Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom is a sweet movie that takes place in Canada in the 1970s. It's about an 11 year old girl who discovers she's adopted and gets the idea in her head that Dolly Parton is her birth mother. It's a coming of age tale and in part focuses on her relationship with her mother (adopted). The girl who plays the star is very charming and adorable and tender. The movie as a whole is a little too slow, but I enjoyed it anyway. I loved the 70s era style.

The Visit

The Visit is an odd little horror film about two siblings (15 and 12) who go to spend a week with their grandparents who they've never met before. Quickly disturbing and creepy things begin happening, which are attributed to the grandparents' advanced age. The behaviors escalate and become terrifying.

The movie consists of footage the kids are taking from various cameras documenting their experience, and this becomes very annoying. The kids themselves are a little annoying. And the premise -- that their mom hasn't been in contact with her parents for 15 years and still won't communicate with them -- becomes too implausible.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Firm

Last night I watched The Firm, a 1992 movie starring Tom Cruise based on a John Grisham novel.

It really holds up! About a young attorney right out of law school hired by a fancy Southern firm, the plot is consistently engaging and suspenseful. The protagonist quickly learns about the corruptions surrounding him and finds himself pressured by the Feds while being squeezed into a corner by the firm. How will Cruise get out of this mess? Watch and find out.


Anomalisa, a stop-motion Charlie Kaufmann feature, is saturated in pained drudgery. Acutely focused on a man traveling to a conference to promote his book on customer service, the beginning sequences are drawn out in their attention to the annoyances of moment-to-moment daily existence. The viewer is in Michael Stone's world, trapped in his isolated subjectivity, and it soon becomes apparent that all the other characters he interacts with have the same face and the same voice. The effect is tremendously unsettling and uncomfortable.

In the hallway of the hotel Stone suddenly hears a different voice, and he rushes to find out who it is. He discovers the insecure and nervous and relatively ordinary Lisa. But she is extraordinary to him. Her voice is like no one else's and her scarred face is hers and hers alone. He immediately falls in love.

It raises questions about love and identity -- who is are object of desire, and what do we see when we behold them? Who are we in the crowded world of others? Are there other subjective experiences besides are own?

Anomalisa is surreal and disturbing. Claustrophobic. It includes the most tense sex scene I have ever experienced. And Anomalisa is brilliant. The mood stayed with me for quite sometime afterwards. In the final scene we catch a quick glimpse into the world outside Stone's perception, and in this moment we are released from his pained solipsism.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Finding Vivian Maier

I had read so much about the discovery of Vivian Maier's photography and the unusual story of her life that I didn't feel much curiosity or urgency about seeing the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier. I'm so glad I finally go around to it!

The documentary does a great job presenting not only the vast amount of negatives and undeveloped film she kept, but the strange accumulation of objects she amassed as a compulsive hoarder. It helped me see the intense value of the discovery and provided some insight into her mysterious life.

The photographs she took are startlingly beautiful and her eye was very sophisticated. The work shows a deep visual connection to human suffering.

But Finding Vivian Maier goes beyond showing the artistic value of these, and is more about trying to put together an image of the woman herself and the life she led as a nanny to wealthy families. Some of what the grown children she cared for shared in their interviews was upsetting and dark, and from other interviews you get a sense of an isolated, disturbed woman. Her identity as an artist remains murky -- it is unclear how she thought of herself in that way or how she thought about her pictures. I got the sense that her photo-taking was largely compulsive.

I was impressed by the dedication and work that Maloof, who first came across some boxes of her negatives, put into printing and scanning and sharing her work and investigating her background.

The movie also touches on class issues and art world practices. It raises many interesting questions, and was fascinating to watch.