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VIFF 2020 Review: Call Me Human (Je m’appelle humain)

Call Me Human is an intimate look at Innu poet Josephine Bacon and her past and present life that makes for her poetry.

I’m glad I started my last day of the VIFF watching the documentary Call Me Human. I never knew of poet Josephine Bacon until I saw it. I’m glad I did.

The film is an intimate look at poet Josephine Bacon. It’s also a look at the friendship between her and the documentary’s director Kim O’Bomsawin. She was born in Innu territory in Pessamit, Quebec. Like other Innu children in her community, she was forced to grow up in the Residential School system in Canada. It was there she endured the abuses and the pressures to abandon her culture and language. Her young adult years would mean trying to make a living. She’d escape her village to live in Montreal, sometimes sleeping with her friend in abandoned places. She would find work as a director and lyricist. She would work as a translator and interpreter with Elders and would listen to their words closely.

It wouldn’t be until after she turned 60 that she learned that she was a poet. She feels she’s not a poet. She feels she has a natural way of storytelling. Her first collection of poetry would not be published until 2009. It was in both French and Innu and it received renown for its importance of cultural preservation and storytelling. Bacon has continued to have poetry books published. She has won numerous literary awards such as the Prix des Libraires de Quebec, the Indigenous Voices Award, and the Order of Montreal.

The film is more than a biography. The film also features a lot of imagery of Josephine as she goes to various places. She’s often seen with other members of her Innu community. It is there she senses a culture whose traditions and ways of life are dying as the younger Innu are more modernized. She is seen looking out to the natural landscapes. It is in her and her culture that she has this feeling. She is seen at places of her past. It is there where she tells of her past history, both bad and good. She is seen over at a friend’s house for a dinner on Innu-cooked fish. It is there we see the life-long connections she established.

The intention of the film is not just to get us to learn who Josephine is, but to experience what it is that makes her poetry. We see Josephine in many dimensions. She calmly tells the stories of her life, but you can tell when heartbreak is in her, even when she doesn’t show it. We see her looking out to nature both with awe, admiration and sadness. She loves the beauty but she quietly hurts because it is stolen land. Her readings of her poems are done across a lot of imagery from landscape images to personal images to animation. Her poems may be in French or in Innu. All of which paint a picture of who Josephine is and how she finds her voice.

The appearance of the Innu ways is as important as Josephine’s use of the Innu language in some of her poems. Innu is a language spoken by only 10,000. The Innu ways were common before residential schooling tried to get children to abandon. Now the difficulty is modernism. There’s fear the traits and traditions will be lost. That’s why Josephine’s poems are so important. They keep the Innu language and the Innu ways of expression alive. That has a lot to do with why she has won so many awards. Those who see this documentary will be lucky to meet a gem of a talent.

Top respect goes to director Kim O’Bomsawin. Kim is not just the director of the film but comes across as a friend. She helps Josephine as she goes from place to place. She even helps with radio interviews, visiting friends and is there who Josephine accepts an award. Kim does an excellent job of showcasing Josephine’s poetic voice as well as the land that Josephine embraces and the traditions she tries to keep alive.

Call Me Human is more than a documentary about a Canadian poet. It’s also about a people and a way of life that was suppressed and oppressed at first but is now experiencing a revival thanks to people like Josephine.

Movie Review: Black Mass

Johnny Depp is unrecognizable as James 'Whitey' Bulger in Black Mass.

Johnny Depp is unrecognizable as James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Black Mass.

DISCLAIMER: Okay, I know I’m late in reviewing a lot of movies, including this one. I’m hoping to do some catching up in this time. So please bear with me.

James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is a man of infamy. Black Mass is a movie that attempts to reveal what type of person Bulger was and how he was able to get away with what he did all this time.

It’s 1975. The streets of South Boston are ruled by James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and his Irish-American Winter Hill Gang with Stephen Flemmi as his right-hand man, Kevin Weeks as his rising rookie and Johnny Martorano as his merciless hitman. However it’s rivaled by the Angiullo brothers who have ties to the New England Mafia family.

In the middle of this, former FBI Agent John Connolly returns to Boston in hopes of stopping the Angiullo brothers and does the tricky task of trying to get Whitey’s help to do so. Besides Whitey and brother Billy Bulger, who’s the president of the Massachusetts State Senate, are childhood friends. At first, Whitey is reluctant to be an informant but agrees after one of his Winter Hill Gang members is gunned down.

No kidding having Whitey as an informant for an FBI agent is touchy stuff and it even causes suspicion from Connolly’s boss. However it becomes a case where Bulger is the one pulling Connolly’s strings as he uses Connolly’s ‘protection’ for covering his crimes. Whitey becomes more violent after his six year-old son dies of an allergic reaction to aspirin. He even gains more success in achieving FBI control in terms of trying to down the Angiullos. Connolly however becomes more attached to Whitey which interferes with his marriage.

However the bond between Bulger and Connolly reach a turning point as Whitey orders one of his men to kill two men associated with a scheme Whitey was to profit over. One man in whitey’s ring, Brian Halloran, comes across as untrustworthy and senses him to be a possible rat. Fearing for his life, Halloran goes to the FBI for help but to no avail. Connolly informs Whitey of Halloran’s sayings and Halloran is killed.

Bulger’s lust for blood and his own menacing behavior only grow over time and it leads to a downfall in his relationship with Connolly. Over time a new district attorney, Fred Wyshak, is hired in Boston. Despite Connolly’s attempt to befriend the ‘bulldog’ attorney, Wyshak refuses and attempts to have Bulger arrested. Eventually the secrets are unraveled thanks to the help of the Boston Globe which leads to the arrests of Connolly and Bulger’s three other men. Bulger however is successful in avoiding arrest of his own however he would be arrested in 2011 after 16 years ‘on the run.’

I’m sure what most people would be interested in seeing when they watch this film is yet another character played by Johnny Depp. The weird thing is about how unrecognizable he comes across with his balding hair and blue eyes. However I’m sure he was chosen because of how he could embody the character of Whitey with his criminal mentality and his personal demons both on the street and within himself. Mind you Whitey was quite the character in real life to give himself his own exile before ultimately being brought to justice only as he was in his 80’s. Some may find Johnny’s hair and make-up rather distracting but it doesn’t take away from the story.

This is a story of intrigue. Those who know the story of Whitey Bulger, or even those who only know the name but not the whole story, will take an interest in why Whitey carried this all out and why an FBI agent was willing to assist. No doubt the story is mainly about Whitey. However the story is about Connolly too. It makes one wonder why a childhood friend would be so loyal to the point he’d be willing to go against his job in order to help him out despite the fact he’s carrying out such hideous crimes. No doubt the theme of loyalty is very present in the film as it is a common fact that loyalty to family and friends is something valued greatly in Boston. The theme of loyalty comes to the point where we see a scene of Bulger on the run but not before thanking Billy just before he and the other men are sentenced.

The make-up of Depp as Bulger may get a lot of attention but the highlight of the film was his performance of a man who is smart but troubled and very easy to infuriate. Depp also did a good job of conveying Bulger’s growing anger and personal motives in his carrying out in the crime activities but he also did a good job in showcasing Whitey’s mind in why Bulger felt it was right in doing all these hideous crimes and why he needed his men to carry it out and an FBI to be ahead of the game. Even showing how the accidental death of his son would be the turning point in Bulger and his lust for control and vengeance adds to the story and the character. The film rested predominantly on the story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger but it was Depp’s ability to show Whitey the person that made the story work at its best.

Sure, Johnny Depp carried the film but the film did feature other good supporting performances as well like that of Joel Edgerton as Connolly whose loyalty is questioned, Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy. The performances of the wives caught in the middle–Erica McDermott as Mary Bulger and Julianne Nicholson as Marianne Connolly– added to the human element of the story and kept it from being your typical hard-story crime drama.

This actually Scott Cooper’s third film as a director. The former actor’s best film making feat up to now has been Crazy Heart about a faded country star on a comeback. I don’t know if it’s as good as Crazy Heart but this is a very good film done by Cooper and is definitely his commercial breakthrough. Writers Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk did a good job of keeping it from being your typical mob-leader story.

Black Mass isn’t simply about an infamous crime leader. It’s also about the codes of loyalty some people would do for their friends, even if it meant violating their duties as an FBI. Very insightful and full of intense moments.

VIFF 2015 Review: Cop Car

A corrupt cop (Kevin Bacon) had his car stolen by two eight year-old boys in the dark comedy Cop Car.

A corrupt cop (Kevin Bacon) had his car stolen by two eight year-old boys in the dark comedy Cop Car.

What do you get when you mix two eight year-old boys, a corrupt cop, a crooked man, a female witness and an empty cop car all out in the middle of Colorado? You get a bizarre dark comedy called Cop Car.

The film starts with two eight year-old boys, Harrison and Travis, walking along the Colorado farm land cussing and having fun. During their fun, they notice an empty sheriff car not running and nobody inside. They go in to check it out and find the keys. They’re able to turn it on and the two start their fun.

We found out how it got there. A corrupt sheriff named Kretzer appears to have killed two men; there’s one lifeless in the trunk and one Kretzer buries in a hole. Kretzer returns to where his car was parked only to find it gone. All that remains is his empty beer bottle. He goes to town to try and steal a car for himself. Nobody can know of his plot. Once he steals one, he goes to town and alerts the police of what happened. Meanwhile the boys are driving superfast on the highway and catches the eye of a passing motorist who questions what she sees. She reports it to police but they think she’s crazy. Even she’s seen sitting at a diner questioning what she saw.

Kretzer believes it and sends the boys a radio message letting them know they’re in trouble. But they don’t hear it because they’re playing around with the police tape and assault rifles in the car. All of a sudden, they hear a thump coming from the trunk. The other man is alive and scared as hell. However he’s shocked to see two boys looking at him. The two help free the man from his ‘shackles.’ Sheriff Kretzer sends another message to the two boys, this time more comforting. They boys say to meet him at a location but it’s at the gunpoint of the man who threatens them and their families if they don’t do as he says. Then he goes with the two assault rifles hiding behind the windmill right in the remote rural highway.

SPOILER ALERT: The ending of the movie will be revealed from this point on. If you want it a complete surprise, do not read any further.

Sheriff Kretzer arrives. He sees the two boys in the car but suspects something suspicious. Coincidentally the witness is driving on that same highway and bumps into the sheriff car again. She gets out relieved that she is not as crazy as they say she is but ready to give those two boys a good talking to. However she’s shot and that’s when the shootout between Kretzer and his hostage occur. The hostage is dead. Kretzer is badly injured and the two boys are scared as hell. They shoot the car window down by accident and Travis is accidentally shot. It’s up to Harrison to drive back to town for safety. But not without one last pursuit by Kretzer which proves fatal for him. The film ends with Harrison still driving over 70 mph with the lights flashing and the sirens on.

I don’t think the film was intended to give a social message. I don’t need to see this film to know how corrupt a lot of cops can get. What I think director Jon Watts and co-writer Christopher Ford are trying to do is tell a story and have fun with it. They have fun showing the wonders of what it’s like to be a child to the point their cussing and diarrhea joke seem like a disgusting but charmingly funny reminder of how we were kids. They have fun showing the two boys having fun in this bizarre and even dangerous situation. They have fun with a corrupt policeman whose stuck in the middle of his crime right and tries to ‘set things right.’ They have fun with the witness who questions what she saw. They have fun with the hostage in the trunk who doesn’t seem to have a clue what’s going on.

They also have fun with the audience. One of the elements in making it a dark comedy is that they have us at the edge of our seats. They show two boys driving off in the sheriff’s car shouting ‘this is our cop car!’ and leaving us the audience nervous and afraid of what will happen next. They show police tape by the car as Sheriff Kretzer sends the boys a message only for us to learn the two boys are having fun with it. They show the boys playing with the guns, even the assault rifles, leaving us afraid a bullet will go off any minute but it doesn’t. They show the hostage threatening the boys and demanding they relay Kretzer a message only to appear clueless in what he’s about to do. I think that’s one thing Watts and Ford try to do: play with our fears. I know I was afraid as hell what would happen next. Even that scene at the beginning of the boys trying to crush the snakes in the snakehole was the first sign of the fun Watts and Ford were going to have with us.

However both Watts and Ford do set a moment where the fun ends and things become more serious: right at the shootout. The carefree fun even ends for the boys as it finally sinks into them the danger they’re about to face. I think the moment when it gets darkly serious was timed right.

The film shows a lot of surprises. Firstly we’re all surprised not to see the two boys land the car in any dangerous hill. We’re also surprised the hostage in the trunk is alive right while the boys are playing around. We’re surprised to see the witness actually bump into the site of where the boys are with the car. We’re surprised of the hostage’s plans of his own on Kretzer. We’re surprised the sheriff not only survives the shootout but is fit enough to drive. We’re surprises that Harrison is able to turn to avoid the truck while Kretzer smashes into it. We’re also surprised to see despite playing around with the car and the guns, the moment Travis gets shot is when he uses it for help. We’re also surprised to see the best driving of the boys come from Harrison as he’s rushing back to town for safety in the pitch dark and the police lights flashing.

The film is full of ironies. However one of the best qualities of the film is not just of what we know but of what we don’t know. In fact the film will leave us asking a lot of questions. Why did Kretzer kill one man and hold another hostage? What exactly was the hostage after that he was trying to kill Kretzer? Why did the witness have to get shot? I think it’s trying to have us decide for yourself why things were this way. Even the ending leaves us asking a lot of questions. Will Travis be okay? Will Harrison drive back to town safely? I think that was the quality of the ending. I believe it lets us create our own ending to the story.

Watts and Ford delivered a good fun dark comedy. I wouldn’t call it a stellar movie but it’s hard to notice the imperfections. Kevin Bacon’s performance as the corrupt Sheriff Kretzer may be Golden Globe worthy but I don’t think it’s Oscar worthy. He made the right comedic choices in his character for it to work and fit with the story. Shea Whigham was funny as the bumbling hostage. Camryn Mannheim made the most of her brief appearances in her minor role. The two boys, Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson, owned the show. It’s funny how they cussed, played dangerously and told a crude joke but still managed to maintain the innocence of childhood.

Cop Car first got a lot of good buzz at the Sundance Film Fes5tival and has been an attraction at various film festivals this year. It was given a box office release in August but only grossed up to $150,000. That’s odd for a film starring Kevin Bacon.

Cop Car is a surprise treat. I’ll admit the movie left me so nervous and afraid of what will happen next, I wanted to walk out. Nevertheless it was a delight to watch.

Denny’s Baconalia Proves Chain Restaurants Are Insania

Have you been to Denny’s lately? Then I guess you’ve noticed they have something running for a seven-week period called Baconlia. Yes, a celebration for bacon lovers. With this ‘fest’ is seven exclusive menu items with bacon including bacon flapjacks, bacon meatloaf and a bacon sundae. A bacon sundae? That’s right! Denny’s has added  new invention to sweet and sour items. It’s cut up pieces of bacon sprinkled on top of a maple syrup sundae. Tried it yet? I’ve seen some Youtube videos of people trying it out. One said it’s good. I’m undecided if it’s worth it or not.

Anyways this just comes months after KFC shocked us all with their double down: a sandwich of bacon, two cheese slices, ‘special sauce’ and two colonel’s-recipe filets that act as the bun. Remember? Tried it when it was out? One health office said it had a day’s worth of sodium. Canada tried it in October but it was dropped in less than a month. How did that happen?

Knowing those two items in the last while makes me wonder about chain restaurants in the last while. Ever since it was announced ten years ago there’s an obesity epidemic thanks to fast food and constant computer use, and after the documentary Super Size Me came out, fast food restaurants and other chain restaurants have worked to promote healthier alternatives for customers. Even McDonalds went as far as creating a new brand of salads. However in the last year, it seems like there has been a reversal with those two ‘special’ items released. Makes me wonder if there’s an ‘unhealthy rebellion’ going on.

Anyways I didn’t try the Double Down and I haven’t decided if I’ll try the bacon sundae. If I do decide, I think I’ll try it at a Denny’s that’s near a hospital so that I don’t have far to walk once the heart attack happens.