Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick a Country (Part 4 of 7)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. With that in mind you should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that into consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Olga


Olga (Lumière)

The packaging of this film tells quite a tale. First, this is the only DVD of the batch which has the logos of all the corporate sponsors, production companies, studios and governmental agencies affiliated with the production of the film on the disc itself, which total 19. Another view into the Brazilian film industry is the stat on the back which hypes the film as a box-office smash having over 3 million viewers. Firstly, we obviously don’t measure films on individual ticket sales in the US but even if you translate that to an American audience you can see how modest audiences for domestic product in Brazil are. In America that would equal something just over a $30M gross, even with a modest budget that wouldn’t raise eyebrows.

Olga is a rather interesting tale of a woman Olga (Camila Morgado) who was a communist revolutionary in Germany and who travels to Brazil to ensure the safe transit of a famous Brazilian revolutionary, Prestes, and gets involved in a failed plot to overthrow the military dictatorship. It’s a long film because it tells three tales really – her love story with Prestes (Caco Ciocler) then her attempt to flee and then her deportation to Nazi Germany and incarceration in a concentration camp.

It was an epic challenge for a first time motion picture director Jayme Monjardim, who had quite a bit of experience on TV in mini-series and telenovela form. For the most part it’s quite effective. Morgado’s performance is great in arc and quality. At times the score is a bit overwrought as if asking you to feel seeming not to trust the material. There are also a lot of silent pensive scenes that could’ve been excised with more judicious editing. The film is already very visual, so we don’t need these silences inflating the run time.

Overall, it is a rather interesting tale and one which is likely unknown to most with good performances throughout including the supporting cast like Osmar Prado playing Getulio Vargas and Fernanda Montenegro, Brazil’s best actress as Prestes’ mother.

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Review- Secretariat

Diane Lane in Secretariat (Disney)

Secretariat is now available to stream from Netflix

Perhaps what impresses most about Secretariat isn’t necessarily that it might be Disney’s strongest sports-themed effort since 1992 and The Mighty Ducks but the fact that it’s a overdog story in the guise of an underdog story. Meaning that if the film was really only dealing with the horse itself it would’ve been chronicling one of the most dominant performers and biggest champions in all of sports. That’s great when you’re watching horse racing on Saturday afternoon but it’s hardly the stuff of great drama.

The underdog element comes in the the form of the horse’s owner Penny Tweedy played by Diane Lane. She was new to the sport and not as knowledgeable as some but she knew her horse and trusted her gut. In the film we see her try to balance her family in Colorado and the farm and her horse in Virginia- in making it about her the dramatic element is added in skillfully.

When if you think about it makes this ludicrously good filmmaking at times because it makes a foregone conclusion riveting. A blowout no less. It’s quite something and furthermore last year (2009 as of this writing) in the Triple Crown races there were a rash of injuries which put the sport under some fire, being a less-than-casual fan found that reasonable, yet this film shows the beauty of the sport itself as few could. In essence it does something that The Black Stallion failed to do in that regard.

Much of the talk surrounding this film is centered around Diane Lane. She does do a wonderful job in this film and is convincing every step of the way and having heard the buzz as I was watching it I spotted what I think is her Oscar clip. While I think it might be superficially too similar a part for her to win, her nomination if it comes and is the only one may overshadow what is a much better film than The Blind Side.

A fact I was reminded of almost immediately as both films start with their protagonist speaking in voice over about the sport it is that obsesses them. I complained of the Bullock dialogue’s didacticism, there are no complaints about how Secretariat opens. It is a poetic opening which doesn’t teach the uninitiated about the Sport of Kings, that comes in due time when necessary.

It’s treatment of all the races is different in each case and appropriate. What is most crucial in sports films is the handling of in-game scenes because while there aren’t usually that many they are some of the most lasting ones there are. The Kentucky Derby gets it seems the longest and most complete uninterrupted start to finish coverage which eases the audience into it, and the stakes are very high as it is the first triple crown race that her investors need her to win. The Preakness meanwhile gets played all in one shot on a TV in the Colorado home while her family watches, it forms a wonderful completely visual bridge in the family. The kids are finally realizing what it is mom’s doing and its an unspoken apology between husband and wife.

The film’s supporting cast also buoys it tremendously. Most notably the horses team: John Malkovich as Lucien Loren the horses trainer, Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat and Margo Martindale as Miss Ham and Penny’s family: Dylan Walsh, Amanda Michalka, Carissa Capobianco, Sean Michael Cunningham and Jacob Rhodes.

Secretariat is a great sports film that the whole family can enjoy and is usually the case with the really good ones it is more about the people involved rather than the sport itself.

10/10

Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick A Country (3 of 7)

Zuzu Angel


Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. With that in mind you should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Patricia Pilar and Daniel de Oliveira in Zuzu Angel (Warner Bros.)

Another interesting piece of history examined through the lens of fiction – the historical drama. The reason this form is likely so dominant in Brazilian art is because a documentary though more true to fact will be harder to piece together after the fact. The other key factor is the audience for fiction will always be bigger, like it or not.
So much of the material that is relevant is dramatized history that is being re-earthed for dramatic purposes and to avoid history repeating itself. It is interesting in that it tells the tale of Brazilian woman who meets an American, marries, becomes a famous fashion designer and her son becomes a radical opposed to the military regime. In trying to unravel the mystery surrounding his disappearance she becomes a radical herself.

It starts out on a very high note in medias res emotionally speaking and gives us a slightly telenovela moment (this kind of moment in Brazilian terms is much more naturalistic than its Mexican cousin). Patricia Pillar is spectacular in this role not only working bilingually but in terms of her arc and range she goes from uncaring and aloof to angry, embittered, passionate, sad and plays the lady when she has to.

Like many of the new era of Brazilian films it refuses to go in chronological order and yet becomes more engaging because of it and tells cumbersome tales that encompass years deftly. This proclivity for temporal distortion could be one of the reason many in Brazil do not like domestic films because they are not the simplistic Hollywood product they are used to seeing. The stories aren’t easy and to tell them in perfect order would be rote and trite and in these films would be all history lesson and no story, no emotional involvement whatsoever. This was without a doubt one of the most powerful entries in this festival.

The Importance of Being Joel Courtney

Joel Courtney (Photo: Mark Brennan)

The way Variety tells it Joel Courtney headed to Los Angeles seeking to take some acting lessons and maybe land some commercial work if he was lucky. However, he not only landed a lead in a major motion picture but has also parlayed it into three more jobs within a month of his screen debut’s release.

Things worked out much better for him than he could’ve expected as he got into the Super 8 after an extended, elaborate and at times secretive casting process. One in which Spielberg and Abrams gambled on a few newcomers (and won big time) likely in spite of studio pressure to err on the side of experience.

The casting process started with an open call.
and what can be learned on both sides of the camera in this portion of the story is that open calls can lead to something good.

Courtney’s case is one of a natural talent being discovered and it benefited not only the film but, as recent stories have shown, Courtney as well.

While some were getting tired of the glut of Taylor Lautner news a while back, as he seemed to be signing deals at a record pace, I saw it as expected and good for him. It’s always been my contention that an actor has to strike while the iron is hot especially if he/she is being offered work they want to do. Fear of over-exposure ought not be a deterrent as it is a high class problem to have. Talent will win out over perception in most cases especially when an actor fits a part perfectly.

Courtney had already shot a two-episode stint on R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, a series on The Hub Network, when it was announced that he was attached not only to a new Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn film but also to an indie horror/sci-fi tale called The Healer. The films’ principal photography will occur in consecutive months (August & September) and shoot in Bulgaria and North Carolina respectively.

From being a cinematic debutant to suddenly in demand has taken about a month. Of course, as with most overnight successes, it hasn’t truly been that fast. There was a long audition process, principal photography and the worldwide press junkets and after all that one might expect Joel and the kids of Super 8 to be wary of taking on new commitments, however, many of them seem to think as I do and are seeking to keep working while there’s demand. Gabriel Basso is still a regular on The Big C and Zach Mills has signed on to be a regular on The Hub Network’s new series Clue.

In closing, I just want to address the fact that Joel is a child actor, which is for the most part virtually irrelevant. The bottom line is he’s a working actor who’s taking advantage of opportunities earned and should serve as a template for future actors who knock it out of the park upon getting their big break and that’s the importance of being Joel Courtney: not being content with or being disoriented by newfound stature but immediately seizing other great opportunities as they come along.

Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick a Country (Part 2 of 7)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. With that in mind you should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad)


Wagner Moura in Elite Squad (IFC Films)

Like the previous film it was an official selection of the Berlin Film Festival. This tale is like the flip side of City of God, this film instead takes the point of view of a specialized unit of the Military Police in Rio de Janeiro who battle drug trafficking and crime in the city’s favelas.

The film focuses on three officers in the troop. The protagonist/narrator is seeking a replacement so he can stop fighting in the war, as he terms it. The other two are novices who are being trained. The other interesting dichotomy that exists between this film and City of God is that for the most part it focuses on why things are the way they are and the way the police infrastructure allows things to stay the way they are where as City of God was much more focused on the sprawling tale of how things got the way they are.

The structure of this film does include a frame and is somewhat interesting and though there are moments of intensity and some very dramatic situations there is nowhere near the involvement or the frenetic energy that exists in City of God. The acting is quite good and the writing is rather strong in this tale but it’s nowhere near the revolutionary piece that the film earlier in the last decade was. Comparisons become hard to avoid when one film seems like such a companion piece to another, when they seem to be opposite sides of the same coin.

They would definitely make for a great double-feature if you can handle it.

Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick A Country (Part 1 of 7)

Michel Joelsas in The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (City Lights Pictures)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. With that in mind you should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up yet another mini-festival.

O Ano em Que Meus Pais Sairam de Ferias (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation)


In the way pretty much only a Brazilian film can this film combines football (the global variety), politics and coming of age. A child’s parents are forced to leave the country in 1970, months before the World Cup, due to their opposition to the dictatorship. He is left with his grandparents but fate has other plans for him.

What develops from there is a very interesting and very steadily built drama. It is a testament to the Brazilian people. The story is literally told like a slice of life in which tenebrous things can be going on in the background and all around but life goes on and it still is for the most part fine. There obviously is some focus on the revolt but they are also seen through the eyes of a child who only wants for his parents to return.

The end of the film, which merges the World Cup final with a police raid and then the denouement with us seeing what becomes of Mauro, is also perfect. This was a reality that faced many Brazilians of all walks of life in this era. It is quite a good, unfiltered, unsentimental coming of age film and like most that are good it’s different and so are the circumstances.