Saturday, January 19, 2013

56 Up - Movie Review

Monica Sullivan

Imagine that you started grade school with some really cute kids almost half a century ago.  Over the years, at regular intervals, the kids kept you up to date on their lives: they stopped being cute in their teens, they got married, they had kids, they got divorced, they got back together again or they fell for someone else.  Their parents got sick and/or died, they changed professions, they lost their confidence, they cheated on their spouses and everyone including the kids and grandkids were furious about it.  All these details, unredeemed by insight or literary shadings, are the foundations of gossip.

I loved "28 Up" when it came out.  It was directed by Michael Apted when he was 42 and his impressions of the kids were very different.  He’s 71 now and rightfully proud of the series despite the inevitable law of diminishing returns.  A 56 year old pensioner is just not as gripping as kids and young adults with their entire futures ahead of them.  If you loved 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42 and 49 Up, you may not love “56 Up” as well.  For this viewer, a fresher, deeper look at the subjects might have been more rewarding than picture postcard smiles and vintage clips.

© 2013 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 01/16/13
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Rabbi's Cat - review

By Purple

The Rabbi's Cat which opens this Friday at Landmark's Embarcadero cinema in San Francisco,  offers an eye-pleasing cinematic escape to enjoy as we embark into the new year.  The Rabbi's Cat is a French film, with English subtitles, and is based on a graphic novel created by the writer and co-director Joann Sfar who blends mediums to deliver the Rabbi's Cat to the screen. The printed material translates well, and the leap from panels on pages into its animated counterpart is remarkable. The Rabbi's Cat stays true to its origins as the hand drawn look and feel occasionally layered onto 3D models adds a nice sophistication and depth to the scenes.

The film is set in Algiers in the 1930's and is told from the perspective of an unnamed feline, who develops the ability to talk with humans after a house pet parrot suspiciously goes missing under the cats watchful eye.  As someone with cat-brain myself, I can verify that The Rabbi's Cat does an excellent job with interpreting and expressing cat logic. The cat's admiration for the Rabbi's rambunctious daughter, is only matched by the cat's devotion to his human, the aging Rabbi who is his loyal master.

The cat's snarky perspective provides the perfect filter to interpret the increasing tensions caused by the religious and political issues faced by the Rabbi and his Mediterranean neighbors in the years leading up to world war two. It's enjoyable to watch the cat dissect society's rigid rules around him, and realign his human counterparts toward the cats true concerns.

At times, The Rabbi's Cat will occasionally detour off into dream like sequences that come wrapped in their own visual style while serving to connect one thread of the main plot to another down the timeline.  And while some of these diversions are a visual treat to see, the loose narrative gets lost, found and forgotten at times as the Rabbi's Cat meanders us through another gorgeous animated landscape.

Once the Rabbi and his talking cat get to the road trip part of their adventure, fantastic footage of illustrated African wildlife fills the frames, leaving room for some unexpected cameos along the way. Including, without much explanation, a Tin Tin lookalike character, complete with cowlick hairstyle and snow white dog, share a few moments with the Rabbi, Cat and friends before they fade into the background almost as quickly as they appeared. Odd moments like these are woven into the rich visual tapestry the Rabbi's Cat wraps us in as we travel to far off lands with it.

Looking forward to comparing notes with my own feline friend, for Movie Magazine this is Purple.

© 2013 - Purple - Air Date: 01/16/13
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Oscar Submissions for Best Foreign Language Films in San Rafael

By Moira Sullivan

Rachel Mwanza (center) ,  best actress at Berlin Film Festival
It’s Oscar deliberation time and the 10th Annual "For Your Consideration: a Selection of Oscar Submissions from around the World" will be featured in an exclusive San Francisco Bay Area series of 14 films from 14 countries for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Film.  Of 71 films sent to the Academy as the best film of each country, this special event has selected some of the best of the competition. The event will be held Jan 11 - 17, 2013 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA.

I have seen three of the contenders, two of which have made the short list:

The first is ‘War Witch’ (Rebelle) by Kim Nguyen from Canada
It is the story of a 12-year-old girl who is abducted by a rebel army. Two years later she is with child from the commander who believes she has special powers and knows when the enemy is near. For this she is called a witch. Rachel Mwanza won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for her role. She plays a child soldier who is asked to murder by the soldiers to test her loyalty. Witch is befriended by a young boy her age called Magicien. The children grow up fast and hard. The filmmaking is brilliant and the story moving, which makes it a strong contender for this year’s Best Foreign Language film.

"Kon-Tiki" by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg from Norway is also on the short list.
This is the story of the legendary Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl who set sail with a crew of five men on a wooden raft in 1947 to prove that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. The idea actually came to him from his girlfriend Liv who pointed out that it would have been difficult for South Americans to paddle against the stream instead of in the direction of Polynesia. The sea voyage consumes the bulk of the film and is not without adventure especially when the raft seems to be waterlogged and a school of hungry shark swim nearby ready to flip the vessel. As an historical document it is interesting to bring to life the story of this famous Norwegian whose book about his adventures was translated into many languages and his documentary won an Academy Award. It remains to be seen if the Norwegian feature will also win an Oscar

It’s not hard to understand why Pièta the third film, did not make the short list. Its sexual violence and symbolic plot would never find the Academy behind it. Kim Ki-duk won the Golden Lion at Venice this summer for the film. It is completely different from his previous film that also won a special director's award at Venice in 2004 - "3- Iron" about a young man who comes to the rescue of a woman beaten by her husband.  "Pìeta" is not without artistic value and many of the shots are artfully arranged but the story is about a wayward boy and his mother whom he mistreats in punishment for her abandonment. For Kim mother and son evoke the Virgin Mary and Jesus, as exemplified in the famous Italian sculpture by Michelangelo at St Peters in Rome. Coming to Venice with a film like this was somewhat of an intellectual appeal to be noticed. It was, but divided the critics even in winning the top award.

One other film worth mentioning on the short list is "Sister" by Ursula Meier about a young boy who tries to survive by stealing ski supplies in a resort in the Alps. The film was recently reviewed on Movie Magazine with an exclusive interview with the director.

© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 01/09/13
Movie Magazine International

Friday, January 4, 2013

Luis Buñuel's Tristana at Opera Plaza

By Moira Sullivan

Fernando Rey and Catherine Deneuve in 'Tristana'

Luis Buñuel's Tristana is a classic film made in 1970 that helped make Catherine Deneuve one of the best paid and most mythologized actresses in the world. But for her character she has to endure being molested by her guardian, her mother’s husband, Don Lope Garrido (Fernando Rey) who is 25 years older than her. She later becomes his common law wife.

The film is beautifully made with magnificent art direction and a provocative script but it is hard to tune out the message of the film of the sexual bondage of this young woman. This is not the first time Deneuve played sexually twisted characters such as the film that made her famous, also directed by Luis Buñuel, about the daytime prostitute called Belle du Jour in the film by the same name (1967); and a woman who is so disgusted by men that she winds up killing one who has fallen in love with her in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion from 1965.

This theme is not so different in Tristana for at first the young Deneuve is unable to dissuade the attention she receives from her guardian, but fortunately develops a strong will as she later becomes disgusted with him and leaves him for a younger man, the artist Horacio Díaz played by Italian actor Franco Nero. However, there is a price to pay for this, as she later becomes seriously ill and then a cripple.

The deformation of a beautiful woman is equated with the reduction of her guardian into a pathetically hopeless admirer. She also begins a sadistic relationship with a deaf boy. All the while, the townspeople either ridicule Don Lope for his  attachment to the younger Tristana, although they really are against demonstrating attraction of any kind. In one respect, all Tristana can think of doing is watching Don Lope’s head swinging from the bell tower. With as much rage as someone in her position must have after sexual abuse and guilt for breaking the rules of the church, which the priests constantly bring up, it’s little wonder that she wishes Don Lope out of her life for good.

Still Tristana is worth seeing and this complicated and miserly story about twisted love is regarded as a classic and is far from the happy endings of Hollywood as can be. In the 70s European art films were in a competitive positon with American films and this was one of the most controversial, regarded as a masterpiece.

Opening at the Opera Plaza January 4 in San Francisco.

© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 01/02/12
Movie Magazine International