Stories We Tell

June 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Buchan, Joanna Polley, Mark Polley
Directed by: Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”)
Written by: Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”)

With an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for her incredibly moving drama “Away From Her” about a woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease, it was evident back in 2006 that filmmaker Sarah Polley was a decisive storyteller. In “Stories We Tell,” the first documentary of her short directorial career, Polley turns the camera on her own family to get to the heart of a narrative brimming with unanswered questions about her own life and explains how a family secret uncovered after more than 30 years changes her for the better.

Conducting interviews with a number of family members and friends, Polley already knows all the answers to the questions she is asking. The big revelation can’t come soon enough since the first half of the film builds on the most obvious outcome. Since the secret isn’t much of one to begin with, Polley finally revealing it isn’t really a groundbreaking event as much as it is an indication she should dig deeper into her family’s past and document the emotion behind the personal discovery. Polley does this to a point, but missteps on a few choices, which ultimately hurt the final product.

Through old Super 8 footage, Polley captures the most affecting parts of the film. Watching her mother, who died of cancer when Polley was only 11 years old, interact with her children and husband is a beautiful way to present her and a testament to the joyful life she led. While some of the talking-head interviews get a bit repetitious at times, Polley has a very affectionate way she handles her subjects. She isn’t so much an interviewer as someone who asks broad questions and then listens. If we learn anything from “Stories We Tell” it’s that Polley is a master at absorbing information and piecing it into a captivating tale about how people record their own histories, flaws and all.

Where Polley deviates from her objective, unfortunately, is in her use of actors to recreate some of the holes in her project. By using performers who look exactly like her mother and father at a young age and placing both of them into significant circumstances might make viewers feel more detached to the real-life players who are front and center. Polley, too, is a major character in her own story, but chooses to keep her personal opinion to herself instead of really reacting to statements from anyone involved. She even uses her father – a lifelong actor himself – to provide the narration of the film, which keeps Polley from taking a more integral role in the story. Maybe that is what she intended, but her voice was missed.

Nevertheless, Polley crafts an intimate biography that many viewers should identify with, especially if their family keeps things close to their vest. Before we know it, we’ve become invested in these characters. In another scenario, a film like “Stories We Tell” might be the equivalent of flipping through the pages of a family album. But with Polley exposing the Polleys (and doing it honorably), its rewards are higher than anything a few dusty Polaroids could offer.

Splice

June 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”)
Written by: Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”), Doug Taylor (“They Wait”), Antoinette Terry Bryant (debut)

Similar to the half-human-half-animal creature it prominently features, the sci-fi film “Splice” is a hybrid in its own regard. Part creepy morality thriller, part typical monster movie, “Splice” has a lot of identity problems, but manages to overcome its flaws by staying inside the realm of scientific fascination long enough before it decides to take too many silly, bizarre twists.

The film begins with Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), two hotshot genetic scientists who are making groundbreaking progress in their most recent experiment. Combining genes from an assortment of animal species, they have created a new ambiguously-shaped living mass that could be the key to curing the world of disease.

When Clive and Elsa ask permission to move onto the next phase of their experiment where they will start splicing human and animal DNA together, they are immediately met with opposition from those who have been financing the project. With far too many moral issues involved, the duo are prohibited from moving forward and, instead, asked to continue with the experiment at hand by synthesizing proteins. Apparently that idea is quite a yawner for a pair of geneticists, who would rather be shaking up test tubes and wondering what will pop up.

The scientists, however, refuse to stand idly by and wait for society to deem their work ethical. While Clive plays the role of worry wart, it is Elsa who is the driving force behind the unauthorized experiment. It is only fueled by curiosity at first, but when the embryo they create begins to accelerate in development and is “born,” both scientists must come to terms with the consequences of their actions.

The outcome of the experiment is Dren (Delphine Chanéac), a human female with numerous animal features – hind legs, wings, a tail with a retractable spear tip. Elsa raises Dren like her own child. It takes Clive longer to accept her as anything more than a specimen in a laboratory. As Dren’s intelligence grows, so does her realization of her dissimilarity and her frustration in being locked up like a lab rat, which causes her to rebel like any teenager would if they were grounded and sent to their room for no reason.

In the first half of “Splice,” director Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”) mixes ideas rather well from films like “Frankenstein,” “The Fly,” and even “E.T.” There is an underlying sense of dread throughout the film as we watch these geneticists ignore their principles in favor of pushing the boundaries of science. It’s during these scenes when “Splice” is at its most disturbing.

The third act (marked by an awkwardly staged sex scene), takes “Splice” into an entirely different direction and far from the deep-seated themes that make the first hour a unique addition to the genre. When Natali has the opportunity to push the story into uncharted territory, he instead pulls back and underwhelms us with something better suited for a “Jeepers Creepers” sequel.