Monday, November 02, 2015

Newborn Hat Pattern: Tut Tut, Looks Like Rain


If you would prefer a PDF of this pattern, you can download it here from Ravelry.

  • Approximately 30 yards (28 metres) of sport weight yarn
  • US 3 (2.5 mm) set of double pointed needles, or suitably long circular needle for Magic Loop
  • Yarn needle
  • 4 stitch markers (one unique)

24 sts = 4 ins
32 rows = 4 ins

  • CO 60 sts.
  • Join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist stitches. Place unique marker to indicate beginning of rnd.
  • Rounds 1 to 3: K1, P1 around.
  • Knit in stockinette (K all sts) for the next 20 rounds.
  • Round 1: (K1, P1) 3 times, PM. k18. (P1, K1) 3 times. PM. Knit to end of rnd.
  • Round 2: (P1, K1) 3 times, K18, (K1, P1) 3 times. Knit to end of rnd.
  • Repeat Rounds 1 and 2 five times more. You are making two seed stitch squares at the top corners of the front of the hat.
  • Put first 30 sts (front of hat) on one dpn and last 30 sts (back of hat) on another needle. Use Kitchener Stitch to graft front and back of hat together.
  • Break yarn and weave in ends. You're done!


CO = cast on
K = knit
P = purl
rnd = round
sts = stitches
dpn = double pointed needle
PM = place marker

(This pattern is free for personal use; please do not sell hats made from this pattern or use it without attribution to the author.)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

movie review: The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet 
(2013, France/Australia/Canada) 
directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is most well-known for Amelie, the movie that got even people who don't like subtitled movies from France to watch a subtitled movie from France. Amelie, Delicatessen, and MicMacs have a similar sensibility--whimsy and a lot of visual delight, with an undercurrent of darkness and sadness. Jeunet's newest film (released in 2013 in Europe but delayed until 2015 in North America) continues in this vein.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, because I didn't really know anything about it beforehand, and I think I enjoyed the movie all the more for it. However, without spoiling anything, I can say that it involves
  • a quirky family of scientists and ranchers (with one budding thespian)
  • a ranch nestled in the beautiful, stylized mountains of Montana
  • a tragic accident
  • an ingenious invention
  • a cross-country adventure by rail
  • the Smithsonian
Jeunet divides the acts of his story with dynamic images of a pop-up book. This movie is a lot like a good pop-up book: gorgeous and stuffed with tiny delights. The storyline is absorbing, though at times seems to be teetering dangerously close to too slow--but it revs up again just as things seem to be grinding to a halt. I thought there was a good balance of lightness and sadness, too, which is a tricky thing to get right.

The actors are uniformly good, and there are some cameos that Canadians will enjoy (the movie was made partly in Canada). The boy playing T.S. Spivet is odd but likable, and I have to say this may be one of my favourite roles for Helena Bonham Carter.

Overall, I'd recommend it if you liked Amelie and are OK with whimsy.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Easy Green Sauce (Vegan)


1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1 package soft tofu (silken is best, but soft will do)
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste


Pulse garlic clove, nutritional yeast, basil leaves and lemon juice in blender.
Add tofu and blend until smooth.
Add salt to taste.
Pour over hot, freshly cooked pasta.
Add freshly ground pepper to taste.

This takes about 5 minutes and tastes like the colour green. Very herbal. Nice way to use up the last basil leaves of the summer. You will feel healthy and virtuous for having eaten it.

I like to put this "vegan parmesan" on it for texture (from maple*spice).

Sunday, September 06, 2015

movie review: American Ultra

I was excited to see American Ultra after watching the trailer--I thought it would be an action/spy thriller/comedy with an interesting plotline. Stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is working his dead-end job at a convenience store when a very odd sunglass-wearing woman (Connie Britton) comes in and basically whispers, "Psst, the crow flies at midnight. Cherries mayonnaise samurai." Even high as a kite, Mike is understandably mystified, and figures she is just crazy--but then when two assassins try to jump him in the parking lot, he snaps into trained machine mode and kills them...with the spoon he's been using to eat his Cup of Noodles. Freaked out about his sudden ability to turn cutlery into a deadly weapon, he calls his patient girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart) for help, and thus a string of unlikely events is set in motion.

It turns out that Mike is a highly trained CIA asset whose memory was wiped after his experimental project was terminated. However, now reactivated, Mike is not going to go down so easily.

Although I came into the movie with high hopes, ultimately I was disappointed. I had thought from the trailer there would be more comedy. There is comedy, but tonally, it's very uneven. At some points it is a stoner comedy; at some points it's a Coen Brothers satire of CIA ineptitude; at other points it's an ultraviolent Quentin Tarantino movie; occasionally, it even morphs into an earnest indie relationship drama with weird filters and washed out colours.  With that many competing genres and an inability to blend them together successfully, it was doomed from the beginning.

There were definitely some enjoyable parts. I actually quite liked the relationship between Eisenberg and Stewart; it seemed genuine and sweet. I like Eisenberg in whatever he's in, but I'm usually much more lukewarm about Stewart, because I find her strangely passive and bland. However, I thought she did a good job here--the role suited her well and she and Eisenberg had nice chemistry.

I also liked Connie Britton as Victoria Lasseter, the demoted CIA director who tries to warn Mike about the hit put out on him. She is so warm and humane, even while she is cracking heads and dispatching bad guys. Her easily flustered former assistant Petey (played by Tony Hale--Buster Bluth!) is hilarious and very likeable too.

Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), Lasseter's replacement and nemesis, is just straight up asshole. He is so over the top with his untrammelled ambition, gloating contempt for Lasseter, and glaring ineptitude that it's difficult to take him seriously as a character. It's just impossible to see how he would have been promoted to the level he seems to be at, though it's clear he is an ass-kisser nonpareil, so maybe that's it. However, I remain unconvinced that CIA actually works that way. Overall, Grace's character is just too cartoonish and would have benefited from a little bit more background to round him out.

And finally, I was disappointed (but perhaps not surprised) that the movie failed the Bechdel Test completely, even with the presence of two strong female characters. They never once speak a word to each other, or any other woman, during the entire movie.

Overall, American Ultra was most disappointing because it had potential. I think it needed to decide what it wanted to be and follow through on that vision with conviction. Instead, it just seemed too scattered and hyperactive. Ultimately, it is unsatisfying in its attempt to be too many things to too many audiences.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

TV series review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
(USA, 2015)
created by Robert Carlock and Tina Fey
starring Carol Kane, Tituss Burgess, Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Ki Hong Lee

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a very odd premise for what is essentially supposed to be a sitcom--four women are finally rescued after being held hostage for 15 years by a mad doomsday prophet (Jon Hamm) in an underground bunker in Indiana. The prophet brainwashes them, tells them that the world ended on June 6, 2006, so there is no point leaving the bunker, and keeps them there for his own nefarious purposes. (These purposes are only vaguely hinted at and very rarely described--except for how they all had to take shifts turning a giant crank, which surprisingly is not a euphemism for something sexual.)

There are quite a few real-life situations this premise brings to mind: the women held as sex slaves in Cleveland; Jaycee Dugard; Elizabeth Smart. All these women were treated horrifically and their captivity and eventual release are really not something one should joke about. So it was with trepidation that I started watching UKS, mostly because I had read that it was actually a very well-done show that had some thoughtful things to say about about surviving trauma and reclaiming one's life in the aftermath.

Now that I have watched all 13 episodes (thank you Netflix auto-play--I watched the series in 3 days), I can see where this assessment of the show comes from. Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) is a wonderfully resilient character who never forgets that she has been through terrible trauma but spends every day enjoying her new lease on life and putting one foot in front of the other. Her response to her liberation is utter delight and a determination to spend her newfound freedom by living the life she has always wanted--as an independent woman in New York City. Her trauma in the bunker remains a very big part of the show, rather than a plot contrivance played merely for laughs. Kimmy is pretty close mouthed about exactly what happened in the bunker most of the time, but the show consistently sprinkles hints that it was pretty traumatizing a lot of the time. Kimmy has nightmares; she sleepwalks and attacks her roommate; she has very violent responses to certain everyday stimuli.

When Kimmy and her three fellow captives are rescued, they are insultingly dubbed "The Indiana Mole Women" by the media, and (of course) brought onto the talk show circuit. After their appearance on the Today Show in New York City, Kimmy makes the sudden decision she is not going to go back to Durnsville, Indiana, but she is going to stay in New York City and try to make it on her own there. She finds a roommate, a job, and begins to live as a free woman.

Part of the show's delight is Kemper's perfect portrayal as an innocent naif who is never played as an idiot. Yes, we definitely laugh when Kimmy uses slang that is 15 years out of date, or is baffled by the ubiquity of cell phones or doesn't know what a "selfie" is. But she is the show's centre, grounded and practical with a good moral compass. She doesn't like unkindness, or deceptive behaviour, or exploitation of the vulnerable, and she puts her money where her mouth is, jumping to action to defend people or do the right thing. She struggles with her experiences in the bunker and the fact that she lost 15 years of her life to the crazy reverend, but she is not afraid to stand up for herself; she copes as best she can and is kind enough to share her compassion and coping techniques with others who are having a hard time. One of my favourite moments in the show is her explanation that "you can stand anything for ten seconds." It's heartbreaking but it encapsulates Kimmy's determination, strength, and life philosophy in a six-word mantra. 

Kimmy's roommate, Titus (Tituss Burgess), is the other delight of the show. He is a gay black man who dreams of being on Broadway but so far has not managed to even get many auditions, never mind a part in a musical. He is introduced as a fairly self-centred person who really, really does not want Kimmy as a roommate but relents when he realizes that she is vulnerable (well, and she can also pay the back rent he owes to their wacky landlady, played by Carol Kane) and then morphs into her friend and confidante as she reveals her secret to him--that she is one of the "Indiana Mole Women."He is fascinated, horrified, and sympathetic all at once, and vows to get her up to speed on pop culture and current events, and help her act like the 30 year old she is instead of the teenager she's been for the last 15 years.

Jane Krakowski plays Kimmy's incredibly clueless, spoiled, and shallow boss, Jacqueline. Jacqueline married for money and is now paying the price with a distant husband who is rarely even physically present, a bratty son (Kimmy catches him shoplifting twice and the second time brings him home, which is how she lands her job as Jacqueline's assistant), and a scary teenaged stepdaughter. Krakowski is basically reprising the main parts of her role on 30 Rock, but she is still pretty funny as she teeters from crisis to crisis.

There are, however, a few things that made me cringe about UKS. I was not crazy about the way the show deals with issues of race. One of Kimmy's romantic prospects is her GED classmate (played by Ki Hong Lee), a young Vietnamese man named...Dong. Yes, his name is Dong. No, this is not 1955 or even 1985 but 2015, and we still have an Asian man named Dong. Now, upon Kimmy's exclamation upon meeting him that "Dong means penis in English!" Dong retorts, "Well, Kimmy means penis in Vietnamese!" which is at least an attempt at subverting the stereotype. There are a few other attempts at subverting the stereotypes through ironic racism, which...just don't work. Sorry, Tina Fey. You, a white woman, are just not going to be able to pull off ironic racism in the way you hope to. I can fully appreciate that Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are attempting to make social commentary with the stereotypes they feature in UKS. Sometimes I know exactly what they are going for, and sometimes the social commentary actually works very well! There is a terrific sequence where Titus gets a job playing a werewolf in a theme restaurant, and there is some pretty clever, sharp commentary on the prejudice black men are exposed to every day in the US. However, more often than not, the racial humour just falls on the "racist" side as opposed to the "clever commentary on racism" side.

There is a particularly egregious plotline involving a reveal that one of the characters (played by a white actor) is actually a person of colour "passing" as white. Done carefully, this could be pretty great. But it is not done well or carefully, and I was left cringing and shaking my head. There is only one way this can possibly be redeemed, and it would involve a reveal in the second season that the character only thinks they are a person of colour and that they were actually a white baby adopted by a family of colour. And even then, it would not make me forget the missteps of the first season.

However, that aside (and it is a pretty big "that"), I did really enjoy almost all of the show. It was very funny, easy to get drawn into, and featured witty writing and excellent acting. I fervently hope that the writers get some guidance on how to handle race issues so that when I inevitably watch the second season I can spend less time cringing and more just enjoying a good show.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

movie review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max
(USA, 2015)
directed by George Miller

We saw this with friends who had already seen it in the theatre but were willing--actually, eager!--to see it again. After the movie was over, I could understand why.

I can think of only one other movie experience that left me with such a feeling of exhilaration, and that was Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. When I left the theatre after Death Proof, I felt like someone had pumped me full of adrenaline; I felt the exact same way after Mad Max: Fury Road. The two films actually have a fair amount in common: 1) they're both centred around fast, loud, powerful vehicles, and 2) the main characters are all smart, strong women trying to survive pursuit by a violent man.

In Fury Road, the leader of the group is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has facilitated the escape of a group of sex slaves, "The Wives," from their captor, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe is the violent, power-hungry ruler of the Citadel, a brutal, ghastly city-state in the film's post-apocalyptic society. The job of the sex slaves is to produce heirs for Joe, and future warrior-leaders for his army.

We are introduced to this world through the eyes of Mad Max (Tom Hardy), who is captured despite his most valiant efforts and held prisoner to do duty as a living blood bank for Joe's army of Warboys. The movie's visuals are mesmerizing throughout, but they are especially compelling in the beginning. The desert Max comes from is bleak, and the world he is taken to is violent and ugly. In the opening scenes, the camera often jolts and shudders; the film is frequently sped up and choppy. Despite how it sounds, this effect is never used gratuitously, but rather to highlight Max's panicked mental state.

Fortunately for Max, being a mobile blood bank is only the beginning of his journey. Essentially, Fury Road is a quest narrative. It has all the elements:

1. a protagonist
2. a journey
3. group of loyal helpers
4. desired object (in this case, a place)
5. obstacles along the way
6. final battle
7. achievement of goal

The interesting thing about Fury Road is that it starts out by making the audience think the protagonist is Max, but really, the protagonist is Furiosa. After he is rescued by Furiosa, Max transitions seamlessly from the focus of our attention to the periphery; he goes from protagonist to helper.

Fury Road passes the Bechdel Test beautifully and features multiple strong female characters who exhibit plenty of agency. It's well-filmed, well-paced, and over the top in a really enjoyable way. It is the most unabashedly feminist action movie I've seen for quite some time, and what I particularly liked about it was that the female representation was not just limited to ONE strong woman character. This is a problem with many, many movies that want to make the claim for being feminist. It's just not enough to have ONE woman in a film, no matter how strong she is, if she rarely or never interacts in a meaningful way with other women. In Fury Road, we not only have Theron's fantastic Furiosa; we have many, many strong and intelligent female characters determined to take back their destiny and create a better world for themselves and their progeny.

Both Max and Furiosa are perfectly cast. Hardy and Theron embody their characters with strength and determination; the characters clearly respect each other. Also, spoiler alert, I really appreciated there was no stupid romantic storyline between them. I imagine it'll be a long time before that happens in an action movie again. The supporting actors are also excellent: Nicholas Hoult is very good as Nux, a fearless Warboy who ends up being less brainless than it seems at first glance. The group of women escaping from Joe are also given agency, and despite the movie's generally limited dialogue, each is given an individual personality. The other characters met along the journey (I don't want to give too much away) are also strongly and memorably drawn in the movie's efficient shorthand.

I totally recommend Mad Max: Fury Road if you are looking for an action movie with some brain and a lot of brawn. Because fear not--even though there's some thinkiness and social commentary in here, there are also a lot of satisfying explosions and car crashes!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

movie review: Line in the Sand

Line in the Sand
(Canada, 2015)
directors: Tomas Borsa and Jean-Philippe Marquis

Line in the Sand is a feature-length documentary about the how communities in northern British Columbia and Alberta have responded to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The proposed pipeline would traverse the northern part of British Columbia and part of Alberta, carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit), a toxic, tarry substance, across pristine wilderness to tankers just off the coast of BC, near Prince Rupert.

The pipeline has been controversial for many reasons, including concern about its safety, its possible effect on the environment, and the way it would cross traditional First Nations territory. Borsa and Marquis interviewed ordinary people from communities along the proposed route to ask how they feel about it and why. (You can check out their "Line in the Sand" blog here.)

They start out in Alberta, where they talk to farmers who have entered into agreements to let pipelines cross their land. These farmers have discovered the hard way that the pipeline companies have a great deal of unexpected control over the land once they are on it: for example, they have sued farmers for "trespassing" on their own land. These are the same companies who pay a lump sum, trash the land and render it unusable, then leave a huge mess for the farmers to take care of. The toxicity of what the pipelines transport have left animals dead and with birth defects. However, the companies have no legal obligation to rehabilitate the land, find less toxic ways to do business, or compensate the farmers. Do they have an ethical obligation? The farmers think so.

Borsa and Marquis are personable (they were at the screening I attended in Prince George at the College of New Caledonia, and gave a Q and A for the audience afterwards) and it shows in the natural, expressive interviews they managed to get with regular folks along the proposed pipeline. In the film, one person after another speaks candidly and with passion about what their community and the landscape mean to them. We see beautiful shots of northern British Columbia that help someone who has never been here understand what is at stake. We hear from researchers and scientists who describe the potential risks of the pipeline and the repercussions if there is a spill. There are a few people who speak in favour of the pipeline, but they are outnumbered by those who are against it. (The filmmakers were asked at the screening I attended whether they had sought out people who were in support of the pipeline and they said they had, but the number of people who are in favour of the pipeline in the film is representative of the number of people they found who were willing to do so.)

There is much blunt talk about Enbridge's incredibly poor track record regarding pipeline integrity and spill response. Some of the most arresting footage is from a man who worked on the Kalamazoo spill cleanup--Enbridge fired him after they discovered he had secretly filmed cleanup workers being directed by Enbridge to simply cover up spilled oil with a layer of sand.

The filmmakers interview many First Nations people about land rights, self-governance, and the uncomfortable relationship between large and powerful companies and small, economically depressed First Nations communities.We see large protests against the Northern Gateway and smaller acts of defiance--one series of shots shows a number of colourful handpainted signs in one First Nations community on the pipeline's proposed path.

To me, the main theme of this film is larger than just the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. The filmmakers wisely show us not only the actions of Enbridge to coerce and bully communities into accepting the pipeline--they also dig deep into the federal government's attempts to paint any opposition to the pipeline and similar projects as anti-Canadian, anti-patriotic, and, most frighteningly, as "radical eco-terrorism."

Watching Joe Oliver denounce those who speak out against the pipeline--and watching the charade that was the Joint Review Panel "consultation" process--simply highlights the need for the Canadian public to educate themselves not only about the potential effects of the Northern Gateway project but also the effects of a federal government bent on stifling opposition with swift brutality and little regard for the democratic process.

Overall, this is an excellent documentary. The cinematography is gorgeous, the issues outlined clearly, and the filmmakers wisely let the residents of northern Alberta and northern BC speak for themselves about why they have chosen to draw this particular line in the sand.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Tree Change Doll Peasant Blouse knitting pattern

Tree Change Doll Peasant Blouse

Designed for the Two Rivers Gallery Doll Makeunder Workshop, based on Sonia Singh’s Tree Change Dolls. Pattern inspired by Shellee Floyd’s Magic Loop, One Piece Barbie Dress.

If you want, you can download a PDF of the pattern here


Small amount (18 m or 20 yards) of DK or light worsted yarn
Set of 3.25 mm or US 3 double pointed needles OR long circular for magic loop
Yarn needle


CO 22 sts. Join to knit in the round, being careful not to twist.
Rounds 1 and 2: Knit all sts.
Round 3: *K, yo.* Rep until end of rnd; end with yo.
Round 4: *K 11, CO 11.* Rep once more to end of rnd.
Round 5: PM to mark beg of rnd and join again to knit in the round.
The CO sts now form two armholes for the blouse. You will continue to knit a tube for the rest of the body.
Continue to K in the rnd until blouse is desired length.
When you are ready to bind off, P last rnd.
CO all sts knitwise.
Break yarn and weave in all ends.
You’re done!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

movie review: Phoenix

(Germany, 2014) 
director: Christian Petzold

In Phoenix, Nelly (Nina Hoss), a Jewish jazz singer, manages to escape Auschwitz with a horrible gunshot wound to her face. A plastic surgeon is enlisted, and soon Nelly is recovering with a face that is almost, but not quite, her own. After her terrible experiences in the concentration camp, she is desperate to find her loved ones, but most were killed by the Nazis. However, she is certain that her piano-playing husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfield) is still alive, and she is determined to find him.

Nelly's friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), who works at the department of Jewish records, holds secret knowledge about Nelly's husband Johnny. Lene has taken up the role of Nelly's rescuer and is making plans for the two of them to go to Palestine, which will soon be made into a Jewish homeland, a place Lene imagines will be free from anti-Jewish sentiment, free of Nazis, and far enough away fro the Germany of World War II that they will one day be able to bear listening to German songs again. Lene quivers with pride, passion, and barely sublimated desire when speaking to Nelly about the life they will live together there, free from the chaos and hatred of the war. The character is onscreen for a relatively short period of time, yet Kunzendorf manages to convey Lene's inner turmoil beautifully.

However, Nelly still longs to find Johnny, whom she loves and misses dearly; her desperate quest to find him takes her along the dangerous streets in night-time Berlin that are populated with American GIs, street corner musicians, and violent criminals. As Lene watches in helpless anguish, Nelly tracks Johnny down to a nightclub named "Phoenix."

As the nightclub's name implies, Phoenix is both a literal and metaphorical story of transformation. (The metaphorical flavour of the movie helps make Nelly's surprisingly normal post-operative appearance easier to accept.) Post-WWII Germany is portrayed as a society in transition--it is a country still uncertain of how to make reparations for the unrepairable. Can anything ever make up for Nazi crimes against humanity? What do we do about the everyday people who sold out their friends and loved ones to save their own skins? What should Holocaust survivors be given? And importantly, what is it that they need?

Hoss is entirely believable as a woman slowly re-emerging from suspended animation. While she was in the concentration camp, she did not know what was happening to Berlin. Her reactions to the rubble and ruin in the city are poignant. Just as she is rediscovering herself with her own new face, she is also rediscovering her old city with its new face.

Zehrfield has, in some ways, a more challenging role. In some ways he is an enigma; we don't really know what drives him, though we can speculate. We as the audience see him simultaneously through two lenses: we are privy to Lene's knowledge, so we know the truth about him, but because we also see him as Nelly sees him--her true love--his character lends itself to a slightly more complex reading.

The movie's pacing is perfect. It never moves too slowly or too quickly; it maintains tension and keeps the viewer wanting to find out what happens next. But at the same time, it never seems rushed. As events unfold, the movie marches calmly forward to its inevitable climax. We do not quite know exactly how things will be resolved, but we know that no matter what happens, it will not be the ending any of the characters wished for. An audience, however, one could not wish for a more perfect cinematic resolution.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

movie review: A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year
(USA, 2014)
director: J.C. Chandor

Despite its title, A Most Violent Year should be very boring, and indeed it does start off quite slowly. The camera is weirdly static for long periods of time, there is very little in the way of soundtrack, and there are a lot of intense discussions about the ins and outs of the heating oil business. This does not exactly sound gripping. However, the film builds tension surprisingly well, the cinematography is expertly handled (I was especially impressed by the camerawork in a chase scene in the trainyards), and the cast is uniformly excellent.

We follow Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an intense New York City businessman, over 30 days in 1981 (the "most violent" year referenced in the title, when New York saw the highest number of murders in its history). Abel makes real estate deals, secures loans, and tries to find out who is robbing his company's heating fuel trucks, all the while doing battle with the district attorney (Peter Oyelowo) who is investigating Standard Heating for a variety of offenses including fraud and tax evasion. This problem with the DA particularly vexes Abel, because he feels he has tried very hard to run an honest, above board business. He has fully bought in to the idea of the immigrant's dream of America, where hard work and ambition will bring success, and so far the idea has worked for him--until now.

We meet Abel's smart and steely wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), whose father originally owned Standard Heating. Anna loves Abel and their two daughters, and she is not about to let anything get in the way of their continued safety and success. At one point, Anna tells Abel he'd better solve his problems, because otherwise she will get involved, and no one is going to be happy if that happens. We find out exactly what she means by that a couple of scenes later.

The film is paced very slowly but deliberately, which adds to Abel's sense of growing dread. The robberies are increasing and getting more violent; the Morales' new mansion is breached; the bank is becoming uneasy about Standard Heating as a loan prospect; the district attorney is becoming more insistent. Abel seems to be unhappily over his head.

The filmmakers managed to assemble a stellar cast, all performing in an understated but powerful way. Chastain is underused, but still riveting in her limited role; Isaac is just as intense and effective as he was in Inside Llewyn Davis, and Oyelowo is pleasant but insistent as he tightens the vise grip on Abel and his business. Albert Brooks is enjoyable as usual as Abel's lawyer, an easygoing, perennially beleaguered guy who is a lot smarter than he seems. And Elyes Gabel is excellent in a small but pivotal role as Julian, the young, inexperienced driver whose truck is carjacked (truckjacked?) at the very beginning of the movie.

A Most Violent Year is understated but it works. At the end, we see that Abel finally understands the steep price for achieving the immigrant's dream in America. Anna knew it all along.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

movie review: Timbuktu

(France/Mauritania, 2014)
director: Abderrahmane Sissako

 I grew up hearing the term "Timbuktu" used as a synonym for "far away in the middle of nowhere." I don't think I realized it was a real place until I was a teenager. In reality, Timbuktu is a beautiful place in Mali, Africa, where people live among gently sculpted sand dunes, under a blue desert sky.

The very first shot of the film shows a gazelle running gracefully, a jeep full of jihadists with AK-47s in pursuit. One of the men comments that they should stop shooting and just let the animal run and tire itself out so they can catch it. Next, we see the men using traditional local statues for target practice. The statues start out whole and dignified, but after a few rounds, are sadly just fragments of their former beautiful selves: they are now missing breasts, arms, heads. Both scenes are a subtle but powerful setup for the film's depiction of the physical and psychological destruction the jihadists have wrought on the local community.

Our sympathies are immediately with the locals. The jihadists are a heavily armed, dour bunch from elsewhere, and in fact do not speak either the local languages or French, the area's literal lingua franca. Many of the film's conversations are done through translators. We get the impression that for a long time before the invasion, the locals were peacefully minding their own business, only to have their lives turned upside down by the fundamentalists, who have now forbidden things like smoking, singing, and soccer. When the jihadists enter the local mosque, the imam tells them that they are not really acting in the name of Allah, or Islam for that matter, and that they should leave.

Ignoring the imam and local custom, the jihadists exhort the village women to veil themselves and wear gloves. In one memorable early scene, a market woman shouts at the jihadists in exasperation that she's a fishmonger, so how on earth is she supposed to clean fish while wearing gloves? She pulls a filleting knife out of her pocket and tells them that they'd better cut her hands off, because she's not going to wear gloves. Besides, she says, when her hands are cut off, they won't be able to force her to wear gloves anyway.

Gradually, we are introduced to more and more villagers who run afoul of the fundamentalists: the young couple who steal romantic moments with each other; the family who insists on continuing to play their musical instruments and sing; the mother who does not want to marry off her daughter to an imperious stranger. But the characters we get to know best are a small Bedouin family--Satima, the mother, Kidane, the father, and Toya, their twelve year old daughter--and Isaan, the local orphan boy who looks after their tiny herd of cows. The four of them live peacefully among the dunes in tents, happy together but slightly concerned about the steady exodus of their neighbours. Satima notes that they are the last ones left in their camp. Kidane says he wants to stay put; after all, where would they go? But he admits he is worried too. We, the audience, are also worried as we watch the family eventually come under the scrutiny of the jihadists.

Unlike the jihadists, the filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako, does not see things in black and white. Everyone is portrayed with compassion and dignity. We see one of the senior jihadists, Abdelkarim, as he privately struggles with the conflict between his fundamentalist principles and the stubborn resistance of the locals. He isn't very good at driving in the desert, so he has a driver, Omar, who tries to teach him the ways of Toyota trucks. "You don't know everything," Omar points out to him, calmly, as he stalls the truck once again. When they approach Satima, washing her hair outside the tent, Abdelkarim tells her to cover her head; she tells him calmly that if what he sees offends him, it is his duty not to look. He pauses, then walks back to the truck and drives away.

Wisely, the film isn't unrelentingly dark; there are moments of surprising levity and joy. Though soccer is forbidden, the locals find a way to defy the rule without breaking the letter of the law. The scene is beautifully shot and is a testament to both the beauty of the landscape and the skill of the cinematographer, Sofiane El Fani. Other beautifully shot scenes feature Zabou (Kettly Noel), the wonderfully strange village witch, who prowls around the village in her gorgeously eccentric colourful dresses, practicing rituals with chickens and calling the jihadists "assholes." They leave her alone, for reasons unknown. The soundscape of the movie is also very well done: the family of musicians makes beautiful melodies that float out into the night; during one tense scene all we can hear are the snorts and moans of the herd of camels; the sounds of corporal and capital punishment echo painfully after the scenes are finished.

Eventually, despite the resistance of the locals, the jihadists gain more and more of a foothold in the village and there is more violence. There are lashes; there is forced marriage; there is a brutal stoning. The Bedouin family is put in peril.

By the end, we are back to the image of the gazelle. Is it tired out yet? It's still running, but we don't know for how much longer.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

movie review: Becoming Bulletproof

Becoming Bulletproof 
(USA, 2014)
director: Michael Barnatt

Before I watched this movie I had never heard of Zeno Mountain Farm or any of their projects. It turns out that ever since about 2008, they have been organizing a number of annual events where people with disabilities get the chance to come and experience the joy and satisfaction that come with collaborating on a group project.

In the case of Becoming Bulletproof, that project is a film. In previous years, Zeno has made a horror movie, a romantic comedy, and a time-travelling movie. Each film involves a professional crew of volunteers and a large cast of actors, approximately 1/3 of whom have disabilities such as Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, and autism. This year, the film is a western called Bulletproof Jackson.

The documentary follows the filmmaking process, showing both the exciting moments (staging a gunfight) and the boredom inducing or downright irritating moments (waiting to shoot your scene while others are doing theirs; sitting through take after take as your costars forget their lines or someone lets the boom cast a shadow over an actor's face).

At the same time, it explores the philosophy behind Zeno. Each person who attends the camp is paired with another person who looks after his or her physical needs and provides companionship. However, the camp does not use terms like "clients" and "staff or "campers" and "counsellors." This means that even though some participants need someone to, say, help them with physical activities like bathing or dressing themselves, there is still a sense of dignity about the whole affair. As one of the camp founders points out, many of the camp attendees spend little to no time during the rest of the year with people who aren't paid to spend time with them. One of the rules of the camp, therefore, is that no one pays to be there, and no one is paid to be there.

There are many cast members, but the film focuses on just a few. AJ is a 32 year old man with cerebral palsy who has just joined Zeno this year. He had applied to attend a while back, but because the organization's philosophy states that people are invited back every year, he had to wait for a space to open up. When it finally did, he was overjoyed. AJ's mom, with whom he lives, expresses happiness that he has this opportunity, relief that she will have some respite, and trepidation at sending her son across the country to be with strangers for several weeks.

AJ is an incredibly appealing and thoughtful person. His life is not easy; he experiences pain on an almost minute by minute basis, accompanied by frustration at his physical limitations, and yet, as his mother says, he maintains an amazing sense of hope and happiness. He wants to be an actor; as one of the able-bodied Zeno participants says, he is hopeful but realistic about his situation. AJ knows he isn't likely to be the lead detective in a CSI show. But if there's a character who is in a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy? Well, then AJ would definitely be the person to do it.

Jeremy, a Zeno veteran, has the lead role as Jackson. He has Williams syndrome, a chromosomal condition which results in a preturnaturally excellent ear for music (we see Jeremy playing the piano and drums with ease and skill), but also intellectual difficulties. People with Williams Sydrome are very social and verbal, and it is easy to see what a benefit this is to Jeremy as an actor. He is natural and charming in the role of Jackson--he has a lot of natural charisma and wit on screen and knows it.

Judy is a woman with cerebral palsy who is more physically limited than AJ, but unlike AJ, she is quite isolated in her daily life. She spends a lot of time alone, and as a result has acquired a doll because, she says, she needed someone to nurture and talk to. Judy is heartbreaking in her directness about her life circumstances, and like all the others is very appealing. She's not always easy to understand (the film helps out with subtitles) but as we witness conversations between her and her Zeno companion, we witness her sly humour emerge.

The film's subject matter could lend itself to a glossily superficial treatment of inspirational people with disabilities. It would be easy to just make a feel-good film that didn't delve deeply into the uncomfortable truths of people's lives. But Becoming Bulletproof doesn't do that. In addition to Judy's frank and honest admission about her lonely day-to-day existence outside Zeno, we also see AJ's mom break down as she admits the grief of knowing that her son experiences excruciating pain and she can't make it better for him. Not only that, but we also see AJ break down as he expresses his frustration at his limitations--Zeno, he says, helps him feel his life has purpose and that he is a worthwhile contributor. When he's at home and can't do anything, he says he feels like he is worthless. By this point, we have gotten to know him quite well and it is heartbreaking to hear such a vibrant, engaged person speak this way about himself. But it's something that we need to hear, because it is the reality for many with his condition.

The documentary neatly avoids many of the pitfalls that could beset a feel-good movie. There is no glossing over the uncomfortable facts of life with a disability, and it is not artificially upbeat. But at the same time, it's not a grim life lesson, either. There are plenty of genuinely funny moments where we are laughing with, not at, the actors. The participants are natural and charming, and they all clearly care deeply about each other. The director of Bulletproof Jackson plainly states that he holds everyone up to a high standard, and we can feel the sense of purpose that the cast and crew feel as they pull together to accomplish this amazing project.

At the end of the film, we see the Zeno movie's premiere. The end result is polished looking and professional--a miracle on a budget that probably doesn't even come in over $25,000. I found myself wishing we could watch more than the two or three minutes of the finished result that we see in the film.

I'm happy to see that Becoming Bulletproof and the film within the film are getting more publicity at various festivals across North America. I highly recommend Becoming Bulletproof--it is exactly what a good documentary should be. It's impossible to watch this and not root for the participants! Definitely two thumbs up.

More information about Zeno Mountain Farm.
More information about Becoming Bulletproof.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

movie review: Felix et Meira

Félix et Meira
(Canada, 2014)
directors: François Delisle, Maxime Giroux

What is it that causes some people to chafe against cultural expectations when others are at peace with conforming? And what happens when these individuals decide there is simply no place for them in their culture of birth?

In Félix et Meira, a young Orthodox Jewish woman, Meira (Hadas Yaron), battles feelings that the life she is expected to lead—early motherhood to an enormous brood of children—is one she dreads. Although Meira has grown up with her religion’s expectations of women, she finds them stifling. She rebels in small ways (listening to forbidden pop music) and large (taking birth control, which she carefully hides in a box of maxi pads along with everything else she doesn’t want her husband to know about). When her husband becomes exasperated with her embarrassing refusal to act like everyone else, she drops to the floor and teases him by playing dead. This, of course, is her unconscious expression of what she is really feeling inside—there is no room for the real Meira whom she must suppress under averted eyes and silent obedience.

One day while waiting to pick up an order from the local kosher deli, Meira crosses paths with Félix (Martin Dubreuil), a feckless artist who is struggling with his own inability to conform to expectations: in his case, the expectations belonged to his wealthy bully of a father, from whom he has become estranged. After many years of bitterness between them, his father is now on his deathbed and doesn’t recognize him. Félix, in his grief, announces to everyone in the deli that his father is dying, but Meira is prevented from expressing her sympathies because according to her culture's dictates, she is not allowed to make eye contact with or speak to him. Even so, the two do make a connection: as he leaves the deli, Félix gives her infant daughter the watercolour painting he is carrying with him. Sure enough, the painting takes its place among Meira's other hidden possessions.

The relationship that develops between the two characters is believable, understated and surprisingly chaste. Here we have two characters driven not by lust, but by longing of a different kind. Meira longs for escape from the fetters of her community; Félix longs for a meaningful connection and escape from the isolation and loneliness he feels, drifting around Montreal under the worried gaze of his affectionate sister.

Part of the strength of film is its nuanced portrayal of each of the three main characters. A lesser movie would have created a villain out of Shulem (Luzer Twersky), Meira's husband. But he is not a cruel man. He is devout, and he is happy within the confines of his Orthodox Judaism. He wishes that Meira could feel the same way. However, he is not a monster, and he cares about her very deeply. (A former Orthodox Jew himself, Twersky also acted as cultural consultant on the film, ensuring that the cultural portrayals were as authentic as possible.) Martin Dubreil does a good job as the playful but gently sorrowful Félix, and Hadas Yaron is especially good as Meira. She manages to convey youth, shyness, and naïveté combined with intelligence, strength, and agency. 

Another strength of the movie is the pacing, which is precise and economical. There are no unnecessary scenes; each one is there for a specific purpose and moves the story along effectively and efficiently to its conclusion. The cinematography is muted and melancholy, as is the soundtrack, which features the excellent "After Laughter" by Wendy Rene and "Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Félix et Meira for a satisfying and sensitive portrayal of a woman coming into her own sense of self.

Monday, March 09, 2015

movie review: Mommy

(Canada, 2014)
director: Xavier Dolan

It's true that Mommy received the Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival last year, but as far as I'm concerned, its true triumph is to have finally convinced me of Celine Dion's musical genius. I'm (mostly) joking, but there is a scene in the movie that pairs Dion's insanely catchy "On Ne Change Pas" ("We Don't Change") with the events on screen in a way that is equal parts amusing, disturbing, and eventually quite beautiful.

Watching Mommy is like being strapped in for the ride on a towering roller coaster. It is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. At the centre of the movie is the relationship between Diane (Anne Dorval) and Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), her charming but very troubled teenaged son. When we first meet Diane, Steve is being released into her care from a juvenile institution--he's been kicked out for yet another in a series of violent incidents. It's easy to see that Diane loves her son and that he loves her, but it's also clear that they are very capable of bringing out the worst in each other.

Steve's father passed away a few years ago, leaving Diane as the sole breadwinner. But because she never finished high school ("Don't be like me!" she pleads with her son), it's hard for her to find work. Compounding the problem is that in addition to making a living, she has to find a way to homeschool Steve so he can get a high school education and stay out of trouble. Watching Steve and Diane with shy but intense interest is Kyla (Suzanne Clément), the schoolteacher on sabbatical who lives across the street. She seems to need a friend as much as Diane and Steve do, and the unfolding of this triangular relationship is fascinating and unpredictable.

Mommy has so many things going for it: the soundtrack, the sharp and clever writing, the effortless acting of the three leads. Pilon is astoundingly good for such a young actor; Dorval completely inhabits her role with ferocity and beauty; and Clément's calm watchfulness, which could easily have been obscured, manages to assert itself despite the crazy energy of Diane and Steve. The cinematography is beautiful and accomplished: nearly all of it is shot in a very unusual aspect ratio--1:1, or square. Dolan uses this odd framing to great effect, closing us in tightly with the characters on screen in a way that creates both intimacy and intensity.

I have only two minor criticisms of the film. The first is about the rather inexplicable text at the beginning of the film stating that the story is set in the near-future--it's distracting, and the movie would have worked just as well without it. The second is that at 2 hours and 19 minutes, it is a bit too long. However, the final 15 or 20 minutes are wrenching, and easily as riveting as anything at the beginning. Mommy, like Steve, is a howling, whirling dervish of energy that mercilessly whips the audience along, forcing us to bear witness to the destruction he leaves in the wake of his furious love.

Monday, March 02, 2015

movie review: Force Majeure

Force Majeure (original title: Turist)
(Sweden, 2014)
director: Ruben Östlund 

Force Majeure is a movie where you laugh, but then feel kind of bad for laughing. The director is a master of scenes that start out seeming normal, but slowly, slowly spiral downward into discomfort. If I could actually see my fellow audience members' thoughts, I'm pretty sure the words "WORST DINNER PARTY EVER" would have appeared over everyone's heads (including mine!) at a certain point in the movie.

Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) are an attractive thirtysomething Swedish couple with two attractive children (real life siblings Vincent and Clara Wettergren). They seem to be reasonably well off, because they are at a beautiful, expensive ski resort in the Alps. It, and the surrounding mountains, are so beautiful it made me want to go on a ski holiday. I'm normally the last person who wants to go skiing--my last downhill ski outing consisted of me inching down our tiny local hill in abject terror, swearing I'd never do it again--but such is the power of the gorgeously filmed scenery in this movie.

All seems to be going well until the second day of the trip, when the family has a scary experience and Tomas reacts in a way that surprises and disappoints everyone. Even though everyone is OK afterward, Ebba cannot let it go, and Tomas can't admit what happened. Both must acknowledge that the fissures that were there before in their marriage have now deepened, and someone is going to fall in. There is a lot going on here beneath the placid happy-family surface: dissatisfaction and stagnation; chafing and resentment at traditional gender roles; exposure of the contrived nature of the narratives we create about our own relationships.

There are a lot of shots where the camera lingers just a little too long to be comfortable. It creates an  unsettling effect where we, the audience, feel we are voyeurs in these people's lives: we are uncomfortable but at the same time, it's impossible to tear our eyes away. We are on pins and needles, waiting for the next disaster, natural or otherwise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

movie review: Wadjda

Director: Haifaa Al Mansour

Wadjda is groundbreaking for a couple of reasons. First, it is the first feature length movie to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. Second, it is written and directed by a woman and is about the lives of women and girls in a place where we often do not get to hear their voices. 

On the surface, it is a simple story of a 10 year old girl, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), who wants a bike so she can race with her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). But there are a couple of problems: Wadjda doesn't have a bike, and even if she did, a lot of people would think it was scandalous for her to ride a bike because she's a girl. 

We see Wadjda go to school, get in trouble for being a spirited kid, come home and interact with her parents, sass her mom , and dream about her bike. In an effort to keep the toy store man sweet (so he won't sell the bike while she schemes to get the money), she makes him a mix tape. "Since we're friends," she says. He smiles, charmed. But how will she get the money? It's ok--she has a plan. 

Her parents are going through a tough time, because her father's family is pressuring him to take another wife. Wadjda's mother (Reem Abdullah) is upset because she loves her husband, and he's her one and only. Wadjda's father (Sultan Al Assaf) is upset because he also loves his wife and daughter, but he knows there is no son to carry on the family line.

The film examines the toll that societal oppression plays in people's lives, particularly women, but it does not make overt commentary. However, the filmmaker's point of view is clear, and she turns an unwavering and glad eye to the potential that lies in half the population of Saudi Arabia, particularly in Wadjda's generation.

The actors are all excellent, including all the children, and the narrative is compact and very well paced. I thoroughly enjoyed this little slice of Saudi life and I highly recommend it.  

Saturday, January 31, 2015

movie review: We Are the Best! [original title: Vi är bäst!]

We Are The Best! [Vi är bäst!]
(Sweden, 2013)
director: Lucas Moodysson

This is a fun slice of life movie about three young teenaged girls who form a punk band in Stockholm in 1982. It is based on a graphic novel by Coco Moodysson, the director's wife, which in turn is loosely based on her own experiences.

The movie is told from the perspective of Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), a 13 year old who lives with her single mother. Bobo wants to be a punk and is used to facing the taunts of the kids at school who don't understand why she has cut her hair so short and refuses to dress like the other girls. It's OK though, she has her friend Klara (Mira Grosin) who has similar interests and a similar lack of interest in fitting in with conventional beauty standards. The two hang out, talk about important issues like the nuclear arms race and how stupid it is that their classmates are obsessed with sports. One day at the youth centre, they take over the band practice space because they're tired of being bullied by the boys who usually monopolize it, and they try their hand at playing drums and bass. At the annual school concert, they realize that their shy, slightly older schoolmate Hedwig (Liv LeMoyne), booed every year for playing classical guitar, is actually quite talented, and they recruit her to be in their band. She is the one who teaches them about things like chords, harmony, and, you know, tuning one's instrument.

Yes, We Are The Best! is about the punk band the girls form, but it's actually mostly about friendship and the sorts of dumb but harmless and fun things kids get up to at that age. There is some DIY punk hairstyling, a rather queasy-making evening of smooshing up ice cream sundae ingredients to be gobbled down later, drinking too much wine and barfing on Klara's older brother's records ("Well, he's the one who left them on the floor," says Klara reassuringly to a mortified Bobo). There is a little bit of dramatic tension over the fact that Klara always has to have her own way and isn't always great about letting Bobo and Hedwig steer the ship, and there is a little tiny bit of awkward teen romance with a local boys' punk band. Overall, however, it just follows the girls over a few months and documents their friendship and their growing confidence in themselves and their music (which, spoiler alert, doesn't ever get really polished, but that's OK, because it's not meant to be one of those movies). There is a great scene where two of the adult male staff members at the youth centre insist on calling the girls' band a "girl band" even after they say it is not a "girl band," and then condescendingly offer to teach Hedwig how to play the new electric guitar that's been purchased for the centre. It was pretty much my favourite scene in the movie.

As I said to my friend after We Are The Best! was over, it's so rare to see a movie that is entirely about girls just being themselves. She pointed out that it's also rare to have a movie that is entirely from girls' perspective, rather than just being about them. Here, then, is a movie that cheerfully passes the Bechdel Test in the most refreshing and joyful way.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

movie review: The Overnighters

The Overnighters 
(USA, 2014) 
directed by Jesse Moss

The Overnighters is difficult to pin down at first. It's hard to tell if it will be a documentary about the social consequences of companies like Halliburton moving in to states like North Dakota and drawing desperate workers from all over the US. Or perhaps it will be a documentary about how, when faced with actual need, congregations of Christian churches have a difficult time actually following the tenet of "love thy neighbour" rather than "be suspicious of thy neighbour and engage in NIMBYism." Or, perhaps it will be about how a pastor seemingly determined to actually help out those in need may be acting out of egotism and a Messiah complex. It turns out it's not solely about any one of these things, but all these elements combined make it a fascinating and complex account of community and individual lives in the 21st century's version of The Grapes of Wrath.

Pastor Jay Reinke is a compassionate community-minded man in charge of a Lutheran congregation in Williston, North Dakota, near the oil patch. Refreshingly, Pastor Reinke actually seems to take seriously Jesus' message about caring for those in need. He opens up the church building and parking lot to "overnighters," people looking for work in the oil patch who don't have any place to live. Because of the oil boom, there are no accommodations available in town, which is a problem even for people who have secured work and can afford a place of their own. Then there are the hopefuls who turn up but can't get work because they're too old or messed up or there just isn't the work available for them.

The town and part of the congregation are very distrustful of the "overnighters." There are stories in the paper about the rise in crime rates; neighbours complain about the noise and mess. There are revelations that some of the men being housed in the church have criminal records. Some are on the sex offender registry list. How Pastor Reinke deals with all this is interesting to watch. At times, I felt put to shame by the amount of personal sacrifice he was willing to undergo in order to help out people who need a hand. However, at other times, I was uncomfortable at how much he wanted his family to sacrifice, slightly disturbed at the manic zeal he displayed in defending the "overnighters" against the congregants and community, and alarmed at the way he would occasionally berate some of the men in his frustration.

In addition to Pastor Reinke, we meet some of the men who have come to Williston hoping to find work. Some, like Keegan, find work and manage to make a reasonable amount of money, but since there is no accommodation, they can only move on from the church parking lot or floor to an RV that isn't much better. They can't move their families to be near them so they have to Skype with their wives and little babies. Others are too old to be desirable to employers. Yet others have trouble with addiction or with criminal records that have followed them.

Aside from the personal narratives, the movie also throws into sharp relief the fact that fundamentally, something in America is broken. Pastor Reinke speaks to a clearly disturbed man who says he is broken, and the pastor says he is broken too. What is very clear is that the social and economic fabric of the US is also broken. There is something wrong when people have to live in RVs and sleep in their cars and church basements just to work at a job that isn't stable enough for them to move their families there too. What is Halliburton's social responsibility? What is the responsibility of the community to these "overnighters"? How do we deal with people in need? Why does this fall on one pastor and one congregation? What do we do when that isn't enough?

The last part of the movie knocked me for a loop. It's amazing to think this is a documentary and not a piece of fiction. I won't reveal what happens, but suffice it to say it's a strong movie even without the coda, and with the coda it's something else. It's certainly not how I expected the movie to end, but it closes the narrative nicely. I found myself looking back over the rest of the movie with a new perspective--not because I felt duped and betrayed, but because it made so many of the pieces of the film fall into place in a new pattern, and made me feel a renewed empathy for the beleaguered pastor.