You Don’t Know Jack (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The first time I heard of Dr. Jack Kevorkian was in my high school Psychology course when we learned about the ethics of dealing with patients. It was a particularly memorable chapter because Kevorkian and his methods sparked a rousing debate about his methods. Like in the film, students who did not support euthanasia, assisted suicide, argued mainly from the perspective of religious dogma. I distinctly remember thinking that it was such a weak argument because it lacked common sense. The reason why I support euthanasia was not about living or dying. It was all about choice. I’d rather jump off a fifty-foot story building than to allow the government to choose when and how I should die. I admired the film, under Barry Levinson’s swift yet careful direction, because it painted Dr. Kevorkian (Al Pacino) as Dr. Kevorkian and not as Dr. Death, as the media and his enemies unjustly labelled him. While the media and government played an integral role in Dr. Kevorkian’s struggle, the picture took a more personal route and allowed us to get to know the medical practitioner in question and his biggest supporters such as his sister Margo Janus (Brena Vaccaro), one of his oldest friends Neal Nicol (John Goodman), a fellow activist Janet Good (Susan Sarandon), and a lawyer named Geoffrey Fiegler with a flair for the dramatic (Danny Huston). All delivered very strong performances with utmost conviction and devoid of cliché. By showing us scenes not easily found in books or covered by the media, despite my support for the issue of euthanasia, I learned something new and surprising facts about Dr. Kevorkian. There were many scenes that moved me but one that I will not forget for a long time was when Dr. Kevorkian decided to be thrifty regarding the gas required to make the person unconscious prior to stopping the heart. That was an important scene for me because it marked the point where I thought Dr. Kevorkian crossed the line. While he did regret it afterwards, it was unethical because the crux of euthanasia was to allow a terminally ill person to die in a peaceful and humane manner. During that scene, the person was uncomfortable and experienced pain. However, I was glad that the filmmakers added that scene because it showed us that Dr. Kevorkian, despite his best intentions, was far from perfect and that his willingness to push the envelope without fully thinking things through was ultimate downfall. Pacino as Dr. Kevorkian was excellent. Although his portrayal was denitely not as eccentric as the actual person, I believe it was one of his most mesmerizing roles in years. “You Don’t Know Jack,” written by Adam Mazer, deserves to be seen especially by those who do not quite know where they stand in the issue. It just might help to put certain things into perspective.
Ugly Truth, The (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
It’s weird because as I was watching this movie, I found myself laughing because the characters, especially Katherine Heigl’s, were eccentric in their own ways. But after a few hours after I saw it, I felt as though the characters were more like caricatures and now I’m unsure whether to give it a recommendation. Heigl stars as a television producer of a news show who had to endure of the presence of Gerard Butler because they were on the verge of being cancelled due to their falling ratings. People liked to hear Butler’s blunt opinions so Heigl’s superiors decided he could help the news show from being cancelled and save their careers. The two leads could not be any more different. Heigl doesn’t like to let her hair down, has a checklist on what she looks for a guy, and lives with her cat. Butler thinks women are deluded because they don’t see men for what they really are: pigs who only care about looks, sex, and what feels good. Predictably enough, they fall for each other because Americans have this (ridiculous) view of opposites always ending up together. Tension between them rise when Eric Winter enters the picture as Heigl’s hunky doctor of a neighbor. I think the film was at its best when Heigl and Butler were constantly butting heads and eventually teaming up so that Heigl will have a chance on going out with her neighbor. It touched upon certain real relationship issues such as who’s really in charge of their own orgasms, whether fake orgasms is better than no orgasms (though I think the film gave bad advice on this one), the sacrifices one is willing to make in order to reach a common ground, and how power and manipulation affects relationships. But who wants to think about those things when two girls are wrestling in jello on screen? Ultimately, I think this picture is its own worst enemy. At times, I found a number of contradictions from its initial arguments and it eventually became another forgettable chick flick. And toward the end, I felt as though it lost a lot of its steam and was no longer interested on how it would turn out. Nevertheless, if one is interested in watching something funny, this one is a pretty good choice. It will not enlighten but it will most likely entertain.
Holding Trevor (2007)
★ / ★★★★
I’m often disappointed with American indie gay movies and this one is no exception. “Holding Trevor” stars Brent Gorski as the title character who is torn between his druggie first love (Christopher Wyllie) and a doctor he recently met (Eli Kranski). If Trevor was smart, he would’ve chosen the doctor during the first ten minutes and the movie would’ve been over. Obviously, that is not the case because the movie runs for about ninety minutes until he finally makes his decision. Trevor has two best friends: his roommate (Melissa Searing) and a childhood friend who recently moves in with them for free (Jay Brannan). It’s weird because I’m more interested in them than the lead character. Granted, their stories could’ve been tweaked here and there but I saw potential. Searing had the best storyline because she has to deal with her health. On the other hand, Brannan’s character succumbed to the stereotype and he’s pretty much a one-night-stand kind of guy. I wish the film would’ve focused on his music career instead because the scenes when he sang showed depth and talent. I really hated the fact that this movie presented the gay characters in a negative light. Trevor is a narcissistic bitchy queen who subconsciously doesn’t want to be happy; the doctor is a clingy and creepy boyfriend; the freeloader friend sleeps with everyone and doesn’t even remember his lovers’ names the next day (he has a bit of an attitude problem as well); not to mention Trevor’s first love is a dependent drug addict. Usually, I’ll blame the director (Rosser Goodman) but I think she did a pretty good job considering the budget. I think the writer (Brent Gorski) is the one to blame because the script is really weak. It doesn’t really have anything particularly different to offer (not even the obligatory sex scenes). It tries to be insightful during the oddly placed narrations–all of it didn’t work for me. I couldn’t identify with the self-deprecating character (without the humor) at all and I pretty much detested him for being so shallow. This movie was pretty much dead on arrival.
★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of critics and audiences alike have been way harsh on this film. I concur that this picture is not easy to swallow and digest since most of the story took place in one area. It definitely got suffocating because the audiences are subjected to see the same place for about an hour and fifteen minutes (the middle portion); the only things that changed are the increasingly disgusting living conditions of the blind and the dynamics among the wards. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore lead one of the wards, a doctor and a doctor’s wife, one lost his sight and the other one kept her sight (though it must be kept a secret), respectively. It was interesting to watch their relationship change as the film went on because Ruffalo depended on his wife regarding pretty much everything. There was a brilliant scene when Ruffalo talked to Moore about not seeing her the same after she feeds him, bathes him, and cleans him up in ways that a nurse or mother normally does. There was this undeniable tension between them but at the same time they must stay together because everything around them is falling apart. I thought it was interesting how Fernando Meirelles, the director, chose to tell the story. In the first few scenes, we focus on this one man who suddenly goes blind in the middle of traffic (Yusuke Iseya) and slowly transition to other people suddenly going blind to the point where it becomes an epidemic. The epidemic and ravaged city reminded me of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” only instead of zombies roaming the streets, it’s blind individuals. I also liked the slightly hopeful ending because the suffering was not entirely for naught. Still, by the end of the picture, I still wanted to know the source of the epidemic. That lack of explanation somewhat got to me (and I imagine as most people would). I don’t deny the fact that I saw some hints of great filmmaking here such as the stark contrast between certain images in the beginning and the end of the movie. I also liked the “Lord of the Flies” element in the quarantine zone when everyone had to decide who would get how much food, who the leader should be and who would emerge victorious between the wards. I’ve never seen Gael García Bernal so immoral so his character definitely took me by surprise. With a little bit more explanation and less saggy middle portion, this would’ve been a much powerful film. The acting was already really good and there were scenes that really tugged at my heartstrings. See this if you’re curious and hopefully you’ll see what I see in it: potential.
★★★★ / ★★★★
I’ve heard of Klinefelter’s Syndrome in several Biology courses but I’ve never seen a film that focuses on the condition. Inés Efron does a great job as Alex who has not yet made a decision whether to continue as a female or get an operation to become a male, but has recently decided to stop taking pills which contain hormones that aim to retain her femininity. Her parents invite a doctor and his family; things get complicated when Alex meets Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky). Since this is the first film I saw about XXY Syndrome, I was surprised by its mature sensitivity. During several points in the film, just when I thought it was going to take the Lifetime route, it completely turns to a different, more daring direction. I don’t know if I felt pity or sympathy for Alex (maybe it’s understanding) but I wanted to scream for her. Every time I look in her eyes, I feel like she desperately wants to escape but couldn’t. She tries to love her body but she’s always reminded by others that she’s different so she constantly reevaluates herself. Even though she has supportive parents and some supportive friends, some strangers are so cruel to her to the point where I wanted to jump into the movie and fight for her. Her relationship with Alvaro is so fragile but I feel like they reach some sort of understanding. Whenever they’d interact, they feed off each other’s differences to the point where they reach some sort of comfort around one another. Toward the end of the picture, we get to learn more about Alvaro and his need for approval from his father. That confrontation scene before they left Alex’ beach house felt like a punch in the stomach to me. It was so honest but painful, yet it was also beautiful and a relief. The use of color and tone of this film reflected the characters and I absolutely loved looking at it; it’s almost like poetry but composed of images instead of words. I must also commend this film’s focus because each scene has something to do with the big picture. I love films like this because even though it’s emotionally exhausting, it feels so rewarding because we feel that much more knowledgeable about something we didn’t know much about. If you’re a fan of the blurring between two extremes, such as gender and sexuality, this film receives a very enthusiastic recommendation from me.