“You have to be careful of the stories you tell, and you have to watch out for the stories you are told.”-Thomas King
Inconvenient Indian is another documentary I saw at the VIFF. It was another documentary that had something to say.
The film begins with an Indigenous man wearing body makeup and a traditional headdress is on top of a horse in grassland just outside Toronto. He looks onto the buildings of the city. He is not happy. The story then goes to Thomas King in a vintage taxicab driven around downtown Toronto. The theme is the same in both scenes: stolen land. His driver wears a coyote headdress and occasionally glances at the camera. This is a scene that will return many times as the legend moves forward throughout the documentary. During its scenes, it will include King’s parable about a cunning coyote who envies a flock of ducks and plies them with promises, only to continuously ask for more.
We see King at his destination: a vintage cinema. King seats himself in the middle row alone, popcorn in hand. As King watches the screen diligently, many young Indigenous people also enter the theatre soon after. What they see on screen is beyond displeasing, but infuriating. They see past depictions of Indigenous people that are rude, mocking and insulting. They see Nanook Of The North, which was really a fake documentary where the Inuit played stereotypes. They see various scenes from old ‘Cowboys and Indians’ movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age where the Indigenous person is always seen as the bad guy to fight. The lines from the films are especially abhorrent to hear like ‘Indian on the warpath,’ or ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian!’
King reminds us: “History is a story we tell about the past.” We’re reminded that elements of popular culture are part of a war against the white powers that be in North America. It’s a battle that goes back centuries when people left the ‘old country’ to create settlements in the New World. They set up their settlements often by fighting Indigenous tribes through wars over their land. I don’t have to explain what happened to their land. One thing to note is that various types of Indigenous people’s ways of life died off. Some tribes of Indigenous peoples died completely. King even regards Indigenous artifacts in museums as, “voiceless objects from the past, unthreatening and without agency.”
Even if it’s not the wars and stolen land, it’s also about a National Government’s past attempts to suppress Indigenous peoples’ identities, languages, heritages and ways of life. The most infamous being the Residential School system. For those outside Canada who don’t know, the Residential School system was a Government-run system where Indigenous children were taken from their homes and brought to white-run schools where they were taught to speak English and live the way of white Canadians. The schools were run by religious clergy: mostly priests and nuns. The children who didn’t do away with the Indigenous language or traits, or found it hard to, were subject to physical and verbal abuse by the teachers. Many children suffered neglect over their well-being (including fatal neglect) and many were also victims of sexual abuse. I myself have come to see residential schools as a form of apartheid.
Problems still continue. The Indian Wars and Residential Schools are a thing of the past, but we’re now dealing with the aftermath. Today you’ll see in the news stories of Indigenous peoples try to battle police and politicians over developments or plans to be done on their land with their protest blockades. Residential Schools created an aftermath of people unable to parent well because they were taken from their homes. The countless abuse they suffered led many of them to alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and suicides. The last twenty years have brought the past of Residential Schools to the forefront of national discussion and efforts for reconciliation to be made. Present problems still continue with lack of clean drinking water and additional poverty on reserves, continued high crime rates and substance abuse rates, and a higher-than-average dropout rate in schools. The documentary reminds you of this.
The documentary also shows you something else. It shows you young Indigenous people in the arts who are taking their culture and the pasts of their people, and even their own pasts, and adapting it into their own artistic expressions. The artists in focus are a Metis cultural painter, a Cree artistic painter, an Innu filmmaker and documentarian, an Inuit filmmaker and VR creator, and a rap duo of various First Nations:
- Christi Belcourt – Metis artist who specializes in beadwork art and floral patterns. Her patterns carry on the traditions of the Metis and First Nations people, but they’re not all just to please eyes. Some of her art have political messages. She herself is the daughter of a Metis activist and has published some books on First Nations/Metis issues.
- Kent Monkman – A Cree painter who specializes in painting historical narrative from his point of view. In the film, he speaks his anger of how his people have been treated since European settlements and especially of the creation of Canada in 1867. The paintings in his 2017 exhibition, a response to the Canada 150 celebrations, resemble Baroque or Renaissance Era paintings, but they speak of his anger and wrath of the past history and of the mistrust he has towards today’s powers that be.
- Alethia Arnaquq-Baril – An Inuk filmmaker. Her films range from short animated films to feature-length documentaries to live-action storytelling. Her films speak volumes of the discrimination, struggles and hardships of the various Indigenous peoples. One of her films, The Grizzlies, played at the VIFF two years ago. Devoted to keeping tradition alive, the film shows her getting a traditional Inuk tattoo applied on her forehead.
- Nyla Innuksuk – Inuit Film maker and VR creator. Past films include short fiction like a hunter using traditional skills to survive and a short documentary with singer Susan Aglukark. VR work includes work on a VR series allowing the viewer to envision Indigenous life in the future with futuristic characters. The film shows her working on her first feature-length film: a sci-fi story of teen Inuit girls fighting off an alien invasion.
- A Tribe Called Red – A rap duo whose members are of the Mohawk and Cayuga nations. Rap has always had a reputation of being the voice of the voiceless and A Tribe Called Red use it to speak their voices. Their songs mix modern hip-hop and dance sounds with traditional Indigenous music and beats. Their songs also carry a political message. They themselves are also Indigenous activists who were part of the Canadian Pipeline and Railway Protests from February of this year.
The stories of the above artists and their works are mixed in with images of King’s tale of the coyote with the cab scenes, the images of the Indigenous man riding a horse into Toronto and an Inuit man hunting a seal and making use of everything from the seal he hunted including meat, blood, intestines and fur. A mix of screen narrative, storytelling and real life presented as one.
The final scene of the film shows the young adults and Thomas watching the Indigenous images created by Indigenous actors, directors and writers. They’re happy to an extent. The film then shifts to Indigenous issues and disputes that have happened in recent time. This represents the fight is still ongoing.
Thomas King wrote his narrative The Inconvenient Indian back in 2012. The film isn’t an exact adaptation of the book, but passages of what King says in the book are voiced over in the film. The book itself is an examination of North American history. King even presents the point of view as if Columbus didn’t discover America, America discovered Columbus. He also comes across an eyebrow-raising conclusion ‘White people want land.” Essentially the film reminds us that history seen from two different eyes will have two different points of views. Most white people have been taught the history of North America with the white Colonials looking like the good guys and the Indigenous looking like the savages. We’re reminded of that when we see the predominantly white crowd watch the re-enactment of the Battle Of Little Bighorn leading to Custer’s Last Stand. The film reminds you Indigenous people will see history from a very different outlook. That it’s really the white soldiers that are the savages.
The film does shed a lot of the negative moments of the past; moments many white people in North America still consider triumphs. The film shows how white North American’s and others still like to ‘toy around’ with Indigenous culture. We saw that almost a full year ago how the wealthy Park family in South Korea ‘toyed around’ with it in Parasite. However the film then shifts to Indigenous showing their side of the story and spreading their message through art. Seeing it leaves you convinced this is more than just Indigenous people creating their own art. It’s also them responding to the art and history told by white people in the past. Now they have the power to tell their stories. Now they can speak how they really feel. Now they can tell their version of history through their eyes. Now they can create characters that are a true example of their peoples. Now they can be empowered to create and manage their own media. Now they can create their own visions for the future.
You’re left convinced while watching the documentary that only Indigenous peoples can best create Indigenous stories and Indigenous characters. And understandably so. You watch all the insulting depictions of Indigenous peoples in past Hollywood movies and you’re reminded of this. Even getting an uncomfortable reminder you actually enjoyed seeing that. Even I was uncomfortably reminded of the days as a kid when I played ‘Cowboys And Indians.’ It’s no wonder Marlon Brando had Sacheen Littlefeather refuse the Oscar on his behalf back in 1973. When I think of how we no longer see ‘Cowboys And Indians’ movies anymore, I think Sacheen’s refusal has a lot to do with it. People won’t tolerate insulting or mocking depictions of their race anymore. They will be in the audience and they will let you know it if you dare try.
The film is unique that it blends the history of oppression and genocide with the mix of art created by the Indigenous peoples. A lot of feeling goes into what they create. It’s a lot of feeling that they have from what they’ve experienced in their own lives and what they’ve seen happen to their families and neighbors. The film also shows how art created by Indigenous people can lead to something better in the future for the people. You have the current generation of adults 20-50 who are reviving cultural heritages and languages past generations of their family were forbidden to have. You’ll have young people getting a positive image of Indigenous people instead of always seeing them vilified. The film is as much about hope as it is about outrage.
Top respect should go to Michelle Latimer with adapting King’s narrative and showcasing the various arts. Latimer herself is Metis/Algonquin. She mixed King’s narrative with the showcased arts and artists and the moments of history and infamy very well to create not just a documentary and an exhibition, but a vision for the future. Also I admire the National Film Board of Canada for contributing to this. Usually national film bords will only endorse films that only showcase the positive of their nation. NFB won’t shy away from a film that showcases the negative aspects of a nation, like racism. The film comes straight from the TIFF after winning the Best Canadian Feature Film Award and the Grolsch People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary.
In a year where racism is a hot topic, Inconvenient Indian is a documentary worth seeing. It shows what the powerful effect of a depiction of a race in entertainment media can do to a race. And how a race responds with their own art.
Some of you may be confused about the order of how I do each film of my Best Picture summary. It’s definitely not alphabetical. How I do it is in the order in which I saw the nominees. For example, I saw all the films in my first summary before Christmas. I saw La La Land on my father’s birthday, Fences the day after New Years, and Manchester By The Sea on the day of the Golden Globes. That explains why they’re the three films part of my next Best Picture summary.
LA LA LAND
We don’t see musicals on the big screen as often as we did back in the 60’s and 70’s. La La Land may not make the musical phenomenon come back but it is very entertaining.
We’re constantly reminded that bringing a musical to the big screen is a very tricky job. In the past 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of cases of musicals being put on the big screen– most of which are adaptations of Broadway musicals– and it’s always been a case of sink-or-swim. There have been those done successfully like Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Dreamgirls and Les Miserables. There have also been adaptations with bad results like Rent, Nine, The Phantom Of The Opera and Mamma Mia. It’s a very tricky job and it may explain why we don’t have musicals as frequent as in decades past.
Now try putting a fresh original musical on the big screen. That’s what writer/director Damien Chazelle does here in cooperation with composer Justin Hurwitz who was Chazelle’s Harvard classmate. The musical is a story we’re familiar with: boy meets girl, boy learns girl also has showbiz dreams, both boy and girl are supportive of each other’s dreams, boy and girl both have long bumpy roads to get to their successes, boy and girl both achieve their own successes but their love is put to the test. One could argue anyone could create a musical with that kind of premise. Whatever the situation, it would have to take a lot of hard work and a lot of brainstorming to make a very good musical out of this. In addition, it would have to have the right songs, the right singing moments and the right dancing moments to make it succeed.
Chazelle and Hurwitz succeed in pulling it off. The story is familiar but they deliver all the right moves in making the story and the songs of the musical work. It’s not just about making a common story work as a musical on screen but have it set in the modern times too. I’ll admit that opening in the movie where there’s a song-and-dance number on a jammed-up freeway was unexpected. It’s not just set in modern time but it also brings back a lot of the classic scenes of Hollywood; the Hollywood we’ve all come to know and love. I think that’s why La La Land comes off as a gem. Because it’s a reminder of the great musicals of the past and why we love them so much. It’s just that charm.
It’s not just up to Chazelle and Hurwitz to make this musical work but also the actors too. Both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone had to make things work as well both as individuals and both as the couple Mia and Sebastian. They had to tell their own stories of love and passion for their crafts and the heartbreak they had to endure to achieve their dreams. They both also had to play a couple with the right chemistry to work. They pull it off excellently both as a couple and in their own individual moments too. The supporting actors/singers/dancers also had their parts to play too and add to the zest of the musical. Their own participation also added to the movie. Sure some of the bigger supporting performances from John Legend, J.K. Simmons and Tom Everett Scott lacked range–I mean Mia and Sebastian were the dominant focus of the musical– but they did very well too. The film did a very good job in terms of the use of sets both set up and various Los Angeles locations. The film even scouted out some ‘old L. A.’ locations to add the charm. That was not an easy find, I’m sure.
And now onto the songs. My father who likes musicals believes having a memorable song is what makes a musical a masterpiece. I have to agree. I’ll say I agree with him that there is no single song in La La Land destined to be a memorable classic. True, ‘City Of Stars’ is getting a ton of awards but I don’t think it will be a classic 20 years from now. Actually my favorite songs were the opener ‘Another Day Of Sun’ and ‘Audition (Here’s To The Ones Who Dream).’
It’s funny. Years ago, I jokes the unique thing about my father is that he’s straight and he likes musicals. He was quick to remind me that back when he was dating my mother, musicals were the ideal date movie. My how times have changed. What defines a date movie has changed as much over the decade as ‘real man’ standards.
La La Land may not have what it takes to bring the musical phenomenon back to the big screen but it’s winning in it’s own right. Anytime soon I’m expecting a stage adaptation of this.
Fences is a play by August Wilson that won raves when it first came out in the 1980’s. Denzel Washington brings Fences to the big screen at long last and the end result is something wonderful.
Fences is unique as a stage play. It’s a story about Troy Maxson: an African-American man in 1950’s Pittsburgh who makes like he has it together but he doesn’t. He thinks he could have been the next Jackie Robinson but feels racism kept him from moving out of the Negro League. He wants to mould his son the way he feels right and wants him to be better than him but doesn’t sense how harsh he is. He wants to be seen as a loving husband to his wife Rose but secrets of his infidelity are about to unfold. He gets an opportunity as a driver of a garbage truck–the first ever for a black man in Pittsburgh– but is reminded of his weaknesses when he accidentally signs for his brother to be admitted into a mental hospital. He has his own feelings about what should be right such as how he feels it’s better to raise his son right than like him only to see it backfire. I’ve heard some writers say that every African-American male has some aspect of Troy Maxson in them. Some people say that Troy Maxson is the African-American everyman. Some can even say Troy Maxson is the black Willy Loman. Whatever the situation, it was the toast of the 1987 Tony Awards and definitely made a legend out of scriptwriter August Wilson.
Now Wilson had always dreamed of bringing Fences to the big screen. I know one of the things he insisted on was that it be directed by an African-American. That may or may not have been the biggest obstacle but it was never realized in Wilson’s lifetime; he died in 2005. Hope was revived in 2013 when Denzel Washington expressed interest in bringing it to the big screen and star as Troy Maxson. Washington played Maxson in a Broadway revival in 2010. He’s even had experience as a director with 2002’s Antwone Fisher and 2007’s The Great Debaters. The production was realized early in 2016 when Washington was joined by producer Scott Rudin who also produced the 2010 revival. Viola Davis who was also part of the revival as Rose Maxson soon joined in along with other actors from the revival like Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson. One thing was that Washington wanted to remain true to Wilson’s own adaptation in respect to his work.
Now adapting a play to the big screen is as much a tricky challenge as bringing a musical to the big screen. It’s a matter of choices of what to include and what to keep as is. Theatre and film are two different formats of medium. Film scenes are numerous and can be set in an unlimited number of places in various amounts of time. Theatre scenes are often few, often quite lengthy, set in a limited number of places, and often consists of ‘moments of monologues.’ There’s even that 20-minute final scene in Fences where the family is getting ready for Troy’s funeral. Rarely in film do you have a scene after the death of the protagonist that’s even five minutes long. It’s a matter of making the adaptation work on the big screen. It’s also about what choices to add to the film adaptation and if they work. It was about choosing to add the scene of Troy and Jim Bono on the back of the garbage truck at the start. It was about including the scene without dialogue of Troy and Gabriel in the mental hospital. It was about keeping Alberta the mistress from being seen in the film in any which way.
Then there’s the acting. Of course it’s beneficial for most of the actors to have previous experience with the roles. However, it’s a known fact that stage acting and film acting have their differences. The biggest difference for film is that the audience expects a 100% believable performance, especially since it will be witnessed on a screen five-stories tall.
Overall I feel that Denzel Washington as a director/producer did a good job in adapting the play to the screen. It may not have the fast brief dialogues you get in your typical big screen fare but it was still done well and with the same truthfulness. The choices of what to add to the big screen adaptation were good choices, if not perfect. Denzel as an actor was definitely phenomenal in embodying the role of Troy in all of his triumphs and struggles. You could feel the pride and demons Troy was struggling with. Just as excellent is Viola Davis as Rose. The role of Rose was also a strong challenging role: a wife who appears happy and loving on the outside only to suddenly let out her hurt and inner wrath towards Troy and somehow come to peace with him upon his death. She does an excellent job of finally exposing Rose’s inner hurt and inner personal strength at the right times and even ending with believable delivery. The acting of the whole ensemble was very much there and as excellent as it can get. Of all the supporting performances, the one that stood out most was Stephen Henderson whose performance as Jim Bono came across as a common man at first but would soon come off as the man with a lot of wisdom and was able to see the good in Troy even while his terrible misdoings were being exposed. The ‘newcomers’ Jovan Adepo and Saniyya Sidney were also very good in their roles. Jovan especially did well as the son struggling to relate to Troy.
Fences is a triumph of a twelve year-old dream coming true. August Wilson dreamed it. Denzel achieved it. The end result is a masterpiece.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Manchester By The Sea is a film that has been loaded with Oscar buzz ever since it made its debut at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s easy to see why all the buzz.
The film presents a hurting person and showcases all the things that led to his hurt. It shows why he had to leave the town he always had as his home and why returning can’t be done. It shows why Lee Chandler comes across as a jerk in the present when he wasn’t like that at all years ago. The film is also about the relationship of Lee and Patrick. Rarely do we see a film about an uncle-nephew relationship. You think the relationship is something all of a sudden at first forced by something in his brother’s estate but it was always there even when the two were apart.
The film also presents a situation where healing or leaving the past behind is next-to-impossible. I’ve always believed people need to heal. It’s not right to hurt. I still believe it. However I can easily see how healing is very hard. You can see why it’s extremely hard for Lee to heal, especially upon returning to Manchester By The Sea, Massachusetts. His negligence that one night is why all three of his children were killed in that fire. The divorce from his wife Randi was bitter and she gave him hurtful words in the process. The town has not forgiven him for what he did: his name is still mud. Even moving to a suburb of Boston has not ended his hurt as he’s rude during his job and starts bar fights over the simplest thing.
The film does showcase Lee’s attempt to assimilate into the town and try to become the guardian to Patrick he hopes to be. The story does not water down as it exposes Lee’s failings. It also exposes how complicated the situation is as Patrick’s mother is a recovering alcoholic and still under strict control by her husband. It also shows how hard it is for Lee to forgive himself. Even as Randi says she’s forgiven him, Lee still can’t heal.
The story does not water down the situation or try to aim for the type of happier ending you’d get in a film like Arrival. The story does not end the way you hope it does. Nevertheless it does end with a ray of hope. Patrick is the closest relative to Lee. His parents and brother are gone and his other brother lives with his own family in Minnesota. Patrick is the one person in Manchester By The Sea outside of family friend George who doesn’t see Lee as this terrible person or rubs into Lee the tragedy he caused.
The film was not just about Lee trying to heal for Patrick but about Patrick too. Patrick is a teen with a lot of common ‘teenage make jerk’ traits like starting fights in hockey and cheating on girls but you know he has a naïve, innocent and even sensitive side and it comes out in his relationship with Lee that starts uneasy at first. Patrick still wants to live a normal teenage life by dating around, playing with his band, and talking about Star Trek with his friends, but you know he has feelings of hurt and frustration on the inside and you know they’ll come out eventually. For all the teenage jerk traits Patrick has, his respect for Lee is his best quality. Patrick could have easily come across as a rebellious teen and gone as far as calling Lee a ‘child killer’ but he doesn’t. Possibly it’s being Joe’s son that may be why Patrick is the person most forgiving to Lee now that Joe is gone. Joe was the one person willing to help Lee live life again after the tragedy and Patrick accompanied Lee and Joe during that time. You can see how Patrick adopted his father’s sensitivity to Lee.
The story of this film is definitely not a crowd-winner. You can understand why a film like this would rely on the Film Festival circuit to get its exposure and its chances of making it to the box office. Nevertheless it is an excellent story about loss, grief, hurt and an attempt at healing. The film fest circuit was the best way for a story like this to get a box office release. It’s good because it is a story worth seeing.
Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan delivers an excellent original story. Lonergan has few works writing and/or directing to his credit but they have a lot of merit: like Analyze This, You Can Count On Me and The Gangs Of New York. This is his best work to date. He delivers a story that’s honest and even brutal at times and doesn’t water down but doesn’t try to rip at your heartstrings too often. He also gives characters that are three-dimensional and will remind you of people or situations you may know about.
Actor Casey Affleck fit the role of Lee excellently. He captured Lee’s inner demons excellently and played them very truthfully. He was able to make you hate Lee at first but come to understand him later, even feel for him, and make you want the best to work out for Lee in the end. Also excellent was Lucas Hedges. Hedges’ role of Patrick grows in its complexity over time and he does an excellent job of it. The two together had to have the right chemistry to make an uncle-nephew relationship like this work and they had it.
The only other significant supporting role in the film is Michelle Williams as Randi. The various scenes as the typical wife before the tragedy to being the remarried ex-wife who healed better than Lee and wants to make peace with him is also a complex role too and she does an excellent job of it too. Actually the whole cast did an excellent job of acting and they delivered one of the best ensemble performances of the year. It’s not just the basics that made this film great. There’s also the cinematography from Jody Lee Lipes where she’s able to get some of the most picturesque shots of the east coast. There’s the editing of the story shifting from the present to the past back to the present on a constant basis at the right times. There’s the inclusion of dialogue at the right moments and even moments of dialogue muted at the right times where you just know what they’re saying. The muted parts work to the story’s advantage. There’s also the arrangement of music–original, classical and choral– that add to the story.
Manchester By The Sea may come across as a film that’s unwatchable if you take its premise at face value. In the end, it turns out to be a great story that’s worth seeing.
And there you go. That’s the second of my review of the nominees. One’s an original musical, one’s an original story and one’s an adaptation of a renowned stage play. All three make it obvious why they were nominated for Best Picture as all three have what it takes to be among the Top 10 films of the year.
Final Best Picture summary is expected to be up by Tuesday.
Sure, Furious Seven is another sequel. However it is one that has been anticipated hotly. Particularly of a star’s death. Nevertheless does it hold up as a movie?
I admit that the only previous Fast and The Furious movie I’ve seen was the very first one. I can’t really judge it against the ones I haven’t seen. What I can say is that it is for the most part a very cliched movie. There were some notable moments that made the story unique with some cred like Dominic’s love to Letty and Brian’s struggle of being a family man while simultaneously being part of the ‘mission.’ However it had the typical thick action you’d come to expect from an action movie. The plot is nothing you haven’t seen before. It also includes scenes where you’d feel it’s too over-the-top. It’s especially notable when you see Dwayne Johnson come on from out of the hospital with his machine gun. You can see the Mr. Heavy Testosterone acting there. Even the comedic parts from Roman looked too ridiculous and question if it was too over-the-top for this movie. Many times I asked myself during his ‘song and dance’ at the Dubai party “Is this really necessary?”
Despite all this, there are some relevant qualities to the movie. Vin Diesel did well as Dominic. Actually he made the role of Dominic in the franchise. I was better at stomaching him than Dwayne Johnson as he was better at playing a macho character that doesn’t come across as Mr. Testosterone. Michelle Rodriguez was also impressive as Letty as her acting wasn’t as showy or over-the-top. And Ludacris as Tej knew how to keep Tyrese Gibson from unnecessarily stealing the show. And Paul Walker, whom I will focus on later in this review, did a respectable job as Brian.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve only seen the first of the series. The first Furious movie was a good adrenaline rush, especially for those who like to street-race, but had a formula too similar to what you’d find in popcorn movies. I remember turning 2 Fast 2 Furious down because Vin Diesel wasn’t in it. Being a person who’s only seen the first and the last, I have to say the films other biggest quality is showing how far this film series has come. When The Fast And The Furious started, it started as street racers who would find themselves involved in fighting criminal activity Most of which are at high speed. The film ended with a street race. Six sequels later, the street-racing days are over but the fighting crime has continued and even progressed to the point of the type of action you’d come to expect in superhero movies. High speed action scenes continue to occur but this will surprise anyone who has only seen the first Furious movie. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I usually pass on Hollywood sequels because for all intents and purposes, I consider most Hollywood sequels the actors, directors and producers masturbating for two hours. This sequel was common to expect from a Hollywood sequel but it did have some positive traits. Showing how far this franchise has come since the first is one of them. When I saw the first, I didn’t expect it to grow this big.
Finally I’ll focus on the memorializing of Paul Walker in the film. It’s no question that the Fast and The Furious series was what made Paul Walker. Sure, he had experience as a child actor in TV and movie bit parts, sure he had a major role in the renowned Flags Of Our Fathers, but it is his role as Brian O’Conner in the Fast and The Furious franchise that he will most be remembered for. Of course the first movie was a product featuring Vin Diesel and hoping to propel his stardom further. Even though it did, it also made a star out of the supporting player: Paul Walker. It was the breakthrough Paul had hoped for. Otherwise his movie career’s peak would have been the Disney Schmalzfest Meet The Deedles. Paul would go to star in all but one of the Fast And The Furious movies. It seems like a bizarrely tragic irony that Paul’s death at the age of 40 came as he was street racing along with his friend and crashed his car at a high speed. The death could even add to the stigma of Paul Walker being Brian O’Conner. So it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that Furious 7 opened huge, albeit a bigger-than-expected $140 million on opening weekend. That set a record for biggest opening weekend for an April release.
As for this movie being a fitting ‘last hurrah’ for Paul Walker, his acting was fine. Nothing spectacular but nothing out of what you’d expect for the role of Brian O’Conner. The ending first seems like a good tribute to Paul and a nice final salute to him. However it would not be too long until the secret was given out that Paul’s look-alike brother was used to film the final screen and that his face was computer enhanced to look more like Paul. Knowing that will make the final tribute to Paul very questionable. Even seen as tacky. It’s also a question whether this movie was intended to be Paul’s last Furious movie right from the start. Right into the plot Paul talks about the challenges of putting his past behind and moving onto family life. That could be a hint this may have been intended to be his last movie. Even the ending of the beach scene will make one wonder if it was planned before his death or after. Something to think about, especially as they’re in the works of making Furious 8.
Furious 7 is your typical Hollywood sequel continuing and building on the formula made popular. It also tries to be a good farewell to Paul Walker. Despite it being off in a lot of areas and leaves Paul’s farewell questionable, it does have some positive qualities and succeeds in entertaining its core audience and pleasing fans of the franchise.
Even though I’m excited about the summer fare in movies, I’m also interested in what the independent movies have to show. Blood Pressure is one. Shown at the VIFF Theatre in Vancouver, it’s Canadian-shot, Canadian-produced and Canadian-made. But is it one film for those who want to get off the beaten path?
The film begins with the reading of a letter addressed from ‘a friend.’ It’s to a woman named Nicole. The letter from this ‘friend’ appears to be one who knows a lot about her. The ‘friend’ knows she’s a pharmacist and married mother of two living in a Toronto suburb. The ‘friend’ even knows where she graduated from. The friend also knows she’s not too happy with her job and her family life. You’ll soon see the friend is right. She’s not happy with her marriage or her job at a pharmacy. The one person she can confide to is retiring from the pharmacy.
Interestingly the ‘friend’ knows what to give Nicole as this ‘friend’ gives her a card for a complimentary massage and a manicure. The friend even knows of her wishes as just days after talking to her husband about a vacation to Mexico, she follows a set of lights to a chair with a plane ticket to Mexico. And the friend gives her shooting range sessions and martial arts classes. The ‘friend’ then asks of her to do things to prove her loyalty such as set up a flyer in the mail a certain way. Then the requests get bigger as the ‘friend’ asks her to observe a young man with a cane in a cafe at a certain time. Then the requests become even more voyeuristic as the ‘friend’ asks Nicole to observe the man while talking on the phone without being noticed. It didn’t work and the friend asks her to view the man in his bed at a certain time and be very observant.
However this fixation of these letters starts to bear down on Nicole’s life. The shooting sessions and martial arts classes work for her and even improve her relationship with her daughter. However it’s leading to difficulties in her marriage and even disputes with her boss on the job. Then the moment when she can finally find out who the friend is: a request to give the man an envelope at the cafe. It’s there she finds out that he’s the friend but it’s at his hotel suite she finds out why. At the suite she learns of this man, Darryl Saunders, and of his debilitating physical handicap. He is impressed with her loyalty to him and gives her one last request: kill him.
Nicole doesn’t know how to take this request. She tried looking up his medical information only to learn of a Daria Saunders instead, who is Darryl’s deceased wife. Meanwhile she develops feelings for the man and has simultaneously won over the attraction of her pharmacy boss. This even has her husband suspecting an affair. This all leads to a surprise decision from Nicole which leads to finding out another surprising truth about Darryl. The end result is one that will surprise you and the movie ends on a note that can leave the audience deciding for themselves how it all ends.
This film is a very good example of a creative idea paying off. It all started with an idea from scriptwriter Bill Fugler from an idea while talking with writing friends at a café bookstore. Co-writer and director Sean Garrity added narrative elements to bring the story to the big screen. It was originally to be filmed in Winnipeg when a sudden career change with his wife led to shoot it in suburban Toronto: Richmond Hill to be exact. Jonas Chernick was cast to be Darryl. Michelle Giroux, a friend of Jonas Chernick, was a stage actor and originally only read with the male actors during pre-production. Garrity was so impressed by her reading, she was cast as the lead. It was an excellent choice as Giroux owned the film. She was given a very complex lead role that spoke volumes even when she wasn’t speaking at all and she delivered excellently. Jonas was also good as the hurting Darryl as was Jonah Katz as the struggling husband. Tatiana Maslany did an excellent job of portraying a teenage daughter despite being much older.
After seeing Before Midnight, I was tempted to think that Blood Pressure was about reaching middle age in today’s world and the emotions that run through people. Even though Nicole possessed a lot of feelings and frustrations one would have at middle age, it’s not what this movie’s about. It’s more of a psychological thriller that uses human emotions to keep the audience thrilled instead of special effects.
One thing unique about Blood Pressure is its surprise success. The film made its big screen debut at the Busan Film Festival. It was screened in Garrity’s home city of Winnipeg in February 2013 to sold out shows at Cinematheque cinema which led to a screening at the Grant Park Cinema weeks later. The film would soon have popular screenings in Toronto in March. Its success in Toronto and Winnipeg has led to other screening nationwide including Calgary screenings and a Vancouver debut on June 29th. I actually thought something like this would make its Vancouver debut at the VIFF. looks like its buzz made it happen faster.
Blood Pressure is a surprise for the summer but not on a large scale. Those interested in Canadian film will like this. This is an excellent triumph for Manitoba filmmakers.
My Week With Marilyn is an adventurous comedy of a young man assisting on the set of a Marilyn Monroe movie. What we get is an interestingly adenturous story and a lot more.
Before Colin Clark became a successful British documentarian, he was dazzled by the movies and movie stars, including Marilyn. That didn’t rest well with his upper class family who felt that the movie business wouldn’t get him anywhere. Then in 1956, he hears the news that Marilyn Monroe is coming to England to film The Prince And The Showgirl. How could he turn down an opportunity to work on the set of a film like that?
Once he arrives on the set, Laurence Olivier arrives, Vivien Leigh arrives, Sybil Thorndike arrives and Marilyn arrives with her acting coach Paula Strasberg and husband Arthur Miller. Working with Marilyn is not easy as she often misses her cues and easily loses her confidence in believing she can do a good job. The other actors like Olivier, Leigh and Thorndike find her difficult to work with. The pressure is soon adding up on Marilyn, both physically and emotionally. In the meantime, Colin is winning the attractions of young costume girl Lucy.
Arthur Miller then leaves England for a short while. Marilyn decides to take a break from the pressures of filmmaking and movie stardom and finds her escape through having Colin escort her. Colin takes her around the countryside, around Eton College where he was educated in, just about everywhere every day. During the time, Marilyn develops an attraction to the young Clark and the two have a short affair. During the time, Clark learns that Marilyn is a hurting woman: burdened by a difficult childhood and often feeling like a failure as an actress. This goes on for the week. During the whole escapade, he forgets about his date with Lucy. The filming end after a week and Marilyn leaves England for Hollywood. Colin is left with an experience he’ll never forget.
The unique thing about this movie is that it’s not just a young man’s adventure with Marilyn Monroe but also an intimate look at a screen legend who epitomizes the beauty and charm of Hollywood but also epitomizes Hollywood tragedy. Marilyn was made into a beauty that excelled in Hollywood. Nevertheless she always wanted to be taken seriously for her talent. She relied on her coaching from Lee and Paula Strasberg and often felt like a failure. Interesting bit of trivia is that Marilyn is the biggest Hollywood star never to be nominated for an Oscar. Never! As a person, she had problems getting over her difficult past out being raised unloved by her mother. It would be an ordeal she’d go through throughout her whole life. She would eventually take her own life six years later.
The funny thing about the movie is that it wasn’t just about the empty feeling of Marilyn but also the empty feeling of actors in general. During Colin’s time on the set, he also dealt with Sir Laurence Olivier: an actor beloved for his mastery of great roles. He was the accomplished actor while Marilyn was the popular star. Nevertheless he too felt an emptiness of his own. He wanted the movie star acclaim that Marilyn had. That should surprise just about everybody. That’s a very common theme in this movie: an actor’s insecurities, traumas and feelings of emptiness. It hits movie stars like Marilyn and it hit great actors like Sir Laurence.
The most shocking thing is that we would learn from Laurence is that Marilyn’s traumas and insecurities are what make her the actress and legend that she is. It’s not that uncommon that we celebrate entertainers who are troubled and traumatized and all too often, their traumas and troubles make them the greats that they are.
It’s obvious Colin never forgot his experiences of this. He would release his diaries under the title The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and memoirs titled My Week With Marilyn. Both would provide the material for this film. It should be noted that the diaries were made into a television documentary in 2004, one year after Clark’s death.
The biggest strengths of the film have to be the performances of Michelle Williams as Marilyn and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier. They weren’t just performances of the two acting legends but very deep parts. They made the two actors three dimensional and they stand out as two of the best acting performances of the year. The performance of Eddie Redmanye as the young Colin Clark was good but lacked depth. It was a simple role not as Colin Clark but as a twentysomething. Emma Watson’s part as the costume girl Lucy was simple but she is able to make you forget that she is Hermione Granger.
Outside of the acting, nothing much else stood out. The direction of Simon Curtis and the writing of Adrian Hodges were good and flawless but not spectacular. Nevertheless it did make for an enjoyable comedy. In addition, I commend Curtis for directing an excellent first feature. In essence, it was a semibiographical movie whose best assets were the acting performances.
My Week With Marilyn is a surprising look at a screen legend. Make that two screen legends, and the young rising documentarian who witnessed it all. If you like legendary actors, you’ll like this movie and will leave surprised.