You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 25, 2010.

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After some ill-received thrillers and a misfire with the script of Halloween: Resurrection, I’m not exactly sure why Larry Brand gravitated to writing and directing a very small, three character piece dealing with emotional turmoil at the end of WWII. I can only assume that this has been a passion project of his for some time and I applaud the newly formed Michigan-based 8180 Films for supplying the money to get this expertly acted and shot piece into theatres. Reminiscent of stage play-to-film adaptations like Oleanna, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Death and the Maiden, Brand’s Christina completely takes place in the oddly luxurious apartment of the titular German character on the night of her American G.I.’s return. The room is dark, the electricity goes out, but love is in the air as Christina and Billy ready for their journey across the Atlantic to start a new life together. It’s never that easy, though, as a police inspector soon arrives, dredging up past secrets that could risk unraveling all their plans; dark deeds hidden by a fractured mind of fear and distress, uncovering the pasts these two star-crossed lovers never thought would ever come to the surface.

The closing night feature, as well as winner of Best Film, at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, Christina shows the kind of power that can be yielded from a well-crafted story, drawing you in deeper and deeper with every peeled back layer. Berlin has fallen and destruction is all that’s left. People are still missing, buildings are destroyed, and many soldiers await their chance to go home. Fresh from a disciplinary hearing stemming from a lapse in judgment involving him and the black market trade of stockings, Billy needs to see his love even if he should remain on the base until departure in six weeks. Christina has been cleaning and cooking an Americanized meal for her lover, hoping to prove her worth and make him need her as much as she needs him. While readying the apartment, however, she makes sure to keep all her windows blacked out and her bedroom door closed, speaking softly to an unknown entity beyond the door to stay still and be quiet upon his arrival. It’s an intriguing mystery that soon becomes forgotten when her cheerful façade of love and adoration takes over, dotingly keeping her boyfriend occupied with kisses, food, and dancing—all the while making sure he does not open the bedroom door.

Jordan Belfi and Nicki Aycox play the pair, he an aspiring journalist and her learning English to sustain a life abroad and away from the horrors experienced in her country the past few years. Belfi shows some good acting range, something that his role in HBO’s “Entourage” lacks, although his part there is a favorite quasi-villainous one of mine. He is protective of Christina and willing to forgive anything that occurred in her past because the present is all that matters to him. He’s made mistakes of his own and is looking to start fresh just as much as her. Aycox, though, is revelatory as the lead here. Handling the accent and fumbling of English to perfection, you sense that perhaps her disposition is a little too sunny. When Belfi’s Billy slips and jokingly calls her a Kraut, an unseen anger flies forth with a clear-headed force that breaks through the kind demeanor, showing a glimpse of the person she has been hiding beneath. Not the only one with secrets, however, Billy also receives his moment of clarity when called a hero. All the optimism and outlook towards the future drains away, leaving a broken man that has seen death firsthand. He is no hero—yet those sentiments may not stem from the battlefield, but instead from his lack of fortitude in exposing injustice to save his own neck.

So, what seems at first to be a simple reunion to bide the time until they can leave Europe behind soon becomes an airing of transgressions, some minor and others unavoidably worse. Right when Christina is about to tell Billy of a secret child, conceived with the apparition of a childhood classmate one night when she visited her old hometown, a knock on the door changes everything. Inspector Reinhardt enters and starts to throw accusations around—all of which are deflected with a wavering confidence by Christina before the guilt of truth is too much to bear. The Inspector’s sole purpose in their lives is to alleviate his own sense of guilt, realizing the hundreds and thousands of people he watched be taken in the night without ever lifting a finger to intervene. He understands now that in a world of crime, one small life can sometimes be forgotten, but he refuses to give up on the child he has been searching for, the one life he might still have a chance to save. It is this child that he believes Christina is the mother of, but in order to get to the truth he must watch the denial wash away from the young woman, feeding her the facts about her real identity, her means of sustaining the style of living she has, and the horrors accomplished in order to survive during a time where living didn’t seem like a viable conclusion.

Reinhardt is the catalyst for all conflict to occur in the film, the voice of conscience that is itself jaded and broken like the others. No one is perfect here and they are all on the cusp of a new world for which to live and exist without the worry of what came before. But you cannot run away from the truth so easily; the mind may work its hardest to cover up horrendous actions, but they will always surface in some form. Stephen Lang tries his hardest to steal the show from Aycox as Reinhardt, but I do believe only ends up matching her skill—they are both phenomenal. The two are playing out the charade of her psyche, chipping away at the years of forgetting while Belfi is forced to sit back and listen, his pleas for the policeman to stop slowly dissolving into silence as the story begins to take shape. The horror of war wasn’t only fought on the frontlines, but also in the residential homes of mothers and children, never knowing if the next bomb would fall on their rooftop, killing them too. Christina shows us the hard decisions and the weakness of the mind to perform such unthinking deeds, all culminating in the unavoidable conclusion, perfect in its devastation.

Christina 9/10

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photography:
[1] Stephen Lang, Nicki Aycox and Jordan Belfi in Christina
[2] Nicki Aycox in Christina

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The debate about whether or not vaccinations are attributing to Autism in children has been raging for a while now. High profile celebrities have gotten involved—the most vocal being Jenny McCarthy whose own son was diagnosed with the disorder—and producer Gary Null has created a documentary to make the message spread even wider. Autism: Made in the U.S.A. is an intriguing look at the two sides of the argument through both medical evidence and firsthand accounts from parents who not only saw their children get diagnosed, but some who watched as a normal child suddenly devolved overnight, no longer able to speak the words from a day before. It is a touchy subject because of the amount of money put towards political campaigns on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, so no one in a place of power is looking too close at staging an overhaul that could cost billions of dollars. But as one professional in the film says, if 1 in 6 kids were being kidnapped, the government would be compelled to step in. So why won’t they when that ratio is being trapped inside by neural disorders, the worst being a completely non-verbal Autistic?

Autism is like most documentaries of this kind, namely a series of talking heads explaining studies taken and recovery methods experienced. No matter what is said, however, any film depicting cause and effect for the means of reform is looking at the side it agrees with. Sure, one can blame the CDC and other government organizations for refusing to contribute their views on the subject to the filmmakers, but at the end of the day each viewer must make up their own mind. I do believe that this film is a great launching pad for getting your feet wet with the subject, though. Being born in the early 80s myself, I can clearly see a paradigm change in the new generation being educated today. My own school district has recently made it necessary for a second teacher to be instituted in each classroom for extra help towards the special needs kids, so hearing the statistics coming from the pediatricians onscreen hit home. Yes, some of the increase of cases, (ADHD and other ‘mild’ forms included), can be attributed to the number of parents having their children tested and also the number willing to take the medicated way out and just accept their child’s fate. But the trend of mercury-based vaccines cannot be ignored.

The people involved here aren’t trying to posit that America’s vaccine schedule is the lone culprit, but it also doesn’t turn a blind eye to the problem. Containing Thimerosal, the vaccines included in the newly formed timetable of the 90s are literally injecting trace amounts of mercury into newborns’ systems. Not only was the product untested on children so young—some straight out of the womb—but the combination of so many cultures in the body at once also wasn’t. How anyone can expect a small child with a developing immune system to process all those diseases at once is a valid question. Looking at the classrooms I was involved with through primary and secondary school shows that we did alright with the few vaccines given to us, so why the huge increase? Understandably, MMR seems to be central to the issue at hand, one given to us as well, so perhaps the new Thimerosal concoctions are to blame. At least it looks like the preservative is now currently being phased out because watching through a microscope at what mercury can do to the nerves of the brain was quite the eye opener, not to mention the evidence of a closed door meeting on behalf of key players that had evidence it would do just that.

But the issue of pharmacology is much broader than just with the subject of Autism. I think a great anecdote told here—although admittedly secondhand—concerns the founding father of the CDC and his desire to publicly state how not only would he and his wife never take a flu shot, but that the influenza vaccine itself was a sham. Fired for this viewpoint and the risk of losing tons of money since the flu shot is the one vaccine repeatedly used each and every year, he jokingly asked why else anyone thought he was now teaching at a university instead of heading up the organization. As a result, the film does focus a lot of energy on the financial gain those in power have at stake, as well as how many studies clearing dangerous products were not only funded by companies with a direct involvement to the product but also conducted them. It’s a disgraceful thing to think about, especially now at a time where the government is seizing more and more control over our healthcare. For all we know New Jersey—coincidentally the state with the highest increase of Autism in the past couple decades—won’t be the only state mandating all these vaccines to be taken in the near future.

Through all the facts, figures, and overabundant use of a motif featuring a child’s photo fading to black, it’s the accounts by parents of Autistic children that hit home hardest. Seeing the devastation on their faces is enough to make you stop and listen, whether you end up agreeing or not. Thankfully, some parents decided to take matters into their own hands, creating organizations to help others like them cope and to help diagnosed children recover from the disorder. Yes, these parents, above all else, want you to be aware that recovery is not only a possibility but within their grasp. By instilling a dairy-free, gluten-free diet, as well as cutting fast foods, and going as organic as one can, Autistic children have shown amazing strides of improvement. As one doctor says, being labeled as an alternative medicine provider despite her classically trained background is ok if it gets the job done. Another, who explains how hospitals will label recovery cases as ‘spontaneous remissions’ without looking at how many are a direct result of his work, says they can call it whatever they like. Diet and nutrition isn’t something pharmaceutical companies can put advertising dollars towards to turn a profit, so if they have to disregard proven theories and methods, so be it. At least there are still some pediatricians willing to accept the blame for blind allegiance and work towards correcting the mistake rather than burying their heads in the sand, unwilling to accept they might have unwittingly helped in handicapping a generation.

Autism: Made in the U.S.A. 8/10

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