Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Guest reviewer: Josh Valentine

Modern American film has seen a lull in classical style. A good modern film is hard-edged, like that of "No Country For Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood." They are politically appropriate and justly praised, yet one can't help but yearn for a reawakening of that classical style that seemed to have died in the 1990s (with few exceptions). Who would expect a director like David Fincher ("Seven", "Fight Club") to be the man to bring back that style? With his new film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Fincher brings back the hero's tale in the vein of "Forrest Gump," infuses his own style and serves the Academy just the audience-drawing film that they need for ratings. The film is far from perfection, but shows us – just like its main character – that going back in time isn't always the worst thing to do.

Benjamin Button is not your average person. Born at the age of 80, Benjamin inexplicably grows younger through his years. Portrayed both digitally and literally by Brad Pitt from birth to the teenage years, Benjamin is an unlikely hero. Growing up in a nursing home, he learns about death at a very young (or old?) age. However, raised by the gracious Queenie (played by "Hustle & Flow's" Taraji P. Henson) Benjamin finds that he is never without love. He is confused by death (often because Queenie is sure he's close to the grave at every moment) but he does understand love to the fullest. This is evident when he meets Daisy, as portrayed in the film by a number of actresses most notably Cate Blanchett (who is featured both in the story of B.B. and in the frame of the story as her daughter reads it to her).

Benjamin grows up and like his cinematic forefather Forrest Gump, he makes his own way through life through all sorts of discoveries. These discoveries come through in the form of the film's greatest resources: the supporting characters. Whether he's fighting the war on a tugboat with his mentor Captain Mike (Jared Harris) or connecting with the man who Benjamin learns is his father Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) or hearing from Mr. Daws (Ted Manson) about his bouts with lightning (which prove to be comedic highlights), Benjamin learns from others in a way he never expected. He's a somewhat unorthodox hero, but he's absolutely endearing due to his unabashedly fascinating life.

Benjamin is a man who is always searching for himself, but always finds Daisy. It's an awe-inspiring tale of determination and curiosity of the human spirit that is always a joy to find in the multiplex. Brad Pitt does well with characterization and with his script, although the character of Benjamin is hardly as fleshed out as it could have been. He may find himself with a nomination in January, although there seem to be a lot of contenders this year. Benjamin is highly conflicted person, often staying quiet and subdued and Pitt does that marvelously. One major setback to the film is the fact that I will never be as handsome as Brad Pitt.

While screenwriter Eric Roth writes a great story and Fincher shoots a beautiful work, the film is just too long. I don't blame you if you check your watch a couple of times during the film. Other problems audiences may have are the film's clichés such as the similarities to "Forrest Gump" or its dreamlike quality or some of the familiar characters. The film is a bit overblown and can be certainly too overwhelming at parts, but nitpicking will distract you from the real, subtle beauty the film has to offer.

Cate Blanchett is our greatest working actress, yet unfortunately doesn't shine as well in this as she has in her previous roles. It takes a while to get used to her especially when she's in her elderly phase make-up, and sounds a bit like Catherine O'Hara's parody of dramatic performance in "For Your Consideration." Eventually, she grows on you but for an actress with her talent it she is surprisingly always a bit too over-the-top. It's hard to see an actress of her caliber in such an inadequate performance. It's utterly exasperating.

Still, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is undeniably sad, yet tender at its best moments which happen often enough. The film has a miraculous ending, not in the sense of our hero's outcome, but in that wonderful feeling that sometimes occurs at the movies: the lump in the throat. Fincher's ending is exceptional, some of the best work on the screen this year. It's certainly a strong showing for actors, who show that there are still new places to take performance especially in the style of character acting. Whether you're aging backwards or forwards, you're guaranteed to like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire"

by guest reviewer Josh Valentine

Is America ready for Bollywood? With filmmakers like Danny Boyle integrating Bollywood styles with his own terrific, seasoned style in his new film “Slumdog Millionaire,” cultural cinema desegregation is not the final answer in modern filmmaking – it is the beginning of something new. Without a doubt, Boyle’s new work is a masterpiece, proving he is one of our greatest directors of this generation.

“Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a young man under suspicion after a winning streak on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” In America that show has become somewhat irrelevant (is it even on anymore?) but for Jamal, the show means everything. Not for the money, but for his one and only love Latika (Frieda Pinto) who he feels he can win by appearing on her favorite program.

We learn that Jamal has lived a very interesting life - one might consider a sometimes dangerous life. But for Jamal this life has taught him the answers he needs to become the man he is destined to become. Coincidentally, those answers are the strangely yet inventively the answers to the questions he is asked on the television program. First-time Boyle collaborator Simon Beaufoy (the Oscar nominated writer of “The Full Monty”) intertwines beautifully the story of Jamal’s fruitful life and the questions on the program to paint the intriguingly poignant story of his main character’s growth. It’s genuinely refreshing to see film narrative portrayed in such an original way, and Beaufoy’s script is simply one of the best this year.

While Beaufoy’s script has not gone unnoticed in critics’ circles, something that may be missed is the strong performance of Dev Patel as Jamal. His portrayal is strikingly profound and at the same time ultimately inspiring. Patel has a wondrous quality in his eyes when he shares scenes with Pinto’s Latika. We can see the yearning and true love of his character – an honest performance by a young man who has the potential for bigger and better things.
This is the second coming-of-age film to impress this year (the first was “The Wackness,” although that film did have a larger amount of detractors), although its crowd pleasing nature is no surprise. With some of the better films of this century under his belt such as “28 Days Later…,” “Millions” and last year’s sci-fi opus “Sunshine,” Boyle has proved himself the forerunner for best director of the past ten years. With “Slumdog Millionaire,” Boyle chose to find yet another film style to re-invent. It’s certainly a stronger film in terms of coming-of-age than “The Wackness” (although Jonathan Levine’s debut was an excellent showing of early nineties indie grit) and affirms that Boyle has the uncanny knack for outshining his colleagues.

This will be Boyle’s second film to be honored by Oscar nominations (his drug film “Trainspotting” was nominated in 1997), most likely in the adapted screenplay and best picture categories, and one can only hope the Academy will enjoy the film as much as audiences. It’s a grand piece for Boyle, who again demonstrates his ability to take something that he loves (film) and illustrate it in new and exciting ways. One of the strongest films of the year, “Slumdog Millionaire” should be at the top of your must-see list.


"Slumdog Millionaire" won Best Picture, Danny Boyle won Best Director, Simon Beaufoy won Best Adapted Screenplay, Anthony Dod Mantle won Best Cinematography, Chris Dickens won Best Editing

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


In the 1970's, a time when San Francisco cops routinely and viciously attacked men in gay bars, Harvey Milk united the gay community to make a stand for their rights. Amazingly, Harvey became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office where he led the fight to put a stop to a law to have openly gay teachers fired. A woman in a newsreel said, "How can you expect your own rights to be protected if you won't protect those of others?" In the light of the recent election, this message seems especially relevant - and sad. I understand that many Christian blacks coming out for Obama voted against partners' rights in same sex marriages. It just breaks my heart that one persecuted minority would deny the rights of another.

The movie, "MILK" begins with Harvey making a recording, "If you're listening to this, I've been assassinated." In the recording, he attempts to explain his life and motivations. The recordings also act as a structural device effortlessly interweaving the recorded narration with narrative scenes and news footage of the time.

The story opens with gay New Yorker Harvey Milk still in the closet and lamenting about turning 40 without having done anything with his life. He finds his cause when he moves to the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco and becomes the uniting force in the Gay Rights movement. He organizes a ban on neighborhood businesses that mistreat gays and is instrumental in making the Castro a Mecca for gay men. The cause eventually leads him to running for public office.
Harvey explains that he is not running for office - the cause is. The important thing isn't winning, it's building an awareness of gay rights and encouraging gays to come out. And he succeeds at losing two elections before being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1977.

Harvey is portrayed (Oscar winner Sean Penn lives and breaths the role) as a passionate man both in his relationships and for his cause. He uses a disarming sense of humor to put skeptical straights at ease. He successfully plays the game of politics. The campaign does take a toll on his relationships. Yet Harvey persists in having relationships with needy men. He has a strong need to save those wounded by society and to never to be trapped alone in the closet again.

I brought my twelve-year-old son to show him that the important thing isn't just winning, it's fighting for something important. This movie certainly demonstrated that. Harvey Milk inspired Screenwriter Dustin Lance in his own life - so much that he fought to bring this honest portrayal to the screen.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal



 Sean Penn won Best Actor and Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay for "Milk."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Synecdoche, New York"

By Guest Reviewer Josh Valentine

n. the use of a part for a wholeor a whole for a part such as saying the"White House,"
to mean the U.S. government

Also: part of the title of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's latest opus, (his directorial debut) "Synecdoche, New York" - a title that plays on the name of the town of Schenectady, New York. Kaufman's newest miserable hero, theater director Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a denizen of Schenectady, who sees his life as something of a synecdoche. The film is a major accomplishment for Kaufman - a big step forward in modern filmmaking and screenwriting - and without a doubt one of the best of the year.
Kaufman's production of "Synecdoche, New York" is marvelously ambitious. The story is of Hoffman's Caden - a brilliant director of the stage, who fears his mortality on a daily basis. Stuck in an unsatisfactory marriage with his wife Adele (Catherine Keener), a progressive artist who is always the last to encourage her husband, the sexually repressed, obsessed and confused Caden only feels comfort through death. Whether he's ritualistically reading obituaries or mentally projecting his visualized mortal fears onto his daughter Olive's (Sadie Goldstein) cartoons, Caden surrounds himself with death. In fact, he begins to literally -albeit psychosomatically - deteriorate. Even his last name references a disorder known as Cotard's Syndrome in which the afflicted holds delusions that he or she is dead or does not exist.

When Adele announces she is to leave for Berlin for her career with their daughter in tow, Caden becomes severely depressed. Even with the support and secret love of his box office cutie Hazel (Samantha Morton), Caden is a truly broken man. After the close of his successful reproduction of "Death of a Salesman," Caden is given a genius grant to stage a show of his choice.
He develops an original piece, an everlasting recreation of truth - a play that takes place in a massive theater set as a duplicate of Schenectady and is both experienced by the audience and the actors while it is being performed. This becomes his dream project and his life's work and eventually his death. As the film develops from this point, we watch the enlargement and convolution of Caden's ever-changing piece - a mind-blowing, existential cinematic explosion. Needless to say, this film is definitely unlike anything that's ever come to your local theater.

Kaufman often uses his film's titles as a gateway to the main themes of his scripts, and this is no different. The idea of wordplay is found throughout the entire piece, as in clever use in dialogue. Caden confesses to Adele, "I have blood in my stool" to which she replies, "Like the one in your office?" As a thematic device, consider the word synecdoche's definition as a different meaning, in that it takes all kinds of parts to make a whole. Unfortunately for Caden, he considers himself all the worst parts. Caden feels he is only part of the whole, and he can never achieve universality as long as he is alive. To him, the name Caden Cotard will never be a synecdoche.

"Synecdoche, New York" proves a very meticulous piece as it is the first time the brilliant screenwriter has actually sat in the director's chair. His previous works have had intermediary directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry who have provided more widely accessible interpretations of Kaufman scripts such as the inventive "Being John Malkovich," the clever "Adaptation." and this critic's personal favorite film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." It may have been a very different film had Kaufman decided on another director, and in fact a seasoned director could have offered a more accessible piece. In this film, Kaufman has certainly included a large number of personal neuroses - from dealing with celebrity to physical self-loathing - that create an unnecessary boundary between audience and film.

However, the film is still a wondrous character drama due to a handful of this year's best acting performances. After his Oscar win for 2005's "Capote," Hoffman has not disappointed in any of his following roles -from his Brando-esque realism in last year's "The Savages" to his second earned Oscar nomination in "Charlie Wilson's War." His performance as Caden Cotard is indisputably bewildering - a part through which Hoffman delivers a lived-in quality and convincingly portrays the depressive director from middle-age all the way to his waning sunset years. While Hoffman will get the most attention for his terrific leading performance, there are two other performances that may go preemptively unnoticed.

Samantha Morton, who has become a familiar face in independent film for the past few years and earned two Oscar nominations' effortlessly delivers her career performance as the dolefully unappreciated Hazel. Like Hoffman, her character ages drastically, at the end of the film and Morton dexterously shows unbelievable range throughout. During the film, Hazel desperately tries to charm her only love Caden and when he finally tells her how much he loves her, Morton delivers heartbreaking elation.

The other performance that will leave enthralled audiences with dropped jaws is that of character actor Tom Noonan as Caden's doppelganger Sammy - a man who inexplicably follows our forlorn hero and inevitably becomes cast in the play as Caden himself. While we are consistently reminded of Caden's endless pain, Sammy becomes a gratifying source of Caden's underlying happiness - a job Noonan presents through a bizarre, unexpected lovability.

For those seeking a mindless experience at the movie theater - and a short drive (the film has still yet to find its way to your local megaplex) - this is most likely not the film for you. However, if you wish to fully immerse yourself into a new world of majestic contemporary cinematic genius that both rejects and plays around with traditional Hollywood styles, this is the very interesting and one-of-a-kind film for you. It's not for every audience, but it is a wholly original work of elegance that is now the dark horse candidate for this year's best picture Oscar. Either way, it will certainly be unlike any trip you've ever made, if you make your way to "Synecdoche, New York."

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I left the screening of "Happy-Go-Lucky" not sure what to think. At times like this I tend to lean on greater minds in the ladies' restroom.

We mulled over the movie we had just seen. Agreed that it was a bit slow getting started as director Mike Leigh set up Poppy's (Sally Hawkins) happy-go-lucky lifestyle with her affectionate girlfriends. But what was the director trying to say? A voice from the next stall suggested that Poppy chose to be happy. (Wasn't that a great lesson for these hard times?) But was there a darker motive? Was this character manic or a desperate people pleaser? Was her optimistic outlook making her life any better?

To be honest, sometimes her giddy, self deprecating laughter and banter got on my nerves. Director Mike Leigh brought out the maddening aspects of her buoyant personality by pitting her (brilliantly) against more pessimistic characters such as her control freak driving instructor, Scott (the hilarious Eddie Marsan).

Scott is driven to distraction by her attention deficit, high heeled boots, and constant cheerful chatter. He instructs her to always expect the worse. He can't conceive that she could be a teacher when she is so immature.

Polly actually has an inspiring rapport with her students. She demonstrates focused insight and empathy when dealing with a bully in her class. Actress Sally Hawkins took what could have been a one note character and shows us her deep empathy and the resulting sadness. She can't make everyone happy. And her own optimistic outlook is tested by a controlling sister, a hurt back, an angry dance instructor, and an odd run in with a homeless man. It's not easy to be happy. You have to work at it.

Poppy has chosen to be happy - even if it takes a bit of work. But is her happiness dependent on making others happy? Can she make her own luck?

I always find it helpful to go back to the opening image of the film to illuminate the theme... Poppy blissfully rides her new bike to a bookstore where she babbles cheerfully to herself and then to a disinterested bystander. Exiting the bookstore, she finds that her bike is gone. Oh, well. She quips, "I didn't even get to say good-bye." Lalala.

So it seems that she has chosen to be happy even when there's no one else around. But she's happiest surrounded by those who love and accept her.

Phil Villarreal summed up the theme perfectly in the first line of his review, "Happiness is a state of mind rather than a reaction to circumstances."

Phil Villarreal, of the Arizona Daily Star, really nailed this review.

OK. For mature insight of the film, check out Josh Valentine's review:
(I would have posted this in depth review rather than mine, had he written it sooner.)

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"The Secret Life of Bees"

Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, winner of the Independent Spirit Award for Sundance hit, "Love & Basketball," has now brought the beloved, acclaimed best-seller, "The Secret Life of Bees" to the screen.

1964, South Carolina. After a tragic accident leaves her motherless, Lily Owens (played with open-eyed honestly by Dakota Fanning) is raised in a loveless home by her cruel, distant father. Fourteen year old Lily longs for a mother she never knew. When her only friend, their black maid Rosaleen, ends up in the hospital and under arrest for insulting a racist white man, the girls are forced to go on the run. The only trace of her mama's past is a honey jar label that Lily found in her few processions.

Lily and Rosaleen end up on the doorstep of the Boatwrights, the black sisters who own the successful honey farm. Lily concocts an elaborate lie to persuade the maternal August Boatwright (played with warm dignity by Queen Latifah) to temporarily take them in. They are met with some resistance from the guarded June (Alicia Keys), a classical cellist and civil rights activist. But they are welcomed enthusiastically by the open-hearted May (played with touching vulnerability by Sophie Okonedo). They soon find that hyper-sensitive May is moved to tears by the mention of anything sad.

August teaches Lily how to tend the bees, and May whole heartedly embraces both girls. They are soon accepted as part of the family. But Lily still needs to find the truth of why her mother left her.

This is a coming of age story and parable about how to cope with the painful truth and find forgiveness. As Lily's young love interest puts it, "It's not just about the truth. It's about what you do with it." The two sisters illustrate different ways to deal with the hard truths of life. June has closed her heart and built a protective wall to keep out hurtful emotions. While May has completely opened her heart and feels everyone's pain. Her heart is open to joy but it is also an open wound. Lily says that she would rather be like May than her father who has blocked his emotions turning him into a cruel man.
Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood
I loved being in this world and a part of this loving family - so much that I stayed for a second screening. This is due in part to Gina Prince-Bythewood's excellent adaptation and the wonderful acting of Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, and especially Sophie Okonedo - who is literally the heart of the film.

If you're looking for a sweet way to spend the afternoon, "The Secret Life of Bees" will supply the honey.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, October 05, 2008


I was enjoying previews of long awaited Fall dramas when up popped what appeared to be a teaser for the 70's TV show Emergency. It turned out to be trailer for the low budget independent film, "Fireproof" about a firefighter who is a hero to everyone but his own wife. His father explains, "You can't give her what you don't have." His friend suggests, "You gotta beg God to teach you how to be a good husband." The next shot is a man bowed in prayer. There was an audible GASP in the theater. As a society, have we become more comfortable with sex and violence portrayed on the big screen than religion? Maybe we just don't want to be preached at in the movie theater.

This is an openly Christian movie. Two recent Christian movies, "Bella" and "Noelle," were more subtle about their Christian motives - perhaps in an attempt to get non-believers into the theater before imparting the Christian theme. I admired these two films because their non-judgemental message came out of the action. In "Fireproof," the message comes out of the action and preachy speeches - even referencing bible verses. Dad comes off more like a benevolent pastor than a concerned parent. (Oh, he was played by Pastor Malcom. That explains it.)

When Caleb (Kirk Cameron) announces that he is getting a divorce, his father challenges him to wait 40 days to perform a "love dare" by following assignments his father has jotted down. This is similar to the device used in the "Bucket List" but it actually works much better here. At first Caleb does the least he can do. His heart isn't in it. His firefighter friend suggests, "You don't just follow your heart. You lead your heart." Skilled actor Ken Bevel does an admirable job spouting some pretty corny firefighting inspired figures-of-speech.

I liked entering the world of firefighters and getting a glimpse at what it's like to come so close to losing your life. Witnessing this side of Caleb's life allows the audience to like him after the unsympathetic way he treats his wife. Unfortunately, their fights come across as somewhat cliched and stilted. This is partially do to some amateurish acting and partially because many of us have heard these angry words come out of our own mouths.

One of the reason's that I went to this film was to learn how to make my marriage stronger. The "Love Dare" has some really good ideas on how to "fireproof your marriage." (One of those corny figures of speech.) And the film inspires you to make the effort.

Despite some stilted acting, corny dialogue, and preachy speeches, I was genuinely moved by "Fireproof." I related to the characters' struggle. I would definitely recommend it to a couple who was having problems with their marriage. Well, as long as their spouse isn't a die hard atheist - like mine.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

To view the trailer, visit:http://www.fireproofthemovie.com/

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Supporting, "The Women"

Diane English's remake of the 1930's classic, "The Women," boasts a cast of all women. I, for one, did not miss the men.

I am so sick of Hollywood pandering to the adolescent mind set. Even romantic comedies have been dumbed down to attract young males. There is a nasty new trend to center romantic comedies on a man-child with all the inherit gross out, potty humor. The directors do try to insert some "heart" into these gag fests. But where is the romance and the smart, witty repartee? I heard it took ten years to get this film made. This doesn't surprise me. Even after the success of the "chick flicks," Sex and the City," and, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," Hollywood doesn't get it. I see a lot of films. There are women out there who are hungry, HUNGRY for intelligent, moving, character driven films. "The Women," delivers a stick of butter dipped in dark chocolate.

Diane's writing reminds us that comedy can come out of the story and character development - not just sheer shock value. She reminds us that witty dialogue can be damn funny. It seems that Hollywood has forgotten that both men and women (and even some teenage boys!) love the classic comedies of the 40's that feature strong women characters with great dialogue.

To tell the truth, the 1930's version of, "The Women," left me cold with those snooty, upper class voices, catty behavior, and outdated morals. But Diane puts a modern spin on the classic. So while the main characters are definitely privileged, they are still accessible. Much of the credit goes to Meg Ryan's down-to-earth performance as high society good girl, Mary Hanes, and Debra Messing (in her funniest film role) as her artistic, earth-mother friend. Some of the characters do come across as overly catty - especially Mary's best friend fashion magazine editor Sylvie Fowler (played by a strident and crude Annette Benning.) But I figure with friends like Mary she can't be all bad.

Diane does a great job updating the material and dealing with the outdated morals. When Mary finds that her husband is cheating, her mother (Candence Bergen) advises her to stay in the marriage. Diane pokes fun at the archaic values comparing them with those of a 1930's movie. Wink wink.

I'll admit, early in the film, I was turned off by some pretty catty women. But as the film progresses, it shows the strength women get from their loyal friends. Stay with it, and you will be rewarded by smart, witty dialogue, and some big belly laughs.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segals

Check out my later reflections on, "The Women," in the review, "Bridesmaids" A Female Driven Comedy for Men.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Jake's Corner"

I am all about supporting Arizona Filmmakers. In fact, I braved two new bus routes to an unfamiliar part of Tucson to watch the Arizona indie, "Jake's Corner."

The mood is set with desert shots that would make any Arizonan proud and some great southwestern music by BJ Thomas and Steve Dorff. We are introduced to the misfits of Jake's Corner who have accepted former NFL star Johnny Dunn (Richard Tyson) into their tight community after a family accident leaves him unable to cope with being in the public eye. The most touching part for me was seeing how this community pulls together to help Johnny when he needs it most - when his orphaned nephew, Spence, moves into his freewheeling life. The townspeople fumble and grope for a way to relate to the only kid in town. But eventually, Spence, played with naturalistic ease by Arizonan Colton Rodgers, is embraced by the whole town.

Writer/Director Jeff Santo does an admirable job of getting some nice performances out of some of his actors - especially young Colton Rodgers. Though it would have been better if Colton had expressed more distress. It is fun being in the world of this film. But I've noticed a problem with some recent indie films (including the recently reviewed, FLOAT). The filmmakers are trying to keep the running time down while juggling several characters' storylines. Santo keeps the running time down to 96 minutes but in the process loses the threads of some of his supporting characters' stories. There are some moving moments here, but the ending would have had more impact if he had connected all the dots. I would have been happy to stay in the world of Jake's Corner another 10 minutes so he could develop these characters' stories.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Thursday, September 04, 2008


The movie follows the lives and relationships of the staff of Float Ice-cream Parlor. The company slogan is, "It's all about the ice-cream." That certainly seems to be owner Ray Fulton's (Gregory Itzen) motto. He works late every evening and when he finally gets home he is still preoccupied by the business. Ray ponders a possible tomato flavored ice-cream as his wife surveys his wilted garden. His wife asks him repeatedly if he has watered the roses. "Are you listening to me at all?" she laments. He answers, "You want me to wake up and swell the roses." Freud couldn't have summarized the theme better.

Float is meant to be a home away from home. But when his wife leaves him, Ray moves into a bachelor pad with his store manager and an ex-employee that he recently fired. Each of these characters has a problem finding themselves. The slick manager, Gevorg (Hrach Titizian), struggles with living up to his Armenian f
amily's expectations while chasing tail and conducting shady deals. Ramon (Johnny Asuncion) tries to find some semblance of a life after being fired for getting into a fist fight at work. He searches ardently for what he is truly meant to do - whether it's mixed martial arts, a green card marriage or whatever comes easy. Ray discovers that he spent his whole life providing for his family, but in the process he lost track of them and himself. His life has truly become "all about the ice-cream." Now he has all the time in the world to find himself. His new frathouse lifestyle gives him the leisure to do all the things he once enjoyed. The roomies bond, support each other's romantic pursuits, and become sort of a makeshift family.

Writer/director Johnny Asuncion takes on the worthy theme of self identify and friendship. However, some story threads are never picked up. Gevorg is so busy pursuing his first real relationship that he never confronts his family about their expectations. Ray gropes to find himself and reconnect with his daughter, but never touches base with his wife. Was this
omission intentional or the result of a ruthless edit? Perhaps the director is saying that family demands aren't as important as being true to ourselves? You decide...

In the last shot Ray finally waters that rose bush and the rose is flourishing.

Reel Inspiration is proud to have "Float" as one of our myspace friends. Please, support this talented filmmaker by attending "Float" at a festival near you.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal


Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Different Kind of Meaningful

Since I started writing reviews of inspiring, meaningful films for Reel Inspiration, I've struggled with whether to review films with sex, drugs and violence. I know this content puts off some of the Reel Inspiration audience and I certainly don't want to do that. However, these issues are a real part of many people's life journeys. And people find inspiration in many different places.

"The Wackness" is a perfect example of this dilemma. On the one hand,
it is a sweet coming of age story dealing with being disappointed with your parents and with love. On the other hand, the main character, Luke Shapiro, is (gasp!) a drug dealer. The original twist, is that Luke's psychiatrist is one of his best costumers. (Audible gasp!)As the film started, I shuffled uneasily in my seat. This is the kind of film that makes parents (like me) uncomfortable as they contemplate their own teen getting high and having sex. However, the teens in the audience seemed to relate to it. It occurred to me that it must be life affirming to see your experiences reflected on the screen - especially those your parents don't accept.

Josh Peck portrays the drug dealer as a sympathetic character. The film subtly shows the negative ramifications of being a teenage drug dealer. His customers appreciate the drugs, but they never accept the supplier into their party crowd. He is always on the outside. Sex and drugs play an important part of the theme. It seems that the characters can't cope with everyday stress and frustration without self medicating with booze, drugs, or sex. His psychologist (Ben Kingsley living the role) encourages Luke not to numb his pain with prescription drugs, but, "Embrace your pain. Make it a part of you."

Another film I struggled with was "Garden State." The excessive drug use made me uncomfortable
. But the drug use was important to the theme - that in our society we are numbing ourselves with drugs.

There a several powerful films where the main character must hit rock bottom before finding redemption. That often includes doing drugs or getting in dangerous or violent situations. I had a huge breakthrough on my perspective of inspiring films after experiencing, "Crash." "Crash" is loaded with extreme violence, but it is vital to the theme. I left the theater feeling spiritually inspired.

How do I decide if a film qualifies for a Reel Inspiration review? The biggest determining factor is whether I come away from the film feeling some sense of hope or catharsis.
Did the character grow or change? Did the film experience enrich my life?

Now I write reviews of inspiring, meaningful films for a variety of tastes: feel good films, spiritual films,
an exceptional political thriller, smart dramas and comedies. I leave some of the edgier fair to reviewers I trust like Josh Valentine. (See Josh's excellent review below.)

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration's mission is to encourage and promote the production and theatrical success of diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire the human consciousness.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"The Wackness"

Poster art for "The Wackness."

Reel Inspiration Review: The Wackness.
Guest Reviewer: Josh Valentine of Indie Bum

In recent years, the Sundance Film Festival has been known as the essential prognosticator of the following year’s great independent movies to come. The festival has brought us great cinema such as “American Splendor,” “Once,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “The Station Agent.” That latter film won the Audience Award in the Dramatic category as did the recently released drama “The Wackness.” While the fest has been losing credibility since last year’s misguided praise for the horrid “Rocket Science,” this new piece is not only one of the best things to ever come out of Sundance, but one of the better coming-of-age tales since “Almost Famous” and “Ghost World.”

The film stars once child star now budding actor Josh Peck as Luke Shapiro, a drug dealing high school grad living low in the East End of 1994 New York City. Dealing with the confusion of teenage sex drive and not used to being “the cool guy” after years of being terribly unpopular, Luke’s about to learn a whole lot about life. One mentor is his psychologist Dr. Jeff Squires (Ben Kingsley), who actually turns out to be Luke’s number one customer. Luke becomes acquainted with his pothead shrink’s daughter, the wildly sexy Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) and soon enough she becomes the unreciprocated love of his life.

The film is deceptively simple. While the plot doesn’t exactly draw in its audience, it is the excruciatingly profound characters that both excites and titillates. Sharply written, and both strangely comic and touching, “The Wackness” is an awe-inspiring vision of teen angst and a huge step forward for its two young stars and a wonderful re-emergence of its legend.

It is wondrously refreshing to see an actor Peck’s age with such a resume (he’s most well known for his debut in “Snow Day” and the kiddie series “Drake and Josh”) taking on a role like Luke Shapiro. He was featured in 2004’s dark tale “Mean Creek” as the schoolyard bully accidentally murdered by his victims, however this role in “The Wackness” called for much more than his previous indie effort. Peck is surprisingly wonderful. Luke tries desperately to be cool, and while his attempts do not have a comic effect they are instead rather moving. The actor shows he wants to make an impression in the new world of indie filmmaking and exhibits terrific showmanship in an obviously researched role. He delivers an honest performance, one of young Brando-esque quality.

Also captivating is Thirlby, who is much more impressive and shows a different range than her turn in the indie-comedy “Juno” as the title character’s best friend. Her performance is at times wildly addictive and extremely seductive. Stephanie is an absolute tease, although curiously as confused and lost as her admirer. Thirlby intertwines these characterizations with ease and is effortlessly becoming the new (Sorry, Ellen Page) indie “it-girl.”

As for the legendary Ben Kingsley, he delivers nothing but one of his best performances. He exhibits a bizarre peculiarity and throughout the entire film it is obvious that he fully savored the juicy role from beginning to end. The character of Dr. Squires is actually the most profound accident within “The Wackness.” His realization of what he believes to be an empty life is heartbreaking and through what can only be described as a tour-de-force performance that deserves exhaustive recognition, Kingsley scores.

The most appealing aspect is the remarkable chemistry not between Peck and Thirlby, but between the young man and his doctor. Their relationship blossoms into cinematic moments of perfection. It is a joy watching each character learn about life from one another whether it’s through drugs, music, laughter, or sex. Seeing them together on screen is honestly the best part about the movie and in some ways the best scenes on film in 2008.

With his first major feature film, writer/director Jonathan Levine has achieved a definitive new classic. The film sparkles with originality and has inventive detail. At times we’re allowed into the mind of Luke Shapiro, and through visualized bubble dream sequences and fun set pieces Levine has craft ed a terrifically offbeat style of storytelling. With its limited time period and setting, the film would seem to have a niche audience, but transcends into a widely accessible work. Also, in some ways it is matchless in its genre in terms of its portrayal of the real misery of growing up in terms of love, heartache, and happiness.

At times the film is a bit predictable and somewhat formulaic, but it is the heartbreaking realizations of the characters of Luke and Dr. Squires that carry the entire piece. Also, the film has a relatively strong ending, coming full circle to add closure but also keeping somewhat open.

The Wackness” is a breath of fresh air in a dead year of independent film, and its under-the-radar nature is truly a crime. Kingsley is Oscar-worthy, and hopefully this will open a veritable number of doors for its younger stars. Like this film’s motif – the heat of the summer – this film gets hotter and hotter and so do its stars. Go see “The Wackness,” yo.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


OK. I had my misgivings about seeing, "Kenny." This mockumentary, set in the world of waste management, had the potential to be the grossest of gross out flicks. My stomach wasn't up for it. I was pleasantly surprised by his sweet natured, hilarious film. Certainly, there are plenty of ripe Australian euphemisms for poop. But filmmakers Clayton and Shane Jacobson wisely chose to steer clear of the big chunks and focus on the human aspects.

OK. I have a crush on Kenny. (Shane Jacobson) What's not to like about a brawny Australian bloke who philosophizes and cracks wise about the trials of maintaining porta potties during festival season.

"It takes a certain kind of person to do what I do... No-one's ever impressed, no-one's ever fascinated.... If you're fireman, all of the kids will want to jump in back of the truck and follow you to a fire. There's going to be no kids willing to do that with me. So, I don't do it to impress people. It's a job, it's my trade, and I actually think I'm pretty good at it. "

Kenny is just a decent bloke with a real camaraderie
with his co-workers on the splash down crew. He takes pride in doing a good job. And somehow manages to keep his dignify in the most undignified situations. He treats others with kindness and respect even when it isn't reciprocated. After he retrieves a wedding ring from the toilet, the relieved women doesn't even acknowledge her knight with slimy plunger. Kenny is sorely in need of a little respect.

Unfortunately, there is no respite at home. He is separated from his domineering wife and she has custody of their son. She shows open disdain for Kenny's chosen profession - even though it allows him to be close to his son. Still, Kenny awkwardly encourages his pre-teen to speak respectably to his mother.

Kenny does his best to gain his family's respect. He spends his whole day off taking his son to see his grandfather. Grandpa then spends the entire visit berating Kenny for being a "glorified turd burglar" in ear shot of the boy. But the true test of character comes when Kenny is forced to bring his son to work with him on one of the busiest days of the year.

This premise may be a little thin for a feature length film, but there are always strange new festivals and sewage dilemmas to keep it interesting - if not fresh. For instance, the splash down crew must deal with drunken car rally enthusiasts tipping over potties.

Kenny is finally rewarded for his hard work with a trip to Nashville for a fancy Porta Potty Convention. It came as no surprise to me when a pretty stewardess gets a crush on our boy. (Of course, he is too naive to see it.)

Director Clayton Jacobson puts it best, " He's the Dalai-Lama of waste management - eternally optimistic and always ready to put others before himself. Kenny represents the humbling nature of common decency."

Hey, if you still believe in human decency, please, show the poor guy a little respect and check out "Kenny."

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

For a trailer, go to:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

" Henry Poole Is Here"

Sorry no water stain. Couldn't find an uncopyrighted still shot. 
On a marque crammed with tired summer offerings of over-the-top comedies and action films, I spotted the sweet, small film, "Henry Poole is Here." Like a name sprawled under an aqueduct bridge, it was barely noticeable.

"Henry Poole is Here" is a quiet little film with a big premise. What do you do when you're an atheist and you learn you have six weeks to live? If you're Henry Poole, (Luke Wilson), you buy a house in a neighborhood where nobody knows you, numb yourself with booze, and wait around to die - alone. Henry's plan to fade away unnoticed is disrupted when his neighbor, Esperanza, (Adrianna Barrazza) starts worshiping a water-stained image of Christ she sees on his stucco wall.

To make matters worse, Esperanza is moved to share this miracle with her church and friends. A silent little girl tape records Henry's pleas to be left alone. But Henry never gets his wish. The little girl and her luminescent mother (Radha Mitchell) enter his life to show him that we are all here for a reason. In fact, the whole neighborhood is there for him - whether he likes it or not.

The director, Mark Pellington, leaves it for us to decide whether we believe it's a miracle or not. At first, we don't even get to see what Esperanza is looking at. Later, we see the stain, but the face is kind of illusive - sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. The film doesn't tell you what to believe. But it shows the strength in believing and especially our belief in others.

Hopefully, this film doesn't fade away unnoticed amidst the jungle of summer releases. Hopefully, it finds a community that believes in it. This is a movie about hope, after all. I, for one, believe.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Swing Vote"

What if the election of our next president came down to the vote of one ignorant, apathetic American? This is the premise of "Swing Vote" a film starring Kevin Costner at his sloppy, likable best.

If you can go with the contrivances that set this story in motion, there is a sweet subplot about this flaky father and his empathetic, politically adept daughter (played admirably by Molly Johnson.)
Madeline realizes that her father, Bud, has become the voice of Americans. She takes this responsibility to heart, while he is too busy enjoying the perks of his new found power. Spineless politicians try everything to sway him to their side - even altering their positions on the issues to match his. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a position. He doesn't even know what the issues are. The media portrays him as the embodiment of America. And America has become a big joke.

The movie tries to go for our patriotic heartstrings, but there's not much at stake for our country. There doesn't seem to be any pressing issues the newly elected president needs to resolve. And since the politicians have no convictions or vision, it doesn't matter who wins. But there is something important at stake for our hero - the respect of his daughter who still believes it's not only our right to vote - but our privilege and responsibility. The premise feels dated - the residue from the 2000 Bush/Gore election and all the dirty politicking that left many Americans apathetic. What may have been a good political satire had it bared some teeth, flashes a decayed sweet tooth instead.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Brick Lane"

"Terrific! This is a film that reminds you why you love movies. Beautifully acted and written." - Kirk Honeycutt, THE WASHINGTON POST

"A lovely movie! Sarah Gavron is a filmmaker to watch." - David Denby, THE NEW YORKER

"Graceful and tender. Keeps on surprising us, right to the end." - Rogert Ebert, THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

Everyday Nazneen scrubs her foggy window pane trying to peer out of her dingy Brick Lane flat. She longs to return to her childhood home of Bangladeshi where she and her sister ran free through the lush woods before her father forced her to marry an older man living abroad. Nazneen has been raised not to question her fate, so she does her best to fulfill her duty to her husband and family. Her husband, Chanu, (Satish Kaushik) does not come off as a stereotypical tyrant but a chubby optimist who prides himself in being a western "educated man." He has instructed his daughters to assimilate into Western culture, yet expects to be treated as undisputed ruler of the household. This irony is not lost on their teenage daughter, Shahana, who disrupts the household by challenging her father. (Naeema Begum is pitch perfect as the average "mouthy" teen.) Nasneen does her best to shield (literally) her daughter from her father's retaliation. But the girls have no role model in their submissive mother. Nasneen's only connection with the outside world is what her husband shares with her. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no insight into the needs of his wife or daughters.Nazneen finally decides to facilitate their trip back to her homeland herself by taking in sewing. The handsome young man (Christopher Simpson) who delivers the garments cracks open a window to the world. Director Sarah Gavron shows Nazneen's awakening through the subtle complexity of Tannishtha Chatterjee's performance.

When 9/11 ignites racial tension in the diverse neighborhoods of Britain, Nazneen must ask herself, "What is my true home
?" Nazneen finds that home is where you find your strength."Set in multicultural Britain, "Brick Lane," is a truly contemporary story of love, cultural difference, and ultimately, the strength of the human spirit." (Quote taken from synopsis on official website.)

Don't miss this breath taking cinematography while it's still on the big screen. Bring your friends to one of the best films of the summer.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"When Did You Last See Your Father"

"When Did You Last See Your Father?" ignores standard Hollywood wisdom: Keep the title short and catchy. Avoid flashbacks. The action should be external, not internal. Make films that appeal to teenage boys. And most of all, don't do stories about old, dying people.

In an article about what sells in Hollywood, an agent moans that she just can't read one more story about coping with aging, dying parents. The market was glutted with them. I couldn't help but think that this must be a very timely and heartfelt theme since it was popping up in so many scripts. Is it possible that there's an adult audience hungry for stories that help them deal with the hard issues in their lives?

"When Did You Last See Your Father?" is based on Blake Morrison's heart wrenchingly honest autobiographical bestseller. It is the story of the forty year old writer's attempts to resolve his troubled relationship with his father as he deals with his immanent death. Collin Firth courageously portrays the estranged son's sometimes unlikable sentiments of resentment, frustration, confusion, and disappointment tinged with compassion for his fading father. Being home brings back memories of coming of age in his charismatic father's shadow and discovering some hard realities about the man.
Thanks to Jim Broadbent's dynamic performance, we can see why the son was once proud of him - even though he never felt his father's approval. Blake goes on an internal journey where he finds that he has some of his father's weaknesses. He must decide what kind of man he is to become. At first, the film's lengthy title seems to accuse the grown son of neglecting his father. But by the end, we discover that the title actually asks, "When was the last time you really saw your father - without your own feelings of inadequacy and resentment getting in the picture? When was the last time you saw love?"

If you are longing for a true life drama, go see, "When Did You Last See Your Father?" this weekend. With our attendance, we are sending a message to Hollywood that we want more films that reflect our lives.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Then She Found Me"

Actress/Director Helen Hunt

Award-winning actress Helen Hunt makes her feature directing debut with, "Then She Found Me," adapted from the best-selling Elinor Lipman novel about an adopted woman who wants to have her own child.

At first, I had some problems getting into it. The opening sequences felt rushed and contrived. Before April has a chance to deal with one tragedy, another one takes it's place. Writer/Director Helen Hunt seems to rush through some life altering events without allowing her character to learn the inherit lessons.

April has an urgent need to have her own baby to experience that special bond that she never felt as an adopted child. That's when her shallow, self-centered husband (Matthew Broderick) chooses to leave her.

Before she has time to digest that her husband is gone, she meets a man who just might be her soul mate - the father of one of her students. The film seems to be saying that love doesn't come in a neat little package (a bundle of joy) or even at a good time. Love is messy - full of human weakness and flaws. In this case, the package comes with a lot of extra baggage. Colin Firth is vulnerable and sexy as the recently dumped father of two who bumbles his way through the initial stages of this potentially important relationship. Helen Hunt gives an honest, nuanced performance as the confused and conflicted April. Kudos to Ms. Hunt for creating the most romantic relationship I've seen in a very long time.

To further complicate matters, April's birth mother (Bette Midler) turns up to show how really flawed love can be. This is your typical sitcom fare with Midler playing it predictively over the top. However, despite the best jokes being thrown away in the trailer, the Divine Miss M got some good laughs. And there are some touching moments of genuine bonding between the two women.

I also appreciate how the film touches on the spiritual side of being Jewish - not just having the characters perform rituals for the sake of tradition.

Sometimes good art, like life and love, can be flawed. I found this to be the case with THEN SHE FOUND ME. I'm looking forward to seeing it again. If you've been longing for a truly romantic comedy, go see THEN SHE FOUND ME as soon as possible and bring your friends. Lets send a message to Ms. Hunt to keep up the good work!

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"The Visitor"

"The Visitor," a film by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), is about how an act of kindness can enrich the life of the giver. This is a quiet film about a quiet man. Sixty-two year old economics professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins from Six Feet Under) is pretending to work at teaching and writing as he sleep walks through life.

While in New York for a conference, he discovers a couple living in his apartment - victims of a real estate scam. It soon becomes clear that the Syrian musician Tarak (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Dani Gurira) have no other place to stay. Walter reluctantly opens his home to them. This unplanned act of kindness changes his life in ways he never expected. Out of gratitude, Tarak introduces Walter to the exuberant world of African drumming. Their shared passion bridges cultural and age gaps connecting the two men. When Tarak is unfairly arrested as an undocumented citizen and held for deportation, Walter is compelled to help this near stranger. Walter finds a purpose and passion in his life that was sorely missing."Kindness as it's own reward" is an important theme for our times. In our busy, self contained world it's easy to forget how good it feels to help another person. I'm grateful to Director Tom McCarthy for reminding me.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal


Reel Inspiration's mission is to encourage and promote the production and theatrical success of diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire the human consciousness.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Guest reviewer:
Angeline R. Hazime

Tonight I watched an independent film at the Loft Cinema in Tucson, AZ, titled "Caramel." This romantic comedy was Lebanon's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 80th Annual Academy Awards. It is the story of several Lebanese woman living their daily lives in Beirut while running a beauty shop. It appeared at first to represent their love lives, but for me it was so much more than that. The title "Caramel" is symbolic of something deeper; something inside the women's souls even. Caramel is smooth and tasty, and rich and sweet, yet it can be so sticky and hard to chew. It is used for waxing; the desired way to remove hair from the body in Lebanon - not just for women but for the men. Actually, I am pleased with the title because waxing in Arabic, especially Lebanese culture, is so central. My Lebanese husband did it on average once a week to his face. In this film the process of the waxing with caramel really is used in key points to represent the way it can be smooth and inviting, even warm... For me it represented these ladies desire for love and acceptance; acceptance of themselves. And then there is the moment of when the caramel goes on and it gets painful and aggressive. I believe the writer/ director Nadine Labaki's point is that love and self identity can be just as painful and aggressive.

I also enjoyed how Lebanese culture was shown in the film. All the dynamics of the different people, and also how Christians and Muslims do actually get a long in Beirut. It isn't all what the American Media makes it out to be over there. The use of the beauty shop and the different subplots was so enthralling for me. Yes, I understood much of what was going on for I personally have been exposed to Lebanese culture being that I am from the Detroit area in Michigan, but I feel anyone would appreciate this opportunity to get a window into to not just the Lebanese people, but to a side of Middle Eastern culture. It is far from the caves of Afghanistan.

It is a foreign film, so the paradigm is going to be much more different than what Americans are use to. I loved the ending and I knew its point, but that is all I will say for the ending. I don't want to give it away. I will say though that one must give into the flow of Caramel and follow the smoothness and the ripping effect in one, and you will get it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"LA MISMA LUNA" Breaks Box Office Records!

Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co. had the most to brag about the box office this past weekend, as their Under the Same Moon broke the record for the biggest opening of a Spanish language film in the U.S., grossing 2.6 million from 266 locations. Studios noted that it did well in heavily Latino markets and at art house theaters. Per play average was $9,774 and the cumulative gross since Wednesday is $3.3 million.

LA MISMA LUNA also opened over the weekend in Mexico, where it had the highest opening of a Mexican film in Mexico for 2007/2008.
(Excerpt from NALIP March newsletter)

Congratulations writer Liquiah Villalobos and director Patricia Riggen!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Under the Same Moon" (La Misma Luna)

In Tucson, the debate of what to do about illegal immigration is a heated one with hard questions and no easy answers. Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna) doesn't attempt to give the answers but does it's best to humanize the issue. Even the title suggests that we are all "under the same moon."

Writer Liquiah Villalobos and director Patricia Riggen present the rarely told story of the child who is left behind when a parent leaves Mexico to work in America. "Under the Same Moon," tells parallel stories of mother and son. In the opening sequence they appear to be in the same household as they perform similar chores while waiting to be reunited. Nine-year-old Carlitos (Adrian Alonso ) can't wait until Sunday for his mother's weekly call at the town pay phone. His mother, Rosario, (Kate de Castillo) is in East L.A. working to provide a "better life" for him. Carlitos doesn't understand how it can be a better life without his mother. He needs her now. So when his grandmother unexpectedly dies,Carlitos sneaks across the border to find her.

The parallels continue as Carlitos experiences first hand the same hardships and dangers his mother had to endure crossing the border and working illegally.
While he is struggling to get to her in America, she is preparing to return to Mexico to be with him. Carlitos looks at the moon when he's lonely because he's been told that she is looking at it too. Their connection is that strong.

Some reviewers have a problem with this precocious nine year old whose innocent devotion brings out the decency in folks. Perhaps it would be more real if he got tired and irritable sometimes. But this is a movie that believes in the goodness in people and the connection between a son and his mom. If you still believe in the goodness in people that connects us all, don't miss, "Under the Same Moon."

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Band's Visit"

The Egyptian Police Band arrives in Israel to perform at the Arab Cultural Center in Peta Tikva. When their ride doesn't show up, they manage to catch the last bus of the day despite the language barrier. The bus drops them off in the desolate town of Betah Tikva. But the differences in the two towns is much greater than the first letter of their names. The progressive notion of music bridging cultural divides hasn't reached this abandoned development of Betah Tikva. The bored local cafe owner laments, "There is no Arab culture, no Israeli culture, no culture at all."

The surreal sight of the Arab Police Band in their pressed, sky blue uniforms is a welcome diversion from the monotony of this dead town. So, Dina, the cafe owner (Ronit Elkabert) offers lodging in her home and recruits her neighbors as unlikely good Samaritans. Unemployed Itzik brings some of the band members home to crash his distant wife's pathetic attempt at a birthday celebration. There is obvious tension between the Arabs and Jews who speak their own language among themselves. They speak in a compromise language, English, to communicate to each other. When language fails them, they attempt to connect through music with a weird, impromptu sing-a-long. The clarinet player shares his unfinished concerto. He gains new insight into his creative process from this family that has also stalled. The rejected husband offers him understanding and inspiration, "Perhaps your concerto is about a baby sleeping in the next room and tons of loneliness." It is the expression of solitude that brings them together.

Dina, who has been in one shallow affair after another, seems desperate for any kind of human connection. She must deal with cultural differences in male/female relationships when she tries to tease the emotionally stunted band leader, Colonel Tewfiq Zakria, (Sasson Gabai) out of his shell. He tries to share his love of music but it is so overwhelming that he must resort to sharing his love of fishing instead.

Meanwhile, the superficial heartthrob, Kaled, (Salah Bakri) uses the power of music to pick up women by crooning a Chet Baker tune. Always out for a good time, he invites himself along on an already awkward double date to a disco roller rink. What develops is a touching moment of human kindness and one of the funniest moments in the film.

Despite it's satirical surface, "The Band's Visit," is really a sweet, lighthearted film about people connecting, not politics. It is about breaking down the walls that separate us. It's about hope.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"Starting Out in the Evening"

Friday night I saw acclaimed writer/director Andrew Wagner (The Talent Given Us, Starting Out in the Evening) at the Loft Theater in Tucson. When asked how he keeps going (after the disappointments of the awards season), Andrew replied that he is in it for the journey. He gave a stirring speech encouraging an appreciative audience to follow their bliss too. It is clear that his love of writing influenced his film, "Starting out in the Evening."

This multi-level drama is a real treat for literature lovers and writers or anyone who loves smart adult dramas. Andrew explores a world of literature that has all but vanished as the once celebrated author Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella) bangs out one last novel on his outdated typewriter. After a close call with a stroke, Schiller urgently struggles to complete the novel he has been working on for a decade. He is challenged to "shake things up" when an ambitious grad student (Lauren Ambrose) badgers him into doing a series of interviews for her thesis on his life's work. She seduces him with the offer of a revised career and renewed acclaim. She forces him to face the consequences that his "single minded devotion to writing" had on his family life and even his writing.

The subplot supports the theme of balancing the pursuit of a dream with living life. Leonard's forty year old daughter, Ariel, (Lilli Taylor) has suppressed her own dream (of having a child) to support her lover's dream. Leonard chastises his daughter for settling for a man who places her second after his dreams. Ariel finds it hypocritical since Leonard's writing always came first over everything including his wife. But Leonard wants more for his daughter.

The dignified Frank Langella gives a courageous performance that would have garnered him an Oscar nomination in less competitive years. And Lilli Taylor literally glows in her role as his daughter.

As a writer, I appreciate how the film explores that precarious balance between having a life with the isolation writing requires and the passion that keeps us going.
OK. It's a lot deeper than that, but I don't want to give it all away. I'll let you figure it out. That's half the fun.

If you love deep adult dramas don't miss seeing, "Starting out in the Evening," starting this evening.

Movie Blessings,
Jana Segal

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oscar Honors Women Filmmakers

Actress Diablo Cody poses in the press ...

This year we saw giant strides made by women filmmakers at the Oscars. It was good to see women finally telling their stories and getting acclaim for it.

Persepolis, adapted and directed by Marjane Satrapi (and Vincent Paronnaud) from her graphic novel was nominated for Best Animated Feature. Marjane removes the veil so we can really get to know the precocious Iranian girl living during the Iranian revolution. T
hrough this poignant and often hilarious film, writer/co-director Marjane Satrapi hopes to create understanding of what the Iranian people have undergone.

“I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists,” Satrapi says. “I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prisons defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.”

We watched as women accepted Oscars for:

Best Documentary Short Subject "Freeheld" - Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth

Best Animated Short Film "Peter & the Wolf" - Suzie Templeton (and Hugh Welchman)

For the first time in Oscar history, four women were nominated in the screenwriting categories: Nancy Oliver was nominated for her highly original feel good comedy, Lars and the Real Girl. Congratulations to Diablo Cody (pictured above) for winning Best Original Screenplay for her quotable dialogue and for her honest portrayal of a teenage girl (which also garnered Ellen Page a Best Actress nomination) in Juno. Two of these nominated writers also realized their vision as director. They created fully drawn, truthful characters that paid off in nominations for their leading ladies. Young writer/director Sarah Polley was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Away from Her while her lead actress, Julie Christie, was nominated for best actress. Writer/Director Tamara Jenkins was nominated for the bitingly real screenplay, The Savages. Her lead actress Laura Linney was nominated for Best Actress.

Congratulations to all these talented filmmakers! I hope that these powerful women inspire and empower a new generation of women filmmakers to express their stories on film.
Jana Segal


Tuesday, March 4th at 7:00 p.m.

Presented by The University of Arizona's Women's Studies Department

LUNAFEST 2008 lands at The Loft!

Get ready for an entertaining and enlightening evening of short films made by, for, and about women. This annual, nationally-touring film festival brings the best short films from around the world (all made by women) together for one special night of cinematic excitement.

This year's films, which have won industry awards and film festival audience accolades, run the gamut from quirky animation to touching documentaries, and explore such topics as social and cultural diversity, the joys and challenges of mother and child relationships, and the bending (and sometimes breaking) of traditional gender roles. Incredibly diverse in both style and subject matter, these gems are united by a common thread of exceptional storytelling by…for…about women.

Visit the LUNAFEST website: http://lunafest.org/