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