DISCLAIMER: I know the VIFF ended a month ago. I’ll admit I’ve been slow at posting reviews. This is mostly due to attending night classes at a community college. However my writing energy is slowly returning and I will post theses last three VIFF reviews in good time. Hopefully all done before Saturday.
Ghost stories usually make for some cheesy movies. Personal Shopper is one story about a ghost that actually works very well for the cinema.
Maureen has just arrived in Paris. She just accepted a job to be a personal shopper for a high-status fashion journalist in Paris named Kyra. She is able to live at her mansion during her job. She is still able to communicate with her boyfriend in the US despite her distance from him. One important note: Maureen has taken on this job just months after her twin brother died from a heart defect.
One night, Maureen notices something mysterious. Could it be a ghost? She carries on doing her shopping duties normally like nothing happened. However incidents keep coming. She starts to question them. Then one day, she gets a text message from a mysterious person. That could be the ghost. You know the texts are upsetting her each and every time. However, she does agree to play along with the requests of the mysterious texter. She even agrees to wear one of the dresses she bought for Kyra.
Maureen senses that this has something to do about her brother’s death. Could the ghost actually be her brother. The ghost even follows Maureen to the various locations she goes to. Then one day, she finds Kyra dead as if she was brutally murdered. Then she agrees to comply to the texter’s request to go to a hotel. The morning after, we see the ghost vacate the hotel. Maureen is still alive. Maureen decides to go on a vacation to a remote location is Saudi Arabia. Whatever happens, she’s prepared to meet the ghost whom she believes to be her brother.
There have been movies about ghost stories before but most come across as ridiculously cheesy. This is one ghost story that has substance to it, and a lot of it. We have Maureen dealing with the loss of her twin brother. She appears to be handling it well but imperfectly. You’re led to think that the ghost is exposing a truth about how her brother’s death is affecting Maureen. In addition, this is a ghost that affects her through the text messages he sends. It’s obvious he will do whatever it takes to get what he wants out of Maureen.
Basically the thing that gives this ghost movie its substance is that it does relate to human feelings. It’s obvious this ghost has a bearing on Maureen. However as the story progresses, it leaves the audience asking as many questions as Maureen is asking right now. This is no run-of-the-mill movie ghost. This is a ghost that has us intrigued and wondering what will happen next. Will Maureen learn of the ghost’s identity? Will Maureen get killed or hurt? The story keeps us intrigued.
If there’s one weakness, it’s that the story appears to end either twice or three times. I know most people would anticipate the hotel scene to be the climactic end but instead it leads to another story. It’s like the story goes places but stalls. Even the actual ending comes across as abrupt. I know a lot of directors try to end their films unexpectedly as a chance for the audience to draw their own conclusions but this ending was too abrupt and unclear.
The film is a very good effort from writer/director Olivier Assayas. He has created a very good story that keeps us all intrigued. However the flaws at the end are too obvious. Still a very good work. Kristen Stewart does a very good job of acting here. A lot of people have dismissed her acting since the Twilight movies. It turns out her bad acting was because of bad direction. Even before Twilight, she showed she can deliver a good acting job. Remember 2002’s Panic Room? It’s obvious Kristen has something to prove and she’s been proving it since starting with 2014’s Clouds Of Sils Maria, also directed by Olivier Assayas. Kristen delivers possibly her best and possibly deepest performance yet. A bit of ironic trivia: in Assayas’ next work, Idol’s Eye, he will be working with Kristen’s former Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson. Can he resuscitate his career too?
Back to the topic of the film, Stewart is the only person who’s given any real acting in the film. For the most part, the other actors are given comparatively lightweight work. That will happen when the protagonist is mostly acting off of a ghost throughout most of the film.
Personal Shopper is for the most part a one-person film that ends too abruptly. Nevertheless it has a lot of excellent qualities that give the film dimension and will keep the audience intrigued.
“I wish I had cancer. At least then people wear pink ribbons for you, and they go on long walks.”
It’s always a question whether it’s possible to have a film about Alzheimer’s Disease that’s watchable. The latest film making that attempt is Still Alice. I believe it does so.
Alice Howland is a 50 year-old woman who appears to have it made: a college professor who just published a book on linguistics, an active person recreationally, a wife to a loving and supportive husband and a mother to three adult children. One of which is married and about to be a mother to twins. However something goes noticeably wrong during a lecture about her book. She has a mental lapse she mistakes for an effect of alcohol. Soon there are more mental lapses, especially while jogging around campus and while giving lectures. Even reintroducing herself to Tom’s girlfriend causes people to wonder. Alice seeks a doctor’s attention immediately. She’s given the news: Alzheimer’s. She’s victim to a gene that brings on Alzheimer’s at an early age.
The family is devastated to hear the news. The children even have to get tested to see if they carry the gene. Anna bares the gene but her yet-to-be-born twins are immune. Nevertheless the family tries to go about the best they can while trying to be a help to Alice. However the changes are as hard for them as it is for Alice herself. Firstly Alice will have to give up her professor job. Going to an Alzheimer’s ward in a nursing and witnessing the patients leaves her upset about her future to the point she plans her own suicide using a marked bottle full of pills and a video file on her computer named ‘Butterfly’ of herself instructing her to take all the pills in the bottle. Family friction happens over time as her husband John notices changes in her thinking and Lydia overreacts after she learns Alice went through her theatre notes.
However things get better over time. John learns how to work with her fading abilities and become patient with her even in the case of her cellphone she misplaced a month earlier. Anna gives birth to the twins and she’s able to hold one of them. Her relationship with Lydia grows as Lydia shares her plays with her and gets Alice to see her perform in Angels In America where Alice feels the play. Even Alice is able to give a lecture to the local Alzheimer’s association where she delivers a speech she wrote herself and uses a highlighter to mark the notes she read as John and her son Tom watch. The speech is near perfect.
Over time she continues to acquire inner strength just as the disease is continuing to impair her brain even further to the point she needs a caretaker while John is gone. However it’s by chance that while her caretaker is away, she comes across the ‘Butterfly’ video on her laptop. She obeys the video and even takes the laptop with her as she searches for the bottle. However the suicide attempt fails as the pills still all over the bathroom floor. The film ends with her still alive but will get you questioning if it ended right.
The film is more than just about Alzheimer’s. It’s about having it at a very young age and trying to be able to deal with it and its debilitating effects. You can’t blame Alice for being distraught on hearing the news, especially when she has so much going for her. Just a bit of trivia here: even though 50 seems awfully young to have Alzheimer’s, we should remember the first subject Dr. Alois Alzheimer studied in the disease that bears his name was a 51 year-old German woman. It almost seems understandable to some that Alice sets her own suicide up to happen when the time appears right. However it’s about acquiring inner strength over time. Yes, Alice’s years are numbered and the disease is taking a toll on her mind and her body but she becomes a stronger person over time. It makes like the suicide attempt look like the wrong thing to do after what she’s fought out.
The movie is also about family relations during Alzheimer’s. For those who have a loved one with this disease, you would know how much it affects the whole family and even hurts deeply. It’s even harder to bear when the gene that causes early Alzheimer’s is present in other family members, just like how it’s also present in Alice’s oldest daughter Anna. The frustrations are there in the Howlands as Lydia doesn’t know what to make when she learns Alice went through her script notes. Even John feels the frustration as being the husband. Nevertheless the family unit becomes stronger over time and they continue to function the best ways that they can. Lydia’s connection with Alice through her theatre work helps Alice still keep in touch with the world even as the disease continues to take its toll. Anna even tries to let the fact she bares the gene not bother her and continue to live her life as a wife and mother of newborn twins. That scene where Alice is holding her grandchild is one of the more poignant moments of the film.
Without a question, the film belongs to Julianne Moore. Her ability to give an Alzheimer’s victim a personality and a will of her own while fighting the destructive nature of the disease has to be the actress performance of the year without an equal. She did a top notch job and deserves the Oscar. None of the supporting performances can pare up to the caliber of Julianne’s performance but Kristen Stewart’s performance of the actress daughter with extreme emotions who connects with her mother through the art of theatre has to be the best of the supporting performances and has more range than even the character of John, despite how good of a job Alec Baldwin does. Kate Bosworth was good as the daughter with the same gene trying to live her life normally but it could have been developed more. Hunter Parrish’s role as Tom the son was the most underdeveloped role in the film but he does a very good job with what little he has. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland do a good job of directing and writing despite making this film appear to be a film of a single acting role dominating for the most part. I’ll admit I haven’t read the novel by Lisa Genova so I can’t say if they adapted it right or not.
SPOILER ALERT: They say the ending is one of the trickiest things to do in a film. I will have to say the scene of the suicide attempt ended rather flat and led into scenes that will leave one wondering if the film makes it look like a good thing the attempt failed or a bad thing. That scene where Alice is with John having ice cream dwelling on how she used to be very smart will have you wondering as will the end scene where she’s with Lydia and she can hardly talk. It also makes you wonder if it ended right. But I think that may have been the point. I think Richard and Wash ended the film that way so we can make our own judgment whether Alice continuing to live is the right thing or the wrong thing.
Still Alice makes for a very watchable movie about Alzheimer’s even if it does appear at times to be dominated by Julianne Moore’s acting. Nevertheless her role is one that leads to a performance meant to shine and she does just that.
Most of the time I do reviews of movies. This article is different as I do a side-by-side comparison of two versions of the same story. There’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs that generations of moviegoers are familiar with. There’s now Snow White And The Huntsmen that aims to be a modern version of the famous fairy tale character. The question is how do they compare side to side?
First off, let’s run down the first nitty gritty factors of the movies. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfsis more than just a delightful animated
movie. It’s a part of filmmaking history. It’s the first ever feature-length animated movie. And it was made against incredible odds. Walt Disney took five years to make this movie as it involved a lot of drawings and a lot of effort. It was expensive for its time at $1.5 million and Walt had to take out a lot of loans for this movie. And during the Great Depression to boot. In the end, it became a huge hit in 1937 grossing $8 million worldwide and world propel further animated movies in the future. To this day the American Film Institute still ranks it as the Best Animated Movie ever.
Now Snow White And The Huntsmen isn’t really much of a filmmaking breakthrough. It’s a life-action version of the Snow White story, which has been done before. It features familiar actors Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin. While this film is not much of a cinematic breakthrough, it is a personal breakthrough for director Rupert Sanders. He has directed commercials and TV episodes in the past. This is his first direction of a feature-length film and it cost $170 million to make. It has so far grossed $152 million at the North American box office: $370 million worldwide.
To compare the actual Snow White character, let’s give a bit of a rundown in terms of the times. First off Snow White And The Huntsmen is done in the present by modern-day director. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937 and done by Walt Disney. You can be sure both films would be reflective of the ideal female roles for the two main female characters and both would reflect the directors’ visions at the time. The Disney Snow White has a very happy and cheerful attitude but is very naive to the threats that surround her. She lost her parents and is exiled in the woods but still holds her spirits high even after the queen’s assassin tells her to flee. The modern Snow White, played by Kristen Stewart, is a girl scorned. She has had enough of the imprisonment and wants out. However she feels there’s no way out. It isn’t until after she sees an opportunity escape and seizes it that it’s revealed she has a determination in her to fight to be free, even if it means walking through castle sewage to get it.
The reflections of the different types of Snow White characters is also reflective in their biggest desires. Disney’s Snow White wants to be free but she feels she found it in living with the seven dwarfs. Her biggest desire is to find her ‘prince’ as evident in the song ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’. Modern Snow White wants love too but she wants her freedom more. She knows she has to continue fighting even after she is free from the prison. She knows the queen and her men and she knows the threats will continue as long as the queen is alive.
Both Snow Whites are subject to negative opinions from some about the way they’re depicted. First off modern audience goers would find the Disney Snow White, voiced by Adriana Caselotti, as too naive for the present and very lacking in ‘street smarts’. Kristen Stewart’s Snow White could also be subject to negative opinions as Disney fans may feel she lacks the cheerfulness and many other moviegoers could think she makes Snow White into Xena: Warrior Princess.
The character of the queen has a common similarity: beauty. Walt Disney wanted a beautiful queen in his film as part of the reflection of the queen’s desire to be the ‘fairest of all’ and her evil envy of Snow White. We shouldn’t forget that sometimes evil can be disguised as something beautiful. The modern evil queen is given a name, Ravenna, and is played by Charlize Theron who is renowned for her beauty. The dissimilarity between the two evil queens is that the Disney queen is seen as very stockish in her desire to see Snow White dead because of her envy, and only because of that. Ravenna is shown as the killer of Snow White’s father, whom she killed on her wedding day and had Snow White imprisoned. It’s the familiar evil stepmother role in fairy tales. Ravenna is shown not only as a queen of envy over Snow White but as a victim herself. She learns from the mirror that has to destroy Snow White for the sake of her immortality or she will be the mortal one. Even giving Snow White the poisonous apple would show two differing means of disguises. The Disney queen would take a potion to tune her into an old lady. Ravenna would metamorphose into William, son of Duke Hammond, to give Snow White the fatal apple.
The other notable difference of the two Snow Whites is the differing their main supporting character, or characters. In Disney’s Snow White, it was the seven dwarfs. All seven were cute with cute names and charming personalities. They worked hard but they sang, danced and lived cheerfully. They were first surprised to see Snow White and thought of her as an intruder but would come to welcome her, love her, and even avenge her against the queen after she gave Snow White the poisonous apple. In the modern Snow White, the dwarves are seen as a minor supporting character in the movie who assist with the Huntsman in her well-being and warriors with Snow White and the Huntsman against the queen. It’s the Huntsman in the modern Snow White who’s the main supporting character now.
The Huntsman in the modern Snow White is under command from the queen to kill and receive the hand of her brother’s deceased wife in marriage. He learns from Finn, the brother, that it was a false promise and then becomes Snow White’s ally helping her escape with the help of women disfigured by Ravenna and the help of the seven dwarves. The Huntsman is the man who kisses Snow White back to life but it’s not happily ever after yet as they must battle Ravenna before Snow White can be married to the Hunstman. In Disney’s Snow White it is the prince whose kiss revives Snow White and marries her. The Huntsman is only seen at the beginning as the one who tries to kill Snow White but can’t and gives the queen a pig’s heart to trick her into thinking Snow White is dead.
It’s not just the characters themselves that make the two Snow White movies different but also the stories themselves. The beginning especially. In the Disney movie we’re given a storybook narration of what has happened in the past and leads to the beginning with the queen at the mirror saying “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” Snow White and the Huntsman goes back to when Snow White is a young girl and her favorite playmate is the Duke’s son William. Ravenna is prisoner of the Dark Army rescued by the recently widowed King Magnus, father of Snow White. King Magnus is actually killed by Ravenna after he marries her, imprisons Snow White and seized control of the kingdom leaving it lifeless and full of sadness. Even the setting of the forest is different as Disney shows a charming forest full of happy creatures while the modern Snow White shows a nice forest that’s not immune by threats like insects and other dangers.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Snow White And The Huntsman are two differing movies of the same story. As for which is the best depiction, I can’t say because I have not read the original Snow White story by the Brothers Grimm. Nevertheless both have their entertainment values and one would appeal over another depending on their movie preferences.
Ever notice how in the news there’s always a story that comes from nowhere and is not worth paying any mind, until some loudmouth makes a hullabaloo about it? It’s funny that while Japan is recovering from a tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown, and Libya is fighting a war to depose a dictator, there’s a minor story that makes a lot of loud news. It happened this week when the picture on the right that was featured in an e-catalog from J.Crew got on a conservative pundit’s nerves to the point he spoke out about it. And it has since drawn a lot of reactions since Tuesday.
It all started when J.Crew sent out its e-catalog to subscribers on Tuesday April 5th. For those unfamiliar, J. Crew is a clothing store known for its colorful preppy looking clothes. Its most famous customer is First Lady Michelle Obama. Included is a Saturday With Jenna column written by J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons. On that column’s front page that weekend was that picture of her having fun with her 5 year-old son Beckett. Why should that cause controversy? Because the fun she had with Beckett was painting his toenails with pink nail polish. She even included in the Quality Time caption: “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”
Some of the J. Crew customers who received that ad would look at it as something funny and some might raise their eyebrows over it. It was able to stay away from being a complete controversy, until Tuesday April 12th. That’s when FOX News Psychologist Dr. Keith Ablow made these comments:
Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.
This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” is not known.
Dr. Ablow further goes on to talk about the benefits and goods of gender distinctions and continues:
Jenna Lyons and J. Crew seem to know exactly what they’re up to. That’s why the photograph of Jenna’s son so prominently displays his hot pink, neon toe nails. These folks are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force in the universe.
Dr. Ablow wasn’t the only right wing pundit speaking their mind on this. Four days earlier, Erin M. Brown, writer for the Culture and Media Institute website, wrote an article on the ad which she declared ‘blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children’. She then went on to say: “Not only is Beckett likely to change his favorite color as early as tomorrow, Jenna’s indulgence (or encouragement) could make life hard for the boy in the future. J.CREW, known for its tasteful and modest clothing, apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the façade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.”
Since the ad controversy, there have been a lot of responses. Numerous news stories in websites, newspapers and television have featured the heated issue. All three major networks have done discussions about this. They’ve interviewed parents on the street: some were freaked out while some liked it. Psychiatrists interviewed have said it’s normal for children to play cross-dressing games. Some news stories showed celebrity parents including Gwen Stefani with pictures of their own boys wearing nail polish. Alyona Minkovski from RT Network responded: “Look people. Mom’s actually spending time with her child having fun, which is a lot more than what I can say about a lot of parents out there who tend to neglect their children. And if painting your child’s toenails is a way for a child and parent to connect, then have at it.” Jon Stewart even talked about it on his Daily Show, declaring the fiasco ‘Toemageddon 2011’ and commenting: “You make it sound like it’s a story about incest or cannabalism…You’re all aware that nail polish comes off, right? You’re all acting like this lady gave her son an ‘I Love Cock’ tattoo.” For the record, J. Crew have not responded because they ‘don’t want to add fuel to a non-issue.’
Even amongst the internet, there have been responses. Youtubers have also spoken their mind with one man even paining his fingernails pink. On the opposite side, there’s been at least one video in support of the complaining pundits, from the channel Final Justice Movement. Bloggers have posted their opinions. Message boards have also been loaded with comments both for the ad ‘what century is this?’ and against this ‘This is disgusting!’ Change.org started a petition thanking J.Crew ‘for the heartwarming ad’ and received 7500 signatures. The 10 year-old son of a writer for Wired magazine painted his fingernails green in response. There’s even a Pink Piggies page on Facebook where the page honors ‘people of all gender identities.’
One thing I like to say is that it’s another example of how people like to raise a big fiasco of just about anything. I’ve seen it from both the left and right side of people raising a big fuss over something simple. It seems like the thing nowadays to be offended about anything. Years ago, people were declaring The Passion Of The Christ to be anti-Semitic when it’s the story of Christ’s crucifixion that has been played out many times in the past including on film. Recently after the movie Mars Needs Moms was released, a gay Youtube personality posted on his Twitter page that it’s very offensive to non-traditional families. And now we have right-wing pundits taking a crack at this ad. Do people enjoy getting offended?
Yes, it’s a different parent-child bonding scenario but it’s not worth declaring ‘propaganda’ to turn into an issue for headlines’ sake. I also agree with Alyona: in case you didn’t notice, there’s a load of joy between Jenna and Beckett in that picture. It’s very common for parents to neglect their children in their busy lives so a moment like that should be considered fun.Secondly I don’t think paining a son’s toenails pink makes him gay. His orientation has already formed itself even before he was born. In addition when I brought this story up at work, one of my co-workers mentioned that she painted her nephew’s fingernails and they had a fun time together. Weeks later when she brought up ‘nail polish’, he said “That’s girls stuff.” So what does that tell you? Also I admire J. Crew for not responding to this and dismissing it for the ‘non-issue’ that it is.