Loving Vincent


This week I received three suggestions for the library’s Fall Movie Challenge, which I chose “Groundbreaking” for my challenge. One of the films chosen for me was Loving Vincent, an animated film that investigates the end of Vincent Vah Gogh’s life.

The film was made from Van Gogh’s paintings and oil paintings inspired by his style. It’s a visual feast. The story is engaging. The hero is a young man whose father was a good friend of Van Gogh’s and the village postman. The father sends his son on a mission to take a letter of Van Gogh’s to the artist’s brother Theo. Soon the hero learns that Theo is dead so now the hero doesn’t know what to do with the letter and embarks on a journey to discover what exactly happened to Van Gogh at his death.

The film then goes back and forth in time  with black and white flashbacks of what took place at the time of Van Gogh’s death and shows how murky the the interpretation of what really happened is.

With Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson of Poldark, Chris O’Dowd of Moone Boy and Saoirse Ronan, the film stars Douglas Booth, who was new to me, but who does a great job as a stubborn young man learning to figure out life as he puzzles out what to do about this letter from a dead man to his dead brother.

Below there’s a short video on how they made this groundbreaking film.

You Were Never Lovelier

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Starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, You Were Never Lovelier is good light entertainment. Astaire plays Robert, a New York dancer who’s gone to Buenos Aires and wants to work at a a night club that’s owned by a man who’s got four daughters. The first daughter is married and soon never seen again. The second daughter is in no hurry to marry but her two younger daughters have secret fiancés lined up. However, the father just finds Astaire to be irritating.

Dear old dad decides that he’ll write mysterious love letters to Maria, daughter #2. He has no idea how this game will end or actually give her daughter long time happiness. Maria does get swept off her feet by the romantic letters and mistakenly assumes Robert has been writing the letters. A typical 1940s plot unfolds. Rita shines and Astaire is Astaire. They both dance wonderfully and the costumes are dazzling. Yes, the story is far fetched and the jokes rather corny, but the film is fun.

The song’s lyrics aren’t the best. Some rhymes are forced, but I was entertained.

Trivia

Astaire once said that his favorite dance partner was Rita Hayworth. He said that if she was taught a complicated dance in the morning, she’d have it down by lunch.

The Salt of the Earth


Another great recommendation from the Skokie Public Library’s Fall Movie Challenge, The Salt of the Earth introduced me to the photographer Sebastião Salgado, who traveled the world capturing beautiful images of cultures in every corner of the world.

The beginning covers Salgado’s early life when he left economics and became a photographer, a risky career change for a married man with a young son. His photos are breathtaking and his books show events like the famine in Ethiopia and the war in Bosnia. This Wim Wenders film, contains lots of Salgado’s images as well as his observations.

The last third of the film presents Salgado’s efforts to take his father’s drought-ridden farm and restore it to a forest. The land was parched and most plants and trees had died from poor management. Salgado’s wife, Leila suggested they return the land to how it had been before the farm existed. As wild an idea as that was, knowing little about forestry, the pair began to plant trees. Decades later it’s a rain forest with waterfalls and creeks. This land had looked like Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. Astounding.

All in all, The Salt of the Earth is a change of pace. There were times when I couldn’t take much more of the photos of famine victims, but there’s plenty of captivating photos that aren’t of such dire situations. So I do recommend The Salt of the Earth.

Boy

A Sundance film, Boy tells the story of the kid whose name is Boy. Set in New Zealand, Boy’s grandmother has to leave town to attend a funeral and leaves Boy, age 12 or so, in charge of his brother and 4 cousins. Its plot is like The Cat in the Hat. Once the grandma’s gone, things go out of hand. At first just a little bit as Boy makes weird dinners for his charges.

Soon his father, who’s just gotten out of jail. Boy idolizes his dad, who’s promised to take him to see Michael Jackson and who impresses him with his fantastic stories.

The story has lots of charm and delights with special effects and child-like animation. I enjoyed all the Kiwi characters and getting glimpse into a slice of New Zealand. The ending wasn’t particularly strong, but all in all, Boy is a fun film with lots of heart and a touch of sadness.

Babushkas of Chernobyl

What a terrific film! I have to thank Sharon for recommending it to me. I learned of Babushkas of Chernobyl from the library’s Fall Film Challenge. Here’s what she wrote on the DVD’s Fall Film Challenge slip of paper:

A unique story to be sure. Quoting the co-director Holly Morris, “The dead zone, it turns out, is full of life.” That is a great hook and so true. After the Chernobyl disaster, the Babushkas refused to stay away from their homes. Decades later, they continue to live on their own terms. These women are rock-solid awesome.

Like The Wolfpack, you can put this in the “who knew” category i.e. stranger than fiction. These women find a way.

Yes, this is the story of three grandmas, or Babushkas, who retuned to their homes within the Dead Zone by Chernobyl. They farm here, forage and fish. So daily they eat what’s high in radiation. Yet, and the doctors confirm this, they outlive many of their former neighbors who evacuated. Go figure.

We learn about these tough women and their thinking about living in a ghost town. We also see the teenage boys who’ve taken to sneaking through the barbed wire. These teens play a computer game called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which is set in the site of the nuclear disaster. They’re drawn to this eerie ghost town, where some of their relatives lived and worked. They see it as romantic.

The Babushkas are sure to warm your heart. Talk about resilient and dedicated.

Beauty and the Beast

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From the library, I received a Fall Movie Challenge recommendation of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946). It’s a terrific movie that portrays a dream world better than any film I’ve ever seen. This live-action film offers an atmosphere that surpasses most animated films, which are easier to make other-worldly.

Cocteau follows the original fairytale’s plot more closely than the Disney version. He shows a father with financial troubles, two complaining, selfish daughters, one filial, hardworking daughter and a lazy, wastrel of a son. The dynamics of the siblings was key to the drama, I think. From the start we see the brother’s ne’er’do-well pal wooing Belle, with no luck.

After some financial ups and downs, the father on a journey through the forest and stay at a bizarre castle where the statues seem alive as do the arms holding the candles along the wall, mistakenly picks a rose for Belle unleashing the Beast’s anger. Soon Belle agrees to return with the Beast to his castle in lieu of his taking her father’s life.

The castle is one of the best parts of the film. The plants that grow wildly throughout the home and the living statues and lights are freaky and enchanting.

This film is intriguing because in large part to how wild the environment and Beast seem.. Thus while the story is a fairytale, it will appeal to adults with imagination. It would scare young children, but they can enjoy the Disney film. Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast is a wild, imaginative trip for classic film buffs.

The Wolfpack

Thanks to Sharon for bringing this unique documentary to my attention. Directed by Crystal Moselle, The Wolfpack (2015)shows a family consisting of six brothers, their parents and their sister who live in New York. The parents met when the mother went backpacking in South America. She shared his dislike for materialism and were married.

The sad and curious thing about this family is that the father became a control freak and would lock the wife and children in the apartment. He believed it was for security, but actually I saw it as a form of control. They could only go outside when the father permitted it and he apparently went with them so no one could escape. One year they were allowed out 9 years and another they weren’t taken outside at all.

The film focuses on the older brothers. The mother was certified by the state to homeschool the kids and they all spoke articulately and politely. The father had wanted 10 children as his dream of heading a tribe, but seven was the limit (biologically) for the mother. The father didn’t work; the father explained that he didn’t believe in work. I wondered what he did when he was out of the house for hours and hours. They family lived on welfare. The father dreamt of moving to Scandinavia, where the welfare was even better, but that never materialized.

The compelling thing about the documentary is how creative the boys were. To stave off boredom and keep sane, they watched the 5000+ DVDs that their dad had collected and then they’d copy the scripts and act out the films. They made clever props. It’s a good thing there were so many kids or they wouldn’t have enough actors.

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