Sunday, June 26, 2011

"The Tree of Life"

“Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation... while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

A beam of light unfurls.

THE TREE OF LIFE is a reflection on the meaning of life. What is the filmmaker trying to say? That is highly subjective. Aside from an opening narration that cues us in on the theme, the director leaves it to the audience to form our own conscious or subconscious impressions on the images he presents. Each audience member brings their own experiences which informs the meaning for them.

This is a challenging film because of the nonlinear structure that shifts between time and space, three different character's points of view, and nature photography. After the screening, I overheard someone respond, “What the Hell was that?” This review is for the “What the Hell was that?” crowd or anyone else who could benefit from cliff notes in order to enjoy this surreal film. I don't pretend to understand it all. This is just my interpretation drawn from my own memories and recounting similar images from science programs.

The filmmaker uses this opening narration to give us a handle on how to understand the nature images and memories to follow. The mother meditates, "There are two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose the way we will follow.” Basically, nature is competitive and only cares for itself while grace relies on a sense of oneness with all of existence.

Soon after the opening images and narration, we witness the family getting the news that one of their three sons has died. The Father, Mother and their oldest son try to make sense of the loss. This brings on a lot of soul searching about how the children were raised and inspires prayers requesting understanding of the meaning of life, suffering, and death.

This may be a good point to see the movie yourself to create your own impressions.

139 minutes later. Now, for my take on it....

The Mother's narration suggests that there are two ways of experiencing life – one through nature and the other through grace.

The Mother represents the “way of grace”- our connection with all things, unconditional love, empathy, and freedom of spirit. Scenes of the Mother and her children playing and exploring the wonders of nature are interwoven with footage of nature showing that they are interconnected. The Mother teaches them to see the world through the eyes of the soul.

The Father represents “the way of nature” that is competitive and only out for it's own survival. The father tries to toughen up his sons by teaching them to fight. He demands that they hit him harder, “Hit me! Hit me!” and finally knocks the older boy to the ground. He lectures that you can't be too good if you want to get ahead. “It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world.” But the Father forces his children to bend to his will by enforcing overly strict rules. “The way of nature” is also represented in the animal world by a scene where one dinosaur happens onto a wounded dinosaur. He demonstrates his dominance by holding down the weaker animal's head before walking away.

But the father's competitive nature isn't working. He is unsuccessful in his life. He never misses a day of work, yet he is laid off from his job. He never even pursued his dream of being a musician. He has lost the connection with his sons. They are so suppressed that when the Father goes on a trip, the family celebrates by running free and purposely breaking all his rules.

The older son struggles to find his place in the world. “Father, Mother, always you wrestle inside of me. Always you will.” As the architect of his life, he designs skyscraper buildings with steel walls separating him from nature and relationships. It is only when he sees a tree being planted outside the building that he remembers the tree that his parents once planted for him.

I believe the true message of the film is that “the way of grace” and “the way of nature” are connected through unconditional love. At one time the family was very close - embraced by both the Mother and the Father. The Father and the Mother loved their young children unconditionally. It was only when the Father tried to impose his competitive will that the family fell apart.

The film interweaves happy memories of the birth of the children, the family's early years, and exploring the wonder of nature with spectacular images that show the formation of the universe such as planets, the big boom, volcanic activity, and the beginnings of life under the ocean. In all this grandeur we sense the presence of God. If we just let go, it's almost as if our consciousness is connected with the beginning of time.

The branches of that tree now reach up to the sky – as if nature is reaching to touch God.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Movie trailer:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is the Traditional Role of Father a "Win Win" Scenario?

In honor of Father's Day, lets look at three recent movies that illuminate the role of husbands and/or fathers in the family. With the inherit stresses such as financial responsibilities, can a man find fulfillment and happiness in being a family man? Is all the hard work worth it?

Soul Surfer” is about a traditional family with a new twist – family life revolves around their passion for surfing. The mother (Helen Hunt) home schools her daughter, Bethany, (AnnaSophia Robb) to allow her to train to be a championship level surfer. The film hints that the father (Dennis Quaid) is no longer able to surf at that level because of a knee injury. But he doesn't have time for regrets. The sport isn't his whole life. This close knit family has created a balanced life that also includes family, friends, and church. So when tragedy strikes (a shark bites off Bethany's arm), the family finds strength in God and each other. The father tries to protect his daughter from the over zealous press. He watches with concern and pride as she struggles to surf with one arm. When she decides it's time to train for the championship, he coaches her. The way the family deals with the tragedy brings them closer together. Supported by understanding parents, Bethany finds her true path and meaning in her life. (It's cool to see a true story about a teenager who embraces a calling greater than herself.)

In “Everything Must Go,” Nick (Will Ferrell) is fired from his job as a result of a dumb mistake he made during a drunken business trip. He comes home to discover that his wife has left him, changed the locks, and thrown his belongings on the lawn. Somewhere along the way, he has forgotten everything that brought him joy – like baseball, his sales career, and having a loving relationship with his wife. Instead, he filled the void with alcohol and the meaningless pursuit of possessions. Without the strong foundation of family to support him, his stupid mistake shatters the marriage and wrecks his life. He has no place to go so he sets up house on the lawn. To buy himself a few more days, he enlists the help of a lonely, aimless boy to organize a phony yard sale. He becomes a sort of pathetic father figure to the kid as he plays catch and teaches the boy sales techniques. In exchange, the kid reminds him of what he lost – the good in himself.

Win Win,” seems to be about a traditional family with the husband, Nick, acting in the traditional role of bread winner. Nick (Paul Giamatti) is so stressed by financial troubles that his life has become strained and stagnant. Everything he once held dear has lost it's meaning – his role as a husband and father as well as his career as a lawyer for the elderly. He has even lost all joy in coaching the high school wrestling team. He also seems to have lost his moral compass when he becomes a lazy, apathetic custodian of one of his elderly clients for the easy money. He gets more than he bargained for when the old man's teenage grandson (played by wrestling champ Alex Shaffer) shows up to escape his drug addicted mother. The last thing Nick needs is another responsibility. But helping the troubled teen turns out to be a win win for all involved. When the athletic teen joins the wrestling team, it revitalizes the team and the makeshift family. When Nick's stupid mistake is uncovered, will there be a strong enough family foundation to weather the storm?

These three films present a compelling argument that a man can find fulfillment (and, yes, happiness) in overcoming life's struggles through the strength of his family.

Father's Day Blessings!
Jana Segal

Monday, June 06, 2011


Sunday, June 5 - Thursday, June 9 at venues around Tucson.

What a great opportunity to see these amazing films for FREE. They are the epitome of what Reel Inspiration promotes - inspiring, thought provoking and diverse films. This is a second chance to see two films that Reel Inspiration reviewed. Just scroll down to read my reviews of: "Winters Bone" and "La Mission." ("Winter's Bone" was one of my favorite films of the year. I rooted for it to win the Best Picture Oscar. The more I see it, the more I love it.)

FILM FORWARD creates cultural exchange with ten films in fourteen locations around the globe. Tucson was selected as one of the seven U.S. cities to host this cultural initiative, with The Loft Cinema being the presenting venue!

"Cinema, both fiction and non-fiction, has shown over and over that as human beings, we share values beyond any border, real or imagined." - Robert Redford, Founder of the Sundance Institute.


5:00 p.m.
Location: Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave.

7:00 p.m.
Documentary, United States,(Director: Jennifer Arnold)
A young Kenyan’s life changes dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger. Years later, he founds his own scholarship program to replicate the kindness he once received.
IN ATTENDANCE: Producer and cinematographer PATRICIA LEE.
Screening location: The Loft Cinema

7:00 p.m.
Documentary, Afghanistan/UK,(Director: Havana Marking)
After 30 years of war and Taliban rule, Pop Idol has come to television in Afghanistan: millions are watching and voting for their favorite singer. This film follows the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk their lives to sing.
Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road.


7:00 p.m.
United States, rated R (Director: Debra Granik)
An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her missing father while trying to keep her family intact.
IN ATTENDANCE: Co-Producer Kathryn Dean
Screening location: The Loft Cinema

7:00 p.m.
Documentary, United States,(Director: Stanley Nelson)

The story behind a courageous band of civil rights activists called the Freedom Riders who in 1961 creatively challenged segregation in the American South.
IN ATTENDANCE: U of A student May Mgbolu, one of 40 students from around the country who recently retraced the route of the 1961 Freedom Riders, and Jimmy Hart, Director of African American Studies for TUSD and YWCA Social Justice Project participants
Screening location: The Dunbar School, 325 West 2nd Street.


4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Featuring A Small Act producer/cinematographer Patricia Lee.
Topic: Using dramatic narrative techniques in documentary filmmaking.
Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 North Stone Ave. Lower Level Meeting Rm.

6:00 p.m.
Iraq, (Director: Mohamed Al-Daradji)
In the days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a young Kurdish boy and his grandmother venture through Iraq on a quest to find their missing father/ son.
Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 North Stone Ave. Lower Level Meeting Rm.

7:00 p.m.
New Zealand, (Director/Screenwriter: Taika Waititi)
When his father returns home after many years away, 11-year-old Boy and his little brother Rocky must reconcile reality with the fantasy dad they created in their imagination.
Screening location: The Loft Cinema


7:00 p.m.
Documentary, Canada,(Director: Lixin Fan)
Getting a train ticket in China proves a towering ordeal as a migrant worker family embarks on a journey, along with 200 million other peasants, to reunite with their distant family.
Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, 1288 West River Road.
Featuring a tasty Chinese Finger Food plate, available for only $5.00

7:30 p.m.
India, 138 min.,(Director/Screenwriter: Vikramaditya Motwane)
Following his expulsion from boarding school, Rohan returns to the small industrial town of Jamshedpur. After 8 years away, he finds himself closeted with an authoritarian father and a younger half-brother whom he didn’t even know existed.
Udaan explores deep-rooted family dynamics and a triumph of the human spirit.
Screening Location: Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave.


7:00 p.m.
United States, (Director/Screenwriter: Cherien Dabis)
When a divorced Palestinian woman and her teenage son move to rural Illinois, they find their new lives replete with challenges.
Screening location: The Loft Cinema

8:00 p.m.
United States, 117 min., rated R (Director/Screenwriter: Peter Bratt)
A traditional Latino father in San Francisco’s Mission District struggles to come to terms with his teenage son’s homosexuality. La Mission is credited by Latino media as being both authentic and genuine to various aspects of American Hispanic cultures.
Screening location: Cinema La Placita, 110 S. Church Avenue.

Watch the Film Forward Trailer:

More information no screenings:

For more information on FILM FORWARD, and all the films being screened, please visit:


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

“The King's Speech - Better Late than Never or Jana Eats Crow...n"

The King's Speech” begins with the future King of England, Prince Albert, the Duke of York, stammering into the microphone at his first public address. In the next sequence he is further humiliated by a speech therapist who requires the Duke to hold marbles in his mouth while attempting to enunciate. Fast forward. England is now on the verge of the second World War and the newly appointed King George VI must deliver the most important speech of his life.

I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to review this inspiring film. I actually saw it on opening weekend, but had some misgivings that my prevented my complete involvement in what seemed to be an enchanting film. Here's the rub. My head was clouded by stories of how my uncle had overcame his own debilitating stammer - so something about the therapy sessions in the film didn't ring true for me. I brought my uncle with me for my second viewing. He confirmed my doubts about the effectiveness of the therapy. He explained that the cure for his stammering was to become less self-conscious of his speech, and that the speech exercises shown in the film would only succeed in making a stammerer more self-conscious. (We still enjoyed the film - making allowances that this may have been the only therapy available at the time.) At my third viewing, I finally got it. The technical exercises were never intended to correct the stammer. The King, who had previously deemed the technical exercises ridiculous, actually requested them because that was more comfortable than working through his feelings in therapy. The therapist, knowing that the useless exercises would give the determined King something concrete to work on, scheduled daily exercises to create an atmosphere of comfort and confidence that would eventually lead the King to trusting his therapist and himself. Trust was the important factor in uncovering the source of the stammer and facing it.

After my new realization set in, it all made sense. The whole story is built on trust. At their first meeting the Duke tests the therapist. The therapist's first task is to overcome the Duke's resistance by demonstrating his expertise. He insists from the onset that they forgo formal titles such as, “Your Majesty” or “Doctor” because trust can only be built on a foundation of equality. But the Duke refuses, holding steadfast to the trappings of his position as a barrier from dealing with his fears and insecurities. But his frustration with his speech and his deep commitment to his family responsibilities keeps bringing him back. Finally, there is a break-though. The tragedy of his father's death brings up painful memories and the Duke finally opens up about his past. But an even greater fear causes him to retreat again - the possibility that he may become king. He bellows at the top of his lungs that a King's only duty is to speak for the people and he can't bloody speak! When he discovers that his therapist is not officially a doctor, the King hides behind a shield of mistrust accusing his therapist of being a fraud. But, his therapist is right. In order to find his voice, his Majesty must overcome his feeling of unworthiness and trust that he is the leader the country needs. This story is about more than making, “The King's Speech.” It is about the making of a King.

I highly recommend the very worthy Best Picture winner, “The King's Speech,”(better late then never) for it's clever, insightful script by David Seidler, Colin's Firth's dynamic, Oscar winning performance and Geoffrey Rush's hilarious take on the eccentric therapist. (I guess Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture is confirmation enough for director Tom Hooper.)

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

More evidence of how wrong I was about the speech therapy.