Tag Archives: Miller

VIFF 2018 Review: Djon Africa

Djon Africa

Djon Africa is about a young man, played by Miguel Moreira, who is searching for his father, but discovers a lot more.

What can I say? Illnesses have a lot to do with why I’ve been late in publishing my blogs from the VIFF. However things have been getting better lately. So I can come back at it.

One thing I like about going to the VIFF is I get the chance to see films that are ‘off the beaten path.’ One of which was the Portuguese film Djon Africa which was a good story to watch.

The film begins with a 25 year-old Portuguese man names Miguel. He works construction during the day and is musician Djon Africa by night. He is a bit of a slacker. He was raised by his grandmother and has family roots in the African island of Cape Verde. However he doesn’t feel at home in Portugal. He’s asked about his father and his grandmother often says ‘a bit of a player and a scoundrel.’  One day he goes clothes shopping with his girlfriend and a storeowner suspects him of shoplifting. Racism?

One day he comes across a good amount of money. He makes the decision to travel to Cape Verde in search of his father. The problem is he has nothing to go with. He doesn’t know what his father’s name is, which town he lives in or who his family is, other than a sister who lives in the capital city of Praia. Nevertheless he is determined. During the flight, Miguel already begins envisioning the Cape Verde he knows nothing about by dreaming of the stewardesses dancing in the aisle.

Then Miguel arrives in Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde. Even as he gets off the plane, he notices how more picturesque Cape Verde is in comparison the Lisbon. The first place he goes to do his search is visit his aunt. Unfortunately he hears the bad news from family in mournful prayer that his aunt has been deceased for a year. He learns the aunt has family in Taffaral, but when he gets there, he learns he’s possibly in the wrong Taffaral; Cape Verde has two Taffarals. To make the search more frustrating, Miguel loses a lot of his belongings after a night of getting intoxicated on Cape Verde’s firewater liquor grogue.

During that time of island-hopping from place to place, he comes across the natives in various ways. He comes across a lot of younger girls who have taken aback with his dreads and even call him ‘Bob Marley.’ He comes across a goat-herder Maria Antonia who impulsively gets him to work her land. He agrees. One can sense that Miguel is losing focus in his search for his father and has started falling in love with the country he never knew. Then he gets a phone call from Portugal. It’s his girlfriend back in Lisbon telling him she’s pregnant. The film ends with one final image of Miguel walking the street.

It’s a common story to see sons search for their father. We see it time and time again. However this does have its own way of telling the story. The biggest ingredient is the land of Cape Verde and the people themselves. The people that Miguel come across, the places that he visits, they make for Miguel’s time here and are key to changing him as a person. It’s even people like the farmer who teach Miguel to be responsible. The meeting face-to-face with his father doesn’t happen, but I believe it was the intention of the film to be a lot more than that.

One thing about the film is that it gives a lot of charming images of Cape Verde: of the people, of daily life, of the geography. All of which play a role as it is part of Miguel’s experience in Cape Verde as he tries to find his father. During the time he learns a lot about where his father comes from even though he hasn’t met him face to face. Miguel even learns more about himself.

SPOILER WARNING: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING: The ending where you see Miguel walking down the street will get you wondering. Especially since it’s after his girlfriend calls Miguel to let his know she’s pregnant. Sure, we simply see Miguel walking down the street, but it does get you wondering. Will Miguel be like his father that he decides to stay in Cape Verde? Miguel has sure come to embrace the island. Also that image where Miguel walks down and an older man in dreads looks back: possibly his father. It may give you the idea that the two may meet someday soon. Maybe it’s best that the movie end there, with the two not meeting and with it being unclear Miguel will return to Portugal for his girlfriend. They say film should leave people asking questions instead of getting answers.

Top notes go to directors Joao Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis. The personal couple are most experienced in making documentaries and short films. Here you can sense that the story is told documentary-style as Miguel learns something new every day and grows as a person. Also worth admiring is the performance of Miguel Moreira. He doesn’t do any over-the-top drama in his acting. His acting is all about growing inside as a person, and we see that in the film. Also deserving high recommendation is cinematographer Vasco Viana. The images of the geography of the land and the people are very key in this personal story of Miguel. Vasco delivers excellent images that help make the story.

Djon Africa may come across as a boring film at first, but it’s a story about personal growth. You have to see it to understand it, as well as understand the ending.

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Movie Review: Deadpool

deadpool

Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson who becomes Deadpool: your atypical superhero. Actually he’s not a superhero at all but very entertaining.

Surprise, this is a different kind of superhero story.

DISCLAIMER: I know this review is late. I’ll admit that this is a common thing of mine that right after the Oscars, I become too tired to do blogging for a while. So please excuse the lateness of my review.

Just before the Oscars were about to be awarded, I admit that I went to see Deadpool. All this buzz about an R-rated superhero movie and setting box office records for R-rated movies. I was tempted to see it. I’m glad I did.

Now I will admit that this was a big risk for Marvel to release an anti-hero movie especially since they’ve had many a comic book hero made legendary because of their movies. They have a reputation  of delivering entertaining movies that win big at the box office and even give children, as well as kids at heart, heroes with positive messages.

Deadpool is something else. Actually Deadpool is not a made-for-the-movies anti-hero. Deadpool was created by a Marvel comics cartoonist back in 1991 for another comic series as a supervillain.However Deadpool’s popularity evolved over the years since. Yeah, like I said in my review of Straight Outta Compton, anti-heroes and jerk characters were all the rage in the 90’s more than any other decade.

The surprisingly mammoth success of Deadpool came as a surprise. I think it was a big success because Deadpool reminded us of our like of anti-authority jerks back in the 90’s. Gangsta rap may have had a lot to do with it but but it was like our thirst for jerk character after jerk character was unquenchable back then. Mind you Deadpool had to come at the right time in order for us to be won over by him. I felt that releasing a movie like Deadpool in February was a smart idea. The summer time is the time for superhero characters that are family-friendly. The ones that are meant to win the biggest movie crowds of the season. A February release was better because there’s not as much competition at the box office. And it paid off big-time with the first-ever February opening weekend of $100 million or more.

It should be no surprise that Ryan Reynolds was back as Deadpool for his first-ever feature-length film. It should be a fact that Reynolds was cast as Deadpool since he was described in a 2004 Marvel cartoon as ‘Ryan Reynolds morphed with a shar-pei.’ Reynolds himself even played Deadpool in a 2009 X-Men movie. Here Reynolds was funny as one of those hateable characters whom you actually end up liking for some dumb reason. Morena Baccarin was also good as Vanessa, the one person that can actually keep Wade’s head on his shoulders. Actually Vanessa’s love for Deadpool and her ability to bring him to his senses is what keeps him from being completely hateable.

Ed Skrein was good as the villain but came across as basic as your typical villain in popcorn movies with nothing that really stood out. Tim Miller did very good as a first-time director. Giving such a film like Deadpool to a first-time director could have been seen as a gamble for Marvel but Tim did things right. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were not first-timers. In fact Deadpool is their third feature-length script. They do a very good job in giving the film the needed humor and sass for such a character like Deadpool.

Possibly the most surprising thing about Deadpool has to be its surprisingly huge box-office success. The $132.4 million it made in its opening weekend shattered opening weekend records for the month of February, the winter season and for R-rated movies. It also became the first ever R-rated movie to have an opening weekend of $100 million. As of now its $346.9 million makes it the third-highest grossing R-rated movie ever. The record is held by The Passion Of The Christ with $370.8 million. It’s possible it could break the record as it held onto #5 this past weekend in its sixth week of release.

Now there’s already talk about a Deadpool sequel. I’m not surprised about that given the success of the movie. There’s also been talk of more R-rated superhero films in the future. I will say that the box office success of Deadpool may fuel the desire to shell more of them out but Deadpool’s success is not a guarantee toward a new phenomenon of R-rated superhero movies. Sure, I was entertained by a smart-aleck wise-cracking anti-hero but I’ll bet if another one was shelled out, I’d be tired of them. I will admit this film does kind of remind us how we still have a liking for anti-heroes although not unlimited like it was in the 90’s. It’s not the case like back then when the jerk phenoms won us over but made everyone else who weren’t like them either look like a joke or look forgettable. Sure we may like an anti-hero like Deadpool but I’m sure by now, we prefer our jerk-characters and anti-heroes in doses. We can only appreciate so much nowadays. Besides Deadpool only made it look good to be an anti-hero for those two hours.

Deadpool is the surprise hit of the winter and the surprise of movies this year. It made having an anti-hero character look refreshing and even charming. However I don’t think it will start another anti-hero revolution again. Deadpool charmed us for those two hours but time will tell how much further he can charm us.

Double Movie Review: Mad Max- Fury Road and Jurassic World

Here I am back to my blogging habit. Yes, I have quite the backlog in terms of movie reviews. I have the energy to post now and I’m able to post a double review of two of the hottest movies of the summer: Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both were either sequels or part of a franchise. Both cost $150 million each to make. Both are different in terms of the audience they can win over and both have differing success results.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron pursue a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Tom Hardy (left) and Charlize Theron fight for survival together in a post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Yes, it’s been a long time since there’s been a Mad Max movie: 30 years to be exact. George Miller is back in directing this Mad Max movie, or picking up where he left off as one could assume. And believe me this movie was quite something else.

Right at the beginning you’re left wondering what kind of world this is. The world is a complete bizarre wasteland and the whole universe in existence is fighting each other and Max. Mind you even the bad guys are insane enough that Joe uses Max as a universal blood donor and has five wives for the sake of breeding purposes. Over time, some of the people become Max’s friend in order to save civilization from Joe.

Already that’s a lot of craziness most fans of the original three Mad Max movies would find hard to fathom but watching the movie even gives it enough craziness for any movie viewer hard to fathom. Even the people all act like they’re all on something–crack, smack, speed–and it’s not just the bad guys. Just one insane place full of insane people. However what would have to make people adjust to this new version of the Max Max franchise would have to be good characters. First would have to be Furiosa. Right in the middle of the movie, you could see the pain in which she’s going through. It’s also a pain shared by the other four wives of Joe. Once these characters were made more human, it made for something for people to connect to the story. In addition is the connection of the character Nux. Nux was very unhuman but his human side was more noticeable later on and it gave cause for people to feel for him even as he sacrifices himself.

The character work couldn’t have been done firstly without Charlize Theron as Furiosa. It’s her performance that made people feel the pain of Furiosa. There’s even talk of Oscar buzz for Charlize this early. Nicholas Hoult’s performance help turn a beast of a character like Nux into a character with dimension and actually makes the audience feel for him. Tom Hardy did a good job as Max Rockatansky. I’m sure in this film he had the duty to try to fill Mel Gibson’s shoes. I don’t know if he did it but he did a good job as Max.

George Miller did a good job not just in directing the movie and co-writing the script with two additional writers. He also created the bizarre world in which Mad Max and his allies had to survive in and fight for their freedom. Also instrumental in creating this bizarre world are the set designers, costumers and the visual effects team. The music from Junkie XL also adds to the drama and the insanity of the movie.

Of the $150 million Mad Max: Fury Road cost to make and produce, it has so far made $152.6 million in North America and $368.6 million worldwide. Not huge spectacular numbers as far as summer movie fare goes but pleasant enough for a sequel– Mad Max The Wasteland— planned for either 2017 or 2018. It has even impressed critics that it received 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Who says all summer movies are money-grabbing junk?

Mad Max: Fury Road may not be exactly the type of movie most would expect, not even fans of the original Mad Max movies, but it exceeds the expectations of whatever you throw at it. I know for me it didn’t appear at all like what I normally expect from a sequel. And many of you already know what I feel about Hollywood sequels. I don’t even think this is even a sequel. Mad Max may just be a franchise instead of a chronological series. Nevertheless it’s way better than most common summer fare.

JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos ensues any minute.

Jurassic World is about the latest Jurassic theme park where chaos will undoubtedly ensue any minute.

Already you know a movie like Jurassic World will be a hit simply because of the title. This is the few times where judging a book by its cover is legit. Whether the movie is all that great remains to be seen.

The film doesn’t really carry on the tradition of the Jurassic Park book of Michael Crichton. Instead it’s a new story concocted by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and adapted to screen by Jaffa and Silver along with Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow who directs the movie. What happens is Jurassic Park is long defunked especially after the fatalities. The writers and directors create a story in a new park, Jurassic World. Jurassic World is a theme park that`s a whole island that includes exhibits that make it both a museum and like one of those safari parks one can drive through.

Clever work for a popcorn movie but over time, you feel the story is as simplistic as one would expect from a Hollywood story. A park worker is a woman out of love while looking after her about-to-be-divorced sister`s kids and dealing with the dinosaur trainee whom she finds charming but had a flop first date with. Sometimes it seems as though the characters seem too simplistic as well: Owen as the charming but stuffy trainer, Claire as the out-of-love-and-depressed type, Vic as the slacker security operations person, Grey as the cute kid with sad puppy dog eye and his bother Zach as the typical bored miserable teen who somehow gets cheered up by the dinosaurs.

Even the drama becomes a bit predictable over time. You sense there would have to be some sort of havoc at the World to get the story rolling. Sure enough, the escape of Indominus is what starts the drama. You have to admit it was a tad predictable. Even how the two boys become threatened in the ensuing drama is predictable too. I will admit the one unpredictable thing was when Indominus breaks into the park`s pterosaur aviary and has them all on the loose chasing all the other park visitors. I did not expect that nor did I expect the whole Jurassic World to look like a war zone at the end. I give that credit.

Overall, Jurassic World came across as a common popcorn movie where a lot of the excitement was either missing or anticipated right from the start. It`s a movie that appears undecided whether it wants to be charming or a thriller. I kind of blame it on the lack of Spilberg magic that came with the first Jurassic Park movie. I also kind of blame it on some of the character acting that appears so stocky like Bryce Dallas Howard playing another unlucky in love type, Vincent D`Onofrio playing an all-to-common slacker player and Ty Simpkins playing a typical cute kid with sad puppy dog eyes. The one good performance although in a typical popcorn movie character was from Chris Pratt. He was able to make his character of Owen Grady charming and even a bit charismatic. I also give credit to the set design team for creating this island where Jurassic World is situated on and credit to the visual effects team for delivering top notch visual effects and even delivering some thrills to the movie. Although I said the action was mostly predictable, it did deliver in some thrills.

Jurassic World wasn`t too much of a critical darling as it received 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Good but it could be better. However the big payoff came for Jurassic World at the box office as it broke a ton of records. It all started in breaking the opening weekend record and becoming only the second movie ever to have an opening weekend that grossed more than $200 million (the 2012 Avengers movie is the first ever) and it`s been growing ever since:

  • All-Time Opening Weekend: $208.8 million.
  • All-Time second weekend: $106.7 million
  • Fastest to $500 million (North America): 17 days
  • Worldwide Opening Weekend: $524.4 million
  • Fastest to $1 billion (Worldwide): 13 days

That`s just a sample of the records Jurassic World broke. I`m sure you`ll find more at Box Office Mojo. I don`t think it will break the all-time gross records especially as it finds itself out of the Top 10 in its ninth week. It may eclipse Titanic as the second-highest grossing movie in North America but it would still need at least $100 million more to contend to beat Avatar`s record.

Sure enough, there will be a Jurassic World sequel. It`s not clear if Trevorrow will return as director but he will write and produce it. Bizarre because if the Jurassic World wreaked that much havoc on that many visitors, you`d figure Jurassic World would mark the absolute end of any Jurassic theme parks. Hey, money talks especially in Tinseltown.

Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road were two of the big movies of the summer of 2015. One didn`t do as well as expected while one was a record-breaker. One had a better story and better character than the other. Both gave a good statement of what the summer movie season of 2015 was like.

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: American Sniper

American Sniper appears to be the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) but it's a lot more.

American Sniper appears to be the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) but it’s a lot more.

If you think that this war isn’t changing you, you’re wrong. You can only circle the flames so long.

It’s easy to dismiss American Sniper as a pro-war movie at first. Especially when you see the attitude of its protagonist. However if you watch it from beginning to end you will see that it’s a lot more than a tale of a sharpshooter and may not be as pro-war as you think.

The film begins in 2003 during the Iraq war where US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle sees a civilian woman pass a huge grenade to her 8 year-old son and is about to shoot. Before he pulls the trigger, we flash back to an 11 year-old Chris who impresses his father with his ability to shoot a deer from long range. His father teaches him about the three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Chris decides to be a sheepdog, especially to his lamb-like younger brother. In his early 20’s, Chris decides to be a rodeo cowboy until a bullriding accident leaves him with injuries he can’t recover from.

While sidelined, he witnesses on the TV news an incident that will change his life: the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by al-Qaeda. It’s then he decides to become a Navy SEAL. At first they were reluctant to accept him but agreed upon being impressed with his shooting skills. During his training he bumps into Taya Renee at a bar. Taya is not interested because her sister dated a Navy SEAL and he ended up being a complete asshole. Nevertheless he impresses Taya to the point she dates him. Soon after, 9/11 happens. Chris marries Taya soon after and is deployed as a Navy SEAL sniper in Iraq during the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It’s there where it really begins.

At the beginning of his first mission comes the mother and son as seen at the beginning. Kyle shoots the son first only to see the mother take the grenade and carry on. He has to shoot her, causing her to throw the grenade while shot causing an explosion. The experience of shooting the two leaves Chris upset to the point of tears but he has to continue his duty. Kill after kill earns him the nickname ‘The Legend’ by his US comrades. It also makes himself a target of al-Qaeda’s where they offer for $80,000 for anyone who kills him. Al-Qaeda even have a top sniper of their own in Iraq after him and he uses and SVD. During his first mission, he is given the mission to hunt for an al-Qaeda leader named al-Zarqawi and hunts house after house for information leading to him or his second-in-command nicknamed ‘the Butcher.’ A father and son give helpful information but plans go chaotic as The Butcher locates the father and son and drills into their heads leaving them for dead. Chris was unable to defend because of sniper fire, overheard by a pregnant Taya during a phone call, preventing him from performing any action of rescue.

Chris returns to Taya in time for the birth of his son Colton. Chris tries to be a family man at home but Taya notices he’s distraught by the memories and even watching bootleg videos of marines shot in battle. Taya tells him she wants him to commit to his family. But Chris feels he has to serve again where he’s now promoted to Chief Petty Officer. This time he’s involved in a battle with The Butcher. After killing him, Chris returns home to Taya, Colton and his newborn daughter. However it’s obvious the war has affected Chris with his hostile reaction in the maternity ward when her daughter’s crying. Chris becomes increasingly distant with his family. He leaves for a third mission and his brother Jeff is also part of it too. However Chris is hugely affected by the injuries sustained by one of his US comrades part of the unit. The mission continues but Chris witnesses his fellow SEAL shot to death in the gunfire.

Chris returns home but not to his wife and family. He returns for the funeral of his fallen SEAL. Much to the heartbreak of his wife, Chris feels he has to return again in his fellow SEAL’s honor and complete the mission. During the fourth mission, the team learns the alias of the al-Qaeda sniper after them and Chris: Mustafa. Chris is assigned to take him out and is placed on the roof of a building in enemy territory. It’s very risky since killing Mustafa could put Chris and his comrades in enemy firestorm. Nevertheless Chris must do it, especially since a sandstorm is sensed from miles away. Chris spots Mustafa from almost two kilometers away and shoots. It’s a hit: the eighth-longest sniper kill of all-time ever recorded. But the enemy gunfire occurs just as the sandstorm approaches and while Chris is talking to Taya. Right during the sandstorm, Chris struggles to jump on the jeep but succeeds in time and tells Taya: “I’m coming home.”

Chris’ mission is completed. His military efforts of 255 kills, 160 confirmed, Kyle is officially the deadliest American marksman in US military history. He returns home trying to adjust to home life but it’s apparent the war is still affecting him mentally. Even Taya lets him know that. Upon the advice through psychiatric help, he volunteers his time to help veterans return to home life and overcome their own post-traumatic stress syndrome. After five years, Chris is well-adjusted and has successfully become a family man to his wife and children. The movie closes to the last morning of Chris’ life where he leaves for his volunteering with veterans. He would be killed by a veteran he was helping that day. The movie ends with footage of his funeral.

From beginning to end I had to watch it with a very observant eye. I wanted to see what types of messages it would be sending and if it was a pro-war stance or anti-war. I personally cannot see it as a pro-war movie. Sure, you see Chris’ attitude about patriotism and his determination to think that those he shot were soldiers, not people. Even seeing video footage of the funeral of the real Chris Kyle with those saluting his coffin as he went by, funeral held in a stadium and his casket covered with medals would cause some to impulsively think the film is trying to make Chris a hero. But oddly enough I don’t think it’s trying to make Chris a hero. Instead I think it showed Chris’ weaknesses as well as his strengths. We see how Chris was taught the values he held by his father including being told to be a ‘sheepdog,’ we see how he becomes hostile as he sees his newborn daughter crying in the maternity ward, we see how the death of a comrade only prompts Chris to extend his ‘duty’ despite how much his wife can’t take it, we also see it as Chris is about to punch a dog at a birthday party.

Recently I came across a quote from Clint Eastwood: “The biggest anti-war statement any film can make is to show the fact of what it does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did.” I feel that American Sniper does just that because I sensed right from the start, this movie actually looks at war and Chris Kyle’s hero status through a cynical eye. I felt that as the film first shows a young Chris being taught about: ‘lambs, wolves and sheepdogs.’ Then again as Chris goes to war with the Bible he stole from church and admits he never opened it. Other scenes that added to the suspected cynicism were his hostile acts at home and even that scene as he sees a therapist and says his guilt is not at all because of the people he killed but because of his fallen fellow soldiers he failed to save. That scene had me wondering if Chris really did feel that way or if it’s because he felt that’s the way he’s supposed to think, especially upon remembering he was in tears after he shot that little boy at the very beginning. Even that ending scene where they show video footage of Chris’ funeral with people lining the streets waving the American flag as his hearse passes him, the stadium where his funeral was held filled, and his casket covered with military medals made me think Clint was putting Chris’ hero status and a common belief in the United States that ‘soldier = patriot’ on the hot seat. I really sense that.

As for what it does for the family, you can bet there’s a lot of focus on that in the film, especially in scenes involving Taya. The first scene that has to send that message has to be when she’s on a phone conversation with Chris but a shootout ensues. Chris drops his phone on the street as the shootout happens with Taya listening on the other ends. Taya’s distraught crying as she’s hearing the bullet fire on the other end has to be the scene that sends that message. Even in conversation with Chris, Taya is the one reminding him how stressful and hurtful it is to her every time he goes back off. She even reminds him about how he’s not the same ever since his fighting: “You’re my husband, you’re the father of my children. Even when you’re here, you’re not here. I see you, I feel you, but you’re not here.” Even outside of Chris and Taya, we get this message at the funeral of the soldier shot during Chris’s first mission. That scene where the officer gives the mother the folded flag from his casket and the tears in her eyes also sends that message. It doesn’t matter if it’s World War II, the Vietnam War or Operation Iraqi Freedom, a lost child is a lost child and the family will hurt for a long time about it, if not for the rest of their lives.

Even if it isn’t about war and how it hurts the soldiers and their families, it also gives a cynical look at the war itself. We see it in Kyle first ever shooting during the war. A woman that looks like a civilian with her son passes him a big grenade. As terrible as it was to see them shot, Chris knew both had to be shot. That scene sends the message that this war is not your typical war. This is a war that can take everyday civilians and turn them into players. Even that scene where a young boy picks up a grenade launcher and appears to fire shows that even children are not immune. We should also remember this is a war where soldiers will either disguise themselves as civilians or even use them as human shields. This is a war where people from the ‘enemy’ side will torture people who give secrets away. That scene where an ‘enemy’ soldier drills into the heads of both the father and young son shows just how ugly and brutal this war is. Sure, it may not have the same total number of fatalities as Vietnam but it’s ugly enough and unpredictable enough.

Clint Eastwood does it again. If you notice one thing about his movies over the past two decades, it’s that he approaches his stories by putting certain subjects on the hot seats. We see it again here where he puts the labels of ‘man’ or ‘patriot’ associated with a soldier in war. This comes especially remembering what Clint’s character in Gran Torino, a dying Korean war vet, said: “You wanna know what it’s like to kill a man? Well, it’s goddamn awful, that’s what it is. The only thing worse is getting a medal… for killing some poor kid that wanted to just give up, that’s all. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it, and you don’t want that on your soul.” Clint’s directing of the story was dead on and will get you thinking. A lot of people talk about the violence in the movie. I feel what’s said and done outside the warfare says way more. Kudos to Jason Hall for adapting Kyle’s memoirs. I believe Jason too sensed something about Kyle through reading his memoirs and adapted into what he thinks is really the situation and through an equally cynical eye.

As much as it is the product of Clint and Jason, I give high praise to Bradley Cooper for making Chris into the three-dimensional depiction they intended. He delivered an excellent performance and also appeared like he had ideas of his own about what Chris Kyle was like. The only other role in the movie that was of major significance was that of Taya Kyle but Sienna Miller did a great job of portraying the wife caught in the middle. She made Taya the one who could best settle the score with Chris. She was the one who was best at getting him back down to Earth. She was also very good at epitomizing what most ‘war wives’ go through with their husbands in battle. Right at the wedding, Taya appeared happy to be married to a Navy SEAL like Chris. It’s during the war and after she found out exactly what she had to deal with. I feel Miller’s performance was one of the most underacclaimed performances of the year. The other supporting actors were also very good, even though there were many roles that could have been developed better. Also I feel it was a smart decision to have the movie with as little musical score as possible. It adds to the realistic depiction of the war throughout the movie. Even that scene of the bullet that kills Mustafa wasn’t too much of a distraction to the story.

American Sniper is not your typical war movie. It goes above and beyond your expectations and shows you an outlook on both Chris Kyle and the war you might not have thought of before. Whether you consider Chris a hero, villain or victim is all up to your own judgment.

Movie Review: Foxcatcher

John DuPont (Steve Carell) tries to be a wrestling mentor to Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) in Foxcatcher.

John DuPont (Steve Carell) tries to be a wrestling mentor to Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) in Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher isn’t just simply an Olympic story with a tragically bizarre ending. It isn’t completely a crime story either. It’s about the people involved.

It’s 1987. Mark Schultz is an Olympic wrestling champion who’s about to do a talk at an elementary school substituting for his brother Dave who was expected to be the talker. The school gives him a small payment for his time. Dave is coach of the wrestling gym married with two small children and trainer of Mark. Although Dave tries to be a good mentor to Mark, you could tell something’s eating at him.

One day unsuspectingly, he’s greeted by John DuPont, heir to the E.I. DuPont family fortune. He offers to have Mark train at the Team Foxcatcher gym in Pennsylvania he created to promote wrestling. Mark agrees but John also wants Dave to coach. Dave turns it down because he has family commitments miles away. Despite that, Mark continues on with John coaching him even living in a DuPont guest house which John sometimes visits. The training pays off as Mark wins the World Championships later that year. John is even seen as a mentor to Mark and all the other wrestlers at Team Foxcatcher.

However something’s not right. John wants the wrestling trophies won by Team Foxcatcher to overtake one shelf of horseracing trophies his family have won over the years. Mark and John develop a friendship to the point John gets Mark to use cocaine. John even mentions his mother paid a boy to be his ‘friend’ when he was younger. His mother Jean who’s part of the DuPont legacy of horseracing is disapproving of his coaching wrestling feeling that it’s a ‘low’ sport. Then one day it happens. While Team Foxcatcher’s wrestlers take a day off to watch a Mixed Martial Arts event, John becomes furious especially when Mark insists Dave won’t join team Foxcatcher. John tells him he will get Dave by any means necessary.

Dave agrees to Team Foxcatcher where he even moves his wife and family over there. Mark however is going through self-esteem issues with the mental abusiveness of John and moves away to train for the 1988 Olympics. Just before the Olympic trials, John has his mother Jean escorted in her wheelchair to see what John has accomplished. She leaves in disgust after seeing John give his back to one of his students.

At the Olympic trials, you can tell something is bothering Mark. He loses his first match and in response cries, wrecks his room and goes on an eating binge. Dave is alarmed at discovering Mark in his condition in his hotel room and works to get him to lose weight in time for the weigh-in. As Mark competes on, he notices Dave prevent John from speaking to him. Mark wins the Olympic trials but both he and Dave notice John is absent. He returned home as his mother died. Mark lets Dave know he can’t stay with John and Team Foxcatcher after the Olympics and asks Dave to leave with him even though John created a promotional video of Team Foxcatcher with Dave asked to do a speech. Mark finishes sixth at the 1988 Olympics where he loses his last match 14-0. As he said, he leaves Team Foxcatcher for home while Dave agrees to remain training Team Foxcatcher in exchange for John giving Mark financial support.

It’s 1996. John watches the promotional video with the part of Mark’s speech about John. This would pave way to the depiction of the eventual murder. However the film ends showing what happened to Mark shortly after.

It’s funny how around Oscar time, it’s common to expect that most movies with big Oscar buzz would have some sort of political message or humanistic message. So it was quite natural for me to think that Foxcatcher might be a film with things to say about Olympic athletes or how they’re treated in the US. I don’t think it was but it did present a unique time in Olympic sport. Many older people remember that until the 80’s, you had to be a complete amateur in an Olympic sport. Even if you made a single penny off your sport, you were ineligible to compete at the Olympics. That all changed in the early 80’s when the IOC changed its constitution from allowing only ‘amateur’ athletes to allowing ‘eligible’ athletes to compete and it would be each sport’s respective federation decide who’s eligible. There were some sports like track and field, swimming and gymnastics that were the first to make the transition and the pay and sponsorship money was good albeit not the same level it is today. Wrestling was one of the sports to catch on later. In Mark’s time, wrestlers could not make a living off their sport unless you were also a coach like Dave. In fact I remember a quote from Olympic gymnast Bart Conner: “The big myth is that Olympic gold medalists can get rich off their gold medal. I know a lot of Olympic champions that are flipping burgers.” So it’s no wonder that Mark would find sponsorship from John DuPont and the state-of-the-art Team Foxcatcher wrestling gym a welcome relief.

I don’t even think it’s a statement about rich people in the United States. Sure, John was born into money as the DuPont family have a dynasty going all the way back to the 18th century. Sure, John appears to be spoiled living in the same gigantic mansion in the middle of nowhere as his parents. Sure, John has the money to make his dream of being a great wrestling coach come true. Sure, John had a sheltered childhood where he was the youngest of four and had a ‘paid friend’ during his childhood. And sure, John has a mother with a superficial attitude as made evident in her comment of wrestling being a ‘low sport.’ However I don’t feel it’s about the American rich.

What I do feel the movie is to do about are the people. Yes, it’s a crime story but it’s also about the people. John appears to be a person who may have been belittled all his life and dreamed of being a successful wrestling coach or manager. He has written successful books on birds but wanted to become successful as a wrestling coach. This is especially hard for him since his family has a tradition of horse racing. Throughout the movie, we get a sense that he felt that something was missing in him. Even after hiring Dave as the coach, we see friction between the two as they’re both training and managing Mark. Sure, it’s common for two coaches on the same team to have disputes but the disputes make you wonder. In fact that scene where John is watching the video of himself promoting him and his gym just before the shooting may be sending the message he always felt underrespected. Maybe it was because he felt like the misfit of the family. Maybe it was because his family never knew or honored his achievements. We’ll never know. There’s no question he shows his mental illness, especially at the end, but it’s just a wonder if his inferiority complex is what caused him to shoot Dave.

The film is not just about John. It’s about Mark too. The 1984 Olympics was of him and Dave winning gold but the time since then was a struggle. Dave was able to marry, become a father and continue as an athlete by coaching at the same time. He was well to do. Mark was the one who struggled. He lived single in a shabby home, he worked a measly job, he received spare cash from school appearances, he was always living in the shadow of Dave. Even though Dave was never the type of brother that would try to make Mark feel inferior, You could tell it was bothering him in that training scene at the beginning where he gives Dave a bad hit. It was easy for him to see John’s offer as a breakthrough for him but a struggle as he was trying to create his own identity while Dave and John had coaching disputes over him. It seemed more like a threesome rather than him. Possibly even sensing Dave was becoming the apple of John’s eye rather than him. Even after his win of the World Championship, you could tell the whole thing would take a toll on him especially seeing how he had to purge himself at the Olympic trials and struggled to make the team. Eventually it did take its toll right at the Seoul Olympics with his sixth-place finish and the threesome ended there. You can easily understand why when Mark moved out, he wanted to move without turning back.

The highlight of the film was the performance of Steve Carell. In fact even his biggest fans would be surprised to see Steve looking different and acting completely different from the way they’ve always known Steve to act. He embodied John DuPont well in terms of physicality and his mental illness but he also made us feel John’s feelings of inferiority which definitely added to the film. The film also has Channing Tatum’s best acting ever. He also embodies the character of Mark well in terms of his desire to succeed and in terms of his insecurities. Although the film focuses more on the characters of Mark and John than on Dave, it’s Mark Ruffalo’s performance that gives added dimension to a person who is both a coach and a father and tries to do the right thing but ends up an unsuspecting victim in the end. Even supporting performances from Sienna Miller as Dave’s wife and Vanessa Redgrave as John’s mother were done great despite being less than what they should be.

The directing of Bennett Miller was also impressive as he focused on both the story and insight into the people involved in the story. The script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman was also good in taking us to the right events even though it did feel slow at times. Even there, I think they were trying to make a murder story that didn’t just simply tell of the events but also give us portrayals of the characters. It’s not to say they haven’t experienced friction about it. There was a story that Mark felt the film made it look like John had a homosexual attraction to him. I didn’t notice it. Besides I later learned John was married for the first and only time at 45 and the divorce occurred just before he met Mark.

Foxcatcher is more than a murder story. It’s also a portrayal of the people involved in both their desires and their insecurities. Often it did feel more like the film was about who than what.

LATE Movie Review: The LEGO Movie

Emmet Brickowski (centre) becomes the unlikely hero in The LEGO movie.

Emmet Brickowski (centre) becomes the unlikely hero of the Lego world in The LEGO Movie.

You will all be pissed off with me. I actually saw The LEGO Movie when it was first out around the first weekend in March. The reason why I never wrote a review about it is because I was so tired out from doing a multitude of Academy Award articles. You can understand that I felt enough was enough back then and I lacked the ambition. Well ambition to write a review on it sparked in me already, especially with the Oscar season coming up and the multitude of accolades it’s received. Now I can say my thoughts.

This is another review where I won’t be giving a synopsis of the plot. I don’t feel it’s necessary since most people have already seen it by now. Nevertheless I’ll focus on how the movie worked.

This is a film that needed to have a winning script in order to make it work. It starts simple about a guy who does what he can to be liked only to learn he’s not well-liked. He’s the ‘chosen one’ despite the surprise of everyone but ends up victorious in the end. Sounds like a formulaic story that been done endlessly before, right?

In order to make a story like this fly, it has to add its own quirks and elements to make it fly. This movie succeeds in creating a Lego world beyond a toy lover’s imagination. On top of it, it had to make the Lego toys very animate and full of character. Remember the Legos are the focus of the movie. The film also did a smart job in adding in characters that are exclusive to the Lego toys and in including the Lego characters based of off movie characters. It does seem like the writers did a lot of research about the characters to have in the movie.

The film adds in a lot of humor. Firstly it creates a humorous world with the wizard Vitruvius, a villain in the Lord Business and a superweapon called Kragle which is actually Krazy Glue. However its other great asset is including the human world in the story with ‘the Man Upstairs’ and his son. It’s that twist at the end where we are all shown that this Lego world is all part of a giant Lego diorama created by the Man Upstairs. Whatever the situation, it had to make the two worlds mix in the end in order to make the story work and it did. Not to mention give a surprise humorous ending.

Now it’s not just the story that had to work. Not to mention having ‘Everything Is Awesome’ the movie’s theme song. The film had to make the animation believable. They had to make the Lego characters fluid in movement rather than wooden and choppy. They also had to be given the perfect animation in their faces while remaining Lego characters. Finally the Lego world had to be animate and 100% Lego from the building world Emmet works in to the sea the Lego galleon sails on. When you have a Lego movie, the world and the characters have to be 100% Lego-like from start to finish. One glitch in the animation and that would have blown it.

Kudos to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for writing and directing an excellent entertaining film for all ages. In addition, great job on the vocal talents of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman. Also great job of Will Ferrel for delivering a live-action character that’s a refreshing alternate from his more idiotic characters.

It’s no wonder The LEGO Movie has been so loved since it opened back in February last year. It’s also no wonder it’s still beloved by people of all ages even now. It’s only those under a rock that haven’t seen it that don’t know why.

 

Little Boy Lost: Why Etan Patz Still Matters Today

Etan Patz, a 6 1/2 year-old NYC boy, left his apartment one morning in 1979 and was never seen again.

The news broke Thursday the 19th. New York police started searching the basement of an apartment that could have the buried body of Etan Patz: a 6 ½ year-old boy missing since 1979. The building was located on Prince St, the same street as the Patz family’s apartment. People who never knew the story behind this asked “Who is Etan Patz?” Those of us who have been around since it all happened either know the story all too well or felt the effects of it over time.

Friday May 25, 1979 started like any other day in the United States. By day’s end, there would be two events that would change things forever: the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 just outside of Chicago and the abduction of New York City child Etan Patz. The plane crash would be the deadliest air disaster in US history (outside the 9/11 attacks) for claiming 273 lives and would lead to changes in airline maintenance and would be the beginning of the end of the DC-10 aircraft. The abduction of Etan Patz would soon pave the way for stronger measures and procedures for dealing with missing children and would lead to many of the tougher laws and better, more immediate procedures that exist today.

Before Etan Patz, child abductions were not taken that seriously. Most were either thought of as runaways or kids that would eventually find their way home. Kidnapped children were originally thought of as only happening to children of rich parents where the abductor would demand ransom money for the child’s release. Even before Etan’s disappearance, an ugly truth of child abductions that was already happening was about to unravel. It all started that Friday morning. Etan Kalil Patz was a six-and-a-half year-old boy living in lower Manhattan, the middle child of Stanley and Julie Patz. Etan had always walked with his mother to the school bus stop but for months, he was begging to go alone because all of his friends were. He was given that landmark day that Friday. He woke up, got dressed, had breakfast, waved goodbye to his mother and then walk down the Prince St. apartment stairs to the bus stop two blocks away, alone for the first time. He was never seen again.

Immediately upon news of his disappearance, the police and media were in a rush. Stories abounded. His face was even shown on the nightly news. Stanley and Julie Patz soon became media figures. Etan’s story would become the hottest child kidnapping story since the Lindbergh Baby. Never before was the press and the police so immediate over a child kidnapping. Nevertheless stories would arise how some child kidnappings in the years before Etan, and some in the years after Etan, were not so lucky to receive prompt action from authorities or the press. The lack of resources and coordination between law enforcement and other government agencies left many parents of missing children frustrated. Even Julie Patz made mention in an interview two years after Etan’s disappearance that there were many children’s’ bodies in morgues being left unidentified.

Soon more news about child abductions came to the surface. There was the 1981 abduction of Florida six year-old Adam Walsh who’s severed head was found two weeks later. There were Oklahoma 13 year-olds Charlotte Kinsey and Cinda Pallett assigned to do a carnival job overnight in 1981 and never heard from. There was 12 year-old Iowa boy John Gosch who left home for his paper route in 1982 and was never seen again. Further names came about: 12 year-old Ann Gotlib from Kentucky, 14 year-old Elizabeth Ann Miller from Colorado, 16 year-old Maurice Jefferson from Florida, 9 year-old Taj Narbonne from Massachusetts, the list is endless. Better actions had to be done.

The subject of missing children soon became unavoidable. Each state had their own missing child cases to deal with. It even hit internationally in Canada and other countries. Over time, the subject of missing children would soon be a hot topic and better laws were enacted both in states and nationwide. In 1983, May 25th–the date of Etan’s disappearance–would be declared National Missing Children’s Day. The faces and descriptions of missing children would soon appear on milk cartons. Etan was the first. The FBI and various state police departments passed tougher laws and adopted better faster actions towards dealing with missing children. The National Center for Missing And Exploited Children was formed by the American Congress in 1984. Posters of missing children appeared at bus stations, border crossings and police stations. Local police would visit schools and teach children of the danger of strangers. Some would even give fingerprinting. Child identification programs that included fingerprinting and child identification files started up nationwide. Finally a problem that had been long ignored got its long overdue improvements and changes in procedures.

One thing about is his disappearance is that it sure has changed childhood and sure has changed parenting. With it came the loss of the essence of childhood. Parents were confronted with the fact they could no longer afford to give their children the carefree childhood they felt they deserved. They felt the need to hold on to their children tighter. Many newspaper writers have written editorials about how Etan Patz’s abduction changed everything. Before his abduction, monsters were seen by children as something of their imagination. Since the Patz abduction, today’s children know monsters exist in real life. Parenting has also changed. It makes it a lot harder for a parent to let go of their child, knowing that so many children go missing. You can guarantee that ever since Etan went missing, a child will have to wait longer than 6 ½ to walk alone to the school bus. A dark truth could no longer be avoided right there and then and remains unignorable today, especially with pedophiles now able to use the internet to lure kids.

PRIME SUSPECT: Jose Ramos

You can guarantee that in the years since Etan’s abduction, missing children has been taken seriously and continues to be taken seriously today Authorities are quick to act whenever a child goes missing. Awareness is immediate. Punishments are severe for the abductors. On the downside, it became apparent in the 90’s that potential abductors knew of the stricter measures and tougher precautions that were made against them. That caused many to find new and sneakier ways to abduct children, like the 1993 abduction of 13 year-old Polly Klaas at knifepoint in her own home and 9 year-old Amber Hagerman being yanked off her bike and immediately taken into a car. Those abductions and the finding of their bodies would lead to the creation of the Polly Klaas Foundation, Marc Klaas to lobby for tougher sentences for convicted felons, and the institution of the Amber Alert which alerts people through buses and on radio stations about sudden missing cases. There’s even a recent statistic out that today 99% of abducted children are found alive. Despite all these improvements and changes, it’s all too much too late for many missing children of years and even decades past, like Etan Patz.

Etan Patz was never found dead or alive. The case has never been closed, although there is a prime suspect. His name is Jose Antonio Ramos. In the late 1980’s, he started serving a 20-year prison sentence in Pennsylvania for sexually abusing a boy. In 1991 it was alerted to Stuart GraBois–Assistant United States Attorney who received the Patz case in 1985–from jailhouse informants that Ramos admitted involvement in the disappearance of Etan. Ramos was the boyfriend of Etan’s babysitter at the time of Etan’s disappearance. The Patz family had known for years that he may be involved but it wasn’t until then they were able to get any legal action. Further confessions led the Patz family to confront the fact in 1999 that Etan was dead. In 2001, Stanley and Julie Patz had Etan legally declared dead. In 2004, they won a wrongful death suit against Ramos for which they were to be awarded $2 million. One thing that could not be done is place a murder charge on Ramos. The District Attorney at the time, Robert Morgenthau, said a criminal indictment could not be sought because the body of Etan has never been found. Ramos is scheduled to be released from prison in November 2012. The Patzes fear he will continue to be a threat to children until he is unable to walk. Ever since he learned of Ramos’ confessions, Stan Patz sends Ramos a copy of Etan’s missing poster on Etan’s birthday and the anniversary of his abduction. On the backs, Stan has typed the question: “What have you done to my little boy?”

Potential Second Suspect: Othniel Miller

Despite the strong evidence against Ramos and the subsequent legal actions, the case continues to be unclosed. The fact that no body has been found has prevented a lot of justice from being done and the decades-old mystery from being solved. In May 25, 2010, the Etan Patz case was reopened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Since then, a second suspect has come to the attention: Othniel Miller. At the time of the Patz disappearance, Miller was a handyman who owned a workshop in a building near the apartment the Patzes resided in. His workshop doubled as a play room for small children. Recent revelations have come to light in recent years: one is from his ex-wife that he raped her 10 year-old niece; another is the fact that a fresh concrete floor was poured in his workshop the year after Etan’s Disappearance; another is Jose Ramos did odd jobs for Miller in the past.

Miller is now 75 and has suffered many strokes. He was very cooperative in talking with FBI agents for the past 30 years but denies any involvement with the Patz case. Then a cadaver dog was allowed to sniff in the basement and alerted a clue. There was the potential that Etan could be buried underneath the floor of concrete. Nevertheless cadaver dogs are known to be erroneous and can easily be distracted if they sniff out something as simple as a dinner. Despite the slim odds, Stanley Patz was content with the search as he believed something is better than nothing. The search began on Thursday the 19th. Concrete was excavated, cut, crushed and even analyzed for any possible forensic detail. There was a stain on the wall that came to the alert as a possible bloodstain. However the search for Etan in that apartment concluded on Sunday. There was not enough evidence. That small stain wouldn’t be enough to prove anything according to the NYPD because it’s quite possible it wasn’t a bloodstain at all. There was no body found underneath the basement floor. Even that claim against Miller is under question as his stepson claims he never raped his 10 year-old niece and would never hurt a child. For the record, Miller was never charged for it. Nevertheless the Etan Patz case remains opened. A mystery like this deserves to be solved.

Whether Etan Patz will ever be found or whether case will ever be closed or not is still a big question. There may be new evidence and new investigations anytime in the future. Nevertheless the recent search reminded the public of the importance of this case. It was the missing child case that led to the major changes and tougher procedures in policing and justice that exist today. It was also the case that made parents and children wake up to the potential dangers. It all started that Friday morning in Manhattan 33 years ago. Hard to believe the child whose case started it all has never been found.

UPDATE: For May 25th update, Click Here.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Disappearance Of Etan Patz. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Etan_Patz>

“Etan Patz: Search Ending With No Evidence Of 6 Year-Old Boy.” ABC News.go.com. 2012. ABC News. 23 April 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/US/etan-patz-search-ending-evidence-year-boy/story?id=16192599

For Further Reading:

Writer’s Editorial s from Yahoo:

http://news.yahoo.com/etan-patz-changed-generation-213000800.html

http://news.yahoo.com/nyc-boy-vanished-era-anxiety-born-181742158.html