There is a story embedded in this review. Maybe, in fact, this isn’t a film review at all, just a story, several stories, like little assignations – drawing a reference there to a Joyce Carol Oates collection of short stories that triggered in me a desire, for the first time in my adult life right after college, to pick up the proverbial pen and write. The Assignation assembled pieces that were brief, sometime no more than a paragraph long, but even the shortest of the shorts told so much, too much about their subjects.
And that is what Sarah Polley, the Canadian actress and now writer-director, whose documentary Stories We Tell is ostensibly the focus or subject here, has done; she has spun the most amazing and haunting of stories about (and with the assistance of) her family and a secret that had remained unspoken for so long among them. It seems Polley’s mother Diane, an actress and later a casting director in Toronto, married Michael Polley, an actor and writer, had three children – Sarah being the third – but this bright and passionate woman found herself seeking a love that matched her own. Failing to do so within her marriage, she stumbled headlong into an affair, while working on a play in Montreal, which produced Sarah.
Diane and Michael resumed marriage life after the end of the show and raised Sarah together until Diane’s early death in the late 1980s. Sarah was approximately 11 years old and left to grow up in the loving comfort of Michael Polley, but thanks to a series of family jokes about her parentage, Sarah, began a quest to discover the truth about her father. Stories We Tell, built on the framework of frank interviews with her siblings and Michael, along with extended family, friends, and fellow artists from those early days, captures her telling of this story of the surprising revelation and its impact on everyone involved.
What is the story, her story, but a collection of memories, fragmented perspectives on the truth? It is a thing of intriguing beauty to watch unfold, raw and honest, but always, in every moment, calling into question, the notion, the very idea of truth. What is the truth?
No one lies; they tell what they can, from their point of view, but the truth, as we find out, is not something that one person can know, not without being privy to all other points of view. And when we tell our own stories, we are never as truthful as we might hope or desire.
But what Sarah has done is wrestle with the impossible. Her aim was to corral as many angles as possible, to tell the truth – the whole truth and nothing but. Although for all her effort, Stories We Tell falls short, in two ways.
We discover, along with Sarah, who her biological father is beyond a shadow of a doubt (thanks to DNA testing), and she works in not only his perspective but also that of his daughter from another relationship – another half-sister for Sarah who already has half siblings (a brother and sister) from Diane’s marriage prior to her union with Michael as well as another half-brother & sister set from Michael. It is all rather confusing to document here, but the film grants each one of them their own time to speak and breath as more than mere characters before us.
But we never hear from Diane. She is the hole at the center of things, the voiceless presence that looms large, so large that the film nearly tricks us into believing that we have heard from her. We want to and our desire is so strong that we, along with Sarah maybe, convince ourselves that we have her from her. There are so many images – photos and video – of Diane that dance before us and tease us with thousands of unspoken words.
And in the same way, it could be argued that we never get Sarah’s real story either. Her meticulous focus on gathering so much from so many allows her to disappear. I don’t believe that was her intention, but still, it is the result.
How do we tell our own stories?
I have returned, again and again, to a quote from Roger Ebert’s memoir Life, Itself, which I picked up about six months ago and read before his death. Speaking of advice he received once he took on the assignment of covering film, by way of Esquire critic Dwight McDonald and Pauline Kael: “I go into the movie, I watch it, and I ask myself what happened to me.”
What happened to me, while watching Stories We Tell?
I found it difficult to separate from the story, which for me, was a focus on fathers and fatherhood. Like Sarah Polley, I grew up without knowing my biological father. That’s not quite true. Unlike Sarah, I knew who he was, but he wasn’t involved in my life and there were periods when I considered seeking him out. There have always been people close to me who knew where he was and would have assisted me in the search, but I always found reasons to back away from the quest.
At one point, I hatched a plan. I started a novel about the experience of finding him. My fictional telling was rooted in the idea of creating him from the snippets of anecdotes and traits I had been told over the years. Once the book was completed, I would track him down and compare notes, see how close I had come to realizing him on the page. I got about 13 chapters and pages and pages of notes into the project, but set it aside. That was almost 20 years ago and for the life of me, I’m not sure what put me off that time.
Two years ago, I finally accomplished the mission, driving down to North Carolina for a meeting, which lasted all of 30 minutes. He told his story, as best he could, in a breathless rush that led me to believe that he realized this would be our only meeting face-to-face. I sat and listened. I stared into his face. And now, as I sit here relaying the story, there’s not much to tell. I don’t remember much of what he looked like. I can’t say that I found myself in any of his features. I do remember him saying that God brought me to him. He said it several times, but the truth, my truth at least, is that God had nothing to do with it. I came, I saw, and I returned to the only story that mattered.
This story was originally published on tt stern-enzi's blog, here.
What can I say about a man I never met, but who had been part of my life for decades? I, seemingly like a whole generation of film fans, watched Siskel and Ebert back in the 1980s, and then graduated to reading his reviews in the Chicago Sun-Times during my college years. Every Friday morning, I made my sojourn to the Annenberg School of Communications library and collected the Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Village Voice, and Variety so that I could prepare for the weekend’s new releases. I didn’t always go to the movies, but I wanted to know what the critics thought, which meant I wanted to know, first and foremost, what Ebert thought. I didn’t always agree with him – many times, in fact, I was flummoxed by his wrongheadedness – but reading his take was a necessary and very personal prequel to the filmgoing experience.
I’ve been a working critic now for almost 13 years, and for the last seven I’ve also taught film review and feature writing classes at the University of Cincinnati. I never imagined I would be working in the same field as Ebert, even while I was taking undergraduate level class that examined film as text. I simply loved movies. Always have and always will. I know that last part will be the case thanks to Ebert. His love of the movies evolved as the form and critical analysis experienced their own growing pains. He made us all critics, by opening up an exchange that now, thanks to the Internet, has a global forum. What has been most inspiring about his work and approach over the last decade is his willingness to embrace technology as a means of broadcasting that very singular voice of his, overflowing with knowledge, but also immediately accessible. His sense of the need for accessibility is the greatest and most lasting impact he will have on criticism. It is what can and should continue to guide the would-be critics to come – the next generation of bloggers, tweeters, and those adherents to whatever is to come.
More established critics and writers have stories about meeting Ebert, spending time in his presence, what have you. My remembrance of the man is different. I’m one of those Johnny-come-lately types who “knew” him from afar. I’ve attended the Toronto International Film Festival for the last four or five years, and I recall, my first Ebert-sighting, about three year back. He and his wife were ahead of me on the escalator at the downtown multiplex space that serves as the main screening hub. They were engaged with others, talking very likely about the upcoming screening or maybe he was thinking about the Twitter event he was scheduled to host. Whatever was the case, there he was, despite all those years of globetrotting and a dizzying collection of screenings, still so full of life and joy for the festival experience. I didn’t need to speak with him or even be near him. Just to know he was there, doing his thing, seeing movies, helping us to engage with them by any means necessary, was more than enough. I looked for him each year after that and was always glad when I spotted him. I’ll likely do the same thing this year and I won’t be surprised if my mind plays a little trick on me and I convince myself that I’ve seen him again, roaming about Toronto somewhere.
This story was originally published on tt stern-enzi's blog, here.
As a long time Thor fan, this movie has been on my calendar for months. Going into The Avengers I was excited but tried to keep my expectations from getting out of control. Fortunately, I didn’t need to do that because the movie is that good. A lot of that credit has to go to writer/director Joss Whedon. Some of you might recognize the name because he created the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.
The movie could have fallen apart from the beginning with so many big characters — both figurative and literally speaking — on screen at once. With Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk taking part in the story, any number of things could have gone wrong. Characters could have been underutilized — having four strong stand alone characters could have made them feel not like a team at all — but in the span of just a few hours, Whedon and company have created a giant leap for comic book fans and movies.
Whedon was the right person for the job because, based on his past work, he knows how to generate great characterization and interaction. He knows how to tell a story through the characters and not through the special effects, which was needed in a situation like this. Whedon, the other writers and the actors were able to make these comic book characters more human, so to speak.
The interactions between Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) were some of the best moments in the movie. Some of my favorites were Stark poking Banner to see if he will Hulk up, Thor giving a great one-liner about his brother Loki and Stark verbally sparing with Loki toward the end of the movie.
The story is simple enough: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to take over and rule Earth and the Avengers have to stop him. The major battle doesn’t take place until the end of the movie, but then again it does take up the final 30 minutes or so.
With Loki as the main villain in the movie it helps to have seen last year’s Thor. It isn’t a must to but it does help set up the relationship between Thor and Loki. Watching all of the individual movies helps with understanding some of the character traits in The Avengers, though the last the two Hulk films don’t really do much for the character except see him smash through tanks and cities.
While Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk are the main heroes, there is a strong supporting cast around them. Scarlett Johansson is Agent Romanoff/Black Widow and Jeremy Renner is Agent Barton/Hawkeye, both agents for S.H.I.E.L.D. Clark Gregg returns as S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson, and How I Met Your Mother star Cobie Smulders is Agent Hill. The guy who brings all of these characters together is Nick Furry, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Tom Hiddleston is terrific as Loki. He is sinister, brutal and devious — after all, he is the Norse god of mischief, deceit and lies. I hope he returns in some fashion in the next Thor movie or the next Avengers. Robert Downey Jr. is back to his witty, sarcastic ways and he has some of the best lines in the movie. Mark Ruffalo is able to finally bring some credit to the Bruce Banner/Hulk character.
The Avengers is a great way to kick off the summer movie season. It combines wonderful action sequences, well done comedy and heartfelt drama in the span of 142 minutes. Whedon was a perfect fit for this movie because he understands character and doesn’t rely on flashy explosions like some directors. If you like flashy explosions there are a decent amount in The Avengers but there is also some of the best character development/interaction I’ve seen in a Marvel movie.
The new trailer for the next Batman movie is two minutes of pure excitement for fans of the Christopher Nolan trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises will be the last in the Nolan trilogy, and by judging from how the stakes were continuously raised on Gotham City in his first two films, this one should be a beautiful ending to Bruce Wayne’s Batman. That is, until someone else gets a hold of the cash cow franchise.
[Read tt stern-enzi's take on The Avengers here.]
Despite releasing the trailer, DC is taking a back seat to Marvel. For
years Marvel has had better movies than DC, with the exception of Nolan’s
Batman, and recently the former has had a string of successful hits. This past
year along saw Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, two
widely popular characters that Marvel needed to establish before going ahead
with The Avengers.
DC has tried to branch out from Batman and Superman, but most of their efforts have resulted in ridiculed movies. The last Superman movie was terrible, but a new one is still in the works. Last year Green Lantern came out to mixed emotions from fans. Ryan Reynolds was surprisingly good; it was everything else that fell short in the movie. Weak villains and missed opportunities were the downfall of Green Lantern, but that is a whole other story. I will say that it was a decent attempt to start the push toward a Justice League movie.
In a way, Marvel wins the movie race because they are the first to release a movie based on their group of high profile characters. According to MovieTickets.com the pre-sale ticket numbers suggest that this movie is going to be bigger than the two Iron Man movies, Thor and Captain America. With sequels in line for the Captain, Thor and Iron Man, Marvel is going to be sitting pretty for the next few years.
This summer is going to be a great one for comic book fans. Not only is The Avengers opening up the summer blockbuster season, but The Dark Knight Rises releases July 20 and The Amazing Spider-Man on July 3. The third Men in Black movie comes out in a few weeks on May 25.
If you haven’t heard of Jeff, Who Lives at Home that's probably because it wasn’t widely advertised and only saw a limited release in theaters. It was a stroke of luck that the AMC at Newport on the Levee was showing it that night, or, as Jeff would put it, “a sign."
Ed Helms plays Jeff’s older brother, Pat. Helms is a little out of his wheelhouse here, playing an all-around jerk who is trying too hard to be a successful guy, but he pulls it off nicely. Jeff and Pat don’t get along but through series of synchronistic events end up helping one another.
Jason Segel tends to play lovable characters that a good number of people can relate to. Jeff isn’t any different. Sporting unkempt hair, a scruffy five o’clock shadow and an old hoodie through the majority of the movie, Jeff is a guy you could find walking down the street right now, although maybe not as big — Pat calls him sasquatch at one point.
This was the first Indie-type film that I have seen in a theater and I was impressed. This was also the first Duplass brothers movie I’ve seen. Their last film, Cyrus, featured a son way too attached to his mother and had the same charm that Jeff, Who Lives at Home does.
Everything was fine until John Cusack walked in from the shadows. Don't get me wrong, his movies are some of my favorites and I love his work, but Cusack playing Poe is a strange combination. Maybe they wanted to have the same dark character they saw in Identity. There are a few people that I could see playing Poe. Off the top of my head, Sam Rockwell, Edward Norton and Gary Oldman are three guys who could pull off the dark character that Poe was. At least Cusack resembles Poe in the movie.
Maybe it is just the trailer that turns me off to Cusack filling the boots of the late American poet. In it, Cusack’s delivery is dry and stiff. I don’t feel any kind mystery that surrounds Poe. Some of his writings are real disturbing when looked at closely, but with Cusack the character appears to be deflated. I guess this hesitation comes from Poe being one of my favorite writers. For all I know, the trailers don’t do the movie justice, which I hope is the case. Cusack is known for his obscure roles and disturbed characters, so this is probably a perfect fit.
The premise for the film has been done before, but since it's Edgar Allan Poe it gives the movie somewhat of a different angle. Some man is committing murders based on stories written by Poe, and then Poe has to figure out who the murderer is with the help of Detective Fields played by Luke Evans. If you're worrying about spoilers, don't be — all of that is in the trailer. I think I know who the murderer is already, but it’s Hollywood so anything can happen.
Movies based off of literature are good as long as they keep true to the source material. It will be interesting to see what happens with The Raven. It feels like a mixture of the Sherlock Holmes movies and the Johnny Depp picture From Hell. We will all find out on April 27.
Another movie is being released today and me torn as to whether to watch it or not. The idea of a The Three Stooges film has bounced around for years, but now it has finally limped its way to the screen. Leave it to Hollywood to take a beloved comedic classic like the Stooges and churn out a mediocre-looking movie.
There have been many names were attached to this project, including Jim Carrey, Justin Timberlake, Andy Samberg and Paul Giamatti. Actually filling the shoes of the Stooges are Sean Hayes as Larry, Will Sasso as Curly and Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe. To me the only choice that makes sense is Sasso because he made a name for himself with physical comedy on Mad TV.
I’m surprised this is actually a movie, because it just looks horrible. I don’t want to watch it but I probably will end up in the theater because the original Stooges are a great gift to slapstick comedy — I’ll even give Curly’s replacement Shemp a nod and say he wasn’t that bad, either. But any movie that incorporates the Jersey Shore should just go straight to DVD.
The tagline for the movie is “Just say Moe” but someone should have told the Farrelly brothers to just say no. They are known for great comedies like Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene, but their trek into classic slapstick comedy appears to be anything but. As much of a fan as I am of the Stooges I hope I'm wrong with this one, and that at least Will Sasso is just as good as he was on Mad TV.
Movies that populated theaters in the '80s and '90s are making a comeback. Some are better than others but since there is a built-in audience, Hollywood is cranking out remakes and reboots left and right.
This practice has been done for years but recently more movies than ever have been redone. March brought 21 Jump Street with skinny Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The buddy cop movie was actually funny and has made more than $90 million so far.
Other notable remakes over the last few years include Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian, Karate Kid, Clash of the
Titans, Footloose, Nightmare on Elm Street, Wall Street, Arthur and Die Hard. Out of the nine mentioned, only Fright Night and Die Hard were actually enjoyable (in my opinion).
The worst out of the bunch had to be Clash of the Titans. Cheesy acting and bad 3D effects plagued this Sam Worthington CGI-fest. Worthington did a better job in the ads for the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 video game.
Now an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is getting another look, and thank goodness it isn’t Junior.
The first trailer for a new Total Recall was released Sunday. No, this isn’t a late April Fool’s joke. The remake to the 1990 Schwarzenegger movie is a real thing, and fans of not only the original but of science fiction in general should be giddy with anticipation.
The remake stars Colin Farrell, coming off of his performance from the 1980s vampire remake Fright Night, with Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel taking roles of eye candy. Will there be another three-breasted woman? Fans of the original can only hope. AMC’s Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston plays the bad guy. The cast alone gives a lot more credit to this remake than most.
We will all have to wait to actually watch the thing to figure out if it’s worthy enough to be considered a decent remake.
In other movie news, the next American Pie installment hits theaters today. To me, this is going to be a paycheck movie. Meaning, the original cast of characters is only returning because they haven’t been in anything major in the last few years. Well, for the exception of Allison Hannigan who has been on the long running show How I Met Your Mother. Expect a lot of dick and sex jokes, which is essentially what the first movie was, but now the cast is much older.
The original American Pie was released in 1999 and was seen as a fresh take on the high school sex comedy. The second added on to that with more outlandish situations — like mixing up lube with super glue. American Wedding was thought to be the ending to Stifler and the gang’s stories — compared to the first and second, it was somewhat of a letdown. Then came the straight-to-DVD American Pie Presents movies. I will admit, though, American Pie Beta House was a hilarious college comedy; women might not want to watch because it focuses on a misbehaving fraternity.
Squeezing film stars for as much money as possible is the norm nowadays with movie franchises – just look at Pirates of Caribbean. Maybe I am jumping to conclusions with American Reunion, but the pie lost its flavor a long time ago.
There is another reason that I visit the theater maybe two or three times a year, and that is the price of tickets. My student status means what little money I have goes to more important needs. Going to see a movie should be an enjoyable event not a troublesome occasion that breaks your bank account. Tickets, dinner and movie snacks can get incredibly expensive which is why I’m glad there was still a little tax return money left when I went to see The Hunger Games. I know this is a little late in regards to the movie’s release, but better late than never.
With that being said, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of the story, characters or setting. In some cases that is the best way to be introduced to a series. With a clean slate, that allows little room for disappointment. The only thing that I was really disappointed about was the use of the shaky camera, mainly in the opening and final scenes in the arena. Apparently director Gary Ross felt that using shaky cam work would help give a better portrayal of Katniss Everdeen’s point of view and gave a sense of urgency to the movie. My only advice is that if you get motion sickness, be careful with this one.
There was one thing that went unnoticed though. Peeta, played by Union, Ky., native Josh Hutcherson, turned into a wimp in the arena. A big deal was made of how much weight he could throw around, even showing him picking up a spiked metal ball and hurling it across the room. I was expecting him to throw a heavy boulder at someone Braveheart-style. Instead, we were shown that he all he could do was camouflage himself to look like a rock. At least in the book he killed someone.
The Twilight books are horribly written — I wasn’t able to get more than 20 pages into the first one before I had to stop — the English major in me came out again, rejoicing like the Wicked Witch was dead. Then the Twilight movies completely destroyed every bit of vampire lore ever created. Vampires don’t sparkle and they can’t go out in the sun. I guess I don’t get the appeal of Twilight because I’m not a teenage girl. The choice of actors/actresses was strange as well, mainly because they give the same performance in each movie they are in. Check out Taylor Lautner’s terrible action movie Abduction for a piece of wood with abs’ best impression of acting. With that, I think I need to stop with the Twilight comments before it gets out of hand.
Now that Sunday night’s Oscars are over, the Internet is full of catty stories and tweets parsing every last second of televised coverage, from Angelina Jolie’s exposed leg to Adam Sandler’s participation in a taped segment in which actors discussed why they love movies. (If he really loved movies, he’d stop making them, some have said.)
It’s both understandable and sad that the Oscars — and movie-award season in general — ends like this, with far more interest in the telecast’s trivia than in the movies that win awards. Arguably, the news value of this year’s show peaked before it even officially started, when Sacha Baron Cohen, in costume as “The Dictator” for an upcoming movie, spilled an urn of faux human ashes (ostensibly Kim Jong-il’s) on interviewer Ryan Seacrest.
It’s getting worse, too, now that the Internet and 200+-channel cable television have educated us ad nauseam to the nature and inner workings of the Oscar campaign season. We carefully learn how a film builds momentum by moving through all the secondary award ceremonies from critics groups and the Hollywood professional guilds and associations.
As a result, the Academy Awards themselves have become anticlimactic, which partially explains the media devotion to dissecting the telecast. And the attempts by the Motion Picture Academy to build false enthusiasm by allowing up to ten Best Picture nominees have been a disaster, since we all now know how to “read” the nominations to distinguish the real ones (they also have Best Director nods) from the padding. Not all that long ago, few outside Hollywood insiders even knew there was a well-orchestrated “campaign season,” much less how to follow and handicap it.
Convention wisdom, and you hear a lot of it these days, would be to revive the Oscar telecast by de-emphasizing the importance of the awards, themselves. Reduce the number given out on TV, especially the more esoteric or niche ones, in favor of increasing the glitz, spectacle, star power and big production numbers. Do like the Grammys have done, where classical, jazz, folk, blues, opera, international and more are rarely ever presented on the show.
But I think the Academy should go the other way and try to increase public awareness of the importance of Oscar nominations. But maybe not for the Big Four categories – Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, which probably do suffer from overexposure by the time the telecast comes around (although The Artist, this year’s big winner, could use the help since many people have been scared off by the fact it’s a black-and-white silent film).
Click the jump for more on ways the Academy could draw more attention to deserving films such as A Separation, In Darkness, Footnote and Bullhead.
There were plenty of local mentions throughout the interview. Clooney briefly talked about his time at Augusta High School, where he played basketball (he claimed that the team was 1-25 his senior year) and was generally a great student. Just like myself growing up, every student who got As at his school received Reds tickets. Gotta love that Carl Lindner.