#22 High Fidelity

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High Fidelity

Year: 2000

Director: Stephen Frears

Screenplay: D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, Jhon Cusack and Scott Rosenberg (from the novel by Nick Hornby)

First of all (I hate starting with this phrase) I want to say I didn’t know this was based on a book, so obviously, I haven’t read it. I imagine the book is written in the first person because Rob – the main character – is constantly talking to us (to he camera), telling us his feelings, what’s happening, etc.

High Fidelity is a movie about relationships and our search for the perfect relationship, the perfect person, about expectations, fantasies, heartbreaks and all the sh*t load of things we go through our lives along with other people. Rob is the center of this story, a guy in his early thirties who’s trying to figure out why in the world does he always end up being dumped by his girlfriends. He owns a records’ store and likes to make “top 5 lists” of everything, from music – which is his passion – to girls, more specifically, breakups. With his two employees, they makes a trio of music geeks.

I’ll try to be brief for a change. He decides to meet with his previous girlfriends to find out the reason why they left him. 5 girls, and he gets different conclusions along the way. In the meantime he meets another woman, a singer, which is an amazing thing for him, but neither he or she are ready for a commitment, so it’s a short thing – a one night stand basically. It’s not even that much of a deal: in the scene where they are saying goodbye in the morning, as soon as she turns around, he starts talking about his “real” problems: her most recent breakup.

Besides the awesome cast and soundtrack, the movie itself got my attention the first time i saw it, not only because of these factors, but also because I relate to those people, we all do I guess, in some way or another. In my opinion, the world turns around money and love, nothing more, nothing less. The root of all issues are one of those two things, or both. But that would make another post… We see how Rob relates to those different girls and how he evolves and gets to his conclusions, being the final one the decision to propose to his now-reunited-girlfriend, although she doesn’t even want to marry and he knows it. His decision resumes the movie I think: as he explains, he’s tired of the fantasies, of running away at the most little “problem” (in fact, this isn’t just his problem… we all have our little flaws and his no-girlfriend did it as well), of messing things up because of other girls, even if it’s just a temporary thing, a meaningless thing. So he decides to propose, to end all that and have some stability with a woman he truly loves and likes to be with.

So yeah, it’s a pretty long movie but you can see it without even yawning or checking if it’s almost over. I liked everything about this one, from the picture to the music, the story – it has many references of things I like, plus: that’s how I found Stiff Little Fingers – the cast… I don’t know how to categorize it, though: I wouldn’t call it a drama, for me drama = tears. And I didn’t cry or felt like it. It has some funny things, but it’s not a comedy. It’s not a love story either I guess, it’s more a breakups’ story… I don’t know, it mixes all of the above, and music. Good music.

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#20 Moonrise Kingdom

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Moonrise Kingdom

Tear: 2012

Director: Wes Anderson

Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

I just saw one of the cutest films, the love story of two young kids who decide to run away and even get married! But I found Moonrise Kingdom more than that. Despite being a “running-away-love-story” set in 1965, this film approached the issues of being young and misunderstood in the kid’s perspective. Suzy and Sam are both “complicated” kids: Suzy is the oldest of 4 and the only girl, whose mother is having an affair with the village policeman, Captain Sharp (well, at least they meet to smoke and there’s something going on between them for sure), and is married to a depressed guy who does not satisfy her and is aware of that fact. Despite living in a big and beautiful house, they’re not that happy, mom and dad don’t even sleep in the same bed! All her brothers are quite young, so Suzy passes a lot of her time reading books and listening to music (on her little brother’s turntable). She’s also a girl that “goes berserk” sometimes, which causes her some not-so-good situations. Sam is an orphan with emotional problems at age 12, whose foster parents claim they cannot have him anymore because “it wouldn’t be fair for everyone” (???). He’s also the most unpopular boy at the campsite…

Sam is at a scouts’ campsite and the movie begins with his escape. The reason is because he met Suzy sometime earlier and the two immediately felt something for each other, so they eventually decide to run away together. Time passes and when Sam runs away, Suzy also leaves home with some of her most precious belongings: her binoculars (that she always carry with her, calling them her “superpower” because it makes her see things more closely), her kitty, some books and the turntable. Later when Suzy’s dad is told, by she might be at some friend’s house, he replies she hasn’t got any. So we have to outsiders here who fell for each other and decide to leave everything behind, even if it has consequences for those around them and putting everyone looking for them.

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I found this movie very touching, despite the funny parts. Sam is treated like… well, not as a person for sure. Because his actual foster parents don’t want him anymore, he runs the risk of being put in electroshock treatment at some Juvenile Refuge. This is something that is still done today, but besides that, many people (not only children) are treated (in terms of medical care) without taking into account the person’s background, consent, opinion or feelings. Luckily for Sam, Captain Sharp has a golden heart and decides he wants to keep the boy, avoiding his horrible fate. Therefore, Suzy is able to continue to see her husband (they have a more or less an official marriage). Suzy thinks her mother does not understand her and she herself does not understand what’s wrong in wanting to be with the person you love. All the commotion is because Sam is known to be an orphan with emotional problems, so part of the adults want him just… away. Anyway, the two are very closed within themselves, as, I think, all teens are. And that can be very dramatic, as I think I already said in earlier posts.

Another touching scene is when the rest of the boys at the campsite, instead of ostracizing their comrade, decide to help him in his escape (his second escape I mean, Sam and Suzy are caught in the woods, and eventually return home: Suzy to her parents’ and Sam to Captain Sharp’s). So the crew decides to “rescue” Sam from Captain Sharp’s house in the middle of the night, with Suzy with them! Everyone sail on canoes to the other side of the sore, where there’s another campsite in which is one of the boy’s cousin, who would help Sam and Suzy escape from the island, never to be seen again. In the meantime, there’s a storm cooking up in the skies, so we get a little tension: are the kids going to survive this escape all by themselves in the middle of that epic storm? In the meantime, everyone is worried and trying to find, first just Sam and Suzy, the the whole team, which leads to some situations…ImageAnother interesting thing I saw in this film was the innocence of two young people, discovering each other and themselves, who are not even ashamed, because after all, they were both alike and in the middle of nowhere, in a little stoned beach, to which they decide to call Moonrise Kingdom. As they are camping there, the two dance, hold hands, hug and kiss. They decide to try the french kiss and Suzy tells Sam he can touch her breasts. So yes, the two are exploring each other and the scene is so innocent because they are so open with each other, they are so true. Eventually they are caught, as I said, and the image of the two is (in my opinion, I know I’m often too emotional…) so touching: two little birds in their underwear, hugging each other inside the tent, which is blown by the big bad wolf, Suzy’s father, who’s angry and frustrated at the same time, with all the rest of the people watching! They just want to be together!!! But Sam and Suzy don’t seem to belong to one another: Suzy is very pretty and Sam is still very “dorky” (I know I use this expression a lot… but look at him!!). Sometimes people even get impressed that Suzy is “his girl”. Well, maybe if she was a “normal” girl who doesn’t stab people with scissors, she would be with a “normal” boy, but the two are just fine the way they are. They only met once – when they first met – so when they reunite again, it shows a bit of crudeness. Despite Sam taking her flowers and everything, the two treat each other almost professionally, planning the escape with a map and making an inventory of their belongings! I guess that they get more and more sure they want to be with each other as their adventure progresses.

One thing I noticed was that, both kids are also super serious throughout the entire movie! They talk very seriously and act very seriously, that’s why the movie sometimes reminded me of other films (like the Bride of Chucky for instants, although it has nothing to do with it!!!) It shows especially in the second escape, when the two decide to get married, seem two young adults instead of two 12 year olds! Later, in a scene when they are about to jump together into the rain, in a possible suicide, Sam tells Suzy that if they die, he’s thankful for her having married him, so they are sure they want to be together, as friends more than lovers, this shows they are thankful for having found a friend like themselves. More: they often say things very fast, meaning they don’t say it directly, but end up saying them anyway. Like in the clip above, “I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about” – there, no pause next to the “I love you”. And the she only responds to that part: it’s the only scene where they say they love each other to each other. There are other scenes when the two talk like this, the important part is always there, but it’s said like if it has the same importance as the rest of the sentence.

So this is it, this is what I have to say about this movie. It’s an adventurous love story between two kids who don’t fit so well, it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s cute. And the shots are almost like reading a comic book, i liked that a lot. What do you think?

#10 White Oleander

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White Oleander

Year: 2002

Director: Peter Koshminsky

Screenplay: Mary Agnes Donoghue (from Janet Fitch’s novel)

White Oleander is a drama film that tells the story about a girl – Astrid – that goes from foster home to foster home while her mother – Ingrid – is in jail, accused of murder. The story is quite simple but the characters are interesting to see. I didn’t read the book so I can only talk about the movie. Here we go…

To me, Ingrid, Astrid and Claire, one of Astrid’s foster moms, are the characters with most interest. Ingrid is an artist who thinks attachment only leads to suffer and is determined to not be tamed by anyone. She’s determined to pass her values to her child, Astrid, wishing for her to also be strong and independent. In the beginning of the movie we can understand Ingrid has some problems from the way she behave. Throughout the movie, at least until the moment she’s arrested, we can observe her behavior and conclude she’s a selfish person who doesn’t always think about her daughter, but only cares about herself. Note that they live together with nobody else. For instants, we can see how she does not care to go to a parents meeting at Astrid’s school or cares to leave her inside the car while she goes to make love to her lover – with whom she has an unstable relationship. Despite it all, the two seem to have a very open relationship, with Ingrid talking to her daughter about everything and always trying to make her confident about herself, as she herself is.

Astrid starts off as a girl who does not say anything about what happens around her, she’s a “sweetheart”, as one of her “foster dads” tells her at some point. She lives constantly accepting her mother’s selfishness and dramas without saying a word and as the movie goes we see her building her own character, her own personality (or at least the beginning since when the film ends she seems to be 17 or so, and we all know how long it takes to build ourselves), relieving herself from her mother’s or any of other foster families’ beliefs. She goes through a lot and you’re going to cry watching the damn movie (moreover if you have a troubled relationship with the mother you greatly love.)

Moving on: there’s a scene where Astrid goes visit her mother in jail, who notices a cross on her neck. As Astrid explains why she’s wearing it and tries to convince her mother (and herself) that those with whom she is atm are good people, Ingrid keeps telling her not to forget who she is and not to be misguided by the enemy, not to swallow other people’s ideas, much less the church! As Astrid leaves the prison, she takes the cross out. Once again she could not yet decide.

This first foster family are a dysfunctional family where the mother, Starr (at least she’s the mother of one girl) is super religious, despite her past and despite breaking her own “christian rules”. Her true daughter is the opposite, she seems like a normal teen who hasn’t “accept Jesus as her savior”, who escapes through the window at night to go out (well, that might not be that normal, but with a crazy mother…). There are also two boys being guarded by them. The “father” is Starr’s lover, Ray, a married man who does not see his wife and kid for 5 years. Apparently Astrid has a thing for older men and the two get involved (implicitly). Starr grows jealous and, in an act of despair, ends up shooting Astrid. Yes, you read it: she shots her. This was a point in the movie where I thought “Ok, now this is getting interesting”. Not that I don’t like movies about troubled relationships between mothers and daughters by themselves, but the movie seemed very “normal” to me until this point (well except for the affair Astrid has with Ray, which made me a little nervous, but I think I can assign that to her “daddy issues”).

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“I guess it’s hard getting older… pretty girl coming up in the house…” – Ray. Once again I thought about Time and about life with just a simple phrase. By seeing Starr and how she wears her mask made me think. I don’t think I have to deepen this subject that much. Although it’s a simple thing, it’s also a heavy thing: to see the years pass by so fast in front of your eyes. Some people accept it, but others, like Starr, don’t deal that well with the fact that they are getting older (despite being still in her late thirties perhaps and having still a fabulous figure). One can also compare how men and women accept this and how society sees the aging process in both genders. But that’s not what I want to discuss here now.

Obviously the family breaks apart and Astrid has to be transferred to another one, bot before staying a while in an institution where she gets in trouble for getting involved with other girls boyfriends. We are not told that, we just see a fight where she’s being accused of looking to a guy. This a time when her mother advises her to treasure her beauty as a gift. She gets friends with a boy, Paul, who’s obviously fond of her. Right after the fight, she decides to shop her hair off and after doing that she threatens the girl with whom was fighting, in the middle of the night, with a knife, at her bed. This for itself shows she’s getting stronger, she now has something to say, she can now fight back too. And the cutting of the hair shows a change in her character too. She gets rid of her old self. When they manage to find her another family, she’s moved again.

This time we see the opposite of what she had before: a perfect family, but only of two. Claire and Mark. Mark is always out on business and Claire is a simple woman who can’t have children. They seem perfect for each other, the three of them, although the looks on Mark’s eyes don’r seem that perfect. We see how Claire is a loving person and she and Astrid do lots of things. Once again Astrid is being influenced by her surroundings and starts dressing like her foster mother, who she realizes she’s starting to love. The two have a close relationship and Claire tells Astrid she doesn’t go on business with her husband because she says she slows him down. That’s the first sign we see of her mask. She then tells her she often thinks he has an affair with someone, to which Astrid replies she’s being paranoid. They both don’t want to believe that, they both want to keep living a perfect life. Astrid continues to visit her mother, who’s always commenting on her looks and behavior, always reminding her not to forget who she is. Something Ingrid said earlier in the movie starts to make much sense now: evil changes, when we think we know what evil is, it changes its form. And now we are watching just that: before we had the idea her mother, even though we don’t know yet about her innocence, was a good person, despite her little flaws, everyone has them. Now I thought she was in fact not only selfish, but also manipulative. We see a close relationship between a mother and a daughter, growing apart and hateful. I can say their relationship was close because despite Ingrid’s faults, her child loved her very much, and she loved her child. But now things are getting reversed, she’s getting jealous and scared to lose her daughter, and Astrid is getting sick of that.

Well, long story short, Claire commits suicide after a visit to Ingrid. Of course we can’t blame Ingrid, but through Astrid’s eyes, she had her role on Claire’s death. For the first time in her life Astrid had someone who truly loved her for who she was, but her mother took it away. This only contributed to their withdrawal.

2002_white_oleander_019She goes back to the institution until getting another family. This time she’s the one choosing her foster mother: Rena, an immigrant with two other girls who only thinks about money. She does not care much about her “daughters” but she doesn’t treat them bad either. She’s all about doing business every time she can, and tries to “teach” it to Astrid (as she gets an offer from her mother’s lawyer).

Astrid stays some time without visiting her mother, but when Ingrid’s lawyer shows up she goes visit her once again. Ingrid is somehow shocked by her daughter’s appearance, as Astrid is now completely different from what she used to be. Astrid wants to make a deal with her mother: if Ingrid tells her all about her past and all about what she’s kept secret from her, she testifies in court, otherwise she won’t lie for her. She ends up finding out about her father and about how her mother didn’t want to put up with her when she was a baby, which, of course, hurt her. As her mother, Astrid is a born artist and there’s this drawing she’s always doodling, a woman, but she doesn’t remember who that woman is. She also finds it out in this conversation: Ingrid left her for a year with her because she couldn’t bear it anymore. Basically she abandoned her child and returned a year later. Astrid is shocked and angry and all those feeling of being neglected and being always in her mother’s shadow and stuff come to words. Eventually, Astrid makes her final request: she basically asks her mother to leaver her alone and, because of that, Ingrid has to spend her life in jail, so that Astrid can go back the way she was, or that will be the price for being her daughter, the way she is now, that rebellious attitude and hatred.

Astrid then meets Paul, after picking up all his letters she preferred to ignore all that time (convinced that her mother’s theory of independence and detachment would work, or maybe just angry at life) and the two go to court where, by Astrid’s surprise, her mother sacrificed her freedom for her own freedom, as she didn’t had to testify. Paul and Astrid go live together and we see Astrid’s art works: several suitcases showing the several most phases of her early life. The film ends with Astrid as a voice off narrator, telling us that despite all her mother’s flaws, she misses her very much and knows her mother loves her.

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Going back a little, to when Astrid thinks she finally finds what’s like to be loved, because of Clair, I say we are talking about a motherly love, because she had already experienced Paul’s love, and he truly likes her, so it’s not the first time someone genuinely loved her. When she gets reunited with him, she finally realizes the truth in his feelings and finally lets go her chains to her mother’s ideas of being strong through detachment.

I also want to make a note about the soundtrack: once again I was touched by Thomas Newman’s marvelous music. If you hadn’t heard, prepare to cry. I first heard his piano in American Beauty and was immediately delighted. It’s very emotional and beautifully sad.

Also, the title! There is little reference to white oleanders, just that they are poisonous, but I didn’t really see any connection with the whole picture… Can it symbolise Ingrid and Astrid? Are they “poisonous” to those around them and “purify” themselves in the end? Is Astrid the oleander? A poisonous pretty flower, who has affairs with older men because she’s broken? What are your thoughts?