Saturday, 20 October 2012
In some ways I know exactly how that feels. When I was younger I studied piano and found that I had a natural talent for it. Where my siblings would spend every day working and trying to get the practice music right, I would sit down with the instructor and somehow be better than I was last week without really trying. As the years went on and things got tighter though, I found that my passion for music was overshadowed by my passion for writing, a talent that requires its own version of rhythm and flow which I found to be something of a challenge to figure out. I still find it something of a challenge. I couldn’t see myself going through the struggle of booking stage performances and attracting people to come and see me play.
Though I have a lot of respect for those that do put in the time and effort to put themselves front and center the way many musicians do in the music scene. So when I had the opportunity to see a documentary about an 80 year old Toronto area musician named Hugh Oliver who has spent his entire life trying to make it in the industry, the words “impressed” seem somewhat lacking to express things. It’s a tragic reality of any type of creative industry that people spend years of their lives trying to rise to the top of the industry, or at least get themselves noticed. Hugh Oliver has spent more than most and so the idea of a documentary about him seems like a natural fit.
You would think that a documentary about and elderly citizen of our fair country would be a problem to watch. It’s not. He has had quite the journey and this has been set against the backdrop of him finally getting the opportunity to record an album. That along with animated snippets of his narrated poetry and songs which talk about things that are not your typical subjects (his songs about Facebook and Harry Potter are particularly enjoyable) will definitely make you smile.
Ultimately, this film is about perseverance and the desire to succeed. Something that Hugh Oliver has in spades. You wouldn’t know it from the way he talks about himself and other subjects throughout the film but anyone who has even made a passing attempt to succeed, whether in a creative industry or not, will recognize the focus and drive that they have felt in this man. Anyone who has ever had to question their dream of making it in a creative industry will see a reason to keep going. If Hugh can spend a half century of his life chasing a dream, anyone else has no excuse.
Not that this is the message of the film, but I certainly feel that way after having seen it.
Thursday, 18 October 2012
Lost Rivers Review: Where do we find our Lost Rivers? - Documentary Reviews, Documentaries, Documentary, Movie Reviews, Movies, Film, Film Reviews, Environmentalism, Entertainment, Film Entertainment
Documentaries are not something that I tend to go for traditionally, and it’s not from lack of interest. I make a point to be informed about the world and the way people live. This is far from a perfect world and there are a lot of issues to deal with. When I want to do that I go for the news and talk/debate shows which analyze the details and give them context. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t depending on who is doing the analyzing but even from people I don’t agree with I tend to learn something. But the fact that I stay informed doesn’t necessarily mean I need to know everything about everything. In some cases I am just looking for entertainment, and that’s often the case when I go to a film.
So a documentary usually has to have something really special with it to make get me in a theater. On occasion though I get tired of the traditional way of getting information and I look for something new. When I got the chance to go to the Planet in Focus film festival recently, I got just such an opportunity. The first of such films that I got to see is called Lost Rivers. A film about the way we view water in our modern age and how that relationship is changing in recent years. Enter a group known as The Drainers, more a collection groups with a similar name that have sprung up to explore the nature of water in urban areas and how we can help solve some of the problems we have with it. They do it by exploring rivers that have disappeared from view in most major cities because the population around it has changed.
And this is where the film kind of loses me a bit. It’s true that this is an important issue and people should know about it but doing that requires a certain amount of heart string pulling that seems somewhat lacking in the film. Narrative films and documentaries are different beasts to be sure. One is the invention of emotional and physical stakes and the other is a portrayal of a real world situation. But if you look at the best of both you see some basic similarities. Usually there’s a specific focus to the film, which in narrative films refers to a main character, and there is almost always an antagonist of some kind with which to contrast the focus of the film.
Somewhat ironically, Lost Rivers is missing that contrast. Of the three major focuses in the film, none of them come up against any serious constraints to their journey. Quite the opposite is the case with one in that they went from outlaws breaking city laws to an officially recognized group before the film even started. Another group being followed seems to avoid conflict in the film because the contrast is never actually seen, just referred to. Now I am not saying that all documentary films necessarily require contrast or conflict in order to move it forward, but as an audience member I just didn’t feel emotionally connected to the characters because things don’t necessarily happen to any of them.
We follow them and learn about them and the issue they have but we don’t really care about them in any serious way. I can think of only one point in which I was really emotionally invested in the film and it was created by two people who were not the focus of the film in a strange detour into random people. To me, that’s a problem whether you’re doing a narrative or documentary film and it’s one that Lost Rivers doesn’t really overcome.
Where do we find our Lost Rivers? They are all around us, we just have to have the courage to go and look.
Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Lars and the Real Girl Review: Which one is more real? - Movie Reviews, Film Reviews, Movies, Films, Film, Entertainment, Film Entertainment, TV, Television, Television Reviews, TV Reviews
Probably the only aspect of this film that disturbed me in any serious way was the fact that I could see much of myself in the main character up until about 15 minutes into the movie. The best way to describe the character of Lars is as a functional recluse in that he has a job, he has friends, but by in large he keeps to himself and spends a lot of time alone. It’s completely understandable by the time the ‘real girl’ shows up why he felt the need to buy one. For obvious reasons, people are very much concerned about him when he starts taking the mannequin out places with him as if they were a real person, but what quickly becomes apparent in the film is that this is not a ‘sex doll’ for Lars.
He doesn’t use it for what most people would assume. To him, this is a real person with a whole life, back story and personality. Now one might assume that something like that would come off as weird and somewhat off putting. Ryan Gosling however manages to make it work. He doesn’t overplay the interaction between him and the doll he refers to as Bianca. He doesn’t come off as psychotic or having broken entirely with reality. In most cases, Lars Lindstrom comes off like a man in love with a real woman. You might even be able to say that the doll is as much a character in the film as any of the actors who worked with it.
Yes, I know that sounds really strange, but I recently had someone tell me that after seeing the movie they actually got emotional about the doll. To avoid spoilers I will refrain from saying what emotion that was, however if that isn’t a testament to the acting ability of the people involved, then I don’t know what is. A film like this tends to get sidelined from a wider audience because of the content or controversy it might create, and that can be a real shame. But one of the benefits of the online market place and DVD/Bluray is that those who go looking for it can find it.
Actors should definitely go looking for this film. You’ve heard the term “Can’t act their way out of a paper bag”? The actors in this film acted their way out of a difficult situation with this film. Lesser actors and filmmakers would have made this story about a creepy man who develops a strange relationship with a weird fetish. But they proved that you don’t always have to go there with stories to get attention. You don’t always have to be the guy in the corner who doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes you can find a way to make it out of your problems and transform yourself into a better person. Even if the way you have to do it is with a life size mannequin you treat like a real person.
So which one is more real? Lars or the Read Girl? I honestly don’t know, but the question itself is great to watch.
Wednesday, 10 October 2012
The Informant Review: Would you hire The Informant? - Movie Reviews, Film Reviews, Movies, Films, Entertainment, Film Entertainment, TV, Television, TV Reviews, Television Reviews
There are a number of actors who can’t really move beyond their fame. Actors like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Robert DeNiro and Woody Harrelson are the kind of actors who I can only ever see as the actors they are and not the roles that they play. There are exceptions to that rule, for instance, Woody Harrelson in ‘Defendor’, Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in ‘Fight Club’, and George Clooney as Everett McGill in ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ Matt Damon on the other hand can sometimes be a bit of a wild card in the roles that he takes. Roles like ‘Dogma’ or ‘Ocean’s 11’, while incredible, are roles in which he seems to have been cast for the fact of his status as an actor whereas a role like Jason Bourne or Will Hunting, he finds a way to disappear into the role he is playing and you almost forget who he is.
I would put ‘The informant’ in the category of one where he disappears, the subtle way in which he portrays a nervous yet simple man who believes in doing the right thing despite his co-workers views of things and business practices is nothing short of brilliant. But the portrayal is not the only good thing about the film. As the story progresses, you start to realize that things are not entirely what they seem in the world Mark Whitacre inhabits. This begins a series of twists and turns to the plot that would normally be seen in a crime drama or a political thriller but feels right at home in this rather strange and quiet comedy.
Perhaps it’s the fact that so many of the characters seem genuine and honest in the way they deal with the situation at hand, the question of price fixing in the international markets of corn, that makes some of the eventual betrayals so damning and difficult to watch yet so very funny at the same time. The film ultimately becomes one in which there is no clear bad guy in all of it. Not because people haven’t done something wrong, but because you end up caring about the characters despite what they’ve done. None of the characters really seem underhanded or angry in what they do. Perhaps that’s why when things start to go wrong you don’t really see it coming.
So much about this movie is understated and unexpected. From the acting to the camera work and the storytelling, which I think is what makes it work so well. This isn’t a movie about clear lines between right and wrong, or good versus bad. It’s about people, and the way in which people go wrong in their pursuit of success.
Would you hire The Informant? I probably wouldn’t, but I would definitely hire the people who made the film.
Wednesday, 3 October 2012
Switched at Birth Review: Could you live with being “Switched at Birth”? - TV Reviews, Television, TV, Television Reviews, Movie Reviews, Movies, Film, Film Reviews, Entertainment, Film Entertainment
This sets up an interesting twist on the concept of family and how it is defined in the modern world that you don’t generally see in a lot of places outside the soap opera genre. How does one define family? Where does the connection between you and the family you were born into begin and where does it end? This idea is taken on in many different genres and stories but it often takes a backseat to the other themes within the shows. It seems to be a foregone conclusion by most storytellers these days that family is what you make it, not what you were born into.
And that’s where this show is different. Switched at Birth takes the concept of how to define family and puts it front and center. From the very beginning, the show focuses on the two young girls who were switched, Bay and Daphne, whose life has been turned upside down by the chance decision of Bay who questioned her place in her own family. After a DNA test reveals the truth about their birth, two families attempt to deal with how their lives are changed.
Everything stems from that one moment and the way in which they deal with the fallout. The families develop all sorts of insecurities and fears because of the new dynamic between all of them. Bay and Daphne start to question who they are and who they want to be and the friends they spend time with, but also who they would be if they hadn’t been switched the way they were. Their parents, Katherine and John Kennish, and Regina Vasquez have to deal with each other and figure out a way to parent their respective children together without crossing any boundaries.
As things progress for the Kennish and Vasquez families, we are introduced to other friends and family members who have their own problems with members of the two families and this helps to broaden the characters and the way they deal with each other. That in and of itself would be enough for most television shows to sustain itself for several years, but Switched at Birth adds another dynamic to the mix which makes it fascinating for me and fans of the show. About half of the characters and some of the cast themselves are hearing impaired or deaf.
Watching the show then becomes even more interesting for someone like me as a writer, because so many of the scenes are told without any audio dialogue. It relies heavily on the actors to show the story and the character’s stress in the moment rather than tell it. They do have subtitles for those of us without a working knowledge of sign language but rarely do they tone things down for people who can’t read them as they go by. I’d also say that I have picked up a sign or two from watching it and I love that they have managed to do that for the hearing and hearing impaired alike. Ultimately they never lose sight of the truth of the show, which is the characters and the question they often ask themselves either figuratively or metaphorically.
Could you live with being Switched at Birth? I probably couldn’t, but I love watching it play out on TV.