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Rating History

Mojave Phone Booth
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A movie that definitely has this creepy, uneasy vibe of something lurking just below the surface of the sunlight and the tumbleweeds of the Las Vegas setting. Audio and video tape play a central theme, being found tangled up in bushes everywhere and used to contain people's dark secrets, desires, experiences. I found it interesting that such a medium is what's being explored as opposed to, say, broken CDs or something in this day and age.

So what does tape represent, exactly? In my mind, it's the last physical form of information. With digital devices, things that are recorded show up on screen, but what carries them bears little relevance anymore. Information is just information, stored perhaps on a teeny tiny silicon chip that's smaller than the size of a person's fingernail. It can be devastating or beautiful, but no longer truly destroyed if it is uploaded onto the internet or wherever. Tapes, on the other hand, remain to remind the characters of the things they'd rather forget. For Beth, the tape reveals just how crazy her lover is in his attempts to convince her to move in with him by breaking into her car night after night. For Mary, the tape serves proof of how much of her soul she is willing to give up for money. For Alex, the tape is a terrible reminder of how irrational her girlfriend is, in tandem with the man who claims to "heal" her; and finally, for Richard, the tape is the ultimate failure of his life, something that only drives his separated wife farther from him, and reveals that she was never truly happy with him in the first place.

I really want to analyze all these characters to pieces... but I have to choose my battles carefully. The most important comparison, though, that I want to make between characters is the one between Richard and Barry. Throughout the whole time that we see him, Richard is so miserable, so in pain. Barry, on the other hand, doesn't feel anything for anyone besides this sense of vague amusement at the prostitutes he hires. In this way, he vaguely reminds me of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman (especially when he draws the lever for paper towels in the bathroom with his elbow in an OCD kind of manner), only a lot less dangerous. He's the type that a person has to invite into their lives to do any real damage - and when Mary entertains the notion of trying to get out of what she must do for the money, he simply says she won't get the money, end of story (as opposed to trying to murder her). But MY POINT IS that Barry seems so smug that he doesn't have to endure the pain that Richard deals with - no human connection, no trouble that comes with it - but really it is Richard who is the better person. The woman on the other end of the Mojave Phone Booth line knows this, but sadly, she can't do much as he bleeds to death. That made me really sad. I wondered why his wife bothered marrying him at all because she seemed like such an unhappy, unsatisfied person in general.

I was glad to see that Mary wound up relatively okay, working at the Vegas bar/casino alongside Alex.

I wondered who the woman on the phone really was, but could easily imagine some spry old lady who'd traveled the world and just wants to help people in her own way. Or maybe she's one of the aliens that Beth hypothetically muses about, the ones who pick up the tapes and learn about human civilization from them - you never know. I only think of those aliens at all because of the last scene of Alex's story - which, in its own way, involved hypothetical aliens - where some tape mysteriously falls from the sky.

So all of these crazy things happen to all four people, but somehow it all works out. Just like life is wont to do. And as Beth and Richard's wife finally meet at the now-excavated phone booth, the connection that was once that voice on the phone now reincarnates as this new found link between these two women. The voice's legacy lingers on in the hope that these characters can learn to reach out and, in time, lean on one another for support. I get the feeling that these women had never bothered to risk making such a connection before. In this way, the movie leaves us with a sense of subtle, gentle, fantastic hope. The last line says it all: "you can talk to me."

Shutter Island
11 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A grand but heavy-handed psychological thriller that dragged on awkwardly in moments that could, and should, have been cut or reworked. Once again, we find Leonardo DiCaprio struggling with himself and the dead wife in his head for supreme control of his not-so-normal-ever-again life. Yes, yes, I know that this movie came before Inception, but Inception held me in a way that Shutter Island did not. I kind of knew it before I saw this film, but I watched it anyway because I wondered what all those crazy scenes of burning houses and women turning into ash in DiCaprio's arms were all about. I wasn't disappointed with the outcome, but it did not completely send me, either: I've seen enough films where the good guy is actually the bad guy, etc etc. Memento, Secret Window, the list goes on...

I still can't deny that I did like twisting my brain around to evaluate the scenes that had already taken place in the movie as the truth of Teddy Daniels' situation is finally revealed. I liked going back to previous weirdness and thinking to myself, ohhhh now it makes sense. All those scenes with Teddy's sidekick, with "something is off here" undertones that were not enough to trigger my suspicion, there you go.

I still doubted, however, that a whole medical facility would turn itself on its head just for the sake of potentially curing one man of his troubled memories. Perhaps it was a very grand experiment of some sort, with larger ramifications. Perhaps Dr. John Cawley cared about him that much (if so, kudos to him) and wanted Teddy to finally leave the institution that badly. Perhaps the doctor was just that curious as to what would happen if a person's complete universe could be tweaked. I'll go with one of those and leave it alone. Part of me did want to believe the weird conspiracy theories that the supposed escaped prisoner hiding in the cave explained to Teddy. Thankfully, they were not true - and the world was not out to get Teddy as he would have liked to believe.

I do give this movie credit for the same heavy-handedness that eventually becomes its downfall. Shutter Island's atmosphere is so saturated with morose dread and gloom that it weighed upon me as I watched. The cracking and swerving music effect in the doctor's office - as Teddy's brain is probably cracking right along with it - was disturbing in a way that few movies could have ever executed before or since.

In the end, this movie is really about a crazy man and his crazy wife Dolores, brilliantly played by Michelle Williams. I cannot comprehend how nuts one must be to drown one's own children and then play with them as if they were life-size dolls. It is understandable that perhaps Teddy was already predisposed to some kind of madness (or determination to believe something) and that this just did him in. He resolves to still pretend to be insane in order to be lobotomized and forget all his cares, after all. This is a dark movie, in case you did not get my drift before. This is for those of you out there who like to submerge yourself in absolute gloom for a couple of hours and then happily shake it off when it's over, leaving some small piece of it in your head to mull over and over. I would not watch this again, but seeing how I remember it enough to be writing about it now (my reviews have been late in coming), it did something right.

Between the Folds
11 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A beautifully crafted movie, just like the origami creations of its featured scientists/artists. Although the narrator sounded a bit sluggish in some spots, her voice melded perfectly with the introspective piano that oftentimes suggested the presence of something vast, deep and beautiful at work in the very fabric of being.

I came into this movie thinking that it would be along the lines of perhaps Wordplay or Fistful of Quarters - a candid view into a quirky, tightly-knit band of folks who absolutely love what they do and then compete at it in a contest at the end. There is a time and a place for everything, but this movie lets its viewer see exactly why origami is so magical instead of leaving us to chuckle at other people's enthusiasm. This speaks a lot of the art, and the people who create the beauty of this art. I had no idea that paper could be folded in so many intricate ways (without any kind of cutting!) and my eyes just ate up the next piece that was set before me. I also didn't stop to think that so many things could be done with paper, period. And then one artist got into the topic of coloring that paper. And then another group of artists crumpled their paper instead of folding it. And then a guy then went into how he folded paper in just such a way that it would start to move the moment you let go of it, unfurling by its sheer force of elasticity. And then we are introduced to a boy genius of sorts who beautifully folds paper in order to better understand how proteins and various other particles fold so that we might discover treatments for formerly incurable diseases. It was a series of revelations that repeatedly overwhelmed me with delight and respect for these people who continue to dismantle the wall between art and science.

There are several minutes of good-natured competition characteristic of other movies, but it is not the focus here. I am glad that it was brought in, though, because the rise of younger origami enthusiasts is important to the art of origami as a whole. We see a Japanese guy who has made a paper dragon with individually folded scales, whiskers and legs with claws that I cannot do justice to by simply describing it - perhaps the most baffling artistic piece in the whole movie because of its detail that had me asking how it was even possible. I note, however, that these teenagers and twentysomethings who competed for "best piece" are described by their older counterparts as still in the process of getting to know the art of origami. Many of the main speakers explain that as they continue to work with their medium, their appreciation for detail versus simplicity shifts. The people who appear to have the best technical or raw skill now will come into their own later, it seems, perhaps becoming more humbled by the paper that they shape. For some reason that comforted me.

I know it may seem obvious to a lot of people, but having fun is the main point of everything. When you figure out how to have fun, everything else - from practicality to money - will take care of itself. If you truly find joy in something that you do, even if it seems random and insignificant like folding paper, you are meant to do that thing and it will somehow assist the larger picture. This occurred to me as the genius explained this basic point when asked how and why he does what he does. I notice that with a lot of geniuses - they just want to go and have fun with what fascinates them.

There is no real climax to this documentary, but there does not need to be. I saw everything I wanted and more here.

Whip It
Whip It (2009)
11 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I read the book first, watched the movie second. I knew what was going to happen, but that didn't take away from any of the moments onscreen because Barrymore did an eloquent job fleshing out the characters the way I'd imagined them to be. Except for the fact that I'd imagined Ellen Page's character, Bliss Cavendar, to be a little bit more outspoken than she was. I suppose the movie's intention was to highlight the way she comes out of her shell and get more personality when she starts to learn how to play roller derby. I guess I am okay with that.

The scene where Bliss sees the roller girls enter her life for the first time really struck me. The point is made so clearly: Bliss knows that her life just changed in that instant. She is very aware that, in this tiny shred of time from one moment to the next, that there suddenly is no going back, and whatever suffering she may endure as a result of this run-in with something greater than herself that she is to ultimately join, then so be it. Such a feeling is hard to pack into one movie scene, but this manages to convey it very nicely. I almost wanted to shed a tear at seeing Bliss recognize so much of herself in those girls who seem so much stronger and more confident than her.

The movie carries along at an easy pace, much like the way the book seems to fly by as if I'm reading the journal of a close friend. I can relate to Bliss in some ways - suburbanite, trapped - but in others, such as her issues with her aggressively pageant-enforcing mother, I had to step back and let this movie be a movie. I still envied the way that, because this was a movie, however, the Porky Barrel or whatever that fast food joint that Bliss works at looked so glamorous. Bliss gets to lounge lazily with her friends against the counter and do absolutely nothing while no one cares. God knows that, since Bliss is headed for flat-track freedom in that sunlit future of hers, she will eventually be getting out of there. It's almost a given.

After reading the book but prior to watching this movie, I read the book Down and Derby: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby. The authors of which worked on the set of this movie to help make sure scenes held at least vaguely to real-life standards. They mentioned two roller derby gals who were apparently deaf in the movie, whose actresses performed a million takes to perfect their apparent sign language. I only see these two gals once, and barely even that, when they both beat and tear apart a vending machine at the beginning of Bliss's tryout. I forgot why. I could barely see them motioning with their hands at all. I guess a lot of movies scrap a bunch of scenes that all took their own time and effort. It must be hard to do, if a director gets attached. And another thing: I don't understand why Drew Barrymore had her own character be this airhead who keeps falling down, getting her nose bashed, giving up on her coach, and otherwise being grossly immature. Said coach even goes so far as to say something along the lines of, "If I said this play was called BONG WATER would you finally listen to me?!" at her. Which was hilarious, but I still don't get it. Maybe it was all just an expression of Drew Barrymore's weird sense of humor? Still.

The intimate scenes between Bliss and Oliver were idyllic. That's the only word I can use. Offbeat, alternative, vintage would also work too: cinematic times a hundred, and all too good to last. Based on the book, I know what comes. Oliver is really just a big skank who indulges in the groupies that infest his road vehicle, and gives one of them Bliss's hallowed Stryper T-shirt as if it were a party favor, no less. What's a girl to do!?

Thankfully, after this dip in the movie (where everything can and does go wrong for Bliss) things pick back up. I was a little surprised that the Hurl Scouts didn't win the final match... but hey, things really do look up because now Bliss really has found her calling, or at least something that augments her personality. And I know it's kind of weird to say this, but Bliss's relationship with Oliver, despite being tragically typical, was still magical in its own way while it lasted. Being the first among sure to be many connections with guys who sparkle in a very human way, it was Bliss's choice to put her heart out there and experience all that she did. Her relationship with her mother, however, feels a bit too classic. It's sweet that she magically bonds with Bliss at her return from god knows where (from her point of view), but I don't know if she'd be so readily willing to stifle questions about where Bliss had been and with WHOM before total parental indignantion reigns supreme. Deep down, it is clear that Bliss's mom is more human than small town beauty queen fanatic, and so her seemingly instinctive act of reaching out makes perfect cinematic sense.

I still liked this film because it has heart: a colorful cast of women who seem, by all means, like real roller derby players. Several of the characters, I hear, were and are real team members who learned how to act for this movie specifically. That is really cool. I have a lot of respect for Barrymore - despite the weird character that she plays - for having the audacity to craft a movie like this.

A Life Without Pain
11 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Of course on some level I knew that without pain we never learn to be safe. And that also, without pain, there is the image that always comes up of a person putting their hand on a hot stove and not feeling it and not understanding that they just damaged their body. Still, this movie drives it home with the story of the little girl who, when she was younger, kept poking her eyeballs to the point of developing glaucoma and going blind in one eye. She felt no pain when she jammed her fingers into her eyeballs and just kept doing it, and then her parents wound up putting this gel into her eyes so that they wouldn't scar too much, but then the gel caused the glaucoma in that one eye. And that eye's iris ended up looking very swollen and alien and sick, so the whole eyeball ended up being removed so that they could put a fake one in to look more normal. Part of me blames modern medicine for being so backward if it prescribes gel that causes side effects as bad as glaucoma; another part of me wonders why they had to remove the eyeball at all, thinking that there could have been something to reverse it, that ripping it all out is just too brutal and final, period. Either way, this condition - called congenital analgesia - is so rare that currently there are only about 100 people in the world who have it. Of course modern medicine is not going to know crap about what to do about people like these.

I felt for Gabby, this little girl, who had to have her eye removed. If I were her later on, I would be furious at myself for being so inclined to put my fingers in my eyes all the time. I wondered if her teeth were removed as well, because the shape of her face looked off, reminiscent of old people without dentures. I hope those were only her baby teeth. So in the end she was born with a perfectly fine body besides feeling no pain, and she winds up with all these conditions that borderline disability, all self-inflicted.

There are two other stories featured in this movie, one of seven-year-old Miriam in Norway and another of ten-year-old Jamilah in Germany. I had thought that each story would take up an equal third of the film, but these stories ended up being shorter and significantly less heart wrenching. Both of these other children apparently did not feel the overwhelming need to stick fingers in eyeballs earlier on in life, because neither had any mentioned eye conditions, thank goodness. I think the luckiest of these two was Jamilah, because she appeared to have the least amount of medical conditions. However, because she apparently felt no pain, a group of guys in her class beat her up repeatedly just to see if it was true. It must have been awkward for both parties, and it must have been hard to believe that someone could actually not feel anything when being punched in the gut. Jamilah didn't seem to be too affected by the whole thing besides maybe being emotionally offended at their animiosity. Again, if I haven't said it before, I can't really imagine it.

It would be interesting to find out what has happened to these kids, say, five or ten years down the road. It turns out that people with this condition can live normal lives, as at the end of the movie it was revealed that some adult woman in New York had been living with it for thirty years and had kids of her own. I wish I could have seen what her life was like.

This movie reminds me of Praying With Lior: a low-key film that highlighted some very interesting people with exceptional challenges. I would hope, though, that as these three girls grow up, they will be better able to compensate their inability to feel pain with logic and reasoning. It appears to be possible. And, oh yeah, this is a great film to watch if you are feeling the need to put a positive spin on something generally thought of as negative.