"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Monday, December 31, 2012

Movies About Teaching

I just watched Detachment - a movie about a supply teacher in an inner-city school.  It's a familiar topic for films:  To Sir With Love, Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Teachers, Mr. Holland's Opus, Dangerous Minds...  But I like this one because nothing is really improved in the school, but in a less bloody way than Battle Royale.  However, this film is no less raw.

In so many movies about high-school life, one teacher comes along with a fresh perspective, usually some tough-love strategies, and everything improves dramatically.  Detachment sees many teachers trying valiantly and failing miserably to affect the system and society.  They do have a positive effect on some kids, but there are others that fall to the wayside.  So it goes.  Some teachers in the film have issues with mental illness and others openly despise students to the core, but most are doing their best with a difficult job.  That rings very true to me.

The film brings in the larger society.  The main character, Henry, spends evenings with his grandfather who's somewhat neglected in a retirement centre.  His caretakers aren't cruel, just busy and underfunded.  Henry tries to take care of a young prostitute until he recognizes he's out of his league.  He talks to his students about how women are treated, but ignores cruel and sexist comments as they happen.  That's a matter of the greater good.  Maybe if he ignores the snide comments and continues with his lesson today, and everyone comes back tomorrow, they'll gradually learn to respect one another instead of being forced to act respectfully.  Forced behaviour rarely becomes internalized; it's just on display for the authority figure.  He needs to convince them to treat others kindly - and that's a much slower process.

The acting was beautiful and subtle.  I loved the juxtaposition of drawings and surreal images throughout.  Life is profoundly absurd.  There are many vicious characters in this world, and we can't necessarily improve it all.  But our acts of kindness can help even it all out a bit, even if we totally lose it once in a while.  It might not get much better, but what's for certain is, if we don't try to be kind, it will definitely get worse.

And now for a short rant involving some scenes that resonated with my experiences teaching high-school for over twenty years:

* Unequal treatment at the hands of admin:  One reviewer mocked the film because Henry was called out for a hug, while another teacher openly and vulgarly admonished a student for wearing nipple-revealing clothing - as if that would never happen.  Of course it happens.  In any profession some people get away with anything, and others get charged with minor infractions.  I've seen some teachers get away with leaving the building to go for a coffee during class, and others get reprimanded for going to the bathroom.  Some teachers work hard at their lessons, and others show films every day.  There are always people that can flaunt rules successfully and others who are punching bags for the boss.  It may not be fair, but it's realistic.

* The effect of parents' attitude on student behaviour:  There were few attending parent-teacher night.  I've sat through similar evenings with few attendees.  The typical night brings in a few of the parents you don't need to see, and none that you do.  And the law is on the parent's side.  Parents in the film threaten to sue the school for not providing the best education for their kids.  When kids know that their parents will attempt to punish the teacher for low marks instead of blaming the student for not doing their work, then kids own the show. I have suspected that some of my students have parents that did their work for them, and something they didn't show in the film is the amount of cheating that goes on.  It's ubiquitous.  I know that if I give a student a failing grade, I'll have to prove I've done everything possible for the student, but the student doesn't have to show any work.  If they fail, it's because we didn't teach well enough; we didn't motivate them or entertain them or enlighten them.  Many teachers figure this out and make sure they don't fail kids - even those who do nothing.  This just makes it all so much worse.  And kids really do show up for class regularly without pens or paper.  It's not because they're poor.  It's because doing class work is such a low priority for some of them it barely registers.

* Students screaming and swearing at teachers:  In my case it doesn't happen anywhere near as often as the film depicts, but shit happens.  As a new teacher, when I wrote "Miss Snyder" on the board, a student commented, "Good.  She's single.  No sloppy seconds."  I started using "Ms." after that.  Shortly after having my first baby, I had a student threaten to come to my house and kill her.  The Behaviour Consultant assured me he'd deal with it, so I didn't call the cops.  On follow-up - the consultant had forgotten.  I've taught students who have just gotten out of jail - one for raping an elderly woman in a wheelchair.  I've had to testify against a student who almost killed someone with a baseball bat.  I had students put a firecracker in a paper airplane and launch it at me when I was pregnant.  Upon their immediate return from the office, they told me they're supposed to say, "Sorry."  I've seen students ironically yell and swear at teachers because they felt disrespected.  They know their rights, but not their responsibilities.  I've also lost quieter students to suicides I didn't see coming.  This is a volatile age that needs soothing and containing, and we have to start over again with a new group every term.

* The bureaucratic power of standardized tests:  Parents believe the scores indicate the quality of teaching rather than just the demographics of a school.  We trip over ourselves to improve our test scores - sometimes at the expense of real teaching.  Months are spent teaching to the test so students are bombarded with opinion papers, then they don't have time to learn how to integrate and cite quotations into a piece of writing or learn to edit and revise their work.

I sometimes think we need mandatory character-development and anger-management classes because it seems like such a looming problem in our schools and in society in general, but - something the film suggests but doesn't clarify - it isn't all like this.  It's way more good than bad.  Lots of people are kind.  In Henry's class, two kids were jerks on the first day, but 28 kids were sitting ready to listen.  The film focused on the bad because conflict is interesting, but in real life those kids sitting quietly are the majority - overall, if not class by class.  And it's exciting when one of the rough set turns before your eyes.  It's rare, but thrilling.  But more rewarding is the day to day interactions with the average nice kids.  They just aren't as exciting on screen.

Overall, I loved this movie - A-

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Movies About Connecting

Last night I watched a double bill of - wait for it - very similar movies:  Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Safety Not Guaranteed.

Seeking a Friend has Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, and Britta from Community, but it's not really a comedy. There are a few funny bits, but really it's about how different people cope with the world ending.  It is, however, very touching.  It's really an improved remake of Last Night (also billed as a comedy).  It also reminded me a lot of Melancholia - and relatively speaking it's hilarious, but Melancholia is a tragically depressing film.  In Seeking, people find various ways to manage beyond looking forlorn and weeping.  Some go for destruction, and others maintain a strict routine in a massive bid at denial, and many more leave on a widely hedonistic note.  That's actually believable to me.  Sure people will be distraught or desperate, but many will be wasted for those final three weeks.  The couple we're following have a quest to find their loved ones in the last days, and they develop a relationship of sorts over the course of their road trip.

For some reason, that part of it reminded me of The Sure Thing.  Weird.

Safety Not Guaranteed is about a trio of magazine writers (well, one writer and two interns) tracking down a man who put out an ad seeking a friend to go back in time with him in his time machine.  And, like Seeking, the intern and time machine dude develop a relationship of sorts over the course of putting the finishing touches on the machine.  This one is quirky and sweet and hopeful.  It leaves lots of questions, but they don't really matter in the end.

Both films are about the importance of making connections with anyone we can.  Life is short.  What makes both films work, I think (because neither got consistently good reviews), is the actors. The movies are full of plot holes, so it's not about the stories.  If the Earth is about to be knocked off its axis, then how will it help to be in a bomb shelter - at all?  How could three bumbling reporters uncover dirt on a guy more efficiently than the FBI who's been following him for years?  But these things don't matter here.  Carell and Knightley were spectacular.  Right now it's my favourite film for both of them. They're crass but tender, and very real.  And in Safety, Aubrey Plaza, Mark Dupless, and Jake Johnson were all compelling to watch.  It was lovely.

B+ for both.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Is Ebert Getting Soft?

I watched two films last night both on Roger Ebert's glowing recommendations.  The first, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has an amazing cast, and an incredible setting to work with, but the storyline seemed so contrived I couldn't get past it.  He gave it 3.5 stars.  It had a few great lines, but please.

Maybe I just don't know any people like this, or maybe it's because I'm not British, but a few of the characters are destitute, having lost their entire life savings, and they feel the best way to manage their retirement is to fly to India and move into a hotel sight unseen.  I get that it's cheaper to live in India than Britain, but couldn't they stay with a friend in town?  How did they pay for the plane ticket?  Will they just never see their kids again?  Why don't all the poor in Britain move to India?  And how did Judi Dench's character get a work Visa?  I suppose I shouldn't let the minor details ruin the flavour of the film, but the themes had me rolling my eyes too.

This is a love-conquors-all film.  Love is great and all, but there is more to life. Some of the characters are in an amazing new country, but their only concern is getting laid.  They need to feel young again.  It reminded me of that horrid Pippa movie I watched recently. I know several people in their 60s and 70s who don't spend their days and nights trying to feel young again - or at the very least they don't need to have sex in order to feel vital.  Why aren't they ever represented in mainstream movies?  And everyone's so concerned that everyone else gets partnered up, yet they leave out poor Maggie Smith.  Nobody encourages her to get with anybody - or to never give up being sexy.  Is it because she's temporarily disabled, or because she's too old?

And why is outsourcing retirement living to India seen as a good thing that we all should hope works out?  

I love Maggie Smith.  To most people these days she's Professor McGonagall, but I can't stop seeing Miss Jean Brodie.  (I think I saw that one at a far too impressionable age.)  And I love that the crabby wife is the mom from Shaun of the Dead.  And Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson are two of my favourite actors, and I'm loving Dev Patel these days (having just recently seen Slumdog).  But why did Tom's character wait so long to re-connect with the love of his life?  Couldn't they have exchanged addresses and kept in touch after he moved away?  It's just a far too convenient plot devise.  And why did a woman who's lived in India her entire life decide to move in to this hotel?  And what's with the tearful phone calls to people back home when they all have computers and the internet.  Doesn't Skype work there?  There were a few too many easy roads taken with the material and too many inconsistencies for me to call this a winner.  But the actors were a delight to watch, and it entertained me enough to keep me awake as I marked tests.  So that's something.  I didn't hate it, but it wasn't worthy of its cast.
Maybe a B-.

But the second movie Ebert recommended has far less to cushion it:  The Odd Life of Timothy Green.


It's an interesting premise.  A couple wish so hard for a kid, that their wish comes true and they get the exact kid they wanted - but with leaves growing on him (because he sprouted out of the garden).  But, of course, this is partially a careful-what-you-wish-for film.  And if you want to see a great film with that premise, watch Ted instead - a fantastic film in many ways.  Odd Life  could have been good, and it started really well, but then it got painfully schlocky.  The kid's a misfit, yet is able to turn curmudgeonly hearts to butter.  Whatever.  I can handle that.  It's that his family saved the town's pencil factory from closing with a proposal to make pencils out of leaves and thus save all the trees.  Um...  I don't think so.  And the over acting was painful to watch, especially, and this is hard to say, Dianne Wiest - whom I typically adore.  Jennifer Garner acted in the same way she acts in every movie, and that's getting tiresome all on its own.  And if you want to just dive right into the schlockiness of the film, the little girl they end up with should have been called Ivy!    Ebert gave this 3.5 stars.  I'm giving it a solid D.   But I got even more marking done. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

When Good Actors Make Bad Films

I woke up in the middle of the night for no good reason, and chose a Netflix film to while away the time until I could get myself back to sleep.  As much as I like Netflix, its choices are limited and often second-rate, and I ended up watching a truly horrible film that I chose solely based on the inclusion of Alan Arkin.

I loved Arkin since Wait Until Dark and Catch 22, and he was great as recently as Little Miss Sunshine, and there are a ton of movies in between that showcased his talents.  But he couldn't carry this stinker:  The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.  It features Robin Wright, Winona Ryder, Julianna Moore, and Keanu Reeves, and was produced by Brad Pitt!  It's saying something that Keanu was one of the only mildly redeeming bits - but he didn't really have to stretch himself because his character was supposed to be pretty sedate and monotone anyway, so that worked, even with a ridiculous tattoo filling his entire torso.  (Moore was good but was only in it briefly.)

I think it was the myriad flashbacks and inconsistent tone that did it in.  The story is about a woman (Wright) slowly losing it since her much-older husband (Arkin) moved them from the big city to a retirement community.  The flashbacks show us how her crazy upbringing led her to this place.  The most jarring part of it all is that the teenage and 20s version of her is an entirely different actress.  I spent too much time wondering when and how they were going to merge the two.  The flashbacks have Arkin with hair (which, I think, should have been more black than grey - he was playing at least 25 years younger), and it would have been pretty easy to make the classically beautiful Ms. Wright look younger rather than pick a double that could maybe pass for a young Ellen Barkin (Blake Lively)!  If they could do it in Forrest Gump, why not here?


A younger Wright?  I think not. (Lively)

The whole point of the film is that her mother was suffocating and drug addicted, so she tried to be a much better mom, but, of course, failed in the opposite direction.  Hardly enlightening stuff.  Then, with kids grown, and her husband caught in her best friend's arms (Ryder), she was finally free to do whatever she wanted to do.  Does she choose to go back to school or try her hand at painting or writing or find a job or any kind of interest that's her own?  No.  She gets a hand job from Keanu and decides to follow him anywhere.  The moral?  Old age sucks, but we can cope with it by boffing someone younger.  Luckily, at the last minute and totally out of nowhere, her estranged daughter finally comes around to really get her mom, apologize for being mean to her all this time, and cheer her on her journey in a van with a bed in the back.

Here's a trailer that seriously gives away the entire story:

But I can't stop lamenting there - it's just so annoyingly horrible!!  The book and screenplay was written by Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller, so maybe I expected a little more Death of a Salesman, and a little less Desperate Housewives poorly done.

Even worse than being constantly interrupted by boring flashbacks that we don't care about - because we don't really care about anyone here - is the tone of the film.  I suppose it's trying to be quirky, and I LOVE quirky, but it fails miserably.  At a point when we should be sad at the death of the dad (sorry, spoiler alert - but, really, don't waste your time with this crap), we're supposed to laugh at a pathetic Ryder grieving noisily and awkwardly begging for her friend's forgiveness for having an affair with her husband.  Ryder's balled up strangely on a couch as Wright suggests, "How can I compete with that?"


The musical score didn't fit the mood - whatever mood they were going for - and don't get me started on how unbelievable the daughter was as a photojournalist working in war-torn countries, or the wimpy son as a successful lawyer.  

Well, Alan, I hope it was worth the money.  You used to give me nightmares for a different reason!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Unrestricted Love

My Afternoons with Margueritte is a lovely film about a an uneducated man and the three women in his life:  his bus-driving girlfriend, his abusive mother, and a well-read older woman - much older.  It's no Harold and Maude though.  I think it's better.

It's not at all contrived that someone who couldn't manage in school could suddenly pick up on nuances of literature and connect them to life.  I've seen struggles with literacy prevent kids from having a useful education, and it's curious that we focus so much on the written word when we're moving beyond that in real life such that people can get all their news from YouTube.  But that's not really what the film's about.

It's about love and connections and kindness unrestricted by artificial social constructs that create boundaries around who we should spend our time with.*  It's another reminder to fight the pigeonholing that sticks us in roles that just don't work for us.  But, unlike The Graduate, the characters here actually get somewhere with their personal rebellion.

It's also about education and arrogance.  Germain is well-loved because he is kind and funny and wise.  Some reviewers find his relationship with Annette, his lovely young girlfriend, unbelievable, but I think that just reveals an attitude of rigid and arrogant conformity to social expectations.  They get what they need from one another, and they clearly have a bond in the film.  In fact, it's the whole point.  Similarities in age, education, and/or aesthetics are not what really connect us - that's all just superficial crap.  We connect when we have a profound respect and admiration for another's ideas or actions.  This is different than being impressed by them, as the characters do don't anything spectacular, but how many of us do.

And it's about rising above your beginnings.  We don't need to be taught love from our parents; it's in us already if we're brave enough to share it.

Okay, it's sentimental, but it works.


- - - - -
*Grammar point:  This bothers me a bit.  I know it should say, "with whom we should spend our time," but that feels awkward and pretentious.  Nobody talks like that.  Personally, I think it's time written language cleans out its closet of some archaic rules that only affect marks on student essays and little else in the world.  I'm taking the first step by largely ignoring them.

The Graduate

I think I first saw this classic when I was about 8 when it first premiered on television.  I'm almost as baffled by parts of it today.  Some call it a screwball comedy, but I think it's mainly just sad (except for Mr. Robinson's speech near the end - that was funny).

Benjamin is home from college and is quickly seduced by Mrs. Robinson, but soon becomes obsessed with her daughter Elaine.  Spoilers below, but it doesn't matter.  The charm of the film is in the way it's carried out more than the plot line.  (And the trailer tells all anyway - I hate that!)

It's curious that Benjamin and Elaine are both involved with university life, but Vietnam isn't mentioned.  There's not a sign of protest on the Berkeley campus except for Benjamin being questioned about being a possible agitator.  Maybe Nichols wanted to give the film a timeless feel, but it's pretty stuck in the 60s anyway.

Benjamin's character is relatable to a point.  He's adrift, held fast by inertia, and unable to choose a direction in life just yet.  He's going to procrastinate as long as possible as all his options look stale and boring. He's awkward and annoyingly adolescent - rudely talking loudly in a library, refusing to care about his affect on others, badgering Elaine with questions and proprosals.  He's having an angsty middle-class rebellion against very little. I understand the draw to Mrs. Robinson for a 20-year-old virgin, but it's curious why he'd fall so hard for Elaine.  She's the beautiful Katherine Ross, of course, but after just one date in which he watches her cry a bit in a strip club, they commiserate about their station in life over burgers, and he later spills it about her mom, he becomes totally obsessed with her and stalks her.  She becomes his goal in life.  Forbidden fruit, or she's just the best option he's got?  To a 20-year-old, she sure beats plastics.  It's funny that he announces his impending marriage to her while still unemployed and living at home.  He's young enough to not have thought that part through, but it's odd that his parents don't question how they'll live.

While Ben passively floats through life, Mrs. Robinson actively works to escape her futile existence. She also doesn't want to be the living dead - managing through life by rote.  She breaks free from the monotony of her situation with an affair.  There's one scene I find absolutely heartbreaking.  She tells Ben she knows nothing about art, but when he asked what she took in college, she says, "Art."  In that one brief conversation, she subtly makes it clear how much she's given up over the years, how much she's let go of her passions.  She forbids Ben to date Elaine, I think, because she has tainted Ben with this shameless experience, and she doesn't want it touching her daughter.  She doesn't want the sins of the mother laid upon the daughter, but, try as she might, she's impotent to stop it.

But Elaine is a conundrum for me.  When Ben tries to catch up to her bus at Berkeley, we can feel her discomfort when she catches sight of him and as he talks to her.  But after she rages at him a bit, she suddenly soften and feels - what? - suddenly she wants him to stick around.  Is she flattered by his obsessiveness? Or does she just feel trapped or bored with her prep-school boyfriend?  She's also avoiding the boring trap of the bourgeois life, so maybe she attaches to him to get a taste of rebellion.

Then he just proceeds to wear her down - it's the only move he's got:

Ben: "We can get a blood test today."
Elaine:  "Benjamin, I haven't even said I'd marry you yet....I just don't think it would work."
Ben:  "Tomorrow, then.  We'll get the blood test tomorrow."

Just like Tom in 500 Days of Summer, he can't seem to hear what she's saying.  Or he just doesn't care. Or he hangs on to the hope that his persistence will win in the end.  And, for Ben, it does.

He rescues her from a forced marriage - after it's over - but, as they sit on the bus together, it's clear they postponed the inevitable call to action with a little drama of their own, but now they still have to decide what to do with their lives.  It's a thrill to do something anti-conformist, but they didn't solve anything.  They're still stuck.

Creating a comedy or a tragedy is dependent on the ending.  Stop on a high note, and it's a comedy.  Stop a little later when it takes a downturn, and it's a tragedy.  For that, why some call this a comedy - much less a screwball comedy - is beyond me.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

500 Days of Summer

I watched this for the second time and like it much better, but I still don't love it.  I do love the fanciful bits of filming:  the dance number with cartoon birds, the buildings turning into drawings and being erased, the numbers with different levels of darkness in the sky, and the beginning caveat in print.  I like the out-of-orderness of it that makes it more realistic as a memory.  The story is original and compelling.  So what's the problem?

Tom and Summer meet.  She says lets keep it casual.  He falls in love and is tormented when she dumps her.  The first time I saw it, I couldn't stand it because of Tom's annoying neediness - that he didn't listen to her words when she said she didn't want a relationship, that he thought little things were signs that she was falling for him, regardless what she told him, and that he can't cope without her.  It's just too frustrating to watch him.

After a second viewing, I'm no more sympathetic to him, but I like how he's explained.  He's a product of too many cliched romantic movies, and he's taken his cues from fantasy instead of seeing what's right in front of him.  His blind date spells it out for him, but he still can't see it.  And by the end, he still won't learn.  He's a romantic, and I think we're supposed to admire his tenacity and hopefulness, but the ending was still annoying to me.  It's believable, for sure, but it's bad enough watching it unfold in real life.  Many of us make the same mistakes over and over like we're on auto-pilot.  It's painfully tedious.

But there are some lovely little touches throughout the movie and some entertaining supporting characters that make it worth a watch.

ETA - I like it more now that I know JGL felt the same way about his character:


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Woody Allen Picks

On a challenge to name Woody Allen's top ten after watching his newest, I've arranged all his movies that I've seen in the order from most loved to most hated, from absolute brilliance to difficult to watch.

1. What's Up, Tiger Lily? 1966   
2. Hannah and Her Sisters 1986 
3. Midnight in Paris  2010 
4. Manhattan  1978
5. Annie Hall  1975
6. Play It Again, Sam  1971 
7. Manhattan Murder Mystery  1992
8. The Purple Rose of Cairo  1984 
9. Alice  1989 
10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona  2007

and to continue...
Crimes and Misdemeanors  1989 
Love and Death  1973 
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy  1981
Sleeper  1972
Casino Royale  1967
What's New Pussycat  1965
Cassandra's Dream  2006 
Husbands and Wives  1991
Bananas  1971 
Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask  1972
Deconstructing Harry  1997
Mighty Aphrodite  1995
To Rome with Love  2011
Interiors  1977
Melinda and Melinda  2003
Match Point  2004
Whatever Works  2008
There are still many I have not yet seen - or not recently enough to remember clearly.  Some I'm sure I've seen, but I can't remember how well I liked them:
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger  2009
Scoop 2005
Anything Else  2002
Hollywood Ending  2001
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion  2000
Small Time Crooks  1999
Sweet and Lowdown  1998
Celebrity  1997
Everyone Says I Love You  1995
Bullets Over Broadway  1993
Shadows and Fog  1990
New York Stories  1989
Another Woman  1987
September  1987
Radio Days  1986
Broadway Danny Rose  1983
Zelig  1982
Stardust Memories 1979
Take the Money and Run  1967

(I didn't laboriously type out all the titles and dates; I just cut and paste them from IMDB.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Future

I love quirky.  And I love honest insecurity and authenticity and weird realism and absurdity.  So of course I loved Miranda July's  The Future.

A couple decide to take the first step towards commitment by adopting a cat, but it's sickly and can't come home for a month.  They see this month as their last bit of freedom and treat it as if it's their last month alive.

What would you do if you knew you only had a month to live?  They ditch the internet because they realize how much time it saps from any authentic experience.  And they both quit their jobs and explore what it is to be totally free.  But, of course, we're never really free if we're constrained by social obligation or expectations.

And it makes a bit of a mess of things if you really act like this month is your last.

It's curious how quickly morality goes out the window in this movie and in other films where the end is nigh.  If we're about to die, money doesn't matter, so stealing might take on a different nuance. (I'm thinking of all the looting in Last Night).  But why does harming others directly no longer matter as much?  To have total freedom, how important is it that it includes total freedom to have sex with anyone?  De Beauvoir and Sartre, proponents of freedom, kept things open to have no constraints on one another.  That can be tricky.  And I wonder if we just don't know what to do with freedom when we find it so we resign ourselves to sneaking base pleasures and feel like we're really pulled one over on the world.  But we're really just being dicks.

I love how they talk.  The couple gets each other, so we really want them to stay together.  What works is that they're each willing to play whatever game the other starts.  This reminded me of the rules of improv - something I read decades ago, but was recently made popular by Tina Fey:  always say "yes" to whatever your partner starts.  Their relationship is tender and heart-wrenching.

She decides to do a dance a day for thirty days and put each on YouTube.  She's told everyone.  But it's scary to begin.  It's anxiety-inducing as each day just slips away without a dance.  I'm in a similar freedomy place as my littlest just went off to camp for 21 days.  Can I write for 21 days straight?  Or will I get sucked into Facebook trivia and watching even more movies or puttering around the house and garden fixing every little thing for that triumphant feeling of accomplishment illusory in its intensity?   It's a lot of pressure to do something in this little corner of time I've got.  But can I actively and authentically take advantage of my little slice of freedom?  Can I accept the burden that comes with all this freedom?

We'll see.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Skin I Live In

I spent a week camping and reading John Irving's In One Person on the beach (carefully because it's a library book).  Then, after getting home and shaking the sand from all our things, I relaxed with a Netflix movie:  The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito), which was by chance of a similar subject matter.  I recommend skipping the book and going straight for the movie.  SPOILERS galore below - for both.

I don't read many novels, but I sometimes love John Irving.  I find he's hit and miss, able to entice me with Widow for One Year, Cider House Rules, Hotel New Hampshire, Garp, and Owen Meany, but repel me with pretty much everything else he writes.  Many of his books repeat similar events or circumstances, but this one feels more like a rehashing of the other books.  There's lots of wrestling in this one, bunch o' incest and awkward sex scenes, and yet another boarding school that becomes co-ed during the main character's meander through his long, detailed life.  The big spoiler:  pretty much everyone's gay, and they almost all die from AIDS.  We should all learn to accept one another for who we really are - and that can change over time.  I wasn't surprised about anything or anyone.  And worse, the dialogue is so heavy handed I started skimming it early on.  One character alludes to a situation, but then another spells it out for us in case we're completely daft.  And even worse than that, I didn't care about anyone.  At all.  Just get over yourselves already!

What the book does do, however, is make me want to re-read some Ibsen, Hardy, Tennessee Williams, and Shakespeare.  As the main family in the book is heavily involved in putting on plays at the local community theatre, Irving's characters explain each play to death as if the novel is a surreptitious means to educate the youth of today in quality literature.  That might work if any teenagers read it - and get more than halfway through.

The feelings and attitudes of the LGBTQ scene are old hat to me.  That a man might enjoy dressing as a woman yet he isn't gay, the reality of bi-sexuality, and the necessity of transgendered acceptance as their revealed identity are not at all revelatory at this point in our culture evolution - but maybe that's just because I live in Canada where we've had legal gay marriage nationally for seven years.  That a ton of people in the US died of AIDS in the 80s has been explored in better books that leave you dripping with tears.  As someone who grew up with severe speech impediments, that entire sub-plot rang false (and boring).  There was just nothing new or captivating in the book,...which brings me to the film.

Like many Almodovar films, this is weird.  It's truly original.  It's sometimes disturbing and harsh, but the actions of the characters all make sense.  It centres around a plastic surgeon whose wife was severely burned in a fiery car accident with her lover (his brother of course), so he focuses his brilliance on inventing a new kind of skin that's impervious to burns.  But the genetic manipulation necessary to create it is illegal to try with humans.  Luckily, our mad scientist, Robert, depraved to begin with, is going through a crisis: Even though his wife was saved, she kills herself when she sees her hideous reflection.  Then his daughter, on meds after watching her mom jump out a window, is sort of raped at a party.  When his daughter kills herself too, he goes after the rapist.  He traps him for six years, and in that time, he turns the guy, Vincent, into a woman, Vera, complete with his daughter's face and this new crazy skin he's been dying to try on a human being.  Of course Robert falls in love with Vera - a living embodiment of his own daughter.  Creepy!

We don't know until the end if Vera is succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome or is very cleverly trying to gain her freedom as she slowly accepts wearing dresses and as she seems to fall in love with Robert.  The film is thought-provoking as it explores how our outer layer affects everything else.  To what extent does a suddenly disfigured face affect our identity?  Can I still be me if I look totally different?  People will react to me differently.  Even just aging has changed the way people react to me, and in turn, how I interact with people.  I lost the power that comes with being a cute female a couple of decades ago.  And further, to what extent could I be myself if I woke up to find a mad scientist had changed me into a guy.  Would I walk and talk differently?  Would I use different words and phrases?  And, if I did, would I be acting like a guy, or would I be being a guy?  Do I act like a woman now?

There's a brief scene in which Vera sees a picture of her old self, Vincent, and she kisses the photo tenderly.  We often just have to accept what we are today even when it's not what we want to be.  Two hours or 425 pages - take your pick.

ETA - Okay, my coincidence is a three-parter.  First the book, then the film, then, in today's Globe & Mail, an article on facial transplants:  "You don't get a face transplant to look in the mirror.  You get a face transplant so the social mirror of other people can see you normally."  It's the social reflection, not self-perception that matters most.

I wonder about that.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

This movie is perfectly cast.

The romantic leads (the kids) have expressions and attitudes that make them very believable as perpetual outsiders.  Bill Murray and Frances McDormand (whom I hope to be when I grow up) make an entertaining tired couple. She dresses just like my mom did in that time period - yet she has a way about her that always makes her kind of desirable.  (But maybe that's just me.)  Edward Norton is the chain-smoking Boy Scout Leader with Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel running a superior camp across the lake.  Tilda Swinton is the antagonist from Social Services, and, of course, Bruce Willis is the cop with a heart of gold.

Once again, another Wes Anderson film that shows the setting like it's part of a dollhouse.  You feel like you can just open it up and play with all the people inside.  And the kitten.  Everything has a make-believe feel to it from the get-go which comes back to delight us again at the ending.  If a Clooney-voiced fox showed up the in meadow, he would have fit right in.

You can't really trust anything I say about Wes Anderson though; he had me at Bottle Rocket.  It's the kindness that always gets me.  Sure we're all a little broken, but the real test is whether or not we can rise above our own crap to be kind.  Can we be brave enough to work against type, to ignore the masses to do what's right whether that means pretending your brother's breaking you out of the hospital or dancing with a student at a school dance or finally being honest and vulnerable with your family or convincing a pack of kids to help someone they always hated.  His characters know and accept that they're a bit off.  They're genuine.  And even though they're not always moral in the conventional sense, they're truly kind, sometimes in the most difficult circumstances to be so.



Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White

I saw Mirror Mirror recently, and then Snow White and the Huntsman today.  I liked them both alright but for a few flaws.

This tale is all about who is most beautiful, and Kristen Stewart just doesn't compare to Charlize Theron.  Even on her more wrinkly days in the film, Theron is breathtaking and smouldering.  Stewart is cute at best.  Well, not really cute, but she's certainly not striking in the same way.  Stewart also had limited expression which makes her even  less attractive to me.  AND the child Snow White had mousy brown hair.  She's supposed to have hair as black as ebony even as a child.  She might pass for a young Kristen Stewart, but she doesn't look like a young Snow White.  When the entire film rests on the premise that these are the most beautiful women possible, casting well is vital.  It's not as important in Mirror Mirror (in which I couldn't stop thinking of Frida Kahlo) because that was a comedy.  This one is deadly serious.

Mirror Mirror had a better build up and ending.  I left the film energized by it.  Snow White gets really cheesy, and it started to feel really long by the last bits.   BUT don't miss Snow White, because Theron can to carry the whole thing.  You can walk out once she dies, though, and you won't miss anything good.  For kids, Mirror Mirror is a funny fantasy and Snow White is quite frightening in places.  The creepiness is well done, and it starts really early on in the film.  We weren't quite ready for it.

Both films take liberties with the story, which I think is fair.  Fairy tales were passed down over generations, and the Grimms' collection isn't the final word.  The stories shift necessarily with the changing mores and horrors of the day.  Two hundred years ago, the Grimms' version of the story suggested that even a beautiful princess isn't safe from a jealous, cannibalistic step-mother.  But women are easily duped - three times in a row even - and have to wait patiently, in their finest clothes, to be rescued by men.  Only true love can break the spell and save their lives.  In real life, women needed men to be legitimate, to own property or have children.  Waiting for the best man to come around really could save a fatherless maiden's life.

All the versions have at their core that beauty is power for women - that hasn't changed much.  But these new versions allow the women to be warriors as well - to have both beauty and battle wounds.  The heroines can fight their own battles but still need a little help here and there.   It's still the case, though, that being beautiful or powerful can be a burden as people constantly try to challenge your position.  And beauty can sometimes hide an evil heart and sometimes make us really good with animals.  Vanity and narcissism will come back to bite you in the butt.  And children generally eclipse their parents.  Parents are foolish to mess with the natural order of things.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

We Could Be Heroes

"Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. "
Margaret Mead

When I saw The Cove I thought it would be depressing, but it was very exciting. I still don't think dolphin slaughtering compares to how we house and kill masses of cows, pigs and chickens in factory farms all over the place, but the big difference is that dolphin meat is toxic. It's full of mercury. So the slaughter for food is truly senseless. The creepiest part is that they put it in mandatory school lunches. Actually, it turned my stomach that the lunches were provided by schools and children were made to eat every last bite, and there seemed nothing parents could do to intervene on their children's behalf. I can't even imagine: my kids won't tolerate the wrong kind of mustard....

No Impact Man

I love this movie.  

Colin and Michelle are a very real couple, but also very reasonable people trying to make a difference in the world by having absolutely no impact for a year - or as little as humanly possible when you live in New York City. The film didn't just show the crazy stuff they were willing to do, it got to the heart of and tried to understand many issues to do with activism in general.  They were featured in a New York Times article, and they had to deal with a serious backlash at the same time as forgoing elevators and coffee.  It's hard to be different.  

Inside Job

I saw this movie last year, and showed it to students a few time.  It's a must see for anyone interested in how the world works!  Here's my handout if anyone's interested in how the whole sub-prime mortgage crisis happened.  There are current news links at the very very bottom.


Inside Job (Dir: Charles Ferguson, 2010, 108 min.)

A film exposing the truth behind the economic crisis of 2008. In a nutshell, progressive deregulation of the financial sector since the 1980s gave rise to an increasingly criminal industry, whose “innovations” have produced a succession of financial crises. Each crisis is worse than the last, yet few people are being sent to prison despite fraud that caused trillions of dollars in losses.

Water on the Table

I saw this film last year with the filmmaker, Liz Marshall, there to talk afterwards. After seeing Sharkwater with Rob Stewart there, I learned never to miss a filmmaker talk about his/her film.   They always have a few good stories to add.  Plus, I think I fell in love with her a little bit.  Check out this protest letter she wrote, apparently not her first, when she was 8.

She followed around Maude Barlow for a year.  By sheer luck of the dice, it happened to be the very year that Barlow was the Advisor on Water to the UN.

The rich will drink; the poor will die.

Here's some random notes from the film and discussion.  The film was very heartfelt.  I lean towards just the facts.  See the film if you want to laugh and cry.  Read this for the bare bones of the message.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Miss Representation

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.
- Alice Walker

I watched Miss Representation with several classes in a special presentation at our school last week.


Parts were good, and parts weren't.  And it was sooo American - except for the soundtrack with was mainly Metric songs (from Toronto) because Canada rocks!

Bully and Tomboy

I saw Bully as a PD activity for teachers last week.


Maybe I've lived too long and seen too much, but it wasn't nearly as shocking as I expected to be.  It was real, though.  I could easily identify with the targets - why they laugh when they're getting hit.  I could also identify with the parents and the pain we feel at every bit of suffering our children have to endure.  But I could also identify with the bullying children who are so desperate to fit in, they'll do anything to distance themselves from difference.  Difference actually makes them angry.  We'll do anything to keep from being at the bottom of that pecking order.  It gets easier as we get older, but, for many people, not by much.  It just gets more subtle.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Suddenly Last Summer

...I posted this last August at my other blog about philosophy and such.  I'm cross-posting here to fill the space - and because I was surprised these films weren't in my list at the side.  I'll get to Elizabeth Taylor films another day.  

I saw a ton of excellent movies this summer, many new releases, but also some films I’ve missed over the years too. There are three in particular that affected me in such a way that I felt I was a slightly different person having seen them.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On Intelligence

"If anyone thinks they're going to change the world by appealing to the morality of human beings, they're not going to get very far.  Human beings are not very moral." - Paul Watson

I watched Limitless and Eco-Pirate, both about reaching beyond typical human potential, then had a horrifying apocalyptical dream.  In the dream, everyone in the region had to meet in a large forested area on Tuesday.  I was curious about the purpose.  I thought it had something to do with the new food rationing system, something that made me very nervous because we were already so hungry.  But one woman, who was high up in whatever organization was running things, told me we were all going to kill ourselves at once to decrease the surplus population.  Our region had been chosen, and it was our duty to comply.  I spent the rest of the dream trying to organize my kids and their friends for an escape - and wondering how we had let everything go so wrong, how we had stopped being able to produce enough food so that mass suicide was the only option left.

I think I'm a little stressed-out about the state of the world.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mary and Max

I fell asleep after work - something I never do - and woke up at 6:00 thinking it was morning.  When I realized it was evening, it felt like I had found an extra 12 hours of free time that I had previously lost - like finding a 20 in an old coat!  In this surreal state, I watched a delightful bit of claymation called Mary and Max.  Warning:  I'm not going to tell you how to raise your kids, but give it a watch before letting the littluns partake.  It gets dark, and not in an obscure way that they might miss - more in an awkward-questions-you-don't-want-to-answer way, like, "Why does she have a rope around her neck, mummy?"

The movie is reminiscent of Lars and the Real Girl and Elling, and it made me think of The Zoo Story as well with a few nods to Muriel's Wedding.  It's about the loneliness of difference and our profound need for connection.  A pen-pal relationship develops between a young girl and a middle-aged man with Aspergers.  They're both a bit off, and both terribly lonely, and they find a way to connect over chocolate.     It's a lovely bittersweet story.

It's weird, but in a good way. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Dangerous Method

Don't watch A Dangerous Method if you want to continue believing that Keira Knightley is cute as a button.  She makes herself so hideous as a woman with hysteria in the first fifteen minutes of the film, you may never look at her the same again. It almost looks like they CGI-merged her with the alien from Alien.  

I'm not sure if it's better to see the film with a solid knowledge of Freud and Jung under your belt, or none at all.  I spent the film noticing inconsequential inaccuracies, so I may not have lost myself in it as much as I would have otherwise.  The timeline was particularly bothersome.  It's all filmed before the war when they were friends, and then the movie ends as if they both just stopped writing after that. But they both, arguably I suppose, wrote some of their most influential works after the war.  Jung didn't sit on a chair looking out to sea, pining for his mistress for the rest of eternity (a mistress whom he suddenly obsessively fell for after having a detached relationship for ages - the blubbering was jarringly out of character).  He was only in his 30s. He got a new girl and wrote twenty volumes full of theories of the mind.

I'm not sure how interesting this movie will be to anyone unfamiliar with the theories that came out of this trio.  As random characters in a film, I didn't really care about any of them.  I only cared to the extent that they represented people I've been following for years.  Maybe take a pass.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

I read the book a few years ago.  I reacted very differently to the movie, so I highly recommend reading the book first.  It's a quick read - a series of letters a woman writes to her husband after their son massacres students at the local high school.  She goes right back to the beginning, to when he was first born, to try to figure out what went wrong.  She suspects he was always just not quite right.  The book reminded me a lot of Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child.  When I read We Need to Talk about Kevin, I entirely sympathized with the mother of this monster.  We knew so many more details of what she went through.  I felt her pain, and I cried for her.  Buckets.

The movie has less of a bias, if you can call it that.  Film can show the give and take and the mother's reactions more - stone cold expressions greeting a new baby.  And it makes you wonder which comes first, and if it really matters.  A colicky baby can try anyone's patience.  If mum can't enjoy the baby and connect with it, is it doomed to spend its life looking for the creepiest possible way to get mum's attention?  Or did the creepiness come first, the pathological lack of empathy, which was merely brought to the fore because of mum's bitterness.  She's rather be in France than feeding the baby.  Her head and heart are elsewhere in those formative years.  She's not comfortable as a mum.   I didn't feel for her as much in the movie, so I didn't react as much to all that befalls her.  It was a dry-eyed viewing.

So where does the responsibility lie for the atrocities committed?  I tend to lean towards the one who did the actual killing.  Many people have crappy moms and don't take down the student council.  There's something about him that makes him feel nothing for these people - no mirror neurons perhaps.  The neighbours blame the mom fiercely and shamelessly, and I don't understand why she doesn't move a few miles away from the madding crowd.

Can mothers be blamed for not connecting with their kids?  Kids are wily, and moms who fake affection are soon found out, so that's not a real option.   What else is there to do?  If we don't click, we can hang out together, and play together, but it's more of a chore than a delight.  And that comes through loud and clear no matter how much we try to hide it.  We can hope affection develops over the years, but it might not be the case.  It's a bit of a conundrum, especially since we put all our weight on the mom.  The dad in both the book and movie are oblivious to reality - he refuses to believe how bad it is, constantly making excuses for his son's behaviour instead of supporting his wife.  He plays a part in the dynamic but in a passive way so none of it is his fault.

That's a bugger.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What If the Cops Can't Handle This?

I've been so busy this weekend with a broken water heater and a slowly dying pet rat, I could only find time for two movies.  One was excellent, one only okay.

Poetry is a beautiful film.  It's provocative and thoughtful.  The movie starts with a young girl floating down a river, face-down.  She fits in a little later in the film.  It's all about a 60-ish grandmother who takes care of her grandson.  We're not sure why the mom left him with her after her divorce.  The grandma works as a caretaker to an older man who looks like he's had a stroke.  The grandson is rude and belligerent to her, treating her more like his maid than saviour.  No matter.  The grandmother decides to take a poetry class to enrich her life herself.  I'm not going to say more because I'd hate to give anything away.

It's about an ethical issue that's barely faced ethically to avoid alerting the authorities.  Money can protect us from having to be moral.  It's about sex as necessary or useful, and how much it's worth to people.  It's about how to write poetry, how it's not about the difficulty in writing, but the difficulty in opening up enough to let the words come to you.  It made me think of all the teachers that force us to create within strict boundaries and timelines, even if nothing's speaking to us yet - we're just forcing some crap out that's completely uninspired.  I think that's why some teachers shifted to poetry appreciation instead of creation.  I liked this instructor's assignment:  create one poem by the end of the course.  That's possible.  It's about sensory stimuli, about really seeing and hearing and tasting.

It's also about Alzheimer's and forgetting.  And there are so many scenes so focused on just looking at things that I thought, for a moment, that it might be okay to forget everything else.  We do like to accumulate names of things, nouns.  We feel lost without them.  But if we can get absorbed into the experience instead of the description of the experience, maybe it won't matter as much if we lose our nouns.  Something like that.  It's still scary to think about, and I worry whenever I forget anything - which is always.

The film's many bathing scenes and references reminded me of another excellent film, Shower which explores tradition vs progress as a man comes home to visit his father's bathhouse.  Poetry also touches on that theme when it's argued that it's a dying art.  Poets aren't lauded any more.  It also reminded me of Elling.  Maybe there's a bit of a resurgence in the respect for the art.

I also watched Boy Wonder which is a cheesier teenaged Death Wish.  The main actor and action is solid, but the female detective says every line as if she's auditioning for Law and Order. (She was actually in an episode, so at least she made it past the audition).

Like in Death Wish, the hero takes his time before exacting revenge on his mother's killers.  And then revenge is taken easily.  A bit too easily.  How many teenagers who work out at a gym could take on a gang of serious criminals one at a time?   But okay.  It was fun to watch.  I was sucked in for the duration.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Elling and 50/50

Two beautiful films for today on the friendship between a struggling man and his loud, horny friend. I swear I don't look for similar films to watch back to back.  It just keeps happening.  Weird.

Elling is such a delight.  The two leads meet in an institution.  Neither can live on his own, but they decide that maybe together they can take on the outside world.  It's a Felix and Oscar union but so much kinder - and more violent.  Things get shaken up as they each meet someone on the outside, and it takes a bit of reassurance that their friendship is still a top priority before they can enjoy themselves again.

They're fearful of many commonplace things and activities.  It's a reminder of how much courage it can take for some people to cross the floor of a restaurant alone or to talk on the phone.  It's a reminder to be more understanding of all the stories we don't know about the people we meet.

It's a must see for the hidden poems and the Christmas presents and the gregarious exclamations!  The trailer would just spoil it.

Then I watched 50/50.

It's a movie about friendship disguised as a movie about cancer.   It's painfully realistic in places, yet still light-hearted overall.  I'm not sure why I keep gravitating to Joseph Gordon-Levitt movies lately, but here he is again.  And I've liked Seth Rogen since I watched him fall in love in Freaks and Geeks.

I love that both films include a woman who is neither bitchy nor cloying, doesn't get in the way of the friendship by toying with the other guy, and isn't hated by the friend.  That's a nice change.   There are a lot of buddy movies out there, and in so many of them, if there's a central female at all, she's that same irritating character.  She's in the first bit of 50/50, but they soon get rid of her.  That plot element loosely reminded me of Office Space actually:  a guy has a horrible girlfriend, he goes through a pivotal transformation and then finally is able to connect with a nice girl.  Apparently it took having cancer before he could insist on being treated kindly.     

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Some Visually Demanding Films

I picked a bad two movies to sew curtains to.  I don't have a sewing machine, so I had to sew by hand which is slow tedious work necessitating a good movie to keep me awake.  The movies were great, but they were too visually demanding to get much done.

The Illusionist is a cartoon with almost no talking.  With a clear nod to Mon Oncle, it's a film about a man who manages on his own as a travelling magician, but ends up with a tag-along.  The one film deals with technology taking over humanity, the other with rock stars getting in the way of more traditional entertainment.  Either way, it's sometimes hard to cope with change.

The girl cleaning his room has broken shoes, so he kindly buys her a new pair.  That dynamic solidifies as she follows him on the train and expects him to pay for her ticket.  She cooks and cleans for him, and for a few other entertainers travelling in the same circles.  It's painted as a tragic, difficult existence, but she brightens it up considerably.  Unfortunately for our hero, it means taking a real job to help pay the additional expenses because he can't seem to stop buying her everything she wants.  It's a sad, funny film.

Then I watched Chaplin.  Another sad, funny film with the theme of women taking everything they can from an older man.  I remember watching Chaplin as a kid, and it was a delight to see Robert Downey Jr. do him justice.  For me, it was worth watching just for that.  And I got most of my sewing done in the horrible flashback scenes as an elderly Chaplin discusses his biography with a fictional editor.  The movie could have been so much better with a ruthless editing.

Then I watched this...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On Longevity

An old friend highly recommended this movie, and it's highly reviewed, but I was sorrily disappointed.

The Man from Earth was written by Jerome Bixby, a Star Trek and Twilight Zone writer.  I'm a big fan of both shows, but this just didn't work.  The ideas are all there, but it's horribly put together.  It's about a guy who's been alive for 14,000 years but hasn't aged past 35.  When he decides to tell his friends, they get really angry and upset.  One cries, and one tries to kill him.  Why are they so mad??    They're all professors at the same university (pretty much one of a each of a variety of disciplines which is a highly unlikely group in the first place), but only one of them is curious and excited by the idea.  The rest are upset to have their world shaken.  Maybe it's because I went through in philosophy and religion, but my general impression of most profs is that they're unquenchably curious and love a new idea.  None of them carried a gun - that I know of.

It's cool to contemplate what this kind of man this would be like, that he wouldn't be any smarter than the average guy living at the time - we can't advance beyond our time period, and there were a few concepts that were intriguing in the film, but this is nothing you couldn't get from reading a bit on ancient history or religion.  The attempt at witty banter is contrived and irritating, and the acting makes it feel like a bad made-for-TV drama.  It might work, however, as an after school special on a brief timeline of historical and religious epochs.  The only way I can understand the good reviews is that the reviewers haven't contemplated these ideas before - that the film is revelatory for them.

And of course someone alive that long has, by sheer luck, lived in the most important places on earth during the most pivotal periods and met (or was) all the big players.  The game starts when a colleague notices that he's got what looks like an original Van Gogh.  They were buddies!  I guess if he just hung out somewhere in Africa for the entire time it wouldn't be as interesting, but please.

I didn't mind that it was all dialogue and no action - I loved My Dinner with Andre.  I minded that the dialogue was so crappy.  If a bunch of intellectuals get together, we expect some more profoundly intelligent thoughts being espoused (in movies anyway), and much quicker banter.  A much more exciting movie on the same theme is Highlander (but just the first one - they get progressively worse).  It's got laughable dialogue and horrible acting ("Lots of different places!"), but that perfectly compliments the general cheesiness of the film, so it works.

Or read Wyndham's Trouble with Lichen.  Not to be confused with this....

Sunday, January 1, 2012

We Can't Make It Out of Here Alive

I started the year off with two films about impending doom.

I woke up early to watch Melancholia, a film about a depressed woman who gets married a few weeks (months?) before another planet is possibly going to collide with Earth. Of course the depressive is the only confidently realistic one in the bunch.  Happy people are happy because of the illusions they foster.  It's a very stressful ride as we near the deadline and hope the planet will just pass by.  It's reminiscent of Last Night, a Don McKellar film about how a variety of people deal with the end of the world - mainly they search for connections, that one last kiss.  In this film, they scramble for hope.  But no matter how you slice it, death is imminent.  Life is short, enjoy it while it lasts!

I love Kirsten Dunst as she wavers between cute as a button and completely dead inside.  Her face and eyes change dramatically from scene to scene.  And I've loved Kiefer Sutherland since Bay Boy.  But most of the rest were irritating.  It's hard to tell if the people were all acting strangely because death is potentially at their doorstep, or if they were all just strange.  It wasn't a good strange, an interesting strange with a glimmer of brilliance.  It was just weird and mean.  But Dunst was captivating.

Every year on New Years Day I take my kids to a movie.  It's a tradition that's shifted over the years from the older ones to the youngest.  So today we treated ourselves to a cab to check out Happy Feet 2.  It's got some of the characters of the first one, but the mood is substantially darker.  At one point when it appeared that all was lost and hundreds of penguins were going to perish, my little one said, "I hate this movie!"  Yikes.

But of course all creatures large and small pitched in to save the day.  Whew!  

There are philosophical krill that make a few jokes about free will that don't work on any level except that they rhyme with krill.  And they argue about their purpose in life which also doesn't work because, well, they're krill.  But the animation was amazing.  The snow sparkled like diamonds, and the underwater scenes were a delight.  The singing and soundtrack was a lot of fun too.  I had to restrain myself from singing along to this...

And this...

And this....

And, maybe (?) this.

It's got that whole don't try to rise above your station thing going on.  Accept yourself and your limitations, like penguins can't fly and krill are at the bottom of the food chain, but don't be afraid of challenges along the way.  We can do anything if we all work together.

But the kiddies need a warning before hand that it's all going to be alright.

Don't we all.