Monday, January 9, 2012

KIDNEYS ON FILM: PART ONE (a personal journey through the cinema of kidney disease, kidney transplants & kidney theft from a cinephile/kidney transplant recipient)

Well its the fourth anniversary of my kidney Transplant so I thought I'd make a new movie blog series about my favorite (and NOT-so favorite) films on the subject of Kidney Disease and Kidney Transplantation. Sometimes when people go through a serious surgery they don't want to talk about, look at, read or have anything to do with it after the fact. Well, I'm the opposite. Anyone who knows me half well or reads this blog should know that I'm quite a movie fanatic. I'm such a movie fanatic that I sometimes relate real life situations to movie scenarios at some of the most inappropriate times. Take my Transplant for example. After the initial shock of finding out I was going to need a kidney, I thought to myself; "Oh man, this is just like that time in that movie when 'so n' so' needed a kidney!!"
To my knowledge, Kidneys seem to be the least explored organ on film. There's plenty films about heart transplants and liver transplants, but to my knowledge in the last decade it seems like Kidney Disease has been spreading like an epidemic. From the overflow of patients i always see sitting in the waiting room at Yale New Haven to the various random celebrities like George Lopez, Alonzo Mourning and Tracey Morgan to fictitious characters like Peter Griffin and Kyle Brovlofski...EVERYONE is getting kidney transplants these days. I'd like to see more films dealing with this subject.

Hopefully you've seen or are at least familiar with the movies listed below because there will be spoilers (just letting you know).

This movie brings me back to early days of HBO when even at the young age of 8 I started to notice that they would play the same block of movies for a month straight with little to no variation. For some reason my parents love this movie. Because they use to watch it so much when I was kid, naturally I ended up watching it a few times (or to be more specific, just happened to be in the room when the movie was on). Who woulda thought that one of the subplots in this movie I use to call stupid as a kid would pretty much happen to me almost 20 years later? Who woulda thought I'd have something SO in common with an upper-middle class, southern white lady portrayed by Julia Roberts? For those of you who haven't seen this movie (and I kinda don't blame you), part of 'Steel Magnolias' has to do with Julia Robert's character suffering from diabetes induced kidney disease...just like me. My main gripe with this movie is that although it my tug at your emotional heart strings, Julia Roberts' portrayal isn't exactly accurate ( me, I know). Towards the end of the movie Roberts' body rejects the kidney and she just kinda drops dead on the spot. Kidney disease can be quite deadly, but it ain't like how it's portrayed in 'Steel Magnolias'. Unless your kidney issues are completely unmonitored (which was NOT the case for Julia Roberts in 'Steel Magnolias'), you're not just gonna drop dead. Once you have kidney disease, you're monitored on a regular basis until your doctors determine its time for you to go on dialysis (something I actually didn't have to go through, thank god) or, if you're lucky enough and get a donor, have your transplant.
But as inaccurate as this movie may be, it still holds a place in my heart. I think back to my childhood, and I picture myself watching this movie and its almost like a foreshadow of what was to come...

Before I even knew this film was about a man dying from kidney disease living out his last days on a farm, I was already in love with it just from the opening scene (i didn't read any reviews and didn't really look in to what it was about). When spirituality and mysticism on film are done right, I'm always a sucker for it ('The Taste Of Cherry', 'The Mirror', 'Sacrifice', 'Bamako', 'The Intruder' and even 'The Tree Of Life'...sorry Chris Funderberg). Although this is the epitome of an "Art House" film, its just as much of a movie going experience as something like 'Avatar', 'Hugo 3D' or any other IMAX film in my opinion. I was a little disappointed that this ended up playing at the film forum instead of the Sunshine or IFC. (no offense). I mean, the film forum is legendary but their small screens and uncomfortable chairs were just not the place for a film like this.
Director; Apichatpong Weerasethakul (someone we'll be exploring in 2012 on PINNLAND EMPIRE) has such an amazing talent for making the audience feel like their in a Thailand jungle surrounded by tall grass and wild life. The opening of Uncle Boonme is so subtly heavy and layered with its combination of rich colors, atmospheric music and sounds of the jungle its overwhelming. 
Although 'Uncle Boonmee...' deals with spirituality (part of the film has to do with the spirits of deceased family members coming back from the dead) as well as surrealism (there's a scene where a women gets eaten out by a talking catfish...literally), Apichatpong Weerasethakul doesn't hold back when its time to show the realism that comes with kidney disease: The dialysis machines, the changing of the dialysis bags and the crazy fatigue that comes with kidney failure. 
To read more about my love for this film, please read my review after seeing it at last year's New York Film Festival as well as my best of 2010 entry where, even though the list wasn't ranked, if it was this would have been at the top.

This is one of those movies that gets me in trouble with friends and family. Whenever I'm asked my opinion about this movie (or any other oscar bait-ish movie like it), I give my true and honest opinion: "It's not my thing". But as the years go on, my friends tell me stories about how 'Seven Pounds' made them cry for a whole day and stuff like that. So the last thing I wanna do is belittle my friends' emotions by snickering and going; "THAT made you cry?...okaaaay" (which is what I really wanna say). I'm just not big on films that try EXTRA hard to make you cry or can be described as "powerful" (the older I get, the more cynical I get towards movies that are described as "powerful". Shit makes me roll my eyes). I cant tell you how many times I've heard; "Marcus, how can you NOT like seven pounds??" (which is funny because I've never once said "I didn't Like It". Its just not my thing). Then the personal attacks on Marcus start: The eye rolling, the huffing & puffing, the comments like; "Whats the problem, Marcus? Not artsy enough for you?" or "If this movie was french would you like it better?!?!" Although those are clever jabs at my taste in film and I could see why someone would be hasty to say such things, you couldn't be more wrong. To me, movies like 'Seven Pounds' are the equivalent of someone getting right up in your face with a boom box playing the most depressing music possible and just screaming for you to cry for 2 hours. I cant take that seriously.
In high school when I revealed to people I didn't 'American Beauty', they looked at me in shock. Or when I reveal to my co-workers or any other average American in their mid-40's that I think Paul Haggis' 'Crash' is awful (which it is), people look at me like I said something blasphemous. 
But I guess I could see why people who aren't film snobs like me would enjoy a movie like 'Seven Pounds'.
In 'Seven Pounds', Will Smith plays a guy trying to make up for a horrible accident he caused years ago by finding seven people at random and helping them out in some way. He gives a person a piece of his lung, he gives a woman his vacation house to escape her abusive boyfriend and other various good deeds like...donate one of his kidney's to a hockey coach suffering from kidney failure. So even though I'm not the biggest fan of 'Seven Pounds' (or Will Smith and his overacting), I'm still not above placing it on my list of kidney-related films.
...but I don't highly recommend this.

This is one of those movies that falls in to the "NOT-so favorite films on the subject of Kidney disease" that i spoke about earlier. I know I'm repeating myself a little from last months blog on Forrest Whitaker and his horrible choices in recent movie roles, but how could this movie (a sci-fi film about organ repossessors) be SO bad and forgettable? I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, but this was such a stupid movie yet it coulda been good had someone like Cronenberg or even Terry Gilliam had directed it (which is funny because the ending of 'Repomen' TOTALLY ripped off the ending of Gilliam's 'Brazil'). But I don't like repeating myself too much, so check out last months blog entry on Forest Whitaker to read more about what grinds my gears about 'Repomen'.

'Sympathy For Mr Vengeance' (2002)
I know that 'Oldboy' will probably end up being Park Chan Wok's definitive masterpiece (and it certainly looks that way after watching his more recent stuff like the awful 'Im Cyborg, But Its Ok' and 2009's overrated vampire film 'Thirst'), but there's still 2 other movies in his "vengeance trilogy" that often go unnoticed by most people. Although 'Oldboy' is the better film, Mr Vengeance still gives Oldboy a run for its money. If you refer back to what I said about 'Seven Pounds' and movies that intentionally pluck at the emotional heart strings, THIS, in my opinion, is a film that almost chokes me up every time I watch it. From the character; "Ryu" running and driving around the streets of Korea in pain after having one of his kidneys taken in an effort to fix a situation that got WAY out of hand, to the scene of Park's daughter drowning at the end, 'Mr Vengeance' really gets to me. But all of those emotional elements are disguised in a thrilling, entertaining film about a kidnapping gone wrong.
'Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance' follows a character by the name of "Ryu": a deaf, mute, and very naive/childlike factory worker who's sister desperately needs a kidney transplant. Things just don't ever seem to work out for him though... He' not a match for his sister so he cant donate his kidney to her, he gets fired from his job and when he tries to get a kidney for his sister through the black market he gets screwed over big time (the black market dealers not only take his money, but they also take one of his kidneys).
After getting double crossed on the black market, he sets out to kidnap the daughter of his ex-boss who fired him to get ransom money. But like most similar situations, things go very wrong. 'Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance' is a look at how far someone will go to save a family member as well as how messed up the medical system can be.
'Sympathy For Lady Vengeance' (2005)
The third part of Park Chan Wok's "vengeance trilogy" ('Sympathy For Lady Vengeance') also deals with Kidney Transplantation. In this film about a woman set up for a crime she didn't commit and her plan to get revenge on everyone who's wronged her, while in prison she gives an inmate one of her kidney's in an effort to show that she's a model prisoner so that she can get out of jail early. Of the three films (mr vengeance, oldboy and lady vengeance), this is my least favorite, but still entertaining nonetheless, and deals with kidney disease, so it deserves a spot on this list.


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