A Personal Reflection of 2018

A Personal Reflection of 2018

Going into 2018 I didn’t expect the year to end up how it did. At the beginning of the year I had been working for a company we’ll call “R” for about a month and a half after just a month of unemployment due to a layoff. My second layoff in approximately a year to be exact. Back at the end of 2016 I experienced my very first layoff after working almost 4 years for a company we’ll call “CE”. The company then went through a restructure that impacted many jobs including mine. The second company I ended up working for 3 months later also happened to go through a restructure themselves that later affected my job 9 months into my role.

I wasn’t worried having done the whole unemployment game before. I felt fearless. Like the veteran I was I applied for Employment Insurance and job hunted like it was my job—which it technically was. Within a month I had secured a contract with “R” with a chance of renewal. It was my first experience getting a job through a recruiting company and working as a contractor. I remember thinking my recruiter was a bit unprofessional. He didn’t seem to know what the job entailed and provided me with terrible interview suggestions and information regarding the role. Having worked in television broadcast for about 5 years at this point I knew exactly what was needed of me to get the role. I also happened to know two people already working on the team I’d be part of so I felt confident going into the interview and was offered the position that day.

My six months working there were interesting to say the least. Out of all the companies I have worked for this company was the most corporate than the rest of them. As a contractor I also didn’t feel directly part of the team or like I mattered to the company as a whole. I barely had any contact with our supervisor, contractors weren’t allowed to attend team meetings and my training was a bit of a mess with Specialists in charge but fellow coworkers teaching me because the Specialists were too busy.  My coworkers were lovely though and always invited me to eat lunch with them and made me feel like I belonged. They were probably the best part of that job for me. I always looked forward to speaking to everyone, laughing and sharing an adventure buying lunch somewhere else in the area.

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When my six months ended I only just felt like I got the hang of the role. To make matters worse my recruiter never bothered to message my supervisor and ask for an extension. In turn my supervisor never thought to check and ask if I was still available for a renewal. They both seemed to point fingers at each other.  I found out I would not be extended on my last day there by my coworker who only wanted to give me a proper goodbye after discovering herself. As angry and upset as I was I now look back and realize I dodged a bullet working for that company. The months following sounded like a mess from the other co-workers still there. One of my favourite people I had met during my time there ended up being laid off himself and another incredible co-worker and fellow contractor wasn’t hired full time when the opportunity arose either. Instead it was given to someone who had been there for mere months.  However I was sad to be back where I had been twice already in the last year, unemployed, unsure where and when money would be coming in and unsure when I’d get hired for another role.

I was unemployed a total of 8 months this time. Much longer than any other time I’ve been laid off and although some of it was during the summer season which wasn’t all horrible, it was still a scary time. It sort of felt like a high school summer at some points. I would go to the beach because it’s free and just swim, read and laze in the sun after a morning of job hunting.  I also did have Employment Insurance but the amount they give you is the bare minimum depending on your living situation. Living on my own plus having to pay for my utilities and taking care of a pet cat who I love with all my heart really puts your finances in perspective. I should thank my mother here for randomly supplying me with some funds when she could help. It wasn’t all the time and it wasn’t a lot but it was helpful and I am so appreciative for it.

Before I continue my unemployment story I want to take the time in this reflection to highlight the awesome stuff that also happened in 2018:

New Friends and Good Friends:

I have never been a wealthy person but I am definitely wealthy in the amount of wonderful people I have collected over the last three years and have stood in my corner. I made new friends at dodgeball who introduced me to their friends who have become heavy hitters in my life.  Two of those friends were so generous during this year offering me free tickets to movie events they couldn’t attend. One made me a writer for her web outlet which has been a really fun experience and kept me busy. I also got close to one of my fellow co-workers at “R” who is now one of my closest friends. This person not only checked on me daily to make sure I was ok during my unemployment process but we shared a few concert experiences together as well. On Valentines Day I attended a random single ladies meet up where we got together to eat pie and I made a friend there who has been beyond generous, full of wisdom and become a close friend as well. In just under a year I made two soul sisters.  Last year in stupidity—-others may call this bravery but I assure you it’s not—-I asked someone out before the holidays and he said no. That said he didn’t stop being my friend which I’m incredibly grateful for. He is not only one of the kindest souls out there but incredibly classy for not giving up on our friendship over an awkward misunderstanding on my end. Not only has our friendship grown from it but it’s a freeing experience to be able to be myself around him and not feel like I needed to impress him. I also want to shout out those friends who have been by my side for years on end. My friend Jen who moved to the UK but has been awesome keeping in contact with me this year she’s been away and I miss every day! My friends from Murphy Madness who welcomed me with open arms and the Murphy family who let me stay with them at their cottage one weekend in the summer. My sister Ruth and friends Roxy and Zoya. And a special shout out to Cecelia, Emily B and Emily M who took my phone calls on my darkest days and always checked in without fail. Sometimes daily if they needed to.

Concerts: 

While I was employed I purchased many concert tickets to artists and bands who were on my bucket list. This includes Elton John, Greta Van Fleet, Jack White, Father John Misty, Childish Gambino, Phil Collins—the highlight of my year —and Radiohead. In April when my contract ended I thought about selling them so I could make the money back I wouldn’t have but a friend told me to hold on to them so I’d have something to look forward to. I’m so thankful I did. As silly as this is going to sound, it served as another reason to get up in the morning, keep fighting and an event to look forward to where I could forget for those 3 hours the troubles that haunted me daily. I saw a total of 12 artists/bands in 2018 and three were generous invites from friends who had an extra ticket.

I saw Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit when it came to Toronto.

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I picked up some work as a Brand Ambassador. I got to march in the Pride Parade as a sausage for Schneiders, hand out free samples of Sumol and Kinder products and got to be part of the Santa Clause Parade as an elf for Metro.

My dodgeball team won Fall Championships for Wednesday nights which is my first ever win in my three years playing and meant the world to me during my hard time. It was just the bit of good news I needed while I was in the thick of all that bad luck.

I volunteered! I gave my time to the Toronto International Film Festival which was an amazing experience. I got to see a total of 11 films for free including my favourite film of the year ROMA and made new friends in the process. I also volunteered for Rotaract and the Harbourfront Centre.

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I faced three fears! I started dating someone near the end of September and although it didn’t work out between us he helped me overcome two fears/hatreds. Ice skating and bowling—both long stories for another time. I also faced the fear of eating alone in a restaurant on my 31st birthday by treating myself to The Keg.

I won HQ Trivia! I’m a whole 60 cents richer.

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My Halloween costume. I am just proud of this.

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I saw one of my all time favourite films in theatre for my 31st birthday celebration. This also began the Dumpster Raccoon Film Society where some friends of mine and I attend the Dumpster Raccoon screening event once a month. If you’re in Toronto check it out! It’s a lot of fun!

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I took these awesome pictures with Little Chairman Mao and my sister for charity!

Back to my unemployment story: In the 8 months I was without a job I applied to over 50 positions. I tried to stay in my field of television broadcast since I have the most work experience in that but it was tough to find any job postings some days. I also chose to be a little pickier with the roles I applied to. I avoided contracts due to that horrible experience with “R” and I also applied to positions I was interested in even if I didn’t have all the requirements they asked for. During that entire time I had a total of 5 job interviews that never lead to an offer. One of the interviews was so gruelling and ridiculous and it was only for a glorified receptionist role for a tech company. As cool as the company sounded the whole process really tested my optimism, teased my faith and broke me the hardest when I received that rejection email.

My mom and friends assured me something better was out there waiting for me but as it inched closer to December I wasn’t so hopeful anymore. In fact, I applied to the last three roles of the year begrudgingly thinking if I did hear back it wouldn’t be until the new year. One of the companies I applied to was the first company that started this tough employment journey when they laid me off back in 2016, “CE”. By this time it was close to the middle of December, my E.I. claim had ended back on the 1st and I had less than $300 in my bank account to last me the rest of the month while I figured out what to do. I had already decided I would be heading to my parents for the holidays on the 20th and managed to apply for Ontario Works—what most know as “welfare”—- with my application appointment being on the 20th before I was heading out of town. On Thursday the 13th I received an email from the hiring manager at “CE” asking me if I was available for an interview the next day. I was surprised, exhausted but ready to give it a final go.

Going back to “CE” was an odd experience for me. Losing that job felt like a break up. It hurt so much to be laid off because I loved my role until the day it was all over. Walking in it felt good to be back in that building. Much had changed in the two years I hadn’t been there but it still felt comfortable and exciting. It made me realize that even though things ended in circumstances I didn’t have control over I had no hard feelings with the company. I thought the interview went well. We mostly went through what the role’s expectations and requirements were which was much more creative than any of my previous roles including those I had previously interviewed for. The role would have me making movie lists to sell to stakeholders and buying programs and films along with working primarily with drama programming. I had worked with kids programming and even dabbled in adult content but never had I worked in content I myself watched and aimed at my demographic.  I answered any questions he had honestly and expressed how this role would advance my career and I was excited for the consideration.  I sent my thank you when I got home and tried not to overthink the interview and mull it over too much that weekend. The following Monday I received an email asking for my references. I sent them immediately. On Tuesday I received another email asking for my home address and if I could come in Thursday the 20th in the morning to meet the director of the department.

Thursday I went in bright and early and felt incredibly nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect and although I was asked for my address and references I didn’t want to let myself think the best case scenario after all the rejections that came before this moment. The night before I had practiced potential second interview answers to questions they may ask and prepared like I had any other interview. I didn’t sleep a wink. I went in dressed in my best and greeted everyone with a firm handshake. It ended up being a very casual meeting where the director let me know her perspective of the role and I asked her some great questions I had also prepared the night before to be safe. After everything was said and done they extended the offer to me and placed a contract in front of me. It was surreal! I wanted to cry and kept telling myself to contain my happiness and relief. They told me I could take my copy home and bring it back before the 24th but I told him I really wanted this role and if they gave me 5 minutes I would read through the contract and sign right then and there. Everything listed was beyond what I could have negotiated and better than I would have asked. This role was better than anything I had interviewed for before and the closest thing to a dream role I could think up for myself.

Leaving that office it felt like a dream I didn’t want to wake up from. I sat in the lobby in shock and tried not to cry as my eyes welled up with tears. I texted some of my closest friends one by one on what had happened. Many of them told me they cried hearing my news. It made me realize how my stress, anxiety, depression and frustration during these 8 months really weighed on those around me who saw or spoke to me all the time. I really didn’t feel like I could be 100% myself or a good friend to anyone because I was in the thick of all this shit I was going through.  In full circle, the lay off that started it all at “CE” is ending once again… at “CE”. How crazy is that?

I start in the new year and I could not feel more fortunate and excited for what 2019 has in store for me. I wouldn’t call myself a religious person but in these tough times I have found myself finding comfort in my faith. Although I may not attend church every Sunday —or any Sunday— I felt like prayer has always been something I continued doing. I would pray about how thankful I was for my amazing friends, the fact I was able to pay my rent each month and the health of Little Chairman Mao (my cat). Sometimes I’d spend hours praying and asking why this was happening to me and asking God, the universe, to give me strength on my darkest and lowest days where I’ll admit I thought about ending things so I’d stop being a burden to my family and friends or make the pain of being a failure go away.  I’ve had more panic attacks this year than I’ve had when I was diagnosed with social anxiety in 2010. I missed my high school best friend’s wedding because I had lost my job weeks prior and couldn’t face seeing him on his happiest day in my worst and saddest state. I had to say no to many events because I literally couldn’t afford to attend and my mood was so low I didn’t want anyone to see me that way.

This whole experience has deeply humbled me and also brought me closer to my beliefs. I have always believed in miracles but I’ve never had anything this big ever happen to me. It has really given me new perspective and I hope this long reflection gives someone hope. Maybe it provides some comfort and helps someone else not feel so alone as they go through their hardships! If I can offer any advice it’s not to give up even when you want to and feel at a loss. Also confide in your close friends and family how bad things are getting because they will support and help you where they can. I have never experienced so much generosity and love as I have this year.  I consider myself a proud, Latina woman but even I in my stubborn nature couldn’t have made it to the end of 2018 without the help I have received from everyone.

Thank you and cheers to 2019!

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“As we’ve learnt, when the day is done, some stuff and nonsense could be fun. Can you imagine that?” Mary Poppins Returns Film Review

“As we’ve learnt, when the day is done, some stuff and nonsense could be fun. Can you imagine that?” Mary Poppins Returns Film Review

marypoppinsreturnsWe have been getting quite a wave of sequels for films made decades prior. Disney is no exception to this fad. 2016’s Finding Dory came out 13 years after the success of Finding Nemo back in 2003. The Incredibles 2 literally picks up where it left off 14 years ago when the original installment was released. This brings us to Disney’s latest, Mary Poppins Returns. This sequel has been in the works for some time. When it was announced the film was in production, I was skeptical of who they could get to play Mary Poppins after Julie Andrews’ rendition. When I heard Emily Blunt would be filling her shoes, I couldn’t be more excited.

Emily Blunt is probably one of the most underrated actresses out there. She has come a long way from The Devil Wears Prada. She’s honed her craft by playing tougher and more versatile roles that better show off her talent. If you haven’t seen the video of Emily Blunt’s accent game during a round of Heads Up on The Ellen Show I recommend you check it out! So much has changed in our world and many advances in cinema have happened since the 1964 release of Mary Poppins. My fear going into the Canadian premiere of Mary Poppins Returns was how it would go up against to the original 54 years later. Could it end up being just as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious as the first one?

The film opens with the classic shot of London, England set in 1934. Some 24 years after the original took place in 1910. Cockney lamplighter Jack played by Lin-Manuel Miranda is turning off the street lamps all over the city on his bike. He sings “Under the Lovely London Sky” a sort of love letter to London during the thick of the Depression.  The scene is beautifully mixed with live action and oil paintings of the city life from the era along with the opening credits until we reach the family Banks home. A nostalgic sight to be back at 17 Cherry Tree Lane where we find a grown-up Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer). They still reside there along with three children and their childhood caretaker now a lot older herself, Ellen (Julie Walters).

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It’s not long when chaos ensues in the family home when a pipe bursts in the kitchen. The three children Anabel, John and George Banks, clearly accustomed to this sort of disarray immediately do their part to help out. They are Michael’s children, and he is struggling to make ends meet after the death of his wife. During all this they get visitors at the door, two repo men who’ve come to inform them the house is up for repossession. Michael has fallen three months behind on a loan he had taken out previously to help the household.

Jane reminds Michael of the shares their father had while working at the bank that could help pay off the predicament they find themselves in and immediately start searching for the certificates. Meanwhile, the children are sent to fetch groceries after Ellen points out there is nothing to eat in the home. During their walk to the store Georgie, the youngest of the three is distracted by a kite and a mysterious wind that ends up almost blowing him away… literally!

After being saved by Jack, we see that the winds have also brought a familiar silhouette that floats down from the clouds. Mary Poppins has returned to work at the Banks home once again! The children are skeptical and reject the idea of having a nanny at first thinking themselves independent enough. After a quite eventful bath time, they find out it’s not so bad after all! I enjoyed that the children had more maturity than Michael and Jane did at their age. It works as a kind of reminder of our quickly maturing youth and serves as a lesson to let kids be kids.

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I don’t want to spoil too much more of the plot line. It’s a ride that is worth going blind. But what I enjoyed most about the film was how it kept that old school dazzle and flair the original had. There are some minor, modern changes. For example, Mary Poppins BANGIN’ outfits that now include royal blue and burgundy side hats and coats and polka dot blouses with cute contrasting bowties. She is practically perfect in every way, but that doesn’t mean she outshines her predecessor in the slightest. Andrew’s Mary was snobby but had a good mythical force to her. Blunt possesses the same irresistible combination of qualities of being an angel, a disciplinarian, a devotee of the imagination, a tutor of delight and a splash of vanity like Andrews. She just doesn’t have that benevolent aura that Andrews had with her smile alone.

This Mary Poppins has more mystery surrounding her, and a better poker face rather than that devious smile Andrew’s Poppins always seemed to have.  All that said Emily Blunt still radiates in the song and dance numbers and provides a magical element we love about Mary Poppins. She did the role proud. There is no doubt her Golden Globe nomination is deserving.

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The songs, all original have that same precursor sing-song catchiness filed with lessons and morals like those found in the 1964 version.  They really take you through each scene, and it conveys the feelings of the characters beautifully providing those of us who are familiar with the original that nostalgia. But the songs won’t get stuck in your head the same way “Spoon full of Sugar” did.  From a private moment where Michael is in the attic looking through his late wife’s things, he sings about how hard her death has been for him to the final song titled “Nowhere to Go But Up” we are given an incredible soundtrack that ties the film together beautifully but none have that ear worm quality.

Lin-Manuel Miranda steals the show during the Lamplighter song “Trip A Little Light Fantastic.” They use the street lights to guide them home including impressive dance moves using ladders and flame torches. When I think back to the film this is the scene that most resonates with me and left a lasting impression overall. It really brought me back to the Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke performances we all loved and old Disney films that had those flashy and impressive musical and dance numbers.

The all-star cast, in general, is exciting to see but Dick Van Dyke, all of 92 years of age makes an incredible cameo. It reminds us what a life force he can still be in cinema.  Angela Lansbury has an appearance herself. Meryl Streep plays the eccentric cousin to Poppins and Colin Firth plays the bank manager who insists on helping The Banks with finding their shares before he repossesses their home.

Oh, and you can’t forget the penguins!  The Banks head back to the classic animated world this time in the form of a broken vase, an homage the original no doubt and the penguins are a pretty big deal in this one too. Everything from the wardrobe to the acting to the storyline really filled me with such joy while watching. I really can’t say anything terrible about this film although I’m sure others will. There are even some inside, adult jokes so the parents can enjoy a little mature laugh in between all the kiddie fun.

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SEE IT! Mary Poppins Returns is the feel-good movie to take the entire family to during the holidays! You will not be disappointed! This is a spoon full of sugar much needed in the world right now. Even though it’s based in the past it’s meticulous and modern in all it’s moving pieces from emotional to sensory value.  With everything terrible going on in the current world, the film vows to carry us forward on a more positive note because as the final song points out there is nowhere to go but up.

 

“No Such Thing as a Hollywood Ending!” Anna and the Apocalypse Film Review

“No Such Thing as a Hollywood Ending!” Anna and the Apocalypse Film Review

annaposterI first heard about Anna and the Apocalypse during the Toronto After Dark Film Festival back in mid-October. It was being advertised as Shaun of the Dead meets La La Land and even though I wouldn’t call myself a fan of musicals I was intrigued.  My relationship with musicals has been a rocky one. Growing up, I was part of all the music programs my schools had to offer and even sang competitively. Obviously, the odd musical number was thrown in during my time performing, but between all the Rent and Joseph and the Technical Dream Coat covers, I tended to lean more towards the darker musicals like Evil Dead the Musical and Sweeney Todd. Musicals with ends that weren’t such a fairytale and songs that would make you cry instead of make you want to sing in the rain.

Eventually, I outgrew musicals all together and thought them too corny for me to stomach as regularly as I did as a teenager. I tend to avoid them unless it’s Jesus Christ Superstar on Easter Sunday which is a family tradition in my home. Anna and the Apocalypse take Christmas movies to another level. It adds zombies and shakes it all up with dance numbers and some decent songs in the mix but still fails to meet expectations.

The film opens with our main characters Anna and John getting a ride to school by Anna’s father Tony while the radio news warns of a lethal pathogen that is invading Britain. Anna quickly changes the station to Christmas music. Due to an excited slip up by John, it is revealed that Anna, a senior in high school will not be attending university next year but taking a gap year to travel to Australia. Her father Tony is against the idea which ensues an argument between the two causing them to part ways angrily. Tony uses his recently deceased wife and Anna’s mother as bait for how much he disapproves of her choice and causes Anna much distress. Anna and John go to their classes and Tony, who we learn is a custodian at the school heads to start work.

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Once inside the school we are introduced to American student Steph who works on the school newspaper, runs the school charity and is stuck in Scotland for the holidays while her parents are in Mexico. Vice Principal Savage is the villain of this story. He runs a tight ship and rejects Steph’s latest article for the paper and confiscates her car keys in the process stating she’s parked in the faculty parking lot. This is when the song “Break Away” begins and it’s the audience’s first glimpse of the musical portion in the film.

The song introduces all the characters beautifully and ties them all together for us. Sarah Swire who plays Steph and Ella Hunt who plays Anna harmonize wonderfully and have powerful parts in the song demonstrating their musical chops and the trials and tribulations these angsty teens are facing.  Nothing, of course, compared to the zombie apocalypse they’re about to face, but we’ll get to that eventually.

In true teenager trope we learn John, the dorky sidekick is in love with Anna, but Anna loves bad boy Nick. Some asshole kid we meet who seems to have a history with Anna we can’t quite put a finger on just yet. There is a fun musical number in the cafeteria with the song “Hollywood Ending” lead by John. It foreshadows this film won’t end like other teenage rom-com, Christmas themed flicks might. There are some fun dance numbers in this scene that give off a High School Musical vibe and a chorus that is actually very catchy. “Wo-oah, wo-oah, no such thing as a Hollywood ending…” the song goes.

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We’re also introduced to Chris and Lisa, friends to Anna and John and the boyfriend and girlfriend couple in the group. Chris likes to take video on his phone and aspires to be a filmmaker while Lisa has a big performance at the Christmas concert going on later that evening. I found Lisa’s school performance a bit of a show stealer overall as it was the funniest scene in the entire film. Similar to Mean Girl’s famous Jingle Bell Rock dance routine and something Michael Bublé would maybe croon, Lisa sings a song titled “It’s That Time of Year.” It’s packed full of sexual innuendos and shirtless high school boys in Santa hats dancing behind her. It’s the scene that got the most laughs during my viewing with lyrics like “There is a lack of presents in my stocking. And my chimney needs a good unblocking…” You get the idea!

Finally, we are offered a glimpse of the zombies that are slowly taking over and infecting the town population who are all at the concert. Except for Anna and John who didn’t attend because they had shifts at the local bowling alley where they work. Instead, they both wake up the next morning to eventually discover the terror that has beset them. This is where the film turns a dark corner and eventually, our characters reunite to try to save Anna’s father and get out of town. It’s actually from this moment I felt the film falls flat for me.

I hoped the zombie angle would be an appealing hook, but they literally shuffle by, attack now and then. We’re left with all the teenage drama between the love triangle Anna has with John and Nick, her determination to save her father who’s relationship isn’t fully fleshed out enough for me to buy and bad musical numbers because songs like “Human Voice” and “Soldier At War” just don’t live up to the songs before them. By the end of it, the film just feels obvious and the ties the audience are suppose to have with the remaining characters—spoiler?— just isn’t there.

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I will say I was touched to hear this film started out as a 2010 youtube video titled Zombie Musical made by Ryan McHenry. He was also a favourite contributor to the Vine glory days. Remember Vine? McHenry was the genius who did the Vine series titled “Ryan Gosling won’t eat his cereal” which racked up over two million views in its day. Ryan McHenry planned to direct this feature, but at age 27 he lost his battle to cancer in 2015. There is a scene where Chris and John are talking about the celebrities that have been bitten or probably have survived, and Ryan Gosling comes up. John exclaims “Alive or dead, Gosling is still cool.” A sweet tribute to McHenry’s claim to fame.

UNLESS you’re a massive musical buff, I don’t see this film really bringing out the masses. I wanted to love it! I came in with high hopes! It’s comparison to Shaun of the Dead which is a masterpiece in its own right in the zombie genre and La La Land an Oscar-winning film is deceiving. Anna and the Apocalypse has a lot to live up to against those two but falls quite short of it all.

“Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are. Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.” Widows Film Review

“Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are. Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.” Widows Film Review

widowsposterAs celebrated and talented as Steve McQueen is in the film world, I have always felt his films are the kind I can only watch once in my life. Dealing with topics like starvation, addiction and enslavement and watching his characters punished on screen is not necessarily what I want to revisit on a Friday night. That said, his previous works are definitely masterpieces worth a viewing! He’s an incredibly talented filmmaker with a lot to say but the films that test the hand of time are those that can be enjoyed over and over.

Going into Widows, I already sensed a shift in his storytelling. Working with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) as his co-writer, and adapted from a 1983 British television crime drama, I knew this film was going to be heavy but action-packed and dare I say different to the rest of his body of work. After viewing it, I can definitely say it’s more than a heist film. It’s about the resilience of four women who do what they need to do for their family and livelihood after their husbands perish in a robbery gone wrong.

The film begins with an intimate scene of couple Harry (Liam Neeson) and Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) kissing passionately in bed. This is paired with alternate scenes of three other relationships, most not so loving and nurturing as this one. Then the film takes a contrasting turn with a heist scene. Harry and three other men fleeing into a van that explodes into flames in a job gone wrong.

Veronica, now a widow comes to learn that not only has she lost the love of her life. He left her a hefty debt of $2 million. One that he stole from crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who also happens to be in the midst of a political campaign. Jamal pays a very intense visit to her penthouse and shakes up her little dog—NOT COOL MAN. He demands she liquidate her assets and gives her exactly one month to settle the debt.

Viola Davis’ performance as Veronica is chilling and exquisite. During the film, she has these intimate flashbacks with her husband showing the viewers how passionate and loving their relationship was. It almost makes us forgiving of the situation he’s left her in. There is this beautiful scene where she gazes at her reflection through a window at her home. She imagines Harry nuzzling up to her, holding her from behind as Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind” plays in the background.

But all is not lost! Veronica is given a key to a safe deposit box that holds a journal containing details to Harry’s final job. She is desperate and determined enough to execute it but not without some help. Veronica recruits Linda played by Michelle Rodriguez, a woman who owned a Quinceñera dress store that was ransacked by creditors due to her deadbeat husband gambling away her rent money. She also recruits Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) whose husband beat her and is now being pushed to market herself to wealthy gentlemen as an escort by her mother. Both women are also widows from the same ill-fated robbery that took Harry’s life. There is a forth woman, Amanda but she has a newborn baby and makes it clear she cannot help.

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Linda and Alice are fierce in their own way in the film. Neither women have experience in pulling off a heist but use their smarts, wits and in Alice’s case, looks to get what they need for the job. After all, this isn’t for fun as portrayed in other heist films. It’s out of realistic anguish to get themselves out of the financial holes they also find themselves in.

I felt completely engaged throughout the 2 hours and 9-minute film. I was just as tied to the subplots and secondary characters as I was to the widows themselves. Jatemme Manning played by Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya is Jamal’s brother and right-hand enforcer. He is as evil as they come as the villain. Stoic but sardonic and incredibly cruel, some of his scenes have that shock value that pulls you into the story that much more. There is also Jack Mulligan played by Colin Farrell who is running against Jamal Manning for Alderman. He’s the son of an elderly but incredibly powerful ex Chicago politician played by Robert Duvall. His character pretty much is deranged and yelling explicits and racist undercurrents throughout. Similar to Grandpa from The Simpsons but angrier and more offensive.

The scene-stealing supporting character of this film though has got to be Cynthia Erivo’s character, Belle O’Reilly. She joins the widow’s heist gang wanting to provide the best for her daughter as a single mother. She is the only character who can stand up to Veronica’s demands.

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With all this said there are a few criticisms I feel need to be pointed out that didn’t sit well with me. Jackie Weaver overdid it as Alice’s overbearing mother. So much so, I was thankful she was barely in it. Also as much as I respect and enjoy Colin Farrell as an actor his accent for this film was terrible! His voice went from a scratchy and sleazy Chicagoan to an Irish man trying to hold down a fake American accent too many times. It was distracting me from what was otherwise a wonderful performance. I get it, accents aren’t easy, but I need to be honest here. Otherwise, the witty dialog in general and intensely moody score by movie music master Hans Zimmer rounds out the film overall and elevates it beautifully.

Widows is packed with crowd pleasing action, audience gasping twists and some fantastic payoffs that must be enjoyed on the big screen! The acting from all the women especially Davis and Erivo are incredible. This is what I would call an entertaining, feminist heist film! Oceans 8 eat your heart out! There are even a few laughs sprinkled in between all the dread and complicated topics. The nature of modern political dynasties, gender roles expectations, police racism and socioeconomic inequality are all addressed in between the grand scheme being carried out. Only McQueen could touch on so much and seamlessly integrate it all into the main story without it feeling too preachy or excessive. Finally! A Steve McQueen film worth revisiting!

Minor spoiler alert: Rest assured the little dog is ok throughout the film. Veronica carries that little floof everywhere she goes. As a fellow pet lover, I can’t stand to see animals injured in any way on film.

“Your not lost Clara Stahlbaum. Your place is here” The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Film Review

“Your not lost Clara Stahlbaum. Your place is here” The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Film Review

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Now that Halloween is behind us, ’tis the season for festive films coming to theatres! As always Disney starts it off with their latest The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Based on the traditional story we know and love this film provides us with a sequel of sorts as we follow Clara Stahlbaum as she sets off into a big adventure to find herself in the Four Realms.

This film picks over the original The Nutcracker and the Mouse King story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816 and the famous ballet The Nutcracker adapted by Alexandre Dumas in 1892 and creates a completely new adaption with a lot less Nutcracker. From my understanding, this story is possibly based years later from the original story. Marie has passed away. Her children Louise, Clara, and Fritz and her widowed husband now remain trying to make the best of the Christmas season without her.

It’s Christmas Eve, and each family member is mourning differently. Fritz seems too young to grasp what’s taken place really. Louise, the oldest is trying to stay strong and help her father who is insisting they carry on like normal and keep up with appearances. Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy, however, is the middle child and struggling. She is clever like her mother was and it’s assumed this made her relationship with her unique.

The film starts with Clara building a mouse trap with Fritz using the laws of physics. She’s known in the family for being able to tinker with things and figure them out. Without her mother, she feels lost and out of place. The relationship in general between the children and the father seems cold and distant. I understand that is the tone we’re supposed to gather in the beginning due to what has happened in the family. However I found throughout the film it doesn’t get warmer.

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Right before their party, they are all given gifts from their late mother. Clara is given a mechanical egg of some sort but not the key to open it. She is upset by this and storms to her room. There she finds a note written by her mother that simply states “Everything you need is inside.” This upsets Clara more until she finds the letter “D” on the egg which means Drosselmeyer (played by Morgan Freeman) made it and can possibly help her open it. It so happens it’s his party they’re attending, and he is Clara’s Godfather, a clockmaker and inventor.

Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer seems a bit out of place only because everyone in the film has English accents and Clara’s mother Marie was originally his ward. However, throughout the film, I appreciated the amount of diversity found in the overall cast.  During the party he has the children all follow strings that lead them to their individual gifts. Clara follows her golden thread to the coveted key she is seeking. It promptly disappears and leads her into a strange and parallel world called Christmas Tree Forest. It is here she meets the Nutcracker Philip (played by English actor Jayden Fowora- Knight) who accompanies Clara in her search for the key as she discovers the Four Realms.

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Each realm has a name and ambassador. The Land of the Snowflakes has Shiver (Richard E. Grant) as representation. The Land of the Flowers has Hawthorne, played by Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez.  I was pleasantly surprised to see him in this role since he has generated some fame for himself in Latinx television and has been making his crossover to Hollywood for some time.

The third realm is the Land of the Sweets with Sugarplum played by Kiera Knightly. Sugarplum is quite a different role than we’re used to seeing Knightly embody.  She resembles Elfie from The Hunger Games. She also has a sweeter, higher, baby voice than we’re used to hearing. Knightly steals the show in scenes and makes this role completely her own. It’s very cool to see her encompass a character that might feel out of her comfort zone compared to previous roles.  The Fourth Realm, formally known as the Land of Amusement is currently banished, as well as it’s ambassador Mother Ginger played by the ever so talented Helen Mirren. Mirren continues her streak of strong, sassy characters. Mother Ginger is tough of nails and is the villain of the story… or is she?

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If you have a massive phobia to rodents like myself, I heavily suggest you skip this one completely. There are a lot of “mouse king” scenes where the mice literally tower on one another to create a giant mouse monster that is terrifying if you’re musophobic like myself. It really made certain fight scenes hard to watch especially when Clara was in the Fourth Realm.

I felt the show stopper of the film and also the biggest nod to the incredibly famous ballet itself is the ballet scene. The ballet scene tells the story of how Clara’s mother Marie discovered the four realms. The dance scenes are performed by American ballerina Misty Copeland, and are stunning! It left me wanting more even though they did accompany the majority of the film with the original music by Tchaikovsky.

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I thought Mackenzie Foy did a lovely job as Clara. She’s a beautiful, young actress and physically perfect for this role. It is nice to see her in a starring role since her small ones as Renesmee in Twilight or as one of the children in The Conjuring. Clara is independent, brave and precocious and this is very much a coming of age adventure. I do feel Kiera Knightly steals the spotlight at times though. She was more a starring role herself than a supporting role.

Overall I felt the film is mildly entertaining. I can see many families flocking to this one in the coming days, but I see it having a quick in and out of theatres.  Even with the all-star cast, it doesn’t salvage the cliche’d, syrupy storyline. I felt that Disney stripped away all the darkness from the original E.T.A. Hoffmann tale, and I understand why but it’s part of the beauty of the original Nutcracker story.

As stunning as this film may look and it’s production design is quite lovely as well as the costumes deserve a nod or two I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this one. Unless I had a child who was dying to see it or I was a diehard Nutcracker fan, who by the way has an unfortunate smaller supporting role considering his name is in the title I say wait until next year when it’s on Netflix or rental in time for those holidays.

 

“No one knows where their story is going, nor who the heroes in it are going to be.” Life Itself Film Review

“No one knows where their story is going, nor who the heroes in it are going to be.” Life Itself Film Review

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I’ll be completely honest here. When I came out of Life Itself, my eyes were so puffy and red from crying. It looked like someone had kidnapped my beloved cat and left me a ransom note with rules I would not be able to complete in time for his faithful return. I had volunteered for the Toronto International Film Festival a week prior. As a perk for the returning volunteers, they had an advance screening of this film.

This was my first year volunteering, so I didn’t get invited to the screening, but many who did had said they loved the film! From the trailer I had seen and an A-list cast including Oscar Issac, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, and Olivia Wilde, I wasn’t surprised! We’re also talking about writer/director Dan Fogelman. The same man who brought us This Is Us. A show that makes me sob every episode. EVERY EPISODE!

With all this after screening it this week, I felt justified in my enjoyment of it. But that feeling was quickly shot down when I saw that just about every other critic I follow absolutely hated it. “Emotionally manipulative” and “overtly contrived” were some of the most heard complaints in many of the reviews I read. I really had to dig to find the critics who felt the same as me! Here goes my take, very different to what you will read elsewhere.

This film begins with a narrator, Samuel L. Jackson to be exact. He sets a comedic mood in a psychiatrist’s office where we meet a man who obsesses over Fantasy Football to suppress his eating disorder. We learn his psychiatrist is Dr. Morris (played by Annette Bening), who after the session goes out for a smoke and walks down the street where she meets eyes with Will (Oscar Issac). The moment is brief but sweet until Will calls out to her while she crosses the street “Big fan!” At this moment, without fully ruining the scene for you we’re quickly reminded this isn’t a rom-com at all but a fictional drama where tears will be shed and deeper, tougher topics will be touched upon. The narrator also changes to an unknown woman’s voice going forward.

I will say this, Life Itself is a little ambitious in both stories and characters. He’s unpacking a lot in 1 hour and 58 minutes. The film is told in chapters. Each one gives us glimpses of different characters that we soon learned are all tied together. Similar to the style of Paul Haggis’ 2006 Oscar winner Crash or anything from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu the film has layers. Each character’s cause and effect plays a major part in the story and the character that follows the previous one. The major plot premise in each one though is the unreliable narrator being life itself. Get it?! The viewers have to consider that the story is told from an individual perspective rather than objective reality. This also happens to be Abby’s thesis (Olivia Wilde) during grad school where she first meets Will, and they begin dating.

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During their chapter, we learn how they fell in love and all about Abby’s tragic backstory. She is described as the kind of wife any man would want. She’s beautiful, nurturing, and willing to put anything in her mouth —-at a sushi restaurant that is! But the implication here is that she’s a chill, low-maintenance kind of woman. Something of a dream woman for Fogelman no doubt. She didn’t even cry as a newborn which I agree with fellow critics is a bit too specific.

The chemistry between Abby and Will is believable. They shine as a couple through the flashbacks we’re presented told by Will. Abby and Will were also expecting a child before she left him. The reason for Will’s traumatic breakdown that has now made him the tortured drunk attending mandatory sessions with Dr. Morris. It only gets bleaker from here though.

We’re then introduced to Abby, and Will’s daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) who’s story is clouded with so much death and grief. The scene where we watch her little child face change to that of a 21-year-old woman is very cool. Personally, I don’t buy her to be as “scary’ as the narrator pushed us to believe she is. She does break a random girl’s phone and punches her out while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich shortly after. It is understandable why she’s got a tough exterior in general, but we don’t see much more than that. Her scenes with her grandfather played by Mindy Patinkin are very touching but too short. Out of all the stories, hers isn’t hashed out as well as the rest and is dull in comparison.

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Then we’re taken transatlantic to Andalusia, Spain where we’re introduced to a humble olive picker Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta)  and his boss Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas) who gives him a promotion and a place to live on the land he owns but Javier takes it all with one condition. He asks Saccione to not get involved in his personal life. Of course, as you can predict, he doesn’t abide by this. This story plays out a bit like the telenovelas I grew up with. This chapter of the story was my most favourite. Not only is the Spanish landscape breathtaking but the relationship Javier has with his boss and his wife Isabel (Laia Costa) and later son Rigo are relatable.

It’s all in Spanish with English subtitles and the tragedy and struggles that beset this family although sad, aren’t as farfetched or seem “overtly contrived” to me. It plays out more naturally. Maybe that has to do with the calibre of acting or a better-written story, but it’s beautifully done. The scene that resonates the most with me is the monologue Isabel gives to her son Rigo before he leaves for America. She tells him that in spite of what life throws at you when you fall, you must get back up. She also tells him she will always be part of him and will live on through him. His life is hers too. She encourages him to live it to the fullest for the both of them.  This monologue, as well as Abby’s thesis, really set the tone for the entire film.

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The truth is life isn’t always happy and go-lucky so why do films have to be too? Emotional manipulation in film isn’t a new concept so why are we all hating on melodramas all of a sudden? Dan Fogelman is merely giving us a story that even full of tragic nuances, the characters thrive and move forward like some of us also tend to do in similar circumstances. Whether it be an accident, mental health, death and grief or illness.  I loved the way the film ties everything together so perfectly like I would expect a completely fictional film to do at the end. What is so wrong with creating heavy subjected, tear-jerking moments in a film forcing us to feel? Especially if the end offers such an uplifting and hopeful message?

I really enjoyed all five chapters of this tale, and I can look past the uncanny 42-year time frame that may have a hole or two if you really think about it. The tears I shed during this film were very genuine. Some of the twists and shockers made me gasp audibly, and there is something to be said about anything that can bring that out of someone. Even a self-proclaimed sap like myself. Sometimes you just need a good cry and why not in the comforting darkness of a theatre and shallow lighting of the big screen?

Life Itself provides a reflection and makes you appreciative of what you have, the love of family and the strength and legacy they provide. This is a film I can take my mother to and know she’ll enjoy just as much even with its R rating. My humble advice is go into this film with an open mind and ignore all the haters. Just play along and let yourself care and feel for what Will, Dylan, Javier or Isabel endure. Sure, some of the writing has its tropes, but overall there are powerful themes of love, perseverance, and family here that are worth watching.  You may be surprised and enjoy it for what it is too!

“Violence, brutality. It’s the same story, just a different name.” The Hate U Give Film Review

“Violence, brutality. It’s the same story, just a different name.” The Hate U Give Film Review

thehateugive5I knew going into The Hate U Give that it would be a heavy one. This film doesn’t shy away from the tough topics currently being spoken about in the United States and Canada. This film further lifts the need for the #blacklivesmatter movement.  Through a tragic and beautifully, strong story the viewer is taken on a ride of the injustices that are being fuelled in between. Originally based off a best-selling novel titled Thug Life: The Have U Give Young Infants F*cks Everybody by Angie Thomas, a title based off Tupac’s song with the same name. This film is told through Starr Carter and displays the conversations, experiences and social ills that go on after a white police officer wrongfully shoots down a black teenager for grabbing a hairbrush out of the front seat of his car.

The film follows Starr Carter, played by the talented Amandla Stenberg, a black teenager who lives in poorer and rougher community called Garden Heights with her family. She calls this place home, and it was where her parents grew up as well. She describes her parents’ loving relationship, a strong one, where they are very much in love and aren’t afraid to kiss and cuddle in front of her and her siblings, a half-brother named Seven (played by Lamar Johnson) and little brother named Sekani.

Her family is a stable one that is full of love and support. They eat together, say grace and only want the best for each other.  She mentions the popular BBQ place, the local barber shop and her father’s convenience store in her neighbourhood. But when she talks about the local public school she tells the viewer, it’s “a place you go to get drunk, high, pregnant or killed. We don’t go there.” Instead, she and her brothers go to Williamson Prep, a primarily white, private school on the other side of town.

While at Williamson, she is Starr Version 2. A completely different side of herself to the Garden Heights version. One who does not give any of her fellow classmates a reason to stereotype her as “ghetto” or “hood.” She doesn’t wear her hoodie up. She swallows any aggression she may have. She also refrains from speaking in any slang despite the fact her boyfriend Chris (played by KJ Apa) and best friend Kayleigh do so without issues. It’s clear Starr struggles internally with her two different lives but feels she must keep these two different sides of her separate in order to succeed. The story sets us up for a fish out of water tale that quickly escalates into much more.

THE HATE U GIVEWhile attending a neighbourhood party in Garden Heights over the weekend, Starr bumps into a childhood friend she hasn’t seen in awhile named Khalil. After the party is abruptly cut short, she ends up driving late at night with Khalil. They share a tender moment where they kiss, and she tells him she has a boyfriend. “We’ve been together a long time, we got time,” he tells her before they are suddenly stopped by a police cruiser. The film opened with Starr’s father Maverick (played by Russell Hornsby) giving his three young children “the talk.” Not the birds and the bees talk but the one about what to do as a person of colour when you’re stopped by a police officer. Starr was only nine years old then.

Suddenly, she’s using the information she was taught years ago by promptly putting her hands faced down, visible on the dash and demanding Khalil who takes this whole encounter as a joke, to do the same. It’s a very frustrating and heart racing scene. The whole scenario further escalates to Khalil being shot several times. He bleeds to his death on the ground while a shocked Starr tries to understand what just happened to her friend before her eyes. The incident haunts Starr. We learn this isn’t her first time she’s witnessed someone die, but this time she struggles actually doing something about it.

Watching Starr unravel, forced to mature quickly and find her voice in all this is incredibly jarring, horrifying and inspiring all at once. This young woman endures so much in this film. It really shows the ignorance of those more privileged around her like her boyfriend Chris and best friend, Kayleigh. There is this amazing scene where Kayleigh tries to argue that “all lives matter.” Starr gives her a taste of what it’s like to be marginalized the way Khalil is after his death. In another scene, after Chris foolishly tells Starr he doesn’t see colour. Starr simply replies to him “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.” Her father Maverick has always told Starr not to forget that being black is an honour because she comes from greatness.

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The Hate U Give embodies so much of what is going on in our world right now.  There were many times I felt so much anger and shame while watching this film. With recent tragedies happening all over the United States and videos of racist incidents being posted online, we are using these to bring awareness and educate. It’s safe to assume far too many white audiences didn’t know this sort of talk happened amongst POC.

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must be. Explaining to a young child that someone who you’re taught is supposed to protect you may treat you different and even hurt you just because of the colour of your skin. The way Khalil’s death is talked about and handled throughout the film, the lack of empathy from many and the sheer ignorance and blatant racism of the media valuing one life over another is hard to watch at times. We’re taken on the same wave of different emotions Starr battles within herself.

Starr’s struggles throughout are so much bigger than her. Like many, she is part of this new American generation that is unfairly tasked with solving the social sickness they had no hand in creating, but are overwhelmingly the victims of. To see all this shown on the big screen and given this kind of platform is crucial to stopping the hatred spreading in our societies. This story is not only groundbreaking but important and should be seen by everyone. Conversations should be built around this film and the book it’s based on. We should look within ourselves on how to be allies and raise awareness and bring equality to minorities and people of colour.