Tag: narcissism

Generation Wealth


Generation Wealth (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield looks back on her twenty-five career in order to examine the potential elements that have contributed to our wealth-obsessed society. On the outside, it has the makings of a truly fascinating documentary, especially given Greenfield’s level of access with past subjects that range from children of rock stars, pornographic performers, to former hedge fund managers. However, looking more closely, it is a work that lacks balance, focus, and, perhaps most importantly, subjects who are more relatable: the every day people, those who consume the media on a daily basis, those who choose to swipe their credit cards despite the fact they are low on funds, those who allow celebrities or personalities to define one’s worth or value.

Despite the director’s access to a handful of individuals with interesting stories to tell, it is most frustrating that some of them are introduced early in the picture but are not seen again until about an hour or so. Because the project attempts to tackle so much, it veers off in so many directions to the point where at times we end up forgetting its thesis. Its approach feels scattered, desultory, failing to build intrigue or even suspense. At its worst, notice we are simply provided a parade of clips from Greenfield’s oeuvre. “Thin” and “The Queen of Versailles” are films that are so focused, it is impossible to look away.

As for the subjects we do see often, notice they are not given enough time to speak. Either that or the editing is so omnipresent that cuts are made for no good reason. I wondered if it was meant to modernize the work, to provide it a sense of urgency. But great documentaries have the patience to keep the camera on the subjects and stare. No decorations, no blinking, no cuts, no apologies. The camera is there to capture to truths, lies, and everything in between. The audience is left, challenged, to sift through the said and the unsaid—sometimes even the subjects, in a way, function as mirrors to those watching. Thus, watching the film becomes an experience of sitting through critiques of ourselves.

Shouldn’t this be the point of the documentary: To look at the subjects and recognize ourselves? After all, each and every one of us, to a degree, is a part of the global capitalist machine. Sometimes we confuse wants for needs. We allow ourselves to be manipulated by the media and this impacts what we buy, how we see our bodies in the mirror, how we define success or being successful. I felt the work lacks self-awareness and a grounded nature or feeling that makes viewers relate to it even though it is a critique on our society.

There are few instances, however, when it exercises raw power. Greenfield makes the correct decision to put her family in front of the camera. In roundabout ways, she asks her children, for example, how they think her obsession with her career have impacted their relationship. There is no question that Greenfield’s intelligent sons are closer to their father. And it’s funny because not once does the father appear in front of the camera. His story is told through voicemails, pictures, and the children’s memories of him.

It is without question that “Generation Wealth” is a work with ambition, but it does not deliver on the level beyond a career retrospective. It lacks the necessary depth to be able to pierce the heart of what makes our modern society so pathologically obsessed with excess and vanity. For such a rich subject, it offers no eye-opening or surprising insight.

The Informant!


The Informant! (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) had it all: a stable job that paid well, a loving family, a huge home, and absolutely no drama in his life. But his ambition and greed got the best of him and decided that he was going to accuse his company of embezzlement. He just didn’t want to be near the top of the pyramid, he wanted to be at the peak. Somehow, in his mind, he had this idea that if he could take down everyone who was in a higher position than him in the company, he would end up running the whole place. He was logical on the surface but his logic’s core was seriously flawed so he was a fascinating specimen for me to observe from a psychological point of view. “The Informant!,” based on a book by Kurt Eichenwald and directed by Steven Soderbergh, was a hilarious look at a man who was drowning in his lies and delusions, but even funnier was he had no idea when to quit and seek help. I think Damon should have been nominated for an Oscar for his acting in this film because even though he got everyone trapped in his tornado of lies for five years or more, like his wife (Melanie Lynskey) and the two FBI agents (Scott Bakula, Joel McHale) who recruited him as a spy, I had to admit that I ended up rooting for him because his charisma was as powerful as his lies. The desperation that Damon infused in his character made me feel bad for him not just as a character but as a person. In other words, he successfully made a pathological liar look like the good guy. I loved the way Soderbergh helmed the picture. Instead of telling the story in a typical crime drama, it was nicely balanced with dark humor, especially the scenes when the lead character would narrate for a bit so we could hear the many random (sometimes insightful) thoughts and what was really going on inside of his head. Just when I thought I had the movie all figured out, it surprised me because it actually became darker and more amusing as it went on. The director had a way of playing with tones at just the right amount so it didn’t feel jarring when it shifted. Considering the movie covered a span of ten years, the pacing was superb and I actually wanted it to run longer because I was having such a great time. The progression of a confident and obviously smart man who slowly lost all the good things in his life (including his mind) was sad but at the same the journey was quite a ride. I loved that most of the movie’s humor was in the dialogue and situations instead of playing on the obvious. I’ve read reviews from regular folks who claimed that it was stupid. I think those people just need to think for a bit and realize the fact that there’s a Mark Whitacre in all of us (narcissism and all)–the way we lie to people and sometimes how we eventually get tangled up in our own lies to the point where we end up betraying our own ideals.

Iron Man 2


Iron Man 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man who is as narcissistic and self-centered as ever. This time around, he had to face-off with a Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who was out for revenge for the wrongs done to his father and an American weapons expert (Sam Rockwell) who craved power in politics. Tony also has to deal with his health, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) being the new CEO of the company, a new sexy assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and Rhodey’s (Don Cheadle) need to deliver the Iron Man suit to his superiors. There was no doubt that “Iron Man 2” was bigger and grander than the original. However, I don’t believe it was one of those sequels that disappointed. What I loved about the first one was the fact that it was an origins story. The first hour bathed us in curiosity and the rest tried to explore the lead character’s depth (although we came to realize he didn’t have much depth at all–which I loved). In “Iron Man 2,” it was more about having fun with the main character and his big ego. I thought it was funny, exciting and I liked that it didn’t try to be darker or deeper than the original. In some ways, I had more fun with the sequel than its predecessor. I was also very into what was happening on screen because of the many hints of The Avengers slowly forming (make sure to stay until after the credits). The tone was different than other superhero films because it made me feel like the superhero that we were watching was not the only one in his universe. I also enjoyed Rourke as Whiplash. He wasn’t given much screen time but every time he was, he generated maximum impact. I thought he was menacing but at the same time I felt somewhat sorry for him. When I looked in his eyes, I saw pain and vulnerability trying to wrestle (pun intended) with anger and thirst for blood. One of this film’s drawbacks was it didn’t spend more time putting Rourke’s character on screen to add some sort of enigma and rivalry between him and Tony Stark. I absolutely loved the race track scene and when Stark visited Whiplash in jail. There was a certain crackle and pop between the two characters when they spoke to each other because Downey Jr. and Rourke knew how to play with certain subtleties in terms of intonations and body languages. Those scenes left me at awe and it’s unfortunate because small moments like the jail scene would probably be ignored since most scenes were loud and bright and glamorous. Bigger and louder isn’t necessarily a bad quality but as the “The Dark Knight” has proven, a nice balance between quiet moments and adrenaline rush makes a superior and ultimately unforgettable superhero film–not just a superhero film but a movie that has the power to stand alone in its own right. Directed by the very funny Jon Favreau, it was apparent that “Iron Man 2” had actors that had fun in their roles so I had fun with it as well. I loved that Favreau put himself in his own movie for kicks. I think most professional critics are wrong about this one because they claimed it was inferior to the first. But I’m saying see it and pretend as if it’s not a sequel. I have no doubt that you will recognize a really good movie in it.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell


I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (2009)
★ / ★★★★

I decided to watch this movie because I loved Matt Czuchry in “Gilmore Girls” and I wanted to see what else he could do outside of that show. Directed by Bob Gosse and based on a novel by by Tucker Max, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” was about three guys (Czuchry, Jesse Bradford, Geoff Stults) who went to another city to go cruising and visit strip clubs for a bachelor party. This picture was unapologetically crude throwing gay jokes and lines about being violent to women like there’s no tomorrow. But in a way, I expected those because I read the film’s reviews prior. However, the issue I can’t forgive was its unbearable writing. With movies like “The Hangover” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” they’re successful (or partially successful) because even though those movies had characters who acted like teenagers, the jokes were funny and we could root for the characters in some way. In this movie, I didn’t see anything special in any of the characters because the writing rested on frat boy typicality. When the movie tried to persuade the audiences that the lead character had some sort of a realization that his narcissism was ruining people’s lives, I just didn’t believe it. In fact, I literally scoffed during his redemption scene. If they were going to tell really mean jokes for pretty much the entire film, the filmmakers should have had the bravado to not follow Gosse’s book and really stick with what the main character was about: his love for himself and himself only. Suddenly changing a character for the sake of having a happy ending doesn’t work with a movie like this. For me, it shows that even though the material was edgy, it was still afraid to push the envelope. I have to admit that I did laugh with some of the lines that were said, especially by Bradford. There was something about his geekiness that somewhat reminded me of myself especially when I get in a really bad mood. I thought that out of the three, he was the most interesting. He had a heart despite his (sometimes funny, sometimes annoying) temper tantrums. As for Stults’ character, he was just boring. There was no dimension to him at all and I think he failed to take responsibility for his own actions. People might say he’s the nicest guy out of the three jerks but I’d argue otherwise. “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” had probably ten minutes of great material but the rest was just empty calories.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard


The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Jeremy Piven, Kathryn Hahn, Ving Rhames and David Koechner agreed to take on a job offer from a failing auto dealership business. What started off as an edgy, politically incorrect and very funny movie, after its thirty-minute mark, became an incomprehensible pot of tired jokes and poor writing. What I loved about the first thirty minutes was that it didn’t try too hard to be funny. Each character had his or her own sense of humor and they don’t apologize for it. But then when they finally get to the car dealership, Piven’s character became another man with a dirty bag of tricks who falls head over heels for a woman (Jordana Spiro) about to be married to a man in a boy band (Ed Helms). If Neal Brennan, the director, had taken control of the picture and avoided the sidequests and not focused so much on the so-called heart of the movie, this would have worked as a dark comedy through and through. The movie became so unfocused to the point where I thought of the things I could have done instead of trying to finish the film. I also didn’t appreciate the many cameos from actors and comedians because they absolutely had nothing to offer other than to make the movie that much more muddled and unconvincing. But there was one character that never failed to make me laugh, which was played by Hahn, because even though she’s not given a deep character to play, she carried the character with such aggressiveness and I couldn’t stop laughing every time she opened her mouth. I wish the movie had instead made her the lead character because I think a deeply narcissistic character is far more interesting than a man-boy discovering love. I don’t blame the actors because I think all of them are hilarious in other movies. I mostly blame the lazy writing because it rested on typicality when there are so many rich jokes that could have been told about cars, car dealerships, the people that work there and the customers. With a running time of just about ninety minutes, I assumed that it was going to go by quickly. I was wrong. “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” started off well but it just didn’t have enough goods to keep me entertained.

The 400 Blows


The 400 Blows (1959)
★★★★ / ★★★★

I found this classic film’s theme of running away in order to achieve some sort of freedom being particularly impressive: running away from an uncaring home (the parents played by Albert Rémy and Claire Maurier), a strict school system, and a juvenile reform center. Alternatively, it can also be seen as an escape from oneself because Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), the lead character, cannot live up to society’s expectations on how he should think and behave. Having known that this story was drawn from François Truffaut’s, the director, troubled childhood, I decided to see this film in a psychological perspective. By the end of this picture, I have never found myself wanting to adopt a character because he is pretty much misunderstood by everyone around him. Admittedly, he did commit petty crimes and purposely did not do well in school but I thought the parents were to blame. The kid’s actions were a sort of signal for help and attention. The mother is disloyal and narcissistic in every way; a master when it comes to getting what she wants whenever she wants and not above bribery in order to keep living her fantasy. The father is not a good male role model for his son because he tackles problems with screaming and yelling instead of sitting down and discussing the problem at hand like a mature adult. The two parents have a few things in common: ambivalent feelings when it comes to their child, inconsistent parenting techniques (such as reward and punishment, lack of unconditional positive regard), and transference of their negative energy from outside the home to inside the home. I immediately thought that neither of them really wanted their son and I felt so badly for him. When it comes to the film’s techniques, I was impressed with Truffaut’s use of close-ups to fully convey what the character is feeling and thinking; the use of natural sound and extended takes made me feel like I was actually that much closer to the characters. The way the story unfolded felt organic–there’s a certain fluidity when it comes to the build-up of conflicts and the eventual release from such conflicts. Even though this was released in 1959, it’s still very relevant today because of the modern disaffected youth and people who are supposed to be parents but not quite know how to fill in such demanding shoes. An hour after watching the film, I still feel that sting of emotion on Antoine Doinels face as he was taken by a cop vehicle, crying behind the bars that portrays his crushed innocence. “The 400 Blows” is deeply powerful and resonant film and it’s a shame that I haven’t seen it sooner. You shouldn’t make the same mistake.

Holding Trevor


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.

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.

Rachel Getting Married


Rachel Getting Married (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

It’s definitely refreshing to see Anne Hathaway play a sarcastic and narcissistic character because I’m so used to seeing her as sugary and sweet like in “The Princess Diaries,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Ella Enchanted.” Although she’s had her share of darker characters such as in “Havoc,” it’s in this film that she truly shines and showcases her potential as a serious actress capable of carrying roles that have a certain resonance. Although the backdrop of the film is Rosemarie Dewitt’s wedding (as Rachel), the film is really about Hathaway’s inner demons as she tries to recover from addiction to drugs (and negative self-talk regarding herself, the world and the future). I must give kudos to the director (Jonathan Demme) and the writer (Jenny Lumet) for their sublime way of telling the story and how certain characters would crash onto one another. Although the arguments between DeWitt and Hathaway are truly scathing, I still felt an undeniable love between them because of the things they’ve been through. Some of those things are explored in the picture in insightful and meaningful ways so the audiences truly get to appreciate the main characters. I loved Bill Irwin as the father who mediates between the two daughters. Even though he strives to play the middleman, after certain fights, it’s noticeable that it pains him to see his daughters fight. My main problem with the film is that it lost some of its momentum especially toward the last twenty minutes. The movie started off so strongly because we really get to experience Hathaway’s frustration, sarcasm and rage but I felt like those attributes were missing in the end. Yes, I get that Hathaway’s character wanted her sister to have a nice wedding so she tries to hold her smart remarks but I still wanted more. However, I believe this is a strong film because I felt like I was really there with the characters; from the rehearsals to the actual wedding, it made me miss my own family and relatives when we would gather and everyone would act crazy. In a way, I could relate to Hathaway’s character because I consider myself the black sheep in the family (minus the drugs). I also enjoyed the multicultural cast and the fact that the issue of race was not brought up. The main critique I’ve heard from audiences prior to watching this movie is the somewhat shaky camera. I thought it was utilized in a good way in here because it added to the sense of realism. Not everything has to be perfect especially in a film with a very flawed lead character who wants some sort of closure in order to be able to move on with her life.