Tag Archives: Men

VIFF 2012 Review: The Disappeared

The Disappeared is a story about six men in two boats in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic and nothing else. To your surprise, it succeeds in being entertaining.

The film begins with the six men in two boats just waking up. They range from a young twentysomething like Little Dickie to an older man like Captain Gerald. They get up and they row along to shore together. It isn’t until later we learn that the men are in lifeboats having survived a shipwreck from their fishing boat hundreds of miles from shore. In fact one is badly injured in the arm. All six stick together and row together even tying a rope to each other’s boats. They survive with little food and whatever to drink. They have to rely on fishing and hunting skills for any extra food. Sometimes the weather is unpredictable and even dangerous. Any chances of hope are either missed, a mirage or less hopeful than expected.

Things change as the wounded man becomes sicker and then dies. They first leave him in the boat with the two others but eventually becomes just one boat with the five. There are moments of closeness between some but moments of friction too even as Merv becomes downright angry and has a miserable attitude. Eventually all come to terms with what has happened and what may be. They’re still willing to chance it back to coast but they all put their last thoughts in writings in a bottle. They still continue rowing despite all hope waning. The ending ends as it does with the men rowing and still missing. It leaves imagery unclear exactly what happened to the five men. I guess that was the point of the film: for the audience to draw their own conclusion.

I have to commend the filmmakers for succeeding in making an entertaining story taking place between one or two boats, six men and nothing else but the vast ocean. The story had a lot of elements in it: humor, tragedy, drama, tense moments, moments of hope, moments that define the human spirit, sea shanties of both fun and pain, basically a lot with what they present.  It was not an easy task to do, especially with it being 86 minutes in length, but it does.

I will have to admit that while watching it, I questioned the circumstances with modern thinking. Like would any of them have some sort of cellphone communication with help? Also since they’re in lifeboats, wouldn’t there be coast guard helicopters circling the ocean area looking for survivors? Yes, thoughts like those did cross my mind. Despite my modern thinking, I will admit it didn’t affect my feelings of how well played out the film was. I guess the point of the film was about human emotions during times of crises.

I have to commend writer/director Shandi Mitchell for succeeding in making a watchable entertaining film with such limits. Well done, especially since this is her first feature-length film: Yes, her! It’s also great to see a female director succeed in conveying the thoughts and emotions of Nova Scotia men on screen. She was as good at having Nova Scotia machismo down to a tee as she was at giving the male characters their own deep sensitive feelings. Great job. Also good were the acting efforts of all six men. It’s hard to say if there was one actor that stood out from the six. None of them looked like they were trying to steal the show, even though the most well-known was Billy Campbell. All of them did a very good effort in creating dimension and including character and emotion in their roles from the beginning to the end. The characters and their feelings could say a lot about us as they do about the six men. Another set of efforts worth commending.

I went to see The Disappeared on the second-last day of the VIFF. I was hoping to see a Canadian live-action feature during the festival and hadn’t yet. I’ve seen many Canadian documentaries and shorts programs but no live-action feature. This caught my attention in the VIFF programme not just for that reason but also because it was listed being from Nova Scotia. Great to see some of the smaller provinces making a contribution to Canada’s film industry this year and The Disappeared is an excellent work. It was filmed off the coast of Lunenberg and filed with financial assistance from Film Nova Scotia, TeleFilm Canada and The Movie Network/MovieCentral. It is now making its way in the Canadian film festival circuit. How much further it goes is yet to be determined.

The Disappeared accomplishes a lot with what little it has. It brings six characters in the same local into a story that’s entertaining and thought provoking. Excellent effort from all those involved.


My Top 10 Movies of 2011

A while back I remember one writer I’m subscribed to  posted their Top 10 list in may with the title ‘Better Late Than Never’. Now here I am three months later with mine. I’ll bet the reason for her list being published late is the same reason for mine. While the professional critics have the luxury of access to all the preview DVDs or special screenings before the year end. I have to wait until they’re released on the big screen or the DVD store to see them. I’m sure it’s probably the same reason for her too.

As for me being extra-late, I’m sure all my writing about Euro 2012 and the London Olympics can explain that. Yeah, I was so hyped up over those sporting events as well as the feedback and the record-setting hits I was getting from my articles about them, I forgot about my movie list. In fact I just watched the last DVDs of 2011 I had left to watch just yesterday. Believe me three DVDs in one day is no easy chore. Interestingly enough one of my articles about certain athletes to watch for the London Games is still getting hits even though the London Games ended two weeks ago.

Anyways it’s about time I created my Top 10 of last year, especially since some people are still hitting my Top 10’s of past years. So without further ado, here are my Top 10 Movies of last year along with five films worthy of Honorable Mention:


1) Hugo

2)The Descendants

3)The Artist


5)The Help

6)Midnight In Paris

7)A Separation


9)The Tree Of Life

10)Of Gods And Men



-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

-Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

-The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

-Super 8

March 2011: The Month Of Charlie Sheen

Recent meltdown in the public eye forces him to question his “Winning” ways.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a clue about all the notoriety Charlie Sheen has gone through this past month? If you do, they must live under a rock. Hard to believe that 2011 is only three months old and we already have the celebrity meltdown of the year with Charlie Sheen, who’srecent famous phrase is ‘Winning.”. The funniest thing about it is that it was waiting to happen and we all knew it!

Charlie Sheen has grown up his whole life in the Hollywood scene even when not acting. He was born Carlos Estevez in 1965 to actor Martin Sheen, whose real name is Ramon Estevez. Through Martin, he experienced the life of showbiz and of the Hollywood high life. He’s also noticed the taste of the lows with his father’s marital problems and struggles with alcohol abuse. Like Martin, Charlie has had his own acting success in both movies and television. Also like Martin, Charlie has had both the big highs and big lows of Hollywood life. However while Martin’s troubles have happened in a more private manner, Charlie’s problems have been more public. Way more public!

The first sign that Charlie was a born troublemaker was when he was expelled from his high school before graduating for bad grades and poor attendance. At 19, he became a father through his high school girlfriend. 1990 was a milestone year for him as he had his first trip to a rehab clinic, for alcohol abuse, and accidentally shot then-fiancée Kelly Preston in the arm. During the 90’s, he dated two porn stars, had two more trips to rehab, was arrested twice for assaulting his girlfriends, and admitted at the trial of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss to sleeping with many of her prostitutes. In the 2000’s, his bachelor pad was already the legendary butt of jokes. He married Denise Richards but she soon divorced him for substance abuse and threats of violence. His 2008 marriage to Brooke Mueller followed which produced twin children. The marriage ended in November 2010, less than a year after he was arrested for domestic abuse.

Then came the biggest events leading to the meltdown. By March 1st, Sheen was living with pornographic actress Bree Olson. His two sons from Brooke Mueller were removed from his custody. Mueller herself has a restraining order against Sheen. Sheen however declares he will fight for the children with his famous phrase “Winning.” On March 7th, Warner Bros. and CBS decided to terminate Charlie Sheen from Two And A Half Men, the hit sitcom he has starred in for seven years. A week before, Sheen was banned from entering the Warner Bros. production lot. Since the firing, Sheen declared his firing ‘illegal’, has vocally criticized Two And A Half Men creator Chuck Lorre openly and has even filed a $100 million lawsuit against Lorre and  Warner Bros. He also claims he was underpaid while he was already making $1.8 million per episode. Recent public feedback has a mostly negative impression of Charlie Sheen. Is he really ‘Winning’?

Isn’t it funny that in the past five years we have seen some of the most spectacular celebrity meltdowns? In 2006 there was Mel Gibson’s alcoholism bout most brought to light with a July DUI arrest that included an anti-Semitic outburst. 2007 brought about the jailing of Paris Hilton for driving while suspended, violent outbursts of Britney Spears while dealing with a heated custody battle, and the first substance-related arrests of many to come for Lindsay Lohan. Now it’s Charlie Sheen. Currently It’s unclear what his future, or the future of Two And A Half Men, hold. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled to TMZ, Perez Hilton, E! Online or even Charlie’s own Twitter page for the latest. Right now I can only say one thing for Charlie: Losing!


WIKIPEDIA: Charlie Sheen. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Sheen>

IMDB: Charlie Sheen: Biography. IMDB.com. 2011. Imdb.com Inc. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000221/bio>

Movie Review: Of Gods And Men

The French/Arabic-language film Of Gods And Men doesn’t have the type of subject matter that would normally bring in a large crowd. The film is about Cicstercian Monks living in a small village in Algeria facing threats from fundamentalist terrorist groups. Nevertheless those lucky enough to see it will love it for what it is.

This film is based on an incident that happened in 1996. Seven French monks from the Algerian village of Tibhirine were found decapitated. The film focuses on the days just before they were killed. They were a group of eight monks who lived in a monastery in Tibhirine. They devoted their lives to monk rituals of gardening, distributing medical help to locals and religious devotions. They were present at the village during times of celebration and they conversed with the villagers regularly. They all did this during a time of the Algerian Civil War. Religious extremists were committing acts of brutality amongst foreigners and their own people. The pressure was felt by the monks. Christian, the leader and resident religious scholar, tells authorities they will not go. However this is hotly debated with the other monks as some fear for their own safety. Christian then gives the men time to decide whether to leave or not. News gets grimmer by the moment. They even face potential threats of their own. Authorities of the Algerian government request they leave for their lives. The villagers however convince them of how vital they are to the community. In the end, as one brother pays a visit to the monastery, they all vote to stay. Late in the night, seven of the nine are found, captured and taken away. Those would be their last minutes known to be alive.

The film has many great qualities. Its best technical quality was the cinematography as it added to the film in showcasing the landscape in its best splendor. The film was well-directed and well-written by French director Xavier Beauvois. The script he co-wrote with Etienne Comar was excellent and very no-nonsense as it cut at the heart of the monks and the village they served. As important as it was to show the events that happened leading up to the times, the script’s biggest focus was on the monks and their lives. It was more about people than events. Even the scene of the last dinner with the music of Swan Lake in the background was done with the focus on the men. 

 The biggest strength of the movie is definitely the acting. Of all performances, the two that stood out were that of Christian the leader and Luc the doctor. Lambert Wilson’s performance of Christian was excellent and the most intense. Often he said more in his scenes of silence than he did with his spoken parts. Michael Lonsdale’s performance of Luc the Doctor was the best supporting performance. There wasn’t a hint of phoniness in it.

As for the monks as a whole, the most remarkable thing about the film is its ability to give three-dimensional portrayal of monk characters. The film not only showed them in their prayer life but also showed the devotion during their prayers. The film showed them in their occupations and how important they were to the village. The film showed their convictions and their beliefs. The film showed the bond between the men. Above all, it was alll done in a three-dimensional manner. This is very rare for a film to accomplish that feat. Even back during the days of the Hays Code–where one of the rules was that religious figures were to be depicted in a positive manner–religious figures were still two-dimensional at the most. Even the negative depictions of religious figures that came once the Hays Code was dropped in the 60’s as ‘censorship’ or ‘restrictive of creativity’–were also two dimensional and often too stockish. This film has to be the most realistic and inside-out portrayal of religious characters, in both character and their vocation, that I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Even 1997’s The Apostle doesn’t compare as Robert Duvall’s portrayal of a minister had more focus on his passion and personal demons than on his vocation.

Also vital is the ending of the film. It is not known who exactly killed the monks. An Islamic extremist group has claimed responsibility but recent documents from the French secret service claim that the Algerian army carried it out as a mistake during the rescue attempt. The film doesn’t pick one group at fault as the monks are captured in the dead of night with the darkness hiding their identity.

There may be some nervous in seeing this film, feeling it might try to ‘convert’ them to Catholicism. For the record, director Xavier Beauvois has not directed a religious film in the past. One thing we should note is that while the monks lived at the monastery, there’s no scene of them trying to convert any of the villagers from Islam. In fact Brother Christian was as knowledgeable about the Koran as he was about the Bible. When religion extremists threatened to shoot the brothers in one instance, Brother Christian quoted a passage from the Koran which caused the leader to drop his gun and order his followers to leave. I believe Beauvois wanted to show that for the monks, the faith was mightier than the sword. Also in the script was a scene where the monks talk about the difference between the Islamics and ‘Islamists’. This is good for a time when religion faces a lot of flack from religious dissenters. I believe that may have been another point from Beauvois that it’s important for one to recognize the believers from the ‘beliefists’.

This film has won a lot of accolades. It won the Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. The Grand Prix is second to the Palme d’Or as the most prestigious award at the Festival. Other nominations and awards have followed such as wins at France’s Cesar Awards, nominations at the European Film Awards, nominated for Best Film Not In The English Language at Britain’s BAFTA awards and was France’s official entry for the 2010 Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film was well received by critics here in North America and has a 91% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Although this is a movie that makes for excellent viewing for Catholic communities, it’s not completely 100% ‘safe’ for everyone. There is a few profanities utters, including one by a monk. There are also some scenes of violence. The most violence is the scene of soldiers being cut at the throat by the extremists. Most of the violence is only seen through news footage.

For writers and directors with religious values, this film offers a ray of hope for those who want to break into film making. It shows that a film showcasing religious values can not only be shown on the big screen but also be written and produced well. That has long been the dilemma ever since the Hays Code has been lifted. This was best summed up in a quote by Catholic scriptwriter/acting school director Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington: 

I realized coming (to Hollywood) that it’s not so much Hollywood is persecuting the Church as much as it was the Church was committing suicide in Hollywood. Big difference. So I basically wrote an article about it saying that Hollywood isn’t anti-Christian as so much as it’s anti-bad art, and we’re just giving it schlock.

She states a major hurdle here as all too often a lot of Christian writers have written a lot of scrpits viewed by Hollywood as sub-standard in skill while the more liberal writers seem to know how to write for the screen. It’s a hugely difficult task to write a film of positive values or strong faith for the general audience without crossing the line of being schmaltzy or manipulative. Of Gods And Men shows that it can be done and it’s just a matter of learning how to do things right.

If you’re fortunate enough to have it come to your city, I highly recommend you see Of Gods And Men. Even if you don’t buy the Catholic faith or want a movie with preachy religious themes, it’s a film worth watching. It’s as much about people and their devotion to their beliefs as it is about an incident that happened. Even with the tragic ending, it tells a lot about the human spirit that will stay with the viewer once they leave the theatre.