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Reel to Real

Reviews of our film selections by Demi Hungerford

"Mozart's Sister (Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart)"

February 26, 2012

2010 Les Films Alyne

Written and Directed by René Féret.

Welcome to the Féret Family Showcase! Everywhere I looked in the credits, I found more and more Férets. It's a tour de force for this talented family, and especially for Marie Féret in the title role.

I loved the well-portrayed historical reality of the rigors for traveling by horse and carriage, only lamp and candle light in the evenings, and in a Europe on the eve of a massive war, having to have your papers in order to cross the borders. Driven by a need for recognition, glory, and possibly a little hard cash, Leopold Mozart pushes his wife and two talented children to keep going, on and on, until the carriage will take no more.

The nearest shelter is an abbey, and the coincidence that the younger children of the King of France reside there is easily believed. Young girls in this age were married while still children, still missing their dolls and games. Nannerl is on the cusp of adulthood at fourteen, and finding the shift of her father's attention from her to her young brother, Wolfgang, painful.

Even more so, the fact that Nannerl is very talented in her own right, and needs only a touch of her father's guidance and instructions to bloom fully. Sadly, Leopold was firmly of the mindset of the times, and would not let her even listen in on Wolfgang's lessons. Nannerl's mother, Anna-Marie Mozart, of course supported her husband. In an odd mix of customs, the family exchanged sweet talk and used pet names, but the instances of actual hugging or touching were rare.

There is mystery, there is romance, and there are beautiful sets and costumes, and most of all, the music! The sound track to this film is worth seeking out. If you are a fan of the Three Musketeers, you will understand the reference to the Cardinal, and the power struggle between him and the King that is briefly discussed. Details are the making of a great movie like this one.

We had few people stay for the discussion afterwards, but I did hear that some were confused about the way the Dauphin treated Nannerl, asking her to kiss him, then throwing her out of the palace and blaming her for his desires. Strangely enough, that put those viewers in the same place as Nannerl. A man in power used her, and his "victory" over her was both a sham and a tragedy that a fourteen-year-old could not understand.

I hope you joined us for the viewing, and if you could not, please seek out the DVD, now available, and watch it. You won't regret it.

"The Concert (Le concert)"

January 22, 2012

Director: Radu Mihaileanu

For the past two years, members of the North County Film Club would nominate this movie to be included in our line up. It would get the top number of votes, but we were unable to get the rights to show it. Until now. As our 2012 Winter-Spring debut movie, this film drew a good crowd of people who, like me, had been hearing about it for a long time and were excited to finally get to see it.

This film has a lot to recommend it. It's a comedy, especially whenever the gypsies are on the screen. It's a mystery, a secret child that is watched from a distance. And it's full of music! Yes, maybe a little Tchaikovsky can go a long way, but there is a nice variety of classical music to keep the pace going.

And this is an action film in some scenes. With Communism no longer holding as much sway in Russia, a man who was publicly humiliated 30 years ago for hiring Jews in his orchestra grabs at a chance to get his musicians together again, and go to Paris! There are in jokes about how the Bolshoi Orchestra has sadly lost its edge over the years. There are jokes about the elder Jewish musicians getting their instruments back in tune, and jokes about what these musicians have been doing all these years. Did I mention the gypsies?

The film also conveys a wonderful twist of fate, in that an old enemy could be a friend, but can that friend be trusted. And the expected explanation of the wonderful violinist's parents turns out to be less obvious than expected.

The movie was to be shown with subtitles instead of dubbed, but by yet another bit of magic, it was shown with both subtitles and dubbing. Otherwise we never would have known just how bad the subtitles are.

The cinematography leaves a bit to be desired, but this French film still sparkles and charms along the way. With a great ending, a great score, and a great longing that these characters were close friends, it delivers a special magic you won't soon forget.

The movie did run longer than expected, so the discussion that followed was short, and simply stated is that the male lead is wonderful.

The After-Glow was scheduled for Marietta's, a wonderful Mexican restaurant that treats us very well when we go there. The menu is varied, the prices reasonable, and the service is excellent. Do join us next time we go!

"The Illusionist"

October 2, 2011

Sony Pictures Classic

Lesson One: Animation does not make a film a children's film.

Lesson Two: Animated films can evoke just as much joy and sorrow as any live action film.

Lesson Three: Animated animals are cute, but animated kilts blowing in the wind are just hilarious.

If you did not join us to see this film on October 2nd, I am sorry to have to tell you that you missed an extraordinary sensory delight. I will tell you in brief that the story is that of an aging magician who finds it hard to get booked or appreciated, and takes a gig in a remote Scottish village to celebrate the installation of the first electric light in the pub. It's here he meets a chamber maid, Alice, who is young enough to believe in magic, and old enough to know that someone who buys her a new pair of shoes because she did a good job with his laundry is someone you don't want to loose. No, there's no romance between the two, just an affectionate connection of being almost family. I'll leave it to you to look up writer Jacques Tati's complicated family life and draw correlations.

The moment the movie changed to color, and distances were laid out, then moved through, I knew the film was special. The details that were glimpsed for only seconds made the experience real and exciting. The feeling of the period in time came across very clearly, a crossroads between Vaudeville and rock stars. And the edge of poverty that most Vaudeville acts existed on, tragically at times, is also clear. The sadness was not in any way lessened by the animated story. The animation is beautiful.

I did love the vicious rabbit, and acrobats, and the rain falling while the perspective was straight down. And at the touching end of the story, when the pages of a book on the table are blown so that the shadow becomes a bird about to take flight, I was in awe of the animator's skills.

Please, remember lesson one above, and see this film. See it with family, see it with close friends. Thank you.

I have to take a moment to praise the restaurant where we took our post-film socializing and had a great meal. Rim Talay on Mission Ave, a half block east of Coast Hwy, is decorated in a way to give the diner a sense of well-being. Thai specialties are served in this peaceful setting. The charming owner greeted us and gave us a nice table that could have seated twice the number we brought along. The food was so delicious, I would be happy to return any time. I had a tropical curry, and chose a very low number on the one to ten hotness scale. It was still pretty spicy. But so wonderful! Mike had a special salad with seafood, also pretty spicy, but full of healthy greens and tasty things like squid and mussels. The Thai Ice Tea was tempting, many of the attending members ordered it, but I had regular tea, which was wonderful and kept coming. Afterward, the owner thanked us for coming by providing a free dessert, just the thing Mike and I were going to order, a Thai pudding. Coconut and not too sweet, it was the ideal finish to a great meal. Rim Talay, for all your Thai food needs.

"Exit through the Gift Shop"

September 19, 2011

A Banksy Film

Documentary. Really.

Take a Frenchman. Bring him to the Land of Opportunity. Get to the point where the money is taking care of itself, then put a movie camera in his hands. This is how Thierry Guetta began to compile an amazing amount of film cassettes of family, friends, business, and places of interest. Then he clicked into the Street Art world through a cousin, and decided to film those artists. He focused on Shepard Fairey, a very talented artist who is famous for the Obama portrait used in the last presidential campaign. After 5 years of filming, including getting to know the elusive Banksy, people began to demand the Thierry create a film. Right about here, Thierry began his next phase as a Street Artist known as Mr. Brainwash. And so he became the focus of the eventual film product.

The film is well paced, doesn't slow or speed up and has some incredible shots of Street Art all over the world. The money made by the well-known Artists when they have a gallery show is as impressive as the art itself. It's a must-see film for its style, beauty and sense of adventure. My fear of heights was only challenged a few times during the viewing.

The big question is whether the film was created as a true documentary, or if a bunch of creative people pieced together something very cool and passed it off as a documentary. Is it in the same category as Spinal Tap and Best in Show? Well, if you haven't seen it, you must, and then you can decide for yourself.

The Club Members who stayed after to discuss the film were pretty equally divided between thinking it was real and thinking it's fake. I personally thought it was fake after watching it, but since then I have read a few articles with further information, and am wavering in my opinion.

We discussed the camera being like a drug for Thierry, an obsession, and how the artists liked the danger of being out at night in places where they may get caught. The police involvement added another dimension to the unreality of it all. The filming took place on every level of buildings and structures, and caught all moments of the placing of great art in the public view.

I hope you will join us and stay for the always interesting discussions that follow.

"Another Year"

August 21, 2011

Written and directed by Mike Leigh

This film has no plot. I'm amazed there is a writer credited. It's more like a magic window has opened, and we follow the main events in the lives of a mature couple living in England, and by association, their friends and relatives. It's a special year that includes a birth, and a death, and a garden.

Gerri, the wife, works as a clinical psychotherapist, and I can't help but wonder if that is what draws a cast of loonies into her life. The movie opens with a patient who can't sleep and has finally consulted a doctor. The doctor, a good friend of Gerri's, sends the patient to see her. We never really know what is going on with this patient, what help is tried, is she getting enough vitamin D-3? I don't think I am obsessive-compulsive, but this just gnaws at me.

We do see, however, the connection between the pregnant doctor, Tanya, and the office secretary who doesn't seem to want to work very hard, Mary. Alcoholic, lonely, aging Mary steals the scenes in the last season of the film. Yes, the drama and the comedy are divided up by seasons. The husband, Tom, is an engineer, and shares with wife Gerri a love of gardening. They spend quality time together, rain or shine, caring for their allotment, which is like a community garden plot here.

Their 30-something unmarried son is the focus of Mary's affections, off and on, until he brings home a girlfriend. Yes, these parents are so eager to get their son married that they accept the loud, silly girlfriend as family immediately. At least she is educated, employed, and takes her alcohol slowly. And she does seem to love the son, and he returns that love. Mary is understandably shaken by this turn of events, but due to her high moral standards, she doesn't show it. Oh, wait. No, that's not how it goes at all.

This is a movie you should see. The walk through the year with this loving, gentle couple and their associates is entertaining and very well filmed. The cinematography style that Mike Leigh chooses evokes a powerful feeling of this being life. It's just life, and you live it. The movie does, as Jennifer Hamilton said before our showing, need to marinade in your thought processes before you start to really understand it.

I leave you with the best lines from Lesley Manville, who plays Mary: "My looks work against me. Beauty has nothing, ordinary people have it all."

Discussion: It's exciting to see more people staying to discuss the films after the showings. My viewing pleasure is increased when I compare what I observed with what others have seen or felt. Overall, the audience enjoyed the film, had a love-hate relationship with Mary, and didn't want to movie to end. The obvious difference between Tom and his older brother, both raised in the same way, but with very different marriages and adult lives, was demonstrated when, after the death of the brother's wife, Tom tries to hug his brother, and gets a slow, eventual response. The girlfriend, Katie, was loved by some and not by others. Please find the time to see this one, and enjoy!

"The Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Short Films"

August 7, 2011

1. The Confession 2011 - National Film and Television School, UK

2. The Crush 2009 - Damon Quinn Productions

3. God of Love 2010 - Torch Films

4. Na Wewe 2010 - A Private View, Cut!, Medya Menia

5. Wish 143 2009 - Swing and Shift Films, Union Pictures

So once again, I cannot tackle all 5 shorts and give good service to each. But I can't pick less than 3 favorites, so I might as well do a quick review of each. I will review them in order of my preferences, and focus on my viewing experience.

Na Wewe is at the top because I love puns, I love movies that don't stick to a formula, and I really love movies that give subtle insight to life for another portion of the population. When first we meet The Great White Businessman pushing his way onto a minibus, we might think he is going to be ugly in his manners and his expectations. We think the armed rebels who stop the bus are going to kill whomever they can justify killing. And we think the children with guns are hardened to live like a soldier. Na Wewe makes you think again.

Wish 143 is a close second, perhaps because so many of us have lost someone to cancer. We walk to raise money for a cure, we follow the genetic politics that prevent open research, and we wonder what happens when a cure is found. What about the 1500 people who died of cancer the day before? Or the day before that? David, the lead character in this short, wants to live a full life, as seen by a 15-year-old boy, before his time is up. Sad, touching, funny. I love this film.

The Crush would be higher on the list except it seemed so horrifying at the point of the duel. The story is sweet, a boy has such a crush on his teacher that he gives her a ring, and when she gets a real ring from her boyfriend, he issues a challenge. The funny lines are fast and furious throughout the film, and the ending only seems a bit clichéd. A really nice film.

God of Love won the Oscar for Live Action Short. The only American film in the bunch, and almost all the films were from English-speaking countries. Oscar really needs to get out more. About this film, however, it is cute, unexpectedly touching, and in some points totally hilarious. Raymond is a champion darts player and a lounge singer who works the darts in to his act. He does have a tragic love triangle with his intended and his best friend. And the ending was foreshadowed in the opening scene, so not a big surprise. But the winner out of this field? No.

The Confession is a serious tragic statement on forcing children to take on the thoughts of adults when not obeying your mom is the worst sin you currently commit. Lives are lost when a joke goes bad, and a friend is lost, literally, over disagreement about telling what they did. Your hopes are brought up high when the main character, Sam, is going to do the right thing. But he is, after all, just a boy. I think everyone should see this film, but also it's not one to see over and over. Much too haunting and so very deep.

The discussion that followed examined how little bloodshed was seen in Na Wewe. The unfinished story line of the boy running away was examined and possible endings suggested. The racial profiling of the different tribes gets harder and harder as the tribes intermarry and few continue to hold grudges. There's a feeling that they have no idea where the goodness comes from, but they know it's there. Belgium's record-setting lack of government is a key to the film's powerful ending.

The character of Sam in the Confession is so conflicted for a young boy. His friend Jacob overrides so much of who Sam is or wants to be, that some viewers thought he might be part of Sam's psyche. If not for other characters treating him as real, it might have been so. But why was he not missed, or why weren't we allowed to see that event? In the scene where Sam is eating dinner with his parents, and they talk about the crisis without knowing Sam's role in it, you get the strong feeling that this is not a close family. If Sam had a close relationship with either parent, he might have been able to talk to them. He might have been given guidance and the values he needed that are learned, not automatic. Dreams and hallucinations make it very difficult to know what is real and what isn't. Sam is shown picking up a dead animal so he can give it a proper burial, but then when his actions could have saved lives, why does he turn away? Perhaps the crisis made him act out of his normal ways. Possibly the allegory is that Jacob is a sociopath, and Sam, by following, is just as guilty.

The Crush is so simple; the only thing discussed was what the gun used as ammunition. Can't tell you here because it would spoil the story!

Wish 143, on the other hand, is as complex as growing up with a shortened life expectancy. So touching, and so real. Many people confuse sex with affection, but few get to clearly see the difference.

There you have it. Four short films that were really enjoyable. Oh, all right, five short films. We had little discussion of God of Love until prompted by our discussion leaders. After all, Luke Matheny's film won the Oscar for short film. What did we like or not like? Someone stated that as the judges get more youthful, the movies get inane. It was likened to a Woody Allen offshoot. At least one member was glad it won. In all five movies, there was clear empathy involved. The God of Love's last dart is used in a very selfless act.

I love the fact that we learn so much about movies and the Academy at these showings. We get to see these films all together, but the members of the Academy see them at special showings, one at a time, with room to think about the films independently. In the early days, Academy members were expected to view all the nominated films on their own. Many did not. Also the big campaigns to promote films are not allowed anymore.

Hope to chat with you about the next films when NCFC goes to the movies.

"The Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films"

July 24, 2011

1. Day & Night - Pixar, 2010

2. The Gruffalo - Magic Light Pictures, Studio Soi, Orange Eyes Productions. 2009 (TV)

3. Let's Pollute - Happy Go Dismal Instructional Films 2009

4. The Lost Thing - Passion Pictures 2010

5. Madagascar, a Journey Diary - Sacrebleu Productions, C.R.R.A.V. Nord Pas de Calais, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) 2010

6. The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger - Bill Plympton Studios 2010

7. Urs - Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg 2009

Here it is, more than a month after I viewed all these shorts with the club, and I am only now finishing up this review. The thing is, I was bogged down in trying to review all seven stories. I could not fit all my opinions into one article, so with your permission, I am going to review my two favorites and encourage you to watch all of them yourself.

Madagascar, a Journey Diary, is a treat to eyes and ears. The animation ripples across the pages of a scrapbook, and the viewer moves forward with the story as the pages turn. There are subtitles to read but not many; the dialog is kept to a minimum. The story is in the colors, the sounds, and the easily imagined smells of a different world.

The author, Bastien Dubois, is a video game programmer who really did take a trip through the island country. He was inspired to put the magic he felt into an animated travelogue. It's easy to see that he loved the people, the music, and the spirit, as a subtle change came about in his own heart and mind. This is one trip you don't want to miss.

Urs actually wasn't my favorite when I viewed. The short grew on me, and I have felt closer to the title character every time I think about it. Okay, so the animation is very stark and stylized, even when Urs makes it to the sunny land over the mountains. I can live with that, because the story is the real experience. One day Urs looked around, and there was nothing left for him at home. He chooses to move on and to take his ailing mother with him. Mother represents, in my mind, all the reasons and ties and excuses that hold many people prisoner to the life they are in, even if it no longer serves them. And her precious roofing stone that gives her some comfort is the weight of the excuses, the added difficulty to moving on, letting go. How very like my own life for many more years than I care to remember. And yet, there is a happy ending, both for myself, and for Urs. Please see this animated short.

We discussed the shorts before leaving the theater, and I was fascinated by the different takes on each one. Hands down, the favorite was Madagascar. The Lost Thing had a mix of supporters and detractors. The silly Day & Night and Cow Who Wanted to Be A Cheeseburger were much enjoyed, and the sarcastic Let's Pollute evoked discussion on how much more can the planet take. Pretty cool.

By the way, The Lost Thing is based on a book by Shaun Tan, who recently won a Hugo Award for his artwork. The story was good, I thought, but the lack of dialog and the abundance of moving through odd cityscapes made it drag for me. But, this short won the Academy Award. Over Madagascar. Looks like Oscar is getting more ethnocentric instead of less.

"Empire of the Sun"

July 10, 2011

Director: Steven Spielberg Writers: J.G. Ballard (novel), Tom Stoppard (screenplay).

Cast: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson

Are you sure that what you see and feel every day is reality? Or could it be part of a dream you have been having for a very long time? An adult usually has valid perceptions of real and dream, but children have to learn these things.

Empire of the Sun is an almost-true story about a boy growing up in such odd circumstances that at times no one is sure if what we are seeing is reality.

The movie opens up with a distinct style and flavor of World War II news reels, and sets the tone, place, and time for our movie. China, in undeclared war with Japan. Jamie Graham is a lucky child, born into a well-off English colonial family living in Shanghai. There are servants to see to his every need, even to be bullied about. The family is driven through the city in an elegant Packard Twelve, separated from the poverty and violence by thin windows. And in a few heartbeats, all that is gone. While trying to evacuate from Shanghai with his parents, Jamie is separated and on his own.

Jamie tells anyone who will listen, "I surrender!" But the only one who wants to hear it seems to mean him harm. He is on his way in a journey that will seem by turns too harsh to bear, and surreal in the style of fairy-tales. Jamie becomes Jim, grows up without his parents to guide him, but with the help of well meaning, mostly, fellow in-mates in an interment camp. Mrs. Victor, Dr. Rawlings, Basie, and the pilots from the captured air field next to the camp, each touches his life and guides his development.

The ending is no surprise, but in spite of that, it brings up a wealth of emotions, and rarely fails to touch the viewer. Life and death and second chances combine to complete this odd tale based on a true story.

In the discussion that followed the viewing, we learned that Christian Bale grew up during this movie. He is Welsh, and so the choice of a haunting Welsh lullaby for him to sing through the movie was a natural. Spielburg used Christian's natural charisma to sculpt the character of Jaime. The story is told from a child's point of view, so it's by turns immature and rosier. J.G. Ballard wrote his book based on his memories, but did not stick completely to his book while writing the screenplay, because he believed some of his memories were more likely hallucinations.

This story is the opposite of Peter Pan, this boy has to grow up quickly. He relies on the kindness of women and the miracles of life. Jim models himself after the American prisoners, especially Basie, but keeps his basic compassion intact. Basie can't bend past his self-interest.

The story is more enjoyable when you know the history of the time. The long grudge between the Chinese and the Japanese, the British staying as long as there was money to be made, and therefore not all getting out in time. They were convinced they would win.

There is a somewhat recurring character in the beginning of a beggar near Jamie's home, who draws attention to himself by tapping a tin. After Jamie returns alone to his house, he finds the empty tin abandoned and the beggar gone. This leaves so many questions unanswered that there is no real closure.

Many complaints about the movie is that it doesn't show the real bloody side of war. Spielberg did clean it up. Yet the focus wasn't so much on the bloodshed and death, but about those who lived through it, and how odd a place the world had become. The scene where the hotel stairs collapse under the press of British colonists trying to get out of the hotel, and few turn to help those who fell, sets the clear mood for the rest of the movie. The Empire is falling, Chinese and British, and there is no going back.

The movie was nominated for 6 Oscars. It didn't win any. It was somewhat eclipsed by The Last Emperor, released the same time and of a similar subject matter. The Empire of the Sun was nominated for 11 other awards, and won 7 of those. The National Board of Review created the category of Best Juvenile Performance so that Christian Bale could receive an award.

I hope you will check out this film if you missed our showing. You can send in your thoughts to my.windrose@gmail.com and we will do our best to include comments on this page.

"Get Low"

June 25th, 2011

From Sony Pictures, starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray.

One of the tag lines from this movie was "A True Tall Tale." Well, it seems this is about 30% True and 70% Tall Tale. There was reclusive farmer in Tennessee known as Felix Bush. He did decide to put on a funeral for himself before he died, so he could be there. But it wasn’t held out at his place, and there wasn’t a dark secret that he needed to tell before he died. So I’m in favor of ignoring the truth and enjoying this film for the great story it is.

This film comes with lots of humor, and lots of pathos. Starting with the boys vandalizing the mysterious Hermit Bush’s place on a dare, and coming close to that being the last thing they do, to Felix telling the funeral home’s newly promoted salesman Buddy, "For every one like me, there's one like you, son. I about forgot that." This movie shines with great moments and an intriguing story. The lost love may be closer to the truth than much else of the movie, for the real Bush said, "The one I wanted I couldn’t have, and the ones I could have, I didn’t want."

Robert Duvall seems so natural and relaxed in this role, every expression, every gesture, highlights his ability to be Felix Bush. Sissy Spacek has the beauty and grace for her role, and the anger when it’s needed. But Bill Murray, as the funeral home director, got the best lines: "I sold 26 of the ugliest cars in the middle of December with the wind blowing so far up my ass I was farting snowflakes into July." Also worth noting are the great supporting cast of Lucas Black, Bill Cobbs, and Lori Beth Edgeman.

The real Rev. Charles E. Jackson didn’t say, as far as I can find, that "Free will is not all it’s cracked up to be." But he did say holding a funeral while you are still alive to appreciate it is a good idea. "It gives us an opportunity to take thought of tomorrow and anticipate the great adventure called death." If you take nothing else from this film, that alone would be a great pearl of wisdom.

There wasn’t a perfect opportunity to discuss the movie following the screening. We adjourned to a sandwich shop and found they weren’t really ready for us. Some of us talked in small groups, but it just wasn’t the same. Overall, the members enjoyed the film and brought a bit of Felix Bush away for a day or two.

For the real story, go here: http://www.ealgood.com/b624/misc/unclebush.html

"Mao's Last Dancer"

June 5th, 2011

Please forgive my obsession with understanding the titles of films. In this movie, I expected a Big Revelation that would explain the title. Did Mao actually pick Li Cunxin or see him perform? Did the rest of the dancers in his troupe die mysteriously? The best explanation seems to be that Li considered himself one of Mao’s Last Dancers, not necessarily the last one.

Like that lack of a strong reason for the title, there seemed to be something missing in a few of the characters. And that is strange, as this story is a true tale, and the people in it exist or existed, so there could have been a bit more essence of each imbued in the characters.

The story follows the life of Li Cunxin, not exactly in chronological order, but well enough organized to be clear. As a young boy of 11, he was chosen out of every other pupil at his school to go to the trials in Beijing for ballet dance candidates. The cultural delegates find him promising, and so it begins: exhausting exercises, homesickness, demanding trainers, and letters home.

Years later, his reward is being chosen to dance for a summer with the Houston Ballet. You can probably guess where that will lead. The freedom offered to dance artists in America can be worth the risks and loss of everything else. And a convenient marriage helps. But Amanda Schull plays Elizabeth Mackey as a two-dimensional crybaby, who gets no sympathy for her part Li’s life. Chi Cao, who is both an excellent actor and dancer, plays Li as an adult. Focusing on the dancing helped make the film memorable.

I did enjoy the film, I would watch it again, and I think anyone who loves ballet would do the same. The special effects dance scenes are very nice, and the Rites of Spring is a showstopper. And I cried for long minutes but can’t tell you why without giving the best part away.

Mao’s Last Dancer was an excellent choice for the club, and well thought of in the discussion that followed. And it’s so enjoyable to have a common interest in movies with our members in the audience. I hope you will join us for more gems like this one.

"Winter's Bone"

Because this is my first review, I want to explain a bit about this idea. I love to write, I love to watch movies, and I love to talk about movies. While I am giving you an idea of how these films played in my personal perception, I am also including aspects of the conversation that follows the showing. If you like to talk about a movie right after you have seen it, you should consider joining NCFC and have a perfect forum for your views.

On Sunday, May 15, 2011, we screened Winter’s Bone.

Winter’s Bone -- 2010 rated R, 100 minutes
Written by Debra Granik and Anne Roselini, from the novel by Daniel Woodrell.
Production Companies: Anonymous Content, Winter’s Bone Productions
Directed by Debra Granik
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt
Nominated for 4 Oscars, took 27 wins and 52 nominations.
Awesome, powerful scenery. Sharp, poignant characters. A society that takes care of its own and keeps to itself. Winter’s Bone takes place in the Ozarks, and made use of local characters to enhance the feeling of being there. The music is almost a character itself, and the singing of Marideth Sisco is sweet with longing. According IMDB’s Frequently Asked Questions about the movie, and "according to the Q&A of the original novel, ‘bone’ means a small gift or blessing, as in the phrase ‘to throw someone a bone.’ Ree's ‘blessing’ occurs in winter, both literally and metaphorically."

The character names are a part of the setting. Our heroine is Ree Dolly. She’s looking for her father, Jessup Dolly. Her uncle is Teardrop, and the big man in the area is Thump. In a subsistence farming area, Thump drives a Cadillac, to show off his wealth.

Although poor, every family around has dogs. Lots of hound dogs, mixed breeds, terriers, pointers, bulldogs. The dogs appear loved, treated well, and one of the few luxuries allowed. Ree has to ask a neighbor to take her horse when she can no longer feed the mare.

But when a neighbor offers to take her younger brother Sonny and raise him, Ree can’t abide the idea. He and her sister, Ashlee Dawn, are all the family she has, with Jessup missing and her mother crushed by the instability and poverty of her life.

As she sets out to find out where Jessup is, Ree has to get past the woman at each home. Like ambassadors or peacekeepers, they greet her first and then relay to the man of the house Ree’s request. To a liberated society, it may appear these women are in subservient roles, but perhaps this is the niche or power they have carved out for themselves. They often get what was asked for, if not right away.

Violence is also a part of the society, although in Ree’s house it’s absent. It’s only as she enters the homes of her relatives and neighbors that she is set upon and warned.

It’s easy to like Ree, to want her to succeed, and to be completely mortified by the price she has to pay to keep her house and her family. She is resourceful, and unlike her mother, is able to carry on in the face of a world of hurt and disadvantages.

The closing credits note that additional dialog was added on location, written by the locals. Be sure to observe the recruiting sergeant, Russell Schalk, playing himself in this film. There was no script for this scene, really, just Jennifer Lawrence asking what she thought her character would ask, and the sarge answering as if she were one more possible recruit who really wanted to join up.

I’d like to see this movie again, just to be there once more. Just to see if knowing how it ends changes the journey. And maybe to understand the meaning of Winter’s Bone on a deeper level.

Audience Participation

Oddly enough, the first question that came up was if the locals used in the film who had never acted before were in violation of the Screen Actors’ Guild. I went to this site:


... and discovered that you don’t have to be a SAG member to be in a movie, as long as a required number of union actors are also employed. Good to know.

The viewing audience warmed to Ms. Jennifer Lawrence, especially knowing she had to learn to shoot, hunt, and skin a squirrel for this role. We hope to see her again in roles that give her more chances to shine.

The film did not win any Oscars, but did win 27 awards in other competitions. The total nominations were 52.

The film has balance, as in music contrasted with silence, violence contrasted with innocence. And in a world of criminals who keep to themselves, instead of the disruption coming from an outsider, it’s a member of the family who betrays them.

In this world, Ree has only a few choices for her life. While she sees that her siblings go to school and learn things, she can’t get to higher education unless she joins the military. Marriage is another option, but the examples around her don’t make it palatable.

Ree tries urgently to break through to her mother, to get help in making decisions. The touching scene does not end with a close-up of mom, but of Ree, alone. She then has a dream, which is filmed in black and white. In the stand of timber that she and her family own, a squirrel is held in mid-fight or flight response by the sounds echoing around it. Does the squirrel represent Ree and the decision she has to make about the land?

Some saw Ree as fragile, due to how she looked after being thrashed by Thump’s womenfolk. But if she was truly fragile, that would have stopped her. IMDb describes her as unflinching, in dangerous social terrain. There is a flinty core to Ree, that won’t be broken. All of the violence in this film takes place off screen. That doesn’t lessen the impact, no pun intended. Thump’s woman, Merab, insists that no man put a hand on Ree, when Teardrop comes to fetch her.

Men have a world of violence, drugs, and affairs that keep them in their various social standings. Ree tells Teardrop that she used to be afraid of him, and he tells her she was smart. But the women also have their own world and their own rules, and they keep the two worlds from crossing over.

Ree tells her brother Sonny, when he suggested asking for food from the neighbors, "Never ask for what oughta be offered." This belief that they take care of their own, or should do so, is one of the few spiritual beliefs revealed in the movie, and is key to understanding what happens, and why.

Unlike most mysteries, this one doesn’t give you the answer. We never really know who put up the money to bail out Jessup or who actually performed the crime that is at the center of the story. I don’t want to give too much away, in case you haven’t watched it yet. Don’t wait too long; you are missing a really great movie.

This page was last updated 2013-02-03.