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Super Bowl LI Preview

super-bowl

Yes, it’s that time again. The biggest annual sporting event takes place tonight at the NRG Stadium in Houston. This year, the Conference champions decided are the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. It promises to be a tight game. It also promises to be a big event.

IT’S SHOWTIME

I don’t need to go into the history of the Super Bowl this time around. I did that in last year’s Super Bowl blog. For those who want to read it, click here. Although this will be Super Bowl LI, its 50th anniversary was three weeks ago. But whatever. It’s time to get on with the show.

Stars of the Broadway musical Hamilton will sing America The Beautiful before the game. The Star Spangled Banner will be sung by country singer Luke Bryan. Former president and former first lady George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush will do the coin toss and Lady Gaga will do the half-time show.

Of course there are those one-of-a-kind Super Bowl ads. Ads will cost $5 million for a 30-second airing. Snickers will present a live commercial during the game. Nintendo will introduce its Nintendo Switch video game console. However an ad Budweiser planned on showing during the Super Bowl garnered controversy. It showcased Adolphus Busch immigrating to the U. S. and partnering with Eberhart Anheuser. Many people, especially conservatives, suspected this ad was a pot shot to Donald Trump and his recent restrictive immigration policies.

THE GAME

Yes, the match. The NRG Stadium in Houston is expected to seat 80,000 for the game. The game is expected to be witnessed on television by billions worldwide and have 38 different cameras around the stadium highlighting the players’ plays. For all its hype, the match features two top contenders: the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.

patriots

New England Patriots

The Patriots come in as the favorite for the Super Bowl. They had the best results in the whole of the NFL regular season with 14 wins and two losses. They also played excellently during the conference matches too. The Patriots are no strangers to the Super Bowl as they’ve won their AFC championship nine times including this year and won the Super Bowl four times before: the most recent being 2014.

This year the Patriots have shown a lot of consistency but it’s not without controversy. We all know about Tom Brady and ‘Deflategate.’ It would not surprise me if many want the Patriots to lose because of that. Tom Brady still ranks as one of the top quarterbacks of the NFL and he will be very tough for the Falcons and their defense to bring him down. However the Falcons have excelled in scoring so they will give the Patriots a good fight.

falcons

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are the underdogs. Not just because they don’t have the same win-loss stats as the Patriots but because previous games have exposed their weaknesses. They are the top team of the NFL in terms of scoring but they finished the regular season second in the NFC.

If there’s one thing, the Falcons really came back in the playoffs. They won their Divisional Final against the Seahawks whom they lost to in regular season and they played brilliantly in their Conference Final against the Green Bay Packers. The Super Bowl will prove to be an interesting rivalry as the Patriots have the better defense but the Falcons are the better team at scoring. Also New England may have Tom Brady but Atlanta has Matt Ryan. This year, Ryan set a Falcons single-game record for throwing 503 yards and four touchdowns while teammate Julio Jones caught a team-record 300 yards and a touchdown and a win against the Panthers. So the Falcons know how to arrive.

MY PREDICTION

Okay, one team has been to the Super Bowl many times while this is the second time for the other. One team played the best in the NFL in regular season and continues its brilliance. The other didn’t compare to the other in regular season but has played better than ever in the playoffs. In fact both teams performed brilliantly in their Conference Final wins.

So I predict the win to go to the New England Patriots. I predict the score to be 30-27 and I expect the Falcons to lead temporarily.

So there you have it. There’s my preview of Super Bowl LI. Kickoff to start at 5:30pm Texas time.

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: The Revenant

Revenant

Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) will soon find himself at odds with his former trapping partner John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy at left) in The Revenant.

If there’s one movie that’s had its box office results significantly after the nominations, It’s The Revenant. If you’ve seen it already, you’ll easily see why it could have done excellently even without the Oscar buzz.

It’s 1823 in an unsettled wilderness part of the northern area of the Louisiana Purchase. A group of trappers under the command of Captain Andrew Henry search for pelts until a surprise attack from Arikara Native Americans kills many from the camp and cause the survivors to flee on a boat. Part of the camp is Hugh Glass who is on friendly terms with the Natives–even being a widow to a Native American woman and fathering their ‘half-breed’ son Hawk who’s part of the camp– and knows the area well. At Glass’ recommendation, they abandon ship and walk on foot to return to their outpost Fort Kiowa. This does not settle well with some of the trappers including John Fitzgerald who has a hostile attitude towards Natives after being scalped years ago. He is noticeably hostile to Hawk.

Glass scouts ahead alone for a while but he is mauled by a mother bear protecting her cubs. The attack is brutal and Glass is severely mauled but he’s able to stab the bear. The other people in the camp find Glass but doubt his chances for survival. Henry commands to three men in the camp–Hawk, Fitzgerald and the young Jim Bridger–to stay with Glass until he dies and give him a proper burial. Fitzgerald tries to smother Glass when alone but Hawk stops him. Unfortunately stabbed is killed by Fitzgerald as Glass can only lie and watch. Fitzgerald attempts to bury Glass prematurely but stops when he sees Bridger flee and follows.

Abandoned with only a canteen, Glass is somehow able to survive and slowly heal. Days later, he’s able to heal to the point he can move, then crawl, then walk. As he heals he’s haunted by visions of his deceased wife. He even sees visions of her as he comes across an abandoned church. However he also has to deal with the Arikara whose chief is searching for his kidnapped daughter Powaqa and trusts no white man.

Both Fitzgerald and Bridger are heading to Fort Kiowa but Fitzgerald scares Bridger into being fully under his control. One at the Fort, Fitzgerald tells Henry that Glass died and Hawk was attacked by the Arikara. Henry gives both Fitzgerald and Bridger a cash reward. Fitzgerald accepts without guilt but Bridger refuses.

Glass encounters Hicuk, a friendly Pawnee who gives him food and shelter and helps him along the path back to Fort Kiowa. Hikuc has also lost his family. Upon hearing from Glass his intent for revenge, he tells Glass “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands.” The day after the blizzard, Glass wakes to find Hikuc hanged by French pelters. Not only that, he finds Powaqa being raped by leader of the French pelters. He’s able to kill the two leaders and free Powaqa but has to escape with Hikuc’s horse and Bridger’s canteen. An ambush by the Arikara causes Glass to flee on horse only to fall off a cliff. Glass survives but the horse is dead. Glass uses the horse’s carcass as a shelter overnight.

Meanwhile word has gotten around to Fort Kiowa that Glass is in fact alive. This is known as a French hunter brings Bridger’s canteen there. Henry however thinks it’s stolen from Hawk and organizes a search party but Fitzgerald knows the truth and flees. Henry finds Glass alive in the search. Infuriated, he charges Bridger with treason after returning to the Fort but Glass insists it’s all Fitzgerald’s doing.

The operation then goes to find Fitzgerald and bring him to justice. Henry however is caught by Fitzgerald in an ambush and is killed and scalped. It’s now up to Glass who hatches a plan to finally get his revenge. It works in catching Fitzgerald and having him shot but not without Fitzgerald being able to run off. It then comes down to a fight between the two for Glass to get his revenge. It ends with Glass making a decision and an ending we’re all left to decide for ourselves Glass’ fate.

Now just to get things straight, this is not the true story of Hugh Glass getting revenge on John Fitzgerald. In fact historic documentation shows Glass let Fitzgerald live because he knew the heavy penalty of killing a soldier in the U.S. Army. Fitzgerald became a soldier in the U.S. army and was stationed in Fort Atkinson, Nebraska. Fitzgerald did give Glass his rifle back.

This film is actually a revenge story adapted from the 2002 novel The Revenant: A Story Of Revenge by Michael Punke. I think the focus of the film is more about telling the story than it is about retelling history. I have not read Punke’s novel but I’m sure that was how Punke would have wanted Fitzgerald to face the music upon abandoning Glass to die. There is actually very little information about who John Fitzgerald was or even what type of person he was in real life. We have the historical documentation of what happened to Glass and what happened in his pursuit of Fitzgerald but not much else. The novel was not only Punke’s chance of creating his own revenge fantasy in Fitzgerald but giving Fitzgerald a character of his own. The film helps Punke’s story come alive and even paint a picture of Glass, Fitzgerald, the times, the terrain and the domain of all that happened.

This revenge story is not your typical revenge story you’d see in your typical Hollywood movies or even from the likes of Quentin Tarantino. This revenge story is also a story of survival and also shows a human side of the perpetrator Hugh Glass. Yes, he was as tough as a frontiersman and a trapper of the time should be. However he did have a soft side. He still has feelings towards his deceased wife who was a Native American woman and he truly loved his son despite others seeing him as a ‘half-breed.’ He also had to be tough as he needed to survive the brutal bear attack and recover from his wounds in order to pursue Fitzgerald. He also had to develop the will to live knowing that his son was killed by Fitzgerald. He also had to be right in his mind in deciding what he had to do to Fitzgerald in the end.

I will admit there were times when I questioned if this film was becoming too much of a tall tale. One example is when seeing Glass pursue Fitzgerald in what appeared to be just days before his attack. I often asked: “Would someone who suffered such a brutal bear attack recover in that fast of a time?” Even that scene where Glass and his horse fall off a cliff. The snowy tree broke Glass’ fall and helped him live without any severe bodily damage but the horse died. That scene also had me scratching my head. Maybe those scenes and the elapsed time were also part of Punke’s novel. Nevertheless it still had me questioning its believability.

First off I’d like to give respect to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for delivering an excellent movie. He may be renowned for his ‘filmwork’ but here he takes his first steps in directing a movie intended to draw big crowds while still maintaining some top film making qualities. Very little was compromised and the end result was excellent as it both succeeds as a film and as a movie. I’ll admit I was unhappy about Birdman winning Best Picture last year because it didn’t give much for a film audience to either enjoy or appreciate. Yes, it had top-notch acting, directing and scriptwriting but who truly enjoyed it?  This is ten times more enjoyable while still maintaining top acting and directing. Yes, there were some scenes that can scare many. In fact I’ll admit the film made me hope I never walk in the woods again. Nevertheless it was a very good movie full of drama and thrills. As I said, I have never read Punke’s novel but the script Inarritu co-wrote with Mark L. Smith definitely makes the novel come alive. I know the script was not nominated for an Oscar. However the unspoken scenes in the movie told as much as the scripted scenes.

The film would simply be a popcorn movie if it weren’t for the acting. Leonardo DiCaprio did an excellent job of Hugh Glass. He said a lot especially in the scenes where Hugh Glass was unable to speak. His performance was as much about telling a lot through physical actions as it was through dialogue. Hey, it’s been said 80% of communication is non-verbal and Leo was able to say a lot in those scenes. That’s why I’d be shocked if he doesn’t win the Oscar. Also just as excellent is Tom Hardy. He didn’t play your typical rotten-to-the-core villain. He gave John Fitzgerald some fears and insecurities to the role and conveyed them well. Nevertheless he also made Fitzgerald hateable as a remorseless villain who even calls the dead Hawk a ‘pussy’ in Glass’ face. Additional performances of respect include Bill Poulter as Jim Bridger, the young trapper who possesses the conscience Fitzgerald lacks, and Forrest Goodluck as Hawk.

Additional qualities of acclaim is the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki, the costuming by Jacqueline West including its use of furs and hides, the film editing by Stephen Mirrione, the visual effects including that of the bear attack, the excellent use of both natural settings and constructed sets that fit the times and scenes perfectly and the film’s score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai and Bryce Dessner.

An additional note. I also give the film respect for its treatment of Native Americans. I may have been a baby when Sacheen Littlefeather refuted Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf and spoke of his protest to the on-screen depiction of Native Americans or First Nations peoples as Canadians commonly refer to them as. However I already know of Hollywood’s past and how they’re famous for shelling out ‘cowboys and indians’ movies from decades past. I can completely understand why Brando would have been angry with that depiction as Brando has had a history of activism in the 1970’s on behalf of people of various races. I will admit Hollywood has been better at its depiction of indigenous Americans from films like 1990’s Dances With Wolves and even the character of Chief in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that was shown in theatres a mere three years after Brando’s Oscar protest. I’m sure there are some people that can spot imperfections in Hollywood’s current treatment of Native Americans including in this film but I found it hard to pinpoint a scene that was insulting to them. Sure there were battles with tribes and there were bigoted attitudes among many white characters but there were many positive Native American characters in this movie. In addition the main protagonist Hugh Glass had positive interaction with the Native people including marrying one and treating his son with love while many despised him as a ‘half-breed.’

The Revenant isn’t just a dazzling movie. It’s one that will keep you intrigued from start to finish and not know what to expect next.

Movie Review: Anomalisa

Anomalisa is one of the more adult animated features from 2015 and features a unique story.

Anomalisa is one of the more adult animated features from 2015 and features a unique story.

Most animated features this year have been family-oriented blockbusters. Anomalisa provides for an adult alternative. Does it provide well?

Michael Stone is a motivational speaker who has arrived in Cincinnati for a single day to give a lecture on effective customer service. He should have it all– he’s married, a father and he’s a success at his profession– but you sense something’s missing. That becomes evident when he has images of Bella, his ex-girlfriend from more than ten years ago. In addition, everyone besides Michael has the same voice from the hotel personnel to his ex to his wife Donna and son Henry to even the waitress.

The night appears to be a disaster as he tries to reconnect with Bella in the hotel lounge only to find out she’s emotionally troubled. In the end, he’s only after sex with Bella and she leaves furiously. You can tell he’s not with it as he is looking to buy a toy for his son Henry and end up shopping in a toy store–an adult toy store– and actually buys something for him.

During the night, he thinks he missed getting his room service and goes walking down the hall for the person he wants to see. He knocks on one hotel room and comes across two females who traveled here to hear his lecture. Both are customer service employees. There’s Erica, who’s tall and blond and sounds like everyone else, and Lisa who’s shorter, a brunette and has a very different voice. Michael has drinks with the two which goes better than with Bella but he takes an interest in Lisa. Lisa is surprised as she’s normally the socially rejected one. In fact she took customer service because she’s not normally put in front desk or face-to-face sales positions. In fact her last boyfriend was a boss who just didn’t work out at all with her. She has low self-esteem, often feeling cut off from the world, and admires Cyndi Lauper for her ability to dare to be different. However Michael and Lisa connect and they spend the night together.

The following morning, Michael gets bad dreams about being sexually pursued by others. At breakfast with Lisa, he’s faced with the dilemma that Lisa may not be the one, that she maybe like all the others. He tries to do his lecture, with Lisa and Erica in the audience, but he just can’t put it together. Michael returns back to his home life and his family only to have a surprise party for him in which he doesn’t welcome and suggests his marriage to Donna is in jeopardy. Meanwhile Lisa and Erica head back on their road trip leaving the audience to wonder what will happen long after the story ends.

I am quite accustomed to Charlie Kaufman shelling out unapologetically eccentric entertainment. Being John Malkovich is possibly the most eccentric film I’ve seen outside of Clockwork Orange. Adaptation is an amusing story about Charlie’s ‘twin’ Donald. In addition, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is possibly the best ‘romance of the absurd.’ Anomalisa is possibly the least eccentric film I’ve ever seen from him. This is also very rare that I see him use animation to tell his story. Actually Anomalisa was a stage play written by him ten years ago. That explains why the film is set in 2005.

Basically the film touches on the subject of a person’s feeling of missing voids in their life and their personal belonging. We have a man who should have it all: a married father who has it made as a motivational speaker and instructor. We also have a woman who feels like a misfit and tries to hang onto things that give her positive self-esteem like Cyndi Lauper songs or her best friend since elementary school. They meet by chance and it turns out that they appear just right for each other only to have that chemistry questioned only shortly after.

I will say it did not make sense at the beginning of the film hearing Michael talk in his voice and seeing all the other characters besides Lisa talk in the same voice including Michael’s wife, son Henry, Bella and even Lisa’s friend Erica. It’s once you get into the film you learn why Michael and Lisa are the ones with different voices. The reason why all the other people have the same voice is because to Michael, they’re ‘everyone else,’ including his wife and son. Once you notice Lisa as the only other person with a different voice, you will soon understand that she is something to Michael. It makes sense over time. However this case of voices matching the role will also send a message about the morning after and what Lisa will mean to Michael.

Kaufman does a very good job of writing and co-directing however it’s also Duke Johnson who does a very good job in directing the animation. It’s a wonder why Kaufman wanted to have Anomalisa adapted to animation instead of live-action. Duke has already had experience in animation with two different shorts and an animated series of Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole. Here his animation fused with the story of Anomalisa does seem to come off as a bit odd at first–even seeing Duke’s style of animation does seem different at first– but it seems fitting at the end. I feel it worked out excellently. The vocal talent was also very good as both David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh were both able to provide personality and emotion to their characters of Michael and Lisa respectively. Tom Noonan also did a good job of voicing everyone else and was able to make it sound entertaining. The music of Carter Burwell as well as the inclusion of songs and lyrics from others added to the film.

Anomalisa is a refreshing break from most animated movies that hit it big at the box office. It’s a very adult style of an animation story that’s very offbeat but manages to make sense to you and impressed you in the end.

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: Spotlight

Spotlight stars Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and MArk Ruffalo as journalists ready to settle the score.

Spotlight stars Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo as journalists ready to settle the score.

I’ll admit I saw Spotlight two months ago and I’ve been procrastinating at writing my review. Now that the Oscar nominations are out–actually only an hour ago– this is a better time than ever.

The film begins in the 1970’s of a priest being fired from his job as a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Boston. Fast forward to 2001. The Boston Globe has a new editor, Marty Baron. He first learns of the investigative Spotlight team of the paper headed by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson.

Baron gives the Spotlight team a story to chase: a story of a priest sexual abusing children and Cardinal Bernard Law knowing about it and doing nothing about it. It first starts as a pursuit on a single priest who was continuously moved around from school to school. Over time it they would uncover that there were many priests who also committed acts of sexual abuse on school children and they were all covered up by the Archdiocese.

This is one story they had to get to the bottom of. However they’re limited in terms of resources. Plus they need permission to access sealed documents and have a trial or even an inquiry happen and they doubt they can get it from a Catholic judge. They talk with a head of a victims rights group who himself was abused, they talk to other abuse victims, they talk to a lawyer who’s handling the cases of some of the victims and they even find through an ex-priest who tried to rehabilitate pedophile priests that there could be as 90 sex offenders in the clergy. Further research uncovers additional priests moved about upon their actions being revealed and being listed as ‘relocated’ or ‘resigned.’

In September 2001 it appears the Spotlight team is finally ready to release the story. Then 9/11 happens which makes every other news story in the world take a backseat and cause even a further delay of the story being printed. However the wait works for the better as one of the Spotlight reporters, Michael Rezendes, uncovers proof through publicly available documents that Law knew all about the abuse going on and ignored it. Then a major victory. The judge grants them the right to look into sealed documents. Just as they are about to print the story, Robinson confesses he published a list of pedophile priests in 1993 but he never followed up on it. As the story is published, it creates history.

I’m sure that some people would be nervous about this film and declare it ‘anti-Catholic.’ In fact if I were a conservative conspiracy theorist, I would say Spotlight is a film released by an anti-Catholic director who wonders where all the Catholic hate from liberals went once Pope Francis came to power and wants Spotlight to bring it back. But I’m not a conspiracy theorist nor am I a conservative pundit. In fact the film has received positive feedback from Vatican Radio and even the current Cardinal of Boston praised it in showing how the Archdiocese had to confront its wrong.

I will say that I’ve seen bigger even more savage attacks on the Catholic Church in films in the past, especially from Martin Scorsese. In fact I remember watching 2002’s The Magdalene Sisters where the nuns were depicted as total monsters. I feel films nowadays are less anti-Catholic than that of 20 years ago or even 40 years ago. In fact one thing I give the film credit for is that it looks at all sides. It may portray Cardinal Law as a conniver but it wasn’t hard on depiction of the priests. In fact one scene that stuck out to me was when one of the alleged priests was interviewed. He not only appeared confused in how he didn’t know what sexual abuse was but admitted that he was raped as a boy. That not only shocked me but left me wondering how many of the abusive priests were themselves sexually abused as a boy?

On a personal note, I will admit that when I first saw the film, I left the theatre asking myself “Jon, why did you return to the Catholic Church?” It was a dilemma for days but it did solve itself over time. In fact shortly after, I wrote on my Facebook page: “I gave the Catholic Church a second chance in 2003 and it better not blow it this time.” I will never excuse a priest for sexually abusing any child. I believe they should be brought to justice. In fact, Pope Benedict clarified the issue when he said: “Forgiveness is not a replacement for justice.” I know you can’t take back the past however you can improve the future. The Catholic Church has not become blind to the issue of sexual abuse. In fact I learned from one man who tried to enter into education for the priesthood he had to get a criminal record check, an HIV test and a psychiatric assessment. I’m happy that the Catholic Church is taking the best preventative measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

In fact off topic from the film, I will admit that sexual abuse and the various Diocese’s and Archdiocese’s bad handling of it is a problem but I will also say that it’s a problem that goes far beyond the Catholic Church. It’s a problem that exists in other churches as well, it exists within certain families, it exists within school and it even exists within children’s sports programs. In fact this decade’s biggest sexual-abuse-and-cover-up story came not from a Catholic institution but from coach Jerry Sandusky and the cover up from Penn State university. Makes you wonder why the priesthood gets a lot of defamation from the sexual abuse of those while children’s sports coaches don’t get the same defamation. A sex offender is a sex offender no matter what their profession or even if it’s not to do with a profession at all.  Same thing with Universities, especially since it’s only come to light that colleges have a known rape problem but they’re doing next to nothing about it.

Back to the film, I think the biggest thing the film was focusing on was the bad marriage of church and state. Separation of church and state is enforced in the American constitution but it’s not to say it does find its way mixed into politics one way or the other. In fact I don’t think Spotlight attacks the Catholic Church as a whole but actually attack the Archdiocese of Boston. The film presents how the Archdiocese of Boston has such a huge influence over the city. We’re talking about a city with a huge percentage of Catholics and with a history of the Catholic Church giving, providing and influencing the city. No wonder a city like Boston would have such high regard for the Archdiocese. No wonder most Bostonians would look at priests as father figures. No wonder also would that present the biggest difficulty in terms of getting the ugly truth out, especially with people having a high regard for the Church in power and with a Cardinal sweet-talking those determined to get the truth.

The theme of sexual abuse may be very prevalent in the film but I think the biggest focal point of the film was to show a group of reporters uncovering a scandalous story and bringing it to print. One thing is the film doesn’t make like the Spotlight team are the blemish-free good guys of the film. It’s made known near the beginning of the film that this information was given to them five years earlier. They themselves made a big mistake of their own by delaying the story. Sure, they did a whole whack of effort to finally bring it to press in 2002 but they could have done it sooner. I think that was the whole thing of Spotlight is that it was a movie disinterested in making the image of a hero out of anybody. Besides we already hear of the mistakes of having an image of somebody is a bad thing as one abuse victim admitted he looked at priests to be like God. I’m sure millions more have had that deluded image of the priest being like God in their head. However it also shows how easily people can be feel a sense of betrayal by a Church when such atrocities occur. You can’t really blame them for being that disheartened.

I give top credit to director/writer Tom McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer for directing a complex film that’s like a bunch of pieces of a puzzle that had to be put together. This is a story that’s set in the Spotlight room of the Boston Globe and set in various other places throughout and they had to both show all the different parts of the story and make them come together from time to time. They did a good job of making this complex story come together without straying off into unimportant territory. Also they did a very good job of writing a story of sexual abuse that was watchable. I’ve seen other films of sexual abuse that were more explicit like 1992’s The Boys Of St. Vincent. Mind you it was a 90’s thing to do explicit entertainment because envelope-pushing was all the rage back then because 1; you could never put enough nails in the coffin of the Hays Code and 2; because back then softening of scenes or leaving such things out was considered a form of ‘denial’ in art. Anyways these are not the 90’s anymore and watchability is values more. I’m sure if they showed scenes of abuse in the film, it would make it somewhat unwatchable for many. I feel they made a good choice of limiting the topic of abuse to conversations of victims with the journalists. Especially since the top point of the film is how they brought the story to press. Besides I don’t consider compromising elements in a film for the sake of making it more watchable to be a filmmaking weakness. It’s not the 90’s anymore and Tom McCarthy’s not among the likes of Lars Von Trier.

As for acting, there were a lot of great individual performances most notably from Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams but none of them owned the film. In fact another top quality of the film is that it’s a combined effort from all the actors to play parts that don’t steal the show and add to the story telling by making it look like a unified effort. Even acting of the smaller roles that that of the abuse victims were excellent and added to the story. Overall this not simply a film that’s well-crafted. This is a film that does capture your intrigue. It’s a combined accomplishment from McCarthy, Singer and the actors.

Spotlight isn’t strictly about the incident. It’s about getting the story to the presses and the battles the Boston Globe had to go through to break the silence and finally get the word out. Keeps you interested from start to finish.

Election 2015: Canada Votes

ElectionsCanadaToday on October 19th, all of Canada will vote for who will lead the country over the next four years. For over ten years and three terms, Conservative leader Stephen Harper has led Canada. He seeks a fourth term but faces tough opposition from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. Possible challenges come from the Bloc Quebecois and Gilles Duceppe and the Green Party under Elizabeth May. One thing about this election is that it has proved that anything can happen and no one is guaranteed the label of ‘winner.’ It’s been that close and full of yo-yo statistics. Here’s my rundown:

-Conservative Party: Stephen Harper – You can’t go anywhere without people talking about Stephen Harper. He ran for Prime Minister for the first time in 2004 and was seen as the one to help put conservative muscle back into Canadian politics. Even though he didn’t win, he did succeed in bringing the conservative side back into politics. The Conservative party had 99 seats, up from 72 in 2000, and the victorious Liberals under Paul Martin were left with a minority government after three terms as a majority under Jean Chretien.

Then in January 2006, a new election was held at the sudden revelation of the corruption of Liberal leader Paul Martin and after Governor General Michaelle Jean dissolved parliament. This worked for the benefit of Stephen Harper as the Liberal Party lost enough seats to give Harper’s Conservatives victory. Sure it was a minority with 124 seats but it was enough to give the Liberal party their first loss on the national level since 1988. This meant new changes for Canada with a Conservative government having most of the power albeit only with a minority.

There were many varied opinions about the first term of Stephen Harper. There were many on the left who felt he was too right-wing or making a lot of decisions they felt were wrong. There were others who admired him simply because ‘he says he’s gonna do some thing and he does it.’ I think that’s what wins people: a politician that actually delivers on their claims. This was enough for Harper to be able to win the next election in 2008. He increased the number of seats from 127 to 143 but it was still a minority.

Over time, people across Canada, especially in BC, were expressing their disappointment with his policies. I especially remember the arts community unhappy about the cuts in funding they were dealt in 2008. Then in March of 2011, the Conservative Party was found to be in contempt of parliament. The Government General, like in 2005, again dissolved parliament. This time things went the reverse. Harper’s Conservatives won a third term, this time with a majority of 166 seats.

The time since has been loaded with corruption and complains to Harper and the Conservatives. They run the gamut from political overspending on advertising to reducing door-to-door delivery of mail to the point there will only be mail boxes by 2019, to denying funding for science to promoting the controversial Keystone pipeline for boosting the export of crude oil to the controversial bill C-51 which appears to threaten Canadian’s privacy freedoms the same way the Patriot Act threatened Americans’ privacy rights. A lot of his misdoings appear to make good things he did like provide tax breaks to families and transit users.

-Liberal Party: Justin Trudeau – The Liberal party is one party that has had its biggest struggles ever these past ten years. It started with the Paul Martin fiasco leading the Liberals to their first ever election loss after winning the previous four. It continued with Stephan Dion in 2008 as their seat total declined from 95 to 77. However it was at the 2011 election under Michael Ignatieff where the Liberal party hit what appeared to be rock bottom by winning only 34 seats. They weren’t even the official opposition. After Ignatieff’s resignation just days later, they looked for a leader who could fill the spot. They found it in Justin Trudeau, the 43 year-old son of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. In fact, Justin was born while his father was Prime Minister.

The buzz around him grew but it hasn’t been without controversy. Justin has been faced with accusation that he’s riding off the coattails of his father’s legend. His only jobs before have either been a raft guide or a school teacher. This was especially noteworthy in Stephen Harper’s ads attacking Trudeau with the claim he’s “Just not ready.” It included the comment, ‘Nice hair, though.’ I myself even felt he didn’t deserve my vote because “He hasn’t proven himself politically. He’s all image and no real cred.” Even some of his campaign claims like his promise to legalize marijuana or prostitution have caught the disgust of many. Last poll had him in the lead. Whatever the situation if he wins, he will have to prove he deserves it.

-New Democratic Party: Tom Mulcair – The 2011 election was a landmark for the NDP. Actually it started months after the 2008 election when the NDP led by Jack Layton teamed up with the Liberals for a coalition takeover of parliament in order to reduce Harper. It didn’t work but it did catch the eye of the nation and it caused Canadians to look more favorably to the NDP party: a national party who were often lucky enough to just finish third in national elections.

The 2011 was a landmark for the party as they won 103 seats, up from 36 and the most they’ve ever won. Leader Jack Layton became the head of the official opposition. He only had months to enjoy his victory as he would die of cancer later that year. It would take time to find a new leader of the party and they found it in Tom Mulcair. Since he assumed power, he has been seen as Harper’s toughest political rival most able to put pressure on the Conservatives. He has hoped to take that with him to the election. It worked in August when the campaign trail began. However the NDP have been in a struggle since to win back the approval ratings they had back then and sit third. Only tonight’s election will tell the tale.

-Bloc Quebecois: Gilles Duceppe – If any party has had it harder than the Liberals since 2011, it’s the Bloc Quebecois. It’s not even just because of slipping to two seats. It’s of going through three different leaders after Duceppe resigned from incumbents to leaders voted in. After all the frustration, Duceppe is back in. He’s hoping to bring the Bloc’s power back into Canadian parliament and push for Quebec independence.

-Green Party: Elizabeth May – One party on the grow is the Green Party. They’ve been around for decades but it’s only in this century that they’ve been able to see their political power grow. I know. I’m from BC where the Green Party appears to have possibly its biggest support. Elizabeth May has done a lot to boost this party which holds left-wing policies and ideas noticeably different from the other two leading liberal parties: Liberal and NDP. In fact the Greens won their first ever seat in Parliament back in 2011 but it was not May.

The Green Party may have a candidate in almost every riding and their policies may appear to be the best for the country but they still have to develop more political muscle before they can be considered a serious contender. However May has done nothing wrong as a leader and should keep doing what she’s doing and take it further.

Since the start, the election has been called anyone’s game and hard to predict. The NDP had a lead at the start but it appeared to deteriorate over time and they hang at third in the polls. Harper and the Conservatives only had a brief lead in September for a week or two but found themselves soon slipping and now find themselves at second. Right now the Liberals lead at 37% at the last polls. Anything can happen on Election Day. In fact in BC, Christy Clark’s Liberals were expected to lose according to the polls but they won. The biggest shocker is the advance polls held during the long weekend of October 9-12. Voter turnout was way higher than expected. An increase of 16%. The increase resulted in a lot of long line ups. I myself had to wait almost a full hour to vote. nevertheless this is an optimistic sign as it shows more Canadians are willing to vote in this year’s election as compared to 2011.

Whatever the situation, it will be decided by 8pm Pacific Time who will be the Prime Minister of Canada. It could be decided earlier upon final results in Ontario but you never know. Anyways history will be decided tonight.

Funny thing but if the US presidential election can best be described as “two five year-olds fighting over the same toy,” what should the Canadian national election be described as?

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: Selma

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma.

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma about an important part of American history.

Selma appears to be about an important time in US history. However it tells more than what we’ve learned about the whole story including those involved.

The film is about the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. that would pave way to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But it was more than that. It starts with Martin receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However it’s just the beginning for Martin. A black church in Alabama explodes killing four young girls. Annie Lee Cooper has been denied the right to vote like most black people in Alabama before her. Meanwhile King is unsuccessful in convincing Johnson to pass a law allowing black citizens to vote.

Instead of accepting defeat, King is undeterred and determined to achieve this. Selma, Alabama is the meeting place for King and other activists to organize efforts to achieve this law. However both Johnson and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover are nervous about this. Hoover uses phone calls to disrupt his marriage to Coretta. Undeterred, King and black residents of Selma march to the registration office only to be confronted by a mob of police and a riot ensues where King and Cooper are arrested.

Things get even harder as state governor George Wallace, a pro-segregationist, speaks out against the marches and even calls police in Marion, Alabama to use force from state troopers during a planned night march. An assault by troopers does occur during the march where Jimmie Lee Jackson, who hid in a restaurant for the safety of him and his family, is shot to death by the police. Jimmie’s death only prompts King to tell people to stick to fighting for their rights. However the Kings receive threats on their children and activist groups are becoming unhappy with him.

A march from Selma to Montgomery to make their message heard is planned especially with the hopes of having all of the United states watching and paying attention, especially as working on ‘white consciousness’ is one of King’s objectives. At first King is hesitant but is convinced by his colleague Andrew Young. The original march takes place with all African-Americans. Right on the Edmund Pettis Bridge they’re stopped by police and attacked. The news goes nationwide. A second march is planned. This time King not only has blacks from other cities but white supporters too from regulars to religious clergy. Just before the marchers reach the end of the bridge, the chief officer and his group are back again. This time they’re allowed to proceed but King kneels in prayer and goes back. The reason was because King was suspicious. He doesn’t trust the mob of police and wants legal permission for them to march. The push for permission is especially stressed as one of the white allies, Rev. James Reeb, was beaten to death. The permission is granted by Alabama Judge Frank Minis Johnson. Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King and the marchers make history.

There’s no question that this is to do about an important moment in American history. Actually coming from Canada, I was never taught about Selma. I knew about the I Have A Dream speech but was never taught about Selma. However the film is also about Martin Luther King himself. The movie begins with him accepting his Nobel Peace Prize which came months after his I Have A Dream speech. However we would be reminded that King had more work to be done. Selma was a new challenge for him as his people needed the right to vote. However there was the constant threat of police brutality and even death. He stood firm in his non-violence stance and his plan was to work on ‘white consciousness’ and he knew it was the only way to work. He also knew he had to work with the tough minds of President Johnson and other politicians including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Each death linked to the marches would make him more fearful but it would make him more convinced this is something that needs to be done. We all know it was achieved but this is a reminder of how King and his people had to achieve their right.

The film also takes us back to the time and place. It reminds us just how hard it was to be black in southern US states like Alabama. Living in segregation was one thing. Being denied the right to vote was another. The only time in my life I knew of black people being denied the right to vote was in South Africa up to 1994. Apartheid riots were common news stories in the 80’s. I was shocked to learn that it was happening to black people in the 60’s in the Southern US. I always thought the US was supposed to be the ‘land of the free.’ It showed the red tape black people had to face in the justice system and especially with the police. We are all shocked and disgusted to hear about the fatal shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in recent years and their killers getting away with it. This was happening in Alabama in the 60’s all the time. Especially shootings by police on young unarmed black men like Jimmie Lee Jackson. You couldn’t blame them for having had it. They couldn’t be denied this anymore and this was a must-win situation for them and King.

Just as much of a focal point as blacks fighting for their right to vote is also the focus of the bigoted attitude of the whites in Alabama. King made it his duty to work on ‘white consciousness’ in order to achieve this victory. Alabama, especially in the city of Selma, showed what type of ‘racial battleground’ they had to deal with. The first sign was the church explosion but we’d see it all throughout. We’d see it in the police brutality, we’d see it as a restaurant proudly advertises itself as ‘a whites-only restaurant since 1883,’ we’d see it as a white man ‘introduces’ himself to King and punches him in the face, we’d see it in the taunting of white people from all around. That’s the type of environment the black people had to fight. We should forget that Alabama has segregation removed years ago but the white people weren’t happy. They felt that segregation was right and they reacted in frustration with taunting and even violence. Even when white people joined the blacks in their march, that didn’t change a lot of people’s minds. In fact they found white supporters to be a threat and reacted with the same violence on them, even killing some. Another reminder that white supporters of the Selma marches would also be at risk to the same violent reactions as blacks. The film takes us back to the time, place and the hostile attitudes at the time. An ugly reminder but necessary to show.

Even though the film was about Martin Luther King, his crusade for human rights and the bigoted attitudes in the area, the film also showed another factor: the strength of non-violence. King’s use of non-violent means to achieve human rights may appear radical to many and even ridiculous to some at first. In fact it explains why he had a rivalry with Malcolm X as seen near the beginning of the film. Because Malcolm believed: “by any means necessary.” However it was shown to be successful in the actual event and in the film. In fact I noticed the film to also show violent means to look cowardly. We see it in the police who try to use it to strike fear in the protesters in hoping they’d quit. We see it in the white Alabamans as they use it to strike fear in the blacks and their supporters. Most of the times it’s seen they do it on impulse because they just don’t know how to deal with the situation. Funny how we’ve seen a lot of Hollywood movies, especially in the action movies of the 80’s and 90’s, where the leading man uses vengeance and violence to become the hero. Here violence looks very cowardly.

Without a doubt, this film has to belong to Ava DuVernay in directing and co-writing the story with Paul Webb. She did an excellent job in recreating the story of the marches, the people involved with them and the atmosphere of the time and place. The end result is an excellent film that won’t leave you. It’s not without controversy. There are many questioning the depiction of Lyndon Johnson in the film. Historical documents show he was actually supportive of Martin Luther King and his mission. Even I myself believed for a second that Johnson may have had some difficulty at first, knowing Johnson was originally from Texas: a state that formerly had segregation. DuVernay simply responded: “I’m a storyteller. Not a historian.” Whatever the situation, it was still a very good film put together.

David Oyelowo was excellent as Martin Luther King Jr. as she showed him in both his convictions, his inner strength and even his own personal frailties at times, like that time he relied on Andrew Young to go through with the march. Even that scene where he calls gospel singer Mahalia Jackson for inspiration and she sings to him shows that King did have fears which he needed support for. Tom Wilkinson was also very good as Johnson. Even if you feel his depiction of Johnson wasn’t that truthful, it was still a very good performance. Carmen Ejogo was excellent as Coretta. She did more than just simply play Martin Luther King’s wife. She played a young woman who herself grew in courage: a courage Coretta would need after Martin’s assassination. Oprah was also surprisingly well as Annie Lee Cooper. Right at the beginning we could see a character completely opposite to the Oprah we know. A character that looks like she’s been through the hardest life offered her. You could see it in her face. The cinematography and music added to the environment of the story. You could feel that this was a struggle worth winning.

Selma is a film retelling an important moment in history. It gives us insight into the people involved and the environment they had to fight in order to achieve their rights.

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson portrays the author of Mary Poppins to be like someone we never expected her to be at all in Saving Mr. Banks.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries to get a stubborn P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson)  to agree to a movie version of Mary Poppins in Saving Mr. Banks.

Saving Mr. Banks is to be the story of how Walt Disney was able to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. The question is not just will it bring the story to life but will it make people want to see it on the big screen?

It’s 1961 and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers is struggling financially. Walt Disney has been trying to get Travers to agree to allow him to adapt Mary Poppins to the big screen for 20 years on account of a promise he made to his daughter. Travers finally agrees, albeit reluctantly but she’s extremely distrustful of Walt. She has stern expectations of Mary being adapted to the big screen such as no musical numbers, no Dick Van Dyke, none of the Disney frilliness and no animation.

Things do not start well for Mrs. Travers. She’s unhappy in Los Angeles with the carefree attitude of the city and by the happy ways Walt Disney, his co-workers and even Ralph the chauffeur do business. Not even Walt’s familiar manners warm up well to Travers.  Things get harder as Don DaGradi does the script, the Sherman brothers compose the music and Walt designs the characters. She even has a problem with Mary Poppins being the epitome of sentiment and whimsy, believing she’s the opposite of that. That surprises the Disney crew as they’ve always viewed Poppins as fantastical and known Travers to have a fantastical childhood, as seen through flashbacks.

However things take a turn for the worse when Travers sees the depiction of George Banks. She believes he is completely off-base  and leaves distraught. It’s then where the Disney studio realizes that Mary Poppins and its characters are very personal to Travers. It’s through flashbacks that we learn that Travers Goff, her father and the inspiration of George Banks, was indeed a banker but valued his imagination more than work in the real world. Things became too crushing for Travers and he would lose his job and his sanity to alcoholism. Her mother was the stern one of the family who even attempted suicide once.

The Disney team are persistent and try to work things out. Walt even offers to take Ms. Travers to Disneyland to lighten her mood. Things improve. The trip to Disneyland improves her embrace of the imagination, albeit slightly. Travers also has an unlikely friendship with Ralph the chauffeur as he tells her his handicapped daughter loves the novel. Things really improve when she walks in and hears George Banks is given a happier manner and has him singing ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ at the end. But just when things seem to be working out, she learns of dancing penguins in a scene. That infuriates Travers to the point she refuses to Walt the film rites and flies back to London.

Once Disney learns that P.L. Travers is actually an Australian names Helen Goff, he departs to London for one last chance. Walt arrives at Travers’ home and opens up to her during his visit. He tells her that he too had a troubling childhood with a stern father and growing up poor. It was through his animation and his happy characters that he was able to heal and he tells Travers that having a creative imagination would also help in her healing of her disappointment with the world. She eventually agrees but she’s not invited to the 1964 premiere for fear of her panning it. Once news hits her, she shows up at Disney studios demanding to be invited. Her reactions at the premiere are unexpected but those of us who’ve seen Mary Poppins would know the movie would have a happy ending.

There have been movies before about the making some of the most famous children’s stories. I even remember seeing Finding Neverland a few years ago. The film of an adaptation of a novel to movie is not something one would call a fresh idea. Nevertheless it is unique this case of adapting the Mary Poppins novel to the big screen.

We should keep in mind that to make a film like this, it would have to be entertaining and keep audiences interested. It succeeds with some surprises. First is the personality of P.L. Travers. It’s funny that we see this uppity personally and we’re left thinking: “Are you sure this prig is the author of Mary Poppins?” Second is Travers’ feelings towards Disney’s style of creativity and how on earth it would ever be adapted. Crazy thing is we all know it was adapted. Even still the film makes you forget that and wonder if it will, even as the Sherman brothers sing the movie’s songs we all know. Third is that the biggest issue wasn’t the depiction of Mary but of George Banks. Travers designed George to be kind like her own father while Walt was in favor of a stern George Banks like his own father. You could understand how this would cause the two to collide.

The movie isn’t just of the dealmaking for the adaptation. The film is also of Travers’ own inspiration of Mary Poppins from her own childhood. We see how over time Travers had a nanny she thought as magical as her father was dying. We also see her father as a banker but one who believed in fantasy and the imagination. Even after he died, the spirit of his imagination lived on in Travers, even as she tended to her younger sisters and dealt with a troubled mother. Many of us are already familiar with Walt Disney and his fun ways. However we learn more of P.L. Travers and of her upbringing and her own imagination. That’s a good thing because I don’t think most of us ever did. None of us ever expected the author of Mary Poppins to be the stern type. However she was one who would try to come to terms with her imagination as noted in a scene where she’s in bed and confides to hugging a stuffed Pluto.

People should not be fooled too easily. There are many people who think this will be a family movie since this is done by Disney and since this a depiction of Walt trying to convince Mary Poppins to agree to let him adapt the novel to screen. However the film’s depiction of Travers’ troubled childhood as Ginty is what keeps it from being family friendly. Elements like an alcoholic father and a suicidal mother are not entirely for a family audience. It may be okay to bring older children to the film but younger ones are not a good idea.

It’s very rare for a female lead to steal a movie from Tom Hanks but Emma Thompson does just that. She was excellent in embodying P.L. Travers as an uptight prig who still harbored a love for the imagination, though only Walt knew it. She also depicted Travers as a person who still struggled with the memory of the father she cherished. We should be reminded that people that produced some of the most delightful entertainment came from troubled childhood, even Walt himself. Tom Hanks delivers a performance that is more a case of character acting than say mastering a difficult part like he did in Captain Phillips. He was very good at capturing Walt’s fun imaginative way of doing business and he made Walt seem like the Wizard Of Oz at times.

Colin Farrell also did a good job as Travers Goff, the father who was troubled by his job but valued his imagination. Paul Giamatti’s role as Ralph the chauffeur was small but he was able to get notice of his own. The other actors with smaller roles, especially those in Walt’s office, added their own pieces and elements to the movie as well. John Lee Hancock did a good job in directing but nothing that really stood out for this film year. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith do their best in making a story for family audiences with their script. Technical items like the set design and costumes were excellently done in fitting the times they were made in. And Thomas Newman did a great job with the score.

Saving Mr. Banks is a delightful movie despite being too polished and ‘safe’ to excel amongst the top Oscar contenders of the year. It’s biggest success is the acting of its actors and the telling of the story of an author we never new. Even with scenes of the author’s troubled childhood, it succeeds in entertaining young and old.

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips is a recreation of a moment of recent history. It’s as much about the man involved in this moment as the moment itself.

Richard Phillips is a captain of freighter ships who lives in Vermont but pilots his freighter ships mostly in the Arabian Sea. One day in April 2009, he’s assigned to be a captain of a freighter bringing relief supplies from Oman to Mombasa, Kenya. He accepts the duty but is well aware of the risk of pirates from Somalia once he sails around the horn of Africa. Meanwhile in Somalia, a group of pirate leaders recruit young men for their next sting. It could be big, it could be small, it’s all in a day’s work.

Captain Phillips is sailing the freighter Maersk Alabama through the Arabian Sea. He’s also taking all precautions to prevent a pirate attack including getting the ship to participate in a drill. The pirates are hungry not just for a simple ship but bigger stuff. Their small rusty motor boats, or skiffs, have ship radar. They see the Maersk Alabama within their view and they chase after it. Fortunately Captain Phillips and the crew are prepared. The first day, the pirates’ motor blows on their boat. Captain Phillips and the crew think the have it solved. What they don’t know is that the pirates are fixing the motor in the boat overnight.

The next day the pirates try again. Captain Phillips and the crew again take precautions like using the hose system to prevent them from coming on board. The pirates notice an area where a hose isn’t working. Perfect opportunity to climb aboard the ship and hold the crew hostage. It’s there where pirate Muse and Captain Phillips meet eye to eye. Phillips tries to get them to leave by offering $30,000 but they want more: millions. The ship is able to shut the power down and able to make the pirates fail in their attempt. However the US forces have received word and have arrived. They try to negotiate with Muse only the have the pirates get away in a lifeboat with Captain Phillips as hostage. They hope Phillips will be their ticket for ransom.

That night the lifeboat is surrounded by navy ships and the crew is too frustrated and start turning on each other. Muse is stubborn with Phillips feeling he can’t go after going this far. The end scene adds to the intensity as it shows the whole standoff between the pirates, the Navy and the SEAL team. You’d be surprised to see how close Phillips was to being executed by the pirates. And even after you think it’s over, it’s not.

The most remarkable thing about the movie is that this is one that really depicts pirates for the negative people that they are. Admit it. We’ve all been charmed by pirate stories: Captain Hook, Captain Kidd, Jack Sparrow, Blackbeard, you get the idea. Even the popular lines like: “Arrrrgh Matey;” “Shiver me timbers” and “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!” show how charmed we are with them. However the news about Somali pirates have given us a reality check about pirates and what they do. This film even shows pirate really are: dirty, merciless thieves who threaten people on ships for their riches.

Another remarkable aspect the movie shows us is the sheer determination of those four pirates. You’d think that a group of four young Somali pirates not even 21 would not stand a chance against a huge freighter like the Maersk Alabama with all their devices and a prepared captain. However they were stubborn enough to fix a motor overnight, find a dry gap in the ship’s hosings, use a ladder to get to the deck, try a getaway with a lifeboat and even resist arrest with the US Armed Forces. The film is very focal on the pirates’ determination and their false sense of invincibility. It even shows how sometimes small has a competitive advantage over the big guy. It’s like that way in the animal kingdom too where insects can find their way into large prey.

Just as much as it focuses on the Somali pirates and their determination, it also focuses on Captain Rich Phillips himself. It especially focuses on Rich’s smarts as he knows about Somali pirates before the attack and even prepares his crew just in case, his smarts when he’s under attack on board and his smarts during the attempted getaway. Even the assault by the navy and the aftermath had Rich Phillips in focus. It was as much about Richard Phillips as it was about the pirates.

Tom Hanks once again delivered a remarkable performance: his best since Cast Away. It’s great to see him perform well in a movie that’s the least Hollywood-like I’ve seen him in. His performance really had a lot of range and was as much about Captain Phillips the person as it was about Captain Phillips the hostage. Equally as spectacular is the direction of Paul Greengrass. Actually It shouldn’t be that Greengrass, who made a name for himself with United 93 about a 9/11 terrorist operation botched by vigilante passengers, directs it. It’s like the film reminds us that the pirates of the seas are like the terrorists on airlines. Always were. Billy Ray did an excellent job of scriptwriting. Surprising that the writer of The Hunger Games is the scriptwriter here.

It’s not to say the movie’s all Tom Hanks, Paul Greengrass and Billy Ray. Barkhad Abdi was also excellent as pirate Muse. He makes Muse look like a pirate who didn’t have much of a clue to what he got himself into. Barkhad Abdirahman was also great as the vicious pirate Bilal who possessed a false sense of invincibility. The emsemble of lesser-known American actors added to the quality of the film. The only other well-known actor in the film is Catherine Keener. Actually it’s surprising to see the role of Andrea Phillips, Captain Phillips’ wife, as such a small role. The music of Henry Jackman and the cinematography of Barry Ackroyd also added to the quality of the film.

Captain Phillips is an excellent recreation of a moment in recent history that’s both about the moment and the man involved. Both Hanks and Greengrass do it again.

Oscars 2012 Best Picture Nominee: Les Miserables

Les Miserables

How many of you are familiar with the Broadway musical Les Miserables? Lots of you, I’m sure. Yes, Les Miserables was the one Broadway musical phenomenon from the 1980’s that could even have Andrew Lloyd Webber looking over his shoulder. When you heard that the musical finally would have a film adaptation, how many of you looked forward to seeing it? I’m sure a lot of you have including me, but does it deliver to movie crowds and especially to fans of the musical?

One thing I’ve learned about hit musicals being adapted to the big screen is that it’s a very tricky job. The whole filmmaking crew has the job of dealing with the fact the fans of the musicals want something that won’t disappoint them. The scriptwriter has the duty to make a script that includes the musical’s most popular songs mixed with the emotions of the characters in each scene. The director has the duty of making the songs, the emotions, the setting and the theme fit into a 2 1/2 hour long movie. The actors have the duty of delivering a performance that’s both believable and entertaining in both their acting and their singing, especially when a camera is filming them up close and it will be seen by all.

For the record, I saw the stage musical when it came to Canada in 1995. Most of the numbers possessed the same energy, spirit and emotion that was present in the stage musical. The only number I thought was lacking the same spirit was “Master Of The House”. That was the one number that had the least spirit and flavor that was present in the musical. Also Gavroche didn’t make that grand of an introduction. I know he does so in the stage musical but he just didn’t seem to grab you attention at the beginning the way he does on stage.

One thing I have to say about the film version is that it gave me a better understanding of what the musical is all about. Back when I first saw it on stage, I didn’t fully understand it. Now that I’m older and my attention span is better, I can understand it’s about redemption and the triumph and trials of justice in a world devoid of morals and justice. It was entertaining to watch on stage but it was through seeing it on film that it’s like a story from a Dickens novel where a man makes a promise to a dying woman and keeps his promise despite his trials and rivals until the end.

We should remember that there are many loyalists of the musical Les Miserables who hold the stage production dearly to themselves. The musical version of the Victor Hugo novel began in Paris in 1980 by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boulbil and became a musical on Broadway in 1985 thanks to the translations of Herbert Kretzmer. If you remember Broadway back in 1985 there were two types of musicals: those of Andrew Lloyd Webber that go on to charm the word and every other musical. Ever since it’s been released it’s become a huge Broadway phenomenon that could even rival some of Webber’s most legendary musicals. Every city it touched, it drew huge crowds. So you can imagine that when the film version of the musical came out, there would be a lot of pressure placed by fans of the musicals. It’s like that with any musical where loyal fans expect it done excellently if not perfect. There have been many musical adaptations that have been hits and misses in terms of comparing it with the stage play. Chicago and Hairspray are two examples where the film version hit. Rent and Nine are two examples of the film version missing. I myself have seen the stage production. I personally was impressed by it and I don’t see anything that would let anyone loyal to the stage musical down. I feel Tom Hooper and the producers did a very good job with it. I talked earlier about the energy of most of the songs still there. That had to be the best quality in terms of keeping it true.

There has been some flack from Tweeters and some fans of the musical about the use of actors in the movie. You’ve heard the disses: “Actors trying to sing.” I do give them partial credit because many actors had to learn singing for the sake of getting acting jobs in musicals. In fact John Travolta even made it clear after Saturday Night Fever that if you wanted to get acting work in New York, you had to sing, dance and act. Don’t forget that if there were singers in the film, there would be disses like: ‘singers trying to act.’

Anyways getting to the nitty gritty, one can notice those that are able to sing their roles gracefully from the actors just trying to sing. Russell Crowe gave his best effort as Javert but often came across as too forced and sometimes uncomfortable at what he was doing. Eddie Redmayne also didn’t look too comfortable performing as Marius. That’s the risk when you take when you insist on singing your parts instead of ADR. Hugh Jackman did an excellent job not just in singing and acting as Jean Valjean but also for being consistent in having the biggest role in the musical. Anne Hathaway as Fantine was however the best at combining both singing and acting in their role and coming across the most gracefully. In fact it was her performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” that stood out above all others. It’s no surprise to me if she wins the Oscar. The lead actors were not the only ones who impressed. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen did a good job in their supporting roles. Daniel Huttlestone was a good scene stealer as Gavroche is supposed to be. If there’s any fresh face that could rival the veterans, it’s Samantha Barks that was excellent in her supporting performance as Eponine.

Tom Hooper was given the difficult task of taking the musical and putting it on screen and he succeeded very well in doing it. William Nicholson also had the challenge of turning the script and songs of the musical and turning it into something for the big screen. He did a very good job of it retaining the spirit of the musical and of the songs. Also noticeable is that there are some scenes of dialogue. The stage musical doesn’t have that. Good to see he added those small parts of dialogue without dulling or upsetting the musical. As I said before, the music was great with Schonberg, Boulbil and Kretzmer even composing a new song ‘Suddenly’. The technical aspects like the sets, costuming, cinematography and sound mixing were also top notch.

Les Miserables finally has its chance to hit the big screen and faced a huge whack of pressures expected on any adaptation of a legendary Broadway musical before opening. The end result is an accomplishment, if not a triumph.