Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film Memories from 2016

You might think I am obsessed with movies and you would be right.  A good movie gives insight and can be enjoyable.  Too many are time fillers.  Hopefully you will find some of those mentioned below to be enjoyable and insightful.

English speaking

"Room" of all the eligible films was the most deserving of Academy award in my opinion.  Psychologically the first half was very difficult to watch.  A young boy is really a prisoner, but he doesn't know it.  His captive mother protected her son by fabricating a frame for their lives.  Later we meet her mother and father (who found it very difficult to accept a rapist offspring).  The second half was all about adjustments that were slow  Directed by Lenny Abrahamson.  The novelist, Emma Donoghue wrote the screen play.  It was filmed in Toronto.

"Amira and Sam," is about a returning Iraqi war veteran and an unorthodox Iraqi immigrant. The leading actor is actually a stand-up comic and makes a few political points.  Not so much about the Middle East as about how commercial interests exploit veterans. A nice romantic comedy on the side.

"Ex Machina" with the Alan Turing question on artificial intelligence.  Special effects were innovative.  Dombhell Gleeson and Alicia Vikander were excellent.

"Revanant" earned Leo Di Caprio a well deserved Oscar.  But it is a brutal movie testing what man can survive.

"Bridge of Spies."  Tom Hanks is always an indicator of something worth watching.  Also I found its message to be politically relevant.

"Spotlight" represents journalism at its best.  Resources to go up against organizations that are above accountability.  It is scary that such efforts will become rarer in the future.

Watching "Truth" just before one of the big debates.  I was able to appreciate the downfall of Dan Rather in a Facebook posting about the debate.  When truth runs up against power it can get crushed.  Read more here:

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is told from a juvenile point of view, but gets to the heart of the meaning of life.

"Eye in the Sky" was actually conceived as science fiction, but now there is nothing in it that is not being used today.  It points out the moral dilemma created by drones, that can achieve strategic goals, but always risk collateral damage.  It is not often that a Somalian actor, Barkhal Abdi gets to be a hero.

"Big Short" is confusing, but for the average consumer it is meant to be.  The 2008 Recession did not have to be, but given loose regulations and manipulative investors it was almost inevitable.  Should be seen by all those who think the Republicans have the right solutions.  Enjoyed a cameo by Richard H Thaler, an economic behaviourist I have come to appreciate.  Read more about his views:

"Brooklyn," well done, with a story of romance it also showed the immigrant experience including adjustments made, a bit of the melting pot and the benefits to the receiving society.

For me, "The 33" started with a book recommendation from NPR and reading the book "Deep Dark Down."  The next step was as a lover of Andean music I bought some of the movie music.  The movie itself captured much of the complicated human relationships and the tension.

"Inside Out" had been suggested repeatedly by my daughter, Heather.  Finally I watched and can appreciate how unique it is.  Told from a perspective of emotions of a young girl it demonstrated how important emotions are to our decisions.   It reminded me of a book Heather had gifted me about the most important detail of time management was to remember the good and constructive memories.  On the other hand the movie also pointed out the role of less joyful emotions with sadness becoming a key factor in the climax.  The special features detailing how the idea developed was well worth it.

"Citizenfour" about Edward Snowden who impressed me as very conscientious and intelligent.

"Show me a Hero" is really a tv. mini series that I treated like a movie,  Really gets into local political maneuvering.  Set in Yonkers, New York.

"Third Person"is easily misunderstood, but really a work of genius by Paul Haggis.  It is meant to be confusing, but if you follow it carefully (more than I usually do) it will be clarified at the end. It is not something I wish to explain as to help it make sense would spoil it, except to say it tries to recreate a writing experience.

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" was an interesting film from New Zealand.  The star was an overweight young boy, Julian Dennison.

"Inter-Stellar" a major science fiction movie with Matthew Mcconaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain..  Big budget well spent with special effects and a good story.

"Judgment at Nuremberg" has a very high rating and more than met expectations.  Spencer Tracy had the role of someone genuinely trying to understand how the Nazis controlled Germany.  Maximilian Schell was allowed to put forth the German case.  Richard Widmark, Montrgomery Cliff, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland were part of an all star cast and all were very good in their roles.  There was a lot of nuance in this movie that really made it stand out.

A political movie of the same era was "Truman,"  a biography of a great man.

I can only recall one horse movie and it was targeted to children,  "Misty" about the Chincoteague ponies.  One term used in this older movie was "gentling"

Documentaries make you think.  Some that had an impact were "Bitter Honey," which covered polygamy in Indonesia.   The director had taken a long time to build up trust to get both the male and female perspective, but the viewer sympathizes with the women.

"Xmas without China" showed how dependent we are on Chinese goods.  But also gave insight into the feelings of being a Chinese-American.

"Merchants of Doubt " was based on a book regarding how vested interests can twist facts to make them seem uncertain.  Read about the book:

"Dawn of Humanity" explored the origins of man in Africa.

"He named me Malala" based on a book I had read, but her personal presence was even more impressive.

"The War Room" was based on Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaign of 1992.  It was interesting to see some tv. political commentators in their relative youth.

"Pompeii:  The Last Day" helped reinforce one of my bucket list items.

"Wings 3D" was a personal indulgence (with my cats) got watch birds from a birds eye view--very impressive

Before I get to the subtitled selections I also saw a classic silent film, "Intolerance" which could also be labelled subtitled, but is different in that to communicate they don't just rely on subtitles.  Much like a stage production they exaggerate many (not all) of their actions and when well done it it not too difficult to read between the lines.  D W Griffith was a pioneer in many respects. First to shoot a film in Hollywood, popularized close-ups, found new techniques for camera placement and against advice helped develop feature length films. Highly regarded by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.  "Intolerance" was a very complicated story over three hours long with some interesting music and massive sets and huge casts including extras.  Worth seeing to appreciate how this particular movie helped progress the industry.


A number of Italian movies were watched in appreciation of their role in cinematic history.  One of best films seen this  year was  "Life is Beautiful"  See more at: "The Wonders" appeared at the film festival in Hamilton and is well worth a view.

French films seen included "Samba"with Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg about immigration.  "Chinese Puzzle" was the third end of "L'Aubergue Espangnole" and "Russian Dolls" trilogy.  Enjoyable cast, Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Kelly Reilly and Cecile de France carried all the way throughout.  Hope they add another.

 "Oscar et la dame Rose" is about a young boy whose parents don't want to tell him that he is dying, but he develops a relationship with someone hired to amuse him and with other patients.  "Dheepan"  was featured at a local film festival and is partly Tamil and French.  Subtle cultural adjustments were well done.

Back in January I watched an Israeli film "The Farewell Party".  It was about an issue film goers don't like to think about; euthanasia.  Well done and surprisingly with a lot of laughs.  "Zero Motivations" was based on women soldiers was another interesting Israeli movie.

Iranian speaking actor Peyman Moaadi  in American film, Camp X-ray (based in Guantonamo) with Kristin Stewart.  Earlier watched in in a lesser role  in a Farsi language movie "About Elly" with Taraneh Alidoosti who will appear in "The Salesman," a movie I am looking forward to.  "Taxi" was another undercover film by Jafar Panahi.

Chinese--"What Women Want-"-not recommending it, but opened my eyes to Andy Lau singing+ Li Gong is a treat.  "Ocean Heaven" was first dramatic role for Jet Li, well known martial arts actor  One I would recommend is "The Great Hypnotist"--it has an interesting twist well executed.  "Coming Home" is outstanding  "Mountains May Depart"  "Dearest" was the best--confusing, deals with one child policy, but also abductions which apparently are more common--a tear jerker

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" was mainly Mandarin, set in Shanghai, but lots of English with Hugh Jackman in a small role.  I enjoyed the music by British composer Rachel Portman.  It was a joint U.S. Chinese venture with Chinese actors, but also with a Korean I am just starting to notice, Ji-hyun Jun.  Trying to track down her big hit, "My Sassy Girl."  Wayne Wong, the director commented on some of the language concerns.  Much of the movie was in English, but filming was actually done with Ji-hyun Jun speaking Korean and dubbed in Mandarin with other actors replying in Mandarin.

Browsing through a cart at the Burlington Library selling old DVD's at a bargain price chanced upon "Life Express."  It caught my attention as a co-operative effort between China and Taiwan.  Apparently produced from Hong Kong, but set in Beijing and Taipei.  Hong Kong speaks Cantonese while both Beijing and Taipei speak Mandarin.  Unable to tell the difference myself but amazed that the two governments could co-operate in a life and death situation.  The story had more twists than I anticipated.  An earthquake during a marrow extraction with traffic complications was perhaps the most noticeable event, but there were others.  A good production with Taiwanese actors.  Encouraging that despite politics co-operation is still possible.

Bollywood:  "Tamasha" a great movie about story telling set in Corsica and India.

"15 Park Avenue" from 2005 about mental illness told very credibly  "Sanam teri Kasam"--powerful tear jerker with newcomers in lead   "Kapoor and Sons" a family drama with a noteworthy performance by Rishi Kapoor.

"Neerja" a biography of an air stewardess who saved 359 lives during a hijacking that she didn't survive.  Sonam Kapoor was a good choice for the role.  Shabana Azmi played the mother of the heroine and the actual mother had a small role.

"Fan"restored my faith.  Shah Rukh Khan,the biggest movie star on earth in a revealing portrait--he plays a duo role--an egotistical star plus a pscyho fan much younger.  He is my favourite actor and you can read more about him at:  This movie is discussed in part two.

Classic "AAG" from 1948 was the debut for Raj Kapoor as director, producer, writer and lead actor.  It does seem dated, but is amazing what he could do with limited resources.

A low budget film with no stars "Nil Battey Sannata"  focused on education and a mother-daughter relationship.  Testy at times

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"Pink" is a revolutionary film really stripping our pretensions of gender equality.  Excellent performances.  Really mind opening  The most noteworthy Bollywood film of the year.  Read more at:

"Airlift" with a big budget drew on the largest airlift in history as Indian citizens fled Kuwait during the Iraq invasion.   Akshay Kumar is getting better roles and is joined here by Nimrat Kaur.  "Rustom" also with Akshay Kumar is a love story under the cover of a murder.  I didn't know what to think of the preview and write-ups, but it turned out to be very good.`````

"Ki  and Ka" received generally poor reviews, but I enjoyed the concept about gender roles and the performance of Kareena Kapoor Khan who has not always been a favorite of mine.

"M.S.Dhoni' was highly recommended, but I expect most were more entranced with cricket than I am.  It seemed like a lot of sports stories.  Yes I do respect cricket a little bit more than before seeing the movie.

"Sultan," widened my appreciation of Salman Khan as well as Anushka Sharma.  Much better than I anticipated with lots of drama and romance as well as wrestling.

Last week of the year I stumbled on "Chillar Party."  I had previously read a bit about and thought it not only a kid's movie, but very childish.  Something read more recently encouraged me to look more closely.  There are lot of adults portrayed in the movie, but really it is a group of mostly boys, apparently around 8 to 10 (or so).  They appear basically fun loving kids, but they run up against political authorities over a stray dog.  They don't understand at first what they are up against, but gradually they figure out a few things.  Each of the young boys are very unique.  A girl added in for their efforts, about 12 gives them some advice and got my attention.  With some inter net searching I realized I had seen her before and she also got my attention then, Shreya Sharma.  She played one of three un co-operative kids in an enjoyable but inappropriate movie.  She was delightful to watch and was the youngster who most seemed to match Rani Mukerji in subtle ways.  Produced by Salman Khan, an actor I have avoided, but recently have come to appreciate has been in some good movies and now realize he has also been a producer.  Another movie of his I had seen was "Dr Cabbie" based in nearby Toronto.

Even more recent watched "Agneepath" which I anticipated would be very violent, which it was, but well done revenge story with one exceptional song sung by Sonnu Niggam.

Korean films are worth exploring.  "A Hard Day" offered black humour and a plot twist.   "Veteran" a comic action tragic combination well done.  "The Beauty Inside" was based on US tv mini series and one writer from "200 Pounds beauty,"  "Hope" is an exceptional movie and one of the very best of the year for me.  Find more at:

The Hispanic film world brought a few interesting movies.  From Argentina "Cautiva,"   "Valetin" and" Todas las Azafatas van al cielo"  From Chile, "Gloria" portrayed an older women and her love life.  From  Mexico,  "Quemar las Naves" was enjoyable.  "Embrace of the Serpent" from Colombia gave a view of natives being invaded by European explores.  "65 of your life" was one from Spain worth watching.,

"7 Anos"  a Spanish film partly financed by Netflix is a very interesting study.  Read more at my most popular blog post of the year of all topics.

Ordinary ratings, but "Ma Ma" is a  really a well done feel good movie from Spain, even though it is focused on an impending death.  Penelope Cruz is very attractive in this movie (not just her good looks) and Luis Tozar shows a different character than I am used to.  Also discovered Alberto Iglesias' music who I have heard before, but not appreciated.

The one Swedish movie seen  was "Simon and the Oaks."

From the Dutch I saw "Secrets of War" told from a child's viewpoint on wartime occupation of Holland.  One friend's parents are Nazi sympathizers while another's parents are involved with the Resistence but they do not tell their youngest.  A young girl comes on the scene to complicate matters.  One of the best war movies involving children I have seen.

An early German movie, "The Rabbit is Me" was originally banned in East Germany as it discussed government suppression.

"Difret" was produced in part by Angela Jolie, but used an all Ethiopian cast and written and directed

From Brazil saw two worthy movies.  "The Second Mother"  class dynamics, some localized, but universal

From "Trash" the cinematography and editing were unusually good.   With two American actors, Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara,  an English director Stephen Daldrey it was top notch with great music, both original and borrowed. More at:

See my thoughts on movies viewed in 2015:

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