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Oscars 2019 Shorts Review: Animation, Live-Action and Documentary

Cinema

This year marked another year I was able to see the Oscar-nominated shorts in the Animation and Live-Action categories. This year was also the very first year I was able to see the nominated Documentary shorts. That’s my Oscar milestone for this year. Here are my reviews of the films:

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

Two films are set in Middle eastern countries. One is set in Central America. One is set in Belgium while one is set in New York City. Three are dramas from start to finish. One starts as a comedy, but ends in dramatic fashion. One is a comedy from start to finish. Here are my thoughts on the live-action shorts nominees:

Brotherhood: dirs. Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon – This is a story set in Tunisia. Two brothers are awaiting their older brother Aladinne to return from Syria. The father Muhamad appears to be looking forward to this. The brother returns. However he reveals Aladinne’s now married to a teenaged Syrian woman who is pregnant. The father is suspicious of Aladinne, fearing he may have joined ISIL in Syria. Muhamad makes a phone call Over time though, truths come out from both Aladinne to his other brothers over by the beach and to Muhamad though the wife. Including the truth about her pregnancy. The ending will leave one asking questions.

This is a relevant story as it is a situation that’s possibly happening in families in the Middle East now. It leads one thinking which brotherhood Aladinne is part of: his blood brothers or the ‘brotherhood’ of a terrorist group. It’s a story that gets one thinking. That’s why I predict it as my Will Win pick.

Nefta Football Club: dirs. Yves Piat and Damien Megherbi – The film begins with two men in the hills of Algeria who lost a donkey. It then leads into two brothers on a motor bike arguing over who the best footballer is. Then to a group of boys playing in a nearby football club. The boys get into an argument where the out-of-bounds is as there are no lines. The younger brother has to stop to urinate. After he’s finished, he notices the stray donkey who has earphones tuned into Saharan music. The older brother notices bags of cocaine with the donkey. The older brother decides to sell it but keep it secret. The two men are baffled. Especially one man who put the music onto Hadel instead of Adele. The older brother tries to sell it but something goes wrong. The ending will leave all surprised, and delighted.

This short was actually the last of the five that were shown. Knowing how the previous four had dark or tragic stories, you will expect something terrible or tragic to happen. You might even anticipate a social message out of this. I think those of us watching all needed some comic relief! It will make you glad this film is last in running order. End on a positive note.

The Neighbors’ Window: dir. Marshall Curry – Alli and Jacob are a middle-aged couple with two preschool-aged children and expecting a third soon. They live in a block of apartments in New York. They notice there is a young couple that moved into the apartment right across from them. Their window is a view to their apartment and they notice the two naked and making love. Did they forget to put up the drapes already? Three months pass. Alli gave birth to their third child. Jacob works from home and has a perfect view to watch the couple from the window as he works. That gets on Alli’s nerves. During Christmas, the Alli and Jacob have a family Christmas while that couple have a big party. Soon Alli becomes the voyeur. She notices the man has a bald head. Jacob thinks she shaved it. Soon it becomes evident he’s sick as he can be seen from his bed. Eventually Alli and the woman connect, but through unfortunate circumstances.

This is a film of a story where time elapses over eighteen months. It starts simply as a story of two voyeurs. Then it leads into a story of a couple who get reminded how much they miss their young-and-stupid days when they see those two having fun. The fun ends when sadder truths become obvious. I think the point of the story is to remind us of our own judgementality and even how prone we are to compare ourselves to others and making ourselves feel inferior without knowing the truth. It speaks volumes.

Saria: dirs. Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre – The film begins in an orphanage one day in March 2017 in Guatemala. The fifty-one girls are woken up by the leader. The leader acts as the teacher. Before classes Saria learns that her sister has fallen in love with a male from the orphanage named Appo. During class Saria says a comment of defiance. This angers the teacher so much, she commands her to the guard who has her raped and beaten. Ximena learns from Saria that she and Appo have a plan to escape and walk to the United States for freedom. The opportunity arises when the girls hold a protest over the dirty and unsafe conditions of the orphanage. During police action, Saria and Ximena make their escape with Appo. However it’s a hopeless cause as the police have then cornered by dogs. Appo decides to throw himself to the dogs for the girls’ safety. All the 51 girls are brought back into a single room with just mattresses and the woman guarding. Two girls plan an escape by using fire, but it fails as the guard ignores them all.

This is a story based on real events. There was a protest over the conditions of the orphanage on March 7, 2017 and there was a planned escape. The girls were locked in that room and there was an escape plan that involved fire. The guard, who was a female, ignored them all until after ten minutes. 41 girls died. There were only ten girls who survived and they exposed the story. It’s not meant to be a true story. Instead it gives the girls who were victims characters and personalities. It exposes a truth of what’s happening in Guatemala while also reminding us these orphan girls were girls with hopes and dreams. I like the humanistic approach to the story. That’s why I call it my Should Win pick.

A Sister: dir. Delphine Girard – The film begins inside a car. The man is driving and the woman appears to be a passenger making a phone call to her sister. The film then goes to the emergency call centre. A woman is picking p this very call. She sorts out the confusion. It’s evident the woman in the car is making an emergency call and disguising it to look like it’s a call to her sister. The woman on the other end tries to work with her and even poses as the sister when the man talks on the line. This sets up for a climactic, but positive, end.

This is a film that keeps the viewer in the moment. There’s what one knows at the start and then what one knows as time goes on. At the same time, it puts the viewer in the intensity of the situation. You know it’s an abduction but the last thing you want is the worst. Throughout the film it’s a case of scenes of the woman and the man in the car and the woman at emergency control. It’s a story that will get you interested once you fully understand it and then keep you in the intensity of the story until the end.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Interesting how not a single nominated short is 3D computerized animation. Even the computerized ones are 2D. The 3D ones are all stop-motion. All of them are unique in the stories they have to tell and the styles of animation they display.

Dcera (Daughter): dir. Daria Kashcheeva – The daughter watches her ailing father from his hospital bed. Suddenly a bird crashes through the window of the room. That still bird reminds her of the time she saw a dying bird and tried to get her father to resuscitate it. He was too busy cooking. She was in tears, but it inspired her to make a bird mask. She then remembers the time she was on a subway to a festival where she had to wear red makeup. She refuted and left the subway. He has the mask she made and decides to wear it. Then the film flashes to the present. He’s not in his bed. She then notices he slept with the mask she made. She goes to meet up with her father, who is being taken to surgery. Suddenly he becomes all better and the bird that crashed through is alive, just like that bird in her childhood.

I think the motif of birds can be interpreted in one of two ways: either the girl loves birds or she want to be free as a bird in her life pursuits. The story is told with marvelous artistry through stop motion on knit dolls and paper eyes. The animation style makes the artistry of the film and magnifies the beauty of the story.

Hair Love: dirs. Matthew Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver – A young African-American girl in an apartment wants to style her hair just like the woman in the YouTube video styles it. The man, a neighbor, however tries to style it differently. The girl leaves crying. It isn’t until he sees the drawing and learning that the woman in the instruction video is the girl’s mother that he agrees to do it that way. He watches and does her hair at the same time, and the result is perfection. Then he takes the girl to see her mother in the hospital, in a wheelchair, and bald from chemotherapy.

This is a story that starts as being entertaining during the first half. Then you see the human moments at the very end of the story. The story goes from fun to touching deep down inside with surprising results. This is definitely a heart-warmer for anyone. You have to be hard-hearted not to like it. It will touch anyone who has gone through cancer or knows someone close who is going through cancer. That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

Kitbull: dirs. Rosanna Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson – The film starts with a black stray kitten going throughout the neighborhood. He finds an area near a house full of boxes and wood blocks to make his own shelter. He also learns the owners own a big vicious dog and they keep him chained outside. The dog first wants to make food out of the kitten, but the kitten shows the dog he stands his ground and can fight vicious when provoked. Soon the kitten notices the dog is being abused by the owner. The kitten then sends the message to the dog that he can help him find a way out. Then the two plan their escape together. Soon the dog’s wounds heal and they find themselves adopted by an interracial couple.

This is a film from Pixar that was on the Disney+ channel. I find it surprising that Pixar created a 2D story! Usually they do 3D, but I still like it nevertheless. I’ve seen stories in animation before of how the cat and the dog go from enemies to the best of pals. This is unique as it tells that story with the theme of interracial relations. I admire how they do that in this story. It makes for a story that crosses from the humorous to the serious. However it still ends on a happy note, as we all hope it will.

Memorable: dirs. Bruno Collet and Jean-Francois le Corre – A painter gets into an argument with his wife, or so it appears. It turns out he has either dementia or Alzheimers and his wife has died. The conversations he has with his wife are in his mind. He still continues to paint, but it’s not easy to do. Then one day he decides to do a simple painting of simple unattached strokes. The strokes come alive and it’s in the shape of his wife. They even speak with her voice. It’s like she’s alive through the painting. The two share one dance together and it’s a dance full of color.

This is a dark story. However it’s told in touching form and even through a positive tone through the animation. This animation style is claymation and brush-stroke on glass. It’s like the story about the painting is trying to be like paintings themselves. It’s as much about the style in which the story is told as it is about the story. I make this my Should Win pick because this is the most unique and colorful of the nominees.

Sister: dir. Siqi Song – This is a story told by an adult male of how he experienced his baby sister: when she was born and when she was growing up. Boy did she have bratty behavior. Then you learn this is just a story of his. The sister he was supposed to have was aborted because of China’s One-Child policy. The story is just his story of how he fantasizes of what his baby sister would have been like. Somehow the film ends on a positive note.

Some would rush to dismiss this story as pro-life propaganda. I won’t state my stance but I don’t consider this propaganda. Keep in mind the sister was aborted because of China’s One-Child policy. The abortion was not the mother’s choice. The story is told in a unique way as it’s told through stop-motion animation and through knitted dolls. I have seen similar animation. At first I didn’t think an Oscar-nominated film could come through this style of animation, but it does here. I find it unique for the animator to tell a dark story with some humor into it. It’s worth admiring.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Some of you may ask why haven’t I seen the Documentary Shorts in past year? It’s hard to say. Money? Lack of interest? Time? Those were the most likely reasons. However I did have the time and money this year, and I made myself interested in them. So here are my thoughts of this year’s nominated documentary shorts:

In The Absence: dirs. Yi Seung-jun and Gary Byung-seok Kam – This is a story that focuses on the sinking of the Sewol ferry off the waters off the coast of South Korea on April 16, 2014. 304 people of the 476 on board perished. Most were high school students. The documentary shows a lot of film footage from the day of the accident which includes news footage, rescue footage and footage from passenger smartphones. The film includes hearing dialogue between the Coast Guard, the transportation office and President Park Geun-hye. The film also includes footage of the inquiry and of footage when the Sewol was raised out of the sea three years later.

This film is good in letting the moments of the accident tell the story as well as expose a lot of ugly truths that people already knew. The film showcases the root of the problem: negligence on many parts. It shows the negligence and lack of action of the coast guards, the negligence of the transportation board, the negligence of the captain who instructed passengers to stay in before he escaped, and the negligence of the government. There are some interviews with parents of fatalities, survivors, and volunteer divers who dove to bring bodies up. I liked how this film used a combined set of video, film and audio to expose the truth of the matter. It also proved insightful as I believe this is the first disaster I know of leading to the overthrow of a world leader. That’s why I pick it as my Should Win pick.

Learning To Skate In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl): dirs. Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva – The film shows girls in Kabul, Afghanistan who attend a school privately after boys leave the school. This is in an area of Afghanistan that is strongly against girls going to school. Not only do they go to school, they also learn skateboarding at a park called Skateistan. The film interviews the young girls about their family background, what they like about school and what their ambitions are. The film also interviews the teachers and instructors throughout the whole year.

This is an excellent documentary reminding us of the threats women in Afghanistan still face. However it also shows us the hope of a better tomorrow. The film shows the girls as they learn the five basics of skateboarding over time. It also shows how their skateboarding lessons aren’t simply for fun. They’re life skills along with their education for a better tomorrow. The film includes the interviews as well as footage of the girls at school and at their skateboarding lessons. The film also includes audio of news stories of bomb blasts in Kabul reminding us that they still face threats to their future. The film then ends with an image of hope. Overall an excellent short documentary, which is why I make it my Will Win pick.

Life Overtakes Me: dirs. John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson – This film is of a dark subject matter: Resignation Syndrome. It’s a coma-like psychological problem that mostly happens in children and is common in Sweden. The film shows three children who have suffered this syndrome for many months. All lay in bed most of the time and are fed by tubes and syringes. The film also shows how the families work to resuscitate the child out of the illness by giving them exercises and taking them out in the open. The film allows the parents to tell the stories of what led them to flee their countries. The film also includes doctors showing their insights into the problem.

This film is good at exposing a problem that exists in many countries but is rarely talked about. It presents the examples and even shows how the syndrome happens most when the parents are facing a distressful situation regarding their refugee status. The film shows the children and their families in one time setting and the follow-up many months later. Two of the children show progress in their recovery while the other shows that her sister is showing signs she will soon suffer from it too. The main child at the start is given a third filming where she’s seen fully recovered. The film also presents a puzzling situation of why Sweden is the country with the highest rate of of Resignation Syndrome. This is a very insightful informative film that ends with a ray of hope.

St. Louis Superman: dirs. Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan – The film opens with Bruce Franks Jr. talking with his son who’s about to turn five. The son was born on the same day African-American Michael Brown was shot to death by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri: a suburb of St. Louis. That event shapes Bruce into joining the St. Louis chapter of Black Lives Matter. That also made Bruce run as a State Representative and win. As Bruce is now a lawmaker and judges laws being passed in state congress, Bruce now has a new battle as he seeks to have passed laws labeling youth violence as a public epidemic and having Christopher Harris Day on June 7: the day in 1992 Christopher, his nine-year-old brother, was shot by someone using him as a human shield.

The film is a telling of Bruce’s life. It shows him as a congressman, a lawmaker, a rapper by night, an activist, a youth leader, and a family man. It showcases the many battles he goes through with getting his bill passed both by debate through the opposition and even other African-Americans who see him as a conformist to ‘the system.’ This film is also a ray of hope and a reminder at even in the days of Trump’s America where there appears to be a lot of ignorance and red tape, that efforts for the better can happen and that the marginalized can have a hope for a better future. Excellently done.

Walk Run Cha-Cha: dirs. Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt – The film begins with a Cha-Cha lesson taught in a dance hall in a Los Angeles neighborhood. The students are Asian and middle-aged and the teachers are Ukrainian emigres Maksym Kapitanchuka and Elena Krifuks. The film focuses on the couple Paul and Millie Cao. Paul and Millie first met each other in Vietnam back in the 1970’s. Communism took over and both had to leave for the United States, albeit six years apart. They’ve become successful professionals but have taken dance as a way to rediscover themselves. Maksym and Elena even work with them privately for a competition dance.

This is a story where we get to learn about a couple and their life experience about what brought them to the United States. We learn about their love back home, their loss of connection as both left Vietnam at different times, their families who also emigrated to the United States to their dance number. This film reminds us that for many, dance is more than just a hobby or an activity. It’s a chance for one to rediscover themselves. The film doesn’t end with the Caos in a competition. Instead it ends with their performance to a cover of We’ve Only Just Begun. Even though the two were reunited decades earlier, the film makes the dance performance look like the two are truly reunited at that moment. Not just a delight to watch, but insightful.

It’s interesting watching the documentary nominees for the first time. They all tell a lot in their limited time. Even for those that focus on a certain issue, it makes its point very well in that time. It even adds the human element to add to their point. Usually I’m skeptical to documentary films because all too often, it shows an issue through one side and one side only. You can thank Michael Moore for that suspicion of mine. However I was impressed with what I saw. It was hard to detect them as one-sided. They all made their point well.

And there you have it! Those are my reviews and predictions of the short films nominated at this year’s Academy Awards. It should be interesting to see the winners. Also it will be interesting to see how far these directors go in the future.

VIFF 2019 Review: In The Tall Grass

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In The Tall Grass is a thriller of people lost in a field of tall grass and come across something of the paranormal that’s terrifying to their existence.

With the VIFF comes the return of films in the Altered States category: of thrillers, horror and even the paranormal. My first chance came with the film In The Tall Grass. It was worth it.

The film starts with a pregnant Becky DeMuth and her brother Cal traveling to San Diego to find a way to give up her baby. They pass an old bowling alley and stop by a church. Just as they stop by, they hear the voice of a young boy crying for help. The voice is coming from a field of tall grass they’ve parked beside. They also hear the mother of the boy begging anyone to not come in. Becky and Cal are naturally curious and walk in top help the boy. It’s only a matter of time they find themselves lost and even risk getting stuck by the wet sticky mud. Even as they’re distant, they hear each other’s voices which is not really theirs, but mystically transmitted. They decide to leave, but they can’t and are stuck for the night.

During the night, Cal encounters Tobin, the lost boy, who is scared, bruised and holding a dead crow. Becky meets up with a man named Ross, who is very friendly and offers to lead her. Tobin reveals to cal that the field the grass does not move dead things and Becky will not make it out of the field alive. Tobin leads Cal to the centre of the field which consists of cut grass bordering a big mystical rock with hieroglyphics which Tobin tells Cal to touch. Before he does, Becky arrives, but is taken away by an unseen figure.

Travis, the father of Becky’s child, arrives in the same area of Becky and Cal. He notices the car parked by the church. He also notices the field of tall grass. He hears Tobin’s voice and is led into the field. Tobin leads Travis to Becky’s corpse. Travis breaks down, but loses sight of Tobin. At the same time, we see Tobin with his father Ross and mother Natalie at the church along with their dog Freddie. Possibly a reference of what happened earlier. Freddie runs into the field of tall grass and the three chase after him. It’s there where Travis hears Tobin’s voice and the three of the family are scattered around the field. Ross comes to the centre with the rock and touches it as night falls. Tobin is discovered by Becky and cal all all are confused by the timelines.

As the three are one group, Becky and Cal decide to leave and use Tobin to navigate a path back to the road on top of Cal’s shoulders. Becky receives an unknown phone call saying that Cal should quit hunting Travis.The grass soon appears to be entering Becky’s uterus and she becomes unconscious. Cal and Tobin come across Ross, who reunites with Tobin. Ross brings them to the rock but are startled when they see Natalie and she says she saw Becky’s corpse earlier. As they try to make their escape, Ross is chasing them all down and gives them the impression there’s no escape and they’re all under Ross’ control. Ross tells them all the rock shows them of what’s happening.

Becky, Cal, Travis and Tobin succeed in escaping the field into the abandoned bowling alley. As Cal and Travis make their way to the top, they discover the dog Freddie escaped via a hole. However a spat between Travis and Cal brew as Travis brings up he senses incestuous feelings between Cal and Becky. Cal throws Travis off the roof. That succeeds in alerting Ross to their location. Tobin, knowing how this alerted Ross to their whereabouts, runs back into the field. Becky and Cal try to escape together, but Becky won’t leave Travis alone in the field. After she runs off to find Travis, Cal is strangled by Ross. It’s evident anyone in the grass field is affected by a time loop. If anyone dies, there will be another of them alive. If anyone touches the rock, they get a sense of control and invincibility.

During the return to the grass, Becky admits she was going to give the baby up for adoption. Becky is soon captured by Ross who tries to sexually assault her, but she escapes. Grass creatures however emerge and grab a hold of her and carry her to the rock. There, the rock develops imagery that detail the baby will die and Becky will be tortured. Becky passes out in reaction. As she awakens, she is tricked by Ross who poses his voice as Cal. Travis meanwhile stumbles across Becky’s unconscious body. Ross then kills Travis and captures Tobin to get him to touch the rock. Becky stops him, but dies. Travis decides to touch the rock to get a better understanding of the grass.

The film ends with one last scene involving Becky, Cal, Tobin and Travis. It gives the impression that all know what is happening and the film ends with what should be.

This film is a film that is based off of a short story written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. We’ve had Stephen King adaptations before and often adapting a Stephen King story to the big screen is hit-or-miss. This is a very complex story. This involves six people who go into a field of grass with paranormal powers. It threatens their lives and creates another life for them. Then there’s the rock that gives whoever it touches a sense of invincibility and control and threatens others.

Overall this film is a maze and a puzzle. Trying to piece this puzzle together is a tricky thing. Trying to create this maze of confusion is also a tricky thing. Watching it, it’s easy to get thrilled by the paranormal and nervous for what will happen next. However in looking back, I felt there were some areas that didn’t make too much sense. Even when it becomes clear that Ross starts as the controlling one and then it becomes Travis, that seemed odd. Even how Ross was the controlling conniving one, that even seemed cheesy at times.

The film does however keep one intrigued in the paranormal elements. Depite its flaws in the script and storyline, it does succeed in grabbing a hold of your attention and keeping you intrigued in the story. The paranormal elements don’t come across as cheeseball as it adds to the thriller aspect of the film. Overall despite its flaws as a film, I feel this is a good story for fans of paranormal fiction. I just feel it could have been done better as a movie.

This story is a mixed bag for Vincenzo Natali. Yes, it’s confusing, but the paranormal will keep one intrigued from start to finish and it will keep one hoping for the best for the main characters. Laysla de Oliveira was very good as Becky. Isn’t it something how the first two VIFF films I saw starred Laysla? She captured the role well in both it’s comedic elements and it’s dramatic elements.

Avery Whitted was also good as Cal. Will Buie Jr. also did an excellent job as Tobin: the frightened boy in the middle of it all. His role was the best at keeping the horror/thriller aspect of the film and was the most no-nonsense performance of all. Patrick Wilson was hard to make sense of as Ross. He came across as a conniver, but I feel he lacked the sinister element. Harrison Gilbertson was good as Travis, but he appeared he could have done more.

In The Tall Grass is a Netflix thriller that works well to be shown on the big screen, if imperfectly. It may not make the most sense, but it does keep people thrilled and intrigued about what will happen next and how it will end.

VIFF 2018 Review: In The Shadows (Gali Guleiyan)

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Manoj Bhajpayee plays a secluded man who soon finds himself connecting with the outside world again in In The Shadows.

One of the first features I saw at the VIFF this year was the Indian film In The Shadows. I left with a lot of mixed feelings about it that I still have.

The film begins with Khuddoos: a storekeeper and a loner in Old Delhi. He is distant from other people but prefers getting whatever closeness he can from them through surveillance cameras he has put up through the neighborhood. His only friend Ganeshi visits him on a daily basis. One day, he catches something of his interest. Next door lives a family with a 14 year-old boy named Idris or ‘Idu.’ He lives with his family consisting of his mother Saira, currently expecting her third child, and his father Liakat who owns a butcher shop. Liakat expects Idu to help with the business and do deliveries. However he wants to spend time talking with his friend Ginny who is lucky to attend school. When Saira learns he didn’t do the delivery expected and saw Ginny, she gives him money for Liakat to cover it up. When Liakat comes home, he eventually learns the truth and reacts violently to Idu. Khuddoos hears it through the wall. He is shocked from what he hears.

Both try to move on from that incident. Liakat apologizes to Idu and says he won’t do it again, but Idu doesn’t believe it. Meanwhile Khudoos can’t get the incident out of his mind. He tells Ganeshi about it. He knows how lax the police are about dealing with cases of abused children, but he’s determined to help. Life continues on for the two. Idu spends more time with Ginny and tells of his dream of escaping his father. Khuddoos manages his shop and tries to do business as usual. However the incident doesn’t leave Khuddoos’ mind. He even misses meet up with Idu by a few second.

Then it happens. Saira needs to give birth and Idu and his younger brother are the only ones there. But Liakat isn’t there. Idu has to do all the work. The doctors arrive too late. The baby dies. Both the father and the mother take it hard. However Idu feels it’s Liakats fault and isn’t afraid to say it in his face. Liakat reacts violently to which Idu responds back with violence. That leads Liakat to become even more violent. Khuddoos hears it and tries getting the police after the situation. The police are too slow to respond.

Idu has had it. He wants to run away. He’s fully convinced his father’s a monster. He tells Ginny, but Ginny mentions that he will miss him. Meanwhile Khuddoos does what he normally does; goes to the same restaurant to eat and gets drunk. The manager tries to boot him out for good because of his constant drunkenness, but Khuddoos tries to state his case, that he is hungry. Khuddoos knows he has to leave his seclusion behind. Soon Idu makes a break for the train station to finally leave Liakat behind, but the father spots him at the station. Upon returning home, Liakat says neither he nor Saira will be out of his sight.

Enough is enough. On a quiet night, Idu sees Liakat asleep. Idu smothers him. As he does, Khuddoos breaks through the walls. Liakat is dead. And Khuddoos goes into the room. Witnessing a photo, he wipes the dust off and sees the image of the boy. The others come across Khuddoos’ cameras in his hideout.

The film is intended to be a psychological drama. It’s a case of a man who’s cut himself off from the world but slowly comes back in once a domestic disturbance happens. I get how writer/director is trying to draw a connection with a man in self-seclusion, but the overall film didn’t make too much sense. It may be because of my expectations. I was expecting Khuddoos and Idu to meet, that Khuddoos would be the one who rescues Idu from any further harm. I’m sure most were expecting the same result. Somehow I can’t see the point of Khuddoos not meeting face to face with the boy as the ending drama unfolds. I’m sure the director had his reasons for having the story that way– that the two never meet — but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Jain could’ve simply made two films, or left the story of Idu on its own.

Despite the story being confusing, I do give credit for Manoj Bajpayee for portraying a character with a lot of personal demons who’s trying to break free from his own personal exile. I also give high marks for Om Singh portraying a boy who wants to break free from his own prison which isn’t in his mind. It’s at home. Shahana Goswami was also very good at portraying the mother in between it all.

In The Shadows is a psychological thriller that attempts to tell a two-in-one story, but it doesn’t entirely make too much sense in the end.

VIFF 2015 Review: In Your Arms (I Dine Hænder)

In Your Arms is a Danish film that's about more than granting someone their wish to die.

In Your Arms is a Danish film that’s about more than granting someone their wish to die.

Let’s face it, films about euthanasia are rarely watchable. However Danish film In Your Arms (I Dine Hænder) succeeds in making a film that’s watchable and even entertaining and touching.

Niels is  a man with a debilitating illness. First it left his legs useless, then its making his arms more useless day by day, and Niels wants to die. Maria is a nurse at Niels’ hospital who longs for freedom, especially after the end of a troubling romance. Maria finds it very hard to be a nurse to Niels, one of her many patients. She finds him very stubborn and selfish, especially after he recently tried to slit his wrists.

Niels has a wish to die. He wants to be taken to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. His mother and brother don’t want it, feeling it’s just Niels being selfish again. Maria is reluctant at first but agrees to comply. She has decided to be the one to accompany Niels on his trip from Copenhagen to Switzerland which also consists of a stop in Hamburg, Germany.

After his family bids Niels good-bye, Niels and Maria board the train and it’s there that the two get to know more about each other, such as their likes and their personal lives. In Hamburg, Niels wants to be taken to places where he spent his younger years, especially the restaurants and bars.

During the time, he’s able to meet again with people from the past. Maria meets two key people. One is Niels ex-girlfriend from his ‘Hamburg Days.’ She learns he has a four year-old son. The other is the pub manager. He invites Maria to visit during the night. Maria agrees and it’s over at the pub that night it appears that Maria is able to live again. Unfortunately it comes at a price to Niels as she’s not there to help him first thing in the morning. Niels does not want his son to see him dying so she is able to make Niels watch his ex-girlfriend pick up his son so he can see him for the first and only time in his life.

During the trip, it appears as though the relation of Maria and Niels is growing. Often making one question it’s a friendship or even more. As Maria drives down the wide roads of Germany to the Swiss border, the two decide to take in the nature that they view. Maria even swims in the lake despite how snowy cold the day is. Then they finally reach Switzerland and visit the clinic where Niels wants to end his life. After receiving details of what the following day will entail, Maria spends one last night with Niels. The ending is somewhat predictable and melodramatic but done right.

I don’t think this film is trying to peddle the message of euthanasia, although it’s obvious the film maker has no qualms about it. As for me, I’ll save my view. However it appears the film is not about euthanasia. This looks like many film before it of a dying person spending their last days. Even still I believe it is to do about the relation between the two. At first, both Maria and Niels were polar opposites. He was an ailing patient in the care facility. She was a nurse who just happened to take care of him along with the others. The chances of the two being friends were slim to none but it was that trip that changed it. The film does question whether Niels did love Maria all along or if Maria did love Niels in any which way. The bond of friendship was obvious but was it more than that? I think the film maker wants to keep us guessing. Even despite whatever friendship occurred, Maria knew she still had to honor Niels’ wish even though it would hurt her dearly.

It’s not just about the two together but the two as individuals. Niels has had it with life. The disease has taken away all that he has to live for. Maria longs to live but her job and failures at relationships prevent her. It’s when the two join together on the trip that things become better for them. Niels is able to die content and Maria is able to discover her freedom within herself.

I will admit that this is a rather short film. Nevertheless this is a good melodrama that presents itself well. Samanou Acheche Sahlstrom has written and directed a good drama that centres on the characters both as individuals and as a pair. It’s the bond that occurs during the time of the trip that helps make the story. The acting from both Lisa Carlehed and Peter Palugborg made the story work as well as develop the necessary chemistry for the film. In Your Arms has won two awards at the Gothenburg Film Festival and was nominated for a producers award at the Hamburg Film Festival. Here at the VIFF, it made its North American debut.

In Your Arms may be short and may lack the qualities to make it a film of renown. What it achieves is honest sensitivity and a connection to the story and its main characters.

VIFF 2013 Review: A Field In England

Field In England

A Field In England is intended to be a historical drama/dark comedy. This makes for a unique and daring combination but does it work?

The story is set in the British Civil war of the 1600’s. Whitehead, an alchemist’s assistant, flees from his strict commander and meets a deserter from his own side and two other deserters from “the enemy’s” side. They all try to leave the war behind in search of an alehouse. Meanwhile they have a stew made with the mushrooms they found along the ground. Along the way they meet with an Irishman whom Whitehead had been sent to hunt down for stealing his master’s documents.

The Irishman however tries to get control over the group by letting them know of a treasure in the ground underneath. Whitehead is able to locate the area while the other three are digging or supervising. The exhaustion if digging takes its toll on the two diggers as they get into a fight and one is shot by the one supervising. After all the others run off, the one who did the supervising must now do the digging himself where he learns there’s nothing more than a skull. The Irishman then shoots him and then goes after Whitehead and the one surviving deserter. The two manage to escape and head back to the camp. However one of the deserters originally thought to be dead returns only to get embroiled in a shooting with the Irishman. After an ensuing shootout between the others, Whitehead is the one left standing and he buries the four. After burial, he returns to the hedgerow he originally deserted and finds the three soldiers still standing.

The thing about this movie is that it often appears clueless. All too often I’m sitting there in the theatre wondering what the point of the movie is or what the point of certain scenes were. Was his point about the British Civil War? Was his point about the warring factions: the Royalists and the Roundheads? Was it about the attitude the deserters shared? Was it to be experimental as noted by the many bizarre images? Was it another case of Ben Wheatley getting into his violence obsession? I was left very confused. The violence and even the alleged sodomy part really had me questioning. Even the special visual effects like the exploding sun and the strobe images had me wondering if Wheatley was trying to be experimental in his work.

I will admit that this is just my judgment from watching as I am unfamiliar with Ben Wheatley’s work. He has established a reputation in England with seven years of film making and video making under his belt. He is also primed and ready for the mainstream as he has already been slated to make an American-made film Freakshift and a sci-fi series for HBO in the future. Nevertheless I’ve been left assuming that A Field In England, which is directed by Wheatley and written by his wife Amy Jump, is an experimental picture for Wheatley. I saw nothing in the storyline involving any facts or factoids about the British Civil War and more of a focus on torture, violence and hallucinations. Even the language used in there didn’t sound like talk that would be used from the 17th Century but contemporary times.

The film has already received some acclaim. It has already won a Special Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and was a Crystal Globe nominee at that festival. It has also made its round of film festivals and has already been released on DVD.

A Field In England appears to be more of a trip of psychedelia and violence than historical documentation or historical fiction. The best I myself can classify this film is an experimental work.

Vancouver International Film Festival Turns 30

Back on Saturday, I started my volunteer work for the Vancouver International Film Festival. It is my fourth year volunteering. It’s great being part of an event that gathers a lot of media attention and helps promote filmmaking.

If you look back to the late 1970’s, you might remember there being film festivals like the Toronto Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival that garnered very little attention but were growing at the time. They were still below the ranks and renown of the more established film festivals in Europe like Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Since then, Sundance and Toronto have made a major impact on the film world with its releases and its promotion of films. The Vancouver International Film Festival started in 1982 and now ranks as one of the top film festivals in North America. It nevertheless does carry a bit of an identity crisis but does have a lot to offer.

Since the Vancouver International Film Festival, the VIFF, opened in 1982, it has grown to an annual attendance of 150,000 every year since 2003. The 2000’s saw the construction of a special theatre, the VanCity Theatre, and an adjacent office for the VIFF organizers. This year it features over 300 films from 59 countries. Quite a lot. Nevertheless many feel that the VIFF is sandwiched in the role of playing second-fiddle to the Toronto Film Fest. In fact one person frequently tells me that we always get the ‘leftovers’ from Toronto. It is true that we get a lot of films that have already had their show at Toronto, especially those that get a special presentation at the Visa screening room. Very rarely, if ever, does a big-name actor show up. At most, a big feature will only have a tech person in the audience at the VIFF. What’s also true is what the VIFF has to offer on its own. Firstly the VIFF has more Asians films than any film festival in North America. This year there are more than 100 from dozens of countries. The VIFF also features more Canadian films and works than any other film festival in Canada. Not even Toronto has as much. They’re too busy hyping up the Oscar contenders. The VIFF also features loads of documentaries. There are dozens this year too from a wide variety of topics. The VIFF also features a lot of short films and films for youth. The film festival is not simply a festival showing straight features but a wide variety of films from across the spectrum from shorts both animated and live action to at least four films longer than 4 hours. There’s also the possibility of Q&A sessions from directors and even actors.

The VIFF also has a lot of dealings going on. Some films will catch the eye of distributors and will work things out to have them shown to the big screen. Others, like documentaries, will be able to be shown on specialty television networks. Some will be promoted as videos or films for special groups or resource centers. Like last year I saw the Canadian film Two Indians Talking and the director said in the Q&A that she hopes for it to be put on DVD and shown in First Nations resource centers. Then there are those where the VIFF will be the furthest their film will get. That’s the nature of the beast in filmmaking and promoting. It’s always a case of chance and luck of how far it will go.

Another thing the VIFF did was that it had a special panel. With this being the 30th Year of the Festival, it had a look back to the early years of the Festival and also hosted a free forum about the future of film. I wasn’t there at the Forum but I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion. I myself believe the world of film faces a lot of challenges in the years and decades ahead. One is the future of creativity and taking film in new directions in what is essentially a bottom-line business. Film can allow for a lot of creative minds to express themselves but there’s this beast called ‘showbiz’ where the subject of movie marketability is inescapable. Whether creativity can be taken in new directions and possibly even change filmmaking, only time will tell. Another factor to take into consideration is the multitude of media sources one now has, including some that didn’t exist ten years ago. When the VIFF opened, film’s top rivals were television, VCR and the newly-created pay TV. Multiplexes were increasing but it was still possible for a single-screen cinema to hold its own. Today, we have digital cable with hundreds of channels at our fingertips. We have websites like Youtube and Netflix. We can watch a movie on our laptop or even on our cellphone. Multiplexes are now the mainstay for big screen cinemas and single screen cinemas nowadays have either succumbed, are now in the fight of their life, or have to have some backing from some film source or company. Some of you may already have read some of the current difficulties of running a cinema as noted in my Hollywood Theatre article. Just to give a heads up, there’s going to be a multiplex opening in the new shopping mall at the New Westtminster station: ten cinemas with a total of 1800 seats. A multiplex with samll per-screen theatres; another example of what’s happening with the movie business.  Don’t get me wrong. There will be a future for film–there’s no doubt in my mind– but it has a bumpy road ahead.

This year, there were some changes in the venues with the Festival. The Granville 7 still remains the biggest venue for showing films but the Visa Screening Room is no longer Cinema 7 on the top floor. Instead it’s the Vogue Theatre. The Park Theatre is not one of the alternative theatres this year. The VanCity and Pacific Cinematheque are still being used for the Festival. Last year, the Festival opened with the screening of a Canadian film–Barney’s Version— with promotion of Telefilm Canada. This year they open with Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, a film from Spain. Last year, they closed with the animated movie The Illusionist. This year, they close with the French film The Kid With A Bike.

In its thirtieth year, the Vancouver International Film Festival shows strong signs of growth. It may have a while before it joins the ranks of Sundance and Toronto but I’m sure it will continue to establish its own identity in the future. For more information about the Festival, go to the VIFF website.

Movie Review: In A Better World

In A Better World is the winner for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It is only the third of the five nominees I’ve seen: the others being Canada’s Incendies and Spain’s Biutiful. I finally had the chance to see In A Better World a while back. This film has a story line that really gets one thinking.

The film begins as a Danish boy named Christian reads a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. He appears calm and composed but his mother’s death troubles him. He and his father move from London to Denmark where he spends his spare time on the roof of his grandfather’s silo looking out. We then meet Anton, a Swedish doctor who lives in Denmark but spends most of his time working in a refugee camp in Sudan. The villagers, especially the children, regard him as a hero but home life is difficult as he is on the verge of a divorce and he doesn’t see his sons as often as he’d like.

Their paths cross as Anton drops his son Elias off to school. A group of bullies taunt Elias because of his awkward looks. As Christian interferes, he too is assaulted. As Elias is bullied again the next day, Christian assaults the bully with his bike pump and threatens him with a knife at his throat never to hurt him again. Anton hopes to teach the two boys about the wrongs of violence as he himself witnesses it in the refugee camp each day. He gets a chance as his son is fighting with another boy in a playground and the father of the other son hits Anton. From atop the silo, Christian is able to spot where the man who hit Anton works by his car. Anton takes the boys again to see him confront the man where he gets hit again. Anton wants the boys to see how violence fails but they don’t get his intended message.

Later Anton is called back to work in the refugee camp. He soon has to deal with tending to the wounded warlord despite villagers pleading for him not to help. It’s later after a female patient dies that the warlord coming asking for her body that Anton leads him out where he is met by villagers ready to lynch him. After coming across fireworks in the silo, Christian gets an idea to create a bomb to blow up Anton’s attacker’s van. Meanwhile Christian’s relationship with his father takes a turn for the worse as Christian lets out his frustrations about his mother’s death, including his father’s failed promise that his mother would get better. Elias tries to talk to his father via Skype about Christian’s plan but Anton is exhausted after a stressful day. Elias then agrees to Christian’s plan. They go out one Sunday when no one is to be around and set the bomb off under the van. As Elias notices joggers, he wards them off but the bomb explodes knocking him unconscious.

Anton comes rushing back to Denmark after learning Anton is unconscious and hospitalized. When Christian tries to visit Elias in the hospital, Elias’ mother tells him to leave and calls him a ‘brat’ and a ‘psychopathic killer.’ Christian runs off and goes to the top of the silo contemplating to jump, only to be stopped by Anton. He reconciles with his father and goes to visit Elias, relieved knowing that Elias is alive and recovering well. The movie ends as Anton returns back to Sudan and is greeted by the adoring children.

There are a lot of subjects in this film. One of which is about communication barriers between people. There’s the main protagonist Anton struggling with communicating to his wife while they’re on the verge of splitting up. Anton again struggling to be there for Elias while he’s thousands of miles away in Sudan. Anton struggling to be an idealist to the boys and show how weak violence is when the boys expect Anton to be a hero. Christian struggles to relate with his father just after his mother’s death. He also struggles with the personal troubles of himself. There’s also the subject of making hard decisions. Anton has a duty of being a doctor to the refugees while Elias faces problems of his own. Anton is faced with a hard decision of being a doctor to the wounded landlord while the people insist that he doesn’t help him. Overall Anton is trying to be the man of reason and he has his share of successes and failures. Elias makes a tough decision whether to rejects Christian’s plan to blow up his father’s enemy’s van or not. All of which deliver in the results in the choices they make, or fail to make.

This is another impressive script from Susanne Bier. Although I have not seen her past works, I know she has developed a reputation. She has produced many works in Sweden and Denmark and even has one American release: 2007’s Things We Lost in The Fire. This is her latest work. The script she co-wrote with Anders Thomas Jensen also touches base on another subject of the film. Before they wrote the script for the film, Bier and Jensen had a discussion about how Denmark is perceived as having a harmonious society. They then wanted to write a story where dramatic turns of events would disrupt the image of a place perceived as blissful. The film’s original title is Hævnen, which is Danish for ‘revenge’. This film is a stark reminder that it’s quite possible in countries like Denmark that appear to be harmonious and peaceful, violence can happen through the actions of a single instigator. The film does a good job of setting situations of violence, both in Denmark and Sudan, while capturing the perceived peacefulness of Denmark at the same time.

The acting in the film was also excellent. The lead actor, Mikael Persbrandt, was excellent in portraying a man trying to maintain peace and show rational thought in hugely stressful situations both on the job and at home. Young actor William Johnk Neilsen was excellent as the troubled Christian. Also excellent were the performances of Trine Dyrholm and Markus Rygaard. The film did a good job of not overdramatizing events and maintaining its themes along with the storytelling. The cinematography added to the storytelling of how acts of violence can happen in such a peaceful place like Denmark.

It’s hard to say if In A Better World deserved the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I’d hate to compare it against its rivals. Nevertheless it was a very good film in its own right. It keeps one thinking as they leave the theatre.