Film Review: MOANA (USA 2016) ****

moanaDirected by Ron Clements and John Musker

Stars: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House

Review by Gilbert Seah

MOANA (pronounced MO-ANNAH) is a 2016 American 3D computer-animated musical fantasy comedy adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, the first time the Studios have released two features in a year. No complaints here. Like ZOOTOPIA (or ZOOTROPOLIS as it is called in the U.K.), both are exceptional animated features full of wonder, magic and entertainment. The film features music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina. The songs are as original as they are catchy, especially the one entitled “You’re Welcome!”

MOANA the film tells the story of Moana (the excellent voice of newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) , the strong-willed daughter of the chief in a Polynesian tribe, who is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic with a goddess. When a blight strikes her island, Moana sets sail in search of Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who yes, also sings in the film), a legendary demigod, in the hope of saving her people.

First and most important of all, the animation is nothing short of stunning from the depiction of water, fire, magic and in characters like the fiery lava monster.

Like ZOOTOPIA, the plot involves saving of the world the characters are living in. MOANA lives in an island paradise that is deteriorating. The fishing is depleting and the land is losing its fertility. Like in ZOOTOPIA that mirrors the problems of the modern world, MOANA also highlights the importance of the environment as seen in the oceans and islands.

Besides the seriousness of the plot, MOANA maintains the expectations of a Disney cartoon. MOANA contains lots of cutesy characters, like Moana’s pet piglet and her pet chicken – reported as the dumbest ever of all the Disney characters. The chicken called Heihei pecks at stones and rocks, that requires Moana’s saving and attention more than anything else. But Heihei is a winning inspirational character judging from the sounds of the chuckles of the children in the audience during the screening I attended.

The film contains frightening scenes that might not be appropriate for younger children. The sight of the lava monster attacking poor Moana and Maui might be too much, even though it sends the message across for older kids. The film also deals with death (the dying grandmother) and the hardship of living (as in fishing and farming).

The film plays like a fairytale. Who does not like a good old fairy tale? Moana is inched on by her late grandmother in the form of a stingray to accomplish the quest she was born to achieve – to save her tribe and perhaps all humanity while at it.

Dwayne Johnson, who can do no harm at any film he is in (watch out for him next in BAYWATCH) is excellent as the reluctant hero, Maui. I cannot imagine anyone better to voice the heroine MOANA than Auli’i Cravalho.

MOANA turns out to be excellent entertainment for both adults and children. It contains Disney’s most important elements – magic and wonder, which make the film stand out against all the other animation features from the other studios.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKFuXETZUsI

 

 

 

 

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Film Review: WEREWOLF (Canada 2016) ***

werewolf.jpgDirector: Ashley McKenzie
Writer: Ashley McKenzie
Stars: Andrew Gillis, Kyle M. Hamilton, Bhreagh MacNeil

Review by Gilbert Seah

 
Cape Breton filmmaker Ashley McKenzie, who has won prizes for her short films in the past debuts here with an impressive first feature – a low budget but no-holds barred look at the hardscrabble existence of two homeless, twentysomething recovering drug addicts. Or are they recovering?

Films on the this topic are never an easy watch. WEREWOLF isn’t one too. 2016 saw the arrival of several drug centred films, the best of these being documentaries like the British CHEMSEX by directors William Fairman and Max Gogarty and the more recent THE STAIRS by Hugh Gibson. The decision for a fictional feature instead of a doc allows McKenzie to go deeper into the problem of drug users and guide the film to a more satisfying ending.

The drug users are the couple Vanessa and Blaise (Bhreagh MacNeil and Andrew Gillis). Both are in the process of rehabilitation but they still partake of the substance as part of a government program details not given. The film follows them as they sleep in tents,and fight with government bureaucrats. Blaise and Vanessa survive primarily through an underground economy. They harass people to let them cut their grass with a rusty old mower they haul over dirt roads and through rainstorms.

Of the two, Blaise is the more hostile, often negative about everything and always provoking whoever he is speaking to. He is suicidal and a bad influence on Vanessa. She, on the other hand, works at an soft ice-cream parlour and is largely positive, despite her dull job. She is advised by her social worker to breakup with Blaise, which she does not.

The film describes the lives of both with no positive or negative ending. This might be frustrating for those awaiting a happy ending such as the recovery of the couple – but this is what life is, no happy endings. The audience is understandably more sympathetic towards Vanessa than to Blaise.

McKenzie’s camera is fond of close-ups. In fact, there are too much of it. Often the audience sees the bad acne on the side of Vanessa’s face, a symptom of the effects of taking methadone. One wishes that the camera would occasionally pull back to show the whole picture. The film also contains lots of jittery images, from the use of hand held camera. Again, a few steady shots using a tripod would be welcome.

Ultimately, the success of the film depends on the two main leads, who thankfully achieves the credibility the film needs. One is the good rehab patient, the other not. just like the good cop, bad cop. It is difficult to feel sorry for Blaise for being such the self-destructive character and also occasionally for Vanessa who one wishes should take the advice of her social worker and leave Blaise. There is clearly no simple way out of addiction, especially without a good roof over their heads and a decent paying job. And then there is the temptation to go back to meth again.

McKenzie could also have provided more information about the rehabilitation program the couple is undergoing. Not much information is provided, but what they go through as seen in their actions. WEREWOLF is definitely a disturbing film and despite it having fictional characters, the film still hits home pretty hard with brutal honesty.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiNI83BMG4M
 

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Film Review: PROVERBIAL LUCK (Austria) Comedy

Played at the November 2016 Best of Under 5 Minute FEEDBACK Film Festival.

  MOVIE POSTERPROVERBIAL LUCK, 5min, Austria, Romance/Comedy
Directed by Dave Lojek

Idioms garnish our language, but are often hard to translate. This comedy helps to illustrate them and tells the story of two neighbours, who become enamoured. The “foam-beater” (boaster) Hanspeter throws an eye after an addleheaded Annemarie, but she just “shows him the bird” (indicates that he is chuckoo). So he has to “jump over his shadow” (take the plunge) and get a foot in her door. Amusement for all proverb fans who love to make whoopee, gaze into the pale blue yonder, or get to the point.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

This five minute Austrian comedy has a bright, light, whimsical feel,  much like the well-loved French film Amelie. Full of colour, innocence and delight, PROVERBIAL LUCK tells an offbeat love story littered with the follies of language.

 

Taking a literal spin on pun, idioms and other figures-of-speech, the audience gets the feeling that our unlikely lovers are trapped in a world they never made- one where our casual turns of phrase have literal meanings.

 

Had this film not has superb subtitling (Hats off to the human being who expertly translated comparable figures of speech for the English-speaking audience) this film could have been much more confusing- although no less enjoyable.

 

PROVERBIAL LUCK is a wacky little gem of a comedy, that has mastery at making us laugh at the unfortunate characters while also laughing at ourselves.

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Film Review: MIDNIGHT WALK (Australia) Thriller

Played at the November 2016 Best of Under 5 Minute FEEDBACK Film Festival.

MIDNIGHT WALK, 4min., Australia, Thriller
Directed by Mathilde Nocquet

Midnight, hidden by sunglasses and a badass vinyl disguise, a mysterious brunette is looking for her victim. Plunged into darkness, a car park is the stage of her next murder.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

A highly stylized, hyper-glam look at fashion at any cost, MIDNIGHT WALK is genre-splicing experiments in theatrics. Part comedy, part thriller, part How-To video, our hero, the gorgeous, fashion savvy Midnight, armored in outfit that could be found on any high-end sensationalized fashion-art show prowls and underground garage, following an unsuspecting victim.

 

Despite large look-at-me visuals, this film has a simple and unstated backdrop, no doubt to accentuate the dramatic and fantastical heroine.

 

MIDNIGHT WALK has some exceptional scenographic and visual design. It’s genre is completely unto itself, being an exceptionally unique piece with a utterly intoxicating and original voice, it straddles several cinematic areas.

 

The twist at the end- the goal our murderous fashionesta has for stalking her victim is worth every minute of this bright escape-ist cinematic romp.

 

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Film Review: DEADLY VIEW (Ireland) Mystery Thriller

Played at the November 2016 Best of Under 5 Minute FEEDBACK Film Festival.

  MOVIE POSTERDEADLY VIEW, 3min., Ireland, Thriller/Mystery
Directed by Malcolm Willis

Just before dawn, a dark suspicious man drives to a desolate location where he carries a large black bag containing an unknown object, together with a spade, from the boot.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

DEADLY VIEW will trap you instantly with its’ dark, ominous pathetic fallacy. Set against ominous clouds, a mysterious brooding hero drives high up into a secluded mountain. Once at the top of a high peak he pulls something large and bulky out of his trunk- something covered in a thick black garbage bag. Worried? Me too. The beautiful Irish landscape, from which our film comes from, carries some specific weight in this piece, as our hero takes out tools and begins to dig, clank and hack his way in the earth.

 

So the surprise at the end of this punchy three minute piece is truly delightful, when the man finishes his work and takes a seat in the mountain top at his new, recently installed swivel chair. He spins on the mountains, utterly free, with the joy of a child at Christmas. The world he belongs to instantly brightens.

 

A special nod must be made to the beauty of the landscape and to the well chosen actor who can play both dark and sinister, and joyfully child-like. Also the smooth execution of a the classic bait-and-switch which issues delight from any audience. This lovely, humor-fixed short definitely speaks to anyone familiar with the Irish landscape- certainly a view to die for.

 

 

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Film Review: HORSE PARADE (Puerto Rico)

Played at the November 2016 Best of Under 5 Minute FEEDBACK Film Festival.

  MOVIE POSTERHORSE PARADE, 1min., Puerto Rico, Romance/Experimental
Directed by Otavio Pacheco

In a chess game the black horse and the white queen fall in love, and then the white horse starts a dispute for her love.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

HORSE PARADE is a delightful stop-action experimental romance with a twist. It shows a chessboard where the White Queen and Black Horse have fallen in love in a sort of musical, a-typical dance.

 

Full of rich symbology, HORSE PARADE shows two characters that throw aside the rules of regulations of their universe and step beyond the bounds of their reality, to join each other in dance. Their dance soon entrances the other chess pieces, who cease their game to stand on the sides of the board to watch them. Shades and piece mingle, lines are crossed and sides are discredited, all for the sake of the dance between the Horse and the Queen.

 

This could be a piece about love without boundaries, as the Queen and Horse have a variety of obstacles- they are from opposing sides, they are of different values (Queen being greater than Horse in value), they have different roles within the society which is their world. This story, totally wordlessly and with only music and motion, shows how love can end the fighting. A beautiful metaphor for anyone watching.

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Film Review: NO WOMAN (Afghanistan) Experimental/Drama

Played at the November 2016 Best of Short Documentary FEEDBACK Film Festival.

  MOVIE POSTERNO WOMAN, 3min., Afghanistan, Experimental/Drama
Directed by Yama Rauf

There is a world beyond our world, when it comes to a decision, there is always a big NO to WOMEN. in this case majority suffers from it but only few women take the risk and fights for it.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

Simple, short and thought provoking, NO WOMAN comes to us from Afghanistan, as a dramatic and experimental piece with no easy answers. A study in the power of symbology, NO WOMAN shows a small girl walking forward in the desert as a masked gunman stands near. A shot is fired and the mask is pulled away but what lies beneath it, and to some extent the fate of the girl are unknown and left up to interpretation.

 

Beyond its thought-provoking imagery and genre-defying, NO WOMAN has the unique power of being able to represent many things to many different people. It is equally valid to interpret this film as a story of a Afghan girl made victim by a masked adult, as it is to interpret as a philosophical stance of women’s’ rights’ on a global level. The final image shows our heroine walking onward away from the masked obstacle- whether it is her in real life, a dream, or as a spirit, we do not ever explicitly know.

 

In a time where human rights’ and world issues are ever on our doorstep, where global and political are thrust into public focus, NO WOMAN stands as a subtle but powerful visual story. It could be about generations clashing, differences in religion, cultures or politics colliding, hopefulness and fear standing at odds, or gender issues in a powerful face-off. All are equally possible, and all equally effective- take a look to decide for yourself.

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