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VIFF 2019 Review: Greener Grass

Greener Grass

Greener Grass is a comedy about dimwitted parents and dimwitted couples in a dimwitted world.

After seeing a lot of dramas at the VIFF, especially heavy dramas, you can bet I’d be in the mood for some comedy. I got what I needed on the last day of the festival with Greener Grass. It’s not your typical comedy, and all the better for it.

The film opens at a neighborhood children’s soccer game. Jill Davies meets up with her best friend Lisa Wetbottom. Jill’s son Julian and Lisa’s son Bob are playing in the game. Lisa is complimenting Jill on her newborn baby daughter Madison. Jill decides that Lisa can have Madison, to Lisa’s complete surprise. Lisa accepts with no problem.

The two drive home in their golf carts, which all the resident of the town drive. Arriving home, Jill tells Nick the news, and he’s okay with it. He’s happy that they still have Julian, even though he is a nerd who’s awkward at sports, which Nick is uncomfortable with. Lisa introduces baby Madison to her husband Dennis and son Bob. The others happily welcome Madison and rename her Paige. Lisa is proud of how Bob is good at sports, but uncomfortable how Bob is not that good at school. On top of that, her husband Dennis is shorter and pudgier compared to taller, more athletic Nick. Later on, the two couples meet together at a barbecue. They end up kissing each others’ spouses. However they all laugh it up and switch it back to the right pairings.

They try to go about their lives and raising their families normally, or as normal as it gets in that town. Nick may be unhappy Julian is not the athletic hero he hoped for, but he’s okay since they now have better pool water. The water’s so good, he enjoys drinking it. Soon there is the news that the yoga instructor has been murdered. The whole town is in shock. Both Jill and Lisa are nervous. There’s even a message of terror sent to Lisa’s golf cart.

One day, Lisa notices a volleyball left by a playground. She uses it to make herself look like she’s pregnant. And everyone including Dennis buys this. This starts to upset Jill. Lisa first noticed how unhappy Jill was at a children’s bowling game. At Nick’s birthday party, Lisa thinks Jill is best with getting a divorce. Soon Julian distracts from the party and talks about how terrible his life is. When he appears to take a suicide plunge in the pool, he turns into a dog. Everyone is in shock.

Jill goes about bringing the dog-like Julian to school, much to Bob’s shock, and music practice. However Nick is blown away how good Julian is at sports. He’s like the son of Nick’s dreams now. Jill tells Nick he wants a divorce. Nick agrees and takes Julian with him. Jill is now childless and empty. Meanwhile a ‘pregnant’ Lisa is shocked to see Bob watching Kids With Knives on the television. The show immediately turns Bob into a self-loathing angst-ridden monster. However Lisa decides to ‘give birth’ to the volleyball, and all including Dennis accept it as the new addition to the family.

Jill can’t handle it. It’s not just being childless, but the stress knowing the murderer hasn’t been caught yet. Jill then confronts Lisa. She wants Madison/Paige back. Lisa is hurt. Paige is hers. Plus he reminds Jill that it makes her look like an ‘Indian giver’… excuse me… ‘Native American giver.’ Jill can’t take it anymore. That night, she rips out the wire from her braces, furiously drives past the intersection in her golf cart without being polite and drives off into another town. She sees a house with children. She knocks on the door and talks to the mother. The conversation is friendly until Jill asks for one of her children. The woman politely asks her to leave, but one of the girls is looking at Jill as she walks off. Jill has a new child!

Jill makes it back into town and just on the eve as the murderer of the yoga instructor has been caught. At a children’s soccer game, Jill’s child plays her first game. Everybody is happy to see Jill’s new child, including Lisa. She’s happy to see that Jill is finally happy again. Or is she?

Watching this comedy does leave you wondering what the heck is going on? The world these adults live in make no sense at all. Perhaps that may be its best quality. Instead of this being a world that makes perfect sense, it makes perfect nonsense. It’s a world where the adults wear sweet pastel colors, all wear braces on their top teeth and all drive around in gold carts. A world where they’re too polite to make the first move at a stop sign. A world where they make huge decisions without rational thought. A world where they can love as conditionally as they want. A world a parent can simply give their child to another family and the family’s good with it. A world with TV shows where cooking contestants are judged with someone else’s entry, and they accept without hesitation. A world where the kids have their own weird bizarre traits and can instantly either turn into a dog or act like they’re possessed by the devil. A world where a woman can fake a pregnancy with a basketball and everyone would believe it, and even treat the basketball like it’s their baby!

To sum it all up, it’s a world lacking of common sense, but full of smiley niceness, instant hurt and even insanity. I haven’t seen this much weirdness or bizarre human behavior since watching an episode of South Park. Though it’s not as warped as a South Park episode, it has a combined weirdness that has to both make sense and be consistent from start to finish. When you see a lot of the idiocies or the idiotic world created in the film, it does get you wondering. Will it hold through from start to its feature-length finish? Will the stupidity of the world be just as stupid at the end? Will the characters be just as dim-witted? To my surprise, the story did hold up. Instead of making perfect sense from start to finish, it made perfect nonsense. The world and the characters are just as idiotic at the end as they were at the beginning. The may have been some noticeable changes in the kids, but it ended with the same crazy energy.

This may be a comedy with nonsense from start to finish. However it does seem to resemble the envy people, parents, and couples. It’s a spoof on how we all think the grass is greener on the other side or how we keep up with the Joneses or how we try to chase something we can’t get. We can’t be happy with what we have. We have to think the other one’s better or try to one-up them. This film and the brace-cases in it spoofs it, and in bizarrely hilarious fashion.

This comedy belongs to Upright Citizens Brigade alumni Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe. They wrote it together, directed it together and play Jill and Lisa respectively. Actually this is a feature-length version of the short film Greener Grass they created four years earlier. They took a story full of a lot of comedic ridiculousness and insanity and had quite the job to make it work as a smooth film from beginning to end. To my surprise, it works. The story and its combination of idiocy and insanity works from beginning to end. It had all the making of a story that would go off-path, but it doesn’t. Whatever different elements of the story get added in as if it adds to the story instead of interferes with it.

One thing about the film is that it’s obvious Jocelyn and Dawn are aiming for shocks. This film is a film that has people with a lot of experience writing for and acting in comedies. Here you can tell with a lot of the incidents and lines, they are aiming not just to weird us out, but shock us along the way. It’s noticeable with a TV show called Kids With Knives, Nick drinking pool water, the other-spouse kiss (which is full of saliva) and Bob uttering angry lines like “I wish I was aborted!”

The supporting acting is also funny. The husbands are played by two Saturday Night Livers: SNL actor Beck Bennett plays Nick and SNL writer Neil Casey plays Dennis. They both do a good job of adding to the idiocy of the story and even show a good male side to the idiocy in the world of this film. The two boys in the film were also good, but Asher Miles Fallica was quite something as Bob. He goes from a kid that’s your typical kid to a boy who suddenly acts like he’s possessed by the devil after watching Kids With Knives. That’s crazy!

Greener Grass is a comedy about suburban families that mixes in stupid with bizarre and insanity and insecurities. It comes off as a winning feature-length comedy from start to finish.

VIFF 2019 Review: It Must Be Heaven

Elia Suleiman

Director/writer/actor Elia Suleiman plays himself trying to get his film of Palestine made in It Must Be Heaven.

Saying It Must Be Heaven is a Palestinian film can give a lot of people the wrong impression at first. It’s a film that is enjoyable and worth seeing.

The film begins with a Christian religious ceremony in Nazareth, Palestine. They’re to enter the church, but it’s locked. It’s locked by the custodians who want to be alone drinking up. The priest and those part of the mass are angry. They barge in and get violent with him.

Life in Nazareth is not a pleasant experience for filmmaker Elia Suleiman. Elia has been experienced some downtime since a close friend of his died. Elia still has their wheelchair, walker and other personal items.  Wherever he goes, it appears people have a surly attitude. He goes to a restaurant and there’s an argument over the wine. He lives on the opposite end of an apartment where a father and son live in opposite suites and exchange insults. The few times when the Palestinians are nice to each other are when they know they’re being observed. Once outsiders leave, they go back to being their grumbling selves. The one Palestinian in Nazareth who looks to have a pleasant attitude is a young gardener who tends to Suleiman’s lemon tree, against Suleiman’s will. Suleiman tells him he doesn’t want him to trim it, but he comes back.

Elia seeks inspiration for his script. However he has to seek financial support from outside of Palestine. He goes on a flight to Paris and the flight gets turbulent as is goes over the Dinaric Alps. When he arrives in Paris, the Paris of people’s fantasies is alive. He sees it as a city of romance, a city of nice fashionably dressed women at a cafe having a good time together.

Then the realities of Paris start. His hotel suite is right next to a fashion house and their LED ad shines out a lot of lights that make it hard for Elia to sleep. He sits outside his window and looks out onto the street. He’s on the subway and sees a tattooed punk try to look menacing to him. He sees someone put a plastic bag underneath a car parked just outside. A bomb? The police come on Segways to check, but notice nothing and move away. He sees a homeless man lying around nearby and the police arriving to give him food. Suleiman is there during Bastille Day. He finds himself lost in a crowd during a military parade.

Elia knows he has business to deal with in Paris. He meets with a film producer, but the producer tells him that his film isn’t Palestinian enough. Elia tries to work more on his script. He notices that a bird has flown into his hotel suite. He welcomes the bird at first. However problems arise when Elia is typing on his script and the birds wants Elia’s attention. The bird hops onto his laptop and Elia gently pushes him aside. The bird repeats, but Elia’s had enough. He decides the bird need to fly back out in the open.

Elia then sets his sights on New York. Before he does, he has a day where he just wants to relax. He goes over to a park area, but notices a woman dressed in an angel costume with the Palestinian flag on her torso. A group of police try to pursue her, but she makes it a case of ‘catch me if you can.’ When they do catch her, she mysteriously disappears. Returning to his hotel that evening, he sees the car that had the bag placed underneath it is towed away. The bag is still visible.

When Elia arrives in New York, he is taken to a hotel by a cab driver who tries to develop conversation. The cab driver asks where he’s from, and Elia responds “Palestine.” The cab driver slams on his brakes and talks about how surprised he is to see a Palestinian. He’s never seen one before! He meets with a pretentious film professor. The professor wants his story to embody the Palestinian cause in the best way it can. He goes to a meeting held by a Palestinian-American group. The crowd is too enthusiastic for the leader to handle so she demands they all give one clap for each speaker she announces.

Then the meeting with the producer happens. Before he does, he is met in the waiting room with Gael Garcia Bernal who is his friend. Bernal has read over his script and he is very happy with what Suleiman has written. The exec however is uninterested in funding a ‘Palestinian story.’ Before Suleiman is about to return back home, he walks around New York and notices how Americans everywhere, even in the supermarkets, carry guns over their shoulders. He arrives back in Nazareth and notices that the gardener is back pruning his trees. The film ends with Suleiman in a discotheque with young people dancing to a song celebrating Palestine.

The film has a message to say, but instead of it speaking its message, it allows the message to be told in the images it shows. The film says its messages in what Suleiman sees. We see the world through his eyes. Nazareth looks to be this unhappy place in the middle of nowhere. Suleiman thinks that he will have a better time in the cities he will visit: Paris and New York. He can escape the unpleasant attitudes, the violent actions of others and fear of terrorism. He’s in for a surprise. In Paris, he notices what could be a car bomb placed underneath a car. The bomb never goes off, but it does remind you it has its own threats. Even in New York where there are still memories of 9/11, the threat of terrorism is there too. Bad manners? Suleiman witnesses as a stranger on a Paris subway tries to look menacing to him. Over in the part, an elderly lady tries to get a seat, but a young man on a bike beats her to it with no regrets. He’s reminded there’s rudeness there too. He’s also reminded of military preparedness and vigilance too as the Bastille Day parade has a military march and Americans in New York show their weapons openly. what he thought he’d leave behind in Palestine is still there in Paris and New York.

The film also feels about the difficulty of being a Palestinian in the outside world. Elia may be Christian but he defines himself as a Palestinian. He finds it hard enough living in Palestine, but finds it challenging to define himself to others. The meeting with the producer in Paris shows the French are interested in showing an image of Palestine, but one common or friendly with French audiences. The meeting with the taxi driver also adds to the feelings of confusion with his identity. He goes to a Palestinian-American rally that supports the cause, but doesn’t get too much out of it. How can a Palestinian relate to a Palestinian-American? Even if they share the same cause, they don’t have too much in common.

The film is less about the words spoken that it is about what one sees happening. This is pretty much a film of what Elia Suleiman sees through his eyes and he lets the images and moments do the talking instead of him. There are very few instances when you see Elia talking. It’s very rare in a film where the protagonist doesn’t even utter ten words.  Almost all moments of the film, including moments when he appears to be in a conversation, show him being a silent observer or a silent responder. That adds to the humor of the film, and Elia wants the film to blend humor with the theme and message of his story. Yep, even moments where you see Elia being dead silent get us laughing. It’s part of the film’s ironic dry humor. Some could say Elia’s wit is a lot like Woody Allen’s. You be the judge.

This is the first film in seven years for Elia Suleiman. His last one was 7 Days In Havana. This is a film he directs, writes, and plays lead. He does a good job in letting the images tell the story. Even during his mute moments, he adds to the humor of the story. It’s a silent humor that you have to get and understand while you watch this film. The inclusion of music in the various scenes adds to the story and fits it well.

It Must Be Heaven is Palestine’s official entry in the Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film; a retitling of the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film has won a lot of acclaim. Acclaim includes a win for Special Mention at this year’s Cannes Film Fest as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or, a nomination for Best Film at the Seville Film Festival, and a nomination for Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto Film Festival (film had production in Canada).

It Must Be Heaven is a film with a lot of wit and dry humor. Its silence of much of the story and of its main protagonist actually speaks volumes and is the film’s best quality.

2019 Women’s World Cup Group F Focus

I know I haven’t talked too much about the actual Women’s World Cup event itself. I plan on doing that in my wrap-up blog where I repost the links to my group focuses the day the tournament begins. In the meantime I have one last group to focus on.

The crazy thing about Group F is that it consists of one of the more unknown rivalries: US vs. Sweden. How is it a rivalry? In 2015, the US and Sweden were in the same group and they drew 1-1. At the 2016 Olympics the US met Sweden in the quarterfinal. They drew again at 1-1, but Sweden won on penalty kicks. Now they meet again in Group F. Their game on June 20th should really be interesting. Anyways here I go with my review of Group F:

USA-United States (1): The US seems like they were born to win. They’ve been at all seven previous Women’s World Cups and finished in the Top 3 each time, as well as winning three times including the last WWC in 2015. They’re even household names: Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Brandi Chastain, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. However they do have weaknesses. That was exposed by Sweden at the 2016 Olympics. Their quarterfinal loss to Sweden at the 2016 Olympics marked the first time the US women’s team failed to win an Olympic medal.

The last twelve months have been a case of the US showing their continued dominance as they won twenty games, including against Brazil, Australia, Canada, Japan and China. They also had a draw against Japan and Australia as well as England. Their only loss came to France back in January. The United States come to France with the biggest expectations of all teams and they just could do it for a fourth World Cup.

Thailand-Thailand (34): Back during Canada 2015, Thailand came to the Women’s World Cup with some of the lowest expectations. They didn’t advance past the Group Stage but they did score a 3-2 win against the Ivory Coast. They’ve had some continued success as they made the Top 4 of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup for the first time since 1986.

Thailand is a team that wants to grow and get better. However they are going to face some serious challenges. Their play records the last twelve months has not been the best. Their only win this year has been 4-0 against Hungary. They’ve racked up losses against China, Japan, Italy, France and Mexico. It’s part of the struggle to get better. France 2019 is another opportunity for Thailand to learn and improve itself for the future.

Chile-Chile (39): Chile is the fourth and last newbie of the Women’s World Cup teams. They did that by coming second to Brazil at the 2018 Copa America Feminina for the first time since 1991. Their second-place finish also gives them a good chance at qualifying for next year’s Olympics, provided they beat the second-place team from the African trials.

Chile last won games back last year, but their wins were against South Africa and Australia. Since then, Chile has endured losses to Italy, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Colombia and Germany. France 2019 is a good opportunity for Chile to get some good experience. They could even pull an upset win just like Thailand did back in 2015.

Sweden Fixed-Sweden (9): It’s come to be that Sweden has become the US’s ‘Achilles Heel.’ Their record against the US is 7 wins, 11 draws and 20 losses. Sweden has actually had it very good in the last four years. Right after their surprise quarterfinal win against the US, they would go on to win the silver medal. They would also win the 2018 Algarve Cup. However they are fallible as they only made it to the quarterfinals of the 2017 Women’s Euro.

Team Sweden has shown a lot of strength over the last eighteen months. They’ve racked up wins against Canada, Denmark, Norway, England and Switzerland. They only had four losses, but they were against Germany, Portugal, Italy and Ukraine. If Sweden’s on, they could just have their best showing ever here at this Women’s World Cup.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

You think with the USA in this group predicting would be easy. However I will go with my best hunches and predict the USA to top this group with Sweden second. For third, I will take a chance and predict Chile.

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for Group F. Now that I’ve predicted all the groups, I will give a summary and a reference page of my links just hours before France 2019 starts.

Oscars 2018 Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m good at keeping count of all the years I’m able to see all the Best Picture nominees, but I don’t know how many consecutive years I’ve seen the shorts. However I did it again this year. I lucked out and saw all the shorts for this year’s Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film categories. There were a lot of differences of the films, but a lot of similarities too. Here’s my review of the films:

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS:

The col thing about this year is that two films — Fauve and Marguerite — come from Canada. More specifically, Quebec. The five films nominated are very different in genre and story, but all are deserving of their nominations:

Detainment: dir. Vincent Lambe – This is the most controversial of the five films. February 12, 1993 started off as a day in which two 10 year-old boys named Jon Venables and Robert Thompson simply played truant from school and stole items from nearby stores. That all changed when they saw 2 year-old James Bulger standing outside the butcher shop unattended. The film focuses intensely on the police interrogations. Both Thompson and Venables are interrogated separately. Both boys’ parents are in the room listening in, and in complete paralyzing shock.

The film is based off of some of the recorded interrogations of the two boys. The film appears to be a character study of the two individual boys. Thompson appears defiant and remorseless while Venables is constantly lying and frequently cries, even hysterically. The film also relives the moments such as when adults butt in and how they walked Bulger the long distance to the track where he died. It becomes gripping without getting too disturbing.

NOTE: The film has attracted a lot of controversy because of its subject matter. The James Bulger murder is a murder that still upsets the UK, especially Liverpool, to this day. The mother has gone on BBC speaking her anger and demanded the film be removed from the list of nominees. That’s why even though I think it’s the best film of all five, I feel it should not win the Oscar. I don’t see it trying to bring any sympathy to the two boys, but it still upsets many from the UK to this day.

Fauve: dir. Jeremy Comte – Two boys, Tyler and Benjamin, are playing an innocent power game. They first do it around an abandoned train. However they decide to take their game to a surface mine for a concrete factory. Then the game becomes deadly as Benjamin finds himself sinking in the wet cement. Tyler tries to help, but to no avail as it stops him too. Any help from Tyler helps to no avail. Then the aftermath as a woman offers a ride home tells a lot.

The film is a good short story. The story starts off as simple fun and games, but then turns to a dark tragic drama when you least expect it. Even the ending leaves you asking questions at the end. Very good short.

Marguerite: dir. Marianne Farley – Marguerite is an elderly lady nearing the last years of her life at home. She is nursed on a daily basis by a young nurse named Rachel. One day, she overhears a phone conversation between Rachel and another woman. It sounds romantic. Later, Marguerite notices Rachel’s phone in the bathroom and sees romantic photos of Rachel and the other woman. One day, Marguerite unearths a photo album. The photos are back in the 1960’s and are of her and another woman named Cecile. It brings back memories of the two. Cecile would later marry a man. After being put to bed early because of a fall, Marguerite confesses in her bed to Rachel of Cecile and why she never ‘loved’ her.

This is a story that is slow, but it tells a lot. It’s about two women, both lesbians, who are a product of their times. One couldn’t love a woman because it was considered a ‘mortal sin’ and was criminalized. The other is free to love another woman without guilt. It’s there where they share their special bond at the end. That’s why I declare this my Should Win pick.

Mother: dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen – Marta is relaxing at her place with her mother around. Her son Ivan is on the coast of the French Riviera with his father on vacation. Soon Marta receives a phone call from Ivan. Ivan is alone on a remote area of the coast. The father abandoned him. Nobody except a strange man is around. The battery in Ivan’s phone is dying. Soon Marta calls the police, but the police have no way to locate Ivan as Ivan doesn’t know where he is. Then a second phone call from Ivan happens. That leaves Marta even more frightened and causes Marta to rush out.

The film’s best attribute is that it captures the moment. It’s between cellphones and Marta’s domain. The qualities are what we know and what we don’t know and it builds on the suspense. The weakness is that it appears to be part of a film rather than a full film. It feels like it has a beginning and a middle, but no end. I’m sure the purpose of the director was to give us a film that leaves us in suspense, but it leaves you wondering what was the point of this partial-film? Social message? Suspense story? What?

Skin: dir. Guy Nattiv – Troy is a ten year-old boy growing up in a remote area of the southern USA. The father, Johnny Aldd, is bringing him up to be rough and tough. The father even teaches Troy how to shoot a real gun with the help of his neo-Nazi friends. One day at a supermarket, Troy smiles at an African American man just simply buying groceries. Johnny gets angry and shouts racist slurs, but the black man walks off calm, collect, but angry and lets him know it. Johnny response by getting his friends to rush over and beat the black man up near his van while his family watches in horror, and Troy watches on.

Days later, Troy and Johnny go out somewhere, but the father is captured by a van of African American men. They put a sleeping injection in Johnny and a tattoo artist goes over his racist tattoos, leaving you wondering what will come. After eleven days, Johnny is dropped back at his home. The tattoo artist completely covered him in black, to Johnny’s horror. As Johnny tries to come home, his wife and son react in fear. It ends with a surprise ending.

No question the main theme of the film is about racism. However the film is also about cliques and breeding fear into people. The film can say that the culture of fear can also be why the United States has a gun problem. Seeing how neo-Naziism exposed its face in the Unite-The-Right rally in August 2017, this is a film very relevant to our times. Even with its bizarre story and surprise ending. That’s why I pick it at my Will Win pick.

ANIMATED SHORTS:

This makes for a very eclectic five films chosen for this year. One of the films is from a Canadian animation company. However there are two American films that hint they may have some Canadian ingredients:

Animal Behaviour: dirs. Alison Snowden and David Fine – Various animals walk into a psychology group meeting with a dog doctor leading the meeting. All have a problem to confess. However problems arrive when a gigantic ape with an anger problem comes in. He doesn’t want to be helped. The pig, the leech and the moth are all cooperative, but the ape is disruptive. Then the ape confesses his problem, but also throws a fit in the process and all havoc is wreaked. Right at the end, and with all the damage done, the ape appears helped and will be back next week.

This is some clever 2D animation that may appear simple and crude by most, but fits the story well. Also the whole story of all the animals involved and their problems makes for funny hilarity.

Bao: dirs. Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb – A Chinese-Canadian woman makes dumplings for her busy husband, but one comes alive. She raises it to be like her own baby. She mothers it with her caring nature, but the son grows up out to be rebellious and even leaves to marry a white woman he loves. She can’t handle it and eats him. Heartbroken after ‘eating’ him, she wakes up to find out it’s just a dream. She’s a mother going through empty-nest syndrome and the child dumpling in her dream was mirroring her own son’s life. It ends on a happy note.

This is the short shown before Incredibles 2. Once again, Pixar adds another excellent writer to its dream team. Director Domee Shi started as a storyboard artist for The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out. Here she has a chance to let her creativity flow with a charming story which transcends race and delights people of all ages and backgrounds.

Late Afternoon: dirs. Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzales Blanco – Emily is an elderly woman who is constantly tended to by Kate. Frequently Emily’s memory goes back to her past from moments in her childhood and her carefree nature and then to moments in her young adulthood. Her memory keeps going in and out. Then at the end, she’s reminded Kate is her daughter.

This does seem like a heavy short as the story appears to be either about Dementia or Alzheimers. The use of animation helps with the drifting of Emily’s mind from the present to the past back to the present again. A very good short, but it may be too deep for some.

One Small Step: dirs. Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas – Luna is a Chinese-American girl with dreams of becoming an astronaut. She lives with her father, a shoe cobbler. He has always let Luna know how much he loves her with the shoes he crafts for her and with his business. He uses his money to promote Luna’s dream. As a young child, Luna cherishes every minute of her father. As she grows up, she becomes more distant from her father and even too busy with her college work. Things take a turn for the worse as she starts failing courses and is denied acceptance into astronaut training. Then one day she comes home and learns that her father has passed. Heartbroken, she then turns her life around and starts a new ambition. This leads to the happy ending we all want.

The story is a very good story as it deals with a common theme of father-daughter relationships. The story may appear heartbreaking, but ends with the positive energy it began with. The animation was excellent and the story, with no dialogue at all, told us a lot. I call this my Should Win and Will Win pick.

Weekends: dir. Trevor Jimenez – A young boy living in downtown Toronto in the mid-1980’s is divided between the time between the homes of his father and his mother. The father is more playful with an imagination into samurai swords. The mother is more serious while she’s dating a man who doesn’t take well to the boy. As the stories shift between the two world, they become intertwined with the boy’s dreams and the dreams tell a lot about the realities of the home lives he’s going through.

Trevor Jimenez has been a storyboard artist for Pixar films and has his chance at doing his own short film. It’s all hand-drawn which adds to the effect of the story. The point of this story was to mix the eerie dreams with the boy’s unfriendly reality. It does a great job in creating the right environment for the film and the drama.

And that’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Last year I was better at predicting the shorts winners, but this year looks to be very open. There are some that look like clear winners, but anything can happen in these categories. It will all be decided on Sunday the 24th.

VIFF 2017 Review: PROTOTYPE

Prototype

PROTOTYPE is a film by Blake Williams about the Galveston hurricane of 1900. It’s to be his depiction and his thoughts and images of the event.

The film begins with images of the aftermath if the Galveston hurricane of 1900: a disaster where 8000 people died. The film progresses into images depicting what happened during the storm, like waves in the water, various images of people and television screens, various images of color, all featured against disjointed music in the background. The film then focuses on what happens three weeks later with even further images of people, television screens, lucid colors and even computer images of automobiles. The film ends with images of Galveston today where natural images of the city and of the Gulf of Mexico are shown along with blended-in images.

When I first came to this film, I was told this would be a documentary. I was also understanding abut this since hurricanes have been big news in 2017 with two or three big-name hurricanes hitting North America. The film is less of a documentary and more of an experimental film. There’s no narrator and we get disjointed music as the score for the film. I will have to say that I admit that when I first came for this film, I didn’t know what to expect. When the film talked about the Galveston Hurricane, I had my own expectations about what this ‘documentary’ would be and it didn’t turn out that way. I was disappointed in this for a long time.

The biggest reason why I was disappointed was because this film didn’t make much sense. Sure, I know there are a lot of films that try to be experimental–this is an experimental 3D film– but its use of various film images in relating them to the Galveston hurricane didn’t make a lot of sense. Like I wondered what the computer graphics of an SUV had to do with what happened three weeks after a hurricane in 1900. I could understand pictures of strong waves shown at the beginning and the end of each film segment because of the Gulf Of Mexico. However other images like that of computer screens or of all these lucid colors did not make sense at all to why they’re in a film about this disaster in 1900.

We should not forget that here at the Vancouver Film Festival, we will be having a lot of experimental films. There will be a lot of films that will try to be different and eccentric for the sake of stretching the boundaries of artistry. It becomes evident that director Blake Williams is trying to stretch artistry or use artistic expression for his own detailing of this event. I have no objection to that; I’m welcoming to that. However I’m welcoming to  it as long as it’s done in a way that would make sense. I’m sure Blake would give his explanations for why all these images and why they relate to the events of that disaster, but most of it would not be made apparent to the audience.

I think at best, this film is a film that’s meant more for those who welcome different approaches to film and welcome all types of artistic eccentricities. Especially in art galleries where there are all sorts of films with all sorts of elements and imagery. However I don’t like things that give the impression that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. I’m sure it does know, but it doesn’t make it obvious enough. It gives the impression only Blake Williams knows what it is.

PROTOTYPE first appears to be a 3D documentary, but is actually more of an experimental film. This appears to be a film that would belong more in an art gallery.

Oscars 2016 Shorts Reviews: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:

ANIMATED:

-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.

The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.

-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.

I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.

-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?

It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.

-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.

Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.

-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.

And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:

-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?

It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.

-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?

It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.

-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.

They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.

It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.

-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.

Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay?  Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.

-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.

At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.

And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.

With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.

 

VIFF 2016 Review: The Eyes Of My Mother

eyesofmymo

The Eyes Of My Mother tells a story of how a young girl named Francisca inherits a blood lust.

I knew with The Eyes Of My Mother being an Altered states film, I would be taken into the world of either the bizarre, sinister or paranormal. I got sinister this time but I was not too impressed.

The film begins with a truck driver stopping to what appears to be a body in the road. The woman is very much alive but tortured physically. Flashback to at least 25 years earlier. Young Francesca is the young daughter of a Portuguese farming couple. The parents used to be cow ranchers back in their home.

One day, they’re visited by a man named Charlie who needs to use the phone. You can tell by Charlie’s face that he’s not worth your trust. Francisca witnesses Charlie bludgeoning her mother in the bathtub. The father responds by keeping Charlie captive and tortured in the barn. Francisca asked Charlie what it was like killing her mother. He responds: “It’s amazing.”

Many years pass. Francisca develops a blood lust of her own. She keeps Charlie tortured. However she also kills her old ailing father in the bathtub. She kills a stranger named Lucy. She appears to kill a mother named Kimiko and has taken to looking after Kimiko’s son Antonio. Actually Kimiko is alive but tortured in the barn the same way Charlie is: shackled and eyes dug out. Somehow Kimiko develops the strength and the willpower to find her way out on the barn. She however ends up on a road where a truck driver stops to see what’s up. This sets up for an ending that’s too brief.

Stories of ‘bloodlust’ are not that uncommon. If you’ve studied MacBeth, you get possibly the most renowned example of bloodlust. Here in this film, we hear why the feeling of bloodlust from both Charlie and older Francisca: because of its ‘amazing’ feeling. The feel of power from killing or torturing someone with your own hands can give one a feeling of satisfaction. Just ask soldiers, just ask dictators, just ask… the list is endless.

Here’s a case of the ‘bloodlust’ going from Charlie: the killer of Francesca’s mother, to Francisca. She acquires a lust for murder at her own hands from Charlie. She also acquires a desire for torture as demonstrated by her father on Charlie. The whole story revolves around Francisca and her own lust for murder and torture on others. Even the incorporation of the Portuguese language in her conversation takes the element of bloodlust into being like poetry. Even making it sensual.

That’s the best traits of the film: portraying a unique method of acquiring bloodlust and even making it poetic. However the film has a lot of noticeable weaknesses. We see Francesca has acquired this bloodlust but the film doesn’t make it convincing enough in her ability to receive it. It’s like she just received it. She may have been taught the love of murder by Charlie and the love of torture from her father but it doesn’t appear she acquires this bloodlust that believably. It’s like it just happened briefly. The other weakness is that it ended on a weak note and too abruptly. I feel that 77 minutes was too short of a time to have a film like this and the ending just seemed to be the weakest part of the film. Too sudden and too fast.

Despite the noticeable flaw, this is a good debut for Nicolas Pesce as a director and a writer. His first effort has won awards at the Fantastic Film Festival and was nominated at the AFI Fest for American Independents. Kika Magalhaes is another impressive newcomer as she does a great job in embodying her character’s madness. The other supporting characters also did a good job in their roles. Will Brill as Charlie is the one that stood out as you sensed right from the start it would be Charlie starting the trouble.

The Eyes Of My Mother makes for a good Halloween film. It’s very sinister but very poetic and charming at the same time. Nevertheless the flaws are noticeable in the film.

VIFF 2016 Review: To Keep The Light

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Erica Fae plays a Maine woman determined to keep her lighthouse in 1876 in To Keep The Light.

Here at the VIFF, you’ll see many films directed by female directors. One is To Keep The Light, directed by Erica Fae. It’s a very impressive work.

Abbie is the wife of Thomas, a lighthouse keeper in Maine in 1876. However Thomas has recently fallen ill and has become bedridden with a complete loss of appetite. That means Abbie will have to tend to the lighthouse while he is sick. She does everything Thomas does and keeps record of everything although she does commit one error.

One morning she sees a body of a man has washed ashore. The following day, she sees the man has not awaken so she assumes he’s dead. However just as she’s about to cast the body to sea, the man awakens. She gives him shelter and food as he’s about to recover. He tells her the story of how he ended up in the sea. As he’s recovering, she tells Thomas of this man: a Swede named Johan. It’s only a matter of days that Johan gets better. He’s even able to help Abbie with the lighthouse.

Abbie’s even able to go to town with Johan but the townpeople do not look fondly towards Abbie or Johan. Some are suspicious of the two considering Thomas is still bedridden. Even the postal lady Mrs. Williams has a suspicion towards Swedes as do many of the townfolks. It’s difficult enough since one family, the Eaton family, feels they should have owned the lighthouse only to have been outbid by Abbie and Thomas.

One day Abbie sees the breakfast eaten, assuming Thomas is starting recover and lies next to him, only to discover it’s Johan. Abbie soon learns the horrific news. Thomas is dead; he drowned himself. As if Thomas’ death isn’t hard enough, she knows she could lose the lighthouse to the Eatons. Troubles turn worse as the Chief Inspector conducts an inspection and gives it a scathing review, mostly because of his male chauvinism. Soon Johan reveals her love towards Abbie just around the time the Eatons are trying to claim her lighthouse. Abbie would have to make an important decision. She does, but not the decision most would expect.

Listening to the first five minutes of the Q&A with Erica Fae, I learned a lot more about women who looked after lighthouses in place of their ailing or deceased husbands. It’s documented but the times whitewashed their contributions those many years ago. Erica Fae is able to bring their achievements to full view and for us to finally see. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, it’s enlightening to see what they did during the time. I’m glad Erica has the chance through this film to finally tell us their story and finally commend their accomplishments.

If there’s one glitch about this film, it’s that it doesn’t appear like it’s solid in its intention as a film. It becomes obvious it’s about one woman’s struggle to keep the lighthouse she should rightfully own being the widow of the previous owner. However the story of Abbie’s struggle has the distraction of her romance with Johan. I’ll admit while watching this, I was left wondering if the film was intended to be a romance: a story about the man Abbie truly loved. I don’t have a problem at all with films conveying a message of women fighting for their rights but I think the romance from Abbie and Johan took away from the story’s message and would leave confused about what the main intention of the film is to be.

SPOILER ALERTDo Not Read This Paragraph IF You Dont Want To Know The Ending: Even the ending had me confused. It’s obvious Abbie loved Johan but it couldn’t be that she was thinking of marrying him to keep her lighthouse. Even if it was right after the death of Thomas, Abbie didn’t come across as that type of woman. If she were to marry Johan, it would be because she loved him. I admit I had different expectations in the film. I thought Johan would follow his heart and come back to her. I think that’s why the ending of her writing the letter to set her ownership of the lighthouse in stone left me confused.

I give a lot of respect to Erica Fae for this film. Fae is best known as an actress in the film Synecdoche, New York and a recurring character in Boardwalk Empire. She wrote, directed, researched and played the lead in the film. She does an excellent job in all the duties she takes on in the film but there are some noticeable flaws. I know I made mention of a story of a love mixed with a woman’s fight for her right as coming off as uneven. As far as Fae’s acting, she does an excellent job of playing the character but she doesn’t come across as too believable as a woman from the 1870’s in New England. She comes across as too 21st century in her movement and her speaking. Antti Reini did a good job of playing Johan. The other cast members also did very well in their parts. The cinematography by Wes Cardino was excellent and gives a great feel for the East Coast. The score by Caroline Shaw was also very fitting for the film.

To Keep The Light has its noticeable flaws. Nevertheless it is a good story about what certain women had to fight for that often goes overlooked. I thank Erica Fae for giving us this story.

Rio 2016: Fourteen To Watch

London Flame

The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:

Rio 2016

The Rio 2016 logo features three characters in the Brazilian colors in a triple embrace resembling Sugarloaf mountain.

-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.

-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.

-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.

-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.

-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.

-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!

-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.

-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Rio 2016

Vinicius, seen left with Rio Paralympic mascot Tom, is the 2016 Olympic mascot. Vinicius is a mix of Brazil’s mammals. Both mascots are to represent Brazil’s diverse people and culture.

Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.

Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:

Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.

Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.

TEAMS:

Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.

United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.

TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?

FROM THE HOST NATION:

Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.

Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.

In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.

Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.

And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.

Oscars 2015 Shorts Review: Best Animated Short Film

Cinema

Just recently I published my review of the live-action shorts nominees of this year. Now’s my chance to publish my thoughts on the nominated animated shorts of this year. They range in variety from 2D artistic to primitive 2D to common 3D computer animated to 3D with a unique style. All five are excellent and unique in their unique way but who deserves to win?

Bear Story (Chile): dirs. Gabriel Osorio Vargas and Pato Escala Pierart – It’s a story of a bear who misses his wife and son dearly. Every day he goes out on the street and shows a diorama show to those of the story of how he was abducted from them both and taken away to be part of the circus. The show also ends showing his hope that one day he will be reunited with them both.

The film is a sad story that touches your heart without trying to mess with it. It’s 3D animation but instead of the characters looking human, it comes looking like toy soldiers. I’m not too sure of the creative purpose of that. Nevertheless it does make for an entertaining short film.

Prologue (UK): dirs. Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton – This is one film where there was a viewer discretion warning and advised minors to leave the theatre before it was shown. The film takes part 2,400 years in the past. A child watches a brutal war between two teams of Spartan and Athenian warriors.

This is the rawest nominated short I’ve ever seen ever since they’ve shown the shorts in theatres. The art is simplistic as it consists mostly of pencil drawings with very little coloring. However it merits a lot in terms of its artistry. It also tells a story in brutally relentless fashion even depicting the battles in gory manner. It’s very rare to see a short animated film that’s strictly adults only. It also made it refreshing to see such a short.

Sanjay’s Super Team (USA): dirs: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Paradis Grindle – Sanjay loves watching the Super Team on television but his father is very insistent on a religious prayer habit, even at Sanjay’s young age. Right during the prayer ritual, Sanjay’s imagination comes alive. The gods he’s praying to form a Super Team of his own and they join Sanjay in the battle against a nemesis.

This is from Pixar and was the short before The Good Dinosaur. Director Sanjay Patel has an impressive resume working as an animator for Pixar in films like A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, the two Monsters movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. This film in which he co-directs is his directing debut. The film shows similar imagination to that of the Pixar team while also taking us into a brief but memorable time into an incredible fantasy world. Very good from start to finish. I predict it as my Should Win pick and Will Win pick.

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia): dir. Konstantin Bronzit – Two childhood friends train to be cosmonauts in space. Only one will go off into space. The other will be the alternate or next in line if something bad happens to the first. One friend got picked. The other friend wishes him well on his voyage. However shortly after blast off, the friend disappears. The friend down on earth is unhappy. He can’t even adjust well to his alternate whom he doesn’t get along with at all. Actually the alternate can’t get along with anyone. The friend makes a decision to the surprise of many, and to us. It’s a decision we’re glad he made.

It’s a 2D film with a story that doesn’t need dialogue for us to get the messages. Over time we learn the story isn’t about trying to make it into space but about just how close the friendship is. The two train together and dream together. When his friend is lost into oblivion, his ambition to be the next in space disappears just like that. You can easily see why he made the decision to do what he did.

World Of Tomorrow (UK) dir. Don Hirtzfeldt – The story begins with a toddler named Emily in a room. Out of nowhere comes a clone also named Emily who came from 227 years into the future back to the present. The adult Emily, ‘Emily Clone,’ tells the child Emily, ‘Emily Prime,’ of the human’s attempts to achieve immortality through cloning and showcasing the various worlds including the ‘Outernet’ and the various memories of the clone Emily. Very different and very unique.

This is another 2D short. The drawing is very simplistic. However it’s the story that’s the top quality of the film. We see a bizarre but unique story of Emily Clone and Emily Prime the future world and the future of Emily. The funniest element of the short is Emily Clone keeps on talking in her highly scientific speech and all Emily Prime does is just respond back in her childish gibberish. That adds to the humor of the short.

In conclusion I know I picked Sanjay’s Super Team as both my Should Win and Will Win choice. Normally I wouldn’t pick such a film to win but I find it hard to see any of the other four films try to top it. All five are excellent but I think Sanjay stands alone. I know World Of Tomorrow won the Annie Award but I have my feeling about Oscars voters. Mind you the shorts categories are some of the least predictable categories of the Oscars.

And there you go. My thoughts on the Oscar nominated Animated Shorts. Winner to be decided in two weeks.