Friday, August 06, 2010


Guest reviewer: Josh Valentine

This is the abridged version. Read complete review.

The modern American blockbuster is made up of event films - movies only meant to earn money by offering big budget effects and supposed escapism. With the release of Christopher Nolan's “Inception” a void has been filled. The film has a wonderful case of classic cinematic ambiguity - something that has been thrown away by even the most artful users of its design (Martin Scorsese, we all saw “Shutter Island” - you can do better).

Oscar alert: Wally Pfister won Best Achievement in Cinematography . 

The film has a very intricate plot, involving a dream thief or “extractor” named Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio, in a role characteristically similar to his in “Shutter Island” but acceptably so because the character is much more deeply written and performed less extravagantly than in Scorsese's flick) who, with a team of highly trained individuals including his partner-in-crime Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), will remove a simple thought or idea from someone by kidnapping them and then tapping into their dream. Cobb is hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to perform inception - the seemingly impossible act of planting an idea in one's head unconsciously (so that the receiver of said idea is unaware they are the victim of inception). Cobb hires a new team including Ariadne (Ellen Page), Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao) to research their target, Robert Fisher Jr. (Cillian Murphy), whom Saito wants to dismantle his dying father's company. The team enters Fisher's dream, but Cobb's daunting past and inability to control his malicious dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) from entering the dream turns the mission upside down.

The film is the third in a series of modern films about the dream. The first was the groundbreaking 1999 film “The Matrix” directed by the Wachowskis and the second was Michel Gondry's mind-erasing low budget feature “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The Matrix was a cunning film, using the sleeping human mind as a metaphor for the many different ways we are unconsciously controlled by the world sociologically both by government and the media. The characters' stasis resulted in their ability to control their environment based on their understanding of its rules and of their “programming.” In “Eternal Sunshine,” Gondry portrayed the effects of memory erasure and through both his directing style, Ellen Kuras' underrated cinematography, Charlie Kaufman's script, Jon Brion's score and the performances of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, he was able to show the unconscious psychological effects of dreaming and by its process that we make life decisions.

Nolan's film feels like a lurid dream after a marathon of those two films. In “Inception,” Nolan uses the ambiguity of his surprise ending to create the mood and metaphors of his film. The ending, alone with a lot of the other questions asked in the film create an overall sense of ambiguity. It is in this sense that Nolan is being compared to Kubrick in the way that “2001: A Space Odyssey” is able to break the barrier from questioning the film to questioning one's own existence. Nolan performs inception through the act of making this film - by placing a simple thought into his audience's mind, therefore changing the way we think about the possibilities of how we decode cinema. Last year, James Cameron successfully duped audiences all over the world into thinking he had created the new “2001: A Space Odyssey” with his unnervingly boring and useless “Avatar” (he even told Charlie Rose this was his intention), but little did he know that Nolan would beat him artistically by a long shot. “Inception” will last, “Avatar” will not.

The characters of the film are the most essential, and the performances of the actors only rectify their necessity to the concept. Dicaprio is in top form - Cobb is probably his best role to date - not too understated, but still mysterious. Leo's a master of the conflicted in that he never overacts. Dicaprio portrays Cobb on two main levels - one that is absolutely in control and the other that shows a distance, which may suggest that he in fact is not in control. Cobb is a very distressed man, who holds all of his secrets within. When Ariadne lets them out, all hell breaks loose. Page also creates a distance to her character - like someone thought up in a dream but that may also be more aware than the film initially suggests. Ariadne is hired as the “architect” of Fisher's dream but soon becomes more interested in finding out what Cobb's been hiding. It almost seems as if she has an alternate motive, in that she could be the one trying to attempt inception on him. That and her mysterious connection to Caine's character are also conjecture toward Nolan's big cinematic questions.

“Inception” is a rare film for our times. It's a high concept, Kubrick-style film disguised as a major Hollywood action thriller. This could be a major step forward in terms of left-brained film making in modern American cinema - a symptom that things could be looking brighter for a brand new era of young directors. Directors like Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) and Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) proved that there's still artistic talent that is eager to step up to the plate. However, Nolan goes a step further - into territory no one expected. He might be the best thing we'll get to our Kubrick - if he doesn't go crazy.

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Monday, August 02, 2010


by guest reviewer Robin Farmer

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's “Micmacs” offers a quirky tale about offbeat characters in Paris who teach two feuding weapon manufacturers a memorable lesson about greed and loss.

The hero of the film is Bazil, whose childhood is crushed after his father stepped on a land mine in Morroco. Bazil (Danny Boon) grows up to assume a modest life as a video store clerk mindlessly reciting movie dialogue. One night, while watching a film, a stray bullet slams into his forehead, leaving him wounded, unemployed and homeless.

He aimlessly wanders the streets until he meets ex-con Slammer, (Jean-Pierre Marielle) who introduces him to bizarre group of junkyard collectors including Elastic Girl, a lovelorn contortionist (Julie Ferrieran), Calculator, a math wiz, Buster, a human cannonball, and mother figure Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau).

Living beneath a salvage yard, this newfound, oddball family will help Bazil exact revenge when he stumbles upon two weapon companies located across the street from each other. One built the landmine and the other the bullet that shattered his life. That's when the film's tone shifts and a series of original and amusing set pieces begin, leading to a surprisingly poignant ending.

With a whimsical wink and comedic nod, the film is a hodgepodge of genres, from slapstick comedy and fantasy to action and drama. The film's inconsistent tone is part of its charm and challenge. Visually stunning, the storyline sometimes gets muddied by the shenanigans that at times appear more important than plot.

The full title is "Micmacs a Tire-Larigot," which in French roughly translates into "nonstop shenanigans."

But beneath the over-the-top silliness is a sweet story about the weak battling the powerful, revenge and forming a family not based on blood. These themes are expressed with some violence and a little sex, making it inappropriate for youngsters, which is too bad since the younger set would marvel at the sight gags and savor the film's cleverness.

The filmmaker's message is deadly serious and twofold: weapons destroy lives beyond the dead victims and society's glossed over misfits can be as inventive and powerful as the well-heeled elite ignoring them daily. Here, "throwaway people ” like the homeless, social misfits or former convicts, team up to make two powerful weapon sellers battle each other. In an age of technology worship, the film is a homage to old-fashioned ingenuity and teamwork.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Cyrus" and "Winter's Bone" The Ties that Bind

"Winter's Bone" and "Cyrus" are two very different films about the bonds of family.

Director Debra Granik 
In "Winter's Bone,"17 year-old Ree Dolly (Oscar nominated Jennifer Lawrence) is bound by family responsibility. When her daddy goes missing, Ree must take care of her siblings and her mentally ill mother. She has an innate gift for parenting. She teaches the youngins' how to survive in a way they can understand and they show her due respect. But she soon finds that she is way over her head when the sheriff comes by to inform them that they are about to lose their house and farm because Pa put it up for his bail bond, then disappeared. Danger mounts as she is forced to defy her deadly clan's code of silence to find her Pa and bring him home. In authentic "slice of life" style, the filmmaker (Debra Granik) gives us a rare glimpse of the gritty mountain people, customs, and code of conduct of the Ozarks. You can just feel the sticks cracking under Ree's feet as she traverses the backwoods country and tastes the squirrel meat. "Winter's Bone" is about family ties that bind and gag; and finding the strength to survive in the hardest times.

"Cyrus," explores the bond between a mother and son and how much bonding is healthy. John's ex-wife (Catherine Keener) tells him she's getting married then proceeds to invite him to a party to meet other women. John (John Reilly) gets totally sloshed at the party, yet miraculously manages to pick up the most understanding woman, Molly, (the vivacious Marisa Tomei) with his clumsy attempt at honesty. John can't help but be drawn to Molly's kind heart. The relationship gets off to a great start. Then John meets Molly's 21 year-old, home-schooled, new age musician son, Cyrus (Jonas Hill). Suffice it to say that it is a very close family. Single mom Molly is so protective of her boy that she can't see the battle he is waging with John over her affections. "Cryus," has a different tone than most comedies. It is quirky and original, yet it somehow feels real. "Cyrus," is about the ties that blind, eh, bind between mother and son; and whether a mere man should get between them. Can love win out in the end?

It is more than the theme that binds this thriller and comedy. They also share truly original, honest writing and great performances. These are two of the best films I've seen for a while.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"Mother and Child"

"Mother and Child" is a drama about three women connected by their roles in an adoption. Adoption has had a deep impact on each of their lives.

Karen (Annette Bening) is a bitter, fifty-year-old, health care professional who takes care of her distant, defeatist mother. Karen has never gotten over the loss of the baby girl that her mother forced her give up when she was a teen. She writes letters to the daughter she never knew. She is jealous of any attention her mother gives their housekeeper and her little girl. The girl is a painful reminder of what she has lost. Karen's heart has been closed off for so long that she doesn't know how to respond to the attention from the new physical therapist (Jimmy Smits) at work. Her mother encourages her to be careful so she doesn't "fall" again.

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) was adopted by an uncaring couple. Shrouded in protective armor, she has grown up to be a cold, steely lawyer in complete control of her life. When she is hired at a new firm, she uses sex to control her bewildered, delighted boss and keep him at safe distance.

Lucy, (Kerry Washington) a successful baker and loving wife, has failed to conceive with her husband. She is bound and determined to adopt a baby - even if that includes anxiously jumping through the hoops created by the baby's birth mother (Shareeka Epps) or raising a child on her own.

This film shows the filial longing and feeling of loss caused by breaking the natural bond between mother and child: how the child doesn't feel complete without her mother and the mother feels that a part of her is missing. There is a deep seated emptiness. The wounds are passed down from generation to generation. These women must find the strength to open their hearts in order to end the cycle of loss.

Motherhood is hard even with the support of a traditional family. Some young women can't find the strength to meet that challenge alone. They make the difficult decision to give their baby up for adoption - in hopes that it will have a better life. This film suggests that the struggles of single motherhood may be less traumatic then severing the maternal bond.

What makes this film special are some painfully authentic scenes. While there are some TVmovie-like conversations about the trials of adoption, there are also silent moments where the action does the talking. It is in these silences that the audience ponders the meaning. In a sense, the experience is enhanced by what the audience brings to it - their memories and experiences allow them to relate. It is those silences that make this a powerful work that leaves you thinking as the credits roll.

Of course, there are some viewers who will not relate to this at all - some will be offended by the inherit subtext that adoption is an unnatural state. Some may complain that the fathers are conspicuously absent. Indeed, the male characters are relegated to supporting roles in the world of, "Mother and Child."

This is film for single mothers who made the difficult decision to put their baby up for adoption, the children they lost, and the people who love them.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"La Mission"

"La Mission" is a project of love about the barrio neighborhood the Bratt brothers grew up in. Writer/Director Peter Bratt takes time and care to set up a strong sense of cultural pride with Aztec dancers, Catholic rituals, "slow and low" cruising in shiny low riders through the family oriented Mission District of San Francisco.

Che Rivera, (Benjamin Bratt) an ex-con and recovering alcoholic, has worked hard to earn the respect of his community by going straight and being a good father to his college bound son (Jeremy Ray Valdez.) Benjamin Bratt portrays Che as the embodiment of Mexican machismo. The director presents him as a sympathetic character who was brought up to use his fists to survive on the hard streets. Che finds strength for his quest for redemption in his culture and religion. But when he discovers that his beloved son is gay, that homophobic culture drives his negative response. Everything he knows is thrown out of whack.

Enhancing the theme is a multi-racial relationship with Che's black, culturally diverse, social-worker neighbor Lena (Erika Alexander.) Lena sees through Che's violent, macho exterior. Experience has taught her that this kind of man is incapable of changing, but she can't help but be moved by the wounded boy inside. When it becomes clear that he is a man who "uses violence and intimidation" to get what he wants, she ends their relationship - forcing him to take a good look at himself.

Near the end of the film, there is an odd visual metaphor which I believe is meant to show the contrast between past and present Chicano culture: colorful Aztec dancers perform at the shine of a murdered gang member with a sign, "No more violence." I found it odd because the Aztec's practiced human sacrifice, right? Whether intentional or not, the Aztec dancers are a good metaphor for the theme: We need to keep what is healthy from our culture or religion and let go of what is destructive.

"La Mission," isn't perfect. A few scenes were just left hanging - especially in the romantic subplot. I didn't feel the chemistry between Che and Lena. But Benjamin Bratt delivers one of his strongest performances. The brothers have given us an authentic, loving depiction of the culture in the Mission barrio with an important theme for our times.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Mid-August Lunch"

The cliche of the Italian bachelor living at home with a doting mother who waits on him and prepares his favorite meals is turned on it's head in the delicious Italian treat, "Mid-August Lunch." In this film, unemployed fifty-ish bachelor Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) shows respect for his ninety-something mother by taking good care of her and lovingly preparing their meals.

The small family has been living off of credit for some time and is months behind on their maintenance and electric bills for their ancient apartment. The landlord is willing to forgive the dept if they take in his mother so he can get away for the Mid-August holiday. The landlord drops off his mother AND his aunt. And soon the doctor's mother joins the mix. So Gianni must survive the weekend playing good host to four strong-willed shut-ins. What impressed me most was how he never loses his manners but treats these woman with the respect earned by those who have reached a certain age.

This is a film about the joys of entertaining. It illustrates the isolation that comes with aging and our continued need to socialize. There is an Italian saying, "A tavola no s'invecchia," that articulates the theme perfectly, "The passage of time is suspended with experiencing the pleasure of good food, good wine and company."

"Mid-August Lunch" dishes up "slice of life" humor with simple, authentic Italian flavors like those in the perch with potatoes, oregano and rosemary lovingly served at the holiday feast.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's Really Happening on the Arizona/Mexican Border

After reading my recommendation of the doc, "389 Miles: Living the Border," a Myspace friend wrote that she wished people in the Northeast could actually know what's going on along the border.

Her question really weighed on my heart, so I spoke to a friend of the Douglas rancher who was killed. She told me that the police now know that it was drug smugglers who killed the rancher. She is angry because the newspaper accounts pointed to illegal immigrants crossing the border. She confirmed that things are horrific on the border. The drug smugglers and human traffickers are ruthless murderers. Much of what is happening isn't covered on the news - for instance little girls are being abducted from their homes. The smugglers have gotten cocky and bold and will shoot anyone that gets in their way - even policemen. The ranchers in the area are requesting military intervention. These ranchers are rightfully outraged. They want to shoot anyone who comes on their property.

But I want to make something clear - all "illegals" are not the violent criminals. The media is equating the word "illegal" or "illegal immigrant" with violent criminals. Not everyone who is crossing the border is a drug smuggler, kidnapper, or home invader. Most are migrant workers risking their lives to work for a better life for their families. Some of these migrant workers are even kidnapped and held for ransom or sold into human slavery. They are the victims. You might say that they should stay in Mexico. Imagine how bad things must be at home for these people to risk their lives crossing our brutally hot desert. And now it has become nearly impossible to get papers to come here legally.

Recently, a facebook friend posted a Fox news story on the Mexican crime wave spreading to Arizona. It was clearly edited to illicit fear. There were shots of: huge stacks of cocaine, members of the Mexican drug cartel shooting each other, dead bodies, kidnapping innocent civilians and a full out military attack on the smugglers. Then they showed shots of the violence spreading to Arizona: shots of migrant workers being kidnapped, and even a reenactment of a home invasion in Phoenix. Scary stuff. But the scariest part was that some FB friends couldn't distinguish from migrant workers and the home-invaders. One FB friend asked, "How do we tell the difference?"

This is not the first time the media has broadcast stories to create fear of illegals. The documentary,"Immigrant Nation," shows President Bush's efforts for immigration reform derailed by his own party. The Republican party used the media to create fear of illegal immigrants to get people to vote Republican. The news covered every crime they could find done by illegals including a drunk driver hitting an American. They created fear anyway they could - even reporting rumors of diseases being brought into our country by illegals.

I've lived in Tucson, Arizona for 15 years. I've seen undocumented immigrants in low income jobs like dish-washing and housecleaning or physically demanding outdoor work like landscaping, construction, and roofing. I don't know how they work out in hot Arizona sun. I wouldn't want to do it.

The undocumented workers I see are living in trailers, raising families, and working hard to send home money to their families in Mexico. I know a young woman who nearly died in the desert when she injured her foot. Luckily, a friend found her a walking stick which saved her life. Now that she knows the dangers, she says that she wouldn't cross the desert again. She came here to find work so she could help her family in a small Mexican town where there are only a few low paying jobs. Even when she found work, all her family could afford was tortillas and beans. I asked her why she didn't wait to come here legally and she said it costs so much and takes ten years (if you are accepted.)

This is a complicated issue. That is why documentaries like "389 Miles: Living the Border" (link to full movie) are so important. Tucson Filmmaker Luiscarlos Davis, who lived on the border city of Nogales, traveled the length of the border to capture stories that put a human face on this issue.

Recognizing a pressing need, Luiscarlos is presenting his documentary around Arizona to create more understanding during these difficult transitional times. He has agreed to do free screenings; but because the film doesn't have distribution yet he must present the film himself. This is great because he has a personal connection with the issue that he can share. Please, consider arranging for a screening for your club, organization or church NOW.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

(Note: The host usually pays for the filmmakers' travel expenses and may make a donation towards the costs of preparing the film for distribution so even more people can see this powerful film.)

To arrange for a screening, e-mail the filmmaker Luiscarlos at:

Friday, May 07, 2010

Reel Inspiration: About Films of Substance.

You may have noticed that I haven't written a review for a while. I've seen plenty of films but few have inspired a review. (Sundance winner, "Don't Let Me Drown," that screened at the AIFF, warranted a great review but I only had time to send out a quick summary.) Even the Oscar nominated films I saw were lightweight in regards to theme.

I considered writing a review of "Crazy Heart." I thoroughly enjoyed Jeff Bridges lived-in performance of the seedy, alcoholic, has-been Western singer Bad Blake as well as his musical performance (which earned him a well-deserved Oscar nod.) But, for me, there was something missing from this redemption story. When Bad finally decides to go to rehab, his father says something to effect that it won't be easy. Aside from a scene where his young girlfriend refuses take him back, it's damn easy. No difficult introspection going on here.

After seeing the trailer of, "The Last Station" I looked forward to reviewing this historic epic about the last turbulent days of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy with his wife Countess Sofya . (Tolstoy's novels "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" sparked the Tolstoyism movement.) One reviewer called "The Last Station" a romantic comedy, a romantic romp! Considering the subject, I hoped for something more. I found the feuding between Tolstoy and his aristocratic, drama-queen wife entertaining. (Helen Mirren deserved an Oscar for her role.) But I learned very little about Tolstoyism movement - just that they opposed private property (while Tolstoy owned a huge estate) and advocated sexual abstinence (while Tolstoy and Sofya had numerous children.) The main focus of the story is about who should get the rights to his novels after Tolstoy's death - his wife and muse Sofya or the Russian people. This plot line becomes repetitious, then tedious. But I enjoyed the pretty scenery and pretty love making (ironically!)

"The Last Station" and "Crazy Heart" are now playing at Crossroads Cinema. I would definitely recommend them for their Oscar caliber performances and entertainment value.

Of all the films I watched, the one with the most depth and importance was a sixty-minute documentary called, "389 Miles: Living the Border" by Tucson filmmaker Luiscarlos Davis. I generally don't review documentaries, but I am making an exception because this film is so relevant to the issues of our times. Luiscarlos, who grew up in the border city of Nogales, travels the length of the border to find the true and sometimes tragic stories. I was so moved by this film, that I immediately went on facebook and urged my friends to organize screenings to spread more understanding of border issues and the trials facing migrant workers.

Recognizing a pressing need, Luiscarlos is presenting his documentary around Arizona to create more understanding during these difficult transitional times. He has agreed to do free screenings; but because the film doesn't have distribution yet he must present the film himself. This is great because he has a personal connection with the issue that he can share. Please, consider arranging for a screening for your club, organization or church NOW.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

(Note: The host usually pays for the filmmakers' travel expenses and may make a donation towards the costs of preparing the film for distribution so even more people can see this powerful film.)

To arrange for a screening, e-mail the filmmaker Luiscarlos at:

Watch the trailer:

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


By guest reviewer Robin Farmer

Based on Robert Kaplow's novel of the same name, “Me and Orson Welles” is a coming of age story unfolding during the course of one week in 1937. It stars Zac Efron, the Disney tween idol who shows his acting chops as a teen on the cusp of manhood who grows up fast.

A daydreamer in school, the aspiring actor lucks into a role as Lucius in Orson Welles’ (played by newcomer Christian McKay) ambitious theatrical debut of  “Julius Caesar.” He does an admirable job with the role of Richard, a young man with one foot in high school and the other in the gritty world.

Efron proves he’s more than a pretty face who can sing and dance. He holds his own in scenes with McKay, no small feat.

McKay delivers a delicious performance as the larger-than-life Welles. He’s charming yet devilish, a dandy and a rogue who is big on intellect yet small of heart. He’s electrifying on screen, imbuing his scenes with memorable lines and often mischievous twinkling eyes. He’s maddening yet adorable as the young visionary behind his legendary Mercury Theatre Company.

Themes of lost innocence, the price of success and the grayness of truth are explored. Sexual situations make some of the messages inappropriate for Efron’s legions of young fans. But in our fame obsessed culture, it’s refreshing when a script examines aspirations and morals from a high school student’s perspective.

The film deftly captures the frustrations and delights of the theatre. The clashing personalities off the stage, the endless rehearsals, the second-rate treatment for non-stars.

At the center of it all is a mesmerizing McKay in this semi-historical period piece shaped by a smart script and direction.

But the narrative belongs to Richard, who will fall for the worldly Sonja (Clair Danes) and clash with the egotistical Welles. Both teach him some life lessons no classroom or script can.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Where the Wild Things Are"

This year I only posted movies I had personally seen on Reel Inspiration's Most Inspiring films poll. Unfortunately, because of the mixed reviews, I didn't watch, "Where the Wild Things Are" so it isn't on the list.

Reel Inspiration reviewer Josh Valentine wrote, " I would really like to be able to vote for "Where The Wild Things Are," it was the most transcendentally uplifting and inspirational film of the year for me!" Here is Josh's review - better late than never...



A film that permeates the mind, and allows one to discover their inner child in a way you’d never expect. The attainment of innocence and one’s inner child is impossible to exact in a completely genuine way – but one single viewing of Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s book will transport its viewer (if not for a single night) to a place they’d wholly forgotten. The tragic loneliness of childhood – the inability to let out one’s deep emotional pains because you lack the education to iterate it through metaphor – is portrayed, something I’ve never seen in the medium. The innocent intelligence of a child’s mind which only exists within that mind is actually achieved in Jonze’s brilliant script and through the performance of Max Records. And that’s only the first fifteen minutes. Sendak’s original book was relatively thin in terms of characterization, but it spoke loudly in terms of the explosive potential of a child’s imagination. Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers name and explore the actual wild things, utilizing each beast’s personality as a reflection of the complexities of a child. The voice work is phenomenal (watch the film, then check IMDb and be amazed at who played certain characters) as is Karen O and Carter Burwell’s inspired score – the best in terms of cinematic relevance since Jon Brion’s score or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” While the film has become something of a hipster’s wet dream, it should not be ignored as it is artistically important and singular in a new genre of film – the inner child’s film.

Just for fun:
Where the Wild Things," video adaptation of the Maurcie Sendak classic.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


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 with themes that are particularly relevant to the issues of our time.

Due to time restraints, I must limit the kind of films I review. For instance, I don't review documentaries and I rarely review animated films. I am less likely to review a Hollywood blockbuster unless I am EXTREMELY moved as with last year's MICHAEL CLAYTON. In fact, I mostly review films that move me emotionally or intellectually.

I would like to make an exception about documentaries by recommending two of the most inspiring films of the year: "THE HORSE BOY" and "AFGHAN STAR." In both of these docs, the heroes take great risks to follow their "unreasonable" paths. In THE HORSE BOY, an autistic boy speaks clearly when put on a horse. His family travels across Mongolia in search of a horse Shaman to heal the boy.
In AFGHAN STAR, an Afghani woman risks her life to express herself in song and dance on the national talent show.

If you do not see your favorite inspiring films represented here, please, share them in the COMMENT section.

After reviewing this list, I found a trend in the many of the films: the theme of the importance of human connections. Perhaps in this time of war and financial hardships, our connections with others are even more important.

It is my pleasure to present...
Reel Inspiration's MOST INSPIRING FILMS 200

1) "Up in the Air"
Ryan Bigham, an elite frequent flyer, enjoys riding high above the clueless employees he fires as a corporate hatchet man. He discovers that despite the hassles, it's our connections with others that make our lives rewarding. This film stands out as one of the few recent adult comedies that is truly witty.

2) "Paris"
In a city bustling with people and their busy lives, it's time to start living by connecting with others. This touching film brims with hope and life. (subtitles)

3) "Invictus"
Newly elected President Mandela sets an example for his country by forgiving and working along side of his vicious suppressors. He uses the universal language of sports to present a unified Africa to the world. Truly inspiring.

4) "Departures"
When his dream of being a cellist is destroyed, Diago finds his true path in the most unlikely of professions - preparing the recently departed with the traditional Japanese cleansing rituals of Nokanshi. DEPARTURES has humorous scenes reminiscent of SUNSHINE CLEANING, but it takes us on a deeper spiritual journey. (subtitles) "Departures" won best Foreign Language Film.

5) "Precious"
This powerful, acclaimed film with heart achingly honest performances, demonstrates the strength of the human spirit to survive extreme abuse and find hope. It shows the transforming power of having one person - a teacher - who believes in you. "Precious" won best Supporting Actress for Mo'Nique and Best Adapted Screenplay for Geoffrey Fletcher. 

6) "Tulpan"
Cinematic magic. This "fictional" film follows the daily life of a nomad family, but it feels more real and less intrusive than a documentary. Spontaneous acts of nature are caught on film and seamlessly incorporated into the story. It ruminates on how modern civilization encroaches on the happiness of a simple life. (subtitles)

7) "Rachel Getting Married"
Troubled Kim is released from rehab to attend her sister's wedding. Desperate to reconnect, she makes clumsy attempts to get her family's attention. But the hardest part is coming home to the people you hurt. Despite it's flaws, Kim learns that being a part of the family is worth the effort. This film is full of the painful truth, but there is also the hope of forgiveness.

8) "Sugar"
Sugar becomes a local hero in his small town in the Dominican Republic when he is recruited to play minor league baseball in the United States. But his pursuit of the American Dream is hampered by his struggles with the language and the cultural barriers of acclimating. More than just a sports film, Sugar deals with the issues of being true to yourself in a foreign country and the struggles facing illegal immigrants. (subtitles)

9) "Moon"
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY lite. This mostly two set, two actor production was one of the best Indie films of the year. Sam Bell has been stationed at the mostly automated lunar base for three years with his robotic assistant Gerty. His only human contact are recorded transmissions from his family back on earth. MOON illuminates what it is to be human: the necessity of hope and our need to connect with other people.

10) "The Messenger"
War "hero" Will Montgomery returns from Iraq and is assigned to the Army's casualty notification service. He has not gotten any grief counseling since receiving his own battle wounds - just a quick lesson in protocol from his jaded partner Tony who instructs the soldier to avoid physical contact with the next of kin. But their grief hits close to home. When he finds himself drawn to a widow with a brave facade, he questions his ability to be good for anything but war. THE MESSENGER shows the resiliency of the human spirit to move through grief to hope.

11) "Wendy and Lucy"
The antithesis of Disney talking animal films, WENDY AND LUCY shows the realistic bond between a young woman and her dog. Wendy relies on her dog 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. When her car won't start in the morning, it is towed away leaving Wendy stranded in a town with no job opportunities and a hungry dog to feed. Wendy must deal with the hard responsibilities of having a pet.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration


Friday, January 22, 2010

"A Single Man"

"You must get through this goddamn day."

With this affirmation George begins his day.

College professor George (Colin Firth) lives a tidy, orderly life of silent desperation since the death of his partner of sixteen years. Today George plans to put a tidy, orderly end to it all. He puts his affairs in order and packs his brief case for his last day of work - gun in tow.

"A Single Man," is a singularly beautiful film. Several reviewers have commented on how fashion icon-turned-director Tom Ford's use of style distracts from the film. But style and beauty are really the point. It's all about appearances.

Keeping up appearances was vital to a gay man in the early sixties. The restraints of society didn't allow men to express deep sentiments. George must contain his emotions even when he is told that his life partner has died in a car accident and that he isn't invited to the funeral because it's "only for the family." Actor Colin Firth gives us a glimpse of his pain while struggling to keep it at a socially acceptable level. Director Tom Ford cues us in on the depth of his feelings through music.

But today George has nothing to lose, so we see hints of his true sentiments. He lingers on the scent while petting a stranger's pup. He raves about the secretary's beauty. For the first time, he shares his thoughts with his students about how people are afraid of those who are invisible to them - like the Jews. George is invisible in his own life. But he is still too guarded to share that with his students.

I'm afraid Tom Ford made George a bit too guarded. I think I would have felt more for George if I had seen a deeper connection between George and his lover. But George's memories are shallow. That's really a shame because this is a film about the importance of human connections. Throughout the film, I hoped that George would find the connection he needed to make life worth living.

"A Single Man," is a deep film about appearances and our need for connection. It is an important film because it is still sadly relevant. Hopefully, it will help us connect with the beauty in all of us.

Movie blessings,
Jana Segal

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Up in the Air"

ZIP up the carry-on bag, SNAP up the handle, ROLL up to the gate, and V.I.P. through the automatic check-in machine. ZIP. SNAP. ROLL. VIP. "It's a pleasure to see you again Mr. Bingham." In V.I.P. time, Ryan Bingham is "Up in the Air."

This is the structured, comfortable life of Corporate Downsizing Expert and elite frequent flyer Ryan Bingham (brilliantly played by George Clooney.) Bingham happily travels 322 days a year. He is on the verge of achieving his ultimate goal - to win a golden card for earning ten million frequent flyer hours. And he has just met the frequent flyer woman of his dreams, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) - a sexually adventurous woman with no excess baggage.

After watching his motivational speech in the trailer, I was in no hurry to see the film. (I'll edit it here for brevity.) "Imagine that you're carrying a back pack...Pack it with all the stuff in your life...How much does your life weigh?...Now fill it with people...Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components in your life." What has become of our country when a Corporate Downsizing Expert is considered a motivational speaker?! Our hero is a successful jerk who can't be bothered with people.

I opted for another movie on Christmas Day, but I couldn't help noticing that "Up in the Air" was sold out. Later, I looked it up on-line and found out that it was popping up on some best films lists. What did these people know that I didn't? Was it George Clooney's smile?

I saw it the next day. I was delighted to discover that "Up in the Air" was a charming, witty, and ultimately poignant film in the tradition of Prestin Sturge's smart comedies. Kudos to director/co-writer Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You for Smoking"), co-writer Sheldon Turner, and an award winning ensemble cast.

Bingham flies from city to city firing unsuspecting corporate employees. He handles his job with the necessary objectivity while treating his victims with as much dignity as he can muster. He gives them a package that includes their severance benefits and a plan for reclaiming their unrealized dreams. No doubt it is a great comfort to get "up and away" from it all.

Bingham is in danger of being grounded when an Ivy League graduate Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) develops a plan to save travel costs by firing people via video conferencing. Bingham's comfortable routine is challenged when he is forced to take Natalie on the road to show her the ropes. She observes, "You have set up a way of life that makes it impossible for you to have any kind of human connection." I found myself rooting for this self-centered man to finally grow and learn how to connect with other people.

"Up in the Air" reminds us that in these difficult times, we need to come down to earth and find strength in our connections with others. One thumb way "Up in the Air."

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Hollywood blind-sided by the "Blind Side"

"The Blind Side" is the true story about how a huge, homeless teen Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) was taken off of the mean streets of Memphis and into the home of Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock). With the help and encouragement his new family, he works hard to earn an education and eventually becomes an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.

I wonder if Hollywood executives were at all blind-sided when this little movie opened at $34,119,332. Chances are that it wouldn't have been made if it wasn't based on a successful book. It has TV movie written all over it. But it has grossed $209,052,000 to date. I'm sure credit was given to Sandra Bullock who starred in the hit comedy, "The Proposal," earlier this year. Sandra Bullocks ability to open a film aside, I believe there is another reason that this film is such a huge success. Despite our initial cynicism, we are actually inspired by people who unselfishly give of themselves. Theater goers have sent a message to Hollywood with their entertainment dollars. We are hungry for uplifting stories of human kindness. I hope Hollywood listens...

The movie, based on the true story, shows human compassion, strength and the inner beauty with fearlessness that each human has the potential of being. Loved it. -- Jennifer Hillman

"The Blind Side" is a must see movie. Sandra Bullock gives a stellar performance along with a fabulous cast. This film will inspire and encourage you to invest into the lives of those who are less fortunate and who need an opportunity to succeed in life. -- Susanna Velaquez

I went to see this movie by myself over the holidays and I can't stop talking about it. Because of the movie it has inspired me to be "My Brothers Keeper" I gave my son $25.00 to go see the movie last weekend:) I HOPE he did! -- Candy Kennelly

I loved it because it shows no matter what our differences are (racial, gender or economic), we still need love, support and guidance from people who really care. If each one saves one in the world, all of us would be much better off. A family is not only a husband, wife and kids. It is about a group of people caring for one another. This movie was wonderfully uplifting.-- Ralette

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Saturday, January 02, 2010


From Despair to Hope

Two powerful, acclaimed films, "Precious," and, "The Messenger," have heart-achingly honest performances that express the strength of the human spirit to move through despair to hope.

The synopsis of, "Precious," couldn't be more depressing. Precious, (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe) an obese thirteen year old, is pregnant for the second time with her father's child. Her mother (Mo'Nique) treats her as less than a servant, beating her and constantly reminding her that she is nothing. We get a glimpse of the girl's spirit as Precious escapes into her dreams of being a glamorous star. At school Precious is pretty much invisible aside from being teased for her weight. But there is one teacher who recognizes her potential in math. When Precious is kicked out of school, he recommends that she be placed in a alternative school. Her new teacher (Paula Patton) asks Precious how she felt about introducing herself to the class and Precious says she feels, "Here." The teacher assigns her a journal where she expresses herself for the first time. Precious finds the strength to get an education and keep her baby even as the abuse intensifies at home.

It is a minor miracle and a credit to director Lee Daniels, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, and actress Gabby Sidibe that you leave the theater actually feeling hopeful. The film demonstrates the transforming power of having one person - in this case a teacher - who believes in you. Precious illustrates the strength of the human spirit to survive extreme abuse and find hope.

In, "In the Messenger," war "hero" Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) returns from Iraq and is assigned to the Army's casualty notification service. He has not gotten any grief counseling since receiving his own battle wounds - just a quick lesson in protocol from his jaded partner Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who instructs the soldier to avoid physical contact or hugging the N.O.K. (next of kin.) Ben assures him, "I'm not going to be offering any hugs."

Will has come home to a lonely apartment and an empty life. (When he went off to war he broke up with his girlfriend.) He diligently carries out his duty, but the grief of the families of the deceased hits close to home. He finds himself drawn to a widow with a brave facade. Her husband's story brings out his own neglected issues. Will his "war scars" heal so he can be a decent husband and father? Or should he reenlist because war is the only thing he is still good for? Somehow he finds the strength to choose life. "The Messenger," shows the resiliency of the human spirit to move through grief to hope.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal


Mo'Nique won Best Supporting Actress, Geoffrey Fletcher won Best Adapted Screenplay