Film Review: MAIDEN (UK 2018) ****

Maiden Poster

The story of Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on charter boats, who became the skipper of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989.


Alex Holmes

The newly refurbished Maiden yacht will dock in Vancouver, July 28-August 2, as part of a two-year world tour to raise funds and awareness for girls’ education and female empowerment.  Why is the Maiden famous and what is it known for?  Alex Holmes’s MAIDEN is an exhilarating documentary that played at TIFF 2018 and Sundance 2019, delighting audiences with its story about 26-year-old Tracy Edwards, who broke the
glass ceiling when she skippered the first all-female crew to enter the world’s biggest sailing event, the Whitbread Round the World Race, in 1989-1990 (renamed Volvo Ocean Race in 2001).  Maiden is name of Edward’s racing yacht.

The film begins with these warning words: “The ocean is out to kill!”   “It does not take a break.” “There is no hope if anything happens.”  Yet, the doc’s subject, Tracey Edwards, at the time of the race at the age of 26, face crashing waters and frigid temperatures – the big setback at sea.  In 1989, the concept of an all-female crew was inconceivable to the manly world of open-ocean yacht racing.  Press bet on their failure.  Sponsors balked, fearing that the crew might perish and bring bad publicity.  After a failure at almost 2 years for sponsorship, Edwards refused to give up – she remortgaged her home and bought a secondhand boat that the crew refurbished themselves. She finally secured sponsorship through Jordan’s King Hussein.

Holmes humanizes the story by telling the story of Tracey from young child to older woman with white hair that she has now.  This was, that the audience can relate to the character, the underdog and root for her.  Tracey had the idyllic childhood till the worse thing imaginable could happen, happened to a child – the loss of one of a parent.  She moved to Wales with her mother and new abusive step-father which resulted in her running away from home.  Other adventures led her to her realization of her love or sailing.  When she realized the difficulty of females getting on a crew for the Whitebread World Race, she formed her own crew.  The doc continues this story.

The film contains interviews with Tracey and her crew as well as a few male sailors who  talk about their admiration and astonishment of the female sailor.  The film has a major part of its running time, the race that the Maiden won.  One wonders how many of the scenes were shot, especially with the waves crashing the boat.  According to the press notes, archival footage were taken on the boat, which explains the authentic ‘fly off the wall’ footage film that would almost get one seasick.

But what is most exhilarating about the doc is the human account of an underdog doing well – showing off those skeptical who claim that it cannot be done.  Edwards hows the triumph of ones human spirit over adversity,  The film also shows that she is not the person you want to be around with either, when she is under pressure – showing both sides to the coin.

MAIDEN is a beautiful documentary celebrating the harshness of nature and the foibles and strength of man – or woman in that respect.


Film Review: NEVER-ENDING MAN: HAYAO MIYAZAKI (Japan 2016) ***

Owaranai hito: Miyazaki Hayao Poster

A look at famous Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki following his retirement in 2013.


Kaku Arakawa

Made as a Japanese TV movie back in 2016, taking 3 years before getting a commercial release at the TIFF Lightbox, one can understand the limited attraction of this documentary.  Though Studio Ghibli films are the bread and butter of Japanese animation features, still the studio’s film and director’s names are still unknown to many Americans who will never see anything not North American.  Unless one is a Studio Ghibli fan, fascinated by the films and an admirer of Hayao Miyazaki, the studio’s founder and the Academy Award winning director (for PRINCESS MONONOKE) of more than a dozen world wide successes, the target audience is limited.

The film begins with the camera panning an empty animation studio following Miyazaki’s announcement to the press and staff of his retirement.  But he soon begins work on a  short film, BORO THE CATERPILLAR (in 2018) using CGI for the first time and then contemplating the main of a full length feature, which he jokingly claims could be completed after his death.

The film is clear to point out Miyazaki’s successes with a collage of his hits including SPIRITED AWAY (my favourite), MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO, PONYO, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and his last feature THE WIND RISES.

The doc clearly narrow the scope to the director’s work and his daily routines.  It clearly omits anything of his past, his childhood or his influences.  Nothing is revealed of his family either.  In one scene, Miyazaki mentions his wife, but the film has not a single shot of her.  He is also shown making his own meals (often having ramen from pack of instant noodles) and walking around what seems an empty typical Japanese house.

Miyazaki the man is shown to be a simple one, but an over-obsessed animator that strives for his vision 100% totally driving those that have a different view crazy if not out of the picture.  He has a cigarette in hand most of the time and obviously smokes too much.  Miyazaki is also shown to be a kind man.  When shown a CGI animated segment of a zombie like creature writhing in pain, he astounds all present that he says he wants nothing to do with it.  “You have no idea of pain.” He relates a story of meeting a man who suffers pain that he could not lift up his hand to ‘high five’.   He insists on the importance of being sympathetic to pain, which again is illustrated in the emotion-like characteristics in all his animated characters and figures.

Besides being a film about Miyazaki, the film also reveals the difficult task of CGI and how much work goes into producing CGI effects.  One CGI animator even claims: “Perhaps it is easier to do hand-drawn”.  The film also questions the issue of retirement among the old.  Miyazaki says he’d rather work than do nothing, a philosophy many seniors who have all their faculties share.

The doc turns out to tackle more issues than expected which audiences hopefully will get to learn more of this legendary director.



The Fireflies Are Gone Poster

A frustrated teenager frees herself from her mother’s influence and her narrow life in a small industrial town to find out who she really is.

Warning: This review contains a spoiler in its plot point.  The spoiler occurs int h second last paragraph of the review.

At the start of the film, a radio show host Paul (Francois Papineau) announces on the radio that due to some unknown mysterious reason that have puzzled scientists and everyone else, all the fireflies are disappeared.  The fireflies are obviously a metaphor for something in the film which will be revealed in the second last paragraph of the review in italics.  Spoiler Alert: Skip reading the second last paragraph italics but the spoiler is included as it is crucial in the film’s critique.

The film’s best segment occurs at the start at a dinner arranged when Leo shows up late,  The uncomfortable dialogue that goes on around is brilliant – funny, informative and sarcastic.  Leo (Karelle Tremblay) is clearly out to disrespect her mother (Marie-France Marcotte) while showing her disdain towards her step-father, Paul.  It is Leo’s birthday but she leaves the dinner after excusing herself to the toilet.  Later on, the mother gives her her birthday present telling Leo never to do what she did ever again, which she promises.  The scene is multi-purposeful.  Besides introducing the audience to all the primary characters, it also reveals the relation ship Leo, clearly the protagonist has with each of the present at the table.  he dialogue is also sardonic if not witty, funny if not revealing.  Unfortunately no other segment in the film comes matches this.  But the confrontation scene between Leo and stepfather, Paul comes close.

The only character missing from the tables a local guitarist, Steve (Pierre-Luc Brillant) who is much older than her.  She takes guitar lessons from him and becomes a little infatuated with him.  When her real father, (Luc Picard) shows up, she finds him not the hero she expected him to be.

It is the performance of the actors that save this otherwise predictable tale of Leo, s girl stuck in her small town.  Newcomer Karelle Tremblay affects the audience’s sympathy without being the annoying teenager while older Quebec actors lend their support.

It does not take a genius to guess that the fireflies are a metaphor for Leo’s hope – or hope in general.  As Leo finally gains enough courage to hop on a bus to leave the small town and start life anew, the fireflies suddenly re-appear around the town in the dark (as is unfortunately totally predictable, especially for one who have seen too many films) signifying the return of hope or that hope is no longer lost.

For all that the film is, the film still succeeds as a well executed and thought-of portrait of a teen stuck in a small town.  At least Leo survives.  In a similar film, Robert Mandel’s 1983 INDEPENDENCE DAY (not the Roland Emmerich’s disaster flick of the same title), Diane Weist’s character escaped her personal prison by lighting up a cigarette while filling up the house with gas in the film’s last scene.