When One Door Closes…Pull Up A Couch — how streaming saved my sanity

Still from the beautifully animated Klaus

The only movie theater in Telluride is under construction. So am I.

When I decided to have bilateral knee surgery (total joint replacement of both knees), there wasn’t much choice for timing. I HAD to get it done as I’d put if off for 5 years and they were reminding me with constant pain. So when one job ended and I didn’t have another lined up, I checked myself in for surgery. Two weeks later, I’m happy to report that it’s actually easier and less painful to stand than it was prior to surgery! I’m doing my recuperating in the tiny mountain town of Norwood, Colorado. Sadly, that’s an hour and 15 minutes from the nearest movie theater. How frustrating is it to not be able to drive…but to know that even if I could, going to a movie is a long, sometimes-harrowing trip on mountain roads.

I’m doing my PT and hoping to be able to drive sometime this month but it’s a shame that this is happening during prime Oscar-contender film releases. I’m not blessed to have access to screeners from The Academy. I was never a tv girl. My limited experience has been binge-watching a series with friends. Now streaming is saving my sanity. With the advent of two new screening services, Disney+ and Apple TV+, and some Oscar-contender films screening on Netflix (The Irishman and Marriage Story for instance), I can watch some of the movies safe on my couch.

One such film that received a very limited theatrical release, Klaus, is a gorgeous Spanish film and the first original animated feature for Netflix. Written and directed by Sergio Pablos, the style of animation nods toward hand-drawn animation from the early days of Disney; the forest is reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty crossed with a Charlie Harper drawing. With gorgeous animation and a comic heart-warming story, the only misstep was casting Jason Schwartzman as the voice of the petulant postman. A small quibble and a personal one at that, I don’t enjoy a whiny voice. Joan Cusack as one of the head baddies is spot on. I believe this movie has a good chance to be a family’s Go-To Christmas movie; an instant Classic.

Drinks With Films Rating: 4 hot cocoas graced with peppermint candy canes (out of 5)

There have been so many wonderful films directed by women this year. Once such film, Atlantics (Atlantique) is written and directed by Mati Diop and is also streaming on Netflix. I noticed a very different twist in the way it’s marketed on Netflix as it was at film festivals. The programs at festivals featured the romantic image of the lead couple embracing and noted the supernatural element but also played up the immigrant angle. The more spooky image is used on Netflix; supernatural is the lure. Whichever subtext appeals to you, this is one unusual film. Diop wanted her Senegalese film to focus not on the construction workers who go to sea to seek a better life but on the women left behind. It’s moody, dramatic and a triumph of a first film. Atlantics won the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Festival and the lead actress, Mame Bineta Sane, as our lovelorn Ada, is luminous.

Drinks With Films rating: 3 1/2 tropical cocktails at a seaside bar (out of 5)

This week, whether you’re headed to the movies…or headed to your couch, there’s a lot of wonderful movies to choose from. Happy screening!

“Walking the Camino”–Seeking for truth along the Trail

Video

When Lydia Smith walked the Camino de Santiago in 2009, she was not looking for material for a film.  Like many other pilgrims on the 500-mile journey, she was searching for truth.  There are probably as many reasons to walk as there are travelers on the path but most people seem to be trying to understand something about themselves or the world.  Beyond blisters, a chance to see the world or a nifty story to tell; those who choose this path are often searching for peace.

Fortunately for all of us, Lydia returned from her experience in Spain and was compelled to make Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago.  Her five-year journey to raise funds, find the crew and decide which of her subjects to include in the film is an amazing tale.  Martin Sheen even used some of her 300 hours of footage as a training video for the actors in his 2010 film, The Way, so that they could understand the realities of the arduous journey. He was so moved by her film, that Martin Sheen took the time during his own preview screening to promote her film-in-progress!

The film follows six travelers from very different backgrounds, ages and skill sets, and explores their intentions and motivations as they travel from France to the city of Santiago.  From a deeply religious mother bringing her three-year-old son and just-along-for-the-adventure brother, to a pair of friends walking to commemorate the death of a wife, to the middle-aged woman who struggles to complete the walk as she struggles with extreme physical pain…each person reveals their touching personal journeys along the way.

The simplicity of the day’s journey and the beauty of the countryside are captured with gorgeous camerawork.  A film best enjoyed on a big screen, the Spanish countryside and mountains seem to dwarf the walkers as they wind along the paths in pairs or alone, then in small groups.  Ebbing and flowing along the path; each of them finding companionship, solitude, inner strength and some measure of peace as they persevere.  You are drawn into their stories and feel their joy as they arrive at their destination, the beautiful Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela.  This a moving film that celebrates the pursuit of truth; as one of our pilgrims says, “I went to find the answers and realized, I don’t even know the question!”  A joyful film that is a remarkable achievement by Lydia Smith and her production team, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago is being self-distributed.  Check out the links below to find when it’s playing near you (or to host a screening!) and look for it in October when it’s released for video on demand!

Rating: 4 bottle of potable water

My interview of director, producer Lydia Smith about self-distribution for her film, “Walking the Camino”. Shot on my phone in Boulder, CO. March 21, 2014

https://www.facebook.com/TheCaminoDocumentary

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/camino-documentary/id805778634?mt=8

“Blancanieves”: Borrowing from the past to tell stories to the present

Blancanieves-poster-2077x3000-103x150Two years ago, “The Artist” took home the Oscar for Best Picture.  A French production with high-production values, a jazzy soundtrack and classy Hollywood setting, the film is a romance and a crowd-pleaser.  The film even has a cute dog.

This year, Spain’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for 2012 was also a silent film.  Decidedly different, instead of a modern film made to look like an older period creation, “Blancanieves” has the look and feel of a 1920’s silent film made in that time period.  The action is staged as if the camera must remain stationary while the actors paraded in front of it.  There are static shots, like postcards, to establish the locations and the actors hold their poses for the camera or present themselves in single file for scenes. Though the look and feel of the production calls to mind penny arcades and newsreels, the writer takes a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and gives it a Spanish twist with a modern sensibility.  Instead of a cute performing dog, this film features a rooster.

This is Snow White as if told by Guillermo del Toro.  A “Pan’s Labyrinth” for our young heroine to suffer and battle her way through.  Written and directed by Pablo Berger, this amazing work keeps a few of the fairy tale details but embellishes them with a Spanish world of make-believe.  A bullfighter, a frightening and cruel Stepmother (bondage, anyone?), and a young girl who’s forced to do a lot more than sweep the floors; she’s treated like a mule.  Unlike the Disney version, there’s no prince to ride in and rescue our fair maiden.  No, she must rescue herself and slay her own bulls — and when she finds her “prince”, he is a whole lot shorter than one might expect!

Paco Delgado’s costumes are stunning.  There’s an opening scene of the Bullfighter dressing for the ring that is like a lesson in fashion of the time; the small metal button fastener, the way he spins to wind his cummerbund around his waist, all the details of brocade, buckles and embellishment.  The Stepmother wears the high fashion of Seville. The evil fashionista is shown trying on hats and furs and posing for paintings.  Her goal is to be featured in the magazines.  It’s as if she’s the Kim Kardashian of Spain and even as she rides off to offer her poison apple to our hero, she’s resplendent in black lace with a veil that covers her eyes.

Our young Snow White is played by a charming young actress, Maribel Verdu from “Pan’s Labyrinth”, with expressive eyes and a sunny smile.  She learns flamenco dancing from her grandmother and bull fighting from her father but grows up in the poisoned household of her Stepmother.  Fleeing from the man who’s sent to kill her, the young woman, now played by Angela Molina, loses her memory and finds a new home among the traveling bullfighting “dwarves”. As her memory slowly returns, she finds her place in the ring just as her Wicked Stepmother finds HER.

At 107 minutes, this charming film tests the audience’s patience with many repeated scenes, slow-moving carriages and too many shots of the crowd’s reactions.  While it’s great to see something created in an antiquated style of filmmaking, there needs to be more substance to the story to hold our attention and justify the unusual trip down memory lane.  One thing that could have been shortened is the long coda. It’s a nice twist to have a setting in an old carnival sideshow with a tender scene to help offset the tragedy in the bullring.  It’s bittersweet, but it’s an additional ending and runs too long.

The ending, like “Blancanieves”, though far from fairy tale, is definitely Grimm.

Rating: 3 glasses of Sangria