Archives for Movie Mentoring


The Black and White and Grey of Whitey Bulgar

For my dad's birthday a few weeks ago, we took him to see Johnny Depp's new mobster flick, "Black Mass."

The film's focal point, one James "Whitey" Bulger, has kept me thinking and pondering for the last few weeks.

After making several wrong guesses, I had to hunt a bit before finally learning what the film's title, "Black Mass," stands for.

Turns out that a Black Mass is the opposite of the traditional Catholic mass where everyone dresses in white and addresses God. In the black version, well, you can probably visualize what everyone wears and who is being worshipped.

This aside, what I find perhaps most intriguing is what Depp has said about Bulger (through archival research only, since Bulger refused to meet with or speak to Depp and has now panned the film he hasn't seen).

Depp states:

There's a kind heart in there. There's a cold heart in there. There's a man who loves. There's a man who cries. There's a lot to the man.

Families who lost loved ones to Bulger's violence are angry about this statement.
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How to Tell Excitement and Terror Apart

I'm not sure how it slipped my notice for this long that one of my favorite movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, had a sequel.

But suffice it to say that, the moment I learned this news, I promptly went out to rent The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Did I find it to be as entertaining as its predecessor (which I happen to own)? Not really.

Was I glad I watched it anyway? You bet. Not only am I a huge Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Richard Gere and Bill Nighy fan, but there is something about watching folks older than me still wrestling with questions I also have that I find oddly reassuring.

For instance, take this quote (spoken by Evelyn, played by Dench):

I don't know whether I'm excited or terrified. Sometimes it seems to me that the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash.

I don't know about you, but I can TOTALLY relate. 
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I’ll See You in My Dreams

I'll just say this up front - it is awfully hard for me to admit I liked any movie that made me cry this much.

And while sometimes I need "a good cry" as much as the next person, I didn't on this particular day.

Yet even with all this stacked against it, "I'll See You in My Dreams" turned out to possess that rarest and most ephemeral of all cinematic qualities - total authenticity at the heart of a tale of fiction.

As I grow older (45 this year - wow!) I find I have less of a craving for that famous quality provided by so many films - total escapism.

I think this is because, these days, I have lots of ways to escape if I want to....and a correspondingly reduced desire to escape in general as I realize more than half my time here has likely already flown by!

So the outcome is that sometimes what I crave most in a film experience is something much less easy to come by - the affirmation of what is real.

And by this I don't mean knowing answers to common trivia questions or being able to recollect my multiplication tables (I had a hard enough time remembering those on the first go-round!)

What I mean is the affirmation of a realness of life that is both totally messy and totally worth it.

What I mean is a map pointing towards the intersection of grief and gratitude, tears and smiles, complete with instructions for how to find it again from, well, anywhere.

What I mean is a dip into the depth of a totally worth-it life being fully and well lived...that also just happens to be BYOB and ends in approximately 120 minutes. 
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Animal Mentors

The Sheep, the Wolf, and the Sheepdog

For some reason, ever since I heard the movie was coming out, I have had a real eagerness to watch "American Sniper."

If I'm being honest, this reason probably had a lot to do with Bradley Cooper (who is - in my opinion - both uncommonly talented and uncommonly good-looking).

But as I started watching the film, I was captivated by much more than just its star.

In fact, the moment I knew I was hooked was a scene early on, when Chris (Bradley Cooper), his younger brother Jeff, and his folks were all sitting at the table eating. Jeff was getting picked on at school, and Chris had intervened.

At first, the boys' father misunderstood. He thought they were just beating up on others because they could. So he took off his belt, and told them a story.

There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.

Their dad went on to explain that he wouldn't tolerate any sheep or wolves in his household. When the boys explained what had occurred - that Jeff was being beaten up by bullies and Chris intervened - their dad asked Chris, "Well, did you finish it?" Chris nodded.

That was the end of that.

As I was popping around here and there online while writing this post, I realized this story resonated with lots of viewers. I am glad.

I too want to be a sheepdog....even on the days when I feel like a sheep, and even on the days I desperately wish I was a wolf instead.
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Cutie and the Boxer Teach Me About Love

So I finally got to watch "Cutie and the Boxer."

At first, I was hesitant.

The title sounded....ominous (just substitute "Big Bad Wolf" for "Boxer" and you'll see what I mean).

Then I found out one of the lead characters paints with boxing gloves.

"This I've gotta see," I thought to myself.

Very quickly, I realized the boxing, like most everything else in the film, is like a Buddhist koan, or paradoxical statement, that so intrigues and distracts the mind the heart can finally pop through to nab its own five minutes of fame.

Sort of like what happens when you realize that the film about art you are watching is really a film about love....and the most challenging sort of love at that.

I LOVED this film! I mean - loved it.

What is not to love about a love story that feels so real it could be your own? 
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The Real Story Behind Whiplash


Former career-minded musician that I used to be, I finally watched the movie "Whiplash."

I had been told to watch it because I might be able to relate from my own years of intense musical practice.

In this, my best friend in particular warned it might have a "few scenes" I might find disturbing.

After about five minutes, I assumed she was referring to all the scenes.

I loathed this film from the start.

I hated everything about it - from the inaccurate portrayals of drumming and musicianship, to the seeming decision by screenwriters and producers alike to skip over meaningless steps like fact-checking jazz history, to the gratuitous displays of vile meanness that are already so prevalent in society today. However, in the midst of all this, one important actual fact did stand out.

In the opening scene, we meet the main protagonist, first-year aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neyman.

Neyman desperately wants to rise above the mediocrity he sees in his family and those around him. To achieve this, he practices until his hands literally bleed.

His drive attracts the attention of the story's main antagonist, Shaffer Music Conservatory conductor and bandleader Terence Fletcher.

As a teacher and mentor, Terence Fletcher is as vicious and abusive as it gets. He quickly singles out Neyman for special attention.

At first, young Andrew seems to fold under the pressure. But then he surprises us (or at least me) by coming back for more....and more....and more.

Somewhat late in the development of Andrew's story, a minor character named "Sean Casey" is introduced.

We don't ever actually meet Casey...this is because he is dead by the time we first hear his name. 
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Celebrity Mentors

John Nash and How He Changed My Life

On Saturday, May 23, 2015, John Nash & his wife, Alicia, were riding through New Jersey in a taxi.

They had just returned from the Abel Prize awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway, where Dr. Nash had accepted his prize from the King of Norway himself.

For those of you who may not know this, I dedicated a whole chapter and several more pages of my first book, "Beating Ana: how to outsmart your eating disorder and take your life back," to Dr. Nash's story.

Even though I consider him one of my longtime mentors, we never met, but he and his wife were instrumental in stabilizing me in recovery nevertheless.

From Dr. Nash, I learned there really is such a thing as "mind over matter" (at least my personal matter, that is), and that it can be life-saving.

In this, he helped me increase my daily practice of "putting my mind on a diet," a regimen he credits with helping him overcome the effects of paranoid schizophrenia.

And reading and watching his story (through Sylvia Nasar's biographical book, "A Beautiful Mind," and then the Ron Howard movie by the same name), forever cemented my commitment to keeping my own counsel - about my chances for a successful recovery AND a successful life.

My whole life is better because John & Alicia Nash refused to listen to anyone who claimed he could never overcome his mental illness. 
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A Makeup-Free Year

The other day I was scheduled to do a media interview.

I hadn't done one of those in awhile, but I still remembered the drill.

RULE #1Wear makeup on camera, or risk appearing to have actually died during the interview.

(Not ideal under any circumstances, but especially not when you are filming a television spot about eating disorders!)

And I was totally prepared to make sure I looked alive and kicking on camera....except for one tiny detail.

I couldn't locate my makeup.

To make matters worse, the day before I had finally taken the plunge and dyed my hair raven black with purple highlights.

Which meant the most likely outcome would unfold as follows:

Pale skin + black hair + harsh TV lighting = on-camera Zombie.

Otherwise, however, all this was pretty cool.

I've pretty much been makeup-free for months now, and I hadn't even noticed!

Thinking back, I'm pretty sure it started last fall when my boyfriend and I were driving down to Galveston (where Houstonians like us go when we want to visit the beach). We were talking about a show we'd seen on dramatic makeovers, plastic surgery, etc.

I shared how I'd seen some of my Facebook friends posting pics of themselves without makeup to celebrate "Makeup-Free Day." He laughed and said, "Makeup-Free DAY? How about Makeup-Free YEAR?!"

I thought that was a pretty cool idea.
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Movie Mentoring

(Not) Sexy Baby

Netflix can be a blessing or a curse.

Truthfully, sometimes I have trouble figuring out which is which on any given day.

Case in point - the other day, I loaded a movie called "Sexy Baby" into my queue.

The synopsis stated: This provocative documentary examines what it's like to be female in today's sex-obsessed culture from the viewpoints of three very different women.

Okay....interesting, right?

And also depressing, frustrating, mind-boggling, rage-producing, and "I'm so over this issue" fatiguing.

The film centers around the completely separate lives of three women:

A NYC tween named Winnifred, 12 years old.
An assistant kindergarten teacher named Laura, 22 years old.
A former porn star/pole dancer named Nichole, 32 years old. For reasons likely having to do with both interest and footage, the film largely hones in on Winnifred, who at 12 (she is 14 when the film closes) admittedly has the toughest challenges of her life yet ahead.

Near the end, she says:

I think this is the same with every teenager. You are going through so many changes, and it is so freaking confusing to figure out how you want to portray yourself. And there's a lot of girls just exploiting themselves and putting themselves out there to be judged by guys and other girls. But at certain point, if you don't want to become a prop in some guy's life, you have to find a goal and a path. And I do want to change people's lives. Um...and I'm not going to do that by being sexy. 

Winnifred is right. However, the fact that she knows this, and can articulate it, at age 14, is an insight many teens her age likely yet lack.

As well, it is easy to forget while watching "Sexy Baby" that these three women are people first and "props" (for the filmmakers to explore an issue common to all three) second. There is a lot of nudity, no small bit of rank language, an uncomfortably bloody moment in the operating room (Laura opts to have her labiaplasty on camera), and a number of terms from the adult film industry all jumbled in with the human beings living amongst it all.

Yet each woman has her own life that she is doing her best to live with what she knows in each moment as it unfolds.
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Traveling Along the Continuum

If you ask me, I think Netflix is one of the most wonderful inventions ever.

It has everything from nature documentaries to crime dramas to sci-fi thrillers - in short, all my favorites!

Since I find great mentoring through movies and television programs, this means a) I am choosy about what I watch, and b) I watch a lot of things to find what I am looking for.

Recently I've been absolutely hooked on a series called "Continuum."

nything that goes through a gradual transition.

I never used to think I liked time travel movies or television shows, but somehow this one really resonates. Perhaps it is because I see myself in Kiera.

Even in 2077, Kiera somehow seems a lone wolf, slow to trust, vulnerable to those she has allowed in to her inner world, with a warrior spirit she doesn't always understand.

In the year 2012, watching her attempts to find her place in a city both vaguely familiar and totally alien reminds me of myself.

From the time I was old enough to call myself "me," I have felt a little separate, apart, alone. I have struggled not to play the "lone wolf," to accept my place here, to permit myself to bond, to connect, to fit in.

So as I watch Kiera struggle to make a place for herself, forge new connections, find patience with her situation, and work for good because that is how she is wired (no matter how much she misses her family and her home in 2077), something in me resonates. 
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