Climbing Out: Becoming Someone You Can Love

I’m excited to announce the publication of my first non-fiction book, Climbing Out: Becoming Someone You Can Love.

If you’ve ever felt like other people deserve help – that other people deserve love and forgiveness – but not you, then Climbing Out can give you the insights and support you need to move past your mistakes, find your own value, and leave behind the pit of despair and self-loathing where so many of us trap ourselves.

Find Climbing Out in paperback and on Kindle (you can click the “follow me: Amazon” link to the right).

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve been, you don’t have to stay in the pit.

Adventures in Streaming: Tale of Tales

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *
* now with spoilers *

Tale of Tales is an anthology-esque set of folktales with a solid set of overlap to connect them to one another. The tales are likely known, at least in part, to many viewers, since they are in fact based in folklore.

The film is visually really appealing, and the acting is excellent. Even the lowest-level characters are presented in a realistic and fleshed-out manner; everyone seems like a real person, motivated by real things that may or may not be “good”, and behaving in ways that make sense even if within strange situations. The set-ups for each “tale” are compelling, causing me to stick with them to the end just to see what happens.

That said, I really had to convince myself to “stick with them”, because for the most part, the tales end in a sort of dispirited fashion, wrapping up each segment of the story not so much in a bow as much as with a slow slog to its destination. The outcome of some of the tales relies on viewers’ prior knowledge to really understand the emotional significance of the characters’ decisions, and often the endings – or overlaps – of the stories are much more lackluster than the fairly entertaining or intriguing beginnings. For things to seem weird is not necessarily a deal-breaker, especially with folktales, but for the actual compilation of the tales to seem weird and disjointed is pretty disappointing.

The endings aren’t always complete, either – as though they’re the prelude to some longer or more in-depth work that doesn’t seem to have ever materialized. I’m all for letting the audience use its imagination, but I don’t think I should have to use my imagination to fill in plot points.

It’s especially disappointing because of the good acting and characterizations, and the exciting imagery and themes of the beginnings of the segments. Some of the overlaps transcend different time periods, which is conveyed skillfully so the viewer is never confused … yet the actions and outcomes themselves don’t seem necessarily to connect to the events that allegedly caused them. How can stories be so well-presented in one way and then so poorly-cobbled together in another?

Overall, Tale of Tales wasn’t a waste of time, and the tone is consistent throughout. Exposure to the folktales – and to the kind of not-quite-reality quality that is so common in folktales – are valuable and entertaining, no matter how the endings of the segments are perceived; some of the tales are quite thought-provoking, and there’s some well-built tension in a lot of places. Basically, it just kind of loses cohesion by the end, and ultimately feels a little boring.

5 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: The 33

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The 33 tells the true story of thirty-three Chilean miners trapped underground for sixty-nine days.

The story, especially knowing it’s based on true events, is very compelling: we want to know that they get out okay, we want to understand what they went through, we look with a suspicious eye on the higher-ups who all too often in our world don’t seem to show up as diligently as we would like in such situations.

The politics attached to the Chilean President’s response are presented in a straightforward manner – it’s clear that politics are a consideration, but the President isn’t depicted as any kind of heartless or thoughtless person, only as a person who has to balance varying demands on his actions. The families of the miners express their doubt in the government’s intentions and abilities, but other than this nod to the frustrations of bureaucracy, all the players are on the same side.

The rescue effort focuses more on the waiting families and on the engineers’ search for solutions than on the problems they face. The value of the miners is never in question, except perhaps in the mine’s owner being lackadaisical about safety maintenance … but even this corner-cutting reality takes second place in the narrative to the global efforts to get the men out of the ground.

Halfway through the film, the miners have run out of food and water, yet it’s only day 17; my heart sank, since the blurb for the film said “69 days” – how on earth are they supposed to survive another 52 days when they’re already dying? I was instantly struck by the impossibility of it all, by the apparent inevitability of their deaths hundreds of feet below the surface, their families never knowing if they survived the initial cave-in, their goodbyes never heard. I was uncomfortably aware, in the comfort of my living room, of the certainty of death.

As the film moves toward the ultimate rescue, we see the trapped men work through their conflicts, deciding actively to pull together as brothers and never to give up hope. Surrounded by gadgets and electronics, expensive shoes and potential book deals, the men hunger for the one thing we all take for granted: to see the sky again, to breathe the air, to hold their families.

Without ever stating it explicitly, The 33 shows us exactly what is really important. It showed the logistical and financial problems that plague such rescues without painting anyone as a bad guy. It showed the generosity and concern of the world who watched events unfold on the news, and it showed the determination and compassion of the Chilean authorities, their willingness to do anything to save the men, and their commitment of resources to an endeavour that seemed more than once to be a hopeless matter.

If you want to feel good about humanity, this is an excellent movie to watch. If you want to remind yourself about what’s important in your own life, this movie will do that very nicely. If you want to be vaguely afraid of going into caves, tunnels, or elevators, then this movie will help you out. And if you want to find yourself questioning the real value of gold, this movie – without saying a word – will deliver.

 10 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Anjaan – Rural Myths

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The series Anjaan: Rural Myths takes a look at local myths and urban legends from across India.

I know very little about Indian myths or urban legends, so I was eager to have them presented by people from within the culture. I was not disappointed – the illustration of the myths was creative, engaging, and suitably eerie; nothing was presented in a way that made it inaccessible to those not familiar with the culture.

It’s sometimes hard to assess acting ability when the actors are speaking in a language I don’t know, and I try to stay open to acting styles that aren’t what I’m used to but may be preferred in another culture. That said, some of the acting seemed a bit melodramatic, and some of the emotional transitions were abrupt and therefore not as believable. But overall, the acting was good, the atmosphere consistently creepy, and the visual effects were decent.

These myths are true horror, so don’t expect a lot of happy endings – even the most determined heroes and heroines are usually thwarted by the supernatural enemy (or at the least, the enemy gets away). Usually, it’s clear to the audience what the characters have “done wrong”, so some of the enemies’ victories are a little frustrating in their needlessness. Other times, the characters seem to be doomed no matter what they choose, or the enemy is obviously unstoppable.

Some of the tales are similar to legends in my own culture, while others are completely new to me, and are sometimes grounded in local occurrences that I’m not too familiar with … but in the end, people are people, fear is fear, and the stories come across really well even to an outsider who might be missing some of the subtler elements.

If you’re looking for a fairy tale, you won’t be happy with Anjaan: Rural Myths. But if you’re looking for a bit of horror, this series delivered.

popcorn icon 7 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Aaviri

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

This review does indeed have significant spoilers.

Aaviri is an Indian horror-thriller, wherein a family’s older daughter dies of an asthma attack after being left alone in the swimming pool. After this tragedy, her parents decide to leave the house because there are too many sad memories; they move with their younger daughter into a new house, where the little girl has supernatural experiences and seems to be talking to a ghost or imaginary friend.

In the end, this ghost/imaginary friend ends up being the spirit of the older daughter, who’s trying to protect her family from a vengeful ghost. Her efforts are not particularly helpful, as the mother is possessed by the angry spirit and nearly kills the younger daughter. In the end, though, the little girl is rescued, the mother de-possessed, and the guilty party caught and punished for his crimes.

The atmosphere in Aaviri is good – suitably creepy, not hidden in deep, unnecessary shadows. The characters are presented fairly realistically, although the mother is a little histrionic and the father is randomly detached and then jovial. The scary effects are largely practical, and since they typically happen in daylight or brightly lit rooms, they seem more unexpected and effective. We’re not sure at first if the little girl’s imaginary friend is good or bad or even real, and this ambiguity goes all the way to the final act of the film, when we’re introduced to the vengeful spirit that’s actually behind the negative supernatural experiences.

We get to see pretty early on that the father is cheating on his wife and is basically sexually harassing women at work, but since we witnessed the older daughter’s death, we don’t associate the father with any kind of murderous tendencies. We don’t particularly like him as far as a husband, but he seems to be a loving dad. This helps set up the reveal at the end … but ultimately we weren’t disposed to like him anyway, so we aren’t surprised or disappointed when we find out what he had done to anger the vengeful spirit. We also don’t get any back story on him or on the family, though, so we have zero clues to what the vengeful spirit might be upset about or even to the existence of said spirit at all. We’re asked to think that the angry ghost is the older daughter, but … why? Nothing in any interaction suggested a negative home life for the girls or any tension between the parents. It’s just a red herring that’s not even plausible enough to really fool the audience.

Not being from India myself, usually when I watch something that doesn’t explain the mythology or the interactions with the supernatural, I just assume that in the film’s country of origin, these things are a given that the general local audience would understand. But even with that assumption, I felt that the segue into the vengeful spirit and the possession and the escalation of paranormal occurrences was super abrupt, with no lead-in or connection to existing events – we’re just supposed to know that this was going to happen, even though the creepy atmosphere the whole rest of the film was subtle and slow-paced. Basically, we’re settling into a slow-burn, tiny-clues sort of film and then – BAM! – we’re drenched with a bucket of cold water. Maybe he wanted us to feel like we were suddenly possessed? We also don’t get much of a timeline for the abduction of the little girl, so our fear for her is pretty much nonexistent, but then suddenly she’s at death’s door and we’re supposed to feel the nervous tension of an undetonated-bomb action movie.

The father’s crimes aren’t that connected to his philandering and creeping on his coworkers. Maybe the director didn’t think being an unfaithful creep was “bad”, and that we would be stunned by the revelation that the father did the thing (dun-dun-duuunnn)?

The mother, who’s been on edge the whole film, somehow recovers from being possessed as though it happens every Tuesday; the vengeful ghost isn’t acknowledged for what she went through as much as I would have hoped, since the whole movie is about how she was wronged. The older daughter seems to have died for no reason, and the ghost’s targeting the father’s family instead of just him directly didn’t mesh with what we knew of her.

Overall, it was not super bad … but it was not super good. The atmosphere was compelling, but to be honest, it was the only reason I kept watching after the half-way mark, because the plot moves pretty slowly. The kids do a good job acting, but the adults aren’t as consistent at it, and that imbalance makes the flaws more obvious. The director is also the man who plays the father, and I’m thinking he should not direct himself. The practical effects made for a creepier experience, but the possessed effects sort of … didn’t. It’s not a waste of your time, but it’s also not the end of the world if you don’t get around to it.

popcorn icon  4 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Hangman (2017)

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Hangman is a film starring Karl Urban (Will), Al Pacino (Ray), and Brittany Snow (Christi); Will and Ray were partnered detectives until Ray’s retirement, and Christi is a journalist assigned to Will as part of a project. When a serial killer begins a “game” of hangman with human victims, Ray is convinced to come out of retirement to help Will catch him. Ultimately the killer – who is someone from Ray’s past – targets the main characters as well as their boss, and since he’s killing quickly, the detectives know they don’t have much time to track him down before he kills again.

So … where to begin here?

The three actors playing the leads offer the same good acting they usually do; the problem lies more in the pacing, the dialogue, and the editing: the characters don’t get to know one another, the audience doesn’t get to know them, and the dialogue is not only bare-bones but also disjointed, as though pieces of the film were spliced together (badly) after someone cut up the original.

We feel as though we arrived in the middle of a story, but this introductory scene has so little to do with the rest of the plot that the one connection – mentioned at the very end of the movie – seems to be completely contrived: “Oh, yeah, we have to have a reason why the van in the beginning was important.” It’s almost as though the director forgot himself what point he was making, and quickly tacked it on at the last minute.

Ray has the potential to be truly interesting, but he’s relegated to saying a couple of almost random things to the coroner and to Will; his conversations with Christi are structured as though they’ve known each other forever, even though he never laid eyes on her before that day. Perhaps the intention was to present him as a father-figure … but in the end, this presentation of his every word as somehow deeply meaningful just comes across as an old detective who’s trying to feel relevant but can’t deliver the way he once did.

Will has a tragic back-story that turns out to be connected to the killer, but not because the killer knew Will or his late wife; it’s simply a huge coincidence … or maybe it was supposed to be targeted, but the connection is never discussed other than to cast doubt on Will, or on his wife, or … actually, I’m not sure why it was in the story at all. Maybe it was to provide a reason for Will to be even more determined to catch the killer? – but he was already fairly determined, since, you know, he’s a homicide detective. Maybe it was meant to emotionally compromise Will, so that we would wonder if he would be able to handle tracking the killer down? – but Will is never emotionally compromised about any of it. He seems mostly just to be vaguely irritated. The movie takes the time to point out how much Will hasn’t gotten over his wife’s death, but all of his mannerisms and actions suggest that he’s recovered just fine – the alleged prolonged grief literally never informs anything his character does at all, ever.

Christi’s back story is fairly important, both as her motivation for the project she’s writing and as a parallel to what is offered as a theme for the movie: she has reason to know how much police detectives can give up for their demanding, emotionally draining jobs, and she wants to honour and reward them with her story. But Will and Ray aren’t presented as people who’ve particularly given up much on an emotional level; in fact, Ray misses the job so much that he can’t stay away. Is he having trouble feeling valuable in retirement, as so many people do? – maybe, but no one ever discusses that openly or even covertly, so this potential character development goes nowhere. Christi’s back story is offered in narrative fashion, half-way through the film, pursuant to nothing that’s happened in the film to that point, and in regards to a police officer in her own life who is completely unknown to either detective. It has no depth or significance other than that it meant something to her, but since we don’t see anything about it, it might as well be her ordering takeout.

The murderer is presented as a serial killer with an intricate message that he is sending to police/the world by requiring detectives to decipher clues at each crime scene. A hangman-game letter is carved on each victim, which is narratively compelling and visually interesting. But the clues are almost invisible to the audience, the visuals are scant and disconnected, a whole person seems to have been removed from the body count the detectives are using (even though they continue to mention this person as a victim), and until the literal last minute, there’s no real attempt by the detectives to figure out the word the killer is trying to spell.

Some of the murders are set up in interesting ways … I guess there’s that.

To the actors’ credit, I don’t think any of this is their fault. They bring the same good energy I’ve experienced from them in other roles, but even the best artist won’t win at Pictionary if no one tells them what they’re supposed to be drawing. They look and sound throughout as though they delivered a solid performance that was later hacked to shreds in the editing room and put back together by kindergartners.

The story is never focused on any one thing. Side stories are never fleshed out or addressed. No one is given the chance to seem like a genuine person. Events happen so quickly that we don’t have time to absorb what happened to one victim before there’s another, and even the nick-of-time rescues are performed with the same lack of urgency or tension as waiting for pizza delivery. Stuff that’s deliberately mentioned as potential clues is never brought up again. The introductory chase is never fully explained other than to suggest the killer seems to have been in the van – we don’t even know why we care about this van, other than that Ray was chasing it down for sideswiping him. Nothing happens with the van. Nothing happens in the van. Nothing happens next to the van. Ray sees an icon hanging from the rear-view mirror, but the icon isn’t particularly unique or pertinent to the killer’s character – he might as well say that we know the killer was the driver of the van because the killer had a driver’s license. The story itself is presented in such a disjointed way that it doesn’t even feel like a story, and, worst of all, the killer ends up being someone we have never seen or heard about in the entire rest of the film.

The blurb for Hangman piques curiosity and promises a good installment in the genre … but in the end it’s a dumpster fire.

popcorn icon  0 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Polaroid

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Polaroid is a fairly standard horror film, with a haunted object that kills whoever interacts with it. We follow a group of friends as they try to figure out how to stop the murderous entity before they’re all killed.

Um … yeah, that’s a standard plot – no surprises there.

But Polaroid delivers well on an oft-used premise.

The acting isn’t bad at all, and in fact the characters react a little more realistically than in other films to the deaths of their friends and to the weirdness of what’s happening. In other examples of the genre, we’re usually given a peek into why the characters who die are deserving of their fate, but in this one they seem to be completely blameless; unlike other random-victim tales, though, like Grudge or Ring, the entity haunting the object (in this case a Polaroid camera) seems truly vengeful toward these particular teenagers. It creates a pretty good sense of mystery as we try to figure out how the deaths could be both undeserved and targeted.

The gimmick lends itself well to the solution – the ultimate method for stopping the entity is a believable outcome of stuff we’ve already seen. Technology featured in the attacks and the final boss-battle is ordinary and accessible; no one has to be an expert, and there are no futuristic requirements.

Some people die that we don’t expect, which is a thing that’s harder and harder to achieve as the genre gets more saturated. We also encounter a couple of twists that aren’t exactly unpredictable but also aren’t obvious or contrived.

The effects are solid. The final boss-battle is engaging and rewarding. The atmosphere throughout conveys the sense of urgency and impending doom. It’s not a particular deviation from the standards of the genre, but it tells its story well and delivers emotionally.

It’s worth watching.

popcorn icon 8 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Await Further Instructions

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Await Further Instructions, set in England, is about Nick, a young man who brings his Indian-British girlfriend Annji home at Christmas to meet his family. Clearly he has been distant from them for a while; his mother is overjoyed to see him, because he hasn’t been home in so long. His father seems cold but not unfriendly. His grandfather is blatantly racist and a bit senile. His very pregnant sister and her boyfriend are happy enough to see Nick and Annji, but things are tense, especially after Grandpa makes offensive comments about Annji’s race and other topics.

Annji is suffering from allergies or perhaps a head-cold, a fact that suddenly matters when a mysterious black wall is erected around the house and the television tells them to stay indoors and await further instructions. There seems to be no way to break down the black wall (although some of them try), and when the television tells them that one of them is “infected” and should be isolated, they immediately turn on sniffling Annji, forcing her to lock herself in a bedroom.

Tensions continue to build while Nick’s father supports the wisdom of what he assumes is the government speaking to them through the television messages; he compares his cooperation with the shelter-in-place directives of World War II that were so important for survival.

The situation deteriorates until all members of the family are fighting with one another, some of them have died, and Nick becomes desperate to escape with Annji.

Visually, Await Further Instructions is quite engaging, deftly capturing the surreal feeling of being told via typical emergency channels (like the TV) that “something” has happened but not being told what it is. The black barrier is inexplicable, but Nick’s father suggests that the government has technology – a reasonable supposition, I guess. The acting is solid, to the point that you kind of experience the awkwardness of family members saying embarrassing things and the stomach-churning difficulty of spending time with the parent you like while avoiding the parent you don’t. The characters’ interactions are very believable, so as a psychological study, the film works very well.

Unfortunately, the sci-fi/horror nature of the unexplained black house-cozy and the increasingly sinister messages from the TV mean that a psychological study won’t really answer the questions viewers have, and the initial good balance of the two themes is completely destroyed by the ending.

The ending offers a weird “explanation” for the wall, the TV messages, and the bizarre tubes suddenly attached to the newborn baby … but other than backing away from the house and showing how the whole neighbourhood has been transformed into some kind of alien ant-farm, we don’t get a clear idea of what the purpose was here or how the family inside played into that purpose. Are they in fact aliens? For all we know it is the government, and the government has turned on the neighbourhood for some reason. If it’s aliens, are they taking over? Messing with us in the alien equivalent of cow-tipping? Doing their own psychological study? They obviously needed the baby for something, but we don’t know what – is the baby a new messiah? A new Adam to some alien Eve? A snack? We don’t know.

Even as a psychological study it falls down in the end, because none of the issues addressed throughout the film are ever really resolved one way or the other or even discussed by the characters. It’s just a nightmare holiday with family that gets worse because sci-fi-reasons. It’s just a possible-alien-takeover that gets worse because dysfunctional-family-holidays. Other films have balanced two themes before with great success – Mr. and Mrs. Smith, for example, where the spy-action-thriller is really about their marriage, or Shaun of the Dead, where the zombie film is really about Shaun getting his life in order. This film does not succeed. It ends up just being neither fish nor fowl with an ending so ambiguous that you wonder if you accidentally fast-forwarded over important plot points.

And it’s really a shame, because the atmosphere was so compelling, all the people acted so well, and the effects were creative and quality; this could have been both a really interesting explore into how people deal with the unknown and a suspenseful, creepy sci-fi/horror whodunit … but ultimately it was neither.

Plus there was a very pregnant woman whose baby had some mystical significance that we never discover – it’s just an overused trope of convenience at that point, and therefore just annoying.

Why did the baby have tubes put in? Was it that the TV was becoming sentient … maybe? If it’s so smart that it can take over the neighbourhood and build impenetrable barriers, why did it pick green arcade font? So many unanswered questions …

popcorn icon 5 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: What Happened to Monday?

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

What Happened to Monday is a sci-fi futuristic film starring Noomi Rapace as all seven main female characters, and Willem Dafoe as their grandfather. In a world where over-population has forced a government restriction on having children, anyone with more than one child is obliged to give the “extra” children to the government to be put into stasis until such time the Earth can handle the extra people again.

The girls’ mother as well as countless others are affected by the genetic modification of food crops, resulting in multiple-child pregnancies. The girls are septuplets, left with their grandfather after their mother dies in childbirth, and he names them each after a day of the week; they can each go out in the world on the day that matches their name, and they all play one person: Karen Settman (their mother’s name). Needless to say, debriefing in the evening becomes incredibly important, as the next girl has to know what her sister did as Karen the day before.

One day Monday doesn’t return in the evening, and the movie revolves around the other girls’ investigation of her disappearance. They have to be incredibly sly and careful, so that no one realizes there are seven people posing as Karen Settman – if they get caught, they’ll all be put in stasis. The government – represented by Glenn Close – also has reason to hide the discovery of seven siblings surviving to adulthood, since this would undermine their image of authority over the child restriction.

The story itself is really good, although the twists aren’t entirely unprecedented in film; the acting is incredible, especially from Ms. Rapace, who plays basically eight people – all seven sisters plus their hybrid Karen persona. Each girl is easily identifiable by personality as well as differing hairstyles, etc. Glenn Close does an excellent job at being both the big-bad-government person with horrible secrets and also a human being who was making what she thought was the best choice for humanity. That character-trope isn’t exactly new, but she brings plausibility to it – we actually believe she was doing her best, even as we’re horrified by some of the secrets that come to light.

There’s some stark depiction of death – not particularly gory, but it feels a little more real because of its simplicity and abruptness. The film quickly brings us in to the story, so we’re suitably tense when anyone comes close to discovering the girls’ secret. Chase scenes are equally engaging. Nothing is wrapped up in a nice bow, but the ending is decently happy and answers the questions. Willem Dafoe is fantastic at being a loving father figure who needs to make tough choices to protect his granddaughters’ lives – each girl has to be able to look like the same Karen Settman every day, so if one of them, say, loses a finger in a careless skateboard accident, then they all have to sacrifice a finger (it’s not easy living in a dystopian future).

The futuristic tech is fairly believable as not being that far ahead of where we are now, although the tech used for the “put them in stasis” part is comparatively way more advanced, so a tiny bit of disconnect there.

The story would still have been solid without the hard-hitting actors, but they really bring it to the top. The social situation – the ethics of restricting people’s child-bearing – is addressed in the summed-up, sort of offhand manner that a lot of dystopian sci-fi addresses such things, but not so egregiously that we feel let down about it. The slate-grey colour scheme of the rest of the film is countered by the seven girls’ varied and colourful fashion choices, illustrating how they’re the counterpoint to the government’s sterile, soulless mentality. The effects – especially when some or all of the girls are present in a scene – are seamless. Everyone’s characters, even the secondary and tertiary characters, are real and not oversimplified or used as stereotypes. We don’t get to know each sister as much as we may have wanted to, but one of the points of the film was how little the girls ultimately knew about each other, so it was actually important that we didn’t know too much.

Overall, as long as you’re not hoping for a sugary-sweet wrap-up, What Happened to Monday? is well worth watching.

popcorn icon  10 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Aftermath

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Aftermath is a film based on true events – two planes colliding over Ueberlingen, Germany, resulting in the loss of 71 people, including many Russian school children.

In the film, the plot does not follow the actual tragedy per se, creating instead a fictional scenario set in the US, with a midair collision over New England. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Roman, a man who loses his beloved wife and daughter in the crash; he’s devastated by their loss, spends much of his time sleeping by their graves in the cemetery, and refuses to settle with the airline until he receives a proper apology.

The crash in the film – as in the real situation – was the result of an air traffic controller covering two stations while his colleague took a break. Work being done on the phone lines played a part, but ultimately it was the simple human failing of being unable to be in two places at once.

In the film, Roman tracks down Jacob, the air traffic controller, and attempts to force him to apologize. Jacob tries to explain that the crash was an accident; during this conflict, the pictures of Roman’s family get dropped on the ground, and Roman is overcome with rage. He stabs Jacob and leaves him to die. He doesn’t attempt to deny his actions, and he spends the next ten years in jail for his crime.

Although it changes so many of the details of the real crash, Aftermath captures very well the surreal nature of such a tragedy – the different ways that people grieve, the unpredictable time that grief takes, the way that life suddenly becomes a muddled fog with holes where loved ones used to be. Roman’s despondency is gut-wrenchingly believable. At the memorial dedication, he meets a man who also lost his wife in the crash, and he tells the man that things will get better and that life will go on … but this encouragement is almost more difficult to hear than anger or sadness: Roman clearly resents that our minds and hearts eventually begin to heal from even such a huge loss.

Because it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose roles historically have been comedy, action, and glib violence, it’s quite striking to see him weeping over his daughter’s body and to be trying to contain such deep and powerful grief underneath a stony face.

Scoot McNairy’s Jacob is also presented in a starkly realistic way; when he realizes that the planes have crashed on his watch, and that everyone aboard has died, he responds with intense emotion – trembling, sobbing without sound, crying uncontrollably. He does say that he did everything as correctly as he could, and that it was just an unfortunate accident, but he never recovers fully from what happened, spiraling into depression and breakdown. His family is the only thing keeping him from taking his own life.

After Roman’s sentence is finished, he’s accosted by Jacob’s now-grown son, and he sincerely apologizes for what he took from the boy – the same apology he had wanted Jacob to give to him. He even invites the boy to kill him if it’s what the boy needs to do. Roman isn’t glad about what he did; his heartbreak had forced it on him, and he doesn’t seem any less sad after Jacob is dead. This was also the sentiment of Vitaly Kaloyev, the man who killed the air traffic controller in real life: “Killing him didn’t make me feel any better.”

Everyone in Aftermath delivers an incredible performance, and the atmosphere is perfect at all times, creating scenes where the unspoken feelings are palpable. No one is painted as the bad guy. Even the jerks from the airline’s legal department are just run-of-the-mill jerks, asking Roman to be realistic about going up against an entity so much bigger than he when he had so few resources to fight them. They’re not depicted as evil people rubbing their hands together in delight at what they’ve gotten away with; they’re just lawyers – hired, after all, to defend the airline.

In the film and in real life is the same memorial: giant steel spheres scattered over the countryside where the planes crashed, simulating a broken strand of pearls. It’s a testament not just to the memory of those lost but of the feelings so skillfully evoked in Aftermath – something breaks when we suffer such a loss, something that can never really be put back together.

Very much worth watching.

popcorn icon  10 out of 10.