When You Can’t Have It All - A Film Review of "The Second Mother"

When You Can’t Have It All - A Film Review of "The Second Mother"

Writer/director Anna Muylaert gets personal with a simple story exposing the human costs with the last remaining vestiges of a class system that is all but gone. Where one film critic dubbed THE SECOND MOTHER “ is a soap opera with a social conscience,” I call it Downton Abbey in Portugese. 

Val is the loving and lovable maternal surrogate and domestic backbone of an affluent Sao Paulo household that maintains a vestige of Brazil’s colonial past through a combination of pretension and dysfunction. 

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Trust, but Verify

Trust, but Verify

A Commentary & Review of ABOUT ELLY
By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director
A Film by Asghar Farhadi
Drama-Mystery - Non-rated - 118 min. Iranian (Persian, with English subtitles). 
This was the Society's film for August, 2015.  

It’s August, so what better time for a movie about a fun-filled seaside weekend vacation amongst family and friends? At least that’s the way the film, ABOUT ELLY begins … The men will dance together, the women will laugh and clap their hands, the children will, well, be children.  It’ll be a great time for this group of educated, up and coming, middle class types with their Beemer, their SUV, their spouses, girlfriends and kids.
 It could be the ordinary beginning to a summer vacation story. Except this beach house just happens to be located on the Caspian Sea, about 200 kilometers from Tehran.  And presumably, it's a story all about Elly.

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Getting Even

Getting Even

A Commentary & Review of “WILD TALES”
By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director

A Film by Damián Szifrón
Comedy-Drama-Thriller - R, 122 min. Argentine
This film was the Society's selection for July 2015

It has been said one can marvel at the depths to which we are sometimes willing to sink in order to seek revenge. It can be sweet, but the pleasure short-lived. If one survives long enough, a bitter aftertaste is often the result. 

But what if one has been unjustly wronged? In such a case, retribution would appear justified. With retributive justice, the offender is said to pay a price for their misdeeds. The punishment should fit the crime, we say. Lex talionis (‘an eye for an eye’) is an ancient legal concept that is still fully operative today. But when is enough enough? And when is that thin line crossed between justifiable retribution and unbridled vengeance?

Click on the picture above to read the full review.  

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A Touching Film

A Touching Film

MARIE’S STORY - Biography • Drama, Non-rated, 95 min. French (English subtitles)
A Film by Jean-Pierre Améris, screened by Mountain Shadow in May, 2015

Review by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director

It is an intriguing task to tell such a “true” and “biographical” fable like MARIE’S STORY with sumptuous cinematography, a minimal script and a stirring musical score where the main character is blind, deaf and dumb. It leaves the only two remaining sensory experiences unavailable to such a medium as film (touch and scent) to the visceral world of filmmakers and critics alike.  As the filmmaker comments on his work: “This project began with my fascination for the story of Helen Keller..." 

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A World Away That’s Closer Than You Think

A World Away That’s Closer Than You Think

A Commentary Review of the Film, TIMBUKTU
A Film by Abderrahmane Sissako • 97 min. • Rated PG-13
Review by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director
This film was Mountain Shadow’s feature film in April, 2015

Located 20 miles north of the Niger River, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in the West African country of Mali, Timbuktu dates back to the 12th century. Timbuktu today is impoverished, suffering from “desertification.” But seven centuries earlier, the city had been a flourishing trading route, and a center for Islamic scholarship; before a succession of invading forces vied for its control to this very day.  

For a brief time in 2012, the Timbuktu region was overtaken by outside extreme Islamic Jihadists, who strove to impose a strict and distorted form of Shariah law.  In January, 2013, French and Malian government troops began retaking Timbuktu from the radical extremists; but not before scores of ancient documents were destroyed, and rebel suicide attacks wrought further havoc for another six months. 

In the midst of this widespread chaos, one incident went largely unreported; namely, an unmarried couple who were stoned to death by religious extremists, leaving their children orphans. It is against this backdrop that Abderrahmane Sissako wrote the screenplay, and then directed  (and co-produced) his film, TIMBUKTU.

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PLACES OF THE HEART

PLACES OF THE HEART

Brief Reviews of Six Oscar Short Film Nominees for 2015
By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director

Like the literary genre of the short story, an effective short film can tell an entire tale and convey everything that needs to be seen and said in a matter of minutes.  At the same time, these vignettes can leave enough spaces between the lines to engage the viewer’s imagination.

The Oscar nominations for Best Short Film has three categories, documentary, live action and animated. Over Valentine’s Day weekend in February, Mountain Shadow’s audiences enjoyed all five of the live action shorts, along with one of the animated titles.  

Click on the image above to read the full review.

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Run for Your Life... or, How to Control an Avalanche

Run for Your Life... or, How to Control an Avalanche

A REVIEW & COMMENTARY ON “FORCE MAJEURE”
A Film written, directed and edited by Ruben Östlund
Rated R – 118 min – Drama / Comedy - Swedish, English subtitles
This film was the Society's selection for January, 2015

By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director

FORCE MAJEURE is a slow-motion psychological thriller; with breath-taking scenes of towering mountains that loom so large they make human beings and their hamlets that cling to their steep cliffs seem insignificant, and almost downright petty. Beneath the happy family veneer are all the kinds of doubts and disappointments faced by many adult relationships. They lie so close to the surface that they are perceptively obvious to a child’s eye. 

Click on the image above to read the full review.  

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Like it or not, C’est la vie

Like it or not, C’est la vie

A COMMENTARY ON THE FILM, “Aimer, Boire et Chanter” [ AKA, “Life of Riley”]
by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director
Note: This was the feature film for Mountain Shadow’s December, 2014 shows.

Over the course of six months, from springtime to late fall, three middle-aged couples rehearse their parts for an amateur play; all the while struggling – each in their own way -- with the news of a terminal diagnosis for their mutual friend George Riley. Yes, it’s considered a comedy! But for the characters in this film, it’s no life of Riley.

Click on the image above to read the full commentary.

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A Place Called Neverland

A Place Called Neverland

A Film Commentary on SIDDHARTH
By Mountain Shadow Director, John Bennison

Siddharth, the boy, only appears in the first few fleeting frames of a sweeping saga that takes his father, Mehendra, on a journey that could hardly be described as a spiritual quest. He merely wants to find his son who has disappeared, and feared abducted; after violating India’s child labor laws and sending the boy off to work in a trolley factory to supplement his own inability to earn enough money to care for his family. 

This film was shown by Mountain Shadow in September, 2014.

Click on the image above to read the full commentary.

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Backseat Driver

Backseat Driver

A COMMENTARY ON THE FILM, “LOCKE”
By Mountain Shadow Director, John Bennison

Played by the very capable actor, Tom Hardy, Ivan Locke is a construction foreman and indispensable part of an impending project, when he suddenly leaves work one night, jumps in his car and leaves everything behind; including his job, home, wife and children. While he’s in the driver’s seat on what clearly turns out to be anything but a joy ride, he himself will be driven by something far more important to him than everything else he’s willing to risk losing or giving up.

Click on the image above to read the full commentary.  

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Mali’s Mangos and the UXO

Mali’s Mangos and the UXO

A COMMENTARY ON THE FILM, “THE ROCKET”
By Mountain Shadow Director, John Bennison

A Film by Kim Mordaunt - Non-rated - 96 min. – Drama -- Summary: A boy who is believed to bring bad luck to everyone around him leads his family and two new friends through Laos to find a new home. Note: Mountain Shadow screened this film in June, 2014.

For a decade beginning in 1964, the U.S. military dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during countless bombing missions, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita to date in human history. The bombings were part of what came to be known as the U.S. “Secret War in Laos,” in efforts to support one side in a civil war; while disrupting the supply chain along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail during the more public American war in Southeast Asia (commonly referred to as the Vietnam War).

While the bombings in Laos destroyed numerous villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Laotians, up to one third of the bombs dropped never detonated; leaving the countryside contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance, otherwise known as “UXO.” Subsequently, over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the bombing campaign ended over 40 years ago. 

It is against this sobering backdrop that Australian filmmaker/writer/director Kim Mordaunt wrote and directed his 2013 film, The Rocket. You can read the full commentary here. 

Click on the image above to read the full commentary.

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Ramblin’ Rose

Ramblin’ Rose

COMMENTARY ON THE MAY FILM , “ELLE S’EN VA” (On My Way)
By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director

Elle S’en Va is not Hollywood fare. The story begins with the the sense one could have begun watching Bettie anytime before she grabs her car keys one day and takes off. A string of events then unfold. Then the story ends rather abruptly without any real conclusion; except for a one-liner several characters shout in agreement.

The film is an empirical exercise, leaving the viewer to observe a life that -- like most -- is a mixed bag that includes some things that just never get fixed, or even addressed. So one learns to accept people and things as they are, and just learns to live with them. Comme ci, comme ça.  Read the full review here, or -

Click on the image above to read the commentary.  

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A Lullaby Called "Helium"

A Lullaby Called "Helium"

Note: This 2014 Oscar Best Short-Action film from Denmark was screened at Mountain Shadow's March event, along with the delighful film from Saudi Arabid, Wadjda.  Mountain Shadow director, John Bennison offered the following commentary.  Your comments are encouraged at the end to continue the conversation!

 The old moon laughed and sang a song,
   As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
   And the wind that sped them all night long
   Ruffled the waves of dew.
   The little stars were the herring fish
   That lived in that beautiful sea —
   "Now cast your nets wherever you wish —
   Never a’feared are we";
   So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
   Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

                                           Eugene Field, 1889


Before the time we learned how to expand the known world by enlightened scientific methodologies -- including the wonders of modern medical wizardry --  certain truths were not bound by the requirements of factual verification. The Ancients instead relied on the kind of storytelling that found far less distinction between the known world and the inexplicable mysteries left only to the imagination.  

Nowadays such tales are often relegated to the realm of children’s stories; the subtleties of which are regrettably more often than not wasted on the young.  Now, for everyone, there’s Helium.

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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

A Commentary on the film, “Fill the Void”

     Origial title: “Lemale et ha’halal”  A Film by Rama Burshtein

 Commentary by John Bennison

As alien as the marriage customs of Hasidic Judaism may be to our own contemporary way of living and looking at the world -- it is the same question that is at the heart of the storyline and setting in Israeli director Rama Burshtein’s film, Fill the Void. 

What’s love got to do with it?

Sometimes described as a Jane Austen-like melodrama set in the ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish community of Tel Aviv, Fill the Void tells the story of a young woman who is pressured and/or persuaded by family entanglements into an arranged levirate marriage to an older widower with a young child.

In a day and age when popular sentiment suggests anyone ought be allowed to betroth oneself to whomever one chooses and call it marriage, the notion that social custom, religious dictums, cultural traditions and familial obligations should interfere with one’s individual rights may seem a bit rigid and arcane, at best.  

Our reviewer discusses the film and sets it in the context of modern day demellas.  

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Commentary: “Mine Vaganti” (Loose Cannons)

Commentary: “Mine Vaganti” (Loose Cannons)

The Italians Are Coming … Out!

Commentary by Mountain Shadow Director John Bennison

       “You’ll never be able to extinguish your love for Antonio. The earth can’t disown a tree.”
          The Tuscan girl

Basic plot: Tommaso is the younger son of the Cantones, a large, traditional Italian family operating a pasta-making business. On a trip home from Rome, where he studies literature and lives with his boyfriend, Tommaso resolves to tell his parents the truth about himself. But when he’s finally ready to come out, his older brother Antonio ruins his plans with a confession of his own.

Some viewers might see the characters more as stereotypical caricatures with what -- on the surface -- seems a well-worn theme; in which case, the multiple sub-plots might seem somewhat tedious. But this ain’t Utah, and there are more loose cannons than just some campy queen scenes in Mine Vaganti.

Complexity in a film can offer both a challenge and opportunity for the viewer. When there are multiple, simultaneous plots – intermingled with flashbacks from the past – it can either become a rich tapestry or unravel in a confusing juxtaposition of messages.

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Commentary on “Joyeux Noel”

Commentary on “Joyeux Noel”

A Film by French writer/director Christian Carion
Mountain Shadow screening: Dec. 22, 2013

By Mountain Shadow Director, John Bennison 

That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
S
louches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Excerpt, The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) 

One hundred years ago, nation states had taught their young to hate the Hun, the French and Englishman.  And by 1919, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats had borne witness to what four years of human slaughter had wrought upon the world he knew.  

His poem, “The Second Coming” not only ushered in the literary era often referred to as modernist poetry, but challenged subsequent generations to name that “rough beast,” as he called it, that “slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” 

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