10 Contributions by: Jenna Gordon

Staff & contributors

This autobiographical documentary covering the span of Brian DePalma’s 50+ year filmmaking career is taken from the man himself. From budget-less independent films to multi-million dollar box-office projects, he offers a fascinating professional history. But don’t expect critical analysis of his frequently controversial choices (such as the infamous oversized drill used as a murder weapon in Body Double)—he will acknowledge the existence of these issues, if only to grin and shrug them off, at times literally. What you can expect is to feel you are taken by the hand through Hollywood filmmaking experiences over the course of decades: negotiations, rewrites, stolen scripts, scuffling actors; tours of technical points of interest from his movies with commentary on deftly chosen film clips. You don’t have to be a fan to get a wealth of entertainment here. Not to be missed.

IRA terrorists kidnap a British soldier to negotiate an exchange for one of their own imprisoned members. Among them is Fergus (Stephen Rea), whose ambivalence is amplified by his interactions with the hostage soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) while guarding him. After the terrorists' plan goes awry, Fergus tracks down a woman Jody spoke of during his captivity, only to become confronted with even more complications.

The film, its cast and crew won a slew of awards and nominations in 1993, including the Academy award for Best Original Screenplay. It's a knockout. Each act presents an increasingly challenging psychological and emotional conflict for Fergus: conflicts that require him to question the choices he makes and his beliefs, even about himself. It’s a dark but deeply touching thriller that is ultimately unforgettable.

Prophet’s Prey is a documentary on the sect known as Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints and its leader, Warren Jeffs. Claiming to have inherited a direct connection to God, Jeffs has used this pretext to control a closed society of thousands of individuals on a shockingly personal level, as well as marry dozens of underage girls and harvest the community’s financial resources on behalf of “the church.”

The subject is deftly handled by filmmaker Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil). Here she presents most of the story via interviews with the people whose tenacity was instrumental in exposing  Jeffs. Woven throughout the film, too, is the haunting, disembodied voice of Jeffs himself, in recorded words to his followers, along with film footage of present-day FLDS communities. What emerges is the picture of a terrifying madman who still wields a disturbing amount of power over thousands of active congregants. Absolutely riveting.

Ralph Fiennes plays a mild-mannered British diplomat in Kenya who is stunned by the news of his wife Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) sudden death while in the company of another man. He sets off to investigate the suspicious death––and secret life–-of his late wife, within a tangle of personal betrayals, political threats, and corporate conspiracies. This film presents an exquisite contrast between Justin’s (Fiennes) gentle, contemplative demeanor and the progressively gripping details he uncovers; between rapturous romanticism and darkly corrupting interests. It’s a touching, smart, and suspenseful feast of a movie.
Kristen Stewart stars as Melinda, a girl entering the gauntlet of freshman year in high school who is also carrying a heavy secret: after suffering an assault over the summer at a party, she has become determined to speak as little as possible. Melinda’s subjective experience is presented without mediation, melodrama nor moralism, but rather as life through her eyes: teachers are puff-chested bullies; parents are mumbling, ephemeral strangers; whispering girls are talking about her, all the time. It is a realistic portrait of the inner life and experience of a young woman whose sudden introversion, academic decline, and loss of social connections appear to go completely unnoticed, while she struggles to process and unburden herself of the weight of trauma. It’s an empathetic story well-served by Stewart’s understated performance and the film’s quiet pace.
Clive Owen stars as a struggling writer who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to work as a croupier at a London casino. His characteristic aloofness, hatred of gambling, and sharp observational skills allow him to remain uncompromised and able to catch any attempt at cheating within his field of vision. But when a savvy professional gambler he shares an attraction with asks him to participate in a heist in an uncompromised way, he’s forced to consider playing the angles. Owen’s coolly detached performance is a marvel, and the depiction of the London casino scene is detailed and gritty, both of which make for compelling British noir.

This documentary follows eight men whose convictions were recently overturned based on exonerating evidence. Proven innocent after many years in the US prison system, they are suddenly free to return to the communities they had been expelled from, without any of the usual obligations (or resources) associated with parole or probation.

The exonerations featured in the film are largely thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that works to free the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing and criminal justice system reform. While their work is central to the documentary, it's also clear that these failings of the system represent only the tip of the iceberg. What makes the movie unforgettable, though, is the exonerees' struggle to make sense of what remains possible in their lives, to embrace hope and reconcile with profound loss. All in all, it is as much a study of the deep costs of injustice as it is one of buoyant resilience.

When German forces occupy Paris in 1942, a close-knit Jewish family tearfully sends their two youngest sons, Jo and Maurice, to escape the city on foot, with promises that they will all eventually be reunited in the Free Zone in the South. Told from the perspective of Jo – and based on the 1973 memoir of Joseph Joffo – what follows is a story of adventure, discovery, loss, love and the resilience of family bonds. A tapestry of cherished memories woven together with traumatic ones, the tone shifts again and again as Jo and his brother reach the bright shores of Nice––before they are driven to hiding again. Above all else, this is a story about the power of a family’s love, and of children who rise against the odds by their own courage and tenacity.

Contemplative English literature professor Vivian leaves New York for Reno, Nevada, to facilitate her divorce from a lifeless marriage. There she meets Cay, a sculptor and free spirit living relatively uncloseted for the time. What starts as an inspiring friendship soon turns to attraction. It is partly the story of Vivian's sexual awakening, partly a transformative love story persuasively depicted through earnest, unadorned dialogue and love scenes, and vulnerable performances. A heartfelt and tender romance, the scenes are delightfully set to a soundtrack of Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash singles and filmed over the expansive horizons of the Nevada desert.
Based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Rettinger, this biographical movie follows young Rudy as he pursues his childhood dream of playing football for Notre Dame, despite significant obstacles and copious discouragement from those around him. The movie works not by hitching the action to any major sequences of ball play, but rather to the most remarkable feature of the story: the sheer determination of the title protagonist. The film’s success also largely comes down to a fantastically consistent and earnest performance by Sean Astin, who outshines a very talented supporting cast to the legendary, crowd-stirring end.