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Recent Movies: The Imposter; The Sessions; The End of Time; Great Old Movies Seen Again: The Wizard of Oz ****

January 7, 2013

Recent Movies

The Imposter

This U.K. documentary is about the 1997 case of a young French drifter (Frédéeic Bourdin) living in Spain who claimed to be a 13-year old Texas boy (Nicholas Barclay) who had disappeared from his home three years earlier.

The film includes interviews with Bourdin, the family of the kidnapped boy, and various officials involved in the mysterious case.  There are also simulated scenes using actors for events of the past.

The story and its events are truly bizarre and stranger than fiction.  In presenting the events, director Bart Layton does a great job in creating tension that would fit well in a fictional thriller.

There is a downer feeling though by the time the film has finished.  It displays the worst side of humankind in a repulsive way.  Perhaps, there could have been more insight into the difficult beginnings of life for Bourdin.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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The Sessions

This film, based on a true story, takes place in 1988 in northern California.  The main character is a 38-year old poet, Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes) who is paralyzed from the neck down since he was six.  He wants to hire a sex surrogate (played by Helen Hunt) to help him experience sex for the first time.

If this were a fictional story, it would likely be rejected by filmmakers due to its extremely unusual subject matter.  But, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Upon first hearing of this film, it sounded like baby-boomer indulgence – O’Brien was born in 1949.  But, in fairness, the film also has the heart and joy of living from the boomer generation as well.  The sex scenes are very frank.  But, more importantly, so are the many dialogues about sex and how it fits into life.  The honesty and openness are very refreshing .  They are also a wonderful contrast to many sex scenes in the movies of the past 10-20 years which are most often casual, cheap, and emotionally distant.  They’re almost pornographic.

The film still falls into the usual sexist trend of displaying only female nudity.  It also misses the opportunity to explore the character of the husband of the sex surrogate.  Yes, he was a baby-boomer living in the west coast U.S. which implies experimental lifestyles.  And we do see tension around his wife’s growing connection with Mark.  Still, it would have helped to know how he came to accept his wife’s profession.

The film is still quite enjoyable.  Director/writer Ben Lewin draws out great performances overall with heart and compassion.  Best of all, Hawkes and Hunt are wonderful in their roles especially when together.  Their acting is best in scenes when they are trying to no avail to fight back tears.

Rating:   * * *

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The End of Time

This Canadian-made documentary explores the subject of time on a theoretical level.  The camera does most of the work in various locations including an engineering/science laboratory in Switzerland, lava flows in Hawaii, abandoned neighbourhoods and buildings in Detroit, and a Hindu funeral near the sight of Buddha’s enlightenment.

The camera work and accompanying music are beautiful and moving.  Some of the ideas expressed are interesting as well.  However, the film is not interesting enough to justify its near two-hour length.  Near the end, it was difficult to remain attentive (and awake).

Rating:   * *

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Great Old Movies Seen Again

The Wizard of Oz (1939 – U.S.)

A Kansas farm girl and her dog are in trouble.  She tries to run away, gets swept into the magical but frightening land of Oz only to learn there’s no place like home.

Having seen this great classic over a dozen times (beginning in childhood, of course), only a little bit of the lustre has worn off.  A solid majority of it remains, however.

Some of the painted backdrops are obvious and some special effects pale compared to what can be done today; however, this was still a breakthrough over seven decades ago and a wonderful landmark of that great film-making period.  Among the film’s many gems:

– the beautiful photography and sets (colour in Oz, sepia-toned black and white in Kansas);

– the wonderful scene in Munchkinland and all those great Munckins;

– the songs, especially “Over the Rainbow” brought to perfection by Judy Garland;

– Frank Morgan doing a perfect twit as the Wizard;

– Margaret Hamilton’s evil performance as the Wicked Witch of the West;

– Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion especially in the superbly campy number, “If I Were the King of the Jungle”;

– Garland’s magical performance;

– a sentimental ending that could make a stone weep;

– the overall ability to tap into the inner-child among even the most hardened.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

Outstanding Achievements:   Performances of Judy Garland and Bert Lahr

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