mitsuko delivers

“First things first, let’s take a nap” says heroine Mitsuko. This is some advice we can really get behind. Whenever situations get to manic in this   Mitsuko, who is a force to be reckoned with, shares this gem. Mitsko Delivers, a Japanese magic realism comedy (yes there is such a thing), debuted at the 2011 Vancouver International Film Festival . Broke and heavily pregnant by a foreigner (African American no less) and alone, Mitsuko returns to the slum she spent some of her childhood in, and meets her first love. While many might turn to wallowing in their own problems, Mitsuko takes it upon herself to solve everyone else’s instead, to great result. The last 10 minutes of this film might be a bit much for those who are not fans of farce, the previous 80 minutes are a delight, especially to hear Mitsuko deliver her signature line. [japan, 2011]

an education

Don’t be turned off by the “older man/ingenue” plot. Carey Mulligan, as lead character Jenny Mellor is far to clever to get lead down the wrong path, at least for two long. Whip smart, but bored by her teachers and friends at high school, Jenny falls in with a playboy twice her age when she should be focusing on getting into Oxford. The appeal of this grifter, his friends, champagne, and London is too much and Jenny starts cutting class and even hoodwinking her parents into letting her go to Paris with her new beau. Snappy writing by Nick Hornby and a sparkling performance by Carey Mulligan make this film an extremely watchable coming of age story. [UK, 2009]

amazon falls

Director Katrin Bowen on set
Director Katrin Bowen on set

This first feature by Vancouver, Canada director Katrin Bowen, follows April Telek as Jana, a struggling B-movie actress in Los Angelese. Jana is still waiting for that big break, and yet optimistic, cheerful and likeable as she deals with rejection, her ‘day’ job in a seedy cocktail lounge, and a gorgeous but unreliable boyfriend. At a Q&A after the Vancouver premiere, Telek told the audience that her agent described this as a make or break role and she delivers a note perfect performance as the former beauty queen and “Amazon” star on the days approaching her 40th birthday. However, like a Russian short story, this film does not arc, and continues its way to a depressing end. [canada, 2010]

sunshine cleaning

Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, and Alan Arkin star is this gritty film about a single mother whose best days were in high-school and who keeps making bad decisions—she’s having an affair with her married high-school sweetheart and cleaning homes of her former schoolmates. When her son is expelled from school, she decides the only solution is private school and starts an unlicensed crime scene cleaning company with her unreliable sister to try to fund the tuition. At times touching, gritty, bloody, and funny, this film focuses on the power of family to pull through in tough times. [us, 2008]

you and me and everyone we know

Miranda July as Christine

Miranda July as Christine

Written, starring, and directed by the multi-talented performance and every other kind of artist, Miranda July, this film is a study of the relationship between two awkward people. Christine , a lonely artist and Eldercab driver meets shoe salesman and father of two Richard. In this film the ordinary becomes extraordinary and art is found in the most unlikely places. Conversly, the theme involving internet romance with Richard’s young son is almost common place and played for laughs. What seems menacing never comes to fruition. Spend a few delighful minutes in Miranda July’s world and you insist on more whimsy everywhere. For your daily dose, visit her website and follow a few of her recommended links. [us, 2005]

i am love

If we weren’t already in awe of the shape-shifting Tilda Swinton, this performance puts it over the top. First off, who knew she was so beautiful. Second, she learned Italian and Russian for the role! And finally she was a co-collaborator on the script and film. Swinton stars as the matriarch of a prosperous and handsome Italian family. Plucked from the Soviet Union as a young girl by her now husband, she has suppressed this identity except with her youngest, and favorite son who speaks Russian with her. When she embarks on an affair with her son’s best friend and business partner, all of the sun-drenched afternoons in the Italian countryside can’t prevent the inevitable tragedy that impacts the family and position she held so dear. [italy, 2010]

the kids are all right

Julianne Moore and Annette Benning are pitch perfect as middle-aged couple Jules and Nic dealing with the stresses of long-term relationships, raising kids, careers, and daily life. All of this is thrown into sharp focus when their teenaged children meet birth father, earthy, boyish restaurateur, Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo who is so natural one suspects this might not be an acting stretch for him. To Paul, meeting offspring he didn’t know he had, from fund-raising sperm donations in his early 20′s becomes an opportunity to have an instant family. To Nic it’s a threat. To Jules it’s a way to wiggle out of Nic’s controlling tendencies. Tension and strong performances combine to make this an extremely watchable film. [us, 2010]

moscow does not believe in tears

Long before Sex & the City, three young women were drawn to the big onion to seek their fortunes. Set in Soviet Russia, this Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film (1980), follows the friends over the course of 20 years and asks the eternal question of whether a woman can have it all. Katerina, works in a factory, but dreams of becoming an engineer. Her best friend Lyudmilla has her sights set on bagging a prosperous husband and suggests they pose as daughters of a privileged professor to attract just the right sort of man. It works, but the men are not as they first appear, and Katya ends up alone and pregnant. Fast forward 20 years and Katya has not only survived but succeeded and is the Director of that same factory where she dreamed, but of course she is alone. A chance meeting on a train introduces her to Gosha who has become the gold standard for Russian men: tough but sensitive, a craftsman and an outdoorsman. Is there happily ever after in the Soviet Union? [russia, 1979]

the queen

Helen Mirren portrays Queen Elizabeth II with compassion, dignity, and absent of satire in the days following the death of “the people’s princess” former Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer in this docu-drama. The film is so realistic that Tony Blair quoted dialog from it in his own biography—erroneously of course! Mixing real footage with dramatized scenes, this fast paced little film is fun to watch even when you know the outcome. Helen Mirren had considerable influence on the scene where the Queen encounters a buck while hunting on her estate, and it’s a pivotal point in the film. [uk, 2006]

fear and trembling

Struggling with the type of identity crisis that happens to those freshly (or not so freshly) out of university, Amelie chooses to return to her childhood home of Japan. She gets a job at a Japanese conglomerate as a translator, but ends up, in this Office Space-ish dark comedy doing the most meaningless of tasks. Her only savior is her rich sense of duty, imagination, and need for belonging and friendship: however, these survival traits also become her undoing. At times tender, bizarre, moody, and funny, this film examination of cross cultural-shock in the working world is worth a look, especially if you think your job sucks. [france/japan, 2004]