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The ICFF Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival July 2020

09 Jul 2020

The ICFF Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival July 2020

The ICFF (International Contemporary Film Festival) takes on a different format this month of July as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is a new initiative with huge screen built at Ontario Place.  The Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival is a 12-night series, featuring a selection of the latest not only Italian but international films from countries most affected by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, including France, China, Russia, USA, UK, Brazil, India, Canada and Italy.  

Following the Toronto event, a continuation of the Focus on Italy series will take place in the city of Vaughan. 

After months of isolation, The Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival will provide Canadians the perfect opportunity to engage with the community once again, in a safe and physically-distanced manner. 

A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross.  The event is presented in partnership with Ontario Place, the Embassy of Italy, Rogers Communications, Christie Digital, LiUNA, Rio Mare, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura a Toronto; is sponsored by Pizza Nova; and is supported by media partners OMNI and RAI. Please find official event poster attached.   

I have previewed selected films screening links provided courtesy of the ICFF, to aid you decide which films suit you taste.

See Promo clip:


For complete list of films, dates and times, click on link below.  Prices are also listed under Box-Office: I Car 1 Person: $20 ; 1 Car 3-5 Persons: $60)





Check this page every 2 days for updates of more films reviewed:

 BACK TO MARACANA (Brazil 2019)

(to be posted)

Directed by Massimo Venier


What happens when 3 families accidentally book the same vacation house?  Aldo Baglio, Giacomo Poretti and Giovanni Storti  play 3 husbands who find their families in his predicament.  The families abhor each other but eventually bond to discover happiness and friendship.  Sounds corny?  It is but director Venier is in solid form with his 3 leads, whom he has worked with before.  Giancomo is a struggling shoeshop owner, Giovanni a dis-respected dentist and Aldo (the funniest) as the laziest of the lot who sits in a wheel chair for show.  The antics are funny enough, including a good one in which the three cannot agree how to call for a lost dog.  The wives have good lines including skinny-dipping and smoking joints as well.  Director Venier pokes fun particularly of stereotyped Italian behaviour adding subtle note to the comedic proceedings.  Director Venier demonstrates his skill at making comedy look so effortless as reties his tidy comedy to a wonderful feel-good climax.  Corny but everyone loves a bit of corniness in ones life.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1533919001?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1 (no Eng sub-titles)

MAGARI (IF ONLY) (Italy/France 2019) ****
Directed by Ginevra Elkann

IF ONLY the kids’ divorced parents are back together again.  The three children are boys Seb and Jen and the youngest girl, Alma from whom gives the point of view of the story.   They spend 2 weeks with their Italian dad (Riccardo Scamarcio) in Italy before moving permanently to Canada with their French mum and stepfather.   Do not let the family label of the film put you off.  As much as I myself, dislike sappy family films, MAGARI is a totally charming film from start to finish that will grab your attention and glue you to the plot.  Director Elkann knows how to work the emotions of the audience as in the film’s most moving scene where the three children embrace in a group hug when realizing that their father wants to abandon them.  The film, set in the 70’s where there are no cell phones and Marcello Mastroianni was still hot in demand as an actor, is shot in both French and Italian with English, Italian and French subtitles.  Clearly, the best film of the Lvazza Drive-In Film Festival.  Pack your whole family into the car and go see this one.

Trailer: unavailable 


Directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON gets its inspiration from Mark Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN.  The setting is around the Mississippi River where crab fishing is common and boats motor around the high grown reeds.   Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a crab fisherman who is upset with his work and lifestyle and acquaintances.  The other character is Zak (Zack Gottsgen), a teen with Down’s Syndrome.  He is sent to a home under the care of a sympathetic social worker, Eleanor (Dakota Fanning). Zak escapes with the aid of a resident (Bruce Dern) with Eleanor in pursuit.  Zak dreams of becoming a wrestler and hopes to travel to a wrestling school conducted by his hero, with the professional name Salt Water redneck (Thomas Haden Church).  Gottsgen as the Down Syndrome kid is utterly winning and charming in his naive and goofy way, holing his own and often stealing the limelight from LaBeouf and his other co-stars.  The impressive and authentic setting soundtrack brings together bluegrass, folk songs, and spirituals, for a mix of contemporary and timeless. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACze83fG4wM


SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD (China 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Sam Quah

Re-make of an Indian/Malaysian film DRISHYAM, SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD is the Chinese box-office champion in 2029 that looks like the typical Hollywood action flick where a protagonist has to fight thugs to save his family.  The father in this case is a Chinese living in Thailand.  His daughter has been taken advantage of by the Thai son of a politician and police chief and accidentally killed by mother and daughter.  So, it is up to father, trying to bring his estranged family together as well as protect them.  Why the film is set in Thailand is a mystery, perhaps to give the film a more exotic flair.  It is odd that this apparently backed u Chinese production puts down a corrupt government, though it be the Thai, which likely could stand in for the Chinese government.  It is not the typical action flick where the father is a martial-arts champion fighter.  He is in this film, an ordinary man using brain instead of brawn trying to save his family, a scenario that includes two surprise plot twists that makes the film more credible.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BSXUkUkwA0

TOMORROW’S NEW DAY (Domani e un Altro Giorno) (Italy 2018) **

Directed by Simone Spada

TOMORROW’S A NEW DAY is a drama with a little comedy that tells the story of two friends, the taciturn Tommaso and the exuberant Giuliano - the former lives in Canada, while the latter is in Rome.  When Giuliano, who is seriously ill with lung cancer, makes an irreversible decision, Tommaso overcomes his fear of flying and visits him in Rome to spend their last four days of friendship together. The two are not alone: the third star is the Giuliano's dog, called Pato.  The film is light in the way Giuliano dismisses death the way Tommaso seems to be uptight about everything else.  Director Spada’s film unfortunately is full of melodrama as can be clearly observed by the many hugging scenes.  Dying man teaches boring life long friend how to live and living man teaching the other how to die.  How more cliched can a film get?  The film is a difficult watch in the way an upcoming death is dealt with. 

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4067867161?playlistId=tt8664050&ref_=tt_ov_vi

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This Week's Film Reviews (Jul 10, 2020)

03 Jul 2020



ENTER THE FAT DRAGON (Hong Kong 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Kenji Tanigaki


The ENTER THE FAT DRAGON title comes from the Bruce Lee 1972 movie ENTER THE DRAGON directed by Robert Clouse, a so-so martial-arts flick that broke box-office records everywhere, especially in Asia.  That film also sprouted another ENTER THE FAT DRAGON movie starring Sammo Hung, another martial-arts actor like Donnie Yen, the action star of this new 2020 version.  Hung was supposed to be in a supporting role in this version, but things worked out otherwise.

As the title implies, ENTER THE FAT DRAGON is a martial-arts action comedy.  The story set in modern times, follows Fallon Chu (Donnie Yen from STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE and IP MAN 4), a Hong Kong Police Special Task Force agent.  An agile fighter with a high crime detection rate, he's not really considered a role-model in the eye of both the police force as well as the public.   His sheer determination and commitment leads him to a lot of trouble with destruction of property in the course of duty.  He is also nicknamed by the newspapers (the Banana Daily) as the ‘jackass of the century’.  He is finally removed from his action post and forced to look after logistics in the Evidence Department.  Yes, he grows fat eating all the time with his new desk job.  Unfortunately, things are not going well in his private life as he has to deal with problems with his fiancee, an actress Chloe Song (Teresa Mo) while planning their wedding.  He gets assigned to a case of escorting a well known criminal to Japan which he accepts on the promise that he will be re-instated in his action role if nothing goes wrong.  In three month's time his endless intemperance turns him into a 250-pound fat dragon fighter.  This marks the first third of the film.

The film addresses the differences in culture between the Chinese (Hong Kong) and the Japanese.  Of course, the Japanese are the bad guys.  Director Tanigaki makes fun of how boisterous the Chinese are compared to the quiet Japanese in an elaborate hilarious office segment.  The film contains surprise characters like the Kung-Fu kid on the bicycle and his funny Chinese aunt who owns a Chinese restaurant in Japan.

The acrobats are magnificent in the fight scenes.  Fallon is seen clambering up buildings and sliding down lamp posts.  The car chase segment with Fallon fighting the bad guys on the road with the injured driver is also imaginative and hilarious.  Tanigaki can also find humour on the face of a corpse dished out of Tokyo Bay.

ENTER THE FAT DRAGON delivers what is expected - largely very silly fun, which is worth quite the bag of laughs, no complaints here.  One can tell that a film is so entertaining that one does not want it to end.  Lots of laugh-out loud parts.  The film is reminiscent of the best of similar films by Tsui Hark and Sammo Hung.  Yes, go see it during lockdown and self-isolation.  The film, released be Well Go USA Entertainment  is available on digital and VOD July 14, 2020.  Pre-order is also available now.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3311189785?playlistId=tt7335600&ref_=tt_pr_ov_vi

FROM THE VINE (Italy/Canada 2019) **

Directed by Sean Cisterna

FROM THE VINE won the IC Savings Award at last year’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival for Best Film that best contributes to social and cultural elements between Italy and Canada.  I do not know of any other Italian/Canadian co-production, so I am sure UNDER THE VINE faced little to no competition. (IC Savings provided the Insurance for the film - wondering if there is any conflict of interest here.)

The film, which blends comedy and pathos, follows a downtrodden man, Marco Gentile (Joe Pantiliano from THE SOPRANOS) experiencing an ethical crisis. After losing his CEO job because of  being ethical, he travels back to his hometown in rural Italy, much to the chagrin of his wife and daughter to recalibrate his moral compass.  There he finds new purpose in reviving his grandfather's old vineyard, offering the small town of Acerenza a sustainable future, and reconnecting with his estranged family in the process.

The film spends quite a bit of its starting time on this man, a CEO at the time losing his job in Toronto.  The film could have done away with all the detailed history of his landing in Toronto and then losing his job and moving back to Italy.  Director Cisterno has included scenes with the CEO giving a speech to the shareholders, one making dinner for his wife, Marina (Wendy Crewson, AIR FORCE ONE) not that it would have affected much of the tone of the story.  These scenes are not that funny either, seemingly thus serving no purpose.

Actor Pantiliano does not come across in this film as a particularly funny character.  And sure, the film could have benefited if he or the film were much funnier.  But director Cisterna is only interested in gearing his movie into feel-good mode.  The result is, though based on a novel, many segments that ends up too corny and sappy.  Marco talks to the vines in order to get a good harvest of grapes.  The religious relics like the Virgin Mary turns and smiles to her believers.  The wife and daughter, who show up in Italy are too accommodating to what essentially is a reckless husband who is selfish to have given up on his entire family life in Toronto in order to pursue the wine business at a snap of a finger.  The making of wine by Marco and his workers by just ‘googling’ the process is ridiculous and also not that funny as a joke.  The repeated flashbacks of Marco’s late grandfather showing up offering Marco advice are tedious.  Some humour works - like the scene where Marco and estranged wife suddenly show up all purple after treading grapes to make wine.  “Yes, they made love in the wine.”

As manipulative as feel-good movies go, FROM THE VINE ends up cliched, boring and detached from the audience.  The audience knows where all the events are going to lead within the first 10 minutes.

Cross cultural film relating Canada and Italy?  There are elements of life in Canada and Italy but most of the values are conflicting in a film that eventually turns sour.

FROM THE VINE will be released in Canada on digital and on demand on July 10th.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8zolWjciHI&feature=youtu.be

Directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch

Who is this Walter Mercado and who would want to watch a documentary of this Puerto Rican astrologer?  Apparently more than 120 million Latinos who watched Walter Mercado every day for 30 years before the flamboyant cross-rising astrology disappeared from the face of the earth.  People have hypothesized his disappearance.  “He has died two times.” “Maybe he is an extra-terrestrial living elsewhere.” In the documentary, MUCHO MUCHO AMOR: THE LEGEND OF WALTR MERCADO, the man himself says: “I want to tell you my story.” 

The film unfolds in chapters with titles like “the Cloaked Man” and “the Hermit” followed by pictures of tarot cards depicting similar figures.  The chapters dishes out different periods of Walter’s life.

Once the world's most famous astrologer, Walter Mercado seeks to resurrect a forgotten legacy.   The film begins with Walter’s birth into a poor family and raised in the sugar cane fields of 1930’s Puerto Rico. Walter grew up to become a gender non-conforming, cape-wearing psychic whose televised horoscopes reached 120 million Latinos viewers a day for 30 years. 

What influenced him to become this astrologer that everyone seeks advice from.  It is an interesting story as intriguing as the man himself.  As a boy, his neighbour saw him holding a bird that almost drowned in a jar of water.  Walter held the bird in his hand (shown in colourful animation), blew into it and before you know it, the bird flew into the sky.  After that, word got around of Walter of the Miracles and villagers came to see him.  The film then shifts to 1950’s San Juan where Walter’s astrology career began.

His best friend and partner Willie Acosta is also interviewed.  Apparently, the two shared very small secret they had.  Others interviewed include his former manager and his radio producer Tony Hernandez.  Celebrities on show include Bill Clinton and Howard Stein.

Directors Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch are quick to embrace the connection between Walter and the LGBT community.  One interviewee talks about how Walter gave him, as a young boy hope as the Latinos were very homophobic even now and especially in the 70’s.

Every celebrity or in fact everyone has a downfall in life.  His was his love for a younger man named Bill Bakula who was his angel.  Walter trustingly signed everything including the rights to his name to Bakula.  When things turned sour, Walter was prevented from performing in public.  A huge court fight ensued which took a large toll on Water, with mentally and physically.  Walter was severely ill but thankfully recovered, while retaining back the use of his name.  This part makes the film’s most interesting part.  One cannot blame Walter from being so trusting but also one could blame him for bing so stupid.  And this was an astrologer who can guide others?

I do not believe in astrology.  I bet Walter Mercado made a lot of it up as it goes.  Watching 90 minutes of an egomaniac wearing outlandish cloaks blessing people hardly makes a worthwhile film.  This doc will likely appeal mainly to Walter Mercado followers.

Though an American production, the film is shot in both English and Spanish.  MUCHO MUCHO AMOR opens this week in Netflix and can is still currently running on it.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi320454169?playlistId=tt11378264&ref_=tt_pr_ov_vi


WHITE RIOT (UK 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Rubica Shah

WHITE RIOT, the musical documentary on Rock Against Racism (RAR), a movement formed in 1976 is especially relevant today for reasons already clear after the massive protest marches going on in the United States.  The incredibly powerful doc has already won numerous awards at various intonation film festivals including Berlin, Krakow and London Film Festivals.  Director Shah first made a short doc in 2017 entitled WHITE RIOT: LONDON.  This 2019 version is her full length feature film.

Racism and ignorance comes clearly hand-in-hand.  For racism and homosexuality for example, those prejudiced clearly hardly know any one or are close friend with anyone who is black or gay.  Ignorance breeds prejudice. 

Rubica Shah's powerful and energizing film charts a vital London protest movement. Rock Against Racism (RAR) that was formed in 1976, prompted by 'music's biggest colonialist' Eric Clapton and his support of racist MP Enoch Powell.  Powell could have won more votes if he had included non-White people in his campaign.  But he chose to be stupid and has gone down in history as a despicable, ignorant and low-life politician. 

WHITE RIOT (2019) blends fresh interviews with archive footage to recreate a hostile environment of anti-immigrant hysteria and National Front marches. As neo-Nazis recruited the nation's youth, RAR's multicultural punk and reggae gigs provided rallying points for resistance.  As founder Red Saunders explains: 'We peeled away the Union Jack to reveal the swastika'. The campaign grew from Hoxton fanzine roots to 1978's huge antifascist carnival in Victoria Park, featuring X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse and of course The Clash, whose rock star charisma and gale-force conviction took RAR's message to the masses.  Force conviction took RAR's message to the masses.

The film also exposes the bigots in the music industry, among them Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart who had recently moved to Los Angeles from the U.K.

The film aims to stamp out the ugly demons who propagate hate and racism.  The hero in all this is a bearded Red Saunders, who has quite a lot to say and given his say by director Shah in the documentary. 

The National Front played on hatred and disturbingly recruited the young, often outside schools.  Meanwhile, the punks and rock groups combined black and white bands to play together.

The doc is also accompanied by great music throughout.  The film is inspirational when audiences see with and black bands THE CLASH and STEEL PULSE demonstrating outside the offices of the National Front.  Even more moving are the young public captured on camera claiming rights for everyone, black or white.

Distributor, ‘Films We Like’ is excited to present the music documentary WHITE RIOT, available across Canada on Thursday July 9th, 2020. The doc is a moment in time when music changed the world.  The film will be available to screen online as a Virtual Cinema Ticket through participating theatres. Proceeds from the purchase will help support participating independent Canadian cinemas by helping to sustain programming and support re-opening effort.

See it!  You will love it!  You will feel good about it!

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/429635938 


WIDOW OF SILENCE (India 2018) ****
Directed by Praveen Morchhale

The titles at the beginning of WIDOW OF SILENCE state that the film is based on many true stories of half-widows from conflict ridden Kashmir.  Half-widows are women whose husbands have disappeared and their death is not confirmed in Kashmir.  The protagonist in the film is half-widow, Aasia who seeks to get her seven-years missing husband's death certificate issued.   A bureaucratic nightmare threatens her family's future and her own existence as she has to deal with a corrupt bureaucrat.

A bit on the background of Kashmir, the film’s setting should be known to appreciate the film better.  Kashmir is situated in the northernmost part of the Indian subcontinent and an area of conflict - being ruled by India, Pakistan and China where regions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam exists.  Terrorists attacks are frequent, as is heard on the radio of a taxi-truck.  Director Morchhale uses segments wth the taxi to educate the audience with the film’s setting and political environment.  A passenger the driver picks up refuses to sit among the men, as this is stated in Islam.  She is visiting her son’s grave, the son who would have been 40-years old if not killed in a local war.  She says she is half in the coffin.  The landscape is barren (the mountains seen in the background are all grey with no greenery on it) with few trees reflecting the sad state of nature and grim atmosphere of Kashmir.

Aasia (Shilpi Marwaha) has to tend to her 11-year old daughter and ill mother-in-law in a crisis where money is short.  Her daughter is a teen, and a teen, no matter whether in Kashmir or in the west, is one that argues with her parents, in this case, her mother, when she is caught fighting in school when she is made fun of, for not having a father. 

Director Morchhale (BAREFOOT TO GOA and WALKING WITH THE WIND) effectively portrays the pain, struggle, suffering, resilience and the indomitable spirit of Kashmiri half-widows and their children..   As is observed, it is the innocent - the women and children are the most affected.  Worst are the people like the Government bureaucrat who take advantage of the Aasia’s mishap.

Female oppression is also rampant.  When husbands disappear, men will make their move.  “You are not allowed your own thoughts…”, advises a woman friend, another half-widow like Aasia.  The bureaucrat (Vijay C.) also makes his move on Aasia who reciprocates with a nice tight slap across his face.  Women face a lot of harassment, sexual exploitation and humiliation. 

WIDOW OF SILENCE, though set in a corner of the world of Kashmir, so far away is still a relevant story and one that needs be told.  The insightful and powerful film has already garnished quite a number of Awards at film festivals around the world.  It is a depressing watch during Covid-19 but well worth the watch!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m_hVVduXPU&feature=youtu.be

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This Week's Film Reviews (July 3, 2020)

30 Jun 2020


ASK NO QUESTIONS (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Jason Loftus and Eric Pedicelli 

Can anyone ever trust the Chinese Government?  Making a film condemning the Chinese Government like the Canadian doc ASK NO QUESTIONS is obviously risky as no one can foresee what they are up to which means that they can exact a terrible retaliation.  The above statement may sound racist, but I am Chinese by race.  So, to be clear, I can get away with saying it.  The film reminds me of the artist Ai Weiwei’s documentary by Alison Klayman AI WAIWEI: NEVER SORRY in which China’s most famous internationalist artist who spoke out against the Chinese Government was eventually kidnapped and re-educated.  When emerged, he had nothing further to say and sadly he seems resigned at having anything else bad to say about the Chinese Government.  Their re-education process is notorious for its ‘effectiveness’ in dealing with dissidents.  If the Chinese can do this to their own people, one can only shudder in horror to think what they would do to their enemies.

The film becomes only too relevant in these times of Covid-19.  President Trump has accused the Chinese of not coming clean with the Corona virus. and he might be correct (as much as I dislike him) on that.  The magic question is whether the world would have benefited if China had come clean, assuming they had not.

ASK NO QUESTIONS is a documentary that employs actors to play the parts of the real victims and people involved.  The cast is comprised of mainly unknowns who are to their credit, quite convincing. 

This is the story of Falun Gong - a very popular spiritual practice, second only to Buddhism.  The Chinese Government first embraced it before calling it an evil cult.  The story is told initially from the point of view of a Canadian who practices Falun Gong.  His voiceover informs the audience of what the practice is as well as to what the government did to forbid its practice.  Innocents lives lost?  This Canadian meets a Chinese named Chen Ruichang (played by Jian Shi) who worked at a high level in the propaganda division of Guangdong TV till he was discovered praising Falun Gong and then brainwashed.  The process of self immolation is the term used.

The doc steers towards a different path after the first third leading the audience to believe the the Chinese Government has staged what has been telecast on the media through the world.  Questions like: Did one of those who set themselves bonfire at Tiananmen Square be staged?  This is one of the many questions posed and directors Pedicelli and Loftus go to great lengths to convince the audience that all could be done as part of government propaganda.  The conspiracy theory is all quite convincingly assembled together.

The doc was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Slamdance Film Festival 2020.  One thing is for sure, the research done by the filmmakers is most impressive.

Trailer: (unavailable)


Directed by Michael Polish

When the trailer FORCE OF NATURE first streamed on YouTube, controversy arose for two reasons.  One was the trivialization of Puerto Rica’s Hurricane, one of the major disasters of the country in the story.  The other is the portrayal Latinos as the ultimate bad men vs. good white guys.  To make matters worse, its two stars Mel Gibson and Emile Hirsch have bad reputations.  Gibson had made anti-semitic remarks and both him and Hirsch have been known to be violent towards women.  What was Lionsgate thinking when making this movie?  Also the female lead Kate Bosworth is the director Michael Polish’s wife.

The rather silly story set during a hurricane stretches credibility to the limit.  The script by Cory Miller involves a gang of thieves led by some crazed guy called John the Baptist (David Zayas) planning a heist during a hurricane.  They encounter trouble when a cop, Cardillo (Hirsch) tries to force everyone in the building to evacuate.  The crooks happen to enter the same building as more valuable paintings are believed to be stored by some ex-Nazi.  Yes, and there is also some wild animal locked in a room by a building resident.  The hurricane affects the story sufficient enough to warrant the title of the film.

For all the film’s flaws, the hurricane effects are barely passible.  The action moves along quite fast so that the 90-minute running time is over quite quickly.

The best things about the film are the bad-ass attitudes of the cop Cardillo and the old cop Ray, both played by two actors in real life also with attitude.  Gibson’s characters reminds one of his glory days in the LETHAL WEAPON action films.  Cardillo has been stationed in Puerto Rica after accidentally killing his cop partner, and he cannot live up to the shame.  At one point, he is taunted with the shame by John the Baptist.  Before the audience can question how John knows about it, the script is quick to have him say; “I know everything!”  David Zayas is convincing enough as the foul-mouthed no-nonsense villain who is quick enough to dispose of anyone in his way, be it a cop or his own men.

Another loser of a movie after Lionsgate’s Bruce Willis’ SURVIVE THE NIGHT prove that using famous stars of the past like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson will not make the movie.  The lazy script does not rise over its potential and Polish directs with an equally lazy hand.  The actors appear zealous enough to give the film what they have, though this is not enough to life FORCE OF NATURE to be a memorable thriller.  LIONSGATE stock has dropped in price from $40 a share during the studios hey-day with films like TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES to the present $7 a share with hardly a hit in the past few years.  I should shoot myself in the foot for keeping LIONSGATE stock.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1724169753?playlistId=tt10308928&ref_=tt_ov_vi

Directed by Andy de Emmony

FOUR KIDS AND IT is based on the book called FOUR CHILDREN AND IT by Jacqueline Wilson.  In it, there is a book called FIVE CHILDREN AND IT that is given to one of the 4 kids in the film.

When the film opens, young Ros (Teddie Malleson-Allen) is taken by her father, David (Matthew Goode) to a seaside cottage in Cornwall for a surprise.  Ros thinks she is going to spend quality time with her dad only to be surprised that they are sharing the cottage with his new American fiancé and her kids.  (The elder daughter speaks with an American accent but the younger one with an Irish one - a big noticeable boo-boo!)  If this opening sounds familiar, it is the exact same scenario of the recent auctioneer BECKY that opened a few weeks ago.  But FOUR KIDS AND IT is a family film with the expected new bonding of Ros’ new family coming as no surprise.

Children should have no problem enjoying this magical adventure.  The kids in the movie develop superpowers like super-strength, laser-eyes who target  annoying adults as their targets.  They also get to fly and travel back into time, things that always fascinate the young.  The film’s setting of Cornwall by the seaside and high cliffs are the same as many children stories like the old Enid Blyton books on the Famous Five and others that many in the U.K. have grown up on.  The four kids in the film also get to meet the five children as they travel through time.

On the negative side, the adults are portrayed as bumbling fools (father burns the pot while cooking, while mother cannot make a decent dinner either) tricked by their children constantly.  This must be actor Goode’s most desperate role.  Comedian Russell Brand plays the villain Tristan Trent who want to capture the sand monster IT, voiced by Michale Caine.  The story gets too sappy with its need to constantly impress with a message for a family film.  One would blame both the book and the script for their lack of imagination.  For the book, only the children need be entertained but for the film, adults need to be kept from being bored as well.

The story is hardly an interesting one.  It gets into predictable territory quite fast and the second half of the film is barely watchable.  The only one surprise in the story is the appearance of the book’s author Jacqueline Wilson who makes a cameo during the closing credits.  Nothing more said, as this should be a nice surprise touch to an otherwise unimaginative film.

The current audience reviews on imdb are all pretty bad.  To be fair to the children’s flick, FOUR KIDS AND IT is what it is - a children’s film that delivers family fun.  Though it delivers with adventure, harmless humour with a few messages on life as well, it is far from anything surprising or novel.  It would be just a so-so family watch during the isolation times of Covid-19.

This is Lionsgate’s third awful film during Covid-19 after SURVIVE THE NIGHT and FORCE OF NATURE.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi808959513?playlistId=tt5556054&ref_=tt_ov_vi

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List of Some of the Films selected at TIFF 2020

24 Jun 2020

TIFF is thrilled to announce that to date, Ammonite, directed by Francis Lee (United Kingdom); Another Round, from director Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark); Bruised, the debut film from director Halle Berry (USA); Concrete Cowboy by filmmaker Ricky Staub (USA); Fauna, from director Nicolás Pereda (Mexico/Canada); Good Joe Bell by director Reinaldo Marcus Green (USA); Spring Blossom, the debut film by director Suzanne Lindon (France); and True Mothers by director Naomi Kawase (Japan), will all screen at this year’s Festival. More titles will be announced over the summer.

Over the first five days, TIFF’s full slate of films will premiere as physical, socially-distanced screenings. Festival-goers can also enjoy drive-ins and outdoor experiences that take them beyond the movie theatre. TIFF is working closely with the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, and public health officials on the safe execution of the Festival, with its number one priority being the health and well-being of both Festival filmgoers and the residents of the entire community. This presentation of TIFF’s traditional in-person film festival will be contingent on the province’s reopening framework to ensure that festival venues and workplaces practice, meet and exceed public health guidelines. 

For the first time in its history, TIFF will launch a digital platform for the Festival, affording new opportunities to connect with audiences beyond Toronto. TIFF has partnered with Shift72 to develop this industry-leading online platform. Over the 10 days, the platform will host digital screenings, as well as numerous talks and special events. 


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This Week's Film Reviews (June 26, 2020)

24 Jun 2020


HAMMER (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Christian Sparkes

The second feature of Newfoundland’s Christian Sparkes after his impressive 2014 debut CAST NO SHADOW shows the director in solid form with a good old-fashioned thriller about a troubled father and son relationship put to the test. 

A father, Steven Davis (Will Paxton) faces a personal crisis when he discovers his estranged son Chris (Mark O’Brian) is fleeing a botched drug deal. The two men embark on a violent odyssey that grapples with themes of fatherhood, family and fate.

Sparkes’ film is immediately differentiated from other films from its maintained atmosphere of angst that is felt from start to end of the film.  It is as if director Sparkes had pushed you to the edge of your seat and you are hanging in there not to fall out.  Whether the son is in the jewellery store trying to pawn off a ring, there is always something in the background that the audience would just wish the son would get the money right over with before something drastic else happens or whether the father is on the phone with his wife that something else is happening as well. 

HAMMER is pretty much a male film with females left to the side.  The girl in the botched drug deal is shot an just left to die in the corn field.  The mother in the family has nothing much to do either, but to say a few comments of why she is not involved in the troubles.  This is a male's world and it is expected that the male get themselves out of the troubles which they themselves got themselves in.  This means that the target audience of the film is halved.  But to the script’s credit, the wife is given effective lines to say.

The film has a short running time of only 82 minutes, which is good as it does not have time to lag, which it does not.  Sharp and to the point, the film is.

There is nothing to complain in the the acting department.  Paxton is scruffy looking from start to end, which means he does not need any time to dress up for his role.  He is given one scene to show his acting chops - the one where he breaks down crying in the car.  Mark O’Brian is a real hottie who also is not bad and convincing enough in the role of his troubled son.

The film’s setting could be anywhere in Canada or even in the United States.  A lot of the action takes place in farmland.  The cinematography by award winning cinematographer Michael Robert McLaughlin of the wide open spaces including the corn fields deserves mention and is gorgeous to look at.

The film suffers from a satisfying climax because anything else that might happen might seem too ridiculous or stereotype.   It ends in reality and reality could not be over exciting.   One must give writer/director Sparkes credit for not compromising.

The film will be released and can be seen as follows:

May 26 - EST and VOD (English Version)

July 7 - EST and VOD (French Version) 

July 7 - DVD and Blu-ray

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2614476313?playlistId=tt6853934&ref_=tt_ov_vi



Written and Directed by Jon Stewart

IRRESISTIBLE is talk how host Jon Stewart’s debut as writer and director of a political comedy.  One might think it to be a solid effort given Stewart’s success as a talk show host.  But his foray as an Oscar host proved otherwise resulting in one of the dullest Oscar ceremonies that I have watched or perhaps even on record.  His debut film? 

The simple plot line for the movie reads: A Democratic strategist helps a retired veteran run for mayor in a small, conservative Midwest town.

For the first half of the film, the audience sees a city misfit trying to fit into the country living style of America.  Ot is a good comedic premise and everyone has seen  Oliver Douglas being a misfit in the country in the very funny though silly, hit TV-series GREEN ACRES.   Steve Carell plays the Democratic strategist, Gary Zimmer.   The film takes a whole 20 minutes or so at the start to offer the reason he has to travel to the country to seek the aid of war veteran Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) help in his political campaign.  But this is unconvincing and just an excuse for low brow GREE ACRES humour.  So, the audience sees many unfunny parts - Gary trying to open a twist off beer bottle; getting uncomfortable by seeing Jack’s pretty daughter (MacKenzie Davis) in a cow trying to pull out a calf at birth among other things.  Stewart is not that observant as a director and the previous scene is not even noticed till it is mentioned in dialogue in the following scene.

Stewarts’s film is not short of good actors.  Steve Carell can be funny as well as dramatic as witnessed in Bennett Millers 2014 hit FOXCATCHER in which Carell was nominated for an Academy Award.  His performance is matched no less by Oscar Winner Chris Cooper (ADAPTATION) as the hard-lined war veteran.  The script hands the role of ‘chief schmuck’ to Carell.  Carell creates a most despicable political character, a two-faced manipulator but still manages to elicit some sympathy from the audience at the end.

IRRESISTIBLE is less funny than anyone episode of GREEN ACRES.  Thankfully, Stewart’s film improves during the second half where he concentrates more of the dirt of politics. “Good people have to do shitty things for the greater good…” is one of the lines used, but Stewart shows in his film that there is more than meets the eye.  The film succeeds in its plot twists (that will not be revealed in this review), and this makes the movie.  The low-brow humour for example, mentioning the romance between rivals Faith (Rose Byrne) and Gary as the toast of NYC and L.A. amidst a toaster is pretty desperate humour.

Credit to the wardrobe department?  Carell wears a shirt in one scene that I have and bought for $100+ at the Hudson Bay.

How to view the movie: Starting on June 26th, IRRESISTIBLE will be available on demand for a 48-hour rental period for $19.99.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4140744217?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_2

SOVEREIGN SOIL (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by David Curtis

How much does one know of ones country?  This question is more relevant when the country happens to be Canada, a country so large that it reaches into the Arctic Circle.  Living in say, the largest city in Canada, Toronto, a Torontonian will likely be unaware of what is going on in say, Dawson City, way up north in the Yukon.  Dawson City is just several miles south of the Arctic Circle.  SOVEREIGN SOIL serves to education the ways of farming the land.

Sounds boring?  But far from it, SOVEREIGN LAND is as much an education as an unforgettable experience.  Every human being eats off the land and should know a bit of the process of farming  Dawson City has rich black soil, full of organic minerals, and surrounding it wild animals, rivers and lots of woods.

One would obviously question the choice of interviewees director Curtis had selected for his documentary.  Those chosen are not experts, officials or agriculturalists but some farmers who have worked the land and indigenous people who lived the land.

The film explores and reveals what it means to living off the land, as seen through the eyes of the contemporary people living it.  Among them are a German immigrant farmer (one can tell obviously as he has not lost his German accent), a matriarch of a family who humorously describes how she shot and butchered a moose for the family to eat, an indigenous youth who became a farmer instead of a hunter and a young family who taps syrup from birth trees.  Curtis’ film moves on at a leisurely pace so that the audience can relax and digest the information easily.  The film is undoubtedly an eye-opening experience in which one need not have to travel to the Yukon to know what is going on there.  The different subjects are intercut so that every person is put into  context as to was they have to say. Each subject are equally interesting and director Curtis gives them equal screen time.

Director Curtis also blends in current issues to his film.  Females are also put into prospective into an environment which could be mainly male.  The caring of the elderly is also brought into focus.

Among other topics examined in the film is the sheltering of trees.  Trees need to be saved from the harshness of winters.  The plants have to be kept happy as they give to human beings what they put in.  As one elder First Nations subject says: “Every plant has something.”

The effect of climate change is also brought into the picture as it affects the lives of these peoples.  One cannot deny the devastating effects of climate change.

Curtis’ film is short of a climax, which is understandable as this is no Hollywood film.  It ends on a sober note that is expected from a film with this theme.

The film is now available in collaboration with Toronto’s Revue Cinema as part of the virtual release.  Streaming is available for at least 3 weeks from June the 17th.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzUsQTogtaA

STEALING SCHOOL (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Li Dong

STEALING SCHOOL feels and works like a courtroom drama - except that it is a student  tribunal where accused Asian student April Chen (Celine Tsai) stands trial for plagiarism.  There are lots at stake for everyone in the tribunal as it soon becomes apparent, the accused, the accusers the board and other associated persons.

A week before her college graduation, April Chen, a Chinese-Canadian tech prodigy, is accused of plagiarism by an unrelenting teaching assistant and must fight to prove her innocence in a secret trial held before an academic tribunal made up of the college academics.  As the day progresses, the motives and interests of all parties concerned are slowly exposed to reveal a complex web of corruption, greed and moral failings.

STEALING SCHOOL is a very impressive debut by writer and director Li Dong.  He has a lot to say about the school system while infusing his ethnic roots into the script.  He criticizes the value of the school’s or any institutions’s diploma as observed at many points in the film.  The most obvious is when a witness who gets paid to write students essays says it out direct when questioned why she does this, answering that institutions likewise get paid for dishing out diplomas.  Another, slightly more subtile comment is made when it is mentioned that April could get a job in Silicon Valley even without a diploma.  The politics of Canadian institutions also come into criticism by director Li Dong.  He questions the need of Canadian universities to do just as well, if not better than their American counterparts, especially on the issue of Asian acceptance.  Li’s treatment of plagiarism is also admirable in the detail that has gone into the script.  Li has obviously done much research.

On the other hand, the supposed villain of the piece is the TA (teaching Assistant) who accuses April of plagiarism.  TA, Keith Ward (Jonatahn Keltz delivering an exceptional performance) would stop at nothing to indict April.  It is as if this is his chief mission in life.  This is all Ward has in life which makes him more a pitiful character rather than a despicable one.  But as the story progresses, it turns out that others in the tribunal are no less guilty of questionable deeds.  Not even the supposed innocent April Chen is innocent, though nothing more should be said in order not to reveal any spoilers.  The script puts April for full audience sympathy as not only her parents but her grandparents have flown in from China to attend her graduation which she might no be able to participate if found guilty for plagiarism.

The well-written and directed film is an absorbing watch from start to end, running at an efficient crisp time of an hour and 10 minutes.  Acting all around is superb with no complaints in the main and supporting roles.  Theonly complaint is the fact that April Chen is able to speak almost perfect English which is impossible for a studnet who has come from China to Canada to study.

It will be an eager wait to catch Li Dong’s next feature.  Dong has managed to combine his personal commitment into his filmmaking creating a superb emotional entertainment in the process.

The film is  is available on June 23 on Apple TV and iTunes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NiNcNIqXqo


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This Week's Film Reviews (June 20, 2020)

15 Jun 2020

With cinemas still closed in most parts of Canada, new films can still be found on digital and similar platforms, virtual theatres and streaming services.  Below are the new films released this week and how to watch them.





MR. JONES (UK/Ukraine/Poland 2019) ***1/2
Directed by
Agnieszka Holland

It has been a while since Polish born director Agnieszka Holland trained in the Czech Republic graced the screen with her atmospheric period war dramas.  Holland, known for excellent films like ANGRY HARVEST (1985), EUROPA, EUROPA (1990) and OLIVIER, OLIVIER (1991) returns with her Berlin International Film Festival debut MR. JONES, a biography with thriller elements, set pre-WWII.   This is the true story follows a Welsh journalist, Gareth Jones (James Norton) as he breaks the news in the western media of the famine  (now known as Stalin’s Holodomir) in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s.  The Soviet Union wants the news suppressed and goes to extraordinary lengths at silencing the truth.  Hence, the thriller element.

MR. JONES is described in the press notes as a biography and thriller.  Holland’s establishes the fact that it is a story of Gareth Jones from the very beginning of the film where the audience sees him being laid off work as a journalist and researcher, the company falling onward times.  His commitment to uncover the truth takes him to the Ukraine where he opts to interview Stalin.  So far Gareth has had success in managing the task of interviewing Hitler.  But this new formidable task proves even more difficult especially when his colleague who has uncovered the truth has been silence by the Authorities.  Spies are not taken lightly in the Soviet Union, which Gareth is about to find out.  The film then turns into thriller mode.

As in all of Holland’s films, MR. JONES is a handsomely mounted period piece.  Even if the narrative does not all come together, her films are always  glorious to behold.  The same can be said here, courtesy of her d.p. Tomasz Naumiuk.  The film’s most stunning scene takes place in the rail carriage of a train transporting dozens of starved residents.  The only light visible comes from the daylight that creeps in through the cracks of the wooden walls of the carriage.  It is depressing grey outside, so that the film, though shot in colour often looks like a black and white film.  Other stunning scenes involve Gareth running through the woods covered with snow on the ground trying to escape the soldiers.

The dialogue by Andrea Chapula contains Russian poetry indicating the hardship and poverty of the pope.  Consider the words of the poem recited by children out loud twice in the film: Hunger and cold;  Are in our house; Nothing to eat; Nowhere to sleep; and our neighbour; has lots his mind; and eaten his children.   The words of ANIMAL FARM, the novel by George Orwell (played by Joseph Mawie) mention that the pigs on the farm are no more recognizable from human beings; words that echo the then current state of the Soviet Union.

The atmosphere is enhanced by the superb music originally written and assembled by Antoni Lazarkiewicz.  Whether heard on the soundtrack during the lavish parties that Gareth attends or the more intimate romantic moments in his room with his love interest Ada (Vanessa Kirdby), the music makes its mark.

The film also marks a solid triumph for the truth in journalism.

How to view MR. JONES:June 19th EST, July 3 VOD 

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi392806169?playlistId=tt6828390&ref_=tt_ov_vi

THE REST OF US (Canada 2019) ***

Directed by Aisling "Ash" Chin-Yee 

First to note that there are two films released this year with the same title THE REST OF US, the other from the U.S. about suicide at a University campus following 9/11.

A really unusual premise for a film, THE REST OF US boasts a story that revolves around an unusual alliance - the friendship between a wife, Cami and the ex-wife, Rachel (Jodi Balfour) of a recently deceased and their two daughters, Aster (Sophie Nélisse) and Talulah (Abigail Pniowsky).  The male villain in this case of a female-dominated story is the deceased male who clearly has left his new wife penniless.

The film relates several relationships - between mother and daughter, between the ex-wife and wife and between daughter and step-mother.  There are lots of potentially interesting material to be used, and the script by Ash takes advantage of the fact for its use.

Young actress Sophie Nélisse has the role of a lifetime as the daughter from hell.  She intimidates both her mother and her late father’s ex-wife who is staying with them.  When told of her father’s death by her mother by drowning in the bathtub while suffering a heart attack, her response is that she did not know he took baths.  When Rachel tells her that she is married to her father and not her father’s mistress, she replies: not any more..”.  Credit too, goes to the clever dialogue from the script by Alanna Francis.    

THE REST OF US is an impressive debut feature by Canada’s Rising Star (by Now Magazine 2019) who now proves to be a director to be reckoned with.  A few interesting facts on Ash, as she is often called due to the Irish spelling of her name, include the fact that is the co-founder of the #AfterMeToo movement.  Her film reflects the resilience of women, and how they aid each other under extenuating circumstances.  Aisling is also an award winning producer of feature films, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Last Woman Standing, The Saver and Inside These Walls, and has written and directed the short films, Sound Asleep and the multi-award winning documentary, Synesthesia. 

Director Ash seems to be a male hater, as evident in several points in the film.  For one, the dead man seems to have not cared for either wife, especially not for the second one, leaving her debts instead of an inheritance.  “That’s how men are…” is the comment made to Aster.  Rachel (Judy Balfour) when she asked her girlfriend about a boy called Nathan.

The film has won a prize for Best Sound Editing at the Directors Guild of Canada and had been nominated for Best Canadian Feature at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

THE REST OF US is a sweet Canadian drama celebrating the resilient of women.  Too bad it had to put down the male species so much.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4249272089?playlistId=tt8584722&ref_=tt_ov_vi




Directed by Nathalie Bibeau

THE WALRUS AND THE WHSTLE BLOWER is a stranger-than-fiction tale of a Marineland trainer turned whistleblower, Phil Demers who sparks an online movement to end marine mammal captivity.

The doc contains three stories.  One is, as the titles implies, is that of Marineland’s whistle blower, Phil Demers and a walrus known as Smooshi that he saves from abuse.  Smooshi arrives at mainland as a baby, likely caught by Russians in the wild.  The other is of Marineland, the famous theme park in Niagar Falls featuring rides, marine creatures and land animals, founded in 1961 nu John Holder that was responsible in animal abuse, thanks to a  whistleblower, Phil Demers and other ex-employees and the third a subplot involving the Canada’s litigation system.  All three are equally interesting, though their stories may be familiar to audiences from news regarding animal rights activists storming Marineland in the past.

One of the key points that the film makes is the dynamics of  a litigation.  A pissed off Demers says on radio interview at the one hour post of the film: “I want to go to trial (and hopefully win), not to negotiate.  He confesses that he is disappointed with his lawyer, Run who explains that this is how the judicial system works, with very few cases actually going to trial.  Demers says that he is akin to 90% of the population who do not understand but this is the way the litigation system works.  This fact is absolutely true.  When one gets arrested, for example by the cops, they plead guilty to a lesser charge for fear that they might be found guilty even when innocent, thus getting a police record even when innocent.  This way, more and more people get a record resulting in the police gaining full time employment. Someone also once told me; “How can they be justice on stolen land?”  The film also goes on with Bill-21 illustrating the red-tape, pain and money involved  in proposing a bill.  The bill was finally voted upon and passed, though the walrus Smooshi never benefited from it.

Despite the film being a crowd pleaser, it is a very say story.  How sad would it be for anyone if the person or animal you loved is so close by and ill with a high chance of dying and there is little that you could do?  Demers is in this sad condition and forced to relive the fact living so close to Marineland  when Smooshi was ill and still there.  On a positive note, Marineland has announced that Smooshi the walrus had just given birth to a baby walrus.

THE WALRUS AND THE WHSTLE BLOWER is this year’s top winner of the Hot Docs Audience Award.  It premiered at Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival May 28th and has been launched across screens on CBC main network and CBC’s streaming service Gem.

Trailer: (unavailable)

YOU DON’T NOMI (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Jeffrey McHale

YOU DON’T NOMI is a documentary made on the 1996 Razzie Award winner for Worst Picture, Paul Verhoeven’s SHOWGIRLS and explores how the film crawled back from a disastrous release to cult status and redemption.  SHOWGIRLS was panned by most critics (not by myself as I wan not reviewing films at that time).  Though it was touted as totally cheesy and a blast for the gay community, I did not think it too much, being gay.  I recalled that I was not that turned off nor impressed by the film.  This is case of hearing too much hype on a film before seeing.  I was studying form my MBA at that time, which was more important than watching film about a sexy showgirl making it big in las Vegas by stepping over anyone who gets in her way.

McHale’s doc is as bold as Verhoeven’s SHOWGIRLS.   McHale makes sure he includes all the controversial scenes especially the ranch sexy ones, like Nomi’s lap dance with Kyle McLachlan.  Yes, its looks as stupid as it is erotic.  McHale makes the assumption that his audience will be convicted that SHOWGIRLS is not only an exceptional film but one that is with a second look.  One cannot fault a person for his beliefs and he almost gets away with it.  The only trouble is that once SHOWGIRLS has been watched, the shock value is gone.  s a critics, my best test for an exceptional film, whether exceptionally good or bad, is that it should offer insight on a repeated viewing.  SHOWGIRLS does not but McHale makes the audience believes otherwise.

Verhoeven as a director has made  a few excellent films among them TOTAL RECALL and THE FOURTH MAN in Dutch when he was still working in the Netherlands.  His other Dutch film like SPETTERS and MAN OF ORANGE are film classics.  Mchale includes clips of many of Verhoeven’s past films, which makes this doc more interesting to watch though not relating the films to the issue at hand.  The audience can witness Verhoeven as a visionary from his past films.

Director McHale enlists the services of several film critics to say more than a few words about SHOWGIRLS.   The selection includes Toronto’s own Adam Nayman who has written an entire book on SHOWGIRLS.  McHale allows him Carte Blanche to have his say, but odd that he did not show him in person.  But one can see the connection between Nayman and McHale.  McHale has made an entire doc on SHOWGIRLS where Nayman written a book it.  These two must share a lot in common and lots to talk about.

YOU DON’T NOMI ends up as interesting a watch as SHOWGIRLS is as interesting a film.  It is often said that a documentary is often judged to be as good as its subject. McHale celebrates controversy and cheesiness.  Can one complain?  After all, Hollywood is also famous for all its cheesiness.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi499760665?playlistId=tt10011412&ref_=tt_pr_ov_vi

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This Week's Film Reviews (June 12, 2020)

08 Jun 2020

With cinemas still closed in most parts of Canada, new films can still be found on digital and similar platforms, virtual theatres and streaming services.  Below are the new films released this week and how to wacth them.




BECKY (USA 2020) ***
Directed by
Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion 

BECKY is directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion latest effort in the horror genre.  The duo have worked together in similar fields like animation and music videos so it seems natural that the opening credits of BECKY include Japanese-anime type animation.  They are best known for the 2014 COOTIES starring Elijah Wood.

The film best described as an action horror begins with the intercutting of two violent incidents.  One is a fight that takes place in a prison yard and the other between two boys in a corridor of a school that BECKY(Lulu Wilson) attends.  Convicts kill their prison guards and escape their paddy wagon while Becky arrives at the lake house with her father.  Becky thinks she is going to spend quality time with her father after mother has passed away from cancer but no way!  Her dad, Jeff (Joel McHale) has also invited his new girlfriend, Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her young son.  Worst still, he announces his intention of marrying her. 

As if things cannot get any worse, Becky’s weekend at the lake house with her father takes a turn for the worse when convicts arrive uninvited (home invasion-wise) and wreak havoc on their lives.  Simple plot, for directors Millot and Miurnion who obviously need an indie hit to make it big in the Hollywood business.  So far so good, for the first 15 minutes, the film manages to grab hold of the audience’s attention.  Another plus is that the film features Kevin James known mainly for comedy like PAUL BLART: MALL COP who gets to play a nasty villainous Nazi brotherhood convict.  He sports a beard, making him almost unrecognizable.  Escaped from jail, he has spent so much time planning for his future with the result of everything going awry, thanks to Becky.  The film’s funniest line has Kayla telling him off: “How many years in prison did it take you to become this stupid…?” 

Directors Millot and Miurnion show that they mean business with the horror.  Children are not immune and they are slaughtered as adults would be.

At its worst, BECKY looks like an ultra-violent copy of HOME ALONE, only with a female protagonist.  All her victims fall prey to her schemes and traps just as in HOME ALONE, with the convicts looking like idiots compared to Becky.  On the plus side, the action sets up are intriguing enough, with no lack of gore that includes a dangling eyeball that has to be cut off with scissors and bonfire marshmallow tongs stabbed into the sides of a body not to mansion beheading of a convict by a lawn-mower.

The directors recognize how audience can get all riled up with a character unleashing his or her hidden anger to protect their loved ones - as Gina Rowlands did in John Cassavetes’ GLORIA and Dustin Hoffmans in Sam Peckinpah’s THE STRAW DOGS.  This little spoilt brat uses all her anger to exact a satisfying brutal vengeance in this story.

BECKY is a sufficiently well-made and fun to watch B horror flick that should satisfy those that like their action with lots of gore and violence.  Available On Demand and Digital across Canada on Friday June 5, 2020.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8--xifWHwoM


IT MUST BE HEAVEN (Palestine/France/Qatar/Canada/Germany/Turkey 2019) ***
Directed by Elia Suleiman

IT MUST BE HEAVEN is a light Palestinian film consisting of  a series of dark comic vignettes shot in international locales by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman.  Suleiman investigates the meaning of being in exile and the absurdities of nationalism, normalcy and identity.  The film begins with a church in Nazareth with a door is shut closed by dissidents.  Other segments are set in Paris and New York.

Suleiman’s humour reminds one of the films of both Jacques Tati (PLAYTIME, JOUR DE FETE, LES VACANCES DE MR. HULOT) and Roy Anderssen (A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH CONTEMPLATING ON EXISTENCE), the latter for the absurdist humour and the former for the gentle humour of everyday life.  Though Tati is a participant in the humour of his films, Suleiman is more of an observer.  He watches his neighbour pinch the lemons off his trees in his backyard; he observes homeless man fed by social workers (even when his presence is absent).

Suleiman finds lot of humour is ordinary situations as can be observed on his trip on a plane in Economy Class to Paris.  He worries about the jolts on the plane while the ‘fasten seatbelt’ flashes on.  He peers out the window to see a shaky wing.  One immediately recalls THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode where a passenger sees a monster on the engine of the plane.

In a scene set in Paris, Suleiman’s pitch for his new movie is rejected by a producer because it is not Palestinian enough. This case could be true in the sense of the difficulty of this film being made.  IT MUST BE HEAVEN can be classified as a Palestinian film that also is not Palestinian enough, in terms content.  But on closer examination, Suleiman’s film does contain quite a bit of Palestinian influence.

Not every sequence makes sense.  The one with the girl drapped in angel wings in New York City’s Central Park chased by police officers makes little sense nor offer much insight.

The film has an uplifting moment with Mexican superstar Gael Garcia Bernal playing a Mexican filmmaker and friend of Suleiman.  He is a welcome known star in the movie,  He claims that Suleiman is making a funny movie about peace in Palestine called HEAVEN CAN WAIT.  The other star is Canadian Stephen McHattie who also has a cameo.

Suleiman’s film is modern enough to include a few special CGI effects.  One is the shot of the little bird yet keeps hopping on to Suleiman’s laptop keyboard.  The other is the Suleiman’s acrobatics of a custom officer’s security wand.

As the song “I will cast a spell on you” plays as Suleiman enters Paris, his film similarly will cast a spell on audiences.

IT MUST BE HEAVEN is financed by many countries and shot in many different languages including French and English.

The film had its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.  It can be viewed virtually thorough select cinemas on June 12th and then widely on VOD June 19th

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2396699673?playlistId=tt8359842&ref_=tt_pr_ov_vi



Directed by Danis Tanovic

Gruesome Killings for whatever reason and obsessive detectives have become a good combination for films, most notably SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE ZODIAC Killings et al.   In THE POSTCARD KILLINGS, a New York detective, Jacob Kanon (Morgan) sets up to  investigate the horrible death of his daughter and son-in-law.  They were murdered while on their honeymoon in London. Kanon recruits the help of a Scandinavian journalist, Dessie Lombard Cush Jumbo) when other couples throughout Europe suffer a similar fate.

THE POSTCARD Killings offers three reasons that make it worthwhile a look.  The first is that the murder thriller is directed by Danis Tanovic, who many will remember directed the 2001 Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language Film NO MAN’S LAND.  The second reason is the main lead played by Grey’s Anatomy’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan and the third is that it is based on the best selling novel by James Patterson and Liza Marklund.  Unfortunately THE POSTCARD Killings is an awful film.

Director Tanovic teases the audience in the first half of the film, which is a set upon things to come.  The blaming of the daughter’s death is argued between husband and wife, Valerie (Famke Janssen).  As detective Kanon travels to London to unravel the clues, his police counterparts refuse him any additional information of the murder.  Of course, this does not stop Kanon from digging deeper.  The deeper he goes into his own investigation, the most paranoid he becomes, showing him to be the hard-assed cop that seems to be a favourite character in this kind of films.  His wife then disappears from the story during the film’s first half while director Tanovic intercuts Kanon’s investigation with a couple of young tourists, who are also very good-looking, thus prompting the audience to believe that they will become the serial killer’s next victims.

The purpose of the killing appear linked to some art.  The victims are made to pose, after being murdered to resemble art pieces, paintings sculptures with quotable phrases like “Till death to us part,” and “Love will never die” allocated to the victims.  These make no sense whatsoever, and the story at this point looks totally ridiculous, lacking credibility.

The film makes a huge turn in regards to plot twist right in the middle half of the film.  Though not to be revealed in this review, the identity of the killer or killers are made known to the audience together with the reason (an even more ridiculous one) for the killings.

The film runs totally downhill at this point, with the incredible plot reaching the point of silliness.  The climax is Detective Kanon vs. the killers and it does not take much to figure out who wins.

The European setting of the film does not lift the film up in any way.  The introduction of the Dutch detective and the journalist to aid Kanon’s investigation does not help either.  Never have gruesome Killings resulted in such a tedious enterprise.

Here is the info of how to screen the film: 

EST/VOD (English & French) - June 9

DVD, Blu-ray - June 23

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAJXT0jI8as

THE REST OF US (Canada 2019) ***

Directed by Aisling "Ash" Chin-Yee 

First to note that there are two films released this year with the same title THE REST OF US, the other from the U.S. about suicide at a University campus following 9/11.

A really unusual premise for a film, THE REST OF US boasts a story that revolves around an unusual alliance - the friendship between a wife, Cami and the ex-wife, Rachel (Jodi Balfour) of a recently deceased and their two daughters, Aster (Sophie Nélisse) and Talulah (Abigail Pniowsky).  The male villain in this case of a female-dominated story is the deceased male who clearly has left his new wife penniless.

The film relates several relationships - between mother and daughter, between the ex-wife and wife and between daughter and step-mother.  There are lots of potentially interesting material to be used, and the script by Ash takes advantage of the fact for its use.

Young actress Sophie Nélisse has the role of a lifetime as the daughter from hell.  She intimidates both her mother and her late father’s ex-wife who is staying with them.  When told of her father’s death by her mother by drowning in the bathtub while suffering a heart attack, her response is that she did not know he took baths.  When Rachel tells her that she is married to her father and not her father’s mistress, she replies: not any more..”.  Credit too, goes to the clever dialogue from the script by Alanna Francis.    

THE REST OF US is an impressive debut feature by Canada’s Rising Star (by Now Magazine 2019) who now proves to be a director to be reckoned with.  A few interesting facts on Ash, as she is often called due to the Irish spelling of her name, include the fact that is the co-founder of the #AfterMeToo movement.  Her film reflects the resilience of women, and how they aid each other under extenuating circumstances.  Aisling is also an award winning producer of feature films, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Last Woman Standing, The Saver and Inside These Walls, and has written and directed the short films, Sound Asleep and the multi-award winning documentary, Synesthesia. 

Director Ash seems to be a male hater, as evident in several points in the film.  For one, the dead man seems to have not cared for either wife, especially not for the second one, leaving her debts instead of an inheritance.  “That’s how men are…” is the comment made to Aster.  Rachel (Judy Balfour) when she asked her girlfriend about a boy called Nathan.

The film has won a prize for Best Sound Editing at the Directors Guild of Canada and had been nominated for Best Canadian Feature at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

THE REST OF US is a sweet Canadian drama celebrating the resilient of women.  Too bad it had to put down the male species so much.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4249272089?playlistId=tt8584722&ref_=tt_ov_vi




Directed by Jeremy Hersh


Written and directed by Jeremy Hersh, THE SURROGATE is an occasionally moving drama on a controversial issue.  The film begins with a black girl, Jess (Jasmine Batchelor) deciding to be THE SURROGATE for her best friends, a gay couple Josh (Chris Perfetti) and Aaron (Sullivan Jones).  In the film’s first 5 minutes, she is tested positive for pregnancy and the three celebrate the pregnancy.  But when they do prenatal tests, they discover that the baby is tested positive for Down’s Syndrome.

The shock is enough to turn friends into enemies and this seeming comedy into controversial drama.

It is best that some background of Down’s Syndrome be known in order to appreciate the message of director Hersh’s movie.

Hersh has done thorough research for the movie and it is fair that audiences read up a bit on it prior to viewing his movie.  Down syndrome or Down's syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21.  It is usually associated with physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, and characteristic facial features.  It is good to know that the average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50, equivalent to the mental ability of an 8- or 9-year-old child, but this can vary widely.  The child that the gay couple will rear will face difficulties and raising one requires great commitment and love.  The film emphasizes the parents of the affected individual are usually genetically normal.  So there is no blame as to whose genetics is responsible.  Down Syndrome can be identified during pregnancy as it is in the film by prenatal screening.   Since the introduction of this screening, pregnancies with the diagnosis are often terminated.  And this is the issue of Hersh’s film.

So what happen after the prenatal discovery is that the gay couple decide to abort the child but Jesse decides to keep to and rear it on her own.

Hersh’s script paints Jesse as a worthy saint with flaws.  As a person, she works hard and has a solid job at a non-profit organization  But she cannot commit to a relationship.  She confesses to her boyfriend that she does not want a relationship as she cannot decide where she will be a year from then.  When she asks her parents for her grandparents’ trust money to buy a place and raise the kid, her parents say no.  The confrontation between Jesse and her mother (Tonya Pinkins) marks the film’s best segment.  Pinkins is simply an incredible actress, having won numerous awards in theatre.  The other confrontation scene between Jesse and the gay couple marks the film’s second best scene.  He takes no sides in the film.  The arguments are solid.  Director Hersh also makes his audience see both sides the argument.  There is no right or wrong.  One admires Jesse’s dedication to do good in changing the world but she is imperfect and unstable at times.

Despite the large amount of data contributed Jesse’s character (the audience sees her at work, with her mother and her sister and in her other friendships) where hardly anything is known of the gay couple.  Except for a brief meeting of the couple’s gay friends at a coffee shop and a hint of Aaron’s work in his law film, nothing is known about either Aaron or Josh.  The focus on Jesse takes away some of the importance of the issue of Down’s Syndrome at hand.

THE SURROGATE opens ones eyes to the little seen problem of raising kids with Down’s Syndrome.  Thankfully, the film ends with an open ending as anything else would be trivializing the situation.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ2o-AIfeYA

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This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 5, 2020)

03 Jun 2020

These are the new films opening on different digital platforms.  The end of the reviesw indicates how the films can be watched.




JUDY & PUNCH (Australia 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Mirrah Foulkes

A few things should be known about Punch and Judy before venturing to the movie.  For North Americans, Punch and Judy might not be recognizable at all, but every Brit or have at one time or other in their childhood seen a Punch and Judy show at the beach.  Punch & Judy is a traditional puppet show featuring Mr. Punch and his wife Judy.  The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically Mr. Punch and one other character who usually falls victim to Punch's slapstick and beatings.  It is often associated with traditional British culture.

The film is set in the British town called Seaside.  The film is quick to mention that Seaside is in the countryside nowhere near the sea.  Puppeteers Judy (Mia Wasikowska)

and Punch (Damon Herriman) are trying to resurrect their marionette show on the brink of an anarchic mob rule. When Punch accidentally kills their baby during a drinking binge, his wife, Judy, having suffered a violent beating, teams up with a band of outcast heretics to enact revenge on Punch and the entire town.

With regard to historical accuracy, caution seems thrown to the wind.  The actors (mosty all Australian) speak with a Irish accent, with no explanation why.  It is assumed that the couple are Irish immigrants.  Whether this is the real origin of Punch & Judy is also questionable, as the puppet show was supposed to have originated from Italy.

JUDY & PUNCH as its title indicates, puts the female over the male.  The actress, story writer and director are female.  It is also a fable of the abuse of women.  Judy is badly beaten at one point.  At another (that resembles MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN), the village attends a stoning - and a sting of three women suspected of sorcery.   One of these woman only cries was to stare at the moon longer than her husband was comfortable with.  Director Foulkes takes up the whole first half of the movie to set up the stage for female vengeance.  Judy finally gets to deliver her revenge during the second half of the story.

At its worst, the film contains a few nasty moments - which may be argued as totally uncalled for.  One is the brutal flogging of Judy by her husband Punch in a drunken rage.  The other is the accidental tossing of the baby by Punch, with the bay flung straight out the window.  These two incidents highlight the film’s strangeness and if director wishes to make a point, she clearly has made an unforgettable one.

A few comic moments are provided by the bumbling constable played by Australian Benedict Hardie.   Hardie has an uncanny resemblance to Eric Sykes, who also provided comic relief in many films.

JUDY & PUNCH are as strange as Australian films come - just like the recent and also excellent THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG.  Those who love Australian films and then some should love this weird yet fierce and fascinating period entry.  Warning though that it might not be for everyone’s taste.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi379829785?playlistId=tt7798644&ref_=tt_ov_vi


Directed by Colin Krisel, James Krisel

LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY plays with the interesting premise of a protagonist searching out what might seem to be his dead girlfriend now discovered alive and living as a film star under another name.   The film is generally uneventful with lack of surprises during its first half, but thankfully picks up during the last third with a few surprises as to where the story leads.

Sam’s (Zach Avery) quest to find the lost girlfriend, Georgia (Samara Weaving) is aided by his some time employer at the bar, Gilles (Brian Cox).  The script is unconvincing as to the reason Gilles would cough up a whole sum of money to help Sam.  How did the two meet and how did they become so good friends.  He must be the only Scotsman with a French name Gilles.  Avery has had a few leading roles in unforgettable films in the past and this film might be just yet another one of these, made in 2018 and now just released on digital platforms.

Avery plays the lead role of Sam, sporting a full beard looking very much like a terrorist.  He looks unkempt untidy and questionable character-wise.  So, when his old time girl, Kat (Carly Chaikin) suddenly beds him in her apartment, credibility is stretched to the limit.  Avery fails to elicit any sympathy from his character and the character of Sam just comes right across as some crazed fanatic.  The script does not work to have the audience care for him either.

For a film shot in France, assuming it to be Paris, from shots of the metro, there is nothing heard in French except for one short line by Gilles.  The globe-trotting film (Vince jets off to L.A. after a third of the film) could very well all be shot in the game city to lower the budget of the movie.  The end credits do not mention any filing locations in France, so it is assumed all the locations are in Virginia.  Credit here should be given to the production design and sets

The script contains some message musings, among them is to say: “Fuck it.”  Also,   love is not about fate.  It is about timing.  Kat tells Sam that even if the girl he is looking for turns out to be Georgia, it has been three years and things and people change.

It is all too convenient that Kat is there, not working and able to show and help Vince around at the drop of a hat.  She stays in an expensive L.A. apartment and drives a Mercedes.   When Sam decides to go to Mexico, somewhere war, to forget everything, Kit decides to go with him.  “Just like that?” asks Vince.  “Yes, just like that,”comes her reply.

At the hour mark, the film turns into a menage a trois.  This only serves for the audience to dislike Sam’s character even more.  Does this guy have no conscience?  But credit should be given to Chaikin who does a marvellous job at getting the audience to root for her.  Yes, she does win in the end.

Though not without flaws, directors Colin Krisel and James Krisel finally manage to save their film from a rough start.

Release Info:

EST/VOD (English) - June 2

EST/VOD (French) - June 30

DVD, Blu-ray - June 30

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1850190873?playlistId=nm4878976&ref_=nm_ov_vi

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