High Museum of Art: Films

Review: Nora’s Will (Atlanta Jewish Film Festival) by hmablogmaster
Nora's Will

Nora's Will

If you missed Nora’s Will at the High’s 2009 Latin American Film Festival, here’s your chance to catch it. It screens at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, January 17 at 1 p.m. (introduced by Linda Dubler) and Friday, January 22 at 3:40 p.m. (introduced by Eleanor Ringel Cater).

Visit www.ajff.org for more information, and read on for Eleanor’s review of the film.

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Five Questions for Julie Chautin by Linda Dubler

Julie Chautin is an avid film viewer who programs films for the Murphy, N.C. Public Library and writes about them for local publications. She and her husband Jerry are longtime supporters of the High’s annual Latin American Film Festival.

Julie Chautin

Julie Chautin

Is there a film that changed your life?

I don’t know if it changed my life, but I nearly shouted out at a screen in a crowded theater when I saw Alfonso Cuaron’s film, A Little Princess.  Near the end of the story, the father returns from war and doesn’t recognize his daughter.  Thanks to Cuaron’s direction, I was so pulled into that film that I had to stop myself from yelling, “Look at her!  That’s your daughter.”  My reaction shocked me.

What’s more, I almost didn’t see it at all.  Eleanor Ringel wrote an item in the Atlanta Journal Constitution to go see A Little Princess before it left the local theaters. She added something like “You’ve trusted me before, haven’t you?”  It made me laugh, but trust builds up between a reader and a movie reviewer.  And they open doors you may not even see.

What’s the first movie you remember seeing?

My parents used to take my brothers and sister and me to the movies at the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit.  And sometime in the 1950’s, Gone with the Wind was re-released. I remember sitting wide-eyed as Scarlet walked among the wounded soldiers.  I also loved old movies on television.  Marx Brothers movies like A Night at the Opera.  My sister and I would watch It Happened One Night whenever it came on.

How has programming films for audiences in Murphy, North Carolina, changed the way you view movie going?

It’s a lot of fun to program movies, and I do look at movies wondering if the Murphy audience might also enjoy them.  The weekly newspapers publish my movie reviews and that has made all the difference in getting the word out.

Film Movement, an indie film distributor has a special program for libraries.  Their film A Simple Curve used woodworking as the framework for a story.  Murphy is about ten miles away from the John C. Campbell Folk School where they teach arts and crafts.  So the film got a lot of attention.

S Simple Curve

A Simple Curve

Sometimes I’ve been able to add another dimension to the movie going experience.  When we showed Sideways I brought a bottle of Pinot Noir and everyone had a little taste.  My friend Nora King, a former Atlantan who now lives in Murphy, brought over a special snack when we showed Babette’s Feast: fried quail.  After watching Babette cook for two hours, we had a taste of what she had been serving.

In a small town library you often can get a sense of people’s own stories.  Recently for the 9/11 anniversary I showed The Guys, the film about a fire chief writing eulogies for his men lost in the Twin Towers.  A local fireman came with his daughter to see the movie and at some point he had to leave the room when his emotions got the best of him.

You’ve been part of the High’s Latin American Film Festival for many years. Would you share a favorite moment or memory of the festival?

Anyone who’s attended the Latin American Film Festival knows it’s full of great films.  The friendships that grow among the moviegoers are the added bonuses.

One of LAFF’s early films was Hello, Hemingway about a young girl in 1950’s Cuba.  She lived in the beach area where Earnest Hemingway had his house. After the film a man, a stranger, told me his family had emigrated from Cuba decades before.  And just like in the movie, they had lived down the road from Hemingway!   He was so excited to see his old neighborhood in that film.  His name is Marcus Maya and he comes every year to the festival.  He’s not a stranger anymore – he’s family.

Hello Hemingway

And, Linda, another of my favorite memories is opening night about ten years ago.  After you’d been studying Spanish awhile, you gave your welcoming speech in Spanish.  I thought the audience would clap.  I was wrong.  No one clapped.  They were too busy cheering!  They already appreciated the festival bringing cinema from their native countries to Atlanta.  And now you’re learning their language?  Everyone was touched.

Five movies that Films at the High audience members should see this year?

I loved The Visitor; The General with Buster Keaton.  Film Movement films, Arranged, A Simple Curve and Adam’s Apples.

Revisiting the Depression on Screen by Linda Dubler

by Eleanor Ringel Cater

Now that some of us are experiencing the worst depression since THE Depression, I figured I’d offer up some thoughts on a few more-or-less contemporary films set during the period. (Currently on view at the High is the exhibition, American Scenes: Art From the Depression Era, works from our permanent collection.)

In the new movie, Amelia, starring two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, there’s a brief glimpse of a soup line as she cruises by in her expensive car. She’s on her way to make another commercial (for which she’ll be paid big bucks). She says something like, “Oh, those poor men.” The movie is similarly superficial, and not just about the Thirties.

Annie had much more luck on stage than on screen, but the movie version isn’t all that bad. Unfortunately, the TV version is more often shown. It’s an entertaining, very old-fashioned musical, with Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks and Carol Burnett as the comically villainous Miss Hannigan. They give the picture more than enough professional gloss to overcome John Huston’s (!) apparently disinterested direction. Annie‘s real problem is numbers — not just the much-publicized production costs, but the elephantine production numbers, which are all show-stoppers — as in stopping the show dead in its tracks. But when the screen is cleared of the zillion dancing clowns and butlers and maids and Rockettes, this story of the blank-eyed orphan (Aileen Quinn) who finds happiness – if not a compatible hairstyle – with billionaire Daddy Warbucks (Finney) is pleasant enough. A good kids’ choice, if nothing else.


Nicholson and Streep in Ironweed

Though riddled with flaws, Ironweed‘s overall effect is poignant and powerful. Provided, that is, you’re willing to sit out its two-hour plus of sepia-toned seediness. Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson at the top of his game) is a former ace ballplayer, now boozed-up bum, who has returned home to Albany, the city he fled decades ago after accidentally killing his infant son. Based on William Kennedy’s best-seller, the picture is essentially a couple of days in the lives of a couple of lost souls (Meryl Streep, equally good, plays Nicholson’s flophouse mistress). True, the movie moves at a snail’s pace, but the stars are both phenomenal, showing us a sodden spiritual sadness – a kind of DTs of the soul. And you have to admire a movie made during the feel-good Reagan years dares to be a bummer about bums. Both stars were Oscar-nominated.

Do you have a favorite?


On Our High Horse by eleanor33

A horse is a horse.

Of course.

But a horse isn’t just a horse once you’ve glimpsed the immense sculpture that’s lately taken up residence smack in the middle of the Woodruff Arts Center’s Sifly Piazza.

A “re-imagining”, as they say in Hollywood, of a statue Leonardo Da Vinci planned but never completed to honor Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, the stallion prances and preens, as if he knew his A-list heritage. Da Vinci worked 17 years on the piece, making numerous small sketches analyzing equine anatomy (apparently, he didn’t have a horse of his own, though Michelangelo did). It’s believed the animal was meant to be an Andalusian, a horse  with a notably thick arched neck because that was the breed favored by his patron.

Passing by it every day has put me in a horse-y frame of mind. Here are some movie suggestions to help your own inner equine soar.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

In this animated feature (part hand-drawn, part CGI),  a spirited wild mustang finds friends and foes –and love — on the wide prairies of the Old West. Unlike  many other animated  characters, from Lady and the Tramp to Bambi,  these animals don’t talk. Rather, Matt Damon provides a folksy narration that’s reminiscent of  The Vanishing Prairie.  The animation is quite wonderful, including an out-of-control train hauling logs that’s as breathless as anything in an Indiana Jones movie. And it’s blessedly free of Shrek-ian jokiness and double entendres. If anyone asks, the model for Spirit was a three-year-old Kiger stallion named Donner.

White Mane

White Mane

White Mane

Recently given a brief theatrical run as a companion piece to another unforgettable French short,  The Red Balloon, this lesser-known live-action film from the same director,  Albert  Lamorisse offers its own enchantments. Filmed in 1953 in the Camargue, it is a more rigorous movie than The Red Balloon, and considerably darker. A fisherman’s young son befriends a wild white stallion and tries to protect him from hunters. But as in Into the West, wild white stallions don’t come without risks.

The Man From Snowy River

Except for the occasional “mate” and mustangs called “brumbies,” you’d hardly  know this endearingly straightforward and unabashedly old-fashioned western was made in the ’80s in Australia instead of the ’30s in Hollywood. The name star is Kirk Douglas, double-cast as two feuding brothers (one bearded and one-legged; the other beardless and 2-legged). But the movie is really about an orphan’s coming-of-age in the Outback in the late 1800s. It’s a handsome movie with lots of fresh air atmosphere and a veritable tumult of horses streaming by the camera like a subway train with no brakes. Again and again. When was the last time you saw a movie in which a stallion actually reared on a cliff?  Spin and Marty couldn’t do it better.

Black Beauty

Black Beauty

Black Beauty

A true beauty. This classy adaptation of Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel is a delight for animal lovers of all ages. An equine-eye view of a horse’s life in Victorian England, the movie follows Beauty from idyllic run-wild-run-free foalhood through a series of owners good, bad and indifferent. Some, like the poor but good-hearted cabbie played by Harry Potter’s David Thewlis, treat animals with kindness and respect. Others, like the spoiled society matron played by Eleanor Bron, willingly break the animal’s back, neck and spirit in the name of fashion. Screenwriter Caroline Thompson (everything from Edward Scissorhands to The Secret Garden) doubles as director, capturing both the period flavor and the non-human perspective of the book. And while horses may be less central to our lives these days, there’s a timelessness about Beauty’s story—along with the expected enchantment of horses running through a meadow. Parental guidance: some scenes of animal mistreatment may disturb the very young.

The Black Stallion

Like nothing you’ve ever seen and better than almost anything you have. This is a stunning movie whose unique appeal is rooted in the pure visual power of film itself. The plot: a boy (Kelly Reno) and a savage stallion survive a shipwreck, establish a mystical bond on an island paradise and return home to win the Big Race. However, a plot summary says nothing of the adventure and romance, the poetry and mystery which are what the movie is really about. A film to cherish. And see again.

Into the West

Imagine The Black Stallion with a mystic Celtic lilt and you’ll have some idea of the tone of this wondrous film. Directed by Mike Newell (Enchanted April) and written by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), the movie is about two young brothers who flee the appalling squalor of their Dublin tenement  and ride west on the back of a magical white horse. In pursuit are their dad, Gabriel Byrne, a sodden, embittered widower who’s forsaken his traveler’s roots; a gypsy tracker (Ellen Barkin) who cares for Byrne and his boys; a greedy businessman who wants the horse as a show jumper; and half the country’s police force. Superbly balanced between gritty realism and fantastical lyricism, the movie is both poignant and unexpectedly funny. And, as anyone who knows the legend of  the Kelpie, a bit chilling  This is NOT a kids-only picture. Treat yourself.

Eleanor Ringel Cater