Tag Archives: Family

VIFF 2012 Review: Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell was one film that was added to the VIFF at the last minute. I was expecting this to be more of a live-action film but it turned out to be a documentary to my surprise. And quite an intriguing one.

The documentary is directed by famed Canadian actor/director Sarah Polley. The documentary first appears to be her father, siblings and other friends and loved ones talking about her mother Diane Polley, from her career as an actor and a singer to her work in a Montreal play around the time her pregnancy with Sarah was starting (April 1978) to the abortion that wasn’t to the birth of Sarah to Diane’s death. All of those involved tell their story with reenacted images appearing in the style of Super-8 home movies. Some even receive direction from Sarah in telling their story and Rebecca Jenkins is cast to play Diane in the Super-8 re-enactments and fake television footage.

After more than half an hour, you think it’s a chronology of the Polley family, or at least the mother. It turns out to be a lot more: a ‘family secret.’ After the death of her mother, Sarah began to question her birth father. Could it really be Diane’s husband Michael Polley or was it another man? It even became a bit of a family joke at the dinner table when Sarah was a young teenager. Eventually the jokes died down and Sarah did some serious business about it. She learned about the actors her mother was acting within that play. She tried to look up one whom many in her family joke as the father but it’s not. Later she learns through conversations of those with the play and through a paternity test her father was Harry Gulkin, Canadian actor and film producer.

The story about searching for the truth of her birth father is seen and heard from the various angles interviewed for the movie: Sarah, her four siblings, Michael Polley, Harry, Harry’s daughter from a previous marriage, and castmates of that fateful Montreal show. The interviews are real in their retelling of the story but some interview dialogue is dramatized for the sake of the film. Possibly to show how a story that happens turns into a story told. I think that was the point Sarah was trying to get across in this is how people take the experiences of their lives and turning them into stories. That explains why we see Sarah giving those she interviews direction at times.

One thing about this documentary is that despite the re-enactment of events on Super-8 film (which had me fooled into thinking they were actually home movies) and the facts being told dramatically by some of the interviewees is that the drama does stop. There is a point where Michael does admit that there was a time in the late 70’s when the marriage seemed to be going dry: he had ambitions of being a playwright but settled on becoming an insurance salesman. He even confesses he told Diane during that time it’s okay for her to romance another man. Another point near the end, Michael cuts away from his cheery personality and his ability to laugh off the situation into showing the hurt he feels knowing he’s not Sarah’s biological father. It’s like that for all the others interviewed too where they all have a calm face or are smiling when they tell the story throughout but it’s near the end when they’re deep in thought that the hurt comes to them. You can see it in their faces.

This is not just a documentary that exposes a family secret of a popular Canadian celebrity. It’s also about Sarah’s relation to the people around her, both family and friends. New people came into her life after learning the truth. Most of her personal relations with others remained unchanged. She still has a healthy relationship with her siblings from her mother’s side as well as the father she always knew. She also has developed a healthy relationship with her biological father and her daughter: people that just came into her life years ago. Another angle of the documentary is it shows how despite laughing off the story, there are still some that feel hurt knowing the truth about the story. Siblings she always knew as full-siblings are now half-siblings. Even the half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage are hurt knowing the truth. The father has hurt behind the laughter. Harry occasionally thinks of the years he missed seeing Sarah grow up.

The thing that surprises me most about this is how successfully the family and others involved were in their ability to keep it secret and away from the media. We shouldn’t forget that this was all happening when Sarah was a public figure. The first secrets were unraveling during her days as Sarah Stanley in Road To Avonlea. It accelerated just as she was becoming the it-girl of Sundance in the late 90’s. The truth was finally revealed just as she was making a name for herself as a director in Away From Her. If this secret had been let out earlier, this could have put a big dent in her career and her image as ‘Canada’s Sweetheart’ during her child actor days could have been tarnished. It’s good to see the family and those who knew the truth kept quiet about this and that only Sarah herself could allow this to be exposed through this film only now. In a world that’s tabloid-obsessed and loves celebrity scandal, it’s good to see this was kept quiet enough to give Sarah the privacy she wanted.

THREE BITS OF TRIVIA: First, Diane Polley was a casting director for two made-for-TV movies of Anne Of Green Gables: the Canadian novel series the family drama Road To Avonlea was spun off of. Second, Diane died only three days after the pilot episode of Road To Avonlea was aired across Canada. Third, Sarah notes on the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) website that at least two journalists knew of the story for years but respected her wishes to keep it private and for her to be the first to let the truth out.

Once again, Sarah can add another accomplishment to her resume. She has already accomplished television acting as a child, movie acting as a teenage adult, directing and scriptwriting just years ago and now documentary director. It’s interesting how back during the late 90’s, Sarah turned her back on Hollywood in an attempt to be taken more seriously despite being referred to as the Sundance it-girl. It was a risky move that has paid off over the years. That’s something to admire especially since we’re in a time when people are mostly willing to become famous however they can, even if it doesn’t involve talent at all.

This is one documentary I saw at the VIFF that works well as a big-screen film. I myself saw it at the 1100-seat Vogue stage theatre in Vancouver. However this is one documentary that would best draw a crowd with Canadians or those into arthouse films. Those are the filmgoers who recognize Sarah best.  Outside of that, it’s still a documentary that can touch one who may have a similar story like this in their own family. For the record, American film company Roadside Attractions has purchased the film and plans to release it in the US in early 2013. No word yet on Canadian theatrical release. It’s all in the hands of the NFB.

Stories We Tell is an amusing and touching documentary about the retelling of a family secret within Sarah Polley’s family. It’s as charming and witty as it is intimate, touching and even heartbreaking. Definitely worth seeing.

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2011 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Hugo

Hugo is a delightful movie based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It’s a unique story about how a chance stealing by a young boy changed everything forever.

It all starts in a train station in Paris in 1930. Hugo Cabret has a life no child would want. He lives in the train station completely orphaned and with nothing but a bed and an automaton from his late father whom he hopes to repair. He ended up there after his widowed father was killed in a fire and taken by his alcoholic uncle who would look after the station clock. After his uncle died, Hugo steals food and runs the clock himself from revealing the death of his uncle. If the truth is found out, he will be sent to an orphanage.

One steal by Hugo of a toy part from the station’s toy store owner would change everything. Hugo was able to escape the station policeman thanks to his leg brace being caught in a train. Hugo however loses a book of animated drawings to the toy store owner. For Hugo to get it back, the toy store owner punishes Hugo by making fix his broken toys. The toy store owner is surprised to see that Hugo is very skilled at fixing toys thanks to his father’s teachings.

Soon Hugo catches the attention of Isabelle, the girl who frequently visits the train station. She is an orphan too who is being looked after by the toy store owner, whom she refers to as Papa Jacques. He notices the key she wears: it is heart-shaped. His automaton has a heart-shaped lock. Another link to the mystery. The two spend time together. She sees the clock area Hugo lives and the view of Paris. The two sneak into a movie theatre and see a movie, something Papa Jacques forbids her to see. Later Hugo uses Isabelle’s heart-shaped key on the automaton. The automaton draws a picture of the moon with a spaceship in his eye and the name Jacques Melies.

The two try and search further to see if Papa Jacques really is Jacques Melies. Upon a return visit to the house, they try to uncover the top drawer in his bedroom. Out comes a wide variety of imaginative artist images. Nevertheless Jacques is distraught to learn the children have learned of his secret. It’s only until the children bring a young film student to Jacques that Jacques finally reveals that he really is Jacques Melies, director extraordinaire of the early 20th Century. He explains to all why he became a recluse, because of his films failing as the First World War was taking place. He even burned most of the master copies of his films in a fit of rage during his downtime.  It is through Hugo and the film student that he’s able to receive an acclaim from a new generation of film enthusiasts. It is also where Hugo finally finds a family.

The movie is more than just a salute to Jacques Melies and his contribution to film in general. This movie is also a salute to moviemaking and movie watching. Movies achieved their greatness by making people’s fantasies come to life. They took them to worlds never before imagined. They took them to adventures and thrills they wouldn’t experience in their own lives. And to think it all started when a film of a train approaching the station made the audience duck for their lives. Nowadays movies face a lot of rivalry from many entertainment sources. Its biggest rival is now video games which allow the viewer to live the fantasy via an avatar, but movies still capture people’s attention and take them to worlds they never dreamed of.

Even though the movie is very much a salute to movies, it’s also a reminder that even then, great directors like Melies faced downtimes too. Jacques created hundreds of movies in his lifetime but as soon as most of the French public lost their liking for movies his fortune disappeared, his studio became useless, burned his films in anger and lived in obscurity for years. Nowadays we hear countless stories of people, especially greats, who had their moment but fade fast and die in obscurity without a penny. It happens to greats as often as it happens to ‘one-hit wonders’. Showbiz is cruel. Fortunately there does come a time long after their downfall when their achievements are recognized once again. It may be while they’re still alive or it may be post mortem but their greatness does become remembered and honored again.

Overall the movie was top-notch quality. That’s something you rarely see in most live-action family movies. There was no one acting performance that stood out or was spectacular but the performances of all worked excellently with the movie. Ben Kingsley was very good as Jacques. Sacha Baron Cohen who’s known for his comedic characters was great as the comic relief of the movie. The child actors of Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz did an excellent job in their lead roles. The story was very well-adapted and well-edited as it’s able to keep the audience excited, thrilled and interested from start to finish. Martin Scorsese did another excellent directing job. He’s tackled a lot of genres of film excellently and now he achieves another triumph in directing family movies. The score by Howard Shore fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also amongst the best of the year. The movie being shown in 3D worked. This was one of the rare times in which the 3D viewing appeared to be less in vain or for extra money and more for the delight of the crowd. It looked like Scorsese knew that if he was to have a movie in 3D, he should have the effects that make it work.

One thing that’s been unique in the film world of recent years is that a lot of well-renowned directors have started to make family movies. Seven years ago, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) released Millions: a story about a boy who encounters a bag of stolen money and consults patron saints for advice. Many years ago, Roman Polanski did his version of Oliver Twist to make a movie for his children who were twelve and under at the time. Two years ago, Spike Jonze directed the film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. Even Quentin Tarantino says he’s interested in doing a family film if the right idea comes around.

Now we have Martin Scorsese with a family movie out. It may come as a surprise since he has been renowned for his filmmaking of some of the grittiest legendary dramas. Nevertheless if Martin was to make a family movie, Hugo would be the perfect fit. The celebration of film in Hugo is something Martin would do well because Martin is known to have a love for film itself. Martin even did a documentary series for the BBC years ago where he narrated the history of film and its genres. In Hugo we see Martin’s love for film as much as we see the reasons why movies have become so beloved. Even Roger Ebert described the move as “in some ways, a mirror of his own life.” And the love of film started with Jacques Melies. Martin Scorsese does more than just make a family movie. He also makes a masterpiece that even adults can appreciate, especially those who love film. The film has been nominated for Best Picture and ten other categories at this year’s Oscars. It is the first live-action family movie since Babe to be nominated for Best Picture.

Hugo is a pleasant film not just in terms of family movies but all films. Very rarely is a family movie able to be referred to as a masterpiece. Very rarely does a family movie deserve to be referred to as a masterpiece. Hugo is that rare.

NOTE:  Usually around this time, I start my reviews of the Best Picture nominees. I have five more reviews coming. Best Picture nominees already reviewed are: Midnight In Paris, The Help and Moneyball.

From Summer Movie Sizzle To September Slump

We’ve already seen the latest summer movie season come and go. The excitement, the hits, the blockbusters, the special effects, the stars, the flops, the sleeper surprises. It all shaped the summer movie season of 2011, which I will elaborate on in a future article. The Labor Day always opens the movie month of September up on a bright note.

What happens in the next three or four weeks should be known as the September Slump. Now that all the big movies had the summer to reap in the money, it’s now quieter fare during September. That usually makes for a low box office month. In fact September has the lowest box office gross of any month of the year. For the record, the highest grossing September was back in 2007 with $554.7 million. Also for the record, the highest opening weekend for a September release is Sweet Home Alabama way back in 2002 with $35.6 million. Pretty paltry compared to other months, eh?

So you think that the month of September should have some drab fare, right? Wrong. There are lots of reasons to go see a movie in September even though you’re no longer on vacation and back at work or back to school. Look what the month has:

THIS WEEKEND:

Contagion: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law. Medical drama about trying to stop an airborne virus from spreading into an epidemic.

Warrior: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton. Could this be the first hit movie about Mixed Martial Arts?

Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star: Nick Swardson, Don Johnson, Christina Ricci. An over-the-top comedy with an over-the-top scenario.

The Black Power Mixtape 1968-1975 Excellent for those who are into documentaries.

Main Street (limited): Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson. Colin Firth plays an American! A Southern one!

September 16:

Drive: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston. A Hollywood stuntman who moonlights with the underworld is on the run.

I Don’t Know How She Does It: Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Kelsey Grammer. A businesswoman who can juggle her career, family and marriage until she meets her business associate.

Straw Dogs: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth. When an L.A. Screenwriter relocates to his wife’s Southern hometown, it leads to some Southern discomfort.

Restless (limited): Mia Wasikowska stars in a dark ropmantic drama directed by Gus Van Sant.

September 23:

Moneyball: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Jonah Hill. Can a computer design a winning baseball team on a budget? You be the judge.

Abduction: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina. Can Taylor Lautner be bankable with something other than Jacob? And with his shirt still on? Stay tuned.

Machine Gun Preacher: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon. A true story of a reformed bad boy becoming a crusader for Sudanese children.

Killer Elite: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert de Niro. A kidnapping drama that will capture the action movie crowd.

Puncture (limited): A legal drama starring Chris Evans.

Dolphin Tale: A family movie starring Morgan Freeman.

You may have noticed I left out September 30, right? And for good reason. That weekend has more days in October than September. So there you go. Some good movie choices for the month of September. Even movies already out like The Help and The Debt make for good choices about this time. I’m sure even in your hectic schedule or workload, overtime, or homework or family business, you can find time for a movie.

SOURCES CITED:

Box Office Mojo

IMDB

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

Yes, I’m playing catch-up with my movie reviews of the summer. Hope you like this late review.

I’m sure you remember the first Kung Fu Panda. Po was the lumpy clumsy Panda who came from nowhere to become the Dragon Warrior. It charmed audiences, made people laugh and even rivaled Disney/Pixar in making 3D animated movies. Now Po’s back in Kung Fu Panda 2. But does this new version of Kung Fu Panda still have its kick?

We begin the movie learning of the clash between the peacock clan and their son Lord Shen stealing the power of the fireworks and using them as weapons. When Shen learned from a soothsayer that a warrior in black and white would defeat him, Shen exiled the pandas from the village. Shen’s parents exiled him soon after to which Shen swore revenge.

Flash forward 20 years, we see Po as the Dragon Warrior protecting the Valley Of Peace with the Furious Five who are now his friends and allies. Master Shifu senses Po lacks inner peace. At first Po doesn’t know what he meant until the five attack a band of wolf bandits. During the fight, Po is distracted by a symbol on the head wolf’s armor which causes a flashback to memories of his birthmother. He then learns from his father, the goose Mr. Ping, that he found him as a baby in a radish basket and adopted him since. Learning that truth leaves Po frustrated and upset.

Later Master Shifu learns that Master Thundering Rhino has been killed by Lord Shen with a cannon he build and plans to use to destroy kung fu tradition and conquer China. Po and the five go to Gongmen City to end Shen’s control. They come across two imprisoned council members and try to chase down Shen’s wofl pack, only to be captured. Upon being brought before Shen, Po and the Five break free and destroy Shen’s cannon. However Po is again distracted by the symbol that caused flashbacks of his mother which allows Shen to escape and destroy the tower with an arsenal of cannons. After escaping, a concerned Tigress confronts Po of his distraction. Po knows of Shen’s presence on the day he was separated from his parents and has to ask him about his past

Despite Tigress fearing for him, Po breaks into Shen’s cannon factory and confronts him. Shen tells Po his parents abandoned him before blasting him out of the factory and capturing the Five. Po finds himself rescued by an exiled Soothsayer in the city he was born in. The Soothsayer guides him to embrace his past where Po learns his village was raided at the time he was born as Shen’s forces killed every panda and burned the village. Po’s father was fighting the war and told Po’s mother to run and escape with their baby. Po’s mother ran throughout the snow and left him in a radish box at a place she knew he’d be safe, Mr. Ping’s place. It’s upon returning to his old home and finding his childhood toy that he learns he was given up out of love and raised out of love. Finally he attains inner peace.

Po then returns to Gongmen City to save the Five and stop Shen from conquering China. Po and the Five along with Ox and Croc block the gates to shop Shen but Shen’s cannon clears the way and lands them all in the ocean. While Shen attacks Po with his cannon, Po is able to use his inner peace to redirect Shen’s cannon fires to Shen’s cannon, destroying it. He then urges Shen to let go of his past, but Shen refuses and attacks Po. In the fight, Shen accidentally cuts the ropes to his own cannon and is crushed to death. Po achieves victory and freedom for Gongmen City. He returns to Mr. Ping and lovingly declares him as his father. The very end may hint to many that there may be a Kung Fu Panda 3.

While I’m not a big fan of most Holywood sequels, I have to say that I was impressed with Kung Fu Panda 2. It managed to have a story different from the first movie. Its fights and special effects were just as dazzling as the first. The characters still had their charm from the original and especially kept the appeal of Po. The movie had an excellent range of voice-over talent with renowned actors like Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh and many others. The animation graphics were excellent and top notch to the slightest detail.

For the most part, I believe the movie would be fine for parents of children but not for most adults. It is a movie that doesn’t have the same level of adult appeal as a Disney/Pixar animated movie would. Some things that may appeal to parents is the actors doing the voiceovers. Overall, the movie, storyline and humor are more tailor made for families of young children.

 Overall Kung Fu Panda 2 makes for an enjoyable night out at the movies for families of young children. Even some older children or teenage fans of the first movie will enjoy it.

The Royal Wedding: Positive For The Royal’s Future?

Unless you’ve been under a rock all this time, you know by now that William Windsor, Son of Charles Prince of Wales and grandson of Queen Elizabeth, is engaged to commoner Catherine ‘Kate’ Middleton. The wedding will take place the morning of Friday, April 29th: tomorrow to be exact. It is scheduled to be the biggest Royal Wedding of the British Monarchy since Prince Charles wed Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Most of the world will be watching, especially England and other members of the Commonwealth. The big questions are what will the future of the Monarchy be like? And will the new Royal couple go the distance?

The British Monarchy has always been an important symbol of the British Empire, especially in the heydays of its superiority back in the 19th Century. In fact Victoria Day is still celebrated in Canada in tribute to the Queen that granted Canada its Dominion. Even though the United Kingdom is a democracy under rule of the Prime Minister, the Queen and her Royal subjects are still an important symbol of rule in England and many other nations of what is now called the Commonwealth Of Nations.

The present-day Commonwealth is completely different from what has been known as the British Empire. The Commonwealth is an intergovernmental organization that promotes many core values amongst its fifty-three independent member states including Canada such as democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, multilateralism and world peace. Even Queen Elizabeth herself declared shortly after her Coronation in 1952: “The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace.”

The Head of the Commonwealth is the King or Queen Of England. Currently that title belongs to Elizabeth II. She is a symbol of the Commonwealth’s free association and plays an important role in shaping the Commonwealth. She attends the biennial meetings of the Heads of Government, attends dinners and makes speeches at the meetings, and has private meetings with the individual heads of state.

Now that we’ve dished out on the importance of the British monarchy–and as stated above, they actually are important in today’s world–there’s the question of the future of the one sitting on the Throne. Elizabeth II has held the throne since her coronation as Queen in 1952. She shows no signs yet of handing the throne over to the next in line: Charles Prince of Wales, first-born child of Queen Elizabeth and father of Prince William. One of the key rules of the monarchy–one that reiterated in the movie The King’s Speech–is that the King is not to be married to a woman previously divorced. Prince Charles was married to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 but the marriage dissolved in 1992. Soon he had a relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles who was already married. It was her relationship with Charles that led her first husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles to divorce her. In 2005 the two finally married with Camilla choosing to adopt the title Duchess of Cornwall. Since the marriage, Camilla has worked to develop a more positive image away from the ‘scandals’ of the past. This may explain why Elizabeth is in no rush to hand over the Throne to Charles. As for Edward, the only one of Queen Elizabeth’s children who has kept their first marriage intact, he shows no interest in owning the Throne. Talk about a Royal dilemma!

Now outside of the future of the Throne is the big question of another future: the marriage of William and Kate. William and Kate first met when they were both students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland back in 2001. You could say the rest is history but there’s more to it. While the world is familiar with William’s ancestry and background of privilege, Kate came from a family that started as workers for British Airways but later formed their own mail order business which succeeded well. Kate herself worked as an accessories buyer for a clothing company for some time. William has grown up in a fishbowl while Kate experienced discomfort during the first few years upon dating William but leaving the relationship ambiguous. Many times during the early years of the suspected relationship, she would complain to her lawyer and even threaten legal action against the press. In 2007 they broke up but would reconcile within months. Even after the reconciliation, they would try to keep their relationship low-key. That all ended in November of last year when their engagement was officially announced.

Now comes the personalities of the two. William may have been born into a life of privilege but he has come across as well-behaved and considerate. A lot of it is attributed to Diana raising him and Harry outside of Buckingham Palace. It’s noticeable as William appears to posess more of Diana’s personality traits than Charles’. Although he’s second in line to the throne behind his father Prince Charles, there are many who feel he should be King instead. He’s had his share of living the high life, but he has also followed in his mother’s footsteps and has done humanitarian work. He’s also part of the RAF and has done military work in recent years. Kate, like Diana, has developed a fashion sense all her own and has made many ‘Best Dressed’ lists in recent years. She has graduated university with an honors degree. She’s also known for being well-mannered. As for whether the marriage will go the distance, that remains for the future to tell. They both appear to be two intelligent people in love but anything could change. We shouldn’t forget about their breakup from years earlier. It’s possible it could happen again. As mentioned earlier, Kate had her own difficulties with living life in a fishbowl when she was just ‘seeing’ William. After the marriage, it will most likely increase and top of it Kate will now have to play a role as a public figure. Will she be able to handle her new role and the pressure of the press?

Friday April 29th will not only mark the beginning of Prince William’s marriage but also the beginning to his future fate in being heir to the Throne. We all know it’s the divorce and remarriage to a divorcee that is causing Prince Charles to wait. Only the future will tell if Prince William’s marriage will go the distance, and if whatever happens is a help or hindrance to his line of succession. Also Kate’s role in both the Royal Family and in the public eye will also come under intense media scrutiny. Will she remain calm under pressure? Or will she be a huge subject of scandal and tabloid fare? Stay tuned.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Commonwealth Of Nations.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_Nations&gt;

WIKIPEDIA: Catherine Middleton.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Middleton&gt;

WIKIPEDIA: Camilla: Duchess of Cornwall.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camilla,_Duchess_of_Cornwall&gt;