Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Disturbing, shocking and surprising, Dear Zachary and its tragic story aren't easily forgotten. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne tells the story of the murder of Dr. Andrew Bagby and the subsequent events that led to a related death. Bagby was one of Kuenne's best childhood pals. With dreams of becoming a film maker, Kuenne includes footage of Bagby embodying the roles in which Kuenne cast him in their films of youth.

Bagby, a native Californian, uproots to Canada for medical school. Following the break-up of his engagement, he meets an older woman and they begin dating.

Zachary and His Grandparents, The Bagbys This documentary showcases raw emotions, persuasive interviews and unbelievable facts. Suspense builds, climaxes and builds again with plenty of twists. It's filled with commentary about the Canadian legal and child protection systems and highlights their failings in this case. For optimal viewing pleasure, I recommend you see it rather than reading on.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

You didn't listen. Okay, then...

Details of the relationship are sketchy, but when Bagby leaves Newfoundland and returns to the states to start a surgery residence, the two stay in touch. According to accounts from Bagby's friends, ex-girlfriend Dr. Shirley Turner was obsessed with him, calling him hundreds of times in a day and showing up at his house almost 2K miles away, unannounced. When Bagby agrees to meet her one last time, he ends up riddled with five bullet holes and left dead, face down, in a park.

Dear Zachary plays like a thriller. Many of Bagby's friends are interviewed. The most compelling are those of  Bagby's grieving parents, Kathleen and David Bagby. They express angry, sadness, powerless, vulnerability throughout their interviews. However, they aren't simply mourning the loss of their son. After Turner is accused of Bagby's murder, she announces she's pregnant with his child. After Zachary is born, Kate and David struggle with Turner to secure time with Zachary. They relocate from California to Canada. They stay involved in the court proceedings and forge a relationship with their grandson. They must maintain in decent graces with the manipulative and seemingly mentally ill, Turner. The cat-and-mouse game continues until the next tragedy, Zachary' Andrew Turner's death. For more information, visit

Director, Writer, Producer: Kurt Kuenne

Country: US

Genre: Documentary

Run time:  95 minutes

Scale: 5

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Trainspotting (1996)

No matter how many times I see Trainspotting, it remains a favorite. The social commentary on consumerism, the voice-over narration, the music and the raw energy combine for a terrific result. The first time I saw it, it was opening night in Seattle. I'd experienced a sensory-enriched ride. My friend was horrified; she insisted the movie glamorized drug abuse. I gave it a great deal of thought; ultimately, I disagreed. At the start, sure, the movie entices with the glow of a good-looking,The crew fashionable group of friends listening to excellent music, having fun as they shoot heroin and mind-alter in a not-so-dirty drug house (made to look more trendy than horrifying). Then, the movie turns and, in gross and gritty detail, outlines the dark side. This flip side depicts how screwed up their lives become when they're living to score--stealing, living in dire surroundings, oblivious to anything but getting the next fix, even if it involves reusing slow-release suppositories.

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is extremely likeable as the fuck-up protagonist. He's a hardcore junkie. He commits reprehensible acts (not above keeping a secret that leads to the demise of one of his best friends), yet you hope he'll turn himself around. Early on, he indicates he was meant for more; he gives kicking a few goes and you see the struggle involved. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is the Casanova. He is especially fond of James Bond pop culture. You can't forget Spud (Ewen Bremner), the goofy, soft-hearted lemming. If you haven't seen this movie, it's worth it for Spud's cringe-inducing breakfast incident scene. Not all the men in the posse are junkies. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is addicted to violence. Never touches the heroin, but he's predictable in his rage (and easily the hardest to understand through the strong Scottish accent). Then, there's Tommy (Kevin McKidd)--cute, sporty, agreeable. They boys kick junk, get back on, kick, stumble and try kicking again. Renton's pegs it when he says, No matter how much you thieve, you will always have to rob more. Based on the Irvine Welsh novel.

Director: Danny Boyle

Country: Scotland

Genre: Drama

Run time:  94 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Paranoid Park (2007)

Based on Blake Nelson's novel, Paranoid Park is about a skateboarder called Alex (Gabe Nevins). Alex is quiet and exudes a lonely stoicism. He and his friends hang out at a skate park called Paranoid Park. One weekend, a solo Alex visits Paranoid and meets some new friends. That night, as he's exploring the nearby rail yards with them, a brush with a security guard leads to chaos and an incident that goes terribly wrong. Alex is left with fear that if he's found out, he will be held responsible for the end result. As time and a police investigation progress, Alex's burden grows. With his beautifully innocent face, it's difficult to tell if Alex is sad, depressed or numb--most likely, a combination of the three.

The movie explores his relationship with three women. His mother is around but there's some detachment. She's attentive; you get the feeling he's not exactly neglected but he's fallen through the cracks of his parents' separation. He's also dealing with the newness and uncertainty of teenage life and his girlfriend, Jennifer's (Taylor Momsen), budding sexuality and desire to lose her virginity. His most successful female relationship is with his friend, Macy (Lauren McKinney).

Paranoid Park is told anachronistically. It's visually lush and surreal. Frequently, there is no talking, no sounds. Van Sant has a penchant for long shots of folks walking (this one is no exception). There's little action and loss of innocence is the strong theme. At film's end, you are left as empty as Alex, wondering if he will keep his secret or if he'll snap under the hearty burden. Either way, you are left complicit in the depths of his guilty conscience.

Director: Gus Van Sant

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time:  85 minutes

Scale: 3.5