Tag: psychology

Three Identical Strangers


Three Identical Strangers (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

During the opening minutes of this fascinating documentary I thought, “So what? It is not unique for adopted identical twins, separated at birth and having no knowledge of each other’s existence, to cross paths despite the improbability of it.” But patience proves to offer big rewards as director Tim Wardle threads together numerous compelling reasons why his subjects are special: they are pieces of a bigger puzzle filled with curious implications about the age old debate of nature versus nurture. But that it is not all. The work is also a look at the darker side of acquiring knowledge, when ethics and morality are taken out of the equation in the name of science.

The material’s jagged edges can easily be overlooked at times because of how entertaining it is. Learning about the triplets when they met at nineteen years of age is highly amusing: they all smoked the same brand of cigarettes, they were a part of the wrestling team in high school, and they had the same taste in women. Robert, Eddy, and David—raised in a wealthy family, a middle-class family, and a blue-collar family, respectively, look so identical, it is a big challenge to tell them apart in home videos and photographs. Their collective energy was so infectious, I caught myself smiling because of how happy they were to have found one another. It is interesting to learn about them through one-on-one interviews in addition to those who know them most.

At times it is capable of offering great insights regarding its subjects. An immediate standout involves a fallout among the brothers after they established a successful business post-fame and celebrity. An interviewee makes a point that because the siblings met as adults, they did not have a chance to be around and learn about each other as children—which includes how to weigh each other’s personalities, temperaments, and point of views as siblings who grew up together would have. And so despite their many similarities in likes, dislikes, and mannerisms, they are, essentially, strangers when there is considerable conflict.

The manner in which the material is put together likens that of a subtle thriller. It is always evolving, its pace full of zeal, and it commands a constant forward momentum. Later surprising revelations underline seemingly throwaway information encountered earlier on. Notice the way in which the second half is edited. Intercutting among aging faces, potentially crucial documents, and foreboding city skylines are more prevalent. Frantic. And yet—it is not afraid to slow down to a halt, to be patient when a person being interviewed is recalling a painful memory or trauma. It never loses track that despite the big picture no longer solely being about the triplets, it remains to be a humanistic piece.

This is just the surface. Yes, it touches upon parenting, heritage, and identity. Still, so little can be said about “The Identical Strangers” without revealing its more sinister and chilling themes. I refuse to delve into them because discovering these elements is most engrossing. The documentary’s premise is feel-good, but once the layers have been peeled off, it is a challenge not to feel angry at the many injustices, for the lives lost and scarred forever. As the end credits start to roll, one gets the impression there are more secrets to be revealed at a later time. I hope to be around in 2066.

Gothika


Gothika (2003)
★ / ★★★★

Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) worked in a psychiatric hospital in which her current case was a woman (Penélope Cruz) claiming that she was being raped while she was in her cell. Dr. Grey surmised that the woman’s story was simply a reflection of an abused childhood. Of course, on a dark, stormy night, the psychiatrist got into a car accident because she attempted to avoid hitting a girl standing in the middle of the road. The next thing Dr. Grey knew, she woke up in a cell as if she was one of the patients in the hospital. “Gothika” was not a smart supernatural thriller. Instead of using images of a ghost as a backdrop of deeply rooted psychological problems, it used the paranormal in the most literal way. We were supposed to believe that the ghost could be touched (and possess someone despite the fact that the person didn’t believe). We were supposed to believe that the ghost was trying to communicate in order for it to find some sort of peace. We were supposed to believe that ghosts only appeared when lights flickered in quick succession.How was I supposed to believe in such things if I couldn’t believe for one second that Dr. Grey and his colleague (Robert Downey Jr.) were competent doctors? I knew they knew psychological terms because they had no problem throwing them at each other (perhaps as foreplay because the two were obviously attracted to one another), but I didn’t feel like the actors embodied their characters in such a way that I could feel an air of presence about them when they entered a room. Downey was too quirky to the point where I thought he suited being a clown more than a doctor. Berry seemed like a first-year graduate student who didn’t know how to adapt when a situation turned grim. (Initially, I thought it could work. Just take a look at Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”) Instead, in the most crucial times, she shrieked and hid and then did more screaming and hiding. The script needed some serious work. For supposedly intelligent individuals who ran a psychiatric hospital (where the film took place for the majority of the time), both the material and the characters lacked logic. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the pacing was deathly slow and borderline soporific. I didn’t find the quick editing and the booming soundtrack scary in the least. In fact, I was annoyed because I kept wondering when it would focus on the real issue at hand: the question involving Dr. Grey’s sanity. It never did. “Gothika” is a meandering picture with painfully mediocre storytelling techniques. The Best Unintentional Laugh should go to the scene when Berry’s character declared, “I don’t believe in ghosts… but they believe in me.” I don’t believe in either.

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly


Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1970)
★ / ★★★★

A well-to-do British family without a father figure immersed themselves in childhood games. They picked men off the streets–men who would not be missed such as hippies and homeless folks–and if the men tried to escape the mansion or expressed that they no longer wanted to play games, they were killed in a ritualistic manner. Mumsy (Ursula Howells), Nanny (Pat Heywood), Sonny (Howard Trevor), and Girly (Vanessa Howard) were the demented predators and their most recent prey was named New Friend (Michael Bryant) who took an intense liking for Girly even though she was at least twenty years younger than him. I thought the premise of the picture was fascinating but I’m afraid the screenplay was stuck in one concept and it grew more stale as it went on. I understood the psychoanalytical message. The film was all about commenting on the suffocation of constantly having the need to remain loyal with traditions. Since the father was not there to lead the family, the movie made an argument that the family would most likely rot from the inside. Since the father was believed to have a key role in the maturity of children, the teenagers became fixated in acting like six-year-olds. Since there was no father to take care of the mother, the mother and the nanny developed an unusually close bond. They even slept in the same room. Anyone with a basic understanding of psychology would be able to pinpoint such obvious messages, so I was hoping that the director, Freddie Francis, allowed the picture to evolve. While the acting was tolerable most of the time, at times I felt like the actors were rehearsing a play. Since the subject was already so bold, the actors’ decision to portray their roles as caricatures was like hammering the audiences over the head with mallet. Its cartoonish tone was very distracting so the horror did not work. As a dark comedy, it was arguably effective but I was not convinced that the filmmakers wanted it to be more amusing than horrific. In a nutshell, its arguable success was accidental. It should have paid more attention in generating tension because there were far too few rewards in between the sinister kills. At the time of its release, the film’s subject matter was very controversial. While I do enjoy movies that are different, the anti-formula to the formula has to have intelligence and an energy that does not leave me so frustrated after the experience. Unfortunately, “Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly” wasted its potential to be something great.

The Brood


The Brood (1979)
★★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Art Hindle) found his daughter (Cindy Hinds) covered in bruises and bite marks. To Frank, there was only one person to blame–the mother (Samantha Eggar) who was entitled weekly visitations from a psychiatric institution run by Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed), a doctor who had a strange way of providing therapy to his patients. It seemed as though he induced his patients into deep hypnosis. By pretending to be key figures from a specific patient’s life, they engaged in conversations and sorted through many emotions in hopes of arriving at some form of closure. Writer-director David Cronenberg took a lot of risks with this project by focusing on how negative emotions could potentially manifest themselves physically. There was true horror when the mutants started killing people. Were they real or were they simply a product of the mind? During an autopsy of one of the mutants, it was revealed to resemble a human but it did not have a navel. When the film was concerned with specifics regarding the mutants and how the new therapy technique worked, I was most fascinated. There also came a point when I stopped and asked myself if I was being paranoid for characters. Perhaps there was a scientific explanation that connected all the strange happenings. But the movie was not just about the horror of the unknown corners of our minds. It was also about ethics such as a doctor’s relationship with his patients. How far should we push a patient to go through therapy when, if they had been in extended states of hypnosis which possibly altered their judgments, they were not aware of its effectiveness? Or worse, they were not allowed to see their loved ones so that they, too, could see how the therapy was coming along. I was constantly challenged because metaphysical and psychological questions often came up and just when I thought I arrived at a valid conclusion, new evidence made me question. In a way, it felt like I was analyzing the movie as my own patient. Even though it asked us to take certain leaps of faith such as the so-called psychoplasmic therapy, the material had a solid grasp between playing within the extremes based on today’s established psychology (such as psychosomatic disorders) and total unbelievability. The final twenty minutes was very memorable because it offered grotesque images even the most hardcore horror fans would be impressed with. “The Brood” may have been deliberately slow-paced but the rewards were plentiful. It was the kind of horror picture that did not sacrifice intelligence and actually incited thoughtful discussion about mutation as a tool (or side effect) of therapy.

Afterschool


Afterschool (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Robert (Ezra Miller) was a sophomore in a private high school where kids were isolated from their parents so they were free to experiment with whatever they wanted. The high school made it a requirement for their students to take up sports or after school activities so Robert, having no interest in anything physical other than being intimate with another, chose to join the Video and Audio Club. While shooting at a hallway for an assignment, Robert accidentally captured two girls overdosing on cocaine. The event triggered a series of new rules as the students struggled to adapt to the death and their new environment. This film was good in some parts but it was mostly frustrating. I hated the scenes that reminded me of Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” where absolutely nothing would happen as the camera would linger at something random person or object. I think that is one of the main problems of movies adapting a style of faux-documentary or faux-realism: the filmmakers just don’t know when to cut certain scenes when the important element had been delivered. At times, nothing important would appear on screen at all. It then becomes an utter waste of time. The two main emotions I felt while watching this picture were anger and apathy. Anger because of the increasing frustration regarding dragged out scenes for no good reason. Apathy because of the subject matter. I felt like I was back in high school. One of my biggest disappointments with the film was it didn’t feature one healthy, clear-minded student with goals that go far beyond their current institution. When the two students died, honestly, I didn’t care. For me, they were just twins who happened to be addicted to drugs. Yes, they were young but that was no excuse. I was their age once but I chose not to make highly stupid decisions. It was ultimately their choice to be involved in drugs. No amount of excuse such as the classic, “My parents don’t give me enough attention” would make me feel more sympathetic toward them–dead or alive. Then my feeling turned to anger again because the very same students who called them “cokeheads” behind their backs suddenly changed their minds, claiming that they would miss the twins and “nothing would ever be the same.” Give me a break. But then I wondered whether that was the director’s purpose: to expose the drug culture of schools today and to reveal the hypocrisy of both the students and the faculties. “Afterschool,” written and directed by Antonio Campos, is a challenging film but sometimes it was just plain wooden. I wouldn’t be surprised if one decided to stop watching the movie just thirty minutes into it. However, I liked the fact that it made me curious with what would happen and to see whether my hypothesis involving the main character’s psychological state was correct. And I was.

The Rite


The Rite (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), son of a mortician, decided to go to seminary school because his family could not afford a four-year college education. His plan was to send his resignation after four years because he had serious doubts about his faith. When he did, a concerned priest (Toby Jones) sent him to Rome to attend an exorcism class led by Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds). But this only increased Michael’s doubt as he brought up the questionable methods done by the Catholic church in terms of dealing with people who claimed to have been possessed. Avid in psychology, he claimed that demon possession had classic signs of known psychiatric disorders. Since seeing is supposedly believing, Father Xavier sent Michael to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a practicing exorcist in Rome. Inspired by a true story and based on a book by Matt Baglio, “The Rite” took a more realistic path in tackling the issue of exorcism, a practice undoubtedly still happening today. It was great to watch because it wasn’t afraid to acknowledge how exorcism was portrayed in movies. As Father Lucas puts it, when it came to exorcism, people tend to expect “spinning heads and pea soup,” referencing William Friedkin’s horror classic “The Exorcist,” but that wasn’t reality. The reality was people would come in for multiple sessions and a priest would try to exorcise the demon by attempting to find its name and getting control of it. A certain level of the unexplained was there, such as the supposed possessed person knowing certain things about another, but an uncanny level of insight could potentially be explained via an observation of behavioral responses and first impressions. I liked its approach and I was fascinated. Even though I don’t necessarily believe in the devil, I wish the film had spent more time in the classroom because it elucidated and dispelled common myths about the practice. But the picture also had elements of the supernatural. As Michael got deeper into his experiences with Father Lucas, he began to experience horrifying possible hallucinations like a demon taking on a form of a mule and hearing his dead father’s voice on the phone. He also had dreams about the time he saw his father cleaning up after his mother’s corpse. Was Michael experiencing symptoms of a mental illness? Or were the hallucinations and nightmares triggered by guilt? Guilt of leaving his father, guilt of using the seminary school, and guilt of continuing to deny that what he had seen could be real. Directed by Mikael Håfström, “The Rite” wasn’t a typical film about exorcisms because it was willing to laugh at itself and its characters. Since it was more grounded in reality, when the supernatural was thrown at us, the scares and creepiness were all the more effective.

Dogtooth


Dogtooth (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

We all know families that tend to overprotect their children. There are parents who purposely instill irrational fear in their children so their kids will behave or act proper in front of strangers. Some do it in order to discipline, a seemingly small price to pay for a bit silence at home. “Kynodontas,” daringly written by Efthymis Filippou and Giorgos Lanthimos, took the repercussions of parents who equate parenting as taking control and multipled it exponentially. The result was comedic and horrific, curious but effective. To say that “Dogtooth” was strange would be an understatement and simplistic. The patriarch (Christos Stergioglou) and matriarch (Michele Valley) of the family had connections to the real world. The mother acted as if she had never been outside of their property. She took comfort by hiding a telephone in the bedroom. Sometimes she would talk on the phone and her children would overhear. However, they believed that their mother had been talking to herself. The father, on the other hand, was free to go to work and shop for food. But he warned his children that the only way one could be safe outside of their property was to be inside a car. The three children in question (Hristos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) were actually adults. Two were relatively content with their sheltered existence but one yearned to explore what was out there. She wanted objects not found in their home so when a stranger (Anna Kalaitzidou) came to visit, the daughter was willing to perform oral sex in exchange for such objects. The film immediately caught my attention because I hypothesized that the parents were some sort of really dedicated scientists involved in a behavior modification program. I surmised that the kids were genetically related to them but they saw the trio as nothing more than lab rats (they often wore white or some bland color). But as the picture unfolded, that wasn’t the case at all. I was mortified that they were actually serious about raising these kids because they thought it was the right thing to do. They purposely taught their children incorrect names for certain objects. I watched with a furrowed brow and the most perplexed expression. For instance, at the dinner table, one of the daughters asked her mother if she could pass the telephone. I thought, “Why would you need the telephone when you’re eating?” Out of nowhere, the mother grabbed the salt and handed it to her daughter. I was so puzzled with what was happening but I was undoubtedly entertained. What was even stranger was the fact that as the film went on, I was able to catch on with the incorrect labels and I actually understood what they meant to say. In a way, I became a part of the experiment which made me feel somewhat uneasy. Audiences who crave something unusual will be delighted by this oddity. Watson and Skinner would be proud.

Like Minds


Like Minds (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Gregory J. Read, “Like Minds” or “Murderous Intent” was about two boys in prep school who had a complex relationship. One ended up dead (Tom Sturridge) and the other was sent to jail (Eddie Redmayne) because evidence suggested murder. It was up to a forensic psychologist (Toni Collette) to figure out what really happened between the two and to try to gather evidence that could potentially allow the surviving boy to be released from jail. The film was something I had not expected. I’ve seen a number of movies about prep school and murder but I did not expect this one to be so involved in history and psychology. Since I had studied the latter subject, it was relatively easy for me to grasp what was happening on the surface. However, since my weakest subject was history, I found the discussion of the past somewhat confusing so I don’t think I fully saw the big picture. Having said that, the movie was full of tension and had a knack for delivering the unexpected. I thought it did a great job establishing the twisted relationship between Sturridge and Redmayne; they were interesting together but it was creepy at the same time trying to deal with a roommate from hell who had a penchant for dissecting dead animals. However, I wished that the picture had more scenes of Collette doing her own investigation instead of relying on the surviving boy’s stories. One of the best scenes was the climax in which she finally stumbled upon some evidence because she delivered subtleties on her body movements and facial expressions that went beyond the fact that she was scared and she wanted to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. What did not work for me was the detective (Richard Roxburgh) in charge of the strange deaths. I thought he served no purpose to the overall picture and he was the most one-dimensional character. Instead of helping out Collette’s character, he kept on wanting to get together with her and it was very distracting. “Like Minds” may be a small film and somewhat uneven at times but the mystery fascinated me and there was an intelligence behind the storytelling. The two boys did a great job playing predator and prey, especially Sturridge’s ability to shift from intense and piercing glares to blank but evil eyes. He reminded me of a more versatile and magnetic version of Robert Pattinson which amused me because I found out later that they were good friends. Fans of creepy, slow, sometimes disturbing psychological thrillers will most likely find “Like Minds” pretty enjoyable.

In Dreams


In Dreams (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★

The movie started off with a breathtaking tour of a town submerged in water that Claire (Annette Bening) saw in her dreams. She also had dreams of a little girl who was kidnapped by a man (Robert Downey Jr.) who lived in a place full of apples. Obsessed with the details of her dreams because they came true before, her own daughter was eventually kidnapped and she had to find a way to get to the man who kidnapped her child while trying to persuade her husband (Aidan Quinn) and psychiatrist (Stephen Rea) that her dreams were real. Even though the movie asked its audiences to take a leap of faith time and again about visions eventually becoming reality and strange coincidences, I could not help but get really into the story because of the way Bening invested in her character. I mean the following as a compliment but she made a very convincing crazy person when she eventually was sent to a mental hospital. I was entertained with how some scenes were supposed to be scary or haunting but they had strong hints of comedy and even tragedy. I liked that quality because although I knew where the story was going, it still managed to surprise in small ways so I did not lose interest. Neil Jordan fascinates me as a director because of the masterful way he balances elements of surrealism and realism. I noticed he would play with the extremes but there would come a point when it became difficult to discern what was real or what was fantasy. In other movies, I am usually aware of the intermediates of the extremes. What I was not very excited about, however, was how useless some of the characters were which negatively impacted the movie’s middle portion. I saw the cops and the psychiatrist as mere distractions or hindrances instead of figures that genuinely tried to help the main character. It was one of those horror movie clichés that just did not work and I grew frustrated with the material because I knew that the director was more than capable of doing something completely different with his characters like in one of his films called “The Butcher Boy.” Since the movie was based on the novel “Doll’s Eyes” by Bari Wood, perhaps Jordan was just trying to remain loyal to the book. Nevertheless, when adapting a novel to film, there should always be an artistic leeway in which the writers could tweak certain aspects in order to avoid the obvious. Upon its release, “In Dreams” did not receive good reviews which I thought was understandable because it tried to do something different in terms of not everything making complete sense in the end. I thought it worked because we don’t necessarily understand our dreams at times and I believe Jordan was deliberate in leaving certain strands unsolved.

The Butcher Boy


The Butcher Boy (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

Francie (Eamonn Owens), a boy with a very active imagination, values two things in life: his parents (Stephen Rea and Aisling O’Sullivan, respectively) and his best friend (Alan Boyle). So when the three important figures in his life were taken away due to varying circumstances, his childhood mischief evolved into an emotional disturbance despite the people in town treating him as nicely as they could. I understand that this can be a challenging film especially to people not used to over-the-top quirkiness mixed with surreal elements. I was able to stick with the story by focusing my attention on the psychology of a child who felt abandoned and betrayed. Further, he did not have a healthy way to get rid of his negative emotions. Instead, Francie channeled his energy toward torturing a kid from the neighborhood along with his mother (Fiona Shaw), who responded by asking other guys to physically assault Francie. The town eventually unable to deal with Francie’s indiscretions, he was sent away for extended periods of time. In such institutions, he failed to face his problems because he had no one to talk to and explain why what he did was wrong. The positive feedback of violence and emotional disturbance pushed the kid slowly toward a mental breakdown. Although the events that were happening on screen were wrapped in comedic elements, I thought it was really sad in its core because nobody understood how to deal with the tragic main character in a healthy way. The theme of the picture was abandonment which culminated when Francie returned from boarding school but his best friend was no longer his best friend. The schism in their relationship was especially painful to watch because earlier in the movie we had a chance to see them so close. They even had a pact to become “blood brothers” for the rest of their lives. The fear and disappointment in the children’s eyes (especially Boyles’) were apparent but they wouldn’t express them to each other because they either lacked the right words to say what they really felt or one did not want to hurt the other. All of the strange images and quirkiness aside, I thought the picture had a clear emotional resonance and I empathized with the main character throughout even though I did not necessarily agree with his choices. Based on the novel by Pat McCabe and astutely directed by Neil Jordan, “The Butcher Boy” was essentially about a childhood gone wrong because the child lacked guidance about life’s contradictions and challenges. Watching it was highly rewarding because its humanity was actually highlighted and not dimmed by dark comedy.

Blue Velvet


Blue Velvet (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off when Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) found an ear in the field during his return to hometown after his father became ill. The protagonist then took the ear to a detective (George Dickerson) and fell in love with his daughter (Laura Dern). The daughter shared some of the information she heard from her father’s office to Jeffrey and the two began spying on a mysterious singer (Isabella Rossellini) that might be involved in murder. Written and directed by David Lynch, being familiar with some of his work, I expected “Blue Velvet” to be strange, fascinating and visceral, but I did not expect to like it because I think his films sometimes feel too mysterious to the point where it’s difficult for me to connect with the reality of the happenings on screen. So I was surprised when I found myself warming up to the characters because they had clearly defined sets of moral codes despite their weird fetishisms and strange reactions to certain revelations. Lynch’s masterful use of tone (and changing it when necessary at the most perfect intervals) reflected the characters’ mindsets when they anticipated something bad about to happen and when they actually faced their biggest fear such as getting caught in the act of doing something illegal or immoral. But what I admired most about “Blue Velvet” was not its philosophical ideas or implications about what was real and what wasn’t. What I admired most was the acting from three fronts: MacLachlan’s, Rossellini’s, and Dennis Hopper’s as the villanous Frank Booth. MacLachlan had this natural child-like charm about him but I felt as though he always kept a secret because of his shifty eyes and the way he would put himself in dangerous situations for the sake of curiosity. Rossellini was as seductive as she was difficult to read. She reminded me of those femme fatales in noir pictures of the 1940s; I couldn’t take my eyes off her because she exuded an aura of sensuality and danger. As for Hopper, he was the spice of the picture. He was absolutely insane, sadistic, menacing–and I loved him for it. He was so dynamic and just when I thought I knew what he would do next, he managed to surprise. I can understand that “Blue Velvet” may be difficult to swallow because it directly tackled polarizing figures (such as Dern being the girl-next-door and Hopper being the evil figure) without giving the audiences answers that were certain. I always talk about looking for a light at the end of the tunnel for the characters when it comes to movies that are dark and uncompromising. But even the light that I experienced in the end of this picture made me feel very uncomfortable. It was hopeful on the outside but I felt like the joke was on me for wanting to buy it. It was a weird feeling but I thought it was the perfect way to end such an enigmatic experience.

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids


Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

Zana Briski decided to go to Calcutta’s red-light district in hopes of getting a chance to document how it was really like, especially for women, to live in the brothels. But her mission evolved when she got closer to the prostitutes’ children; she realized that the kids needed a chance to get out of the red-light district so she handed the children simple cameras, used their photographs to raise money, get international acclaim and get them into boarding schools. I was really touched by this documentary because the kids offered such insight about their living situations. Even though the kids were very young, they knew the importance of education but at the same time some of them came to accept that most of them would never leave the district. Or worse, they would turn out like their parents. Despite knowing the nature of their mothers’ jobs, the kids were aware of the fact that their mothers had to sacrifice their own bodies and safety in order to support their families. One of the kids that really moved me said that she doesn’t ever see herself becoming rich, that she’ll be happy being poor because life is supposeed to be sad and difficult. I understand the hopelessness of the children because of how and where they’ve been raised, but it’s still difficult for me to accept that nothing better is in store for them because I wasn’t raised in an environment that was even as close to theirs. The realism of this picture was staggering but it’s nice to reminded of the fact that the events that we’ve seen in the movie is still happening today. Briski’s decision to teach the children the art of photography has to be commended. The children were powerless but having a camera their hands was like handing them a special power. It was easy to see the light in those children’s eyes when they would run around in the streets and take random pictures of people and objects. I was surprised with how well some of the photographs turned out and was convinced that some of them just had a natural gift in photography. I don’t know if the children realized it but taking pictures was like an escape from the harsh realities of their lives. And the way they talked about Briski, I could tell that the kids looked up to her so much and probably even considered her as their hero. “Born Into the Brothels,” directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, was a rich and emotionally challenging documentary. The movie may have been shot with a simple hand-held camera (at least from what it looked like) but it was bold in terms of really exploring the sociological and psychological impacts of the environment had on the children.

Inception


Inception (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off like a spy film: the glamorous and exotic locale, fashionable suits, femme fatales. But unlike typical espionage pictures, the first half of the characters’ goal was not to steal a valuable object but an idea located deep inside a target’s dreams. The second (and more difficult) half was to get away with it by allowing the target to wake and continue living his life as if nothing had been taken away from him. This simplified two-step process was known as “extraction,” in which Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a leading expert. Cobb was not allowed to return to the United States to see his children so Kaito (Ken Watanabe) made an offer that Cobb simply could not refuse: to plant an idea in a future corporate leader’s mind (Cillian Murphy), known as “inception,” which had rarely been done before. If this last massion was successful, it would lead to Cobb’s freedom. In order to accomplish the mission, Cobb had to assemble a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) with very special talents and they had to dive in the target’s subconscious while navigating their way through defenses set up by the mind and the secrets Cobb kept from his unsuspecting team.

When the movie started, I barely had any idea what was happening. I knew something exciting was happening on screen because of the intricate action sequences and splendid visuals but as far as the story went, it was still nondescript. However, that was not at all a problem because the film eventually established the elementary elements required so that we could have an understanding of what was about to happen. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time, I was impressed with its pacing. There was an assigned time for getting to know the lead character in terms of his career, his past, and his inner demons. Once I had a somewhat clear idea of his motivations, I immediately felt that there was something wrong with the way he saw the world and the specifics were eventually revealed in an elegant, sometimes emotional, and often mind-bending manner. Their missions were often sabotaged by Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s projection of his wife who had passed away, due to an unsolved guilt that he constantly pushed away. Throughout the course of the film, that guilt, like Mal, became more powerful and became a hindrance that the main character and his team could no longer set aside. Anyone with a background in Psychology will truly appreciate the film’s level of intelligence in terms of Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary idea involving the subconscious manifesting in our every day lives and maintaining our mental homeostasis. But what impressed me even more was the minute details in the script such as the characters mentioning topics such as positive and negative emotions interacting and which side had more power over the other, one’s sense of reality while being in a dream… within a dream, and even questions like “If we die in our dreams, do we die in real life?” were acknowledged. That’s one of the things I loved about the film: it was able to present ideas we are aware of but it just had enough dark twist to create something original.

As with most movies with grand ambitions, I had some questions left unanswered. What about those instances when we are aware that we are dreaming and we can control what will happen in our dreams? I have experienced such a phenomenon time and again (and I’m sure others have as well) and I was curious if and how the movie could explain such a strange occurrence. And what about those moments when we sleep but we are not yet dreaming? What if our dreams are interrupted? Sure, the team injected chemicals in their bodies to stabilize the feeling of reality in dreams but, as the movie perfectly illustrated, nothing completely goes according to plan. Perhaps I’m just being more analytical than I should be thanks to the fascinating sleep studies I encountered in Neurobiology and Psychology courses. But I believe a mark of a great film is open to question, interpretation and debate. I say we question because we have embraced the material and we are hungry for more. That’s how I know I’m emotionally and intellectually invested in a film. That absolute killer final shot and the audiences’ collective sigh of anticipation for the clear-cut answer as the screen cut to black was simply icing on the cake.

“Inception,” written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was certainly worth over a year’s wait since it was still in pre-production. I remember trying look for more information about it during my midterm study breaks (and getting so caught up in it) so I am completely elated that it was finally released and it turned out to be one of the finest and most rewarding movies of 2010. It may not have been its goal but “Inception” certainly adds a much needed positive reputation to mainstream movies, especially in a season full of sequels and spoon-fed entertainment. I was optimistic early 2010 in terms of the quality of movies about to be released in theaters, especially when Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” came out, but now I am more than convinced that the film industry is experiencing a drought of refreshing and daring ideas. Some critics may compare “Inception” to “The Matrix” (both great movies) but I think “Inception” functions on a higher level overall and it has an identity of its own. Perhaps an injection of new blood that is “Inception” will inspire movie studios to take more risks in terms of which movies they green light. There is no doubt that mindless, swashbuckling popcorn adventures or even extremely diluted romantic comedies have their place in the market. But with the critical and mass success of “Inception,” it shows that audiences are always ready to be inspired by new ideas and to dream a little bigger.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” or “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” showcases how fearless Pedro Almodóvar can be as a writer and director. After Pepa (Carmen Maura) was left by her lover (Fernando Guillén), she decided to kill herself by eating gazpacho mixed with heavy doses of sleeping pills. However, her suicide attempt was interrupted when her friend (María Barranco) knocked on her door for help after realizing that she was involved in terrorists who wanted to hijack a plane. And while Pepa was gone and her friend was left to guard the apartment, a couple (Antonio Banderas, Rossy de Palma) knocked on the door to decide if they wanted to rent Pepa’s place. Everything about this movie was so absurd but it was so much fun to watch because it was incredibly unpredictable. And what’s better was the fact that it was easy to tell that the actors were having so much fun in their roles. As much as the movie was comedic on the outside, it really was about the connections between the quirky and eccentric characters unique to Almodóvar’s world. Having seen Almodóvar’s recent works from the 1990s to the 2000s, it was easy for me to recognize certain motifs such as the use of color, strange coincidences and strong women willing to fight for what they believed in. In relation to the last bit, I was in love with that scene when one of the characters discussed the relationship between understanding bikes and understanding the psychology of men. I thought that scene summed up the picture with such elegance because the story was essentially about four women obsessing over men and the outer and inner conflicts they had to go through to be loved in return. My main problem with this film, however, like in a lot of Almodóvar’s movies, was its pacing slowed down a bit somewhere in the middle. But I think it’s only a matter of taste that one can get used to over time as one watches more movies from the director. It’s not at all difficult to be enveloped into the story because the lead character was always doing something purposeful and she was willing to engage in conversations that were witty and sometimes confrontational. A lot of people may think “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” was over-the-top but that’s what makes a great farce. It’s like watching a telenovela with characters that range from harmless but annoying to dangerously psychotic. It was definitely campy but it had a creative postmodern romance that I rarely see (and would like to see more) in cinema these days.