God Knows Where I Am


Some of the beautiful imagery used in the film.

(2016) Documentary (BOND360) Joan Bishop, Lori Singer (voice), Caitlin Murtagh, Kathy White, Brian Smith, Matthew Nelson, Doug Bixby, Lora Goss, Wayne DiGeronimo, Stephanie Savard, Judith E. Kolada, Paul Appelbaum, Kevin Carbone, James E. Duggan, Thomas Scarlato, E. Fuller Torrey, Jennie Duval. Directed by Jedd Wider and Todd Wider

 

In 2008, the decomposing body of a woman was discovered in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Her shoes were neatly at her side. Nearby two notebooks full of journal entries told the tale of her stay in the farmhouse. She was identified as Linda Bishop, a woman diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder who had walked out of a New Hampshire mental hospital and walked to the farmhouse where she would die of starvation.

This film by veteran documentary producers Jedd and Todd Wider, a brother team best known for their work with Alex Gibney, utilized Bishop’s own words from her journals (spoken by actress Lori Singer) as well as interviews with her sister Joan, her daughter Caitlin, her close friend Kathy as well as psychiatric and medical professionals that treated her, the police officer and medical examiner working her case as well as the Judge who committed her.

The Wider brothers choose to build a story, slowly adding details that complete the picture. We meet Linda as a young woman, charismatic and full of life. We discover her love for the outdoors and nature, and discover that she’s smart, articulate and knowledgeable about the world around her. She gets married, has a daughter, gets divorced but is by all accounts a wonderful mother who is virtually inseparable from her daughter who adores her.

And then the mental illness begins to rear its ugly head. A job as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant is quit because she believes the Chinese mafia is out to get her. This prompts the first of several relocations with her puzzled daughter. Soon it becomes apparent that Linda is incapable of caring for herself, much less her daughter. Caitlin is sent to live with relatives and Linda alternates between lucidity and delusion, depending on how vigilant she is in taking her medication. The problem is that Linda doesn’t believe that she’s ill; as her paranoia deepens, she begins to believe that Joan, one of the last advocates that she has, is out to get her pittance of an inheritance left to her when her dad had passed away. For that reason, Linda refuses to allow Joan power of guardianship, a crucial event which essentially blocks Linda and the rest of the family from getting much of any information about Linda’s care and treatment at all. They aren’t even notified when she’s released. As a result, nobody notices she’s gone while she’s slowly wasting away on a diet mainly of apples she’s picked in the woods and rain water. By that time, Linda had alienated her daughter and her own friends. Only Joan still stood by her and one gets the sense that it was a burden for her.

The movie originated in a story in The New Yorker written by Rachel Aviv who is a producer on the documentary. It is a poignant tale and for the most part it is told well here. The filmmakers for some reason decide to leave some crucial information out – doubtlessly to make it more impactful when it is revealed near the very end of the movie – but I don’t think they’re successful in that matter. We mostly can guess who “Steve” is and his role in the story and as he s mentioned many, many times in Linda’s journal, it gets a bit frustrating.

The cinematography here is absolutely breathtaking. Gerardo Puglia fills the screen with bucolic farmhouses, still winter landscapes and beautifully lit apple trees at sunset. Singer who most will remember from the 1984 version of Footloose reads Bishop’s words with extraordinary depth and even the thick New England landscape does nothing to rob Bishop of her character.

The title is an ironic one; it is taken directly from Linda’s journals in which it is used as an expression of faith. Linda knows that God is aware of her; He knows where she is and will take care of her in the end. However, it can also be construed to be an expression of being lost and there are few souls who were more lost than Linda Bishop was.

The filmmakers very much believe that the mental health care system in this country is badly broken and in all honesty it’s hard to argue with them. In our zeal to protect the rights of the patient we sometimes forget that they often are unable to make informed decisions on their own. The tale of Linda Bishop is a sad one; even in her last days she had a sense of humor and a bluntness that is refreshing and one can only wonder what she would have been like had she continued to take her meds. There’s one certain thing she would have been had she done so – alive.

REASONS TO GO: The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. The story is truly heartbreaking.
REASONS TO STAY: The identity of Steve, who is mentioned throughout, is withheld until the very end which gets frustrating.
FAMILY VALUES: The theme, having to do with mental illness, is adult.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won a special jury award at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto last year.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil and Daniel Johnston
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: For Here or to Go?

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Death Note (Desu noto)


It's a bishop. No, it's a rook...

It’s a bishop. No, it’s a rook…

(2006) Horror (Viz) Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Asaka Seto, Shigeki Hosokawa, Erika Toda, Shunji Fujimura, Takeshi Kaga, Yu Kashii, Shido Nakamura (voice), Sota Aoyama, Ikuji Nakamura, Norman England, Shin Shimuzu, Masahiko Tsugawa, Miyuki Komatsu, Hikari Mitsushima, Tatsuhito Okuda, Yoji Tanaka, Michiko Godai. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, what would the power of life and death do? How long would you be able to retain your humanity if you could kill with the stroke of a pen?

That’s what law student Light Yagami (Fujiwara) receives when he finds a notebook. Disgusted after overhearing a criminal in a bar brag about having gotten away with murder, he has lost faith in the justice system of Japan. However, when he discovers the notebook, he discovers it has a specific power; that anyone whose name he writes in the notebook and whose face he can picture will die in the method and at the time he specifies; if he fails to specify a time and method the person whose name is written will die of a heart attack within minutes.

After a couple of tests prove the notebook is genuine, Light is visited by the book’s previous owner, a Shinigami (a Japanese god of death) named Ryuk. Ryuk is 9-feet-tall, eats apples and has a dry sense of humor. He resembles a Peter Max drawing of a Blue Meanie, only he’s more of  White Gothie.

Light resolves to rid Japan of her criminal element and begins killing off criminals. As the police notice the epidemic of criminal deaths, Light’s own father (Kaga) heads up the investigation of the deaths which they believe are the work of a mastermind named Kira. Light is at first amused by this but as his father brings in the world’s most brilliant detective, a mysterious figure known only as L (Matsuyama) who turns out to be even younger than Light. Now the two will go head to head, each trying to discover the other’s identity. The closer L gets, the more Light begins to change and lose more and more of his humanity. Which one will win out in the end?

This is based on one of Japan’s most successful manga (the Japanese comic book) which in turn became a hit anime (animated feature). This, a live-action movie (which came out the same year as the anime as well as a live-action sequel to this movie) was a massive hit, showing just how popular this particular manga was.

The premise is a bit complicated but once you get it, it’s wickedly clever. I also found the acting to be pretty good, considering that the movie is the equivalent of a Swamp Thing movie. Ryuk is essentially a digital creation, and quite frankly although the character itself is interesting and brings quite a bit of comic relief, there are unintentional laughs because it simply looks and moves in a ludicrous manner. Even the apple-eating gag gets old after awhile.

Now, I understand that realism isn’t going to be a strong point in a movie about  a death god giving a death dealing notebook to a law student, it simply stretched believability beyond the breaking point in making “L”, the smartest most successful detective on Earth, a teenager. Of course, the movie is meant pretty much for teenagers but for the rest of us, a big fat raspberry for that move. It just brings the movie to a grinding halt.

Despite its faults, this is a wildly entertaining and fun couple of hours. Kaneko does an excellent job of keeping the tension at a high level throughout. While there are supernatural horror elements to the movie, the truth is that this is more of a tragedy as we watch Light with the best of intentions and best of hearts slowly and inexorably slide down the path of corruption and arrogance as his God-like powers of life and death begin to erode his soul. It’s a fascinating and sad process that kept my interest high from beginning to end. How do you like them apples?

WHY RENT THIS: Ingenious premise. Well-acted. Very suspenseful.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Ryuk effect is a bit cheesy. An older actor for “L” would have worked better.

FAMILY VALUES: The subject matter is a bit on the adult side. Some of the deaths are violent.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers got permission to reserve a subway train and line to film a crucial scene, something that the Tokyo government hadn’t ever done before.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a director’s interview split over several parts. The extras menu is graphically designed as a group of apples floating on the screen. While the apples remain in the same position, the extra feature that each apple represents changes randomly so that one minute it might be a trailer for the anime version, the next part three of the director interview. It’s different but annoying after awhile..

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $42.9M on an unknown production budget; while nearly all of the box office was from Asia, the movie was undoubtedly a blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Drop Dead Fred

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Mother’s Day

Craigslist Joe


Craigslist Joe

Joseph Garner needs all the help he can get if he’s going to make it through 30 days.

(2012) Documentary (CLJ) Joseph Garner, Gina Keatley, Fran McGee, Kristos Andrews, 357 Magnumm, Craig Newmark. Directed by Joseph Garner

 

For better or for worse, our lives have become dominated by the Internet, most prevalently in young people; say under 30 for now, although those on the north side of 30 are also plenty engaged by social networking, online auctions, web surfing and of course porn perusing. Much of our purchasing is done through websites rather than through traditional brick and mortar retail stores and sevices.

One of the more useful websites that has emerged from the dot com explosion is Craigslist. It has become the equivalent of the village marketplace. Not only are goods exchanged, but services as well. People meet on Craigslist and develop meaningful relationships. It’s like a classified ad section, bulletin board and social networking site all in one. There are many people who spend a good part of their days scanning the simply designed pages of Craigslist looking for things to do, places to go, apartments to rent, people to meet and well, just about everything.

Joseph Garner, a young 20-something filmmaker from Los Angeles noticed just how important Craigslist had become in our lives. With that in mind, he decided to film an experiment. He would leave his home with no money, a backpack full of clothes, no job, no transportation and only a laptop and a cell phone with a new number that he didn’t give to his friends or family, as well as a new e-mail account that he also didn’t give to friends or family. Thus armed, he set out.

For 30 days in December 2008, he meant to live off of whatever he could find on Craigslist. He’d exchange work and volunteering in exchange for food, transportation and shelter. He would travel wherever he could find rides to. In essence, he’d be living off the charity of others. When times are hard, often generosity shrivels up as people go into self-survival mode. In that kind of environment, can a young white man possibly find kindness?

Well, yes. I’ve always believed that people are inherently good and will help someone in need when they can. In Garner’s case, he was experiencing it directly and there are times that he is genuinely moved by it. While critics have brought up with some legitimacy that the presence of a cameraman might have urged some to be more generous than they might have been otherwise, a lot of kindnesses are volunteered over the phone with people unaware that they are going to be part of a documentary at the time.

Garner travels from L.A. to Seattle, from Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to New York, New York to Tallahassee, Tallahassee to New Orleans, New Orleans to Houston (with a stop in Juarez, Mexico) and Houston to San Francisco to meet Craigslist founder Craig Newmark who has long espoused the principal that people are generally kind and willing to help out their fellow man, which has come a long way from a mailing list for Bay Area computer professionals with events, seminars, and job opportunities.

Garner is a sweet-natured young man with a naive veneer that puts one at ease; certainly his attitude promoted kindness. One wonders though if he had been a young African-American male with a rapper vocabulary if he would have had the same success. Maybe Spike Lee could act as producer for a young filmmaker from the African-American community to try the same experiment (comedian Zach Galifianakis was a producer for Craigslist Joe).

There are some moments that will get to you; one that I’ll remember vividly for a long time to come is an encounter in New York with a former actress who appeared in such films as Home Alone 2 and now lives as a hoarder with emotional and possibly mental issues. She offered Garner a place to stay and he helped organize her apartment so that she could move around it more easily. She hadn’t requested that he do it but the act so moved her that she broke down and opened up about her fears and her life to Garner; it was obvious he was moved as well.

Near the end of the film, when Garner returns home from the experience much thinner, wiser and a little humbled by his experience, he tried to tell his mother what he learned and chokes up when he talks about how he found generosity of spirit still alive in this country. I found myself getting misty as well.

It is an election year and the vitriol is flowing like it is coming from Niagra Falls. As the Democrats rant against the Republicans, the Republicans rage against the Democrats and the independents remonstrate against everybody, it’s easy to believe that the milk of human kindness is in short supply. Craigslist Joe on the surface is not an important film; it’s a tale of a single journey among many and the lives that it touched. It would be a mistake to underestimate it though; to my way of thinking, it is very important to remember that people are not always douchebags and that we are still capable of making the world a better place – one act of random kindness at a time.

REASONS TO GO: Uplifting and inspirational in places. Garner is an engaging personality.

REASONS TO STAY: Presence of cameraman probably skewed the humanity quotient more than a little.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words, some drinking and smoking and some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second documentary film in which Craigslist played a significant part; the first was 24 Hours on Craigslist (2005).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews (officially no score as there aren’t enough reviews in on the film yet). Metacritic: 45/100. The reviews are not good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Into the Wild

ROAD TRIP LOVERS: Joe’s travels take him from L.A to Seattle to Chicago to New York to New Orleans to Houston and back to L.A, essentially touching on nearly every region in the country.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Dry Land