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New to Theaters
B+

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School MPAA Rating: Release Date: July 15, 2016
B

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material Release Date: July 12, 2016
B-

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some rude humor Release Date: July 8, 2016
New to DVD
Pick of the week
B+

Elvis & Nixon

Lowest Recommended Age: High School MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language Release Date: April 23, 2016
C

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Lowest Recommended Age: High School MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality Release Date: March 25, 2016
B

The Divergent Series: Allegiant Part 1

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity Release Date: March 18, 2016
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Until they make a movie entirely consisting of raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, Hallmark cards, and puppies in the window, this will hold the record as the most awwwwwww-inspiring movie ever made.

Director Thomas Balmes and his crew take us into the lives of four brand-new people and their families, babies in Tokyo, Mongolia, Namibia, and San Francisco. And that’s it. Babies sleeping, babies getting dirty, babies getting clean, babies crying, babies being comforted, babies smiling, babies playing, babies learning, learning, learning — and babies teaching everyone around them, too, to the narration-free accompaniment of a wistful score from “Coraline’s” Bruno Coulais.

Each of the stories is touching. The deepest part of our nature as humans wonders at and cares for these magical creatures, who zoom from newborns to people who can walk and talk and have views in a matter of months. The connections between these babies and their families are a powerful reminder of all we share, but the contrasts are a powerful and sometimes disturbing reminder of the distance between us. American parents who carefully strap our babies in car seats and boil their pacifiers every time they fall on the floor will find it unsettling to see all four members of the Mongolian family climb on a motorcycle and the Namibian baby sucking on a bone she dug out of the dirt. And they may wince at the casual plenty of the American baby’s books and toys or the casual smugness of the music class where the parents and their babies sing a Native American song in some reach for the kind of authenticity the African baby comes by naturally — and pays for with limited opportunities for health care and education. The credit sequence gives us a glimpse of the babies today (age 4). Our greatest wish for these babies may be that before they are old enough to be rocking their own children to sleep we find a way to do more to protect the health and safety of all of the world’s children.

Manhattan film-makers Rel Schulman and Henry Joost had no idea what movie they were making when they turned their camera on Rel’s brother Nev as he opened up a package sent to him from a little girl he had never met.
In a world where technology makes possible and culture makes acceptable the idea of everyone’s starring in some sort of reality show documentary, Rel and Henry were used to filming whatever was going on around them. In this case, that happened to be Nev’s increasing involvement via Facebook, telephone, and texting with an 8-year old girl named Abby, her mother Angela and half-sister Megan, and and their extended family and friends. And then, when Nev began to doubt the authenticity of the stories he was being told, the movie began to be about his impulsive journey to Michigan to see for himself who was on the other side of the digital connection.
The movie is called Catfish and it is a surprise critical and box office hit.
I spoke to them in Washington, D.C. and yes, they were filming their tour here for a possible documentary about the fame and fortune their movie was bringing them. They recorded me as I recorded them. Henry told me that he believes everyone has a story that could become a documentary. He says he and Rel would like to make feature films as well, but that they will always make documentaries. I asked him whether getting to know someone on Facebook was different from the selective revelations of the early stages of any romance. He said, “Yes. It’s digital; it’s binary. You either like something or you don’t. There’s no in between. You determine the way you are presented There’s none of that ambiguity of eye contact and body language and things you pick up in person when you are with someone. You pick this photo or that photo.”
Rel said that even as friends gathered regularly to hear updates on Nev’s developing online romance with Megan, they did not think of that relationship as the story of the film until the night in Vail, Colorado, when the discrepancies in her stories began to make them wonder who it was that Nev was falling for.
I talked with Nev about his hesitation in committing to both the film and the romance.
In the film you seem to be ambivalent about being in a movie. At what point did you really agree to commit to it?
Nev: Not until a couple of weeks before Sundance. I agreed by default in the sense that I share an office and at the time an apartment with my brother. That’s the nature of being friends with those guys. The cameras are on and if you are around them, you might be in their next short film.
But officially I hadn’t agreed. I always held that trump card. I wanted to wait and see how it turned out because I was so unsure what it would look like, so it wasn’t until a couple of weeks before Sundance that I really signed off on it and said, “here’s my signature.” I was a little concerned and nervous about the movie coming out. I certainly didn’t expect that it would get into Sundance or that it would get bought. In a way this is even stranger than the story in the movie itself. You can’t write something like this; it just has to happen.
How closely were Rel and Henry following the development of your relationship with Abby and her family?
They didn’t really know just how involved I had been with the whole experience. I only told them about certain things, funny emails, the paintings that were arriving. They weren’t aware of how emotionally involved I had become because they were busy with other things like a ballet film for PBS. This was a side project that they occasionally paid attention to. I don’t think even they knew there was a movie there until we got back from Vail [where they first began to uncover some discrepancies in the representations made by Nev’s correspondents]. They said, “that was intense, but how do we tell that story?” I said, “There’s a lot you don’t know about.” I gave them access to my emails and texts and with that and the clips from the last nine months, they said they had enough.
What did they shoot that didn’t make it into the film?
They also did a lot of interviews, talking heads, that never made it into the film. My mom was concerned for me at the beginning of this, thinking there was something they wanted to get out of me. She reached out to Angela early on. First she was pursuing their concerns and then it was about whether their children’s romantic involvement was a good idea.
I was one of the early members when you first had to have an .edu email address. And before that it was myspace and friendster. I’m the first generation to grow up on these websites. And that is why I’m more susceptible than younger kids are. When the internet was new, it felt like very official and real and genuine. The internet’s at that crucial moment now where people are beginning to question whether what they see is real.
I was as much in love as I could have been under the circumstances. What the film speaks to is the desire to get out of your situation. I had only dated city girls and lived in a crazy urban jungle. And the internet gives you the opportunity to get in touch with people beyond your realm. Looking back, I see just how tailor-made every character was for me. She made a girl based on the pieces of the puzzle I gave her. The danger of online profiles is that you surrender so much of yourself so easily and it makes it easy for someone to say, “I also love all that stuff.”
What was your Facebook experience before you became involved with the Michigan “friends?”
I was one of the early members when you first had to have an .edu email address. And before that it was myspace and friendster. I’m the first generation to grow up on these websites. And that is why I’m more susceptible than younger kids are. When the internet was new, it felt like very official and real and genuine. The internet’s at that crucial moment now where people are beginning to question whether what they see is real.
Did you and do you think you were in love with Megan?
I came back from the trip [to Michigan] very depressed and angry. But I realized it was me breaking my own heart and distracting myself from a real relationship with real investment. I’ve been through a lot of stuff, always my fault, and sometimes with consequences. I put myself on the line but I did it in a way that I knew I was putting myself at risk so it wasn’t totally a surprise in some way. I was so lucky with a supportive family that it made it a lot easier to come back and not feel completely lost and heartbroken.
How did it affect you to have a very personal story become so public?
I would have probably learned a lot less about what it meant and why it happened and been less self-reflective and therapeutic if I had not had the opportunity to watch it so closely on film. It has been an incredible growing experience. How often do you get to relive your most vulnerable nine months of your life and then talk about it? Every time I answer a question about the movie I think about it and reconsider it and connect with people and learn from their stories. I’ve become a sort of Facebook philosopher. But of course I don’t recommend to anyone making a movie of your most intense and emotional experience.
Is this experience so different from getting to know someone in real life?
This kind of thing does happen in person, though. You meet someone and then find out they’re married or that they have a past you don’t find acceptable.
On a first date, you’re seeing the best of someone. Six months later…
********
Spoiler alert! Continue reading only if you have seen the movie!

This tender tale of a loyal dog is inspired by a real story about a dog who has become a beloved legend in Japan and is memorialized in a popular statue.

Richard Gere plays a professor who finds an abandoned Akita puppy at a railroad station. He and his wife (Joan Allen) keep the dog, and while Hachi never learns any of the usual tricks, he shows his devotion by coming to the station every night to meet his master, even after a tragic separation.

Though it has top stars, a heart-warming story, and an outstanding director (Lasse Hallström of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “The Cider House Rules”), the movie never got a theatrical release. You can see it this weekend on the Hallmark channel and it is available on DVD. (NOTE: a sad death, sensitively handled)

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day, about a butler who devoted his life to service without questioning his master’s authority or the validity of his judgment became a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. And now his book, Never Let Me Go is a movie that while very different in genre addresses some of the same themes. Once again, the setting is the English countryside, and once again the main characters are born into a life of service that they do not question.

It’s a science fiction story without a single lab coat, spaceship, or gizmo. It isn’t even set in the future, but the recent past. It appears very much like the world we knew in the the 1980’s, but we are told before it begins that a medical discovery in 1952 has led to life expectancy of 100 years in 1967.

Then Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan of “An Education”) starts to tell us her story. She is a “carer,” and thinking back on her childhood at a school called Hailsham. As we go back to see her there with her friends Ruth and Tommy, it all seems perfectly normal at first. But there are some elements that seem strange. The headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) makes the usual speech after finding cigarette butts at the school, but why does she emphasize that for these children especially “keeping yourselves healthy is of paramount importance?” Why do they seem to have no families or even last names? And what is that panel on the wall that beeps when they casually touch their wrist to it every day as they come back indoors?

The excitement in the children’s lives comes from the visits by “Madame,” who examines their artwork and selects the items she thinks are the best for her gallery, and even more on the rare opportunities they have to buy trinkets with the tokens they are given for good behavior. They are very happy when they hear they are getting a “bumper crop” and enjoy their treasures but to our eyes the items look like garage sale cast-offs. These are not poor children; they attend school in an almost-idyllic countryside setting. But they do not seem to have anything.

Just once, a teacher tells them the truth, and then she is fired. SPOILER ALERT: the secret not fully revealed until the end of the book is disclosed much earlier in the movie so I am going to include it here. If you don’t want to know, skip this paragraph. The fate of these children has already been decided. They have been bred for use as spare parts. They are to be kept healthy and happy like farm animals until, in their 20’s, they will become “donors.” And after three or four “donations,” they will “complete.” Their purpose is to give of themselves literally and ultimately to keep others alive.

Director Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”) understands that just as “Rosemary’s Baby” tapped into a whole new category of dread by putting a Gothic story in modern Manhattan, giving us an alternate reality that seems so familiar to us is eerie and unnerving. It is not familiar through experience, set in the recent past. But it is also familiar through movies. The accents and Hailsham setting lull us into a Merchant-Ivory/Masterpiece Theater civilized world of tea being served at four. The fact that the truest horror happens off screen is haunting. When the headmistress says, “We were answering questions no one wanted asked,” it is as devastating as any gory attack by zombies or aliens. When the characters show their humanity by hoping for a better outcome, we see how much has been taken from them because they have no idea of how to insist on it.

The title comes from a “bumper crop” treasure, a used audio cassette by a torchy 60’s singer (performed by Jane Monheit), given to Kathy by Tommy.  She plays it over and over.  What does it mean to have someone who wants to hold on to you that way?  Kathy knows how it feels to care deeply about someone.  She loves Tommy.  As they grow up, though, it is Ruth who becomes his — what?  Girlfriend does not seem the right word as they have little sense of what that means.  Ruth does tell Kathy that she will not let Tommy go.  But then things change and as she has to let go of so much more, she thinks about what she can leave behind, what will give her life meaning beyond the limited scope that has been set for her.

Romanek, best known for music videos, is stronger on visuals than with story.  He does very well in creating a world so believable, so thoroughly familiar and sturdily institutional, that the slight variances from what we know quickly seem natural.  Like the people who proposed and approved and benefit from this system, the ones who are never seen and hardly referred to, we can watch without considering too deeply the consequences and significance of what we see — for a while.  

The three sections of the film are starkly different in architecture and color scheme.  Hailsham shows a little of the benign neglect of institutions that have existed for hundreds of years and are expected to be around forever.  After graduation, they move to “cottages,” rural, rustic, remote.  They make shy ventures into the world but can barely order a soda in a restaurant and feel most at home on a beach where an abandoned ship washed up on the shore somehow seems to resonate with them, an empty vessel, once useful, with nowhere to go.
 

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