Pedro Almodovar’s
Bad Education

Reviewed by Evan Sung

Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education” is the centerpiece film for this year’s New York Film Festival. Almodovar has certainly made a lasting mark on world cinema, and the film going audience has seen his style and voice evolve from the madcap comedies of “Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown” to his last two sublime offerings, “All About My Mother” and “Talk To Her.” “Bad Education” continues to develop Almodovar’s maturing voice, though never losing his absurdist comic style.

Almodovar returns to the cradle in “Bad Education” tracing the story of a film director, Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez), who is forced to confront his traumatic childhood past when a long-lost schoolmate shows up at his office. Enrique’s past takes the form of Ignacio Rodriguez (Gael Garcia Bernal) who arrives desperate for acting work and with a movie idea based on the two boys’ troubled past at Catholic boys’ school. The story centers on two schoolmates, Ignacio and Enrique, and the young, forbidden love that is interrupted and broken apart by the menacing Father Manolo. In the story, Father Manolo is in love with Ignacio himself, and expels Enrique on the pretense of stopping an immoral love between the two boys. Many years later, Ignacio has become a struggling drag queen looking for money to improve his body and support his drug habit. Ignacio returns to the school where he lost his innocence, and blackmails Father Manolo with the story of those long-forgotten years for the money he needs. Enrique, wary of his past at the outset, is immediately taken after reading the story pitch and begins immediately working on the film adaptation. Enrique casts Ignacio in the film and the two long-lost friends become lovers. But Enrique has difficulty recognizing in the needy and strangely coy Ignacio the young schoolmate he once knew and loved. As Enrique’s adaptation nears completion, he discovers that all is not as it appears. The real Ignacio has died three years earlier, leaving the identity of this new Ignacio a mystery. On the last day of the film’s shooting, the arrival of the real Father Manolo promises to reveal everything…

Clearly, Almodovar is not in search of narrative minimalism. Nor has he ever been. If his past earlier works owed a great deal to the melodramatic twists and turns of Spanish soap opera, “Bad Education” marries that tendency with the great film tradition of Film Noir. Indeed from the opening musical cues, the composer Alberto Iglesias pays homage to the insinuating, noir-ish scores of Bernard Hermann who worked famously with Alfred Hitchcock. The imposture and themes of mistaken and assumed identity also suggest shades of Vertigo, replacing Kim Novak’s Madeleine Elster with the blank figure of Ignacio Rodriguez. “Bad Education” introduces a strain of hard-boiled fatalism into Almodovar’s work that may surprise some longtime followers.

But Almodovar remains Almodovar, and expands here on the film-within-a-film idea he used to great comic effect in “Talk to Her”. Here Almodovar extends the idea considerably, showing us how Enrique envisions Ignacio’s story. All this narrative trickery and illusion serve to illustrate everyone’s tenuous grasp on their own memories of people, places and events. It’s a daring cinematic gamble which pays off in adding layers of texture and mystery, while never going so far as to confuse the audience. If anything, the film is so structurally rigorous and complex that it loses some of the vitality that Almodovar films are so well-known for. “Talk to Her” and “All About My Mother,” two films no less serious than “Bad Education,” still had the raw, roiling energy of emotion and drama and absurd comedy – who can forget the black and white film in “Talk to Her” of a miniature man entering a woman’s vagina? “Bad Education” asks us to feel moved by the plight of its characters, indignant at the abuse the two children suffered at the hands of the clergy, but there is an inescapable element of abstraction to the proceedings that perhaps prevents it from working itself into our deepest core.

Almodovar has said that he has been working on this film for 10 years, and that he made it to “get it out of my system, before it became an obsession.” Those expecting a roman a clef may be a bit disappointed. He has admitted that there are elements of autobiography in “Bad Education” but I think that it would be a mistake to read too much into that statement. In looking over the past two decades of work, there is little that Almodovar has not revealed about himself and his life in all its shocking, colorful, tragic, messy, comic facets. It is precisely that impulse to self-revelation that has always made Almodovar so compelling. Those who want to see a world-class filmmaker who continues to develop and innovate and challenge himself will be impressed once again by Almodovar.

Miguel Albadalejo's
Bear Club

Reviewed By Armistead Johnson

The story has been told before; an unconventional person who has no intention of ever having children, somehow winds up with a child who changes his or her life. Such is the story of Miguel Albadalejo's
Bear Club. But make no mistake about it; you have not seen this movie before.

First, the child's birth parent, Violeta (played by Elvira Lindo), is not dead; she is just a drug addict who was arrested on drug charges while traveling in India and was thereupon incarcerated for an undisclosed period of time. Her child, Bernardo (played by David Castillo), was staying with his uncle Pedro at the time of his mother's arrest. So the question is: who does the child live with - his uncle or his estranged grandmother?

The unconventional parent is Pedro, played beautifully by Jose Luis Garcia-Perez, the brother of the mother in question. Pedro is a sexually active gay man, who tends to be sympathetic to his sister's dilemma. And as her brother, he certainly has more sympathy for Violeta than her son Bernardo has.

The title Bear Club comes from Pedro and his friend's "classification" in the gay community. Bears are big, hairy men who, like club kids, drag queens or leather daddies, have entire bars dedicated to them. Bears are usually known for being loving, cuddly and kind and have a following of boys called (you guessed it) cubs.

The "antagonist" in the story is the child's paternal grandmother, Dona Teresa, who we find out has not seen her grandson in years. She has purposely been kept out of her grandson's life since the day her son, the boy's father, died. The grandmother, also played beautifully by Empar Ferrer, is so convincing in her love for Bernardo and her concerns are so well intended, the audience is forced to question who, in fact, would be a better parent for him.

There are no easy answers provided for the audience in Bear Club, no matter how hard the audience fights for a "good guy" and a "bad guy." Bear Club will make you question your own opinions (something that seems to be forbidden in cinema today) and helps illustrate the fact that, try as we might to find them, sometimes there are no easy answers when the welfare of a child is at stake.

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Alireza Raisian's
Deserted Station
Opens DECEMBER 3, 2004
Quad Cinema

Starring: Leila Hatami, Nezam Manouchehri, Mehran Rajabi and Mahmoud Pak Neeyat

Iran, 88 minutes, 35mm, Color, 2002, In Farsi with English Subtitles

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Deserted Station, based on a concept the director(Ali Reza Raisian) and Abbas Kiarostami developed on a photography trip together, is a beautiful and stunningly odd film about a day in the life of a photographer (played by Nezam Manouchehri ) and his wife (the beautiful Leila Hatami of "Leila" fame), whose car breaks down in the desert of Iran. The husband goes to a nearby village to ask for help from the village elder/school teacher/car mechanic. This "mechanic", unable to repair the car with the parts he has on hand, agrees to take the husband to a nearby village to buy the necessary parts. The wife stays behind in the village and while she is there, acts as a substitute teacher for the local children.

And here the story does indeed become very strange. Nothing much happens during the day the wife spends in the village or station), but by watching the events of the day, I was effectively transported into a very different place and time. First the desert and the village are absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography (Mahammad Aladpoush) is beautiful and yet, for some strange reason, everything, including the mountains, appears sad. There are hardly any parents in this village, just a mismatched band of moppets running around seemingly being "raised by Topsy." And unlike the heroine in an American film of this genre (accidental teacher changes the world), the wife does not affect a drastic change in the village, nor does it seem that she will stay at the end of the day. She wonders through the afternoon, a pensive observer to a life that appears foreign even to her.

She teaches for a while and then allows the children to run wild. A lamb is born and dies. We find out that the wife has not been able to have children herself. Lunch is served and then she lets the children go play in the train yards. Now I am an American mother and I can assure you that I would never allow my children to play in a train yard. And during the afternoon play session, there is one very strange segment involving a handicapped child who was born with only flippers for arms and legs and needs to be carried everywhere. So when the children go to lunch, they carry him/her with them. And then, when they run off to play in the train yard, they leave him/her in the middle of a field on a blanket calling to be picked up for what appears to be an hour or two. And this is not a plot point. The wife eventually instructs the children to retrieve their friend, but no one seems to think too much about the fact that he/she was left behind. Just think how that would have been handled in an American film. Or in my household, "What do you mean you left your friend, the one who has no arms or legs, on a blanket in the middle of a field? How many times have I told you, pick him up when you go somewhere else? How hard is it to remember a simple thing like that! And no, you can't take him to the train yard..... and on and on…...." Like I said, the world of Deserted Station is indeed a very different place.

But at the end of the day, I could sense that they have all been changed. Being with these children has had a profound effect on the wife and the children do not want to let her go. And since this is an Iranian film, we are left with an open question at the end of the film. She seems to leave. It looks like she is leaving. But does she?

Quad Cinema |34 West 13th Street, New York

Mike Bencivenga's
Happy Hour
Opens October 22nd, 2004

Reviewed by Jessica Cogan

Happy Hour begins like so many other tales of the city - soulful music, view of the New York skyline at night. But what ensues in Mike Bencivegna's film is a very personal look at deceptively stereotypical characters and what happens when happy hour ends and real life resumes.

The story follows Tulley (Anthony Paglia), a boozy smart ass who had once showed great promise as a writer but has since buried that talent under years of meaningless work as a copy editor and about 35,000 gallons of whiskey. Tulley is accompanied on most of his benders by his sidekick Levine, himself a writer suffering from lack of confidence and the inertia good times with Tulley brings on. One night at "the bar" Tulley meets Natalie (Caroleen Feeney), a school teacher who doesn't like children and seems tired out by life. The two hit it off (and hit the sheets) and soon the trio is inseperable.

But relationships built on such liquor-saturated ground are rarely stable, and when Tulley learns that his years of liver abuse have caught up with him, the dynamic of the friendships shift. Tulley feels death's urgency in finishing his novel - seventeen years in the works. Levine sees in Tulley his own future if he stays his present course. And Natalie must determine whether love is worth the pain it can cause.

The film is very atmospheric - great shots of the city, its (pre-Bloomberg) smoky bars and soaring corporate fortresses. LaPaglia's ragged voice over and the moody score round out the gritty-city feel. And while the film is heavy on drama, there are more than a few laugh-out-loud lines- mostly Tulley's - that lighten the mood. LaPaglia, Feeney and particularly Stoltz deliver fine performances and play off one another naturally.

Despite the rather gloomy subject matter - following an alcoholic in demise is hardly cheery - the film is finally hopeful. You just may not want to go out for a beer afterwards.

Chuck Parello’s
The Hillside Strangler
Opening Friday October 8th

Starring C. Thomas Howell and Nick Turturro

Reviewed by Armistead Johnson

Tartan Films’ “The Hillside Strangler” directed and co-written by Chuck Parello) follows the lives of two cousins who, after raping and murdering (not necessarily in that order) numerous women in California, are now known as the Hillside Stranglers.

The film opens before the two cousins have begun their killing spree; back in a more innocent time, a simpler time, when a good night out on the town still just consisted of a few drinks, a few laughs, and some kidnapping and forced prostitution.

When the cousins’ stable of forced prostitutes escapes after a shakedown by some rival pimps, they find themselves broke, down on their luck and extremely angry with women in general.

What are two sexually frustrated, down on their luck pimps with no hookers bringing in the money to do?

If you guessed, “Go out on a savage, relentless killing spree?” then… Bing! Bing! Bing!…we have a winner.

“The Hillside Strangler” is a disturbing movie to say the least. Not just because of the content, but because the film seems to follow not the investigation that brought the two cousins to justice and not the psychological state of mind that would cause a person to commit such atrocities, but the actual rapes and killings themselves… in graphic detail.

C. Thomas Howell and Nicolas Turturo both give excellent performances as the leads in this disturbingly perverse look at two of the most savage serial killers of our time.

If you liked “Monster” (a superb film to which “The Hillside Strangler” will undoubtedly be compared) but wish that the rape and murder scenes had been a little more graphic and lasted a little bit longer, then you will absolutely love “The Hillside Strangler.”

Zhang Yimou’s
The House of Flying Daggers

Reviewed by Evan Sung

After the international success of “Hero” Zhang Yimou returns to his special brand of poetic kung-fu cinema (wuxia, if you please) with his follow-up “The House of Flying Daggers.” The film premieres at the 42nd New York Film Festival and stars the Ziyi Zhang (“Hero”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) as Mei, a blind soldier of the rebel outlaw army, the House of the Flying Daggers. Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Chungking Express) star as Leo and Jin, two police captains of the weakening Tang Dynasty trying to break up the House of Flying Daggers. The two captains plot to trick Mei into leading them to outlaws, but are soon caught up in competition for the heart of the beautiful outlaw, and caught in a tangled net of hidden loyalties, plots and counter-plots.

This is supposed to be a film review, but forgive me if it veers into shameless love-letter territory for the amazing Ziyi Zhang. Zhang Yimou was clearly impressed by the young Zhang, having promoted her from a supporting part in “Hero” to the tragic central role of this new film. “House of Flying Daggers” is a showcase of all of Ziyi Zhang’s many attributes. Aside from her remarkable beauty, Ziyi Zhang’s Mei is basically the toughest chick East of the Yangtze, and in her combat scenes Zhang makes Terminator’s Linda Hamilton look like a demure wilting blossom. Though small and fragile, Zhang commits to her battle scenes with a combination of ferocity and elegance. We take it on faith that this blind girl could naturally take on an army of soldiers without breaking a sweat. But her elegance is not only evident in battle, and an early dancing scene in a brothel, showcases a feline sensuality in her performance of traditional Chinese dance. And in one scene where Mei has her robe torn off her shoulders, the bare expanse of her porcelain-white shoulder could well be considered one of the more profound frames of World Cinema! Her shoulder alone could have triggered a Trojan War. If you haven’t gotten the point yet, the movie’s ALL about Ziyi Zhang.

And how do we know its all about Ziyi Zhang? Because we have two captains of the emperor driven to betraying their own cause and their own friendship, ultimately stabbing each other with swords on snowy mountaintops in her name. Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro contrast each other nicely, both believable as friends and comrades, but utterly different in character. Kaneshiro’s Captain Jin, is the free-spirited, skirt-chaser who tries to seduce Mei to get her to divulge the location of her rebel friends. Lau’s Captain Leo is the by-the-book and responsible, but his single-minded pursuit of the House of Flying Daggers may not be solely motivated by loyalty to the kingdom. In an amusing plot-development, one can imagine Lau’s identity-conflicted Captain Leo to be the 9th century ancestor to Lau’s role in this year’s “Infernal Affairs.” Lau has already proven himself to be a very subtle actor, excellent in these roles where motivations are multiple and unclear. Kaneshiro clearly has fun playing drunk in the brothel scene, flashing the Eastern equivalent of the Tom Cruise-patented mega-watt smile. Kaneshiro is charming but also traces the tragic arc of his character nicely, slowly building up layers of gravity and sadness as the film goes on.

The film is truly brilliant and to say that, as a film, “House of Flying Daggers” may actually excel “Hero” is no small claim, given that “Hero” had in its favor the phenomenal Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung and the peerless cinematography of Christopher Doyle. But here, Yimou takes the martial arts to yet another level, and the effect on the viewer is so visceral that you realize how rarely cinema moves us in that way. The thrill of seeing people perform acts of superhuman dexterity and power is completely unlike the numbing effects of Hollywood’s exploding computer-generated blockbusters.

This is not to say that the film is perfect. The tragic lovers theme has become almost par for the course in Asian wuxia cinema. And under the weight of all this suppressed longing, slow-motion, and plot twists and turns, the film itself starts to bend like bamboo, threatening to break and splinter. Still, the final battle is treated with a ferocity completely unlike the balletic wire-fu that we’ve been treated to up to that point. The heroes pummel each other, and cry out, and slash, and it reinjects the film with a shot of adrenaline and emotional intensity that refocuses everything.

This is only Zhang Yimou’s second wuxia film but he has already created an indelible style with two films that rely as much on story and character as they do on kicking ass in high-style. With a visual richness that becomes almost hallucinatory at times, and a great sense of grand scale as well as intimacy, Yimou sets the stage for the stuff of legends, and fills it with great actors, great action, and great romance. Oh, and did I mention Ziyi Zhang is in it?

Claude Miller's
La Petite Lili
Opens NOVEMBER 12, 2004

Cast: Nicole Garcia (Mado), Ludivine Sagnier (Lili), Robinson Stévenin (Julien), Jean-Pierre Marielle (Simon), Bernard Giraudeau (Brice),
Julie Depardieu (Jeanne-Marie)

***Official Selection Cannes 2003***

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

La Petite Lili is a cinematic retelling of Anton Chekov's, The Sea Gull, and this time the setting is a beautiful country house in France. The setting and the cinematography are gorgeous and so is the cast. The young angst-ridden playwright of the Seagull is now a film maker named Julien (the utterly handsome Robinson Stévenin). Julien is in love with a local girl, Lili (played by the lovely Ludivine Sagnier of nude Swimming Pool fame), who is determined to become a film star like Julien's mother, Mado (the divine Nicole Garcia). Also in the picture is Jeanne-Marie (the also lovely Julie Depardieu). Jeanne-Marie is in love with Julien, who unfortunately only lusts for Lili.

The story begins when Julien screens his film, an arty (but boring) DVD, for his mother and her lover, the film maker Brice (Bernard Giraudeau). Mado can barely conceal her irritation and the scene explodes with recriminations. Mado tells her son that his film is immature and self indulgent and Julien in turn has nothing but scornful comments for his mother's work and the work of her boyfriend, the commercially successful Brice.

Lili, quickly seeing on which side her bread should now be buttered, seduces Brice and convinces him to take her to Paris. Julien and Mado are devastated and attempt to comfort each other, but they are both too burdened by years of unhappiness to be of any help to the other. There is one even scene where Mado asks Julien to join her in bed. You should probably not try this at home. Well, maybe if you live in France and look like Nicole Garcia and your son looks like Robinson Stévenin......but even then.....

Then the film fast forwards five years. In a departure from The Seagull, the film maker has fashioned a happy ending. In interviews, Mr. Miller has stated that he felt that a young audience would never buy Julien's suicide and actually in this reviewer's view, suicide always did seem to be a little bit of an overreaction to merely losing a girlfriend and not being able to get along with your mother.

Julien has now become a film maker and is in the process of making a film about the summer they spent in the country as a group. He has cast his own mother and Brice in the film. Julien is happily married to Jeanne-Marie and they have a lovely little girl. Lili, now a successful film actress (but no longer with Brice), finds out that Julien is making a film about their story and piteously begs him to allow her to act in it. And after extracting his revenge by first refusing to cast her, Julien eventually relents and casts Lili.

We then see the movie being made. We see Julien with his family on the set, directing Lili in the scenes he played with her that summer. And we see him direct his mother. And in the end, there is a suicide in the film, but it is the actor playing Julien and it is just a film with a film. Everyone is very sophisiticated and worldly - Jeanne-Marie lets Lily play with her daughter etc., etc.. After all, this is a French film. So the story has turned inward and Julien is now able to use his art to work out his life. And since he is the director, he can work things out just the way he wants them, and like I said before, he is now directing his mother.


Alexander Payne's

Reviewed by Evan Sung

The 42nd New York Film Festival closed October 17th with a screening of Alexander Payne's wine-soaked "Sideways." Payne, who has made his name with comic but cutting satires of abortion ("Citizen Ruth"), politics ("Election"), and the obsolescence of the aging ("About Schmidt"), returns with his most successful film so far.

Paul Giamatti plays Miles Raymond, an oenophile, Middle school English teacher and unpublished novelist, whose two years of divorce have slowly turned him from plain neurotic to full-blown neurotic sad-sack. His only consolation now are his unopened bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc and his regular trips through wine country. Miles' best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is getting married in one week. As a gift to Jack and while awaiting word from his agent on his latest manuscript, Miles plans a week-long tour of California wine country, for sun, golf, and wine. Where Miles sees an opportunity for some good old-fashioned male bonding, Jack sees one week of getting laid as much as possible before the slow-death of marriage.

On their way, they meet up with Maya, a regular waitress at the Hitching Post, Miles' favorite local restaurant, and her friend Stephanie, to whom Jack is instantly attracted. As the week progresses, a delicate dance unfolds between Miles and Maya, both wine lovers, while Stephanie and Jack share days and nights of simple carnal pleasure. But things start to unravel for both couples when Miles lets slip mention of Jack's nuptials.

Wine country serves as the backdrop of this film, and wine itself suffuses every aspect of the film itself. In one painful scene, Miles gets himself drunk at dinner after learning that his ex-wife has remarried. As he staggers to the back of the restaurant to "drink and dial" as Jack puts it, the camera shifts in and out of focus, perhaps the most accurate cinematic representation of the feeling of inebriation I have seen. Wine is a powerful metaphor for these characters, all of them maturing, aging, on the verge of really becoming themselves, complicated, sometimes bitter. In one of the more moving monologues in the film, Miles explains to Maya his near-obsessive love for Pinot Noir. When Miles talks to Maya about the notoriously fickle and thin-skinned grape, we understand of course that he could easily be talking about himself as well. And Giamatti plays the scene with a disarming vulnerability that hints at the depths of Miles' terror to be with this woman he admires as well as his quiet wish that Maya tend to him with care and attention. Naturally Jack is the robust Cabernet in this equation, the jovial overgrown frat boy who goes with the flow and thrives in any situation. But Payne is not interested in simple dichotomies. All the characters have tangled pasts, and are doing what they can to survive, even if it means occasional self-sabotage. They are human, and Payne pulls no punches in showing us just how human they can be.

Thomas Haden Church is a rollicking surprise as Jack in "Sideways," considering his sitcom-heavy resume. He is boorish and likable and gives just enough signs of humanity so that we understand why this Odd Couple would have remained friends for so long. But, special attention must be paid to the nuanced portrayal of Miles by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti, widely acclaimed in American Splendor, does even better work here because he is not reined in by the rather one-note glumness of Harvey Pekar. Giamatti has room to move here, and gets to display all his talents, showing us why he is one of American cinema's most valuable character actors. When his heart is breaking we see a torrent of emotions ripple almost imperceptibly across his round fleshy face. His comic talents are on show as well, from wine-spurred flip-outs to a bizarre, stiff-armed "girly" run, that Giamatti confesses to be his own, and not some actor's invention. Payne has found in Giamatti the ideal embodiment of all the funny yet sometimes cruel truths that all of his films have spoken about America, our fears and foibles and doubts.

"Sideways" is a darkly sparkling gem of a film. Add to the brilliant Paul Giamatti, a uniformly excellent supporting cast, the beautifully photographed landscapes of Northern California wine country, and a jazzy score by Rolfe Kent that keeps the action buoyant and floating along, and you get a film of superior vintage: complex, mature, delicious.



John Sayles's
Silver City
Theaters Nationwide

Featuring: John Sayles (dir.), Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Danny O'Brien, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Zane, Daryl Hannah, Michael Murphy and Maria Bello


Vote Early! Vote Often!

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

John Sayles is one of my favorite film makers. He is known for novel-like stories that can involve an entire town. He is a master of the art of telling a story through many voices. Sayles has consistently championed the underdog. And he has certainly written and cast an extremely likable underdog in Danny O'Brien (played by the very talented Danny Huston), the hero of Sayle's new movie "Silver City."

Silver City is one popping film. Set in Colorado, the film commences as a political photo-op is ruined when the hapless villain, Dickie Pillager (a dead ringer for George Bush, played by Chris Cooper), hooks a dead body as he fishes in a beautiful mountain lake. And dead things continue to pop up in that lake, a totally appropriate metaphor for this deeply cynical movie about political corruption.

The plot is fairly simple, Dickie Pillager, is running for governor of Colorado, an honor that would have never been offered to him if he had not been the son of Senator Judson Pillager (Michael Murphy). He is helped in his quest by a Karl Rowe-like character, Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss). Chuck Raven decides to hire a private detective (Danny O'Brien) to intimidate a list of five enemies, who he thinks might have dropped the dead body into the lake in an attempt to embarrass his candidate, the tongue-tied Dickie.

Danny then proceeds to use his new assignment as an opportunity to do a little investigative reporting of his own. Unknown to Mr. Raven, Danny is a former reporter for a liberal Denver newspaper. Danny lost his old job when one of his sources chickened out on him while he was reporting about some past political corruption. As Danny starts his quest, he reconnects with his former girlfriend, the beauteous Maria Bello. He is also seduced by Dickie's whacked-out sister, Maddy Pilager (Daryl Hannah). And during his journey he discovers what happened to the illegal immigrant who was fished out of the lake and in doing so, he also discovers the underlying poison that ensures that "things" will continue to pop up in the lake.

Silver City is an obviously political movie and a satirical take on the "family" now in power in Washington. And in the times of Fahrenheit 9/11, it can seem a bit subtle. But in true Sayles fashion, the viewer really gets to know his characters and by knowing them is made to think about the correlations between the poisonous corruption depicted in his movie and the corruption that led our present "family" in power to lead us into the war in Iraq. Hint - it is always something about the money.

The actors are all amazing and the direction is beautifully timed.
And everyone must see this movie just to see Chris Cooper "do" George Bush. He is an absolute riot and watching him alone is worth the price of the ticket.

Mike Leigh’s
Vera Drake

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Mike Leigh has done it again. With his new film, “Vera Drake,” he has created another family, the Drakes, and this time they are “living” in the world of 1950’s working class London. And as is the case with all of Mr. Leigh’s others films, if you watch this movie, you will know the Drakes better than you know your own first cousins.

This beautiful creation showcases the genius of Mr. Leigh, who possesses superb casting skills, amazing talent and the dedication to exhaustively rehearse all his productions. According to press reports, before Mr. Leigh ever turns on a camera, he painstakingly creates a world, a universe and a family. He does this by first casting the film and then having a several month long improvisation/rehearsal process before he writes his script. And through this process, his stars become their characters - living breathing people with relationships, histories and untold stories that you can see in their eyes.

When you are watching a Mike Leigh film, the actors are so believable it is hard to realize that you are not watching some kind of spy camera documentary. And so it is with Leigh’s “Vera Drake,” a story about a 1950’s era char woman with a heart of gold who “helps out girls who are in trouble.” Vera (played by the incomparable Imelda Staunton) bustles through life helping people, dispensing cheer, tea, advice and a douche bag filled with soapy water.

In the first half of the story we follow Vera with her family - we see Vera bustling about London, calling on the sick and caring for her invalid mother. And when leaving one apartment she runs into a lost soul, Reg (played by Eddie Marsan), she promptly invites him to dinner as a possible suitor for her dumpy daughter, Ethel (Alex Kelly). We also see Vera working as a char in the homes of well-to-do middle class families. At one such home she see the daughter of the family, Sally (Sally Hawkins), who in a side story not seen by Vera, obtains an abortion through the method then available for women of means - visiting a psychiatrist and getting a “doctor’s note.” The film also shows the other house calls Vera makes, the ones she makes to scared young women, the house calls where Vera’s request for a kettle of hot water does not mean she is going to make a cup of tea.

In the second half of the movie, one of Vera’s “patients” becomes ill and the police come to arrest Vera. No one in her family knew that Vera was a backstreet abortionist and the rest of the film follows the family’s reactions, the resulting criminal trial and Vera’s imprisonment. Vera’s husband, Stan (played by Phil Davis), stifles his shock and stands by the woman he loves. Ethel’s sad-sack suitor, Reg (Eddie Marsan), comes through like a champ, resolutely supporting his new family-to-be. Ethel’s son Sid (Daniel Mays), who we see earlier trying to pick up loose women, is shocked and dismayed that his mother is killing “little babies,” with no realization that he himself might have had need for such services. But in the end, all the men of the family come around and support Vera. Because in the end, “Vera Drake” is a film about love, not abortion – about the love that Vera has for her family and for all lost souls and the love her family has for her. Bravo!

Starring: Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Phil Davis, Peter Wright, Adrian Scarborough, Heather Craney, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Ruth Sheen, Helen Coker, Martin Savage, Sinead Matthews, Fenella Wollgar



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