DVD/Stream of the Week: STORIES WE TELL – when life surprises…and how we explain it

Michael Polley in STORIES WE TELL

Stories We Tell is the third film from brilliant Canadian director Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz), a documentary in which she interviews members of her own family about her mother, who died when Sarah was 11. It doesn’t take long before Sarah uncovers a major surprise about her own life. And then she steps into an even bigger surprise about the first surprise. And then there’s a completely unexpected reaction by Polley’s father Michael.

There are surprises aplenty in the Polley family saga, but how folks react to the discoveries is just as interesting. It helps that everyone in the Polley family has a deliciously wicked sense of humor.

The family story is compelling enough, but Polley also explores story telling itself. Everyone who knew Polley’s mother tells her story from a different perspective. But we can weave together the often conflicting versions into what seems like a pretty complete portrait of a complicated person.

Polley adds more layers of meaning and ties the material together by filming herself recording her father reading his version of the story – his memoir serves as the unifying narration.

To take us back to the 1960s, Polley uses one-third actual home movies and two-thirds re-creations (with actors) shot on Super 8 film. Polley hired cinematographer Iris Ng after seeing Ng’s 5 minute Super 8 short. The most haunting clip is a real one, a video of the actress Mom’s audition for a 60s Canadian TV show.

Make sure that you watch all of the end credits – there’s one more surprise, and it’s hilarious.

You can rent Stories We Tell on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and stream it from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Stories We Tell: when life surprises…and how we explain it

Michael Polley in STORIES WE TELL

Stories We Tell is the third film from brilliant young Canadian director Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz), a documentary in which she interviews members of her own family about her mother, who died when Sarah was 11.  It doesn’t take long before Sarah uncovers a major surprise about her own life.  And then she steps into an even bigger surprise about the first surprise.  And then there’s a completely unexpected reaction by Polley’s father Michael. 

There are surprises aplenty in the Polley family saga, but how folks react to the discoveries is just as interesting.  It helps that everyone in the Polley family has a deliciously wicked sense of humor.

The family story is compelling enough, but Polley also explores story telling itself.  Everyone who knew Polley’s mother tells her story from a different perspective.  But we can weave together the often conflicting versions into what seems like a pretty complete portrait of a complicated person.

Polley adds more layers of meaning and ties the material together by filming herself recording her father reading his version of the story – his memoir serves as the unifying narration. 

To take us back to the 1960s, Polley uses one-third actual home movies and two-thirds re-creations (with actors) shot on Super 8 film.  Polley hired cinematographer Iris Ng after seeing Ng’s 5 minute Super 8 short.  The most haunting clip is a real one, a video of  the actress Mom’s audition for a 60s Canadian TV show.

Make sure that you stay for the end credits – there’s one more surprise, and it’s hilarious.

DVD of the Week: Take This Waltz

My DVD pick this week is the most overlooked film of the year, Sarah Polley’s brilliant Take This Waltz, which makes my list of Best Movies of 2012 – So Far.

Take This Waltz is a woman’s movie, but in the best possible way.  It’s not a shallow chick flick and there’s no wedding scene.  Instead, it’s an exploration of attraction and fulfillment from a woman’s perspective.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) have been happily married for five years.  They are affectionate and playful with each other, but they have hit a patch where it’s easy for one to kill the other’s buzz and for a romantic moment to misfire.  But Lou is a fundamentally good guy who loves Margot, and he is definitely not driving her into the arms of another man.

But Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) and is fascinated by him. He is completely attentive – not in a chocolates and flowers kind of way, but by observing her deeply and pointing out things about her personality that she hasn’t recognized herself.  Daniel exhilarates her, and she can’t keep herself from engaging with him.

Michelle Williams is once more transcendent.  She is our best actress.  We know that Rogen can play a goodhearted, ambling guy, but when his character is profoundly hurt, he delivers a tour de force.  Sarah Silverman co-stars as Margot’s sister-in-law, a recovering alcoholic whose relapse sparks a fierce moment of truth telling.

Take This Waltz could not have been made by a man.  In particular, there is a remarkable shower scene in which women of a variety of ages and body types have the type of frank conversation that women share with each other.  Although they are all naked and fully visible, the scene is shot as to be devoid of any eroticism or exploitation.  All that is there is the content of the conversation and the female bonding.

33-year-old Canadian actress Sarah Polley wrote and directed;  Polley’s debut feature was Away From Her, my pick for best movie of 2006.

Take This Waltz is a beautifully shot film, but generally not in a showy way.  The film opens with Williams backlit as she prepares a batch of muffins; it’s a simple kitchen scene, but Polley showcases Williams as Margot reflects on her choices and their consequences.

In one extraordinary scene, the camera swirls with Margot and Daniel on an amusement park ride blaring “Video Killed the Radio Star”.  Their faces show fun, then an urge to kiss, then regret that they can’t kiss, then fun again and, finally, disappointment when the music and the ride end way too harshly.

Later, Polley reprises the muffin baking scene, paired with “Video Killed the Radio Star” in an unexpectedly rich way.  After just two features, Sarah Polley is established as one of today’s top filmmakers.

Take This Waltz: a women’s movie, in the best possible sense

Take This Waltz is a woman’s movie, but in the best possible way.  It’s not a shallow chick flick and there’s no wedding scene.  Instead, it’s an exploration of attraction and fulfillment from a woman’s perspective.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) have been happily married for five years.  They are affectionate and playful with each other, but they have hit a patch where it’s easy for one to kill the other’s buzz and for a romantic moment to misfire.  But Lou is a fundamentally good guy who loves Margot, and he is definitely not driving her into the arms of another man.

But Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) and is fascinated by him. He is completely attentive – not in a chocolates and flowers kind of way, but by observing her deeply and pointing out things about her personality that she hasn’t recognized herself.  Daniel exhilarates her, and she can’t keep herself from engaging with him.

Michelle Williams is once more transcendent.  She is our best actress.  We know that Rogen can play a goodhearted, ambling guy, but when his character is profoundly hurt, he delivers a tour de force.  Sarah Silverman co-stars as Margot’s sister-in-law, a recovering alcoholic whose relapse sparks a fierce moment of truth telling.

Take This Waltz could not have been made by a man.  In particular, there is a remarkable shower scene in which women of a variety of ages and body types have the type of frank conversation that women share with each other.  Although they are all naked and fully visible, the scene is shot as to be devoid of any eroticism or exploitation.  All that is there is the content of the conversation and the female bonding.

33-year-old Canadian actress Sarah Polley wrote and directed;  Polley’s debut feature was Away From Her, my pick for best movie of 2006.

Take This Waltz is a beautifully shot film, but generally not in a showy way.  The film opens with Williams backlit as she prepares a batch of muffins; it’s a simple kitchen scene, but Polley showcases Williams as Margot reflects on her choices and their consequences.

In one extraordinary scene, the camera swirls with Margot and Daniel on an amusement park ride blaring “Video Killed the Radio Star”.  Their faces show fun, then an urge to kiss, then regret that they can’t kiss, then fun again and, finally, disappointment when the music and the ride end way too harshly.

Later, Polley reprises the muffin baking scene, paired with “Video Killed the Radio Star” in an unexpectedly rich way.  After just two features, Sarah Polley is established as one of today’s top filmmakers. Take This Waltz makes my list of Best Movies of 2012 – So Far.