Wednesday, December 12, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: AAFCA Awards


Early yesterday morning, the African-American Film Critics Association (of which I'm a member) announced their winners for the best in film and TV in 2018. And it was certainly one of the highest quality lists of honorees this group has ever selected. I was particularly pleased to see some of my picks getting recognition, including Barry Jenkins' "If Beale Street Could Talk" for Best Independent Film. Unsurpisingly, it was "Black Panther" which took the top award, continuing its run of success this year. Here is the full list of AAFCA Award Winners for 2018:

Best Film: “Black Panther”
Best Director: Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”)
Best Screenplay: Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”)
Best Actor: John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman”)
Best Actress: Regina Hall (“Support the Girls)”
Best Supporting Actor: Russell Hornsby (“The Hate U Give”)
Best Supporting Actress: Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”)
Best Breakout Performance: Amandla Stenberg (“The Hate U Give”)
Best Animated Film: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
Best Independent Film: “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Best Foreign Film: “Roma”
Best Documentary: “Quincy”
Best Song: “All The Stars” (“Black Panther”)
Best New Media: “Red Table Talk”
Best TV Drama: “Queen Sugar”
Best TV Comedy: “Insecure”

AAFCA’s Top Ten Films:

  1. Black Panther 
  2. If Beale Street Could Talk 
  3. The Hate U Give 
  4. A Star is Born
  5. Quincy
  6. Roma
  7. Blindspotting
  8. The Favourite 
  9. Sorry to Bother You 
  10. Widows

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

AWARDS SEASON: Who's the Favourite Star?

Will "A Star is Born" shine on Oscar night?

It's that time again, as we enter one of the most significant phases of the awards season. Tomorrow morning, the Golden Globe nominations will be announced, giving a boost to the myriad of contenders vying for Oscar glory. As the first of the major televised awards shows, many will look to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's picks for clues as to where the real buzz lies.

Best Picture has become increasingly difficult to pin down at this early stage of the game and 2018 is no exception. When looking upon the expected field of contenders, it is clear that we are in a new era of defining what is Oscar-worthy. In a year when a proposed Best Popular Film category threatened to sully the prestige of the Oscars, the eventual lineup of Best Picture nominees could be the most populist in years. From genre fare like "Black Panther" and "A Quiet Place", to the decidedly youth-oriented "Mary Poppins Returns" and "Eighth Grade", it seems we can finally put the term "Oscar bait" to rest.

Which brings me to the three presumed frontrunners in the race. If you were to ask awards pundits a year ago to predict the Best Picture winner, I doubt you would get many mentions of "A Star Is Born", "Green Book" or "Roma". "A Star Is Born" is the fourth remake of a story that has historically underperformed with the Academy. "Green Book" has already been chastised for its antiquated approach to exploring the racial tensions of the American South during the civil rights era. And "Roma" is the unlikeliest awards beast of them all, as a black and white, understated, subtitled drama.

And yet, all three have captivated audiences and critics alike. Eliciting the passionate support needed to sustain a successful Oscar campaign, it's hard to imagine any other film usurping them at the head of the race. Of course, anything can happen between now and February 24. But here's how I see the current standings for Best Picture:

  1. A Star is Born
  2. Green Book
  3. Roma
  4. If Beale Street Could Talk
  5. First Reformed
  6. Mary Poppins Returns
  7. Black Panther
  8. The Favourite
  9. Eighth Grade
  10. A Quiet Place

Do you agree with my assessment of the Best Picture race? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check back throughout the season, as I continue to update my official predictions.

OSCAR WATCH: The Favourite


I've never professed to be a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, the director behind such acclaimed films as "The Lobster" and "Dogtooth". Though I've always admired singular auteurist style, I tend to be slightly put off by the mean streak that runs through his work. But with his latest effort "The Favourite" I am now a new member of his fan club. This period drama set during the reign of Queen Anne is a vulgar delight that kept me thoroughly entertained.

"The Favourite" takes place in 18th century Britain, where Queen Anne sits on the throne. Despite dwindling resources, Britain is at war with France. Seeking counsel over the imposition of increased land taxes, her subjects jockey to exert their influence over the vulnerable, ailing queen. Her closest confidant is Sarah Churchill, who actively works as her adviser and secret lover. The arrival of a Sarah's cousin Abigail (Emma Stone), however, threatens Sarah's status as Anne's right-hand woman. A former member of the aristocracy who has fallen on hard times, Abigail is a wily operator determined to regain her place among the elite. Before long, Sarah and Abigail are engaged in a rivalry, as both will stop at nothing to be their queen's favourite.

Fueled by lust, jealousy and betrayal, "The Favourite" sees Yorgos Lanthimos reimagining the costume drama as a way to express a sordid view of high society. While the ornate backdrops and elegant attire - sure to be spotlighted among the Oscar nominees for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design - reflect the commonly held belief of a more dignified and sophisticated era, Lanthimos' interpretation is one of both moral and physical decay (with the projectile vomit and festering wounds to match). The film may be set within the posh confines of the British royal court, but Lanthimos applies many of the peculiarities of Greek Weird Wave to thrilling effect.

At the center of the debauchery is Olivia Colman, who gives a bravura performance as the sickly Queen Anne. The character's limping gait and impetuous personality is positively grotesque, but behind Colman's searching eyes lie a vulnerability and insecurity that is undeniably relatable. A Best Actress nomination is certainly on the cards for her, as she emerges as the MVP of an outstanding cast.

Indeed, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone should also find themselves in the Best Supporting Actress conversation as Colman's competing ladies-in-waiting. Weisz is particulary memorable, as her silky voice is the perfect fit for the loquacious and confident Sarah Churchill. Meanwhile Nicholas Hoult is the film's most pleasant surprise, turning in a deliciously Machiavellian performance as cocksure Parliamentarian Robert Harley.

All four actors are given a prime showcase for their talents, thanks to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's screenplay, which is rich, cheekily funny and unpredictable in equal measure. There's a touch of modern irreverence to the nearly Shakespearean dialogue that captivates the viewer and will likely impress voters for Best Original Screenplay. Indeed, Lanthimos manages to pull the costume drama out of the stuffy doldrums, creating a truly invigorating cinematic experience. He would therefore be a deserving Best Director nominee for this visionary work of art. "The Favourite" may initially appear to be your usual Anglophilic period drama. But as you look closer through Robbie Ryan's (a surefire Best Cinematography contender) fishbowl lenses and obtuse angles it becomes obvious that this is one of the most innovative and masterful films in this year's Best Picture race.

Friday, November 30, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: The Front Runner


If there's one thing I hate about the awards season, it's the prevalent use of the reductive term "Oscar bait". Used to refer to a outdated idea of a typical Oscar contender, the term itself has become outdated following such outside the box recent award winners like "The Shape of Water" and "Moonlight". And yet, it was impossible not to think of that unsavory term while watching Jason Reitman's new film "The Front Runner". Not only does its title nod towards the common awards pundit lingo, but its conceit is clearly meant to tap into the political zeitgeist and thereby staking a claim towards Best Picture buzz.

"The Front Runner" tells the true story of Gary Hart, a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in the 1988 US elections. A charismatic and attractive family man who is committed to his ideals, he seems like the perfect choice to be his party's nominee. But his appeal backfires one day when media interest uncovers an extramarital affair which could derail not just his campaign, but his entire career in politics.

In a time when the presidential controversy has become the norm rather than exception, "The Front Runner" offers an intriguing opportunity to reflect on early events which lead us to where we are now. Indeed, as an actual celebrity is currently presiding over the White House, Gary Hart is an interesting prototype for the uneasy balance between popularity and actual governance. Though his indiscretions pale in comparison to the horrifying ideologies proliferating today, his downfall raises pertinent questions about the high level of responsibility attached to public office.

It's therefore disappointing then, that "The Front Runner" fails to live up to its potential. After establishing the characters and their motives, the film strays from a character study into a more shallow political thriller more befitting primetime television. Reitman's direction is overly reliant on flashy montages to inject energy into a rather mediocre screenplay. Despite a few good scenes, it falls short of truly digging in to the mind of its protagonist and the philosophical impact of his actions.

Indeed, throughout the film I kept wishing the script could have been penned by Aaron Sorkin. With his knack for deconstructing brilliant but flawed men with a chip on their shoulder, Hart would have provided a great subject for Sorkin's lacerating wit. Furthermore, the cast would have certainly have been up to the cast, with J.K. Simmons and Vera Farmiga hinting at underutilized brilliance in their standout scenes. Sure, Hugh Jackman holds his own and may still find himself in the Best Actor conversation. But he too would have benefited from stronger writing. Overall, this is merely a decent film which could have been a great one. Rather than live up to its name, "The Front Runner" is running from the back of the pack in this year's Oscar race.

Monday, November 26, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: Widows



"This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don't catch you slippin' now (ayy)
Look how I'm livin' now
Police be trippin' now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)"

The above lyrics are taken from Donald Glover's (aka Childish Gambino) single "This Is America", which was accompanied by a provocative music video that had everyone talking. A sly but unmistakable commentary on racial and sociopolitical tensions in America, it utilized painfully familiar violence to get across its message. As I sat in the theater for "Widows", this blistering film from Steve McQueen elicited the same feelings of Glover's hit single. On the surface, "Widows" is just your everyday heist movie. But it gradually reveals deeper layers which make it one of the most resonant films of the year.

Adapted from British TV series of the same name, "Widows" gets a modern American update with a stellar ensemble cast. Set in Chicago, it begins with a heist gone wrong, as a man named Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his partners are set ablaze in their getaway vehicle with millions of dollars inside. As it turns out, that money belonged to a man named Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is currently in the midst of an election for alderman in his local South Side precinct. Requiring this money to mount a seemingly impossible campaign against a powerful political dynasty, Manning vows to get his money back by any means necessary. He therefore proceeds to give Rawlings' wife a deadline to repay the debt. But with her little property or money in her name, she is forced to band together with the other surviving widows of her husband's team to find a solution. They decide to attempt another dangerous heist, hoping to set themselves free from the mess their husbands left for them to clean up.

Indeed, Veronica and her new partners Linda and Alice will quickly have to learn how to use guns and plan a robbery. But that payoff is only one piece of this story's puzzle. McQueen and screenwriter Gillian Flynn have a lot on their minds and they don't mince words, patiently bringing each character and their motivations into sharp focus. In the process, a damning portrait of interwoven issues surrounding race, ruthless capitalism, police brutality and deceptive politicians emerges. Four years ago, Flynn was denied her just rewards from the Academy for "Gone Girl", but hopefully they'll make up for it now with an overdue nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. This script may not reach the mind-blowing heights of "Gone Girl", but it's yet another brilliantly structured narrative which packs a real punch. And once again, she's paired with a director who is totally in sync with her cynical outlook of the patriarchy.

There's no denying the feminist undertones to the film, which provides fuel for both the thought-provoking drama and exciting thriller elements. Seeing Veronica and Alice gradually come into their own as independent, powerful women is a true delight. Viola Davis will surely be in the running for Best Actress for this special performance which calls on all her considerable faculties as an actress. She is the action hero we deserve. To quote the film, she proves she has the "balls to pull it off."

From its commanding star down to the ingenious camerawork, "Widows" truly delivers on all fronts. From its initial slow burn, the film eventually ignites into a heist scene so tense and nerve-wracking that I was literally on the edge of my seat. As such, it's a film that stays on your mind. And if there's any justice, Academy members will also remember it with a nomination for Best Picture. It certainly deserves it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: Indie Spirit Nominations


As independent films become increasingly prevalent at the Oscars, the Spirit Awards are now seen as the first major set of nominations of the awards season. That bodes well for several films after this year's announcement of the nominees, with presumed Best Picture contenders "Eighth Grade", "First Reformed" and "If Beale Street Could Talk" showing early strength. With many buzzy titles being ineligible this year, it remains to be seen whether there will be much crossover with the Academy's eventual picks. There's still a long way to go yet. So for now, let's just celebrate this year's esteemed list of Spirit Awards nominees:

Best Feature
Eighth Grade
First Reformed
If Beale Street Could Talk
Leave No Trace
You Were Never Really Here

Best Director
Debra Granik, Leave No Trace
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Tamara Jenkins, Private Life
Lynne Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here
Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Best Female Lead
Glenn Close, The Wife
Toni Colette, Hereditary
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Regina Hall, Support the Girls
Helena Howard, Madeline's Madeline
Carey Mulligan, Wildlife

Best Male Lead
John Cho, Searching
Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Christian Malheiros, Socrates
Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here

Best Supporting Female
Kayli Carter, Private Life
Tyne Daly, A Bread Factory
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Leave No Trace
J. Smith-Cameron, Nancy

Best Supporting Male
Raul Castillo, We the Animals
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Richard E Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Josh Hamilton, Eighth Grade
John David Washington, Monsters and Men

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: First Man


For years, one of the most popular dreams for young boys and girls was to be an astronaut when they grow up. Whether they were American, South African, Japanese or Australian, space exploration had captured children's imaginations all over the world. This widespread ambition is no coincidence however. It is a testament to the efforts of NASA and one astronaut in particular - Neil Amstrong. Known to be the first man to walk on the moon, his accomplishment was televised in front of more than 500 million viewers in 1969. Now, nearly 50 years later, audiences can relive his journey through Damien Chazelle's incredible new film "First Man", based on Armstrong's official biography "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong".

"First Man" beings in 1961, when Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) underwent his first test flights at NASA. It is a tumultuous time both personally and professionally for Armstrong, as his young daughter Karen is suffering from a brain tumor and his flights have been largely unsuccessful. When Karen dies shortly after and Armstrong is temporarily grounded, he finds himself at his lowest point. But when an opportunity arises for him to be a part of the groundbreaking Project Gemini, Armstrong gets a new lease on life. He proceeds on a rigorous training program leading up to what will eventually be the historic Apollo 11 mission. But the fatally high risks and expenditure behind the Space Race draws concern from the tax-paying public and families of the astronauts. Armstrong is determined to make it to the moon, however, committing himself to one of the most daring feats ever attempted by the human race.

Through his musically-themed work in his first three films, Damien Chazelle has established himself as one of Hollywood's greatest showmen. But despite the high-flying premise of "First Man", Chazelle surprisingly brings the traditional space adventure down to earth. Largely taking the form of a biopic rather than a thriller, Chazelle shows ingenious directorial instincts in the film's audiovisual language. The atypical cinematography comprises mostly of closeups and two shots, making the audience feel immersed in Armstrong's headspace and immediate perspective. Meanwhile the impactful sound effects and gradual crescendo of Justin Hurwitz' score make for a riveting experience.

The result is a supremely well-crafted, thoroughly engaging experience which will surely contend for Oscar nominations in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Claire Foy), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score. And perhaps most notably, it also features a Oscar-worthy script for Best Adapted Screenplay. Indeed, Josh Singer delivers the richest screenplay of any Chazelle film to date, effectively accentuating Chazelle's directorial vision to convey palpably high stakes yet remaining tethered to relatable everyday struggles. This intimacy in the storytelling allows Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy to explore Armstrong's personal and family lives with remarkable emotional depth. The former brings the perfectly unassuming "everyman" quality required for the film's approachable hero, while the latter has a quiet intensity that asserts itself with impressive confidence and conviction.

Ultimately, the biggest triumph of "First Man" is not its awe-inspiring mission - though that is certainly a captivating highlight - but for its touching examination of the man in the spacesuit. As if inspired by his ambitious protagonist, the film's poignancy and resonance signifies the next step up for Damien Chazelle as filmmaker. And just like Armstrong inspired generations of youth to be astronauts, so too will Chazelle's body of work influence the next generation of filmmakers. I'm looking forward to wherever he goes next.

Friday, October 19, 2018

NYFF: If Beale Street Could Talk


When Miami-born filmmaker released his debut feature "Medicine for Melancholy" back in 2008, even the film's most ardent fans couldn't have predicted the meteoric rise to come in his follow up. From those humble micro-budget beginnings, Jenkins would enter the history books with his sophomore outing "Moonlight", which won the Academy Award for Best Picture 8 years later. Translating an unproduced play into an artful cinematic masterpiece, Jenkins redefined our ideas of what urban male masculinity could look like on screen.

Thankfully, it would only take 2 years for Jenkins return with his third film "If Beale Street Could Talk", a ravishingly gorgeous drama which further cements his status as one of our most important storytellers of the black experience. Based on James Baldwin's novel of the same name, this period piece takes us to early 1970s Harlem, a quintessential African-American neighbourhood. It is in this setting that our young protagonist Tish Rivers (played by the dazzling Kiki Layne) faces the harsh realities of justice in America, as she fearfully hopes for the release of her wrongfully accused fiance (Alonzo "Fonny" Hont, played by Stephan James) from prison. Charged with the rape of a Puerto Rican woman, Fonny's outlook is bleak. But the now pregnant Tish and her supportive family are determined to do whatever it takes to clear his name in time to see the birth of his child.

The unjust incarceration facing Fonny is all too common within the black community, an unfortunate fact which the film addresses with frank honesty. As the film's opening quote explains, the Beale Street in the film's title represents not just the location in Harlem, but all the black communities in America and their shared experiences of struggle and perseverance. Indeed, one of the film's most memorable scenes involves an ominous conversation between Fonny and a friend, as he recalls the oppressive fear he felt during his own experience in prison.

But while such familiarly sobering moments are inextricably embedded in the narrative, it is Barry Jenkins' inspired vision which sets the film apart from others set during this time period. While other filmmakers would aim for a "gritty" tone, Jenkins' direction is as elegant as ever, reuniting with many of his "Moonlight" collaborators to create some of the most breathtaking moments you'll see on screen in this year. From Nicholas Britell's jazz-inflected score to James Laxton's picture-perfect cinematography, the film finds the beauty in these black lives, exalting them through his lens as works of art. As such, repeat Oscar nominations should definitely be in store for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Cinematography. And Regina King should also be in contention for Best Supporting Actress as Tish's mother. Her performance - alongside an outstanding ensemble - beautifully adds further nuance to the story, exploring how family, religion and society influences the lives of this black community.

Indeed, there's no denying Jenkins' love for his characters, which shines through in the way the camera lingers on their faces and leans in to attentively listen to their perspective on the world around them. This is especially true when the film focuses on the central love story between Tish and Fonny. While the film admittedly drags slightly when it reverts to the more dispiriting legal procedural, it absolutely soars in the depiction of their romance. The sincerity and purity of their love is truly euphoric to witness.

And ultimately, the bittersweet withdrawal from that euphoria makes the film's message resonate deeply. "If Beale Street Could Talk" shows how love transcends the hardships imposed by the American nightmare. And it is only through the proliferation of love's beauty and humanity in future generations like Tish's unborn child, that we can truly call it the American dream.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: A Star Is Born


There are few stories in cinema as dramatically compelling as the simultaneous rise and fall narrative of "A Star is Born". Initially produced in 1937, the film was remade in 1954 (featuring one of the greatest acting performances of all time) and then again in 1976 with Barbra Streisand as its titular star. All three versions have cumulatively built an undeniable legacy based on their artistry and/or cultural impact, touching the hearts of audiences - myself included - for generations.

With such a storied history, you should therefore forgive me for my initial apprehension towards the latest remake. This 2018 iteration of "A Star is Born" sees Bradley Cooper directing himself as the tragic Jackson Maine, a country music star suffering from alcoholism who falls in love with an unassuming singer-songwriter (Ally, played by Lady Gaga) and takes her under his wing. As their relationship develops, Ally becomes a pop star in her own right, while Maine's vices send him on a downward spiral. Through it all, they try to support each other the best they can. But as Judy Garland conveyed in 1954, love isn't enough.

Helmed by a first-time director (Bradley Cooper) and a singer (Lady Gaga) in her first lead role in a film. It all seemed so ill-advised to me. But then, the film premiered to rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival and the buzz kept building from there. Immediately, it generated Oscar buzz as the presumed Best Picture frontrunner. Some even suggested to it would be this generations' "Titanic".

It was with these astronomic expectations that I watched "A Star Is Born". And by no fault of the film itself, it therefore felt a little disappointing. The film is more modest than the showstopper the reviews would suggest, especially when the screenplay is so familar (albeit still very satisfying).

But that understated quality is one of its best attributes, particularly when it came to the performances and direction. Indeed, the highlights of the film turned out to be the elements I was most concerned about (the aforementioned Cooper as director and Lady Gaga in the lead). Cooper's execution of this melodrama is truly impressive, earning his deserved Best Director buzz by deftly balancing the intimacy of the relationship with the spectacle of the musical performances. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga will surely be a popular Best Actress contender with her moving performance, which has an unpolished authenticity to it. Best Supporting Actor contender Sam Elliott also deserves kudos for a stealthily brilliant performance as Jackson Maine's concerned brother.

Indeed, both her and Bradley Cooper (a lock for a Best Actor nomination) have a dynamism to their performances which elevate the film. Particularly as they make and perform the film's amazing music. In many ways, the film's romanticism transcends its central love story to become a love letter to pop music. Through both Cooper and Lady Gaga's characters, the film acts as a tribute to pop stars old and new, as their struggles and artistry are reminiscent of Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga herself. And the film's deeply affecting narrative and soundtrack - "Shallow" will be a Best Original Song nominee, along with nods for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing - reminds us of pop music's healing power, however fleeting it may be. It's a category of music that brings people together like no other and touches our heart and soul, resulting in phenomena like the Beyhive, the Little Monsters and This Party Is Killing You. I can hardly think of another film that so effectively captures the contemporary allure of pop music and the inevitable pressures afflicting musicians caught up in its whirlwind. As they say, Bradley Cooper and co. did it for the culture.

Monday, October 8, 2018

REVIEW: Border


When you think of the word "troll", the first images that come to mind are probably an irritating internet commenter or a hideous creature likely to kill you. Ali Abbasi's latest film "Border", however, presents a more nuanced perspective. This fascinating tale finds the humanity in trolls, exploring their nature with disarming empathy.

"Border" is the story of Tina, a customs border agent for the Swedish authorities. We are introduced to her on the job, where she excels by literally being able to sniff out criminal activity. Despite her expertise, however, she doesn't fully feel like she belongs. Thanks to facial features which resemble something not quite human, she harbors feelings of self-doubt. But one day, she encounters a mysterious man named Vore, whose face is strikingly reminiscent of her own. His confidence immediately draws her in and they slowly become acquainted. And as their relationship develops, Tina begins to question her life and by extension, her sense of self.

With Tina's subsequent self-discovery comes life-changing news. Vore informs her that she is not human, but a troll. And as that revelation opens her eyes to the truth behind her past and present life, "Border" becomes a compelling character study.

Indeed, despite the grotesque character design and fanciful mythology, Abbasi takes a serious approach to the material. In establishing Tina's identity, the narrative presents familiar scenes of domestic life alongside a hard-boiled crime investigation worthy of its own distinct narrative. Furthermore, the film is grounded by Melander and co-star Eero Milonoff, who imbue their roles with naturalism. Despite extensive makeup, their impressively lived-in performances allow us to see their troll characters as beings with relatable needs and wants. There's a loneliness to Tina's quiet demeanour which blossoms into titillated curiosity around Vore's confident swagger. And as they open up to each other, they express their newfound happiness with childlike enthusiasm.

Even as the film delves into some of the more bizarre concepts - with shocking imagery to match - behind troll physiology and behavior, there's an enchanting feeling of rebirth in Tina. On the surface, the film may set up an allegory of racial intolerance and prejudice, but it is more successful as a fable about the power of self-love. Though the crime subplot distractingly shifts the focus away from Tina's personal growth, the film's ultimate lesson is deeply felt. Whether you use your self-love and acceptance for good or evil is what truly separates the monsters and men.