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Five Films that Will Make You Feel Better About Your Childhood

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

No childhood is perfect.  We all had issues to overcome growing up.  Whether it was a parent who pushed us too hard, drank too much, or wasn’t around enough, or a family that didn’t show emotion, or moved around a lot, there are a plethora of reason to throw a pity party for yourself about the obstacles you had to endure to become the person you are today.  If you ever find yourself wallowing in the hardships you had to bear as a child, here’s a list of five films whose characters had such traumatic formative years, yours will seem like a walk in the park in comparison.

(Unless of course any of these movies actually describe your childhood.  If that’s the case, I’m very sorry, and I hope you have a really good shrink.)

5. Mommie Dearest (1981)

An emotionally unstable woman takes her anger over personal failures out on her children.

Mommie Dearest is the quintessential movie about child abuse, telling the true story of Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of screen icon Joan Crawford.  Unable to have biological children, twice-divorced Crawford adopted four (only 2 are featured in the film), and proceeded to terrorize the holy hell out of them while they were growing up.

Whether it was waking them in the middle of the night to chop down rose bushes, forcing Christina to re-wash an already clean bathroom floor, going ape-shit and beating Christina with a wire hanger because she deemed their use as a sign of disrespect to the nice clothes she had purchased for her, or attempting to strangle Christina when she gets kicked out of boarding school, Joan Crawford had a tendency to unleash all her pent up anger and frustration over her career onto her two eldest children.

Joan’s jealously over Christina’s youth becomes apparent when Christina gets an acting job on a soap opera.  When she has to leave the show temporarily to deal with a medical issue, Joan plays Christina’s character on the soap, even though she is 34 years older than the character.  Joan attempts to get the last word in their relationship even after her death, by disinheriting both Christina and Christopher for “reasons which are well known to them.”  Ultimately, Christina gets the final word by writing a best-selling tell-all about the abuse that Joan unleashed upon her, that was eventually made into a motion picture.

4. Running with Scissors (2006)

Another true story, Running with Scissors is Augusten Burrows’ tale of “how my mother left me.  And then I left my mother.”

The film begins by taking a look at 12 year-old Augusten’s family life.  His mother Deirdre is a failed author who believes she is destined for greatness, and his father is a detached alcoholic.  They inevitably divorce, causing Deirdre to seek the advice of an unorthodox therapist, Dr. Finch.

Deirdre has blind faith in Dr. Finch, allowing him to over-medicate her and dictate every aspect of her life.  He convinces her to send Augusten to live with him and his family, and she does so without batting an eyelash.  Augusten befriends Finch’s younger daughter Natalie.  He tells her he is gay, and she introduces him to her adopted 35 year-old schizophrenic brother, Neil Bookman.  Augusten and Neil develop a sexual relationship.

Deirdre decides that she is a lesbian, and tells Augusten, to his horror, that she wants Dr. Finch to become his legal guardian.  Dr. Finch, who gives Augusten wonderful advice such as telling him he should attempt to commit suicide in order to get out of going to school.  Advice that Augusten follows.

Over the years, Deirdre’s mental illness gets worse, and Dr. Finch has her committed, and has himself named as her executor, meaning he is in charge of her money.  Did I mention that Dr. Finch is having financial trouble and the IRS is trying to take away his house?

In the end, Augusten does what any sane person would do, and gets the heck out of dodge (even though he is 15, and doesn’t have a high school diploma).  He and Natalie plan to run away to New York City.  Dr. Finch’s wife shows up at the bus station instead, and hands him a shoe-box full of cash she’s been collecting over the years.  She was going to use it to fend off the IRS from taking her house, but decided that giving Augusten a chance in life was a worthier cause.

3. White Oleander (2002)

Astrid Magnussen is a young teenage girl who lives with her beautiful, artist mother Ingrid in Los Angeles.  Ingrid is completely wrapped up in herself, refusing to attend Astrid’s parent-teacher night at school because she has other plans.  Ingrid dates a man named Barry, and when his affections begin to wane, she becomes obsessed with him and eventually kills him.

Ingrid is sent to prison for life, and Astrid is taken into Child Protective Services.  She is placed with a former stripper and cocaine addict turned born-again Christian named Starr, her three children, and her boyfriend Ray.  Starr, threatened by Astrid’s youth and beauty, becomes jealous when Astrid spends time with Ray.  A sexual relationship between the two is hinted at, but never confirmed.  After fighting with Ray, Starr storms into Astrid’s room and shoots her.

After a brief stay in an orphanage, (where she is assaulted by other wards), Astrid is placed with affluent couple Claire and Mark.  Claire is an insecure, struggling actress, and Mark is a television producer who travels constantly.  Astrid and Claire form an instant bond, which causes Ingrid to feel threatened.  She ruins things for Astrid by becoming pen pals with Claire and giving her advice about her husband.

Claire and Mark’s relationship falls apart when Mark has to leave town again for work.  Claire accuses Mark of having an affair, and he leaves.  Claire turns to Astrid for comfort and tells her that she doesn’t think that Mark is ever coming back.  Astrid wakes up the next morning to discover Claire dead from an overdose in the bed next to her.  Astrid is furious with her mother, convinced that she poisoned Claire with words.  Ingrid tells her that Claire was needy and weak, and the reason she was brought to their home was to be on “suicide watch.”  Astrid vows to never see her mother again.

Sent to the orphanage once again, a nice family attempts to have Astrid placed with them, but Astrid opts for the unconventional, uncaring, opportunist named Rena.  Rena uses her foster children to make a buck, and Astrid has a guardian that she has no danger of becoming attached to.  Ingrid’s lawyer approaches Astrid and asks her to testify at her mother’s appeal.

Astrid goes to see her mother, who is horrified at Astrid’s new goth-like appearance.  Astrid wants answers from her mother before she will testify.  She learns about her father, and that her mother left her with a neighbor named Annie for a year when she was two.  Astrid is disgusted and  tells her mother that if she really loved her, she wouldn’t ask her to testify.  Astrid shows up at the appeal, and is never asked to testify, her mother’s manipulation of her coming to an end.  She moves to New York with a boy that she met in the orphanage.

2. Flowers in the Attic (1987)

This awful film adaptation of the V.C. Andrews novel that I still can’t believe my parents let me read as a child, tells the story of four siblings, Christopher, Cathy, Carrie, and Cory, whose perfect lives are turned upside down when their father, Christopher, Sr., is killed in an automobile accident on his birthday.  Having no means to support her family, the children’s mother Corinne reaches out to her wealthy, estranged parents for help.  Corinne was banished from their home when her parents discovered her illicit relationship with Christopher, Sr., who happened to be her half-uncle.

Corinne’s mother agrees to let her and her children move into the family mansion, with one condition.  Corinne’s father was dying from complications of a stroke, and was unaware that Corinne and Christopher, Sr., had any children.  Corinne would have to keep her children hidden in a bedroom underneath the attic, until she is able win her dying father’s forgiveness, and convince him to put her in his will.

At first, Corinne tells the children it will only be for a few days, but the days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into a year.  She visits them daily in the beginning, and seems truly remorseful for what she is doing to them, but as time goes by, her visits become fewer and far between.

In between their mother’s visits, the children are subjected to their grandmother’s physical and psychological torture.  She attacks Cathy and chops off her hair, and consistently tells them that they are the “devil’s spawn,” due to the fact that they are inbred, which was not their fault.  She withholds food from them for several days after she discovered that they escaped from their prison to investigate the mansion, forcing the eldest son Christopher to slit his wrist and let his younger siblings suck on his blood for sustenance.  And to top it all off, they were deprived of fresh air and sunlight for over a year.

The children think that their grandmother is beginning to soften towards them when she starts delivering powdered cookies to them along with their meals.  Carrie and Cory, the younger twin siblings, start to become ill, and the elder siblings think it is due to lack of sunlight.  In the meantime, Christopher and Cathy discover that their mother is living a life of luxury and dating the family lawyer.  Christopher demands that his mother take Cory to a doctor.  While Cory is gone, Christopher tells his siblings to stop eating the powdered cookies.  He feeds them to a mouse in the attic instead, and the mouse ends up dead shortly thereafter.  Cory suffers the same fate.

Christopher and Cathy learn that their mother was behind the poisoned cookies they had been eating, and that their grandfather had been dead for weeks, and that he stated in his will that if it is ever discovered that Corinne had any children from her first marriage, she would lose all of her inheritance.  The remaining three children realize that their mother and grandmother intended on killing all of them.  They confront their mother, who pretends not to know who they are, during her wedding to her father’s attorney.  Cathy and Corinne fight, and Corinne ends up getting hung by her wedding veil.  Christopher, Cathy, and Carrie finally leave the mansion.

1. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. (2009)

If there was ever a film that makes you want to go out and give your parents a gigantic hug, it would be this one.

Precious tells the story of an obese and illiterate 16 year-old girl, who is pregnant with her second child by her father, who rapes her on a regular basis as her mother looks on.  Her mother Mary is a lazy, welfare abuser who terrorizes Precious verbally, physically (and sometimes sexually) on a daily basis.  Precious is kicked out of school when her pregnancy is discovered, and her principal arranges for her to attend an alternative school.

Things come to a head at home after Precious delivers her second child and Mary initiates a physical confrontation that ends with an attempt to drop a television on Precious’ head.  Precious flees her mother’s apartment, and her teacher helps her find a place to live.  Mary finds her (presumably after she learns that her the amount of her welfare check will be reduced with Precious no longer living with her), and tells Precious that her father has died of AIDS, and begs her to come home.  Precious declines.

Precious learns that she is HIV positive.  The film takes place in 1987, and at that time, a positive HIV diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence.  Her children tested negative (her first child has Downs Syndrome, and was being raised by her grandmother).  Mary attempts to gain control of Precious a final time by enlisting the help of Precious’ social worker, who makes Mary explain why she treated Precious the way she did.  Mary tells her that she was jealous that Precious’ father preferred having sex with his daughter instead of her.  Precious tells her mother that she will never see her again.


Watch the Academy Award Winning Animated Short “Logorama” Online

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Categories: academy awards, animation

Movies that Move: Up in the Air

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I watch a lot of movies.  Every now and again, I come across one that truly moves me.  It is such a rare occurrence that when it happens, I feel the need to take notice and explore exactly what it is about the film that is causing me to respond emotionally.

That is the idea behind “Movies that Move,” in which I will examine films that have caused me to feel, well, moved.  In this inaugural edition, I will take a look at the real Best Picture of 2009, Jason Reitman’s third film, Up in the Air. (Warning, if you haven’t seen the film, stop reading now.)

For most people, the relatable aspect of Up in the Air was the stories about people losing their jobs, and by extension, their identities, set against the backdrop of our current economic climate.  While I definitely related to that theme of the film, what I felt most connected to were the three main characters, played by George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick, and the qualities within each of them that I was able to identify in myself.

Loneliness and self-imposed isolation make up Ryan Bingham, a 40-something, career transition specialist played with precision by George Clooney, who was born to play this role.  Bingham is hired by large companies throughout the country to lay people off.  His world is travel: airports, hotels, and rental cars.  His entire life fits into a rolling, carry on suitcase.  He is never in the same city for more than a few nights, and therefore does not have any close, personal relationships in his life.

In a hotel bar in Dallas, he meets Vera Farmiga’s Alex, a 34 year-old fellow business traveler.  They bond over their knowledge of the perks of different rental car companies, and are clearly turned on by each other’s frequent flier mile totals and memberships in various travel reward programs. They begin a sexual relationship, and must schedule their trysts by cracking open their laptops in order to determine when they will both be in the same city at the same time.

Alex tells Ryan that she is “the woman that you don’t have to worry about,” and that he should think of her like himself, “only with a vagina,” establishing the type of casual relationship she intends to have with him.  This is the only type of relationship these two people are capable of having.

At a company-wide meeting in Omaha, Ryan meets Natalie Keener, a 22 year-old, always composed, fresh out of college, go-getter, who proposes that instead of sending Ryan and his colleagues out on the road to fire people, they could save money by firing people over the computer via web cam. Since he lives to be on the road, this idea is a direct threat to his way of life.  His boss tells him he can stay on the road awhile longer, but only if he takes Natalie with him to show her the importance of what he does.

Natalie, a travel novice, is completely unimpressed by Ryan’s way of life.  She has the wrong luggage, and knows nothing about airport protocol.  The things about Ryan that are a turn on for Alex, Natalie dismisses with disgust.  Natalie tells him that his lifestyle choice of traveling all the time is a “cocoon of self-banishment” and that he has engineered a way of life for himself that makes it impossible to have any sort of human connection with anyone.  Speaking with her boyfriend over the phone while on the road, she says of Ryan, “I don’t even think of him that way, he’s old.”

Ryan also freelances as a motivational speaker.  One of his speeches is entitled, “What’s in Your Backpack?”  He asks his audience to fill a hypothetical backpack full of the people around them, starting with their most casual acquaintances, and ending with the most important people in their lives.  He then asks them to think about how much that backpack might weigh, and whether that weight might slow them down in life.  “Your relationships are the heaviest components of your life,” he says, and that “the slower we move, the faster we die.”

The scene that I relate to the most takes place in a hotel bar, right after Natalie’s boyfriend breaks up with her via text message.  Natalie and Ryan are joined by Alex, and the three of them begin to talk about their expectations of the opposite sex.  We learn that Natalie had a job waiting for her in San Francisco, but followed her boyfriend to Omaha instead, because he had a job there and said they could start a life together.

“When I was sixteen, I thought by 23, I’d be married, maybe have a kid.  Corner office by day, entertaining at night.  I’m supposed to be driving a Grand Cherokee by now.”   Natalie laments.  Alex, who is an older version of Natalie, assures her that “life can under whelm you that way.” Ryan points out that “at a certain point, you stop with the deadlines.”

Then Natalie says the one thing that strong, independent women are not supposed to think, let alone say out loud.  “Sometimes it feels like no matter how much success I have, it’s not gonna to matter until I find the right guy.”  Deep down, inside single women everywhere, no matter what their age, that same fear resides.  At least it does with me.

When Alex asks her if she thinks that the guy who just dumped her was “the one,” Natalie replies that she “could have made it work” because he “fit the bill.”  She then presents a laundry list of requirements for her ideal mate that includes such ridiculous necessities as having a single syllable name and driving a four runner.

When Natalie asks Alex what her “bill” is, she replies that by the time you’re her age, “all the physical requirements just go out the window.” Alex’s much shorter list includes someone who is not an asshole, enjoys her company, and makes more money than her.  “You might not understand that right now, but believe me, you will one day.”  Boy, is that a true statement if there ever was one.

After Alex leaves town, Natalie asks Ryan what sort of relationship he has with her. He tells her it is casual.  Natalie asks him if he sees a future with Alex, and he says that he hasn’t thought about it. Natalie doesn’t understand how he could not think about having a future with someone.  “You know that moment, when you look into somebody’s eyes and you can feel them staring into your soul, and the whole world goes quiet, just for a second?”  Natalie says that she does.  “Right, well I don’t.”  Ryan tells her.  There are times when I certainly can relate to that sentiment.

When Ryan and Natalie are sent back to Omaha, he heads off to Vegas to meet up with Alex instead.  He asks Alex to be his date at his sister Julie’s upcoming wedding in Wisconsin.  “For the first time in my life, I don’t want to be that guy alone in a bar.  I want a dance partner, I want a plus one, and if you can stomach it, I’d like it to be you.”  She initially resists, but eventually accompanies him to Wisconsin.

My first and only clue about the twist ending was during the scene at the airport in Wisconsin after Ryan’s sister’s wedding.  Ryan walks Alex to her gate and is obviously sad to see her go.  She asks when she’s going to see him again, and he tells her that she needs to come visit him in Omaha, because he will no longer be traveling for his job.  She seems worried that he will change now that he’s going to be settled in one place, and he assures her that he will still be the same guy.  “Call me when you get lonely,” she says to him as she walks toward her gate.  “I’m lonely,” he says, and she quietly laughs as she walks away.  I could tell by her expression and body language that something was up with her, I just didn’t exactly know what.

Ryan is restless in Omaha, and travels for a freelance speaking engagement.  He walks off of the stage during the middle of his speech and flies to Chicago to see Alex.  He shows up on her doorstep, and she is visibly shocked to see him.  Two children are seen running up the stairs and a male voice calling her “honey” wants to know who is at the door.  It turns out that Alex is not like Ryan at all.  She is married and has a family, and to her, Ryan is just a good time while she is on the road.

Alex calls Ryan and is mad at him for almost screwing up her “real life.”   He asks her why she didn’t tell him about her family, and she tells him that she thought they were both signing up for the same type of casual relationship.  She asks him what he wants from her, and he is unable to answer.  She tells him that if he wants to see her again, he should give her a call.  Visibly hurt, Ryan hangs up on her.  The thing about Alex that I do not understand is why she bothered to accompany Ryan to his sister’s wedding, if all she wanted was a casual relationship.

Back in Omaha, Ryan’s boss tells him that he is going to send him back out on the road indefinitely. Even after his dreams of settling in one place with Alex were crushed, he seems sad at the idea of traveling again, ensuring that his isolation, that he now wishes to free himself from, will continue.

The movie ends with Ryan at the airport, staring at the departure board, trying to decide upon a destination.  He has changed, even though his situation remains the same.  He reconnected with his family, and for the first time saw the importance of having a future with a woman.  It did not work out, but the mere fact that he was willing to try shows a huge amount of growth for his character.  The ending is sad, but at the same time, you are hopeful that the next time he meets a woman he connects with; he will be willing to give it a go.

Like I stated earlier, I see myself in all three of these characters.  Like Ryan, I often live in a “cocoon of self-banishment” due to the nature of what I do for a living.  I don’t travel as much as Ryan, but working freelance puts me on a different schedule than most of my peers, making it difficult for me to meet and have time for “the one.”  Like Alex, as a woman in my thirties, I have learned to adjust my expectations of men, and I like to present myself as “the woman that you don’t have to worry about,” even though, deep down, like Natalie, I long to be just that.  The presentation and juxtaposition of these three very different, yet similar characters is what, in my opinion, makes this movie moving.