Monday, December 28, 2009


"Invictus," opens with the image of a road dividing the well groomed, green rugby field for the white African team and the rough, dirt lot where black African children play. Coming down the road is the motorcade of newly elected President Nelson Mandela.

This is a movie about inspiration. President Mandela's (Morgan Freeman) resolve to unite the nation without punishing his suppressors after serving twenty-seven years as a political prisoner is indeed inspiring. Through his example, he teaches his country how to forgive.

Knowing that his county is still racially divided in the wake of apartheid, the President enlists the help of the national rugby Team Captain (Matt Damon in his most buff and tan) to unite the country with the universal language of sports. Africa is hosting the Rugby World Cup Championship and he knows that the eyes of the world are on them. His first task is to inspire the team to overcome their losing streak and win the championship. But the bigger challenge is to inspire his hostile countrymen to rally around the mostly white team.

Unfortunately, the sports section of the movie isn't as moving as it could have been and therefore less inspiring. President Mandela gives the Team Captain the poem, "Invictus" for inspiration. (Mandela got strength from this poem to survive those hard years in prison.) The Team Captain surprises his players with a visit to Mandela's tiny prison cell. But an opportunity is lost when he doesn't share the poem with his team. The audience hears the poem as a voice over. (My frustration increased when I couldn't make out a few of the words.) Here it is:

by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Perhaps the screenwriter was trying to keep to the true story. In sports stories there is always the problem of creating suspense when we know who will win. And this definitely is a problem here. Apparently, the game was not an emotional roller coaster. Instead the writer uses the possibility of an assassination to create tension. I'm not saying there are no inspiring moments. There are several. It's just not as moving as it could have been. (I wonder if director Clint Eastwood was trying to avoid having the movie called sappy...?) It is still a three, maybe three and a half, star movie. Who wouldn't root for Morgan Freeman in a strong (however tall) portrayal of Nelson Mandela?
Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year with lots of movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Friday, December 04, 2009

Paris at the Loft.

If you have been longing for a trip to Paris, you only need to travel as far as the Loft Cinema. Last week there were three fine films that featured the City of Love: "An Education," "Coco Before Channel," and "Paris." You can still catch a double feature of "Paris" and "Coco Before Channel" at the Loft. Sorry for not writing about "An Education" sooner, but the Loft newsletter assures me that it will screen again.

Two of the films, "An Education" and "Coco Before Channel" are period pieces dealing with the confines of class and gender (both directed by women.) In all three films, Paris is presented as a city full of life, inspiration, and love.

In Lone Schefig's,  "An Education", Jenny Mellor, a bright English schoolgirl, (played by the incandescent Carey Mulligan) is pressured by her father to give all her attention to her boring studies in order to get accepted into Oxford University. Jenny is tempted to give up that dream when a charming older man (Peter Sarsgaard) offers her the finer things in life - music and culture and Paris! At first glance, this appears to be a morality play about the perils of being a fallen woman in the 1960's, but it goes on to explore the confines of society on women. Her father wants a better life for her, but admits that she would be going to Oxford to land a husband. A college education was not meant to open up new opportunities for women but to prepare them to be a respectable wives or educators. Jenny gets a fast education. She learns that the easy path may not be the most rewarding.

In Anne Fontaine's, "Coco Before Channel," Coco (the charismatic Audrey Tautou) is driven to overcome the confines of her class and gender to drastically alter the fashion of her times. Abandoned by her father and raised in an orphanage, Coco struggles to make a living performing with her sister Adrienne and working as a seamstress. When a duke falls in love with her sister, Adrienne leaves with him believing that she will be raised to his social standing. Coco uses this connection and her natural advantages to gain entree into the estate of Baron Balson. Coco is kept on as an amusement to the Baron and his guests. To free herself from the confines of the ladies' fashions of the time, Coco tailors her lover's cloths to allow her to ride horses and breath freely. She finds the hats of the time frivolous and designs a simple straw hat that becomes popular with the Baron's guests. In the process, she gains self respect and the love of an English businessman who recognizes her vision and potential. With his support and financial backing, she opens a successful hat business in Paris. But it is her unique vision and drive that makes Coco Channel the fashion icon of the twentieth century.

In "Paris," there is a story around every corner. A young heart transplant candidate, Pierre, looks down from his balcony to the busy streets of Paris. He finds comfort in observing the everyday details of other peoples lives as his own may be slipping away. A history professor begins to regret the sacrifices he made for his career after his father passes away. In a clumsy, urgent attempt to find love, he sends a text message to an unobtainable coed. An open air market vender must learn to live again after losing his wife. When Pierre's sister Elise (Juliette Binoche) puts her life on hold to take care of him, they both realize that she has just been going through the motions since her husband left. Pierre convinces her that her life isn't over - it is just beginning.

"Paris" was my favorite of the three films. It was full of so many things that make Paris great: the history, inspiration, life, and love!

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

To add a little art for your viewing pleasure, check out "Séraphine" (see review below)set just out side of Paris.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


In 1905, Séraphine de Senlis, (Yolande Moreau) a dowdy, devout forty-one year housekeeper was told by her guardian angel to start painting. For Séraphine painting was a sacred calling. She took inspiration from nature where she felt the breath of God in the wind and heard him whisper in the trees. She sang hymns of praise to the Holy Virgin as she painted startlingly colorful leaves. While working as his housekeeper, Séraphine was discovered by Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Turkur) the German art critic who collected Picasso and championed the naive primitive painter Le Douanier Rousseau. Wilhem became her patron and grouped her works with other naive painters that were dubbed, "The Sacred Heart Painters."

This beautiful film is set in Senlis, Italy (just outside of Paris.) I found it compelling and inspiring to watch Séraphine gather ingredients for paint from nature, food, housekeeping supplies, and even turpentine from the votive candles at the Catholic cathedral. During the day, she toiled away scrubbing floors and washing sheets in order to support her art. At night she came alive during her sacred ritual of painting.

As an artist and writer, I feel that my creativity is a gift from God. It was inspiring to watch how her spiritual connection to nature and art fed her soul. So it was disturbing to me when the voices in her head grew louder and made irrational demands as Séraphine descended into madness.

The film brings up questions about the fine line between artistic genius and madness. Was it a gift from God or just an hallucination? When Séraphine shows her painting of leaves that seem to move on the canvas, the Mother Superior inquires, "Are you sure they are from God?" In her later paintings the boldly colored leaves resemble flickering flames much like the burning bush that spoke to Moses. Perhaps she came too close to seeing the face of God. I may be reading too much into the symbolism here. Though there are times when the symbolism in a film surpasses the filmmaker's intentions.

In the film, the idea of fame and fortune encroach on Séraphine's thoughts and creative inspiration. Perhaps it blocked her divine connection. After she found her patron, she had more time to paint. But she spent less time in nature and singing hymns. Perhaps it was her separation from God that made her crazy. Again I'm reaching. But that's what makes film so powerful - it's ability inspire us to think.

"Séraphine," was the winner of 7 Cesar Awards (French Oscars) including Best Picture and Best Actress (for Yolande Moreau.) Check out this evocative film for yourself and come up with your own interpretation. I would love to hear it.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal


Saturday, August 22, 2009


"Departures," is the winner of 10 Japan Academy Prize Awards and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in a very competitive year.

In Departures, Diago's fate seems set as he spends all his family's money on a professional cello after he gets a job in the only orchestra in Tokyo. But at the end of his first performance, the orchestra is shut down. When Diago is forced to sell his cello, he is totally lost.

He and his wife move back into his childhood home while he gains his bearings and a some kind of employment. As fate would have it, Diago gets the first job he applies for - "helping with departures." Diago thinks he is going to work at a travel agency. The job turns out to be preparing the recently departed for the coffin with the traditional Japanese cleansing rituals of Nokanshi.

There are some humorous moments (reminiscent of Sunshine Cleaning) as Diago learns to handle dead bodies and hides his new occupation from his wife and neighbors. But the money is good and his boss has become a sort of father figure for him. Living in his childhood home has brought back painful memories of his own father forcing him to practice his cello and then leaving him without a goodbye.

Diago undergoes a symbolic (and funny) death when he must play dead as his boss performs a demo of the cleansing ritual on him. But after facing death, he is reborn. He gains a sense of purpose when he sees how the cleaning rituals help the family of the deceased cope with their grief and gain closure. His senses are awakened to the world around him. And for the first time he is really alive. He plays his cello for the sheer joy of it.

Unfortunately, the journey on our true path never runs smoothly. The neighbors shun him because he is "making money off the dead." When he wife discovers what he does, she calls him "unclean" and gives him an ultimatum - the marriage or his job.

A great movie has the power to help us make sense of the trials we go through in life. In Departures, the cleansing rituals help the families make sense of a loved one's death and honor their life. We learn that death is a part of life's journey, but the journey is living.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"(500) Days of Summer"

By Guest Reviewer Josh Valentine

Tired of the same old love story? That clichéd boy meets girl, they hate each other then learn to love each other, garbage that, while sometimes can be saved by smart filmmakers (Nora Ephron is one of the genre’s saving graces), is just too often filled with “we’ve seen it a million times” junk? Filmmakers like John Hughes, Mike Nichols, Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen and most recently Michel Gondry are the few who took the romantic film and created the anti-love story. Instead of overly romanticizing, they showed love for what it really is – painful, happy and everything in between and most importantly were able to present love as something real and not in that perfect little box that we wish it could be.

The debut independent feature by music video director Marc Webb, “(500) Days of Summer,” is both an homage to these great directors, but also a refreshing new film that presents, as its narrator explains, “a story of boy meets girl … not a love story.” An honest film, with an incredible script – this is one of the best films of the year.

“(500) Days of Summer” tells the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a twentysomething who works for a greeting card company, is obsessed with the music of The Smiths and is hopelessly in love with romantic love. Over the course of, well 500 days, Tom falls for his adorable coworker Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a nihilist pixie with a love for Ringo Starr and a knack for origami. As their romance begins to bloom (over a connection to a Smiths song), the infatuated yet terribly naïve Tom must give in to Summer’s attitude toward love (she doesn’t believe in it) and, of course as their relationship ends – it takes an incredible toll on Tom and not on Summer.

The story sounds somewhat played, but through the pens of scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and through Webb’s lens, Tom and Summer’s story is removed from cliché. The film is very much a modern take on Allen’s “Annie Hall,” in that it doesn’t present love as something tangible and that it shows how the screenplay doesn’t have to be concrete. Like “Annie Hall,” “(500) Days of Summer” is a story about love, yet since the plot is non-linear – we are able to see how the relationship works or worked and what caused the inevitable decline.

Instead of using worn-out flashbacks, the film uses repeated shots – such as a shopping trip to a record shop where Tom tries to show Summer a Ringo record for both his and her approval. As the film progresses, we see the shot repeated and extended to see the reaction shots of both Tom and Summer. It shows the pains of wanting the one you love to share something, and how you know sometimes that it just won’t connect.

It’s not only the honesty of the film or its refreshing storytelling style that makes it so strong – it also features strong performances by its leading up-and-coming stars. Deschanel is already a fairly big star, having proven her range in comedies like “Elf” and the underrated “Eulogy.” She’s perfectly cast, not just for her looks but proves a talent she’s never offered before. Deschanel is quickly becoming America’s new sweetheart. She uses microgestures, small yet endearing smiles that invoke the same lump in one’s throat as would some of Chaplin’s greatest women. If this doesn’t make Deschanel A-list, then there’s something seriously wrong with American audiences.

Gordon-Levitt is superb in the role as Tom. Like Nichols’ Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” Gordon-Levitt is not your average leading man – he’s skinny, has tousled hair and doesn’t have traditionally good looks … but it all works. Tom is something of a classic loser, a late bloomer who seems to always fall for the wrong girl. When he finds happiness, however, the audience can’t help but root for him. It’s exciting to see the kid from “Angels in the Outfield” has grown up to achieve something more than expected.

Following the recent, unexpected death of John Hughes, the film is quite similar to his style in its presentation of love in it’s sometimes more painful ways. In one scene, Tom tries to get Summer’s attention by playing The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” to no avail. The scene is very Hughes-ian, using both a song used in Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink,” and in its depiction of the Tom’s painful search for attention.

Luckily, these homages and references never steer toward the realm of knock-off, but show how a filmmaker can be influenced by another or others, and create their own visual representation of the anti-love story. The script is possibly one of the strongest and most inspiring written in the past few years as it is both commercial and independent at the same time.

A very exciting film, “(500) Days of Summer” seems as though it could pull off the impossible. It features an intellectual script, fantastical animated sequences and an honest depiction of the struggle between love vs. the relationship. “(500) Days of Summer” is basically a Woody Allen film for those who hate Woody Allen. A standout film, possibly the best of the summer, you’ll be wishing you could fall in love with “Summer” over and over again.

Grade: A

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Tulpan" and "Moon."

Business has been bustling lately at the Loft Cinema ( with so many great movies to see such as "Food Inc.," "Moon," "Unmistaken Child," and "The Lemon Tree."  I recommend all of these movies highly. I'm sorry I have been too busy organizing a directing workshop to write them up.

Reflecting back on, "Moon." This mostly two set, two actor production (by director Duncan Jones and screenwriter Nathan Parker) was one of the best indie films of the year. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is completing his job of extracting helium-3 from the moon's soil. He has been stationed at the mostly automated lunar base for three years with his robotic assistant Gerty (Kevin Spacey). His only human contact are recorded transmissions from his wife and young daughter back on earth. With just weeks left of his assignment, Sam has started to hallucinate about other people on board and their motives.

"Moon," illuminates what it is to be human: the necessity of having hope and our need to connect with other people.

"Tulpan" was just so special that I was inspired to write the following review. (See below.) Enjoy!


Long shot of the desolate, dusty Kazakhstan terrain with a scraggly herd of sheep, two donkeys, a honking camel, and a round sheep skin yurt.

Snug in the yurt is a family. A lovely young mother enjoys her three playful children. The kids get on their tired father's nerves. Uncle Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov) has just arrived home after a stint in the navy.

It feels like the filmmaker just happened onto this little nomad family and captured a glimpse of their lives on film. There is a naturalism and ease you won't find in documentaries. The conflict is subtle - like the tension when the baby climbs out of a trap door near a herd of scampering sheep. The father demands that the mother not spoil the child by calling him back inside. The father (Ondasyn Besikbasov) is intent on toughening up his young ones to be herdsmen.

But the mother (Samal Yeslyamova) is intent on keeping her loved ones close and safe. She cherishes her family as her source of happiness in this isolated, harsh land.

At first their lives seem bleak by modern standards. Their only connection with the outside world is the scratchy news broadcast on the older boy's portable radio and occasional visits from Asa's friend to deliver water. Even this little bit of civilization seems to encroach on their way of life. The portable radio distracts the boy from his chores and the irrelevant news reports compete with traditional folk songs his sister sings for entertainment. The water carrier with his truck decorated in nudie pictures, beckons Asa to leave the family cocoon to find a wife or a job in the city.

But Asa longs for a family of his own and a herd - of camels. This guy has big dreams. Unfortunately the only eligible girl in the regain, Tulpan, isn't interested in marrying Asa because he has big ears. And Asa has yet to gain his brother-in-laws respect as a herdsman.

"Tulpan," is full of cinematic miracles. Cinematographer Jola Dylewska uses long shots to catch actual acts of nature (often in a single take) such as the dust devil that threatens the herd. This is all integrated beautifully into the story. Director Sergy Dvortsevoy shepherds a herd of scruffy animals, non-actors and young children into unbelievably real performances with quirky humor and touching moments in this meaningful story.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Monday, June 29, 2009

"My Sister's Keeper"

In "My Sister's Keeper," Anna (Abigail Breslin) was conceived as a donor for her sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) who has cancer. By the age of eleven Anna has already gone through several painful medical procedures to save her sister. Now she must endure another surgery in order to give her dying sister her kidney. Anna shocks her parents by hiring a lawyer (Alex Baldwin) to get medical emancipation so she can make her own decisions about her body and live her own life.

"My Sister's Keeper" succeeds as a tear jerker. Despite some script problems including undeveloped characters, contrived plot elements, and a stereotypical terminally wise child, it moved me to tears. It could be because of what I brought to the film as an audience member. I related to the marriage straining under the responsibilities of parenthood. The mother (Cameron Diaz) had given up everything, including her relationship with her husband (Jason Patric), to take care of her sick child. In her single minded pursuit to keep her daughter alive, she has forgotten the importance of living. Though this storyline paid off with an emotionally stirring scene, it would have been more powerful if their marital problems had been set up earlier and we actually saw the father being pushed out of the picture.

In an interesting structural device, each character narrates their point of veiw on how having a family member with cancer affects their lives. You would think that this would give ample opportunity for each characters' storyline to be developed. Unfortunately, some storylines have gaping holes in them.

The male family members are nearly non-existent through much of the film. You could argue that it was the director's (Nick Cassavetes, The Notebook) intent since everything evolves around the sick child's needs while everyone else is neglected. For instance, there are some vague references to the brother (Evan Ellingson) needing help because he is dyslexic, but that story thread is abruptly dropped. In one scene he wanders into a bad section of the city and watches street walkers. Nothing happens. No one even notices that he's gone. Perhaps that's the point. But it may have had more impact if he had gotten into trouble.

Their many sacrifices have weighed on the family, but I believe the spirit of giving has a positive impact on the children. They have grown so much closer from taking care of each other. The film touches on the theme that giving to others is it's own reward and a worthwhile way to live.

If you could use a good cry or a reminder of how good life can be, watch "My Sister's Keeper". How you spend your entertainment dollars tells Hollywood what kind of movies you want. Want more family dramas? Then go see "My Sister's Keeper" while it is still in the first run theaters.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Thursday, June 04, 2009


August 14-16, 2009, Fri 6-9 p.m. Sat/Sun 9a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pre-register now to save your place. (Sign in 5:30 Fri.)
Tucson Marriott University Park, 880 E. Second Street, Tucson, AZ

Cost for Observing Directors/Actors: $100.)($10 off for pre-registered Pan Left, APA, PIFMG, ZONIE, IFASA, NALIP, and IFP members).

Cost for Participating Actors: $50 (chosen by Participating Directors for scene work, pre-workshop prep required including scene memorization and rehearsal with Director, apply by e-mailing headshot/resume.)

*individual body language; how characters move in relationship to each other and the space.
*a powerful tool used to trigger emotional responses within the actor and the audience.
*illuminates the subtext or unspoken desires, needs, fears and fantasies of the characters.
*can stimulate the character in a desirable direction or make it harder to perform the scene.

*students learn tricks of the trade Mark has developed from decades of experience in television, film and theatre.
*staging techniques that support the dynamics of the scene such as the characters’ objectives, character arcs, conflict, adjustments, and shifts in relationships are demonstrated as participating directors stage two actor scenes in front of the class as Mark coaches.

What Mark’s students are saying:

“Mark has an in depth understanding of how an actor works and what an actor needs to give their best performance. His techniques are simple yet profound. Directors and actors alike were astounded by the results.” Eric Schumacher, Actor.

“What an amazing learning experience. I feel like we only scratched the surface. I'm very anxious to incorporate his technique into my rehearsal process.” Alan Williams, Director

Mark wrote the Best Seller, THE DIRECTOR’S JOURNEY: the Creative Collaboration between Directors, Writers and Actors; as well as DIRECTING FEATURE FILMS. He shared his techniques at The Directors Guild, The Actors Studio, American Film Institute, Pixar Animations Studios, and UCLA Extension. Mark is creative consultant to film directors Mark Rydell, George Tillman, Chazz Palminteri, Cyrus Nowrosteh, among others. Television directing credits include: The Facts of Life, Family Ties, and Capitol. Graduate training in Theatre Directing at the Yale School of Drama.

Registration info at: or

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I'll admit up front that I don't like sports. But I love a good sports movie. I think it's because sports movies are really chick films for guys. Brian's Song is a tear jerker where the main character dies. In most good sports films we root for the team to win. My favorites are character driven with universal themes like personal redemption ("Hoosiers"), coping with a shattered dream and failure ("Bull Durham"), or coming of age ("Breaking Away"). Sports films can tackle important issues like racism ("Remember the Titans.") They can lift your spirit like "Field of Dreams." I think people love sports films (and perhaps sports) because we are inspired by the triumph of the human spirit.

So I was thrilled to do a Reel Inspiration review of the quality indie sports flick, "Sugar." The film begins with a new twist on an old genre. We are introduced to the world of baseball training camps in the Dominican Republic and Sugar - a minor league hopeful with a killer fast ball. The ball players in the program are drilled in basic, or should I say, baseball English. ("Fly ball!" "I got it!" "Home run!") Back in their home town, these players are treated like local celebrities. The families' hopes and dreams for a better life depend on them being chosen to play in the minor leagues in American.

"Sugar" isn't your typical sports flick. The filmmakers (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck who directed the acclaimed "Half Nelson") take time and care to set up their close knit community in the world they are leaving behind. We root for Sugar to get into the minor leagues so he can help his family financially. But once in America, he has problems acclimating because he doesn't speak the language well. Sugar complains to his girlfriend back home that the food is too sweet (because the only menu item he knows how to pronounce is french toast.) He is recruited to a minor league team in Iowa where there is only one other player who can speak his language. Then Sugar's one friend is fired for not performing well after an injury. Actor Algenis Perez plays Sugar as bitter-sweet as he silently expresses his increasing isolation and loneliness. He must examine his dream of being a professional baseball player in America. This is where the film becomes about the immigrant experience and discovering what is important in life. There is no big play off game where we root for the team to win. Just life.

"Sugar" wins it's place with the great sports films that inspire us through the triumph of the human spirit and by giving us a greater understanding of the immigrant experience in America.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mark Travis Directing Actors Workshop Follow-up.

Reel Inspiration, with ArtFare and the Tucson Film Office, is proud to have brought world renowned directing instructor Mark Travis to Tucson for the successful master class, “Directing Actors” on March 21-22, 2009.

Mark wrote the Best Seller, THE DIRECTOR’S JOURNEY: the Creative Collaboration between Directors, Writers and Actors; and DIRECTING FEATURE FILMS.

The workshop was attended by 60 people from around Arizona. The first day Mark demonstrated the Travis Technique with four actors. The next day eight directors received hands-on training while rehearsing two actor scenes. Attendees were blown away by the transformation in the actors' performances after being directed using the Travis technique.

There was such an outpouring of gratitude from attendees encouraging me to bring Mark back for another workshop. Here are just a few of the comments...

"Mark has an in depth understanding of how an actor works and what an actor needs to give their best performance. His techniques are simple yet profound. Directors and actors alike were astounded by the results." Eric Schumacher, Actor.

"It was so exhilarating to see (and experience) the magic created in a scene using Mark's techniques. I'm so glad you brought it to Tucson where it will no doubt benefit 'the industry'. Looking forward to more workshops with Mark in the future." Chris Farishon, Actor

"What an amazing learning experience. I feel like we only scratched the surface. I'm very anxious to incorporate his technique into my rehearsal process." Alan Williams, Director

"Techniques that Mark shared with us opened up exciting new avenues in how to work with actors on a deeper level." Annina Lavee, U of A Media Arts Instructor, Director.

"I learned more in two days than in all the previous acting training I have undergone." Brian Mulligan, President IFASA

Due to the positive response, Reel Inspiration will be bringing Mark back for a "Staging the Scene" workshop August 14-16, 2009.

Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration

For workshop and registration information, contact:

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Sunshine Cleaning"

Sorry that I have gotten behind on my reviews for Reel Inspiration. With organizing Reel Inspiration's successful directing workshop and critiquing a powerful script from one of the directors, I just haven't had the time. Now the Arizona International Film Fest is here... But I'm delighted to introduce a new reviewer, Robin Farmer, who is helping out with a long awaited review of "Sunshine Cleaning." I think you will enjoy her succinct style and her positive take on the theme.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

by guest reviewer Robin Farmer.

Sunshine Cleaning,” is a sweet story about the glories and grimness of personal shortcomings and family dysfunction. We all fail, but it’s our attitude that will determine if we repeat the experience or grow from it.

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) and her sister, Norah, (Emily Blunt) are underachieving sisters who hope a new business cleaning up crime scenes will help them find their place in the world. Cleaning up murder scenes is a messy job but doing so provides the sisters an anchor in otherwise unstable lives.

Rose, a former high school cheerleader with self-esteem woes, works as a maid while caring for her son, the likely product of a dead-end relationship with her married high school love, Mac, (Steve Zahn). Norah, a stoner, still lives with her grumpy dad, Joe, (Alan Arkin) a get-rich schemer with responsibility issues of his own.

Mac, a police detective, gives Rose the idea to make more money by forming her biohazard business. She needs the cash to send her smart and troubled son to a private school. An inconsistent optimist, she calls her business “Sunshine Cleaning” because it restores order to places wrecked by the stench and stains of death.

One of the most memorable scenes has Adams explaining, and suddenly realizing, the power of what she does at a baby shower with former, clueless high school friends who live in gated communities.

Wonderfully acted by a strong ensemble cast, the story unfolds to reveal the reason for the tension and low-bar behavior between the siblings and their father in a way that feels organic.

Director Christine Jeffs
From the producers of the Sundance hit, “Little Miss Sunshine,” (and directed by Christine Jeffs) "Sunshine Cleaning," has the same quirky comedic tone just not in mega doses. The script, from first-time screenwriter Meg Holley, aptly examines family dynamics in a fresh, compelling manner full of emotional truth.

In learning how to clean up the dirty deaths of strangers, the sisters transform their troubled relationship and jump start a business that fuels a better life for the entire family.

From the acting, directing, writing and editing, this indie film delivers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Arizona International Film Festival screens work of Reel Inspiration Contest Winner Bill Kersey

The Arizona International Film Festival has opened with a bang and will screen films for ten days. This year's fest is especially exciting because it celebrates the 15th Anniversary of PanLeft (Tucson's activist filmmaking group), there are also some great shorts in Cine Espanol and from all around the world.

What especially excites me is the tremendous number of youth films presented this year! There will be a free screening of some of the youth films at 11 today at the Screening Room, Downtown.

In addition, there are two films edited and/or produced by three time Reel Inspiration Film Contest winner Bill Kersey. (Some of you saw him at the Unity or Reel Vision Conference screening a few years back.) I've included the descriptions of the films Bill worked on (Rita of the Sky, Thicker than Water) because they are so inspiring and compelling.

But there are so many other great films this year! Between the Water and the Wood (about the U of A swim team), Weaving Worlds, The Gift of Mother Earth, Summer Trip, shorts and feature films from all over the world and what may be AIFF's best animation screening ever! There are also several free screenings. Please, check out the complete schedule at:

Don't forget the popular Arizona filmmakers Screening Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Screening Room!

I will catch as many of these film as possible (probably 15 of them!) Hope to see you there supporting our independents.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Rita of the Sky
Kathryn Ferguson, USA, 2009, 72 min.
In a story that prowls the edges between cultures, a judge sends a mysterious woman to a Kansas mental hospital because, to officials, her language resembles the "guttural noises" of a mentally ill person.

After 10 years, they learn she is a Tarahumara Indian from the Copper Canyon in Mexico, who had been speaking her native language all along. She had walked 1500 miles from her canyon village to Kansas. Emerging from captivity, she can no longer speak at all because of the drugs given to her in the hospital.

Rita Carillo Quintero Mancinas is from Urique in the Barranca del Cobre in Chihuahua, Mexico. The film introduces Rita's Tarahumara family and friends, Mexicans involved in her repatriation, and Kansas law enforcement and lawyers.

Parallel to the story of Rita’s incarceration, the film documents her route from Mexico to Kansas. Filmmakers recreated Rita’s walk by following the route she would have walked for 1500 miles—filming in the canyon where Rita’s journey began, into the Chihuahuan mountains, into the Chihuahuan desert, and, finally, into Kansas. The resulting footage is experimental in style, using subjective camera and other effects.

To complete its three-element structure, the film also contains excerpts from a production of La Mujer Que Cayo del Cielo (The Woman Who Fell from the Sky) by Mexican playwright Victor Hugo Rascon Banda. The excerpts are performed by Borderlands Theater in Tucson, Arizona. After that production, the play was produced in theaters worldwide. In the play, Rita is played by Luisa Huertas, a famous Mexican actress best known in the United States for her role in the Academy Award-nominated Mexican movie El Crimen de Padro Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro).

Producer: Kathryn Ferguson
Writer: Jimmy Santiago Baca, Kathryn Ferguson
Cinematographer: Rubin Ruiz, Tim O'Grady, David Valdez, Kathryn Ferguson
Editor/Sound Design: Bill Kersey

Thicker Than Water
Bradley Rappa, USA, 2009, 74 min.
World Premiere,US Premiere,Arizona Premiere
Tony is 11 years old. Hockey is his “absolutely, positively” favorite sport, and he is about to play his last game. Like his father and his father’s father, Tony has spent many of his best hours on the ice. Like his mother’s brother, Tony has severe hemophilia. That means that a bump or bruise could have catastrophic consequences for him.

The film is about hemophilia, a serious, but not unmanageable, illness; and it is about living with chronic disease. It is also about normality—being a normal child and being a parent raising normal children, one of whom has a chronic disease. Above all, the film is about loving life, doing what is possible, even if others are skeptical, and playing your last game as well as you can.

Bradley Rappa conveys a great deal of information about hemophilia and the changes in detection and treatment over the last 30 years. At the same time, and almost seamlessly, he explores the personal challenges faced by Tony and his family. Equally significant is Rappa’s willingness to share his perspective as a favorite uncle and loving brother and brother-in-law. Editor Bill Kersey has woven home movie footage, interviews, and lots of hockey action together for an engrossing mix.

The documentary is a gift, a gift first to Tony and his younger sister and brother, and then to the extended family. It is also a gift to viewers who enter the extended family circle as they watch.

Bradley Rappa received his M.F.A. in filmmaking from Syrcause University in 1995, and has directed nine films to date. He is also a professional cinematographer, with credits including four feature length documentaries, numerous shorts, and an extensive list of commercials, video documentaries, internet content, and music videos.

Producer: Bill Kersey, Nicole Koschmann and Bradley Rappa
Cinematographer: Bradley Rappa
Editor/Sound Design/Music Score: Bill Kersey

Saturday, March 07, 2009

"Wendy and Lucy"

"Wendy and Lucy" is the antithesis of contrived Disney inspired dog flicks. Presented in stark realism, the film shows the strong bond between a girl and her dog. Michelle Williams, with her chopped off short hair and bandaged ankle, gives an understated and honest portrayal of a girl forced to survive on the fringes of society. Wendy's dog Lucy is her only family. Wendy relies on Lucy for a sense of security and companionship as she travels to a fish cannery job in Alaska and sleeps in her car at night. Wendy has budgeted barely enough money to get them there - baring no unforeseen emergencies. She is woken up early one morning by an elderly security guard (Wally Dalton) who insists that she move her car from her illegal parking space. When the car won't start, he helps her push it out onto the street. She is stranded in a town with no job opportunities and a hungry dog. Desperate, she shoplifts some dog food. This sets in motion a series of events that separate her from Lucy.

Director Kelly Reichardt 
It is heart wrenching to watch Wendy's terror when she discovers her only friend is gone and her desperate search to find her. Her only help comes from the elderly security guard who watches powerlessly from his post as her car is towed away leaving her homeless and vulnerable. He lets her use his cell phone as a contact number in case someone calls about her dog. Director Kelly Reichardt takes her time building the tension and it is palatable. In this deceptively simple story, there are plenty of silences and time to reflect on how fragile our own security and stability are in our current economic situation. The security guard finally gives her what little money he can spare. Six dollars. Enough to have paid for some doggie biscuits.

It is touching to watch Wendy's devotion to her dog and the hard lesson she learns about the responsibility of having a pet. This is just the kind of small, intimate film that Reel Inspiration tries to help with our grassroots promotions. Please, consider seeing it on opening weekend or at least while it is in the first run theaters. If you are as moved as I was, please, forward this review onto your film loving friends.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mark Travis Directing Workshop: "Working with Actors in Rehearsal, Staging and Performance."

Reel Inspiration is hosting an intensive weekend workshop with master directing instructor Mark Travis.

The workshop runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on March 21-22 at Artfare, 55 N. 6h Ave. Downtown Tucson, AZ. (third floor) The cost to observe for pre-registered directors and actors is $70 (with a $10 discount for APA, IFP, IFASA and NALIP members.) Students with school ID, are $40. The cost at the door is $80 where only cash and money orders will be accepted. *Lunch is available at a modest price at Artfare's restaurant.

Space is limited so don't wait to register. To get the pre-registration price register before March 16. Interested actors and directors, contact Jana for registration information at 325-9175 or

The workshop is sponsored by Artfare, the Tucson Film Office, APA Tucson Mariott University Park, and Reel Inspiration.

Mark is the author of the Best Seller, THE DIRECTOR’S JOURNEY: the Creative Collaboration between Directors, Writers and Actors as well as DIRECTING FEATURE FILMS. Mark has shared his techniques at The Directors Guild, American Film Institute, Pixar Animations Studios, UCLA Extension, and workshops around the world. Mark is a creative consultant to film directors Mark Rydell, George Tillman, Cyrus Nowrasteh, among others.

Mark Travis did his undergraduate training at Antioch College and his graduate training in Theatre Directing at the Yale School of Drama. Mark’s television directing credits include: The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Capitol and the Emmy Award-winning PBS dramatic special, Blind Tom: The Thomas Bethune Story. In 1990, he completed his first film, Going Under, for Warner Bros., starring Bill Pullmanand Ned Beatty. In 2001 he wrote and directed The Baritones (parody of The Sopranos)as well as the short documentary, Earlet.


Working with the Actor in Rehearsal, Staging and Performance.


Mark Travis will introduce the entire group (8-10 directors and 20-30 observers) to the unique process of working with actors that is called The Travis Technique. This is a powerful and experiential way of exploring and exposing the characters that exist within the actors.

Mark will detail how this process works and why it is so efficient and will demonstrate this Technique by working with 3 or 4 actors.

Areas covered:

(9:00 - 10:30)
This is the Golden Triangle, the heart of every movie. It is the Director’s ability to understand Story and Script and how a script works that is so necessary prior to including Actors. Then the Director has to understand how Actors work, think and respond that is so essential to eventually eliciting powerful performances.

(10:30 - 12:30)
The Director-Actor Relationship in rehearsal and performance. In this section of the seminar participants will learn how to work with Actors to create credible and powerful performances. This is the beginning of The Travis Technique. Participants will learn, in this Master Class approach, how to Rehearse with actors, how to stimulate the character and how to invigorate the relationships and bring each and every scene to life.

(1:30 - 3:30)
Staging is one of the film director's most powerful tools. Used appropriately it can bring a scene to life illuminating the subtext and character relationships. Misused it can hamper the work of the actors. In this seminar Participants will witness the power of staging and see how you can actually stimulate specific emotions with the Actors (Characters) and in the audience. Participants will learn how to employ the techniques that Mark Travis had developed over many years of directing.

(3:30 - 5:30)
At the core of every film are characters in relationship and every writer and director must understand both the psychology of character and the techniques and tools of acting. In this phase of the seminar Mark Travis will take Participants through a wide range of approaches and techniques (all part of the Travis Technique) that are guaranteed to create the relationships, characters and performances desired.


On Day Two Eight (or Ten) Participating Directors will get an opportunity to work on their material with actors of their choosing under the guidance of Mark Travis. This is an opportunity for each director (and the actors) to explore and experiment with the Techniques they have learned in Day One. These rehearsals are an examination of the Process of each director. Each Director gets 40 minutes of Individual time (with the rest of the Participants and Observers watching the Process). The focus is not about the results but rather about the Communication with the Actors, the Effectiveness of Character development and the Efficiency of the Rehearsal Process.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reel Inspiration Celebrates Oscar Nominated Films!

Want some films to root for at the Oscars? Reel Inspiration supported some great Oscar nominated films with our reviews. I don't know about you, but I will be cheering them on tonight!

The nominated films that were reviewed by Reel Inspiration, are in BOLD. I have also indicated which films were honored by Reel Inspiration's MOST INSPIRING FILMS of 2008 list and our Reel Member and friends poll. You can also read my thoughts on who should win after some of the catagories.

*If you don't like my choices or even if you do, it's not too late to vote for YOUR favorite inspiring films on the RI poll in the right column under "about me."

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Also, check out Josh's Oscar preview at:


*Richard Jenkins - THE VISITOR
*Frank Langella - FROST/NIXON
*Sean Penn - MILK
#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film (so far)
*Mickey Rourke - THE WRESTLER

My top choice for Best Actor is Sean Penn for Milk. He lived that character and was just so likeable. I would also be delighted if Frank Langella won. He created empathy for a very flawed character. I also loved Mickey Rourke's performance. I believe he actually IS the character. (I didn't choose to review it for RI because this movie was a bummer for me.)


*Josh Brolin - MILK
#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film (so far)
*Robert Downey Jr. - TROPIC THUNDER
*Philip Seymour Hoffman - DOUBT
*Heath Ledger - THE DARK KNIGHT

I am not a good judge of this category since I never got a chance
to see Doubt. But Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite
actors. Josh Brolin's supporting role helped make Milk
the great movie it is.


*Angelina Jolie - CHANGELING
*Melissa Leo - FROZEN RIVER
*Meryl Streep - DOUBT
*Kate Winslet - THE READER

I didn't see Doubt because I didn't want to see Meryl in such a severe role. Certainly, Melissa Leo and Kate Winslet (one of my favorite actresses) gave Oscar worthy performances. But I am so impressed by the extra layer that Anne Hathaway added to her troubled addict. The subtext was love.


Amy Adams - DOUBT
Viola Davis - DOUBT
Marisa Tomei - THE WRESTLER

Unfortunately, I'm limited in my predictions here since I didn't see Doubt. But Penélope Cruz had the most passionate performance! I also just loved Marisa Tomei in the Wrestler. (Why didn't I review that again?)


#2 Reel Inspiration friends favorite inspiring film! (so far)



Didn't see the Duchess. But I would say anything doing with the look
of the film or special effects goes to Benjamin Button.


#1 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film


#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film


#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film (so far)
#1 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film

Danny Boyle performs a near miracle balancing the tragedy and wonder in the world of India's Slumdogs. But the lived-in performances in Milk and Frost/Nixon are inspiring.


#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film
#1 Reel Inspiration friends Favorite Inspiring Film (so far)




#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film (so far)
#1 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film (so far)
#2 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite inspiring Film (so far.)


"Down to Earth" WALL-E


#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film
#1 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film

My heart belongs to Milk.


#1 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film
#2 Reel Inspiration friends favorite inspiring films (so far)


#1 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film
#2 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film



I would say this is a no brainer - anything doing with the look
of the film or special effects goes to Benjamin Button.


#1 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film

I didn't see Doubt, but Danny Boyle performs a near miracle
balancing the tragedy and wonder in the world of
India's Slumdogs. But the structure in Milk is inspired.
And both Milk and Frost/Nixon had me rooting for the heroes.


#3 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film
#2 Reel Inspiration Friends Favorite Inspiring Film

I didn't see In Bruges, But the structure in Milk is inspired
and the characters are flawed, yet sympathetic. You can just
feel Screenwriter Dustin Lance's love for the project.
Happy Go Lucky has some amazing scenes, but I found the writing
(improv) inconsistant. Of course,there is a reason RI friends
voted WALL-E #2. I believe both WALL-E and MILK have powerful
themes that are relevant to our times.


Friday, February 13, 2009

"Rachel Getting Married"

In, "Rachel Getting Married," troubled Kim (Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway) gets out of rehab to attend her older sister's (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding. Kim looks on as an outsider during hectic preparations for the big day and feels like a psychopath under observation. We've seen the premise of a wedding being interrupted by the appearance from the black sheep of the family before. But somehow director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), writer Jenny Lumet and a brilliant cast make it fresh and painfully real. This family has been deeply wounded by a terrible tragedy and is finally grasping at a bit of happiness. The wedding festivities celebrate love and life with an eclectic group of friends and cultural traditions.

Demme draws you into this family's world. I wasn't watching from the outside, I was experiencing the discomfort at the idyllic rehearsal dinner when Kim raises her seltzer glass to make amends to her sister. I'm not sure Kim consciously tries to upstage her sister's wedding. She wants to be included in the celebration. When she discovers that her sister has chosen someone else to be the maid of honor, she gets angry and pressures her into giving her the role. Kim is desperate to be a part of the family again and to reconnect with her big sister. But her demons keep popping up - pushing them away. A fellow addict explains that the hardest thing after being in rehab is returning to your family. Kim has some serious issues to resolve and needs her family's support at this difficult time.

Kim becomes the catalyst for some painful revelations. Intentional and unintentional wounds are inflicted. What makes this story so moving is that despite the conflict there is love between these sisters. Genuine moments of tenderness. Where there is love, there is the chance for forgiveness. Everything is not wrapped up in a neat wedding package. There are still issues to resolve and new damage has been done. This is the beginning of a very painful rehabilitation. But there is hope too.

Move blessings!
Jana Segal

Friday, January 30, 2009

"Yonkers Joe"

"Yonkers Joe" is a coming of age story set in the world of professional gambling. It is an ode to the old time gambling establishment and distant fathers. One producer was drawn to the project because he related to the emotionally distant gambler father and the authentic details of the gambling world that were drawn from director/writer Robert Celestino's own life experiences. It is entertaining to watch the ins and outs of dice tricks and gambling scams.

Slight of hand, dice artist Joe (Chazz Palminteri) is given the opportunity to conduct a big casino heist. The plan is complicated when he must care for his mentally challenged son who has been thrown out of his special needs facility for violent and inappropriate behavior - just before he is to be promoted to an adult group home. This further motivates Joe to do the heist (which could land him in jail) to pay for a classy care center for his son.

This film is about the struggle to become a man when you have a distant (and often absent) father. This transition is made more difficult when your male role model is a petty criminal. Joe thinks nothing of introducing his son to the family business. To Joe it is a legitimate way to make a living. He explains, "There are no free rides." Needless to say, he isn't a positive father figure. He doesn't show love for his son or his scam artist girlfriend Janice. (Though he is protective of both.) In fact, he is embarrassed of the boy. When one of Joe's victims catches on to the dice scam, Joe Jr. tackles him. Joe Sr. loses his temper and must be pulled off of his son by his co-swindlers.

His partners in crime (made up of an impressive array of character actors) actually get a kick out of Joe Jr. and nudge Joe to treat his son better. There is a certain honor among criminals when it comes to family matters.

Chazz Palminteri (A Bronx Tale, Bullets Over Broadway, The Usual Suspects), delivers an edgy performance. He is in turn distant, impatient, frustrated and quick tempered. But there are moments when he is amused by Joe Jr's inappropriate stories. He eventually gains a grudging respect and affection for his son. Joe Jr. learns an important lesson from his father, "Men make mistakes" but a man is responsible for those mistakes.

Tom Guiry (as Joe Jr.) catches the mannerisms and nuances of a high functioning down syndrome man and gives a touchingly real performance.

Father and son have some pretty ugly traits. It is the job of Joe's girlfriend Janice, played by a luminescent Christine Lahti (Running on Empty, Chicago Hope), to help us see their good side. If she likes them, they can't be all that bad, right? Lahti is a bit too luminescent - almost angel like. I would have liked to have seen the one female character be a little more multi-dimensional with some weaknesses of her own.

"Yonkers Joe" almost could have been a family film aside for some hard language and disturbing situations. But if you are into heist films or coming of age stories, please, attend "Yonkers Joe" as soon as possible. It is only playing for one more week at the Loft in Tucson.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Happy New Year, film lovers!

I've heard some reviewers complain that this has been a bad year for film - some of the same reviewers that think a film can't be art unless it's edgy and vile. But if you love films that move and inspire you or films that are true expressions of the filmmaker's artistic vision (even if they make you work for it) - then this was a great year for film!

It is a pleasure to present Reel Inspiration's MOST INSPIRING FILMS 2008. This list is compiled of films that have been promoted through our reviews on Reel Inspiration's blogs. Diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire. Some weight has been given to films that are particularly relevant to the issues of our time.

I realize that there are many definitions and opinions on what makes up an inspiring film. I would love to hear them! That's why I'm giving you a chance to share your favorite inspiring films in the comment section.

Wishing you many movie blessings in the New Year!
Jana Segal


11. Director Mike Leigh is known for using improv to develop his scripts and to get natural dialogue and performances out of his actors. His film, "Happy Go Lucky" goes beyond that. It had me thinking after I left the theater. How many current comedies can you say that about?

10. Charlie Kaufman's film, "Synecdoche, New York," is as challenging as the name. Kaufman literally creates a whole world and realizes his uncompromising (though somewhat depressing) creative vision. Some of the images stayed with me for days and I had real a longing to see it again.

9. The touching film, "Under the Same Moon" puts a human face on the heated debate about illegal immigrants and border issues.

8. "Slumdog Millionaire" was hard for me to sit through - watching all those horrific scenes of Indian slum children being abused. But the highly innovative story builds to a strong ending with the worthy theme of how good triumphs over adversity when you stay on your true path.

6 and 7. Music transcends racial differences and initiates human connections in, "The Visitor" and "The Bands Visit." "The Visitor" also reminds us that kindness is it's own reward - earning it the number 5 spot.

5. "The Secret Life of Bees" is a coming of age story set in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. A runaway white girl learns to cope with the painful truth and find forgiveness through the unconditional love of this uniquely liberated black family. I wanted to stay in the world of this heartwarming film and join the family.

4. In the opening scene, we see through magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s point of view as he awakens from a comatose state. It is as if we are inside his head, seeing through his one good eye. We experience his confusion and claustrophobia after becoming paralyzed with a rare illness called “locked-in syndrome.” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” is a metaphor for how he is trapped in his body, but his mind soars as it creates glorious scenes which explore imagined experiences. As Bauby recuperates, he dictates a memoir through the blink of his eye with the aid of his nurses.

3. "Frost/Nixon" is based on the famous news special in which English talk show host, Frost, tried to coax a confession out of Nixon for his part in Watergate. This is a particularly timely piece since many Americans can relate the feeling of losing faith in our government. I found myself rooting for this second rate talk show host to convince the intellectually superior Nixon to finally take responsibility for the cover up and hurting the American people. Compelling writing and acting. I wasn't watching actors, I was watching Frost and Nixon.

2. "Starting Out in the Evening." Andrew Wagner's sheer love of writing radiates in this deep and touching adult drama set in the dying literary world. It might be because I'm a writer, but this film lives in my heart.

1. Harvey Milk's life as the first openly gay elected official is inspiring enough. But actor Sean Penn (living the role of Harvey Milk), writer Dustin Lance Black, and director Gus Van Sant elevate "Milk" from a biopic to art.

You can find full reviews of these films below.



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

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

Mike Leigh won Best Original Screenplay for, "Happy Go Lucky." 


OK. I'm sappy when it comes to our country. I cry when I hear the national anthem. I wept as I watched the airplanes crash into the World Trade Center not only for the lost lives but because I suspected it would result in some loss of our freedom as Americans. And I still have unresolved feelings of anger that our country was misled and polarized by the Bush administration.

There are two biopics in theaters now that deal with presidents who shattered Americans' trust in our government. I believe that biopics can be very powerful when they deal with our unresolved issues. I went to these films to find some kind of understanding and resolution. Unfortunately, the film "W" doesn't begin to deal with my issues with Bush. Oddly, director Oliver Stone seems to make excuses for Bush. No matter what he did, party boy George could never win his daddy's approval. Maybe I'm not there yet, but I have no need to sympathize with the spoiled rich kid portrayed here. This shallow justification was just as unsatisfying as the acting. I was always keenly aware that I was watching an actor (Josh Brolin) playing the President.

"Frost/Nixon" is based on the famous news special in which British talk show host, David Frost (Michael Sheen), tried to coax a confession out of former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) for his part in Watergate after he is pardoned by President Ford. Media savvy David risks an insanely huge sum of money for the interview in hopes of getting commercial sponsors and more credibility so he can get back his New York talk show and his table at Sardi's. I found myself rooting for this second rate talk show host to convince the intellectually superior Nixon to finally take responsibility for the cover up and for hurting the American people. I discovered, along with Frost, the importance of uncovering the truth as a much needed resolution. The acting and the writing (Peter Morgan) are thoroughly compelling. I wasn't watching actors, I was watching Frost and Nixon. It was a pleasure watching them in their "no holds barred" debate.

I found "Frost/Nixon" infinitely more satisfying than "W". Director Ron Howard wisely saw America's need for the truth and addressed it. Hmm. Perhaps we could use a "Frost/Bush" interview...

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal


Frost/Nixon Won Best Picture, Frank Langella won Best Actor, Ron Howard won Best Director, Peter Morgan won Best Adapted Screenplay, Mike Hill and Daniel P. Hanley won Best Editing