“Won’t You be my Neighbor?”

Love; or the lack of, is at the Root of all things – Fred Rogers

I never expected to shed a tear watching a documentary about a popular childrens TV show from the past.  But one of the scenes from “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” shown at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) touched a chord. And when I looked around me, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only one crying.  Mr. Rogers Neighborhood hit a common thread in its most simplest form.  It reminded us of our innocence because we all grow up so quickly and the world has changed so much.  But really; we’re still kids at heart.

Our basic needs are the same no matter where we live, our religion, ethnicity, age, economic status or our jobs.  It is to feel safe, loved and worthwhile.  End of story.

Sorry; no skeletons in the closet found anywhere in this feel-good documentary  It’s almost impossible to not uncover even a little dirt on anyone nowadays, specifically the famous.  And you can imagine someone especially as likeable as Mr. Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers).  And by now they would have uncovered something from having interviewed many who knew him. For me, it was a case of not wanting to know any different. Because Fred Rogers was loved by millions of children, even though he was the unlikeliest role model. It is fascinating that he endured for so long.  This doc was a great character study.

We find out Rogers decided to go into television because he hated what he saw on TV.  So he created what can best be described as a landmark in children’s television.

But imagine being that likeable…

The thing is Fred Rogers, along with genuine spirituality…really, really cared.  And that is what is most admirable.  It was not only his persona, it was him.  No big secret.  Kids aren’t stupid; they picked up on his sincerity.  The show was a refuge for kids from all kinds of backgrounds.

Fred Rogers was a tireless children’s activist and advocate, bringing joy into our homes.  Can you think of any program like that now?

We certainly remember Eddie Murphy’s comical take with the spoof “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood on SNL.  It was pretty hilarious.

I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.

Rogers was an ordained minister who studied religion which most likely gave him the tolerance and the tools he used with or without puppets, to teach children about worth, unity, grief, racism, superheroes and…everything else that no other program on TV was offering.  It was a unique and needed niche which only he at the time was able to  recognize.  He even managed to get funding for PBS when they were going to cut programming based on his court appearance about the demand for this kind of educational platform.

There was a conversation afterwards with Director Morgan Neville (Oscar®-winner for Twenty Feet from Stardom).  I was already a fan of his work. This heartfelt portrait  more than does justice to the show’s beloved host. Expect to be surprised by the film’s relevance and deeply moved by its subject.  I know I was.

It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.

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“Walk to Vegas” – World Premiere

In the wonderful world of Poker you can’t even trust your friends.

If you’ve ever wondered about how much cheating goes on in the gaming industry, this movie will certainly enlighten you.

This is not the first high stakes gambling movie ever made. Maybe you remember “The Sting”, “Rounders” or “The Cincinatti Kid.”  But I must say, having just viewed the world premiere of “Walk to Vegas”at the 30th Palm Springs International Film Festival, it is certainly one of the most intriguing and one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.  It was refreshingly different.

These eccentric people will go to almost any length for money. 

Inspired by a true story about Hollywood big shots who will bet on anything, “Walk to Vegas” is about a friendly poker game with colorful, questionable characters which winds up turning into a walk from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a $5 million bet.

This independent movie by the Van Patten brothers (James and Vincent) was filmed right here in Palm Springs. Multi-talented Vince Van Patten, an ex-child star, former tour professional tennis player, and commentator for the World Poker Tour…wrote, starred and produced this captivating film.  His real life wife, the stunning Eileen Davidson, also stars as his wife in the film and helped produced it.

Real life actor & poker player Jennifer Tilly has a cameo as herself in one of the scenes. I’ve always loved Jennifer Tilly in anything I’ve seen her in.  She was amazing in Bullets Over Broadway – one of my favorite Woody Allen films.   In this role she plays herself authentically (I assume, not knowing her personally).  Anyway…

The energy of the sold-out crowd in the theatre was remarkable compared to other screenings I’ve attended.  The audience certainly showed their appreciation.  Many of the cast members were in attendance and got up on stage for a Q&A after the screening. It was superb.

Side note: turns out the father of one of my friends from Los Angeles is also one of the producers of this movie. Small world!

Bravo!

 

“The Upside”

Part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival,The Upside” is a heartfelt comedy starring Brian Cranston (from Breaking Bad).

Kevin Hart + Brian Cranston in “The Upside”

I’m not going to dissect this scene by scene, because sometimes you just need to laugh. This comedy/tragedy did the trick.

I didn’t realize at first that it is a remake of a French film called  “The Intouchables” from the Weinstein company which was an International success, shown here in 2013.  It was one of the most successful French films in the history of French cinema. Otherwise, I might not have chosen to see “The Upside” because I don’t understand the need to make Americanized copies or adaptations of original foreign films that have proven to be excellent.  One example: I loved “La Cage aux Folles”, the 1978 Franco-Italian comedy. Later in 1996, “The Birdcage” was a remake directed by Mike Nichols and starring Robin Williams. In most cases I find the original to be the best version. But since they continue to recreate these films reasonably well and with an excellent English speaking cast…

The Upside” stars Brian Cranston as a wealthy yet very cynical quadriplegia who is looking to hire a full time caretaker.  When he decides to hire a fast talking parolee, the fun begins.   Kevin Hart (who may or may not host the 2019 Oscars – it’s still up for debate) plays a down on his luck, wise-cracking guy trying to prove to his parole officer that he’s looking for work.  I would say this is an unlikely pairing except for the fact that it is based on a true story and confirms the fact that opposites do indeed attract.

Nicole Kidman plays  a humdrum  assistant. For such an amazing actress, this part does not do her justice.

Julianna Margulies has a small part as potential love interest which comes to an embarrasingly unfortunate ending in a restaurant.

Overall, this movie was entertaining and the characters were excellently portrayed.  It brought many laughs.  Sometimes I think that’s enough.

A little trivia: this was the first film production for Malia Obama, daughter of Barack  & Michelle Obama. She worked as an intern for The Weinstein Company during filming.

Originally to be distributed by The Weinstein Company in March 2018, the film was shelved and sold off following Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. It was eventually bought by STX Entertainment and Lantern Entertainment, who then scheduled it to be released in the United States on January 11, 2019.

 

 

Ringing in the New Year starting with….

I look forward to this time of the year. It always starts off with a bang.  The bang being fireworks for New Year’s Eve and after a day or so of recuperation (depending of course on how much partying I do)…..my favorite way to start the year is by viewing & reviewing a bunch of great films at the Palm Springs International Film Festival; one of the largest film festivals in North America.  It’s always an exciting time to be in Palm Springs.

  • On Thursday, January 3, the annual Film Awards Gala will kick off the festival at the Palm Springs Convention Center.  The gala honours the best achievements of the film year by a celebrated list of talents.
  • The screening portion of the festival will run Friday, January 4 through Monday, January 14.

The Festival welcomes over 135,000 attendees each year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries.  Produced by the Palm Springs International Film Society, the Festival offers 12 days of events and film screenings featuring over 200 films from 78 countries.

I don’t present myself as a movie critic or pretend to be one.  I only attend the films and documentaries that interest me personally and blog about it for this website.  So I am obviously hoping to “like” everything I see and am aware that what I like, you may not.  I’m looking to be entertained and learn something new.  And I feel privileged to be given media passes to premieres and special events.

YELLOW IS FORBIDDEN. Star Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei, the face of the “new China,” gave documentary filmmaker Pïetra Brettkelly an all-access pass for this fascinating — and occasionally troubling — behind-the-scenes look at Guo’s life and the run-up to her make-or-break Paris runway show.

See you at the movies!

 

 

 

Film: Colette

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm 

Quote by the “Real” Colette

I don’t know what I enjoyed most about this film.  The story, the setting or the exquisite costumes.

For those not familiar, Colette was a French novelist nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Keira Knightley gives the performance of her professional career as Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette in her earlier years as she turned Paris upside-down with her life and work.

As a writer, performer and a feminist, Colette attracted controversy and lived life to the fullest.

Movie Still

You may think that you know nothing of Colette’s writings but many of her works are well known around the world. The film “Gigi” starring Audrey Hepburn was adapted from Colette’s book of the same name and several of her writings have been adapted for the stage and screen.

She was a fascinating woman, married at the age of 20 to a writer and music critic of whom it was said he was a “literary charlatan and degenerate”.  Whilst married to Henry Gauthier-Villars she wrote her first books (Claudine series) using his nom de plume “Willy”. The books scandalized France – and made the pair plenty of money.

She was the first woman to be given a state funeral in France before being laid to rest in 1954 at the Père Lachaise Cemetery (the same cemetery I once visited where Oscar Wilde is also laid to rest).

Brief synopsis:

Co-starring a perfectly cast Dominic West as Colette’s libertine first husband, the charming rogue and writer known only as “Willy” who took credit for Colette’s first four novels while sharing a lover with her, Westmoreland’s biopic traces the writer-actor’s life from her provincial upbringing to her halcyon days causing an uproar in the salons and vaudeville theatres of Paris. The core of the film, however, is her fraught relationship with Willy and how the constraints and slights she faced ended up engendering a writing career that made her one of France’s most beloved artists. This is a heady, champagne cocktail of a film made all the more delightful by Knightley’s bravura turn.

Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet – Colette

Source: VIFF & The Good Life France

Visit Viff.org to see more intriguing films until October 12th

Film: The Happy Prince

The world is a stage but the play is badly cast – Oscar Wilde

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde

Poet and Playwright Oscar Wilde is famous for many reasons.   I’m most familiar with his whimsical satire of Victorian society The Importance of Being Earnest – a classic about love, deception and mistaken identity.  A great character study… perfectly cast.

 And I saw his lipstick covered tomb at the renowned Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.

Other than that, I learned a lot more when viewing the special presentation of THE HAPPY PRINCE at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) yesterday.

No man is rich enough to buy back his past – Oscar Wilde

Actor Rupert Everett gives a simply remarkable performance as Wilde. He also impressively wrote and directed this powerfully empathetic account of the last years of the legendary Irish writer.

A short synopsis:

After spending two years in prison for his homosexuality—”gross indecency” was the official conviction—Wilde exiled himself to Paris, where he continued his self-destructive lifestyle while living in penury. Buoyed only by occasional contact with old friends Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), and with his wife (Emily Watson) and two sons far away, he’s a desperately lonely man who assuages his pain with alcohol, drugs and a succession of young men.  Everett was born to play Wilde, and his open, deeply felt film both honours his idol and conveys the essence of a man who, deprived of the things that make life worth living, maintained his ironic sense of humour until the end.

I can resist everything except temptation – Oscar Wilde

More exciting cinema until October 12th at:

Viff.org

Documentary: ANTHROPOCENE – The Human Epoch

A masterful collaboration by documentarians Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier.

A world class documentary that is equally stunning and disturbing. Surreal and sobering. The mind boggling cinematography by legendary photographer Edward Burtynsky was the stunning part.  The disturbing part was everything else. It showcases to great effect our unprecedented impact on planet Earth to date.

And there was a lot to be captured.  And there is a lot to be fearful for.  And there is a lot to change…if we still can.

Concentric Circles Forming In Still Water

A short synopsis: scenes of almost inconceivable scale such as monolithic machines hell-bent on terraforming their surroundings, land-fill sites staffed by thousands, heaps of elephant tusks piled high and set aflame, concrete seawalls lining China’s coastline, on and on.  Only some of the things humans are responsible for that endanger and change the structure of the planet.

I knew it wouldn’t be a feel-good film.  But it was a necessary one.  Which brings me to this famous quote:

Seeing is Believing

More films until the 12th at:  https://viff.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Film

It’s that time again…Following TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival).  Leafing through the booklet (shown above) there are too many films that I’m anxious to see.  A Sampling:

ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch

Okay; not feel-good but necessary knowledge:
The latest masterful collaboration between Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky isn’t so much eye-opening as mind-blowing as it essays our unprecedented impact on the Earth to stunning effect. The staggering tableaux captured here are at once surreal and sobering, including monolithic machines hell-bent on terraforming their surroundings and potash mines that evoke a bad drug trip. This is filmmaking of the highest order that unfolds on a dizzying, almost inconceivable scale.

Bathtubs Over Broadway

MAD | Music/Art/Design     (Because I LOVE Broadway Musicals)
Where did Chita Rivera, Martin Short and the late Florence Henderson (all present here) get their starts? In “industrial” musicals–musicals commissioned by corporate America from the 50s through the 80s to entertain employees and celebrate, say, bathroom fixtures or Fords… Dava Whisenant’s supremely entertaining film follows industrial musical obsessive Steve Young (a writer for David Letterman, who also appears) as he uncovers a hidden world. “Get ready to laugh, sing, cheer, and be dazzled.”—POV

In My Room (Israel)

Impact | VIFF Impact
Deeply intimate, unexpectedly moving and entirely of its moment, Ayelet Albenda’s documentary unfolds through footage culled from six teenagers’ self-produced YouTube videos. Make no mistake: these aren’t social media stars or influencers. They’re just average kids documenting their trials (including pregnancy and eating disorders) and trying to make some sense of them. The remarkably honest moments they share quickly coalesce into an involving study of the myriad iterations of adolescence.
I’ll be focusing on reviewing a bunch of diverse cinema during the festival.
Source: taken from VIFF website.
Have a great weekend!

Culture/Film: Mightier than the Sword

Film for Thought

When you believe in something that’s bigger than yourself you fight to make yourself heard.

Journalist Roberta Staley is fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan.  Having traveled  undercover to Afghanistan on several occasions,  she took risky chances trying to create positive change.  She’s responsible for the award winning documentary entitled  “Mightier than the Sword” which has helped enpower women over there by giving them a voice to be heard.  A major accomplishment.

Rahibib Rahimi (L) and Roberta Staley (R)

I first met Roberta in a Spanish class over coffee in 2012 and was intrigued when she said she’d be leaving for a few weeks to go on assignment for Elle Magazine. In Afghanistan no less.

The Story (in brief)

Roberta went back to Afghanistan three years later to tell the story of Mozhdah Jamalzadah, a regular person here and a superstar in Afghanistan, where she’s a powerful voice for women similar to that of Oprah.  The Vancouver raised woman is actually referred to as the Oprah of Afghanistan.

This 48-minute documentary focuses on Afghan female journalists and filmmakers and their impact on gender perceptions and gender equality. In Afghanistan, a significant advance since the fall of the Taliban has been the entry of women into the media as reporters, directors, writers, producers and authors.

Excerpt by Lucas Aykroyd from Vancouver Magazine:

The powerful debut by Vancouver filmmaker Roberta Staley examines the impact of female media personalities in Afghanistan’s fight for gender equality. Staley, an award-winning editor and longtime contributor to Vancouver magazine, created the new 48-minute film to complete her Master’s degree in graduate liberal studies at SFU. After spending three weeks in 2012 in the Central Asian nation on assignment for Elle, she returned there in 2015 to shoot Mightier Than the Sword in 35 C weather during Ramadan. Staley remortgaged her condo to finish the film, which cost her more than $80,000. “That’s what you do when you believe in something,” she says. “I was obsessed with telling this story about the media and how it was changing gender perceptions and gender equality.”

View Trailer:

http://www.mightierthanthesword.ca/videos/

More to come

Monday Mood:  Sinatra state of mind

The Place He Called Home

I could change the heading to Melancholy Mood a song sang by Frank Sinatra but that sounds pretty gloomy.  After viewing a special screening of the fabulous documentary film by *Leo Zahn which ended Modernism week here in Palm Springs, we know Sinatra’s life was anything but gloomy.

Sinatra in Palm Springs – The Place He Called Home.

I, like so many others have always loved Sinatra’s music, his style and well…the lifestyle was anything but dull. Because I’ve spent the last several years coming to Palm Springs and now live here part of the year I was really looking forward to seeing this film if only because it explored Frank Sinatra’s deep attachment to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, his primary home for almost 50 years.

His wife Barbara called him a desert rat.  Meaning he embraced the dreamy “desert rat” lifestyle of tennis, golf, cocktails, cards and entertaining.  Very similar to my lifestyle minus the tennis, golf and cards.

Nelda Linsk, one of the subjects of “Poolside Gossip,” the famous photograph shot by Slim Aarons in 1970, was Barbara Sinatra’s best friend (she’s the one in yellow).  She is also interviewed in this doc.  She’s still beautiful.

The film captures the spirit of the Sinatra era and pays tribute to the unique lifestyle especially surrounding the renowned racquet club. Revealing interviews bring to life a bygone era . . . beginning with the post-WWII years and Sinatra’s 1947 home in Palm Springs, tumultuous times with Ava Gardner, his 1954 move to Rancho Mirage, his marriage to Barbara, and life at the “compound.” Major sequences are dedicated to historic restaurants Sinatra frequented for decades.  Many still here and some I’ve gone to.  My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting and sitting with Mel Haber who owned the historic Ingleside Inn and Melvyn’s cocktail bar which Sinatra frequented.  He described Sinatra as having “an aura” about him. He’s the first and last person to be interviewed in this wonderful documentary.  It didn’t matter which president or other famous person frequented your estabishment.  Everyone wanted to know if Frank or “Mr. S” as they referred to him came in.  If he showed up with his entourage and liked it, you were good.  If he didn’t like the pasta it could get thrown against the wall.

‘Sinatra in Palm Springs’ tells the story of a man whose generosity and compassion for his fellow citizens had no bounds. He loved the desert and its people. He loved the local restaurants and bars. His best friends lived nearby.

How many people can aspire to live like him?  It’s a large, legendary life and that’s why the screening was sold out.  He really did do it HIS WAY.

At the end of the screening Mr. Zahn (*the filmmaker) was here for an audience Q&A.

And that’s another thing I love about being here.  The filmmakers are on hand to answer questions especially during Film Fest and Modernism.