GEMMA BOVERY

Opens tomorrow (5/29) in NYC. Review coming soon.

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I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS

Opens tomorrow (5/29) in NYC. Review coming soon.

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UNCERTAIN TERMS

Opens tomorrow (5/29) in NYC. Review coming soon.

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ALOFT

JenniferJennifer Connelly is so compelling as a struggling single mother in Claudia Llosa's new film that narrative details like whys and wherefores pale next to the need to find her again after she disappears. (JLH: 4/5)

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Aloft is a strange and mysterious new film written and directed by award-winning Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Llosa.

The main character is "Nana" (Jennifer Connelly) a single mother raising two sons. The younger son "Gully" (Winta McGrath) is gravely ill; the older son "Ivan" (Zen McGrath) is moody and resents all the time and attention his mother is investing in her search for a cure.

Nana is not the talkative type, so it's not always clear exactly what is going on, but embodied by Connelly, Nana is intensely charismatic. Against all odds, she continues to force herself--and force her sons--into impossible situations. Why is she alone? Where is the father of these two boys and why isn't he providing some support? Is he dead or has he simply abandoned them? Nothing about their lives is entirely clear. Melanie

Then, out of nowhere, a stranger named "Ressmore" (Melanie Laurent) appears, and we realize we've abruptly jumped twenty years into the future. "Ivan" (Cillian Murphy) is now an adult who has married and started a family of his own. Ressmore pretends to be interested in Ivan, but she's really looking for Nana. With some difficulty, Ressmore convinces Ivan to help her find Nana, and as they travel together, Ivan tells us--in flashback--why he and Nana have been estranged for almost twenty years at that point.

The narrative thread hovers at the edge of incoherence and ordinarily this would exhaust me, but Jennifer Connelly is so compelling in Aloft that I became as driven as Ressmore. All I wanted was to find Nana too. Where had she gone, why did she leave, and what was she doing now? The quest was urgent and I was totally hooked.

This is Claudia Llosa's third feature film, and the first one in English. Her first film, Madeinusa, was released in Peru in 2005, and the next year, Llosa became the first Peruvian woman to have her film submitted to AMPAS--the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences--for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Her second film, The Milk of Sorrow, was not only submitted by Peru, it also became the first Peruvian film to be nominated for one of the five coveted BFLF spots. It didn't win (the 2010 BFLF Oscar went to The Secret in Their Eyes from Argentina), but it won a slew of other awards including the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear. Cillian

No doubt I had more patience with Aloft because I had already seen these first two films, so knew to expect a Llosa film to play at the edge of Magic Realism. Just consider the audacity of naming the protagonist of your film "Madeinusa" (from the label "Made in USA" but pronounced as one single word = may-den-usa).

The women in Llosa's films all carry enormous cultural and historical burdens as women, so her objective as a filmmaker is simply to put us in their shoes as they walk along paths that are anything but clean, smooth and linear.

The cinematography, score, and sound design are all superb. The visual and aural beauty that surrounds her--some of it rustic, some of it arctic--allow Nana to slip her mortal coils. In this realm of imagination, Nana--in the body of Jennifer Connelly--soars to great spiritual heights.

WithKids

Top Photo: Jennifer Connelly as "Nana."

Middle Photo #1: Melanie Laurent as "Ressmore."

Middle Photo #2: Cillian Murphy as "Ivan."

Bottom Photo: Jennifer Connelly with Winta McGrath as "Gully" and Zen McGrath as "Young Ivan."

Photo Credits: Jose Haro, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Q: Does Aloft pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes, but barely.

While "Ressmore" (Melanie Laurent) is searching for "Nana" (Jennifer Connelly), she has peripheral conversations with various women she meets along the way, but none are of any significance. They're just moments that keep the plot moving forward.

Nana seemingly has no relationships with and/or attachments to other women at any point in her life.

Q: Where is Aloft set? 

ManitobaWiki Aloft was filmed in Manitoba--the red province on this map--in 2013. But while the location of the story is clearly Canada, the final scenes seem to be set further north, closer to the Arctic Circle. Source of WikiMap = "Manitoba in Canada" by TUBS

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(DIS)HONESTY

Opens tomorrow (5/22/15) in NYC. Review coming soon...

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THE FAREWELL PARTY

YehezkelInLoveJewish Humor walks the razor's edge between comedy and tragedy in this mordant "laugh through your tears" dramedy co-written & co-directed by  Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon. (JLH: 4.5/5)

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Since the time of Sholem Aleichem, Jewish Humor has been said to walk the razor's edge between comedy and tragedy, and so it is with The Farewell Party, a "Laughing in the Darkness" dramedy  set in a long term care facility in Jerusalem.

The main character, "Yehezkel" (Ze'ev Revach),  is a bit of a fixer, always tinkering with tubes and wires to invent new contraptions. We first meet Yehezkel (yah-hezz-kul) during a telephone call with his friend "Zelda" (Ruth Geller). Yehezkel has created a voice box to amplify his sound because he wants Zelda--who is bedridden--to believe she is speaking directly to God. "Elohim?" "Yes, Zelda." Hang on he tells her, sounding like he's actually speaking from The Great Beyond, it's not your time yet. And since Zelda thinks God is now personally watching over her and knows exactly when her time is, she goes back to sleep.

But Yehezkel stops laughing when "Yana" (Aliza Rosen) calls. Yana's husband Max--Yehezkel's dearest friend--is dying of cancer. He is in terrible pain and constantly pleading with Yana to make it stop. So Yana throws herself on Yehezkel's mercy, begging him to invent something that will release Max from his agony. YehezkelAtWork

And thus it begins. Yehezkel tinkers with a drip machine that will allow people to push a button--by themselves--which will release enough drugs to end their lives. And no matter how careful Yehezkel is to conceal his activities, the word spreads like wildfire and new people--people he barely knows--begins knocking at his door.

Yehezkel's beloved wife "Levana" (Levana Finkelstein) is appalled, but soon enough she's absorbed in her own concerns. Levanna has dementia and her memory problems have reached the point where she can no longer live in the apartment she shares with Yehezkel. He doesn't want to acknowledge any of this, but their daughter "Noa" (Hilla Sarjon) has already started making new plans for her. It is only a matter of time...

None of this sounds funny, but Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon--who co-wrote the screenplay and co-directed the film together--have such a light touch that laughter bubbles forth even in the blackest moments. None of these people--played by a large, superb cast of Israeli Seniors--is a "victim." They are all well-loved, relatively prosperous, and determined to live full lives right to the very end.

I say: Bravo!

MoralDilemmas

Top Photo: "Yehezkel" (Ze'ev Revach) with his beloved wife "Levana" (Levana Finkelstein).

Middle Photo: Yehezkel continues to work on his contraption while Levana looks on in dismay.

Bottom Photo: Yehezkel (far left) and his friends debate their options, defiantly continuing to smoke despite all the obvious reasons they should have stopped smoking long, lomg ago.

Photo Credits: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Q #1: Does pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Definitely!

Besides the relationship Levana has with Yana, Levana also has close relationships with her daughter "Noa" (Hilla Sarjon) and her granddaughter "Libby" (Mia Katan).

In one of The Farewell Party's most bittersweet moments, Levana wants Noa to write down one of her favorite recipes. Noa isn't in the mood and tries to postpone, but Levana is in a rush. Noa, frightened by her urgency, gives in, but then, midway, through her recitation, Levana forgets the next step...

Scenes with Libby are equally poignant. Levana keeps urging Libby to eat, but finally Libby gives up. Only after she spits out a cookie in disgust does Levana realize she has used salt instead of sugar...

Q #2: Who is who?

The Farewell Party was written & directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, but who is who? English readers are likely to assume that Tal Granit is a man and Sharon Maymon is a woman, but in fact the reverse is true. For proof, click HERE to read an excellent interview with Tal Granit (who is a woman) and Sharon Maymon (who is a man) when they were at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. They are a great team and I hope we see more from them in future.

PennyRants

SPOILER ALERT: Conscious Decisions versus Slippery Slopes

The word euthanasia is based on two Greek root words: "Good" (Eu) and "Death" (Thanos). According to Wikipedia: “The first apparent usage of the term ‘euthanasia’ belongs to the historian Suetonius, who described how the Emperor Augustus, ‘dying quickly and without suffering in the arms of his wife, Livia, experienced the 'euthanasia' he had wished for.’”

Augustus died on August 19, 0014 (14 AD) almost exactly 2,000 years ago, and in those intervening millennia, a great many physicians, legal scholars, religious authorities, and ordinary people have asked themselves just what constitutes "a good death."

For religious people, the answer is relatively simple: the good death is the one that occurs at the time and place decreed by God. My husband's grandmother was well into her 90s when she began saying "I am ready, God. Take me any time." She said this every time we visited her, long after she had any idea who we were. Presumably she frequently said these same words directly to God, regardless of who--along with Him of course--was actually in the room with her.

For the the rest of us, the question of a good death is fraught with difficulty. Most of us would probably agree with Suetonius that minimal suffering is preferred, but beyond that the range of personal responses is likely very broad.

But now, in our new millennium, we have an additional problem. Members of prior generations had very little control over their time of death. But now, medical science and health care infrastructure have combined to extend our lives years and sometimes decades after someone with the very same diagnosis would have died a mere 50 years ago. This is somewhat true the world over, but it is certainly true in "advanced countries" where most "healing" is done by licensed professionals in highly regulated places like hospitals and nursing homes.

The Farewell Party is a film that forces us to confront the fact that new realities call for new rules. Is the time of my death to be determined by me or by someone else? Even if that someone else has the most benign and compassionate of motives, I still prefer to make the final decision... and so do most of the characters in The Farewell Party.

I expect many people to be appalled by the mordant "laugh through your tears" tone of The Farewell Party. These are the people who think that the concept of euthanasia is a "Slippery Slope" that may start with personal choice but inevitably leads inexorably to Nazi Death Camps. But isn't a film about what other people might do to you, it is about what other people can do for you if/when you need their help to achieve your own conscious aims. Therefore Granit and Maymon are very careful to include scenes in which their characters speak directly into a camera: This is what I want. This is what I have asked my loved ones to help me do. This is my choice, therefore the end result is my responsibility.

When my own time comes, I hope that others will do what they can for me so that I can act in accordance with my own beliefs in my final hours. I hope they do not do things to me that I have repeatedly said I don't ever want done. That, for me, would be "a good death."

I'm not sure I could have articulated all of this before watching The Farewell Party, so in that way The Farewell Party really is a "God Send." We--those who live in "advanced countries" where most "healing" is done by licensed professionals--need to wrest control of this from them in the name of our own autonomy while we still can.

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SEEDS OF TIME

SeedsPosterReview of Seeds of Time by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Director Sandy McLeod packs a great deal of information in the 77-minute documentary about seed conservation. The film focuses on agricultural trailblazer Cary Fowler and highlights the impending dangers of climate change. Despite a few lulls, McLeod’s documentary is constructive, personal and extremely informative. (BKP: 4/5)

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Seeds of Time begins with a quote from Macbeth, Act I, Scene II --- “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which ones will grow and which will not, speak then to me.” The symbolism of this quote echoes throughout the film as agriculture expert Cary Fowler desperately fights for crop diversity and preservation. While visiting Columbia Grammar School in New York City, Fowler articulates his argument to a group of students in simple terms:

 

Cary Fowler (to students): Why does a farmer grow many different kinds of wheat? Why do we have so many kinds of wheat? Isn’t there a best wheat?

Student (to Fowler): Because they’re not sure which type of wheat will grow in that area. They have to grow a lot of wheat so that some of them will turn out.

Cary Fowler: And that’s why we do the kind of work we do. Because there’s no such thing as the best wheat. There might be a wheat today that’s really growing terrifically for the farmers, but maybe tomorrow a new disease or insect comes along that finds that variety really tasty. And then it’s not the best anymore.

Using examples of wiped-out communities and the lack of seed diversity in today’s farming landscape, Fowler takes the audience on a lecture-come-to-life. Director Sandy McLeod uses footage from around the globe, including activist Alejandro Argumedo and his Peruvian village struggling to save the diversity of potatoes in their fields. Fowler found two main solutions for the preservation problem: seed conservation and activism. Thanks to the International Potato Center -- a gene bank based in Lima --- there is a new conservation project entitled, “The Potato Park” aimed at saving 1,500 varieties of potatoes. Although many people rarely think about the subject, Fowler insists that the unique traits of millions of different crops will help save the world from disaster.

Through grim statistics and powerful imagery, Seeds of Time will make people take notice of the vanishing diversity in 21st Century agriculture. Cartoon-like illustrations pop up throughout the film, either locating global gene banks or demonstrating the farming process. These interesting visuals simplify the data for viewers and make it easier to follow along and understand, even as the pacing of the film slows.

Fowler adds a much-needed personal touch, journeying his cancer diagnosis and triumph in the face of adversity. His strength and determination both personally and professionally make him the perfect “protagonist” for this particular documentary.

Director Sandy McLeod and Cary Fowler’s team of The Global Crop Diversity Trust bring attention to the climate change crisis without figuratively pointing a finger at any particular political party or person. The statistics and visuals speak for themselves, bringing to light a relatively untouched topic of seed conservation.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (5/19/15)

Photos: Cary Fowler analyzes the diversity of seeds

Q: Does Seeds of Time pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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SOMETHING BETTER TO COME

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon...

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SUNSHINE SUPERMAN

Sunshine1Review of Sunshine Superman by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Marah Strauch’s documentary debut tells the story of adventurous Carl Boenish and his team of adrenaline-seeking BASE jumpers. Beautiful, thrilling archival footage and detailed narrations string together a story about a man who lived life from one exhilarating moment to the next. (BKP: 4.5/5)

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"One of my mottos is 'There is no future in growing up.' I just never want to grow up. Most people, I guess, grow old. I don't want to grow old or grow up. I don't want to be childish, but I think there are a lot of virtues in being childlike. Because if you look at a child, he hasn't been taught what he can't do." - Carl Boenish

From an early age, Carl Boenish defied his circumstances. He conquered the polio disease that left him paralyzed as a child and grew up to be one of the most physically active human beings. Living a sedentary life as an operator was an option, but not one that Boenish embraced, saying,"The man who knows 'how' will always have a job. The man who knows 'why' will be his boss." He knew how to operate machinery, but he knew why was a parachutist. And parachute he did. Boenish jumped out of planes and buildings with a parachute on his back and a camera on his helmet, filming his daredevil escapades on a 16mm camera. In 1969, filmmaker John Frankenheimer took notice and hired Boenish for sequences in the film The Gypsy Moths - and the rest is history.

Throughout the 1970s, Boenish became the face of thrill-seekers everywhere. He met and married Jean, an equally-adventurous partner, and formed his unafraid “BASE jumping” team. They leapt from cliffs and buildings, recording every second of their heart-pumping free falls. Aside from the video footage on surface, Sunshine Superman is an in inspirational story about making the most out of life. Not everyone will plummet off of a cliff for a thrill, but because of Carl Boenish, people might reflect on what scares them and make their own metaphorical jumps. He wanted to represent accomplishment, and he did.

The narrative, while awe-inspiring, is also well-constructed. The documentary follows the challenges Boenish faced while trying to accomplish his dreams - more specifically, facing the jump off El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The perfectly-paced story leads to a tragic climax and hopeful falling action, shifting its focus onto Jean Boenish and her outlook on life.

Touching on a range of emotions, from fear and adrenaline to love and grief, Sunshine Superman is a thrill ride in itself. Newly captured BASE jump footage blends with the original film and news clippings from the 1970s, exemplifying how times change - people don’t. There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it shot to Boenish’s notes, a handwritten sentence that captures both his message and the documentary’s central theme:

"Just jump, the angels will take care of you."

Sunshine2

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (5/20/15)

Photos: Carl and Jean Boenish BASE jump off of a cliff

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Q: Does Sunshine Superman pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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THE CONNECTION

Opens in NYC on Fri (5/15). Review coming soon...

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