Thursday, March 2, 2017

A United Kingdom, along with briefer comments on the 2017 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films

     Political Dances (plus a couple of others involving a train and a parking garage)
 2017’s February-finale's resulted in some notable distractions for me (Ken Burke, the ongoing-voice of Two Guys in the Dark while Pat Craig continues his quest for Nirvana or at least to score a winning lottery ticket), what with the grim combination of the Oscars' big mess of the  Best Picture winner 
(a preventable-snafu, with responsibility tied to Brian Cullinan, a partner of the now-horribly-humiliated PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm),* having to endure the ongoing-nightmarish-reality known as President Trump (due to the November 2016 election's [also probably- preventable] snafu, with responsibility tied to a seeming combination of Democratic strategists, decisions by FBI Director James Comey, and the actions of pseudo-czar-Putin’s hackers [Trump even connects himself to the Oscars screw-up, claiming the confusion occurred because the show’s participants were too distracted by their attacks on him, but he's not so forthcoming about his Russia-connections]) addressing a joint session of Congress, and the potential-season/championship-impacting-injury of (Oakland, CA’s) NBA Golden State Warrior basketball star Kevin Durant, I was happily-able to celebrate some uncompromised-joy with my wife, Nina Kindblad, as we slipped away to the seaside-artists’-colony of Mendocino, CA to celebrate having met 30 years ago (married almost 26½ of that) at a Paul Simon concert ("Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" indeed, even if she wasn’t a “rich girl”), so if this week’s posting's a bit late you’ll have to pardon me for being caught in other attention-consuming-activities that may occur only once in a lifetime (assuming the Oscar accountants take better responsibility with checking which envelopes they hand to presenters, we don’t continue to play “Russian roulette” with our elections,  and Nina [dressed nicely for our anniversary dinner in the accompanying photo while I’m in my usual Friday {Saturday, Sunday, Monday … casual, “To compensate for his ordinary shoes”}] and I might not be able to squeeze in another 30 years unless our genes structures are stronger than we think).  With all of that noted, let’s move onto the reviews.

*I can’t imagine what I’d have done in this moment, but I still hold Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway somewhat responsible for not saying there was something amiss with the envelope they were given before blurting out the wrong result.  See this link for the latest  (by the time I went to press post) on this Oscar-embarrassment for all concerned, especially the gut-wrenching-reversal for the La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016) folks and clumsy-triumph for the Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) team.**  I’ve also updated my previous Oscar predictions post to note the winners, along with how accurate I was in my assumptions about the trophy-takers (no surprise, I was about 2/3 right again).

**At least these supportive directors have no qualms about the confusion caused at the event.
                                                  Review by Ken Burke
                                       A United Kingdom (Amma Asante)

This true story begins in 1947 London, focuses on Seretse Khama, prince of the Bangwato people in British-protectorate-Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) as he’s meeting the love of his life, Ruth Williams; despite opposition from Ruth’s father, government officials of Great Britain and South Africa, and Khama’s own people they marry, ready to face their opposition.

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In 1947 London, a university student, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), from the British protectorate in Africa, Bechuanaland, happens upon an office worker, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), attending a student party with her sister, Muriel.  Flirtation soon leads to infatuation between the 2, despite Ruth keeping her new relationship from her racist father (Khama’s the victim of racism in the streets of London as well, accosted by thugs despite being able to defend himself with experience as an amateur boxer).  Soon, he pushes for a more-invested-connection through marriage, despite not only the racial divide between them but also the much-more-complicated reality that he’s the prince of the Bangwato (or Bamangwato) Kingdom in his country, in training to be a proper ruler while his uncle, Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene), serves as regent, given that our protagonist was only 3 when his father died.  Despite demands from the British government to Ruth that she decline the marriage because of the hostility it will cause with Bechuanaland’s apartheid-policy-neighbor, South Africa (whose valuable minerals are critical to support Great Britain’s WW II-ravaged-economy),  Ruth and Seretse marry anyway only to find that his own people reject his wife as a symbol of their colonial status (Khama’s grandfather made an agreement with Queen Victoria for protection against invasion by South Africa), although his sister, Naledi (Terry Pheto), finally helps her new in-law gain some traction with the hostile native population; still, Ruth’s not much better received by the occupying-British-governmental-men nor their wives.  The situation shifts from consternation to crisis when Khama’s called back to London under false pretenses (leaving Ruth behind), then not allowed to return to Africa due to pressure from Uncle Tshekedi that his nephew isn’t fit to be the king of their country.

 Trying to stay spoiler-free about a narrative that can easily be found in historical summaries is difficult (especially when those summaries reveal the usual manipulation of facts in order to support a more-easily-flowing-narrative on screen, but I’ll clarify those minor plot problems with reality vs. fictionalization in the more-detailed-discussion below), so let me just say that this film continues on with Khama’s strategies to resolve the intrafamilial-dispute, find a means for returning to his homeland, develop some responses for addressing the terrible poverty of his people, while never wavering in his love for his wife despite opposition to her as queen.  As such, it’s a very inspiring romance on the personal level, as well as yet another delving into areas that many of us know little to nothing about, in this case the emergence of the independent country of Batswana (which, given its great size, I can further understand South Africa’s interest in acquiring this additional territory).
So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
The film's Ruth and Seretse Khama (left), along with the actual Ruth and Seretse
What Happens: In yet another film based in recent history, we begin in London during post-WW II 1947 where we find university student Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) trying to earn some extra money as a boxer, but the bout we witness is cut short when he’s (illegally) head-butted by his opponent, then pounded down for a TKO.  Later he’s feeling much better, attending a mixer-party for students such as himself where he catches the eye of Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), accompanying her younger sister/college student Muriel (Laura Carmichael).  Flirtation, plus bonding over jazz, soon leads to infatuation, but Ruth—a typist in an office pool—keeps details of her new beau from father George (Nicholas Lyndhurst), a vocal racist not amused by the dark-skinned-subjects of the British Empire who’ve come to his home country.  Neither are some street thugs who accost Seretse, but at least his boxing skills allow him to fight off these jerks; he’ll have a much harder time with political opponents of his object of romantic affection, though, even as he pushes past what he knows will be difficult barriers in order to ask her to wed.  She’s a bit shocked by the sudden question (we get the impression they’ve known each other for only a few weeks at most, although—as with many details of history vs. dramatization here—their actual courtship lasted for a year) asked in haste because Seretse’s soon due to return to Africa but Ruth accepts, drawing immediate opposition from not only her father but also the government who doesn’t want to upset Commonwealth partner South Africa, with their newly-imposed-policy of apartheid (strict racial separation), because their great mineral wealth is crucial to Britain’s war-ravaged-economy.

 The larger reason that the union of a Black African and a White Brit was such a potential calamity, though, is that Khama’s actually the king-in-waiting (father died when he was 3) of the Bangwato people who inhabit a significant part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana, bordering on South Africa), a country kept free from South African intrusion by an agreement between Khama’s grandfather and Queen Victoria; as Seretse’s grown into adulthood (including university in London) he’s been training for his royal succession while Uncle Tshekedi Khama’s ruled as regent.

 Despite the personal and public opposition to their union Seretse and Ruth marry, but when they travel to his home in Africa (to an angry uncle) he finds his people don’t want a White queen either—especially from their colonizers—nor is Ruth accepted beyond surface pleasantries by the local Brit overseers and their spouses.  Troubled by the conflicts over his wife, and concerned about the squalid conditions of his countrymen living a semi-destitute-existence in their hot, arid environment (the massive Kalihari Desert dominates much of their nation), Seretse responds to a request for him to return to London to settle the family squabble (Ruth decides to stay behind in Africa, afraid she wouldn’t be allowed to return once she's back in England) only to find that under pressure from his uncle the British government has determined he’d not be a proper ruler because of his divisive actions, further forbidding him to return home for 5 years.  Some members of Parliament support Khama’s situation, though, then he gets great hope when Winston Churchill’s Conservative Party takes over from Labour (in 1951, although the film gives a sense of a year at most passing since our story began), with a campaign promise to allow Khama to return home only to shockingly switch to a permanent ban on his return, leaving Ruth broken-hearted and almost alone, although sister-in-law Naledi Khama (Terry Pheto) has become sympathetic, helping her become much better accepted by the Bangwato people, even as she endures diphtheria, pregnancy, and birth of their daughter in her husband’s absence. 

  Between Ruth’s public calls for Seretse’s return and his clandestine workings with sympathetic British government agents he secures validation of any mineral rights in his country to remain with his people, gets a copy of the secret report that actually declares him fit to rule, uses this as blackmail to be allowed home, works out an agreement with his uncle that neither will claim the throne, then concentrates on complete independence, which finally comes in 1966 with him as the country’s 1st President (their eldest son Ian is now the 4th President), all of which accompanied a grand economic reversal because of another secret report he had that diamonds were found on his side of the border with South Africa, eventually leading to greater economic stability for Botswana.

So What? While the general outlines of this true story are basically-intact, there’s a lot of specific historical detail that's been somewhat altered to fit the length and conclusion needs of a conventional success-based-screenplay, so we find the major specific changes being that Ruth was embraced by the Bangwato early on while Uncle Tshekedi wasn’t supported by the people so he was forced to leave Bechuanaland; however, the  racist South African pressure on the British government is awfully true enough, leading to both Seretse and Ruth being exiled to England in 1951 then returning in 1956 with support of the Queen,   the former-tribal-king eventually getting involved in politics again so that by the mid-1960s he was Prime Minister of Bechuanaland (which was never just the equivalent of the tribal Bangwatos, despite the film’s implication of such, not clarifying the existence of other tribes as well), pushing for independence which finally arrives, leading to his election as President, a role which continued until his death in 1980 (however, the diamonds weren’t discovered until 1967 and that important report showing him fit to rule his tribe as king was reportedly not released until the early 1980s so I’m not sure he had that as a bargaining chip either). What’s not in doubt, though, is the deep love this interracial couple had for each other at a time when cultural prohibitions against such a true human connection were much more intense worldwide (Seretse’s aunt tells Ruth when they first meet: “You insult us all!”) than they are today (not that racist attitudes don’t still run rampant in many societies across the globe, but at least many of the legal prohibitions have been abandoned as has some of the automatic, uniform sense of hatred of the “other”); a useful insight to that long-ago-heart-connection is described in this news story by the couple's gracious granddaughter, Tahlia Khama.

*Much of this information comes from this site and others because it’s certainly not something I paid much attention to in high school in 1966 when Botswana became independent.  Despite the rearrangement of some facts in Seretse and Ruth’s story, I’m grateful to the filmmakers for giving me a reasonable insight into an aspect of history in my own time that had previously eluded me.

 Such dedicated passion in the face of consistent hostility (even if it was actually more strident in the Europeans than the Africans) makes for an inspirational story, one quite relevant in our contemporary world of so many industrial nations experiencing increasing hostility to non-Whites, based today somewhat less on old foundational racism, more so on fears of such people as covert terrorists or "invading" undocumented workers who are seen as trying to "prevent" some of the low-income-citizens of a given Western country from claiming their family-heritage-manual-labor-work (even though such “illegal” laborers are usually needed to take these undesirable jobs).  The people supporting such hostile rejection of “foreigners” (no matter where these outcasts were actually born) aren’t likely to seek out A United Kingdom in a quest to increase their tolerance (worldwide it’s made only about $7.5 million—just a bit over 1 million of that in the U.S.-Canada domestic market—after 3 weeks in release), but maybe through osmosis they’ll pick up a bit on the reality that inclusion isn’t just a contemporary idea but one that’s surfaced wherever, whenever it’s been allowed to for quite some time.  At least the critical response has been solid—if not spectacular—with 84% positive reviews surveyed at Rotten Tomatoes, a 66% average score at Metacritic—which brings me to my last topic regarding this film.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: 
From here on out for the rest of this year I assume I’ll be reviewing 2017 releases (except for the current Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts noted below) so I’ll have to keep note of when something might be a contender much later this year in the many competitive races for those desperately-sought-after-awards.  Yet, despite its very uplifting impact, I doubt that A United Kingdom will draw such consideration (nor will much of anything else released this time of year unless something really spectacular manages to sneak its way through the studios' usual burnoff-season-film-distribution-strategy), for as much as this earnest-docudrama offers hope to a currently-divided, turbulent U.S. society that individuals can rise above the issues (“fake news” or not)  separating us, the result of this story on screen just seem too constructed for sentimental-triumph to be hailed as great (although quite good) cinema.  I’m not saying that couples can’t fall in love at first sight (it was practically that way with Nina and me, although we were both a little hesitant based on some past failed relationships), nor that national rulers don’t share compassion with those who’ve been unjustly wronged (essentially, the Khamas were allowed to return to Africa after an appeal to Queen Elizabeth II from the Bangwato to “send us our real Chief – the man born our Chief”), nor that rural women in Bechuanaland wouldn’t respond positively to an outsider woman who sincerely wanted to function as their queen as best she could (although it doesn’t sound like she really had to join them in manual labor—as depicted in this film—to bring it about), but there’s just too much of a sense of an inevitable arc of justice rising over the swamps of prejudice for A United Kingdom to fully soar as much as it might aspire to do.

 Maybe there’s also the reality that this film seems somewhat repetitious—despite its basic historical validity—of the similar-seeming-story told just a few months ago in Loving (directed by Jeff Nichols; review in our December 1, 2016 posting) that just felt more complete to me (I gave it 4 stars), in that case a  situation about a White man marrying a Black woman in 1958 Virginia, where we have a non-confrontational rural couple whose dogged-determination to simply be allowed the freedom to live together despite their state's antiquated miscegenation concepts about so-called "mixed-race" relationships finally resulted in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing nationwide that aspect of American apartheid, linking up with various other Court rulings and new laws rejecting the old rationale of “separate but [un]equal.”  Both of these situations, on different continents in roughly the same era, are at base simple stories of interpersonal connection, challenges to existing mores (and governmental policies founded on such attitudes), growth of the human condition at large as the result of such advocates of personal liberty, but Loving just resonated a bit more with me, especially when I delved deeper into the biographies of the actual Khamas, how their real-life-marriage was more easily accepted in Africa than England, how rejection of their union was actually intended as a
ploy of economic policy to appease White African racists rather than as a response to their bold-defiance of the norms of "proper" British society, and how this marriage "scandal" seems to be a relatively minor aspect of Seretse’s overall life and political career.  Still, I do quite like what I find in A United Kingdom, in its depiction of young lovers rejecting the stale, staid, growth-confining-futures offered by their obstinate-elders.  So, for my usual review-finale of a Musical Metaphor (chosen to give a final perspective on the work under consideration from the perspective of another art form) I’m going with Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” (from the 1981 Tonight I’m Yours album), another tale of young lovers in Britain facing resistance, in an exuberant music video at which—while it may seem irreverent in this context (as if I ever cared much about that) given the historical impact of the intercultural (and intracultural) confrontations presented in A United Kingdom—seems reasonably appropriate to me as it encourages “young hearts [to] be free … Because life is so brief and time is a thief when you’re undecided And like a fistful of sand, it can slip right through your hands.”  Seretse and Ruth resolved not to be undecided, although their choice  of marriage caused plenty of mutual-personal-pain until their immediate, as well as more far-reaching, circumstances could finally find resolution.
SHORT TAKES (spoilers appear here also)
 What could be more appropriate for my SHORT TAKES section than for me to review some of the 2017 Oscar-nominated Short Films.  I’ve seen only the Live Action nominees, but if you’d like to find out more about the Animated and Documentary ones you should consult this Oscar-related-site (where you can also watch trailers for each of these films).  Seeing the compiled programs may not be easy to come by in a theater, depending on where you live (the site offers quick location findings up to 500 miles away from wherever your home may be—just in the U.S. and Canada, though) but, if not, there are many online and video-on-demand options which you can also explore.  Just to give you a sense of how the program of nominees flows, I’ll put my short reviews in order of how these Live Action Shorts contenders are screened.  All of them obviously have their merits, but some have decidedly more impact; my star ratings are within the context of short films, rather than holding them to the same demanding standards of well-financed, superbly-produced, star-studded, feature-length experiences, even though these limited-format-expressions all demonstrate admirable quality despite their inherent format limitations.
          Sing [Mindenki] (Kristof Deák, Hungary, 25 min.)

 This one (sadly) is based on fact (in 1990s post-socialist Budapest), about a new student, Zsófi (Dóra Gáspárvalvi)—she's about 10 years old—happy to learn the policy is that anyone can join the heavenly-sounding, well-awarded choir, led vigorously by Miss Erika (Zsófia Szamosi), where
Zsófi's new friend, Liza (Dorka Hais), is already a star member.  However, after her first rehearsal with the group, Miss Erika tells Zsófi that until her voice improves she needs to just mime the lyrics so as to not dilute the other children's vocal quality, in the choir director’s quest to win Hungary's national competition in order to compete in Sweden for the European title.  Hurt but eager to fit in, Zsófi goes along with the ruse until Liza demands to know what’s going on; next day, Liza calls out their teacher on this demeaning policy only to be countered with the rationale that everyone’s welcome in the choir but she still wants them to be triumphant, revealing in the process that several others also have been told to mime.  The children take revenge, though, when they come on stage for the national contest, as all of them mime, horrifying Miss Erika until she walks away disgusted, at which time they all start singing, led by Liza’s angelic voice.  This is a sweet story of putting acceptance before reward, although to my ears these kids sounded just as sublime with everyone participating as they did during their earlier enforced-limits-rehearsals; however, given the other choices I’m still surprised Sing won the Oscar.
            Silent Nights (Aske Bang, Denmark, 30 min.)

 Here we have a sad tale that may be fictional but certainly reflects current worldwide problems with clashes over immigration and resource-inequities. We begin this brief story with Inger (Malene Beltoft Olsen), a young woman in Copenhagen—who helps her alcoholic mother, Solveig (Vibeke Hastrup), stagger home from bars or get cleaned up after soiling herself in bed, sleeping well into the day—deciding to volunteer at a shelter where she’s attracted to one of the homeless, Kwame (Prince Yaw Appiah), a charming man who conveniently doesn’t tell her that he’s there without a visa nor, despite Inger's obvious interest in him, that he has a wife and children back in Ghana (when he calls his wife, though, he also doesn’t tell her he has no job, so he makes excuses about not yet sending money the family desperately needs).  Kwame’s sneaking into Europe in hopes of finding (unavailable) work is further soured by physical attacks by North African Arabs along with verbal abuse from local Danes.  Solveig’s just as racist, leading to an abrupt end to dinner when daughter invites mother to meet her new boyfriend, now living with Inger after she takes pity on Kwame when security cameras reveal he stole money from the shelter (needed when his daughter in Ghana required emergency hospital care), claiming it was for his grandfather.  Inger’s ready to marry Kwame in order to get him citizenship but discovers photos of his family on his phone, leading to his abrupt exile from her life.  This all resolves when Mom dies, leaving her apartment and a good bit of cash to Inger, which she then turns over to Kwame (50,000 [kroner? not sure; if so about $7,100]) as her forgiveness and desire to help him and his family overcomes the hurtful betrayal, allowing him to go home with a means of support.  This ending might seem just too romantically-sentimental, but it still says a lot about the potential generosity of the human spirit.
       Timecode (Juanjo Giménez Peña, Spain, 15 min.)
This one's a marvelously-whimsical bit of fluff but a nice break between the grim contents of the 2nd and 4th offerings of this program of Shorts; what’s here is the unexpected love story of 2 urban-parking-garage-security-guards who each work 12-hour-shifts, her (Luna [Lali Ayguadé]) during the day, him (Diego [Nicolas Ricchini]) overnight, in a spotless car environment where all they really have to do is watch a large bank of security cameras to see the nothingness of their secure, event-free-job; that is until Luna gets a call about a customer with some minor turn-signal-damage. As she checks the appropriate garage-location-camera-footage (guided by the embedded timecode) she’s surprised to find Diego doing silent dance steps that resulted in an accidental minor brush with the involved car.  Rather than report the reality to her boss or say anything to Diego about it when they next change shifts, she simply leaves him a note about location and time so he can see the video for himself; this leads to him leaving her notes about other location/time footage where she sees him in various physical movements, soon to be duplicated by her to him with equal exuberance.  Our charming story ends with the boss showing a new recruit how the surveillance system works, only to discover footage of his now-former-employees in duets all over the parking garage which expand from single- to multi-screen (building up to 6).  This is all just silly but it's great fun to watch.
                 Ennemis Intérieurs [Enemies Within] 
                      (Sélim Aazzazi, France, 28 min.)
 This offering in Oscar's cluster of  top Live Action short films from 2016 is certainly the most serious of the 5-finalist-programeven more  relevant to see in the current-context of President (terrorphobe) Trump’s ongoing attempt to limit immigration into the U.S. (from all Middle-Eastern-Muslims, despite how he tries to word his edicts)—forcing us, the audience, as empathetic-but-disturbed-viewers, to constantly endure this grueling sense of cold, mounting tension during the constrained-running-time, with the narrative's actions culminating in a likely-but-disturbing-decision, open to potentially-confrontational-debate over which side—if either—is hoping to claim the higher moral ground in this circumstance.  What we have is a situation—like Sing, set in the 1990s—where a man (not identified by character name, played by Hassam Ghancy) born in Algeria but living in France most of his life has finally decided to apply for French citizenship, claiming he was actually born in France given the colonial status of Algeria.  His interrogator (also no character name, played by Najib Oudghiri) is constantly pushing him for names of Arab men he knows from a group he’s met at a mosque who may well be terrorists (although the applicant says they’re just a group of familiar people offering him hospitality, that he has no strong religious ties to their common culture), reminding the applicant that he has a police record that must be taken into account, which could even lead to his deportation.  After extensive bitter exchanges the applicant says his arrest (which led to 2 years in prison) was simply the result of similar police harassment, that he committed no crime.  When the inquisitor declares that he’ll have to give a negative assessment to this application, the man leaves in disgust but soon comes back (concerned that the French government will take action against him and/or his teenage son), gives the required names of his associates with the realization that he’s likely to suffer again if he doesn’t, then the film ends with a montage of similar black & white video camera images to what we’ve previously seen of this long interrogation as many people are brought before the inquisitor.

 While all of these Oscar finalists in this category have their strengths and appeals, for me this one “trumps” the others not just because of the commanding acting of 2 intense men playing out their verbal duel within such a claustrophobic space but also because of its relevance to both sides of the current global debates on immigration, how one contingent (as with Silent Nights) must advocate for increased respect and opportunity not available in their home countries while the other is justly concerned about the ongoing danger of mistakenly permitting violent criminals to either enter or remain within violated countries.  There are no easy answers here (especially that can be contained in brief Presidential Executive Orders), but this story throws a harsh light on the fears that drive and divide these situations.  Given that I think Ennemis Intérieurs should have been the winner of the Live Action Short Films Oscar category, I’ll offer a Musical Metaphor just for it—not the whole program—with Graham Nash’s "Immigration Man" (from the 1972 Graham Nash David Crosby album) because of the song's focus on “Can I cross the line and pray I can stay another day” despite the inner-resentment voiced in lines like “I won’t toe your line today I can’t see it anyway.”
                La Femme et le TGV (Timo von Gunten, 
                Switzerland, 30 min.)
 In case your French is a bit rusty (or, if it's like in my case, almost non-existent) this title’s simply The Woman and the TGV (a high-speed-train with routes that run [truly run!] throughout much of the continent we call western Europe), a straightforward indication of the plot (like Sing, taken from a true story) in that it’s basically about a lonely widow, Elise Lafontaine (Jane Birkin), who joyfully lives right next to the TGV tracks, planning her daily early morning and early evening schedules to be available to lean out her window so she can wave her Swiss flag as the train rushes by.  The rest of her time is spent in a semi-comatose-state at her essentially-defunct-bakery where she produces little for few customers, although she brings her parakeet along for companionship (she’s getting so distracted her son, Pierre [Mathieu Bisson], wants to put her into a retirement home, an option she angrily rejects).  One day it all changes when she finds a note in her yard from the train engineer thanking her for brightening his trips with her regular appearances.  He signed his note so she’s able to get a business address for Bruno (Gilles Tschudi, although we don’t see him until the very end) to which she sends regular correspondence, along with samples of her baked goods to which he responds with daily tossed replies that often include cheeses (which she stores; it's a food she doesn’t like to eat).  Soon, she’s constructed a romantic scenario with this guy, which is abruptly challenged when he leaves a last package, telling her he’s been assigned to another route; Elise rushes to Zurich to attempt to meet him, which she sort of does as they connect through the window of a passenger car, but he’s with his wife (whom, like Kwame in Silent Nights, he’s never mentioned before) as the train pulls away.  Still, Elise’s energized by all this so she hires a local young man, Jacques (Lucien Guignard), puts energy back into her bakery, seems more alive than even when her 2 alarm clocks used to wake her every morning for her eagerly-awaited-daily-greeting to the rapidly-passing-TGV.

 As I noted in my previous posting, this semi-romance-film could likely have been the one favored by Oscar voters—given the established-career of Birkin as well as the jaunty sense of connection to dissolution to bounce-back in this tale of Elise and Bruno.  I could also relate to the plot twist when she finally connects with her would-be-lover only to find out he was just being friendly all along, not trying to spark a romance with her, because it reminded me of a time some 30+ years ago (before I met Nina) when I also had my own episode of what seemed to be a promising chance encounter with a woman who seemed intriguing to (and, I thought, intrigued by) me; I had a marvelous dinner with her in San Francisco, was making future plans in my head until we were almost back to her place when she finally, casually dropped the information her husband was now back in town after being away for awhile.  I’m very glad my future turned out a couple of years later to be with Nina, but the situation of La Femme … certainly sparked some memories, just as Nina was reminded by Sing of her grade-school-days when she got a similar request by the teacher of a choral group to not sing as loud as the other kids so that her “individual” voice wouldn’t be so noticeable (not one of her best memories either).  Maybe we’ll have to put those thoughts aside by wandering into an upscale parking lot some night, offering a little upper-floor-pas-de-deux for the security cameras (although, given my dance floor “virtuosity,” it might be better to just bring a couple of mallards with us and “pass the ducks” back and forth*).  Do consider finding these films, though—and their cousins in the other 2 Shorts categories—both for their own qualities and the possibility that they might stir up some long-ago-memories for you.

*Or we could all just watch another great short film (a still from it just above), the magnificent classic from Norman McLaren and the National Film Board of Canada, Pas de Deux (1968; 13:21).
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We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2016 along with the Oscar nominees and winners for 2016 films.

Here’s more information about A United Kingdom: (35:01 interview with director Amma Asante and actors David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Laura Carmichael, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Jessica Oyelowo)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 2/16/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 26,001; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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