Tag Archives: female directors

Detroit

Detroit, 1967: a veritable race riot is boiling over the streets of the inner city. Buildings are on fire, stores are looted. Cops are on edge and are arresting any black person they see. The force is 93% white; 45% of those working in black neighbourhoods were considered to be “extremely anti-Negro” and an additional 34% were “prejudiced.” Charges of police brutality are abundant. Precincts overflow with black bodies.

On the night of July 25, police converge on the Algiers motel, allegedly because a sniper might be in or around the building. The motel’s 12 occupants are rounded up, interrogated, badly beaten, and humiliated by Detroit PD, Michigan State police, and the National Guard. At the end of the night, three black teenagers are left dead, killed by police.

Why? How?

Director Kathryn Bigelow presents a harrowing, claustrophobic rendition of these events, so tense and brutal that people walked out of the screening we attended. Other than Detroit being extremely difficult to watch, there are some problems with the film: 636345219515288776-detroit-3-rgb-2-Bigelow’s treatment of the subject is at a pretty cold remove, for example. And I for one felt it was just too long. The film could have ended when the last person leaves the motel, but instead it follows the white police officers who were charged with felonious assault, conspiracy, murder, and conspiracy to commit civil rights abuse. The courtroom scenes are a long, drawn-out denouement that don’t quite jibe with the first two thirds of the film. That said, I still feel like Detroit is an extremely effective film.

First, because it’s so timely. Watching those cops get off scot-free despite confessions, and then be congratulated for beating murder charges that were well-deserved, is infuriating, and familiar. This is not “history,” not when there are unarmed black children being gunned down by the people paid to protect them to this very day. It’s an uncomfortable reminder that in the past 50 years, we’ve done nothing to address the problem. Second, and maybe more importantly, is the way the movie made me feel. I’ve already said it was maybe a little void of emotion and that’s true; what I mean is how it made me evaluate my own filters. As sympathetic to the cause as I am, I’m still a white lady, and I experienced the film and the events depicted within it as a white person with all the privilege inherent in those words. The motel scenes are grueling and I had visceral reactions to them. Occasionally I caught myself frustrated with how the characters were responding to the cops, and I’d have to check myself. This is the fundamental takeaway of the film: my experience with police officers is essentially just very, very different. I wasn’t born with a historical fear of cops. My parents and grandparents didn’t raise me to be afraid of them. The colour of my skin protects me from the worst. My entitlement trusts in my human rights. My privilege demands that people in positions of authority will respect my unalienable civil liberties. The last interaction with a police officer I had was the guy directing pedestrians leaving a Cirque du Soleil show. The last time we were pulled over for speeding, there wasn’t so much as an apology uttered for being caught red-handed. These things don’t feel like privilege because they’re things we believe we’re owed, but it is privilege because not everyone gets to feel the same way.

Maybe it’s not perfect, but Detroit asks some difficult questions, which makes it an important film. It’s excruciating because it needs to be, and you need to watch it.

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Out To Sea

Herb and Charlie are best friends and brothers-in-law. Herb is the responsible one, Charlie the scamp. So of course it’s Charlie’s idea to scam a free cruise by pretending to be a dance instructor, and to trick his recently widowed bud Herb into doing the same (though at least Herb’s got some legit moves).

Of course, Charlie’s hoping to do more than just dance on this cruise; he’s hoping to score himself a rich wife. Herb (Jack Lemmon), still in love with his deceased wife, is not ready lemmon-and-matthau.jpgfor the swinging bachelor existence Charlie has planned for them on board, but that’s only half his trouble. A snarky entertainment director is on to them and their little ruse could cost them thousands of dollars that neither can afford (hello, gambling my old friend!) if found out and no amount of Rue McClanahan flirtation can save them.

Matthau and Lemmon are of course good for some madcap hilarity. I’m struck by how physical Matthau’s comedy continues to be into his old age. This movie is pretty stupid plot-wise, but the chemistry between old pals Matthau and Lemmon is tonnes of fun and magical as ever. This is the 9th of their 10 collaborations and you never get tired of seeing them together. Does it make up for a weak script? Not really. But if you’re reaching all the way back to 1997, you’re doing it because these are beloved figures who crack you up doing their soft-shoe shtick, not because you’re expecting to uncover a hidden gem that’s somehow lain dormant for two decades. Jack and Walt were the OGs as far as Bromance is concerned. Matt and Ben have a long way to go before we’re willing to let them flirt so shamelessly with our grandmas.

To The Bone

The first image from the film is a trigger warning and believe me, take heed. To The Bone is a serious, unflinching look at eating disorders that will absolutely be upsetting to each and every one of us, but particularly to those suffering from or recovering from eating disorders themselves.

Lily Collins, herself a survivor of eating disorders, plays Ellen, a young woman still very much in the throes of anorexia. The film shows her getting treatment in a centre run by Keanu Reeves, which should tell you all you need to know about how inauthentically the healing is portrayed. In reality, treatment is heavily regimented, usually in a medical setting. Eating disorders are the most deadly of mental to-the-bone-sundance-e1495026297494illnesses, no one’s going to let an emaciated Lily Collins push a fish stick around her plate for dinner. And they’re also very difficult to treat because unlike drinking, you can’t simply give up food. You have to learn to eat in moderation. Eating disorders are often (but not always) about control. Often there is some type of childhood abuse that accounts for someone wanting very much to exert control over their bodies now.

This both is and isn’t the case with To The Bone, but the family dynamics are a strong point of the film. Ellen’s family situation is sad and disjointed. Family therapy does not go well. Her father is absent, her mother can’t deal anymore, so support is provided by a step-mother who maybe doesn’t have the closest of relationships with her husband’s tiring and trying daughter. Some of you may find this movie enlightening. Certainly I believe that Ellen and her disorder have been portrayed empathetically. But it’s a tough watch that could definitely be a hardship for some, and may glamourize a terrible disease for others. This is a film to be watched only with care, and preferably in the company of others.

Based on writer-director Marti Noxon’s own experiences with anorexia as a teen, the film forced Collins, in recovery for eating disorders, to lose 20lbs. She did so with the “help” of a nutritionist, but there’s nothing healthy about a young woman already on the brink of being too thin being asked to lose up to a fifth of her body weight. I hate that movies do that and I can’t imagine that graphic shots of protruding bones and skeletal characters is putting anything but negativity into the world. And it doesn’t help that none of the other characters are put into any kind of context. They help show that eating disorders are not just the stuff or rich white girls, but by keeping those characters one-dimensional, we do them a disservice. The thing is, even with good intentions, sharing stuff like this can be dangerous. Details about how to purge or count calories can come across as tips; Collins’ skin-and-bones frame can be seen as aspirational. And I suppose this is where we ask ourselves: is this film doing more harm than good? What is responsible film making? Without knowing the answers, I do know that I am not comfortable recommending this film without some heavy caveats.

Vegas Baby

Perhaps as many as 1 out of 6 couples faces some sort of fertility issue when trying to conceive a baby. To answer this need, science offers a smidgen of hope: the ability to harvest eggs, inseminate them, and plant the fertilized embryos in utero, giving conception a greater chance. Is it a perfect system? No it is not. The odds are likely still against you. But the numbers aren’t the only barrier to babies – so, too, is the cost. One fertility clinic therefore offers the chance to “win a baby” – really, just one course of in vitro fertilization. But this contest attracts many desperate people who make emotional appeals.

This is a really interesting documentary, and a heartbreaking one too. It addresses issues ranging from:

movieposter.jpga) Is it even ethical to “give away”  a baby as promotional material?

b) Is it exploitative to force fertility-challenged people to compete against one another?

c) What happens to all the “losers”?

d) Why are people willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to conceive, but unwilling to adopt?

e) Why do some countries consider infertility to be a legitimate medical condition deserving of coverage and treatment while the U.S. leaves infertile men and women high and dry?

e) After bankrupting themselves financially and emotionally, what happens to a couple who still doesn’t have a baby?

f) What happens when your heart tells you to pursue baby-making by any means possible, but your religion expressly forbids it?

Director Amanda Micheli has fertility problems of her own, and used the baby contest as a provocative conversation starter in this documentary, a film that takes a look behind the curtain at the subject that is so rarely talked about. It’s a well-made film that is interesting and worth of your time. Kudos to all the people who shared their journey and their private pain; fertility and infertility are little understood, so shining a light on this issue is an important step in humanizing a subject that really hits us at the core of our personhood. We take our fertility for granted and losing control over something our bodies are supposed to do naturally seems to be a demoralizing process. The film is full of heartbreak. But there are little rays of hope too, and Micheli does a good job of balancing the rain and the sunshine.

 

 

Five Nights in Maine

Sherwin is reeling with the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Fiona. Out of sorts and in excruciating pain, he somehow consents to visit his estranged mother-in-law in Maine. Lucinda is also grieving her daughter, but their estrangement layers loss with guilt – and suspicion.

MV5BMTA0NjI1NzI1MDFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc1NjY1NzYx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) knock about in her rural home with only her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) between them. Lucinda is sick and in a lot of physical pain but she’s not too sick to still be kind of a bitch. The last time she saw her daughter they fought, as usual, and parted badly, both assuming for the last time, and of course it was, only it was daughter who died, and not the ailing mother.

Oyelowo and Wiest give great performances. Wiest is icily fantastic, full of venom and sharp edges. You kind of want to slap her across the face, even if she is a cancer-ridden old lady. But hiring a talented cast is about all this film gets right. I don’t mind some negative space but here the script is thin, the story plotless. It might have made an interesting character study if the dialogue wasn’t so sparse. We start out knowing very little but don’t attain a whole lot of clarity over the course of our Five Nights In Maine. I wish I had kinder words for a film that dares to tackle a dark subject, but this felt slow and sluggish and ultimately empty.

Rough Night

Rought Night is a rough watch. It’s aiming for somewhere between Bridesmaids and The Hangover, but winds up just a shade north of unwatchable. The cast is nimble enough (though I have no love to spare for Scarlett Johansson), but the script treats them abominably.

The premise, as you might have deduced from a trailer that’s not doing it any favours: ScarJo is getting married, and her friends treat her to a bachelorette party in Miami. But MV5BMjI4ODU0MTM3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjgzMzA2MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1404,1000_AL_the fun gets spoiled when the stripper gets accidentally murdered, and the hen party suddenly has to hide the dead rooster. The situation is wildly implausible and uncomfortably phony. Some have complained that the script focuses more on comedy than on story, and while I agree that story was largely absent, so were the jokes. I don’t think I laughed once, and I love me some Kate McKinnon.

The thing is, the film tries to do this interesting gender swap, where the ladies are at some wild, drunken weekend of debauchery and the bachelor party is having a sweet and sensitive wine tasting, chaste and polite. And the poor groom is left behind, wondering if his honey is cheating on him, stressing about unreturned phone calls and unrequited love. But in actuality, all it really means is that both the plot and the subplot are disturbingly trite, pathetic, and thoughtless. Basically, it’s twice the suck. Suck squared. And my life just doesn’t need that much disappointment, ya know?

It’s not much of a feminist comedy if only 2 of the 5 main characters matter. It’s not much of a comedy period if the 2 characters who do matter are one-dimensional at best, and there aren’t enough laughs to make these cardboard cutouts any thicker. I didn’t have the time of day for this movie. I mean, it literally stole 101 minutes from me, and left a big empty hole where some belly laughs belonged.

Mommy Dead and Dearest

Dee Dee Blancharde had had a rough go: displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she was the sole care-giver for her severely disabled daughter, Gypsy Rose. Gypsy’s diagnoses were many: epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, asthma, sleep apnea, cancer, chromosomal and developmental defects. She was confined to a wheel chair, fed by a tube, often breathing with the help of an oxygen tank. She endured frequent surgery and chronic pain. She was brain damaged and stuck at the intellectual age of 7. Dee Dee, devoted to her daughter, didn’t work. They accepted charity in the form of a house from Habitat for Humanity, met Miranda Lambert through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, got free trips to Disney World, Gypsy’s favourite. Kindly neighbours pitched in what they could; the Blanchardes were community fixtures, and well-liked. Then one day Dee Dee’s Facebook status read “That bitch is dead” and when police investigated, they found her stabbed to death in bed. Gypsy was nowhere to be found.

This case caught my eye at the time and I read about it extensively. It turns out that MV5BZGI5Nzg5YzktOGQ5NS00MGJhLWI4MWUtODQxZGE1MGQxYWMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA0OTQxMDQ@._V1_Gypsy was never sick, wasn’t even paralyzed. She had endured years of abuse, via ‘Munchausen by proxy,’ a condition wherein a caregiver fakes and actually induces health problems in their child in order to gain sympathy and attention for themselves. Gypsy, armed with a secret internet boyfriend, had had enough, and plotted her mother’s murder.

Mommy Dead and Dearest is a shocking documentary that explores this case in depth. People who knew them were shocked to see Gypsy Rose walking unassisted, and wondered how much she herself had been in on the deception. But even Gypsy Rose didn’t know her true age, or the extent of her health problems. Many of the medications given her to treat fake illnesses gave her real, troubling side effects. The documentary follows her trip through the justice system and asks us whether we must consider her to be a cold-hearted perpetrator, or a victim who finally fought back. Director Erin Lee Carr lets the story tell itself, giving the narrative time and space to unfold itself, deftly answering questions before we even ask them. This case is so astonishing that Carr’s guidance is particularly necessary, yet her presence is minimally felt. I was completely fascinated and absorbed by the story, and I bet you will be too.

Ride

Watch Helen Hunt show her versatility by playing both The Mom and The Bitch in a single role! I’ve never been a big fan of Helen Hunt and this is not the movie to win me over. Her character is so shrill and cliched I feel a strong itch to break into a rant about the very narrow width of roles for women of a certain age in Hollywood, except here’s the awkward catch: Helen Hunt wrote it herself. She directs too. But this is not something I’d be very proud to put my name on.

Jackie (Hunt) is a New York book editor with an unhealthily codependent relationship ride_helenwith her son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites), an aspiring writer just out of high school. He’s not too keen on post-secondary education, and when he fucks off to California for the summer (where his dad lives, and the waves beckon), she irrationally follows. Is young Angelo happy to have his Mommy along on his big independent adventure? No he is not. So to prove how cool she is, Jackie takes up surfing. When stubbornness alone isn’t quite enough, she reluctantly takes lessons from Ian (Luke Wilson).

Ian is a chill dude, but can he help her remove the stick from her ass? And do we really need another movie about a woman who needs to be taught to unwind from a barely employed but somehow revered younger man? Fuck no. Like Hunt or dislike her as an actor, she clearly isn’t very mature as a writer. Her script is obvious and creaky. And she’s pretty uninspired as a director, taking too long to develop any sympathy for the lead character (ie, herself). And don’t get me started on the missing irony of a book editor and a writer griping and agonizing over endings, when the film in fact has none.

Ride is a crummy movie, but it might have limited use as an instructional video for middle-aged surf noobs.

Devil’s Bride

A new judge arrives in the small village of Åland, Finland to modernize it. The villagers are a superstitious people. They cast spells for love, search dreams for omens, use herbs to induce abortions when the priest rapes them, seek revenge through the evil eye, and ask the local beggar woman to “divine” the perpetrator of crimes. Judge Nils (Magnus Krepper) believes in higher things: judicial evidence, unbiased law, proper trials. But also, you know, witches. When his mother gets sick, someone must be blamed. And of maxresdefaultcourse his new and improved judicial system could use a steady stream of accused. Why not a good old-fashioned witch hunt (although to be fair, in 1600, it was simply just “the fashion”)?

Nils’ mother has a charming 16 year old chambermaid named Anna (Tuulia Eloranta) who’s in love with a married man. 16 year old girls who are in love for the first time are kind of jerks, but she’s at least kind and patient her charge. But she’s not oblivious when the mother’s stroke is blamed on the local healer, who is then banished as a result. Sure that’s kind of tragic, but Anna can see the benefits. After all, her lover does have a pesky wife, and it now seems that a few easy accusations do a pretty good job of getting rid of someone. And that is how a witch hunt starts.

Devil’s Bride is very atmospheric, playing up the tension and paranoia that ruled the day. Based on real historical events in Finland in the 1600s, the witch hunt snowballs as they always do, not just because of jealous young girls, but because of the church’s tacit encouragement. The film probably would have benefited from choosing either love triangle or witch drama. Instead if lets the two themes fight each other, and that weakens the overall effect. There’s not exactly a lot of new things to add to the witch hunt genre, but it’s fun enough to see Finnish pilgrim hats.

 

1 Night

Two couples, both alike in dignity. One is young, one is old. Or we’re supposed to think they’re old even though they’re only in their mid 30s.

The young woman (Isabelle Fuhrman, literally the orphan in Orphan) has just been broken up with at prom. The young man (Kyle Allen, looking a little like a young Heath Ledger) is there too, lusting after her, the girl next door who won’t give him the time of One Night, feature film set stillsday. But then a mysterious older guy gives him some advice, and a mysterious older woman gives her advice, and they spend the night together, pushing each other in pools and falling in love.

Meanwhile, the older couple appear to be falling out of love. Their current relationship is unclear though they’ve certainly been lovers at one point. But witnessing young love is messing with them, causing them to reminisce down a certain romantic path which can only be littered with truth bombs. He (Justin Chatwin, of Shameless) seems to be pushing for a reconciliation while she (Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp) seems resistant.

First time writer/director Minhal Baig has a good idea here but it fails to develop. I think it’s supposed to be a treatise on what it takes to make love last but doesn’t have enough to say about it. It’s character-driven (a kind way of saying plotless) but doesn’t very clearly define said characters. It ends up feeling a little ‘millennials vs hipsters’ and I just couldn’t love it, even if it blossoms from a promising seed. Thank goodness for mercifully short runtimes.