Archive for May, 2009

Grizzly Man & Rachel Getting Married

Monday, May 18th, 2009—Film

Grizzly Man (USA 2005, Documentary/Biography), Writer/Director: Werner Herzog

Rachel Getting Married (USA 2008, Drama/Romance), Writer: Jenny Lumet; Director: Jonathan Demme

Two quick write-ups of movies I saw last year that are wonderful and should be at the top of your rental lists.

Grizzly Man is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, the grizzly bear enthusiast who spent over a dozen summers living among the bears until one fatally attacked him in 2003. This is by far one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen. I was brought to tears more than once.

Critics of the film have attacked Treadwill for abusing the animals by invading their space, and for showing tremendous arrogance in thinking he could cross nature’s boundaries. Those points might be more relevant if Grizzly Man were a documentary about grizzly bears. But it’s not. It’s a fascinating character study of a troubled man who took solace in animals when he couldn’t relate to society.

Using footage shot by Treadwell himself, visionary writer/director Werner Herzog takes us into Treadwell’s world and paints a picture of a lonely, delusional man who projected his own feelings onto the wild animals. Herzog has a gift for tampering with conventional filmmaking to create unique, special movies, and he more than delivers with Grizzly Man. I was blown away by what Herzog revealed simply by allowing Treadwell to contradict himself. The director didn’t abuse voiceover to pound his message home. Instead, he let Treadwell unveil his mind and expose his failings and complexities.

One of the best examples of Treadwell’s delusion comes when he finds a bee perched motionless on a branch. With great anguish, he ponders the tragedy of the bee’s presumed death. Seconds later, when the bee takes flight, Treadwell finds great delight in the miracle that the bee is still alive. It’s so obvious that the bond he’s formed with nature has little, if anything, to do with the creatures themselves and almost everything to do with Treadwell’s needs.

Throughout Grizzly Man, the childlike Treadwell comes across as emotionally handicapped. In one of the film’s more personal moments, Treadwell laments that women don’t seem to understand him, and even goes so far as to say he wishes he were gay because women are so hard to get over. There’s an obvious disconnect from reality—or at least the reality that most of us can agree on.

In one scene, Treadwell sobs that the bears are “so fucked over.” But it’s clear he’s really crying for himself. He’s like a little boy desperate for love and approval, still clinging to the stuffed bear that brought him comfort as a child. Tragically for Treadwell, he continued to live in an imagined reality well into adulthood. He found love and devotion in the bears’ eyes, where others saw only detachment and the inevitability of what was to come.

Rachel Getting Married is another film from a director who isn’t afraid of taking risks. He’s shown his versatility by tackling a range of different films (Silence of the Lambs, Beloved), and with the documentary-style Rachel Getting Married, he shows his talent for naturalism.

The film follows Kym (Anne Hathaway) as she takes a break from rehab to attend her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. This is family dysfunction at its best. You truly feel like a guest at the wedding, invited to glimpse the baggage as it’s unpacked—sometimes tidily, other times hurled around the room at breakneck speed. But there are also lovely, fun, happy moments, like the competitive dishwasher-loading scene.

Several years ago, Anne Hathaway became one of the actors I’d see a movie for, and Rachel Getting Married definitely solidifies that. The movie is full of wonderful performances, but it’s Hathaway who grounds—and steals—the show.

I highly recommend this one. My only (minor) complaint is that I wasn’t left with a strong feeling after the movie ended. Like a real wedding, it’s easy to get caught up in the mood while watching it. But in the end, I’m not sure I took too much away from it. Still, it’s a moving, convincing experience while it lasts. And you can be grateful that, at the end of the night, you get to go home to a family with a lot less baggage. Well, in some cases, anyway. 😉

One Week

Monday, May 18th, 2009—Film

One Week (Canada 2009, Drama), Writer/Director: Michael McGowan

“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”

That line closes the film One Week, the latest feature from Saint Ralph writer/director Michael McGowan, and it sums up what seems to be a major theme for McGowan. Both One Week and Saint Ralph follow male protagonists who persevere in the face of obstacles—most notably, oppressive authority figures. But unlike Ralph, whose spirit appears virtually unbreakable and keeps him from veering off course, One Week’s Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson) takes a much longer route to reach his final destination.

The film begins with Ben learning he has terminal cancer. His initial reaction is relief that he doesn’t have to continue his job or go through with a wedding to Samantha (Liane Balaban). In Ben’s words, rejection beat the creativity out of him and he’s been sleepwalking through life ever since. His Grade 4 teacher silenced his singing ambitious by maliciously telling him he had a dreadful voice. A Little League coach shamed him out of daydreaming. He gave up on his ambition of becoming a writer when his first book wasn’t promptly picked up.

For Ben, the news of his illness is an opportunity to step back and figure out what he really wants. That step back takes the form of a solo motorcycle ride across Canada—from Toronto, Ontario to Tofino, BC. Along the way, Ben meets a series of people who help him waken from his daze and figure out what really matters to him.

One Week isn’t as smooth a ride for me as Saint Ralph. But it shares with the film sincerity and a sense of humour, and there are enough heartfelt moments to buoy One Week and make it, on the whole, more than worthwhile.

Something else that endears me to the film is McGowan’s clear and unabashed love for Canada and its music. Canuck musicians Gord Downie and Emm Gryner have cameos in the film, and the entire soundtrack is Canadian. One Week pays such a loving tribute to music that I’m tempted to sprinkle this post with song lyrics. That would be a little too hokey, I think. But the fact that so many lyrics spring to mind speaks to how universal the film’s themes are: What is the price of not living your dream? How many of us are settling for a career, a partner, a life that is less than what we long for? How much can repressing your spirit poison your body?

If One Week doesn’t have quite the same magic as Saint Ralph, maybe that goes hand-in-hand with making a film about adulthood as opposed to childhood. Ultimately, One Week shows that the boy—the dreamer—is still alive in Ben, even if he takes the long way to finding him.

Moon – Teaser

Friday, May 8th, 2009—Film

Moon (UK 2009, Sci-Fi/Thriller), Writers: Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker; Director: Duncan Jones

Moon isn’t scheduled for wide release until July, but I can’t wait that long to post about it. I’m so excited to see this movie! Check out the trailer; it’s haunting. And especially exciting for me given that I’m in the process of finalizing the content for Astrorocket, my new children’s book about space travel.

The Moon trailer says it all, so I won’t get into a plot summary. I can’t wait to see it because of the fantastic mood created in the trailer, the subject matter (space has always completely blown my mind, and the more I think and learn about it, the less I can believe it… it’s too big to fit inside one mind) and the talent. Lead actor Sam Rockwell has been involved in some pretty interesting work (Basquiat, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind).

Also, Moon looks unique and ballsy. I’m always drawn to movies that take risks, like a sci-fi that revolves around one person in isolation, and relies on intelligence rather than falling back on special effects.

Check out this interview with writer/director Duncan Jones, in which he talks about the response Moon got at a recent NASA screening (among other things). And keep Moon on your horizon! I’ll definitely post about it once I see it.