Tag Archives: subtitled

Tomorrow is Another Day

Mrs. Wong (Teresa Mo) is too exhausted to care that her husband is having an affair. She tolerates it in order to keep her family together, especially important since her 20 year old son Kwong (Man-Lung Ling) has autism, and developmental disabilities, that require stability and a lot of care. But one day the young mistress (they’re always young) stops by the house and agitates Kwong. After a terrible fight, Mr. Wong (Ray Lui) leaves. He leaves them. Now the burden of caring for her disabled son falls to Mrs. Wong entirely, and with his father gone, he’s acting out more than ever. If she was tired before, she’s beyond tired now. There’s almost nothing in Mrs. Wong’s life that’s just for her – her only indulgence during these dark days is to plot revenge scenarios against the dreaded mistress.

Teresa Mo, Ray Lui, and Man-Lung Ling make for a very attractive family; you’d hardly MV5BY2U2OTQ2ODQtNjQzMC00YTdiLWJiZTYtOWQ3MGI1OTE3NTJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_believe from the outside all the difficulties they face. But Mo and Lui are good at communicating a marriage strained by years of putting someone else’s needs above their own, of never having the time to honour their coupledom. We know that this is not Mr. Wong’s first dalliance, and we see the toll it’s taken on their marriage.

Ling’s portrayal of special needs is perhaps not the best we’ve seen on screen, but it’s Kwong’s relationship with his mother that is the most essential of the film. He’s normally cheerful and energetic; he skips along, vocalizing sounds more than words. But his meltdowns are ferocious. A full-grown man, when he starts self-harming, Mrs. Wong really can’t cope on her own. By showing us the enormity of her caregiver’s role, director Chan Tai-lee (the guy who wrote Ip Man) highlights a dearth of resources, of respite. Mrs. Wong shoulders it all, without complaint, facing down discrimination like that’s to be expected. All of her anger and resentment are saved for the mistress (a one-note, selfie-taking villain); murder fantasies are her only escape.

Her social life’s only balm is a group of housewives with whom she sews and sings karaoke. But these are the same women who will uncover her plot. And then what? You’ll have to watch to the end to find out.

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Ramen Shop

Masato is a young man working in his father’s successful ramen shop in Japan. Though it’s just been the two of them since Masato’s mother died, their relationship is strained. Masato thinks the only way to get his father’s attention is to be a steaming bowl of noodles. After work, Masato’s father disappears to drink alone; at home, they’re like two ships passing in the night. But then one day his father dies, as all fathers must, and Masato is alone in the world.

Curious about his mother, Masato (Takumi Saitoh) reads the old diaries she’d left behind and for the first time discovers the inter-racial courtship between his father, who was Japanese, and his mother, who was Chinese, and understands the source of the rift between his mother and his grandmother that prevented them from reuniting even as his mother lay dying.

Masato decides to travel to Singapore where he’s introduced not just to long-lost family members but secret family recipes as well, and through food, culture.

Ramen Shop is slow to start. I didn’t feel emotionally invested until about half-way through, but once the delicious, 10 hour pork rib soup starts to simmer, so did my heart. MV5BYmM0NjkxZWItOTI4MC00ZWZkLTk3ZTItZTBjNGYyZWYxMjA5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_The cast is endearing, and I love how director Eric Khoo blends together race as if it’s fusion cooking. The Japanese and Chinese people have had an uneasy past and you can see that Masato has a hard time reconciling the two parts of himself. However, grief is a powerful motivator, and when he understands how his father honoured his mother’s memory by incorporating her culture into his cooking, Masato is inspired to do the same.
Since Masato and his uncle and cousins speak different languages, they communicate primarily in their shared third language, English. His grandmother, however, does not speak English. Masato speaks to her on a more elemental level: food. He cooks for her and hopes his dish will prove not just love, but the link that’s been missing between them all these years. This detail felt so familiar to me. It may not always be ramen, but almost all families across many cultures have some dish they call their own, a dish that tastes like home.

For me, it’s my grandma’s molasses cookies. She’s been gone 15 years but one of my most treasured items is a recipe for them in her own hand. I make them for my niece and nephews who never met her but still enjoy the same treat I did growing up, and I know her love is in each bite. My other grandma, who I call Nanny, stood by my side in her kitchen and taught me how to make her apple pie when I was a girl. Today pie crust comes out of my hands instinctually. I don’t need to make Nanny’s apple pie because we’re lucky to still have her with us (though we did lose the apple trees in her backyard). She assures us that her chest freezer is well enough stocked that we’ll have apple pies well after she’s gone. I’m pretty sure she means that to be comforting. What’s the recipe in your family?

Blue My Mind

Mia has just transferred to a new high school where she’s desperate to fall in with the popular mean girls. Gianna and company are serious mean girls though; their first group activity is breath play, where the teenage (tweenage?) girls grab each other by the throat until they pass out. You know, kid stuff. Unconscious, Mia has a dream or a hallucination that she’s underwater, the bubbles overtaking her.

At home, Mia (Luna Wedler) and her parents are struggling to get along. She thinks they might be keeping her adoption a secret from her. They’re not sure whether her recent moodiness is regular teenage stuff or not. I’m not exactly sure how old Mia is. She looks easily 15 to me, but she gets her first period and has her first sexual experience back to back, and not necessarily in that order. I do know that whatever’s going on with her MV5BOTAzODhiZGItOWI0Ny00ZjE2LTlkNDItNzk2ODY1YWY2YjIyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjE3NzgzMDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,743_AL_emotionally, her physical transformation is NOT normal teenage stuff. She’s suddenly compelled to eat the family’s pet goldfish. She grows webbing between her toes. In her mind, these are linked to the onset of her period but her doctor disagrees. Moodier than ever, Mia is also learning to be more secretive.

Some of you will remember how hard it is to be a teenage girl. Well, it’s a whole lot harder when you’re a teenage girl in the process of becoming a fish. And though her transformation seems random to her, to us it feels linked to her increasing desire to fit in with a crowd travelling way faster than her normal speed. The more she conforms, the more her body changes – and all she wants to do is fit in! It’s a cool idea that feels a little familiar, because all the rest of the bratty teenage tropes are right there.

The movie gets uncomfortably into body horror territory when Mia tries to alter or “fix” the changes in her body. This is a bold movie and probably not for everyone. Wedler and Zoe Pastelle Holthuizen manage some pretty compelling performances, and director Lisa Bruhlmann creates some stunning visuals. The metaphor’s a little too on the nose, but if you’re intrigued by the fishiness or you’ve always had a thing for mermaids, this might be worth a watch for you.

Letter From Masanjia

A woman is rooting through her garage, looking for Halloween decor she can repurpose for her daughter’s 5th birthday, which falls around the holiday. She retrieves a styrofoam grave marker that says RIP, purchased at Kmart 2 years prior but not yet used. Out of the box falls a note, a plea really, begging the recipient to turn it in to a human rights organization. The note details the abuses suffered by the man who made the decorative headstone; it is signed by a prisoner from China’s most notorious forced labour camp – Masanjia.

The woman is understandable freaked out but she complies with the note’s directive – she contacts Human Rights Watch but they are unresponsive. She goes to Kmart with it but they ballsily deny using labour camps, which are illegal. So she goes to her state newspaper, The Oregonian, and it publishes an investigative piece, and basically the story blows up from there – even reaching so far as China, where the people have to bypass a firewall in order to read western news. a man named Sun Yi is surprised to read the story and recognize his note.

Sun Yi had been released from the camp 2 years earlier, but is still haunted by the torture he suffered there. This documentary explores Sun Yi’s experience, the common labour camp experience. Director Leon Lee interviews prison guards, civil rights lawyers, and Sun Yi’s wife. Sun Yi suffered corporeally while in the prison, but his wife and their family faced raids, discrimination, and harassment on the outside.

Sun Yi is not a criminal. He’s a practitioner of falun gong, those slow exercise paired with moral philosophy that espouses tenants of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance – the mind body improved together. China’s communist party felt threatened by the sheer number of falun gong followers, and began persecuting them systematically. Since 1999, Sun Yi had been arrested, detained, or abducted 12 times. Pressure increased around the time of the Olympics (circa 2008) and Sun Yi was ultimately sentenced to two and a half years for being in the possession of printer paper, suggesting he’d printed materials about his beliefs.

To really understand the torture and the suffering of this labour camp, you simply must watch. Sun Yi is a wonderful subject but his stories are tough. His experiences are horrific. But this isn’t just about one man’s harrowing time. It’s about the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of news stories going viral; about paying attention to where and how things are made; about the China’s long arm and continued human rights abuses. Letter From Masanjia is the best kind of eye-opener, unsettling to its core.

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.

 

This Magnificent Cake!

There’s a definite trend toward using gimmicks to give depth to films, and it’s particularly prevalent in animated movies.  These days, almost everything is available in 3D, and often for new releases it’s hard to find a screening that’s NOT in 3D.  This Magnificent Cake! (Ce Magnifique Gateau!) is not in 3D but in no danger whatsoever of feeling two dimensional.  ThereCMG_concert is so much texture here, you’ll want to pet the screen.

The texture comes from the animators’ use of felt and yarn for basically everything you will see on screen.  Co-creators Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels have ensured that the characters, the animals, and even the water are fuzzy.  All the texture will captivate you throughout the film’s short 45 minute run time.  Every frame is packed with a ton of details and textures for the viewer to notice and absorb.  So even if you are lost in the narrative, which will happen due to its nature, you never mind all that much and are happy to just absorb what’s on screen.  The animation is incredible, and I would say that the visuals are the main reason that This Magnificent Cake! was the Grand Prize Winner (Best Feature) at the 2018 Ottawa Inter
national Animation Festival
.

The narrative is easy to get lost in because it’s left to the viewer to determine what is real and what is a dream or a hallucination.  This Magnificent Cake! features five interconnected episodes that revolve around Belgium’s colonization of Africa in the late 19th century.  The episodes begin and end abruptly and usually the next in the sequence starts soon after the previous one ended, but tells the story from a different perspective.  Most of the episodes unfold in Africa, but there is also some Belgium backstory as well as some bonding to take place during the several months (?) it took to travel by steamer from Europe to the colony.  How many of these events were imagined is hard to say (intentionally, I’m sure) but I “felt” at least half of it only happened in the characters’ minds, which hopefully includes a particularly memorable snail adoption by a lonely colonist.

This Magnificent Cake! is a unique experience that may leave you scratching your head when it ends, but your eyes will thank you for taking the trip.

 

TIFF18: The Most Beautiful Couple

Okay, I give up.

This is the TIFF review I least want to write, but one I am most compelled to. My discomfort with the subject matter should be irrelevant; The Most Beautiful Couple is a good film that deserves to be recognized. So I’m going to claim this site as a safe space, I’m going to write this review in peace, but with the understanding that you should click away if you want to\need to.

Liv and Malte are indeed a beautiful couple. That’s well-established in the very first scene which finds them fucking on the beach while on vacation. It’s a secluded spot but they’ve nevertheless got some appreciative viewers in the form of some teenage boys. That’s how I thought of them, boys, until they forced themselves into Liv and Malte’s vacation home later that night in order to rob them. But you know and I know that no one would bother to make a movie about it had they stopped there.

The “boys”, and one in particular, force them to perform for them again, so they can MV5BYTc1YWQzYzktNjc1OC00ZTA2LWIyZWMtOWFmNmVkNzU2YzI4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDA5NjIzMg@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_masturbate. Where the beach scene felt fun and carefree and only a little naughty, the act of repeating it under these circumstances is a violation neither Liv nor Malte can bear. When they aren’t quite up to the task demanded of them, ringleader Sascha decides to take a more direct approach. He rapes Liv while Malte watches, hog-tied and bleeding. It’s cruel and agonizing.

Cut to: two years later. Liv (Luise Heyer) and Malte (Maximilian Bruckner) have lived up to the title. This most beautiful couple has managed to stay together despite living through a trauma that would tear most couples apart. They have done the work, complete therapy, and seem to have maintained a loving relationship. It’s remarkable and hopeful. Until one night Malte happens to run into Sascha (Leonard Kunz) while out for shawarma. Gut punch. We see the air leak out of him as this kid finishes up the fast food he’s sharing with his girlfriend. His girlfriend. He’s just a regular guy living in Matle’s own city and this reality is so deeply disturbing to Malte he becomes obsessed. He practically lives at the subway station until he catches sight of him again, and the follows him home.

For what purpose, exactly? What good can come of this? It feels like Malte has no plan and no concept that this is a bad guy who only looks harmless. And here he is, bringing him back into his life again. And into his wife’s life, too, without her knowledge or consent. This is only the beginning of a deep and downward spiral that can’t end well for anyone.

I was so mad at Malte for so much of the movie – how dare he endanger his life, or his wife’s? But I had to consciously shake myself out of this misdirected rage. Malte is a victim. He may be coping in ways I don’t approve of, but it’s easy to judge when you’re not the one who is broken inside. He is healing, he is coping, and it’s not coming out right, but really it’s a miracle he’s kept it together at all. No matter how frustrating his choices are, there’s only one bad guy in this scenario, and this is a good reminder of how easy it can be to lose track of that.

And that’s why I think this film is so interesting, intellectually. It forces you to confront your own fears. Who can watch this and not put themselves in the shoes of the blissfully vacationing couple? But we never know how we’ll react until we’re in that very situation, and let’s hope like hell we never are. So I need to withhold my judgement of a character who is simply doing his best and think about why I went there in the first place. Is it easier to blame ourselves, the victims, when something bad happens? Because if we can just do something different, make different choices than the victim, we can keep ourselves safe? Bad guys make us feel helpless, and helplessness is the worst feeling in the world, so we push it away by finding some blame, some small thing someone could or should have done differently. And we focus on that. Director Sven Taddicken rubs our noses in that falsehood, and though he’s brave to do it, this is not an easy movie to watch.