“Before Midnight” is another delightful film in the series that has done well in capturing the growth of these characters and their relationship as friends and now lovers within the last three decades. For those who enjoy conversational-driven cinema, “Before Midnight” is recommended!
DVD TITLE: Before Midnight
YEAR OF FILM: 2013
DURATION: 109 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: PG (For Mild Thematic Elements and Brief Smoking)
RELEASE DATE: October 22, 2013
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Characters by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan
Producer as Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Richard Linklater, Sara Woodhatch
Executive Producer: Liz Glotzer, Jacob Pechenik, Martin Shafer, John Sloss
Co-Producer: Vincent Palmo, Jr. and Athina Rachel Tsangari
Associate Producer: Lelia Andronikou
Line Producer: Kostas Kefalas
Music by Graham Reynolds
Director of Photography: Christos Voudouris
Edited by Sandra Adair
Casting by Christina Akzoti, Alex Kelly
Art Direction by Anna Georgiadou
Costume Design by Vasileia Rozana
Ethan Hawke as Jesse Wallace
Julie Delpy as Celine Wallace
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Hank Wallace
Jennifer Prior as Ella Wallace
Charlotte Prior as Nina Wallace
Xenia Kalogeropoulou as Natalia
Walter Lassally as Patrick
Ariane Labed as Anna
Yiannis Papadoupoulos as Achilleas
Athina Rachel Tsangari as Ariadni
In 1995, filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”, “Before Sunrise”, “Before Sunset”, “Waking Life”) released his film “Before Sunrise” which he co-wrote with Kim Krizan.
The film which was about Jesse (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) and Celine (portrayed by Julie Delpy) meeting on a train from Budapest and the two having a conversation with each other. As the two share time in Vienna, and eventually showing they have mutual attraction with each other and make a promise to meet up with each other six months later.
The film earned Richard Linklater a Silver Bear for “Best Director” at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival and was well-received by film critics for its realism and not being banal like other 20-something romantic films.
In 2004, for the sequel “Before Sunset”, nine years have passed and Jesse had written the novel “This Time” about his time with Celine and becomes an American bestseller.
The film received positive reviews for its use of dialogue and how it goes against traditional American cinema due to its focus on communication.
As Jesse is doing a book tour, his final stop is in Paris and he sees Celine. And the two discuss why they never met six months after they promised. The two discuss their lives as Jesse is married with a son, while Celine has a boyfriend, but both are unhappy with the person they are with. And sure enough, their attraction towards each other is rekindled.
And here we are with the third film in the trilogy, “Before Midnight”. A film written by Linklater and co-written with his two stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
After the events from the second film, we learn that both Jesse and Celine are a couple and have two twin daughters. For Jesse, he says goodbye to his teenage son, Hank, who came to visit him in Greece.
For Jesse, the time away from his son hurts him and unfortunately, it doesn’t help that his relationship with his ex-wife is not good. As the two drive away from the airport, both discuss their lives at work. Jesse as a novelist, Celine working for the French government. But he does worry for his son’s childhood, Celine’s career but Celine sees his worries as a harbinger of the downfall of their relationship.
As the two have lunch with their Greek friends, the group discuss their feelings about love and life and now, they need to spice their relationship up. The people staying at Patrick’s place buy Jesse and Celine a hotel room for the night and as the two are together, the two reminisce about their lives, how they met.
But as they stay at the hotel, the two start to question their relationship and wonder if they will ever have a happy future together.
VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:
“Before Midnight” is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and English 5.1 Dolby Digital.
It’s important to remind people that if you want the best video and audio for the film, a Blu-ray release of “Before Midnight” will be released on the same day.
As for the film, the film definitely showcases beauty as it is filmed in Greece and many scenes are shot outdoors. If there is one thing constant with each film in the trilogy thus far, it’s the use of location and setting that makes “Before Midnight” so endearing.
As for audio, this film is primarily dialogue-driven with occasional music, but the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is clear and understandable.
Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH and French.
“Before Midnight” comes with the following special features:
- Revisiting Jesse & Celine
- Q&A with Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater – (37:03) A post-screening Q&A moderated by Elvis Mitchell.
- Theatrical Trailer – (1:53) Theatrical trailer for “Before Midnight”.
- Before Midnight Soundtrack – Text promo for the soundtrack
I have been vocal for my appreciation of dialogue-driven films about intelligent conversations. From Eric Rohmer to even Woody Allen films.
Of course, films about long conversations are not for everyone. And for westerners, the idea of a film going against traditional Hollywood practice and following the convention off many cut scenes may not be their cup of tea.
And when it comes to American cinema, there are the Richard Linklater films in the “Before trilogy”, with “Before Sunset” and “Before Sunrise” and now the latest film, “Before Midnight”. A film that did well in the box office, has its following and also a story that was co-written by Linklater and the film’s main talents Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
The film follows the characters of Jesse (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) and Celine (portrayed by Julie Delpy) who have gone past the physical and sexual attraction to now becoming a couple who have twin children.
Jesse chose to stay in Europe and leave his wife and son and the film begins with Jesse saying goodbye to his son who had a great time staying with his father. It’s quite obvious that his son wants his father in his life and Jesse wanting to be part of his son’s life but since he doesn’t get along with the mother, it’s a bit tough and also because of distance.
And it becomes a discussion that he has with Celine after he sees his son off to the airport to go back to Chicago. And as the films focused on Jesse and Celine in their 20′s, then their 30′s and now in their 40′s, life has changed as Celine wants to have a career and is not wanting to live in Chicago, so Jesse can be closer to his son. Of course, Jesse doesn’t want to be away from Celine and his children but it starts a discussion about where they are as a couple today and where they are as a couple in the future.
By hanging out with friends and seeing various sides of relationship growth, from an older couple, to a couple of the same age and to a couple younger than them, it’s the thought of what one wants to accomplish as a couple, but what one wants to achieve as they get older.
And although the two take part in long conversations and communicate with each other, there are things left unsaid and when they do come out… Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be surprise if there was a fourth film.
I talked to a friend and his thoughts on the film were not to positive as he felt the thought of nostalgia and past romance in a relationship is over-rated.
And it’s OK to feel that way.
I think with these films, especially with “Before Midnight”, the discussion is more about nostalgia about a relationship and how a couple can keep their relationship fulfilling in the future as they try hard to keep things great in the present. But should a couple be in sync, can mindsets be different. Especially how Jesse feels about his son and his wife, being a more independent woman, not wanting to be controlled by a man and focusing on her career. But as they see other couples in sync, they know that their relationship is not in sync.
I know there are some who will say that the Rohmer formula of conversation cinema works when their is focus on intelligent topics. Romance typically not one of them.
I think, and it’s my opinion, while other dialogue films discuss things about art, culture and other highbrow discussions, for Linklater’s films, this one…it goes into the worry of keeping romance alive in your older age. I suppose we all hear it as we get older from friends about how things were great in their 20′s, how sex was better before children or before they got older and other topics I suppose older couples discuss in their 30′s, 40′s or whichever age they me in their later lives.
It’s truthful conversation and the way it is presented in “Before Midnight” is real and I absolutely find it delightful. Of course, it comes down to one if they find it entertaining to watch it on screen. While some will find it great to be part of the nostalgia of growing up with these characters, there are those who may find the topic of enhancing love as a couple when you’re older to be tiring because perhaps in their relationship, the spark has long burned out or it’s getting there.
As for the DVD, as mentioned, if you want beautiful picture quality, the Blu-ray release is the way to go. Especially for this film which was shot in Greece and has many outdoor scenes. But DVD picture quality and audio is good. There are a good amount of special features included, such as audio commentary and a post-screening Q&A and more.
Overall, “Before Midnight” is another delightful film in the series that has done well in capturing the growth of these characters and their relationship as friends and now lovers within the last three decades. For those who enjoy conversational-driven cinema, “Before Midnight” is recommended!
Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void” is a rare and groundbreaking film that captures the complexity of love, emotion and sacrifice. Recommended!
DVD TITLE: Fill the Void
YEAR OF FILM: 2012
DURATION: 90 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Hebrew 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: PG (For Mild Thematic Elements and Brief Smoking)
RELEASE DATE: September 10, 2013
Directed by Rama Burshtein
Written by Rama Burshtein
Produced by Assaf Amir
Music by Yitzhak Azulay
Cinematography by Asaf Sudri
Edited by Sharon Elovic
Casting by Michal Koren
Art Direction by Uri Aminov
Costume Design by Hani Gurevitch
Hadas Yaron as Shira
Yiftach Klein as Yochay
Irit Sheleg as Rivka
Chayim Sharir as Aharon
Razia Israeli as Aunt Hanna
Hila Feldman as Frieda
Renana Raz as Esther
Yael Tai as Shifi
Michael David Weigi as Shtreicher
Ido Samuel as Yossi
Neta Moran as Bilha
Melech Thal as Rabbi
When it comes to media and Hasidic Judaism, not much is really known about the individuals and the community is often seen as private and mysterious.
For filmmaker Rama Burshtein, a woman who is part of the Haredi Jewish community in Tel Aviv, Israel, her goal was to show the artistic side of the community and thus the film “Fill the Void” was born.
The winner of seven Ophir Awards including best director and best film, Burshtein’s award-winning film will be released on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in Sept. 2013.
The film would star Hadas Yaron (“Out of Sight”), Yiftach Klein (“Policeman”), Irit Sheleg, Chayim Sharir and Razia Israeli..
“Fill the Void” begins with 18-year-old Shira Mendelman (portrayed by Hadas Yaron) with her mother as they go to meet potential suitors and is to be married to a young man that she likes. On the day of Purim (a Jewish holiday), while her pregnant older sister Esther (portrayed by Renana Raz) arrives with her husband Yochay (portrayed by Yiftach Klein), Esther seems that she is having pain and when she goes into the bathroom, people noticed she has not come out.
We find out that Esther has died but the baby was saved. As for Shira’s engagement, the father delays it due to Esther’s death and Shira and her mother Rivka (portrayed by Irit Sheleg) help Yochay raise the baby, Mordechai.
One day, Yochay’s mother asks Rivka if Shira would be willing to marry Yochay as it would be best for Mordechai and so far, the plan is to have Yochay marry a widow in Belgium. The thought that her grandson would be taken away to another country and their only link to Esther would be gone, Rivka decides to not have Shira marry the man that she liked but for her to marry Yochay.
For Shira, she is torn by her heart to marry someone she likes and love and her obligation to family. What will she do?
VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:
“Fill the Void” is presented in 2:35:1 and picture quality is good as one can expect from DVD. The soundtrack which is presented in Hebrew 5.1 Dolby Digital is clear and understandable while English and French subtitles are easy to read.
“Fill the Void” comes with the following special features:
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:07) Theatrical trailer for “Fill the Void”
While I know there are some who are Jewish would say this film would appeal and be more understood by those who practice Judaism, my approach to “Fill the Void” was with curiosity.
My feelings toward the film was how real and genuine the story and the performance was. Costume design looked authentic but the storyline of arranged marriages and a person torn by what she feels in her heart and family obligations is not so far from what I have seen within other families who practice arranged marriages for their adult children.
The film is about genuine feelings, an insight to the Hassidic community but exploring characters with genuine emotions. Shira is an 18-year-old who looks forward to her marriage to another man that she will like. But after her oldest sister’s death and because her mother does not want her grandchild far from the family, the family wants Shira to marry Yochay, the love of her eldest sister Esther, but it’s not her love.
There is no emphasis on the beauty of surroundings, but the focus on the capturing of emotion. To capture realism, even though it’s cinema. Long takes and what better than to capture human turmoil through a person’s thought and chance of love, being taken away for one to make a decision solely based on family.
While some people can’t fathom one thinking such a thing too choose family over love in a modern society, the fact is that many do. May it be religious or cultural reasons, arranged marriages still happen today. But unlike other marriages where a woman is not allowed to say no. For “Fill the Void”, Shira is a woman who has a voice and this marriage, hinges on her answer. Will she accept it for family? Or will she follow her heart?
Hadas Yaron is absolutely wonderful in her portrayal of Shira. Realistic, natural, not overacted and a perfectly cast for the role. It’s a role that calls for a subdued young woman, an older teenager who now has a chance of finding love according to her religion. But it’s when her character is asked to make hard decisions, this is the moment where Hadas Yarron shines.
As for filmmaker Rama Burshtein, it’s great that she is the first Orthodox Jewish woman to direct a film about Haredi Jewish community but to also get the support to shoot in the community. The fact is that the world sees the community as very private but within that community, there is so many positive aspects and talents that many people outside of the community don’t get to see. So, this film is a groundbreaking film but also a film that I found as natural but also very real.
As for the DVD, picture and audio quality is good as one can expect on DVD but also featuring an insightful audio commentary by filmmaker Rama Burshtein and actress Hadas Yaron, including a media Q&A with the two.
Overall, Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void” is a rare and groundbreaking film that captures the complexity of love, emotion and sacrifice. Recommended!
“Love Is All You Need” is delightful, entertaining and beautiful romantic comedy from director Susanne Bier. Recommended!
DVD TITLE: Love is All You Need
YEAR OF FILM: 2012
DURATION: 116 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Danish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Brief Sexuality, Nudity and Some Language)
RELEASE DATE: September 10, 2013
Directed by Susanne Bier
Screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen
Story by Susan Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen
Produced by Vibeke Windelov, Sisse Graum Jorgenson
Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Lionello Cerri, Madeleine, Ekman, Maria Kopf, Peter Nadermann, Charlotte Pedersen, Martin Persson, Cesare Petrillo, Vieri Razzini, Marianne Slot, Sigrid Strohmann, Meinolf Zurhorst
Line Producer: Karen Bentzon, Riccardo Pintus
Music by Johan Soderqvist
Cinematography by Morten Soborg
Edited by Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm
Casting by Lene Seested
Production Design by Peter Grant
Art Direction by Tamara Marini
Costume Design by Signe Sejlund
Trine Dyrholm as Ida
Pierce Brosnan as Philip
Sebastian Jessen as Patrick
Molly Blixt Egelind as Astrid
Kim Bodnia as Leif
Ciro Petrone as Alessandro
Marco D’Amore as Marco
Paprika Steen as Bendikte
From Academy Award winning filmmaker Susanne Bier (“In a Better World”, “After the Wedding”, “Things We Lost in the Fire”) comes the Danish romantic comedy “Den skaldede frisor” (which translates to “The Bald Hairdresser”).
To be released in the U.S. as “Love Is All You Need” on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, the film will be released in Sept. on Blu-ray and DVD.
“Love Is All You Need” stars Trine Dyrholm (“The Celebration”, “A Royal Affair”, “In a Better World”), Pierce Brosnan (“Goldeneye”, “Die Another Day”, “The World is Not Enough”), Sebastian Jessen (“Nothing’s All Bad”, “2900 Happiness”), Molly Blixt Egelind (“Okay”, “Rebounce”, “Fighter”) and Kim Bodnia (“Pusher”, “Bleeder”).
“Love is All You Need” is a film that introduces us to a hairdresser named Ida (portrayed by Trine Dyrholm) who has had successful breast cancer treatment and her doctor asks if she wants to have reconstructive surgery, which Ida doesn’t feel is necessary.
The doctor tells her if she talked it over with her husband and that she should go on vacation. Fortunately, she and her husband is planning to go to Italy for her daughter’s wedding.
And as Ida heads back home, she catches her husband Leif (portrayed by Kim Bodnia) having sex with his young accountant. All her husband can say is that he had a hard time dealing with her cancer and as much as it has been difficult on her, it has been difficult on him. He ends up leaving her and leaving Ida in distress.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Philip (portrayed by Pierce Brosnan) who is the owner of a corporation that deals with fruit. Philip is a person that is preoccupied by his work and he is not so talkative to his staff or employees and literally has closed himself off to others.
And we are introduced to Ida’s daughter Astrid (portrayed by Molly Blixt Egelind) and her fiance Patrick (portrayed by Sebastian Jessen), the son of Philip.
Both were dating for three months until agreeing on getting married and the two are planning to get married at the Italian lemon plantation in Italy. But part of the problem that Astrid feels is that despite their relationship going well, he will not be intimate with her for some reason and she starts to have her doubts.
As a distressed Ida is trying to park at a parking garage at the airport, she ends up hitting Philip’s car when she tries to backup. Upset with the woman, Philip wants to get the woman’s ID card and sees her crying and emotionally unstable. She tells him that she’s never been to the airport alone and that she’s trying to go to her daughter’s wedding in Italy and Philip tells her that his son Patrick is getting married and both realize that their children are getting married to each other.
As Ida tries to be friendly and sit with Philip, he is not enjoying her being near him and she sees him as a cold person, always focused on work.
When the two arrive in Italy, to add to Ida’s misery, they lose her luggage and to make things worse, her soon-to-be ex-husband Leif has brought his fiance, the young accountant he was caught having sex with.
Meanwhile for Philip, he must deal with his sister-in-law who keeps trying to flirt with him.
As Ida tries to enjoy her time in Italy, she swims nude in the ocean and just loves the beauty of the area. While Philip sees her clothes and her wig lying on the sand. As she comes back to the beach nude, both end up trying to ease their boredom or sadness in Italy by talking to each other.
Philip takes her through the lemon plantation that were once orange trees. And as both start to enjoy their time talking to each other, Philip can see the sadness of her having to see her ex-husband with his new fiance. Meanwhile, Ida hopes that she can help get Philip to talk about life and he reveals that he met his wife in Italy and that she was killed in a senseless car accident and it not only hurt his child but it hurt him and made him hate the world.
And both find comfort in discussing life with each other.
As for their children, the weekend with their families, may help them wake up and discover if they are right for each other.
“Love Is All You Need” is a story about seeking love and having the courage to change your life, even when you think it’s too late.
VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:
“Love Is All You Need” is presented in 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Danish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Subtitles in English and English SDH.
For a beautiful film that is exquisitely shot in Sorrento, Italy by Morten Soborg, this is a film that will probably look so much better in HD via Blu-ray and sound much better in lossless HD. But for those who are interested in the DVD version, I can say that the picture quality is good, as one can expect on DVD. The beauty of Sorrento with it’s colors and the contrasting blue colors of Brosnan’s shirts are quite evident.
The music is crystal clear on DVD but it’s more of a front and center-channel driven soundtrack.
“Love Is All You Need” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with director Susanne Bier and Pierce Brosnan.
- Q&A with Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen - (8:25) Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen Q&A at Toronto International Film Festival.
- Behind the Scenes with Trine Dyrholm: Venice Film Festival 2012 – (5:21) Photographer Joachim Adrian Mikkelsen talks about the 3-day photo access he had with Trine Dyrholm for the Venice Film Festival 2012.
- Pierce Brosnan & Trine Dyrholm Interview – (9:58) Featuring an interview with Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm.
- Pierce Brosnan Interview – (7:32) Pierce Brosnan interviewed at the Venice Film Festival 2012.
- Theatrical Trailer – (1:52) The original theatrical trailer for “Love Is All You Need”.
As a cineaste who has enjoyed the films of Susanne Bier and her writing partner Anders Thomas Jensen. One thing that is consistent of their films is tackling family dysfunction but also capturing a human element.
With “Love Is All You Need”, Susanne doesn’t go through a darker or traumatic path but goes to a romantic comedy that makes one see the beauty through the cinematography of Morton Soborg (“In a Better World”, “After the Wedding”, “Chernobyl Diaries”). Capturing the beauty of Sorrento, Italy with beautiful environments and colors but also wonderful performances by actress Trine Dyrholm and Pierce Brosnan.
Trine playing the character of Ida, a woman who is dealing with cancer and fighting it, a hairdresser with no hair but wearing a wig but still not wanting to trouble her own family, but to find her own husband having an affair.
Pierce Brosnan, in reality, a man who has lost his wife and also a daughter to ovarian cancer was approached to play this role by Susanne Bier and having had the emotions of pain and loss of losing a love one or having a love one fight cancer, is tough but like the character of Philip in which he plays, possible therapeutic in taking on a story not about death or tragedy but of hope.
Both have wonderful chemistry and gentleness as we see how these two individuals open each other’s hearts up. Ida, a mother and wife who had kept things inside because she doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone, while Philip is a widower who lost his wife to a car accident and has hated the world and has affected his relationship with his own son.
The storyline would also focus on both character’s children, Astrid, a young woman who wants to know what true love is in a marriage, while Patrick is a man who is not sure about himself and what love is. Both who knew each other in three months and have not been intimate decide to get married and must learn a lesson about love, while Astrid’s mother and Patrick’s father, who have had love, have chance to change their lives and possibly discover love.
I found “Love Is All You Need” to be a delightful film. Music that sets the tone of the romantic comedy with “Amore” to fascinating characters, even Kim Bodnia, known for playing action or dark roles, plays the philandering husband of Ida who tries to make people feel bad for him, that he had to have an affair with a younger woman.
As the film deals with a woman who has cancer, it’s not a film about cancer. It’s about second chances and people discovering or rediscovering love.
While “Love Is All You Need” is an enjoyable romantic comedy, it does have a few shortcomings with the relationships progressing too fast for the characters. Where some films would feature a romance over a period of weeks, months or years, this is possibly over a weekend or a few days and while plausible, I felt it would have been interesting to explore the main characters more. As for the relationship between Astrid and Patrick, it does fit the banality of young love in turmoil but I did find Molly Blixt Egelind’s performance to be fantastic and I look forward to seeing her in cinema much more in the near future.
As for the DVD release, as one can expect for a DVD, the picture quality is good and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very good but for those who want magnificent picture quality and a lossless soundtrack will want to opt for the Blu-ray release of the film. Special features features an insightful commentary by director Susanne Bier and Pierce Brosnan plus interviews from the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival.
Overall, “Love Is All You Need” is delightful, entertaining and beautiful romantic comedy from director Susanne Bier. Recommended!
“Amour” is a devastating, intelligent and unsettling masterpiece from filmmaker Michael Haneke. There are many films that confront fear but when you confront an inevitable fear that many people will experience one day, you will need masterful performances to pull it off and both legendary talents Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver! Highly recommended!
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 127 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 aspect ratio, French 5.0 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: PG-13 (Mature Thematic Material including a Disturbing Act and For Brief Language)
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Directed by Michael Haneke
Screenplay by Michael Haneke
Produced by Stefan Arndt, Margaret Menegoz
Co-Producer: Michael Andre, Alice Girard, Daniel Goudineau, Hans-Wolfgang Jurgan, Wolfgang Lorenz, Heinrich Mis, Bettina Reitz, Bettina Ricklefs
Executive Producer: Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz, Uwe Schott
Cinematography by Darius Khondji
Edited by Nadine Muse, Monika Willi
Casting by Kris Portier de Bellair
Production Design by Jean-Vincent Puzos
Set Decoration by Susanne Haneke, Sophie Reynaud
Costume Design by Catherine Leterrier
Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges
Emmanuel Riva as Anne
Isabelle Huppert as Eva
Alexandre Tharaud as Alexandre
William Shimell as Geoff
Some regard filmmaker Michael Haneke as one of the bleakest directors in modern cinema.
From films such as “Benny’s Video”, “Funny Games”, “Code Unknown”, “The Piano Teacher”, “Hidden” to name a few, his films have been known for its unsettling content and sometimes its shock value.
But having won multiple awards for his film, his most well-regarded film came in 2009 with “The White Ribbon” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and multiple awards for “Best Film” including the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
But it’s his 2012 film “Amour” that would make Haneke become one of the most well-revered filmmakers by winning consecutive Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the Cesar Award for Best Film, the FIPRESCI Award Grand Prix and many more awards with positive reviews from film critics worldwide.
For Michael Haneke, “Amour” is somewhat a deviation when compared to his previous films. It’s his most personal film and it’s a film that he tailored for legendary French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (“Three Colors:Red”, “The Conformist”, “My Night at Maud’s”, “Z”). One of the dream actors he had wanted to work with (the other being Marlon Brando) and felt that if he wanted to work with the actor, for this story, this film, it had to be now.
The film would also star one of the well-known names of French cinema, actress Emmanuel Riva (“Hiroshima, mon amour”, “Leon Morin, Priest”, “Three Colors: Blue”) and Isabelle Huppert, the lead actress seen in Haneke’s award-winning film “The Piano Teacher”.
And now the award-winning film “Amour” will be released on Blu-ray in August 2013 courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
“Amour” is a film that begins with firemen breaking into a home in a Paris apartment and they find the corpse of an older woman with flowers all around her.
The film then goes back several months earlier as we are introduced to an elderly couple, Georges (portrayed by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva), both are retired piano teachers and have had a loving relationship for many decades
One morning during breakfast, while having a discussion, immediately Anne goes quiet in a catatonic state, her body staring at the distance. Georges tries to talk to her, tries to damp her with a wet cloth but she is not responding. As he gets dressed to take her to the hospital, he hears the faucet that he had turned on, being shut off.
He goes to check on her and it’s like nothing has happened. He tells her to stop pulling pranks but she doesn’t know what he is talking about. But when she goes to pour a cup of tea, she is unable to pour into her cup and immediately Georges knows that something is wrong. It is revealed that Anne has suffered a stroke.
We find out through Georges conversation with daughter Eva (portrayed by Isabelle Huppert) that Anne had surgery for a blocked carotid artery but the surgery didn’t go well and now she is paralyzed on the right side of her body and must be confined to a wheelchair.
Anne asks Georges to make a promise and that is to never send her to the hospital ever again. And as Georges becomes her caretaker, Anne knows that this is not the way she wants to live, let alone her husband having to be be there for her as a caretaker and tells him that she does not want to go on living.
But Anne suffers another stroke and now she suffers from dementia and is incapable of speaking clearly. George continues to honor his promise to her but hiring a nurse for three days a week and having to take care of her becomes very difficult.
But when someone you love and their health is getting worse… For the love of that person, what would you do?
“Amour” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). The film was primarily shot on a set that resembled Michael Haneke’s parents and aunt’s room, with a green screen outside of the windows. But because everything is shot indoors, lighting is somewhat dim. You will not see the characters going outdoors in the sunlight but for the most part, as subdued the lighting is, the clarity of the picture is well-done. Closeups of the characters faces show incredible detail and skin colors are natural.
I did not notice any artifacts or any banding but for the most part, picture quality for this film is very good.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Amour” is presented in French 5.0 DTS-HD MA. For a film of this nature, one should not expect surround sound use but because the film does feature classical music, may it be listened at a live performance or played through a stereo, the dialogue and music are crystal clear.
Subtitles are in English and English SDH.
“Amour” comes with the following special features:
- Making of Amour – (24:42) Behind-the-scenes of “Amour”, interview with Michael Haneke and the cast.
- Q&A with Michael Haneke – (38:55) Film Independent Q&A interview at LACMA with Michael Haneke.
- Theatrical Trailer – (1:59) Theatrical trailer for “Amour”.
As I finished watching Michael Haneke’s “Amour”, there is a part of me that scares me.
It’s the inevitable of knowing that you and your spouse will grow old but also will face a health crisis or even death. No one wants to think about such a thing but for any living human being, we know it’s inevitable.
May it be cancer, heart attack, stroke or Alzheimer’s, some of us may have experienced it through a family member or friend and wonder and hope that it’s something we don’t have to face.
But “Amour” is a film that makes you think about life and if you were with your spouse for decades until your old age, how much suffering can one tolerate or will you tolerate.
I think about my grandmother who died of a brain aneurism and seeing my grandfather, who loved my grandmother so much, slowly start to die because his wife was no longer there. I see my grandfather now with Alzheimer’s and it’s hard for me because a few years ago, he was a man that was always discussing today’s news and his favorite sports teams but now, his memories are reduced to when he was younger but of all grandchildren, he remembers me. But seeing how my grandmother has to take care of him and I know it’s hard for her.
This film reinforces emotions that a lot of us don’t want to think about, but we do. And when we do, it’s a natural fear. For those of us who are married, you want to live a long life with your loved one, but when one becomes sick, has cancer, has a stroke or some unfortunate health problem, we are defenseless. Our love helps keep us strong for that person, to be for that person. But yet, what if that person does not want you to see them suffering or slowly deteriorating?
For those who are familiar with Haneke’s films, there is always a pervasive, unsettling mood about each of his films. In fact, you can always expect his films to shock you in some sort of way. And with his award-winning film “Amour”, it is no exception.
A non-sentimental film about long-lasting love but how that love can be tested. What happens when an elderly couple face the greatest challenge in their lives. A film that is among Haneke’s most personal and one of his best, the film boasts magnificent performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.
Trintignant as Georges, the loving husband and caretaker who is torn by his love to take care of his wife Anne (Riva), while Anne before her second stroke knows that this is not the life that she wants to live. Paralyzed and having her husband having to now do everything for her.
But after her second stroke, its the performance that further makes us know that these two legendary talents have put on one of their most magnificent performances on screen. Watching Riva play woman who is no longer able to talk, a woman who’s health can not get any better and just watching these two together is so heartbreaking, it was very hard to watch. But both manage to take on the role of these characters with amazing efficacy.
But please do not be misguided by the title of the film and think this is a film about love or happy endings. The film is heartbreaking, bleak and even for me, quite difficult to watch. And even after watching it and typing this…it’s not a film that I don’t think I can forget. Unsettling… but definitely one of Haneke’s best.
As for the Blu-ray release, “Amour” features very good picture quality. One should not expect vibrant colors as many shots are indoors and lighting is a bit subdued but the contrast and detail are very good on Blu-ray. Lossless audio is restricted to dialogue and music but both are crystal clear. You also get a few special features included as well.
Overall, “Amour” is a devastating, intelligent and unsettling masterpiece from filmmaker Michael Haneke. There are many films that confront fear but when you confront an inevitable fear that many people will experience one day, you will need masterful performances to pull it off and both legendary talents Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver!
A highly recommend film and Blu-ray release but I strongly caution viewers that it may be difficult for some to watch.
“The Company You Keep” is a riveting political action thriller featuring an all-star cast! It’s an exciting, smart film that will no doubt entertain you from beginning to end. Recommended!
TITLE: The Company You Keep
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 122 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1 aspect ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Language)
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Directed by Robert Redford
Screenplay by Lem Dobbs
Based on the novel by Neil Gordon
Produced by Nicolas Carter, Bill Holderman, Robert Redford
Executive Producer: Craig J. Flores, Shawn Williamson
Associate Producer: Jonathan Shore
Music by Cliff Martinez
Cinematography by Adriano Goldman
Edited by Mark Day
Casting by Avy Kaufman, Maureen Webb
Production Design by Laurence Bennett
Art Direction by Jeremy Stanbridge
Set Decoration by Carol Lavallee
Costume Design by Karen L. Matthews
Robert Redford as Jim Grant/Nick Sloan
Shia LaBeouf as Ben Shepard
Julie Christie as Mimi Lurie
Susan Sarandon as Sharon Solarz
Nick Nolte as Donal Fitzgerald
Chris Cooper as Daniel Sloan
Terrence Howard as FBI Agent Cornelius
Stanley Tucci as Ray Fuller
Richard Jenkins as Jed Lewis
Anna Kendrick as Diana
Brendan Gleeson as Henry Osborne
Brit Marling as Rebecca Osborne
Sam Elliott as Mac Mcleod
Stephen Root as Billy Cusimano
Jackie Evancho as Isabel Grant
In 2003, author Neil Gordon’s novel “The Company You Keep” was released. And for actor/director/producer Robert Redford (“The Horse Whisperer”, “The Sting”, “Spy Game”), he happened to enjoy the book so much, that he wanted to make a film adaptation of the novel.
Featuring a screenplay by Lem Dobbs (“Dark City”, “The Score”, “The Hard Way”), the film would win the “Giovani Giurati del Vittorio Veneto Film Festival Award” and “Open Prize” and the Venice Film Festival and the film would go on to receive positive reviews from film critics.
The film would feature an all-star cast which includes Redford in the lead role, Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers” films, “Lawless”), Julie Christie (“Doctor Zhivago”, “Fahrenheit 451″, “Finding Neverland”), Susan Sarandon (“Thelma & Louise”, “The Client”, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), Nick Nolte (“48 Hours”, “The Thin Red Line”, “Cape Fear”), Chris Cooper (“American Beauty”, “The Bourne Identity”, “Adaptation”), Terrence Howard (“Iron Man”, “Hustle & Flow”, “Crash”), Stanley Tucci (“The Hunger Game”, “The Terminal”, “The Devil Wears Prada”), Richard Jenkins (“Jack Reacher”, “The Cabin in the Woods”, “Step Brothers”), Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect”, “Up in the Air”, “50/50″), Brendan Gleeson (“Troy”, “Gangs of New York”, “Braveheart”), Brit Marling (“Another Earth”, “Arbitrage”, “The East”), Sam Elliott (“Hulk”, “Up in the Air”, “Tombstone”) and singer Jackie Evancho.
“The Company You Keep” begins with an introduction of extremism that grew in America in a fight against the Vietnam War. One of the extremist groups was the Weather Underground.
The film would then feature Sharon Solarz (portrayed by Susan Sarandon) saying goodbye to her family. She goes to the nearest gas station and immediately is arrested by federal authorities.
It is revealed that Sharon Solarz is a former member of the Weather Underground, a group that has been wanted by federal authorities for a 1980 Michigan bank robbery which left a bank security guard dead. Wanting to write about the arrest is an ambitious reporter named Ben Shepard (portrayed by Shia LaBeouf) of the Albany Sun Times. His editor Ray Fuller (portrayed by Stanley Tucci) assigns him to follow up on the story.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Jim Grant (portrayed by Robert Redford), a single father who is raising his young 11-year-old daughter Isabel (portrayed by Jackie Evancho). Jim’s wife and Isabel’s mother was killed in a car accident and the two have been trying to get back into live their lives but Jim knows that his daughter is still hurting and he has to be there for her.
A successful lawyer, he is asked by former client, Billy Cusimano (portrayed by Stephen Root) who is friends with Sharon Solarz if he can represent her in court. But Jim doesn’t want to take any major cases because of his wife’s death and he wants to focus on raising his daughter, so he declines to represent Solarz but gives Billy a phone number of another lawyer.
As Ben goes to the FBI to get some information from FBI agent Diana (portrayed by Anna Kendrick), a woman he once dated back in college. With Ben prodding for more info., she gives him the name of Billy Cusimano, a man that they have wiretapped and was in contact with Sharon Solarz before she was arrested.
When Ben goes to visit Cusimano, Ben finds out that he went to Jim Grant first, but he declined such a major case. This leads to Ben trying to contact Jim and wondering why he would bypass such a major case. He meets with Jim but he gets nothing from there meeting, so Ben begins to investigate Jim Grant and he finds out that before 1979 and finds a copy of Jim Grant’s California death certificate The more he starts to investigate, he realizes that Jim Grant is actually Nick Sloan, a former member of the Weather Underground.
Jim realizes that he is about to be outted as a member of the Weather Underground and be implicated for murdering a security guard, which will take him away from his daughter. So, instead of taking Isabel to school in the morning, both leave on a father and daughter trip, which is actually a goodbye for Jim as he plans to have his brother Daniel (portrayed by Chris Cooper) watch over his daughter and makes him a temporary guardian.
When Ben’s article outing Jim Grant as Nick Sloan, the news receives media attention. So much that Sharon Solarz will grant one media interview and that would be with Ben. And through the interview, Ben learns that in the Weather Underground, they fought for what they believed in, against big corporations and the government. When Ben tries to ask about Jim Grant/Nick Sloan, she reveals that Nick and another member named Mimi were a couple.
As the FBI led by FBI Agent Cornelius (portrayed by Terrence Howard) try to find Nick Sloan, Jim is meeting up with former Weather Underground members for some reason. Meanwhile, Ben starts to wonder why Nick/Jim’s actions is not of a guilty man but appears that he’s trying to look for someone. Could that someone be a person that may have information that Jim/Nick is innocent of his crime?
“The Company You Keep” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1). There are many scenes that are shot outdoors and so, outdoor scenes are colorful and vibrant. Closeup of characters faces provide quite a bit of detail, colors are warm and black levels during darker scenes are nice and deep, didn’t notice any crush, artifacts or banding. If anything, picture quality for this film on Blu-ray is very good!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Company You Keep” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film is primarily dialogue driven but there are moments where crowd ambiance or police vehicles or helicopters are heard through the surround channels. For the most part, dialogue and music is crystal clear through the center and front channels and the lossless soundtrack is appropriate for this film.
Subtitles are in English and English SDH.
“The Company You Keep” comes with the following special features:
- Behind the Scenes: The Movement – (12:14) Interviews with the cast and behind-the-scenes footage from the film.
- Behind the Scenes: The Script, Preparation and the Cast - (17:52) The cast talks about the unfinished script that was being modified, preparation to adapt the novel to a film and casting.
- On the Red Carpet – (2:20) A look at the cast and crew on the red carpet for “The Company You Keep”.
- The Company You Keep Press Conference – (13:19) An press conference with Robert Redford, Jackie Evancho, Stanley Tucci and Brit Marling.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:12) Theatrical trailer for “The Company You Keep”.
A riveting political action thriller featuring an all-star cast!
Director, producer and actor Robert Redford does a wonderful job as the main character on the run from the FBI in order to prove his innocence.
“The Company You Keep” does draw comparisons to one of the biggest news stories of the early ’70s, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
A real life story that took place in the early ’70s which captured America, in which the Hearst newspaper heiress was kidnapped in 1974 by the SLA and two months later, was seen as a new member of the SLA and were seen robbing banks. Hearst was described as a victim of Stockholm Syndrome (when hostages express sympathy or empathy for their captors), she was caught and arrested alongside Wendy Yoshimura, another SLA member who was involved a bank heist gone bad and a customer named Myrna Opsahl was shot and killed. Various members have remained fugitives for years, one member Kathleen Ann Soliah lived as a housewife under the name Sara Jane Olson but was arrested in 2001 as being part of the crime (and was later released after seven years in prison).
In the case of “The Company You Keep”, the Weather Underground has similarities with the SLA but were created as a voice to retaliate against the Vietnam War and in this case, take action for what they believed in.
But for “The Company You Keep”, there is a twist. The main character of Jim/Nick was a member of the Weather Underground and is wanted for his role in the murder of a security guard.
The film tries to build sympathy for Jim, the upstanding citizen/lawyer, widowed father raising his young 11-year-old daughter. Until it was revealed that he is a wanted man for a bank robbery/murder that happened 30-years ago. While the film plays out like a cat and mouse game as the FBI agents are on the move to capture him, because there are a number of Weather Underground members across America, Jim/Nick tries to meet up with each of them in order to find a woman named Mimi.
Meanwhile, the reporter Ben Shepard who was responsible for outting Jim Grant as Nick starts to wonder why Jim’s actions are not of a person who is guilty and trying to run away. The pieces left behind appear as he is trying to prove his innocence. And the more Ben starts to dig and learn about the secrets of the Weather Underground, the more he learns that many people’s live can be destroyed.
The film benefits from its riveting storyline and its all-star cast.
Robert Redford does a good job playing the stoic character but also showing that he has what it takes to quickly climb a gate at 76-years-old, playing the role of a man who is in his late 50′s or 60′s, so I give Redford credit that even now, he still has it within him to play these action roles, he even takes his shirt off onscreen. I know many critics felt Redford was much too old to play this role, but if we didn’t know he was 76, would anyone ever question him playing the role? Probably not.
Shia LaBeouf plays the job of an ambitious reporter very well, maybe a bit too well as he is always a step-ahead of the FBI and a guy who appears to have done quite well in sweet talking with the ladies, the role is probably the most mature role I have seen LaBeouf play since his 2005 golfing film “The Great Game Ever Played”.
While each of the star talents featured in the film have short roles, for me, it added to the enjoyment of the film (especially for the fact that he was able to get these talents on a smaller budget). Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins as a former WU members, Stanley Tucci as the editor, Anna Kendrick and Terrence Howard as the FBI agents and the “Britain Got Talent” music star, Brit Marling as an adopted daughter of a former police investigator that was investigating the bank heist case in the past, Jackie Evancho as the daughter of Jim Grant, and more!
But I did enjoy the film on how it takes on ’60s radicalism but also discussing the carelessness of modern journalism. If the film came out 20-years ago, I would have felt this film would have an amazing impact. For the American extremist groups that came out of the Vietnam War, there are those who were alive to remember how things were back in the ’70s. People who remember the Patty Hearst case or even Jane Fonda voicing her opinion on Vietnam War, people who remember a time when people were passionate to fight about what they believed in, despite some engaging in tactics that were wrong.
But now, some groups around the world have gone beyond using words to debate what they believed in. In today’s world, when we hear extremism, we worry about how far these people will go not to fight or hurt corporations and governments but hurting innocent lives as a revenge against American political behavior.
Sarandon’s role as Sharon Solarz tries to emphasize during an interview between her and the reporter Ben Shepard, that they fought in what they believed in. When she asks Ben the same question, part of me felt there was a message that young people were more vocal then than they are now. Meanwhile, a juxtaposition of Jim/Nick’s character who seems to have grown up from his former group and realized that being vocal is good but taking part in dangerous, risky and criminal tactics was wrong.
As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality for the film is very good with wonderful detail upon closeups of the characters, I saw no artifacts or banding. As for its lossless audio track, dialogue is crystal clear but this is not an action film. Sure, you get moments of a helicopter flying above or police cars with sirens on, chasing another car. But one should not expect any major action scenes from Redford, aside from the actor jumping a fence. There are a few special features included with the Blu-ray release, especially a press conference with Redford and a few of the talents of the film.
Overall, “The Company You Keep” is a riveting political action thriller featuring an all-star cast! It’s an exciting, smart film that will no doubt entertain you from beginning to end.
Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” is an entertaining and fascinating film that provides insight to modern agriculture, its competitive nature but how far farmers will go to be the best in the business. Featuring a wonderful performance from Dennis Quaid! Recommended!
TITLE: At Any Price
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 104 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1 aspect ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Sexual Content, Including a Strong Graphic Image and for Language)
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
Screenplay by Ramin Bahrani, Hallie Elizabeth Newton
Producer: Ramin Bahrani, Pamela Koffler, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman, Kevin Turen, Christine Vachon
Executive Producer: Mohammed Al Turki, Ron Curtis, Eric Nyari, Brian Young
Co-Producer: Declan Baldwin, Andrew Levitas
Line Producer: Gary Giudice
Associate Producer: Summer Shelton, Ben Stillman
Music by Dickon Hinchliffe
Cinematograpy by Michael Simmonds
Edited by Affonso Goncalves
Casting by Douglas Aibel
Production Design by Chad Keith
Art Direction by Jonathan Guggenheim
Set Decoration by Adam Willis
Costume Design by Tere Duncan
Dennis Quaid as Henry Whipple
Kim Dickens as Irene Whipple
Aaron B. Oduber as Young Dean Whipple
Jacob R. Oduber as Young Grant Whipple
Zac Efron as Dean Whipple
Patrick W. Stevens as Grant Whipple
Guy Massey as Funeral Pastor
John Hoogenakker as Mr. Pritchard
Laura Atwood as Mrs. Pritchard
Dan Waller as Larry Brown
Maika Monroe as Cadence Farrow
In America’s heartland, farmers are facing increasing competition and for many, the rule for survival is to expand. But how far will farmers go to expand?
This is what filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”, “Plastic Bag”, “Goodbye Solo”) wanted to find out.
Going to Iowa and to stay and learn from farmers, talk about what is happening with today’s farms and learning that farmers are facing not only competition but facing pressure of selling their land because no siblings want to pursue the farming lifestyle but also the risks of not having enough to compete with the most powerful farmers.
And from this experience, Ramin came up with the idea to write and direct the film “At Any Price” which stars Dennis Quaid (“The Day After”, “Vantage Point”, “Frequency”), Zac Efron (“17 Again”, “High School Musical”, “The Lucky One”), Heather Graham (“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”, “Boogie Nights”, “The Hangover”), Kim Dickens (“The Blindside”, Hollow Man”, “House of Sand and Fog”) and Maika Monroe (“The Bling Ring”).
“At Any Price” revolves around the dysfunctional Whipple family.
Henry Whipple is the patriarch who runs the Whipple family farm that was created by his great grandfather and is expected to continue the business by his father. As an enterprising farmer, the Whipple’s are in the business of genetically modified corn seed and is the top seed salesman in seven southern Iowa counties for a major agribusiness corporation. And always striving to be the best in the competitive farming business, Henry knows that expansion is the key of being on top and he often attends funerals of farmers in order to give deals to families of buying out their land.
Seen by grieving families as “sharks”, Henry knows that chances are that siblings are not wanting to run the farm and rather sell, so he tries to teach the business to his youngest son Dean (portrayed by Zac Efron), a young man who rather race cars than run a farm.
As Henry’s wife Irene (portrayed by Kim Dickens) tries to make sure everything goes well in the home and both husband and wife follow the adventures of their oldest son Grant (portrayed by Patrick W. Stevens), a college football standout and one traveling the world instead of wanting to come home and run the family farm. Eventually, Henry worries about who will continue the family business if he passes and if his sons will take it over. With Grant going off on travels and not coming home, Henry begins to think that maybe Dean is the son that can run the family farm. Problem is, he knows that Dean is wanting to pursue racing.
For Dean, he’s not close to his father. He sees his father focused more on the “family farming business” than his own kids and puts a lot of pressure on them to take over the family farm. So, Dean tends to get into trouble, vandalizing stores in town and hanging out with his girlfriend Cadence Farrow (portrayed by Maika Monroe) and his friends, getting drunk and having fun.
But his dreams is to race pro, having won the local stock racing tournaments.
But for the Whipple’s, their rivals are the Johnson family. Jim Johnson has further broken into Henry’s farming territory and taking one of his counties and setting himself to be the #1 seed seller in the region, while his son Brad (portrayed by Ben Marten) is Dean’s rival on the race track. The competition between both families of being #1 is tough.
And in trying to be #1, that may include doing things that you’re not proud of. And for Henry, his life starts to change when he is investigated for illegal seeding practices (selling used seeds) and now wondering who may have ratted him out.
So, the stress is high for Henry as he cheats on his wife with the younger Meredith (portrayed by Heather Graham), who also has her eyes on his son, Dean. He also has to deal with a father who puts pressure on him for not damaging the reputation of the farming business that the Whipple family had created long ago. But Henry may have to deal with a son, the future of the Whipple farming business, in ways that he never thought would ever happen.
“At Any Price” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1). There are many scenes that are shot outdoors and so, outdoor scenes are colorful and vibrant. Closeup of characters faces provide quite a bit of detail, colors are warm and black levels during darker scenes are nice and deep, didn’t notice any crush, artifacts or banding. If anything, picture quality for this film on Blu-ray is very good!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“At Any Price” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film is primarily dialogue and music and is center/front channel-driven. There are moments with surround use via ambiance with crowds or the sounds of overhead aircraft and stock car racing scenes. But the lossless soundtrack is crystal clear and for a film such as “At Any Price”, is appropriate.
Subtitles are in English SDH and French.
“At Any Price” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Ramin Bahrani and Dennis Quaid.
- Toronto International Film Festival Q&A – (13:36) An audience Q&A with Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens and Maika Monroe.
- Rehearsal Footage – (5:35) Prior to the film being made, Ramin Bahrani shot rehearsal footage with other actors on his digital camera. Featuring four scenes.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:18) Theatrical trailer for “At Any Price”.
I have known many farmers in my lifetime. Having been raised in an agricultural area, I learned a lot about the issues faces California farmers. But “At Any Price” shown me a perspective of today’s modern agriculture that I was not familiar with. The business of genetically modified seeds but also logical issues that pertain to farmers in relation to expansion but also an aging demographic of family farming businesses that are threatened primarily because no other family member wants to take on the farming business.
The story of “At Any Price” is rather interesting because filmmaker Ramin Bahrani had six months to stay and live with farmers and learn about the business. While the film is not about any major corporation that specializes in seeds, Ramin presents an interesting storyline of how far farmers would go to continue to be on top. May it be through expansion or by making sure the family stays dominant in their state through interesting farming practices.
In the case of the Whipple family, as featured in the film, the family patriarch is Henry Whipple, a man who thrives on being the #1 seed salesman in Iowa. Having seven counties that he is responsible for, Henry is a man who puts on a forced smile in his face, attending funerals of deceased farmers and approaching to buy their farmland.
He is seen like a shark but the truth is that some of these deceased farmers have no one to watch or maintain the farm, children have moved out of the area to pursue other business and he knows that. He does his research on the individuals and it’s a business that he may not be proud of but he knows that it ensures the Whipple family business to be the top in the state.
But like other farmers, he deals with children who are not so interested in the farming business. For generation after generation, the family business has been pass down to the sons of the family but his oldest, a talented college football player, prefers to travel, while the youngest, prefers to race cars and go after his dream of becoming a professional race car driver.
While many films do have the banal tone of hardworking father never having time with the family and thus is seen like an outsider to the family, in today’s modern agriculture, its one of the sacrifices for business success and that is to focus on the business, take care of the land and do his father proud. And depending on the wife to focus on the family.
“At Any Price” is a story with a juxtaposition, a father who would do anything for the business and then you have the youngest son, Dean, the future racer or the future owner of the Whipple family business.
Dean has a hot temper. Not interested in the family business, all he cares about is winning races and being with his friends and girlfriend. He hates his father interfering with his life and feels that his father put so much into business and now that they are older, he cares for them to take over the family business. Suffice to say, there are significant father and son issues in this film but things head to a very dark path when all hell breaks loose.
But for the sake of the family business, how far would one go?
“At Any Price” at first resembles something that is a slice of life for Americans in the Plain States, Ramin Bahrani then knows how to take the film to a different place when something very bad takes place and the film’s tone changes drastically, in a good way.
Part of the film’s efficacy relies on the talented Dennis Quaid. We have seen great work from Dennis Quaid in the past, but this is a role in which the actor is able to show that he still has it! Playing a businessman who has been morally compromised and the typical American family not pure but flawed and suffice to say, things do get dark.
Zac Efron plays the hothead teenager, Dean, who gets himself in quite a bit of trouble but for the most part, the scenes with both father and son are the most explosive and emotional, and becomes the better performances of the film.
Actress Heather Graham also makes an appearance in the film but in this role of Meredith, she may as well be the town’s floozie, who has a sexual liaison with the married Henry and yet also wanting to hook up with his son Dean.
Possibly the most interesting supportive role goes to Maika Monroe who play’s Dean’s girlfriend Cadence. Because Dean is not around, Henry decides to mentor Dean’s girlfriend, and she eventually is the important connection to the story of Henry’s illegal farming practice. I don’t know too many girlfriends who would help their boyfriend’s father with farming but it was an interesting role, and how she is utilized by Bahrani.
A major plot that does happen in the film is surrounding the use of seeds. This is where I was not too familiar with the practice of seeds, but in America, there are major corporations that specialize in production and selling these genetically modified seeds to farmers. The reason why Henry is being investigated is because he allegedly purchases these seeds from a major seed company, washes them and replants them. This is illegal because the seeds are patented intellectual property and farmers must pay for each time the seeds are used. Because Henry buys the land from other farmers who are deceased and possibly buy them from a major company that they were contracted with, he takes the seeds, rewashes them and resells them.
But with the investigators now wanting to test his crop to see if his seeds are in fact his or came from the genetically modified seeds and if so, he can be fined as seeds are patented.
There are various court cases in regards to the farming industry and seeds but to see it in the film, it was an eye-opener to know that farmers have to pay for seeds every year and are not allowed to re-use the ones they have. But also the issues that farmers face in America’s heartland.
As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is great. Most of the scenes are outdoors, colors are vibrant and as for lossless audio, while a front-channel driven soundtrack, there are moments where you hear aircraft flying overhead or crowd ambiance. And there is a good number of special features including an audio commentary and Q&A at a film festival.
Overall, Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” is an entertaining and fascinating film that provides insight to modern agriculture, its competitive nature but how far farmers will go to be the best in the business. Featuring a wonderful performance from Dennis Quaid! Recommended!
“West of Memphis” is a powerful, thought provoking documentary that will no doubt anger you but also inspire you to possibly spread the word in hopes that there will be justice for three young children and create awareness for the case to be re-opened and the real killer(s) to be caught. Highly recommended!
TITLE: West of Memphis
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 147 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Language)
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Written by Amy Berg and Billy McMillin
Produced by Amy Berg, Lorri Davis, Damien Wayne Echols, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
Co-Producer: Matthew Dravitzki
Line Producer: Tina Elmo, Dan Kaplow
Associate Producer: Katelyn Howes, Alejandra Riguero
Executive Producer: Ken Kamins
Music by Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Cinematography by Maryse Alberti, Ronan Killeen
Edited by Billy McMillin
Jamie Clark Ballard
Vincent Di Maio
Julie Ann Doan
In 1993, three young boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. With “evidence” collected by law enforcement, the detectives assumed that the marks on the bodies of the children were due to satanic rituals and when it came to those practicing it, it led to three teenagers being arrested.
Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelly, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment.
It was supposed to be an open and shut case, until Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky created a documentary titled “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” in 1996.
As the film was shot primarily to document the arrests of the three teenagers, interview the parents of the victims, the parents of the accused and the West Memphis Police Department, the documentary would show how the community reacted to the murders. But most importantly, how the star witness, Jessie Misskelly, Jr., a teenager who was mentally disabled was coerced by the police department.
Two more documentary sequels were made but the second film “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” would show that further evidence was missed and suppressed and that the teenagers were wrongfully convicted and the real murderer(s) are still out there.
Since the three documentaries, many people including celebrities have been blunt about the wrongful conviction of these three teenagers and have wanted to see justice by having the three freed from prison.
Due to new DNA evidence, the West Memphis Three reached a deal with prosecutors in 2011 in which they entered Alford pleas which allows them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them. Judge David Laser accepted each of the three individuals pleas and sentenced them to time served and each have served 18 years and 78 days in prison.
Wanting to pursue the case, Amy Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil”) and Billy McMillin worked on their own documentary following up with what Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky was able to document but with the financial support from filmmaker Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films) and Fran Walsh (who wrote the screenplays to the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films) to produce the film.
Featured in the film are Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, both Damien and Lorri met while he began his prison sentence and Lorri would communicate with him via mail. Knowing that Damien was innocent, she began doing her own research and trying to find a way to get him freed from prison.
The film begins with the introduction to the parents of the victims, discussing their last memory of their child. With archived news footage and interviews with law enforcement, the discussion of how the bodies were found and the interrogation techniques of the West Memphis Police Department becomes scrutinized as they are seen to put words in the mouth of one of the alleged assailants, the mentally disabled, Jessie Misskelly, Jr.
But as the investigation hinged on one of the “experts” of satanic rituals who reportedly learned his techniques from one of the well-known forensic experts in the country, the expert is interviewed and tears apart the investigators believe that the mutilation of the victims were satanic but because the bodies were dumped in the river, where tortoises known to feast on anything living, especially loose flesh, the marks on the victims were animal not by satanic ritual.
Because of the evidence that three teens were wrongfully incarcerated, celebrities such as Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder and others came to support the Memphis Three, especially towards Damien Echols (which the film focuses primarily on) and help raise money not for their release but for the three to have money to live on.
What is known that the children were beaten, bound by shoelaces and thrown in a ditch and one hair was found within the shoelace bindings. The hair “not inconsistent with” Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch.
The storyline then starts to show what kind of man Terry Hobbs is. From family who discuss how Stevie was abused by his stepfather and according to Stevie’s mother, hours before he died, he discussed wanting his mother to leave Terry Hobbs.
We start to learn about Hobbs past troubles and despite the mounting reports of troubles in regards to Hobbs behavior, Hobbs is a person who does not remember much of his past and insists he didn’t commit any crimes. Meanwhile, filing a lawsuit he filed against Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines.
The third arc would feature the Memphis three and how the legal team worked hard to get the three released from prison. The three were released from prison as part of an Alford plea deal but because of the Alford Deal, they are still listed as criminals and any misconduct can lead them back to prison. The film focuses on the relationship between Damien Echols and Lorri Davis and together, fighting for his innocence.
“West of Memphis” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012 and the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012. On August 2012, “West of Memphis” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
“West of Memphis” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1). It’s important to note that this is a documentary that features various archive news sources from the last 18 years. While the more modern footage looks great on Blu-ray, one should expect to see the archived sources to range in different quality.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“West of Memphis” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Dialogue is crystal clear, certain sound effects are employed for good dynamic range. But for the most part, dialogue from recent interviews and even the older archived footage is understandable and good. This is not a documentary one should expect to hear their surround channels to be utilized but the dialogue and sound effects are clear and didn’t notice any problems with audio whatsoever.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.
“West of Memphis” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary - Featuring audio commentary with director Amy Berg, Damien Echols and Lorri Davisl.
- Deleted Scenes – (1:27:43) Featuring seven deleted scenes.
- Toronto International Film Festival Red Carpet & QA – (23:14) Director Amy Berg, producer Lorri Davis, producer Damien Echols, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines at TIFF and discussing the documentary. Peter Jackson’s intro of how he got involved with the documentary and more.
- Toronto Film Festival Press Conference – (38:49) The press conference for “West of Memphis” featuring Peter Jackson (on Skype), director Amy Berg, Producer Lorri Davis and Damien Echols and Johnny Depp.
- Damien’s Past (Re-Creations) – (6:02) Archived footage from Damien’s past
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:04) Theatrical trailer for “West of Memphis”
“West of Memphis” is a compelling documentary that will leave you speechless but also in anger knowing that the murderers of three innocent young boys has not been caught.
Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” is not only well-researched but the amount of archived resources, interviews and how the film is paced, you can’t help but be shocked at one of America’s most f’d up wrongful convictions I have ever seen or heard of.
From the handling of evidence, the coercion of a mentally disabled young man in order to get a conviction against him and his two friends to terrible misinterpretation of a crime scene that not only was used to get a conviction. And this is where the efficacy of Amy Berg’s research comes to play.
Whenever testimony of an “expert” was shown, we see notable experts come in and just tear apart the testimony of the prosecution.
And it was said many times that when you can spread fear, people are blinded by the fear and can be unaware of the facts.
This was the situation of the “Memphis Three”, teenagers who were seen as outsiders, dark and listened to music that most people the in the conservative town were not listening to. If anyone was seen as an outsider by the way they look or their beliefs, does it make them guilty?
That is where a town turned against these teenagers because they were practicing “satanic rituals” and with corroboration with other students of what these outsiders told them, these words became truth and it would mount “evidence” that these teenagers were evil and murdered three teenagers.
What is sad is the film shows how small town authorities may not be trained sufficiently to handle homicides, specifically during that time. Contaminated evidence, suppression of evidence. One of the most damning eyewitness accounts was a young woman who saw the young boys before they were killed and saw one of their fathers near them.
Yet, the authorities didn’t even bother interviewing these eyewitnesses. There vision was narrowed on these outsiders, teens who practiced satanic rituals. Especially, when there is possibly another murderer out there, as the documentary shows, may be closer to these children than one would realize.
The documentary is also notable for creating awareness for these men who were released in 2011 under the Alford plea deal. And what is unfortunate is that these men are still branded as criminals who served time and were released. And if they get in trouble again, back to prison they go. Many want to see these three young men pardoned, many want the case to be reopened so the real killer(s) can be caught.
As of 2013, since this movie was released, a bombshell was revealed in an affidavit by one of the mothers of a boy killed in the “West Memphis Three” case. And this latest affidavit will no doubt anger one who has watched this documentary and just wants to see justice finally take its place.
I understand there are people who feel the three young men are still guilty but with the new evidence and more and more coming out about certain individuals, who may be involved in the children’s murder, one can’t help but want to see justice for these children.
As I think about this film, how much I was angered by it but also glad to see the men freed and now be able to live their lives, you also can’t help but be grateful to Amy Berg and Billy McMillin on taking on this powerful documentary. Also, to be grateful for Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to help produce this film. But also the other celebrities who have helped build awareness for the case and the current situation for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly, Jr.
The unfortunate situation about what we saw happen in “West of Memphis” and the topic of wrongful convictions, unfortunately even with new technology today, many cases of wrongful convictions still continue in our country and around the world. Many people in law enforcement, especially in smaller towns who may not be trained to handle certain homicides, evidence or even interrogations. People who are quick to judge and condemn individuals without the facts. It’s an unfortunate part of society and “West of Memphis” is a small example of injustice in judicial history, but unlike the “Memphis Three” who have had celebrities and films to build their awareness to their case, there are many people who don’t have that luxury and betting their lives that their sentences can be appealed.
While I’m not an erudite to all that happened in this case, “West of Memphis” does build upon interviews with well-known people in the field to know what went wrong in this case. The research that went into this film and the people that Berg and McMillin were able to get for interviews was a strong point to this film, especially with the number of archived footage since 1993.
As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is good for the modern footage but as one can expect from a documentary with archived material, picture quality will differ. Dialogue is clear and understandable and there are a good number of special features included.
Overall, “West of Memphis” is a powerful, thought provoking documentary that will no doubt anger you but also inspire you to possibly spread the word in hopes that there will be justice for three young children and create awareness for the case to be re-opened and the real killer(s) to be caught.
It was great to see a film that focused on strategy, employment of tactics and a film that was intellectual and fascinating. Pablo Larrain’s “No” is smart, creative and a film that I recommend!
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 118 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Language)
Release Date: June 25, 2013
Screenplay by Pedro Peirano
Play written by Antonio Skarmeta
Produced by Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain
Music by Carlos Cabezas
Cinematography by Sergio Armstrong
Edited by Andrea Chignoli
Art Direction by Estefania Larrain
Set Decoration by Maria Eugenia Hederra
Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene Saavedra
Alfredo Castro as Lucho Guzman
Luis Gnecco as Jose Tomas Urrutia
Nestor Cantillana as Fernando
Antonia Zegers as Veronica Carvajal
Marcial Tagle as Alberto Arancibia
Pascal Montero as Simon Saavedra
Jaime Vadell as Minister Fernandez
Elsa Poblete as Carmen
Diego Munoz as Carlos
Roberto Farias as Marcelo
Back in 2006, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain received critical acclaim for his film “Fuga”, followed my success with two more films, “Tony Manero” and “Post Mortem”.
But having grown up in a political family tied to the right wing, Larrain had nothing in common with the right and considered himself anti-Pinochet (August Pinoche was an army general and dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1981).
Larrain felt that with Augusto Pinochet in power, the Pinochet government was responsible for destroying culture and writers and artists were persecuted under his dictatorship.
But in 1988, a Chilean national plebiscite (a referendum on whether President Augusto Pinochet should remain in office for another eight years) was held and during that time, for 27 nights, those who supported or were against Pinochet would have 15 minutes per night to present their point of view and get people to vote.
For this unprecedented election in Chile, it would become the source for Pablo Larrain’s fourth film titled “No” starring Mexican film actor and director Gael Garcia Bernal (“Y tu mama tambien”, “The Motorcycle Diaries”, “Babel”). The film would be nominated for a “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 85th Academy Awards.
The 2012 film takes place in 1988 and a Chilean national plebiscite is to be held. Rene Saavedra (portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal) is a successful advertisement director approached by the “No” side for consultation of their 15-minute advertising spots that would air on television for 27 nights, meanwhile his boss who is conservative wants him to be in charge of the “Yes” campaign and in return he would get a major account and make a lot of money.
Raising a son named Simone by himself, while his ex is with another man and often getting in trouble with the law as an activist, after seeing her beaten by law officials, he is more determined to consult the “No” advertising committee.
And in the beginning, the committee is more interested in showing how many people were tortured, how many people were incarcerated and the tyranny in the Pinochet dictatorship but Rene feels this is not the way to get people to vote. He proposes a more upbeat promotional approach in order to entice people to vote.
But all is not well as the opposition tries to intimidate Rene and let them know they are watching his family. But even with acts of trying to intimidate Rene, he is more determined in creating an advertising campaign that will lead people to vote against Pinochet. But what kind of marketing campaign will he come up with?
“No” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:40:1). It’s important to note that for this film, cinematographer Sergio Armstrong used a 1983 U-Matic video camera because it was instrumental to blend the archival footage to the film and make it feel realistic.
In an interview with “Bring the Noise UK”, Pablo Larrain said, “Every time I see a movie that has archive footage in the middle mixed, you can immediately tell, and it kills my illusion. It’s like you’re watching something and it has a film star shot in super 35mm, or high end HD, and then you cut to this old video format or stock footage and it just looks so different.”
So, the way the film was shot made it look like it was shot in the ’80s. The film was not made to look fantastic in HD but to make sure the film and its archived footage blend well together and because of that, I do feel that Pablo Larrain and Sergio Armstrong managed to capture the era and blend both archived footage and modern footage shot with the U-Matic with efficacy.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“No” is presented in Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA. While the film is primarily dialogue-driven, there are scenes with crowds and a scene with a riot that can be heard through the surround channels. But for the most part, the film is center and front-channel driven.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.
“No” come with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary - Featuring audio commentary with director Pablo Larrain and actor Gael Garcia Bernal.
- Q&A with Gael Garcia Bernal – (12:47) A Q&A with Gael Garcia Bernal at TIFF.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:43) Theatrical trailer for “No”
Typically when you watch political cinema in regards to an election, it tends to focus on strategies employed by both opposition parties.
From D.A Pennebaker’s documentary “The War Room” to films such as “The Contender”, “Election”, “Wag the Dog”, it’s primarily party-driven.
So, for Pablo Larrain to create a film that revolves around the marketing campaign during the 1988 Chilean national plebiscite, I found it quite intriguing because while these elections were featured on the news, I had no idea what kind of marketing campaign was used by the opposition against Army General Augusto Pinochet.
While we see the “Rock the Vote” campaigns in the U.S. bringing together celebrities and music artists to target the younger demographic, in Chile, they knew that those who weren’t sure they were going to vote were 60-year-old women and the younger voters.
Through research, they knew that older voters have been through the worst. They have seen the worst and possibly knew of people who have experienced the worse from Pinochet’s government. But at the same time, they are reluctant to vote, thinking that the election may be a scam, that the government would find a way to tamper with the voting system or even get them into trouble.
So, for the character of Rene Saavedra, a savvy advertising creator, he knew that he needed to reach out to these voters, not with the depressing or hard hitting facts of Pinochet’s government but to use celebrities, music and excitement that would get people to vote and make voting seem “cool”, especially as opposition to Pinochet’s government.
Despite the intimidation tactics used by those in support of Pinochet’s government, the film focuses on Rene Saavedra’s team employing tactics to shift public sympathy for the no-campaign. And what they come up with is fascinating and well-executed.
While the film received international acclaim, in Chile, the film did receive criticism for focusing too much on the marketing campaign. Genaro Arriagada who directed the “No” campaign felt there was too much focus on the advertising campaign and not the grassroot voter registration. But for filmmaker Pablo Larrain, he defended the film as art not a documentary.
While I felt the film was smart, I felt the use of the U-Matic video camera was creative and added to the believability and enjoyability of the film. I agree with Pablo Larrain that when you watch a documentary or a film that takes place in an era and the archived footage during these years of HD makes it seem unnatural, by going this direction for the film, I felt that Pablo Larrain was doing a great service to show that by using an older camera and achieving the look of the ’80s to go with the archived footage, worked to the film’s favor.
So, for this Blu-ray release, one should not approach the film expecting clear-cut detailed HD but expect a film that was capturing a look and feel of the ’80s where its archived footage would matchup to what you see in the film. Lossless audio was good but primarily dialogue driven as is expected with this film. And you get an audio commentary and Q&A segment for special features.
Overall, it was great to see a film that focused on strategy, employment of tactics and a film that was intellectual and fascinating. Pablo Larrain’s “No” is smart, creative and a film that I recommend!
“The Gatekeepers” is a riveting and an explosive documentary. From beginning to end, the shocking personal accounts, its presentation of material to the careful pacing of each topic presented, Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers” is powerful, thought-provoking and highly recommended!
TITLE: The Gatekeepers
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 101 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1, Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Produced by Estelle Fialon, Philippa Kowarsky, Dror Moreh
Cinematography by Avner Shahaf
Edited by Oron Adar
Production Design by Doron Koren
The Shin Bet, better known internationally as the Israel Security Agency (ISA) is responsible for protecting Israel from terrorism and taking part in counter-terrorism activities in both Israel and Palestinian territories.
But with the escalating violence between the Israeli and Arab, where a cycle of violence has been rampant as the Shin Bet try to stop terrorism, their methods have also led to the deaths of innocents in surrounding areas and in response, retaliation which would lead to deaths of innocent people in Israel.
While the circle of violence seems to be unending with no sign of peaceful resolve for the Jewish or Palestinian people, the truth is that a lot of the major events in the history of Israel can be tied to the Shin Bet.
In order to give people not just in Israel but all over the world a chance to see how the Shin Bet has operated and their success and failures to Israel’s situations and response to terrorism, director Dror Moreh has created a documentary titled “The Gatekeepers” which interviews six former heads of the Shin Bet, who discuss some of the most troubling situations from their job during their involvement with the Israel Security Agency and how each man feels about their involvement in some of the success and failures in counter-terrorism in the last 40 years.
Taking three years to produce, “The Gatekeepers” was screened at various cinema locations in Israel but also has been screened at various film festivals, earning itself an Academy Award nomination for “Best Documentary”.
A stunning and thought-provoking film, “The Gatekeepers” will give you insight to what happened behind-the-scenes through accounts made by six former heads of the Shin Bet.
“The Gatekeepers” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1). Picture quality of the modern interviews look great but as one can expect from a documentary that utilizes archived footage, classic archived footage varies in quality. But for the most part, the presentation of the film and how it looks overall, is done very well. I’m not sure if certain bombing raids or targeted attacks from long distance missiles are actual footage or created by the French visual effects company Mac Guff, but for the most part, I was quite impressed with the amount of archived video and how it was presented for the film.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Gatekeepers” is presented in Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD MA. For this documentary, while most of it is front-channel dialogue with the interviews, the film employs special effects that utilize the surround channels, but for the most part, the film is dialogue-driven.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.
“The Gatekeepers” come with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary - Commentary by director Droh Moreh.
- Q&A with Director Droh Moreh - (42:23) Droh Moreh talks about the making of the film, his feeling towards the growing conflict and answering questions from the audience.
As Americans, our knowledge of what is happening in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine have been limited to what we read or see from media coverage.
But fortunately, there is cinema that have shown us perspectives of why Israeli and Palestinians are fighting each other. This is not something that has been going on for just decades, this conflict has been ongoing since the late 19th century.
People who are fighting for land (which either side recognizes as their own), their borders, security, water rights and many other reasons. But whenever we see something on the news, it always goes to extremism. One side does this, the other side takes action as retaliation and it repeats itself over and over again.
And as news reports can only give you a certain perspective, not very complete, report on what has happened since the ’60s, filmmaker Dror Moreh explored a perspective that many are not familiar with or knew about and that is the perspective through the Shin Bet, Israel’s Secret Service, through the mouths of six former heads of the agency.
We learn about the “Bus 300 Affair”, a 1984 incident where four Arab guerillas from the Gaza Strip hijacked the No. 300 bus from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon with 41 passengers. The Israel military pursued the bus and shot the tires in which the bus stopped and in the stand off, two of them died and two Palestinian bus hijackers were captured. The two hijackers were seen with the Israeli military, alive and well. But Shin Bet Chief Avraham Shalom authorized the execution of the two terrorists.
The problem was that the Israeli military censor blacked out the coverage of the hijacking, but Hadashot photojournalst Alex Levac was able to take a photo of the hijacker fully alive and conscious. But it caused an uproar by the Israeli public of how the hijackers were killed.
In “The Gatekeeers”, Dror Moreh questions the morality of the decision made by Avraham Shalom to execute them. Why he gave the command but also inside knowledge of what took place is revealed through this interview. What I found very disturbing in someways, was how Shalom reacted. It was rather nonchalant and almost amoral, but in his mind, he saw it as executing terrorists that would have caused even more problems for the Israeli people and the shin Bet was about protecting their country.
With that being said, we see Shalom’s mindset, but also the mindset of other former Shin Bet heads who worked for him and how they felt about him. That was rather interesting to see. But despite Shalom not wanting to answer the questions at first, fortunately for this film, Dror Moreh was able to get much out of him.
We know that Shalom resigned for the incident and the cover-up but learn the political connection with the Shin Bet. How political officials made many questionable calls that led to the deaths of innocents.
Back in 1993, one hoped for peace with the Oslo Accords in which Israeli officials led by Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leaders from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat strived for peace. But because of this, violence was still taking place and within Israel, the Shin Bet now had to worry about the growing discontent and extremism with the Jewish Underground, who carried out terror attacks on Palestinian officials. And how their plan was to destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
But it was interesting for me to see the discontent of these individuals towards Prime Minister/Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then the assassination of Rabin by religious Zionist Yigal Amir, who opposed Rabin’s peace initiative. Another failure within the Shin Bet who couldn’t protect him from being killed, but through “The Gatekeepers”, how it failed but also how they tried to get Rabin to wear a bulletproof vest. But the truth was that the Shin Bet had the killer Amir under surveillance but stopped because they felt he was no threat to the PM’s life.
The film also goes into the Second Intifada which began in late Sept. 2000 and ended in 2005, the assassination of Yahya Ayyash and other prominent Hamas militants and the film goes into the mindset of each Shin Bet head about their thoughts on collateral damage (for example, getting faulty intel which leads to the bombing of a wrong building), the use of torture (how one man died when his head was shaken to hard) and the morality of targeted assassination (there is interesting discussion of how one man was assassinated through the use of a cel phone).
The information provided by each of the former heads of the Shin Bet are shocking, thought provoking but it’s their feelings of what is to happen in their area and how they feel about their former job and politicians. When you watch “The Gatekeepers”, the use of tactics by the Shin Bet and their reasoning, will no doubt surprise you.
And I often wonder what kind of implications will come out of this film. Positive or negative, the fact is that Dror Moreh was able to create a film and get out information from each of these former head of the Shin Bet. These men gave intelligence information that I wonder how the Israeli government felt that certain incidents and thoughts behind them, now the public will know why.
As Moreh said in an interview with the LA Times, “I knew I had dynamite in my hands” after his interviews with the men.
While, the interviews are what set the tone in the film, Moreh was able to use archive footage and computer-generated imagery to make photography of that era come alive. The video and photo footage is able to give people the visual means to process what these men are talking about and how destructive these incidents were.
You actually get to see live footage of people being targeted and assassinated using long range missiles or 1-ton bombs.
As for the Blu-ray, picture quality of the film is very good. Like most documentaries, archived video will have different levels of quality but for the interviews and most of the presentation throughout the film, picture quality is good. Use of sound effects is also well-employed through the 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The special features including the audio commentary, especially the 42-minute Q&A with Dror Moreh is fascinating to watch, as the filmmaker gives his feelings towards the conflict and is much bleaker than how the former heads of Shin Bet felt in the interview.
Overall, “The Gatekeepers” is a riveting and an explosive documentary. From beginning to end, the shocking personal accounts, its presentation of material to the careful pacing of each topic presented, Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers” is powerful, thought-provoking and highly recommended!
“Smashed” benefits from its wonderful performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead but also for its gutsy ending. There are too many people who choose not to solve their problems and are too comfortable with the way things were despite how much pain or trouble they get into. May it be domestic abuse, gang affiliation, drug addiction and alcohol abuse, “Smashed” is a film that shows us that staying sober is not easy and it also means making tough choices for one’s survival. A film worth watching!
© 2012 Smashed, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
DVD TITLE: Smashed
YEAR OF FILM: 2012
DURATION: 81 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: 1:85:1 – Anamorphic Widescreen, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin Traditional), Korean, Thai
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: R (For Alcohol Abuse, Language, Some Sensual Content and Brief Drug Use)
RELEASE DATE: February 26, 2013
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Written by Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt
Produced by Jennifer Cochis, Jonathan Schwartz, Andre Sperling, Zygi Wilf
Co-Produced: Stephanie Meurer, Stephen A. Ricci, Elise Salomon
Associate Producer: Alishe Beardeaux
Music by Andy Cabic, Eric D. Johnson
Cinematography by Tobias Datum
Edited by Suzanne Spangler
Casting by Avy Kaufman
Production Design by Linda Sena
Art Direction by Sarah M. Pott
Costume Design by Diaz
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Hannah
Aaron Paul as Charlie Hannah
Octavia Spencer as Jenny
Nick Offerman as Dave Davies
Mega Mullally as Principal Barnes
Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul, TV’s “Breaking Bad” ) are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and drinking…especially the drinking. When Kate’s drinking leads her to dangerous places and her job as a school teacher is put into jeopardy, she decides to join AA and get sober. With the help of her new friend and sponsor Jenny (Octavia Spencer, The Help), and the vice principal at her school, the awkward, but well intentioned, Mr. Davies, Kate takes steps toward improving her health and life. Sobriety isn’t as easy as Kate had anticipated. Her new lifestyle brings to the surface a troubling relationship with her mother, facing the lies she’s told her employer (Megan Mullaly TV’s “Parks and Recreation” ) and calls into question whether or not her relationship with Charlie is built on love or just a boozy diversion from adulthood.
From filmmaker James Ponsoldt (“Off the Black”, “Junebug and Hurricane”) and writer Susan Burke comes the drama comedy “Smashed” which made its debut at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was the winner of the U.S. dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing.
The film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Final Destination 3″, “The Thing”, “Live Free or Die Hard”), Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”, “Mission: Impossible III”, “The Last House on the Left”), Octavia Spencer (“The Help”, “Being John Malkovich”, “Spider-Man”, “Seven Pounds”), Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”, “21 Jump Street”, “Sin City”) and Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”, “Stealing Harvard”).
And the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in March 2013.
“Smashed” revolves around Kate Hannah (portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who loves having a fun time with her husband Charlie (portrayed by Aaron Paul). Unfortunately, she drinks too much to the point that its affecting her life, but her husband who also likes to drink accepts her no matter what.
She wets the bed quite often, as a school teacher, it begins to affect her teaching at school because she often has a hangover. And it got to the point where she told children in class that she’s pregnant and thus why she had morning sickness.
The children told their parents, who end up calling Principal Barnes (portrayed by Megan Mullally) and now Principal Barnes is excited for Kate as an expecting mother.
But only her friend, teacher Dave Davies (portrayed by Nick Offerman) knows the truth that she has an alcohol problem. And that was because he is also a former addict and alcoholic.
But after one night of drinking so much at a local bar, she ends up giving a drug addict a ride home and experiments with crack. The next morning, she wakes up with her car gone and sleeping in the middle of nowhere.
She decides to take Dave’s advice and comes with him to an AA meeting and tries to be sober with the help of other former alcoholics such as Dave and Jenny (portrayed by Octavia Spencer).
While her husband Charlie tells her that he will try to help and support her, she realizes how difficult it is for her to stay sober when her mother is an alcoholic, her husband keeps wanting her to drink, so she can have fun and her classroom starts to become suspicious that her stomach has not grown in months and the lying starts to eat up at her.
Will Kate be able to stay sober?
VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:
“Smashed” is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital. It’s important to note that if you want better picture and audio quality, you want to go for the Blu-ray release of this film.
As for the DVD, picture quality is good. You can still see a fine layer of grain, some scenes are a bit dark at times and the handheld camera can be dizzying for some. But for the most part, the majority of the film looks good on DVD.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin Traditional), Korean and Thai.
“Smashed” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director James Ponsoldt and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
- Making Smashed - (12:24) Behind-the-scenes on the making of “Smashed”. James Ponsoldt and Susan Burke talk about how the film came to be. Interviews with the cast members.
- Toronto Film Festival Red Carpet Q&A – (14:45) Q&A with director James Ponsoldt, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, actress Octavia Spencer and producer Jennifer Cochis.
- Deleted Scenes – (10:32) Featuring six deleted scenes.
- Theatrical Trailer – (1:23) The original theatrical trailer for “Smashed”.
In today’s society, it’s well-known that alcoholics and addicts face major challenges in their first steps of recovery.
And while there have been film and television shows on the subject of alcoholism, “Smashed” is a fascinating film of one’s journey through being sober and how sobriety is not easy. But it’s a crucial step in order for one to take back their life, or else they will end up hurting or getting themselves killed.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a magnificent job of playing the recovering alcoholic, Kate. Sometimes one has to fall down so low to realize that their addition is getting the best of them and in this case, the character of Kate constantly wets her bed, she is unfit to work as a teacher for young children and lies about her alcoholism that her sickness is due to pregnancy and it’s so bad that when she’s drunk, she’s out of hand. Drunk driving, experimenting with drugs, peeing in a store and just not conscious about how bad alcohol has consumed her.
But one thing that the film shows is how loved ones can be enablers to alcoholism. Kate’s mother is an alcoholic, her husband likes drinking and encourages her to drink because she would be a more “fun” person to be with.
And no matter if you have AA and close friends with you to help you with your recovery, it’s also important to eliminate things that will cause you to fall hard again.
It’s easy for one to say stay away from those who enable you to do these things, but for the character of Kate and her husband Charlie, these two are in love and enjoy each other. But if one is unwilling to be sober or enables it and the other really wants to badly be sober, there is really one way that person can go.
Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul have great chemistry of playing a happy young married couple but also seeing how this marriage starts to tear itself apart. But also making the character of Kate thinking if her marriage is actually based on love or the convenience of getting smashed and not growing up.
Octavia Spencer does a great job in a supportive role (which she was cast for the film prior to her being cast on “The Help”) as Jenny, who tries to listen and give advice to Kate. Megan Mullally plays a more serious role in “Smashed” than the comedic roles that she is best known for, so it was good to see her playing a different type of role. And Nick Offerman as Kate’s friend and co-worker who has a crush on her and says the creepiest things.
As mentioned earlier, the Blu-ray release is available for “Smashed”, so if one wants the best picture quality, the Blu-ray is the way to go. But the DVD release of “Smashed” is still good and I detected no major problems with picture quality or audio and there are a good number of special features included.
Overall, “Smashed” benefits from its wonderful performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead but also for its gutsy ending. There are too many people who choose not to solve their problems and are too comfortable with the way things were despite how much pain or trouble they get into. May it be domestic abuse, gang affiliation, drug addiction and alcohol abuse, “Smashed” is a film that shows us that staying sober is not easy and it also means making tough choices for one’s survival.
A film worth watching!