“Cold War”

Ultimately, The director Pawel Pawlikowski is a romantic who understands Poland. His  new film “Cold War” uses the metaphor of romantic, unrequited love to speak to the feelings Polish nationals may feel toward the emigre, who leaves. The film is dedicated to his Polish parents.

Pawlikowski uses the same award-winning cinematographer, the thirty-seven-year-old Lukasz Zal,~the same artist he collaborated with in his glorious “Ida” ( reviewed Feb. 15, 2015) . “ Cold War” is filmed even more beautifully.  Both works are in black and white. “Cold War” ‘s cinematography is  less gradient, bolder and in more contrast than the grayer “Ida”. Some frames outline glossy, dark bodies with intense light only inches in diameter. Auras outline more than illuminate. Cold and dark seep into our bones the same way the Cold War did.

Somehow, Europe’s decades seem to mesh together more than our American ones. Maybe this is because their historical past is longer, and they know better than to force ten years of delineated time into a topped jar. Then again, as the film’s poetress, Juliette, explains, “Time does not matter when you are in love.”

“ Cold War” ’s chronology takes us from 1949 to 1951, then to 1954, 1955, 1957, 1959, and back to 1952 and then to 1964 ~approximately 15 years from the start where we initially hear drinking songs and see snow keeping the ground frozen. Music , as well as time, threads its way through the tale. We begin with horrid rehearsals of bagpipes and folk songs fiddled. Discordant sweeps of voices and accordion squeezes open a structure of recitals to train and audition hopeful talent. Our male lead is the orchestra’s maestro and pianist and our emigre.

His name is Wiktor, and he is an amalgam of practicality, obsession, and existential angst, and narcissism.   Tomasz Kot plays Wiktor with raw emotion and patient waiting. His desire is for the gutsy and spirited survivor of incest with patricide heavy on her soul. Enter Zula. She is lovely, talented, and given a few years~smoldering.

Johanna Kulig is the Polish actress who embodies our Zula. Get ready for a visage as fresh as Jennifer Lawrence with the pillowy lips of Liv Ullmann. At first playful and gutsy, with memorable scenes of pond floating and folk dancing, she turns sultry and jealous, and then fatefully romantic~ remiscent of  Truffaut heroine in “ Adele H”.

Zula and Wiktor’s relationship is on again/off again . He writes lyrics,: she is his chanteuse. They record an album, and he dubs it “our first child”. She tosses it on the street and calls it “a bastard”. Zula marries an Italian, has a baby, does nightclub gigs. We zoom through major cities: Warsaw, Paris, Zagreb, Berlin. Wiktor seeks her out. ” Is My Baby Still My Baby?” is heard.

Wiktor is taunted by communist agents. ” You did not love Poland. You left her.” Bluesy Billy Holliday is in our ears. Zula finds Wiktor imprisoned in a containment camp where he is accused of being a spy. Lots happens in the film’s 88 minutes.

Ultimately, Zula both plans  their marriage, one that counts,  and their earthly demise. The rituals and images are incorporated :candles, the sign of the cross, images of Christ’s eyes. At one point Zula asks, “What have we done? Practical viewers will tell these lovers  that it did not have to be this way. Romantics will sigh, “ Oh, yes”.

“Stan and Ollie”

Pratfalls, slapstick, and gags play second to the emotional lives of Laurel and Hardy in writer Jeff Pope’s screenplay “ Stan and Ollie”. Creative  work friendships and feelings of betrayal and unequal commitment help make this bio-pic both bittersweet and masterful. Physical comedy has never been my thing, but seeing 1937 audiences react to this famous duo brought back memories of my grandfather, who would slap his knee and throw his head back at antics like repetitive mistakes.The most memorable being when my non-card playing husband kept forgetting to pick up the “spoon” in a children’s card game of the same title.

Scottish born director, Jon S. Baird, celebrates the American comedic  team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy with little touches. The famous rendition of the song “In The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine” being my favorite. Tender intimacy is rendered by the principals, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. We understand the fear of receding fame and the little jealousies of seeing posters displayed of their new rivals, Abbott and Costello. Common experiences of feeling slighted and being averse to change help to universalize the human experience.

The acting is inspiring. Both Coogan and Reilly use their eyes to flash emotion. These are funny men in simpler times. The “Stop Children Crossing” dual interpretation is the modern equivalent to today’s humorous “ I’d Fuck Me” .

The film “Stan & Ollie” centers on their British tour in 1957. Both men are on second marriages, and their respective wives are coming to see a few performances. Nina Arianda plays Ida Laurel, and she almost steals the show. Overbearing and aware that Stan writes all the gags, she reinforces the idea that Babe ( as his friends call Ollie) borders on laziness. Ollie is more laid back by nature and has health problems. Shirley Henderson plays the script girl, and she becomes Ollie’s new wife. She is protective and often knocks heads with Ida. Both women are supportive of their mates. The script uses their squabbles to mirror the inner thoughts of their husbands. While resentments build over studio contracts and replacement partners, the love of Laurel and Hardy for each other survives in affecting detail. When Laurel slides   next to Hardy in bed and pats his hand, it is as sweet as a mother’s kiss. Karen Elliott’s musical direction helps as does the attention to set detail. The two men gamboling in suspenders to “roll sound, roll camera” , knee bend , turn, and shake is made timeless.

When personal divisions are not made purposely, there is the promise of renewal without apologies. More than a bio-pic, “Stan & Ollie” is   a nostalgic film about friendship. When Hardy says , “ I will miss us when we are gone”, film-goers will realize that they will, too.







“Shoplifters” ( Manbiki Kazoku) 2018

The Japanese film “Shoplifters” just won the Palme d’Or at the 71st International Cannes Film Festival. Over two hours long, I am glad I saw it. Ties that bind, need not be genetic is the overstory. Family life is changing, especially for the poor. Set in the make-shift homes of the struggling in Tokyo, a similarly make-shift family shows us a very untraditional family. The children often just picked up and taken where they are found before social services can take over. While no judgments are rendered, director and writer Hirokazu Kore-era does render an inside look at the underclass, its  struggles, abberations, and its humanity.

The film’s title “Manbiki Kazoku” translates on my google translator as  “people forever”. I like this title better than “Shoplifting” . Maybe “ Shoplifting Family” rings truer to this enthralling slice-of-life film. Hatsue ( Kirin Kiki) is the once lonely pensioner, who claims her husband’s pension as her own and buys a four-year-old child from an abusive and abused mother, but what we see is a woman who makes certain she does not die alone. We see her remedies for the bed-wetting youngster, her little  gifts of the child’s favorite gluten-free cake, and her commaraderie with her sex-worker daughter. Hatsue has her gambling stash, but we feel that the other adults are “preying on her pension”. Her sweet smile shows us that she is happy however  and grateful for those gathered around her.

The cast of “family members” are amazing in their naturalness. Five live in a shack built for one.  Lily Franky is the dad, Osamu. We see him with we presume his son building snowmen, fishing, explaining sexual feelings, and aiding him in shoplifting techniques. Osamu is caring, warm, and good at face-saving. He rationalizes that when they take items from the neighborhood store, they are not stealing because the items don’t belong to anyone.

Osamu’s wife, Nouyo ( Sakura Ano) is more street smart, funny, practical, and works pressing clothes. She has no problem pocketing small items left in the pockets of her customers. She believes that if you are not loved you don’t grow up caring for others. She renames the four-year-old Juri, Lin, cuts her hair and burns her old dress in a ritual-like cover-up. Meanwhile, the tv reports of the missing girl ,now gone two months, without a missing person’s report being filed. Nouyo hugs Lin tightly and traces her burn scars with her fingertips. She shows Lin her own similar scars .

Aki is the fourth adult in the family. Aki, (Mayu Matsuoka ) works as a performer in a peep show where clients’ faces are not seen. She and her colleagues dress and undress for the pleasure of their equally lonely patrons. Deep and tangled roots in the breakdown  of traditional families are given a lustful route, too. The philosophical Aki voices that “we all get our turn with death.”

As usual, the children are the most affecting. The eleven-year-old Shota ( Jyo Kairi), who we first see with Osamu pocketing small bags of food, draws us in with fist bumps and expectations. The neighborhood shopkeeper knows how slick Shota is as he manneuvers between reflective mirrors and the eyes of  other patrons. He offers him candy, and whispers that he should not allow his young sister to steal. Train rides, cookies, cloud shapes, and belching games return Shota to his innocence.

The family dissolves when authorities step in. Osamu and Nouyo tell Shota that he was found in a red car alone at a gambling casino. Shota ends up in a group home, but visits Osamu. In a touching scene, he asks if Osamu tried to run away without him. Osama says, “Yes, I am sorry. I’m not your Dad from now on.” Shota lies and says, “ I got caught on purpose”. The face-saving does not keep the power of love away as the train leaves the track and Osamu runs after it yelling  Shota’s name. It is heart-wrenching.

Miyu Susaki is the young made-to-order sister. She captivates at every screen entry. Her lying about her scars as “falling”, her glee at successfully pulling the plug on the merchandise sensor, and the slow, final wiping away of tears at the film’s end will make you examine what a real family is susposed to be.



A black and white Mexican film has us watching a young domestic worker flow through life’s joys and travails as it slows us down to consider the lives of others. In doing so, “Roma” forces us to see how the sun’s eternal warmth and the cool betrayal of circumstance mesh. This is life.

Our protagonist could be from any of the decades between 1920 to 1990. “Roma” seems timeless. The cleaning up ~daily chores like laundry, dishes, the caring for children and dogs~ almost ageless until those classic cars have us zeroing in on the 1970’s. Radio and tv and the movies are present. There is sex, amusement parks, and the beach to entertain. One notices the absence of cell phones.

We begin with the sound of sloshing water. Someone is mopping a tiled floor. Fourteen buckets of rinse water are thrown down as our title surfaces. In the pooling water, an airplane is reflected from the sky. We think of lives being passed over, the underlings below. It is a great opening. Life is going to be lived, but rinsed to the essentials.

Director Alfonso Cuarón, 57, wrote and directed “Roma”.
It is semi-autobiographical, and follows the footsteps of a domestic worker, Cleo ( newcomer Yalitza Aparicio). A family portrait emerges. Ms.Sofia; her husband, Dr. Antonio; and grandma Teresa are seen at meals with the four children, Paco, Pepe, Toño,and Sofi. There is a bird, a dog, named Borras. Cleo and the young cook, Adela, live over the garage.

We soon realize that Cleo is holding the family together. The father has another romantic interest in Quebec and will not return. Sofia is a tad unhinged. The tender moments are when Cleo sings a child to sleep, plays in an imaginary game, and warmly hugs the child who asks if she has always been with them. The film is in celebration of this kind of unconditional love.

Cuaron does his own cinematography. He is unhurried.
The camera lingers. We feel the waves as Cleo, who doesn’t swim, marches through the surf to save floundering children. We see Cleo’s dead baby being meticulously wrapped for burial as if we were swaddling the infant ourselves. The martial art scenes, the earthquake, the forest fire, the holiday party, the revolutionary street foment are captured. If we watch the trailer again, we are surprised by how much has gone on.

One of my favorite scenes is at Don Jose’s ranch, where a wall of past family dog heads deck a wall. Cleo stares at this memorial and a live dog, Borras, licks her hand. ”You are mine, and I am happy for your being.” he seems to say. Director Cuaron lets us know he feels the same. Class hierarchy be damned.

“On The Basis Of Sex”

There is so much I love about first time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman’s ode to his aunt, Ruth Bader Ginsberg that this will be an easy review. “On The Basis Of Sex” has a great title, the tempo of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky”, beautiful metaphors sustained, and snippets of male chauvinism that are documented both humorously and rationally.

In his bio-pic, Stiepleman centers on the middle period of the Supreme Court Justice’s life. Ruth’s husband Marty (Armie Hammer) has been diagnosed with testicular cancer; they have a toddler;and Ruth ( Felicity Jones) is attending her own classes and Marty’s while he recoups his strength. Professor Freund’s, (Martin’s Harvard Contract Law professor) dictum that “ a court ought not to be affected by the weather of the day, but by the climate of the era” becomes the overarching theme.

The beginning of the film brilliantly puts the viewers in the era, 1956. Sam Waterston is giving a welcoming speech to 500 Harvard Law initiates. Only nine are women. Waterston, playing the dean of Harvard Law School at the time, Erwin Griswold, begins with “ Esteemed colleagues and ladies”. It rankles. Griswold then asks each of the nine why they are occupying a place at Harvard that could have been given to a man. He accepts a young woman’s reasoning that she wishes to share her father’s law firm’s nameplate while he cuts other responses off. Ruth understanding his prejudices coyly responses that by attending law school with her husband, she can be a more patient and understanding wife. The women suppress their laughter. It is a great scene, and there are many more.

The documentary “RBG”, reviewed here, May 31, 2018,
made much of the supportive role Ruth’s husband played in her career. This film shows Martin Ginsberg as even more of a factor in her success and in her happiness. I loved the scenes where Hammer cooks “marrying herbal flavors’ and the scene where he cooly talks down his mouthy daughter. Loving and self-deprecating, humorous and emotionally and intellectually brilliant, Martin we come to love , too.

Jane, their daughter is played by Camille Spaeny. Spaeny was the young Lynne Cheney in “Vice”, she is only eleven years younger than Hammer,but her acting nails the thirteen-year-old, push-pull dynamic. The cast is perfection: Kathy Bates as the feminist lawyer Dorothy Kenyon, Justin Theroux as Anerican Civil Liberties attorney Mel Wulf, and Sam Waterston all make their mark.

The French title of this film is “Une Femme d’Exception”, and Director Mimi Leder keeps the focus on the exceptional woman that RBG is. As we see Ginsburg triumph in court, we have tears in our eyes and want to toast her with champagne.

The 178 laws that deferentiate between genders, the right of the country to change, and the triumph of reason being the soul of law exhalts the law profession. Felicity Jones’ march up the Supreme Court steps and her morphing into RBK says it all. Oscar worthy for sure.

Enjoy the script for its liberal truisms like “How a country taxes its people directly deals with its values.” For anyone who wants to change the world, this is your inspirational film of the year.