Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Up Series

In 1964, British filmmaker Michael Apted chose an assorted group of English 7-year-olds to film and chronicles their lives every 7 years. Now, those "kids" are 49 years old. I had seen some of these “episodes” many years ago but had never saw the 1964 version and certainly hadn’t seen 49 and UP. So over the last month or so I watched all the whole 7 and Up series. And, believe me, it is fascinating. You can’t wait to put in the next DVD and find out they are doing at 21 or 42. It’s reality TV at its finest. I think Apted had some preconceived ideas what he would reveal about England and the class system when he started the series, and while many of his hypothesis held true (like the upper crust will follow a plan laid out for them with private schools etc. and the East enders will never make it out of dead end jobs), the most fascinating revelations were those “kids” who broke out their mold.
The most successful lives were the ones who possessed a mixture of practicality and drive. And I am defining successful as those who had good marriages or raised happy children or were satisfied with their lives. One of my favorites was this scrappy little ruffian, Tony, who at 21 one said that all that mattered, “was mom and dad and love.” And I don’t want to give away what happens to all of them because that’s where the suspense comes in but Tony was an example of someone who has amazing resources and ambitions and a lot of love. Tony isn’t the only captivating character of the bunch. There’s feisty fellow East Ender Jackie, sad-eyed Paul, compassionate Bruce, and the future physicist Nick who ends up in Madison Wisconsin of all places. And the most, I don’t know the word, maybe heartbreaking or thoughtful, or unpredictable of all the kids is Neil, who at 7 skips across the street with glee.
One thing that is kind of annoying is the repeat of the earlier footage at each stage. I did some skipping of that when I watched it on DVD. I watched the last bit on Netflix instant play, so I was not able to skip ahead. Also, sure, Apted is a manipulative film maker, he presents the “kids” as he sees them, but I like how he occasionally gets called to task by one of his subjects. Jackie really gives him an earful in 49 and Up.
So if you’ve got some time on your hands and want to watch one of the most fascinating documentaries that I’ve ever watched, give The Up series a shot.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Social Network

After reading great reviews about the Facebook movie, The Social Network, I was eager to see it. Even though I had also read a New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg that claims that the movie distorted some of the facts about Facebook’s inception, I was still persuaded to see the movie. And It was really good.

I liked seeing the world of Harvard and the amazing gifted and privileged students at Harvard and how these youngsters, future leaders of the world, create amazing start up companies in their dorm rooms. It makes you feel old and not so smart, but it is definitely something to see.

I also enjoyed the Winklevoss brothers (two of Zuckerberg’s “victims”)– the young wealthy twins who row crew and act as if there right out of Brideshead Revisited. Plus, Zuckerberg’s friend, Eduardo, who is Facebook’s co-founder, is another reason to see the movie – played by Andrew Garfield – he’s sweet and earnest and a good friend and the perfect contrast to Zuckerberg’s icy wit.

And of course, Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is great. He is downright mean but very funny throughout the movie, and it is especially pointed when he sheds some of that meanness at the end of the movie. I wondered if the real Zuckerberg is really that funny. The movie starts out as a profile of the brilliant world of Harvard with all its amazing possibilities and ends in the brighter but meaner world of California and throughout it is a great movie.

If interested, like I was, in a fact check of the movie, check out this site.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Temple Grandin and Get Low

I don’t know if others have had the experience of weeping through Temple Grandin, but this movie really got to me. Besides loving Claire Danes and thinking she is amazing in this movie, I cheered on her subject, Temple Grandin, a brilliant autistic woman who overcame her fears and achieved her goals. Because of her intuitive understanding of animals, she able to make cattle lots more compassionate for the cattle. She also has been able to explain what it is like to be autistic. This movie is definitely one that tugs at your heartstrings (which normally I hate in a movie) but the combination of Claire Danes’ great acting and Temple Grandin’s remarkable life, makes this movie well worth watching and a genuinely inspirational story.

I also saw Get Low about a grizzled hermit who emerges from the woods and declares he would like to plan his funeral and attend it. Robert Duvall is the crusty old guy; Bill Murray is the potentially shady funeral director; and Sissy Spacek is the old girlfriend. Holding the movie together and giving it some perspective is the young guy named Buddy played by Lucas Black who works for Murray’s character. For me, his reactions to the events of the movie was the most interesting part. The movie had a few genuine original moments but was mostly pretty forgettable.