Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Artist Haven Just "5 Flights Up."

Every day Albert (Morgan Freedman) takes his little dog out for a stroll through their gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, then struggles to climb “5 Flights Up” to his beloved apartment/art studio and even more beloved wife, Ruth (Diane Keaton). When the dog suffers from a ruptured disk and has to be carried downstairs, it seems like it’s time for a new place with an elevator.  Their real estate agent/niece insists that they take advantage of the current escalated value in their trendy Hipster neighborhood.

Set on the weekend of their open house, not a lot happens in this pleasant little film. They worry about their dog. People traipse through their apartment trying to picture Albert’s art studio without “all that junk” (his paintings). Ruth tries to arrange for a showcase of his life’s work. When the gallery owner claims that it isn't hip enough, she loses it. She explains that he is an artist and he isn't about to adjust his vision for the latest trend.  I glance around the theater and see smiles all around.  It is delightful to see this charming couple still supportive and in-love after 40 years together. I love the way Albert and Ruth live life on their own terms – creating a haven where Albert can paint and Ruth tends her garden up on the roof.

Unfortunately, that liberty is threatened when a manhunt for a suspected terrorist causes gridlock on a nearby bridge and the couple feels pressured to sell before the media induced fear forces apartment prices down. Societal pressure to pursue financial gain encroaches on their happy home. 

My fiancé Dan and I try to create a haven where he can work on his humanitarian projects (Dan also plans to plant a heritage garden) and I can write my love projects, draft reviews of meaningful films, and be there for my teenage boys. I hope we are as happy as Ruth and Albert in ten years. 

One of the things I love about movies is how everyone brings their own stuff to the theater that they project onto the big screen.  A simple story like this leaves space for you to ruminate about similar experiences: long term relationships, selling your apartment, N.Y. City, your pooch, and for me – the struggle of being an artist in this profit driven society.

In this day and age when accumulating wealth is valued above all else, where do artists fit in? OK.  I admit it.  I’m upset that our governor has cut millions from education – forcing schools to drop art and music classes. Our city council plans to shut down our award-winning public access station (where I made my micro-budget movies and at-risk kids created cable programs). The city invests in street cars that connect sports bars, but cuts funding for events that connect our diverse community - like the Family Arts Festival and the Tucson Meet Yourself. Beautiful architecture and historic buildings are torn down to make room for ugly office buildings.  I wonder if they will eventually close down everything that makes Tucson a great place to live. I understand that people are struggling just to make a living, but by throwing away the arts we are losing something that enriches our daily life and gives it meaning. Art is important. End of rant.

I’m grateful that we still have The Loft, where we can catch up with this happy, loving couple in their artist haven... just, “5 Flights Up."

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal

Tucsonans: Please, sign the petition to save Access Tucson.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Welcome to (the Real) Me

At first glance, this quirky indie comedy appears to be a send-up of our obsession with fame and pop psychology showcasing Kristin Wiig as a ditzy, narcissistic lottery winner who buys her own talk show, aptly titled, “Welcome to Me.”

This satire, by director Shira Piven and screenwriter Eliot Laurance, has so much more to say than the trailer lets on.  The movie opens with Alice Klieg (Kristin Wiig at her funniest) playing a worn out VHS recording of an Oprah Episode and affirming along with her hero, “Everybody comes to our beautiful planet earth to do something great, something unique, something that only you were born to do.” 

Director Shira Piven
Fortified with this belief, she heads off to the convenience store with her pink umbrella to buy her daily lottery ticket.  When she wins 86 million dollars, she doesn’t seem surprised at all. She is more interested in reading a prepared statement about how she realized her vision, than celebrating or spending her winnings. When her big moment is interrupted (she confesses her use of masturbation as a sedative), she has a meltdown. She reads another prepared statement to her psychiatrist about how she will no longer be needing his hurtful services since she will be living her new life as Millionaire Alice.  He encourages her to get back on her meds. Instead, she finds an outlet to express herself by hiring a failing infomercial company to produce her talk show – about herself.

What appears to be a vanity project, is really about a woman who wants to be seen and understood.  In the first episode, she shares how she created her own success with her positive affirmations. In a cooking demonstration, she “bakes” a meat cake from her high protein diet to show that she is capable of controlling her illness (currently called borderline personality disorder) without depending on mind numbing meds.  

I love how every detail of the set design shows what it’s like to be in Alice’s world. On stage is a replica of her bedroom with her collections organized by the colors of her moods, representing her need to control her world.  She finds comfort in her swan collection, so she shares that with her audience by riding in on a swan boat. 

Then there are the performance art segments of her show, which serve as unsupervised psychodrama. She watches from the stage as “actors” portray the traumatic events in her life. She gets so caught up in the recreations herself that she starts yelling at the people who hurt her.  When the actors get it right, she furiously points it out to the audience – as if to say, “See! See! Look what happened to me!” She has a desperate need to express herself, for others to know what she is going through. The good with the ugly and inappropriate.  She rends the walls of her soul laying open gaping wounds.

She develops a following – mostly because of a morbid fascination. Her fans can’t look away from the train wreck that is her life. She also gains their respect for the way she courageously bares her wounded psyche.  There are glimpses of genius as she portrays the truth that the rest of us are unwilling to face in ourselves or society. They watch until it gets too painful to continue. She becomes so immersed in her “show” that she loses her connection with her friends and family.

After the hilarious set-up, sadness sat heavily at the bottom of my stomach.  It brought out the hopelessness I felt (still feel) when my son was “diagnosed” with a mental illness and the way he has been stigmatized by it and put on mind-altering drugs – numbing away his uniqueness and creativity. My smart, creative son who had all the promise in the world.

I love the way, “Welcome to Me,” shows that someone with mental illness is capable of having a caring relationship and is worthy of love - that they also have positive traits and talents we can admire. This movie does much to create understanding of mental illness…and raises questions about how we as a society deal with it. 

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Women Share, "Every Secret Thing."


My heart raced through the pre-show of the New York Film Critics premiere of, “Every Secret Thing.”  As I watched the trailer, I was blown away by the diversity of the cast and the number of prominent female characters. My excitement grew as the host introduced the women who drove the project: producer Frances McDormand, director Amy Berg, writer Nicole Holofener, and Actresses Diane Ladd and Dakota Fanning.  

Since only 5% of studio productions are directed by women, there was a lot riding on this production.  So few films, especially thrillers, are directed by women. The rare women who succeed in getting studio distribution have the unfair responsibility of representing all female filmmakers.

In the post-film discussion, the women spoke candidly about what drew them to the project – the irredeemable characters. The actresses shared how they rarely get to play complex women.  They were proud to be creating genuinely flawed characters – to challenge societal norms requiring mothers to be depicted as kind and nurturing.  And these women succeed at being brutally honest. The audience audibly gasped as the rejected tween girls approach an unattended baby and take it from its stroller. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg brought to the project her strength for unearthing the bitter truth.  She desiccates the mythology of motherhood – foraging through parenting decisions for far reaching consequences. What she uncovers is our hunger for nurturing, and how a lack of nurturing can have a negative impact for a lifetime.  

Director Amy Berg
Admittedly, this was an ambitious first narrative feature for documentary director Amy Berg. There was the challenge of dealing with the shifts in time and balancing the different characters’ perceptions of the past traumas. I would have liked to have seen more of the abusive home life that led to the abduction. The director shared how she formed the prerequisite thriller plot twists in the editing room. At times they felt a bit contrived. These are the kinds of mistakes that you learn from and improve with each movie you make. I hope she gets the chance to grow her unique voice.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Belle" Director Amma Asante Proves: What is Right Can Never Be Impossible

 Painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her sister-cousin exhibited at Scone Palace in Scotland
In 1761, Dido Elizabeth Belle was born the daughter of a British slave and Captain Sir John Lindsay.  She was raised by aristocrat grandparents with the privileges afforded one of noble blood. What makes this story so incredible is that her beloved grandfather was the justice of the appeals court that officiated an insurance dispute by the captain of the slave ship Zong  - a case that may have led to the emaciation of British slaves.

Writer/Director Amma Asante makes Dido’s story acceptable to mainstream audiences by dressing it up as a lavish historical costume drama, embroidered with romance, its delicate fabric interwoven with threads of relevant themes.

When Belle’s sister-cousin comes out in society, her grandparents entertain suitors.  Dido (Gugu Mabatha-Raw) is prohibited from dining with the rest of the family due to her position in society as a black woman. For the first time, Belle questions her position in society. She asks her Papa (Tom Wilkinson), “How can I be too high in rank to dine with the servants, but too low to dine with my family?”  He explains that it is the nature of order. There is an interesting dichotomy here.  Belle recognizes the injustice of that rule. But that very evening, she admonishes the vicar’s son John for breaking social etiquette by speaking directly to her - the lady of the house - when he is of a lower social standing.  Formed by her privileged upbringing, Belle upholds the very social hierarchy that suppresses her.

The vicar’s son John (Sam Reid) arrives to study law under her grandfather, the justice of the appeal court.  Dido overhears a case that her Papa is trying in which a slave ship captain is suing the insurance company for the cost of the slaves that he threw overboard to reserve water for himself and the crew.  This lights a fire in Dido to learn more about the injustices of her people.  Dido is inspired by the law student as he challenges their social system by standing up for the drowned slaves.

To shelter Dido, her grandfather forbids John from speaking to her. He encourages her to marry a gentleman for his family name to preserve her rank. This is another interesting dichotomy, as the judge is expected to rule on the merits of the case on the basis that the slaves are property or cargo, while he fights to maintain his beloved Dido’s place in society. Meanwhile, Dido’s sister--cousin is having difficulty securing a husband because she didn't inherited her father’s fortune. She realizes that ladies aren't allowed to work to earn money, nor can they inherit it if they have a brother. So essentially they are property. Everyone in this society is enslaved by the confines of their class.

While “Belle” is set in 18th century Britain, it shines a light on important issues of our time. There are parallels between Britain’s class system and our own. In America, class is distinguished by the distribution of wealth. There is a great divide when CEOs are paid $10,000 an hour, yet refuse to pay workers a living wage of $10. While Britain’s colonial economy relied on the slave trade, our market-based economy relies on paying slave wages. The lower class competes for poverty wages because the other jobs have been sent overseas where we exploit starving children and the destitute.  Right here in America, the people who harvest our food work brutal 13 hour days on an empty stomach. That brings up the question: Do we really have to exploit desperate people to show a profit?  Are we enslaved by a system that values profit over human life?

When I post a meme on Facebook to create awareness and inspire action, inevitably a “well-meaning” friend will leave a comment that there is nothing we can do, that it has always been that way. Their comments not only deflate the cause, but make me feel hopeless and powerless. That is one of the reasons I love the movie “Belle;” It inspires hope with its theme, “What is right can never be impossible.”  The movie (and history) proves this thesis. In the 18th century,  Britain’s economy was based on the slave trade.  While we had to fight a war to end slavery, Britain passed a law to abolish it. And their economy didn't come crashing down.

What was the driving force? Amma Asante's thesis is that it is was love. Belle assures her grandfather that he is brave. When he argues that there are rules in place that dictate how we live, she counters with, “You break every rule when it matters enough, Papa.  I am the proof of that.”

Amma Asante was empowered by her (sur)name sake, the Ghanaian warrior queen Yaa Asantewaa, to overcome great obstacles to get, “Belle” to the screen.  This low budget costume drama became a surprise hit grossing $104,493 on opening weekend.

“Belle” is proof that, “What is right can never be impossible.” 

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

"Still Alice"

I have some resistance to watching movies on Alzheimers since witnessing my friend Grace lose herself to the disease. I can only imagine how heart wrenching it was for her husband of sixty years to watch helplessly as the women he loved slipped away. I was so touched by their devotion that I moved in to allow them to spend their last days together in their home. This fueled strong feelings of frustration, shock, fear, hopelessness, anger and deep LOVE. I found writing about it therapeutic. Sensing that other people might find strength in their commitment, I drafted the screenplay, “Walking with Grace.” I struggled with how to show the reward in caring for someone in this devastating situation. “The Notebook,” did an amazing job at that. Whenever I happen onto that movie on TV, I get sucked into it again – because of the husband’s unflinching commitment to the love of his life. It chokes me up every time.

Since then, there have been several movies on Alzheimers. Most focus on family members coping with the loss of their loved ones.  I felt the subject had pretty much been covered.  Then I watched, “Still Alice" for Julianne Moore’s Oscar nominated performance. (She went on to win a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar.) Julianne conducted in-depth research with Alzheimers patients to really get into the mind of her character. After building relationships with them, she asked what they would like her to include about the disease. She incorporated their thoughts and feelings into her part. Those insights on how a patient deals with their loss of self is what sets this movie apart and makes it so powerful.

This is the poignant story of a brilliant linguist who recognizes that she is losing her ability to understand the meaning of even simple words. That awareness is the painful part. She sees her identity fading away and can’t bear the idea of living as a shell of her former self. She struggles to hold on to her connection with her precious words, her loved ones, and her life. “I am struggling to be a part of things, to stay connected to who I once was,” she explains. She comes to the realization that she must live in the present and enjoy her last moments with her loved ones because, “This might be the last year that I am totally myself.” She pleads with her husband to spend time with her now while she is still present, while she is, “Still Alice. “

This theme has even more impact when you discover that it was being demonstrated on the set every day. Wash Wastmoreland co-directed with his husband Richard Glatzer after Glatzer was diagnosed with the degenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). (Glatzer passed away in March of this year.) What a love project! Despite his inability to speak, Glatzer was fully present and in the moment as he communicated to the actors on his ipod, 

These amazing men remind us of the importance of loving and living fully in the moment. 

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"

To be honest, I left the theater feeling a bit confused. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” was billed as an Iranian Vampire Western. But the style was more like black and white French new wave – from the smoking cigarettes, the “Rebel Without a Cause” outfit of the protagonist (Arash Marandi), his 57 Ford T-Bird, even the striped shirt the aloof vampire girl (Sheia Vand) wears under her abaya. 

Shot in the California desert, it seemed to be more about an Iranian in the West, than a Western. Aside from the avenging outsider, there were none of the fixers of a Western - no shootouts, no barroom brawls.

All I could recognize as Iranian was the Farsi language and how the young vampire wears an abaya. In Iran, women must cover their bodies to keep men from sinning. Perhaps the film is commenting on how when, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” she is seen as a temptation. But in this dark fairy-tale, the girl is actually empowered by the abaya. She sports the abaya like a superhero cape, giving her the power to walk the streets unseen as she plays avenging angel, preying on predatory men.

Perhaps it is a commentary on modern Iran. The setting is Bad City – which is certainly how Iran sees America. The streets are full of “American vices”: prostitutes and pimps, a free-spirited transgender person, drugs, and violence. Sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll. I suppose this could be a cautionary tale on the dangers of becoming too Americanized. 

Director Ana Lily Amirpour 
In an interview by Roger Corman, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour spoke about how the movie was really about her and the loneliness she feels. It is about her Iran as seen by an Iranian expat in America. The setting is a lonely postindustrial living ghost town with a crumbling infrastructure, surrounded by stark desert with ominous oil pumps drawing black liquid from the earth. While great wealth is being made just outside its boundaries, the town doesn't benefit from it. Billboards taunt the citizens with products that few can afford. It seems that all the good has been sucked out of the town. The inhabitants are like ghosts of their former selves – before they became desperate drug addicts and street walkers preyed on by the bottom-feeder pimp/drug dealer. The loneliness is palatable as the characters are isolated by the secrets they keep. The vampire seems to feed on that loneliness.

The story takes a  bittersweet turn when this sad avenging angel vampire searches for some hint of hope for mankind as she follows a street urchin and warns him not to be bad like the other men in the town (or he might be her next feast). She makes a fleeting connection (over a shared love of rock music) with a young man who is trying to hold onto his last vestige of humanity as everything around him tries to suck it out of him. The film shares a similar theme with the, "The Babadook." This unlikely couple finds comfort in the shared connection of accepting their dark side.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal

Friday, April 17, 2015

On the Wrong End of the FOOD CHAIN

I have attended the Arizona International Film Festival for ten years now. I've seen it grow into a world class festival by screening excellent independent films from Tucson and around the world. After watching several fascinating films in 2014, my ever-inquisitive fiancée, Dan Stormont, insisted that we get passes again this year. Thursday we attended the opening night screening of the enthusiastically received local documentary, "Many Bones, One Heart" (by Leslie Ann Epperson) about Tucson's All Souls Procession. Leslie really does Tucson proud! We have already gotten our money's worth in the first weekend of this two week fest.

Dan and I attend numerous films and lectures on the importance of creating a sustainable food system as research for Dan's blog on THE PINEAPPLE PROJECT (a humanitarian project to get agricultural information, such as what grows best in their area, to subsistence farmers so they can be more successful.) So we were glad to see the documentary Food Chains on the festival program.

We were deeply moved by this powerful documentary on how our farm workers are treated in this country. We were shocked to see how little things have changed since 1960 when CBS aired Edward R Murrow's documentary, Harvest of Shame. In this country that Murrow calls "the best fed country in the world," the people who harvest our food are working a brutal 13 hour day, and still aren't making enough to adequately feed and house their families.

This movie shows the courageous efforts of a group of farmer workers who are rallying support for "Fair Food." This organization is standing up to grocery store chains demanding that they pay enough to provide workers a living wage and refuse to buy produce from farmers who abuse their workers. What struck me was how easy it would be to correct this problem. If we pay just one cent (one cent!) more per pound for fruits and vegetables, it would double the pay of farm workers from $10,000 to a living wage of $20,000 a year. We just need to create more awareness of the problem. Food Chains does an admirable job explaining one of the most important humanitarian issues of our time. Watch this film to see how you can help. This is doable, folks!  This is one problem we can solve. 

We want to thank the Arizona International Film Festival for creating more awareness. 

Please, help us get the word out by sharing this with your friends! 

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal 

Dan was inspired to write about it on his blog too! 
by Dan Stormont

On the day after Thanksgiving in 1960, CBS News aired a documentary by Edward R Murrow entitled Harvest of Shame.

It documented the plight of a crew of migrant farm workers in the United States as they worked their way up the east coast from Florida to New Jersey. It showed in painful detail the long hours, hard working conditions, desolate housing, lack of education, and meager incomes earned by the farm workers brought in to harvest the crops. They often went hungry while harvesting the food that graced American families' Thanksgiving tables.

The documentary also addressed some of the causes of the farm workers' situation, like farmers who were being squeezed themselves by the large food producers and distributors who were controlling the price of crops. Farm workers had difficulty organizing to demand better working conditions. The law was rarely on the side of the farm workers. As Murrow noted, "The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation. Maybe we do."

Nearly 55 years later, things must be better right? In some ways they have improved slightly and there have been some gains (often followed by comparable losses). However, as the recent documentary Food Chains demonstrates, many farm workers are toiling in the fields for long hours while still not earning enough to own a home, save for the future, and care for their children. Far too many are still going hungry while picking the produce we eat. The big food producers, wholesalers, and retailers are still controlling the markets and exploiting farmers and farm workers alike.

Nothing is more important than a sustainable food chain. We all rely on it. But, right now, the food we buy at the supermarket is being harvested by people who are earning below poverty wages. Surely, we can afford one cent more per pound of produce to improve the lives of the people who harvest our food? That's how much it would cost to double the wages of farm workers..one cent a pound.

Seek Food Chains out. Watch it. Think about what it is saying and about the human stories being told. Then, take action! Don't buy food at stores that refuse to pay enough for farm workers to make a living. Demand action from your representatives. This isn't politics...it's just humanity. And it is ensuring a viable, sustainable food chain for all of us!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

You Can’t Get Rid of the Babadook

In the opening scenes, “The Babadook,” appears to be another child possession thriller with the primary question being whether the child is troubled (a bad seed) or whether supernatural forces are at work. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent masterfully creates a chillingly claustrophobic home atmosphere capable of attracting the family's greatest fear, The Babadook.

While grieving the death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis in an Oscar worthy performance) struggles to raise a son with behavioral issues. Since the tragedy, her son Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) childhood fears have intensified. Checking for monsters under the bed and in the closet has become a nightly ritual. The situation gets worse when a children’s Gothic picture book called, “Mister Babadook,” pops up. Assuming that it is a story about coping with the childhood fear of monsters under the bed, Amelia begins reading it to Samuel. The director takes this familiar domestic scene and infuses it with a sense of dread. It soon becomes evident that there is no happy ending in this bed-time tale. The storybook child doesn't make friends with the monster, but understands that it is here to stay. “If it’s in a word or it's in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”

The book unleashes an evil being that only Samuel can see. “I’ll kill the monster when it comes,” he tells his mom, “I’ll smash its head in.” He constructs a crude trebuchet to protect them. As his behavior becomes more erratic and violent, mother and son become isolated from family, friends or any kind of support system. Tired to the bones, Amelia grows seriously depressed, trapped in this impossible situation with a strange child she doesn't understand. The movie breaks an industry taboo by showing the darker side of motherhood – the idea of a mother resenting or disliking her child.

This is particularly unsettling for the mothers in the audience who have been deprived of sleep by a sick or colicky baby. As mothers, we are suppose to put on a brave face for our children. But when you are depressed, you are not thinking rationally. You are barely able to hold it all together. There are times when you are so utterly exhausted that you don’t feel anything, much less love for your screaming, demanding infant. You feel shame because mothers are always supposed to be strong for their children, lovingly sacrificing their own needs to protect them. What makes this horror story groundbreaking is that we get a rare glimpse into the mind of the female protagonist as she is caught in this downward spiral of grief and depression. The tension builds as Amelia, trapped by motherly duty, is pushed beyond her limits, becomes angry and completely loses it. The realization that it can happen to us, makes it all the more harrowing. 

Writer/Director Jennifer Kent
Writer/Director Jennifer Kent shared her objective in making a horror film. “I think where horror excels is when it becomes emotional and visceral. It was never about, ‘Oh I wanna scare people.’ Not at all. I wanted to talk about the need to face the darkness in ourselves and in our lives. That was the core idea for me, to take a woman who’d really run away from a terrible situation for many years and have to face it. The horror is really just a byproduct.”

I was blown away by this film. I left the movie theater still trying to process it. I asked a horror fan in the lobby what he thought of it. He said it wasn't really his kind of horror. I wondered why. Certainly, there weren't the blood and guts of a slasher flick, but there were plenty of jumps and starts. And I felt a lingering sense of dread throughout. He said he preferred things more black and white. Good vs. evil. That was one of the things I liked about it – that it wasn't that simple. It required reflection on the part of the audience. Even the monster’s origin wasn't painted out for us. The horror comes from the tragic situation – how their grief unhinged the little family as they became increasingly isolated.

Kent forgoes shocking violence in lieu of artistry and delving deeper into authentic emotions. She pushes boundaries by showing us the inner world of a female protagonist and cracking open a societal taboo by shining a flashlight on the dark side of motherhood.  She explores the themes of loneliness and isolation and shares how to cope with that isolation by facing our dark side together.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal 

Look out for my review: "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," by Ana Lily Amirpour.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Savoring "The Lunchbox"

The Lunchbox” is a breakthrough film for India because it steers clear of the usual showstopper musical numbers and emoting melodrama popular in Bollywood productions. Instead, it delivers a taste of bitter-sweet “slice of life,” spiced with pinches of humor. Multiple layers are delivered in the tiffin lunchbox.

Director/Writer Ritesh Batra started off doing research for a documentary on the Babbawala, the 125 year-old tradition of delivering tiffin lunches from homes and restaurants to the work place. The lunchboxes represent the countless generic Mumbia workers who cram onto trains to commute to their jobs every day. In fact, the lunchboxes make the same commute. Famous for its efficiency, it is said that only one in a million lunchboxes is ever lost. That story is told in, “The Lunchbox.”

Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a lonely housewife, takes her auntie’s advice and recipe (shouted down from the apartment above) to win her husband’s love by sending a very special meal in his lunchbox. When it comes back empty, Ila waits hopefully for his return. When he says that it was OK, that the cauliflower was very good; she realizes that someone else has eaten the meal and sends a note thanking the stranger for the compliment of “licking it clean.” She also sends along her husband’s favorite dish. The lunchbox is delivered to Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a grouchy widower, who only wants to be left alone until his imminent retirement. He uses the excuse of going to lunch to avoid teaching his eager protégé (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The lunchbox is returned empty with a note saying only that there was too much salt. Auntie (the voice of Bharatic Achekar) isn’t having any of his rudeness, and sends down a basket full of hot chilis to include in the next day’s lunch.

Auntie’s little lesson succeeds in teaching him empathy for others. To relieve his burning mouth, Saajan buys a banana from a street vendor and notices that other employees can only afford a banana for lunch. When he sees that his pesky protégé only has a banana and apple for lunch, he ends up sharing his precious lunch with him.

Is it a miracle or just an error that the lunchbox was delivered to the wrong address? It is certainly a miracle that these two lonely people, lost in the modern world, connect over a good meal and details of their lives scribbled on scraps of paper. The director sets up hints of a miracle with magic realistic flourishes - like the fly that connects their two worlds. In the scene transition, the director cuts from Saajan swatting the pesky fly in the marketplace to Ila swatting one at home.

This same device is used with ceiling fans. Ila tells how Auntie’s husband had been in a coma for 15 years. One day he woke up and started staring at the oriental ceiling fan. Ever since he has stared at that fan all day, every day. He wakes up in the morning and stares at the fan. One day the power goes off causing the fan to stop and uncle’s heart slowed down. Auntie believes it is the fan that keeps him alive, so she has a generator installed that day. As Saajan reads about it, the power goes off at work and all the ceiling fans stop. It is a shared metaphor for being trapped in a meaningless existence. “Uncle Deshpande stares at his fan. My husband stares at his phone as if nothing else exists. Maybe nothing else does.” Saajan writes back that things have changed since her uncle was a worker. “Everyone works so they can have what everyone else does. If Mr. Deshpande woke up and went to work these days, he would go back to his ceiling fan.” 

The rush-hour commute represents how people are too busy working to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Their motivation flashes by on billboards – like the billboard that honors those who excel at the university. But if you pause to look closer, you will see that the honorees don’t look happy. Everyday, the lunchboxes commute like the workers. This lunchtime ritual is the highlight of their day when workers get a taste of home or at least of the old ways. The miraculous appearance of that special lunch nudges Saajan out of his solitude. His protégé’s expression of pleasure for the wonderful lunches teaches Saajan to appreciate them too. During the crowded train commute, the protégé finds a way to enjoy more time with his girlfriend by cutting the vegetables for their dinner.

When things become unbearable with her distant husband, Ila writes Saajan about moving to a place her daughter heard of in school. She shares her fantasy with Saajan. “In Bhutan everyone is happy. They don’t have Gross Domestic Product, only Gross National Happiness.” Saajan tells his protégé that he is thinking of going to Bhutan, rather than the retirement town of Nasik. His protégé responds that he has only been to Saudi Arabia, but, “Sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station.”

This time the wrong train delivered “The Lunchbox” to the right station. And it was delicious. 

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why do I do what I do?

You could say that I started attending AIVF (Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, now IFA) with the goal of finding an indie filmmaker to produce my screenplay. But what I found were indie filmmakers anxious to produce their own scripts, so I helped develop them.  Meanwhile, I saw a need for more advanced training for Tucson Filmmakers, so I organized workshops. I got caught up in helping our film community grow.

Now here’s the part that drives people crazy… It wasn't about the money. In order to provide workshops that were affordable enough for Tucson filmmakers, I couldn't pay myself. Did all this “networking” lead to paid jobs? No. I spent hours, then years, promoting films with my reviews, organizing film contests and networking events. I didn't make any money, but it was rewarding.

In this capitalistic society it seems the only thing people value anymore is the pursuit of money. I know how blessed I was to be a stay at home mom while developing my art. But it is really heartbreaking when your own children are disappointed in you because you’re not more “successful” by society’s standards. They don’t seem to  value my role as a mother. One question I hear a lot is, why aren't there more successful women filmmakers?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me some things are more important than money:  living a full, balanced life, raising creative children, building a film community, empowering filmmakers to make meaningful films, and writing (and sometimes directing) my love projects.

How come I never succeeded in getting my screenplays produced? Perhaps, between being a mom and pursuing my other passions, I didn't have the single-minded ambition needed to sell my script. Or perhaps it was because I wasn't willing to write something more commercial. All the stories I chose to write were love projects.  I never could wrap my mind around writing high concept movies for money.

One of my first love projects was, “Walking with Grace,” about a sweet elderly couple I had taken care of while attending grad school. When Grace’s husband couldn't deal with her mind deteriorating from Alzheimers, I moved in full-time to allow them to spend their last days together in their home. This story was very dear to my heart.

I spent an embarrassingly long time working on it. One reason was that people thought my story was depressing.  I workshopped it at the Frederick Douglas Creative Writing Center in New York City; writing draft after draft, trying to make it more upbeat. But what it came down to was that people couldn't understand why a young woman would sacrifice her life to take care of “strangers.” What was so hard to understand? I loved them!  I finally did a major rewrite changing my character into their granddaughter.

And I did shop it around. For years. I researched possible actors and production companies.  I pitched it at screenwriting conferences. I made phone calls.  I sent off query letters. Even got a hand-written letter from Hume Cronyn explaining how the story was too depressing because it hit so close to home. People suggested that I put it away and work on something more commercial. They said that once I had a big hit, I could parley that into the power to get my love project done.  I pitched it to the perfect producer - the producer of the family drama “Christy.” He made a special effort to encourage me. He said that it was good writing, but that no one would do a film about old people. (I still cringe at my lack of determination as I watch numerous Alzheimer movies flash across the screen: “Away From Her,” “Savages,” “Amour,” my favorite, “The Notebook," and the recent, “Still Alice.” It’s practically become a genre!)

At least I had the rare opportunity to see my screenplay performed as part of the staged-reading series at DamesRocket Theater. I watched, in the sold-out theater, as professional actors gave full-out emotional performances. A 50 year-old man was moved to tears because it reminded him of his father. That experience was so satisfying that I was finally able to put the script away and start concentrating on something new. Someone suggested that I might have a better chance selling the script if I adapted it into a novel (they were onto something there), but artistically it was time to move on.

I critiqued my mom’s (Lorna Kerin Beall) historical fiction book, “Model-T Biscuits,” and helped her draft a cover letter to market it. I even pitched it at local writers’ conferences when she couldn't afford to attend. Eventually, I was inspired to adapt this cherished family story to the screen. It was really a love project working with my mother and staying true to her vision. I think people could feel the love as they read it. We ended up winning first place at the Santa Clarita Family Film Festival and the Moondance Film Festival.

My mom, Lorna Beall, and me
 When Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of an Alzheimers patient in, “Still Alice,” my boys asked why don't I sell, “Walking with Grace.” I just shook my head and smiled. I think Best Foreign Film winner, “Amour,” and, “Still Alice,” have it covered. But in this day when paying for defense is favored over healthcare or housing, when big business trumps the environment, we need more movies with themes of giving and responsibility. Maybe there’s hope for “Grace,” yet.

So I continue to write my love projects and encourage others to do the same.  Because, like the Dali Lama said, “The planet does not need more ‘successful people.’ The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”

Go ahead. Ask me why I do it.

One word...Love.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Chef" and "St. Vincent" Serving Up Saintly Fare

So many films, so little time. While I was compiling my list of the most inspiring films of 2014, I discovered that I had neglected to review any comedies. (Really, can you blame me with redundant studio offerings such as, “Dumb and Dumber to” and “Horrible Bosses 2?”) Where were the all the humorous independent films? Skimming through the movies of 2014, I uncovered two charming indie comedies that were barely blips on my radar: Jon Favreau’s, “Chef,” and Theodore Melfi’s, “St. Vincent."

I had mixed feelings about seeing, “St. Vincent,” because the movie poster made it seem sorta cheesy and cheap. Perhaps the marketing team thought pictures of the stars would sell it. Perhaps they didn't want to give too much away. To tell the truth, I have been struggling with the same problem. How do you promote a simple story without giving away all the comic surprises? The trailer shows Bill Murray as a hedonistic, anti-social grouch who his tired, stressed-out neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) hires to babysit her son (Jaeden Lieberher). As we watch Vincent’s inappropriate, selfish behavior we can’t help wondering how he ever earned the title, “St. Vincent.” The movie doesn't make excuses for Vincent’s bad behavior. (Though he has heard, “It is what it is,” in response to his misfortunes one too many times.) But through the boy’s eyes we discover the good in him as well. (It's not hard to like one of Bill Murray's richest performances. I think he should have been nominated for an Oscar for this one.)  Somehow this old curmudgeon brings out the good (however begrudging) in others. Perhaps his calling as a saint is to bring out the humanity in others.

I had a similar problem with, “Chef” - how to serve what is fresh about the chef’s creation without making it seem like serving leftovers? How about a small sample to whet your appetite? Somehow in his quest for success, Chef Casper (Jon Favreau) has lost his passion for food and life. The restaurant owner forces him to cook his safe, signature dishes for a famous food critic. When the critic pans the uninspired meal, the chef completely loses it. The confrontation goes viral on YouTube. He sets off to rediscover his passion and creativity by opening a food truck. The leisurely cross-country trip gives him a chance to finally be a father to his son (Emjay Anthony).

It's easy to chuckle at the bumbling antics of these flawed men, but what really chokes you up is how much father (or father figure) and son really need each other.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Celebrate "Women in Film" at TUCSON LUNAFEST!



To purchase tickets in advance call WOSAC at (520) 621-5656. Advance tickets are not available at The Loft Cinema. Presented by WOSAC and The University of Arizona Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Featuring an exciting raffle for fabulous prizes, including jewelry, gift certificates to fine dining and services, and the traditional, handmade, annual Lunafest quilt! Raffle tickets are $5 each or 3 for $10.

Proceeds from Tucson Lunafest 2015 admissions and raffle ticket sales will benefit WOSAC (The Women’s Studies Advisory Council) and the Breast Cancer Fund.

Get ready for an entertaining and enlightening evening of short films made by, for and about women. This annual nationally-touring film festival brings the best short films from around the world together for one special night of cinematic excitement! This year’s program of EIGHT brand-new films will compel discussion, make you laugh, tug at your heartstrings and motivate you to make a difference in your community. Incredibly diverse in style and content, Lunafest is united by a common thread of exceptional and inspiring storytelling – by, for and about women.

This year’s films at LUNA FEST:

A Good Match
Ann and Alex have split up, but does that mean it’s over with Alex’s mom, too? Ann wants to give the relationship another try.

Flor de Toloache
A group of women daringly challenge gender social norms as an all-female mariachi band.

Miss Todd
In 1910 New York, Miss Todd works to understand the principles of flight, but she has more than gravity holding her down.

Being a teenager isn’t easy, especially for Nayla, a Muslim American girl who wants to join her new high school’s cheerleading squad.

Chicas Day
Today is a girls’ day out, everything is allowed. But don’t forget that this is just a game …

Lady Parts
In an industry dominated by men, Lady Parts Automotive brings a woman’s touch.

A story about feminine exploration.

A documentary portrait of Cornwall’s grandmother of punk, or, how to be a rebel at 82.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

"Whale Rider" Retelling Our Stories to Include Heroic Girls

Writing about, "McFarland USA," brought to mind Niki Caro's enchanting film, "Whale Rider." I was delighted for a chance to finally review the film that planted the seed of thought that became Reel Inspiration.  (I started  Reel Inspiration to promote diverse films that inspire, challenge, empower, and create understanding.)

As I mentioned in my previous review, Niki Caro is drawn to projects from cultures unlike her own. As an outsider and a “pakeha” (a New Zealander of European descent), Niki studied the Maori language for a year before approaching the Ngati Konohi tribe about adapting their beloved book, “The Whale Rider” (by Witi Ihimaera) to the screen. Niki was only interested in doing the story if it was in collaboration with their community. When she met with Maori leaders, she spoke in their native tongue about what a privilege it would be to bring their story to the screen. The tribe elders took special care in studying her previous work and blessed it before starting production.

Director Niki Caro
In an interview with Ryan Mottesheard of Indiewire, Niki elaborated, “And I think they felt very satisfied that the film, their film, was in the hands of a filmmaker, somebody who could actually get it up on the screen. Somebody who was absolutely there to serve their story.”

As promised, Niki worked very closely with the community. A Maori adviser was always present during the production. What resulted was a movie that reflected their culture and traditions in a way that they could take pride in.

Whale Rider,” is a retelling of the Maori legend of their first chief Paikea, the whale rider. Ever since the time when Pai’s (Keisa Castle-Hughes) ancestor Paikea came to Whangara on the back of a whale, the first born son in every generation of her family has become leader of the tribe. Disappointed by his artistic son, Pai’s grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) sets his hopes on Pai’s twin brother to lead the tribe out of the darkness of the modern world. Devastated by her brother’s death in childbirth, Koro blames Pai and wants her sent away. But Koro’s wife (Vicky Haughton) refuses, insisting that he acknowledge his granddaughter. Raised by her grandparents, Pai bonds with her grandfather over the ancient teachings. At thirteen, she excels at reciting the legend and can hear the whale songs of her ancestors calling her. But her grandfather is so invested in the tribe’s patriarchal traditions that he can’t see it.

The signs are all there. While working on their boat, Koro uses the rope that starts the motor as a metaphor for their family legacy. Each thread that makes up the rope is one of their ancestors. “Woven together they make us strong.” When he tries to attach the rope to the motor, it breaks. But Pai fixes it by tying all the pieces together. Excited, she calls out to her grandfather, “Its working! It’s working!” But instead seeing this as a sign of her gifts as a leader, he sees it as a threat to their culture. Instead of encouraging her tenacity, he admonishes her, “I don’t want you doing that again. It’s dangerous.” (This is akin to fathers who “protect” their daughters while encouraging their sons to take risks and grow.)

When it becomes clear that his son will not give him a male heir, Koro tells him to go and take his daughter Pai with him. But while driving up the coast, Pai hears the whales calling her back. She knows she is needed at home. When she returns, she finds that her grandfather has set up a cultural school for boys in hopes of finding the tribe’s next leader. Her wise grandmother honors Pai by having her lead the welcoming song. But Koro insists that she sit in the back because this is for the boys.

When Kora catches Pai defeating a boy with the Taiaha (fighting stick,) she is sent to live with her uncle. Her grandfather blames her for the tribe’s troubles. He claims the problems started when she was born and now she is making it worse by interfering with the boys’ schooling. He trains the boys to be warriors, but that isn’t what the tribe needs. The tribe needs Pai’s gifts to tie them together as a community, to encourage each of them to use their strengths to benefit the whole.

Creating the character of Pai was an act of love by novelist Witi Ihimaera. He wrote, "Whale Rider," in response to his daughter's complaint that the boys were always the heroes. “Whale Rider” is more than an inspiring movie for girls. It shows us that a father can demonstrate strength by empowering his daughter. And, like the threads woven together to form a solid rope, our community is strengthened when we all share our unique gifts.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Watch the complete movie, "Whale Rider" on Hulu. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

"McFarland USA" Cultivating a New Kind of American Dream

After watching the trailer for “McFarland USA,” I wasn't in a hurry to see the film since it was so similar to, “Spare Parts,” a movie I had recently reviewed. Until… I discovered that it was directed by Niki Caro, who helmed one of my all-time favorite inspiring films, “Whale Rider.

I couldn't help wondering how a film so different in style and tone reflected Niki’s vision as a filmmaker. What was the common thread between “Whale Rider,” the re-imagining of a Maori legend about a teenage girl challenging the tribe’s patriarchal traditions and, “McFarland USA,” a seemingly formulaic sports flick about a coach encouraging a group of poor migrant Mexican-American farm workers to become champion runners? 

I settled into my theater seat and sighed as, “McFarland USA,” opened with a familiar plot device. The star football player defies the coach’s authority. Coach White loses it and hurls a cleat at the locker near the teen - only it bounces off and hits the teen in the face. The coach’s weakness is set up very economically to prepare for the inevitable character arc (growth). When the coach and his family drive into the poverty-stricken Mexican-American farming town of McFarland, it is clear that this is his last chance. As his daughter looks out of the window, she thinks they got off at the wrong exit: “Are we in Mexico?” I caught myself rolling my eyes when the Idaho family becomes unhinged by the idea of eating the foreign Mexican food. (Really? Lol. This is America!)

Director Niki Caro 
At school, a fellow teacher tries to recruit Coach White (Kevin Costner) for a community project by delivering the obligatory speech about how these poor farming kids are invisible and live in a state of constant hopelessness (reminiscent of the “they are invisible” speech in, “Spare Parts.”) That hopelessness is symbolized by the prison across the street from the school. I wondered to myself, is there really a prison there or was that yet another contrived plot device?

Around the time the coach first notices a student dashing home, a miracle happens. We are introduced into the world of the migrant farm workers. Immersed in their culture, home life, and community, we (like the coach) start really caring about these kids.

While researching for this review, I read that director Niki Caro had been looking for a project with the same qualities as, “Whale Rider,” when Disney approached her about, “McFarland.” In an interview with Bryan Abrams she recalled, “Here was a story that was true, based in a real community, based on real people, and it offered me a way I could work as I had on,” Whale Rider,” which is to work with the community and with the people. Basically, all I do is light up what I think is beautiful.”

The part that interests this New Zealand-born director is working with communities unlike her own. “The way I work when it’s not my own culture is I try to be very accurate and faithful to the way lives are lived and not impose my will. I was very keen to portray the Mexican-American culture, but I realized that we made a very American movie, a profoundly American movie that happens to have a lot of Mexicans in it.”

The migrant workers in McFarland epitomize the American Dream in their struggle to make a better life for their children. But they create their own version by balancing work, family and community. The opening set-up pays off as Coach White and his kin grow as a family and become a part of the community. The coach joins three of his runners for dinner to explain the advantage of running. But he ends up learning from them. Their mother gives him some enchiladas to take home and a lesson on being a family man. “How are you going to be a family if you don’t eat together?” She points out how her husband works hard for long hours, but is present every night at dinner with his family. Family is a priority.
The original McFarland track team with Kevin Costner 
The team learns something too. As coach and team gain a mutual respect, they also learn to respect themselves. Using the incredible strength it takes to work long hours in the fields, go to school, and then run 8-10 miles a day, they can accomplish anything. Inspired by their determination and heart, we root for them to win while we, in turn, learn the value of hard work.

It is clear in both, "Whale Rider," and, "McFarland USA," that Niki Caro's vision is cultivating community. By casting light on the customs and traditions of each community and its people, Niki cultivates a rich, fertile film experience that grows understanding.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Watch, the complete movie, "Whale Rider." 

Saturday, February 28, 2015


Last year's Best Picture nominee, opens with a police car picking up a dazed, disoriented old man trudging down the highway. His family is dumbfounded as the booze-addled, obstinate Woody (Oscar nominated Bruce Dern) keeps setting off on a 900 mile trek across, "Nebraska," to claim his bogus million dollar sweepstakes winnings.

Nobody seems to know why he is doing it. And Oscar nominated director Alexander Payne doesn't give any easy answers. Perhaps it’s to avoid his eminent morality. (He says that he doesn't have much time.) Maybe it’s a last ditch effort to do something with his wasted life. He seems to have little to live for being stuck in a marriage with a woman he doesn't even like. We don’t know how long he has been numbing himself with liquor, but it’s been a while.

All of this could be very depressing, but Payne gives us comic relief in the form of Woody’s ornery, long suffering wife (Oscar nominated June Squibb) as the foul-mouthed voice of reason, “I never even knew the son of a bitch wanted to be a millionaire. He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it.”

Woody’s responsible son (Will Forte) is called in to talk some sense into the old man. But when Woody won’t be dissuaded, his son sees a chance to bond with the father he never knew. He takes some time off from his meaningless job as an electronics salesman to join him.

We see the story through his son’s tired, exasperated eyes. Like him, we long to uncover some meaning in this cross-country road trip. Perhaps Woody needs to reconnect with his family roots. But there is no satisfaction in the family reunion. The image embedded in my mind is of the men in the family all sitting in the bland living room facing the television set. Even after their long separation, the two brothers barely relate to each other aside from some complacent muttering about which sports teams are playing.

We feel the son’s rising frustration as he attempts to find some redeeming value in Woody’s life. He asks his father if he is ever sorry that he married his wife. Woody answers, “All the time.” “But you must have loved her once?” Not really. It seems that Woody has settled for this life. The son becomes more agitated as Woody keeps running off to get sloshed at local dives, spouting off about his big windfall. Woody offers comfort his irritated son, “Have a beer with your old man. Be somebody.”

The story livens up when his wife and other son come to “rescue” Woody. As the family deals with unresolved issues and greedy “friends” and relatives in his hometown, we see a little bit about what made Woody, woody. It is genuinely touching to see Woody’s squabbling wife finally stick up for him, explaining why he doesn't owe these people a damn thing!

Payne paints a stark portrait of family responsibility and the silent isolation and resignation of rural America.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

"Nebraska," was also nominated for Best Screenplay (Bob Nelson) and Best Picture in 2014.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscars: Breaking into the Men's Club

OK. I’m gonna put it right out front and center (like Octavia Spencer's prominent seat at the Oscars.) This year there is not one film with a female lead nominated for Best Picture.

The male dominated academy doesn't seem to consider personal female stories of great enough importance to be nominated for Best Picture. They neglected to nominate, “Wild,” the empowering universal story of a woman’s journey for self-forgiveness, while testing herself on a grueling backpacking hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. Yet they nominated, “Whiplash,” the personal story of a young male drummer suffering for his art. “Boyhood,” the favorite to win Best Picture, is a personal story as well. But deserves attention for director Richard Linklater’s audacity in filming over the course of 12 years.

The Academy favors films about the accomplishments of great men – like this year’s inspiring nominees, “The Imitation Game,” and, “The Theory of Everything,” about a mathematician and scientist respectively. But where are women scientists or mathematicians and their world-changing accomplishments?

As a society, we need more biopics about these incredible women. It is important that their accomplishments be recognized. A few examples: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper has a destroyer named after her to honor her accomplishments including inventing the first compiler, and developing the first high level computer language. Rosalind Franklyn was instrumental in discovering the double helix structure of DNA for which her former collaborators Crick and Watson won the noble prize. This is one time I wish I was wrong. But I when I googled, “Women scientists in movies,” I found only lists of fictional scientists in SciFi films. Perusing the Best Actress nominations throughout the history of the Oscars, I found two movies about women scientists: “Madame Curie” (Marie Curie worked with physicist Pierre Curie to discover radium) back in 1943 and “Gorillas in the Mist” about Dian Fossey’s research with Mountain Gorillas in Africa. “Madame Curie,” was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Greer Garson), Best Actor, and Best Cinematography, yet this accomplished biopic didn't win any academy awards. “Gorillas in the Mist,” was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress (Sigourney Weaver) back in 1988.

Of course, great advancements don’t happen in a bubble. In the 1840s, Ada Lovelace worked on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include the first algorithm carried out by the machine. She is often described as the world’s first computer programmer.

Cooperation is one of the themes of, “The Imitation Game.” It took a team sharing their different strengths to break the code of the German Enigma cipher and win the war. It took military strategy, math skills, relationship strengths, and being able to see the whole picture. “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do things that no one can imagine.” Mathematician Alan Turing (Oscar nominated Benedict Cumberbatch) doesn't relate to the world like others do, but it is that difference of perception that allows him to create a machine to crack the enigma. No doubt Turing studied Ada Loveless’ work while at Princeton. That may be how he was able to recognize that Joan Clark’s (Keira Knightley) mathematical strengths would benefit the team. And it is also Joan who taught him to work together with the other team members in order to accomplish their goals.

The “Theory of Everything,” was based on the inspiring story of how Stephen Hawking, (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne) was empowered and supported by his wife Jane (Oscar nominated Felicity Jones), and postulated the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation and researched a unifying theory of relativity and quantum mechanics while suffering from ALS disease that increasingly paralyzed him. While the movie doesn't cover the “Theory of Everything” or even Stephen’s scientific process in any depth, Director James Marsh illuminates the Hawkings' relationship and the world of science with spectacular poetry and wonder.

Now let’s get down to the Oscar snub. “Selma,” one of the best reviewed, most powerful films of the year didn't garner its director, Ava DuVerney, a Best Director nomination. (Read more about this in my previous review.) Like, “The Imitation Game,” it celebrates the accomplishment of a great man. But "Selma," concentrates on the community and collaboration. DuVerney realizes her vision by inviting the audience into the spirit of the Civil Rights movement from the point of view of its black protagonists. The movement (and resulting movie) was bigger than just one man. It was a community working together, and risking their lives, fighting for freedom for generations to come. DuVerney shows women as partners in the cause. Coretta Scott King enabled her husband to be the voice of the movement by supporting him financially while raising their children. Women and men lock arms and march bravely together.

While, "Selma," shows the effectiveness of collaboration and non-violent protest; "American Sniper," glorifies Chris Kyle as an indispensable, one-man killing machine. “American Sniper,” was produced to draw attention to the condition of vets returning from the war. That is certainly a noble purpose. But it is also a masterfully crafted propaganda movie (much like John Wayne's Vietnam War film, “The Green Berets," which wasn't nominated for an Oscar.) In, "American Sniper," there is no question that Chris Kyle was justified in killing every Iraqi because every one of them was shown carrying a weapon. The theme of the movie is black and white. It is us against the evil terrorists. But what would you do if your neighborhood was occupied and soldiers were breaking into your house? I found it very disturbing when I started rooting for Chris to kill the evil terrorists. The film has already had its desired effect, as a Facebook friend commented, “We need to kill everyone of those evil bastards.” To me this is a misuse of the power of film.

I’m not ready to give up on the Oscars yet. The top runners for Best Picture: “Boyhood,”, “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," and, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” all deserve their nominations.

It is a miracle that Linklater was able to pull off this unprecedented feat of shooting the same actors over the course of 12 years. No theme is imposed on, “Boyhood,” aside from memories projected over the passage of time. There is no big turning point that inspires the characters’ growth, just living through life’s daily struggles. This accumulates into something very moving over the course of the film and their lives.

Wes Anderson creates intricate details in the whimsical, quirky world of, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” where the melancholy staff try to maintain bygone civility and loyalty amongst a backdrop of brutality, war and loss. The physical comedy is spot on and the action sequences thrilling and fun!

In Oscar-winning Director Alejandro González Iñárritu's, "Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” a comic book action star struggles to express himself as an artist, to find some relevance in his life, to prove that his life matters. It is a biting satire on the price of fame and how Hollywood clips the wings of its artists in their pursuit of profits.

All three films deserve their Best Picture nominations for brilliantly realizing their directors’ original visions. I just hope that next year the Academy chooses to empower women filmmakers by nominating them into the club.

Oscar blessings!
Jana Segal


Patricia Arquette won Best Actress for, "Boyhood" and gave an impassioned plea for equal rights for women in America.

The powerful performance of Best Song winner, "Glory," honoring, "Selma," along with the speeches by songwriters Common and John Legend moved many to tears.

Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor for, "The Theory of Everything."

Graham Moor won Best Adaptation for "The Imitation Game."

Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (along with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo) for, "Birdman."

Congratulations to all the winners!