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What is love, you ask?

Heck if I know, and neither does Charlyne Yi, I think.

She wouldn’t have made a documentary if she weren’t in pursuit of the answer, right?

Well, for herself, she really doesn’t, even with her real-life relationship (at the time) to Michael Cera.  In pursuing a documentary about love, the pair create a fictional portrait of their budding romance.  They enjoy the company at first, but after a while, between the camera crew constantly hounding the pair and Charlyne flat out saying that she isn’t in love, they split up, only to seemingly reconcile at the end (at least, that’s what the puppets describe for us in a genuinely hilarious ending).

It all seems deceptive too, given the fact that Charlyne interviewed couples, either married or with each other for years, to get a glimpse at what love is.  The highlights of this documentary involve those couples – all real, all very much in love – and how they described meeting each other, or just dealing with different moments in their lives, done to the tune of arts and crafts.  There are bold moments, crazy moments, and touching moments to be found.

Part of how this works comes from Charlyne herself: she has a rather disarming charm that allows her to get people to talk to her.  She’s humorous as well, in a happy, optimistic way (and somewhat self-depreciating, but it’s actually not so bad compared to other comedians).  Her relationship with Michael Cera was engaging as well, even if we know, for the film at least, it was fake.  It was probably their actual relationship that made this work better than it should.

This was on Starz On Demand, I believe.  It’s short (only 88 minutes), and it’s a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.  Don’t expect to get an answer to love – the whole overriding message, if there is one, is just to go find it on your own – but you’ll appreciate the moments of love that you find, especially during those real moments.

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In anticipation for Let Me In (which will immediately follow this review), I decided to rent on Amazon the Swedish original version of Let The Right One In.

I originally saw this film when it came out in November 2008, and found it to be great then (as I still do now). The film is dominated by the two child actor leads, who give the performances that the film demands: sad, isolated, yearning, and innocent. Both have different reasons for being the way they are: Oskar is lacking both familial support – his parents are divorced, but he has trouble connecting with them – and a friend in school, constantly being bullied and picked on by the same group of kids; Eli, meanwhile, is a forever 12-year-old vampire, so you can imagine the isolation in that.  The two come together on a jungle gym set in the yard of their apartment complex, eventually over a game of Rubik’s Cube – the perfect little single player game – though before then, Eli warns Oskar that they can’t be friends.

So a childhood romance of sorts forms between the two, which helps bring them out of their isolation, though it’s more difficult for Eli.  She’s been 12 for a long time, and will end up being stuck as such.  Oskar will age, much like Eli’s father figure, until he needs to be replaced (it’s a sad existence all around for this kids), but he finds what he wants in Eli, someone to understand him.

That said, the film does feel somewhat disjointed at times, mainly when it comes to the supporting characters and their lives (which do nothing other than to add to Eli’s feeding count).  But this is really about the drama between two lonely people, and the effects their isolation – both created on their own or set through some other means – have on each other.  Effective as both a drama and a vampire movie, and, while somewhat depressing overall, has a sort of hopefulness in finding other people to connect with.

Even if they’re pseudo-12-year-old vampires.

The scariest movies, in reality, are not horror movies (especially horror movies today), but are, in my opinion, documentaries, at least ones that focus on a specific individual or group of people that are up to no good.  I’m sure you know the answer why.

Earlier documentaries from this year prove this point: Daniel Ellsberg revealed the ignorance of a properly informed America and how that resulted in the loss of nearly 60,000 military personnel in the Vietnam War, the Art of the Steal showed just how easy it was for politicians and power players to pick apart an individual’s will, and Casino Jack showed us an America ran by money, not by actual thinking men and women.

GASLAND?  This one is scary, and definitely a wake up call, in trying to figure out what America needs to do with its energy crisis.

Josh Fox, the creator of said film, receives a letter from a gas company, asking if they could pay him for the rights to drill the natural gas from his land.  Not sure if $100,000 is worth it, he does some investigating of local towns and counties that have natural gas drilling, in this instance, called hydraulic fracturing, or frakking.  What he finds is devastating: local water supplies ruined because of the natural gas seeping into them; running water that lights up in a pyre of flame; families reporting headaches, animals losing their hair, etc.  It’s enough to make him say no.

The process of hydraulic fracturing, he shows, involves drilling a mix of water and nearly 600 various chemicals – some of them being known carcinogens and harmful to human health – into the ground, causing mini earthquakes that fracture the earth, releasing the stored natural gas for extraction.  A site can be fractured up to eighteen times; the amount of water needed for one fracturing at one well is anywhere from 1-7 million gallons of water.

There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of these wells all across the country in various natural gas fields.  You can do the math.

Fox’s journey takes him from his home in northeastern Pennsylvania to across the southern portion of the United States, stopping in places like Forth Worth, Texas, where a new well springs up almost overnight.  He ends up back in Pennsylvania talking with a state senator about what to do about this problem.  The senator was right to peg him about being behind the camera asking questions; Fox’s response is a simple “I’m from Pennsylvania, and this affects me.”

He ends up in Washington, D.C. for a Congressional hearing from various gas companies about the effects of hydraulic fracturing and their effects on the environment – they either feign ignorance or outright say no to questions about their effects.  Fox is quick to point the camera repeatedly on the bottled water that the gas company employees are drinking (one repeated mentioned throughout the film by distressed homeowners about their water is asking these same people to drink it, to which they politely decline as best they can).  Fox, prior to this hearing, is in New York, learning more about a water basin that serves 20 million people that remains untouched but is part of the largest natural gas vein in the eastern half of the country.

That 20 million people, by the way, lies along the Delaware River valley, stretching from southern New York State all the way into Delaware.  Most of my readership (if I have one) lives along this 100-mile length of land: the water we drink comes from this basin.

Fox himself is admirable in his quest for answers.  His narration comes off as stilted, which is bothersome at first but becomes more focused as the film moves forward.  His has a dark humor that emerges – the scene with him playing banjo would be funny if public lands and a gas well weren’t behind him, as well as what he’s wearing as well when he plays – but he’s also serious, and his angered response comes at an appropriate time, when continued disbelief of the stories he hears gives way to “what can we do about this”.

This film is definitely a wake up call.  Well made, informative, and downright scary.  Like all documentaries about the real world should be.

Note: this film is playing on HBO On Demand through September, in their Documentaries section.  Watch it.

I must say, this one was tough.

Not that it wasn’t bad. Opposite, in fact: quite good. I can consider this in some ways a sort of neo-realism film, with the mix of trained actors and non-actors. It’s gritty, it’s intense, it’s tough.

Katie Jarvis plays Mia, a 15-year old girl who lives with her mom and younger sister in an apartment complex in a working class section of Essex. They argue constantly, often quite venomously: Mia and her mother, Mia and her sister Tyler (and, quite possibly, though never shown, the mother and Tyler). Mia’s a loner with no friends (she’s not in school), and is often neglected at times. There are very few connections she makes in the world: an ill horse that’s chained in a fenced off trailer yard, a young man who lives there, and Conner (Michael Fassbender) who dates Mia’s mother. Her other big connection is wanting to dance. She believes she dances well, but has no confidence: she often dances alone, in an empty apartment either in the same complex or elsewhere in Essex. She’ll dance for Conner, though that requires pulling several teeth out.

The relationship between Conner and Mia starts off rather timidly, but Mia finds an attraction to him beyond mere friendship or parental longing (it’s never established why Mia doesn’t have a father, but the dysfunction is evidently there without a father figure helping out). She leans comfortably on his back when Conner carries her back to the car on a fishing trip, she films him getting changed, and she gets quite comfortable around him with other people around too (she’s either pants less or jumps around him when other people are in the same vicinity as they are). Conner, meanwhile, takes it all and finds some attraction to her too. Trying to juggle two women seems hard, but Conner somehow manages to do so, though he’s experienced in that regard (the third act deals with the consequences of the payoff to Conner’s and Mia’s relationship, revealing Conner’s secret).

Jarvis is a real find. She was found by a casting agent of the director during an argument with her then boyfriend. Everything she does comes off naturally, probably because she might have experienced everything that the character Mia did, before and after the filming of the movie. She looks to have come from a working class family, broken at that, and at some point after filming and before her eighteenth birthday, she gave birth to a daughter. Life reflects art and vice versa, it would seem.

Her character at times is hard to be sympathetic about. We often feel for her situation and maybe hope that, in a better circumstance, she would have come up better. Then again, this is reality, both for Mia and for Katie Jarvis.

Outside of Michael Fassbender, I’m not sure who is a classically trained actor and who is a non-actor. The performances are spot-on and flawless. Like I mentioned in the beginning, this is gritty neo-realism at its finest. It’s tough to watch though, that I can say. It’s well worth it.

Note: I thought I saw a comparison made between this and Precious, which is understandable: young woman, tough upbringing, finding something to make life better. The resolutions are different, and I much prefer the ending of Fish Tank to Precious. There’s a greater hopefulness to it (even though things are still left unsaid between certain parties), while in Precious, you’re kind of left wondering “Well, she’s going to be dead in five years, so what now?” Fish Tank is strong enough on its own merits to stand out from Precious, so you’re not seeing the same movie twice.

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, about a high school teen who’s trying to figure out what to do with her life and finds herself joining a roller derby league.  Pretty good film overall: a couple missteps along the way, but it generally works in the way it was intended to.  Stand outs include Ellen Page as the rookie who joins the league, Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern as her parents (two vastly different people), and Drew Barrymore as one of the derby girls who prefers retaliation more than actually scoring and winning.  Great fun.