Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 24

June 14, 2009

Poppy Shakespeare
(2008) Dir. Banjamin Ross

From Blogger
One June 14th, the festival was over. Winners were announced, but as the festival wasn't yet over, films were still being screened. I attended one last film, which is among my favorites this year, Poppy Shakespeare.

Poppy's story is told through the eyes of her friend, N (Anne Maxwell Martin) at the the Dorthy Fisher mental health day care center they are required to attend. Poppy (Naomie Harris) is different from the other patients that spend their weekdays at the center. Poppy doesn't believe she belongs there. Poppy isn't mentally ill and is required to attend as some sort of mistake due to a questionnaire. N knows that system inside and out and like everyone else at the center, spends her time making certain that she remains forever within the safety of the Dorthy Fisher. So despite not understanding why Poppy would want to leave, she agrees to help her, but there is a nasty catch 22. In order to prove that Poppy is sane, she has to first prove she is crazy, so she can qualify for mad money and get legal representation to prove that she is in fact sane.

Poppy Shakespeare provides a rare and highly accurate glimpse into the lives of the mentally ill and in doing so, it moves with ease between humor and tragedy while bringing to light real problems with the systems that treat crazy people. This was such a wonderful film with totally unique and amazing characters that I was completely captivated by. The film, made for British television, is based on the eponymous book by Clare Allan. Clare Allan spent 10 years in a mental health treatment facility and writes about mental health issues for The Guardian. This background lends a lot of plausibility to the characters and their circumstances.

And I recognized this immediately. While the British medical system is vastly different from the American one, I immediately recognized some similarities. Or at least one big one. Once one has acquired a diagnosis for a psychological condition, it is a very difficult thing to shake. Despite all of the treatment and rehabilitation, it is challenging to prove sanity. And if anyone believes that someone might be a threat to the safety of themselves or anyone else, the patient immediately loses control of their own treatment, of their future really. Not that I would know about any of this.

But probably the most interesting aspect of Poppy Shakespeare is the depiction of the world of the day center and those who inhabit it. It appears to be an alternate reality. Many of those within this world know little of life outside of the mental health system and the rules and coping strategies are so radically different, that it is amazing that anyone who spends time inside that world finds their way out. But while the film depicts the apparently hopeless situation, Poppy Shakespeare rarely becomes tragic in tone and remains ultimately optimistic, quirky and often quite funny. The world of N is not a tragic one. She is not overwhelmed by the sadness of Poppy's situation, but instead N's world remains bright and off beat.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 23

June 13, 2009

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Dir. Sergio Leone

From Blogger
Every year, SIFF shows a few newly restored archival prints and I never attend these. I don't know why, but when I saw Once Upon a Time in the West had a screening, I had to see it on the big screen. Like a lot of people my age, I once claimed to not like westerns, but my reason was a little different then most. I was raised on westerns. My mother used to watch movies non-stop when I was a kid, burning through VCRs. And most of the movies were westerns. She even used to write fan fiction that was western in setting. So when I would say, "I HATE westerns", what I meant was that I was sick and tired of old episodes of Rawhide, Roy Rogers, and most of the John Wayne library. Just like any genre, there are amazing Westerns out there and most of my favorites are Sergio Leone's films.

What I find strange, is that I had never seen Once Upon a Time in the West as a child. Which is really a shame, because it means that my mother isn't a fan of this film. I noticed something during this viewing. This film has clear cut heroes and villians. I didn't think that happened in Leone's films. And not only are there good guys and bad guys, but Harmonica (Charles Bronson) wears white and Frank (Henry Fonda) wears black.

The other thing that I really enjoyed about Once Upon a Time in the West as I had forgotten how funny the opening is, specifically Jack Elam waiting for the train. It's just a great scene, watching a group of gunslingin' thugs wait. And you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueeDdrBnV2M

The Clone Returns Home (2008) Dir. Kanji Nakajima

From Blogger

The other movie we saw was the Japanese science fiction, The Clone Returns Home. This could have been a great film. It looked amazing, shrouded in white for much of the film, I was reminded of Macintosh advertisements. And the ideas embodied in the story are quite profound, asking us to think about questions of life and death and the nature of the soul.

Set in a near future, human cloning has been perfected allowing for the recently deceased astronaut Kohei (Mitsuhiro Oikawa) to be cloned and his memories to be implanted. This clone however is defective and has only the haunting memories of his childhood, when his twin brother died. The clone attempt to return to his childhood home and along the way, finds the body of Kohei in an astronaut suit. He mistakes him for the body of his brother and he continues on his journey carrying the body.

As I said, the imagry is incredible, but there is something lacking in the storytelling. Maybe director Kanji Nakajima relies too heavily on the imagry for the storytelling, because while the elements are there to explore the nature of the soul, it doesn't provide a compelling enough narrative to keep the audience involved. In otherwords, The Clone Returns Home was slow and didn't manage to go much of anywhere.

SIFF 2009, Day 22

June 12, 2009

Talhotblond (2009) Dir. Barbara Schroeder

From Blogger
After seeing the insightful documentary We Live in Public, I wasn't going to miss the other internet related documentary, Talhotblond, especially since some of the programmers were very excited about this film. Talhotblond has the tone of a Dateline or 20/20 story. It is sensationalistic and a bit lascivious since it is about a sex triangle between three internet personalities that results in a murder.

Depressed about his life, Thomas Montgomery, or marinesniper, found himself caught up in a fantasy where he pretended to be himself at 18, a tough marine in order to impress talhotblond in a chatroom. And this roleplay continued until talhotblond, a young, blond cheerleader found out about the lie and begins to torment marinesniper by throwing her other online relationship with beefcake in his face. beefcake was Brian Barret, a 22 year old who works with the much older, ex marine Montgomery. And as tensions increased and jealousy raged, Thomas Montgomery murdered Brian.

The film doesn't dispute that Tom was ultimately the man who pulled the trigger. What it does dispute was the legal system that finds only Tom at fault for the crime. And my issue with Talhotblond stems from my agreement with a legal system that only prosecuted the man who committed a murder, not the woman who lied about who she was and instigated a rivalry between two men in a chat room. And while I agree with Barbara Schroeder that it is wrong to use your own daughter to lure men into a fantasy relationship and manipulate them, I disagree that it should be a crime to do so.

Ultimately, the film was entertaining, but too sensationalistic and misogynistic. I foresee this getting scooped up for television, I just hope that Barbara Schroeder drops the narration from the point of view of the dead Brian before then. It is plenty to hear Tom's story from his point of view, making the movie from Brian's perspective, when he's DEAD, is going a bit too far.