Monday, June 19, 2017

Some Wheelchair Kamikaze Movie Recommendations

And now for something completely different… I’ve been hard at work on an MS related article for an online general media outlet, which when finished will also eventually appear on this blog. I was hoping to have the piece done at least a week ago, but I’m finding it difficult to write for a general audience after so long writing specifically for people with direct knowledge of MS. This hurdle combined with the usual Creeping Paralysis crap (weakness, paralysis, fatigue, etc.) have combined to make writing the article something of a tough slog. No worries, though, I’ll get it done, and hopefully the editors of the internet site will find it to their liking. 

In the meantime, I don’t want to leave WK readers feeling abandoned. As my mind is filled with MS related flotsam and jetsam as a result of working so hard on the aforementioned article, I figured I’d go in a completely different direction for this blog post. How about some movie recommendations for others like me who find themselves with lots of time to stare at TV screens due to the vagaries and vulgarities of multiple sclerosis?

Here, then, are a few lesser-known films that I hope you might check out and find enjoyable/interesting. If any of you have already seen any of these films or watch them as a result of these recommendations, I’d love to know your thoughts about them. Please feel free to leave your own critiques in the comments section, below.

The Drop – This was James Gandolfini’s last film before his untimely death. It’s a modern film noir, centered on a Brooklyn bar that is used by underworld figures as a “drop” for their ill-gotten gains. Though there are a few action sequences, this is more a nuanced character study of the central players, who may or may not be the people we assume them to be when first we meet them. Kind of like life, no? The film features a tremendous performance by Tom Hardy, who I think is one of the finest actors of his generation. Gandolfini also gives a fine performance in his last screen appearance. Fans of The Sopranos – and others who like their films a bit dark and complex, like a zinfandel – should definitely give this one a look.

Paterson – A lovely, quirky film by director Jim Jarmusch, which focuses on the power and beauty of the little things in life; a box of matches, conversations overheard, the simple but simultaneously complex emotional dance that is love itself. The picture gives us a peek into the lives of a bus driver/poet (Adam Driver), his wife (Golshifteh Farahani ), and some of the characters who populate their neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey. Filled with wonderful poetry (both visual and literary) and an affection for the small details that often go unnoticed, this is a gem that will leave you smiling and thinking about its many facets for quite a while after viewing.

20th Century Women – A kind of coming-of-age story of not only an adolescent boy, but also of the Bohemian adults who surround him. Set in Southern California circa 1979, a period at the precipice of the great social changes that would unfold in the coming decades (the rise of Reaganism, the Internet, the computerization of everything), 20th Century Women involves the lives of a teenage boy (Lucas Jade Zumann ) and his mother (Annette Benning), who share a house with several unconventional housemates. Elle Fanning stands out as the young man’s best friend/love interest, and the film hits all the right notes in regards to the time period, the complexities of personality, and the subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – emotional skirmishes of both adolescence and adulthood.

Hunt For the Wildepeople – a fun and funny film from New Zealand about a troublesome teenage boy (Julian Dennison) and a gruff older man (Sam Neill) who inadvertently find themselves the subjects of a national manhunt through the wilds of New Zealand’s outback. A witty script, endearing characters, and the natural beauty of New Zealand combine to make this sometimes silly, sometimes seriocomic film a deliciously diverting watch, one with a few laugh out loud moments, some over-the-top action sequences, and lots of heart. Not a film that reaches for profundity, but if you’re looking for some offbeat entertainment, Hunt For The Wildepeople will fit the bill nicely.

Green Room – I’m a big fan of horror films, but not the kind that feature ghosts, demons, or other supernatural creatures. Human beings can be horrific enough. Green Room finds a young punk rock band on tour in their dilapidated van far away from home, with money and patience running desperately short. The band inadvertently picks up a gig at a Nazi skinhead club, where they stumble upon a murder. Let’s just say the things go downhill from there. Patrick Stewart is terrific as the elder patron and leader of the skinhead crew, and the film is packed with tension, anxiety, and plenty of adrenaline inducing moments. I classify this as more of a thriller than a pure horror flick, though it does contain some gore. Definitely recommended for fans of the genre.

Irreversible – perhaps the finest product to come out of the “French Extreme” movement, 2002’s Irreversible is an unforgettable film that is definitely NOT for everybody. Over the last few decades the French have stretched the boundaries of the horror/thriller genre, with a number of films that leave nothing to the imagination but also, at their best, plumb the depths of the human experience. Irreversible depicts the events of one extremely tragic night in Paris, in reverse chronological order. In other words, the film starts with the ending credits, and the night’s sequence of events plays out backwards, last to first. Each sequence of the film is shot as a single take with no cuts, and the camera work by director Gaspar Noé is as spectacular as it is unsettling. A terrific cast (Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel) thoroughly inhabit the film’s largely ad-libbed script and make the events portrayed all the more gut wrenching. As the film spools out, some of our initial assumptions about the characters are turned on their head, and Irreversible is a cinematic experience that will impact you for days if not weeks afterwards. Again, this film is not for everybody; in fact, when screened at Cannes, large parts of the audience walked out during its jarring first 40 minutes. Those who remained were said to have sat in stunned, heartbroken silence for quite a while after it ended. The film graphically portrays terrible violence as well as graphic sexual acts, and contains an extended rape scene that illustrates the full, unremitting horror and unspeakable cruelty of that crime. It also contains one of the sweetest love scenes on film. That said, Irreversible is among the most exceptional pieces of cinema I’ve experienced. The violence portrayed is key to the film’s ultimate power, but again, Irreversible is not for those even slightly squeamish, or who might have personal issues with the events portrayed. But for viewers up to it, Irreversible offers an unforgettable cinematic experience.

I've also watched a whole bunch of the campy B-movie 70s horror flicks I so love (I Drink Your Blood, I Spit on Your Grave, etc.), but I know that flicks like these aren't everybody's cup of tea. Depending on what country you live in, most of the above recommended films are available on the popular streaming movie services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu). Again, I’d love to get readers' impressions of these films, as well as any recommendations of your own, in the comments section below. I’ll be back with our regularly scheduled MS related content in the next few weeks. In the meantime, happy viewing!


  1. Hello Kamikaze,

    I've watched Jarmusch' Paterson, and loved it!
    I'm a big Jarmusch fan!
    Also watched "Irréversible" original version, being francophone. I liked It, but it is not for everyone, indeed.
    I'll take a look at your other suggestions.

    1. Robert, sounds like we share a taste in movies. I'm a bit of a Francophone myself, enjoy the music, food, as well as the films. And, yes, Irreversible definitely is not for everybody…

  2. Thanks for the recommendations.
    I really enjoyed Hunt For the Wildepeople.

    1. Yeah, that one was really a nice little surprise. Hope you enjoy some of my other recommendations…

  3. 20th Century Women was terrific and your description was exactly right. I missed Paterson in the theaters so thanks for the reminder, and I'll check out the others except for the Horror/Thriller stuff because I'm fond of being able to sleep at night. I tend to commit ghastly and violent crimes in my nightmares after viewing those categories and that's something I'd rather not know about myself.

    1. I realize horror films are not for everybody, but the really good ones can shine some light on aspects of the human condition that can otherwise remain hidden. Then again, maybe they should remain hidden. I've always been kind of fascinated with the darker side, though. Like I said in my post, I'm not really into the supernatural type films, but films about the ghastly things that human beings do each other fascinate me. As long as they are well done. Actually, I really like some of the very bad ones too, but they have to be very bad, so bad that they become good. There's a whole genre of cannibal films made by Italian directors in the 70s and 80s that I've recently discovered. They are horrible, but in a really good way. At least some of them. There are others that are just, well, horrible.

  4. In fact, Marc, you're the first English speaking person I see who likes foreign films.
    Usually they don"t like reading the subtitles.

    1. Robert, I majored in film in college, so I spent many an hour watching subtitled movies.

      These days, with all of the absolute crap that comes out of Hollywood, it's difficult to find movies made for adults unless you look to foreign films…

  5. Holly Powell CoxJune 21, 2017 at 8:29 AM

    I haven't seen ANY of these movies, so I'm excited to check them out (especially Irreversible!!). One of my favorite movies is still Siesta - I think I made you watch it, but if not, check it out - Ellen Barkin, Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands (who I still feel should have been cast as Lestat!), Isabella Rossellini, and Grace Jones (!!!!).

  6. Hey Holly, thanks for leaving a comment. Yes, we did watch Siesta. I remember liking it very much.

    I think you'll appreciate Irreversible, but parts of it are rather difficult to get through. Especially the first 20 minutes. The director intentionally includes a barely audible hum in the soundtrack, of a frequency that is very uncomfortable for humans. All the better to make the jarring and upsetting visuals and events even more unsettling. I'm sure this had a greater effect when heard on a movie theater sound system, but even watching it at home I felt the effect. The film really spotlights the fragility of the underpinnings of everyday life, how one casual decision, and the cruelty of fate, can lead to the complete unraveling of seemingly stable lives. So much to think about after viewing this film.

    You should definitely check out all the films, and Hunt for the Wildepeople makes for great family viewing, even if it is a bit unconventional. If your son has the same well honed offkilter sense of humor that you have, I'm sure he'll enjoy it.

  7. Thank you for the suggestions. One of my favorite movies, which additionally has to do with using imagination to deal with disability, is The Fall (2006), directed by Tarsem Singh. It's amazingly gorgeous and fairly outlandish film, and the music is great as well. The first time I saw it I was dealing with a steep decline from my MS as well as my mother's terminal cancer diagnosis at the same time, and I needed something to transport me mentally since my life at the time was so emotionally charged. That the subject matter was incidentally relatable was coincidental, but helpful. Not too many movies like this... it's definitely worth renting, if not buying for repeated viewings. Jim Jarmusch is a film hero of mine, in the same bohemian filmmaking spirit as John Sayles, Hal Hartley and the godfather of indies, John Cassavetes.

  8. Christopher, thanks for the recommendation. It's amazing how great films can both temporarily transport us from our troubles while at the same time illuminating the human condition, which can be simultaneously troublesome and glorious. I will definitely check out The Fall, probably later this week… Jarmusch has been a favorite of mine since his first film, Stranger Than Paradise, back in 1984. A good year for what would later be called indie films If I recall correctly that's the same year that Repo Man was released also…

  9. I'm a big fan of Big Fish. The disconnect between the father and son, the grandiose stories, the artistic symbolism, and that beautiful ending. Touches all the spiritual foundations upon which I am built.

  10. I admire your appreciation of "Irreversible" but for me, it was the most depressing piece of film making I have ever seen. I must've missed something from the experience but I failed to see any other emotion that this nauseating film brought to the screen. It fails even as a work of artistic cinema: the camera angles and non-stop, senseless violence, brutalize the viewer and instill as sense of hopelessness and oppression that can't be described without watching it. If the 9 minute rape seen, almost snuff-like in character and unwatchable, isn't enough to disturb you then the opening scene where someone gets repeatedly bashed in with a fire extinguisher will make you lose hope in humanity. I love your other recommendations, but please, pass on "Irreversible". Don't say I didn't warn you

    1. It was one of the first films I watched when I arrived in France and I didn't understand much... After living in France for a few years, I watched again... To get the full impact, watch it twice. It worked for me. I think it's a masterpiece. Thank you Mark, for mentioning this film.

  11. Certainly valid points, but I disagree about the film as a whole. I did include plenty of warnings that Irreversible is NOT a film for everyone, or maybe even most people.

    The film doesn't include unending violence. There are two very violent scenes in the film, both of which you mentioned. The assault in the nightclub and the rape scene, both of which are extended and quite disturbing. However, the fact that they are disturbing was the filmmakers intent. The director even includes a barely audible hum at a frequency which human beings find very distressing, played throughout the entire first 20 minutes of the film. The violence portrayed is meant to set up the revelations about the characters involved, which we see later in the film (actually, earlier in the unfolding timeline, as it's told in a backwards fashion).

    The rape scene is extremely difficult to watch, as any rape scene should be. Some films actually fetishize rape, but Irreversible shows the act in all its vile ugliness. It doesn't depict anything graphically sexual, instead the motionless camera primarily shows us the face of the rapist and his victim. The language used is horrifically ugly as well, and this scene certainly is as unsettling as can be, which again, is the director's intent.

    The storyline that unfolds after the scenes, which actually happened before the scenes occur, inform us of the natures of the characters before the eruption of violence that will forever change their lives. The person carrying out the violent assault in the nightclub is revealed to be a philosopher who is much more comfortable within the confines of his own mind than with any sort of physicality, quite the opposite of the kind of person you would expect to unleash such a fearsome fusillade of violence in the club scene.

    The rape victim turns out to be a sweet, loving, intelligent woman, who learned just that day that she's pregnant. Her partner, who we also first meet as an apparent violent thug in the nightclub scene, absolutely adores her, and the scene depicting the two interacting as the most intimate of lovers before heading out on that fateful night is almost unbearably heartbreaking since we know what is about to unfold.

    Irreversible is quite Gallic in its viewpoints, and leaves the viewer left to contemplate the fragile nature of the normalcy that undergirds everyday life. With one inadvertently wrong choice the lives of any number of people can be irreversibly changed; in the case of the two lovers in the film, their lives are changed at just the moment that might otherwise have been their happiest.

    Those of us who are dealing with chronic progressive illness know all too well that the foundations of life are built not of concrete but of gossamer, and the whims of fate can knock them out from under us with no notice, no compassion, and no sense of justice. Irreversible brings these uncomfortable truths to the fore.

    Might the film have been just as effective without the graphic violence and drawn out rape scene? I've pondered that one for a while, and honestly can't come up with a definitive answer. The power of the film has its derivations in the disgust and horror wrought upon the viewer in the films first half-hour or so. The director knew very well what he was doing, as the camera work, soundtrack, dialogue, and action all combine for what is certainly one of the most unsettling sequences in cinema. But is this horror just to horrify, or to set up the elucidation of some greater truths revealed by the events and character development portrayed later in the film?

    I respect your opinion of the film, but if one can get past the assault on the senses done with absolute intent by the director that consume the first part of the film, in my view the actions afterwards make irreversible a powerful statement on the nature of existence.

    Of course, others may disagree and find that the level of violence portrayed ruins the film entirely. Again, irreversible is not a film for the casual viewer.

    1. Thanks for your response. I may have missed what the gestalt of the experience was but I am admittedly a squeamish viewer. For me, the violence distracted me, perhaps, from thinking of the director's full intent. I'm not sure I can go through another viewing to flesh it out but we both agree that this film stats with you for a long time.

    2. Amen Mark. It's a masterpiece which triggers our deepest fears... In one second life can change forever - death is just one aspect people fear.
      This film sticks for sure. I watched it as rented DVD or video in 2002 or 2003 in France, but wasn't ready to understand much then... After living here for years, I watched it again, twice to be true. It's a masterpiece.
      Thanks again for your blog, you're a great support in MS (research results and clear explanations, daily life etc.)

  12. Marc, thanks for the film recommendations. We are always searching for hidden gems. Unfortunately, none of these are on netflix streaming. I do agree that in general foreign films are better than homegrown ones. Here are a few gems you may or may not have seen:
    A Man Called Ove
    The African Doctor
    I know you are a music lover:
    'Keep On Keepin On' is a moving documentary about Clarke Terry's last months of life as he tutors a young blind pianist
    'This Is Bossa Nova' I love this music, and this documentary is one i can watch over and over.

    On another subject - have you ever explored the Dr Coimbra vitamin D protocol or biotin? They both seem to help some folks.

  13. Dear WK, We think your taste in movies is fantastic. We've been watching them in order so Green Room is next. We loved The Drop, Paterson, 20th Century Women and Hunt for Wildepeople. I like horror films too (some of them) but some violence stops me in my tracks so I'm not sure how I'll react to Irreversible. Will find out. Please keep them coming whenever the fancy strikes.