“You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a ten-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.”
You’ll think that now is not a good time for a film like Jojo Rabbit. A film about a Hitler youth who has Adolf Hitler as an imaginary friend? I mean you have the rise of neo-Nazi groups and alt-right factions creeping up as well as the ‘woke’ people on the internet getting offended and hostile over things. Is this the right film to have out now?
The film begins in Berlin in the latter years of World War II. A ten year-old boy named Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler is all dress for the weekend at Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, camp. He’s not confident he can do this; he’s socially awkward and can’t even tie his shoelaces right. However he does receive encouragement from his imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler. Hitler hypes him up with so much excitement, Jojo goes running down the street shouting “Heil Hitler” like a maniac! That is until he meets up with his best friend Yorki just before arriving for what he expects to be the ‘best weekend ever.’
The camp is being taught by former army officer Captain Klenzendorf and assisted with Fraulein Rahm who’s dedicated to the Third Reich and even gave birth to fifteen children! The boys are taught all sorts of attack games and they end the first night with a book burning rally. The next day during a training session, some older boys give a lecture to the younger boys about being brutal and having no mercy when killing. They hand-pick Jojo to kill a rabbit with his bare hands. Despite all the boys except Yorki urging Jojo to kill it, he doesn’t have what it takes. The older boy then snaps the rabbit’s neck and calls Jojo ‘Jojo Rabbit’ which all the other boys except Yorki do. Hitler spots Jojo alone crying. Hitler then reminds Jojo of the cunning feisty traits of the rabbit and encourages him to ‘be the rabbit.’ This pumps Jojo up so much, he’s““` all in to try the next exercise, which is throwing a Stielhandgranate. Jojo yanks it out of Klenzendorf’s hand and throws it without fear. Thing is the grenade bounces off a tree and lands by Jojo’s feet which Hitler runs off from. The grenade explodes with Jojo alone!
After months of hospitalization, Jojo has mostly recovered but his left face has visible facial scars and walks with a limp on his left leg. His mother Rosie is happy to take him home for some time. However Rosie does bring him to the office where she kicks Klenzendorf for allowing Jojo to be exposed to something so dangerous. Klenzendorf has been demoted to the office and is given the task by Rosie to make Jojo feel included. Klenzendorf agrees to let Jojo spread propaganda leaflets and collect scrap metal for the war effort, which Jojo does wearing a cardboard robot outfit and carry a wagon!
Jojo comes home one day expecting his mother. Instead he hears a rattle in the house. He senses it’s coming from the room of his older sister Inge, who died of an illness years ago. Jojo later finds out a teenage girl is hiding between the walls. The girl is a Jewish girl his mother is hiding and is a former classmate of Inge’s. Jojo threatens to expose her to the Gestapo but the girl named Elsa reminds him if he does, his mother will be executed. Hitler is shocked when he hears a Jew is hiding in the house. Hitler asks Jojo to work something out. Jojo works out he will keep Elsa a secret as long as she helps him with a book he’s writing: a book about Jews. Elsa agrees to do the writing and drawing. Elsa makes up things like Jews having horns and mind-reading. That especially shocks Hitler to learn about this girl and her powers. The book impresses Klenzendorf as he meets Jojo at the army pool as Jojo undergoes physical rehab.
This puts a strain on the relationship between Jojo and his mother, which Hitler slyly observes at the dinner table. Jojo accuses Rosie of being unpatriotic and his angry that his father has been away for a long time. Rosie tries to reassure Jojo of having a positive attitude, even as she knows the truth of what happened to her husband. There’s even one day Rosie gets Jojo out of his Nazi uniform and into real clothes for a nice day out and a fun bike ride home, much to Hitler’s chagrin! As time passes, Jojo continues to ask Elsa questions and even tries to deliver fake letters in the name of Elsa’s boyfriend Nathan. Elsa helps Jojo with his book and Jojo realizes he’s in love with Elsa. This gets on Hitler’s nerves as he’s insisting to Jojo that she’s evil.
One day the Gestapo search Jojo’s house along with Klenzendorf. They come across Elsa and she poses as Inge. She even answers the question about Inge’s birthday properly. The Gestapo decide to leave them alone. However it doesn’t stop Elsa from fearing she will die soon. That day out while collecting metal, Jojo is mesmerized when he sees a butterfly, but soon sees his mother hanged. He tries to take his heartbreak out on Elsa with a knife, but fails. Elsa nevertheless hugs Jojo as he’s crying. As the two watch the city get bombed, they both learn that they’re both orphans who lost all their family.
As the city lays in ruins, war action have to be carried out. Jojo is shocked to see Yorki as a soldier and given military actions. All the Hitler Youth have to become soldiers now! He’s even shocked to learn from Yorki that Hitler committed suicide and Germany’s being attacked by almost every front. The boys are given military actions by Fraulein Rahm including Yorki as a sniper and Jojo given a soldier’s coat to disguise himself. Jojo is shocked at everything he sees from dead civilians to children firing guns off to an explosion that kills Rahm. At first Jojo is imprisoned by Soviet soldiers. However he bumps into Klenzendorf. As he knows he will be executed by the Soviets, Klenzendorf tells Jojo he has an admiration for his late mother’s courage. He also tries to get Jojo out of any Soviet mistreatment and has him passed off as a Jew.
As the war ends, Jojo is relieved that Yorki survived the warfare. He just won’t die! However with the war over, it might mean saying goodbye to Elsa, which Jojo doesn’t want to do. Jojo gets that message as Elsa has the book completed with an image of Jojo next to a rabbit in a cage. Before he could, Hitler returns with a bullet-wound in his head. He’s lost it all, but Jojo has had it with him. Hitler tries to get one last piece of appreciation from him, but fails in grand style. The film ends on a positive uplifting note that’s fun to watch.
Now a lot of people have the attitude that Hitler and Nazism and the harms they caused should not be parodized. Especially in a time when even the slightest off-color comment from a well-known person can unleash a wave of wrath on social media like Twitter and could pave their way to their downfall. We should not forget that there have been parodies of Adolf Hitler in the past. There was animation like Looney Tunes’ The Ducktator, Walt Disney’s Stop That Tank and even Der Fuehrer’s Face where Donald Duck poses as Hitler. There has been live action film, especially from some Mel Brooks’ movies like The Producers and To Be Or Not To Be, and even recent examples like in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. The most famous film parody of Hitler is 1940’s The Great Dictator. Charlie Chaplin didn’t exactly play Hitler but its obvious who he’s parodizing in his character of Adenoid Hynkel. Actually it was around World War II where Hollywood unleashed possibly released the most parodies of Hitler. And rightly so because Hitler wanted to take over the world, including the USA.
We should also keep in mind that this parody is not an original creation of Taika Waititi. Jojo is actually based off of a book by New Zealand-Belgian author Christina Leunens titled Caging Spies. The novel caught the attention of Waititi and he took a liking to it, especially since he himself is half-Jewish and half-Maori. Waititi has frequently described New Zealand as a racist country and a lot of negative comments about Jews you hear in this film are comments Waititi himself heard. So if anyone is alarmed with the Anti-Semitism they hear, basically it’s what has been said in the past and what was common belief in the past. Both the film and the novel also touch on a lot of things and experiments the Nazis used to do in the past. They may not have successfully cloned humans, but they did experiment with it. Fraulein Rahm may have shocked us in saying she had fifteen children, but there were women who bred constantly for creating more Aryan children. That scene where Yorki becomes a soldier and the scenes where the children have to fight as Germany was losing is also a disturbing truth. The Hitlerjugend was created to raise the boys to become soldiers as they reach adulthood but when it became clear Germany was losing, the Hitlerjugend became soldiers in vain to keep the Nazi regime alive. Those scenes were possibly the biggest non-comedic scenes of the film.
This film concept of a Hitler Youth having Adolf Hitler as an imaginary friend is a concept that’s supposed to fail, but somehow it works like a charm. One thing we should keep in mind is that the Adolf Hitler we see on the screen is not the Adolf Hitler we know but the Adolf Hitler in Jojo’s mind. This Adolf who’s idiotic, incompetent, immature and even jealous represents the boy’s feelings of nationalism and there are many times he’s pushed to confront his feelings or even question them. In the end it’s clear Adolf is nothing but a bad influence on him. The film does not shy away from the anti-Semitic attitudes most of the Hitler Youth had, albeit making it look comedic.
The story is also a case where that grenade accident is the best thing to happen to Jojo. Being too injured to be involved with the Hitler Youth, it’s his mother Rosie that reminds him of the truth about love and beauty and what being a child should be. It’s also Elsa who is best at teaching Jojo about love and how it helps to overcome prejudices. Not to mention that Jews are people too with similar feelings like Jojo. It’s also where we learn the true heroes are Jews like Elsa who survived and Rosie who was hanged for being part of the resistance. Even that scene where Klenzendorf is captured by the Russians and about to face execution is powerful. There he admits to Jojo that being left out of the Nazi Youth was the best thing for him and his mother is the true brave one, and Jojo should have no part in any of the imprisonment or executions the Nazis like him are about to face.
SPOILER WARNING: This paragraph has details of the end. The ending is a unique situation. Elsa experiences the freedom she never thought she’d get in her lifetime. Even though she learns Jojo lied about who won. That dance scene is important as you have two children. One is Jewish and the other was a Nazi boy who first saw her as someone to bully but fell in love with her. Elsa lucked out from being captive from the Nazis. Jojo lucked out as he isn’t seen as a Nazi and he’s spared by Russian and American soldiers. Elsa lost her family and the boy she loves. Jojo lost his family. They have nothing but each other but they dance together. That’s a powerful scene, especially as Rosie talks of how dancing means freedom. The dance represents those two free orphans who lost a lot but both won in the end.
I have to give top acclaim to director/writer Taika Waititi. He takes an oddball story about a Hitler-obsessed Nazi child and turns it into a story with both humor and heart. He doesn’t shy away from humor that punches. It doesn’t punch as brutal as some of the humor from South Park or The Family Guy, but it does punch and somehow can even make those that claim they’re ‘woke’ laugh. Even the Anti-Semitic comments. I would describe this as ‘evil genius,’ but it’s the ‘evil genius’ of the best kind! Also deserving of acclaim is Roman Griffin Davis playing the little protagonist. This is his first-ever film role but he holds the film together from start to finish and masters it with near-perfect comedic charm. I expect to see more of him in the future. Back to Waititi, he was also excellent in playing the idiotic Hitler. Playing Hitler as an idiot is a big gamble in any film. I’ve seen portrayals of idiot-Hitlers before and most fail. Waititi’s Hitler works like a charm in this film.
Also worthy of acclaim is Scarlett Johannson. She does an excellent job of portraying a mother who’s hurting of loss of her husband and daughter, knows that her days are numbers as being a member of the resistance, and trying to get her son to adopt human values and lose his Nazi ways. Thomasin McKenzie is also excellent as Elsa, the girl who is determined to make Jojo see the light, but knows she’s up for a big challenge. Archie Yates is also a delight as Yorki, Jojo’s best friend, who adds in the right comedic touches. Additional humorous performances include Sam Rockwell as the depressed Captain Klenzendorf and Rebel Wilson as the ruthless, but colorful, Fraulein Lahm.
Jojo Rabbit also has a lot of standout technical efforts too. There’s the editing from Tom Eagles, the costuming from Mayes Rubio, the set designs from Ra Vincent and Nora Sopkova and the music from Michael Giacchino. Actually the mix of Giacchino’s score and classic rock songs, including some with a German-language version from the original artist, fit the film perfectly.
At the end, you will be convinced that Jojo Rabbit is the ideal comedy to be having in a hostile time right now. I will guarantee that even the ‘superwoke’ on Twitter who are set out to vilify any famous person who makes even the slightest off-color comment will be laughing too.
With this year’s crop of Oscar contenders, there are many biopics. The Favourite is not so much a biopic as it is a fictional telling of a rivalry in history.
Usually around this time, there are films that often serve a message or have a specific point relevant to the times. Even in a case of a timepiece, one is shown to show how what happened in the past is very similar to what’s happening today. The Favourite didn’t appear to show what’s happening in our world now, at first. I was left so confused after seeing it the first time, I had to see it again to make better sense. It does make better sense, especially after seeing Vice. In Vice, we see how very often the president doesn’t always make decisions on his own. He is often persuaded by others including former presidents before he makes his final decision.
Here, the Queen can’t make her decisions on her own. It’s a tough time for England as they’re at war with France. Both Thomas Harley and Lady Marlborough are trying to compete for the queen to side with their ideas and carry it out as the decision. Lady Marlborough has the advantage as she’s able to tend to the Queen’s every need, despite her annoyance, and she has the added advantage of being very knowledgeable about what’s happening. Harley however has the advantage through his coaxing of the Queen through becoming the Prime Minister. Another thing I just recently researched is that this was a unique time in England as the influence of the Crown was decreasing and the influence of ministers was increasing.. Some say it was because of Queen Anne’s insanity that led to the decrease of the power of the Crown.
The film also presents another unique outlook. In an interview, Deborah Davis said it took 20 years for the script to finally become a reality. Davis composed the script from reading over some of the memoirs of Sarah Churchill (Lady Marlborough). Much of it was organized and compiled by Winston Churchill in his lifetime. It was especially noteworthy of the female power triangle. That’s the unique thing the film presented: the female power triangle. There’s the mentally-ill Queen who’s more interested in racing ducks and spending time with her rabbits (representing all 17 of her deceased children), but still has some desire to lead. There’s Lady Marlborough who’s always been her adviser and always tended to her, but has a lust for control of her own.
Then there’s Abigail: the poor cousin of Lady Marlborough who is clever enough to win the Queen and even overtake Lady Marlborough as the Queen’s favorite. Abigail was very naive at first, but once she learned she could win the Queen with her smarts, she worked to overtake Lady Marlborough as the lady-in-waiting. She was a good reader, she took to the Queen’s rabbits better, she willingly participated in giving sexual favor to the queen, she even married the courtier to the Queen’s delight (whom she did have affection to). Abigail however did not know at the time her win over Lady Marlborough would have consequences. As the Lady was dismissed from the court, the Queen would start hating Abigail. As Abigail tried to send a message of power through hurting one of her rabbits, it would be the Queen who would give Abigail a lesson on who holds the power.
The film also gives an interesting depiction of the Royals at the time. The mental illness and victim mentality of Queen Anne is possibly the most noticed aspect. However it does give a lot of notice of what happens behind the closed doors of the palace. Queen Anne was an interesting character as she was often confused of her power. Ministers were gaining more power, but the Queen wanted to reassure herself even more than the others that she had the highest power. She would get mad at the simplest thing, even music being played in the court. She would continue eating cake even after vomiting. However the palace and those inside also provided a lot of intrigue. We have a place where a lot of debauchery takes place. We have an arena for competition of political power. We also have a place where a lot of secrets are to be kept from the public. It is questionable whether Queen Anne was a lesbian or had same-sex attractions. I’m sure documentation may support it or oppose it. However it’s interesting that the Queen being seduced by Lady Marlborough and then by Abigail was happening around a time homosexuals were put in prison. Interesting.
Another thing that got me with this film was the frequent violent ways of treating others and the way insults were hurled at each other. Frequently you heard people of the court, both male and female, call the women ‘cunt’ in their face. In addition, the foul languages used by those in the court and from the Queen really left you wondering if that was how the royals were like? We are all taught to think the Royals were the definition of etiquette. However the biggest thing that got me was the use of violence on others. We first saw it when Abigail was pushed out of her carriage. We saw it in how Harley would simply push Abigail any which way. We saw how Lady Marlborough would use violence on queen Anne when she asks for Abigail instead. We even see it used by Abigail as her lust for power grows and she has an unconscious Lady Marlborough dragged by a horse. Really makes you think of the times back then. I know it was a fictional depiction of the power triangle back then, but it still makes you wonder.
The film is another achievement for Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. It seems like with each film he directs, he creates a new milestone. This film he directs is an excellent work of how he takes a fictionalized depiction of a real situation in history and turns it into the story of madness and competition that it is. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara makes a lot of creative choices like giving some details that were taboo at the time and even making this film an eight-chapter story. It makes for a very intriguing story with a lot of eyebrow-raising scenes. It also makes you want to look up the history behind it.
As for the acting, it’s a wonder why the ensemble was not nominated for the SAG Award for Best Motion-Picture Ensemble. This year’s awards season has had a lot of notable snubs and lopsided victories. The combined acting of the major actors in this film are among the best of the year. However the performances of the three major roles have received individual praise. The best of which has to be Olivia Colman as Queen Anne. Olivia has been able to embody the madness and lust for control of Queen Anne with excellence. Definitely one to steal the show this year. Emma Stone also does an excellent job of scene-stealing as Abigail Masham: the one who starts out naively as a minor servant but soon learns to fight dirty for the role of the favorite. She is possibly the biggest comic relief of the film. Rachel Weisz is less comedic, but her stoicism in her role as Sarah Churchill and her own lust for control did steal the show and garner a lot of intrigue. Outside of the ‘main three,’ Nicholas Hoult also stole many a scene as Earl Harley who has a liking for Abigail, but has a knack for treating her like dirt.
The film also has a lot of excellent technical merits too. The Cinematography from Robbie Ryan was very fitting for the film. Yorgos Mavropsaridis delivered the right editing choices. The production design was also excellent in recreating the castle, but it did make me wonder how the castle didn’t look at all like Buckingham Palace. I admit I didn’t know British history well and learned only recently that Buckingham Palace housed the British Royal Family in 1761. The recreation of Kensington palace in its 18th-Century form was excellent. The costuming was also excellent as it fit the right times. Sandy Powell is today’s Edith Head. The music with its mix of classical symphonies fit the film excellently.
The Favourite is a story that many might not take an interest in seeing at first, but it’s worth seeing. It’s a story that will catch your intrigue and tells a story with a lot of validity for today.
Most of you have already seen my first summary or even my second summary. This last summary will have a look at the last three Best Picture nominees I saw. They were Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water.
Lion is one of those films which came out of nowhere to surprise everyone who has been lucky to see it.
We have seen many against-all-odds stories in the past. This is something because this is a true story of something that really was against all odds. It wasn’t just about making it happen but also of the family relations Saroo has developed over his lifetime. What will happen? Will he leave the family he’s always known? Is the family he’s searching for still alive? The best quality of this story is that it keeps us intrigued and hoping Saroo reunites, but also has us concerned of what will happen after.
Another quality of this story is that it does not forget the cause of the problem. Saroo is seen as the lucky one who was able to reunite with his family after all these years. However throughout the film, especially at the beginning, we see the cause of the problem. Saroo was unsupervised when he boarded the express train. The language barriers caused problems. Even Saroo’s mispronunciation of Bengali words caused problems. The train stations of Calcutta are loaded with stray children ready for abductors to prey on, and station police looking the other way. Even the missing posters advertised before his adoption were no good as his mother is illiterate. India failed Saroo and Saroo succeeded thanks to Google Earth and his fierce will. The film at the end lets people aware of the problem; 80,000 children go missing in India each year. The film’s website informs people of how they are making a difference in aiding to protect children in India.
This film is an accomplishment for the Australian film industry. I don’t know if Australia has ever had a film nominated for Best Picture before. This is director Garth Davis’ first ever feature length film. Bet you wouldn’t believe that. Luke Davies did an excellent job in adapting Saroo’s biography into a winning screenplay that keep the audience intrigued and hoping for the best in the end. Dev Patel’s performance as Saroo was the highlight as he did a great portrayal of a young man who’s angry on the inside and knows what he needs to do. Nicole Kidman was also excellent as the mother who appears grateful on the outside but has some inner hurt waiting to come out. Young Sunny Pawar was also very good playing the young Saroo. He was cute but he didn’t take it overboard. He played his part well. The film also featured top notch cinematography from Greig Fraser and excellent original music from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.
Lion is an excellent film featuring a story you won’t forget. A surprise contender this year and a worthy one.
It’s good that we have a film like Hidden Figures to tell us about a piece of history that we never knew about.
The film comes at the right time as it deals with a lot of situations that are relevant in our world. This may be set in the early 60’s and revolves around a moment in space history but it has a lot of situations relevant to today. One is of workplace racism. It’s not as bad now as it is then but there are still a lot of unsolved problems. The second is of technology being so good, it can replace workers. These three women had iron wills. They knew they had potential, they knew they had what it takes and they wouldn’t let racism or the threat of modern technology stop them from reaching for their achievements.
The year of 2016 was a crushing year. It was a year that constantly reminded us that there was still a lot of racism to overcome. Despite the improvement over the decades, it was able to show its ugly head with low employment rates and police beatings. This is a film that reminds us that racism can be overcome. When you look at it, the women were doing this all during a turning point in the history of African Americans. African Americans in Virginia had less rights than they do now and discrimination was perfectly legal. Back then there were still separate washrooms for colored people, separate library books for white and colored people, and police beatings during civil rights marches. The women overcame these barriers and they opened doors for other colored people for generations to come.
This is only the second film Theodore Melfi has directed and written. This is the first feature-length script Alison Schroeder has written. Does come across as like something you’d get from Hollywood, but it’s not a weakness. It does all the right moves. Taraji Henson was great as the protagonist Katherine Goble-Johnson, but the show-stealer was Octavia Spencer. She was not only good at playing a woman who wouldn’t let technology kill her job, and the jobs of 30 other black women, but she was a colorful scene-stealer too. Janelle Monae completes the trio as one who just wouldn’t say die to her ambitions. The male actors were mostly supporting roles but Mahershala Ali was the biggest one as Jim Johnson, Katherine’s new husband. The mix of Motown music mixed in with the original score from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch also added to the spirits of the movie.
Hidden Figures showcases a little-known fact about a big moment in American space history. It’s also the right uplifting movie needed at this time.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
I missed Hell Or High Water when it first came out in the theatres in August. I admit I was caught up in the summer fare and I overlooked it. I finally saw it recently and I’m glad I did.
One thing is I miss seeing is crime comedies. You know, the dark comedies featured in crime stories. This film has a good amount of comedy to it with their failures at robbing first. Even the situation where the brothers rob the Texas Midlands Bank and pay the mortgages they have with the bank off with the robbery money is full of surprising irony. It’s not even the robbery spree that has all the comedy. There’s the comedy when the rangers visit the places they question. There’s even comedy with that hard waitress at a restaurant they eat at: “What don’t you want?” The comedy doesn’t last as the story gets darker later on. However it does end on an ironic note as the now-retired Officer Hamilton does meet up with Toby Howard, perfectly free, and inquires of the robberies he and brother Tanner committed together.
One thing about this crime drama is that it has a lot to say. We have two brothers–Tanner who appears to have no redeeming values and Toby who’s as cool as a cookie– robbing various branches of the same bank. You see signs advertising debt relief. You hear from people– both family and people the brothers run into– talking of their own economic hardships. You see the indigenous people, who are still referred to as ‘Indians’ with their own outlook on things. Mostly negative. Looks like this story has a lot to say. Even hearing Alberto Parker say that he believes the true criminal is the Texas Midlands Bank does get you thinking. Maybe it’s the Bank that are the true robbers around here.
This is actually the first American production from Scottish director David MacKenzie. He has a reputation back in the UK with films like Young Adam, Hallam Foe and Starred Up. His first American production is top notch and really delivers as both a crime story and an offbeat Western. This is also an accomplishment for writer Taylor Sheridan. Already having made a name for himself in Sicario, he delivers again in what is actually his second feature-length script. Of all acting performances, Jeff Bridges is the one that was the best. He delivered a top job in character acting from head to toe. He was completely solid in character. Chris Pine was also good as the brother Toby who’s smart, tries to play it cool and possibly the one person in the world who could see redeeming qualities in brother Tanner. Ben Foster was also a scene-stealer as Tanner who a complete ruthless loose cannon who appears to have a bone to pick with everyone over anything and possesses a false sense of invincibility. Gil Birmingham was also good coming across as the wise partner who plays it cool. The country music in both recorded format and original from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fit the film perfectly.
Hell Or High Water makes for an intense thrill ride that’s big on thrills but also takes you to the heat of the moments. The story even gets you thinking. Now why did I miss it during the summer?
That does it. My final summary of the Best Picture nominees for 2016. After seeing Hell Or High Water, that makes it 16 straight years of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. My predictions for the wins coming on Saturday.
Some of you may be confused about the order of how I do each film of my Best Picture summary. It’s definitely not alphabetical. How I do it is in the order in which I saw the nominees. For example, I saw all the films in my first summary before Christmas. I saw La La Land on my father’s birthday, Fences the day after New Years, and Manchester By The Sea on the day of the Golden Globes. That explains why they’re the three films part of my next Best Picture summary.
LA LA LAND
We don’t see musicals on the big screen as often as we did back in the 60’s and 70’s. La La Land may not make the musical phenomenon come back but it is very entertaining.
We’re constantly reminded that bringing a musical to the big screen is a very tricky job. In the past 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of cases of musicals being put on the big screen– most of which are adaptations of Broadway musicals– and it’s always been a case of sink-or-swim. There have been those done successfully like Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Dreamgirls and Les Miserables. There have also been adaptations with bad results like Rent, Nine, The Phantom Of The Opera and Mamma Mia. It’s a very tricky job and it may explain why we don’t have musicals as frequent as in decades past.
Now try putting a fresh original musical on the big screen. That’s what writer/director Damien Chazelle does here in cooperation with composer Justin Hurwitz who was Chazelle’s Harvard classmate. The musical is a story we’re familiar with: boy meets girl, boy learns girl also has showbiz dreams, both boy and girl are supportive of each other’s dreams, boy and girl both have long bumpy roads to get to their successes, boy and girl both achieve their own successes but their love is put to the test. One could argue anyone could create a musical with that kind of premise. Whatever the situation, it would have to take a lot of hard work and a lot of brainstorming to make a very good musical out of this. In addition, it would have to have the right songs, the right singing moments and the right dancing moments to make it succeed.
Chazelle and Hurwitz succeed in pulling it off. The story is familiar but they deliver all the right moves in making the story and the songs of the musical work. It’s not just about making a common story work as a musical on screen but have it set in the modern times too. I’ll admit that opening in the movie where there’s a song-and-dance number on a jammed-up freeway was unexpected. It’s not just set in modern time but it also brings back a lot of the classic scenes of Hollywood; the Hollywood we’ve all come to know and love. I think that’s why La La Land comes off as a gem. Because it’s a reminder of the great musicals of the past and why we love them so much. It’s just that charm.
It’s not just up to Chazelle and Hurwitz to make this musical work but also the actors too. Both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone had to make things work as well both as individuals and both as the couple Mia and Sebastian. They had to tell their own stories of love and passion for their crafts and the heartbreak they had to endure to achieve their dreams. They both also had to play a couple with the right chemistry to work. They pull it off excellently both as a couple and in their own individual moments too. The supporting actors/singers/dancers also had their parts to play too and add to the zest of the musical. Their own participation also added to the movie. Sure some of the bigger supporting performances from John Legend, J.K. Simmons and Tom Everett Scott lacked range–I mean Mia and Sebastian were the dominant focus of the musical– but they did very well too. The film did a very good job in terms of the use of sets both set up and various Los Angeles locations. The film even scouted out some ‘old L. A.’ locations to add the charm. That was not an easy find, I’m sure.
And now onto the songs. My father who likes musicals believes having a memorable song is what makes a musical a masterpiece. I have to agree. I’ll say I agree with him that there is no single song in La La Land destined to be a memorable classic. True, ‘City Of Stars’ is getting a ton of awards but I don’t think it will be a classic 20 years from now. Actually my favorite songs were the opener ‘Another Day Of Sun’ and ‘Audition (Here’s To The Ones Who Dream).’
It’s funny. Years ago, I jokes the unique thing about my father is that he’s straight and he likes musicals. He was quick to remind me that back when he was dating my mother, musicals were the ideal date movie. My how times have changed. What defines a date movie has changed as much over the decade as ‘real man’ standards.
La La Land may not have what it takes to bring the musical phenomenon back to the big screen but it’s winning in it’s own right. Anytime soon I’m expecting a stage adaptation of this.
Fences is a play by August Wilson that won raves when it first came out in the 1980’s. Denzel Washington brings Fences to the big screen at long last and the end result is something wonderful.
Fences is unique as a stage play. It’s a story about Troy Maxson: an African-American man in 1950’s Pittsburgh who makes like he has it together but he doesn’t. He thinks he could have been the next Jackie Robinson but feels racism kept him from moving out of the Negro League. He wants to mould his son the way he feels right and wants him to be better than him but doesn’t sense how harsh he is. He wants to be seen as a loving husband to his wife Rose but secrets of his infidelity are about to unfold. He gets an opportunity as a driver of a garbage truck–the first ever for a black man in Pittsburgh– but is reminded of his weaknesses when he accidentally signs for his brother to be admitted into a mental hospital. He has his own feelings about what should be right such as how he feels it’s better to raise his son right than like him only to see it backfire. I’ve heard some writers say that every African-American male has some aspect of Troy Maxson in them. Some people say that Troy Maxson is the African-American everyman. Some can even say Troy Maxson is the black Willy Loman. Whatever the situation, it was the toast of the 1987 Tony Awards and definitely made a legend out of scriptwriter August Wilson.
Now Wilson had always dreamed of bringing Fences to the big screen. I know one of the things he insisted on was that it be directed by an African-American. That may or may not have been the biggest obstacle but it was never realized in Wilson’s lifetime; he died in 2005. Hope was revived in 2013 when Denzel Washington expressed interest in bringing it to the big screen and star as Troy Maxson. Washington played Maxson in a Broadway revival in 2010. He’s even had experience as a director with 2002’s Antwone Fisher and 2007’s The Great Debaters. The production was realized early in 2016 when Washington was joined by producer Scott Rudin who also produced the 2010 revival. Viola Davis who was also part of the revival as Rose Maxson soon joined in along with other actors from the revival like Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson. One thing was that Washington wanted to remain true to Wilson’s own adaptation in respect to his work.
Now adapting a play to the big screen is as much a tricky challenge as bringing a musical to the big screen. It’s a matter of choices of what to include and what to keep as is. Theatre and film are two different formats of medium. Film scenes are numerous and can be set in an unlimited number of places in various amounts of time. Theatre scenes are often few, often quite lengthy, set in a limited number of places, and often consists of ‘moments of monologues.’ There’s even that 20-minute final scene in Fences where the family is getting ready for Troy’s funeral. Rarely in film do you have a scene after the death of the protagonist that’s even five minutes long. It’s a matter of making the adaptation work on the big screen. It’s also about what choices to add to the film adaptation and if they work. It was about choosing to add the scene of Troy and Jim Bono on the back of the garbage truck at the start. It was about including the scene without dialogue of Troy and Gabriel in the mental hospital. It was about keeping Alberta the mistress from being seen in the film in any which way.
Then there’s the acting. Of course it’s beneficial for most of the actors to have previous experience with the roles. However, it’s a known fact that stage acting and film acting have their differences. The biggest difference for film is that the audience expects a 100% believable performance, especially since it will be witnessed on a screen five-stories tall.
Overall I feel that Denzel Washington as a director/producer did a good job in adapting the play to the screen. It may not have the fast brief dialogues you get in your typical big screen fare but it was still done well and with the same truthfulness. The choices of what to add to the big screen adaptation were good choices, if not perfect. Denzel as an actor was definitely phenomenal in embodying the role of Troy in all of his triumphs and struggles. You could feel the pride and demons Troy was struggling with. Just as excellent is Viola Davis as Rose. The role of Rose was also a strong challenging role: a wife who appears happy and loving on the outside only to suddenly let out her hurt and inner wrath towards Troy and somehow come to peace with him upon his death. She does an excellent job of finally exposing Rose’s inner hurt and inner personal strength at the right times and even ending with believable delivery. The acting of the whole ensemble was very much there and as excellent as it can get. Of all the supporting performances, the one that stood out most was Stephen Henderson whose performance as Jim Bono came across as a common man at first but would soon come off as the man with a lot of wisdom and was able to see the good in Troy even while his terrible misdoings were being exposed. The ‘newcomers’ Jovan Adepo and Saniyya Sidney were also very good in their roles. Jovan especially did well as the son struggling to relate to Troy.
Fences is a triumph of a twelve year-old dream coming true. August Wilson dreamed it. Denzel achieved it. The end result is a masterpiece.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Manchester By The Sea is a film that has been loaded with Oscar buzz ever since it made its debut at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s easy to see why all the buzz.
The film presents a hurting person and showcases all the things that led to his hurt. It shows why he had to leave the town he always had as his home and why returning can’t be done. It shows why Lee Chandler comes across as a jerk in the present when he wasn’t like that at all years ago. The film is also about the relationship of Lee and Patrick. Rarely do we see a film about an uncle-nephew relationship. You think the relationship is something all of a sudden at first forced by something in his brother’s estate but it was always there even when the two were apart.
The film also presents a situation where healing or leaving the past behind is next-to-impossible. I’ve always believed people need to heal. It’s not right to hurt. I still believe it. However I can easily see how healing is very hard. You can see why it’s extremely hard for Lee to heal, especially upon returning to Manchester By The Sea, Massachusetts. His negligence that one night is why all three of his children were killed in that fire. The divorce from his wife Randi was bitter and she gave him hurtful words in the process. The town has not forgiven him for what he did: his name is still mud. Even moving to a suburb of Boston has not ended his hurt as he’s rude during his job and starts bar fights over the simplest thing.
The film does showcase Lee’s attempt to assimilate into the town and try to become the guardian to Patrick he hopes to be. The story does not water down as it exposes Lee’s failings. It also exposes how complicated the situation is as Patrick’s mother is a recovering alcoholic and still under strict control by her husband. It also shows how hard it is for Lee to forgive himself. Even as Randi says she’s forgiven him, Lee still can’t heal.
The story does not water down the situation or try to aim for the type of happier ending you’d get in a film like Arrival. The story does not end the way you hope it does. Nevertheless it does end with a ray of hope. Patrick is the closest relative to Lee. His parents and brother are gone and his other brother lives with his own family in Minnesota. Patrick is the one person in Manchester By The Sea outside of family friend George who doesn’t see Lee as this terrible person or rubs into Lee the tragedy he caused.
The film was not just about Lee trying to heal for Patrick but about Patrick too. Patrick is a teen with a lot of common ‘teenage make jerk’ traits like starting fights in hockey and cheating on girls but you know he has a naïve, innocent and even sensitive side and it comes out in his relationship with Lee that starts uneasy at first. Patrick still wants to live a normal teenage life by dating around, playing with his band, and talking about Star Trek with his friends, but you know he has feelings of hurt and frustration on the inside and you know they’ll come out eventually. For all the teenage jerk traits Patrick has, his respect for Lee is his best quality. Patrick could have easily come across as a rebellious teen and gone as far as calling Lee a ‘child killer’ but he doesn’t. Possibly it’s being Joe’s son that may be why Patrick is the person most forgiving to Lee now that Joe is gone. Joe was the one person willing to help Lee live life again after the tragedy and Patrick accompanied Lee and Joe during that time. You can see how Patrick adopted his father’s sensitivity to Lee.
The story of this film is definitely not a crowd-winner. You can understand why a film like this would rely on the Film Festival circuit to get its exposure and its chances of making it to the box office. Nevertheless it is an excellent story about loss, grief, hurt and an attempt at healing. The film fest circuit was the best way for a story like this to get a box office release. It’s good because it is a story worth seeing.
Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan delivers an excellent original story. Lonergan has few works writing and/or directing to his credit but they have a lot of merit: like Analyze This, You Can Count On Me and The Gangs Of New York. This is his best work to date. He delivers a story that’s honest and even brutal at times and doesn’t water down but doesn’t try to rip at your heartstrings too often. He also gives characters that are three-dimensional and will remind you of people or situations you may know about.
Actor Casey Affleck fit the role of Lee excellently. He captured Lee’s inner demons excellently and played them very truthfully. He was able to make you hate Lee at first but come to understand him later, even feel for him, and make you want the best to work out for Lee in the end. Also excellent was Lucas Hedges. Hedges’ role of Patrick grows in its complexity over time and he does an excellent job of it. The two together had to have the right chemistry to make an uncle-nephew relationship like this work and they had it.
The only other significant supporting role in the film is Michelle Williams as Randi. The various scenes as the typical wife before the tragedy to being the remarried ex-wife who healed better than Lee and wants to make peace with him is also a complex role too and she does an excellent job of it too. Actually the whole cast did an excellent job of acting and they delivered one of the best ensemble performances of the year. It’s not just the basics that made this film great. There’s also the cinematography from Jody Lee Lipes where she’s able to get some of the most picturesque shots of the east coast. There’s the editing of the story shifting from the present to the past back to the present on a constant basis at the right times. There’s the inclusion of dialogue at the right moments and even moments of dialogue muted at the right times where you just know what they’re saying. The muted parts work to the story’s advantage. There’s also the arrangement of music–original, classical and choral– that add to the story.
Manchester By The Sea may come across as a film that’s unwatchable if you take its premise at face value. In the end, it turns out to be a great story that’s worth seeing.
And there you go. That’s the second of my review of the nominees. One’s an original musical, one’s an original story and one’s an adaptation of a renowned stage play. All three make it obvious why they were nominated for Best Picture as all three have what it takes to be among the Top 10 films of the year.
Final Best Picture summary is expected to be up by Tuesday.
If there is one genre of movie that stands out during the summer movie season, it’s the superhero movies. Every year they win crowds and give them their enjoyment for the most part. For this summary, I will review two such movies: Captain America: Civil War and The Suicide Squad. Both are two different types of superhero movies in the way the people try to be heroes and with the comic franchises: Marvel vs. DC once again.
Captain America: Civil War
While DC Comics has the two biggest superheroes, Marvel’s edge is its multitude of different superheroes: take your pick. This time around in Captain America: Civil War, the focus is on Captain America. Or is it?
Watching the film, I was expecting it to be a story about Captain America. You can imagine my surprise to see all the other Avengers characters. I was cool with it at first. However things started getting uncomfortable for me when I saw them take up so much screen time. They all took up so much time, I even questioned whether Captain America was even the lead role in the film. I even thought if it was to have one hero as the lead role, it should probably be Iron Man.
Nevertheless the film does have a lot of excellent qualities. The first is a story that is thought-provoking. There’s a situation where international rules are imposed on the Avengers. Right when an incident happens, it causes friction within the team and even division. The question remains of what is the right thing to do? The movie attempts to give you the answer. Virtues and morals are an uncompromisable ingredient in superhero movies no matter how much action is involved. Even top directors will say that the values of humanity are necessary for a winning superhero movie. Here we have a movie that gets one questioning what is the right thing to do considering the situation. That adds to the film as it gets the audience thinking.
Of course high-tech special effects and action battles are a must in superhero movies. The crowds come to get blown away. Captain America: Civil War delivers on such action just like most of the Marvel comic movies before it. It has moments that will leave you on the edge of your seat. In addition, it adds some comedy too as it gives us a young Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, as a preview for the new upcoming Spider-Man installment. Here Peter comes across as your typical young idiotic yuts. Gives anticipation of what to expect when Spider-Man comes out.
The Russo brothers return to direct the movie. They directed the last Captain America movie. They did a very good job of delivering another great superhero movie. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return with the Russos to write the latest installment. They did a good job despite the push of some actors to have more screen time. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. stole the movie and Chris Evans appeared to have a supporting role this time. The other actors did their parts well and didn’t appear to get into too much of the mix-up. The special effects delivered and Henry Jackson’s music added to the film.
For all intents and purposes, Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie in disguise. Don’t be fooled. However the quality of the story is maintained as it gives a thought-provoking story with the superhero action to deliver.
There’s something about the knack to do an anti-hero movie. We saw that with Marvel when they released Deadpool. Now we see DC Comics making the attempt with the Suicide Squad. Do they succeed?
You’d think after Sausage Party, I’d start again on how this movie of a bad-guy superhero squad is trying to ‘bring back the 90’s’ but you’re wrong. A story where it takes bad guys and makes heroes out of them is actually a very common theme. It’s even been done in film as far back as the 1930’s as I once saw 1939’s Stagecoach take the outcasts of society and turn them into heroes. It’s a theme that has been done decade after decade. We see it done here again with the Suicide Squad. The people recruited to be part of the Squad are criminals and crazies that look like they deserved to be shunned away from society but an intelligence operative sees them as the right people for the job. They even make clear that they’re bad, not evil.
The ‘bad vs. evil’ theme is what makes this movie unique among the superhero movies of this year. Even from Deadpool. While Marvel’s Deadpool is about a selfish man who’s disinterested in being the superhero bestowed upon him, Suicide Squad is about a conscience present in even the baddest of badasses. A reminder that bad and evil are two completely different things. Don’t forget we’re dealing with a world where Superman is deceased, as exhibited in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice months earlier.
Now the Suicide Squad is not a team of badass superheroes created in vain after Deadpool: an attempt at having ‘anti-Avengers.’ It’s a team that actually debuted in DC Comics in 1959 in their monthly Brave And The Bold series and made a return in 1987 in their Legends series back then. The comic would be a monthly series that would issue for some months, end temporarily for a year or two and then make a comeback from time to time. Now seems like the right time to bring them to the screen. I must say their craziness and eccentricities were big time scene-stealers. While Deadpool mostly relied on the idiotic actions and lines from its lead characters, the characters of the Suicide Squad were more about their crazy and even eccentric personalities. That was their edge and I’m sure that’s what won the crowds to them this year. It’s no wonder it’s the 4th highest grossing movie of the summer.
This is David Ayer’s first attempt at directing and writing a superhero movie. He has a resume for writing and directing a lot of good police dramas and action movies in the past. However his experience doesn’t completely translate the best. Imperfections are easy to notice and it seems the movie does get a bit disjointed at times. Even in terms of the characters, there’s not that much depth to their roles and it often appears like the actors are trying to play characters more than acting out roles. I’ve noticed that DC Comics movies this year are lacking in terms of writing. It’s noticeable in Batman vs. Superman too.
Nevertheless the actors do deliver on character acting and that’s one quality I feel made the movie. In addition the actors succeeded in making characters you want to hate at first and then surprise you as they become heroes and then return as bad guys. Margot Robbie was the standout as Harley Quinn. Her character was the one that knew how to grab your attention, even upstaging Will Smith. Others standouts include Jared Leto as the Joker, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. Visual effects were top notch and loaded with bright color that’s eye catching and very rare to see in most other movies, especially superhero movies. The mix of music was also an added quality. It seems like after Guardians Of The Galaxy, filmmakers are playing around and even experimenting with use of songs in the movies. Here they mix in music spanning five decades and it produces an entertainingly winning result.
Suicide Squad may be lacking in the script and in the editing but it’s the on-fire character acting, colorful visual effects and the eclectic music track that make the movie entertaining and a winner for the summer.
Sure, I only have two superhero movies in my summary of the genre but both do shed some light on the presence of the superhero movies of the summer and why they continue to win us over. They have spectacular action but they also test our conscience as well. I saw that in Batman vs. Superman earlier in the role of a superhero even after they cause destruction to do good. I see it again in Captain America as the Avengers question whether it’s right to break the law to do what’s right. I also see it in the Suicide Squad as outcasts get a shot at redemption and even remind themselves as well as others that they do possess a conscience and can even do what’s right despite their criminal minds.
Once again, the superhero genre remains one of the most winning movie genres of the summer. Even with the surprise success of Deadpool, families still come to the movies to see the good guys win. Some even like to get their ‘bad boy/bad girl’ kicks. All deliver in terms of action and a message.
I can tell that a lot of my visitors liked my blogs to do about the London Olympic Games. Heck, the last time someone clicked on one of my ‘athletes to watch’ blogs from those games was just today! Even my blogs reviewing the London Games of 2012 and the other two times still received recent hits. Seeing that has inspired me to do more Olympic writing. And it definitely inspires me to write about these ones to watch for the Sochi Games of 2014.
I know there’s been a lot of talk about outside factors involving the Sochi Games. In this blog I’m sticking to talking about what the Games are supposed to be about: the athletes. Here are ten athletes who are poised to dazzle us or even thrill us from February 7th to the 22nd.
-Marit Bjorgen/Norway – Nordic Skiing: Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation. And it’s no wonder. Winter sports are in their blood with their biggest legacies in Cross Country Skiing, Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined and Long Track Speed Skating. Even recently they’ve been showing excellent prowess in Alpine Skiing and Freestyle Skiing. One of the best female skiers ever, Marit Bjorgen, will be competing in her fourth Olympics here in Sochi.
Marit has an illustrious career starting quietly with silvers in 2002 and 2006. Vancouver 2010 was her moment as she won five medals, three of them gold. She has also won the overall World Cup title three years and nineteen World Championship medals including twelve total gold. At last year’s World Championships, she really had the show in her hands as she won four gold and a silver.
Here in Sochi, she comes with probably the most expectations of any female Nordic skier. She’s expected to perform big and has the credentials for it. However she does face rivalry. She is currently ranked third in the World Cup overall standings with her 25 year-old Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug leading in the distance events and 25 year-old German Denise Herrmann leading in the sprint events. She’s also expected to receive rivalry from her traditional rival Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. Nevertheless if there’s one female skier who can most rise to the challenge, it’s her.
-Ted Ligety/U.S.A. – Alpine Skiing: The United States has always been a force in Alpine Skiing. This century has seen a lot of big names like Lindsay Vonn, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso. Another name on the list is Ted Ligety. At the 2006 Olympics, Ted came from nowhere to take gold in the combined event. Since then he has been most dominant in the giant slalom event but has had seasons with ups and downs. He was finished on top of the World Cup giant slalom event in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. However he had a lackluster 2010 Winter Olympics where his best finish was fifth. 2013 not only saw him win his fourth World Cup giant slalom title but a third place finish overall and winning three gold medals at the World Championships.
Interesting is that he has his own ski business. As for this season, it hasn’t been so easy for Ted. He’s had four World Cup wins but finds himself fourth overall and third in the giant slalom. He faces a strong challenge from Austrian Marcel Hirscher and France’s Alexis Pinturault in the giant slalom. It will all boil down on each race day. Especially the giant slalom on February 19th.
-Tina Maze/Slovenia – Alpine Skiing: Slovenia has never won a Winter Olympic gold medal. Two silvers and five bronzes but never a gold. That could change thanks to Tina Maze. She has had an excellent career as a skier that includes Slovenia’s two silvers, both won in Vancouver 2010, and six World Cham,pionship medals. Two of them gold. However her biggest year was 2013 when she won three World Championship medals including gold in the Super-G and the World Cup overall title which she won with the highest total points ever.
This season has been a difficult one for her as she has struggled in consistency in races and it wasn’t until just two weeks ago she finally won her first World Cup race of the season: a downhill. She will be hard pressed to repeat her winning with threats from Germany’s Maria Riesch-Hoefl and 18 year-old American sensation Mikaele Shiffrin. Also it may be possible Slovenia’s first ever Winter Olympic gold could be won by another athlete like ski jumper Petr Prevc or snowboarder Žan Košir. Nevertheless the Olympics can be anyone’s game in Alpine Skiing and it just could be Tina’s.
-Shaun White/U.S.A. – Snowboarding: What else is there to say about the ‘Flying Tomato?’ His has definitely been one of the most popular Winter Olympians in recent years, if not the most. He has won numerous X Games medals, he has made the cover of Rolling Stone twice and is commonly seen in endorsements. Already he has made Olympic history as the first snowboarder to win back-to-back gold medals, in the Halfpipe event. This year is a unique year as he will be trying for a threepeat in the halfpipe.
Shaun has been absent for the 2013 World Championships but has continuous won events in X Games competitions. He is expected to win the halpipe again but he does however face some hungry young guns like Switzerland’s Yuri Podladchikov and Japan’s Taku Hiraoka trying to take him down.
He was also expected to be a top contender in the new slopestyle event this year. However it was not to be as he fell days ago after hitting the rail hard during a training run and was injured. He chose to withdraw from that event but reassures all that he will be ready for the halfpipe. However there have been other boarders who suffered falls on the course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park and their injuries caused them to withdraw before even competing and two even requiring hospitalizing. His fate will be decided on the halfpipe on the 11th.
-Shani Davis/U.S.A. – Long-Track Speed Skating: The threepeat in Olympic Long Track Speed Skating is a feat only accomplished twice and by women. First was by American Bonnie Blair in the 500m from 1988 to 1994. The second was Germany’s Claudia Pechstein in the 5000m from 1994 to 2002. We have the chance for a male to do it here in Sochi with Shani Davis.
Davis has been a speed skater known for a controversial career. First came before the 2002 Winter Olympics when he was a short track speed skater. He finished second in a race at the US Olympic trials but it was under investigation of race fixing between him and club teammates Rusty Smith and Apolo Anton Ohno. It was taken before a court of arbitration and none of the skaters were found guilty. Davis however would not skate in Salt Lake City.
Davis would later switch to long track speed skating and became the fastest at the 1000m. For the 2006 Turin Olympics Davis qualified for three individual events and won gold in the 1000m and silver in the 1500m. However it was his non-participation in the Team Pursuit event that caught a lot of flack. Many people felt he should’ve been put on but David neglected making room for some skaters who were just competing in pursuit. The incident has kept him being at odds with U.S. Speedskating. Under less controversy, Davis again won 1000m gold and 1500m silver.
Here in Sochi, Davis is expected to win 1000m and become the first man to win three consecutive golds in a single event. It’s not without its challenges. At last year’s World Championships, he finished third behind Kazakhstan’s Denis Kuzin and South Korea’s Mo Tae Bum. However Davis has won the 1000m in three of the four World Cup meets this year. Plus he is still strong in the 1500m winning silver at last years’ Worlds. It will all be decided at the Adler Oval.
-Germany’s Luge Relay Team: There are five new events at the Sochi Winter Olympics. One of which is the Team Relay event in the luge. In this event there’s one male luger, one female and one doubles team. Each have a single run but when one luger finishes their run, they hit a touch-sensitive pad to open the start gate for the next sled of the team. Fastest total time wins. It should be no surprise that Germany is the team expected to win. German lugers have won 27 of the 40 gold medals in luge since it was added to the Olympics back in 1964. Germany also won all three singles and doubles categories at last year’s World Championships. So it’s no surprise they won the Team Relay at those championships too using the sledders that won the single-sled competitions in the relay.
One thing we should take note is that the relay will take place the day after the last single-sled competition–men’s doubles–will be held. It is possible that the three World Championship-winning sledders–Felix Loch in men’s singles, Natalie Giesenberger in women’s singles, and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt–could either win gold or be Germany’s best finisher in their respective event and thus on the relay team. But anything can happen in the heat of Olympic competition and there could be a different German competitor that finishes best on the team. Whatever sledders they include in the relay, you can be sure they’ll win it.
-Kim Yu-Na/South Korea – Figure Skating: Those of you remember the Vancouver Winter Olympics will remember a figure skater from South Korea named Kim Yu Na. She not only won gold but took figure skating to a new level of excellence with new world records in points. She became the first South Korean to win a figure skating medal.
Continuing after the Vancouver Olympics has not been easy. There was period for the first few years she lacked motivation and even sat out the 2011-2012 season. By the 2012-2013 season, she decided to return not just to competition but to her childhood coaches back in Korea. It was successful as she returned to her title of World Champion winning by the biggest margin since the new scoring system was adopted in 2005.
However the 2013-2014 season has been rather challenging. She actually had to drop out of the Skate Canada competition because of a metatarsal injury on her right foot. She recovered in time to compete at the Golden Spin of Zagreb competition in December and won. Nevertheless she’s expected to be rivaled by Japan’s Mao Asada who won silver behind her in Vancouver, 15 year-old Russian newcomer Julia Lipnitskaya who just won the European Championships and American Gracie Gold. Kim plans on becoming a member of the IOC after the Sochi Games. In the meantime, she has one last thing to prove in the Olympic stage.
-Sara Takanashi/Japan – Ski Jumping: Women’s Ski Jumping makes its debut in Sochi. There will be only one event: the Normal Hill. The heavy favorite to win is 17 year-old jumper Sara Takanashi. Last year she won the World Cup in women’s Ski jumping and won a silver medal in the Normal Hill event losing to American Sarah Hendrickson. This year Takanashi has had a stellar year with ten international victories including her most recent wins last weekend in Austria.
Despite her stellar year, she is not alone at the top. She’s expected to receive a challenge from American Sarah Hendrickson who beat her at the World Championships as well as challenges from Austria’s Jacqueline Seifriedsberger and Germany’s Carina Vogt. Nevertheless it will all be decided at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre. Watch herstory be made February 11th.
-Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov/Russia – Figure Skating: You can’t expect a list of athletes to watch not to include those from the host country, can you? Russia has a legacy in pairs figure skating going back as far as the days of the U.S.S.R. It all started with the Protopopovs in 1964 and 1968. It continued with Irina Rodnina and her male partners from 1972 to 1980. Continuing on in 1984, the dominance continued even after the break-up of the U.S.S.R. as pairs competing for Russia would continue to finish on top. By the 21st century it looked like Russia’s dominance was waning as a Russian pair tied a Canadian pair for the gold in 2002 and the Russian pair that won gold in 2006 was the only Russian pair to even make the podium. Then in Vancouver 2010, not a single Russian pair made it on the podium for the first time since 1960.
With the Sochi Olympics coming, you could bet they want to bring Russia back on top in pairs figure skating and they found it in the pair of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. Back at the Vancouver Olympics, they not only skated with different partners but different countries. Maxim finished in 7th competing for Russia and Tatiana finished 8th competing for Ukraine. She then made the trip to Russia shortly after Vancouver when it became obvious there were no male partners in Ukraine for her to progress further. Since her teaming up with Trankov, it’s been victorious as the two won world Championship silvers in 2011 and 2012 and then won the World last year: the first Russian pair since 2005 to win the World Championships.
This year the pair have been solid winning all but one of the five competitions they’ve entered. They come to Sochi as the heavy favorites and the ones to bring Russian superiority back to pairs figure skating. However it will not go unchallenged as their top threat has been their traditional rivals of Germany’s Savchenko and Szolkowy who were World Champions in 2011 and 2012 and have given the Russians their only loss this season. Nevertheless it will all be decided at the Iceberg Skating Palace on the 11th and 12th.
-Russia’s National Hockey Team (men and women): I’m sure all of you can remember the days of Soviet dominance in ice hockey. Ever since the U.S.S.R. started competing at the winter Olympics in 1956, their hockey team was invincible with players that were better than even the best NHL pros. In the ten Winter Olympics they played, they won eight times losing only to the Americans in the two Olympics the U.S.A. hosted in 1960 and 1980. Since the Unified Team’s win of the gold in 1992, Russia has since found itself amongst equals in the hockey world but have not returned to the top. Since Russia first competed on their own starting in 1994, the men’s hockey team have only won 1998 silver and 2002 bronze with the gold medals divided amongst Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.
This time Russia has the whole nation expecting them to win here. And I mean whole. Even Vladimir Putin told Aleksandr Ovechkin that he wants to see Russia’s team win the gold. Sixteen of the 25 members play for the NHL. Other NHL stars on the team including Ovechkin are Evgeny Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk. The other nine players are from Russian professional leagues. They come to Sochi as 2012 World Champions and they’re expected to repeat here, even though they finished off the podium last year. It is possible as the men’s competition is usually a competition of at least six equals. Sports Illustrated predicts Sweden to win with Russia coming in second and Canada third. Only the next two weeks will tell the tale.
As for the women, women’s hockey has traditionally been a case of Canada vs. the U.S. with one other Scandinavian team as a lightweight rival. Russia has only competed in three of the four times women’s hockey has been contested and has never made the semi-finals. The women are hoping things will change especially after winning bronze at last year’s World Championships. The women have nowhere else to go but up and I’m confident they can make their country proud here.
So there you have it. Those are ten athletes to watch out for in Sochi. I know they’re not guaranteed to win. I know the Olympics that the gold medal doesn’t go to the one with the most pre-Games accolades. The gold medal goes to the one who’s the most there at that moment. Nevertheless it will be interesting to see whether they seize it or not these two weeks.
Also those of you wondering why no Canadians on my list? Well I have a separate blog of Canadians to watch.
Very rarely do I go to see a live-action family film nowadays. There isn’t usually one that makes me want to go out and see it. However Ender’s Game was one that caught my eye. It’s based on the novel written by Orson Scott Card.
It’s the future and the Earth is under threat from alien Formics. They’ve already attacked in the year 2086 but their advances were halted by a small reserve force which involved an attack which had commander Mazer Rackham sacrifice himself in the battle to win. The International Fleet or IF was created shortly after to protect the Earth from the Formics.
Years later, IF commanders Colonel Hyrum Graff and Major Gwen Anderson are screening out teenage cadets as part of their next battle. They’re impressed with the intelligence and strategic thinking of cadet Andrew Ender Wiggin both with his playing of virtual games and his ability to deal with rejection in a fake dismissal. Ender is a complex boy. He’s smart as he can deliver what it takes to win virtual games but has a sensitivity as he feels like a misfit because he’s the ‘third born’ and frequently confides with his older sister Valentine. However it’s when Graff and Anderson visit the Wiggin household that things change. They offer him a place in their battle school. It’s after an intimate talk with Graff that Ender accepts because: “it was what he was born for.”
On the trip to the school via the shuttle, Ender and the other recruits or launchies are given lessons of the school by Sargent Dap. Ender further impresses Major Anderson when she asks him to create a mind game for the sake of analyzing recruit’s emotional states. He creates a mouse and giant game where he causes a surprise win to Anderson’s amazement.
The intrigue on Ender continues to grow. Ender is then promoted to the Salamander Army headed by Commander Bonzo Madrid. Bonzo is a fierce trainer with an unlikeable personality. One of his top students, Petra Arkanian, takes a liking to Ender and teaches him how to shoot free time. Bonzo starts a feeling of dislike to Ender especially after he cheats with Petra during a training game and they win with a surprise attack. Ender continues with his mouse mind game where he also has a Formic, an image of his sister, a snake he kills off and his brother in the game. The military are further amazed with Ender and switch him to the Dragon Army. To everyone’s surprise, he defeats the other two army’s including the Salamander Army headed by Bonzo in a weightless battle contest.
Despite Ender amazing the heads of the military, things start to take a turn for the worse. Bonzo is infuriated with Ender after his army loses and challenges him to a fight. Ender seriously injures Bonzo in self-defence leaving Bonzo badly injured enough to return to Earth. The emotional toll weighs in on Ender and demands to be flown back to Earth and leave the army. It’s right after Valentine convinces him to stay and fight that he continues on.
Ender learns of his mission through a travel to a Formic outpost of the IT. It’s there through the image of the deceased Mazer Rackham that he learns of his mission and of his most deadly devise on their ship. Ender then becomes a commander and assembles the best launchies and trainies he’s been working with. They continue training up for a ‘Graduation Day’ exercise. Gaduation Day turns out to be a game but it turns out to be a lot more. After the outcome, everybody is happy with Ender and themselves for what they have done, except Ender. He’s remorseful and it’s only after meeting with one of the Formics in his mind that he makes clear what his next mission is.
The movie is intended to be both a sci-fi action film for the family and the first book of a potential series. The film shows Ender Wiggin as a fighter who triumphs via brain more than brawn. It was once said in a US Marines commercial years ago: “To compete, you have to be strong. To win, you have to be smart.” Ender’s that smart competitor who’s able to make his mind do incredible things even to the point of the supernatural in the virtual world. That was the type of hero Orson Scott Card intended with Ender Wiggin. However Ender is unique in terms of his sensitivity and feeling for others, including his enemies. In fact a unique quote from Ender appears at the beginning of the film: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” It’s there where we understand Ender Wiggin and how he’s able to do what he does. He’s a very unique protagonist in both how he thinks and how he feels and how someone so young can do all this.
You may remember how back in the summer I talked about big-budget action thrillers losing at the box office. I figured that the fall season would provide a better picture for them. It has been better but the outcome has been better for the more established movie franchises like Riddick, Insidious and Thor. Ender’s Game is a sci-fi thriller that is the first of the trilogy of Ender Wiggin novels. Any hope of future films rode on the success of Ender’s Game. The film debuted at #1 but with a weekend intake of only $27 million, it was questionable whether it would hit its $110 million budget. The latter weeks have shown it wouldn’t as it gained less and less. It now stands at just $55 million. It’s unfortunate that the success didn’t pan out, especially since this is 28 years in the making. However all is not lost. If there are no additional films, it may be turned into a television series.
Harrison Ford did a good job as Colonel Graff, even though I’ve seen him play better and stronger action roles. He shows that even after three decades he can still make the thriller. Viola Davis was probably the best scene stealer as Major Gwen. She showed that she’s able to upstage Harrison at times. Asa Butterfield was also very good as the protagonist Ender Wiggin. Actually he’s a major reason why I saw this. He impressed me in Hugo and I was looking forward to seeing how he would do in Ender’s Game. He did a very good job of playing a child soldier that was both an outside soldier and an inside soldier. Also he was able to give Ender more dimension with his sense of emotions and feelings. Asa helped make Ender a unique character. Ben Kingsley was also good in his role of Mazer but lacked scene-stealing qualities. The young supporting characters were also very well done. Haille Steinfeld made Petra likeable, Abigail Breslin was very convincing as making Valentine the source of Ender’s mental strength and Moises Arias was very successful in making Bonzo dislikeable.
Gavin Hood did a very good job in terms of directing. The screenplay was also done well but I feel the ending could have been done better. His best effort is the South African film Tsotsi which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film but he already has experience in directing sci-fi with directing X-Men: Wolverine. The movie’s qualities that most stand out are its visual effects and the score by Steve Jablonsky. The film did have some controversy as Orson Scott Card’s opposition to the same-sex lifestyle and gay marriage has caused outspoken critics and pundits. Card has defended his views each time. As for my feeling, I feel Card’s opinions should not matter in terms of this film because his opinions are not made present in the film anyways.
Ender’s Game is an impressively smart sci-fi film for families and young adults. It’s a very smart story that’s very well-done. However it does fall prey to the box office because of its lack of buzz and tight competition of other sci-fi releases this November.
I know what you’re going to say before I talk about The Help. There have already been a lot of movies about racism and segregation. Yes there have been. Nevertheless The Help is a well-made story about showing a black woman’s point of view on racism from a state most synonymous with segregation: Mississippi.
The movie revolves around three women in particular. The first is Abilene; an African American maid whose latest maid work comes right after the death of her son. The second is Milly; another African American maid who was recently fired from Hilly Hollbrook–Jackson’s white female ringleader–for using a toilet meant only for Hilly’s white family and is only rehired by a white ‘misfit’. The third is Skeeter; a white journalism grad from Ole Miss who is unmarried and wants to make a career for herself in writing but lacks a story.
The setting is Jackson, Mississippi. Segregation is alive and well but is facing abolishment. The black maids have had enough while the white upper class females want to see it kept. Hilly herself wants to enact a passage of a law to make it standard for separate bathrooms for white and colored people. Skeeter is tired of writing a housekeeping column and wants an actual story. She comes across it just after her former maid Constantine, who she always looked up to as a child, is mysteriously gone, Hilly speaks her pro-segregation mind at her ‘clique meetings’ and she encounters Aibilene and Minny. They have quite the story to tell and she learns a lot from what they have to say and what they’ve experienced. Even Milly’s story of her revenge on Hilly with ‘the pie’ makes for some colorful. Nevertheless a book publishing company wants to have the points of view from twelve maids, not two. It’s a struggle for Skeeter as she becomes more of a misfit in Hilly’s clique for being unmarried and being opposed to segregation and because of state law: Mississippi law can imprison writers and interviewees for cross-race writing. It isn’t until the shooting death of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers that Skeeter finally gets her twelve to interview, however giving them pseudonyms to protect their identity. The result is the novel finally being made and boy does it stir up a lot of debate and reactions.
One thing about the ending is that a lot is accomplished and many good things come out of it. Despite positive changes, some bad things still remain and the movie doesn’t end on a completely positive note. The ending takes a turn for a different more negative ending. Nevertheless it did so on the right note. It reminds us that even after segregation was ended for real in the Southern States, some negative aspects of racism still remained and some changes didn’t go as far as it should have.
There have been movies about racism in the past and conquering racism but hardly has there ever been such where it’s on the basis of the black maids for white families. It touches on a common notion. The white children were raised and cared for by the African American maids and many of the children would look up to them as a mother figure. As most of those white children grew up as adults, they would then go on to the hiring and firing of them. They would adopt the cruelness to the maids their own parents had. The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi around the time of the civil rights movements and around the time Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi, is where segregation is possibly the most alive and well. The story features Skeeter, an aspiring writer who’s looking for a story and sees one. Remembering how Constantine was like a mother to her and wondering whatever happened to her, she hasn’t developed the hardness of heart her girlfriends had developed over the years. It is with her willingness to see the maids’ side and write about it that made her want to set the record straight. That helps to create the intrigue of the story.
One of the interesting themes in the movie is oddly enough its use of toilets. Many people including myself still look at toilets as something taboo but in recent decades, many people and many creative artists have defied this taboo and become more public about it and even incorporated it into art. In this film, it plays a significant role because as we remember, toilets were a part of the days segregation: separate ones for whites and colored. The Help presents toilets in many different references. It is Aibilene’s toilet teaching where she shows she’s a better mother to Mae Mobley Leefolt than Mrs. Leefolt is. It is where Minny uses a toilet for white people only in Hilly’s house that gets her fired. It’s where Hilly strongly believes in segregated bathrooms to the point to where she’s willing to take her plea to the surgeon general. It’s also the prank Skeeter uses to pull on Hilly for her lobbying. As taboo as it is, there’s no denying the significance of toilets in the movie.
One thing about the movie The Help is that it’s based on a novel that is complete fiction. That fact might make some question the triumphant moments in the movie. Question it all you want. One thing you can’t deny is that despite it being fiction, there are a lot of hard truths experienced by the African Americans in Mississippi that are portrayed very well and will make you think. Seeing how Hilly treats her maids meanly to the point of firing them instantly and even getting them arrested makes you think how many others were as mean as Hilly. That scene where Minny is with her eldest daughter in a maid’s uniform about to board the bus can also disturb you. Imagine a future that limited. Also that scene where Charlotte told how and why she fired Constantine. How many times do you think that has happened in the past? So the novel may not be based on a true story but possibly based on a thousand true stories.
The directing from Tate Taylor was top notch. He did an excellent job of directing the movie and writing the storyline well. The acting however is what made the movie most. The standout without a doubt was Viola Davis. Her performance of Aibilene was the glue of the movie and had the most to tell. Her acting was full of believability from start to finish. Octavia Spencer was the top scene-stealer as Minny. She was able to make for an excellent turn with adding elements of humor to her role. Emma Stone delivered possibly the best performance of her career. Already people are saying she’s the next big thing. Her performance of Skeeter demonstrates she can also make a good actress of herself. Also a standout is Bryce Dallas Howard. Her character acting was so excellent, she will easily make you hate Hilly.
Overall, The Help is a very excellent movie revealing a harsh reality of 60’s Southern racism. Some say it’s not as harsh of a depiction as it should be. Nevertheless we shouldn’t forget that even in racism situations that aren’t as harsh, the hurt can still be felt and the picture can have an ugliness of its own.