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Recent Movies: Amy; The Look of Silence; Diamond Tongues; Travel Notes: Florence and Central Italy

August 25, 2015

Recent Movies


The rise and fall of the late singer Amy Winehouse are the subjects of this British documentary.

The film follows a linear chronology of events and it pays off much like a fictional film.  The beginning covers the early teenage years and Winehouse’s interest in a musical career.  This segment is steady but less exciting compared to what comes later.  It serves as a build-up.  Once star status and chemical abuse enter the picture, the film succeeds as a genuine and shocking heart-breaker.

For those of us with minimal knowledge of Winehouse’s life (though many of us probably knew of the scandals), we can look at the film as a mystery to find further clues to the final outcome that we already know.  From the incredible footage (both private and public) obtained by director Asif Kapadia, we get such clues.  One is a pre-fame declaration that she couldn’t handle fame.  Another is when superstardom has just begun as she walks past several adoring, screaming fans to receive an award.  While this might be a dream come true for most, the look on her face shows that a nightmare has just begun.

Kapadia has the skill of presenting facts without bias letting the viewers have their own opinions of what they see.  As the presentation is so strong, so are the possible opinions.  While Winehouse was partly responsible for her actions, the film shows that others took terrible advantage of her.

While she expressed a need for an extended rest at different times, there was pressure by her “team” to push her further (and get more money from her).  A sequence involving a concert in Belgrade is shocking in how she was manipulated.

The worst exposure in the film is that of the media’s behaviour.  The shocking footage of Winehouse being stalked during personal crises is enraging as is the footage following her death.  One must keep in mind that this is the same paparazzi that tormented Princess Diana to death.  It seems that some members of the British paparazzi learned nothing from the Diana tragedy.  They still seem hell-bent on killing their own.

The most moving scene of the film is the filming of Winehouse showing insecurity during a recording of a duet with the venerable and prolific Tony Bennett (who’s still working in his late 80s).  Bennett responds in a way that is patient, understanding, and most of all, paternal.  His genius and humanity pay off in droves. 

Of course, the main draw for this movie is the super-talented subject.  Thankfully, many of her songs are included throughout the film.  Her music and personality make “Amy” one of the best documentaries of the last five years and one of the best movies of 2015.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * * 1/2


The Look of Silence

As the follow-up to the Indonesian documentary “The Act of Killing” (2012), “The Look of Silence” continues the search for truth regarding the mass tortures and murders of suspected communists in Indonesia in the mid-1960s.  The main focus of the film is Adi, an optometrist whose brother was brutally killed during the massacres.  The film rolls while Adi confronts the various men (or their surviving families) who were involved in his brother’s killing.

As a real-life subject, Adi must be one of the most admirable people alive today.  How he can maintain such composure, grace, and courage is truly remarkable as he peacefully confronts some of the most despicable people on the planet.

I gave a mixed review to “The Act of Killing” a few years ago.  While I highly admired its motive, I felt it gave too much freedom of speech to the killers and torturers who showed no remorse in what they expressed.  Being in their presence for so long as they said whatever they wanted was extremely uncomfortable.

Thankfully, this is not the case in “The Look of Silence”.  While being interviewed and confronted, these monsters show discomfort and have less opportunity to be pompous.

The film’s weakness is in its lack of variety.  It is mainly a series of interviews with the same structure.  However, the results of those interviews are compelling.  The camera remains fixed on subjects whose bodies and faces remain still.  However, the changes in the texture of their eyes are very revealing.

Three of the most moving scenes are those involving families.  One involves a killer being confronted while his adult daughter is seated beside him.  Another involves the widow and two adult sons of another killer, now deceased.  The most gripping is one where Adi confronts a member of his extended family.  [MINI-SPOILER]: It finishes with the relative standing as his door staring at Adi who is walking away.  One wonders if he, and maybe others, recovered even a tiny bit of humanity during the conversations?

RATING:   * * *


Diamond Tongues

Edith (Leah Goldstein) is an actress struggling to find work and build a career in Toronto .  Her insecurities and jealousies of her peers lead to behaviour that is occasionally funny and always nasty.

The first half of this film is quite engaging as it is frank about the various forms of instability of anyone trying to find work in an artistic field.  While one can understand Edith’s feelings and motives in the beginning, it starts to wear off somewhat in the second half.  She becomes very unlikeable and it’s hard to follow the film’s focus on someone we (the viewers) would rather avoid if we had to face her in real life.  

Even during the difficult phase, Goldstein is great and always believable.  This helps the viewer ride through to the conclusion that starts to take a better twist.  The ending makes us all question whatever it is that we are spending our time doing (career or otherwise): are we doing it because we enjoy it or because we think it will lead to some image of “success”?  This twist elevated the movie back to the good level with which it began.

RATING:   * * *


Travel Notes

Florence and Central Italy

I took a recent trip to the above and it turned out to be one of the greatest vacation experiences I ever had.  Not only were the variety of sights beautiful and intriguing (as expected), but the food, people, and general ambience seem to make this area one of those places that could easily be called “heaven on earth”.

The historical area of Florence is amazing in so many ways – not only for the great sights but one is able to travel to all of them on foot without ever needing to use vehicle transportation.  Florence is so ideal in that it is so dense with great sights, museums, and holy places, yet one needn’t navigate its municipal transit system to get around.  One needs only to walk well and read city maps.

The renowned Uffizi Gallery lives up to the hype.  There were many masterpieces perfectly displayed in just the right contrast with each other in the various rooms.  I was also astounded by the various types of art including three dimensional sculpture/paintings on terracotta and paintings with multiple panels.

Of course, there was also great art displayed in other museums and churches including the San Marco convent, the Bargello Museum , the Accademia Museum (with the famous David sculputure), the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Palazzo Pitti.  The art at the Palazzo Pitti was breathtaking but a bit overwhelming as each room was filled with so many great works of art.  A small complaint though.

The various houses of worship were also amazing.  The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo) is a magnificent piece of architecture.  Walking around its exterior is a goose-bump experience.  Other renowned churches include Santa Croce (which has wonderful smaller chapels and a lovely courtyard), Santa Maria Novella, and the Brancaci Chapel (for its famous frescoes) in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine.  It was also nice to get a bit off the beaten path and enter smaller, but equally beautiful churches, like Orsanmichele and San Gaetano.

It was also enchanting to just walk around the many small streets and hang around in the most beautiful part of the city, the Piazza della Signoria.

The rural area and small towns around Florence are equally stunning.  The best known is Siena.  Its town square and cathedral alone are more than worth the day trip.  The streets of this hill town are also uniquely beautiful and its history is amazing.  The greatness of Siena’s cathedral surpasses even the one in Florence (which is saying a lot).

A special trip to Pisa and Lucca were also among the best memories.  The leaning tower was well worth the view and the Field of Miracles was very enchanting, especially the cemetery Camposanto.  Wandering the streets of the old town of Lucca during an early sunny evening was more than enjoyable.

There were other heavenly hill towns like Siena.  For example, there was a day tour to Le Cinque Terre which was spectacular.  Only four of the five towns could be seen as one of them had the dangerous situation of falling rocks.  But this experience was unforgettable especially the ferry ride on the sea and seeing all the towns from a distance on water.  The town of Assisi was remarkable by itself yet the St. Francis Basilica was a spectacular highlight that really stood out.  The little hill towns of San Gimignano and Cortona were also a joy.

There was also a hiking tour in the Chianti wine region at the Ruffino wine estate.  While it was more rigourous than its “moderate” rating implied, it got me in shape for the other hill towns that would eventually follow.  As it was a small group and covered such beautiful countryside on a gorgeous sunny day, the extra sweat was more than worth it.  (So was the meal and wine-tasting that followed.)

For the day trips from Florence to other areas of Tuscany, one of the great joys was looking out the window and the gorgeous hills and valleys.  It really was heavenly.

There’s so much I got from this trip but the best result is that it restored my mindset to the much younger and enthusiastic one that it was many years ago.  Benissimo e Magnifico!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Dennis Bowman


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One Comment
  1. Amy was the film of the summer! Italy’s grand!

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