Winnebago Man (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I’ve never heard of Jack Rebney and the viral video that made him infamous. I don’t actively search for viral videos because most of them feature people being hurt or humiliated. I don’t take pleasure in watching other people’s misery unless the material is fictional. If I do end up watching a viral video, it’s because either a friend sends me a link with an accompanying, “Watch this! It’s hilarious!” message or I’m at a friend’s or relative’s house and I have no choice but to watch a video they want to show because I don’t want to be impolite. So when Ben Steinbauer, the director, claimed that Jack Rebney was someone he looked up to, I was surprised. After all, how can one look up to someone based on a viral video? I was curious and I considered Steinbauer to be the subject as much as Rebney. The director searched for Rebney and it turned out that the man had isolated himself from society. He claimed to not know about his status as a YouTube sensation, but was he telling the whole truth? One of the documentary’s goals was to explore how Rebney felt about the video tape of him cursing like there’s no tomorrow because he could not deliver the lines correctly for the Winnebago commercial. It was able to touch upon the surface but I wasn’t convinced that Steinbauer went deep enough into the man’s psychology. In the end, I felt sorry for the subject which has been dubbed as The Angriest Man in the World. It was obvious to me that he wasn’t enjoying the process of being in the documentary because he hadn’t yet found closure about the past–the very reason that tarnished his reputation and thereby his decision to live in isolation. I felt his hurt and anger and it made me feel like the director crossed the line between respect and asking pertinent questions and causing further controversy. After watching the viral video, I didn’t find myself laughing too much. I chuckled about three times because Rebney had a knack for cursing like he abhored the world. But then I realized that what he was caught doing was completely natural. We all have different ways of venting our frustration. Some of us break down in tears, some of us internalize (my weapon of choice), and some of us express the frustration into apparent rage. Actors in Hollywood most likely are guilty of the same thing (may I remind you of Christian Bale’s rant?) but they aren’t as visible. So the way I saw it was Rebney was a product of an unfortunate circumstance. I wish Steinbauer had enough courage to confront the specific people who decided to release the behind-the-scenes video. The whole thing may have been a big joke to them but they essentially ruined Rebney’s career. I find that a lot more shameful than a man who was simply having a bad day at work.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
Adam Sandler should star in more movies like this one because it’s a nice break from his monotonous, painfully obvious and predictable slapstick comedies. “Punch-Drunk Love,” written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, was about a small business owner named Barry Egan (Sandler) who fell for his sister’s co-worker (Emily Watson) after one of his seven sisters (Mary Lynn Rakskub) set him up because the sister claimed he lacked initiative. Meanwhile, Barry was caught up in a scam, led by Philip Seymour Hoffman, after he called a phone-sex line. I loved the movie’s dry sense of humor and lack of sentimentality. The romance between Sandler and Watson was offbeat at best; it was difficult to see what they liked about one another because both were so strange. Even though I did not necessarily relate with Barry, I was fascinated with his behavior when things were calm and the way he responded to certain stimuli. He was unpredictable. When challenged, he would either go on scary fits of violent rage or would run away like a mouse. I wanted to know if he had bipolar disorder or whether he just did not have a healthy outlet to release the frustrations he had about his life, especially the annoyances from her overbearing sister. I found Barry’s sister absolutely hilarious but I think if she was my sister, I would just go crazy. Furthermore, I liked how Anderson portrayed what family gathering was really like. In more mainstream projects, members of the family would sit on a table and have hush-hush conversations as the camera focused on the key characters. In this film, everyone gossiped, insulted each other insidiously, laughed at the top of their lungs to the point where one could barely hear his or her own thoughts. The scene was plagued with a loud buzzing sound which caught my attention because it was realistic. I wish the picture had more scenes with the family because it was a nice change of pace from Barry’s isolated space which had a lot of gloom. “Punch-Drunk Love” showcases Sandler’s acting muscles and I was happy to see that he tried to do something different. I did not expect that he was able to go head-to-head with Hoffman because Hoffman had such a presence about him in all of his roles. I expect that a lot of Sandler’s fans would find this movie somewhat distasteful because its humor almost always stemmed from self-loathing and repressed emotional problems which–let’s admit–can be depressing at times. However, I think it’s a smart movie that is willing to look beyond the idiosyncracies of its characters and focus on their more compelling angles.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Madeo” or “Mother,” directed by Joon-ho Bong, told the story of a mother (Hye-ja Kim) who would do anything to prove her son’s innocence (Bin Won) regarding a schoolgirl’s cold-blooded murder. Realizing that the police was not at all motivated to look into the case a little deeper, the mother did her own investigation about who the real killer was. Her first suspect was her son’s ruffian of a friend (Ku Jin). The look of the movie grabbed me instantaneously. There was something very poetic about the background imagery and the way it sometimes highlighted a character’s state of mind. My favorite scenes to look at were the shots taken outdoors when the mother was one with nature accompanied by music perfect for exotic dancing. Those scenes moved me because, as beautiful as the images were, my focus was on the mother’s facial expressions and body movements. By intently looking at her, I couldn’t help but feel her frustration, desperation and guilt. I am not quite sure that the picture started off well. The first twenty minutes felt like it was all over the place and I did not understand where the film wanted to go. However, it found its identity when the mother decided that she was going to perform her own detective work, specifically when she broke into someone’s home and found (what she believed was) a piece of evidence. I couldn’t help but care for her because she looked so frail and, more importantly, her unwavering conviction that her son was innocent. The last thing I wanted to see was her to be pushed around because she already looked as if she was defeated. I loved how the director framed the idea of truth and let it evolve naturally. Certain truths were true at a specific moment in time but then they changed five minutes later as new pieces of the puzzle were introduced. As a result, the movie was unpredictable and I was constantly questioning whether the mother was truly on the right path to earn her son’s freedom. The last few minutes were full of emotion. I was impressed with the way Bong dealt with the complexities of each emotion as the characters tried to deal with the final hand they were given. “Mother” is the kind of movie that is difficult to place under one genre. There were times when I thought it was a comedy (the beginning), a thriller (the middle), and a drama (the ending). It’s not the kind of movie that everyone will necessarily enjoy because the tone is vastly different compared to more mainstream projects. But what I can say for sure is that I thought the film was a rich morality story and a joy to watch.
La haine (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
“La haine” stars Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui as a Jew, an African and an Arab, respectively, who come from the nonglamorous side of Parisian neighborhood. The premise of the film was essentially following the three characters in a span of a day–after a riot in which one of their friends was sent to the hospital–so we could see how they juggled the internal and external violence that faced them. I was impressed with this film because it dealt with the characters in painfully realistic ways without being too heavy-handed or a stereotypical “being in one’s shoes for a day” story. The three friends were so angry to the point where they couldn’t help but stir trouble wherever they ended up. Their personalities were explosive and unpredictable but just when we thought we had them all figured out, the material surprised us. It then begged the question of whether they could rise above the place where they came from; I could see that they wanted to change and that they were tired of having to be (or trying to be) tough all the time. It was the subtle scenes in which the characters expressed their concerns and sadness about where their lives were heading that gripped me until the very intense and memorable final scene. Even though there were a lot of meaningless fights and funny scenes at someone’s expense, I enjoyed the quiet moments when they would just sit on the train and not talk to each other or when they would just visit an empty shopping mall in the middle of the night. As alienated as they were, their frustrations didn’t hinder them from trying to live even if the paths they’ve chosen were roads that we necessarily would not want for them to take. Written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, he really had a knack for playing with the camera and delivering unique shots when something crucial was unfolding before our (and the characters’) eyes. He wasn’t afraid to take some risks and they paid off handsomely; the decision to shoot the film in simple black and white complemented the complex social problems (that we sometimes see in black and white) that the picture tackled head-on. Ultimately a movie about acceptance and corruption, “La haine,” also known as “Hate,” showed that a material does not need to be obvious or touching for it to teach a lesson about urban life. In some ways, the tone and focus somewhat reminded me of the unforgettable “Trainspotting,” only “La haine” was far less manic and more serious in its approach.
The Graduate (1967)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Graduate,” directed by Mike Nichols, became a pop culture icon since its release so I just had to see it. I wasn’t impressed with it but I was satisfied because it had moments of genuine sadness inside of the comedic happenings on the outside. Dustin Hoffman stars as a recent graduate who we came to meet during a graduation party that his parents threw for him. He was deep in thought about something but we didn’t immediately know why. What we did know, however, was the fact that Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) wanted to have an affair with the twenty-year-old after he took her back to her house and had a drink with him. I didn’t expect this picture to be as mature as it was. In fact, I was expected it to be a slapstick or a gross-out movie of sorts. I really admired the way Nichols used Hoffman’s alienation to drive the story forward, often in unpredictable (and sometimes jarring) directions. When Nichols placed Hoffman’s character in that scuba diving suit, it was such a bold statement; even more daring was the decision to place the audience in the lead character’s point of view as he saw the world and familiar faces with such disconnect and great frustration. From that moment, even though I thought Ben was pathetic because he often whimpered his way through strange situations, I wanted to root for him. That scene was a stand out because it really captured the loneliness and the confusion that Hoffman was going through from the minute the film started to the subtle but brilliant final sequence on the bus. What didn’t work for me was the “romance” between Hoffman and Katharine Ross. I can understand that maybe it wasn’t supposed to feel real because the characters were young and perhaps didn’t know what they really wanted. It’s just that I think the movie would have been more effective (and I certainly would have cared more) if the passion felt genuine instead of just feeling like Hoffman was stalking Ross all over campus. Still, I thought the movie was strong because it was able to articulate the internal and external battles that the main character was going through. It was also difficult not to love the perfectly-timed soundtrack and it enhanced the experience instead of serving as a distraction like in a lot of coming-of-age movies nowadays that try too hard to be hip or cool. It’s easy to classify “The Graduate” as the movie where the main character had sexual affairs with a much older woman. I think it’s so much more than that; to me, it’s more about the temptations that the protagonist surrendered to because he ultimately didn’t know who he was. Since he didn’t know who he was, no matter what he did or what he accomplished, he couldn’t seem to feel happiness even at the most basic level.
Eleven Minutes (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This documentary, directed by Michael Selditch and Robert Tate, was about Jay McCarroll, the winner of the first season of the internationally successful “Project Runway,” and how he and his crew (working with him for free) put together all the elements to make a fashion show. The fashion industry being a cutthroat world, the question was whether he would succeed or fade into obscurity. I have never seen an episode of “Project Runway” so I didn’t know who Jay McCarroll was. I decided to see this film because, even though I’m more interested in male and female models, I wanted to learn more about the behind-the-scenes elements and what it took to create such amazing clothes come fashion week. I must say that this picture did not disappoint because I felt like it really immensed itself in the many levels of frustration involving things like the right products not being ordered, working with difficult fabrics, people stressing out because nothing seemed to be going right, people flaking out, determining what was sellable and what wasn’t and a whole lot more. I think if I were put into their world, I would have no idea what to do or how to even start. Granted, I don’t have the amount of experience that they have but even if I did, I still think it would be a very daunting task to put together a fashion show, especially if it’s a designer’s first “official” collection. But I liked that the movie was also about McCarroll’s struggle to step out of the shadow of the show that put him on the radar. Even though McCarroll projected this huge, scandalous personality, there were moments when it was easy to see the panic in his eyes and the questioning whether he and his team would be able to pull through. The film was very dramatic and I loved it because it put me in the edge of my seat. Basically, this movie was eye candy for me because I loved clothes. I really wanted those pants with the hot air balloon designs and the huge alien sunglasses. I had a sneaky feeling that I could rock those walking down the streets. If one is interested in fashion but has not seen the show, I don’t think it would be a problem because the documentary’s goal was to show that McCarroll and “Project Runway” were two completely different camps (even though he clearly showed his appreciation toward the television show). I certainly learned a lot more than I thought I would such as the length of time to put together a collection, the importance of business knowledge in the fashion industry, dealing with the unknown elements and just rolling with the punches.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
When my two friends who are very different from each other told me that they didn’t enjoy the film, I knew it wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. “Where the Wild Things Are,” directed by Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.”) and based on a children’s book by Maurice Sendak, tells the story of a boy named Max (Max Records) and where his mind goes after going through a very tough confrontation with his mother (Catherine Keener). But the frustration is deeper than it seems; his sister is growing up and he does not get the same kind of attention he used to, his mother has a new boyfriend and is very involved in her work, and he does not have many friends. He’s a sensitive little kid and even certain bits of information he learns from school (like the sun eventually stopping to give off light) gets to him. That loneliness and wanting to be noticed makes him very aggressive so the audiences get a lead character who is edgy but is someone who we can ultimately root for because we see the story from his perspective.
As a person who has taken courses on child psychology, I think the writing is exemplary. A lot of people may think that Max is just a kid who is self-absorbed and immature. But has anyone really met a nine-year-old who does not have any of those qualities? I can barely even name an adult who is not at times self-centered and lacking maturity. I think one of the main problems when audiences watch a movie from a child’s perspective is that they fail to consider that children think (and therefore act) very differently than adults. Children have yet to find their identities so they seem to be one thing one minute and be another completely different thing the next. That manic sense of energy should not be seen as being annoying but instead should be seen as a rite of passage. I mention this in my review because I think that all of these basic background infromation should be taken into consideration in order to (in the very least) understand Max’ situation and mindset. I found the lead character to be a very lovable person because he was strong enough to turn a very sad situation into an adventure. And to be honest, I could identify with him because I remember back when I was seven or eight years old when sometimes I wasn’t allowed to play with the other children outside so I turned to my toys and made up stories that reflected how I felt at the time. (I loved that scene when Records told Keener a story about a vampire who lost his teeth. It was a metaphor about infinite things and I was deeply touched.)
A friend of mine mentioned that the movie doesn’t really have a defined story. For me, there was: Max takes refuge into his imagination where he meets all these giant puppet-like creatures with very distinct personalities because he feels abandoned–that no one is even attempting to understand what he’s going through. Those creatures (Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr., Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano and James Gandolfini) represent all of the major personalities inside him which cannot yet be controlled because he hasn’t experienced life. I thought the varying ways the creatures interacted (and sometimes collided) was very insightful because, in psychology, there is a theory that our dominant personality is simply a combination of our many different (extreme) personalities. Sometimes, there happens to be an imbalance (also reflected in one of the creatures–bipolar disorder, perhaps?) which causes great conflict in how we think and ultimately view the world. And even if my interpretation is “wrong,” there are great movies out there that don’t really have set story that is easy to understand.
“Where the Wild Things Are” is the kind of film I’ll eventually really love with repeated viewings. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to sit through because it’s not the kind of children’s movie one would expect. While there definitely are cute images, Jonze took the material to the next level and it really delves into many emotions such as sadness, confusion, isolation, not being heard or considered an integral part of a group, anger, jealousy, and even depression. I loved the fact that it’s rough around the edges and far from a typical movie where everyone goes “Aww” and easily label it as a great movie. (In fact, we even saw the monsters’ dark sides… which was scary at times because they made it clear that they could eat people.) In “Where the Wild Things Are,” you would actually have to think a little bit, see what’s under the surface to truly realize its greatness. This is an intelligent person’s movie and if you don’t like to take the effort to see some parallels between Max’ reality and imagination, then this movie might not be right for you.