VIFF 2016 Shorts Segment: Teen Trouble

Cinema

One thing about the VIFF is that you will have the opportunity to see shorts films whether it be a short shown before a feature or a segment of shorts assembled together. They pack a lot of entertainment value for something brief in length. The first shorts segment I was lucky to see was Teen Trouble. It consisted of seven different shorts situated in seven different countries all with a teen-related subject and boy were they entertaining:

-I Love Anna (Finland)- 12 year-old Finnish boy Santeri has always had a crush on Anna: the local farm girl. Anna likes Santeri too. One night Anna’s parents are away and she has to look after her little sister. This could be Santeri’s chance to take it to new levels.

The quality of this short is that it takes you into the excitement of the moment as it progresses without any added music score. It adds to the excitement of the moment. Another added quality is it will remind you of when you fell in love for the first time or even of your own sexual curiosities when you were that age.

-Fabrizio’s Initiation (Argentina)- Sexual feelings many years later. Only Fabrizio is now a 15 year-old Argentinian boy who has been in a relationship with Nadia for over a year. Their chances of doing it for the first time are constantly interrupted. However Fabrizio’s friends derive a plan to make it work by conniving the village elder into giving them his car and fixing it up for the moment. Will this finally be it? The film ends with a surprise in more ways than one.

This is a humorous short about the constant pressure of losing your virginity for the right moment and trying to make it right. Hey, it’s not always prom night! It also will remind you of your own teenage love and of all the stuff you tried to do behind your parents’ back.

-The Law Of Moments (UK)- The lessons of Isaac Newton younger sister Mal studies from physics class play into this drama. Mal and Lucy are teen sisters who lost their closeness as older sister Lucy got involved with partying. It’s been of concern to Mal as she sees Lucy and her mother constantly fighting. One night, Mal goes to the farm to see what kind of crowd she’s hanging with. It’s not pleasant at all. Mal goes to help Lucy only for things to end not as it should.

Here we go from comedy to drama. This is a good story that shows the end at the beginning and how it came to be. The addition of Mal’s physics lesson as well as her childhood memory of her and Lucy on the see saw add style to the story line. Very creative.

-Three Minute Warning (UK/Palestine)- This possibly the darkest short of the segment. Palestinian teen girl Miriam has to look after her mother who has a leg problem. It’s a daily thing which includes cooking for her mother and even assisting her to the bathroom and it robs her of the carefree life most teenage girls have. One night a warning bomb– a bomb sent three minutes before the real bomb is to hit its target– hits their apartment. Miriam has to help her mother make the escape while all the others leave them behind. It’s hopeless and it sets up for the heartbreaking ending.

No doubt Palestinian director Iqbal Mohammed has something to say in this short. It was very well-told and will leave you infuriated with the political situation in the Middle East today.

-On The Roof (Spain)- Five Barcelona teen boys love to go to the top of their apartment balcony to spy on sunbathing women during the summer. Bonus points if they’re topless. One day they go to check out a topless sunbather. One boy, Adrian, spots a naked man showering. He also learns something of himself he never knew. One of Adrian’s friends senses his attraction and reacts with hostility. He even senses it on the youngest of the friends and pressures the young boy to take a photo of the bather standing on the top ledge. Adrian stops and volunteers to do it. The end comes with a surprising result but nothing dreadful.

This short focuses on a teen boy’s discovery of his same-sex attraction which catches him by surprise and causes hostility among one of his friends. The short also focuses on teen male machismo which naturally approaches same-sex attraction with hostile discomfort. A reminder of some of the difficulties gay teens go through.

-Winds Of Furnace (Mexico)- A young Mexican teen boy faces a daily responsibility of looking after his grandmother. One day, two of his friends come to his house with a van they stole. The three go out to have fun in their neighborhood. However you know something will go wrong when they take a body found in the van and dispose of it. It’s the case as a van driven by a cartel crosses their paths and shoots one of the friends. This leads to a vicious chase where the boy fires a gun at the cartel. The ending ends with you thinking this is what’s meant to be.

This short didn’t have its subtitles on at the time so it was hard to make sense. However it was a good story of peer pressure taken to the extreme with the potential for dangerous consequences. The heat of the moment left you wondering if he would be killed by the end. I’m sure a lot of boys in Mexico have gone through this temptation. It’s good to see he was possibly the one who didn’t get killed.

-Aeris (Canada)- A young rising teen snowboarder is seen as a possible future great in the sport. However, the 19 year-old suffers a broken leg during competition requiring plates, screws and months of healing. Months later, she goes snowboarding with her friends to see if she still has it and to get her competitive drive back. This proves difficult as she encounters fans on the mountain and even the fear of her broken leg returning if she tries another jump.

This may be the least heavy short of the seven but it does feature a pressure: a personal pressure young rising phenoms in sport know all too well. It makes for a good snowboarding story. It even gets you fearing for her as well as she questions whether to make that big jump.

In summary, all seven shorts were very good and had a lot to say about teen life in the humorous moments, the tense moments and even tragic moments. All definitely gave an image of what it’s like to be young.

Teen Trouble was an impressive selection of shorts. Anyone can be entertained by something in the selection.

 

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch plays mathematician/inventor Alan Turing through many angles in The Imitation Game.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays mathematician/inventor Alan Turing through many angles in The Imitation Game.

“Am I a machine? Am I a war hero? Am I a criminal?”

The Imitation Game is a film that presents us a story of legendary scientist Alan Turing. It shows who he is and his life but also sheds light on many things we didn’t know.

The film opens in 1951 with Alan being investigated by detectives Nock and Staehl. This takes the film back to moments of the past starting in 1939. World War II has started and Turing applies to become part of the cryptography team at Bletchley Park. His ability to decode things and his knowledge that the Nazis use a code called Enigma impressed Commander Alasdair Dennison so much, he brings him on with the team of Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards.

Turing is difficult to work with as he distances himself from his colleagues. He has an idea for a machine to decipher Enigma but Commander Dennison doesn’t approve. Turing writes to Winston Churchill asking for assistance. Churchill is so impressed with Turing’s idea, he declares him the leader upon which he fires Furman and Richards. He uses a crossword puzzle to find his replacement. Upon which he hires a woman, Cambridge graduate Joan Clarke. Joan however has to deal with her overbearing parents as they don’t want her to work with men and marry immediately. However Turing is convinced enough she’s the right person for the job to the point he provides her a room to stay and work with female clerks while he shares his plans with her.

Difficulties continue as the code of Enigma needs to be reached. First the Germans change the code daily so that the enemies don’t succeed in breaking it. Secondly, Dennison is infuriated with the machine which Turing names Christopher and wants it destroyed and Turing fired. It’s only after the team threaten to leave if Turing is fired that he’s able to continue. Joan is pressured by her parents to either marry or leave her job, to which Turing proposes to her. On top of it, Turing’s team know of his homosexuality but promise to keep it secret.

Even after results happen and Christopher is able to successfully decipher Enigma, the solutions don’t start there. They can’t make it obvious to the Germans that they know Enigma so they have to carefully plan their strategies of attack even if it means considerable time later. Turing learns Cairncross is a spy for the Soviets but is told to keep it a secret or else Cairncross will expose his homosexuality. The place becomes too dangerous for Joan to stay and Turing tells her to leave, outing himself to her and even saying he was only interested in her as a co-worker. Joan leaves angrily. World War II was won and the cryptographers plans are burned.

The film progresses to the 1950’s when Turing was arrested first pursued for hiding confidential information only for them to uncover his homosexuality. His homosexuality was as much of a challenge as his eccentric way of thinking even as far back as his school days when he would be bullied. Fortunately a boy named Christopher befriended him and encouraged him with his coding and shared feelings with him. Unfortunately Christopher died before Alan had a chance to tell him he loved him. At the end, he’s shown with his final struggle with his homosexuality just before his eventual suicide as he’s sentenced to chemical castration: a sentence he chose over two years prison time. In his home where he secludes himself with his own concocted version of the machine Christopher, it’s Joan who comes to him in the end offering moral support and reminding him how significant he was because he was ‘not normal.’

Some would first come to the movie thinking it’s about him and his lifestyle. Some would first think this is autobiographical. It’s more. It presents the story of Alan and his eccentrically intelligent and creative thinking. It presents Alan’s side of the story from beginning to end focusing on the three biggest events in his life: in 1928 as a teenager when he’s first given support of his eccentric imaginative thinking and first learns of his homosexuality; during World War II and the story of the moment and invention that defined him; and in 1951 with Scotland Yard’s trying to link him of a crime only to discover his secret that would lead to his tragic fate. The focus of the story is especially clear at the beginning when Alan asks us: “Are you paying attention?” The film also presents why it was so important for this machine to crack Enigma had to be created as Alan would remind us it wasn’t simply against the War but against time. Especially for the UK which was suffering terribly. It also presents their strategy for helping to win the war as soon as they could.

It’s also very much about Alan the person as it is about Alan and the team working to crack the code. It presents Alan’s intelligence as creative in which he can decipher things through his work on crossword puzzles. It presents Alan as one who also has a very unlikable side including a ruthlessness his coworkers found hard to deal with though they stick with him because they feel he’s the only one who can succeed at cracking the code. They can’t stand him but they believe in him. It especially presents Alan’s homosexuality as for why he was about to go on trial. As he is about to be tried, he looks back on his life for when he was part of the mission to his schoolboy days and his encouragement from Christopher: the one person who truly understood him. It ends with Joan, the one colleague who knew him best and deserves to desert him after what he said to her but comes in the end to remind him of his significance to this world.

It’s obvious that Alan was able to solve Enigma in time but appeared unable to solve himself and even doubt his self-worth just after his sentencing of ‘chemical castration.’ A common thing as we see all too often in history how some of history’s biggest heroes would eventually become rejected by the people and even die lonely. Nevertheless we’re reminded that he still had people willing to stand by him even as he felt worthless. Especially Joan as she reminds him after he becomes a recluse after his defamation: “Do you know, this morning I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up, on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you.”

The movie tries to show more of what Alan Turing did as an effort to combat the war rather than focus on his lifestyle. Actually the movie does show about the struggle with his homosexuality throughout his life. His first difficulty came in high school as he fell in love with his friend Christopher and had to pass notes in his special code to him. We should remember that Alan was not beaten up in high school because he was gay but because of his intellectual eccentricities where it first showed its presence. He had continued difficulty during his work as even though his colleagues were supportive of him, they did remind him he could lose his job and be imprisoned because of it. Joan appeared to be the one who dealt with it best as she was not afraid to be in a sham marriage with him especially since it would help get her parents off her case. Then we see at the end as Alan has to deal with his ‘chemical castration’ which would eventually lead to his suicide at 41. We should remember those were the times. It’s because of the criminalization of homosexuality in the past that we had the pride movements that spawned out of the 70’s and are what they are today.

Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job in his portrayal of Turing. His performance was full of dimension for a person who was hard to like and had quite an imagination but quite smart and even troubled in the end. It’s a role where he not only acts off of his actors but us the audience too filling us in on all the details and making us think too. You can tell when Alan as narrator tells us to pay attention. Of the supporting players, it’s Keira Knightly as Joan who shines the best as the one who not only helps decipher Enigma but is the one person who can decipher Alan as a person in the end. The actors making up the cryptography team–Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech– did great both as a team unit and in their own individual moments. Other standout supporting performances came from Rory Kinnear as detective Nick and young Alex Lawther who did a remarkable job playing the young Alan Turing.

Also deserving of acclaim is director Morten Tyldum. Very experienced in his home-country of Norway, this is actually his first direction of a English language feature and it’s an excellent first-effort. Also excellent is the script from Graham Moore. He did an excellent job in creating the story off of Andrew Hodges’ biography setting the three periods of Alan’s life that defined him most and piecing it all together. It succeeds in keeping us interested. Technical aspects were also excellent such as the set design, costuming, cinematography and the composed score by Alexandre Desplat.

The Imitation Game is a unique story about a scientist who went from a hero to a criminal of his time. It tells the story through his eyes and leaves us both interested and getting us to think as well. That’s the movie’s best quality.

J. Crew In The Middle Of ‘Toenailgate’

This picture in a J. Crew e-flyer is the subject of major discussion this week.

Ever notice how in the news there’s always a story that comes from nowhere and is not worth paying any mind, until some loudmouth makes a hullabaloo about it? It’s funny that while Japan is recovering from a tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown, and Libya is fighting a war to depose a dictator, there’s a minor story that makes a lot of loud news. It happened this week when the picture on the right that was featured in an e-catalog from J.Crew got on a conservative pundit’s nerves to the point he spoke out about it. And it has since drawn a lot of reactions since Tuesday.

It all started when J.Crew sent out its e-catalog to subscribers on Tuesday April 5th. For those unfamiliar, J. Crew is a clothing store known for its colorful preppy looking clothes. Its most famous customer is First Lady Michelle Obama. Included is a Saturday With Jenna column written by J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons. On that column’s front page that weekend was that picture of her having fun with her 5 year-old son Beckett. Why should that cause controversy? Because the fun she had with Beckett was painting his toenails with pink nail polish. She even included in the Quality Time caption: “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

Some of the J. Crew customers who received that ad would look at it as something funny and some might raise their eyebrows over it. It was able to stay away from being a complete controversy, until Tuesday April 12th. That’s when FOX News Psychologist Dr. Keith Ablow made these comments:

 Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.

This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” is not known.

Dr. Ablow further goes on to talk about the benefits and goods of gender distinctions and continues:

Jenna Lyons and J. Crew seem to know exactly what they’re up to. That’s why the photograph of Jenna’s son so prominently displays his hot pink, neon toe nails. These folks are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force in the universe.

Dr. Ablow wasn’t the only right wing pundit speaking their mind on this. Four days earlier, Erin M. Brown, writer for the Culture and Media Institute website, wrote an article on the ad which she declared ‘blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children’. She then went on to say: “Not only is Beckett likely to change his favorite color as early as tomorrow, Jenna’s indulgence (or encouragement) could make life hard for the boy in the future. J.CREW, known for its tasteful and modest clothing, apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the façade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.”

Since the ad controversy, there have been a lot of responses. Numerous news stories in websites, newspapers and television have featured the heated issue. All three major networks have done discussions about this. They’ve interviewed parents on the street: some were freaked out while some liked it. Psychiatrists interviewed have said it’s normal for children to play cross-dressing games. Some news stories showed celebrity parents including Gwen Stefani with pictures of their own boys wearing nail polish.  Alyona Minkovski from RT Network responded: “Look people. Mom’s actually spending time with her child having fun, which is a lot more than what I can say about a lot of parents out there who tend to neglect their children. And if painting your child’s toenails is a way for a child and parent to connect, then have at it.” Jon Stewart even talked about it on his Daily Show, declaring the fiasco ‘Toemageddon 2011’ and commenting: “You make it sound like it’s a story about incest or cannabalism…You’re all aware that nail polish comes off, right? You’re all acting like this lady gave her son an ‘I Love Cock’ tattoo.” For the record, J. Crew have not responded because they ‘don’t want to add fuel to a non-issue.’

Even amongst the internet, there have been responses. Youtubers have also spoken their mind with one man even paining his fingernails pink. On the opposite side, there’s been at least one video in support of the complaining pundits, from the channel Final Justice Movement. Bloggers have posted their opinions. Message boards have also been loaded with comments both for the ad ‘what century is this?’ and against this ‘This is disgusting!’ Change.org started a petition thanking J.Crew ‘for the heartwarming ad’ and received 7500 signatures. The 10 year-old son of a writer for Wired magazine painted his fingernails green in response. There’s even a Pink Piggies page on Facebook where the page honors ‘people of all gender identities.’

One thing I like to say is that it’s another example of how people like to raise a big fiasco of just about anything. I’ve seen it from both the left and right side of people raising a big fuss over something simple. It seems like the thing nowadays to be offended about anything. Years ago, people were declaring The Passion Of The Christ to be anti-Semitic when it’s the story of Christ’s crucifixion that has been played out many times in the past including on film. Recently after the movie Mars Needs Moms was released, a gay Youtube personality posted on his Twitter page that it’s very offensive to non-traditional families. And now we have right-wing pundits taking a crack at this ad. Do people enjoy getting offended?

Yes, it’s a different parent-child bonding scenario but it’s not worth declaring ‘propaganda’ to turn into an issue for headlines’ sake. I also agree with Alyona: in case you didn’t notice, there’s a load of joy between Jenna and Beckett in that picture. It’s very common for parents to neglect their children in their busy lives so a moment like that should be considered fun.Secondly I don’t think paining a son’s toenails pink makes him gay. His orientation has already formed itself even before he was born. In addition when I brought this story up at work, one of my co-workers mentioned that she painted her nephew’s fingernails and they had a fun time together. Weeks later when she brought up ‘nail polish’, he said “That’s girls stuff.” So what does that tell you? Also I admire J. Crew for not responding to this and dismissing it for the ‘non-issue’ that it is.