The Oscar-nominated short films were back in theatres again. However this year I only had the chances to see the live-action one day and the animated another. I have no problem writing separate reviews for both. So here’s my take on the live-action shorts:
–Ave Maria (Palestine/France/Germany): dirs. Eric Dupont and Basil Khalil – Five nuns pray at a convent in a ‘war-zone’ area of Palestine. Then they hear what sounds like an explosive car crash. One tries to help despite the fact they are under a vow of silence. What happened was a car driven by Jewish residents accidentally crashed into the Virgin Mary statue. They try to help but there are conflicts with the nuns’ vows of silence and the family’s strict adherence to the Sabbath and with kosherisms. Not to mention they don’t want to be noticed by Arab residents in the area.
The film does focus on the religious tensions in Palestine but in a humorous way. All of this takes place in the area of the convent. However it’s funny how something as little as a car crash and people trying to seek out help can lead to such religious conflicts. That may have been the least of problems in Palestine but even then it just shows the humor of the whole situation and of how in the end it’s all about doing the right thing. I feel the film’s mix of humor while conveying a social message is why I predict it Will Win the Oscar.
–Shok (Kosovo/UK): dir. Jamie Donoughue – A car driving on a Kosovo road stops at an abandoned child’s bicycle. But why would a grown male from the car leave the car to look at the bicycle? And why would he ride it soon after?
The answer flashes back to the mid-90’s. Two Kosovar Albanian boys Petrit and Oki are the closest of friends. They frequently go to school riding on the bicycle Oki bought after a year of selling almonds. Petrit wants a bike of his own but feels he can get it by selling drugs and rolling papers to Serbian soldiers who’ve taken over the area. He feels it could also prevent them invading their village despite news stories of other areas of Kosovo being invaded. He even tells Oki he’s safe with him.
However Petrit’s promise and ‘business’ is put under heavy question during one of his ‘deals’ as a Serbian soldier wants Oki’s bicycle. It’s not the lost bicycle Oki’s angry about but the fact Petrit is willing to do something dangerous and dishonest for money and it threatens their friendship. They reconcile after Petrit is willing to take an assault from a soldier after Albanian books are found in Oki’s bag and Petrit claims them as his own. Unfortunately the invasion of their village eventually comes and with it the tragic end of the friendship of Oki and Petrit.
Of all five shorts, this is the one that still stayed with me long after I left the theatre. This is a story based on true events. I easily remember the war in the Balkans, especially the bloodshed in Bosnia, back in the 90’s. It dominated the news that decade. The war in Kosovo just years after the war in Bosnia ended was another example of the tyranny and I remember that as well. It does leave you feeling it was unfair of what happened to Oki. He was the smart one. He was the one who kept Petrit’s head on straight. But he was the one killed. Also that end scene where we see a grown-up Petrit still haunted by the war more that fifteen years later reminds you that war still haunts even as time passes and even if Kosovo did get its independence. My cousin once said: “No country’s freedom came without some amount of bloodshed.” True, but the bloodshed still leaves people with a trauma not even independence can solve. That’s why I pick Shok to be my Should Win pick.
–Eveything Will Be Okay (Austria/Germany): dir. Patrick Vollrath – The film starts on a simple note. A man named Michael goes to see his daughter Lea for visitation. His ex-wife and new boyfriend don’t have a problem with that at all so we think it will just be a fun day of the two of them without incident. It starts on a fun note as he buys her a big Playmobil toy and promises to taker her to the fair afterwards. However things get a bit suspicious as the two go to a photo booth where he gets Lea to have a photo of her own and takes to a passport office for rush processing. Things get even fishier when Michael sells his car and they take a cab to the airport. Soon we get what’s going on. It’s a miracle the flight to Dubai was cancelled but they have a replacement flight the next morning. Despite Lea wanting to go home, Michael is insistent on taking her and for her to cooperate. It’s by the luck of Lea making a phone call to her mother overnight that they’re able to prevent an abduction from happening. But not without a struggle.
This is a film of a scenario that happens all too often. A broken marriage and children caught in the middle even to the point of them being abducted. This is something that happens all over the world. However the story is not just about the child caught in the middle but the parent who’s hurting and feels that the child is being taken away from him. The film leaves you wondering if Michael suffers from a mental illness or if he’s just a hurting person. It leaves you feeling that way of a lot of parents from failed marriages. Is that why they abduct their children? The film also leaves you relieved that the flight was cancelled and that Lea was able to make that phone call to her mother in the early morning. Not as many children are as lucky.
The best quality of the film is that it helps the audience live the moment. We don’t know what’s really happening at first but we soon get a better understanding of what’s happening as time goes on. Even as they go to the fair and ride the bumper cars, we still can’t take our mind off of what we suspect will happen. And as time moves on, what we suspect is exactly what’s happening. In addition that scene which we think is the end where the police, Lea’s mother and the hotel personnel try to stop the heist ends up being a scene where a new conflict begins. Michael still struggle to hang onto Lea. That’s another quality of the film where right where we think it’s all over, it’s not and a new struggle begins. On top of that the film’s story is shown without any musical score which adds to the intensity of the drama.
This is a film of a story of an incident that happens all too often in our world. The film’s best qualities are the story unfolding quietly as time unfolds and the unexpected twists in the drama.
-Stutterer (UK/Ireland): dirs. Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage – Greenwood, a twentysomething London male with a stutter finds life difficult. His stutter is so severe, it causes problems when calling customer service. He has a job as a typographer but his social life is limited to him with his father. Often he fakes himself as death to try and avoid conversation. His thoughts however are perfectly coherent.
Despite his social flaws and his speech problem, he has developed an online relationship with a woman named Ellie. That works excellently and they keep the relationship going for six months despite never meeting face to face. However the day comes when Ellie would like to meet Greenwood for the first time. He’s in a crisis of what to do and abandons her at first but agrees to do so the next day despite being nervous as hell. The ending will surprise you.
This is a charming story. It takes you into the person’s feelings as well as their insecurities. You learn of Greenwood’s stutter and of what he’s really thinking and easily see the barriers he has to face. You learn about Greenwood the person and hope that in the end he does win Ellie. The ending will delight you. Very clever short film.
–Day One (USA): dir. Henry Hughes – Feda is a young woman just hired by the U.S. Army to act as interpreter. She’s in her 30’s and admits to her colleague who also speaks Arabic that she’s never been married and has no children. Her operation on Day One involves dealing with an enemy bomb maker the army is about to arrest. The operation involves a lot more. It also involves bring his fatherless niece to safety. It also involves dealing with his wife who’s about to give birth.
As if trying to deliver the baby isn’t stressful enough, there’s the fact the baby’s hand is hanging out. The doctor tests for a pulse from the baby and assumes there isn’t one. Feda is given orders to cut the deceased baby’s limbs so that the mother doesn’t bleed to death. Even before Feda attempts the first cut, she notices the hand move. The baby’s alive. There is a sigh of relief but there’s the new stress of making sure the baby’s born right and the mother not bleeding to death. The film ends on a sad but hopeful note.
Just like Everything Will Be Okay, it captures the drama of the moment and allows the audience to capture the intensity as the events are slowly unfolding. The various twists and turns in the story also adds to the continuous drama. The happy ending we all hope for doesn’t happen but it does end with a moment of hope, especially for Feda.
In conclusion, I feel Shok should win the Oscar because of how it’s a story that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. It was creative and it told a story that will touch you deep down inside. I still remember hearing a couple of people in tears after Oki was shot. However I don’t know if the Academy will pick a short that’s all too serious. I think they might want to go for a story leading more to the humorous side. I think Ave Maria with its mix of humor and social awareness will take the Oscar. I think the Academy would prefer a film like that.
And there are my thoughts for this year’s five nominees in the category of Best Live Action Short Film. Winners to be decided on the big night. Also click here for my reviews of the animated shorts.
Okay I know I already wrote articles about athletes at the London Olympics from around the world and Canada that are worth watching. The thing is when it gets closer and closer to the Olympic Games, there become more and more that are worth keeping an eye on. Here in this article are another ten that I feel are worth keeping an eye on. So without further ado:
-Ryan Lochte/USA – Swimming: A lot of attention is focused on Michael Phelps ending his legendary Olympic career with a bang. However Ryan Lochte is one swimmer that could steal the show from Phelps. Like Phelps, he also qualified for four individual events. Unlink Phelps, he’s the one this time around with his face on more magazine covers than any Olympic athlete. Here in London, he will attempt to defend his 200m backstroke title and rival Phelps in both individual medley events. Actually Lochte has an advantage over Phelps as he holds the world record in the 200 and finished ahead of Phelps in the 400 at the Olympic Trials. Looks as though London may not only be the last hurrah for Phelps but also a possible changing of the guard with Lochte. It will all be decided in the London Aquatics Centre.
-Kosuke Kitajima/Japan – Swimming: There’s a lot of talk of Michael Phelps threepeating in four events. The thing is he may not become the first male swimmer to do so. That could be Japan’s breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima. Kitajima has already won both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events in both 2004 and 2008, making him one of only six swimmers to achieve a ‘double-double’ in swimming. 2011 was a difficult year for Kitajima as he only won a single bronze medal at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless this year has seen him return to his winning form as he has the world’s fastest time in both the 100 and 200. But don’t think another double here is going to be easy for him. The 200 will be his toughest challenge as he will face the rivalry of Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta and his teammate Ryo Tateishi who’s best time of the year is just .17 seconds behind Kitajima’s. Nevertheless Kitajima trying to be the first to achieve a ‘triple-double’ in swimming should prove to be exciting.
-Kenenisa Bekele/Ethiopia – Track and Field: This Olympics seems like to be one where a lot of events have a chance of a threepeat happening. Track and field also has the potential of some threepeats: Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell in the women’s 200m, Isinbaeva in women’s pole vault, Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen in men’s javelin and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele in the men’s 10000m. Bekele has had a stellar running career ever since he burst on the scene back in 2003. He holds the world records in both the 5000m and 10000m, has won a total of five World Championships and has won three Olympic gold and one silver. Beijing was especially stellar as he performed the 5000-10000 double. However 2011 was not a kind year for Bekele as he sat the year out with injuries. He has since regained his old form and has posted the third-fastest 10000 time in the world this year only less than a second behind the fastest. Will a threepeat happen here? Mark your calendars August 4th and tune in.
-Allyson Felix/USA – Track and Field: Allyson Felix is one of the best 200m runners ever but she’s still missing that Olympic gold in that event. She first burst onto the scene back at the 2004 when she won a silver medal in the 200 at the age of 18. She also set a world junior record upon winning that medal. The following year she won the 200m at the World Championships becoming the youngest sprinter ever to do so. She repeated as World Champion in the 200 in 2007. However she again won Olympic silver in 2008 finishing second again to Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown. She did however win a gold as part of the USA’s 4*400m relay. Nevertheless she’s still chasing down that elusive 200m gold here in London. Last year was a bit of a shock for her as it was the first World Championships since 2003 where she didn’t win the 200m, finishing 3rd. However she’s run the world’s fastest 200m time this year–4/10 of a second faster than the second-fastest–and she’s the heavy favorite to win that event. She also will compete in the 100m here in London where she actually finished in a tie for third at the Olympic trials with Jeneba Tarmoh. Although Felix was the one who got the birth, both will compete in the 4*100 relay. Nevertheless it’s the 200m that will be the big focus for her. Will her time finally have come? Her fate will be decided August 8th.
-Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor/USA – Beach Volleyball: It’s not just individual events where threepeats could happen here in London. There are some team events too. The beach volleyball duo of Walsh and May-Treanor could do just that. Both women started as indoor volleyball players. May-Treanor switched to beach volleyball in 1999 she teamed up with Holly McPeak and finished 5th at the 2000 Olympics. At those same games Walsh was part of the USA’s indoor volleyball team where the US finished 4th. Soon after Walsh switched to beach volleyball, was paired to May-Treanor, and the rest is history. Actually it started slow with a 9th place finish at the 2001 World Championships. Since then it was a legendary pair in the making with three world Championships and Olympic victories in 2004 and 2008. Since Beijing they’ve had their difficulties. They lost their competitive edge in 2009 losing early in tournaments and May-Treanor badly injured her Achilles tendon not by playing or training but as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars. 2011 saw the two return to competition where they finished second at the World Championships to Brazilian pair Larissa and Julianna. They’re confident they can win in London. Will they do it or will it be a changing of the guard? It will all be decided at the Horse Guards Palace.
TWO MORE CANADIANS:
-Karen Cockburn – Trampolining: The trampolining event for both men and women have only been contested at the past three Olympics and Karen Cockburn has won a medal in all three: bonze in 2000, silver in 2004 and silver again in 2008. In 2011 she had to deal with both injury and illness which left her out of major competitions. She would finish fourth at the Worlds that year. Nevertheless she looks strong for London and is a medal favorite once again. Also keep an eye on another Canadian, Rosie MacLennan, as she won a silver at last year’s Worlds. London could be another triumph for Karen or a passing of the torch to Rosie. August 4th’s the date to decide it.
-Clara Hughes – Cycling: There are two Canadians that will have two of the most illustrious sports careers of the whole team. One is equestrian rider Ian Millar competing in his record-setting tenth Olympics. The other is Clara Hughes, competing in her sixth Olympic Games. She has won a Canadian record total of six medals in both cycling and speed skating. Her Olympic success in cycling came at the 1996 Atlanta games winning two bronzes. Her last Olympic appearance in cycling was in 2000 as she retired years later to focus on speed skating where she has won four Olympic medals including a gold in the 5000m in 2006. She was also selected to be Canada’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics where she won her last speed skating medal, a bronze in the 5000m. Shortly after retiring from speed skating she made a return to cycling in November 2010. She will compete in the road race and the time trial. She is not favored in either event but both are events where even a non-favorite can be a winner. Whatever the results, it will make for another exciting moment for the 39 year-old’s exciting career.
TWO MORE FROM THE HOST COUNTRY:
-Paula Radcliffe – Marathon: Paula is one of the most respected British women in track and field competing here in London. However she is still searching for her first Olympic medal. Her first Olympic appearance was at the Atlanta Games in 1996 where she finished 5th in the 5000. She won her first World Championships medal in 1999 with a silver in the 10000. She would finish 4th in that event at the Sydney Games in 2000. After the 2000 Olympics she would have an incredible career in Marathon running winning both the London Marathon and the New York Marathon three times, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2002 and the World Championships Marathon in 2005. She also holds the world record in the marathon with her winning time at the 2003 London Marathon of 2:15:25. Olympic marathons have been bad luck for her as she competed in 2004 as the heavy favorite but dropped out because of injury. The injury also caused her to drop out of the 10000m. She competed in Beijing finishing 23rd in the marathon. Now 38, she has qualified for the Olympic marathon with a qualifying time at last year’s Berlin Marathon where she finished 3rd. This may be her last Olympics in an illustrious career. She has made mention that she’s trying to heal a foot injury. Win or lose, the whole nation will be behind her.
-Bradley Wiggins – Cycling: British cyclists have some of the biggest Olympic feats ever. Chris Hoy, who will be the flagbearer for Britain at the Opening Ceremonies, is one of two cyclists to win four golds. The other being Dutchwoman Leontien van Moorsel. Bradley Wiggins is the only other cyclist besides van Moorsel to win six Olympic medals. He’s also the second British athlete besides rower Steven Redgrave to win six Olympic medals. All of Wiggins’ previous medals have been in track cycling. Here in London he will compete in the two road events: the road race and the time trial. He has a lot of potential to set new medal-winning records there especially after he just won the Tour de France last week. A lot of excitement awaits. Oh, as for Hoy, he will be competing in one event: the team sprint.
AND ONE MORE TEAM:
-Great Britain Men’s Soccer Team: Interesting to know that FIFA recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as their own nations and can field their own ‘national’ team for events like the World Cup. The International Olympic Committee thinks otherwise and will only recognize Great Britain as a nation. Great Britain has qualified a soccer team in eight previous Olympic Games, winning gold in 1908 and 1912. The last time the British soccer team appeared at the Olympics was in 1960. With Great Britain hosting the 2012 Olympics, there was to be a British team in the soccer tournament as host nation. Even Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested in 2008 that a Great Britain team was ‘vital’. However the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations first refused feeling it might affect their status with FIFA. FIFA gave a May 2009 deadline to settle the row. The three dissenting associations said they would not participate in a unified UK team but would not prevent England form fielding a team under that banner. Jim Boyce, vice-president of FIFA and Englishman, steeped in and said non-English players have the legal right to be considered for Team GB. Anyways after years of association politicking, public opinion polls and words from politicians from all four countries, there is a Team GB in Olympic football. All but five of the players are English–the five that aren’t are Welsh– and they come from some of the UK’s best clubs like two from Manchester United, two from Tottenham Hotspur, two from Chelsea, one each from Arsenal and Liverpool, and three from Swansea City. Sports Illustrated predict them to win bronze. After all that politics, it’s time for them to play.
And there you have it. One last set of Olympians to watch in London. I wish I could tell you more how like Zara Phillips is following in the footsteps of her mother, Princess Anne, by competing in equestrian or Canadian canoer Mark Oldershaw who’s the fifth Oldershaw in three generations to paddle at the Olympics. However I better call it quits before I get the urge to write about any more Olympians to watch. In the meantime, let the seventeen days of drama, excitement and glory begin!