Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2018)

Today I saw all five of the nominated films in the Live Action Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order the films were shown.


Based on true events, this film tells the story of a school shooting in Atlanta that was halted due to the kindness of the bookkeeper. When the intruder enters, he's agitated and angry, planning to kill and okay with being killed as a result. Once the woman at the front desk develops a rapport with him, he begins to calm down and show remorse for the terrifying situation he's caused for the whole community. The acting is phenomenal and the lesson is clear: Always start with compassion.


Libby is a difficult child for her parents to handle—she's deaf and mostly unresponsive to her hearing family. They hire Joanne, who teaches Libby to communicate through sign language and her life is transformed. The issue is the mother who is reluctant to keep up with it because she wants her to integrate into regular school and get by on lip reading. Inspired by true events, the title cards at the end give evidence of many children who needlessly suffer loneliness because of this disability. Very moving and infuriating.


This film, again capturing an event that actually happened in Mississippi in 1955, tells of the vicious racism that impacted a peaceful black family who were simply living their lives. When Emmett comes to live with them from Chicago, he's unfamiliar with the dangers of being black in that part of the country, and he pays the price. Incredibly disturbing, but unfortunately something our country still needs to see.


The only comedy in the bunch, this film provides welcome relief in the form of a silly narrative about two men who claim to be the doctor in one shrink's office. The puzzle is figuring out who is the true patient. Although I solved the mystery relatively early into it, the dialog was still enjoyable and the actors charming, trying to ping-pong us into thinking one thing and then changing the next.


The final film in the presentation told the horrific and beautiful (true) story of a bus attack along the Kenya/Somalia border. The Muslim attackers, desiring to take Christian lives for their treatment of Islam had a tough time distinguishing the Christians from the Muslims because the Muslims gave them their clothing to masquerade as one of their own. They protected their supposed enemy in the face of a group interpreting their religion in a twisted, irrational way. As a result, many lives were saved that would otherwise have been lost. I'll be thinking about this one for days.


Fifty Shades Freed

On Sunday I saw Fifty Shades Freed, starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

In this third (excruciating) installment of the most popular worst trilogy ever made, Anastasia (Johnson) is married to Christian (Dornan) and has to navigate their new life, which includes taking an extravagant honeymoon to France; preparing a new mansion/love nest; 'working' as a book editor and fending off the attacks of her disgruntled former boss (who harbors a secret that involves her husband).

Before you question why I even sat through this, let me provide you two reasons:

1) The films are set in Seattle, near where I live and work, so I enjoy seeing "home" on the screen.
2) My friend's birthday is this week and she planned a girls' night around the film to celebrate.

See—I had no choice. But no, this wasn't good.

Was it fun to hoot and holler at during the saucy scenes? Sure. Was it great to see beautiful scenes of France and Washington? Absolutely.

But dear God, that dialog couldn't be worse. Honestly, Ms. Johnson and Mr. Dornan should get some kind of award just for keeping a straight face during what are supposed to be "dramatic" scenes. They are amazing.

And for pure visual pleasure, I still think we should have had more of Christian than Anastasia, but that's not how it played out.

At least in a few moments Anastasia truly exerted her girl power and took control of her situations.

Small consolation for such a dud.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Documentary Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2018)

Today I saw all five of the nominated films in the Documentary Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order the films were shown.


Director Kate Davis gives us a first-hand look at a subject that's all-too-familiar across our country: white police misusing their power on black citizens. In this case, the city is Austin, Texas (often known for its liberal, accepting nature) and the victim is Breaion King, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, who is caught speeding and pulls into a Wendy's parking lot. There, the white cops treat her like a violent criminal (though all she's does is question why she's being arrested) and toss her around like a rag doll (a gifted dancer, she's only 112 lbs.)—she sustains physical injuries that were completely avoidable and emotional damage from which she may never recover. Should be required viewing for all cadets entering the force—in any town.


In the lush greenery of a quiet neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia lives Eddie, a 95-year-old white man and Edith, his 96-year-old black wife. They share a happy existence, attending church with their community and enjoying the picturesque water near their home. Their happiness is disrupted when Edith's daughter Patricia, anxious to sell her house, challenges her sister Rebecca for custodial rights to their mother. Since they can't come to an agreement, a stranger is appointed legal guardian and threatens to separate the beautiful life Eddie & Edith built. I could barely make it through this one; as the laws meant to protect elders in this case are doing just the opposite. Frustrating and painful to watch, but incredibly well done.


Mindy Alper is an accomplished artist with works exhibited in one of the top Los Angeles galleries, but she has struggled all her life with severe mental health issues. These problems have pulled her to and from her family, and her art over the course of her 56 years. This film allows Mindy—and those closest to her—to share her story unfiltered and shows how powerful validation can be on one's journey toward contentment.


Many may write off Huntington, West Virginia as a lost cause for a town considering its overdose rates are 10 times that of the national average—but there are three women in the community who refuse to give up on these citizens and this film tells their story. Necia runs the Brown Bag Ministry, handing out meals and finding shelter for addicted working girls on the street; Jan is the fire chief who personally saves countless lives when addicts overdose; Patricia is the drug court judge who holds sobriety graduation ceremonies for her criminals who go clean. The love is there and because of that love there is hope.


A lot rests on the opening of Edwins restaurant in Cleveland. It's not just another place in the city to eat; it's a life-changing factory for recently released inmates who are working toward a better life. The founder himself is a former convict and he recognizes what's at stake by trusting these new recruits. He also knows that he'll never find more loyal or dedicated staff members because everyone on his team has something to prove. As expected, they all don't make it to the finish line, but for the ones who do the results are inspiring. Most of all, we're reminded that when it comes to reforming criminals, there's a better way to do it than the usual: Just give them a sense of purpose.


Sunday, February 04, 2018


This morning I saw Winchester, starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke.

Sarah Winchester (Mirren) is a grieving widow who uprooted her east coast life to (literally) rebuild in San Jose, California. She is continually (as in, 24-hrs. a day, 7 days a week) constructing more rooms for her mansion to satisfy the spirits of those killed with the firearms her husband's company manufactured. The year is 1906 and the company (which she partially inherited following her husband's death) would like to get rid of her. Dr. Price (Clarke) is sent to stay with her and prove she's mentally unfit.

Clarke is a favorite of mine from his Brotherhood days, and it goes without saying that Mirren is always perfection. But this film was a huge disappointment despite their best efforts to save a weak script.

Aside from the possessed grand-nephew and some "gotcha" ghoulish appearances, this doesn't feel much like a horror film, or even a thriller. Furthermore, the actual property (which, full disclosure: I have visited) is incredibly captivating, but most of what we see of it here are dark hallways, nails spitting out of walls and slammed doors. I was also let down by the San Francisco earthquake scene, expecting far more supernatural elements at play.

Though many of the facts are correct in the film (the house was severely damaged in the quake of 1906; Sarah did continually build; niece Marion really existed) the fictional story they created to harness the essence of the Winchester history falls flat.

As I sat and watched, I imagined how I would have re-written it (perhaps cold open with a seance; maybe bring to life the wheelbarrow man ghost that supposedly haunts the house present-day; show a present-day tour and flashback). So many possibilities—and the fact I had time to concoct them as I sat there means my boredom was high.

You'd be better off watching a documentary about the property. Those actually have the power to spook you.