To Kid or Not to Kid


Maxine Trump and Megan Turner share a moment.

(2018) Documentary (Helpman) Maxine Trump, Megan Turner, Josh Granger, Karen Malone Wright, Marcia Drut-Davis, Jane Kevers, Douglas Stein, Mandy Harvey, Tim Belcher, Victoria Elder, Juniper Melnicoff, Andy Williams, Lesley Melnicoff, Leon Wojciechowski, Dutch Yardley, Cynthia Yardley, Dawn Bowker, Bryan Caplan, Dina Ibarra. Directed by Maxine Trump

Motherhood is a central facet of a woman’s life. Biological imperatives aside, women have been socially assigned a nurturing role, one traditionally associated with child-rearing. For most women, having children is a central part of their existence. It was what they were born to do.

But that isn’t the case for all women. Recent studies have shown that one out of five women over the age of forty are childless. Some of that percentage has to do with infertility, but for many women, children just aren’t a part of the picture. Having babies may not fit in with career and life goals.

As filmmaker Maxine Trump (no relation to the President) discovered, there is a stigma attached to being childless when you’re a woman, particularly once you get married. There’s always family pressure: “When are you going to have a baby,” “When are you going to make me a grandma,” when when when. For Maxine, she wasn’t sure what the answer to that question was. That answer might truly turn out to be “never.”

Being a filmmaker, Maxine decided to turn the camera on herself as she went in search of an answer to that very important question – whether or not she wanted to have kids. In Maxine’s case, there were some compelling arguments against; surgeries when she had been younger had left doctors warning her that it was likely that she wouldn’t be able to bring a baby to term initially and that she would have to suffer through several miscarriages before successfully giving birth, which alone would be enough to give anybody pause.

Maxine also values her freedom to pursue her career, and being a filmmaker doesn’t mix terribly well with raising children as she is often called upon to shoot in all sorts of places around the world, some which you wouldn’t want to take a child to. Pursuing that dream was more a part of her identity as traditional female roles were.

It’s not that Maxine hates kids – she has plenty of nieces, nephews and other children around her and she’s more than happy to be around them. It’s just the drastic change in lifestyle wasn’t one that she wanted to make…but at the same time, there was that biological urge nagging at her, telling her that her clock was ticking ever onward and that her window of opportunity to be a mother was shrinking fast. What would her final decision be?

Well, the answer will be much more obvious to viewers I think than it was to Maxine herself. She dithers for much of the movie, often breaking down into tears which she claims at one point that she doesn’t do but by that time she had already done so several times. The question is clearly one that is eating her alive, not the least of which is that if she should choose to be childless she felt it would cost her friendships and relationships. It had already cost her a close friend who had gotten into an argument with her over whether it was selfish or not to have kids (or not to have them) and the two hadn’t spoken in years because of it.

On the selfishness question, incidentally, I need to weigh in since the question is brought up several times during the movie. It is selfish to have children, of course it is. It is also selfish not to have them. So what? What does it matter? It is selfish to eat because in taking in sustenance we are killing a living thing, be it plant or animal. It is selfish to breathe because we expel carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and in our own small way contribute to global warming. In some things, it is okay to be selfish. We have got to stop apologizing for existing as a culture. It’s okay to be a part of the human race and to want to have kids – or not. It truly isn’t anybody’s business.

This is clearly Maxine’s movie and this is a chronicle of her journey. There are times when her conflict felt a little bit managed in order to give the film some dramatic conflict, but in the end I don’t think that it actually was. There were some points that got pounded away a bit which felt a bit like nagging but perhaps I’m just sensitive to such things.

The movie also follows the quest of 20-something Brit Megan Turner who is attempting to get surgically sterilized. She has no desire to have kids and is concerned that if she continues to be sexually active that she will accidentally get pregnant. There is some resistance from the National Health Service to perform such a surgery without a medical reason; she is continually counseled by doctors to think over her decision since it isn’t reversible once the surgery is performed. At the end of the movie, Megan still awaits the surgery she has been seeking for more than three years.

It’s apparent that the goal for Maxine was to inform other women undergoing the same anguish she herself felt that it is okay to have these needs and to not want to have kids. It doesn’t make her – or they – any less of a woman despite the social backlash. It may be a bit of a primer in places but she does raise valid questions and tries to give valid answers. Not everyone will be able to get past their own ingrained preconceptions about women who choose to be childless and this movie simply won’t work for them. However, for those women out there who are questioning whether or not to have children, this is a good place to start looking for arguments on the side of “not to kid.”

REASONS TO GO: Some valid questions are raised here.
REASONS TO STAY: At times, it felt a bit like it was rehashing territory already covered.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Two years after attending her first Childless by Choice conference in Cleveland, Trump would become a featured speaker at the annual event
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/19/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Good Life
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Jonathan

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The Other Kids


Even the other kids gotta blow-dry.

Even the other kids gotta blow-dry.

(2016) Drama (CB Films) Savannah Bailey, Hunter Gilmore, Kai Kellerman, Sienna Lampi, Natasha Lombardi, Joe McGee, Isaac Sanchez, Abby Stewart. Directed by Chris Brown

Florida Film Festival 2016

High school, according to Hollywood, is a party. Everyone is cool, or popular or both. Guys are studly, girls are gorgeous and everyone gets laid. We form deep friendships that last a lifetime and eventually graduate and move on to a great life.

For most of us, our high school experiences are a bit different. Sure, the popular kids exist and they seem to sail right through (and that in itself is a myth). Then there are the other kids.

You know the ones. The ones that don’t fit in. The ones that never get invited to parties. The ones who sit by themselves at lunch. The ones that are too busy working to socialize. These are the kids who caught filmmaker Chris Brown’s (Fanny, Annie and Danny) attention.

Brown took a handful of kids at a small Northern California town and convinced them to tell their stories. He let them develop their characters and gave them what essentially was a filmmaking crash course. The result was a mix of fact and fiction, what Brown has dubbed a “Fictumentary” which presents these teens in the manner in which they choose to be presented.

It’s a bold concept and tons of things could easily have gone wrong but happily, what has come to pass is a fascinating look into the lives of modern small town teens as they enter the final months of high school before graduation. Some have plans to continue their education; others are going right into the workplace. Some have relationships going, others are single, happily so or otherwise. Some have stable family homes, others do not.

The thing with teens is that they are not always easy to spend a lot of time with. They are learning as they go along, feeling things out; they will talk just for the sake of calling attention to themselves, making meaningless chatter rather than listening to what others might have to say. There is also the arrogance of youth, of knowing that you are young and strong, which in the eyes of youth gives you the idea that you know everything you need to already. This isn’t a dis of young people, incidentally; we all are guilty of the same mindset when we’re high school seniors and a little older. It isn’t until life has kicked us around a little bit more that we discover how ignorant we truly are.

The kids here are engaging and thankfully, interesting. There’s no doubt that they have a certain amount of screen confidence that allows them to hold your attention; none are camera shy and none are particularly awkward onscreen, although some of their native awkwardness is portrayed. Like with all teenagers, the hormones rage hard within them and the emotions can be overwhelming. Things become life and death with them, things that the gift of perspective not yet bestowed upon them might have diminished.

The big question I have here is whether or not that it would be as illuminating to simply spend time with teenagers of your acquaintance as opposed to watching this. The answer is I don’t think so; kids that age tend to be much more reserved around adults and you don’t really get the opportunity to know them as well in real life as you might here. Parents of teens or pre-teens might benefit from seeing this as it may give them insight into what their own kids are going through.

This isn’t a slam dunk by any means; anyone who has raised a teen will roll their eyes a little here at some of the things said and done. I know there were times that my own son had moments as he was growing up that affected me much the same way as nails on a chalkboard does. Those with a low tolerance for teen angst may also want to steer clear.

For everyone else, this is illuminating as much as it is entertaining. Even though we have survived our own teen years, the world of teens five, ten, twenty years removed is often as mysterious as the most remote parts of the Amazon. It’s not so much that we forget so much as we have changed. The things that made sense at 17 are no longer easily understood at 27, or 37, or 57 and the further away we drift through the years, the less it makes sense to us.

This serves as a reminder not just of who these kids are but who we were as well. I don’t think Brown, a fine filmmaker (and for the sake of transparency, a good personal friend) really expects that this will bring any sort of great understanding among the generations. What I think this film accomplishes extremely well is that it shows these young people dispassionately but also compassionately – it portrays them as real people, not just cardboard Hollywood cutouts. These are the kids who are walking past your house on the way to and from school, the ones hanging out at Mickey Ds, and the ones who are laughing at you behind your back. They’re the ones who are inheriting the world we are giving them, and at the very least we owe them some appreciation since we’ve messed it up so badly.

REASONS TO GO: Has a real documentary feel to it. A literal slice of life.
REASONS TO STAY: Spending time with teens can be aggravating.
FAMILY VALUES: Some teen sexuality and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film centers on teens attending Sonora High School in the Gold Rush country of Northern California.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Breakfast Club
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Man vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler

The Back-Up Plan


The Back-Up Plan

Jennifer Lopez shows how many times Alex O'Loughlin takes off his shirt in the movie.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (CBS) Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Melissa McCarthy, Michaela Watkins, Danneel Harris, Noureen DeWulf, Anthony Anderson, Tom Bosley, Maribeth Monroe, Robert Klein, Linda Lavin, Cesar Millan. Directed by Alan Poul

Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. We make plans, have an idea in mind as to what we want out of life. When things don’t go as expected, it’s good to have a back-up plan.

Zoe (Lopez) thought she had it all figured out; great job, get married, have a few rug rats, presto blammo life is sweet. The problem is that none of her boyfriends were working out (men being what they are) and the old biological clock is beginning to tick just a hair louder. Therefore, Zoe makes the decision to go the man-less route in having kids.

Yup, we’re talking artificial insemination. Zoe goes to a fertility clinic where a kindly old doctor (Klein) does the procedure and she gets all knocked up. Giddy from the news, Zoe leaves the clinic on a stormy afternoon and gets into a cab. Trouble is, Stan (O’Loughlin who filmed this just before finding stardom in the TV reboot of “Hawaii Five-O”) spotted the cab at exactly the same time. The two argue and Zoe eventually gives up the cab because she doesn’t want to spoil her great mood.

Of course, now the two of them see each other everywhere. This is the Hollywood God Mechanism, cinematic deities sending none-too-subtle messages that the two were meant to be together. And of course, they are. This is a romantic comedy, after all. The two fall in love but Stan isn’t aware that Zoe has a bun in the oven and Zoe isn’t about to tell him because he might bolt. Boyfriends are a lot like deer that way, skittish.

Eventually she breaks down and tells him and Stan being a Great Guy (you can tell right away he’s a great guy because he’s an organic farmer selling his organic goat cheese at a Tribeca farmers market) doesn’t bat an eyelash but takes on the responsibility of being not only a boyfriend but a father to be – without any genetic connection or legal requirement. I can picture half the single moms in the audience sighing “Why can’t I meet a guy like that?” particularly when Stan shows up shirtless on a tractor, a kind of Chippendale’s farmer get-up.

Of course this is a Hollywood rom-com so there are going to be issues. The couple is going to break up. Are they going to get back together again? Are you kidding? C’mon, you know what the answer to that is.

Lopez is one of those actresses that has a great deal of talent is sadly aware that she has a great deal of talent. One gets the impression that she has a person in her entourage whose sole purpose is to tell her what a great deal of talent that she has. I’m not saying that she’s egotistical, but she seemed to be a much better performer before she became a Big Star. Even in Anaconda, as ludicrous a horror movie as has ever hit the big screen, she was more natural an actress.

I have to admit though, that she is really charming here. It’s as if that entourage flunky has been given the new responsibility to remind her that she doesn’t have to be Jenny from the block 24-7. She can be Zoe instead, a kind of meek and sweet girl. This is the kind of performance that made her a star in the first place.

O’Loughlin turns out to be an appealing romantic lead; together with his cop action persona in Five-O could well parlay that into stardom of his own. The supporting players are for the most part forgettable, although Klein has a few good moments and Anthony Anderson gets a really great scene as a playground dad telling Stan about the joys and pitfalls of being a dad.

Like most Hollywood romantic comedies, this is as wispy and sugary as cotton candy and just as forgettable. It is a pleasant diversion for as long as it’s there, but not long after it’s gone you might feel hungry for something more substantial. It does at least give me hope that Lopez is capable of better than we’ve been seeing from her lately, and that in itself is worthwhile.

WHY RENT THIS: Lopez is as engaging and charming as she’s ever been. O’Loughlin is an appealing leading man.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: As with most Hollywood rom-coms, very formulaic.

FAMILY VALUES: Being as the movie is about being pregnant, there are a lot of pregnancy and sexual jokes herein; there’s a tiny bit of bad language and some mature themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the late Tom Bosley’s final film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77.5M on a $35M production budget; the movie broke even and even made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Dream House

Stuff


Stuff

Dinner at the Johnsons.

(2011) Documentary (Self-Released) Lawrence Johnson, Phil Wilson, Olin Johnson. Directed by Lawrence Johnson

We are all of us defined as not just who we are but as what we have as well. We are all collections of stuff; physical things, emotional things, memories…stuff.

Portland, Oregon-area filmmaker Lawrence Johnson is going through some issues. His father, Olin, has recently passed away from liver cancer. His mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is in a care facility. His marriage is crumbling and he’s been kicked out of his apartment by his soon to be ex-wife, his things left out in the yard along with his father’s things. Stuff.

His friend Phil Wilson, a carpenter, has also lost his father recently and means to inter his ashes in a grave next to Phil’s mom. She’s buried in Iowa, so a road trip is necessary. Lawrence asks to tag along and uses Phil more or less as a proxy for his own feelings towards his dad. After some time he allows himself to be interviewed and to a certain extent things come out but Lawrence is still keeping things inside. You know. Stuff.

Eventually the unemployed Lawrence who is deeply depressed after the twin losses of his father and marriage becomes homeless, living with his dog out of his van. He sells his book collection all the books of philosophy and psychology that has helped make him who he is. He feels a failure, estranged from his children, his friends, his life. Why not make a movie about it? A movie about…stuff.

So Johnson did just that. He mixed in some original animations to signify his thoughts and dreams (and nightmares), as well as home movies his dad, who was one of those home movie junkies back in the day, took of various family events from vacations to parties. His father was also a relentless collector of kitsch, from the logos of car manufacturers to…crap he might have been assured would appreciate over time but never did. Stuff.

The movie has a tendency to meander. I suspect that the movie wound up being about something different than what Johnson initially intended it to be. It went from being about his dad and Lawrence’s relationship to him to being about the things that tie us down. That kind of lack of focus isn’t surprising when you title your movie Stuff.

Lawrence is never truly liberated until the movie’s last reel when things begin to get disposed of. He also find a niche for himself and his movie begins to act as a sort of catharsis therapy for him. In a sense, what we’re watching is a condensed hour and a half long therapy session that took place over the course of years as Lawrence comes to terms with his own failings, those of his parents and of his place in society in general. That kind of stuff.

Lawrence narrates the movie and at times expresses some pretty deep and thought-provoking sentiments. He is most successful when he is discussing the dynamic between himself and his parents, particularly his father. That struck a chord in me – but then again, I live for that kind of stuff.

This is a very personal movie and those types of things will be successful to you depending on how much you connect with the person making the movie. Lawrence isn’t always the easiest person to connect with, having spent much of the movie expressing himself through animation, his own rambling narration and through other people. I can’t say that it always hits the mark, but it gives you something to think about and what more can you ask for? After all, it’s only stuff.

REASONS TO GO: Some interesting thoughts and some wonderful animation. Father-son relationship dynamic struck a chord with me.

REASONS TO STAY: An over-reliance on narration. The film seemed a bit unfocused and meanders quite a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: A little mild bad language and a few images that might be somewhat disturbing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Composer John R. Smith was a member of the 1980s pop band NuShooz.

HOME OR THEATER: An intimate film that will be even more intimate at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Potiche

Sugar


Sugar

In baseball there is always fireworks.

(Sony Classics) Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Michael Gaston, Jamie Tirelli, Jose Rijo, Ann Whitney, Richard Bull, Ellary Porterfield. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Dreams are a very personal thing. We all have them – some sort of goal that we yearn to achieve, be it a career, a relationship or a life goal. Sometimes, our dreams turn out to be very different in reality than they are in our minds.

In the Dominican Republic, baseball is more than a sport; it’s a ticket out of the abject poverty that blankets much of the country. For Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a pitcher with raw talent, that ticket is about to be cashed. He attends the camp of the Kansas City Knights, a Major League Baseball team with a talent camp in the Dominican.

Sugar’s talent nets him a minor league contract and he reports to the Quad City Swing, a team located in the middle of Iowa. Sugar is sent to live with the Higgins family; motherly Helen (Whitney) and curmudgeonly Earl (Bull). This is farm country and it’s as alien from Sugar’s circumstances as you could possibly get.

The Higgins’ granddaughter Anne (Porterfield) takes a shine to Sugar, but she like her grandparents are Evangelical Christians and as much as she likes him, it’s his soul she’s more concerned with. Sugar also has friends on the ballclub, fellow Dominican Jorge (Rufino) and Brad (Holland), a whiz-bang prospect who already has grad school at Stanford lined up if baseball doesn’t work out for him.

Sugar has no such prospects; it’s either baseball or nothing. At first, he tears up the league but as the summer wears on, Sugar begins to fall prey to the physical toll of the game. As his frustration mounts, he begins to wonder if his major league dream is just the fantasy of a naïve young man or truly his destiny to achieve.

This sounds a lot like every other sports underdog movie you’ll ever see, but almost immediately you’ll begin to discover it’s not anything like that. For one thing, this isn’t about baseball; it’s about life. One of the coaches tells Sugar early on “life gives you many opportunities; baseball gives you just one” and he’s right about that. This is a move about opportunity and what you do with them.

This is the first major role for Soto and he makes the most of it. You get the impression that this might very well be the role he’s remembered for and if that’s the case it’s not a bad legacy to leave behind. Sugar is quiet and sweet-natured but he has a breaking point. He gets angry, frustrated and weak. He makes mistakes and he does things he knows he shouldn’t do, but like most of us, does them anyway.

I’m told that the nuts and bolts of the story are very accurate; camps like the one depicted here are commonplace in the Dominican and the portrayal of the minor league system is just as correct.

Again, this isn’t about baseball. It’s about making choices. It’s about making the most about opportunities. It’s about friendships and rivalries and romances and mentoring. It’s about life, and that’s a movie worth seeing always.

WHY RENT THIS: A realistic and moving look at the dreams and aspirations of a Dominican baseball player.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pace drags in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some foul language and a little sexuality. Nothing more gratuitous than you might find on the average HBO show.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Kansas City Knights aren’t a real major league baseball team (the Kansas City Royals are the name of the MLB team); the nickname is a nod to The Natural in which Roy Hobbs played for the New York Knights.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an interesting featurette on baseball in the Dominican.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Losers