Listen Up Philip: A Double Gaze

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Listen Up Philip is filmed like a home video—unsteady with quick movements that make you wonder who is in charge of the camera. Of course the film does this on purpose and allows this realistic feeling to form as we see Philip’s (Jason Schwartzman) and Ashley’s (Elisabeth Moss) relationship dwindle and how their life proceeds without the other.

Despite the serious tone the story has regarding success and relationships, the film’s subtle humor makes the comedic moments cherished. You’re watching along realizing how self-absorbed the main character Phillip is. So much that his quick insults can be humorous because he is so nonchalant about his feelings towards the other minor characters. There are even a few moments that are laugh out loud funny like when Philip escapes the city to stay in writer Ike Zimmerman’s summer home and he finds a bizarre joy is mowing the lawn and smelling the fresh cut grass during the early mornings. Or when Philip meets up with an ex-girlfriend and she runs away after he suggests they kiss. The camera cuts to his sullen face as he watches her sprint away from him. There’s nothing to do but laugh. Then the funny business is over and we are back to feeling the utter loneliness both Ashley and Philip hold as well as everyone else in the film.

Overall, the film gives us a close look at vulnerable people. Literally a close look. Most of the shots are close-up profiles of Ashley and Philip or their faces straight at the lens as they hold back tears. What I like most about the film, though, besides the close-up shots that I do appreciate, are both the female and male gaze I saw throughout. For example, in the beginning the camera seems to be from the perspective of the different women looking at Philip. We see Emily (Dree Hemingway) a young woman who helps during a photo shoot of Philip and her eyes follow him throughout. She’s meek and quiet, but we get the sense that we see someone she admires. We feel her lust. The same is said later, while soon to be girlfriend of Philip, Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume), scans the writer in a crowd of people. She seems sneaky, but interested in the new writer. We feel what she does through the lens. However, while the camera has a women’s view for some time, it flips eventually. Soon Philip and Zimmerman stroll through the college that Philip teaches at and the lens focuses on thin college students, all of which are women. The dialogue between the two references all the beautiful women in college and it becomes clear the gaze has changed to a male’s. This flip-flop allows us to see the difference in male and female perspective regarding the opposite sex. In a more specific way, these two sides allow us to see the different reactions of Ashley and Philip, post breakup.

Ashley is so clearly more affected after the relationship ends, but I loved the strength the film ended up giving her. There is something inspiring in Ashley’s character that I think the film tries to point out: just because you’re alone, doesn’t mean you have to be or are lonely. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Ashley becomes what all women urge others to be like: strong, resistant, and confident. The issues regarding male verse female success is extremely relevant too, and the film did an excellent job showing how self-conscious Phillip was when Ashley was climbing the ladder of success faster then he was.

Except Philip remains the same from beginning to end. If only he cared about his life as much as his fictional one. But this also points out the issue with creative occupations: it’s a fantasy world most of the time so how do you live two lives? Can there be a balance? Philip treats his life like a novel. He writes in a scene and plays out the part. He creates his own drama because he can’t ride along with life’s own twists and turns. He simply wakes up and decides which ex he would try to swoon again. He finds a way to make himself miserable. This all goes back to the title. You want to shake almost every character throughout the film and show them the truth they’re missing or give some sound advice, but Philip is the one who really needs to listen up.

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Homme Less: Follow his Bliss, Expect his Truths

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The documentary film Homme Less, to me, wasn’t about being homeless. I had this discussion on the way home after seeing the film with a friend. She expressed her frustration with main character Mark as he roams around New York City in 200 dollar shoes and eats at fancy restaurants, but sleeps on rooftop buildings because he doesn’t have a home. He looks pretty good compared to all the other homeless men in New York City that the film captures as well. Men who are skin and bones, without shoes and shirts. But I think the film urges us to be frustrated with Mark and his self deprecation and also frustrated with the city, with the systems and the situations that people often get themselves into.

Despite the film’s title hinting towards the homeless issue, the documentary is unlike one I’ve ever experienced. It takes us behind the scenes of a life that seems good, a man that seems to have it figured out. Except this man, like the rest of us is complicated and so is his life. It’s full of anxiety, fun, sadness, and a cold loneliness that’s captured within a few hours. The film opens with these beautiful NYC scenes and jazz music that reoccurs throughout and when we first meet protagonist Mark and get to know his situation: sleeping on the rooftop of his friend’s apartment, showering at the YMCA and ironing his clothes before acting or photographing gigs, he really does seem to have this strange city life figured out. No his systems are not normal or expected, but they work for Mark as he saves his money by not paying rent. One of my favorite parts of the film is during the early stages of following Mark when he tells the camera he’s happy most of the time. It’s quiet after as he walks down the street while we wonder if happiness can mean living so minimalistic and alone. And then Mark almost whispers and emphasizes his happiness most of the time.

Then come the heartbreaking truths as we follow Mark day after day. The human condition as I say often is the strangest, truest and most interesting aspect of life. Mark is a walking study. We judge him and analyze him and wonder why he does the things he does. I too like my friend was frustrated because I saw his raw talent and his vivacious personality. Why is he limiting himself? Why isn’t he finishing projects or following up with people who could connect him to a steady job? Because he does not want to, because that would bore him? I’m not sure what the answers are and maybe Mark doesn’t know either. This is his condition. His human, conflicted condition.

There is so much truth to this film and one of the reasons I think is because of the friendship between filmmaker Thomas and Mark. Mark has no problem facing the camera and telling him how it is. Like how he’s obsessed with sex because he’s been deprived for so long, how he’s so scared his friends and family will find out the truth about him. At one point he faces the camera—my favorite part in the documentary—and tells us to lock our doors because he’s going to try and sleep on our couch. He’s talking to us, making us laugh and including us in on his deepest secrets.

Even though we see the many ways Mark holds himself back and breaks himself down, the film also points to the unfairness and realities about high price city living and of course this reoccurring theme of the American Dream. Even if Mark chooses to get a job and a cheap apartment (if cheap exists in NYC) would he make ends meet? As director Thomas stated during a Q&A after the film, Mark has it all: he’s white, male, and good looking so why isn’t he making it in the big apple? Once again the answers will vary depending on who you are and what you think after seeing Mark’s story unfold. It’s a film that has you talking, has you thinking. I wanted to shake Mark and hug Mark and hang out with Mark. He’s a fascinating human and the beauty of this piece lies somewhere different; it’s in the importance of one man and what he offers to the universe and what it’s offered to him.

I hope everyone gets to see this film at a festival where Thomas can answer questions and talk about the film because even more is revealed and even more questions are answered. And despite the film focusing on success verse failure, Thomas pointed out this fear of failing that all creative people feel, but in the end we have to take the leap and follow our passions. This led me to wonder: could Mark have done better? Summoned more courage and leapt farther and more willingly? Or did he give up? Did life’s demands swallow his passion to succeed? Or maybe there’s still time, which I think there is. Mark has succeeded in a lot of ways, whether he thinks so or not, but there’s still a chance to face and deplete those nightmares the film recognizes that’s held Mark back and that tend to hold many of us back.

Life Itself: The Experience of Memories

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I finished Roger Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself last spring. There was only one thing I knew about Ebert prior to reading his book: he was known as one of the best film critics. The memoir was filled with early and late memories, a life so full and exciting, even though I didn’t know the man at all. However, after finishing I felt I like I truly knew Ebert and after seeing Steve James’s documentary that mimics the memoir, I feel like I know the prominent people in Ebert’s life as well like friend Gene Siskel and wife Chaz.

There are many differences between the memoir and documentary, but this is one of the things that sets the two apart. The talking head interviews that feature Ebert’s past colleagues, friends, and family are intimate and reveal a different side of him. We don’t just have Ebert telling us how he feels; instead it’s almost like a conversation. Snippets from the book are read as voice-over and in the next scene the exact person he was talking about will tell their side of the story. These interviewees also aren’t afraid to tell us what they think, they aren’t afraid to reveal the sides of Ebert that were not so charming.

However, if viewers really want a more personal look into Ebert’s life, reading the memoir is the way to go. A lot of the interior monologue throughout the novel was written while he lay in the hospital bed, unable to eat and drink, so unlike the film where we see the pain on Ebert’s face or imagine what he may be feeling, we read about it in Life Itself (although the gory details aren’t a huge part). But again, this is another thing that sets the film apart from what we may have learned through Ebert’s writing. We get to see the physical aspect of his life with cancer and all his surgeries. It’s hard to believe the man whose writing strength was so present and film criticisms were still on point was the same man unable to speak or communicate like the rest of us. It’s hard to imagine all those ideas were circulating in that mind, but could only be communicated in certain ways.

The Life Itself documentary shows us how much mental and physical strength it takes people like Ebert and his family to carry on. We see what it means to truly support and love someone through the very different relationships between Ebert and Chaz and Ebert and Siskel. Most of all, I truly recognized the lack of entertaining film criticism now that both Ebert and Siskel are gone. The documentary has clips from the Siskel & Ebert show throughout and I wanted to keep watching and hearing the arguments about the different films they had seen because there is such a lack of film discussion on television today. This winter, I have witnessed many broadcasters admit to not seeing any of the “big season films” right before they interview a star or feature a snippet from one of the Oscar nominated films. The entertainment side of the news focuses instead on who wore what at the latest award shows or what the Kardashian’s next season will look like.

If you care about film, you’ll find a way to discuss it, but when Ebert and Siskel were around it seemed the public who watched TV didn’t have a choice. Film was present, it was debated, it was alive and important no matter who you were. Film was made cool and not just the films that had explosions and special effects. It seems so simple: entertainment and education from listening to two people analyze a movie, but why now, has it disappeared? Perhaps the show’s legacy holds too high of a standard, but don’t you think Roger Ebert would want us to carry on? To not let new films pass by without discussion? And hopefully the documentary will do to others what it did to me. It opened my eyes to truths I hadn’t seen but also gave me hope through all those people who were inspired by Ebert that the film industry and critic community is not something depleting but relative and climbing.

White Bird in a Blizzard: Layers of the Truth

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White Bird in a Blizzard is the first film I’ve seen in a long time that features a young woman’s coming of age story. These are some of my most enjoyable films to watch and the complexity of Shailene Woodley’s character, Kat Evens, is one of the most entertaining and well-rounded aspects.

I couldn’t help seeing Woodley as this innocent and naive girl, especially having seen The Fault In Our Stars not too long ago and some of her character’s crude dialogue and actions go against her typical role. But Kat Connors is a young woman who has many layers and one of those layers is a smart yet confused teenager who needs guidance and love, but not just from her boyfriend Phil and their sex craved relationship. I may have had a hard time believing Kat’s rebellious, risqué ways at first, but as scenes unfold and another woman is honed in on (Kat’s mother Eve) her actions start to make sense.

Eve Connors is a housewife gone mad. She’s an eerie kind of Betty Draper. In a series of flashbacks and voice-over, daughter Kat explains her mother’s slow breakdown: Eve was a secretary at an office and she had nothing else going for her so she married the boring, incompetent Brock Connors. During one of these voice-overs Eve’s elegant face gets closer to the lens and this sincere moment has us thinking: she really had nothing else going for her because of this occupation? But what the film suggests having the two women’s decades of life side by side is that these ideas were a reflection of the time in which Eve lived through. If a woman like Eve wasn’t already married or had a secure, successful occupation during her young adult years, she better find one or the other soon. Brock isn’t the only boring one though. Eve becomes the same way with her solid color dresses and routine. She’s left in a house with nothing else to do but simply play house. Be a mother, a wife and be happy with that. Except as we come to see, Eve refuses to settle after a while. Perhaps she saw a different future when Brock and she started a family, but life offered a much different reality.

Through Kat’s portrayal of her mother are where things come together. We come to know Kat and all these layers because her actions have everything to do with her mother’s life. She is sweet to her father because she pities everything Eve had bestowed upon him. In other scenes the kind adolescent is seducing the detective whose working on her mother’s case after her disappearance. But even this relationship we come to understand. Of course Kat wants a sexually liberated lifestyle after her mother vanishes. She wants to do whatever she pleases and with whomever she pleases because her mother didn’t. And look where that got everyone?

The buildup of Kat’s emotions is also done very well. At first after her mother’s disappearance, she has no feelings, at least that’s how she acts, but as she gets older and visits her quiet hometown years later this absence starts to fill her entire being. What really happened to her mother? Did she leave because she was unhappy and perhaps severely depressed? Was she dead? There’s a lot not shown in the film, but a lot said. For example, we don’t see how the relationship between Eve and Brock was behind closed doors. Yet Eve’s dialogue provokes curiosity during flashbacks when she drunkenly ridicules her husband for controlling her when all we see is Kat’s mother acting strange towards her only daughter with jealousy and spite while Brock is quiet and kind. This leads us to wonder if Eve simply made this up or if there was more to the story than what Kat saw. After all, we see these scenes through her eyes and at times she is unintentionally unreliable. However, it’s what makes the story everything it’s supposed to be.

It’s all part of Kat’s growing process. When you’re younger you see things a certain way. When we get older tiny truths sneak through the cracks and life changes. We change. It’s what happens to Eve Connors as well. She had a life that seemed one way and over time turned out differently. It’s what viewers feel, I’d imagine, when watching the film. We think one way, but are entirely surprised by the answers that reveal themselves at the end. No one is really who they say they are, except for Kat who’s confused, young, smart, beautiful, and vulnerable no matter what happens.

Force Majeure: Ways of Looking

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Force Majeure projects an unfamiliar gaze on a typical family who goes on a typical ski holiday. Except the family’s normalness changes and the film shifts and opens a plethora of questions and ideas regarding gender expectations and modern influences on society. And this all comes from one single moment in the first ten minutes—an action that truly speaks louder than any dialogue uttered in the two hours.

This altering moment occurs when Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) instinctively reaches for his iPhone at lunch and runs away from his wife and two young children during what looks like an uncontrolled, threatening Avalanche. His actions clearly show the impact advancing technology has on our lives and this isn’t the first time it’s revealed, but is seen in much smaller moments when Tomas checks his phone during a nap, when wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) wakes up and the first thing she asks is the whereabouts of her phone, or when the children are glued to their iPads during much of their downtime. The bigger focus post Avalanche, however, is the different people Tomas and Ebba become. We no longer have a confident, protective and intelligent man. Instead, Tomas can’t confess his fear of the unknown or even admit to running away from his family when the Avalanche looked like it was coming to destroy them. Eventually Tomas sees himself as someone he despises. But the real fixation lies within Ebba and her complex thoughts about marriage and her husband in general after she stays to shield her children from harm and he runs the other way with his most valuable possessions. She becomes what Tomas was: relaxed, in charge, and confident.

Ebba doesn’t just reflect on her husband’s actions through shaming him in front of their friends by reliving the episode, but also during a very significant scene when she speaks to one of her friends about motherhood and her partnership with Tomas. Here Ebba can’t wrap her head around her friend’s open marriage, but the reasoning is told simply: there is so much more to life than being reliable for your husband or children. Your entire being does not exist just for other people, but it’s one’s happiness that matters above all. It doesn’t seem like Ebba will transform and center her values around these, but the scenes that follow allude that she is indeed contemplating the conversation. She doesn’t give Tomas the same affection afterwards. She leaves her children and Tomas for the day to ski by herself and during the terrific scene near the end when Tomas has a mental breakdown, Ebba does not console him but demands him to be quiet and to calm down. This tug of war for control and sensibility is entertaining and worth another look because we can’t guess what Ebba will do. Will she leave her husband because of this one selfish action? Will she truly forgive him and go back to having the happy companionship we caught glimpse of at the beginning?

The film’s laced with enthralling scenic moments but the ones I found most creative were those with the lens aimed towards a mirror or window. To me this gave a clear message through a foggy picture. We don’t get to experience this marriage full on but are rather looking at it from the outside. It’s just a reflection. It’s two hours where can reconsider our own relationships ( like the women in Force Majeure do) and at the same time judge the one in front of us. We laugh at them. We pity them. We are thankful we aren’t them. This is even seen through the other characters in the film like Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanni (Fanni Metelius) the other couple on the trip who are friends with Tomas and Ebba. When they hear of Tomas’s selfish actions and even mention that the two need serious therapy they are judging just like us, but then an interesting mood from this dilemma rubs off on their relationship. The judges become the judged.

It’s a messy situation—this trip to the French Alps that’s meant to bring the couples closer together. One big twisted experience that’s comedic, sad, freighting, and overall makes a much bigger commentary on gender roles. It should be noted the role the women play in the beginning of the film and the one they take on in the end. Viewers will have different opinions, but I was thrilled to see these norms played with, manipulated at times, and represented in a logical, new way.

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1: All Sides of the Story

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Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is a documentary I knew would be depressing and perhaps unveil truths regarding issues that I hadn’t acknowledged, but that still didn’t prepare me for the heartbreak I felt while watching the Oscar winning short for 2014. Nor did I expect the adrenaline rush that kept me anxious with anticipation for more than half the film. I didn’t realize until now I was either on the brink of tears or nervous about the outcome of the featured hotline phone calls.

Yes the documentary has viewers thinking, feeling, sympathizing with veterans who reach the crisis hotline with a literal cry for help, but what I think of during these intense conversations are the victims on the other side. One of the featured responders explains to the camera, “Talk to any Vietnam veteran. Their orders were to shoot anything that moves.” He then poses questions: can you imagine what that must be like? To get that order and try to fit in with your unit and shoot anything that moves, but then it’s a family? These veterans are in a pain we can’t imagine, but this is the first film I have seen that focuses on the guilt veterans experience during war/postwar, although it’s seen slightly in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty when innocent children are found in Osama bin Laden’s home and are surrounded by their family’s dead bodies. These phone calls made me think about those in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam who saw their loved ones killed. Who do they get to call for help? Is there anyone to soothe their vivid memories? The documentary invites us to think about the PTSD that may triumph veterans’ lives, but also the realities of the other side that often go unnoticed.

What’s most interesting about this short is the absence of a narrator or even filmmaker. Documentaries usually end with a call to action and in some cases have the creator in the lens, pointing the finger, telling you how they feel, what is wrong and what needs to change. Instead, the camera is floating either outside the hotline headquarters with the American flag waving in the wind or indoors where the counselors tell a one sided story by answering hotline phone calls where most of the conversations featured are not men who just want to talk but are about the end their life and need someone to convince them otherwise. This comes with a lack of talking heads, which I didn’t necessarily mind. The counselors seldom sit down in front of the camera and tell us how it feels to hold such responsibility. We see it as their eyes gloss over when they hang up the phone or when they rest their head in their hands and wait for another coworker to help them cope with the contagious sadness.

Like most documentaries, there’s a lot said here. Much more that only 40 minutes worth, but the positive thing about the length is it gives us the chance to infer what issues need to be recognized without being too redundant. And it’s clear the issues are not only regarding veterans who need mental assistance and stabilization, but also about war, youth, America, and what this country means to so many people, especially those who have served in the military. The film doesn’t hit us over the head with a message, but creates many and injects us with compassion by the only visible people in the documentary: the counselors. Their occupations and entire beings reveal a humbleness and quiet emotion which contraries the film’s loud truths.

The Other Woman: Extreme Female Fiction

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I have not seen a truly funny female comedy since Bridesmaids. Every time I hear of one or a friend tells me, ” You have to see it, it’s as funny as Bridesmaids,” I get too excited for my own good. This happened when someone told me The Other Woman was even funnier. Not only did I compare the comedy the entire time, but over analyzed the three women the movie is based around whose ultimate goal is to get revenge on the one man who dammed them all. It is a silly film, one that’s obviously not meant to be taken seriously, but I couldn’t help looking closer and taking things personally.

What bothered me most was not that the movie didn’t live up to the humorous expectation, but that I saw a similar film years ago, John Tucker Must Die that too involved a group of females getting back at a guy who played all of them one way or the other. But they were high schoolers which made more sense and was an actual funny movie that’s lessons in the end revealed how insignificant it is to manipulate another person’s life and how revolving happiness around one man doesn’t do anyone any good. However, Leslie Mann’s character is the most frustrating aspect in The Other Woman. She plays Kate King the wife of womanizer Mark and once she learns of her husband’s affairs and all the lies in between she weans herself off him at first, participants with friends Carly (Cameron Diaz) and Amber (Kate Upton) to make his manhood dwindle, but then melts back into a relationship with a man she truly doesn’t know and never really did. It’s not her actions that upset me, but the lack of realistic emotion Kate must be feeling. Her husband is a real gentleman for one evening. Places her on the highest pedestal during his work party. Showers her with compliments. Promises her he will never leave. And bam that’s it—the childish games are over—Kate is going to stick beside her husband. Of course we see this coming, as we do with Brittany Snow’s character (who also plays a Kate) in John Tucker Must Die when she too has a moment of weakness and calls off the games. We also see Kate’s major epiphanies coming soon after when she realizes her friends were right and her judgments were wrong in The Other Woman. But in the real girl world, would Kate’s insecurities only consist of crying in her wedding dress, confiding in her husband’s mistress, and drowning her sorrows with alcohol? Or would she pick at her husband until he finally revealed the truth.

At the same time, the film does not hesitate to reveal Kate’s flighty personality or should I say stupidity. But it’s not for the reasons you may be thinking. In the beginning of the movie, Kate signs papers her husband tells her to without reading them over as he nonchalantly tells her he already reviewed them. Of course she trusts this man at the time being but it’s her comments afterward that make me cringe and mostly make me sad to see movies representing women in such ways. Kate tells Mark that just by looking at the forms makes her want to go to “Brain Camp”. She continues by explaining what exactly Brain Camp is: “You know, Brain Camp to get smarter.” Kate proceeds to admire her husband’s intelligence because he read and understood an entire document on his own. This is supposed to be comedy. It’s a chance for audiences all around the world to grasp how incompetent one woman is, sit back and laugh.

Carly reveals the killer confidence and knowledge that perhaps compensates for Kate’s. And their female bond is what made me keep the movie playing because a message is hidden through their friendship. Don’t choose one person to be with for eternity, but many. A husband, friends, animals, family. If you invest in one person, they are guaranteed to let you down. Although the friendship evolves into something real, believable, the cheesy and incongruent ending when the three women finally triumph Mark is so outlandish, it only made me see one thing: this can never happen. Kate’s prior unintelligent moments flip when she proves her husband wrong, but the trio is completely fictionalized as the ending so apparently plays out. I guess a closing where women are viewed in another way would take too much effort.

Boyhood: Synthetic Storytelling

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Boyhood is one of my favorites this season. Part of the reason is because there is so much to talk about. It’s like a Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman film—you always discover new angles every time you watch.

I wrote about Whiplash being a different kind of coming-of-age film this year, but Richard Linklater has fabricated a work of art that goes beyond all boundaries. Of course the main reason for this is the 12 consecutive years it intentionally took to make the film. Because of this persistence, Boyhood has a unique truth. Take for instance the soundtrack. The music paired with the film wasn’t the director researching and choosing a song that was popular during the time. Instead, I image Linklater when these scenes were filmed knowing what music at the time was popular and what corresponded well with the moment. There is this unbreakable authenticity because it brings viewers back, especially for someone around the same age as protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane). We remember the music, the styles, the fads, and the uncomfortable growing moments that come with childhood. And Mason’s childhood is one of my favorite parts about Boyhood. He has such cherubic features that the camera focuses on repeatedly and the innocent questions he asks along the way again correspond perfectly with his look. Like when he lies on the couch beside his father and asks if elves are real or when he asks his mother why she remarried when they had a perfectly fine family to begin with. The way Mason looks at the world is peculiar, but I also remember feeling the same way and wondering the same things as a child.

One of the fascinating juxtaposing ideas involving Mason’s innocence is yet the amount of maturity this child, boy, and teenager has. From the start, we realize Mason is extremely intuitive. He continuously watches his mother and her potential lovers from the corners of different rooms and in the next take—as time jumps ahead—Mason’s observations become reality. Mason’s maturity is seen mostly when he is older and in his last few years of high school. He talks passionately about the social media world and how it has come to control us and shows once again how differently he sees simple things like football games and college education. With this maturity, though, comes a boy whom his ex-girlfriend points out can be overbearingly negative. However, Mason’s attitude isn’t unbearable to me. There are qualities we may be annoyed with, but the young man he molds into is one we understand and experience firsthand. We don’t have to imagine what Mason went through when he was younger that causes his changing attitude. We simply experienced them simultaneously.

Boyhood shows typical life lessons that start off small and evolve over time—but there are also moments and feelings the characters surprise us with. For example, recent Golden Globe winner Patricia Arquette plays Samantha and Mason’s mother Olivia, and even though we see a survey of her love life and all the downfalls, she always keeps it together and finds a way for her family to move forward. Yes the family relocates a lot and her choices aren’t always excusable, but I find myself rooting for her the entire time. However, one of these surprising moments comes when Mason leaves for college and Olivia breaks down at the kitchen table. Olivia has had a thick skin the entire time, but is now ghostly pale, sobbing and sits broken hearted before her son. This scene also brings about a darker side of the film. It reveals life’s expectations we often feel fall short which rings true for Mason’s mother as she reflects on her life in a series of events and tells Mason, “ I just thought there would be more.” It’s such a sincere, complicated moment and the last time we see and hear Olivia.

I once had an interesting conversation with my sister. We wondered what it would be like if we could watch our lives and all we’ve done and what we’ve become. Would we be happy with the outcome? What would we see that we had forgotten about? We can only imagine this from watching films like The Truman Show and Boyhood reminds me of this idea as well. I’m not Mason nor do I look or act like him most of the time, but by experiencing this film I feel in a way I am watching part of myself love, hurt, and grow. Most of all, I am watching one of the most entertaining aspects of life: a journey of the human condition.

The Skeleton Twins: Irresistibly Flawed

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Whenever I hear about a movie featuring Kristin Wiig I think of Bridesmaids and her irresistible humor. Hence the reason I make an effort to see her movies. How come it feels like she chooses films to be in rather than the other way around? Her humor doesn’t falter in Skeleton Twins—but there’s a twist and it’s an absolute treat: Wiig’s character has a dark, strange humor, but a sad and serious side that reveals the film’s maturity as well as her own.

And Wiig’s not the only one who gives a new performance. Bill Hader plays her gay twin brother Milo, who at first seems like a total downer. His negativity eats up the scenes at first, but he slowly puts a positive twist in his sister Maggie’s life. The duo is also off balance at first. The siblings haven’t seen each other in ten years and what they used to have in common or what connected them in the first place is lost. There’s a shot sequence in the beginning of the film that reveals this humor, and at the same time the depressing realization that this family has grown so far apart. After Milo’s suicide attempt Maggie tries to comfort her brother who lies in the hospital bed, but even her touch seems cold because she doesn’t know what he’s been through. The next shot she does the same by convincing him to stay with her for a while. Milo uses his quick sarcasm to make his sister feel uncomfortable and also to remind her they have years of catching up to do. But like all of us who have the blessing of experiencing special sibling bondage, they are fused together once more. After all, we can’t choose our family and Milo and Maggie come to terms with this again and again—making the most interesting and entertaining film companionship I’ve seen in awhile.

What we can’t understand throughout the film is Maggie’s pure unhappiness, until her mother comes along and we get an inside look at the selfish actions that have haunted the family. However, Maggie also has positive reinforcements in her life that you think would make this human change, appreciate, and move on from her past. Her enthusiastic husband Lance (Luke Wilson) like Maggie says more than once is extremely kind, patient, understanding. The definition of love. Except the feelings are not reciprocated, even if she tries and pretends. This situation is frustrating, but Milo puts it so simply during the film’s climax that makes the most sense it is going to ever make when he tells her, “Maybe good isn’t your thing.” And these are the simple perspectives that make the story so compelling: we are hard wired the way we are and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can choose to suffer in self-denial like both Maggie and Milo or we can face the truths that hide in these dark places and finally accept our flawed fibers.

The gaze the film projects on the siblings is not judgment either. The strange moments they share are both hilarious and heartfelt and show an enchanting yet raw relationship. There is a special humanity in this film: the featured lives are nowhere near perfect but the issues are realistic. And I also enjoyed the creative motifs represented throughout that prove this unbreakable connection. The movie opens with Maggie underwater in a pool as a child and the same is seen when she’s older, but her motives in the water this time are different. Milo is present in both scenes—Maggie’s constant even through the depths of her sadness. For Milo, he holds onto tokens that represent the love he cherishes and needs. He gets rid of some. A plastic whale that represents Moby Dick but others like a skeleton keychain he keeps forever. Just like the relationship with his twin sister that’s more than rocky at times: it’s there, twisted, comforting and permanent.

Selma: A Slow Look into the Past

SELMA

One of the many good things about Selma is the focus. Biopics tend to leave us with half the feelings, half the story, and half the truth. We can only imagine what someone’s life was like and being shown a snippet allows us to truly see the moments that  shaped him or her. And Selma is not just a portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr., but shows us a patchwork of American history.

What allows me to see this moment in history and man in a sympathetic and emotionally ridden way than ever before are many of Selma’s editing techniques. I haven’t seen a film in a very long time with this many slow motion shots. But it’s not redundant in the way that makes the film seem common. It allows viewers to truly slow down and take a look at what is happening in this segregated Southern town. The women who follow King (David Oyelowo) and his planned marches are beaten senseless. Black men old and young are hit over the head with bats and police canes while some are even murdered and all the while the camera mostly stays back, zooms out, and allows a slow unfolding of chaos and heartbreak. These slow motion scenes also allows time for reflection. No one can deny the chaos that happens in Selma is brutal and unfair, but how is that different than some of the chaos that’s happened recently? And I’m not just talking about Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Another independent eye-opening film Fruitvale Station released last year revealed a day in the life of Oscar Grant III, who was murdered in LA on New Years Eve in 2008. The men in both films face a nightmare I can’t imagine. But the events that take place in these films and in our everyday lives don’t have to be these horrible bloody episodes that prove how unjust the system and people are. What about all the minorities that simply feel less because they are surrounded by so many superior, big mouth white people? This is specifically shown in the Selma, too, although not in slow motion. The police chief and governor of Selma make everyone’s lives harder because they are threatened by the potential rise of the “other”. Despite how strong King is with the protests and the ongoing decision making, he still looks like he feels inferior to the all the white men he’s involved with.

Even though the intense, slow motion shots in Selma are essential to our feelings and the film’s overall entertainment, the quiet scenes are also important. The silence between King and his wife Correta (Carmen Ejogo) is displayed in a beautiful and soft light. These discussions between the two seem like an argument unfolding, but what comes is the dense silence from King as he decides how to answer his distressed wife. During these moments King sits in the shadows and only half is face is lit, but the darkness doesn’t stop us from knowing and seeing his true emotions: sadness and confusion brought on by constant struggles. The same is seen when the handfuls of black people are shoved in jail after their first protest. Their bodies and faces hide in the shadows and the light shines across an arm, a cheek, or a leg every so often. It’s an eerie but powerful moment to see the dim low-key lighting corresponding to the quiet sounds or all together silence.

MLK’s life may be familiar, but others that were involved in the Civil Rights Movement are often unheard of. This film, though, shows a handful of different lives and how they were personally involved and it’s not done in a way where I feel weighted with too many stories or subplots. Yet, all the minor characters in the film whose issues are focused on could be a separate film and I hope they are eventually. And as for these stories from the past being made into films, I can’t wait for the ones about right now that will be written and displayed across screens so we don’t forget about these gaps that desperately need to shrink. We have work to do, as the film coincidentally corresponds to current events, and the first step is seeing the issues through history and never repeating them.