Film Review: FREE LUNCH SOCIETY (Austria/Germany 2017) ***1/2

Free Lunch Society: Komm Komm Grundeinkommen Poster
What would you do if your income were taken care of?

Director:

Christian Tod

Writer:

Christian Tod

“Money is better than poverty, at least for financial reasons!”  quote unquote Woody Allen.

Innovation is the challenge of an established order, and so says a billionaire in the documentary.  FREE LUNCH SOCIETY is one such innovation, which this eye-opening film examines.

FREE LUNCH SOCIETY shot in German and English, is a documentary that studies  ‘unconditional basic guaranteed income”.   This means that the residents of a society receive a fixed guaranteed income regardless of how much they make at work.  This income allows them not to worry about existence, the basic need to pay for food and essentials.  It also gives the residents a newer found freedom.  In case one wonders at the impossibility of this concept, it has already been applied in two cases, so says this film, both as a result of the oil industry.  As a result of kickbacks rom the oil industry, residents of Alaskans get a fixed amount of money provided they prove that have lived in the state for a minimum amount of months per year.  In Canada, the experiment was carried out in Manitoba from 19754 to 1978, but no conclusions were made.  Files were archived to be studied later.  In the U.S., the study was never conclusive either.  The film documents Nixon’s proposal of the Guaranteed Income Program which was opposed by Reagan in California.  However, in one diamond rich state in Africa, a village was also chosen for the experiment.  It was shown that everyone benefited.  Incomes rose and productivity increased.  The theory that people become lazy when given a fixed income was disproven.

The concept of the basic guaranteed income is a tremendously intriguing concept for someone like myself, who has an MBA degree, always interested in finance, economics or just plain making money.  So FREE LUNCH SOCIETY kept me watching, breathless from start to finish.  I do not get paid for writing film reviews, as I have sufficient money but that does not make me lazy and contribute less to film reviewing.  What company unions think (obviously they are against it, as the concept challenges their very existence) for example, what effects there will be for the rich and poor and the effects on the economy will be interesting questions to consider.  Warren Buffett, the then third richest man in the world also has his say in the movie.  His talk about the gap between the richest and the poor and especially the working middle class makes the most sense and arguably makes the most interesting and relevant part of the documentary.  It is the rich people who control and everyone else working for the rich people.  To make the film more relevant, director Tod also has a NYC cab driver have his say. 

The film also examines the ethical question of what people would do then with their time if they need not have to work to earn a living.

For those uninterested in economics and money, FREE LUNCH SOCIETY might be quite the bore.  On the other hand, those interested in the politics of income are in for a treat.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw22w3P3gTg

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Film Review: AIDA’S SECRETS (Israel/Germany/Canada/USA 2016) ***

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Aida's Secrets Poster
Trailer

Family secrets, lies, high drama and generations of contemporary history unspool in this international story that begins with World War II and concludes with an emotional 21st-century … See full summary »

Directors:

Alon SchwarzShaul Schwarz (as Saul Schwarz)

 

AIDA’S SECRETS is a heartfelt documentary about secrets that could very well have been a fiction suspensor.  

Though the film has Aida in the title, the woman Aida does not appear until half way into the picture.  She is first seen in a senior’s home in Quebec visited by her two sons.

AIDA’S SECRETS begins with the character of Izak.  Izak is clearly Jewish, getting up there in age and is first shown in a torn T-shirt sitting in a yard living in Israel.  Izak, as a child was brought up by a loving family in Israel who never told him the truth of his origin.  As a boy, his friends teased him that his parents were not his real parents.  He finally finds out that he was an adopted child and that his birth mother is living in Canada.  To his greeter surprise or rather shock, Izak finds that he has a brother, who is blind also living in Canada all through a family tree agency, the agent who seems as talented as a Sherlock Holmes.

Director Schwarz builds up his first third of his documentary with great finesse, piquing the audience curiosity as much as he can.  The audience is as curious as Izak as to why his foster parents never told Izak the truth and why his mother kept he secret of his brother from him, after the two of them have met.  As he title implies, there are more secrets to come – not to be revealed in this review to prevent spoilers.

Schwarz’s film takes a noticeable turn after the firs third when he finally meets his blind brother Shep for the first time in Canada.  Suspense is unfortunately, turned into melodrama.  Izak quips and hugs his brother Shep too many times: “You are my little brother.  I love you.  My little brother!  My family!”  

Aida has passed away since the film was completed leaving many questions the two sons unanswered.  But some answers were provided by DNA tests as suggested by the agent of the family tree company.  To his credit, many discoveries were made.

It is also fortunate that Izak’s father was a photographic specialist.  There were lots and lots of old photographs that were studied with many conclusions drawn.

One touching scene is the first meeting of Izak and Shep at a Canadian airport.  It is doubtful that the cameraman followed Izak on the plane or waited at the airport to capture the prized moment.  It is more likely the reconciliation was an re-enactment.  But the scene is still a powerful one.

The film also educates on what happened to the Jews after they were freed from the Nazi concentration camps.  They were placed in displacement camps, like Izak’s father.

Ultimately AIDA’S SECRETS is about survival during the war.  And the consequences, some uncontrollable that affect the lives of ordinary people. That is the reason the film is able to hold interest from start to end.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/183442600

 

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TOP 10 Movies of 2017: See the list

2017 has been an excellent year for films.  There was little problem selecting the Best 10.  What was noticeable is the fact that these 10 film are so different from each other.

Here they are in order:

1. THE SQUARE (Sweden Ruben Östlund)

Running at 2 hours and 20 minutes, director Östlund had to fight to keep the film’s length,  And it is worth it.  A brilliant satire on modern business and life, the film is not an easy watch though hilariously funny at times.  Museum director has good intentions of keeping art alive and relevant but things keep going wrong for him after he loses his cell phone, no matter how hard he trues to correct the situation.  Power in sex, a current topic with the Weinstein outrage is covered in the film before the events even occurred.  A minor masterpiece! Voted Best Foreign Film for the Toronto Film Critics Association.

2. DUNKIRK (UK Christopher Nolan)

DUNKIRK returns filmmaking to its most cinematic – pure cinema with pure emotions.  Depicting the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk during WWII, writer/director Christopher Nolan has finally proven his mettle as one of the world’s greets directors.  The film brings tears from start to finish to see what freedom and life were worth fighting for.  Completely compelling!

3. VISAGES, VILLAGES (France Agnes Varda et J.R)

Why do you do this, someone asks Varda in her utterly charming documentary about people and places.  Her answer?  To show the power of the imagination.  What appears to be a simply made film does wonders in terms of emotion and charm.  Varda and J.R. travel around France (avoding the big cities) to put murals of the locals up in the most unlikely of places.

4. THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (Finland Aki Kaurismaki)

Kaurismaki adds in deadpan suspense to his usual famous deadpan humour in his tale of two men trying to make themselves a better life.  One is a Syrian refugee and the other a man who leaves his wife to open a restaurant.  The two meet and things turn out, actually for the better.  Kaursimaki keeps it both smart and funny in his message on the world refugee crisis.

5. LOVELESS (Russia/France/Germany/Belgium Andrey Zvyagintsev) 

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (THE RETURN, LEVIATHAN) latest film of a boy gone missing, is a tragedy that emerges from the result of lovelessness.  A divorcing couple’s son goes missing after all their shit.  LOVELESS is an analysis of the couple’s shit intercut with the detailed process with the police and volunteer group involved with the exhaustive search process.  LOVELESS is a powerful film that instead of showing the power of love, shows the opposite, how life cannot survive with love.  A terrific movie that won the Jury Prize at Cannes!

6. GET OUT (USA Jordan Peele)

Besides making a massive 5544% rate of return (Gross of $254 Million of a production cost of $5.4 million), this film is both scary and funny and first time effort from director writer/director Jordan Peele.  Also a clever message on racial prejudice, GET OUT has also been voted the #1 film for the critics poll at Sight and Sound Magazine. 

7. THE SHAPE OF WATER (USA Guillermo del Toro)

Del Toro has made a love story between the creature from the black lagoon and a mute cleaning lady played wonderfully by Sally Hawkins.  Don’t dismiss the story as fantasy nonsense as del Toro has created a scary, violent and effective adult fairy tale with his excellent imprint on it.  Brilliant on all levels.

8. DOWNSIZING (USA Alexander Payne)

The Norwegians have learnt to shrink people to a thousandth of their size to solve the over-population problem.  But mankind has still not been able to solve the pains from old age sicknesses, complains Matt Damon’s character’s mother in the film  Alexander Payne at his most playful yet serious look at the problems of mankind.  Payne goes into intricate detail of the shrinking process to make his film more credible.  Many twists in the occasionally brilliant script co-written by him and Jim Taylor.  Surprisingly, newcomer Hong Chau steals the show as the cleaning lady who teaches Damon and the rest of the world a thing  about two about life.

9. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (USA Martin Lee McDonagh)

A brilliant script with twists and terms, excellent performances and rude comedy make this film the delight at the Toronto International Film Festival winning it the People’s Choice Award.  Frustrated mother McDormand that nothing has been done by the sheriff’s office to investigate the murder and rep of her daughter, she rents three billboards condemning the sheriff’s office.  This leads to dire consequences changing he life, the sheriff’s and others while ironically does nothing to further the solving of the case.

10. PHANTOM THREAD (USA Paul Thomas Anderson)

50’s London and the subject is master dressmaker Woodcock, brilliantly played by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Anderson’s arguably best film unfolds meticulously in every scene, planned and executed, reflecting the careful care the subject Woodcock puts into the design of his dresses.  He meets his match in the form of strong-willed young woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover.

(RUNNER UP) THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (UK/Ireland Yorgos Lanthimos)

A supernatural psychological thriller that is the most difficult to watch (not for everyone) despite its bouts of black humour.   The film follows Dr. Steven Murphy (Farrell), a cardiac surgeon who is first seen at a diner meeting with a 16-year-old named Martin (Barry Keoghan).  Steven introduces Martin to his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children.  Strange things begin to happen with the children developing paralysis right out of the blue.  The film has a lot of anger and the anger is slowly but surely unleashed by every one in the party concerned. 

Film Review: LADY BIRD (USA 2017) ****

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Lady Bird Poster
Trailer

In the early 2000s, an artistically-inclined seventeen year-old comes of age in Sacramento, California.

Director:

Greta Gerwig

Writer:

Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig does an impressive job for LADY BIRD – her first solo directorial debut. Gerwig choses the coming-of-age story of an 18-year old senior student called Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) as the subject.  Lady Bird (her real name is Christine McPherson) is as annoying, spirited and independent as any teenager would be.  But Greewig’s script and Ronan’s portrayal allows the audience not to dislike her.

Lady Bird attends a catholic high school in Sacramento.  She lives with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), father (Tracy Letts) and step-brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodriguez).  She has a stormy relationship with her mother, things getting worse when she gets suspended telling off a teacher.  Her mother works extra shifts to support her, claiming that no amount of money can repay this debt.  Lady Bird has a failed relationship with Danny (Lucas Hedges) who ends up coming out gay.  She then loses her virginity to Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) who turns out to have been sleeping around.  But the key issue is that she wants to study in New York but her mother refuses as the family cannot afford it.  When her mother finds out she had applied in secret, she becomes really upset.

The film covers thoroughly a lot of the female teen issues quite well.  Lady Bird undergoes the learning process and develops her character for the better.  But it is a rough road.  She ditches her best friend, Jenny (Beanie Feldstein) and has major fights with her mother.  She makes up with Jenny going to the prom with her after ditching her prom date, Kyle.  The film’s climax has her in New York after her mother drives her to the airport, still visibly upset.

Gerwig stages well constructed and written confrontational scenes. Two of these involve  Lady Bird and her mother.  One has her asking for a number, what her mother has spent supporting her. When her mother replies no number can be put down for what she has done, Lady Bird storms out of the room.  The other has her begging her mother for forgiveness while her mother is doing the dishes, giving her the silent treatment.   Greta could have made the film funnier, but she restrains, keeping her story focuses and serious.  Gerwig shows both sides of the picture, the mother’s and the daughter’s.  They have their points of view and are strong women.

The script however, noticeably does not contain strong male characters. Kyle is an idiot, Danny is weak willed unable to accept his homosexuality.  The father suffers from depression and Miguel is not that strong a person either.

Metcalf delivers a terrific performance as the mother.  She manages to win the audience to her side and makes her point without having to resort to cheap theatrics like screaming or crying.  Ronan is equally good while Letts does well in his little written role.

Gerwig draws her audience effectively into Lady Bird’s world, opening out an exciting adventure of a family, not dysfunctional, but one that still have problems to solve.

LADY BIRD succeeds.  One would now hope to see a film made but with the male and female roles reversed – with a story of a n angry male teen learning his lessons in life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNi_HC839Wo

 

 

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Film Review: MOUNTAIN (Australia 2017) *** (Opens Jan 12)

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Mountain Poster
Trailer

An experience about the highest peaks around the world.

Director:

Jennifer Peedom

 

We’re feared them, revered them, and even had the hubris to say we’ve “conquered” them.  So goes the narration of the stunning documentary on the giants of the world entitled MOUNTAIN.

If the voice sounds familiar, it belongs to actor Willem Defoe who is no stranger to providing the sarcastic, ironic, poetic and informative dialogue in a documentary.  For example, he narrates the message: you are never so alive as when you are close to death.  Defoe also narrated the excellent DO DONKEYS ACT?, his voice playing a big part to the success of that and also this movie.  The existential commentary is written by best-selling author Robert Macfarlane and director Jennifer Peedom  (SHERPA).  Robert wrote the book “Mountains of the Mind”.

The film begins with grand shots of mountains, often covered in ice and snow.  Humans then come into the picture, followed by the relationship between man and mountain.  The film has a loose narrative – the film best enjoyed by sitting back and relaxing, to enjoy the stunning cinematography and beauty of the mountains.

 The film demonstrates what mountains have meant to humans from past to present. The have been the ethereal homes of gods and demons, and places no sane person would have thought of ascending until a few hundred years ago.  Today, they represent a pilgrimage of a sort for millions of people worldwide. Peedom shows scenes of travellers (including amateurs) ascending Everest by the hundreds, ski down from vertiginous mountain tops, para-ski, fly from peaks using wing suits, rock-climb and ice-climb.  What ticks Peedom off is shown in two shots.  One is a helicopter with a huge banner of “Red Bull” followed by narration saying that mountains have been commercialized.  The other one, has a long queue perhaps of a hundred or so climbers, each attached to each other by rope with the narration saying that mountain climbing has turned to crowd control.

.There are excellent shots of solo mountain climbers hanging on to peaks, some falling and getting injured, skiing and mountain animals.  Besides showing the awe and beauty of the mountains, Peedon does it shy way from including scene that show blood from climbers that have fallen or skiers that have tumbled down their mountain runs.  

If one wonders how the footage was shot, much of them were accomplished using drones and using everything from GoPros to the best cameras.  No stranger to elevation, director Peedom began her career as a climbing camera operator on Mount Everest.  Adding music to the visuals, the soundtrack is backed by a majestic score of old-and-new classical works by Richard Tognetti. 

Though there are countless stunning shots of high mountains, one wishes these sights would be identified as to where they were filmed.  The only time a mountain is identified is Everest.  One has to wait till the closing credits to learn that he incredible footage was shot in 20 countries plus Antarctica, shows us high-elevation defiance of death in scenes of both incredible grace and beauty, and tragedy, injury and death.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=rOBB_VOFQHI

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Film Review: WE DID NOT FALL FROM THE SKY, UK, Experimental/Relationship

WE DID NOT FALL FROM THE SKY follows a handful of transgender individuals living within the Hijra communities of India. Although India has passed a law acknowledging a third gender within their population, and Hijras, as a community have been recognized within social and religious communities with India for centuries, Hijras still face incredible discrimination in India and struggle to gain the basic rights offered to other Indian Citizens. A Hijra may identify themselves as a transgendered person, may be eunuch or an intersex person. Many Indians identifying as Transgendered may face discrimination of isolation from their community, and may seen refuge in the Hijra community. WE DID NOT FALL FROM THE SKY chronicles the life of several such women. Denied access to many jobs, our protagonists are often left with little options for work except for sex work or begging- often exposing themselves to terrible dangers in the process.

 

But the lives of our heroes, while often difficult, are far from hopeless. Each of them possess incredible talents, such as classical dancing, or  provided important roles during religious ceremonies, or have admirable aspirations, such as working for the their government. There is never a doubt of the boundless human potential that exists within them, despite the often difficult circumstances of their lives.

 

WE DID NOT FALL FROM THE SKY is a telling tale of it’s time. It acknowledges that crucial aspect of the hijra community not being one that has “suddenly appeared”, but one that has long since been a part of Indian history and culture. But it also showcases the changing tides of a future on the cusp of changing. WE DID NOT FALL FROM THE SKY showcases the life for the Hijra community now, but also points to the hope of what the future holds for the community as well. A future where this community has rights to land ownership, child-adoption, working freely without discrimination. WE DID NOT FALL FROM THE SKY is a story of hope, through the eyes of the women on the front-lines of movement to provide a better life for all people. A moving and important film. Many credits of acknowledgement to the amazing bravery of the cast, and the director Tabs Breeze and Georgia Oakley.

by Kierston Drier

WATCH the Audience FEEDBACK Video: 

WE DID NOT FALL FROM THE SKY, 26min., UK, Experimental/Relationship
Directed by Tabs Breese & Georgia OakleyPurushi, Pratiksha and Shalu are three best friends and trans women struggling to find their place in contemporary Indian society, often via the only means of making a living available to them: sex work and begging. Our film is a highly stylised art piece – the live action is intercut with animation and dreamlike dance sequences.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Film Review: IT GETS BETTER?, USA, LGBT/Experimental

A strong, experimental and dramatic piece about one man’s journey through love, sex and relationships, IT GETS BETTER? Is an emotional rollercoaster. We follow a man, slowly drinking himself into a more philosophical state of mind while he watches an online video of a young man making an “it gets better” confessional video. But does it? Our hero dives down into a long introspective journey of the love and loss that accompanies sexual awakenings.

 

What is most thought provoking about this piece, is that is focuses on love and relationships in the homosexual community in an age-bracket that is over the under-25 range. This is a demographic often overlooked. Our hero examines that excitement of new love, the thrill of new experiences and independence and the depression that inevitably follows the end of those first romantic entanglements. This rollercoaster of highs and lows is not exclusive to any community, regardless of orientation the rise and fall of love that is gained and loss is relatable to many- but what is special is that it is a reminder that this love and pain is not exclusive to the one area of any population. All who can love risk experiencing loss and the pain of that feeling can throw even the strongest spirits into emotionally complication. IT GETS BETTER? Is an examination of one man’s heartfelt and meaningful journey through the complex tapestry of human relationships. Highly metaphorical, deeply meaningful and composed with strong emotional cords, IT GETS BETTER? Has the feeling of watching a powerful stage play on screen. A deeply engaging film.

by Kierston Drier

WATCH the Audience FEEDBACK Video: 

IT GETS BETTER?, 11min., USA, LGBT/Experimental
Directed by Stephen RiscicaAn older gay man is inspired to record a testimonial after watching a bisexual teenager’s video, assuring him that ‘It Gets Better.’

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!