j. smith cameron

8

As I lay in bed last I thought about how many people have tried to help me along the way, have helped me, a few a whom are no longer alive. Way more people have tried to help me John, than have harmed me, the harm just seems to leave the deeper mark. Anyway, I’ve always felt such guilt that others were wasting their lives on me, that I was a waste that I was unworthy but last night I didn’t feel that guilt or that I was a waste. I didn’t necessarily feel worthiness but I did feel a kind of responsibility, I guess, at least a desire to try and not let you all down. Then I felt the smallest flicker of not wanting to let myself down, you know? Because somewhere in all this, I’ve managed at times to fight for myself for some reason, pride for my life for some reason. And I survived for some reason. And here I am, still for some reason. And me not knowing that reason doesn’t diminish it or invalidate it, or disprove it’s existence. And that’s what I’m going with today

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Rectify (2013-2016), 4 seasons, 30 episodes

“I’m not sure what to make of this drastic change of course in my life. I’m certainly not against it”

Rectify has consistently been one of the best shows on TV since it began airing in April 2013. It is also a show with ratings so small that finding other people who watch is always a struggle. Yet those who have given their time to seek out this series know how special it is. This is not a show based on big action scenes or twists intended to lure in audiences. This is a story about one man, one night 19 years previously and the ongoing repercussions. It is about moving on and finding purpose. It is about faith, forgiveness, justice, humanity, the very nature of who we are.  It is truly an unique show. I am going to miss it so much.

TV Shows of 2015

↳ 3. Rectify

There is a moment in the season three finale of Rectify which encapsulates everything I adore about the series. It is when Daniel (as always played wonderfully by Aden Young) walks into the ocean, getting a sense of freedom that he has been denied for nearly two decades. The scene isn’t a shocking moment of violence or an unexpected twist. It is just a character that has been through an experience most of us will thankfully never have to, being allowed a moment of pure joy and relief.

I’ve spent the majority of Rectify’s run in a constant state of worry for Daniel, the way he is, the way prison made him, the way he reacts to things it makes it hard not to be anxious about his future and the ongoing investigation about the original crime and the murder of George puts his freedom in doubt most episodes. He may be trying to mend bridges and start a new life but is he capable of doing this?

This is why the entire beach scene with his mother feels so important. It gives the audience hope that maybe Daniel can heal and have a future. That the damaged done to him and his family doesn’t have to continue to define who they are.

Rectify continues to be one of the highlights of the year for me, every season feels like a gift. Every episode is a wonder to behold and cherish.

Margaret.

2011, Kenneth Lonergan

After over half a decade of sitting in post-production hell, plagued with lawsuits and constant attempts to edit, Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret has finally made it to the public and I am so overwhelmingly pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint one bit. Eleven long years after his debut feature, You Can Count on Me, made Lonergan known as an exciting new writer/director, he once again tackles rich themes here through complex and deeply flawed characters. While You Can Count on Me was a very intimate study of the relationship between a brother and sister, Margaret has a grander scope and more universal themes of loss, narcissism and mortality.

Our focus is primarily on Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), a young student growing into a woman, and we begin with a tragic bus accident that drastically alters the life of her and many around her. The accident itself is a grueling sequence that feels like it’s never going to end, as Lonergan keeps the camera steady on Lisa while she holds a dying woman in her arms. We get brief glimpses of the gory details of the scene, but the power of the moment is more in what Lonergan refuses to show. It’s a frighteningly real moment that brings such intense feelings out, to the point where I honestly felt as though I was going to vomit if it had gone on much longer. The sequence is shockingly effective and is something I’m sure will stick with me for quite a while. We move on from this as shell shocked as Lisa is, and the scenes that follow immediately do a superb job of putting us into that state that she finds herself.

As Lisa tries to move on with her life after this horrific event, she constantly finds herself coming back to that moment. When asked by the police if the driver of the bus who hit the woman had ran a red light, she lied in the heat of the moment to protect him, and she questions whether that was the right thing to do. This question in her mind is what drives a lot of the action of the epic film, as the impact of the event plants a seed in Lisa that grows into several changes in her daily life. She begins to lash out at those who disagree with her, to make decisions that she may have not made prior to the event, stuck in this mindset of wondering what the point in life is if none of it ultimately matters. It’s a very childlike way of thinking and there’s an honesty to it that really impressed me, with how Lonergan portrayed the kind of reaction that someone so young and jaded would have to such an event.

One of the many great themes in the writing of Margaret is in how it focuses on the narcissism of youth. These people in Lisa’s life all have real and complex lives, with their own deep history and future aspirations, but Lisa refuses to see outside of herself. Whether it’s her teacher or her mother, she only sees the world in how it reacts to her or how it affects her, not taking into account the world of any other person. This could create for a main character who is more frustrating than anything else, but Lonergan and Paquin portray it with an honesty that makes it fascinating above all. Lisa is bound to be a polarizing character for many an audience, as she isn’t necessarily likeable, but I think she’s written in this flawed and human way that is incredibly genuine.

It’s a bold move on Lonergan’s part as a writer, but even bolder is the way that Paquin plays her without an ounce of artificiality. She doesn’t try to play up the more positive aspects of Lisa’s character in order to get the audience to better sympathize with her, but instead goes full on into the violent tempers and dramatic hyperbole that Lisa constantly shouts at her elders. In classroom debates she lashes out with her narrow-minded ideas and stubborn refusal to see anything outside of her own viewpoint, and I think it all works towards creating a full character who may not be likeable but is certainly human. Even as Lisa begins to investigate the possibility of changing the statement she made to the police, the lie she told to protect the driver, it’s never quite revealed whether she is motivated out of her genuine desire to better the world or if it’s from her own guilt. Why is she trying to right this wrong, is it due to her belief that it will help keep more people safe or is it for her own selfish reasons, once again guided by her inability to look outside of herself?

She nudges her way into the life of Emily (played by Jeannie Berlin), the best friend of the woman in the accident, and as a result she digs up so many emotions that may have been better left buried. Lisa doesn’t register the kind of impact that what she’s doing could have on other people, but rather is entirely focused on what it means for her. Lonergan always makes us aware that life exists outside of Lisa and these people. We are focusing on them through this experience, but the perspective is as an observer, not from within the group. Lisa is our entry point into the story but we don’t see the world through her eyes.

Margaret has a more mosaic approach to it’s structure, where even the characters we don’t see are entirely felt on the screen. Our focal characters have dinner together at restaurants, yet we can still hear bits and pieces of other peoples conversations, as we are made aware that the world still works around them. Lonergan presents a beating post-9/11 New York that is complete and full, whether Lisa was in it or not. Just because she doesn’t possess the maturity to see outside of herself doesn’t mean that these other people don’t exist, and Lonergan as a director does a tremendous job of not letting us forget that these characters are living in a much larger world.

The director’s cut of Margaret has an extensive three hour running time, and it’s largely beneficial in allowing Lonergan to fully explore his themes while also developing these characters into full people. The women get primary focus, with Lisa, Emily and Lisa’s mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) taking up the majority of the screentime, but the men manage to impress in their moments as well. Mark Ruffalo, as the bus driver, and Matt Damon, as one of Lisa’s teacher, both bring unique attributes to their roles and create characters who instantly feel as though they have lives outside of this young girl. They don’t exist solely for their interactions with her, as most films play out relationships with their main character, but she comes into their world and drastically impacts them, then leaves with no regard for the quake she leaves in her rear view. It’s a frighteningly honest look at the impact that someone can have on the lives of others, with no regard for the true consequences of her actions.

The only character who gets their own extensive storyline outside of Lisa to play out on screen is Joan, as she gets a rich plot with her stage play taking off and her developing a romance with an admirer named Ramon (Jean Reno), but even without having screentime to develop their worlds, you can instantly tell that each of these characters has a full life outside of Lisa. Some of this comes from the strength of each individual performance, but a lot of it comes from the way that Lonergan directs the picture and weaves the characters in and out at just the right moments.

One of the most interesting themes of Margaret is how Lonergan approaches his exploration on what is accepted, or changed in perception, due to majority opinion. Through one of the many intelligent looks at debates within Lisa’s classrooms, we see a class taught by Matthew Broderick’s character discussing a work of Shakespeare. The teacher asks for the opinions of the class, yet when a student proposes a unique observation on the topic, he is immediately dismissed and practically humiliated for having an opinion that opposes the majority. For hundreds of years scholars and experts interpret Shakespeare one way, then a young student brings up a different interpretation that is valid but is completely dismissed because he doesn’t share the common opinion.

This theme continues further on, as Joan’s current play really takes off and she observes that once the play receives rave reviews they begin to sell out and get standing ovations, even though it’s the same play that it always was. As everything that exists within the grand scope of Margaret, this theme plays into our central focus, as we see that the world has accepted the opening accident as they were told how it occurred, and when Lisa wants to tell the truth it seems that no one cares to listen or to even understand why she would want to go against what has become the accepted opinion.

Lonergan has so much on his mind in exploring these rich themes and characters, and such a long running time really allows him to delve into them fully. He presents Margaret as an operatic piece, something that is touched on several times throughout the film. There are sequences of Lisa going about her day, walking down the street as the musical compositions boom beautifully over the shot. She’s a very theatrical being and in one of her many arguments she finds herself in throughout the film, Emily makes a point of telling her that life isn’t an opera, no matter how much she wants to treat it as such. It says something about the naivete of a teenager, how everything can seem so much more grandiose when you haven’t lived through enough yet to appreciate just how extensive it can all be. Life isn’t about the final moments, but rather about everything that comes before it.

The film concludes with Lisa and Joan going to the opera together, and it ends on a truly beautiful note that provides an emotional catharsis for both the audience and the characters. If you have gone down this journey the way that Lonergan intended you to, the moment is like a weight off of your shoulders practically, a way to release yourself from the gruelingly real experience that Margaret is. This is a rich film loaded with grand ideas that Lonergan masterfully plays on screen, and one of the finest acting ensembles in some time, and it all comes together in that touching moment. You Can Count on Me is one of my favorite debut pictures of all time, and Lonergan has proved here that he is much more than a one-hit wonder. Now I just pray that we don’t have to wait another eleven years to see his next work of genius.

B+

Film #203 of The 365 Film Challenge.

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Season 2 of Rectify premieres June 19th

#404 Margaret

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I didn’t expect Kenneth Lonergan’s long awaited follow up to “You Can Count On Me” to floor me the way it did. Margaret is an opera which is alluded to by many characters. And it is not a conceit of its own. It makes the assertion that everyone is the hero of their own story, that we are all in our little soap opera. That is where Lisa played marvelously by Anna Paquin sees herself in as she goes through her life, slowly being disillusioned by the man. Not everything about the film is perfect and that could be due to its long production problems that is in the story of every review out there. Apparently there is a 3 hour version other than this 2 and half hour version but even though I love the film so much, I can’t bring myself to watch it again for a while. There is a catharsis that I went through watching the film that takes a while to recover from. It is also interesting to note that this was filmed in 2007 and it is amazing to see how young everyone looks from Matt Damon to Anna Paquin. This is a beautiful urban, teenage epic of a script that is executed marvelously.