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Best of the Oscar shorts
The storyline says "A man thinks back to his childhood memories of growing up with an annoying little sister in China in the 1990s."

The Chinese title is little or younger sister. In Chinese, siblings have different terms based on relative age. I can't add much to that, except that I found it touching, and consider it the best of the Oscar-nominated shorts that I saw as a package.

Hair Love

Above average shorts nomination
A black girl has an unruly afro, and grandiose ideas of the styling she wants - something that probably should be done by a professional. Her mother usually does her hair, but in mother's absence, her father tries his hand at it.

This is a heartwarming story, well done. I recommend it.


Good animation, slight story
I saw this as part of an Oscar shorts package. The animation, which avoided the creative styles of the other contenders, was good. The story, about the friendship between a kitten and a pit bull, was amusing but inconsequential. Since I have never lived with a pet, it just did not grab me. So I consider it another middle-of-the-pack entry.


Well done, but ...
I saw this as part of an Oscar shorts package, and consider it middle of the pack. I usually would not go to a movie with a theme of memory loss, so thankfully this is only a short.


Not impressed
The weakest entry in this year's Oscar race. The style of animation and lack of dialogue had me irritated and confused.

Une soeur

Intense - I agree
Night. A man and a woman in a car. He is driving, while she has to make a phone call to her sister, who is babysitting her daughter.

I agree with a previous reviewer that his is an intense short. Well crafted, but I have a nagging disbelief as to her attitude towards what happened before the depicted story starts.


Don't be an orphan
This is a portrait of life in an orphanage - something between Dickensian and a corrections facility. Two girls plot an escape from the girls-only facility, while one pines for a boy from the boys-only facility next door.

Based on a true story, it is a heartaching film about the conditions faced by those unfortunates.

The Neighbors' Window

Reflections of days past
This could easily be call Front Window. There are 2 couples living across the street, both without window coverings. The story is told mostly from the viewpoint of a 30-something couple, with twin toddlers and a new baby. A 20-something couple moves into the other apartment, and are having uninhibited sex and parties, which makes the older couple nostalgic about their former days. But as a year passes, the situation changes.

I like and recommend this short, but the missing piece about WHY the situation changed gnaws at me, hence I am giving it only an 8.

Nefta Football Club

Amusing mix-ups
A Tunisian teen and his younger brother are on the road home. When the younger makes a pit stop across the border in Algeria, he finds a lost donkey listening to music. The older realizes what the donkey is carrying, and convinces the younger to help steal the laundry powder.

This is an amusing story of 2 mix-ups, of not telling your partner-in-crime the full story of what you are doing, and the unanticipated outcomes. The only quibble I have is I didn't see why the boys happen to have a cart attached to their moped, conveniently allowing them to nab the goods.


Compact complete film about current issue
What do you do with a returning ISIS fighter? This film gives one possible situation. Told in the nature of a compact family drama, it has all the details needed for the story.

Little Women

Very confusing movie
The writer / director must assume that everyone is familiar with the story, and so could creatively jump around in time, while compressing the story. For those who are not familiar with the story, it is just a confusing mess. In some cases, husbands show up without any hint of who they were or where they met that sister. I eventually had to find a summary of the story to realize that secondary character A was likely also secondary character B. Certain changes of heart also seem unexplained.


Nice action movie, but ...
It has too many questionable historical situations (see the list of goofs). Also, the "single shot" cinematography asks us to believe that everything happened in 2 hours, plus the time the soldier was unconscious.


Darker than Lion, and inferior
A teen boy idolizes his older brother, who was a star in a Moslem ritual dance. However, his brother has left mysteriously for Bombay, and, chafing under his guardian, steals a boat and escapes the island, with only a phone number to make contact.

Getting into Bombay, he falls into a society that is darker than depicted in Lion, There is the orphanage with child abuse, human traffickers, prostitutes, and eunuchs. Along the way, themes of homosexuality, gender identity and gender expression are also explored.

Much as I wanted to like the film, I have reservations. Like Lion, the boy does not speak the language of the city he ends up in, and subtitling loses that distinction. There is a long flashback sequence explaining why the elder brother left home, but not why he did not choose a better path for his exit. Finally, the coincidences that are needed to make the film work are unbelievable.

Western Stars

A very good concert album with introductions
Instead of touring his latest album, Bruce Springsteen made this movie of its contents. It was mostly recorded in his century-old barn, with a 30-piece orchestra, some new vocal arrangements by Patti Scialfa, and an audience of a few friends and the horses in the stables below.

Each song is introduced by Bruce, often as a voiceover as various images play, some of which are Bruce's archival photos or home movie clips. The lynchpin song is Western Stars, about an old cowboy still going on, when many of his contemporaries have left their boots (a song likely to be self-referential, given his approaching 70th birthday).

I saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival, but not at the premium-priced world premiere, so Bruce had already left, leaving fellow director Thom Zimmy to answer questions. Bruce's directorial contributions included writing and producing the song introductions, and co-selecting the archival material to include. The intros make it feel that this album is a collection of poems set to music. With songs about cars, trains, heartbreak, and love, I wonder if someone will do a full country re-creation of the material. The film ends with a bonus song (that fits the overall theme), which is more upbeat than Moonlight Motel.

Even being only casually acquainted with Bruce's music, I found this film fascinating. It is probably a must-see for actual fans, especially those who have already memorized the lyrics. It is expected to open commercially October 25.

Mano de obra

Class warfare in Mexico City
A group of workers are building a luxury mansion in Mexico City. The owner pays them late, falsifies documents to avoid compensating for an accident, and the workers' Union is powerless. Some take a measure of revenge by slipping in at night, and using facilities they built but would never otherwise enjoy. When the owner dies with no heirs, they occupy the almost-finished house, trying to claim ownership via squatters' rights.

I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the director said the 2 basic elements of the plot are known occurrences in Mexico - the rich building big houses, and the poor squatting in unoccupied ones. The action revolves around one main character, where the secondary characters are mostly played by actual construction workers. There are various actions that are hinted at, or occur off-screen, and that director's choice eventually got me irritated. But if you like contemporary social commentary, this is your film.

Así habló el cambista

A portrait of a money launderer
As a young man, Brause is working for a foreign exchange firm when his boss introduces him to the shady side of business - spiriting money out of the country to Swiss banks. Eventually he marries his boss's daughter - part of the film deals with his family life. He starts making deals of his own, working for criminals, crooked politicians, and anyone with suitcases of money, to launder their money or move it overseas. However, being a bank with no legal protection has its own set of problems, as he finds out.

This is an interesting portrait, though I was surprised that, given the title, there was no dealings with black market currency exchanges. I could follow most of the rouges' gallery fairly well. However, I just could not identify with, or cheer for, the main character. Hence the rating runs a point below what I would otherwise have given it.

Wet Season

Portrait of Singapore
A Malaysian-born woman is married to a Singaporean man, and living in Singapore. She is busy. She is trying to get pregnant, and when her husband is not in the mood during her fertile period, resorts to using her husband's frozen product. She is the evening caretaker of her stroke-ridden father-in-law, who spends much time watching martial arts movies on TV. She is also a high school teacher in Mandarin, whose ethnic Chinese students are not motivated to learn their heritage language. When she tries to run a remedial class, it rapidly dwindles down to one student - who happens to be a martial arts artistic competitor. As the time for her duties overlap, the student develops a case of Hots for Teacher.

Seeing this at the Toronto International Film Festival with Q+A, the director mentioned that the wet monsoon season (and the time period of the film) lasts 6-8 weeks. The rain serves as an indication of the teacher's mental state, as well as acting as the soundtrack of the film. The backbone of the story is that Singapore kids are far more interested in English, the language of commerce, than their heritage. (Interestingly, the lone student interested in Mandarin suggests he might want to do business with China.)

Overall, a good film.


A chilling docudrama of the assassination that changed Israel
This film is a re-creation of the life of Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, from the time of the announcement of the 1st Oslo peace accord, to the actual deed. While Yigal was already a nationalist (he starts by being arrested at an anti-Oslo rally), various forces encouraged or abetted him towards assassination.

There is his mother, encouraging him to greatness, as per his name. There are rabbis who proclaim that Jewish law should supercede secular law, and also that Rabin is a "Persuer" and an "Informer", permitting him to be killed. There is a Likud / Bibi rally, where calls to kill Rabin go unchecked. There are girlfriends / potential brides, who just distance themselves from him but not report his thoughts to authorities. About the only person who comes off well is his father, who said that, if Rabin should be struck down, it should be by the hand of God and not of man.

I was at the world premiere (see: trivia), where the director said the film project was started 5 years ago, and it is just coincidental that it is coming out as populists hold hate-filled rallies.

Coming Home Again

Better than The Farewell
A Korean-American family is gathering on New Year's Eve Day for a traditional NYE dinner. The mother has stomach cancer. While the father claims he can take care of her, the son has abandoned his NYC job to do so. He is also preparing dinner based on mother's recipes and directions he had learned from her. The daughter eventually also arrives for the event.

As the son prepares dinner, flashbacks / memories of earlier family events fill out some motivations for the current members. These can sometimes be hard to distinguish from "present day", as the son's appearance remains unchanged. From the Q+A (I saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival), the director gave 2 possible reasons: the film's low budget, or since these were the son's memories, he doesn't have to change.

All 4 members of the family have different reactions to the mother's illness, which makes it more honest than the forced happiness of The Farewell. My only quibble is a final memory should have been placed somewhere else in the film, as it weakens the ending


The dangers of being closeted
Living in apartments across the hall, Nina and Madeleine are technically neighbors and good friends, but they are secret lesbian lovers. Widowed Madeleine is not out to her adult children, so when Nina finds Madeleine collapsed with a stroke, her children (and the hired 24-hour caregiver) cut Nina out of Madeleine's life.

The bones of this story has been explored in Cloudburst. However, while Cloudburst is more humorous, this film is more heartfelt. Good performances by all, especially the heartbroken Nina, desperately trying to sneak some connection.

My quibble with the story: Given Nina's known closeness with her mother (and who saved Madeleine's life by calling an ambulance in time), I am surprised that Madelein'e daughter didn't start by accepting Nina's offer of providing occasional help to the caregiver. And even if Madeleine can't speak, can't she find some other way to communicate she wishes to see Nina?

Sound of Metal

An advertisement for deaf cult(ure)
When a heavy metal drummer has a rapid hearing loss, his musical partner / girlfriend could have attempted to ask her rich father for money to cover his cochlear implant surgery. Instead, she abandons him to a group that teaches people how to adapt to deaf culture - a group that acts like a cult (no outside contact, no use of artificial devices like implants).

From then it felt like an advertisement. Besides the happy deaf people (adults at the group home and young people at a special class in school), when he raises the money himself to get the implants, they don't work well, and he only finds peace (and God?) when he turns them off.

I saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the director acknowledged inspiration from his grandmother, who went deaf without modern supports, and assistance from the deaf community. The film is captioned for the hearing impaired, but not all sign language is subtitled, which shows who the film is directed towards.


A musical that is depressing and confusing
I saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival, with director Q+A, so I could more understand this film. It is based on an old rock opera, but the director changed the music from western to traditional - an artistic choice that, however, helped keep the mood downbeat, especially since the music was the key to the film. There is a (singing) narrator, and musicians were hired to perform, rather than actors hired to sing.

The story, and the production, is timeless, given that Israel is in a state of perpetual war, and soldiers with injuries are not uncommon. However, when Mami takes her husband out of hospital and tries to make it in Tel Aviv, she suffers a series of misadventures that lead to a transformation. While this seems to be a fantasy, logic rules don't apply, as the vegetative-state soldier gets to sing songs too.

Rather than use the original title of Mami, the director retitled it Red Fields, a reference to bloody battlefields. The confusing part is that I thought the film was pro-war, when the director's intent was to be anti-war.

Três Verões

Doing what is needed
The action takes place over 3 consecutive specific Decembers, in a seaside house in a gated community. In 2015, the master of the house is making shady deals, his wife is busy shopping for clothes and art, his widowed father is a grumpy old man, while his 20-year-old son has returned home for a party.

But the focus is really on the housekeeper, who acts as butler, and rides herd over a small group of other servants. She is enterprising, selling her kitchen creations over the internet, and is planning on building a roadside kiosk to hawk her wares.

But in 2016, the master is arrested in mass corruption arrests (along with many of his neighbors), and his assets are frozen. The mistress escapes abroad to be with her son, leaving the servants to take care of the ailing father with no money or owed wages. By 2017, the resourceful housekeeper has managed to monetize whatever assets she has control over, to keep the household afloat.

This is an interesting view of Brazilian society, as to what could happen to the "downstairs" people affected by their superiors' corruption scandals. I saw this at the TIFF world premiere, where the director mentioned that the movie was actually shot in the Brazilian summer. That was ironic, since my one quibble is the storyline about shooting a Christmas commercial in December seems to be a bit late.

The Pass

This film has a split personality
In 2 of 3 acts, the hunky leads spend much of their time shirtless, down at times to underwear, which screams "gay exploitation". But the subject is serious - does it make you happy to be rich and famous, while betraying your best mate, and more so, your true self?

Adapted from a stage play, all 3 acts are set in (different) hotel rooms. However, there is much discussion about what happens on the football (soccer) field. The title has dual meaning - there is a physical pass, and a football pass, both key to the central drama.

Killing Patient Zero

An effective debunking of the charge "Patient Zero" caused AIDS across America
This is the story of Gaetan Dugas, often known as Patient Zero of the AIDS crisis. It is told by friends and associates, activists and artists, and various doctors and researchers of the mysterious gay cancer. It turns out that Gaetan is likely not "the monster who brought AIDS to America", and that "zero" was a mistaken identifier that led to the idea he started it all. Gaetan was part of the cultural resistance to the no-sex suggestion from doctors, given that only a decade had passed since homosexuality had been removed from the list of medical disorders. Ironically, while Gaetan was disbelieving of sexual transmission, he was a great help to the researchers. Also, while playing only a small part in the book And The Band Played On, that scandalous part was what finally brought the book, and AIDS, into public consciousness.

So this is an effective revision of the story of a man who was scapegoated for AIDS.

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