Goodbye, Old Friend

Depression is all-consuming. It’s so much more than just sadness, so much more even than despair. The best way I can describe it is like this: you wake up in the morning an empty shell, a home without an occupant. You are blank and, in your mind’s eye, you just know without a shadow of a doubt that you mean very, very little. You feel like a displaced spirit, unable to attach to anything or anyone. It’s as though you don’t have any presence, any effect on the world around you or your own life. It’s like being a supporting character in your own life because you feel as though you’re watching the great workings of a dramatist who keeps rewriting the stage directions.

You just feel like you aren’t really there, that you are just a white space that other people occasionally interact with and that occasionally must turn in homework assignments or fill out paperwork.

However, the most interesting and least often mentioned part of depression and its effect on you is this: the people around you, in contrast, are bright and shining beings. In the deepest moments of my own depression, it was like being surrounded by angels. No matter their faults, no matter their shortcomings and personal feelings toward me, other people were just so, so much better than me. They were so much more worthy of life and joy and happiness. Equally important, they were worth protecting. I have been told I have a great sense of humor when I’m around my friends. It’s a defining part of my personality and, when I could muster it, that was what kept a lot of friends from asking questions when I was so depressed I could hardly see the point of sticking around.

And that is exactly how someone like Robin Williams could be dead today as a result of what looks like suicide.

Since the news broke, I’ve heard a lot of folks asking the same question: how could someone so funny, so successful do something like that? What do they have to be sad about?

Depression is a disease that caters to people like Robin Williams. It’s a disease that can easily slot into a sense of humor. Because the prerogative of many of us depressed individuals is to make sure that no one else has to suffer like we do, that no one has to know sadness. When you’ve seen the depth of sadness that depression can produce, that a human mind can muster when it’s not feeling well, you don’t wish it on anyone else. That’s why someone like Robin Williams might have killed himself.

And it raises an important point. If you’re depressed, don’t hide it. I know that there’s a massive stigma surrounding mental illness in American society in particular. I’m angry about it. I have always been angry about it and I have hid my own mental state because of it. We fear our employers discovering that we have been or are depressed and lashing out. We fear our friends and family shunning us. We fear retribution and labels. Those are legitimate fears and it’s time that they are destroyed, crushed beneath angry feet.

If you’re suffering, talk about it with a trusted friend or family member. Tell a complete stranger by calling any of these hotlines. Check out IMAlive chat if you don’t like talking on the phone. Walk into a hospital and let them help you if you’re thinking of suicide. They will help, I promise. Avoid toxic people. Avoid stress as much as possible. Do what makes you happy. Do what makes your heart sing. Remember that, while this world often frankly sucks, it can be beautiful too.

Celebrity deaths usually don’t affect me much, as callous as that sounds. I don’t know these people, regardless of how many of their films I’ve seen. However, this one hurts me and seems to be hurting a lot of people my age deeper than other celebrity deaths.

We grew up fearing drums because of Jumanji. We grew up singing the songs from Aladdin and craving a genie buddy of our own. We grew up laughing at Mrs. Doubtfire and trying to make Flubber. Robin Williams had a huge impact on my generation.

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I watched all these movies as a kid and watched Good Morning Vietnam and Awakenings as a teenager. There has always been something deeply, deeply comforting about watching Robin Williams act. It was like being welcomed home by a very old friend.

And so, that’s all I can think to say right now. Goodbye, old friend. Goodbye Mrs. Doubtfire. Goodbye Peter Pan. Goodbye Genie. Goodbye Alan Parrish. Goodbye Popeye. Most importantly, goodbye Robin.

Thank you for everything.

George Orwell would be proud: a Snowpiercer review

Joon-ho Bong’s masterful film Snowpiercer begins with a scene of violence. Immediately, the audience is plunged in a dark world full of greed, inequality and startling displays of intense, often remorseless, violence.

It’s a dark movie and one of the most depressing visions of a post-apocalyptic world I’ve come across since marathon reading The Road. However, it is also filled with moments of beauty, hope and even—as odd as it sounds while viewing it—humor.

This is also one of many, many movies I’m lamenting over because it’s not receiving nearly as much attention as it deserves.

The story is a relatively simple one as far as post-apocalyptic tales go. It’s set in a world where a climate change experiment, CW-7, has failed and left the world a frozen, uninhabitable wasteland. The last of humanity has packed onto a train called the Snowpiercer, which travels the world in a never-ending loop.

And I guarantee you will hate this woman.

And I guarantee you will hate this woman.

The train has descended into a Brave New World style class system. Those who ended up in the back end of the train live as barely fed, lower class citizens who are subject to torture and execution constantly. While, even before the viewer gets to see the rest of the train, it’s apparent that the well-fed, happy people at the front of the train are living as well as could be after the fall of the world.

This class system, and the frustration and behavior, that results from it is the film’s subject on the surface. However, the film is also about something much more elemental: the eternal struggle humans have over how to label one another and how to view one another.

This is a film about how very easy it is to become a dictator, to become a mass murdered and to become a monster. It’s about how easy it is to live off those below you in society and how easy it is to never, ever question this organization. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley would have loved it.

With a multi-cultural, very talented cast composed of people like Chris Evans, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Kang-ho Song and the ever entertaining Tilda Swinton, this movie is hard to hate.

While it’s not the most original film in terms of themes, it makes up for it in sheer beauty. Many films have tackled the topic of human nature in the face of disaster, but perhaps none have done it in such a beautiful fashion. The film follows the attempts of Curtis (Chris Evans) to lead a rebellion and bring the end trainers to the front of the train, thus seizing control of the entire train.

As he makes his way to the front of the train, the audience gets to watch as he sees what the rest of the train looks like for the first time in his life. We are as ignorant as he is and as awed and appalled by what we see. As he moves from the squalor of the end of the train, we see a constant display of riches. Living trees. An aquarium. Fresh food. The wonders get more awe inspiring as he moves. And we move with him.

The cinematography is also simply astounding, especially considering 99 percent of the film takes place within the train. There are some truly beautiful shots in this film, from singular floating snowflakes to blood beading on a dead man’s brow.

With a limited score, it’s also a very simple movie in a lot of ways. It’s a simple story with a simple goal: get to the front of the train. That’s the goal of the characters and, since it’s so easy to get invested in these characters, ultimately our goal as well.

It’s a film I’m sure to watch again and I’m sure I’ll notice something new when I watch it again. It’s just one of those movies.

It’s also nearly impossible to look away from this film. From brutal scenes of violence to beautiful moments, it’s hard to stop watching. Almost like a train wreck.

You Are My Best Friend: Mary and Max

If I had to give a one sentence review of this film, a Claymation feature about the unlikely pen pal friendship between an 8-year-old girl named Mary and a 44-year-old man named Max with Asperger syndrome, it would be this: everyone should watch this film.

That’s it.

This film is without a doubt one of the most honest, kind and knowledgeable portrayals of the world I have ever seen. It does not gloss over how tragic life can be and how unfair. It does not try to justify why things happen, why we as people sometimes lose ourselves or why society seems to treat people who are slightly different with so much contempt.

It is instead a film that is content with simply showing the viewer how the world would be so much better off if we would only treat each other with a bit of unflinching kindness.

The tale, a story that tracks the almost accidental pen pal relationship of a little girl named Mary and an older man named Max over the years, is one that finds beauty and strength in the little things.

The viewer follows the relationship between the two pen pals after eight-year-old Mary picks a random address and writes to it. The man at the address happens to be 44-year-old Max, who lives with Asperger syndrome.

Mary and Max

Mary and Max

We watch as the two begin a tentative pen pal relationship that eventually blossoms into a powerful friendship that affects both of their lives in deep and profound ways.

We watch as the two live their lives away from each other as well. We see Max struggle with his Asperger’s and watch him try to get a grip on his own emotions. We watch Mary struggle with her self-esteem and an alcoholic mother and watch her live life and undergo growing pains.

Any words I could say about this film would be inadequate because it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, even down to basic details.

With a sparse but fitting score, artistically pleasing Claymation and the acting talents of Toni Collette and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, it’s a hard movie to dislike.

Told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, the story never feels forced. It feels natural and really does feel like we are watching lives unfold. We cheer for these characters and cry for them and hope that life gives them a break.

We also, importantly, learn from them. This film deals with the idea of emotional disorders and mental disorders in a way I never thought I’d see. It’s honest and unflinching and overwhelmingly kind. It talks about triggers and why they can force some people with mental disorders into a bad state. It talks about the emotional state of a person with Asperger’s and tries (successfully, I feel) to put the viewer in Max’s shoes. We understand, just for a moment, what his life is like. We also have a way into the story through Mary’s experiences. She lives with an alcoholic mother who steals from the grocery store and an emotionally unattached father. She’s a lonely child with a pretty bad childhood. She later goes through depression and loses everything in her life.

I can relate and I think a lot of other people can too.

However, perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the film is that it actively works against the notion that people with mental or emotional disorders are victims, are living half a life.

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As Max writes to Mary at one point:

I have trouble expressing my emotions. Dr Bernard Hazelhof says my brain is defective but one day there will be a cure for my disability. I do not like it when he says this. I do not feel disabled, defective or like I need to be cured. I like being an Aspie. It would be like trying to change the colour of my eyes.

The film treats people with disorders as people instead of a disease to be cured and that is so rare both in culture and in film that it shocked me. It also embraces the idea that happiness can’t come from outside of us. We’ve got to learn to love ourselves before we can see the world as it should be seen. We’ve got to learn to love ourselves instead of relying on how others see us for our self-esteem. It’s a powerful message for a Claymation movie.

Beyond the fact that it is a film about people who fight through difficult lives, it is at its heart a film about friendship and love. It is a film about the best of what humans are capable of and about how it is possible for us to hold an infinite amount of love for one another while still getting some things wrong. It’s about hurt and loss and the main idea that we should fight on and keep beating against the tides trying to wash us away. It is a film filled with hope.

It’s essential viewing and my hope is that it will serve as a learning experience for many.

It’s available on Netflix. Go watch it.

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”

Roald Dahl

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel Soldiers On

I’ll come right out and admit to you all that I almost didn’t write this review, not because I had nothing to say about the movie, but because I am terribly biased. You see, there is very little in the realm of current pop culture that I love more than the Marvel cinematic universe. One of my three bookshelves is filled to the brim with comic books (and graphic novels) as well as Loki, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America figurines.

I love Marvel, damnit. I’m convinced it will take an Attack of the Killer Tomatoes level of movie badness to make me not go see a Marvel movie at least three times in theaters and then watch it obsessively once it’s out on DVD.

That being said, it can probably be agreed on that Captain America (as played by Chris Evans) has long been regarded as the risky card in Marvel’s movie deck. What could modern audiences find in the patriotic story of a good man turned soldier? How would a post-9/11, NSA wary America possibly connect with Steve Rogers?

In my internet travels, I’ve heard a lot of discussion about how Steve Rogers is the character everyone loves to mock. To many, he’s too patriotic. He’s a goody two shoes. He’s oblivious. He’s probably the most divisive character in Marvel’s cinematic universe right now.

Plus, the new uniform is pretty badass.

Plus, the new uniform is pretty badass.

However, I’ve also seen many, many eloquent defenders of the character. Many of them explain in far more brilliant ways than I can how Steve Rogers is exactly the kind of character we need right now.

I’ve often thought that my generation is a generation of pessimism. I know that the people around me that are my age certainly are and rightly so. We’re a generation faced with massive unemployment, a world that didn’t grow up on the internet like we did and a world that’s rapidly changing. It’s confusing and it’s made for a lot of bitter young people, many of whom really don’t believe in the idea of a hero anymore.

The media exposes all and nobody is really safe from scrutiny. Thus, people are just people and it’s hard to believe in a person anymore.

That being said, I believe in Steve Rogers and—judging by what I’ve heard from other fans online—so do a lot of other people.

The latest Marvel installment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, goes a long way toward fleshing his character out. While he’s definitely still the ass-kicking, patriotic Captain America we saw in Captain America and The Avengers, he’s grown and the movie makes an effort to show that.

This Steve Rogers is slowly finding a place to stand in the modern world and is slowly trying to figure out what it means to be a legend in his own lifetime.

One of the many brilliant aspects of the way in which Marvel Studios has handled the production of its movies is that they have the ability to make characters grow from film to film. They can and do take the time to let the characters change and to show the viewer different aspects of them.

Confronted with betrayal on two fronts and the intrusion of an old friend (now enemy) into his life, this film shows Cap’s struggle to bring together both sides of his personality: Captain America and Steve Rogers. It shows his struggle and growth toward reconciling the fact that he is a hero and the fact that he’s lost everything and is, after all, only human.

We see the addition of a new friend and ally (Sam Wilson as played by Anthony Mackie) and we see the development of The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Captain America’s friendship.

The movie is simultaneously entertaining and stressful. It’s a tense film at times, to be sure. However, it also pits Captain America against both his future and his past and enemies old and new.

Most importantly, it breaks down quite a few of the stereotypes both fans and detractors have put onto this character. We see a Steve who is trying to fit into the new world rather successfully, who is ready and willing to question the government and SHIELD and who is most certainly not just a soldier following orders. This character, on film at least, has never just been a patriotic dunce and this movie makes that abundantly clear to anyone who hadn’t realized that in the first place.

Words Are Life: A Book Thief review

Sitting on my nightstand right now is a used copy of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Even as I write this review, it seems to be judging me. I know books can’t judge people, but it definitely feels like it.

You see, I try to not watch a movie that’s based on a book if I haven’t first read that book. I am at heart a judgmental snob (this very blog is proof of that) and I like to be able to trash a movie while being able to back up my trashing via book quotes. I’m just picky like that.

That being said, I broke my cardinal rule the other night. I watched the movie adaptation of The Book Thief. I initially felt guilty but that feeling was quickly swept away.

While I obviously can’t compare this film to the book, I’d say that as a casual viewer I found it to be enthralling. There is a quiet beauty to this film. Without being overly flashy or sentimental it gets its point across and packs a punch to your emotions.

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Narrated by none other than Death himself, the book and the movie tells the story of a German girl named Liesel Meminger, who is growing up in Nazi Germany as World War II begins and ramps up. She and her foster parents end up taking a risk that puts them on the wrong side of German law and, in the process, Liesel learns the importance of the written word and the power that words can have.

As one of the characters puts it, it’s a story about the simple fact that “words are life.” It charts many aspects of Liesel’s life, including learning to read, finding friendship in odd places and growing close to her foster parents. It’s a story about choices and platonic love in the face of astronomical danger.

It’s a good story and a worthwhile film. It both kept me entertained and touched me. It made me feel. It made me think.

Set in Germany as it is, it definitely puts a spin on the idea of a World War II film. So many movies about that era are from the perspective of an American that I sometimes feel like I know very little about how the rest of the world felt. This film gives a view of war through the perspective of a child.

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Liesel doesn’t really understand what caused the war or whose side she should be on. She sings along with Nazi anthems even as she begins to question what’s happening around her. It’s a valuable reminder that the “enemies” in a war are people, that these are human beings we’re dealing with.

It’s also a beautifully shot and acted film, with brilliant performances from both newcomers and veteran actors alike. I’m inclined to like anything with Geoffrey Rush in it.

It’s a story about love and growing up, a timeless theme to be sure. It’s worth a watch and it’s bound to entertain

Racism, Sexism, and Hannibal: Eat The Rude

Originally posted on Eat This:

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I’m an American actress and I play Beverly Katz on NBC’s HANNIBAL created by Bryan Fuller. (Spoiler Alert coming right now!!!) And she dies in episode 4 of Season 2. That episode got a lot of positive reviews, but it also incited an on-line storm of vitriol directed to Fuller himself for killing off Katz, or more specifically, for being racist and sexist. I caught wind of this myself via Twitter from our beloved Fannibals. And I thought maybe it’d be productive to talk about rather than ignore it.

Fuller cast me in a role that I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting. I rarely if ever see minorities, women, minority women, let alone Asian women, get to play characters like Beverly Katz. I rarely if ever see characters like Beverly Katz period. And her last name is Katz for Christ’s sake. Pretty open-minded, non-racist, pro-feminine…

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