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Stories We Tell

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Every family has at least one story to tell. Whether it’s the immigrant story or a historical legend or the adventures of that one weird uncle, there’s always some labyrinthine mixture of truth and fantasy that entrenches a family’s history. Stories We Tell is a documentary about one humble tale. Directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Sarah Polley, the film delves into her parents’life and her upbringing, spiraling into rumours of infidelity and her heritage. It’s a marvellously self-indulgent film, but one that is a delight to watch.

Stories We Tell starts with candid moments with each member of Sarah’s family. They all question her approach, why the movie is being made and give some pretext to the dialogue between the documentary’s creator and her subjects. Sarah then delves into her parents’ relationship, focusing on her mother’s side. Her mother is long dead and as a result, much of the movie is about her absence. The movie is constructed so that it appears as if we have almost every piece of the truth, we’re just missing her own perspective. That absence leads to the greatest mystery of the film, her mother’s trip to Montreal to act in the play, Toronto in the late 1970s.

The film goes over that trip several times, each time adding in the new facts Sarah’s uncovered. First it appears that Montreal is where her mother and father, Michael Polley, rekindled their waning relationship. Then it becomes the centre for a likely infidelity, as family members joke that Sarah looks nothing like her father. And finally, it transforms into the place where her mother found love once again. It just so happened to be in the arms of another man.

From the start a savvy viewer will be able to anticipate each new development. Real life has a way of playing into established storylines, and as such Sarah’s living family is at the crux of the film. The reveal that she is not Michael’s biological daughter is not as impressive as her sister’s tearful reaction to learning that their mother recaptured love. Nor is it as draining as her brother’s disappointment in their mother’s irresponsibility. These very human reactions transcend the documentary’s occasional banality. The intrigue comes from each family member’s reaction, not least of which is her father’s.

Michael is perhaps the most endearing subject in the film. He narrates the film with his self-depreciating memoirs. They’re well-written and his voice comes off as both mournful and yet complacent. He has a pleasant demeanour and ever present voice.  As a result, Sarah’s attempts to discuss her heritage are all the more stressful for the viewer.

The only portion of the film that is disconcertingly philosophical is the discussion about who owns the drama. Sarah’s biological father debates with her about who should be telling the story and attempts to directly address the subjective nature of truth. But the truth is that these scenes drags on. These questions are best used as themes permeating the documentary, not spoken aloud. Plus, the director has clearly embraced that reality is subjective since most of the flashbacks are recreations made to appear like Super 8 home movies. It is an indulgence too far in an already decadent film.

Stories We Tell is a well-built documentary about family legends. The film’s construction flows in and out of moments in time, like memories connected by a thematic thread.  The movie is never quite chronological, and is better for it, pulling together stories that feel emotionally relevant. Sarah Polley may not have the most unique family in the world, but the execution makes the story feel heartfelt.  It exemplifies how out of control family stories can get, even the recent ones, to the point that the film’s final punch line is a perplexing, but entirely satisfying end.

Superman vs. The Elite Review

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A man who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound should be the most terrifying creature on Earth. He’d be unstoppable and unbeholden to our mortal morality. So, why then is Superman one of the most popular heroes on the planet? He does not kill and he never loses.

A superman does both in the new DC animated film, Superman vs. The Elite, an adaptation that both faithfully adapts its source material, while improving on its message and focus. Read the rest of this entry

China Heavyweight: A Boxing Movie About China (And No Heavyweights)

In the county of Huili, Mohammad Ali and Confucius appear to walk hand in hand. New trainees, straight from the China’s provincial farmland, get the opportunity to become like the boxing legends of yore. It’s a typical sports story, which would be entirely unremarkable, except for its cultural fusion and the exquisite cinematography.

China Heavyweight, a new documentary from Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang, showcases China’s return to boxing, viewed from the eyes of young hopefuls in the earthy Sichuan province. The return comes after a thirty year ban, which disappeared with much of the old communist doctrine. As the economy flourished, suddenly a violent, highly competitive sport just seemed to fit with the new ideology. Time to refine the population from raw material down to valued product. Only now does that shift trickle down to students Miao Yunfei, He Zhongli and their coach, Qi Moxiang. Read the rest of this entry

The Revisionaries: An Amusing Tale Of Failure From Afar

Whatever the textbooks tell students today, the White House will say twenty years from now.  Every member of the Texas State Board of Education (TSBE) knows these stakes, since they determine the criteria for many textbooks across state lines. The Revisionaries is a documentary that shows how the far right are trying to question things like evolution and the division of church and state by writing their doubt in millions of students’ textbooks.

The Revisionaries follows the affable dentist and old Chairman of the TSBE, Don McLeory, as he asserts his creationist beliefs through education policy. His major ally is the prayer-happy professor of law Cynthia Dunbar, while his opposition comes in the form of science advocate, Kathy Miller and Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor.

Debate on the education board plays out like the “culture war” Fox News anticipated but failed to actually report on. The religious right starts every session with a prayer for victory and seems to end each one with their wish granted. Eliminate mentions of diverse peoples, add St. Thomas Aquinas to the section on Enlightenment thinkers (despite living at least 400 years too early), and make sure that the theory of evolution is criticised and debated in classrooms. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Justice League 1

The cover of Justice League 1 invites you in bold gold text to DC Comic’s “New 52”. It’s not just the headline either. The costumes look different, the attitude looks different, and we’ve even got a brand new logo for it. It’s too bad that the actual content doesn’t feel all that different. Geoff Johns provides a serviceable first issue that works as a good opener to the New DC, without trying too hard.  It’s an enjoyable read, but nothing substantial.

Justice League 1 opens big. Batman is running across rooftops trying to catch a bad guy while Gotham helicopters fly above, chasing him as if he was another criminal. The monster is about to get away, when Green Lantern smashes the beast into the ground with a green firetruck. It does the trick, but now the police see them. Batman vulnerable and the Green Lantern in plain sight, the helicopters turn their guns and fire. It’s good stuff, it just ends far too early to mean anything. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Flashpoint 5

Flashpoint is one of the least impressive stories about the Flash. I want to get this out of the gate immediately. Flashpoint can hardly be called a story, it’s more like staring out of a car window as scenery passes you by. There was always great potential here, perhaps even the beginning of a great Flash story. It’s just so damning on writer Geoff Johns that he could not use this interesting new world to any greater extent than undeserved shock moments and window dressing. Johns has had an impressive run of comics so far, but this is easily his weakest. A reader will rarely be so underwhelmed by Barry Allen than in Flashpoint.

Let’s recap the story so far. There’s an alternate universe and the Flash is going to fix it with Thomas Wayne Batman. This is all that happens. There is no character development. You don’t learn anything new about Barry Allen or Thomas Wayne. There is semi-witty banter followed by screaming and death. It’s a slideshow almost, like the ones your grandparents show you about their trip to Milan. And like watching their grandparents’ trip, the reader will have the same reaction, boredom and disappointment. Read the rest of this entry

Review: The Ultimates 1

As I’ve stated throughout this website, I am a great fan of the Ultimates. I read all of Ultimates vol. 1 in a day, and from then on prayed every month that Mark Millar will finally get an issue done on time. Millar has since turned into a bad taste in my mouth, due to some questionable writing choices in his independent comics and his more or less apathy to his remaining Marvel comics.  This is no reflection the Ultimates, but boy, am I happy that someone who isn’t Jeph Loeb is finally getting their hands on this series.

To counter my dear love for original Ultimates series, I should also note my tepid reception of Jonathan Hickman. Despite owning most of his independent work, I have grown tired of him since discovering that he writes every single comic with the same unsubtle underlying themes.

With my own biases aside, I will now say that “The Ultimates” 1 (now finally an ongoing series) is an amazing first issue. The plot continues from Ultimate Fallout and Avengers vs. New Ultimates (though you don’t need to read those series to understand what’s going on here). Nick Fury is director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and organization which has expanded past the United States-mandate into an organization that spans the globe. The Ultimates, a team run by S.H.I.E.L.D., includes Thor, Hawkeye, Iron Man and, perhaps most significantly, not Captain America. Fury is shown to nearly have a personal empire as he commands some of the most powerful people on the planet. However, Fury fails to realize that in his expansion, he may have over-extended his reach. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Batman: Gates of Gotham 1-5

Scott Snyder has proven himself with American Vampire and his run on Detective Comics to be one DC’s best writers. Gates of Gotham, however, is not quite at that level. It is by no means bad or unreadable but it doesn’t capture the same thrill and intrigue that his other comics have done.

The story of Gates of Gotham regards the destruction of Gotham’s landmarks, where the city becomes a character in a plot that spans decades of its history. Batman (Dick Grayson) and all of his allies must stop whoever is responsible and discover their motives before Gotham becomes unrecognizable. The best attributes of the story are its characters and how it elaborates on Gotham’s past. I really enjoyed seeing Damien antagonize Cassandra Cain, and  Tim Drake’s wit and Dick trying to hold all three of them together. They all make the story interesting and better realized. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Daredevil 2

Mark Waid is on his second issue of Daredevil and things are looking good. Waid has relaunched the title with a shocking amount of hope and optimism compared to the Frank Miller inspired years that have preceded this. The first issue brought the revelation that Daredevil could actually enjoy life, and have fun in his job. The second issue continues that though is not quite as entertaining as the first. The main problem is that not much happens in this issue. Captain America runs after Daredevil because of events surrounding the Shadowland mess, and then there’s Murdoch dealing with his case.

This is a tad unfair, since Waid continues to do write the series well. The dialogue’s great, some of the banter is funny, and personally, I’m glad Daredevil’s stopped talking like the Marvel version of Batman. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Hellboy The Storm and The Fury Miniseries

I am not a big Hellboy fan. In the past, I’ve enjoyed the series because it is a deviation from the norm. It’s one of the biggest name comics in North America that doesn’t have a superhero on its cover. And, in its core, it is more about atmosphere and intrigue than it is about dudes punching each other out. The most daunting thing about Hellboy has always been the ten volumes I’d have to read to catch up, along with whatever was going on in the BPRD spin-off. So, when I heard that Hellboy The Storm and The Fury were entirely approachable having only read the first volume, I jumped on, and what I found is probably one of the best ‘event’ comics Read the rest of this entry