Monday, April 27, 2015

HotDocs 2015 Film Review - The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats It's Young

The Barkley Marathon may be the most difficult cross-country race in the world.  The race consists of five 20-mile loops. The first is run clockwise, the second counter clockwise around the course. Loops three and four repeat the format of the first two. If there are runners to start the fifth loop the first runner chooses a direction then each runner follows in the alternate direction.  The course winding through Frozen Head State Park is not well marked so there are books tied out in the woods and each runner must pull out the page corresponding to their bib and bring the pages back to the starting yellow gate to signal completion of the loop.  The runners have 60 hours to complete the race and the start time can be anywhere in a 12 hour window.

The race creators Gary Lazarus Cantrell and his partner know as Raw Dog got the idea for the race from the failed escape of James Earl Ray from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in 1977. Ray managed to get 8 miles from the prison before capture.  Cantrell figured that if Ray could do 8 miles he could run 100 miles in the woods leading to the first Barkley Marathon in 1986. The race comes by its reputation honestly. In the first 25 years only 10 runners had finished the race. The elevation and decent during the race is the equivalent to summiting and descending Mont Everest twice. The Tennessee woods is full of jagged rock rockface, thorny bushes and changing weather that offer unique challengers to the runners.

Directors Timothy James Kane and Annika Iltis spend the first portion of the film introducing the audience to some of the potential contenders for the 2012 race, characters that run the race on a regular basis and pretenders that have no shot at winning.  The race coordinators show their evil side by giving one of the 40 spots to an applicant that has no business being in the race dubbed the Human Sacrifice. They also instituted playing taps for each contestant as they drop out of the race.  Two of the prominent entrants are Brett Maune who is one of the few that finished the race before and Jared Campbell who has the potential to finish and makes a smart decision to follow Brett's lead.

However Cantrel is the heart and soul behind the race. As the action progress he gives his comments about the contenders, talks about the tough spots on the course such as Checkmate Hill, the Pillars of Doom, Testicle Spectacle, Rat Jaw and chats about the contenders pace encouraging racers with potential to keep going. He's the one that determines the entry fee based on what he needs. The $1.60 deposit is standard as is the licence plate from the home state of each first time participant plus the letter of condolence each runner receives when their application is accepted. For a while Cantrell needed white shirts so that was the entry fee, then it switched to socks and is currently a flannel shirt.

The film is shot from specific locations on the course that give a wide view of the runners. One of the runners also donated their head cam footage that gives an in the action feel of the race. The retirements begin right away on the first lap. Soon the numbers are down to 10 then 7 then to 5 by the completion of the third loop affectionately called the fun run.  The compelling part of the race is the comradely built amongst the runners as the race goes along. When the numbers dwindle to a final few The experienced runners that have dropped out and are still on hand offer their guidance on feet heath, calorie intake and what's the best strategy to continue on in the race.  It's as if they are all in it together in an attempt to get someone to the end.

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats its Young is a production driven by the unique characters that organize attend and participate in the race. It's a rarity in the documentary field that the audience is actually entertained and has several moments where they can laugh. It has a secret entry process and the fewest finishers of any ultra marathon or endurance race in the world. The directors present the essence of the event in a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

The Barkley Marathon; The Race that Eats it's Young | Annika Iltis/ Timothy James Kane | U.S.A. | 2015 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Endurance Race, Ultra Marathon , Cross Country , Base Camp, Brushy Mountain Prison, Tennessee, James Earl Ray.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

HotDocs 2015 Film Review - Thought Crimes

Protection under The First Amendment of the United States Constitution was on trial during the Gilberto Valle Cannibal Cop case. Gilberto's wife Kathleen discovered that her husband and father of her baby daughter had been visiting violent fetish sites and engaging in fantasy conversations with other site members about kidnapping, torturing, confining, raping and eating women.  The conversations were very detailed with each step planed out, locations to do the acts presented, and compiling the list of items that would be required to execute the plan. What really alarmed Kathleen  was that photos and names of people that she knew were uploaded from her husbands account and even her name was mentioned. The post listed the parts of her body that had a good source of meat and how she did not know what he would do to her as she slept in the other room.

Kathleen took her findings to the authorities and based on direct repeated conversations with other site members, using actual peoples names and a trip to Maryland for brunch with one of the potential victims. The prosecutors had their overt act to bring the case forward. They gained access to Gilberto's computer went though his chat history and his Google search history to find search topics:  how to kidnap, how to make chloroform, what does human flesh taste like. The two charges the prosecution decided to pursue were conspiracy to kidnap and unlawful use of the police database.

Director Erin Lee Carr uses a mixture of first person interviews, media accounts and home movies to tell the story. She interviews Valle extensively along with several psychologist, and legal minds to obtain their thoughts on the case. She also speaks to Valle's mother and father about their son. The psychologist opinions conflict as the issue rest with where does a thought cross from fantasy to reality. Carr presents an interesting comparison to writers such as Stephen King.  King has written many horrific stories but is not under investigation.  If Valle is just a good story teller how can be charged with a crime as Valle states himself he could not hurt a fly.  The opposite view points to the real people's details he posted on the site, plus his use of the police database to search for details on potential targets then the overt act of the trip to Maryland to meet with a potential target for lunch then upon return home immediately going online to discuss the trip and how the target looked.

The film falls down due to its style choices. The piece has a very television investigate report look and Carr pays up the tabloid angle too much.  Showing the sensational headlines from the New York tabloids and local news reports with the headline cannibal cop much too often. The production uses tabloid covers with Valle in a chef's hat or hovering over a late pot on a stove with a giant ladle. The piece also uses distasteful transitions from discussions and pictures illustrating cannibalism in the courtroom to Valle cooking at his mothers place during his period of house arrest.

Thought Crimes gathers a diverse group of psychological and legal minds to discuss an important first amendment issue case that could have long lasting future implications. The professionals have a thought provoking discussion for each side. Director Carr had a lot of material to work with from many sources but could have made better decisions with the delivery of the material. If you have an interest in the case or the first amendment debate its worth a look despite it's shortcomings.

** Out of Four

Thought Crimes | Erin Lee Carr | U.S.A. | 2015 | 81 Minutes.

Tags; First Amendment, New York City Police, Fetish Site, Canabilism, Google Searches, House Arrest.

Hot Docs 2015 Film Review - Daughter of the Lake

An elderly Andean woman lives and works on her family farmland watched by the mining company security forces. The mining company wants her off her land, as there are deposits of gold lying beneath. Her friend Nelida comes to visit often asking about the status of the local water and food source the Blue Lake and her efforts to keep the mining security forces at bay. Neilda is going to law school in the city in an attempt to have formal training to battle the corporations. Her actions have a negative impact on her family as her dad is let go from his manual labour job at the mine. When Nelida asked her dad about the dismissal he openly states that it was due to her activist activities.

Director Ernesto Cabellos shines a light on the plight of rural Peruvians as they struggle against the might of corporations that are strongly supported by the government and who suck the water away from communities to support their operations. The documentary looks at two main communities at different stages of deterioration the Andean rural lands and Totora, Oruro Bolivia where the treasure was tin and the community is left with only one water source amongst a sea of sand, dirt and dust.

The production shines in the visual display of the films major settings. The Andean land is green and lush with the centrepiece Blue Lake. The residents are often forced to wear water boots as water bubbles up from the earth below. But across the way is the mining company with its mass earth excavation winding dirt roads and industrial vehicles moving in and out of the site. The rural land has fish in the lakes, birds in the trees and animals grazing. The third settling is the concrete filled noisy cities first Cajamarca where Nelida is studying law then the capital city of Lima.

One particular intriguing interlude is a short encounter with a group of women who work in a mine in Oruro Bolivia.  Cabellos uses a dolly came to follow the women into the mine with the lights of their helmets being the only source of illumination. The women are there to provide for their families and the sequence gives a real feel of the tight working quarters. The women discuss how they had to fight against the men to gain jobs at the mine as they were told that women in the mine would upset the spirits rendering the mine barren. Their day ends as they push out a mining cart with the days haul. The firefly like helmet lights growing in size and illumination as the women emerge into the daylight leading to the best transition of the piece to a jewellery store in Amsterdam. Here we meet the end product at the store of a jewellery designer who has made a conscious effort to use source materials that are produced as humanly as possible. The production follows her on a trip to the region where she sees gold being produced but even she can see the hard labour of the locals that produced 15 grams of gold in a 24 hour period paired with the massive clearing of the jungle for the mine operations may not be in the best interest of the planet.

Daughter of the Lake is an insightful study of the ongoing struggle between rural and city, corporations and natural environment. The film's opening words are Water = Blood; Earth = Life and Lake=Mother.  The following shot is an explosion of dynamite as another part of the countryside loses out to the business of mining. The rural residence are watchful, prepared and ready to protect the land and its resources. Their dilemma; the short term easily gain presented to governments by mining corporations that take from the land for profit and benefit of their investors.

***  Out of Four.

Daughter of the Lake | Ernesto Cabellos | Peru /Bolivia / Netherlands | 2015 | 87 Minutes.

Tags; Water, Peru, Bolivia, Mining, Gold, Tin, Diamonds, Rural, City, Law, Activist, Andean Amsterdam.

Hot Docs 2015 Film Review - Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Using a mixture of homemade movies, animation, archival footage and current day interviews, Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck tells the story of the performer that almost immediately received the moniker: Voice of a Generation which he did not handle well.  

The first interviews of the documentary are with Kurt’s mother, father and step mother.  The significant event in Kurt’s early years was his parent's divorce when he was 9 years old. The impact turned an active, happy, busy child into a maurading handful that first his mother then father couldn't handle leading to a tour amongst relatives in Aberdeen, Washington that lasted as little as two weeks at a time.

After one particularly rough period in high school the pages of Kurt's journals is the details for his first suicide attempt. Cobain headed out to the train tracks decided to sit on one of the rails. The oncoming train switched rails at the juncture before and whizzed by Cobain in the darkness. The scene is recreated through animation a tool that the production used very will to visualize the events in Cobain's life. 

The next main contributor to the narrative is Kurt's girlfriend from his late teens.  At the time Kurt was running a cleaning business while writing and playing on the side in the clubs around Seattle. He made little money and needed someone to support him. Since he cleaned at odd hours, Cobain spent his days in the apartment writing songs, working on chords, playing different instruments creating the sound that would be the basis of the Nevermind Album.  Animation is used effectively again here as Cobain is seen sitting on the couch with his guitar and in the kitchen on the counter as the lyrics and chords begin to come together. The animated journal entries appear again with a list of Things A Band Needs to Do that included playing live and making a demo tape. The animated journal notes and drawings show Cobain's band influences including Bad Brains plus failed band names that pop up on page then are crossed out including the name Reganites. Then on the next pages are a mixture of complaints about severe stomach pain, rage at instances of being humiliated, the name Geffen records and the lyrics of Smells Like Teen Spirit as the song Lithium blares in the background. Mother Wendy O'Conner recalls Kurt putting his demo into the tape deck for her to hear. After listening to the songs Ms. O'Conner speaks the truest words in the film when she recalls telling Kurt you're not ready for this. 

Director Britt Morgen moves more to archival concert footage, an abundance of MTV tape and home movies to document the rise of Nirvana to the biggest band in the world and voice of disaffected youth within months of the March 1991 release of Nevermind. Now the story is told through interviews with Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl normally with an MTV mike in front of them at various promotional and tour stops around the world. Insight gained from the interviews are that Kurt does not like doing them, Dave Grohl gaining his voice and the first signs of Cobain's heroin nod. 

The last major contributor to the documentary to appear is Courtney Love. She is introduced through   home video at a band tour stop. Kurt is on stage asking fans to be nice to her then its on to his 6 month sabbatical at the peak of the band to retire to an apartment in New York with Courtney video taping their activities and feeding their habits. This is the raw and painful part of the piece that ends with the birth of Francis Bean followed by a return to recording. 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck uses unique and creative ways to give a voice to the subject of a documentary that is no longer with us. Director Britt Morgan uses animated scenes in addition to animating the pages of Cobain' journals to tell the musicians story.  The film hits the main stages of Cobain's life: exuberant youngster, troubled teen, music icon, heroin addict.  The documentary is a well crafted project that will appeal to the Nirvana fans, biography enthusiast and surveyors tortured souls alike. It is a film that I can strongly recommend. 

*** 1/2 Out of 4. 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck | Britt Morgan | U.S.A. | 2015 | 132 Minutes. 

Aberdeen, Seattle , Washington State, Grunge, Divorce, Suicide, Disaffected Youth, Voice of a Generation, Musician, Heroin, MTV.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

HotDocs 2015 Film Review - Drone

Starting with a shot of Ground zero in New York followed by a tough taking speech from U.S President Obama Drone takes a detailed look at the growing use of Drone technology to fight wars. The film focuses on the personnel that man them and the people in the targeting zone who's new normal is having these weapons overhead everyday.

Waziristan, Pakistan is the favourite hunting ground for the U.S. Drone program.  The U.S. position is that terrorist seek easy refuge in the territory therefore to protect America they must go there into the to eliminate high value targets. Rules of engagement are any military aged male especially if they are carrying a firearm. The Americans also profess that if the target is amongst his family or at a family event or wedding they still can give the green light to launch the drones payload. The planes are so prevalent in the Waziristan sky that children beg for cloudy days so they can play outside without their tell tale buzzing sound overhead.

Writer Director Tonje Hessen Schei features two former drone pilots who give their first hand accounts of the job. The pilots are members of the U.S. Air force but get their orders from the C.I.A. making it murky to determine who is really in control of the program.  The pilots sit in an unassuming room in Nevada looking at video screens showing their targeting area. They have a joystick to toggle the drone's camera equipped with the familiar targeting. The unit discusses the target on screen if good a decision is made to fire that's verified by the ranking officer then the hellfire missile is fired obliterating the target on the ground. Former pilot Brandon Bryant gives detailed accounts of strikes, the jubilant response from his colleagues that counter his own feelings that he had just ended a human life that may or not have been a real threat to his country.

Three voices fighting for the end of the strikes in Waziristan are human Rights Lawyer Shahzad Akbar , Clive Stafford Smith activist and founder of Reprieve and Waziristan investigative photographer Noor Behram. Akbar brought a case on behalf of drone victim's families against the CIA station chiefs. Stafford Smith organized a caravan into Waziristan of western media to show the world the situation on the ground in the region. Smith also worked with Noor Behram to blow up his photos of children orphaned or abandoned in the strike zone to place on the roofs of the houses in the area to counteract the detachment of the drone pilots sitting in their box in Nevada. Director Shei presents a montage major twentieth century wars to demonstrate how detachment has increased. Hand-to-hand trench warfare of WWI, air bombings of WWII, missile strikes from the First Gulf War now drone technology.  The production points out that as distance between opposing forces increases the military casualty decrease and the civilian ones increase.

Drone is a comprehensive look into the secretive introduction of this new technology into warfare. The presentation looks at recruitment from teenage gamers and the military role in video game production to life on the ground in the main targeting area of Waziristan, Pakistan and the attempts to strike back at the Superpower by detractors of a program that does not have to answer to elected officials as they are not operating in a zone where war has been declared.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Drone | Tonje Hessen Schei | Norway / Pakistan / U.S.A | 2015 | 58 Minutes.

Tags: War on Terror, Air Force, Drone Pilots, Area 51, C.I.A., Activists, Waziristan, Pakistan, Hellfire missiles,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hot Docs 2015 Film Review -TIG

Tig Notaro was one person in a sea of working comics in Los Angeles. The Texas native had her favourite stages to play knowing the scene well with over 18 years piled up in the game. But after a series of personal tragedy's over a short period of time starting with a diagnosis of C. diff (Clostridium Diffcile) meaning she could not eat properly, followed by the death of her mother then acquiring breast cancer leading to a double mastectomy. Notaro decided spontaneously to speak about these dark times during an unfilmed set at The Largo comedy club. Notaro's opening line Good evening I have cancer tipped of a legendary set that instantly went viral.

Directors Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York whose backgrounds are in reality television open the film with scenes from back stage of her one year anniversary show at The Largo. Next the narrative shifts back to the late 90's to view some of Notaro's early work. The story leaps ahead again to the audio of the famous Largo set followed by social media reaction the following day. The social media explosion lead to a best selling album entitled Live, appearances on late night talk shows, a book deal then more demands for appearances. Notaro had jumped several levels in her profession but now needed new material and did not have anything to present to her growing audience.

The camera is always present as Tig continues to have a series of highs and lows during the next 12 months of filming.  The film employees home movies and archival footage spliced with the odd reenactment to present the material. We see Notaro's building relationship with actress Stephanie Allynne who Tig met on set of the TV series In a Word at the time when she contracted C.diff. She also decides to pursue freezing her eggs and surrogate parenthood despite the danger that the process of reintroducing female hormones to her body could lead to the return of her cancer.

The best part of the piece is the first hand view of Tig as she works on her craft. The directors focus in on one joke from it initial inkling, to working on the rhythm out loud and amongst peers, to taking it initial to the stage to a fine tuned joke at the one year anniversary Largo show.

Tig Notaro's strong personality is clearly on display in the documentary. She faces every event that comes her way openly and honestly. Her dark sense of humour and willingness to use her real life experiences are always at the forefront of her comedy.  The production gives a great look at a working comic as she experiences the ebb and flow of life. This is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of Four.

TIG | Kristina Goolsby / Ashley York | U.S.A.  | 2015 | 95 minutes.

Tags: Comic, Cancer, C diff , The Largo, Artificial Insemination, Dark Humour, Los Angeles, Texas.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fox Searchlight Film Review - True Story

At the opening of the film Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) interviews a group of young boys in the West African nation of Mali.  Finkel asks them about a coco plantation where they had worked.  Each boy had accounts of abuse suffered at the plantation. One of the boys Youssouf indicated that he had been beaten with scars on his back as evidence that Finkel asks to see. The notes from the Mali interviews turned into another cover article in New York Times Magazine for Finkel entitled  Is Youssouf Male A Slave? However his fortunes were about to change on two fronts.  The paper called him in to discuss inconsistencies in his story then he learned that an accused multiple murder was using his name when he was arrested for his crimes in Cancun.

True Story is at its centre a dialogue between writer Finkel and one of his devoted readers Newport Oregon resident Christian Longo (James Franco) who is in Lincoln County jail accused of killing his whole family then skipping off to Mexico. The films narrative is fleshed out in jail house scenes between the pair. Longo is willing to tell his story to Finkel on two conditions.  One that he does not repeat the story to anyone until after the trial and the second that Finkel teaches him how to write. Thus begins the back and forth with Longo giving out small pieces of information, sighing, hesitating or stating that he cannot talk about the important facts when pressed. Finkel is being lured willingly into Longo's world knowing that he needs the story to gain back his reputation.

After his dismissal from the times Finkel returned home to his wife Jill (Felicity Jones) in Montana.  His days consist of calling old contacts looking for freelance work who refused to touch him and tramping out in the snow to his mailbox while Jill goes to work at the University.

British stage Direct Rupert Goold is at the helm for this film. The sanitized and eerie aspects of the prison are two elements that the production get right. The sparse items in Longo's cell, the blinding whiteness of the hallways and walls at County are vividly on display. The piece also builds the dangerous element of Longo's character partly through the buy the book cuff procedure before and after each meeting. The other devise to raise the threat level are the drawing Longo completes in his cell and send to Finkel as part of a manifesto entitled Wrong Turns.

James Franco shows he is very capable when he gets good material. Franco is at ease as the clean cut accused multiple murderer. He is calm, friendly likeable  but detached in all of the County one on ones. He gives Longo life through his facial expressions using the heavy The impression that eyelid technique along with an ever present slight trace of a smirk. Felicity Jones continues her string of strong performances as Jill. Her performance begs for more screen time as Jill. She has one face to face scene with Franco where she clearly shows Christian Longo who he is and its not someone Jill likes at all. Jonah Hill has a lot to do as the author and central figure in the piece. He turns in a credible performance but there are many instants where you can't help but feel that more could have been done with the material.

True Story is a crime thriller based on a set of facts adapted into a script with several strong moments. The narrative is tense, plotting and requires the viewers attention to obtain a full sense of the piece. James Franco and Felicity Jones are particularly strong in their roles.  If you're a true crime drama fan then this film is worth a watch.

*** Out of 4.

True Story | Rupert Goold | U.S.A. | 2015 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Writer, New York Times, Murder Case, Court Room Drama, Jailhouse Interview, Montana, Oregon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TIFF Ruben Ostlund Retrospective - Involuntary

A birthday party is the setting for the first of five stories introduced in Ruben Ostlund's Involuntary. Ostlund's  ongoing use of unique camera angles is evident as the first sequence is shot from the knees down. The dialogue is standard for old friends that have not seen each other for a long while. The dialogue includes discussion of every day events plus exchanges of pleasantries. The guests enquire about kids now grown, comment on recent weight loss followed by a shift in focus to cocktails and gifts.

The second story is set on a coach with a high school aged kids zone at the back, while mature passengers and families occupy the middle and front.  An older couple recognize a veteran domestic Swedish actress providing positive comments on her past roles then question if a trip to Hollywood is in her future. The coach driver strikes up a conversation with the teenage tour guide that falls firmly under the category of too much sharing.

Next up are two teen girls taking webcam pictures of themselves in various provocative poses. They debate over who is prettier then meet up with two friends followed by a drinking session in the family living room.  They are followed by a senior grade school class with their young teacher performing an intriguing social experiment on an inspecting student  then the lastly a boys weekend out in the country featuring daylight drunkenness followed by several incidents of invasion of personal space.

Ostlund and Erik Hemmendorff share writing credits for the film. Each story has a clear moment that requires a reaction but the characters act in a different way or fail to even act at all. Ostlund is again exploring the human psyche as if he is a scientist working in a lab setting up scenario's to see if individuals will react as they should or suffer from pack mentality following the group for fear of being singled out, embarrassed or even shunned.

The narrative cuts back and forth between the stories after short vignettes. The players struggle with the situation at hand and in only one episode does the protagonist make the hard choice but her decision leads her to be ostracized from the group as evidenced by a warning from a peer that she now better watch her back. The web cam girls participate in the most disturbing sequence ending up  at a party in a park with older kids while very intoxicated, disorientated and vulnerable.

Ostlund continues with his practice of presenting the story in a different perspective. Many scenes are presented with the tops of heads cut off. The fixed camera is omnipresent often shooting through a doorway framing the speakers on the other side. He even shoots a silver car door using the reflection to film the scene. The result is a fun house mirror effect on the afternoon misadventures of the boys weekend. Ostlund also continues to shoot on moving vehicles here on the coach and a city bus with the web cam duo as they first head out for the evening.

Another Ostlund trait is his willingness to make his audience and characters feel uncomfortable for extended periods of time. Here it plays out in the coach story where the journey stalls for far to long due to the actions of a passenger that won't own up to the minor offence. It's also evident at the birthday party were there is an injury that obviously requires immediate attention but is ignored
resulting in serious consequences later that evening. Involuntary is another work by a rising auteur that I can highly recommend.

**** out of Four.

Involuntary | Ruben Ostlund | Sweden | 2008 | 98 Minutes.

Tags: Birthday party, head injury, pack mentality, Underage Drinking, Boys Weekend, Honesty, Deceit, Action, Inaction, Ethics.

Monday, April 6, 2015

TIFF Ruben Ostlund Retrospective - Play

The story opens with a static wide shot of a shopping mall's main floor. Voices are heard off the side of the screen two middle school aged kids come down the winding stairs to the ground floor. One realizes that he has lost 500 Kroner. The pair check the bags and pockets working back through the stores they visited in the mall to potentially retrace their steps.  The camera pans left to a group of immigrant boys who are watching intently. The camera sweeps back as the boys chant Zig Zag Zug their term for they've found a mark and plan to put their scam into action.

Director Ruben Ostlund based this film on real life accounts of a group of 12 to 14 year old bullies in Gothenburg that stole from other kids over a 2 year period between 2006 and 2008. The method used approach, followed by a request to look at a phone then claim that the scratches on the phone match a brother or cousins meaning that the marks have to go to meet with the aggrieved relative to sort things out. The group play good cop bad cop amongst themselves to keep their victim strung along until the final scam is concocted to take as much as possible from the victims.

Osltund's shooting style is distinct; his scene set up is similar to the work of Michael Haneke. The camera is normally stationary with  the action moving into and out of the frame plus minimal added sound. Osltund also employees distant, wide and overhead shots putting the focus on the story over the individuals involved.

The majority of the narrative focuses on three suburban kids that head downtown to the Stadium Mall the main hangout of the immigrant troop for a day of shopping.  The squad spot the interlopers in a shoe store, follow them on a tram then corner them in a downtown restaurant. They pull the stolen phone gag and lead the suburbanites on a snaking journey around Gothenburg for an entire day. An interesting dynamic develops amongst both groups. There is sympathy and empathy shown between the boys, solidarity and the most unexpected support of the aggressors by a suburbanite against one of his friends.

The acting of the group of young actors is solid but not spectacular. Abdiaziz Hilowle separates himself from the group in the role of Abdi. He flips from good cop telling the marks that he understands their position and just wants to work this out. Backing others from his group away when hey become aggressive towards the suburbanites. His attitude completely flips at another point in the film providing the most violent act in the production against one of his own group that had decided that he had enough of the charade and just wanted to go home.

Play is a complex psychological study. It looks at social class, peer pressure, bullying and different standards for citizen groups. It appears by the reaction of the majority of adults or authority figures involved in the case that the immigrant kids have less opportunity therefore there is an unconscious effort to bend way over backwards to give them the benefit of the doubt for bad behaviour. While the rich kids are well to do with their parents buying them everything anyway so if they get robbed the items will simply and quickly be replaced.

*** 1/2 Out of Four.

Play | Ruben Ostlund | Sweden | 2011 | 118 Minutes.

Tags; Immigrant, Bullying, Robbing, Shopping Mall, Immigrant, Privileged, Class, Scam, Staking, Socialization, Teens.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

HRWFF 2015 Film Review - Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story

Christopher Beck retired from the United States Navy in 2011 after 20 years of service. He had served as a Navy SEAL all over the world. His first major action being the first gulf war followed by every hot spot including Bosnia, Serbia and Afghanistan plus training maneuvers from Australia to the Philippines. Chris was there for the fall of Saddam Hussein even posing for pictures sitting on the throne in the Presidential palace. However Beck is now on the biggest and toughest mission attempting to live openly as a transgendered person. Beck is doing so to finally be comfortable, projecting outwardly the person she feels inside.

The film starts out with Beck on the road. Kristin since a June 2013 CNN interview on Anderson received many requests to speak to groups and at conferences emerging quickly as a role model for transgendered people. Beck does not have a real home spending a large amount of time on the road with her dog Bo by her side. Next Kristin returns to her families small town Wellsville New York home. Kristin family is for the most part very accepting of the change. Her father who still refers to Kristin as a he is struggling with the 9 months old change but will not consider turning his back on his child. His older brother and younger sister are both positive as are many townspeople who saw Christopher as a hero when he went out on his tours representing Wellsville and still have a friendly smile, bit of advice or hug for Kristin when she is in town. The largest exception is Kristin's mom who see's this as a temporary phase doesn't understand and commented why could he just be normal and be gay.  The other painful part is Kristin estrangement from his two boys who do not want to speak to or see their father at all.

The Directors Mark Herzog and Sandrine Orabona mix in archival footage going back to Chris' Seal training during BUD/S School. They narrative is peppered with family photos of Chris from early childhood up through high school and into his SEAL career. The story captures the negative reaction as well mainly through messages left on Kristin's web site. Overall the reaction to Kristin change is 50/50.  Some colleagues are open and friendly other don't understand but are civil while some are hostile and venomous from a safe perch behind their keyboard.

Now that Kristin is living outwardly as she feels on the inside former SEAL teammates remark that they could always see that there was a weight on Chris that they could not place. He took crazy chances in the field with complete abandonment as if he did not care what might happen to him. He charged into situations locked and loaded without a normal healthy sense of fear. He went on 14 tours well over the mandatory amount. When Kristin reflects she comments that the singular act of being a SEAL is what kept her going until the courage rose to be the person that she was meant to be.

The film does avoid the technical details of the transition. There is no discussion of what is actually involved, the steps and their order. No discussion of any past, present or future planned surgeries.  In one There RV Kristin goes through a bag with a bunch of pills that she takes for various injuries suffered during her time as a SEAL but there is no mention of any prescriptions, hormones, or therapies needed as part of the transition.

Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story is the story about a person that has a history of tacking life head on. Someone who is looking for that next mission and is on one that is more challenging that BUD/S school's or any of the harrowing situation faced during all those SEAL deployments. The mission is to live openly as a transgendered person and battle for all especially for young people. The next generation who are searching for their identities.

*** Out of Four.

Lady Valor; The Kristin Beck Story | Mark Herzog and Sandrine Orabona | U.S.A.  2015 | 86 Minutes.

Tags: Navy SEAL, Transgendered, Military, Motivational Speaker, Iraq, Afghanistan, Family, Acceptance, Rejection, Him/Her, Divorce.