Blame It On Fidel (2006)

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It’s 1970s France, and little nine year old Anna (Nina Kervel-Bey) lives a charmed life. She resides in Paris with her journalist mother, Marie (Julie Depardieu), lawyer father, Fernando (Stefano Accorsi) and little brother, Francois (Benjamin Feuillet). She is adored by her grandparents who make their home in a grand estate in the French countryside. As Blame It On Fidel begins, we see Nina at a family wedding, outfitted in an immaculate frock, and schooling her lesser cousins on the proper way to cut a piece of fruit with a knife and fork.

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However, Nina’s life is about to get topsy-turvy. Her father, originally from Spain, takes in his sister and her daughter after his brother-in-law disappears under Franco’s fascist regime. Doing this alters Nina’s parents’ priorities. Fernando begins to focus his new radicalized politics on his law practice. Marie, stops writing superficial articles for Marie Claire, and begins to write articles about serious women’s issues, including the thorny topic of abortion.

Nina doesn’t care about any of these things. She just knows her life has been changed completely. And she doesn’t like it. Her beloved nanny, Filomena, is let go only to be replaced by a string of different nannies (including one who provides the title of the film). Her family moves from their huge home to a cramped apartment. Bearded, smoking radicals are always around taking up her parents’ time. And Nina is removed from her beloved religion class at school.

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The movie is seen mostly through Nina’s nine-year-old eyes. She doesn’t care about what’s going on in the world. She just wants things to go back to the way they were. Sure, she’s self-absorbed, but so are most children. They want security and stability. They don’t care about “sticking it to the Man.”

And what makes Blame It On Fidel most effective is how it is shot at a child’s eye level. This is most evident when little Nina is dragged along with her parents to take part in a political demonstration. All Nina can see are legs, arms and feet. She is too small to see the faces of the protesting adults. And when things get out of hand, and tear gas fills the streets, you feel Nina’s fear and confusion.

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Blame It On Fidel is superbly directed by Julie Gravras, herself the daughter of lefty movie director Costas-Gravras. This is a film that could easily be grim and one-dimensional  but a has wry humor and a bittersweet sentiment. Nina’s parents may want to change the world, but their love for her will never waver. And perhaps once Nina gets older, she will realize this.

All the performances are wonderfully acted. But Miss Kervel-Bey is astounding as young Nina, her serious face and intense eyes conveying so much. With a lesser talent, Nina might come across as bratty and spoiled, but Kervel-Bey gives this young character a heart and soul the movie so richly deserves.

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Blame It On Fidel is not rated, and is in French with English subtitles.

Saving Face (2004)

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In writer/director Alice Wu’s inter-generational family comedy Saving Face, Michelle Krusiec plays Wil (short for Wilhelmina), a medical resident without much time for a life let alone romance. The only social life Wil seems to have is at Chinese-American gatherings in Queens where people try to set her up available young Chinese-American men.

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However, Wil has a secret. She’s a lesbian. And at one of these gatherings she meets Vivian (Lynn Chen), another lesbian who is also a dancer. Sparks fly between the two women, and slowly their flirtation turns into a romance. However, Wil isn’t quite ready to come out to her family so the romance has to remain a secret much to Vivian’s chagrin (and it doesn’t help that Vivian’s father is also Wil’s boss at the hospital).

In Saving Face, Wil’s mother (Joan Chen) also has a secret, but it won’t stay a secret for long. She’s in her forties, widowed, living with her parents…and pregnant. And she’s not exactly too forthcoming on the man who fathered her child.

Bringing shame onto the family name, Wil’s mother (known as Ma) is kicked out of her parent’s home. Knowing nowhere to turn, she ends up on Wil’s doorstep, and Wil takes her mother in, wondering how she’s going to keep her romance with Vivian a secret and deal with Ma’s impending late in life motherhood.

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As Ma’s belly grows, Wil learns more about her mother, seeing her more as a flesh and blood woman with her own desires and needs. However, this doesn’t exactly inspire Wil to come clean to her mother, and she tries furtively to keep her relationship with Vivian a secret. To be knocked up out of wedlock is one thing; to be a lesbian is quite another. What will the neighbors think? Actually, it’s one of Wil’s neighbors who tries to get her to face herself and Ma.

But will this happen soon enough? When Vivian announces she’s been offered a chance to dance in Paris, Wil realizes she needs to make a decision. Come clean, and admit her romance with Vivian, or remain closeted and let Vivian go. In other words, save face (yet lose someone she truly cares about).

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And Ma must also make some major decisions. One is opening up about who’s the father of her child, a man that superficially, might not seem suitable. And this decision must be made soon before Ma makes the disastrous mistake of marrying someone she doesn’t love just to give her unborn child a name.

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Saving Face examines how we balance the old world (when Wil is with her grandparents she speaks in Mandarin) with a “modern society” (unplanned pregnancy, homosexuality and careerism). And in like any other family, the families in Saving Face are flawed, yet loving. Saving Face may remind viewers of the sleeper hit My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. And though Saving Face is a bit predictable, its good performances and sweet charm make it worthwhile viewing.

The September Issue (2009)

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To a lot of us, fashion seems like a fluffy and superficial profession. But to countless fashion insiders everywhere it is a deadly serious business. This is a business where people know the difference between puce and plum, and where hemlines and necklines are of utmost importance. And that cute handbag you just bought from Target? Quite likely it’s a knock-off of a pricier designer handbag a fashion editor claimed was the “must have” of the season.

And there is probably no more important fashion magazine than American Vogue. At the helm is the British ex-pat Anna Wintour and Vogue is the bible to fashionistas everywhere. And no issue of Vogue is more important than the mammoth September issue, chock full of fashion and beauty layouts, articles, celebrity profiles and yes, lots and lots of advertisements.

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Documentarian RJ Cutler (The War Room, which focused on the 1992 Clinton presidential campain) turns his unblinking camera lens to the creation of the 2007 September issue of Vogue in the documentary The September Issue. The September Issue follows Wintour and crew as the September Issue begins with some nuggets of ideas to a fully-formed magazine on the newsstand.

The September Issue begins with Wintour reflecting on the power of fashion and how it can make some people nervous. Known mostly for her whippet-thin figure, swingy bob and dark sunglasses, it was a bit jarring to hear Wintour speak. Sure, she’s not warm and fuzzy, but there is a reflective side to her that makes her quite human.

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During the film we see Wintour meeting with staff to discuss the issue. We see her jetting off to London, Paris and Rome to attend fashion shows and meet with designers. Wintour can make or break a designer with one raised eyebrow so I wouldn’t be surprised if even established designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld felt a bit nervous about meeting her. But when Wintour likes a designer she is behind that person 110%. Wintour was an early supporter of Thakoon (one of Michelle Obama’s fave designers). Her support of him, dare I say it, is almost sweet.

Wintour is also the editor that put celebrities on the covers of Vogue over models, and the chosen celebrity for this September issue is British actress Sienna Miller. Sienna comes to the Vogue offices and is outfitted in beautiful couture gowns, many which will end up in the magazine. However, the staff is flummoxed by Miller’s hair, which is growing out awkwardly, and not quite up to the magazine’s standards. Later, Wintour is not happy with Sienna’s photo layout shot by legendary photographer, Mario Testino, and the design staff scrambles to make a viable cover.

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Though Wintour is at the top of the Vogue heap, she is not alone in making Vogue what it is. In September Issue, we get to meet editor-at-large (literally) Andre Leon Talley, the cape wearing and Vuitton-loving male Auntie Mame who seems to be employed to kiss Wintour’s skinny ass. I can’t imagine what Talley actually does for the magazine, but he definitely added a fun element to the movie. If he didn’t exist, a Hollywood  would have to create him.

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And then there is the brilliant creative director Grace Coddington. Coddington started out as a fashion model in the swinging sixties. But after suffering a horrific car crash, Coddington turned her talents to fashioned a role behind the camera. Coddington is the yang to Wintour’s yin. If Wintour is all about commerce and wondering if it will sell, Coddington is all about art and creating beautiful and over-the-top fashion layouts that are all fantasy.

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Not surprisingly, Wintour and Coddington don’t always see eye to eye. As the issue is being put together, Coddington is creating a 1920s Parisian cafe society fashion layout inspired by the designer Galianos. Coddington’s vision is pure magic, yet Wintour is not pleased with one of the photos, and wants it deleted. Coddington is not happy. This layout is her baby. Yet, I could see both their points. The shot is gorgeous, yet it doesn’t quite work with the rest of the photographs. The offending photo is cut.

However, Coddington does get to make one final decision. During a last minute photo shoot for another layout, Coddington taps the documentary’s cinematographer, Bob Richman, to join the model in a photo. He happily obliges. Wintour takes a look at the resulting photo and wants to airbrush Richman’s slight pot belly. Coddington nixes the idea, saying, “Everybody isn’t perfect in this world.” Richman’s belly stays in the picture. Finally, after months of preparation, the September 2007 issue of Vogue is released. It weighs over four pounds and is over 800 pages, the largest issue in Vogue history.

RJ Cutler’s “fly on the wall” film making style is what helps make this movie so interesting. You get to see everyone in their element without film maker commentary. I was stunned to see the staff look at the mock ups on a huge wall where pictures and layout can be moved by hand rather than doing it on a computer. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how un-Botoxed and unmade-up the staff was even though most of them, like their leader, is very, very thin. Also, I was surprised how plain the Vogue offices are. I was expecting something ostentatious and grand, but the offices are quite non-descript.

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But most of all, I was surprised how much I didn’t despise Anna Wintour. Sure, she isn’t at Vogue to make friends, but she isn’t the vicious harpy the media makes her out to be. Yes, she’s reserved and exacting but so are a lot of people in any cut throat business. And I doubt any negativity thrown Wintour’s way would be applied to a successful man. But still, Wintour does show some vulnerability as when she talks about her siblings, all of them in more serious professions, who are quite “amused” by her career.

September Issue is a fascinating look at both a legendary magazine and the talented people who make it happen. It is the “must have” for both fashion and film lovers.

The Spotlight

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***There is a good chance there will be a writers’ strike via the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) according to Variety Magazine.*** (H/T Tari Jordan)

Move ticket prices are getting higher, and Hollywood Reporter tells us why.

Summer of 2017 movie preview courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

Women directed films that are must-sees in 2017!

Geena Davis celebrates the 25th anniversary of A League of Their Own’s release.

Salma Hayek’s Beatriz at Dinner sounds like my kind of film, one that connects with my “Power to the People” mindset.

Talent agent Sandy Gallin dead at 76.

New documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent celebrates the eminent chef and his connection to California cuisine and the renowned restaurant Chez Panisse.

Will Netflix end its mail order DVD service in the age of streaming?

Director John Waters new summer camp for adults, Camp John Waters.

 

 

 

 

Food, Inc. (2008)

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You think food can’t be scary? Guess again. Food, Inc., the Oscar-nominated documentary, proves the food we put in our bellies can be more frightening than any ax-wielding horror flick bad guy.

Made by film maker Robert Kenner, Food, Inc. shows a disturbing and ugly vision of how food gets to our grocery stores. And it’s not the simple farmer who is providing us with our eggs, veggies, meats and grains. It’s huge corporations who are often very cozy with the government, and it’s profits that win out, not the well-being of the American citizens.

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The seemingly innocent vegetable, corn, is huge crop to agri-business. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that corn, especially the unhealthy high fructose corn syrup, is found in many of the things we eat. Sure, we expect it to be in our soda, but I certainly didn’t expect to find it in a loaf of supposedly good for me whole wheat bread. Corn is also the primary food source for animals like cows even though they are grass eaters. And why is corn such big business? It’s because it made cheap to produce by the government and therefore very profitable for agri-business.

Cows and chickens are brought up in conditions that are positively barbaric. Both are often raised in claustrophobic close quarters, pumped up with hormones and anti-biotics and literally living in their own excrement. Vegetables are often treated in ways that look like science experiments gone awry.

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Not surprisingly, this is not good for us. E coli, something we never heard of decades ago, is constantly in the news. If it’s not beef tainted with E coli, it’s spinach. And in one absolutely heartbreaking segment, a young mother tells her story of losing her son to E coli tainted food.

And it’s the smaller farmers who are working for large agri-business who are often suffering under the draconian regulations of their bosses. Not surprisingly many of the agri-businesses profiled, Tyson, Perdue, Smythfield and Monsanto, refused to be interviewed for Food, Inc. If you see this movie you’ll know why. They don’t come across too favorably.

Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, two cheerleaders for eating locally and organically, are interviewed. However, often eating locally and organically isn’t always feasible. Not everyone has access to farmer’s markets, and buying organic can really bruise the wallet. To emphasize this Food, Inc. introduces us to a struggling working class family where buying off the dollar menu at a fast food joint is more economically sound for them than buying whole grains, vegetables and fruits at the grocery store.

However, all is not lost. Despite its dire warnings Food, Inc. has moments of hope. One person featured is Joel Salatin, an independent farmer in Virginia, who refuses to do things agri-business wants. His farm is operated in a way that is both humane to livestock and Salatin’s employees. Salatin is also probably one of the most fun and entertaining characters in the movie.

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Furthermore, average American citizens are demanding grocery chains carry organic food. People are planting their own backyard gardens. And community gardens are now being built in urban areas where McDonalds, KFC, and convenience stores are the only food options.

The whole idea of eating locally, organically and in a sustainable manner has often been seen as an elitist, hippie, lefty thing. But the food we eat shouldn’t be an issue of money nor should it be a political issue of left vs. right. Food is a human issue that concerns us all. And Food, Inc. opens a dialogue that is definitely food for thought.

 

 

T2: Trainspotting (2017)

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Over 20 years ago, I saw a movie called Trainspotting, a movie about Scottish heroin addicts that couldn’t be more different than my life as an American more addicted to caffeine, potato chips and various TV shows than deadly smack. Nevertheless, Trainspotting became a cultural celluloid touchstone for me and many of people of my generation. My friends and I didn’t exactly condone the characters action but oddly understood why they acted in the way they did.

Trainspotting (based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh) was directed by Danny Boyle, whose later film, Slumdog Millionaire, garnered quite a few Oscars, including best film and best director. Trainspotting also starred four unknowns who didn’t stay that way for long. Ewan McGregor who played Mark Renton has starred in critically acclaimed indies as well as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. Both Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) come into our living rooms via their respective TV shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Elementary. Ewen Bremner (Spud) has starred in movies like Blackhawk Down, Pearl Harbor, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator. He will soon be seen in the latest Wonder Women movie this summer.

Now Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud are back in T2: Trainspotting, twenty years older, but are they wiser? Well…that is debatable.

When the first Trainspotting ended Renton had taken most of the ill-gotten monetary gains of some drug money (he did leave some of the money to Spud but stiffed both Begbie and Sick Boy). He’s made a new life for himself in Amsterdam working as an accountant. He’s off the smack and is fully into health and fitness. While at a local gym he has a health scare while jogging on a treadmill. Freaked out, Renton goes back to Scotland.

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Hoping to make amends with his old mates, Renton finds them still caught up in a life of addiction, crime and other assorted bad acts. Spud is still addicted to heroin and in a downward spiral that includes the possibility of suicide. Begbie is in prison, still scarily violent and about to break out. Sick Boy runs a pub, has replaced heroin with cocaine, and blackmails successful men by filming them in various sexual acts with hookers, one of them being a Bulgarian immigrant named Veronika (a terrific Anjela Nedyalkova). Sick Boy and Veronika are also planning to open a brothel with Veronika having designs on being the brothel’s madam complete with her own office. When Begbie escapes prison he tries to make amends with his estranged wife, which includes some less than satisfying sex (Begbie is suffering from what polite society calls erectile dysfunction). Begbie is also trying to get closer to his son who is in college studying hotel hospitality. However, Begbie’s idea of father/son bonding is a life of crime, something his son would rather avoid.

Once Begbie finds out Renton is back in town, he goes off the rails and pursues Renton in the only way he knows how, as a confirmed psychopath. These scenes of mad pursuit are both chilling and funny. I found myself both cringing with terror and trying to stifle the giggles.

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Renton also tries to make amends with Sick Boy to rather interesting results. Sick Boy is still ticked over being ripped off but the two of them make some kind of amends, which include criminal acts. One of these acts includes visiting a loyalist pub (loyal to the British and the Queen of England) to steal wallets. At this pub, the customers celebrate the year 1690 when a violent battle between the Catholics and the Protestants left the loyalist Protestants victorious and the Catholics defeated and many of them dead. The loyalists sing songs devoted to England and the Queen while celebrating the death of the Catholics. Renton and Sick Boy get caught up in the revelry and entertain the pub with an improvised song called “1690” the most notable song lyric being, “there were no Catholics left!” As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, and who even went to a Catholic college, I should have been offended, but instead I laughed so hard I almost dropped my bag of popcorn.

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Renton also gets closer to Veronika who has a lot more going on that she is given credit. Sure, she is a “hooker with the heart of gold,” but she’s also pretty smart and has a past that includes heartbreak all her own. Becoming a madam isn’t just a promotion; it’s a way to improve her condition and her life back in Bulgaria.

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Throughout T2 are scenes from the original recipe showing a much younger Renton and the gang, including the song “Lust for Life” written by Iggy Pop and the late David Bowie and sung by Iggy Pop (the song later became the theme song for several Royal Caribbean cruise line commercials).  Renton also revisits one of the coolest movie dialogue ever uttered in film “choose life.”

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

The lads turned middle-aged men often look at their youth with some nostalgia and wrong-headed pride only to realize they’ve made quite a few mistakes and haven’t come to their dotage fully clean and healed of addiction, violence and other deplorable acts that defined them when they were younger. And somehow they do manage to make some small acts of contrition that prove that they aren’t wholly awful people, the greatest being Spud’s act of simply keeping a somewhat messy journal of collective memories, ideas and opinions.

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Ultimately, I found T2 a fully satisfying and worthy sequel to its original, and one that stayed with me after the credits rolled. After I saw the film I discussed it with my fellow film goers and we all agreed that T2 tapped into the malaise that seems to define our generation no matter whether you live smack dab in the middle of the United States or somewhere in Scotland.

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. And choose to see T2: Trainspotting.

The Spotlight

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Geena Davis announces line-up for 2017 Bentonville Film Festival.

The late Carrie Fisher’s scenes will remain intact in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Mark Hamill’s sweet tribute to Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

George Lucas Family Foundation donates a lot of money to USC’s film school.

All the basic gear needed if you are an indie film maker.

Sing Street actor Ian Kenny to act in future Star Wars movie focusing on Han Solo.

Jim Gianopulos to run Paramount’s Viacom division.

Ten notable films of the 1990s according the Onion’s AV Club.

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins to write TV series focusing on the Underground Railroad.

Looks like this may be a good source for all film makers, both experienced and fledgling.

American Teen (2008)

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Directed by award-winning film maker Nanette Burnstein (On the Ropes, The Kid Stays in the Picture) the documentary American Teen was filmed in Warsaw, Indiana over the course of the 2005-2006 school year. Warsaw appears to be the type of place that Hollywood loves to mythologize, the typical Midwestern town where the biggest event is the upcoming homecoming game and the rest of the world barely exists.

For an entire school year, Burnstein focused her camera lens on five Warsaw high school students during their senior year. All of them fall into familiar archetypes that you will recognize no matter how long ago you grabbed your diploma-the princess, the jock, the geek, the rebel and the heartthrob.

First we have Megan Krizmanich, the school’s queen bee. She’s pretty and popular, the daughter of a surgeon and student council president. She’s also a “mean girl” who even turns her venom on her own friends.

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Jake Tusing is the kid no one notices in high school. He’s a band geek and addicted to video games. He’s also got a lethal case of acne and a mouth full of braces but that won’t deter him from finding a girlfriend.

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Colin Clemens is the star basketball player. Instead of being the stereotypical jerk athlete, Colin is nice all-around guy. But underneath his easygoing nature, is desperation. He needs a scholarship to pay for college.

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Hannah Bailey is the rebellious alternative girl. Hannah is artsy, creative and plays guitar in a band. Her biggest goal in life is to get out of Warsaw.

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Mitch Reinholt is the dreamboat. Like Colin, he’s a jock and runs with the cool crowd. He has a killer smile and on a superficial level seems to be just another vapid pretty boy, until he falls for Hannah.

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During the school year, the kids have moments of pure joy, and moments of self-doubt. They have their triumphs and tribulations. All of this is captured by the unblinking eye of Burnstein’s camera.

Early in the school year, Hannah is dumped by her boyfriend. This causes her to go into a tailspin of intense depression. She misses so many days of school that graduation hangs in the balance. Megan’s bitchiness goes out of control. When she gets her hands on a friend’s compromising photo, she e-mails it to everyone at school. Her friend is deemed a skank and becomes the school pariah. Told by his dad that he needs to get a scholarship to afford college (or go in the Army), Colin becomes a selfish player on the court, and causes conflict with his team mates.

Jake awkwardly looks for a girlfriend, and finally finds one among the freshman girls. But she dumps him for the band’s studmuffin, and Jake goes through a cringe-worthy attempt to find a new girlfriend.

At one of her gigs, Mitch finds himself attracted to Hannah, and they start going out. However, later on he caves into peer pressure. After all, their separate castes should never even talk to each other, let alone date. So Mitch breaks up with Hannah via text message.

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Family also comes into play in American Teen. During the movie, we find out that Megan’s family suffered a horrible tragedy. She also feels a great deal of pressure to get into Notre Dame, the alma mater of most of her family, including her successful father. Colin’s father embarrasses his son by working as an Elvis impersonator part-time. It doesn’t take much to embarrass one’s kids, but being an Elvis impersonator really takes the cake.

But it’s Hannah’s parents who truly broke my heart. Her father is distant and her mother is a manic depressive. When Hannah tries to convince both of them the importance of going to San Francisco to study film, her parents tell her that she shouldn’t expect much out of life. When Hannah’s mother coldly says to her, “You’re not that special,” I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I can only imagine how Hannah felt.

During the film we see kids ignoring the teachers, hanging out with their friends, yawning during class, drinking too much, talking about sex, dancing at prom, and sending text messages. These kids pretty much do what a lot of us did in high school. Okay, some of us our too old to have sent text messages in high school. And interspersed throughout the film, are several animated segments that convey the dreams and desires of these kids.

At the end, we see Colin, Megan, Hannah, Jake and Mitch graduate and go on with their post-high school lives. We also learn what they are up in the two years since they graduated, but I’ll refrain on sharing this information.

For the most part, American Teen, is engrossing, suspenseful and affecting. I ended up caring about these kids, even Megan, who I wanted to smack most of the time. However, just because this is a documentary doesn’t mean that some parts didn’t seem staged. For instance, after she feels she is backstabbed by another student council member over the prom theme, Megan defaces his house with toilet paper and homophobic graffiti. Would she have done this without the prodding of the ever present cameras? I’m not sure. Then again, in a time where kids expose their crazy revelry on various social media and on YouTube, I shouldn’t be surprised to see a scene like this. And anyone familiar with reality TV shows know that what is supposed to be “real” can be as easily manipulated as any fictional TV show or movie.

In the end, American Teen gives us the old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same. Pretty much anyone who went to high school will be able to relate in some way to these kids and the cliques that define them.

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American Teen’s Nanette Burnstein

Look At Me (Comme Une Image-2004)

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The French comedy of manners, Look at Me (Comme Une Image), centers on Lolita (Marilou Berry) and her famous writer father Etienne (Jeanne-Pierre Bacri). Lolita is plain and overweight, and assumes most people want to get to know her because of her father. And usually, she’s right. However, she does have one thing going for her, a lovely singing voice, and is taking voice lessons.

Unfortunately, her father is too wrapped up in his own world to take notice of his daughter. One of his books has just been made into his movie. He has a stunning second wife. And people are constantly vying for his attention. He has no interest in his insecure daughter, and seems almost ashamed of her. Lolita herself is not without her faults. She is distrustful of anyone who makes overtures of friendship. And at times her self-pity is off-putting.

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Yet, Lolita does seem to have one bright light in her life-music. And her singing teacher Sylvia, played by Agnes Jaoui (who also directed and co-wrote the script) takes a special interest in Lolita. Initially, Sylvia’s interest is rather self-serving. Her husband, Pierre (Laurent Grevill) is a fledgling writer. Sylvia assumes if she befriends Lolita, she’ll introduce Pierre to her father, and Pierre’s writing career will finally get off the ground.

But it isn’t long before Sylvia realizes Lolita has a talent that must be nurtured, and that Lolita, herself, is worthy of attention and praise. Sylvia especially notices this when she and her husband are invited to Etienne’s country estate, and he berates everyone around him including Lolita.

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At the same time Lolita’s musical talent is being developed, she begins a friendship with a young man named Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza). Sébastien is also a writer, and Lolita once again thinks his friendly overtures are only to connect with her father. Lolita tries to get her father to help Sébastien, too dense and insecure to realize Sebastien is actually interested in her, and her only. Yes, he’s a writer, but he’d rather concentrate on developing a writing project with his friends rather than be mentored by an egotistical blowhard like Etienne. Will Lolita wise up and realize Sébastien really likes her for her, and she has value all on her own?
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Look at Me is at turns funny and mortifying. Ms. Berry is wonderful as Lolita, vulnerable, heartbreaking and all to easy to identify with all at once. At times you don’t know if you want to shake her or hug her. And you will find Mr. Bacri positively maddening as the selfish Etienne especially in one scene where he walks out of his daughter’s choral performance to take a phone call.

Look at Me takes an unflinching look at our narcissistic celebrity culture, especially once we learn those we worship often have feet of clay. It also examines how feeling like loser in a sea of success, fame, money and beauty that is so crippling we can barely break out the box we’ve put ourselves in.