Stories We Tell


Veracity may fade with time but love never does.

Veracity may fade with time but love never does.

(2013) Documentary (Roadside Attractions) Sarah Polley, Michael Polley, Diane Polley, John Buchan, Harry Gulkin, Mark Polley, Geoffrey Bowes, Joanna Polley, Susy Buchan, Cathy Gulkin, Anne Tait, Claire Walker, Marie Murphy, Mort Ransen, Pixie Bigelow, Robert Macmillan, Tom Butler, Deirdre Bowen, Rebecca Jenkins, Peter Evans, Alex Hatz, Mairtin O’Carrigan. Directed by Sarah Polley   

 

There is a maxim in law enforcement that eyewitness testimony is generally unreliable. That is because human memory is generally unreliable; it is shaded too much by our perceptions of things and people. A liberal for example will have a different point of view of President Barack Obama than a conservative would and not just politically – the man as a person as well.

This also goes for our personal memories. Oscar-nominated director Sarah Polley (Away From Her, a movie that you definitely should check out) turns the cameras on her own family. Her mother Diane passed away when Sarah was only 11 but remained a huge presence in her life. Her family members and family friends describe Diane as a “Good time Charley,” someone who loves to dance and be around people, whose heavy walk would cause records to skip.

Her four children – Sarah and Mark, along with John and Susy who were Diane’s children from a first marriage – clearly adored her but the more that everyone talks about Diane the more clear it becomes that nobody truly knew her well.

We get bits and pieces of the story – her marriage to Michael, a stage actor in Toronto who shared a stage with her and eventually a life – and how truly mis-matched they were as a couple, with Michael preferring solitude and self-reflection, her first marriage to an abusive husband who eventually divorced her and the consequences of her actions. How both Diane and Michael gave up acting to raise a family, although Diane later returned to it.

On paper, this sounds fairly boring and self-indulgent. Trust me, it is far from that. Like most people, Diane harbored secrets (although at least one of her friends stated with absolute certainty that she was so open that she kept no secrets) and some of them are shockers. A Google search will reveal some of them but I urge you not to if you intend to see the movie – the film is far more effective that way.

The movie isn’t so much about Sarah but about the persistence of memory. It is about her family yes but inasmuch as her family are characters in the story. The story may change from teller to teller but it is essentially all part of a larger truth. One of the interviewees (Polley calls them “interrogations” which I suppose is accurate) is loathe to have others tell this story, because he feels that only the two main characters who were involved in it really can get at the truth (he refers to it as hitting bottom) but that’s not quite true – things have a way of creating a ripple effect and affecting more than just the people immediately involved.

Her father Michael does the narration, much of it from a recording studio and from his own memoirs. That is fitting enough and he makes a charming narrator. The love Sarah has for her dad is clear and unequivocal. However, it should be pointed out that her second love is filmmaking and the movie is about that too – we see her setting up shots, taking part in interviews, a kind of in-movie “Making of” feature that we usually have to wait for the home video edition to come out in order to see. While family home movies and photos add to the film, Polley also re-creates some home movies on Super 8 with actors playing her family members in the 60s and 70s which are integrated seamlessly into the movie.

Early on in the film one of Sarah’s siblings asks “Why would anyone be interested in our family?” and the question hangs over much of the first part of the movie, particularly during the slow moving first reel when Diane is being reminisced about. I think Sarah’s aim was to provide as complete a background of who Diane was in order to provide some context for the rest of the film, but it does go on a bit longer than I thought it should.

By the end of the movie however the question becomes more or less moot. All of us can look at our family and find a story there – maybe one not quite like this one, but one nevertheless as interesting and vital to ourselves as the Polley story is to their family. It would be quite an interesting exercise to do something similar in your own family – take a story well known to all and quiz different members of the family on what happened. The results might surprise you and change your own outlook on things that happened to you – and grant you a new understanding of who you are and where you came from.

REASONS TO GO: Appeals to head as well as heart. Illustrates how events and outlook change with the witness.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be a hair too long.

FAMILY VALUES:  The themes here are pretty adult; there is some sexuality and some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actors playing Frances’ parents are actually actress Greta Gerwig’s parents.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/11/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 93/100; thus far one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rashomon

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: A Dangerous Method

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New Releases for the Week of June 7, 2013


The Internship

THE INTERNSHIP

(20th Century Fox) Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Max Minghella, Rose Byrne, John Goodman, Will Ferrell, Aasif Mandvi, Josh Gad, Dylan O’Brien. Directed by Shawn Levy

Two old school salesmen are left in the lurch when the company they work for shuts its doors. Unable to find work utilizing their talents they seize what could be their last chance – an internship at Google. Competing against much younger applicants who are much more technologically savvy than they are, it will be up to them to prove their worth in this brave new world and that you can, after all, teach old dogs new tricks.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, some crude humor, partying and language)

Love is All We Need

(Sony Classics) Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Molly Blixt Egelind, Paprika Steen. Two middle aged people whose own romantic lives have been disappointing travel to Italy to attend the wedding of their children. As it turns out, a change of scenery could be just what their hearts need. From director Susanne Bier whose last film was the Oscar-winner In a Better World.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for brief sexuality, nudity and some language) 

The Purge

(Universal) Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder. In the near future, the crime rate has plummeted to near zero. The reason for that is that for one night every year for twelve hours, all crime is legal – including murder. The police take the night off. Hospitals shut their doors. Citizens are on their own. One family, in a gated community with expensive security, expects to hunker in their bunker and wait out the storm but when a stranger comes a’knockin’, the movie starts a’rockin’.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for strong disturbing violence and some language)

Stories We Tell

(Roadside Attractions) Sarah Polley, Tom Butler, Peter Evans, Michael Polley. Oscar-nominated director Sarah Polley looks at a single extended family and examines how their recollections of a critical event in the family’s history has shaped them – and how those memories differ from person to person. The family in the crosshairs of her camera lens? Her own.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements involving sexuality, brief strong language and smoking) 

Violet and Daisy

(Roadside Attractions) Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bledel, James Gandolfini, Danny Trejo. A pair of teenage assassins take a surreal trip through New York. They are tested with a series of opponents with varying skills and degrees of difficulty. They also meet a mysterious man, the encounter with whom may turn out to be life-altering..

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence, disturbing behavior and language) 

Yamla Pagla Deewana 2

(Sunny Sounds) Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol, Kristina Akheeva. The trio from the hit movie Yamla Pagla Deewana reunite in England. When one of them opens a nightclub in London, the other two come help him celebrate but can’t resist pulling off another con job which lands all three of them in hot water.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Splice


Splice

Adrien Brody has a thing for exotic chicks.

(2009) Science Fiction Horror (Warner Brothers) Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett, Abigail Chu, Jonathan Payne.  Directed by Vincenzo Natali

If man is able to create life, what separates men from God? Perhaps that would be hubris, one of man’s great sins but if one is like God, would then there be hubris naturally?

Clive Nicoli (Brody) and Elsa Kast (Polley) are both genetic engineers working for Nucleic Exchange Research and Development (N.E.R.D. – hahaha) as well as a romantic couple. At work they are trying to splice together the DNA of different animals to create unique new species for medical use. When they manage to create a female version of the new creature, the two become eager to add human DNA to an animal DNA in order to revolutionize both science and medicine but their employers, concerned about the P.R. implications of that kind of research, forbid it.

Instead, as all good mad scientists will, the two decide to carry on their research in secret and are able to successfully splice human DNA with animal DNA. They all the resulting organism Dren (Nerd spelled backwards) since Elsa refuses to refer to it as a specimen. She is in fact developing an almost maternal attitude towards the creature, which we eventually learn has Elsa’s DNA within it. The creature begins to learn and grow at an astonishing rate, maturing from child Dren (Chu) to young woman Dren (Chaneac) in weeks. After Dren attacks a lab technician who happens to be Clive’s brother Gavin (McGibon) Clive and Elsa decide to move their creation to the farm that belonged to Elsa’s late mother.

There things go from bad to worse. Dren is continuing to evolve, adding a lethal stinger and wings into her arsenal. She also has shown a tendency towards petulant violence, as well as signs of sexual awakening – and her sexual obsession is turned towards Clive. In the meantime, the previous experiment has ended in catastrophe as the two genetically spliced beings turn on each other in a violent fight that ends in both of the creatures tearing each other apart in front of a shocked audience. Have the two scientists created something beautiful – or a monster?

Director Natali is best known for The Cube (1997), one of the smartest science fiction films of the last decade. This one is no less intelligent, asking questions about scientific hubris and the process of creation as well as the morality of science as we stand on the cusp of human cloning and stem cell research.

He has a couple of fine actors to work with as well. Polley is a tremendously underrated actress who shines here as she usually does. She gives Elsa a certain amount of humanity and although Elsa has a dark past that eventually comes to light (and explains much of her actions), this is a character that could easily have been off-putting. Instead, Polley gives us a rooting interest in her.

One of the irritants of the film is that Clive’s actions become somewhat spineless as the film goes on; that isn’t Brody’s doing, but nonetheless he gives a decent enough performance. Brody always gives his characters a certain amount of intelligence, and while he hasn’t yet gotten a role equal to the part he played in The Pianist (for which he became the youngest Best Actor Oscar winner ever) he still insures a quality performance just about every time out.

Some are going to note the similarities between this film and Species and that has to be acknowledged. However, this movie takes it much further with graphic sexual elements that might disturb some. There is a bit of violence as well, but not as gory as your typical horror film.

The Dren creature is interesting, a cross between a human, a bat and a scorpion. This isn’t necessarily going to haunt to dreams, but the movie might well get under your skin. It asks some tough, provocative questions for which there are few easy answers. Even though the last reel is a bit of a disappointment (with an ending that sets up a potential sequel), the movie is still pretty solid throughout. Maybe it is a bit too smart for its own good; the American movie-going public is not particularly forgiving of movies that might make them think.

WHY RENT THIS: Much smarter than the average sci-fi or horror film. Polley and Brody give impressive performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many similarities to Species. Ludicrous final act.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some very strong sexuality and nudity, some violence and language and some disturbing themes and images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are references to classic Hollywood duos throughout the film. The two spliced organisms shown at the film’s beginning are named Fred and Ginger in reference to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. A vodka bottle in the lab is labeled to have specimens named Bogie and Bacall, named for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Finally, the main characters are named in honor of Colin Clive (who played Dr. Frankenstein) and Elsa Lanchester (who played the Bride) from Bride of Frankenstein.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.9M on a $30M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Away From Her


Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent look out onto an uncertain future.

Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent look out onto an uncertain future.

(Lionsgate) Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Wendy Crewson, Michael Murphy, Kristen Thomson, Alberta Watson, Grace Lynn Kung, Stacey LaBerge. Directed by Sarah Polley.

One of the horrors of aging is Alzheimer’s disease. The effect of the disease on the afflicted person is devastating, but the effect on the loved ones can be even more harsh.

Grant Anderson (Pinsent) and his wife Fiona (Christie) have a good life. They’ve retired to a beautiful cabin in rural Ontario and live comfortably, surrounded by the accumulations of a long life together. However, there are some disturbing signs of change coming into their lives; Fiona is growing increasingly more forgetful, and has started to do some odd things, as when they are putting dishes away after a meal and she puts the frying pan into the freezer.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the practical Fiona has no desire to subject Grant to the agony of caring for her while she slowly and inevitably deteriorates. She makes the unilateral decision to check out a local nursing home. At first upset at his wife for acting on her own, he bows to her strong will and sensibility and drives her to the facility.

Once there, they find a pleasant environment with a caring staff but Grant balks when the facility’s director (Watson) informs him that he won’t be allowed to see his wife for 30 days while she adjusts to her new residence. He begs Fiona to reconsider, but she is firm and with a final sweet goodbye, sends him away. When he returns, the changes in her are pronounced. She’s developed a relationship with Aubrey (Murphy), a mute patient whom she cares for as a nurse for a patient. Whether the relationship is more than that isn’t clear; Grant wasn’t faithful to her early in their marriage and he wonders if she’s taking revenge for that. Some days she seems to recognize him, others it’s clear she has no clue who he is. Devastated, Grant takes advice from a sympathetic nurse (Thomson) and Aubrey’s wife (Dukakis), a practical, plain-spoken woman who sees the inevitable but can’t quite bring herself to let go.

Director Polley, best known as an actress in such films as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the “John Adams” miniseries as well as an impressive roster of indie movies, proves to be a director of enormous potential. She brings a deft touch to a subject matter that could easily become maudlin in less capable hands. Her gaze is unflinching and honest but never feels forced. The Andersons are robust and handsome in their age, but they aren’t archetypes; they’re real people with flaws and no clear direction of what to do. That’s a tribute to the original Alice Munro short story it was adapted from and also to Polley’s writing for which she was Oscar-nominated.

Most of the movie takes place in the winter, but Polley resists the temptation to make the film overcast and gloomy. Instead, nearly everything takes place in bright winter sunlight reflecting off the snow that sparkles like diamonds. The winter metaphor works for that reason without becoming cliché.

Christie and Pinsent are in every scene, either separately or together, and they both deliver outstanding performances. While Christie was recognized with an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win, I found Pinsent’s performance more riveting as he captures the agony and desperation of a good man seeing the love of his life deteriorate before his eyes.

Despite the acclaim and Oscar buzz, this Canadian production didn’t receive widespread distribution here in the States. Nevertheless this is a movie worth seeking out not just for the subject matter, which may be off-putting for those with phobias about aging and the issues that the elderly face, but also for the on-screen performances which are as compelling as any you’ll see in a small film like this. You may also want to rent it if for no other reason, to mark the occasion of the emergence of a great director who is bound to release some wonderful movies as her career progresses.

WHY RENT THIS: Outstanding performances by the entire cast, particularly the two leads. Beautiful snow-covered exteriors in rural Ontario. An impressive script that never stoops to emotional manipulation or maudlin clichés.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Subject matter may be too age-centric for some. Some of the subplots are merely touched upon without satisfying resolutions.

FAMILY VALUES: The subject matter may be a bit too intense for kids wondering why grandpa is so forgetful.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lionsgate paid $750,000 for the rights to distribute this film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing notable on the American release; however Canadian readers might look into the 2-Disc special edition for a short film from Polley entitled I Shout Love as well as additional film commentary from Christie.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Strayed (Les Egares)