Worth 1000 Words #7: Studying

Allow me to spin a cautionary tale about the importance of studying, and the evils of procrastination and putting off work.

Throughout my academic career, from kindergarten to college, I was a decent student – in the sense that I got good grades and I generally behaved myself. On report cards, I never got below a B; of the few B’s I earned, they were always in my poorest subjects, a.k.a, math or science. Or political science. Government class killed me, man.

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My studying pose, known as “the cricket.”

But while I earned good grades, I was absolutely horrendous at studying and managing deadlines, and, thanks to those poor habits, I can attribute it to luck that I was able to pull off the academic performances I did. It wasn’t until my final year of college that I actually developed a normal/healthy routine with homework and school projects, but prior to that point, it wasn’t uncommon for me to put off an assignment until the day/night before and end up spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and intense regret as I brewed my fifth cup of coffee at 3:21 in the morning on a Tuesday before an 8AM class. I pulled about 5 or so all-nighters in high school, which isn’t all that bad, and I definitely did less in college; but during each of them, there always came a point where I would run a hand through my snarled hair and say, “I am never doing this again,” and yet, I’d end up inevitably doing it again regardless. I think the worst one was 10th grade – I spent a whole night doing the majority of a project that I’d had at least a month to do, drank 2 Full Throttle energy drinks to stay awake, and put “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from the Mulan soundtrack on repeat for 4 straight hours as motivation. The experience did not make a man out of me. Even way back  in elementary school, I used to wait until the morning my reading logs were due to have my mom sign them, and ended up forgetting to do so on numerous occasions. It takes like, five seconds to have someone sign something, and I was too lazy at 8/10 years old to even do that.

Studying was the largest hurdle in my academic life… mostly because I was a prolific procrastinator, but also because I found it difficult to focus, as I have the attention span of an acorn and I am way too easily distracted. But I won’t deny that I could have applied myself much better, and worked harder to focus – it’s not like I was sucked into a Youtube vortex of fainting goat videos against my will, I chose to put off my work and bore the consequences because of that decision, and allowed myself to fall into that mindset multiple times. During my last year of college, I turned a page. I made sure my homework was done (or almost done) by dinner time, went to bed at 10 PM every night, woke up at 6AM to go jogging 5 days a week, always left to go to class with enough time to grab my usual latte at the campus center (the lady at the counter only had to see me coming and she’d start preparing it for me), I spent my weekends doing homework in my little kitchen nook, and, with what free time I had remaining, I either hung out with friends or worked on writing for personal reasons. I’d cut back my work schedule that year, and during my final semester I dropped my second job in order to focus on schoolwork. This was a massive help because I felt like I had more free time to do fun stuff, which sliced my procrastination level down. It’s a shame that it took me sixteen or so years to get into the appropriate mindset regarding school, because I could have saved myself a lot of suffering, and my caffeine dependence probably wouldn’t be quite as bad as it is now. I am down to 2-3 cups a day as opposed to the 6-7 I used to consume, so that’s progress, at least!

Once I began to apply myself, and worked out a schedule that afforded me a more or less well-balanced life between school/work obligations and personal matters, I noticed an improvement in my academic performance and a noticeable decrease in my typically-astronomical stress levels. I finished my assignments early. I wasn’t scrambling to finish homework the morning it was due. I actually wrote multiple drafts instead of just turning in my first endeavor at everything, and, as a result of all the changes I made, I even improved my diet and sleep schedule, which led to an overall boost in my mood. I wasn’t late to appointments. And it all felt so rewarding, to finally feel like I wasn’t drowning in papers and books in a vicious cycle of my own making.

Looking back, I actually cringe thinking about how I might have improved on some of my work and my assignments had I changed my habits earlier. Those ‘A’s could have become ‘A+’s. Those ‘B’s and ‘B-‘s might not have even happened, and my student ranking might have been higher in high school, which would have awarded me better scholarships. Luck was certainly on my side throughout my academic life, as I still managed to graduate college with honors… but, other than those final months where I turned it around, that success was at the cost of my health, both mental and physical, because it took me so long to reform my studying methods. Just because you are someone who can pull off decent/adequate, or even stellar work, at the last minute, doesn’t mean that you should. And as someone who used to ascribe to that way of thinking, and assumed I could put in just enough effort without really pushing myself to be even better, I definitely recommend that you do not.

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Dir: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, lots of big names.
Runtime: 129 min
Spoiler Level: If you’ve seen the 1991 version, light. It’s a tale as old as time so you should probably know the gist by now…

I am part of the lucky generation who grew up during the majority of the “Disney Renaissance” period, which started with The Little Mermaid (1989) and concluded with Tarzan (1999). Though I love all of the titles that came out during that decade, my favorite installment in the echelon of Disney’s most enchanting films is 1991’s acclaimed Beauty & the Beast.

Beauty-Beast-2017-Movie-PostersWhen I heard that Disney was planning to make a live-action version of the animated classic, I was conflicted. The recent Disney live action remakes have been impressive in their own way – Cinderella (2015) added new dimensions to a well-loved story, The Jungle Book (2016) brought new twists and amazing visuals, and the heart-warming Pete’s Dragon (2016) had a bigger impact than the animated version. But when it comes to one of Disney’s most iconic properties, why even do a remake? What can a remake accomplish that the original – a critically-lauded, award-winning, massive success – didn’t already do? What is the purpose of a remake, besides taking a cartoon and making it live-action?

As such, it’s easy to dismiss movies like this as a cash-grab…and on some level, this film is one. Blatantly, even. But Disney’s 2017 spin on the tale as old as time contains almost as much magic as the original – it’s a faithful, gorgeous adaptation that breathes new life into a familiar tale of love, family, and the true meaning of beauty.

Like the original fairy-tale and the 1991 classic, Beauty and the Beast follows Belle, the titular “Beauty” who is considered odd by the other residents of her small, provincial town. After trading her fate for her father’s in a life-changing decision, Belle becomes a prisoner of the mysterious (and mega-grouchy) Beast in an enchanted castle full of magical objects. But as the pair spends time together, both Belle and the Beast begin to discover that there might be something there that wasn’t there before.

The cast is superb; especially considering, unless you’ve never seen the original, it is difficult not to compare them to their 1991 counterparts. For me, there were no major moments of “Oh, so-and-so was/is so much better than so-and-so” during the film- the new voices and faces were not swallowed by the shadows of their predecessors. Emma Watson is mostly lovely (but also wooden at times) in her role as Belle, while Dan Stevens growls and charms as the Beast, and their chemistry (even with Stevens cloaked in CGI) creates a captivating romance. Ewan MacGregor makes a fine Lumiere, who gleefully (and frequently) spars with the uptight Cogsworth, played by a wonderfully gruff Ian McKellan. Emma Thompson channels the maternal mentality of Mrs. Potts, while newcomer Nathan Mack brings cheer to spunky teacup Chip. Audra McDonald is brilliantly bombastic as Mme. de Garderobe, and Stanley Tucci, as the harpsichord Cadenza, is a pleasant addition to the ensemble. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great as Lumiere’s love, the feathery Plumette. Kevin Kline’s turn as Maurice, Belle’s father, is a spirited change; Maurice was more of a kooky, bumbling-yet-lovable oaf in the animated feature, but in this version, his character is granted a more solid identity, and his motivations are made clearer.

Luke Evans nails his role as the suave, ego-maniacal villain Gaston, providing a convincing blend of brawn, arrogance, and Machiavellian scheming, while still somehow managing to earn a few laughs. And while he might not actually be “roughly the size of a barge” in real life, Evans’ spectacular vocal ability makes up for it, and his performance is one of the highlights of the film. Josh Gad’s portrayal of LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick, is another example of excellent casting – he manages to balance the comic-relief with genuine characterization. The role garnered some buzz prior to the film’s release due to the revelation that the character in this version is meant to be gay, an announcement that caused some (ridiculous) backlash. I was expecting the change to be obvious, but the role is, other than a few nuances, very similar to his cartoon counterpart, so the inclusion of his sexuality is more “blink and you miss it” than anything else, and it’s been blown massively out of proportion. Also, shout-out to whatever horse (or horses) played Philippe, because damn, that horse had to run. I got tired just watching him.

Since the film is padded by about 50 minutes of additional running time compared to the original, a significant amount of new material is packed in – and the bulk of it helps to answer questions and sew up plot holes from its predecessor. The Beast’s curse is discussed in greater detail, the Enchantress has an expanded role, we get more insight into both Beast’s and Belle’s backstories, several characters get new “layers” to their personalities (the Beast ACTUALLY READS some of the hundreds of books in his library, for example), elements from the original fairy-tale are woven into the narrative, some humor is sprinkled in (I full-on LOL’d at least three times), and, of course, there are new musical numbers – so the Beast finally gets to belt out his own anguished solo. The additions and tweaks served to expand the story, while keeping the original plot largely the same; a compelling combination of both old and new.

One major draw of the animated film is the music; Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s original score and songs are some of the greatest in Disney’s ever-growing jukebox. Though a handful of lyrics have been altered for the new film, the big songs manage to retain their allure; “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” are delivered with spectacle and enthusiasm (thank GOD they kept the “I’m especially good at expectorating” line), and Emma Thompson capably captures the charm of “Beauty & the Beast,” holding her own against Angela Lansbury’s version. I also loved “The Mob Song,” and was thrilled that Audra McDonald  featured in “Beauty & the Beast – Reprise.” The score from Beauty & the Beast has always been my favorite from Menken, and the new film introduces additional themes/motifs that blend seamlessly with the original sound, which somehow accomplishes the difficult task of making an already amazing score even better.

As expected, the visuals of the film are stunning. Tangent; since I’m a slave to consumerism, I shelled out for the IMAX 3D and definitely thought it was worth the extra cash. Generally, I prefer IMAX because it’s mega loud and can usually drown out any obnoxious chatter in the theater. I know some folks consider 3D superfluous, and they’re right about 97% of the time, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t freaking cool. I like 3D, so sue me. Maybe I want a tiny teacup flying at my head, OKAY? Sprinkles aren’t necessary on ice cream, but I will enjoy them if given the opportunity, even at an additional cost. End tangent. The new interpretations of the characters (including the Beast) are fitting for a somewhat “darker” atmosphere, and the sets are breathtaking; the castle in particular. The costumes were also brilliant (I liked the more “French” flair to the outfits) and, though it’s early, I would not be surprised by an Oscar nod for the costuming, or the set design.

Disney faced a tall order when they decided to tackle a live-action remake of their already-beloved tale as old as time, and this new interpretation hits a lot of high notes. That said… I do have some complaints. Allow me to remove my rose-tinted nostalgia goggles and discuss the less magical aspects of the film…

While we get a peek into the Prince/Beast’s backstory, I would have liked a closer look. His backstory is touched upon, but not explored enough to answer subsequent questions. My curiosity was piqued, but left unsatisfied, and it makes me wonder if a longer look into his past was left on the cutting room floor. On a similar note, some of the more “emotional” scenes in the film did not strike me quite as hard as they did in the animated version. I’ve seen the transformation scene about 7 billion times and I get choked up each and every time; but not in this one. Then again, I did get a little teary during the finale. So maybe it just took my tear ducts a moment to catch up. The editing is also choppy in places during the first arc of the film, but nothing too grating, and the message is too heavy-handed at times, especially when it comes to Belle’s (and the film’s) insistence that she is “not a princess,” as a “show not tell” approach would have likely been more effective.

It is also worth noting that the entire cast can sing. Nobody is onscreen wailing like a dying rhino, ruining the music, and I wasn’t cringing in my seat during any of the big numbers. But it is noticeable (and somewhat distracting) when some members of the lead cast can sing, while others can sing. This is most apparent with Watson’s performance as Belle. I’m not saying that she’s a bad singer, because she isn’t – but the auto-tuning made the distinction more jarring, especially when coupled with seasoned vocalists like Audra McDonald or Luke Evans. This Belle had an innocent, sweet sound to her voice – fitting for the young woman who yearns for adventure in the great, wide somewhere – but it sounded unnatural at the same time. If you stack Watson against Belle’s original voice, Paige O’Hara, or Susan Egan, the original Broadway Belle, it is no contest, but I still would have preferred an authentic sound over the saccharine sheen of auto-tune.

Also, while I liked the added songs, none of them stuck in my head apart from “Evermore,” the Beast’s solo number –  it brought new emphasis to Beast’s emotional state at that point in the narrative. The absence of “Human Again,” the song cut from the 1991 film, was a huge disappointment; it’s replacement, “Days in the Sun” is nice, but it doesn’t pack as much punch as the original tunes. I also hoped for one or two of the songs from the Broadway musical to get tossed in, especially the haunting “If I Can’t Love Her,” but “Evermore” served a similar function, and the score does include a motif from “Home” in the scenes where Belle examines her new living quarters, which was a nice nod to the Broadway version. Perhaps Menken and co. preferred to inject new material because they are gunning for on Oscar; if so, “Evermore” is their best bet. It’s early, but I’d love to see it earn a nomination.

Overall, the film preys on nostalgia, but that’s all part of “the business.” At least there’s actual effort and work put into it, as the additional material shows. Was this film necessary in any way? No – because the original film didn’t need to be improved upon in any meaningful capacity. But Disney’s latest remake is not a soulless, vacuous copy-and-paste job like some cynics would lead you to believe; it’s a refreshing look at a familiar story, and if you’re a fan of the original, I’d suggest giving it a fair chance. It’s not like you have to like one version and hate the other, and I think some folks set their expectations for this film so high that anything less than perfection was doomed to fall out of favor. Regardless, it is possible to appreciate both versions of this tale; the new allows for a revitalizing look at an enchanting classic, and the old maintains timeless magic and a concise, yet effective story. Besides, if you’re one of those folks who are anti-remake (I am most of the time, but it depends on the film) you should probably strap in for the long-haul, because there are plenty more on the way.

While it’s true that this film did not need to be made… I’m glad it was, flaws and all. With this installment in it’s continuing stream of live-action remakes, Disney has crafted a spell-binding experience made to charm old fans and woo new ones, and if you’re on the fence about seeing it, or if you’re one of the adamant naysayers, I’d say it’s worth seeing if you’re willing to go into it with an open mind. It might be bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, or even learning you were wrong.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

 

Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience: From Westeros to Boston

Contains spoilers for major moments of HBO’s Game of Thrones s1-6 and the Live Concert Experience. 

Last August, the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was announced, and, as a diehard fan of both the books and the show, I eagerly scanned the list of dates/venues to see if it was coming to my area. Unfortunately, the closest was Philadelphia on 2/26/17, which is about 2 hours away. I’m unfamiliar with Philly and the date was questionable for my schedule, so I didn’t think I would be able to attend… until I saw the location of the 3/6/17 show, and a lightbulb sparked above my head.

Since I’ve got family/friends in NE and I’m much more familiar with the area, I snagged tickets for the Boston show. Also, because my parents decided to start watching Game of Thrones with me and have spent the past ten or so months getting all caught up,  we made a mini family-vacation out of it and split the expense.

I bought the tickets way back when it was first announced, so by the time March finally rolled around, my excitement levels were at a potential Cleganebowl level. We got to the TD Garden about an hour ahead of time, and  the atmosphere inside the stadium was definitely meant to ramp up the hype-meter. Outside, they had some of the costumes from the show on display, which was a treat to see. There were smoke machines; not terribly intrusive, which set the scene with a light mist. I had gotten tickets for the “middle-ish” area of the stadium, so we had a great view of the screens and the stage… I’d initially gotten seats for one of the ends, but after some research, I called and swapped my seats, and the new ones were significantly better. For a Monday night, the turnout was decent; it wasn’t sold out, but the middle areas were packed, even up in the nosebleeds, and it seemed to me as though the empty seats were all on the ends, where the view of the concert was restricted. But as for the set up, there was a main stage connected to a smaller stage, which the soloists frequently moved to, as well as two smaller satellite stages, so, even if you couldn’t see the main screens from your seat, there was something to look at the entire time. There was an onscreen clock counting down the final minutes before the concert began, and from the moment the lights went down and the orchestra began the “Main Theme” as the Iron Throne materialized through a plume of smoke, I was as excited as Sansa was when she found out she was going to marry Joffrey…. you know, before he had her dad’s head cut off.

After a pleasant introduction by Ramin Djawadi, the creator of the music and themes all GoT fans have grown to love, the next track was an amalgamation of sorts of the character/house themes, as the sigils/banners unfurled from the rafters and the characters appeared in clips on the screen. I may not be a Lannister fan, but I got chills when their theme began; it might be my favorite motif from the series, and listening to it live was equal parts chilling and thrilling. Hearing the audience cheer for their favorite characters/houses and boo for their least favorites (Joff and Ramsay, in particular) was a surreal experience.

A major highlight of the concert was the soloists that composer Ramin Djawadi brought on tour with him; Christine Wu on violin, Cameron Stone on cello, singer Stevvi Alexander, and Pedro Eustache on winds, as well as a couple of others whose names I couldn’t manage to track down on the internet. Christine Wu played a wonderful solo as a “Weirwood Tree” descended and bloomed around her onstage, complete with red leaves raining from the sky, Cameron Stone rocked out on the cello during the Greyjoy number (on a water-soaked platform, no less) and Pedro Eustache played a 14-foot “wildling horn” in the midst of a snow squall during the White Walkers bit. Shockingly, no one went running for the doors when “The Rains of Castamere” (sung by soloist Stevvi Alexander) started, nor when they launched into the Red Wedding (“The Lannisters Send Their Regards”) afterwards. One truly understands what it means to be a fan whilst watching such misery play out onscreen with hundreds of other fans, though they did edit the sequences from the show to show less stabbing (of the back/neck/chest variety) than the full episode. The performance of the soloists/choir also gave those with a poorer vantage point something to watch, including a semi-reenactment of Cersei’s walk of atonement (no actual nudity, obv) and “warring” cello and violin during the sequences from “Battle of the Bastards.” The choir even donned Harpy masks for the relevant number. As someone who could see the screens perfectly well, it was nice to switch my view between stage and screen, and thus experience the entire concert without fearing that I missed anything big.

All in all, it’s hard to peg my favorite moment from the night – I enjoyed every note and each performance. The setlist featured a lot of the big musical and thematic moments of the series, such as the dramatic dragon-hatching ending of season 1, Jon and Ygritte’s doomed romance, and Sam seeing the library in Oldtown for the first time. One of my favorite episodes is season 2’s  penultimate “Blackwater,” so hearing the music live whilst watching the sequences play out onscreen was a treat for my inner fangirl. I also loved soloist Stevvi Alexander’s haunting and beautiful rendition of “The Rains of Castamere,” and her vocals, combined with the talents of a local choir, brought new life and fire to “Mhysa” and various other tracks, such as “The High Sparrow,” “Sons of the Harpy,” and “The Winds of Winter.” Ramin Djawadi also played the dulcimer during the Arya-centric “Needle,” and it gave the song a new, vibrant sound. The “Battle of the Bastards” segment was stellar, and the performance of the orchestra complemented the action-packed scenes of one of the greatest episodes of the series. Hearing the music in person, often with instruments added and the occasional new vocal or twist, also gave me a new appreciation for songs that previously had never stood out to me, such as the Greyjoy themes and Melisandre’s/Stannis’s.

The concert also included special effects aside from the images and scenes on the screens, which enhanced the overall experience and made for a visual feast for most of the concert. My favorite track from the season 6 soundtrack is actually “Reign,” so when the clip of Dany and the Masters played, with our favorite Dragon Queen saying “My reign has just begun,” I was thrilled; but add actual fire into the mix? We were several feet away and could feel the heat when the flames shot into the air. Gosh, it was like Drogon was actually present! Well, not really, but it was an awesome addition to the concert nonetheless. The second major instance was “The Light of the Seven,” the piano-centric track that leads up to Cersei’s act of ultimate vengeance in the final episode of season 6. Djawadi took the piano for this one, on the smaller stage, and as the song reached its peak, he was engulfed by green light and smoke. Thankfully it was all for show, and Djawadi did not suffer the same fate as poor Margaery, Loras, Kevan, and the others in the sept.

As all ride-or-die GoT fans know, the show would not be what it is without the gut-wrenching (and occasionally vindicating) stream of character deaths. After the orchestra finished the  last number, the hype-tastic song used to close out season 6 known as “The Winds of Winter,” Ramin and his band members played “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” while a montage of deceased characters played on the screens. A brilliant way to both close the show and offer a bit of a recap of our heartbreak, misery, and, in some cases, victorious moments over the last six seasons.

One complaint? Not NEARLY enough of the suave and mysterious Jaqen H’ghar/Faceless Man. (I jest, I jest – but he is my fave.)

The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was exactly that; an experience, and one I definitely recommend to anyone who is a fan of the show and the music. It’s approximately 2.5 hours of music and action – what’s not to like? I cannot imagine the amount of preparation and precision that went into making this concert, and I left the stadium with an ear-to-ear smile – a testament to what Djawadi has done with this score, and what GoT means to fans of the series. Ramin Djawadi and all those who have brought this concert to life have done an excellent job creating this experience and bringing the music to fans in a new, dynamic way, and I am so thankful I got to see it.

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Unexpected and Underrated

Before I became a frequent movie-goer, one whiff of a bad review would be enough to convince me to avoid a film. I’d go to the theater to see the “hits,” the usual popcorn flicks, but that was more or less it. Now, over the past few years, my film taste palette has expanded considerably. Since this shift in my habits, I have seen a slew of movies that I found enjoyable despite a poor performance at the box office, as well as movies that I loved against my expectations. So, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite “underrated” films and “unexpected” films.

The Grey (2011)
Whenever I am tasked with thinking of an underrated movie (which is almost never) my automatic answer is The Grey. I only ended up seeing it when some friends recommended it to me during my second year at college. It’s a survival/thriller about an oil-drilling team stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash in Alaska, and their efforts to survive both the harsh weather and being stalked by a pack of grey wolves. Plus, it stars Liam Neeson, which should have been enough to drive throngs of people to see it. It’s a sort of “subtle” thriller, in a way – it’s not super fast-paced, nor does it feature nonstop action, but I was completely engrossed throughout the film; especially as details of the character’s lives start to trickle through the narrative. The colors/imagery/cinematography of the film are also excellent, as is the tension/suspense woven throughout. I can still picture the ending of this movie in vivid detail, complete with Liam Neeson’s closing narration – the film really stayed with me, like a grey wolf on my periphery, and it made me think. It’s easily one of my favorite Liam Neeson performances (besides Schindler’s List, obv) and a seriously underrated and unexpected hit. Even if you aren’t a fan of survival thrillers, complete with seemingly hopeless situations and increasing feelings of despair among the characters, I recommend giving it a try. AND SPEAKING OF UNDERRATED, Dermot Mulroney also stars in the film and he is consistently great.

Tron: Legacy (2010)
Tron: Legacy is a movie that I did not expect to love as much as I do, to the point where words cannot accurately convey my adoration for this movie. I like the original Tron just fine, despite the fact that it has not exactly aged well, but the sequel is one of my all-time favorites. The story follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) and his journey into the digital frontier of The Grid in order to rescue his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who has been missing for two decades. It’s not groundbreaking in terms of plot or character development, but the story is compelling enough and the acting is superb on all fronts, though it does take some time to get used to CLU and Kevin (both played by Jeff Bridges, though John Reardon was the body double for CLU) being onscreen at the same time. Bruce Boxleitner is also back as Tron/Alan, though Rinzler is physically portrayed by the talented Anis Cheurfa. The cinematography and stylistic elements are amazing, and the symbolism, while overt at times, contains more subtle allusions that I didn’t notice until my 2nd or 3rd time watching – and yes, I did see it 3 times in theaters. The 3D was phenomenal, and the film is a visual and auditory feast. I love this movie so much I even wrote a 20+ page paper on Tron Legacy in college, entitled Biodigital Jazz, Man: Simulation and Identity in Tron Legacy for my Video Games in Literature class. AlsoI still consider Daft Punk not getting at least nominated for Best Original Score one of the worst Oscar snubs of all time.

Crimson Peak (2015)
When I went to see Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak about a week or two after it was released, my mom and I were the only two people in the theater – though I attribute this mainly to the fact that it was a Wednesday afternoon and “Back to the Future Day,” so most folks were at the theater to see the one day re-release of “Back to the Future” – someone even had a flux capacitor with them in the concession line. I think Crimson Peak also suffered from a minor case of mis-marketing, because people seemed to think it was a horror film, when really, it was a gothic romance which contained elements of horror – but all the ads I saw seemed to encourage the “horror” aspects of the film. I enjoy period pieces and the like, but I went in with no expectations, so I was not disappointed. It’s a gorgeous film, though it doesn’t delve quite as deep as it could – the story is somewhat predictable, but that didn’t make me enjoy it any less. It has typical “horror” moments, and romance moments, and suspense, but, while it has so many components of a gothic romance, it never quite realizes a concrete identity. The film has an all-star cast in Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Charlie Hunnam as the leads – Chastain is especially and wonderfully creepy in her role, and the highlight of the film. It’s visually arresting, and I recommend seeing it solely for how beautiful it is, from the music to the sets to the costuming, especially for fans of del Toro’s style.

The Finest Hours (2016)
Though T.S. Eliot might disagree, I think January is the cruelest month – especially when it comes to film releases. I don’t know exactly what causes this to happen, but January seems to be the month where new movies go to die a slow and painful death, and I think 2016’s The Finest Hours was an unfortunate victim of this phenomenon. I actually saw it on opening night, so it was pretty busy in the theater – but attendance waned in the following weeks, and ultimately, the film bombed. I don’t think it should have crashed and burned, though – because it was a perfectly good movie. Following the true story of the 1952 Coast Guard rescue of the SS Pendleton during a vicious storm, The Finest Hours boasts a stellar cast (Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck,) an engaging story, and all of the elements to make a great movie; and, in my opinion, it is quite good. Certainly underrated, considering the poor performance at the box office; I came out of the theater impressed, and definitely expected it to do well in spite of an unfavorable release date. It just couldn’t rise above the January doldrums, and it’s a shame that it didn’t.

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
Although I just finished reading Johnathon Tropper’s 2009 novel This Is Where I Leave You a few weeks ago, I saw the movie adaptation when it was released in 2014 – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Following the colorful (and conflict-ridden) Altman family during their time sitting shiva in the wake of their father/husband’s death, the film has an excellent cast – Tina Fey, Timothy Olyphant, Adam Driver, Jason Bateman, among several others – and the chemistry between them gave off a very believable family vibe. It’s not the most fast-paced or exciting film, but it has its fair share of humorous moments and poignant moments, and never tries to do “too much” in either department, so the story is relatively balanced and the pacing is decent. While it doesn’t attempt “too much,” it also doesn’t do quite “enough,” especially with such a stacked, talented cast – though I did find the narrative more entertaining and engaging than the lukewarm reception implied. However, the real highlight of the film is the cast; I recommend seeing it solely for the sibling relationships portrayed onscreen, especially between Fey and Bateman.

Rise of the Guardians (2012)
This animated gem is a visual triumph and features a stellar voice cast (Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny is a stroke of genius, as is Alec Baldwin as Santa) but it failed to become a real “hit.” When my best friend and I saw it, the theater was almost empty; but I still remember how ensnared I was by the film’s trailer. The story, based partly on a book series by William Joyce, is unique – when the evil Pitch Black threatens the world, the four “Guardians” must band together with the enlisted help of Jack Frost to stop the rise of darkness – and though it contains familiar tropes, it’s plenty entertaining, and it features intriguing interpretations of well-known characters, from the Sandman to the Tooth Fairy. It had all the components of a great film, yet still resulted in a studio loss. For fans of animation who missed this film upon its initial release, I definitely recommend giving it a chance. It was likely hindered by being released around the same time as a few box-office giants from that year (a Twilight film, Skyfall, Lincoln) but I found it to be an unexpected delight, and I still think it didn’t quite get the recognition that it deserved.

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
My mother is my most frequent movie-going companion, because we share a similar appreciation for film, both as an art form and as entertainment. I like to think of it as being film snobs who simultaneously don’t take it too seriously. Regardless, The Hundred-Foot Journey is one such example of a “mom and me” film. It’s got a great cast, and engaging story about an Indian family who opens a restaurant after a tragedy forces them to relocate to France, and the subsequent rivalry with the Michelin-star restaurant 100 feet away. The film also focuses on Hassan (Manish Dayal), the son of the Kadam family, who strives to make a name for himself as a chef. It’s a story about love, compromise, competition, and acceptance; a great movie to see on a Friday night when you want to put the stress of the work week behind you. I mean, it’s about warring restaurants, and it stars Helen Mirren and Om Puri – what’s not to like? It’s a prime example of a great film that is entertaining and heartwarming, but doesn’t try too hard – resulting in an unexpected delight.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)
When people think of Studio Ghibli, they probably think of the landmark titles like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke, three memorable projects by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. Because Miyazaki’s works are consistently brilliant and are the most well-known of the Ghibli lore, some other works from the studio get overshadowed. Yoshifumi Kondo’s  Whisper of the Heart is one such film, and it is actually my favorite Ghibli production – plus, it features The Baron, my favorite Ghibli character. It’s a sweet and simple story about a young girl who dreams of being a writer and her interactions with a boy who aspires to make violins. It follows the trials and tribulations of adolescence, young love, and the struggle between making dreams come true and facing reality. The animation is gorgeous, the music is great, and the writing (provided by Miyazaki) is poignant. It might not carry a message as deep as Mononoke or feature the whimsical magic of Howl’s Moving Castle, but Whisper of the Heart is a subtle slice-of-life that hits the closest to home, and fans of Ghibli’s other projects shouldn’t miss out on this underrated gem. And semi-sequel The Cat Returns is a hilarious companion to the film that is well worth seeing – especially since Cary Elwes reprises his role as the Baron.

Oblivion (2013)
I didn’t hear much about Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion when it was first released, and, as such, I didn’t see it until it came to Red Box. The film is a post-apocalyptic scifi film about a tech named Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Vika (Andrea Riseborough) who are doing recon/repair work on Earth while the rest of Earth’s population has allegedly relocated to Titan; however, Jack is haunted by flashes of memory of a previous life, which leads him to question his purpose and his identity. While the film does rely on previously used scifi tropes (hey, if it works, it works, as long as it’s entertaining) and it’s somewhat predictable, I also think it did an excellent job of not making familiar material feel stale, and it does introduce some new, fresh ideas into a genre with so many possibilities. Also, the film is gorgeous – it’s sleek, like Tron Legacy, only with a different aesthetic. I just saw Arrival (2016) the other night and Oblivion’s setting/atmosphere was semi-reminiscent of that; futuristic, but subtle and not over the top. It allows the viewer to put the pieces of the story and characters later, and doesn’t rely on excess exposition and explanation, which scifi does tend to fall victim to. I know that many folks have grown weary of the “post-apocalyptic” style of scifi, but Oblivion breathes a whisper of new life into it.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
My parents and I ended up seeing this film after the film we wanted to see was sold out – and I ended up enjoying it so much that I don’t even remember what we originally intended to see. The story is about an employee of Life magazine named Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) who must embark on a search for a film negative and, subsequently, finds himself hunting the “meaning of life.” It’s definitely not a runaway box-office hit, but I found the premise of the film intriguing, and was definitely engrossed by the story as it was unfolding onscreen; as such, I was stunned when I found out that reception to the film was mixed, with some folks loving it and some hating it. If a ~50% Rotten Tomatoes score is enough to deter you from seeing I film, I recommend you reconsider that stance and give this film a shot. It’s a visually stunning film with a good story, amazing scenery, and a great cast. It might not be award-fodder and it doesn’t hit all the high notes, but it’s worth seeing simply for the fact that most people can likely find a bit of themselves in the character of Walter Mitty.

Stream of Consciousness OSCARS Reaction

Instead of writing up a proper review/reflection for the Oscars for this week’s post, I’ve decided to post my (mostly) unfiltered thoughts as they pop into my head – more a “stream of consciousness” type babble with some minor structure than an official reaction. If you follow me on twitter, you may know that I also live-tweet(ed) the event, so this post might contain repeat thoughts. Here goes!

Pre-show:

Where did Lucas Hedges’s hair go?????
JOHN LEGEND is performing the La La Land songs?!? I am down with that.
Hidden Fences strikes again! Someone needs to make an actual movie, now.
DEV. PATEL.
How tall is Matt Damon? Is he not tall or is Michael Strahan just super tall?
Aw, the boys of Moonlight all together in one picture!
Isabelle Huppert’s dress is GORGEOUS.
Excellent use of the word serendipitous, JT.
I’m pulling for La La Land for Original Song, but if Miranda wins I won’t even be mad because EGOT.
RYAN GOSLING!!!! Not a fan of the ruffle, but it’s definitely in the spirit of the film.
Petition for Casey Affleck to get a haircut. (edit: It’s for a role, nvm.)
I thought this was over at 8. Guess not.
Michael Strahan is taller than The Rock?!? I guess that answers my previous question.
Ah, I love a good photobomb.

Monologue/Opening:
I constantly forget that this song is from a movie.
What a great way to determine if the nominees in the first few rows can dance/possess rhythm.
I just screamed “VIGGO!” out loud, so you know where my attention is. My LoTR cast radar is always turned up.
With Kimmel as the host the snark-meter should skyrocket. (edit: It already has)
“Smooth move, dumbass.” I love it.
MERYL!
This monologue is better than NPH’s entire hosting stint 2 years back.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
WHY OH WHY WAS SUNNY PAWAR NOT NOMINATED? I am OUTRAGED.
Mahershala was soooooo good. Fingers crossed.
I also love Jeff Bridges. But that’s just, like… my opinion, man.
DEV. PATEL.
YAAAAAAAAAAAASSSS!!!!!!!!! Mahershala Ali! What a guy!

BEST COSTUME/MAKEUP/HAIR-STYLING:
Star Trek over Suicide Squad all day every day.
Pffffft.
The dudes are cool, though.
YEAH, FANTASTIC BEASTS!!!! That makes up for the Star Trek loss. Sort of.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Need to see Hidden Figures. What a stellar cast.
I need to step up my documentary game, too…
Still picked right, though!

“My twin, Lin Manuel Miranda.” Lol.
I am sad I still haven’t seen Moana…. or Zootopia.
But DAMN, that girl can sing! Didn’t even falter when a rogue wave smacked her!

BEST SOUND EDITING/MIXING:
The only category sci fi films  stand a chance in, besides effects!
Also, CHRIS EVANS!
Sound was such a huge part of Arrival, so glad to see it win something.
Abbot and Costello would be proud.
DAMMIT I wanted Rogue One to win something. ;_;

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Sidenote, Mark Rylance is the only winner I’ve ever picked immediately after I saw the film in theaters; before the nominees were even announced.
Was pulling for Naomie Harris (I mean, she was unrecognizable in Moonlight), but I love Viola Davis. Should have been a “Best Actress” nom, though, not supporting.
D’awwwww, Denzel. ;_______;

I don’t know why, but seeing Meryl eat Junior Mints is just… A+.

BEST FOREIGN FILM:
Picking A Man Called Ove just because it’s up for more than one.
Not a great strategy, as it happens.

DEV PATEL!

BEST ANIMATED SHORT:
PIPER PIPER PIPER PIPER PIPER PIPER
YAYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO KUBO
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN/SET DECORATION:
Would love to see Arrival, but I’m thinking LLL.
Tbh, the entire epilogue sequence of LLL was worth that award, though.
But that dress is unfortunate.

….. Could these people be less impressed?
Okay, now they’re warming up. Except that dude chewing gum, he could not care less.
That woman got a hug from Viggo I am DYING.
AWWWWWWW SO CUTE! Couple goals.
Gary from Chicago is my hero!

The Bicycle Thieves!
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon!

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Riz Ahmed looks dapper and Felicity’s dress is beautiful – best dressed duo thus far.
Also this category is STACKED.
The Jungle Book was literally 90% effects. How could it NOT win?
Was secretly pulling for Kubo, though.

BEST FILM EDITING:
Is Seth Rogen wearing moon boots?
Guess I need to see Hacksaw Ridge now.

SUNNY PAWAR!!!!!

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT / LIVE ACTION SHORT:
Not even gonna pretend I have a clue what any of these films are…

I have a strange craving for mustard, just now…not sure why…

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
This category is stacked, too – and I actually saw all of the nominees but one!
LLL strikes again! Has the trend begun?

I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT say what you want about La La Land, the music is the bomb.

god that performance was STELLAR

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Is blue velvet in this year? This is blue velvet suit jacket number 3!
And it’s LLL again! In other news, grass is green!
Tbf, the score for LLL is fantastic.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
WILL WE SEE THE EGOT????
Update: Nope.
I am def of the opinion that City of Stars is better than Audition, though.

The In Memoriam section hits me in the feels EVERY TIME. ;______;

Kimmel is slaying it tonight. I will never get tired of the Damon/Kimmel feud.
“AND GUEST” I’m CRYING.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
MbtS better win this – it was a beautiful script and Lonergan is a word wizard.
Loved LLL, but it wasn’t for the writing.
WOOOOOOO!!!!!! *fist pump*

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Come on, Lion or Moonlight….
Wow that is some height differential.
Moonlight was absolutely beautiful – so happy to see it get recognized.

BEST DIRECTOR:
Would be literally happy with any of these except one, but I’ll leave that to the imagination.
And that’s another one for LLL! I am SHOCKED. Shocked!
He’s 32 going on 14.

Dude I gotta get up at 4 can we wrap this up pls

BEST ACTOR:
It has GOT to be Affleck. I love Denzel and Gosling (AND VIGGO), but Affleck MADE that movie. He was the picture of misery.
I mean… I am not opposed to a surprise Mortensen win, though.
Awwww, the Affleck bros!
At least he looks like a vagrant for a role, though. Like, there’s a purpose for it.

BEST ACTRESS:
Can Stone pull it off?!?!?!? Would love a surprise Negga win.
Meryl Streep was AMAZING though, fyi. I have never laughed so hard in a Meryl Streep movie.
This is the first I’ve seen Leo since last year’s Oscars. Did he get lost in the wilderness again?
AWWW is it even possible to dislike Emma Stone?

FINALLY I need to go to bed so let’s get this done it is literally the nEXT DAY

BEST FILM:
God, I only saw five of the nominees this year. Gotta step it up in 2017.
I enjoyed La La Land the most, but I think Moonlight is a superior film, so it’s my pick.
MbtS is borderline for me, though it hit me very hard. I think it won for what it should have won.
Lion’s a long shot, as is Arrival, but they are all excellent films and if either of them win I won’t even be mad, tbh.

….Well, I’m not surprised.  Would have loved to see Moonlight walk away with it, but really, all nominated films are deserving, and LLL was phenomenal too…

wAIT A MINUTE WHAT?!?!?!?! A mistake?!?!?!

OH

MY

GOD

YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!

Feel bad for the La La Land team, but WOW. What an upset! Glad to see Moonlight take it after all, but what a plot twist!

now sleep

 

Writing Techniques: Phases

I think every writer – whether professional or amateur – goes through phases. As a teenager, I wrote fanfiction. I don’t mean to admit this in a dramatic fashion, like admitting past alcoholism or addiction. I’m not ashamed of this tidbit of my writing history – but it is definitely a practice that I never intend to return to.

That said, I also prefer not to disclose the fandom I used to write for, but it isn’t any of the easily recognizable ones. I will admit, with some measure of pride, that I am the author of the longest (English language) story in that particular section, which clocks in at over 200,000 words – though without author’s notes, it’d be a bit shorter. For context, my debut novel was under 100,000 words. I even had a couple of people draw fanart for my original characters; I still have them saved on my computer.

It might sound impressive, but as I said, it wasn’t a hugely popular topic to write for, and the community was already waning by the time I started posting. I’d missed the peak of the fandom by a couple of years, but a handful of dedicated members still hung around while I was there, sharing their stories and posting reviews. I met some wonderful people, a handful of whom I still occasionally speak to. I consider it a vital phase in my development as a writer.

Eventually, I lost interest in the fandom and couldn’t scrounge up the inspiration to finish the last entry in what was meant to be a trilogy. I still regret that I was unable to complete what I started, but whenever I go back and take a look at those old pieces (and by old, I mean nearly a decade old) I cringe a little.

My writing during that phase was so… superfluous. Admittedly, this is the issue I’ve struggled with the most that isn’t grammar/syntax related. There’s a reason one of my fanfiction stories is over 200,000 words. It’s because, as a fifteen/sixteen/seventeen year old writer, I felt the need to cram as much detail as possible into my writing, which results in bloated, overly-descriptive, repetitive passages in desperate need of a solid trimming. I ascribed to the “more is more” mentality back then; if I went back and edited my longest story, I could get it under 100,000 words and not have to slice much, if any, of the actual plot. I am still somewhat proud of my characters and the overall plot structure, but I was incredibly long-winded, verbose, and by no means a fanfiction maestro.

Every now and then, I go to my old profile and glance at my work, and am pretty astonished by how much my writing style has changed since those days. In college – the start of which coincided with the demise of my fanfiction career – my writing style underwent some significant changes due to learning new techniques in my classes, developing a more stable voice as a writer, and receiving influential feedback from my peers and teachers. I see almost zero similarity between my 2008/09 writing and now, as far as fiction goes.

The same can be said for my high school writing assignments in comparison to college work, because in college, I worked on slimming down my writing – though I do still slip into old habits, which leads to numerous, extensive editing sessions. It wasn’t always an easy change to make, but getting the right kind of feedback at this time in my life was important; when multiple sources tell you that something in your writing needs improvement, it’s imperative to take that criticism into consideration. As a result of peer assessments and creative writing classes, and some introspection, I started trying to place less emphasis on florid detail and “pretty” words, and more emphasis on clarity, character development, and flow. More focus on story and plot, not description. During this shift in the tone of my writing, I wrote the first draft of I’m With You.

When I settled the details and finally started typing I’m With You out, my style had adapted to suit the tone I wanted for the story. And, because I was learning about writing and was reading various kinds of literature during this time, my style and process evolved as I was writing. The first draft of I’m With You featured much less detail than the one that was published- there was no insight into previous instances of Remiel’s “curse” in action, no description of the different regions of Empirya, no “flashbacks” to Ciarán and Remiel’s mother or their past/their family dynamic… all in all, a lot less background into the characters. Instead of my previous tendency toward an overabundance of detail, I adopted a more extreme stance of “less is more.” Luckily, my editor was able to point out the need for more detail when the time came to polish up my draft, and I was able to flesh my manuscript out prior to publication. Now, I strive to find a balance in my writing; not too much detail, but not too little.

Even now, the project I’m currently working on has a different tone than I’m With You, but the writing contains some similarities; I feel as though I’ve retained a certain voice, while changing/adapting the way it is delivered. My 2008/09 fanfiction is nothing like my 2016 novel, and that’s okay, because I consider it an improvement – and I hope to improve even more as my writing continues, and I attempt to launch a career. Certain traits might remain the same across stories and projects, but adapting is all a part of the process, and some phases may last longer than others. Writing is an ever-changing thing – and thus, I don’t consider it a bad thing that I no longer recognize my writing style from year to year or project to project, whether it’s a 200,000 word epic fanfiction or a vaguely steampunk low-fantasy YA novel. Phases come and go, but the point is to continue to grow, and learn, be willing to listen, and embrace change as it comes – even if others won’t.

 

 

 

Film Review: Lion (2016)

Dir: Garth Davis
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Runtime: 121 min
Spoiler level: Light

Last week, the local movie theater gods heard my prayers, despite the fact that January seems to be the month where new movies go to meet their doom. I wanted to check another Best Picture nominee off my “to see” list, and when I checked the Fandango app, I got the notification that Lion was starting a run at one of my local theaters, in answer to my plea. Sometimes, the local movie theater gods are benevolent and merciful.

lion.jpgI haven’t read the book that the film is based on, nor did I know much about the story going into it – but I’m glad I went in mostly blind, with only a general idea of what was about to unfold across the screen.

Lion, which is based on true events, follows Saroo Brierly, a young boy who ends up nearly 1000 miles away from home, with no idea how to get back. Several years later, as memories and “what-ifs” about his previous life begin to haunt him, he tries to balance his search for “home” with the life he’s built for himself and with the family who raised him.

The first segment of the film, following little 5-year-old Saroo’s separation from his family and his struggles in Calcutta, culminating with his adoption by Australian couple Sue and John Brierly, is utterly engrossing. Sunny Pawar’s performance as Saroo is the spellbinding heart of this film; watching him wander through dirty subway tunnels, flee from malevolent pursuers, and cry for his brother Guddu and his mother is heartbreaking and harrowing. That look at what life was like for him, from the suspicious people he encounters to the awful places he ends up – especially considering this film is based on a true story – makes his experiences as a lost little boy desperate for home all the more impactful, and it’s as wrenching as it is captivating.

Unfortunately, the film loses a bit of steam once Saroo ages up. It jumps right from young Saroo to adult Saroo, with a brief look at one year post-adoption, when the Brierlys add Mantosh to the family. These scenes are powerful, but it skips over adolescence, and ultimately, I think this made a bit of a lopsided narrative – the switch wasn’t seamless and the pacing suffered for it, as it seemed like a chunk was left out of Saroo’s history. Rooney Mara’s character, Lucy, acts more like a device than a fleshed-out character; her purpose is to give Saroo someone to interact with besides his adopted parents, often while they’re staring meaningfully at one another whilst laying on a mattress. The viewer only gets a glimpse into her life, through snippets that function as a tool to get Saroo to reflect on his own experiences. Mara’s performance is fine, and the chemistry between Patel and Mara is fine, and I understand why the character is there, but, although the story is not focused on her, the character lacks a concrete identity, which I found difficult to relate to in the context of the film. Since I haven’t read the book, I don’t know what content was added/cut or what liberties were taken with these characters (I certainly wonder about the depiction of Saroo’s adopted brother, Mantosh, who struggles with self-harm, as his backstory and prior to adoption is not really explored in the movie) but within the parameters of the film, the middle portion fell a bit flat, especially compared to young Saroo’s journey in the first arc.

The music is excellent – a fusion of strings and piano that enhances the atmosphere. The editing/cinematography also aids the flow of the narrative, with scenes contrasting the roaming wild of Australia to the varied landscape of India, representing how Saroo’s life has changed with his surroundings. Saroo’s memories trickle back to him throughout the film, with images and scenes of young Saroo and Guddu interwoven within various scenes, which then transition seamlessly back to older Saroo as he yearns for answers and desperately scours Google Earth for a glimpse of something familiar, something that says “home.”

Despite the pacing in the latter part of the film, the overall acting is stellar throughout. Eight-year-old Sunny Pawar deserves ALL OF THE AWARDS for his performance as young Saroo. ALL. OF. THEM. He carries the entire first arc of the film, with palpable joy, anguish, desperation, fear, and hope, and his interactions/scenes with Abhishek Bharate, who plays Saroo’s biological brother Guddu, are both heartwarming and gut-wrenching. Patel’s performance as the older Saroo, featuring occasional impish smiles and playful banter, is rife with emotional turbulence, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have to brush my tears away a few times when he spoke of his fractured past and how it feels to be “lost.” Coupled with the visual components of the film, Patel does a great job of showing how Saroo struggles to move forward while feeling such an incredible pull toward his past. Kidman’s portrayal of Sue Brierly is superb, though I found myself wishing she had more screen time – I almost feel as though the Lucy character could have been cut or minimized in favor of shedding more light on the mother-son relationship between Saroo and Sue, as well as her experiences as a mother to two adopted boys. Also, I was so pleased when David Wenham’s name showed up in the opening credits, as I had no idea he was in this until the film started – I am always down for an unexpected Faramir appearance.

Lion might not be getting the same amount of buzz that Moonlight and La La Land have garnered during the awards circuit, but this film, with its powerful, multi-layered definitions of “family” and “home”, lets out a big roar.

Overall rating: 8/10