Tag Archives: discussion

When Lambs Become Lions

Northern Kenya is a very dangerous place for elephants.  Hell, maybe there’s no safe place on Earth for an animal whose front teeth are worth more on the black market than my whole body, but Northern Kenya is particularly deadly ground.  Every day, the elephants are stalked by poachers, who in turn are pursued by park rangers.  But it’s hardly a fair fight when the park rangers haven’t been paid by the government for months, while the poachers stand to make more from one elephant than the rangers have made in the past year.When+Lambs+Become+Lions

When Lambs Become Lions documents the ongoing battle between poachers and rangers from a very interesting perspective: it follows two family members on opposite sides of the fight and shoots the heart of the action, as poachers pursue elephants and as rangers pursue poachers.   Because of its dual focus, When Lambs Become Lions manages not to take sides or judge these relatives as they try to provide for their families.  That is a useful perspective because really, the poachers aren’t the true reason for elephants’ status as an endangered species.  The poachers are the tool of the ivory dealers, and both exist because many of the world’s rich people want to pay lots of money for tusks.  Those people are the villains here.  The poachers are simply trying to get ahead rather than living day-by-day doing whatever odd jobs can be found.

As a result of the film’s judgment-free, up-close approach, When Lambs Become Lions feels more like a narrative feature than you’d expect.  I was curious to see how the story would end and enjoyed the twists and turns along the way.  As it turns out, poachers and rangers are not like oil and water.   They mix, they intermingle, and they can at time seven switch from one side to the other.  Even though rangers are authorized (and expected) to shoot poachers on sight, there’s a respect for their opponents’ circumstances and humanity that feels so very foreign, quaint, and refreshing in contrast to the western ultra-partisan, hyper-adversarial approach to conflict.

What’s the cause of those differing attitudes to one’s ideological opponents? Is it that we’ve had it too good for too long to remember what it’s like to make hard choices to survive?  Are we afraid to engage with those who have different opinions than ours?  Why can’t we see past those differences that are so minor in comparison to the divide between than these two relatives, one of whom is expected to feed the other to crocodiles when both are on duty?  I’m not sure but it’s something for us to figure out because, like rangers say about poachers, that story is unlikely to have a happy ending.

 

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TIFF18: Monsters and Men

In any other universe I’d just shake my head and keep walking if someone came up to me and said:

I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters, you don’t even know which side the protesters were on. But to allow someone to stand up and scream from the top of their lungs and nobody does anything about it is frankly — I think it’s an embarrassment.

But here’s the thing. It wasn’t just anyone who said that exact thing last week – it was the President of the United States of America. The supposed leader of the free world wants to silence people with whom he doesn’t agree. The worst part is that it’s not a bit surprising. In fact, it’s a common theme of this President’s as he preaches to his base and ignores the other three-quarters of the people in his country.

Included in that other 75% are a lot of people who don’t have many opportunities to be heard. The size and reach of one’s pulpit is, in large part, determined by her means and her inherent characteristics. For women, minorities and the poor, it’s hard to be heard at all as you’re all drowned out by white (male) noise. You need a bigger platform. A noisy one, a newsworthy one. Like, for example, a protest. Or, a thoughtful, well-acted conversation piece at a major film festival.

monstersandmen_HEROMonsters and Men is that conversation piece. Moreover, it is one of the finest cinematic conversation pieces I have ever seen. What makes it stand out from the rest is that it tries so very hard to stay impartial (and succeeds), to the point that a black cop at a dinner party (BlacKkKlansman‘s John David Washington) jumps to the defense of a white cop who recently shot an unarmed black man (in which Washington puts forward some interesting points). Which is not to say Washington’s character is right, because I don’t think he was, and I’m not sure he genuinely even felt that way in the movie (he is well aware of the systemic racism inherent in the justice system, there is never any doubt of that, and he has no love for the officer who pulled the trigger). But his views don’t even matter all that much. What matters most is that he tried to have a conversation about it and that’s what matters.

Societally, we don’t talk much anymore, and being real, really real, we rarely ever talked to anyone who didn’t look like us or dress like us or pray like us. In the “good old days”, you could get away with that type of isolation and insularism. That doesn’t work anymore. We have to talk and figure out how to live together. That’s a new thing and a harder thing. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Previous generations had it easier, but that doesn’t mean they had it better.

This film is part of the conversation. Protests are also part of it. But the biggest part? Listening. There is a reason Monsters and Men was made. There is a reason it is not the only film at TIFF18 about an unarmed black man being shot by police (The Hate U Give is also here). We have a problem here. We have a lot of problems, actually, but black men getting shot by cops is a particularly big one. There is no easy solution to that problem (or a lot of others) but there are answers out there. Let’s talk with each other and, more importantly, let’s listen to each other so we can figure this out.

 

 

Cornered in Molenbeek

Few things are more ubiquitous than a group of old men chatting about life in a local barbershop.  Cornered in Molenbeek starts innocently enough as it drops us, seemingly randomly, into one of those barbershops.  Sure, the customers are speaking Arabic, but they are also speaking about things that I might talk about with my barber (sorry, stylist).

The shop closes for the day and then, in an instant, everything changes.  News breaks of a terrorist attack on Paris.  It’s November 13, 2015 and when the cornered_in_molenbeek_1dust settles, 130 people are dead and 413 more are injured in a series of coordinated attacks at a number of locations throughout the city.  The investigation quickly determines that the attackers are from Molenbeek, Brussels, the very neighbourhood where this barbershop is located.  Of course, the attack becomes the main topic of conversation here, just like it was everywhere else.

Not surprisingly, this barbershop collective has no real answers as to what made the attackers do what they did.  Because guess what?  I have no real answers either.  The lack of answers here is revealing, though, particularly as the collective’s attempt to find an explanation weaves through a wide variety of possible causes, often looking for someone or something to blame, such as government, poverty, and the attackers themselves, with one notable exception: these people do not try to place blame Muslims as a group for these attacks, because they are Muslims themselves.  Contrary to the torrent of right-wing nationalist propaganda that is so often shouted at me online by a host of faceless idiots (oh, and also by the President of the United States), this group of Muslim acquaintances in this barbershop are just as innocent, just as angry and just as confused about the attacks as the rest of the world, and maybe more so because their religious and geographical association with the attackers draws them personally into the aftermath, exposing them to significant consequences that most people don’t have to worry about.

The phenomenon of terrorism is worthy of examination, and it was a refreshing approach to do so through the familiar lens of this barbershop, which otherwise would be functionally closed to me as a uni-lingual white Canadian (Arabic and French are the only two languages being used in these conversations).  The film’s structure serves to enhance the fly-on-the-wall feeling by letting us experience the barbershop’s normal environment before the attack happens.  The stark contrast in what is being discussed before the attack as opposed to afterward clearly shows that these types of attacks affect everyone regardless of their religion or native language, and really, we all need to be involved in this discussion on terrorism in order to stop it.  Cornered in Molenbeek does its part to start the conversation, and it’s up to us to keep it going.

Wonder Wheel

25 years ago, Woody Allen sexually assaulted his 7 year old adoptive daughter, Dylan. “Allegedly.” He has continued to make movies and has continued to be rewarded for them while his young victim has grown up in a world that protected bullies and made excuses for monsters.

Not anymore. For too long we have separated art and artist – but at whose expense?

Last year Allen released Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, just as the #metoo movement was gaining ground. For the first time, actors were being put on the spot, forced to justify their work with him (and others, to be sure), and to actually be accountable for making a career choice over a moral stand. Some of his past collaborators were quick to jump ship:

“I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career.” – Ellen Page

“I wouldn’t work with him again.” – Colin Firth

“[It] made me realize that I increased another woman’s pain, and I was heartbroken by that realization.” – Greta Gerwig

Kate Winslet had some early Oscar buzz for her role in Wonder Wheel, but seemed to sink those chances by refusing to condemn Allen in the months leading up to its release. Now, obviously it’s a tricky situation when this is your work and you’ve signed a contract and you have some obligations. But also she’s a millionaire with a shelf full of awards who could probably spare a little of both to stand up for her fellow woman. And, you know, do the right thing.

Griffin Newman, who is a more modestly paid actor from Allen’s upcoming film, A Rainy Day in New York, wrestled with his conscience and decided to donate his salary to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That prompted some of his more famous costars, Rebecca Hall and Timothee Chalamet, to do so also. Hall wrote “I see [now] not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed. That is not something that sits easily with me in the current or indeed any moment, and I am profoundly sorry. I regret this decision and wouldn’t make the same one today.” She donated her salary to Times Up, the legal defense fund to support victims of workplace sexual harassment. Chalamet has said “I don’t want to profit from my work on the film. I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

f50690e00877dc00ee5218bfa40af334--woody-allen-hollywood-actressesMeanwhile, Justin Timberlake got some deserved flak for daring to wear a Times Up pin but refusing to so much as comment on his willingness to work with Allen. Both Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning have been unapologetic about working with him on A Rainy Day, a troubling trend for young women. Jude Law and Liev Schreiber have also remained mum. Scarlett Johansson, who has positioned herself at the forefront of the Times Up movement and has publicly criticized James Franco for his creepy sexual advances, has failed to comment on Allen’s though she’s worked with him repeatedly. And Alec Baldwin has of course been stupid enough to support him – I suppose abusive men have to stick together.

Will Woody Allen continue to work in Hollywood? Who knows – he’s actually mostly been working for Amazon lately, and that’s a questionable future since he was brought on board by – guess who! – Roy Price, the guy who has since quit amid sexual harassment allegations. Sigh. I guess the better question is Who cares? He can continue to write and produce, but it’s going to be a lot harder to secure financing without big-name stars, and it’s going to be an awful lot harder for a big-name star to sign on without backlash. And in the meantime, his movies are nothing if not a good excuse to talk about a movement that’s been a long time coming and to thank the brave people like Dylan Farrow for speaking up and reminding us all what’s important.

 

Indian Horse

imagesThe residential school system is not the only black mark on our country but it has to be the darkest stain. We and our government could not have done worse by our indigenous people if we tried. We should have known from the start that this imperialistic plan would go horribly wrong. After all, we chose to put the Catholic Church in charge of many of these awful residential schools (and not just the Catholic Church, but a bunch of others share the blame, including the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches of Canada), because it wasn’t enough to tear children from their families and literally beat their culture out of them, it seemed appropriate for some reason to facilitate child molestation too, feeding 150,000 potential altar boys and girls to more than a few insatiable priests over the lifetime of the program. 150,000!

Not surprisingly, the end result of this utter disaster was the destruction of generations upon generations of indigenous people, something we cannot ever be ashamed of enough. And this is not something we can blame on our long-dead racist ancestors, since the last residential school did not close until 1996.  1996!

Indian Horse tells the story of one of those unfortunate kids who was sent to residential school, a boy named Saul Indian Horse. Saul happens to be a natural at hockey, quickly becoming the star of the school’s team. But for some reason, despite his hockey-playing prowess, Saul is clearly struggling to find his place. Could the reason for his struggles be that he and everyone he knew were subjected to horrific abuse every single day?

You don’t have to watch Indian Horse to learn that yes, all those years of abuse hurt Saul really, really badly. And you don’t have to watch Indian Horse to grasp that his story is just one of 150,000 about those who were directly and irreparably harmed by residential schools, not to mention the thousands more who were harmed just as badly by the loss of their family members to the schools, and not to mention the subsequent damage caused by attendees of the schools when, surprise, surprise, after being removed from their families and their culture as kids and abused by those who were supposed to take care of them, they were unable to even care for themselves, let alone their children, a cycle that we still haven’t been able to break. But you should watch Indian Horse anyway.

You should watch Indian Horse to remember that to the extent that Saul or any other survivor of residential schools fell short, it’s not for lack of will or effort on their part. It’s because the Canadian government, and by extension the white Canadian majority, failed them monumentally.  Indian Horse demonstrates our country’s massive failure clearly and effectively despite its shoestring budget, while at the same time paying tribute to the inner strength of one survivor who, but for his race, would have been a hockey-loving Canadian kid on his way to stardom.

So here’s to Saul and to each of his friends. I’m so sorry for what you had to suffer through, and I promise not to ever forget it or let anything like this ever happen again.  I know that’s not enough to right these wrongs and nothing ever will be.  But hopefully it is a step in the right direction after hundreds of years of horror. It is truly a shame that the Pope doesn’t feel that way, but hardly surprising the Catholic Church won’t acknowledge any of its wrongdoings – we’ve seen that movie already.

 

Ready Player One

We got to see Ready Player One with Steven Spielberg himself at SXSW – it was truly one of the most seminal moments I am likely to ever experience as a movie reviewer, and more importantly, as a movie fan. Sean wrote about it weeks ago, but I realized that I had something to add to the conversation.

I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One back in 2011 and I thought it was a tonne of fun. But it’s a highly nerdy book and I am not remotely nerdy. I do, however, know some nerds, and I eagerly pushed the book on them (it made for an EXTREMELY easy Christmas season: it knocked all the brothers-in-law off my list at once). I seem to recall Sean reading it in Mexico, and as I’d anticipated, he ate it right up. But for the many references that I just didn’t get, I still felt the energy and excitement of the book were translated to me. So while we were excited to hear that Spielberg was taking this on, we were less than thrilled to sit back and wait for three years for it to become reality. And then when were finally treated to a trailer I thought: holy moly, I don’t think I remember this book! So I reread the book a few months ago and prepared myself for its big March 29 release date – yes, we’d be busy in 2 different cities celebrating Easter, and Grandma’s 95th birthday, and my sister visiting from over 1000km away, and making the great variety of baked goods requisite for such a long weekend – but surely we’d be able to squeeze it in. But alas, no need! While in Austin, Texas for the SXSW festival, Ready Player One was revealed to be the secret screening. Both Cline and the movie’s star Tye Sheridan are hometown boys, which READY PLAYER ONEmeans 300k of the festival’s attendees were vying for just 1000 seats in the venue. Some people may be discouraged by those odds, but not Sean! He gamely spent hours lined up outside (while I watched Blindspotting, which was an incredible festival revelation) but his dedication paid off, and we got in, got some pretty fabulous seats actually, and sat among people who were just so incredibly excited to see the movie they hardly stopped cheering for a single second of the film’s 140 minute run time.

First of all, for fans of the book: the movie Ready Player One carries all of the novel’s essence but none of its spoilers. The big, showy challenge scenes are all-new for the movie, so you get to enjoy it and be surprised by, and if I may say: delighted by it. It hits exactly the right tone but it’s new and it’s exciting. And some of the new stuff IS REALLY FUCKING COOL. But Spielberg HIMSELF asked me not to spill the beans, so I won’t. And I wouldn’t want to in any case: not every movie is capable of enchanting us, and I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of that simple little thrill of pleasure.

Second, to fans of Speilberg: this is the most ‘Spielbergian’ film of the century. By which I mean, Spielberg himself has really gotten away from Spielberg-type movies. He hasn’t done blockbustery, popcorny movies in years. Lately he’s concentrated on smaller films, like The Post, and Bridge of Spies, which I have actually loved. It’s a different, more grown-up Spielberg; they’re movies that feel almost indie in nature, if not for the souped up cast. Dramatic stuff, more grounded, dark and moody, and often political. But little Stevie finds his inner child, indeed his inner fanboy, and allows himself to just express exuberant joy once again on the big screen – and even, and I do honestly believe this was hard for him, allow his own film legacy, to be paid homage in this film right alongside other iconic pop culture moments from the 1970s right through the early 90s.

Ready Player One feels like Steven Spielberg has thrown himself a parade, and he’s got every one of his time-honoured tricks riding big loud floats. It’s fantastic. I’ve heard the Internet shitting on the fact that this film is load with pop culture nostalgia and I can’t for the life of me understand that. I mean, the first time you see the film, you won’t notice half, or likely a third, of what’s hidden in there. Spielberg himself doesn’t know every single thing that’s been recreated in the film – he was surprised readyplayerone-56b7d103-d459-4ff3-89ac-e6342be40e01to find a Gremlin long after he’d already approved the scene, and he’ll continue to be surprised by Easter eggs (how fitting, for this weekend!). In subsequent viewings, you could easily play a drinking game with friends, or a Bingo game would be fun, just spotting all the cool things the brilliant art department and visual effects people slipped in there – it’s like the hoarders of movies with so many layers it’ll take forever before you reach the dead cat layer.

I still haven’t even told you what this movie’s about, but you’ve already gleaned that from elsewhere, haven’t you? It’s basically about the near future where the world has gotten so bleak that everyone prefers to live in this virtual world called the Oasis. The creator of the Oasis dies, and leaves the rights to it to whomever can win a little game that he’s rigged. Now, the Oasis is definitely worth a kabillion dollars, but it’s worth even more politically. So while our protagonists are kids, they’re up against not just adults but corporations in order to win control of this thing. And the Oasis creator (played by Mark Rylance) is a guy just enamoured with the 80s, so everything he does is basically a loving tribute to the “golden age” of gaming. But you don’t need to be able to pick up on those references in order to enjoy the story – they’re just the window dressing on a dystopian tale as old time.

The fact is, the world in Ready Player One is not so far from our own, and it feels worrying possible. The real trick, the one the movie keeps bumping up against, is to ask yourself: what are we taking from this virtual world, and how are we using it to make meaningful connections in the real world? Though this fight is online, the repercussions exist in the real world, and this creates an interesting duality between the avatar characters online and their real life counterparts. Though it looks and feels like a game, the stakes are high and the consequences dire. There’s some really flashy editing that allows us to move back and forth between worlds, and some truly exceptional visual effects mean the movement between the two feels natural but looks distinct.

And at its heart, this movie tells a story like many of Spielberg’s best: that of friendship, trust, and human connection. The film omits some of the book’s more subversive themes – race, gender, class – and given its scope and run time, it’s no wonder. There simply isn’t enough space to explore this world from corner to corner (read the book!). Instead, this movie submerses you in a world of pure imagination.

SXSW: The Remix

Sean and I loved SXSW so much last year that we’re headed back again this year, and this time we’re staying for the whole 10 days – because at the very least, the rain in Austin is warmer than the rain in Ottawa. Last year we saw lots of great movies, but it’s hard to beat the adrenaline thrill of seeing Baby Driver‘s world premiere with Edgar Wright in attendance. Of course, this year we’ve got Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs closing the festival down. Along with Taika Waititi, that’s my top three favourite directors right there, so I’m kind of in heaven.

SXSW is not just a movie festival – in fact, it’s not even primarily a movie festival. It’s actually the world’s coolest music festival that has just grown and grown and grown, to include movies, gaming, comedy, and a whole bunch of conferences and panels and networking events that are 100% not lame at all. This year’s not-to-miss speakers include Darren Aronofsky, Melinda Gates, Barry Jenkins, Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One!) and Bernie Sanders. There’s a documentary called The Director and The Jedi being screened that’s about Rian Johnson’s process – both he and Mark Hamill will be in attendance. The cast of This Is Us is doing a panel discussion which will almost certainly melt my face off.

But what’s really REALLY cool about SXSW is the stuff you do in between all the talks and movie premieres. Last year there was Breaking Bad\Better Call Saul event where they recreated Los Pollos Hermanos. Not only could you go inside the restaurant, you could sit and order and eat real food. Saul’s car was parked out front, and both Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito were there. This year there will be a Roseanne pop up that includes the Lanford Lunch Pail serving their infamous loose meat sandwiches, the iconic Roseanne couch and living room, and even Dan’s garage.

AMC is celebrating their new show The Terror by inviting us to  enter the Arctic as the real-life crew of this ill-fated expedition. The fully immersive, multi-sensory experience offers guests a first-hand look as a crew member aboard the ship’s disastrous trip through the desolate polar landscape. Guests will feel the bone-chilling air, smell the fear and despair and hear the horrific sounds of men fighting for their survival. So, fun times.

HBO is building the entire town of Sweetwater to celebrate Westworld where we’ll be given either a white hat or a black hat (depending on an interview selection process) before entering the 2 acre theme park and having a drink at the Mariposa Saloon. Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and James Marsden will be on hand.

Showtime is toasting Shameless with a pop-up Alibi Bar where stars Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey will be serving drinks. Which reminds me – last year we were served by Jason Sudeikis – he played a bartender in Colossal, which screened at the festival.

Viceland is bringing a party bus and baby goats. C’mon!

And believe it or not we’re going to squeeze in some movies between all this! Director Mélanie Laurent is hosting the world premiere of Galveston, starring Ben Foster and Elle Fanning as a hitman and a prostitute, and who knows which is which.

Directors Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting made a documentary about AI called More Human Than Human and guys: THEY’RE BRINGING ROBOTS WITH THEM. So if you never hear from us again, know that we loved you all. Matt, take good care of the place. Marginally cooler\less cool, depending on your perspective: director Stephen Kijak is bring Lynyrd Skynyrd members Gary Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, and Rickey Medlocke to the premiere of his doc, If I Leave Here Tomorrow (sorry for the earworm).

Jim Gaffigan and Nick Offerman, two of my favourite funny people, have films at the festival and I’ll be trying not to fangirl myself into embarrassment.

As for shorts, you cannot miss Briar March’s Coffin Club which is a hoot to see and just a heartful of joy. And Bola Ogun’s Are We Good Parents? is a thoughtful, funny piece about sexuality and our assumptions.

And there’s also some movies we’ve already seen! We saw Lean on Pete at the Venice Film Festival in August, and Outside In at TIFF in September.

 

As always, we intend to keep our Twitter feed @assholemovies crammed full of SXSW goodies, so please do stay tuned!