Friday, May 24, 2013

A Few, Outstanding Independent Films

“Win-Win.” Paul Giamatti in his latest rendition of a beaten-down, American Everyman. This time, he’s a lawyer struggling to maintain a faltering practice whose money-making scheme leads to an improbable foster parenthood to a champion high school wrestler. The film is emotionally engaging, and carried by an amateur teenage actor who was cast for his wrestling prowess.

• “Liberal Arts.” Written, directed by, and starring Josh Radnor, an actor best known for his lead role in a television sit-com series, the film explores the age-old wish to ditch a miserable career and recover the verve and idealism of college life. Elizabeth Olson plays a fetching co-ed who is part of the attraction, as is the gorgeous campus of Kenyan College where Radnor went to school. A classic film of mid-life awakening.

• “Take This Last Waltz.” A visually stunning, Canadian film set in Toronto, written and directed by the talented dramatist, Sarah Polley, who grew up there. The film showcases the depth and range of Michelle Williams in the lead role of a sort-of-comfortably-married woman who becomes infatuated with a budding artist who lives across the street. Comedian Seth Rogen works well as the faithful/boring spouse. Polley’s film is mesmerizing, using magic realism to draw us into the inner life of Williams’ character and engage us with some powerful feelings that may be all too familiar, if forgotten.

And a Couple of Rare, High-Quality Features From Major Studios

• “The Best, Exotic, Marigold Hotel” – a triumphant story of starting over in elder years.

• “Side Effects” – Steven Soderbergh’s final film explores the underside of the medical, pharmaceutical, and financial industries, with many twists of plot, insights into the contemporary human condition, and another incredible performance by Rooney Mara.

Bill Charland

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sarah's Key

Film Review
By Bill Charland, Daily Press Film Critic

In the dark, early morning hours of July 16, 1942, one of the blackest episodes in the history of France unfolded. The Vel' d'Hiv Roundup (named for the indoor bicycle racing arena where it took place) resulted in the arrest and detention of more than 13,000 Jews, the majority women and children. Many were Jewish foreigners living in France. The prisoners were kept for days in the arena under inhumane conditions, lacking food, water, and sanitary facilities, before they were loaded onto trains and sent to die in Auschwitz.

Following the liberation of France, the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup became a target for rage at the puppet Vichy government and its head, Pierre Laval. It was not just the crime itself that was so horrendous. But there were indications that the French Vichy had actively supported the Roundup, wanting to rid the country of foreign Jews. Laval was executed by firing squad.

“Sarah’s Key,” based on a novel by the popular French writer, Tatiana de Rosnay, explores the assault on Parisian Jews through the eyes of a small girl caught in the Roundup in an especially tragic way. Trying to save her younger brother before the soldiers arrived, Sarah locked him in a closet, planning to free him momentarily. But she was unable to return for him for several days and when she did, her brother had died. Young Mélusine Mayance gives a searing performance as Sarah, who would be haunted for life by her ordeal.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Julia, an American journalist living in Paris who becomes intrigued with the fate of Sarah when her husband acquires the apartment where the brother had died and decides to remodel it. The tensions in Sarah’s life and in Julia’s marriage are juxtaposed in scenes from the present day with flashbacks to the horrific events of occupied France during World War II. The rhythm of the film sets up a dynamic interplay between the conflicts of the past and present, at both a societal and personal level. Along the way, we’re shown the consequences of searching for truth, the healing as well as the hazards in it.

Thomas, who is bilingual in French and English, adds a fine, flat American accent to her role in “Sarah’s Key.” She has a unique gift for the role of a foreigner living in Paris. Growing up in England, she was rejected by a London drama school and set out for Paris where she found work as an au pair. She married a French gynecologist and had three children in France. But all the while she continued to grow as an actress in two languages, starring in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” with Hugh Grant and “The Walker” with Woody Harrelson in English, along with French films such as this.

It’s said that when her 18-year marriage broke up with the French physician, it was because of an affair with a British actor during one of her stints on the London stage. That’s one way to straddle two cultures.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

About This Blog: NEWVISIONS

For the past couple of years, I've been writing film reviews for the Silver City Daily Press, in the town where I live in New Mexico. Most of the films have been sponsored by our local International Film Society which does an exceptional job of selecting movies that are shown here once a month.

Most of these films are so good that I've decided to share my write-ups with friends and others who might find them of interest and want to rent them, perhaps, on Netflix or a video rental outlet. I'll post a new review once or twice a month, and hope you'll give me some feedback if you've seen them. Bill

p.s. For those interested, here are links to my three books currently in print: Life-Work: A Career Guide for Idealists; and two novels: Soundings, and The Heartland File.