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!

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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

Is There Really A Problem With The Simpsons’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon?

I think like a great many of the world’s population, I just gradually stopped watching The Simpsons. Not because it did something offensive or wrong, but much like the old school friend you used to see everyday, you just gradually drift apart. Long gone are the times when an episode starring America’s yellowest family could draw in around thirty million viewers. These days a viewership of five million is generally considered a success.

TV-Simpsons-Renewed

Now The Simpsons has had its share of controversies during its tenure. At one point it even reached the White House, with then President George H. W. Bush stating in a 1992 speech: “We’re going to keep trying to strengthen the American family. To make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.”

Now he wasn’t the first, nor last person to have felt offended by The Simpsons. But considering it’s been running for nearly 30 years, I was fairly confident that the days someone would put The Simpsons and “controversy” in the same sentence were long gone.

Apparently not, as on 19th November, broadcast on American TV will be a one hour documentary titled “The Problem With Apu”. Brought to the screen by standup comedian Hari Kondabolu, his documentary seeks to unpack how the portrayal of Apu has affected the lives of South Asian Americans.

Now to be fair, I haven’t seen the documentary in question. And considering I live in the UK, it will most likely be several months before it’s legally available on this side of the Atlantic. I also can’t speak as to how similar Hari’s and my own life experiences might be; but in terms of our broad backgrounds I sense that there are at least a few shared connections. For example both our parents are first generation South Asian immigrants who left their homes in search of a better life (His were doctors, mine were lawyers). And like him I grew up stuck between the two worlds of east and west.

One aspect that is clear from watching the trailer is that Hari is seemingly uncomfortable with the fact that Hank Azaria, a white man, is the one who has been voicing Apu since his inception.

Hank Azaria ray donovan

Now on this point I am completely on the opposing side of Hari. While I appreciate the need for diversity in a visual sense for the screen and stage; I’m far less supporting of that attitude when it comes to voice-acting. Do we really need our voice actors to reflect the exact same racial makeup of the characters they voice?

Hari clearly believes they do (at least he does in relation to Apu), but I myself find people voicing characters they are not one of the most attractive parts of acting. Maybe that’s because of my theatre background where, in order to save costs, most actors play multiple parts. But even if we were to just look at animation, why can’t people like America Ferrera voice a blonde white girl, as she does in the How to Train Your Dragon series? Or Linda Larkin voicing Jasmine, an Arab princess? Or does diversity only work in one direction?

I suppose that fundamentally is the problem when it comes to issues of diversity. Where do you draw the line? For example (and if you’ll bear with the tangent), I was pleased that Warner Brothers stuck to the Asian part when casting for the main leads in the upcoming adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians. And yet for some that wasn’t enough. Specifically actress Jamie Chung, who on finding out that Henry Golding, the male lead, was mixed-race, stated such casting was “bullshit”.

henry-golding
Apparently not Asian enough

Though she later clarified her statement, stating she meant no offense, it’s still a blatant example of how people within the same group can’t even agree what “good” diversity is. As the old adage goes, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

But to return to “The Problem With Apu,” according to several TV spots Hari also takes the time to interview other famed members of the American South-Asian community, including Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Hasan Minhaj, Russell Peters, Sakina Jaffrey, and former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy.

One shared problem that is made loud and clear in these short interview clips is that the portrayal of Apu had caused some of them to be bullied and taunted by their childhood (and later adult) peers. Sad as that it, should a TV show really be blamed for the behaviour of the ignorant? Isn’t it the responsibility of the majority to seek out more information? Or at the very least the responsibility of the minority to make themselves heard?

Apu, in my opinion, was just a way to focus the insults. Would these people have suddenly stopped making jokes at the expense of Hari and his colleagues if Apu didn’t exist? Of course not. They would have just been bullied with a stereotype unrelated to The Simpsons.

The pains of the past can’t be erased. But that doesn’t mean South Asian people as a whole need to be treated with kid gloves. Especially since The Simpsons has a long tradition of stereotyping literally every single cast, creed and ethnic group on the planet.

That’s the thing about stereotypes. You can’t simply erase it by hiding it. Rather you erase it by adding more and more roles so that the original stereotype becomes insignificant. For example we’ve had hundreds (maybe thousands) of different Scottish characters on screen. Because of that Groundskeeper Willie is seen as just one example of what a Scottish person can be.

I suppose Hari’s biggest argument here could be that roles for South Asians just aren’t there. And he would be right. Which is why works such as The Mindy Project or Master of None are increasingly critical to the perception of South Asians by wider American society.

And it’s working, as according to a review of Hari’s documentary by The New Yorker

(Kal) Penn tells a story about a time when a young, drunk South Asian man at a bar complained to him that people often called him Kumar, the character Penn played in the the “Harold and Kumar” series of stoner movies. Penn relates the conversation with a measure of pride. It’s better than being called Apu, the two men eventually agreed.

It’s a small change, but the change is there. You didn’t need to get rid of Apu. You just needed to show someone different.

In Hari’s defense, I am coming at this predominately from a London-raised British point of view. Our racial differences and the impact of our pop culture is vastly different to those in the United States. If anything The Problem With Apu may only be truly relevant to the American South Asian diaspora.

Regardless though, I am really looking forward to seeing his documentary.

So what’s your opinion of Apu? Racist caricature? Harmless stereotype? Let me know in the comments.


Photo Sources: The Wrap, And So It BeginsDaily Mail, Womans Health,

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

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

Time To Go Down The Rabbit Hole – A Review of The Red Pill (2017)

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



I have a confession to make.

When I came across The Red Pill‘s funding page on Kickstarter, I thought I was contributing $50 to what was a fascinating idea that was guaranteed to end up in a car crash. I mean, a woman trying to connect with Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs)? Surely that’s like a black guy getting involved with the KKK? Or a gay person trying to chum up to the Westboro Baptist Church?

Fortunately though, Cassie Jaye (director of Daddy I Do and The Right to Love: An American Family) managed to explore the subject of MRAs in relative peace and ended up coming out with a fascinating story to tell.

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Camera in hand, Cassie Jaye goes on a journey to document the world of the American Men’s Rights movement. Talking to a variety of figures on both sides of the arguement, it seems the situation is far more complex than the simple “MRAs = Bad, Feminism = Good.” Over the course of filming, Jaye learns of the various ways men are disadvantaged and discriminated against; and is forced to confront and question her own views on the subject.

 

My only real experience of MRAs comes mainly from watching news coverage of the now defunct Fathers 4 Justice back in the early 2000s. I was only a teenager at the time, but their antics were definitely memorable. However, like most organisations run by anger and malevolence, they ended up disbanding after a few imbeciles planned to kidnap the youngest son of then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

And so for many years I’ve seen MRAs as the gendered equivalent of organisations such as the BNP or the National Front.

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© Jaye Bird Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Deriving its title from a term commonly used by MRAs (who in turn have borrowed said term from a scene in The Matrix); The Red Pill allows its interview subjects on both sides to speak freely without interruption. Through their words we hear various tales relating to the high rates of male suicide, the lack of services for male victims of domestic violence, and other issues relating to men’s hardship and discrimination

In fact one of the most powerful points that Jaye uses to illustrate men’s disposability compared to women is the revelation (at least to me) that the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, have spent years murdering thousands of boys and men, but the world didn’t care until they decided to kidnap and enslave 300 girls in 2014.

But its the half way point of the film where the introduction of “Honey Badgers” that makes the problems that men face more apparent. It had never occurred to me that women might be involved in the Men’s Rights movement, but the Honey Badgers are exactly that. A group of women that choose not to align with feminism, instead feeling that true equality lies in helping men.

Whether or not you believe MRAs need to exist, The Red Pill makes a brave stand in pointing out that our emphasis on helping women has led to us to ignoring, or at least downplaying, the plights that some men must face in a world that automatically assumes they are the stronger sex.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its flaws. I would have liked the film to at least acknowledge the more toxic aspects of the men’s rights movement, as it does with the aggressive elements of the feminist movement. Even a cursory search of the documentary’s main interviewee, Paul Elam, leads to several rather distasteful and misogynist comments and articles. Why Jaye chose not to challenge Elam on this is indeed a little puzzling.

Even with the admitted negative experiences that some men have to endure, there isn’t really a lot of evidence in the film that could suggest this is directly the fault of women or feminism. Unlike the infamous Donald Trump photo, its not as if women are sitting around a table and taking away the rights and lives of millions of men at a stroke of a pen.

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In the end, this is one of the most complex subjects challenging our society today, and I give full props to Jaye for tackling said subject in the face of what I am sure is going to be months and years of verbal tirades and abuse.

While the film doesn’t in anyway convince me that women have it better than men (and to be fair the film does not claim as such); I do now see MRAs in a slightly different light.

Of any group, whether it be Feminism, Islam, politicians or immigrants, 90% of members are the people we see everyday. The people that work hard for positive change, sometimes in the face of overwhelming odds. But there’s always that last 10%. That small group of people with the loudest, and often most offensive and disruptive voices. The group of people that almost always become the definition of the cause.

Perhaps it might be time to apply the 90/10 rule to the MRAs?

Overall Score:

four-stars

The Red Pill will be released on various VOD platforms on 7th March.