Friday, February 11, 2011

why I'm a people person

My day began when my dog decided he had to vomit, and then did. The vomit was copious and brown in colour. It spread across my couch (which is also my bed), and then dripped down onto the bag that I had packed for work.

I then realized, with growing horror and nausea, that the vomit did not smell like vomit at all. It smelled like poo. Gross, ingested, regurgitated poo. It seems my dog had at some point ingested some of his own feces, and then vomited those feces up, all over my couch/bed.

I looked at my dog with disgust. He looked at me with love, and wagged his tail a little.

I went to work.

I should have known that a day that began with dog diarrhea-vomit was not going to go well, but I tried to be optimistic. I sang off-Broadway show-tunes to myself and greeted the world (which was rainy) with a hopeful, cheery smile.

And then the diarrhea-vomit continued (metaphorically this time). We were short staffed, short on management and support, and our clients were short on understanding. Various crises arose, to be quashed down and then arise again like mythical movie monsters. By three p.m., I had threatened to kill two people.

And if the words, “I want to stab you in the aorta with a butter knife,” don’t convey unconditional compassion and understanding, I don’t know what does.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oscar Roundup: Black Swan

“Black Swan” is a chilling psychological thriller, and the rare movie that made me question if ballet should even exist while simultaneously making me want to dance.

Dancers too often hate and torture their bodies, which are kept under tight control and often unhealthily thin. They are prone to eating disorders, self mutilation, and a host of psychological problems. Their strenuous careers are often ended by the time they hit thirty, leaving little space for a childhood, or anything resembling a balanced life, and therein lies the problem. I knew this going in.

The movie does its best to illustrate one damaged girl who has spent her entire life being exactly who her mother and dance instructors asked her to be - and now faces criticism that she is too perfect, too controlled, too practiced.

Natalie Portman’s Nina sadly watches the other dancers, flirty and laughing. She cannot laugh; she cannot breath. And when her inner turmoil rips its way to the surface, shattering Nina’s tense reality, we are taken along for the ride. It is often unclear what is real and what is paranoid fantasy, and the audience is forced to question the identity of Nina’s true enemy - those who have made her weak, her mother, her instructors, her competitors, or Nina herself.

The mother’s relationship with Nina is an eery portrayal of deeply damaging psychological abuse, and Nina’s story is a beautiful metaphor (if not a necessarily a true-to-life interpretation) of the struggles many young women with anorexia nervosa and related mental disorders face.

Props to Mila Kunis, Ksenia Solo (kickass sidekick of TV’s Lost Girl), and the often loathsome Winona Ryder - all of whom held their own in difficult roles. Of course, Natalie Portman is the real star, and her acting ability stands up to the toughest scrutiny.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again...did any other Best Actress Nominee lose half their body weight, play a character having an intense nervous breakdown, and learn to dance hardcore ballet for their role? Hells no. Natalie Portman, I’ve had my mixed feelings - you were in The Phantom Menace, and you may, in some ways, be a colder, less relatable version of Anne Hathaway, but if you don’t take home that Oscar, you’ve been robbed.

Grade: A-

Oscar Roundup: Winter's Bone

If you’ve ever had a hankering for post apocalyptic anthropology, then “Winter’s Bone” is the film you ought to see. Taking place in modern rural Arkansas, amidst squirrel hunting and cooking up crank (methanphetamine), is a rich and varied cultural study of gender, politics, and the nuanced social graces of families and individuals on the cusp of ruin.

The lead performance by actress Jennifer Lawrence is Oscar nominated for good reason (although Natalie Portman is the likely Best Actress winner...nobody else lost half her body weight, went insane, and learned ballet). Her character, teenage Ree, is reminiscent of Jody Foster’s Clarice, as she goes about her business stoically and without question: tracking down her outlaw father so that her sick mother and young siblings will not lose their house.

From the highschool that she no longer attends (where the only classes we see being taught are parenting and marching practice - complete with rifles), to the chopping of wood, to the ever growing assortment of animals huddled around the shanty-like houses for warmth, it’s a world I can relate to (did I mention my family’s collection of expired vehicles, empty chicken coop, and eight cats?).

But white trash, left on its own for centuries, becomes something more...something with distinct and incomparable ballads sung in belted Southern accents, with a soft lilt of banjo music throughout. The characters lurk at doorways like vampires, waiting to be invited in, and the cussing is interspersed with ‘sirs’ and ‘ma’ams,’ because, despite the overwhelming poverty, there is no lack of culture here.

“Kneel down like you’re praying,” the main character tells her brother and sister as she teaches them survival skills, which in this case is learning to shoot. As she asks about after her father, we’re made painfully aware that this is a man’s world, where women mill around the periphery like watchdogs, and that the only reason Ree is doing the asking is that she has no men to do it for her.

The most painful part of the movie, for me, is when Ree sees her only glimmer of hope, joining the American Army (and getting a $40,000 bonus for 5 years of her life), dissolve before her; she has two kids to raise and no parent able to sign her up (as she’s still a minor). The money, while promised, would be months away, and there’s no way to take the kids with her to training. The recruiter tells her she’d best stay home, and Ree doesn’t bat an eye, but I cried.

And when a movie can make me cry over the fact that an intelligent child can’t sign away her life to the American military in order to become a know it’s a heartbreaker.

Grade: A+