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Must-See Movies or Events:
The Company You Keep
Jim Grant (Redford), a civil rights lawyer, had once been a member of the activist group Weather Underground, but has since gone incognito after a botched bank heist ended with the killing of a security guard over thirty years ago. Other members of the group also assumed a false name. When FBI agents arrest one of the members, Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), Grant realizes that he might be the next one captured by FBI agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), so he drops his 11-year-old daughter (Jacqueline Evancho) off at his brother's place and goes on the run from the authorities. He reunites with the other members of Weather Underground, namely, Jed Lewis (Richard Jenkins), Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie) and Donal Fitzgerald (Nick Nolte). Meanwhile, an ambitious young journalist, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), investigates the connection between Grant and Solarz after he learns Grant's real name and his participation in the Weather Underground. The deeper that Shepard digs throughout his investigation, the more he realizes that there's more to the story than meets the eye, especially given what police honcho Harry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson) tells him, which won't be spoiled here.
The Company You Keep can best be described as a slow-burn political thriller with a few minor missteps that make it fall short of being new classic. Those shortcomings include underdeveloped, somewhat distracting subplots such as one involving a romance between Shepard and Osborne's daughter (Brit Marling), and the clunky, convoluted ways that certain twists become revealed later in the second act. Despite those shortcomings, The Company You Keep, is much more intelligent than your average modern-day thriller because it favors character development over action sequences. It's safe to say that the film is a true ensemble in the sense that every actor and actress gets his or her chance to shine, and plays an integral role in the story. Kudos to casting directors Avy Kaufman and Maureen Webb for selecting such a superb, talented cast. Seeing those actors work together is among the film’s many pleasures.
Director Robert Redford and screenwriter Lem Dobbs have woven a quietly suspenseful thriller that's complex without being too complicated or hard-to-follow. Not only are the performances solid all across the board, just as expected, but the characters hold your interest because they're not cartoonish or simple. Grant, Shepard and even police chief Osborne each has plenty of moral ambiguity, and there's room for interpretation. You may like them one minute, but dislike them the next which makes them all the more compelling as characters. While the screenplay doesn't really have crackerjack dialogue, depth or memorable lines, the actors' performances compensate for the screenplay's weaknesses or holes and, more often than not, make you forget them completely. The top-notch cinematography and musical score also help to further enrich the film and to raise it well above mediocrity.
In 1920s Spain, a young girl, Carmencita (Sofia Oria), lives with her wicked stepmother, Encarna (Maribel Verdú), in a large mansion after her grandmother (Angela Molina) dies. Carmencita never got a chance to meet her mother because she died at childbirth. Little does she know that her father, Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a former matador paralyzed after a bullfight injury, can be found in a room on the 2nd floor of the house---a room that her wicked stepmother forbids her to enter. Years later, Carmencita, now a teenager (Macarena García), she suffers from amnesia after surviving a murder attempt by Encarna, and joins a group of 7 dwarves who dub her Blancanieves and teach her how to bullfight.
You've never seen a reimagining of the classic Snow White tale quite like this one before. Blancanieves, although a silent black-and-white film, says more, looks more dazzling and entertains much more than any of the talkie versions of the tale.Carmencita's reunion with her father is one of the film's many magical, enchanting scenes that can't be described, just experienced. Casting director Rosa Estévez deserves kudos for choosing actors/actresses who have very expressive faces, ideal for a silent film. Maribel Verdú, in particular, is perfectly cast as the stepmother who you know is wicked from the moment that she had set her eyes upon Antonio at the hospital where she worked as a nurse.
Writer/director Pablo Berger infuses the film with breathtaking visuals and includes a well-chosen soundtrack that wonderfully compliments the images. Everything from the costume design to the set design, lighting and editing are top-notch. Beyond those aesthetic pleasures, though, are the films charms and surprising moments of poignancy, wit, humor and wonder. Not a single scene drags or falls flat, so prepare to be captivated and mesmerized from start to finish.
Blancanieves offers so many surprises and brilliance that it makes for an invigorating, crowd-pleasing experience that feels nourishing for your mind, body and soul. It's destined to become a sleeper hit.
Hava Nagila: The Movie
Have you ever wondered about where the folk song "Hava Nagila" originated or what its lyrics mean? How did it become so popular in America? What might be more Jewish: gefilte fish or the Hava Nagila? Along comes Hava Nagila: The Movie to provide you with the history of the folk song. Its melody came from a Ukranian shtetl and, via the Jewish Diaspora, it ended up in Palestine where the lyrics were finally added to accompany the music. Harry Belafonte tremendously helped to ignite Hava Nagila's popularity in the US after he sang his own version of the song in the 1950's. Connie Francis, Elvis, Bob Dylan, Celia Cruz and Bruce Springsteen are among the many other singers who helped the song flourish there by singing it. Since then, as the music clips show, it has travelled to a variety of countries around the world ranging from Egypt to the UK, South Korea, Russia, Mexico and Thailand.
Director Roberta Grossman wisely adds a little suspense or conflict to the film by including the battle over the song's authorship. Was it Abraham Zevi Idelsohn or Cantor Moshe Nathanson who truly wrote the lyrics? Interviews with the descendants of both Idelsohn and Nathanson shed some light on the matter that will lead you to believe that either of those two men could have been the true author because arguments for both cases are made quite persuasively by their families.
Grossman and writer Sophie Sartain deserve to be commended for keeping this documentary from being boring and dry. They inject a lot of humor and wit, especially into the voice-over narration, which makes for a highly entertaining experience unlike any other documentary in recent memory. Grossman also moves the film at just the right brisk pace so that there's never a dull moment, and ends the film at roughly 1 hour and 10 minutes, the ideal running time for this subject matter. It may not be particularly revealing or profound, but Hava Nagila: The Movie is one of those rare, crowd-pleasing documentaries that compels you to tap your toes and leaves you with a great big smile on your face from ear to ear upon exiting the theater.