Normally I don’t like to see documentaries. I’ve seen enough one-sided documentaries in the previous decade to turn me off them. However I took an interest in Time. Injustice to African-Americans has been a heated topic this year and I felt Time was worth seeing.
The documentary consists mostly of filmed footage from court appearances, church appearances and camera phone videos of various moments and shown in black and white. The film begins with Sibil Fox Richardson trying to get a result back from the legal system for the freedom of her husband Robert. Robert was sentenced to prison for 60 years for an armed robbery he committed. It was his first offence. It’s a sentence many, including Sybil, feel is unjust and she’s working to get him freed.
The story is a long process as Sibil is trying to get a result or even a simple answer from the Louisiana Justice Department. It’s been a long wait over years. Each time she’s been calling, she gets a message that they don’t have a result or even an answer for her. Even when they give Sibil a due date when they’ll have it ready, it’s the same response: no answer.
You may ask how did this all start? It was in the 1990’s when Robert and Sibil had plans to start a business of their own. They planned on starting a sportswear store of their own in Lafayette. It seemed destined for promise as sportswear was all the rage in the 1990’s and Lafayette is a big football town. However business didn’t go as well as they hoped. The two decided to rob a bank in 1997; Robert did the robbery and Sibil drove the getaway car. They were eventually caught and convicted. Robert’s sentence was 60 years in prison and Sibil’s was 2 1/2 years.
Since Sibil’s release, she’s been able to get her life together. She’s been able to maintain a successful career, become a responsible member of the community, and has had six children — all boys including two twins — through Robert. She’s also done a very good job of raising her sons. Her oldest son graduated from a medical college. Her twins are also very good academically. One son is on the school debating team and plans to pursue a career in justice.
One thing is still missing. Robert is not free from prison. His prison sentence was excessive. Sibil has stayed loyally married to Robert during the time and it has been her goal to get him out of prison. It’s a goal in which she’s been struggling with for years involving lawyers, court appearances, legal department negotiations, and even media interviews. She even has a life-sized picture of Robert in his prison uniform glued to a cardboard cutout in the kitchen. It’s a reminder to her and her sons what she’s fighting for.
The battle is undoubtedly a personal one. She loves Robert unconditionally, but it’s hard seeing him imprisoned. It’s hard for her to see it both as a wife and as a mother. She knows how hard it is for her sons to see their father imprisoned. It’s hard when the Justice Department promises something by a certain date, and even has a time limit by law, but they don’t have the answers and it is delayed. She’s polite about it over the phone to whoever she calls about it, but her angry feelings become obvious once she hangs up. It’s also a personal burden for her with her being the getaway driver of the robbery. She served her time, raised her family well, received forgiveness from others, but something’s missing. She may have been forgiven by others, but she never asked her own mother for forgiveness. She’s even seen at her local church during a service asking for forgiveness from her community.
SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this paragraph if you don’t want to know the ending. However at long last, Robert is free. We see the video of the day Robert is released and driven home by Sibil. The trip ends with a kiss: the first kiss during Robert’s freedom! The family celebrates with a backyard barbecue. The final act of the celebration is the family can take the cardboard picture of Robert and burn it on the barbecue.
This is a case of the right documentary at the right time. Systemic racism has been a very heated topic of 2020. George Floyd isn’t the first African-American to be killed at the hands of police. Police brutality has caused the deaths of many African Americans for decades. However when the news and video hit the public eye, the outrage grew. It was like the outrage over a common injustice had been hidden for so long and just exploded at that moment. Like a bubble bursting. It’s especially frustrating when they live in a country with a president who denies the wrongdoing and wants to label protesters ‘thugs’ and ‘extremists’ all for the sake of winning the upcoming Presidential Election. And talk from right-wing media pundits who remind the public of crime statistics involving African Americans aren’t helping to put out the fire either. The outrage was not restricted to the United States. Protests were worldwide as people were united in solidarity not only of what happened in the US but of racism in their own countries.
This documentary is about another failure of the system towards African-Americans: the justice system. In the 1980’s, a lot of Tough On Crime acts were enforced into law. This has especially hurt African Americans as prison populations escalated and African Americans make up more of the percentage of prisoners that white prisoners. Much of the problem is predominantly black neighborhoods being overpoliced and black convicts receiving harsher prison sentences. While crime by whites have gone either overlooked or underpunished.
The documentary gives a very good example of this injustice. It puts a human face on what it’s like to be the wife of a husband of a harsh prison sentence. Times like these make you wonder what they’d give a white man who committed the same crime. Sibil comes across as a strong woman who’s determined to beat the odds on the outside, but her inner frailty soon becomes obvious. She ends a phone call with the justice board politely despite the disappointing news, but speaks her anger about how she feels about it. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind about the racism she senses once the call ends. She’s proud of how her sons have grown up but she is still upset that they’ve all only own their father behind bars. She talks of how difficult, but necessary, it is to keep her family intact. She even wrestles with the personal demon of being part of the crime. She served her full sentence long ago and appears to have more than made up for it, but personal things like repentance to those she hasn’t repented to still bother her. The use of personal camera work is best at showing the human side of the matter because it gets the honesty of what’s happening.
The film focuses on the injustice, but it also focuses on rays of hope. Getting Robert freed from prison isn’t the only ray of hope in the film. The first ray of hope is seen in Sibil’s own life and parenting. Sibil is an oddsbeater. She refuses to make a repeat offender of herself. She’s become a responsible person in her community and church. She acknowledges the past wrongs she and her husband did and wants to move forward. As for parenting, statistics state children of parents in prison most likely grow up to become criminals themselves. That’s not the case for her sons. Their oldest graduates from a medical college. Both of her twins do well in high school and one is active on the school debating team. He plans on pursuing a career in justice. I’m sure seeing the unfairness his father endured is probably what fuels his ambition. The husband’s freedom is also a symbol of why it’s important never to quit on doing the right thing. There are a lot of injustices to overcome, but it’s worth it no matter how hard it gets.
The biggest praise should go to director Garrett Bradley. This film won the Best Director award in the US Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival (the first African American director to win this award), the Charles Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award and the Filmmaker Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
Bradley does an excellent job in showing the images that tell the story. With straight film footage that doesn’t have a voiceover and allows the main subject do most of the talking, we get a no-nonsense undistorted story and a proper unmanipulated point of view. Filming takes places from multiple angles and we get the truth exposed. It presents the solution, but also with the huge problems it overcomes. Showing the images in black and white is appropriate because while justice shouldn’t be black and white, the system has turned it into a black and white issue. Even titling the film Time adds to the film’s quality. It’s about time served, time to rebuild your life, time to make a family happen, time to raise your children, more-that-necessary time behind bars and the seemingly-endless time to make justice for your husband happen. Above all, the time to tell the whole story and time to expose the problems in achieving the solution.
Time is more than just an excellent non-nonsense documentary that does an honest portrayal of its theme. It’s the exact documentary we need at a time like this. Also it’s a reminder that ‘Liberty and Justice for all,’ should mean all! No exceptions!
It’s interesting that this year’s Oscars are being held the second Sunday of February. Usually they’re held the last Sunday or the first Sunday of March in a Winter Olympic year. It was pretty evident will all my cramming of my Best Picture reviews. I didn’t start until three weeks to go and I didn’t think I could review all nine in time. But I did! The last of the Best Picture reviews I posted on Wednesday. Next year they’ll be going back to the last Sunday of February. So hopefully reviewing them all will be a lot more relaxed.
Anyways I’m able to make predictions for this year’s Oscars. I’m even able to make some calls for what should win in some categories. I’ve seen enough films to make up 96 of the 124 nominations. They range from single-nomination films like Knives Out to Joker with the most nominations with eleven in total. Most categories have been very predictable with the same film or same effort winning film award after film award. That could help me with my Oscar bingo I’ll be playing once again this Sunday! However there are a few that appear unpredictable. So without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2019 Academy Awards:
All credit to Olly Gibbs for that excellent image of this year’s nominees. This year has a wide range of film among the nine nominees. Two are set during World Wars. Two are written and directed by a Hollywood couple. Four have had a domestic gross at the box office of over $100 million. Two are films that got moved to NetFlix after an initial box-office release. One is done by a master of gangster movies and another is done by his heir apparent, but not a gangster movie at all. One is a modern-day adaptation of a classic novel. One is a fictional account of a cartoon villain. One is of car racing. One is of a failing marriage. One if of classic Hollywood. One is of Hitler through a child’s eyes. One is a possible answer to a popular whodunit. One is of a journey during war. And one is of an impoverished family trying to break free. All are seen worthy of being nominated in the Best Picture category this year. So here is my rundown of the Best Picture nominees:
1917 – War movies usually win the Academy over, as long as they’re done well. This has been the darling of most awards shows. I predict this as my Will Win pick. I myself admire it for its cinematography and it’s storytelling, but it’s not the film I most want to win Best Picture. Usually for Best Picture, I feel it should have much of the best of the year in the three top categories: acting, directing and writing.
Ford v Ferrari – Very rarely do auto racing movies get nominated for Best Picture. This is more than an auto racing film. It’s about those that were behind the big moment and the family relation of the racer who was shunned behind. Definitely a crowd-pleaser, but it doesn’t look like an Academy-pleaser.
The Irishman – What can I say? This is the film in which I most want to win because this is a film that went above and beyond what I expected out of it. I admire films that go above and beyond what I expect. Plus it had top-notch acting, directing and writing. However it lost a lot of its energy it had back in November. That’s why I think it won’t win.
Jojo Rabbit – This is one movie that would normally not be Best Picture material. I have to say of all nine Best Picture nominees, this is my favorite. This is the most entertaining of the nine. However I know how to separate my personal favorite from the films I feel are the best. Besides I know how stodgy the Academy is towards comedies.
Joker – Last year was something how a superhero movie finally got a Best Picture nomination. This year is a case of a story of the genesis of a villain won crowds and won movie awards. This is an impressive story too. However I feel that it faces stiff competition in the Best Picture race from other films.
Little Women – To think this is the first Little Women adaptation to be nominated for Best Picture! I can’t complain at all as the film took some different twists and it came out a winning story. I admire the way it was directed, written and acted, but there are films that have more boost in this competition.
Marriage Story – Sometimes all it takes to win people is a story that connects with people. That’s the magic of Marriage Story. This film’s best qualities are the acting and writing. However this is another film that appears prone to fall under the weight of bigger competition. Plus this being on NetFlix may be an additional reason why its chances were hurt.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – This is one salute to the Golden Age of Hollywood with a twist. Also it will cause a lot of people to reassess their definition of what a Quentin Tarantino movie is. I know my parents still think Tarantino movies are all ‘blood and guts’ but this film shows a side of Quentin most people overlook. I do rank this as a film in the Top 3 most expected to win, but it’s not my top pick. I think its summer release may have caused it to lose much of its buzz.
Parasite – This is definitely the foreign-language film of the year. Undisputed! This is my Should Win pick because this film has accomplished more than any of the other nine Best Picture nominees. It’s a case once again that the best film of the year is not in the English-language. However I’m very doubtful it will win. I remember last year Roma was the best film but it lost out to Green Book. That solidified my belief the Academy will never make a foreign-language film a Best Picture winner.
I know a lot of people often think the Academy Awards are a case of Hollywood patting itself on the back. One can say an excellent example of this was last year when Roma lost Best Picture to Green Book. If Once Upon A Time In Hollywood wins this, then it will further prove their point. I am very doubtful Parasite will win. However if 1917 wins, it won’t look like Hollywood patting itself on the back because it’s a British film!
Should Win: Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
Will Win: Sam Mendes – 1917
I chose Bong Joon-ho naturally. Most people feel the common belief that The winner for Best Director should be the director of the Best Picture winner. It happens over 70% of the time at the Oscars. As a result my Best Director pick for Should Win is from the same film as my Should Win for Best Picture. I feel it’s right since Parasite is the film I admire most and it’s Bong who made it happen. I feel it will go to Sam Mendes because of his past awards success this year. Nevertheless I would not be disappointed if it did because 1917 is a film that’s worth admiring.
Should Win and Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
What can I say? It’s not just about being widely praised as the acting performance of the year but of the movie role of the year. Nobody — not even the most loyal of Batman fans — expected Joker to be the film that it is. It’s a film that not only tells the story of the emergence of the Joker, the chaos of Gotham City and the genesis of Batman, but it takes one into the mind of Arthur Fleck. One knew that Arthur would snap any minute. What can I say? One could argue that it’s Joaquin that single-handedly made the work!
Should Win and Will Win: Renee Zellweger – Judy
I never reviewed Judy in my blog after I saw it back in November. It’s an excellent story of a period in the last year of Judy Garland’s life. It focuses on her attempt for a comeback and how it appeared showbiz took everything out of her. It also flashed back to her childhood and how she was raised to think that a normal life that the other girls were having is for mortals. Renee was excellent in embodying Judy as she looked like a person who just couldn’t come to terms with herself and even feared what she would mostly be remembered for. Renee was spot on in epitomizing Judy from the voice, to the singing to the hostile attitude to the troubled personality to even writing left-handed.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Should Win: Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Will Win: Brad Pitt – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
One thing about this year’s acting nominees. A lot of people talked about the lack of racial diversity. That is true, and I even reminded people in social media of Spielberg saying the Academy is like a member-only club.
As for actors, another lack of diversity is that only six nominations went to performances from five actors who were never nominated before. For Supporting Actor, this is normally a ‘newbie-friendly’ category but all five have been nominated before in the past and only Brad Pitt has never won an Oscar. That appears likely to change as he is the heavy favorite to win for his scene-stealing in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Actually Brad has enough screen time to qualify for the Best LEAD Actor category! However I would be likely to go with Joe Pesci for his portrayal as a mob boss who appears like a father figure. Nevertheless Sunday will be Brad’s moment.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Should Win and Will Win: Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Some performances nominated for Supporting Actor/Actress are usually lead roles that are ‘politicked’ as supporting roles, like I I mentioned about Brad Pitt earlier. Some supporting acting nominations and wins are because they’re good at stealing the show from the lead actors. And some nominations and wins in the supporting acting categories can also be because they do an excellent job of character acting. That’s why I have no problem with Laura Dern winning. She made you hate Nora! She did an excellent job as the manipulative sly-talking lawyer and she made her character of Nora almost look like she was a snake! Actors are taught about even using animal-like behaviors to enhance characters. This award is Laura’s for the taking. And on the day before her 53rd birthday to boot!
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Should Win: Boon Jong-ho – Parasite
Will Win: Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
If there’s one major category that I feel will be the hardest to predict, it’s actually both screenplay categories. Lately some of the award shows have given alternating views on who they think is the best. I agree with what Bong Joon-ho said in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to so many more amazing films.” I agree, but I doubt if the Academy agrees. Roma may have won last year, but I don’t think they’ll make it two in a row.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Should Win: Steve Zaillian – The Irishman
Will Win: Greta Gerwig – Little Women
It’s interesting that Greta and her common-law partner Noah Baumbach are both nominated for screenplays this year. I had to go with The Irishman on this one because it’s a complex story that Zaillian is able to make work. I think they will give it to Great for putting a new twist to a story that’s been adapted numerous times. I think the biggest upset could come from Jojo Rabbit, but I’m still set on Little Women.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Will Win: Toy Story 4
This year I did not see any of the nominated films. I only saw three animated films and none of them got nominated here. Even though Klaus won the Annie Award and the BAFTA, I have a feeling Disney is going to take it again. This is the one category Disney wants to win most. wouldn’t that be something if Toy Story 4 loses to a NetFlix film?
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Should Win and Will Win: Parasite (South Korea)
For those wondering, this is a new title for the category that used to be called Best Foreign Language Film. This year I saw four of the five nominees in this category, which is extremely rare for me. The others I saw are Pain And Glory, Honeyland and Corpus Christi. That means I can also make a ‘should win’ judgement in this category. It’s safe to say Parasite is the foreign-language film of the year. Also Honeyland makes history as the first documentary to be nominated in this category.
Will Win: Roger Deakins – 1917
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Will Win: Jacqueline Durran – Little Women
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Will Win: Honeyland
BEST FILM EDITING
Will Win: Yang Jin-mo – Parasite
BEST HAIR AND MAKE-UP
Will Win: Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker – Bombshell
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Will Win: Hildur Guðnadóttir – Joker
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Will Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Will Win: Barbara Ling & Nancy Haigh – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
BEST SOUND EDITING
Will Win: Ford v Ferrari
BEST SOUND MIXING
Will Win: Ford v Ferrari
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Will Win: 1917
SHORT FILM PREDICTIONS
JUST ONE MORE – TOP OSCAR UPSETS
Here are the five upsets I anticipate are most likely to happen. In category order:
- Taika Waititi for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit
- Klaus for Best Animated Feature
- Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland for Best Film Editing for Ford v Ferrari
- American Factory for Best Documentary Feature
- The Lion King for Best Visual Effects
And there you go. My predictions for the winners, and possible upsetters of the 92nd Academy Awards. Having a hostless Oscars last year was such a success, they did it again this year. Will it be as entertaining? Will there be some shock winners like Olivia Colman was last year? It will all be decided Sunday night.
Every year I do the Vancouver Film Festival, I make the effort to end my VIFF with the very last show. Once again, it was at 11:15pm at the Rio Theatre on Friday, October 12th. This year, it was the New Zealand thriller-comedy Mega Time Squad. It wasn’t the best film to end it with, but it wasn’t one of the worst.
John has a life that’s going nowhere. His parents are deceased. He lives in a garage in a town full of aged people. The only way he can make any kind of money is for working with a crime boss named Shelton who’s hired him with a lot of other dim bulbs.
Shelton gives John and another dim bulb named Gaz a mission. He wasn’t them to intercept a money drop at a Chinese antique store being dropped off by a rival Chinese gang led by a man named Wen. This turns out to be a bad idea as Gaz says he’s tired of being Shelton’s bitch. The heist is successful as they grab the money, but John gets a lot more. From the antique store, he grabs a Chinese bracelet. The store-owner tells him not to take the bracelet, claiming it has a mysticism that could be harmful. John ignores and takes it.
The crazy thing about the heist is that it has the Chinese gang and his own gang after John. John doesn’t know what to do until he discovers a time machine that can transport him back into time and avoid whatever trouble they’re facing. The machine also duplicates the user, so John uses it to get more than one John around. Eventually all the Johns meet up. The lead John declares his group of selves the ‘Mega Time Squad.’
The good thing is that John can accomplish what he misses the first time with his duplicate selves. The bad news is none are brighter than the original John. Plus with the charm bracelet, it could mean all the Johns would die off soon, including him. The various Johns are able to accomplish the heist, win a fight win over Wen, and fool people while the real John has won over the affection of Shelton’s younger sister Kelly. Eventually the actions of the various Johns catch up to the real one as Wen’s gang is after him and Shelton has a mission involving a bomb for him to do, which he eventually fails. Kelly learns of this and is turned off John.
However John has to do right. John is able to fix the curse so that all the other Johns are in a room. He reverses the curse of the bracelet and all the other Johns die with Kelly witnessing. Also Wen is able to get the bag of money John stole. Meanwhile an infuriated Shelton wants to see him. Shelton is about to shoot him for not doing his part right, but John confronts him and tells him he gives everyone the risky business while Shelton sits back and calls orders. Shelton tries to shoot john, but the bullet is shot in the reverse direction. RIP Shelton! All the gang members are free and John is free to love Kelly. As for Wen and the bag of money, that’s for you to see.
Here we go again where we see a New Zealand film that tries to be a thriller-comedy. I’ve seen it before many times at the VIFF with Housebound and Deathgasm. Housebound was the best-done of the three I’ve seen. Deathgasm was more focused on the humor and the gore than it was on the story, but still delivered on entertainment. Mega Time Squad gave me the feeling like I was watching the same thing over again. Also it didn’t compare to the other two as a story or in humor. There were a lot of times in which I felt the story was dumb or lacking in thrills. There was a lot missing.
One thing I will not do is declare this movie to be a disappointment. This film wasn’t the disappointment Housewife was. The acting was still good, if not great. The story was consistent and made sense. Even the foolishness or ridiculousness of the story or the idiocy of the characters didn’t come across as stupid or confusing. I will admit that this is the type of film that could simply be a made-for-TV film on a sci-fi network. However the film does deliver on a consistent story line that is fun, entertaining and humorous. It may be boring or lackluster in comparison, but it still entertains and will make you laugh.
I wouldn’t say this is an accomplishment for writer/director Tim Van Dammen, who ironically was an actor in Deathgasm. However I will say that it delivers in entertainment. Sure, some of it was idiotic, but it was able to pull itself together at the end and even deliver a humorous ending. Anton Tennet was funny as the loser-turned-winner John. Even some of his acting looked idiotic, but it was on for the most part. Hetty Gaskell-Hahn was the scene-stealer as Shayna. She was solid in her character and she helped make the film too. Yoson An was also good as a humorous villain who meets a surprise at the end.
Mega Time Squad offers nothing new for the thriller genre. I’ve seen it done before and done better. Nevertheless it will entertain you and get you laughing. It is a welcome relief after watching a lot of heavy, intense fare at the VIFF. And a good way to end the VIFF, if not end it with a bang.
And there you go! That sums it up for all the films I saw at the Vancouver Film Festival. I know it took longer than I should, but I saw a lot of movies and had little time to write. But I’m finally done now. My review of the Fest will be coming very shortly within a day or two.
I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:
-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.
The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.
-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.
I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.
-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?
It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.
-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.
Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.
-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.
And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS
This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:
-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?
It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.
-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?
It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.
-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.
They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.
It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.
-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.
Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay? Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.
-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.
At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.
And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.
With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.
Nameless Gangster looks like South Korea’s attempt to try and make a gangster movie. The one thing is it does a very good job at making one. This film is more than what one bargained for.
Choi Ik Hyun doesn’t seem like the type to become a gangster. He’s a customs officer in Busan who was pilfering goods and taking bribes along with colleagues at the most. On top of it, he gets drunk very often and comes off as both clumsy and idiotic after a lot of drinking. That all changes when he comes across 10kg of heroin in the warehouse. He and a friend approach a gangster, Choi Hyung-bae, to sell it to Japan’s yakuza that he’s tied to. He also learns that Hyung-bae is from the same family tree.
Soon the two would become partners in crime and they would form their own organized crime syndicate. Soon Choi’s power grows to owning night clubs and one of Busan’s first class hotels. He also faces power struggles from close associates, people within his gang and even among rivals. Some of it has to do with his feisty personality and his habit for getting drunk easily. Other times it’s because of the conflict of who’s really in power. As Choi’s power grows, politics are changing in South Korea. The dictatorship which allowed Choi to prosper in his criminal activity is now making way to democracy with the election of President Roh Tae-woo just before the Seoul Olympics. Just two years after the election, the government proposes a crackdown on organized crime. Choi knows his days are numbered. He knows the connections to prosecutors that helped some of his men get off charges in the past won’t work anymore. The story ends with the predictable as the movie begins with a prosecutor announcing the arrest of Choi in 1990 but it ends on a different and on a note one wouldn’t expect from a gangster movie.
The film’s script is good for that it’s able to mix humor with organized crime the same way Pulp Fiction and Fargo does. However the film is just as smart as it is in its story too. The film’s script is very detailed in how it’s able to take into account the situation in Busan and the rest of South Korea during that time. It takes into good account the situation of crime in Busan in the 80’s during the time South Korea was still under a dictatorship. Yeah, just because South Korea wasn’t under the tight grip the communist North was under as was well-to-do doesn’t mean the people of South Korea were completely free at the time. It also highlights the changes in South Korea as the decade progress from the student protests, to the Seoul Olympics to the election of President Roh Tae-Woo to Roh’s crackdown on organized crime and corruption. This is a part of history few outside South Korea know about. It’s as much of an eye-opener as it is entertaining.
The movie not only shows South Korea’s changing political climate at the time but how it impacted Choi and why he made his choice to organized crime. South Korea was under a dictatorship to the move to democracy to the crackdown on organized crime. While South Korea was still under a dictatorship Choi’s income as a customs officer wasn’t good. Organized crime seemed his way out at the time. He chose it and reaped the lucrative rewards as well as the star status. He also faced threats from outside rivals and rivalry within his own gang. As South Korea made the move to democracy, prosecutors then became the stars of the new Korea and that meant the downfall of Choi. The title Nameless Gangster could be because Choi could be any man in South Korea at that time. The subtitle Rules Of The Time send the message that the movie is as much about the times as it’s about the protagonist.
There were two powerful scenes in the film on that subject. The first was when Choi was having dinner with his children while he knew his arrest would be eventual. He says goodbye to his son as he is about to go to Los Angeles and told him of the importance of learning the English language. Another was when he was at a religious ceremony for his newborn grandchild. It’s the child of his son who’s now a prosecutor. The scene where his grandson grips Choi’s finger is a powerful one of hope. It’s like Choi’s happy that his son and grandson have the better futures that Choi never had the chance for.
Without a doubt, the character of Choi was the top quality of the movie. It’s surprising how a bumbling, clumsy, easy drunk like Choi could ever manage to rise to the top of the organized crime scene in Busan but somehow he does. The movie wasn’t just about Choi and his bumbling meetings or his criminal activities. It was also about Choi the husband and Choi the father. The scenes with his children and grandchild show a different side of Choi and make his character three-dimensional rather than the typical stock character of comedies. Actor Choi Min-shik did a very good job with the role. Scriptwriter and director Yun Jong-bin did an excellent job in writing a script that was as comical as it was smart and bringing it to the screen well. I will admit I was first confused during the movie wondering what the point was in having a clumsy, oafish man as a major organized crime don but it all made sense in the end.
Nameless Gangster has received a lot of buzz. In South Korea, the film was #1 at the box office for three weeks. The film has received many awards and nominations amongst South Korea’s movie awards. Time magazine even described it as: “the Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of.” Interesting that the Busan-born Yun is almost 32 years-old and he has released two other films that have raised eyebrows, especially in the ways they depict male mannerisms. Already Yun looks like he’s on to a very promising career in directing especially with the success of Nameless Gangster.
Nameless Gangster is more than just an entertaining story of a crime boss. It’s also a statement about South Korea’s politics at the time and about the man caught in between. Definitely a film worth seeing.