Monday, December 31, 2007

Most Inspiring Films of 2007!

  • The Great Debaters
  • Away from Her
  • The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
  • Juno
  • Amazing Grace
  • The Darjeeling Limited
  • Once
  • The Namesake
  • Vitus
  • I'm Not There
  • Lars and the Real Girl
  • Noelle

After some consideration, I've chosen 12 films to be on my "Best of 2007" list. I've tried to select a diverse variety from the films that Reel Inspiration promoted this past year or films that I didn't get a chance to see while they were in the first run theaters but later ended up on my recommended movies list. All of these films fill Reel Inspiration's criteria of having entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire human consciousness. We tend to review more independent films that can benefit from our grassroots promotions. We also promote studio films that aren't high concept blockbusters. Most of all, we promote outstanding films.

This was a great year for outstanding films. All of the films on my list have one thing in common -- something important to say.

If you read my review of The Great Debaters, (below) it will come as no surprise to you that I chose it for the most inspiring, empowering film of the year.
The message of this film is that it is our responsibility to speak up against injustice, even unjust laws. In fact, the main character risks his life fighting injustice. Amazing Grace * has this same important theme only presented on a more epic scale. I've chosen The Great Debaters as my number one film because it genuinely moved me. I get teary eyed just watching the trailer. Away from Her is so beautifully written, directed and acted. This truly original movie is about life long love and commitment. The suspense film, The Lives of Others, surprised me with its message that you can find life altering beauty even in the darkest, most suppressed environments. Get past the "clever" dialog and Juno is a very touching, human story with some weighty issues. The Darjeeling Limited is the off the beaten track to spirituality. In Once, a shared passion results in an unexpected kindness. The Namesake is about balancing cultural heritage with discovering yourself. Vitus is an empowering film for every kid that struggles with "less intelligent" adults running their lives. I chose, I'm Not There, for it's director's unique, intelligent vision about the burden and responsibility of fame.  Lars and the Real Girl is a heartwarming story about unconditional love for a rubber girl and the man who loves her. Finally, I've included Noelle with it's themes of forgiveness and church community. The quirky characters really grew on me. I want to watch it again for it's powerful ending.

Movie Blessings! 
Jana Segal

(The Diving Bell and the Butterfly hadn't opened in Tucson when I made my list. But it blew me away how accurately the visual point of view of the paralyzed man was captured.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reel Inspiration At the Family Arts Fest

Check out our Reel Inspiration booth at the Family Arts Festival, Sunday, January 13 from 11-a.m -5 p.m. Come by and say, "Hi!" or create your own "moving picture" in our hands-on Zoetrope Activity. You can find us inside the Tucson Convention Center with the Science exhibits.

The Family Arts Festival is Tucson's FREE annual celebration of the arts and our rich cultural heritage. The festival spans from the Tucson Convention Center through La Placita Village to El Presidio Park in downtown Tucson. Continuous entertainment and interactive activities for children of all ages!

To arrange to have Reel Inspiration conduct our Zoetrope Activity or screen our contest finalists at your event or organization, please, e-mail:

Chick the Arts Fest label (to the right) for more information about films.

"Away from Her"

guest reviewer Gary Ray

One Liner Review

Should Julie Christie’s inevitable Oscar nomination for Best Actress (and probable win) bring AWAY FROM HER back to the theaters in your town do not miss it! A film that slipped through the cracks to some extent in the US in May (although it’s grossed a respectable $4.5 million to-date), it’s one of THE film experiences of 2007.

Directed by twenty-something Sarah Polley (lead actress of such films as “MY LIFE WITHOUT ME") it has the assured directorial hand of an old master; in fact to me it was reminiscent of 1970s Ingmar Bergman. Julie Christie does indeed give a tour de force performance, but the entire ensemble is award-worthy.

The story (adapted by Polley from an Alice Munro short story) concerns Fiona Anderson (Christie), who has already begun losing her memory to Alzheimer’s disease as the film begins. She’s decided to have herself placed in a care facility to ease the struggle her husband will eventually face. At one point we see Fiona cross country skiing away from her wintery home as her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) watches her slip over a crest and disappear, just as she soon will from his life. In fact, when she wanders off following this excursion, it forces Grant’s hand in agreeing to put her into the Meadowlake care facility.

Her transformation is almost instantaneous in screen time, because the movie has little to do with observing Fiona’s progression into an addled state. Instead its about the discovery of how much her husband of 44 years is in love with her, seen in his actions over the next several months watching her from afar, mostly, as she is frequently disturbed by his presence, never quite remembering who he is. Pinsent plays Grant unsentimentally which is key to the characterization and pivotal to the film’s uniqueness.

In between the scenes at Meadowlake, are intercut Grant’s meeting with a woman named Marian (Olympia Dukakis). Marian is the wife of Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a man who the memory-lost Fiona grows attached to at Meadowlake. Dukakis plays the no-nonsense, almost fatalistic Marian flawlessly. Marian’s “such is life” philosophy in some way eases the audience along in accepting Fiona’s condition and thereby focusing the movie on the bond between Grant and Fiona, which, despite hinted at difficulties, has remained intact over their long marriage.

At several times during the movie the audience seems to be brought right out onto the edge of writing the film off as far-too-depressing, only to have a wrinkle in the plot refocus attention to the love story and away from the downbeat. Several times throughout the film Polley has a character walk away down a corridor at Meadowlake that’s designed to bring in the sunlight; at these perfectly timed moments that cap dramatic sequences, the celluloid brightens and your heart breaks just a little bit reflecting on what has just transpired.

As the end of the movie’s final scene approached, I found myself thinking: wow, this could end right here—and after one nice brief final touch, the credits began to roll. AWAY FROM HER has been out on DVD for a few months and may not suffer on the small screen, however, if you prefer the big screen, you may want to catch it while you have a second opportunity, it’s is a stunning achievement, a great film.

OSCAR UPDATE: Writer/Director Sarah Polley was nominated for Best Screenplay. Julie Christie was nominated for Best Actress!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"The Great Debaters"

"The Great Debaters," is easily the most inspiring, empowering movie of the year. I nearly floated out of the theater. I actually encouraged people in the ticket line not to miss it.

"The Great Debaters," directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah, is Hollywood all the way. It is an empowering underdog story inspired by the true story of how the debating team from the small African American institution of Wiley College won the 1935 National Debating Championship. Outstanding performances by Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker make the picture.

The film, set in Texas during the Great Depression, starts out with hectic bits of activity to establish the setting, but it doesn't seem to match the tone of the rest of the picture. In fact, it moved so fast before I had a chance to catch my bearings, that I didn't catch much of it at all.

But soon enough we're in the classroom studying revolutionary ideas from the writers of the Harlem Renaissance with Professor Tolson. Denzel's passionate delivery is reminiscent of Robin William's in "Dead Poets Society. I suspect that Professor Tolson was much more interesting, controversial, and radical than the man presented here. However, it is so moving to hear these important ideas spoken by a African American teacher to African American students at a time when there was still lynching in their part of the country.

The film doesn't back down from the racism of the time. In fact, its an ongoing theme. The film asks if the power of words can really make any difference in the face of violent acts of racism.

The script adheres so tightly to formula that I knew that something bad had to follow the debating team's success. Despite being aware of this writing device, I was so involved in the story that I was actually afraid of what would happen to the characters next.

Through his example, Professor Tolson inspires his students to speak up for what is right despite how it might conflict with their personal lives or the dangerous world around them. Debate all you want about it, but don't miss this important story.

Please, send a message to Hollywood that you want more empowering films like, "The Great Debaters," by attending it on opening weekend and encouraging your friends to do the same.

Movie Blessings,
Jana Segal

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

My Cousin Willo sent this music video, "Christmas in the Trenches," with her Christmas e-card. The song is about a truce on Christmas eve on the Western front during WWI. It includes the songwriter John McCutcheon's, thoughts on writing the song.

It is so touching and inspiring. I had to share it with you! I hope you have time to listen to it. It made my day!

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth,

For more information:

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"The Kite Runner"

"The Kite Runner," is an important film because it puts a human face and historical context on what happened in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, when many Americans think of Afghanistan, we think of Al-Qaida, terrorism and 9/11. "The Kite Runner," does much to humanize the conflict and break those stereotypes.

"The Kite Runner," starts out with an exhilarating sequence of kite flying showing off the city of Kabul in 1978 before the Russians and the Taliban wrecked it. The sky is filled with dancing, dueling kites. Two of the kite flyers are Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) and Amir's loyal friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the son of the family's longtime servant Ali. They cut other kites' strings with their own kite and then run to retrieve them. Hassan is the best kite runner in neighborhood, accurately predicting where the kite will land. But it also lands him in trouble as jealous bullies taunt him for being a "Hazara." This bullying foreshadows Pashtun/Hazara tribal tensions.

The theme of the changing times is expressed by Amir's father, Baba (played with commanding dignity by Homayoun Ershadi) - a somewhat westernized intellectual. "The Mullahs want to rule our souls and the communists tell us we don't have any," Baba laments. Baba has the strength of his convictions in contrast with his son, Amir, who doesn't seem to stand for anything. Amir overhears his father complain that there seems to be something missing in the boy when his friend Hassan must stick up for him because he won't. "A boy who won't stick up for himself won't stand for anything." I wanted to love, "The Kite Runner," but I was never entirely emotionally invested in the story. I think it is because the main character, Amir, wasn't. The kite contest was one way Amir could prove himself to his father. But he seemed disengaged even when he won. Then the bullies attack his friend and he doesn't stick up for him and eventually betrays him.

When the Russians invade the country, the family is forced to escape to America leaving his friend behind. After graduating community college, Amir aspires to be a writer. For a writer, he isn't very introspective. He never delves into the choices he made. Perhaps he writes about his lost childhood in his novel. (His love interest says that it made her cry.) But the director never lets us in on that. Even their marriage seems superficial. The marriage should raise the stakes when Amir must return to Afghanistan, but it doesn't work because he hasn't invested anything in it.

His father's friend calls from Afghanistan and he offers Amir, "A way to be good again," by going home. He has a chance to redeem himself by saving his friend's son. Back in Afghanistan, he seems like a tourist during the most important event of his life. The climactic moment feels like it's from another film -- an action film. By the end he has finally learned to stick up for the son of the friend he betrayed in a very satisfying scene.

Despite it's flaws, "The Kite Runner" has an important theme of guilt and redemption. The movie succeeds in putting a human face on what happened in Afghanistan, creating more understanding. A worthy goal.

OSCAR UPDATE: Nominated for Best Original Score.

Movie Blessings and Merry Christmas!
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration

Roger Ebert was much more emotionally involved in the film. I really respect his opinion. So, to be fair, I've included a link to his review.

(Parental warning: Because of violent sexual content, this is not suitable for children.)

For an even greater understanding of the historical context of our involvement with Afghanistan, check out, Charlie Wilson's War.

Funny. When I first saw the trailer I thought, "Wow! Look at Julia Roberts hair!" Actually, I thought, "Wow! Look at what one flawed man can do!" Then I found out that he had actually arranged for us to supply weapons to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets during the Cold War. (So that's how they got all those weapons!)

It is a drama based on Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson's covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Just in time for the holidays, comes the Christian Christmas film, "NOЁLLE." If you liked, "Bella," you'll love, "NOЁLLE."

"Bella," (see review below) is a Christian movie for non-Christians reaffirming the Christian image of being kind and accepting. Because, "NOЁLLE," is set in a parish with two priests as the main characters, it seems created more for a church going audience.

The characters are much more human in Noelle. They have weaknesses. Father Johnathon Keene (David Wall) takes pride in being good at closing down dying parishes. He confides that he doesn't deal with the people aspect of the priesthood. It doesn't make for a very likable main character, but we're supposed to follow him as he goes to close down the parish of an old friend. He finds the church empty except for a lone older woman waiting in the confessional. The parish priest Father Simeon (Sean Patrick Brennan) is off at a local bar getting smashed with some of his congregation. There are funny moments as their designated driver takes them all home - if you're not too shocked to laugh. To be honest, the unlikeable protagonist along with a couple of stilted lines by Brennon made it difficult for me to get into the story at this point.

The bar scene seemed to signify that Father Simeon is resigned to the church closing. But later we discover that this is his way of communing with his members. Father Simeon believes that it is the people who matter the most in the church. He demonstrates this by using church money to pay the hospital bills of an dying man. Father Simeon believes in miracles. He believes that dying man will walk back into their thriving church someday.

Father Johnathon Keene doesn't believe in miracles. Though he does believe the church could use one. It's down to a handful of aging parishioners. This is one conflicted soul. Part of him wants to save the church - perhaps to help out his old friend or because he sees something of himself in the one younger woman (Kerry Wall) in the congregation. He makes a half hearted effort to help by suggesting that they host a living nativity scene to revitalize the church. There is some humor here as the elderly members perform a last ditch effort to save the church with a seemingly doomed production. Director/Writer/Actor David Wall does an admiral job overcoming the, "Lets put on a show!" cliche. In fact, an important theme is imparted here. The church's success isn't just the priest's responsibility, but all the members of the congregation.

The possibility of something miraculous happening is set up from the beginning as Father Keene sees flashes of a luminescent little girl. (I won't give it away here but it is worth the wait.) But the real magic comes in this cold priest's transformation. I was totally won over by the powerful ending.

"NOЁLLE," is a touching story of forgiveness and redemption reminding us of the real reason Christ was born. If you want more Christian entertainment, go see Noelle and share it with your friends.

Movie Blessings and a Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Jana Segal

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reel Inspiration recommends: 51 Oscar Winners

At their best, films have the power to inspire, empower, enlighten, uplift, and challenge. Reel Inspiration promotes films at their best! R.I. promotes diverse narrative films with high production values and entertaining, meaningful stories. You know... movies you can watch more than once because they have something to say, movies that reflect the condition of our society, the nature of our relationships or the issues of our times - movies that move us.

I've compiled a list of 51 Oscar winners that I feel fit Reel Inspiration's criteria for promotion. The films are taken from the list of Best Picture, Best Adaptation, Best Screenplay, and
Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winners. You may notice that a majority of the Best Picture winners also won best screenplay or adaptation (or were nominated for these awards.) I believe that what made these films winners is that they had important themes -- that comes from great writing. So I've included the screenwriters when they won in their category.

Included on my list are: classic epic films (Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Gandhi) that not only inspire us with their grandeur
but with themes worthy of their stature, smart adult dramas (On the Water Front, Best Years of Our Lives, Coming Home, Kramer Vs. Kramer,In the Heat of the Night, Crash) that move us while putting a mirror to our society, honest dramas (On Golden Pond, Terms of Endearment, Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man) that move us with their humanity, comedies (Little Miss Sunshine, Annie Hall) that deal truthfully with real relationships, classics (Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, Schindler's List) with heroes that overcome great adversity to fight for what is right, musicals (Sound of Music, West Side Story, Oliver) that not only entertain but move us with powerful themes, wildly original dramas (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, American Beauty) that delight us with their creativity and new perspectives.

Feel free to recommend other inspiring, meaningful Oscar winners for the RI list or comment on the ones below.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration

Reel Inspiration recommends: 51 Oscar Winners

51 Oscar winners taken from a list of Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Adaptation, and Best Screenplay winners.

* Won Best Picture
** Won Best Picture and Best Screenplay or Adaptation
BA Best Adaptation
BS Best Screenplay
nom. Nominated
BFL Best
Language Film

*1941- How Green Was My Valley, nom. BA: Philip Dunne
1942- BS: Woman of the Year: Michael Kanin, Ring Lardner Jr
**1943- Casablanca - BA: Philip Epstein, Julius J. Epstein, Howard Koch
**1944- BA: Going My Way - Frank Butler, Frank Cavet
**1946- The Best Years of Our Lives - BA: Robert Sherwood
1947- BA- Miracle on 34th Street by George Seaton, nom. Best Picture
**1954- On the Waterfront, BS: Budd Schulberg
**1955- Marty, BA: Paddy Chayefsky
1956- BS: The Red Balloon - Albert Lamorisse
*1959- Ben-Hur, nom BA: Karl Tunberg
*1961- West Side Story, nom BA: Ernest Lehman
*1962- Lawrence of Arabia, nom BA: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
1962- BA- To Kill a Mockingbird - Horton Foote, nom. Best Picture
*1964- My Fair Lady, nom. BA: Alan Jay Lerner
*1965-The Sound of Music
**1967- In the Heat of the Night, BA : Stirling Silliphant
*1968- Oliver!, nom. BA: Vernon Harris
**1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, BA: Bo Goldman, Laurence Hauben
**1976- Rocky, BS: Sylvester Stallone
1976-BA- All the President's Men - William Goldman, nom. Best Picture*1977- Annie Hall
1978- BS: Coming Home by Robert C. Jones, Waldo Salt
**1979- Kramer vs. Kramer, BA: Robert Benton
1979- BS- Breaking Away by Steve Tesich, nom. Best Picture
**1981- Chariots of Fire, BS: Colin Welland
1981- BA- On Golden Pond: Ernest Thompson, nom. Best Picture
**1982- Gandhi, BS: John Briley
**1983- Terms of Endearment, BA, James L. Brooks
**1985- Out of Africa, BA: Kurt Luedtke
1985- BS- Witness: William Kelley, Earl Wallace
1986- BA: A Room with a View: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, nom. Best Picture
1987- BS: Moonstruck: John Patrick Shanley, nom. Best Picture
**1988- Rain Man, BS: Ronald Bass, Barry Morrow
1988-BFL: Cinema Paradiso: Giuseppe Tornatore
**1989- Driving Miss Daisy, BA: Alfred Uhry
1989- BS- Dead Poets' Society: Tom Schulman, nom. Best Picture
*1990- Dances with Wolves
**1993- Schindler's List, BA: Steven Zaillian
1993- BS- The Piano by Jane Campion, nom. Best Picture
**1994- Forrest Gump, BA: Eric Roth
1995- BA - Sense and Sensibility: Emma Thompson
1997-BS-Good Will Hunting by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, nom. Best Picture
**1999- American Beauty, BS: Alan Ball
*2000-Gladiator, nom. BS: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson
2000- BA- Almost Famous: Cameron Crowe
**2001- A Beautiful Mind, BA: Akiva Goldsman
2003-BS - Lost in Translation - Sofia Coppola, nom. Best Picture
2004- BS- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Charlie Kaufman
**2005- BS- Crash: Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco
2005-BFL The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarckt
2006- BS- Little Miss Sunshine: Michael Arnd, nom. Best Picture

Movie Blessings!

Jana Segal

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"I'm Not There"

by guest reviewer Josh Valentine

Every year there seems to be at least one or two biopics about famous musicians that garner a lot of attention. A few years ago “Ray” was released, and the year after that “Walk the Line” hit theaters. Both of those films became huge hits. Director Todd Haynes’ (“Far From Heaven”) new film “I’m Not There” is this year’s huge biopic and it tells the story of Bob Dylan. Unlike the previously mentioned films, “I’m Not There” is completely different in its delivery of its story. It is remarkably original, very funny, and also happens to be one of the best films of the year.

A total of six actors play different versions of the famous bard in this film, a fairly original idea that works perfectly. Dylan himself was so many different people throughout his career so it would have been hard to make a film with just one actor following a singular time line.

Ben Whishaw plays Arthur, the mysterious side of Dylan that the public saw in interviews. His character isn’t very developed but that’s done on purpose to show that mystifying side. Young Marcus Carl Franklin wonderfully plays a pre-adolescent version of Dylan named Woody. Franklin’s character is more abstract than Whishaw’s character in that he plays the young and excited characteristics of a very innocent Dylan (his character is named after Woody Guthrie, one of Dylan’s biggest inspirations as a musician).

Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a character that splits into two sides of Dylan: the folk legend and the preacher. Bale’s interpretation of Dylan is subtle yet very powerful especially during his unbelievable (albeit lip-synched) version of “Pressing On.” Bale is also the least featured character in the film, and while he pops up later in the film in some memorable scenes it would have been better to see more of him.

Heath Ledger is the weakest part of the film. He plays actor Robbie Clark who portrays the unpleasant celebrity side of Dylan. His relationship with French artist Claire (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) is drawn out throughout the film. Their general disdain for each other from the beginning makes one wonder why they got together in the first place. Ledger seems to play the same conflicted character in many of his films and it would be refreshing to see him in a more upbeat role.

Richard Gere plays the older, reclusive side of Dylan. His story is the most abstract part of the film. He plays Billy the Kid (the famous outlaw) in reclusion after breaking out of jail. Gere is surprisingly strong in his role and like Bale, he is very subtle yet undeniably moving.

The film truly belongs to Cate Blanchett. Her scenes as Jude Quinn depict the often frowned upon moment when Dylan dropped his acoustic guitar and became electric. Blanchett is almost unrecognizable both physically and in her voice and mannerisms. She is Dylan, and at times it is easy to forget that this is an actress playing a role in a movie. In fact, after seeing the film, it is very hard to think of any other actor or actress who could have performed as well as Blanchett. Her performance (her best ever) will land her an Oscar Nomination and possibly her second win.

OSCAR UPDATE: Cate Blanchett was nominated, but didn't win the Oscar.

Besides Cate Blanchett, the other star of the film is its soundtrack. Released about a month ago, it has received rave reviews and it deserves every bit of praise. It features all sorts of indie musicians such as Sufjan Stevens, Mason Jennings, Stephen Malkmus, Yo La Tengo, and Calexico. Charlotte Gainsbourg (who appears in the film) does an amazing rendition of “Just Like a Woman” that lingers long after it’s played. The movie does a very good job of infusing these covers with the performances of the actors.

The film is not perfect, but it is the perfect Bob Dylan biopic. Its non-linear storytelling fits its source material but may turn off a lot of viewers, especially those who aren’t familiar with Bob Dylan. For those who get the chance, it is highly recommended to watch Martin Scorsese’s documentary “Bob Dylan: No Direction Home” before seeing this film. It is very well made, and clears up a lot about what is going on in “I’m Not There.”

Otherwise, the film shows that this man who we’ve always seen as a mystery is a real person just dealing with the pressures of fame, love, loss, and life. If the film had depicted just one of the different aspects of Dylan, there would have still been a lot to be desired. All together, each section of the film forms one amazing movie that shines above many of the films of 2007 and is a genuine pleasant surprise. Grade: A- 

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


by guest reviewer Gary Ray
One Liner Review

If you’ve seen the trailer for Juno and decided that it’s
not for you, please read on: I’d like to change your mind.
I thought the same thing when I saw the trailer: here we
go again, another “quirky” movie peopled with characters
who’d never do or say half the things they door say and
with a lead character that spouts smart-alecky remarks
that no one could possibly dream up that didn’t have a
week to ponder them.
Then I saw the movie.  Arms folded.  Third row.  In
the first several scenes, my worst fears had come
true— yes, the film was exactly like the trailer.
Then, bit by bit, scene by scene, the story began to
surprise me.  My arms unfolded.  I relaxed. I laughed.
The characters were real.  And the acting— superb.
I know that lead Ellen Page is getting the lion’s share
of the praise (she was the only one nominated for an
Independent Spirit Award), but the rest of the ensemble
possibly give stronger performances than she does.
Michael Cera is astonishingly natural (and understatedly
funny). And one thing I love about the screenplay is
the relationship between him and his baby-mama Juno:
they’re just friends.  They had sex once.  But the script
doesn’t dwell on any “what are we gonna do!” madness.
And then there are Juno’s parents played by Allison
Janney (The West Wing)and J. K. Simmons (he plays Peter
Parker’s editor at the newspaper in the Spiderman movies)
who give stellar performances. And, finally— if I can
think of another superlative—there is Jennifer Garner and
Jason Bateman, who steal the show: both magnificent. It’s
the Garner storyline in particular that, in the final
analysis, won me over on Juno.

As with all great movies, it’s not just the beating of
one single note: but an array of subplots and minor
characters whose lives are affected by the lead
character’s trajectory that make for an ideal movie
experience.  We see how Juno is affecting so many
people’s lives. And, in her separate relationships
with the Garner and Bateman characters, we see an
evolution in her understanding of human nature. And
again, how many movies about teen pregnancy do you know
that aren’t about what a big, dumb mistake it is.
Juno is practically matter-of-fact about the pregnancy
itself. Instead it’s about the world we live in.  Its
about how less screwed up Juno is in light of how more
screwed up the adults are around her. And it’s about
how everything can be okay, no matter how bleak the
OSCAR UPDATE: Juno was nominated for Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Diablo Cody won a well deserved Best Screenplay Oscar for her witty and honest writing in Juno. She gave a moving acceptance speech thanking her amazing director (Jason Reitman), lead actress (Ellen Page), and her mom for "accepting me just the way I am."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Reel Inspiration update

I have an exciting new development for Reel Inspiration to share with you. I've always felt that for our grassroots promotional campaign to be effective, that we needed an active community -- most importantly attending the movies that sound good and sharing our favorites with our film loving friends. There is such power in that. Word or mouth and e-mail endorsements can make or break a film.

My dream is for our community to grow and become even more active in recommending inspiring, thought provoking films or even taking a stab at writing a RI review. I was delighted to post four new guest reviewers this past month. This is great because we can get more movies reviewed and posted on our blog in a timely manner -- sometimes even before the film opens nationally. This means that we can have an impact opening weekend grosses -- which are really significant to indicating the success of a film to Hollywood executives (who make the decisions of what movies get made.)

Having guest reviewers is also a sign that we we are building a true community of positive film lovers. It does, however, require me to let go of the reigns a bit to let other opinions and tastes be expressed. Reel Inspiration is all about diversity - including a diversity of taste. I hope you will discover and follow the reviewers that express your tastes in films.

Movie Blessings,
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration

Sunday, December 02, 2007

How I choose films to review for Reel Inspiration

I thought you might like to know how I choose films to be promoted through Reel Inspiration's grassroots efforts. First, I look out for diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope, or inspire us. (Or someone recommends one.) The biggest indicator that I should review a film is how emotionally moved or inspired I feel when I leave the theater. Did it also make me think? Is the theme relevant to our issues today? If I'm writing the review in my head while I'm walking out to the parking lot, I will probably send that review. Beyond that, I try to review high quality films.

Quality, of course, is subjective. Whose opinion do you accept? Popular reviewers often pick edgy, sometimes depressing films for their top ten lists. These same reviewers call inspiring films, "sappy." To be honest, sometimes I want or need to see a "sappy" film. These movies lift my spirits and can even get me out of a bad mood. Of course, there is nothing more inspiring that a great film. To me, a great film has something important to express.

My own definition of quality includes: stellar acting, technical quality, and especially exceptional writing and storytelling. I'll admit, in the past I've been pretty picky about the acting and writing. (Hey, I've got degrees in acting/writing and I've even made a few short films myself.) There have been some cases where I didn't review a film because of poor writing or acting. When I attended, "The, Notebook," the audience of all ages was really moved by the picture. I, however, had a huge problem with a hole in the story at the climactic moment. This flaw kept me from promoting the film to RI members. After putting some time and thought into it, I decided that the theme of taking responsibility for your loved ones was more important than the hole in the plot. The film is now on the list of recommended films for new members. Live and learn. On my list of favorite films (see my profile) there are those with flaws that bothered me at first, but now I watch those same films over and over because there is something in them that touches me. Sometimes its the flaws that make it art. (Think most James Brooks movies.)

To be the most effective in our promotional efforts, I need to review films as soon as possible -- before opening weekend is best. I don't have time to mull over my recommendations. I've decided that the most important consideration for a RI review, is that the filmmaker have something meaningful to say.

Movie Blessings,
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration