Last August I posted this list of movies:
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
City of God
Empire of the Sun
The Usual Suspects
Night of the Living Dead
Requiem for a Dream
Full Metal Jacket
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Gone With The Wind
North by Northwest
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Godfather Part II
Let the Right One In
The Silence of the Lambs
12 Angry Men
There Will Be Blood
No Country for Old Men
The Last Picture Show
The Big Lebowski
By the end of this week I will have seen all the films on this list. That means list number 2 is being created and I would love help or suggestions from movie fans. Here is list number 2 so far:
Paths of Glory
Eyes Wide Shut
The Last Temptation of Christ
The King of Comedy
Also if you own them I would love to borrow them!
Thanks fellow movie nerds!
The first trailer I saw for Mud had an almost sinister quality to it. A dirty Matthew McConaughey mysteriously shows up on an island where two young boys have discovered a boat in a tree. McConaughey tells him his name is Mud and he has crosses in the heels of his boots to protect him from evil spirits. He seems crazy, unhinged perhaps so naturally I was ready to run to the theater when it arrived in Indy.
The performances were good, the setting was perfect, and the premise had a chance…but for over 2 hours I sat in my seat desperately trying to engage in this story. In the beginning I thought it was mostly about the one young boy, Ellis, who is helping Mud while his parents’ marriage is falling apart, but then I thought maybe it was about Mud’s quest to be with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon’s under utilized character). Instead we see Juniper very little and she seems emotionless and cold. Only once do we get a glimpse of how much pain she is feeling over the seemingly forbidden love she shares with Mud, but you get the sense that she will be back in the bar flirting with another average Joe in no time. I found myself wishing the big twist was the Juniper had no idea who Mud was. The imminent divorce of Ellis’ parents is dropped in the third act but that is because a shootout erupts out of no where with a group of bounty hunters who will apparently stop at nothing, even endangering the life of an innocent family, to make sure that Mud is dead.
Sam Shepard portrays Ellis’ aloof neighbor Tom, who at one point tells Ellis and his friend NeckBone (yes, NeckBone) that they need to stay away from Mud. As everyone knows telling two 14 year old boys NOT to do something is going to work. The story followed a pattern that became increasingly predictable. At one point the audience gasped but I thought “really?!, you guys didn’t see that coming from a mile?.” It was not predictable in the same way that a superhero movie is predictable. I get that when I go see Iron Man 3 later this week I am not going to be surprised that the hero saves the day again, but at least create some tension or get me to move to the edge of my seat. Did I mention that Michael Shannon is in this movie too? The thrown in storyline of young unrequited love? Seriously so much was shoved into this movie that it felt more like a pilot episode of a TV show and not a stand alone movie. You may love it, but I felt like it didn’t do much with the story it set up and what was served up was a boring, predictable anti-hero fairytale.
“I can’t believe I just wasted two hours on that.” “There was NO plot!” “Why did they just keep walking through fields?!”
Those were the reactions I heard as I left the theater after seeing To the Wonder. Terrence Malick’s latest film left the audience angry. As the credits began to roll an audience member in my row exclaimed, “finally!” and left shaking their head. This didn’t come as a surprise to me because a lot of individuals find Malick’s work frustrating and confusing. I have to admit I used to be one of them until I saw Days of Heaven this past year and his style started to make sense to me.
Think of a cherished memory you have with a significant other, friend, or parent. Most of us don’t have a perfect memory and when we recall these cherished moments we don’t get all of it back. It’s like cupping water in your hands. You may remember a laugh, a glance, or the way it felt when they brushed your hair our of your face. The point is you remember in bits and pieces and not in perfect movie like scenes. You fill in the blanks between those bits and pieces because it’s your life and you know the connections between point A and point B. That is what it like to watch a Terrence Malick film. He doesn’t give you everything and let’s you fill in the blanks and make the connections between the characters.
To the Wonder has very little spoken dialogue between the characters, a lot of voice overs, and shots of nature. The relationship between Neil (Affleck) and Marina (Kurylenko) seems perfect when they are in Europe together. They look every bit in love with one another and he asks her and her young daughter to come back to America with him. The contrast between Europe and Oklahoma is striking and their relationship cools over time and Neil even rekindles things with Jane (McAdams) a woman from his past. The distance that Marina feels from Neil is similar to the distance a local priest feels with God. The priest (Bardem) travels around the city as a representation of hope and love to the broken and downtrodden and yet he doesn’t feel much hope or love himself. These characters only briefly interact but the similarities in the language used to describe their situations was fascinating to me.
Ultimately To the Wonder seemed to raise some pretty simple questions about love and connections and whether they can last. The best thing about Malick films is that I could watch it a second time and receive a completely different message. I think his films are very interactive and allow you to step into the story. At times the camera angles even make you feel like one of the characters or a close bystander. If you want a story spoon fed to you this is not for you. If you want to think, imagine, and fall into a story then go to see To the Wonder.
A Psycho prequel? No. That was my initial reaction when I saw the first sneak peak of A&E’s new show Bates Motel. The more I thought about it the less it bothered me. Serial killers, mass murderers, and psychopaths have always fascinated me. It was part of the reason I studied psychology. I decided that I should at least give Bates Motel a try because it would attempt to explain why Norman Bates turned into a ‘Psycho’.
Bates Motel is not set in the past but rather set in present day. The creators are clear that this is inspired by Psycho, not an attempt at a perfect prequel that would lead up to the events of the film. When Norma and Norman pull up to the motel for the first time you still get the iconic image of the creepy house on the hill behind the motel. Norma definitely has signs of an overbearing and manipulating mother. Norman is 17 and seems very innocent and naive but is obviously trying to push back against his mother’s controlling behavior. Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore both clearly hit the ground running and fully embody the characters from the very beginning. It would be easy to overplay manipulation for Farmiga, or for Highmore to go full tortured teen but they keep it subtle.
About midway through the episode a pretty disturbing scene occurs involving Norma and a disgruntled man from town whose family used to own the land and the motel. It was a moment that I thought, “no, they won’t go there” and they did. If that event could occur in the first episode I can only imagine how far things can go in the future. Norman found a notebook full of disturbing drawings in one of the rooms and the teaser at the end of the episode leads me to believe this unidentified guest will play a role in future episodes. So despite my hesitations I am definitely hooked and ready for next week. If you like a show that keeps you saying “Whaaaaat?” and “Are they really…yeah, they really are going to do that” then you should definitely check-in to the Bates Motel Monday nights on A&E at 10:00pm EST. It’s what mother would want.
I will be completely honest…when I saw the first poster for Warm Bodies (2013) a few months ago I laughed. Why…because it bore a striking resemblance to another movies poster:
So I thought Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate were just planning on keeping that Twilight cash flow by funneling the fanbase into a similar story line with franchise opportunities. I was unconvinced and decided to ignore it entirely. Then they released the first trailer and it intrigued me. I hated to admit it, but I thought it was funny and it seemed like a dark comedy instead of a teen romance. I went to the source material, the novel written by Isaac Marion. Embarrassing as it was I went to the “Young Adult Supernatural Romance” section and couldn’t find a thing. That’s because it was just in the regular old fiction section. I read the book in about 2 days…and it really surprised me. It’s not about a needy teenage girl who falls for a zombie. It is really about apathy, disconnection, and how that has changed our society. You might say, “whoa, Kelly, seriously, I doubt it is that deep,” but I promise all of that was there.
The zombies that “R” hangs out with dwell in an abandoned airport. A really great scene in the beginning of the movie perfectly captures the point of the story. R walks through the airport and imagines what life was like before the zombie apocalypse occurred. He narrates about how great it must have been, everyone talking and interacting with each other, but what we see is a bunch of people avoiding eye contact and glued to their phones and tablets. The audience laughs because it is true. You weren’t allowed to bring your phones into the theater and you watched everyone uncomfortably hand them over to security. We have become a society that over-emphasizes digital interactions. We hide behind virtual identities and rarely feel comfortable sharing much of our personal lives in-person. I am just as guilty as the rest of the world. I write this blog, but then get embarrassed when someone wants to talk to me about what I wrote in-person. What if I say something they disagreed with? What if I don’t have time to perfectly craft my response? Real human interaction has become rare. We prefer our updates from one another in 140 characters or less. R wonders why he can’t connect with the other zombies, he realizes it’s because he is dead, but for us it is walls and identities we have created. It is easy to say, “I am just introverted”, or “it takes me awhile to warm up to people”, but I think you start to use that as a crutch.
We are ultimately protecting ourselves. I can write this post and ignore every comment made, but if I told you these ideas in-person I might actually have to defend my opinion or, heaven forbid, tell you more about myself and my own struggles than I care too. R realizes, like a lot of characters have before him, that the risks of trusting and loving others is worth it. I think at one point he even says “It’s easy not to feel.” So maybe in a way we have become zombies. We shuffle down the streets of life and just hope we don’t bump into the wrong person but at the same time we miss bumping into the right ones. The people who are worth trusting and loving. We dance around subject matters that make us uncomfortable and just go through the motions. Maybe you will watch this movie and roll your eyes at the cheesy moments and even laugh at them, but for me it is just another reminder to look up from my smart phone, step out of my comfort zone, and actually be a living, breathing, member of society.
It’s easy to look at a movie like A Dangerous Method (2011) and say “that was a long time ago…psychoanalysis has progressed far beyond that.” Well, you would be surprised to find out it really hasn’t. Freud and Jung are two huge names in Psychology and the whole concept of psychoanalysis. I was tested time and time again as a Psychology major about Freud’s Psychosexual stages (oral, anal, phallic, latent, genital). I read his case studies and theories on hysteria. People joke about penis envy and Freudian slips but those were groundbreaking ideas for Freud. He related things as trivial as a cough to sexual dysfunctions or fantasies. (If you would like further explanation of that I am happy to provide it.)
Obviously A Dangerous Method is a movie and may or may not represent the real interactions between Freud, Jung, and Spielrein. Spielrein was definitely raised in unorthodox fashion that led her to experience pleasure when she was beaten by her father. This would qualify her for a myriad of sexual dysfunctions and would require psychoanalysis and therapy to lead her to a healthy sexual behavior. Whether or not the relationship with Jung and Spielrein was intimate has not been fully revealed, but signs definitely point to an inappropriate relationship. The only course I took on counseling in college stressed the importance of maintaining distance between a therapist and client. Jung and Spielrein began to work together on things other than her recovery and since this is a movie one thing leads to another…leads to the bedroom. Jung gets caught up in the idea that we should never repress our desires for pleasure. He brings this idea to Freud and the two have lengthy sessions discussing the human psyche and if repression has negative effects on our personalities. It may have been 100 years ago but these conversations and theories are the basis for psychoanalysis and cognitive therapy. The whole concept of laying on a couch and saying “How do you feel about that?” comes from these two men. The movie raises important questions about how we view sexual drive and deviance, and gives important insight into the early work of Freud and Jung. Freud interprets some of Jung’s dreams and to an outsider this may seem like something Miss Cleo used to do but we did it in my college classrooms and it was fascinating. We may not have actually been interpreting each other’s dreams but at times you discovered things that were buried in your thoughts. These guys may have had some “crazy” ideas but others were amazing. As I said at the beginning of the post it is easy to believe that we have come a long way since then, but it is important to acknowledge that the work of these two men is still taught in high schools and universities all over the world.
I highly recommend this movie to psychology majors or people interested in the history of the discipline. Fassbender, Mortensen, and Knightley give great performances. Knightley in particular portrays Spielrein’s hysteria beautifully. It should also be noted that in real life the work of Spielrein has been all but forgotten, but she became a well known theorist herself before being captured and killed by the Nazis. To end this post on a lighter note, they sell Freudian Slippers, every year at Christmas I think I am going to get a pair, and every year I am disappointed.
When I saw the first trailer for Silver Linings Playbook last summer I was REALLY excited. It had everything that I usually love about a movie. A great cast, an awesome director in David O. Russell, and a storyline that wasn’t cookie cutter. As the release date approached I got even more excited because of the Oscar buzz and all the fanfare surrounding the performances of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. When an email for an advance screening dropped into my inbox I was overjoyed.
I waited in line for over an hour and ended up getting jammed into the last seat to the far right of the screen in the front row. I tried to stay positive but I was a little annoyed and probably not in the best mood when the movie started. During very tense moments in the story the majority of the audience was laughing. Laughing at things that I was pretty sure were not supposed to be funny. I left feeling like something was missing. I won’t say I was disappointed, but I definitely was not moved like I thought I would be. As time passed I intentionally took time to think about the movie. I wrote about it away from the blog and picked apart what I thought was not working for me. I realized that I held myself back from really diving into the story too much. I kept it at a safe distance and tried to be an objective viewer when what I needed to do was throw myself right into it. I think that is what Russell wanted too, because at times the camera seems to move as if the viewer is there in the situation. I was supposed to allow myself into their world. I was supposed to be in the dance studio with Pat and Tiffany. I needed to be sitting next to his dad while he watched Eagles. The second time I watched it I let myself be immersed in their world and the viewing experience was enhanced. As tears welled up in my eyes and my movie going companion asked if I was okay I found what I missed the first time around.
As I am still figuring out what it means to call yourself an amateur movie critic it is great to be reminded to let go of everything and let yourself get taken away by a story. I put Silver Linings Playbook in my top 10 of 2012 mostly in hopes that this would happen and I am very glad I did. If you want to experience a very honest and fresh portrayal of people and relationships than definitely go see Silver Linings Playbook.