DISCLAIMER: I know VIFF ended on October 9th. I’m still posting my film reviews as they can either be streamed or will be released at a later date.
It’s not that often I go to see a documentary, never mind see one during the VIFF. The first film I saw at the VIFF was a documentary entitled Love Will Come Later. It’s an eye-opener of a story as it focuses on a topic that is quite common, but not too many people are aware of.
The film begins with Samir El Hajjy, a Moroccan male in his early 20’s, having a text conversation with a woman. The woman lives somewhere in Europe. The conversation is intimate. Soon we hear from Samir himself. He tells of his dreams and ambitions. He dreams of marrying a European woman, particularly one in France, and dreams of a better life for himself. This may be difficult as he has an arranged fiance.
As the documentary continues, we learn more about Samir and his family. We learn that Samir has attempted to apply to European Universities without success. We learn that he has an older brother whom has married a European woman and is starting a family. We learn that he has sisters who are very religious and very tradition-minded, especially when it comes to the subject of love and marriage.
The subject of love and marriage is one that comes very much in conversation. We hear frequently from Samir’s friends of what they have to say about it. We hear from Samir’s barber of how he married. We heard from other men telling their stories of how they married. Sure, they were arranged, but love came over time. We hear from Samir’s sisters and how they have a negative opinion of marrying a European woman. We even see a scene when Samir’s brother flies into Marrakech with his family. It becomes evident this is the life Samir aspires to have. We also see how Samir faces the pressure to marry a woman he’s arranged to marry.
The film also focuses on Samir’s daily life and the city he lives in. We see Samir as he’s having fun with friends. We see Samir as he’s getting his hair cut. We see Samir ride his motorcycle slowly across the narrowest of streets of old Marrakech. We see Samir as he is in his prayers to Allah. We see frequent celebrations in Marrakech. Some celebrations are national. Some are more local, like weddings or neighborhood festivals.
The film doesn’t stray away from his marriage goals. Many times, we get a focus on the conversations he has with the European women. Some are through messenger, some are text message, some are Zoom meeting where by Islamic morals she is not to have her face shown. We see one case of an actual phone conversation with one of the women Samir is pursuing. During the time, Samir reveals his beliefs. In one of his conversations, he talks with the woman of his beliefs of the roles of the man and the woman. He reveals he’s not as tradition minded and doesn’t side with the man dominating. He believes in 50/50. That becomes increasingly apparent as he gets into a religious discussion with someone and even points out that in the Koran there’s no mention a woman should wear a burka.
Eventually the frustrations weigh down on Samir and he feels he should forget his dream, ‘grow up,’ and marry the woman he’s arranged to. The film ends with Samir in his latest pursuit. She’s a woman from France. In the final scene, of Samir in a bus, he tells of his dreams of love and marriage. This appears to be the love pursuit he is committed on making work. As for love itself, he feels it’s something that will come and grow over time.
The story of Samir pursuing love in Europe is a common thing in African countries. French-language countries like France and Belgium have a high number of immigrants from Congo, Cameroon, Morocco and Algeria. Even one documentary I saw at the VIFF years ago showed how in many African countries the belief is to pursue Europe or die trying. It seems to be a common belief of the young in Africa that they have a future, but they can’t see it happening in their own countries. They feel their future is in Europe. It would not be uncommon to see cases where they will want to marry into Europe. Samir is possibly thousands of young men in African countries who want to do just that.
However the film is not just about a Moroccan trying to pursue love in Europe. The story is about Samir. They story paints an intimate portrayal of Samir El Hajjy himself. He wants to marry, but he doesn’t devalue marriage. He knows marriage is as much about love as it is an institution. As the cameras follow him, his life and make his conversations visible, we get a good sense of his life and his desires. We get a sense why he is not too interested in the woman he’s arranged to marry, or any woman in Marrakech. We get a sense of daily Moroccan life for families like killing a lamb for dinner and daily prayers to Allah.
On the subject of marriage and tradition, we get a sense of his family situation. We see how his brother who married in France is quite comfortable, but the sisters are disapproving. They feel it’s against Islamic traditions and they have a negative attitude towards European women. We get a sense of Samir’s loyal faith and we also see Samir’s own beliefs about the role of women and how it correlates with Islamic faith. Samir is not naïve in his Islamic faith and his beliefs. We see how many people view his goals of marrying in Europe to be a sign of immaturity. We also see how the pressure does come down on him. There are scenes near the end where he’s tempted to give it all up and marry his arranged fiancé. Tradition and the modern world frequently clash in the film. It’s not the type of clash that’s heavy on action but heavy on emotion.
Top respect to Swiss director Julia Furer for putting this documentary together. Her film allows Samir to tell his own story and allow the cameras follow him along in his story telling. With a topic like this, it’s best to let the subject tell the story than the director to send their message. Julia also shows a lot of shots that first appear to be irrelevant to the film, but eventually do add to the story when you look back. Shots of Samir on his motor bike show what living in Marrakech is like with its homes and bazaars. Shots of festivals show of the common traditions and celebrations in Morocco. Julia focuses on the good and the bad of life in Marrakech. One thing she shows as she showcases Samir’s story is that there are two different Marrakeches: the Marrakech tourists see and the Marrakech of daily life that only residents know. Shots of airplanes flying off may first appear to just add time in the film, but as the story progresses, each plane taking off from the airport appears to be another missed dream for Samir. Furer does a very good job of making this as much of a story of Morocco as it is the story of Samir.
Love Will Come Later is an intriguing story that first comes off as a story of a Moroccan man searching for love. If you look closer, it says a lot more. Not just about him, but of his family, his town, his faith, his country, and even about what being a young man in Morocco is all about.
Have you ever heard of artist Louis Wain? I should hope every cat lover has heard of him. You may have seen his art in the past, but may now know it. The film The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is a colorful portrait of a colorful artist.
The film begins set in 1925. Louis Wain is in a mental institution. On the radio is a voice giving support for the troubled Louis Wain. He talks of how Wain fascinated us all with cats. He also talks of the need to raise funds to bring Wain to a better mental institute that allows him to paint and be with cats. The film then goes back to 1880. Wain is 20 years old and his father has passed. He is the first-born of six and the only son. His father’s passing now puts on him the responsibility of being the family breadwinner.
This is not a responsibility Wain can do easily. He has a history of losing jobs and his drawings and paintings are not exactly the type that can win the general public over, nor newspapers looking for illustrators. This is troubling for all the family members, but it’s oldest sister Claire who really lets Louis know through her frustrations how much of a pressure this is. On a train trip, he meets businessman Asim Chaudhry who sees his drawings and gives him advise. Wain’s drawings do attract the attention of Sir William Ingram: the Managing Director of the Illustrated London Daily News. Ingram gives him the opportunity to draw for the paper, but on a part-time basis. This, along with other odd jobs, is enough to provide for the family and allow them to hire a governess to teach the three youngest daughters: Emily Richardson. Emily is ten years Louis’ senior, but Louis can’t help but take a liking to her. During this time, Louis also keeps his drawings of his inspirations and fears inside a personal journal of his own.
Over time, the money Wain is able to provide goes so far, adding to the frustration. Wain’s fast swimming at the Turkish Baths gets on people’s nerves, even though Ingram is willing to tolerate it. Louis keeps on having recurring nightmares of drowning in a capsized ship: nightmares he’s had since childhood and may explain the scar underneath is lip. Louis’ feelings to Emily are feelings he feels he has to keep hidden, but there’s Shakepeare’s The Tempest the whole family plans to see in the theatre. Louis invites Emily by slipping the ad under the door, and she accepts. Before the Show, Emily reads his journal and is surprised by the paintings and drawings. During the play, it goes into a scene of a story boat trip, which causes Louis to leave for the bathroom. After he’s finished, he sees Emily. Emily reveals she read his journal and understands him and they kiss for the first time!
The romance of Louis and Emily does not go well with the family. They don’t want to be the source of scandal because of the class-gap and age-gap of the two. At the same time, Louis learns of photography from a boxing match he watches with Asim. Asim tells him that photography can replace illustrations for newspapers in the future. That does not settle well with Louis not just because of his job, but he feels photography lacks the imagination and electricity of drawings. Then one day, the closeness of Emily and Louis gets to the point Claire has to fire Emily. It’s then he asks Emily to marry her. He reveals to her he doesn’t care what others think of them both. Emily accepts, revealing she doesn’t care either. The two find a home in the countryside to avoid controversy and they have a happy first six months.
Then the news come Emily has fatal cancer. Louis agrees to live with her the final years of her life. Then one rainy day, they hear a meowing out in their yard. It’s a kitten and he’s freezing. The two take him in and they make a pet out of him. Making a pet out of a cat was seen as odd in British society as cats are seen as either nuisances or only good for catching mice on the farm. However the two decide to make a pet out of the cat and name him Peter. For the next three years, it’s just Louis, Emily and Peter together. However Emily’s condition deteriorates. Louis doesn’t know how to deal with life without Emily, but Emily encourages him to continue to live on and not be afraid to make his imagination come alive.
After Emily dies, Louis secludes himself and is broke. Claire gets on his case for that. However it’s after this time, he learns the more he hurts, the better he paints. He starts creating cat drawing and cat paintings. The images depict cats as charming, cute and mischievous. The works attract many a reader of the Illustrated London News. His cat paintings start selling like nobody’s business. He even gets honorary memberships to cat societies in London who always saw cats as pets long before the mass public did. This brought him considerable fame, but not fortune. It’s after receiving a lot of debts he confesses to sister Claire he didn’t copyright his works and people are copying and getting their own piece of the action. The only way he can make money is through his original paintings. Ingram came to the rescue and gave him additional work in illustrations.
Then in 1900, Peter dies. Wain is heartbroken. Soon he learns the harder he grieves, the bigger his imagination grows. He then paints multi-colored pictures of cats that take his art in a new direction. It grants him bigger fortune, which comes in time as Marie is diagnosed as schizophrenic and needs to be sent to a better hospital. Unfortunately the luck runs out after a few years and fortune went just as fast as it came. He attempts to market his work in the United States, which attracts the attention of William Randolph Hearst and Max Case. The trips to New York give him a bigger fascination with electricity, but the boat trips also bring back his recurring nightmares of drowning on a ship.
Bad business decisions continue to get Wain sudden riches and back into debt. Over the years, Wain loses people close to him like his mother, sisters Marie and Claire and his mentor William Ingram. Then in 1925, he has a violent mental outburst that puts him in a metal hospital. Asim sees him in the hospital. He notices his drawings lack the magic he once had. Also Louis appears dead inside as there are no cats. This allows Asim to team up with H. G. Wells and his three surviving sisters to start a fundraiser to help bring Wain to a better hospital where he’s allowed a better quality of life where he can draw, paint, be around nature, and cats. The hospital where he spends his last years is much better and it allows Louis to again experience his image of paradise. The paradise he and Emily possessed together.
I’m sure anyone who’s seen Louis Wain’s art may have mixed feeling about it. Some will think it’s not for them, especially people who don’t care for cats or can’t stand them. Others will wonder how one can call cat pictures art? Some can even look at some of his more colorful pictures of cats in his latter years and even see them as ‘psychedelic!’ Hard to believe they’d have this ‘psychedelic’ look many decades before the psychedelic look of the 60’s that is iconic of the term ‘psychedelia’ would come to be.
The film also shows how Louis Wain possessed a lot of traits that are common among even the most famous artists. Firstly it shows Louis Wain’s imagination: one common artistic trait. It takes you into his love of cats and his fascination of electricity and how he turned it into his art. It shows how he used his imagination to create his paintings. The best artists always did. His imagination gave Brits a new look towards cats. No longer were they seen as good just for mousing or nuisances. They could be seen as pets. The film also shows you the eccentricities he had during his lifetime. Artsy people are known for possessing eccentricities. The film showed how Wain was both a non-conformist and what we call today a ‘slacker.’ He didn’t care what society thought of him when he married Emily, and neither did she. Artists are also still seen as non-conformists in the way they lived. He was unable to maintain a real job and a steady income sweating it out; another common trait we see in a lot of artists.
The film includes the family pressures he faced, being the oldest of the Wain children and only male. Wain had to act as a provider to his family and his artistic talents were more of a hindrance in that aspect. Especially financially as there would be times he’d starve, times he’d prosper and times when his riches were all squandered. Many of the best artists would not receive their renown in their lifetime and some like Van Gogh starved. Wain received his renown, but still had periods of poverty. The film also takes one into the heartaches he experienced in his life like the death of his only wife Emily and the death of his first cat Peter. Even though he would have many cats since, Peter would still remain his beloved and he would never get over his death. It showed the deaths of his two sisters, his mother and his biggest mentor. He noticed the more he grieved the better and the more imaginative he painted.
The film also takes you into Wain’s mental torture. It’s a common belief among people that an artist should be the type to suffer for their art. Artists have been known to be people that suffer inside and Wain was no exception. One will notice early on in the film as they learn Louis had recurring nightmares of drowning upon a sinking ship. That was a nightmare that would never leave him. Many people into art want to see artists draw out or paint out their pain. Wain reminds us that even artists that do supposedly ‘happy’ pictures like his cat paintings also can possess inner demons and they make one their own worst enemy as much as they make them an artistic genius. Being type-two bipolar himself, director Will Sharpe let it be known about Wain and what it’s like to have those troubles.
Biographical films have changed a lot in the last twenty years. Most of the time, you see the story unravel itself over time without narration. Very rarely do you see a modern biographical film go from start to finish about their lives. This film does a lot of ‘traditional’ ways of going about the biographical film, but instead of it being a setback for the film, it enhances it. Hearing the narration from Olivia Colman is a delight to hear. Also the narration of the film actually adds humor to the film and the story. Seeing Louis Wain’s life unravel from the turning point of his life in 1880 up to his death in 1939 actually helps make the film instead of hinders it. The film even includes moments in his life that become picture perfect moments for his drawings and paintings. The film even shows times in Wain’s life when it becomes moments for his best work. However it’s shown imperfectly and sometimes becomes uneven with the story. I’ve seen biographic films of artists before. Often they try to mix the life experiences and mentalities of the artist in with some of their biggest art works. This film does it very well for the most part, but there are times when it comes off as lacking consistency or out of place.
This is a very good work from director Will Sharpe. He’s co-directed two films before with Tom Kingsley, but this is the first film he holds his own in. The film he directs and the story he co-wrote with Simon Stephenson is an impressive artistic biography. It’s as much of a comedy as it is a drama. It follows the ‘traditional’ way of making a biographical film, but it’s more of a benefit than a drawback. These aspects make the film. The layout of the film also works for the most part, despite the flaws being noticeable. Nevertheless it does tell us a lot about Wain. It reminds us that he was a troubled man who did not make a lot of smart decisions, had a tough family life and was mentally troubled. However it was his imaginative way of looking at things, his view of the beauty of the world, his love for cats, and the reassurance of Emily’s love for him that gave him his drive to create.
Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job in his portrayal of Louis Wain. He did a great job in showing both the comical side and the tragic side of the man which made the film impressive to watch. There weren’t too many standout supporting performances, but Claire Foy was very good as Emily Wain. She was very good in playing the woman that understood his mental troubles and still loved him. She was also good in showcasing how she was the one who inspired Louis to paint his imagination and to still continue to inspire even after her passing. Of the sisters, Aimee Lou Wood was the standout as Claire: the sister who was frustrated by Louis’ misdoings, but ended up admiring him as she was about to pass. Toby Jones was also an occasional scene-stealer as William Ingram, as was Taika Waititi as Max Case and Adeel Akhtar as Asim Choudhry. Standout technical elements are the cinematography by Erik Wilson and the score by Arthur Sharpe: Will’s brother.
The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is more than just a biographical film of an artist. It takes one into the mind of the artist in his inspiration and of his troubles. Sometimes it doesn’t make complete sense or appear all together, but it is an excellent film that will get you interested in the artist and his work.
Just hours ago, I posted my opinions and predictions for the Documentary short films that were nominated. This is a continuation of the short films where this time the focus is on the nominees for Live Action and Animated:
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
Feeling Through: dir. Doug Roland – A young man in New York leaves his friends for a date. He bumps into a man who through a sign says he’s both blind and deaf. His name is Artie. Tareek wants to leave, but Artie needs his help. First it’s a case Artie needs to be helped across the street. Then it becomes a case Artie needs help on a bus. Tareek wants to leave and be with is girlfriend, but reluctantly agrees. Artie can communicate by writing letters and numbers with his finger in the palm of people’s hands, and vice-versa. It’s there they introduce themselves to each other and Tareek cancels out on the date to guide Artie. It continues through the night as Artie needs food and needs a bus ride home.
This is a unique story of the start of a friendship of two unlikely people. I’ve seen similar films before but this is unique that it features a friendship between a fully-able person and a Deafblind person. Robert Tarango who plays Artie is Deafblind in real life and works at the kitchen of the Helen Keller National Centre. This is also excellent how it showcases people that we hardly know that much about. Sure, we may be familiar with Helen Keller, the most famous Deafblind person in history, but it reminds you of the others that have gifts of their own too. Reminds you that Deafblind people are more capable than you think.
The Letter Room: dir. Elvira Lind – Richard is a prison officer who does his duties faithfully. His job is in a maximum security penitentiary and often works with people on Death Row. One day, Richard gets a new duty. His new duty is to overlook incoming mail communication. It’s not just looking over letters, but scrutinizing for any hidden messages or hidden drugs or other things. Most messages are routine. However one set of messages catches his eye. It’s from a woman named Rosita. She’s the wife of a death row inmate. Her letters are romantic messages to her husband. Most of the time, Richard loses his focus on his job and looks at the letters like they’re pages from a romance novel! Then comes the ultimate. He has to meet face to face with her!
This is an amusing story. With a guard, played by Oscar Isaac, becoming infatuated with letters he’s supposed to scrutinize, you get the feeling this will lead to something bizarre. It’s the comedic nature of the story that gets you. You don’t expect a story like this to lead to anything comedic, but it does. And it looks good instead of dumb.
The Present: dir. Farah Nabulsi – The film begins with a Palestinian man named Yusef crossing the overcrowded Israel Checkpoint to get back home after finishing work in the morning. Back at home, he meets with his family. The fridge is breaking down. He wants to buy a new fridge for his wife Noor as an anniversary present. He decides to take his daughter Yasmine with him. Getting the fridge means going to past Israeli guards into the town of Beitunia and it’s a walking trip. The guards at the border before entering the Palestinian region, one younger and one older, debate what is the right way to people that cross. Yusef tries to cross with his daughter by his side, but is given a cold treatment by the guard. He is let through where he can buy the fridge, have a red bow put on it, and have it carted back to his home at his request. He and his daughter cart the fridge up the hill. However it’s again meeting with the crossing guards. As they inquire, they demand he cart the fridge past the gates himself, which causes him to have an outburst, feeling it’s impossible. His daughter resolves things by pushing it through the narrow gates herself.
This is a story where you don’t know where it will go. You know of the hostility between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. You know how badly Palestinians are treated. You have a sense how something as innocent as a refrigerator can be seen as a terrorism threat. You can understand how Yusef has the frustration where he has to live a life of facing crossing guards every single day of his life. The film says a lot. It says what’s it’s like to be Palestinian. It says what it’s like to live in an area of political turmoil and common terrorist incidents. How even a simple refrigerator can be seen as hiding a bomb. Makes you glad you don’t live there.
Two Distant Strangers: dirs. Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe – African-American Carter James wakes up in the morning. He’s in the bed of the woman named Perri, also African-American, he dated the night before. He wants to get home to feed his dog Jeter before he goes to work at his job as a graphic designer. Shortly after he leaves the building, he’s approached by a white police officer named Merk who suspects he has marijuana in his bag. Carter tries to justify it, even defend it, but the officer violently reacts on him as a woman videotapes the incident with her cellphone. Instead of dying, Carter wakes up in Perri’s bed. He tries to leave again. There are some differences from the day, but officer Merk returns and the same confrontation happens with Merk pinning his head to the ground with his knee. Again instead of dying, Carter again wakes up in Perri’s bed. He decides not to leave, but Merk enters in where Carter’s shot in bed. This is a continuos time-loop. Carter even develops conversation with Perri. Carter hopes to end it all. He approaches Merk. Merk is friendly and offeres him a ride home. It appears to end on friendly terms, but Merk shoots him in the alley. Again instead of dying, he wakes up in Peri’s bed.
This is a unique time-loop story that has something to say. The biggest topic is about how African Americans are treated by the police: one of the hottest topics of 2020. Every death at the hands of officer Merk appears to be very similar to a lot of high-profile deaths at the hands of police like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The film has something to say where deaths like these also happen to well-to-do African Americans. Even that line where Carter asks Perri if she owns a gun and her response: “I’m a black woman in America. Of course I do.” Even the playing of the Bruce Hornsby song “The Way It Is,” an anti-racism hit song from 1986, sends a strong statement about the police force’s brutal treatment of African Americans in the United States. That’s why I pick it as my Should Win and Will Win pick.
White Eye: dirs. Shira Hochman and Kobi Mizrahi – An Israeli man named Omer is searching for his stolen bicycle. It’s been gone for two weeks. He tried reporting to the police, but they haven’t bothered listening. He walks past the alley of a restaurant and sees what looks to be his bicycle. He sees it locked at a bike post. He insists to the police that’s it. The police inquire with the restaurant of who the owner/thief is. The man, an Ethiopian immigrant named Yunes, comes out and insists he bought the bicycle. This leads to a debate with the police. They insist they see his passport. The passport shows his Visa expired four months ago. His boss insists to the police Yunes renewed his visa. Meanwhile Omer goes looking around for a powersaw to get the lock sawed off. As he goes around, he sees the officers being hostile on Yunes while his boss insists his innocence. We see Omer go through the restaurant and see illegal immigrants in the freezer trying to hide themselves. We then see the police car gone, and Yunes. Then Omer has the saw to saw off the lock. He saws the bicycle instead.
This is a short film that packs a lot. It focuses on hostile accusations, a police force that lacks efficiency, racism, illegal immigration, and all in a film with a single take. That’s the biggest surprise of the film: it’s a story that’s all a single take that follows its subject Omer around to its eventual end of the story. Definitely a great work.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Burrow: dir. Madeline Sharafian – A rabbit has down on paper her dream hole in the ground: a private hole to herself with her disco ball. Once she digs her place and sets up, she comes across a mole and a field mouse who show her their blueprints and offer their help. She declines and runs off for a place for her own private hole in the ground. It’s no use as she bumps into some frogs, then some hedgehogs, then some newts and then some partying beetles and ants. As she continues to dig for her own place, she comes across water, which floods every other place she dug up in her path. She’s embarrassed of it all, but the creatures offer to build her place where she can have shared access with the others. She agrees happily and she gets her own place — disco ball and all — where she happily lets the other creatures drop in anytime.
This is a fun story to watch. However if you look close enough, it’s a story about introversion and how one feels comfortable being with themselves and having their own way. I feel this short is saying things would be better if we reached out and got together instead of always kept to ourselves.
Genius Loci: dir. Adrien Merigeau – Renee, a loner and an African immigrant to France, finds a lot of loneliness in the streets of Paris. Then one day her imagination takes shape. She’s able to lose the sense of the city and finds herself in the tranquility of a cafe with a woman playing music. It’s there where she’s able to find the peace in her mind.
This is a good story consisting of haunting voices, haunting noises and colorful shapes and imageries. You really get what’s haunting Renee’s mind. You also get the sense of tranquility Renee achieves after she finally gets her peace with the musician. It’s the combination of colorful and creative imagery with the mix of sounds that make this a great story to watch.
If Anything Happens I Love You: dir. Will McCormack and Michael Govier – A couple struggle to stay together after the death of their daughter. As they drift apart, their shadows morph into their hidden emotions. The mother does laundry, but a soccer ball comes out and turns on a record player and plays the song ‘1950.’ As ‘1950’ plays, the daughter’s image comes out and it forms images in her life. The image even shapes the daughter’s tenth birthday party in front of both parents. Then the images of her final day as she says goodbye to her parents. Both prevent her from going, but it’s no use. It’s a dream and the dream relives how she was shot in school. The film ends with the daughter’s note to the parents: “If anything happens, I love you.’ The daughter then appears to both parents and gets them to reunite as the soul of their daughter is a glowing light.
This is unique imagery in a story that hits hard. Nobody likes knowing of a child’s death, never mind a school shooting. Nevertheless this film does act as a healing story filled with eye-catching imagery. It will touch you deeply if you catch it on Netflix. It’s because of the positive and touching rapport that I predict it to be my Will Win pick.
Opera: dir. Erick Oh – This film is one big imagery. It looks to be an ancient civilization as it happens in what appears to be a pyramid as it’s led by a God-like figure. It’s a process that appears to be from birth to death. Then something happens that appears to provoke the chaos in the order. This disruption causes chaos throughout and there are changes throughout the system. Then when it’s resolved, it returns back to its original order.
This is a unique animated film. It’s like a looping narrative that speaks about humanity and all the stories are all on this one big image that one notices as the images focus on going down and then up in a single take. Throughout the film, it appears it’s trying to tell us about the human race as it is educated, as it works, as it serves their religion. The chaos ensues as it tells of class struggle, of racism and of war. The message the film has to say among a continuous image that tells a different story as focus is shifted from place to place is what makes this eye-catching. That’s I make this my Should Win pick.
Yes-People: dirs. Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson – The only 3D short of the bunch to be nominated. It’s to do about three sets of people in an apartment. One’s an older couple, one’s a middle aged couple who are unhappily married, the other is a family consisting of a mother with both a teenaged son and a young boy. They go about their routines, the older son to school, the middle-aged husband to work and the older husband to shovel the snow. During the daytime inside the apartment, the older wife reads Proust, the middle-aged wife hides a drink from her husband, and the mother teaches her young son recorder. Outside the apartment, the older husband shovels the snow, the middle-aged husband works at his desk and the teenage son snoozes during class. At night, the older couple get it on. The middle-aged wife hopes it will get her husband to make love, which it doesn’t and the mother and teenaged son are shocked from what they hear. At the end of it all, the older husband sees the snowfall for overnight knowing what he’ll be doing tomorrow morning.
This is a fun story. It’s filled with some humor and excellent imagery. It has a lot of surprises. In addition, the only dialogue we hear is the word “Yow.” It’s fun to watch without taking it that seriously.
And there you have it. Those are my reviews of the Oscar-nominated shorts films and my predictions for the winners. Winners to be decided Sunday night.
Those that know me will wonder if I will get my shorts fix at the VIFF this year. The answer is ‘Yes.” VIFF had twelve different shorts segments showing online. The shorts I saw were part of a segment titled Programme 2. Nothing fancy this year for the title. However the short films gave a lot of variety to watch and also a lot of Canadian directors to watch out for.
-Toward You (dir. Mayzam ‘Sam’ Motazedi): A young Iranian-Canadian girl dreams of becoming a socially-conscious slam poet. Problem is wherever she tries to do her act, like an Iranian rug store or an Iranian grocery, she gets booted out. Her biggest fan is a family member she lives with. He’s deaf but he can hear her as he puts his hand on her portable speaker. He has a problem. He has a bad health condition and he’s addicted to smoking his hookah pipe. He even forgets about the day she’s to perform at a show she booked. Distraught, she goes to perform at a senior’s center. The nurses find her act hard to deal with and end it. Despite it, she’s applauded by the seniors. She returns home having to deal with the ailing man.
Up until the end, it was a very good film. It shows a good story about a young girl with a creative passion and a dream. It also shows the difficulties she had to deal with in her own life. However the ending didn’t make a lot of sense. I feel it ended on the wrong note, or the ending didn’t appear like its purpose was justified.
-Zoo (dir. Will Niava): Three young adult males of different races are having their ‘fun’ in Montreal. They cause vandalism, act like tough guys and smoke weed al to their pleasure without a care. Then when they’re in a parking lot, a man dressed in normal clothes comes to inspect the boys. He then sets his sights on the black male whom he especially sees him to be a troublemaker. He tries to arrest him, but he does something brutal to him, leaving him what he appears to be unconscious. The man leaves him behind and it’s up to the boys to take him to the hospital.
No doubt the message is about police brutality on black people. That’s a hot topic because of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. In fact, the film maker makes the message seen at the end. I believe the film maker was sending the message that Canada’s no angel either. The interesting thing is the man who arrested him and assaulted him wasn’t even wearing a uniform. Was the man an undercover policeman? Or was he a citizen taking the law in his own hands? Does get you thinking.
-Even In The Silence (dir. Jonathan Elliott): It’s a film with a poem in an Indigenous language in the background as the story is told of a young girl and her boyfriend. They’re madly in love, but things go wrong at a party involving a lot of drinking. She drives him home but they get into an argument and a car crash happens. Sometime later, through embracing her culture, she’s able to find healing. She goes to the area of the crash to lay flowers, and she feels his spirit again.
This is a very brief film with a lot of focus on both the poem and the visuals. It attempts to send the overall message through both means. It’s use of Indigenous language is also important as it’s about young Indigenous people trying to find healing through tragedy.
-Spring Tide (dir: Jean Parsons): Emily and Hannah are two teen friends who just want to relax during their summer days. Maybe meet some boys. They do attract the attention of two older boys who are doing work for a nearby business. Their names are Zach and Austin. They develop conversation with the two boys and Emily catches the attention of Zach. She tells him a humorous story and she attracts him. One night, Zach brings her to his hotel room. She declines his sexual advances and Zack acts like a jerk. Later on, he confesses something to her. At the end she tells Hannah of her experience.
The film is a reflection of a teen girl and her first sexual experiences. It reminds you of how summer is that time when sexual curiosity and expérimentations happen. At the same time, it’s not just about sexual curiosity. It’s also about the two characters. Both are either a teen or a young adult. Their immaturities are made obvious in how they treat each other privately. However it soon becomes a case where Zach shows his insecurities. He goes from a jerk to being the insecure one almost instantly. That’s pretty much it. It showcases the behaviors as much as it showcases the moment.
-Laura (dir. Kaayla Whachell): Laura is in a detention center. She has been arrested for abandoning her child in a motor vehicle. She is met with an Asian-Canadian lawyer. He tries to ask her about her Indigenous heritage or her family history. Laura tells of her own stories of her childhood and how she met her husband. When their baby was born, she was happy as can be. Sometime soon the marriage was falling apart. Then right in the middle of the road, she has an anxiety attack. The lawyer is trying to get to the root of the problem, to see if it has to do with being in an Indigenous family or community, but all Laura wants is her baby back.
I think the message of the film is trying to say how non-Indigenous in the legal system seem not to be able to deal with Indigenous people well. This lawyer appears well-meaning and seems like he’s trying to get to the root of the problem, but Laura is frustrated. She has a mental condition that causes these attacks. She’s in danger of losing her baby, but she feels the lawyer doesn’t get it. He seems not to be paying attention to her issues and desires. It sends a strong message. Both about the justice system and about problems in Indigenous communities.
-Canucks Riot II (dir. Lewis Bennet): The film consists of found footage during the 2011 riot after the Stanley Cup finals game which the Vancouver Canucks lost to Boston Bruins and a riot ensued. The film shows footage of the crowds before the game, during the game, during the rioting and aftermath.
The film isn’t exactly an original film. However it does show a lot of interesting images of the whole incident. There’s footage of people in the crowds shouting “Riot 2011′ before the game begins, sending a message there were people who came to riot, just like during the 1994 Stanley Cup finals (which Vancouver also lost). There were scenes of acts of human selfishness and chaos. There were scenes of people committing the acts of vandalism and looting. There were scenes of an interviewer interviewing a young student from another country who’s both excited and appalled at what he saw. This film sheds a lot of light on the riot and allows you to draw your own conclusions.
–Parlour Palm (dir. Rebeccah Love) : A woman brings a parlour palm plant into the house she shares with her lawyer husband. It appears the relationship is going fine at first. However time will tell a different story. He is overworked and she feels ignored. She keeps on hearing bad environmental news and that causes her to go deeper in depression. She tries to get his attention with the artistic creations she shows, but she gets interrupted by him. Then one night, she finally decides to give him a show. It’s a show where she just lets it all out ‘everything is falling apart!’ It causes him to want to call the emergency crew. However he gets the message in the end.
This is a bizarre story as it involves a woman who appears to have a lot of artistic dreams of her own. She tries to use her artistic performance passions to get his attention, but it appears not to work until the very end. This is a unique story about a relationship that is doomed to end. Two differing personalities and one personality who appears to just explode all of a sudden. You have to get into the characters to fully understand them and the story. It’s funny that this is the one short that doesn’t have a social message, ends in the heaviest fashion.
The films I saw were seven unique films that had a lot to tell. Some had a social message. Some offered a ray of hope. Some just told a story. Some did on a bad note wondering what will happen next. I admire short films as a way for up-and-coming director to express themselves creatively. Often short films are a means to lead the director to bigger and better projects in the future. I see potential in all the directors here. One would be interested in what the next film they create will be.
I was able to complete another one of my three main VIFF goals of watching a shorts segment thanks to Programme 2. I’m glad I saw them. They were all good to watch. Also who knows? This may lead to something bigger and better in the future.
With the VIFF comes the return of films in the Altered States category: of thrillers, horror and even the paranormal. My first chance came with the film In The Tall Grass. It was worth it.
The film starts with a pregnant Becky DeMuth and her brother Cal traveling to San Diego to find a way to give up her baby. They pass an old bowling alley and stop by a church. Just as they stop by, they hear the voice of a young boy crying for help. The voice is coming from a field of tall grass they’ve parked beside. They also hear the mother of the boy begging anyone to not come in. Becky and Cal are naturally curious and walk in top help the boy. It’s only a matter of time they find themselves lost and even risk getting stuck by the wet sticky mud. Even as they’re distant, they hear each other’s voices which is not really theirs, but mystically transmitted. They decide to leave, but they can’t and are stuck for the night.
During the night, Cal encounters Tobin, the lost boy, who is scared, bruised and holding a dead crow. Becky meets up with a man named Ross, who is very friendly and offers to lead her. Tobin reveals to cal that the field the grass does not move dead things and Becky will not make it out of the field alive. Tobin leads Cal to the centre of the field which consists of cut grass bordering a big mystical rock with hieroglyphics which Tobin tells Cal to touch. Before he does, Becky arrives, but is taken away by an unseen figure.
Travis, the father of Becky’s child, arrives in the same area of Becky and Cal. He notices the car parked by the church. He also notices the field of tall grass. He hears Tobin’s voice and is led into the field. Tobin leads Travis to Becky’s corpse. Travis breaks down, but loses sight of Tobin. At the same time, we see Tobin with his father Ross and mother Natalie at the church along with their dog Freddie. Possibly a reference of what happened earlier. Freddie runs into the field of tall grass and the three chase after him. It’s there where Travis hears Tobin’s voice and the three of the family are scattered around the field. Ross comes to the centre with the rock and touches it as night falls. Tobin is discovered by Becky and cal all all are confused by the timelines.
As the three are one group, Becky and Cal decide to leave and use Tobin to navigate a path back to the road on top of Cal’s shoulders. Becky receives an unknown phone call saying that Cal should quit hunting Travis.The grass soon appears to be entering Becky’s uterus and she becomes unconscious. Cal and Tobin come across Ross, who reunites with Tobin. Ross brings them to the rock but are startled when they see Natalie and she says she saw Becky’s corpse earlier. As they try to make their escape, Ross is chasing them all down and gives them the impression there’s no escape and they’re all under Ross’ control. Ross tells them all the rock shows them of what’s happening.
Becky, Cal, Travis and Tobin succeed in escaping the field into the abandoned bowling alley. As Cal and Travis make their way to the top, they discover the dog Freddie escaped via a hole. However a spat between Travis and Cal brew as Travis brings up he senses incestuous feelings between Cal and Becky. Cal throws Travis off the roof. That succeeds in alerting Ross to their location. Tobin, knowing how this alerted Ross to their whereabouts, runs back into the field. Becky and Cal try to escape together, but Becky won’t leave Travis alone in the field. After she runs off to find Travis, Cal is strangled by Ross. It’s evident anyone in the grass field is affected by a time loop. If anyone dies, there will be another of them alive. If anyone touches the rock, they get a sense of control and invincibility.
During the return to the grass, Becky admits she was going to give the baby up for adoption. Becky is soon captured by Ross who tries to sexually assault her, but she escapes. Grass creatures however emerge and grab a hold of her and carry her to the rock. There, the rock develops imagery that detail the baby will die and Becky will be tortured. Becky passes out in reaction. As she awakens, she is tricked by Ross who poses his voice as Cal. Travis meanwhile stumbles across Becky’s unconscious body. Ross then kills Travis and captures Tobin to get him to touch the rock. Becky stops him, but dies. Travis decides to touch the rock to get a better understanding of the grass.
The film ends with one last scene involving Becky, Cal, Tobin and Travis. It gives the impression that all know what is happening and the film ends with what should be.
This film is a film that is based off of a short story written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. We’ve had Stephen King adaptations before and often adapting a Stephen King story to the big screen is hit-or-miss. This is a very complex story. This involves six people who go into a field of grass with paranormal powers. It threatens their lives and creates another life for them. Then there’s the rock that gives whoever it touches a sense of invincibility and control and threatens others.
Overall this film is a maze and a puzzle. Trying to piece this puzzle together is a tricky thing. Trying to create this maze of confusion is also a tricky thing. Watching it, it’s easy to get thrilled by the paranormal and nervous for what will happen next. However in looking back, I felt there were some areas that didn’t make too much sense. Even when it becomes clear that Ross starts as the controlling one and then it becomes Travis, that seemed odd. Even how Ross was the controlling conniving one, that even seemed cheesy at times.
The film does however keep one intrigued in the paranormal elements. Depite its flaws in the script and storyline, it does succeed in grabbing a hold of your attention and keeping you intrigued in the story. The paranormal elements don’t come across as cheeseball as it adds to the thriller aspect of the film. Overall despite its flaws as a film, I feel this is a good story for fans of paranormal fiction. I just feel it could have been done better as a movie.
This story is a mixed bag for Vincenzo Natali. Yes, it’s confusing, but the paranormal will keep one intrigued from start to finish and it will keep one hoping for the best for the main characters. Laysla de Oliveira was very good as Becky. Isn’t it something how the first two VIFF films I saw starred Laysla? She captured the role well in both it’s comedic elements and it’s dramatic elements.
Avery Whitted was also good as Cal. Will Buie Jr. also did an excellent job as Tobin: the frightened boy in the middle of it all. His role was the best at keeping the horror/thriller aspect of the film and was the most no-nonsense performance of all. Patrick Wilson was hard to make sense of as Ross. He came across as a conniver, but I feel he lacked the sinister element. Harrison Gilbertson was good as Travis, but he appeared he could have done more.
In The Tall Grass is a Netflix thriller that works well to be shown on the big screen, if imperfectly. It may not make the most sense, but it does keep people thrilled and intrigued about what will happen next and how it will end.
Right now we seem to have a lot of reboots in terms of entertainment. Reboots of TV series, reboots in music and reboots in movies too. A Star Is Born is a reboot of a film done three times before, but does it translate for the present?
I know I mentioned about a lot of reboots happening in my introduction. There are a lot of successful reboots right now, but there have also been some reboots that flopped too. What makes a successful reboot isn’t just rehashing something people loved in the past. It also involves making it relevant to the present and also have the ability to both please fans of the past materials and win over new fans. One of the best cinematic examples of a reboot is last year’s It. The cinematic version of It worked last year because of two smart choices. The first being it would divide 28 years earlier to the time of the plot in two separate films. The second being the childhood part of the story would be set in 1989 and the adulthood part of the story to be set in the present, unlike setting the childhood part in 1958 and the adulthood part in 1986 as in the novel and the miniseries.
Moving onto A Star Is Born, we’re dealing with a film that has been done three times before. The first being in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the second being in 1954 starring Judy Garland and James Mason, and the third being in 1976 starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. For Bradley Cooper to take on the project and turn it into something winning for the present, he had to make a lot of choices.
Some elements would be very similar to what was done in films past, while some elements would have to be new and relevant and believable for the present. There were a lot of elements of all three past editions that worked very well such as a singer struggling to make it, the wash-up who discovers her and promotes her to greatness and even loves her, and the man encountering a substance problem which hurts his marriage and ultimately takes his life.
There were some elements from the separate films that he had to include. For example 1937 and 1954 were about an actress trying to make it and a washed-up actor promoting her and loving here. 1976 was about singers for the first time. The choice to have singers and in the field of country music as in 1976 worked well for the film. I will focus more on that later. Also the tribute Ally gave to Judy Garland was a subtle reminder in the film of the most famous version of the story.
Then there were the more complicated choices. First off, Bradley Cooper may have proven himself as an actor, but not as a singer or a director in the past. Bradley had to give himself the practice and even have the duet scene done in front of a live crowd. Sometimes only the real thing can work. Secondly, there were two factors involving Lady gaga. One factor was she had limited acting experience with her biggest previous role being her minor role in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. The other factor was to present Gaga as a country singer. We all know her as the modern flamboyant pop icon and most of us could not see her as a country star. Even seeing Gaga portray Ally as a common pop star later on was challenging because of her ‘grand diva’ image. However Gaga made it work and came off as a very believable country singer. Her songs from the film have also won her fans over too. Thirdly is the chemistry between the two. The two had to come across not just as two singers but as a couple in love. The chemistry between Jackson and Ally worked excellently and made for a believable story. Star power can only go so far. They have to make it work on screen and they did it. Fourthly is the music. In order to make this version of A Star Is Born about two contemporary singers, the reboot had to have original songs that fit the film and fit the genres of country of pop, whatever genre was needed in what scene. The songs fit the film to a tee and proved to be winners off the screen too as Shallow and I’ll Never Love Again have charted.
Top accolades go to Bradley Cooper. The reboot was originally intended in 2011 to be directed by Clint Eastwood and have Beyonce as the lead. Beyonce’s pregnancy interfered with the story and it lead to four years of chaos with both Beyonce and Eastwood eventually leaving the project. Cooper picked it up, joined co-writer Will Fetters, and saw it as his chance for his directorial debut. He was first trying to get Beyonce to agree to the project, but it was decided in 2016 that Lady Gaga would be the lead. This proves to be a success in acting, directing, co-writing with Fetters and Eric Roth, and co-producing. The story comes across as relevant and believable to the current times and winning with the public once again.
It’s not just Cooper. Lady Gaga comes off excellent in what is her first lead role. We all know how Lady Gaga can really go into a character as seen in her on-stage performances and her music videos. However this was her first major acting role and singers are a bit of a gamble in terms of casting them as actors in movies; they’re either sink or swim. Sure, she knows how to sing, but the challenge was for her to handle a lead role. She handled the role of Ally with believability from start to finish. Even with the singing, Gaga showed she can sing country very well and also make for a believable common pop star. The film is as much Gaga’s triumph as it is Cooper’s.
There’s also more winning performances than just Cooper and Gaga. There’s also veteran actor Sam Elliott not just coming across as a believable cowboy half-brother in Bobby, but also stealing each scene he was in. That’s what makes a winning supporting actor. Andrew Dice Clay is not only good as Ally’s father Lorenzo, but is unrecognizable! Rafi Gavron also comes across well as Ally’s manager who has an axe to grind with Jackson. He did a good job in making Rez hateable. Dave Chappelle and Anthony Ramos were also very good in their supporting roles, despite having roles that weren’t that challenging or lacked screen time.
A Star Is Born goes beyond being a simple reboot. The story is made relevant to the times, the actors deliver a believable story and a love with chemistry, and the music is winning. This is not just another reboot. This is a reboot that works big-time!
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.
If there is one genre of movie that stands out during the summer movie season, it’s the superhero movies. Every year they win crowds and give them their enjoyment for the most part. For this summary, I will review two such movies: Captain America: Civil War and The Suicide Squad. Both are two different types of superhero movies in the way the people try to be heroes and with the comic franchises: Marvel vs. DC once again.
Captain America: Civil War
While DC Comics has the two biggest superheroes, Marvel’s edge is its multitude of different superheroes: take your pick. This time around in Captain America: Civil War, the focus is on Captain America. Or is it?
Watching the film, I was expecting it to be a story about Captain America. You can imagine my surprise to see all the other Avengers characters. I was cool with it at first. However things started getting uncomfortable for me when I saw them take up so much screen time. They all took up so much time, I even questioned whether Captain America was even the lead role in the film. I even thought if it was to have one hero as the lead role, it should probably be Iron Man.
Nevertheless the film does have a lot of excellent qualities. The first is a story that is thought-provoking. There’s a situation where international rules are imposed on the Avengers. Right when an incident happens, it causes friction within the team and even division. The question remains of what is the right thing to do? The movie attempts to give you the answer. Virtues and morals are an uncompromisable ingredient in superhero movies no matter how much action is involved. Even top directors will say that the values of humanity are necessary for a winning superhero movie. Here we have a movie that gets one questioning what is the right thing to do considering the situation. That adds to the film as it gets the audience thinking.
Of course high-tech special effects and action battles are a must in superhero movies. The crowds come to get blown away. Captain America: Civil War delivers on such action just like most of the Marvel comic movies before it. It has moments that will leave you on the edge of your seat. In addition, it adds some comedy too as it gives us a young Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, as a preview for the new upcoming Spider-Man installment. Here Peter comes across as your typical young idiotic yuts. Gives anticipation of what to expect when Spider-Man comes out.
The Russo brothers return to direct the movie. They directed the last Captain America movie. They did a very good job of delivering another great superhero movie. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return with the Russos to write the latest installment. They did a good job despite the push of some actors to have more screen time. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. stole the movie and Chris Evans appeared to have a supporting role this time. The other actors did their parts well and didn’t appear to get into too much of the mix-up. The special effects delivered and Henry Jackson’s music added to the film.
For all intents and purposes, Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie in disguise. Don’t be fooled. However the quality of the story is maintained as it gives a thought-provoking story with the superhero action to deliver.
There’s something about the knack to do an anti-hero movie. We saw that with Marvel when they released Deadpool. Now we see DC Comics making the attempt with the Suicide Squad. Do they succeed?
You’d think after Sausage Party, I’d start again on how this movie of a bad-guy superhero squad is trying to ‘bring back the 90’s’ but you’re wrong. A story where it takes bad guys and makes heroes out of them is actually a very common theme. It’s even been done in film as far back as the 1930’s as I once saw 1939’s Stagecoach take the outcasts of society and turn them into heroes. It’s a theme that has been done decade after decade. We see it done here again with the Suicide Squad. The people recruited to be part of the Squad are criminals and crazies that look like they deserved to be shunned away from society but an intelligence operative sees them as the right people for the job. They even make clear that they’re bad, not evil.
The ‘bad vs. evil’ theme is what makes this movie unique among the superhero movies of this year. Even from Deadpool. While Marvel’s Deadpool is about a selfish man who’s disinterested in being the superhero bestowed upon him, Suicide Squad is about a conscience present in even the baddest of badasses. A reminder that bad and evil are two completely different things. Don’t forget we’re dealing with a world where Superman is deceased, as exhibited in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice months earlier.
Now the Suicide Squad is not a team of badass superheroes created in vain after Deadpool: an attempt at having ‘anti-Avengers.’ It’s a team that actually debuted in DC Comics in 1959 in their monthly Brave And The Bold series and made a return in 1987 in their Legends series back then. The comic would be a monthly series that would issue for some months, end temporarily for a year or two and then make a comeback from time to time. Now seems like the right time to bring them to the screen. I must say their craziness and eccentricities were big time scene-stealers. While Deadpool mostly relied on the idiotic actions and lines from its lead characters, the characters of the Suicide Squad were more about their crazy and even eccentric personalities. That was their edge and I’m sure that’s what won the crowds to them this year. It’s no wonder it’s the 4th highest grossing movie of the summer.
This is David Ayer’s first attempt at directing and writing a superhero movie. He has a resume for writing and directing a lot of good police dramas and action movies in the past. However his experience doesn’t completely translate the best. Imperfections are easy to notice and it seems the movie does get a bit disjointed at times. Even in terms of the characters, there’s not that much depth to their roles and it often appears like the actors are trying to play characters more than acting out roles. I’ve noticed that DC Comics movies this year are lacking in terms of writing. It’s noticeable in Batman vs. Superman too.
Nevertheless the actors do deliver on character acting and that’s one quality I feel made the movie. In addition the actors succeeded in making characters you want to hate at first and then surprise you as they become heroes and then return as bad guys. Margot Robbie was the standout as Harley Quinn. Her character was the one that knew how to grab your attention, even upstaging Will Smith. Others standouts include Jared Leto as the Joker, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. Visual effects were top notch and loaded with bright color that’s eye catching and very rare to see in most other movies, especially superhero movies. The mix of music was also an added quality. It seems like after Guardians Of The Galaxy, filmmakers are playing around and even experimenting with use of songs in the movies. Here they mix in music spanning five decades and it produces an entertainingly winning result.
Suicide Squad may be lacking in the script and in the editing but it’s the on-fire character acting, colorful visual effects and the eclectic music track that make the movie entertaining and a winner for the summer.
Sure, I only have two superhero movies in my summary of the genre but both do shed some light on the presence of the superhero movies of the summer and why they continue to win us over. They have spectacular action but they also test our conscience as well. I saw that in Batman vs. Superman earlier in the role of a superhero even after they cause destruction to do good. I see it again in Captain America as the Avengers question whether it’s right to break the law to do what’s right. I also see it in the Suicide Squad as outcasts get a shot at redemption and even remind themselves as well as others that they do possess a conscience and can even do what’s right despite their criminal minds.
Once again, the superhero genre remains one of the most winning movie genres of the summer. Even with the surprise success of Deadpool, families still come to the movies to see the good guys win. Some even like to get their ‘bad boy/bad girl’ kicks. All deliver in terms of action and a message.
Remember last year I talked about the issue of Oscars and race that took over headlines? Yes, it’s nice to see people pay attention to something about the Oscars besides who wears what? However it did focus on a problem in which many people including myself hoped would only exist last year. Unfortunately it was not the case.
THIS YEAR’S HOPE
Last year was a big focus of the lack of diversity. I even did a focus on it myself and even explained how things worked in all my 15 years of ‘OscarWatching.’ Many including myself were hoping that this year would not have the same mistake this year. And this year had a performance by a black actor eligible for a nomination: Idris Elba in the Supporting Actor category for Beasts Of No Nation. It had all the eligible clout: a Golden Globe nomination, a Screen Actors Guild nomination and a BAFTA nomination. Although nothing is guaranteed or earned in showbiz, it had the right amount of juice to clinch the nomination in that category. Many wanted to see the nomination happen. I also wanted to see it happen. I know that if it didn’t happen, there would be a whole whack of controversy and outrage. I even thought the Academy wouldn’t deny him the nomination, not after the #OscarsSoWhite embarrassment from last year.
The nominations were announced on January 14th. Elba was not among the nominees in that category. There were the nominations of Christian Bale and Mark Rylance which were also nominated for the same awards previously mentioned, the was Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone. However there was Mark Ruffalo who had earned a SAG nomination and Critics Choice nomination and Tom Hardy who had amassed only a Critics Choice nomination. All the acting nominees were white. All eight Best Picture nominees consisted of a predominantly white cast and predominantly white crew. As for directing and writing, the only non-white nominee was Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
The lack of diversity wasn’t just the black-and-white issue. Gay director Todd Haynes was heavily favored to be nominated for Best Director for Carol and even for Carol itself to be nominated for Best Picture but those didn’t happen either. If there’s one positive thing, there were four women who receive scriptwriting nominations: up from zero from last year.
People were already speaking their outrage. A new Twitter hashtag– #OscarsStillSoWhite– came about. Civil Rights leader Al Sharpton, whom last year said he would set up a ‘diversity task force,’ was outspoken in his outrage and urged boycotts. Boycotts did happen from Spike Lee, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Some actors who did not intend to boycott like George Clooney, Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o spoke their criticism. Host Chris Rock was under pressure to boycott the Oscars. He declined but he will be focusing on it during his opening routine at this year’s ceremony. Even Barack Obama spoke out about the controversy: “I think that when everyone’s story is told then that makes for better art, it makes for better entertainment it makes everybody feel part of one American family, so I think as a whole the industry should do what every other industry should do which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody. And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”
The Academy especially came under fire as they were scrutinized and analyzed and it was revealed that over 90% of the Academy were white in comparison to 65% of the population of the United States being white. In addition three out of every four Academy members were male. Despite the criticism and outrage, there were defenders coming from the likes of actress Penelope Ann Miller: “I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren’t nominated. To imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don’t want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I’m certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business. It was just an incredibly competitive year.” Even black actors like Ice Cube and Whoopi Goldberg dismissed the labeling of the Academy as racist. Ice Cube described the labeling of racism as “crying about not having enough icing on your cake.” Whoopi whom herself has won an Oscar and even host the Oscar ceremonies for many years stated: “Even if you fill the Academy with black and Latino and Asian members, if there’s no one on the screen to vote for, you’re not going to get the outcome that you want. I won once, so it can’t be that racist. I’ve been black the whole time.”
THE AMPAS PRESIDENT
With all the criticism the Academy faced this year, the one person who had to do the responding was AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1949, Boone Isaacs grew up in a middle-class African-American family. She graduated from Springfield Central High School in 1967 and from Whittier College in 1971 with a degree in political science. Her studies in college included a program studying abroad in Denmark.
Her introduction to showbiz came at the age of 25 through her older brother Ashley Boone Jr. who worked as an executive in Hollywood. She started work in Hollywood as a publicist for Columbia Pictures. Her first job was being a publicist for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. She would work for various film companies as a publicist. Her publicity work on films would eventually lead to higher stature such as Vice President, Worldwide Advertising and Publicity of Melvin Simon Productions and Director of Advertising and Publicity for The Ladd Company. Under Paramount Pictures starting in 1984, she would start as Director, Publicity and Promotion, West Coast and then eventually become the Worldwide Publicity Director. Some of her marketing campaigns included successful Oscar campaigns for Best Picture winners Forrest Gump and Braveheart.
Success continued for Boone Isaacs as she would become President of Theatrical Marketing for New Line Cinema, the first black woman to hold such a position. She even has her own promotion company, CBI Enterprises, Inc., where she has worked on successful promotion of Best Picture winners: The King’s Speech and The Artist.
Boone Isaacs has been a member of the Academy since 1988. In 2013, she was promoted to the position of AMPAS president in 2013and became the first African-American president of the Academy as well as only the third woman, after only Bette Davis and Fay Kanin. Since her inception as president, he achievements have included lifting the cap or restriction on the number of Academy members. she also initiated a drive to invite over 400 new members coming from many ages and backgrounds.
THE PRESIDENT AND THE ISSUE OF DIVERSITY
“It’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be the head of a studio.”
The issue of the Academy and diversity appeared to be making progress since the start of the new millennium. Actors of various races were earning nominations more than ever before as well as non-white directors. Even in the minor categories, minorities were getting an increasing number of nominations. However it’s almost always in the acting categories where the issue of the Academy and racial diversity gets the heaviest scrutiny. That was the case last year when the first hashtag #OscarsSoWhite came out.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African-American woman herself, knew this was an issue that needed looking into and she made her efforts. This was especially noteworthy at the AMPAS’s annual Governor Awards on Saturday November 14th. One of those awarded was Spike Lee where he was given an honorary Oscar. Before Boone Isaacs announced her plans, Lee talked about the lack of diversity even commenting that when he goes through Hollywood offices, he only sees white faces and the only non-white is the person checking his name at the door.
At those Awards, Boone Isaacs announced her plan which she called A2020: an initiative to age, gender, race, national origin and point-of-view, in Hollywood over the next five years. Her A2020 initiative is a five-year plan to study practices at the Academy with the aim of improving the diversity of its own staff and governance while also bringing new voices into the organization. Outside of the Academy, the plan is also intended to encourage and to push the industry to examine its hiring practices and to begin to make changes. Boone Isaacs stated: “When it comes to fair and equal representation in our industry, words are not enough. We also have a responsibility to take action and we have an unique opportunity to do so now.” At those ceremonies, Lee thanked her and said: “she’s trying to do something that needs to be done.”
THE PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO THE CONTROVERSY
“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.”
-Cheryl Boone Isaacs
If there’s one thing most people would feel upon learning of this year’s nominees, it’s that Cheryl’s A2020 plan isn’t happening fast enough. Even though the set of 51 new members of the Academy was more diverse especially with 17 of them being women, the end result on nomination day was one of disappointment. Boone Isaacs herself came under fire by some for not doing enough. Even civil rights leader Al Sharpton ridiculed her by referring to her as a pawn in a predominantly white members-only club.
No doubt Boone Isaacs felt the heat. It was only a matter of a mere eight days after the nominations were announced that Boone Isaacs announced the sweeping changes to the membership rules for Academy members. This was published on the AMPAS website under the title ‘Academy Takes Historic Action To Increase Diversity.’ For those interested in the plans, click here to the official document.
The day before, the Board Of Governors approved through a unanimous vote a set of sweeping changes coming to the Academy’s membership. Its intent was to make the Academy members more diverse and open the door to more women and visible minorities. However one of the things they most wanted to get tough on was the membership of their older members. Examples of the proposed changes starting this year are:
New members lasting 10 years and renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade.
Lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms or if they’ve won or have been nominated for an Academy Award. Standards also applied retroactively to current members.
Current members that have not been active for 10 years can still qualify if they meet the other criteria.
Members not qualifying for active status will be moved to emeritus status and will be denied voting privileges.
An ambitious global campaign will be launched to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.
To increase diversity in its Board Of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the president for three year terms and confirmed by the board.
New members who are not governors will be added to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This allows for new members to become more active in the Academy’s decision-making and help the Academy identify and nurture future leaders.
Most of the response has been good. Some of the biggest came from Selma director Ava DuVernay through Twitter: “One good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color + women artists. Shame is one helluva motivator.” Lee stood by his boycott but applauded Boone Isaacs and the Board of Governers for: “trying to do the right thing. It’s a start.” Steven Spielberg also reminded us: “I do think that what the Academy is doing, in a proactive way, to open up the membership to diversity, I think that’s very, very important. But it’s not just the Academy, and I think we have to stop pointing fingers and blaming the Academy. It’s people that hire, it’s people at the main gate of studios and independents. It’s the stories that are being told. It’s who’s writing diversity — it starts on the page. And we all have to be more proactive in getting out there and just seeking talent.”
I admire Cheryl Boone Isaacs for taking the initiative for making these needed changes. The Academy always was aboard with its own membership rules and needed reform back in the 1960’s because of its own issues then. Issues came again now and reform was needed. The changes proposed look great: less members for life.
However I do believe they are not a 100% guarantee of diversity happening on a consistent basis. No kidding diversity will be increasing at double the rate it’s been happening in past years. However it doesn’t mean that every year from next year onward will feature a diverse array of nominees. I’ve seen the various film seasons over the years and see how certain films excel more than others. I’ve seen years that have been very generous towards minority actor and have given them roles that can contend for glory at various awards shows including the Oscars. However I’ve also seen years which have been lackluster for them and they would lack parts that can propel them among the ‘elite of the year.’ I know it’s a start and there will be more to come but I’m still a bit cynical it’s a solve-all.
Also it also depends on the media too. I’ve seen them label some films long before the Oscars full of ‘Oscar buzz.’ And most of them are predominantly white. The media can’t just simply label a film ‘Oscar bait’ because it has characteristics that are common with what wins the Academy over. They should call it ‘Oscar bait’ because of top notch quality, and skin color should not matter.
Nevertheless next year is the first year when these changes are to come into effect. Hopefully over time we will see a more diverse Academy. And not just more blacks; more women, more Hispanics, more Asians, more of all minorities. As for 2016, potential is already showing as this year’s Sundance showed The Birth Of A Nation: a film with a predominantly African-American cast that had rave reviews and huge buzz. The release date to the box office has not been set but Fox Searchlight has bought the film’s rights at $17.5 million, the most ever for a Sundance film.
The outrage over the lack of diversity at this year’s Academy Award nominees was just the catalyst needed for the necessary changes to happen. The future will tell if these changes pay off or not. However the lack of diversity is still an ugly reminder of what happens when you turn art into a competition.
The Oscar-nominated short films were back in theatres again. However this year I only had the chances to see the live-action one day and the animated another. I have no problem writing separate reviews for both. So here’s my take on the live-action shorts:
–Ave Maria (Palestine/France/Germany): dirs. Eric Dupont and Basil Khalil – Five nuns pray at a convent in a ‘war-zone’ area of Palestine. Then they hear what sounds like an explosive car crash. One tries to help despite the fact they are under a vow of silence. What happened was a car driven by Jewish residents accidentally crashed into the Virgin Mary statue. They try to help but there are conflicts with the nuns’ vows of silence and the family’s strict adherence to the Sabbath and with kosherisms. Not to mention they don’t want to be noticed by Arab residents in the area.
The film does focus on the religious tensions in Palestine but in a humorous way. All of this takes place in the area of the convent. However it’s funny how something as little as a car crash and people trying to seek out help can lead to such religious conflicts. That may have been the least of problems in Palestine but even then it just shows the humor of the whole situation and of how in the end it’s all about doing the right thing. I feel the film’s mix of humor while conveying a social message is why I predict it Will Win the Oscar.
–Shok (Kosovo/UK): dir. Jamie Donoughue – A car driving on a Kosovo road stops at an abandoned child’s bicycle. But why would a grown male from the car leave the car to look at the bicycle? And why would he ride it soon after?
The answer flashes back to the mid-90’s. Two Kosovar Albanian boys Petrit and Oki are the closest of friends. They frequently go to school riding on the bicycle Oki bought after a year of selling almonds. Petrit wants a bike of his own but feels he can get it by selling drugs and rolling papers to Serbian soldiers who’ve taken over the area. He feels it could also prevent them invading their village despite news stories of other areas of Kosovo being invaded. He even tells Oki he’s safe with him.
However Petrit’s promise and ‘business’ is put under heavy question during one of his ‘deals’ as a Serbian soldier wants Oki’s bicycle. It’s not the lost bicycle Oki’s angry about but the fact Petrit is willing to do something dangerous and dishonest for money and it threatens their friendship. They reconcile after Petrit is willing to take an assault from a soldier after Albanian books are found in Oki’s bag and Petrit claims them as his own. Unfortunately the invasion of their village eventually comes and with it the tragic end of the friendship of Oki and Petrit.
Of all five shorts, this is the one that still stayed with me long after I left the theatre. This is a story based on true events. I easily remember the war in the Balkans, especially the bloodshed in Bosnia, back in the 90’s. It dominated the news that decade. The war in Kosovo just years after the war in Bosnia ended was another example of the tyranny and I remember that as well. It does leave you feeling it was unfair of what happened to Oki. He was the smart one. He was the one who kept Petrit’s head on straight. But he was the one killed. Also that end scene where we see a grown-up Petrit still haunted by the war more that fifteen years later reminds you that war still haunts even as time passes and even if Kosovo did get its independence. My cousin once said: “No country’s freedom came without some amount of bloodshed.” True, but the bloodshed still leaves people with a trauma not even independence can solve. That’s why I pick Shok to be my Should Win pick.
–Eveything Will Be Okay (Austria/Germany): dir. Patrick Vollrath – The film starts on a simple note. A man named Michael goes to see his daughter Lea for visitation. His ex-wife and new boyfriend don’t have a problem with that at all so we think it will just be a fun day of the two of them without incident. It starts on a fun note as he buys her a big Playmobil toy and promises to taker her to the fair afterwards. However things get a bit suspicious as the two go to a photo booth where he gets Lea to have a photo of her own and takes to a passport office for rush processing. Things get even fishier when Michael sells his car and they take a cab to the airport. Soon we get what’s going on. It’s a miracle the flight to Dubai was cancelled but they have a replacement flight the next morning. Despite Lea wanting to go home, Michael is insistent on taking her and for her to cooperate. It’s by the luck of Lea making a phone call to her mother overnight that they’re able to prevent an abduction from happening. But not without a struggle.
This is a film of a scenario that happens all too often. A broken marriage and children caught in the middle even to the point of them being abducted. This is something that happens all over the world. However the story is not just about the child caught in the middle but the parent who’s hurting and feels that the child is being taken away from him. The film leaves you wondering if Michael suffers from a mental illness or if he’s just a hurting person. It leaves you feeling that way of a lot of parents from failed marriages. Is that why they abduct their children? The film also leaves you relieved that the flight was cancelled and that Lea was able to make that phone call to her mother in the early morning. Not as many children are as lucky.
The best quality of the film is that it helps the audience live the moment. We don’t know what’s really happening at first but we soon get a better understanding of what’s happening as time goes on. Even as they go to the fair and ride the bumper cars, we still can’t take our mind off of what we suspect will happen. And as time moves on, what we suspect is exactly what’s happening. In addition that scene which we think is the end where the police, Lea’s mother and the hotel personnel try to stop the heist ends up being a scene where a new conflict begins. Michael still struggle to hang onto Lea. That’s another quality of the film where right where we think it’s all over, it’s not and a new struggle begins. On top of that the film’s story is shown without any musical score which adds to the intensity of the drama.
This is a film of a story of an incident that happens all too often in our world. The film’s best qualities are the story unfolding quietly as time unfolds and the unexpected twists in the drama.
-Stutterer (UK/Ireland): dirs. Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage – Greenwood, a twentysomething London male with a stutter finds life difficult. His stutter is so severe, it causes problems when calling customer service. He has a job as a typographer but his social life is limited to him with his father. Often he fakes himself as death to try and avoid conversation. His thoughts however are perfectly coherent.
Despite his social flaws and his speech problem, he has developed an online relationship with a woman named Ellie. That works excellently and they keep the relationship going for six months despite never meeting face to face. However the day comes when Ellie would like to meet Greenwood for the first time. He’s in a crisis of what to do and abandons her at first but agrees to do so the next day despite being nervous as hell. The ending will surprise you.
This is a charming story. It takes you into the person’s feelings as well as their insecurities. You learn of Greenwood’s stutter and of what he’s really thinking and easily see the barriers he has to face. You learn about Greenwood the person and hope that in the end he does win Ellie. The ending will delight you. Very clever short film.
–Day One (USA): dir. Henry Hughes – Feda is a young woman just hired by the U.S. Army to act as interpreter. She’s in her 30’s and admits to her colleague who also speaks Arabic that she’s never been married and has no children. Her operation on Day One involves dealing with an enemy bomb maker the army is about to arrest. The operation involves a lot more. It also involves bring his fatherless niece to safety. It also involves dealing with his wife who’s about to give birth.
As if trying to deliver the baby isn’t stressful enough, there’s the fact the baby’s hand is hanging out. The doctor tests for a pulse from the baby and assumes there isn’t one. Feda is given orders to cut the deceased baby’s limbs so that the mother doesn’t bleed to death. Even before Feda attempts the first cut, she notices the hand move. The baby’s alive. There is a sigh of relief but there’s the new stress of making sure the baby’s born right and the mother not bleeding to death. The film ends on a sad but hopeful note.
Just like Everything Will Be Okay, it captures the drama of the moment and allows the audience to capture the intensity as the events are slowly unfolding. The various twists and turns in the story also adds to the continuous drama. The happy ending we all hope for doesn’t happen but it does end with a moment of hope, especially for Feda.
In conclusion, I feel Shok should win the Oscar because of how it’s a story that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. It was creative and it told a story that will touch you deep down inside. I still remember hearing a couple of people in tears after Oki was shot. However I don’t know if the Academy will pick a short that’s all too serious. I think they might want to go for a story leading more to the humorous side. I think Ave Maria with its mix of humor and social awareness will take the Oscar. I think the Academy would prefer a film like that.
And there are my thoughts for this year’s five nominees in the category of Best Live Action Short Film. Winners to be decided on the big night. Also click here for my reviews of the animated shorts.