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VIFF 2015 Review: Hadwin’s Judgement

Hadwin's Judgement is about Grant Hadwin and why he committed his act of what some would call 'ecoterrorism.'

Hadwin’s Judgement is about Grant Hadwin and why he committed his act of what some would call ‘ecoterrorism.’

British Columbia, especially Greater Vancouver, is known for people using radical and even destructive methods to make their statement heard on an issue. One such person who’s lesser known in Grant Hadwin who cut down a beloved tree on the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1997. The documentary Hadwin’s Judgement traces Hadwin’s path from logger to radical to his mysterious disappearance.

The film is almost like a biography of Grant Hadwin and the moments in his life that changed him forever. Grant Hadwin was born in West Vancouver. He came from a logging family and eventually found himself working on the Queen Charlotte Islands. However he soon developed an anger when he saw how much forest was being cut down from the island and how fast with the modern cutting methods. He writes letters of complaints to businesses. He even tries to start his own business which makes products out of decayed wood or wood long cut down but it doesn’t succeed.

Doug Chjapman plays Grant Hadwin in re-enactments with no dialogue but says it all with his mind.

Doug Chapman plays Grant Hadwin in re-enactments with no dialogue but says it all with his mind.

The deforestation of the area along with his mental instability takes his toll on him and he cuts down the sacred tree of the island– the 1000 year-old Kiidk’yaas (The Golden Spruce)— to send his message. He awaited trial with many a person angry at him. However Grant pursues a kayaking trip up the Boeing Strait. He is never seen again although his broken kayak, letter in lamination and tools have been found intact. He has still never been found dead or alive.

The film is mostly a documentary featuring people who mostly knew Grant during his lifetime. It features co-workers to friends to a local photographer who photographed him swimming just before his disappearance to John Vaillant who wrote an award-winning book on him. It also interviews people of the Haida Gwaii who knew the tree. The Haida Gwaii consider trees to be sacred so it’s no wonder the chopping of that tree would hurt them deeply.

However the film doesn’t just present people interviewed. It also provides people first-hand knowledge of the Haida Gwaii people, their legends and their beliefs. It provides insight to Grant’s feelings around the time and includes narration of the letters he wrote in his protests. It even includes moments in Grant’s life re-enacted by actor Doug Chapman playing Grant. Doug never utters a word of dialogue in his acting but it’s like you’re reading Grant’s mind just with the looks on his face. You could see why Grant would lose his patience with what was happening and do what he did. It still remains a question. Was it Grant’s attitude to the deforestation of the area? Or was it a mental imbalance? Or both? Even I myself wondered if he valued trees so much why would he cut the sacred Golden Spruce down? I later assumed Grant did it possibly to say to all those logging companies: “You want wood so bad? Here’s your wood, bastards!” That’s my belief to why he did it. People snap.

Despite the storytelling, narration and re-enacting of Grant’s moments, the best attribute of the documentary has to be the cinematography. Right from the start, you see images of the rain forest, an aerial view of Queen Charlotte Island and a panoramic shot of the forest. Already images of beauty that tell what this island is all about and why the island’s natural features are important. It’s not just beautiful images like those that make the film but the uglier images too. The film includes footage of the tree cutting mechanisms through all angles. You can see just how they can cut down a whole tree in seconds. You can see why through such mechanisms looms the threat of deforestation. So much cutting in so little time. The film also shows the ugly aftermaths of all the trees cut down. There’s one panoramic view that not only shows a wide forest but of a cut-down area. That’s one of the many eyesores. Other eyesores include closer shots of land that used to be forests, images of piles of dry dead wood and the biggest of all: the Golden Spruce down on the ground with its leaves soaking in the river. Even single images like that of a freighter full of logs tells the story of the land and why Grant Hadwin was compelled to make such a judgement. Shots that included Grant also provided for the storytelling including the site of his broken kayak.

Sasha Snow did a great job in creating a documentary that gives people’s opinions of Grant through all angles and even re-enacts some of his key moments. Sasha not only includes those that know him but the local Haida Gwaii and author Vaillant. Sasha made a lot of smart choices in telling the story such as having an actor act out Grant’s moments instead of showing photographs. In fact we only see one photograph of Grant in the film right at the very end.

Hadwin’s Judgement is more than a documentary. It takes you inside the person, the land, the people of the land and the economic pressures of the times. I don’t know if the film completely supports Hadwin’s decision but it provides the reasons why he did it.

 

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VIFF 2014 Review: Queen And Country

All is fair in love and war in Queen And Country.

All is fair in love and war for a grown-up Billy Rowan (played by Callum Turner) in John Boorman’s Queen And Country.

Remember Hope And Glory from 1987? The sequel to it, Queen And Country, came out this year and it’s a good film on its own even for those who didn’t see Hope And Glory.

Seven years have passed since the end of World War II. Billy Rowan is now 18 to 20. Since the war he and his family live on an island surrounded by the Thames River which has become a popular spot for filming. Billy however is still a bit of a sissy for his age. However being commissioned for military service may just change that. Before he arrives for training, he meets another young man his age named Percy Hapgood on the train. However he also meets an older woman named Ophelia in the town nearby his training base.

During military service, he goes from simply training to actually having positions of authority, albeit in typewriting class. Both he and Percy do not take well at all to their general Redmond whom they feel to be a hard-heart with no sense of humor at all. Also at their age, they want to have fun with the ladies. A certain girl at the local pub Sophie fancies Billy but he’s off pursuing Ophelia.

Over time Billy gains the respect of the elders and the friendship with Percy grows to the point he helps Percy to steal an office clock Redmond values. Billy even makes returns to the family, one time bringing Percy along whom younger sister Dawn fancies and another time bring Ophelia. Despite all the fun, realities do settle into Billy. The age of Ophelia will prove to be an unavoidable factor. The truth about the prank to steal the clock will come to light for both Billy and Percy as one head officer had already been stripped of his title. And the reality of war becomes more and more eventual for Billy as Britain enters the Korean War. This paves the way for an end that’s both happy, sad and funny for all who are involved.

The best thing about the film is that it is excellently made and it is entertaining. Seeing a young male of 20 being drafted with the British armed forces and all the irresponsibility and shenanigans that come with it does make for an entertaining show. It’s also a treat for those who saw Hope And Glory to see Billy now all grown up and now being placed into the possibility of fighting in a war himself. Whatever happens all turns out for the humorous and things do work out in the end despite paying the consequences.

It also makes one question if this film is autobiographical from Boorman just like Hope And Glory. I will admit it doesn’t have the same special uniqueness Hope And Glory had. For those who remember, Hope And Glory was World War II through a child’s eyes. It was actually one of three films in 1987 that showcased World War II through a child’s eyes. The other two being the French film Au Revoir les Enfants and Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun which starred a 14 year-old Christian Bale and a not-yet-famous Ben Stiller. Queen And Country was not as unique as there have been other stories before. Nevertheless it’s very entertaining and more comedic than Hope And Glory.

This film is not too heavy of a political statement. However it does have some political messages with the potential of fighting in the Korean War. Another notable underlying message is the change of power after King George dies and the monarchy is transferred to Queen Elizabeth. We forget that Elizabeth was a mere 26 when she came onto the throne and a lot of people were not that confident in her at first. Interesting because she would be the one who turned the British Empire into a Commonwealth. Even British attitudes of what’s ‘manly’ also add to the theme of the film.

My big dilemma is I wonder why Boorman took so long to make a sequel to Hope And Glory. Queen And Country takes place at least seven years after the setting of Hope And Glory. It’s a wonder why such a film was not released back as say 1994. In fact I think that has to be the biggest weakness of the movie, its late release. I’m sure the movie can attract people who saw Hope And Glory back when it was first out but twenty-seven years is a long time to release such a follow-up story. Also I’m sure most of today’s movie crowds may not be familiar with the story of Hope And Glory. If it was released as say 1994 as I suggested, I’m sure there would be more of an audience interest especially since a lot of them can remember the adventures of Billy Rohan and would want to see how Billy grows up.

John Boorman again delivers a film of excellent direction and writing. Calum Turner did a very good job playing the grown-up Bill Rohan both in his character and as a young adult getting in trouble. Caleb Landry Jones was a scene-stealer as Billy’s partner in crime. Tasmin Egerton was very good as the seductive but confused Ophelia. Pat Shortt however did the best character acting as the shrewd Officer Redmond. The supporting actors also added into the film even if their parts were minor.

VIFF Note: The Vancouver International Film Festival is where Queen And Country made its North American debut. Aren’t we lucky?

Queen And Country is an excellent sequel to Hope And Glory, albeit badly timed. Nevertheless it was entertaining and worth watching.

Movie Review: Frozen

Frozen

I’ll admit it’s rather late for me to be reviewing Frozen. I wasn’t interested in it at first. However its success at the box office coupled with its Oscar buzz helped me change my mind.

Normally I’d give a description of the film in my reviews but I won’t here since most of you have already seen Frozen by now. I’ll just go in to what I have to say. There are a lot of unique and great aspects of this movie. First is its unexpected twists. You’d first think it would be Kristoff that would save Elsa, Anna and the kingdom but it turns out to be Elsa. Already there are a lot of writers and bloggers comparing Elsa to Merida in Brave in terms of heroine status. I’ll bet you never thought Kristoff would be one of the bad guys. Second is its animation that truly mesmerizes. I was dazzled when I saw Elsa’s snow-spell and even the ‘ Castle Of Ice’ created on screen. Watching Frozen was like being taken to a world of ice at times.

Thirdly is the musical aspect of the movie. For many decades, even as close to about twenty years ago, animated movies were commonly musicals and excelled in telling the stories with catchy songs. From Someday My Prince Will Come in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Hakuna Matata in The Lion King, you could always rely on an animated feature to deliver charming music. When 3D became the staple of animated features, the features were predominantly non-musicals and the movies were more focused on the story and the animation. When was the last animated feature done as a musical that dazzled you? Yeah, that far back. Frozen is the first 3D animated musical that has won the movie-going public by storm. It’s refreshing to see the musical aspect come back in animated movies and even added to 3D animated movies successfully for the first time. I think the success of Frozen will churn out more musical-styled 3D animation features.

Frozen is a welcome relief in terms of animated movies for 2013. This year was a rather quiet year in terms of animated movies. Sure this summer featured the excitement of the comeback of the monsters of Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 took ‘minion mania’ to new heights but there was nothing new to create new buzz. Nor was there anything with writing that stood out. I’m sure that became apparent to a lot of my subscribers when I published my blog about Pixar appearing to have lost its spark. Frozen may have come late in 2013 but it sure came to the rescue. Its excellence is not just in having a thrilling story but also in having excellent animation.

Also Frozen has a bonus aspect: catchy songs. It’s not just something that’s been missing from animated movies but movies in general since the new century. You may remember before the 2000’s came there were many catchy songs that came from movies. Since 2000, the presence of a catchy song or even a hit song from a movie is something that has been very rare. I think the last hit song from a movie before Frozen was Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho. I was especially surprised during 2006 when Dreamgirls was in theatres, none of the songs were released as singles despite Beyonce’s chart-topping prowess at the time. I know most of North America was in a hip-hop coma at the time but still… Frozen helped bring back the catchiness of movie music. Already two versions of Let It Go are on the charts right now: Idina Menzel’s version is currently #18 on the Hot 100 and Demi Lovato’s version is at #56 having peaked at 38. Recently Do You Want To Build A Snowman? started hitting the charts and is now at #57. I guess it’s no wonder that the movie has been re-released in a sing-along version.

It’s hard to pick who first to compliment. First off, I’ll say the animation was top notch. The Walt Disney Animation Studios did an excellent job in creating a charming trip to the past and a mesmerizing world of ice. Secondly, kudos should go to Christophe Beck and Kristin Anderson-Lopez for providing music that was not only entertaining but the catchiest movie music in years. Thirdly a great job in the acting and singling by both Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. They’re already established actors and they’ve also had musical experience but this has to be the best combined singing/acting efforts from both of them. The supporting actors were also great in their roles too including Jonathan Groff and Santino Fontana. However it’s Josh Gad that steals the show as the goofy Olaf. Finally great acting/writing efforts from Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Shane Morris. It was something to take Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and turn it into an animated musical. They really delivered a winner. In fact you remember how Disney movies would give animated adaptations of children’s stories like Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio and The Lion King and turn them into beloved classics? I think Frozen is destined to go that same route over time.

Funny thing about Frozen is not just simply its current total success with its box office run but its lack of success when it first started. I’ve noticed on Box Office Mojo that it was only on one single theatre when it opened because it didn’t want to compete with the opening of the latest Hunger Games movie. It got better the following week when it was spread across North America and grossed $67.4 million that weekend but it was still in second to the Hunger Games by $7 million. The funny thing is while most movies came and went during the six weekends since, Frozen stuck around in the Top 3 and was even #1 on two different weekends. It was even #2 the weekend of January 31-February2nd: its eleventh weekend. Okay, the sing-along version release may have something to do with it but it just goes to show its lasting power. In fact it wasn’t until this weekend, its thirteenth, that it finally left the Top 5 and currently sits at #8 with a total gross of over $375 million.

Frozen has been the animated movie both moviegoers and fans of film alike have been waiting for all of 2013. It was definitely worth the wait because it delivers in terms of quality and entertainment value. Maybe I should go back for the sing-along version.