Category Archives: Entertainment – Film and Movies

VIFF 2021 Review: Zo Reken

The driver of the minivan in Zo Reken, Pascal Antoine, is a fictional driver. The passengers are real minivan passengers and they have a lot to tell.

What do I look like in this vehicle?

This van draws attention for all the wrong reasons.

I’m sure most people outside of Haiti have never heard of a ‘Zo Reken.’ The documentary Zo Reken is as much about the vehicle itself as it is about the political and living situation in Haiti.

The film begins with Pascal Antoine performing his music at a night club. After the show, he and his bandmates have drinks and then pack their gear up in a vehicle they call a ‘Zo Reken’ and head off. We learn a ‘Zo Reken’ is the nickname in Haiti for a Toyota 4-by-4 Land Cruiser minivan. It’s named after the ‘Zo Reken’ drink which consists of letting a shark bone sit in it. The vehicles most commonly called a ‘Zo Reken’ in Haiti are normally used to transport humanitarian aid to hospitals or various other sites.

However a violent coup to overthrow Haitian president Jovenel Moise has happened and brutal protests in the streets of capital Port-au-Prince have occurred. The nation is in a strict lockdown and Zo Rekens are no longer allowed for humanitarian aid. Antoine hacks a Zo Reken and uses it to help transport other Haitians around the capital. One thing is he will have to find routes along the bumpy roads that don’t collide with the violent fiery protests. Also he must he aware of people he passes throwing rocks at the vehicle.

The first passenger he transports is a man up a hill and avoiding barricades of fire set by protesters. As the man is transported, he talks about the humanitarian aid from non-governmental organizations, or NGO’s as they’re commonly called, that it’s more hinderance than a help. In a lot of ways, he sees the humanitarian aid from the NGO’s and international community as broken promises from these nations. They promised to bring Haiti out of the poverty and recover, but the poverty continues, as it has for decades. That explains why he and other Haitians see the Zo Rekens that transport the aid representing the NGOs or the continued repression, or simply power.

Later on, he transports another man. This Zo Reken is intended to be a vehicle to protectively transport many people across the capital during this turmoil. Soon this Zo Reken comes to represent a bus for many Haitians who otherwise would have to walk on foot. The second man he transports talks about the hidden anger among the impoverished to the rich. He understand why many would want to throw rocks at the Zo Reken. Anything that represents the wealth gap is seen as a target of wrath from the people. The types of people he transports along the way are various. He transports one man as he’s to have a job interview for a very rare opportunity for prosperity and timeliness is make-or-break. He transports a woman passenger and she has a lot to say of the situation for the women in Haiti.

The Zo Reken he drives soon finds itself in part of the drama. A man is badly injured during the protests. Protests have been violent to the point they’ve claimed a lot of lives. Pascal has to transport this man to a hospital. It’s not an easy thing as he has to avoid other protesters and barricades. He comes across one barricade: a burning trunk of a tree. He has to find detours to get the man to the hospital as one person carries an IV bag. It’s like this Zo Reken becomes like an ambulance.

late at night, Pascal is relaxing outside a bar, sitting outside his Zo Reken. His friends come and drink, but they speak their mind about all that has happened in recent days and what is happening in the country. They talk of the rich and powerful and how they kill the people and how they may face their own comeuppance one day. They talk of the international community that they feel they do not help the nation and more the cause of the problem than the solution. Many feel feel they don’t want international aid and feel that it’s better off Haiti hold its own and develop on its own terms. They have that much of a lack of trust to foreigners. The documentary ends with Pascal driving the Zo Reken off as we see a rear-view image of the path he’s leaving behind.

The driver Pascal Antoine is fictional. Pascal acts as the driver of the Zo Reken each and every time. The passengers are real. Their situations are real. The Haitian riots of 2018-2020 and the overthrow of president Jovenel Moise are real. Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the Americas. The country has been through decades of brutal rule, whether be it in the form of dictatorships or democracies. You can go back as far as 1957 with the Duvaliers until Baby Doc fled the country in 1986, then Aristide in the 1990’s and now Moise.

What you have is an angry country. Most of the nation has known nothing but a lifetime of disease, death and poverty. The nation is mostly known as the world’s biggest producer of baseballs, but their economy is not known for much more. You have a big gap between the rich who own most of the nations wealth and the poor who struggle for simple change to get food to eat. It’s like the coup d’etat to overthrow Moise exposed a lot of anger inside the Haitian people. It was like their anger was inside a bubble and the bubble burst.

The Zo Rekens became a huge presence after the 2010 Haitian earthquake that claimed anywhere from 100,000 to 160,000 Haitians and affected 3,000,000. As aid workers are not allowed in the vehicle and one man uses it to transport people, you can hear from people the voice of the common Haitian. You hear the anger of what people feel in a country with a huge wage gap and poverty all around it. You hear the anger they have towards the international community upon the failure of these nations to live up to the promises of helping build up a stronger Haiti. You hear the anger of the neocolonialism percieved among the people. You hear the anger people have towards the soon-to-be-deposed president and their feelings that he was worse than the Duvaliers. You hear how people fear for the most vulnerable during this critical time in their nation.

As you hear their voice, you can easily see why these Zo Rekens during a time of political turmoil are now seen as oppressors to the people. As you see Pascal wash the Zo Reken in the morning, you can feel he can’t wash away its bad image. Equally, you can also see why this depot holding the medical supplies and various goods for transporting could be seen as a bigger villain than the Zo Rekens that transport those goods. As you see the depot holding these goods in place, you sometimes wonder why is this depot holding everything in place? Why can’t the hospitals simply have these items in need rather than have them waiting at a centralized depot? Why should the Zo Reken take all the blame from the people?

This documentary is a very good eye opener. It sheds a light on a nation few people outside of it know of other than the time it makes the news. Most of the time, the news is dreadful, whether it be of a deposed ruler or of a natural disaster that devastates most of the nation. As Antoine transports the people in the Zo Reken, you hear the voice of the common Haitian among the passengers and those just standing outside. You see the wrath and contempt of the people as the Zo Reken passes them on the street. You even see how Antoine uses the Zo Reken in a crisis situation as it transports a wounded protester to the hospital. During the film, you’re left with the impression that this is the biggest help this Zo Reken did in its entirety in Haiti.

Admiration from writer/director Emanuel Licha. He creates a scenario of a fictional driver in a real crisis situation. He does a good job of not just showing life in an impoverished country like Haiti, but a scenario that exposes poverty through a global lens. What you see happening in Haiti can happen in other impoverished countries too. The marginalization of people in Haiti and the anger of the people can represent the anger of people in any impoverished nation in the world. Pascal Antoine may be the fictional driver of the Zo Reken in the film, but he does a good job of being the centrepiece of this documentary. Him being the central focal point helps as you see Haiti unfold as we watch this documentary.

The documentary Zo Reken is a big eye-opener. It not only introduces you to a country most of us don’t know enough about, but fills you in on the people too. The people are shown as they are in a heated moment in Haiti’s history and what you hear from their mouths say as much about them as their personal feelings.

VIFF 2021 Review: Kicking Blood

Alanna Bale plays a modern world vampire who faces a life-or-death decision in the Canadian thriller Kicking Blood.

Right during the first week of the Vancouver International Film Festival, I fulfilled my first VIFF goal of seeing a Canadian feature when I saw Kicking Blood. It also became my first Altered States film of the VIFF. It’s a vampire story that’s something.

Anna celebrates her birthday with a slice of cake and with Bernice and Gus: two of her co-workers at the library. During the shift, Bernice is upset Gus is leaving her for another woman. That night, Gus is about to make love to Anna. He thinks he’s the one in control. What he doesn’t know is that anna is a vampire. She delivers him the fatal bite!

Somewhere else in the city, Robbie is an alcoholic who’s being booted out of the house of a young woman who’s been looking after him. She caught him making out with her fiance! Robbie finds himself out on the streets. Anna walks by him. She sees him with a bottle in his hands. However she notices something about him. Somehow she’s willing to take him in. She’s able to let him live in her place and feed him well. He is expected to recover from his alcoholism, if he says he’s willing to change. Anna conducts business as usual at the library. She has her friendly conversations with Bernice. She then comes home to Robbie. She learns she has feelings toward him. Feelings of love. But she doesn’t know how to deal with it.

One night in a nightclub, two men named Boris and Ben are having fun and drinking. There they meet what appears to be a woman alone named Nina. Ben is attracted to her. He tries to get closer to her, but Nina knows he’s married and trying to hide it. Soon it’s the three of them with Ben doing cocaine. They’re having good conversation. Anna joins the conversation. However it’s apparent Ben will become Nina’s latest victim. She does eventually bite the life out of him.

It becomes apparent there is a trio of vampires in the town: Anna, Nina and Boris. They bite people out of their lives and then live off their possessions. Anna is very good from hiding it from Bernice and Robbie: two people who mean a lot to her, but how can she keep it a secret? It shows in her restraint as she wants to make love to Robbie, but she can’t get any closer. How is Robbie going to find out? That also hits her as she learns from Bernice she won’t take her pills and will rely on her inner strength and her mentality on her physical condition. A vampire like Anna can’t have connection to humans. How can Anna make this work?

The trio’s next victim is an artist who lives alone. They visit her in her apartment as she’s making a sculpture. They first ask her questions about her art, but then they shift the focus on how her art may be remembered after her death. The questions of her art seen after her death continue, which the artist kindly answers them. Then Nina bites the life out of her. Instead of enjoying this, it’s a turning point for Anna as she shows huge concern.

The last incident of vampirism affects Anna. She knows as a vampire, she can’t connect with humans emotionally. Problem is she has been connecting with humans as she watches Robbie go through his alcoholic withdrawal and as she visits Bernice in the hospital as she’s dying. She is reminded she has human sensitivity. She can’t have that as a vampire If she does, she would have to identify with mortal humans. She reveals her identity to Robbie, but he is shocked and leaves her. While at a bar, he meets Vanessa: an old flame from his college days. The two start heating up.

However the time is coming for Anna. This is the time she will have to choose between life as a vampire or human mortality. First she confronts Vanessa with Robbie. The two face off right in the middle of the road as Nina and Boris arrive. Vanessa is the latest victim. Then the two remind Anna that Robbie is her last chance. One bite of him will keep her immortality active. Refusing to bite will lead to her death. The ending is slow and more about intensity than effects, but dramatic and unconventional.

I’m sure we’ve all seen our fair share of vampire stories. From the classic stories of the legendary Count Dracula to the teen craze of the Twilight series, vampires still intrigue us and captivate us. This is a unique story of a young female vampire who’s part of a trio of vampires. As they welcome themselves in other peoples’ lives, they kill them with one bite and take material things of theirs. Anna is a vampire who works a librarian job, but pursues her victims. Often you’ll understand why a librarian like Anna has so many luxuries. However it’s an odd twist when she takes in a homeless alcoholic like Robbie. Often you wonder why would she? He has nothing to take from. Would he still be one of her eventual victims? More on that later.

The thoughts continue when you learn of the vampire trio she’s a part of. It’s after she meets and tends to Robbie that she starts to reconsider her life as a vampire. She has feelings for Robbie and doesn’t want to kill him, but her vampirism is her immortality. Should she continue to be a vampire and have Robbie as one of her victims? Or will she choose the life of mortality? That she’d rather die than kill Robbie? Even with the presence of Boris and Nina, it gets you wondering. Does she like being a vampire? Or is she controlled by the other two?

The film has Robbie as the surprising secondary character. Anna meets Robbie on the streets right after his previous ‘keeper’ booted him out and with a bottle in his hand. You’re left wondering why would a vampire like Anna take in a man like Robbie who has nothing? Would he be her next victim? Even later as she houses him instead of giving him a fatal bite like all the others, you wonder why is she keeping him alive? Is it something in herself that she sees and only Robbie can bring that out in her? Is it Robbie that gives her the change of heart? Boris and Nina remind her that her biting is her key to immortality and that a vampire is not to connect or empathize with humans. But Robbie is the human that does exactly that. Even though her best friend Bernice is the first human to get her to connect as a human instead of maintain her vampire separation from humans, it’s Robbie who best conveys Anna’s human feelings. It’s also Robbie, as he goes through alcoholic withdrawal, who sends the message to Anna of the vampirism withdrawal, a fatal withdrawal, she could face. Is it worth it?

This is a film full of a lot of twists and surprises. The vampire legend is always full of various elements of the legend. I’m sure many stories play with the legend. One thing that caught my attention is how these vampires are perfectly unaffected by the sunlight. Most vampires are either affected by sunlight or the light is fatal to them. The trio of vampires are unharmed by the sunlight, but it’s the nighttime where their vampirism comes to life. Maybe that’s the trick. They act like everyday humans by day, but their vampire side comes out at night. Even the story of how another woman tries to steal Robbie from Anna adds into the drama. For the most part, the story makes sense. If it’s a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces fit well. The story however carry itself out in a slower-than-usual pace. It settles more for the intensity of the situation, rather than the sensational images of bites of the flesh. Also I feel we learn the fact that Anna is part of a trio of vampires later in the film than we should. However those who come to a film about vampires and are huge fans of seeing ‘vampires in action’ may be disappointed. The ending works, but there were even small bits where it had some flat moments, or could have been better. Like Nina’s last line.

I give top marks to director Blaine Thurier. He does a very good job in directing the play he co-wrote with Leonard Farlinger. I like how he plays along with the legend and creates a unique story of vampires in the modern world. It even gives you the feeling of a vampires-next-door story! Also very good is the acting from Alanna Bale. Playing a character that goes from an everyday girl to a vampire at night to a vampire with human feelings is not an easy task. She does a very good job of it and keeps her focus well. She makes it work. Luke Bilyk is also very good as the recovering alcoholic Robbie. He does more than just play a recovering alcoholic. His role is also that of human feelings and feelings of love to Anna. He does a very good job of showing the importance of Robbie in the story.

The film also has a lot of great supporting performances too. Rosemary Dunsmore was great as Bernice, the librarian who gives Anna her human feelings. Vinessa Antoine was also very good as Vanessa, the woman who tries to win Robbie away from Anna. Ella Jonas Farlinger (daughter of scriptwriter Leonard Farlinger) and Benjamin Sutherland were good as the two other vampires, but their roles lacked dimension.

Kicking Blood is not your typical vampire story. It does offer a twist in the common vampire story that delivers the unexpected. Despite it’s small but noticeable glitches, it will still keep you at the edge of your seat.

VIFF 2021 Shorts Segment: MODES 2

With the Vancouver Film Fest comes segments of short films. That’s my second VIFF goal to see one of those segments. I achieved it when I saw the segment series MODES 2. Six films from six directors from six different nations. They all gave lots to see and hear.

-The Coast (India – dir. Sohrab Hura): The film shows people on the coast of a beach in south India as they swim around and throw themselves to the waves. The film also shows images of a religious ritual, which includes inflicting pain on one’s self. The film also shows images of a nearby carnival. Then ends again with people throwing themselves to the waves.

A video interview from the director says the images are of a religious festival where one begins by facing their personal demons and then ends as they wash their demons away. The images are seen in slow motion with disjointed music added into the score. It’s a very picturesque short film that gives us a fascinating look at people from a world away. It can even give you appreciation for such a festival as the waves form the Indian Ocean are as much of a storyteller as people.

-Happiness Is A Journey (USA/Estonia – dirs. Ivete Lucas & Patrick Bresnan): It’s very early morning of Christmas Eve 2019 at a newspaper deport in Austin, Texas. People gather at 1:30am to pick up newspapers to people’s homes. People gather them in big numbers and know they’ll need a good amount of gas. One of the delivery people is Eddie ‘Bear’ Lopez, a 62-year resident of Austin, who’s been doing this since 1997 without ever taking a day off. The film then follows Bear on his trip. Bear even brings his little dog with him. As he delivers, his trip is long. Ever since people made the move to the online news site of the paper, actual newspaper customers are less and less which means deliveries are further an wider. The film goes along Bear’s long route, which he has completed by 6am.

This is a film, shown with two different simultaneous camera images and consists strictly of the sounds around. No musical score at all. It shows about people who we either take for granted or have shunned their skills away because of our use of technology. It gives respect for a person with a low-paying job who never takes a day off, but somehow finds fulfillment in it. One of the desks in the depot has a sign that says “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” Maybe that’s the point the two directors wanted to show. That with a job that is low-pay, facing near-extinction, and something most of us would label a ‘loser job,’ Bear finds some kind of fulfilment. Even if he has to work on a holiday.

-Show Me Other Places (Sri Lanka – dir. Rajee Samarsinghe): This film shows all sort of images: what we see on our computer, the images of suburbia, a birds-eye view of a construction site, friends, common people, and luxurious items. The film shows the many ways we see them: on a computer screen, through a VR viewing mask, and on our iWatches. Many images are seen as is, while some are meshed with colors and even other images.

I believe the point the filmmaker was trying to make was to do about imagery. It was about how we see things and also how she sees them. She allows her creativity to take place and show new and creative ways to look at things we commonly look at. In a lot of way, we’re given a new enlightenment when we see her creative imagery. Really gets you thinking.

-Adversarial Infrastructure (Russia – dir. Anna Engelhardt): The film is about a bridge that is the subject of political controversy. The bridge is the Crimean Bridge which connects a southwest tip of Russia with the Crimean town of Kerch with the bridge’s main part located on Tuzla Island. This is a bridge of great controversy as Crimea has been a subject of huge political debate as Ukraine insists is theirs while Putin proclaims Crimea to be part of Russia. This has been like that since 2014 since the Russo-Ukrainian War started. There was even a phony news story concocted by Putin that the bridge was bombed by the Ukrainian army.

The director showcases news stories with a coarsely-drawn computer map of the area in question and a rough computer graphic of the bridge as it would looked bombed out. The director even showcases how bridges are to be the opposite of walls and connect peoples, while this bridge appears to do the opposite. Or at least the media and the Russian government try to make it do the opposite. Myself being Ukrainian-Canadian, this is something of interest to me. The director is very good at using the various images in presenting a story and getting her message across. A message I personally agree with.

-The Canyon (USA – dir. Zachary Epcar): The film begins showing mostly people living in a new residential development. They’re of people relaxing, doing housework, renovating, exercising, playing tennis, a vide variety of activities. The film then shows images of luxuries and then images of peoples and what they have to say. Then the film focuses on a whirlpool-like area of Lake Berryessa in the Napa Valley of California. They talk of how the areas will no longer appear.

I believe the point of this student film and its various images is trying to make is their believe that new residential areas that are cropping up and attracting people will be empty canyons in the future. The buildings and luxuries they’re enjoying now will be swallowed up into nothingness in the future. The man-made whirlpool in Lake Berryessa conjures up images of how that area will be swallowed up over time. I believe that’s the point where they let the images they show do the storytelling as the students prove their point.

-Corps Samples (France – dir. Astrid de la Chapelle): The film begins with the focus on the year 1924. It’s the year Vladimir Lenin, the founder and first leader of the USSR dies, and the year a British mountaineer fell to his death just off Mount Everest. The only thing in common they have in common: both their bodies are perfectly preserved. The film begins with fossils found on Mount Everest during that time. Then it goes on to various images of fossils, stones, metals, minerals and crystals. It shows natural racks and crystals, and it showcases the minerals and chemicals we use for our everyday needs. It showcases on the images of the body of the mountaineer found perfectly intact after all these years. It also showcases the body of Lenin, perfectly intact in his tomb and a tourist attraction.

The filmmaker is either getting us to focus on either the association of minerals and preservation, and how it mixes into our daily lives and the everyday world, or it could be on the focus on something else. Right at the end of the film, she shows an image of a stone and asks us “Are you looking at the stone or is the stone looking at you?” Hearing that, I think it’s a case where a lot of the film is trying to get you to ask yourself that. Are you looking at the stones, crystals, fossils, and minerals? Or are they looking at you? That question of the end really gets you to change what you think the focus of the film is about. Even see it through a different light.

The six films of MODES 2 are about images and sounds. Some make their points clear, while some aren’t as clear and require your imagination to assume what you think its about. The images may be relate to each or other, or not related at all. The music or sounds may be smooth music, disjointed sounds or raw music. I guess that was the whole point of the MODES 2 short films. It’s six short films on sights and sounds and they want to get your imagination involved, and possibly even share the filmmaker’s imaginations. The films also have a message to say, but they want to convey the message creatively, and they want you to embrace the creativity as much as the message.

Even though I was hoping to see a short segment of live-action stories being played out, I’m glad I saw MODES 2. The films were loaded with images and sounds and done in their very own way. Nevertheless they were very good in sending the messages they were trying to send in their own creative way.

VIFF 2021: Mix Of Online And Live Theatre

VIFF 2021 will increase it’s cinema capacity, but restrictions will apply.

It’s a fall tradition of mine. The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) comes back and I end up volunteering for it. It’s a tradition that was broken last year. You can’t blame me. The COVID pandemic severely limited seating capacities and the number of films they could show on screens, not to mention theatre attendance. Last’s year’s VIFF was a case where few shows were shown in theatres and most were screened online. This year, the VIFF makes a big return back to the theatres, if not a complete return.

The International Village which used to allow three of its theatres to show VIFF films during fourteen of its sixteen days isn’t doing it this year. The Centre for the Performing Arts isn’t giving itself to the VIFF this year either. There are five theatres from past years that are VIFF venues again this year: Cinematheque, Vancouver Playhouse, Rio Theatre, SFU Goldcorp Theatre and the VanCity Theatre at the VIFF Centre. The VIFF also acquired four new venues to facilitate for the fest:

  • Annex Theatre – It’s called the Annex because it’s the annex to the Orpheum theatre. It’s a nice cabaret-style theatre that served the VIFF before as a lecture hall or conference room. This time, it will be showing films throughout most of the VIFF.
  • Hollywood Theatre – Those that remember my blogging from bygone days will know the Hollywood is a theatre in the West Broadway area build back in the 1930’s. Although it’s no longer owned by the original members, it has reopened to become a multi-event stage with mostly theatrical shows and music concerts. During the VIFF, it will return to its original purpose as a movie theatre.
  • Studio Theatre: VIFF Centre – Even before the pandemic hit, there was a fundraising initiative underway at the VanCity Theatre of creating a studio theatre meant for screening local films and give more local filmmakers opportunity. It was finally opened this summer and this is the first VIFF in which it will serve as a venue! Just to the left of the main studio theatre at the VanCity, it’s smaller in capacity but can serve its purpose well.
  • Kay Meek Arts Centre – I think this is the first VIFF venue outside of the city of Vancouver ever. Located in West Vancouver Secondary School, this local theatre is also a major centre for arts in West Vancouver.

This year, I’m back to volunteering. I will be at the Playhouse Theatre and working as part of a ‘skeleton crew,’ which is the minimum number of volunteers a facility can have at one time. This is one of the precautions as part of the pandemic. The second is that theatres will only be at 50% capacity. The third precaution is that people are to have their BC Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport to get into theatres. For those who don’t know what a Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport is, it’s a scanner code the certifies that one has been vaccinated twice.

For those that are still too nervous about going into a theatre, there are many of the VIFF films that can be streamed online. Many of you may remember that the majority of VIFF films from last year can be streamed from wherever they wanted whenever they wanted. Not the case this year as the online screenings can be screened during select times and there are many that have a limit to the number of online customers of that screening.

The VIFF will be starting today and running until Monday October 11th, which is Canadian Thanksgiving. Returning back to the Festival are VIFF Immersed technology exhibits, VIFF Totally Indie Day, VIFF Talks and Masterclasses and VIFF AMP music conferences. For film lineups, there will be 185 films. 73 of them will get a cinema run. Of the sixteen expected to stand out:

  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain – The Opening Gala film. It’s an eccentric biographical film of artist Louis Wain who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Will Sharpe.
  • Petite Maman – The Closing Gala film. The latest feature from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire director Celine Sciamma. It’s a unique story of the mysterious bond between mother and daughter.
  • All My Puny Sorrows – Michael McGowan directs this film adaptation of the novel by Miriam Toews. Alison Pill stars as a young woman hugely concerned for her talented sister.
  • Belfast – A film loaded with potential Oscar buzz. Kenneth Branagh directs this story of the spark of civilian unrest in 1969 Northern Ireland as seen through the eyes of a child.
  • Benediction – Directed by Terence Davies, It’s a portrait of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon. It stars Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi.
  • Bergman Island – Directed Mia Hansen-Love. As the village Ingmar Bergman grew up in has been turned into a theme park , two filmmakers, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth, ponder their relationship.
  • Drive My Car – A three-hour film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. A recently-widowed theatre director tries to live life again as he puts together a new production, and casts his late wife’s lover as the lead.
  • Everything Went Fine – Directed by Francois Ozon and stars Sophie Marceau and Charlotte Rampling, it’s the story of an 85 year-old man who wants his daughter to end his life, while she tries to change his mind.
  • Memoria – Directed by Uncle Boonmee director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it’s the story of an orchid grower in Colombia, played by Tilda Swinton, who experiences a booming noise only she can hear.
  • Mothering Sunday – Directed by Eva Husson, it’s about a maid in 1924 who spends time with her lover before he is about to marry a younger woman. Can she change his mind?
  • Night Raiders – Directed by Danis Goulet, this is a futuristic film set in 2043 and Canada plans to return to past colonial ways of treating Indigenous children.
  • Official Competition – The film is about a Spanish female film directer trying to direct two male movie stars with big egos. It’s co-directed by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat and it stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
  • One Second – Directed by Zhang Yimou, It’s a story of a man during China’s Cultural Revolution who escapes China’s labor camps to see his actress daughter on screen. It’s no easy task.
  • Red Rocket – Directed by Florida Project director Sean Baker, this film is of a washed-up porn star returning to his hometown trying to reconcile with his wife, but also promoting a young teenaged girl to stardom.
  • The Sanctity Of Space – A documentary directed by Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson. It’s of the mission to meet with famed cartographer Bradford Washburn whose worked opened up a new world for mountain climbers pursuing Alaska and Yukon.
  • The Worst Person In The World – Directed by Joachim Trier, it’s a coming of age story of a young woman about a young woman who leaves a trail of destruction in her wake.

And there you go. That’s just a brief preview of the highlights at this year’s VIFF. But the VIFF has more films to offer. Way more. It’s worth checking out over these next eleven days.

My Predictions For The 2020 Academy Awards

To think that before 2020, the Academy was strict about having films viewed in theatres. Internet films were off limits. Then the pandemic happened. Most of the theatres were closed. Most films had to put themselves on online streaming services to have themselves viewed. The Academy became more forgiving in that aspect and allowed for more streamed films to be submitted as entries. The pandemic also caused the Oscars themselves to be delayed until the last Sunday of April. That also meant those other ‘influencer’ award shows would have to delay in compensation of the pandemic too.

Whatever the situation, I was able to see all eight Best Picture nominees. Yes, it involved signing up for more than one streaming service and renting movies on Youtube, but it had to be this year. Hopefully next year, I’ll be back in the theatres. As for this year, I saw them all and now I’m ready to make my opinions for the winners for the 93rd Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

Last year, Olly Gibbs did a similar picture of the Best Picture contenders. This year he does it again! I’ll bet most of you who have seen any of the Best Picture nominees most likely saw it through a streaming service. That seems to be the case this year. The favorites were seen through a wide variety of streaming methods like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ or Amazon Prime. For most, it was the only way to access any of the Best Picture nominees.

Normally I’d publish separate reviews of the various Best Picture nominees and include the link to the blog in my review. This was not the case that I reviewed them before Oscar day. Separate reviews will have to come later. In the meantime, here’s my take on the eight Best Picture nominees:

The Father: To make a film about dementia that’s watchable is a big challenge. Having a lead actor like Anthony Hopkins helps. However this is a unique story as it goes through the father’s life as he and his daughter are going through major changes in their lives. The father’s struggle with dementia gives hints to his past. It makes for a unique and telling story. However I don’t see it as having what it takes to win Best Picture.

Judas And The Black Messiah: This is the story of the Black Panther with a big following and the FBI agent who sets him up for his assassination. It’s to do about a powerful leader who had a love for his woman and the FBI who poses as the leader’s friend only to lead him to the fatal heist. This is an intriguing story that gives you a piece of history that is often overlooked. Also it provides insight on the secret that haunted the FBI agent until the end of his life. Excellent film worthy of Best Picture, but unable to contend due to the tightness of this year’s competition.

Mank: For those who like seeing films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’ll like seeing Mank. This is a film that focuses on Herman Mankiewicz, Hollywood scriptwriter and producer. It focuses on his messing with the political system, his difficulties in the Hollywood studio system and his struggle with alcohol. It presents a unique story for someone that should be presented as unlikeable as most of the Hollywood producers should be seen. This is a film with Best Picture marked on it, but a certain other film has better Best Picture clout.

Minari: There have been stories of immigrants in pursuit of the American Dream before. This is a unique story because it’s of Korean farmers seeking to pursue the American Dream in Arkansas in the 1980’s. It’s of a family that tries to pursue a better life, brings the grandmother over in hopes to build the family back up, and a son struggling with a heart condition. This is a very personal story from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung. It has Best Picture potential, but there are at least three other films that are seen as stronger contenders.

Nomadland: This is an introspective look at the modern-day American nomad. Desperation in an economy that failed them is what caused them to adopt this modern style of the nomad life. However it’s something that they don’t just simply get used to doing, but it becomes a lifestyle for all those involved. There is a central character named Fern who first appears she has no choice but to accept this nomad life. Even as things don’t get any better, she learns to make it her own life, embrace her experiences, and then be able to say goodbye to her own life. This is an excellent personal story that really caught a lot of people’s eyes. That’s why I make it my Will Win pick.

Promising Young Woman: This is definitely a film that’s been made with rage in mind. And good reason. When the #MeToo movement came out, it highlighted a lot of problems. This is a rape revenge film that focuses on a friend’s rape and the failings that went around her like the friend who wouldn’t believe, the college system that hides things for the protection of their reputation, the friend of the rapist who watched and did nothing. The film also focuses on the culture of misogyny that provokes date rape. Cassie is the central figure that first comes off like she is the one to put misogyny in its place and later tries to get revenge for her friend’s rape. I think it’s the Generation X-er in me that likes how this film is like a lightning rod on society. That’s why I call it my Should Win pick.

Sound Of Metal– This is a unique story of a drummer who goes deaf and doesn’t know how to struggle with hearing loss. His willingness to accept deafness and move on with his life or his desire for a hearing implant that will give him his old life back is the central part of the story. This is a very good story that relies on images and sounds to tell of the musician’s struggle and also of the new life he tries to get used to. Very good film. Also in a year where this year’s batch of Best Picture contenders have been commonly described as ‘a pack of downers,’ this is the most uplifting film without going too overboard in its uplifting moments.

Trial Of The Chicago 7: This is a historical film that comes at the right time. It was released at a time when there was, and still is, a lot of political turmoil in the United States. It’s about a group of men arrested and tried for taking a stand for what they believed in. It’s about a corrupt judge who constantly made the wrong decisions on others. It’s about a political system that’s all about keeping the order of things. Centrally it’s about a leader who needed to fasce his fears and muster the courage displayed by the others. Excellent retelling of a historical moment. Among one of the top contenders for the win, but this is the year for Nomadland.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Directors nominate the Best Director nominees. This Oscar category is known for its all-too-frequent exclusion of female nominees. The first was back in 1976: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties. Since then, it’s been Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993, Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, for Lost In Translation in 2003, Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker (which she won), and before this year, the last was Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird back in 2017. Five female nominees before the 2020 nominees were announced. This year made Oscar history as the first year two women were nominated for Best Director: Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell. The two female directors have the most talked-about films of this Oscar season: Nomadland and Promising Young Woman. It looks as though Zhao is poised to become only the second female winner of the Best Director category.

Also who knows after this year? Maybe in the future, two or three female Best Director nominees will become the annual norm.

BEST ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Most of us will remember Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa the Black Panther in the MCU. Since his death, there has been a lot of attention paid to a lot of his other works of the past. As 2020 was drawing to a close, the big focus was his performance as Levee Green in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. In fact it’s his performance as Levee that steals the show from Ma. It makes it more the story about Levee’s own struggle for fame and fortune and his inner hurt and struggles. His portrayal of Levee Green cuts deep to the core. Giving him the Best Actor Oscar is the best way to remember him.

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Boseman may have stolen the film as Levee Green, but Viola’s performance of Ma Rainey helped give this film its powerful 1-2 punch. Davis’ character is both that of an entertainer whose beloved and a person subject to the same hurt and harshness a black woman in America gets. As she cuts her record Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, you can tell the wrath she feels towards her lifetime and her struggles are present in the story. That’s why I feel Viola deserves the Best Actress Oscar.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas And The Black Messiah

This year’s Oscars had a surprise with two Supporting Actor nominations for Judas And The Black Messiah. The nomination for Kaluuya was not a surprise as he won the Golden Globe for supporting actor. The nomination for LaKeith Stanfield was a surprise as it was felt Stanfield played the lead as Bill O’Neal. That had a lot of people wondering who’s the lead if O’Neal is supporting? I can’t answer that question. I will say that Stanfield didn’t get a single lead acting win or nomination so the Supporting Actor campaign was very successful here. Nevertheless the film belongs to Kaluuya for his performance of the late Black Panther Fred Hampton. He was very good at portraying Hampton both as a rebel with a cause and as a man with a lot of love.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

Youn Yuh-jung is an actress with an illustrious career in South Korea. Minari is pretty much the film where she’s introduced to North America. And it’s a great performance as a grandmother who first exhibits over-the-top behavior to becoming closer with grandson David to struggling with life after a stroke. She helped make the grandmother the central character of the story and it’s because of this I feel she should win here.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should Win and Will Win: Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

For a long time, Emerald Fennell was just another struggling actress. Her biggest success is in the British television series Call The Midwife. She also had good roles in film such as in Anna Karenina, Pan and The Danish Girl. Her first attempt at directing and writing was in the short film Careful How You Go. Promising Young Woman is her first attempt at a feature-length film and boy is it an eyebrow raiser. There have been ‘rape revenge’ movies before, but this is a film that doesn’t just get revenge on the rapist. It’s a story of one who has a reckoning of all those involved in her best friend’s rape like the friend that didn’t believe her, the college administration ‘protecting the boys’ futures,’ the lawyer who was menacing to the victim upon his client’s command, and the friend of the rapist who just watched and stood by. This is an angry film, but well written and well thought-out. Fennell’s feature went the furthest this year.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Win and Will Win: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

For those that read Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, one would know it’s not a novel. It’s a set of stories of people that are modern-day nomads in America. Zhao was able to create a story of a fictional woman coming from an actual economic setback. She makes a nomad of herself because of the desperate times she was going through and of the people she meets along the way. It has a beginning, middle and end and it’s a story that is a reflection of life. That’s why Nomadland has to be the winner here.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Will Win: Soul

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Win and Will Win: Eric Messerschmidt – Mank

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: My Octopus Teacher

BEST FILM EDITING

Will Win: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen – Sound Of Metal

BEST HAIR AND MAKE-UP

Will Win: Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

Will Win: Another Round (Denmark)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Will Win: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste – Soul

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Will Win: “Speak Now” – One Week In Miami

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win: Donald Graham Burt & Jan Pascale – Mank

BEST SOUND

Will Win: Sound Of Metal

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: The Midnight Sky

SHORT FILM PREDICTIONS

For my reviews of the nominees and predictions for the wins for the various shorts categories, just click here for Animation and Live-Action and here for Documentaries.

JUST ONE MORE – TOP OSCAR UPSETS

Here are the six upsets I anticipate are most likely to happen. In category order:

  • Carey Mulligan for Best Actress in Promising Young Woman
  • Maria Balakova for Best Supporting Actress in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Lee Isaac Chung for Best Original Screenplay for Minari
  • Joshua James Richards for Best Cinematography for Nomadland
  • Time for Best Documentary
  • Tenet for Best Visual Effects

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the winners of the 93rd Academy Awards. The Oscars ceremony promises to be like a film. We’ll have to wait and see!

Oscars 2020 Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Just hours ago, I posted my opinions and predictions for the Documentary short films that were nominated. This is a continuation of the short films where this time the focus is on the nominees for Live Action and Animated:

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Feeling Through: dir. Doug Roland – A young man in New York leaves his friends for a date. He bumps into a man who through a sign says he’s both blind and deaf. His name is Artie. Tareek wants to leave, but Artie needs his help. First it’s a case Artie needs to be helped across the street. Then it becomes a case Artie needs help on a bus. Tareek wants to leave and be with is girlfriend, but reluctantly agrees. Artie can communicate by writing letters and numbers with his finger in the palm of people’s hands, and vice-versa. It’s there they introduce themselves to each other and Tareek cancels out on the date to guide Artie. It continues through the night as Artie needs food and needs a bus ride home.

This is a unique story of the start of a friendship of two unlikely people. I’ve seen similar films before but this is unique that it features a friendship between a fully-able person and a Deafblind person. Robert Tarango who plays Artie is Deafblind in real life and works at the kitchen of the Helen Keller National Centre. This is also excellent how it showcases people that we hardly know that much about. Sure, we may be familiar with Helen Keller, the most famous Deafblind person in history, but it reminds you of the others that have gifts of their own too. Reminds you that Deafblind people are more capable than you think.

The Letter Room: dir. Elvira Lind – Richard is a prison officer who does his duties faithfully. His job is in a maximum security penitentiary and often works with people on Death Row. One day, Richard gets a new duty. His new duty is to overlook incoming mail communication. It’s not just looking over letters, but scrutinizing for any hidden messages or hidden drugs or other things. Most messages are routine. However one set of messages catches his eye. It’s from a woman named Rosita. She’s the wife of a death row inmate. Her letters are romantic messages to her husband. Most of the time, Richard loses his focus on his job and looks at the letters like they’re pages from a romance novel! Then comes the ultimate. He has to meet face to face with her!

This is an amusing story. With a guard, played by Oscar Isaac, becoming infatuated with letters he’s supposed to scrutinize, you get the feeling this will lead to something bizarre. It’s the comedic nature of the story that gets you. You don’t expect a story like this to lead to anything comedic, but it does. And it looks good instead of dumb.

The Present: dir. Farah Nabulsi – The film begins with a Palestinian man named Yusef crossing the overcrowded Israel Checkpoint to get back home after finishing work in the morning. Back at home, he meets with his family. The fridge is breaking down. He wants to buy a new fridge for his wife Noor as an anniversary present. He decides to take his daughter Yasmine with him. Getting the fridge means going to past Israeli guards into the town of Beitunia and it’s a walking trip. The guards at the border before entering the Palestinian region, one younger and one older, debate what is the right way to people that cross. Yusef tries to cross with his daughter by his side, but is given a cold treatment by the guard. He is let through where he can buy the fridge, have a red bow put on it, and have it carted back to his home at his request. He and his daughter cart the fridge up the hill. However it’s again meeting with the crossing guards. As they inquire, they demand he cart the fridge past the gates himself, which causes him to have an outburst, feeling it’s impossible. His daughter resolves things by pushing it through the narrow gates herself.

This is a story where you don’t know where it will go. You know of the hostility between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. You know how badly Palestinians are treated. You have a sense how something as innocent as a refrigerator can be seen as a terrorism threat. You can understand how Yusef has the frustration where he has to live a life of facing crossing guards every single day of his life. The film says a lot. It says what’s it’s like to be Palestinian. It says what it’s like to live in an area of political turmoil and common terrorist incidents. How even a simple refrigerator can be seen as hiding a bomb. Makes you glad you don’t live there.

Two Distant Strangers: dirs. Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe – African-American Carter James wakes up in the morning. He’s in the bed of the woman named Perri, also African-American, he dated the night before. He wants to get home to feed his dog Jeter before he goes to work at his job as a graphic designer. Shortly after he leaves the building, he’s approached by a white police officer named Merk who suspects he has marijuana in his bag. Carter tries to justify it, even defend it, but the officer violently reacts on him as a woman videotapes the incident with her cellphone. Instead of dying, Carter wakes up in Perri’s bed. He tries to leave again. There are some differences from the day, but officer Merk returns and the same confrontation happens with Merk pinning his head to the ground with his knee. Again instead of dying, Carter again wakes up in Perri’s bed. He decides not to leave, but Merk enters in where Carter’s shot in bed. This is a continuos time-loop. Carter even develops conversation with Perri. Carter hopes to end it all. He approaches Merk. Merk is friendly and offeres him a ride home. It appears to end on friendly terms, but Merk shoots him in the alley. Again instead of dying, he wakes up in Peri’s bed.

This is a unique time-loop story that has something to say. The biggest topic is about how African Americans are treated by the police: one of the hottest topics of 2020. Every death at the hands of officer Merk appears to be very similar to a lot of high-profile deaths at the hands of police like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The film has something to say where deaths like these also happen to well-to-do African Americans. Even that line where Carter asks Perri if she owns a gun and her response: “I’m a black woman in America. Of course I do.” Even the playing of the Bruce Hornsby song “The Way It Is,” an anti-racism hit song from 1986, sends a strong statement about the police force’s brutal treatment of African Americans in the United States. That’s why I pick it as my Should Win and Will Win pick.

White Eye: dirs. Shira Hochman and Kobi Mizrahi – An Israeli man named Omer is searching for his stolen bicycle. It’s been gone for two weeks. He tried reporting to the police, but they haven’t bothered listening. He walks past the alley of a restaurant and sees what looks to be his bicycle. He sees it locked at a bike post. He insists to the police that’s it. The police inquire with the restaurant of who the owner/thief is. The man, an Ethiopian immigrant named Yunes, comes out and insists he bought the bicycle. This leads to a debate with the police. They insist they see his passport. The passport shows his Visa expired four months ago. His boss insists to the police Yunes renewed his visa. Meanwhile Omer goes looking around for a powersaw to get the lock sawed off. As he goes around, he sees the officers being hostile on Yunes while his boss insists his innocence. We see Omer go through the restaurant and see illegal immigrants in the freezer trying to hide themselves. We then see the police car gone, and Yunes. Then Omer has the saw to saw off the lock. He saws the bicycle instead.

This is a short film that packs a lot. It focuses on hostile accusations, a police force that lacks efficiency, racism, illegal immigration, and all in a film with a single take. That’s the biggest surprise of the film: it’s a story that’s all a single take that follows its subject Omer around to its eventual end of the story. Definitely a great work.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Burrow: dir. Madeline Sharafian – A rabbit has down on paper her dream hole in the ground: a private hole to herself with her disco ball. Once she digs her place and sets up, she comes across a mole and a field mouse who show her their blueprints and offer their help. She declines and runs off for a place for her own private hole in the ground. It’s no use as she bumps into some frogs, then some hedgehogs, then some newts and then some partying beetles and ants. As she continues to dig for her own place, she comes across water, which floods every other place she dug up in her path. She’s embarrassed of it all, but the creatures offer to build her place where she can have shared access with the others. She agrees happily and she gets her own place — disco ball and all — where she happily lets the other creatures drop in anytime.

This is a fun story to watch. However if you look close enough, it’s a story about introversion and how one feels comfortable being with themselves and having their own way. I feel this short is saying things would be better if we reached out and got together instead of always kept to ourselves.

Genius Loci: dir. Adrien Merigeau – Renee, a loner and an African immigrant to France, finds a lot of loneliness in the streets of Paris. Then one day her imagination takes shape. She’s able to lose the sense of the city and finds herself in the tranquility of a cafe with a woman playing music. It’s there where she’s able to find the peace in her mind.

This is a good story consisting of haunting voices, haunting noises and colorful shapes and imageries. You really get what’s haunting Renee’s mind. You also get the sense of tranquility Renee achieves after she finally gets her peace with the musician. It’s the combination of colorful and creative imagery with the mix of sounds that make this a great story to watch.

If Anything Happens I Love You: dir. Will McCormack and Michael Govier – A couple struggle to stay together after the death of their daughter. As they drift apart, their shadows morph into their hidden emotions. The mother does laundry, but a soccer ball comes out and turns on a record player and plays the song ‘1950.’ As ‘1950’ plays, the daughter’s image comes out and it forms images in her life. The image even shapes the daughter’s tenth birthday party in front of both parents. Then the images of her final day as she says goodbye to her parents. Both prevent her from going, but it’s no use. It’s a dream and the dream relives how she was shot in school. The film ends with the daughter’s note to the parents: “If anything happens, I love you.’ The daughter then appears to both parents and gets them to reunite as the soul of their daughter is a glowing light.

This is unique imagery in a story that hits hard. Nobody likes knowing of a child’s death, never mind a school shooting. Nevertheless this film does act as a healing story filled with eye-catching imagery. It will touch you deeply if you catch it on Netflix. It’s because of the positive and touching rapport that I predict it to be my Will Win pick.

Opera: dir. Erick Oh – This film is one big imagery. It looks to be an ancient civilization as it happens in what appears to be a pyramid as it’s led by a God-like figure. It’s a process that appears to be from birth to death. Then something happens that appears to provoke the chaos in the order. This disruption causes chaos throughout and there are changes throughout the system. Then when it’s resolved, it returns back to its original order.

This is a unique animated film. It’s like a looping narrative that speaks about humanity and all the stories are all on this one big image that one notices as the images focus on going down and then up in a single take. Throughout the film, it appears it’s trying to tell us about the human race as it is educated, as it works, as it serves their religion. The chaos ensues as it tells of class struggle, of racism and of war. The message the film has to say among a continuous image that tells a different story as focus is shifted from place to place is what makes this eye-catching. That’s I make this my Should Win pick.

Yes-People: dirs. Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson – The only 3D short of the bunch to be nominated. It’s to do about three sets of people in an apartment. One’s an older couple, one’s a middle aged couple who are unhappily married, the other is a family consisting of a mother with both a teenaged son and a young boy. They go about their routines, the older son to school, the middle-aged husband to work and the older husband to shovel the snow. During the daytime inside the apartment, the older wife reads Proust, the middle-aged wife hides a drink from her husband, and the mother teaches her young son recorder. Outside the apartment, the older husband shovels the snow, the middle-aged husband works at his desk and the teenage son snoozes during class. At night, the older couple get it on. The middle-aged wife hopes it will get her husband to make love, which it doesn’t and the mother and teenaged son are shocked from what they hear. At the end of it all, the older husband sees the snowfall for overnight knowing what he’ll be doing tomorrow morning.

This is a fun story. It’s filled with some humor and excellent imagery. It has a lot of surprises. In addition, the only dialogue we hear is the word “Yow.” It’s fun to watch without taking it that seriously.

And there you have it. Those are my reviews of the Oscar-nominated shorts films and my predictions for the winners. Winners to be decided Sunday night.

Oscars 2020 Shorts Review: Documentary

It was a big wonder if I would be able to see the Oscar-nominated shorts this year. The theatres are still closed and now is a case where in BC, places can’t have more than 10 people at a time. It’s frustrating not to be able to go places. Nevertheless I’m happy to have the chance to stream the shorts. To start with, I’ll be dealing with the Documentary nominees:

Colette: dirs. Alice Doyard and Anthony Giacchino – During World War II, Colette Marin-Catherine was a young French woman who took part in the resistance against the Nazis. Her older brother Jean-Pierre, stockpiled weapons for the resistance. He was caught, tried, and extradited to the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp where he was eventually killed. It’s 2019 and the 75th Anniversary celebrations of D-Day are approaching. Colette is to make a return to Dora-Mittelbau to come to terms with her past: a past that still upsets her 75 years later. She doesn’t know if she can do it. She relies on director/producer Alice Doyard for help. During the trip, it appears she might not be able to do it. She can’t hold herself as the mayor of Dora-Mittelbau makes a speech about preventing such an incident like happening again. She confides in Doyard her past and her fears as the moment is approaching. Then she visits the Camp. It brings back bad memories. Then she visits the oven where her brother is executed. She’s in tears and she says her goodbyes to Jean-Pierre.

This is an important film. This is a film that reminds you that very often, wounds and scars are very heard to heal, even 75 years later. Peace needs to be made, but peace is hard to achieve. Especially after something this horrific. The film does an excellent job of making it Colette’s story. However it also does a good job of making it Alice’s story too. Dealing with Colette, she learns a lot and is also overcome with her own emotions. The two even develop a closeness as Colette passes her brother’s ring onto her. It’s a great short film about humanity.

A Concerto Is A Conversation: dirs. Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot – Composer Kris Bowers is about to perform a concerto he recently wrote at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Interviewing him is his grandfather: 91 year-old Horace Bowers Sr. Horace Sr. had just come from a celebration honoring him for his dry-cleaning business that has served the area of Los Angeles he lives in. Kris appears in many an outfit. During the film, Kris interviews Horace and Horace interviews Kris. Horace reveals how he escaped the segregation in Florida for a better life in Los Angeles. He talks of racism he experienced in LA, but an opportunity to make a business happen. Kris talks about music, how much it means to him and some of the music he wrote over the years. The film then ends with his concerto and his grandfather watching on.

This was the last of the documentaries seen as part of the five-set. Since the other four were of depressing subject matter, it was nice to see one of an uplifting story. This is a story of a grandfather and grandson who are successful in two different ways. The grandfather owns a dry-cleaning business that has been hugely successful in the Los Angeles area it serves for decades. The grandson is a composer whose musical scores have been heard in video games, television and film including Madden NFL, Mrs. America, Green Book and The United States vs. Billie Holiday just to name a few. The film shows what it’s like to be black in the United States. It’s also as much about the triumph as it is about the struggle. The film is both an interview where one asks questions to the other and a show of a bond between the two that’s on full display during the documentary’s 13 minutes. You’ll enjoy it and be enlightened.

Do Not Split: Charlotte Cook and Anders Hammer – This film is a compilation of footage of the Hong Kong protests. The footage takes place over a period of eight months from August 2019 when the protests start to March 2020 when Hong Kong goes through social restrictions because of the COVID pandemic. The footage is of various individuals you will only see once and some individuals you will see constantly in the film. In the film, you will see images of the protests, rioting and even makeshift places of shelter they use during the protests. You will see a lot of actions they take, but you will also hear them speak their mind about the issues.

This film will capture your attention and will not let go. This film really gets you concerned with the students and their welfare. If you are up to date on the situation in Hong Kong, the film will make you side with the students and give you a good understanding why they’re fighting this. The arrangement of the footage is great at capturing the essence of the story as well as giving the people their voice.

Hunger Ward: dirs. Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Shueuerman – The film is focused in two therapeutic feeding centres in Yemen. The film focuses on the two female doctors in the feeding centres. Over in the centres, the doctors have to deal with children near death and as well with the families. This is happening during the Yemeni Civil War during what the UN calls the biggest current civilian crisis in the world. The film shows how they deal with them, how they weigh them, how they deal with near-death situations and their attitudes of the whole issue. They even show the aftermath in two cases when the child dies. It shows devastating reactions from family members and the frustrations of the doctors. One of the nurses keeps an album on her iPhone of images of all the children she dealt with who unfortunately didn’t make it. The film also shows survivor stories, like of two girls that did make it.

This is a film that showcases an issue that often gets overlooked by the media. We hear of wars but we often overlook some of the effects of the wars, like how it affects children. This is a film that definitely has a message about its topic. This malnourishment during the Yemeni Civil War ranks Yemen second only to the Central African Republic for the worst child malnutrition in the world. The doctors themselves have their own messages to say. One talks of how Yemen used to be such a great nation, but it has now fallen. The other doctor, she blames this child malnutrition not only on the war but the whole nation, including herself. The film also includes the two survivor stories as messages of hope. The film ends sending a message that the stories of hope and tragedy you see are part of an issue that’s still fighting. I admire how a film like this showcases a message the world’s news cameras rarely focus on. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

A Love Song For Latasha – dirs. Sophia Nahali Allison and Janice Duncan – The film is narrated from young women who knew Latasha Harlins personally. For those who don’t know who Latasha Harlins personally, Harlins was a 15 year-old African-American Los Angeles girl whom in 1991 was shot to death by a hostile storeowner in L.A.’s Koreatown. The store owner was found guilty of manslaughter and was given a very lenient sentence which had no prison time at all. In this film, you hear from women who used to know of Latasha of who she was and of her hopes and dreams, including a dream to be a lawyer. You see images of areas where Latasha lived and played and went to school. You also hear from one woman of the store Latasha would meet her fate. She talks of how the owner was already known for her hostility. Latasha knew of it but brushed it aside, saying “She won’t kill anybody.” She couldn’t have been wronger that day when she went to simply buy some orange juice and the storeowner thought she was shoplifting. That led to a violent confrontation where the owner shot her in the back of her head.

The film gives a human image of a person who was a subject of racial tension back in the early 1990’s. For those that didn’t know, the L.A. Riots of 1992 were started by the reaction of the verdicts of the police officers in the beating of Rodney King. however the Koreatown area of Los Angeles was a particular scene of much of the rioting. The death of Latasha and her killer’s lenient sentence was most to do with that. In fact the liquor store Latasha was shot dead at was burned to the ground during the riots. This film creates Latasha not simply as a victim of racism, but as a young girl with hopes and dreams. The media shows one thing; these girls show another thing. The film also showcases images of Latasha’s childhood, images of Latasha at school, and images of young African-American girls in poses of confidence.

This is a documentary important to have out. 2020 was known for its race riots. This film takes us back to the race riots of Rodney King and shows how complex of an issue racism is and how it’s not just one central story that’s the cause of the friction. Yes, the reaction of George Floyd’s death is what provoked the riots of 2020, but George Floyd wasn’t the only victim. Same with Rodney King and the 1992 L.A. Riots. The story of Latasha reminds us it’s not just Rodney’s incident that provokes such an angry backlash. The story reminds us that Latasha is not just a 15 year-old African-American girl who met bad luck that tragic day. She was a somebody. She was a person that mattered, and she will never be forgotten. That’s why I make this film my Will Win pick.

And there you have them. Those are my reviews of the five films nominated for the Oscar category of Best Documentary Short Subject. Reviews of the other short films coming very soon.

My Predictions For The 2020 Oscar Nominations

This year’s Oscars may not make you want to go to the theatres, but it will make you stream like crazy. This year may have a lot of cases where movie theatres were either forced to close or limit capacity because of health regulations. This year also made may film companies send many Oscar-calibre films to streaming services since theatrical release would be harder than ever to achieve. The Academy has been very forgiving in this situation. They’ve loosened up the rules for this year in particular to allow movies that only had a streaming life have Oscar eligibility. What can I say? Nobody wanted this pandemic. Especially since many people are now labeling this period of time the ‘Coronaversary!’Has it been a year already?

In a regular year, the Oscars would have been awarded by now. Actually the last Sunday of February. This year the nominations are delayed until March 15th. Nevertheless it has still kept Oscar-trackers like myself busy. And I’m ready to make my predictions for this year:

BEST PICTURE
The Father
Judas And The Black Messiah
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
Minari
News Of The World
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Sound Of Metal
Trial of the Chicago 7

BEST DIRECTOR
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
David Fincher – Mank
Aaron Sorkin – Trial Of The Chicago 7
Chloe Zhao – Nomadland


BEST ACTOR
Riz Ahmed – Sound Of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Gary Oldman – Mank
Tahar Rahim – The Mauritanian

BEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day – The United States Vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces Of A Woman
Frances Mcdormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Sacha Baron Cohen – Trial Of The Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya – Judas And The Black Messiah
Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night In Miami
Paul Raci – Sound Of Metal

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Maria Balakova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close – Hilbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will Berson and Shaka King – Judas And The Black Messiah
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Jack Fincher – Mank
Aaron Sorkin – Trial Of The Chicago 7

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies – News Of The World
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller – The Father
Kemp Powers – One Night In Miami
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Farmageddon: A Shaun The Sheep Movie
Onward
Over The Moon
Soul
Wolfwalkers

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Eric Messerschmidt – Mank
Lachlan Milne – Minari
Joshua James Richards – Nomadland
Darius Wolski – News Of The World
Hoyte Van Hoytema – Tenet

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Alexandra Byrne – Emma
Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Trish Summerville – Mank
Bina Daigeler – Mulan
Susan Harman and David Wolsky – The Personal History Of David Copperfield

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Dick Johnson Is Dead
MLK – FBI
My Octopus Teacher
Time
The Truffle Hunters

BEST FILM EDITING
Kirk Baxter – Mank
Harry Yoon – Minari
Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Frederic Thoraval – Promising Young Woman
Alan Baumgarten – Trial Of The Chicago 7

BEST HAIR and MAKEUP
Birds of Prey
Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
One Night In Miami

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Another Round – Denmark
Collective – Romania
Dear Comrades – Russia
La Llorona – Guatemala
Two Of Us – France

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Mank
Alexandre Desplat – The Midnight Sky
James Newton Howard – News Of The World
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Soul
Ludwig Goranson – Tenet

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Fight For You” – Judas And The Black Messiah
“Io Se (Seen) – The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé)
“Hear My Voice” – Trial Of The Chicago 7
“Husavik” – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga
“Speak Now” – One Night In Miami

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Emma
Mank
News Of The World
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Tenet

BEST SOUND
Greyhound
Mank
News Of The World
Nomadland
Sound Of Metal

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Birds Of Prey
Mank
The Midnight Sky
Mulan
Tenet


Just like I did in past years, I not only did predictions for the nominees but also possible upsetters in most of the categories. With this year being a year where most films were streamed, there could be upsets a pleanty. So here are my picks for the potential upsetters:

BEST PICTURE
Da 5 Bloods
One Night In Miami

BEST DIRECTOR
Regina King – One Night In Miami
Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods

BEST ACTOR
Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST ACTRESS
Sidney Flanagan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Rosamund Pike – I Care A Lot

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jared Leto – The Little Things
Bill Murray – On The Rocks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian
Helena Zengel – News Of The World

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Abraham And Darius Marder – Sound Of Metal

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Ramin Bahrani – White Tiger
Jonathan Raymond And Kelly Reichardt – First Cow

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Croods: A New Age
The Willoughbys

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Phedon Papamichael – Trial Of The Chicago 7
Newton Thomas Sigel – Da 5 Bloods

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck – One Night In Miami
Nancy Steiner – Promising Young Woman

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Painter And The Thief
Welcome To Chechnya

BEST FILM EDITING
Yorgos Lamprinos – The Father
Mikkel E. G. Nielsen – Sound Of Metal

BEST HAIR and MAKEUP
Emma

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Night Of The Kings – Cote D’Ivoire
Quo Vadis Aida? – Bosnia-Hercegovina

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Emile Mosseri – Minari

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Loyal Brave True” – Mulan

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mulan

BEST SOUND
Soul
Trial Of The Chicago Seven

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Soul
Welcome To Chechnya

Those are my predictions for the nominations for the 2020 Academy Awards. The nominees will be revealed the morning of Monday the 15th. We’ll wait and see what the decisions are!

My Predictions for the 2020 Golden Globes

The Golden Globes are happening unusually late in the year. Keep in mind 2020 was no ordinary year. It either cancelled everything out or held it up. What can I say? A pandemic can do that. The pandemic has caused a lot more films intended for big-screen release go to the small screen. Even those with huge big-screen releases intended had to have a limited big-screen release with it then relegated to streaming services. That in turn led to the Academy to be more forgiving towards online films this past year. This in turn will make all the other awards shows, including the Golden Globes, more forgiving to the films. Nevertheless the show must go on and February 28th it will!

The weird thing is I’ve only seen two of the films in contention for the Golden Globes. You gotta love quarantines and lockdowns. But you also gotta love streaming services too! Anyways here are my predictions:

FILM:

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: 
Nomadland
Most Likely Upsetter: Promising Young Woman

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Most Likely Upsetter: Hamilton

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Riz Ahmed, Sound Of Metal
Most Likely Upsetter: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Most Likely Upsetter: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner:
 Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Most Likely Upsetter: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner:
 Maria Balakova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Most Likely Upsetter: Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Winner:
 Leslie Odom Jr., One Night In Miami
Most Likely Upsetter: Sacha Baron Cohen, Trial Of The Chicago Seven

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Winner: 
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Most Likely Upsetter: Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Best Director
Winner: 
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Most Likely Upsetter: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Most Likely Upsetter: Chloe Zhao and Jessica Bruder, Nomadland

Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner:
 Another Round (Denmark)
Most Likely Upsetter: La Llorona (Guatemala)

Best Animated Feature Film
Winner:
 Soul
Most Likely Upsetter: Wolfwalkers

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
Winner:
 “Io Se (Seen)”, The Life Ahead
Most Likely Upsetter: “Speak Now”, One Night In Miami

Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Winner:
 Trent Reznor, Jon Batiste and Atticus Ross, Soul
Most Likely Upsetter: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Mank

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: Small Axe

Best TV Series, Drama: The Mandalorian

Best TV Series, Comedy: Schitt’s Creek

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama: Jason Bateman, Ozark

Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy: Ramy Youssef, Ramy

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Olivia Colman, The Crown

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: John Boyega, Small Axe

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie: Julia Garner, Ozark

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the 78th Golden Globe awards. Winners to be decided on Sunday evening. It would not only be interesting to see who wins, but how the show is conducted in these preventative circumstances. Anyways a pandemic won’t stop the fun. It may limit things, but it won’t stop the fun!

VIFF 2020 Wraps Up Its First Online Fest

It does seem awkward to do a wrap-up for the Vancouver International Film Festival. Not just because it’s way into December, but because most of the film festival was online! Plus all my VIFF activity for 2020 was online! Nevertheless I feel it’s worth it.

2020 was an interesting festival as it had to resort to mostly online viewing of films. There were airings of films at theatres like the VanCity and Cinematheque, but they were very few and had limited capacity. Despite all this, the online system did give the opportunity to watch many of the films that were part of this year’s Film Festival. There were 102 feature films, 98 short films and 19 talks and events at this year’s VIFF. The number of VIFF Gold passes sold out. Despite the lower number of films, viewership was still good as it totaled over 50,000 online views.

For me, this was a unique experience to view a film festival all all online. I first had a goal of seeing ten films online. There was some time where I thought I had a lot of catching up to do as there were days I didn’t watch. Then it was like the last five days I did a lot of cramming. Like two films a day each day. In all honesty, I prefer watching films in the theatre. Having them in the theatre is better for demanding my attention. If I watch it on a computer, I will easily be distracted by other things online or want to sneak a websearch in. If I’m in the theatre, it’s nothing but that film.

Nevertheless I was successful in seeing fifteen feature films and two shorts segments. I saw six Canadian films or film segments, one multinational set of shorts, four American films, four European films, and two Asian films.Those who know me know my film goals for the VIFF consist of three main goals: one Canadian feature-length film, one shorts segment, and one contenders of the Best International Feature Film Oscar. The goal of a Canadian film was accomplished with Monkey Beach: the first VIFF film I saw this year. The shorts segments I did twice with Programme 2 and Reel Youth. The International Feature contender I was not able to do. During VIFF, there weren’t even ten countries that gave their official submissions to the AMPAS Academy. At the time, none of them were shown at the VIFF. The reason why so few is because the 2020 Oscars will be held on the last Sunday of April 2021 and the other countries were in no rush. During that time, I went with films I felt would best contend: Undine, Father and There Is No Evil. As time passed, it would eventually be revealed none of those films became their nation’s official submission in the category. Looks like this was one goal I had to put on hold this year.

One thing that was not absent from this year’s VIFF was their award winners. Awards were still given out. I’m happy to say that three of the films I saw won awards. One thing about this year’s awards was that because of the nature of the festival, most of the people’s choice or audience award categories could not happen. Thus only one audience award. Included for this year are VIFF Immersed awards for virtual reality that is sponsored by VeeR VR network. Here’s a list of the award winners from this year’s VIFF:

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award
Presented by Telus
WINNER: Nuxalk Radio (dir. Banchi Hanuse)
Special Mention: Cosmic (dir. Meredith Hama-Brown)

Best BC Film Award
Presented by CreativeBC, Encore by Deluxe
WINNER: The Curse of Willow Song (dir. Karen Lam)

BC Emerging Filmmaker Award
Presented by UBCP/ACTRA, AFBS & William F. White
WINNER: Jessie Anthony for Brother, I Cry

Best BC Short Film
Presented by Telus Storyhive
WINNER: Cake Day (dir. Philip Thomas)
Special Mention: Sunken Cave And A Migrating Bird (dir. Qiuli Wu)

Canadian Film Awards

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Beans (dir. Tracey Deer)
Special Mention: Nadia, Butterfly  (dir. Pascal Plante)

Emerging Canadian Director
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada
WINNER: Violation (dirs. Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Macinelli)

Best Canadian Documentary
Presented by the Rogers Documentary Fund
WINNER: Call Me Human (dir. Kim O’Bomsawin)
Special Mention: Prayer For A Lost Mitten (dir. Jean-Francois Lesage)

Best Canadian Short Film
Presented by Side Street Post
WINNER: Bad Omen (dir. Salar Pashtoonyar)
Special Mention: Moon (dir. Zoe Pelchat)

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: The Reason I Jump (dir. Jerry Rothwell)

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award
Presented by RBC and Cineplex
WINNER: The Hidden Life Of Trees (dir. Peter Wohlleben)

VIFF Immersed Awards

Best Cinematic Live Action
WINNER: Kowloon Forest (dir. Alexei Marfin)

Best In Documentary
WINNER: By The Waters Of Babylon (dirs. Kristin Lauth Schaeffer and Andrew Halasz)

Best In Animation
WINNER: The Book Of Distance (dir. Randall Okita)

Honorable Mention In Animation
In The Land Of Flabby Schnook (dir. Francis Gelinas)

Audience Award
WINNER: Ecosphere: Raja Ampat (dir. Joseph Purdam)

VIFF Immersed Volumetric Market Awards
Sponsored by VeeR

  • Uninterrupted (dirs. Nettie Wild and Rae Hull)
  • A Vocal Landscape (dirs. Omid Zarai and Anne Jeppesen)

Before I wrap up my blog, I’ll give you the other films in which I saw at the fest. All films listed below are Canadian unless otherwise noted:

And there you have it. That’s my wrap-up of the film festival. I know it took me a long time to finish it all up, but I finally mustered the energy after all my work and courses. As for next year, we’ll see how the VIFF is carried out. Will they do more online films? Will they reduce the number of theatres or keep the same number they had in 2019? All I can say is I hope to see the VIFF films back in theatres. I like volunteering and being part of events. Only time will tell how VIFF 2021 is played out.

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