Book Review: Breadfruit by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Around the World for a Good Book selection for French Polynesia

Author: Célestine Hitiura Vaite
Title: Breadfruit
Publication Info: Auckland, N.Z. : Vintage, 2000.

Set in Tahiti, this novel is the story of Materena, a young woman in Tahiti who lives with her somewhat shiftless boyfriend Pito and their children.  At the beginning of the book Pito drunkenly proposes to Materena and she dreams about the wedding while wondering if he really meant it.  The book is episodic linking together vignettes of everyday life in Tahiti, usually with Materena being visited by family and friends who share their adventures.  The novel is mostly light and funny, but there’s an undercurrent of the reveal poverty and effects of colonialism (which manifests in the book primarily through the French police officers).  It’s a delightful and charming book and Vaite does a great job in creating the characters and their dialogue.

Rating: ***1/2

Boston Movie Festival: Children of Invention (2010)

Welcome to my first monthly “film festival” where I watch a bunch of movies on a theme.  This month, in honor of Patriots Day weekend I will be watching a bunch of Boston movies, also known as “Film No R.”  There are so many movies set/filmed in my hometown that I made a list on Letterboxd.  I probably will never watch all of them, but this weekend I’m going to check of some of the more prominent movies I’ve missed.

Title: Children of Invention
Release Date: March 12, 2010
Director: Tze Chun
Production Company: Syncopated Films | The Complications | Impact Partners |  Sasquatch Films

Elaine Cheng (Cindy Cheung) is a single, immigrant mother from Hong Kong who is evicted from her home along with her young children Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chiu).  A friend is able to set them up to live in a model apartment in a complex that is not yet open to residency in the suburbs of Boston.  Elaine works hard and is recruited by a multi-level marketing company which she hopes will help her earn the money to get out of their precarious situation.  Of course, it’s a scam and Elaine is arrested, fearful of her immigration status leading to her being separated from her children so she does not mention them to the police.

Raymond and Tina prove to be resourceful and resilient as well as adorable.  The make a plan to go into Boston and take money out of the bank which they will use to buy supplies to build Raymond’s inventions and sell them for a profit.  Things don’t go to plan and anyone with a nurturing instinct is going to feel a lump in their throat watching these kids on their own.  This is the type of movie that will make you hate capitalism if you don’t already.  But it’s also a gentle and beautiful naturalistic film with a good performance by it’s young leads.

Rating: ****

50 Years, 50 Movies (1978): The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.



Top Grossing Movies of 1978:

  1. Grease
  2. Superman
  3. National Lampoon’s Animal House
  4. Every Which Way But Loose
  5. Heaven Can Wait

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 1978:

  • The Deer Hunter
  • Coming Home
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Midnight Express
  • An Unmarried Woman

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1978:

Title: The Cat from Outer Space
Release Date: June 30, 1978
Director: Norman Tokar
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions

The whole 50 Years, 50 Movies project is in a sense autobiographical, so let’s go back to one of the earliest movies I remember seeing in the movie theater.  Star Wars may be the first movie I saw since it was released in 1977 but in my memory it came later (was it re-released in summer 1978?).  In 1978, I remember seeing Heaven Can Wait, Superman, and the Radio City Music Hall premiere of The Magic of Lassie.  I also remembered not being able to see Grease because I was grounded (I didn’t miss much).  But even though I only saw it once as a 4-year-old, I’ve always held a fondness for The Cat from Outer Space.

Well, it’s as cheezy as you might expect from a 1970s Disney movie and stylistically hasn’t changed much since Blackbeard’s Ghost.  Released shortly after Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the special effects are lacking, but they’re not really trying to be a special-effects spectacular.  See, there’s this alien cat, nicknamed Jake (played by Rumpler and Amber and voiced by Ronnie Schell), who makes an emergency landing on Earth.  He reveals himself to scientist Frank Wilson (Ken Berry) for assistance in repairing his spacecraft.  In turn, Frank brings in two other scientists, the inveterate gambler Norman Link (McLean Stevenson) and his romantic interest Liz Bartlett (Sandy Duncan).  Meanwhile they are being pursued by the military under General Stilton (Harry Morgan) and an industrial spy named Stallwood (Roddy McDowall).

The movie holds up better than expected and I love Jake the space cat, and Duncan and Stevenson’s performances are charming.  I’m also amused that Stevenson and Morgan are both M*A*S*H veterans playing characters similar to the tv show.  The movie runs a little long and a whole section in which Jake uses his powers to help the win money gambling could be pared down significantly.  But I feel that in the right hands, and with a more charismatic lead actor, The Cat From Outer Space could be remade today as an excellent family film.

Rating: ***



90 Movies in 90 Days: Little Fugitive (1953)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Little Fugitive
Release Date: October 6, 1953
Director:  Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin
Production Company: Little Fugitive Production Company


Joey (Richie Andrusco) is a 7-year-old growing up in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn who likes Westerns and loves horses.  When his widowed mother has to go away to care for his grandmother, he’s left in the care of his older brother, Lennie (Richard Brewster).  Lennie’s friends don’t like having little Joey tagging along.  So the play a prank that makes Joey think he’s killed Lennie.  Then Joey runs away to Coney Island and pretty much has the best day of his life.

The plot is minimal, but this movie delights on it’s naturalistic, largely unscripted performances by non-professional child actors.  Morris Engel developed a special camera that could be strapped to the body allowing the directors to film on location amid crowds of daytripping New Yorkers. It’s also a great document of Coney Island in the 1950s, when the parachute jump still worked and before Fred Trump demolished many of the amusements for real estate development.

It’s a form of neorealism that feels lighter and funnier than the movements in Italy and France and makes me wish a larger American neorealist movement grew out of it.  But François Truffaut loved Little Fugitives and said it inspired The 400 Blows! But really the most mindblowing thing about this movie is that my father was a 7-year-old in a working class neighborhood in 1953.  I wish he were around so I could watch this movie with him and ask him if he recognizes anyone.

Rating: ****1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Release Date: December 21, 2022
Director: Joel Crawford
Production Company: DreamWorks Animation

I was surprised by the popular acclaim of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish since it came out, because sequels of spinoffs of animated franchises generally aren’t all that good. I only became aware of the character Puss in Boots recently when I watched Shrek 2 for the first time.  My linear mind felt I would need to watch the rest of the Shrek sequels and the original Puss in Boots first, but I overcame that inclination.

And I was just fine, because Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is an excellent standalone feature and if referenced anything in earlier movies I didn’t feel like I was missing out.  Oh, and the hype is real.  This is a funny, creative, visually-imaginative, and heartfelt film which has something for the whole family (except maybe the youngest children).

The adventurer Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has lost 8 of his 9 lives and begins to fear his mortality with Death, in the form of a Wolf (Wagner Moura), literally tailing him.  He learns of a map that leads to a magical wishing star and determines to steal the map and use the wish to gain more lives.  His companions on the journey are fellow adventurer (and on-again/off-again romantic interest) Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault) and Perrito (Harvey Guillén), a kindhearted but dim Chihuahua.  They are chased by the crime family of Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Olivia Coleman, Ray Winstone, and Samson Kayo) who are in turn pursued by the psychotic pastry chef “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney).

A simple summary of the movies plot would be “the real treasure is the friends we made along the way” but that would undervalue the high quality of the characterization and storytelling.  The movie is very funny and I particularly like how Puss can code switch between being a Spanish adventurer and the behavior of real life cats.  Similarly, all of the characters have moments that reference their fairy tale/nursery rhyme origins in clever ways. The animation style is stunning and changes to enhance action and fantasy sequences.  It feels like a bold choice for the filmmakers to break from just using the same style they’ve used throughout the Shrek franchise.

So, this movie probably has no right to be as good as it is.  But it is good, and I tip my hat to everyone involved for putting their best into it.

Rating: ****

90 Movies in 90 Days: Shrek 2 (2004)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Shrek 2
Release Date: May 19, 2004
Director:Andrew Adamson | Kelly Asbury | Conrad Vernon
Production Company: DreamWorks Animation | PDI/DreamWorks

Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have their marital bliss interrupted by a call to visit Fiona’s parents King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews!) in the kingdom of Far Far Away.  It’s basically “Meet the Parents” Shrek-style with the central premise of Shrek wondering if on ogre is good enough for a princess. They are joined on the journey by Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and meet a new ally along the way in the form of the hilarious Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas).  Meanwhile, Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) tries to sabotage Shrek and Fiona’s marriage on behalf of her son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett).

The movie is full of references to famous film moments, parodies of fairy tale conventions, and needle drops that somehow almost always work. I kind of feel like the movie rehashes a lot of the ground covered in the original, but it doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Ernest & Celestine

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Ernest & Celestine
Release Date: 12 December 2012
Director: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar,  & Benjamin Renner
Production Company: La Parti Productions | Les Armateurs | Melusine Productions

This charming animated movie is set in a universe populated by anthropomorphic mice and anthropomorphic bears, and where the two species hate one another.  Celestine (Mackenzie Foy) is a young mouse training for dentistry but who really wants to be an artist.  Ernest (Forest Whitaker) is a down on his luck bear who fails to make a living as a street musician.  The pair end up meeting and helping one another out of their respective jams (which burglary).  They bond and form a friendship while hiding out at Ernest’s rural house.

The movie does a good job of showing how misfits in their own communities coming together to form a found family.  It also shows the importance of artists in societies built on striving.  And of course it’s a story of overcoming prejudice against people different from oneself.  The movie is never heavy handed about any of these themes up until the simultaneous courtroom scenes at the climax of the movie that didn’t work too well for me.  The same team that created A Town Called Panic were involved in this movie, but it can’t be any more different stylistically in the hand-drawn animation that resembles watercolors and is gentle where the earlier film is chaotic.

The English voice cast also includes Lauren Bacall in one of the final roles before her death.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Kirikou and the Sorceress
Release Date: 9 December 1998
Director: Michel Ocelot
Production Company: France 3 Cinéma | Les Armateurs | Monipoly Productions | Odec Kid Cartoons | Rija Studio | Studio O | Trans Europe Film

In a series of animated adventures drawn from West African folk tales that are vividly imaginative, darkly humorous, and downright strange, a hero named Kirikou (Theodore Sibusiso Sibeko) defends his village against an evil sorceress, Karaba (Antoinette Kellermann).  It should be noted that Kirikou is a very tiny and very naked newborn baby who nonetheless can talk, run fast, and burrow underground.  This is not your typical superhero! The story is charming and sweet, and ultimately about redemption rather than revenge.  The soundtrack by Youssou N’Dour is also excellent.

Rating ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Mars One (2022)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Mars One
Release Date: 20 January 2022
Director: Gabriel Martins
Production Company: Filmes de Plástico and Brazilian public funding

This slice-of-life drama depicts a tumultuous period in the lives of a Black Brazilian family in Belo Horizonte just after the election of Jair Bolsonaro.  The father Wellington (Carlos Francisco) is a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for four years and works as a landscaper and pool cleaner.  He has aspirations for his children but doesn’t take into account their desires.  Mother Tercia (Rejane Faria) is the family mediator, and also suffers from a trauma response after being caught in a TV practical joke show’s fake explosion.  An ensuing series of misfortunes lead her to feel she is cursed.  Daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião) is almost fully grown and begins a romantic relationship with another young woman, Joana (Ana Hilãrio).  She worries about coming out to her conservative parents and considers moving out on her own.  The younger child Deivinho (Cícero Lucas) is pushed by Wellington to excel at football, but actually desires to study astrophysics and participate in the Mars One mission.

Mars One is beautifully filmed and acted. Thee social realism is reminiscent of films like Sorry We Missed You, combining family drama with the damaging effects of capitalism and reactionary politics.

Rating: ****

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Red Balloon (1956)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: The Red Balloon
Release Date: 19 October 1956
Director: Albert Lamorisse
Production Company: Films Montsouris

I watched this movie at school in my second grade classroom, which was so long ago that they weren’t using VCRs yet, but the teachers actually used a film projector!  I remember this movie as creepy and nightmarish, so you should be proud of me for revisiting it after all these years. It turns out that this movie is absolutely delightful!  Filmed in warm technicolor it takes advantage of elegant scenery of Paris, although it doesn’t hide the scars from World War II.

A young boy, Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse), finds a balloon while walking to school.  Is it a Chinese spy balloon?  We don’t know, but it is red, and as we learn later in the film it is connected with something like a mycellium network of other balloons in Paris.  The balloon follows Pascal everywhere on his daily adventures. It even gets horny for blue balloons.  Adults – including his mothers, teachers, and bus conductors – punish Pascal for having a balloon, because in the 1950s it was still in vogue to arbitrarily crush the souls of children.

I’m not sure why this movie frightened me as a child.  At first I thought it was because the balloon has a mind of its own. But I think what really set me off was the denouement in which the bully kids torment Pascal and destroy the balloon.  I was a sensitive child, and for a presumably inanimate object, the balloon suffers a long and harrowing “death.” Anyhow, this movie is quite special – simple and poetic, with minimal dialogue – it captures the feel of childhood fantasy.

Rating: ****