Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"My Last Five Girlfriends"

My Last Five Girlfriends

Title: “My Last Five Girlfriends” - 2009
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Language and Run Time: English, 87 minutes
Director: Julian Kemp
Writer: Lack of internet access interfered with ability to research
Cast: Brendan Patricks (Duncan), Naomi Harris – internet problems restricted access to cast and character information

Story telling and humor carry this hilarious film. The comedic delivery helps impart meaningful insight into everyday struggles and situations. The movie provides a narrative recounting of Duncan’s relationship history over the last five girlfriends to enter his life. Through a series of stories regarding the build up, the relationship itself, and the break down of each relationship the film cuts straight to some honest, real world questions and explanations of the pain and joy that befall each of us on our quest for lifelong companionship. Humor is expertly used to soften the sting, yet enables the actors to dig deeper into these interesting questions regarding love, how you know when you’re in love, how break ups of happily joined couples come about, and what are some of the confusions and miscommunications that arise between different genders.

The movie begins with Duncan’s unexpectedly dark contemplation of suicide before he proceeds to walk us through the story of his relationship woes. The most superbly effective illustration of each relationship came in the form of a theme park called “Duncan World,” with each girl and relationship receiving her own dedicated ride. This park came complete with carnival sounds, screaming kids, tourists, eateries, and rides galore! There was even an in-park guide giving sarcastic, pointed tours of each period in Duncan’s life with park-goers filling the seats in his stretch golf cart.

His first relationship demonstrated the ignorant bliss often accompanying a first relationship, explained through hilarious, lively graphics. When discussing why he was so convinced that Wendy (girlfriend #1) was his destiny, a narrative of probability calculations set to a funny cartoon teacher graphic demonstrated how unlikely his odds were of meeting her on that plane at that time in that seat. He then goes on to explain how unrealistic and emotionally based our reasoning becomes in relationships. The attention to detail during the joint Wendy-Duncan narrative of this session reinforced some of Duncan’s complaints about her personality, which was further substantiated in the scenes to come.

For example, her clingy, controlling personality shone through in the details as she recounted the circumstances of their meeting down to the minute on that fateful day: 9:15 am got in cab, delayed 10 minutes because shampoo spilled in bag, cab ride took an hour longer because of road construction, she missed her flight, and happened to catch his flight with a seat right next to him.

This kind of self substantiation where the form of story telling with theme parks, detailed narrative, and relevant scenes, created a coherent interconnection of themes, plot, and characterization of each person in the movie. The variety of components included in the script and cinematography captured a comprehensive picture of relationships in its many forms and stages. Some components were off- the-wall, like the cartoon characters or fake game show clips that were used to make a narrative point about the flawed logic of Duncan’s “destiny girl” conclusion about Wendy. Other components were serious, such as the portrait of pain wreaked by heartache evident in the suicide note and the “apartment languishing” phase of break ups that consist of eating, laying in bed, and watching tv. More comedic elements helped to ease the sting of communicating the frustration of understanding the opposite sex. For example, the wit and hilarious tone in which Duncan recounted his huge falling out with Rona (girlfriend #3) over a pair of red shoes he deemed “the ugliest pair of shoes he had ever seen” cleverly illustrated the complexity of two-way communication.

This issue that turned out to be the final nail in the coffin of their mismatched relationship opened the debate about common problems with which every guy can relate. Directly relevant to this situation is the question: do you lie in response to opinion questions posed by your girlfriend? On one hand they (girlfriends) say that honesty is the most important building block of the relationship, however, when you tell them your honest assessment about the drapes or wall colors (or shoes in Duncan’s case) they get angry and tell you to be more considerate or that you don’t know what you’re talking about. He even explains that “she deserves better than being lied to” and that his opinion is not a reflection on her or his feelings for her, at all. Unfortunately, she could not separate his honest clothing opinion from his personal opinion of her, which provided the launching point for a massive argument about how he is a jerk and doesn’t care about her, her feelings, or her quirks. Appropriately, Rona’s ride in the amusement park was a roller coaster with red shoe shaped compartments.

Continuing in the vain of insightful commentary, Duncan objectively reflects on his relationship with Rona and illustrates the truth of the old adage, “Rome didn’t fall in a day.” His detailed analysis of their progression as a couple reveals the subtle cracks that actually developed in the relationship long before the epic “Red Shoe War.” The tale serves as a warning to viewers about the necessity to pay attention to the undercurrents of a relationship and how they affect the true health of the relationship as opposed to measuring relational health by number and magnitude of large fights. Similarly surprising in-depth revelations crop up in every story from the emotional issues with Gema (girlfriend #5) to the lack of connection with Olive (girlfriend #2).
Lastly, those wonderfully blissful, funny moments in relationships receive important screen time as well. I believe Duncan’s desperate attempt to get a date with Gemma is the best example of the power that women have over us guys and what we are willing to do to connect with the woman we care about. After not seeing her for months Duncan finally spots Gemma on a grocery run and decides that it’s now or never for his chance in the game of love when it comes to Gemma.

Being quick-witted and desperate, Duncan slips a pair of men’s socks into Gemma’s basket then sneaks out of the store and down the street. Casually walking back, Duncan “happens” to walk by the exit just as Gemma is being stopped and searched for shoplifting when the alarm goes off. To her surprise she finds that a pair of socks mysteriously made its way into her bag, but before she had time to figure things out her hero Duncan steps in to figure out a solution to the problem. After identifying the item as a pair of men’s socks then cleverly discovering that she does not have a boyfriend and therefore would have no possible motivation for stealing the socks, the store employee lets her go without further issue.

Upon returning to her car with Duncan at his side he slips up on his cover story and gives away the staged confrontation in an effort to play the hero and win a date. As corny and weird as this may sound, the scenario describes the lengths that we will go to as men to win favor in the eyes of a girl and show them that we care; a fact that was neither lost on nor resented by Gemma as she enthusiastically agreed to go on a date.

For those of you out there in relationships that have you at a loss for what to do then this movie is for you. You’ll find a wide range of personalities, relationships, and mistakes from which to learn and build a diverse repertoire of knowledgeable solutions with which to navigate your relationships. I highly recommend this riot of a comedy to anyone with a penchant for laughter or a need for deceptively perceptive advice into the world of dating.

Austin Hodge

"William Vincent"

William Vincent

Title: “William Vincent”
Genre: Drama
Language and Run Time: English, 104 minutes
Director: Jay Anania
Writer: Jay Anania
Cast: James Franco (William Vincent), Julianne Nicholson (Ann), Josh Lucas (Boss), Martin Donovan (Victor)

Technically this movie was incredible. From dreary gray, low lighting to camera cuts and shot planning to depressing emotions evoked in the audience, William Vincent was a superb film. The only aspect in which it was lacking? The experience. It was awful and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to get out of that theater.

I understand that films should be both technically excellent as well as entertaining and enjoyable for moviegoers, but if you can only have one or the other then the film should at least be entertaining. After all, that is the point of the medium and that is why we call it the “entertainment industry”. The high technical quality, but poor entertainment quality of this film highlights the unfortunate trade off that is almost always present in our less than perfect world. Even more unfortunate is the air of superiority that many self-righteous directors carry about them somehow thinking that the technical side of a film deserves more effort than the entertaining aspect of the movie. While I have no desire to sit through a poorly created film with nothing but special effects to carry the experience, I have to at least have some hook to keep me in the theater. Since there is no hope for enjoying this movie, I would like to focus the rest of my discussion on salvaging the worthwhile aspects of the film, which include the cinematography and heavy atmosphere so effectively imposed upon the audience.

As for the technical expertise, the film employed long, still camera shots that effectively conveyed a sense of quiet loneliness. Intense stares from an unmoving James Franco drew a cloud of heavy despair over the audience that in the end sent a strong message about the difficulty of life and the emotionless shell that we can become after being worn down. However, this was one approach of many possibilities that could have communicated such a grave message. For example, I believe that a more active dialog could have served the same purpose. More hectic scenes of frustration, pain, and despair could have killed two birds with one stone, illuminating the pain that comes from the hollowness of hard world we live in while providing some sort of material for the audience to grasp for entertainment.

To give full credit where credit is due I must take a moment to focus on further aspects of the film that created an effective presentation. One unifying symbolic element of the film was that of the flashbacks William Vincent experienced throughout the film. Throughout the movie Vincent has various flashbacks of two boys in various settings and activities. As the movie progresses, we find that the atmosphere and physical actions of these boys gives us helpful insight into what is to come. When Vincent was with Ann the boys were sitting happily in the sunshine, but when things began to take a dark turn we see the boys sitting together, downtrodden and drenched in the rain. Then, just before the final act of defiance that leads to his death (trying to contact Ann via letter after being forbidden), we find one of the boys struggling up a steep hill on his bike all-alone in the rain. These flashbacks provide a silent, but powerful reinforcement of the despair permeating the film and surrounding his rapidly deteriorating situation.

If you’re trying to get a good idea about tone of this movie imagine a modernist poet, T.S. Elliott would be perfect, put into film form. Immediately, I thought of Elliott’s “The Hollow Men,” with the droning solitude and incessant images of despair. The mood of the poem and the movie is gravely monotonous emphasized during the movie by extended camera time devoted to Vincent’s motionless stares and very long pauses between toneless, simple dialog responses. He never seemed to change facial expressions or tones, never made any sudden movements except for killing a debtor with an ashtray, and taking forever to respond in dialog, if at all. The whole ambiance creates a sense of hollowness, that one is just an empty shell in the world where the best we can do is to go through the motions until our short lives come to a miserable end. “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” While Vincent’s life may have ended with a literal bang (he was shot in the head), the termination of his life was but a whimper in the cold world that goes on without a hiccup at the loss of one insignificant life.

I did enjoy the interesting intellectual observations about various creatures throughout the film. Oddly enough, I believe more dialog happened during these short segments than throughout the rest of the movie combined. The clear dedication to studying these creatures indicates that this hobby is the only thing that seems interesting or life-like in Vincent’s life. Amidst his Spartan room the most homely feeling addition to the room happens to be his computer with underwater screen savers or the online research into the subjects of his study.

For those that crave technical expertise over entertainment this movie will be the perfect experience for you. The camera strategy, pauses, and script will easily transport you to the depressing world of the masses that live as a shell gliding through their lives. If you need some compelling motion, dialog, plot, or action then quickly get up and walk out of the theater, or better yet, save your time and money and stay at home to enjoy a good tv show.

Austin Hodge

Friday, May 21, 2010



Title: “Brotherhood”
Genre: Drama
Language and Run Time: English, 82 minutes
Director: Will Canon
Writer: Will Canon, Douglas Simon
Cast: Trevor Morgan (Adam), Jon Foster (Frank), Lou Taylor Pucci (Kevin), Arlen Escarpeta (Mike), Jessie Steccato (Bean), Jennifer Sipes (Emily), Luke Sexton (Graham)

“Brotherhood” – “an association, society, or community of people linked by common interests, religion, or trade.” If this movie does only one thing well it is to show that this definition does not give a complete picture of true brotherhood. The real definition should be expanded to include consideration of overall ,as well as individual member, best interest, selflessness for a brother, and integrity of action that is consistent with the actions that take full responsibility for decisions and support the rights and well being of members above all other considerations.

When Adam persisted in fighting to take Kevin to the hospital for the duration of the movie, that was true brotherhood; saying “f*** the cops, he needs a doctor!” Graham, and the fraternity President, Frank, however, was not acting on the principles of brotherhood when they delayed in taking their injured pledge to the hospital in favor of quickly, shoddily concocted self-fixes; rather, what they displayed was selfish self-interest being disguised as “doing what’s best for the brotherhood”. Granted, attempting to rectify a botched pledge hazing ritual where a staged store robbery went wrong and a pledge was actually shot might be tempting, especially when underscored by the line of “doing it for the good of the fraternity and keeping everyone from going to jail.” However, I believe that true brotherhood in this case means realizing and admitting to grave mistakes and taking the heat of the law in order to guarantee that a pledge brother survives the night instead of playing around with his life when he should be getting proper medical care.

The basic run down of the story goes like this: pledges are supposed to commit a fake armed robbery, but they do not know that until another brother catches them before running inside and hands them a bag of money instead of actually robbing a gas station. A miscommunication leads to the most reticent pledge committing an actual armed robbery in which a terrified clerk shoots him. One of the other pledges races inside to find his pledge brother hurt and a friend, the clerk, being beaten by Frank for shooting him.

From the attempted cover ups come the kidnapping and beating of the clerk, a car accident involving a doctor coming to see the injured boy, and an angry sorority mob leader wanting her house’s toilet seats back almost exposing the whole incident. The problems mount when a former Sigma Zeta Chi fraternity member and current police officer stops by the house to answer a complaint from the sorority, sees the unreported gunshot wound, and finds out about the theft of money from the gas station robbery. And just when all the fires, health issues of the injured brother, and cover up liabilities surrounding the clerk and the cops are almost resolved, they discover that a pledge has died after being locked in a car trunk with bottles of alcohol holding the key to his escape. He was forgotten during the night’s events and so was left to die in the trunk. Upon discovery, Adam is finally able to make a call to the authorities without being beaten again by the President for wanting to “snitch” and “ruin everything.”

From a visual point of view the film was excellent. Quality and lighting was great, reflecting the dark mood of the intense situations, while also keeping the screen clear to see all that was going on. I loved the unsteady camera movements that captured the hectic, frantic nature of desperate situation after desperate situation. From the fights to the running back and forth to the agonizing Kevin, camera angles and motion caught the pain, frustration, fear, and high tension permeating the experience and bringing the audience right into the action.

I believe that the “perfect storm” style of snowballing disasters was slightly too unlucky to be completely believable. However, it did not actually detract from the enjoyment or the message of the film, rather, it provided the best way to most effectively communicate the integral lessons learned from the movie. One of the most important points was the emphasis on the fact that the right thing should always be done regardless of cost; and just as importantly, that it should be done immediately from the start. If the mistake had been admitted, accepted, and addressed by taking Kevin to the hospital immediately then a whole host of issues, and felonies (kidnapping, assault, murder, obstruction of justice, etc.), could have been prevented and a life might have been saved. This film was beautifully crafted to show the dangers and consequences of “escalated commitment,” when sunk costs such as time, energy, and risk become irrelevant because they cannot be undone, yet as humans we feel that we are in too deep to pull out – that we must go “all in” so to speak, because we’ve come too far.

Adam was clearly the moral protagonist of the movie pitted against the stubborn President, Frank. In many situations we witness his willingness to put himself on the line to do what was necessary for the fraternity. Whether it was going back to talk to his clerk friend, risking a daring return of the cash, trying to take care of Kevin, or figuring out how to work things out, he was no mere pledge but a leader by example. I would also argue that he had the strongest vision of brotherhood since he did not do all of those things for the sake of covering things up or bailing out the fraternity, but because he was doing everything to get his friend Kevin to the hospital as soon as possible. He realized after a few altercations with Frank that he could not get Kevin to a hospital by himself without being blocked out by Frank and the other brothers.

So he did the best that he could to speed up the process and take risks to make bargains happen in the hopes that they would finally consent to take Kevin to the hospital. Two sucg incidents include when he volunteered to take on the risky task of returning the stolen money to one of the stores and when he tried to help both Mike and Kevin by trying to get Mike to say something to please the other brothers before they beat him so that he could walk away as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, in this last situation we see that he is not a flat character, but that he does make mistakes despite his protagonist actions and intentions. While we realize that he was pressuring Mike to say something into the recorder for both Kevin and Mike’s benefit, he went about it the wrong way in some cases. He was too harsh at times, failed to trust his friend when he claimed innocence regarding the allegations of a few years ago, and when he began losing his patience as he felt the pressure of Kevin’s life hanging in the balance. I believe that he could have been more understanding of Mike’s situation and concerns back in the store and then again in the basement of the fraternity house, but overall, especially given the constraints and pressure surrounding the high stakes of his friend’s life, he did the best that he could to do the right thing and continually progress toward the quickest, most ethical and beneficial resolution to such a nightmare situation. In the end his perseverance pays off as he defies Frank and calls the police to report the tragedy of that night and get his friend the life-saving medical attention he needed. Without a doubt, I would highly recommend this movie to anyone! The drama, emotion, and lessons in this movie are well worth the two hours of your time.

Austin Hodge

Black Heaven

“Black Heaven”

Title: “Black Heaven”
Genre: Thriller, Action/Adventure
Language and Run Time: French, 100 minutes
Director: Gilles Marchand
Cast: Gregoire LePrince-Ringuet, Louise Bourgoin, Melvil Poupaud

Black Heaven has its pros and cons like any other movie, but on the whole I would say it is a worthwhile film. The acting is not quite A-list and in the beginning the dialog is a little slow and simple, but in the end the movie conveys a powerful message.
On our journey to figuring out what this mysterious Black Heaven could be, we follow the travails of Gaspard on vacation with his girlfriend in southern France. After picking up a stranger’s abandoned cell phone, reviewing the messages, and tailing a couple from their rendezvous point, Gaspard and Marion unwittingly stumble upon a joint suicide. When the two hear a dog barking they trace the sound to a car in which a man and woman have committed suicide by stopping up the car’s exhaust pipe and recording their death on a video camera.

Gaspard, however, notices that the girl is still alive and saves her from the attempted suicide, only to run into her at a party a few days later with some friends. This chance reconnection sends Gaspard down a road of obsession with the mysterious woman named Audrey, leading to an addiction to a dark, massive multiplayer online game called “Black Hole.” The film effectively employs symbolism and recurring themes to set the ominous tone of the journey and provide a glimpse into the dark future intertwined with Audrey’s fate.

For example, the same dog that was at the car during the suicide was at the apartment party and was actually responsible for leading Gaspard into the back rooms as if he was knowingly guiding him to her. The dog resurfaced a few more times in the movie to confirm the nagging fears associated with the events surrounding the dog’s appearance. Secondly, when Gaspard watches the videotape we clearly see Audrey staring at the camera with a knowing, calculated, almost pleased smile. Not only does this provide a chilling image, but it also introduces the sinister possibility that she has manipulated the man into suicide and is sure of her actions and her fate. These remain mere suspicions, however, never openly addressed until later occurrences provider greater insight into the more complex workings of the plot.

Another clue comes in the form of a tattoo on her lower back that reads “Heaven.” The exact meaning is not immediately clear, but when Gaspard finds out what computer game she plays he discovers that the game’s version of “Heaven” resembles a dark, solitary place where sinister shadows of red cling to the walls. The atmosphere is not quite your typical depiction of heaven, but more closely resembles the connotations of an alternate “Black Heaven.” A greater sense of foreboding hangs over our protagonist when a player in the game informs him that such a tattoo indicates that a person “is a slave to Heaven,” a notion reinforced by the binding of Sam’s (Audrey’s character name in the game) hands during her virtual singing performance.
This game becomes the medium through which the film’s main themes are illustrated. As Gaspard becomes more and more committed to meeting up with Audrey he becomes more and more distant from Marion, forgetting the time of day, blowing her off to go swimming or to parties with Audrey and his friends, and forgetting to pick her up from work. The deterioration of their relationship quickly becomes apparent to Gaspard’ s two friends, Ludo and Yann. Ludo clearly distinguishes himself as the true friend that tries to keep Gaspard’s integrity in tact and his mind focused on the woman he loves and consequences of pursuing a seductively mysterious woman that he does not even know. Yann on the otherhand, repeatedly encourages experimentation and infidelity through excited questions about them “hooking up” at the apartment party as well as encouraging him to go to the other parties with Audrey and try to push the physical boundaries. Thus, two major issues are illuminated through the following situations: Gaspard’s increased addiction to Audrey and the online world, and the interaction between Gaspard and his friends.

First, the strong social commentary on the negative affects of virtualization and Internet dependence in our lives takes on a physical reality in this movie. The increasing preference for virtual space as an escape, the mounting preference for virtual contact rather than real human contact, and the issues of Internet anonymity rear their ugly heads. Verbal and nonverbal communication is deteriorating as a skill set while virtual communication cheapens the human experience that thrives on tangible expressions of human emotion such as tone of voice, inflection, warmth, body contact, words, and eye contact.
Additionally, concerns over inhibition-less strangers enabled by anonymity on the Internet are given a strong, valid voice in the movie. In the past several years we have seen just how powerful anonymous activity can be from cyber bullying on Facebook and Myspace that results in real life suicide to trickery and deception used to lure unsuspecting chat room strangers into deadly real life encounters. We think it’s crazy, but when we find out that Audrey and her brother are working together to lure lovesick and lonely men into suicidal states or vulnerable situations in which they can be murdered, you can’t help but stop and think. Things like this actually happen and there are disturbed people like Audrey’s brother out there willing to adopt any means necessary to get their fill of violence or other less noble desires. Fortunately, when Gaspard is lured to Audrey’s house for the last time she finally gets the strength to stand up to her brother and Gaspard comes out alive. Unfortunately, it takes her death to make her brother forget about killing Gaspard so that he can make his escape. As if to make one last twist of the knife in the hearts of audience members hoping for Audrey to break free of the video game and the brainwashing, she tragically clings on to the hope of the final peace at the “Black Beach” as she throws herself off the building.

Lastly, while proper behavior of friends is not the main concern of the movie I believe that the relationships between Gaspard and his friends Yann and Ludo paint a portrait of the ideal traits for true friendship. Yann certainly provides a negative influence counter-acting Ludo’s positive characteristics. From encouraging infidelity with Audrey to using inappropriate language and always wanting the “smutty details,” Yann exemplifies an all around terrible influence.
As the good friend, Ludo attempted to keep Gaspard honest, encouraged integrity, and tried to be there for him during difficult times. He wanted what was best for his friend and reminded him of it when he seemed to forget, as he did when he reminded Gaspard that he did not even know Audrey, that he loved Marion very much, and that he was lucky to be committed to such a wonderful woman.

Black Heaven falls short of a stunning production, but what it lacks in star quality it makes up for in creativity and powerful, effective communication of issues regarding our increasingly virtual world and the role that friends and communication play in relationships. I would certainly recommend this movie to audiences over the appropriate age.

Austin Hodge

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frankie and Alice

Title: “Frankie and Alice” - 2010
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Language and Run Time: English, 102 minutes
Director: Geoffrey Sax
Written by: Cheryl Edwards, Marko King, Mary King, Jonathan Watters, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse, Oscar Janiger, Philip Goldberg
Cast: Halle Berry (Frankie), Stellan Skarsgard (Dr. Oz), Chandra Wilson (Maxine Murdoch), Phylicia Rashad (Edna Murdoch)

Frankie and Alice left me with a more than satisfied appetite for drama, intensity, mystery, and quality performance. Halle Berry brilliantly portrayed the real life struggle of a woman (Frankie Murdoch) suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). I was personally intrigued by this movie from an academic perspective recalling my fascination with psychology, particularly the field of dysfunctional psychology dealing with disorders such as Schizophrenia, DID, and Bipolar Disorder. Even though I knew about the classic DID case of a woman named Sybill, I was surprised to learn about the case of Frankie Murdoch, a story that I found just as interesting and tragic as Sybill’s.

We begin the film at the pre-awareness stage, observing Frankie’s strange behaviors from the mysterious completion of crossword puzzles to sudden fits of violence and panic apparently caused by spontaneous amnesia. After one episode in Frankie frantically dashes through she finds herself in the care of Dr. Osbourne at a local mental hospital. Through various effective nonverbal signals and brief camera shots we find out that the once active Dr. Osbourne has recently reduced his case load, focused intently on his solitary research, and gone about his daily routine with an air of quiet resignation. He has no idea, though, that he is about to embark upon his own personal pilgrimage with Frankie as they dive into the mental journey to her recovery. Dr. Osbourne’s interest in the case and genuine care for Frankie shines brightly as the film progresses, beginning with his dedication to keeping her under his care. Doing what he believes to be best for her requires him to stand up to his superior’s contrary judgment about her condition and withholding specific information from Frankie about her legal obligation, or lack thereof, to reside at the facility for long-term care.

Soon after arriving, Frankie’s gregarious personality and even exotic dancer trade skills are put to good use at the hospital as she invigorates the resident patient population. Later in the film, the extent of that dedication becomes known when two male patients attack the hospital staff to free Frankie after her alternate personality, Alice, comes alive and turns on the nurse cutting her hair. While the display was far from idyllic visions of devotion, such a strong display of loyalty from mentally affected patients illuminates the kindness and energy for which Frankie was known. Additionally, the same female nurse that was attacked by the alternate, Alice, reports to Dr. Osbourne that “she’s (Frankie) her usually charming self this morning.” By reincorcing Frankie’s kindness and friendliness throughout the film, we understand the important point that Frankie is a separate person from the alternate personalities with whom she shares a mind and body. Furthermore, we can sympathize with her much more deeply as we get the chance to see how strongly she impacts people with her kindness and unique personality, making the bizarre, difficult struggle all the more tragic.

Dr. Osbourne discovers the truth of Frankie’s dark affliction during a hypnosis session in which the first alternate, Alice, is discovered. Spurred by recall of painful childhood memories, Alice makes an appearance to the doctor as Frankie’s voice changes to a classic southern drawl and derogatory comments about “negroes” begin to flow during conversation. The doctor’s DID suspicions are confirmed when the southern-accented woman (only later to be identified as Alice) indignantly declares that she never smokes cigarettes, despite the contrary display of Frankie’s chain smoking behavior doctor’s office.
Reinvigorated with passion for his work, Dr. Osbourne sets to work drawing out and identifying Frankie’s two alternate personalities. He eventually discovers that while Frankie is a black, exotic dancer with an average IQ, there exists a 32 year old woman named Alice with a high IQ and a firm belief that she is white. The third personality, dubbed “Genius,” possesses the high, shrill voice of an 8 to 12 year old genius girl with an IQ of about 152, presumably the same personality that completed all of those crossword puzzles.

Dr. Osbourne’s relationship with the three different personalities provide a complex set of relationship obstacles to recovery, a daunting task that he faces with patience, skill, and genuine concern. While treating Frankie, he begins to rediscover his passion for helping others and the ridiculous waste of life that he had given himself over to through solitary withdrawal. I couldn’t help but connect with Dr. Osbourne and genuinely wish the best for him as he progresses in his rediscovery from ceasing the late night drinking sessions to changing his lonely late night meal-to-go routine, and finally calling his ex-wife to tell her about his love for her and the change that is taking place in his life.

All the while, as the doctor navigates these difficult relationships we find out that while poor Frankie is completely unaware of her alternate identities, their thoughts, and their actions, the two other personalities are fully conscious of her every thought and action. This revelation pits the disadvantaged Frankie against an even deeper, darker pit of self-struggle that she must overcome. There is a constant battle between Alice and Frankie (even before she is aware of Alice’s existence) for dominant control, a fight that Frankie gradually loses throughout the movie to an alarmingly dangerous extent. Dr. Osbourne, however, presses on to bring out the truth behind Frankie’s present suffering, one that speaks to the pain of unrealized futures and dashed dreams.

During a climactic hypnotherapy session, Frankie is recorded while all three personalities take their turns presenting themselves. Through the heart wrenching display of obvious emotional and physical pain, Frankie is taken back to those painful memories of the past that caused her to develop the terrible illness. Back in her childhood, the family served as maids to a rich white family where a forbidden romance budded between Frankie and the family’s son, also her best friend Paige’s brother, Pete. Once they were found out by Paige, the cultural taboos on the relationship forced the couple to flee to greater tolerance with the full and loving dedication of white Pete to his black lover, Frankie.

At this point, the first tragedy of unrealized potential and love cut short enters into the equation. On the way out of town another driver hit Frankie and Pete’s car on the driver side, killing Pete instantly. The mere fact that Pete was willing to defy social condemnation of the relationship and that their love seemed to be blessed for future growth was meakes the freak accident even more difficult to bear. The most obstinate and difficult obstacle had been overcome, a victory stolen away by a purposeless accident. Months later, however, the final nail in the coffin would come from a frightened mother attempting to keep her daughter out of the scrutiny of a divided world. In the vision, we find out that Frankie’s mother intentionally killed Frankie and Pete’s child just after birth during a home delivery. Devastated, there was nothing Frankie could do to protect her baby and so she was left with an intense bitterness and anger towards her mother that was never addressed or resolved.
Watching the agonized convulsions and pained face of a broken Frankie reliving those traumatizing experiences is more than enough to soften the hardest of hearts and gain at least a small understanding of the mind’s protective mechanism that takes the form of DID. After the movie, especially when I found out that the film was based on a true story, I felt that I had a better understanding of the affliction – how difficult and frustrating the struggle of dealing with unknown alternate personalities could be, but also how the affliction could possibly come about as the result of incredibly traumatic experiences. The most comforting part about the story, however, is the relationship between Dr. Osbourne and Frankie that continued and brought about the successful integration of personalities that helped Frankie lead a more normal life.

This story is one of teamwork, perseverance, selflessness in helping others, and emphasis on the importance of communicating and dealing with pain when it comes while having the support of loved ones to help bear the burden. Unchecked or buried pain only leads to emotional turmoil, isolation, miscommunication, and even severe mental disorders. If anything, this film provides a strong testimony to the power of perseverance and the necessity of the active love of family and friends in our lives.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Movie Review: "Yes Man"

While some may find it difficult to believe that saying no is easy in today's culture of constant activity and heavy involvement, "Yes Man" illuminates an important aspect of the human experience - fear. Fear of the future, of uncertainty. Fear of the past, of repeating mistakes and being hurt again. Fear of the present, of upsetting the status quo. Our obsession with certainty evidenced in our fear of losing the comfort of one's present lifestyle, security in the routine of the past, and confidence in the predictability of the future is a stubborn obstacle gripping us in the vices of indecision and inaction.

While comedians do not usually win awards, the status quo needs to be challenged after after Jim Carey's incredibly apt depiction of this paralyzing internal struggle. Alongside actress Zooey Deschanel (Allison), Carl explores the road to recovering his ability to truly live life. After suffering the pain of rejection following his divorce, Jim's introverted character becomes even more concerned with maintaining comfortable boundaries and being sure to take no uncertain chances or unfamiliar paths.

The staleness of his unobtrusive life permeates the opening scenes as we witness a typical day of work at his mundane, dead-end job, the immense effort spent in avoiding his friends' phone calls, perpetually finding excuses to leave or avoid social gatherings, and even missing his best friend's engagement party ("Pete," played by Bradley Cooper). Carl's epiphany comes when he dreams about his clearly dead body being examined by his two best friends (Pete and "Rooney," played by Danny Masterson) who cannot tell if he is alive or dead. While he looks dead, "he never did much" during life anyway so it's hard to tell the difference between the dead corpse and the live one that just drifted through the motions of life.

Once a friend introduces Carl to the "Yes Man" conference he meets the eccentric self-help speaker and creator of the "Yes Man" program (Terrence, played by Terence Stamp) who proposes an odd "covenant" - to say "yes" to everything that is asked of him. By accepting the daring challenge, Carl unwittingly propels himself into a journey of bar fights, Persian mail order brides, flying lessons, giving homeless men rides to deserted clearings and forfeiting all his money, and even a kiss from a moped mounted stranger.

Once Carl begins delivering on the "yes man" promise to himself a thrilling new life and a whole new Carl take center stage. As a result of the late night homeless man episode, he meets (and gets a kiss from) Allison, with whom he begins pursuing his spontaneous new life and eventually falls in love. From photo jogging, to off the mainstream music, sneaking into parks at night, and taking spur of the moment trips to Nebraska, Allison and Carl seem to be well on their way to a fairy tale ending and a chance at commitment that neither thought could be possible again.

However, as the random side of spontaneity begins to play a factor, a host of Carl's "yes man" activities end up landing him in a Lincoln, Nebraska jail facing charges of terrorist conspiracy. Unfortunately, in order to prove his innocence, the truth comes out about the motivation behind Carl's spontaneity and Allison leaves him immediately upon release in a flurry of anger and hurt at a relationship that she perceived to be forced upon him by some odd self-help contract.

Despairing at the loss of a sincere love, Carl finds sets out to find Terrence to release him from the covenant only to find that his approach to the covenant was all to dogmatic and not at all pragmatic. Terrence explains that the purpose of the covenant was not to literally say yes to and do everything that is asked of him, but rather to open his life to new experiences and to open his mind to the possibilities of a life that is truly lived, thereby freeing his mind and his spirit from the drifting life of the "no man."

Armed with his second epiphany of the movie, Carl seeks out Allison at her regular photo jogging class to make things right and to explain that while he did say yes to everything, the relationship that they had and the love that they shared was born of his own desire to pursue and not maintained by a necessity to say "yes."

Overall, this Warner Brothers Picture and Peyton Reed directed film beautifully encompassed and addressed the struggle of the masses to live a life of true adventure and joy instead of one that simply exists. While more lighthearted and wittily funny, "Yes Man" could truly call T.S. Elliott a peer in the world of addressing the struggle of the common man, however, in this movie we get to experience the second half of the story as we learn from Carl and Allison how to break the mold of monotony and embrace the possibilities of "Yes!"