Category Archives: Movie Reviews: 2018

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.

Movie Review: The Wife

The Wife

Joan (Glenn Close) may appear to be the happy wife of author Joseph (Jonathan Pryce), but The Wife will slowly expose the truths.

The Wife is another summer release I missed out on seeing at the box office. Ever since its Oscar chances for Best Actress, it sparked my interest. I’m glad I saw it.

The film begins in 1992 with Joan Castleman and her husband Joseph just waking up. Joan appears to be the happy wife of a renowned author. They receive the news that Joseph has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Both are overjoyed, at least on the outside. At the party to celebrate, their daughter Susannah, who’s having a baby, is happy, but son David is less so. David has desires to be a writer, but seems to consider his talent inferior to his father’s. Especially since he’s hesitant about hearing his father’s critique of his short story. As Joan and Joseph fly to Stockholm, a reporter named Nathaniel Bone tries to congratulate Joseph. That only causes discomfort for the two, but you notice a certain bitter feeling in Joan. A bitterness that grows even further whenever he acknowledges Joan in public.

The film goes frequently from 1992 to the past to back to 1992. In the flashbacks starting in 1958, Joan Archer is a writing student at her university. Her writing and her looks have impressed a young Joseph Castleman who’s a college professor. Joan refutes his advances at first, but things change when she works at a publishing company and hears from her boss Elaine Mozell that female writers don’t have a chance at competing against men. Joan continues to attend more classes with Joseph teaching and his encouragement wins her love to him. Joseph tries to make it as a writer while Joan just wants to be a housewife. But when Joseph’s writing is declined by publishers, Joan starts tutoring him. By 1968, it’s a case where Joan ghostwrites novels Joseph is to be credited with while he plays ‘househusband’ to the kids. Over the decades after many novels, and adulterous affairs, the narcissistic Joseph has become a Nobel Prize winner.

Back to Stockholm, Joseph and Joan are put in a hotel with all of his books present. Joan appears to be excite over seeing all of his books published in other languages. Later, Joseph meets with many important people leading up to the Prizes ceremony. Joseph has a heart condition that comes without notice and requires medication, as noticed during the ceremony rehearsal. One night, Joseph is lured away by a young female photographer named Linnea. Joan leaves, unhappy with what she saw. Nathaniel notices an unhappy Joan in the hotel lounge and invites him to drinks. Nathaniel reveals he’s been studying up on Joseph and has gotten the sense that it was Joan who was doing all the writing. Joan tries to call them lies and tell him to go away. Meanwhile Linnea comes onto Joseph. Joseph accepts, but his heart condition acts back up. Both confront each other about what was going on, but the heated argument ends when they receive a phone call learning of their newborn grandson.

The night of the ceremony occurs. before the Awards, David arrives. He confronts the two about what he heard from Nathaniel Bone. The two deny everything. As Joseph receives the Prize, Joan’s bitterness grows first at the Prizes ceremony and then at the dinner banquet. In the limo to the hotel, they get into a heated argument which causes Joseph to give the prize to Joan, only for her to refuse it. The argument continues on as Joan throws books at Joseph and tells him she’s divorcing him. Joseph goes into a heart attack. It’s apparent it’s fatal. As Joseph is dying awaiting paramedics, Joan tells Joseph she loves him. Joseph’s last words to her are “You’re such a good liar.” On the airplane home with David, Nathaniel Bone acknowledges the loss, but Joan’s response, and the film’s ending, will surprise you in a subtle way.

This year’s Oscars appear to be full of films with social messages. This film has a message about sexism in the arts. We have Joan who wants to write, but it’s Joseph who takes the credit for it. It’s not that uncommon as I once read a 1975 book called The People’s Almanac and they had an article in their chapter on literature titled “She Wrote It, He Got The Credit.” We shouldn’t forget that the time Joan chose to ghostwrite for Joseph was back in the early 1960’s. Female writers may have better chances not, but it’s still hard. Don’t forget J.K. Rowling went by her initials instead of Joanna Rowling with that belief she won’t be taken seriously as a writer. The story is very similar to Big Eyes as Margaret Keane ‘ghostpainted’ under the name Walter Keane because of the sexism in art. I think that explains why Joan was very willing to ghostwrite for Joseph back then. Because she felt the only way she can show her writing to the world was under a male name.

Nevertheless the film is more about the story and the woman rather than the social message. Joan is a woman who appears to be happy on the outside and very in love with her husband. However as each passing moment and instance comes up, Joan’s hidden anger of being the true writer and the wife of an adulterous man becomes more obvious in her silence. You had the feeling that Joan would explode any minute and her true feelings would show. It happens right there after Joseph wins the big prize. However the thing about Joan is that she is willing to keep her peace after his death and make the truth known to just David and Susannah, but hidden from everyone else including Nathaniel Bone. It takes a person of that much self-control underneath the hidden rage to have that much strength to let things be.

The story itself is pieced together very well. We have that moment in 1992 in the days from when Joseph’s award is announced to his eventual death. We also have the past where Joseph and Joan meet, and then become the ‘writing pair’ over time. We also have Joseph being lured to Linnea which would unravel another dirty secret. The film does a good job in moving scenes from 1992 to back in the past to returning to Stockholm to returning to the past and so on. The quality is that it keeps the audience in the wonder. You have the audience thinking one thing at first, sensing something’s wrong later on, and then finding out the truth near the climactic end. That’s an excellent quality because it provides the film with the mystery to keep the audience intrigued.

This is the first English-language film directed by Swedish director Bjorn Runge. He does a very good job of directing the film and the story. I have never read the novel The Wife, but scriptwriter Jane Anderson does a very good job in adapting Meg Wolitzer’s novel into a story to keep the audience intrigued. The highlight of course is Glenn Close’s acting. The best thing about the performance is not just how she delivers, but how she’s able to keep so many things hidden in her character only to come out at the right time. You could see the hidden hurt and disappointment in her character and that was the best quality. Acting is more of what’s unsaid than said. However the film is not only Glenn’s. Jonathan Pryce also delivered well as the husband who can’t confront his problems right. Annie Starke, daughter of Glenn, did a very good job of playing the younger Joan. She did a good job of showing Joan’s disappointment that early in her life, but mix it with her willingness. Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons, played David very well, butI was not happy about seeing him have a role where he appears like he’s always hurting.

The Wife is more about the character than the social message. However it’s also about the story that makes it so intriguing to watch.

Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: The Favourite

Favourite

Abigail Hill (played by Emma Stone) competes for the title of lady-in-waiting from Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman) in The Favourite.

With this year’s crop of Oscar contenders, there are many biopics. The Favourite is not so much a biopic as it is a fictional telling of a rivalry in history.

Usually around this time, there are films that often serve a message or have a specific point relevant to the times. Even in a case of a timepiece, one is shown to show how what happened in the past is very similar to what’s happening today. The Favourite didn’t appear to show what’s happening in our world now, at first. I was left so confused after seeing it the first time, I had to see it again to make better sense. It does make better sense, especially after seeing Vice. In Vice, we see how very often the president doesn’t always make decisions on his own. He is often persuaded by others including former presidents before he makes his final decision.

Here, the Queen can’t make her decisions on her own. It’s a tough time for England as they’re at war with France. Both Thomas Harley and Lady Marlborough are trying to compete for the queen to side with their ideas and carry it out as the decision. Lady Marlborough has the advantage as she’s able to tend to the Queen’s every need, despite her annoyance, and she has the added advantage of being very knowledgeable about what’s happening. Harley however has the advantage through his coaxing of the Queen through becoming the Prime Minister. Another thing I just recently researched is that this was a unique time in England as the influence of the Crown was decreasing and the influence of ministers was increasing.. Some say it was because of Queen Anne’s insanity that led to the decrease of the power of the Crown.

The film also presents another unique outlook. In an interview, Deborah Davis said it took 20 years for the script to finally become a reality. Davis composed the script from reading over some of the memoirs of Sarah Churchill (Lady Marlborough). Much of it was organized and compiled by Winston Churchill in his lifetime. It was especially noteworthy of the female power triangle. That’s the unique thing the film presented: the female power triangle. There’s the mentally-ill Queen who’s more interested in racing ducks and spending time with her rabbits (representing all 17 of her deceased children), but still has some desire to lead. There’s Lady Marlborough who’s always been her adviser and always tended to her, but has a lust for control of her own.

Then there’s Abigail: the poor cousin of Lady Marlborough who is clever enough to win the Queen and even overtake Lady Marlborough as the Queen’s favorite. Abigail was very naive at first, but once she learned she could win the Queen with her smarts, she worked to overtake Lady Marlborough as the lady-in-waiting. She was a good reader, she took to the Queen’s rabbits better, she willingly participated in giving sexual favor to the queen, she even married the courtier to the Queen’s delight (whom she did have affection to). Abigail however did not know at the time her win over Lady Marlborough would have consequences. As the Lady was dismissed from the court, the Queen would start hating Abigail. As Abigail tried to send a message of power through hurting one of her rabbits, it would be the Queen who would give Abigail a lesson on who holds the power.

The film also gives an interesting depiction of the Royals at the time. The mental illness and victim mentality of Queen Anne is possibly the most noticed aspect. However it does give a lot of notice of what happens behind the closed doors of the palace. Queen Anne was an interesting character as she was often confused of her power. Ministers were gaining more power, but the Queen wanted to reassure herself even more than the others that she had the highest power. She would get mad at the simplest thing, even music being played in the court. She would continue eating cake even after vomiting. However the palace and those inside also provided a lot of intrigue. We have a place where a lot of debauchery takes place. We have an arena for competition of political power. We also have a place where a lot of secrets are to be kept from the public. It is questionable whether Queen Anne was a lesbian or had same-sex attractions. I’m sure documentation may support it or oppose it. However it’s interesting that the Queen being seduced by Lady Marlborough and then by Abigail was happening around a time homosexuals were put in prison. Interesting.

Another thing that got me with this film was the frequent violent ways of treating others and the way insults were hurled at each other. Frequently you heard people of the court, both male and female, call the women ‘cunt’ in their face. In addition, the foul languages used by those in the court and from the Queen really left you wondering if that was how the royals were like? We are all taught to think the Royals were the definition of etiquette. However the biggest thing that got me was the use of violence on others. We first saw it when Abigail was pushed out of her carriage. We saw it in how Harley would simply push Abigail any which way. We saw how Lady Marlborough would use violence on queen Anne when she asks for Abigail instead. We even see it used by Abigail as her lust for power grows and she has an unconscious Lady Marlborough dragged by a horse. Really makes you think of the times back then. I know it was a fictional depiction of the power triangle back then, but it still makes you wonder.

The film is another achievement for Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. It seems like with each film he directs, he creates a new milestone. This film he directs is an excellent work of how he takes a fictionalized depiction of a real situation in history and turns it into the story of madness and competition that it is. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara makes a lot of creative choices like giving some details that were taboo at the time and even making this film an eight-chapter story. It makes for a very intriguing story with a lot of eyebrow-raising scenes. It also makes you want to look up the history behind it.

As for the acting, it’s a wonder why the ensemble was not nominated for the SAG Award for Best Motion-Picture Ensemble. This year’s awards season has had a lot of notable snubs and lopsided victories. The combined acting of the major actors in this film are among the best of the year. However the performances of the three major roles have received individual praise. The best of which has to be Olivia Colman as Queen Anne. Olivia has been able to embody the madness and lust for control of Queen Anne with excellence. Definitely one to steal the show this year. Emma Stone also does an excellent job of scene-stealing as Abigail Masham: the one who starts out naively as a minor servant but soon learns to fight dirty for the role of the favorite. She is possibly the biggest comic relief of the film. Rachel Weisz is less comedic, but her stoicism in her role as Sarah Churchill and her own lust for control did steal the show and garner a lot of intrigue. Outside of the ‘main three,’ Nicholas Hoult also stole many a scene as Earl Harley who has a liking for Abigail, but has a knack for treating her like dirt.

The film also has a lot of excellent technical merits too. The Cinematography from Robbie Ryan was very fitting for the film. Yorgos Mavropsaridis delivered the right editing choices. The production design was also excellent in recreating the castle, but it did make me wonder how the castle didn’t look at all like Buckingham Palace. I admit I didn’t know British history well and learned only recently that Buckingham Palace housed the British Royal Family in 1761. The recreation of Kensington palace in its 18th-Century form was excellent. The costuming was also excellent as it fit the right times. Sandy Powell is today’s Edith Head. The music with its mix of classical symphonies fit the film excellently.

The Favourite is a story that many might not take an interest in seeing at first, but it’s worth seeing. It’s a story that will catch your intrigue and tells a story with a lot of validity for today.

Oscars 2018 Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m good at keeping count of all the years I’m able to see all the Best Picture nominees, but I don’t know how many consecutive years I’ve seen the shorts. However I did it again this year. I lucked out and saw all the shorts for this year’s Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film categories. There were a lot of differences of the films, but a lot of similarities too. Here’s my review of the films:

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS:

The col thing about this year is that two films — Fauve and Marguerite — come from Canada. More specifically, Quebec. The five films nominated are very different in genre and story, but all are deserving of their nominations:

Detainment: dir. Vincent Lambe – This is the most controversial of the five films. February 12, 1993 started off as a day in which two 10 year-old boys named Jon Venables and Robert Thompson simply played truant from school and stole items from nearby stores. That all changed when they saw 2 year-old James Bulger standing outside the butcher shop unattended. The film focuses intensely on the police interrogations. Both Thompson and Venables are interrogated separately. Both boys’ parents are in the room listening in, and in complete paralyzing shock.

The film is based off of some of the recorded interrogations of the two boys. The film appears to be a character study of the two individual boys. Thompson appears defiant and remorseless while Venables is constantly lying and frequently cries, even hysterically. The film also relives the moments such as when adults butt in and how they walked Bulger the long distance to the track where he died. It becomes gripping without getting too disturbing.

NOTE: The film has attracted a lot of controversy because of its subject matter. The James Bulger murder is a murder that still upsets the UK, especially Liverpool, to this day. The mother has gone on BBC speaking her anger and demanded the film be removed from the list of nominees. That’s why even though I think it’s the best film of all five, I feel it should not win the Oscar. I don’t see it trying to bring any sympathy to the two boys, but it still upsets many from the UK to this day.

Fauve: dir. Jeremy Comte – Two boys, Tyler and Benjamin, are playing an innocent power game. They first do it around an abandoned train. However they decide to take their game to a surface mine for a concrete factory. Then the game becomes deadly as Benjamin finds himself sinking in the wet cement. Tyler tries to help, but to no avail as it stops him too. Any help from Tyler helps to no avail. Then the aftermath as a woman offers a ride home tells a lot.

The film is a good short story. The story starts off as simple fun and games, but then turns to a dark tragic drama when you least expect it. Even the ending leaves you asking questions at the end. Very good short.

Marguerite: dir. Marianne Farley – Marguerite is an elderly lady nearing the last years of her life at home. She is nursed on a daily basis by a young nurse named Rachel. One day, she overhears a phone conversation between Rachel and another woman. It sounds romantic. Later, Marguerite notices Rachel’s phone in the bathroom and sees romantic photos of Rachel and the other woman. One day, Marguerite unearths a photo album. The photos are back in the 1960’s and are of her and another woman named Cecile. It brings back memories of the two. Cecile would later marry a man. After being put to bed early because of a fall, Marguerite confesses in her bed to Rachel of Cecile and why she never ‘loved’ her.

This is a story that is slow, but it tells a lot. It’s about two women, both lesbians, who are a product of their times. One couldn’t love a woman because it was considered a ‘mortal sin’ and was criminalized. The other is free to love another woman without guilt. It’s there where they share their special bond at the end. That’s why I declare this my Should Win pick.

Mother: dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Marta is relaxing at her place with her mother around. Her son Ivan is on the coast of the French Riviera with his father on vacation. Soon Marta receives a phone call from Ivan. Ivan is alone on a remote area of the coast. The father abandoned him. Nobody except a strange man is around. The battery in Ivan’s phone is dying. Soon Marta calls the police, but the police have no way to locate Ivan as Ivan doesn’t know where he is. Then a second phone call from Ivan happens. That leaves Marta even more frightened and causes Marta to rush out.

The film’s best attribute is that it captures the moment. It’s between cellphones and Marta’s domain. The qualities are what we know and what we don’t know and it builds on the suspense. The weakness is that it appears to be part of a film rather than a full film. It feels like it has a beginning and a middle, but no end. I’m sure the purpose of the director was to give us a film that leaves us in suspense, but it leaves you wondering what was the point of this partial-film? Social message? Suspense story? What?

Skin: dir. Guy Nattiv – Troy is a ten year-old boy growing up in a remote area of the southern USA. The father, Johnny Aldd, is bringing him up to be rough and tough. The father even teaches Troy how to shoot a real gun with the help of his neo-Nazi friends. One day at a supermarket, Troy smiles at an African American man just simply buying groceries. Johnny gets angry and shouts racist slurs, but the black man walks off calm, collect, but angry and lets him know it. Johnny response by getting his friends to rush over and beat the black man up near his van while his family watches in horror, and Troy watches on.

Days later, Troy and Johnny go out somewhere, but the father is captured by a van of African American men. They put a sleeping injection in Johnny and a tattoo artist goes over his racist tattoos, leaving you wondering what will come. After eleven days, Johnny is dropped back at his home. The tattoo artist completely covered him in black, to Johnny’s horror. As Johnny tries to come home, his wife and son react in fear. It ends with a surprise ending.

No question the main theme of the film is about racism. However the film is also about cliques and breeding fear into people. The film can say that the culture of fear can also be why the United States has a gun problem. Seeing how neo-Naziism exposed its face in the Unite-The-Right rally in August 2017, this is a film very relevant to our times. Even with its bizarre story and surprise ending. That’s why I pick it at my Will Win pick.

ANIMATED SHORTS:

This makes for a very eclectic five films chosen for this year. One of the films is from a Canadian animation company. However there are two American films that hint they may have some Canadian ingredients:

Animal Behaviour: dirs. Alison Snowden and David Fine – Various animals walk into a psychology group meeting with a dog doctor leading the meeting. All have a problem to confess. However problems arrive when a gigantic ape with an anger problem comes in. He doesn’t want to be helped. The pig, the leech and the moth are all cooperative, but the ape is disruptive. Then the ape confesses his problem, but also throws a fit in the process and all havoc is wreaked. Right at the end, and with all the damage done, the ape appears helped and will be back next week.

This is some clever 2D animation that may appear simple and crude by most, but fits the story well. Also the whole story of all the animals involved and their problems makes for funny hilarity.

Bao: dirs. Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb – A Chinese-Canadian woman makes dumplings for her busy husband, but one comes alive. She raises it to be like her own baby. She mothers it with her caring nature, but the son grows up out to be rebellious and even leaves to marry a white woman he loves. She can’t handle it and eats him. Heartbroken after ‘eating’ him, she wakes up to find out it’s just a dream. She’s a mother going through empty-nest syndrome and the child dumpling in her dream was mirroring her own son’s life. It ends on a happy note.

This is the short shown before Incredibles 2. Once again, Pixar adds another excellent writer to its dream team. Director Domee Shi started as a storyboard artist for The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out. Here she has a chance to let her creativity flow with a charming story which transcends race and delights people of all ages and backgrounds.

Late Afternoon: dirs. Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzales Blanco – Emily is an elderly woman who is constantly tended to by Kate. Frequently Emily’s memory goes back to her past from moments in her childhood and her carefree nature and then to moments in her young adulthood. Her memory keeps going in and out. Then at the end, she’s reminded Kate is her daughter.

This does seem like a heavy short as the story appears to be either about Dementia or Alzheimers. The use of animation helps with the drifting of Emily’s mind from the present to the past back to the present again. A very good short, but it may be too deep for some.

One Small Step: dirs. Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas – Luna is a Chinese-American girl with dreams of becoming an astronaut. She lives with her father, a shoe cobbler. He has always let Luna know how much he loves her with the shoes he crafts for her and with his business. He uses his money to promote Luna’s dream. As a young child, Luna cherishes every minute of her father. As she grows up, she becomes more distant from her father and even too busy with her college work. Things take a turn for the worse as she starts failing courses and is denied acceptance into astronaut training. Then one day she comes home and learns that her father has passed. Heartbroken, she then turns her life around and starts a new ambition. This leads to the happy ending we all want.

The story is a very good story as it deals with a common theme of father-daughter relationships. The story may appear heartbreaking, but ends with the positive energy it began with. The animation was excellent and the story, with no dialogue at all, told us a lot. I call this my Should Win and Will Win pick.

Weekends: dir. Trevor Jimenez – A young boy living in downtown Toronto in the mid-1980’s is divided between the time between the homes of his father and his mother. The father is more playful with an imagination into samurai swords. The mother is more serious while she’s dating a man who doesn’t take well to the boy. As the stories shift between the two world, they become intertwined with the boy’s dreams and the dreams tell a lot about the realities of the home lives he’s going through.

Trevor Jimenez has been a storyboard artist for Pixar films and has his chance at doing his own short film. It’s all hand-drawn which adds to the effect of the story. The point of this story was to mix the eerie dreams with the boy’s unfriendly reality. It does a great job in creating the right environment for the film and the drama.

And that’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Last year I was better at predicting the shorts winners, but this year looks to be very open. There are some that look like clear winners, but anything can happen in these categories. It will all be decided on Sunday the 24th.

Movie Review: Cold War (Zimna wojna)

Cold War

Joanna Kulig (left) and Tomasz Kot play a musical couple whose love overcomes politics and separation in Cold War.

At first I didn’t plan to see Cold War. It had a lot of good rapport, but I doubted its Best Picture chances. It may not have been nominated for Best Picture, but it did earn three nominations including Best Director. That’s enough to catch my intrigue.

The film begins in the late-1940’s. World War II has ended and Poland is now under Communist rule. People from the Communist party are called out to go into the towns and villages of farmers and peasants. They meet out in a remote area consisting of a forest, a single solitary building, and a bombed-out church. Their purpose is to create an ensemble of Poland to be shown to the Communist world. The art will consist of traditional song and dance, but will also consist of propaganda songs too. This is the new world order. Wiktor Warski and Lech Kaczmarek are the two men hired to construct this ensemble.

The men decide the pieces to have for the choir as well as the dances to have for the shows. They also decide who will be singing the lead for the choir. During the audition, Wiktor takes a special interest in a singer named Zuzanna, but nicknamed ‘Zula.’  Lech notices the affection between the two. Zula is not that vocally skilled as the other female singers, but has that ‘it’ quality and sings lead through most of the choir songs. During the time of rehearsals, Wiktor increasing becomes more in love with Zula. Their love for each other continues as the ensemble Masowske finally start performing for the whole of the nation.

However years later, the leads of the ensemble decide to develop propaganda songs that will be sung during the performance. They will also be touring internationally to other Eastern Bloc countries with the goal to eventually win praise in Moscow. The tour goes into East Berlin as part of the plan. The show goes well, but unsuspectingly Wiktor notices the French Sector which can easily be crossed. Wiktor invites Zula to cross with him, but she’s afraid, feeling that something will be lost behind. Wiktor does crosses and would eventually settle in Paris, France.

In the years since his defection, he has immersed himself into the jazz scene and even formed his own ensemble, becoming very successful. He’s even married to a French poetess Juliette. One night while his band is on tour in Split, Croatia, he notices the Polish ensemble he was a part of is performing there. He goes to watch the show. Zula is able to notice Wiktor in the crowd. Before they can meet, the secret service drags him back to Paris.

Years later, Wiktor notices Zula again, but in Paris. Wiktor fills in with his life of how he’s found a woman of his own. Zula tells him she’s married to a Sicilian man in Italy. She defected the ‘proper’ way. Zula is able to become a successful jazz singer under the wing of Wiktor which includes singing a jazz adaptation of one of the ensembles’ songs. However Wiktor notices something else in Zula. Zula has become very flirtatious. He notices it when ‘Rock Around The Clock’ is performed in the bar and she dances around with many a man. It takes Wiktor to stop this. They have an argument outside, but it becomes clear the argument exposes their selfishness and their ambitions. In the end, their worst traits are exposed and it sours their love for each other. It’s noted how Wiktor’s jazz playing has gotten worse that something is wrong.

In 1961, Zula is back in Poland fairly. Wiktor wants to return, but Lech informs him of how much he has insulted the country with his defection. Lech informs him that he can spend 15 years in a labor camp for what he has done. Wiktor is willing to accept for the sake of winning Zula back. Zula hears the news and goes to the prison camp to find him. Upon being reunited, they need to reaffirm their love for each other despite it all. They go back to the ruins where it all started.

This is a slow story of a love that grows and faces friction through art and political tension. The purpose of the slowness is to feel the dramatic tension of the love between the two. We have a man and a woman who have a love for each other, but face the tests of politics with the Cold War and the Iron Curtain causing a lot of division between the two. Plus we have the personal obstacles of the two, most notably their pride, that possibly is the biggest barrier between the two. They both love each other, even through marriages of their own, but their selfishness gets in the way.

I believe that was the point of the film. The central theme of the film is about divisions. We have the Cold War that represents the divided world. We have the selfishness and pride of Wiktor and Zula that causes division in their relationship. We also have the division of the two arts as jazz is more Wiktor’s thing. I think that’s the reason the film is shot in black and white. Pawlikowski may have done black-and-white before in the film Ida, but here, black and white is fitting as it represents all the divisions in the film.

The divided world may be the common ‘world’ in the film, but possibly the most present world in the film is the world of music. The film shows a lot about the arts in both song and dancing. It’s the song of peasant people that is the heart and soul of the people’s voice. It is the stoic choir singing propaganda songs that represents the new rigidity Poland has to go through and the ‘free world’ has to deal with. It is the happy folk dancing that shows the joy of the Polish people of generations past. It is the Rock Around The Clock dancing that shows Zula’s freeness and thus her biggest personal weakness. It’s that song of the love that can’t be allowed sung by Zula as lead of the choir and in a jazz song that becomes symbolic of the obstacles in the love between Zula and Wiktor. Music and dance are the biggest metaphors in the film.

This is possibly the crowning achievement of Pawel Pawlikowski, which he directs and co-writes with Janusz Glowacki and Piotr Borkowski. Pawlikowski has been mostly involved with the British film scene, but has recently delivered films in the Polish language. His previous film, Ida, was shot in black and white and won Best Foreign language Film three years ago. Here he delivers another Polish-language film. The story is more personal as it’s based on the romance of his own parents. The film he delivers is a masterpiece both of filmmaking and art. It’s a charming story that incorporates love, politics and music that works as a bittersweet romance.

The acting was also very good. Joanna Kulig is very good as Zula. Kulig has acted in many of Pawlikowski’s films before like Ida and The Woman In The Fifth. This film is her best performance. Tomasz Kot also does a very good job of playing the complicated Wiktor. Borys Szyc does a very good job in his first film role. Borys is more famous as a musician rather than an actor. Lukasz Zal does an excellent job with the cinematography in the angles he chose and the way they add to the story. The music, both original by Marcin Masecki and that performed by the performers make the story and add to its richness.

Cold War is one of the surprises of this year’s Oscar season. Those who see it will know why it has its recent renown.

Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: Green Book

Green Book

Tony Lip (played by Viggo Mortensen) is the driver for pianist Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) in Green Book.

Racism has been a common theme in a lot of films up for contention for this year’s Oscars. One of those is Green Book. It has caught a lot of attention since it was released this year.

It’s 1962. Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga is the best bouncer in all of New York City. However the night club he works at is going through two months or renovations. He needs to find work to pay for his one-room apartment he shares with his wife and two sons. At first the only way he could make money was in an eating contest. He’s offered an interview to be a driver for Dr. Don Shirley on an eight-week tour of the Southern US. He goes to the interview, in Don’s apartment above Carnegie Hall, and is unhappy to see Don Shirley is black. Tony rejects at first, Don is insistent due to the strength of his references. Tony consults with his wife Dolores first. She agrees. Tony promises to white her and the boys. One thing he notices is that his accompanying musicians, Oleg and George, will be going in a different car.

They begin the tour in the Midwest before going to the south. The two start clashing at the beginning; Tony being asked to act with more refinement and Don disgusted with Tony’s habits. Tony is especially surprised how Don is so well-educated, not into rock ‘n roll and blues and fried chicken, which Don takes into offence. However it’s during the tour that he notices just how good of a classical piano player Don is. He also notices the racist treatment Don gets when he’s off-stage, including one time having a shabby piano with junk on it on one stage. Then one night, a group of white men threaten to kill Don in a bar. Tony rescues him and instructs Don not to go out with him during the rest of the tour.

During the journey, Tony stays at his own hotel while Don stays at the hotels in the Green Book, which is a hotel guide for African American travelers. At times, Tony can see Don drinking. Don admits to Tony that he is a divorced man and has isolated himself from his brother and his professional achievements. Don also help Tony to write his letters to the family. One night, Tony finds Don arrested at the YMCA for a gay encounter with a white man. Tony is able to bribe the officer for Don’s freedom, which Don sees it as ‘rewarding’ the officer. Another night at a sundown town, a white officer arrest Don and then arrest Tony after being punched by him. Don goes to call ‘his lawyer,’ but the officers get a phone call from Bobby Kennedy to have them both released.

The tour is winding down, but not with one last dispute between Tony and Don. Tony tells Don he thinks he’s ‘blacker’ than him. That causes Don to lose it and lament that his affluence gives him the feeling he’s an outsider to other African Americans while white people treat him like an outsider. His homosexuality only adds to him feeling alone in this world.

The final performance is in Birmingham, Alabama. Before the performance, Don is refused a seat for dinner and being the guest musician changes nothing. Tony attempts to fight the manager, but Don refuses to play. The two find themselves at a predominantly black blues club. When Don performs, the crowd loves him. The two return back to NYC. Tony invites Don up for dinner, but Don shies away. It isn’t until sometime later that Don musters the heart to visit Tony’s apartment. Here he’s made a welcome guest.

The film has been generating a lot of attention, both good and bad. The film’s script was co-written by Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s son. This was mostly told through the point of view of Nick. However the family of Don Shirley was not happy with what they saw. Many claim that Don did not consider Tony his friend, but his associate. Peter Farrelly admitted his fault in not consulting with Don’s family before the film. Actually Peter didn’t know of how many members of Don’s family Don was still in contact with. In fact even that scene of Don arrested at the YMCA with another man raises a lot of eyebrows too since Nick admitted Don never ‘came out’ to them in his lifetime.

I can’t say much for a film that claims to be ‘based on a true story’ or ‘inspired by true events.’ No such film is 100% true. There are always some plot twists and movie cliches added in. In fact one could simply call The Sound Of Music ‘a musical based on a true story.’ The accuracy may be in question, but the film does have a lot of relevance. We think we have racial tension now or a big racial divide now, it was bigger back then. This was a year before Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. This was a year or two before schools in the southern US were desegregated. That ‘Green Book’ for African American travelers was very needed in the South because they could be attacked by hostile whites. Discrimination was that bad back then. There were still public lynchings happening.

One thing the film does is that it gives us something to think about. We’re living in hostile times right now, especially on the subject of race. There are still a lot of misunderstandings between races. The film sent a message that maybe if we stopped, calmed down, and talked things out, we can learn we have more in common that we have differences. Another thing the film succeeds in is testing our expectations of what people of certain races are like. There were many scenes where Tony asked Don about rock ‘n roll musicians and fried chicken. Don was the complete opposite where he played classical piano, was very well-educated, and couldn’t stand the thought of fried chicken. A lot of traits most white people, and not only Tony, would be surprised to see in an African American. Also Tony and his life and lack of education may surprise a lot of African Americans of what whites are like. Like I say, if we took the time to talk, we’d be surprised.

The film may present Don Shirley to be a very wealthy, very successful African American, but the film does show that despite the wealth and high education, Don still feels like an outsider. That’s another theme of the film: personal insecurities. History can easily explain why Don would feel uncomfortable around white people. However his identity, wealth and background has made him feel like an outsider to other blacks also eats at him. That scene where the two stop in the south in a cotton field with a group of African Americans working on and they all stop to look at Don is a symbol of his insecurities. That’s a reminder to us of how there are some that feel they don’t fit into their own race. However that scene where Don plays rock ‘n roll at the jazz bar showed that he had a lot to overcome and that he actually does fit in. Also the scene at the end where Tony welcomes Don into the house at Christmas, though demanding his family not refer to black people by that certain slur, sends a message that a major way to overcome racism is simply befriending people of another race.

You can dispute the truthfulness of the story but you will have to acknowledge that the script and story are put together very well. Nick Vallelonga isn’t just Tony’s son. He’s had years of screenwriting experience. Teaming up with Brian Currie and Peter Farrelly on the script, they deliver a great story that’s worth knowing. Farrelly also does a very good job in directing this film. A complete change of pace from the charmingly crude comedies from the Farrelly Brothers. Viggo Mortensen was solid in character in his role as Tony, but Mahershala Ali was also excellent in his role. It will leave you questioning who was the lead actor in the film? The film also had some good supporting performances such as Linda Cardellini as Dolores and various other members of the Vallelonga family in their roles. The mix of previously recorded music and the original music of Kris Bowers helped make the film as well.

Green Book may leave you questioning the accuracy of the story, but it’s also an enlightening story nonetheless. It will leave you thinking as well, which is what we need at a time like this.

Movie Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

IBSCT_09450_R_CROP

Stephan James (left) and KiKi Layne are Fonny and Tish: a young couple in love in If Beale Street Could Talk.

There have been some adaptations of James Baldwin’s literature in the past, but I don’t think there’s ever been one ever to hit the big screen. Director Barry Jenkins brings If Beale Street Could Talk to the big screen and it’s quite the experience.

The film opens with a quote from James Baldwin of how most of America’s African-Americans were ‘born’ on the Beale Street of Memphis. The story opens in a prison just outside New York City in the late-1960’s with 19 year-old Tish visiting 22 year-old Fonny behind glass and communicating via telephone. She announces to Fonny she’s pregnant. Fonny is overjoyed and looks forward to being a loving husband and a good father once he’s proven innocent. The crime Fonny is charged for is rape of a Puerto Rican woman: Victoria Rogers. She knows Fonny didn’t do it because he was three blocks away with his friend Daniel when the rape happens. She knew he was arrested because of the racist Officer Bell.

Tish always knew Fonny was the right man for her. They were friends since childhood. Then months earlier Fonny wanted to take the friendship to the next level and date. She agreed. Both Fonny and Tish are people willing to work for a living. Fonny went to community college and had plans of going into woodworking. Tish found a job as a perfume saleswoman at a department store, which considered hiring a black woman in that role to be progressive.

Tish announces the news to her parents and sister. She’s very nervous about it, even though the family see Fonny in high regard. She first announces to her father, and he’s happy. Soon the mother Sharon and sister Ernestine are happy, though nervous as the trial is coming. Fonny’s family, who call him by his real name Alonzo, come to visit. The mother and Fonny’s sisters always had contempt for Tish. When the news is announced, Fonny’s father is happy, but the mother is the complete opposite. The sisters look down upon her and the highly-religious mother even goes as far as saying the child will be a child of sin because he’s conceived out of wedlock. The mother and sisters leave in disgust.

The film goes frequently from the present of the story to the past quite often. Tish reflects back to when they were walking the street and the feelings of love they had for each other. She reflects on the Mexican restaurant and the waiter Pedrocito that made them feel welcome there. She even remembers the time when she and Fonny were searching for an apartment. Fonny came across a loft being sold by a Jewish developer. She didn’t like the idea of a loft, but Fonny saw potential. They were both surprised that the owner had no problem with them being black, but he just loves seeing couples in love.

Soon Tish flashes back to the present. There is a trial they have to work on. The lawyer claims that this is a difficult case to manage, but they feel this white lawyer just doesn’t care about justice for a black man like Fonny. Tish’s and Fonny’s father team up to do illegal trading in order to raise the right money for Fonny’s case. Victoria Rogers returned to Puerto Rico because she couldn’t handle the reminders of her rape in NYC. Sharon has a mission to go to Puerto Rico to get Victoria to come back to New York and testify for Fonny’s innocence, but it will be very costly. In the meantime, the months add up and the child inside Tish is developing. Tish goes to see Fonny again at the prison, but Fonny has gone through months of torture there. He wants to get out so he can live the life he was meant to live and love Tish.

Memories go back to the harder memories. The first is when Fonny is reunited with his friend Daniel. Daniel had just come out of prison for grant theft auto; the result of a plea bargain after being arrested for marijuana possession. Daniel tells him how it’s hell in prison and how he knows how racist the justice system is. She also flashes back to when she and Fonny were just shopping at a grocery store. Tish is harassed by a man and Fonny throws him out. The throwout is witnessed by Officer Bell, who things that Fonny has committed aggravated assault. However the white storeowner comes out and vouches for Fonny that Officer Bell lets him go, but not without that look of the desire to arrest in his eye.

Sharon did it. She was able to get enough money to confront Victoria Rogers and convince her to come back to New York for the sake of Fonny’s freedom. Victoria’s long stay in Puerto Rico is what’s delaying the trial. Victoria is not happy to see Sharon. The rape is the whole reason she left NYC and has no plans to go back. It’s too upsetting for her. Sharon tries pleading to Victoria to come back and give the true story for the sake of Fonny’s innocence, but that just causes Victoria to break down mentally and emotionally. Sharon returns back to NYC and the trial is still delayed. Tish gives birth to the baby in a bathtub with Sharon’s help while Fonny is still in prison. It’s a boy. As the wait drags on, Fonny accepts a plea deal. Years later, Tish and Alonzo Jr. visit Fonny in jail as they all hope for Fonny’s eventual release.

James Baldwin has been known to be an outspoken civil rights leader as well as a renowned author and poet. Racism is one of his biggest themes in his works. The film which is based on his novel of the same title definitely focuses on racism. It’s set in the mid- to late-1960’s just after more civil rights for blacks had been championed. However it was still a struggle as a lot of rights were limited, a lot of racial riots were happening, and many wrongful arrests were taking place. The novel and the film give a depiction of what it was like at the time. Especially with a black man in jail for a crime he didn’t commit as seen through his pregnant fiancee. The film also shows the hopes and dreams of a young black couple in love. They will have a future previous generations before them couldn’t have, but it would still take a fight. Very often, you hear Tish and others having negative things to say about white people. Even having a mistrusting attitude towards them. Those who saw the documentary I Am Not Your Negro will know about the mistrust towards white people had back then. I’m sure it was a mistrust shared by many African Americans at the time and we hear it echoed in the characters, mostly from Tish

However the novel and film are about more than that. It’s about undying love through hard times. Tish knows Fonny is innocent and she and her family team up to get Fonny free in time for the birth of their son. We see that Fonny is a good honest man. She’s known Fonny since she was a child. She knows Fonny would never hurt anyone like that. When they started dating months before the arrest, she knew right there and then she was the right man for her. We feel that love in the film. Interesting how a gay author like James Baldwin can deliver a better sense of love between a man and a woman than most straight authors. The novel and film however isn’t all ‘whites are bad’ and ‘all blacks are good.’ That meeting between Tish’s family and Fonny’s family showed a certain friction. While the fathers got along well, the mother’s, especially Fonny’s, looked down upon Tish’s family and the sisters had the same snooty attitude. It’s possible that scene was meant to send a message about how certain African Americans aren’t all unified or there’s a superficiality between certain types.

The film does a very good job in adapting the novel, but it does more than that. Barry Jenkins adds his own unique flair to the film. One flair he has in the film just like his previous success Moonlight is the inclusion of a lot of music. The film is a good mix of original score and songs from years past. It fits the movie well. However one thing he does that’s different from Moonlight is he includes a lot of imagery to set the theme of the time. He also includes a lot of scenes where many of the characters involved in the story have their own shots where they face the camera standing still. That adds to the film. Also what Jenkins does is during many scenes, he slows the moment down and softens it so that one can get a feel of the moment. That happens many times during scenes with Fonny and Tish, the scene with Tish working the perfume counter, and the scene with Fonny and Daniel. Sometimes it’s half-muted and we hear Tish’s narration, but we get a very good sense of the situation. I think Jenkins made some good choices in making the film.

Barry Jenkins does it again. It’s hard to say if it’s as good as Moonlight, but the film is nothing short of excellent. He not only plays out the novel on film, he allows us to feel the story. I feel James Baldwin would be very proud. KiKi Layne was very good as Tish as was Stephan James as Fonny. The whole cast was excellent, but the standout was Regina King as the mother. She really did an excellent job as the mother-in-law going out of her way for Fonny’s innocence. For the technical, James Laxton did a great job with the cinematography, Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders made the right editing moves and Nicholas Britell delivered a great score that fit with the film and blended in with the tracks of past songs.

If Beale Street Could Talk is more than about racism and social injustice. It’s also about the undying love of two. It’s a love no prison system or injustice can destroy.

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is about a teen who becomes a Spider-Man and becomes part of a ‘Spider-team.’

We’ve seen many live-action films of Spider-Man in this century. This year, we had an animated twist with the Spider-Man story with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. The big question is will this story work? Or will it be an insult to Spider-Man fans?

Miles Morales is having the difficulty of going to a special private school, which includes a dorm. He doesn’t want to go to that school, but his police-officer father insists because of his intelligence. After school, Miles visits his uncle Aaron Davis to watch him spray paint graffiti, but is bitten by a radioactive spider. Miles son learns he has superpowers of his own.

Miles goes searching in the same area for the spider, but comes across a particle accelerator built by Wilson Fisk who desires to find the universe where his deceased wife and son are. Soon Peter Parker as Spider-man appears to destroy it, but is confronted by Fisk’s enforcers Green Goblin and Prowler. It’s a losing battle for Spider-Man as he lays dying, but hands Miles the USB drive to disable the accelerator before he dies. While still trying to learn his abilities, Miles damages the USB.

The whole of New York is in mourning over the death of Peter Parker. While at the grave, Miles meets up with Peter B. Parker: a down-and-out Spider-man who’s divorced from his wife. Peter B. had just been dropped out of the accelerator. To get back in, he agrees to train Miles. They soon learn after breaking into Kingpin’s laboratory and confronted by Fisk’s female associate in crime, Peter will die if he doesn’t get back into the accelerator to his universe.

Soon they’re rescued by Gwen Stacy: Miles’ classmate and also part of the universe. Gwen brings them to Peter’s Aunt May, whom Peter thought was dead. May is sheltering other displaced and deteriorating heroes of the Spider-Verse like Spider-Man Noir, Peni Parker and Spider-Ham, the spider bit by a radioactive pig. Miles attempts to help them, but his lack of experience with his new-found powers gives the Spider-Verse members a lack of confidence.

Things get worse for Miles as he learns his uncle Aaron is Prowler. He returns to May’s house, where Peni has the drive prepared, but he is followed by the team of villains of Wilson Fisk. Miles is able to free but is captured by Prowler. When Miles unmasks himself, Aaron is willing to be killed by Fisk rather than kill Miles. Miles’ father makes the conclusion Spider-Man killed Aaron.

The Spider-people retreat to Miles’ dorm and Peter B. webs him up and his mouth, feeling he doesn’t have what it takes to battle Fisk. Miles’ father, thinking that Miles isn’t talking, confesses his feelings for him and tries to make peace. However Miles soon learns he can master his powers.

Miles then goes to Aunt May where he’s able to help the other Spider-people work the accelerator and get back to their universe. However they leave Miles to defeat Fisk, insuring him they believe in him. Miles does face the courage to defeat Fisk, help the Spider-people return to their dimensions, and his team and make peace with his father.

Now one thing few people except die-hard Marvel comics fans knew about was that the Spider-Verse was not a new thing. The Spider-Verse came to be back in 2014. So those who think that this is something new and original, they’re wrong. In fact the Spider-Verse includes a Gwen Stacey. However one will be entertained by the Spider-Verse. This is rare in a movie that we get to see six ‘Spider-beings’ get together and be heroes. However the story does put the focus on one individual: Miles Morales, the new person into the Spider-Verse. It is a shame because we were just starting to get into this Spider-Verse. Nevertheless the movie allows it mostly to be Miles’ story and the other members of the Spider-Verse give Miles his chance to prove himself.

The story is very good as it does have a good beginning, middle and end. It actually had to have more of an extended beginning because it’s not just Miles who is affected by the radioactive spider, but five others too. Also it uses the death of a Peter Parker/Spider-Man set the road up for the story of the Spider-Verse to come. The story is not just about the Spider-Verse or even solely about Miles’ role in it. It’s also about family relations too. Miles has a hard time with his father sending him to a private school he hates. Miles idolizes his uncle Aaron, but would have to soon learn that Miles is The Prowler and keep it a secret from his father. That part of the story adds into the drama. However with this being an animated telling of the Spider-Verse, the story has to have humor in it. There’s no shortage of that here.

As for the animation, the animation is excellent. It’s not just 3D animation, but a mesh of comic-book images that add to the film. The mix of the imagery adds into the story, especially with this being a Marvel comic story.

Kudos to Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman for bringing the Spider-Verse to the big screen and creating a story that’s entertaining but not too confusing with all these Spider-beings. The directing team of Persichetti/Ramsey/Rothman do a great job of making the film work in both the story and its imagery. The vocal talent was very good, but top marks go to Shameik Moore for his performance as Miles Morales. He had the big task of being the voice of the lead and he did an excellent job. Mahershala Ali and Bryan Tyree Henry were both great as the uncle and father, respectively. Hailee Steinfeld was a scene-stealer as Gwen Stacy as was John Mulaney as Peter Porker.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was the animated movie we all needed this year in which the only winning animated movies seemed to be sequels. This animated story of a team of ‘Spider-Beings’ all teaming up at once and then doing their own duties did not do any damage to the Spider-Man story at all. Instead it added an entertaining twist. Stan Lee would be proud.

Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: Vice

Vice

Amy Adams and Christian Bale play political power-couple Lynne and Dick Cheney in Vice.

As the world becomes more and more confusing, we tend to focus on the things that are right there in front of us. While ignoring the massive forces that actually change and shape our lives. With people working longer and longer hours, for less and less. When we do have free time, the last thing we want is complicated analysis of our government, lobbying, international trade agreements, and tax bills.

You would wonder would a film like Vice work at this time? A film about former US Vice-President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne? A film about politics of the past? Turns out there’s more than meets the eye.

The film opens in the White House as the September 11th attacks happen. Instead of talking things out, Dick Cheney gives an immediate order. The film then flashes back to Wyoming in 1963. Dick Cheney and Lynne are married and living in Lynne’s parents’ house. Dick was originally a student at Yale University but his persistent alcoholism caused him to drop out. He takes work as an electrical lineman, but that doesn’t satisfy his in-laws at all. It’s after he gets busted by a cop for driving drunk, his second DUI, that Lynne tells Dick to clean up his life. All of this is narrated through a man named Kurt: a typical ‘middle-class’ American.

Fast forward to 1969; Republican president Richard Nixon is in the White House and Cheney has been hired as an intern. He meets a slimy scheister named Donald Rumsfeld who is Nixon’s policy advisor. Cheney works under Rumsfeld’s wing and tries to juggle family and political commitments. Cheney also overhears a conversation between Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon about the bombing operation in Cambodia. There, Cheney learns about the true power of the executive branch. Rumsfeld’s abrasive attitude has an effect on Cheney as both distance themselves from Nixon. After Nixon resigns in the heat of the Watergate Scandal, both men are promoted: Cheney to Chief Of Staff to the new President Ford and Rumsfeld to Secretary Of Defense. Their jobs only last two years as a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, is elected president.

After leaving the Oval Office in 1977, Dick decides to pursue politics on a state level by running for the seat of House Representative for Wyoming; Wyoming is a state that has only one seat in Congress. Dick’s campaign starts on a lackluster note as he delivers an uncharismatic speech. However he soon suffers his first heart attack. While recovering in the hospital, Lynne decides to deliver speeches for him. Her speeches are more winning to the public and it succeeds in helping him to win his House seat.

Then Reagan becomes president in 1980. Cheney is able to provide influence to the agenda promoting conservative pro-business polices like promoting fossil fuels (which puts an end to Carter’s goal of more solar power) and also ending news media showing both sides of the issue, which paves the way for one-sided media like Fox News on the right and CNN on the left. In the meantime, Dick and Lynne are shocked to learn that their teenage daughter Mary is a lesbian. Nevertheless Dick agrees to be supportive to her, despite being a right-wing politician.

Dick is promoted to Secretary Of Defense during the tenure of George H. W. Bush and has a pivotal role in the Gulf War of 1991. Also during the time of the senior Bush, Dick meets his son George W. Bush, who’s a clumsy nimrod. Dick has desires to be President but after Bill Clinton is elected, he decides to retire from public life to spare the scrutiny for the sake of Mary. Cheney then becomes CEO of Haliburton while Lynne raises golden retrievers and writes books. Then starts an epilogue claiming Cheney lived the rest of his life happy and healthy with his family out of the public eye, then the credits roll.

But wait. That’s not really the end of the film. Dick is still CEO of Haliburton, but he meets with George W. Bush who’s the Governor of Texas. He wants to run for President for the 2000 Election not because he desires the power to himself, but to please his father. Cheney agrees to be his running mate provided Bush delegates ‘mundane’ executive responsibilities to him like foreign policy and energy. Things like family values issues, he doesn’t want to get involved with for the sake of Mary. Bush is elected president despite a hugely controversial election. On his first day as Vice-President, he learns Rumsfeld is back as Secretary Of Defense, and is still as slimy as he was when they first met. Added to the team of making foreign policy and defense decisions is legal counsel David Addington and Chief Of Staff Scooter Libby.

The film then returns to the 9/11 attacks and when Dick gave the immediate orders. After that, Cheney and Rumsfeld team up over initiating and presiding over the US attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan (which Kurt finds himself a soldier in both those wars). Cheney struggles with his heart attacks as the War Of Terror mounts. Nevertheless he continues through his vice-presidency which includes instituting the Unitary Executive Theory, his role in the Plame Affair, the accidental shooting of Harry Whittington (which he never apologized to him for). His actions are shown to cause thousands of deaths overseas, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and record-low approval ratings upon leaving office. Rumsfeld is even forced to resign. Nobody likes him in Washington.

However it doesn’t end there. Cheney is about to die of heart failure while waiting for a new heart. Just as he says his teary goodbye to Lynne, Liz and Mary, Kurt is killed in an auto accident while jogging. Sure enough, Kurt’s heart is the perfect match for Dick’s transplant in March 2012. Then Liz runs for the House seat of Wyoming where she announces during a debate her opposition to same-sex marriage. This causes Mary to cease communication with Liz. Liz is now the Rep of Wyoming. At the end, Cheney says to us all he regrets nothing.

When you see one renowned film by a certain director, you are impressed, or interested, with what you see. When you see a second film by that director, you get a better sense of what their film making style is all about. I’ve seen The Big Short and I was very impressed with what I saw. However, when I saw Vice, I liked what I saw but throughout the film, I was thinking “Okay, I get Adam McKay’s filmmaking style.” I’ll admit throughout the film, I was seeing a lot of elements similar with what I saw in The Big Short. However I saw some new elements in Vice as well. Basically Vice told me more about Adam McKay than it did about the Cheneys. I noticed in both films, Adam likes to toy around with the story. He also likes to include references to the time of the story both in terms of the political landscape and of pop culture moments. Adam even admits that Vice is a ‘true story’ or as true as it gets since Dick is a private person.

The events in the film are events that are widely known, but are seen through the eyes and imagination of Adam McKay. The characters of the various politicians are also through McKay’s eyes, which may explain why they come off as cartoonish. It almost seems like the Cheneys are the only political figures that don’t come across as cartoon characters, despite also being portrayed as crazy and conniving. Like is Rumsfeld right? Is the top job of the Vice President to ‘wait for the president to die?’ The influence of Cheney’s decisions and politicking are shown to have a huge presence in American life and politics for many decades and have a huge influence now. Even the reason why Donald Trump became president.

However the biggest standout is having the story of Dick Cheney narrated by Kurt: a fictitious veteran of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kurt even narrated while he’s dead and his heart is inside Cheney! I think the point of having Kurt, the average American, narrate the story is to show how much Dick’s decisions and political influence us Americans. It shows why we get such empty promises in terms of our economy, it shows why the middle-class is shrinking. It also even shows why we’re all so frustrated, we turn to dumbed-down entertainment to escape this frustration of American politics in our lives. No matter what serious issues we have to deal with in our lives, we’d rather tune out and watch another Fast And The Furious sequel. Adam demonstrates it all, through Kurt.

Kudos to Adam McKay for delivering another bizarrely-constructed but thought-provoking sad comedy. His direction and writing didn’t work as well as it did for The Big Short, but it worked well too and was very entertaining. Christian Bale was excellent as Dick Cheney. He did an excellent job in depicting both the young Dick and the older Dick Cheney too. Amy Adams also did an excellent job in depicting Lynne Cheney throughout the film and as she aged too. The film also showed how Lynne had an impact on some of Dick’s choices and how she acquired political influence of her own. Dick knew how to deliver policies and decisions, but didn’t know how to make speeches. Lynne knew how to deliver a speech. Amy did a very good job in demonstrating Lynne’s political savvy. The most surprising performance came from Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. He was completely unrecognizable and dead-on! Steve Carell may not have delivered an accurate performance of Donald Rumsfeld but he was dead-on as the slimeball Rumsfeld as seen through McKay’s eyes. Also Jesse Plemons was an entertaining scene-stealer as Kurt. Instead of making Kurt look like something ridiculous, he made Kurt work.

Vice is a sad comedy about Dick Cheney and American politics. We both laugh and mourn how all this came to be.

Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Rhapsody

In Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek captures the essence of Freddie Mercury to a tee.

The musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody came out in movie theatres this year. We’ve seen music biographies before. The big question is does this film simply chronicle Freddy Mercury’s life? Or does it do much more?

The film begins just as Queen is about to step to the stage to perform in the 1985 Live Aid Concert. The film then flashes back to 1970 when Smile is an English band consisting of Brian May, Roger Taylor and singer Tim Staffell. Faroukh ‘Freddie’ Bulsara is a Farsi immigrant who studies and also works as a baggage handler at Heathrow airport. Freddie faces a lot of discrimination for the color of his skin and mockery because of his hyperdontia which makes him look like he has a mega-overbite. However Freddie does lose himself in rock and roll.

One night, Staffell quits Smile in disappointment. Freddie was there attending the show. When he sees what happened, he asks to join the band. The band gets a rocky start as they play at small college gigs, but it looks promising and Freddie fully believes in them all. The rock singer gig does not go well with his family who feels he should earn his living more ‘honestly.’ Freddie also wins the attraction of college student Mary Austin during a clothes shopping trip. They start dating and romancing.

Over time, Queen gets bigger and they soon have to record an EP. It will cost a lot of money and Freddie agrees to sell the van for money. The EP is a success and it attracts major music producers including one from EMI Records interested in the band. The band changes their name to Queen and Freddie even legally changes his name to Freddie Mercury. The band is acquired by John Reid, Elton John’s manager, and assistant manager Paul Prenter. They bring the band to a gig on BBC’s Top Of The Pops where the band lip syncs Killer Queen. As success grows, including success in the US, Mary and Freddie get engaged. However soon after Freddie learns of his bisexuality.

The band try to record their album A Night At The Opera and the song Bohemian Rhapsody, but the song is too long and hard to perform. On top of that, producer Ray Foster is antagonistic on the band for both the song and the music for the whole album. After Foster refuses it as a single, Freddie gets a local DJ to play Bohemian Rhapsody. The song opens to a lot of negative reviews, but also scores big on the charts worldwide. However Freddie starts an affair with Prenter and has to call off the engagement with Mary. Mary is devastated, but agrees to remain friends.

In the film, the band has continued success in the early 1980’s with We Will Rock You. However the band experience tension both by Freddie’s lavish partying lifestyle and the increasing controlling ways of Prenter. Freddie even cheats on Paul with a waiter, but the waiter tells Freddie to find him after he finds himself. The friction between Freddie and the band grows to the point Freddie leaves the band to record a solo album upon the direction of Prenter. However it becomes obvious how much Prenter wants a piece of the action and Freddie both breaks up with him and fires him.

Soon Freddie learns he has HIV right when the devastating AIDS epidemic was at its most troubling times. He returns to the band confessing it was wrong for them to leave. They’re offered an appearance at the 1985 Live Aid Concert which will be broadcast worldwide to raise money for food supplies during the famine in Africa. This will be the band’s comeback concert, but it will take a lot of effort to bring the band back to their level of performance.

Just before the concert, Freddie confronts his parents to make peace with them. Freddie is also supported backstage by a pregnant Mary along with her husband David. Bob Geldof is hoping for a lot of call-in donations through this concert. Then Queen get on stage and it’s like they never missed a step. The crowd is blown away, television crowds are dazzled, and the donations accelerate like nobody’s business. Queen was back and alive!

There have been musical biographies in films done many times before. In order to make a winning story about a musician, the film will definitely have to include the music. That’s what made the musician great. The film will also have to include key events of the person’s life: the artistic moments, the triumphant moments and the struggles, even any tragedies. It’s all a matter of deciding the right moments for the right beginning, middle and end of the film.

The film does a smart move in making the Live Aid Concert the pivotal moment for Freddie Mercury both as the scene where the movie starts before flashing back in time and ultimately ending. The film also does a good job in picking out moments such as when Freddie joins the band Smile, changes it to Queen, first hits it big with Killer Queen releases their iconic Bohemian Rhapsody, faces friction as well as declining fame in the early 80’s, Freddie’s HIV diagnosis, and their return to winning the public at Live Aid.

However the film also risks disappointing a lot of Queen fans because of how inaccurate the story is. Despite Jim ‘Miami’ Beach being the film’s co-producer and May and Taylor being music consultants, The five biggest inaccuracies Queen fans are most likely to notice are, firstly, Freddie was actually introduced to Brian May and Roger Taylor of Smile by singer Tim Staffell when Staffell wanted to pursue further studies. Secondly, We Will Rock You was written and recorded in the late-70’s rather than the early-80’s. Thirdly, John Deacon was actually Queen’s fourth bassist rather than the original bassist. Fourthly, Queen never split up nor did they get back together at Live Aid. Freddie may have had solo work — the most famous being Barcelona: the duet with Montserrat Caballet — but Roger Taylor also had a solo album too. Fifthly, Freddie learned he was HIV-positive in 1987: after Live Aid. Those that know the true Queen story will know that a lot of these moments in the film were mostly common music-movie cliches rather than the truth about Queen.

Despite failing a lot of Queen fans with some of the inaccuracies and cliches, the film does succeed in a lot of ways and even presents some truths even Queen fans knew. Freddie did credit his extra teeth for his singing, he adored his cats, he held outlandish parties, the song Bohemian Rhapsody was considered too long and too ridiculous at first, Freddie did keep his ordeal with HIV and AIDS private as he did not want to be an object of pity, and finally his friendship with Mary Austin lasted until his death and she did live next door to him even while married to David. The film does stick to the truth in a lot of areas, including that of how Paul Prenter was a controlling person in Freddie’s life. However another added quality is that the film does an excellent job of capturing the essence and feel of Queen’s music. Those that haven’t heard much of Queen’s music will experience songs they never heard before. Those that are fans of the band will fall in love with the songs again. Also those that want to be rock musicians themselves will be inspired to pursue their dreams after watching the film. You not only hear the music, but you can also get the feel of a rock performer too.

The film has already grossed $844.4 million worldwide at press-time with $210.6 million coming from North America. However the film has also faced a ton of heat during the awards season. The cause for all of this was for director Bryan Singer. As you know, Singer has faced criminal charges of being a sex offender. How it happened that Dexter Fletcher stepped into directing the remainder of the film upon the departure of Bryan Singer is that Singer was fired after having violent clashes with Rami Malek. Singer, and not Fletcher, was credited as the film’s director. The awards season has seen the film win many accolades which many have voiced their displeasure about. Possibly due to hostility during the #MeToo movement, many are speaking their mind as if they’re saying a win for Bohemian Rhapsody is a win for a sex offender.  I personally feel that Fletcher should have been credited as director. However despite the fact that Singer was fired, people are still unhappy. Makes you wonder what will satisfy them all? Denying the film a release and trashing it altogether? This is a reflection on how toxic and bullying the free speech of social media can be.

Anthony McCarten in cooperation with Peter Morgan may have written a story that was more cliched than truth, but it did capture a lot of the essence of Queen and a lot of the essence of Freddie Mercury. As for the ending, I can understand why they went for the heavy drama by ending with the Live Aid Concert. I’d rather they went with the moment Freddie records The Show Must Go On. Those who know the story behind that will recognize it as one of the biggest triumphs of Mercury’s career and a testament of his mental toughness.

The film also captured the essence of Brian, John and Roger well too. Co-director Dexter Fletcher did a very good job of picking up where Singer left off and creates an exciting experience for the audience. However the biggest triumph is the performance of Rami Malek. Until Bohemian Rhapsody, he was facing the common difficulty of actors of Middle Eastern descent with limited opportunities. It almost seemed like the biggest thing he would ever be known for is playing the Pharaoh in the Night At The Museum movies. This also was not an easy task because Malek was not originally a fan of Queen. However that all changed when he was given the role. Malek was excellent in his performance and will blow away anyone who sees this film.

The actors portraying Brian, Roger and John — Gwilym Lee, Ben hardy and Joseph Mazzello, respectively — also added to the film. Lucy Boynton was also excellent as the friend Mary Austin. Even minor performances like Tom Hollander as Jim Beach, Mike Myers as Ray Foster, and Allen Leech as Paul Prenter did very well with the roles they were given. Julian Day did a very good job with the costuming, Aaron Haye did an excellent job with the set design, and the producers did a very good job in choosing the right songs for the film.

Bohemian Rhapsody has some noticeable errors in the film. However the film succeeds in capturing the spirit of Freddie Mercury, capturing the music of Queen and capturing the experience of a rock star. No wonder it dazzles those that see it.