Tag: dementia

Cameraperson


Cameraperson (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Kirsten Johnson’s “Cameraperson” is the kind of film that reminds us of the amount of junk we watch on television and the movies. It is not that its aim is to criticize our consumption or the media, but thoughtful viewers are likely to walk out of the picture after it is over—at least I did—and consider why many stories so worthy of our time and attention are almost always never under the spotlight unless national or personal tragedy strikes. I walked out of this excellent documentary feeling as though my life is richer from having seen it.

The picture is a collage in that it is composed of clips that last about ten to sixty seconds and then it is onto the next image, the next country. Seemingly random at first but we feel it often has a point it wishes to convey, the strands come together quite beautifully some time in the middle to make a point about people who are oppressed and powerless. But they are not defeated. By appearing on film, speaking directly to camera, appealing to us, looking at us, looking through us, it is almost a way of gaining their power back. Because one way of defeating someone completely is to silence them, for history to forget about them. The men, women, and children we encounter are not silent. They prove resilient.

It delivers numerous powerful imageries. There is the boy with his left eye damaged as he describes what he sees through his working eye and what he sees (and doesn’t see) through the other. There is a midwife in Nigeria helping to deliver twins. The first baby is healthy but the second doesn’t cry, small, frail, barely able to breathe. There is an old woman, her face as wrinkled as a thousand-year-old tree, kneading dough. Her personality is fiery, her smile infectious as the director compliments her about her fashion. And then there are women using an axe to chop down a tree for firewood. They have been driven out of their homes, their friends and family have been murdered. Yet they haven’t forgotten how to laugh, to make light of their current situation.

This is a most humanistic film and Johnson, a veteran documentary cinematographer, highlights and explores that humanity. One gets the impression that she understands her craft, the point of her chosen field, and the importance of remaining objective but still caring for or caring about her subject. And then there are clips of her own mother, three years after having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We observe the power of the disease, its ability to erase a person’s identity. Johnson shows her mother pictures of what should be familiar faces. The woman recognizes these faces but is unable to connect that the child in the photograph is now all grown up, her daughter standing right next to her.

An average viewer is likely to consider “Cameraperson” as a gimmick—a most unfortunate mistake because, in a way, the story is about all of us: people with a set of circumstances simply trying to live the best way we can. Compelling in every way, some time in the middle, I caught myself wishing that every clip were expanded into a full-length feature. As I sat through the credits, silent and absorbing the gravity of what I had seen. I found, to my greatest surprise, that my wish had already come true. I will make sure to watch Johnson’s other projects.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Will (James Franco) was a brilliant scientist on the brink of discovering the cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. The ALZ-112 drug, which boosted brain function, worked on apes, but it needed to be tested on humans before commercialization. When one of the apes broke out of its cage and destroyed everything in its path, the investors expressed disapproval in using humans as test subjects. As a result, Will’s boss (David Oyelowo) ordered all of the experimental apes’ extermination and single-handedly shut down Will’s research. However, Will, despite his initial reluctance, took home a baby ape from the lab and raised it like a child. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, was an exciting cautionary tale about ethics, or lack thereof, in terms of scientific advancements and humans’ relationship with our direct descendants. The first half was strong and unexpected. For a movie about an uprising of apes, I didn’t think it would focus on personal issues. It worked because it defined Will as more than a scientist. He was a father to Caesar (Andy Serkis), the young ape he hook home, and a son to his father (John Lithgow) who was inflicted with dementia. Later, when Caesar led his army of apes, strangely, I saw Will in his eyes, the strength, courage and determination within, a look similar in the way Will expressed concern toward his father when a specific symptom surfaced, a suggestion that his condition had turned for the worse. Unfortunately, the latter half wasn’t as strong. While it was necessary that Caesar eventually got to be with his own kind and began to care more about them than people, it got redundant. The workers in the wildlife rescue center, like John (Brian Cox) and Dodge (Tom Felton), were cruel and abusive. They pushed, kicked, and tasered the animals while deriving pleasure from it. Showing us the same act over and over again was counterproductive. I would rather have watched more scenes of the way Caesar dealt with abandonment. When the material turned inwards, whether it be Will or Caesar, what was at stake came into focus. The action scenes, like the chaos in the Golden Gate Bridge, was nicely handled by the director. There wasn’t much gore and no limb was torn apart, but the fear was palpable. The way the San Franciscans ran from one end of the bridge toward the other looked like they were running from Godzilla instead of a bunch of apes. However, there was one strand that felt out of place, almost underwritten. One of the scientists (Tyler Labine) was exposed to a chemical agent, a gaseous form of ALZ-112, which led to his death. That part of the story needed about two more scenes to explain its significance. Those who watched Franklin J. Schaffner’s “Planet of the Apes” could probably grasp at its implications but those who had not could end up confused. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” used special and visual effects to enhance the story and deliver good-looking action sequences, evidence that the two needn’t and shouldn’t be mutually exclusive to pull off a solid popcorn entertainment.

Happy Tears


Happy Tears (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Jayne (Parker Posey) and Laura (Demi Moore) returned home to take care of their father (Rip Torn) who showned initial symptoms of dementia. While taking care of their father, the two vastly different sisters began to work out their differences as well as their misconceptions about their father in relation to events that happened when they were little kids. I wanted to enjoy this movie more than I did because I have a weakness when it comes to stories about family members returning to a place due to some life-chaning event and they eventually having no choice but to face the demons in their past. Unfortunately, I think that Mitchell Lichtenstein had so much trouble balancing the comedy and the drama to the point where the heart of the story was not always the focus. Particularly problematic for me were the fantasy and the flashback sequences of Jayne. I understood that she was the more optimistic, outwardly funnier sister who was often unaware of what was really going on around her but there were times when such sequences made her look childish in comparison to her sister. I think those sequences worked against her character because the picture hinted at the two women being strong and able to carry on without their husbands. I would also have liked to have seen them interact with their own families more often to serve as a contrast with how they were when they spent time with their father. For half of the movie, I didn’t understand why they treated their father the way they did. I had a premature evaluation that they didn’t care about their father and they just wanted to send him to a nursing home as quick as possible so they could move on with their lives. Since I initially thought that they were selfish, it took me some time to really connect with them and to learn more about their motivations outside of their actions–which were very different from what they chose to show to others. The movie was at its best when Posey and Moore were forced to look into each other’s eyes and measure each other up. Both had a presence about them; the two couldn’t be any more different but they were magnetic in their own rights and in a way I found parts of myself in both of them. One of the major emotions between them was jealousy and I found them very relatable when they often avoided talking about it with each other. Instead, the jealousy was embedded in the sarcasms and the sly remarks about how one chose to live her life. “Happy Tears” had good moments but it didn’t quite moved me as strongly as I’d hoped. With a stronger script and more natural direction, I think I would have liked it a lot more because the performances were already solid.

Choke


Choke (2008)
★ / ★★★★

I wasn’t amused by this indie dark comedy based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. This movie was about a medical school dropout (Sam Rockwell) who pretends to choke in restaurants so that he’ll be given money by people who save him. He does this because he needs money to keep his mother (Anjelica Huston) who’s suffering from dementia/Alzheimer’s in the hospital. It’s too all over the place for my liking. I felt like it does have the potential to be great but it didn’t really establish and focus on its emotional center. Instead, the movie focused too much on Rockwell’s empty relationship with Kelly Macdonald. The little twists that happened in the second half felt unconvincing and forced. I could feel the dialogue wanting to impress its audiences but it ultimately felt dry and meaningless. There’s no character that one can root for here because all of them are self-indulgent, addicted to their own misery, and they don’t care about hurting others. Its random and somewhat narcissistic nature made me hope that there would be an apocalypse in the end so that all of the characters would no longer exist. I wanted to slap them silly because they were so one-dimensional. Half-way through the film, I questioned why the movie was even made. The story made absolutely no sense. I wish it was more about purposely choking in fancy restaurants (and the comedy that comes with it) instead of the lead character feeling sorry for himself. If you couldn’t already tell, this was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while.