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This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 18, 2020)

17 Sep 2020

A hidden gem opnes this week and is availbale on VOD.  A family film, but don't let the label out you off - H IS FOR HAPPINESS.




Directed by Gerard Bush and Christophe Renz

The word ANTEBELLIUM means ‘the time before the American Civil War’.  ANTEBELLIUM is also the name of the new movie advertised as an American psychological horror (movie) opening this week.

The film begins with the impressive camera panning a huge plantation farmhouse with stables and soldiers riding horses.  The soldiers are wearing American civl war uniforms.  The camera moves around the surroundings for a full 10 minutes before culminating with a shack housing that is soon to be revealed as the residence of the slave workers of a cotton farm.  The first half of the film works like a film about slavery akin to the films like 12 YEARS A SLAVE or even THE COLOR PURPLE.  There are slave beatings after attempted escapes, a slave pregnancy, suicides and rape, high and drama that seems out of a place of a horror film.  The horror is only turned on around the half way mark.

The subject in the film’s first half is a slave woman named Eden (Janelle Monae).  Eden has just been beaten and branded like cattle.  She has been warned against any future escape attempts.  The movie moves around her daily chores before she awakes from what appears to be a nightmare.  When she awakes, she is Veronica Henley, a successful and prominent author and one that fights for the rights of black people.  This is the part that does not make sense in the story.  She now lives the life of a successful writer.

Before you know it, Veronica is abducted and taken back into what appears to be the Antebellum South, where she is held as an enslaved person at the same plantation (which in fact a brutal antebellum reenactment theme park).

Eden is the more sympathetic character compared to Veronica.  Veronica appears rich and over-spoilt in her success, which spoils the mood, as the audience should be rooting for both characters instead of wanting Veronica to be humbled.

The film has a weird feel as it plays as both a slave drama and a psychological horror.  But all the puzzle pieces come together towards the end, except for the aforementioned part of Eden waking up as Veronica.  Bush and Renz who also wrote the script could have come up with a better explanation.

Directors of films like Bush and Renz as well as others who pioneer original and strange films like ANTEBELLUM should be given credit.  The scene in which a cell phone goes off ringing in the saddle of a horse is an example of one that has never or likely ever be used or found in any film.  It is just too bad, the film does not match the potential it had carefully built up to.

Those who might think ANTEBELLUM is a slasher horror flick similar to the demon doll film ANABELLE and its sequels, beware - it is not, or you will be leaving the theatre within the first half hour.  ANTEBELLUM is completely different, and in a good way.  

The film is released though VOD on September 18th and in select theatres in countries allowing, which is a pity as the film contains stunning panoramic visuals, courtesy of D.P. Pedro Luque.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beLkVB_T3uw

Directed by Roger Michell

Brit Roger Michell (PERSUASION, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) directs Christian Torpe’s script adapted from his own script he wrote of Bille August successful family Danish drama SILENT HEART back in 2014.  The film boats an impressive cast of well known actors led by Kate Winslet in this chamber piece (Winslet appears to love starring in chamber pieces, such as Roman Polanski’s CARNAGE) that involves the close family of a design architect gathered together to grant her, her last wish of suicide in her gorgeous seaside house all taking place in a few days. 

Lily (Susan Sarandon) is terminally ill.  She and loving husband, Paul (Sam Neill) invite family members and close friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan) for one last gathering before she takes a pill to end it all instead of going through the agony of suffering.  The family includes the two daughters, Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska).  Jennifer’s husband, Michael (Rainn Wilson) and son, Jonathan (Anson Boon) tag along as does Anna’s of and off girlfriend, Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus).  The gathering allows old skeletons in the closet to resurface as do new ones.  All this is plenty of fodder for high melodrama, which if one is not into this sort of thing, should avoid at all costs.

With a feisty dying Lily comes ‘the dying’ jokes.  Calling her daughter down for breakfast, Lily yells: “Coming down?  I’m dying soon.” Or when Jonathan tells her grandmothers that he wants to be an actor, Lily replies: “I will take the secret to my grave.”   With these expected humour on death also comes the Lily’s sarcastic life’s messages: “Give lie your best shot.  Being on time does not hurt.”

Of all the players, Winslet outshines the rest, as can be witnessed in the confrontational scene with her charter and her sister.  The role of Lily could have been played by many veteran actresses that one could think of - Shirley Maclaine and Diane Keaton, the latter who was offered the role.  Sarandon, still pretty at her age as is evident in the scene where she dons a red dress also proves her acting chops here.

For a script written by a male and directed by a male, the film surprisingly delivers heavy and effective female content.  The male character like Paul and Jonathan serve as second fiddle to the stronger female roles.  Lily is more of the family matriarch than Paul is of the patriarch.

The script seems too perfectly written and the characters all utter perfect responses and they have answers to every problem.  Life has never all the answers.  The result is the feeling that the audience is watching a play than experiencing a real life drama.

Certain things are left unexplained in the film.  Liz sports a slight Brit accent because the actress playing her, Lindsay Duncan is Scots, but this is just brushed off.  Why Anna’s girlfriend Chris, who is clearly out of place in the gathering wishes to come is also a mystery.

As much as Torpe’s script tries to be clever, all that transpires seem staged.  The Danish version fared better as one expects something different from foreigners like the Danes.   As odd as it seems the other Winslet chamber piece CARNAGE where two families meet to discuss an altercation between their sons at school is much more interesting than this supposedly more pressing than this chamber piece on suicide, lie and death.  BLACKBIRD ends up as a sort of a grin-and-bear it bore with just a little bit of lift, aided by the cast.

BLACKBIRD opens in theatres September 18th.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9kb6ZJre78

H IS FOR HAPPINESS (Australia 2020) ***** Top 10

Directed by John Sheedy

H IS FOR HAPPINESS, based on the novel ‘My Life as an Alphabet’ is all about the world as seen through the eyes of a 12-year old, Candice Phee (Daisy Axon).  The special thing about this girl is that she has boundless enthusiasm but her honesty often leads her into trouble.  There are 3 worlds she lives in, one where she tries to fix things that are wrong, the one that is on centre, with her kid romance with the new boy from school, Douglas Benson (Wesley Patten) who thinks he is from another dimension and the third depressing one at home.  The home is in disarray after Candice’s young sister died and her parents are at odds with each other.  Candice wishes to bring happiness back into the home.  Candice is up for a formidable task.  But she has, as mentioned boundless enthusiasm.  She wants to bring happiness to the family again but realizes it takes time.  Candice will plant the seed.

Among all this, Candice is given a project headed by Miss Bamform (Miriam Margoyles) in school which involves a presentation by each student in the class of an event that has happened in the past that must begin with a letter of the alphabet that she assigns to each one of them.  Miss Bamford is a colourful character, as are most of the people in the film.  Miss Bamford has a wandering eye that bobbles like a maniac.  The scene where Candice gives her a present to correct this problem is the funniest scene in a film I have witnessed this year, clearly already worth the price of the ticket.

Director Sheedy has a lot of the scenes shot in saturated colours, as would be appropriate to emphasize Candice’s super optimistic view of life.

The town of Albany is filled with quirky characters from the shopkeepers including an old dandy who wears a pirouette costume 24/7.  He also gives Candice advice on happiness.  Other characters are Candice’s rich Uncle Bryan (Joel Jackson) who has a falling out with his brother, Candice’s dad and the mother of Douglas from another dimension.

The film contains many priceless hilarious scenes.  Another is the dinner table scene where young Douglas Benson from another dimension asks Candice’s hand from her father, and yet another involves the super strict, no-nonsense supply (relief) teacher in place of Miss Bamford who insists on total silence from all her students.

The climax of the film is, as expected, Candice’s presentation at the school hall with her parents attending.  She obviously presents the letter H, which is for happiness, together with Douglas from another dimension and a white pony that could very well be a unicorn without the horn.

H IS FOR HAPPINESS pays tribute to America’s western and country songs and music, with great success.  The other really funny and great Aussie comedy that has this element is the 1997 Chris Kennedy’s DOING TIME FOR PATSY CLINE, another hidden gem.

H IS FOR HAPPINESS is the perfect film to cast aways the Covid-19 pandemic blues.  Despite the family film label, this is one of the best films I have seen this year - Top 10.  The film was shot around with the people from the city of Albany, in south west Australia though the film was financed by the Melbourne Film Festival project fund.

The film is now available VOD.

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


I’VE GOT ISSUES (2020) **
Directed by Steve Collins

Everyone is hurt these days.  The fact has inspired writer/director Steve Collins to concoct an absurdist film entitled I’VE GOT ISSUES on the subject.   His previous films, GRETCHEN and YOU HURT MY FEELINGS focussed on the inner struggles of supposedly sensitive people.  His film is supposed to be therapy since the world has gotten worse.

Collins’ minimalist looking film begins with several scenes of people struggling.  The first has someone pushing a car up a hill.  Another has a person who has locked his keys in the car.  Another is unable to get his can of pop from the vending machine.  Another is pushing a broken grocery cart and a lady has broken a heel.  The voiceover goes: People struggle.  Why?  What is the point?  What do they do when they get hurt?  How do they heal?  Collins follows the scenes with a healer and two men, one seeking help for another who will is apparently unable to eat or speak.  It turns out to be a silly absurdist exercise.

One then wonders too why Collins has put his audience through all of this.  Is there a purpose? Should the audience go through with this?  Is there a solutions?  Collins puts his audience through the same set of questions he poses to them..

His characters and the situations appear again under different circumstances.  But the questions are still left unanswered.  The answers are finally delivered at the end of the film (which will not be revealed in the review) if one cares to sit out the film.

I’VE GOT ISSUES has been described by the Austin Chronicle as stage and wonderful.  Think the film as a much sillier and more senseless film with the same tone as WAITING FOR GUFFMAN.  Strange yes, but wonder is in the eyes of the individual viewer.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyC5mk8Eu-M&feature=youtu.be

NADIA, BUTTERFLY (Canada 2019) **
Directed by Pascal Plante

NADIA, BUTTERFLY begins with a lengthy 20 minute training session that shows Olympic play swimmer Nadia (Laterine Savard) ending with the race itself when her team if four  won the bronze medal.  The segments shows her doing laps, her arms plunging into the pool water; her arguments with her trainer and interview with the press.  Nadia is definitely under stress, as her coach confirms.  At the stage, Nadia wises to retire after he Games at he age of twenty-something, because as she says, she wants to retire victorious.  The real reason is never made clear, but one sees Nadia in tears, again the catalyst for the outburst unexplained, in the privacy of hr changing tent.  Director Plante clearly understands and deomonstarets the rigours of competitive sport, he himself being a competitive swimmer at an earlier age.

As the film progresses, the audience sees, after her very last race, Nadia drifting into nights of excess punctuated by episodes of self-doubt. 

NADIA, BUTTERFLY has its setting in Tokyo 2020 where the Summer Olympics is held, according to the film.  With all of Plante’s efforts to give his film the feel of authenticity, the efforts fall flat since the Olympics in Tokyo has been postponed indefinitely.  Plante could have changed its setting to the Olympics to the 4 years prior but did not.  This would have incurred understandable additional production costs including script re-writes, in fact practically a whole different movie.  With Covid-19 not on Plante’s side, the film unfortunately fails to make its authentic impact it was supposed to.  On the other hand, one must admire Plante for creating an Olympic film set in Tokyo.  if the event was not cancelled, one would never guess that parts of the film were never shot during the Olympics if it has happened.

Plante’s film is a series of vignettes that have been put together to form the narratvie.  Thee is no voiceover or flashbacks.  The vignettes are written to tell the story.  Plante must have his actors rehearse each segment throughly and likely mercilessly.  The opening sequence showing Nadia in training and the filming of the Olympic relay event is executed in long takes which add on to the urgency of the story.

Plante also captures the Nadia dilemma’s of whether to continue or quit swimming.  If she quits, she goes against the grain of her teammates and coach and if she continues, she will be untrue to herself.  It is a difficult life changing decision that Nadia eventually has to decide for herself.  It also becomes the main problem for the film to resolve, which to Plante’s credit (Plante also wrote the script) is done credibly and admirably.

The success of the film also rests on the lead performance by Svard.  Fortunately, being a Bronze medal swimmer herself, she looks the part and also must have given a lot of consideration to her role.

If only the Tokyo Olympics were held and there was no Covid-19, the film would have worked much better.  But as they say, we can only do our best during these difficult times.  

The film ends up a sort of a grin-and-bear it bore (the film's technique already made too familiar by Laurent Cantet) with just a little bit of lift, aided by the cast.  NADIA, BUTTERFLY, a Cannes official selection, is filmed mainly in French.  The film will open theatrically in Canada.

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

THE NEST (UK/Canada 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Sean Durkin

THE NEST in the U.S. is uprooted and the family of an entrepreneur and his American family begin to take a twisted turn after moving into a huge country manor in Sussex in England.  This is the typical story that follows.  Trouble will brew in the new nest with the family falling apart.  The boat is rocked.  The family eventually puts their differences apart and re-unit with a message ob life thrown at the audience.  And true enough - this is the basic premise of THE NEST.

But as they say, the devil is in the details.  Though the film follows that fixed pattern, the unfolding of events is intensive enough to warrant any audience’s attention. 

Writer/director Durkin also loves to tease his audience as to what is going on.  The opening scene picks the audience’s curiosity as to whether the initial setting is - the U.K.or the States as the main actor playing Rory O’Hara, the entrepreneur who appears is Jude Law speaking in his native English accent.  Then the camera reveals a TV set that is not the huge screen that the modern world is sued to see.  The radio announces some news on Ronald Regan and Europe.  So it is a period piece set int eh Reagan years before the use of the internet and cell phones.  The soundtrack confirms the era.

Rory has a wonderful family comprising of his beautiful wife, Allison (Carrie Coon) and children, Samantha (Oona Roche) and Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell).  Rory is dissatisfied with the States and moves back to his Arthur Davis (Michale Culkin) company spending much more that he can afford.  His business projects do not impress Arthur Davis and financial problems arise.  It does not help that Rory is full of shit.  The story takes the point of view of the wife, Allison who is going through a hell of a time with her horse dead and a daughter who is getting more rebellious.

Again Durkin tears with little things that something really ominous is about to happen to the family.  For example, the horse is shown to be uneasy held the time Allison rides it.  Trouble at school for the kids also signify that the family has much to deal with in settling in.

Dirking covers all the details of the story including a visit of Rory to his mother (Anne Reid) whom he had abandoned as she tells him “galavanting around the  world’.  The behaviour of children and Allison’s unhappiness are also documented in detail

Law is conniving in his role of the suave liar who wants always to be ahead at all costs.  Yes, the message in the story is expectedly revealed in the words of the cab driver who takes Rory home after a company dinner.  And then abandons him after he realizes that hispassenger probably has no money for cab fare.

THE NEST succeeds as a family drama with psychological overtones.  Durkin works well with his written material and actors creating a solid fable on the importance of a contented nest.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9TjWiqiF8


SUMMERLND (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Lankyboy

SUMMERLAND is the site for an American rock/music festival and the destination of three friends in this queer an also straight coming-of-age story.  It is a Canadian film shot in Alberta with the vast land on display standing in for the American roads.

Lankyboy is a filmmaking duo comprised of Noah Kentis and Kurtis David Harder.  One of them can be seen at the end of the film’s outakes.

The film follows three friends embarking on a road trip to attend the Summerland music festival fresh off of graduation.  Bray (Chris Ball) at first plans the trip with hi roommate, Oliver (Rory J, Saper, who in real life is really a Brit) a Brit on a student visa to study in the States. Die to a few mishaps, the two are joined by Oliver’s girlfriend, Stacey.  Bray is planning to meet up with Shawn (Dylan Playfair), a boy he met on a dating site who he's convinced is questioning his sexuality.   Bray but when Oliver's girlfriend Stacey (Maddie Phillips, TEENAGE BOUNTY HUNTERS) joins last minute, things get complicated as Bray has been using her photos to get close to his crush.  The big question is how Bray is going to explain everything to Shawn, who thinks he is meeting his girlfriend.  Bray, up to the very end of the ilm thinks Shawn is not only a closet queen but his should mate.  The meeting is left right up to the very end of the film, serving as the story’s climax.

SUMMERLAND works also as a road trip comedy.  Lankyboy’sfilm takes 30 minutes or so to get on a footing.  Before that the film seems lacking in direction, and the antics of the two friends look meaningless and uninteresting.  During the raid trip, the three stop at various places for no real reason.  Surely but slowly the relationship of the three falls into place.  Oliver and Stacey are quite very much in love, though they do not really know how to deal with the situation.  Thethree also take partake in an assortment of drugs that they had planned for the music festival but end up consuming them during the trip.   Lankyboy uses fuzzy n distorted images, hallucinations and silly talk to illustrates the effects of the drugs.  in one town where the three visit, they see a street performer dancing to his music.  “What was that?” asks Stacey.  “I don’t know but I like it.”  she adds.  That is pretty identical how Lankyboy’s film feels at this stage.

But as the film progresses, Lankyboy pulls off a few neat tricks.  In the film’s best segments when Oliver loses Stacey as a girlfriend, he freaks out and blames Bray.  Bray remains silent and looks on.  The scene demonstrates how a bit of quiet allowing the audience. to absorb the material can do for the movie.

The film also goes agains cliches.  The typical message of “Be yourself,  He will love you fro the person you are…” for a film with this theme is instead played for laughs.

What initially began as an uneventful road trip turns out a few neat surprises.  Overall - a solid coming-of-age comedy not restricted to the enjoyment of queer folk.

SUMMERLAND is available on iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay and Amazon in all English-speaking territories on September the 14th.  Well worth a look.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCj4jkeoFrs&feature=youtu.be


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This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 25, 2020)

09 Sep 2020




Directed by Tom Dobly

In the recent film HOPE GAP, the Bill Nighy character finally has had enough after more than a decade of marriage and decides to leave the wife played by Annette Bening.  The film shows the greater the pain that is suffered, the longer the marriage.  When Nighy finally tells his wife his decision, she displays denial of the situation.  But Nighy is firm in his decision.  The wife/husband roles are switched in THE ARTIST’S WIFE.  Again, this is a strained marriage especially when the husband, Richard (Bruce Dern) is, in the words of his wife, Claire (Lena Olin) a brilliant, create and crazy (He questions the class he teaches in University by beginning with degradation questions like “Why do we paint?” before getting personal insulting with the individuals in the class.) individual.

At the film’s start, Claire’s friend tells her that a divorce is when the two decide at the same time to separate.  She continues to say that she has never been so happy since the separation.

There is no surprise what the film is about.  As the title implies, the story centres on the artist’s wife.  Claire is much younger than Richard, the American famous painter.  The film centres on Claire’s own artistic ability to paint, which is dwarfed or rather put to a halt by her husband’s success.   

The film’s sub-plots involve Richard’s slow succumbing to Alzheimer’s, the relationship between Richard and Claire, Richard’s troubled relationship with his daughter, Claire’s need for fulfillment both sexually and artistically.    It is a slow and painful process to watch such a character in any film, less more depressing during this time of Covid-19 self-isolation or lockdown, depending where one is.  Still, Claire manages, while Dobly’s script also does not neglect Claire’s flaws and vulnerability.

The film’s benefits from Swede actress Lena Olin in the title role of the long-suffering wife.  Olin has just turned 65 with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in ENEMIES: A LOVE STORY but it is Philip Kaufman’s 1988 THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING that shot her to fame.  She is still incredibly attractive with a model’s body at her age.  This is Olin’s film for sure, aided aptly in the acting department by veteran, twice Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (NEBRASKA and COMING HOME).

For a film that deals with the demise of old age, THE ARTIST’S WIFE dispenses with nostalgia and false comfort.  It rises above above films that have old age as its setting, despite it being a difficult watch.

The paintings on display in the film are from no fewer than half a dozen different painters.  They look convincing enough to fool the audience to the fact that these might be masterpieces.

THE ARTIST’S WIFE was supposed to be theatrically released on April the 3rd, but the release date has not been unset due to the Convid-19 Pandemic.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wh1DD0b7Wk


Directed by Gloria Ui Young Kim

The indie feature shot around the streets of Toronto shows the difficulty of a mother  raising a kid while dealing with poverty and other hardships.  The mother, Debra (Tina Jung) is Korean and she could very well be a single mother, for the father is more of a burden to the her, coming in and out of her and the daughter’s life and making false promises of a comfortable home.  Better no promises than broken promises.

Queen follows the life of the 29-year old Debra, a stripper looking after her 10-year old daughter Mona (Eponine Lee).  The father, Sarge (Jesse LaVercombe) nothing is mentioned in the film of them being wed, was one of her clients before becoming the father.  But Sarge is a gambler (though he wins occasionally) who fails to keep  his promise of looking after the family.  Sarge often disappears for a time.  When rent cannot be paid, mother and daughter are evicted from their apartment.  A kind soul  helps them out before Sarge returns.

QUEEN is reportedly based on the experiences of the film’s writer/director Gloria Kim.

There is nothing really surprising in the story.  What happens in the film could very well happen in real life and one wonders which part of the story is reflected in the director’s life.

Director Kim spends a lot of screen time developing the personalities of each character.  This is what is the most commendable of Kim’s film - that she shows both the strengths and weaknesses of each of her characters, making them very human.

The films works so that the audience feels sympathetic to Mona and Debra.  The same cannot be said for Sarge.  Despite being a female film with strong female characters with the protagonist also being female with a daughter, the role of the Good Samaritan, the owner, Ian (Shaun Benson) of a local thrift shop who helps them out is beautifully written.  Here, Ian is shown as a sympathetic man who deserves more that what dished out to him.  He deserves love that has somehow eluded him.  The opportunity of helping Debra offers him a chance.

Debra’s race does not work against her but for her in the script.  Her Korean looks serve to highlight the fact that orientals are more favourable for the reason that they are both pretty and more obliging.  The other time race is used in the script os Debra’s mother disowning her for her past deeds.  Debra was caught as a child by her mother having sex with the father.  In white culture, the father would be blamed, but in Korean culture, the mother blames the kid instead. 

QUEEN was screened at the Canadian Film Fest and came away with awards for Best Indie Film and director and a prize fo Eponine Lee playing 10-year old Mona.  QUEEN is not super excellent but it is a sincere film made with care and thought.

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

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Toronto International Film Festival 2020 Capsule Reviews

08 Sep 2020

Toronto International Film Festival 2020 (45th Edition)

It is different this year - a real challenge for all.  The 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, takes place September 10–19, and is tailored to fit the moment, with physical screenings and drive-ins, digital screenings, virtual red carpets, press conferences, and industry talks. This year’s selection comprises a lineup of 50 new feature films, five programmes of short films, as well as interactive talks, film cast reunions, and Q&As with cast and filmmakers.

Films on offer will reflect first-rate international cinema, documentaries, and Canadian creativity. The representation of women amongst TIFF’s film programmers is reflective of the organization’s continuing commitment to normalizing gender parity and equality for future generations.

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.  Press attends screenings via streaming.

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.

Capsule Reviews:  (Please check this site for daily updates during the festival)

180° Rule (Iran 2020) ***

Directed by Farnoosh Samadi

Sara (Sahar Dolatshahi), a beloved school teacher, lives in Tehran with her husband, Hamed (Pejman Jamshidi), and their five-year-old daughter, Raha.  They are preparing to attend a wedding in northern Iran.  Hamed cannot attend and forbids Sara and the daughter to go.  They go against his wishes and a freak accident kills Raha.  Sara decides to keep the fact that they went to the wedding from him and that Raha was killed by being hit by a car.   This is story of secrets and lies and what blame, mistrust and anger can do to an individual.  In this story, vividly told so that the audience sees and feels the anguish that unfolds, there is clearly no one that will emerge unscathed by the tragedy.  Samadi also tackles the issue of male domination in Iran, Iranian tradition, family fabric and the court system. 

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/456600418

76 DAYS (USA 2020) **

Directed by Hao Wu, Wei Xichen and Anonymous

76 DAYS is the period of time Wuhan, China remained in lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 virus that is still affecting the world today.  The film records life in the city of Wuhan for the 11 million people who lived there while focusing on the local hospital.  There, dedicated staff, the front line workers go beyond their duty to care for the infected, mainly old people, some who recover and others that do not.  A segment shows a hospital staff informing the family of those who passed away.  It is a raw look at the stress and trauma in a lockdown but the film, which does not contain a voiceover, does not inform or educate what many already know from the news that have saturated the media.  One wishes there would have been more insight on perhaps how a strict lockdown works, and how the virus is contained, but no such luck.  Everybody in the film is good intentioned.  The film is one-sided in that there is no record of dissidents who do not obey the lockdown procedures or flaunt the hospital rules.

Trailer: (unavailable)


AKILLA’S ESCAPE (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Charles Officer

An assured sophomore piece after his 2008 NURSE.FIGHTER.BOY, AKILLA’S ESCAPE is writer/director Charles Officer violent drug drama demonstrating that black lives matter.  When a routine deal goes bad, a drug trader, Akilla (Saul Williams) tries to set things right while unexpected circumstances force him to confront his traumatic origins.  Narrowly making it out alive, he captures one of the thieves, a teenaged Jamaican boy named Sheppard.  Sheppard reminds Akilla of his past that he now tries to escape from.  But circumstances do not allow Akilla to do so easily.   The film is aided by an awesome soundtrack by poet-musician-actor Saul Williams — who also collaborated with Massive Attack’s 3D.   Though the story is familiar, Officer crafts a moving and exciting drama leading to an explosive climax.  The film boasts a cast of familiar Canadian actors that deliver convincing performances to boot.

Clip: https://deadline.com/video/akillas-escape-tiff-world-premiere/


APPLES (Greece 2020) **

Directed by Christos Nikou

Director Nikou worked as the assistant director on Yorgos Lanthimos’s absurdist surreal comedy DOGTOOTH in 2009.  His debut film, APPLES direct from the Venice Film Festival,  obviously draws many similarities to Lanthimos’s style of direction.  APPLES, however is a drama rather than a comedy making it a much harder and slower watch.  The film opens with the main character played by Aris Servetalis being awoken on a bus, not remembering anything including who he is.  He is brought to a hospital for examination.  Apparently there is an epidemic going around where many are suffering amnesia out of the blue and for no reason.  The character eats an apple and is seen eating apples which is the reason the film is so called.  Nothing really happens except that the film visualizes the pain and suffering due to the unexplained illness.  The character is offered a new identity by the hospital to survive as his memory is not improving at all, as evident in the tests (very slow ones) conducted.  The film might be more current due to the Pandemic Covid-19 virus, but Nikou's film requires patience and goes nowhere.  An OK watch if you like this sort of Kafka-ish thing, otherwise this exercise will be totally boring.

Trailer: https://www.firstshowing.net/2020/promo-trailer-for-greek-comedy-apples-exploring-selective-memory/

BANDAR BAND (Iran 2020) **
Directed by Manijeh Hekmat

Bandar Band is an Iranian drama film that has a documentary feel, directed by Manijeh Hekmat.  The setting is the 2019 Iran floods where most of the country’s provinces were underwater.   The Khezestan Province is the area where the film is shot and it is a magnificent look at waters in the landscape.  Amidst the mayhem, a trio of musicians including an expecting woman who have entered a music competition in Tehran are trying their best to drive their van in time to compete.  An few tunes, mainly folk songs, nothing really impressionable are sung by the trio.   Nothing much happens - they encounter other vehicles stuck in the mud; visit a village destroyed by the floor waters and so on.  The road trip is a bit of a bore, unless one likes this kind of meandering film with lots of flooded landscape to look at.

Trailer: https://cineuropa.org/en/video/391533/


BEGINNING (France/Georgia 2020) ****
Directed by Dea Kulumbegashvili

BEGINNING is the story of Yana (Ia Sukhitashvili), wife of  David (Rati Oneli), a Jehovah’s Witness missionary in a predominantly Christian Orthodox mountainside village in Georgia.   Their Kingdom Hall is attacked during a service and the modest place of worship left in ashes.  David manages to obtain CCTV footage of the attack and Yana, who is searching for purpose in life, becomes fixated on justice.  The film plays like an Andrei Tarkorvski film from director Dea Kulumbegashvili’s long takes and meticulously composed scenes where her actors often move in and out of the frames. There is a segment in which the camera lingers on Yana lying still on the ground for a full 5 minutes only to end with her telling her son: “I’m only kidding. I am alive.”  The film takes a turn when Yana is visited by local police officer (Kakha Kintsurashvili) who has come in to question her about the fire.  “Does your husband fuck you on the couch?” he asks her at one point during the interrogation.  What follows is to be seen to be believed.  A remarkable and assured work from Kulumbegashvili.

Trailer: (unavailable)


THE BEST IS YET TO COME (China 2020) **

Directed by Wang Jing

There are several issues on display here - the urgency of current journalism, prejudice of the employment system and personal principles against personal ambition.  Also on showcase is the city of Beijing, shown its all its modernity as well as its nastiness.  The protagonist and his friends stay in a leaking basement of a rundown building in contrast to the skyscrapers that crowd the city.  The setting is 2003, in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic, where a driven, stubborn, and a gifted but unqualified writer, Han Dong (White K) shows up in Beijing to pursue his dream of becoming a reporter in a big city.   He uncovers an illegal operation of forging medical papers, but just as his piece is about to be published he pulls it out due to his principles as he figures that it is the prejudice of the medical reports that is the more important issue.  Unfortunately Jing’s film does not flow smoothly from one issue to the other.  Jing’s first half of this film is more interesting but Dong’s indecision to pull out his piece is unconvincing, though the film is supposedly based on a true story.  Though Jing deals with pressing issues, there is nothing here that has not been seen before.

Trailer: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/venice-the-best-is-yet-to-come-exclusive-trailer


Directed by Ricky Staub

The rare image of two blacks (a father and his estranged teenage son) riding horses is likely to draw one attention to CONCRETE COWBOY, a city western set in Philadelphia where blacks run abandoned stables housed with horses.  A rebellious son, Cole is expelled from school in Detroit and left by his fed-up mother to his father played by Idris Elba.  CONCRETE COWBOY based on the novel ‘Ghetto Cowboy’ is a well acted and executed father and son drama (including the expected confrontation scene) with some excellent filming of horses and humans.   Despite a rather cliched plot and cliched though quite biting dialogue, CONCRETE COWBOY still has enough pull due to the unfamiliar setting of horses in the city.   Much of the humour involves the boy learning discipline especially when he is cleaning up the stables hauling horse shit.

Clip: https://deadline.com/video/idris-elba-stranger-things-caleb-mclaughlin-concrete-cowboy-clip-toronto/


Directed by Spike Lee

Chosen as TIFF’s 2020 opening Gala, DAVID BYRNE’S AMERICAN UTOPIA is an exuberant musical that rocked Broadway in 2019.  The opening number in which Byrne croons ‘Here’ while holding a model of the human brain indicates more delights that are to come.  Spike Lee directed his stage musical/play.  Based on Byrne’s album and musings on life and living in the modern age, the film is entertaining, funny, inventive (theatre wise) and insightful the David Byrne’s way.  He includes a segment on nonsense poems - trying to make sense of a senseless world.  There is a bit too on the Black Lives Matter issues.  A few of Byrne’s old favourites like ‘Once in a Lifetime’ and ‘Burning Down the House’ are performed as well.  For the most part, the ageless Byrne has a wonderful voice that is heaven to listen to.

Trailer: (unavailable)

ETE 85 (SUMMER OF 1985) (France/Belgium) ***** Top 10

Directed by Francois Ozon

French director Francois Ozon in top form with a moving and complicated film about youth, the way older directors like Eric Rohmer make superior films on the subject.  The film opens with 16-year old Alexis (Felix Lefevre) taken into questioning by the police on the death of an older boy David (Benjamin Voisin).  It takes 30 minutes into the film before Ozon presents the first gay scene of the two young boys in bed.  The film is told in dual time lines.  Ozon teases his audience often creating the audience in anticipating what is to come creating both excitement and mystery.  One is the death of David and it is only revealed how Alexis is involved after two thirds of the film.  Alexis has a hard-on early in the film while entering the bath, and one wonders (before it is revealed of the gay relationship) whether that was due to the sexuality of David or David’s beautiful mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).  The love relationship is revealed to be a complex one with the idea of falling in love not with any person but an idea of a person one conjures up - the idea well communicated by Ozon.  ETE 85 is based on the English novel DANCING ON MY GRAVE by Aidan Chambers which Ozon brilliantly adapted to the Normandy setting while putting his personal imprint on the story.  (The film has already played in France.)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLaZBRT6Ev4



THE FATHER (UK 2020) ****
Directed by Florian Zeller

In these times of Covid-19 when all the theatres are closed, it is indeed a refreshing pleasure to watch a good play even though it is an adaptation to the screen.  Written by Christopher Hampton based on director Florian Zeller’s play, it is fortunate to have Oscar Winner Anthony Hopkins play the main character, an elderly named Anthony suffering from memory loss.  Anthony refuses all assistance from his daughter, Anne (Oscar Winner Olivia Colman)  as he ages.  As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality.   The play puts the audience in Anthony’s shoes.  When he forgets someone from his memory loss, the audience sees another actor playing that someone.  It is an amazing device that allows the audience to really feel for the demise of old age.   A simple story about old age sensitively and beautifully told.  Hopkins is superb as is Coleman.

Trailer: (unavailable)

FALLING (UK/Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Vigo Mortensen

Actor Vigo Mortensen’s writing and directing debut follows a conservative father, Willis Peterson (horror film staple Lance Henriksen delivering arguably the best performance of his career) as he moves from his rural farm to live with his gay son's family in Los Angeles.  The gay son, John is played by Mortensen.  Mortensen proves here is is a better director of actors than a scriptwriter.  His script has well written confrontational scenes, the climax obviously being the one when John finally having had taken enough and blowing up at his ass-hole unforgiving obnoxious and rude father.  But his characters are given little explanation why they behave in that state - why Willis got so mean; why John’s husband us too accommodating or the little known state of John’s sister, nicely played by Laura Linney.  Sverrin Gudason (who played Borg in BORG McENROE) is especially good as the younger Willis, totally unrecognizable from that role.  The message of the film is not that clear, if there is one, but maybe that one should be a nicer person in life.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3267281177?playlistId=tt9143112&ref_=tt_ov_


Directed by Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer

German director Werner Herzog works once agin with University of Cambridge professor Clive Oppenheimer (they worked together in INTO THE INFERNO) in a fascinating doc about meteorites.  The doc takes the audience all around the world including India, France, Australia and the Antarctica, just to mention a few countries.  An incredible amount of research and effort have been assembled for the benefit of the audience as clearly evident  If at first, it seems a bit too technical, the filmmakers’ enthusiasm quirky catches on.  One scene involves the ecstatic discovery of a South Korean scientist screaming his head off in happiness.  The doc also warns of possible dangers of giant meteors hitting the earth as clips from the Hollywood film DEEP IMPACT show, but the doc also shows the keepers of the world who observe images of the skies taken from telescopes around the world.

Trailer: (unavailable)

FAUNA (Mexico/USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Nicolás Pereda

Nicolás Pereda’s latest feature is a slow moving yet arresting tale of two stories, the first a family drama that strangely transforms into the second, a mysterious whodunit.  It is director Pereda’s camerawork and script’s dialogue that makes her film standout as a work that should be noticed.  The first story, initially told through the windshield of a car tells the story of siblings Luisa (Luisa Pardo) and Gabino (Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez) as they visit their parents in an eerily deserted mining town in the north of Mexico, with Luisa’s boyfriend Paco (Francisco Barreiro).  Awkward situations arise.  Pereda moves into the second tale of an disappearing activist in the same town through the story in the book that Gabino is writing.  Again another awkward situation arise which explains the activist’s disappearance.  Mesmerizing is the best word to describe Pereda’s FAUNA - patience has its rewards.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7K7wR5Ysfk


GARCON CHIFFON) (My Best Part) (France 2020) ***

Directed by Nicolas Maury

If there is one film about the destruction jealousy plays on ones life, this film is the one.  Not only is Jérémie a totally jealous mess but he attends a jealousy group that yields one of the film’s best segments.  Director Maury gives a sad-sack performance as gay Jérémie Meyer, an out-of-work actor plagued by doubts, jealousy (he suspects his partner may be cheating on him), and an unhealthy emotional dependency on his mother, played by veteran French actress Nathalie Baye.  Jérémie, in the film claims that he knows the smell of his partner’s sperm in one scene where he accuses him of cheating.  Maury delivers a sympathetic performance and one wishes his character will succeed not only as an actor but in life as well.  Great to see Bye again in a role deserving of her talents.  The film is part of Cannes 2020 official selection.

Trailer: http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19589541&cfilm=277935.html

GET THE HELL OUT (Taiwan 2020) **
Directed by I-Fan Wang

This is a very bad all-over-the place zombie movie.  The film warns at the start that a bad film causes audiences to suffer 90 minutes whereas a bad Government  has the people suffering for 4 years.   Taiwan’s parliament has been know to have had brawls and in this film, the story satirizes the fact with Taiwan’s parliament turning deadly when a virus transforms politicians into ravenous zombie mutants.   The story involves two young parliamentary representatives: the brash and badass Hsiung (Megan Lai), and her meek, unrequitedly lovesick confidant, security guard Wang (Bruce Ho).   Cruelly kicked out of office after her martial arts prowess makes her a liability to her corrupt and sexist rivals, Hsiung must rely (reluctantly) on Wang to enter the political arena on her behalf and fight (literally) for her policies.  Not that the plot matters. Director Wand directs all the goings-on with total mayhem slapstick - too much screaming and kicking; but the film unfortunately fails to engage being too unfocused with no direction.  Yes, GET THE HELL OUT if you don’t want to suffer 90 minutes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj4idtC43u8



Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green



GOOD JOE BELL is based on a true story of the suicide of gay teen Jadin Bell.   But it is the father,Joe Bell, (Mark Wahlberg) who undertakes a walk across the United States to raise awareness on bullying following the suicide.   The film stresses the reason Joe Bell is taking the long walk.  The least one knows about the film the better. In fact Jadin’s death is kept from the audience (I myself was unaware of the fact as I did not read anything of the story) till half way through the film even though Joe had started his walk.  This is a brave film with stars like Wahlberg (delivering an excellent subdued performance; he also produced), Jake Gyllenhaal (one of the producers) and Gary Sinise (playing Sheriff Weston) lending a hand in what is a very impressive film with a message.  Though it might seem that GOOD JOE BELL aims at being a feel-good movie, it is the complete opposite.  It takes a very sad film to send an important message effectively.  

Trailer: (unavailable)



A GOOD MAN (France 2020) ***** Top 10

Directed by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar

Benjamin Adler (Noémie Merlant from PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE) and Aude  (Soko) want to have a baby, but when they find out that it is not possible for Aude to conceive, Benjamin comes up with a plan to solve their dilemma.   Benjamin will carry the baby.  This sounds really strange but the less one knows about the film’s plot the better.  I knew nothing of the story nor that the actor playing Benjamin is female as Benjamin is shown with a thin beard and lifting barbells in one of the film’s scenes.  Shot in the region of Bretagne (Brittany), director Mention-Schaar makes good use of the location, with the sea visible in many of the film’s segments.  One might think that subjects of LGBT films have run thin, but A GOOD MAN is totally original and a solid drama.  A GOOD MAN is a Cannes 2020 Official Selection.  At one point in the film, Ben and Aude remark: “Don’t you think we will be the coolest parents ever?”  Truly they are and A GOOD MAN is clearly one of the coolest films ever!

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW8DaOLVys4


I AM GRETA (Sweden 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Nathan Grossman

A doc is often as interesting as its subject.  Greta Thunberg a 15-year old Swede child climate change activities could not be a better find.  The film begins with her sitting alone outside Stockholm Parliament with a sign saying she is striking (school strike) for climate change.  It looks really silly and unimportant but Greta eventually gets to speak at U.N. conferences on climate change, and even having an audience with Pope Francis and French President Emanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace.  Director Grossman captures both the intimate moments and big moments of her speeches.  At one point, her father is exasperated with her for not eating.  And she has Asperger’s,  Still the moments where she admonishes the world leaders that they have failed their people are incredibly moving and well worth the price of the ticket.  Like Jesus says in the Bible: “ and a child will lead them.” and the world might be ‘Greta’ again.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B56wLQOmdo

I CARE A LOT (USA 2020) ****
Directed by J Blakeson

J Blakeson (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) writes and directs this black thriller that is so absorbing that one is glued to the screen from start to finish.  The story concerns Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), an unscrupulous money grabber who becomes the legal guardian of elderly clients through manipulation of the courts while sapping them of their wealth and belongings.  Her latest victim is Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) who turns out not to be as harmless as expected.  Jennifer happens to be the mother of a ruthless Romanian gangster (Peter Linkage) who has connections with the Russian mafia.  Marla has met her match and has to release the elderly Jennifer unless face unbearable circumstances.  Blakeson moves the plot  along with breakneck speed all the while keeping the story several steps ahead of the audience.  With the film working so well, one can only hope the climax meets up with the thriller build up.  It does in one of the most deliciously wicked film of the year.  Pike, Linkage and Wiest are superb!

Trailer: (unavailable)

INCOVENIENT INDIAN (Canada 2020) ***

Directed by Michelle Latimer

This doc tells what most people mostly already know that the indigenous people are poorly represented, especially by Hollywood films (including surprisingly NANOOK OF THE NORTH) and past abuses such as residential education and stolen land, but with more insight.  Though NANOOK looks authentic, the audience is informed, as in many cases, that that was the way Indians lived a hundred years back, not recently.  King can be seen as an intellectual, master storyteller from the way director Latimer tells King’s story inspired from his bestselling book ‘The Inconvenient Indian’.  But  taking the audience on his critical journey through the colonial narratives of North America turns out a bit too artistic and confusing that often blurs the point he wishes to make - he as an Indian ravelling in a cab with his driver dressed in a coyote outfit through the doc.  The most fascinating segments in the film are both the archive footage King uses to tell his story and the protest clashes between the Indians and the military.  With the latter, the film makes its point.  A fascinating watch with an all important message to heed.

Trailer: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=685544755643725

Directed by Mariusz Wilczynski

The difficult to follow story, if there is one is described by this line: Fleeing from despair after losing those dearest to him, the hero hides in a safe land of memories, where time stands still and all those dear to him are alive.  This animated feature from Poland is reported to have taken 6 yers in the making - a film about memories.  The animation is often squiggly and difficult to figure out, but the drawings are often grotesque and dreary,  often changing from one form to another.  Insects seem particularly the favourite of director Wilczynski, though spiders and others get squished along the way.  Other strange things like fish head bobbling up and down appear repetitively in the film.   An animated feature that is not for everyone, but an intriguing one, nevertheless with one trying to figure out what is in the mind of Wilczynski when he was making the film.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi642563609?playlistId=tt8387918&ref_=tt_ov_vi

LIMBO (UK 2020) **
Directed by Ben Sharrock

Omar (Amir El-Masry) is a promising young musician.  Separated from his Syrian family, he is stuck on a remote Scottish island awaiting the fate of his asylum request.   Director Sharrock’s minimalist deadpan comedic and sometimes absurdist look at events (the adapting classes; the lone phone booth out of nowhere) reminds one immediately of Swedish director Roy Andersson, whose films SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR and A PIGEON SAT ON A BRACH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE share similar qualities.  But Sharrock is no Andersson.  His film’s over dry humour often falls flat and his film ponders on too slowly.  The plight of the refugees is examined fleetingly when they try to adapt to their new land.   Sharrock's film shows the beauty of the remote Scottish isle with its icy landscape and howling gales.  The ending where Omar gets to perform was totally predictable from the inset.

Trailer: (unavailable) 


MEMORY HOUSE (Brazil/France 2020) ***

Directed by João Paulo Miranda Maria

In writer/director João Paulo Miranda Maria’s sad take on misplaced culture, a black indigenous man, Cristovam (Antonio Potanga) has made sacrifices to adapt to the Austrian colonism of the north.   Christovam has moved to the south and in the film’s opening, is given a long speech by management to explain his wage cut.  He moves into an old abandoned house, the MEMORY HOUSE of the film’s title, which contains artifacts reminding him of the past.  This is the story of a man pushed to the limits with disastrous results not only for him but for the community.  The film is a slow burn with many long takes.  Still, one has to be attentive as to what is going on onscreen.  The cinematography by Benjamin Echazarreta is magnificent as is the soundtrack by Nicolas Becker.  MEMORY HOUSE is a Cannes Festival Official selection and the only latin-American film in the selection.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xm63773htIo


NEW ORDER (Mexico 2020) ****

Directed by Michel Franco

Director Franco demonstrates his talent for building chaos as his film begins with the evacuation of patients in a public hospital to make room for new ones who have more pressing wounds.  The scene looks like something right out of a zombie movie, which is probably Franco’s intention.  But unlike Hollywood type chaos, the ones witnessed in NEW ORDER is terrifyingly real.  The setting is Mexico City where a violent coup d’état is under way.  As the mayhem at the hospital ensues, an elderly man is informed that his wife is to be brought to a private clinic incurring him additional expenses.  He ends up seeking financial help from his employer’s family where when a wedding is now taking place.  The young bride decides to help and more chaos ensures due to the coup d’état.   Franco’s gripping film looks at the points of view of the servants of the wedding and the political unrest and they are not a pretty ones.  Franco's excellent grasp of his material has just won his film the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLFCiiUEkyM&feature=youtu.be

LA NUIT DES ROIS (NIGHT OF THE KINGS) (Cote d’Ivoire/France/Senegal/Canada) ***1/2  Directed by Philippe LaCote

NIGHT OF THE KINGS is set in a God-forsaken place known as the Maca.  The Maca is a 5-star prison set in the deep jungle of the Ivory Coast.  It is the place where inmates rule.  When the current Lord of the cellblock, Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu) is about to die from terminal cancer, the prison is thrown into chaos.  Into the mayhem enters a new inmate, who the prisoners call Roman (Kone Bakary).  He has to tell a story lasting the whole night in order to survive at the order of Blackbeard.  Director LaCote, himself from the Ivory Coast weaves a fascinating tale of horror and survival - a world seldom seen and hardly imagined.  French actor Denis Lavant as a cameo as a character called ‘Crack’ who gos about with a white chicken on his shoulder.  Lacote builds the story to an intense climax where all hell breaks loose in the Maca.  The film also contains a message that one cannot change destiny (God decides all!) and demonstrates the enormous power of storytelling.  A remarkable film!

Trailer: (unavailable)

NOMADLAND (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Chloe Zhao

After the closure of the plant that operated for 88 years in Empire, Nevada because of the low demand on sheetrock, Fern (twice Oscar Winner Frances McDormand) takes to the road in her van like a nomad.  NOMADLAND is one of the most anticipated films at TIFF with McDormand delivering  an excellent performance totally different from FARGO and 3 BILLBOARDS - that of a tired sixty-something woman who has lost everything including a loving husband.  Based on the novel by Jessica Bruder and adapted to the screen and directed by Zhao, best remembered for her excellent THE RIDER,  Zhao captures the difficulty of living on the road like a nomad (the 10 commandments of stealth parking ; how to shit on the road) with some humour while dishing out a charming, heart-warming (including songs and line-dancing) and moving film with a message on life to boot.  Joshua James Richards serves as the d.p. capturing some magnificent  scenes of rural America.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCauQhxMF-s


(Canada 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott

 THE NEW CORPORATION is as the title states, the necessary sequel to The CORPORATION made in 2003 where legal decisions defined corporations as persons and gave them the same legal rights as people.   And the bad results that followed.  The new film examines how, since the 2008 economic collapse, corporations claim to have changed, passing themselves off as socially responsible.  It ends with he current events of the George Floyd riots and the Covid-19 pandemic.  The film is extremely business technical in the first half before becoming more accessible to everyone when poverty and human rights are addressed.  The directors have assembled impressive footage as well as important interviewees and subjects.  While taking down corporations by examination of how they continually fool the world (through the rules of an imagined corporate playbook), the film ends on a positive note of change.  A documentary that is educationally informative that calls everyone to action in creating a  better planet to live in.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWnxlFES2Oc

NEW ORDER (Mexico 2020) ****

Directed by Michel Franco

Director Franco demonstrates his talent for building chaos as his film begins with the evacuation of patients in a public hospital to make room for new ones who have more pressing wounds.  The scene looks like something right out of a zombie movie, which is probably Franco’s intention.  But unlike Hollywood type chaos, the ones witnessed in NEW ORDER is terrifyingly real.  The setting is Mexico City where a violent coup d’état is under way.  As the mayhem at the hospital ensues, an elderly man is informed that his wife is to be brought to a private clinic incurring him additional expenses.  He ends up seeking financial help from his employer’s family where when a wedding is now taking place.  The young bride decides to help and more chaos ensures due to the coup d’état.   Franco’s gripping film looks at the points of view of the servants of the wedding and the political unrest and they are not a pretty ones.  Franco's excellent grasp of his material has just won his film the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLFCiiUEkyM&feature=youtu.be

Directed by Regina King

Regina King’s anticipated follow-up to her 2018’s IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK) is based on Kemp Powers’ play, which is a fictionalized account (inspired by the true events though the meting never took place) of a 1964 meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown.   Themeeting takes palce at the 30 minute mark of the film,  Sounds like quite an evening, which it is from the banter among the friends discussing black life matter issues.  How should black celebrities tackle racism or use the stars to serve the community?  King again tackles the racist issues which she did in her 2018 film, occasionally playing to manipulate her audience against racism.  King also takes a lot of the action out into the open (Ali’s boxing match at emblem; Cooke’s performance at the Copacabana; Brown’s white benefactor’s mansion) so that her film feels less stagey.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0wVmCkt3wI


PASSION SIMPLE (France/Belgium/Lebanon 2020) 

Directed by Danielle Arbid

Simple passion or obsessive love?   The film traces a mother’s falling into an addictive relationship with a Russian diplomat, with whom she has nothing in common.  Hélène (Laetitia Dosch) cannot function without sex with the man (Sergei Polunin) who does not give her his name or address.  She has to wait for his call for unbridled sex which causes her to go crazy.  The sex scenes are erotic enough to show how passionate their love making is.  Much, much more of the same, repeated and repeated as if the audience does not get the idea that she cannot function without him.  Her relationship with her son Paul also deteriorates with her unable to focus on anything but sex.   So what happens in the end?  Two options - she either totally breaks down or she moves on.  90 minutes one has to wait for the answer.

Trailer: (unavailable) 

Trailer: (unavailable) 

PENGUIN BLOOM (Australia 2020) ***

Directed by Glendyn Ivin

Probably a love project from two time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts who serves as a producer and main actress in the film, PENGUN BLOOM which is a true story based on a novel. The story tells of a mishap of the Australian Bloom family and the family’s slow but painful recovery.  The family takes a trip to Thailand where a freak accident leaves the mother Sam (Watts) paralyzed from the waist down.  Sam and husband (Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) love to surf being the typical Australian couple.  The family tries to cope but Sam also suffers physically and emotionally.  Enter an injured magpie the children rescue, which cannot fly.  The magpie is named penguin for its black and white colours and hence the film’s title.  The magpie and Sam attempt to escape from their comfort zones in this otherwise uplifting film about the triumph of the human spirit.  Excellent camerawork done with the magpie.  A bit laboured and predictable in its execution, but sincere (they thought they rescued a bird, but the bird rescued them), nevertheless.

Trailer: (unavailable)


PIECES OF A WOMAN (USA/Hungary/Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó 

The PIECES OF A WOMAN on display in Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s first American film are examined in the segments of her life in intervals of around 3 weeks from the of of her baby during childbirth.  The woman is Martha (Brit actress Vanessa Kirby),a tightly wound executive married to Shawn (Shia LaBeouf) a construction worker with a volatile past, as observed in the film’s opening scene at his work site.  They have found love across a class divide and are eagerly expecting their first baby.   The next scene is the long and excruciating long take of the complications with a midwife (Molly Parker) that interrupt their planned home birth, causing the baby’s death, bringing the film to the quarter mark of its running time.  The rest of the film sees the couple spiralling into tragedy.   But the main point of view is Martha’s as director Mundruczó navigates her loss to the end of her suffering.  The film mainly showcases the acting performances of the apt cast.  Everyone is almost perfect here, though the subject matter proves a difficult watch throughout.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC3aOXokDuc

QUO VADIS, AIDA? (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Norway, The Netherlands, Austria, Romania, France, Germany, Poland, Turkey 2020) ***
Directed by Jasmila Žbanić 


The film is staged so well, the film, based on true events, feels so real and relevant.  The setting is the United Nations military base free zone operated by the Dutch.  The local city have evacuated there though most of the people are outside the base, the base being too small to house everyone.  The Serbian general, Mladić (Boris Isaković) and his troops have occupied the town and are forcing the people to relocate from the base.  The film narrows into the protagonist,Aida (Jasna Ðuričić), a middle-aged English teacher and translator taking shelter in the base.  She tries to save her husband and two sons by having the family travel together with the U.N. forces but with little success.  The narrative is simple and clear enough with the rest of director Žbanić’s efforts left to managing the logistics of the film.   Many of the scenes involve hundreds of people and the filming must have been quite the effort.  Žbanić makes her point clear showing how Aida’s trauma results from ethnic and war violence.

Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Euu9zkCMR-c


SHADOW IN THE CLOUD (USA/New Zealand 2020) ****
Directed by Roseanne Liang

There is one film every year that is totally different in theme that it will blow one away in terms of plot and story.  SHADOW IN THE CLOUD is that movie for 2020.  What first appears to be a tribute to women fighter pilots during WWII turns 180 degrees into a Twilight Zone episode complete with a monster on the exterior of the aircraft as observed by WAAF Officer Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz).   Being the only female in the plane and supposedly carrying a top-secret package that is not to be opened under any circumstances, she is made the brunt of male chauvinist jokes.  “A package?  I also have a package for her,” seems the typical response from the male crew.  Even when Garrett shoots down a Japanese fighter plane is she still being ridiculed.  But through brilliant very funny humour and excellent logistics and production design, SHADOW IN THE CLOUD becomes totally believable despite its sci-fi distraction.  Moretz is also excellent in her role.  The film deservedly got a buyer doing TIFF and will be released in 2021 in theatres.

Trailer: (unavailble)


TRICKSTER (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Michelle Latimer

How do you turn $30 into $3 grand?  Can TRICKSTER do it.  Based on the novel by Eden Robinson ‘Son of a Trickster’, TRICKSTER is the new 6 episode CBC original series, shown here at TIFF as a primetime movie copping of 2 episodes of 45 minutes each.  The series is co-created and directed by indigenous filmmaker Michelle Latimer who also directed INCONVENIENT INDIAN, an artsy doc for the National Film Board also screened at this year’s TIFF.  TRICKSTER is more commercial than artsy and follows the difficult life of an indigenous teen (Joel) and her crazy mother.  Latimer provides an authentic look at a typical out of their luck indigenous movie.  But this darkly humorous coming-of-age story, is actually a supernatural thriller though the supernatural element is little seen in the first 2 episodes.  The first two episodes clearly whets the appetite for more that is to come.

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

TRUE MOTHES (Japan 2020) **1/2
Directed by Naomi Kawase

TRUE MOTHERS is an adaptation of a 2015 novel by Mizuki Tsujimura which tells the stories of several mothers, the most important being the adoptive mother and the birth mother.  The film shows an incident and than flashbacks in time to show the emotions of the mothers and the incidents that led to that state of affairs.  Asato the adopted son is accused of pushing and injuring a classmate.   After that matter is resolved, the film goes back to show how Asato is adopted.  Then there is a scene with the birth mother.  The film goes back to show she got impregnated with him.  TRUE MOTHERS is emotions shown raw but it is a slow burn with the film running 2 1/4 hours.  In 2018, Jeanne Herry’s film PUPILLE (screened at Cinefranco) which shows the emotional and personal pains of the entire adoptive process in France achieved the same results more efficiently and effectively.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lWKozrsAxc


THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS (Italy/USA/Greece 2020) ***

Directed by Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw 

This documentary on the rare object of truffles is set in the forests of Piedmont, Italy, where a handful of men, 70 or 80 years of age hunt for one of the world’s most expensive ingredients – the rare white Alba truffle, coveted by Michelin-starred chefs.  But it is also their dogs, the faithful companions who are the hunters.  Men and dog are shown in many segments -one with a hunter having a birthday with his dog; another with one shopping for a muzzle for his dog cannot partake of poison; and yet another with the two of them in a bath tub.  With a camcorder placed on the dog, the film has vivid scenes of the dogs rushing through the forests or digging up truffles.  The film also shows how truffles are eaten by connoisseurs.  And also how they are bought by different kind of buyers - the rich conglomerate ones and the traditional ones.  The film also depict a different kind of lifestyle, where these hunters know nothing else yet are experts in their field, often not wanting to pass down information to new generations.  This is an 

eye-opening doc though one wishes the film would also show truffle hunters in France and other countries.

Trailer: https://www.thehollywoodnews.com/2020/09/10/trailer-for-feature-documentary-the-truffle-hunters/

UNDERPLAYED (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Stacey Lee

UNDERPLAYED features women (and women of colour) in the electronic music scene. DJs like Alison Wonderland, Sherelle, and Canada’s own REZZ are featured with much emphasize on REZZ.  There is a segment on her in her Canadian home in Niagara Falls working very hard in the basement before getting famous and becoming a headliner in music festivals and clubs.  But the emphasis of the doc is to highlight the under-representation of females in the industry.  One wishes the doc has more music on display more than the artists complaining about females being underrepresented in the electronics music world.  The fact is obviously true as 5% of the top 100 DJ’s were women, in a survey recently, but the film just goes on too much about it.  At its best, the doc shows the realistic the 2019  summer festival season, criss-crossing around the world.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPi-NZtlUSk


VIOLATION (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer

Madeleine Sims-Fewer does triple duty in VIOLATION serving as writer, director and actor which is a messed up film about messed up people.   She plays Mariam a troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home from London to her younger sister in Canada after years apart.  But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge.  Miriam does not know what she wants and the script does not make any effort to make the audience care for her character either.  The film also randomly tackles issues like sexual abuse but never follows it anywhere.  The imaginary sequence where a male is gutted is puzzling if not disgusting.    The directors also seem fond of filming creates like spiders, rabbits and wolves.   Too many things shown going on on the screen in a story in which little happens in a pretentious, slow burn of a pretentious psychological drama.

Clip: https://bloody-disgusting.com/exclusives/3631326/violation-exclusive-clip/

THE WAY I SEE IT (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Dawn Porter

The subject is former White House chief photographer Pete Souza and the subjects are ex-Presidents Ronald Reagan, Barrack Obama and to a lesser extent, current President Donald Trump.  Souza reflects mostly on the Obama presidency and what it stood for, in this timely, election-year documentary.  Director Dawn Porter also knows the power of images from her documentaries such as John Lewis: Good Trouble and Bobby Kennedy for President. THE WAY I SEE IT, a fast moving and informative documentary with a huge chunk on politics is a doc for everyone including those who hate politics because of he way director Porter treats her material.  The amazing thing about Souza’s photographs, is the fact that they show more of the subjects than the photographer.  And that is the way it should be.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L4ktHbelhc

WILDFIRE (UK/Ireland 2020) ***

Directed by Cathy Brady

WILDFIRE centres on sisters Lauren and Kelly, an inseparable pair brought up in a small Northern Ireland town by the Irish border.  When the film opens, Kelly has returned to the town after an unexplained one year absence.  Their lives fell apart with the mysterious death of their mother.  Left to pick up the pieces, Lauren is confronted with their dark past when Kelly returns home having been missing for a year.  Director Brady keeps the mystery from her audience.  In the meantime, Kelly is shown to be a bit unstable, jumping into the water fro a swim in the night and digging up the garden in the backyard in the wee hours of the morning.  But it is the caustic actions resulting in the sibling bond that causes trouble.  Director Brady’s film is truly Irish in all aspects from the landscape to the people and slang and to the incidents taking place in the story (like the chucking of rubbish out of vehicles, which is a common problem in Ireland).  Actress Nika McGuigan who plays Kelly passed away last year from cancer and the film is dedicated to her.

Clip: https://deadline.com/video/wildfire-first-clip-for-toronto-drama-from-the-last-king-of-scotland-happy-as-lazzaro-once-producers/

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This Week's Film Reviews (Sep 11, 2020)

03 Sep 2020



Directed by Natalie Krinsky

The Broken Hearts Gallery in this film is an art gallery comprising of artifacts left behind from failed relationships.  The reason this type of gallery does not exist in real life is that it is a really stupid idea.   This equally silly film, in the guise of a romantic comedy has one believe that people will contribute to this idea of a gallery.  And donate some money into it as well. 

The gallery is obviously the idea of the film’s protagonist, Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan), a 20-something art gallery assistant living in New York City, who also happens to be an emotional hoarder.  She saves a souvenir from every relationship she has ever been in,  She dislikes being called a hoarder, but she clearly is one.

It all begins, rather obviously, when Lucy gets dumped by her latest boyfriend.  Lucy is inspired to create The Broken Heart Gallery, a pop-up space for the items love has left behind. Word of the gallery spreads, encouraging a movement and a fresh start for all the romantics out there, including Lucy herself.

If the above description of the film sounds tiresome, so is the film, a Harlequin type romance so predictable (when Lucy is picked up by Nick in a car by accident, one knows that she will meet Nick again with a romance in the buds) with a protagonist who is supposed to be funny as well as a sort of standup comic.  There are more irritations than laughs in this film. 

And what is screen and stage legend Bernadette Peter doing in this movie? 


The film opens in theatres September 11th.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3418013977?playlistId=tt2140571&ref_=tt_pr_ov_vi

I AM WOMAN (Australia 2019) **

Directed by Unjoo Moon

I AM WOMAN is the famous female anthem that stands for woman’s rights and also Australian singer Helen Reddy’s most popular hit.  Moon's film is part biopic part feminist movement set in NYC of 1966.  It traces the difficult climb to fame of the talented singer at a time when women were fighting for their rights of equal pay, voice and employment.  Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays the 24-year old singer who starts making headway with the fiercely ambitious Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) who sweeps Helen off her feet and rapidly becomes both her husband and her manager.   Jeff's dogged insistence ensures that Helen's golden voice gets heard.  Every famous person has his or her downfall and Reddy’s takes the form of her coke snorting husband.  Wald is an easy target since the film promotes women and puts down men.  The film also stereotypes coke users and Wall is portrayed as a totally bad husband with no redeeming qualities.  The film plays to the popular audience with lots of her popular hots (Delta Dawn, Angie Baby, I Don’t Know How to Love Him) and offers little new insight on the female movement.  Reddy can do no fault in the entire film.



OUR TIME MACHINE (China/USA 2019) **
Directed by Yang Sun and S. Leo Chiang

The concept of the doc is that every single person has his or her own time machine.  As H.G. Welles, the author of THE TIME MACHINE wrote, those take take us back in time are called memories and those that take us forward are called dreams.  OUT TIME MACHINE covers both dreams and memories.

The film, winner of the Best Cinematography Award at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, is a personal and intimate look at Chinese artist Maleonn (Ma Liang, who appears in almost every scene) as he sets out to stage an ambitious performance piece about time and memory when his father, the former artistic director of the Shanghai Chinese Opera Theater, is diagnosed with dementia.  Maleonn hopes the work will bring the them together artistically and personally but as time goes on, and his father's condition deteriorates, he is torn between the original goal to honour his father and the pressure of finding commercial success.

Maeonne’s father’s Alzheimer’s prevents him for recalling his memories while the creation of Maleonn’s puppet play serves as the dreams to recover lost memories.

The doc largely filmed in Mandarin and shot in China with a few segments in NYC is a very intimate and personal study of the creation process.  It is at times too personal that it disaffects the audience.  The majority of the doc is devoted to the preparation and final performance of the puppet play.  All the major problems are involved including the logistics, scheduling, the mechanics and particularly the financing.  The company runs out of money and needs to have more sponsors come on board.  It is odd that so many of the troupe travel to New York to find finance.  One would think that only a few would go in order to save resources.  The doc turns dark at one point for no real reason at all with gothic images appearing amidst the puppetry.

It is quite obvious that a lot of re-enactments were carried out in the film, especially that it is impossible to shoot father’s surprise or saying when he has his memory loss.   The film also praises the efforts of Maleonn to reconnect with his father.  This goes a bit beyond the comfort zone.  One really wonders the purpose of all this.  Alzheimer’s is part of growing old, I should know as my mother passed away from Alzheimer’s and Maleonn and family should start thinking of moving on.  At one point, father and mother were looking for old age homes, which is a good sign.

At the film’s best, the film examines the struggles of old age.  The best segment shows the shiny glimmer of a tear on Maelonn’s mother’s eye as she complains about the enormous effort involved in looking after her husband.  At its worse, the doc over praises Maleonn’s efforts to no end in putting the play together.

  The mechanics of the puppets are impressive but this is no robotics.  The puppeteers that move them can also be seen on stage during the performances.

OUR TIME MACHINE opens in over 35 virtual cinemas across the nation on September 11th. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h97dwAcNf9k


Directed by David Ayer

David Cuevas (Bobby Soto) is a family man who works as a gangland tax collector for high ranking Los Angeles gang members.  He makes collections across the city with his partner Creeper (Shia LaBeouf) making sure people pay up or will see violent retaliation.  An old threat returns to Los Angeles that puts everything David loves in harm's way.

There is nothing surprising in this cliched ridden delivery of story of a family caught in gangland drug drama.  It is expected of writer/director David Ayer who has doctored several similar scripts including the famous Antonio Faqua’s TRAINING DAY that starred Denzel Washington that earned Washington his Oscar.  Both films share similar scenes of two buddies by ‘career’ driving together in a car.  The tax collector meets his due with David’s wife and children targeted by his rime rival.  He realizes the error of his ways and changes for the better.  The violence that ensures; the ultra vision villain; the loving wife or girlfriend - nothing occurs in the film that has not seen before.  But to Ayer’s credit, his film is still entirely watchable as Ayer is able to put in little details that enhance each segment.  Example is the blood dripping cockerels that the villain uses in a scene where he pledges his soul to the devil so as to be rewarded by being victorious in the battles with his enemies; or David’s children taken out of school.  Ayer makes the urgency real in his fictitious story.  The basic message of the story is simple enough - stay away in any shape or from from drugs; Drugs are bad!

Writer/director Ayer clearly aims for authenticity in his tale.  The gangsta slang use is heavy.  Some of the language will obviously pass over the heads of the average viewer, though not very line of dialogue needs be understood to get the gist of the story.  For added authenticity, actor LaBeouf reportedly had his whole body tattooed for the role.  His performance as a sleazy over dedicated hitman is impressive.  His character is also the most interesting of all of the film’s characters.  “I am born to be the terror of the herd,” he says.  His character of Creeper is actually a supporting role, to that of David who is the tax collector of the title.  Jose Martin Conejo, a famous rap artist who has over 100 albums plays the villain Canejo with super charged force, evil relishing from his mouth as he utters his dialogue.

But the cliched story ends with little surprises.  The villain and hero end up battling a fight to the death in hand to hand combat.  A segment in the script worth mentioning is the combining of the latino and black gangs to overthrow the evil Conejo.

Films like THE TAX COLLECTOR is necessarily violent as films of the genre need this violence to make them work.  The TAX COLLECTOR is ultra-violent that will put many audiences off.

The film is available  on VOD September the 8th.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8s4PZ0JENc

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This Week's Film Reviews (Sept 4th, 2020)

31 Aug 2020



Directed by Arthur Jones

Have you heard of Pepe the Frog?  You would have if you are an ardent internet user or a kid watching cartoons or reading comic books.  Or a total loser two has used Pepe as a meme.

The word meme has been popularized with the advancement of the internet, especially through Youtube and Facebook.  A meme is an idea, behaviour, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.  A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.  Pepe the Frog is a meme.

The film follows artist Matt Furie, creator of the comic character Pepe the Frog, who begins an uphill battle to take back his iconic cartoon image from those who used it for their own purposes.

The title comes from one of Matt’s cartoons.  Pepe discovers a friend while opening the toilet door, taking a piss with his pants and trousers pulled right down to the floor.  “Feels Good Man” is the reason for doing so.  This and Matt’s drawing of the sad face frog began to get extremely popular and surface on the internet.  Others have used pep’s image to propagate hate crimes.  Kill Jews are example of words that come out from Pepe’s mouth as posted on the internet by others.  Pepe became a hate icon.  Matt tries to take back Pepe the Frog, while suing the companies and the people who have used his frog character to commit hate crimes in the guise of free speech.  Trump also comes into the picture.  One can only say that that is America for you - free speech as an excuse to do despicable deeds.

Director Jones unfolds his film in a straight forward manner.  He uses Matt throughout his documentary using with him appearing in a majority of the scenes.  Matt is fortunately quite a  decent looking guy, rather cool in  away with a good conscience thus making a different and of hero/protagonist. The film begins with a brief history of Matt and how he started creating Pepe the Frog.  Director Jones interviews people to have their say on their impressions of Pepe.  The doc then follows the unethical use of Pepe and the reason for doing so.  Experts on the subject of memes are also consulted and interviewed.  Matt comes back not the picture to reclaim Pepe’s innocence.  The film focuses also on the mental effects all this has on Matt. 

The final result is a happy ending that FEELS GOOD MAN.  Jones’ film is informative, good natured and shows that good will eventually triumph over evil and stupidity.

FEELS GOOD MAN is currently playing in Virtual Theatres during the Montreal based Fantasia International Film Festival and also opens on VOD September the 4th.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9l7km6A9EQ

I HATE NEW YORK (USA 2018) ***

Directed by Gustavo Sanchez

I HATE NEW YORK is not so much about the city’s structures or architecture but of the city’s underground.  Filmed over the course of 10 years from 2007 to 2017, this is director Gustavo Sanchez’s debut documentary feature.  Sanchez has condensed hundreds of hours if footage shot on handycam.  The film is quite an eye-opener.  As they say a documentary is often as interesting as its subject and in Sanchez’s documentary there are four interesting subjects.  What they have in common is the fact that they are all transgender activists at a time when the world was not familiar with transgenders.  These four are marginalized New Yorkers.  Sanchez tells their story. 

The four heroines (as they are called in the film) are district individuals that made not only a statement but an impression on New York City.  They are, as introduced in this order:

1. Amanda  Lepore -  She is the most outrageous and famous transgender diva in the New York scene.  Her life is equally outrageous.  She was married with her sex change paid by her husband’s father.  After divorcing, she became a dominatrix, what she describes as a prostitute without the sex.  Amanda is the most interesting of the four.  The camera also reveals what her apartment looks like - filled with lots of mirrors and shoes.

2. Tara De Long - The most tomboyish of the four, she is given the least attention, and she married Chloe described below.  The film’s understatement of her contrasts the enormity of her love.  Tara opens with the words: “I love New York”.  She demonstrates her ability to be a great performer though she is humble enough to say she does not know how.

3. Sophia Lamar.  She originated from Cuba and this singer, actress model worked with Amanda.  What happens when two drama queens get together?  They fight and argue.  They unsurprisingly breakup as friends.  She is the hot latino always swinging her crazy hair during her performances.

4. Chloe Szubilo.  As the film describes her, Chloe is fresh off the farm.  She is first shown walking her go by a park.  The leader of the legendary punk group Transister, she married Tara.  Sadly she passed away and the film is dedicated to her.  Chloe suffers terribly from arthritis and is constantly in pain due to the ailment.

Sanchez, after introducing each separately, brings them together and shows how their lives intertwine.  And two of them wed each other in one of the most romantic segments seen on film.

Director Sanchez filmed his 4 heroines over 10 years.  The result is an intimate examination of his subjects.  The four are confident enough to share their inner thoughts on film, creating an insightful documentary with raw guts and emotions.

The film contains a warning that it contains segments with strobing lights, that might hurt sensitive audiences.

I HATE NEW YORK has played international film festivals and premieres on VOD (available to stream on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, and In Demand) Tuesday September 1st.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFeVJoC4YV0

MULAN (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Niki Caro

Which $200 million production will save cinema?  MULAN or TENET?  Both are expensive blockbusters that suffer the identical demise of having their opening dates postponed owing to Covid-19.  MULAN, however is also available on Disney+ for streaming at a price in areas where theatres remain closed.

MULAN is the Disney’s anticipated 2020 American action fantasy adaptation of its 1998 animated film of the same title based on Chines folklore “The Ballad of Mulan”.  The Disney Studios have had success with oriental folklore before.  I have very fond memories of watching the Japanese folklore ALKAZAM THE GREAT the I was little.

MULAN boasts great sets, sword fighting choreography, costumes and famous Chinese stars like Gong Li, Jet Li, Cheng Pei-Pei, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma among others.

The film begins hilariously with the young Mulan (Yifei Lui) running around the village rooftops trying to catch a chicken while her parents worry about their tomboyish daughter who they want to marry off.  This girl will later turn into a mighty warrior fighting off the fiercest of foes in order to save the Emperor as well as her family honour.

When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honoured warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father (Tzi Ma).

Caro’s film unfolds in a straight forward linear time manner, with no flashbacks resulting in an easy to follow film for the whole family.  The film details Mulan’s childhood, her indictment into the Emperor’s army and then the fight to save the Kingdom.  Being a family film, there is no swearing and minimal violence with hardly any blood spilt on screen.  The fights are well choreographed and the sword fighting tactics are more graceful that scary.  A bit of magic is thrown into the story with the introduction of a witch (played by Gong Li, who steals the show) with shape shifting powers.  The message of loyalty, bravery and truth are added into the story.  As in the Chines culture, there is much respect for the elders.  Mulan sacrifices all to save the dignity of her family and the Kingdom.  A little romance is provided in the story, with little kissing and of course, no sex.  MULAN plays like a fairy tale where the hero, in this case a heroine who discovers herself, goes on a coming-of-age journey and fights the evil villain.

MULAN is also a film that celebrates feminism.  The dialogue in English never fails to emphasize theft that it is a woman who leads the army and saves the Kingdom.  The protagonist is female and the director (WHALE RIDER) is also female, from New Zealand.

Starting September 4, with Premier Access, MULAN is available to all Disney+ subscribers. Disney+ will offer Premier Access to “Mulan” for $34.99 on disneyplus.com and select platforms.  It also opens in select theatres where they are allowed to open.

Trailer: https://youtu.be/1vZm87G3jpw

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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 28, 2020)

24 Aug 2020

The big fims are opening now in cinemas as the Covid-19 restrictions are easing.  TENET, THE NEW MUTANTS and the new BILL AND TED film make their debut this week.




Directed by Dean Parisot

Besides Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, the only important thing common among the new Bill and Ted sequel, the second after BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE in 1989 and BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY are the script’s two writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon.  To their credit, it is obvious that they have tried very hard to put lots of sci-fi (Physics) details into the plot but the result is a dismal failure that looks at two overgrown teens trying to relive their old days.  It has been 30 years since the original BILL & TED.  Both Winter and Reeves were 24 when they made the original and now they are both the age of 55.  So when they cry: “Party on, dude!” or “Be excellent to every one!”, these words don’t really work any more.

Now enduring the monotony of middle-aged life, Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) are warned by a visitor, Kelly (Kristen Schaal) from the future of the need for them to create a song in 78 minutes that will save all life on Earth and the entire universe. The name Kelly comes from the name Kelly Carlin, the daughter of late comedian George Carlin who appeared in the original movie.) The pair work with their families, old friends, famous musicians, and each other to complete the formidable task.  Bill and Ted do not think they are able to write the song.  So, they decide to travel through time to steal the song, supposedly already written by themselves.  Bill’s logic is that if they take the song from themselves, then it is not really stealing.  This is the kind of the logic the audience can predict the characters to be saying.  This excuse lets the duo meet different forms of themselves, most of them nasty.  One version has Ted sport a really big gut, which is probably the funniest part of the movie.  The middle-aged Bill and Ted sport the same shirts throughout the entire movie.  The film’s climax also requires the performance of the song that will save the Universe across time - which implies a good song.  No such luck.  The excuse given is that as long as the people across time sing the song, that would be ok.  Bill andTed’s antics get tiresome pretty fast and so does the lame plot that tries too hard to be original. 

There are segments that do not work any comedy at all.  One is the family therapy session with Dr. Wood (Jillian Bell) where the two couples try to save their marriages.  The other parts involving Bill and Ted’s two daughters are predictable and fail to register any laughs either.

BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE had excellent reviews and made $40 million on a $6 million budget as did the first sequel on a higher $20 million budget while getting mixed reviews.  This new one has a slightly bigger budget at $25 million and one wonders if this new film can earn its production costs given the fact that many theatres still remain closed during these current times of Covid-19.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi611761689?playlistId=tt1086064&ref_=tt_pr_ov_vi


CENTIGRADE (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Brendan Walsh

CENTIGRADE is based on actual events.

In 2002, a young American couple, Matthew (Vincent Piazza, THE JERSEY BOYS) and Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez), travel to the arctic mountains of Norway.  After pulling over during a snowstorm, they wake up trapped in their SUV, buried underneath layers of snow and Ice. As if the stakes aren’t high enough, it is revealed that Naomi is eight months pregnant in their frozen prison.  

Why anyone would defy reason to travel to the arctic mountains in Norway during winter is the question.  Obviously, there are some people who will as the film is actually based on such a couple trapped in such situation as the end credits reveal.

Director Walsh who co-write the script means business.  When the film opens, the couple is already trapped in the car.  Before the first 30 minutes of film running time, 6 days have past with the couple trapped in the car.

There is superb use of interior production design showing the claustrophobic conditions inside the SUV.  The couple clamber from front to back and back to front several times, also arguing whether they should break the windows and try to escape out to find help in the open stretch of nowhere. The camera reveals from the exterior shots that there are lots and lots of blinding white with the highway hardly visible.

This is a horrific scenario similar to being trapped in an iced coffin.  Director Walsh reveals all there is to the situation.  With few resources, a dwindling food supply, and nothing but time, tension, blame, and personal secrets bubble to the surface.  Matthew and Naomi initially quarrel a lot.  A neat observation is the way the male and female instincts take over.  “I will get us out of this,” the husband says, assuming control which the wife obviously expects.  The wife starts blaming the husband that they should have driven on and not stopped.  Naomi at her worst when she enters into hysterical mode.   How annoying can a person be if one is trapped for days with little hope of survival?  Naomi proves it to be just plain awful.  Besides blaming her husband and the book tour, she forgets to put the cap on the bottle of water resulting in spillage of precious water.  When she got her cell phone working for a few minutes, she goes hysterical on the call to her father, screaming incoherently missing the one chance of rescue.   Matthew gives in to her many times.  The script takes the easy out when the arguments reach a nasty peak.  ‘“Is the baby all right?” are Matthew’s words that dispel all anger accumulated from the previous moments.  They eventually realize they must work together to survive in a crippling battle against the elements, hypothermia, disturbing hallucinations, and plunging temperatures reaching as low as -30C. 

Will they all make it out of this alive?  Revealing the outcome in the review will surely spoil the appreciation of this effective horror thriller.  CENTIGRADE is good to see a horror film based on actual events that does not rely on the supernatural mumbo-jumbo.

Opening August 28th on VOD, Digital Platforms and Drive-In Theaters

Trailer: undefined


ENTWINED (Greece 2019) **

Directed by Minos Nikolakakis

ENTWINED directed and co-written by Minos Nikolakakis is a rare Greek that got commercial release.  It has the theme of remote isolation which makes it somewhat relevant in these Covid-19 times.

The word ENTWINED in the dictionary is defined as ‘to twist together’ the three words that can best be used to describe the toxic sexual/love relationship between the film’s two principals who are as different in personalities as their cultures where they come from.  Pavos is a well-meaning doctor who arrives in the remote village of Alyti (I checked the place in Wikipedia.  The place does not exist, so it an be assumed that it is a fictional village.) as the first doctor ever to be stationed there.  Pavos is treated wth curiosity and superstition by the villagers.  It is clear that Pavos needs to gain the respect of the villagers.

Panos (Prometheus Aleifer) quickly falls for Danae (Anastasia Rafaella Konidi), with a mysterious skin condition who lives in isolation in the woods.  He discovers her sexually abused by her father.  After ridding him, he moves in with her.  Actually, he is trapped and cannot find his way back to the village.  As the weeks pass, their relationship grows more obsessive and weirder.  Panos grows uglier and uglier sporting an awful beard to match.  Panos learns of her dark secret and that all is not what it seems.  They get married in a woods in a tree-like ceremony.

The film is a slow burn fantasy horror, with the feel of an adult Grimm’s fairy tale.  One can likely guess how the story unfolds, so there are no surprises safe for one twist in the story (which will be revealed in this review) at the end, which makes no logical sense whatsoever.   The climax is a letdown.  As for predictability,  even the director warns of what is to come.  For example, Doctor Panos is warned right at the start of the film: “Science does not have all the answer as much as you want it to.”  The film resets back to modern civility with the introduction of Panos’ step-brother, who tries to reach Panos be mobile but to no avail.  There is no electricity in the isolated woods and the phone battery dies out as well.

ENTWINED starts off well with excellent built up atmosphere and mood but ends up a frustrating piece work with a satisfactory open ending, making the journey totally worthless.

The film is shot in English (when Panos communicates with his stepbrother) and in Greek (when Panos talks to Danae and the villages).

How to view this film:

ENTWINED opens in Virtual Theatres FRIDAY, August 28 with a North American VOD release to follow September 8 on all major platforms.  Vi rtual Theartes(August 28)-Including: Los Angeles (Laemmle), New York and major cities (Alamo On Demand), Philadelphia (Philadelphia Film Society).

 VOD (US & Canada) (September 8): Including: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu,  Direct TV, Dish Network and all major cable providers.

Trailer: Embed: undefined

EPICENTRO (Austria/France 2020) ***
Directed by Hubert Sauper

Cuba, a place many Canadians have traveled to, to bathe in the sun in all-inclusive resorts is like a time capsule where time stood still for a hundred years.  Vintage cars are driven in the streets and the locals live a life of leisure.

Another Cuba is depicted in this artistically style documentary of Cuba -  a mystical Cuba in which many truths are revealed. 

EPICENTRO is an immersive and metaphorical portrait of post-colonial, “utopian” Cuba, where the 1898 explosion of the USS Maine still resonates.  This Big Bang ended Spanish colonial dominance in the Americas and ushered in the era of the American Empire.  At the same time and place, a powerful tool of conquest was born: cinema as propaganda. In his latest film, Hubert Sauper explores a century of interventionism and myth-making together with the extraordinary people of Havana—who he calls “young prophets"—to interrogate time, imperialism and cinema itself.

The history of Cuba should be known to better appreciate EPICENTRO.  The territory that is now Cuba was inhabited by the Ciboney Taíno people from the 4th millennium BC until Spanish colonization in the 15th century. From the 15th century, it was a colony of Spain until the Spanish–American War of 1898, when Cuba was occupied by the United States (and when the film begins) and gained nominal independence as a de facto United States protectorate in 1902. As a fragile republic, in 1940 Cuba attempted to strengthen its democratic system, but mounting political radicalization and social strife culminated in a coup and subsequent dictatorship under Fulgencio Batista in 1952.  Open corruption and oppression under Batista's rule led to his ousting in January 1959 by the 26th of July Movement, which afterwards established communist rule under the leadership of Fidel Castro.  Since 1965, the state has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba. The country was a point of contention during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, and a nuclear war nearly broke out during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Cuba is one of a few extant Marxist–Leninist socialist states, where the role of the vanguard Communist Party is enshrined in the Constitution.

Director Sauper appears himself in a few segments of the film.  He offers his views on the decollate situation in Cuba.  He is fond of using children to express their views.  During a classroom showing of America taking over Cuba, the children show disbelief that the Americans are the good guys and fighters for freedom.

Sauper’s film is not without humour.  He illustrates how propaganda films were made in a bathtub with toy ships, firecrackers and people blowing cigar smoke to simulate explosions.  It is easier to fool people than to tell people that they are being fooled.

Trump and the United States are once again a target in the film.  The kids have their say about Trump, which makes him look even worse.

EPICENTRO is Cuba - as seen by the people of Cuba.

The film launches inVirtual Cinemas through Kino Marquee starting August 28.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2ycVtJ8leM

MR. SOUL! (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Melissa Haizlip

MR. SOUL with the exclamation mark is the title of the multiple award winning documentary that is especially timely in these times of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ movements.   The doc features the subject Mr. Soul (Mr. Ellis Haizlip) who is the first black show host (and also openly gay) on television, way before Oprah Winfrey and Arsenio Hall.   Ellis was America’s first Black nighttime talk show host during the Civil Rights Movement/Black Power Movement from 1968 - 1973.  I have personally no knowledge of this man as I did not grow up in North America, thus the doc is both inspirational for me as well as an eye-opener which I am sure will also be for many other non-African  North Americans.   The doc begins with archive clips on television showing all the popular white shows on TV like ‘Here’s Lucy’, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ but nothing that portrayed blacks.  When they do appear, it is not in a good light but in the news of riots, crime and such.  Not until a novel program on soul music first appeared that things came to a needed change.  Ellis Haizlip is the pioneering producer/host of the groundbreaking PBS Black Arts television series SOUL! known as the first "black Tonight Show.".

MR.SOUL! is an entertaining, informative and insightful documentary made even more watchable for its arousing music.  It is now available across North America on various platforms so that the whole family can be entertained and informed.

Part of the film diverts to the life of Ellis Haizlip, giving the film a personal element. His talent as a child, organizing shows at a young age for his friends as producer, director and actor follows this same path as the Disney+ documentary of Howard Ashman.  (HOWARD can currently be seen on Disney+).  The biography is done with voiceover over old family photographs.

The best and funniest segment is with Rashan Roland Kirk who was on the show with Ellis.  When asked why Ellis had him on,Ellis replied that because he was crazy.  The segment shows Rashan playing 3 instrument sat one time and then ripping up a chair.  The audience loved it.  The highlight of the doc are the clips of musical performances.  Another highlight are the outrageous afro-hairdos supposed by both sexes.

In case one wonders about the director’s identical last name with Ellis, Ellis is Melissa’s uncle.

This film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival to standing ovations and critical acclaim, and went on to screen in over 30+ film festivals around the world wowing audiences and taking home over 17 Best Documentary/Audience Award prizes and was awarded the International Documentary Association Best Music Documentary Award!

There will be a hosting a special live talkback on opening weekend with the filmmakers and some of the artists featured in the film on Sunday August 30 with other special events coming through the run.  More information will be added as an addendum to this review once available.  Keep checking this site and this review, if interested.

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Directed by Josh Boone

In the Marvel comic series, the new mutants become the X-Force or rather X-Men.  It really does not matter what these super-power mutants are called except that their name mean big bucks.  In the new movie THE NEW MUTANTS, there is only one reference made to he X-MEN in the movie when the group realize that there are not actually in the Xavier Institute but in a prison-like hospital.  The script does not really explain who owns the hospital and little details are given for the reason of the group’s abduction or how the authorities discover their powers.  The group spend half the time trying to escape the facility and save their lives.  The script only calls for one keeper of the facility.  There are no guards, wardens or other doctors.  Just one Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga).  Apparently, Dr. Reyes is herself a mutant with the power of generating force fields, which she uses to control the new mutants.

For a $100 million production, Boone’s film is pretty lean on actors.  Besides the 6 actors, one other Adam Beach has a 10-second cameo as Moonstar’s father.  Most of the money goes into he film’s special effects.

With this prison atmosphere and with all the demons released by the new mutants, the film plays and feels more like a horror movie than an early X-MEN movie.

The five mutant teenagers are – Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt),  who can create illusions; Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), who can open portals to an alternative dimension known as the Limbo; Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), who can transform into a wolf; Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), who can fly at supersonic speeds; and Roberto Da Costa (Henry Zaga), who can absorb and manipulate solar energy.  The film is told from the point of view of Dani, who first appears at the start of the film, imprisoned in the facility.  She meets Dr. Reyes and is introduced to the other 4 mutants.  She has yet to discover her superpower.  The rest of the film plays like a high school movie, think THE BREAKFAST CLUB or MEAN GIRLS.  After director Boone is done with the interaction of the teens, they naturally team up to escape from the facility. 

As far as the interaction of characters, there is nothing that has not been see before.  There is the bullying, first romance, discovery of powers etc.  Even the same sex relationship between the two girls does not surprise audiences any longer.  The story lacks the existence of a real villain.  There is no saving of the world or Universe that typically comes with the plot of a super-hero movie.  In fact, THE NEW MUTANTS does not really feel like a super-hero film as the mutants only use their power towards the end of the movie.

The young actors playing the new mutants are charismatic enough, all sporting terribly good looks, especially the two boys.  One would think that this movie is made primarily for the females, especially since the doctor and the main protagonist are both females.

The best line to describe THE NEW MUTANTS movie is: ‘it is what it is.’

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



(USA 2020) *** Directed by Bob Bowen

Phineas and Ferb started as an American animated musical comedy television series produced by Disney Television Animation.  Originally broadcast as a one-episode preview on August 17, 2007, and again previewed on September 28, 2007, the series officially premiered on February 1, 2008, on Disney Channel, running until June 12, 2015.   There is also an original soundtrack and video game to boot.  And this is their second movie after PHINEAS AND FERB THE MOVIE: ACROSS THE 2ND DIMENSION

The program and also the film follow the adventures of Phineas Flynn and his stepbrother Ferb Fletcher with their jealous sister Candace who is always trying to catch them at their shenanigans.

The film also has, as in the TV series, the recurring plot where the brothers annoy the hell out of the sister Candace who try to expose their mischief to their mother, but repeatedly fail to do so.  Phineas and Ferb's pet platypus Perry the Platypus is also present in the film, working as a spy (named "Agent P") for OWCA (the Organization Without a Cool Acronym), to defeat the latest scheme of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, a mad scientist driven largely by a need to assert his evilness.

Phineas and Ferb travel across the galaxy to rescue their older sister Candace, who has been abducted by aliens and taken to a utopia in a far-off planet, free of her pesky little brothers.  Candace has been sleeted to be The Chosen One but there is an evil purpose.  Their adventures include the meeting of an alien race called The Cowards, so called because they are cowards.  They run away from everything and have an inexhaustible list of things they are afraid of.  If all this sounds goofy, it is but funny goofy.  The film works best when it is in goofy funny mode, as adults can laugh alongside their kids. And laugh-out laughs too!

The film’s best and funniest part is when the characters travel twice the speed of light.  Reality is shaken and the segment is priceless funny.  Also as in many animation features, the recurring theme is saving the world or universe, which in this case falls into Candace’s responsibility.

The animation feature does come with a message, delivered in an inventive hilarious way that only the creators,  Dan Povenmire and Jeff 'Swampy' Marsh who also did the script know best.

The film is also punctuated with humorous songs like “It’s a Beautiful Day” which Candace sings in the morning when she gets up, like the song “Everything is Awesome” in the LEGO MOVIE.

I have never watched an episode of PHINEAS AND FERB before this movie, as I do not own Disney+.  I am now a new convert.  I used to enjoy Hanna-Barbara’s THE JETSONS on TV as a kid, and Phones and Feb follow the same futuristic look.  Less well known than THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN but infinitely more fun!


Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3144334873?playlistId=tt1817232&ref_=tt_ov_vi

TENET (UK/USA 2020) ****

Directed by Christopher Nolan

TENET is the new sci-fi adult spy fantasy by British director Christopher Nolan that is finally released - first in the U.K. and Canada on 26th August and a week later for the U.S.  It would be good to know that Nolan spent a whopping 5 years iterating his script, ideas developed as far as 20 years back and it is one that is as intricate, difficult and in a way fun to try to follow, if it is possible to.  There are very many twists and turns in the plot with new angles thrown at the audience throughout its 150 minute running time.  The theme involves reverse entropy.  If one does not have the Chemistry background to know what entropy is, then that is it.  Nolan does not bother to explain the term.

The film’s protagonist is also called the protagonist (played by Denzel’s son, John David Washington).in the film  The film has an amazing start (looking even more stupendous in IMAX) with a takedown at the Royal Opera House in the Ukraine.  The Protagonist assists in a Central Intelligence Agency operation to foil an opera siege and retrieve a stolen cache of plutonium in Kiev.  During the operation, the plutonium is found to be fake, (be extremely  alert or you will miss this part), but the Protagonist is saved by a masked gunman with a red string on his back.  The Protagonist is then abducted and threatened with torture, but he bites on an apparent suicide pill before revealing any information. Upon waking, the Protagonist learns the pill was a test of his loyalty.   He is recruited into a secret organization, given only the information that the word "tenet" and a cross-fingered gesture will "open many doors" for him. The Protagonist infiltrates a facility where he learns that in the future, technology has been developed that allows objects to have their entropy reversed and move backwards through time. The protagonist is shown a bullet that returns to the gun it is fired from.  If your think the plot is so far confusing, there is much more to come. 

The film uses logic like the Grandfather Paradox.  For example, if you go back in time to kill your grandfather, would you still be born?  Or would you have killed yourself?  If there are two timelines, then you are your grandfather.  The film plays with scientific teases like these, in fact it goes to the extreme in adopting the concept with the conclusion that the protagonist actually hired himself to do the job.

It should be noted that the word TENET (which is used here as a code word that will open doors for the protagonist) is a palindrome spelt the same way forwards and backwards just as objects in the film move forward and backward when their entropy are reversed.

Nolan’s film plays like a super spy film with Washington in the James Bond role.  There is no less elaborate plan than a cargo plane that has to be crashed into the freeport (Nolan spends 10 seconds in the film explaining what a freeport is) in Oslo in order to steal a painting.  With all the explosions, TENET has the occasional feel of his DUNKIRK film.  To his credit, all the departments appear in synch with his vision of his sci-fo opus.

Nolan elicits superior performances from his actors particularly Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh who shows how evil a villain can be.  In the story, his villain, Sator is already set to die, having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Elizabeth Debicki is marvellous as his estranged wife with Robert Pattinson also delivering a stellar performance as Tenet’s handler.  Martin Donovan and Michael Caine make cameo appearances.

It is best to see the film on IMAX.  The press screening was in IMAX and it pays off.  One has to hand it to Nolan that he can glue the audience to his entire film though they might not have the foggiest what is happening.  A fellow critic mentioned at the end of the film that he needs to see the film again.  I replied that even if he sees it five times, it would still not be understandable.  The fact is that there is too much going on in the complex film for one to absorb - not that the film is incomprehensible.  Best to forget trying to follow the plot and just enjoy Nolan's super spy movie.  Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who worked with Nolan on INTERSTELLAR (2014), was consulted on the subjects of time and quantum physics.  After theatres closed due to Covid-19, TENET is the best first film to be seen in re-opened theatres.  Give yourself a treat and see it in iMAX.

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Directed by Matthew John Lawrence

This musical band/horror flick is as weird as its title UNCLE PECKERHEAD.  The titles announce at the start of the film that it is based on a true story.  More about that later!

The story follows a band called DUH (well, that is not so strange knowing that there are artists that go by weird names as The The, The Who and The Beatles) led by 27-year old Judy (Chet Siegel).  The band is comprised of three members, Judy another girl, Mel (Ruby McCollister) and a guy named Max (Jeff Riddle).  They snag a little tour of their band but have no van, after it becomes re-possessed since they have no money (they are also roommate) to pay their bills.  Then into the scene enters an old guy called Peckerhead (David Littleton) with a van.  He drives them to their gigs.  There is only one problem.  At midnight he turns into a human flesh eating monster.  Fortunately, he eats only those who does him or the band harm.  Apparently, Peck can control his demise to a certain extent.  How is this a true story?  Go figure.  Probably some weirdo did drive a band for their tour is the true part of the story taken for this movie.

Life on the road is difficult enough, but made worse if their roadie is a flesh eating Uncle Peckerhead.   This seems like the theme and mood of Lawrence’s occasionally sportful horror comedy.

Lawrence tries to make his film more interesting by introducing characters with weird personalities.  Max himself is a sort of man-child with possible a gay orientation.  Another character is one of the band’s hosts, Nick (Greg Maness) who is so good-looking the he wins over the entire band.  This includes a sexual fling with Judy.

A story like this, with large segments of flesh eating with lots of blood spurting all over the place is necessarily cheesy.  Director Lawrence’s film gets his audience engrossed in the tour - to his success, but unfortunately is unable to hold interest to the very end.  The incident are repeated only with a different sort of victims eaten.

The band DUH gets to perform a few songs.  It is not everyone’s kind of music - but if you are into the screaming, shouting, found language and hair swinging kind of rock punk, then the band’s music might be for you.  It is not my thing, but they look pretty good if I think one is into that and of music.

UNCLE PECKERHEAD has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing.  I did not think that much of the film, but this film critic can admit that many might disagree with me.

This little indie hits VOD/EST in Canada on August 25th.  The film would definitely have appeal to horror fans, the sort who attend the BLOOD IN THE SNOW and AFTER DARK horror film festivals.

Trailer: undefined


Directed by David Darg and Price James

There have been weird subjects for documentaries but this one takes the cake.  YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE is a documentary about the actor and his obsession with pro-wrestling.

David Arquette is an actor best known for the SCREAM movies.  For those who follow entertainment news, one knows that Arquette has an obsession with professional wrestling.  He even got himself to win the World Wrestling champion, much to the anger of pro-wrestling fans.  This doc follows Arquette’s obsession and the psychology that goes with it.  If one cannot stand pro-wrestling or Arquette, best to give this film a miss.  And even if you like either, this doc is pretty much all over the place, a complete mess and a total boring watch.

The interviewees on view include a choice of his siblings, brother and sister (Patricia Arquette) who have pretty nothing insightful to say, his current and ex-wife Courteney Cox as well as Rick Flair, the Godfather of wrestling.

20 minutes into the documentary, it becomes clear that the film is about the man child’s ego.  Sitting through 90 minutes is more a torture than anything else.

The film takes a breather when Arquette travels to Mexico (Cancun and Tijuana) to train.  The sites of Mexico are a sight for sore eyes especially during these lockdown times when one cannot travel.  Arquette travels there for the primary purpose to improve his wrestling skills.  Still, one cannot fathom his undying desire for the sport.  Even when his doctor advises him against it.  Arquette has wrestling injuries and has been warned of internal bleeding that could kill him.  Yet he continues.  This man has no thought of his wife and children.

“I am quite sick of being the joke,” Arquette says.  A lot of people, he says, have not seen me in the ring.  The audience may have seen Arquette in the ring in the doc and will still be sick of watching any more of the man.  One must give the directors credit for completion of the movie.

Women will even have a harder time being entertained by this piece.  Who would like to see generally out of shape men beating each other up (in play)?  There will be some but not many.  I do not know any women who enjoy THE THREE STOOGES and they were, at least funny.  This one isn’t.  His sister, Patricia Arquette herself says it:”What is it about wrestling?  I don’t get it.  Is it showing your strength?  I don’t get it.”  One surprising segment reveals David fit, muscled and tanned (artificially) after a lot of training.  He also quit smoking and drinking while losing 50 pounds in the process.

As much as pro-wrestling is staged with all the action pre-arranged, one also wonders how much of this doc is real - or really shot in real time or re-enactments.   The segment where   Arquette gets his neck cut or vomits tons into a card box box would most likely be re-enactments.  All this for the sake of entertainment.

The doc has its premieres at Montreal’s FANTASIA International Film Festival August 20th.  Digital and On Demand - August 28th.

Trailer: undefined



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Afrofuturism: Visions of the Future

18 Aug 2020

Free special event this Friday August 21-  Afrofuturism: Visions of the Future from "The Other" Side.

Film writer and programmer Carolyn Mauricette takes us back to the future through the lens of BIPOC representation in science fiction - from the white washed depictions of the past, to the exciting developments pioneered by the Afrofuturism movement, including films like UsSorry to Bother You, and Attack the Block.

This is a free public event available worldwide on Zoom.

For more information and to register, visit:



Historically, when we think about the future and science fiction, the default is usually a 50s version of modern society with flying cars, moving sidewalks, and jet packs, or space travel to faraway galaxies with shiny, new technology. And who do we typically see when this vision pops into our heads? Intelligent white people, enjoying the conveniences of a futuristic society, figuring out the mysteries of the universe, or exploring space to meet or battle extra-terrestrial beings and save the world. But what about the erasure of the rest of humanity, “The Other”? In this lecture, we’ll see how the lack of representation of BIPOC people in science fiction changed with Afrofuturism pioneers of music, film, and literature, break down the definitions of Afrofuturism, and see how the movement has influenced today’s creators towards making a whitewashed future a thing of the past.



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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 21, 2020)

18 Aug 2020

Two fims make their debut, THE PREY and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN on Disney+.



Directed by Thea Sharrock

The Disney+ straight to streaming feature about Ivan, a gorilla is, as stated at the start of the film, inspired by true events.  One wonders how this quite animalistic tale could be based on a true story.  But it is, and will be finally explained at the end of the movie just before the closing credits.

A gorilla named Ivan (Academy Award Winner Sam Rockwell) lives in a cage at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade with an aging elephant named Stella (Angelina Jolie) and a dog named Bob (Danny DeVito) with no recollection of how they got there.  One would have thought that an elephant never forgets.  They are owned by Mack (Bryan Cranston), the owner of the Big Top Mall.  When an abused baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) shows up and is taken under Stella's trunk, Ivan starts to care for her as well and along with the janitor's daughter Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), they help to turn things around at the mall.

But ultimately, the film tackles the topic of freedom that all animals should be free and not spend their entire lives in captivity.  And so eventually the animals are freed.  In real life, Ivan is moved to the Atlanta zoo were he is supposed to have acres of land to roam in.

Based on true story or not, this is a pretty lame Disney feature that likely was made to stand in for the Disney Earth movies.  It does not help that the script by Mike White based on the novel by K.A. Applegate is super sugary sweet with the lack of a true villain in the story.  “There is always good in humans,” says Stella, the old elephant at one point in the film.  The only meanie in the film that might come close to a villain is the ringmaster owner of the animals, Mack, seen losing his patience when training the new baby elephant.  Still, he is all heart at the end.

The humour is mildly funny at best, with silly jones like elephants never forgetting and the chicken crossing the road.  Wait - a fart joke is also included.  Like many Disney movies with animals, the element of the violence of the animal kingdom is ever present, even in this movie.  This is evident when Ivan’s father is shot in the jungle, though only heard and not seen on screen.  The film also brushes away the question of how animals that have been domesticated all the lives can survive in the wild.  The problem is resolved by showing the animals frolicking with their own kind at the end of the film - something not really credible.  The film also gets sappy at every opportunity, trying to ring tears from the audience to take their minds off this mundane story.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is as formulaic as any Disney movie can get.  With the male gorilla Ivan, the main child character has to be female.  Do not expect any surprises in the story.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN was originally slated for a theatrical release on August the 14th and will be released instead on Disney+ on the 21st.

Trailer: undefined

THE PREY (Cambodia 2018) ***

Directed by Jimmy Henderson


In Craig Zoble’s recent film THE HUNT, twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don't know where they are, or how they got there. They don't know they've been chosen - for a very specific purpose - The Hunt.  THE PREY follows a well worn genre of human beings being prey for the wealthy who pay a fortune to have a chance to hunt and kill human beings instead of animals.

In THE PREY, 12 prisoners are chosen from a remote Cambodian prison for this purpose.  But one of the prisoners happens to be an undercover martial-arts kicking Chinese cop captured by mistake.  Xin (Gu Shangwei) makes it from the clearing to the perimeter of the jungle where he has to outsmart the hunters at their own game.  The irony is that after years of hunting down ruthless criminals, Xin would suddenly find himself running for his life.   If Xin manages to survive this sadistic game, he’ll walk out of the jungle the same way he came in: as a free man. If Xin fails, he’s just another hunting trophy.

There are quite a few factors that make THE PREY stand out.  THE PREY is Cambodia’s first million dollar film.  Another is director Henderson’s good use of the Cambodia jungle setting.  Xin uses the wood from the trees to fashion his first weapon.  The fight by the gorgeous waterfall is another good use of the jungle setting.  The interaction of the two cultures of Chinese and Cambodian is interesting, especially the bonding of Xin and a fellow Cambodian prisoner in order to survive.  The sadistic prison warden role is again a cliched and familiar one but one that still holds an audience’s attention.  Vithaya Pansringarm (ONLY GOD FORGIVES) is the perfect villain audiences will love to see suffer a horrible death.

The action scenes are nothing too spectacular and sufficient to hold an audience’s attention.  The hero, of course with his martial-arts skills should outfight any of the bad guys.  Director Henderson has him injured and shot a few times, but Xin still manages to win his fights.

But the film is not without flaws.  One segment has a village take up arms to fight the bad guys.  How do the villagers get these weapons.  In another segment, Xin comes across a shack with a secret tunnel.  Xin concludes that the shack is used to make and smuggle heroin.  How did he come to this conclusion and even so, the script (co-written by Henderson) never take this point any further.  Perhaps the villagers are involved with heroin smuggling and got their weapons in this way.  Or perhaps not!

This is a male movie with only one tone female role of a Chinese inspector that works with Xin.  She at least has some sprite and subdues one of her foes.

THE PREY is not short of plot loopholes.  Otherwise, the film turns out as a surprising guilty pleasure that is entertaining enough given its familiar structure.

Details of how to view this film:


Trailer: undefined



REPOSSESSION (Singapore 2019) ****
Directed by Ming Siu Goh and Scott C. Hillyard (co-director)

Films from Singapore show either the island nation’s poorer class as in Singapore director Eric Khoo’s films like MEE POK MAN or the ultra wealthy as in the recent successful CRAZY RICH ASIANS.  REPOSSESSION shows both.  Tan lives in a luxury condo with a well paying job till he loses it.  Audiences then see the other side, how he has to drive customers around like Uber to etch out a living in order to make payments.  This is the more common side of things - educated professionals struggling to make ends meet only because they have to keep  up with the Joneses.  The stress can lead to hell, as the film demonstrates.

The film is to be praised for its authenticity.  It shows the influence of the British in this ex-British colony.  The short form of mother is spelt ‘mum’ instead on ‘mom’ as used in North America.  Football refers to soccer.  The local languages like Mandarin and Hokkien (the most common Chinese dialect spoken) as well as the pigeon English (‘lah’ this and ‘lah’ that) and common cuss words like ‘Chee bai” (Hokkien for cunt) are heard in the dialogue.

When the protagonist Tan (Gerald Chew) accidentally hits a kid with his car and drives him home, the kid remarks that Tan looks very down.  Tan responds by saying that when one reaches rock bottom, the only way is up.  The kid replies; “How do you know that you have reached rock bottom.”  The audience is primed for worse things that are to come to poor Tan.  Tan strives to make some money through investing in stocks - what might seem an easy but dangerous way out.  As Singapore is a small nation dependent on outside economies, the stock market is highly unpredictable. 

Singaporeans unlike westerners are afraid to show emotion.  They is little hugging or outward or showing affection (except for one hug Tan gives to his daughter, Ashley) in the film.  It has to be realized that this is the Singapore culture, to keep problems and feelings inside.  Whether Tan loves his wife (Amy Cheng) is only shown by a gift he buys for her to make her happy, even after losing his job.  The sexual relationship between husband and wife is expectedly conveniently omitted in the story.

Tan drives a prestigious Audi.  One of the customers he drives remarks about the expensive car.  It should be noted that an Audi costs at least two and a half times the cost in other countries because of the high Government tax on cars to limit the number of vehicles in the small crowded city.  In general, a person spends his whole life paying for the car he has bought.  He has to see the car after 10 years, or he loses all the tax that comes with the car after the period.  At one point in the film, Tan is advise to sell his condo and move into an HDB flat,  A condo is ultra expensive and Tan’s condo could go for more than 2 million dollars or more.  An HDB (Housing development board) is a subsidized government flat that costs only $50,000 and there is a waiting list to get one.  Living in a HDB flat puts one in a lower class.

REPOSESSION is a slow burn, following Tan’s slow downward spiral.  The directors quickly have the audience on Tan’s side at the beginning of the film as we see him unjustly let go from his job.  As expected, his ego prevents him from telling his wife for three months till she accidentally finds out.   She finds out at exactly the half way point of the movie.  At this point, Tan is extremely stressed out.  It is also at this point that the film takes a shift towards the horror that is promised.   The horror is made even more real for the fact it is psychological and not supernatural.

REPOSSESSION is a slow but meticulously crafted horror drama that captures the stress of Singaporean life quite accurately.  Highly Recommended!

A survey of REPOSSESSION’s upcoming Festival appearances include:  Click on one of these to register to see the film.

▪ 23rd Dances With Films 2020 (Los Angeles, California, USA) – In Competition (27-31 Aug) undefined
▪ 1st First Coast Film Festival 2020 (Jacksonville, Florida, USA) – In Competition (4-6 Sep); undefined
▪ 11th Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2020 (Santa Ana, California, USA) – Official Selection (6 Sep) undefined
▪ 11th Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival 2020 (Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia) – Official Selection (9-13 Sep) undefined
▪ XXI Semana Internacional de Cine Fantástico de la Costa del Sol (Costa del Sol, Spain) – Official Competition (11 Sep) www.cinefantasticocostadelsol.com
▪ 3rd Chicago Southland International Film Festival 2020 (University Park, Illinois, USA) – Feature Film Showcase (23 Oct) undefined

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Fantasia Film Festival 2020 (Montreal)

14 Aug 2020

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 (by Gilbert Seah)

This year the Montreal based FANTASIA Film Festival takes on a virtual edition.  But the films are no less interesting.  Fantasia started off as an Asian fantasy genre based festival but have now mouthed into the international scene.  The lineup of films are spectacular.  Being virtual, one can attend the festival on line without the hassle of travelling to Montreal, amazing as the city is.

Being virtual, this is the first year that I am attending this festival.  And I am very impressed with with it so far, in terms of organization, adapting it to Covid-19 times, efficiency of the staff, as well as the selection of films.

I have capsule previewed selected films in this article.  Because of embargo restrictions, some reviews cannot appear till the day before a physical screening.  Please check this site for new capsule reviews.

For the complete program of films and schedule, it is best to check the festival website at:


Capsule Reviews of Selected Films:

12 HOUR SHIFT(USA 2020) ****
Directed by Brea Grant

Written and directed by Bea Grant (LUCKY), 12 HOUR SHIFT is an assured and very funny black comedy about an opiate addicted nurse, Mandy (Angela Bettis) who is involved with an organ harvesting scheme to fuel her drug habit.  Set and filmed in Arkansas, the action takes place during her 12 hour killer shift where everything goes wrong.  Mandy is determined to have everything sorted despite losing the organs due to her dumb witted blonde half cousin (Chloe Farnsworth) who demonstrates that there is nothing dumber than a dumb blonde.  The humour is original and wicked with colourful characters all leading to an exciting climax where the action reaches a manic peak.  David Arquette who also serves as the film’s producer has a supporting role as a thug who hates cops.  Bettis plays the nurse Mandy with the sarcasm similar to Amy Sedaris in STRANGERS WITH CANDY.  12 HOUR SHIFT is clearly the most entertaining film at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

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Directed by Luk Yee-Sum

The mom of the film title is a Hong Kong PR, Carmen (Dada Chan) more interested in her career than in her pregnancy.  She threatens to abort the baby (she talks to the yet-to-be-born baby) if it makes her throw one more time.  Abortion is not a laughing matter, and this segment comes across as really rather obnoxious than funny.   She also keeps the pregnancy from her husband (Kevin Chu), a gorgeous basketball player who is cute that his cuteness hides the fact that he is a really actor.  Director Luk (LAZY HAZY CRAZY) tries to be cute with her quirky characters but the immaturity of all her characters results in a film that is more annoying that anything else.  The film boasts performances by Shaw Brothers’ actors Candace You and pop star Louis Cheng who also turn in annoying performances of annoying characters.  The film gets much worse as it progresses.

Trailer: (unavailable)

BLEED WITH ME (Canada 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Amelia Moses

A 90 minute slow burn psychological thriller/horror in which not much happens in the first half, which is a good thing as director Moses builds up her audience’s anticipation in which not much can be guessed regarding the horror that will occur.  Rowan (Lee Marshall), a shy and awkward young woman, struggles to integrate herself on a weekend getaway with her best friend, Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her boyfriend, Brendan (Aris Tyros).  Feeling like a lamp post, she drinks to calm her nerves, pushing her body and mind deep into a hazy trance, where she begins to witness nightmarish late-night visions that make her feel increasingly unwelcome, unsure and unstable.   Moses drops little hints of the horror that islet to come like a revelation that Emily has just recovered from some breakdown or the scene where Emily sucks the blood from the Rowan’s cut finger.  The best scene is when Emily serves Rowan tea that Rowan knows has been drugged and Emily says to her: “Don’t you trust me?”  A good old-fashioned satisfactory thriller that makes good use of suspense tactics that is worthy of Hitchcock.

Trailer: undefined

CHASING DREAM (Hong Kong 2019) **
Directed by Johnnie To

The opening credits list Johnnie To as the action director.  The MMA fights are as expected, marvellously shot but one also wishes the same for the rest of the movie, which is not.  CHASING DREAM (even the English is broken…. the title should be corrected to CHASING A DREAM or CHASING DREAMS, which shows the filmmakers do not care about accuracy or anything) is a love story starting with a love/hate relations between two young teens, Tiger (Jacky Heung) and Cuckoo (Keru Wang).  Tiger is an MMA fighter while Cuckoo wants to be a star dancer. Cuckoo will stop at nothing to get a spot on Perfect Diva, an American Idol-style singing competition, whereas Tiger will rise and fall, determined to become a boxing champion!   The two actors shout and scream at each other meaningless lines half the time.  If they do not annoy you, the film’s narrative that is a complete mess will.  Director To has made some classic action flicks in the past, namelyTHE HEROIC TRIO and SPARROW.  CHASING DREAM displays To at his worst.

Trailer: undefined


THE COLUMNIST (DE KUTHOER)(Netherlands 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Ivo van Aart

THE COLUMNIST is a dark thriller with comedic overtones about social media bullying.  Films about a timid souls forced to come out of their shells have proven to be great fodder for future films like Sam Peckinpah’s THE STRAW DOGS, and John Cassevetes’ GLORIA just to game a few.  Femke Boot (Ktja Herbers) is a columnist and fresh novelist who has become the brunt of nasty tweets for her opinion that people should be nicer.  The tweets she gets are downright nasty wishing her dead if not calling her names of really awful private parts.  Her daughter is herself facing problems in school for being outspoken to help poorer countries in freedom of speech.  Femke has finally had enough of the cyber bullying and decides to take matters in her own hands.  The bullies find out that they have picked the wrong victim.  Bullies are nasty but victims, when pushed to the limit can be just as nasty if not nastier.  That said,  THE COLUMNIST, a revenge fantasy is wicked and delicious entertaining set in the current times of unblocked social media.

Trailer: (unavailable)

Directed by Arthur Jones

Have you heard of Pepe the Frog?  You would have if you are an ardent internet user or a kid watching cartoons or reading comic books.  Or a total loser two has used Pepe as a meme.

The word meme has been popularized with the advancement of the internet, especially through Youtube and Facebook.  A meme is an idea, behaviour, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.  A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.  Pepe the Frog is a meme.

The film follows artist Matt Furie, creator of the comic character Pepe the Frog, who begins an uphill battle to take back his iconic cartoon image from those who used it for their own purposes.

The title comes from one of Matt’s cartoons.  Pepe discovers a friend while opening the toilet door, taking a piss with his pants and trousers pulled right down to the floor.  “Feels Good Man” is the reason for doing so.  This and Matt’s drawing of the sad face frog began to get extremely popular and surface on the internet.  Others have used pep’s image to propagate hate crimes.  Kill Jews are example of words that come out from Pepe’s mouth as posted on the internet by others.  Pepe became a hate icon.  Matt tries to take back Pepe the Frog, while suing the companies and the people who have used his frog character to commit hate crimes in the guise of free speech.  Trump also comes into the picture.  One can only say that that is America for you - free speech as an excuse to do despicable deeds.

Director Jones unfolds his film in a straight forward manner.  He uses Matt throughout his documentary using with him appearing in a majority of the scenes.  Matt is fortunately quite a  decent looking guy, rather cool in  away with a good conscience thus making a different and of hero/protagonist. The film begins with a brief history of Matt and how he started creating Pepe the Frog.  Director Jones interviews people to have their say on their impressions of Pepe.  The doc then follows the unethical use of Pepe and the reason for doing so.  Experts on the subject of memes are also consulted and interviewed.  Matt comes back not the picture to reclaim Pepe’s innocence.  The film focuses also on the mental effects all this has on Matt. 

The final result is a happy ending that FEELS GOOD MAN.  Jones’ film is informative, good natured and shows that good will eventually triumph over evil and stupidity.

FEELS GOOD MAN is currently playing in Virtual Theatres during the Montreal based Fantasia International Film Festival and also opens on VOD September the 4th.


MARYGOROUND (Maryjki) (Poland 2020) ***
Directed by Daria Woszek

Though slated as a comedy, MARyGOROUND is more a psychological drama/horror that follows 50-year old virgin  Mary as she attempts to change her life after reaching menopause.  She begins hormonal therapy to help her transition, which is all the more frustrating since she has never had children. She fills her apartment that she shares with her niece by statues of the Virgin Mary, a clear and unequivocal representation of her hopes for a miracle.  Though basically a feminine themed film, director Woszek bring both genders into Mary’s secluded wold of work at a small grocery store and her home.  Her decent into madness is creepily documented while the audience is kept sympathetic towards her.  Mary is played by Grazyna Misiorowska (who looks a bit like Ingrid Bergman) who delivers an unforgettable performance.   Not so much a comedy but what happens to Mary is sort of funny/weird.

Trailer: https://fantasiafestival.com/en/film/marygoround


ME AND ME (South Korea 2020) ***1/2

Direct by Jung Jin-young

(no photo)

A fascinating mystery thriller that has the feel of GROUNDHOG DAY without the comedy.   It all genius in a country village, where Soo-hyuk, a primary-school teacher adored by his pupils, and his wife, the sweet and shy Yi-young, seem to be the ideal couple. However, the latter is afflicted with a strange evil. At nightfall, her personality changes dramatically, as if she were possessed, and in the morning she becomes the young woman everyone loves again. When one of the curious villagers comes across a Yi-young in judoka mode, the community, frightened by her unpredictability, decides to build a cage for her in the attic of her house. Unfortunately, this idea quickly turns to tragedy and the couple trapped and burnt to death. Enter Detective Hyung-gu, who arrives in the village to investigate the fire that claimed the couple’s life.  The detective now becomes the film’s protagonist as he suddenly adopts the teacher’s identity losing everything he has had before.  He believes it a nightmare except that he does not wake up from it.   An original story only too fascinating that it leaves an unexplained open ending that might frustrate some viewers.  Still director Jung takes his audience for a wild ride keeping them  guessing all the time.

Trailer: https://fantasiafestival.com/en/film/me-and-me 

THE OAK ROOM (Canada 2019) ***

Directed by Cody Calahan

THE OAK ROOM is played in mainly two acts each with two actors doing all the talking with the exception of one little flashback story of a kid on the farm.  Cody Calahan (ANTISOCIAL) directs from a stage bound script  by Peter Genoway in a film that feels too much like watching a play.  The story begins on a snowy night in a small Canadian town. Paul (Peter Outerbridge) has just closed up his bar when a young man named Steve (RJ Mitte) walks in the door – carrying a lot of baggage.  The shared history between the two results in significant tension before Steve says he’s got a hell of a story to tell. It’s about another bar, The Oak Room, another snowy night, and another bartender visited after hours, this time by a stranger.  In the flashback story of a kid, it is mentioned that the kid is very poor but the filmmakers make a boo-boo with the kid shown running out of a gorgeous huge house that only a wealthy family can afford.  Given the limitation of the film’s settings, the cinematography and camerawork are impressive.

Trailer: undefined


THE OLD MAN: THE MOVIE (Vanamehe film) (Estonia 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Oskar Lehemaa and Mikk Mago 

I have only seen a handful of films from Estonia but of the ones I have seen (DARKNESS IN TALLINN), they are of superb quality.  THE OLD MAN: THE MOVIE runs in the same category, a stop animation plasticine cartoon (looking like the British WALLACE AND GROMIT animation cartoons).  There are twin themes in theplot.  One is the glory of milk and how milking a cow is an art.  The villain of this story is an evil ex-farmer (or ex-milker) who want to behead cows, notably then that has escaped from the family farm.  The second theme is the relationship the family - between the grandpa and the three children left by their parents under his care.  The children used to spend all their time playing games on their mobile phones till grandpa feed their cellulars to the pig in the barn.  The humour is funniest when it gets goofy and absurdist.  The story could not have been more inventive or funnier.  The outstanding thing about this film is its gorgeous old-time animation process which is worth more than the price of the ticket.  Warning! This animated feature is not for children.

Trailer: (unavailable)

PERDIDA (Colombia/Mexico 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Jorge Michel Grau

A dark thriller with a Hitchcockian theme, PERDIDA (a remake of the Colombian film THE HIDDEN FACE) follows the path of three characters.  Eric (José María de Tavira) is a man in crisis.  The conductor of a prestigious Mexican philharmonic, his seemingly happy life is shattered by the abrupt breakup with his wife, Carolina (Paulina Dávila), who leaves him with only a goodbye video and nothing else.  Eric meets waitress, Fabiana (Cristina Rodlo), and finds himself returning to life.  Nothing more should be revealed of the plot that contains lots of sinister overtones, as knowing more would definitely spoil the entertainment.  Director Grau (the cannibal film WE ARE WHAT WE ARE) toys a lot with audience anticipation, a trait found in many of Hitchcock’s films.  The real personalities of the three characters emerge only at the last third of the film, when once only wishes the best for the victim who had essentially put herself in the predicament in the first place.  A slow start but the film picks up after the second half with everything neatly tied up at the end.  I have not seen the original, but this remake is a solid emotional thriller that should not fail too satisfy fans of the mystery/thriller genre.

Trailer: undefined

SANZARU (USA 2019) **

Directed by Xia Magnus

Evelyn, a young Filipina nurse (Aina Dumlao), has moved to the remote Texan estate of the Regans.  Tasked with taking care of the family’s aging matriarch, Dena (Jayne Taini), she also takes in her nephew – suspended from school, and whom Dena suspects of stealing her things.  As the symptoms of dementia get worse – especially at night, when the elder’s behaviour becomes truly unpredictable – the relationship of care turns increasingly strained and abusive. The supernatural element of the film comes from Evelyn hearing mysterious noises emanating from the intercom, and the family’s cockatiel exhibits its own strange behaviour.  Director Magnus’ film is a very slow burn.  The film has an excellent moody and creepy atmosphere better captured here than in many a horror film.  But the narrative is weak and never clearly explains the reason behind the the weird happenings.  The result is letdown of a movie that had already build up high expectations.  The film is shot in Filipino and English.  The film also captures the terrible burden of giving palatial care for the aged.  Warning: This film is terribly depressing!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_YcP3-x84E

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 2020 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  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 to save his family, a scenario that includes two surprise plot twists that makes the film more credible.

Trailer: undefined


SLAXX (Canada 2019) **
Directed by Elza Kephart

SLAXX derived from the word slacks is a sorry excuse of a  medic horror film that supposedly tackles the issues of every day life like GMO products and child labour.  When a possessed pair of jeans begins to kill the staff of a trendy clothing store, it is up to Libby McClean (Romaine Denis), an idealistic young new salesclerk, to stop its bloody rampage.  All the action takes place at the CCC Clothing store where an assortment of managers and workers attempt to survive the mayhem.  The villain of the piece is the store manager Craig (Brett Donahue) aka robot king who demonstrates accurately in the film what overacting is.   Co-written by director Kephart is one movie that wears its plot thing and dreary.  Over-violent for a comedy that is generally unfunny!  so-so special effects with th slacks walking on their own.

Trailer: undefined


Directed by David Darg and Price James

There have been weird subjects for documentaries but this one takes the cake.  YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE is a documentary about the actor and his obsession with pro-wrestling.  David Arquette is an actor best known for the SCREAM movies.  He even got himself to win the World Wrestling champion, much to the anger of pro-wrestling fans.  This doc follows Arquette’s obsession and the psychology that goes with it.  If one cannot stand pro-wrestling or Arquette, best to give this film a miss.  The interviewees on view include a choice of his siblings, brother and sister (Patricia Arquette) who have pretty nothing insightful to say, his current and ex-wife Courteney Cox as well as Rick Flair, the Godfather of wrestling.  As much as pro-wrestling is staged with all the action pre-arranged, one also wonders how much of this doc is real - or really shot in real time or re-enactments.   The segment where   Arquette gets his neck cut or vomits tons into a card box box would most likely be re-enactments.  All this for the sake of entertainment.

Trailer: undefined

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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 14, 2020)

13 Aug 2020

For reviews of any desired films, type in the film title in the SEARCH box on the left of the site's front page.



BLACK WATER: ABYSS (Australia 2020) **1/2

Directed byAndrew Traucki

BLACK WATER: ABYSS is the sequel to the relatively unknown 2007 Aussie horror BLACK WATER in which a killer crocodile stalks its victims stuck in a tree in a remote area. of Northern Australia.  That film did relatively well, garnishing a few awards as well.  The sequel directed by Andrew Traucki (he co-directed the original) is more ambitious with the characters now venturing into an underground hidden cave where a new killer croc lies in wait.  The same premise of victims having to escape from a place totally sheltered from the rest of the world while at the mercy of a crocodile appears to be the favourite theme.

The film begins with the title indicating once again the setting of Northern Australia which is interesting since the scene opens with two Japanese, Akito (Louis Toshio Okada) and Miyuki (Rumi Kikuchi), on a hiking trail.  After getting lost, they fall into a hole that leads to their dismemberment by the croc.  Their body parts lie in full display later on in the film for the 5 main characters to view.

The story moves on to two couples about to take a holiday.  The main couple appears to be Eric (Luke Mitchell) and Jennifer (Jessica McNamee) and the secondary couple Viktor and his girlfriend Yolanda (Amali Golden).  They are met by buddy Cash (Anthony J. Sharpe) who tells them about this hidden cave.  How does Cash know about the cave?  Apparently, Cash is supposed to have been searching for these two missing Japanese tourists when he discovered it.  Cash is as his name implies, out to make some money from his discovery.  The five venture down the hole by rope, eventually getting trapped underground when a storm seals their way they entered amidst rising flood waters.  This is the appropriate time for Mr. Crocodile to appear to offer audiences some terror.

Occasionally feeling like a rip-off from JAWS, director Traucki uses the old Hitchcock trick (imitated by Spielberg in JAWS), not to show the monster till at least half way into the movie in order to enhance audience anticipation.  (Hitchcock showed the first bird attack more than half way through THE BIRDS.)  The tactic works.  Actually not much of the croc is seen on camera and when seen, looks quite ridiculous chomping up a full human body.

Where’s film works best is when Traucki uses the claustrophobic setting of the underground cave with its rising waters to instil fear on his characters.  Where it gets tricky is when he introduces the relationship problems of the two couples.  Eric has been cheating on Jennifer with Yolander, who is pregnant.  Whose baby is it?  Eric’s or boyfriend Viktor’s, who has just recovered from cancer.  Then there is smart talking Cash who is only were to be the first one ticked off by the crocodile.  It is safe to say that a few more victims will fall prey without revealing who they are.  The final plot twist at the end of the film is really silly and totally out of place, spoiling what could have been a decent horror movie.

Director Traucki plays his film seriously resulting in a horror flick generally devoid of humour, but delivers the goods for fans of this genre.  The film is already out on VOD on August the 11th.

Trailer: undefined

HOWARD (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Don Hahn


Made and released in 2018, it sure took a while before a more polished HOWARD, a wonderfully enlightening documentary can be viewed in Canada.  HOWARD is a documentary on the life of songwriter Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics for the songs in the Disney classics like THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (the doc opens with him conducting the score for this film, beautifully shot illustrating the care that goes into creating Disney magic, especially in an animated musical) and ALADDIN as well as the stage musical, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  The maestro died in March 1991 of complications from AIDS at the early age of 40.

HOWARD tells the man’s story.

After a brief showcasing of Howard Ashman’s artistry, director Hahn (who produced THE LITTLE MERMAID) goes right into his biography when he was a child living with his younger sister and parents.

The segments where Howard’s Disney bosses, colleagues and his friends talk candidly about his AIDs sickness are unbelievably moving.  Though hardly any one dies of AIDs theses days, the reminiscences on Howard’s sickness make one more sympathetic to his impatience on getting his songs right or his temper tantrums.  It is as if he does not have much time left with his life thetas then shortened and all these people standing in the way obstructing what he can do.

Hahn’s doc has a different look to it. During the audio interviews, he uses ‘speech bubbles’ indicating who is speaking.  At the same time, the audience can examine the relationship of the person speaking with Howard.

More poignant is the fact that Alan Menken composed the score for the film, while Chris Bacon adapted the score.  When Hahn showed a reel of the movie to Menken, who worked with Ashman on several projects until the latter's passing, he told Hahn that "[he has] to score this movie". According to Hahn, Menken composed the score during the holiday season, and describe his score as "one of the most personal and touching scores that [he had heard] from him”  It shows.

Besides the doc showcasing Howard’s music, there is fair portion of it devoted to Howard’s personal relationships.  His first relationship with Stuart (aka Snooze) is a good example of love at first sight.  They studied together and then moved to New York together where they started an independent theatre.  Everyone dreams of having a relationship like this one.  But alas, this does not last due to their big difference in personalities.   Start was fiercely charismatic and loved to go out to have wild affairs, while Howard was the opposite.  Stuart was the first to die AIDs.  The romance and breakup are detailed amidst archive photos.

Hahn has created a doc about a very-talent music composer and made his story human enough to touch audience’s hearts.

HOWARD premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, and was nominated for the Best Documentary Award at the 2018 Heartland Film Festival, before having a limited theatrical run on December 18, 2018.  The film is now available on Disney+.

Trailer: undefined


Directed by Daniel Roby


TARGET NUMBER ONE is the Canadian title of a drama/thriller released in the United States under another title MOST WANTED.  The synopsis on imdb goes: In 1989, a Canadian journalist investigates the circumstances surrounding the suspicious arrest of a heroin addict imprisoned in a Thai jail.   But the script is written to tell two stories that of the journalist, Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett sporting the most ugly moustache imaginable - a the film is set in the 80’s before it went out of fashion) and that of the junkie, Daniel Leger (Antoine Olivier Pilon).

When the film begins, Leger meets Glen Picker (Jim Gaffigan) who sets him up with the cops led by Sergeant Al Cooper (Stephen McHattie) for money to be sold as a stool pigeon for a big drug deal inThailand.  Leger is not the big fish hooper thought and has trouble but tries to score a smaller deal.  During the exchange he is caught and sentenced to prison in Thailand.  Leger will rot in prison for the rest of his life.  But his being set up means that he should not be responsible.  Malarek visits him in prison to hear his story of how the cops set him up and arrested him.  And the story goes on, told from Leger’s and  Malerek’s points of view.  But there is a major nonlinearity in the timeline of Leger’s story which makes the film a whole lot confusing.

Leger is shown in jail before he is being arrested.  His story jumps to and fro in time.  On the other hand, Malarek is not seen during Leger's arrest, so Malerek’s story unfolds linearly in time.  Director Roby’s script which he wrote should have the timelines tidied up.  Myself, I had to pause to figure out what is happening and when. 

Of the two stories, Leger’s is the more interesting wth his part filmed in Thailand.  Pilon who plays Leger shows promise and he quickly enables the audience to feel sorry for his character, warts and all.  On the other hand, Malerek’s character is a too familiar one that audiences have seen before - the over hard-working journalist who abides with his principle thus neglecting his family.  In the film’s first scene, he misses the wife, Anna’s (Amanda Coot) delivery because of his work.  Audiences need not have to see the couple break up because of the husband’s dedication only to come together again in the end.  The film contains two other excellent supporting performances that of Gaffigan as the loud-mouthed liar and Cory Lipman playing the sadistic rookie cop Al, one that nobody wants to cross paths with.   Al is supposed to be the son of Sergeant Al Cooper (according to the film’s credits) though it is not specifically mentioned in the film. 

Despite its script flaws, TARGET NUMBER ONE is an entertaining watch, which according to the opening credits is based on actual events.  The film is currently playing.

Trailer: undefined

UNHINGED (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Derrick Borte

The synopsis on the movie database, imdb, of the one word titled film UNHINGED simply reads: ‘After a confrontation with an unstable man at an intersection, a woman becomes the target of his rage’.  This is a simple plotted road rage thriller that takes no genius to guess its entire story.  Still the film comes through entertaining enough (the devil is in the details), playing into a well-worn genre but following a successful formula effectively.

Expect the film to abound in cliches which include:

  • the villain coming to a violent end at the hands the protagonist 
  • the cops that arrive right after the villain is killed
  • all the unimportant characters (eg. girlfriend of protagonist’s brother) getting killed off
  • little objects noticed at one point in the film (eg. candy-cane scissors) emerging as protagonist’s weapon at another point in the movie
  • the protagonist suffering terribly before fighting back
  • even the well-worn line used in countless films: “we will get through this” is uttered by the protagonist

The villain in this piece is so disgusting that the script does not even give him a name.  He is simply listed in the credits as ‘the man’.  The man is played menacingly enough by Russell Crowe (Academy Award Winner for GLADIATOR and twice nominated for BEAUTIFUL MIND and THE INSIDER) who looks extremely worn out, physically and mentally.   It is interesting to note that the role was initially offered to Nicholas Cage who is famous for portraying unhinged characters as in Nick Powell’s PRIMAL.

Derrick Borte (AMERICAN DREAMER) directs from a script by Carl Ellsworth (DISTURBIA and RED EYE) in a no-nonsense manner delivering the goods in a fashion that is expected from this kind of action suspense thriller genre.

The film’s best scene is surprisingly one out of the blue, a hilarious one in a film that is generally devoid of humour.  A woman is seen doing her eyelashes using the mirror of her car visor while ‘the man’ is crashing against cars on the freeway in his chase after Rachel’s car.  The message is to concentrate on driving while driving and not be distracted by such unnecessary activity.  This is actually an important message as other scenes seem to imply that it is ok to use a cellphone while driving.  The other best scene is the really tense initial confrontation between Rachel and ‘the man’ where she just refuses to apologize.  It is a familiar scene where everyone has similarly experienced where ego precedes politeness.

Relative newcomer Caren Pistoria holds her own in her performance that matches that of Crowe’s.

Despite the film’s cliches and predictability, Borte’s necessarily nasty film works primarily of the violence that he dishes out.  This film would not have been interesting if it is made as a PG-rated film.

UNHINGED opens in theatres August 14th.  It should be seen on the big screen for the excitingly shot car chases.

Trailer: undefined

VALLEY OF THE GODS (Poland/Luxembourg 2019) **

Directed by Leah Majewski

To those unfamiliar with the place, Valley of the Gods is a scenic backcountry area is southeastern Utah, near Mexican Hat, USA.  It is a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley.  Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever.  But most important point is that Monument Valley is located on Navajo Nation land. (Visitors exploring the area usually travel with a Navajo guide and a permit from the tribe is needed before you can hike into the backcountry.)   This is the setting of Polish director Leah Majewski’s new film, which he apparently got the tribe’s approval to film on their land.

Majewski’s majestic film tells three separate stories but entwined together, told in 10 chapter with a heading.  The first chapter is called Tauros, which is name of the trillionaire who wants to die uranium on the land.  The second chapter is called Leetso, and one has to see the film to know Leetso means.  Not that these headings have any solid meaning but it is a few word summary of the next ten minutes which is as organized as Majewki gets.  His film is incoherent as a whole.

The setting is in the VALLEY OF THE GODS.  The film opens with the words that describe the Navajo creation story, just as the creation story in the Bible which states that God created the heavens and the earth. 

The words go like this:

When he heard the cry of the infant…

Lightning was flashing everywhere…

He could see nothing so he made way to the very spot

and so on…. ending with the line:

and he saw a giant stone creature….. 

the creature which will appear at the end of the film in a climax that needs to be seen to be believed.

The Navajo story reads something more complex involving this huge stone creature.  The three stories all include the Navajo tribe, contrasting abundance and poverty.   They involve a middle-class writer, John Ecas (Josh Hartnett), an eccentric trillionaire (John Malkovich), and a struggling Navajo community.  Post-divorce, copywriter John undertakes the biography of the richest man on earth, who is dead-set on mining sacred lands for uranium.  When modern advance runs afoul of long-dormant guardians from ancient legend, even the most unimaginable wealth may soon meet its match.

VALLEY OF THE GODS has stunning production sets, costumes, wardrobe and music.  But director Majewski does whatever he wants with his film, and does not give a fuck what others think, pardon my Navajo language.  When one listens to his views or Hartnett’s interviews, one cannot get the message of what Majewski is trying to do.  The result is a beautifully crafted, frustrating film - an artistic piece that will be considered plain awful  by those with little patience for cinema.

The film is already available on various digital platforms like VOD, digital, DVD and BluRay.

Trailer: undefined

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