Watching Disney in French

reinedesneigesfrozen-2013While I don’t love all of the Disney animated “classics”, there are quite a few that I really enjoy and that I would watch over and over again. (Albeit, not as much as parents of small children…)

When I was younger, in order to watch a Disney film in a language other than English, my parents had to buy the videos separately. Since I was in French Immersion at school, they undoubtedly figured that picking up Les 101 Dalmatiens and La Belle et la Bete were worthwhile investments, although as a result, I did not have the English versions of these films to watch. Thanks to technology, now one can change languages at the flip of a button on the DVD. In essence, I have three copies of Frozen – if I really wanted to, I could watch it in Spanish too, but I still don’t know Spanish…

Which brings me to why I enjoy watching select Disney films in French – namely, because I already know the story and what the dialogue is supposed to be, I can better practice my language skills without having to try to figure out what is going on. I can translate the words to improve vocabulary. As an adult, I now notice little details in the dialogue that I would not have understood (or even noticed) when younger. For example, in Tangled (which is simply Raiponce or Rapunzel in French), much of the story hinges on the dialogue between the main two characters, Rapunzel and Flynn, in order for their relationship be believable and emotionally connect with the audience. It is indeed the funniest part of the story.

Imagine my surprise when I watched the French version and realised how well they overcame a simple problem: which pronouns would they use for each other? Not because there was any doubt about their gender, but because French distinguishes between whether or not one is speaking to someone familiarly or formally. Flynn starts out using the familiar with Rapunzel because she is young and he is trying to run a power-trip on her (while Rapunzel, having lived her life isolated in a tower, can be excused for using either one). However, once Rapunzel bests Flynn and convinces him to take her out to see the floating lanterns, he falls out of frame and says roughly the equivalent of “that’s it, I’m going to stop using the familiar with you”. (In the English version, he just says a variation of ouch, having fallen on his face.) For the next few scenes, he is polite to Rapunzel, until eventually they get more acquainted with one another, when he reverts back to the familiar.

I was impressed that they made use of the animation to address the issue. I do not know how important such a thing would be to French-speaking children, but it might have made a difference to their parents and grandparents watching with them.

Otherwise, of course, the dialogue is nearly identical and the animation often requires that direct English translation needs to be used, even for expressions that are not common (or jokes) in French. That makes it easier as a learning tool, but arguably less entertaining. Luckily, Disney is getting better about making their films marketable worldwide and have shied away from specifically American-based humour.

The only real snag in translated Disney films is the singing. No matter how closely the songs can be translated, it is always harder to understand the sung lyrics as opposed to spoken dialogue in a less-familiar language. First of all, how close is the translation? Is it the same, perhaps with the words rearranged to suit both grammar and music, or is it new lyrics with a slightly different meaning? Or a song with the the same sentiment but with different words entirely? To properly enjoy the Disney songs, I actually need the subtitles or lyrics in front of me, at least the first time.

On the other hand, with subtitles and direct-translation subtitles, I can watch the musical sequences in multiple other languages as well, even when I have no idea how to speak them.

It is quite fun to see how the new song compares to the original. Is there a slightly different meaning to it? Does this change reflect cultural difference, or just how the language fits better with the existing music? Does the new meaning actually work better with the story? Honestly, sometimes it does, or it is more in character.

It is not that I don’t like films actually intended to be in French, but it is helpful to watch something familiar and learn at the same time.

Plus, they are entertaining either way!

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Having Fun With Side Characters

murdochseason10titleMURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 10, Episodes 13 & 14 (The Missing)(Mr. Murdoch’s Neighbourhood)

 10-13These two episodes are much more well-balanced in tone than the previous two. Overall, the mysteries in each are classic whodunits, the main characters get a chance to relax, and the secondary characters get the chance to have a moment or two in the spotlight.

The plot of The Missing is fairly serious – an elderly widow with a large fortune seeks the return of her long-lost (and presumed dead) grandson. Such a case is ripe for con artists and Murdoch finds himself investigating whether or not the latest claimant to being her grandson is indeed genuine or not. Unlike the previous episode, where Murdoch complains that investigating the killing of a dog is beneath him, he commits to getting to the bottom of this case. Unsurprisingly, a murder victim soon surfaces who is connected to the case, leaving Murdoch to figure out what happened to the widow’s heir. Thankfully, we do get a somewhat happy ending to this story.

However, the widow waited over twenty years to find her grandson. Because of this, she was more in love with the illusion of having him back. While it was of utmost importance to her step-grandson whether or not the man who claimed to be the grandson was real, it no longer truly mattered to the grandmother. She was willing to admit that perhaps the claimant was not real, but he acted enough like her grandson that she could convince herself that he was really him. This of course hindered Murdoch’s investigation.

What really made this episode interesting was that Detective Watts, sent over to fill the void while Brackenreid is away and Murdoch is Acting Inspector, dives more earnestly into his investigation into missing women. His case has few clues, no bodies, and reluctant witnesses. Enlisting Constable Jackson’s assistance once again, they make little progress but learn to trust one another. We learn that Watts is troubled by cases of missing women since his own sister went missing when he was younger, and we learn that Jackson is a widower who knows exactly where his wife is. The latter has peace of mind knowing what happened to her and relates to how Watts must feel not knowing what happened to his sister. He affirms his determination to help Watts and assures him that his search is not futile or pointless. In the next episode, Watts is still investigating the case, although Jackson is pulled back to work with the other constables, and he finally starts to get some clues – although they seem to be more confusing than helpful. I do wonder how long they will carry out this plot, because it feels much like a real investigation. There is no tidy resolution in 45 minutes for missing persons cases.

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In Mr. Murdoch’s Neighbourhood, Murdoch and Dr. Ogden discover that their newly-purchased land has also served as a makeshift burial ground. Because the bodies were discovered in the course of a training exercise by the constabulary and the Women’s Medical College, our lead characters are assisted in their investigation by Miss James and two of her fellow students (whom we met in Jagged Little Pill a few episodes ago back in the fall), as well as Constables Crabtree, Higgins, and Jackson.

The moral of the case is whether or not it is right to take the law into one’s own hands, especially if the police have not been helpful. As a police officer married to a doctor, Murdoch is not well-liked by his potential neighbours by virtue of his badge alone. He is repeatedly told that the police did not nothing to get rid of a local criminal family who caused havoc on nearby farms. Everyone but the victims are indeed better off because of the men’s deaths, but that does not make it legally or morally right. And as Murdoch asserts, it is not for him to decide. He is obligated to do his job and serve the law. As for morality, vigilantism is not self-defense. From a moral perspective, executing a criminal out of vengeance (even if the vengeance stems from righteous anger) only renders the criminal into a victim and the vigilante into a murderer. It is thus dangerous from both perspectives, so for a police officer of strong faith like Murdoch, there is no question.

But the episode dwells less on philosophy than on romance, comedy, and character development. Having all of the supporting cast work together, along with Murdoch and Dr. Ogden, leaves a lot of room for amusing interactions. Crabtree is soon off contributing to the investigation elsewhere and getting the chance to meet Miss Cherry again. The reporter is very interested in him and seems to think that his talent is wasted as a constable. While the actual plot is funny, the overall tone is somewhat muted when one considers the run of bad luck that Crabtree has had. I could not help but worry that she will only push him further away from his career and then end their relationship. Is she infatuated with him and hoping to make him a man that more fits her idea of a successful husband? Is she just being friendly and encouraging? Does she have a nefarious ulterior motive such as being involved in criminal activities? I am hoping that it is the first question.

As well, Higgins and Jackson get to spend time with the other two students. Both are slightly unnerved to be working alongside beautiful, intelligent young women. Higgins ends up making a fool of himself, but he also is motivated to learn in order to help solve the case. He doesn’t try to take all of the credit – in fact, he seems entirely amazed that he was able to eventually keep up. For her part, his student partner is also impressed, although not enough to want to pursue a relationship with him further.  Jackson, meanwhile, ends up getting the other girl, but only after they spent several hours together exploring and talking. One gets the feeling that Jackson has always felt stupid and ignored by doctors, particularly with regards to his late wife’s health, and it is only by interacting with one who sees him as an equal that he realises that he may not be as oafish as he thinks. He also treats the woman that his is paired with respectfully. He also sees her as an equal, not as a woman to be chased. I would like to hear that this relationship continues, even if I don’t need to watch it weekly.

After ten seasons, it is wonderful to watch Murdoch and Dr. Ogden’s relationship, but it is even better to get a chance to see some of the other characters get more rounded out personality-wise. It is also hard to keep coming up with new cases of the week that are intriguing without being too over-the-top or controversial. Including more character development around the solving of the cases makes the new episodes more exciting.

The writers of this episode also managed to make the story feel self-contained, despite all of the connections to other plots. Other than Det. Watts’s investigation (which is a bit confusing even if you have watched regularly), the other subplots work fine on their own. It helps to know some background of the characters, of course, but the dialogue is entertaining and understandable without references to previous episodes. I would not say that it is my favourite episode, but it is definitely one of my recent favourites.

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Starting Off the Year with Mood Whiplash

murdochseason10titleMURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 10, Episodes 11 & 12 (The Devil Inside)(A Murdog Mystery)

 10-11The first episode back after the winter break was sufficiently creepy and mysterious to keep my attention, even if it heavily featured flashbacks from previous seasons. The Devil Inside [spoiler alert] brings back the long-presumed-dead James Gillies, Detective Murdoch’s nemesis. For anyone who thought that his death three seasons ago (that was supposedly confirmed a season later) was insufficient for such a mythic character, this episode was a much better finale. The first half of the episode has Murdoch and Dr. Ogden really wondering if Gillies is demonically possessing the killer of the week; the second half reveals whether or not he is alive or dead, and if alive, if he actually dies for good this time!

Technically, this episode features the entire main cast, including Dr. Grace, but only Murdoch, Dr. Ogden, Miss James, and Constable Higgins are in the main storyline. Brackenreid is still away in Central America – in fact, Murdoch has technically assumed the role of Acting Inspector – and Crabtree must be off duty, perhaps wallowing in the fact that his girlfriend broke up with him in Excitable Chap. (Because of the Christmas special and the break, it was easy to forget what chronologically recently had taken place in the story.) Yet with the flashbacks, all of them make an appearance and we get to see how everyone worked together over the years to battle James Gillies, even if it is Murdoch and Ogden who have been his main opponents.

I admit that I felt that the episode lacked depth. The non-standard approach to the story was well-executed, but I spent the hour simply watching. I am amazed that Murdoch figured out the clues that Gillies left for him, because I certainly had no idea what they meant – even though they referenced previous episodes. The story arc has been stretched over so many years that little details like street names completely eluded me. Also, having been lulled into believing that this arc was over two years ago, it seemed odd to bring it up again. I guess I wanted to believe that it was over as much as Murdoch and Ogden did!

Nonetheless, I enjoyed how they brought better closure to such a charismatic and outright terrifying man as James Gillies and his pleasure in outwitting Murdoch. While his death from falling off of a bridge would have been more realistic, it was not very satisfying. This certainly made for a better story.

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And then, just to switch things completely, A Murdog Mystery was a funny, lighthearted episode that did not take itself too seriously. It featured the murder of a show-dog (which was the saddest part of the episode – I hate seeing animals die, especially beloved pets) and Detective Murdoch was drawn into a conspiracy involving wealthy dog-owners, dog-handlers, and dog shows. Murdoch is reluctant to take the case at first, since the victim is a dog and not a human, but naturally, that means he increasingly has to interact with dogs throughout the episode until he admits that he actually likes them. Unfortunately, the first half of the episode has Murdoch being very rude and callous. He is highly unlikable – I imagine the pressure of being Acting Inspector is starting to get to him.

My main problem with the episode is that Murdoch is not just a homicide detective. He is a detective with the Toronto Constabulary and is responsible for investigating all types of crime in his jurisdiction. The death of a prized show-dog, while not murder, is certainly a property crime. A dog that did not have any obvious signs of ill-health dying is suspicious, especially if he is worth a lot of money. Murdoch had the duty to investigate the crime as destruction of livestock or property, even if the victim was annoying him by referring to the dog as having been murdered and insisting on having a funeral for him. He was her dog and she was entitled to do exactly what she wished when it came to reacting to his death. Murdoch had no right to belittle her or ignore the case. It was an attack on the woman’s property and theft of potential income. Also, the dog was killed in the woman’s garden, so whomever killed him was also trespassing. No, it was not murder, but she was right to call the police.

This was lazy writing in order to draw out comedy. I found it very uncomfortable to watch. I kept wanting to tell Murdoch to leave the woman alone and do his job. I certainly wasn’t laughing very much.

The antics with a second show-dog were funny, though. I was far more impressed with watching Crabtree and Higgins’s adventures. The writers also included a lighthearted nod to Canada’s 150th anniversary by including a mysterious man who claims to be on an important mission and tries to enlist the constables in helping him find his missing notebook. In the credits scene, they run into him again, and it is clear that he is supposed to be a time-traveller. For the anniversary, Murdoch Mysteries has created a web-series involving time travel. The first few episodes (which are only about 90 seconds each) have been intriguing thus far. This is clearly meant to be a birthday gift – just jolly good fun!

Lastly, the younger detective from Concocting a Killer has returned to assist at the station while Murdoch is Acting Inspector. This has the effect of getting on Murdoch’s nerves but also introduces a new plot arc, as the detective enlists Constable Jackson in searching for missing women. While we do not get much of the story in this episode, what I have enjoyed about it is that it is a very serious subject matter and both the detective and Jackson take it seriously, but the storyline is comedic as well. The two men find each other difficult to work with and they have very few clues to go on. Time will tell whether they solve the case or not.10-12b

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Along the River

copyright 2017

Wandering along the river’s shore,
I sing for what cannot be.
Forevermore washed downstream,
I carry only thee.

The darkness wraps around us,
The sun sets in the west,
The river flows quickly onward,
Rest, my child, rest.

The sun will rise tomorrow morn,
And warm the land anew,
But whether we will find our home,
Sleep the night through.

We will never find a way to cross,
In the dark of night,
So I will wander along the shore,
Sleep until the light.

The river roars and cuts the earth,
No place shallow to cross,
I sing for what cannot be, my child,
I sing for what I have lost.

autumn_sunset-south-saskatchewan-river

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Lion (2016)

Lion (2016)

lion-2016If this were a fictional story, it would be almost unbelievable. It would be seen as overly-contrived and unrealistic, or something that would be better seen as allegorical.

Based on the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, Lion is (in short) the story of a little boy who gets lost and finds his way back to his mother. However, Saroo’s journey is complicated by the fact that he is five years old, ends up hundreds of kilometres from home by himself, can’t remember his mother’s name or his hometown, has to survive by wit and luck, and ends up happily adopted by a couple in Australia. By the time he is able to track down his mother in India, the boy is a grown man, and he does so by painstakingly searching on Google Earth.

I read the book prior to seeing the movie, intrigued by the premise if anything else. It was not the type of story that one would make up when sitting down to write a script. It was an odd idea for a movie. I decided to read the book because I wanted to understand the story before I saw any dramatized version of it.

Both the book and the film are told in chronological order, but the book is able to draw on the wealth of knowledge that Saroo learned from his biological family later in life, so he is constantly telling it from the perspective of an adult as well as from that of a child. He also is able to go into detail about his adoptive family and their backgrounds, as well as lots of details about his childhood in Australia. These details do not all make it into the film, but certainly give added context to the story. Having read the book also prepared me for the alterations that the film had made. I was able to see why the filmmakers made these changes: namely, for better pacing, more dramatic potential, and for less distraction for the audience.

The film also proceeds in chronological order, but we as an audience are drawn into little Saroo’s journey and his perspective. We don’t get to see the larger picture. We only know what he does, except for a few intertitles that explain where we are and the distance travelled. We know how hopelessly lost Saroo is before he does, and if we were paying attention, we can also see why he had so much trouble trying to find his hometown later. However, we are otherwise as confused as he is.

We also get to see him eventually find a new home in Australia after a long and painful struggle. It is slightly jarring to see him suddenly grown up and culturally Australian, but it fits the story. The first third of the film is its own story, namely the story of the poor little boy who survived the streets of Calcutta and the orphanage to be adopted by wealthy parents. It is a “happy ending” that merits further exploration. After all, Saroo is no orphan – he was simply lost. And even though he loves his adoptive parents, his new home, and all of the opportunities that this life has given him, he still wants to let his mother know that he is all right.

Lion is a cinematographically-beautiful and character-driven film. The plot itself, as I have described, is fairly straightforward. It also would not really be worthy making a film about if Saroo’s search was not ultimately successful. There is no mystery here. Instead, we are following on his journey, first as a child, and then as an adult. It is well-acted by all, especially by the leads playing Saroo as a child and adult (Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel, respectively). As an audience member, I was simply drawn in at the beginning and kept watching raptly. I knew what was going to happen, but I did not know how it would proceed. I was especially amazed at how the filmmakers portrayed Saroo’s endless Google searches without constantly portraying a computer.

It is also a very spiritual film, although that was perhaps not the intent. The only actual portrayal of religion in the film is when little Saroo prays at a shrine on his first night in the streets. (From both the book and the film, it is clear that he was raised as a spiritual agnostic for most of his life.) It is not a religious film at all, but there is a lot of elements of faith to be taken from it.

Saroo’s journey is one of having fallen away from his home (and getting lost as a result) and finding a new one that was not complete. Only by finding his mother again could he have a more complete life. He needed her forgiveness, one might say. Despite how futile his search seemed, he continued at it, even when his family and friends began to fall away. There were times when he lost faith in ever finding his mother again, but he eventually kept looking. Finally, when all seemed like it had fallen into place, it was clear that this was not the end of his journey. Rather, now he could actually begin it.

Another thing that I noticed was how Saroo finally managed to get help as a child. He was naturally mistrustful of police (and of adults in general), but he caught the eye of a young businessman in a café window. Neither averted their eyes, but instead, Saroo began imitating the man’s actions with his spoon. The man found this endearing and actually decided to go talk to him, going as far as taking him to the police station and translating for him. How many of us would simply think “how cute, that little boy is imitating me!” and go on with our day? Especially in a city where little street children are a common sight? Who knows what the man had scheduled for the rest of the day? But he decided that this child, whom he did not know, was more important. He had created a bond of trust with this child and he needed to follow through with that, meetings or going home be darned. Are we not all called to be more like that?

In short, this is a wonderful movie! I strongly recommend seeing it.

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Confessions of a Librarian Who Doesn’t Read Much…

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…at least not of the fiction variety.

I used to love to read. I still do, but now I tend to read a lot of online articles and non-fiction. When I want a fix of fictional stories, I tend to watch films or television instead. This is not because I merely think fiction is for entertainment – in fact, it is not really a conscious decision at all. Simply put, when I look over how much I read fiction versus how much I watch it, the amount of time that I spend watching it is definitely higher.

By contrast, the last few books that I have read have all been non-fiction accounts or discussions of science or current events. This is not to say that I enjoy reading long academic tomes – I like my non-fiction to be relatable. It is supposed to be fun and interesting.

I inevitably ask myself why. Why do I not enjoy reading fiction that much? It isn’t as though I don’t like reading about fiction and storytelling. It isn’t as though I don’t enjoy learning about stories. It isn’t that I don’t like stories themselves, or that I have no imagination and can’t visualise the world of a novel.

And that’s the short of it: I do not read many novels. I often read the same novels multiple times – and I enjoy them very much. They are like good friends. There is not always a rhyme or reason to why a certain novel grabs my attention: some are science fiction, some are fantasy, some are historical, some are mysteries, and some are stories that I have loved for many years. Some are aimed at older children or teens, while others are adult novels. Some are stories that I studied in school and thus got to know rather intimately.

So why do new novels rarely persuade me to read them? Why do I write stories and poems that seem to have no specific audience?

It is somewhat embarrassing, but I write what I like to read.

I am an odd duck when it comes to being marketed to. I can still enjoy a young adult novel, but I enjoy it from the adult perspective – so it has to be written that way. I can sympathize with a lot of female-centric contemporary stories aimed at adults, but I don’t really identify with them. I have no children, I do not have a very complicated romantic life, and I don’t enjoy shopping as self-medication. I don’t have a lot of BFFs or a large family that drives me insane. In short, many of the things that protagonists seem to be trying escape from are things that I would enjoy escaping to. So the protagonists come across as unsympathetic and not really worth my reading a whole novel about them. Listening to someone complain about their spouse, children, frenemy, or household problems is too realistic.

I also like mysteries, but I am quite comfortable watching these in hour-long installments on television rather than reading them – just a personal preference.

Thus it isn’t that I don’t read, or that I don’t love books – I love books more than I love actually reading them. But when it comes to fiction, I am very particular about the story. When I actually sit down to read something cover-to-cover, I want to enjoy it.

And in the meantime, I write stories that I hope others enjoy, but I know that I already do.

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Whimsical…and Yet Real

LA LA Land (2016)

la-la-land-2016

I went into this film with an open mind – I used to love old movie musicals, but I was concerned with the fact that it seemed to be a traditional romance. I really was not sure how “old-fashioned” it would be. A lot has changed in society since the 1940s, which seemed to be the era that the film was evoking. How would the story be both nostalgic and relevant?

Having seen LA LA Land, I can now see why it is getting such good reviews. The film manages to get the right mix of nostalgia and modern relevancy, which was no easy feat.

At its core, the film is a whimsical tribute to Los Angeles. I had the feeling that were I more familiar with the city, I could make a drinking game out of all of the familiar landmarks featured in it. However, the locations work their way into the story seamlessly. It is a timeless tale of fighting for one’s dreams, and what better city than Los Angeles to reflect that?

It also reflects the reality of trying to make it in Hollywood. Mia, our leading lady and an aspiring actress (played by Emma Stone), spends a lot of time going to auditions where she is literally just another pretty face. She has to share an apartment with three other young women and despite being large enough to accommodate a dance number, it reminded me a lot of the apartments that I either lived in or visited in my early twenties. In short, Mia is relatable, even in her more glamourous moments.

The leading man, jazz pianist Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), is the classic starving artist. He has big dreams, but is too caught up in his ideas of what is real and traditional to move forward. Sebastian is held back by his nostalgia, while Mia is held back by her insecurities.

Needless to say, the two of them bring out the best in one another and push each other to get ahead, while simultaneously falling in love. That is the “old-fashioned” part of the film. There are singing and dance numbers to go along with their story – although the film relies more heavily on dance numbers as it progresses. I think that has something to do with believability. Dance numbers are inherently symbolic (I would rather watch a dance than a sex scene) and they are also grounded in reality, especially when characters are at a party or bar. On the other hand, breaking out into song is unusual, especially when it done by more than one person. This was forgivable in the past when movie musicals were more like films of stage-shows, but it is less acceptable now. The filmmakers manage to walk a tightrope in giving us just enough singing and allowing the bulk of the story to be done in dance – or just normal dialogue.

Two thirds of the film go by in an entirely predictable fashion – I was even envisioning scene changes and act breaks. But then I began to worry. Would the story proceed as I was expecting it to, from my experience with 1940s and 1950s musicals? I hoped not.

In the past, one of the characters in the couple would have been expected to give up or alter their dreams. Usually, this involved settling down and raising a family. Either the man would give up his roving ways or the woman would give up her career aspirations. They would give up risk-taking for a steady paycheque and babies. This would be presented as the desirable happy ending. This film includes a nice nod to this toward the end, but it takes its characters into a different place. It is the 2010s, after all.

There is a saying that of having something done fast, cheaply, or well, you can only pick two of them. I would adapt that for this story to say that either Sebastian or Mia can fulfill their dreams separately (or at the expense of the other’s dreams), or they can stay together and compromise both – and achieving neither. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by the choice that the filmmakers made! It was a happy ending, just not the happy ending that the audience expected.

What struck me most about this story was its treatment of nostalgia. There is a tendency for people to want to keep something just as it is or was – or how they thought it was or ought to have been. Nostalgia is not bad, nor is it entirely whimsical. However, it must be carefully balanced with change. Sebastian holds on to the past in his music, but as a friend tells him, if there is no one listening, the music is going to die. It must be embraced by the young, even if that means evolving. There is a difference between changing to survive and “selling out”. It is difficult to figure out this difference, but it is necessary to do so. Otherwise, the tradition that we hold so sacred and dear will die with us.

I really enjoyed how this film was crafted. It was whimsical and colourful, but it was grounded in reality. It was about shattering preconceived notions and embracing one’s dreams. Romance is wonderful and sometimes is what gives us the kick in the pants to realise what we want in life, but it is not the happy ending that we are looking for.

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