TIFF 2017 Movie Review: SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOT TO BE ME (USA 2017) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.
sammy davis jrA star-studded roster of interviewees (including Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal) pay tribute to the legendary, multi-talented song-and-dance man.

Star:

Sammy Davis Jr.

As in the words of Sammy Davis, Jr. himself, “I am coloured, Jewish and Puerto Rican. When I move into a neighbourhood, I wipe it out.”

The same might be said for this exhaustive documentary, courtesy of director Sam Pollard, notable for having worked with Spike Lee. Davis’ talent and gift are so immense, that his presence takes over the entire movie. The doc does not contain a whole list of interviewees but just the most important ones – all being comedians including the recently deceased Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal.

All pay tribute to the legendary, multi-talented song-and-dance man, in this exhilarating documentary which is part of the American Masters series. Davis is shown here as dancer, singer (including a full rendering of the songs ‘I’ve Got to be Me’ and ‘Mr. Bojangles’), impressionist, and actor of unparalleled charisma.

He broke racial barriers (including marrying a white wife) but paid a heavy price for it. Pollard’s documentary of the legend ends up both an insightful and entertaining piece. I am sure many like me, could watch Sammy Davis, Jr. for hours.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu8AV81ANTw

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TV REVIEW: GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 07 – EPISODE 07 (Season Finale)

the dragon and the wolfA meeting is held in King’s Landing. Problems arise in the North.

Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Writers: David Benioff
Stars: Alfie Allen, Jacob Anderson, Robert Aramayo

Review by Mary Cox

“The Dragon and the Wolf”

Anyone who didn’t see anything that happened last night coming from a mile away needs to get their eyes checked. Game of Thrones has always been a series that’s heavy-handed with its foreshadowing, but the bombs the series dropped tonight have been on our radars for a good while. That doesn’t mean that last night’s bombshell of a season finale was bad! It’s just that things are getting too predictable after seven years, and I miss the wild and unexpected turns we got in the first few seasons, like Jaime losing his hand, and Ned Stark losing his head.

Jon and Dany’s “Boat Ride and Chill” is made a lot weirder when you learn that he’s essentially boning his aunt, but this is par for the course for the Targaryens, who historically like to keep it in the family anyway. Seriously though, how creepy was Tyrion for lurking in the halls and listening in on their
hookup?

I predicted we’d have a big, heart-breaking death in this finale, and I was a little off-course considering how much Littlefinger’s been asking for it since the first season. It’s a little disappointing that Arya only slit his throat, as a full-on Ned Stark style decapitation would have been much more satisfying and tied together.

Now that the Army of the Dead have their Icy Hot dragon, how in the hell is the North going to stand against them? Even though the Night King is outnumbered two to one when it comes to fire lizards, how is Daenerys going to handle fighting and killing one of her own “children”?

Cersei is reaching Nixon-levels of paranoia and scheming, to the point where she’s finally threatened to turn her sword against her own brother. Again, what the series is implying to us through the language of cinema is that Jaime is going to rehash his Kingslayer role before the end of the final season.

This season finale has left us with a monumental cliffhanger (or should I say wall hanger, considering how Tormund barely made it out alive) and with the Night Kings marching in the direct path of Winterfell. My one hope for the final chapter of the series is that they don’t sacrifice story over time like they did with the last few episodes of this season. We’ll have to wait an entire year to find out

sophie turner game of thrones.jpg

Film Word Of The Week: Decoupage (and Montage)

Decoupageby Kierston Drier

What exactly is Decoupage, or, further, Decoupage Technique? How is it different from Montage? In colloquial English the word Decoupage has been used less frequently, and Montage has come to refer to its basic concept. Montage, Decoupage and Decoupage technique, however, are different things.

Decoupage, translated from French, means “to cut up”. To fully understand its meaning though, we must first take a brief look concepts surrounding Montage. Montage translates as “assembly”, and in film refers to the specific choices made in placing one shot directly next to another to create a desired effect. A montage refers to an arrangement of visuals constructed to create a specific emotional effect and produce a certain emotional response. A Decoupage, is slightly harder to pin down. At its origin, in French, Decoupage indicates that the set of images captured are to be edited together to help convey the story’s narrative, and in English, it is often simply considered editing. The term also indicates that the images that are being assembled together will convey the movement of the storyline, even if the scenes being cut together are scenes taking place with physical spacial difference. Decoupage technique is roughly defined as translating a narrative script into a detailed outline of visuals for a camera to capture, and the process of editing within those images. Confused? I was too.

Confusion on the terms appears to have stemmed from a multitude of factors, including the translation and interpretation of the words from one language to another. For the purpose of this column though, we will use an example and interpreted it through all three terms. Our example will be the narrative tale of a couple that find themselves in danger of falling while walking on an old bridge.

A Montage of this would refer to a cut of images, presented in a way that elicits an emotional response. In our example- a close up shot of our couple walking on an old bridge, followed by a shot of a bridge beam fracturing. This will create the illusion that the couple could be in immediate danger. A host of emotional responses can be felt by the audience, simply by placing these two visuals next to each other.

Decoupage Technique, using the same example, is the process of reading the script, understanding the conflict will be the couple escaping a collapsing bridge, and breaking down that narrative into a series of visuals that will convey the story.

And;

Decoupage (for an English reader) would be an editing term that umbrellas the aforementioned terms together; it would signify the physical act of cutting the images together, while also understanding the emotional and cinematic story being told through those visuals.

Decoupage, therefore, indicates a highly nuanced and collaborative construct, that encompasses editing, narrative storytelling, camera functions and often includes the use of montage.

In short, Decoupage “cuts up” the script and establishes that scripts’ visuals, and Montage “assembles” them into an emotional story.

The breakdown of the language and terminology may at first glance seem dry, but the subtle and significant differences between the words fascinate this column writer ( and, as a side note, make me very boring at parties…unless they are film related ones!)

REFERENCES AND RESOURCES

Montage and Decoupage Research Questions by Axel Debenhamledon (article dated April 24th 2015) Mediafactory.org
Montage, Decoupage, Mise en Scene; Essays on Film form by Laurent le Forestier, Timothy Barnard, frank Kessler
Reel Rundown: How To Talk Like A Film Critic; Glossary, by Jane Bovary, April 20 2016

Film Review: SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) “Gems you may have missed!”

SWISS ARMY MANA hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Writers: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

by Kierston Drier

This issue of Gems You May Have Missed is all about unlikely heroes, psychological breakdowns and dead bodies with magical boners. Yes. I said that.

SWISS ARMY MAN is a rare beast of a film. Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and released in early July 2016, this piece requires commitment to your distension of disbelief. But if you can jump that hurdle, the film pays off big in the realm of emotional dividends and offbeat humor. Really offbeat.

Hank (Paul Dano), a nondescript everyman with a healthy dose of melancholia acts as our unlikely hero, when we find him at the opening of the film, stranded and starving on a desert island. He is about to hang himself when Manny (Daniel Radcliff) washes up on shore. Desperate for human contact of any kind, Hank forms an emotional and slightly creepy attachment to our dead friend. Believing that the appearance of Manny must be a sign, Hank drags the corpse off the beach and begins the long trek to seeks help and a way home.

The film starts on a dark note but quickly spirals through dark comedy and into a strange, but loveable hybrid of genre all its own, when Radcliff’s character Manny begins to talk. Not only talk, but also perform life saving tricks for Hank- like gush fresh water from his mouth, use his erection as a north-pointing compass, and, wait for it, fart so powerfully that he can work as a human motor boat. Hank and Manny form a bizarre bond of friendship, compassion and an utterly fresh take on instrumental friendship, as they must work together to get back to civilization.

It is hard to explain what makes SWISS ARMY MAN such an incredible cinematic experience. It boasts gorgeous, lush cinematic visuals, beautiful art direction and breathtaking cinematography. It is also largely a two-hander which means huge applause must go out to both Dano and Radcliff for engaging and grabbing performances. While both actors do a fantastic job in their roles, a special nod must be given to Radcliff who, has the added challenge of conveying a depth of character while still managing to pull of character that is, well, dead. The script is quirky, emotional and vibrantly original. But what makes SWISS ARMY MAN a real gem, is how startling unique it is. There is simply no film quite like it.

A viewer can watch this movie and feel a vast array of feelings- confusion, absurdity, hilarity, sorrow, compassion, concern and disbelief all within an hour and half. We never really know if we are watching a metaphor, one man’s delusion, or a strange world where anything-can-happen. But we feel something. The feeling may be complex and confusing but it is undeniably authentic. You may need to let go of logic and reason and strap yourself in for this roller-coaster of a film, but it is worth every minute of the ride.

Inside the Chaos: How To: Shift Careers within your field

shift careersby Kierston Drier

Are you in your desired profession, but not in your desired career? Maybe you want to be a Director of Photography one day, but you are stuck as a set P.A. Maybe you want to be a food stylist but you are toiling away at a Craft job to pay the bills. Maybe you want to be a writer, but all you’ve managed to get is a few self-produced pieces while you wait tables part time? Or perhaps you’ve had a happy and fulfilling career in one area of the industry you love already, but it’s time to move on- you’ve worked in distribution for years and now you want to be a producer. Or you’ve had a successful career as an editor, but you want to try your hand at writing? How do you make the shift from working that job that pays the bills, to working the job that pays the bills and fuels your passion?

It is not always easy and smooth to change career paths, and it doesn’t always happen over night. But with research, patience, and planning, you can maximize your efficiency in the transition. Below are a few steps to get started.

Know Your Goal. And What It Takes To Get There.

Take some time to envision exactly what you want. It might already be crystal clear, or it could still be very nebulous. Figure out if what you desire is a single goal (Ex: I want to be a writer on a Comedy Show) or something more fluid (Ex. I want to be working in content-creation, in a leadership capacity.)

Next, figure out what skills you need to achieve this goal. What soft skills and hard skills do you already have? What do you need? Can you get these skills through your own research, or will you need more professional training?

Engage Your Network.

There is nothing wrong with learning from your network. Attend events, mixers and social gatherings that are centered around your main goal. Be friendly, kind and polite and read the room. Be curious about other people and their roles in the industry and ask them about their experiences. Even if they are not in the career path you are interested in, there is always something to learn from someone else. People can be invaluable sources of both insight and inspiration. Clubs, online groups, forums, organizations and committees are all great places to begin expanding your sphere of contact as your change careers.

On the topic of engaging your network, be active in the community you are interested in. Are their volunteer or part-time gigs that you can engage in that will help build your skill set or make connecting? Are there industry-related communities that offer networking, mentorships or internships in your desired field? Tapping into these areas may be time-consuming, but a slow-and-steady approach to changing careers can pay dividends as it allows your your network and contact base to grow.

Innovate And Market Yourself.

You have skills. And you probably have some very good ones. How can you turn those skills into marketable products to get you closer to your desired goal? It may take an afternoon (or several) to come up with some unique ways to get yourself out there, but may be the most beneficial tool you have. Make a reel, or a demo, or a strong pilot piece and put it up on your own social media. Host or livestream a reading of your work (or a mixture of your work and others), contact companies you want to work for and inquire about their hiring process or if they have any freelance opportunities. It may be highly subjective, depending on what goals you are aiming for, but marketing yourself is a crucial step.

Plan For It To Take Time.

Sometimes an opportunity knocks and we simply cannot say no. Be prepared to take the opportunity when it comes! Until it does, however, have a plan to help sustain and support yourself while you tackle your new dream. It may feel like having two jobs- the job you work at, and the job you are aiming to work at. It is important to be practical; as the saying goes, Empires are not built overnight. Yet, all dreams that are worth having are worth working for!

It may be hard to get out of a stagnant career rut. In contract-based industries it can be very hard to shift gears, and move yourself forward. It is our dreams and aspirations that fuel or best creative moments. It is rare that the path to our perfect job goes smoothly- but it is all the more wonderful when that goal is achieved.

Inside The Chaos: How To Make The Most of Your Time As A Freelancer

freelancerby Kierston Drier

Film and television production is a freelance industry. And freelance industries are complicated for the people they employ. In one corner, we have making your own working hours, as much free time as you desire, and the potential to make a lot of money when you do work. In the other corner we long stretches without work, the stress of a feast-or-famine work frame and FOMO when multiple jobs come our way at once. And worse still, if we are looking to advance our careers while still getting calls for the same type of work. How do we manage in the high-octane, fast-paced world that is freelance?

As a freelancer who has made a good living in an expensive city I’m here today to share a few tips with anyone is struggling or juggling to find balance in this intense industry.

The 80/20 Rule

This is my golden rule. You see it in lifestyle-diets : eat eighty percent healthy and twenty percent whatever you want. I correlate this to my working life. Eighty percent of the time I spend work that keeps my lights on. I like all the jobs I take but these jobs have a primary purpose- they pay my bills.

The other twenty percent of my working time is spent on passion projects. These passion projects fall under a number of headings- work I do on a friends’ project, work I do for free as a favor, or work I do for lower than a normal rate in order to gain a new skill of polish an old one. Some of them go on my resume and some I do just be help out a buddy. But all together- these are professional or semi-professional jobs I do, that I do purply because I want to. What has been wonderful about this twenty percent rule, is that every so often, this jobs or favors, lead me to a lucrative gig that I also enjoy doing, that can bleed over into the eighty percent of my jobs that pay my bills. That is a wonderful place to be in!

2. Utilize your weekends. Mostly.

The traditional Monday-Friday 9-5 is quickly disappearing. And while some people mourn that, freelancers may embrace it. You may not have a traditional 5 day, 40 hours work-week. You may be working 12 hour days, or you may have shifting schedules that don’t give you two days off in a row. No matter how crazy or unpredictable your schedule can be, you can still utilize these tools. I use this strategy when I’m working a standard set-based 12 hour day with two days off.

Pick two days where you can carve out free time. Even if it is only for a few hours.
On one of these days, plan to do nothing related to work. Seriously. Go out, see your friends, read a book, watch TV, take a bubble bath, go for a run. Live your life.
On the other day, divide the free time in half. Spend one half cleaning up your life, in whatever form you may need- manage your meal prep, check your emails, do your laundry. Whatever you have to do that you can’t find time for when you are working night-shoot crazy hours and have barely had time to wash the sweat off.
In the other half of the last day, do a work related thing that matters to your personal development. Work on a script you’ve been developing. Edit a reel you’ve been working on. Coordinate with creative partners on creative projects.

The bottom line here, is use maximum efficiency with the free time that you do have while still being able to live your life. If you have an off season, where you can potentially have weeks at a time free, have a plan of attack to devote more time to your creative projects.

3. Build Yourself A Float

Another vital rule I utilized early on in my career and reaped benefits from later. I did whatever I could when I had an influx of jobs to live below my means. I put aside a small stipend of liquid assets to utilize when lean months came. This helped me out by cutting down on the stress and panic that comes with the mindset of “I need a job, any job! I have to pay rent!” It allowed me to carefully weigh my options when jobs came my way, and gave me the freedom to choose to the best professional option for myself.

Understandably, this isn’t always an option everyone has access too. Sometimes jobs are scarce and you need to take whatever comes your way. Take the jobs you need, and set aside whatever you can for a rainy day. A good plan in freelance is have two to three months of basic living expenses saved up for when jobs are harder to find.

4. Find An Inspiring Side Gig.

Get a hobby for those dry spells. And make it something you love. Whether you blog about your favorite TV shows, write reviews for a local paper or online magazine, do freelance editing or script covering on the side, whatever helps keep your creative passions sharp and inspired. If it adds a little money to your pocket book as well, all the better. Freelance is all about versatility. Not just in taking on different jobs with different people, but with your ability to be hired for your many professional facets. What starts as a hobby today, can become a marketable and valuable professional skill later.

The freelance game isn’t always easy, but it can be hugely rewarding! For better or worse, our society is moving more and more towards a freelance and contract-based economy. It is a system, but with a little work and strategic planning, you can make it work for you in a very effective way.

Do you have any freelance tips? We’d love to hear about them!

Film Review: BIRTH OF THE DRAGON

birth of the dragonSet against the backdrop of 1960s San Francisco, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a modern take on the classic movies that Bruce Lee was known for. It takes its inspiration from the epic and still controversial showdown between an up-and-coming Bruce Lee and kung fu master Wong Jack Man – a battle that gave birth to a legend.

Director: George Nolfi
Writers: Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
Stars: Billy Magnussen, Yu Xia, Philip Ng

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
Premiering last year at the Toronto International Film Festival at a running time of 103 minutes, this shorter version is a re-cut version, according to the film publicist that now runs a 10-minute shorter version. I had not seen the original version but a colleague of mine at the press screening had seen both, remarking that the re-cut version is an improved one. Which is not saying much – since BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is still not a very good movie.

The end credits say that the film was based on a Bruce Lee article: ‘Bruce Lee’s Toughest Fight’. In other words, the film was inspired by true events. The setting is 1964 in San Francisco, where a real fight took place between Bruce Lee, 9 years before his fame and making of his first movie and a monk named Wong Jack Man. The question then is who won the fight. Since this film is about Bruce Lee, and not the monk, one assumes that Lee won the fight, or why make a movie if he lost the fight. But the script has more up its sleeve.

The film opens with a monk (Xia Yu) fighting in a province of China, which the title claims is the place of birth of Kung- Fu martial arts. The monk is said to travel to America to learn how Kung Fu has been taught there. It has been taught a great deal by Bruce Lee (Philip Ng), then and shown to be a conceited and proud instructor, though his intentions are respectable. The two fight in a competition with a plot that is supped to cause a girl to be enslaved unless there is a clear winner. So, one of Lee’s pupils, a hot-headed Mack (Billy Magnussen, BRIDGE OF SPIES, INTO THE WOODS and the recent INGRID GOES WEST) decide to save her. The two fighters combine their efforts to save the girl, but unfortunately they are unable to save the movie.

The film is aimed strictly for Bruce Lee or Kung Fu fans. Main actor Ng who plays Lee suits the part, with a chased body much like Lee. Ng’s mannerisms (body stances, sounds) down to his face twitching resembles Lee too.

According to my colleague who had seen the original film, the original was centred on the white man, Mack, who is given a less impotent role after the film’s major re-cut. This makes more sense in that no one be satisfied paying good money to see a Bruce Lee story than end up with a film with a white man story. The white man plot is now reduced to a subplot with him in a minor supporting role ending up in hospital, though Mack does get his (Chinese) girl.

BIRTH OF THE DRAGON aims high in revealing the fact that Bruce Lee changed his style of fighting and became the man he did, as a result of the fight – thus he film title BIRTH OF A DRAGON. This might be true but the film is still quite the mediocre film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL7OfxJo2oA
 
 

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