitation contest.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Most Inspiring Films of 2012!


If anyone is still out there, my apologies for not keeping up on my reviews. I have been seeing movies (my life blood) and "living" at the Loft Cinema, but my writing has consisted of composing cover letters for my job search. But it is that time of year that beckons me to write my most inspiring films list - and I couldn't resist!

 (Note: this is not a complete list by any means. I am not including the big epic motion pictures, "Anna Karenina," "The Hobbit," and, "Les Miserables." The trailers for, "The Impossible," and the documentary, "Chasing Ice," look pretty inspiring, but I haven't seen them yet.)


Honorable Mention: I didn't expect to have half as much fun as I did at the off-kilter biopic, "Hitchcock." Director Sacha Gervasi sets the tone from the opening scene with Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopklins) outrageous, tongue-in-cheek humor. Like some of Hitchcock's later works, the genre is hard to classify. The synopsis refers to it as a love story between Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, (the flawless Helen Mirren) during the making of "Psycho." But what would a movie about Hitchcock be without hints of suspense and other fiendish delights. I found the details of Hitchcock's unorthodox directing style especially alluring.

12) "The Kid with the Bike." While in search of his "stolen" bike, a boy discovers that his father has abandoned him. The hard reality sets in -  not all parents do what is best for their kids. This movie deals honestly with how that neglect affects a child and causes them to make bad decisions. And yet one understanding, committed adult can make a difference - even if they can't solve all the problems.

11) A twenty-something novelist with writers' block creates the perfect girlfriend in, "Ruby Sparks." Sure, it's reminiscent of, "Stranger than Fiction," but the love story actually works better here. What makes it stand out is how truthful the characters' relationship seems. There's one fight that sounded just like me and my ex-boyfriend. Ruby's reactions to this situation are so original and yet some how they don't seem contrived. They seem as real as she is. As a writer myself, the idea of a character coming to life for the author doesn't seem that far fetched. But what really inspired me was the theme that we "literally" (hehe) create our own world.

10) "The Sessions" is the story of a man in an iron lung (with the soul of a poet) who enlists the help of a professional sex surrogate to lose his virginity. I've heard nothing but good things about this festival crowd-pleaser. (Come to think of it, they were all men and Helen Hunt's naked body certainly would inspire more than just the main character.) Just the idea of a priest encouraging this arrangement and hearing the intimate details at confession is entertaining. And John Hawkes' self-deprecating portrayal makes it easy to believe that women could fall for him. If that doesn't give you hope, what will? One of the best feel good movies of the year.

9) In, "Moonrise Kingdom," a misfit scout escapes an absurdly corny New England camp to run away with his girlfriend – another troubled foster child. Hilarity ensues as they are pursued by a troop of weapon-wielding boy scouts and clueless adults. By making this delinquent adolescent couple sympathetic, director Wes Anderson finally delivers a film, in his definitive quirky style, that is accessible to movie audiences and highly entertaining.

8) A family accomplishes, "The Impossible," fighting terrible trials to be reunited after a tsunami literally tears them apart. Naomi Watts was nominated for an Oscar for her heart-wrenching performance in this true life story.

7) Believe it or not, "Silver Linings Playbook," is a feel good romantic comedy about the mentally ill. Ex-teacher Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released from the mental institution under the stipulation that he live with his parents and take his meds for his bipolar condition. Driven to win back his ex-wife, he attempts to recreate himself by seeing the silver linings in life (rather than by using drugs.) His dream is shattered when he discovers that his wife has a restraining order against him. He believes that if she could just see how much he has changed, she will take him back. He creates an unusual alliance with an equally messed-up woman (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence)  who agrees to get a letter to his ex - in return for being her partner in a dance contest. She is suffering from a similar delusion that this contest will solve all her problems. By helping her, he in turn helps himself.  The movie seems to say that love may just be another delusion, but when shared it has the power to heal - like no pill can.

6) "Amour," A elderly couple shared a rewarding life together and a love of music. Their love is tested when the husband must cope with losing the cultivated partner he married to Alzheimers Disease and must decide whether to sacrifice his last days taking care of the love of his life. "Amour" was nominated for Best Picture and won best Foreign Language Film.


5) As an aspiring filmmaker, I couldn't resist, "Argo," the story of a CIA agent who used the guise of making a sci-fi flick in Iran to get to the embassy employees trapped there during the hostage crisis. Sounds like a Hollywood plot device, but it really happened! The real power of film lies in it's ability to educate and create understanding while entertaining. "Argo" succeeds on that level by sharing important insights into what motivated the crisis. "Argo" also nabbed Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay on Oscar night!

4) In, "The Other Son," two young men – one Israeli and the other Palestinian – discover that they were accidentally switched at birth during a raid in the Gulf War. This film transcends the usual melodramatic movie of the week by incorporating authentic Palestinian and Israeli attitudes and culture. The young men question their identities. Are they Jewish or Palestinian?  What makes you Jewish? Can a sworn enemy be accepted as a member of the family? Will they find that they have more similarities than differences?

3) I generally don't include big Hollywood epics, (Spielberg doesn't need my help anyway...) but, "Lincoln," is such an important movie. While dealing with a wife battling debilitating grief and the burden of the Civil War, Lincoln fights tirelessly to pass a law that will abolish slavery and hopefully end the war. This was not a popular cause. He even had opposition from his own party. But he did it because it was the right thing to do. Today's politicians could learn something about moral courage from this man. In addition to the timely theme, I enjoyed being transported back to the Civil War Era through authentic costumes and set design. I found the back-story about the first lady and Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln) absolutely compelling. Best Actor winner Daniel Day Lewis refrains from chewing the furniture (which I usually enjoy) to give us a subtle, lived in performance of the determined and often witty Lincoln.

2) One film on my list isn't a film at all - but a play. I've included the National Theater Live production of, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," because it was one of the most moving big screen experiences I had this year. In director Marian Elliot's hands, Simon Stephen's stellar adaptation of Mark Haddon's award-winning novel is theatrical in the best sense of the word. We get a glimpse of the inner life of a teenage boy with high functioning autism. Christopher (Luke Treadaway in a devastatingly real performance) sees the world in terms of mathematical equations and must brave the terrifying world outside his home to investigate the death of the neighbor's dog that he has been accused of killing. Through his search, we come to a better understanding and acceptance of this courageous young man.


1) I was delighted when my favorite film of the year, "Searching for Sugarman," won Best Documentary.  A South African music critic sets out to find out what happened to the obscure American rock musician who became the voice of Apartheid. His compelling search leads him to rumors that this eccentric rock poet (who had the promise to be the next Dylan) had shot himself on stage after vanishing into obscurity at the failure of his first visionary album. I found it so inspiring that if you follow your calling – it can have a far reaching impact beyond your own awareness. I should have gone home and written a review, but I was inspired to write lyrics for a song!

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Monday, April 23, 2012

Arizona Filmmakers and Reel Inspiration finalists screen at FUSIONFEST

FUSIONFEST: April 28 & 29, Pima Community College N.W. Campus, 7600 N Shannon Rd.
Featuring culturally diverse independent films and topics centered on global issues.

SATURDAY, APRIL 28
11 a.m. - "Starbuck and the Bandit" by Dick Fisher and Sarah Sher
12:30pm -Film Discussion with Elhad Ndoye
"The Forgotten Children-Focus on West African Culture"
 2pm - "What You Need" - Film by Nickolas Duarte
2:30pm- "Deseo" – film by Richard Wyland (Q&A by Ty Matthews)
3pm - "389 Miles: Living the Border" by Luis Carlos Davis

SUNDAY, APRIL 29
11am - "Vicenta" - Film by Angela Soto
12:30pm - Reel Inspiration Contests Finalists:
"The Mysterious Mystery of Something Important" by Jacqueline Véissid, "Solace" by Bill Kersey, "87 Topaz" by Bill Kersey, "Garpenfargle" by Bill Kersey & Edward Kim, “Somebody Loves Me” by Derek Griffith, "Morning Submission" by Justin Mashouf, "Just Coffee" by Roberto Gudino, "Linear Progression" by Kat Kosmala, "Not to be Toyed With" by Hal Melfi and Steve Bayless, "Have Coffin, Will Travel" by Sarah Sher, "New York City Spirit" by Muriel Stockdale,
2pm - "How like an Angel" - Film by David Sands & Elizabeth DeVries
3pm - What You Need – Film by Nicholas Duarte

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Arizona International Film Fest Opens!


On April 13 - 29, where will I be? The Arizona International Film Fest!

Last night I attended the Opening Night Carnival surrounded by film friends and circus acrobats. The best part was seeing the movie, "Shouting Secrets." Most of the audience, including some extras from the reservation near Globe, AZ. stayed after to express appreciation for this profoundly moving movie during the interesting Q & A session with Swiss Filmmaker Korinna Sehringer.

When Wesley’s mother suffers a stroke and falls into a coma, he returns home to the San Carlos Apache Reservation to be with her. Once there, he learns that his family has never forgiven him for leaving or for using their likenesses in his novel. Sehringer’s poignant drama exposes the dysfunction in an Apache family straddling tradition and modernity when the center of their world lies dying in a hospital bed. Past grudges come to the forefront as the family attempts to rediscover their emotional connections to one another.

This film screens again today and Tuesday. I highly recommend you see it while you can.


Saturday, April 14th at 1 p.m. at Crossroads Festival and Tuesday, April 17, 7:00pm at Desert View Theater. SATURDAY April 14th at the AIFF. One of the shorts, "Stardust and the Bandit" was shot right here at Old Tucson Studios by my friend Dick Fisher! I suggest that you check out the schedule because there are just so many wonderful films for every taste: animated shorts, dramatic shorts, documentaries, films for kids, edgy films, films from Arizona Filmmakers and from around the world!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

KIDS! SHOOT MOVIES ON THE MOON!


Participants (ages 9-18) in the Short Movie Workshop will learn to use their own camcorders or cell phones to create short silent pictures with the fantasy world of Valley of the Moon as their set location. (An extra camera will be available for those who don't have your own.) We'll enjoy the beautiful spring weather while being inspired by whimsical castles and elf villages. We'll have a blast playing theater games while learning techniques for acting for the camera, script writing, storyboarding, and simple rules of video production. In the process we'll develop creativity, communication skills, confidence and concentration.


When: Saturday, May 5th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Valley of the Moon
Address: 2544 E. Allen Rd. (Tucson Blvd and Allen Rd.)
Cost: $55 (includes pizza lunch)
Contact: Jana Segal
Phone: 520- 325-9175
E-mail: reelinspiration@hotmail.com
Website: http://tucsonvalleyofthemoon.com/

INSTRUCTOR JANA SEGAL
Jana Segal earned her BA in Speech and Theatre from Avila College. Her musical, "Seeker" won third place at the American College Theatre Festival. She went on to receive her MFA in Dramatic Writing from Brandeis University. Her script, “Model T Biscuits” won first place at the IFFF and Moondance screenwriting contests. Jana wrote, directed, and produced the comedy short, "The Bath-a-holic" and the Western short, "Desert Angel." Jana has taught workshops in screenwriting, storyboarding and filmmaking for children. Jana organized the Reel Inspiring Film Contest and professional level directing, acting, and screenwriting workshops for Reel Inspiration.

Technical support provided by Andy Taylor Technology and Media.

http://tucsonvalleyofthemoon.com/

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"Most Inspiring Films of 2011!"


Here it is! My "Most Inspiring Films of 2011!" list. These inspiring stories stayed in my heart and mind for months after I had seen them. A recurring theme this year - is the incredible strength we get from our connection with others to overcome even the greatest loss. I would love to hear about the films that moved you too! Please, share your thoughts and favorites in the comment section below.

10) "Midnight in Paris," is Woody Allen's love letter to Paris. For me it's total wish fulfilling escapism - a guilty pleasure. It is the story of a Hollywood screenwriter who joins his fiancee and her family on a business trip to Paris. The trip rekindles his dream of being a starving writer in Paris - much to the dismay of his materialistic fiancee. He takes a midnight walk and ends up in 1920's Paris. This is a dream come true for the aspiring novelist as he mingles with great artists (Picasso!) and his literary idols including Hemingway himself! This is one of the most enjoyable Woody Allen films to come out in years. The story flows effortlessly back in forth in time, earning Woody a well deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar. 

9) In "The Tree," eight-year-old Simone is riding in the back of her father's pickup when it goes off track and rolls into the sprawling, twisted tree shading her house. Her family's world is turned upside down - not only by of the loss of their father, but also by the loss of their mother when she retreats into a deep depression. Unable to accept that her father is gone, Simone begins to hear her father's voice in the tree. To be near him, she climbs high into the branches and sets up house. At first her mother is worried, but then she finds comfort in the idea that her husband is there. The next morning, the children discover their mother curled up in the roots of the tree. These roots threaten to destroy the very foundation of the house. Mom must grow up and find the strength within herself to protect her family. "The Tree" is captivating in its beauty, riveting in its action sequences, and poetic in its symbolism. It has a valuable theme on the importance of pulling together as a family to survive loss.

8) “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation... while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” "The Tree of Life" is a reflection on the meaning of life. The filmmaker uses the opening narration to give us a handle on how to understand the nature images and memories to follow. The mother meditates, "There are two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose the way we will follow.” Basically, nature is competitive and only cares for itself while grace relies on a sense of oneness with all of existence. Soon after the opening images and narration, we witness the family getting the news that one of their three sons has died. They try to make sense of the loss. This brings on a lot of soul searching about how the children were raised and inspires prayers requesting understanding of the meaning of life, suffering, and death.

7) Distracted by the appearance of "Another Earth" in the sky, Rhoda drives into a family's car killing mother and son and leaving the father in a coma. After being released from prison, Rhoda seems to be serving a self-induced penitence when she accepts a job as a school janitor. The radio announcer confirms that the earth has been duplicated. “There's another you out there. Has that 'me' made the same mistakes as I made? Maybe the other me made a better choice." Recognizing the opportunity for a second chance, Rhoda enters an essay contest to win a shuttle ride to Earth II. But everything changes when she sees a man leaving a toy robot by the side of the road where the accident happened. "Another Earth," looks like sci fi, but it is actually a very human drama. The discovery of Earth II acts as the framework to explore the life we create with our bad choices, the inherent regrets, self-forgiveness, and redemption. Despite the tragic circumstances; it is really a story of hope.

6) First off, I will admit that I am a fan. I am completely captivated by the fanciful flights of the imagination in the magical world of, "Harry Potter." If it were on TV right now, I would be watching Harry and his friends' quest to find and destroy Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes (the instruments of his power.) Because, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" was one of the most compelling, suspenseful, awe-inspiring movies of the year and definitely the most satisfying ending to a franchise EVER.

5) Best Picture winner, "The Artist" is more than a homage to the silent film era, it transcends the form. Bigger-than-life movie star George Valentin (Best Actor winner Jean Dujarin) fades into oblivion with the decline of silent pictures as his young love interest, Peppy Miller, rises to stardom with the talkies. French director (Best Director winner) Michel Hazanavicius reinvents silent pictures by using a naturalistic, charismatic acting style and exquisite cinematography. You can see the love in every frame.

4) In, "The Help," recent college grad Skeeter is hired to write a housekeeping and cooking column – a subject she knows nothing about. She asks her bridge club friend if she can interview her maid Abileen. Upset by her friend's mistreatment of Abileen, Skeeter is inspired to write a book on the maids' perspective of working for a white family. Her editor reminds her that it is 1960 Jackson, Mississippi. She will never be able to get any maids willing to risk their jobs or their lives to talk to her. Skeeter explains, “We are raised by our black maids. They love us and we love them, but they can't use the same bathroom.” But it's the maids that make the story. Viola Davis, as Abileen, adds gravity to every scene she is in. In her carriage we see the weight of generations of oppression. But it's her friend Minny (Best Supporting Actor winner Octavia Spencer) you have to watch. After working for the segregationist bridge club president, Minny has had enough. She is a firecracker ready to explode. These women are survivors. But they have risen above that. They have stood up to their fears. They are heroes in their own civil rights protest and free women.

3) In, “The Descendants,” Alexander Payne and Oscar winning co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash present a flawed main character - absentee husband and father Matt King (played with good humor by George Clooney). Sometimes it takes a catastrophic event to shake us awake from sleep walking through life. When his wife ends up in a coma, Matt is absolutely clueless about how to handle the life shattering situation and his two troubled daughters. Matt must come to an understanding of his wife's infidelity before he can fully be there for them.

2) "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." According to his dad, the way Oskar sees the world is a gift. Oskar's overly active mind continuously scrutinizes the connections he observes in order to make sense of the physical world. Things he can't observe - like people's feelings - are elusive and frightening to him. His dad would challenge him by sending him on reconnaissance missions (to learn to talk to people.) When his father is killed in the 9/11 tragedy, Oskar is ill-equipped to make sense of the senseless act. Then he discovers a key in an envelope with the word BLACK written on it and a newspaper clipping indicating that he should keep looking. Did his father leave him one last message locked away somewhere in the city that only this key can open? As Oskar compulsively traverses the five boroughs in search of the lock, he inadvertently learns the lessons his father set out to teach him about connecting with other people. The quest gives him a concrete method to deal with a tragedy that makes no sense.

1) "Buck" is a pret'near perfect picture. You have your likable hero, Buck Brannaman, a wounded soul who overcame an abusive childhood and personal weaknesses to forge a better path in training horses. His experience taught him to be an empathetic, intuitive reader of horses and people. The thing that really stands out in this film is its humanity. Through working with their horses, the owners are transformed. They learn to let go of trying to force their will on others. “If you find a way to fit this thing right here, it'll make you better. It'll make you better in areas you didn't think related to horses.”

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

*SCROLL DOWN FOR LONGER REVIEWS OF THESE MOVIES BELOW.

Monday, April 02, 2012

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2"

OK. I know this is a tad late and the Harry Potter franchise doesn't need my help promoting it anyway. But I wanted to include it on my, "Most Inspiring Films" list - so here it is. First off, I will admit that I am a fan. I am completely captivated by the fanciful flights of the imagination in the magical world of Harry Potter. If it were on TV right now, I would be watching Harry and his friends' quest to find and destroy Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes (the instruments of his power.) Because, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" was one of the most compelling, suspenseful, awe-inspiring movies of the year and definitely the most satisfying ending to a franchise EVER.

Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves nicely tie up all the story-lines and resolve relationship issues while sending us on roller coaster ride of adventure. But what makes, "Deathly Hallows," so satisfying is that Harry is no longer isolated in his quest. My heart cheered as the whole school of Hogwarts united in the fight against Voldemort - in one of the most suspenseful sequences I've seen in a long time.

Perhaps one of the reasons that it is so suspenseful is that I've really grown to care about these characters - hogwarts and all. In this final installment of the series, Harry finally comes to grips with his darkside. In fact, he gains greater strength and wisdom from conquering it. There is a deep satisfation in knowing that our heroes are as flawed (if not more so) than the rest of us, yet they still make a difference in their world.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Jana's Guilty Pleasure - "Midnight in Paris"



"Midnight in Paris" is Woody Allen's love letter to Paris. For me it's total wish full-filling escapism. I can watch it over and over just to be in Paris during artistic Renaissance of the 20s and hang out with the visionary artists of the time. It is the story of Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter, (Owen Wilson in the Woody Allen role) who joins his fiancee (Rachel McAdams) and her family on a business trip to Paris. Being in the "City of Lights" rekindles his dream of living in Paris while he writes his novel. Unfortunately, his fiancee and her parents have more lucrative plans for him. In an effort to escape the ensuing conflict, Gil takes a midnight walk and ends up in 1920's Paris. This is a dream come true for the aspiring novelist as he mingles with great artists (Picasso!) and his literary idols including Hemingway himself! His heroes become his peers and even give him advice as he pursues the enchanting young model who eventually becomes his muse.

It is unusual for such a lite-weight romantic comedy to win an Oscar for Best Original screenplay. But, "Midnight in Paris," is highly original.  The action shifts effortlessly back and forth between two time periods. That takes real writing chops. At least Allen has placed his alter ego in a fresh new setting.  In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable Woody Allen films to come out in years.

Have you ever had the feeling that you were stepping back in time as you strolled down a narrow cobble stone street or visited the old haunts of a favorite writer? Then, "Midnight in Paris," should delight the romantic in you and maybe even inspire you to follow your true passion.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com


Saturday, March 31, 2012

"The Artist" Reinvents Silent Pictures

O.K. I didn't want to like "The Artist." I've had it up to here with Hollywood remakes. Even Broadway is adapting Hollywood blockbusters for the stage. Is there an original idea out there! At the last Screenwriting Expo, more than one manager insisted that to break into the biz, you should take an old story and put a new twist on it. And to be honest, it worked reasonably well for the Cinderella remake, "Enchanted." (Though the over the top Alladin climax was a mess.)

So I should be morally opposed to, "The Artist," because it puts two old stories together – the over done, "A Star is Born" and "Singing in the Rain." Bigger-than-life movie star George Valentin (Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujarin) fades into oblivion with the decline of silent pictures as his young love interest, Peppy Miller, (the lovely Bérénice Bejohe) rises to stardom with the talkies.

French director (Best Director winner) Michel Hazanavicius chose to make a black and white silent picture. I'll admit here that I'm not a big fan of silent movies because I can't stand the fake, theatrical posturing and mugging. But, "The Artist" transcends the limitations of the silent form. Michel reinvents silent pictures by using a naturalistic acting style, exquisite cinematography, and modern storytelling devices such as opening with a silent film within a silent film. But what really makes it stand out are the clever, charming moments. In one touching moment, Peppy snuggles up to Valentin's jacket on the coat rack as if she is embracing the man. The actress is so totally invested in the hug that when Valentin catches her, he flashes a surprised, then amused grin that lights up his whole face. Sigh. Did I mention the incredible chemistry between these two charismatic actors?

A Facebook friend complained that Dujarin won best actor without uttering a word of dialogue. (Did he actually see the film?) But, as they taught us in Film 101, a movie is moving pictures. You should be able to understand the story with the sound turned off. Jean Dujarin, as George Valentin, goes through a full character arch from arrogance to falling in love to hitting rock bottom without the crutch of dialogue. And he kept me engaged in every scene. And he can tap dance! I'd say the Oscar was well deserved.

"The Artist" is more than a homage to the silent film era, it transcends the form. It presents a universal theme: When the old ways no longer work, ego may hinder us from adapting to the new ways, but in the end love conquers all.

It's not hard to see why it won Best Picture. You can see the love in every frame.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"The Descendants"


There are times in our lives when our world comes crashing down and we are completely unprepared. Shocked and clueless, we grope around making awkward attempts to deal with the overwhelming situation or to just get by. Like the day my whole life was thrown out of whack when my husband of 23 years announced he wanted a divorce and moved out that afternoon. I did my share of groping to find my footing - not always handling it with the best of grace.

I guess that's why I relate to Alexander Payne's, “The Descendants.” Payne (and Oscar winning co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) aren't afraid to present a flawed main character, Matt King (George Clooney), who is absolutely clueless about how to handle the life shattering situation he finds himself in when his wife ends up in a coma as the result of a boating accident. To add insult to injury, he discovers that she was cheating on him at the time. It's a one-two punch that leaves him stunned and reeling.

Matt lives in Hawaii, in paradise, but has been so caught up in business transactions that he can't take in the beauty around him. His time has been spent negotiating deals with vacation resorts and condos to sell the pristine forest entrusted to him and the other descendants. This piece of land represents all that he has lost in his life. There was a time that he took his family on regular camping trips there. But he has lost his connection with the land and his family. He has become an absentee husband and father. In fact, he is absent from his own life.

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic event to shake us awake after sleep walking through life. (It took my husband leaving me...) Having been JOLTED awake, Matt is ill equipped to deal with the fall out from the accident on his two troubled daughters. George Clooney brings out the humor as his character gropes around trying to make some sense of the whole mess. When he hears that his wife was cheating, Matt, still in shock, charges off in his clumsy flip flops around a ridiculous circular drive – in search of answers, anything... Later, we can see the inner turmoil in his eyes even as his daughter splashes in the ocean and life goes on around him. Once he has dealt with his own issues, he is better equipped to help others cope with the tragedy. Finally fully awake, Matt sees that he is a part of something bigger than himself. He realizes his responsibility to the land, himself, and those around him. Procuring his place in the world puts his problems in perspective.

As for me, I'm grateful to be awake and learning life's lessons.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

What you might not know about me is that despite a fairly embarrassing learning disability (I was the one kid in my school who was in both special education and the gifted program), I actually have a very active problem solving mind. I loved unraveling the enigma that was the "Tree of Life" for my review on reelinspiration.blogspot.com. I loved every minute spent solving the puzzle of what really happened behind the gunfight at the OK Corral for my Tombstone comedy. So it's no wonder I greatly enjoyed, ""Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." It basically takes the audience on a problem solving reconnaissance mission. To be honest, I relate to it in other ways as well.

According to his dad (adorably played by Tom Hanks), the way Oskar sees the world is a gift. Oskar's (Thomas Horn) overly active mind continuously scrutinizes the connections he observes in order to make sense of the physical world. Things he can't observe – like people's feelings (including his own) - are elusive and frightening to him. For a boy in need of concrete answers, even the inconclusive results of his Asperger Syndrome test are unsettling.

His dad's gift was to find creative ways to challenge his son. Their favorite games were reconnaissance missions. One such mission was to search the five boroughs of New York for something from every decade. In the process, Oskar spoke to people from all walks of life. The purpose being to overcome his fear of interacting with people. True to form, Oskar comes up with a concrete answer to the riddle – a rock.

When his father is killed in the 9/11 tragedy, Oskar is ill equipped to make sense of the senseless act. His mother (Sandra Bullock) buries an empty coffin in an awkward attempt to make his father's death more real for him and Oskar is outraged at yet another senseless act. Searching for some part of his father to hold onto, Oskar digs through his father's closet and discovers a key inside an envelope with the word BLACK written on it and a newspaper clipping indicating that he should keep looking. Did his father leave him one last message locked away somewhere in the city that only this key can open? The audience is invited along on one last reconnaissance mission. We observe as Oskar constructs an elaborate filing system to chart all the people in the city named Black and set off with him in search of the answer.

Oskar becomes obsessed with this mission because it is the only way he can feel connected to his father. As Oskar compulsively traverses the five boroughs in search of the lock, he inadvertently learns the lessons his father set out to teach him. He makes connections with other New Yorkers with their own stories of heartache from 9/11. The quest gives him a concrete objective enabling him to deal with unmanageable feelings of guilt, fear, grief, and redemption. He faces physical manifestations of his fears – such as crossing a bridge - that he can overcome. The quest gives him a concrete method to deal with a tragedy that makes no sense.

Thomas Horn does a fine job creating a sympathetic character with some very unsympathetic Aspberger traits. The young actor handles both the intensity and humor effortlessly. But not all the credit goes to the actor. For the benefit of the writers out there, I'll share a writing device that the was successfully used by screenwriter Eric Roth. Considerable time was spent setting up the father's love of the boy and his gifts - so we are already rooting for Oskar well before we witness his negative traits (being rude to the door man and the intense meltdowns).

One of my readers suggested that I include more of my opinions on the films. There was one thing that bothered me a bit. The movie went on well beyond the point where I felt there could have been a satisfying ending – presenting several resolutions. But that was the result of the multi-layered story. That's a price I'm willing to pay for a story with some depth.

I believe one reason we go to the movies is to find meaning in the senseless events of our lives. Perhaps there is no way to come to a solid understanding of the senseless act that was 9/11. But "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," offers hope that we can find some comfort in our shared experience and our connections with others.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com