New Releases for the Week of May 11, 2012


May 11, 2012

DARK SHADOWS

(Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Eva Green, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Christopher Lee. Directed by Tim Burton

Young Barnabas Collins, an 18th century wastrel and scion of a wealthy New England family, makes the dreadful mistake of breaking a witch’s heart and is cursed therefore to vampirism and is consequently buried alive to think about the error of his ways. By the time he is released (inadvertently I might add) it is 1972 and the world is a far different place. He returns to his beloved Collinwood manor to discover the family has fallen upon hard times and the house is a ruin. He sets out to restore both, although there are forces conspiring that wish to keep the Collins family low.

See the trailer, featurettes, clips, interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Gothic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

(Fox Searchlight) Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith. A group of English  retirees answer an ad for a resort in India that is meant to cater to the needs of golden age residents with all of the lushest amenities and scintillating service. However when they arrive, they find a hotel and staff with grand ambitions but little else as the resort fails to meet even minimal standards. As the hotel begins to transform around them, the seniors discover that they themselves are being transformed.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)  

The Cup

(Myriad) Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Curry, Daniel McPherson, Alice Parkinson. The Oliver brothers, sons of a family that is legendary in the Australian horse racing world, are at the top of their game, considered among the favorites to win the upcoming Melbourne Cup – the most prestigious horse race in Oz, the equivalent to the Kentucky Derby. However when one dies in a tragic accident mere days before the Cup, the other is heartbroken and considers leaving horse racing for good. However a respected trainer will encourage him to run the race in his brother’s honor, leading to an event that caused the entire horse racing world to hold it’s breath as one.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: NR

Dangerous ISHHQ

(Reliance Big Picture) Karisma Kapoor, Jimmy Shergill, Rajiniesh Duggall, Divya Dutta.  A business tycoon and a supermodel are one of India’s most celebrated couples. When he is kidnapped, the crime becomes front-page news. But the police believe that even if the extravagant ransom is paid that he will not be returned alive anyway. With time ticking away, the supermodel must put herself in harm’s way to bring home the man she loves.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: NR

Girl in Progress

(Pantelion) Eva Mendes, Matthew Modine, Patricia Arquette, Cierra Ramirez. A single mom, robbed of her teen years by pregnancy, is spending all of her focus on her own needs and gives little to none to her daughter who desperately needs a mom. As her daughter becomes engaged in coming-of-age stories, she becomes convinced that the way to adulthood is through sex.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, sexual content including crude references, and drinking – all involving teens)  

God Bless America

(Magnet) Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton  A man, fed up with the venal nature of Americans, the trash quotient of reality TV and the general celebration of rude behavior, goes on a murderous rampage. He is cheered on by a teenage girl who becomes his willing accomplice, although reluctantly on his part. This is the new movie from comedian/director Bobcat Goldthwait and played at the recent Florida Film Festival. You can find the review here.

See the trailer and stream the movie online here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Black Comedy

Rating: R (for strong violence and language including some sexual sequences)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

(Magnolia) Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Takashi Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto. The world’s foremost sushi chef – and the only one in the world to be honored with three Michelin stars – operates from a tiny ten-seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. At 85, he works harder than most a quarter of his age. His sons are being prepared to succeed him but can anyone live up to the daunting legacy he has built? Another film screened at this year’s Florida Film Festival; you can read the review here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR 

The Salt of Life (Gianni e la donne)


The Salt of Life

Gianni di Gregorio points at what he wants most in life.

(2011) Comedy (Zeitgeist) Gianni di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni, Alfonso Santagata, Elisabetta Piccolomini, Valeria Cavalli, Aylin Prandi, Kristina Cepraga, Michelangelo Ciminale, Teresa di Gregorio, Lilia Silvi, Gabriella Sborgi, Laura Squizzato, Silvia Squizzato. Directed by Gianni di Gregorio

 

When a certain age is reached, people tend to become invisible to the opposite sex – transparent, as one character ruefully comments in this Italian comedy. The tendency is for us to fight against this marginalization and assert our own sexual potency, particularly in the male of the species.

Gianni di Gregorio, who co-wrote and directed this as well as starred in it, has reached that age. He is a pleasant, willing sort who was forced, unwilling, into retirement years ago (although for what reason it is never said). His laid-back, low-key and giving nature are constantly taken advantage of by the women in his life, particularly his nonagenarian mother (Bendoni) who fritters away her life savings while her son scrapes by. She constantly calls her son to come visit her to basically wait on her hand and foot, while her caregiver Kristina (Cepraga) is given designer dresses and jewelry to wear.

Gianni’s wife (Piccolomini) is cordial towards him, although she does belittle him for having nothing to do. Her earnings and Gianni’s pension are barely enough to make ends meet. Still, they have a pretty comfortable lifestyle, although the two of them sleep in separate bedrooms and essentially lead separate lives. With them lives their daughter (Teresa de Gregorio), who is stressed with university exams, and her slacker boyfriend Michi (Ciminale) who seems to spend more time with Gianni than with his girlfriend.

Rome has always been filled with attractive women and Gianni is surrounded by them – besides Kristina there’s Gianni’s ex-girlfriend Valeria (Cavalli) who is newly available and seems to adore him, his neighbor Aylin (Prandi) who professes to be madly in love with him but that seems to be mainly because he is willing to walk her St. Bernard for her and run errands for her while she sleeps off a hangover from yet another night of partying. None of them seem to have much more than a playful flirtation in mind for him and he wonders if he missed out on the romance in life. This spirals him into a mild depression.

Gianni’s best friend and lawyer (Santagata) notices Gianni’s melancholy and advises him to take on a mistress. Gianni warms to the idea – even some of the most decrepit men in his neighborhood have one – and seems to fear the idea of becoming the lonely old man who walks his dog in a Trastevere park every day. But how to go about it?

This is not really a sequel to di Gregorio’s last film, Mid-August Lunch (which I saw at the 2010 Florida Film Festival and it wound up on my list of Ten Best Films that year) so much as it is a continuation. There are several of the same characters in that movie including Santagata and Gianni’s mom. It carries with it the same inner charm and sweetness that the first movie carried.

As in that movie, Gianni is something of a pushover, blandly murmuring “certainly, certainly” when asked to do something by the various women in the movie. Yet when he decides to do something it become woefully obvious he doesn’t have game by modern standards. He is courtly and charming but lacks passion and confidence, something most women look for. He is a hand kisser in an age of ass grabbers. He is so inept at wooing the women around him that one wonders how he got married and managed to sire a daughter.

Gianni has that woeful hangdog look, and his melancholy is palpable throughout the film. He  is aware of the bags under his eyes and although not an un-handsome man, he is no Giancarlo Giannini. In many ways, he is the man most women like to affectionately complain about – somewhat befuddled, a little inept and lost without the women in his life.

The sun-dappled streets of Trastevere are charming and alluring in their own way. Even though Gianni isn’t in the best of financial shape, he still leads an enviable lifestyle; eating well, drinking often and not having to go to work every day. Still, there’s something missing for him, something that leads him to stray onto trails he doesn’t know and isn’t sure where they’re going to lead him.

It seems odd to root for someone to cheat on their wives but it is important to remember that mistresses occupy a different place in Italian culture than in our own. Not that it’s accepted so much as politely ignored. Here, it’s a major no-no so American audiences might have trouble getting behind Gianni’s quest.

Still, this is delightful, laid-back, charming and laugh-out-loud funny. Di Gregorio makes the difficult art of comedy seem effortless, and that’s the mark of a real master. In a landscape littered by raunchy comedies by Judd Apatow and his wanna-bes, this is a refreshing change. Not that I don’t enjoy Apatow’s films or raunchy comedies in general but it’s nice to have variety and isn’t that the salt of life?

REASONS TO GO: Gentle and charming.  Has a sweet sexiness that American films rarely capture.

REASONS TO STAY: Gianni lacks inertia. Hard to root for a guy trying to cheat on his wife.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual innuendo and a few bad words scattered here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actress playing Gianni’s daughter is in fact his real life daughter.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100. The reviews are solid.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mid-August Lunch

ROME LOVERS: This movie is set in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood and is the Rome not of tourists but the city where Romans actually live. One gets a real sense of the lifestyle of those who live there.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Raid: Redemption

The 2012 Florida Film Festival


Well, the Florida Film Festival is over for another year and this one was by all accounts a good one. With record-setting ticket sales as well as the most movies ever presented by the Festival, it’s just an indication as to the general growth in popularity of film festivals nationwide and of this one in particular. Those looking for alternatives to the wide Hollywood releases in the same multiplexes are finding themselves drawn to the film festival environment.

Although the festival is over officially, here on Cinema365 it will continue on indefinitely. I will continue to review movies screened at the festival this year, including some I saw at the festival (as I await their release date to print their full review) and each one will be accompanied by the Florida Film Festival banner as you see above. Also for those films I missed seeing at the Festival as they appear here in Orlando I will review those as well; and for those I see on DVD or stream from wherever those will also receive the FFF/Cinema365 treatment.

There were some amazing films here at the festival this year, some of which have already been reviewed. My favorites were in this order;

The Lady
Monsieur Lazhar
Renee
The Intouchables
Headhunters
The Salt of Life
Turn Me On, Dammit
God Bless America
Where Do We Go Now?
Girl Model
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Lovely Molly
Eye of the Hurricane

Look for coverage of the Festival to continue throughout the year. I’m already looking for the 2013 edition, which Cinema365 will once again be covering in depth.

In the meantime, our newest special feature is coming this weekend. It’s called Offshoring and will be our own mini-film festival of all non-American films. We’ll have movies from Israel, Norway, China, France and India during six days of global cinema coverage that will serve to celebrate the diversity and quality of films from all over the planet. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did watching and reviewing these films; I intend it to be a regular post-Florida Film Festival feature annually.

Look for our new American Experience mini-festival of movies celebrating the uniqueness of American life coming around the July 4th Holiday, and at the end of this week our annual summer movie preview. It’s busy around here at Cinema365 World HQ but it’s worth it as we gear up to further bring to you our passion for films of both the summer blockbuster and independent and foreign cinematic variety. Hope you like what you read!

God Bless America


God Bless America

WARNING: Blatant "American Idol" rip-off ahead!

(2011) Black Comedy (Magnolia) Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton, Rich McDonald, Guerrin Gardner, Andrea Harper, David Mendenhall, Larry Miller, Lauren Benz Phillips, Aris Alvarado, Mo Gaffney, Maddie Hasson, Tom Kenny, Geoff Pierson, Tom Lenk. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

 

There is plenty of reason to be frustrated at the state of affairs in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Angry, even. Most of us keep our frustrations pretty much to ourselves however and our anger manifests it in a tendency to be more and more self-centered. After all, what can we as individuals do?

Things aren’t going so well for Frank (Murray). He lives in an apartment with paper-thin walls; the couple next door with their bawling new baby are inconsiderate at best, louts at worst. Frank suffers from terrible headaches that keep him up at night, and although he tries to be pleasant enough at work, he is grumpy as all hell and prone to snapping.

After a well-meaning but misguided attempt to cheer up a fellow employee lands him on the unemployment line, Frank gets the double whammy of finding out that he has an inoperable brain tumor that leaves him with a much shorter life span than he anticipated. Divorced from his wife (who respects him about as much as she does….well, she doesn’t respect him at all) and estranged from his pre-school age daughter who is turning out to be a spoiled child who channels Veruca Salt on a daily basis, he sits at home watching the endless, mind-numbing array of reality programming on his television.

At last he’s had enough. When his daughter won’t see him, he winds up watching a reality show starring Chloe (Hasson), a spectacularly entitled bitch who berates her doting dad (Miller) on national TV when he gets her the wrong car for her birthday (“I wanted an Escalade!!!!!” she shrieks at ear-bleeding volume when she views the offending present).

Disillusioned and with nothing to lose, Frank – an ex-military man – decides that this isn’t what he served his country for. He gets his gun and drives out to see Chloe and after a botched attempt to blow up her car, shoots her in the head. This is witnessed by Roxy (Barr), a classmate of the late reality star who is thrilled, not just because Chloe got what she deserved but also because she sees a way out of the boring life she leads.

At first Frank is appalled and wants nothing to do with the young teen but when Roxy confesses that her stepfather is molesting her on a nightly basis, Frank reluctantly agrees to bring her along. They decide to off Chloe’s indulgent parents as a message to parents who give everything to their kids except discipline. That attempt is botched as well but Roxy saves the day just when it appears that Chloe’s mom might actually get away.

Suddenly the two are sort of like a super-liberal Bonnie and Clyde, roaming the countryside to rid the land of those that Frank construes as mean, rude or oppressive. The offending parties include a conservative blowhard talk show host (kinda Glenn Beck-esque), a homophobic Christian preacher (read as Fred Phelps), Tea Party protesters and the most heinous of all, people who talk and text in movie theaters. All of them get a bullet courtesy of the two Liberal spree killers who are giving Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate a run for their money. However, Frank has his sights set on some of the worst offenders of all – a musical competition show called American Superstars, a thinly veiled version of “American Idol” right down to the graphics. He is particularly incensed that a mentally challenged young man with little talent tries out and gets ridiculed, later threatening to commit suicide.

As you might have noticed from the synopsis, this is black comedy and for director Goldthwait, a veteran stand-up comic and writer, business as usual. This is definitely a satire on American life as seen by a card-carrying leftie, and I must admit that watching a stand-in for Glenn Beck being gunned down gave me a curious sense of satisfaction – not that I’d want the real Beck to be snuffed, mind you. I wouldn’t mind an extended case of laryngitis in his case however.

Conservative sorts are going to have issues with the politics of the movie, unless they have a really good sense of humor and an ability to poke fun at themselves (which a fair percentage of them do I must admit). Liberals might just find this a bit too violent, kind of a Death Wish meets Dirty Harry with a dose of Coming Home thrown in for good measure.

Murray, whom most might recognize from his stint on “Mad Men” (and who is the brother of actors Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray), makes a fine sad-sack hero here. His delivery is dry and a bit Midwestern, giving Frank a kind of socially awkward exterior which frames a fairly decent interior (except for his penchant for putting a bullet in people he doesn’t like). For me while I kind of understood Frank’s rage, I never felt the movie explained why such a decent guy snapped so completely.

Young Barr gets the thankless job of playing a precocious teen but she does it without making her relatively annoying (and any teen who rips Cody Diablo a new one is all right by me). She makes a good foil for Murray and even though they are about as odd a couple as you can get (Barr’s attempts to flirt with a suitably appalled Frank aren’t dwelled upon and are done before it gets too creepy) the chemistry seems to be pretty genuine.

There are some pretty great laughs here, some of the sort that will have you feeling guilty a moment after expelling your guffaw. There is nothing remotely politically correct here; Goldthwait has an axe to grind and he plants it squarely between the shoulders of the Republicans. It’s certainly a bit of a one-sided world view (although Frank sheepishly admits to sharing some of the political philosophy of the talk show host – the relaxing of laws advocating gun control which figures when you think about it) but then again, I doubt Goldthwaite wants or needs to apologize to anyone.

The point here is that the movie is funny and even brilliant in a couple of places. I found the scene where the rude theater-goers were gunned down to be vicariously satisfying. When you spend as much time in movie theaters as I do, people who talk and text in theaters are on your ten most wanted list. While I don’t advocate mass murder, sometimes watching some of your favorite targets being used as actual target practice brings a smile to your face. I hope I would find the humor in watching a conservative vigilante take down ACLU lawyers, atheistic political commentators and Greenpeace activists with the same objectivity. I might wince a little more often there though.

REASONS TO GO: A clever satire of American life. Barr and Murray have surprising chemistry.

REASONS TO STAY: Seems to take great glee at skewering the conservative/tea party sorts which might offend some.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, a surfeit of profanity and a few sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Along with the Florida Film Festival, this has screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Calgary Underground Film Festival and South by Southwest.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/19/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: Not available. The reviews are pretty dang positive, at least early on.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: American Dreamz

GUN LOVERS: On display is a pretty impressive variety of handguns and other weapons, from Walther PK-9s to AK-47s to a .44 Magnum.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT:Turn Me On, Dammit!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi


Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The face of the world's greatest sushi chef.

(2011) Documentary (Magnolia) Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Takashi Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Hachiro Mizutani, Joel Robuchon. Directed by David Gelb

 

I’ll be the first to tell you that I adore sushi. I love the subtle taste of the fish blending in with the texture of the rice, the little surprising kick of wasabi and the salty tang of soy sauce. I’m not talking about the rolls that Americans tend to prefer (although I love those too) but of the more traditional Japanese form of fish and rice alone.

Jiro Ono owns Sukiyabashi Jiro. It is located in the bowels of a Tokyo subway station. It has ten seats and only ten. All he serves there is sushi. Jiro has been making sushi since he ran away from home at age 9. He’s 85 now and has been making sushi for 70 years. You’d think that in that amount of time he’d be pretty good at it.

Pretty good doesn’t even begin to describe what Jiro does, however and the good folks at the Michelin Guide agree. They’ve awarded Jiro and his restaurant three stars, the highest rating that the guide offers and Sukiyabashi Jiro is the only sushi restaurant to possess that rating. The citizens of Tokyo are fully aware of how good his sushi is; reservations are mandatory as you might guess and there’s a one-month wait to get in.

Jiro is one of those sorts who lives to work. He is passionate about sushi; he even has dreams about it, dreams he has written down and then turned into reality at his restaurant. He pursues perfection with single-minded determination that is at once both admirable and unsettling. He doesn’t seem to have any life outside of his restaurant; he works every day all day except for government holidays and even takes those off begrudgingly. His work ethic is admirable but you can’t help but wonder, is’t there something more to life than this?

Not for Jiro and he seems happy in his life. He has two sons; the eldest, Yoshikazu works with Jiro in the restaurant and is being seemingly groomed to take over the restaurant when Jiro retires but Yoshikazu is 60 himself. The youngest, Takashi, owns his own restaurant in one of Tokyo’s most exclusive neighborhoods. It’s a mirror image of Jiro’s (literally; Jiro is left-handed and Takashi right-handed and so they have their set-ups reversed from one another). Both men labor under the shadow of their father and neither seems to mind.

We are shown the methods of making sushi, accompanying Yoshikazu to Tokyo’s main fish market, to the instruction of the apprentices to the selection of the rice (Jiro gets a special kind that the rice vendor sells only to him because Jiro’s the only person who knows how to cook it properly). This isn’t, despite the title, a movie about sushi at all, although once you see the flavorful tidbits displayed lovingly in their dishes you might get a hankering for some.

What this is about is the pursuit of excellence and its cost. Jiro is a driven man, determined to be a national treasure in Japan and one of the most influential sushi purveyors of all time. Restaurant critic Masuhiro Yamamoto, talking about Jiro’s eldest son, says wistfully that when a man’s father is as influential and as important as Jiro is, even if he’s just as good as his father was he’ll never be able to measure up. He has to be twice as good in order to escape comparisons.

In fact, Yamamoto suggests, it was actually Yoshikazu who made and served the sushi to the Michelin representative. One never gets a sense from either of Jiro’s progeny that they have the same kind of drive their father possesses. Jiro may dream of sushi but his sons might have different dreams, even though they did both choose to join their father in the sushi business.

You see, it’s really difficult to tell because there’s no context here. We don’t see Jiro at home, only at the restaurant. When he is interviewed, it is about his career and about the business of making sushi. If Jiro collects stamps, loves baseball or enjoys cross-stitching as a hobby, we would never know because we only get to see this one aspect of him. I don’t know if this is all there is to the man but I kind of doubt it.

This is mostly a mostly fascinating and occasionally frustrating movie that hits most of the right notes. I would have liked a little bit more about Jiro (he does go to a class reunion in his native village and visits the grave of his father, who abandoned him when he was a young boy) but at the end of the day, he will be remembered for his sushi and that is mostly what we see here – his driving force and his one true love.

REASONS TO GO: A study of the relentless pursuit of excellence. Interesting father-son dynamic and a lovely peek into Japanese culture – and cuisine.

REASONS TO STAY: There’s no context here.

FAMILY VALUES: There are scenes showing the fish being sold in the fish market that might be traumatic for some tots who might love their goldfish but otherwise this is absolutely fine for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Meals at Jiro’s sushi restaurant start at 30,000 Yen or about $370 U.S. dollars.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/18/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100. The reviews are exceptional.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

SEAFOOD LOVERS: The film shows a number of the different types of seafood that Jiro uses in his restaurant, from massive tuna to tiger prawns to haddock – both as fresh catches in the fish market and as finished product in his restaurant.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT:God Bless America

Monsieur Lazhar


Monsieur Lazhar

The face may be smiling but it's the eyes that are haunted.

(2011) Drama (Music Box) Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron, Danielle Proulx, Brigitte Poupart, Jules Philip, Daniel Gadouas, Seddik Benslimane, Marie-Eve Beauregard, Louis Champagne, Andre Robitaille, Francine Ruel, Helena Laliberte. Directed by Philippe Falardeau

 

We tend to take for granted what a strong impression teachers make on the lives of our students. Most of us can remember at least one teacher whose influence lasted throughout our lives. The student-teacher relationship can be a strong one.

In a middle-class middle school in Montreal that seems to be true. One day, however, Simon (Neron), a student in the middle school, comes to his classroom early to distribute milk and snack for the kids and discovers his teacher, Martine Lachance (Laliberte) hanging. One other student, Alice (Nelisse) also sees the body of her teacher.

The suicide shakes up everyone in the school. The principal, Madame Vaillancourt (Proulx) avails the class of a therapist but knows she has to find a teacher to fill the spot. As it is the middle of the school year, not many teachers want to fill in for a dead woman, particularly one who died so publically. However in walks Monsieur Bachir Lazhar (Fellag) who has 19 years of experience teaching in Algeria.

With no other options, Vaillancourt hires the quiet, softly smiling Algerian. At first he and his class have a rocky start. Lazhar is far more formal than the beloved Martine, ordering the desks in rows rather than the semi-circle Martine had utilized. He is also to give a misbehaving kid a little smack upside the head which of course is a strict no-no in the more liberal Canadian educational system than he’s used to.

Slowly, the kids start taking to Monsieur Lazhar, whose gentle nature seems to cut through the negative feelings they have. In fact, it seems that the kids are adjusting to the loss of Martine much better than the adults with one exception – Simon. Simon is acting out and it soon becomes apparent that he’d had some kind of run-in with Martine that might have had something to do with her decision to do what she did, particularly when she knew that it was Simon who would find her.

But it might just be Alice who has the most difficult time adjusting. And on top of that, Monsieur Lazhar has some secrets of his own. Something that has caused his smile to be so sad. Despite the efforts of comely fellow teacher Claire (Poupart), Monsieur Lazhar might just be the most wounded soul of them all.

Movies that have children dealing with death are few in number and those that are out there are generally treacly in nature, as are those that try to deal with the student-teacher bond. Monsieur Lazhar is anything but that. It takes kids, puts them in a situation that could happen to any kid and then lets them be kids.

The kids are wonderful here; there is no posturing and it really doesn’t seem like they’re acting, a major fault among most juvenile actors. Instead, they react to the things happening around them the way most kids do – sometimes in an annoying manner, sometimes rambunctiously and other times thoughtfully. This helps elevate the movie into something far more real and compelling. Particularly exceptional are Nelisse and Neron, both who show virtuoso abilities. Should they choose to pursue acting, they both have promising careers ahead.

Fellag is marvelous himself. He carries himself with great dignity and gentle self-effacing humor here. He imbues the character with great decency, but never lets us forget the pain that is just below the surface. As what the cause of that pain is revealed, one marvels once again at human resiliency; I don’t know if I could stir myself out of bed with all that Monsieur Lazhar is carrying around with him. Fellag displays that pain not through his dialogue but through his eyes. He may have that soft smile you see above but every time you get a good look in his eyes it becomes obvious that the man is bearing a terrible burden. It’s a shame that he didn’t get Best Actor consideration at the Oscars this year – he deserved at least a look.

This movie handles things in a kind of low-key manner. Other than the scene at the beginning of the film where Simon discovers Martine, everything takes place here at a kind of slow-paced quietude. Sure the kids scream and yell as kids do but the scenes here aren’t doing so; the action is subtle but authentic. There are a lot of nice little touches – personal effects for example play an important role in the movie, as does snow – both as allegories. I found myself wrapped up in the film and the people in it; I wanted to be part of it, talking to the characters and helping them get through that. A film that inspires that kind of compassionate urge is not only one to be respected and admired, it is one to be sought out, even if you must go out of your way to do so.

REASONS TO GO: Moving and ultimately unforgettable. Juvenile cast comes through magnificently.

REASONS TO STAY: Very low-key which some may find difficult to deal with.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes here are pretty adult and there’s one image that might be disturbing for the sensitive. There are also a couple of not-so-nice words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year as was In Darkness, a Polish-Canadian co-production which marks the first time in history that two movies with Canadian connections were nominated in that category.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100. The reviews are stellar.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: To Sir With Love

SNOW GEAR LOVERS: The kids (and adults) have a plethora of different snow apparel and accoutrements on display for those looking to enhance or upgrade their snow season wardrobe.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Girl Model


Girl Model

Meat markets come in all sorts of varieties.

(2011) Documentary (Cinereach) Nadya Vall, Ashley Arbaugh, Madlen, Tigram. Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin

There is a certain glamour inherent with the modeling industry. Beautiful girls flown to exotic locations, dressing in designer couture, adored by millions. So when talent agents come calling, it’s not hard to understand why young girls answer with eyes full of stars.

One such agent is Ashley Arbaugh who herself was a teen model. Her territory is mostly the former Soviet Union where she plucks young girls to work in the lucrative Japanese market. The promise of easy cash and a foot in the door of an industry that’s notoriously hard to break into brings girls swarming to try-outs, particularly in economically depressed places like Siberia.

Nadya Vall lives in a small village in Siberia. Her parents are poor; they live in a tiny little house that her father has been adding on additional room so that his children may have rooms of their own. However work has stalled on that as he is barely making enough money to make ends meet as it is.

Her shy, sweet demeanor and lustrous child-like beauty get her a contract with Ashley and her Russian boss Tigram. Tigram sees himself as a kind of savior for these young girls, taking them out of bad situations and giving them fame and fortune. Of course, he gets a cut of both but that’s a small price to pay isn’t it?

Nadya sets out for Tokyo and things turn into a nightmare from there. Nobody from the agency meets Nadya at the airport; she is lost, not knowing where to go or what to do and doesn’t speak any other language than Russian; tearfully she begs the filmmakers to translate to English to the Japanese clerks to find out information as to where she can find the apartment she’s supposed to stay at.

Eventually things sort themselves out and she is set up in a tiny little apartment that looks to be the size of a walk-in closet. She has a roommate, Madlen, who is supposed to share the space with her – and it’s not a lot of space, let’s face it.

Japanese law requires her to have two paying jobs in order to remain in the country for the full length of the visa. She is sent to try-out after try-out, to shoot after shoot with no sales forthcoming. The two are made to realize that if their measurements increase even by a centimeter they will be sent packing and not paid; in fact, because of the cost of their apartment and their airfare, they will be deep in debt to the agency.

Homesickness, the psychological wear and tear of not being wanted and the general indifference of those who are supposed to be watching over them take their toll. Madlen, who at last has a credit card from her family that allows her to purchase food, eats her way back home on purpose leaving Nadya alone in a country that she doesn’t understand – and at 13 years old, is she really equipped to handle this situation?

This is absolutely riveting stuff. There are no real regulatory agencies that watch over these girls. 13 and 14 year old girls are encouraged to lie about their ages and are sent to Japan and other countries unsupervised and essentially thrown out into the waters to sink or swim – and they mostly sink. There is a good deal of hypocrisy – Arbaugh tells her next set of girls airily that everyone makes money in Japan after we’ve just clearly seen two girls who returned home deeply in debt, and we are given the impression that it isn’t all that uncommon. Everybody gets paid but the models.

This isn’t just exploitation, it’s white slavery. There needs to be an industry watchdog to ensure that these girls get proper supervision, understand what it is they’re getting into and have some regulatory power to watch that the girls aren’t exploited. Unfortunately, as Arbaugh herself says late in the film, it isn’t much of a step to go from modeling to prostitution. After all, both are instances of a woman selling her body.

I didn’t expect that there was a story here that I’d be hooked by. Fashion interests me not in the least and I’d always had the perception that models are mostly self-absorbed divas who had a very easy life that required very little work on their part. After all, how hard can looking beautiful be?

Obviously, being a guy makes me completely dumb and uneducated as to how hard work it is for women to look beautiful, models or no so perhaps I can be forgiven for my ignorance. However one screening of this documentary is enough to shock my system into understanding that there is exploitation of children going on in this industry – and it needs to be stopped.

REASONS TO GO: Compelling and heartbreaking. Eye-opening look on a shadowy world.

REASONS TO STAY: Pounds its point a little bit too relentlessly. May have benefitted from some follow-up.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality, some profanity and some adult situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following the making of the film, Arbaugh got a job with Elite Models in New York scouting American girls.

CRITICAL MASS: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Picture Me

JAPAN LOVERS: Some aspects of the Japanese culture are explored here.  

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Monsieur Lazhar