Category Archives: Now Playing

Mixing Blood and Water

A year has passed since Jack’s (Mark Duplass) brother’s untimely death sent him into a misanthropic tailspin which alienated him from everyone in his life except Iris (Emily Blunt), his best friend and brother’s ex-girlfriend. In an effort to do what is best for him, Iris persuades Jack to take a sabbatical to her father’s empty, desolate island home to gather his thoughts and come to grips with his grief. Upon arriving he stumbles upon Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), Iris’s lesbian sister who came to the house also seeking solitude after the painful end of a relationship, and the two bond over their misery until they lose their heads and do something that drives a wedge between them and creates an unfortunate love triangle. YOUR SISTER’S SISTER unpretentiously deals with what happens when being dishonest about emotions leads to mistakes and how people can maintain relationships even in the most tricky situations.

This is not director, Lynn Shelton’s, first film to feature complicated friendships and awkward sex. Her feature film, HUMPDAY, which played at Sundance and South by Southwest dealt with two men whose competitive friendship leads to a bet that involves making a sex tape. In many ways, YOUR SISTER’S SISTER is a very natural next film for Shelton. When doing a story that involves drunken hook-ups and overwhelming love-triangles, it would be easy to have the actors give very broad performances that exaggerate emotion and tension or to spin it more like a romantic comedy, things that both Duplass and Blunt have experience in. Instead, Lynn Shelton, who grew up in Seattle and worked as an actress for many years, chose to direct the performances to be as naturalistic as possible and set the story in the North West which adds to quiet, unpolished feeling of the film.

The most interesting aspect of YOUR SISTER’S SISTER is its exploration of how people can construct their own version of family. Jack had a strained, but somewhat loving relationship with his brother who had just died. Iris and Hannah are half-sisters who come to be at odds with each other. However, throughout the course of the film, these flawed characters come to know each other and form the uneasy but lasting bond that one needs from family.

Lessons Learned

Academy Award nominated MONSIEUR LAZHAR begins with a tragedy. Simon, a 6th grader, is delivering milk to his classroom before the start of class when he discovers the body of his teacher hanging from the rafters. The teachers do all they can to minimize the shock and trauma for the students, hiring a grief councilor, removing old decorations, repainting, and giving the kids a few days off to cope, but in order to move on, they need a new teacher to give them a fresh start.

It is with the introduction of Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian immigrant who takes on the task of being the replacement teacher for the grief-stricken class, that MONSIEUR LAZHAR begins its metamorphosis from a tale of tragedy, to one of hope. Unable to return home because of threats of violence, but unsure of his position in Canada, Bachir Lazhar is uniquely able to identify with the unrest his students are going through. However, the problems they face are not solvable by a single stirring speech or a good book. The process of moving on is a lot of work and begins with recognizing the moments of joy that are sprinkled throughout the film.

More than a film about a singular inspirational teacher, MONSIEUR LAZHAR is about a classroom that is full of individuals (who happen to be children) who cope with trauma in different ways, but need each other to get through it. The tragedy of their teachers’ suicide causes the adults in the film to recognize the humanity of the children who are as complicated as they are and more mature than they seem. Some of the kids, like Marie, desire structure and a return to normalcy and deeply resent any mention of the past trauma. Then there are those like Alice, the only other child to catch a glimpse of their dead teacher, who cannot move on until they fully understand what happened that would make someone decide to take their own life. Though each child is different, they are not alone and with the guidance of their new teacher and friend, they can get to a place where they can be happy again.

Simple, but not simplistic, MONSIEUR LAZHAR is a gem of a film that is enjoyable, introspective, and uplifting. It’s a must-see for those who take pleasure in cinema that examines the bitter-sweet complexities of real life.

A Story So Unbelievable, It Has To Come From Texas

It’s no secret that Texans like to think of their home-state as one that is superior to any other place on Earth. The diversity of the people who reside in its various regions is matched only by the overwhelming sense of community and pride Texans feel despite the vast stretches of road that separate us. So far, director Richard Linklater has had national success with regional films like DAZED AND CONFUSED and SLACKER and has continually brought the same feelings of community to the films he has made since. This time, Linklater and co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” for Texas Monthly that the film was based on, return to Texas to bring us BERNIE, opening in New York, L.A., and Austin on the 27th.

BERNIE is the bizarre story of  Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) a gentle, kindhearted, assistant funeral director in the small East Texas town of Carthage, who befriends and later murders wealthy, mean-spirited, widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley McClaine), by shooting her with a rifle intended to kill armadillos and then placed her body in a freezer while he convinced the town she was still alive for months, spending her money on cars for other people, a new wing for the Methodist Church, and on musical productions for the High School theater. The film is narrated by a chorus of “gossips,” the inhabitants of Carthage who give their commentary on what happened that turned the sweetest man in town into a killer. Importantly, while some of the gossips are actors, many of them are actual townsfolk talking about their memories of the real Bernie and Mrs. Nugent, giving this film an aspect of documentary.

And while the death of Marjorie Nugent is a dark event, there are many touches of comedy in this film. They found her body wrapped in a Lands’ End sheet underneath chicken pot pies, and, as one of the gossips put it, “There are people in this town, honey, who would have shot her for five dollars.” The community of Carthage was so much on Bernie’s side, that prosecutor, Danny Buck Davidson (Mathew Mcconaughey) had to move the trial two counties over in order to find a jury willing to convict him.

BERNIE is an extremely enjoyable depiction of why you should not mistreat your friends, and the kind of community that most Texans are familiar with.

The Latest Joy Ride from the Dardennes

Quiet, deeply affecting and lyrical filmmaking is what Belgian brothers Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne do best. Like ROSETTA (1999), and THE SON (2002), which also deal with childhood, their latest film, THE KID WITH A BIKE, truly exemplifies their craft and is a very exciting addition to the Violet Crown Cinema lineup.

After his father places him in a home for abandoned children, 11-year-old Cyril clings to his bike, the only thing that holds any significance for him, and Samantha, a hairdresser who is the only person who has been honest with him. The bulk of the film takes place on the weekends that Cyril spends with Samantha who does her best to make him feel cared for. As with every Dardenne film, things do not stay simple for long and as if by accident, Cyril becomes involved in a violent crime. However, THE KID WITH A BIKE is remarkably hopeful and without any pretense or unnatural moments.

If the story of THE KID WITH A BIKE is moving, the aesthetics of the film are powerful enough to match it. Full of the Dardennes famous following shots, the camera keeps you with the characters as they move forward throughout the film, never revealing anything that the characters themselves don’t know. The freedom expressed in Cyril riding is bike in a furry to escape his present situation is gorgeously captured. It plays a huge role in making the film feel incredibly natural and affecting. If you take as much pleasure in seeing a stunning piece of work executed by people who are masters of their craft as I do, you are not going to want to miss THE KID WITH A BIKE. Tickets are now on sale.

Like Father Like Son

The central conflict in American-Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s film, FOOTNOTE, is like one that would be in a slapstick comedy; a low-level bureaucratic assistant mistakenly mixes up the names of a  father and son pair of professors and gives a prestigious award to the wrong one. The lighthearted score adds to the air of humor as we learn more about these two aging men who are more than a little petty. In a brilliant scene wherein the son, Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) enters a tiny room wherein the members of the award committee reveal that it was actually him who should have received the award and not his father Eliezer (Shlomo Bar Aba), the comedy escalates and merges with the intense and painful drama that would play out more fully as the film continues.

The screenplay for FOOTNOTE which won the award at Cannes is a fascinating marriage of dramatic tension and comedy. It uses a specific incident to reveal larger truths about its characters in a compact and effective way. With each small bit of information, the emotions become more and more complicated even if the plot is relatively simple. Additionally, there was a large amount of art and skill that went into the direction of the film which used hyper-stylized images, sounds, and performance styles to further the uncomfortable realities of its characters.

For those immersed in the world of academia, FOOTNOTE presents a comically exaggerated, but nonetheless familiar, depiction of the intense competition and camaraderie between scholars who devote their lives to the same bizarrely specialized fields. However, along with the specific world the film inhabits, it also deeply contemplates what it means to be a part of  a family in general. No matter what mode it is working in, FOOTNOTE just works.

The Creativity of Cabaret

A woman in a futuristic costume dances while she is reflected at multiple angles making her movements like a kaleidoscope. Textured light projects polka-dots on a line of women simultaneously enhancing and obscuring the natural curves of their bodies. These, and a myriad of other creative, dream-like images are what makes the Parisian cabaret, Crazy Horse, a spectacular place to simply observe and the prolific documentary filmmaker, Fredrick Wiseman, one of the key players in the development of cinema verité, is that observer. However, CRAZY HORSE, is not just bodies on display (although there is a lot of that). It is as much about observation as it is about manipulation.

Please note that video contains nudity and is not suitable for children

Like Fredrick Wiseman’s previous films, CRAZY HORSE is told without any talking head interviews or directing the action in anyway. He captures what he sees, but that does not mean that he does not have a hand in manipulating the film. Through the editing, Wiseman conveys a bemused, affectionate, and reverent look at the players of the Crazy Horse Paris. From director Philippe Decouflé’s rigid professionalism, artistic director Ali Mahdavi’s eccentric and passionate devotion to the Crazy Horse, and costume designer Fifi Chachnil’s carefully detailed perfectionism, Wiseman illustrates that there is an astonishing amount of creative force that goes into the building of a burlesque show.

The Crazy Horse Paris is world renowned for having sophisticated and avant-garde performances by classically trained nude dancers. The transcendent beauty of the female body as presented at by the Crazy Horse dancers is achieved through hard work, not only on their part, but on the part of the directors as well. Just as Wiseman manipulates the footage to get across the personalities of the Crazy Horse, Philippe Decouflé and his team manipulate the light and movement to transform a group of women into the essence of sensuality. The process is a thrilling thing to witness.

Over Your Cities Grass Willl Grow

In OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW, director Sophie Fiennes provides a cinematic examination of an artist at work. However, this is no small task. For the past 30 years Anselm Kiefer, a German painter and sculptor whose works have been featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many others, and his small team of assistants have been working to transform an 86-acre abandoned silk factory to a colossal multilevel work of art. Working with various mediums, themes, and ideas, Kiefer’s work is a fascinating subject for this truly elegant film.

Kiefer traditionally deals in heavy subjects such as the Holocaust and this is no different. Drawing on biblical passages that describe the destruction of once-glorious man-made creations, in this apocalyptic project, destruction is the primary form of creation. There is a certain sense of exhilaration when you hear the artist say, “I think it needs more acid,” and watch as a gigantic lead book slowly degrades and takes on interesting colors and characteristics. Or the slight feeling of terror when you witness real books getting placed in a fire on a skewer, but emerge with the pages transformed into big flakes of ash stacked one on top of the other in beautiful shapes.

OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW takes you on an unforgettable tour of this vast work-in-progress, presenting the tiniest detail with as much grandeur as the massive sculptures, the artist at work, and the artist explaining his work. For obvious reasons this exhibit will not be traveling to a city near you, so be sure to catch this gorgeous documentary at Violet Crown Cinema this week!

Click here to buy tickets and reserve seats.