Thursday, April 24, 2008

Frida - 2002

A wonderful film … Selma Heyek is terrific as Frida Kahlo, a young painter who never quite believes in her own artistry. When complimented by Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), she demurs, and Rivera says: “You have to trust a true compliment as much as a critique.”

Revolution, radical talk, sex, booze and parties – heady stuff – the evolution of love and hatred, artistry and doubt.

“We’ll have to get married, you know,” says Rivera … but “I’m physiologically incapable of fidelity. Is that important to you?”

“Loyalty is important,” and for the pledge of his loyalty, Frida accepts his marriage proposal. Her mother, skeptical, is persuaded by her father who sees this marriage as a source of some financial support. Neither callous nor cruel, her Father simply wants the family to survive.

It's a tempestuous marriage at best.

In some respects, it’s a beauty and the beast story, but the beast prevails and slowly corrupts Frida’s heart and artistry.

Ultimately, Frida and Rivera’s second wife (Frida is his third) become friends and confidants. She says to Frida, “He belongs to no one. He belongs only to himself.”

In a difficult conversation toward the end, she says, "You've been my comrade, my fellow artist, my best friend, but you've never been my husband."

Diego Garcia, a great artist … and Frida, too … but the film poses the age-old question, can such creativity exist without some version of insanity, self-destruction and destruction of others. Yet their love endures, sort of. And sometimes that's all we can expect; anything more is grace.

Strikingly, both Hayek and Molina look like their counterparts.

Everything flows well, and the story is told compassionately. I feel that I know something of the passion, the longing, the artistic impulse, that drove these two creative people.

A film worth seeing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I really like George Clooney and I really like Renee Zellweger ... but ... this was only an okay movie, some funny moments ... clever story ... but it never really got off the ground.

Zellweger had a great part, and played it well - sharp-tongued and brash, full of spit and vinegar.

Clooney has the capacity to make fun of himself, but I wasn't quite sure where it was going to go. I've seen him funnier, and I've seen him play himself with a little more panache. Oh well.

Jonathan Pryce plaid a semi-scummy character, but lacked the sinister greed to make this character a bit more colorful.

A relatively minor role - the first football commissioner (Jack Thompson) had some character to it - tough and commanding, making it clear that he held all the cards in the new game.

Jonathan Krisinski did a fine job of playing Carter Rutherford, a Princeton grad and a "war hero" - with a story bigger than it was. This was a serious thread running through an otherwise comedic film. Krisinski handled it thoughtfully. We will see more of him.

Overall, I couldn't find enough energy in it.

My Blueberry Nights

Hard to rate ... I really enjoyed it, but it was slow, slightly disconnected ... but definitely an enjoyable film - Jude Law is very good - a low-key kind of a guy with dreams bigger than his life, now running a late-night cafe with blueberry pie that no one ever eats, except the distraught girl who comes in one night to leave some keys with him, keys a former boyfriend gave her.

The rest of the cast mostly good ... but it's the kind of story I like: human interest, snapshots of people and life.

Nora Jones is sweet, but seemed to lack passion, energy.

Natalie Portman is cast as a rich-kid gambler taught by her daddy, but mostly down on her luck. Affecting a western drawl - not sure - trying to play a toughed personae, but her face, her personality, a little too sweet for this kind of role. But I'd give her an A for effort.

Aside from Jude Law, Rachel Weisz gave a fine performance as an abused lady shunning the love of a man utterly devoted to her - David Strathairn - also excellent in his low-key manner, playing a cop who marries this beautiful woman he once pulled over for speeding.

The story might have been better told ... I wish the up-front part of the story could have been told a bit more quickly ... felt like several movies begging to be made, but collated into a less than satisfying melange. It needed focus; I was never quite sure where the heart of the story was at least in it's telling. But then, maybe that's life.

Don't get me wrong. I liked it ... never once feel asleep, enjoyed the script, had a few laughs ... but would have liked to see more passion pulled out of the actors and the story.

A challenge to the director perhaps?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Motorcycle Diaries - 2004

Off on the "Mighty One," their trusty Norton 500, for an 8-month adventure around their America; so it begins for Ernesto and Alberto.

Already friends, on the threshold of careers, they embark upon a life-changing adventure. I suppose if there's a lesson here, it's this: "Stay home!"

If you don't, you're likely to see and experience things that will alter your life and lay a claim upon your soul, a claim that cannot be shaken or denied.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Alberto Granado see the beauty of their America, the wonder of its people, and the vast injustice that governs so many lives.

This marvelous film explores how a soul is shaped, how a conscience is stirred, how a life forms its commitments. Surely not all at once, but in bits and pieces, over time. Like planting seeds, they take their time and grow, and then still the wait for flower or fruit.

Without being overly dramatic, with terrific bits of humor, neither are portrayed as saints, but revealed as young men who who long to see life - as the young always do - but doing it from a motorcycle and with limited means, they see life on the street and in the field. They get close to people, close enough to see their faces, the often haunting look of the frightened and desperate.

Along the way, they meet the generous and the cruel, the kept and the keeper. We're all part of vast systems, and it's within these systems that evil takes systemic root - hard to identify, more than anyone person, but pervasive and murderous.

A love-letter for South America, with its vistas and people - sometimes a remarkable feel as if it were a documentary. Be sure to check out the special features - how it was made.
In all regards, a film worthy of its accolades.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


The young man walking out behind said quietly to himself, "It was so real."

I let him pass - he was walking alone, well-built, wearing blue scrubs ... was he a vet?

This is a film to see if you care about what's happening to the military in this meat-grinder of a war.

The film features a young man on his last day of duty back in the USA after his second tour in Iraq. But as he's getting his affairs in order to go back home, he's issued orders to report back to his unit for redeployment to Iraq. "There must be some mistake; I'm getting out today. I'm going back home."

"No sir, these orders are clear. You've been stop-lossed."

He goes AWOL ... and makes his way, finally, to New York and an attorney who specializes in helping people get a new identity and make their way to Canada for a new life. But called home to Texas because a war buddy took his own life, he meets with family again, loving parents, the father a Vietnam Vet - and heads to Mexico instead.

I'll not devulge how the film ends, but it powerfully portrays what all sociologists of war now understand - men neither fight nor die for country, but for the soldier next to them. In the most basic sense of the word, it's all about community, falling in for one another.

The power of the film is its "commentary" without commentary - how constant redeployment and stop-lossing is tearing the military apart, destroying families and leaving in its wake thousands of seriously injured and emotionally impaired women and men.

Politically, there's a certain glamor to war - ala Bush & McCain - but every personal account of war says the same thing: War is hell!"

Even the WW2 veteran, proud and stoic, is reluctant to talk about his experience - to kill or be killed does hard things to the soul, and when a professional soldier is repeatedly exposed without the hope of returning home, as did the WW2 citizen-soldier, the soul is compromised, even in the strongest personality.

Anyway, the message is profound, and the acting, cinematography and music, fits well.

Hats off to Kimberly Peirce (writer and director) and Paramount Pictures for bringing us this film.

Under the Same Moon - La Misma Luna

Directed by Patricia Riggen, this is a wonderful film in all regards - heart-wrenching and heart-warming.

A quest story, if you will, as a young 9-year old boy living in Mexico with his grandmother, who, when grandmother dies, sets out to cross the border and be reunited with his mother who lives and works in LA. His mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo) has been in LA for four years, and she faithfully calls Carlitos every Sunday morning at 10:00 AM.

She describes to him the pay-phone corner from which she's calling ... Carlitos (Adrian Alonzo) can imagine it in his mind.

From the title, the moon shines in both their lives - it's the same moon, and when Carlitos is lonely for his Mother, she tells him to look at the moon, the same moon she's looking at, and they'll be close to one another.

I found myself profoundly moved by the story, quite tense at times, and uttering a few prayers toward the end.

Along the way, young Carlitos meets a raggedy cast of characters - some cruel and terrible, some kindly and helpful, and one delightful rogue (Eugenio Derbez) who has a heart after all, sacrificing himself for Carlitos.

The film powerfully highlights the life of an "illegal" - and even as I type that word, how easily we use a title to avoid the simple realities of real people hoping to find life. In this regard, the film doesn't "preach," but only tells a human story.

Jacqueline Voltaire who plays Mrs. McKenzie, an "employer" or Rosario, does a marvelous job of portraying a pathetic wealthy woman in a terrible marriage who treats Rosario with utter contempt even as she reveals the brokenness and sadness of her imprisoning wealth. I wanted to slap her silly!

A combination of Spanish (with subtitles) and English, the film delivers a grand story - family, love, romance and hope.

A must-see film!