Author Archive: Jon The Blogcentric

My Predictions For The 2019 Academy Award Nominations

Chocolate Oscar

DISCLAIMER: I posted my predictions the morning of Sunday the 12th. I have made some edits that evening after the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s ‘Critics Choice Awards’ announced their winners.

This is not the earliest I’ve heard of Oscar nominations announced, but it is earlier than usual. Glad things will be back to normal next year. So here are my predictions for the nominations of the 2018 Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

  • 1917
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • Marriage Story
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Parasite
  • Rocketman

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
  • Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
  • Sam Mendes – 1917
  • Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
  • Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST ACTOR

  • Antonio Banderas – Pain And Glory
  • Leonardo di Caprio – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Adam Driver – Marriage Story
  • Taron Egerton – Rocketman
  • Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

BEST ACTRESS

  • Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
  • Scarlett Johannson – Marriage Story
  • Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
  • Charlize Theron – Bombshell
  • Renee Zellweger – Judy

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
  • Al Pacino – The Irishman
  • Joe Pesci – The Irishman
  • Brat Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Song Kang-ho – Parasite

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell
  • Laura Dern – Marriage Story
  • Scarlett Johannson – Jojo Rabbit
  • Jennifer Lopez – Hustle
  • Margot Robbie – Bombshell

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
  • Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
  • Rian Johnson – Knives Out
  • Sam Mendes and Kristie Wilson-Cairns – 1917
  • Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster – A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
  • Greta Gerwig – Little Women
  • Todd Phillips and Scott Silver – Joker
  • Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit
  • Steve Zaillian – The Irishman

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Frozen II
  • How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
  • I Lost My Body
  • Missing Link
  • Toy Story 4

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Roger Deakins – 1917
  • Claire Mathon – Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
  • Phedon Papamichael – Ford v. Ferrari
  • Lawrence Sher – Joker
  • Robert Richardson – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Ruth E. Carter – Dolemite Is My Name
  • Julian Day – Rocketman
  • Jacqueline Durran – Little Women
  • Arianne Phillips – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Anna Mary Scott Robbins – Downton Abbey

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • American Factory
  • Apollo 11
  • For Sama
  • Honeyland
  • One-Child Nation

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland – Ford v. Ferrari
  • Fred Raskin – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Thelma Schoonmaker – The Irishman
  • Lee Smith – 1917
  • Yang Jin-mo – Parasite

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Honeyland (North Macedonia)
  • Les Miserables (France)
  • Pain And Glory (Spain)
  • Painted Bird (Czech Republic)
  • Parasite (South Korea)

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

  • 1917
  • Bombshell
  • Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Alexandre Desplat – Little Women
  • Hildur Guðnadottir – Joker
  • Randy Newman – Marriage Story
  • Thomas Newman – 1917
  • John Williams – Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Glasgow (No Place Like Home) – Wild Rose
  • “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
  • “Into The Unknown” – Frozen II
  • “Spirit” – The Lion King
  • “Stand Up” – Harriet

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • 1917
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • The Irishman
  • Joker
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • Joker
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Rocketman
  • Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

BEST SOUND EDITING

  • 1917
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • Joker
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • 1917
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • The Irishman
  • The Lion King
  • Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I not only made predictions for nominations, but also for possible upsetters for my main predictions. Some could be the type rewarded in minor awards but overlooked by major awards. And some could be shunned altogether only to take the Academy by surprise. Once again, I only predicted upsetters for all the major categories and any minor categories I had a hunch about. Enough of me rambling. Here is my list for the most likely upsetters:

BEST PICTURE

  • Knives Out
  • The Two Popes

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Greta Gerwig – Little Women
  • Todd Phillips – Joker

BEST ACTOR

  • Christian Bale – Ford v. Ferrari
  • Robert de Niro – The Irishman

BEST ACTRESS

  • Awkwafina – The Farewell
  • Lupita Nyong’o – Us

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Jamie Foxx – Just Mercy
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Nicole Kidman – Bombshell
  • Zhao Shuzhen – The Farewell

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller – Ford v. Ferrari
  • Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman – Booksmart

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Matthew Carnahan and Mario Correa – Dark World
  • Anthony McCarten – The Two Popes

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • The Lion King

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Dick Pope – Motherless Brooklyn
  • Rodrigo Prieto – The Irishman

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Mark Bridges – Joker
  • Jeny Temime – Judy

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • The Cave
  • Maiden

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Jeff Groth – Joker

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Atlantics (Senegal)
  • Truth And Justice (Estonia)

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

  • Joker
  • Judy

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Michael Abels – Us
  • Daniel Pemberton – Motherless Brooklyn

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Speechless” – Aladdin
  • “A Glass Of Soju” – Parasite

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • The Irishman

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Captain Marvel

And those are my predictions for the nominations of this year’s Academy Awards. The actual nominees will be revealed at 5:30 Los Angeles time Monday morning. Nobody likes waking up that early on a Monday, but this is the only time it’s worth it!

My Predictions For The 2019 Golden Globes

Golden Globe

This year’s awards calendar has events happening sooner than usual. The Oscars are happening February 9th, which is two or three weeks sooner than expected. Not this coming Monday, but the Monday after will announce the Oscar nominees. This year the Golden Globes are having their winners decided while most of us are still on holidays! Nevertheless it is a good time to focus on what the winners are and who the heavy favorites for the Oscars might be.

Once again, I will make my predictions for the winners with the ‘Most Likely Upsetter’ prediction reserved strictly for the film categories. So here we go:

FILM:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: 
The Irishman
Most Likely Upsetter: 1917

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Most Likely Upsetter: JoJo Rabbit

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Most Likely Upsetter: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
Most Likely Upsetter: Taron Egerton, Rocketman

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
Scarlet Johannson, Marriage Story
Most Likely Upsetter: Renee Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
Awkwafina, The Farewell
Most Likely Upsetter: Cate Blanchette, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Winner:
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
Most Likely Upsetter: Brad Pitt, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Winner: 
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Most Likely Upsetter: Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers

Best Director
Winner:
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Most Likely Upsetter: Boon Jong-ho, Parasite

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Winner:
Boon Jong-ho & Han Ji-won, Parasite
Most Likely Upsetter:Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner:
 Parasite (South Korea)
Most Likely Upsetter: The Farewell (U.S.A.)

Best Animated Feature Film
Winner:
 How To Train Your Dragon: Homecoming
Most Likely Upsetter: The Missing Link

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
Winner:
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again”, Rocketman
Most Likely Upsetter: “Stand Up”, Harriet

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Winner:
Hildur Gudnadottir, Joker
Most Likely Upsetter: Randy Newman, Marriage Story

Those who know me well enough know I will predict the winners for the television categories but not predict the most likely upsetters. So my predictions for the winners:

TELEVISION:

Best TV Movie or Miniseries: Chernobyl

Best TV Series, Drama: The Crown

Best TV Series, Comedy: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama: Bill Porter, Pose

Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy: Bill Hader, Barry

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Jodie Comer, Killing Eve

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Jared Harris, Chernobyl

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: Andrew Scott, Fleabag

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie: Emily Watson, Chernobyl

 

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the Golden Globes. Some may appear to be locks but anything can happen Sunday night. Ricky Gervais is hosting so we’ll see who wins.

Christmas Movie Review: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

wonderfullife

George Bailey (played by James Steward) learns that life is worth living in It’s A Wonderful Life.

This is something new I thought I would try. I thought I would try reviewing a few Christmas movies around this time. The first movie I thought I would do is It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s a Christmas staple, but I finally saw it in its entirety last year! Here are my thoughts.

It begins as Heaven is alerted of prayers for a George Bailey from Bedford Falls, New York. As it reaches Heaven, the angel assigned to save George is Clarence Odbody. Clarence is a second-class angel who needs to earn his wings. George is about to commit suicide and it’s up for Clarence to save him to earn his wings. Clarence needs to learn about George, so he learns more about his life. He learns that George saved his younger brother Harry from drowning in a sledding accident, but lost hearing in his left ear. Also in George’s younger years, he prevented a druggist Mr. Gower from giving away a prescription after it was accidentally poisoned.

As George enters adulthood, he plans to travel the world and visit college. He is re-introduced to Mary Hatch, his childhood crush, by Harry at his graduation party and the two hit it off. However his plans have to be put on hold after his father Peter suffers a stroke and dies. Peter was head of Bailey Brothers’ Building And Loan. George agrees to continue it, mainly to keep it from being overrun by the ruthlessly hypercompetitive banker Henry Potter.

George wants to keep the Building And Loan business a family business as he promises brother Harry a job after college, and even resorts to hiring his incompetent uncle Billy. The times pass and George is successful in keeping the Building And Loan active, but not without his challenges. He had competition from Potter to face, including a tempting deal from Potter himself, although he knew Potter’s true attempt was to shut him down. He is understand when Harry receives a bigger job offer from another place. He build Bailey Park: a neighborhood of housing for low-income people while Potter made apartments of overpriced slums. He fell in love with Mary and married, eventually fathering four children.

World War II happens. George can’t fight because of his deaf ear, but Harry joins the Navy and earns a medal of honor by shooting down a kamikaze plane. Uncle Billy causes a big blunder on the day Harry is to receive his heroes’ welcome. Billy taunts Potter with the newspaper honoring Harry. Billy places $8000 to be deposited in a newspaper only to pick up the wrong paper to give to the teller. Potter knows what happened but says nothing and sees it as a chance to get the Building And Loan once and for all.

George most feels the heat. He learns that this will face scandal and that the Building And Loan will crumble. George even faces an arrest from Potter. All George does is take out his frustration on the family and on others. Then George gets drunk at the bar and receives a punch from the husband of the woman he told off over the phone. George feels he’s worthless and he needs to kill himself. As George is about to jump, he notices a man who has landed in the river. He goes to help. He learns the man is Clarence and Clarence introduces him as his guardian angel. At first George doesn’t believe him. Clarence tries to find ways to convince George not to commit suicide but they appear to be going nowhere.

Finally George says “I wish I was hadn’t been born.” That’s the perfect opportunity for Clarence; show George life if he had never been born. He shows him that Bedford Falls would be Potterville: a dark and corrupt town with amoral people. Mr. Gower was just released from prison for manslaughter, because George wasn’t there to stop him from poisoning. The Building And Loan closed down because George was not there to take over after his father’s death. George’s mother doesn’t recognize him and says Uncle Billy was institutionalized after the Building And Loan failed. The area that was Bailey Park is a cemetery and Harry Bailey is buried there; drowned from the sledding accident because no George to save him. I addition, the soldiers from the transport ship died because Harry wasn’t there to save them. Finally he learns Mary is an unmarried librarian and screams for the police as she sees George a stranger.

It’s after seeing life had he not existed that George decides not to commit suicide. He’s finally convinced Clarence is his guardian angel and begs for his life back. Back in the full present, George goes back to his house, grateful to see Mary and his children and unafraid to face arrest. He’s happy to see his family and Uncle Billy was able to get the towns people to pay the missing $8000. Right as the sheriff is about to arrest George, he sees the amount of money raised and rips up the arrest warrant. Harry returns and toasts George as the ‘richest man in town.’ In the pile of money, George sees a novel Clarence carried. Inside the novel is an inscription from Clarence: “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.” The daughter notices the sign that an angel has earned his wings. George knows it’s Clarence.

This is a film that gets replayed Christmas after Christmas. Hard to believe when it first came out, it did not do so hot at the box office. Over time, it would become beloved for many reasons such as its Christmas setting or even how it related to how people sometimes see themselves as failures. That feeling can often trigger around Christmas time. The film shows one example of a person who sees themselves around Christmas as a failure. George Bailey did a lot of great things throughout his life and meant a lot to a lot of people, especially people who feared the mere idea of the town being overrun by Henry Potter. Then a mistake happens and Henry sees it as the perfect opportunity to get George. George actually had it good for most of his life. Some people could even argue he’s the angel of Bedford Falls. But now that George fears arrest, all of that doesn’t matter anymore and George wants to take his own life. It’s Clarence who shows him the world had he not existed that changes George.

Sometimes it leaves you thinking there would be less suicides if people saw all the accomplishments they did in their lifetime and knew how many people loved them. It’s so easy to get caught and brought down in the ‘now’ of things.

The film’s ‘beloved’ status was not immediate. It didn’t do so hot at the box office. It would be relay on television around Christmas that would lead it to become one of the most beloved Christmas movies ever. The film was nominated for five competitive Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for Frank Capra and Best Actor for James Stewart. It was given an honorary Oscar for technical achievement for the  effect of simulating falling snow. There have been numerous depictions and versions of the story redone in media from a Married With Children episode to a cartoon of The Smurfs to the Billy Joel video of “You’re Only Human.” There have been dozens and dozens of adaptations. There have even been spoofs such as one sitcom, one ‘guardian angel’ shows an oafish male how life would be if he didn’t exist… and it’s better for everyone! That’s comedy for you!

Looking back, it’s better that the film was made in 1946 than today. 1946 would be more welcoming of a story like this. Stories of people starting as down and out only to end on a happy note were quite common and quite welcome at the time. If It’s A Wonderful Life was released today, some people would think of it having a corny premise. A lot of people don’t buy into guardian angels today. Some would find the ending of the film too hokey. Even that ending where people actually give money to keep George Bailey from being arrested would seem too farfetched for today’s people to buy. Even I don’t think you’d see the same monetary support for a fallen person if what happened to George would happen to someone else today. It’s a film that came out at the right time and had what it took to go the distance all these years. Plus it’s a good reminder of past great talents and stars like James Steward, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers. Interesting enough, Travers would retire from acting three years after the movie was released!

It’s easy to see why It’s A Wonderful Life is one Christmas movie that stands the test of time. Even if the ending seems too farfetched to happen in today’s world, it’s good it came out when it did and grew in its legendary status over the years.

 

2019 Grey Cup Preview

Grey Cup

Sunday November 24th will be the 107th contesting of the Grey Cup: Canada’s big day of football. This will be another contesting of East vs. West, as it should be. This time East is represented by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and West will be represented by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

FIFTH TIME FOR CALGARY

This Grey Cup will mark the fifth time Calgary’s McMahon Stadium will host the Grey Cup. The stadium opened in 1960 and has undergone two renovations and four expansions. In addition to four previous Grey Cups (the last one being in 2009), the Stadium has also hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games of Calgary and was part of the Ozzy Osbourne-led 2008 Monsters Of Rock tour. It normally seats 35,400 but can be expanded to 46,020. The CFL was originally planning to have the Grey Cup located to October two years ago, but that plan didn’t go through.

The four-day Grey Cup festival in Calgary started back on November 20th and is to continue until Saturday November 23rd. It will be centred in downtown Calgary and leading to McMahon Stadium. There will be forty festivities and events including a family-friendly festival, pancake breakfast and traditional team parties. There will be a special Grey Cup rodeo at the Stampede Corral and the Fusion Music Festival. The anthem will be sung by Lindsay Kelly with the Calgary Stampede Showband and the half-time show will have Keith Urban.

And Now For The Game

As I mentioned at the beginning, it will be Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Basically a rematch of the 1984 Grey Cup! The TiCats are the heavy favorites as they led the 2019 Season, but Winnipeg has been a team of surprises. Can they surprise at the Grey Cup too?

WEST: WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

Winnipeg BB

Winnipeg is the surprise of the Grey Cup. At the very end of the 2019 CFL season, Winnipeg was third in the West, but the rankings were very tight as Winnipeg was 11 wins and 7 losses while group-topper Calgary was 13-5.

Before the playoffs, started, the chances for Winnipeg looked glum as they lost four of their final six games, including Calgary 33-37. Calgary would be Winnipeg’s opponent in the first playoff game. This appeared to be Calgary’s for the taking as the Bombers lost both regular-season games against them, but Winnipeg pulled an upset with 35-14. For the Western final, they had to face Saskatchewan; another team that beat them in both regular-season games. Winnipeg seized control in the first quarter and maintained good enough attack and defense to deliver a 20-13 win.

Winnipeg has not won a Grey Cup since 1990. Here in the Grey Cup, they will be facing yet another team they lost to in both their regular-season games against them. They could pull off an upset if they start with Zach Collaros and Andrew Harris. Keep in mind Collaros led Saskatchewan to a win over Hamilton. So there’s plenty of chance for an upset over here. However it’s about having the right lineup at the start and the team to deliver.

EAST: HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Hamilton TC

This year has been Hamilton’s year. They led the regular season with fifteen wins and three losses. They only had to play the Eastern final game in order to qualify for the Grey Cup and they did so in brilliant fashion: winning 36-16.

Like Winnipeg, Hamilton has had a long wait since their last Grey Cup: back in 1999. Hamilton beat Winnipeg in both regular-season games against them. Hamilton showed brilliant play in their win against Edmonton. Hamilton can do it again against Winnipeg. They have some of the best talent in the CFL. However some of their best players like Brandon Banks and Tevin Mitchell are injured. Winnipeg could use that as an advantage.

FINAL PREDICTION

Hamilton has been the team that’s been the most on all year and they show no signs of letting go. Winnipeg, on the other hand, appears to have arrived like never before at the playoffs and could carry their streak of success to a Grey Cup win. However I will have to go with my best instincts and pick Hamilton to win 35-19.

So there you have it. There’s my prediction for the 107th Grey Cup. However it will all be decided in McMahon Stadium on Sunday. Anything can happen.

VIFF 2019 Wraps Up On A Great Note

CinemaYep, it’s been a month since VIFF 2019 ended, but the enjoyment of the Festival is still there. The VanCity Theatre will bring back a lot of the films that were shown during the festival. I hope to catch what I missed out the first time.

The 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival ended on Friday October 11th. There were big crowds throughout the festival as the films had a lot to attract. There were over 300 films from 72 countries or regions.

This year, there weren’t the Hub events, but there were a lot of ‘VIFF Live’ events. One was a lecture from rapper Chuck D, another was a pair of humorous film critics, a couple of airings of some cult classics, and even a feminist read of Some Like It Hot. There were two Master Classes organized by the Directors Guild of Canada. The first was with Atom Egoyan and the second with Batwoman director Holly Dale. Creator Talks were back and they ranged from costumers to producers and sound designers to even decision-makers like networkers, broadcasters and executive producers. VIFF Immersed was back but it was very restrictive in attendance. I will elaborate on that later.

The award winners were announced at the closing gala on Friday:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus

WINNER: The World Is Bright (dir. Ying Wang)

Special Mention: Anthem Of A Teenage Prophet (dir. Robin Hays)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by CreativeBC, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open (dirs. Elle-Maija Tailfeathers & Kathleen Hepburn)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA, AFBS & William F. White
WINNER: Elle-Maija Tailfeathers for The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open

Canadian Film Awards

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada

WINNER: One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk (dir. Zacharias Kunuk)

Special Mention: Blood Quantum (dir. Jeff Barnaby)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Murmur (dir. Heather Young)

Special Mention: Kuesippan (dir. Myriam Verrault)

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger (dir. Alanis Obomsawin)

Special Mention: My Dads, My Moms and Me (dir. Julia Ivanova)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Side Street Post
WINNER: At The Bottom Of The Sea (dir. Caroline So Jung Lee)

Special Mention: The Physics Of Sorrow (dir. Theodore Ushev)

Most Promising Director of a Canadian Short Film
Presented by Delta Air Lines
WINNER: Acadiana (dirs. Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin)

Special Mention: Labour/Leisure (dirs. Jessica Johnson, Ryan Ermacora)

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: Resistance Fighters (dir. Michael Wech)

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award

Presented by RBC and Cineplex

WINNER: The Pollinators (dir. Peter Nelson)

Women In Film And Television Award

Artistic Merit Award

WINNER: The Whale And The Raven (dir. Mirjam Leuze)

Audience Awards

Super Channel People’s Choice Award
WINNER: Parasite (dir. Boon Jong Hoo)

VIFF Most Popular International Documentary
WINNER: Coup 53 (dir. Taghi Amirani)

VIFF Most Popular Canadian Feature
WINNER: Red Snow (dir. Marie Clements)

VIFF Most Pupular Canadian Documentary Award
WINNER: Haida Modern (dir. Charles Wilkinson)

As for my volunteer experience, it was a unique experience volunteering for the Centre for the Performing Arts this year. This was the cinema that would have the biggest attractions this year. The very first film I officiated for was the Opening Gala and for Guest Of Honour. Yes, one of the best things about volunteering for VIFF: seeing Gala shows! For that, I was mostly in charge of line control and directing people to standing in the right line. It went quite well. After the show, I was one of the people who collected ballots for people to rate the film on a scale of 1-5.

I was scheduled for a total of four shifts, but there were some changeabouts on the schedule. So that meant after the Opening Gala, I only did two more. The second Centre shift was a case where I did line control for the film Parasite. That was something because the show sold out well in advance. I had to direct people to not only stand in line at the end of the line, but make way for the entrances of the stores. The line-up was three-quarters around the block before things got moving. I did mark the end of the line well and direct them all into the theatre. By the time I got them all in, I was too tired to see Parasite for myself. My third shift at the Centre involved scanning tickets for two shows. Scanners worked fine during the first show, but mine couldn’t work for the second show. So my shift ended there. That gave me enough luck to see Mr. Jones.

I did three at the Centre, but volunteers are to do a minimum of four. I was able to make up for it by doing three other shifts whose requests were sent via email. I took two of them at the Playhouse and another at the main VanCity theatre. Both times at the Playhouse, it was a case of giving people ballots before the show and taking the ballots after the show. For VanCity, I did it for a three hour-long documentary that had an intermission. It was possible to take ballots during the intermission, but I got very few. Each time I took ballots, I joked “This is one case where democracy works!”

Once again, there was a volunteer party one week later. It was good as I was able to make conversation with people I volunteered with. I also met up with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time. They served Chinese food, BC wine and craft beer. There wasn’t anything too big for a show. Just music played by the DJ. Nevertheless it was a good night.

As for the films I saw, here’s a list of them as well as the hyperlinks to the reviews. I have the country of origin in brackets and an asterisk marking those that are their country’s official Best International Feature Film entry for this year’s Oscars:

I fulfilled my film-watching goals for this VIFF. Shorts segment? I did it on the first Sunday with To Live In Infamy. Feature-length Canadian film? I did it on the Opening Gala and added one more in the final week. A country’s official Oscar entry in the Best International Feature Film category? I saw three. Minimum ten films? I saw eighteen in total.

I didn’t see everything I wanted. I was hoping to see a VIFF Immersed exhibit again this year. This time instead of the Centre for Digital Media, it was at the Annex Centre and there was a limit of fifteen tickets per ninety-minute exhibit. The one show I had the availability to see was sold out online and I was told to come back for the volunteer line-up. However it was a school showing and it was all reserved. Whenever I don’t get what I want, I try to find a show to see at the last minute. That’s how I saw To Live To Sing. Volunteers had a very good chance of getting into shows for free, but it was always a risk with films in huge demand. That would be my case when I wanted to see Those Who Remained. All the passholders and ticket holders filled the theatre and there was no room for volunteers. You take your chances.

One additional thing about my filmwatching. I was hoping to have again this VIFF that they did away with this year was the late-night showings at the Rio Theatre. The VIFF would have shows on the Friday or Saturday nights that started at either 11:00 or 11:30 and usually ended at 1am or shortly after. They would be films that were part of their Altered States selections. I would take full advantage of it and even watch the one shown on the last day of the VIFF as a way to end my VIFF experience that year with a bang. They didn’t have them this year because they didn’t really draw that huge of numbers. Despite that, I was able to see two or three of the Altered States films at the Rio during the 930/945 times. For Friday the 11th, I saw Greener Grass at the Rio which started shortly after 7. However I didn’t end my VIFF at the Rio. Instead I ended my VIFF at the Playhouse with The White Snake. Despite the change, I still ended my VIFF with a bang!

It’s funny how back in 2012 when the Granville theatre was about to close, newspapers said VIFF was in trouble. It’s 2019 and the VIFF is still active. It does make steps to adapt to the changes but it’s doing very well. Again in 2019, VIFF did a great job of bringing the world of film to the big screen. For many, this may be the only chance to see such films on the big screen. There have already been big screen releases for Jojo Rabbit, The Lighthouse, and Parasite, and there are more to come like White Snake. However we’re in a time nowadays where more is expected of a film to hit the big screen. The pressures of blockbuster superhero movies and other action films to bring in box office money demonstrates how much more restrictive box office releases are. There will be a lot of films at this film festival that will either be shown on Netflix or other streaming sources. The numbers of such are increasing. It’s a very tight time for independent film. It’s not like the breakthrough years of the late-80’s or early 90’s. It’s a good thing we have film festival like the VIFF to give such films a chance for better exposure.

So to conclude, I have to say it was an excellent experience I had this year. I didn’t have the Platinum Pass this year and I didn’t see everything I wanted, but I was happy with what I saw. No real disappointments. No film I thought was a waste of my time. VIFF 2020 is anticipated to be from September 24th and go until October 9th. Yes, I plan to be back to watch and to volunteer!

VIFF 2019 Review: The White Snake (白蛇:缘起)

WHITE-SNAKE

The White Snake is the story of a young woman who is destined to be a snake spirit, but is torn between her destiny and the man she loves.

“Your fate may be in stone, but you choose how you live.”

I ended my VIFF 2019 experience by seeing The White Snake at the Playhouse theatre. I wanted to treat myself to something imaginative. It was excellent and breathtaking to watch.

Blanca is a young assassin in white clothes. She is a snake spirit as the ‘White Snake’ and is able to assume human form, but she can’t achieve her goal of immortality. The answer to her goal of immortality lies in a memory of centuries ago, which she cannot recall. Her sister Verta, who is a ‘green snake’ spirit, gives her a magical hairpin that allows her to go back in time to the Tang Dynasty to get her answer.

Back in time, Blanca finds herself waking up in a village. She is surprised to learn she’s in what’s called ‘Snake Catcher Village.’ She comes across a handsome villager names Sean and his dog DuDou. Sean rescued her from a rock by the waterfalls. She falls for Sean, but is unaware that Sean is a snake-hunter. He has been ordered to hunt snakes for the Dark General and the Little General as they believe the snakes hold the key to supreme power.

Soon Sean faces an attack from a snake demon. Blanca stops the demon, only to learn it’s Verta. Sean is surprised and Dudou is convinced she’s a demon. Sean is convinced Blanca is not a demon, despite all he knows about her. Nevertheless Verta reminds Blanca that her true nature will come out when there will be a battle between the snakes and the Dark General’s army. Soon Sean learns who Blanca is as she assumes snake form. Foxy Boss tells Blanca a terrible secret about being a ‘demon:’ gods, people, and even other demons want to kill you.

Will Sean still love Blanca? There will be a battle between the snake catchers and the snake spirits very soon. The Snake General wants Blanca to be extinguished since she wants to defy her snake spirit. Blanca is heartbroken and feels she’s doomed to her demon spirit forever, but Sean sees it in his heart to love Blanca and see her for who she really is. The film ends with a battle in thrilling fashion and in a romantic mood.

This film is a 3D animation big-screen adaptation of the traditional four-chapter Legends Of The White Snake. What I liked best about the film is that the film doesn’t just present a good eye-catching drama, but it also possesses a lot of elements of Chinese culture and Chinese mythology. The imagery of animal spirits within a person is very common in Chinese storytelling and Chinese folklore. I’m not familiar with all of Chinese folklore but I can see a lot of familiar traits of it in the film. Especially the animal spirits that exist in the humans. The film does it in a very entertaining and a very mesmerizing way. The 3D animation doesn’t hurt it at all. In fact it makes it very eye-catching and even brings the audience into the story.

The film appears like a common Chinese fable meant to tell the story of bad and good. However the story is also about rejecting a destiny all for the love of a man. She was a snake spirit; he was a snake hunter. It shows how the heart can win over a person even if they are destined to be something else. The film is mostly a drama and the film succeeds in being a dramatic story. However there are some humorous moments. Most of the humor comes from Dudou, especially after he’s able to speak. It does seem like a must to have some humor in an animated film. Kids will be watching. The film doesn’t seem to get as suggestive as parts of Children Of The Sea does, but there are some suggestive scenes. The story tries more to capture the essence of love between the two. Nevertheless the suggestiveness and the violence in the film leaves me thinking this will get a PG rating.

This is an excellent film done by Light Chaser Animation. Excellent job by directors Amp Wong (credited as Huang Jiakang) and Ji Zhao. Amp has animation credits with doing the Green Lantern series. Zhao has more credits in doing editorial work in film and this is his first direction of animation. Here the directors and the Animation studio deliver a great, colorful eye-catching story that’s a delight to watch and will capture your imagination. The story by first-time scriptwriter DaMao is also excellent. It captures the story and the essence of Chinese mythology well while giving an ideal story for big-screen animation.

The vocal talent is also there. Zhang Zhe did a very good job at making Blanca sound mystical. Yang Tianxuang was also good at making Xu Xuan sound as romantic as he looked. He Zhang was great in adding the humor to the film with DuDou and Zheng Xiaopu was great at bringing out the deviousness of Foxy Boss. The music from Guo Haowei and the songs sung by Sean are also a delight to hear and add to the film’s mystique.

It’s interesting to note that the White Snake cost 80 million Chinese Yuan (roughly $11.4 million US) to make but made 447 million Yuan (about $63.9 million US) in China alone. It will be released in North America starting only with Los Angeles on November 15th and in limited release starting November 29th. English dubs will be in the release as Stephanie Sheh will be the English-language voice for Blanca and Paul Yen will voice Ah Xuan or Sean. Having seen the film in Mandarin with subtitles, I would see the English-language one, but I would try to see which one in more magical. Also those who watch the film when it comes out, I highly recommend you stay to watch the credits. Yes, there is a scene in between the credits featuring Foxy Boss that leaves you convinced there will be a sequel coming out. In fact the Mandarin title of the film means ‘White Snake: The Origin.’

The White Snake is a film with a lot of beauty and intense thrills, but it also has some humor and passion. It succeeds in doing what an animated film should do and make you escape into another world.

And that does it! There wraps up the last of the films I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival. I will be posting my wrap-up blog very soon.

VIFF 2019 Review: The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会)

Wild Goose Lake

The Wild Goose Lake is a story of a Chinese crime boss on the hunt, played by Hu Ge (right), and the woman who loves him, played by Gwei Lun-mei (left).

I was volunteering when they were showing The Wild Goose Lake. I found it intriguing to see a crime drama coming from China.

Zhao Zenong is part of a crime ring in a district of Wuhan. One night, he goes to a dingy amphitheater in the basement of a hotel. There the men are talking about the latest techniques in motorcycle theft. One man tries to direct men to certain areas of the district to conduct their crime. Two men squabble over a lucrative area and then an all-out fight ensues. The fight is brutal and bloody with no one dying. However as some of the men go riding off in their motorcycles chasing each other down, one is beheaded by a rail at a fast speed. Meanwhile a policeman who arrives is accidentally shot by Zhao in a tourist garden.

In the city, a young woman named Liu Aiai works as a prostitute. She catches Zhao’s eye. Zhao propositions her and even gives her one of his cigarettes. Turns out Liu is a ‘bathing beauty’ who’s pimp is a mob boss named Huahua. Huahua tells Liu to deliver a message to Zhao’s wife. He has placed a hefty dead-or-alive price on Zhao because the decapitated man in one of Hua’s men. Also after the shooting of the cop, the police now have a dead-or-alive reward of 300,000 Yuan for the capture of Zhao and is made public on television. Captain Liu alert a team of police dressed for undercover work that he may be in the Wild Goose Lake area: an area known for its lawlessness.

Sometime later, Aiai is at a night market participating in line dancing with glow shoes. Just as she’s dancing to ‘Rasputin,’ she notices Zhao’s wife. She meets her to tell the news. Then right in the middle of dancing, another shootout occurs through a raid of the bikers for Zhao. Zhao escapes but the bikers shoot one man.

Zhao knows all the details. He knows it when he sees all the surveillance cameras and what’s up. Men inside the crime ring want to claim the reward, with Zhao dead. One night, he meets with Aiai by the Lake.  Zhao tells her that if she turns him in, the reward money goes to his wife. Despite this, Aiai wants the reward to start a better life. Zhao has been in hiding since he’s been aware he’s a wanted man by more than one source. He does not his wife or young son to be a victim of this mess. However his own mob boss doesn’t like Zhao hiding himself. His boss still needs him to do things. The police confront Zhao’s wife and hope to use her to get Zhao in. Hua wants to use Zhao’s wife as bait for his own reward, but she breaks down over all this. A heist by the police turns up nothing. Zhao is shot, but is able to remove the bullet and bandage himself up.

One day, Zhao meets with Aiai at the lake in a boat. They share what could be one last cigarette. They caress and Zhao confesses everything to her. That night one of Hua’s men grabs Aiai and rapes her. The man is then shot by Zhao. But right in Wuhan’s market area, the police are on the chase for him. Zhao knows he has to make a run for it. He tries to make a run for the Lake, but is shot and killed. The police arrive led by Captain Liu and the news media comes as well. In the aftermath, Aiai and Zhao’s widow are seen together, and smiling.

There have been crime stories before. Most of them have been the common cat-and-mouse story that we see again in this film. Zhao has a ransom on his head and almost everybody surrounding him from law authorities to rivals to people even of his own crime syndicate want the big-money reward. It’s not just about a big crime boss trying to avoid being killed. It’s also how through Aiai we see another side of him. The outside sees a heartless criminal who’s hard to catch and hard to kill. When he’s with Liu, we see a man with feelings of love and sensitivity. A man who does have frailty and knows that he’s not that invincible. A man who shared with her more than just cigarettes. A man who wants to keep his wife and child out of his doings. Also unlike most of the other men in the crime world, he knew how to treat a lady right. Very rarely do we see a film that shows a sensitive side to a crime boss. The film does have the ability to be labeled a romance as it can be labeled a crime thriller.

The film is not just about the boss Zhao. It’s also about Aiai Liu: the woman in between. Aiai Liu is the woman who has Zhao’s heart. Zhao may be married to another woman, but it’s Aiai who Zhao drops his feelings of egotistical invincibility and shows he has a heart. However Aiai knows being involved with Zhao will make her a target. She knows men will want to target her and even violate her. She appears to know of the risk and is willing to make that risk. The smile between her and Zhao’s wife at the end does make one wonder. Are they smiling because they’re finally free? Or are they smiling in remembrance of Zhao?

The film succeeds not only as a drama, but also from its many cinema angles. The bike chases add to the excitement. The times between Zhao and Aiai add a calmness to the film at the right time and done in top notch film noir style. The addition of many of the shootings happening near a tourist section of the Lake and with surrounding animals add to the storytelling. The use of the Lake being where Zhao shows his frailty and fearfulness around Aiai also adds. The use of lights and colors in various shots, the sights of the worn buildings of the market town, and images of trains passing which has been done numerous times in crime stories also add to the film and its quality. It’s almost as if film noir has a Chinese quality added to it.

This is an accomplishment for writer/director Diao Yinan. He’s had two decades of renowned success with Black Coal, Thin Ice winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Here he takes on a crime story and does it with remarkable style. The story may be confusing and overdrawn in some areas, like Aiai’s rape, but he presents it in excellent fashion. Diao may have a lot of common elements of film noir in the past in this film, but it’s adding these elements to this film that shows a Chinese filmmaker can create film noir and make it look like his own.

One thing that’s rare in action films is deep acting, there was a lot here. Ge Hu was excellent as Zhao Zenong. He did a great job in making him go from this fearless invincible criminal a troubled man haunted by his impending death whenever he’s around Aiai. Lun-Wei Kwei was also very good as the woman caught in the middle who has feelings for Zhao, but also knows she has her own job to do. Also kudos to the cinematography of Dong Jingsong and the art direction of Qiang Liu.

This film was a nominee for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was also a nominee for a major prize at the San Sebastian Film fest. There have been times during the film or even after the film I wondered how would a story about organized crime in China make it to the big screen? Would the Chinese government be concerned and want the film to be censored? This film is planned for release in China on December 6th of this year.

The Wild Goose Lake is a crime drama of the pursuit of chasing down a big crime boss for the sake of a reward. However the story is a lot more as it’s about the woman he loves and her feelings towards him, and living in the same criminal world he lives in.

VIFF 2019 Review: Children Of The Sea (海獣の子供)

Children Of The Sea

A young girl meets two ‘boys of the ocean’ who give her a summer to remember in Children Of The Sea.

Very rarely do I see animated films at the VIFF. It’s usually off my radar or I catch it by chance. I was fortunate to see Children Of The Sea from Japan. This is an excellent film to watch.

The film begins in the summer. 14 year-old Ruka is not happy spending it at home as her mother just drinks beer. She finds a break from it as she spends the days as part of her school’s camp. There she’s able to let out her energy. During a game of field handball, Ruka performs aggressively and suddenly trips, skinning her knee. The girl that tripped her did it by accident, but laughs at her. This infuriates Ruka to the point she gets her in the face in the next tackle. Ruka is taken off the game and the leader of the sports camp takes her out of the camp for the rest of the summer. Now there’s nothing for Ruka to do before summer’s end.

Ruka’s father, who is mostly away, takes her and bring her to the marine biology lab she works at. Ruka is blown away from all the sea animals that she sees there. However she notices a human. He’s a boy of dark skin and he seems to live in the waters and treat them like it’s his playground. His name is Umi. Her father tells her Umi was raised at sea by a dugong. Soon Ruka starts swimming with Umi during her summer days. The two develop a close friendship. Umi has a light-skinned blond-haired blue-eyed brother named Sora who’s also a boy of the sea. The boys of the sea are studies at the aquarium. Some of the scientists are concerned for their life, while other scientists at the research facility selfishly hope the boys will lead them to the Birth Festival– an underwater festival celebrating sea life — and hope to study it in order to advance oceanic sciences.

One day, Ruka is swimming with Umi and Sora in the ocean with one of the workers carefully supervising them shipside, while the more selfish scientists watch from the coast in curiosity. Ruka soon learns from Umi that they don’t know how much longer they will live and she is shocked. During her time with the two boys, the three decide to pursue a shooting star-like ‘will-o-the-wisp’ and it’s an experience like no other. She even kisses one of the boys.

However as summer is nearing its end, the day soon comes of the Birth Festival. Ruka fears this could be the day Umi and Sora die. Nevertheless the three enter into the water as Umi and Sore feel they have to be a part of this. The festival is deep in the ocean and begins in spectacular fashion. It is a celebration for the eye to behold. Even Ruka is able to swim with whale sharks. However as it ends, Umi and Sora are nowhere to be seen and Ruka is heartbroken. even the selfish scientists regret their pursuits. Ruka meets with her father and he promises to patch things up between him and her mother. Summer ends with a heartbroken Ruka walking to school. But just as she sees a handball, her newfound courage is very visible.

Anime is a very popular version of animation. It has a worldwide following in the way it does animation and for the way it tells stories. Usually on the internet, there’s a lot of celebrating of anime with some of the darker more disturbing stories. It’s very rare that the tamer more family-friendly stories get their notice, as well as their acclaim. This film may have some mature themes and wouldn’t entirely be 100% family friendly, but it is a film that will deliver an entertaining and mesmerizing story for people of various ages. The film is also a reminder of the qualities 2D-animation still possesses. We may live in a time where 3-D animation is the norm for feature films right now, but the film shows that 2-D animation is just as captivating and is also able to take the audience to another world. I did notice some imperfections in the film that are common in anime and wouldn’t be allowed in 3D animation. Nevertheless this film had the right images, the right story and the right effects to take you to another world: the mystical world of the ocean.

One thing about animation is that for it to succeed on screen, it has to have a top-notch story from start to finish. The story itself is very good. A lonely girl from an uneasy family background finds herself meeting two boys of the sea. Both boys were born to live in the sea, but have trouble on land and their time may be short. Here the girl has a summer experience of a lifetime as she learns of the beauty around them and learns how to be a friend. The story succeeds in having a consistent beginning, middle and end with characters that are either relatable or mystically captivating. I know that anime is not for everybody, but this film has such a lovely story with such spectacular dazzling animation effects, I feel it’s very much worth seeing.

This is an excellent film by animator Ayumu Watanabe. Children Of The Sea is actually a Japanese comic book series drawn by Daisuke Igarashi. I am not familiar with the series but I will say that the on-screen adaptation with the animation by Studio 4°C Co. made for a great mesmerizing story. The vocal talent from the voice actors is excellent, but it leaves me wondering if it gets a North American release, will it be in subtitles like I saw it or with English voice-overs? The music from Joe Hisaishi also fit the film excellently. Hisaishi has composed scores for many feature-length anime films like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. He does an excellent job again.

Children Of The Sea is as much as great story as it is dazzling to watch. It’s an anime film that’s as mystical as it is entertaining.

VIFF 2019 Review: Greener Grass

Greener Grass

Greener Grass is a comedy about dimwitted parents and dimwitted couples in a dimwitted world.

After seeing a lot of dramas at the VIFF, especially heavy dramas, you can bet I’d be in the mood for some comedy. I got what I needed on the last day of the festival with Greener Grass. It’s not your typical comedy, and all the better for it.

The film opens at a neighborhood children’s soccer game. Jill Davies meets up with her best friend Lisa Wetbottom. Jill’s son Julian and Lisa’s son Bob are playing in the game. Lisa is complimenting Jill on her newborn baby daughter Madison. Jill decides that Lisa can have Madison, to Lisa’s complete surprise. Lisa accepts with no problem.

The two drive home in their golf carts, which all the resident of the town drive. Arriving home, Jill tells Nick the news, and he’s okay with it. He’s happy that they still have Julian, even though he is a nerd who’s awkward at sports, which Nick is uncomfortable with. Lisa introduces baby Madison to her husband Dennis and son Bob. The others happily welcome Madison and rename her Paige. Lisa is proud of how Bob is good at sports, but uncomfortable how Bob is not that good at school. On top of that, her husband Dennis is shorter and pudgier compared to taller, more athletic Nick. Later on, the two couples meet together at a barbecue. They end up kissing each others’ spouses. However they all laugh it up and switch it back to the right pairings.

They try to go about their lives and raising their families normally, or as normal as it gets in that town. Nick may be unhappy Julian is not the athletic hero he hoped for, but he’s okay since they now have better pool water. The water’s so good, he enjoys drinking it. Soon there is the news that the yoga instructor has been murdered. The whole town is in shock. Both Jill and Lisa are nervous. There’s even a message of terror sent to Lisa’s golf cart.

One day, Lisa notices a volleyball left by a playground. She uses it to make herself look like she’s pregnant. And everyone including Dennis buys this. This starts to upset Jill. Lisa first noticed how unhappy Jill was at a children’s bowling game. At Nick’s birthday party, Lisa thinks Jill is best with getting a divorce. Soon Julian distracts from the party and talks about how terrible his life is. When he appears to take a suicide plunge in the pool, he turns into a dog. Everyone is in shock.

Jill goes about bringing the dog-like Julian to school, much to Bob’s shock, and music practice. However Nick is blown away how good Julian is at sports. He’s like the son of Nick’s dreams now. Jill tells Nick he wants a divorce. Nick agrees and takes Julian with him. Jill is now childless and empty. Meanwhile a ‘pregnant’ Lisa is shocked to see Bob watching Kids With Knives on the television. The show immediately turns Bob into a self-loathing angst-ridden monster. However Lisa decides to ‘give birth’ to the volleyball, and all including Dennis accept it as the new addition to the family.

Jill can’t handle it. It’s not just being childless, but the stress knowing the murderer hasn’t been caught yet. Jill then confronts Lisa. She wants Madison/Paige back. Lisa is hurt. Paige is hers. Plus he reminds Jill that it makes her look like an ‘Indian giver’… excuse me… ‘Native American giver.’ Jill can’t take it anymore. That night, she rips out the wire from her braces, furiously drives past the intersection in her golf cart without being polite and drives off into another town. She sees a house with children. She knocks on the door and talks to the mother. The conversation is friendly until Jill asks for one of her children. The woman politely asks her to leave, but one of the girls is looking at Jill as she walks off. Jill has a new child!

Jill makes it back into town and just on the eve as the murderer of the yoga instructor has been caught. At a children’s soccer game, Jill’s child plays her first game. Everybody is happy to see Jill’s new child, including Lisa. She’s happy to see that Jill is finally happy again. Or is she?

Watching this comedy does leave you wondering what the heck is going on? The world these adults live in make no sense at all. Perhaps that may be its best quality. Instead of this being a world that makes perfect sense, it makes perfect nonsense. It’s a world where the adults wear sweet pastel colors, all wear braces on their top teeth and all drive around in gold carts. A world where they’re too polite to make the first move at a stop sign. A world where they make huge decisions without rational thought. A world where they can love as conditionally as they want. A world a parent can simply give their child to another family and the family’s good with it. A world with TV shows where cooking contestants are judged with someone else’s entry, and they accept without hesitation. A world where the kids have their own weird bizarre traits and can instantly either turn into a dog or act like they’re possessed by the devil. A world where a woman can fake a pregnancy with a basketball and everyone would believe it, and even treat the basketball like it’s their baby!

To sum it all up, it’s a world lacking of common sense, but full of smiley niceness, instant hurt and even insanity. I haven’t seen this much weirdness or bizarre human behavior since watching an episode of South Park. Though it’s not as warped as a South Park episode, it has a combined weirdness that has to both make sense and be consistent from start to finish. When you see a lot of the idiocies or the idiotic world created in the film, it does get you wondering. Will it hold through from start to its feature-length finish? Will the stupidity of the world be just as stupid at the end? Will the characters be just as dim-witted? To my surprise, the story did hold up. Instead of making perfect sense from start to finish, it made perfect nonsense. The world and the characters are just as idiotic at the end as they were at the beginning. The may have been some noticeable changes in the kids, but it ended with the same crazy energy.

This may be a comedy with nonsense from start to finish. However it does seem to resemble the envy people, parents, and couples. It’s a spoof on how we all think the grass is greener on the other side or how we keep up with the Joneses or how we try to chase something we can’t get. We can’t be happy with what we have. We have to think the other one’s better or try to one-up them. This film and the brace-cases in it spoofs it, and in bizarrely hilarious fashion.

This comedy belongs to Upright Citizens Brigade alumni Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe. They wrote it together, directed it together and play Jill and Lisa respectively. Actually this is a feature-length version of the short film Greener Grass they created four years earlier. They took a story full of a lot of comedic ridiculousness and insanity and had quite the job to make it work as a smooth film from beginning to end. To my surprise, it works. The story and its combination of idiocy and insanity works from beginning to end. It had all the making of a story that would go off-path, but it doesn’t. Whatever different elements of the story get added in as if it adds to the story instead of interferes with it.

One thing about the film is that it’s obvious Jocelyn and Dawn are aiming for shocks. This film is a film that has people with a lot of experience writing for and acting in comedies. Here you can tell with a lot of the incidents and lines, they are aiming not just to weird us out, but shock us along the way. It’s noticeable with a TV show called Kids With Knives, Nick drinking pool water, the other-spouse kiss (which is full of saliva) and Bob uttering angry lines like “I wish I was aborted!”

The supporting acting is also funny. The husbands are played by two Saturday Night Livers: SNL actor Beck Bennett plays Nick and SNL writer Neil Casey plays Dennis. They both do a good job of adding to the idiocy of the story and even show a good male side to the idiocy in the world of this film. The two boys in the film were also good, but Asher Miles Fallica was quite something as Bob. He goes from a kid that’s your typical kid to a boy who suddenly acts like he’s possessed by the devil after watching Kids With Knives. That’s crazy!

Greener Grass is a comedy about suburban families that mixes in stupid with bizarre and insanity and insecurities. It comes off as a winning feature-length comedy from start to finish.

VIFF 2019 Review: Joel

Joel

Joel is the story of an Argentinian family’s adoption of a boy, and the difficulties that come with it.

Joel is a family drama from Argentina. It’s based on an adoption scenario that tells more about the society than about the adoption process.

Cecilia and Diego are a couple in a small Argentinean mountain town of Tolhuin in the Patagonian forests. Cecilia is a music teacher and Diego is a successful forester. They’ve been hoping to start a family, but it hasn’t worked out. They decide to pursue the Argentinean adoption system. They’ve received news their request from the government has been granted. They also learn about a boy who is up for adoption. They’re told he’s eight years old and his name is Joel.

They are informed that Joel is actually nine years old. Joel comes from a troubling family background in Buenos Aires. His mother died and was soon looked after by his uncle and grandmother. His uncle soon ended up in prison and Joel had since been committed to institutions. Cecilia and Diego are both excited and nervous about taking on Joel. They look forward to being his parents, but are cautious about what they might have to deal with. The two meet Joel for the first time. The two are both excited and nervous while Joel is quiet and shy.

Cecilia and Diego make the efforts to be parents to Joel. They give him his own room and allow him to pick out his own clothes. There’s a party to introduce Joel to the family. Samuel and Virginia, a religious couple whom they are friends with, are pleased to meet Joel. Cecilia and Diego also enroll Joel into the town school. They have a lot of high hopes, but are nervous.

One day, they find a cellphone in Joel’s drawers that’s not his. They return it to the school but the people aren’t happy. Then Cecilia receives word that Joel will have to be given a teaching schedule different from the other students and separated from them. The reason why is made unclear to Cecilia at first. The teacher reveals that Joel has been telling the children stories about doing drugs.

This is alarming the parents. The outrage has gotten to the point that the parents do not want their children to be around Joel. This is having a strain on the relationship of Cecilia and Diego. Those close to them, including Samuel and Virginia, are distancing themselves from them. Even Diego’s boss weighs in about what is to be done with Joel. Cecelia is even told if she gives up on Joel, he could be sent back to the institutions where he eventually grows up to live a life of crime and die young.

There’s a school meeting about what is to be done with Joel’s educational setting. The meeting is fiery with many parents speaking out their hostility. One of the mothers confronts Cecilia and tells her that she was adopted too and the attitudes that are happening are similar to what she experienced. Then the teacher and school director finally meet with Cecilia to discuss their final decision. It’s a decision they’re optimistic with. They have decided to have Joel spend six months in a ‘special school’ up in the mountains where they believe he will be better-adjusted in time to have him brought back to the school. Cecilia is not happy with the result. Diego insists she goes along with it because his boss believes it’s the right thing. As Cecilia is about to drive Joel to his temporary school, she makes her own critical decision on the matter.

This film tells of an adoption story in Argentina. However the film does show a lot of elements that one anywhere in the world can identify with. There’s the legal process which is common in most countries; there’s the fact that Diego and Cecilia will be parenting for the first time ever; there’s the adoption of a boy from a troubling background from the big city; there’s trying to get the boy to fit into a smalltown setting. There’s even the mission of the Argentinian adoption system: “Our aim is to find parents for the children, not children for the parents”.

Here in North America today, adoption should be a non-issue. Some countries or cultures may have a negative stigma about adoption whether it be the adoption process or about the children adopted. I’m not knowledgeable at all about how most Argentinians view adoption. All I know is the laws stated in the film and nothing else. However I did see a theme that we commonly see even in towns or villages of developed countries like Canada and the US. A city kid is taken into a home in the countryside to be given a life and a family. What happens is ostracism not just of the kids, but of the parents too. Even a client of Diego’s weighs his own opinion on this. The film shows a common theme of smalltown narrow-mindedness where they can be hostile to outsiders. In this case, we have the children, parents and teachers that are mostly against Joel being in the town and schools. Lines like “Our children are pure and live in a lovely town. Why should they have to put up with him?” sound like they’re echoes from common-talk. That scene of the mother who was adopted and faced similar flack says a lot about these attitudes.

The quality of the story also gets the audience involved and gets them wondering who or what to side with. Joel appears harmless, but he comes from a troubled background in Buenos Aires. Cecilia and Diego took Joel away to give him a family life and to take him away from the inner city threats that could endanger him, including from his own blood-family. Joel acts harmless around the house, but the teachers, parents and students all tell a different story. You even see things that make you wonder like how Joel arrived with a packet containing a lighter, money and a toy, or even the cellphone he either found or stole. You never see Joel do any of the things those parents say he does, but even if Joel said those words or stole the phone, this is very common among children his age. Wrong, but common among boys his age. It’s the people’s overreactions that are causing the problem.

In the meantime, this causes problems with both Joel and the family. They’re undecided about what to do or what actions to take. It’s right at the end where Cecilia makes her decision. I think that’s the biggest quality of the film. The film is about a story that’s very down to earth and is something a lot of families can relate to. It’s about facing the difficulties of doing the right thing. It’s about trying to give love to a child with quite a backstory, but trying to be a parent and doing what’s right. It’s about trying to get acceptance in a place where the hidden narrow mindedness comes out. I don’t think the story is meant to defame Tolhuin in any which way, but it presents itself as a story that can happen in any Argentinian town. It’s a story the audience can easily put themselves in the shoes of Cecilia and Diego. What would they do? What’s the best thing for Joel? It even gets the audience asking what would you do?

This film is a very good film from writer/director Carlos Sorin. Sorin is one of the most renowned directors from Argentina. 2002’s Historias Minimas is his most renowned work to date having won him many film festival awards including the FIPRESCI Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival. What he delivers in Joel is a film that lacks the envelope-pushing and artistic daringness that one expects to have as film festival fare. Not every film at the VIFF aims to be artistically daring or provocative or experimental. Sometimes the films at the VIFF are films that are among the best their country has to offer. Sorin is a director with a reputation. He places reality on the film screen and tries to make a statement with the story. He succeeds in doing so in Joel. He presents an example of a situation and gets one thinking of the attitudes that he sees in Argentina. There was a lot of good acting, but it’s Victoria Almeida that is the centerpiece of the film as Cecelia. She holds the story together as it mostly revolves around Cecelia and her desire to be a mother and to do what she needs to. Especially for Joel.

Joel is a family drama that tells of an adoption story in Argentina, but there are many elements of the story that one can see happening close to home. The story succeeds with messages that cross borders and cultural barriers.