James White (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Josh Mond, “James White” is like reading the diary of a person struggling with overwhelming forces of life and the owner consistently proves to be ill-equipped to handle the unceasingly increasing weights coming from all directions. Clearly, this work is not meant to be entertaining or life-affirming, but it is nonetheless illuminating. It captures a son’s unconditional love for his ailing mother even when he himself, because of his own personal demons, is in no state to care for another human being.
The title character is played by Christopher Abbott and the camera follows him like a vulture stalking a dying animal. Most impressive about the performance is Abbott’s ability to channel different forms of emotional and psychological suffocation. A breakdown in a hotel room with his best friend (Scott Mescudi) and girlfriend (Makenzie Leigh) is heartbreaking, frightening, and maddening. And yet despite such conflicting emotions, we empathize with him first and foremost. One can make the case that he is a product of his environment.
The screenplay provides no deep or detailed concept of his life. And so we surmise. We observe where his mother (Cynthia Nixon) lives and the sorts of items inside the home. She lives quite comfortably and there is a brief exchange about how she is able to support James for four years (he argues that it has been only two years) despite the fact that he does not have a job or a place of his own. We get the impression that he probably has had it easy since childhood through his teenage years and early twenties. Now that he is closer to his thirties, easy does not cut it in the real world where one is faced with illness and mortality.
But the movie does not judge its character. After all, does a vulture judge its prey for having fatal wounds? Instead, it watches unblinkingly. It is patient. It captures every telling moment. That is what makes the film a challenge to watch; it is not afraid to show the subjects being pushed to their limits. It shows the kind of difficult images one might encounter in real life, even in our own families where someone’s health is in steady decline. I appreciated the film’s unwavering honesty.
“James White” has great ability to surprise us especially since we are forced to make convenient assumptions about the protagonist. His go-to when things get difficult is hard drugs, alcohol, and dance clubs. But in this story, there is no rehabilitation or easy plot twists that suddenly make everything all right. Instead, there are a few glimmers of true humanity that emanate from our stereotype or categorization of the man. We root for James to get his act together, even though at times he comes across like he’s not even trying, because we recognize that his flaws are our own, too: We all, at some point, have taken or continue to take our parents for granted.
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s been two years since the first highly successful “Sex and the City” movie and the same amount of time had passed since Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big’s (Chris Noth) wedding. Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, the four best friends–Carrie, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis)–decided to go to Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses-paid trip because they figured they could use a break from their respective battles regarding career, marriage, having kids, and menopause in New York City. As usual, hilarity and drama ensued when the girls visited bars, talked about sex and faced their problems before heading home. Although not as glamorous as the first (though it certainly did try), I enjoyed this installment because it took us somewhere new, featured a culture other than New York City’s, and there were moments of real sensitivity such as when Miranda and Charlotte talked about their frustrations about work and raising kids. I liked that it didn’t try too hard to top the first movie except for the very cheeky, self-aware, over-the-top gay wedding (with Liza Minnelli singing and dancing to “Single Ladies”) in the first twenty minutes. However, there were some elements that I felt were unnecessary like the appearance of a former lover (John Corbett) that was solely and conveniently designed to make Carrie realize how much she really loved Big and how petty she was for worrying about becoming a “boring couple.” Most of the lessons were pretty obvious (at least to me) but the main reason why I’m a fan is because of the fashion and the glamour. I guess most people don’t realize that the whole thing is supposed to be a farce. I mean, who in their right minds would wear designer clothing in the middle of the desert? It irks me when I read reviews from both critics and audiences concerning the movie’s characters being shallow and the plot being unrealistic. But I guess the joke is on them if they come into the movie expecting the events to reflect real life. For me, “Sex and the City 2” delivered the goods because I got exactly what I signed up for: about two and a half hours to escape my problems and realize how good my life is in comparison. At first glance, these women might be bathing in jewelry, expensive clothes and ridiculously well-designed apartments but they have so much unhappiness in their lives. Sometimes, they even create their own problems in order to make their lives more interesting. As for those who claimed that the movie was politically incorrect, I say it’s nothing new. In fact, the television show flourished because it was exactly that–politically incorrect. “Sex and the City 2” is a good movie to watch with your best gal friends because it’s not just about romantic relationships but also friendship. I just wished that the guys (David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis) were in it more so we could see things from men’s perspectives from time to time.
★ / ★★★★
“Lymelife” is about teenagers and adults in suburbia and their differing levels of unhappiness. I failed to enjoy this movie because I couldn’t find a connection with any of the characters. All of them were very damaged in some way and the tone was too depressing for its own good. There was not one well-adjusted character that could provide some sort of relief from all the drama and depression that the other characters were going through. Like typical melancholy stories about suburbia, everyone here was interconnected in some way. Alec Baldwin was cheating on his wife (Jill Hennessey) with Cynthia Nixon. Nixon’s husband (Timothy Hutton) was diagnosed with Lyme disease but was not unaware of the cheating that was going on. As for the young adults, Rory Culkin, Hennessy’s son, was in love with Emma Roberts, Nixon’s daughter, but the feeling was one-sided. Things got even more complicated when Kieran Culkin returned home from the army. I thought this movie was lazy when it came trying to figure out who the characters really were in their core. They were often one-dimensional which frustrated me so much because I felt like the actors could have done better with a stronger storytelling and script. I felt like the whole theme about hiding intentions was simply a set-up for the big argument near the end of the film with a lot of cussing and screaming. It really left a bitter taste in my mouth and in the end, I thought maybe all of the characters deserved to suffer because they were so afraid to break free from their own chains. There was one character I almost rooted for, which was Kieran Culkin’s, because even though he was abrasive and had a tortured soul, there was a certain self-restraint in his actions (especially in his key interactions with Baldwin) which suggested that he was not afraid to take control and avoid actions that might not have been worth it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the picture much. Writer and director Derick Martini should have added some sort of light on the journey toward leaving a dark period in these characters lives. Without that small glimmer of light, I often wonder why I’m watching something, which is almost always not a good thing because it means I’m not buying the situations being presented on screen. Some people might enjoy “Lymelife” if they find some sort of connection with the characters. Unfortunately for me, despite how long I waited, it never happened.