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D.I.Y. Hard (2002)
A Delightful Twist to an Old Scenario
MAY INCLUDE SPOILERS: During a police chase, the fugitive breaks into a woman's home and takes her captive. His demands of the police are: a plane to Rio, $50,000 etc. Then he notices that her home is a complete mess. When he confronts her about it, she does not seem to care; she appears to be deeply depressed. His demands on the police now include paint, curtains, tools, a new dress etc. All of the demands are met, except for the flight and the money. Her spirits lift as they completely remodel her decor: DIY means "Do it yourself" after all. They do make a lovely couple. The mood of the film is reminiscent of "Cold Comfort Farm" and Monty Python at its best, whereas the story is a combination of "Die Hard" and "Woman in the Dunes".
A Lovely and Fascinating Tale
Tatiana and Krista Hogan are conjoined twins, who are joined at the head. They share parts of their brains. The twins are happy together most of the time; they are the best of friends. Each controls parts of the other's body. It is totally amazing how fast that they can run.
The film observes them as they play together and with other members of the family and other children. Looking after them all is a full-time job for both parents who are assisted by a set of grandparents, who are living in a house trailer parked in the driveway and, financially, by the government.
We witness many medical appointments, with comments by many of the participants. Even members of the medical establishment are thrilled and amazed by the twins.
All aspects of the film are done superbly: the photography and sound and the narration by Anne-Marie MacDonald. I cannot recall any moment when I was not totally captivated by the film. Tatiana and Krista are loved by all who meet them, and by me and I am sure that they will be loved by you too.
A Glorious Experience
This is one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen. There are only a few words spoken and they are spoken by a young girl to the monkey who is the central character of this tale. The Capucin monkey was a family pet and became free in the Amazon rain forest when the airplane he was travelling on crashed. At first he is dismayed but he quickly learns to fit in with his new environment and animal friends.
The nature photography is superb, with gorgeous views of the scenery, the sky, the weather and the animal activity. Scene after scene offer a great variety of interesting animal behaviour. Some scenes are very touching and others are very exciting. Since the hero of the tale wears a bright red collar, he can be easily identified in a group of monkeys.
The music is beautiful and suitable to the activity. I predict that I will see this film repeatedly. My wife loved it too.
Arctic Blast (2010)
We Enjoyed It
Many films which purport to be Science Fiction are, in reality, Science Fantasy. I have studied Science for most of my long life and taught it for many years in High School.
Science Fiction may extrapolate the current laws of Science into hypothetical situations but must not directly contradict the current laws of Science at the time of writing: It is impossible for an object to exceed the speed of light as in the warp speeds of the Star Trek series; If time travel were possible, then one could go back in time and kill an ancestor, from which it follows that one would never have been born, which is known to be false: Reductio ad absurdum; so much for the Back To The Future and the Terminator series etc.
It has actually been postulated that global warming could cause another Ice Age, at least in the northern hemisphere, by raising the sea level and thereby interfering with the Gulf Stream, which brings warmth to the north.
Many of the reviewers of Arctic Blast complained that the Science was bad. Many occurrences were very far-fetched but none of what I saw broke any actual rules of Science. I noticed several but accepted them as useful plot developments. It was a gripping Science Fantasy with a good warning message about Mankind's disruption of the environment.
I was drawn to it because it starred Michael Shanks. The acting was good and the characters were believable. My wife and I both enjoyed it.
The Deep End (2001)
A Rare Event
The Deep End is a rare event: a touching thriller that is based more on relationships and personal growth than on plot, a film on a tight budget ($3 million) that is completely captivating, a remake of a film (The Reckless Moment (1949)) that really works. Many critics gave the film a top rating, and a few did not like it much, but most agreed that Tilda Swinton was superb. My own opinion is that everything works: the superb acting, the suspense, the finely detailed direction, the beautiful cinematography, the masterful screenplay, everything, even the melodramatic parts.
Margaret Hamilton (Tilda Swinton), is an average, ordinary-looking, middle-class housewife, whose husband is away with the military. Her family is her life. She has reason to believe that her son (Jonathan Tucker) has killed someone and she disposes of the body to protect him.
It only makes things worse by leading to blackmail. The handsome blackmailer (Goran Visnjic) gets caught up in a family emergency and becomes fascinated by and drawn into the close family setting. He is also attracted to Margaret. The film is mainly about her relationships with her son and with the blackmailer; one can connect emotionally with each of them and their own personal predicaments. The other family relationships are incidental but they do illustrate how her life is completely filled with the needs of others; there is not much time left for her needs.
The DVD allows one to watch much of the film a second time, with the two directors (Scott McGehee and David Siegel) discussing the details behind the making of each scene, often showing several radically different takes of the same scene and explaining why they chose the one that they did. It gives a deep insight into the filmmaking process.
To watch the film, I recommend that you turn off the telephone and pick a time when there will be no interruptions so that you will be free to become deeply absorbed in a very moving experience.
The Trials of Darryl Hunt (2006)
Justice Can Be Very Slow
This is a very special trial movie, focussing on racial prejudice in the North Carolina "Justice" System in the 1980's. Darryl Hunt was accused of a crime that he did not commit. The black community rallied behind Darryl, supplying money for his defence and giving moral support. The NorthCarolina "Justice" System is shown as incompetent, uncaring and corrupt.
Darryl Hunt is a very honourable man. He accepted that police can make mistakes, because he is a forgiving person. He made an honourable decision, which made it more difficult for him, because he believed that it was the right thing to do. I could see no bitterness in Darryl, although there must have been times when he was very tempted.
Eventually the truth started to become more widely known and Darryl had broader support, including the white community. Against all odds, he finally gained his freedom. I was very inspired by those who supported Darry and by Darryl himself. He is a man I would like to know personally.
The Clean Bin Project (2010)
We can live comfortably without producing much waste.
The film shows that people can live comfortably, without acquiring much material destined for the ever-diminishing supply of landfills. A couple competed to see how little waste each could acquire in one year. During the year, they had to discover where they could purchase things that were not packaged and avoid things that were. Each collected about one waste-basketful. How much do you collect in a year? It informs us of the billions of pop cans discarded by Americans in one year and the huge numbers of other common items.
The devastation created in the oceans, because of plastic waste, is also shown. On Midway Island, thousands of miles from the mainland, adult albatrosses fed in the ocean and then fed their babies. The stomachs of the babies became full of plastic and they died. This could result in the extinction of many species if we continue to despoil the oceans.
I rated the film 8 out of 10 because it does educate the public about the danger of waste material created by man.
The Strickland sisters move from mansion to cabins.
Of the six Strickland sisters, five of them became prolific writers. Catharine wrote children's stories, memoirs and books about nature; Susanna wrote children's stories, memoirs, novels and poems and Agnes became the biographer of the Queens of England and was very popular at the court of Victoria. They were brought up in a large estate in Suffolk, England: an idyllic setting.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the returning soldiers were unemployed; this created a severe depression. Their family business collapsed and their father died. Susanna and Catharine both married returned soldiers, John Moodie and Thomas Traill respectively. John and Susanna had a classic romantic-love marriage; the Traills were less close. John was also a published writer and poet.
Because of the depression and the fact that returned soldiers would be granted large tracts of land in Canada, if they emigrated there. Both couples headed off to Canada, the Traills first and the Moodies after, only to be disappointed when they arrived. Catharine survived cholera, contracted in Montreal. Then they found that their land, near what is now Peterborough, Ontario, was virgin forest and their homes were cabins, instead of the cleared land and mansions that they were familiar with.
Catharine, who was a great lover of nature, adapted better than Susanna, who was very much a society person. Life became even harder for the sisters when their husbands, who were better soldiers than farmers, headed off to Toronto, then called York, to fight against the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 and to get much needed cash. Moodie remained a soldier for several years, in order to pay off debts. This was the lonely low point of Susanna's life. The good news was that John Moodie was given a job as the Sheriff of Hastings County. The movie then jumps to the the sisters' elder years, summarizes their accomplishments and ends.
Afterword: The Belleville part of their lives is just as interesting as the wilderness part. In 1840, the Moodies moved to Belleville, Ontario, where Susanna could be back in society. John Moodie is now remembered, in Belleville, as Dunbar Moodie, using a middle name.
In 1863, Dunbar lost his job as Sheriff, for health and political reasons. They then moved to a large, grey, stone home on the West Hill in Belleville; their old home was too expensive. The home is still referred to as the "Susanna Moodie cottage". If you want to see it, Google it; if I want to see it, I simply look out my kitchen window and there it is.
The Soloist (2009)
Thoughts To Prepare You for Watching the Film.
Since Ingmar Bergman's 1962 film, "Through a Glass, Darkly", the 2009 film "The Soloist" is one of the two most accurate portrayals of schizophrenia, from the point of view of the mentally ill person and of people who want to interact with the ill person. I speak from experience. David Cronenberg's film, "Spider", is the other.
I was disappointed in my two favourite critics, James Berardinelli and Roger Ebert, each of who gave "The Soloist" only 62½%.
Berardinelli says, "The Soloist is afflicted with a lack of passion. The story lacks a strong trajectory; it meanders, seemingly unsure of precisely what it wants to do and say and where it wants to go." Actually, that is the reality of schizophrenia. One never knows what is going to happen next. There are many setbacks. He also says, "The soundtrack supplies multiple, overlapping voices. The objective is to invite the viewer to participate in the unhinging of Nathaniel's mind, a first-person perspective of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, it feels artificial and contrived." I have taught seven NAMI* courses on mental illness. One episode in one of the classes involves requiring class members to perform certain simple tasks while being bombarded by random voices from behind. Many class members find that to be the most unnerving, and illuminating, of all the activities in the course.
Ebert misses the point when he says, "Yes, mental illness can be like that, but can successful drama? There comes a point when Lopez has had enough, and so, in sympathy, have we." Dealing with a mentally ill person can be devastatingly frustrating. Must we always be entertained? There is a place for grim reality in drama. Otherwise, how can we learn?
"The Soloist" is as accurate a representation of schizophrenia as you could experience without becoming mentally ill yourself. If you keep that in mind then the film will be rewarding; if, however, you are looking for a film that makes sense easily and progresses from point to point in a logical manner, then look for a different film.
If you choose to watch the film and absorb the reality of mental illness, then you will learn much. You never know when that knowledge will be of great value to you. Then again, you may be spared, and never need it.
The film introduces a very important idea: mentally ill people do better if there is someone, whom they trust, who takes an abiding interest in them.
It also poses one very important question: should mentally ill persons be forced to take medication to stabilize themselves? Different states, provinces and countries have different laws concerning this. Some feel that mentally ill persons should be forced to take medication if and only if they are likely to harm themselves or others. Mentally ill persons are often unaware that they are mentally ill, and cannot be convinced otherwise. Would they have more freedom to decide correctly for themselves if they were first medicated until they become sane? The film addresses this question but does not attempt to give a definitive answer. You will have to think out that question yourself, keeping in mind that different people have different reactions to the same medication. There is no universal answer, but for each individual, there is probably a best answer but not necessarily a good one.
The film captivated me from the beginning to the end. I did not miss the common devices that some movies use to make them exciting. There was excitement enough for me in the growth of the principal characters and in the learning that I did, and in the thinking that I was forced to do.
*NAMI is The National Alliance on Mental Illness.
P.S. Schizophrenia has absolutely nothing to do with having multiple personalities, or of dichotomies (apparent contradictions). The split in the expression "split personality" is the split between the personality and reality. Unfortunately, the word is misused far more often that it is used correctly.
A psychological study and a splendid ensemble performance
Lantana is a psychological study of ten people and their love lives: eight, in four marriages; a gay man; and a single woman. The mood is gloomy throughout but the characters are engrossing and and the story is relentlessly gripping. The core cast is a splendid ensemble; there are no stars. None of the ensemble characters is more important than any other, although the policeman, Leon Zat, get more screen time because he is involved with all of the other characters through the investigation of a missing person. However, there are several other notable incidental characters. The acting is superb throughout. The endings, for each of the main characters, are clear and varied. Hint: learn each of the ten ensemble character names at the first opportunity, in order to follow the film better.