Tag Archives: Films

How do we deal with loss? Review of ‘The Fault In Our Stars’

The Fault in Our Stars is a well-written, superbly-acted film that deals with some of the big questions in life: how does loving someone with a terminal illness affect our own life and theirs, how do we want to be remembered after our deaths, will we be remembered at all, and does it matter one way or the other?

The Fault in our Stars film poster
The Fault in our Stars film poster

Teenagers Hazel, Gus , and Isaac all have different forms of cancer. Hazel has thyroid cancer that  has migrated to her lungs, making her cart an oxygen bottle everywhere. Gus had cancer resulting in the amputation of a lower leg. Isaac has had one eye removed due to a tumour, and will soon lose the other eye. They all meet at a teen cancer support group. Gus declares that he wants to live an extraordinary life and be remembered after he is dead. Hazel thinks this is grandiose nonsense:

“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”

A relationship starts to bloom  between Hazel and Gus, but Hazel tries to warn Gus off investing too much emotion in her. She anticipates that her death will be like a hand grenade, damaging everyone around her. They swap favourite books, and Gus finds that Hazel’s is about a kid who dies of cancer, and the bookends in mid-sentence. They contact the author, an American living in Amsterdam, and arrange a trip to Holland to meet him. Instead of answering Hazel’s questions about the end of the book, they discover the author is a nasty drunk who kicks them out of his apartment. (They don’t know it just yet, but the author’s book is based on the death of his own daughter from cancer.)

They return to America, where Hazel’s condition worsens, Gus’s cancer returns, Isaac has lost his other eye, and the three write eulogies in preparations for each other’s funerals. For those who haven’t read the book or seen the film, I won’t reveal who dies first, or in what circumstances.

The notion that loving someone exposes us to hurt is not new. There is an old saying that, “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The film puts it a little differently. One character says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.” After watching the film, I thought about how loss is inevitable. I have two kids in their twenties. Both practice sports that carry a  risk of death. Perhaps I’d be happier if they did basketball or karate or surfing, or some other fairly harmless activity,  but as a parent, I can’t control what my adult kids do. And I can’t spend my life worrying that they might get killed. The possibility of loss is just something we all have to live with. The characters in this film fight over how exactly you face loss. The dialogue is superbly written, and the acting is excellent. If you go to see it, watch the facial expressions of the main characters, and listen carefully to the dialogue. You might want to go see it twice. I did. So, has anybody else seen it, or read the book? What did you think?

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The Butler: preachy propaganda or historical truth?

I saw this film just after taking a course at my local college about the history of the civil rights movement in the US. You can read the demeaning treatment of blacks in segregated facilities, or about lynchings (which often involved much grotesque tortures than just hanging someone), but movies have the power to make intellectual issues hit home emotionally in a way history books can’t.

The Butler posterCecil Gaines was born in the 1920s,and became a butler who served eight presidents, from Eisenhower to Regan. One of his sons dies in Vietnam, while the other joins the Black Panthers. The conflicts between the family members about how Gaines serves the white man, and has to pretend to have no opinions, while one of the sons decides to fight the whites with violence by joining the Black Panthers, must have torn many black families apart.

The film repeatedly comes back to the issue of equal pay. The black staff in the White House were paid 40 percent less than the white staff, and various “progressive” presidents, (including Kennedy) did nothing to change this.

The film is well acted, and the photography is good. Some critics have said it tries to cover so much history that it comes across as a series of postcards. I guess that’s inevitable when you try to capture one person’s reaction to all the major events  of a thirty-year period. There is no time to explore any one event in depth.  A lot of people under the age of 30 would have no (or little) knowledge of some of the events shown (the Freedom Rides, the Vietnam War, the Resignation of Nixon.)

I found the film’s subject matter often depressing, even tho the film attempts to end on an up-beat note, showing the elderly Gaines witnessing the election of the first black president. It’s a well-made film, and may give some non-Americans a bit of a glimpse into race relations and how they have or haven’t changed over recent decades.

The reviews are mixed. some call it “preachy.” Some say it is designed as “Oscar bait.” On Rotten Tomatoes one reviewer writes:

  • Think of it as a Trojan horse. Apparently harmless, it takes key myths about the land of the free and inflicts an impressive amount of damage.

That reviewer obviously thought the myths of the “Land of the Free” were just myths and needed debunking.  Another writes:

  • Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.

It would be hard for a film to deal with the situation of black people in America from the 1920s to the 1980s and not show that some were not as free as others. It’s good film,  but I don’t think I’d see it twice. Did it seem to you like propaganda?  Was it “Oscar bait?” I’d be interested to hear what others thought. Feel free to leave a comment!

The Internship: good fun, worth seeing

The Internship: funny movie, well worth seeing

Rose Byrne
Rose Byrne

Last night I went to see The Internship, staring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Rose Byrne. It’s a classic “fish out of water” story, where the fish makes good against the odds. Two middle-aged guys who know less about technology than the average seventy-year-old get an internship at Google because they’ve run out of other job prospects. (The process of getting in seems a little like the way Reece Witherspoon got into Harvard in Legally Blond.) They find themselves with a bunch of twenty year old who can program in C++ and half a dozen languages I didn’t recognize. When asked to design an app, they suggest with something that already exists, and which is already known to all the twenty-somethings. Along the way, they have conflicts with another group of interns who are out to spoil their chances. A love interest arrives half way through the film (like all good Hollywood scripts). In this case she’s supposed to be Australian and she actually is. (Too many ‘Australians’ in American movies are British actors who can only do a half-plausible accent.) The film had a lot of good comedy lines, and they play the tech-newbie aspects of the Owen Wilson for all it’s worth. It’s a good film. You’ll probably like it. Take a night off and go.

Hitchcock: impossible to live with, but worth the effort

How do you live with a man who is extremely talented, perhaps a genius, but who is insecure, resentful, often dismisses you, puts you down, is a peeping tom and seems determined to prove that everyone else in his industry  is wrong?

Helen Mirren, from Wikimedia Commons
Helen Mirren, from Wikimedia Commons

In Hitchcock, staring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as his wife Alma Reville, Hitchcock believes the Hollywood film industry want him to make the same kind of film over and over again, so he chooses as his next project Psycho, based on a book about a serial killer (Ed Gein) who kept his dead mother mummified, and killed attractive young women who came to his motel. It was 1959, and Hitchcock proposed showing a woman being stabbed to death in the shower, and evidence being flushed down a toilet. Back then, cinema just didn’t show those things. Everyone is against the project.

These are the twin themes in this film: Hitchcock’s determination to prove the industry wrong, and the effects on Reville of a living with a man who most of us would think was  impossible to live with.

The first theme begins when Hitchcock is asked at the premier of his latest movie, North by North West, whether he is too old to continue making movies and should just retire.  As she hears the question, Reville freezes. We can see how deeply she knows the question will hurt Hitchcock.  Hitchcock sets out to prove everyone wrong, but chooses a project which nobody will fund. When the studios won’t finance the film, Hitchcock mortgages their house and tells Reville that if it doesn’t work out they’ll be eating crow for a long time. In fact, they’ll probably lose their house and may become bankrupt.

The filming is soon behind schedule, and Hitchcock doubts whether the still ‘has it.’  Reville also has doubts, which are implied, but not directly voiced. As the film progresses, Hitchcock’s doubts grow, until he refers to the film as being ‘stillborn.’

The second theme revolves around Hitchcock’s  constant overeating and drinking, his obsessing over actresses that he could probably never attract, his lechery (in front of his wife) and his suspicions of Reville’s relationship with a fellow writer, Whitfield Cook. As Cook and Reville work together on one of Cook’s scripts,  Cook tells Reville that a lot of great men are “impossible to live with, but worth the effort.” Eventually Hitchcock accuses her of having an affair with Cook, at which point Reville gives Hitchcock a blast over the time she spends supporting him, and the little recognition or gratitude she gets for any of it. After they have a reconciliation of sorts, Reville turns her energies into helping Hitchcock “whip Psycho into shape.”  When  Paramount Pictures decides to release the picture in only two cinemas, Hitchcock comes up with an ingenious plan to get the film the publicity it needs. It went on to be regarded as one of his best films.

The acting in this movie is superb – especially that of Helen Mirren as Reville. In many scenes the main emotional impact is conveyed merely by the  expressions on Reville’s face, without the need her to say anything. If Mirren doesn’t get an Oscar for this, I’ll be very very surprised.

This film is well worth the money. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you’ll consider it.

So what did you think of Hitchcock and his films? Do you have a favorite   Could you have lived with a man like that? And did you ever watch the original of psycho? I’d love to hear what you think.

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