10 January 2016

On Love Amid Dramatic Life Changes

Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl brings to light an often unasked question of love: When one person changes and develops dramatically, what role may her lover take on in remaining romantically engaged?

Indeed, as the film progresses, her husband, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), progressively grows to despise his designated gender, instead opting to dress and act as a woman and presume her new name, Lili Elbe. With the wavering support of her wife, Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), Lili visits numerous doctors until she finds the one, Kurt Warnekros (Sebastian Koch), who will surgically remove Lili's male genitalia and construct female ones in their place.

Reformulating Love

Scott McGehee and David Siegel's What Maisie Knew eloquently illuminates the farcicality of the childish notion of parental perfection while simultaneously redefining traditional roles for guidance and affection in the all-too-nuclear familial structure.

When Maisie (Onata Aprile) finds out that her parents are separating, her life becomes a growing faultline between her parents, Susanna (Julianne Moore) and Beale (Steve Coogan), with her nouveaux step-parents, Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) and Margo (Joanna Vanderham), respectively, as oddly placed lifelines when both of the raging tectonic plates that are her parents either rub against each other or drive away from the area altogether.

09 January 2016

To Care for the Self and for Humanity Itself

Destin Daniel Cretton's Short Term 12 is a story of growth borne from destruction and release in a nearly omnipresent tension.

The film details a few months in the work of Grace (Brie Larson), a director at a state-financed home for troubled teenagers, as she battles with her own painful past while guiding her kids, residents of the home, to overcome their abuse.

When someone new joins the group, the rambunctious Short Term 12 community meets a silence embodied by a confused, depressed, and introverted Jayden Cole (Kaitlyn Dever) who intentionally distances herself by lingering in her bedroom while the group joins together in games and activities. Grace quickly bonds with Jayden over their mutual history of depression and self-harm, even rolling up her own sleeves to show Jayden her history of cutting. And, when Grace's abusive father is reportedly released from prison, they begin to share one more treacherous trait.

Competing Empathies in a Wrongly Purposed Murder

Mark Herman's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a chilling tale of conflicting empathies and reconciling the pain of grief with the reality of unbearable, yet elongated, mass-murder.

After relocating from Berlin, a German family led by their patriarch, Ralph (David Thewlis), a highly regarded Nazi general in the early 1940s, settles a few miles from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the eight-year-old protagonist, eager to explore their new home and its surroundings, ignores his mother's wishes and hikes his way to the electric, barbed-wire fence outlining the nearby "farm," where he meets his new clandestine contemporary: Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), an eight-year-old Jew at the work camp.

05 January 2016

Drinking with Students: A Story of Hope

Pat Mills' Guidance is a dark comedy of rediscovering oneself amid a sea of confusion and denial.

David Gold (Mills), a 30-year-old unemployed alcoholic steals someone's identity, becomes a high school guidance counselor, and imbibes with his students in his short-lived career before escaping from the police, robbing a slew of tanning salons, and turning himself into prison as a new-formed man.

Intertwined throughout the scenes are audio overlays of his own inspirational tapes from a previous career, juxtaposing his own narration of his excellence, happiness, and positive decision-making skills with visual evidence of binge drinking and smoking alone. Thus, throughout the film, we see first-hand the denial and mistrust of others plaguing David's mind as he ignores his doctor's cancer diagnosis, fails to pay rent, and insists upon living without changing his habits, even if it means "cutting off" the rest of his family.

04 January 2016

Interpersonal Compassion, and Judgment?

Lasse Hallström's Chocolat is a story of overcoming exile and learning to accept the differences in others while maintaining a tight-knit community.

When a single French woman, Vianne (Juliette Binoche), and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) move to a village on the French coast to set up a chocolaterie, they instigate townwide chaos by questioning the very cultural foundations of the town, including stringent attendance at Mass and Confession, as well as avoiding certain delicacies during Lent.

As a result, the town turns against their newest member, labeling her enterprise as a cooperative effort with Satan and her chocolates as acts against God himself. Yet, in continuing to follow her own moral compass in the face of ostracism, Vianne forms two crucial relationships, one with Josephine (Lena Olin), her friend-turned-associate whom Vianne hosts for fear that Josephine's husband (Peter Stormare) will continue to physically abuse her, and Armande (Judi Dench), an elderly woman and closet diabetic whom Vianne regularly serves and makes conversation.

Comedy, Romance, and Stress: Living Through Your Hip-Twenties

Paul Ashton's This Isn't Funny is a genuine tale of love when surrounded by humor, anxiety, and alcohol.

Eliot Anderson (Katie Page) strives to make it big in the world of standup comedy, despite her continued struggles with anxiety. Along the way, after crashing into—and later making fun of—a local cyclist, Jamie (Paul Ashton), she must either learn to redefine herself and her medicinal needs to stay with him and form a family, or continue her shaky trajectory, without him, of advancement in the world of comedy.

This Isn't Funny ultimately demonstrates how complex a foundation for any modern romantic relationship is—dominated by capricious polyamory and mixed interpretations of monogamy, each romance, prior to even recognizing the various mental states of those within it, already begins with a grave sense of instability. Aggravating that are the contemporarily dynamic perspectives of and opinions about mental wellness, therapy, and medicine, exacerbated when Eliot intentionally skips her daily dosage for several days, for the fear that her anti-anxiety drugs block out her thoughts, keeping her from reconciling with her problems.

03 January 2016

"Pick Paul," A Character-Based Reevaluation of Election

Alexander Payne's Election, a tale of myriad pseudo-protagonists presenting alternative perspectives in the upcoming high school election, demonstrates the intricate balance of unscrupulous characters whose motivations ultimately lie in promoting their own self-interest while pretending, to themselves and to their peers, that the above fails to be true.

The character structure in Election very much strays from any standard, as the alleged protagonist, Tracy Enid Flick (Reese Witherspoon), a preppy high school student seeking the office of student council president for her final year, undergoes an emotional breakdown, tearing down nearly every election poster in the school. Following that fiasco, her teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), pursues an extramarital affair, even abandoning his own class to attend to it, discarding both his marriage and his professional passion.

Empathizing with the Unknown

A dying wish for empathizing with the unknown, Todd Haynes' Carol pushes us into the realm of a persecuted lesbian love blossoming under the covers of 1950s America, forcing us to divine rectitude when encompassed by utter hatred towards that which is yet to be understood.

With holiday spirit, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) offers her shopping assistant, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), to lunch, forming the beginnings of their hidden amorous relationship. Carol, mother of one, struggles with divorcing her physically abusive husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), while Therese's corroding relationship with her boyfriend (Jake Lacy) ends without much effort, quickly joining the two women together in a love borne in abandonment. Together, they discard their decaying pasts and commence a road trip westward, still only individually cognizant of their mutual love.

02 January 2016

On Believing Falsehoods

In Thomas Vinterberg's Jagten (The Hunt), when testimonies conflict and instability is rampant, all crashes down upon the protagonist, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), who must seemingly impossibly prove his innocence to his tightly knit community while protecting his already damaged personal relationships.

Lucas, an ordinary kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town, is quickly blindsided by a false testimony rooted in the shady memory of his student Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), when she hints to his coworker Grethe (Susse Wold) at the potentiality of sexual assault. Trusting her contradictions to be products of denial, the kindergarten staff fires Lucas, and the entire town begins to reject Lucas as an unwelcome pedophile. His friendships, romance, and safety vanish.

A Look at Chef

Jon Favreau's Chef is ultimately a documentation of an unbroken trajectory: After a celebrity chef, Carl Casper (Favreau), realizes that his true passion is to cook under his own direction, forgetting the influence of a restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman), a food critic (Oliver Platt), or even his thousands of online followers, he strives, with his two companions, his sous-chef (John Leguizamo) and his son (Emjay Anthony), to both revolutionize his own passion for food and better spread to his nationwide fanbase a love for what he considers to be the most beautiful—albeit perishable—artform.

While minimal complications arise, such as his perpetual failures to be an active father in his son's life damaging their relationship, or even a confusingly prolonged yet awkwardly humorous interaction with a local police officer (Russell Peters), these are typically brushed away faster than the buttering process for a single cubano. In a way, the film is majoritally the falling action of its initial setup: Carl, desolated and jobless, looks for both personal satisfaction and steady income. Thus, Chef, in all of its glory, is less a story of triumphing over conflict and more of following and ruminating in racing emotions, interpersonal changes, and physical movement.

01 January 2016

Life May Just Be a Cabaret

Bob Fosse's Cabaret takes us back to the final moments of the Weimar Republic in Germany, a time of conflicting ideologies and shifting cultural momentums, when any flame of novelty may instantaneously develop into an inferno.

Visiting Berlin, a British doctoral student, Brian Roberts (Michael York), finds lodging with Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American dancer at the Kit Kat Club, a local cabaret. Throughout the film, we see their own fits of sexual experimentation and growth with each other and others in the Kit Kat Club community.

Combustion and Connection

Lasse Hallström's What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is a story of freeing oneself from the shackles of the past while embracing meaningful interpersonal relationships borne from the present moment.

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp), the older brother-turned-patriarch of the family, years after the wake of his own father's suicide, mentors and cares for his younger brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who suffers from a developmental disability.

Yet, suffering from his own quandaries, Gilbert still fails to understand his own personal necessities, balancing his own relationship with a married mother of two, Betty (Mary Steenburgen), with that of a companion of only a few weeks, a traveler camping in the area, Becky (Juliette Lewis).