Review – I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story (2018)

Author’s Note: I contributed to this film’s Kickstarter.


A few years ago, during the sparkle of the Twilight books and the erotic stylings of the 50 Shades of Grey series, a male colleague of mine wondered out loud how women and girls could enjoy such stupid and pointless books.

I didn’t say anything at the time (which I do regret a little). But I found his comments to be rather closed-minded. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that either series should have won the Man Booker prize. But why is it that cultural experiences popular with women are thought to be so much less important than those enjoyed by men? Is there really that much difference between 50,000 women/girls screaming at a boyband concert; and 50,000 men/boys screaming at 22 guys in shorts chasing a ball?

That widely held dismissive attitude towards female activities is part of the reason why I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story caught my attention on Kickstarter. Led by director Jessica Leski and producer Rita Walsh, here was a film that was determined to explore the passion for boybands from a place of love and appreciation.

While (according to their Kickstarter) Leski and Walsh originally planned to explore this phenomena through the eyes and words of music theorists, songwriters, educators, adolescent psychologists and neurologists; the final onscreen product is one that is far more human in its approach. As such we investigate the world of boybands through the eyes of a foursome: Elfi, a die-hard One-Direction lover; Sadia, a Backstreet Boys devotee; Dara, a Take That obsessive; and Susan, an old-school Beatles fan.


I Used To Be Normal is, at its heart, a celebration. Not just of girls and women, but also of passion and dedication. Through the words and actions of the four main women interviewed in the project, we get to see the intricacies of fangirl culture, their relationship to music and how it has developed and changed over the past six decades.

In fact, that decision by the filmmakers to take a more historical approach ends up being the most successful aspect of the movie. It would have been easy to focus exclusively on modern boybands and their fans. But by throwing us back to the mid-20th Century with Susan, and illustrating the heights of Beatlemania intertwined with the advance of feminism; we get to see how boyband music has become almost inseparable from the daily fight for equality that women have experienced over the past half century.

However, the focus on the 1960s and the 1990s onwards means there is a little bit of a gap in the film’s musical history. To be fair, the popularity of punk and metal during the 70s & 80s probably meant that there wasn’t a lot of choice in terms of boybands, but it would have been nice to meet someone who appreciated New Kids on the Block!

But that really is a minor quibble as the foursome that we do follow are some of the most engaging representations of fangirls today. More importantly though, Leski and Walsh show us how the individual’s love for a specific boyband has helped them struggle through emotional and social obstacles that they might otherwise have had to face alone. Dara, the 33-year-old brand strategist from Australia finds help in the self-discovery of her sexuality; while Sadia, a 25 year old writer from America, uses her love for the Backstreet Boys to help overcome the culture clash of family and society. They may all have very different life paths, but it’s a beautiful example of how boyband music can be used as a force for good.

Of the four stories it’s teenager Elfi that really tugs at the heartstrings. When we’re first introduced to her at the age of 15/16, she’s easily the most typical portrayal of a screaming fangirl. Over the next two years we witness how that love for One Direction eventually blossoms into deeply ingrained knowledge of multiple types of music. But unlike the other three participants, who to various degrees have mostly overcome societies’ dismissal of their tastes; Elfi is still held down by tradition and patriarchal forces. In essence she ends up being a physical representation of how much further women still have to go for their hopes and desires to be taken seriously.

But don’t take that as a sign that the film is secretly a tearjerker. Instead I Used To Be Normal is a heartwarming and elegant depiction of a world that has given hope and joy to millions of girls and women around the globe. In an era where anonymous internet dwellers are willing to tear apart any type of female enjoyment; this film stands as tribute that even the most musically persecuted can survive when we share the things we love.

Overall Score:

five-stars

The Short View: The Iron Village (1973) – A Lost Naval Documentary Comes To The Surface

Synopsis:
The Iron Village takes a short look at the lives and work of the thousands of men serving aboard the British aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal.

Running Time:
34 minutes

Directed by: 
Richard Marquand

the iron village poster


Despite most of his fame being derived from his work on Return of the Jedi, director Richard Marquand had a decent career in the U.K., building up a significant body of work in television. There’s no doubt that the reason he was picked for this project was due to the multiple TV documentaries he made for the BBC.

Alas, like a great many short films, The Iron Village faded into history. Originally thought to be a “Lost Film”, a 35mm print was recently discovered by Steve McAndrew, who set about transferring the film to a digital format, supported by Station House Films. (Full Disclosure: I contributed to a Kickstarter to raise funds for the transfer.) While no cleaning up or restoration has taken place, the film still remains an engaging look at the historical capability of the British Navy.

Running just over 30 minutes, The Iron Village is a most apt title for such a documentary. Being the largest ship in the Royal Navy (at the time), the HMS Ark Royal has 2,700 men serving on board. Easily comparable to an actual real-life village. And along with such a large population comes the need to keep them fed and watered. It’s not too surprising that in itself is a herculean task. Indeed, the film reveals that such a ship needed 100 tons of supplies and 6,000 tons of fuel every week!

the iron village refuel
HMS Ark Royal being refuelled and resupplied

But the scale of the resources is only matched by the grandeur of the film-making. I can only imagine this film was originally made as a semi-puff piece for the Navy due to the insane number of aerial shots and truly expensive tracking sequences. Ever wanted to see a 44 second long helicopter panning shot around 4 warships? Or a camera inside a fighter jet zooming past a warship as it makes a death-defying landing on the Ark Royal? How on earth they did this in 1973, a time when cameras were still the size of a small child, I will never know.

However, one aspect that I truly wish the film had gone into more detail was the laundry and shoe repair sections. Specifically because, unlike anywhere else on the ship, this department seems to have been run entirely by far Eastern Asians. (Though I did manage to find out more information about them here.)

the iron village wash

In the film’s defence though, it doesn’t go into significant details about any aspect of the ship and neither are there any “personal” stories brought to the fore. While there are plenty of faceless voiceovers, there is no real attempt to bring a sense of individualism to the proceedings. In 34 minutes I don’t think we hear even a single name of anybody serving on board. This is very much a documentary about the Royal Navy as a whole, not its people.

Despite the lack of personality, the film does give short glimpses of the camaraderie that would have arisen from such tight quarters. A few moments prayer in the ship’s chapel, the ship’s chaplain chatting away with the ship’s barber, and even a few beers and games of darts in the ship’s bar.

Overall, The Iron Village may not be the most personal or ground-breaking of documentaries, but it’s still wonderful that a little piece of British film and naval history has been protected for future generations.


All images screenshots / © 1973 Universal Pictures Limited. All Right Reserved.

The Short View: G is for Gun (2018) – A Grim Look Into The Arming of American Teachers

Author’s Note: I contributed to this short film’s Kickstarter Campaign.


Official Synopsis:
G is for Gun is a thirty-minute documentary film exploring the highly controversial trend of armed faculty and staff in K-12 schools. Only five years ago this practice was practically unheard of, but since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, it has spread to as many as a dozen states. Often without public knowledge, there are teachers, administrators, custodians, nurses, and bus drivers carrying guns in America’s schools. G is for Gun documents a growing program in Ohio that is training school staff to respond to active shooter situations with guns, and follows the story of one Ohio community divided over arming its teachers.

Running Time:
27 Minutes

Directed by: 
Katie Way & Julie Akeret


Being an outsider to American society, it can sometimes be a struggle to understand their attitude and approach to guns. While school shootings aren’t unique to America, whenever they happen in other developed countries around the world, there tends to be a seismic change towards how guns are sold and distributed. For example, when the UK had the 1996 Dunblane Massacre (which, for all intents and purposes, was our equivalent of the Sandy Hook shooting); our entire society seemed to shift, resulting in the banning of most handguns in the UK. Such stringent laws meant that we have had no school shootings and only one mass shooting in the following 22 years.

But until the political will is there, America has had to go in a different direction to protect its children: the arming of teachers. G is for Gun opens with what has to be a parent’s worst nightmare: an armed and masked individual striding the hallways of a school. Sure, it’s immediately obvious that it’s a training exercise, but as each gunshot rings out in a place of learning, it’s hard not to have a visceral reaction.

Some of the statistics that the short presents are truly eye-opening. Thirteen states already have some form of program where school teachers of K-12 classes (the UK equivalent would be Nursery to the end of Secondary school) either carry or have access to guns. Many of them doing so without parental or public knowledge.

g is for gun 2
© twentycentsleft Productions 2017. All Rights Reserved

Though the short makes it clear that this is an issue affecting the entire country, Way & Akeret choose to focus on the micro, specifically the small town of Sydney in the state of Ohio. This was a town deeply affected by the events of Sandy Hook, and one that voted to arm teachers less than a year after that terrible tragedy. And keeping things small scale makes the issue far more accessible. Rather than the forked tongue of a politician, we get to listen to real people explain why they chose to embrace or reject this changing attitude to armed educators.

But as a person who has lived almost his entire life in a nation where being anti-gun is the norm, I have to applaud the filmmakers for helping us empathise with the desire of these teachers to defend, not just themselves, but the youngsters under their care. If anything, that sad acceptance of an unwinnable situation is what stands out the most. While many of these educators are willing to train themselves to handle a weapon; none of them do so happily. But with an average of one shooting in an American school every week, can you honestly blame them?

Overall Score:

four-stars


You can follow the filmmakers on Facebook, on Twitter @GisforGun, or on their official website.

Review: The Final Year (2017) – Politics In A More Civilised Age

While the similarities between a successful documentary and a successful fiction film are too numerous to list, one shared aspect is a portrayal of either conflict or drama. Doesn’t matter how or why it’s presented, but to obtain an engaging narrative means that a battle of ideals must be present. Otherwise you might as well be watching a montage of summer vacation recordings.

The Final Year should have that in spades. After all, it’s set during 2016, the year where Donald Trump defied all expectations and won the American Presidency. With a campaign that was mostly based on division, surely there must be plenty of opinions by (and comparisons to) the Obama administration? Alas, a different tact is taken, resulting in a film that is far more pedestrian than it should be.

The-Final-Year

Covering the closing 12 months of the Obama administration, The Final Year features various high-profile American political figures as they attempt to make the most of their final 365 days in office. Trying to bring order to an increasingly fractured world, we follow a trio of Obama’s foreign-relations team: Secretary of State, John Kerry; ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power; and deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes.


While I’m sure there will be a handful of people out there that will disagree with my assertion, I am of the opinion that the most engaging portrayal of American politics was Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. Yes, it may have been incredibly liberal-leaning, but it still expressed the basic ideal that these characters were merely trying to do what they thought was best in a difficult world.

However, when re-watching almost any of its 156 episodes, it’s hard not to see a sense of naivety in its political warmongering. There are no “alternative facts”, no post-truthisms, no ranting political rallies. In other words, its politics appear out-of-date and old fashioned. And just like The West Wing, The Final Year is a portrayal of a world that was once relevant but now feels long gone.

That said, it’s hard not to have a certain level of respect for those involved. With the knowledge that they only have a year left to effect change, it’s impressive to see the then 72-year-old Kerry journey around the world with the energy of a man half his age. In fact, the ultimate achievement of director Greg Barker and his team is their success in humanising certain political actions. For example, through the eyes of Secretary Power, we see the pain of women losing their children, as well as the plight of the displaced. By shining a light on what are usually unseen and unreported actions, the filmmakers have given voice to the idea that politicians are, at their heart, still people.

the final year 2

But as mentioned in the introduction, there is no drama. With everyone on the same page, there are no real clashes of ideals or beliefs. The closest the film comes to such a conflict is when there is a minor skirmish between Power and Rhodes over the “hopefulness” of President Obama’s final UN speech. Imagine watching a season of The West Wing, but every single argument was cut out. That’s roughly what The Final Year has achieved, and as such makes a far less engaging film than other political documentaries such as Weiner or The Fog of War.

Indeed, it’s hard to ignore the nagging feeling that all this was for naught. Just as a form of illustration, imagine you were out on the roads painting road markings. Would you spend any time caring about how accurate or clean the lines were if you knew a lorry was barrelling towards you? Guaranteed to destroy everything you had spent the last couple of days creating. That (admittedly simplified comparison) is what The Final Year ends up being. A film about people striving to do things that fundamentally do not matter because of what we know the future will bring.

If anything, maybe the team behind The Final Year should have pivoted in the same way Lauren Greenfield was forced to do for the 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles. While Greenfield’s initial goal was to document the building of the most expensive house in America, due to the 2008 financial crisis she was forced to change the basis of her film. Perhaps a similar change to The Final Year, instead focusing on how the film’s subject’s were dealing with the looming threat of Trump, would have made for a far more engaging film.


In decades to come, when the chaos of the Trump administration is long goneit can be expected that The Final Year will be seen as a calm humanist look at the close of just another administration. But right now, it’s hard not to think of the alternative and more interesting paths this documentary could have taken. A real missed opportunity.

Overall Score:

three-stars

Photo Sources: Screenshots, Dogwoof, IMDb

Review: 78/52 (2017) – An Interesting Slice of Hitchcock History

When I was younger I was quite the voracious reader. Everywhere I would go my mind would be engrossed in the pages of a good book. At dinner, on the toilet, while walking. My mother utterly hated it!

But what killed my love of reading was (ironically) school. Specifically my A-Level course in English Literature. Maybe it was just my teachers, but as we dived into several novels and stories, our lessons tended to be centred around explaining everything. Like “Why were the curtains in the hotel room blue?”, or “Why were four shots fired rather than six?” 

Of course, now I know that dissection is the whole point of an English Literature course. But back then I found the needling of every minor aspect to be utterly tedious.

My point, however, is that sometimes going into too much detail just ends up killing any kind of love you had for the original. Case in point, Prometheus. Did we really need to know what the Space Jockey was? Doesn’t that just take away from the mystery when we now watch Alien?

So considering that this is a 90 minute documentary about one 3 minute scene, surely 78/52 must be scraping the bottom of the barrel?

78 52

Titled after the 78 camera setups and 52 edits that make up the infamous “shower” scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; this black and white-shot documentary takes us on the deepest of dives into the background, creation and impact of said scene.

Helped along by a variety of knowledgeable filmmakers and writers, such as Eli Roth and Bret Easton Ellis; 78/52 takes cinematic essays to a whole new level in its exploration of just how much that one scene changed the face of cinema.


During the documentary there’s a line that director Guillermo del Toro exudes with much confidence when talking about the notorious shower scene:

“You knew you were in the hands of a master. And there was nothing to do but submit.”

And after seeing 78/52, it’s hard not to agree.

Having built his craft on films such as The People vs. George Lucas and Doc of the Dead, Swiss-born director Alexandre O. Philippe uses his immense skill in the realm of documentaries to portray the masterful talent Hitchcock had behind the camera.

While technically intercutting between them, the film consists of three aspects in its exploration of the shower scene: the origins, the production and the impact. Each one commented upon by an all-star list of talking heads. Though some are oddly out of place (Elijah Wood, anyone?); most bring an authoritative voice to the proceedings. Once again Del Toro gives the most engaging insight, suggesting that the scene was heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Catholicism.

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Another such voice is original nude body-double for Janet Leigh, Marli Renfro; a former Playboy model. While the other voices are mere commentary, as the last surviving member of the cast, Renfro is the only one with direct experience; and the documentary is all the more captivating for it. She is a woman forgotten by film history, but overwhelming pivotal to its current existence.

Indeed, in this day and age of sexual crimes coming to light, the documentary makes the interesting point that it was Psycho that changed the nature of violence and sexuality for decades to come. Said best by Karyn Kusama, the director of Jennifer’s Body, the shower scene is, in her opinion…

“the first modern expression of the female body under assault.”

And Hitchcock, though he may have pled otherwise, was not ignorant to that fact, as the documentary details that he allocated an entire week out of a 13 week shoot just for the shower scene. Without a doubt, he was aware of the raw power that shocking scene would have on American audiences.

But he couldn’t have known of the long lasting influence said scene would have on the work of thousands of filmmakers. Killing your main character long before the final credits, the clash of sexual undercurrents and violence, the pioneering of quick cuts. 78/52 quite rightly points out that, thought these things are all common today, at the time they were ingeniously creative in their originality.


With its forensic-like approach to the infamous shower scene, there’s no doubt that 78/52 is the very essence of a film made by film fans, for film fans. In only 90 minutes Philippe takes what could have been a very dry topic; and breathes a new sense of wonder and engrossment into it.

Fortunately, even for those with little prior knowledge of Psycho, this is still a skillfully made documentary exploring a scene utterly unrivalled in cinematic history.

Overall Score:

four-stars

A Visit to the 8th Underwire Film Festival (2017) – Female Filmmaking At Its Finest

Having worked and lived in London since 2007, I’m not entirely sure how the Underwire Film Festival (UFF) escaped my notice before now. I’m always looking for new places to watch movies!

Nonetheless there’s no doubt that the UFF, now on its eighth iteration, has achieved much in the last few years. Having become a BAFTA-recognised festival only five or so years after its inception is an incredible achievement; and one that speaks to the high quality work that the people behind UFF perform year on year.

Founded in 2010, the UFF is the UK’s only film festival celebrating female filmmaking talent. Not only do they show 50-70 amazing female-led short films every year, but they also help aspiring female filmmakers by awarding them both training and mentoring opportunities.

At this year’s festival I was unfortunetly only able to attend one screening, it being titled “Rebel Girls“; which they describe as “tales of sweet first crushes, coming out and teenage rebellion.”


Crush

ELLA+AND+JAMIE+1

Originally premiering at the BFI Flare Festival, Crush is the debut short film from director Rosie Westhoff. Focusing on 13-year old Ella (Madeline Holliday) as she waits at a train station, we witness the beginnings of a burgeoning infatuation as she sees another girl (Zara Mirabelle Cooper) on the opposite platform.

Almost dialogue-free, full props must be given to Holliday’s performance. With no words to fall back on, her entire character arc is done through the lightest of glances and the smallest of movements. An impressive performance for such a young lady.


I Am Raja

i am raja

Set entirely in the Sahara desert, I Am Raja tells the tale of a 12 year old girl on her way to fetch some water. Though simple in story, the filmmaking could not be further from such simplicity. Specifically when it comes to the work done by the cinematographer. The vast desert-scapes of North Africa are captured in all their beauty, while the excellent sound work injects even more life into this picturesque short film.

Director Avatâra Ayuso mentioned that this was going to be the first in a trilogy of films about women in extreme climates. Based on her brilliant work here, I look forward to the second installment, which apparently will follow an Eskimo woman in her 60s living in the icy wastelands of the north.


Bubblegum

Bubblegum

Opening with a young lady kneeling in front of a flickering CRT TV, director Rose Hendry knows how to open with an arresting image.

That said I must confess that Bubblegum went slightly over my head. Until I read the synopsis on the UFF website after the fact, I wasn’t 100% sure what the film was actually about, especially with such a short running time.

Fortunately the lack of story can be overlook by the breathtaking images delivered by cinematographer Ian Forbes and colourist Eva Pomposo.


Stevie

Stevie

In her directorial debut McKenna Fernandez tells the touching story of Stevie, a little girl who, after undergoing cataracts surgery, must adapt to her new outlook on life.

It’s always difficult to adequately show how differently a blind individual experiences the world; but in one scene set in a cathedral, this experience is brilliantly portrayed through the use of excellent sound design and sound mixing. Unfortunately I was unable to find out the names behind such fine work.


Seventeen

Seventeen

Seventeen is a heartfelt look at those on the verge of adulthood. Focusing specifically on the young people of Scarborough, director Mollie Mills chooses not to merely interview a parade of talking heads, but instead takes the camera into their world. As such we get to see hopes, dreams, fears and ponderings as the teenagers of Scarborough take their first steps into an adult world.


Trigga

Trigga

The only film in this section to deal directly with childhood bullying, Trigga follows Mae (Lily-Rose Aslandogdu) as she struggles with the constant abuse from a trio of classmates.

Brought to the screen by experienced filmmaker Meloni Poole, Trigga ends up shining a much needed light onto the issue of bullying, especially by and upon girls. In addition it quite eloquently shows us how the escape into fantasy can sometimes be the only coping mechanism in an otherwise uncaring world.


Silly Girl

Silly Girl

I loved this one, partly because of its time travel / fantasy aspect. Co-written by Ellie Kendrick (of Game of Thrones fame) and directed by Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling); Silly Girl shows the interaction between an older tran-man (Jason Barker) and his younger teenage girl-self (Ciara Baxendale).

With witty dialogue to boot, it’s a wonderful and unique approach to the exploration of self-identity and romantic connections.


Pillow Talk

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Flashback to the 90s! Writer/director Louise Marie Cooke takes us back in time nearly 25 years to show us the friendship of Cara (Ashleigh Cordery) and Lucy (Miranda Horn); two BFF’s having a sleepover. But Lucy has a sneaky suspision that Cara prefers girls over guys; and is willing to put their friendship at risk to get her to admit it.

Pillow Talk mostly ended up being a damn good reminder of my time during the 90s. True, I was a teenage boy, but I remember the coloured hairspray and Polaroid cameras! But I also remember how negatively being gay was perceived. Cooke’s film does an amazing job of showing us the true power of friendship in the face of societal judgement.


It was here that the screening seemed to end, but it was soon revealed that the final film had accidentally not been shown yet. God knows how you forget about an entire film! But thank god they showed it because that one film would have been worth the entire price of admission…

The Silent Child

The Silent Child

Talk about saving the best for last! Directed by Chris Overton, The Silent Child follows Libby (Maisie Sly) and her middle-class family. Libby is profoundly deaf and has become a shy and withdrawn little girl. It’s not until social worker Joanne (Rachel Shenton) comes into her life that Libby begins a slow transformation into a girl that can connect with the world.

It’s not often I get blown away by a short film, but The Silent Child goes above and beyond anything I have seen in years. Writer and star Rachel Shenton (who was at the screening) made it clear that this story was not only intensely personal, but a true reflection of the real-life struggles that many deaf children around the world must deal with.

Incredibly emotional and enormously moving, not only is The Silent Child the best short film I’ve seen in 2017, but it is also the sort of film that I could honestly see winning a BAFTA next year.

underwire

What’s In A Name? – A Review of Meet the Hitlers (2014)

Being that I am of Sri Lankan origin, my birth name is much longer than those in the west are used to. Most people just end up pronouncing it incorrectly, or automatically shortening it. Instead I use a much shorter name in my day to day life, so that confusion can be kept to a minimum.

I bring this up, not for sympathy, but in order to illustrate that I have some understanding of how a strange name can make it difficult to fit into mainstream society.

But compared to the name “Hitler,” perhaps my troubles were rather minimal?

meet the hitler

Released in 2014, Meet the Hitlers is (as you might have guessed) a documentary about people whose first or last name is Hitler. The large majority though have no relation to the infamous dictator.

The diversity is immense, ranging from the American teenager, Emily Hittler (with two t’s); the white supremacist family who named their son Adolf Hitler Campbell; to the hard working Ecuadorian construction worker, Hitler Gutierrez.

All of them cursed to have the same name as the most hated man of the 20th century; the documentary shows us the trials and tribulations they must suffer as they try to lead as normal lives as possible.


Brought to life by director Matthew Ogens (Confessions of a Superhero), Meet the Hitlers dives straight into exploring how much a person’s life can be influenced or impacted by the merest of connections to a person long departed.

For some, such as 16 year old Emily, it’s nothing more than an afterthought. “It’s sooo Hittler!” a friend exclaims as they try on dresses. Such goodnatured mocking admirably shows us just how strong Emily is, refusing to let her existence be defined by a man she has never known.

But on the other hand, you have people at the far edges of the spectrum, like Hitler Gutierrez or Heath Campbell. In the case of Gutierrez, he’s an Ecuadorian who moved to America for work, and has struggled with his name in the new world. While his troubles are to be somewhat expected, it’s still quite the surprise to hear that Gutierrez was named by his father purely under the desire to give him a name that was unique!

And at the other end of the spectrum, you have the man who embraces the infamous moniker. Heath Campbell, a straight up white supremacist (who changed his name to Heath Hitler in May 2017), names his son Adolf Hitler (and a daughter JoyceLynn Aryan Nation.) While an immensely unlikable character, he does raise the interesting question as to whether or not freedom of expression trumps society’s hatred of a name.

nazi

But in the midst of these stories, there are threads that seem added in for no reason other than an obscure connection to Nazism. For example, the film includes a man who makes professional Hitler memorabilia for fun. A unique profession, yes; but ultimately one that’s not needed in this film. As such, it becomes increasing clear that, as fascinating as this overall topic might be, there just isn’t enough to fill a ninety minute movie.

That said, amongst the many subjects, the standout is undoubtedly Romano Hitler, a German citizen who believes he is the last living relative of Adolf Hitler. Abandoned in an orphanage when he was young, Romano has no idea where he came from or why he was abandoned. Add to that the fact that he never married or had children, Romano emerges as one of the more lonely subjects of the documentary. With no other relatives, Romano clings almost desperately to the only man he has a connection to, even if said man happens to be the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century.


Apart from the surprise of just how many people are named after the long dead leader of the Nazis, Meet the Hitlers doesn’t exactly reveal some deeply secret lifestyle that the world might be unaware of. Of course, someone with the name Hitler gets treated in a lesser fashion that the average person might want.

While this treatment is obviously unfair, it does reveal the strength of some of these individuals. If anything, it is quite the inspiration to see so many people refuse to kowtow to the closed-mindedness of those around them.

Overall Score:

three-stars

Photo Credits: Vice, Trailer Addict, The Reel

Review: The Short Game (2013) – A Look at The Little People of Golf

How much had you achieved by the time you were seven years old?

Maybe you successfully learned some of the easier times-tables? Or managed to ride your bike without training wheels? Or maybe you once scored a goal from the half-way line and invoked the admiration of the playground?

Well, some of the golf-loving kids in this film have won over 100 competitions and are ranked as some of the best child golf players in the world.

Feel inadequate yet?

shortgame

Starting about six months before the beginning of the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, The Short Game follows eight 7 year old kids from five countries around the world.

Their goal? To take their years of training and reach the culmination of their (lifelong?) journey to become crowned the best golfer in the world.

Rivaling only cricket as one of the world’s most boring sports, golf is not an activity that I would ever find myself playing or watching. And yet, director Josh Greenbaum (in his debut feature film) finds a new angle by showing us this world through the eyes of our children.

Interestingly, the film is far more diverse than you might expect as, of its eight colourful characters, it chooses to only follow one American male: Allan Kournikova, the half-brother of tennis champion Anna Kournikova.

Elsewhere from America we meet: Alexa Pano, from the sunny state of Florida; Sky Sudberry, the fluffy-rabbit owning girl from Texas; and Amari Avery, the Tiger Woods loving player that has earned the nickname “Tigeress.”

And from around the world we get to see the struggles of Yang Kuang (China), Zamokuhle Nxasana (South Africa), Jed Dy (Phillipines) and Augustin Valery (France).

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Refreshingly, the film isn’t actually about pushy parents trying to force their children into the limelight. Instead most of the drive seems to arise from the children’s pure passion for the sport. What exactly they see in it, I have no idea. But the zeal they all possess is admirable.

If anything, there are moments where it completely escapes your mind that it is in fact children performing with such prodigious skills. But as soon as one of them giggles at a fart joke or cuddles up to a teddy bear, you’re reminded of their charming innocence.

While the documentary is fairly light in tone, there are moments where you wish it could have further explored the social and economic challenges these children’s families have to face. If anything, The Short Game is not necessarily a portrayal of how hard work can get you to the top; but also how lifestyle, wealth and privilege can drastically affect your chances. Because of this, the film does occasionally leave a bad taste in the mouth as we watch the golfers from poorer countries try to compete with rivals far more financially solvent than they are.

Even if you were to ignore such financial disparities, it’s also a disappointment the film chooses not to do a deep dive into the darker aspects that would surround such a stressful undertaking. While it does pay a minuscule amount of attention; such as when we hear a father state this tournament is his daughter’s only chance for college; or when a parent mentions the use of a sports psychologist; it’s still far too little for what should be an otherwise fascinating topic.


The Short Game is undoubtedly a lovely feel-good documentary concerning the trials and tribulations that some kids must undertake to be the best in the world.

While it’s not unreasonable for a documentary to take a side; it’s still regretful that the film’s 100 minutes barely scratches the surface of the child golfing industry by focusing exclusively on the warm-hearted moments. A stronger focus on the more strenuous aspects of these child endeavors would have easily elevated this film into award-winning territory.

Overall Score:

four-stars

The Short View – Vol.2 (March 2017)

Annnnnd I’m back!

It’s been a light month for me on the film watching side as we’ve just started a new show at the theatre I work at. (Click here in case you’re interested!); but as I mentioned last month, even a light month still has me watching too many films to review individually!

What follows is just a quick coverage of all the films I saw in March. Hopefully some of them might interest you!


Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)crouching-tiger-hidden-dragon-sword-of-destiny-2

A Netflix funded sequel to the seminal original, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Released all the way back in the dark ages of 2000!) While it’s great to see a continuation of the Crouching Tiger legend, as well as seeing the return of Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien; it’s hard not to see this belated sequel as “to little, to late.”

With uninspiring fight scenes, unfulfilling storylines and the baffling decision to cast several blatantly American actors, Sword of Destiny ends up feeling like a cash grab trying to gain favour off the reputation of it’s much more accomplished older brother.

Overall Score:


Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

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While nearly a decade old, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is almost prescient in its modern day relevance to American politics. The role of Lex Luthor (voiced by the always reliable Clancy Brown) exudes shades of Donald Trump. Even the lies parroted by him in the attempt to discredit Superman and Batman sound exactly like the daily tweets we get from the President’s morning twitter vomiting.

But even ignoring the real life political parallels, this animated extravaganza is still an excellent portrayal of the relationship between two of the world’s longest lived superheroes. With Tim Daley and Kevin Conroy both returning to voice their career defining roles, Public Enemies is an excellent entry into the DC animated universe.

Overall Score:


Lion (2016)

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It’s hard not to see Lion as a two part story. One of which follows the story of 5 year old Saroo Brierley (Sunny Pawar), getting lost in the wastelands of Northern Indian and going on a dangerous journey to try and make it back home to his mother. Taking up the film’s first hour, this part is easily the most engaging and moving of the piece.

But in the 2nd hour we skip forward 20 years in order to explore Saroo’s journey to reunite with his lost family. As we already know the ending, the journey slowly drags to its expected, yet still heartbreaking conclusion.

While a strong film, it’s hard not to feel that maybe inter-cutting between the two stories regularly, or maybe involving the story of Saroo’s mother’s 20-year journey to find her son might have elevated this film from great to astounding.

Overall Score:

four-stars


The Founder (2017)

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With such a complex and varied life, telling the story of Ray Kroc and the birth of McDonalds in two hours was always going to be a challenge. But with Michael Keaton in the lead, it almost seems like a breeze as the accomplished actor takes us on an incredible journey.

The strong supporting turns from John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman also add to the high quality drama. If anything, I can’t quite believe that McDonald’s allowed this film to be made as the portrayal of Kroc, while effective, is immensely negative.

But what I must applaud most about this film is that it makes it possible to recognise Kroc’s shrewdness in the world of business; while at the same time admitting that such   acumen can sometimes be down to the brutal nature of humanity.

Overall Score:

four-stars


Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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A real conversation with my dad

Me: They released a new King Kong movie today. He’s a lot bigger than that Peter Jackson movie. Like 100 feet.

Dad: Why so big?

Me: Cause they need him to fight Godzilla in 2020.

Yeah, this film is a bit of a cash grab. Merely existing to try and set up a MonsterVerse with a variety of classic monsters.

But, like with the rebooted Robocop, there’s enough there to make it an enjoyable watch. Set in 1973, the most obvious comparison is to Apocalypse Now. But unlike that seminal film, Skull Island‘s character development is almost next to nothing, with John C Reilly’s lost pilot being the only one you want to root for.

Fortunately, the human characters can be overlooked since the titular Kong manages to invoke a variety of emotions in it’s numerous sun-drenched action scenes. It is him, and him alone, that makes this film end up being a solidly entertaining entry in the ape franchise.

Overall Score:

three-stars


Elle (2017)elle-banner

Similar in style and tone to a murder mystery, the best way to describe this film (and I apologise for the distastefulness) is being a sort of “rape mystery.” This unique (and admittedly) disturbing approach makes for a wildly inventive film that explores aspects of the female experience not really seen in UK or US cinema.

While often shocking and suspenseful, the film never loses its sense of humanity, and for that full credit must be given to the mesmerising Isabelle Huppert. It may be a cliche to say someone was robbed of an Oscar, but in this case there is no other conclusion.

Overall Score:

five-stars


Next Goal Wins (2014)

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Never has the phrase “it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts” been more apt than in this 90 minute documentary about the worst football team on the planet.

Following the lows and even lowers of American Samoa’s national football team, Next Goal Wins is a surprisingly uplifting journey of the incredible (and sometimes not so incredible) feats that can be achieved in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Without a doubt, the ultimate underdog story.

Overall Score:

five-stars


The Love Witch (2016)

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While quite the interesting throwback to similar sexual horror-thriller films of the 60s, The Love Witch nonetheless makes the cardinal sin of just being plain boring. While an impressive visual and technical achievement, Anna Biller’s debut feature is rather plodding in its direction and ends up being at least 30 minutes too long.

Fortunately the two hour marathon is slightly relieved by the presence of Samantha Robinson, the film’s titular Love Witch. With a mixture of the feminine wiles of Bewitched and the old Russ Meyer films, Robinson manages to give an attention grabbing portrayal of a woman desperate for love and willing to do anything to get it.

Overall Score:

2stars


Get Out (2017)

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Not being a fan of horror films, my desire to see Get Out was about as high as the average woman’s desire to end up alone in a room with Donald Trump.

But happily the three week gap between US and UK releases meant I was exposed to the incredibly good press this astounding film would receive.

Jordan Peele’s brilliantly subversive horror/thriller can easily hold its own up against other titans in the genre such as The Blair Witch Project or The Purge.

Alongside his stunning direction, Peele brings together a strong cast from both old and new Hollywood (with a special shout-out to Allison Williams!)

If you only see one film on this list, then make it this brilliantly satirical piece of cinema.

Overall Score:

five-stars


Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Yet another of Disney’s live-action remakes, but unlike The Jungle Book or Cinderella, this newest extravaganza has very little to elevate it above the average Hollywood musical.

While the production values are as sumptuous as you’d expect from a $160 million film, the chemistry of the leads is as lackluster as their singing voices. Luckily the film is saved by magnificent turns from Luke Evans and Josh Gad, both of them bringing a sense of fun, joy and hilarity to what would otherwise be a run of the mill movie.

Overall Score:

three-stars


Headshot (2016)

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With the return of Iko Uwais (star of The Raid 1 & 2), Headshot was hopefully going to be another great entry in Indonesian action cinema. Alas, while the action is brutally violent, the story and direction leave much to be desired.

A simple retread of the first Bourne film, Headshot doesn’t quite have the same panache as it’s 2002 western brother. With a paper thin plot, generic supporting characters, and excruciating length, your time would be better spent re-watching the Garath Evans masterpieces.

Overall Score:

2stars


The Salesman (2016)

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I have to be honest, there’s a tiny bit of me that’s glad that Asghar Farhadi was refused entry to the United States, only because I would never have heard of this astounding achievement of a film.

A fascinating commentary on gender and cultural roles in contemporary Iranian society, Farhadi brings the most out of his two leads as they go on a journey that will not only test the bonds of their marriage, but also challenges the norms and expectations of human emotion.

Overall Score:

five-stars


Let me know in the comments if you saw any of them!

Photo Credits: The Creators Commune, Movie Abyss, Palace Cinemas, Teaser Trailer, Superherohype, HonestPuyda, Human After All, WhySoBlu, BothyPerth, CoffeeCoffeeAndMoreCoffee, Highlight Hollywood

A Disney Animating Legend – My Review Of Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016)

If you were to ask a group of people what the heart of Disney is, what do you think their answer would be?

Would it be its lovable characters? Mickey Mouse and his gang?

Or would it be the numerous movies and TV shows that make up the Disney archive?

Or maybe they would choose Walt Disney himself? The man and the legend who created the second largest media company in the world?

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Personally, I would choose its animators. The huge number of men and women that, with a stroke of pen, can create worlds and characters for us to fall in love with. Though they may be relegated to a scroll of names on the movie screen, they nevertheless have influenced our lives in more ways than we can count. And Floyd Norman is one of those names.

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Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (FNAAL) follows Floyd Norman, a talented animator and artist, who also happens to be among some of the first black artists to work for Disney’s animation department.

Over the course of approximately a year of filming, we explore the 50 or so years that Norman has spent in the industry. The highs and lows of both his professional and personal life are open as Norman takes us on his incredible journey.

We’re introduced to Norman on the cusp of his 79th birthday as various talking heads tell of their interactions and experiences with the legendary animator; and how his work and positive attitude influences them on a daily basis.

Flashing back and forth, we then explore Norman’s various contributions to seismic works of animation, such as 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, 1967’s The Jungle Book,  an abundance of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, as well as more modern day fare such as Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc.

This exploration is accompanied by some beautiful and whimsical animation that act as sort of vignettes for Norman’s life, and end up being some of the most entertaining pieces of the documentary.

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Interestingly, while several of the documentary’s participants draw attention to the colour of Norman’s skin and the trailblazing path he forged for other people of colour; Norman himself seems rather nonplussed by such attitudes, instead seeing himself as an artist before an African-American.

Disregarding race or gender, Norman’s mind seems far more forced on age, as his forced dismissal from Disney at the age of 65 is clearly still a sore point, even after all these years.

To be fair, I do wonder how much influence Norman (and his animating partner, Leo Sullivan) had on encouraging black people to enter the world of animation, especially since the film itself doesn’t seem to feature any modern day black animators.

Also, the film sometimes decides to only make minor touches upon some major points of his personal life, such as the divorce from his first wife or his military service during the Korean War. Because of this, at some points it feels that the filmmakers were only trying to portray Floyd Norman: The Legend!, rather than Floyd Norman: The Man.


While this documentary isn’t one of those hard hitting “issues” stories which go on to win Oscars, FNAAL is nonetheless an engaging movie of the trials and tribulations one man went through on his journey to do what he loved.

Overall Score:

four-stars

Photo Credits: Collater.al, Screenshots from FNAAL, Vimeo