Recommended Film

SPOTLIGHT  Send This Review to a Friend

Searing drama about Boston Globe's journalistic exposure of Catholic Church's cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.

SON OF SAUL  Send This Review to a Friend

Unusual, powerful intimate Holocaust drama in which death camp inmate becomes obsessed with finding a rabbi to give a proper religious burial to a dead boy who may or may not be his son.

MUSTANG  Send This Review to a Friend

Engrossing film about five sisters trying to cope with their lot as young women in a Turkish village.

DIFRET  Send This Review to a Friend

Set in Ethiopia, a women's rights organization tries to help teenage girl who killed abductor and rapist in self-defense and change the culture for women.

LIST OF SOME FILMS CITED IN THE PAST:  Send This Review to a Friend

I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND  Send This Review to a Friend

Veteran Czech writer and director Jirí Menzel (“Closely Watched Trains”), basing his new work on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal, has created a very special film. “I Served the King of England” is a sardonic comedy that takes an unprincipled man in search or riches through horrendous events of the last century. Jan Díte, shown both as a youth and as a survivor, is a nasty piece of work, but what gives the film its creative twist is that Menzel keeps a satirical perspective on Díte’s adventures and misadventures in scenes that are often extremely funny despite the seriousness of what is being wittily surveyed. We first meet the older Díte, played by Oldrich Kaiser, as he is being released from prison. We later learn why he was incarcerated. The tone is immediately whimsical, thus putting us in the proper mood. Flashbacks take us to his apple-cheeked youth, at this age played by Ivan Barnev. Working as a waiter, he aspires to save money and he gets an early grasp on how even wealthy individuals will scramble for coins on the ground. He experiments by tossing coins away and watching the results. Díte gets a job at a fancy Prague restaurant. During the Nazi occupation he marries Liía (Julia Jentsch), a young Sudeten German thoroughly indoctrinated with Nazi ideas of a master race. Before marriage he must prove that his semen is of a quality worth of producing master race children. Eventually Díte, after making his bed with the Nazis, becomes a millionaire, thanks to using a valuable stamp collection taken from Jews. But when the Communists take over, millionaires are not in fashion. Hence his prison sentence. After his release he is sent to live in a border town and makes his home in a decrepit old house. Now the older Díte has time to reflect on what he has done in his life, but he is only mildly self-critical, which makes the point that there are many who did terrible things and managed to survive and make peace with what consciences they have. “I served the King of England,” an accomplishment of rare wit, is among the best films I have seen so far in 2008.

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA  Send This Review to a Friend

There is something for everyone in Woody Allen’s charming and perceptive new film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” While Allen has long had an affinity with foreign films, he imbues his work with his own creative ambiance and viewpoint. His latest may bring to mind Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” which involved a woman and two men. In setting up his own version of sexual and romantic complications, Allen involves a man with two women, a ménage à trois, with a third woman on the fringe. All of this is served up against the colorful background of Spain. Allen as writer and director remains behind the camera for this one and the story line and characterizations concern finding true romance as opposed to settling, the following of one’s sexual desires with the complications that can result and the craziness of a relationship that can have an enduring attraction even though the lovers can be disastrously mismatched. The cast members are terrific—Javier Bardem as Juan, an artist, and many a woman’s dream lover, Scarlett Johansson as the more adventurous and reckless Cristina, Rebecca Hall as the less daring Vicky, who is engaged to be married, and Penélope Cruz as Juan’s spitfire of an ex-wife. Others in the mix are Vicky’s relatives, Patricia Clarkson as Judy and Kevin Dunn as her husband Mark, with whom the young women have been invited to stay, and Chris Messina as Doug, to whom Vicky is engaged. Allen keeps all of the action running smoothly, often to some catchy music that sets a jaunty tone, with Allenesque humor spicing the stew throughout. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is striking looking as well, with Allen showing off famous Gaudi architecture as well as the city and country atmosphere that makes Spain ever inviting. Allen ends the film at the right moment on the right note, and overall the delightfully entertaining comedy about life, romance, sex and choices demonstrates why Allen at his best is such an astute filmmaker.

FROZEN RIVER  Send This Review to a Friend

This unusual drama, written and directed by Courtney Hunt, details the economic struggle of an upstate New York mother to raise her two sons after her gambling-addicted husband takes off with money intended to buy a new home and move from their trailer. But the power of the film lies in picturing a parallel struggle of a Native American woman and the involvement of both women in smuggling illegal immigrants across the border from Canada into the United States as a means of getting cash.The story is one of desperation, risk and suspense, and in the process light is shed on a corner of the world not generally brought to the attention of the public or dramatized on film. The acting is superb, including by the extraordinary Melissa Leo as Ray Eddy, the trailer mom, and Misty Upham as Lila Littlewolf, who lives on a Mohawk reservation and has her own goal—retrieving her baby son from a mother-in-law determined to raise him as her own. Hunt packs her film with visual detail and maintains the tension as events escalate and the complications mount. “Frozen River” bids to find a popular niche among audiences who like films that are special as opposed to Hollywood juggernauts. Although the story is grim, there is an uplifting quality thanks to the incisive character portraits and sympathy engendered for Ray and Lila.

ELSA & FRED  Send This Review to a Friend

You don’t have to be a senior citizen to enjoy “Elsa & Fred,” a lovely, moving and spirited film import set in Spain and directed and co-written by Argentine filmmaker Marcos Carnevale. It is a beautiful romantic story of two seniors of different temperaments that looms, according to my standards, as one of the best films of 2008. It boasts two terrific award-caliber performances by China Zorrilla and Manuel Alexandre, one flamboyant, the other exquisitely subtle, both meshing to make one root for this couple to find happiness in their remaining years. The film is rich in humor along with its warmth and becomes an entertaining demonstration that love can blossom even in later years. You may be able to predict the direction of the story, co-scripted with Carnevale by Lily Ann Martin and Marcela Guerty, but when the lovers get there, the sequence turns out to be a thorough delight. Elsa and Fred are the most appealing, romantic couple on screen at the moment, a model projecting insight for old and young moviegoers alike because it peers so effectively into our need to love and be loved at whatever stage of life we find ourselves.

TRUMBO  Send This Review to a Friend

The play “Trumbo,” written by Christopher Trumbo, the late Dalton Trumbo’s son, has spawned the new film by the same title. The stage presentation was a two-character drama built upon the voluminous witty letters that the renowned screenwriter sent to various recipients, with a special emphasis on the injustice done to him, his fellow imprisoned Hollywood Ten and other victims of the anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s that continued into the 1950s. Wouldn’t the movie turn out to be just a replay? Definitely not. Fiilmmaker Peter Askin has done a freshly creative job of dramatization by enlisting top actors to recite the letters and using interviews with Trumbo’s son and daughter as well as others who lived through those trying times. The result is a documentary that has much life and brings considerable talent to bear on the screenwriter who had a list of top credits (Kitty Foyle,” “A Guy Named Joe,” “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”) but was relegated to writing under assumed names, fronts as they were called. An iconoclast under any circumstances, Trumbo went to prison for contempt rather than betray his conscience and accuse others of being Communists. Film clips demonstrate the viciousness of these media-circus hearings. “Trumbo” stands as a vital work that reminds us of those who heroically defied the hysteria at great cost to themselves and their families and of how tyranny can set in, even in a country such as ours, when hysteria sweeps the land. We owe a debt to those like Trumbo who stood firm.

  

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