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Better Days

(Hong Kong, English Subtitles): This film about bullying is China’s entry for the 93rd Academy Award for Best International film. Nian is a high school student who is under a lot of pressure to perform well in her college entrance exams. Her mother is away a lot trying to earn money selling fake goods to support the two of them. Nian is bullied, sometimes quite viciously, by a group of other girls at school. One day, Nian witnesses Xiao, a small-time criminal, getting beaten by others, and Nian goes to help him. He later agrees to protect her from the …

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Mother

Japan, English Subtitles: Akiko (Masami Nagaswa) is mother to Shuhei (Daiken Okudaira). In the beginning, we see Akiko (who is 7) and Shuhei playing; his mom allows him to play hooky from school so that they could spend the day together. As the film progresses, we begin to see more clearly who Akiko is: She is a mess, a woman who has drinking problems, a chronic gambler who constantly loses any money she has, is narcissistic, and manages to find ways to get Shuhei to do what she wants – begging for money and food, staying by himself eating uncooked …

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Ainu Mosir

Japan, English Subtitles: Kanto is a 14-year-old young man who has just lost his father. He is descended from the Ainu people who live in one of the northern Japanese islands. The film is a coming of age story and how Kanto navigates being a teenager who wants to go anywhere for high school that will take him away from the island that he feels is restrictive and the traditions that reflect his heritage. I really enjoyed the film; it is beautiful to look at, and I always appreciate stories about native traditions. This culture seems to have traditions not …

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Weathering With You

This film is a follow-up to the wonderful Makoto Shinkai 2016 film Your Name. Hodaka is a 16-year-old boy who runs away from his home on one of the islands to the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is experiencing record intense and long-lasting rains. There, struggling to find his way as a minor in a big city, he meets Hina, a girl who has the ability to bring sunshine for short periods of time. When she realizes this, the two of them start a business to ensure that special events have sun. I love this film. The animation is very colorful, …

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Cuties (Mignonnes

(French, dubbed in English in the Netflix version): Amy, who is Senegalese, lives with her mother and brother in a Paris neighborhood. She wants to become a member of the Cuties, a hip-hop dance group. She befriends Jess, one of the Cuties, and soon teaches herself the dance moves, begins to dress like them, and begins teaching them new dance moves that she has found on the internet. The controversy over this film is completely overblown, but I will leave that aside for the moment and focus on what the film is. It is a striking coming of age film …

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Winter Sleep

(Turkey, English subtitles). Ayden a former stage star who is wealthy and owns a hotel in Anatolia. He lives there with his sister Necla, who is divorced and has regrets about the dissolution of their marriage, and with his much younger wife Nihal. As winter approaches, the hotel customers become much sparser and the tensions among the three find new life. This is an amazing film. It is over 3 ½ hours in length, but it never feels that long, and it felt like it could have gone on longer. This is a dialog film, and patience is rewarded as …

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The Wild Pear Tree

(Turkey, English Subtitles): Sinan has just graduated college and returns home to a small and more rural town, hoping to publish his first book that he refers to as an “auto-fiction meta novel” (which in itself reflects the film’s ability to get you to constantly try to unpack the narrative). His father is a schoolteacher who has gambled away the family home. He is close to retiring, and at the beginning of the film, he is trying to dig a well on a family plot that everyone says will never run. The film is partly a father-son relationship journey, but …

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Tigertail

(Taiwan-American): The film spans three generations centered on Pin-Jui: Pin-Jui’s childhood and young adulthood; his married years, and his children. The screenplay bounces back and forth in time to tell the story of how Pin-Jui followed his dream and moved to America from Taiwan. It is a story about the choices we make and their ramifications. I liked the film, although I did not think it great. While it is a nicely told story, it lacks the emotional depth needed to connect with the characters. So many of the stories are half-told, and it all felt rushed (one example is …

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Away

Latvia: This is probably one of the most unusual animated films I have seen. It reminded me a lot of the wonderful Red Turtle that came out a few years ago in that there is no dialog at all. The film, told in 5 chapters, starts out with a boy, probably a teenager, who is dangling from a parachute in a tree. When he regains consciousness, he is confronted by a large, menacing figure who pursues him throughout the film. The boy discovers a map that will take him to the other side of the island where civilization is, and …

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Sorry We Missed You

This is a new film by Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake), which like the previous film, is focused on the working poor.  Ricky has had his share of troubles: He and his family (wife Abby, son Seb, and daughter Lisa) lost their home as a result of the 2008 crash, and they have struggled to make ends meet. His wife works in a low-paying home health aide position, and he has not been able to get a decent paying job. One day, he applies and joins a parcel delivery company that promises that “he won’t work for the company, he …

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