Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies!
Never Look Away (2018)
Starring: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl, Oliver Masucci, Hanno Koffler, Cai Cohrs, Evgeniy Sidikhin, Ulrike C. Tscharre, Jörg Schüttauf, Jeanette Hain, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Ina Weisse and many more
Director (and Writer): Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Genres: drama; civil rights; WWII and post-WWII
Synopsis: starts when the main character is a child and carries through his life up until he becomes a successful artist. In between he sees the ravages of war in all of its horror, how his country (Germany) forms an East and West, and how art is perceived and expected to be shaped depending on which side of “the wall” one lives on. Interweaving that story line is that of a Nazi doctor who eludes capture after the war whose life significantly intersects with that of the artist.
Impressions: It’s first-class filmmaking. The top 3 of the cast give excellent performances and the support cast is right up there elevating this film from good to great. The sets pull you into the story. The director is unflinching when it comes to showing the intolerable human depravity humans visit upon each other for varying motivations. The philosophical questioning that goes into defining what is art and what is art in context is examined in depth. I very much like hearing the story of the war from the perspective of the anti-war Germans. The messages and images from it will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Etc.: German film with English subtitles; over 3 hours long; multiple situations of horrific human suffering and abuse
Awards: 5 wins and 20 nominations
I’m Still Here (2010)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Antony Langdon, Carey Perlof, Larry McHale, Casey Affleck, Sean Diddy Combs, and many others
Director: Casey Affleck
Synopsis: Joaquin says he’s given up acting and is determined to record a quality rap album using Sean Diddy Combs’ production expertise. The film focuses on Joaquin’s “bachelor pad with hanger-ons” lifestyle that includes extreme drug abuse, manic episodes, verbal abuse and other acts of callous cruelty upon his so-called friends (aka parasites), jet-setting, and generally playing an anti-social spoiled brat, all while his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, films it.
Impressions: Very difficult to watch to the end. I did not know if the movie was legit or a hoax until after I watched it. It was too much like work to enjoy. Any humor in it was bad-spirited/malicious.
Etc.: Rated R for extreme sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content. per imdb trivia:
The idea for the film came from Joaquin Phoenix’s amazement at the way people believed that reality television shows were unscripted. By claiming to retire from acting, he and his brother-in-law Casey Affleck planned to make a film that “explored celebrity, and explored the relationship between the media and the consumers, and the celebrities themselves“.
Awards: 1 win and 4 nominations
The Band’s Visit (2007) (original title Bikur Ha-Tizmoret)
Starring: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour, Rubi Moskovitz, Uri Gavriel, Imad Jabarin, Hilla Sarjon, Shlomi Avraham, Tarik Kopty, Rinat Matatov, Tomer Yosef
Director and Writer: Eran Kolirin
Genres: comedy, drama
Synopsis: A small Egyptian band made up of police officers has been invited to play at an Arab Arts Center – in Israel. A mixup lands the band in a real nowheresville berg of a town. The movie focuses on the day and night the band spends there until they can catch the morning bus to the right place.
Impressions: There is a distinct Jarmuschian (as in Jim Jarmusch) feel to the movie. It is truly amazing how much of deep importance can happen in just a day. The director is very deft at teasing out how cultures differ yet at the same time how cultures mean nothing when it comes to human emotions, regrets, motivations, etc. The humor is understated. The acting is top-notch, especially Gabai, Elkabetz, and Bakri.
Etc.: Israeli film filmed in Yeruham, Israel and Negev Desert, Israel
Awards: 47 wins and 16 nominations
Frontline: In the Age of AI (2019) TV series Frontline. S38 E5
Starring: many interviews, clips, etc.
Directors (and Writers): Neil Docherty, David Fanning
Synopsis: focuses on two main areas. One is how AI and “Deep Mind,” which is a more recent development in the functionality/capacity of Al, will impact manufacturing, long-distance trucking, and self-driving vehicles. The other is how China is exponentially developing AI in a surveillance context and trying to become the world leader of AI technology. It talks about China’s intentions of exporting its technology to repressive regimes and asking to be partners with them as part of a package deal.
Impressions: If the documentary is even partially true, we can expect sweeping changes in the employment realm as robots take over 1/3 to ½ of existing jobs by 2040 (not just blue collar jobs either!) At the same time the power and scope of Big Brother will invade our existence to ever greater amounts. Lots of information to process was presented.
Please note: the full documentary is available on youtube
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Lucas Till, many others
Director: Robert Luketic
Genres: thriller, espionage
Synopsis: Hemsworth plays a ground floor tech person trying to claw his way to the top along with the rest of the rats in the rat race without any luck – until the big boss makes him an offer cannot refuse, which is to spy on their company’s major competitor – which also happens to be a former partner of the big boss. Confused yet? Oldman is his current boss and the head of the other company is Harrison Ford.
Impressions: On the surface the film has a lot going for it. The plot premise is decent. Look at the cast! Hemsworth looks awfully handsome in those tailored suits and his sports car. Unfortunately it cannot save the patchy plot that gives too little for the viewer to attach to. It could have been a much better movie with a more developed script and editing.
Awards: 1 nomination
This is the best trailer I could find. Warning: if you don’t want spoilers don’t watch beyond the 1:30 minute mark!
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood: Live in Madison Square Garden (2009) TV Series Great Performances S37, E17
Starring: Eric Clapton, Chris Stainton, Ian Thomas, Willie Weeks, Steve Winwood
Director: Martyn Atkins
Genres: music documentary and performance
Synopsis: filmed late February, 2008, three performances that reunited Eric and Steve for the first time since they played together in Blind Faith in 1969. Interview segments in between performances. Eric chose the songs he wanted Steve to play and vice versa. According to wikipedia it was Eric’s 9th live album and Steve’s first solo artist live album.
Impressions: lots of good music. In Blind Faith Steve was the bandleader, but here Eric is the bandleader. Backup band is outstanding!
Etc.: length 129 minutes; 2-disc set. Disc one has 20 songs. Disc two has two mini docs and a 3-song bonus
Out of the Furnace (2013)
Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson, Dendrie Taylor, Carl Ciarfalio
Director: Scott Cooper
Synopsis: two brothers live in a bedraggled, economically depressed rust belt town. The older brother (Bale) works at the steel mill like his dad, who lays dying of a chronic unnamed disease (from hot steel taking its toll on a man’s body after so many years.) The younger brother (Affleck) is back from another tour of active duty in the Middle East and is digging himself into a hole with gambling debts but doesn’t want to work at the mill to pay them off. Instead he does bare-knuckle fights for cash. Both brothers see their fair share of misery that puts their fortitude to the test. Enter the backwoods hill folk as ill-chosen partners in crime and things get real complicated.
Impressions: If you want a good look at a rundown, dying Rust Belt community, this is the film to see. People are struggling to get through each day and often the forces of the universe seem to conspire against everything that is good and decent. Not the movie to watch in the dead of winter – too depressing! Bale and Affleck have good brother chemistry. I usually can’t stand Forest Whitaker, but I actually like him in his role as the County Sheriff. Woody Harrelson gives rich texture to the vicious Kingpin (gratuitous movie plug) of the Hill Crime syndicate. Good soundtrack.
Etc.: filmed in 9 locations: Braddock, PA; Beaver Falls, PA; Burgettstown, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Clinton, PA; and Moundsville, WV
Awards: 2 wins and 9 nominations