Jun 05

“First Reformed”: Body/Mind/Soul Collisions

Ariston Anderson, Filmmaker Magazine, briefly describes the plot of Paul Schrader‘s First Reformedfor what it’s worth, a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes: “Ethan Hawke stars as a former military chaplain, Toller, who can’t get over the death of his son. When he meets a radical environmental activist, Michael (Philip Ettinger), he doubts both his faith and his purpose in life. After Michael’s suicide, Toller finds a connection with Michael’s young widow, Mary, played by Amanda Seyfried.”

Alex Arabian, Film Inquiry: “Toller puts on a brave front, but still suffers from his son’s death, so he drinks heavily. However, this is ill-advised, as he suffers from some form of advanced cancer. He decides to write longhand in a diary for a year.”

More about Toller’s character from director Schrader himself: “This guy has a sickness that Kierkegaard called a sickness unto death — a lack of hope, despair, angst. This sickness has manifestations. The cloth of the clergy is one, the diary is another, the alcohol is another, and finally the environment is a manifestation of his soul sickness. So he grafts this cause onto himself — in fact, picks it up as a kind of virus from another person. But if it weren’t the environment, it would be something else.”

About Toller’s emerging “environmentalist obsessions” Greg Cwik (Slant) notes, “It’s as if the dead man has been reborn within Toller, as if Toller has found a new, invigorated faith, a fervid and politicized one. Suicide is, for strict Augustine Christians, a sin, unforgivable as the dead cannot confess, unless one is labeled a martyr, like Samson. Yet Toller begins to see in death the possibility for new life.”

See the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Eric Kohn, Indiewire: “As a priest who may or may not be losing his mind, Hawke provides a compelling anchor for Schrader’s surprisingly effective religious-themed film.”

Justin Chang, NPR: “First Reformed is a stunner, a spiritually probing work of art with the soul of a thriller, realized with a level of formal control and fierce moral anger that we seldom see in American movies.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “‘First Reformed’ is the kind of film that will stay with you long after the credits.”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “An embittered look at our world through the eyes of someone who’s increasingly horrified to be a part of it, and a film that’s one of the most searing experiences of the year.”

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

Part of the movie’s understated triumph lies in its casting: Hawke is an actor who clearly cares, and worries, a lot–the tree of life is practically etched into his forehead. As the hyperconscientious Toller, he conveys both the selfishness and the true anguish of people who just can’t let go of their own pain. But he also offers a shred of hope in the idea that in the end, caring too much might be just the thing that saves us.

Aug 09

“Maudie”: How Her Folk Art Bloomed from Within

 ...(A) story of art rising from adversity. Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail, about Maudie

Director Aisling Walsh‘s Maudie was inspired by the true story of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who lived with a form of progressively debilitating arthritis and struggled to find love, independence, and inner peace.

A few brief descriptions of the portrayal of Maudie:

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “Sally Hawkins turns a crumpled misfit into an affecting figure of fortitude and optimism…”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Hawkins plays her as always possessing a kind of coy, rueful smile, but it’s one that betrays a hardscrabble life marked by trauma and abuse.”

Thelma Adams, New York Observer: “…an obscure figure who couldn’t stop her arthritic fingers from painting the world around her in vibrant colors on whatever surface she could access, from walls and windows to boards and post cards.”

Early in the film’s timeline we learn that Maudie has lost both her parents to death and has been abandoned by her only sibling. When she abruptly leaves the home of her unwelcoming aunt, Maudie is in dire need of a job and place to live. She applies to be a live-in maid to Everett (Ethan Hawke), the “crabby, orphanage-raised, antisocial misfit who makes what passes for a living peddling fish and chopped wood” (Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter).

For various reasons, their challenging coexistence quickly evolves into a marriage; their challenging marriage gradually evolves, over the course of many years, into a deeper, though awkward, love.

Watch the trailer below:

Maudie and Everett

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “Despite his meager circumstances, grumpy Everett makes it clear Maud rates only third in importance in the household, after his dogs and chickens.”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Maud and Everett Lewis’s relationship can be tough to watch—he’s at times plainly abusive (physically and emotionally), and at other times hurtful and dismissive.”

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times:

Between Everett’s blunt insistence on traditional gender roles and Maud’s patient long-game to blur those lines and fill the space with who she is — literally too, since their painted house is now on display at an art gallery in Halifax — ‘Maudie’ is like a charmingly cracked domestic play about waiting the other person out. As she blossoms — just enough, not too much — he grunts and softens, just enough, not too much. Unlike the thick directness in Maud’s work, the movie about her is almost pointillist in detailing the tiny steps that make up an enduring marriage.

Selected Reviews

David Sims, The Atlantic: “This is neither a forgettable biopic nor a piece of shameless Oscar-bait; it’s a film that feels no need to make easy judgments about its subject, or any vague assumptions about the origins and meaning of her work.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

How much of it is true…remains unclear; certainly the movie deviates sharply in sweep and detail from some accounts…
Like many screen biographies, ‘Maudie’ vacillates unsteadily between the brute realities of a difficult existence and its palatable imagery. The movie doesn’t erase the hard edges of Lewis’s life. Instead, it attenuates them — a brutal slap across the face, you suspect, stands in for more instances of physical abuse — and casts many of Maud and Everett’s difficulties as personal ordeals, playing down the institutional forces, like an orphanage, that discreetly hover in the background. There’s an argument to be made against such softening, though, as Lewis’s work suggests, there’s something necessary about the fantasies we make of our lives as we spin beauty and hope from despair.

Thelma Adams, New York Observer:

Maudie celebrates the capacity to appreciate the world that lies framed within a window, to see the cruel beauty of the everyday and transform it into art. This wedding of craft and imagination also describes Walsh’s textured filmmaking, connecting frame after frame of gorgeous vistas to an emotionally rich female-driven narrative about art’s healing power and the potential for redemption in everyday acts of grace.

Jul 18

“Maggie’s Plan”? Or Be More Direct?

Hypothetical situation (for you, but part of the setup of film Maggie’s Plan): You are a single adult female and want a child, so you try inseminating sperm from an acquaintance. Around the same time you fall in love with a married man. He leaves his wife and has a child with you. After a few years you’re not happy. Do you:

A) Tell him you are not happy and process this together.

B) Consider marriage counseling.

C) Consider a separation or divorce.

D) Reach out to his ex-wife and see if she’ll take him back.

In Rebecca Miller‘s charming Maggie’s Plan, it’s the latter. Maggie (Greta Gerwig), considered by some a “control freak,” marries John (Ethan Hawke), who’d been with Georgette (Julianne Moore) when they met. Friends of Maggie include couple Tony and Felicia (Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph).

The trailer:

Although my theoretical non-therapist self went along for the ride of Maggie’s Plan and enjoyed it, my therapist self reserves the right to suggest that in real life the A, B, or C responses above might constitute a better plan. On the other hand, my therapist self also knows these same responses are not the road always taken. Not only that, B and C can’t be effectively performed without a well-honed A skill, often lacking.

A: Being Direct

Veering away from directness is a common tendency in emotionally fraught situations. Therapist Joyce Marter (Huffington Post) on the healthier way to go: “Being direct and assertive involves being honest and genuine while remaining appropriate, diplomatic and respectful of yourself and others. It is not passive (being a doormat or a wimp), passive-aggressive (indirect communication, like not returning calls or emails hoping somebody gets the hint) or aggressive (being hostile and rude.)”

Reasons to learn how to be more direct include, she says, valuing honesty, integrity, and respect for self and others; it “saves yourself and others time, energy and money”; and it enhances or increases intimacy.

How to be more direct (taken verbatim from Marter’s post):

  • Scan your body and check in with the feelings you are holding inside. Make sure they are congruent with what you are saying. If your feelings are too intense to speak diplomatically, give yourself a “time out” to surf the waves of your feelings before opening your mouth.
  • Before speaking, take Shirdi Sai Baba’s advice and ask yourself first, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” This will help you keep your ego in check and stop you from saying destructive things out of anger.
  • Keep it simple. Concise, clear, and brief is always better.
  • Speak in terms of “I” rather than “you” (“I need more physical affection” rather than “You don’t show me enough affection.”)
  • Focus on the behavior, rather than the person (“I need you to let me know when you’re running late because I worry” rather than “You are an insensitive ass.”)
  • Avoid “always” and “never” as they often are embellishments and will weaken your point.
  • Avoid triangulation and becoming triangulated by speaking directly to the source and not putting somebody else or yourself in the middle.
  • Choose to love yourself by saying, “no” as needed. Don’t over promise or over extend.

B: Marriage Counseling

In order to go the route of couples therapy, it has to be suggested by one partner first, of course, which requires direct communication. A couple key things one might strive to get across are ways your relationship could benefit and willingness to do your own changing.

C: Separation Or Divorce

If marriage counseling either doesn’t happen or doesn’t work, one or both partners might want to consider separation or divorce, in which case individual therapy can be helpful toward processing this possibility and/or figuring out how to take the needed steps.

Jul 11

“Boyhood” Film Follows 12 Real Years

Boyhood follows the development of a young man within his family and environment over the course of 12 real years, a unique way to film a non-documentary. To pull this off, in fact, director Richard Linklater took quite the gamble that all his actors would remain available over this period.

The boy in question is Mason (Ellar Coltrane). His parents are played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. In addition, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei makes her acting debut playing Mason’s sister Samantha.

Although the film clocks in at 164 minutes, the critics don’t seem to mind—they’ve actually been heaping high praise.

THE PLOT

Peter Howell, Toronto Star: “Boyhood is a narrative drama, but it unfolds like documentary truth. Coltrane plays a Texas boy named Mason who is trying to grow up normally in a family tested by divorce, alcoholism and other life stresses.”

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “…Boyhood is an epic about the ordinary: growing up, the banality of family life, and forging an identity. Everything here has been seen in movies and on television countless times before — marital spats, a divorced dad trying to connect with kids he sporadically sees, teenagers acting out, parents having to let go — but perhaps never has the long arc of the journey from childhood to college been portrayed as cohesively and convincingly as Richard Linklater has done in a film that can be plain on a moment-to-moment basis but is something quite special in its entirety.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Everything and nothing happens over the course of Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood.’”

Take a peek at the trailer:

THE PARENTS

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

They’re a couple who got married too young and have already hit Splitsville by the time we meet them, and both people are flawed and complicated characters for whom we feel immense compassion. Mason Sr. is in most respects a better dad than the sequence of abusive, alcoholic husbands Olivia tries out later, but he’s also an irresponsible GTO-driving Peter Pan type, who wants all the most dramatic parts of fatherhood without putting in the work. Our sympathy flows most naturally toward Olivia, an undeniably heroic single mom with a pattern of dubious decision-making. Part questing spirit and part nesting instinct, she keeps pushing her kids around the Lone Star State in search of an elusive dream of normalcy and stability, before understanding she must create and define those things for herself.

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Whenever Olivia finds a decent man, she marries him, until such time that his temper becomes too much to bear. The first of these separations brings dramatic fireworks early in the film, rendered all the more intense by the fact that Mason and Samantha are forced to leave their new siblings behind with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather (Marco Perella).”

RESILIENCE OF THE KIDS

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “With all the geographic, educational, parental and emotional adjustments Mason and Samantha are forced to make, they do pretty well, all things considered…With all the childhood traumas, extreme behavior and tragedies that have been depicted in both narrative and documentary films over the last couple of decades, it’s both bracing and refreshing to see more normal (if far from ideal) youthful experience represented in such a nonmelodramatic and credible way.”