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Recent Movies: Going Clear; She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry; Far From the Madding Crowd; Old Movies: Fiddler on the Roof

July 12, 2015

Recent Movies

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Based on the non-fiction novel by American author Lawrence Wright, this documentary exposes the history of the “Church” of Scientology (CoS).  Its main sources are interviews with eight former members of the organization.

While it has already been widely understood that the CoS has cult-like characteristics, this movie provides details which are shocking.  Whether it is devious litigation to maintain tax-free status or the great harm imposed on members (and non-members) for not towing the line, this documentary has the occasional effect of a horror movie.  It’s all the more horrifying knowing the real-life consequences, not only for the interviewees but also for the many unknown others who are currently being harmed and others yet to be in the same situation.

The interviewees are candid about what lured them into the organization and how good it was for them in the beginning.  These people are the most inspiring part of the movie.  Not only are they frank about their regrets but they show great courage in doing what they are doing especially as they continue to be “punished” for all they have exposed.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *


She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

A documentary chronicles the Women’s Liberation movement in the U.S in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

There are many strengths in this film.  The best include interviews with over twenty likeable women who were part of the movement in its heyday.  The vintage photos and TV clips can leave one nostalgic for an era that had much fire in its heart compared to the long era of materialism that followed (and still lingers).

The film is well structured in its discussions of the many issues involved which include low wages, the lack of job opportunities, rape, abortion, health issues, sexuality, and childcare.

The fairness in this film is also admirable.  It is honest about the movement’s extremities in its later years.  Also, after revealing the marginalization of women in  the New Left, anti-war movement, it’s also later revealed how black women, lesbians, and poor women also felt marginalized within the wider women’s movement.  More coverage could still have been given, however, regarding the poor and working-class.  There is an interview with a woman of a working-class background but she talks of her experience at UCLA – a situation that would be very rare for most women in the working class.

While this film is a good chronicle of events in the U.S., it could have paid attention to feminist movements in other countries.  A sore point is a reference to a recent protest movement that began in Toronto.  If the event had begun in a U.S. city, there’s little doubt the city would have been mentioned.

Despite the U.S-centric tone, this movie is a worthwhile experience especially with the reminder of what can happen when like-minded people get together and learn that they are not alone and that others share the same experience.  It’s much like the Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  And as the film reiterates, “The personal is political.”

RATING:   * * *
Far From the Madding Crowd
In 1874 in the farming country of southern England, a young woman (Carey Mulligan) of independent means and spirit is wooed by three very different men (Matthias Schoenhaerts, Michael Sheen, and Tom Sturridge).
The story of the film is enjoyable though rather simple at times, veering occasionally into soap opera territory.  What matters most is how it is presented.
Director Thomas Vinterberg brings out the beauty of the Dorset countryside with the great aid of cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen.  Likewise, the performers all do fine work (especially Mulligan) in their many close-ups.  It’s a rather pleasant experience overall.
RATING:   * * *


Great Old Movies Seen Again

Fiddler on the Roof  (1971 – U.S.A.)

Based on the Broadway musical, the story takes place in a small Jewish community in a rural area of Tsarist Russia. Tevye (Chaim Topol) is a poor milkman with five daughters, three of whom are reaching adulthood.  He has difficulty with the more modern attitudes of his daughters while the community faces danger from the lingering anti-Semitism from outside.

Director Norman Jewison has done a superb job with this beautiful film which is exquisitely photographed by Oswald Morris.  The camera movements as well as the framing of each scene perfectly add to the emotions generated by the story and, of course, those great songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.  Jewison also shows great skill with crowd scenes.

The first half of this three-hour film has musical numbers that are boisterous and breathtaking.  The best include “Tradition” (with a superb montage that reflect the community’s working and religious life); the title song, played by the title character, during the opening credits (with a sunset background to die for); “Matchmaker” (amusing and well choreographed); “If I Were a Rich Man” (where Tevye gets uncharacteristically lively); “To Life” (brilliant dancing); and “Sunrise, Sunset” mixed with a vigorous and lively wedding scene.

[SPOLIERS AHEAD]:  In the second half, the mood changes significantly with the story.  The joy and humour (or at least as much joy as one can find while being poor), turns to sadness and melancholy.  The song “Anatevka” enhances this dour mood as the preceding songs enhanced the happier times.  The final sequence might seem prolonged but it brilliantly makes the heart cry with admiration for those who can still move ahead with resilience.  The level of detail is very effective.  Thankfully, the film ends with a medley of songs to alleviate the viewers’ drained hearts.  [END OF SPOILERS]

The performances are mixed but mostly good.  Topol stands out in the main role.  His eyes alone convey so much emotion.  And his occasional conversations with God are delightful.  He is convincing in his portrayal of someone who is almost resigned to his situation but can also release an outburst now and then.

On social issues, “Fiddler” is rightly renowned for exposing part of the history of anti-Semitism.  But it can also be credited for exposing the daily grinds of the working poor.  And of course, the songs, the colours etc…..!!!!!!!!!

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT:   Directing by Norman Jewison


Dennis Bowman




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