Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: Joker

 

Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix showcases a villain in the making in Joker.

“I thought my life was a tragedy. Turns out it’s a comedy.”

At first you’ll think a film like Joker is yet another popcorn movie. I mean the film about the eventual making of Batman’s most legendary villain. what more can you expect? Actually it goes beyond what you’d expect.

This film is interesting, and I don’t mean interesting in a negative way. We live in a time where superhero movies are the call of the day. We love heroes. We even consider anti-heroes like Deadpool a guilty pleasure. Very rarely do we get a movie of the origins of the villain. Before this film, I’m sure there were all sorts of ideas for a villain film, including a few ideas in the past for a Joker film, but it never came to full fruition. I always felt that if there was to be a first major ‘origin of a villain’ film for a superhero franchise, there would be a Lex Luthor movie before any Joker movie. I was wrong!

One thing about the Joker is that there have been several stories of the original of the Joker from DC Comics. Actually the original story of how the Joker came to be is in 1940 that the Joker fell into a vat of chemicals which left his skin and appearance the way it is., as well as the chemicals making him insane. Another 1951 story is that the Joker was a normal person until Batman interfered with him and he fell into a chemical vat. Interesting to know that Jerry Robinson who created the Joker never paid too much focus to his origin, just the villain he became.

This is one story of the evolution of the Joker that’s like no other. The film presents Gotham City as a big city full of crime and being run as a plutocracy in which mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne supports, but wants to take to higher levels. It seems like their one escape from the hell is through watching The Murray Franklin Show. Meanwhile Arthur Fleck is one of the marginalized people. He’s mentally ill, possibly from a head injury from his abusive childhood, but he just wants to make people smile and laugh. Whatever attempts to do so backfires and it seems like he’s dragged down by them. He tries to get a girlfriend with a mother in his own apartment but that falls apart. The mental illness consumes his mind and it interferes with his life. On top of it, his mental illness made him look like a fool with a clip run on a late night show. However it’s right after receiving an answer for what he dug for about his mother that he loses it. He threw in the towel for what he wanted to be and just explodes. He already got a good sense that he was good at revenge by that subway shooting. Following the revenge shooting he gave on a fellow clown of his, he got a sense that he was actually destined to be a person of revenge. However his biggest act was yet to come on the Murray Franklin show. He had an act that was an act of entertainment mixed with an act of revenge on Franklin. That started the wave of anarchy and mayhem in Gotham City  which would pave the way for the Joker to be king and would lead to the murders of Thomas and Mrs. Wayne in front of Bruce.

The thing about this story about the Joker is that it’s obvious the Joker story is meant to be dark just by the way it starts. It presents Gotham of a place of doom and gloom and Arthur as one of it’s many casualties. His mental illness is also portrayed in a dark manner with its symptoms and how he’s dealt with by the government. Actually mental illness has to be the biggest theme of the film. I don’t know if there’s a specific mental illness that is exactly like what Arthur has. I’m sure it’s possible because I remember the son in Parasite is left with a mental illness that has him laughing at the wrong times since his skull fracture. Whatever the situation, Fleck lives in what appears to be a prison of his mind that is common with a lot of people. Fleck’s mental illness has him write down statements of truth rather than statements of humor for his comedy routine. Those statements seem to echo that of many other people with mental illness. I think that’s the biggest thing that grabs people about the film, about how Fleck’s struggle is a common struggle with many.

The ending becomes an ending one should expect as Arthur Fleck is supposed to end as the Joker in the movie, right? However we get a lot more. The marginalization of the majority of Gotham City is reflected well inside Arthur Fleck. Recently he snapped. He’s already committed revenge against his mother and his coworker by shooting them. However it becomes obvious those two were all dress rehearsals and that he was planning for his biggest act on Murray Franklin. You could tell something was up by the way he walks to the Franklin studios in his Joker outfit and dances around. However even if you did anticipate Arthur would get his revenge on Franklin on live TV or not, I’m sure most did not expect the mayhem of a Gotham City riot to happen and this anarchy to happen either just after the Joker’s appearance on the show. Also some might not have expected the ending to be a case of both the Joker arriving and the legend of Batman just starting.

Now there was some talk when the movie first came out that there was fear there would be some copycat violent incidents. When you look at the film, it’s a film that features a lot of disturbing things like mental illness, marginalization, incels and vigilantism. There’s even that line just before Arthur shoots Murray: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve!” No violent incidents have come of it. And even if one did, I believe it is not the responsibility of the filmmakers. I learned a long time ago in the 1990’s that you can say all you want how influential entertainment is on certain people or society, In the end, it;s not responsible. People are responsible for their own actions.

First off, the biggest accolades have to go to Joaquin Phoenix. This was a captivating character to play, but also a complex character to play as well. To portray this version of the Joker on the big screen was not an easy thing, especially since the character lives in both a fictional world of chaos and a mental world of chaos. Joaquin made it work, and in a way that keeps one in their seat. Also this may make history as the first-ever performance of a superhero character to win an Oscar. Additional accolades have to go to Todd Phillips. This movie he directed and co-wrote with Scott Silver worked beyond anyone’s expectations and even won moviegoers in the process.

For acting, it appeared Phoenix had the most developed role of the film while the other roles lacked dimension in comparison. However the performances did a lot to show their presence and add to the film rather than just be something for Phoenix to work off of. There was Frances Conroy who played Arthur’s mother and she did a good job of portraying her character’s own mental illness. There was Robert de Niro who did a good job as the host that’s friendly one minute, mean the next. There was Zazie Beetz who plays Arthur’s love interest. Technical efforts in the film were also excellent. There’s the cinematography by Lawrence Sher, the costuming by Mark Bridges, the makeup work, the production design, and of course the musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. I’m a fan of film scores and Hildur was excellent in delivering a score to fit a dark and disturbing world as well as the chaos in Arthur’s mind.

Joker does present a unique story of how one of DC Comics’ most legendary villains came to be. However it’s a lot more as it takes us into the character’s mind and into the world of mayhem he lives in. And it connects with you in a surprising way.

Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: Little Women

Little women

The latest adaptation of Little Women stars Saoirse Ronan (top left) as Jo March and is adapted and directed by Greta Gerwig.

 

I’m sure when most of you learned of Little Women about to be released, I bet most of you thought ‘not another Little Women adaptation.’ I admit I had those feelings at the start. However I was surprised to see how well it turned out.

In 1868, Jo March is a teacher in New York City. She has writing ambitions and takes her writing frequently to Mr. Dashwood who will publish her writing… under considerable editing. Her younger sister Amy is in Paris under the guidance of her elder Aunt March who never married and despises the idea of marriage. She meets her love from back home, Laurie and invites her to a party, in which he gets drunk to her dismay. Jo’s writing ambitions are kept alive by a professor named Friedrich Bhaer who supports her work but is constructive but blunt in his critiquing of her works. However Jo has to put everything on hold when she receives a letter that her younger sister Beth is sick. She has to return back home.

The film flashes back to the winter of 1861 in Massachusetts, just after the March’s father goes off to the Civil War, and the March sisters all dress up and prepare for a party where Jo meets Laurie, the grandson of their neighbor Mr. Laurence, for the first time. Just before Christmas dinner, the mother Marmee encourages the girls to give their food to their Mrs. Hummer and her group of hungry children. The girls return with a plentiful Christmas dinner thanks to Mr. Laurence and a letter from their father who just started fighting. During the trip, Jo is invited by her single elder Aunt March to come to Paris with her. Also during that winter, Amy is strapped by a teacher for her drawing in class and Laurie takes her in to his Latin lesson before her family arrives.

It’s obvious as Amy has artistic ambitions and Jo has writing ambitions, their ambitions clash, often violently. One night as Jo is out with the family for an occasion, Amy burns the notes to her novel. Jo discovers upon returning, and a violent fight ensued. However all animosity ends when on an occasion while skating, the ice breaks under Amy and is in danger of drowning. Jo saves her. Also during that winter, Mr. Laurence invites Beth to play on his piano as she reminds him of his late daughter.

Returning to 1868, Laurie apologizes to Amy for his drunken behavior the night before. He also begs Amy not to marry Fred Vaughn but marry him instead. That only makes Amy unhappy as she feels she’s ‘second to Jo’ at everything, including Laurie. Amy later rejects Fred’s proposal after she learns Laurie returned to London. Returning back to the past, there was a period of time when Marmee left to visit their father who was wounded during the War. During that time, Beth received a gift from Mr. Laurence: his piano! However she becomes ill with scarlet fever. With a weak heart, it means she might die. Her mother rushes home with their father, already recovered. All come home in time for Christmas and Amy is all better. However returning back to 1868, Amy dies shortly after Jo arrives from her train trip.

The film flashes back to the past on the day Meg is about to be married. Jo doesn’t want her to marry, feeling Meg doesn’t want to marry, but Meg reminds her Jo’s ambitions may be different from Meg’s ambitions, but they’re still her ambitions. It’s on the day of the wedding Aunt March announces she will take Amy to Paris instead of Jo. Laurie admits his feelings for Jo after the wedding, but Jo insists she doesn’t have the same feelings.

Returning back to 1868, a devastated Amy returns home with a dying Aunt March. Jo starts to wonder if she has second thoughts of her love to Laurie. She writes a letter confessing her feelings, but she soon learns Amy accepted Laurie’s proposal and rejected Fred Vaughn’s proposal. Jo later agrees with Laurie to just be friends. After she throws her letter of love to Laurie in the river, she’s inspired to write her novel about her and her sisters.

She takes the novel to Mr. Dashwood who dismisses it because he believes a lead protagonist female who marries is what sells novels. Mr. Dashwood is given a change of heart when he learns his own young daughters love the story. However he’s still skeptical and wants Jo to make the lead protagonist marry. Jo is at first against it as it is sacrilegious to her work. However she compromises, but on one condition. She gets a $500 up-front publishing payment and more than the original 5% profits promised. She starts at 10% but compromises at 6.6%. The novel Little Women is set to be published and the school Jo and her sisters wanted to open is opened in what was Aunt March’s house with Bhaer teaching children at the school.

This may be a film adapted from a novel written in 1868, but as one watches, one would be surprised to see its relevance for today. This may be a story set around the time of the US Civil War and in New England, but there are a lot of similarities to the present. One common theme is the competitiveness of sisters. We still have that. Ask any woman who comes from a family with a lot of girls! There’s also the story of women with desires and ambitions. Today’s young women have possibly the biggest ever ambitions for their future. Women may have had it rougher a century and a half ago, but it makes clear the ambitions the women shared, whether it be career ambitions, romance ambitions or artistic ambitions. We should remember from history that women had to work during the war while the men were fighting and that started suffrage groups and the first feminist groups. There’s dealing with dashing but stupid men, as seen in Laurie. There’s support and encouragement from others. There’s also the bond of the family. First of the March girls all live with their mother Marmee as they’re waiting for their father to come home from the war. Even dealing with the heartbreak of a sister that died too soon.

For those that read the novel Little Women, I feel the reason why it became so popular is that women could see mirror images of themselves in the March sisters. They shared similar goals, similar trials, similar ambitions and similar dreams. Here in the film, I felt the characters of the March girls were made to look very relatable to most young females of today.

Now Little Women has already been adapted into a film many times before. In fact this is the seventh film adaptation of the novel if you even include adaptations as far back as the silent era. To make people welcome a film adaptation of this in the present, there would have to be a freshness or a twist that works. Having it a case where Beth is one with no intentions to marry is a risky thing. I feel it did the smart thing by having it a case where Jo is the author of Little Women and trying to market it, and using the money to build the school, is a brave decision. I don’t think it does anything too sacrilegious to the book. In fact the character of Jo is to mirror that of Louisa. What the film does is actually give two alternatives of Jo: the Jo that’s common in the novel and the Jo who’s more of a reflection of Louisa’s own life and strong will when she deals with Mr. Dashwood. It’s a unique twist for Greta to make it happen. Plus instead of it defying the story, it actually adds a unique twist to it that works.

Top accolades of the film should go to director Greta Gerwig. This could have been another rehash of a commonly-adapted novel. Instead Greta adapts the story to make it very relatable to young women in today’s world and even adding a twist to the story without ruining the dignity of the original story. Gerwig bends instead of breaks. Even the constant flashes between the past and present work well. The best acting comes from Saoirse Ronan. Again she does an excellent acting performance that adds dimension and charm and speaks to the audience. Florence Pugh is also great as Amy: Jo’s most rivalrous sister and very good at stealing the show from Jo at times. Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen are also very good as sisters Meg and Beth. Laura Dern is also good as Marmee, but her role is limited in dimension. Meryl Streep is also given a brief role as Miss March, but she delivers a character that commands your attention each time. Timothee Chalamet was good as the idiotic Laurie, but I feel he didn’t act 1860’s-ish enough.

The film also has a lot of great standout technical efforts too. There’s the costuming of Jacqueline Durran, there’s the score composition from Alexandre Desplat, the set design from Jess Gonchor and Claire Kaufman and there’s the cinematography of Yorick Le Saux.

The most recent adaptation of Little Women does the book justice, but it adds a twist at the end. I’m sure even the biggest fans of the novel will be happy how the film turns out.

Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: Marriage Story

Marriage Story

Marriage Story is the story of a marriage between an actress (played by Scarlett Johannson) and a theatre director (played by Adam Driver) that’s falling apart. And the child caught in the middle.

There have been films about marriages falling apart before. You could understand that a film like Marriage Story would be expected to deliver a lot in order to separate itself from the other divorce films. It will surprise you.

The film begins on the two in the marriage: Charlie and Nicole Barber. Charlie is a successful theatre producer in New York and Nicole is a former teen actress originally from California who’s part of his production and has helped her career as an adult actress. We see images of Nicole and we hear Charlie’s voice of what he loves best about Nicole. We see images of Charlie and we hear from Nicole what she loves best about Charlie. We then see Charlie and Nicole sitting in the office of a marriage mediator. What we heard are the written essays both were requested by the mediator to write of each other. The mediator requests Nicole to read first, but she’s too embarrassed and they forego the counselling.

The marriage troubles appear to have happened when Nicole was offered a starring role in a Hollywood television production. After she left the New York production of Charlie’s, Nicole moved back temporarily into her mother’s house taking their 8-year-old son Henry with them. Charlie chose to stay in New York as his play is moving to Broadway. They want the split to be amicable and to forego lawyers. However right after shooting, one of her castmates recommended a family lawyer she had for her ow divorce.

Her name is Nora and she is known to have experience in family situations, especially those in showbiz. Right from the start, Nora appears ready to deal with Nicole’s case, even before she hears it. Nicole does state her case. She tells of how she feels neglected by him and he constantly rejects her ideas and desires. She also suspects him having an affair with the stage manager of the theatre company.

Charlie goes to Los Angeles with the intention of visiting Nicole’s family. Nicole’s family is very affectionate to Charlie, but Nicole wants them kept out of it since this divorce is happening. The family try to make like it’s a normal visit until Charlie is served the divorce papers. Charlie first meets with Jay Marotta in Los Angeles who’s known to be an aggressive lawyer who fights dirty. Charlie declines hiring him, but he receives a phone call from Nora saying he needs to find a lawyer or risk losing custody of Henry. It’s on his return flight he finds a lawyer who’s not one Nicole previously consulted.

His name is Bert Spitz and he’s retired from family law and favors a civil approach to handling divorce. However Bert does make it clear there are some thing Bert will need to do to win custody of Henry such as move to Los Angeles. Charlie finds an apartment and remodels it to look modern. However he still has to fly back to New York frequently to work on his show. Charlie doesn’t want this to be a dirty court show so he gets Bert to arrange a meeting between the two of them, Nicole and Nora. From the start, Nora is the one in control as she brings up Nicole claim of him not being warm to her ambitions and revealing Henry prefers to stay with his mother instead of fly between the two cities. A frustrated Bert recommends Charlie move to Los Angeles completely.

A frustrated Charlie has had it. He fires Bert. During his Broadway run, he wins a lucrative Fellowship Grant. The first payout is enough to buy Jay on retainer. The case then moves to court. A confident Nora reassures Nicole that everything will be for her success, until she sees Jay coming to the court office. She knows it will get ugly. And it does get ugly in the court as Nora tries to portray Charlie as a bad person with past infidelity and emotional distance and Jay tries to portray Nicole as a bad person by making her wine drinking look like alcoholism and a criminal for hacking Charlie’s emails.

This whole lawyer vs. lawyer action frustrates both Nicole and Charlie. They act in a friendly way, especially around Henry. They don’t want this divorce to be a burden to Henry but he makes it obvious the back and forth is an annoyance to him. They hope a private discussion without either lawyer present will lead to a better resolve to the situation. Instead it starts as friendly and then turns into a heated argument. So heated, it a case Nicole claims he has gotten too involved with himself and an angry Charlie wishes she would die. However it’s Charlie realizing what he said that he breaks down, with Nicole comforting him.

The divorce drama isn’t over. Charlie is to have nightly visits with Henry where he is monitored by an expert evaluator. The visit appears to go well until Charlie shows both Henry and evaluator a trick he does with his carpenters knife in front of castmates. The trick failed and it left a long cut on his arm. The court process ends as both agree to relax their demands. At a family party with Nora as guest, Nora reveals the 50/50 agreement is actually 55/45 in her favor with terms Nicole didn’t want. At a party with his Broadway castmates, they console Charlie and he sings a song which seems to reflect his feelings of defeat.

One year passes. Charlie’s play has a successful year-long run and Nicole was nominated for an Emmy for directing. She also has a new boyfriend, possibly the boy she met at a party a year earlier. It’s on the day of Halloween Party. Nicole’s family is excited to see Charlie and Charlie tells them all he accepted residency to spend more time around Henry. Just before Charlie is about to take Henry to the party, he notices Henry trying to read something written on paper. Charlie tries to read it, but realizes it’s what Nicole wrote about Charlie in preparation with meeting with the mediator over a year ago. Charlie reads it as Nicole just enters in, and is in tears. At the end of the party, Nicole notices Henry tired on Charlie’s shoulder. Nicole agrees to let Charlie have him for the night, even though it’s her night with him.

There have been films about marriages falling apart and even films about actual divorce battles. Some will remember 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. That film won the Oscar for Best Picture and even highlighted a touchy topic about children caught in the middle of their parents’ divorces. This film is unique as this is about a divorce and it’s a divorce of a showbiz couple with differing career paths whose ambitions can be best met thousands of miles apart. The thing about this film is that anyone who’s been married, been in a long-term relationship, or are even going through divorce themselves can see certain instances in the Barber story that mirror their own. Maybe it’s at the beginning where Charlie’s and Nicole’s essays reflect one’s pre-divorce feelings towards their spouse. Maybe it’s the nasty court battles. Maybe it’s those child custody situations. Maybe it’s even those moments where instead of keeping it all together, they just let it out and just vent out their hostile frustrations towards them. I’m sure one can see their own situation mirrored in this film.

The film does a very good, very thorough, if not completely thorough, look at the divorce of the Barbers. The film starts with the two talking of what wins them to the other. It progresses when we learn of their past career moments, present career situations and obvious future goals. It leads into how the split gets to the point a divorce is necessary and how lawyer involvement is needed. It gets to the legal preparation and even how one tried to prepare himself to win a custody battle. It even gets to moments where both bring out the worst in each other. Then there’s the two aftermaths: the first aftermath being right after the divorce and the second being much later with the calm after the storm. The film is very good at showing how the ambitions of the two, whom both describe the other as ‘a competitive person’ at the beginning, cause the friction. The film is good at showing how one state’s divorce laws conflict with another’s laws. The film is good at showing how divorce battles interfere with their child’s life. The film is also creative as it shows the first part of the aftermath of the court battle with a musical note. Nicole, her mother and sister perform a song from a Stephen Sondheim musical at a post-trial celebration party while Charlie sings a song from a Stephen Sondheim musical at a New York return party about heartbreak. It fits the film and story perfectly.

I feel the biggest focus of the film is not just the marriage falling apart, but of the involvement of lawyers. One of Jay’s assistants said: ‘Criminal lawyers see the good in bad people. Divorce lawyers see the bad in good people.’ That is very true. We see it at the trial as both Nora and Jay try to vilify their client’s spouse and expose the dirt in them. Even after we heard Nicole and Charlie describe each other at the beginning as ‘a competitive person,’ we see in the court battles that their competitiveness is nothing compared to Jay and Nora. Many divorce lawyers like Jay and Nora end up being this kind of ‘cutthroat competitive.’ You can see it puts a strain on Nicole and Charlie. Sometimes you’re left to wonder if their most frustrated by the divorce proceedings or by their lawyers’ involvement. Both lawyers even showed animal-like mannerisms in the way they did their business; Nora appeared to be coming off like a snake while Jay appeared to be coming off like a bull. What can I say? It’s like my father once said “The only people that really win in a divorce are the lawyers.” Very true, Dad!

It would be interesting to compare this to Kramer vs. Kramer. One think that’s noticed is that this film is a lot more intense. One difference is Kramer focuses on a neighbor who’s in support while Nicole has more of a support system of a family. Both films are about a divorce and a custody battle. However the role of Henry in this film is not as dimension as that of the role of Billy in Kramer. Both boys have similar bowl-cuts, but Billy was the bigger role. Actually the bigger roles in this film were the lawyers. There was some ‘lawyer moments’ in Kramer, but not as much. I think that’s the thing with this film is that it’s not just about a divorce but about lawyer interference too.

Interesting note is that Scarlett has been married once and has a daughter from that marriage to Ryan Reynolds. Adam Driver is currently married and has a child. Noah Baumbach is currently married to Greta Gerwig but was married to Jennifer Jason Leigh for some time before and fathered a child through her. Sometimes it’s tempting to think this is about that marriage, especially when Jennifer, like Nicole, was a teen movie star with her breakthrough coming in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Noah will admit it’s partially about that, but it’s about other divorces too like his own parents and through people he worked with. He even interviewed lawyers, judges and mediators. In case you’re wondering, Jennifer did see it and she’s cool with it. That bit about Nicole having directorial pursuits, I think that’s more like Gerwig than Leigh.

This has to be the best film ever made by Noah Baumbach. Up until now, I felt his best work was The Squid And The Whale which ironically is what it’s like being a teen during a divorce, and was semi-autobiographical. This film he directs and writes really appears to be a mirror on what’s happening in a lot of people’s marriages today. It reminds me of what won people to certain independent films of the late-1980’s and early 1990’s. Those films consisted of actors playing regular people who won audiences over by being reflections of themselves. This film does that. Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver were also excellent in their parts. There were times when they had to be their own individual character and then times to be a character that was part of a couple. Both did an excellent job of making their characters work. Laura Dern was hateably-excellent as the divorce lawyer that was appeared more interested in winning for her than her client and was going to manipulate her way into getting it. Julie Hagerty was also very good as the mother trying to be supportive for Nicole but still having high regards for Charlie. Azhy Robertson was also very good as Henry, but his role lacked the dimension and the screen time of that of Billy Kramer. I feel the role didn’t touch on the frustrations of the child that well.

Marriage Story is the story of two people in the arts whose marriage falls apart. However what they go through is what one can see mirrored in their own lives or what they see happening to couples close to them or what one experienced in their own divorce. That’s the film’s best quality.

Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: Ford v. Ferrari

Ford Ferrari

Matt Damon (left) is Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale (right) is Ken Miles in the racing drama Ford v Ferrari.

At first you’ll think Ford v Ferrari is about cars. It is, and about car racing. However, you’ll be surprised how much more it’s about.

The Ford Motor Company is going through an image issue in the mid-1960’s. For decades starting at the very beginning of the 20th Century, Ford under the genius of Henry Ford manufactured cars that completely redid the way Americans travel. Ford is still on top and currently led by Henry Ford’s grandson Henry Ford II, but it’s trying to win over younger buyers of their cars. It’s a bit harder because young people have recently developed an interest in racing cars and see Fords as their ‘parents cars.’ In 1963, Vice-President Lee Iacocca recommends to Ford they strike a merger with the cash-strapped Italian company Ferrari. It seems like a good choice as Ferrari has been a big winner in racing. In fact Ferrari cars have won the most recent 24-hours of Le Mans races since 1960.

However over at the meeting at the Ferrari office, the meeting does not go well. Enzo Ferrari tells Ford that he accepted a deal with Fiat that’s more lucrative and allows him to keep the Scuderia Ferrari racing division. In the meeting, Ferrari insults the Ford cars and Henry II as ‘not Henry Ford but the grandson of Henry Ford.’ That infuriates Henry Ford and he plans a revenge on Ferrari. The revenge is actually one to take the Ford Car company into the future. He plans to have a Ford car designed to win auto races. He hires Carroll Shelby who won the Le Mans in 1959 but had to retire because of heart problems: a problem he consistently takes pills straight out of the bottle. Since retiring racing, Shelby devoted his time to developing cars for auto racing through his company Shelby American. Carroll Shelby is close friends with 47 year-old Ken Miles: a British auto racer who is infamous for his bad temper and struggles as a mechanic with owning his garage in Los Angeles. This is a burden not only to him, but his wife Mollie and young son Peter. Especially since the IRS is on his case.

Miles is Shelby’s first pick in his Cobra team to test out his cars. Miles’ racing style and car know-how allows Shelby to make good decisions. He is always very honest with Shelby whenever he notices something that needs an improvement or when something’s a weakness. However, the choice of Ken Miles does not go well with Henry Ford, especially since he feels Miles’ personality and notorious temper doesn’t fit the Ford image. Ford elects to send Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren to the 1964 Le Mans instead. Miles predicts none of the Ford participants will win the race, and he ends up right. Once again, the race is won by a Ferrari driver.

Despite the big loss at Le Mans 1964, Shelby tries to reassure Ford that one of the Ford drivers hit 218 mph on the Ford GT40 and that made Ferrari nervous. Meanwhile it’s back to the drawing board. Shelby continues development on the Ford GT40 Mk II and he has Miles test the cars with Peter watching frequently and Ford unhappy about the arrangement. On one practice run, the brakes fail and cause the car to crash in fiery manner, which Miles is lucky to escape.

In 1966, Ford takes an extra step in the efforts of their racing cards by creating a racing division of their company and has Ford’s Senior Vice-President Leon Beebe run it. Beebe wants the program a case where Miles is not a part of any of it, not even the testing. Shelby meets up with Ford on an opportunity and offers to take him into his car. Ford accepts, and Shelby drives like a racer on the track which scares Ford almost to death. It’s right there he convinces Ford that Miles is the best man to win Le Mans. Ford agrees, but with a compromise; Miles needs to win the 24-hours At Daytona first before he can race at Le Mans. Shelby visits Miles at a street corner near his house after he’s finished grocery shopping to tell him the news. That infuriates Miles so much, he has a fist-fight with Shelby at the corner, which wife Mollie watches entertainingly.

Shelby and Miles continue with the racing and testing as Peter continues to watch and Phil Remington is the mechanic doing the fixing. Beebe is hoping Miles doesn’t win as he has puts in a second Ford entry in Daytona with NASCAR team Holdman-Moody supporting it. The Holdman-Moody team is faster at pit stops, but Shelby allows Miles to push his car to 7000 RPM. The result: Miles wins Daytona. It’s Miles’ first win in five years. Miles also has continued success later by winning the 12 Hours Of Sebring. Le Mans will be Miles’ chance to win the rare Triple Crown of endurance races.

At the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, Miles is there as is Shelby, but so is Ford and Beebe. So is Enzo Ferrari in hopes of this being victory #7 for the Ferrari car. Ferrari has just released his latest racing prototype, 330 P3, and his best hopes in repeating rest with Italian driver Lorenzo Bandini. Mollie and Peter are listening to the race on the radio as Peter will be going through the race on the Le Mans racetrack he drew.

The race starts and Miles has problems on the first lap as the passenger door won’t close; he has to steer with his right hand and hold the door with his left. At the first lap, Miles alerts of the problem, which Remington fixes with a sledgehammer. Miles gets back to driving and has a lot of ground to make up. With each lap, he breaks the track record and passes numerous Ferraris as he gains ground on the leaders. However, as he’s pursuing Bandini, brake problems occur. At the pit stop, the team replaces the brake system, which infuriates Enzo Ferrari. He feels it’s against the rules, but Shelby is able to successfully convince race officials that the brake replacement is within the rules. As the race continues, Bandini is in hot pursuit by Miles, but Bandini is the last Ferrari driver in the race. As they duel again on the Mulsanne Straight, Bandini blows is engine and is out, making this the first Le Mans since 1959 Ferrari won’t win!

There’s still one more act of the drama. Three Ford cars lead the race nearing the finish with Miles leading them all. What should be a normal racing situation actually becomes a publicity opportunity for Henry Ford. He envisions all three Ford crossing the finish line simultaneously and even Beebe gets Shelby to tell Miles to slow down and set up for the opportunity. Miles is furious about this as this could put his Triple Crown in jeopardy and responds by setting more lap records, but eventually agrees with it. Miles does slow down and the three cross the finish simultaneously. However, it’s not a shared win as Ford driver McLaren is declared the winner. Shelby is mad that it ends all chances of Miles’ Triple Crown, but Miles is not down. Miles is just grateful for driving at Le Mans and giving the crowd a show.

That race would be Ken Miles’ last ever race. One day while testing a J-car, and with Shelby and Peter around, Ken crashed near a turn. It was a ball of fire and he didn’t get out. The fatal crash happened in Peter’s view. Some time later, Shelby goes to visit Mollie and Peter. He sees Peter still hurt but gives him words of comfort about his father and gives him a wrench Ken threw at Carroll years ago. As for Mollie, he just waves back from a distance after she waved to him. Then he drives off like a racer.

The film is unique as it is more than just a story about racing. It’s also how one race depended on taking a solid American business and a business legendary in making automobile travel the new norm for the USA into the future. Because of it, or maybe not exactly because of it, people still drive Fords today. Ferraris are still the most expensive sports cars today but Ford is still one of the biggest auto manufacturers in the World. The film also gave us some reminders about sports business. Businesses don’t simply look for sportspeople who win all the time. They also look for those with a marketable image. Michael Jordan may be a case where one of the best sportsmen ever becomes the most marketable ever, but it’s not always a guarantee. Seeing how a great racer like Ken Miles was shunned by everybody except by his family and those involved with Shelby American is one example. Also how Henry Ford looked at him was also unpleasant to see. I remember one person said that Henry Ford simply not liking you was enough for him to fire you. Goes to show he was cruel to whoever as he was to Ken Miles.

The story isn’t only about racing or even about a remarkable race. It’s about an auto racer whom at an age most would retire from the sport at was having the most successful year of his life. It was his love for his family. He wanted to win for them. And he especially wanted to be seen by his son as someone to be proud of. It was also of a friendship between Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby. Miles was the one person Shelby can best trust for an honest opinion about his cars, or should I say Ford’s cars. Shelby saw a lot of qualities in Miles most others overlooked. The friendship was strong, but it wasn’t without its friction as both men were temperamental and fighters. But the friendship was still very strong.

One thing about this film is that it doesn’t compromise in being an auto racing film. Being such, it knows that it has to make the audience feel like they are part of the race or they are in the driver’s seat. The camera angles as well as many of the scene shots helped greatly in creating the experience and intensity and leaving the audience at the edge of their seat. The film also does a great job of putting the audience in the races too. Despite the intimate story, the story does not forget what it’s about and makes the audience feel the moments too.

The film marks another great success for director James Mangold. This is his sixth film to earn Oscar nominations and his first ever to be nominated for Best Picture. Although he missed a Best Director nomination, he creates a great film that delivers just as good a story as it delivers in racing excitement. The story by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth along with Jason Keller becomes more than a racing story with a simple plot. It’s a deep plot with three-dimensional characters and reminds the audience that the story is as much about the man, the friend, the husband and the father as it is about the racer.

The film marks another great performance for Christian Bale. Again he succeeds in getting into character and delivering a deep role. Not a false note about the character nor the father-son relationship. Matt Damon was also great as Carroll Shelby. His role may not have been as deep as Ken Miles’ but he added dimension and character to the role. The other standout of the film was Noah Jupe as Peter Miles. Noah made the father-son relationship work as well as Christian did. Other standout efforts include the cinematography from Phedon Papamichael. He knew the shots he needed for this racing film and he delivered, especially in some of the most intense scenes. The visual effects were also excellent and perfect for the film. Also the score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders added to the excitement of the film.

Ford v Ferrari is the remarkable story how a driver and a race depended on the future of the Ford auto company. It’s also a story about a friendship between two racers few of us knew of. And a reminder of an overlooked great in the sport.

My Predictions For The 2019 Academy Award Nominations

Chocolate Oscar

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

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

BEST PICTURE

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

BEST DIRECTOR

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

BEST ACTOR

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

BEST ACTRESS

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

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

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

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

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

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

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

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

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

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

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

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

BEST FILM EDITING

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

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

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

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

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

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

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

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

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

BEST SOUND MIXING

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

BEST SOUND EDITING

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

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

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

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

BEST PICTURE

  • Knives Out
  • The Two Popes

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Greta Gerwig – Little Women
  • Todd Phillips – Joker

BEST ACTOR

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

BEST ACTRESS

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Nicole Kidman – Bombshell
  • Zhao Shuzhen – The Farewell

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

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

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

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

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • The Lion King

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

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

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Mark Bridges – Joker
  • Jeny Temime – Judy

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • The Cave
  • Maiden

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Jeff Groth – Joker

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

  • Joker
  • Judy

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Michael Abels – Us
  • Daniel Pemberton – Motherless Brooklyn

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

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

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • The Irishman

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Captain Marvel

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

My Predictions For The 2019 Golden Globes

Golden Globe

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

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

FILM:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TELEVISION:

Best TV Movie or Miniseries: Chernobyl

Best TV Series, Drama: The Crown

Best TV Series, Comedy: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

wonderfullife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2019 Grey Cup Preview

Grey Cup

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

FIFTH TIME FOR CALGARY

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

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

And Now For The Game

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

WEST: WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

Winnipeg BB

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

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

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

EAST: HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Hamilton TC

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

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

FINAL PREDICTION

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

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

VIFF 2019 Wraps Up On A Great Note

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

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

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

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

BC Spotlight Awards

Sea To Sky Award

Presented by Telus

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

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

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

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

Canadian Film Awards

Best Canadian Film
Presented by Directors’ Guild of Canada

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

Special Mention: Blood Quantum (dir. Jeff Barnaby)

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

Special Mention: Kuesippan (dir. Myriam Verrault)

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIFF Impact Award
Presented by The Lochmaddy Foundation

WINNER: Resistance Fighters (dir. Michael Wech)

Rob Stewart Eco Warrior Award

Presented by RBC and Cineplex

WINNER: The Pollinators (dir. Peter Nelson)

Women In Film And Television Award

Artistic Merit Award

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

Audience Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHITE-SNAKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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