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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blue is the Warmest Color

Or, The Life of Adele, Chapters 1 and 2 - the French title, which far better captures the film.

Lots of details about the plot below, but they're not really spoilers in that the knowledge of them won't affect the film.  Nothing you couldn't see coming.

This is a film that I'd like to edit down myself to a more manageable two hours.  It's unnecessarily three hours long, and I know just the scenes I'd shorten.

The movie takes place over about ten years or so; it's left unclear.  Adele at 15 falls for a boy, but has eyes for a girl, Emma.  Then she and Emma finally connect, develop a relationship, move in together, grow complacent, split up, and Adele tries to cope with the loss.

I found the shifting in time jarring, but other reviewers loved it.  I kept feeling like I was missing something - like I must have drifted off.  One minute she's in high-school living with her parents, and the next, with the same hair-do that she can't leave alone, she's a teacher living with Emma in a very cool apartment that looks way too expensive for a new teacher and an artist to afford.  And the next minute, Emma has a 3-year-old with another woman.  Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I would have liked the occasional helpful heading, like, Four years later....

Adele never seems to develop a self.  She needs another person to stave off loneliness to the point that, when Emma gets busy with her art, Adele has an affair.  She's defined by her relationship and is lost without a connection.  There's one scene in which Emma encourages Adele to develop her writing in order to be happy, but Adele's happy just being with Emma.  That kind of thing.  And there are many scenes when Adele is alone, and she just stares out the window smoking.  And crying.  She likes her job, but, without Emma, she comes home to an abyss.

And I didn't care.  She isn't enough of a character on her own for me to care about her loss.  She's singularly focused on one person to the exclusion of the rest of the world.  It's a very sad film, but I didn't shed a tear.  But I also wonder if it's because of the music.  I hated the film Lost in Translation, mainly because I think Scarlett Johansson is a horrible actress - her lines are consistently flat.  But I cried at the end when a swell of music cued me.  But this film ends with Adele walking alone as an upbeat latin song brings us to the credits.  Maybe I misinterpreted the end entirely, but she looked distraught to me - still unable to get over Emma.  A guy she obviously isn't interested in goes after her, but in the wrong direction.  Another reviewer suggests it ends with the possibility of new love, but I think it ends with her unable to love someone else.  Not yet.

When Emma wants Adele to write, it's also telling in that she doesn't really acknowledge what Adele does do.  Her teaching and cooking don't seem to count in the same way.  They don't endure like art or writing might.  There's a pretension to Emma that distances her.  Her friends also go there arguing about Klimt the way art students are trained to do - at once intellectual yet vacuous.  Adele struggles with this in reverse at the beginning - wanting to discuss novels with a musical boyfriend who doesn't like books with long sentences. Adele is more authentic in her longing to talk about it all.  She has a pure desire about her books without any need to impress others. This mis-connection of passions again presents a barrier when she can't join in on the art discussions with Emma.   And Adele's love of reading seems to be forgotten in the second half.  Why didn't she pick up a book instead of staring out the window for days and years?

And some scenes go on forever!  There's Adele reading almost an entire story to her students.  The whole thing!  And there's Adele dancing while she watches Emma talk to her old girlfriend, dance, look over, dance, look over....  Scenes like this could have given the same sense of plot or character in a fraction of the time.  There are some scenes worthy of the length - dancing outside with the children, or floating in the water at the beach - scenes that quietly embody her internal turmoil.  But most needed a ruthless editing.

And then there are the sex scenes.  Uncomfortably long and pornified, they tell us little about the characters or their relationship.  There's an awful lot of bouncing and groaning, but scant gestural communication or connection between the lovers.  We don't get to see the build-up, the seduction, only a variety of positions that allow for adequate friction.  That was a shame.

But the film is captivating because of Adele's face.  She says so much with the slightest change of expression.  I was able to keep watching the entire three hours because she's a delight to watch.

For that, I'll give it a B.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Genuine Artists: Strummer, Baker, and Rodriguez

A fantastic triple-bill of films about musicians filled my afternoon.  They're very different musicians, but  they all profoundly affected a ton of people because they get beyond the mundane - or immerse themselves in it.

Joe Strummer, front man for the Clash, is painted as a charming (but depressive) guy with a joyful spirit that brought people together.  Most of the interviews, of a really wide variety of people, take place outside with groups of people hanging out in front of a fire.  The film has a feel to it that made me want to live a different life just wandering around hanging out.  A brief, vicarious immersion in that bohemian lifestyle stayed with me.  It's a reminder of how unnecessary all the stuff is so long as we have the people.

The second film was also about a wandering soul:  Ginger Baker.  He was available for lengthy interviews with the filmmaker, which was very cool, and parts of the stories were animated stylistically so it wasn't just a montage of talking heads.  Nicely done.  But he came across as too quick-tempered to maintain any of the connections he made over his career.  He's bitter, and not for nothing.  Something I learned from the film is that only the songwriters get royalties for the music.  When he was in Cream, one of my all-time favourite bands, the songs were written mainly by Jack Bruce and Peter Brown.  They got all the cash, and Baker and Clapton got nothing beyond the money for touring and playing the initial recording.  I'd be bitter too.

The third film is a very different story: Searching for Sugar Man.  This is more of a detective story as a few interested fans search for Sixto Rodriguez, a musician barely known here, but with an enormous following in South Africa.  The music didn't get me for this one like it did the others, but the story is captivating.  Imagine having a talent that you think went entirely unappreciated and being completely unaware that people in another continent are nuts over you.  It's one thing to be the rare few with a talent like these guy have, it's another thing to have an audience that acknowledges that.  Without any appreciative feedback, how long will you believe you're as good as you think you are?  And maybe it doesn't really matter.  

Les Miserables and the Benefit of the Theatre House

I've seen Les Miserable, the play, live on stage and loved it.  The story is rich and full of thought-provoking dilemmas.  The music is lovely, and the story sweeps you away in a bucket of tears.

But I watched Les Miserables, the movie, on my laptop, and, while the singing was beautiful - particularly the children! - and the acting superb, it was long-ish, and I started reading at the same time.  I didn't get swept away.  Not a single tear was shed for their struggle nor their unbearable kindnesses.  Had I been in a darkened room with nothing to distract me, I might have loved it, but seen on a laptop with a pile of books at arm's reach, it lost its edge.

There are some films that can't be done justice on a small screen.  Producers should put a notice to that effect just before the opening credits:  If you're watching on a laptop, you'll be sorrily disappointed.  It might have been enough to give me pause.  But then I'd have to wait for it to come to a rep theatre to ever catch it.  A dilemma.  

Loved Ones

I chose an unwise film to watch while recovering from a lengthy bout of laryngitis.  My doctor's instructions, "Don't even whisper for the entire weekend," couldn't stop me from screaming at the screen while I watched The Loved Ones.

I haven't seen a slasher flick for decades.  They're not really my taste, but back in the days of pitching in to rent a VCRs to watch films, my buddies and I would always grab three movies to make the evening rental worth our while:  a comedy, an action movie, and a video nasty.  But I stumbled on this one by accident, totally unawares.  It looked like a teen-angsty type film at first, so I settled in for some fluff.  Once embroiled in the story, I couldn't stop.

And I forgot how fun it can be to be scared by a campy bit of blood and guts where so many characters choose to investigate suspicious activity all by their lonesomes.  

Brent's struggling to recover from accidentally killing his dad in one of his first experiences driving a car.  He cuts himself and toys with death, but when he stumbles climbing a rock ledge, his will to live proves strong.  Good thing, because he's going to need it.

For helping me to completely forget how much my throat hurts:  B+

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Funny or Annoying: Wanderlust, Five-Year Engagement, and 21 Jump Street

After all the doom and gloom of Revolution, I was up for something much lighter.  I found three recommended comedies I had never heard of before (which is often, but not always, a red flag).

Wanderlust has Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and those two have made some stinkers in their time, so I was dubious. But the movie was light and held my attention enough to make me forget my troubles for the duration.  It's about two city-kids who go broke and join a commune.  People are people, and even in an all-loving, caring, trusting beautiful commune, there are jerks.  It's unavoidable.  It was cute. I'll give it a B-.

The second feature, The Five-Year Engagement, has Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Alison Brie.  I love them, so this had to be good, right?  There were parts that were actually so unwatchable, I kept my hand at the ready to fast-forward.  There's a few weird sex scenes, some with food that make no sense in any context, but not even in a funny way.  And it wins the worst scene in any movie ever: Blunt and Brie entertaining a kid by talking as Elmo and Cookie Monster.  I kid you not.  Painful.

Why did they agree to do that?  Didn't they see how horrible it was?  Did they get paid a fortune?  Or, I suppose, it's just not my kind of humour.  Because at that link above, many many people say it was the funniest part of the movie.

Even worse than the painful scenes of nonsense is that the entire message of the film is that if a woman outperforms her man at work, it will have painful consequences for everyone.  The solution:  women should ditch their amazing opportunities (as a tenure-track PhD) and follow their husband's dream to own his own restaurant which can only happen in a city at the other end of the country, of course.  Otherwise the guy will become a bum and grow weird facial hair and just give up at life. Geesh, women are so selfish!   It was kinda like Mr. Mom, except in that movie, the dad learns to stop being such a baby and step up - and it's actually funny.  

Okay, I admit I did laugh out loud a few times at Engagement, but it didn't make up for the awkwardly unfunny scenes.   At all.  But it's a C- in my book because, for some reason, I was compelled to watch it to its painfully corny ending.

But, then, I watched 21 Jump Street with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

It's that same sophomoric humour, but I was killing myself laughing.  It's clearly an A- for me.  And I thought about who to share the movie with, and it occurred to me how curious it is how we decide what's funny and what's annoying - because I have some friends who wouldn't consider watching any of these movies.

Sometimes sex scenes can be funny to me.  The scene in Grandma's Boy with the Barbie doll was hilarious, but Jason Segel having really fast sex in Engagement or even his different experiences in Forgetting Sarah Marshall weren't at all entertaining.  I found them uncomfortable.  And I found it tedious when Paul Rudd practiced pick-up lines in front of a mirror in Wanderlust.  What's the difference between these scenes?

I think unsexy sex is funny if the idea is new.  It has to be really original.  Maybe it's because I discovered fast forwarding VHS movies for kicks when I was ten, that it's not that hilarious to see it done in a big budget film.  But "You came on my mom!" is a new concept to me.  It's also a juxtaposition of the sacred and profane that can draw laughs.  Sometimes.  The other key is it can't be too close to home to hit a nerve.

I loved the first Harold & Kumar movie, but the Guantanamo Bay movie was too soon.  The prison is still in operation today, for crying out loud, and people really were sexually assaulted.  I know too much about the painful realities of the situation to be able to laugh at it.  Maybe ever.

People can get hurt in movies for our entertainment, but only certain types of people.  Most men can get hurt for laughs, but it's trickier for women.  It's hilarious if Kristen Wiig gets knocked down, but remember when a very young Brooke Shields tried a pratfall on the Tonight Show?  It was horrifying to watch.  She somehow provoked a sense of protection so it wasn't funny when she got hurt.  We're okay with people being hurt only if we think they can take care of themselves - or if we're made to hate them.  Even little kids getting hurt can be funny if they're annoying enough.  Or sometimes just if it's sudden and startling enough - right out of nowhere.  Or if they keep trying to do something but fail every time.  Okay, maybe it's always funny.  As much as I love cats, I laugh when they get hurt too.  It's been my experience that they're always okay afterwards.  They just shake it off and keep going, so it's rarely a tragedy.  Yet I feel a bit callous saying I get some joy from their epics fails right out loud.

Humour can't be objective because it has to do with individual experiences and sensitivities.  What's universal is needing to care about the characters and to understand the irony being posed, but I'm sure someone laughed his head off at the food sex scene in Engagement.  And somehow I think Jason Segel thought it was funny too, which is oddly disappointing.  We often make connections with people based on a shared humour which can reveal a shared background.  Funny that.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rob Stewart's Revolution

Margaret Wente, in her latest discourse, thinks the reason the environment's being ignored is because of all the pessimists making us too depressed about it all.  She splits all environmentalists into two camps:
"But the biggest divide is really between the purists and the pragmatists, the pessimists and the optimists - between the McKibbernists, who believe we're on the brink of global catastrophe, and those who think human beings are more resourceful and the Earth is more resilient than the doom-mongers say they are."
And I ask:  Can't it be both??

Because it is.  Every environmentalist I know wavers between the two fronts or else the pessimists would just kill themselves or stay drunk all the time, and the optimists would stop fighting to be heard - AND, if optimists really believe it'll all come out in the wash, they wouldn't worry about how to frame their arguments to avoid shutting people off by being too depressing.  Follow?

This is all a lead-in to the new Rob Stewart film:  Revolution.  He walks that line all the way.  He clearly believes we're on the brink of catastrophe, but also that human beings are resourceful - that we will actually get our shit together in this generation.

Bad news first.  As a film, it doesn't quite work.  It's telling that opening weekend, it was playing everywhere, and the following weekend, even with the promise of a tree planted for every audience member, it was down to one theatre at the outskirts of town.  And I sat in that theatre with six other people.  Like with Sharkwater (which I was privileged to see when he was there answering questions), he struggles to tell a compelling story.  He's got amazing visuals and an incredible series of events to discuss, but he's not a storyteller.  Compare Sharkwater to The Cove to see the difference a compelling story arc makes.  Connected events listed in a row with some swelling music at the end, does not a story make.  Revolution is a really short film, yet I checked my watch at the 45 minute mark, shocked that there was so much left to sit through.  And I'm in the choir!  

Now the good news.  All that aside, as a call to arms, it's genius.  My squirmy 8-year-old asked if we could leave early, not just because she was getting restless, but because she wanted to go home to make posters to tell other people.  She got the message in the first half and was inspired to act on it.  Right now!  She didn't want to be beaten over the head with more of the same.  For the inspirational aspect, I'll still give it a B+ and tell people it's a must see.

Here's the message:

1. Things are really, really, really bad.  - By 2048, we'll be fished out (which of course always makes me think of this video, harkening me back to grade 9).  But even if we stop the fishing industry on a dime, today, the whole lesson of the film is that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is destroying the pH balance of the oceans to the extent that all life on earth could be destroyed.  You heard me.  All of it.  Is that catastrophic enough for you Margaret?

The oceans have died before.  If I got my numbers right, it was 65 million years ago, but it only took 4 million years for them to rebuild.  So that's something.  The coral is dying dramatically right now and could all be gone in twenty years, and phytoplankton in the ocean has seen a 40% decline in the past 50 years.  The oceans create half the oxygen in our atmosphere, so no ocean means not enough oxygen for us mammals out here on the ground, out cutting down trees like there's no tomorrow.  Because, hahaha, there isn't!  Not at this rate.  We're hilarious!

2. Canada particularly sucks.  - Once again, preaching to the choir.  It's shocking how far we've come over the decades, how high up we once were when it came to environmental legislation, only to lose all that ground with one monstrously short-sighted business-centric Prime Minister.  Yikes.  We've won "fossil awards", for the worst country for fossil fuel use, voted on by 400 environmental organizations, for the last five years.  We've been named, officially, the colossol fossil!  The biggest problem?  The tar sands.  According to too many people to name, the mess should be shut down right now, and all that oil left in the ground, but Harper wants to make it TWENTY TIMES BIGGER!  Because, you know, bigger is always better.  Think he's maybe compensating for something?

3. "If people knew the truth, they'd do something."  - I talk about this in class all the time.  It seems like it would be true, but I know tons about horrific slavery in the Ivory Coast, yet I still sometimes get lazy and buy non-fair trade chocolate.  Even though I know the truth, and teach the truth, I sometimes forget how important it is to act on it.  And I sometimes get depressed and decide my part doesn't matter since so few people really care.  Like Marky Mark says in I (Heart) Huckabees:  "I can stop using petroleum, but there's no way I could stop its use in my lifetime."  It's a dilemma.

But what does help is constant reminders.  We need films like this to wake us up over and over.  Like racism and homophobia, we stop talking about it because we think it's getting better, then we get a backlash.  These things have to stay on the front, solar-powered burner forever.  So really, it's not just about telling the truth, it's reminding people of it in different ways all the freakin' time.  BUT the corporations own the media, and I'm not convinced they'll be on board with our little scheme, so this could be a costly affair, EXCEPT, we've got that most anarchist of media on our side (so far in our land of the free): twitter and facebook.  Go nuts!
4.  Finally, the kids will save the day.  - Once we get money and a nice home, we get complacent.  Stewart doesn't say that, but I think that's part of the problem.  Kids see the long term because they haven't settled yet.  They're still in flux sufficiently to become impassioned about their future.  We codgers think we're all safe and cosy, so what's all the fuss?  The youth of today (and many old folk thank you very much) are taking to the streets already, protesting over and over until they're in tears for the frustration of not being heard.  There are some small successes here and there, and that can keep us going.  Someone said, "We thought we had to save the polar bear, but now we know we have to save our future."  Kids want this to change so they can flourish.  They don't have a car, so they don't worry about their hummer being taken away.  They're not there yet.  They're still willing to go without so we can all live.  We have to stop using fossil fuels dramatically, and we have to protect wilderness.  Go!

George Monbiot has a new book being release soon.  One reviewer sums it up,
As a species, he argues, we’ve made enough calamitous mistakes to learn from, and gathered enough experience and evidence down the ages to draw a new and challenging conclusion: huge swathes of wild places, on land and sea, teeming with life that is largely outside our influence, are necessary not just for the diversity of life on earth, but for the spiritual nourishment, perhaps even the social stability, of mankind. And we can create such magical, life-affirming places with a radical new environmental management plan: leaving them alone.

The way I see it, we have to stop acting like a virus eating our way through everything we see.  We have to reclaim what it means to be part of humanity: to use our big brains to cooperate sustainably  instead of competing and growing exponentially.  It's suggested in the film with the story of the cycle of lynx and hares.  Every 14 years the lynx population declines because they ate too many hares, then the hares populate again, and then the lynx flourish again.  I've witnessed the same with the fox and mice populations up north.  But people don't do that in quite the same way.  We build empires that are too big, then they collapse horribly, and another one begins.  But now that our empire is global, there might not be another ever after.

I'm so thrilled that Rob Stewart made this movie and that his films are so inspirational to so many people.  I hope he continues to run this circuit.  He's an amazing cinematographer.  But maybe he should think about hiring a writer - and maybe even a better narrator.  We can't all be good at everything.  And this is too important not to be the very best it can be to get beyond the congregation and into the streets.

I mentioned to a friend recently that I've told my children not to have any children - not because children aren't a joy.  They are.  And not because of overpopulation which is a story for another day.  But because there's nothing worse than watching your children suffer.  I'm on Wente's doom-monger side when I say that I believe that if my children have kids, they will watch them suffer a fate nobody should have to endure as we cope with the heat, endless drought, and oxygen-shortage.  My friend laughed, "Of course it will all work out somehow."

 Of course it will.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

When Time Becomes a Woman

The title is intriguing.  Does it mean when a woman is better with time, as in it makes her more becoming?  Or does it mean that time, the concept, actually turns into or becomes personified as a woman?

At the beginning, it felt like the latter was the case.  And I was curious how it would play out.  A woman is meandering down a rocky beach, all dressed in white, oblivious to a man chasing her - of course he's all in black.  He catches up to her, and she's disinterested in his motives.  She's happy on her own.  But he needs her desperately because, "Time is running out."  Ah ha!  And I started to try to puzzle it all out:  If she's time, is he knowledge??  The idea of personifying concepts kept me interested for the first twenty minutes or so.  But then the story turned out to be about something else entirely, and I struggled to watch the rest.

It was like a whole movie of Jacob talking with the Man in Black from Lost at a point when you don't yet know their family history.  It's perplexing, but it's brief and within a larger plot line, and you're eventually rewarded with a story that makes sense in a weird kind of way.  Lost is more or less internally coherent even though it's entirely unrealistic:

When Time Becomes a Woman is science fiction, and, like most sci-fi, it has a philosophical bent.  Unfortunately, I found the science implausible, and the philosophy overdone.  It's about good and evil, black and white, male and female, change and stability, destruction and creation....  But I didn't come away with anything new about them.

Two people just talking for an entire film is a risky venture.  It worked with My Dinner with Andre because it was as if we were eavesdropping on a very interesting conversation at the next table.  This doesn't work because, really, the story gets dull and the actors seem like they're in an improv setting where they're expected to go with whatever crazy idea the other one dreams up.  And these two got really carried away!

It's an award-winning film, and other reviews love it.  It's just not for me.  It kept my attention for a while, though, so I'll give it a C.   

The Imposter and Craigslist Joe

I watched two really intriguing documentaries this morning - but in the wrong order.  Always watch the happier one last!  Now my day will be coloured with creepy!  I'll write about the happier one last at least.  Both get a B+.

The Imposter is about a messed up guy from France who was living in Spain, and through a series of chance events and manipulations, assumed the identity of a kid from Texas who had been missing for three years.  I remember when this happened, and I just couldn't understand how the family didn't know it wasn't him.  How could you not know your own child after just three years.  Sure, at 16, he'd be taller, and maybe scruffier, but you'd know the eyes.  Even if they were now a different colour.

But Frederic Bourdin had an explanation for everything!  He said the military had put solution in his eyes to change their colour.  Even the social worker believed this.  That's some solution!

It also helped that the family was pretty sheltered.  When told the long lost Nicholas was in Spain, his sister said, "That's clear across the country."   But she was brave enough to go get him.

I ended up with some sympathy for the family - especially the mother.  The most pertinent bit that I would have like to see more of was a brief interview with a family friend who explained how much the mom loved Nicholas, and everything was good, until she let a new drug-addicted boyfriend move in.  Then everything changed for the family.  She made a bad judgment call.  Happens to the best of us.

The movie is a study in wish-fulfillment.  If we want it badly enough, we don't make it happen, we just convince ourselves it already is happening.  It's much easier on us that way.

Craigslist Joe is the kind of movie to watch when you're about to give up on the world because it's filled with so many jerks and morons who do things like try to celebrate the tar sands as an environmental breakthrough.

One guy, Joe, decided to go for one month without anything he couldn't get for free from Craigslist.  He left home with no money, just a phone and the clothes on his back to see if he could rely on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter (and to make a movie).  Of course it made me want to try it right now - I've got a week free!  But there would be too many restrictions for me to succeed as well as Joe did.  I can't drive at night, so I can't barter with that - and it seemed he did a lot of that.  I can't be around anyone smoking, much less sleep in a house full of smokers, and that would put up a huge barrier for me.  And I'm female.  I assume I'd be more likely to face greater dangers, but maybe I'm just a little paranoid.  But this makes me wonder if Joe could have done as well as anything other than a 20-something American, clean-shaven, straight white guy.

And he wasn't totally alone.  The day before leaving, he went on Craigslist and found a guy with a video camera willing to silently (completely silently) travel with him and film the entire month.  The film owes a lot of kudos to the camera guy who made himself completely disappear yet captured some pivotal scenes.

In a film like this, I'm always left wondering if any of it was staged, but I'll go with it as if it was all real and happening just like it was shown.  And of course people might be a whole lot nicer when they're being filmed.  But I can't imagine getting around that one - could you make a whole movie with hidden cameras in your lapels?  Without a camera (or camera-operator), maybe he would have been ripped off - but he didn't have much to steal anyway.

The set-up of the film is a perfect start for a significant life-altering experience - and we're cued to expect something.  Unfortunately, Joe doesn't really go there.  He's kind and open, but he's lacking any real depth or authenticity.  The movie probably doesn't deserve a B+, but it was right there when I needed to see it, to be reminded that we can help people also by allowing them to help us.  People are interesting and kinder than we expect.  That's enough.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Catfish is a documentary, but not the talking-heads kind.  It's a romance.

I don't think I've ever felt such giddy excitement watching a movie before.  One of the filmmakers says at one point, "It's like we're just about to open our SAT scores."  Exactly.  This film could have gone horribly wrong, and the reason it didn't is because there isn't a mean-spirited person in the bunch.

Nev, a 23-year-old photographer, gets a painting of one of his published photos from 8-year-old Abby, and he e-mails her mother to thank her, and then he gradually falls in love with Abby's 19-year-old sister, Megan over eight months of online conversations.  Finally he decides to take a road trip to see the whole family.  Nev's brother, Ariel, and friend, Henry, think it all makes for a good movie, and they were right.

This movie is all about reality and duplicity and honesty and loneliness.  I don't watch reality TV shows much, but from what I've seen, they're contrived and scripted - setting people up against one another to create an interesting conflict for the viewers.  This film is a mystery, so nastiness isn't necessary to keep us watching.  In a very minor early scene, Nev is talking with his brother and casually puts his hands down the front of his pants as they chat.   That's not something people in documentaries typically do, and it nicely stages him as an open and authentic kind of guy.

The film is also about falling in love long-distance.  At one point Nev is in bed, with his retainer in, reading intimate texts between him and Megan to Ariel and Henry, and he gets embarrassed by it all and finishes reading hiding under a blanket.  Nothing is edited from a text conversation the way it would be in a retelling of an in-person dialogue.  Nev also photoshops their pictures together.  He's 23, but he's acting like a little kid because he's in love.  Love can make the most mature, reasonable, professional adult act like a total moron.  Ebert called him naive, but maybe he's been married too long to remember how overpowering that feeling can be.  We see it in the paper all the time, and we laugh or are shocked at the antics of people in the throws, yet we really shouldn't be.  That could be us!

A lesser person would be angry enough to want to cause some harm to the woman who played with his  heart so thoroughly.  Nev doesn't take so much as a footstep in that direction.  For the kindness in it, and the simple provocative nature of the story reveal, and the fact that they were brave and crazy enough to go to Megan's place in the middle of the night, I give it an A-.

***  SPOILERS *** (Go see it before you read the rest - really! - It's on Netflix)

Okay, in case you haven't guessed, Catfish is a romance between Nev and a woman who doesn't actually exist.

There's a whole other story going on here.  But it really ruins the suspense of the film to know about it in advance.  You've been warned.

Abby's mom, Angela, is in her 40s and starting to feel like she hasn't achieved any of her dreams.  She lives for other people - her husband and kids.  She paints beautifully (it's telling that she's watermarked all her photos on her site), but I imagine she felt insecure about her artwork when she decided to tell Nev it was all done by her 8-year-old daughter.  It makes it that much more impressive if it's done by a child.  Angela's got a complex fantasy life going that seems to help her cope with a demanding home life.  It appears she has an estranged older daughter somewhere named Megan whom Abby hasn't seen "in so long she doesn't know what she looks like," and she recently left her job to spend her days caring for her two disabled step-sons (one appears severely disabled) and Abby.  That's a hard road to travel.  But, unlike the fantasy lives of many frustrated and lonely moms coping with caring for kids all day, her fantasy life seeped into other people's real lives when she sent Nev her paintings and pretended to be a 19-year-old woman falling for Nev with a model's photo in "Megan's" profile box on facebook.  I think the "falling for" part was all too real.

Since a key point in the film is the problem with misappropriating information, it's ironic that the film was sued for using music without permission, and that at Sundance, they were grilled on the reality of what they actually filmed.  We never really know another person completely; we just trust that people feel and think the way they say they do and that they're not putting on an act.  Trust is generally a good thing, but technology has taken us to a place where we're even further removed from what little grasp we ever had on reality.

The film skirts the borders of being about mental illness.  Even after the big coming clean in the movie, Angela continued to try to talk to Nev as Megan.  Nev says he's empathetic, and he stays in contact with her because he used to have problems telling the truth as a kid.  I think that's a whole different ballpark!   I also think it's great that they stay in touch and that she's getting counselling.  Obsessions can be disabling.

Yet it's funny how obsessed we can be with knowing the whole truth.  I like a nice story, and I'm okay if a few things were embellished here and there.  I'm curious about some details, but this film has brought about a cult of people searching online and in public records for information about all these people.  They want to know the absolute truth, and they'll stop at nothing to find it.  Some in the comments here wonder why Nev didn't he just read Angela's blog where she wrote about giving Megan up.  Maybe because the blog started in 2010 - a little late for a film released in 2010 and obviously filmed years earlier.  Another site explains why the film likely isn't a hoax.  This obsession is curious.  The film shows us a very positive way to react to a difficult situation.  Even if it's all contrived (which I doubt), it's still a good movie.  If it is fake, then Nev, Angela, and Abby are amazing actors.

Finally, and most obviously, the movie is also a huge cautionary tale about the dangers of the internet.  There's some serious collateral damage from all this: Aimee Gozales was the woman whose face Angela used to portray Megan.  The filmmakers told the story to her on film.  She seemed to take it beautifully, but now checks online regularly to see if anyone else has stolen her identity.  Stealing credit card information is one thing.  Angela stole Aimee's face.

Be careful out there, kids!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Movies About Teenagers Coping With Life

Kindness slays me.  I can sit stone-faced while people are slaughtered and abused and love dies and all hope is lost, but one act of kindness and I'm a puddle on the floor.

I watched two movies that deal with a similar theme of coping - specifically, New York teens dealing with angst.  One was nasty, the other nice.

First I watched Margaret.  It got mixed reviews, but if people like it, they generally think it's a masterpiece - an operatic film with huge messages for the world.  I found it intriguing, but annoying.

It's got an amazing cast: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, and Mark Ruffalo in the first unlikable character I've seen him play.  Paquin plays Lisa, a 17-year-old who distracted a bus driver who ran a red light and killed a pedestrian which prompted a lawsuit.  Lisa held the dying woman's hand and talked to her as she bled out.  The rest of the movie is about her trying to cope with this ordeal, the guilt she feels for the part she played in the accident, all by herself.  She keeps insisting her mom's not there for her, even though mom keeps asking to help.  Lisa's stubborn and arrogant and wavers between loving the drama and being completely traumatized by it.  The portrayal of a teen in crisis is very realistic.  She's just on the brink of getting that the whole world isn't about her, so she's scrambling relentlessly to draw attention to herself at every turn.

But there's a larger message that some reviewers get very excited about.  In one of her classes - some kind of amazing debating class with two teachers - arguments centre around 9/11, the Israeli invasion of Palestine, the Iraq and Afghanistan invasion, and whether or not the America government is a terrorist organization.  The journey Lisa takes through all her crap is apparently mirroring the journey America is taking to get over itself.  As if.

The problem I had with the film, is that Lisa is too unlikable for me to care about her.  She's realistic, but I'd like to avoid her for now until she grows up a bit.  There's just a brief moment at the end where we get the idea that she's figuring it out, but it's too little to make up for having to watch her drama unfold for hours.
This is a C+ for me.

The nice movie about coping is It's Kind of a Funny Story.  It's a feel-good movie about mental illness.  It follows Craig, a 16-year-old who came close to jumping off a bridge, but walked into the local hospital instead.  He didn't have a major traumatic event like Lisa, just the daily grind of more pressures than he could handle.

There are a few issues with the reality of the set-up:  The psychiatric wing of the hospital has a rule that if you ask to be admitted voluntarily, you have to stay for five days no matter what, but legally they can only detain a voluntary patient for up to 24 hours - but then there'd be no movie.  The patients regularly escape the wing for fun and games elsewhere in the building - there seems to be no security personnel at all. Visitors drop in whenever they feel like it - night or day.  Patients can call anyone they want at any time.   They take away patients' belts and shoelaces, but not the drawstrings in their sweatshirts....  But this isn't a documentary (although some people will come away thinking this is what it's really like).  And it's no Girl, Interrupted.  It's much much lighter, yet no less watchable.  

The film reminded me of a book, The Bear's Embrace, about a woman with PTSD who spent some time in a psychiatric hospital.  She said that what really helped her was the other patients' total belief in her experiences and acceptance of her rather than rote sessions with the doctors.  This film shows a similar camaraderie and acceptance of one another juxtaposed with visitors calling the patients weird or yelling at them for not being able to get their shit together.  It's a wonder more of us aren't having issues with life.

Over his five days, Craig grows up and recognizes that he should be grateful for all he has.  The main reason this movie is preferable to Margaret is that we get to actually see Craig's character development instead of just hoping it gets better after the film ends.  He becomes more other-centered and starts noticing the beauty in the world.   We're rewarded for watching him slog through depression a bit (a really little bit).

I like the film because it reminds us that lots of people are walking around depressed, and that it can really help to try to find ways to help others and/or to try to find some beauty in the world - anything to get outside yourself.  Friends can be great too, but that can be hit and miss.

I'll give it a solid B.