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

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.