Texas Art & Film's Dr. Donna Copeland's Film Reviews & Features
 
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Lea Seydoux     Adele Exarchopoulos

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

            Abdellatif Kechiche, the director, has created something of a sensation with this film, which is based on a comic book of the same name by Julie Maroh.  The two actresses and the director jointly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year.  The story is about a wealthy artist (Lea Seydoux as Emma) and a working class high school girl (Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele) falling in love, which the film depicts graphically in extended love scenes. 

Adele is young and impressionable, and is immediately awed by the experienced, educated Emma who is concerned about art, philosophy, and literature.  In contrast, Adele has not yet launched her career as a kindergarten teacher, but she has always loved to read, and can converse intelligently with Emma and her associates in the art world.  Eager to learn, she asks probing questions (“Are there arts that are ugly?”)  The film is a coming-of-age story about Adele, but it is also a comment about uneasiness when people in different age groups from two different classes of society come together.  For instance, when Adele meets Emma’s family, she is introduced to raw oysters, and they can be open about their relationship.  When Emma meets Adele’s parents, they have spaghetti and they keep their relationship a secret.  Consistent with her age, Adele has a slight rebellious streak; it is important to her to make her own decisions, and she is impetuous at times.  Emma is more settled within herself, and has been brought up to be patient and refined in her interactions with others. 

The two women are passionate in their attraction to one another, and easily fit into a pattern when Adele moves into Emma’s house.  Inevitably, some friction begins to develop when Emma has to work overtime on a project and Adele feels a bit lonely, and resents Emma’s pressuring her to develop her talent for writing.  She makes some bad choices, and Emma is swift and sure in the actions she takes.

In many ways, this is a fairly traditional story of love and working through its problems, with the added complications of age and class differences.  The strongest part of the film for me is the poignant display of so many deep emotions, particularly the depiction of the aftermath of betrayal, the soul-wrenching pain and hopelessness that people experience and their reactions, which brings out aspects of their personalities unseen before, especially in the thrill of love.  The fact that it is a Lesbian relationship is really beside the point unless that is what interests you.  Obviously, given the Cannes award, the filmmaking and acting are outstanding, but it is curious as to why Kechiche extended the sexual scenes so long, especially since the actresses complained about that post-Cannes.  They say they will never work with Kechiche again.  The filming of these two attractive women is beautiful, but when we hear what they went through in filming, the impression is tempered with some concern.                                   

Grade:  B+


 
 
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    Don Jon is a finely written and produced film by Joseph Gordon Levitt that explores porn addiction in a macho man who has trouble getting outside himself to see another person's point of view.  Don Jon (Levitt) objectifies everything in his life--women, his body, his car, even his church.  He is highly disciplined in his work-outs, his schedule, and driving, and when anything/anybody gets in the way, he loses his temper.  He has become so narcissistic, he gets more out of porn sex than he does with a real woman.  And he sees no problem with this.  He is outwardly attractive--gorgeous body!--and is successful in his seductions.  Life is good.
But Don Jon is hit between the eyes--so to speak--when a blond bombshell, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson,) glides into the nightclub and holds her own with him.  He's not used to snags in his seductions, which, of course, makes her even more attractive to him.  He is intrigued (hooked) and continues to pursue her even as she delays and delays going to bed with him.  When she finally does give in, then catches him at his computer right afterwards, she only stays because he promises never to do it again (oh, sure!).  There are many funny lines in the film, and one is Barbara saying, "Movies and porn are different; they give awards to movies."
Their relationship blossoms; they meet each other's families who are pleased with their choices.  We see that Don Jon is a chip off the old block when his dad (Tony Danza) is mesmerized by Barbara.  As cracks begin to appear in the relationship, Don Jon is not bothered, only a little troubled.  One issue surrounds cleaning.  He is a neat freak and loves to clean his apartment, but Barbara, who is from a wealthy family, says, "Don't talk about vacuuming in front of me." She wants to send her maid over to his apartment; he shouldn't be doing anything so low class.
    Enter Esther (Julianne Moore), a classmate in a course Don Jon is taking.  He is completely unaware of her--even when he passes her crying in the doorway of the building--but she seems to want to be friends and corners him one day.  Her attitudes toward porn and many other things are very different from any he has heard, and despite himself, he is curious about this older woman.  This friendship will have a significant impact on him in a positive way because she has none of the oppositionality he is accustomed to in himself and others in his circle.  She has a story that pulls from him feelings he has never before experienced, and he begins to see Barbara in a different light.  The viewer should find resolution of the story in the film well done and satisfying.
    Levitt is to be congratulated on accomplishing so much in his first written/directed/produced film.  It depicts the manifestations of addiction intelligently from social and emotional standpoints and illustrates how personal relationships can be essential in overcoming its power over a person.  Levitt is outstanding in his performance, and he and Scarlett Johansson make a fine duo with good chemistry.  She also performs one of her finest and sexiest roles.  Julianne Moore's character is a perfect contrast, with her natural warmth and understanding.  All of these actors are at the top of their game. The inclusion of Don Jon's sister as glued to her cell phone and making only a couple of statements that turn out to be profound is a clever addition and well portrayed by Brie Larson.  The Tony Danza character is just who one would expect would be Don Jon's father.  He is well cast for this role.
    Not only is this movie highly entertaining, it has a great deal of substance in its portrayal of addiction.  Grade:  A

 
 
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Salinger, a documentary by Shane Salerno, based on a book co-written by him and David Shields, is a challenge to cover in a documentary because of the author’s skittishness about his story being publicized (hence, a dearth of primary sources), but also because he was a complex man who gave out mixed messages and led a complex life with so many types of relationships.  I experienced a high degree of ambivalence in hearing about him, along with being mystified as to why everyday people who had never been introduced sought him out so relentlessly with no respect for his wishes for privacy.  This is not uncommon, of course, but he seems to have been plagued more than most famous people are.
            On the other hand, the manner in which he treated family members and close friends and associates makes his outrage about their stories and publications unjustified.  I am thinking of his children and the abrupt ways he would dismiss a wife, lover, or friend after what he perceived as an infraction or breach of trust. The film emphasizes that the effect of the war on him accounts for much of this; and although I can imagine that might be the case, it is difficult to make that call without more information about his early life.  His ability to pull for other people’s anger and rebellion is evidenced not only by the memoirs that have surfaced, but also by three young men shooting famous people after being moved by his novel, Catcher in the Rye.  Salinger did not apparently have much insight into this propensity of his, as implied by his saying that “Catcher in the Rye is [simply] about a kid who goes to New York and does things”, which minimizes the intense experience many people have when they read the book.
            The film makes the claim that Salinger is one of the more powerful figures of this century, but many would disagree, and the fact that the film constantly repeats the same photos and text over and over, weakens that claim.  He did retain much of the mystique that he so carefully cultivated to the end, when he died in 2010.  One does wonder what he would think of this film, which purports to be a tell-all production.
            Salinger attempts to explain the complexities of the man’s personality and the qualities that make him a prominent 20th Century writer, but falls rather short of its goal.  Nevertheless, I found it very interesting, in that much of it was new to me.  Others who have followed and read Salinger more diligently will likely not have the same experience. 
Grade:  C

 
 
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I Declare War could be considered an updated version of Lord of the Flies (1990) in terms of the behavior of boys around 12 years old left to their own devices.  The boys in both films have to deal with questions such as whether or not to adhere to rules, what constitutes leadership, what the obligations of friendship are, and religious beliefs.  There are some significant differences in the two films, however, in that War takes place in the context of a game, and it includes the feminine influence. 
The game consists of a “war” between two sides conducted out in the woods near the boys’ homes, each side directed by a commander.  There are a few rules (to which not all participants agree to follow), such as not taking any prisoners; the captured one is supposed to be killed, and then must go home.  Killing is done by throwing a paint-filled balloon at the loser.  One of the commanders, PK (Gage Munroe) has never lost a war and has a string of flags to prove it (Winning is by taking the other side’s flag.). 
            As with adult “games”, social and psychological issues arise and complicate the process.  For instance, the girl—who is surprisingly accepted into the games—introduces a romantic element that is not necessarily welcomed, even though most of the boys are susceptible to it.  Not surprisingly, friendship and loyalty are paramount among the boys, and when one of them feels betrayed, the pain is palpable.  Revenge takes the form of torture—although not necessarily against the perpetrator.  Self-doubts arise, primarily in terms of how much one is liked and accepted/respected within a group. 
            The part of the film that is most striking is the model of leadership shown by PK, who holds it together until the very end when he, too, is in a quandary, and Munroe capably handles the role.  During most of the film the character is a good model in his use of authority, his willingness to listen to another point of view, and his common sense. Realistically, he is human in the end when he begins to see that loyalty in friendship is not something to be taken lightly, and a bit of self-doubt seeps in.
            Writer Jason Lapeyre and his co-director Robert Wilson should be commended for their astuteness in understanding and portraying human relationships at this age and the issues they must deal with.  Young people are not given credit often enough for their wisdom and their ability to size up a situation and pick up on what transpires behind the scenes, e.g., why the other side has a new leader, which is just one of the strong points of this production.  Another strength is the quality of the acting among all the participants.  Siam Yu as Kwon especially shows promise in his ability to show different aspects of a character and its development across time. 
            I Declare War is a fine movie for kids that will pull for good discussions between them and their parents and other adults.  Just as much, it is entertaining, interesting, and suspenseful.    Grade:  A                 I had a very interesting and informative telephone session with the Canadian directors.  Jason Lapeyre is also the writer.  Following is a summary of our conversation after I congratulated them on a very fine production.

Child Development

            Since I was struck by their apparent understanding of child development, I wanted to know how they acquired this knowledge.  Lapeyre immediately said with a chuckle that he thought that it was related to his refusing to grow up.  More seriously, he added, “On the one hand, it was something that happened naturally; on the other hand, as a kid I read a lot, and one of the things I remember reading about was an adult saying that his childhood was his golden years, a wonderfully nostalgic time that he wished he could go back to.  My reaction as a 12 year-old was that that’s b------t.  This person clearly doesn’t remember how hard this time is, how anxiety-provoking it can be.  I thought, ‘You mean these were your golden years?’…that really sucks!  So I promised myself at 12 not to ever forget how hard it was being a kid.”
            When Lapeyre and Wilson started working together on the film, they had a shared understanding that they would not patronize the kids or talk down to them, even though we were aware that they sometimes think differently from adults.  “When we worked with the actors, it was always in a place of equality.”
I Declare War vs. Animated Films
            JL and RW:  We are nostalgic and reminiscent of movies that we watched with our parents that don’t seem to be made any more; but another issue is, say, 20 year-olds playing 14 year-olds, as Colin Farrell’s voicing a 14 year-old character.  We do not know why this would be preferable to having a 14 year-old voice the character.  Also, you have to make a distinction between films that are about kids and those that are for kids.  Films aimed for a younger audience do tend to talk down to their audience, but when we made our film, we did not have a specific audience of children in mind.  It never occurred to us that kids are not capable of a larger scope of imaginings and the importance of social dynamics in relationships.
Directing Children
            “As long as there are no adults around, it is amazing”, JL said, smiling.  RW said it was a really great experience for them.  “You’ve heard it said in show business, ‘Never work with children or animals’, but we found their enthusiasm was totally infectious; they engaged with the material so passionately and so intensely, and they created their characters so convincingly, that, as directors, it was a real collaboration for us. 
            How closely the script was followed.  RW:  We followed the script fairly strictly.  If the slang was a bit out of date, we encouraged them to make the stuff their own, but they weren’t running wild with the scenes.  We gave them the liberty to personalize it, keep it relevant, and to fix it where they felt like it was wrong, but 90% of the text was as it was written. 
Violence in Films
            JL:  Although I include violence in films, I never do it flippantly.  But one of the things I enjoy the most about movies is the cathartic value of watching violence.  It is something very primal and very human, and so I think catharsis has a lot to do with it.  There is also an irrational fascination with violence, which is relevant to both my Cold Blooded film and I Declare War.  For instance, the kids in I Declare War have very strong emotions that are expressed in violent ways—both physical and emotional violence.  I don’t have a giant Freudian insight as to why that is, but certainly I think it is something directly connected to human nature. 
            RW:  When I was growing up, I was told that playing Dungeons and Dragons would make me a Satanist.  I was told by a teacher in 7th grade to put down the comic books, that I was wasting my time, that they meant nothing and were going to be nothing.  But you turn around and Marvel Comics is a billion-dollar franchise.  We’re all inherently violent; it’s a part of growing up.  So, in terms of the responsibility in putting violence in things—I wouldn’t want any of that part of growing up taken away from me.  It’s important to let that be part of the process.  Are we supposed to self-censor how much violence goes in, in case the audience isn’t quite ready for it?
            JL:  I don’t agree with that; it sounds like I would be parenting someone else’s children.
            RW:  I think one of the misconceptions about violence in entertainment is that it’s a one-directional thing—that violence is injected into the minds of the viewers, and they have no power over it.  But it’s a two-way street.  The viewers are engaging, interpreting, and maybe even rejecting what they’re being shown, so I think it’s way more complicated than just being a “negative” influence.
            Part of a filmmaker’s job is being your own first best audience.  The trick is to make things that have never been seen before, but need to be made, not so much to follow a set of rules that lead you to an acceptable middle ground that works for everyone.  The whole idea of making a film or writing a book is to create something that previously did not exist, and if that contains violence, so be it.
            JL:  From the beginning of making I Declare War, using violence as a symbol for the emotional intensity of being 12 years old felt so right to us.  And there’s a real potency in that.  We wanted it to be potent, to have this shocking image of a 12 year-old holding a machine gun to “plant a flag”, and let people know how serious we were about representing this age and how it feels to be that age.
Working with a Cinematographer
            RW:  The best experience you’re going to have with the cinematographer is someone who inherently understands the story.  In this case, Ray Dumas, a master cinematographer, was 110% behind the story that wanted to be told; he told us he was those kids.  It’s not just the technical aptitude that is important.
Fundamental Differences between Canadian and U.S. films?
            JL and RW:  Yes and no.  There is a difference in the cinema, just as there is between any two different nations.  Yet, Canadians are born, bred, and raised on American fare, and the idea that their storytelling is different from what you find in the U.S. is debatable.




 
 
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This is a distressing documentary about whales at SeaWorld and their trainers.  Quite surprising, but what is said appears to be valid.  Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and written by Cowperthwaite and Eli B. Despres, it covers the history of whales in parks, interviews former trainers and visitors to the parks, and draws on background research by scientists.  SeaWorld declined to be interviewed and is currently appealing a judge’s ruling that trainers must be kept behind barriers during shows after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) took them to court.  Cowperthwaite, an experienced documentarian for ESPN, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and the Discovery and History channels, obtained material for the film from personal interviews with experts and former trainers, news footage, and the Freedom of Information Act.
                  The issue for the film is in the interest of both the whales and their trainers.  The whales are confined in small spaces, and are put in a 20 X 30 foot pool for the night from 5:00 pm to 7:00 am the next day without any light.  This makes up about 2/3 of their life.  It is not clear whether the practice still continues, but they have been trained with both positive reinforcement (food, praise) and punishment (deprivation of food and allowing other whales to “rake” them with teeth if they do not perform properly). 
                  We learn from scientists and animal behavior experts that in the wild whales live in families that stay intact throughout their lives.  Female whales live to be 100 (although in captivity they die in 25-30 years), and their young stay with them continuously.  They are considered to be very intelligent (as in a group cooperating with a complex plan toward an agreed upon goal) and have language.  MRI scanning shows a brain structure that humans lack, the paralimbic cleft, which allows for “highly elaborated emotional lives”, according to Lois Marino, a neuroscientist.   When SeaWorld and similar groups capture the whales and later when they own them, they think nothing of separating children from their mothers, leaving the mothers wailing and in a deep state of grief.  SeaWorld claims they have not captured whales for 35 years, and that all their whales have been born in captivity.  Nevertheless, they are still separating them from their families by selling them to other facilities or moving them around at their convenience.
By the way, orcas’ reputation as “killer” whales seems to be based on superstition; they have apparently only killed humans when they have been in captivity.  Normally, if encountered in the wild, they are friendly and social.  A number of injuries and death have occurred among trainers, and whereas SeaWorld always blames it on trainer error, the filmmakers and former trainers have good evidence that this is “spin”, and that the whales are aggressive because of their living conditions.
Therefore, the appeal of this film and of former trainers is that we need to end SeaWorld environments because it is inhumane to capture whales, separate them from their families, and confine them to small pools simply for our entertainment. 

Grade:  A                                    By:  Donna R. Copeland


 
 
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The To Do List is about high school students, and seems to have been written by someone with a high school mind.  Yes, I know Maggie Carey, the writer/director, is a grown-up—and I even heard the film is based at least to some extent on her own life.  So it is not as if the story doesn’t have some connection to reality, but the plot and the lines for the actors are very mechanical—much like the main character Brandy’s (Aubrey Plaza) checklist of sexual acts.  It is redeemed a bit toward the end when emotions are finally touched upon, but most of the film is a series of sketch comedies about sex acts, shown one by one.
            The actors, for the most part, do well with the lines they are given, and Aubrey Plaza is convincing as a brainy nerd who is stuck in the bossy sister role.  I remember her in Safety Not Guaranteed, skillfully mastering a well-written role.   And her parents, Clark Gregg as the father and Connie Britton as the mother, are fine-tuned in their portrayal of a concerned couple who differ in their ideas about their daughters’ sex education.  Similarly, Brandy’s friends—played by Johnny Simmons, Scott Porter, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, and Sarah Steele—play their roles well. 
            This film reminds me of I’m so Excited, the recent Almodovar film, in showing sex in a mechanical way (trying to be frank and open), but with the intent to loosen up a repressed audience.  (Not really the way to do it.)  In this respect, they are hoping to titillate, but sadly, they have the opposite effect.  I do not think sex portrayed as it is in these two movies is normal, in the sense that people will see it and have “aha” or “That’s the way it was for me” experiences.  My hunch is that this film relates in a slim way with someone’s real experience (as in a grain of truth), then the filmmakers ramped it up to fit with producers’ hopes of what will please naïve audiences and rake in money.
            Certainly, there were plenty of laughs in the screening I attended, so indeed many people will like The To Do List.  These are not people I know, so I have no idea what exactly they were laughing at.  To each his/her own.                        Grade:  D

 
 
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Everyone knows Bowie, Charles, Crow, Jagger, Midler, Springsteen, Sting, Vandross, and Wonder; but how many have heard of the back-up singers for these artists, women like Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Janice Pendarvis, Tata Vega, and Claudia Lennear?  Morgan Neville (director/producer) and Gil Friesen (producer with the original idea for the film) have created one of the best documentaries I have seen about a subject few know anything about.  The singers—mostly black women—have remained largely in the shadows, although by the stars’ admission, they have been intrinsic to the lead singer’s success. 
            Many began in gospel choirs and had a passion for music.  Many are the daughters of preachers. They entered the professional music world in various ways, learning how to meld their own voices with that of the group and not stand out.  Across time, either because of their own ambitions or because back-up singing began to fade, some had aspirations to go out on their own.  We hear those stories and are reminded of what a long, difficult pathway that is, and how it requires a business sense as well as pure luck.  Judith Hill was a back-up singer and in rehearsals with Michael Jackson when he suddenly died.  This was devastating, of course; however, her singing at his memorial service brought her to the public’s attention, and after appearing on the TV show “The Voice”, she seems well on her way to becoming a star in her own right.
            A part of the film that is most rewarding is to hear artists like Springsteen, Sting, Wonder, and Jagger talk about the women and what they have brought to their concerts.  A couple of them say, “I just receded to the background and let her do her thing.”  We find out about the times they have spent together, simply enjoying one another and having fun.  The back-ups seem to have a particular knack for pleasing others similar to what they have done with their voices:  So, ironically, part of the reason for their not achieving lead status is that most of their lives have been geared toward acquiescing and blending—not enough “ego”, as some have said.
            Twenty Feet from Stardom stirs up all kinds of emotions—like inspiration, joy, heartbreak, laughter, sadness—while informing us about the tremendous work and talent required for success in the music industry.  It is a very well made film, with plenty of opportunity to learn about each singer, the group as a whole, and the industry in general.  Most importantly, the segments of music are long enough for us to appreciate their songs.                                            Grade:  A

 
 
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The Attack is another fine film that illustrates many of the complexities in the ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews.  The story is about a Palestinian physician in Tel Aviv who has just received the highest honor for a surgeon in Israel.  He gets a telephone call just as he is being introduced at the ceremony, but says he will call back.  It is his wife, who has not been able to attend, and when he tries to reach her later, he discovers she has accidently left her cell phone at home. 
The next day, his hospital is beset with emergencies following a bomb attack in the city.  It is not clear whether the bomb was left in the restaurant at an earlier time, or whether it was carried in by a suicide bomber.  The story thereafter is about uncovering the mystery, and Dr. Amin Jaafari’s (Ali Suliman) searching for his wife, who has not returned from a visit to her hometown in Nazareth, the largest city in the North District of Israel, populated primarily by Muslims and Christians.  His wife is a Christian.
                  As Dr. Jaafari searches for answers as to the whereabouts of his wife, who has not returned home at the expected time, he encounters suspicions by both the Israelis he works with and the people in Siham’s (Reymond Amsalam) hometown.  But he is undeterred, and continues to ask questions everywhere he goes.  Unfortunately, it turns out his wife also died in the bombing, which not only devastates him, but forces him to question how/why she was there and their relationship in general.
                  Ali Suliman, who played Warzer Zafir in the TV show “Homeland”, is well cast in this role as an esteemed surgeon who takes it upon himself to be a detective and find out what happened to his wife.  He makes a visit to the Nazareth area where he and Sihim are from, and talk to relatives who are happy to help, until it puts them in a compromising position with the locals.  He encounters the same distancing from his Israeli friends who now begin to question his loyalty.
                  The writer/director (Ziad Doueliri) is from Lebanon, and he keeps a neutral position throughout the film.  Nevertheless, The Attack has been banned by the Arab League in 22 countries, simply because part of it was filmed in Israel and has an Israeli actress, and because it did not take sides (against the Jews).  But it is precisely this neutrality that makes The Attack such a great film, in giving those of us not familiar with the region what it is like to reside in the middle east where residents are pressured to be on one side or the other.

Grade:  A

 
 
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Nicolas Refn’s Only God Forgives is like a highly stylized modern dance with operatic drama.  Colorful music soars or gracefully lilts, but there are also long silences punctuated by extreme violence.  These silences serve to heighten the threat of whatever is about to occur.  The tale is one of power and revenge, juxtaposed with “family values” that either involve nurturance and protection or the dark side of parental concerns and punishment.  As with Refn’s previous film, Drive, this one leaves the viewer taken aback and mulling over what he/she just saw.  

Ryan Gosling as Julian embodies the strong silent male with pronounced ambivalence toward his mother, scandalously played by Kristin Scott Thomas (Crystal).  He rarely speaks, and if he does, it is usually to say, “Go!” or “No!”, but his facial expressions are eloquent. Without saying or doing much at all, he exemplifies the psychopathology engendered by horrific parenting. As the primary perpetrator of this parenting, Crystal is steely cold, wishing only for the semblance of devotion from her son, e.g., lighting her cigarette, a peck on her cheek, except when she wants revenge, then she demands full compliance.  The two actors electrify the screen when they are on together.

A critical figure in the drama is Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who metes out justice based on his own code.  He is ruthless toward those whom he perceives as morally weak, but is more brutal to those who have been responsible for others’ weaknesses.  Strangely, he always gives a transgressor a chance to explain—although of course, he usually punishes even so.  Some of the rare moments of comedy in the film are of him singing what sounds like Thai love songs after scenes of brutality.

Cinematography (Larry Smith) is a character in the movie, setting the mood with its shadow and light, close-ups—particularly of hands symbolizing guilt and anger—brilliant colors, and surreptitious following of shady characters.  Fortunately, some of the violent scenes were cut away to alleviate overload of blood and gore.  Cliff Martinez’s music enhances the cinematography and mood of the film throughout.

Only God Forgives is certainly not a film for everyone.  It reminds me of Terence Malick’s work in its artistry and the way in which the symbolism is ascendant over the story told.  But it is also of the horror film genre exemplified by many South Korean movies, such as the Vengeance trilogy and I Saw the Devil.  In other words, very violent.    

Grade:  A





 
 
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Turbo gives snails a better rap.  It takes the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” and converts it to a modern-day race at the Indy 500.  Little do the participants of that race know that one particular major fan of the Indy 500, now with the pseudonym “Turbo” (Ryan Reynolds), has gotten a dose of some ingredient that powers their engines to give him super-powers.  The tale is told primarily from the point of view that snails are slow, and hence, rather dull and unimaginative—like Turbo’s brother, Chet (Paul Giametti).  It is directed toward those who assume that to follow the rules and do what one is told is better than dreaming.  But the message of this movie is “No dream is too big, and no dreamer is too small.”  This is spoken with braggadocio by the reigning star Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), who loves the limelight at whatever cost.  So children get a lesson on the rewards dreaming can bring, but on hubris as well.
                  The writers, Darren Lemke, Robert D. Siegel, and David Soren (who is also director), have created a highly entertaining film with good messages for kids.  It has a scenario that speaks to both children and adults about listening to new ideas.  To children, it says, “Dream!” even when the older people are discouraging you.  To adults, it says to listen to children; maybe all their ideas are not so unworkable and outlandish, that maybe it’s time to get up to speed with the contemporary world. 
                  Another delightful aspect of the film is the mixing up of white, Latino, and black ethnicities in a way that they are on equal footing, yet highlights the assets of each group.  Tito (Michael Pena) and Angelo (Luis Guzman) are the lovable brothers who want to make tacos for everyone.  Smooth Move (Snoop Dog), Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), and other snails from the brotherhood are there to demonstrate their ingenious ways to further the cause.  The message about “race” is subtle rather than overt, humorous rather than serious, which makes it more salient.  This is a message to us as adults, that cooperation and support of others outside our own group brings great rewards.  Everyone has a role to play in this drama, even the naysayers, who are often the proponents of safety and careful planning.
                  Dreamworks Animation has hits and misses, but Turbo is a clear hit.  The animation is skilled, colorful, and easy to follow.  Casting is perfect with Ryan Reynolds in the boyish lead role, Paul Giamatti as the skeptical older brother, Michael Pena and Luis Guzman as the “Bros”, and Bill Hader standing out as the silver-tongued devil, reigning star of the Indy 500.  The ticket price for the 3D version is not really essential.                                                                                                                                                            Grade:  A