Monthly Archives: October 2014

VIFF 2014 Review: Still Life

Still Life is a story of a man who's as alone as the deceased subjects he works with.

Still Life is a story of a man (played by Eddie Marsan) who’s as alone as the deceased subjects he works with.

Still Life was the last film to do with the VIFF that I saw. It was a surprise that I saw such a downer film as my last one but it wasn’t a complete downer. In fact it has a lot of good elements worth watching.

The film begins with John May doing his job. He’s a council case worker in South London who looks for relatives of those found dead and alone. It’s not an easy job to do. In fact it’s very hard sometimes when he deals with relatives who want nothing to do with the deceased. Not even their own children. He arranges funerals for them even if he ends up being the only one attending and gives them a respectful burial. He even takes the pictures of those whom he was the sole attendee at their funeral and puts them in his own personal album.

Problem is John himself is an ‘alone’ person living by himself in an apartment with no real contact with neighbors. His job which he’s been doing for 22 years appears to be his only real purpose or his only interaction. However the news breaks one day. The company’s changed ownership and he’s about to be laid off by the new owners, feeling his services to those he buries are too ‘costly’ and are making the move to ‘efficiency.’

John wants to make his last case work especially since the deceased, Billy Stoke, lives in the same apartment as him. He comes across a photo album that shows pictures of his daughter ending in her teen years. He tries to get more information like from two people on the streets who used to drink with Billy. He finds out that Billy used to live in Truro. He meets with people who knew him like his ex-wife and former co-workers but none are interested in paying their last respects to Billy.

Finally John meets his daughter Kelly but she doesn’t want anything to do with Billy either. John proceeds with having a tombstone made and finding a burial spot. Just when John thought it was all over for him, he gets a call from Kelly. Kelly hears all that John has done and is happy about it. She even invites John to come see her on the weekend, to which John accepts and appears to finally come to life. Then comes a moment no one expects. It appears to set up for a very sad ending but instead ends on a positive note that appears appropriate.

It’s a question whether the film was trying to convey a message about lonely people or not. Mind you it does touch on a lot of things such as some who left other relatives estranged, some who lost all their friends because of their surly attitude or some who just have no one. There’s one scene that catches my eye and that’s where John looks over the photo album of those he arranged a funeral for. As each picture was seen, it reminds you that those people that died alone with no other loved ones used to be a somebody to others some time ago in their life. Sad how life made a turn for the worse for them. It is good to see someone like John May out there who does give such people found dead and alone a dignified last respects. Another scene that stands out is when John arranges Billy’s grave at the cemetery. Soon he sees the people that are to replace him and what they do is just simply cremate the bodies and pour the ashes in a mass grave. No funeral, no last respects, no nothing. Hey, it’s more ‘efficient.’ It only makes what John’s always been doing look like the right thing.

The most surprising thing about this film is that this first appears to be the downest of the down films ever made. It has all the making for it: a story of a man who has no family and friends trying to give a respectful last respects to those who died alone. The film does have a morbid feel to it and even John looks like the walking dead at times. What kept it from being a complete downer were some humorous moments. They were easy to spot. The film had a way of making humor of certain moments come unexpectedly like John at the intersection, John eating that shepherd’s pie after being told what Billy did after he was fired or even when a drunkard pours liquor on Billy’s coffin as a farewell. Even the scenes near the end as John is seen smiling to Kelly gives the movie an unexpected warmth and a welcomed warmth. That scene as John sees Kelly off was that moment where John appeared to truly be alive. Even the ending added to the quality. It didn’t end suddenly fluffy and happy like so many Hollywood movies would do.  The audience would first think this will be the saddest ending in all of movie history added to the quality. Instead it doesn’t as it ends with an ending that will have you saying: “Yes, very appropriate.” To this day, the ending of Kids remains the most depressing film ending I’ve seen.

This was a very good film written and directed by Unberto Pasolini. He takes what would normally be a very down topic and makes a very good and very watchable story about it. This has to be his best work since his production work on The Full Monty. Also good to see he didn’t give a fluffy ending that was still positive despite the circumstances. It’s not to say that it didn’t have its imperfections. Like we don’t know exactly why John himself is all alone. Did his parents die? Was he ostracized? Was he so fixated on his work, he ignored everything and everyone else around him? There’s that lack of clarity.

Excellent acting from Eddie Marsan. For all intents and purposes, this was his film. He does a very good performance of a character who actually feels like the walking dead. Only he adds humorous elements to him and makes him into a 3D person rather than a stock character he can easily become. The supporting actors were also good as a whole however it’s Joanne Froggatt who’s the one with a role with the most dimension. The only other standout is the music from Rachel Portman. It does a good job of creating the mood.

Still Life is a surprising film in more ways than one. It makes a film about loneliness with a protagonist being its epitome and actually makes it quite watchable rather than completely depressing.

And that does it for reviewing VIFF films. I didn’t have time to see them all. In fact there some I had a chance for but I was either ill or too exhausted to see. Anyways it made for an exciting festival. My wrap-up of this year’s VIFF coming soon.

VIFF 2014 Review: God Help The Girl

God Help The Girl is an original musical by Stuart Murdoch of three young Glasgow adults who form their own band.

God Help The Girl is an original musical by Stuart Murdoch of three young Glasgow adults who form their own band.

Musicals are always very chancy in terms of putting them on screen, especially if they’re an adaptation of a legendary musical. Try putting an original musical on screen. That’s what God Help the Girl does. It comes off surprisingly well.

The film starts with Eve singing about the difficulties of being young. Mind you Eve does have her problems as she has an eating disorder which brings her to a psychiatric hospital. Her counselor there tells her she needs guidance to make it out in the world. Eve is defiant and breaks out of the hospital to head to Glasgow to make music.

Over in a Glasgow pub, she meets up with James who leaves his band after an on-stage fight with the drummer. James is an aspiring songwriter who works part-time as a lifeguard and teaches guitar to Cassie, a naive daughter of a rich family. A relationship cooks up with James over time. After meeting Cassie, the three of them spend a lot of time together and compose songs.

Eve is also looking for exposure and hopes to get it through Anton, a singer of the band Wobbly-Legged Rat who’s star is on the rise thanks to a local radio station promoting them. Eve gives Anton her tape hoping it will make it to the radio station and a relationship is brews between the two. The three form a band after James convinces Eve she needs a bass and drum for her songs. They call their band God Help The Girl and they perform a gig and knock the socks of the crowd.

However not all is well as Eve learns that Anton, who’s too arrogant for his own good, never gave the tape to the station, claiming her music lacks professionalism. The two argue and Eve walks off. To make matters worse James finds out about her relationship with Anton and is distraught to the point of distancing himself from her. That leads Eve back to taking pills and returning to the hospital. She meets again with the counselor who tells her she warned her about rushing out into the world on her own. Eventually Eve decides on her own path. The ending is not what one would expect but is fittingly appropriate for the film.

I have to say this is is a brave attempt from Stuart Murdoch to create an original musical and bring it to the big screen. It’s been a long time since there has been something like this. Musicals are always a risk to bring to the big screen whether they’re original or adapted. It’s obvious that God Help The Girl had some risks of their own. There are a few times that leave you wondering is the film lulls back into being a story and makes you forget it’s a musical until the next song comes on. Those who know big-screen musicals know about the feel of a musical on screen. There were a few times I felt the film lost its feel. The musical parts were very good and were able to stay away from crossing the line of  cheesy most of the time but I did notice some imperfections. Even having Eve with an eating disorder makes you wonder if that would make fans of musicals uncomfortable.

One thing I liked about this musical is that it had a lot of songs that gives one the look and feel of the excitement of 60’s rock ‘n roll. The songs for the most part are loaded with energy and really capture the essence of what it is to be young. Another unique thing about this musical is that it musically showed how a lot of the best songs are inspired. We see a lot of themes in God Help The Girl that are quite common in rock and roll songs such as the frustration of fitting in this world, feelings of love and the bizarre love triangles that arise. We also get another reminder about rock and roll. Just after Eve left for college to pursue music, James declares “I think she wrote her best music here.”

The funny thing about this film is that it includes the music from a group called God Help The Girl. For those who don’t know, God Help The Girl was an all-girl group formed by Belle and Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch. They were formed for one time only in 2008 for an album that was eventually released in 2009. The film God Help The Girl is a musical set to those songs and is directed by Murdoch.

I don’t want to go into the subject of ego-tripping but Murdoch puts together a well-constructed and well-written musical that is entertaining. There are some noticeable imperfections in the choreography and editing but the film is mostly together. I also think this will be Murdoch’s only directing effort as I don’t see him directing any other movies in the future. Emily Browning is very good as the protagonist and is able to sing well in her first on screen singing role. Olly Alexander was also very good. He’s the opposite of Emily where he’s actually a singer in a band rather than an actor. Nevertheless he did very well. Hannah Murray was very convincing as the young naive Cassie. The three of them made an excellent trio full of chemistry. Pierre Boulanger was good but his role as Anton was underdeveloped and could have been more.

God Help The Girl was nominated at the Sundance Film Festival for the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and won a Special Jury award for the ensemble. It was even nominated for the Crystal Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. It has just been released in the US the last weekend of September and has just fizzled out with just grossing over $100,000. I blame it on the lack of promotion. I think it will develop a better afterlife as a Broadway musical. There’s no talk of a musical version of the film yet but I feel it has a lot of potential of being a hit in that format.

God Help The Girl is a flawed but entertaining original made-for-the-big-screen musical. Oddly enough I think I sensed a bit of Beatlemania there.

VIFF 2014 Review: The Incident (El Incidente)

The Incident (El Incidente) is a Mexican film about the mysterious and the supernatural.

The Incident (El Incidente) is a Mexican film about the mysterious and the supernatural.

The Incident was actually the very last movie shown during the VIFF. I actually saw four more in the VIFF repeats: some I will post my review in later days. The Incident turned out to be a good choice because I felt I was missing a film that was either envelope-pushing or edgy. This Mexican film turned out to be just that.

The film begins with two seemingly unrelated scenes. One is of a couple in a hotel just married and another is of an elderly woman lying on an escalator. Then cut to the first scene. Two brothers living in an apartment ion the ninth floor are confronted by a detective who thinks they’ve done them wrong. He has a gun and he’s after them down a staircase. Then a mysterious explosion happens. One of the brothers is shot in the leg. They go for help but once they hit the main floor, they find themselves back on the ninth floor. They’re both confused as is the hitman. They try and find a door to get out but they’re stuck. Adding to the bizarreness, whatever food or drinks that were taken from the vending machine in the stairwell comes back instantly. Then the brother dies. That leaves the other brother and the hitman stuck in the stairwell with no way out.

Second scene is a seemingly unrelated incident. A family head out on a road trip. It’s the mother, stepfather, teenage son and the six year-old asthmatic daughter. They pass a convenience store on the way to the camping ground. Then an explosion like the one involving the three men happened. The daughter has an asthma attack. They look for an inhaler but Daniel the son admits he forgot it at home. The stepfather accidentally broke the other one on the road. They go back to the convenience store only to find it empty. They try to head back home but the pass the campground sign they saw just miles ago. Meanwhile the daughter’s attack is worsening. Nevertheless the family keep coming across the same empty convenience store and pass the same campground sign. They too are stuck in the infinite standstill with no way out. The daughter does die.

The film returns to the stairwell. This time it’s filled with litter and is full of writing on the walls about various things including how long it’s been since the incident. It’s 35 years past. We see one elderly man and one middle aged man. This has been their ‘house’ during that time with nothing but food from the machines to eat and using water bottles for showering and using empties for sewage. Thirty-five years have passed for the family as well. Daniel is now a middle-aged man while his parents are elderly and unkept. The desert has been their home since and the ground is where the little girl was buried.

It’s all a mystery to get it solved even though they both know the cause of the problem. It’s because they won’t let go of the bad memories. The brother because of the shooting and Daniel for believing he caused his sister’s death. However it’s when one of the men in the apartment talks of a memory he had a long time ago of what happened when he was with his father when he accidentally died. After finally making sense, they’re able to get it solved and a door can finally be opened. After that, the people in both scenes can now live their lives in a forward motion. The daughter is still alive and Daniel can live his life even though it’s imperfect and full of problems. The two brothers and the detective also live their lives even though one will get a life sentence for a murder they commit later. However it’s at the very end when we see a newlywed couple in an elevator controlled by an elevator man named Karl that we learn it’s not all completely over.

This is one of those paranormal things I’ve never seen before. It consists of an everyday scenario then a sudden explosion happens. Then a near-fatal incident happens. After that, it’s nothing but a repetitive infinite that eventually leads to the vulnerable person’s death and everyone within that circle stuck in the same time and place forever. Four different scenarios of the infinite. All but one unrelated to the other and exactly thirty-five years apart. This may have been done before or it may be something original from director Isaac Ezban but it will haunt you. Especially seeing time elapse 35 years and how those involved in the two main situations all age staying stuck in the same place. It’s the creepiness of the bizarre that keeps you in suspense.

You hope those involved with the two scenarios will find a way out and they do. They’re also able to live their lives out, even though they’d live out a life that would have both Daniel and the detective lose in the end. But at least they lived lives where they moved forward. However even though we see the two live out their lives, we’re reminded from a moment seen during the opening scene that there was one thing unanswered: how it all started or who is behind it. We learn it right there at the end when the married couple get their own nightmare of the infinite. The ending can even leave one wondering if the couple will be able to work their own way out of the tragedy and the infinite that came with it.

As for whether it would be a crowd-grabber, that’s a question. I know crowds are willing to go to something as gruesome as Saw but you wonder if they’d go to something like this. It is something the thriller crowd would get their attention stolen with. It’s also a very smart and creative thriller that gives nothing away. I can see this being made into an American version in the future and can attract crowds of sci-fi. However seeing a six-year old girl die from asthma may be too much for them to handle. Seeing the long-haired old people might also freak them out.  Also this story may be a bit too bizarre for them to understand.

Kudos to Isaac Ezban for creating a creative story that’s both mysterious and smart, even if there were scenes that might creep many out. It’s hard to pick out the one single performance that was the best because there were so many good performances. Humberto Busto, Erick Camacho, Gabriel Santoyo, Hernan Mendoza, it’s hard to pick out the one who’s the best. It’s the ensemble of actors that delivered here. No one stand-out. All very good and all very believable.

The Incident (El Incidente) is an original thriller that may not be something that most moviegoers would want to see, including young fans of thrillers, but it’s very smart, very mysterious and worth watching.

VIFF 2014 Review: Haemoo (Sea Fog – 해무)

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is a story of romance in the midst of an illegal immigration expedition.

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is a story of romance in the midst of an illegal immigration expedition.

Even though the Vancouver International Film Festival is officially over, I still have four films left to review. Now on with the fourth-last. I have a habit every VIFF to see at least one national entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars. Here at the VIFF I saw Haemoo: South Korea’s official entry. I’m glad I did.

The film begins with Kang Cheol-ju, a captain of a fishing ship the Jeonjinho that’s old, crumbly and is catching less than ever. Because of the low catches in the fishing industry and the difficulties with South Korea’s economy, Kang is in danger of losing his ship and his livelihood. In the meantime one of his crewmen Dong Sik has just joined the boat. He doesn’t see himself pursuing a livelihood as a shiphand and is contemplating construction.

Kang has just received an idea of how to make money for his ship, big money. He’s been offered a deal to go into the illegal trade. He’s willing to involve himself with anything to get him ahead, whether it be illegal jewels or even illegal immigrants. He knows it means going into international waters and possibly get arrested by the coast guard but he believes it will work.

One day after going into international waters they spot a ship full of illegal immigrants from China and North Korea. They have to make the tricky transfer from their ship to the Jeonjinho. Yes, walking across. Thirty or so men and one female make it. However there’s one young frail woman who fell into the water. Dong Sik doesn’t think. He rushes out to save her. After saving Hong Mae from drowning, she along with the other immigrants are fed hot ramen at first. However the police are suspicious of Kang and what his boat is up to. Kang’s already under suspicion for a long history of evading loan sharks. Every time a coast guard boat comes by, he has to hide all the illegals in the fish tank, risking them to suffocating and unhealthy conditions.

The immigrants are unhappy about their treatment but Kang makes an example to the crowd by throwing one in the water and showing them who’s boss. Dong Sik knows that Hong Mae shouldn’t have to deal with such harshness so he finds a safe spot for her. Soon the two fall in love and Dong promises her safety. However it becomes threatened when the immigrants are all put back into the fish pit as a loan shark makes a visit. Dong Sik keeps Hong Mae from entering. After the shark’s visit, it’s discovered all of the immigrants in the pit are dead. It only boosts Kang’s lust for power as he wants them chopped with an axe before being tossed out at sea and their personal belongings burned. One of the crewmen tell him off for what he did only to be killed by Kang.

Hong Mae has seen all that happened and has no trust for anyone, not even Dong Sik at first. Nevertheless Dong Sik promises her safety. He knows Hong Mae will be seen as a lust object or a womanizing sailor and as a threat to Kang as she’ll know the truth. Things only get worse for the Jeonjinho as the power is completely out. Then it’s given away about Dong Sik’s hiding of Hong Mae. As expected Kang feels she’ll land him in jail and the sailor animalistically wants a go at her. Dong Sik knows he has to protect her from the two despite how challenging it is. He knows he will have to kill some of them. However it’s after the Jeonjinho collides with a freighter that solidifies the fates of all and paves the way for an ending that’s unexpected and keeps you thinking long after the movie.

One thing I have to say is that the script is unique for a lot of surprising things. At first you think the film’s protagonist will be Kang because the focus of the story first appears to be about him and his ship. Instead it ends up being about Dong Sik even though he is focused on very little at the beginning. Another unique thing is how the deaths of the immigrants made animals of some of the key shipmen on board. One example is of how Kang first appeared to be a typical authoritarian jerk to the immigrants but soon his lust for control would just make a ruthless animal of him. Even the ship mechanic who was just simply a womanizer made like a mindless dog to Hong Mae and had nothing else on his mind but to have sex with her. Another surprising thing is how the ship is doomed to sink but Kang is determined to keep it afloat despite it being hopeless. It’s almost like Richard III’s “My horse. My horse. My kingdom for a horse.” In the end, the ship becomes the judge, jury and executioner of Kang. And for those who saw it, you’ll know the last surprising thing was the ending. It’s an ending that will leave you asking your own questions. I know it left me with my own questions.

The one thing is that it is a very good movie but it did have its noticeable flaws. First thing is that it makes a good honest effort of making a love story in a scenario that’s hard to stomach. For those who don’t know, this film is based off of an actual illegal immigration case from South Korea in 2001 where a fishing boat carrying illegal immigrants accidentally left 25 dead. The difference between Haemoo and the actual case is that the ship never sank, there were many more surviving illegal immigrants and all the crewmen were brought to justice. Nevertheless it makes the romance too awkward because of the testy subject matter. I know I’ve seen films before that have made what would normally be unwatchable material end as a triumph of the human spirit but I sensed some unevenness in it. Nevertheless this is a very brave attempt.

The biggest accolades for this film should go to director Sung Bo-Shim. Lately South Korean directors are starting to make a name for themselves internationally. The most notable being Boon Joon-Hu who directed the critically acclaimed 2009 Korean film Mother and this year’s English-language film Snowpiercer. This time Boon co-writes the script with Shim in his feature-length directorial debut. It’s an excellent debut. The biggest of the standout actors is Kim Yoon-Seok. Even though he was not the protagonist, he was the scene-stealer as the power-hungry Kang whose lust for power would eventually destroy him. Multitalented Park Yoochun was also impressive as the young Dong Sik who was the only one on the ship who appeared to have any conscience to what was really happening. Han Ye-Ri was also very believable as the young Hong Mae but her best part was definitely the end. The special effects and action parts added to the intensity of the film and the score composed by Jeong Jae-il fit the movie excellently.

Haemoo (Sea Fog) is not a flawless movie or a flawless story. Nevertheless it is an excellent debut from a promising South Korean director. We’ll have to wait until Oscar time to see how it fares.

VIFF 2014 Review: Advanced Style

Advanced Style is a documentary about elderly women who know style!

Advanced Style is a documentary about seven elderly women who know style!

Think high-end fashion is only for the young? Advanced Style proves that fashion is for the old too. And these seven elderly fashionistas could easily give Coco Chanel a run for her money.

The film begins as an introduction first to Ari Seth Cohen, co-writer and creator of the blog Advanced Style about fashionable seniors. Then we meet the seven senior women in focus: all from New York and aged between 62 to 95. The first part is an introduction of the seven about who they are and what they buy. The film continues focus on the women but soon these women don’t seem so cartoonish as one would first think. All the women seem to enjoy life and have a positive outlook on themselves. Some are grandmothers, some are widowed, one or two never married, one or two are with their husband or a new mate. Some live the relaxed life of a senior citizen while some stay active by singing, dancing and even teaching art classes.

When you watch the film, you can easily see your perception of elderly women change. You first think they’re nearing the end of their life but they’ll show you they’re living it as if they were youthful twenty-somethings. Seeing how they go about in terms of their choice of clothes, their socializing and their activities will really surprise you and make you rethink growing old.

It’s not to say that their uniqueness isn’t immune to some negative aspects out there. Once they made an appearance on the Ricki Lake show and 80 year-old Joyce Carpati is intoxicated by the red light and looks foolish while singing a song. Even the fact of death is unavoidable as the women attend a fashion show in New York by a leading fashion designer (whom of course has young thin models) and Zelda Kaplan, the eldest of the seven at 95, is taken to the hospital and later dies. Nevertheless it was fun to watch from start to finish. Even seeing one woman strut her stuff down Beverly Hills will make you want to say “You go girl!”

Ari Seth Cohen is of course the brains behind the film. He knows this subject from head to toe because it’s the subject of his blog inspired from the joie de vivre of his own grandmother. He even wrote an Advanced Style book. He shows them in a mostly positive manner in both what they wear and who they are. Even if some of the choices look ridiculous like some of the hats worn or the big Edith Head glasses or even the woman who makes eyelash extensions out of her own hair, he presents them as them being themselves and not caring. He made the right choice in picking fashion film director Lina Plioplyte to direct and co-write the film.

As far as a film, I don’t see it being too much of a big screen release. This looks like something that will mostly fare well on an educational channel like BC’s Knowledge network or a documentary channel. Also I believe this might be Ari’s only documentary unless he shells out a sequel with some new seniors to show their stuff.

Advanced Style is definitely a charming documentary of elderly women who are young at heart in both the way they dress but the way they live too. One said fashion is about confidence. You can bet they’re full of that.

Also those interested in the Advanced Style blog, here’s the link.

VIFF 2014 Review: Queen And Country

All is fair in love and war in Queen And Country.

All is fair in love and war for a grown-up Billy Rowan (played by Callum Turner) in John Boorman’s Queen And Country.

Remember Hope And Glory from 1987? The sequel to it, Queen And Country, came out this year and it’s a good film on its own even for those who didn’t see Hope And Glory.

Seven years have passed since the end of World War II. Billy Rowan is now 18 to 20. Since the war he and his family live on an island surrounded by the Thames River which has become a popular spot for filming. Billy however is still a bit of a sissy for his age. However being commissioned for military service may just change that. Before he arrives for training, he meets another young man his age named Percy Hapgood on the train. However he also meets an older woman named Ophelia in the town nearby his training base.

During military service, he goes from simply training to actually having positions of authority, albeit in typewriting class. Both he and Percy do not take well at all to their general Redmond whom they feel to be a hard-heart with no sense of humor at all. Also at their age, they want to have fun with the ladies. A certain girl at the local pub Sophie fancies Billy but he’s off pursuing Ophelia.

Over time Billy gains the respect of the elders and the friendship with Percy grows to the point he helps Percy to steal an office clock Redmond values. Billy even makes returns to the family, one time bringing Percy along whom younger sister Dawn fancies and another time bring Ophelia. Despite all the fun, realities do settle into Billy. The age of Ophelia will prove to be an unavoidable factor. The truth about the prank to steal the clock will come to light for both Billy and Percy as one head officer had already been stripped of his title. And the reality of war becomes more and more eventual for Billy as Britain enters the Korean War. This paves the way for an end that’s both happy, sad and funny for all who are involved.

The best thing about the film is that it is excellently made and it is entertaining. Seeing a young male of 20 being drafted with the British armed forces and all the irresponsibility and shenanigans that come with it does make for an entertaining show. It’s also a treat for those who saw Hope And Glory to see Billy now all grown up and now being placed into the possibility of fighting in a war himself. Whatever happens all turns out for the humorous and things do work out in the end despite paying the consequences.

It also makes one question if this film is autobiographical from Boorman just like Hope And Glory. I will admit it doesn’t have the same special uniqueness Hope And Glory had. For those who remember, Hope And Glory was World War II through a child’s eyes. It was actually one of three films in 1987 that showcased World War II through a child’s eyes. The other two being the French film Au Revoir les Enfants and Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun which starred a 14 year-old Christian Bale and a not-yet-famous Ben Stiller. Queen And Country was not as unique as there have been other stories before. Nevertheless it’s very entertaining and more comedic than Hope And Glory.

This film is not too heavy of a political statement. However it does have some political messages with the potential of fighting in the Korean War. Another notable underlying message is the change of power after King George dies and the monarchy is transferred to Queen Elizabeth. We forget that Elizabeth was a mere 26 when she came onto the throne and a lot of people were not that confident in her at first. Interesting because she would be the one who turned the British Empire into a Commonwealth. Even British attitudes of what’s ‘manly’ also add to the theme of the film.

My big dilemma is I wonder why Boorman took so long to make a sequel to Hope And Glory. Queen And Country takes place at least seven years after the setting of Hope And Glory. It’s a wonder why such a film was not released back as say 1994. In fact I think that has to be the biggest weakness of the movie, its late release. I’m sure the movie can attract people who saw Hope And Glory back when it was first out but twenty-seven years is a long time to release such a follow-up story. Also I’m sure most of today’s movie crowds may not be familiar with the story of Hope And Glory. If it was released as say 1994 as I suggested, I’m sure there would be more of an audience interest especially since a lot of them can remember the adventures of Billy Rohan and would want to see how Billy grows up.

John Boorman again delivers a film of excellent direction and writing. Calum Turner did a very good job playing the grown-up Bill Rohan both in his character and as a young adult getting in trouble. Caleb Landry Jones was a scene-stealer as Billy’s partner in crime. Tasmin Egerton was very good as the seductive but confused Ophelia. Pat Shortt however did the best character acting as the shrewd Officer Redmond. The supporting actors also added into the film even if their parts were minor.

VIFF Note: The Vancouver International Film Festival is where Queen And Country made its North American debut. Aren’t we lucky?

Queen And Country is an excellent sequel to Hope And Glory, albeit badly timed. Nevertheless it was entertaining and worth watching.

VIFF 2014 Review: New Boobs

New Boobs is a documentary by Dutch film director Sacha Polak pursuing a revolutionary breast operation that isn't simply cosmetic. It's to prolong her life.

New Boobs is a documentary by Dutch film director Sacha Polak pursuing a unique breast operation that isn’t simply cosmetic. It’s to prolong her life.

At first when you hear the title New Boobs, you’ll think it’s about trying to conform to an idealized body types. However you shouldn’t misjudge it as such. It’s a lot more than that.

This is an autobiographical documentary by Dutch film maker Sacha Polak. Not even 30, Sacha has established herself as a rising director in the Netherlands with numerous shorts and films to her credit including one film, Hemel, which won her a FIPRESCI Prize at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival. However not even 30, she’s also hindered by a health problem of her own. Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 29 just months after Sacha was born. Sacha goes for gene testing if she possesses the BRCA1 gene. The gene poses as a huge threat to contracting breast cancer before the age of 40 and increases the threat of ovarian cancer by 40-60%. She gets the doctor’s results. It’s a positive.

There are a lot of things running through Sacha’s mind upon hearing the news. First is how long she’ll live. Second is whether she’ll be able to have a child with her boyfriend before she gets her ovaries removed: something she wants to do before she turns 35. Third is about her next production. However the one that stands out is what to have done with her breasts. Removal of both? Surgery with implants? An operation will greatly improve her odds of avoiding breast cancer. She goes to one plastic surgeon and learns of the implants that would be used in their operation. However she soon hears of a plastic surgeon in Ghent, Belgium who performs a unique breast operation that would involve removing the breast tissue and filling it with body fat. That operation becomes Sacha’s focus.

Things are frustrating as the surgeon moves her consulting from November to March. Finally she does have the consultation and she learns of the surgery and what it entails. She agrees to it. During the waiting time she tries to conduct her life as usual doing filmwork and keeping the relationship with her boyfriend intact. She eventually does have the first operation. She shows the outcome and talks over time how she’s felt about it and how others including her boyfriend have felt about it. She then has her second operation and is happy with the end result. The film ends with her talking about her thoughts on the future, about her next film, about having a child in time. However she’s happy that she has solved one problem in the meantime.

The film wasn’t strictly about a cosmetic operation. It was also about a woman fearing for her health and hoping that this operation that would prolong her life will come out well in the end. It’s also about the mother she never knew. Frequently the film shows images of her mother and even the book her mother wrote to Sacha before she died. It’s also about family relations such as the support she receives from her boyfriend that isn’t immune to friction. Even the fears from both her father and her stepmother are showcased. The father himself is especially concerned as his wife just fell ill, entered the hospital and died. It still upsets him to this day and it especially bears down on him sensing that it could happen to Sacha. This documentary is as much about the human factor as it is about the medical factor.

The theme about being born with a bad gene is very present in the movie. This was definitely a theme that would stick in a lot of audient’s heads especially after they had just seen a documentary short of a close friend of Jason Ritter and Bryce Dallas Howard learn of her positive diagnosis for a Huntington’s gene. After seeing that short before, we’re reminded of the hard luck and the physical threats people that have genes that make them prone to certain illnesses face.

This documentary is not meant for the big screen. This is mostly filmed with minor technical cameras and even Skype footage. This is a documentary that’s more meant for broadcast on a television channel like BC’s Knowledge network.

New Boobs is an intriguing documentary that is more than just about an operation. It’s about dealing with illness-prone genes and even family relations surrounding it. A reminder that the person doesn’t fight this alone.

NOTE: For those interested in Sacha’s next film, she had just finished filming Zurich and is due for release in the Netherlands in February 2015.

VIFF 2014 Review – The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir

The Other One is a documentary of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who often gets overlooked forJerry Garcia.

The Other One is a documentary of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who often gets overlooked for Jerry Garcia.

When you think of the Grateful Dead, who’s the first person that comes to mind? Jerry Garcia, right? Even though Jerry is the most famous member, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir is also a key part of the band. The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a documentary focusing on Weir both as a member of the Grateful Dead and his own personal life.

Bobby weir was born in San Francisco in 1947 and was adopted by a well-to-do family. He had an adopted brother and a sister born to his adoptive parents. However Booby grew up a very restless boy. He was expelled from schools within a matter of months. However he developed a passion for the guitar at a young age. There’s even mention of how excited he was when he got a guitar for Christmas. At a young age, he caught the attention of a band playing in the back alley of a Palo Alto spot. They were the Grateful Dead. They took a liking to Booby and the rest is history.

The funny thing about Bobby is that he was a bit of an oddity with the Dead. The other members of the Dead describe themselves as ‘uglies’ and Booby as a ‘cutie’ and they describe the Grateful Dead in its early days as ‘Bobby and the four uglies.’ It seemed like a good break to be welcomed into a band at such a young age but his parents were firm on his education and reminded the other dead members of that.

Over time the San Francisco music scene of the 60’s would rise and eventually become a permanent fixture on pop culture and even definers of the counterculture of that period. The Grateful Dead themselves would become synonymous with the psychedelia of that time. But even before that happens, the documentary pays attention to the band’s first few years trying to make a name for themselves. It reminds you they had to struggle with small gigs just like many other bands before them. Then they signed onto a big label. Then they went from playing in bars to playing in concert halls. Then came the Deadheads: a group of people that stayed loyal to the band year after year, decade after decade. A loyalty not seen before in rock ‘n roll.

Even despite playing music and hitting the big time, the documentary shows of the friendship Weir had with the band. It was of a family nature to the point that Weir almost ignored his own family. The family relation with the other bands did take challenges of their own. The first sign was in the 1980’s when they made a comeback which included a chart-topping album for the first time with 1987’s ‘In The Dark’ and the single ‘Touch Of Grey.’ There was the focus of Jerry Garcia’s cult-of-personality: something Jerry didn’t really welcome in his life. There were even times Bob took personal vacations. Then there was the time Jerry was going through rehab and Bobby acted as a support for him up until his dying day.

It doesn’t stop there. It also focuses on how Weir decided to finally settle down after decades of womanizing with Natascha Munter. The two wed when he was 52 and they have two daughters. Even then the trip wasn’t over. Weir tried to learn of his birth parents. He learned of his mother after she died that she had gave birth to 12 children. He was able to meet up with his birth father and the two have been close ever since.

This documentary is definitely one for people who like biographies of musicians or biography shows in particular.  No question Deadheads young and old will want to see this. In fact I remember seeing a wide range of people in the audience watching this documentary. It’s possible some of the seniors in the audience may have been amongst the first generation of Deadheads. If you only care about musicians and their star power, this is not for you. Also if you’re a Deadhead simply because of Jerry Garcia, this will remind you that you’re not a true Deadhead. It’s not just a biography but gives you a feel of the music Bob helped create and continues to play whenever he performs with surviving members of the Dead. The mix of biography with live performances of his music really adds into the feel of it.

The documentary doesn’t really offer anything original as far as documentary film making goes. What it does is showcase a musician’s life that is a life less ordinary. The stories of how he was adopted and how he got into a lot of trouble as a kid will surely raise eyebrows and even a giggle or two. However seeing how he was able to settle down in his older years and even meet up with his adoptive father in recent years shows this is no ordinary life. The intimacy of the biography doesn’t stop with his personal life. It also shows how Bob treated the other Dead members like family even more than he treated his own. In fact hearing from Jerry’s daughter how Bob was like a brother to Jerry up until his last days shows how much the other members meant to him.

The are some flaws with the documentary. Most noticeably, it focuses almost exclusively on his music with the Grateful Dead and hardly ever focuses on his music with his other bands like Kingfish, RatDog, Booby and the Midnites and Furthur. Also the documentary made him look like he was a swinger all his life before Natascha. There’s no mention of his seven-year relationship with Frankie Hart back in the 70’s.

The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a very good documentary to watch even if you’re not a fan of the Grateful Dead. It was time well spent for me. It reminds you there are a lot of great rock ‘n roll musicians that contributed a lot to the genre but don’t get the star status as many others.

VIFF 2014 Review: Reel Youth Film Festival

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You may remember at last year’s VIFF, I saw the Reel Youth Film Festival. The Reel Youth Fest was back again at this year’s VIFF. Again it was entertaining and creative.

Last year the main focus was to get the works of a lot of young filmmakers on screen. It didn’t matter if the quality was amateurish or professional. Its focus was to get the filmmaking images of the youth–whether it was making a point or just having fun– and get them on the big screen. This year did feature a lot of films done by the young. However it also featured a lot of productions by professional companies with a message to give to the young.

One of the top themes of the short films was bullying. This was especially the case as the United Way showcased the top three anti-bullying films by students. It was also focused on in a short film by a young Scottish director. Environmentalism was also a top theme of focus. With the controversial subject of shipping LNG’s, that was reflected in a BC film of three girls who have what starts as an innocent water balloon fight. There was the theme of youth representation which was focused on in a film done by five Hamilton teens. There was also the theme of digital media overkill that was shown in one young man’s film. There was also the theme of pressures young people face today–both socially and academically–as seen through the eyes of a young teen girl. Even teen love triangles were also focused. The theme of sexuality was included in a few films too including one on the topic of transgenderism from Portugal of a girl who always felt she was a boy.

The standout theme amongst the short films was to do about the promise and hope of a better tomorrow. That was reflected in one short film from Mexico about a boy who has to vacate his home to a new home. Another film showing the daily life of a Mexican-American girl’s mother while the  daughter narrates in the background shows hope for her family. It was also reflected in an Iranian film of a young boy who sees hope in a piece of trash. It was even focused creatively in one film of a Bengali boy doing pretend filming. There was even one film from ex-street youth from Sierra Leone who showed what happens when they get $2000 handed to them immediately. The outcome isn’t what they expected but they all learned from it. I felt the message of hope for the future was best reflected in a film about a Peruvian youth orchestra where the orchestra is their escape from the poverty and harsh lives.

Sometimes the films weren’t always thematic. Sometimes they were reflections of people. There were two films which were of two different elderly people living in Greater Vancouver. One was the first black quarterback in professional football. Another was of a woman who just turned 91. Both were nice stories to hear. There was even a film about children in a small town in the Northwest Territories. It was just them playing in the background as the stories they tell of themselves and their family are told. It was a simple film that’s a nice eye opener.

Then there were films that try to get creative. This is where the young directors started to have fun. One was a story of a hitman’s murder attempt with poisonous muffins gone wrong. Another of a toy car getting lost and going on an adventurous trip. Another an animated adventure of a polar bear. Even an animated story of a fish dinner gone awry. No major point to it. Just a chance to have some fun and even possibly make a future out of it.

The films either came from all over the world or were shot in many places around the world. It made for an eclectic look at the lives of young people from a global perspective. Needs and concerns differ from one place to the next but they all share that common desire for hope for the future. There were at least eight films from Canadian filmmakers. There were six of which that were done locally. There was even one that was done by New Westminster youth and shot in areas I frequently visit. That was the film where it appears they’re giving adults a glove. Then they show they’re spreading the love. It left me wondering when it was filmed and how I wasn’t there at the time. I’m sure if they gave me the glove at first, I too would think: “What on earth is this?”

Just like last year, they gave all the attendees a ballot to fill out of their Top 3 films and favorite local. It’s hard to play favorites but here’s what I voted for:

  1. Orchestra For A Dream – I rated it first because it had the best message of hope by showing a way out for disadvantaged youth.
  2. Sin Madre – The film of the young girls’ mother and the daughter’s admiration for her really made me like this a lot.
  3. What If There Was A Place? – Five Hamilton youth make their message heard that they demand to be taken seriously. Excellent two-minute film.
  • Best Local: And That’s Remarkable – A creative film that sends the message that you can either let bullying comments hurt you or you can defy them.

And there you go. That was the Reel Youth Film festival for this year. If you want to learn more about the Reel Youth Fest coming to your town or if you want to book a showing of your own, just go to the Reel Youth website.

VIFF 2014 Review: Housebound

Housebound is a thriller-comedy from New Zealand that's way better than what you can get from Hollywood.

Housebound is a thriller-comedy from New Zealand that’s put together way better than anything you can get from Hollywood.

Housebound was another one of those 11:30-at-the-Rio films I wanted to check out. It was my first of such. Glad I saw it. Very funny and entertaining.

Kylie Bucknell attempts to commit a robbery on an ATM. The robbery doesn’t work out as her partner is knocked out and she totals her getaway car thanks to driving fast over a big speed bump. The judicial system decides the best thing for her would be house arrest at her mother Miriam’s house. It seems like the right choice to do but the house is old and leaves Kylie with an eerie feeling.

Kylie’s feelings are justified when she hears Miriam call into a radio show talking of how weird it is around there. Then Kylie gets a taste of the eeriness as she notices things like an animated stuffed toy suddenly coming to life and even an old Motorola phone ringing out of nowhere. Even a dental partial has her suspicious. Kylie tries to alert authorities and others but they won’t believe her. Guests and other neighbors around the house are actually pleased at the possibility of a ghost.

Nevertheless Kylie and Miriam are persistent. The only one who believes her is Officer Grayson who knows of past incidents associated with this house such as this being a halfway house for young offenders. In fact the first person who’s the prime suspect in all of this is their shady neighbor. Despite his nasty attitude, he doesn’t register as a positive. However things become more suspicious when a friend of Miriam’s appears suspicious. Eventually the murderer is solved but not without an eerie chase.

For a horror-comedy like that to fly, it had to be done with the right acting, the right direction, and the right story. There have been horror-comedies done before but they would mostly come across as looking ridiculous in the end. Even Hollywood can get it wrong sometimes. This film got it right. From the start with a clumsy robbery attempt to the sense of something wrong in the house to the moment of climax at the end, it was done right. Even the parts intended to be dramatic didn’t come across as ridiculous nor did it dip into sentimentality that was too sappy. Looking back, it would be hard for me to see where the movie did things wrong. Even in terms of the gore, the film didn’t overdo it and it did its most gory part at the right time.

I will admit there were some parts that left me confused about what was happening. However they’d make sense in the end. Simply this is a movie that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Its intent was to deliver a humorous thriller/horror story and it came across as way better than something Hollywood would do. It even had excellent balance between the dramatic parts and the humorous parts. If it didn’t, it would look ridiculous. I would have to watch over and over again to see if it made a false note. Even the death of the perpetrator didn’t come across as ridiculous despite it actually being a ridiculous death.

The comedic acting was just right in order to make this movie work. Morgana O’Reilly needed to deliver a protagonist character that had dimension despite having one that could come across as wooden. Instead she did a good job with Kylie and it came across very well. Rime Te Wiata was the show-stealer as the mother. Her role as the mother added to the comedy to the film thanks to the excellence of the performance. The male actors also did a good job in their roles despite being the supporting players. This is Gerard Johnstone’s first feature -length film and it’s an excellent finished product. Very entertaining and very professional. Another great thing about the script is that it didn’t deliver an awful lot of one-liners and instead delivered more on situational comedy. That worked for the better in this movie.

Housebound is an excellent horror-comedy that both keeps you intrigued and makes you laugh without having ridiculous moments like so many other horror-comedies are prone to do.

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