Thursday, January 10, 2008


Juno is a very sweet movie about a sixteen year old girl who is smart, sarcastic, and dealing with a pregnancy after one unplanned evening with her best male friend. She considers "nipping this thing in the bud" but can't quite handle the abortion clinic, so she decides to find the perfect family for her baby. She sees having the baby and giving it to some deserving but unfortunately infertile couple as an altruistic, almost saintly act, and quickly finds affluent suburbanites Vanessa and Mark Loring, who seem ideal. But of course, she still has to get through seven more months!

* Juno, a cute brunette teenager
* Leah, her best girl friend, a blonde teenager who changes her hair a lot
* Paulie Bleeker, usually called just "Bleeker", Juno's best boy friend, and her baby's father.
* Juno's dad, a bald, middle aged man
* Juno's stepmom, Bren, a middle aged woman with blonde hair
* Vanessa Loring, a thirtysomething career woman with long dark hair who is desperate to be a mom.
* Mark Loring, the prospective daddy, who has short hair and is a musician

I really liked this movie. The story is great and takes some unexpected twists, and thankfully did NOT go down one particularly cliche path that I was afraid of, towards the end. The dialogue is very fast paced and funny, sort of like the television show Gilmore Girls, to the extent that you think, "nobody talks that quickly and cleverly without a script." The music is also wonderful, especially if you like contemporary hipster music or older punk. You can listen to the soundtrack at the official movie site.

The only face confusion had to do with Juno's best girl friend, Leah. She changes her hair a lot. But just know going in that there is only one blonde teenage girl that the movie draws any significant attention to, and you will be fine. The main characters are pretty distinct from each other, and the sea of high school students other than Juno and her two friends are not important to the plot except as a mass of disdainful kids.

If you happen to be familiar with the television show Arrested Development, you will have a head start because Bleeker is played by Michael Cera, the same actor who played George Michael Bluth, and Mark Loring is played by the actor who played George Michael's dad, Jason Bateman. Vanessa Loring is played by an actress whose features, especially the mouth, may make you think she is Julia Roberts, but actually she is Jennifer Garner (though that may just be me). Don't be fooled!

All in all, a fun, touching movie with great music, and highly recommended!

Good movie? 5/5
Good for FB Folks? 4/5
More reviews: Rotten Tomatoes
Official Website: Juno

Friday, July 27, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (in IMax 3D!)

Being such a huge Harry Potter fan, it's hard for me to tell how easy the characters of the latest installment would be to tell apart. I mean, I've read this book twice, I've seen all the other movies and read the books, and therefore I know what's going to happen. I know who should be doing what.

If this describes you too, you won't have any trouble with this movie. The one time I had even a speck of face trouble was a moment when Hermione was standing next to Harry in the room of requirement and she had her bushy hair pulled back. I didn't realize it was her until she talked. But it wasn't important to the plot.

If you haven't read the book, let me try to put myself in your shoes for a moment.

Oh. Wow, that faint sense of ennui from not having read Harry Potter makes me feel bad for you. OK, but the characters... Well, there ARE a lot of them. I mean, a LOT.

The main three characters are kids in their teens:
  • Harry Potter, with round glasses and unruly but short dark hair.
  • Hermione (pronounced her-MY-uh-knee) Granger, with semi-bushy, long, wavy, dark blond hair.
  • Ron Weasley, with short red hair, sort of in a shaggy moptop. He's a little taller than Harry.

Other kids:

  • Ron has brothers with similar hair, twins named Fred and George. They're taller and generally appear together.
  • Ginny Weasley is Ron's sister, a year younger, and she has straight, long auburn hair.
  • Neville Longbottom is a boy with dark hair, but no glasses, and his hair is longer than Harry's.
  • Cho Chang is the girl Harry has a crush on; I believe she is the only girl of Asian ancestry in the whole movie.
  • Luna Lovegood has very pale, straight, blond hair, and has an air of ethereal spaciness.
  • Draco Malfoy, Harry's nemesis, is thin, pale, and has light blond hair. He's generally sneering.
  • Dudley Dursley, Harry's muggle cousin, who only appears at the beginning of the movie with a bunch of his friends. He's large and looks sort of like he might be in a gang.

Hogwarts Adults:
  • Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster: Very old, very white, long white beard with a ponytail holder in the middle.
  • Professor McGonagall: Old, thin-faced, severe witch, but on the good side. Teaches Transfiguration.
  • Professor Snape: Pale, thirty-something man with dark, stringy, shoulder-length hair. Doesn't like Harry. Teaches Potions.
  • Filch: Caretaker. Old, stringy-haired man. Sort of looks like he could be Snape's grandpa.
  • Professor Umbridge: Small white woman with brown hair in an old-fashioned hairdo. Generally wearing pink clothes and a kitten brooch. Very nasty. Teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts.
  • Professor Trelawney: Divination professor. Long, wavy blond hair and very thick, round glasses. She basically looks like a caricature of an aging hippie.
  • Hagrid: Groundskeeper and teacher of Care of Magical Creatures. Half-giant, wild dark hair, can't miss 'im.
Order of the Phoenix adults:

  • Sirius Black: Harry's godfather and an old friend of Harry's dad. Has long, curly hair, and sort of dresses like a dandy pirate. He can turn into a dog.
  • Remus Lupin: Another friend of Harry's dad, who's a werewolf.
  • Tonks: A young witch who can change what she looks like, including adding a pig nose or turning her hair interesting colors. I can do this too, it just requires hair dye and a plastic snout with elastic on it!
  • Mr. and Mrs. Weasley: Parents of Ron, among other redheaded kids. (Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, Ron and Ginny.) Mrs. Weasley is middle aged and acts as Harry's mom-substitute. Mr. Weasley works for the Ministry and is obsessed with Muggles -- he takes Harry in for a hearing early in the movie.

And Voldemort? Well, you'll know him by the pale, noseless, evil appearance!

So there are lots of people, but they do look reasonably distinct, except the Weasley boys, and two of them are supposed to be twins! I'd say for people who have never read the book, this movie would be very confusing, but for those who have, it will be no problem.

Also because I am such a huge Harry Potter fan, I can't really evaluate it critically. It was very exciting towards the end, but obviously the book was very thick and huge sections had to be left out. I think they ended up with a very good movie. But you can read reviews from unbiased sources at Rotten Tomatoes.

If you do see it in IMax 3D, only the 20 minutes or so of exciting action scenes at the end are in 3D. An icon flashes to let you know when to put on your special glasses. It was pretty cool, if a tiny bit headache-inducing for some, but if you don't live near an IMax theater, I wouldn't worry about missing that aspect of it.

Good movie? 4/5
Good for FB Folks? 4/5 (Splitting the difference: 3/5 if you've never read the book, 5/5 if you have)
More reviews:
Rotten Tomatoes

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth review


Okay, by all accounts (just look at the Rotten Tomatoes link at the bottom of this page) Pan's Labyrinth is an excellent movie, artistically speaking. However, I went to see it this weekend. On the way to the theater I was in a fantastic mood -- smiling, happy, singing! On the way home I felt kind of dazed, I was so depressed.

It was violent, gory and relentless, and the elements of fantasy were not "enchanting" as I had been led to believe by pull quotes from reviews, but in fact disturbing and creepy. Make no mistake: this is a HORROR film. But the true horror didn't come from the otherworldly fantasy elements; it came from the inhumanity of the human characters.

Set during World War II, a few years after Franco had taken power in Spain, this movie follows a young girl and her pregnant mother as they join the mother's new husband, an insanely violent army captain, at the country house he and his troops are occupying. The girl has a penchant for fairy stories and soon finds herself completing tasks in order to win back the throne of a fantasy kingdom of which she is the reincarnated princess. Meanwhile, out in the real world, her mom's pregnancy isn't going so well and her stepfather is busy trying to kill anti-Franco guerilla forces who come out of the woods.

If you are a fan of artistic fantasy horror films, will you be able to follow this movie? I managed pretty well, but it did require a bit of floating. Also, it is in Spanish with English subtitles, so you do have to focus some of your mental energy on reading if you don't speak the language.

The main character is Ofelia, a little girl of around 11 or 12. She's the only kid in the movie. And of course, the fantasy characters are all pretty distinctive! There's also a doctor, who dresses and acts differently than any other man in the film.

Ofelia's mother is sick and pregnant. The only other adult woman the camera follows is Mercedes, who's sort of the head of the housekeeping staff. If you see a woman up and about, it's Mercedes.

None of the soldiers matter except Captain Vidal. And yes, that's him shaving, and yes, that's him that they call out to deal with the local man they caught hunting in the woods. If the movie is focusing on a uniformed soldier, it's probably the Captain. He has a couple of other high-ranking soldiers under him, but they are interchangeable as far as the plot is concerned.

The guerillas are harder to tell apart, and in fact one of them tricked even my non-faceblind partner. There are three guerillas who matter to the plot. One is wounded and the doctor comes to take care of him; after that scene you don't see him again. The other two are a stuttering man and the guerilla leader, who look similar enough to fool a non-faceblind person. At one significant point, I asked "Is that the leader?" and got the answer "yes!" But in the next scene, he stuttered, so we knew we were both wrong. It may have been all the subtitle-reading, drawing attention away from learning faces, or they could have been just that similar.

So, if you are going to see this movie, it's not the best from a FB perspective, but it's manageable. Just make sure to not worry about all the extra guerillas and soldiers, and prepare yourself for despair. And keep in mind that at least, as they always said on Saturday Night Live, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!

Good movie? 3/5
Good for FB Folks? 3/5
More reviews: Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, February 12, 2007

Children of Men review

Hey, movie fans. If you are wondering if you should go see Children of Men, you probably won't have a huge problem from a faceblindness point of view. All of the important characters look distinctive, although I did figure out a little of the stuff I say below through "floating". If you can remember characters in books with lots of them and figure out politics and interpersonal cues, you will be able to figure out this movie. The camera work is a bit shaky, which gave my partner motion sickness, so if you are prone to that, look out.

Of course, whether you want to see this movie also depends on what kind of movie you like in general. I thought it was excellent, but it is very violent. It's set in a dystopian not-too-distant future England, where women have stopped being able to have babies. The world has pretty much exploded because without children in the world, a large number of people do one of two things: give up all hope for the future, or become violent religious fanatics convinced that God is punishing the world. The only stable country left is apparently England, but it's violent there too, and the government is violently removing refugees (referred to in slang as Fugees).

All I'll say about the plot is that our main character, Theo, is charged with the responsibility of shepherding a young Fugee woman, Kee, to safety.

Here are the characters. There is no one else you need to sort out.

Theo (also referred to as Thelonius and Amigo): Our main character. White man, in his late forties, with dark, short, curly hair, usually with stubble on his face. I think he is in nearly every single scene, and the camera follows him. There's hardly anyone to confuse him with except for one scene where you see his cousin Nigel. Nigel's wearing the gray shirt and his hair is fluffier at the top.

Jasper: An old white man with long, wild white hair. He has a wife, Janice, who is catatonic.

Julian (also called Julie, and at one point I thought I heard someone call her Joyce): Theo's ex. A white woman in her forties with long straight hair.

Kee: A young black woman with an African accent.

Miriam: A fifty-ish white woman with dreadlocked hair.

Luke: A forty-ish black man with short Afro-ish hair. If there's someone who meets that description in a scene, and he's talking, and he's NOT wearing glasses, that's Luke.

The Biker: I never caught this character's name, but he is white, appears to be in his late thirties, and has extremely long dreadlocked hair. He rides a motorcycle. If you see this man in any scene, he is the same person.

Sid: White man with very, VERY short hair who is kind enough to talk about himself in the third person, using his own name, all the time.

Marichka: Woman with long, dark hair who appears to be in her late fifties, and speaks an Eastern European language, very possibly Russian.

There will be a scene at a house with LOTS of people. You don't need to worry about who anyone else is. You can tell which man is Theo because the camera follows him.

So there are a lot of people in this movie, but as I've described, anyone who matters is visually distinctive. If you can tell people apart by cues other than faces and keep lots of characters straight, you'll be fine.

Good movie? 4/5
Good for FB Folks? 4/5
More reviews:
Rotten Tomatoes

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dreamgirls review

Hello, faceblind person! If you were wondering, "should I watch the movie Dreamgirls?" the answer is, "yes and no."

"Yes" if you like music, particularly R&B, soul, and Motown. The movie was full of it! And although the plot seemed like it could have been too predictable, there were some surprises.

"No" if it's going to bother you that you can't tell anyone apart! This is the worst movie I've ever watched from the perspective of prosopagnosia. At any given point, all the men are wearing suits in the same style, and all the women are wearing the exact same dress and wig (because they're in a girl group), or at least very similar styles of clothing and hair when not onstage. The only people I could tell apart in the movie were Effie, because she was a bigger girl than the others in the group, and Effie's brother if his head was turned the right way, because he had odd, squared-off pointy ears. Oh, and Effie's little girl, because she was the only child, and later in the movie, the original promoter because his hair went white.

I could still follow it and figure out who was who from context, mostly. Well, I could tell that Deena was Deena because she was being focused on, and the other skinny girls were not focused on mostly. But it was a LOT of mental effort. A LOT. And I don't usually have much trouble following movies or TV shows at all. I guess because most movies have the characters look and dress more distinctively. With all the uniformity, this movie was like a prosopagnosia test with faces and no hairlines and so on!

My partner, of course, had no trouble whatsoever telling them apart. That kind of astounded me. I would have thought that they all looked similar enough for even a non-faceblind person to have trouble. Apparently not.

Good movie? 4/5
Good for FB Folks? 1/5
More reviews: Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, January 1, 2007


What do I mean when I say "floating"?

Sometimes when we are watching a movie or TV show, we are not precisely sure who's who. Floating is the act of just going with the flow and hoping or assuming that one of several things will happen:

1) eventually the character in doubt will say or do something that makes it clear who it is.
2) you'll never know who that is, but it won't matter to the plot.
3) context will make it clear.

This often works out well. For instance, let's pretend there's a new live-action version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White is talking to Doc, and there's a short individual next to them who isn't saying anything. The shortness makes it pretty clear, that's another dwarf. But which one???

Take a deep breath. For "floating" to be effective, you can't be anxiously worrying about it, or you'll forget to pay attention and miss something. So just stay calm (after all, it's just a movie!) and wait.

Soon context helps you out. Finishing up their conversation, Doc says, "Sneezy will show you to your room!" Then Snow White leaves with that unnamed dwarf -- it must be Sneezy. So that's sorted. But wait, lurking behind the kitchen wall is a jealous-looking dwarf. Who is it? Context tells you it's not Doc or Sneezy, as they're elsewhere, and besides, this one is wearing different clothes. Suddenly, the dwarf has a narcoleptic moment and falls to the floor, snoring. So, signs point to Sleepy.

Now another dwarf working in the kitchen rushes to help Sleepy get to bed! Who was that!?! You don't know, and you don't get any context clues to help you. But precisely which dwarf helped Sleepy to bed never ends up mattering to the plot. So if later in the movie you happen to figure it out, so much the better, but if you don't, oh well.

I'm not explaining all this as an instruction manual; I'm sure you already do this. What I'm trying to say is that if you can allow the movie to be ambiguous and let yourself figure it out, or not, without stressing about it, the movie can be fun despite its being hard to understand. But if you realize that you've stumbled into a movie that's hard for FB people to figure out and you then panic, you're not going to have any fun at all.

This sort of ambiguity resolution can take a lot of mental effort. I was exhausted after floating through Dreamgirls. But some movies have just one or two pairs of "twins" and allowing yourself to float through a movie like that, figuring things out where you can and not worrying a lot where you can't, could let you enjoy a show you otherwise wouldn't have.