With every VIFF, it’s a goal of mine to see at least one shorts segment. I had the good fortune of seeing a segment as my first VIFF show. The segment titled Escape Routes consisted of six shorts by Canadian directors. Three of them were filmed in BC. All six were intriguing to watch.
The Subject (dir. Patrick Bouchard): We see a body on the table. We see a spike coming out of a foot at first. Then we see it start to be dissected. What’s happening is a whole lot of imagery happens around his body and coming from out of his body. Then when he’s dissected in his upper chest, we see a steel inside.
What’s happening in this film is the animator dissecting his own body. This film is the animator using self-dissection to show what his works are all about. His emotions, his memories, his fears, all go into his work. A couple of religious entendres may be telling how it plays into his fears. Even the artistic patterns that form around his skin give a picture about what the animator is saying about himself and how it plays into his works.
Girl On A Bus (dir. Matthew B. Schmidt): The film begins with people questioning about a girl who disappeared. Then the film shoots to a scene on a bus. A teenage/young adult female is one of the passengers and she’s just relaxing and looking at Instagram photos. The bus takes a break at a gas station along the highway. She uses the outside bathroom and changes her hair, makeup and clothes to something very different and takes social media pictures. The driver can’t recognize her and thinks a passenger is missing. As police are questioning the ‘missing girl,’ she gets interrogated and gives misleading questions. She mentions she’s running away but doesn’t say why. She leaves the interrogation booth. A picture from a child identifies her as the missing, but she walks away when asked.
At first, it seems like a nonsense film. A girl changes her look but is labeled missing? Then you get the sense of what’s happening. She says she’s running away but gives a vague answer why. When told to stay at the booth as the police leave temporarily, she leaves. When asked if the photo of her on a child’s pad is her, she doesn’t answer and walks away. It makes more sense later on. She comes across as a girl who wants to escape from it all. It’s not apparent exactly the reason or reasons why, but it’s obvious she wants to escape from everything. Only on social media would she want to be around people. I can identify because I had those same feelings when I was her age. A very good short story of a film.
Best Friends Read The Same Books (dir. Matthew Taylor Blais): The film consists of no sound at all, but of images of plants, colors, bushes, parks, coasts, and the director reading a book in various places and various seating positions on a bench. The film ends with a set of colors.
I’ll take it for what it is. This is the director trying to film in an abstract sort of way. The images, around various areas of Greater Vancouver, are meant to tell about his surroundings and reading the same book.
Train Hopper (dir. Amelie Hardy): The film begins with a passage of Allen Ginsberg’s poem America. Then cuts into a video of a young man who’s a customer service agent working at his desk with his headset. Later we catch the young man around trains on the train tracks. Then we see him hopping on the trains between the cars and going along for the ride. We even see his self-recorded videos of him during the trips. Within the second-half of the film and video footage, we hear the man talk about his dreams and his imagination and why he takes these trips, which include trips crossing into the United States. The film ends with audio of Ginsberg’s America.
The film begins with a statement that the Beat Generation is not dead. The whole film is a picturesque reminder that even in this day and age, there are still young people who still dare to dream, who dare to still want to live their dream out. This film shows it with this young man who’s a customer service agent by profession, but dreamer by passion. An excellent cinematic portrait.
Acres (dir. Rebeccah Love): The story begins with a young man working on a farm. Later on, his sister, her husband and a former girlfriend of his join for dinner. They talk about him managing his father’s farm after his death, as well as a dispute over use of the land that will require legal attention. The sister and brother-in-law leave for home but the ex-girlfriend decides to stay overnight. Possibly to help him with his situation. She is a photographer by passion. The two were in love while they were in college. This is happening while they’re talking of a way to properly mark the burial site of his father’s ashes. He had ambitions of becoming a businessman, but passions in his life that involved travelling caused him to leave everyone behind, including the family and even her. She tries to get to the bottom of this. Especially since this caused their break-up. Eventually they do rekindle.
The film is a picturesque way of showing a real-life situation. It’s a quiet situation, but one that needs to be discussed and resolved. The filmmaker does it with good storytelling and honest dialogue.
Biidaaban (dir. Amanda Strong): This is the one short that’s fully animated. There’s one young person of Indigenous decent, Biidaaban, and an older Sasquatch shapeshifter Sabe. They live in the same dwelling. They communicate with what you first think is a smartphone, but is actually a mystic rock that creates images and dialogue. Biidaaban seeks to collect sap from maple trees in a neighborhood. Sabe will assist Biidaaban. As they collect the sap, they are suddenly taken over by spirits and enter into a mystical world.
Upon the film’s Q&A, we learn the film is not just about Indigenous legends and myths. It’s also about gender-fluidity as Biidaaban is a gender-fluid youth. From what I remember about the Q & A, the gender-fluidity does tie in with Indigenous culture. The whole film was very dramatic and very mystical. The genre of animation allows the viewer to feel the imagination of the film and capture the mysticism.
All six shorts were very intriguing to watch. Even with one more thrilling than the other, and one not trying to be thrilling at all, all had something to say. Sometimes you wondered if all six fit the term Escape Routes. Some of the subjects or plots in a film or two didn’t look like physical escapes at all. However many of them turned out to be escapes of the mind. Escaping isn’t just about a road to somewhere.
Escape Routes was an excellent selection of six Canadian shorts. Each were different in their own way. All of them had something to say. And all would come off as an escape from something. You had to see it to know it.
Normally I would do single movie reviews. Additionally, I never really had plans to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 or Big Hero 6. When it comes to animated movies, I mostly go to see the one or ones that look like they have the best chances of winning Best Animated Feature. All year I thought I had it all wrapped up when I saw The LEGO Movie and nothing else. Then the Oscar nominations came and The LEGO Movie was inexplicably snubbed out of that category. That led me scramming to see both movies. I saw Dragon 2 on a DVD while I was lucky to see Hero on the big screen. Here are my thoughts:
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
Making a sequel from a hit movie is always a challenge as commercial pressures will demand it. It’s sink or swim as it can either be a continuation of the original’s charm or simply a flavorless rehash of the original. Yes, the audience will distinguish between tried-and-true and tried-and-tired. We saw how Shrek burst on the scene back in 2001 but its excellence and flavor declined with each subsequent movie. Now How To Train Your Dragon has its sequel out. Will How To Train Your Dragon 2 measure up?
First off, the writers and producers did the right thing by releasing the sequel four years after the original and four years since they first started work on it as opposed to the three years between the Shrek films. For those unfamiliar with work on animated features, it takes four years to create from start to finish. The focus on the story this time is in the Fjords of Norway. The story begins with Hiccup, still awkward but well-respected. It also adds in a story where he experiences friction between his girlfriend and his father as well as an enemy he must fight.
I’m unsure if the story would remain true to what Cressida Cowell wrote in her dragon books but I do feel the story is not ‘spoiled’ as so many sequels as most sequels, both animation and live-action, are prone to do. It will continue to delight fans of the first Dragon movie too. The story was darker this time as this would include the death of Stoick and Toothless is under a spell which causes him to want to attack Hiccup. I believe the story would be more suitable for older children but one thing the story doesn’t do is lose the charm of the original. It also has its fun moments and a happy ending that should make it enjoyable for the whole family.
Now on to the technical bits. Whenever I watch a 3D animated movie, I especially pay attention to the quality of the images and effects. I know that each image has to have 100% detail in order to succeed. Any glitch or inconsistency will hurt the movie. I didn’t notice any glitches in the images. I felt the detail was very accurate from the scales on the dragon to the fire they unleashed. The characters’ mouths were always in sync with the dialogue. The film’s images also continued to give the audience a thrill-ride. Naturally when you have a film of people travelling on dragons, you would expect there to be images of the various flights and even parts in the movie that get the audience feel like they’re flying on their own dragons too. The audience will come expecting that. People come to such movies for the escape and the thrill-ride of it all. It succeeds in doing so and it does a top notch job of doing so.
I’m sure that most of you expected The LEGO Movie to win Best Animated Feature even before the nominations were announced. I did too. An interesting bit of trivia to know is that Dragon 2 actually beat out The LEGO Movie in that category to win major awards like the National Board of Review award, the Annie Award and the Golden Globe. Now with The LEGO Movie snubbed out of that category, it appears safe to assume that Dragon 2 will win the Oscar. However that snub reminds us nothing is a foregone conclusion as it is possible Big Hero 6 or The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya could pull an upset.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 was faced with the common pressures of a movie sequel but was able to overcome them to the point they again deliver a movie that’s entertaining and a thrill-ride and still maintains the charm of the original without appearing to exhaust it or stray too far away from it.
BIG HERO 6
Now moving on from a sequel to an original. And moving from one I saw on DVD to one I was lucky to see on the big screen. This time a Disney film: Big Hero 6.
Big Hero 6 is based off of characters from the Big Hero 6 comic series from Marvel comics that first hit shelves in 1998 and went under the Marvel name in 2008. However the story for the film is nothing like the comic series. In the comic series, the characters were all heroes commissioned and created by the Japanese government. Hiro Takachiho was a 13 year-old whiz kid who became part of the team after his mother was kidnapped and creates a Godzilla-style monster hero off of his deceased father’s brain named Baymax. The comics come with the type of over-the-top violence and imagination that you would come to expect from Japanese comic books. The comics have won a following here in the US.
Here for the film, we have a much different story. Hiro is an orphaned boy who lives with his brother Tadashi in San Fransokyo. Hiro commonly gets himself in trouble as he tries to win bot-fights for money but Tadashi takes him to his polytechnic. Hiro thinks it will be the ‘nerd school’ he thinks it is but is amazed with what he sees created by Tadashis’s friends –including his brother’s creation: Baymax, the inflatable virtual doctor which is kept at home–and tries to win a scholarship in a young innovators contest held by the school. After winning the scholarship, a fire breaks out killing Tadashi and a professor.
Hiro feels alone at first even distancing himself from Tadashi’s friends but Baymax suddenly becomes a friend-like to him despite Hiro being unwelcome at first. Later as Hiro learns more new truths about what really happened at the school that night and how his brother really dies, Hiro gets Baymax and the friends to team up to get his brother’s killer. All of them don costumes in the images of the Big Hero 6 comic book characters except Baymax who has an outfit more like Iron Man.
I don’t think the movie was meant to be a film version of the main comic book characters. Remember writers can adapt stories into whatever they want. It’s obvious Walt Disney Studios wanted to do their own story with the characters and have it as a family-friendly film. It succeeds in doing so as it creates a story that’s thrilling, entertaining and imaginative. The story also has a good message for children too as justice is better than any revenge. It also doesn’t try to be too dark in the situations involving Tadashi’s death and Hiro being an orphan.
Although this is an original film, it’s not to say it was without its pressures. We shouldn’t forget this movie comes a year after Walt Disney released the phenomenon Frozen. It wasn’t simply a hit movie. It became a marketing phenomenon and even spawned a release of a sing-along version. Already you could tell there would be pressure upon the release of their follow-up. Big Hero 6 doesn’t exactly deliver to the dame length Frozen has. It has its charm and is a likable film on its own. Whatever the situation, Big Hero 6 was not hurt at the box office as it has already grossed more than $200 million and has been nominated for Best Animated Feature.
Another thing Big Hero 6 succeeds in doing is it adds to the recent resurgence to the Walt Disney Animation Studios. For decades the studios reigned supreme in the world of animated motion pictures. It had very few challengers save for Spielberg animation in the 80’s but made a comeback in the 90’s with 2D masterpieces like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. However the studios knew that the world of 3D animation was coming and it did become the case as soon Disney’s partnership with Pixar would create the 3D revolution in animated features. The flavor of the 2D movies from the main Disney Studios were running thin as they couldn’t compete with the Disney/Pixar movies. Eventually Walt Disney Animation Studios did acquire the skills and know how to create their own successful 3D animated movies starting with 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph which rivaled Pixar’s Brave that year and Frozen from last year. Big Hero 6 succeeds in keeping its comeback alive. The Disney/Pixar partnership is still there but it’s good to see Pixar now has a rival with Walt Disney Animation Studios back on its feet.
Big Hero 6 may not be a phenomenon like Frozen nor is it the best animated feature of the year. Nevertheless it succeeds in being entertaining on its own and is another plus in the comeback of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Even though it is a good thing, Canada is not normally famous for its disasters. Yes we’ve had the Halifax Explosion, Hurricane Hazel and the Winnipeg Flood of 1950 but they don’t come that often. These past few weeks were a rare exception as Canada had three sudden disasters to deal with.
The Alberta Floods
Alberta’s rivers are not known for their floods. However heavy rainfall throughout the province of Alberta from June 19th to 22nd led to the worst flooding in the province’s history. Seven major Alberta rivers including the Bow and Elbow Rivers were filled hard and were over flooded to the point they caused huge damage to surrounding cities. The damage done to the city of Calgary received the most coverage especially since the flooding damage hit the downtown core bad. That and the fact that the annual Calgary Stampede was about to start. The stampede grounds endured considerable damage. Even venues like the Scotiabank Saddledome reported flooding up to the tenth row. In fact 26 surrounding neighborhoods around the Calgary area were placed under a mandatory evacuation order for three straight days. The 75,000 evacuees made it the largest evacuation in the city’s history.
It wasn’t just Calgary. The town of High River had to evacuate. The Siksika First Nation east of Calgary had to declare evacuation. Even towns of Banff and Canmore had to be cut off after floods and mudslides cut off much of the Trans-Canada Highway. Even cities like Lethbridge, Red Deer and High River had to declare their states of emergency. The flooding resulted in four fatalities in total.
The towns and cities continue their clean-up in the aftermath. One thing that did happen is that the Calgary Stampede went on as planned. Events planned for the Saddledome however were either cancelled or relocated to other locations in the city.
Toronto Flash Flood
Monday July 8, 2013 was expected to be like any other day in Toronto. If there was to be a thunderstorm, it was expected to be brief and pass by. However the afternoon provided some of the most serious thunderstorm activity faced by Toronto. Rain was delirious. Rainfalls ranging from 97mm in downtown Toronto to 126mm at Pearson Airport caused major flooding in many areas including the freeways and the subway stations. In fact news images showed a GO train with 1400 people that was caught in the floods. Power outages were rampant as 80% of Mississauga was without power as was 300,000 other people who received Toronto Hydro. A big surprise for a city that normally gets an average of 74mm of rain in the whole of July. Fortunately the floods have subsided and fortunately there were no fatalities.
Train Derailment In Quebec
I saved to worst for last. Until a week ago, Lac-Megantic was a simple small town in Quebec close to the Canada/U.S. border. Since the early morning of Saturday July 6th, it’s the centre of possibly the biggest train accident of the year and continues to make more bad news with each day.
It was a simple train trip done many times before: a trip transporting oil from the United States to New Brunswick. Lac Megantic was just simply a town where the train was to pass through without disturbance or incident of any kind. The train set consisted of 72 tanks each filled with 113,000 litres of crude oil and had been transferred from train system to train system.
Two hours before the incident while the train was parked in Nantes, the engineer left the train as he was done his shift. He felt however that it was unsafe since it was spitting oil and thick black smoke and wanted to call an American official about directives for the situation. Actually drivers who were driving along the train 40 minutes earlier complained of thick black smoke coming from the train. The Nantes Fire Department put out the blaze at 11:30pm and the train company employees confirmed the train was safe. However one failed to notice that the locomotive was tampered with. The train tanks, detached from the locomotive, started moving downhill at witnesses considered a dangerous speed. Then the unmanned train derailed in an area of downtown Lac Megantic, the tanks collapsed spilling crude oil on the ground and cause a huge fire 91 to 121 meters in diameter. Between four to six explosions were heard and heat from the fire could be felt as far as two kilometers away. Over 1000 of the town’s 6000 residents had to be evacuated. People in the third floor of burning buildings jumped to avoid being caught in the blaze.
Even as of now, there are no final statistics and new information is being gathered every day. 35 people have been confirmed dead but 15 remain missing. Thirty buildings in the downtown of Lac Megantic have been destroyed by the blaze. Information has surfaced that the locomotive is believed to have been tampered with. I’m sure more clues will come up in the future.
With every disaster comes action. Not just action from emergency crews but action from all those involved including officials from the various industries affected. Here’s some of the action that has been taken so far. Remember these incidents happened three weeks ago at the most so there is still more action to come:
-The province of Alberta has started to create new flood-mapping standards such as categorizing high-risk flood areas. Some homeowners in high-risk areas are offered to move from their current location with financial assistance from the province or risk being ineligible for any future Disaster Recovery Fund assistance. Homeowners will be given new regulations in the future such as notating homes for sale being in a possible flood-risk zone. Even developers will be made aware of high risk areas.
-The City of Toronto will have to do some rethinking and reassessing certain aspects of the city. Especially the drainage system. Also Toronto transit will have to organize a better system of escape from its trains and subways to avoid a worse scenario. One thing is train riders who had to travel on the still-wet trains the following day were given a $100 credit to cover whatever dry cleaning costs. Hydro One had most of its equipment underground. It will soon review its standards and practices in the aftermath including bringing some equipment above ground.
-Once the clean-up and other activities from the Lac Megantic derailment are completed, you can be sure there will be a full inquiry on this incident. Even without the death count being finalized, this has already become the deadliest train accident in Canada since 1864. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) will definitely face the biggest heat from this as well as Transport Canada. Already the Transport Safety Board of Canada has started an investigation on this. The Red Cross has started emergency efforts in the town. Lac Megantic will have to make efforts to rebuild and have makeshift locations for businesses that used to exist before the disaster. You can be sure that certain people will be prosecuted for criminal negligence and the government agencies will set new regulations for dealing with petroleum-filled tanks.
It is a shock to see all of this happening in Canada in the span of one month’s time but it was possible. Nevertheless it is Canadian nature to take immediate action towards something like this. In fact a roof collapse in an Ontario shopping mall last year that caused the deaths of two people made national news and brought fast action. In some countries, you’d need a bigger fatality result to get major action happening. Only time will tell what the end results are and what actions come of these incidents.
Uncredited Author. “Alberta Unveils New Flood Proofing Rules” CBC News cbc.ca 14 July 2013 <http://news.ca.msn.com/top-stories/alberta-unveils-new-flood-proofing-rules-1>
Ogrodnik, Irene. “By the numbers: 2013 Toronto flood” Global News Global News And The Canadian Press. 9 July 2013 <http://globalnews.ca/news/704015/by-the-numbers-2013-toronto-summer-storm/>
Gheciu, Alex Nino. “Toronto flood: Underground equipment sank Hydro One” Toronto Star 11 July 2013 <http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/07/11/toronto_flood_underground_equipment_sunk_hydro_one.html>
WIKIPEDIA: Lac Megantic Derailment. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac-M%C3%A9gantic_derailment>