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Reviews for February 10th, 2012

Bonsai People: The Vision of Muhammad Yunus

Directed by Holly Mosher

      This inspirational and uplifting documentary focuses on how Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus formed the Grameen Bank as a means of reducing poverty in Bangladesh. Yunus started out by lending $27 to 42 impoverished individuals who live in rural areas. That small amount of money helped them start their own businesses. The bank continues to lend micro-credits to millions of poor people, mostly women, until this very day.

      Admittedly, it would have been provocative had Mosher interviewed economists who are critical of Yunus' solution micro-crediting. Is it something that's feasible in every country and, if so, is it sustainable? What are some of its systemic and systematic risks? A benefit/risk analysis would have been helpful, as well as more information about why Yunus was eventually kicked out of the Grameen Bank.

      The interviews with Yunus show how smart and compassionate he is as a human being. He wisely states that to help the poor become a part of the economy via micro-credit, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grows while taking the lower class with it. He understands that we all live in a cosmopolitan, so everything that happens to even one poor person has some kind of effect on you as well as the economy and society as a whole. He also understands the important of providing human capital (education) to the poor so that they could use those tools to better themselves and, in turn, the economy. Those types of socio-economic approaches cannot be found in the vast majority of school textbooks, so that makes the Grameen Bank all the more unique and even somewhat subversive in how it treats the poor with such compassion---although my International Finance professor told the class that greed and selfishness are actually good for society, so it's professors like him (and his complacent, unctuous students) who would truly benefit from watching this film.

      Director Holly Mosher blends footage of rural Bangladesh women who struggle to start their own business with the aide of Grameen Bank. Their plight feels quite heartbreaking, but the way they overcome their financial hardships with the help of the bank will make you stand up and cheer.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at the Quad Cinema.
Released by Hummingbird Pictures.

Chico & Rita

Directed by Tono Errando and Javier Mariscal

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at the Angelika Film Center.
Released by GKids.


Directed by Liza Johnson

      Kelli (Linda Cardellini), a U.S. soldier, returns from duty overseas, and struggles to re-adjust back to normal life in her small Ohio hometown. She lives with her husband, Mike (Michael Shannon), who gets along with her well at first. There's more to Kelli than meets the eye, and the same thing can be said for Mike. They both have many mixed thoughts and feelings that they haven't been able to express to one another yet. Kelli obviously experienced very traumatic events overseas, so she gradually goes through post-traumatic stress disorder which many soldiers must also endure once they return home from serving abroad. She finds it very difficult, on an emotional level, to continue working at her factory job, so she decides to quit. As her mental stability slowly worsens, so does her relationship with Mike. Not surprisingly, she tries to escape from her woes by frequently getting drunk---eventually, she's slapped with a D.U.I. charge, and sent to mandatory AA meetings where she befriends a man (John Slattery) who has his own psychological problems that he's going through.

      One of Return's many strengths is in its ability to invoke sympathy for its characters. Don't expect to find any good guys or bad guys here because everyone, even Kelli's disloyal husband, comes across as very complex albeit quite flawed human beings. The war that Kelli has been serving in could be any war, which makes the film timeless. Writer/director Liza Johnson wisely keeps the film grounded in realism and focuses on the character-driven, human drama. In many ways, Kelli's toughest battles are those she fights psychologically back at home in Ohio, so much of the film's emotional impact lies on Linda Cardellini's back. Fortunately, she gives a well-nuanced, raw and convincingly moving performance that speaks volumes even when she doesn't talk because her facial expressions often speak louder than words. It's very rare for a writer/director to trust an audience's intelligence and imagination while avoiding heavy-handedness and preachiness, but Johnson achieves that feat with flying colors. Had she shown you the horrors that Kelli had experienced overseas, it wouldn't have been as powerful as leaving it up to your imagination.

      Ultimately, Return manages to be a quietly devastating, powerful and poignant drama boasting an unflinchingly honest and well-nuanced performance by Linda Cardellini.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at the Village East Cinema.
Released by Dada Films.

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