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Writer and director Melissa B. Miller Costanzo’s feature debut, All These Small Moments, is a tender coming-of-age drama that explores the imprecise nature of transitioning into an adult and the surprising relationships that can shape us along the way. Starring Molly Ringwaldin a role unlike any she has previously tackled, and up-and-coming actor Brendan Meyer, this tale of a young man coping with the growing pains of adolescence through his obsession with an older woman is as equally humorous as it is cuttingly authentic.

Costanzo, being no stranger to the film industry having worked in the art department and as a producer on a number of prestige dramas, including If Beale Street Could Talk and The Fighter, demonstrated a strong visual eye as All These Small Moments is notable in its visual flair throughout. I was lucky enough to have the chance to speak with Costanzo about her new film, what inspired her, casting the iconic Molly Ringwald, and why it was important to limit the role of social media.

Rob Caiati for Film Inquiry: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today and congrats on your feature debut.

Miller Costanzo: Thanks, Rob.

I was able to see the film last week and I really appreciated the novelty of the story and the complicated nature of seeing a young man manage his angst through his obsession with an older woman. It’s a bit of a rarity, as many tales usually flip the genders.

 Miller Costanzo: Yeah.

I know you previously mentioned that you had the idea from your own daily commute, but I’d love to hear more detail about your inspiration for the story and how it evolved over time.

Miller Costanzo: Yeah, I think that particular storyline, there’s a couple of different angles. One, in addition to the daily commute living in New York and how strange it is to start to see the same people over and over again and when you do it becomes a thing. It’s kind of rare, but also strangely common in the city as well. So, there’s that aspect of it. There’s also just an aspect in terms of things that I think about and I’m interested in which is kind of this line. Just this line that’s there in terms of things I know that I’m not supposed to do. And for whatever reason, whether it’s conscious or not, people cross the line. There’s also the idea of how far can I flirt with this line [and] also stop because I know I’m not supposed to do it. [Yet] there are things I’m thinking about in my mind, but I think that’s okay because I’m not really crossing a line but kind of are you?

So there’s that kind of interest to me. And I also think in my own life, there was a situation where I became sort of more and more interested in somebody. It was never anything that I acted on, of course. I was in a relationship but I think sometimes when you, especially in production, you work with people very closely, I think I might’ve mentioned something to my friend. She was like “You’re mentally cheating” and I was like, “I’m what? What are you talking about?”. But it’s a real thing and evidently it’s like an epidemic, so I don’t know. I think it’s just something that I like the idea of [questioning]. I remember my husband actually stopped going to get his hair cut from this one place because he was like, “I don’t know, we were flirting and I felt weird,” so he just stopped going. [laughs] Everybody’s line is different [and] what you feel comfortable with and what’s appropriate, that was something that is very interesting to me.

Right, ok cool.

Miller Costanzo: That’s the long-winded answer. [laughs]

No, no, it’s very interesting. So, the film touches on timeless themes related to growing up, so it seems like there was no one better than the iconic Molly Ringwald to be in this film. Could you tell me more about how her involvement came about and whether it was important to you that she specifically be involved for this role?

Miller Costanzo: When I wrote the movie, a lot of times people write with an actor in mind. That was not the case with this, but as we got into sort of casting mode, we started thinking about people. I for one sometimes feel that we see the same twelve actresses in these films, so I just thought to myself let’s not go down that checklist. I think there was something about Molly. She brought, obviously, familiarity to the table, so I feel there’s this built in “we feel like we know her,” and I thought that worked for this sort of nostalgic movie I wanted to tell. I also think that she gave a performance that we didn’t expect from her or that we’ve seen from her recently. So I think that that would be added incentive for me. There’s that built in “like we feel like we know her” but, wow, she’s doing something different that we haven’t seen and there’s a maturity and subtlety. Working with her made me realize how much work goes into giving a performance, how talented she really is and how present she is when she’s on set.

source: Orion Classics

Yeah, I thought she did a great job. I was surprised to learn after watching that Howie’s brother Simon was played by Sam McCarthy, who happened to be Ringwald’s Pretty in Pink costar, Andrew McCarthy’s son. I’m just curious how that came to happen.

Miller Costanzo: Well, that was really interesting. So, I think a lot of times when you go into a movie that has minors in it, I think producers [prefer to] hire eighteen plus people to play all these roles. Howie was older than 18. That worked because I think there’s a youthfulness that comes across from him, but when we started to cast the younger brother, who’s 14 years old, I knew that it was just going to be tougher. We were looking at a lot of people that were too old, and I didn’t even know [Sam] was an actor. I hadn’t heard of him before this.

We get the tape and he just blew us away. For me, who came up with Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald, his dad was reading the lines to him off camera and I’m like “Oh my God that’s Andrew McCarthy.” Which is super cool you know, but I [said] oh wait I have to look at this after. I can’t be stuck on listening to Andrew’s voice. So, we really liked Sam, and we brought him in. There was just something the second he walked in the room. He had a star quality, but in the other ear everyone kept saying, you’re going to have a hard time. You’re going to be limited, you’re a first-time director, you’re not going to have as much time to shoot, your hands are going to be tied with a minor.

So, it was a tough thing, but we couldn’t ignore how talented Sam was. He came in three times. Finally, we decided that we wanted to cast him, and I do remember feeling worried [about] how is Molly going to feel. I was kind of worried about bringing it up to her. We were in a fitting, and I just casually brought it up and I said, “Hey, isn’t it weird this is who we’d like to cast for the Simon character.” She was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And that was the end of it. It wasn’t even a thing, and it was really wonderful. Sam totally brought it, and I can’t even imagine anyone else playing this role. So it ended up working really well and it was this wonderful coincidence basically.

Wow, that’s really interesting. I didn’t expect that.

Miller Costanzo: No, it wasn’t like some weird PR play on our part or anything. It was really a strange coincidence that he was brought to us and he was submitted to the role and he was just incredible.

Speaking of the character of Simon, one aspect of the film that I could see almost being overlooked was the relationship between Howie and his brother. I thought the relationship felt very true to life in the way that brothers, despite being very close, would likely cope with their parents separating in distinct ways. Could you tell me more about the brothers’ relationship and possibly the impact it had on Howie by the end of the film?

Miller Costanzo: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways, there’s a couple things. Howie, he was very well behaved and he never made waves, whereas, the Simon character, he always kind of said what Howie wanted to say [and] in a lot of ways had to act as the older brother. I think that [Howie] valued that relationship between the brothers. Even [during] a dumb kind of conversation they were having when they were brushing their teeth, the conversation I had with the actors was you know “Sam there’s something going on in your life that you want to talk to your older brother about. You’re kind of feeling him out and seeing if he’s present and if he’s going to listen to you”. Ultimately he realizes that Howie’s in “Odessa world” and it’s maybe not the time to open up. Then they just kind of move on. So not only is it just an accurate conversation these brothers would have, there is something deeper going on.

source: Orion Classics

You have a lot of experience working in the art department on a number of films. I’m curious if you believe this experience was invaluable during your directorial debut, and if so, how?

Miller Costanzo: I think, yes. I think necessarily the art department maybe, but I think having that set experience, [as] I’ve also produced a couple movies. I started out as a production PA and so I’ve had my share of crying on the lift gate in the pouring rain at 2 AM. I think that’s important. When I started this movie, I realized that I’m much more comfortable on set and knew a lot more than I gave myself credit for because I’ve just been in the world for so long. I think a lot of times directors directing their first movie really don’t have that below the line experience and it’s hard for them to understand why the producers are telling them they can’t get what they want or having to decide between a piece of equipment and how many extras you have.

There are always problems on every movie that are specific to that movie, but a lot of times there are problems on movies that reoccur because of your budgetary constraints. I feel I was much more equipped to deal with it. My line producer would come up to me and tell me the dividers are up for this, this, and that, what do you think. So, I’d be able to not only come from a director’s perspective, but also from an art department perspective to help work through our budgetary constraints.

That makes sense. I thought the movie had a very distinctive visual style that made it stand out from other films. Additionally, in some ways, it was a very introspective film with a lot of visual storytelling and symbolism to unpack. I particularly appreciated the sunlight motif to convey infatuation throughout. I was curious if this symbolic aspect of the story was always planned or was it something you decided to focus on later to complement the quiet nature of the film?

Miller Costanzo: I always felt in my mind that Odessa was very ethereal and she was this sort of gift from God to Howie, [laughs] but of course it’s the expertise of my DP to actually find that light while we were working. He was very cognizant of how we need to shoot on this time of the day on the bus and there’s something about Jemima – that woman just found the sun! We kept joking that we couldn’t understand how she always just found the sun. So yeah, it was something we talked about, but it was also skillfully planned out by the DP as well just to make sure we could get that light and we could make her look that way.

I have to ask, because this could just be an instance of me looking too deeply into aspects of the story.

Miller Costanzo: Oh, God. [laughs]

But was Odessa’s coat meant to intentionally resemble the sweater Howie’s mother was knitting for him? 

Miller Costanzo: Oh my God, not at all! I haven’t even noticed that. [laughs] I wish I could say “Of course, are you kidding me?” I think, if anything, it’s me as a person and the color palette that I respond to. It’s not a mistake that the yarn was that color. I’m sure I definitely planned that, but also it’s really funny that you noticed that because in the color correct, Odessa’s dress, the real dress that she wore, was this interesting weird lime green color. I always liked the design of it, but I knew I hated the color and the prop designer had to talk me into it. Then in the color correct, I completely changed the color of her dress into this mustard yellow, because I think that there are a lot of colors that have a code that I just have to get a knee jerk reaction to.

source: Orion Classics

But I also think too that I did want to evoke a seventies mustard color you know rust to orange and those types of colors. So, I did choose the yarn specifically because it’s in the color palette, but I don’t think that is something that I have heard, so good for you for noticing that. [laughs] I wish I could take credit for it.

Okay, just curious. It was also really noticeable how, unlike recent coming-of-age dramas that focus on contemporary elements like social media, this movie really didn’t. I was curious if this was purposely excluded and what was your intention?

Miller Costanzo: So, I think it wasn’t consciously intentional, but I do think that’s again sort of who I am as a person. I grew up in the seventies, so I was kind of that last generation that looked at life without all the noise, you know what I mean?

Yeah.

Miller Costanzo: I think that I appreciate that and prefer it. I think I do remember the producers were like “Excuse me, we’re making a contemporary movie and there are no phones or social media,” and I was kind of like, “Hmmm, how do you like that?” And then I secretly gave myself a pat on the back, so it wasn’t like I didn’t set out to do it, but I do think that’s just part of my nature. So, when they brought it up I was like, oh shit, maybe they have a point. And I think the scene where Howie’s looking at Lindsay on Instagram, I kind of threw them a bone, but I also think that that was appropriate for the story. There was a little give and take there, but people have noticed that and I kind of appreciate it because who wants to watch a movie with kids being on their phones all the time anyway. It’s hard enough in real life, you know.

Yeah, and I thought it actually kind of helped emphasize the fact that Howie was sort of escaping the real world by not being on social media.

Miller Costanzo: I guess you’re right. Now that I think about if that were happening now, and we chose to build that in, he wouldn’t be following her on foot anyway. He’d probably be trolling her Instagram. [laughs]

I didn’t even think of that. Wow, yeah, that’s true. [laughs]

Miller Costanzo: Neither did I, but thank God, we didn’t do that. [laughs]

Before I let you go, I’d like to just know what’s next for you and if you have any projects you’re working on now or if anything is planned for the future?

Miller Costanzo: Yeah, I’m writing a script right now, and it’s been interesting being a female director and having a male protagonist and I felt like “Am I part of the tribe?”. This is not something that I really think about when I’m writing, but now my [next] protagonist [is] female. I’m writing a script about a ghost writer and she’s trying to get herself out of ghost writing. She thinks it’s not really a legit vocation and it [focuses on] her tumultuous relationship with her brother. So, it’s really exploring a brother sister relationship in my new project.

Cool, it sounds similar to this in some ways.

Miller Costanzo: Yeah, I know. I do believe that everyone always writes the same script over and over again. I feel like everyone is always exploring the same thing.

Gotcha. Well thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with me today.

Miller Costanzo: Of course. Thanks Rob.

Film Inquiry thanks Melissa B. Miller Costanzo for speaking with us!

All These Small Moments will be released in U.S. theaters January 17, 2019 and On Demand and Digital HD January 18, 2019. For all international release dates, see here.

ALL THESE SMALL MOMENTS Trailer (2019) Drama Movie - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Netflix and Toho’s animated collaboration on Japanese cinematic legend Gojira has arrived at its much anticipated third and final instalment after a somewhat underwhelming trilogy of films. Godzilla: The Planet Eater boasts an astonishingly outrageous vivid and abstract aesthetic in the opening and closing sequences but truly fails to grasp a compelling narrative throughout, with little conviction – an issue that has unfortunately plagued the series from start to finish.

A Promising Start

Directors Hiroyuki Seshita and Kôbun Shizuno, series veterans who have directed all three instalments thus far, continue the ongoing, harrowing tale of what remains of humanity’s last defence against the titular monster Godzilla, led by Haruo Sakaki. Previously, he decided not to kill the beast and  stop the age of Mechagodzilla against the wishes of his squadron, retaining his own humanity in the process during the final moments of preceding effort City on the Edge of Battle.

Now, Haruo is left with little to fight for. His team is in pieces and his companion Yuko Tani is left in a comatose state after merging with nanometal technology. Yet Haruo’s biggest test still awaits with the impending arrival of arch-nemesis Ghidorah heading to earth to end the battle once and for all.

source: Netflix

Once Ghidorah arrives for the third act “battle” (more on that later) it does so in a sizeable and abstract manner with a sense of gravitas and a much-needed injection of energetic prowess that had been missing, although far from the great heights the anticipation appeared to be building towards. Ultimately lifting a picture that is sadly otherwise an underwhelming bore. The Planet Eater has had two feature-length instalments with over three hours of story to reach a climatic and compelling showdown, only for the short ninety minute running time to retort to eighty minutes of exposition and dialogue intrusive sequences that feel both regurgitated and repetitive.

Each impending sequence prolongs events that are demanding to be exercised and traversed, stagnating the rhythm and pacing to a screeching, withering halt. It almost becomes slightly infuriating to watch the film develop with such bloated arcs and very little resonation nor or atmospheric end in sight, almost prolonging and quite frankly ignoring the long awaited finale of which this picture by definition is built to personify and convey in an entertaining manner.

Style With Little Substance

Character arcs remain unengaging, with little to develop or explore and little impacting significance. Aside from the constant articulated and dense conversations between Metphies and Haruo Sakaki on religion, life and the past, which is far more tedious and numbing than imaginable on screen. You’d be hard pressed to find a character with any weight heavier than a feather. It all feels like fluff that has little place in this specific narrative, which may perhaps have fitted perfectly in the series’ predecessors. Unfortunately, it is conveyed here almost as if prolonging and resisting the urge to satisfy its own fan base and audience.

source: Netflix

Continuing the aesthetic trend of the series predecessors, Godzilla: The Planet Eater does boast an outrageously beautiful and radiant animation aesthetic. This is made all the more impactful with the re-design/evolution and animation of Ghidorah which, in simple terms, is stunning to behold. The climax, in particular, looks phenomenal – however, that is unfortunately the tipping point of where the positives stop stacking up and the negatives are brought to the forefront.

The battle itself is excruciatingly dull and develops in a flat uninspiring fashion. The colour and design are terrific, popping with a theatrical sense of style and menace. But the sequence is ever so elongated, and the intensity and atmosphere bleed tremendously from the screen. Leading from an evocative terror to an irritating eyesore intercut with glib verbal theatrics that evokes more condescension and misaligned arrogance than entertaining ease.

Godzilla: The Planet Eater: Conclusion

Godzilla: The Planet Eater is the finale of an unsatisfying and highly flawed trilogy. The scope and scale are conveyed in a lavish manner. However, the heart and soul of the picture feels far too mendacious and hollow to remotely be considered even the most quaint and satisfactory compared that of even the most routine Gorjira stories released in the early and late 1960s.

Godzilla: The Planet Eater is now streaming on Netflix in the UK and US. 

Godzilla: The Planet Eater Trailer (2018) Godzilla Anime Movie - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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The English title of Skynd Deg Sakte (Hurry Slowly), can best be described as an oxymoron or, closer still, a paradox. However, the interesting thing about paradoxes is the very fact that they often ring with some core truth. The best way I can describe it, within the context of this story, has to do with its logistical runtime. This is a diminutive feature from Norway clocking in at only about 1 hour and 7 minutes and yet director Anders Emblem elongates this time frame methodically.

The opening shot sets the mood with a long, unbroken take of a biker entering the foreground and cutting across an isolated byway into unseen open space. These wide, expansive shots are interspersed liberally throughout this naturalistic drama. In fact, there is a near preoccupation with roads snaking through the countryside. We see it, again and again, from varying perspectives.

If we call this a slice of life story, it’s necessary to consider the actual slices as long strips unto themselves. They are given time and space to develop, though there isn’t much time, to begin with. The images function in a generally symmetrical, two-dimensional plane of existence with everything feeling very measured in both camera work and editing. It would mean very little if it did not dictate how we are supposed to understand these characters and their world.

Her Brother’s Keeper

Fiona (Amalie Ibsen Jensen) is the legal guardian of her younger brother which, in itself, is a heady responsibility since he has autism. Tom (David Jakobsen) needs constant looking after whether it’s help getting dressed, preparing meals, or continually receiving prompting to improve his learning regimen. She takes care of him very dutifully and with obvious sibling affection. There are no parents or grandparents present so she and her brother live alone on the northern coast of Norway.

source: Anders Emblem

As is, there is little to no dramatic situation. At least, not in the conventional sense, though stories and personal meanings dance in and around the edges of the story. Because Fiona has no verbalizing family, we must decipher her desires through her eyes and the physical manifestations in her life.

One can only gather her true aspirations lie in the world of music and yet she feels beholden to the care and upkeep of her brother. She loves him dearly but there is also this tension about leaving him at a full-time care facility. She frets over the outcomes. Is this really the best decision for both of them? But all these extrapolations take a bit of inference, poking and prodding at the material to try and tease out further meaning.

Low Stakes and Tranquility

The film’s ambitions are slight and yet within the scope it chooses, there is an undeniable warmth of character. So, while there’s nothing extraordinary or particular eye-catching here, it never sets out to be such things. Sometimes simple, unadulterated goodness is enough.

source: Anders Emblem

The longest take I can ever recall comes during one walkway scene in Michelangelo Antonioni‘s L’Avventura (1960). Still, Hurry Slowly more than earns its name. Because even a moment like the one in the earlier film, which could easily feel excruciating, is still tied into a broader mystery. We want to know where the female tourist has disappeared to. It would keep us going if Antonioni did not play such a sick joke on his audience. With Hurry Slowly, there is similar pacing but none of the indelible parlor tricks.

Thus, it runs the risk of feeling sleepy and tedious. Thankfully, it never is allowed to become turgid because of the very nature of its economy. So this slowness of pace in form and content acts more like an oasis than the doldrums. The balance between the two seems important as the same could probably not be said of a longer film. Instead, it plays like a long, short film if we can pen a new paradoxical term.

The low stakes are infused with this underlying peaceful tranquility. The story, while not hard and fast all the way through, has the shapes and edges of a life not quite fully realized and expounded upon. There’s ample content for more exposition even as the camera cuts away. But we’re rather glad that it leaves it as is, with the contours allowing our minds to fill in the dots.

Music as a Gateway to the Soul…Sort Of

One of the promising notes of the movie comes out of the songs Fiona plays on her guitar. They are actually quite noticeable when put up against a canvas that’s so hushed. First of all, they’re in English but there’s also the candor of a singer-songwriter with real feeling in between the lines. I only wish we would have gotten more of this. But again, that’s precisely the issue. Fiona’s other necessary responsibilities, to her brother and to work, take away from her allotted space for creativity.

source: Anders Emblem

However, I couldn’t help thinking as we sat in silence together on other occasions, her headphones plugged into the record player, what a wonderful opportunity these would have been to build a deeper rapport. Not only would we feel closer to her in actually hearing the music she’s informed by, but it might give us some greater insight into who she is. Music can do that and it’s true of when we hear her sing, so why would it not be the same with what she listens to? Musical rights aside, it does feel like a wasted opportunity.

Despite doing everything in my power to know these characters on a more meaningful level, there are hardly enough morsels to arrive at a deeper understanding. By the end, we must resign ourselves to this fact. This is a peaceful film, which lingers as a placid impression more than a deeply resonate portrait of life.

What are some films that utilized long takes and stationary camera set-ups effectively? What makes a resonate slice of life film or is it only a euphemism for a story that is lacking meaningful conflict and stakes?

Hurry Slowly will be featured at Slamdance Film Festival 2019 in Park City, Utah which runs from January 25th-31st. 

Skynd Deg Sakte (Hurry Slowly) teaser 4 - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Film Inquiry Magazine by Jacqui Griffin - 6h ago

Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem stir up intrigue and romance in Everybody Knows, though the trailer cleverly gives little away.

This dramatic mystery film follows Laura (Cruz) upon her return to Spain from Argentina for her sister’s wedding, accompanied by her husband (Ricardo Darín) and two daughters. Enter Paco (Bardem), apparently a former lover of Laura’s and still a friend to the family, now settled down with a family of  his own. During the wedding festivities, one of the girls (it’s not totally clear from the trailer, but we assume it’s one of Laura’s daughters) goes missing, and everyone is a suspect. How well does a family know each other?

source: Focus Features

Despite allowing too much information to slip out (something I particularly like about the trailers for this film), Everybody Knows or Todos lo Saben in the original Spanish, makes promises of intense drama and lots of sexual tension. If you watched Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem square off in Vicky Christina Barcelona, you know that the chemistry between the two of them is, historically, dynamite.

Since this is a follow up to director Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning The Salesman (he also previously picked up an Oscar for A Separation), the pressure is on Farhadi to deliver, and as the magic eight ball says, outlook good.

Everybody Knows is directed by Asghar Farhadi and stars Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Ricardo Darín. It will be released in the USA on the 8th of February 2019 and the UK on the 8th of March 2019. Further release date info can be found here.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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When it was first announced that Jodie Whittaker had been cast as Doctor Who’s Thirteenth Doctor – the first-ever woman to take on the role of the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey traveler from planet Gallifrey – fans who were familiar with her previous work had good reason to be excited. From her acclaimed screen debut opposite the legendary Peter O’Toole in Venus, to her role as a trainee nurse turned alien fighter in the hilarious Attack the Block, to her heart-wrenching portrayal of a grieving mom in the television series Broadchurch: there’s something about Whittaker’s screen presence that draws you in and makes you care deeply about what happens to her.

This natural charisma serves Whittaker well as the Doctor, and it does the same in writer-director Rachel Tunnard’s feature-length debut, Adult Life Skills. Whittaker reprises her starring role in this expanded version of Tunnard’s short film Emotional Fusebox, playing a young woman struggling to accept adult responsibilities after the death of her beloved twin brother. Yes, you’ve seen dramedies wrestling with these topics before, but where Adult Life Skills stands out is its star and the ensemble of equally oddball and utterly charming characters that surround her.

Actively Avoiding Adulthood

Anna (Whittaker) is approaching her 30th birthday, but she doesn’t feel like celebrating; all she wants to do is hide out in the shed in her mother’s yard and shoot weird little videos starring her thumbs as two space travelers who engage in odd existential conversations about things like the nihilism of Yogi Bear. She emerges from the shed only to go to her job at the local boating center, where she spends her time counting molehills and scrubbing down obscene graffiti. Not that there’s much else to do in the tiny town she lives in, but still, it’s an unfortunate existence.

source: Screen Media Films

Anna retreated to the shed after the death of her twin brother, Billy (Edward Hogg), which whom she created a series of eccentric videos posted online that provide silly life advice. By surrounding herself with Billy’s possessions and rewatching their old videos, Anna almost feels as though Billy is still with her. However, her impatient mother Marion (Lorraine Ashbourne) is insistent that Anna moves out of the shed and get on with her life.

When Anna’s old school friend Fiona (Rachael Deering) returns home from a trip around the world, she attempts to bring some spark back into Anna’s life – as does the socially awkward local real estate agent, Brendan (Brett Goldstein), who appears to have a crush on Anna. But it’s Anna’s unlikely connection with a cowboy-obsessed child named Clint (Ozzy Myers) whose mother is dying that ends up forcing her to stop wallowing in past grief and face the reality of her future.

An Exercise in Empathy

Even though her situation is to some degree understandable, Anna is often an unlikable character; her obsessive grief can veer sharply into selfishness, such as when she blows up at Fiona after her friend pointedly reminds her that she wasn’t the only one to love Billy. Yet even in these moments, you find yourself able to empathize with her.

It’s clear how much an oddball like Anna would rely on her equally odd twin for survival in such a small, old-fashioned English town, and how losing him – and her firm belief that no one else could possibly understand the severity of losing him – could make her question everything about her life thus far. “Am I still a twin if my twin is dead?” she asks at one point, still unable to accept identifying as anything other than Billy’s other half. It takes Clint’s entrance into her life for Anna to realize that she isn’t the only person to ever lose someone she loved and that despite his death, there are others left on this earth who love her too.

source: Screen Media Films

Whittaker embraces the entire gamut of Anna’s complexity and gives an emotionally intense yet still absurdly funny performance. Her scenes opposite Goldstein in particular, as the equally bizarre Brendan (clearly the only man apart from her twin who could ever attempt to understand the weird ways Anna’s mind works), fizz with delightfully awkward chemistry.

Also excellent is Deering as Anna’s friend Fiona; her bubbly personality and anecdotes from around the globe give the impression of someone who has her life together, yet in reality, Fiona is also a bit of a mess, just one who deals with it differently than Anna. Whereas Anna retreats from reality, Fiona races into it headfirst, even if it means she trips over own her feet in the process. Deering too has wonderful chemistry with Whittaker, with their scenes reflecting all of the equally pleasant and painful emotions that resurface when one reconnects with someone who has been gone. And as Clint, Myers manages to portray a troubled child whose annoying behavior is actually easy to sympathize with – a rare feat to be sure.

The only thing that really rubbed me the wrong way about Adult Life Skills was the music, most of which is performed by Micah P. Hinson. The soundtrack is packed with the kind of acoustic folk-pop one stereotypically associates with this subgenre – you know, the small-town coming-of-age dramedy – and thus highlights the aspects of the story that feel a tad too familiar. It’s also just boring, which does Adult Life Skills a disservice, as the film certainly is not. Many of the songs have lyrics, which I found both distracting and unnecessarily cloying; one doesn’t need words to understand the emotions inherent in a given situation when your lead actor is as easy to read and to watch as Whittaker. A more subtle score would have served the story far better.

Adult Life Skills: Conclusion

Adult Life Skills is a poignant examination of a young woman whose growth has been stunted by grief, carried by Jodie Whittaker’s charming performance. If nothing else, it will leave you hungry for the next season of Doctor Who to begin.

What do you think? Does this sound like a film fit for the Doctor herself? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Adult Life Skills is released in the United States on January 18, 2019. You can find more international release dates here.

Adult Life Skills - Official Trailer - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Riverdale returned in full force Wednesday night. Taking place five weeks after the quarantine has been lifted, there is an air of vulnerability and dire straights over the town, only the corrupt and greedy are able to relish the opportunities it invites. I was surprised viewers were not allowed to witness life within the quarantined Riverdale. The first half of the season had spent so long building up to it, that it was a shock to find that it had come and gone.

So what was the point of the quarantine after all? Is there more to Hiram’s (Mark Consuelos) plan? That’s what our characters want to know as well.

La Bonne Nuit

It isn’t long, though, until we get a glimpse of the new King of Riverdale in action. Following an attack on Reggie (Charles Melton) by the Gargoyle Gang due to Veronica’s (Camila Mendes) failed payments, Hiram shows up at the La Bonne Nuit, “concerned” for Veronica and the safety of her business. Offering her protection once again for a 15% return on her profits, Veronica, who has been cooking her books, makes a deal with the devil.

source: The CW

Yet, the devil is not easily deceived, ordering another attack on the headliner of the La Bonne Nuit – Josie (Ashleigh Murray) – as retaliation for the attempt of trickery by Veronica. Yet, as it seems to be the overarching theme of the episode, there is always another way – another path. Faced with falling under her father’s thumb, Veronica turns to the Serpents, who are also facing their own hardships post-quarantine Riverdale. Paying for protection through the Serpents, Veronica and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) make a stand against Hiram, sending the message that Riverdale is not lost. The question now is, what will Hiram do when he receives the message?

Oh, and through all the stress and intricate playing of the game against her father, Veronica may have begun taking the first steps to move on from Archie (KJ Apa). As many fans will remember, Archie broke Veronica’s  – and our – hearts when he ended their relationship before leaving Riverdale. Tonight was the first sign that Veronica may be letting Archie go, as she and Reggie embrace in what appears to be their first kiss – and we aren’t talking a peck on the cheek.

The Gryphon Queen

Five weeks post quarantine for Betty (Lili Reinhart) is also five weeks post-Sisters of the Quiet Mercy. Having broken herself and all the the other children free of the hospital, she and her mother have been caring and trying to keep each one of them safe until they can bring Hiram to court for the drugs he had tested on all of them. Yet, some habits die hard. Even though Betty has told them she had killed the Gargoyle King, they are unable to completely break free of the game’s hypnotic powers. Tyler sneaks Fizzle Rocks into the house (the drugs the Sisters had been administering) and the children need to play rounds of the game before falling asleep. And you thought feeding them was going to be the biggest issue.

source: The CW

As Betty’s mother (Mädchen Amick) becomes impatient with a house full of guests, The Farm is reintroduced to the Riverdale storyline – and in this case as a possible solution. The Farm has the capability to provide shelter and safety to the children, as well as treatment from Edgar that will aid them in their emotional sufferings. With Betty adamantly against it, her mother continues to sneak around her back, first calling Polly (Tiera Skovbye) and Evelyn (Zoé De Grand Maison), Edgar’s daughter, to come and speak with them, eventually calling Edgar to come personally to take the children when Tyler claims to have seen the Gargoyle King in the woods.

As usual, Betty’s plate is overflowing with not only the discovery that Edgar’s taken the children, but also that the Sister’s of Quiet Mercy, who have sworn to testify against Hiram, have been bailed out of jail by an anonymous donor. Leaving a message behind about “joining thee”, Betty’s fears are affirmed when she finds the sisters dead in the Gargoyle King’s room – blue lips and all. The fear on Betty’s face is not just for the bodies that lay before her, but the realization that the game was not a coping mechanism created within the walls by patients in response to fear, but that it is so much bigger. The sisters themselves believed it to be real and took the steps to ascend to the kingdom.

The Serpents

There is a feeling of opposition throughout the Serpents as their former and present Serpent King had been missing before and during the quarantine. Jughead is unaware of the crime and drug dealing the Serpents have been engaging in, enforcing strict rules when he does find out. Any drug dealing or crime going forward will result in immediate expulsion from the Serpent gang – a rule that is met with disagreement. Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and Fang (Drew Ray Tanner) stand up against Jughead, calling him out for his absence and lack of understanding for what they were all forced, and are still forced, to do to survive. The resentment seeps through the gang.

source: The CW

Jughead is entering what may be his most difficult time as the Serpent King. No sooner has his ruling been announced, it is discovered that Fangs is dealing Fizzle Rocks around town for the Gargoyle Gang to make money. Ashamed to have asked for help, he turned to drugs as a source of income for himself and his ailing mother. In a moment of mercy, Jughead gives Fang a “get out of jail free” with the understanding that he is never to deal again and that he is to keep this show of mercy between them. Yet, it is not long before his ruling is once again tested.

Announcing that he has found a source of income for the Serpents by providing protection to Veronica and her speakeasy, the cries of celebration are quickly snuffed as he also asks for the jackets and dismissal of Cheryl and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) from the gang. Having continued their robbing spree, hitting up Hiram’s apartment and leaving their calling card, they have violated the no crime ruling. Yet, Cheryl is not one to go quietly, calling for Fang’s jacket as well. If Jug will not show the same mercy to her and Toni, they must all be asked to leave. You can feel the gang holding their breath as you wait to hear what Jug will decide – that is until you realize it is you that is holding your breath.

As Cheryl, Toni and Fangs are asked to permanently leave, I find myself wondering if Hiram is still getting what he wants. There is a shock breaking through the ranks of the Serpents. Will the aftershock break the strength and bonds of the gang? Will it take the power from Jug bringing a challenger to try and claim the Serpent crown? His mother’s return is expected as she was seen in the trailer for Riverdale’s return – could this be a setup for a family takedown?

The Red Paladin

Oh Archie Andrews, our constant damsel in distress. Having found refugee in the forest (as what appears to be a Ranger), he seems to have found peace and solidarity. Though the forces of nature always seem to find him no matter where he goes, in this case, a bear. Injured and with communication cut off, he waits for an absolution, for the answers he has longed for to reach him – for help.

source: The CW

As he comes to, we see the boys from the mines at Shadow Lake and Cassidy (Harrison MacDonald), whose murder Archie was framed for, sitting around a set up game of Gryphons and Gargoyles. One round is all they want to play with him, to help him find out where all his troubles began. His first quest card takes him back to the dinner when he and his father faced the black hood for the first time. Instead of remaining frozen, Archie kills the black hood, bringing defeat to his demons. Though as he returns to the game, Warden Norton (William MacDonald)  is waiting for him for round two.

There are still demons to be understood, and Archie has another quest he must embark on if he wants to return to Eldevair (aka Riverdale). His second quest brings him face to face with Hiram the night before his arrest. Plunging a knife into his gut, Archie destroys the overarching demon that has driven him into hiding. Yet, when he returns to the cabin, the game is still waiting for a final round with Betty, Jughead and Veronica (all in Season 1 attire) awaiting on him to embark on his final quest. While we do not see what his quest card says, we know that Archie is about to face his biggest demon, the real creature that has brought him into the predicament he is in – himself. Facing reality, and with no one left to blame but himself, Archie kills the Archie lying peacefully in his bed in Riverdale – all while ignoring his father’s words of encouragement that there is always another way, another path.

As the delirious world of Archie vanishes away, viewers are now left with their true reality as help finally arrives at the cabin. They try to wake him up, the blood on his clothes a worrisome amount. Try as they might, Archie does not wake, he does not move – he does not breath. Could Archie have found a new means of Ascension – or has he finally given up?

Conclusion

Like many other Riverdale fans out there, I too am not convinced on the passing of Archie Andrews, or that his dire situation is truly a cause for concern. Like many of the memes running rampant since the final moments of the episode, I was more devastated when I thought Penny Peabody (Brit Morgan) had killed Jughead than I am about Archie Andrews. Archie will be back, though to what capacity and when will be what we have to wait to see. In the upcoming trailer, there is a flash of Archie holding a gun pointed at Hiram, providing some early proof that our salient hero will be back  – and still has further demons to face. Though does anyone else feel there isn’t really a place for Archie in the Riverdale storyline? He has been an outlying character for so long, I cannot even think of a way he could be utilized and melded back into the mix. We can only hope the show’s writers have a few tricks up their sleeves.

I had expected more of a setup for the second half of the season, but was met more with shock value moments, such as the possibility of Archie’s death, than a strong push forward in a future or continuing storyline. The next episode, I think, will provide a better setup and feeling for the remainder of the season. One thing is for certain, there is definitely a feeling that things are about to get seriously shaken up.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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It’s another January, so inexplicably, it is another dog movie. By now you might be sooner to smile reading the final pages of Old Yeller than in these saccharine dog-talking adventures; but this is something different. Those sweet, unswerving puppy eyes warrant the tissues you stuffed in your pockets. Forget the Turing Test, you might want to check with your doctor if you weren’t moved by A Dog’s Way Home.
As the title suggests, the story centers on a dog finding their way home. That dog is Bella. You have heard of good dogs before, but Bella is audaciously gracious, outlandishly determined, and inwardly red in tooth and claw – and she isn’t afraid to show her paws in order to protect those she loves. The same can be said for her uncharacteristically ordinary looking owners, who, with a similar prowess seen in W. Bruce Cameron’s original novel, fend off the ruthless Trump like neighbor (formerly demolished homes, now irrevocably seeks out immigrants and outcasts in the form of animals), as well as the big bad policemen under his wing.
The politics are startlingly sagacious. But never mind that. We came here to see the dog. And what a dog!
What A Dog!
The movie opens to Bella being rescued by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King). Little does she know her life is in shambles; she lives with a pack of adorable strays under a crumbling home in the suburbs of Denver. It turns out, to Lucas’ dismay, that the mile high city has an equally lofty set of rules regarding pets. No pit-bulls as an enforced law is bullshit. Lucas sure seems to think so, as well as his veteran mother Terri (Ashley Judd), who suffers from PTSD, and maybe not just from the war, but also from the nagging of a bald-headed-baddy with a bizarre hatred for our protagonist.
So Bella is sent off to live with friends in New Mexico. Which means no more of the lovely, heartwarming games seen in the film’s opening moments. Games like stop, which for Bella means prance about until she gets attention, or chew on shoes, or “go home”, which she decides to spend the majority of the narratively familiar run-time playing.
source: Sony Pictures
For awhile you can watch Bella’s exploration through the elements with a soft, entertained grin. Director Charles Martin Smith (Air Bud, A Dolphin’s Tale) seems to be in his element here with his casual capitalization on audience soft spots. There is no defense against Bella and her chipper voice by Bryce Dallas Howard. I am not sure if it is possible to critique a dogs performance, but the whimpers under whiskers, and her convincing evocation of emotions will make your heart melt like the snow that surrounds her. And for a film about eternal friendships and internal integrity, she sure meets some amusing pals.
Having escaped her humble abode in New Mexico, she travels through damp forest leaves, empty local towns, and shivering snow. Along the way she befriends a friendly pack in the city, a young CGI cougar (yes, that is a contradiction of terms) at the lake, a homeless veteran, and a shaggy dog who makes for a great cuddle buddy. These encounters, though always cute, tend to outstay their welcome. Which can be said for the movie as well.
A Dog’s Way Home: Conclusion
It can be entertaining to see our four legged hero sniff out human emotions, but about three quarters of the way in you will start to sniff out the cliches. For those who remember Homeward Bound, Lassie, or last year’s A Dog’s Purpose, the subject of dog loyalty, and finales with lost dogs running to to their owners like Forest Gump on his last legs won’t be anything new.
Nevertheless, it remains predictable yet effective. Predictable in its plot, effective in ways you wouldn’t have thought. Sure, it is sappier than the forest trees Bella runs by on her way home, but most people don’t realize that sap tends to stick.
Have you seen A Dog’s Way Home? What were your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below! 
A Dogs Way Home was released on January 11, 2019
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pKdCHvH310
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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I don’t envy the task of making a political thriller in 2019. Plenty of people have written about Poe’s Law and the death of satire following the election of Donald Trump, but no one has talked about the effect on thrillers. The usual tropes involving cunning politicians just don’t seem to apply. How do you portray the government as guileful and scheming when the current administration seems to more closely resemble the meme of a bicyclist shoving a stick through their own front wheel? To his credit, director Joe Chappelle tackles that challenge with aplomb.

An Acceptable Loss is a tense slow-burning thriller following Libby Lamm, the former advisor the VP on the United States as she navigates her life which has been upended by a massive political scandal. The film flashes back and forth between the events leading up to the scandal, four years in the past, and present day where depending on who she’s talking to she’s either a hero or a war criminal. A salient topic. Or it could be, at least. But for a movie whose tension essentially rests on a moral question—Does the end justify the means? Was it…An Acceptable Loss?—it ultimately fails to present that question in a nuanced or compelling way.

An Effective Hook And A Patient Build

Although the payoff of the film is disappointing, the journey to get there is a fun one. Much of the audience will be hooked by the opening scene. Tika Sumpter’s Libby looks blankly into the camera with a thousand-yard stare while Jamie Lee Curtis, the VP of the United Sates, coldly congratulates her in voice over. “Libby…Libby..Libby…You did amazing work. I knew I could count on you.” A slight flicker in Libby’s eyes betrays a fierce internal conflict, and the audience is left to wonder what it is that she has done.

source: IFC Films

Writer/Director Joe Chappelle has no intentions of telling us just yet, and he exhibits considerable patience in the way he pushes the plot forward. Details of the mysterious event are meted out slowly. Vague allusions are made to a terrorist plot, and a covert military operation, but the actual scandal and Libby’s role therein aren’t revealed until well into the second half of the film. The audience is forced to suspend their judgement and watch closely while the pieces come together.

In the present, Libby is a guest professor at the fictional Grant University teaching a class called “Understanding Contemporary Warfare”. Her appearance on campus elicits protests, and brings our first introduction to Martin, a graduate student played with a quiet, simmering intensity by Ben Tavassoli. Like Libby, we are not quite sure what to make of him. He is a student in her class, and he watches her with growing obsession, following her around campus, across the city, eventually breaking into her house to spy more closely.

Nothing is offered as to Martin’s motivations or objective, and outside a few overly-expository lines from his roommate (“I get the impression you’re one of those incredibly gifted self-motivated types…”), we know almost nothing about him. He could be a run-of-the-mill stalker, he could be a government agent, or he could be a terrorist. We are given just enough detail to be hungry for more.

Strong Physicality and Emotional Peaks

Chappelle’s script is relatively light on dialogue and action. There is a great deal of sitting, watching, waiting, and thus a limited amount of conventional opportunities for the actors to make their mark. In a worse-cast movie this could be a serious drawback, but Tavassoli and Sumpter make for remarkably expressive statues.

And I don’t mean that backhandedly. When you have a director who loves close-ups as much as Chappelle seems to, it’s tremendously helpful to have actors who can tell a story through a clenched jaw or furrowed brow. Many of Sumpter’s lines sound clunky, particularly the more technical “political” dialogue, and she’s not always comfortable repeating them. Her character comes alive in the smaller moments, like when she listens anxiously to the wind blow through her creaky house, her eyes darting back and forth to the gun she keeps under her pillow.

Of course, both the director and the stars know how to lean into an emotional crescendo when it comes.

The scene which, in my opinion, steals the whole movie is when Tavassoli‘s Martin is finally caught by Libby breaking in to her house and is forced at gunpoint to explain what the hell he’s doing there. His performance is otherwise so emotionally muted and detached that when he finally gets a chance to raise his voice, choking back tears while he condemns Libby for her role in The Event which killed his father, the effect is disquieting.

source: IFC Films

I’d be remiss, too, if I didn’t compliment Curtis’s chilling performance as the war-hawk Vice President, the political brain behind the mysterious scandal. Her voice is breathy, yet ice cold, in a way that I can best describe as “What if a supervillain made ASMR videos?”. The effect is amplified by the film’s crisp, pared-down sound editing. It’s a voice that a person could imagine being manipulated by.

There’s a great deal in this movie that’s worthy of praise. And yet.

Dropping The Bomb and Missing The Point

Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that when the “truth” of the scandal is revealed, it is so comically over the top, so transparently evil, that I found myself wondering what the hell the point was of all that ambiguity.

The first two acts of An Acceptable Loss show Libby, Martin, and every other character with more than one line of dialogue all wrestling with the same question: What amount of violence is justifiable in defense of yourself or your citizens? It’s a complicated question, and complicated questions deserve complicated answers.

source: IFC Films

I’m not necessarily even talking about the role of the artist, and the need to “tell the truth” from ethical perspective. I’m talking about storytelling. And from a storytelling perspective, nuance is a lot more interesting.

Chappelle takes a controversial question and answers it in such an uncontroversial way that it makes the moral conflict of the movie feel totally manufactured. The tension is based on a false premise. In real life, the mysterious scandal would certainly have caused tremendous outrage, but it would have inspired very little debate. Some things are unambiguously evil. Some things are black and white. Good drama typically is not.

An Acceptable Loss: Conclusion

I feel like there’s such a fear among people writing political films over being caught on the wrong side of an argument. You need to make sure your bad guy is bad enough and the stakes are high enough, and the audience gets the point you’re trying to make. An Acceptable Loss open with a big, burning question mark that hooks you. It revels its own ambiguity, and forces you to constantly reconsider what “good” is and who you should be rooting for. In the end, rather than attempting to answer the difficult moral question at its core, it reframes the conversation into something simple.

The tagline of the movie is “The Truth Is Moving Target.” Chappelle either misses wide or doesn’t shoot at all.

What do you think? Are movies that wrestle with moral questions obligated to offer some kind of answer?

An Acceptable Loss will be released on January 18th, 2019.

An Acceptable Loss ft. Tika Sumpter & Jamie Lee Curtis - Official Trailer I HD I IFC Films - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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And Breathe Normally is an Icelandic drama written by Ísold Uggadóttir, and she’s a fairly big name on the indie film circuit; she’s been involved as a writer on a few other Icelandic films. This one, which she both wrote and directed, won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance. If nothing else, the festival is known for championing marginalised voices; if it wasn’t for them, the excellent Sorry To Bother You may never have seen the light of day.

You’d expect something to have won an award at Sundance to be original and politically relevant in some way, and this one delivers on that front.

The Film’s Influences

The film tells the story of a down-and-out single mother named Lára, played by Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir. Early on, it’s revealed that she’s in a lot of debt, and there are hints here and there of her past life, in which she was hooked on drugs and living in a squat with a group of other addicts. She also has a young son. The film begins with what must be a couple of years after those events: she is now living alone, and appears to be clean, though the debt is still hanging over her head.

At around the twenty minute mark, she lands a job as a border control guard, and as a result of her spotting a fake passport, a woman on the way to Canada is separated from her family and detained in a home for people who appear to have no citizenship. Partly through Lára’s guilt, the two women form an unlikely friendship.

source: Skúli Malmquist

It’s easy to understand why And Breathe Normally was praised so highly at Sundance. On a purely technical level, the film is extremely competently made: it paints a picture of a Europe which has been marred by far-right politicians who have used migrants as scapegoats for their own short-comings, though the film isn’t so much interested in their rise to power as it is the fallout of their policies.

Everyone seems to live in tall, Brutalist Soviet-era apartment blocks and the landscapes look like something out of a post-apocalyptic film. There’s something of Tarkovsky’s Stalker in there, though And Breathe Normally is far less abstract than his work. But the setting works.

From the off-set, you care about the two main women. Each is experiencing a different kind of pain, and the drama stands up to scrutiny because you get the sense that they both understand each other despite having come from two entirely different parts of the globe, and leading lives which couldn’t be any more different. The film’s subtly told feminist and pro-immigration narrative is its strongest point. Despite the bleak landscape, and the Uggadóttir’s cynical view of modern Europe, there is a sense of optimism in the story.

Nuanced Politics

It would be easy for the director to simply say, ‘the situation in Europe is unjust,’ but she goes a step further than that. At the film’s core, there is a fundamental sense of optimism, a belief that even if the entire world is against them, individuals can make a difference by simply supporting each-other, and being defiant of people who are trying to enforce a Status Quo built on dispossession and brutality. On paper, it sounds like a cheesy conceit, but Uggadóttir handles it very well.

source: Skúli MalmquistAnd Breathe Normally: Conclusion

There’s a sense of quiet, meditative activism in the film that I really admire. Unfortunately, I don’t think the film will be a huge hit; it doesn’t have the larger-than-life dramatic moments of films like Roma or Children of Men, both of which could be seen as comparison pieces for And Breathe Normally, but I don’t think Uggadóttir was interested in making a film with sweeping dramatic moments. She was trying to make a film which forces people to think about the way Europe is heading, and how it affects the continent itself and the wider world.

There’s a lot to admire, and the film is very much worth seeking out.

What did you think of And Breathe Normally? Have you seen it? Let us know in the comments.

And Breathe Normally was on VOD in the US on January 4, 2019. For all international release dates, see here.

Film Trailer: Andið eðlilega / And Breathe Normally - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Short films have a unique ability to strike the heart with impactful and resonating stories in a tight timeframe. In just mere minutes, viewers can experience a cathartic experience in a wholesome encapsulation. Animated shorts, with at times their personified creatures, had a deeper ability to strike at the hearts and minds of viewers, its relationship to childhood and a vail of innocence allowing us to let our guard down and welcome the unexpected.

It is for this reason the animated shorts are a personal favorite of mine, and the reason I jumped at the chance to cover the Show of Shows. For the 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows, 15 animated films were selected, curated to form this captivating showcase – with three currently on the shortlist for the 2019 Oscar Animated Shorts Nominations.

The Green Bird – Maximilien Bougeois, Quentin Dubois, Marine Goalard, Irina Nguyen-Duc and Pierre Perveyrie (France) source: Yummy Films

What a way to kick off the 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows. The Green Bird was a humorous take on a mother protecting her egg against all forces of nature – and not without some mishaps along the way. What starts with the annoyance of a small fly, turns into an epic battle of strength and wit against an immovable force of nature.

The green bird, with human-like legs, while trying to silence a nagging fly, realizes that she has laid an egg. While immediately feeling the urge to protect it, the bird is faced once again with the nagging fly, destroying her refugee in her mission to devour it. Left out in the open, the green bird finds sanctuary in an old abandoned and rundown church, nestling safely in a sandy patch beneath the steeple. That is until a clap of thunder scares the bird, lightning striking the church, causing the bell to fall safely over the egg. Without strength and wit enough to retrieve it, a series of attempts results in an ill-fated misfortune – all while the fly buzzes in and out of each obstacle.

Devastated, the green bird lashes out in rage and agony, its cry of heartbreak over its crushed egg agonizing. Even though the cry has been fairly the same the entire short with few variations, we as viewers put emotion and value on each scene this cry is placed in, imbuing the cry with personified emotion. As the bird lays over the bell distraught, another clanking is heard, this time from the chick she had thought was lost. As they cry to one another, the fly buzzes once more – until it is caught by the young chick.

The Green Bird was an amazing short. Set in a desert setting, it really made the bird standout front and center – there was no way to miss the attention to detail that went into the creation of the green bird. The sounds and music excel at elevating the short. The upbeat vocals blend with the action, bringing it to new heights and interlacing tension. The fly adds an interesting addition as well. While the short could have simply stuck with the story of a mother protecting her young, The Green Bird went further than that, giving meaning to the smallest of details. Through the fly, we as viewers can understand the importance of the passing of knowledge to our young, and the importance of that young building upon the knowledge they are given (or born with). While the mother was unable to get the fly, the child was – displaying an evolution between generations.

One Small Step – Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas (US) source: TAIKO Studios

One Small Step was the first within the showcase that is currently on the short list for the 2019 Oscar animated shorts nominations – and it is clear to see why. From beautiful execution to a heartfelt story, this one has it all. Before embarking on this one, however, grab some tissues.

One Small Step is a look at the depths of a father-daughter relationship – as well as the relationship between children and their parents in general. We are quickly introduced to Luna and her father. With a deep passion for space exploration, Luna’s father shares in her adventures and nurtures them – crafting her a pair of space boots for her birthday. As imagination turns into real life, Luna grows, childish fantasy turned into future goals – her father always in the shadows doing what he can to help her succeed.

As they both grow, Luna continues to push forward in her studies even in the face of failure, while her father continually mends her shoes after she has gone to study or to bed. Sadly and eventually, Luna begins to break away from her father, as all children do, until one day she returns home and her father is no longer waiting for her at the kitchen table. Wallowing in sorrow and regret, Luna turns her back on the dreams she built with her father about becoming an astronaut, ripping posters and crying along in the dark. Cue the tears, and grab the tissues – there is more to come.

As Luna cleans up their garage, she comes across a box of all her old shoes that her father had saved. The building blocks to her future and one of the only things he could fix for her as she worked to achieve her dreams, she finds new resolve to continue and become the person her father believed she could become. As parents, we are the soles on our children’s shoes, giving them the support and foundation to survive in the world. We mend their wounds and help pick them back up, encouraging them to push further and reach their dreams.

Grands Canons – Alain Biet (France) source: Miyu Distribution

The mundane is so overlooked, and that is one thing that makes Grands Canons so beautiful. Starting off, you find yourself questioning not only about where this short could possibly be going, but also whether this actually qualifies as an animated short. Well, hold on because the wait is worth it.

Peaceful and serene, Grands Canons begins with an artist tracing and subsequently painting a picture of a pencil. The craft and care given to the painting is meticulous and exquisite – and it lends to an appreciation that may not have existed before – an appreciation you will find coming to fruition as the short continues.

As the artist completes his drawing, viewers are thrown into a symphonic showcase, the image of the pencil transforming into other pencils, markers and crayons. From here, it is transferred further – light bulbs, appliances, cleaner products – image after image of items in our daily lives. These seemingly mundane items of everyday life are strewn together to create something extravagant. There is beauty in the mundane.

The editing is phenomenal and the timing impeccable. You will find yourselves mesmerized by the fluidity with which each image blends into the next, finding a new appreciation for more than one art form. Speaking of the art, each of the paintings shown, and there are a lot, were hand drawn by the artist we initially see drawing the pencil. A dedication to a craft that has found its medium of showcase.

Barry – Anchi Shen (US) source: Anchi Shen

Animated shorts seem as though they will be an entertaining time, and they are, but many times they are so much more than entertainment. Barry is one of those animated shorts that proves this. A goat who aspires to be more than a grazer has worked to achieve the title of Doctor (and that is MD of humans I might add). Yet, try as he might, no one will hire him because he is a goat.

Pleading with a Human Resources hiring representative, he talks of how his mother and father sold themselves to earn the money needed so he could pursue he dreams of becoming a doctor and the fears that surround his future – did his parents do this in vain? Moved by the goat’s plea, the HR personnel makes a call to authorize this unusual hire, much to Barry’s delight. Yet his joy is quickly squelched as he is handed a mop and broom and demeaned to nothing more than a janitor.

Determined to prove himself, Barry interjects medically wherever he can, believing that if he proves his worth and intelligence, the doors will finally open for him. It backfires, however, his interactions cause for concern and expulsion from the hospital. Admitting to himself he was foolish to dream beyond his specie’s restrictions, Barry drops to his knees on the grass outside and begins to graze.

As he does, the doctors, who unlike the board and those of higher authority, have seen the good and change Barry has provided to all those around him, cry for him to stop, to never give up. To them he has proven his worth, and his mark will last a lifetime. Having solved cancer, he is to become a legend.

It is a very introspective look into our treatment of individuals in our society. We have preconceived notions of who should and shouldn’t be allowed to inhabit certain positions, thus limiting the advancements and opportunities for the future. The next scientific breakthrough could be locked within the mind of an individual who has been shorted the opportunities required to unlock this knowledge. By doing a disservice to these individuals, we are also doing a disservice to ourselves.

Super Girl – Nancy Kangas (US) source: Preschool Poets

Supergirl was one of two animated shorts in the showcase based on poems written by children – both Bullets (which we discuss later on) and Supergirl are part of an 8 short film segment called Preschool Poets. A sweet short, accompanied by an even sweeter and innocent vice, Supergirl is in part both childish fantasy and an awareness of independence.

Broken into two parts, part one sees this young child want to fly high, and kick those who do wrong or try to do harm to her and others, a regular fantasy of many preschoolers: the desire for the impossible. At this age, there is a lesser awareness of what is real and what isn’t, but the freedom of the imagination is the strongest stimulant for a child, and the moment when many dreams are initially born.

Part two, is the acknowledgement of the future and more grown up; ideologies – primarily independence. She speaks of her love for ice, pretending to be frozen within. Why ice? Because ice does not make you do anything. I.e. Does not make you go to school, or clean your room. Ice is the future they are beginning to understand, beginning to desire. A drive is coming to life inside of them that will be a pushing force in their lives.

It is an interesting peek into the mind of a child, the evolving brain and viewpoint on the world as it goes from childish naivety, moving to an awareness of where they will be going. One day they will make their own decisions – possibly reaching the Supergirl state in adult form. It is an interesting moment in child psychology that many miss in real life.

Love Me, Fear Me – Victoria Solomon (Germany)

Love Me, Fear Me is a beautiful and mind-blowing showcase of Claymation talent. The melding and transitions between creatures, culminating in a chaotic mixing of colors, is delivered with perfection, and a standout in the medium.

What starts as a comedic performance, the audience laughing and applauding on cue, unexpectedly gives way to silence, the star lights turned off. The creature is left confused and lost in the darkness. Finding a new spotlight, it tries again to draw laughs from the crowd, but finds it is to no avail. The audience no longer finds humor in its act. So the creature adapts, changing itself and its performance into a sultry and seductive dance that entices the attention of the audience – and it works! Once again, it is the subject of their attentions. But only for so long.

Once again finding a new spotlight and failing to recreate its audience, the creature turns into a master of martial arts. While he gains the attention of the audience again, this time around is even shorter than the previous performances. Finding it must once again evolve, the experience of frugality is once again had – yet this time to no applause. This reinvention has not found its audience, and the artist, who had long lost its identity, is lost within itself. There have been so many modifications for the sake of the audience that it no longer knows itself. It is not until the creature sheds its personas that it can truly find itself and happiness.

It was interesting watching Love Me, Hate Me, as it is a reflection on the self-sacrifice some artists make in the name of fame and success, as well as speaks to the attention span and desensitization of the audiences they are constantly trying to win over. In the fight between winning and losing in art, it is when we lose ourselves that we are truly lost, and only in understanding who we really are can we find the success we truly desire.

Business Meeting – Guys Charnaux (Brazil) source: Cargo Collective

Watching Business Meeting, I found myself wondering about those that run corporations throughout the U.S., and the world. You imagine it being somewhat dry and bleak, but to see it displayed as such on screen is a different image altogether. Short and effective, Business Meeting gets its point across, utilizing simplistic drawings to accentuate the lack of originality and individuality of the room and its members.

Yet, as we close in on each member around the table, each person is different, communicating in a different language. There is individuality and difference between each person. Though as we go from person to person, the same line is repeated “I make ___ words my own”, the preceding individual’s name changed each time. While they look different and have different languages, they think the same and back up the person before them with no objection.

Corporate speak is not for the layman, and not for free thinkers either. It depicts butt kissers, supporting the person in from of them, who could be concluded as their superior. Patting each other on the back, this roundabout meeting ends with no advancement, no new ideas – just the same run around.

Flower Found! – Jorn Leeuwerink (The Netherlands) source: Jorn Leeuwerink

This was the most surprising of the bunch – its dark humor and grave conclusion unforgettable. What starts as an innocent search for a missing flower turns swiftly into a poultry-themed witch hunt, with guilt and false accusations left in its wake.

A field mouse, having returned from fetching water for its beautiful flower, is distraught and saddened to find that someone has dug it up and taken it during his absence. As he mourns the loss of this beauty in his life, he is greeted by a bird who vows to help the small mouse locate its precious flower. With nothing more than a description of a yellow center, surrounded by a circle of red petals, the search party of two expands as more of the forest’s wildlife join in the hunt. As they reach a small cottage, what appear to be petals peering just above the door turns out to be the head of the chicken – whose appearance, like the flower, has a yellow beak in the center surrounded by the chicken’s red comb.

While the mouse is saddened, the other animals are enraged. The chicken is quickly brought to trial to determine his nature – flower or chicken. Try as he might, the small field mouse is unable to convince the court and the jury that it is a chicken. The animals display their ignorance and resolve in their decision, and the chicken is beheaded. As the mouse solemnly carries the chicken’s head to bury it where the flower was once planted, viewers are left in shock – though with deep understanding of our culture.

Too often, we are swift to make decisions based on small bits of information – even if that information is found to be false. We are not easily swayed from our preconceptions of what a thing is and how the situation should go. Our rash judgments bring inexplicable harm to those who are innocent. We need to take the time to listen to all sides, even if we disagree. We need to strive to obtain as must information that is readily available to us, before making a final decision.

As the flower was marked with characteristics the chicken shared, he was automatically called a flower. By stereotyping based on what we look like, we are leaving guilt and false accusations in our wake. We condemn a race, gender or sexual preference into a category of unchangeable characteristics that continue to created a forced viewpoint. By not expanding our lines of thought, we are restricting and damaging the lives around us. Only by getting to know the person in front of us for who they truly are can we look beyond.

Bullets – Nancy Kangas (US) source: Preschool Poets

One of the saddest trends I have begun to notice in film and television, is the depiction of the world our school children live in. This year’s film Eighth Grade was an eye-opening examination of the acceptance and desensitization of the world where violence in our school, particularly gun violence, has become such a norm. In this film, the students are practicing a “shooting drill” whereby they are told to run if in the halls is a shooter (after a shooting reenactment), and practice hiding under their desks if they are in their classrooms. The scene chalks itself up to nothing more than a fire drill. This is the world we live in, that we have begun to accept for our children.

Bullets was equally striking, as it is based off a poem by a very young child – a preschooler to be exact. This was truly sad and heartbreaking. The fact that children, small children, are writing in poetry the violence that has invaded their lives is heartbreaking. To hear the little voice recite the poem is equally heartbreaking.

The animation presented in the short depicts an equally angry and distracted world. As the child states “relax world”, viewers are shown couples fighting, people angry at their TV sets and corporate figureheads overlooking the city. “Relax bullets from guns, stop shooting people” is spoken as two seemingly teenaged boys walk up to the man, pointing their guns, those who had been distracted by hate and technology standing behind them. “Fire Eat Wood” as the short is engulfed by a ball of orange and yellow light.

What goes on in the minds of children these days? What do they fear and think about? If this poem is any indication, they think about a lot more than we are giving attention to. They see the world for all its anger and violence, the chaos of society unending. It is through their eyes we may truly see ourselves. “Relax world”.

A Table’s Game – Nicolás Petelski (Spain)
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