Smoke Signals

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The film Smoke Signals is about two young Indians, Victor and Thomas, who take a trip to Phoenix, Arizona to pick up a few things that belonged to Victor’s father who suddenly passed away. Victor has always been a stubborn child since his father up and left him and his mom. He has carried this bitterness towards his father like a chip on his shoulder, always looking to Thomas to take his anger out on.

At the beginning of the film the narrator describes Victor and Thomas as “children born of flame and ash.” This description carries on throughout the film starting with the fire that changed everything and ended with the ashes of Victor’s father who was the source of so much tension. When Victor throws his fathers ashes into the rushing water it is the perfect symbol of release and forgiveness.

The character that really carried the film for me was Thomas. His innocent, carefree spirit and love for telling stories helped keep the plot alive. There was something wonderful about him. No matter how much Victor yelled at him to stop telling stories, he wouldn’t let it deter him, especially when those stories were about Victor’s father. To him, telling these stories was a way of both keeping  Victor’s father alive and showing Victor that he wasn’t all bad despite what he grew up believing. Every story, whether it was exaggerated or not, was a way  for him to hold on to the memories he cherished most.

Billy Elliot

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Billy Elliot has always been at the top of my bucket list of films to watch. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. For many years all I have heard about this film were good things. So because of that, before the opening titles were even finished, I already had my standards set pretty high. In the beginning I wasn’t too sure about how I felt about it yet. I was still iffy on whether or not I liked it. However, as soon as Billy decided to join in on the ballet classes instead of boxing I knew that this was when it really started to get good. I have always been a really big Jamie Bell fan despite him never being in any major roles, so when I noticed that he was the main star of this film I was both excited and curious to see why. Apparently Jamie Bell grew up in a household of dancers and started imitating dance moves outside his sisters dance practices before being asked to join in. His own story practically imitates that of Billy Elliot’s in that they both started dancing in secret. That is one of the aspects that I love about this film. So often in real life people start off doing what they love in secret before their family finally becomes accepting of it. One of my favorite scenes in the film is while Billy’s dad, brother Tony, and Mrs. Wilkinson all fight about whether or not he should be allowed to continue ballet, Billy starts dancing his frustrations out through the streets and along rooftops, passionately tapping his feet along the way. He doesn’t even realize exactly what it is that he’s doing, all he’s thinking about is finding some way or other to vent these emotions. Billy Elliot truly is an outstanding film and I am more than happy to finally check it off of my bucket list.

Songcatcher

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Songcatcher is a film about a woman by the name of Dr. Lily Penleric who decides to publish a book of all the songs she has discovered from the people living in the mountain. The songs that many of the people sing were learnt from their parents and/or great-grandparents all of them originating back to old England and Scotland before the settlement in the United States. Dr. Penleric comes across many different men and women, husbands and wives, who use singing as a way of expressing their emotions. After taking the offer that Mr. Giddens practically forces upon them Mr. and Mrs. Gentry pull out a violin and sings a song to express the melancholy of their new situation. Another scene of the film shows a whole community of mountain people gathering around having a good time while men and women play different instruments to accompany those who are dancing. For the mountain people singing is their ultimate form of expression and is cherished just as highly as the land itself. At one point Dr. Penleric even goes on to explain it as, “it’s like the air you all breathe.” Between the story that the lyrics unveil and the sound that the instruments provide it is a history in and of itself that each of these songs hold.

La Mission & Mi Familia

 

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Both La Mission and Mi Familia were a joy to watch. I especially loved La Mission and the compelling story line it shared. While La Mission centers on a father finding out about his son being gay and having a hard time accepting this, Mi Familia centers on one big family and how each of the kids lives turn out, especially focusing on Jimmy (the youngest son) and the struggles he is constantly facing. The main theme that sticks out when watching each of these films is that of family and how strongly the fathers cherish such a bond.

“The greatest riches a man can have in his life…mi familia.” – Mi Familia

The father in each film, Che in La Mission and Jimmy in Mi Familia, have grown up through rebellion so whenever something goes wrong they both seem to take their emotions out through anger and violence. While neither of them impose this violence directly on their family, excluding when Che first finds out about his sons sexuality, they don’t care in the slightest what kind of trouble their anger may bring upon themselves. What I really appreciated about these films was how real these scenes were and the vulnerabilities that these fathers showed regarding the well being of their sons.

Buena Vista Social Club

BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, Ruben Gonzalez, 1999, © Artisan Entertainment

Buena Vista Social Club was originally a members only social club in Havana, Cuba where people would gather to have drinks and enjoy live music. Despite the club closing in the 1940’s its reputation still hangs around thanks to the group of older Cuban musicians who formed a band with the same name. Throughout the film we both to get to hear the music that has been inspired by the Cuban community as well as meet the cherished members that make up the band. I loved listening to the stories told by each of the members alongside excerpts of their live performance in Amsterdam. Every musician in the Buena Vista Social Club has their own inspiring story that they share and yet every single one of them has one thing in common…a love for music that began at an incredibly young age. The musician that enticed me the most was Ruben Gonzales, a piano player born in Santa Clara in 1919. Growing up Ruben recalls having a John Stowers piano in his home where he began teaching himself how to play at the age of seven. By first grade he became so good that his mother signed him up  for formal lessons with a private teacher. The way his fingers flow effortlessly across the keys of the piano is incredible and the music that comes from it even more so. The way he recalls the story of how he first begun playing and the scene in the film where we see him playing for the young girls and boys at their gymnastics practice it is impossible to not see the pure joy that he gets when doing what he loves.

I remember as a kid wanting to learn how to play the piano because I always loved the sounds that it could create. Not having enough money to buy a piano for the house my parents suggested I learn to play the guitar instead. After attempting to learn the guitar I have a strong appreciation for those who are able to play it so effortlessly because after many many lessons I was never able to get the hang of getting the fingers on my left hand to hold down the note while the fingers on my right hand strummed them together. In the end the guitar just wasn’t for me. However, after watching this film it rekindles the desire of mine to learn the piano just as I had wanted to when I was a kid. Perhaps it’s not too late to learn a new skill, or at least give a long forgotten yearning a try.