Niagara Gazette

October 29, 2013

CALLERI: Get ready for the march of the motion pictures, plus a pair to see during the lull

By Michael Calleri
Night & Day

Night & Day — I have to admit that when I saw Halloween candy at a local supermarket on a sweltering day in August, I was momentarily surprised and annoyed.

In September, I caught some television commercials exalting the upcoming Christmas holiday. Knowing the way the world is, it didn’t surprise me, although it did sadden me a bit. I like my holidays to be recognized, oh I don’t know, around the time they occur.

The Christmas spirit (or lack of respect for it) made me wonder what will happen to such proud November moments as Election Day, Veteran’s Day, and Thanksgiving? Frankly, Thanksgiving seems more and more like a crass opportunity to binge-eat rather than a day to celebrate family and the bounty of America. Don’t get me started on what I consider to be the unfortunate opening of major stores on Thanksgiving. I always think about the employees and their families and the disruption to their lives. No, I don’t ever shop on Black Friday, which is now going to be linked to Bleak Thanksgiving Thursday, at least for those who have to go to work to ring up merchandise made in Asia.

Does anyone even think about Saint Nicholas Day anymore? That’s December 6 for the unfamiliar, and a fun day for children across Europe, especially in France and Italy. While growing up, our family always did something special that day.

I write this because faster than you can say “it’s only November,” the “holiday movie season” is going to overtake your lives. Coming at you starting Friday, November 8, and running at full gallop for eight weeks, are more films than many of you will see in theaters in an entire year.

This rush of movies is part of the annual “holiday” race to the Academy Awards. The field is so crowded, that three features set for Christmas have been pulled from release. The rescheduling of one of them is a big surprise. It’s “The Monuments Men,” the highly-anticipated, star-packed George Clooney-directed film about American art experts and the U.S. military saving priceless masterpieces from destruction during World War II. Clooney stated that his picture would not make its December 18 opening date due to work needed to be done on digital special effects. The others postponed until 2014 are “Foxcatcher,” Sony’s drama about Olympic wrestling and one family’s personal tragedy, and The Weinstein Company’s biography, “Grace Of Monaco.”

I’ve been advised by studio publicists that starting Nov. 8 and running through Jan. 3, the Buffalo-Niagara region will definitely see these pictures, and certainly some others: “12 Years A Slave,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “About Time,” “The Best Man Holiday,” “Delivery Man,” “Kill Your Darlings,” “Frozen,” Philomena,” “The Book Thief,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Walking With Dinosaurs,” “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty,” “47 Ronin,” “American Hustle,” “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” “Nebraska,” and “Paranormal Activity 5.” Not all will be winners, and not all will be screened in advance for critics.

If you’re looking for something to see right now, you might want to check out two small independent pictures.

One is “Inequality For All,” an interesting documentary by economist Robert Reich, who worked in the Ford and Carter administrations and was President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor. The movie is, of all things, a breezy and refreshing look at economics. In fact, it makes economics, a very dry subject, quite lively.

Reich doesn’t browbeat the audience, and he doesn’t demonize the rich or make scapegoats of the poor. He explains with charts, music, animation, and his reasonable and peppy narration style how the economy works, how it’s bolstered, what it needs to flourish, and where the middle class fits in. If college economics classes were half as interesting as “Inequality For All,” there might be more smart graduates who understand monetary matters and the world in which we live.

The other movie to see is “Wadjda,” the debut feature from writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour, the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia, which makes her a very important person in that country. Her wonderfully crafted and beautifully photographed (by Luiz Reitemeier) story is about a 10-year old girl named Wadjda, who lives in a suburb of Riyadh. She’s a free-spirit in a nation that frowns on women exhibiting minds of their own.

After a negative encounter with a friend who happens to be a boy, whom she shouldn’t be playing with in the first place, Wadjda is determined to buy a new green bicycle and challenge him to a race. Unbeknownst to her parents, who have their own problems, she comes up with all manner of methods to raise the money; some comical, some risky. “Wadjda” is both charming and heartbreaking. It’s an engaging, well-acted movie that offers fascinating insights into a world not many understand.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at