Tag Archives: film

Never Let Me Go

13 Apr


Monday and Tuesday were such bears of days that Tuesday evening I decided I needed a break so I found a RedBox and checked out Never Let Me Go on a whim.

I was vaguely aware that the movie existed (I think I saw a trailer for it and had liked the trailer) but other than that was a blank slate. Quite simply, Never Let Me Go proved that painful, evil things can still be beautiful. Or rather, that beautiful things can still exist amid insidious evil.

The story centers on the recent past in which a breakthrough medical discovery has significantly increased the life expectancy of most people. However, we quickly find out that this longevity has been bought through the creation of “donors.” The donors are people born and raised to young adulthood for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs for transplants. Each donor may be able to donate two or three organs before dying in their twenties.

The film follows the lives of three donors who grow up attending a boarding school for donor children. Here they are educated while being kept in pristine physical condition. The film follows their story as they mature, the ensuing complex love triangle and as they eventually move out of the school to begin their donations.

Watching how their mostly normal boarding-school childhoods increasingly confront the evil (is there a better word?) of what was to happen to them was particularly jarring.

The old school house, the English countryside and children themselves are all so beautiful. Yet, beneath the facade of beauty and goodness, lies something truly terrible. As if to acknowledge this, the colors of the film are muted, the green of the countryside turns a bluish-tint under overcast skies. The whole film feel cool to the touch.

And it is painful to watch the characters strain to develop the characteristics of a normal life – with passions and interests and loves – knowing that it will all be snuffed out so soon.

Yet the evil of it all that had me wanting to scream at the screen during various scenes was only nominally felt by the adults in charge and by the non-donors. It was an abstraction to them. Indeed, the teachers question whether the donors even have souls. The donors have been other-ized. Made to be less than human.

We may not harvest people for organs, but the film made me ask where we’ve done the same thing.

Never Let Me Go is the kind of film that haunts you long after the credits roll.




Away We Go

5 Feb

When I first discovered Away We Go last year, I was skeptical. Just from the packaging alone, it looked like the kind of film that I could easily pass by without harm. It had all the hallmarks of an indy film: line-sketch looking fonts for titles and credits, attractive yet normal looking characters, bright color packaging that blends real life images with mural imagery.

It appeared to be just another indy movie, or faux-indy movie, of which there are many these days. There’s a formula to them and they tend to center on middle class and privileged twentysomethings adrift in the post-college landscape and their search for meaning. That’s not to say that the narrative is not compelling, because it is. That’s why there’s so many of them. I’ve seen many of them. And some of them are good. Some very good.

Adventureland, Juno (more of a teen story, but still), and Garden State are a few examples of good films that have come out of this narrative impulse. In an economy that is increasingly brutal to even college grads and a society with a lot of social anxiety about the roles and responsibilities of young adults, it’s only natural that film would adapt to speak to that situation.

But it can be overdone. These indy (or faux indy) films that desire to give voice to the lives of regular people living regular lives sometimes create characters that become parodies of themselves. A down, to earth, conscientous guy can become a neo-hippy, emo, granola-man who wears birkenstocks and plays ultimate frisbee with his eyes close. There’s a tendency to push character types to extremes.

That’s why I was skeptical of Away We Go, even before I had seen it. From appearances, it looked like one of those films – same story, characters pushed to extremes.

But I was persuaded to view it and I ended up … loving it. It’s the reason why I was so eager to view it again with some very old and close friends this weekend.

Away We Go, as far as I can tell, breaks new ground in the indy-style by pushing the subject matter forward several years. It’s not a story of twentysomething angst; It’s the story of thirtysomething anxiety.

The supporting characters still suffer from extreme qualities, but the central couple is strikingly normal.

Away We Go centers on a committed, unmarried couple who’s getting ready to have their first child. She’s six months pregnant, and when his nearby parents decide not to stick around for their coming new grandchild, the couple embarks on a search for a new home, visiting friends and family nationwide to find a new place to settle down.

It uses the indy style to address the concerns of an audience of filmgoers who’s getting older and maturing. It also suggests that the indy style of film isn’t going anywhere anytime soon if it’s able to adapt to the changing life story of a changing audience.

In the same way that I found films about the college experience especially compelling in high school and films about young adulthood compelling in later high school and the early part of college, so now films about the late twenties and early thirties are more compelling to me. They are windows into a world I’m not a part of but will be eventually. And love it or hate, the indy style does as good of a job as any genre at describing a life stage in a honest, humble way.

Eventually, I’m sure, there will be a glut of indy style films about the thirtysomething experience. But hopefully Away We Go will be remembered as one of the first to do so, and perhaps, one of the best.

A Best Picture Oscar Prediction

25 Jan

Oscar nominations were announced today. Of the 10 films nominated for best picture, I’ve seen four. I’m a bit disappointed in my poor showing.

Yet, I think the ones I have seen are the ones to truly see.

Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network and Toy Story 3.

Now, let’s be honest, Toy Story won’t win. It just won’t. I simply don’t see the Academy giving the honor to an animated film. That isn’t to degrade animation, yet to award the ultimate honor to an animated film would almost seems a snub to live action.

I’ll put my money on The King’s Speech, though I think The Social Network should get. It was the best movie of the year. Personally, however, I enjoyed Inception the most.

A spirited and completely biased defense of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

22 Jan

I was somewhat horrified this morning when I read this economic critique of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the Paris Review (h/t The Daily Dish).

I can’t even pretend to be objective about this – FBDO stands alone as my favorite film of all time. Nevertheless, the critique, which seeks to interpret the film as some kind of capitalist pean, profoundly misses the point.

Before my eyes, therentier class was daydreaming a special dream, a dream of getting away from the drudges and the scolds …

It continues…

But I would like to argue that the movie advocates not supply-sider ideology per se, or not only supply-sider ideology, but something more pernicious.

Perhaps there may, in some way, if you look at it right, be some evidence that maybe Hughes was making some kind of pro-market allusions (though I doubt it). But if you’re watching FBDO for the first time (or at least the first time in a decade, as the author claims) and your first thought is What A “Pernicious” Pro-Capitalist Film, you are profoundly missing the point.

FBDO is at its heart a romantic story. It drives its characters into the coming great unknown of adulthood while urging them to hold onto the beauty and humor that makes life about more than just existing – a beauty and humor that children grasp easily but adults (such as the principal) lose sight of.

The film is precisely NOT about economics. None of the decisions Ferris, Cameron and Sloane make sense from an economic perspective, but that’s the point: that sometimes living is about throwing your concerns to the wind to embrace a moment that points to something more important than day to day normalcy and existence.

The setting of FBDO is not universal. It portrays a midwestern, middle to upper-middle class teenage experience. But the aspiration to break free, at least temporarily, from the bonds and responsibility of daily life to experience something grander, I believe, is much more universal.

This comment on the Paris Review post put it best:

I think this is a gross over-analyzation of a movie that was really vicariously being the person we all wanted, but were all afraid, to be: Ferris.

After reading this, I went to my husband. I said, “Remember the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Remember his friend, Cameron? Remember the Ferrari? What was the deal with the Ferrari?”

To which my husband replied without missing a beat, “He thought his dad loved the car more than he loved him.”

Catfish meshes screens with real life

12 Jan

It’s the final stretch of winter break and that means boredom. Not that I’m complaining all that much. In just a few days my schedule will once again be revved up for the new semester.

But for a a few days I have a lot of time on my hands and that has meant ample opportunity to watch films.

Watching The Social Network last night followed by Catfish today has provided two spins on social networking.

Both films are controversial, but The Social Network has clearly been the more successful. You’re probably familiar with the story of TSN, but Catfish is hard to describe in any great detail without giving much away. It should suffice to say the story, shot in documentary style and presented as true, shows a young New York filmmaker’s burgeoning relationship over social networking with a Michigan family. Trust me, there is a big catch, but I won’t spoil it.

What kept my attention in Catfish was not so much the story but how the film interweaves the virtual and the real so well on the screen, and in a way that’s not really done in The Social Network (even though it’s about Facebook). At least in the early part of the film, shots of Facebook and smart phone screens and Macbook desktops are as numerous as shots of real people, real places, real things. A flight from New York to Colorado is shown as a Google Earth flyover. When Nev, the filmmaker, receives a text, we see the text on his iPhone screen.

I found the interweaving shots of the real and the virtual in this film very true to how many people, especially the 20-30 something young professionals crowd the documentary seems aimed at, actually live. In our lives, young people especially make less and less distinction between real interaction/real life and virutal (or electronic) communication. We spend our days in a blur between screens and physical reality. We don’t separate those realms as much as we use to.

Catfish is one of the first films I’ve seen that acknowledges this reality and embrace it visually on screen.


15 Nov

Greenberg, the film from earlier this year by Noah Baumbach, is kind of boring.

But it’s also kind of interesting.

Ben Stiller plays a middle-aged man who leaves New York and goes and takes care of his brother’s home in Los Angeles. He speaks with some old friends, mopes around the home and has an awkward romance with his brother’s assistant. Stiller’s character is flawed, but not fatally flawed. He’s narcissistic, selfish, broods a lot, and can sometimes be a jerk. In other words, his characters often acts like a real person. And real people are sometimes lovely and charming but are also sometimes kind of jerks.

Nothing supernaturally dramatic happens during the film. Most of the film involves Stiller awkwardly, sometimes painfully, interacting with other characters, who each, while still being more socially aware than Stiller, are flawed as well in their own ways. I think that’s why I found the film kind of boring. We’re watching normal, flawed people in normal, flawed social situations acting for the most part normally (or mostly normal). If a film is going to capture interest in a real way, one of these three elements need to be off. Either the characters, the situation or the way they react to the situation must be different. But in Greenberg, none of these three elements are different enough.

Greenberg is a movie of existential angst. But it isn’t all that angsty. Stiller, for the most part, broods about his existence but doesn’t do anything about it. Nor does he have some profound experience of enlightenment. The emotional climax of the film is an argument between Stiller and a friend about the flaws in each of them. But even that moment failed to excite me in any particular way. There was no punch to it.

Film should speak to the life of real people. That doesn’t mean it needs to replicate the life of real people.