What We’re Watching – 1/4/2012

Trying to discover the logic behind what I decide to watch on any given day is an exercise in futility. I watch some things because the writer, director, DP and/or actor(s) interest me. I watch some things that my movie snob friends would refer to as “embarrassing” and insist I stop talking about. I watch some things because I think the story will be neat. I watch some things because my sister tells me to and eventually I’ll watch it just to shut her up. You may think my taste in film and television is asinine; I think it’s eclectic.

CatfishCatfish (2010)

Catfish is an American documentary about a 24-year-old New York-based photographer who is contacted by an 8-year-old child prodigy artist through Facebook. The photographer, Nev Schulman, is contacted by Abby, the 8-year-old living in rural Michigan, who asks if she can make a painting from one of his photographs. Nev lives with his brother Ariel Schulman and friend Henry Joost, who decide to turn on their cameras as this unusual Facebook-fueled relationship unfolds.

As Abby continues to adapt some of Nev’s photographs into paintings, their Facebook experience begins to expand. Nev becomes Facebook friends with Abby’s mother, Angela, and Abby’s older half-sister, Megan. Megan is an attractive singer and songwriter (among other things) and Nev takes a romantic interest in her. Facebook soon turns into text messages, which then become phone calls, and before you know it, Nev and Megan refer to each other as “babe.” Then there’s the next step—Nev wants to meet Megan. In person. Face to face.

The documentary soon turns into reality thriller as Megan is caught in a lie. Catching Megan making some false claims motivates Nev to investigate the validity of other aspects of his relationships with Megan, Abby, and the mother, Angela. Nev is left with more doubt than truth, and decides to make an impromptu visit to Michigan to meet the family.

In a period when communication is often deferred to emails, texts, and social networks, this documentary film could not be timelier as it examines this relatively new, technological outlet for human deception. This film left me asking, “Who am I really talking to online?” and “What are they capable of?” It always fascinates me how one seemingly harmless half-truth can transform into a complex aggregate of deceit.

Drop Dead GorgeousDrop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Ding! Ding! Ding! Guilty pleasure alert! Not only am I a proud owner of VHS and DVD copies of Drop Dead Gorgeous, sometimes I get lucky and a random cable channel will have the heart to air this dark comedy mockumentary. The other night was one of those lucky nights, and I immediately began to quote every word (this is when my movie snob friends insist that I stop talking). This film has somewhat of a cult following, and if you are fortunate to meet someone who loves this movie, they most likely have watched it over 500 times and can also quote every snip of dialogue.

Drop Dead Gorgeous was a mockumentary before mockumentaries were cool. Directed by Michael Patrick Jann and written by Lona Williams, the film mockuments a high school beauty pageant in Mount Rose, Minnesota. The film hosts an ensemble cast. Kirstie Alley is Gladys Leeman, the head of the pageant committee, richest woman in town, and mother to contestant Rebecca Leeman, played by Denise Richards. The greatest competition in the pageant for the Leemans is Amber Atkins, played by Kirsten Dunst, whose mother is played by Ellen Barkin. Barkin’s best friend, Loretta, is played by (my personal favorite) Allison Janney. Let’s not forget other pageant contestants played by the late Brittany Murphy, and Amy Adams as Leslie Miller, in her debut film role.

The film highlights the force of economic division in small towns, the perception of safety as granted by living far away from the big city, and how beauty pageants represent much more than standing, smiling, and waving. You will also enjoy memorable quotes such as: “I shoved your tap shoes in my panties before I was blown out of the house”; and “Here’s your paint can. And the next time you drink window cleaner, I’m just gonna leave it in you!”; and of course, “I know what some of your big-city, no-bra-wearin’, hairy-legged women’s libbers might say.” Just typing that I feel the urge to watch it again. Right now.

MelancholiaMelancholia (2011)

I promise it’s only a coincidence I have recently watched two films starring Kirsten Dunst.

You might remember hearing about Melancholia following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival where writer/director Lars von Trier made controversial comments about sympathizing with Hilter. Let me tell you, all the controversy in the world wouldn’t stop me from listing Melancholia as one of my top 5 favorite films in 2011.

Melancholia is told from the perspective of two sisters, and explores how each of them copes during an apocalyptic situation as an unknown planet threatens to collide with the Earth.  The sisters, Justine and Claire, are played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, respectively. The acting, especially by Dunst (who won the Best Actress Award at Cannes), is exceptional. When the film ended I exclaimed, “Kirsten is back!” The supporting performances by Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård, and Kiefer Sutherland appear effortless.

I am honestly finding it hard to write this because I do not want to give away the magic that is this film. Every image has a purpose. Every word, setting, expression, and choice is calculated to support the armature of von Trier’s message. Though at times the film can feel like a pseudo-operatic melodrama timed perfectly with the end of the world, the film offers enough cinematic eye candy and thought-provoking richness to overlook the minor disagreements. For me, the film successfully explored the power of both Mother Nature and Human Nature, and how the two often fail to coexist. Most importantly, the film left me thinking. I didn’t leave the theater happy to be entertained or repeating any crude sex joke I heard; instead I left thinking and contemplating the confines of Fate. I was moved to thought and discussion, and am convinced that Melancholia is a fine representative of Movie Art, not the Movie Business.


Brook is a teller of stories, giver of hugs, and is incapable of folding fitted sheets.

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