In Bloom (USA: 2013): Summer breakup film for the cold winter evening.

Tanner Rittenhouse & Kyle Wigent

Youth really does seem wasted on the young in CM Birkmeier’s drama about the end of a two year relationship. In Bloom starts slowly, but gets more lively after the separation. It makes me wish they’d ended it earlier and had some fun moving on.

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Voyage (Hong Kong: 2013): The final journeys of love and depression

Warning: Trailer contains nudity

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Voyage is Hong Kong director Scud’s fifth film.  Audacity would be a good one-word summary of Scud’s output to date, and those who have appreciated that about his films will not be disappointed. Like his previous films, Voyage has plenty of obscure and sometimes idiosyncratic symbolism and allusions, abundant full nudity, saturated colors, explanatory texts, and a very negative story about love. Scud is not a director for the modest. The film is a series of shorts on the themes death, depression and and the afterlife, framed as stories being written by a psychiatrist (Ryo van Kooten) as he travels on his yacht with the intention of determining whether or not to take his own life.

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The Great Passage (Japan: 2013): Love and Loss for Lex·i·cog·ra·phers

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Yûya Ishii’s the Great Passage was Japan’s submission for Best Foreign Language film last year. It received a very limited release in the US one weekend and has played a few film festivals. I couldn’t find the name of a US distributor for the film and ended up ordering a copy of the Hong Kong version from Yesasia.com so that I could finally see it. It’s a shame, really, that the film hasn’t been picked up. I could see people adding it to their list of beloved films. It is a very easy film to like. It sums up the hopes and dreams of all of us-that we will find a task that we can be devoted to and share that devotion with others. It is an optimistic film, not lofty enough to be awe inspiring, but the world it offers up is as much a fantasy dream world as the most magical love story or futurist utopia. It’s a world worth believing in.

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The Homesman (USA: 2014): Swank and Jones shine in a journey to th

Set in the Nebraska Territory of the 1850s, Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman is about hardship on the plains and the difficulty of maintaining civilized relationships on the frontier. There are many movies about the time period of the post Civil War west – with cowboys, farmers and railroads. Pre-civil war, we are in the transition from pioneers and frontiersmen to the farmer settlers who probably would have been better off staying at home. The movie captures the challenges of farming this particular area of the Great Plains. Treeless and unlike anything the Europeans were familiar with, the Nebraska Territory was the heart of what was called the Great American Desert, not the Breadbasket that it known as today. The difficulty of this life takes a mental toll on the wives of three farmers, who need to be taken back east in the hopes that returning them to their families will restore their health.

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Force Majeure (Sweden: 2014): Unexpectedly breaking the contract

Force Majeure is Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s take on a husband and wife reanalyzing their marriage after a breach of trust. Told over a five-day ski holiday to France, the story follows a low point in Ebba and Tomas’ marriage (played by  Lisa Loven Kongsli and Johannes Kuhnke) after he “accidentally” abandons the family when a controlled avalanche appears about to engulf a restaurant where they are having lunch with their two children. While he is filming the event on his iPhone, he panics and leaves his children and wife at the table, but remembers to pick up his ski gloves as he flees. Even though a marriage contract doesn’t spell out what is supposed to happen in these circumstances, we know that there has been a breach somewhere. The question is whether or not Tomas will realize that and whether Ebba will allow him a chance to fix it.

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The Cold Lands (USA: 2013): A stray boy tries to find a home

Set in the region of Upstate New York and New England, Tom Gilroy’s The Cold Lands tells the story of a sheltered teen-aged boy making a transition to new adult role models after the death of his mother. When the movie opens, Atticus (Silas Yelich) and his mother, Nicole, (Lilly Taylor) are living off the grid. She is home schooling him, but he is entering a stage where socialization with his peers is important to him. They aren’t survivalists, but are getting by without electricity and supplementing the income she earns as an office cleaner by recycling and beekeeping. It is an existence without many conveniences, but hardly a simple life. Beyond financial pressures, Nicole has diabetes and feels hassled by  public health nurse who believes she as complications from the disease that may need additional treatment. She is managing to hide the pressure she faces from Atticus, while devoting her life to his education and cultivating his values.

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Whiplash (USA: 2014)-Good Job, Teach. Good Job.

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) tells the story of a driven young jazz drummer and a drill sergeant. O.K. That’s not quite true, but it could be. J.K. Simmons plays Terence Fletcher, a stern, demanding college jazz band director as if he came from Fort Bragg. Fletcher teaches at Schafer College, the fictional best conservatory in the country set somewhere in New York City near Juliard but not quite. The studio jazz band wins competitions. To be on the core team of that band is to be best of the best for college jazz band musicians. Fletcher could be a football coach or drill sergeant, but this movie is a pedagogic drama and set in a college.

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