Friday, April 1, 2011

In a Better World

Opening this weekend: In a Better World, directed by Susanne Bier

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film!

Synopsis from the film's website:

Anton is a doctor who commutes between his home in an idyllic town in Denmark, and his work at an African refugee camp. In these two very different worlds, he and his family are faced with conflicts that lead them to difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness.

Anton and his wife Marianne, who have two young sons, are separated and struggling with the possibility of divorce. Their older, ten-year-old son Elias is being bullied at school, until he is defended by Christian, a new boy who has just moved from London with his father, Claus. Christian's mother recently lost her battle with cancer, and Christian is greatly troubled by her death.

Elias and Christian quickly form a strong bond, but when Christian involves Elias in a dangerous act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences, their friendship is tested and lives are put in danger. Ultimately, it is their parents who are left to help them come to terms with the complexity of human emotions, pain and empathy.

Queen to Play

Opening this weekend: Queen to Play, directed by Caroline Bottaro

Synopsis from AllMovie:

A middle-aged maid with few prospects before her finds a new lease on life via the game of chess, in this unusual tale that marked the first directorial go-round of acclaimed scriptwriter Caroline Bottaro (Les Aveux de l'innocent). French screen siren Sandrine Bonnaire (À Nos Amours) stars as Hélène, a Frenchwoman employed as a housekeeper in a posh Corsican hotel. Though devoted and diligent as a wife and mother, she lacks any real passion in her life. That changes in a single, defining instant when Helene espies a mysterious couple (the female played by Jennifer Beals) exchanging erotic glances and seductive gestures over a chessboard, on a nearby balcony. Feeling sexual arousal, Hélène misguidedly tries to parlay this into her own personal life by giving her boatworker husband an electronic chessboard, but the connection between this and a need for greater intimacy eludes him. Hélène's curiosity about chess nonetheless endures, and when she fails to teach herself to play sans assistance, she turns to an eccentric, reclusive American whose house she cleans, Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline) and asks him to mentor her in the game. In time, her expertise outstrips Kroger's and she begins to live and breathe chess, but this very passion also threatens to alienate the woman's family, who perceive a form of infidelity in this new obsession.

Wretches & Jabberers

Opening this weekend: Wretches & Jabberers, directed by Gerardine Wurzburg

Synopsis from the movie's website:

In Wretches & Jabberers, two men with autism embark on a global quest to change attitudes about disability and intelligence. Determined to put a new face on autism, Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, 52, travel to Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland. At each stop, they dissect public attitudes about autism and issue a hopeful challenge to reconsider competency and the future.

Growing up, Thresher and Bissonnette were presumed “retarded” and excluded from normal schooling. With limited speech, they both faced lives of social isolation in mental institutions or adult disability centers. When they learned as adults to communicate by typing, their lives changed dramatically. Their world tour message is that the same possibility exists for others like themselves.

Between moving and transformative encounters with young men and women with autism, parents and students, Thresher and Bissonnette take time to explore local sights and culture; dipping and dodging through Sri Lankan traffic in motorized tuk-tuks, discussing the purpose of life with a Buddhist monk and finally relaxing in a traditional Finnish sauna. Along the way, they reunite with old friends, expand the isolated world of a talented young painter and make new allies in their cause.

From beginning to end, Thresher and Bissonnette inspire parents and young men and women with autism with a poignant narrative of personal struggle that always rings with intelligence, humor, hope and courage.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Netflix It: Innocence

Available through Netflix: Innocence, written and directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic

Synopsis from AllMovie:

A strange institution prepares young girls for their future in a manner they don't truly understand in this surreal drama laced with fantasy. Iris (Zoe Auclair) is a six-year-old girl who arrives in a coffin (though alive and well) at a remote boarding school, where she and a handful of other girls are looked after by teachers Mademoiselle Eva (Marion Cotillard) and Mademoiselle Edith (Hélène de Fougerolles). Handpicked for the school and taken away from their families at a young age, each girl's age and place in the school's hierarchy is identified by the color of ribbon they wear in their hair (the oldest students, about 12, get purple ribbons), and they are forbidden to leave the campus grounds. Violating the rules is dealt with harshly, and their lessons focus on little besides ballet and biology. Each evening, the older girls are taken away to a different program they are not allowed to discuss, and the students get the impression that they are somehow being trained for future responsibilities, though what and why both remain a mystery. The first feature film from writer and director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Innocence was adapted from a short story by Franz Wedekind.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Netflix It: Going the Distance

Available through Netflix: Going the Distance, directed by Nanette Burstein

I fully expected this to be terrible, but Going the Distance is that rarest of gems—a romantic comedy in which two appealing actors portray likable characters whom we want to end up together. Shocking concept, I know. And the guy isn't a total loser, and the gal isn't an uptight prig! And chemistry! And Bechdel test! And no pedicures!

Synopsis from AllMovie:

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star in this romantic comedy about a long-distance romance that may be worth fighting for. Garrett (Long) is still nursing the wounds from a recent breakup when he meets Erin (Barrymore), an unflinchingly honest girl with a big talent for bar trivia. Hitting it off immediately, the pair spend a romantic summer together in New York City. It was supposed to be a summer fling, but as fall approaches and Erin returns to San Francisco, the spark is still there. Subsequently dividing his days between working and hitting the bars with best friends Box (Jason Sudeikis) and Dan (Charlie Day), Garrett drops everything whenever Erin calls. The more Garrett's phone rings, the more his pals begin to suspect that their drinking buddy is taking the relationship a little too seriously. And they're not the only ones; Erin's sister, Corrine (Christina Applegate), is keen to ensure that her smitten sibling doesn't repeat the mistakes of her past, and she makes no attempts to sugarcoat the fact that she disapproves of the coast-to-coast romance. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and as the texting becomes more intense, both Garrett and Erin start to suspect that their summer fling may just be the real thing.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Desert Flower

Opening in theaters this weekend: Desert Flower, directed by Sherry Hormann


Opening this weekend: Cracks, directed by Jordan Scott

Synopsis from AllMovie:

A teacher who prides herself on being different meets a student who matches her nonconformist nature in this period drama. It's 1934, and Miss G (Eva Green) is a teacher at a private school for girls near the eastern coastline of England. While most of the teachers at the school are severe and strait-laced women who reinforce its reputation as a repressive environment, Miss G is more youthful and glamorous than her colleagues, and enjoys dropping hints of a free-spirited past to her young charges. Miss G encourages her students to challenge conventional norms of the day, and organizes a diving team at the school, which she oversees with great interest. Miss G also sees a danger in the cliques that dominate the school, and she tries to undermine them, much to the annoyance of Di (Juno Temple), who holds a high place in the school's pecking order. But things change for both Miss G and her students when Fiamma (Maria Valverde) enrolls at the school. Fiamma is from Spain and has a strong independent streak; she doesn't look to her peers for approval and insists on doing things her own way, which makes her all the more exotic and appealing to the other students. Fiamma also earns the approval of Miss G, but before long rumors begin to spread that the teacher's interest in her new student is more than academic.