Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Inside Out

Pixar has a return to form, of sorts, with Inside Out. After giving us too many sequels, including the great (Toy Story 3) the good (Monsters University) and the totally unnecessary (Cars 2), they're back to giving us original stories, this one taking place in the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Where the movies invention comes in is that other than Riley and her supporting character parents, the main characters are Riley's 5 main emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). They exist in a command headquarters  inside of Riley's brain, along with things like her core experiences and likes (and dislikes) that make up her personality. It's a movie of great invention and excitement, much like the previous movies from writer/director Pete Docter, Monster Inc. and Up.

We are shown both Riley's journey and the effect it has in her mind and emotions. It was smart that Docter didn't give a big adventure story or anything for Riley, but she does have a journey, and a real one. Riley's family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco for her dad's work, and so Riley goes on the emotional journey that kids go on when there are big changes in their lives. Something that might seem mundane on the surface of Riley is an explosion of conflicting emotions and changing personality when we look inside Riley. Also, this is all happening to Riley at a pivotal time in her life, as she is about to hit puberty (which even Riley's emotions are confused about).

Weirdly, with all this invention and fascinating stuff from a story and world building perspective, the movie feels like we've seen it before. I think this is because the real main characters of the movie are Joy and Sadness, and their adventure of trying to get back to HQ after getting lost in Riley's brain. It feels like the sort of odd couple, episodic road trip, kinda story we've seen a million times before. Even though we've never seen this journey, with even these types of characters, it all feels a little too familiar. There are wonderful moments, like the journey through abstract thought as the animation changes into different styles, or the times in general with Riley's long forgotten imaginary friend Bingbong.

Unfortunately, things never took the leap into the truly magic, for me, the way Wall-E, The Incredibles, or Ratatouille did. It's a wonderfully worthy entry into the Pixar catalog, and it's a lot of fun to think about and talk about because of the thought and invention that is below the surface. But overall it didn't excite me like some of Pixar's really special work. Then again, I'm pretty sure I said that about both Wall-E and The Incredibles when I saw them in theaters

Friday, May 15, 2015

Unbreakable

M. Night Shyamalan is pretty much a joke now, after the colossal failures of his last few movies, but there was a time when he was thought of as a Spielberg/Hitchcock hybrid for a new generation, mainly due to the unthinkable success of 1999's The Sixth Sense, which got him Oscar nominations for Screenplay and Director. His career has been seen by most as a steady decline since then, with many pointing to 2002's Signs as his last good movie (though that movie has plenty of detractors, myself not among them). But with superhero movies the genre of choice at the box office over the last 10 or so years, I'd been wanting to revisit his 2000 movie Unbreakable, which I finally did last night.

Unbreakable concerns David Dunn (Bruce Willis) being the only survivor of a train derailment (eerie timing to watch, considering the tragic Amtrak derailment that took place this week), and the attention that brings from Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who tries to convince David that comic books are just exaggerated stories taken from real life, as ancient myths often were, and that David is the equivalent of a comic book superhero. We follow as David's marriage to his wife Audrey (Robin Wright) has frozen and they try to figure out whether to start over together, or to separate. Also, as David's son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) is the only one who believes Elijah's seemingly ridiculous claims.

Elijah has a (real life) disorder that causes his bones to be weak and easily broken, and he assumes that if there's someone like him, there must be his opposite, who is unbreakable. Many feel like the ending, revealing that Elijah is the one who set up the train derailment in his search for an Unbreakable, was another Shyamalan twist, just like The Sixth Sense had famously had (and his later The Village would ridiculously have), but it really isn't, even if Shyamalan foreshadows it with Elijah's mother buying him a comic book as a boy and excitedly saying "they say this one has a twist at the end". Elijah being revealed as a villain has been obvious the entire time. We are just conditioned by others movies to have seen the type of relationship between Elijah and David as mentor/student, with Elijah helping David realize his potential as a hero. But Shyamalan sets up every step of the way that Elijah is the villain, we just weren't paying attention. We never wonder "what are Elijah's motives?" because other movies spoon feed us everything, but Unbreakable doesn't spell out with big letters that Elijah is the villain until the final scene, but it's not really a twist because the movie hadn't been hiding anything the way other twist movies do. It's all out there and it's not cheated or hidden, we simply assume one thing when another is the truth.

Still, the way the movie is laid out is just classic superhero stuff. There's even a scene where David and Audrey are out on a date trying to rekindle their romance and she asks him if he knowingly keeps she and their son at a distance. He says yes, but he doesn't know why. You almost sit there now and shout "to keep you safe! If the villains can't get to the hero they go after the hero's loved ones!" But superhero lore wasn't as common on the big screen in 2000 as it is 15 years later, when many of the tropes are obvious at a distance. There's the "discovering his powers", "first foray into actually acting the hero", and "confrontation with the villain" sequences just like in every other superhero movie. But Shyamalan took the same deliberate pacing he'd had success with and applied it to this burgeoning genre. People didn't take to it so much.

Although it was technically a box office success, it was less so than The Sixth Sense, much less well reviewed (mixed, but still positive), and ultimately forgotten in the huge success of Signs two years later, and Shyamalan's ultimate downfall afterwards. Also, the movie was marketed like a psychological thriller, instead of the serious comic book movie Shyamalan made and wanted it to be marketed as. So many left the theater a little puzzled as what we'd expected wasn't what was delivered. I have always loved comics, but even I was a bit let down when leaving the theater, though that could've been because my 17 year old self hadn't developed as a movie goer like I have since. But still, the marketing didn't help the word of mouth of this movie, which has thankfully developed a passionate cult following since its release.

Watching this movie it was obvious that Shyamalan had genius within him. This is the best superhero movie ever (only The Incredibles can challenge it in my mind), and it's because it has not only the serious dramatic weight that Christopher Nolan would get credit for introducing to the genre 5 years later with Batman Begins, but also the visual audacity not seen in any other entry to superhero movies. There are deliberate multi-minute shots, definitely not seen in the hyperkinetic work of the genre today. For instance, it's just over 9 minutes into the movie when we get to shot #3. Then there are the motifs like Elijah and glass ("the kids called me Mr. Glass"), where we see him often reflected in mirrors, glass panels, TV screens, etc. The color motifs of purple for Elijah, green for David, and pops of color (red, orange, blue, whatever) from the normally dreary palette for when David senses someone bad. There's that simple attention to visual detail and depth that no other superhero movie has. This is really masterful filmmaking, no matter what happened to Shyamalan afterwards.

And then there's the acting. This is not the typical wise ass, John McClane style Bruce Willis. He's quiet, insular, but with a strength that we can easily believe in him as the square jawed hero Elijah believes him to be. Sam Jackson does some of his best work in the movie, especially in the final scene where he sees David's good deed in the newspaper and says "It has begun" and we see him slowly show that maniacal gleam in his eye as he talks to David about it being scary to not know your place in this world. "Now that we know who you are, I know who I am." It's really terrific work from both actors, and probably the best work of Willis' career. Robin Wright has a great scene where she confronts David about wanting to restart their marriage, really showing a lot of uncertainty, pain, vulnerability and how hard it is to put yourself out there after you've been hurt. It's the kind of scene a woman doesn't normally get in a superhero movie, and not just because something as real as confronting marital troubles isn't normally really dealt with in a movie like this. Even so, like every superhero movie this comes down to the hero and the villain and they're absolutely perfect here.

I believe Unbreakable should stand atop the mountain of superhero movies, despite being an original creation and not a Batman, Superman, or Spiderman adaptation. It's steeped more in comic lore than any other, and it is steeped in greatness more than any other comic book movie.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Top 10 Nintendo (NES) games ever

A lot of games made the shortlist, but I couldn't include them all. Some, like Duck Tales, I love but are really just copies of other games (Mega Man, in that case) with a different skin on them, so I went with another game.





Honorable mention:
Tecmo Super Bowl
Possibly my most played game, as a football loving kid growing up. My brother and I would always play a season being in control of multiple teams, often having 3 or 4 at a time each. Still, even playing so many games we'd go through multiple seasons a day as we had this rented from the video store (that's an old fashioned sentence nowadays), since games usually took about 5 minutes. But sadly, the game hasn't aged well, as many things you want in a sports game have come in and have been done better in the years since. Still, nostalgia couldn't keep this game off the list in some way.




10. Metal Storm
The main character of this game, the M-308 Gunner robot, is, I think, one of the coolest video game robots ever. Bulky but still humanoid and awesome looking, he has a badass laser gun and can find the usual upgrades that action shooters bring to the genre. But the M-308's greatest tool is the ability to control his own gravity. Some puzzles and parts of the game require you to change from jumping from the ground or jumping from the ceiling and back and forth to get the right angles and to evade enemies. Because this was one of those games, like many NES games, where to say you've beat it was really saying something, since one hit and you're dead, I boasted often that I beat this. An underplayed game, Metal Storm is a must play and well remembered by those who played it in those great old days.





9. Blades of Steel
Okay, I know I bumped Tecmo Super Bowl off the list saying sports games have improved so much in the years since its release, but Blades of Steel is still awesome. You don't even mind that this was in the pre-licensing days, so this isn't an NHL partnered game and the teams don't even have mascots, it's just New York, Chicago, etc. The hockey action is fast and engaging and the fights are still fun to this day. I also love that the guy who loses the fight is the one who goes in the penalty box, a great incentive to win the fights.





8. Contra
Making the most famous use of the most famous video game code in history, Contra is near impossible at its normal setting of giving you just 3 lives to make it through 7 blisteringly amazing levels. But give us 30 lives (whether solo or co-op) and the game is a blast. Switching from side scrolling and faux-3-D behind the back levels, Contra is great to look at. Obviously influenced by Predator and the Alien franchise, the jungle setting and alien villains are well done and memorable. The gun upgrades are fun to mess around with, the differing levels and constant difficulty keep us always engaged. I have no idea how many times I've played through this game, but it's a bunch and I'd happily do it again right now.





7. The Legend of Zelda
The beginning of my favorite franchise, The Legend of Zelda introduced most of the elements present through the rest of the series: hero Link, damsel in distress Princess Zelda, the Triforce, and so on. Revolutionary at the time for its seemingly open world, hidden passages, and ability to save your progress on the game's battery, it's hard to say something about this classic that hasn't been said countless times before.





6. Final Fantasy
Though it became more famous on SNES and eventually Playstation, my favorite Final Fantasy has always been the first. The epic scope of the game, constant fighting, and different vehicles you can acquire are a lot of fun to experience. And that you can have different team combinations of your 4 characters from 6 character classes lends it a great replay factor. It gave birth to one of gaming's most successful and famous franchises but I love where it all started.





5. Crystalis
Heavily influenced by one of my favorite movies, Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Crystalis didn't get the recognition it deserved. It had an epic story, changeable weapons, with one of the coolest, most atmospheric, and "I want to play this game right now" opening cut scenes ever. It can be a grind to play, killing countless foes to level up in this action RPG, but that's part of the fun, the amount of work it took to beat it. Combining Zelda's dungeon crawling with a post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy setting and world exploring, it's one of the NES's richest games, and one that I wish I didn't get so many blank stares about when I try and talk about it.





4. Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!
One of the first games I remember playing with my family, we all loved gathering around and watching the crazy characters this game paraded in front of us. Although I always had problems with Bald Bull, I would still just play up until then over, and over, and over again. Of course, Mike Tyson is one of the hardest "boss battles" in gaming, but I still remember 007-373-5963 (the code to cut straight to the Tyson fight) as though it were my social security number.





3. River City Ransom
Another that not enough people know about, River City Ransom is a goofy, awesome, difficult action/RPG/beat 'em up that you didn't forget once you played it. It takes a long time to build up the money you need to buy food and upgrades in this game, but the fighting is so fun and satisfying that it never seems like a slog to do. The different gangs you fight on your way to save your girlfriend each give different amounts of money upon their defeat so it was often about finding a gang you could beat up without dying and making your money that way. Again, a game that feels open world-y, setting the stage for all the great sandbox games of today. The only real question is, are you a Dragon Feet or Stone Hands kinda player?





2. Mega Man 2
Some point to Mega Man 3 as the pinnacle of the franchise, but I say it's this second entry. It's my favorite set of villain robots, and may have even been the only one I played enough to beat when I was young (again that theme of games now being made to be beaten, whereas in the NES days it was really saying something when you beat these much, much shorter games). One of the most prolific franchises in gaming history, there have been literally dozens of Mega Man projects over the years, but in my book this one was never bested. Also, Metal Man's saw blades are my favorite weapon in the series.





1. Super Mario Bros. 3
One of the most hyped games ever, Super Mario Bros. 3 debuted in a Hollywood movie (The Wizard), and instead of being a letdown by the time us gamers got to it, it actually exceeded beyond the hype. Impeccably designed levels with endless secrets to discover, I loved playing this game at age 7 when it came out, or age 31 that I am now. It is simply the best NES game, and might get my vote as single best game ever made. And that's with knowing that I'm almost sure I've never beaten it, even with the Game Genie. Or maybe with the Game Genie and I just didn't count it because of that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Watsky (w/ Dia Frampton) - Sarajevo



George Watsky gained fame because of his ability to rap fast, but his background as a spoken word poet can lend his rhymes a depth and maturity that other rappers don't have. Of course, he can be gloriously sophomoric or nerdy or anything else, but when he teamed up with former The Voice finalist Dia Frampton, they created Watsky's best and most provocative song, "Sarajevo".

When I first heard "Sarajevo" I was moved simply by the lyrics, thinking Watsky had created a remarkably evocative picture of tragedy using the war torn connotations that Sarajevo evokes in our memories. But I found out through a little bit of research that the story he tells is that of Admira Ismić and Boško Brkić, also known by the title of the award winning PBS documentary about them, Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo. Both 25, he was a Christian. She, a Muslim. Traditionally Sarajevo was a remarkable city and a beacon of acceptance and diversity as Christians, Jews, Muslims, and followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church lived in harmony (even at one time being the only city in Europe with a synagogue, mosque, Catholic and Orthodox churches in the same neighborhood). But some time during the 20th century, things began to erode. During the Siege of Sarajevo the couple was trying to flee the city when a sniper gunned down first him and then her as they tried to cross a bridge out of the city on which they should've had safe passage as civilians. They became symbols of the atrocities of war, their pictures posted all over media outlets in 1993. Watsky starts their story with the first verse:

And they wonder what our parents say
And they wonder how we'll raise our children
And they tell me that I'm living with a monster
And they whisper that she took up with a villain
But I don't see dragon's scales
And I don't see claws and fangs
All I'm looking at is arms that hold me
Brown eyes that understand
And when she closed those eyes one final time no pipers came
But I know we got a love that's truer than a military sniper's aim
But we won't die in vain
Tie that chain round my waist
And pull me from the bottom of the pit of hell up to your final resting place


Followed by Dia Frampton's singing of the chorus

Sarajevo, Sarajevo
You're the altar that I pray to
God is love and love is all we have


Establishing the love between the couple, the dedication, the religious conflict from society, and the horrible deaths in just a few words is remarkable storytelling from a poet like Watsky. The minimal music helping underscore the story and keep the focus their rather than on the production. The second verse, for my money possibly the best in hip hop history, then goes like this:

We were trying to run from the city
Had the hope and the pride of the kids
People wanna put up walls to divide us
Kinda fitting that we died on a bridge
Same souls, both sides of the banks
They say we're different and they're fillin in the facts
But they put the same metal in the bullets
And they put the same bullets in our backs
Kinda love that we got is one in a mill
Ain't no God that I pray to would wanna kill
It's not God but it's fear and it's politics
And a molotov that was lit with a dollar bill
Don't say that all is lost
Escape this holocaust
My God, Allah, my darling, star and crescent and my cross


Closing a powerful verse with the imagery of their religions, God and the cross for his Christianity, Allah and the star and crescent for her Islam. The couple wasn't consciously trying to bridge religions or make a statement, but they did anyway just by living their loving lives. Watsky points out that the God they pray to would not support taking the lives of others (life being God's most precious gift), and showing that war, even religious war, is always, at its heart, not about religion at all but about fear, politics, and money. The final verse ends things like this:

Where do we come from? Where do we go?
You could fill up the sea with the things I don't know
But I know what I feel and I know when it's real
And I hope that we heal
We're two drops of the blood and tears
Over thousands of years of the clash of the steel
I'm not blind to the cycle
We’re pressed in spine of a Bible
They define the divine by the title
But what did Christ say? To be kind to my rival
You're my kind of revival
It's true ya, my favorite Hallelujah
You my you my favorite Hallelujah


Ending things on a beautiful note of transcendence and uplift, though we can't forget the bloody journey it took us to get there. Dia closes out the song with an extended chorus, leaving the song on another emotional and powerful note. One of the great songs in hip hop, by its most talented young mind. One to make us think and feel and love.

God is love and love is all we have.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why do we love the movies?

This question has been nagging me lately. "Why do we love the movies?" What is it? Unlike some, I don't go the the movies for escapism from the pressures and horrors of the real world. So what is it? I've always said that I love storytelling, but that doesn't really get to the heart of the issue. Why do I love storytelling? It wasn't until this morning when I was watching the great Steve James documentary Life Itself, about Roger Ebert, that I got an answer. Ebert says in the opening passages of the movie that he loves the movies because it's an empathetic experience. We get to be dropped into the lives of other people. People of other nationalities, races, or genders, and see the world how they see it for a little while. I'm an empathetic person and this explanation struck me as remarkably true. Movies, and all art really but movies moreso than other forms, require us to empathize with characters and situations that are not our own. The great movies especially work a particular magic that gets us to connect more deeply than some others. That's probably part of the indefinable thing that elevates some movies over others, the ones that get us to connect more. But maybe that's a discussion for another time. I'm content now to have a better answer to the question of why I love the movies so much.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Whiplash

"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'"


So says Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) to his student Andrew (Miles Teller) as justification for his abusive and manipulative teaching style at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music in Whiplash. Andrew is a 19-year-old, Buddy Rich worshipping, aspiring jazz drummer at the fictional academy (obviously meant to evoke places like Julliard). When he catches the eyes and ears of the notorious Fletcher, who conducts the prize jazz band of the school, he feels like he's made a break on his way to being a legend like Charlie Parker. But things aren't easy in the hyper competitive world, and Fletcher doesn't make anything easier. He flings many things at his students (racial and homophobic slurs, general insults, even occasionally furniture) in relentless pursuit of perfection.


We see Andrew, through the confidence gained by being accepted as an alternate in the band, ask out the pretty girl that works at the concession stand of the theater he frequents with his dad. Melissa Benoist is charming and cute as the girl, Nicole, while Paul Reiser is wonderfully real and loving and supportive as the dad. Andrew progressively uses Fletcher's motivation to push everything but drumming out of his life, even to the point of getting rid of the bed in his dorm room for a drum set so he can after hours and all hours practice. The movie asks us (and its characters) if a single minded pursuit like this is good for the musician or the person who's doing it. Certainly Andrew achieves more under Fletcher's exacting demands than he would have otherwise, but does he actually gain any creativity or artistic understanding? Or is it merely an athletic feat of becoming a human metronome. The movie's moving finale leaves us with this question. Is it a triumph? A descent into madness and inhumanity? Is it a talented slap in the face to Fletcher as a teacher, or an endorsement of him?


Miles Teller and JK Simmons could not have possibly given better performances. Simmons is all bulging veins and muscles and intensity, while Teller strikes a remarkable balance of shy self doubt and growing confidence and even arrogance. Teller also does the majority of his actual on screen drumming, a body double being used only for insert shots and whatnot. This gives a real lived in feel to the character, as they aren't forced to cut around the fact that the star isn't actually playing the instrument we believe he is, as is usually the case. It also gives Teller a chance to really imbue Andrew with telling physicality, so that we don't even need a lot of extra dialog because we can read his body so obviously. Simmons is likely soon to hear his name announced as Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards, and it will be with great reason. It will go down as the defining role for the great character actor, even above his lovable Mac MacGuff from Juno, his loudmouth J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's Spiderman movies, or even his terrifying white supremacist prisoner on the TV show OZ. He finds a humanity and sense of really caring about the students he's abusing, giving us at least some sympathy for his extreme approach to teaching.


Finally, the work of the filmmaking team of writer/director Damien Chazelle, editor Tom Cross, and cinematographer Sharone Meir make this personal drama in the world of school jazz bands into a psychologically and viscerally thrilling movie. They get the camera right in there with the action of the band, while often cutting to the rhythms of the music in a wonderfully propulsive manner that often has the same effect on us in the audience that a car chase or a shootout has on us in a traditional action movie. Chazelle, in just his second time behind the camera, has made a truly personal and affecting movie and announces himself as a filmmaker to really watch.


Though I have many movies to catch up to from 2014, I have a hard time imagining that Whiplash won't top my list of the best movies of last year. It is an inspiring, thought provoking, often funny, horrifying, thrilling time at the movies.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Margaret

Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret is a fascinating movie. The director's cut that I watched was just over 3 hours with credits, and I wasn't bored for a single minute of the movie. It contains an all star cast (Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Matt Damon, Allison Janney) led by Anna Paquin's Oscar robbed lead performance as Lisa, a teenager in NYC who witnesses a tragedy within the opening minutes of the movie that sets the stage for everything that happens after. It's really a remarkable movie, but why didn't I love it? It's a humanist epic with flawless acting, but the narrative was so messy and unfocused that I'm not sure I really felt anything by the end for Lisa other than relief that she was experiencing life and growing up.


A recount of the plot wouldn't do any service because there really isn't a plot through line to the movie outside of Lisa's quest to right the wrong of the opening tragedy. But that's maybe half the runtime, as the rest of it is devoted to her mom, Joan (Lonergan's wife, J. Smith-Cameron, who is brilliant in the role), an off-Broadway actress going through previews of her show while also developing a relationship with Ramon (Jean Reno). Lisa also goes through feelings for her good hearted friend Darren (John Gallagher, Jr.) and burnout Paul (Kieran Culkin) as well as her crush on her math teacher, Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon).


I'm gonna stop right there describing anything plot related because it could easily take up the whole page just describing what happens. But Lonergan isn't interested in a standard narrative film, so why treat it that way? The movie is told chronologically and not surrealistically or anything like that, it's just that Lonergan wants to spread things out and really get a sense of Lisa's life as she swings through her emotions (good, bad, and indifferent) and relationships. And it's here that he really lets Anna Paquin shine as she embodies each of those emotions and never makes Lisa feel like anything other than an intelligent teenage girl struggling to find her way in life and making many, many mistakes along that way. It's one of the great performances of the decade and should've swept every award show in 2011.


One complaint about the actors is that we know many of the names, but that doesn't correspond to their screen time. Allison Janney has one scene, Mark Ruffalo has about one and a half, I'm not sure why Matthew Broderick was cast in the small and unimportant role he was cast in, etc. It's not distracting like The Thin Red Line is when John Travolta, George Clooney, Adrien Brody, and others step on screen for a few seconds to distract us from the movie. So it's not a big complaint, but it's still there.


You might be thinking "isn't Anna Paquin in her 30's? Too old to believably play a high schooler." And you'd be right thinking that in 2014, or even 2011 when Margaret was released and Paquin was 29. But the movie was actually shot in 2005, when Paquin was just 23 playing high school age, much more acceptable. Lonergan had final cut, so the studio couldn't take the movie away from him and cut it themselves, but the director and the studio could never agree on a length of cut. It wasn't supposed to be longer than 150 minutes, so even when Lonergan's friend Martin Scorsese and his 3-time Oscar winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker came in to help out, their cut was 165 minutes, a cut Lonergan approved but the studio thought was still too long. Lawsuits ensued between the studio, filmmakers, financiers and probably more we haven't heard about.


Ultimately we got the movie in 2011, and I'm glad we did. While I'm not one of those many people saying it's one of the best films of the decade, it's well worth watching because it's so interesting and impeccably acted by the entire cast. And the more I think about it, sometimes movies like this that I don't think make a big impact on me, because of their lack of narrative, actually keep haunting me with their perfectly drawn characters and situations. Ramin Bahrani's Man Push Cart (ironically released the same year Margaret was shot) was a similar example that kept coming back to me as I thought about Margaret in that way. Anyway, if you even have a passing interest in seeing the movie, I'd encourage you to. You won't be disappointed.