Showing 71 - 80 of 262 Film, TV, Video annotations

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Paul Ehrlich (Edward G. Robinson) works as a hospital dermatologist, but his two passions are his family and his independent research into dyes and stains. When he abandons his call-duty to attend a lecture by Robert Koch, hospital officials have all they need to dismiss the annoying Jew. Koch, however, engages him to develop dyes to enhance the visibility of the newly discovered tubercle bacillus.

Ehrlich's health is broken by the research, but one success leads to another. With Emil von Behring (Otto Kruger), he works on a serum to save children with diphtheria. Moved by the anxiety of the mothers, he refuses to maintain untreated controls. His superiors are furious, but the state is grateful and he is awarded his own institute.

Ehrlich turns his attention to finding a "magic bullet" to treat syphilis, but his relationship with von Behring founders. Arsenic derivatives are endlessly modified until success is reached in 1910 with agent 606. A few deaths in treated subjects prompt Ehrlich's enemies to arrange a formal inquiry, but he is completely exonerated and reconciled with von Behring.

View full annotation

Indestructible

Byer, Ben

Last Updated: Feb-14-2009
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

When diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at age 36, filmmaker Ben Byer began recording a video diary.  Episodes from his diary create the engaging, coherent narrative of "Indestructible," a documentary that intimately, but unsentimentally invites viewers to witness Byer's and his family's responses to his diagnosis.  Their first impulse is to search for a cure for this degenerative disease, "the grim reaper of neurological diseases," a physician tells him.  They also find themselves seeking ways to understand living with loss, most centrally losing the illusion of control over their lives. 

Over the course of three years Byer and family travel to six countries, including Greece, China, Tibet, and Israel.  During his journey, Byer, an irrepressible extrovert, also seeks the companionship and insights of other ALS patients and families, wishing to create a world-wide bond among people who struggle daily.   A montage of clips from family videos prefaces the film, revealing Byer in the decades before his diagnosis.  The images show a luminous child, who grows into a playful, photogenically handsome teen ager and young man, husband, father, son, and brother.  His exceptional force of personality, incandescent smile, and spontaneous sense of humor fill the screen.  These robust images contrast touchingly with the thinner, clumsier Byer who later struggles to remove a t-shirt.  But they also reveal continuities between Byer's capacity to enjoy his life during seemingly carefree days and his strength of spirit as he becomes increasingly more disabled, disappointed, and introspective.  Although even such strength can't alter his condition, it nonetheless sees him through to the next day and fresh adventure.

The family in the montage and the film emerge as Byer's source of support as well as conflict.  One of the most devastating conflicts arises from his father Steve's restless determination to find treatments to reverse or retard ALS.  After searching the Internet for remedies, Steve turns his garage into an ad hoc distribution center for an herbal concoction he encourages his son to drink.  To advance his son's place on the waiting list of a Chinese neurosurgeon who performs olfactory cell transplantation, he recruits other ALS patients for the procedure.  The results are dubious, in some cases perhaps fatal.  After these strategies fail to reverse Byer's physical decline, and place others at risk, the camera rolls during a family showdown that exposes their fears and desperation as it acknowledges their love.  This memorable scene does so in a way that's consistent with the rest of the film: by letting the camera show, not tell. 

Even the many moments when Byer's family help him with daily activities and his most reflective moments at the end of his film resist sentimentality and easy didacticism.  Byer's equally irrepressible young son John raises a fork wound thick with pasta to his father's mouth and loops his belt through his pants, setting off giggles all around.  The ordinariness and extraordinariness of these acts, the learning of selflessness, the uneasy acceptance of dependency, the inevitability of loss are told through such images or captured in fragments lifted from daily conversations.  Bathing Byer, his brother Josh matter-of-factly says, "You don't have all the time in the world":  a searing acknowledgment of Byer's decline that reminds us of all human fragility.  The closing scenes of the film unobtrusively place Byer's solitary experience in the long history of the search for meaning in human struggle.  They record his wobbly, yet victorious ascent of Masada, supported by Josh, right after we hear a rabbi recount Camus's version of the myth of Sisyphus. 

 

View full annotation

In My Language

Baggs, Amanda

Last Updated: Jan-30-2009
Annotated by:
Garden, Rebecca

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Web Video

Summary:

This eight-and-a-half-minute video begins with a woman rocking in front of a window and waving her hands. We hear a woman’s voice singing the sound of “e,” almost without melody. The first half of the video follows this woman’s activities: a shot of her hand rhythmically scraping a looped wire against the surface of a door, repetitively stroking a keyboard, batting at the pull chain for window blinds, and bouncing an orange plastic slinky. The woman rubs her face against the pages of an open book and rocks and listens to the sound of the book’s pages as she flips through them.

Halfway through this short video, text appears: “A Translation.” What follows—in the form of a voiceover and subtitle text—is more than a translation of the autistic woman’s actions just observed. It is a manifesto revealing and protesting the assumptions often made about people with autism and how those assumptions have led to institutionalization and the exclusion of people with autism from the category of persons.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Monica (Kay Francis) is a successful gynecologist about to open her own clinic, to be designed by Anna (Verree Teasdale), her architect friend. But she is desperate to have a baby and gravely disappointed to learn that a specialist cannot help. Her husband, John (Warren William), leaves for Europe having just decided to end a secret affair with their mutual friend, Mary (Jean Muir), an accomplished pilot. John does not know that Mary is pregnant.

Without revealing the name of her child's father, Mary appeals to Monica. At first, without ever mentioning the word, she asks for an abortion, which Monica firmly rejects, telling her that having a fatherless baby will be "lovely!" After a failed attempt at aborting herself through a deliberate riding accident, Mary accepts seclusion in a private clinic. Complications arise.

Just as Monica decides that she must perform a (never-to-be-explained) procedure to deliver the child, she overhears Mary calling for John and suddenly understands the situation. Like "a machine," she responds to Anna's slap and command that she fulfill her professional duties--yet she is cold to Mary and refuses to see the baby. She makes plans to go to Europe to prepare for her new clinic. But Mary leaves her baby on Monica's doorstep and flies her plane out over the Atlantic never to be seen again. With John's approval, Monica cancels her trip to adopt the infant; however, she does not tell her husband to whom the child was born.

View full annotation

Half-Nelson

Fleck, Ryan; Gosling, Ryan; Epps, Shareeka

Last Updated: Jan-16-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Screenwriter and director Ryan Fleck expanded his award-winning short film--Gowanus, Brooklyn-- into the 2007 feature-length drama, Half-Nelson.  The central character of the film is Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) an eighth-grade history teacher struggling to make the subject relevant to his students at a troubled school in the heart of poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Brooklyn.  His creativity in the classroom and his commitment to the students, predominately African-American and Latino teens, is real, without pretense or condescension.  Rather than relying on canned curricula and traditional methodologies such as recounting battles and memorizing dates, he tries to inspire his students with the ideology of Karl Marx, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the film footage of Mario Savio, student leader of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.

However, Dan's idealism and energy begin to wane, and he easily justifies anesthetizing himself in order to escape his growing recognition that he will likely make little or no difference in the world.  As his drug use intensifies, Dan's connections with friends, family, colleagues, and eventually, students completely unravel.  But his downward spiral into addiction is intertwined with and counterpointed by a complex and subtle relationship that develops between him and thirteen-year old, Drey (Shareeka Epps) when she discovers her teacher, Mr. Dunne, slumped nearly unconscious in the bathroom stall of the school gym, a crack pipe still in his hand.  

View full annotation

The Bridge

Steel, Eric

Last Updated: Jan-16-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

After reading Tad Friend's article, "Jumpers: The Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge" in an October 2003 issue of The New Yorker, filmmaker Eric Steel became so fascinated by the mystery of the final, dark moments of a human being who makes the long journey across the bridge to his or her death that he finagled $100,000 worth of equipment and moved from New York to San Francisco.  At 5:00 AM on a rainy New Year's Day in 2004, Steel and his ragtag crew set up their cameras, beginning a strange year-long vigil.  Training telephoto lenses on the mid-span of the bridge, they peered intently from dawn to dusk, watching for "suspicious behavior" or a "sense of despair" among the crowds passing back and forth.  During that year of filming, twenty-two people ended their lives, some caught on tape and some not; however, six attempts were thwarted by the film crew who became quite adept at indentifying potential victims and alerting the Bridge Patrol. 

Photographed from multiple perspectives, at all times of day, and in all kinds of weather, the Golden Gate Bridge is the main character of this documentary film.  It is formidable; it is magnificent; it is ominous; it is alluring.  According to the film:  "More people have chosen to end their lives [here] than anywhere else in the world."  The sublime images not only capture the many facets and features of the structure, but they also illustrate the emotions and represent the psychology of the other narratives intertwined in the film:  the stories of seven individuals who jumped from the bridge during the course of that year.

There is thirty-four year-old Gene, a haunting figure dressed all in black whose story begins and ends the documentary.  Like the film crew, we watch him prowl the bridge day after day, his long dark hair whipping in the wind until he makes that final leap, a dramatic backward dive.  There is forty-four year-old Lisa, who has suffered throughout her adult life with schizophrenia and who disappears off the bridge on Easter Sunday afternoon.  And there is twenty-two year-old Philip whose parents relate the history of their son's struggle with mental illness.

In addition to using footage of the bridge being obscured by fog as an evocative image of the progressive suffocation of self, the filmmaker employs long shots of the island of Alcatraz to symbolize the prison of mental illness.  Indeed, Philip's father describes his son's leap from the bridge as a release, "the only way he could get free."

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This is the story of an adult brother and sister whose lives are indelibly marked by the deaths of their parents, killed in a car accident when the children were young.  Set in the small town in upstate NewYork where they grew up, the film centers on a visit by Terry (Mark Ruffalo) to his older sister Sammy (Laura Linney). Portraying the vicissitudes of their relationship, the film traces the effects of loss on these two compelling individuals.

The film opens uncoyly with the scene of the parents' fatal car accident. Beneath the credits we watch the church-funeral, the two small children clutching hands while a Minister addresses the assembled.  

When the story picks up, we are introduced to the lives of the now adult siblings.  Sammy is still living in their parents' home, working in a local bank branch office and raising her son Rudy, a somber eight-year old who is becoming curious about his estranged father.  Rudy, at eight, is the age Terry was when their parents died. Sammy is a reliable, loving mom, but otherwise her life appears constricted.

We find Terry, the younger brother who is now twenty-five years old, saying goodbye to a much younger girlfriend; he is leaving to borrow some money from his sister, whom he hasn't seen in two years.  Terry, endearing but irresponsible, is leading a marginal existence, broke and unemployed, no fixed address.

A long restaurant reunion scene between the siblings reveals the texture of their relationship. We see that Sammy adores and worries about Terry; he is the light of her life.  Terry conveys restless discomfort with his sister's expectations, experiencing her concern for him as a burden.  He reveals that he has been out of touch because he was in prison for a while, and that he needs to borrow money to pay for a girl's abortion.

After learning that his girlfriend has attempted suicide, Terry sends her the money and decides to stay with Sammy for a while. In small increments, Terry and his nephew Rudy warm up to one another.  Meanwhile Sammy's life takes an unexpected turn as she begins an affair with her controlling, married boss (Matthew Broderick); this begins just after an old flame of hers resurfaces with a marriage proposal.  Neither relationship provides her much nourishment. Without easy answers, the film helps us connect the dots between Sammy's unsatisfying relationships with men and her adaptation to loss and to becoming the caretaking elder sibling.  

Terry's visit goes wrong when, after a series of small irresponsible dealings with Rudy, Terry takes it upon himself to introduce the child to his estranged father, resulting in an ugly scene.  Sammy, distraught, asks her brother to leave, as he "doesn't know how to be around an eight year old."  The film ends with their farewell as they wait for Terry's bus out of town. Terry doesn't know where he is heading or when he'll be back. The scene presents a remarkable exchange of feelings as Terry comforts Sammy, telling her it's always good to know that she "is back here rooting" for him, and assuring her that "everything will be all right -comparatively."   Sammy cannot draw him into her world or her life, and every parting with him feels permanent. They find their childhood connection in this scene--and the camera follows each of them for several beats after they separate, Terry on the bus and then Sammy driving to work.  We feel them slowly absorbing the violence of severing--going back into themselves.  Have they affirmed that in fact they can count on one another or reminded themselves (and us) that nothing can be counted on?

A surprise element in the movie is the character of Father Ron, a Minister played by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan.  Sammy turns to the minister for guidance, seeking advice about her brother.  In two surprising scenes, Father Ron injects into the narrative a sweetly earnest note regarding faith and finding meaning in our lives. 

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As the film opens, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is exuberantly preparing to leave his run-down Texas hometown to head for New York City. He has outfitted himself as a spiffy cowboy, intending to "hustle" wealthy New York women who will beg for his sexual favors, and pay him in the bargain. As he interacts with the bus passengers during the long journey to the Big City, we see that underneath the bravado, Joe is anxious for friendship and haunted by memories of a lonely childhood. Abandoned by his mother (a father is never in the picture), Joe was raised by his grandmother, who spoiled him, yet neglected him, and whose assorted boyfriends competed with him for her attention.

In New York, Joe is naive and out of place. His attempts to hustle women are rebuffed or backfire ludicrously--he ends up paying them. In a Times Square bar, he runs into a crippled con-man, "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who offers to be his "manager" but steals his money in a scam. As his funds run out, Joe resorts to selling himself in a homosexual encounter; even this backfires--he picks up a student who has no money.

As Joe is becoming quite desperate--homeless, with only his portable radio for company--he runs into Ratso again. Partly to make amends, and partly out of his own loneliness, Ratso invites Joe to his "home," a room in an abandoned building, without electricity or heat. Warily at first, and then with increasing mutual respect, the two set up housekeeping. Theirs is a daily struggle for survival--petty thievery, selling blood, and fantasies of a gigolo's life in warm Miami sustain them.

In the heatless apartment Ratso's health deteriorates--he has a chronic cough, smokes constantly, and the weather is frigid. Underground movie-makers choose them as street curiosities for the camera, inviting them to an avant-garde party replete with food, drugs, and a rich woman (Brenda Vacarro), who takes Joe into her bed and pays him for it, arranging another "transaction" later in the week for a woman friend.

Joe thinks he has finally made it. Ratso, however, has a high fever, can no longer walk, and refuses medical attention. Joe makes the choice: he assaults and steals for the busfare to take Ratso to Miami. During the trip Joe tells Ratso, "I'm going to get some sort of job--outdoor work--I'm no hustler." But Ratso, seated next to him, has died. Joe puts his arm around the dead man, protecting him from the curious stares of the other passengers.

View full annotation

Summary:

The film opens with the discovery of Dr. Victor Frankenstein's will in his Transylvanian village. A skeleton, presumably Dr. Frankenstein's, and a man wrestle for the box holding the will. The man wins, takes it to a town meeting where the will is read and calls for the transfer of the property to the dead scientist's grandson, Frederick. Following this scene we meet the grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a surgeon who is busy instructing medical students in clinical neuroanatomy (comparing the brain to a cauliflower). When asked about his grandfather by a medical student, Freddy, who pronounces the family name "Fron kon steen", declares that Victor was "a cuckoo". The student is relentless in pursuing the family ties, exasperating Freddy, who finally plunges a scalpel into his thigh, a sight gag paying homage to Peter Sellers' stabbing himself with a letter opener in A Shot in the Dark (1964). When the courier from Transylvania arrives, he persuades Freddy to return to his ancestral castle for the execution of the will. A hilarious railroad platform scene in which Freddy bids goodbye to his "beautiful, flat-chested" (as described in the online original etext of the script by Gene Wilder) fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), only highlights the incredibly neurotic natures of the two lovers -- Wilder as a possessed but wacky scientist and Kahn as a narcissistic and apparently remote and shallow woman.

In Transylvania, Freddy and the viewers meet the remainder of the major characters. Inga (Teri Garr), a bosomy and mindless but beautiful and dedicated blonde, escorts him to the castle, where he meets the hunchback Igor, played by the incomparable Marty Feldman, who instructs Freddy, with one of the lines all Young Frankenstein addicts love to quote, to "walk this way", by which he means with a limp and a cane, not directions to anywhere at all. After remarking that the huge castle doors have huge knockers (which they do) -- which Teri Garr winsomely mistakes for a compliment on her equally huge knockers -- Freddy and his entourage enter the castle and meet Frau Blücher (played magnificently by Cloris Leachman), the spinster who keeps the castle, nourishing an undying flame for Freddy's dead grandfather. Soon Freddy and Inga discover, by means of a secret passageway behind a  -- surprise! surprise! -- revolving bookcase wall in Freddy's room, his grandfather's hidden subterranean laboratory (Brooks used the same electrical apparatus as the 1931 Frankenstein film) and scientific journals. With the materials and methods now at hand, Freddy undergoes a spiritual transformation, embracing his forebear's obsession with creating life from dead bodies, rejecting his earlier rejection of Victor's work as "Doo-Doo!".

At this juncture we move into the scientific creation mode and of course meet the Monster, exuberantly portrayed by the talented Peter Boyle. When Igor tries to steal a brain from a neighboring morgue there occurs the infamous mix-up of an "Abnormal" brain (labelled "DO NOT USE THIS BRAIN!") for the intended brain of H. Delbrück ("the finest natural philosopher, internal medicine diagnostician and chemical therapist of this century" and also the author of 17 cookbooks) making at least this viewer wonder if Mel Brooks had in mind a real scientific genius, Max Delbrück, who had received, only 5 years before, a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for his work on bacteriophages.

The predicted spoofs ensue: the actual process of transforming the very large corpse of Peter Boyle into the very large body of the living Monster (with Inga remarking, after Freddy states that for the experiment to be a success, the monster must have enlarged body parts, that he "vould have an enormous schwanzstucker" -- a pseudo-German/Yiddish word that everyone in the audience immediately comprehends); the inclusion of Gene Wilder's rendition of the legendary exclamation, "It's alive!" by Colin Clive in the 1931 Frankenstein; the monster's mercurial disposition; the wildly comic scene with the Monster meeting the Blind Man (Gene Hackman); the Monster's fascination with music and antipathy to fire -- they all give rise to set pieces of Brooks's unique mix of lowbrow comedy with intellectual puns, Yiddish asides and the ubiquitous combination of visual and physical jokes.

After Elizabeth unexpectedly arrives in Transylvania we witness an apparently unlikely, and therefore uproariously believable, liaison with the Monster outside the castle, with Madeline Kahn eventually taking on the classic Marge Simpson type hairdo of Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. The last important scene before the ending involves Freddy nostalgically summoning the Monster back to his natal castle for a transference of Freddy's calm brain to the Monster's. The ending, with the Monster a fully acculturated and now sophisticated man about town, and with Freddy and Inga still in love in Transylvania, is a brilliant win-win result for Freddy, Inga, Elizabeth and the Monster, although hardly predictable. Without giving away too much of the denouement, suffice it to say that the movie ends on a high note transforming, as it were, a linguistic pun into a musical one.

View full annotation

Summary:

Based on the memoir by British writer Blake Morrison, who is played in the film by Colin Firth, the story unfolds through Blake's eyes.  Blake's father Arthur (Jim Broadbent) is rapidly dying of cancer, cared for at home by Blake's mother, Kim (Juliet Stevenson).  Blake's parents are both physicians.  Blake is extremely ambivalent toward his father and reluctantly goes back to his childhood home to visit the dying man.  As his father lies dying Blake hashes out within himself his conflicted feelings toward his father -- long-standing anger, contempt, guilt, occasional grudging admiration.  The film flashes back and forth between the present and Blake's memories of the past.

As seen through Blake's eyes, his father is bombastic, overbearing, a deceiving and self-deceiving individual.  Blake recalls numerous instances where his father called him "fathead," barged unannounced into his room, humiliated him in front of others, competed with him for the attention of young women, and disparaged his choice of career as a writer.  Blake is deeply wounded by the knowledge that his father has been carrying on a romance with Aunt Beaty (Sarah Lancashire ) behind his mother's back -- although his mother is painfully aware of the infidelity.  In addition to recalling various humiliating and annoying situations with his father, Blake is enveloped in memories of his first sexual relationship with the family's maid and even makes a brief pass at her in the present, after his father's funeral.  He is so fixated on his obsessions -- with his first love and with his father -- that when his wife speaks with him on the telephone, he is distant and hostile toward her.
 
Blake's mother nurses her dying husband while Blake hovers in the background, hoping for an opportunity to talk to his father while he is still lucid, in what is bound to be a futile attempt at having a revelatory discussion about their fraught relationship -- such a discussion is bound to be futile because Arthur does not admit to his faults and even as he is on his deathbed, seeks reassurance from his wife that they had a happy life together.

View full annotation