Film Review Friday

Film Review Friday 004

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Continuing my Oscar themed reviews, I've decided to make study of the beloved Wes Anderson masterpiece that is being heavily featured at this year's Oscars with 9 nominations. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is what I consider a culmination of Andersons greatest work, it even comes to the point where Anderson mocks his art form in a way that brings this incredibly quirky, absurdly entertaining film to the point of what I consider myself, a directorial perfection. The more I watch this film, the more I realize there are little to no flaws, hence the idea that this, indeed, is a masterpiece.

Our film takes place in the Eastern European nation of Zubrowka (a fictitious location) at the wonderful alpine resort known to many as The Grand Budapest Hotel, a very famous and luxurious establishment with only the finest of staff such as M. Gustave. Gustave (played by Ralph Fiennes) is the concierge of the Grand Budapest and in return is the most important man in the building, he keeps things running on a client-personnel level. Our friend Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the new hotel lobby boy tasked with assisting not only M. Gustave but also the clientele of the esteemed hotel. The two of them make up the wonderful team of concierge and lobby boy. We quickly come to realise that Gustave is indeed a perfume-addicted, fancier of the old ladies, well mannered professional within the first few minutes of the film, and Zero loves it. Our story quickly unfolds when Madamme D, Gustaves favorite of the hotel attendees, passes away. Leaving a very valuable painting in his property due to her will, thus angering her children and starting a wild goose chase sending Gustave to jail, where he meets a merry group of inmates, to the alps, and all sorts of places around this fictitious land. All of this due to Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his fascist personality wanting Gustave to have nothing to do with Madamme D, but also the fact that he murdered his mother with the help of Jopling (Willem Dafoe) and needed someone to frame in order to cash in on the riches. Although the odds never seem to fall in any of their favors, Gustave comes out victorious in the end. Along the way Zero met Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) and fell in love with her kind heart and loving affection. Us as viewers knew where the answers were hidden, though it wasn't until the end that Gustave and Zero discovered the truth, all because of Agatha's eagle eyes. With this truth, this case in the form of a will only to be read if Madamme D was murdered, Gustave comes out with all the riches along with, Boy With Apple, the priceless painting. Eventually Zero receives these riches as he is the sole air of M. Gustave and with that Zero Moustafa becomes one of the richest men in the nation of Zubrowka.   

This absurd story is told by an author who recounts his meeting with Zero Moustafa at the Grand Budapest and in change learnt the story of Zero's employment at the hotel and so learning the events that led to the creation of his book.  It's kind of confusing when you think about it and so do not think too much about it! I don't think I'll spend much more time explaining it, I might even confuse myself. The Grand Budapest Hotel features a wonderful range of color from bright and vibrant to dark and radiant. The use of orange, red and purple with the lighter side of the film, the happier more lively part, is incredible when you contrast it with the negative events of the film, in this case the black with Madamme D's kids, the dark, night time shots involving Jopling and his motorcycle, I like the way Anderson used his colors to represent all that is good which was the hotel, Zero and Agatha also the way he showed all that is bad with as I said earlier, the night shots, the dark clothes, the gloomy feel and how he even manages to show neutrality with the white that Serge (Mathieu Amalric) wears. The sets were gorgeous, they were symmetric, as per Wes Anderson style, and yet they represented this very cozy and warm world, from the lovely train car rooms to the little telephone booth in the middle of a barley field. The minimalistic cues in the shots makes this film simple but at the same time complicated because there are so many small things you can miss if you don't pay attention. An incredibly well done film with the utmost attention to detail.

Mr. Anderson has really out done himself on this film and he can only keep going up from here. It represents the importance of storytelling and memory and how without it we wouldn't have such incredible things as this, we would not have great books, great films or great campfires. I also believe that M. Gustave represents Anderson himself, with his attention to detail and his absurdity and all around personality, Gustave lives in his own world and so does Mr. Anderson and that is what gives them charm, it is what makes them such incredible characters. When I first saw this movie I enjoyed it so much, and every time I have seen it since, I've felt the same love over and over. The acting is wonderful, the dialogue is splendid, it moves in a smooth pace, not too slow but also not fast, it's just right so that you can catch those details but you still have to pay attention. As I said before this is directorial perfection, Wes Anderson is a master at his craft and I hope he never changes.

4.5 Golden Bananas

Sushami Pomerleau-Piquette (2015)

Film Review Friday 003

And the Nominees are...

The Academy Awards, the big momma of award shows, the culmination of this year's greatest films come to show off their stuff at the Dolby Theater, alas this is how things used to be. These days it seems as though anything that screams "MURRICA" will receive a nomination, "but Sushami, Bradley Cooper is incredible!". Yes, this is true, our friend Bradley Cooper is quite genius in his acting, wait who am I kidding DiCaprio is a million times better and still hasn't won an Oscar. Some say I am still angry about last year's DiCaprio snub, and I am, but Matthew McConaughey is definitely a great actor, so all is forgiven. Mostly because American Hustle won nothing! (That movie was actually one of the first films that I had to turn off midway, that's how bad it was). Though as we near the Oscars, we have now had a week to think about which films will win their categories, and the more I think about it, the more I disagree with a lot of the choices.

For starters, how does a film like Nightcrawler not get a nomination for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Cinematography, the list goes on and on. That is the biggest bone I have to pick with this award show, the fact that very well deserving films receive little to no recognition for their extraordinary performance. With that, films such as American Sniper receive large praises and words of wonder because it screams freedom and the American way, sure it is an anti-war movie, it's a Clint Eastwood film, Bradley Cooper is a dream, MURRICA, with all this there's no way a film like Whiplash, which is worthy of Best Picture, will win because it is over shadowed by this dark entity known as "American Sniper". I have seen two of the films nominated for Best Picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash. I would have seen Foxcatcher, but because the best movies get limited releases I missed my chance, same with Boyhood and Birdman, though it does not really matter since Foxcatcher was snubbed in the Best Picture category. My brother recently rented Boyhood, I'll most likely take the time to watch that one. As for the remainder of the films in the category, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and American Sniper, well 2 of those movies are guilt trips, I think you can guess which ones they are, though I do love Stephen Hawkings it is kind of an Oscar bait film in my opinion. Imitation game I just haven't had the time to go see it, same with American Sniper (mainly wanting to see it because Clint Eastwood is an idol of mine) and as for Selma, good lord, no offence to anybody it's not a race reason, but it's just a huge Oscar bait film, if you don't see it or don't like it you are basically a racist Nazi. Back to American Sniper, Cooper is once again nominated for best actor, wow interesting, that's 3 years in a row, Silver Linings, American Hustle, American Sniper, yup, three years in a row... At least Carell and Keaton are nominated, I honestly wouldn't mind Cumberbatch winning because he is a dragon after all and I love his acting, but I also wouldn't have minded having Miles Teller getting nominated either because he drummed his way to the top. I really enjoy the Best Actress category this year, one of the actresses are part of one Best Picture flick and that is it, the rest are from different movies that aren't a part of the Best Picture crowd, that's really good, some diversity in the nominees! I also really enjoy how Meryl Streep is once again nominated, she's just a doll isn't she?

This year, like other years has still managed to piss me off, The Lego Movie wasn't even nominated, and that was definitely the best animated film of the year... These are the kinds of things that consistently anger me when it comes to this award show, the lack of professionalism, at least in my opinion there is a large lack, but I'm just some guy writing some review, right? Although Nightcrawler is quite absent we find it in the Best Original Screenplay category and if anything I hope it wins, as much as I love Wes Anderson I just think Nightcrawler had the better screenplay in terms of messages and ideas. They really need to have a Foreign Film category that isn't limited to Foreign Languages, because The Babadook was an incredibly well made Australian film and it deserves recognition for being an incredible horror thriller. At least the rest of the categories are quite faire in my opinion, Interstellar is nominated for things it definitely should be nominated for, score, sound, etc. That's what made the movie better where it was lacking tremendously. All in all the nominees are a piss off, but there are also films that are very well deserving of being there, and I guess all we have to do is wait and see what happens.

I hope to one day have my film nominated for an Oscar, just so that if I win, and I will win, I can bring out a speech that will shock everybody watching, I just hope that my film will be deserving of the win and that I won't be stealing it from something better. The way things are looking now, American Sniper will win most of the awards because of what it entitles, which is not fair at all but hey, what can you do about that. I just really hope Whiplash wins something, and Nightcrawler pulls away with Original Screenplay, I'll be happy. Grand Budapest Hotel doesn't need to win anything, it's already a winner in my books and the reason I am saying this about Grand Budapest and not about Whiplash is because Whiplash fought really hard to be there, we all wanted it to be nominate for Best Picture but we didn't get our hopes up because it was a long shot, and now that it is actually there it needs to go the whole way. These are mostly my opinions but I seem to share them with many others, and I say to those people; don't worry, one day the awards will be fair and those who worked so hard and those who are deserving will come home with that big gold trophy, but until then keep enjoying the films you find deserving because to a filmmaker if you enjoy the work we put out, that is already a victory.

Sushami Pomerleau-Piquette

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We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes: A Retrospective Review of Psycho

In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock shocked audiences from around the world with his groundbreaking horror/thriller masterpiece Psycho. Whether it is the loveable villain Norman Bates, the Bates Motel, the infamous shower scene, or one of the most famous music scores in film history produced by Bernard Herrmann, Psycho has managed to continue frightening audiences since its release. In just over 50 years, the film has spawned several sequels, documentaries, and even a shot-by-shot remake—not to mention the countless DVD releases and most recently, Universal has released a 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition, which is the best the film has looked since its original 35mm print release.  Historically, Psycho is a groundbreaking film in terms of its content, revolving around the Production Codes of its time. Psycho is the first film to show a toilet being flushed and the first film to show an unmarried couple in the same bed during the opening scene.

The film begins with recently divorced, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) and secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in a hotel room, discussing Sam’s financial problems.  This conversation provokes Marion into stealing $40,000 from a client so she can help her financially troubled boyfriend.  While travelling to bring Sam the $40,000, Marion encounters a storm and is forced to spend a night at the Bates Motel.

It is not until thirty minutes into the film, that we are finally introduced to Norman Bates.  Bates is a timid man, who lives with his mother in the house that overlooks the motel. Bates is an extremely sympathetic character; he is a loner with no friends except his mother.  When he asks Marion to have dinner with him, we want her to say yes, because we realize he is reclusive and needs someone to talk to.  Little do we know, Norman Bates is a schizophrenic killer who brutally kills Marion Crane in the shower, a few moments later.

The shower scene is by far the most well-known and frightening scene in the film.  The quick cuts, close-ups, and high-pitched sound of the screeching violin make the shower scene one of the best death scenes in cinematic history.  The legacy of this scene has not only influenced an entire population of people to lock their bathroom door before they shower but also, it has become the fundamental setup for a death scene in the horror genre.  The quick cuts matched with frightening music are now the staple of every death scene in the horror genre. Where Psycho still makes audiences cringe is that Hitchcock’s cuts (roughly 50) are so fast that audiences are not sure what they have seen, so they are forced to use their imagination, which is generally more psychologically frightening than what is actually being shown on screen. When it is finally revealed at the very end when Marion Crane’s body is lying lifeless in the tub and the blood is going down the drain, the audience cannot help but feel that they just witnessed a truly frightening crime.  

The theme of the “split-personality,” is quite common in horror films today.  Generally speaking, those films (Hide & Seek, Identity) that use the split-personality twist are examples of lazy writing and films that want to cash in on the twist-ending fad (something that I blame M. Night Shyamalan for).  Where Psycho differs from those films is that the ending thematically makes sense and that it is imperative in understanding the deterioration of Norman Bates’ psyche.  The twist is shocking because we are sympathetic to Norman and it hurts us to believe he is the killer. This is brilliance on the part of Hitchcock.

Psycho is a fantastic film that is full of many twists, turns, and surprises.  Psycho is a masterpiece that uses the flawed human psyche to create one of the most haunting and memorable film villains of all time.  For a film to be 52 years old and still have the ability to shock modern audiences shows brilliance on the part of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock proves that he is truly the “Master of Suspense.” 

5/5

Justin Kueber

Film Review Friday 002

Take Shelter (2011) – Review by Justin Kueber

Apocalyptic thrillers, as they are so commonly referred to, are a topic so common in films today that they should have their own genre.  Whether it is the Mayan 2012 doomsday prediction portrayed in Roland Emmerich’s 2009 disaster (in more ways than one) film, 2012 or more recently, in Lars von Trier’s artistic apocalyptic vision, Melancholia, a film that depicted Earth on a collision course with a newly discovered planet—these portrayals of a doomed civilization are not new to modern audiences. Jeff Nichols’ film, Take Shelter, however, provides a fresh, unique look at the “end of the world” genre. Take Shelter is an extremely powerful and haunting film that explores one man’s unsettling, apocalyptic visions that veer into the depths of anxiety and the uneasiness of the common man, in a post-9/11 America, where social and economic despair is very much a part of day-to-day life.

Life is as good as it’s going to get for small town, Ohio, blue-collar construction worker Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon). His beautiful wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), is a stay at home mother taking constant care of their deaf six-year-old daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart).  Despite the poor economy and having to pay for Hannah’s special schooling, Curtis makes ends meet and supports his loving family.  However, things start to change once Curtis starts experiencing vivid apocalyptic dreams including: reoccurring images of an apocalyptic storm, his dog biting his arm off, being attacked by his best friend Dewart (Shea Whigham), and even his own wife violently attacking him.  Not fully understanding these bizarre visions, Curtis decides to build a storm shelter, which troubles the people around him, including his family and his friends.

The cast of Take Shelter is perfect in every way—each actor fully embodying their characters and delivering memorable performances. By far the finest asset amongst the outstanding cast is Michael Shannon's portrayal of Curtis. Shannon is able to transform into Curtis, a man torn between protecting his family from a storm that he has witnessed in his mind's eye and protecting his family from himself.

Director Jeff Nichols is a master of his craft, using this apocalyptic thriller as an allegory for the economic crisis and post-9/11 fears that have plagued America.  Nichols is a master at building suspense throughout the film. The opening scene in which Curtis is standing in the backdrop of a dark sky filled with menacing clouds that are raining an almost oily, dark brown liquid makes you shiver at the thought of this happening in real life.  The tension does not stop there. It builds and builds as we witness Curtis' anxiety-inspired actions spiral into utter insanity, which are downright frightening.

As Curtis’ visions get more intense, we begin to question his sanity. Could Curtis be suffering a hereditary mental illness like his schizophrenic mother, played by Kathy Baker, or are these visions a warning that the end is near?  The mystery continues as Curtis decides to act on both possibilities; seeking help from a counselor, while at the same time building a lavish storm shelter.  As the family becomes increasingly frightened by his actions, the audience is equally as frightened—brilliance on the part of Jeff Nichols.

 Take Shelter, which has rightfully won numerous awards, including the Grand Prize at the Deauville American Film Festival and the Best International Feature Film Award at the Zurich Film Festival, is a masterful piece of work.  Right until the final scene, the audience is left wondering if this truly is the end of the world or just the end of Curtis LaForche’s world, as he dives deeper into a world of frightening visions and apocalyptic anxiety. Take Shelter is a powerful, thought-provoking film that explores the depths of the human mind in times of apocalyptic fear. 

4/5

Justin Kueber

Film Review Friday 001

Unbroken (2014) - Review by Justin Kueber

Every December, major Hollywood studios release “Oscar Pictures” in hopes of having their film fresh on the minds of the voters come Award season; I like to call these films “Oscar Bait” – essentially films that are made with one goal and one goal only: winning an Oscar. Angelina Jolie’s, Unbroken is certainly a well-meant film that was made with the shiny Oscar in its sights but, sadly the film falls short of the mark.  Unbroken is a glossy, over-the-top, cliché story of survival and perseverance that falls flat on its back due to its repetitive nature, single-noted, undecorated dialogue and rudimentary, one-dimensional story.

Unbroken tells the true story of Olympian runner, Louis Zamperini (played excellently by, Jack O’Connell) as his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean and he is forced to survive while afloat a tiny raft with two of his fellow companions. After spending 47 tormenting days on the ocean, Zamperini is captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp where he is faced with extreme hardships including: the demanding work and harsh conditions of the camp and more so, the brutalizing torture and bamboo stick beatings he receives from the unforgiving Japanese corporal of the camp, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (played by, Takamasa Ishihara).

I think the real life story of Louis Zamperini is something to be admired; he went from being an athlete in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin to surviving a plane crash, to surviving being stranded in an ocean, to surviving a Japanese POW camp. It’s a great tale of triumph, willpower, and survival. However, the film neglects to explore these themes outside of their simplistic nature. The screenplay penned out by Joel and Ethan Coen is lazy and uninteresting. They somehow turned a story about a great American hero into an undeveloped milieu of heroic clichés, badly written dialogue and painfully forced sex jokes – as if they were trying to impress every 14-year-old boy in the audience. Seriously, in one instance a character says to Zamperini “wow, you ran so fast, I hope you’re not that quick in bed.” This is from the same guys who wrote Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men. My guess: The Angelina Fund forked up loads of money to get some big names attached to the screenplay and the Coens just didn’t give a shit. Welcome to Hollywood, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The biggest issue I had with this film is that everything seemed forced. Jolie wants us to feel for Zamperini – and we do- but we don’t need the same thing rammed down our throats 100,000 times. Unbroken, running in at 137 minutes is an exercise in repetitiveness. After Zamperini gets punished with the bamboo stick for the 128th time you could sense the audience growing tired of this tedious act of cruelty. We get it, Angelina, he was brutally tortured. We don’t need to see it every scene because we understand that this man was subject to insurmountable amounts of pain. What I would have rather seen is the after-effects of his torture: What happened psychologically to Zamperini? How was he able to stay so strong-minded during all of this? What does this say about the human condition? Your guess is as good as mine, folks.

Unbroken is by no means a terrible film - Jack O’Connell is very good as Zamperini and does what he can with the lethargic dialogue and as aforementioned, the story (not the screenplay) is praiseworthy– however, it isn’t a good film either.  The cinematography is uninspired and more basic than a Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon. What a shame considering Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Prisoners) was behind it (again, big name uninspired). Jolie’s direction is lackluster - that’s me trying to be positive - and the film is too lengthy for its own good, especially when everything is so monotonous. If you want to know the inspirational story of Louis Zamperini – and believe me you should – read the book because it’s the story that the movie “tried” to tell.

2.5/5

Justin Kueber

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Whiplash (2014) - Review by Sushami Pomerleau-Piquette

Whiplash, a hard hitting, fresh, exhilarating indie film featuring a young man that continuously amazes me, the incredible Miles Teller, Andrew, along with a familiar face from my childhood known as J. Jonah Jameson, Mr. J.K. Simmons, Fletcher, takes hold and gives us a no hold back character that pushes and pushes and keeps on pushing as he unfolds into this oddly infuriating yet relatable character. Whiplash is the culmination of ingenuity and artistic values that make up, what I believe to be, an award winning film.

Whiplash is the story of a young man, Teller, who is pursuing his dream of becoming one of the great jazz drummers of all time. Attending one of the greatest music schools in the country, Andrew finds himself in the eyes of our one Mister Fletcher, Simmons, the great jazz orchestra conductor. Andrew quickly becomes the core drummer of the studio orchestra yet with his speedy climb up the ladder can’t seem to please Mr. Fletcher. As we go along, Fletcher doesn’t see Andrew as the next great, and slowly tries to push him out of the orchestra, this does nothing but push Andrew more and more, the more Andrew trains, the more he gets better, nothing can stop him from playing for the group, nothing will stop him. This is his part, he is the drummer of this group. As we all do though, one day, something is going to stop us, something is going to halt our progression, and as I’ve come to the realization this would be Andrew’s need to prove, need to please, need to be the great. After a few months of not playing the drums and giving up on his dreams, he runs into Fletcher and to his surprise Fletcher wants him to play at the JVC jazz festival. Fletcher throws a curveball at Andrew and ultimately humiliating him and throwing his career out the window. After it seems Andrew has given up and Fletcher is getting his way, the young man returns and plays his heart out proving not only that he has the potential to be great, but that he is indeed the next great.

All said and done this film is an incredible piece of art not only showing multiple different themes, but also teaching us many a different things. Whiplash shows that music is not dead, only that the world has forgotten what true music is, the use of jazz brings on a revived look at the world of music and how it has come to people who don’t try, as Fletcher tells us in the film that “Good Job” is the worst thing you can tell someone. Good job gets you nowhere, you want to strive for more than that, you want to go above receiving “Good job”. So we realize that our world, and our music is the way it is because nobody pushes themselves anymore, and that is all Mr. Fletcher is trying to do, he is trying to find the next great, he is trying to create the next great but in all his years he has yet to find them. Until Mr. Andrew arrives and shows Fletcher, he proves to him that he is worth more than a “good job”. So the underlying topic of this film, to me, is simply to never give up no matter what anybody thinks, no matter what anybody says, go above and beyond and only prove yourself that you can do exactly what you already know.

Whiplash is a film that should be known, not because of its award nominations, not because it will be talked about months after being released because the first time anybody has heard of this film is because it got nominated for an Oscar. Because for some reason people don’t seem to understand that great films come from the heart, they come from passion, and that is what Whiplash shows. Passion. I am glad that I have been able to see this film in a nice quaint niche theater, where people were smoking in the auditorium next to us, and I believe the man sitting behind me was drinking as I heard the sound of a clunking glass bottle, or the fact that it kind of smelt awful and as I left and drove home could still smell the odd stench. That is what makes watching these kinds of films great, because you go with other movie lovers and you sit down and enjoy a work of art for what it is worth. That is why I have come to the conclusion that these films are not made for the masses, nor the award shows or the people of Hollywood, they are made for us, for those that hold film close to our hearts, and for those that have a passion for works of art. As a great man once said; “A lot of people just go to movies that feed into their preexisting and not so noble needs and desires: They just go to action pictures, and things like that.” Roger Ebert.

I can not quite think of anything I disliked about this film, it flowed smoothly, it made me laugh, it made me sad, angry, depressed. It thrilled me to the point where my heart was pumping and my palms were sweating, the desire to see this young man succeed was instilled the moment he showed up on screen. As my friend Sam said “Everytime he fucked up, i felt I did.”. There is a love story, a father son relationship, a master and student relationship where the student becomes the master. The love story wasn’t cliche they went on one date within the film and the next time we see them together he is breaking up with her, and later on in the film he calls her and asks her to attend the JVC show and she tells him she has a boyfriend, he is sad and feels like he messed up, though at the same time it seems  as though he brushes it off and moves along focusing on more important things, which was very refreshing to watch. Father-Son relationship, the father did not run Andrews life or make him do anything he did not want to, he was there as a father figure which is something that lacks in film these days. It is always either the dad runs the kids life or the dad loves him to the point where he would do anything for him, and there is part of that in the film but it is the most clearly and well used application of said theme. As for the student becoming the master, that was the whole point of the film, to overcome doubt and pressure in order to rise above it all, and with that being said, the reason it was obvious.

This film is beyond beautiful. The powerful shots of the New York atmosphere, the beautiful quick cuts, the color pallet chosen was incredible not very gloomy, but also not very bright. The colors were brighter when Andrew was playing the drums, when he was focusing on his pursuit, when he was talking to the girl. The colors were gloomier when he was sad and at home, or when he was breaking up with the girl, when he was leaving the building after playing profusely until 2 in the morning, after he did his best to prove himself. The sound, the score, it was all beautiful, it was exhilarating.

With all that being said, as I stated earlier, Whiplash will win awards, and I honestly do hope it gets all the recognition it deserves. I hope to one day be able to talk about this film with people, without having them ask what I am even talking about. For me, this film deserves a very solid 4 star rating. A 9/10 if you go by that scale. This is a work of art that I will be seeing again and again for the rest of my life. Miles Teller is astounding and J.K. Simmons is undeniably deserving of all the praise. This is a movie worth making time for, and I hope for your sake that you one day will appreciate along with me.

Sushami Pomerleau-Piquette