Victoria Jelinek


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-posterI recently read an article in Aeon Magazine, which investigates the scientific possibilities and implications of purging one’s “bad” memories. * Haunted by news stories and images of traumatized children in the Middle East, and as a teacher to troubled adolescents, I find my opinion is conflicted: memories construct who we are, for-better-or-for-worse, but there are such horrible things that happen…Hungry for more insight into the subject (and a film buff) I decided to re-watch the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In it, introvert Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) meets outgoing Clementine (Kate Winslet) and they start a tumultuous relationship. Then one day, Clementine doesn’t recognize Joel and he finds out that she had all of her memories of him removed. Angry and hurt, Joel decides to undergo the same procedure, but in the process of it he finds that he has second thoughts.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is ingenious. His films Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are also high concept ideas that explore neurosis and the possibilities of the mind scientifically and perceptually. The movie begins slowly, as we experience the confusion Joel feels because his girlfriend suddenly doesn’t know him, with him. However, once Joel discovers she has had her memories of him wiped out and decides to have the same procedure done on himself, the bulk of the action takes place over one night in his rapidly disintegrating memory. When Joel’s subconscious decides that the procedure is a bad idea and he enlists the ‘memory’ of Clementine to help him escape, the film moves at a rapid pace. Here, director Michel Gondry showcases true visual verve (and most of the effects are created in camera!) as we delve into repressed memories, teenage humiliation, and childhood helplessness. But then a miracle happens — just as Joel’s situation seems most hopeless, the tone of the film becomes more hopeful. We travel through Joel’s mind back to those initial, profoundly romantic first days with Clementine, and we are able to view both the beginning and the end of a relationship at the exact same time. It’s poignant and beautiful. At this moment, Kaufman’s objective comes into sharp focus, and we, the viewer, are left to ponder what we’ve just seen, and to consider whether we would, indeed, purge our minds of painful memories if given the chance. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a relevant and weird and wonderful film with genuine heart and a thoughtful mind.

*Aeon Magazine, Aug. 1, 2016, Would You Purge Bad Memories From Your Brain If you Could by Lauren Gravitz. https://aeon.co/essays/would-you-purge-bad-memories-from-your-brain-if-you-could



The Lobster

MV5BNDQ1NDE5NzQ1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA5OTM2NTE@._V1_UY1200_CR108,0,630,1200_AL_The film takes place in a dystopian world where single people are sent to a hotel and given 45 days to find a romantic match or they will be turned into the animal of their choice. Ostensibly, as an animal, they are given a “second chance” to find love. Our hero, Colin Farrell’s desolate architect David, is dumped by his wife and immediately sent to the hotel in the company of his brother, who is now a border collie, having failed the 45 day time limit to find a match earlier.

There are several elements that make this film worth seeing: the Kafkaesque meditation on modern society’s preoccupation with coupling, as well as its increasing desensitization, is much appreciated, fresh and noble; there is dark humor; our hero’s reasoning behind his choice to be a lobster is interesting; and the ensemble cast is very good, inclusive of Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Lea Seydoux. Moreover, a few of the incidents in the film will haunt me for a long time, which is arguably a good thing because the images were vivid enough to sear themselves into my cerebral cortex. However, there is absolutely no relief for the viewer in what is an exhaustingly morose take on humanity in some alternative reality, or in some not-so-distant future world.

 



The Nice Guys
The-Nice-Guys-poster-2

April 21, 2016 – The Nice Guys – Poster and cover for the official soundtrack that will be released by Lakeshore Recors on May 20, 2016

In 1970’s Los Angeles, private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) team up to investigate the case of a missing girl connected to the death of a porn star. March is a washed up detective who looks smooth, and who stays just on the ‘right’ side of the law due to the wise intelligence of his daughter. Healy is discouraged by modern society and struggles to better himself, even as he can’t seem to maintain a relationship with anybody and prefers to use force rather than words.

I think Shane Black’s movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is absolutely first rate, but The Nice Guys is firmly placed on my list of top 20 films-of-all-time. The script is excellent – smart, fast and witty with an undercurrent of poignancy – paralleling the entire film. While Director Shane Black throws in hard-bitten aspects of film noir (thugs, femme fatales, conspiracies, and fading glamor) for our enjoyment, and the pairing of Crowe and Gosling is hilarious, there is true depth to this film as it meditates on the American psyche through the 1970’s, when the country struggled to find its purpose after the assassination of promising political figures in the 1960’s and the end of the Vietnam War.

A must see film that has left me wishing Shane Black made more movies.



Bottle Shock

bottle_shock_ver3_xlgIn 1976 there was a blind wine taste-testing held in France, where all the judges were French. The result of the contest? The wines of California’s Napa Valley defeated the best wines France had to offer – mon dieu! Bottle Shock is the fictionalized version of this true event, with the added story of the underdog winery deeply in debt, and a problematic relationship between a father and his slacker son who run the winery together.

Even as the outcome of the story is predictable, it is a charming film. The direction is solid, the cinematography picturesque, and the cast is good. Bill Pullman is believable as the tough and angry man who runs Chateau Montelena. Chris Pine is sympathetic as his lazy, long-haired son, Bo. And Alan Rickman as the British wine lover living in Paris who instigates the contest in the first place (thinking the French wines would win!) is quietly and wonderfully comic. “But did you know that it’s the struggling, thirsty vines that make the best wines? They can’t just sit there sipping water.” They must labor to thrive. These lines from the film sum up what makes this movie engaging – it’s about people who love their work and do it well. People who talk about it with passion and with knowledge. And people who are motivated to continue despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

 

 



Finding Dory

A year after Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) helped reunite Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks), she has settled happily into her new life with them. Then Dory suddenly gets flashbacks from her childhood, so she sets out to find her parents at the last place she remembers them being all together – the Monterey Mfinding-dory-movie-poster-nemo-wallpaperarine Life Institute.

Critics of this film have grumbled charges of “sequelitis” against Pixar (Toy Story, Cars). Yes, the set up is similar to Finding Nemo: Dory goes in search of her parents and, returning the faith shown by Dory in the first ocean-spanning escapade, Marlin and Nemo join her. And yes, as characters are repeatedly separated and reunited, the storyline arguably gets a bit tedious. However, despite a familiar formula, there are tragic undercurrents such as loss, confusion, disappointment and fear, which make for a very human story. Meanwhile, these motifs are delivered alongside funny dialogue, vivid imagery, technical prowess, great characters, and fantastic casting (voices).

As is the case with most great family films, there is something here for both adults and children. Finding Dory is an emotionally complex, beautifully constructed, and hopeful piece about friendship, perseverance, and facing your own personal inhibitions.

 

 



The Big Short

the-big-short-movie-posters-001.jpg~originalFour outsiders foresaw the global collapse of the economy years before 2008. Something big banks, the media, and governments refused to consider. So these four made a bold investment – The Big Short – that led to huge profits for each of them even as they had to negotiate the dark underbelly of modern banking in order to get the boon.
There are three things that made me skeptical about watching this film: the lingo, the bizarre identifying traits for each of the main characters, and the concern that those who watch this film are those who already know about the perverse exploitation that constitutes modern banking.

The lingo is hard to understand for those of us outside of the banking world. However, Director McKay breaks the fourth wall down and introduces celebrity cameos to directly address the audience with colorful and cogent explanations of terms, which does help and also amuses.

McKay is best known for comedic fare, such as Anchorman and The Campaign, but one can see that even in the silly humor of these films, there’s a sly intelligence underling and animating them. And he infuses the script for The Big Short with a profanely witty dialogue.

While arguably he creates the character’s bizarre defining traits to show the types of brazen personalities that thrive in this environment, I believe it’s more evidence of his humor in the midst of sobering material. Bale lacks any social grace, rocks out to heavy metal music to get his brain up to speed, and sports a glass eye. Gosling is a typical douchebag banker, spray tanned, arrogant, and slick. Pitt is the former banker gone rogue, all shaggy, bearded, talking about intestinal health and the need to prepare for the end of the world. These are humorous elements that make these men characters, but don’t be fooled for a minute that any of it’s silly or distracting. There is committed and accomplished acting going on. These performances are what make The Big Short especially enjoyable. Carrell, however, is the heart of the film, delivering another impressive turn after surprising audiences and critics alike with his performance in last year’s Foxcatcher.

The ensemble cast superbly conveys the angry, pessimistic conviction driving this film, which is the argument that major banks all engaged in fraudulent, criminal activity leading to the 2008 collapse, and governments bailed them out at the expense of “the average Joe.” And there’s no reason big banks wouldn’t do it again – why shouldn’t they? We’re the assholes who let them get away with financial murder. Which brings me to the third concern I had before watching The Big Short. That those attracted to watching this movie will already be those who understand the situation. It won’t reach the folks who refuse to see what went on and continues to go on in large banking and global politics. Well, so be it. At least there are smart films created by thoughtful and critical people, for some of us to enjoy.

 



Spotlight

Spotlight movie posterA small group of journalists from The Boston Globe reveal the Catholic Church’s role in systematically covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and John Slattery play the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. Through them, Director Tom McCarthy demonstrates (again) his incredibly understated ‘touch’ with actors. This ensemble cast is a model of low-key greatness – as is the film itself. There are no ghoulish rape flashbacks or sensationalistic cutaways to a menacing clerical conspiracy behind closed doors. There is just the absolute confidence that the audience will be enthralled as the reporters quietly and quickly go through journalistic procedures, slowly and steadily gathering information, and painstakingly corroborating leads and hunches. Like so many films absorbed with the minutia of daily journalism, Spotlight is a terrifically nerdy process movie.

What I especially liked about this film is its incredibly perceptive sense of how inextricably the Church is woven into the fabric of Boston life. The Church concealed its corruption for so long by applying pressure to the city’s legal, political, and journalistic institutions. As Spotlight sifts through the appalling pile of evidence to reveal the Church’s horrific cycles of abuse and concealment, we understand that the most galling crime is that it has used its uniquely privileged position in society to exploit its victims (whom they are meant to serve). We also understand that many of us are complicit in allowing this type of oppression to flourish because we don’t do anything about it when we see it. Jamey Sheridan and Paul Guilfoyle are two Church-connected friends who try to convince editor Robinson (Keaton) not to publish, and we recognize these characters immediately — they are the members of our decent yet compromised humanity, the proverbial good men who do nothing and therefore allow evil to grow and to thrive.

Sobering, yes, but a very good film with a strong narrative and a fine cast.