I’ve thought on and off, for weeks, about writing about my mental illness and posting about it here. Part of me wants to get it out. Another part, the self-deprecating part, tells me that nobody cares about my craziness. That it will make me look needy and stupid or, worse, people who are thinking about giving me a job will look me up and see this, and they won’t want to hire me anymore. But I’ve decided I want to write about it. There is so much to say; I have suffered from mental illness since I was five, but I’m going to focus today on the recent issues, particularly my latest hospital stay. Continue reading My Depression Post
Rating: B+/ People who know me know that mental illness has been a big part of my life since I was very little. I guess you could say that you don’t choose mental illness, mental illness chooses you. As someone with severe depression and an anxiety disorder, I kept thinking about in what ways the Barnes family from Sights Unseen were like my own family and in what ways they were different. In caring for somebody with a mental disorder like my parents have cared for me, mental illness becomes an inexorable part of your life, whether you like it or not. Love and frustration go hand in hand. Continue reading Book Review: Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons
Rating: A-/ ***Warning- This is more of a comprehensive discussion of the film Spider than a actual review. Spoilers should be expected.*** First off, I adore Ralph Fiennes. I really just love the guy. I think he’s one of the best (if not actually the best) actors of today. I just rediscovered the greatness of Cronenberg’s psychoanalytic thriller Spider, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about why I think Spider was one of Fiennes’ best performances and one of his most daring film endeavors. I’m also going to discuss what made Spider so great and look at the layers of meaning the psychology of this film provides. Let this be my last warning; this is going to be a spoiler laden post. If you haven’t seen this film yet and want to, avoid this review like the plague. Thank you.
When we first meet Spider (Ralph Fiennes) as he gets off a train, he seems very small and vulnerable, one of society’s undisputed outcasts. Nicotine-stained fingers, raggedy old coat, stubbly, bewildered face- he looks like he wishes he cold just sink into the ground and disappear. We can also see clear as day that not all is right with him psychologically, as he continually mutters incomprehensibly to himself (turn on your subtitles!) and doesn’t seem totally cognizant of his surroundings. He’s definitely out of his element, and rightfully so- Spider has just been released from an insane asylum that he was committed to since childhood, and is being placed in the care of Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave,) a crusty old woman who owns a halfway house for the mentally disturbed.
The house could use a spruce-up and Mrs. Wilkinson could use some work on her bedside manner. She treats the patients like naughty children who constantly need to be berated and told off. Spider begins reexamining events that placed him in the care of the state by becoming an ‘observer’ of his childhood, following his boy self around the familiar streets of his youth and sitting in on conversations between people that occurred at that time, and some that didn’t. This is where the brilliance of this movie lies, for as soon as we are introduced to his parents (Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne) we are immediately placed in the shoes of an unreliable narrator. While his mum is long-suffering, beautiful, and kind, his father Bill is a philandering alcoholic and all around jerk who Spider competes with for the affections of his mother.
In a series of events that young Spider couldn’t possibly have been present for, we find that Dad is screwing a local floozy named Yvonne (also played by Miranda Richardson) and that they kill Spider’s saintly mother when she catches them making it in the garden shed. These scenes, and the subsequent scenes where Yvonne takes Mrs. Cleg’s place as Spider’s new ‘mother,’ are ludicrously over-the-top and almost cartoonish in nature. Juxtaposed with the hyperrealistic scenes where Spider himself is present, these parts seem to make no sense unless you take them at face value- that Spider is making them up. That they came out of the mind of a naive, inexperienced, and mentally ill man who has spent most of his life in an institution.
Yvonne (despite being played by the same actress who played the mother) is slutty, coarse, and rendered with make-up and costume design to be actually fairly unattractive. The infinitely well-meaning Mrs. Cleg is superior in every way to this common street whore; of this Spider is convinced. So he sets out to murder Yvonne by turning the gas stove on as she sleeps, only to find he has murdered his mother and ‘Yvonne’ as he knows her never existed. Yes, maybe he was jokingly flashed by a woman similar to his incarnation of Yvonne (in fact, ‘Flashing Yvonne’ is played a by a whole different actress than Richardson, Allison Egan) and his mind did the rest of the work. Building upon this event he created the ultimate harlot, the woman who would stand by as his dad killed his mom and insist he call her ‘mother.’
So what do I think? I think Spider’s oh-so-virtuous mother became alcoholic and bitter, creating ‘Yvonne’ in his mind and causing him to believe that his dad murdered his mom and replaced her with an uncaring, promiscuous duplicate. Spider obviously has the hots for his mom on some subconscious level, brushing her hair and watching her put on make-up adoringly and eyeing her as she tries on a slinky nightgown. She became boozy and hard due to her marital problems with her husband and his love of going to the Dog and Beggar and drinking. Someone had to be blamed, and the issue had to be put in more black-and-white terms so Spider could understand it.
There’s only one thing about this movie that confuses me, and that’s the scene where Spider’s in a restaurant looking at a picture of a green Yorkshire field. Suddenly he’s standing in a field identical to the one in the picture, hanging out with a couple of old men who don’t particularly seem to have their mental faculties. I think that he met the men at the asylum (I believe one of these guys was the one wielding a piece of broken glass in the flashback.) He imagined them in a grassy field and used some of the dialogue he had heard from them in the scenario. I’m also very curious whether Spider realized what he had done to his mother (he does refrain from braining Mrs. Wilkinson, who he imagines as Yvonne, with a hammer) or whether the big reveal was just a tip-off to the audience and Spider is as lost as ever.
I don’t think it should be surprising to you that Ralph Fiennes is incredible in this movie. He shows a gift for portraying debilitating mental illness with a nuanced sleight of hand that is not generally present in these kinds of performances. So that’s it. I’ve explained why I think Spider is one of the more complex psychological thrillers I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve offered some explanation to the meaning of the events presented in this movie. Liked this discussion? Have any thoughts? Want me to write another like it? Stop by and tell me in the comments!
I’ll admit, I kind of went out on a limb with this one. I had seen the theatrical trailer quite some time ago, and it didn’t look like my type of movie, which is a polite way of me saying it looked like crap-ola. But I had just seen John Carpenter’s Halloween for the umpteenth time, and I saw this on Netflix Streaming and decided to give it a whirl. How bad could it be, right?
Pretty bad, as it turns out. This ain’t no Halloween, and to top off a heaping shit cake is the king of all crappy twists. Did anyone actually think this was a good idea? The plot follows Kristen (Amber Heard,) a cute blonde who burns down a farmhouse and is taken to a sinister mental institution. She says she’s perfectly rational and sane; for some odd reason the shrinks overlooking her case disagree.
Kristen goes under lock and key in North Bend Psychiatric Institution, where she meets her fellow patients, flirty, manipulative Sarah (Danielle Panabaker,) brainy Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca,) who is rarely seen without her handy-dandy sketchbook, contrarian Emily (Mamie Gummer,) who picks fights with just about everyone and paints her mouth clown-red in protest at group meetings, and timid, infantile Zoe (Laura-Leigh,) who talks in a wittle bitty baby voice and clutches her stuffed bunny in protection against a world she can’t quite comprehend.
Little do these disparate band of loonies know that shit’s about to go down in a big way, when the ghost of a dead patient lurks around the halls of the spooky institution. Meanwhile, creepy nurses scuttle around menacingly, and Kristen tries to convince her shrink (Jared Harris) that something, er… not human is making it’s rounds around the psych ward, which goes over about as well as a fart in church.
The drab grey color scheme and the movies utterly self-serious delivery of campy situations and lines, without a smidgen of irony or humor, should single-handedly sink this enterprise, but it would almost just barely get by as a passable movie if it weren’t for the spectacularly dreadful ‘twist’ at the end. I won’t spoil the delight of this abomination for you here in my review, but let’s just say it’s been done in other movies, and done better, many times. I’m starting to think if you don’t have a truly innovative and interesting twist, you should just forgo the damn thing and stick with a straightforward plot.
The acting here is okay (‘okay’ in that I didn’t want to scratch my eyes out, but I still I still wasn’t overly impressed ,) The main problem (besides the super-hokey twist ending) is that the movie takes itself far too seriously without delivering any real scares. It lacks a real sense of purpose and terror, yet lacks the strength to go all the way as a satire or even a comedy-horror hybrid.Being simultaneously corny and grim isn’t a good position for a fright flick to take. And we never really care that much about Kristen, as Amber Heard’s performance lacks the ferocity or the plausibility to take her beyond the realm of poorly written heroines.
I highly recommend you avoid The Ward like the plague. In attempting to kick-start his career, John Carpenter has committed the worst of moviemaking vices- he’s wasted his time, and ours. A failure on almost every concievable level, The Ward is best forgotten and moved past as a regrettable misstep in Carpenter’s career.
I pulled my paperback copy of this book of my shelf on impulse one day, and I’m very glad I did. ‘Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes’ is a compelling read, which examines a large birth of issues including bullying, obesity, disabilities, child abuse, abortion, and religion. This all sounds very ‘disease-of-the-week,’ but the ‘problem novel’ aspect of the novel is levied by genuine audacity and an unforgettable cast of characters.
Eric, called ‘Moby’ (as in the whale) for his considerable girth, is an obese seventeen-year-old boy living in a single-parent family. His oldest friend, Sarah Byrnes was horribly disfigured under suspicious circumstances when she was three. For seventeen years she has stood strong, but now she sits, wounded and silent, in a psychiatric ward.
Eric is running out of time. He has to save Sarah Byrnes from insanity… or something worse. Because someone wants to silence Eric. And in this situation, there isn’t a wide berth for error. Subplots involve proselytization by Eric’s Christian conservative classmate, a classroom discussion group dissecting relevant social issues, and a troubled and dimwitted boy from Eric’s past.
It might be hard to warm up to the characters at first. Eric is a unrepentant smartass who constantly describes his obesity and profuse perspiration at length, while Sarah Byrnes sometimes seems rougher (and meaner) than she needs to be. Likewise Steve Ellerby, Eric’s other friend, seems to be someone who would pick any fight with a Christian. But slowly your views change- Eric is a devoted friend, Sarah is incredibly brave, and Ellerby is a thinker who refuses to accept someone else’s reality that doesn’t make sense to him as his own. Even crazy-religious and hypocritical Mark Brittain shows a human side.
This in’t the best written book ever- it contains a lot of cliched language. But the plot and the characters are engrossing. The story is exciting while also being interesting and not insulting the reader’s intelligence. “Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes” was actually banned/challenged at several points by the school systems, and a Wisconsin parents actually called it ‘pornography’ at one point, which is pure ridiculousness. It is actually a pretty mature book, but nothing that older teens can’t handle in my opinion.
This is a lot darker than the last YA book I read (the Trans-friendly “Parrotfish,”) but then this arguably goes deeper into teen issues (not just GLBTQ issues.) I can’t say I liked this one better, but then, they do different things well. For compelling characters and a steady mix of drama and action, look no further than “…Sarah Byrnes.” I think you could get a tech-head or jock boy who is committed to sports or glued to his video game system to read this book because it is so involving. I think it should be on every high school library shelf .
|The book’s intriguing dedication.|