19: Foxes (2011)

Over the weekend, I happened to catch the short film Foxes. It’s streaming on Hulu+ mobile (my frustration with the fact that there are some things I can’t view on my phone is enormous. I’m totally willing to watch and not click through ads, Hulu! Why are you not willing to be streamed mobile-ly? SOME OF US DON’T HAVE LAPTOPS) and I needed a distraction after dealing with a random tweaked muscle in my neck.

Foxes, originally released in Ireland in 2011, is the story of a couple in the middle of a change. They’ve recently moved house, a decision made by the husband, James, as a result of a successful promotion at work. Ellen, his discontent wife, is a photographer who just can’t manage to get her feet on the ground in their new location.

The conceits of “a lack of communication” and “a dissatisfied marriage” aren’t exactly breaking new ground as far as filmmaking goes, but that’s where Foxes goes from typical to anything but. Ellen, our focal point as audience members, becomes fascinated by the foxes rooting through her trash bins one night, and the next day decides to follow them to their natural habitat. She takes a series of increasingly intimate photographs, and as though they can communicate — as if they can understand her — they follow her back home, terrorizing her when she comes down from her upstairs bedroom to interact with them again.

For a film that clocks in at just 16 minutes, Foxes is visually stunning but also haunting as hell. Ellen eschews her life and responsibilities, and in the film’s final moments, seems to have disappeared all together, although the ending is open enough that there are multiple interpretations to be considered.

Here’s the thing that resonated with me the most about Foxes: it’s a film about dissatisfaction, and the lengths folks will go to curb it, or to change it without ever having to actually do the work. Ellen, unsatisfied and underworked and mostly alone, finds a sort of solace with these wild animals. They are as much a part of her as her husband is, maybe even moreso, because he is allowed and expected to leave their home each and every day, leaving her in their large new house to languish alone. It’s a heightened, almost painful existence, but probably something everybody’s experienced; the idea of being utterly useless, while everyone else around you is progressing forward.

Ellen feels “other”, and she reacts that way, finding an escape hatch and using it. My question isn’t — why does she go, or why is she slowly losing her mind? I already know those answers. My questions is — what is the point entirely? Are we all supposed to find our inner “foxes”?

I don’t know, but it was certainly a mindfuck. I’ve watched it twice and still don’t have any answers. If you would like to discuss escape hatches, or film surrealism, or even animals you could turn into, if given half the chance, please drop me a line! Otherwise, definitely check out this movie. It’s disturbing as hell, but certainly worth a watch.

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12: The Magical Schlumpifying Powers of “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”

Is The Mortal Instruments the worst movie I’ve ever seen? I texted my best friend last night after leaving the theater. #signspointtoyes.

After a long, less-than-stellar few weeks, a friend and I took the gift of a Labor Day-weekend early release and caught the matinee hoping to have a mock-and-giggle and pass a few hours not thinking about work, or bills, etc. She enjoyed it more than I did, because she wasn’t expecting much, and at least got a laugh. I got laughs too, believe me, but while nothing in Cassie Clare’s writing engendered any good will in me, the cast definitely did. Secretly, I was hoping for better.

I was disappointed.

Robert Sheehan is a delight, Aidan Turner‘s turn as Mitchell on the BBC’s Being Human is probably not what most folks know him from, but is definitely where I was first charmed, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, well. Listen, I can’t speak for anyone else, but when he first jogged across the screen as Joe in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, I was hooked.

If you’ve ever held that guy in any sort of regard, do yourself a favor and do not see this movie. His haircut alone is the stuff of nightmares.

I know what you’re thinking. But what about the actual movie, Marianna? Hair isn’t everything.

You’re right, you’re right. Hair isn’t everything, but it’s also so bad in this film that it’s almost a secondary character. Aidan Turner looks like he got into some fun with smelling salts and accidentally knocked some bleach over onto just one single tuft of his lovely dark curls, but that is nothing on Jamie Campbell Bower, who looks as if he’s two minutes past a terrible run-in with a rake. The less said about Rhys Meyers and his stapled on braids, the better.

Lily Collins, of course, is resplendent as always; her long, brownish, auburn curls floating beautifully and framing her apple-round cheeks as she gasps and groans and simpers throughout the streets of Brooklyn, nary a strand out of place. I’m kidding, but only sort of. Lily Collins is really pleasant to look at. Last year’s Mirror, Mirror was a film I actually really enjoyed watching, despite its panning by the critics, because the sets and costume designs were magnificent, sure, but also because Lily Collins is so pretty. It’s hard to be mad when looking at somebody that striking, and to be honest, despite his unfortunate buffoonery, Armie Hammer made up for a lot too.

Unfortunately, the problems with The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones don’t begin and end with hair care. As a person obsessed with writing, dialogue and scene construction, I can tell you with absolute certainty that things happened in this movie that I just didn’t get. Threads were begun that had no resolution, actions had no retribution, and at its base level, it felt as though the film had no stakes.

Who cares if Valentine gets the Cup? Why is he in cahoots with the demon-birds? How can Clary and Jase already be in love with they’ve known each other all of two days, and why does every line from the secondary characters sound like it’s done through terribly placed ADR?!? …oh wait, that last one might just have been me.

The pluses are few, but they should be mentioned too. Despite the near-constant buoyancy of her bouncing curls, the film wasn’t afraid to show Lilly Collins’ Clary looking like an absolute wreck. She got wet, she got dirty, she was bloodied. I always appreciate a movie that isn’t afraid to dirty up its cast of gorgeous twenty-somethings, especially considering fighting a nonsensical war between bird-masquerading demons and vampires must be an exhausting endeavor.

The Brooklyn apartment she shared with the little-used, but always wonderful Lena Headey was also lovely and genuinely convincing as the home of a down-on-her-luck artist and her of-some-age-probably-late-teens…right? daughter. I don’t know about you, but I always get taken out of a scene when the house/apartment/hovel a character is living in doesn’t sync up with their surroundings. Maybe it’s just me, but I appreciated the fact that it was small.

Honestly, though, despite the gorgeous twenty-somethings and the decent cinematography, this movie isn’t worth your money or your time. I sacrificed two hours to give you this message: All of these folks have been in much better. Go check them out in that.

11: EN PUNTAS (extracts) by Javier Pérez

A ballerina, whose pointe shoes are extended by a set of sharp kitchen knives, dances and twirls insistently until reaching exhaustion, fighting to maintain balance on the lid of a grand piano set on a stage. The theatre with its red velvet warm lighting, resembles an oversized music box. The camera turns around the dancer revealing the opposite side of the room: an empty and painfully bare theatre.

I did ballet for years. I’ve seen Black Swan and marveled and the intense concentration, dedication and, yes, severe anxiety and neurosis it brought out in Nina. I was lucky to never be plagued by those types of insecurities, but that ambivalence probably stemmed from the fact that I am short, chubby, and no one’s ideal body type for the perfect ballerina. I wasn’t going to win  the race, so I thought just being involved was pretty cool.

Believe me when I say that watching this film is like watching the all the terrifying parts of the art of dance diluted down into something so painful and frightening to watch that I definitely had to turn away more than once. I’ve also watched it 5 or 6 times since first learning of its existence, though, and it never loses its sense of fear and urgency.

10: Fruitvale Station & The Disaster Thinker Phenomenon

I’ve always been a little paranoid. Call it watching Home Alone as a child and having my older brother hide away to see how scared I’d get. Maybe it’s that I have an overactive imagination (there’s no maybe about it, I do have an overactive imagination), but I’m never truly comfortable unless all my loved ones are accounted for. As a kid, I wouldn’t be able to sleep unless both my siblings and my parents were in the house.

Yeah, I was real fun.

My neuroses have only been exacerbated by the tragedies that have hit our country in the last few years. One of the perks of having an overactive imagination is the sense of place it gives me. I remember exactly where I was when we learned about Columbine. About 9/11. Certainly Aurora, and the recent horrors of Newtown and the Boston Bombings. I only mention it, because I remember where I was when I heard about the Oscar Grant shooting, and I remember the feeling of being hollowed from the inside out. I couldn’t grasp the concept that a kid not too much younger than me had been shot and killed for no reason at all.

I have a long standing belief that the pictures in my head are only as good as what I can imagine. I like to be surprised. I’m never going to hate on a movie for not being as good or as vivid as the book, because the movie always fills in a gap for me that the book couldn’t. I wanted to see Fruitvale because I wanted to understand it. A month later, and I still don’t. I’ve listened to podcasts and read articles about it. I’ve had spirited debates with friends. I’ve woken up imagining the pierce of a gunshot wound and what it would be like to lose a lover or a friend like that.

If this were a real film criticism blog, maybe I’d be able to speak about the symbolism of the dog, and the blood on Oscar’s shirt. I’d delve into the cinematic choice of the fireworks and T asking her daddy whether he’d be safe. As it is, though, this movie was exactly what I needed it to be. The cast was exemplary. Octavia Spencer always wows, but the scenes between Jordan and Diaz were what caught and stayed in my attention. It’s somewhat of a cliche to talk about how real a performance was, but even with just this small glimpse — even with just a day in these characters lives, I believed it.

I believed in them, and in that moment, Oscar Grant was no longer a news story to me, if he ever had been. He wasn’t like one of those nameless soldiers whose entire existence, for strangers, gets distilled down to death toll statistics. There’s a certain transportative power that a really good movie can have. I’m not breaking new ground, but I think Fruitvale, for its faults, genuinely did.

“It takes thirty days to make a habit,” Oscar narrates as the film begins, and it’s a quote that I’ve thought almost every day since. I wonder if it’s true. I wonder what that time could have changed for him. I wonder what it will change in me.

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9: Tatiana Maslany is Awesome! (No One is Surprised)

When I get around to finishing Orphan Black — soon? Let’s say soon, because that shit is good — I’ll write a post about how great and campy and interesting and captivating I think it is. I could do that now, I guess, but I don’t have all the details.

What I do know is this: Tatiana Maslany is exemplary in everything I’ve happened to see her in, but especially in this tiny little indie called Picture Day. I saw mention of it on Hulu a few months ago and was instantly captivated.

I can’t wait to see what she does on Parks!