Texas Art & Film's Dr. Donna Copeland's Film Reviews & Features
This is a fine character study in the dark comedy genre.  A couple just beginning a love relationship go on a sightseeing trip in a caravan through the British Isles.  The woman, Tina (Alice Lowe), has difficulty separating from her mother, who does not like Chris (Steve Oram), her boyfriend.  As the couple is driving away, she sputters to him that she does not like him, and that he is a very bad person.  Chris takes this calmly, and tells Tina just to ignore her mother, suggesting he does not take it seriously or hold it against her.

            It turns out, this is a window into his personality—he is calm about many things, patient, and friendly.  But there is a dark side, very dark.  Tina’s reaction to this quality is the most interesting part of the film.  The story takes unexpected turns every step of the way, and in the end, it is clear why/how these two got together.  The psychology of it is plausible, and the film goes one step further in showing her mother’s influence on Tina.  The role of the dog(s) in the story is interesting to ponder, and is just another element that is darkly humorous.

I think it has something to do with Tina’s view of attachments, that one object can easily be replaced with another, a nondifferentiated outlook, and her sense of entitlement stemming from a less than nurturant mother.

            I hate to go too much into the story, because it is best for the viewer see it unfold; the writers (Amy Jump, Alice Lowe, Steve Oram) are gifted storytellers, and it is delightful—despite the morbidity—to see the twists and turns.  Interestingly, two of the writers are the main characters.  Under Ben Wheatley’s direction, this is a very well done British production.

Grade:  B+


World War Z moves along at a good clip, has some interesting twists, and occasionally the opportunity for the audience to chuckle and relieve the tension.  Although there are a few holes in the plot, after the bumpy road of filming, the finished product is reasonably good.  Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane makes a good low-key hero who is willing to take risks, but also comes across with brains and tender feelings toward his family.  He is good-hearted, and I had to smile when he picked up another child to be added to the family, just as the actor and wife Angelina Jolie have done in real life.
            To the credit of the director Marc Forster and cinematographer Ben Seresin, scenes with hordes of zombies are impressive, with thousands scaling and tumbling over the wall in Jerusalem, and making horrible croaking sounds. We see individuals getting affected and going into writhing spasms on the streets and hanging onto planes as they are taking off.  3D is an advantage in having them hurl out toward the audience so abruptly the audience gasps. 
            I think there are some clever twists in the hero’s efforts to solve the challenge, drawing on his own observations and those of the scientists, and being more of a detective than a super-hero.  Although, after he has done this, some heroics will be required.  I noticed that the female actors are given active roles in both the heroics and scientific problem-solving, a welcome change in movies of this type.
            I liked the way the film ended.  What comes after Z?                        Grade:  B+


You go, Brit Marling!  This is intelligent filmmaking at its best.  It deals with an important contemporary  issue; it packs a dramatic wallop; and production (writing, directing, acting, cinematography, music) is top notch.  Plus, it pulls for a range of emotions from start to finish.  To me, it was a bit confusing in the beginning (not a drawback, but a strength), when Sarah (Brit Marling) applies for an assignment and is given rapid-fire enigmatic advice and instructions from her boss (Patricia Clarkson).  As she starts her infiltration into an activist group, the dangers in her assignment start becoming apparent, and the audience is on board.
                  As we follow Sarah in doing her job, we get what is probably a realistic picture of the dynamics of an activist group that is committed to social change.  They can be appealing in their playfulness, dedicated in their commitment, and in, at times, oddball behavior.  Their histories, as they are gradually revealed make their positions understandable.  When they are at their most daring, however, it is shocking, and our sympathies are pulled in different directions at once.  The legitimate question posed is where the boundaries of activism should lie—something every individual might answer differently.
                  Brit Marling is a superb actress who occupies seamlessly every character she portrays (as in Another Earth, Arbitrage, The Company You Keep).  She keeps her character fresh and genuine and subtly uses her body and voice to help convey the character’s experience.  Patricia Clarkson is another fine actress who can be convincing in a wide range of roles.  And Ellen Page—the sassy teenager in Juno has easily evolved to be able to play a rather terrifying adult.  Alexander Skarsgard is proving himself in consistently fine performances, most recently in The East, What Maisie Knew, Disconnect, and Melancholia.  The rest of the cast likewise contribute to the quality of this film.
                  A major strength of The East is a script by writer/director Zal Batmanflij and co-writer Marling that keeps an audience guessing as to what will happen next, while pulling one’s sense of ethics this way and that.  The writers have done a fantastic job in presenting all sides of the tension/dilemma between corporate over-reach and viable ways for conscientious people to respond.  Our hearts go out to those who have suffered physical, mental, and property damage as a result of irresponsible corporations who put profit ahead of human welfare.  But the response of an eye-for-an-eye/tooth-for-a -tooth is not the answer either.  One reason the script is so good is that it offers a reasonable solution at the end.                                    One of the three best movies of the year so far.                                                                        Grade:  A

This is a chilling account of someone who successfully lives a double life for many years.  A cold-blooded contract killer for crime families, Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is passionately devoted to his own family.  Interestingly, he has standards, and refuses to kill a young woman near the age of one of his daughters, which is the beginning of the end for him because it is defiant of his boss Roy (Ray Liotta).  Shannon performs the role of the killer at his usual superior level.  His portrayal evokes a sharp-edged image of a man loaded with contradictions.  There is one brief snapshot of him as a child that provides some explanation as to how he gets to where he is, along with a few comments from his imprisoned brother.  Ariel Vromen, the co-writer/director, is clever in inserting these brief scenes as a succinct picture of his background to make sense of his character.  In fact, the overall direction in Vromen’s very competent hands is impressive, since he seems to be in the early stage of his directing career.
            The movie flows well, starting when Richard is just getting acquainted with his wife Deborah (Wynona Ryder), having a family, achieving success in his “business”, but making some critical errors, and then ending with his arrest and conviction.  The opening and closing shots of the film, which are close-ups of his face as he is being interviewed following his conviction, are striking.  They look like a Chuck Close portrait, and what he says captures both sides of his personality.
            The other actors, such as Wynona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, and David Schwimmer provide excellent back-up.  Ryder is great as a loving, supportive wife who is not too curious about what her husband does, and Liotta’s steely blue eyes and deportment are as threatening as always.  Evans and Schwimmer come across well as thugs, even though they’re used to playing the good guys.
            The actual Richard Kuklinski did grow up in a brutal family.  His father abused one child to his death, and the mother beat the children with broomsticks on the one hand, and on the other, made sure they had strict Catholic training.  He began torturing animals as a child, and claimed to have killed his first victim at age 13.  The movie version of Richard—as stark as it is—is probably a glossier picture than his life actually was.
            I found the film, based on Anthony Bruno’s book, The Iceman:  The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer, to be very well done, instructive, and even entertaining at times.                                    Grade:  A

Presented at the Film Program Sponsored by
the Houston Psychoanalytic Society and the Jung Center

            First, I would like to discuss the musical aspects of A Late Quartet and how the writers have created a musical composition as seen in its title and in the characters’ interactions and dialog.  Then, I will discuss it from a psychological perspective in terms of human reactions to separation and loss, and how the characters exemplify what is typical and what is needed when we as humans are confronted with major changes. 
          Change can be many things—it can throw us into turmoil and acting out, or inspire us, or shut us down—depending on the ways we cope with it and the meaning of it that we construct.  Change is a fact of life.  We have no choice but to accommodate to it, even when we desperately want things to stay the same.  Probably the most difficult change for humans comes with separation and loss.  In the case of this film, not only is the loss of a beloved player the subject, there is the threatened loss of the whole quartet, called—interestingly enough—the Fugue String Quartet.
          The name chosen—fugue—refers to a contrapuntal composition technique built on a theme that is introduced in the beginning of a piece, then recurs frequently in the course of the composition at different pitches with different instruments or voices.  “Most fugues open with a short main theme, the subject, which then sounds successively in each voice…when each voice has entered, the exposition is complete…” and previously heard material continues to be repeated at different pitches with different instruments “until the ‘final entry’ of the subject, by which point the music has returned to the opening key, which is often followed by [a] closing… the coda.  In this sense, a fugue is a style of composition, rather than a fixed structure” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugue).
            The story in A Late Quartet follows the style of a fugue to some extent.  Peter is already mourning the loss of his wife who has died only a short time before, so he is already accommodating to a drastic and sorrowful change.  Then he discovers he has Parkinson’s Disease, and is faced with more change.  He starts the “fugue” of the film when he announces that he will be leaving the Quartet. 
            I found it interesting to learn that the term ‘fugue’ comes from the Latin--fuga—which is related both to fugere, which means “to flee” and fugare, which means “to chase”.            The form the characters’ accommodation to Peter’s announcement takes resembles very much a “fugue” in its combination of fleeing and chasing among different pairs of characters.  After the diagnosis of Parkinson’s, Peter wants to flee the group, and Juliet chases after him, wanting him to remain just as long as he possibly can.  Robert wants to chase after Daniel’s first violin position, and later on, flees momentarily from his wife Juliet and chases after an acquaintance.  Then, when the friend responds by wanting to be with him, he begins chasing after Juliet, who has discovered what he has done and pushed him out of the house.  Alex seduces Daniel, who responds enthusiastically to her chase, but after she has second thoughts, he picks up the chase for her until she stops him, not wanting to be the cause of the Quartet’s demise.  All of this comes to some kind of conclusion—albeit ambiguous—at the final concert in something like a coda.  The Quartet has a new cellist, Daniel gives in to Robert’s request to play from memory, Robert then closes his sheet music and his finger rests momentarily on the designation “Violin II”, Robert and Juliet kiss, Alex has separated from Daniel, and after rejecting suicide as an option and with the Quartet surviving, Peter is at peace.
            The music the Quartet is working on also ties in with the unfolding dramas:  Beethoven’s Opus 131 String Quartet in C-Sharp minor is considered one of what is known as his “late quartets.”  As Peter tells the class he is teaching when he is describing it, “Playing so long without pause, our instruments must in time go out of tune, each in its own quite different way.  It’s a mess.  What are we supposed to do?  Stop?  Or struggle to continuously adjust to each other up until the end, even if we are out of tune?”  This applies to Beethoven’s Quartet and, just as much, to life itself. 
           One reviewer, Nigel Andrews, refers to Yaron Zilberman’s and Seth Grossman’s “musically literate script” for A Late Quartet.  Whereas some critics see the drama as soap-opera-like, he recognizes the pain and tragedy that are treated perceptively by the screenwriters.  The drama “finds a match”, he says, “in Beethoven’s music…famed for its…[progression without pause] through seven movements, each more intense than the last…The actors, all allowed their individual cadenzas as the drama-fugue unfolds, persuade us that a quartet on the stage is as delicately organic as a quartet on the page (my italics).  He goes on:  “The harmonies must finally triumph, however vitalizing the intervening discords and conflicts [are].  Insightful and incandescent, this is a film for both music lovers and movie lovers.” (my italics again). 
            Freud is one of the first theoreticians to look at the process of mourning, and he looked at it as the painful process of decathexis from the lost love object (Freud, 1917).  Healing occurs when that is achieved and normal functioning is restored, and the person feels free to love again.  Current Object Relations theory recognizes the importance of the meanings and affects associated with the experience, which allows for a longer continuing relationship with the lost object (Hagman, 2001).  Hagman and others have noted that individual responses are contextual, influenced by factors such as personality, the nature of the relationship to the lost object, and other variables such as family and culture.
            Nowadays, clinicians usually agree that healing occurs most easily if a person expresses his/her emotional experience within an object relations system (Hagman, 2001).  Attig (2001) refers to work that has to be done in terms of self—regaining self-confidence, self-esteem and self-identity.  Recently, the concept of narrative reconstruction has been introduced for the person to develop a better understanding of what has been lost (Neimeyer, 2001).  The social context influences that narrative in modifying it, maintaining it, and informing the individual.  As stated by Deena Metzger (1992), “we cannot cloister our inner selves…or we will find ourselves bereft of one of the essential components for the process of transformation:  interchange” (p. 36).
            In pondering the characters in A Late Quartet and the processes they go through, I thought it might be useful to consider them together as a family system.  They have been close friends and colleagues for 25 years.  In fact, we learn that Peter and his wife took Juliet under their wing when Juliet’s mother died at her birth.  Her mother was in a musical ensemble with Peter at the time.  After joining the Quartet, Robert and Juliet fell in love and married.  Peter is a father-figure for them all.
           Psychologically, adjustment to the experience of separation and loss generally involves efforts directed toward restoring bonds of attachment.  Although the steps of grieving are not necessarily in the same sequence for everyone, they usually involve initial disbelief, followed by gradual awareness of the reality of the loss, the experience of pain about the loss, then adjustment to a new environment without the lost person, and finally reinvestment in a new reality (Worden, 1991).  We can recognize these steps in the Quartet members—each in his/her own way—as they experience a great deal of turmoil and upset about the impending separation.
           The manner in which they react to the stress of impending separation and loss is typical--which is to feel stunned at first.  There is an immediate pall over the group at Peter’s announcement and disbelief.  Then they feel wounded and angry; and soon, many of the resentments bubbling below the surface begin to stir things up.  They seem to have fared quite well through the years, despite some unrest, but like many families, when they encounter threat, their emotional strengths weaken.  Conflicts develop immediately between Robert and Juliet and between Robert and Daniel.  Robert takes the opportunity to advocate for sharing the first chair with Peter, and when Juliet sides with Daniel, Robert is incensed.  Peter is more quiet in his reluctance to accept his new condition, but it is shown by his not participating in the first exercise group for Parkinson’s patients he attends. 
             Juliet especially is not inclined at first to accept the reality of Peter’s condition.  She immediately says she does not want him to resign right away:  “Let’s see if the medicine works”, she says.  At that point, she is more aware of her need for Peter than she is Peter’s own needs.  Daniel, too, at a later time tries to get Peter to reconsider.
            The reality of Peter’s illness is hard to deal with, partly because there is no one to blame (a not uncommon reaction).  Robert directs some blame toward Daniel.  He is convinced Daniel is keeping him down;  this is easier for him to talk about than to own and express his feelings about losing Peter.
            On the other hand, Daniel does not even want to consider seriously Robert’s request to alternate the first chair between them, denying that there is a problem.  He is a perfectionist and tends to think he is more reliable than others, and wants to maintain his control over the music.
            Although Juliet seems best able to acknowledge and express mourning, even she considers bailing on the group if Peter resigns.  The others express little to Peter directly, although he does express more than the other men his feelings about losing members of the group and worrying about its survival.  But he is more a problem-solver—as all of the men are—and they tend to assume that that will take the place of mourning.  As Robert says to Alex, “Daniel is helping Peter find a new cellist for the group”, implying that that will fix everything.
            We often see personal and gender differences in adjustment to change.  Juliet does what many women do—she has heart-to-heart talks with each of the men—except, interestingly, her husband.  Daniel talks to Peter a bit, but it is very abbreviated.
            Initially, Robert tries to do caring things for Juliet, but she withdraws, and that—coupled with her lack of support for what he feels is his heart’s desire—makes him seek a temporary fix.
            Whether or not grief makes Daniel become more susceptible to Alex’s advances is unclear, but he is alone, in any case, and in need of loving arms about him.  But they likewise dance the dance of chasing and fleeing, first around the lessons, then around their romantic involvement.
The threat of loss extends to family members. For instance, when we first see the Gelbarts (Robert and Juliet), we get the impression they have a great relationship with their daughter, Alex, until she unloads on her mother about feeling shunted aside and unimportant to them during her childhood.  She has blurted this out when she gets anxious about her parents’ separation.  Granted, just as the mother noted, their professions made this necessary; it is just that the mother seemed to be completely unaware of her daughter’s experience until that moment.
            As is not uncommon, Peter as the “patient” is the one who seems to be coping with his loss in a more mature way.  Maybe because he has already started a grieving process, and maybe because he is simply more mature.  He sees the larger picture, is less egocentric, and will feel peace only when he finds a good replacement for himself, and that the Quartet, which has been so important and meaningful in his life—will survive.  He tells Daniel, “Find a new cellist and take the Fugue to a different place.”  In other words, find a new identity.
            In conclusion, this is a story about mourning, but it is—just as fundamentally—about change.  Like most of us, the quartet members want things to stay the same and for their lives to continue on pretty much as before.  We get the impression that Robert would probably not have pressured Daniel so strongly to share the first chair and would have accepted Daniel’s leadership much more quietly if the threat of change did not present itself.  We wonder if marital discord would have occurred so intensely between Robert and Jules without the threat of loss.  But--by the end of the film, it seems as if the group has undergone the mourning process—at least to some extent—and that they are quickly going to be transformed into another group identity, and looking toward the future rather than trying to hold onto the past—a fitting coda to the fugue of their lives.

Attig, Thomas (2001).  Relearning the world:  Making and finding meanings.  In Robert Neimeyer (Ed.), Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss (pp. 33-54).  American Psychological Association:  Washington, DC.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, eleventh edition, revised, ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
Freud, S.  (1917).  Mourning and melancholia.  The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.  London:  The Hogarth Press, Vol. 14, pp. 239-260.
Hagman, George (2001).  Beyond decathexis:  Toward a new psychoanalytic understanding and treatment of mourning.  In Robert Neimeyer (Ed.), Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss (pp. 13-32).  American Psychological Association:  Washington, DC.
Metzger, Deena (1992).  Writing for your Life:  A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds.  New York:   Harper Collins Publishers. 

Neimeyer, Robert A. (Ed.).  (2001).  Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss.  Washington, DC:  American Psychological Association.

Worden, J. William. (1991).  Grief Couselling and Grief Therapy:  A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner (2nd ed.).  London:  Springer.

This is a perfect film to be highlighted during Earth Day 2013.  Jeremy Irons travels the world demonstrating all the ways in which humans are destroying our planet’s finite resources with our waste, which pollutes our air, water, and land.  Following is a summary of the findings he discusses.
Each year, we throw away billions of plastic bags, 200 billion plastic bottles, and 58 billion throwaway cans.  These end up in landfills and the oceans, washing up on what used to be sandy beaches that have now become dumping grounds.  For example, Lebanon has a mountain of trash on a beach that is 40 meters high.   A toxic dump in Yorkshire, England is 62 meters in height.  Four hundred landfills in China, which contain heavy metal, radioactive substances, and synthetic plastics, have reached capacity.
            The problems with landfills are many.  Government agencies are complacent, and there are no definitive maps showing landfills, so no one knows what damage they are doing.  Apparently, even the best-managed landfills cause problems, such as toxic dust clouds.  There are covers for waste dumps, but ultimately, they all seem to fail.
            So much nonbiodegradable trash and plastics have been dumped into the oceans, one scientist noted that there is now more trash than life in the oceans.  Trash is killing even large marine animals such as seals and whales by their getting entangled in it.  When the plastics are finally broken down by the oceans movement, we get smaller and smaller fragments that are then ingested by organisms, which remain there for life.  Furthermore, plastics both leach chemicals and attract chemicals that affect hormonal and immune systems.  This is one reason whales are disappearing; their reproduction has been reduced because of these chemical processes.
            The conclusion is that landfills are damaging to the environment; so what about incinerators?  There are 800 of these in the world, 469 in Japan alone.  The UK has 30, but they have 91 applications for more.  Some hope to use incinerators to convert waste into energy, but all incinerators produce ash, which contains dioxins and other chemicals.  Even though they have filters, filters constantly break down and are extremely expensive to replace.  One incinerator in France wrecked 350 farms, and 3,000 animals had to be put down.  Farmers in that area there can no longer consume their own products because the land is contaminated as well.  Even though the cancer rates increased from 6% to 23%, government agencies denied there was a problem.
            Dioxins are a huge problem.  Once they get into a man’s body, he can never get rid of them.  Women get rid of them, but that is because they are passed on to their babies.  They travel through the body like viruses, and can even cross the blood-brain barrier.  Most of us in the U.S. have dioxins in our bodies.  Once these and other toxins get into the system, they are long-lasting.  Forty years ago, Agent Orange was sprayed by Americans in Viet Nam and children there are still being born with disfiguring effects (e.g., missing arms, legs) and diseases.
            Government regulation of incinerators is difficult because they emit ultra-fine particles that escape monitoring.  The Arctic is the most contaminated because toxins become more concentrated in colder temperatures, so in the melting ice that is resulting from global warming, these toxins are being released.
            Clearly, our land, air, and oceans are all polluted, and the only glimmer of hope is for everyone to participate in recycling.  San Francisco is a model city in this regard.  It separates trash into recyclable elements; plastics go to China to be reconstituted into new plastic products, and organic material is made into compost.  Scientists there claim that we should be able to recycle over 90% of the waste generated in this country.  Obviously, from the above, landfills and incinerators are not the answer.
            This documentary should shake up all of us who see it, and make us take more action in stemming the tide of damaging waste.  This is an excellent film.                                                                        Grade:  A

                  This heartbreaking documentary covers a subject that, unfortunately, is surfacing more and more in this country, where (in many cases) DNA evidence shows wrongful convictions of people who have spent years in prison, or even been put to death.  The filmmakers (Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Sarah Burns) have carefully researched the background information of the case, which clearly indicates that—in one reporter’s view—the prosecutors, defense lawyers, and reporters did not pay attention to obvious discrepancies in the data used to convict five young adolescents.  The crime of a woman jogger beaten and raped in Central Park was widely reported at the time, and evoked highly emotional reactions in the public.
                  The film begins by having the five men—now in their 30’s—tell the story of how they were coerced by the police departments and prosecutors in the interrogations, and given promises that if they would just confess, they could go home soon.  Their confessions were fabricated by officials to make them consistent with what was known of the case, and the boys, sometimes with their parents’ acquiescence, naively went along with it, simply because they were exhausted after hours and hours of questioning without rest or food, and just wanted to go home.  It is also clear that they did not think they would actually be convicted of a crime they did not commit. 
                  One of the film’s strong points is having the case put in a social-historical-psychological perspective.  That is, these were just kids who could be pressured into doing something for a short-term goal (going home) without consideration of the long-term consequences (being convicted and sent to prison).   From a social standpoint, these were lower class black kids and the victim was a white, well-to-do woman.  A number of commentators brought out the frequency with which this particular contrast touches on the basic fears of white people toward males of color.  Historically, Americans have many times in such cases tended to form judgments before all the evidence is in.  Another point is made that the crime rate was high in New York City at the time, and police departments and city officials were being criticized for being soft on crime.  With all the pressure, they were desperate to apprehend and prosecute someone(s) as soon as possible.
                  It is chilling to realize that the five men’s convictions were eventually (after they spent years in prison) overturned by a court only after a chance incident, which I will not reveal in this review. 
                  Sadly, although the men have been released from prison, their civil suit against the city, police officers, and prosecutors is still unresolved.  This is after 23 years since the crime was committed.  Even more sadly, the loss of that many years of their lives still goes with them, and the convictions of felonies in their past makes it very difficult to get a job.  As one says, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”  No, I am sure they are reminded every day of what happened to them as kids and its implications for their adult lives.
The Central Park Five is a film that would be instructive for all of us to see and hear about the dangers of a rush to judgment.        Grade:  A

      This is classic Malick—an abstract impressionistic treatise about the nature and wonder of love.  The experience of love is rebirth, hope for a new life, being at one with another, and being at peace, like calm, still waters.  But love is also a process, and like nature has its bounty and gifts of life, but along with it, devastation and destruction.  It can be very steady and predictable, as well as disappointing.  It can be like a tornado ripping through a house and leaving it completely empty.  It can be as polluted as our earth with the poison of deceit and faithlessness.  By juxtaposing scenes of nature with scenes of romantic relationships, Malick graphically brings these points home.
      The love story itself is segmented, with the male character, Neil (Ben Affleck) as a strong, silent figure who imparts feelings of love, warmth, and care—like the sunshine.  But like the sunshine, he can go behind the clouds, darken, and bring on a sudden storm.  We see him at first with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a French woman with a 10 year-old girl.  We see them in the first bursts of love, dancing and playing incessantly.  But like the changing weather (the sun does not commit to an appearance every day), Neil cannot commit to marriage, so Marina and her daughter return to Paris.
     Love blooms again for Neil when he becomes involved with Jane (Rachel McAdams), and again the sunny days of love follow.  But then, he decides to end this love in order to take back Marina, who is floundering on her own in Paris.  So like the seasons, love comes and goes and comes back again in different forms.  Inevitably, when the storms come, the relationship must be strong like a house to withstand the turmoil.  Love is ephemeral; we all need it and chase after it, but it’s hard to hold onto.  It requires commitment that we are sometimes unwilling to make.  As noted in the film, when love turns to hate, it becomes a cruel war.
      Interspersed into these musings, is a priest (Javier Bardem), who is seeking God’s love as earnestly as the three main characters are seeking it in each other.  Similar questions and feelings are expressed to God as Marina, the narrator of the film, expresses to Neil.  Where are you?  Why don’t you speak to me?  Where do you go for so long? It’s so hard to hold onto you.
Malick’s ending to these musing is to ask God to show us how to seek Him (Love).  And he thanks him as the “love that loves us.”  The last scene looks to me like a castle in the distance that beckons us on.

Grade:  A

This is a complex story that starts out to be intriguing, but eventually folds in on itself.  The narration by Simon (James McAvoy), who works for an art auction house, tells about heists and current measures to prevent thieves from stealing.  We know very soon that just such a thing is going to take place, and we know most of the players involved.
                  But the story takes so many twists and turns, going back and forth in time with identities fluctuating constantly, it turns out to be a mess—something that appears to have been produced and directed by a committee.  In fact, it was directed by Danny Boyle, written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, and produced by five individuals, one being Boyle.  Boyle noted on a guest appearance on The Daily Show that Trance was filmed while he took an eight-week leave from directing the 2012 opening ceremony of the Olympics in London.  It was edited following the London ceremonies.  He is well known for his fine movies (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), so I have to believe he did not have as much of a hand in this as he did his earlier works.  Or perhaps it was the editing.  Boyle said in the guest appearance that he intentionally abandoned a chronological sequence—although there was one for the filmmakers to use—because he wanted to throw the audience off and blur the lines between reality and illusion as much as possible.  Unfortunately, I think the audience mostly ends up confused.
                  The cast is well chosen, and McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, and Rosario Dawson are fine actors; they just can’t carry a script that is convoluted and carries on to the point of absurdity.  So many red herrings are thrown out—seemingly just to trip up the audience—it  begins to look like a study in red.  And of course, I have to get on my soapbox about filmmakers having therapists sleep with their patients.  Likewise, I object to portrayals of therapists being part of an illegal ruse.  The filmmakers’ erotic and paranoid transferences toward their own therapists seem patently obvious to me.
                  This film is quite a disappointment.                                    Grade:  C


This is an impressive account of the rescue of Jews from Germany during WWII by the Philippines government and their American allies.  Manuel Quezon, the President of the Philippines at the time, was committed to humanitarian concerns, and supported an open-door immigration policy.  He had already been instrumental in bringing other distressed peoples to his country, and was supportive of any efforts to bring the Jews in the 1930’s.  He was a friend of the Frieder family from Cincinnati in the U.S. (who owned a cigar company that bought Philippino tobacco for their product), as well as General MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower (Chief of Staff for MacArthur at the time), and the U.S. High Commissioner, McNutt.  All of these people supported the cause of helping the Jews in Germany and Austria.
            The Frieder family played a significant role in helping Jews immigrate to the Philippines.  It began with Alex Frieder who started a cigar company that imported its tobacco from the Philippines.  He had five sons, and when they decided to manufacture their own cigars in the Philippines, the five sons and their families took turns living in the Philippines and running the company.  All of them were close to President Quezon, as well as the U.S. military staff there, and felt a moral obligation to Jews oppressed by the Nazis.
            In 1935, when the Philippines was a territory of the U.S., President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Paul McNutt as the High Commissioner, whose responsibility included immigration.  This was very fortunate for the cause, since he was open to Quezon’s immigration policies.  He had to use his wit and diplomacy with the U.S. State Department, which was alternately apathetic or opposed to helping the Jews.
            Picture Quezon, one of the Frieder brothers, Eisenhower, and McNutt at a poker table.  Being such great friends and sympathetic to the Jewish plight, they eventually directed all their winnings to the cause of helping Jews immigrate to the Philippines.  Eisenhower was charged with finding them housing, and the Frieders with placing them in occupations so they would not have to be supported by the state. 
            Unfortunately, when the Japanese entered the war by bombing Pearl Harbor in 1941, they sent bombers to the Philippines as well.  Eisenhower then pulled the American Troops out, and the bombing forced MacArthur and the Quezon family to evacuate, leaving the country to the Japanese, who were very brutal.  Finally, after Germany and Japan were defeated, MacArthur returned and liberated the Philippines, but the Japanese officials had ordered their soldiers to kill and burn everything in their path as they left, so much had to be rebuilt.
            The accounts from the survivors in this documentary illustrate the importance of individuals and governments in counteracting oppression based on misguided notions and needless prejudices.  They are the heroes who should inspire us.                        Grade:  B-