Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Most Inspiring Films 2015


For my annual Most Inspiring Films List, I tend to select films that move me emotionally and intellectually. Certainly, the importance and timeliness of the themes weigh heavily on that decision. 

I started writing Reel Inspiration reviews in 2004 because I felt that a disproportionate number of movies were on the dark side and that it was beginning to affect people’s perception of the world. I basically wanted to put more good out there. It was my goal to create more understanding by promoting films that celebrate diverse backgrounds, demonstrating that we are more alike than different.

My original objective was not to be political, but we are currently in moral and political crisis in our country. Fortunately, many of the movies I feel the most passionate about speak to those issues, so they give me a platform to discuss them.

I found it encouraging that some big action directors are making an effort to counteract some of the media’s negative, fear-based programming. “The Hunger Games” demonstrated how the government uses fear and the media to control us. "Mad Max: Fury Road" used subtext to show the consequences of man’s aggressive quest for profit and power without responsibility. While there is still much to do in the way of diversity, this year saw inklings of progress that gave me hope. Some effort was made in balancing casting between the genders - as seen in "Mad Max: Fury Road" and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The majority of the films I listed include strong, dynamic female characters. The force awakens!

Enjoy!


“Most Inspiring Films 2015”

12) “Mr. Holmes” is a story about many things: redemption, regret, friendship, loss, and the search for truth. As his memory fails him, Mr. Holmes struggles to write a book correcting the misconceptions that Dr. Watson created in his popular novels. The aging and increasingly senile Mr. Holmes is distracted from his work by Roger, the young son of his housekeeper. At first the boy is intrigued by the reputation of the famous Mr. Holmes, but over time he gets to know the real man. Holmes, who has spent his life remaining detached from others, grows fond of Roger and becomes a role model for this boy who has no father in his life.

11) “The colors of Versailles will be the heart of our kingdom with gardens exquisite and matchless in beauty. Heaven shall be here.” – Alan Rickman as Louis XIV. When I saw the trailer for “A Little Chaos,” I longed to spend a sunny afternoon in this garden. I loved how the writer just let herself dream: What if a free-spirited woman was hired to design the fountains in the garden of Versailles? How would she fit in with courtiers at the Louvre? What if she met the king himself? Sometimes you just have to let go (of all reason and logic) and let a movie sweep over you. I got caught up in the passion and imagination of the writer and her character Sabine de Barra. Impossibly set in 1682 - no matter - I loved being in that world. Watching her gain the respect of her handsome boss, her fellow landscapers, the court, and eventually Louis XIV. A lovely, lovely fantasy. There is a line in the movie when the King’s landscaper sees her garden and asks, “This abundance of chaos is your Eden?” She replies, “My search for it.” Perhaps “A Little Chaos” was director Alan Rickman’s search for Eden.

10) “Inside Out” The trouble starts when young Riley is relocated from Minnesota to San Francisco. On the outside, she tries to be the happy girl her parents expect, but on the inside, in her mind’s headquarters, personifications of her five primary emotions: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness are fighting for control. “Inside Out” is an animated adventure film. Ironically, the big action scenes happen in Riley’s head where her memories are processed. While trying to protect Riley’s good memories, Joy and Sadness get sucked into the amusement park that is Riley’s brain. It is one crazy ride. “Inside Out” has an important message - that every one of our emotions has a purpose and how damaging it is to suppress any of them. This message is especially important for folks raised to be pleasers who have difficulty coping with so-called “negative emotions.” Watching this movie is a fun first step in learning to cope with them.

9) In 2010, people from around the world cheered the rescue of 33 miners trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine for 69 days. “The 33” shows the human side of the story that wasn’t covered on the evening news. Although the action sequences were thrilling, it was really the humanity that drew me into the story. It was the miners’ courage and loyalty in making sure that no one was left behind as the cave collapsed around them. The group could have deteriorated into anarchy. But instead of turning against each other, they developed a brotherhood. The director chose to show that the men were not alone. The miners got strength from their prayers - and the prayers of their families on the surface. The families never left their side. They camped outside the mine, picketing, demanding a rescue team until the last man was rescued.

8) In “East-side Sushi” a Mexican-American family works hard at two jobs just to eke out a living. At 4 a.m. every morning, Juana drags her sleeping daughter along as she and her father do food prep for their fruit cart. Working long hours is killing the old man, but he has no choice. His boss keeps lowering his pay and increasing his hours. Desperate to improve their situation, Juana applies for a job in the prep kitchen of a sushi restaurant. She soon proves herself with her expert knife skills. She has never even had sushi, but she quickly adapts to the new culture. She even teaches herself how to make sushi by following tutorials online. She experiments on her unsuspecting family, adding ingredients (like jalapenos!) that they enjoy. She finally finds the strength to stand up to the discrimination at the restaurant and demand the promotion she deserves – to be hired as a sushi chef. “I deserve an opportunity like everyone else. Behind every great restaurant there are great Latinos in the back, in the kitchen, hidden, preparing the food, making you look good. Well, I don’t want to be in the back anymore." The result is a delicious blending of two culinary cultures at "East-side Sushi."

7) Presumed dead after a fierce storm leaves him stranded on Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney survives by sheer courage and wit. He deals with feelings of loneliness and hopelessness by being productive and recording a journal. It is inspiring to see his resourcefulness in using his scientific knowledge for practical needs (such as eating and breathing), solving the emergencies that arise, and to communicate to NASA that he is still alive. Drew Goddard, who adapted "The Martian" for the screen, worked with Author Andy Weir and the production team to stay as true as possible to the science in Weir's fascinating, engrossing book.

6) As Kate and Geoff Mercer’s 45th anniversary approaches, Geoff receives a letter that brings to mind a mysterious old flame. “I told you about Katia, didn’t I?” With that, he invites a haunting presence into their seemingly contented lives. This masterful filmmaking expresses volumes with subtle strokes. Kate’s inner turmoil is conveyed by her sad expression as she finalizes arrangements for a place to celebrate their life together. The event coordinator muses on how the hall is perfect for an important anniversary because it has lots of history, “like a happy marriage.” Kate becomes increasingly concerned as Geoff’s thoughts drift farther away. She is awakened in the night by the sound of her husband digging around in the attic. Instead of reminiscing on their lives together, he seems to be pondering a life never lived with a lover whose beauty is frozen in time. Like Kate, we are compelled to reflect on marriage after “45 Years.”

5) “Spotlight” is the true story of how a team of investigative reporters from the Spotlight division of the Boston Globe uncovered a massive scandal of child molestation within the Catholic Archdiocese. The investigation is riveting. The tension rises as the reporters feel the powerful grip of the Catholic Church in Boston - while the threat of continuing abuse starts to hit home. It is a rare picture that moves you without manipulating you with shocking, exploitative images. It is an accurate portrayal of what investigative reporters do. It also highlights why their work is so important. Their Spotlight article gave a voice to the survivors who couldn’t speak up for themselves, and let them know that they weren’t the only victims. The film reminds us why investigative reporting is so vital in a democratic society: It is crucial that the press be a watchdog to keep those in power in line, to hold powerful institutions and people accountable.

4) I was thrust into the brutal world of the “Suffragette” along with weary textile worker and mother, Maud. I was shocked by the unflinching depiction of her dismal work conditions and the extreme use of violence by the police to crush the women who protested. This gritty enactment was born out of thorough research on the first foot soldiers from the early feminist movement (1912-13), when the women were forced to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the increasingly violent state. A fine piece of visual storytelling, “Suffragette” engaged my heart as well as my mind, showing just why women’s suffrage is so important to protect the basic human rights of women (and children) in a patriarchal society. “Suffragette” reminds us that those rights didn’t come easy. Real women fought hard for over 70 years for the right to demand better working conditions at the polls.

3) “Room” – the only home that five-year-old Jack has ever known. Room and mom are this little dude’s whole world. Mom is doing her best to give her boy a happy, healthy life with plenty of undivided attention. There are strict bedtime rules – for Jack’s protection. Jack must be quietly asleep in wardrobe when mom’s unwelcome visitor arrives. As Jack grows more curious and protective of his mother, it becomes clear that they are in peril. Mom concocts a dangerous plan to get them out of room. The acting is heart-wrenchingly genuine. The authenticity of their connection makes the suspense all the more devastating. But what is truly admirable is that the filmmakers succeed in making the victims heroes, while not glorifying their captor. They managed to create a life-affirming story showing the importance and resilience of the mother-son bond.

2) “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the ultimate guy flick - one long EXPLOSIVE car chase. It is a man’s world. A world out of balance. A world where aggressive masculine traits have overshadowed maternal traits such as responsibility, nurturing, and caring. The result is chaos. The Earth’s resources have been destroyed. It has become a wasteland. Max is everyman - reduced to a single instinct to survive. He is captured and used as a blood bag for an enslaved half-life war boy. Furiosa, an honored driver of the water truck, escapes with the warlord’s pregnant “wives” who are looking for a better life for their children. The suicidal war boy attaches Max to the front of his war buggy and pursues them. When the war buggy crashes, Max carjacks the women’s ride. He is forced to fight alongside the fierce Furiosa to survive. The mothers teach him that there is something more important to fight for – a better future for the next generation.


1) “Mustang” opens like a fairy tale on a Black Sea coastal village in northern Turkey. It is the last day of school, and the students celebrate their freedom with an afternoon frolicking at the beach. The girls’ hair flaps wildly in the wind resembling the manes of mustangs. Five spirited sisters are greeted at home by their irate grandmother who has been informed by a conservative neighbor of their shameful antics. Fearing that their virtue and marriage prospects have been sullied, she drags the girls one by one behind closed doors to whip them. When the uncle arrives home, he locks them in the house. All corrupting influences such as phones and computers are removed. The guardians enlist the help of the conservative neighbor women to prepare the teens for arranged marriages. When the oldest sisters are married off, the remaining girls plan their escape from their matrimonial prisons. Even as it becomes clear that their lives are in danger for defying the rules of this strict patriarchal society, we root for their freedom. Mustangs should not be tamed.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com


NOTE: While there were several strong female roles this year, the industry still has a long way to go in hiring diverse directors - as demonstrated by this year's Oscar nominations. For instance, there was only one narrative feature film directed by a woman nominated: Best Foreign Film nominee "Mustang." Last year, after reading that less than 7% of studio productions were directed by women, I did some research to find out how many women directors were out there. That research resulted in the article, “Incredible Invisible Women Filmmakers.” I discovered that there were plenty of qualified women directors, but that most reviewers weren’t covering women’s films. Dedicated to promoting women directors,  I decided to seek out their films. Three films on this list were directed by women: my favorite inspiring film this year “Mustang,” “Suffragette,” and “The 33.” (“Room” and "A Little Chaos" were penned by a women). Last year’s list had four. And that's with me seeking them out! 

Check out my reviews of films by Women Filmmakers.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Reflecting on Marriage After "45 Years"

45 Years,” by writer/director Andrew Haigh, opens with a woman walking her dog in her scenic rural neighborhood. The beautiful foliage and lovely silences beckon us to reminisce with the characters in the autumn of their lives.

As Kate (Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer’s 45th anniversary approaches, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter that brings to mind a mysterious old flame. “I told you about Katia, didn’t I?” With that, he invites a haunting presence into their seemingly contented lives.

This masterful filmmaking expresses volumes with subtle strokes. Delicate nuances show the familiarity of a long, happy marriage. Kate’s gentle countenance affirms how well she knows and accepts this man, her chosen partner in life. 

A sense of loss is represented by the absence of photographs of the longtime married couple. Why have they neglected to record their history in pictures? Is it because they were always present so there was no need; or is it because their shared moments weren’t significant enough to record in pictures?

Kate’s inner turmoil is subtly conveyed as she finalizes arrangements for a place to celebrate their life together. The event coordinator muses on how the hall is perfect for an important anniversary, because it has lots of history, “like a happy marriage.”

As Geoff becomes distracted and takes up smoking again, Kate is forced to reexamine her marriage. How well does she really know this man? Is their whole marriage a lie? In the darkened theater, we ruminate on the questions on a longtime marriage. How well can you really know your partner? How much do you want to know about your spouse’s private thoughts? How much can you handle?

Kate becomes increasingly concerned as Geoff’s thoughts drift farther away. Instead of reminiscing on their lives together, he seems to be pondering a life never lived with a lover whose beauty is frozen in time.

Kate is awakened in the night by the sound of her husband digging around in the attic. The threat to their marriage is experienced viscerally in a later scene where she struggles with the attic ladder, their dog anxiously whimpering and barking at her feet.

Roman broads in Norfolk
Kate has time to ponder her life’s choices on a ferry ride through the watery byways of the Roman broads. (The waterways created by the Romans digging for peat in England.) A barely audible tour guide states how the broads would not be there if the Romans had chosen to go elsewhere. 

As the party approaches, Kate tells Geoff in no uncertain terms that he has a choice to make. They share a walk on the nature trail and are reminded of his love of birdwatching. She reflects, “It’s funny how we forget the things in life that made us happy.” Indeed, his photography equipment has long been packed away with his old photos in the attic.

Writing this review has been a joy because it inspired me to reflect deeper on the images and their true meanings (even more than I have chosen to relay here.) There are emotional landmines concealed in the autumn woods, waiting to be uncovered.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road - Patriarchal Dystopia

“My name is Max. My whole world is fire and blood. I am the one who runs away from the living and the dead. A man reduced to a single instinct – survive.” Pretty much your average guy.

Mad Max: Fury Road” is the ultimate guy flick - a total adrenaline rush of continual action, one long explosive car chase. It is a practical effect picture. Everything you see on the screen is real. Real people driving those trucks, real trucks rolling over and crashing in the Libyan desert. Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy did most of their own stunts. The production had military advisers for the battles.


This is a man’s world. A world out of balance. A world where aggressive masculine traits have overshadowed maternal traits such as responsibility, nurturing, and caring. The result is chaos. The Earth’s resources have been destroyed. It has become a wasteland.

Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by slaves - pawns of the powerful warlords. They drag him, kicking and screaming, to the citadel where he becomes the lowest of all of the slaves. He is used as a blood bag for the half-lives - the slaves who don’t have long to live. They are only kept alive long enough to sacrifice themselves in battle.

The citadel seems to hold the only source of water. The one who controls the water, controls the people. And Warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrn) controls the water.


“It is by my hand that you will rise up from the ashes of this world.” With a flourish, he releases the water to the desperate citizens.

Imperator Furiosa (bad-ass Charlize Theron), a seasoned warrior entrusted with the water truck, escapes with Immortan Joe’s pregnant “wives” (ie. his best breeders). When Joe searches the compound for them, the nursemaid taunts him, “You cannot own human beings. Eventually they push back.”

“I want them back!” Immortan Joe bellows. “They are my property!”

In this patriarchal world, the women are men’s property, kept as sexual objects and breeders. Their chastity belts are a symbol of how men control women’s bodies, sexuality and reproductive rights. Even mother’s milk is extracted, not to nourish infants, but as a product to be sold for profit.

The breeders are a metaphor for the feminine side of humanity. They have witnessed man’s atrocities. They see how old men enslave young men and throw them away as the fodder of war. “Our babies will not be warriors!” they proclaim. “We’re going to the green place of the many mothers.” They fight for a future for their children.


A half-life war boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) attaches Max to the hood of his dune buggy as his blood bag. “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die a hero on Fury Road!” he cries. Immortan Joe uses religion to control the slaves. The promise of the after-life inspires his slaves to sacrifice their lives to his will. Nux proclaims that it is his destiny to return the breeders to the almighty Immortan Joe.

An accident frees Max from the front of the buggy. Max, only concerned with his own survival, carjacks the women’s ride.

Nux is persistent in his pursuit. “I am the man who grabs the sun while flying to Valhalla! I live, I die, I live again.” The women are even protective of Nux. When he is captured, they don’t let Max kill him. “He is just a boy.” Perhaps it’s their maternal side; perhaps they relate to him as a fellow slave. Nux tries to convince them to return to Immortan Joe by preaching his word. “By his hands he’ll lift us up.” One of the wives replies, “You’re an old man’s battle fodder. He killed everyone and everything.” “He’s not to blame.” “Then who killed the world?”

Through the women’s courageous example of compassion and hope, both Nux and Max grow. Max goes from animalistic survival instincts (only out for himself) to fighting to protect the future of humanity alongside the matriarchs.

Right now there is an imbalance in our patriarchal country. We have forgotten to protect and uphold our feminine side, our responsibility for our children and our home. “Mad Max: Fury Road” shows what happens when masculine aggression isn’t tempered with responsibility and caring. The worst masculine characteristics are given free rein to destroy, fight, conquer, exploit, enslave, and rape.

It took over 15 years for “Mad Max: Fury Road” to come to fruition, which may have been a blessing since the themes are so timely and relevant to our issues today. This dystopian vision may seem outrageous, but our planet is currently being devastated by our single-minded pursuit of profit at all cost.


This year, Arizona representatives snuck a last minute rider into a must-pass military budget bill to allow a national park (protected by law) to be mined by a foreign company. Extracting the minerals will use too much of our diminishing ground water supply. And mining companies leave behind poisonous tailings that leak into our rivers and lakes. To make matters worse, our representatives are currently fighting to allow mining in all of our National Parks.

As climate change reaches a dangerous tipping point, our Congress voted to decrease environmental protections such as the amount of emissions allowed from coal refineries. They continue to subsidize profitable oil companies who pollute our air and water.

In March, 47 Republicans tried to sabotage peace talks with Iran so a select few could continue to profit from our multi-billion dollar military complex. Our young men are cannon fodder for old men who profit from war.

It is inspiring how some big action directors are making an effort to counteract some of our negative, fear based programming. For instance, “The Hunger Games” demonstrated how the government uses fear and the media to control us. Visionary filmmakers, like "Mad Max: Fury Road" director George Miller, are using the subtext to illuminate important issues of our time.

Movie blessings,
Jana Segal-Stormont 
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Oscar News: Mad Max: Fury Road is nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Cinematography, Film Editing, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Sound Editing.
 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Spotlight in the Dark


“I am here because I care. We are going to tell this story and tell it right.”

Those are the words Spotlight investigative reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) uses to convince an abuse survivor to share his story. That also seems to be the philosophy of the principals involved in the stellar production of “Spotlight.”

From the time the actors (including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Stanley Tucci) read the smart, layered script they knew that it was a special project. They were grateful to be working with colleagues they admired on such an important film, and they did their best to do it justice.

Spotlight” is the true story of how a team of investigative reporters from the Spotlight division of the Boston Globe uncovered a massive scandal of child molestation within the Catholic Archdiocese.

It is a rare picture that moves you without manipulating you with shocking, exploitative images. Writer/director Tom McCarthy and writer Josh Singer tell this story and tell it right – by treating the sensitive material with respect.

The real-life journalists (Editor Walter "Robby" Robinson, and reporters Michael Rezendes, Matt Carroll, and Sacha Pfeiffer) praised the filmmakers for their accurate portrayal of what investigative reporters do and for highlighting why their work is so important. Their Spotlight article gave a voice to the survivors who couldn’t speak up for themselves, and let them know that they weren’t the only victims.

Keeping that dirty secret was literally killing the victims. In the movie, a reporter notices track lines on a survivor’s arm. The survivor’s lawyer explains that he is one of the lucky ones because he is still alive. What made the movie so moving was how the survivors are portrayed as courageous for speaking out. They paid a huge personal price by opening those old wounds. But they did it to save children.

One survivor explained how he fell prey to the priest. “When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, and a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say no to God?” The violation goes beyond just molestation. It is the breaking of faith that is so devastating - that your neighborhood priest, who represents God, took advantage of you.

But the reporters dug up a bigger story – the church superiors covering it up. The investigation is riveting. The dedicated reporters sift through layer after layer of the cover-ups throughout the institution: the Catholic Dioceses, the neighborhood parishes, and even the families themselves. The bishops had pressured the families not to speak of it, using the excuse that it was just this one case and you don’t want to hurt the church. The more the reporters dug, the more institutions they found that buried the crimes.

The tension rises as the reporters feel the powerful grip of the Catholic Church in Boston - while the threat of continuing abuse starts to hit home. (One of the pedophile priests has been relocated to a reporter’s neighborhood.)

The film reminds us why investigative reporting is so vital in a democratic society: It is crucial that the press be a watchdog to keep those in power in line, to hold powerful institutions and people accountable (including our government). The more power they have, the more temptation there is to abuse it.

“Spotlight” is the kind of movie that really gets you thinking. So I joined a couple of women in the lobby for a post-movie discussion. We pondered how devastating it must have been for faithful Catholics when this story broke – since they find strength in their religion and their church community. It is so troubling that this institution, whose mission is to aid children in need, would abuse that trust and abuse it hundreds of times - for three decades! “The problem isn’t with God, but the institution,” chimed in one of the women. “The institution is run by men and men are flawed.” The other woman remembered when the story came out. Her father, a devout Catholic, said he didn’t want to hear about it. He didn’t want it to shatter his faith in God or become disillusioned with the church. That attitude certainly played into the systemic problem. Everyone turned a blind eye. Everyone buried the story.  “If it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” That is why the work of investigative reporters is so important and must be upheld.

We are all in the dark, until we see the light. Until someone shines a “Spotlight” on it.

Movie blessings,
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Oscar News: "Spotlight" has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Tom McCarthy), Best Screenplay (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer), Best Editing, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo) and Best Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams).

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mr. Holmes Investigates the Truth


by guest reviewer Dan Stormont

Mr. Holmes” is a story about many things: redemption, regret, friendship, loss, and the search for the truth. The movie is a study in dichotomies. The most obvious one is the dichotomy between the “real” Sherlock Holmes and the “fictional” Sherlock Holmes created by Dr. Watson in this movie.


As his memory fails him, Mr. Holmes struggles to write a book correcting the misconceptions that Dr. Watson created in his popular novels. Then there is the dichotomy between the fictional Sherlock who solves every case and the real Mr. Holmes who goes into seclusion after failing to correctly analyze the clues in what would be his last case. The real reason he is writing the book is to find the truth in a case that still haunts him and come to grips with it.


Another key dichotomy is between the aging and increasingly senile Mr. Holmes (Ian McKellen) and Roger (played charmingly by Milo Parker), the young son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) who befriends the solitary Mr. Holmes. At first the boy is intrigued by the reputation of the famous Mr. Holmes, but over time he gets to know the real man. At the same time, Holmes, who has spent his life remaining detached from others, grows fond of Roger and becomes a role model for this boy who has no father in his life. In yet another dichotomy, Holmes’ seclusion in an isolated English country manor provides a contrast to his highly public former life on Baker Street in the heart of bustling London. Finally, there is a dichotomy when Mr. Holmes, who spent his whole life trying to ferret out the truth, lies to a friend in Japan to save him unnecessary heartbreak.

There is, of course, much more to this engaging and heart-warming movie than the many dichotomies. There is a real mystery to be solved; there are a number of humorous moments as Mr. Holmes tries to explain that he really is Sherlock Holmes, even though he doesn’t wear a deerstalker hat or smoke a pipe (he prefers a cigar); and it is painful to watch him struggle with the onset of Alzheimers. But, in thinking back on the movie, it was the striking contrasts that stayed with me. “Mr. Holmes” is about discovering truths through dichotomies.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mustang: Their Spirit Could Not Be Broken


The filming of "Mustang" was wrought with danger. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven rushed to finish shooting a scene where a teenage boy sneaks into the car to make out with a teenage girl. Like the characters in the scene, the cast and crew was in peril. The scene was shot in a remote Turkish town and the townspeople were milling around suspiciously.

Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven
The movie opens like a fairy tale on a Black Sea coastal village in northern Turkey. It is the last day of school, and the students celebrate their freedom with an afternoon frolicking at the beach. Watching the teens horsing around, just being kids, is such a joy but there is a dangerous undercurrent. While their education has been liberating, there is a threat that comes with that liberation. Women, hidden behind headscarves, watch them. 

The best way for me to express the spirit of “Mustang” is to invoke images of wild horses running free, untamed, manes flapping defiantly in the wind, taunting those who would try to break them. Wondrous creatures. A fitting metaphor for the herd of five inseparable, spirited Turkish sisters.

The girls' youthful exuberance is instantly crushed when they are greeted at home by their irate grandmother who has been informed by a conservative neighbor of their shameful antics at the beach. Fearing that their virtue and marriage prospects have been sullied, she drags the girls one by one behind closed doors to whip them. But the defiant sisters band together to challenge their unfair treatment. Her hysteria is trumped when their furious uncle arrives home. Despite the sisters' vehement denial of any wrongdoing, they are locked up in the house. All corrupting influences such as phones and computers are removed. They transcend their prison with imaginary play. Emboldened by their sisterly bond, the girls still find playful ways to exert their independence. While we cheer their expression of feminine freedom, there is an underlying feeling of dread.

Threatened by the herd’s strength and budding sexuality, their guardians corral then into a makeshift prison, welding steel gates closed. The guardians conduct a plan to break up the pack by enlisting the conservative neighborhood women to prepare the teens for arranged marriages. When the oldest sisters are married off, the remaining girls plan their escape from their matrimonial prisons, even as it becomes clear that their lives are in danger for defying the rules of a patriarchal society. My heart was in my throat as I rooted for those courageous girls.

Mustangs should not be broken! Break free of your harness. Leap...no...fly over fences, hair flapping wildly in the wind like Mustangs running free.

Movie blessings. 
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com


OSCAR NEWS: "Mustang" is the only film by a women to be nominated for an Oscar this year. It is nominated for Best Foriegn Film. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Shout Out to Chi-raq

I’ve done a lot of soul searching about whether to write a review promoting “Chi-raq.” I had some initial misgivings, but honestly, I was shocked to find out how many black people were outraged after seeing the trailer. They thought the humor was in bad taste, disrespected Chicago, and that it made light of an important issue in the black community: gang violence. After some reflection (and reading Tasha Robinson’s “Review: Chi-Raq is SpikeLee's larger-than-life love letter to Chicago”), I feel that Spike Lee showed great courage in making a movie condemning gang violence in this time of mounting racial tension.


This isn’t the first time that Spike Lee has put himself in the line of fire for his controversial beliefs. “Do the Right Thing” (now heralded as a must-see classic) came out at a time when racial tension was at a boiling point in New York City. In the late eighties, when I lived in Brooklyn, race riots seemed to be the norm. The movie was inspired by a racial incident where a car broke down just outside of the Howard Beach area of Queens and three black boys walked into a pizzeria to use the phone. A group of white boys, incensed that these black boys were in their neighborhood, called out racial slurs and started a row. One of the black teens was killed trying to escape into traffic. New York was in an uproar. Over 1,200 marched in a highly charged protest.  In 1989, the year the film came out, another black teen was murdered in Bensonhurst.  Racial tension was at a boiling point.  I remember feeling nervous at the Brooklyn premiere of “Do the Right Thing.” Reviewers had predicted that the movie would incite race riots - that blacks would get so riled up by the brutal climax that they would run out of the theater and burn things.  Personally, I was shaken to the core by the heart-wrenching ending.

Some felt it was irresponsible to release a film that culminates in a black riot in such a racially charged time. But Spike Lee believed that it would incite conversation and hopefully inspire change by bringing the problem out in the open. And it did. People lined up in the streets to see the film. Entrances were blocked by people (black and white) ardently debating the racial issues in the movie they had just seen.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 26 years since “Do the Right Thing.”  Unfortunately, gang violence is on the rise - spurring Spike Lee to make another movie in the spirit of “Do the Right Thing.”  But, this time he’s gunning for gang bangers in “Chi-raq.” Even the name is inflammatory. Pronounced "shy-RACK", the title is a juxtaposition of "Iraq" and "Chicago", coined by South Side Chicago residents who compare the area to a war zone because of its high crime rates.

Mister Señor Love Daddy in “Do the Right Thing"
Let's examine the complaint that Spike Lee is making light of the problems in South Chicago. If you watch the movie, it is clear that it is a highly stylized satirical remake of a Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, in which Lysistrata convinces the wives of the Athenian and Spartan soldiers to withhold sex until their husbands agree to stop the endless war. (Teyonah Parris plays the gang leader's girlfriend Lysistrata.) Spike Lee and playwright Kevin Willmott stay true to the tone of the source with its over the top bawdy humor. (In the play, the men go around with cloths draped over their huge cod pieces.) “Chi-raq” has that Spike Lee flare, with Samuel L. Jackson (who played the DJ Mister Señor Love Daddy in “Do the Right Thing”) acting as a one man Greek chorus. The dialogue is sheer poetic genius – a combination of Shakespearean couplets, slam poetry riffing, and freestyle rap.

Director Spike Lee
This movie isn’t for everyone. Sometimes the humor is just plain over the top. He treats both whites and blacks as horny buffoons. Two of the three white characters are depicted as racist stereotypes (especially in a scene where Lysistrata uses her feminine wiles to capture the Confederate-fetishist General King Kong). The movie would have been more accessible if he had cut that offensive scene. Apparently, Spike Lee will go to ridiculous lengths to get people talking. He pushes people's buttons with purposefully derogatory rap lyrics to incite conversation among blacks. Spike Lee's intention is to WAKE people up. In fact, the first line in both “Do the Right Thing” and “Chi-raq” is, “Wake up."

“Chi-raq” is no comic trifle. There are some very moving scenes - particularly those with Jennifer Hudson as the grieving mother of a little girl shot while playing. The movie deals with important themes. “Chi-raq” is society out of balance - where the maternal side is no longer protected, but disrespected, and the worst side of man is allowed free reign.  In a spirited rap number, women seem to worship the gang leader/rap singer Chiraq (Nick Cannon) who preaches violence. “Chi-raq” is a call for black women to wake up and use their strength to stand up against the senseless violence.

What does it take to wake people up who have gotten used to daily violence - where children dying in the streets is considered normal? Spike Lee’s answer is to be LOUD, bold, outrageous, disrespectful – to incite anger. He is shouting at the top of his lungs, “WAKE UP!”

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Collaboration Brings "The Martian" Home


Presumed dead after a fierce storm leaves him stranded on Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney survives by sheer courage and wit. He deals with feelings of loneliness and hopelessness by being productive and recording a journal. It is inspiring to see his resourcefulness in using his scientific knowledge for practical needs (such as eating and breathing), the emergencies that arise, and to communicate to NASA that he is still alive. Screenwriter Drew Goddard worked with Author Andy Weir and the production team to stay as true as possible to the science in Weir's fascinating, engrossing book, THE MARTIAN.

Script Doctor Howard Allen shared some thoughts on collaboration with the Institute for Collaborative Storytelling:

While we are talking collaboration, look at what happened with THE MARTIAN, in which Neil Turitz at SSN says, "Drew Goddard took a dense, at times overly scientific, self-published book by first-time author Andy Weir and turned it into one of the most entertaining, dramatic, humorous, emotional and thrilling times at the movies this year." [Editorial note: The Martian was actually Weir's first novel, he previously attracted international attention for his short story, "The Egg."] And then quotes the screenwriter, “The book was challenging, because it’s mostly diary entries describing science experiments,” Goddard admitted (unwittingly further pushing his own cause for a large, gold trophy), “That’s not the first thing you think of when you think of what will work on the big screen. But, as I rocked through the book, what I kept coming back to was, How do I capture the soul of the book and get it into a form we can shoot? How do we step back and convey the science?” Goddard came up with the device of having Watney, (played winningly by Matt Damon) use video diaries to explain what he’s doing, how he’s doing it – all with a disarming and self-effacing sense of humor.

THE MARTIAN author Andy Weir with Mars Rock
Goddard also enlisted Weir throughout the process, talking to him almost every day to discuss what he was doing with the author’s book and how he was adapting it. “Look, I’m a writer, and I want to protect other writers, and I love to collaborate,” Goddard explained. “So I would call Andy and say, ‘Here’s where I am, here’s what I love about your book, here’s what I anticipate the challenges of the book to be, and I want you to be happy.’ Also, he’s so smart and such a great resource, I would be stupid not to use him.”

Of course, as any writer knows, part of the process involves killing your babies. Or, in this case, someone else’s. Goddard admitted that it broke his heart to lose an enormous chunk of the book’s second half: on screen Watney’s month-long, 3200 kilometer journey to the spot where he’ll finally be able to leave Mars takes just a few minutes and culminates in a fun montage scored to the sounds of Abba’s “Waterloo.” On the page, however, it’s close to 100 pages of one problem to be solved after another, and is riveting. These are the decisions to be made, however, and one has to be tough about them."

The world is changing for Story in films. Even before the script is completed, filmmakers are working with scientists and designers on a mash up of stories from fiction and non-fiction sources. Matt Damon, who stars as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney, was brought in before the script was finished to work with Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard on how best to tell a story that crosscut between Mars and Earth and the rescue ship and flashbacks.

NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel, left, Actor Matt Damon, and Mars Science Lab Project Manager Jim Erickson,
Damon met with NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel and Mars Science Lab Project Manager Jim Erickson at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars Yard, as well as the NASA scientists and engineers who served as technical consultants on the film. Although some rules of science are broken, the movie attempts to portray a realistic view of the climate and topography of Mars, based on NASA data, and some of the challenges NASA faces as we prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s. It is exciting to see the successful collaboration with scientists and every element of the production.


So Astronaut Mark Watney wasn’t exactly alone on the Red Planet. He had screenwriter Drew Goddard, author Andy Weir, the whole production team and NASA scientists to bring him home.


Oscar news:  THE MARTIAN, directed by Ridley Scott, is nominated for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, and Adapted Screenplay.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Alan Rickman Shares a Bit of Heaven in "A Little Chaos."


“The colors of Versailles will be the heart of our kingdom with gardens exquisite and matchless in beauty. Heaven shall be here.” – Alan Rickman as Louis XIV.

When I saw the trailer for “A Little Chaos,” I longed to spend a sunny afternoon in this garden. It would be a celebration of a blog I had completed on heritage gardening.

I loved how the writer just let herself dream: What if a free-spirited woman was hired to design the fountains in the garden of Versailles? How would she fit in with courtiers at the Louvre? What if she met the king himself?

Perhaps that’s what intrigued director Alan Rickman. He shared how the script caught his attention, “If you know a lot about history, you know that a lot of it is true. If you know a lot you’ll also know a lot of it is nonsense. It couldn’t have happened. A lot of it did happen. I found that absolutely fascinating that someone could look at history that way… to tell a very human and modern story. They’re walking around in 17th century costumes. But I think they’re talking like normal people.”

Sometimes you just have to let go (of all reason and logic) and let a movie sweep over you. I got caught up in the passion and imagination of the writer and her character Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet). Impossibly set in 1682 – no matter - I loved being in that world. Watching her gain the respect of her handsome boss, her fellow landscapers, the court, and eventually Louis XIV played by, no other than Alan Rickman. A lovely, lovely fantasy.

On the second viewing, I was distracted from my bliss by what I felt was an unnecessary subplot about the death of her child. Later, I realized that it helped her relate to the other lady courtiers. They had all experienced loss. A beautiful symbol of the lost loved ones were the colored, shiny baubles and trinkets hanging from branches in the woods. This was, “A Little Chaos.”


There is a line in the movie when the King’s landscaper sees her garden and asks, “This abundance of chaos is your Eden?” She replies, “My search for it.” Perhaps, “A Little Chaos” is Alan Rickman’s search for Eden.

Rickman's love project is a fitting goodbye. I’m grateful to Alan Rickman for sharing a little heaven with me. A shiny bauble hangs from a branch for him.

Movie blessings. 
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Down in the Dark with "The 33"


In 2010, people from around the world cheered the rescue of the 33 miners trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine for 69 days. The director of “The 33” had a whole lot to live up to.

The director’s goal was to show the human side of the story that we didn’t see in the news coverage. “I was sent the script. I thought it would be very challenging to tell a story about so many characters and such a long time. There are so many ways to tell this story, at least 33 because every one of these guys had a different version of what happened, and for me it was just a great challenge to piece it all together.”

Although the action sequences were thrilling, it was really the humanity that drew me into the story. It was the miners’ courage and loyalty in making sure that no one was left behind as the cave collapsed around them.

To enhance the realism, the film was shot in a Colombian mine. “Thirty-five days, 14 hours every day, six days a week we walked into a mine with hardhats and boots. No food allowed, no bathrooms.” Every minute the cast and crew were there, they were in danger. Sometimes the action was stopped while the head of the mine took precautions to have loose rocks removed. Imagine all those men confined to that cold, dark hole in the ground. Down there with them was – director Patricia Riggen.

Like the miners in the movie, the men struggled with the harsh conditions. But in the end, a comradery developed. The 33 miners had been left to their own devices in the dark mine. The group could have deteriorated into anarchy, with self-preservation the only rule. But instead of turning against each other, they developed a brotherhood. They chose democracy and watched out for each other. Otherwise, they wouldn't have survived.

Patricia Riggen
The director chose to show that the men were not alone. The miners got strength from their prayers - and the prayers of their families on the surface. The families never left their side. They camped outside the mine, picketing, demanding a rescue team. The female presence was definitely felt in the mine. The men found solace in the idea that their loved ones were counting on them. Perhaps Mexican director Patricia Riggen’s vision is most apparent in the moment of magical realism when the men share their “last dinner” (a can of tuna) and their wives and significant others join them. This scene was inspired by her research, in which the miners shared how they conjured up imaginary feasts together. 

One of the reasons that Patricia Riggen was hired was because of her vision for the project. She chose not to confine the movie to the claustrophobic, depressing mine. She expanded it to include the stories of the wives and families who demanded the rescue as well as the Chilean government's struggle with the politics and public relations of the rescue.

Having recently written, "Arizona's Real Mining Tradition," a blog about Arizona’s history of exploiting mine workers and the environment, I was keenly aware of the absence of a key player in the story: the head of the mining company. It was clear that the mining company had made a business decision - not to comply with costly safety measures. The foreman knew that the safety features weren’t in place. He pleaded with the mine manager to request the repairs, “It is my job to protect those miners.” But he is corrected. It is his job to keep the mine going to make a profit.  People dying are the cost of doing business. Finally the 100+ year old mine has had enough. A huge boulder twice the size of the Empire State Building becomes dislodged. Man’s reckless pursuit of profit finally broke the heart of the mountain.


But it wasn’t only the families that were there for the miners. The Chilean people, having just endured the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, had great empathy for the heartache of miners’ families. They were touched by their cries, “It’s not just miners down there, it is my brother, it is my husband.” The Chilean people pressured the government to take over the rescue efforts. Mining engineers from around the world and even NASA worked to rescue the miners. (Spoiler alert! lol) “The 33” miners were rescued. But the real miracle happened in the hearts of the people.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal 
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Check out my blog, "Arizona's Real Mining Tradition." 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mom Makes "Room" Home (no spoiler review)


Room – the only home that five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has ever known. We see it from Jack’s eyes as he introduces us to everything in the 10X10 box: bed, chair 1, chair 2, toilet, bath…wardrobe. Room and mom (Brie Larson) are this little dude’s whole world.

As a mother myself, I see more. I see a mother who is doing her best to give her boy a happy, healthy life.  She encourages his creativity with songs, drawings, and homemade toys. She gives him her undivided attention. Their daily ritual includes brushing their teeth (she counts to make sure it is long enough), exercising (she makes a game of “running track” across the little room), cooking, and cleaning together.  


Though there doesn’t appear to be anyone they have to account to, mom has set down certain rules: rules on how much TV is allowed (she explains that she was turning into a TV watching zombie before Jack came to rescue her), and rules for bed time.  Important rules.  We soon find that the bedtime rules are vital for Jack’s protection. Jack must be quietly asleep in wardrobe when mom’s unwelcome visitor arrives. Through the crack in the door, we get glimpses of that visitor through Jack’s curious eyes.  Some nights Jack falls asleep counting the squeaks in the bed. His breathing in the wardrobe seems thunderous. The tension is palpable.

But as Jack grows more curious and protective of his mother, it becomes clear that they are in peril. Mom concocts a dangerous plan to get them out of room. (I have excluded the usual link to the trailer to retain the suspense – though I felt considerable tension even on my second viewing.)

What really struck me is how real it feels. The room seems lived in. We get an intimate look at their lives. Jack isn’t the usual precocious Disney child.  Writer Emma Donoghue is obviously someone who understands kids and mothers. The boy goes from rambunctious play to a defiant tantrum.  He has meltdowns like a real kid. We see the effect of the night visits on his mother as she withdraws into herself and snaps at the boy when he gets on her last nerve. But she forces herself out of her depression when her child needs her to be attentive.

The acting is outstanding, heart-wrenchingly genuine. In an interview, the award winning actress Brie Larson spoke about her process. After in-depth research with abduction survival therapists, she isolated herself from any human communication and subsisted on a meager diet for six months. She shared how she became depressed, but then had a breakthrough moment when she recalled a childhood memory of living in a one room studio with her mom and sister. The girls only had two toys each, but it was the best time of her life because their creative mom made everything a game and gave them undivided attention. She brought that experience to the role.  Watching “Room” brought back my own memories of my mom encouraging my creativity with arts and crafts when I was four. It didn't matter how little money we had, we were always encouraged to follow our creative pursuits. That love of creativity got me through some hard, lonely years. Needless to say, I cried. Grateful to my mom for being present. Sad for all the families today that don't have the time or money to build that kind of foundation.

One of the reasons Abrahamson chose Brie Larson was because of her warmth. He knew that she could bond with 7 year old Jacob.  The authenticity of their connection makes the suspense all the more devastating.

 Emma Donoghue
“Room” is a highly moving, thrilling adaptation of the novel by Emma Donoghue. Director Lenny Abrahamson stayed true to the source (as promised) by working closely with Donoghue on the script. What is truly admirable (and what makes it a must-see Reel Inspiration film) is how Donoghue and Abrahamson succeed in making the victims heroes, while not glorifying their captor. “Room” was a collaborative effort with the director, writer, cast, and crew all working for a common vision – to make a life affirming story showing the importance and resilience of the mother-son bond.  

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal 
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com


Oscar news: "Room" was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director Lenny Abrahamson, Best Adaptation Emma Donoghue, and Best Actress Brie Larson.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Women Filmmakers Championed "Suffragette." (Thank goodness!)

Lately, I feel a weight on my shoulders when I attend a movie that is directed by a woman. I watch anxiously hoping to be inspired to promote the film and filmmaker - knowing how rare it is for mainstream films to be directed by a woman. (Less than 7% of studio productions this year were directed by women.) The stakes are great.  One bad movie by a woman director reinforces the view that women are not as good as men. One flop is proof that nobody wants to watch movies by women. These myths persist no matter how many big hits are helmed by women. It is not easy to change a patriarchal system that is so entrenched in our culture that many don’t believe it exists. But no progress is ever made without a struggle. So here we are.


Fortunately, “Suffragette” was developed by the female team that created the acclaimed film, “Brick Lane,” including director Sarah Gavron,writer Abi Morgan, and producers Alison Owen and Faye Ward.  I sat upright in my theater seat, poised for a prim and proper BBC style biopic. But I was immediately thrust into the brutal world of the suffragettes along with weary textile worker and mother, Maud (Carey Mulligan).  I was shocked by the unflinching depiction of her dismal work conditions and the extreme use of violence by the police to crush the women who protested.

Faye Ward (producer), Abi Morgan (Screen Writer)Alison Owen (producer) and Sarah Gavron (Director) looking at original police documents.
This gritty enactment was born out of thorough research on the first foot soldiers from the early feminist movement (concentrating on 1912-13), when the women were forced to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the increasingly violent state.


A fine piece of visual storytelling, “Suffragette” engaged my heart as well as my mind, showing just why women’s suffrage is so important to protect the basic human rights of women (and children) in a patriarchal society.  By law, women and children were men’s property.  So women were beaten, imprisoned, lost their jobs and even their children for fighting for the right to vote.  

The theme is relevant today. In this time when women’s’ rights and health care are being threatened, it is vital for women to safeguard their rights by voting.  “Suffragette” reminds us that those rights didn’t come easy.  Men didn’t gift us with the right to vote. Real women fought hard for over 70 years for the right to demand better working conditions at the polls. I hope "Suffragette" inspires us to fight for fair working conditions for everyone.

Ada from Jane Campion's "The Piano" 

I haven’t felt so moved by a movie since Jane Campion’s “The Piano.” I remember wailing, not crying – wailing, when the pianist’s finger was heartlessly hacked off by her possessive husband.  That image resonated with my artist soul that had been similarly amputated by our capitalistic society.  Both of these films moved me from a place deep within.  Both of these films were created by women.  There is something that these women filmmakers brought to these pictures - an understanding, a sensitivity that comes from a place of true understanding that you can only get from experiencing a similar struggle. 

Movie blessings, 
Jana Segal 
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Saturday, October 10, 2015

East-side Sushi: Challenging Traditions


I love a good foody movie. Yummy!  But this festival favorite transcends the usual foody fare with its timely themes.

East-side Sushi” shows a Mexican-American family making their own way in Oakland, California.  They don’t get any handouts (despite what the corporate media would have us believe).  The little family works hard at two jobs just to eke out a living.  Working long hours is killing the old man, but he has no choice. The company keeps lowering his pay and increasing his hours.  At 4 a.m. every morning, Juana drags her sleeping daughter (Kaya Jade Aguirra)  along as she and her father do food prep for their fruit cart.  Juana’s (Diana Elizabeth Torres) integrity is apparent as she selects the best fruit. She offers a quality product, rather than skimping by using bottled lemon juice just to make a little more profit.

What I especially love about this film is how writer/director Anthony Lucero uses Juana’s actions to drive the story.  When Juana happens on to a sushi restaurant looking for help, she impulsively applies. She has grown bored of working prep for Mexican restaurants and making the same old tacos. She is ready for a new challenge.  She is hired because she can carry a fifty pound bag of rice, but she soon proves herself with her expert knife skills.  She has never even had sushi, but she quickly adapts to the new culture.


At home, her father (Rodrigo Duarte Clark) keeps insisting that she get a normal job working at a Mexican restaurant and do what’s best for her daughter.  She reminds him that she always does what is best for the family.  She goes on, “Sometimes I think you are happy with working and never succeeding.”  Her father has been taught to stay in his place.

It is her own skill, moxie, determination, la fuerza, and talent that allow her to rise above her "place" in the restaurant world. She studies independently - learning the Japanese names of the various kinds of sushi and following sushi making tutorials online.  It is only when she can’t figure out how to make the sushi rice stick, that she asks a sympathetic sushi chef for advice.   She experiments on her unsuspecting family (who are mystified by this strange foreign food – raw fish!), making innovations that her family will enjoy.


She finally finds the strength to stand up to the discrimination at the restaurant and demand the promotion she deserves – to be hired as a sushi chef.  “I’m trying to have an opportunity like everyone else. I deserve an opportunity like everyone else. You know, behind every great restaurant there are great Latinos in the back, in the kitchen, hidden, preparing the food, making you look good.  Well, I don’t want to be in the back anymore."

She calls them on their excuse that “it is tradition” that only Japanese are sushi chefs - when two of the chefs are Chinese and Korean.  She calls them on their sexist traditions. “Sure you say women can’t be sushi chefs because their hands are too warm - that their perfume affects the taste of the food” - while one of the male chefs smells like an ash tray.

When Juana challenges racist and sexist traditions by pursuing her dream and standing up for herself, she is an inspiration to everyone around her: the Japanese hostess, the Latino prep cook, her wide-eyed daughter, her traditional father, and eventually even her boss. The result is a delicious blending of two culinary cultures at, "East-side Sushi."

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal 
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Celebrating Together at "Jimmy's Hall."

Having just walked a sweltering mile and a half to the Loft Cinema, I was keenly aware of the riders’ plight due to the long Tucson bus strike. I thought about those who had lost their jobs because they couldn’t get to work on time and the angry young woman I met waiting an hour at the bus stop (before giving up and walking.)  She was mad at the drivers for striking when they made “a hell of a lot more” than she made. “They should all be fired!” she raged. This woman was working two full-time jobs to support herself and her child.  I pointed out how the media was making out poor single mothers as lazy. “I work damn hard,” she spat back.  I challenged her, “Don’t you think you deserve enough money to live on with one job?  If workers don’t demand it, their bosses won’t pay a living wage. The only reason there are safe working conditions in this country is because the workers organized and demanded it.”



My fiance and I settled into our seats at the air-conditioned theater ready to be drawn into the lush emerald isle and the spirited Irish and jazz dances in “Jimmy’s Hall.” We were taken back to depression era Ireland when it was recovering from the vicious civil war between those who supported England’s occupation and those who fought for independence. Jimmy’s Hall was essentially a community center where people gathered to take cultural classes, attend dances, and celebrate life. But it was seen as a danger for the common people to gather together to exchange ideas – ideas that might lead to revolt. So the hall had been shut down and Jimmy exiled to America.

Ten years later, Jimmy is greeted on his return by a group of young-adults intent on re-opening the hall for a safe place to dance. The small community rebuilds the tin hall into a joyous gathering place. But the church sees the hall as a challenge to the powers that be – the wealthy land owners who had profited from the war – and pressures them to close it down. When a family is thrown out of their ancestral home by the greedy land owner, the persecuted group stands with the family.

 It’s not hard to see the parallel between the greedy landowners and the unfettered greed of corporate America and international banking conglomerates. In the film, the church uses fear to control the people. Today it is the corporate-owned media that portrays hard working single mothers - like my fellow passenger - as lazy while influencing them to vote against their own best interests.

For me the Loft feels like Jimmy’s Hall: a joyful community gathering place where learning and lively discussions are encouraged. Independent films are still the voice of the people. It occurs to me that the single mother at the bus stop wouldn’t have the time or money to enjoy this film at the Loft. (Though she could send her kids to the Loft's free children’s screenings…) But movies like “Jimmy’s Hall” create understanding that we are all a part of this community and inspires us to stand together. 

Movie blessings,
Jana Segal
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com