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Flash Movie Review: My Octopus Teacher

I CAN APPRECIATE AND RESPECT ALL animals, but the one I like the least is an octopus. Seriously, I do not know why I have had this attitude since I was a little boy. Whether an octopus or squid and I immediately get a feeling of disgust and dread. Whenever I had a school field trip to the aquarium, I would always quickly walk past the exhibit that had live octopi. Back then I would tell people the creatures were gross. I do not know, but there is something alien about them; as if they were dropped down from outer space to lurk down at the bottom of the seas, being sneaky and sinister. Even when they were depicted in movies in a friendly way, I did not care. There were enough films already where they were mean man eaters, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Though I loved the movie The Little Mermaid, I did not care for the character Ursula with her long tentacle legs. And do not get me started about calamari, UGH! I cannot sit with anyone who would order that dish; it just sounds and looks nauseating to me. My apologies to you foodies who love the “delicacy.”     BY NOW YOU MUST BE WONDERING why, with my strong dislike of squids and octopi, would I ever sit and watch a film that has the word octopus right there in the title. It is a very good question; one I myself do not have a good answer for. I was between chores over the weekend and wanted to take a break. My time was limited, so I did not want to sit through a long movie. Going through the search function, the streaming service had a list of recommendations for me based on the things I had already seen with them. There was a sci-fi picture that looked okay, but it was over two hours long. When I moved the cursor off that selection, the next one was for this film. Before I realized what the title was, my eye was attracted to the blues in the trailer. The narrator was calm as he spoke with the slightest of accents. I saw that this picture was just shy of an hour and a half which was a plus; maybe, most of the story was done on land, I hoped. Another plus was the fact it was a documentary, set in a different part of the world. I hit play on the remote and settled into what would become a revelation for me.      WHILE SWIMMING IN THE WATERS OFF the coast of South Africa, cinematographer and director Craig Foster (My Hunter’s Heart, Into the Dragon’s Lair), discovered the oddest thing sitting at the bottom of a kelp forest. It looked like a ball of seashells until it moved. Written and directed by James Reed (Rise of the Warrior Apes, Jago: A Life Underwater) and newcomer Pippa Ehrlich, this film festival winning documentary provided me with the biggest surprise this past year. Here I was ambivalent towards this picture and after several early scenes I was pulled into another world beneath the ocean. Because Craig came across as vulnerable and looked like just an average guy, he was perfect to spearhead this production. The cinematography was gorgeous, both in vast wide angle shots as well as the intimate ones. There was very little dialogue that could be considered cutesy or pandering to the viewer; the entire time I felt I was privileged for being allowed to watch Craig’s life as he encountered this amazing creature. Yes, I said amazing because I now have such a new appreciation for an octopus. I can go on and on praising this unbelievable, wonderful movie; however, all that needs to be said is the number of stars I am giving it. When was the last time you saw me give this rating to a film; it has been such a long time, but with this documentary it has been worth the wait, in my opinion.

4 stars    

Flash Movie Review: Escape From Pretoria

NO MATTER WHERE I BUMPED INTO him, I always knew what to expect. He would address me with a nickname he made up back when we were classmates. Next, he would ask me if I was still in touch with a classmate of ours before he would make a snide comment about them. I stopped asking him to not make any comments about them but every time we ran into each other, he still made sure to say something. These days I simply do not react to his comments; instead, I ask him something different to switch the subject. Whenever I have bumped into him, I am reminded how I disliked the pettiness and backstabbing that took place amongst the school’s cliques. He was an instigator who enjoyed all that drama. Because he never failed to make a comment about someone we knew, I believed he was trying to get me to join him in badmouthing people from our past; to what purpose, I had no idea. I did find it puzzling that after all these years he had not changed one bit; he was obnoxious back in school as he was now. It was as if he had never grown up and I had to wonder if he had any friends still from our school days.     IT WAS INDIVIDUALS LIKE HIM THAT pushed me to apply and accept enrollment in an out of state school. Many of the students I grew up with were applying to our state’s university’s main campus. I decided to send out applications to schools from a few states nearby and some that were close to the coasts. As luck would have it, I wound up at a university where only 2 other fellow classmates planned on attending and if they were there, I never saw them. One of my goals for going out of state for school was to reinvent myself. Due to the experiences I had in my schooling, I did not want to repeat it out of state; so, I worked on myself internally. This meant I had to look back and exam painful experiences, hoping to find an inner strength that would help me not to repeat similar scenarios in my new surroundings. I wanted to return home as a grown-up essentially; someone who past classmates would have a hard time recognizing. I will be honest; it took a lot of work to push out the built-up anger and resentment. Not that it is all gone now, but I know I have been traveling on the right path based on former acquaintances’ reactions when meeting me now. I can see similar work was done by the main actor in this film festival nominated thriller because I did not think once he was Harry Potter playing another character.      DESPITE BEING CONVICTED AND IMPRISONED, ANTI-APARTHEID activist Tim Jenkin, played by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter franchise, Swiss Army Man), was determined to get out of his prison cell and continue his fight. With Daniel Webber (Australia Day, Thumper) as Stephen Lee, Ian Hart (Michael Collins, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) as Denis Goldberg, Mark Leonard Winter (The Dressmaker, One Eyed Girl) as Leonard Fontaine and Nathan Page (Underbelly-TV, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries-TV) as Mongo; this movie based on a true story was made better by Daniel Radcliffe’s acting. The story itself was given a typical script, but thanks to Daniel and his fellow inmates, I found myself getting pulled into the activist’s plight. There was some unevenness to the directing; but there was no skimping on the parts that needed to be thrilling. The script did not delve deeply into the characters; but for a good old fashioned “prison break” story, this picture can be proud it was able to break out of the pack from similarly themed films.

2 ¾ stars

Flash Movie Review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

There are some movies where the story carries the characters, while others have the characters carry the story. Films such as The Wizard of Oz or Sink the Bismarck are story driven. Movies where the character makes the story would be something like The King’s Speech or Captain Phillips. I am especially fond of cinema where the character was an actual person. Though he was before my time, I was fascinated with the film The King’s Speech about King George VI. Learning about the character’s life in visual form created an extra layer of understanding from what I already learned in history books. Now when the main character is someone of my time, I feel like I am witnessing history, that I am part of it. For some reason the idea of future generations reading about a noteworthy individual from my lifetime gives me a charge. I do not really know why; I just like the idea of being able to tell someone about events on a personal level. In regards to this biographical movie, the main character was the driving force. Luckily the main character of Nelson Mandela was impressively played by Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, RocknRolla). This dramatic picture covers Nelson’s life from childhood through his 27 years of prison to becoming President of South Africa. After my first initial recognition of Idris as a current movie and television star, I quickly forgot it and believed I was watching Nelson Mandela; that is how good Idris was in the role. My knowledge about Nelson’s 1st wife Winnie Madikizela was limited; but not only did I think the actress Naomie Harris (Skyfall, 28 Days Later) did a wonderful job portraying her, but I felt I gained an understanding of what happened to the relationship of the two. With the wonderful acting I felt the story suffered here; there was so much history to cover that some parts of it went by too quickly. Here was a case where I think making two movies would have been better. I found myself not being engaged as much when Nelson was not in the scene. It was a disappointment because I saw this film soon after Nelson’s death. With all the newscasts and special reports that came out, I was already invested in his life story. This Golden Globe nominated movie covered a lot of ground; it just did not dig deep enough for me. Several scenes included the Afrikaans and Xhosa languages with English subtitles.

 

2 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Invictus

Awestruck is what I have been while watching the Olympics. The athletes’ feats have been truly impressive. Not only did similar feelings get stirred in me from watching this uplifting movie; but after recently telling you I was not a fan of team sports, I have to say I became a supporter of the Springboks rugby team of South Africa. And that was in spite of not having a clue about the rules of the game. This was one of Clint Eastwood’s better directed movies in my opinion. It told the inspirational story about Nelson Mandela becoming the country’s first black president. There was already a built in base of dramatic events which Clint shot in a straight forward manner. The casting was brilliant as Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy, Evan Almighty) played Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo, The Bourne franchise) played rugby team captain, Francois Pienaar. After his long imprisonment, Nelson presided over a racially divided country. While attending a rugby game, he noticed the white fans were cheering their own country’s team, but the black fans were supporting the opposing team. He formed an idea: What if he could get both sides cheering for the Springboks? Mandela decided to reach out to Pienaar to discuss ways on improving the team’s mediocre performance and get the entire country behind their rugby team. Morgan was tremendous in his role, garnering an Oscar nomination, as well as Matt for his performance. A wonderful film about an incredible man; I understand why they named this film Invictus. It is the name of a poem that ends with the lines: I am the master of my fate.  I am the captain of my soul.

 

3 1/3 stars — DVD

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