The second episode of Girls¬†Season Two, ‚ÄúI Get Ideas‚ÄĚ, plays like a fast-paced soap opera.¬† The thirty minute episode involves quick cuts from girl to girl and scene to scene.¬† The drama is heightened and Dunham explores the dynamics of specific relationships.¬† This second episode didn‚Äôt create many laughs and when it ended I said to myself, ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs it?‚ÄĚ

SandyDespite the jumping around from situation to situation, Dunham‚Äôs character Hannah steals the limelight for the majority of the episode.¬† Anxious to have her new boyfriend, Sandy, read an essay she has written, she pressures him until he gives her his opinion.¬† During this process, it’s revealed that Sandy is a Republican¬†but Hannah is okay with it.¬† That is, until he tells her he didn‚Äôt like her essay because it basically didn‚Äôt go anywhere.¬† Kind of like this episode.¬† She then declares there is no way she can date a Republican who hates Gays and thinks everyone should have a gun.¬† I shuddered for a moment at the mention of gun rights.¬† Obviously it is a hot topic now, both politically and socially, but this episode was written way before the tragic events of Newtown, Connecticut¬†played out.¬† Kudos to Dunham for being ahead of the curve.¬† With not much more thought than deciding what to eat for lunch, she decides she and Sandy are over.¬† I suppose this new character is just a distraction for the audience and not a part of the storyline for Season Two.

Later that evening, Hannah‚Äôs ex, Adam, shows up unannounced and refuses to leave.¬† Hannah dials 911, an obvious overreaction, but then thinks better of it.¬† But, unfortunately for her, the police show up and arrest Adam.¬† It is the second scene this season where the viewer feels sorry for Adam.¬† He didn‚Äôt mean any harm nor does he deserve the wrath of Hannah, who dumps men like a line cook in a high school cafeteria swats flies.¬† I dislike Hannah‚Äôs actions, mostly because she doesn‚Äôt seem to have any sense of remorse or empathy towards the men she leaves in her wake.¬† I‚Äôm not sure if the character is written¬†this way because she’s supposed¬†to be¬†devoid of emotions or because it’s intended to be funny.¬† I also will suspend belief that the police in New York City respond to an accidental dial of 911 from a cell phone.¬† I believe they will call you back right away, but it seems questionable that they would automatically appear at her Brooklyn walk-up two minutes later.

Thomas John and JessaShoshanna¬†appears in only one scene during this episode.¬† She‚Äôs in bed with Ray and the audience is clued¬†in that they are now pursuing their relationship.¬† Jessa¬†also has limited screen time, appearing in just two scenes.¬† In the first, she is painting a portrait of Thomas-John and they are still completely enraptured by one another.¬† In the second, she tells Hannah that Sandy should want to read her essay right away, thus planting the seed in Hannah‚Äôs head that what she and Sandy have is not love, or certainly not as potent as Jessa¬†and Thomas-John‚Äôs love.¬† It’s too bad that Hannah doesn‚Äôt realize that unstable Jessa just threw a stick of dynamite into her relationship with Sandy.

Marnie too had limited scenes, but she makes hers count.¬† After being rejected for a potential art curator position because the hiring manager tells her she just doesn‚Äôt look like the type of person who would have that job, she complains to Shoshanna¬†and Ray and tells them she doesn‚Äôt want to be¬†around people who like their lives.¬† Shoshanna comments to Marnie that she‚Äôs pretty and should do something like hosting, but not modeling because she‚Äôs not that pretty.¬† Although she turns her nose up at the idea of taking people to their seats in trendy overpriced restaurants, the next scene shows Marnie in a revealing hostess outfit.¬† She shows up on Hannah‚Äôs doorstep where Elijah is the only one home.¬† MarnieHe quips, ‚ÄúYou look like a slutty Von Trapp child.‚Ä̬† This had to have been the best line of dialogue in the entire episode, and the only time where I laughed out loud. ¬†¬†It’s then revealed that Elijah and Marnie have decided not to tell Hannah of their ‚Äúalmost‚ÄĚ sexual encounter and are keeping a secret from her.¬† Marnie doesn‚Äôt like the idea of hiding anything from Hannah, but she agrees to keep mum for Elijah‚Äôs sake.¬† This is an important plot device that will certainly affect some of the upcoming episodes.

Episode Two was not on par with most of the episodes from Girls’ prior season, but I am still hopeful that the current season will not disappoint.  You can almost categorize it as a throw-away episode.  It’s a necessary evil in order to keep the storylines moving forward and set-up situations to come in future episodes, but on its own merits it isn’t very memorable.  The true standout is Allison Williams, who makes the character of Marnie her own and gives her as many layers and as much depth as Dunham’s character, Hannah.  I’m interested to see in which direction Marnie goes.  Will she completely self-destruct or will she make it look like she is the only one who has it together, at least on the outside?  Let’s wait and see.

Its About Time HannahI highly anticipated the premiere of the second season of HBO’s half-hour comedy series, Girls.  Directed, produced and written by its main star, Lena Dunham, and executive produced by filmmaker Judd Apatow, the sophomore show had won my allegiance during its debut season.  There was a lot of buzz surrounding the new series when it first ran in April 2012.  The critics lauded the show, but there was some backlash among the viewing public that it was simply a knock-off of the popular Sex and the City HBO series.  As word started to spread that Girls wasn’t to be missed, then the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, began taking hits for having a show that wasn’t diverse.  The common complaint was that if the show was supposed to be about life in New York, why did it only star white people?  Dunham stayed strong through the hits and let her work speak for itself.

Having always respected HBO‚Äôs innovative television choices and unable to ignore both the positive and negative PR surrounding Girls, I tuned in.¬† I found the pilot interesting enough, but thought that Dunham‚Äôs character, Hannah Horvath, was a little whiny, self-obsessed and clueless.¬† The second episode shocked me a bit for its blatant nudity and sex scenes.¬† But I stayed with it, and by the time the credits rolled on episode three, I was hooked.¬† I can also identify the exact point at which I fell in love with the series.¬† It was Season One‚Äôs episode seven, ‚ÄúWelcome to Bushwick¬†a.k.a. The Crackcident.‚Ä̬† When na√Įve Shoshanna¬†Shapiro, played masterfully by Zosia¬†Mamet (the daughter of famed playwright David Mamet), accidentally takes a hit of crack at a party in a warehouse in Brooklyn and then runs through the streets with no pants, my heart fluttered.¬† In this one instance, Dunham wrapped every single characteristic about living in New York in your twenties into a perfect little package and served it up brilliantly.¬† In Season One‚Äôs finale, I also cooed when Mamet‚Äôs character, Shoshanna, in shock that her cousin Jessa¬†Johansson decided to marry an older man, who she only met two weeks prior, deadpan‚Äôs, ‚ÄúEveryone‚Äôs a dumb whore.‚ÄĚ

If hard-pressed to compare Girls to Sex and the City, I admit I can find some similarities.¬† They both center on a group of four female friends that live in New York.¬† If I had to decide which character on Girls is the ‚Äúrip-off‚ÄĚ of a Sex and the City character, I can figure it out quite easily.¬† Lena Dunham‚Äôs character, Hannah, the aspiring writer and main character would be a parallel to Sara Jessica Parker‚Äôs Carrie Bradshaw.¬† Innocent and virginal Shoshanna¬†is obviously an ode to Kristin Davis‚Äô Charlotte.¬† Free-spirit Jessa¬†could be loosely linked to Kim Cattrall‚Äôs Samantha and practical but uptight Marnie Michaels depicts a few characteristics of Cynthia Nixon‚Äôs Miranda.¬† But that‚Äôs where the comparisons end.¬† Sex and the City¬†centered on thirty-something women in Manhattan who dressed like runway models, attended events at the hottest spots in the city, and rotated hot men in and out of their lives like a lazy susan at a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant. ¬†¬†Girls follows four women in their young twenties, just out of college, who live in dumpy apartments in grimy, but trendy, Brooklyn.¬† Most of them can‚Äôt hold down a job or a boyfriend.¬† They are completely clueless and finding their way one mistake at a time.¬† Where Sex and the City¬†is all pizzazz, Girls is all grit.

The season finale of Girls Season One ended on an ambiguous note.  Hannah wakes up in Coney Island, having accidentally fallen asleep on the F train.  She is reeling from a fight with her best friend, Marnie, and having seen her boyfriend, Adam, get hit by a truck because he was angry that she didn’t want him to move in with her, we, as an audience, are left with an edgy feeling.  We’re not sure what will happen to Hannah and her friends next, and that’s a great setup for Season Two.  I’d wondered how Dunham would deal with her open ending to Season One.  Many shows choose to jump time when they return for a subsequent season and rather than explain what happened to their characters in the interim, they have them trapped in new obstacles six months to a year later, leaping over their original predicaments.  Dunham chose not to take the easy way out and I applaud her for that.  Season Two picks up almost right where Season One left off.  The opening episode involves her spooning with her gay college ex-boyfriend, Elijah.  The audience can infer that he has moved in and Adam hasn’t.  Dunham makes a reference to Adam, but it is more of a complaint that she has to still take care of him.   At this point, she no longer has strong romantic feelings for Adam, but still feels obligated to see him, since it was somewhat her fault he got hit by a truck in the first place.

Its About Time SandyThe next scene goes straight to Hannah having sex with an unidentified new character, named Sandy.¬† And wait for it‚Ķhe‚Äôs black.¬† I know it‚Äôs 2013 and not 1960 in Mississippi but, if you remember, I mentioned earlier that Dunham faced criticism during Season One for not having a diverse cast.¬† She made a comment during the taping of Season Two that she would address that concern.¬† Some viewers were angry that she caved to the pressure and felt that her show didn’t need to answer to anyone.¬† I expected that in Season Two someone in her inner circle of girlfriends would be black.¬† But instead, she decided to make her new sex buddy black.¬† To me it‚Äôs a giant F U to the critics, and I think it‚Äôs awesome.

Its about Time MarnieThe Season Two opener centers around Hannah and Elijah throwing a house party.  It’s an easy way to assemble the entire cast and show the viewer what is going on with each of the girls.  Marnie, played by Allison Williams, runs into her ex, Charlie, at the party, and although she tries to pretend she’s over him, the audience can tell she is lying to herself.  Fresh off a lunch with her mother, who tells her she looks 30 and needs to act her age, and then she gets downsized from her gig as an assistant at an art gallery, she reaches new heights of self-pity.  She attempts to sleep with Elijah in some effort to make herself feel better.  Maybe she thinks she can even get a gay guy to fall for her.  But although he tries, Elijah just can’t perform and the viewer is left staring at Marnie and can sense her self-esteem plummet.  It’s such an effective scene that the viewer feels like they are right in the room with her.

Shoshanna reveals she is no longer the 23 year-old virgin, but is quite angry at Ray, the coffee store manager who deflowered her.  Apparently, he never called afterwards and she spends the entire time, at the party, trying to ignore him.  The ridiculousness of doing that in a ten-foot living room is laughable.  It’s unclear what Ray’s motives are, but both he and Shoshanna are such eccentric characters that the audience wants to see more of them together.

Its about Time AdamHannah spends half of the episode playing caretaker to Adam, bringing him pain killers and emptying his bedpan.  He has a full cast on one leg reaching to his upper thigh and can’t take care of himself.  He’s moody, angry and depressed.  Not much different from his usual personality, but what Hannah once found lovable she now can’t stand.  She’s in a quandary and wants to do the right thing.  But she finally has had it and tells him they are over.  Adam is left standing on one leg in the middle of his apartment and, for a split-second you begin to feel sorry for him when he never was that likable to begin with.  Is Hannah shallow?  Yes.  But, can you blame her?  No.  How many young twenty-something’s do you know, who would be selfless nursemaids?  She’d rather be back at her party and, for once she decides to do what she wants to do.  It’s obviously not the end of Adam.  Hannah may think so, however the audience knows better.

Jessa, absent for most of the episode, only appears towards the end.¬† She and newlywed Thomas John, played by Bridesmaids, Chris O‚ÄôDowd, appear tanned and Caribbean ‚Äúislandified‚ÄĚ.¬† They take a taxi from the airport, after cutting the line, and passionately make out.¬† I‚Äôm not sure where their relationship is going and it may be¬†my least favorite storyline.¬† It just seems too obvious to me that this is going to end in disaster.¬† Although, Dunham may have something up her sleeve and we‚Äôll have to stay tuned to see if she is going to pull a rabbit out of her magic hat.

If you’re still not sold on Girls, maybe the fact that the show won best television series-Comedy or Musical- at the 70th Annual Golden Globes will entice you.  Lena Dunham also won best performance by an actress in a television series-Comedy or Musical.  Since Season Two of Girls was written and filmed long before the current awards season, I’m optimistic that the second season will live up to its expectations and continue to bring laughs and pure raw awkwardness.

jackreacher-mv-11Jack¬†Reacher¬†is¬†the main character in¬†a popular book series written by Jim Grant, under the pen name Lee Child.¬† The series includes 17 books in total, with the most recent released in September 2012.¬† The film Jack Reacher¬†is based on book nine, titled One Shot.¬† Distributed by Paramount Pictures and made by Tom Cruise‘s own production company it, of course, stars Tom Cruise as the lead character, Jack Reacher.¬† If you miss the Tom Cruise of Top Gun, A Few Good Men, and the more recent Collateral, see this film.¬† Cruise, who reached¬†his 50 year milestone this past summer, is on top of his game.¬† He plays the¬†good hero, with an edge, infallibly.

Jack Reacher is an ex-military police investigator who served with several distinctions.  But now he lives off the grid, and only comes forward when he learns that James Barr, an ex-army sniper, has been arrested for the killing of five innocent people.  Reacher knew Barr in Iraq and investigated him for the unauthorized murders of several independent contractors.  According to Reacher, Barr confessed to him about killing the contractors, but was never prosecuted because the Army chose to look the other way.  Reacher promised Barr that if he ever did anything like that again he would come for him.

When Reacher arrives in Pittsburgh¬†and meets Helen, the attorney defending Barr, he gets more than he bargained for.¬† Originally convinced Barr was guilty, he¬†agrees to be¬†Helen’s lead investigator and stay open to the fact that Barr could be¬†innocent.¬† After a barroom brawl¬†gets staged¬†to run Reacher out-of-town, he realizes Barr is being framed and he sets out to uncover the truth.¬† This is not a spoiler because, if you are paying attention, the opening scene gives¬†the viewer a¬†clue as to whether Barr is¬†guilty or innocent.¬† The mystery¬†lies in¬†who¬†really killed these five people and why they committed such a heinous crime.

jackreacher-mv-12What follows is your classic action-thriller genre film with just the right amount of plot twists to keep you guessing and action sequences to keep you in a heightened state of anxiety.¬† Reacher has a penchant for “borrowing” cars and conveniently ends up in a Chevrolet Chevelle SS during a police chase.¬† I only cringed when he took a hit from another car and damaged the front end, not because I worried Reacher would get caught (we all know the hero always¬†evades the cops¬†in the car chase scene), but because it is a crime to bust up such a beautiful classic car.¬† Cruise, who usually opts to do all his own stunts, did his own driving in this film.¬† Maybe that’s why he looked like he was having a little too much fun.

Cruise, who served as Executive Producer on the film, surrounded himself with a great ensemble cast.¬† The British-born actress, Rosamund Pike, plays Helen.¬† Although her chemistry with¬†Cruise¬†is palatable, it is never tested.¬† Her character is all business and she never strays from her main goal of defending Barr.¬† Her father, played by Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins, is the D.A. and her main legal adversary.¬† His role is small, but he is one of the top-five character actors in the business today, and he delivers just the right amount of suspicious behavior concealed in fatherly concern.¬† His partner, Detective Emerson, is acted by the same David Oyelowo, who turned heads in this¬†past¬†autumn’s indie, Middle of Nowhere.¬† Robert Duvall rounds out the cast as an old-time gun aficionado who befriends Reacher and serves as his back-up during the climax, which takes place at an old rock quarry.¬† Although Duvall only turns up in the fourth quarter of the film, his performance is priceless and he delivers one-liners like, “Get her number and let’s go,” that only he could do properly, with the possible¬†exception of Clint Eastwood, and only prior to¬†the RNC chair debacle.

Jack Reacher is both directed and written by¬†Christopher McQuarrie.¬† His previous screenplays include Valkyrie and The Usual Suspects.¬† His director resume is quite short, with only one previous feature film under his belt.¬† In the wrong hands this film could have turned out like an 80’s action flick that you’ve only heard of because you were looking for something to watch on a cable movie channel for free.¬† The dialogue is¬†often cheeky and if it was¬†being delivered¬†by an action-hero like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, I’d roll my eyes.¬† But Cruise knows how to walk the thin-line between schmaltz and funny.

No matter what you’ve read in the tabloids about Cruise’s personal life this past summer or how you feel about Scientology, you’ll want to pat him on the back after seeing this film.¬† I couldn’t think of a better role for Cruise to play to reinvigorate his career and remind us¬†why he is a star.¬† It is roles like this that he should be recognized for and remembered for¬†when reflecting on his acting history.¬† With 16 other books in the Jack Reacher¬†series, the door is open for a sequel and it could¬†be a bankable franchise for Cruise.

rustandbone-mv-1The theatrical trailer for Rust and Bone doesn’t show much more than a Killer Whale, a woman who appears to be drowning in the water, and a couple frolicking on the beach.¬† After seeing it several times I’d already put this film on my “do not watch list.”¬† But a message through the film community started to spread that Rust and Bone¬†shouldn’t be missed.¬† The truth lies somewhere between.

Rust and Bone is a French Film directed and written¬†by Jacques Audiard.¬† It stars the talented Marion Cotillard¬†and Matthias Schoenaerts.¬† Some of Cotillard’s more popular American films include Contagion, Inception, and Public Enemies.¬† Schoenaerts is pretty much an unknown in the states, but he managed to hold his own in scenes with Cotillard.

The premise of the film is simple.¬† Cotillard’s character, Stephanie,¬†is hurt in a freak accident where she works, at Marineland.¬† Having met Schoenaerts character, Ali, who worked as a bouncer at a nightclub, only once, she then calls him for help¬†after her accident leaves her a double leg amputee.¬† The one impression Ali gave to Stephanie was¬†when he asked¬†her why¬†she¬†dressed like a whore?¬† So it is somewhat of a leap to believe that Stephanie would ever call Ali, no matter how alone, desperate, and depressed she felt.¬† But Ali comes over to Stephanie’s place and what results at first is a friendship.¬† It is also unclear why Ali would respond to Stephanie.¬† The only logical assumption is that he is a bit of a loner and besides working nights as a security guard, boxing at the local gym, and having one-night stands with women he picks up, he really doesn’t have anything better to do.

In a predictable fashion their friendship turns sexual, but only in the confines of a friend helping out another friend.¬† The person in the seat next to mine whispered to me, “That is some friend.”¬† He was referring to the fact that Ali would bed Stephanie at all, since she had lost both of her legs from the knees down.¬† After the climax of the film, which I won’t detail in order not to¬†spoil it, the film becomes even more predictable when both Stephanie and Ali realize they’re in love.

I really didn’t think this film was original.¬† In fact, it was just a retelling of a story that has been told a hundred times before.¬† But where the film stands out is in its performances by the two leads, its visual effects, its comedic writing despite such a dark premise, and some of the feelings it invokes in the viewer.

rust and bone 2Cotillard’s name will be tossed around this upcoming movie award season and it is because of Rust and Bone.¬† She gives a powerful¬†performance throughout, of a woman who has lost everything and must learn to find the pleasures in life again.¬† One scene in particular that really shines, is when she awakes in the hospital disoriented.¬† Like any of us would do she tries to prop herself up, but doesn’t seem to move an inch.¬† In a last-ditch effort¬†she throws off her sheets and the viewer is exposed to the fact that her legs are gone.¬† Does Stephanie know this?¬† She panics and falls out of bed.¬† Dragging her upper body across the floor, she screams for help and then yells over and over, “What did you do to my legs?”¬† It is the type of scene that makes you grimace and your stomach twist.¬† But Cotillard played it perfectly.

rustandbone-mv-5In Ali, Schoenaerts plays a despicable character.¬† He is rude to almost everyone, has a son that he barely takes care of and when he does he ends up physically abusing him, and engages in an illegal fighting ring where he feeds off his ability to bloody his opponents into submission.¬† Despite Ali’s attempts to help Stephanie, he is still¬†unlikable.¬† The character never really wins over the audience and it takes real acting talent to play this type of role.¬† Everyone loves a Prince Charming, but what is harder is to play a man with so many wounds he is almost irredeemable.

The visual effects in this film mostly center around Cotillard’s character’s legs.¬† In scenes where she is in a wheelchair, she is likely just sitting on them.¬† But in the others, where she is sliding on the floor or learning to walk with her blades, computer-generated imagery (CGI)¬†is used.¬† The editors did an amazing job making Stephanie look like a real person with two amputations.¬† There is only one scene in the film, where one can see the outline of Cotillard’s legs.¬† It is during a swim in the Mediterranean Sea¬†on a sun-filled day.¬† Ali carries Stephanie out of the water and for a brief second you remember this is all make-believe.¬† The bright sun reflecting off the¬†sea must have been too much for the color correction editors¬†to battle and they missed fine-tuning the absence of legs for a few moments.

Rust and Bone has a dark undertone and a script that needs some work.  But there are parts of the dialogue that invoke a laugh or two.  Most of it is sexual innuendo and at the hands of Ali, but it really is funny and adds a layer of levity to the film.

The other thing that this film does right is its scenes with the Killer Whale.¬† In the beginning of the film, prior to the accident, we catch a glimpse into Stephanie’s work world.¬† She is a trainer at Marineland, the French equivalent to SeaWorld.¬† Before a packed crowd of¬†eyes, she uses different hand gestures to control the enormous Killer Whale.¬† The¬†spectators clap, hold balloons and are entertained¬†by a group of cheerleaders, pom-poms¬†and all.¬† Popular rap anthems from the early 1990’s blast through the filled arena, ramping up the crowd even more.¬† And then the camera goes underwater.¬† We see the Killer Whale swim in its¬†prison like¬†tank and hear what it sounds like¬†beneath the surface.¬† It is a combination of a loud roar and something similar to a stampede.¬† I’m sure representatives from most aquatic parks would tell us the whales are used to all the noise, but it seemed to me the film was reminding us that this isn’t normal.¬† These whales aren’t only being tortured by swimming the rest of their life in captivity, but also¬†by the obnoxious crowd of patrons who¬†gear up to watch a trained mammal do a trick.¬† They act like they are seeing the final touchdown at a Super Bowl game.¬† The scene was so effective in pointing out the absurdity of it all, I actually felt a little guilty for my past trips to SeaWorld.

rust and boneWhere this scene, right before the accident, invokes a feeling of shame and terror because if anyone has seen the trailer,¬†they know something bad is going to happen; a scene later in the film does the exact opposite.¬† It uses the Killer Whale to show both the change in Stephanie and the relationship bond that can form between animal and human.¬† With her new-found confidence, thanks to her blades and sexual relations with Ali, Stephanie pays a visit to her former employer.¬† She stands behind a giant glass wall that is a window into the tank where the Killer Whale resides.¬† She puts her hand up to the glass and waits.¬† And then, after a few minutes, the whale comes to the glass and puts his nose right up to Stephanie’s hand.¬† It is a heart-felt moment, because we see how Stephanie feels about these mammals she has trained.¬† Even though her job resulted in a¬†horrible life changing event, she still connects to the whale and doesn’t hold the animal accountable.¬† If the first scene at Marineland echoes an environment of disgust, this second scene details the beauty in life and the ability for the human body and mind to heal from tragedy.

Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair have a few key things in common.¬† They are both historical films with amazing costume and set design.¬† But more importantly, they tell stories of forbidden love.¬† I was highly anticipating Anna Karenina and reluctantly went to see A Royal Affair.¬† Although, I walked out of the theater after seeing A Royal Affair¬†pleasantly¬†surprised and left Anna Karenina¬†somewhat disappointed.¬† Let’s take a deeper look at these two films and see what made them tick.

annakarenina-mv-1Anna Karenina was directed by Joe Wright, of the critically acclaimed Atonement, and stars Keira Knightley.  It is based on the novel by the same name, written by Leo Tolstoy.  I have to admit, I never read Anna Karenina.  So I walked into the theater, not really knowing the story.

Within the first five minutes, I found my mind wandering and thought I had just paid $15 to sit through a Disney type musical.¬† But I gave it a chance, and once Knightley’s¬†character, Anna, shared the screen with Aaron Johnson’s character, Count Vronsky, I perked up.¬† Their chemistry undeniable, you immediately start rooting for them, even though¬†Anna is already married to Jude Law’s character, Karenin.¬† Although¬†Anna knows it is wrong and she¬†might be¬†disgraced, not just from her husband but from¬†aristocratic society¬†in St. Petersburg,¬†she carries on with her affair, because her love for Vronsky¬†and his for her is just that deep.¬† Unfortunately for Anna,¬†it ends rather tragically.

But for me, the story of forbidden love was no match for the wonderfully detailed 19th century costumes, masterful set designs,  and fluid movement of the characters throughout each scene, and from scene to scene as if they were in one two-hour long choreographed dance.  The amazing framing of the shots also caught my eye, whether it was Anna in a field of flowers, carrying a parasol or Anna and Vronsky laying in bed naked, wrapped in white sheets and fitting together like a lock and key.  Director Wright also chose a pastel coloring for the first half of the film, making each scene appeal to the viewer like freshly spun cotton candy.

The cinematography is also exquisite.  The DP, Seamus Mcgarvey, uses the device of freeze-framing the peripheral characters while Anna and Vronsky interact, best used during the ballroom dance scenes.  Mcgarvey also utilizes dolly zooms to move rapidly out of a scene making you literally dizzy.  The biggest accomplishment is that almost every scene in the film is entered through the opening of curtains or doors.

It is for these reasons alone, that I’d recommend¬†Anna Karenina.¬† It truly is a sight to see.

aroyalaffair-mv-2Where Anna Karenina¬†is more about the fluff than the story, A Royal Affair¬†is all about the story and hits home on themes that are still relevant today.¬† Set in 18th century Denmark, it centers¬†on a young princess of Wales, Caroline Matilda, who is sent¬†to Denmark¬†to tie the knot¬†with Christian VII of Denmark.¬† Shortly after the arranged marriage she learns Christian is mentally ill and not well-respected¬†in the Danish court.¬† But she is stuck in this arranged marriage and resigns herself to a life of misery.¬† However everything changes, when Christian hires ¬†Johann Friedrich Struensee, a German doctor, to be¬†his royal physician.¬† Dr. Struensee is a follower of the Enlightenment, and before Queen Caroline even says “Voltaire” the two are sneaking off to carry on a secret affair.

With her new-found¬†alliance, Queen Caroline and Dr. Struensee¬†manipulate Christian VII, to make changes in the cabinet, and they begin to bring the Age of Enlightenment to Denmark by feverishly passing cabinet orders.¬† They create an orphange¬†for motherless children, mandate inoculations¬†against small pox, abolish torture, abolish censorship of the press, reduce the army, and minimize revenues for nobles.¬† Unfortunately, Dr. Struensee¬†himself becomes¬†too power¬†hungry for his own good and once word of his affair with Queen Caroline leaks from the aristocracy to the masses, his days are numbered.¬† Maybe I’ve seen too many¬†episodes of The Tudors, but it becomes quite clear that Queen Caroline and Dr. Struensee’s¬†unethical behavior will come back to haunt them.

What is most fascinating is that although Dr. Struensee may have gotten trapped by his own ego, his heart was in the right place.  Most of his changes to the laws of Denmark were for the common people.  But after passing so many public programs, he becomes shocked that Denmark is out of money.  Which highlights the argument we hear over and over again today; how is the government going to pay for that?

It also blew my mind that over 220 years later, our own country is fighting some of the same battles the¬†followers of the Enlightenment fought.¬† Separation of church and state was the most obvious correlation between this film and modern-day¬†society.¬† Although it is 2012, we just witnessed an election cycle¬†where some candidates were trying to go back to the days of where religion dictates policy.¬† It is both eye-opening and frightening that if Dr. Struensee were alive today he’d still be facing opposition.

A Royal Affair had tremendous attention to detail when it came to costumes, make-up, and sets.  It transports the viewer to Copenhagen in 1776 seamlessly.  But what really stands out are the ideas behind the film and how it reminds us the world is still an imperfect place.

cloudatlas-mv-87I went into Cloud Atlas with no preconceived notions.  My only worry was that the almost three-hour long film would be slow and tedious.  Luckily, my fears were never realized and I walked out of the theater thinking I just saw a mind-bending film.

Brother and (now) sister team, Kurt and Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer, the mastermind behind the German cult-favorite, Run Lola Run, really challenge their audience and make us work to decipher the six storylines that run congruently.  It is hard not to get hung up on trying to figure out which actor is behind the amazing make-up and which character is another character in a different time-period.  But if you stop trying to figure out the spiderweb the directors wove, and really focus on the three prominent narrators and what they are saying, you will realize you are listening to true poetry.

The two things that are most clear¬†are the overarching themes of¬†¬†love and revolution.¬† Both¬†transcend time in this film and¬†more than one character says, “Your life is not your own and you are bound by others.”¬† This is an interesting premise and perhaps because reincarnation is something that most wonder about it becomes easy to take this journey with¬†Tykwer¬†and the¬†Wachowski’s, and suspend reality as you travel through time from¬†1850 to 1931, to 1975, to modern-day 2012, to the future of 2144 and to another world so far ahead, time is told by “112 winters after the fall.”

The Wachowski’s are most known for their ground-breaking film, The Matrix.¬† They stamp the scenes in Cloud Atlas that take place¬†in 2144 in¬†Neo Seoul, the new part of Seoul, Korea¬†that is not under water, with a heavy Matrix seal.¬† But it¬†is only these scenes that make you remember the directors’ previous work.¬† The other time periods are depicted historically accurate and each one takes on the elements of its location and time.¬† For example, the journey across the Pacific¬†Ocean¬†during the¬†mid 1800’s¬†is full of color, hope and promise, but the depiction of the 1930’s in¬†Brussels, Belgium¬†is gray and dreary.¬† There is not one cinematic look, but several.¬† The¬†directors have created¬†multiple films all wrapped into one.

They even throw in a level of humor throughout the film that was unexpected, but somehow works.¬† It’s almost as if they are reminding the audience to lighten up, don’t think so hard, and enjoy the ride.¬† One storyline turns into a farce about four elderly folk who are trying to escape from a nursing home.¬† They hatch a plan and¬†escape to¬†steal a car, but none of them knows how to start the engine because there is no key-ignition, just a button.¬† Almost everyone in the theater laughed out-loud¬†and it certainly helped release some of the tension developed in the other nail-biting stories, like the revolution in¬†Neo Soul to end cloning of indentured women¬†and Halle Berry‘s quest to take on the evil proprietors of a nuclear power plant in Northern California.¬† Maybe the¬†filmmakers are reminding us that life is strange and you often don’t know how it will turn out.

I imagine I will have to see this film a second and even third time, to fully grasp everything being told to me.¬† But I appreciate a film that makes your brain hurt, that has you coming out of the theater trying to piece it together as if it were a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.¬† Essentially, that is what art is supposed¬†to be.¬† Film is just another medium where someone can look at it, or in this case watch it, and perhaps conclude what it is about.¬† The great thing is that there is not¬†one¬†single¬†answer and everyone’s interpretation may differ, but we can all learn from each other’s viewpoints.¬† If that was the intended goal of the team behind Cloud Atlas they were quite successful.

The Other Son, written by Lorraine Levy and Nathalie Saugeon and directed by Lorraine Levy, is a French film that takes place in both Israel and the state of Palestine.  The film centers on two young men who find out at age eighteen that they had been switched at birth.  Despite the soap opera like inciting incident, the film explores the ideas of nature vs. nurture, of Arab vs. Israeli, and of Islam vs. Judaism.

Joseph Silberg¬†(played by Jules Sitruk) is an aspiring musician but he must enlist in the Israeli army for his mandatory military service.¬† During his routine¬†physical¬†the doctor discovers¬†that¬†Joseph’s blood type could not have come from his parents.¬† His mother Orith¬†Silberg¬†(acted by Emmanelle¬†Devos) is a physician and she further investigates why her son’s blood type could not be the biological result of her and her husband.¬† It is then revealed that Joseph shared an incubator with another baby at a hospital in Haifa, and because of SCUD missile attacks during the Gulf War¬†the babies had been evacuated and somehow accidentally switched.

Upon¬†hearing the news, Joseph and the baby he was switched¬†with, Yacine¬†Al Bezaaz, (acted by Mehdi¬†Dehbi) are both reluctant to¬†accept their true heritage.¬† Joseph quips, “I’ll have to trade my kippah for a suicide bomb.”

But their mothers are curious to meet their biological sons, while at the same time feeling heartbroken for the sons they have raised.  In a sit down meeting with the doctor, who confirmed the babies were switched 18 years ago, the mothers exchange photographs of the boys they have raised.  But the two fathers walk out of the meeting.  With the men out of the room, the mothers shed a few tears and then hold hands.  The camera zooms in on their embrace to remind the audience that we are seeing an Israeli woman and a Palestinian woman sharing a tender moment.  Director Levy is obviously commenting on the role in which women could play in Middle-East politics.  To suggest that women could get past the more than sixty year old Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is not an unheard of theory.  In fact, many political pundits have put forth the idea that if women held more positions as heads of state, there would be less war in the world.  The very fact that many women are mothers, means they would think more than twice about sending their sons into battle.  Unfortunately this is a mostly unproven theory, but it gives the viewer hope that perhaps there are still unexplored avenues towards peace.

Meanwhile, Joseph and Yacine¬†continue to struggle with their own identities.¬† Joseph¬†visits the local Rabbi and asks him if he is still Jewish.¬† He reminds the rabbi that he had been circumcised,¬†had his Bar Mitzvah¬†and studied at the Yeshiva.¬† The Rabbi tells him that Judaism is not a belief, but …”a spiritual¬†state of being, tied to our own nature.”¬† He then asks the Rabbi if Yacine¬†is more Jewish than he.¬† The Rabbi responds “That’s the way it is.”¬† At this point, Joseph can’t even understand who he is anymore and how everything he has known is no longer true, just because of genetics.¬† This scene helps clarify the age-old¬†question of nature vs. nurture.¬† If Joseph was raised¬†Jewish and feels he is Jewish, then how come he is not anymore?

Yacine¬†is more open to explore his new identity.¬† Having spent several years in Paris at school he has already seen a different world, one where¬†Jews and¬†Muslims live together in relative harmony.¬† Yacine¬†is also further removed from the oppression¬†and poverty his family still lives under.¬† The person who gives him the most trouble is his older brother Bilal.¬† Unlike Yacine, Bilal¬†has never been out of the West Bank¬†and he takes a hard-line¬†with the Israeli’s.¬† When he finds out his brother is really a Jew, he¬†attempts to¬†disown him right on the spot.

Through the mothers, the families come together for brunch, where oddly¬†enough Joseph’s mother serves bagels.¬† Perhaps, Levy’s one attempt at humor.¬† At this¬†gathering, the younger sisters of Joseph and Yacine¬†lock hands, just like there mother’s had done at the doctor’s office, and run off to play.¬† Their brothers look at them and you can¬†see the envy on their faces.¬† If only they were naive to politics and the world in which they are living.

With the first meeting out-of-the-way, Joseph and Yacine¬†make multiple border crossings to visit one another and see how the other half lives.¬† Levy clearly¬†depicts a world of the haves and have-nots.¬† Joseph lives in a comfortable suburb of Tel Aviv and hangs out with his friends on the beach.¬† But Yacine lives in a tiny village flanked by cement walls and barbed wire.¬† He plays soccer with his friends with a dilapidated ball on a makeshift gravel soccer field.¬† There are no goal posts, orange netting,¬†and lime markings here.¬† It is through these scenes that one asks themselves how a person’s surroundings not only helps to define who they are, but also what path they will travel on and what opportunities will be open to them in the future.

The film comes to a swift conclusion, with the fathers succumbing¬†to their true feelings and accepting their biological sons.¬† Even¬†Bilal, the stereotypical¬†angry Palestinian, happily decides he now has two brothers.¬† Levy leaves¬†the viewer with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but you can’t help but wonder if this is how it really would turn out.¬† Yacine¬†is allowed a one month visa to cross the border checks unscathed and sell ice-cream on Tel Aviv’s picturesque beaches.¬† But I¬†kept¬†pondering if poor Joseph will have to give up his privileged life and be forced to move to the West Bank.¬† This black cloud is never explored in the film and we’re supposed¬†to suspend belief that Joseph gets to stay in Israel, no questions asked.

Ultimately, the boys are not only loved by the parents who raised them, but also by the families who are biologically related to them.  Meaning that with their true identities revealed, both Joseph and Yacine now have richer lives.

What makes this documentary, Diana Vreeland:¬†The Eye Has to Travel,¬†so entertaining is that the late Diana Vreeland is an extremely eccentric character and despite the fuzzy interview footage, pulled from¬† the early 1980’s, you can’t help but become mesmerized by her voice and her overall excitement for life.¬† The director, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who is¬†Diana’s grandaughter-in-law,¬†uses photo images throughout the film¬†that¬†Vreeland¬†produced as¬†a Columnist¬†for¬†Harper’s Bazaar and later as¬†Editor-in-Chief of¬†Vogue, and they are so distinctly original, even by today’s air-brushed standards, that the viewer¬†is left¬†dazzled.

Diana Vreeland wasn’t just a magazine¬†editor but a true artist.¬† Her photo shoots weren’t advertising, but real art glorified¬†in women’s magazines.¬† She had a distinct eye for the fascinating and unusual, creating mind-blowing¬†photo spreads of models¬†abstractly posed in¬†front of the Egyptian¬†pyramids, walking the ruins in Rome¬†and even¬†standing with Sumo wrestlers¬†in a snowy field in Japan.

Lauren Bacall, Twiggy, Angelica Huston, and Cher, just to name a few, were her discoveries.  She turned these virtual unknowns into famous models, and later even successful actresses.  The brilliant photographers she worked with over the years all concluded that Vreeland was the real genius behind the scenes.

Becoming a woman during the roaring 20’s and then living in Paris helped to shape her world view and prepared her for the role she was born to play.¬† Vreeland¬†redefined fashion¬†and always seemed¬†light years ahead of the trends.¬† She became spiritually reawakened during the London rock explosion of the 1960’s and really put her stamp on the fashion world during the following decade.

Like many powerful women, she was eventually fired from her position as Editor-in-Chief of Vogue,¬†after nine years,¬†because her male boss needed someone to blame for poor magazine sales.¬† Nevermind the change in culture or the other myriad of¬†reasons why Vogue was struggling.¬† But one thing was for sure, Vreeland’s creativity never waned.

Taking her firing hard, she became depressed and didn’t know what to do with herself.¬† That was, until the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York¬†came calling.¬† They asked her to¬†work as¬†a Special Consultant for the Costume Institute.¬† Again, Vreeland started with nothing and¬†made¬†it into a circus.¬† She transformed the Costume Institute into a place to go and be seen.¬† She created¬†14 exhibitions during her tenure there and made fashion come to life.

A year and a half¬†ago, I visited the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit at The Met.¬† After watching this film, I realized¬†that this exhibit wouldn’t have had the over¬†three¬†hour line just to get in, and had become so crowded that I¬†actually saw a girl pass out from¬†heat stroke,¬†if it weren’t for the dedication, brilliance, and sheer determination of Diana Vreeland in the years prior.

We should all be so lucky to have such a zest for life and for the human image as she did.

Middle of Nowhere is an aptly titled film.¬† The most obvious meaning the prison where the protagonist Ruby,¬†wonderfully acted by relative newcomer Emamyatzy¬†Corinealdi, visits her husband Derek, played by Omari Hardwick.¬† Derek is serving an eight year sentence for a non-violent crime.¬† The correctional facility is located in Victorville, California, and any Angeleno will tell you that is in the middle of nowhere.¬† But like any good film, the title has a deeper meaning.¬† It is a metaphor for the state of Ruby’s life.

A devoted wife and still very much in love with her spouse she voluntarily stalls the trajectory of her life, and waits for Derek.  Four years into his prison sentence he is up for parole.  Meanwhile, Ruby has made ends meet by forgoing med school and working night shifts as a nurse.  She travels all night and makes multiple bus transfers to get home to her sister and help babysit her nephew.  But it all comes crashing down on her, when she learns during the parole hearing that Derek may not have been as devoted to her as she was to him.  It is at this pivotal moment, that the viewer becomes struck with the realization that Ruby is trapped and a lost soul.  Unfortunately for Ruby, it takes her longer to come to this level of consciousness.

That is, until she meets Los Angeles bus driver Brian, played by the Royal Shakespeare Company trained David Oyelowo.¬† Like any good love interest, Brian has a wound too.¬† He is recovering from a divorce and¬†in similar fashion to¬†Ruby he is screaming out for somebody to love him.¬† There is a beautiful scene where after a date at a dance club, Ruby goes back to Brian’s place.¬† But they just stand in the middle of the room and hold one another,¬†as if¬†they have never experienced human touch.¬† Brian is persistent and he breaks down Ruby’s walls, freeing her of her past life with Derek and allowing her to finally go somewhere.

The film written and directed by Ava DuVernay won the¬†Best Director¬†Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.¬† DuVernay started out as a Publicist in Hollywood and Middle of Nowhere¬†is the second feature film she’s directed.¬† I was lucky enough¬†to stumble upon a surprise Q & A after the screening with actor Oyelowo.¬† He shared that DuVernay¬†first wrote this film ten years ago and the version on¬†the silver screen¬†now is the result of almost a¬†decade of hard work.¬† Any writer can appreciate that, because they know¬†each project is a journey.

When asked what drew him to the character of Brian,¬†Oyelowo explained, in his refined British accent, “….I loved the opportunity to get to play the complications of what we as human beings have to endure, when it comes to love.”