Thursday, January 31, 2008

"The Savages"

"The Savages," isn't nearly as savage as the title or some reviewers make it out to be. I didn't find it to be a dark comedy. It's definitely not a feel good flick, but I'm sure many people will relate to this honest, sometimes funny film. It is a slice of life drama about two grown children (Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman) suddenly faced with the challenge of caring for their estranged aging father (Philip Bosco ) who never took care of them. It's time for their father, who is suffering from dementia, to leave his retirement community and move into "assisted living." This isn't the Sunshine Home; it's a place where people go to die.Oscar nominated writer-director Tamera Jenkins presents the hard reality of death without a trace of sentimentality. Death isn't pretty. It is the children's responsibility to take care of things and they do -- not without the residual resentment and guilt. It doesn't help that their father is still the same hostile, short tempered, foul mouthed jerk that abandoned them as kids. And his kids get in a few stingers of their own. The affects of their lousy childhood is reflected in their inability to sustain healthy, lasting relationships. Trapped together by the situation, the siblings are forced to come to grips with these issues. There is a touching moment of compassion between the two when they share some prescription pain killers. The film is worth seeing just for the Oscar caliber performances of the three major actors. And Laura Linney has been honored with a nomination. (See Oscar nominations below.) Hoffman, however, must settle for a nomination for a supporting performance in "Charlie Wilson's War."

At the end, there is the end of a life and a hint of a beginning. The children have grown up just a bit for having dealt with their responsibility the best they knew how.

Movie Blessings,
Jana Segal

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon)

by Josh Valentine

An unbelievable epic, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is one of the most beautifully written, directed, and acted films of this year and of all time. Julian Schnabel’s French import is an amazing vision blooming with innovative directing techniques that are not often seen in American film. This is one of the best directed films this year, and one of the best foreign films of all time.

The film tells the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (played miraculously by Mathieu Amalric) the former editor of French Elle whose life was sadly rendered by a massive stroke. The stroke left him paralyzed from head to toe with a rare illness called “locked-in syndrome, leaving only his mind and his left eye active. As Bauby recuperates, he begins to dictate a book about his affliction through the blink of his eye with the aid of three beautiful nurses Henriette (Marie-Josée Croze), Claude (Anne Consigny), and Marie (Olatz Lopez Garamendia).

The movie does an amazing job of telling the story through an excellent adaptation of Bauby’s memoir. We hear Bauby’s thoughts, almost completely made up by screenwriter Ronald Harwood. Harwood’s Bauby is an extremely intelligent man which adds a lot of sadness to the tale. From the outside it would seem like he would be quite the opposite due to his lazed physical appearance. The invented inner dialog shows a much sadder side to the story.

The film is directed like no other. Schnabel, who directed the fabulous biopic “Basquiat”, takes his job to new heights setting a new standard. “Diving Bell” is very well thought out. For example, the opening scene depicts Bauby’s awakening from his comatose state. The sequence lasts a few minutes, and the viewer really gets a feel for how confused the patient is and how claustrophobic he is feeling. The whole film is a little claustrophobic, but it is hardly uncomfortable.

Once more, the character of Jean-Dominique Bauby is very well developed. He has a very creative mind, something that spurs many glorious scenes which explore his imagined experiences. These sequences are incredibly delivered through Schnabel’s eye, Harwood’s script, and the amazing inspiration from Bauby’s memoir.

“Diving Bell” is also filled with triumphant performances. Mathieu Amalric, who was introduced to American audiences in Spielberg’s spectacular “Munich”, is a revelation. He barely speaks throughout the movie, but the sadness in his eyes could move mountains. Equally fantastic is the legendary Max von Sydow, playing Bauby’s sad father Papinou. Sydow’s performance is tragically impressive and his few scenes on the screen are heart wrenching.

Also outstanding is the beautiful Emmanuelle Seigner, who plays the estranged lover/mother of Bauby’s children. Her character is terribly sad in both her storyline and the fact that she puts on such a real face of hopefulness. She knows that she may lose Bauby in many ways, but she works through the pain to keep her family happy. There is one scene in which she breaks down, and it is probably one of the saddest scenes in recent film history. Seigner is absolutely superb, and after appearing in 2007’s other huge French film “La Vie En Rose”, it is sure that we will see a lot more of her.

Like many of the other movies that have proven spectacular these few weeks, the soundtrack to the film is equally as terrific. The list of songs may be short, but they fit the film perfectly. The use of artists like The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, U2, Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle, and an amazing theme by Paul Cantelon create an amazing explosion of musical intensity that just work well with the movie and the audience.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” proves a much more interesting theater experience than your average run of the mill movie. It is revolutionary in many different ways. The movie will undoubtedly get some Oscar attention after its three Golden Globe nominations (Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film), most likely scoring some recognition for Julian Schnabel and his faultless directing style.

OSCAR UPDATE: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was nominated for Best Directing, Best Adaptation, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography. (See 2008 Academy Award Nominations for more details.)

For more reviews from Josh and to see his Best Films List, visit:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"The Bucket List"

OK. I'll admit I have my guilty pleasures. These are films I see not because they are great art or original storytelling but because they make me feel good. "The Bucket List," falls into this category. It's a feel good movie with some laughs. You can pretty much figure out the whole story from the trailer - yet you still want to be in that world. Jack Nicholson plays a gruff businessman who is treated for cancer. He eventually connects with his trivia spouting, family-man roommate (Morgan Freeman) because of their shared condition. When they discover that they both have less than a year to live, they make a list of things they would like to do before they "kick the bucket" and go out and do them.

The problem I have with the script is that everything comes so easily to them. First, they have unlimited financial resources to travel the world because one of them is rich. I could live with this contrivance if the filmmaker used that screen time to develop the relationship of the two characters. But their relationship comes easily too. There are no real obstacles to overcome that would allow them to fully bond. But luckily, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman give such lived-in performances that we feel like we know them. While gazing at the pyramids, they touch on universal themes such as the importance of faith and share some regrets. They challenge each other to discover the true joy in life. It is certainly a joy to watch Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freedman at the top of their game (and the top of the world!) If this movie inspires you to find the joy in life or contemplate it's meaning, I'd say that was worth the price of admission.
Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal "The Bucket List" provides much-needed education on living and dying for American society. --Janet Grace Riehl, (

Loved The Bucket List, by the way. Dave and I are making our own Bucket List now! Woo hoo! Reel Member, Tammy Swanson