Tag Archives: Harkins Theatres

Film tackles U.N. failings

Our oldest daughter Jennifer, who studies cultural anthropology at Arizona State University, came home with passes to a new movie the other night — a Disruptive Pictures film called “U.N. Me” that’s written, directed and produced by Ami Horowitz and Matthew Groff.

It’s billed as an expose of corruption and incompetence within an international organization meant to promote world peace and universal human rights. As most folks know, the U.N. was founded in 1942.

The topic holds special interest for our family since Jennifer has long dreamed of working with the U.N. Our kids first learned of the U.N. during grade school, while participating in the Trick-or-Treat for Unicef program.

“U.N. Me” opened Friday at Harkins Shea 14 Theatre

Watching something so scathing was downright depressing. Unlike other films tackling tough issues such as failings in education, health care inequities, climate change and bullying, this movie left me feeling numb instead of moved to action.

I remember seeing “Bully” and wondering why such a significant portion of the film followed the advocacy of those whose lives were touched in tragic ways. Wasn’t it obvious that those who recognized the problem would be moved to act?

The wisdom of “Bully” filmmakers Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen grows more evident as the credits for “U.N. Me” roll. Viewers see a single sentence directing them to make a difference by visiting the movie’s website, but there’s little reassurance that taking individual action can effect change.

An Inconvenient Truth,” a film directed by David Guggenheim that explored Al Gore’s concerns about human contributions to global climate change, left me feeling a lot more empowered thanks to practical tips shared near the end of the film.

Plenty of folks who see “U.N. Me” — including those who embrace its premises — will never visit the film’s website. But there’s plenty they can do in their daily lives to fight violations of human rights. Arizona offers plenty of examples.

“U.N. Me” follows Horowitz as he talks with people from various nations who have current or former U.N. ties, plus experts in areas such as genocide and nuclear proliferation. Nobel laureate Jody Williams is the most compelling by far.

I’m not wild about the flippant approach Horowitz takes during the film. His comedic forays distract from the deadly serious subject matter. And having spent more than a decade in investment banking, Horowitz will strike many among “the 99%” as an unlikely prophet for all things pure and good.

It’ll be too easy for those who oppose the U.N., especially those who do so for political gain, to use this film to indict every U.N. program and person affiliated with the organization. Or to walk away from the personal responsibility each of us bears for two words at the heart of the film — never again.

— Lynn

Note: “U.N. Me” is currently showing at Harkins Shea 14 Theatre in Scottsale

Coming up: Remembering Anne Frank, Student art meets Arizona history

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Ballet is serious business

Ballet is serious business. That’s the gist of a new film called “First Position,” which follows the adventures of several youth from various parts of the globe competing in the Youth America Grand Prix — an annual dance competition that holds its finals in NYC. Winners receive scholarships for coveted dance training opportunities or the chance to work with the world’s most esteemed ballet companies from American Ballet Theatre to the Paris Opera Ballet.

Though the film feels at first like a no-drama documentary, the suspense soon builds — leaving those who watch it eager to learn the outcomes of the dancers it profiles. A girl in America whose room is filled with dance trophies and pink teddy bears. A boy from Columbia whose parents put him in ballet to keep him off the streets. A girl rescued through adoption from war-torm Sierra Leone, where she witnessed her teacher suffer a horrible fate.

“First Position” follows not only young dancers, but also their families and coaches. As dancers speak to others’ suggestions that they’re sacrificing childhood too soon, we see the impact of a life devoted to dance on those around them. Parents make dance-driven decisions, eager to support their children’s dreams. Unlike most teens, serious dancers are looking for work before they’ve finished high school — though they know careers achieved will end well before midlife.

Because it follows the everyday lives of young dancers, “First Position” paints a realistic picture of the issues they face. Whether to home school. What to eat, and how much of it. When to rest injuries, and when to work through them. How to handle doting stage parents and demanding coaches. What to tell peers who questions their choices. How to manage their own perfectionism.

The film, directed by Bess Kargman, is a rare glimpse into ballet training for those who’ve never tried it. Think devices for stretching muscles. The intricacy of building costumes. Training and travel expences. Backstage butterflies. And more. My favorite scenes feature an impromptu teacher/student toe-pointing contest and a coach cautioning an overzealous dance mom against giving her daughter direction. Best to leave such things to the professionals.

“First Position” makes clear the athleticism and artistry of the world’s most elite student dancers, but furthers my concerns about the state of recreational dance in America. Rigorous competition is the 1% of the dance world, but youth who participate in other 99% are no less important. When more studios show equal concern for the bodies, minds and emotions of everyday dancers, we’ll all be in a better position.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “First Position, which I saw Saturday at Harkins Shea 14 Theatre in Scottdale

Coming up: The fine art of paper

From sewer to sunlight

Scene from "In Darkness" from Sony Pictures Classics

The sun felt especially warm and bright as I exited Harkins Theatres Shea 14 this afternoon, and I took special note of chirping birds and bits of green in bloom. Normally I leave this particular movie theater with a single burning question: To gelato or not to gelato? But today I had something else on my mind. Sheer unbounded gratitude for the freedom to walk to my car and return home in safety.

I was still dabbing tears from my eyes as I left the theater, feeling profoundly moved and nearly breathless after watching a film called “In Darkness.” It’s based on the true story of a Polish sewer worker and petty thief named Leopold Socha who saved several Jews from certain extermination at the hands of Nazis by hiding them in the sewer system under Lvov, Poland in 1943.

The sewers, filled with filth and rats, become a sort of microcosm of society for the folks who must live there if they are to live at all. Everything we experience above ground happens below ground too — from sibling spats to sexuality — often as noise from life above seeps in. Bombs, beatings and machine guns. Even liturgical fare.

Everyday objects once taken for granted wield new power in this world. Scissors. Crayons. A fringed scarf. A raw onion. Even a belt ripped from frayed pants by a father fraught with desperation. Children see things they ought not witness. Parents make choices that they, and others, will have to live with forever. A couple delights in an odd sort of “Cinderella” moment. And adults are comforted by a little girl’s hushed lullaby.

It feels easy to tell the good guys from the bad as “In Darkness” opens, but things change in a hurry as a simple man is confronted with complicated choices. And days spent in hiding wear down body, mind and soul. Still, nothing in this film feels contrived — a credit to both screenwriter David F. Shamoon and director Agnieszka Holland.

“My main hope,” shares Shamoon, “is that Loepold Socha’s example will inspire others as much as it has inspired me. Like many of the other Righteous, he was no saint, which is what makes this a universal story. He was just an ordinary man who made some crucial choices that led to extraordinary deeds.”

Films that capture the complexity of human nature, at once beautiful and ugly, are rare — as are films that question so exquisitely the place of God in the human picture. Parents, in particular, will appreciate the choices made and chances taken by those in the sewers — and leave wondering how they’d act living either in the sewers or above them.

— Lynn

Note: “In Darkness” is an Agnieszka Holland film from Sony Pictures Classics starring Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader and Herbert Knaup. Rating: R. Languages: Polish/German/Yiddish/Ukranian (English subtitles). Click here to read the reflections of those whose directing, cinematography, music, production design, costume design and editing make this such a truly exceptional work.

Coming up: Exploring the Anne Frank Center’s new home, Wall of words, A journey home

Truckin’ through Tempe

I found myself “truckin’ through Tempe” today while searching for a new installation of public art along Mill Avenue. Six utility boxes between Rio Salado Parkway and 7th Street have been painted by artists whose designs also grace new library cards for Tempe Public Library patrons.

I spied the “Sonoran Afternoon” utility box painted by Bud Heiss on Feb. 4 first, because it’s on the same corner as the Shoe Mill — my favorite haunt when new shoes beckon, and a splendid place to fondle handbags I can scarcely afford.

While making my way up Mill Avenue to check out other utility boxes, I stopped to chat with a woman named Susan who was playing her violin along the street — but was soon distracted by a painted truck whizzing past so quickly I couldn’t catch a photo.

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I turned my attention to exploring other shops in the area — including a charming hole-in-the-wall bookstore called Old Town Books that reminded me of taking my babies to Changing Hands Bookstore back when it occupied a similar space along that very strip.

While there, I spied a book about Helen Keller — reminding me that “The Miracle Worker” opens later this month at Scottsdale Community College. I’ve no young children to buy such books for anymore, but snapped a picture that’ll help me rekindle memories of reading to my children when they were small.

I also lingered over artwork and furnishings with a vintage/retro vibe at Loft a Go Go, a shop I’ve been eager to explore since spotting it one evening on a hurried walk from parking structure to Stray Cat Theatre. Its diverse offerings include all sorts of goodies plastered with the likenesses of Elvis, Audrey and Marilyn.

I spotted a few more painted utility boxes in my travels, and one of the unpainted variety that made me appreciate the others even more. Colton Brock’s “Mill District” work is located near the light rail stop most convenient for folks eager to explore the Mill Avenue District.

Dawn DeVries Good’s “Be the Good,” painted on Feb. 6, sits at the corner of 6th Street and Mill Avenue. I’m saving others for another trip once my bum knee is on the mend. They include Lucretia Torva’s “Tempe Shine,” Oliverio Balcells’ “Tempe Roots” and Linda Parker’s “Day Dreaming at Tempe Town Lake.”

I was about to head home when I spotted the painted truck again — parked and perfectly primed for an impromptu photo session. As I suspected, it was covered with assorted paintings, each bearing the name and city/state of its creator. There was just a single catch — it was a beer truck. While I snapped photos, a driver for Crescent Crown Distributing did his delivery thing. To the restaurants, not the nearby dorms.

Then, after a successful dig for more parking meter change, I made one final stop — to a brick building called Hackett House that was once Tempe Bakery. Hackett House is home to the Tempe Sister Cities program, so folks who hit their gift shop or cooking classes can help a worthy cultural cause in the process.

I spotted all sorts of rabbits, chicks and other fare with a whimsical Easter vibe. Even a trio of ceramic “see, hear and speak no evil” bunnies. Also Raggedy Ann dolls, tiny tea sets in charming picnic baskets, richly textured scarves, accessories for wine lovers and glass flowers to hold birthday candles. Even plenty of bobbles and bling for those thinking ahead to Mother’s Day.

I’ve been truckin’ through Tempe for a good twenty years now. First pushing a stroller. Now strolling with camera in hand. It never gets old — thanks to book stores, beer trucks, bunnies and beyond.

— Lynn

Coming up: Sunday at Seton, Conversations with local artists, Poetry meets drumroll, A prophet tale

London River

Sotigui Kouyate (Ousmane) and Brenda Blethyn (Elizabeth) are two parents, one Muslim and another Christian, whose paths cross in the aftermath of the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings in London in the film "London River"

The film “London River” isn’t getting lots of press. It’s not a blockbuster. Its subject isn’t cheery. And it doesn’t star actors with celebrity status (on this side of the pond). It moves at a slow, deliberate pace — and feels at times like a two-person play. Its main characters are parents whose young adult children are missing after a terrorist attack in London.

The film opens with a middle-aged woman who looks like most of us. She’s overweight, pulls shoulder length hair off her face with a pony tail and sits alone at her kitchen table watching television news reports of the bombing. Her daughter lives in London, so she calls without much concern, just to make sure all is well.

We see her the next day taking clothes off a washline, tending to rows of lush lettuce and feeding animals on her small farm. And we see her make more calls. Each time she gets a voice mail, and the messages she leaves mirror the increasing panic on her face.

She decides to ferry over to London, leaving her brother in charge of animals and plants. She takes along the address to her daughter’s apartment, puzzled when she discovers it’s in a neighborhood filled with signs written in Arabic and men with dark skin. Her daughter isn’t there, and soon she spots a wall dotted with “missing” posters.

So does a father who’s traveled to London from Paris to find the son he hasn’t seen in more than a decade. Seems he left the family when the boy was just six years old, but promised his son’s mother he’d go to London and find him — then get him back to her in Africa.

A photograph taken at a local mosque brings the two parents together. Both of their children are in it, and the mother grows concerned. She’s frightened by Muslims, including the father who ultimately shares her search among the missing. Visiting the same hospitals and morgues has a way of bringing people together.

They discover in time that they have many things in common, including a love of the earth. Seated on a park bench, she notices cuts on the father’s hands. The father explains that he’s a forest worker, saddened that his attempts to save diseased elms have failed. Our lives, she tells him, really aren’t that different at all.

The film is a tender look at a trio of terrifying topics — terrorism, bigotry and letting go. The story feels authentic. The acting is superb. And the director never plays the “message” card. We feel what parents Elizabeth (Brenda Blethyn) and Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) are feeling.

“London River” premiered at a 2009 film festival in Berlin, but opened just last month in New York. It’s directed by Rachid Bouchareb, who co-wrote the screenplay with Zoé Galeron and Olivier Lorelle. It features music composed by Armand Amar.

Terrorism triumphs when we let differences divide us. When we judge people en masse instead of getting to know them one on one. Let’s hope our own children, like those at the heart of this film, inspire us to embrace our common humanity.

— Lynn

Note: “London River” is playing at Harkins Theatre Shea 14

Coming up: A little stroll through history

The “Jersey Girls” tour

Lizabeth enjoyed seeing the musical “Jersey Boys” on Broadway earlier this year while visiting NYC with her dad. By day they checked out college and conservatory programs. By night they sought the perfect balance of plays, musicals and Italian food.

Last weekend, it was my turn to travel. But we didn’t hit NYC. Instead I headed with my daughter to New Jersey, home to Fairleigh Dickinson University — where Lizabeth has been accepted into the musical theater program.

While there, Lizabeth sat in on an accounting class — which I think she enjoyed more than most math classes she’s been a part of. And we toured an exhibition of student art that I’ll be featuring in an upcoming post.

Before making the trip, I knew very little about the state. Except that it gave birth to rockers Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, and a couple of reality TV shows — “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

I’ve seen their governor giving animated versions of conservative talking points on TV, but I wasn’t so impressed when I tried to drive on New Jersey roads — many full of potholes, low on lighting and lacking lane lines. (“Infrastructure” is not a dirty word.)

We’d have seen a lot more of New Jersey if we hadn’t been met at nearly every intersection with a “No Left Turn or U-Turn” sign. Especially since “please make the next legal U-turn” was a favorite command of the GPS in our rental car.

We spent a lot of time driving through small towns in and around the Borough of Florham Park, home to one of FDU’s two New Jersey campuses. Much of our time was spent in Madison, where we found a delightful book store, vintage clothing shop, cupcake bakery and toy store.

Lizabeth loves roaming the aisles of educational toy stores — where she finds all sorts of things that remind her of bygone childhood days. I marveled when she pointed to a stacking toy and recounted her difficulty in sequencing the colored rings correctly as a child, something I didn’t notice at the time.

Our other Jersey finds included small museums, amazing thin crust pizza, a Shakespeare theater and signs for streets with names like “Dickens” and “Abby Road.” At times, it seemed like every street was named for another destination, leading us to joke about our “world tour” through New Jersey.

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We saw plenty of freeway signs pointing the way to NYC and other points of interest, but exercised remarkable self control in ignoring each and every one of them. Instead, we admired the state’s magnificent blossoming trees, birds with brightly-colored breasts and charming rows of closely-spaced homes.

I got my NYC fix at our hotel one night, watching a Charlie Rose interview on PBS. It featured cast and creative team members of the new Broadway play titled “Bengal Tiger at the Bahgdad Zoo” — including playwright Rajiv Joseph, director Moises Kaufman and actor Robin Williams.

If Lizabeth ends up choosing a school on the East Coast, we’ll have plenty to explore in New York, New Jersey and places beyond. Maybe we should pitch a cable network about starting a new reality series called “Real Museums of New Jersey.”

They’ve got some impressive offerings — including the “American Hungarian Museum” in Teaneck, the “Center for Latino Arts & Culture” in New Brunswick, the “Edison National Historic Sight” in West Orange and the “Museum of Early Trades and Crafts” in Madison.

Also the “Meadowlands Museum” in Rutherford, the “Walt Whitman House” in Camden and the “Grounds for Sculpture” in Hamilton. The latter sells jewelry by local artisans in its “Toad Hall Shop” (unlike “Toad Hall” at Scottsdale Community College, which offers school tours centered on desert habitats and wildlife).

Half the fun of having a daughter on the East Coast would be traveling to get there. I don’t hold up terribly well with long flights, little sleep and lousy coffee, but I can take the pain if I can just figure out how to schedule Chicago layovers lengthy enough to allow for visits to Chicago’s many theaters and museums.

Our trip to New Jersey ended with a stop to refill the gas tank in our rental car — where a nozzle gone awry soaked me in the flammable liquid, which made for fun times cleaning up in one of those tiny airport bathrooms with sinks that dispense weak trickles of water for just five seconds at a time.

Picture a “Real Housewife of Arizona” struggling to wash the gasoline out of her clothing, hair and a single shoe while mothers with small children try their best to fathom what they’re witnessing.

I must have done a decent job, because I made my first trip through airport security without any extra screening — realizing soon thereafter that one of my favorite earrings now lives in a bathroom sink in Newark.

As our plane from Chicago to Phoenix made its descent, Lizabeth eagerly pointed out some of our favorite Tempe haunts. Harkins Theatres at Tempe Marketplace. Tempe Center for the Arts. ASU Gammage. Even the “In & Out Burger” we’d craved while eating at “Five Guys” in New Jersey.

In the end, whatever Lizabeth’s college decision, we’ll always have great memories of our own quirky “Jersey Girls” tour. Still, I hope she’ll never lose that “it’s good to be home again” feeling.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about New Jersey museums and here for information on other tourist attractions.

Coming up: A “Bad Hair Day” in New Jersey

Scottsdale Film Festival

"Hidden Diary" (France, 2009, French with subtitles)

I hit Scottsdale Fashion Square with my daughter Lizabeth several days ago in search of dowdy slippers to compliment a lovely landlady costume she’s wearing this weekend during her school musical.

While walking past the Harkins Theatre near the food court, I noticed a stack of yellow flyers and larger booklets detailing offerings at this year’s Scottsdale International Film Festival (some of which are pictured here).

"The Chef of South Polar" (Japan, 2010, Japanese with subtitles)

We grabbed a few copies (I always take extras so I can leave them at favorite coffee houses and such) and enjoyed browsing film selections as we sat atop the red stools along the Johnny Rocket’s counter sharing french fries and ketchup poured to look like a smiley face.

Friday’s film and opening night party take place at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, a beautiful venue (amidst lovely grounds) that’s close to several other Scottsdale attractions. If I didn’t live just minutes from the center, I’d book a few days at a local resort and treat myself to a charming “staycation.”

"Anita" (Argentina, 2006, Spanish with subtitles)

The Scottsdale International Film Festival runs Fri, Oct 1 to Tues, Oct 5 — so it makes for a great weekend (and beyond) getaway. My children, now ages 17 to 21, are all old enough to enjoy the film’s mature fare. But were they younger,  it’d be fun to grab a few other families, get a couple of hotel rooms, and take turns watching children and films.

A few hours at the Harkins Camelview Theatre enjoying films. A few hours poolside with the kids. More film. Bedtime stories. More film. Perhaps a wee bit of shopping. But best of all, the chance to enjoy time with grown-ups who share an interest in reel storytime adventures and the conversations they generate.

"The World is Big" (Bulgaria, 2009, Bulgarian with subtitles)

I mention all this today because it looks like the best pricing awaits those who make their ticket/pass selections before the festival opens Friday evening. So take some time today to get online and review your many options. It’s no fun to show up at the last minute and find that a favorite film offering is already sold out.

A quick review of featured film titles has certainly piqued my interest. Hidden Diary. Come Undone. The World Is Big. Burning in the Sun. There’s also Bride Fight, Fathers & Guns, Time of the Comet, Chef of South Polar and many more.

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (Sweden/Denmark, 2009, Swedish with subtitles)

The opening film, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” shows at 7pm, Oct 1, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (home to the “Talk Cinema” series beginning Oct 19).

I’ll be attending if I can convince my hubby to take over my volunteer box office duties at “Lucky Stiff” that night. He’s way-beyond-worthy of being officially promoted to “Stage Dad.”

"Conviction" (USA, 2010, English)

Lizabeth is most intrigued by the closing film, “Conviction,” which shows at 8:25pm on Oct 5 (at Harkins Camelview) — so I hope to enjoy that one as well.

The brevity of blogging prevents me from sharing details about individual films, so I really do hope that you’ll go online to read more about the magnificent depth and breadth of the festival’s offerings.

"Nora's Will" (Mexico, 2008, Spanish with subtitles)

Thank goodness I’ve never run into a dessert menu with this many gourmet options. After learning more about this year’s film offerings, I’m on the verge of saying — without guilt — that I’ll take one of each.

–Lynn

Note: Click here to visit the Scottsdale International Film Festival website

Coming up: Disney meets Diamond Head?, Gleeks: There’s a camp for that?