"Ida" The Best Foreign Film of 2014!


"Ida" is the new film by famed Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski and is one of the best films of the year.  It's beautifully shot in black and white and presented in a square format that gives it that extra level of style and authenticity.  It's the story of a young girl at a crossroads in her life when the truth about her origins is revealed.  

Taking place in Poland in the 1960s we are introduced to Anna a young woman who has lived most of her life in a convent and is close to taking her vows to become a nun.  Before this will happen the Mother Superior requests that she spend some time with her only living relative, her Aunt Wanda.  Wanda has never shown any interest in her previously and Anna is reluctant to leave the safety of the convent.  When it comes to the outside world Anna is quite naive but strong-willed.  Wanda, however, is quite the opposite, a down on her luck former prosecutor who smokes, drinks, and sleeps around.

Upon their first meeting, Anna is given some life-changing information.  She is actually Jewish and her birth name is Ida Lebenstein.  Her parents put her in the convent as a baby to escape the Nazi's.  She is then told they were both killed in the war.  Unable to accept her explanation Anna sets out to find the truth about there deaths.  Feeling guilty and having nothing else better going on in her life Wanda helps her in her search.  They find the farm where her parents were staying during that time and the current residents brush them off. 

Along the way, Anna crosses paths with a young attractive saxophone player who shows a genuine interest in her.  Anna is forced to confront new feelings and choices that she has been protected from her whole life.  The choice to be brought up in a convent was never hers and with the revelation that she's Jewish brings up some tough choices.  Does she go against everything she has ever known and reinvent her life? Does she return to the convent and continue to live as if nothing has changed?  Wanda doesn't force her in one direction or another, but she does seem happy to have her in her life.

The women make progress in discovering the fate of Anna's parents and a deal is made with the family at the farm to learn the truth.  Now fully knowing what happen Anna is forced to make her choice, which leads to Wanda making one of her own.  The character of Anna/Ida is played by first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska (don't ask me to pronounce it) and she does a fantastic job in translating her inner conflict and repressed emotions in the subtlest of words and gestures.  Although I didn't agree with her final decision it was hers and hers alone.  "Ida" is currently available on Netflix instant streaming.

REVIEW #200 - Robin Williams and Matt Damon in "Goodwill Hunting"

Review #200
The Golden Side of Robin Williams


Combining the landmark 200th review and the current Robin Williams tribute, I've chosen one of my all-time favorite movies in "Goodwill Hunting".  The film was not only the breakout party for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but it earned Robin his only Academy Award.  In all the movie was nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2.  It is currently ranked #128 in IMDb's list of the greatest movies of all-time.  Directed by Gus Van Sant, "Goodwill Hunting" managed to be one of those small films that hit it big in every possible way.

Will Hunting is a young working-class genius living in South Boston.  He is however troubled and prone to fits of anger.  He spends his days mopping the floors at MIT and his nights drinking at a local bar with his friends.  Chucky (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser).  Will has an amazing mind for mathematics that is in danger of going to waste if he doesn't straighten out his life.  While at his duties at MIT he anonymously solves a proof that was meant as a supreme challenge to the students of Professor Gerald Lambeau class.  Lambeau becomes aware of Will's brilliance and is intrigued.  Meanwhile, Will and his friends instigate a nasty brawl with some guys from the neighbor and Will ends up hitting a police officer.  While in court he rattles off all kinds of legal jargon and precedent-setting cases that have gotten him off before but this time the judge won't hear of it.  Professor Lambeau comes to the rescue and saves him from any jail time, but he must help him will mathematical theories and worst of all see a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist scenes are hilarious as Will plays the consummate smart ass.  He can deconstruct anybody in the blink of an eye and have them running for the exits in no time.  When worst comes to worst Lambeau brings him to an old college friend of his who now works at a community college.  His name is Sean Maguire.

Like all the others before him upon their introduction, Will cuts deep to the core a Sean.  When he makes comments about Sean's recently deceased wife, he puts a hand to Will's throat and threatens him.  Despite his anger, Sean wants to see him again.  Hailing from the same neighborhood he is determined to help him sort his life out, while along the way helping to sort out his.  On their second meeting, they go to a pond and Sean has a big monologue about love and life experience.  Even though Will is so smart "You can't learn everything from books".  Sean works at bringing down the walls that keep Will a prisoner in his own mind.

Back with Chucky and the gang, Will meets Skylar (Minne Driver) at a bar outside Harvard and he is immediately smitten.  Although Will never allows himself to be open and vulnerable to anyone, Skylar could be the one to break through his thick exterior.  Things are going great until Skylar's plans to move to California force will to make a tough decision he is not ready for.  This happens all while he is making good progress in his sessions with Sean.  Will opens up and respects Sean, he gets the father figure and mentor he has been sorely looking for while Sean gets the son he never had.  They are both lonely men.  Sean and Lambeau meet frequently but have vastly different opinions about how to care for the boy.  Each has their own theories but is it in the best interest of Will of themselves?

Even after this progress Will is reluctant to change and it takes a push from Chucky to break free and make something of his life.  Put best by Chucky "You have a winning lottery ticket, but are too much of a pussy to cash it in".  To make something of himself Will must leave his small and secure surroundings.  In one of their last sessions Sean having gained Will's trust and respect digs deep into Will's past and confronts him about his fathers abuse and how he was also abused as a child.  This breakthrough allows both men to turn the page and start the next chapter in their lives.  Will decides to search out Skylar in California, while Sean decides to take some time off and travel.

"Goodwill Hunting" is funny, heartfelt, and just plain amazing.  It also wouldn't be the same without the haunting and beautiful songs by the late Elliott Smith. The closing song "Miss Misery" got an Oscar nomination for the Portland based musician.  Like any great music it melted perfectly into the film and made it even more unforgettable.  The movie is widely available on any platform or device so if you haven't seen it yet get to it!

The Darker Side of Robin Williams "The Big White"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams


Released in 2005 "The Big White" is a dark comedy with a talented ensemble cast.  Like the previously reviewed "Insomnia" the story takes place in Alaska hence the title "The Big White".  While it was independently financed and played a number of film festivals it never made it to theaters but went straight to DVD.  It's a fun movie never the less, with a fine performance from the whole cast.

Robin plays Paul Barnell who runs a struggling travel agency.  He is married to a more than a little eccentric Margaret played by Holly Hunter.  Margaret has some sort of mental disorder that is not identified, but from that comes a bunch of disturbingly funny scenes.  They have a wonderful marriage and Paul will do absolutely anything for her, which is what puts the whole movie in motion.  Paul is in deep financial trouble and is looking for any kind of money he can get his hands on.  His brother Ray (Woody Harrelson) has been missing for a few years so he tries to cash in on his life insurance policy.  The problem is there is nobody and he needs to be missing for seven years to be declared legally dead.  In despair, Paul needs another plan, which he finds in a rather unusual place, the dumpster outside his business.  A couple of low-level thugs, kind of in the vein of Laurel and Hardy, have just dumped a body there and Paul is desperate enough to do anything.  There is plenty of dead body humor as Paul uses the corpse to pose for his missing brother.  While he waits for the insurance company to process his claim, fraud investigator and ghostly white Ted (Giovanni Ribisi) smells a rat.  Ted's girlfriend Tiffany (Alison Lohman) runs a telephone psychic scam and talks frequently with Margaret.

Things start to get a little messy for Paul when the goons come back for the body and its missing, but
worst of all crazy Ray comes back into the picture looking for his piece of the insurance money.  Knowing that Paul took the body the goons, who we later find out are gay lovers, take Margaret hostage in a home invasion.  Margaret puts up a pretty crazy fight even when she is tied up.  Paul is taking heat from every angle.  He must find a way to control his psychotic brother, save Margaret, and lose the obsessive Ted.

It's rare to see Robin Williams plays the straight man in a comedy.  Paul is a grounded and sensible man whose desperation gets him into some sticky situations.  He is surrounded by crazy off the wall characters that make him stand out even more.  The style of comedy is like midnight in the desert, dark and very dry.  It's not for everyone but for a few adventurous people its pure gold.