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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 6, 2020)

25 Jul 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

12 MIGHTY ORPHANS (USA 2021) **
Directed by Ty Roberts

12 MIGHTY ORPHANS is a sports feel-good sports drama based upon the non fiction book Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football by Jim Dent.  It is the typical kind of sports film churned out by the Disney/Touchwood Studios  - the worst example of formulaic film - just look at the title of its source material.  It is shamefully manipulative, over melodramatic with overdone feel-good moments designed to wring  out tears from unsuspecting audiences.  On the positive side, director Roberts is extremely successful in directing a movie by the book.  To his credit, the period setting is impressive and convincingly done.  As expected, this is the kind of film audiences love and cry.  It is not surprising then that the film has so far received mixed reviews since its release in the United States.

More than a century ago after the First World War, a school was constructed in Fort Worth, Texas, for the purpose of housing and educating the orphans of Texas Freemasons. It was a humble project that for years existed quietly on a hillside east of town.  Life at the Masonic Home was about to change, though, with the arrival of a lean, bespectacled coach by the name of Rusty Russell  (played with straight-face no-nonsense by Luke Wilson).  Russell arrived with his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and kids.  He was a war-hero and orphan himself.  Director Roberts shows the man teaching the classroom as well as coaching football - a tough but sensitive man.

       In the 1930s and 1940s, there was nothing bigger in Texas high school football than the Masonic Home Mighty Mites, the name given to this group of orphans bound together by hardship and death.  These youngsters, in spite of being outweighed by at least thirty pounds per man, were the toughest football team around.  They also have no parents to cheer them on in the stands, not like the players from the other schools.  The film is quick to emphasize, by voiceover, as if the audience has not already got the message that it has to be drummed into them multiple times, that in a depression, people need something to cling to and what more than these orphans with, in the exact words of the voiceover, full of bull piss and vinegar.   

Martin Sheen adds a little kick to the film as the drinking ‘Doc Hall’ while Oscar Winner Robert Duvall has a cameo as Mason Hawk.

The film’s worst scene, has a mother come back to the school to reclaim the son she had given up 10 years ago, the quarterback called C.D. right after the team starts getting famous after winning games.  It is a scene full of melodrama, cliche ridden with its dialogue. 

Women are not portrayed in a positive light in the film.  The wife and the female orphans sew footballs for the males.  C.D. 's mother is shown to be abused by  her husband and a bad mother unable to stand up for herself.

The film might be a tribute to a courageous band of underdogs from a time when America desperately needed fresh hope and big dreams but unfortunately, it is a terrible one.  Best skip the movie and read the book.

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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 13, 2020)

25 Jul 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

OVERRUN (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Josh Tessier

The storyline, taken from the movie database imdb reads: Former military extraction specialist Marcus Lombardi, whose only chance of saving his informant sister and their family is to track down a mysterious briefcase.  I have never heard of an extraction specialist.  Maybe there is such  thing or perhaps the film’s script invented one.

This Marcus extraction specialist is to extract a metallic briefcase from the Russian mafia in order to save his sister, a former police informant for chief kingpin Ray Marren.  The film is filled with action packed sequences doused with lots of tongue in cheek comedy, which lifts the actioneer above the standard average action comedy flick.  Most of the cast are unknown except perhaps for Academy Award nominee Bruce Dern.  The lead is a super stunt man not only performing stunts but designing them in countless films

Do Italians and Iranians look alike?  The filmmakers obviously think so.  Omid Zaber who is 100% Iranian plays Marcus Lombardi.  Note the Italian last name.

Interesting to note is that the script by Roberto Ahumada, Victoria González and Craig R. Key (first draft) includes multiple heroes and villains and a few in-between to boot.  The heroes are both Marcus and detective Blake Finning (Johnny Messner) who first traps and later joins forces with Marcus to go after the two villains, Robert Miano (Ray Marren) and Russian mob chief Arkado Dubkova (Bruce Dern) of the piece.   William Katt (the hunk prom date from CARRIE) plays the in-between bad and then good guy Detective Dobbs.
Someone in the casting filmmaking crew must be having a thing about smoking.  Ray and his bartender go on about quitting smoking.  One of the detectives always has a cigarette in his mouth, and Marco’s best friend, the tech wizard, Augie (Jack Griffo) e-vapes.
Director Tessier is fond of placing his camera in various places to give his film a kick.  At the film’s start, after the suitcase has been stolen, the camera moves underneath a hood’s shoes to show the victim’s point of view of being kicked hard in the head.  The next scene has the camera following the back (the neck) of Ray Marren as he walks into his bar.

It is funny too to observe the scene where Marcus approaches the Russian mobster to reveal the name of his son’s killer.  Marcus writes the name on a piece of paper and hands it to Arkado.  Why can’t he just say the name out loud?  Director Tessier decides not to question the style of gangster movies.

The result of director Tessier’s film looking stylish and thankfully different from the run of the mill action gangster flick.  Unfortunately these tricks run out of steam with the film lagging a bit during the second half.

OVERRUN has sufficient well executed action sequences, new tricks and fresh humour to make it stand out form the run of the mill actioneer.

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This Week's Film Reviews (July 23, 2021)

16 Jul 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Jeremy Elkin

The doc ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding, the new documentary is an examination of a culture many cineastes are unfamiliar with - a good thing as the culture will likely be fascinating and educational.  Despite the uneasy and unfamiliar subject, director Elkin uses standard filmmaking of archive footage and talking head interviews to tell his story.  To his credit, he has assembled quite a massive  amount of talent, particularly the DJs of the NYC scene of the time as well as selected archive footage which appears very related to the story he wishes to tell.  Elkin also interviews many  skateboarders, many unknown, as many are unfamous and never made it big with money or fame, but their say is still relevant.  The beauty of all this is that everyone, no matter who he or she is, has something important to say.

Of all the talking heads, Elkin gives the most screen time to actress Rosario Dawson and DJ Stretch Armstrong.  Adrian Bartos known professionally as DJ Stretch Armstrong is a New York-based DJ and music producer, known as a former co-host of hip hop radio show The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, alongside Bobbito Garcia.  Utterly talented to the max, Stretch had a major influence on the NYC club and street scenes.  He is seen in the doc, working his gig as a DK at the club while informing the audience with insight.  Dawson is an American actress and producer. She made her feature-film debut in the 1995 independent drama KIDS.   The film KIDS has a special significance to the street kids.  The director of KIDS, Larry Clark hung around the skateboarders filming them many, many times.  Clark eventually went on to make the minor classic doc KIDS on the kids.  Clark was much older and always hanging around.  The kids admit that they did not know him at first, thinking that he was some kind of pervert.

The doc is narrated by Eli Morgan Gesner.  Gesner is a film director known for his work on CONDEMNED (2015), CONCRETE JUNGLE (2009) and TONY HAWK'S PROVING GROUND (2007).  He is also a co-founder of the famous brand ZooYork.   That brand incorporated street graffiti into its designs.

Other guests on display in the film include most of the important people in hip hop and the NYC skateboarding scene, many from the latter group may not be familiar with.  The music artists include  musicians Darryl McDaniels, Fab 5 Freddy, and even Moby (recently seen in his own doc called MOBY DOC), among others, with skaters like Jeff Pang, Mike Carroll, Josh Kalis, and many more.  There are lots of shots inside the clubs with lots of serious hip hop music.  Of all the famous clubs in NYC, Club mars is singled out as the only one featuring hip hop and street music.

The important thing is that the raw spirit and energy of the NYC street scene is captured in this do, rubbing off on the audience making ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT an amazing watch.  The doc can be watched by clicking on the website: filmswelike.ca

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Jul 16, 2021)

10 Jul 2021

This week's films demonstrate that it is the craft of the filmmakers that make the movie and not the subject.  CREATION STORIES and THE LONELIEST WHALE have the most inrtirguiging subjects but end up boring whilst the domestic drama ALICE rises way above its subject matter,

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

LA DECISION DE ALICE (ALICE) (Australia/France/UK 2019) Top 10 *****

Directed by Josephine Mackerras

ALICE is a man-hating film and with reason.

ALICE is  an Australian-French-British co-production.  Australian writer/director Josephine Mackerras shoots her first feature in Paris, France and it is one wallop of a debut.

The film opens with what is seemingly a happy family.  Alice (a powerful performance by Emilie Piponnier) is cooking while hubby, Francois (Martin Swabey) plays with their son, Jules (Jules Milo Levy Mackerras).  Later at a party, Francois shows his passionate affection for his wife in front of all the guests.  Then the unexpected happens.  Alice is served with an eviction order and her husband disappears.  Visiting the bank manager (Christophe Favre), she learns that her husband has stolen all her money and defaulted on the apartment payments.  He is nowhere to be contacted and does not return Alice’s calls.  Alice finds out what happened.  Francois had spent all her money (that she inherited from her father) on his addiction - escorts.  Alice calls one of the agencies he visits and ends up working there to pay for her flat and support herself and Jules.  Then just like in Robert Benton’s KRAMER VS. KRAMER, the spouse suddenly appears half way through the movie and wants things back to normal.  When refused, he threatens child custody.  Enough said of the plot, and saying more would just spoil one’s entertainment and the dramatic effect of the film, safe to say there is much, much more in the occasionally brilliant script that seems to demonstrate the power of women while also touching on their vulnerability.  As strong a will that Alice possesses and utilizes, she is also subject to emotional feelings and hurt.

The film feels at times like Luis Bunuel’s 1967 classic BELLE DE JOUR where Catherine Deneuve prostitutes herself during the day.  But this film is different in theme and structure.  Though Piponnier is an incredibly beautiful actress, ALICE is not an erotic film.  The sex scenes are done with class and elegance, often with a touch of humour and much sensitivity.  The only complaint is that all of Alice’s clients are too nice and wealthy.  She never encounters any abusive or physically unattractive clients.  Director Mackerras quite trivializes the oldest profession in the world.

Director Mackerras teaches that domestic abuse can take different forms.  Francois is shown at one point almost hitting Alice.  But the abuse here is more than psychological.  Francois had abused the trust she had in their marriage - and that is worse than any psychological and physical abuse any husband can inflict on a partner.   The film hints of Alice forgiving him, especially when he appears sincere.  Donc, quelle LA DECISION DE ALICE?

The film’s best scene that deserves mention is the one where Alice confronts her best friend, Lisa (Chloe Boreham) over a wrong she perceived had been done to her.  Another powerful scene is the one Alice makes to her mother, this one made even more powerful as it is only the dialogue that is heard on screen.

ALICE is full of surprises.  One of the biggest ones is that this minor masterpiece cost less than $1 million to make.  Australian director Mackerras filmed most of it in her own apartment with her own son playing Jules in the film.  The ending too, is a solid surprise!

Distributed by Game Theory Films in Canada, Alice will be available to stream on Vimeo On Demand, iTunes and Apple TV beginning July 20. Visit gametheoryfilms.com/alice for more info.

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THE CALL (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr.

THE CALL centres on four teen friends including a newbie that has just joined the group.  THE CALL refers to One Phone Call in which each of the four is given 60 seconds to stay alive after receiving the call. 

It is the fall of 1987.   This group of small-town friends must survive the night in the home of a sinister old couple after a tragic accident.   Needing only to make a single phone call, the request seems ordinary until they realize that this call could change their life…or end it. This simple task quickly spirals into terror as their worst nightmares become reality.

The magic question is whether this Shudder original movie is any good.  If one reads the horrid reviews written by the public on imdb, this film really gets panned with horrid ratings from the public.  But truthfully, as they say, film critics and the public often differ on their take on films.  THE CALL is actually quite a solid thriller that despite a quite unbelievable story that hinges on psychology and the supernatural.   Though the story, silly that it turns out, actually kept me intrigued for the first half of the film, after which it goes downhill in trying to come up with a good ending, despite some unexpected twists.  The film works during the first half when the script by Patrick Stibbs keeps the audience guessing.

Chris is the new boy in town.  He meets Tonya who introduces him to her friends, tough guy, Zack and his brother Brett.  They terrorize an old lady Edith Crankston (Lin Shaye) who Tonya believes is responsible for her missing younger sister.  They toss rocks at the old lady’s house, breaking her windows before she confronts them as they try to run away.  Edith commits suicide.  The four are invited to the house by Edith’s husband, Edward (Tobin Bell) with a proposition.  They have to make one phone call (to Edith in her grave) for a whole minute, each at a time staying on the line.  If they do so, each will receive $100,000 cash.  But when Zack goes first, he is scared and slams down the phone.  He is killed while trying to get out of the house.  Up to this part, the film provides solid scares using props like colours, long corridors, a toy rocking horse that rocks by itself, and creepy nursery rhymes in slow motion.  The film also contains jump scares, as expected of films in this genre.

There are a few flaws with this film.  One is that the four are bad kids, rude and obnoxious.  The audience would rather have them killed, especially Tonya and Zack, rather than root for their escape from the house.  The other main flaw is the uneven blend between the supernatural and the real.  One would expect the story to be real with psychological scares but the script contains unexplained incidents which could only occur if there is some supernatural force present. 

The cast is made up of relative unknowns except for the older Tobin Bell (SAW) and Lin Shaye (INSIDIOUS) who are a pleasure to watch.

Despite horrid audience reviews on imdb, THE CALL is still an entertaining horror flick with an intriguing premise and some solid scares.

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CREATION STORIES (UK 2020) **
Directed by Nick Moran

CREATION STORES is the story of the founding and the dissolving of Creation Records, told from the point of view of its chief founder Alan McGee, portrayed in different ages of his life.  For those unfamiliar with this British independent record label, it has a

sixteen-year history, focusing on alternative rock, releasing several influential indie rock, shoegazing, and Britpop records, but also featured well known famous bands like Oasis and featured in the film The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.   CREATION STORIES is not a documentary, though what occurs on scene actually happened.  Instead it is a stylized version, TRAINSPOTTING style told from the view of director Moran, the actor in Guy Ritchie’s LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS.  It is of no surprise then that TRAINSPOTTING’s director Danny Boyle is executive producer and actor Ewan Bremner stars in a story that originated in Glasgow, Scotland.

The film is most interesting when it tells the story of the young McGee with his family.  He is shown enamoured by punk rock especially the Sex Pistols.  His father does not tolerate his love for punk and wants him to have a steady job and not be involved with bands like what he calls Sexy Pistols.  He calls punk the American slang for homosexuals in private.  McGee grows up and because he says he has no talent, becomes a promoter who changes the face of music.  He and his mates have trouble with money.  Surprisingly the film gives credit to Margaret Thatcher, whose government grant allows each of the Creation records founders to obtain a 40 quid grant to get their work going.

Director Moran loves the uses of surrealism as director Boyle did in TRAINSPOTTING.  There is a nod to the famous TRAINSPOTTING toilet scene where McGregor has a trip through the toilet bowl.  In CREATION STORIES.  Bremner sees his face swirling in the toilet bowl as he fishes the toilet.

It was reported that McGee did not want Ewan McGregor to star in the film but got Bremner instead.  This is odd as the young McGee is portrayed by Leo Flanagan who is a very good looking lad.  Bremner portrays McGee as manic as he can be, screaming hard the time.  Bremner can look years younger wearing a wig or look much older when he portrays him in his later years.  Michael Socha and Thomas Turgoose portray the other two Creation Records founders Joe Foster and Dick Green respectively.

CREATION STORIES is too manic.  Though one cannot dispute the spirit of the film, Moran’s effort is all over the place.  The stories are at least brought to the ground as McGee is interviewed, though Mcgee goes off on a tangent during a television interview.  Moran includes archive newsreel footage (of protest and world leaders) to create the period atmosphere of the film.

The film was adapted from McGee's 2013 autobiography of the same name, by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh and it premiered at the virtual Glasgow Film Festival.  Muddled, manic and ultimately boring as a TRAINSPOTTING wannabe!  It finally opens July 20, on Digital/VOD.

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FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Leigh Janiak

FEAR STREET is a trilogy of three teenage slasher films that opens on Netflix a week apart from each other, beginning July the 2nd.  Similar to teen horror flicks like SCREAM and FRIDAY THE 13TH, the first of the series called FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 based on the book of the same title, is not bad and should (it does not take much) satisfy horror fans.  The second one, called PART 2: 1978 is set at a teen camp called Camp Nightwing where teens, especially the annoying fucking ones get killed away, very similar to the FRIDAY THE 13TH films which was also set in a camp by a lake.  The sequel is a prequel with evens taking place before the first film.  The 3rd and final part is a prequel of the prequel and is set in the year 1666 and explains the origins of the witch Sarah Fier.

The common theme of the trilogy is the witch, Susan Fier who has in the past possessed killers is regurgitated in this second instalment. 

Fear Street has its origins as a teenage horror fiction series written by American author R. L. Stine, starting in 1989.   R. L. Stine stopped writing Fear Street after penning the Fear Street Seniors spin-off in 1999.  In summer 2005, he brought Fear Street back with the three-part Fear Street Nights miniseries.   As of 2010, over 80 million copies of Fear Street have been sold.  Stine revived the book series in October 2014.  In 2021, a trilogy of films based on the series will be released on Netflix.

The title of the film comes from a fictional street in a small American town called Shadyside.   The town has been cursed with serial killers who appear to be possessed by a witch in the past called Fier who was burnt by the town at the stake.  It was Fier’s revenge on the town.  Apparently the family changed it name from Fier (the letter that could be re-arranged to spell fire) to Fear. 

Part 3, the final film is the only one that is a period piece with a 1666 setting.  The costumes and dialogue reflect the time.  One can say that  Part 3 is the most ambitious of the three.  The question is whether it is the best.  It is the goriest, undoubtedly with a segment in which Fier hets her wrist broken and her hand torn off from her body.  The film also includes a lesbian slant.  The result is a more serious and deliberate horror , not so much fun as the first two parts.

Director Zaniak who directs all the three films and also co-wrote the script knows her teen horror films.  She keeps the action fast and furious with lots of blood and gore in the killing scenes.  The first film was made politically correct with coloured lead characters and a lesbian theme to boot, but Part 2 contains mainly an all white cast with only one short scene where a black and Asian teen meet their quick death.  The last part has a full blown same sex theme with a coloured and white teen.  But the lead characters are at least all female.

All three parts make a sufficiently fine horror trilogy of three related stories.  An entertaining time waster.

Trailer: 

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (France/Germany/USA 2021) **

Directed by Navot Papushado

GUNPOWDER  MILKSHAKE is a glossy, stylish auctioneer from France similar to the ones that director Luc Besson (ELEMENT CINQUEME, THE PROFESSIONAL) used to churn out back in the 70’s and 80’s.   Less inventive, it looks more like a KINGSMEN, JOHN WICK franchise rip-offs.  Its nod to women seems a bit too superfluous to be taken seriously in this generally man-hating version of an action flick.

The man-hating script co-written by director Navot Papushado is clear from the film’s very start when an organization called ‘the firm’ is introduced.  The firm consists of men who get what they want with their rubbish cleared up, (like the cleaners) by hiring women.  One of these female cleaners happens to be super efficient fighter Scarlet (Lena Headey)  In an assignment gone wrong, she has to abandon her daughter, Samantha.  The introduction is shown in a clumsy flashback set in a diner which moves back to the  present when the daughter after 15 years is now played by Karen Gilian.

Now, Sam has also grown up into a cold blooded hitwoman. After a high-stake mission spins out of control, putting an innocent 8-year-old girl in the middle of the gang war she has unleashed, Sam has no choice but to go rogue (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE rip-off).  This ultimately leads her back to her mother and her former hitwoman sidekicks, who all join forces in an avenging war against those who took everything from them.

The villain of the piece, the head of the firm Nathan is played by veteran actor Paul Giamatti who is initially assigned the task to look after Sam.

The cast is impressive at least with heavyweights like Michelle Yeah and Angela Bassett playing two of the hitwoman sidekicks, though not enough to save the movie.  There are a few humorous lines sufficient for a giggle or two.  “We got our whole gang of men with us.” ‘’Sam, replying: “I have my mom”

The fight sequences are executed with sufficient aplomb like the fights at the diner and the bowling alley.  Trouble is that this kind of action has been seen many times in countless films before. Running at two hours, the film does not really run at breakneck speed, and watching the film is a mixed bag with quite a few boring stretches.  This is not aided by a strong narrative but a weak thin plot with hardly anything to connect the audience to the story.  The assassins helping a young kidnapped girl does not qualify.

The soundtrack sounds like something lifted right out of one of the John Wick movies.  On the plus side, the film's soundtrack contains a good selection of oldies especially highway songs.

Opening just last Wednesday, GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE, a film as unimaginative as its title can be currently streamed on Netflix.  The film is another example of the streaming company’s business model of quantity vs.quality.

Trailer: 

THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES (Das geheime Leben der Bäume) (Germany 2020) ***
Directed by By Jorg Adolph

Can trees talk?  Can they communicate?  Do they have a social life?  These are a few questions the new documentary on trees THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES, filmed almost entirely in German attempts to answer.  Audiences who have seen nature docs before already know that nature allows them to connect with each other and to warn each other of dangers.  So they do possess certain common human traits.  But trees are NOT human.  Making them like humans piques one’s interest in the subject.  It is of no surprise then that Peter Wohlleben’s book THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES became an immediate best-seller when it debuted in 2015.   His german book was translated to English in 2016.  He opens eyes to the hidden world of the woods. 

Wohlleben studied Forestry and was a civil servant at the State Forestry for over twenty years.  As he grew more familiar with the woodlands he was overseeing, he became disenchanted due to the damage caused by the techniques and technologies he was expected to employ, including the felling of mature trees and the use of insecticides.  

The film educates audiences through Wohlleben in an entertaining and enlightening fashion about the solidarity and cohesion of the trees and strikes a chord with his ever-growing community of readers.   The film takes audiences across the globe to tell its story, making a greater impact when set in Vancouver Island, especially for Canadian audiences,  Wohlleben also travels to Sweden to see the oldest tree in the world.  Surprisingly this oldest tree is quite alone and does not look as if it survived  that long.

In Vancouver, The film is brought down to earth as he talks to the loggers.  The loggers only think short term to make money but do not care if the forests are self-sustaining.  It is sad to see so many narrow-minded short sighted people.  This is true too, especially in the fishing industry.  Now, the cod population is close to zero in any seas.  Director Adolph includes interviews and footage of many prominent environmentalists like David Suzuki who also creates a bit of needed humour in the doc.  Wohlleben also sides with the Hambacher Forst demonstrators. Because he knows that we humans can only survive if the woods are healthy.

Director Adolph realizes the power of his source material.  He does not resort to cheap theatrics like animation to emphasize a point.  Instead he makes use of more relevant techniques like time lapse photography and camera workings with nature to tell his story.  It is not surprising therefore to find the nature segments to be the most intriguing parts of the documentary.  These are and there are many of these footages of insects and creatures that feast on decaying wood.  These are creepy to watch but director Adolph makes his point.

THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES, the intelligent, quiet and insightful documentary will definitely make an impact on audiences.  It will make one think twice when kicking a tree out of anger.  The leaves of that tree might just emit chemical substances that will teach the kicker a lesson or two.

Trailer: 

THE LONELIEST WHALE: The Search for 52 (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Joshua Zeman

The subject of this documentary is a whale that vocalizes at 52 Hertz (cycles per second), a frequency that is particular only to this species of whales.  It is assumed then that this whale cannot and is unable to communicate with any other whale and hence its nickname and title of the doc THE LONELIEST WHALE.  If one sits back and thinks, this would be an interesting subject but to make a 90 minute doc that keeps the audience interested throughout would be quite the formidable task.  True enough, there is hardly any sufficient material and director Joshua Zeman stuffs his doc with lots of padding, much of which could have been eliminated from the doc without much effect.  Two examples, one a scene in a record store where customers purchase the Roger Payne 1970 hit album "Songs of a Humpback Whale '' and Kate Micucc's performance of her song.

One thing too that any curious person should consider is the fact whether this whale is indeed lonely.  Perhaps the whale communicates in other ways or perhaps this whale species is supposed to live a secluded life for some biological reason.  Also, the question of how this whale species mates is never answered.  Director Zeman poses lots of curious questions and hardly answers them.  His only goal seems to be to find the whale and thus use this as the climax of his doc.  He hints at another title for the doc: “The Search for 53”, which would be a more appropriate title, since THE LONELIEST WHALE makes certain assumptions that cannot be proven or disproven. 

Director Zeman tries to relate the whale’s predicament to that of the emotions of human beings.  It is obvious he is trying to find more relevant material for the film but without much success.  Zeman claims that it is very immortal for human beings to find out about the whale’s communication. It is basic in understanding the most fundamental element of communication.

The film’s trailer really piques one’s interest in the subject but the interest wanes quickly while watching the movie.

It has just been a few weeks since another doc about whale searching FATHOM was released.  FATHOM  looks at the songs of the humpback whale, their communication and the search for the humpback whale that had a song recorded.  The same problem exists for both films.  A lot of screen time is devoted to searching and the eventual finding of their tagged whale.  One also wonders whether their bouts of joy are re-enacted.  This search in both cases is, as one researcher says in this doc, ie finding a needle in a haystack.  In FATHOM, the voyage is described as having a high probability of failure.  Finding their whale also involves other required findings, as this doc illustrates,

Like Drew Xanthopoulos’ FATHOM, THE LONELIEST WHALE spends a lot of screen time with researchers at sea than providing very answers to the questions posed.  Intriguing as the subject matter is, THE LONELIEST WHALE feels like a very lonely watch.

Trailer: 

PIG (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Michale Sarnoski

Those who have watched the Cannes sensation THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS would have  realized the importance and value of an animal that sniffs out rare underground truffles.  Imagine a crazy played by Nicolas Cage (Academy Award for Best Actor in Mike Figg’s LEAVING LAS VEGAS) who now has the prime choice of  playing weirdos has his prized truffle sniffing animal stolen and himself beat up.  The animal in this case is a pig.  The film is entitled, simply PIG.  It is a hard contest of who wins the prize for the ugliest character in the film.  Cage or the pig?

The plot revolves around Robin (Cage) who has his valuable pig stolen. With the help of his truffle buyer, he finds the thief.

The film begins with Robin digging up truffles as his valuable and lovable (but ugly) pig sniffs out the valuable commodity chefs pay a future for.  The setting is the Oregon wilderness where director Sarnofski’s has painted a hermit’s existence for his hero, Robin.  Robin lives in a dirty shack, but he is able to conjure up some magnificent dishes to eat.  Robin makes a rustic mushroom tart, the title of the dish forming the title of director Sarnoski’s film’s first chapter.  His film unfolds in two chapters, the second one entitled ‘Mom’s French toast and deconstructed scallops’.  Sarnofski’s tale is as strange as Robin’s character.

Director Sarnofski  churns up the action fast.  After the introduction of his characters he begins the action.  One night, Robin is violently attacked and his pig stolen.  He enlists the aid of Amir (Alex Wolff), his truffle buyer who reluctantly aids him in the search for the pig.  Amir, too, has to protect his livelihood.  No pig means no truffles for him to sell.

Robin has been wronged.  His pig and livelihood has been stolen.  He has been beaten up.  Robin’s very existence has been violated.  Robin has to find his pig and exact revenge.  But director Sarnoski has other plans for what might seem as a violent revenge story.  Robin’s troubled and mysterious past unfolds and Robin has to come to grips with his past - as well as to solve the mystery.

This Robin does but the result is not as satisfactory as the audience would expect.  Robin is shown to be able to take quite a lot of physical abuse, as demonstrated in an underground ‘fight club’.  Robin is revealed to be quite the brilliant debater.  The film’s best scene has him, filthy and dirty and horridly attired, enter a posh Michelin star type restaurant and asking to talk to the chef as his meals arrive.  “Where is my pig?”  he questions the chef, who then recognizes Robin as the chef he was working for years ago.  It is also the funniest and key scene where Robin finally finds out what has happened to the pig.

Director Sarnofski elicits superior performances from Cage and Wolff.  Wolff has already proven himself a proficient young actor, winning many acting awards.  He is immediately recognizable playing the son of Colette’s character in Ari Aster’s 2018 HEREDITARY, the troubled boy who banged his head hard on the desk in the classroom.  Sarnofski’s film is not perfect but the director shows promise from his cinematography, creation of mood and atmosphere and setting up of key segments.  What the film seems to lack in a goal or message, it more than compensates in its depiction of the drama and desperation resulting in living in isolation.

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ROADRUNNER: THE FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Morgan Neville

Anthony Bourdain is one of the most colourful subjects if not the most that can be found in a documentary.  The film is called ROADRUNNER as the man travelled the world as a travel celebrity chef with a TV series program.  He recently committed suicide by hanging himself 4 years ago.  He used to be a heroin addict.  He used to light up a cigarette the first thing when he got up in the morning, but gave up smoking when taking Jiu-Jitsu and winning first prize at a Jiu-Jitsu competition.  So, there is plenty on display in this documentary about him.  But his suicide casts a dark cloud over the documentary.  The audience is likely to wonder the reason of his suicide and everything seen in the doc appears to reach back to this question.

The documentary covers these parts of the man’s life.  Anthony Michael Bourdain was an American celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian, who starred in programs focusing on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition.  Bourdain was a 1978 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and a veteran of a number of professional kitchens during his career, which included many years spent as an executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan.  In 2013, he began a three-season run as a judge on The Taste, and concurrently switched his travelogue programming to CNN to host Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Though best known for his culinary writings and television presentations, along with several books on food and cooking and travel adventures, Bourdain also wrote both fiction and historical nonfiction. On June 8, 2018, Bourdain was found dead due to a suicide by hanging while on location in France.

The doc contains a massive amount of footage on Bourdain as he was always being filmed.  Bourdain talks about his life, his thoughts, his troubles and often about death.  At the film’s start he talks about not caring what happens to him or his ashes after he passes on.    But he says that it is good  therapy to ponder about death each day for a few minutes.   He says that he will advise others on how to live life but he has been very lucky.  These are ironically words articulated by the man before he took his own life.  He talked about life having no happy ending, and indeed it wasn’t for hi,

The doc shows Bourdain to be a shy man often with lack of communication.  He is described by those interviewed in the film as an occasional pain in the ass.

Director Neville takes his audience where Bourdain travels.  The doc has wonderful exotic scenes of the Sahara Desert, the magnificent dunes de Pyla (in France) where I have visited myself twice, and takes the audience to Asian countries like Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.  Though Bourdain is a chef, there is surprisingly not much gourmet food on display in the doc.

Director Neville leaves the reason of Bourdain’s suicide aside as no one is certain of the reason.  One can only speculate.  ROADRUNNER is indeed a strange journey, but one that makes one think about life in total and perhaps it is good therapy, as Bourdain says, to meditate about death for a few minutes every day.

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Jul 9, 2021)

04 Jul 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

DACHRA (Tunisia 2018) ***1/2

Directed by Abdelhamid Bouchnak

Though the titles at the start of the film boast that DACHRA is inspired by true events, the horror depicted in the film often seems unreal.  But in the remote areas of North Africa where isolated villages abound, what transpires on screen could very well be true.  The film’s country of origin is Tunisia in North Africa.

The film and story centre on three journalism students who are given the task to film something original as their academic project.  Their professor warns that there must be genuine effort put in with no plagiarism.  The three decide to interview Mongia, in an insane institution.  They get more than they bargained for.  The trio is led by the headstrong young investigator Yassmine (Yassmine Dimassi) who spends half the time trying to control the action of her other two ‘friends’  Bilel and Whalid, who act like children always fighting and arguing.

Seeking new clues about the cold case and intrigued and perturbed by the deranged woman’s story, the trio take their camera to the scene of the crime deep in the woods.

The film is divided into two parts.  The first deals with the journalist students in the asylum.  They interview the institution’s director who seems only too happy to brag about the intuition’s success and being filmed on camera but gets angry and denies the existence of Mongia.  When Yasmine keeps insisting that he is not informed of what is going on, he throws them out.  As a last resort, they bribe the guards and film Mongia at night, only to have Mongia viciously attack Yassmine as she gets too close to the chained up Mongia.

Mongia was discovered on a road 20 years back, mutilated and abandoned.  So, the three head out to the area.  This is the second part of the film where they discover weird goings-on in the nearby village which is called DACHRA.  They are welcomed to a secluded, hushed village where goats have free rein and raw meat hangs drying in the wind.  “We eat a lot of meat, “ says the host to the three during dinner.  The foggy, isolated hamlet is the creepy location which is almost totally dark at night.  Director Bouchnak shoots one brilliant scene with flickering lights, evoking a really creepy and scary atmosphere.

Director Bouchnak keeps his film always interesting.  When not scaring his audiences she provides much hilarious humour with the antics of the two male students.  “Stop kissing me, shit head!” says one to another in the car on the way to the village.  When one gets sick while in the car, the other asks whether he has seen his gynaecologist.  Amidst all this, Yassmine is warned by her grandfather to be careful.

This is director Abdelhamid Bouchnak's debut feature.  He weaves together North African folklore and the successful B-movie magic as found in the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.  DACHRA is an excellent first effort proving director Bouchnak to be a new talent to be reckoned with.

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FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978 (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Leigh Janiak

 

FEAR STREET is a trilogy of three teenage slasher films that opens on Netflix a week apart from each other, beginning July the 2nd.  Similar to teen horror flicks like SCREAM and FRIDAY THE 13TH, the first of the series called FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 based on the book of the same title, is not bad and should (it does not take much) satisfy horror fans.  The second one, called PART 2: 1978 is set at a teen camp called Camp Nightwing where teens, especially the annoying fucking ones get killed away, very similar to the FRIDAY THE 13TH films which was also set in a camp by a lake.  The sequel is a prequel with events taking place before the first film.

The common theme of the witch, Susan Fier who has in the past possessed killers is regurgitated in this second instalment.  The spirit of the FEAR STREET Part 1 and the slasher films are well alive in this one.

Fear Street has its origins as a teenage horror fiction series written by American author R. L. Stine, starting in 1989.   R. L. Stine stopped writing Fear Street after penning the Fear Street Seniors spin-off in 1999.  In summer 2005, he brought Fear Street back with the three-part Fear Street Nights miniseries.   As of 2010, over 80 million copies of Fear Street have been sold.  Stine revived the book series in October 2014.  In 2021, a trilogy of films based on the series will be released on Netflix.

The title of the film comes from a fictional street in a small American town called Shadyside.   The town has been cursed with serial killers who appear to be possessed by a witch in the past called Fier who was burnt by the town at the stake.  It was Fier’s revenge on the town.  Apparently the family changed its name from Fier (the letter that could be rearranged to spell fire) to Fear.

In the first one, the character that survives gets a call from C. Berman, the only survivor of the Camp Nightwing murders.  Cindy Berman is the main character in Part 2, set in Camp Nightwing.  She is the heroine of this film, who discovers the witch, Fier’s hut where she made a deal with the devil for eternal life.

Part 2 never really covers new territory in the horror genre, but rehashes the favourites of the genre.  It works and despite repeated incidents, is still relatively entertaining as a teen horror film.  The film is still surprisingly watchable despite the fact that the audience knows that only Cindy will survive.

Director Zaniak who directs all the three films and also co-wrote the script knows her teen horror films.  She keeps the action fast and furious with lots of blood and gore in the killing scenes.  The first film was made politically correct with coloured lead characters and a lesbian theme to boot, but Part 2 contains mainly an all white cast with only one short scene where a lack and Asian teen meet their quick death.  But the lead characters are at least all female.

PARTs 1 and 2 should see fans tune in to the third and final FEAR STREET.

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COMMENT JE SUIS DEVENU SUPER-HEROS

(HOW I BECAME A SUER HERO) (France/Belgium 2021) ***
Directed by Douglas Attal

 

The French tackle the super action hero genre in this latest international Netflix original movie.  The premise is a society (like Paris, the story’s setting) where normal human beings and super  powers heroes live together.  Expect a different kind of film - as would be expected if such a film comes from a country different from the United States.  And HOW I BECAME A DIFFERENT HERO is  different kind of action hero film but in a good way.

First things first.  It is best not to judge a book by its cover which means not to judge a film by its title.  Though it may sound so, this is not a kids movie.  It is an adult film with adult issues and some violence though teens form a major part of the story.  The setting is a place where super powered action heroes and human live together.  But not in harmony.  A lot of the super powers are villains and those who are not - have not mastered their new powers, including the story’s protagonist, Moreau.  For teen with super powers, many have been abducted by a villain, Naja (Swann Arlaud) and their blood and powers sucked out for the use of evil.

Paris 2020, super­heroes are perfectly assimilated with­in soci­ety and want to be famous at all costs.  A drug that gives superpow­ers to mere mor­tals is spread­ing all Paris.  Lieu­tenants More­au (Pio Marmai) and Schaltz­mann (Vimala Pons) are investigating the case with the sup­port of two ex-super­heroes, Monte Car­lo (the always excellent Benoit Poelvoorde) and Cal­lista (Leila Bekhti). They’ll do what­ev­er it takes to dis­man­tle the traf­fic.  But More­au’s past resur­faces and the inves­ti­ga­tion becomes more com­pli­cat­ed.

There is much to be liked and entertained in this movie.  For one, there is more story here than in any of the Marvel super action hero Universe  films.  The film blends with the cop genre, another very popular one that the French have mastered.  The French have done well in their touch detective buddy movies like the LES RIPOUX franchise.  France’s second last Academy Award for Best International Picture entry, Ladj Ly’s LES MISERABLES was the best cop film in the last three years.  In HOW I BECAME A SUER HERO, Moreau is a no-nonsense streetwise cop.  His new partner is follow-the-book but intelligent detective, here female for political correctness.  The two are initially at loggerheads with each other - (Boil his ass, she says of him at one point) but they eventually get along, with a romantic kiss at the end after they have worked together on the case.

As this is a lower budget film, the special effects, are modest but no less effective.  The action sequences with all super powers in full view are well executed.

With humour and action, this French super action hero movie which blends in the cop genre is a welcome addition to the family of international Netflix originals.

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LAST SUMMER (GECEN YAZ) (Turkey 2021) *

Directed by Ozan Açıktan

Adolescence is a wonderful time to remember and be re-visited.  Films on the topic of adolescence often attempt to capture this unforgettable period of one’s lives.  Unfortunately, director Ozan Açıktan coming-of-age story of one 16-year old Deniz is one boring aimless piece of filmmaking that is a torture to watch from start to finish.  Not only is this film totally boring, but it is annoying, pretentious and totally aimless.  The only thing Deniz gains in his summer at his parent’s holiday plan is a kiss from his crush.

Açıktan’s film offers a portrayal of teens free of any responsibilities in summer. They spend their time playing, swimming, flirting, and partying.   There are half a dozen or so of them, and it takes the audience a while to figure out who is whom - and who is Deniz’s sister or who is his girlfriend.  Asli is his crush and Ebru is his older sister.   They pass the time by drinking, smoking and getting high. and some experimentation and discussion of sex, though there's also a sense of innocence and discovery. 

The story focuses on Deniz as he spends the summer of 1997 in Bodrum, Turkey in a holiday resort with his parents and sister.  Deniz has a crush on an older teen, Asli who likes someone else and does not reciprocate Deniz’s feelings.  Deniz tries to impress her, sometimes in ways that could be detrimental to his own well-being, such as drinking too much, smoking, and jumping off a cliff into the sea.  He gashes his foot on a rock and gets a deep wound that bleeds and bothers him for days afterwards.  Some of the older teens appear to be having sex, and one whose parents died in a car crash scares the passengers in his car by turning his headlights off on a road and nearly getting hit by other cars. 

The film contains a lot of scenes that justify unacceptable acts.  These include drinking and driving, binge smoking and drinking, taking drugs, dangerous diving off a cliff (I know someone who became a paraplegic as a rule of such an accident), driving at night with the car lights off, boasting abut sex, among others. 

The young actors are all unknown to western audiences.  Ece Çeşmioğlu (looking like a young Jude Law), who plays Deniz acts as if he is God’s gift to girls.  In reality, his character is a skinny, good-for-nothing narcissistic spoiled brat that the audience could not really care for.

Açıktan’s camera is fond of lingering on the curves of the teen girl’s bodies as well as their skimpy outfits.  Açıktan seems like a dirty gawking old man.

There have been many excellent films on adolescence such as another American film of the same title, Frank Perry’s 1969 LAST SUMMER (with the words: LAST SUMMER was too beautiful to forget and too painful to forget) and of course the Eric Rohmer’s French classics.  LAST SUMMER is NOT one of them nor does it come anywhere close.  This is just one boring last summer for everyone.

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MAJOR GROM: PLAGUE DOCTOR (Russia 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Oleg Trofim


One of the three international Netflix originals to open this week, the other two from Turkey and France, MAJOR GROM: PLAGUE DOCTOR, based on the comic book of the same name and shot in St. Petersburg, is a fresh action hero thriller that covers several popular genres - vigilante crime (the DEATH WISH franchise), action super heroes (The Marvel Universe), cop crime mysteries (too many to list) executed with lots of style and aplomb.  With nods from the most entertaining and popular commercial films, the ideas might not be truly original, but assembled together, credit to the director and script, MAJOR GROM is quite the entertaining film, if one can ignore the large amount of cheesiness.  In fact, cheesiness is a plus in this film.  Current social issues like political corruption (The Trump Administration) and social media (THE SOCIAL NETWORK ad FACEBOOK) are also added for good measure.  A bit of irony - the Mark Zuckerberg character , Sergey Rad in the story, a mastermind of social media with his new software, has a conscience.  A villain with a conscience?  True to real life?  Sergey unleashes a platform where information is safe  He also fights against any city corruption.   “You are a great man,” he is told in the film.  The Chinese and Russians are also in collaboration in the pursuit of wealth.

However, it is a cop called Igor who is the hero and protagonist of the story.  A slim and sleek man, he is shown to be a loner eating badly and living in a neglected apartment with nothing inside his  fridge.  His favourite food is a meat wrap bought from the nearby train station.  But with a punching bag in his hall and various equipment, Igor is quite the fighter.  The action segments are  executed with a mix of special effects and Martial-Arts techniques.

MAJOR GROM: PLAGUE DOCTOR is the name given to the vigilante crimefighter.  His identity is not known to Igor or the authorities, but the audience knows who he is from the very start.

A dystopian society of crime with the streets full of garbage that looks like a really dirty Gotham City is created.  The film also pays a nod to BATMAN.  The vigilante crime fighter also dresses in a  bird costume that resembles a pterodactyl with a long beak (THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE?).  He possesses super powers the origins of which are explained later in the film.  The art decor and set decoration are stylish, especially Sergey’s condo with all the art sculptures.

The script is smart and sassy with a bonus of wicked humour while keeping the plot twists always one step ahead of the audience.  Audience anticipation (a tool that the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock always utilizes in his films), so important to keep audiences intrigued, is always present.   The cool dance moves performed by the hero and his girl at a super sexy and classy party are worthy of mention.

Though running at two hours, the time flies just as fast as the vigilante crime fighter disposes of his victims.

Trailer:

 Trailer: 

THE MISFITS (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Renny Harlin

THE MISFITS, not to be confused with the 60’s Marilyn Monroe/Clark Gable drama is

the new 2021 American heist comedy film directed by Renny Harlin and written by Robert Henny and Kurt Wimmer.  The film boasts an impressive all-star cast of former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, Rami Jaber, Hermione Corfield, Jamie Chung, Mike Angelo, Tim Roth, and Nick Cannon.

The name Renny Harlin will ring a bell to many as Harlin was the big name of his time, when he directed Sylvester Stallone in the cliffhanger of a film entitled CLIFFHANGER.  Harlin has made hits and misses including one hit and one miss in the same year 1990 with DIE HARD 2 and THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE. THE MISFITS his latest, though he has other projects he is currently working on, is a mix between a hit and a miss.  At the time of writing this review THE MISFITS  has scored a mere 20% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.  THE MISFITS, like many of Harlin’s films, is super cheesy.

The best thing going for the film is its super cast.  Brosnan, plays the lead character Richard Pace as if he was the James Bond of thieves.  He is suave, passionate, cool and very clever at planning.  Roth is always good and makes a solid sinister and cunning villain as Schultz, who owns all the penitentiaries, using them to hoard gold for the big crooks.  It is this gold that Pace and his cohorts steal to make the world  better place.  Was it not already mentioned that the film is cheesy?  Nick Cannon overdoes his role, though many might still find him amusing.  The young teens especially the Asian ones should flock to this movie in order to see their Thai pop superstar Mike Angelo who plays a member of pace’s gang.  Angelo is arguably the sexiest man on the planet.  He gets two excuses to take off his shirt to show a glimpse of his chiseled body - once, when he hides in a steamer at the penitentiary’s and another when he is vacationing in the sun.  As the film’s dialogue goes: He still has the looks of a 12-year old.  There are two ladies in the cast, Hermione Corfield who plays Pace’s daughter and Jamie Chung who plays Violet that pace tries to score.  “I don’t date men, I kill them!” is the response she gives Pace when he makes his moves on her.  “At least I tried,” is Pace’s response.  So, the film is devoid of any romance.

Harlin’s film has a script filled with cliches.  The fact is also humorously admitted in the film.  Pace tells his daughter at one point in the film: “I know it all sounds cliche but I did it for you.”  But just because it is admitted in the film does not mean it is ok to fill the film up with cliches.  Another line of dialogue used in the film as verbalized by Brosnan (when his group attempts to convince his character to take part in the heist) could also be used to describe this film: “If this was not so amusing, it would be sad!”

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RUNNING AGAINST THE WIND (Ethiopia 2020) ***

Directed by Jan Philipp Weyl

The Ethiopian entry for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards (though it did not make the short list of nominations) gets its debut all over the world.  It is a decent and well-intentioned feel good movie, though a little violent for the genre, the type that film critics generally dislike and audiences love.  It tells the twin stories of two Ethiopians who are running (one metaphorically and the other literally) to chase their dreams.  They succeed of course.

The two dreamers are introduced at childhood.  The connection is that the two were childhood friends who often played together in the bush.  When a father dies, the orphan is taken in and looked after by the other’s father, so that the two grow up as close brothers.  They promise to look after each other.  As boys, one has the gift of a runner while the other is enamoured by a visiting photographer who gives him a camera.  One dreams to run, the other to photograph.  The story is set in the remote countryside of Ethiopia, away from the capital Addis Ababa, the city that the boys adore.

The boys end up separated when they grow up.  While Abdi (Ashenafi Nigusu) trains under a super tough coach to be a runner - Abdi is actually the best in the business winning a huge sum of money as the Best Ethiopian runner, Solomon (Mikias Wolde) is dead broke with a wife and kid.  He suffered from diabetes as a kid though the ailment is never mentioned again when he is an adult.  In the midst of all this, Abdi is searching all over Addis Ababa for his best friend.  To those unfamiliar, the capital of Ethiopia is a huge place.  But as movie scripts go, this one co-written by director Weyl and Michale Wogh, the two find each other.

Just as in romantic comedies where there is a big obstacle put in to be overcome before true love happily ever after is achieved, there needs to be an equivalent obstacle to be overcome before our two heroes can achieve their dreams.  The obstacle in this case is the mafia who wants all of Abdi’s money that he had won or Solomon’s wife and kid will be killed.  This results in some violence in the film and some so-so fight scenes near the climax.  Film critics can only shrug at cliche ridden territory.  The majority of audiences might just love it.

The best thing about a foreign film is the beauty of an unknown land.  Ethiopia is stunningly captured on film from its remote villages, to the sparse dry baked lands to the hustle and bustle of its capital.  The lifestyle of Ethiopians are all on display here.

RUNNING AGAINST THE WIND is a cliche-ridden, well intentioned, feel good movie aided by the beauty of Ethiopia displayed on screen.  It opens July 9th, VOD/Digital.

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SON (Ireland/UK/USA 2020) ***
Directed by Ivan Kavanagh

The film begins with an apparent pregnant lady having coffee in a diner.  Two strangers enter the diner and sit behind her.  She gets up and leaves and in the car while driving off, has her baby delivered.   All this occurs during a storm which creates a more sinister atmosphere.  As she gives birth in the car, she screams: “No, I don’t want you!”

The film flash forwards to the present when the baby is now an adorable boy, 8-year old David (Luke David Blumm) who is very much loved by the single mother, Laura (Andi Matichak).  At this point in the film, it is still the beginning and anything can happen.  The audience should be wondering who the two strangers who appear in the diner are.

Suddenly one night in Laura’s house, finds strangers standing over her son in his room,  The door slams, locking her out.  When she calls the police, the police seem unsympathetic when they find no trace of break and entry.  No fingerprints could be found either.  The head detective Paul (Emile Hirsch) is more sympathetic.

Things go downhill for Laura and David.  David succumbs to a rare illness that the hospital cannot identify.   David breaks out and is in extreme pain.  David loses his appetite.  When the hospital keeps David for observation,  Laura frees  David and the two escape.   But David has eaten and killed their neighbour who Laura asks to look after David.  Not the police are after them.

The film is called SON as it shows how much a mother would do and sacrifice for her son.  SON is a horror film with chases, witch hunts and mysterious forces.  SON feels like a cross among several classic horror films like THE OMEN (The boy, David looks as innocent as Damien in THE OMEN), ROSEMARY’S BABY (Did Laura gives birth to a devil’s child?), HEREDITARY and cult movies (EYES WIDE SHUT).

The script written by director Kavanagh contains enough chilling elements but it lacks detail in its narrative.  The time between the boy David as a baby to his age at 8 is totally left out in the film and left unexplained.  Why do the cult wait till the boy reaches 8 before claiming him back?  Laura’s background is also omitted.  What does Laura do for a living?  She apparently has enough cash money to buy a used car at the whim of the moment.   The supernatural and psychological elements do not blend well together.  When the film toys between reality and fantasy, it works.  When Laura’s actions are questioned by the police, sincerely supernatural she has a past of mental problems, Detective Paul wonders if what has occurred could have been her imagination.  Paul thinks that she could have imagined the strangers in David’s room.  But when David eats flesh, the supernatural element sets in.  Obviously evil supernatural forces have come to play.

Stories like this one have little possibility of a happy ending, so it is best not to expect one.

Though director Kavanagh does his utmost best to have the audience root for poor Laura, one can only hope for so much.  SON makes its debut as a Shudder original July the 8th.

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Jul 23, 2021)

04 Jul 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

AILEY (USA 2021) 
Directed by Jamila Wignot

AILEY is a documentary on the life and works of African-American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist Alvin Ailey Jr. (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989).   AILEY founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT).  He created AAADT and its affiliated Ailey School as havens for nurturing black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance.  Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations ( bits of it are shown in the doc) is recognized as one of the most popular and most performed ballets in the world.

Director Wignot tackles his subject in the standard way of most biopics.  Wignot begins with the subject’s childhood, following it with the subject’s rise to fame, while including a part of the artist’s life that is his downfall, in this case is Ailey’s depression and death due to AIDs followed by a climax which normally extols the subject’s work or greatness.  Wignot has access to Ailey’s work, thus providing archive footage of Ailey’s dances.

Ailey was born in Rogers, Texas, at the height of the Great Depression in the violently racist and segregated south, during his youth Ailey was barred from interacting with mainstream society.  The racial segregation and prejudice are emphasized in the voiceover with grainy black and white footage of period Texas.  The audience sees two boys playing - Ailey and his best friend, Chancey Brown who saved him from drowning by placing his body over Ailey’s, which one might see as Ailey’s first gay experience.  It is also mentioned that Ailey was abandoned and never saw his father.  Ailey had also watched his mother raped at the hands of a white man when he was five years old, an important fact that was omitted in Wignot’s film.  The childhood portion of the doc is the most interesting, though there is none of the genius displayed yet.  The archive grainy look gives a sense of nostalgia, aided by the appropriate music.  Ailey’s youth was his inspiration and introduction to dance.  Wignot provides footage of black folk dancing.  The voiceover goes: People would get together and dance.  It was a time for love, a time for caring.

Director Wignot keeps the topic of racism topical throughout the documentary.  When Ailey’s dance troupe toured America, there are shots of the rundown hotels that they were housed in.  They never got to stay in the better hotels like the Holiday Inn because of their colour.  The performances on stage are a pleasure to watch.  Those unfamiliar with Ailey’s work are in for a big treat, as his choreography is indeed a masterwork, as Cicely Tyson claims as she introduces him at the start of the film.

Ailey’s gay lifestyle is gradually brought into the picture.  This lifestyle cannot be omitted since he contracted AIDs and died from it.  His bouts of depression are also mentioned.  Wignot attributes it to the lack of a personal relationship, which is likely correct.  Ailey was only close to his mother.  His mother had sacrificed a lot for her children, being a single mother.

Wignot’s AILEY is a worthy tribute to the genius artistry of choreographer Alvin Ailey, providing a look at his life and work both in dance and his activism.

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ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Jeremy Elkin

The doc ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding, the new documentary is an examination of a culture many cineastes are unfamiliar with - a good thing as the culture will likely be fascinating and educational.  Despite the uneasy and unfamiliar subject, director Elkin uses standard filmmaking of archive footage and talking head interviews to tell his story.  To his credit, he has assembled quite a massive amount of talent, particularly the DJs of the NYC scene of the time as well as selected archive footage which appears very related to the story he wishes to tell.  Elkin also interviews many  skateboarders, many unknown, as many are unfamous and never made it big with money or fame, but their say is still relevant.  The beauty of all this is that everyone, no matter who he or she is, has something important to say.

Of all the talking heads, Elkin gives the most screen time to actress Rosario Dawson and DJ Stretch Armstrong.  Adrian Bartos known professionally as DJ Stretch Armstrong is a New York-based DJ and music producer, known as a former co-host of hip hop radio show The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, alongside Bobbito Garcia.  Utterly talented to the max, Stretch had a major influence on the NYC club and street scenes.  He is seen in the doc, working his gig as a DK at the club while informing the audience with insight.  Dawson is an American actress and producer. She made her feature-film debut in the 1995 independent drama KIDS.   The film KIDS has a special significance to the street kids.  The director of KIDS, Larry Clark hung around the skateboarders filming them many, many times.  Clark eventually went on to make the minor classic doc KIDS on the kids.  Clark was much older and always hanging around.  The kids admit that they did not know him at first, thinking that he was some kind of pervert.

The doc is narrated by Eli Morgan Gesner.  Gesner is a film director known for his work on CONDEMNED (2015), CONCRETE JUNGLE (2009) and TONY HAWK'S PROVING GROUND (2007).  He is also a co-founder of the famous brand ZooYork.   That brand incorporated street graffiti into its designs.

Other guests on display in the film include most of the important people in hip hop and the NYC skateboarding scene, many from the latter group may not be familiar with.  The music artists include  musicians Darryl McDaniels, Fab 5 Freddy, and even Moby (recently seen in his own doc called MOBY DOC), among others, with skaters like Jeff Pang, Mike Carroll, Josh Kalis, and many more.  There are lots of shots inside the clubs with lots of serious hip hop music.  Of all the famous clubs in NYC, Club mars is singled out as the only one featuring hip hop and street music.

The important thing is that the raw spirit and energy of the NYC street scene are captured in this do,c rubbing off on the audience making ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT an amazing watch.  The doc can be watched by clicking on the website: filmswelike.ca

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BANKROLLED (FONDEADOS) (Mexico 2020) **
Directed by Marcos Mucay

Think HAROLD AND KUMAR in Mexico speaking Spanish and smart (or dumb) enough to be able to execute a scam involving the internet and one will have BANROLLED, original title FONDEADOS.   BANKROLLED is a low-brow low budget stoner comedy, so one should not get their expectations too high, or even expect too many laughs.

Two directionless millennial bros get high and pitch a bold new social justice app that raises millions.  Now they have to come up with the app.  The plot is as simple and silly as that.

The boys are old school mates who live together and out of money.  Polo Rios (Aldo Escalante) and Blas (Ricardo Polanco) wake up each morning with no job.  They chug beer very early in the morning and do not do much but watch TV and go online.  They finally decide to do something.  They need money and decide to get rich.  They attend a meeting on networking, score some new drugs and in a parallel universe come up with some internet scheme, a  kind of business/game platform that should earn millions of hits and make them famous.

Polo and Blas live together.  The gay aspect is eliminated as they refer to themselves as bros.  In fact they have also grown up as kids.  As kids, they had at least common goals such as not to piss  in bed; riding a pony and escaping the local priest.  Now they are aimless.  Polo has a girlfriend, a fitness and slim freak who is always on Polo’s case to stay slim and fit.  Blas does not care and has no girlfriend.  But Blas is the smarter one.  He is tech-savvy.  So he comes up with the scheme with Polo being the spokesman  and CEO of their new venture.

The comedy is not really that funny with a hit and miss ratio being too high, even for a stoner comedy.  Fart jokes?  Yes there are and they come quite early in the film when Blas and Polo share the same bathroom and one farts while the other can smell the stink while taking a shower.  Yes, the fart jokes are not that funny.

The script, written by director Mucay also falls into the trap of having too many cliches.  The bromance between Blas follows the same path as a Harlequin romantic novel with an obstacle to their friendship.  They make up and become friends with all the cliches dumped into the script as expected.

The two comedians playing the duo are at least a little funny without being too annoying.  At least they are natural and do not try too hard to be funny or ridiculous.  The script contains enough internet jargon and has enough technical information to make the story credible.  There is one funny part that should be mentioned.  This is the scan code tattooed on a drug dealer’s neck.  If someone wants to make an order, the customer can scan the code on his neck.

BANKROLLED just rolls along to this inevitable predictable ending without much aplomb.  BANKROLLED is a Network international original from Mexico opening Friday, 23rd.

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BEANS (Canada 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Tracey Deer

BEANS, a fresh coming-of-age story with a strong female indigenous presence directed by an indigenous female on an topical and relevant indigenous subject.  The plot follows a Mohawk teen nicknamed BEANS as she navigates through lessons in life.

The purpose of BEANS is multifold.  One is to show the harm violence and racism causes.  Things get ugly.  And things get uglier when an innocent family and children are involved.  There is plenty of anger displayed in BEANS, arising mostly out of ignorance and prejudice.

BEANS is based on true events. Director Tracey Deer's awesome debut chronicles the 78-day standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in 1990, Quebec.   She places an indigenous family in the middle of these events, with a teen protagonist making her film also a coming-of-age story.

The film introduces the audience to an indigenous family.  A daughter is being interviewed for college admission.  Beans is the daughter’s nickname.  Beans is described in the report as focused and determined.  But when she is asked the reason she wants to become a doctor or lawyer, she is stumped for an answer.  The film moves on to the family dinner where it is revealed that the father is against the daughter going to college despite the mother’s wishes.  Director Tracey leaves the audience guessing at the daughter’s real wishes.  But there is always something clear about director Deer’s direction.  She is always one step ahead of her audience.  One can also say director Deer is focused and determined like her subject.

The protests involving land rites of the indigenous people are first observed on TV by the family.  The government wishes to build a golf course on Mohawk land and that includes their burial grounds.   “Lets go!” says the mother.  The subject is slowly introduced to the audience, as the family visits the protest site.  What appears to be an innocent protest (on the way to it, the family sings ‘We got the Power’ in the car) ends up a violent and lengthy standoff.

Director Deer proves her prowess at drawing her audience’s attention into her cause.  Mother and father are seen arguing at the dinner table.  When gunshots are fired and violence erupts at the protest, they embrace with passionate kisses, showing the deep down love they have for each other.  Audiences are more drawn into a story grounded in individual emotions.  Director Deer demonstrates a solid control of her characters.  They are shown to be human beings with weaknesses and vulnerability, often not sure what they are doing.  Deer also captures the indigenous spirit and accomplishes one of the rarest goals ever  -  that one should be proud to be Mohawk.

The film ends as the stand-off is resolved.  With so much invested in the stand-off, one wishes more details would have been given as to how the problem was resolved.  A few other events are too conveniently resolved in the story, like the settlement of the quarrel between Beans and her friend April, the aftermath of Beans’ attack on a policeman and the delivery of the baby (shown off screen).

BEANS premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews.  It finally opens in reopening cinemas.

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BLOOD RED SKY (Germany/USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Peter Thorwarth


BLOOD RED SKY a, German/US Netflix co-production combines several genres like the vampire, hijacking, action, family drama- which looks terrible on paper.  Upon execution, director Peter Thorwarth who co-wrote the script with Stefan Holtz has created quite an awesome product.

A woman with a mysterious illness is forced into action when a group of terrorists attempt to hijack a transatlantic overnight flight.

The film begins with an emergency plane landing in Scotland.  Everyone at the airport is on alert as terrorists are suspected.  But they see a little boy emerge from the plane.  The boy is questioned by authorities and the film unfolds in flashback till this point in time when the film then goes into climax mode.

It turns out that the boy Elias (Carl Anton Koch) is accompanying his mother, Nadja (Peri Baumeister) to the United States for   treatment as her mother has ‘bad blood’.  When their flight is hijacked and Nadja is shot, she survives.  Why?  Because she is a vampire.  If all these events sound silly, they are, but silly events executed with so much conviction by director Thorwarth result in an absorbing and compelling action thriller.

Director Thorwarth plays his airplane disaster flick with finesse showing that he understands what works and what doesn’t.  The screaming passengers as they run through the narrow aisles; a gunshot that shatters a plane window resulting in decreasing air pressure (everything sucked out); scurrying through to the baggage compartments below deck all work well to keep the audience glued to their seats.

Director Thorwarth ups the angst with a series of ultra violent segments well spaced throughout the film.  These include rapid stabbing through a victim’s eye (enough to make even the hardest audience cringe); Nadja pulling out her sharp new vampire teeth with tongs; a head smashed by crutches and the chopping off of an infected hand bitten by a vampire.  Extra blood gushes out whenever there is a chance for it.

The film also effectively pokes fun at typical airplane flights.  Even the  corny dialogue is fun.  “We need a doctor!” followed by “I am a doctor.” uttered by another passenger.  “We got everything under control, don’t worry!”  is said when everything is obviously not in control.  There is the gay flight attendant - there usually are a couple on any flight.  This one, called Eightball (Alexander Scheer)  is introduced humorously.  An annoying passenger makes a pass at a lady flight attendant.  She goes to Eightball and tells him, “He’s all yours!”  Better still Eightball turns out to be part of the terrorist team that hijacks the plane and the most psychotic of the lot.   Scheer is a superb actor who has played an incredible variety of roles if one were to look up his resume on imdb.   Surprisingly the best performance comes from the boy, Koch who plays Elais, who is able to elicit compassion from the audience when he goes all out to protect his vampire mother.

BLOOD RED SKY is filmed in both German and a little English.  It is totally fun if you can master the over-the-top ultra violence, which actually adds to the entertainment.

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THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (USA 2021) **

Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell

Shudder appears to have a new horror flick opening every Thursday.  These are often a hit and miss.  This Thursday, it is THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR which opens - a variation of the slasher flick.  Instead of a scantily clad sexy female escaping her predator or predators, it is two boys escaping their kidnappers.

 It is a night of unimaginable terror that awaits twelve-year-old Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and his best friend, Kevin (Ezra Dewey), when they are abducted on their way home from school.  Managing to escape his confines (the boot of a car), Bobby navigates the dark halls of the nearby house, praying his presence goes unnoticed as he avoids his captor at every turn.  Even worse is the arrival of another stranger (a female) , whose mysterious arrangement with the kidnapper may spell certain doom for Kevin. With no means of calling for help and miles of dark country in every direction, Bobby embarks on a rescue mission, determined to get himself and Kevin out alive… or die trying.

THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR has one of the simplest premises in a horror film this year.  It is just 2 boys trying to escape their predators.  There is no reason given for their kidnapping and the entire film has Bobby (the main boy) helping his best pal Kevin escape their kidnappers.  With a storyline so paper thin, there needs to be some ingenuous elements to keep the audience’s attention from start to end.  Unfortunately there are a few, but not enough.

There is a reason a script contains plot twists and sub plots and supporting characters.  There are none of these.  Within the first 30 minutes, despite some good suspenseful segments, the film grows tiresome quite fast.  Even a shocking scene like a little boy stabbing a man right in the gut fails to shock (or entertain) after a while.

A cop or private investigator that suddenly shows up in a horror flick is certain to meet a gruesome death.  In Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. Martin Balsam met his death, falling down the stairs in the Bates motel.  In this film, the cop who shows up, responding to the 9-11 call is expected to and does receive a gruesome hacking -  an axe to his stomach.  One would think that filmmakers of film in the horror genre would come up with something more unexpected.

One of the kidnapper killers turns out to be a woman at the middle of the film.  A good alternative to a predator.  The woman looks like an extremely angry but less anorexic version of Angelina Jolie.  She speaks aloud, uttering lots of foul language.  A big warning is that this film contains a lot of torturous scenes, similar to the type found in the SAW franchise.

The main question (never addressed) that should be in the mind of someone watching the film, if the person still bothers, is the reason these two boys are kidnapped in the first place.

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BROKEN DIAMONDS (USA 2018) ****
Directed byPeter Sattler

BROKEN DIAMONDS, a new comedy drama begins with the protagonist Scott Weaver (Ben Platt) drives in his car practicing French to an audiotape.  He celebrates his going away party at work in a surprise party.  He discusses his plans of moving to Paris to be a writer.  During the surprise party, his stepmother Cookie calls, informing him that his dad has passed away in his sleep, and Scott needs to pick up his sister, Cindy (Lola Kirke) and come see the body before the crematorium van arrives.  Scott ends up having to care for his mentally ill sister.

BROKEN DIAMONDS is a comedy of discomfort.  Like Neil Simon’s THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS, the subjects are placed in comedic situations when they are in trouble, so that it becomes occasionally difficult to laugh at them, as one wishes them to be happy and not run into any bad luck.  In BROKEN DIAMONDS, Scott is forced to look after his sister.  The comedy involves his problems and discomfort at having to undertake this task.

But the script overcomes this difficulty.  This is because the majority of the jokes are on the side and not specifically on any mishaps.  Example:  Scott’s passport is burnt by a fire caused by Cindy.  The sight of the burnt passport is quite funny.  And the other jokes are quite funny too.  Take the film’s best joke that occurs in the ice-cream joke.

The film has a high hit-and-miss laugh ratio and had me in stitches many times.

Director Sattler has the talent of eliciting laughs from any situation.  Even when Scott sits in a therapist’s office,

The sibling dynamics work well in the story. Director Tan refrains from any melodrama, which is quite tempting with films in this genre.

As an additional bonus, the often hilarious film takes a candid look at mental illness (a big plus) - both from the points of view of the sufferer and of those close to them.  No other film has dealt with the topic of schizophrenia like BROKEN DIAMONDS does – the film makes it real.   Even more real as everyone has had some kind of experience with someone they know or close to them that has a form of mental illness.  The brilliant script by Steve Waverly is personal according to the press notes and this is the reason the film is so moving.  Waverly himself moves fromL.A. to Paris to write and had to look after his mentally ill sister in real life.The film talks about the voices schizophrenic sufferers hear.  The voices convince the patents to go off their meds.  The voices take over as the sufferer now listens to the voices thinking that they have become more powerful.

Platt and Kirke both deliver superlative performances.  The awesome songs on the soundtrack livens the film’s mood though keeping the serious tone of the events.

The closing credits indicate the year of production to be 2018.  It took a long while for the film to be released.  Believe me, this film is worth the wait.

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CAN YOU BRING IT: BILL T. JONES AND D-MAN IN THE WATERS

Directed by Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz

CAN YOU BRING IT: BILL T. JONES AND D-MAN IN THE WATERS

is a dance documentary that delivers the vision of both its directors and its subject.  It is insightful, informative, riveting and powerful.

The film begins with Jones at the 1989 Bessie Awards receiving an Award and speaking about his work, D-MAN IN THE WATERS.  He likes it to be a dream and a celebration of life, looming large with hanged dances.  His dances show the mechanics of movement and dance, as the ceremony is followed with him training his young dances at a studio.

Director Hurwitz and LeBlanc’s brings to life the extreme hard work and sweat that goes into the creation process of choreographer-dancer-director Bill T. Jones’s tour de force

ballet D-Man in the Waters.  This is Jones'  most important works and famous works of art and dance to come out of the AIDS crisis.  The film shows that in 1989, D-Man in the Waters gave physical manifestation to the fear, anger, grief, and hope for salvation that the emerging Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company (both partners at the time) felt as if they were embattled by the AIDS epidemic. As a group of young dancers in the present re-interpret the work, they deepen their understanding of its power – exploring what is at stake in their own lives in order to commit and perform it successfully.

Through an extraordinary collage of interviews, archival material, and uniquely powerful cinematography, this lyrical documentary uses the story of this iconic dance to illustrate the power of art and the triumph of the human spirit.

The story of the dance performance is set in the era of AIDs.  Directors LeBlanc and Hurwitz have transformed ‘D-Man in the Waters’ into present times, reminding audiences of the relevance of an epidemic.  Clearly, the world recovering from Covod-19 can find the connection..  As the doc’s subject T Bill says:  “It is about the dark spirit of what is happening in the world and how you push back against it.”

The film has premiered at DOC NYC 2020, Frameline Film Festival 2021 and Toronto’s own Inside Out 2021.  CAN YOU BRING IT is now available to rent on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (or digital.tiff.net).

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FOR MADMEN ONLY: THE STORIES OF DEL CLOSE (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Heather Ross


The doc’s title FOR MADMEN ONLY is appropriate as its subject is a mad and crazy man.  Del Close used to be transported from the institution to perform and then whisked back there.  Del Close has therefore quite the colourful history, and colourful is probably too mild a word to describe the madman’s life.

Close ( March 9, 1934 – March 4, 1999) was an American actor, writer, and teacher who coached many of the best-known comedians and comic actors of the late twentieth century.  In addition to an acting career in television and film, he was a premier influence on modern improvisational theatre.  In 1994, Close co-authored the book Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation (with Charna Halpern and Kim Johnson), which outlines techniques now common in long form improvisation and describes the overall structure of "Harold", which remains a common frame for longer improvisational scenes.  Improv had been given the nickname ‘Harold’ for a very silly reason.

Though most biopic docs spend time discussing its subject childhood and influences, director Ross gives these a brief mention (Del was brilliant as a kid; father was never present; he loved his mother and not his father) and goes right through to the mid of Close’s success.  The doc boasts that all the dialogue from the film has been taken from Close’s recordings.

One cannot deny that Close was a really funny man with a strange but exceptional sense of humour.  One one scene where he gets a meeting with writer Tennessee Williams, a cockroach crawls from his sleeve into Williams’.  “I believe you have something that’s min,: says Close to Williams.  When he did improv theatre with wriggly worms shown on the screen, he would switch off the theatre lights and throw warm spaghetti at the audience.

Director Ross aims at showing more of Close - with parts of his life many might not know of.  Close briefly had his own DC comic-book series, an anthology series called Wasteland.   The doc has many images from the comic book, which was quite popular during its day.  The doc also documents the famous celebrities who were influenced by close like -  Mike Nichols (THE GRADUATE and WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?) and Elaine May (director of comedy classics like A NEW LEAF and THE HEARTBREAK KID) who had worked together with him in comedy theatre.   

But it is improv theatre that director Ross devotes a lot of her doc’s screen time to.  For those who love improv comedy, this will be a treat.  (Myself, I never liked improv.)  The doc shows the problems and difficulties arising from improv,  Close eventually came up with certain rules of improv.  Rules like: Don’t change but respect the others’ input; take the unlikely route and ever to mime.

Director Ross includes clips of comedies like AUSTIN POWERS, MEATBALLS and WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, lowbrow but nevertheless affecting comedies.

FOR MADMEN ONLY is a worthy tribute to Del Close, highlighting his success in life while being very funny at the same time.

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HOLY BEASTS (LA FIERA Y LA FIESTA) (Dom Rep/Argentina/Mexico 2019) **

Directed by Israel CárdenasLaura  and Amelia Guzmán

Fading star Vera V. (Geraldine Chaplin) gathers with the remainder of her 70's social circle to shoot her last film: an unfinished script left behind by cherished friend J. L. Jorge.  In other words, Chaplin plays herself, she being in her 70’s.  Her age shows, more so as she is slim looking much older than she really is.  To her credit, she does not do stuff like plastic surgery which often result in older actresses having distorted fat lips.  Geraldine Chaplin is Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, and everyone has seen her at one time or other before as she has been in countless films.  She is matched with Udo Kier playing her character’s choreographer, Henry.  Kier loves odd roles and does them well.  Henry is one such role.

 HOLY BEASTS (LA FIERA Y LA FIESTA), a campy, tongue-in-cheek fictional film-within-a-film in honour of flamboyant and eccentric B-movie filmmaker, writer and theatrical producer Jean-Louis Jorge, an active member of the trendy ’70s underground scene who was murdered by three teenagers in 2000 at the age of 53.  Chaplin plays aging punk diva, Vera, who arrives in Santo Domingo to direct the musical La Palace, one of Jorge’s unfilmed screenplays about vampires and starlets, to be filmed on his home island. Welcoming her are two old friends, a producer and cinematographer Jaime Pina and Udo Kier), both members of the artistic troupe they all started out in.  But while the Caribbean production is sumptuous and the musical numbers are grand, mysterious forces threaten the shoot and death begins to creep up on the haunted production. 

So what can go wrong in such a movie?  Everything.  HOLY BEASTS is a artistic mess of mostly boring material.  The only good thing about the film is its cast, though they cannot save the film from it awful script and silly direction, though one cannot say that the direction is unimaginative.

HOLY BEASTS pays homage to real life director Jena -Louis Jorge.  Jorge is a director low budget B-horror films.  He was born in 1947 in Santiago de los Caballeros and died on March 13 , 2000in Santo Domingo.  He  directed his first feature film, THE SNAKES OF THE PIRATE MOON, with a team of students and a paltry budget 2 . The film won the ‘Cinema Today’ Grand Prize at the 1973 Toulon Festival.  There is archive footage of Jorge’s actual films on display in HOLY BEASTS.  His fans should be pleased.

If one loves surrealism and camp, these two elements of weirdness blend well in HOLY BEASTS.  Henry turns into a vampire during filming (don’t ask why) and starts sucking the blood of other crew members.  A dancer, Yoni (Jackie Ludueña Koslovitch) is taken in by Vera as her grandson.  Koslovitch plays Yoni as a long haired effeminate dancer who prances around half the time.  He is hilarious.

HOLY BEASTS will premiere on July 23rd in North America, a week before Geraldine Chaplin’s birthday.

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KANDISHA (France 2020) **

Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

 

Based on an idea and written and directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, KANDISHA is a French teen horror movie filmed in French about three female best friends during their summer break.  Unfortunately the idea is a one shot thing, and the film runs out of momentum really fast.  Even at a short running time of less than 90 minutes, the abrupt ending is testament that there is nothing much else of a story to tell.

KANDISHA is a Moroccan lady spirit that, according to the idea of the directors, can be summoned quite easily, a sort of urban legend.  Actually the idea is not that fresh as there have been other films made of the Moroccan demon.  The demon apparently is some Portuguese lady in the past who have been wronged and seeks vengeance on the male species.  This man-hating horror flick has all the males - teen cocksure ones down away with one at a time.  The girls survive but have to begin saving their love ones.

The three girls are Amélie, Bintou and Morjana who hang together daily with the neighborhood teenagers. At night, they have fun sharing goosebumps stories and urban legends. But when Amélie is assaulted by her ex, she remembers the story of Kandisha, a powerful and vengeful demon.  Afraid, upset, she summons her.  The next day, her ex is found dead. The legend is true and now Kandisha is on a killing spree.  The three girls will do anything to break the curse.

The film is quite violent.  Amélie’s sexual assault has her biting and spitting out part of her ex’s lip.  The demon attacks with violent wrath, able to break the wrists of her victims.  The film works but when the dynamics and camaraderie of the girls are on display.  Their childish pranks and antics are put to a halt when they suddenly realize that they have the responsibility to stop the havoc created by Kandisha.  Atmosphere, lighting, and mood are right.  The film contains sufficient scares with the only complaint being the abrupt ending, the surprise of which can be predicted.

A shudder original opening on the streaming service July 22, Thursday.

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NORTH HOLLYWOOD (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Mikey Alfred

There are quite a few things that come with the new skateboard comedy drama NORTH HOLLYWOOD, but not all of them are good.  Firstly, the ads boast it to be the first film to be about becoming a professional skateboarder.  Upon  careful consideration, this is not a fact one might want to brag about.  The film stands out as one from a 25-year old director who also penned the script, Mikey Alfred.  Lastly, the film is renowned to have been rejected from Sundance.

The film’s setting is the present, in North Hollywood.

As director Mark Alfred himself is an avid skateboarder, his film on a skateboarder’s coming-of-age is authentic and current.  It also helps that the main lead is also a skateboarder, Michael (played by skateboarder Ryder McLaughlin) doing most of the stunts in the film.  Director Alfred gives himself a small role as Mr. Laface..

NORTH HOLLYWOOD is the young director’s debut feature.  The fact can be easily observed in the film.  Skateboarding is director’s Alfred’s passion and all the skateboarding scenes have excellent stunts, most of them done by the young actors themselves.  One notable supporting actor is Nico Hiraga, who plays Michael’s buddy, Jay, immediately recognizable from Olivia Cook’s excellent BOOKSMART.  In that film, one can see Hiraga on a skateboard as well.  Hiraga is an excellent  actor showing great promise.  One hopes that he can be seen in a larger role in the future, maybe even a leading role.  The dialogue and slang used by the young actors demonstrate the director’s experience in the field. 

Director Alfred’s film works best when he shows the interaction and camaraderie of the youth.  Narrative-wise, the film is occasionally all over the place.  The scenes between Bill and his father (Vince Vaughan) are predictable and follows what would be expected in a father and son argument in films.  In fact, the confrontation scene is quite identical to Stanley Kramer’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, the one where Sidney Poitier’s character argues with his father.  The father is always giving Michael a hard time, for example when Michael wears a sweater and shorts.  "It just doesn't make sense!" the father screams.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD shows a new director, Mark Alfred with promise.  In this film, he tackles a subject he is familiar with.  It will be exciting to see how he handles his next project.

Trailer: 

OLD (USA 2021) *

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

There are no two ways of saying it.  M. Night Shyamalan once the master of the horror mystery films like THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), UNBREAKABLE (2000) and SIGNS (2002) have bungled again (like the horrid LADY IN THE WATER (2006) and his worst THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010) and AFTER EARTH (2013) with a mess of an adaptation of a graphic novel, ‘Sandcastle’, taking on a tale too ambitious for its own good.  The story involves characters ageing rapidly, a situation too complicated to be put on film.  The characters are of various ages and portrayed by different actors of various ages.  When they age a decade, the characters have to be portrayed by different actors that bear a resemblance to their younger selves or if not, wear makeup that make them look aged.  And the actors have to act as if they are older as well.  That said, the logical explanation for ageing on a beach has to have some credibility.  To make matters worse, director Shyamalan takes too much time to set his story up and then hurries through an ending.  The pacing is inconsistent.

The film centres on a husband and wife Guy and Prisca Capa (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps) vacationing with their son and daughter on what is to be their last family outing as they are about to be separated.  Mummy is also ill with cancer.  They intend to reveal the bad news after the trip.  The children, 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (Nolan River), hear their parents argue at the resort and resort to having a good time regardless.   They are told about this secluded awesome beach and are taken there.  At the beach they meet others from the resort.  There is a surgeon (Rufus Sewell) with a temper you do not want to temper with, along with his trophy wife ( Abbey Lee) and daughter.  And there is, in contrast, a long-married couple Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) , the latter suffering from epileptic fits.   It is soon discovered that everyone at the beach will begin ageing prematurely because of some silly reason like the rock surrounding them.  The kids grow up and are played by Alex Wolff (HEREDITARY), Thomasin McKenzie and Eliza Scanlen.

The premise at least looks interesting and indeed, the film is intriguing for the first third.  It starts going downhill really fast when things get worse and even worse when Shyamalan begins explaining all the reasons for the situation.   The guests decide that they have to leave the beach.  A few die while trying to escape.  The film feels like Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS where the characters are slowly done away one by one.  The story also blends in the story of a family but Shyamalan resorts to melodrama to emphasize points..  There are bits of detective work involved with the guilty supposedly brought to justice.  Add in a few laughable subplots, like the delivery of a bay and the removal of a gigantic tumour.  If all this sounds messy, it is and the film is quite a mess. 

It is a hard fight to see which actor has delivered his or her worst performance.  All the actors do not seem to know what to do with their ageing and the silly story.

GILLIGAN’S ISLAND meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  OLD looks like an episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND where everyone is still trying to be rescued but then all grow old on the island for no credible reason.

Trailer: 

PINK OPAQUE (USA 2020) **

Directed by Derrick Perry

The publicity materials for PINK OPAQUE claim it to be one of the most awarded original movies screened at the best film festivals.  This is a perfect example of blowing one’s own horn, which means that the statement most likely might not be entirely true.  In fact, it is more than entirely false.  The film is cliché ridden and full of stereotyped characters and director Derrick Perry appears only too eager to milk out any possible moment for melodrama.

The film has that kind of story that makes good indie films.  The subject is a man where his past has to be accepted in order to move forward into his future.  But this is also a trap of the film falling into cliched territory, which it does.  The protagonist is a black film student Wolfe Elijah Boothe) who needs to complete his project film in order to graduate.  Sob-sob, his mother has worked hard to give him all the money to succeed in her son’s dream of being  filmmaker.  Of course, Wolfe must be super talented.  He is in love with an Asian (-  a coloured and Asian couple is perfectly politically correct these days) whose brother (Daniel C.) is a real bad-ass. Wolfe is out of money and broke.  He has to complete his film project in order to graduate.  In desperation, he seeks help from his estranged uncle who is conveniently rich enough to help him out including a place to stay when Travis cannot pay his rent or gets his car towed.

Some example of dialogue found in the film that have been used countless time in one form or another in other films:

“You are always in a rush, Travis, but where are you going?”

“I know what I said is not what I feel.”

“This will be the greatest mistake in my life.”

“You always think you know everything but you don’t.”

“When you reach rock bottom, the only way to look is up!”

The last line, the most cliched of all the lines, is used in Travis’ college movie which is supposed to be excellent.

The dialogue is corny as hell, as in the scene when Travis’ uncle talks to his white friend about a project.  The white guy talks trash while the coloured  characters always appear to have the right words.  The film looks racist - the other way around.

Situations in the film follow the same path:

Car got towed.  Everything was in there, my hard drive, all my work.  As if things cannot get worse, cell phone is snatched away by a thief.

The film likely got made because it had a coloured lead character with an Asian girlfriend.

The character, Travis, behaves like the typical American, who thinks that the entire world owes him a living.  But the worst thing of all is that the script fails this belief.  Travis’s friend helps him, even when Travis abuses him in order to borrow his camera.

The best thing about the film is that it is beautifully shot with good camera angles and placement.

The mostly unknown cast deliver ok performances with only Daniel C. standing out while being an absolute hoot to watch with his gangsta chain and clothes.

When Travis is really down at one point in the film, all director Tan can do is have him sit in a car, drink booze and cry his eyes out.

PINK OPAQUE emerges as an unoriginal cliche-ridden film that shows no promise.

Trailer: 

BLOOD RED SKY (Germany/USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Peter Thirwarth

BLOOD  REDSKY a, German/US Netflix co-production combines several genres like the vampire, hijacking, action, family drama- which looks terrible on paper.  Upon execution, director Peter Thorwarth who co-wrote the script with Stefan Holtz has created quite an awesome product.

A woman with a mysterious illness is forced into action when a group of terrorists attempt to hijack a transatlantic overnight flight.

The film begins with an emergency plane landing in Scotland.  Everyone at the airport is on alert as terrorists are suspected.  But they see a little boy emerge from the plane.  The boy is questioned by authorities and the film unfolds in flashback till this point in time when the film then goes into climax mode.

It turns out that the boy Elias (Carl Anton Koch) is accompanying his mother, Nadja (Peri Baumeister) to the United States for   treatment as her mother has ‘bad blood’.  When their flight is hijacked and Nadja is shot, she survives.  Why?  Because she is a vampire.  If all these events sound silly, they are, but silly events executed with so much conviction by director Thorwarth result in an absorbing and compelling action thriller.

Director Thorwarth plays his airplane disaster flick with finesse showing that he understands what works and what doesn’t.  The screaming passengers as they run through the narrow aisles; a gunshot that shatters a plane window resulting in decreasing air pressure (everything sucked out); scurrying through to the baggage compartments below deck all work well to keep the audience glued to their seats.

Director Thorwarth ups the angst with a series of ultra violent segments well spaced throughout the film.  These include rapid stabbing through a victim’s eye (enough to make even the hardest audience cringe); Nadja pulling out her sharp new vampire teeth with tongs; a head smashed by crutches and the chopping off of an infected hand bitten by a vampire.  Extra blood gushes out whenever there is a chance for it.

The film also effectively pokes fun at typical airplane flights.  Even the  corny dialogue is fun.  “We need a doctor!” followed by “I am a doctor.” uttered by another passenger.  “We got everything under control, don’t worry!”  is said when everything is obviously not in control.  There is the gay flight attendant - there usually are a couple on any flight.  This one, called Eightball (Alexander Scheer)  is introduced humorously.  An annoying passenger makes a pass at a lady flight attendant.  She goes to Eightball and tells him, “He’s all yours!”  Better still Eightball turns out to be part of the terrorist team that hijacks the plane and the most psychotic of the lot.   Scheer is a superb actor who has played an incredible variety of roles if one were to look up his resume on imdb.   Surprisingly the best performance comes from the boy, Koch who plays Elais, who is able to elicit compassion from the audience when he goes all out to protect his vampire mother.

BLOOD RED SKY is filmed in both German and a little English.  It is totally fun if you can master the over-the-top ultra violence, which actually adds to the entertainment.

Trailer:

 

STILLWATER (USA 2021) ****

Directed by Tom McCarthy

 

Director Tom McCarthy (TIMMY FAILURE, WIN WIN, THE STATION AGENT) has been having a hit and miss of his films lately.  STILLWATER, McCarthy’s latest effort has been receiving a lot of hype having premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival.  The film stars Matt Damon which raises the film’s profile.  Do not expect Damons’ JASON BOURNE action flicks but more of Clint Eastwood’s pensive THE HEREAFTER.  Which is a good thing.  There are already an over supply of action flicks so another mystery drama would be a welcome addition to the current spate of films being released.

Bill Baker (Matt Damon), an oil worker in Stillwater, Oklahoma, learns that his estranged daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), while studying for a year in Marseille, has been falsely arrested pending trial and charged with murdering her friend and partner Lina (not shown).  He travels there to visit her in prison and discovers that she has all but exhausted her legal options. He moves permanently to France and struggles to clear her name, contending with the language barrier, cultural differences, and a complex and unfamiliar legal system based on the French penal code.  He is aided by a French woman, Virginie (Cottin), and her eight-year-old daughter Maya. As the pressure mounts, he must decide just how far he is willing to go.

There is a trend for current films to be politically correct.  Filmmakers sometimes go overboard by having a husband and wife being a mixed couple, which might alter the impact of the plot.  STILLWATER has a story of a white roughneck helping his daughter.  The filmmakers could have had a coloured actress play the daughter, which means that Bill Baker’s wife as coloured but that would have compromised the story.  But the script co-written by McCarthy covers quite a few current issues like racism and LGBT very well and personal issues like family loyalty and romance.   In one scene, Virginie takes Bill to see who could have been a witness to the murder.  The bar owner turns out to be totally racist, hating Arabs and unafraid to show it.  Virginie storms out of the meeting saying that she will not communicate with the shit head.  The LGBT issue coms from Allison.  Her lover is an Arabic girl.  So the LGBT and inter-race issues are covered politically correctly.

Allison is Bill’s rebellious daughter who moved to Marseilles, France to be as far away from her father.  The relationship between father and daughter is the main subject of the film.  This is Matt Damon in a pensive mood.  Expect a film akin to Clint Eastwood’s THE HEREAFTER.  The only one action segment has Damon fight off a bunch of young thugs, but he gets beaten up.  The film is largely shot in Marseilles in both English and French.

What is most amazing in the film is the important message that McCarthy brings to the audience, though it has been dished out more subtly.  Life is harsh.

STILLWATER runs a lengthy 138 minutes and is a slow burn.  Yet director McCarthy keeps his film totally engrossing throughout.A well written and excellent mystery thriller, STILLWATER (despite generally negative reviews from Cannes) also dishes out a few solid lessons on life.  Note: I am a sucker for mystery thrillers.

Trailer:

WE ARE MANY (UK 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Amir Amirani

The words of the 1819 poet Shelley who wrote the following words in the Masque of Anarchy that inspired the title of my film is splashed on the screen at the film’s start:

“Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable numbers!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

Ye are many - they are few.

WE ARE MANY is an inspirational documentary meticulously put together that has an all important message for everyone.  In the middle of the film, the cover of TIME magazine’s person of the year is revealed as ‘the protestor’.   The protestor often is one in millions who believe strongly enough that the protesting issue at hand is urgent enough for him or her to do a part and that it will make a difference.  Director Amir Amirani who has never protested before in 2003 and who protested for the first time has made a doc to prove the point.

After the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in NYC, the then American President George W. Bush enlisted the help of then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair to begin a war on Iraq.  The war was based on two false points - that Iraq was somehow responsible for the attack and that Iran had accumulated weapons of mass destruction. 

It all led to the very important date of February 15th, 2003.  On that day, up to 30 million people, many of whom had never demonstrated before, came out in nearly 800 cities around the world to protest against the impending Iraq War. WE ARE MANY is the never before told story of the largest demonstration in human history, and how the movement created by a small band of activists changed the world. This fearless, thought provoking documentary is the remarkable inside story behind the first ever global demonstration and its surprising and unreported legacy. 

The first two thirds of the film documents the events that led to the global protest of February the 15.  As everyone knows, this did not deter Bush and Blair (appropriately called war criminals) from bombing Iraq and killing thousands of innocent people including women and children.  This is made worse for the fact that is mentioned in the film that Bush never had his twin sons enlisted but cowardly sent other Americans to be killed in the War.  Trump looks like a saint compared to Bush and Blair.  This is the power of Amirani’s documentary.

Amirani has assembled an impressive list of interviewees.  These include: :Noam Chomsky  (Philosopher and Activist), Ron Kovic (Veteran and Author of Born on the Fourth of July), Medea Benjamin(Code Pink Co-founder), Bill Fletcher Jr.(Activist and Author of They’re Bankrupting Us!), Mark Rylance, John le Carré (World-Renowned Author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Dr. Hans Blix(formerUN Weapons Inspector), Lindsey German( Stop the War Coalition Founding Member), Jesse Jackson (Founder of Rainbow/PUSH), Danny Glover and a few surprises like the image of Pedro Almodovar (uncredited).

But it is what happened after the Iraq War during the last third of the film that makes this movie.  The effect of the global protest was not a failure but it ignited the world’s conscience.  To say more would spoil the effect of this doc.  Safe to say, this is one doc that should be on your must-see list.

Opening on VOD/Digital on July 23.

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Jul 30, 2021)

28 Jun 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

6:45 (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Craig Singer

Larry wakes up every day at the  time indicated by the film’s title and lives the same nightmare again and again.

6:45 is a time loop GROUNDHOG DAY film that involves the protagonist, Larry (Thomas G. Waites) waking up every morning at the same early time of 6.45.  Time Loop films are usually either comedies (GROUNDHOG DAY) or horror films (KOKO-DE KOKO-DA, HAPPY DEATH DAY) or sometimes a combination of both.   6:45 belongs to the latter category.  In horror time loop films, the protagonist always tries to prevent the horror from recurring.  KOKO-DE KOKO-DA was so interesting as the protagonist never learns from the previous day and the same horror keeps happening where he and his wife keep getting slaughtered by strangers while camping.  In 6:45, Larry tries to prevent the murder of his wife, Jules (Augie Duke) and him from happening, learning from the past, so that in the current, no murder can take place.  If it does, he will keep getting stuck in the time loop.  So the logic is to prevent the murder so that time can go on and Larry can continue to live his life, which in this particular case, is quite a strange one.

The film also answers the question of why it is only Larry that is involved in the time loop.  His wife thinks him crazy.  Perhaps he is!

The film opens in chapters with the headings DAY 1, DAY 2, DAY 3 up to DAY 9 (before jumping to DAY 100).  6:45 is one of the rare time loop films that is devoid of humour.

The common thing occurring everyday is a wake up call by Gene, the hotel manager, Gene (Armen Garo)  informing them that breakfast is ready.  Larry also finds hair from a previous guest stuck on the bar soap in the bathroom.  Soon downstairs he is informed that the cleaning lady will correct the problem.  As they go about their day, their day ends abruptly with a vicious attack by a stranger in a black hoodie, only with the killer’s eyes.  The killer attacks Jules from behind, slitting her neck with a knife following which he snaps and breaks Larry’s Neck.  Larry is then awakened the next morning, which turns out to be the same morning, at 6:45.  Gene then gives them a wake up call again informing them breakfast is ready.  Hair is found on the soap in the bathroom.

The script written by  Robert Dean Klein dishes out a bit of information every day instead of everything on a single day.  This allows the audience to feel the same monotony of the same events of the same day while at least keeping some interest with new information added.  On Day 1, the couple go through their normal day before the killing.  Day 2, they are informed that something very bad had happened in the town in the past while wondering the reason the two are so deserted.   On Day 3, they find out what had happened in the past.  Day 5 is the day Larry decides to spend the entire day in the room making love so that they will survive the killing.  They don’t.

The film finally ends after Day 100 with a reasonable explanation to the events. 6:45 ends up an interesting enough variation of a psychological horror movie.

Trailer: 

LOLEREI (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Sabrina Doyle

While watching LOLEREI, one notices that there is no character in the story known by that name.  So where does the name come from?  The best guess is from the Marvel Universe.  There, Lorelei is a Savage Land native until Magneto turns her into a mutated siren, whose voice can put men into a hypnotic trance, and she is placed in his Savage Land Mutates group.   One has to wait till the ending as the ending gives the reason the film is entitled LOLEREI.

LOLEREI follows the path of redemption of a sorry ex-biker gang member named Wayland (Pablo Schreiber).  The film opens with his release after serving his time in prison.  It is revealed later in the film that he was put there for trafficking drugs for the biker gang.  He never snitched on any member, so the gang is kind towards him upon release.  Wayland stays at a halfway house run by a smart talking Pastor Gail (Trish Egan).

The script loves to poke humour at ‘time’.  Pastor Gail: “This will feel strange at first, when she welcomes Wayland to her home.  Give it time.”  When his girl Dolores comments that time flies with her children growing up so fast, Wayland comments: “Not when you are in prison.”  And the comment of if there is no time for self care, then one has to make time.

LOLEREI gives a lot of credit to its story’s protagonist.  Wayland appears to be a good guy with everything nicely handed to him.  His ex-flame and current girlfriend, Dolores (Jena Malone) takes him in.  Her three children grow attached to him.  Pastor Gail is extra nice to him, even helping him out.  His parole officer gives him many chances including a pass to leave the State.  Even his ex-gang members help him out.

Written and directed by Sabrina Doyle, the film’s female touch is apparent.  There is a softer touch to the story than if written or directed by a male.  Family values are stressed.  Though mother Dolores, is not the best mother in the world, she still understands the importance of her children.  There is also kindness that is present throughout the film.  The good people do not get hurt.  This is reminiscent of director Francois Truffaut where the innocent in his films never get punished or handed out a bad deal.  Truffaut goes out of the way to show this.  It is for this very reason that it is difficult to dislike this ‘kind’ film.

Oddly, the film’s actors have a lot of lookalikes.  One (Schreiber) looks like Adam Sandler, another (Malone) like Meryl Streep and yet another like Helen Hunt.

The film has a disappointing open ending.  After so much investment put into the rest of the film to ground it in reality, the tacked on open happy and surreal (and partial fantasy ending) goes against the flow of the whole film.

LOLEREI opens in Select Theatres & On Demand July 30, 2021.

Trailer: 

 

NEMESIS (UK 2020) ***

Directed by Jim Crow

NEMESIS is the typical British crime thriller that delivers what is not normally expected from a tough British crime thriller.  There is no crime committed on screen - no exciting bank robbery or gold heist.  All the evil or crime had been completed in the past.  What occurs in this film is the aftermath - and the aftermath is not good.

The film begins with a millionaire, John Morgan (Billy Murray) attending a charity gala with his wife, Sadie (Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott).  His speech is interrupted by a person he calls a cheap drunk.   But the cheap drunk is copper Frank Conway (Nick Moran).  Frank accuses him of past crimes and threatens him.  Frank is eventually removed from the gathering and his badge is also removed from him as a result of the embarrassment he had caused.  It is later revealed that Frank has a personal vendetta with John Morgan as he believes that Morgan is the one responsible for his father’s death.  There is a hilarious scene when Conway confronts Morgan with this fact later on in the film, when Morgan teases him about it like a child in the playground. 

An underworld kingpin, John Morgan returns to London from semi-retirement in Turkey, along with his wife, triggering a cataclysm of violence, retribution and murder, beginning with the confrontation with Conway.   The confrontation is not welcomed by crime boss Damien Osbourne (Bruce Payne) and is the catalyst for bickering between his brother Richard (Frank Harper, who seems to be in every single gangster film since the 90’s) and nephew Eddie (Danny Bear).  John endeavours to reconcile his family at a party in his apartment, where they are set to meet his daughter Kate’s (Ambra Moore) new girlfriend Zoe (Lucy Aarden), but the family become trapped in their own home by a gang of heavily armed intruders.

Performances-wise, Murray should get a star billing above Moran as he is in more scenes than Moran.  Harper is a staple in British gangster films with his heavy working class British accent.  He is good here as he always is.  And who is this Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott, that no one can take their eyes off.  She is the most tackiest actress seen for a decade, always too eager to show off her boob job.  She has the smoothest complexion, perfectly smooth, no doubt due to plastic surgery as is totally evident from her looks.  There is also a mark a character makes on her lips.  She plays Sadie, the wife, as if she is the sexiest person in the world, which makes her screen presence totally 100% absorbing.  (I can watch her forever.)

Director Crow’s film is more talk than action though a little action is found near the end of the film.  The film contains a few excellent dramatic and cheesy set pieces like the confrontation between Morgan and his brother, between Morgan and Conway and the dinner table scene.

NEMESIS is tacky as hell, bordering on the edge of silliness and camp which ironically  makes the film also a terribly entertaining and an absorbing watch.

Trailer: 

PRAY AWAY (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Kristina Stolakis

Ex-gays and Ex-Ex-gays.  An Ex-gay is one who has gone through the Christian conversion program where they are taught that homosexuality is wrong and has denounced their sexual behaviour.  An ex-ex-gay is one of those who have realized that conversion therapy is f***ing bullshit that has harmed individuals and are speaking out against the Christian conversion programs.

The subject of Christian anti-gay doctrinarian is an extremely intriguing and controversial subject.   There are three kinds of audiences.  Gay people who are for their Netflix original documentary.  Then there are ex-gays and pro-ex-gays who are totally against this film.  Then there are straight people that are the least affected by the subject.  Regardless, the curiosity of people indoctrinated to change their lives, not once but twice make intriguing fodder and indeed an interesting documentary as well.

Point to note is that this reviewer is openly gay, who came out late at the late age of 27 or so, but had known since the age of 12 that he was gay.  The reviewer is therefore, pro-PRAY AWAY.  It would also be interesting to read reviews of the film who are either pro-Christian conversion or straight by sexual orientation.

In the 1970s, five men struggling with being gay in their Evangelical church started a Bible study to help each other leave the "homosexual lifestyle." They quickly received over 25,000 letters from people asking for help and formalized as Exodus International, the largest and most controversial conversion therapy organization in the world. But leaders struggled with a secret: their own “same-sex attractions” never went away.  An important lesson to be learnt here is that sexual orientation is inborn, and can never go away.  After years as Christian superstars in the religious right, many of these men and women have come out as LGBTQ, disavowing the very movement they helped start. Focusing on the dramatic journeys of former conversion therapy leaders, current members, and a survivor, PRAY AWAY chronicles the “ex gay" movement’s rise to power, persistent influence, and the profound harm it causes.

Director Stolakis makes her point by enlisting many ex-ex-gays to tell their stories.  These are powerful stories.  These people used to work in high positions in companies like Exodus International and Living Hope that tied to and indeed converted many homosexuals to be ex-gays.  Their confessions that what they had done was wrong and that they have hurt countless people are moving testimonies.  Ex-gays change their sexual behaviour not their sexual feelings as one of the interviews points out.

The topic of gay rights has been tackled before by director Stolakis.  Her directorial debut THE TYPIST (Hot Docs 2015) cracks open the untold story of a closeted Korean War veteran tasked with writing the military dishonourable discharges of outed LGBTQ seamen. It was released by KQED and is currently a Vimeo Staff Pick.  WHERE WE STAND (DOC NYC 2015) chronicles a group of Mormon women fighting for equal rights inside their church.  Hooray for Stolaki.

Trailer: (unavailable)

TWIST (UK 2020) *

Directed by Martin Owen

TWIST tells the story of an orphan named Oliver Twist set in the city of present London.  He is taken in by a bunch of your thieves under the guidance of an older gentleman named Fagin.  If all this sounds familiar, it should, as the story of TWIST is shamefully derived from Charles Dickens’ beloved classic OLIVER TWIST.  And should one shrug at this idea?  A 100% yes.  And with reason.

TWIST is described as a modern twist of Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’.  Free adaptation of classics seldom work and this film is no exception.  One wonders the reason the filmmakers think the project would be a worthwhile one.

TWIST begins with a youth stealing an envelope and escaping after a parkour escape from his pursuers.  He then has the envelope stolen by some lady.  The film moves to a different time where the audience sees a boy with his mother before the mother abruptly is put out of the picture.  This beginning is bad - both muddled and confusing.  It is a warning that what is to come is a really bad movie.  And TWIST IS an extremely awful piece of shoddy work, if one can call it work, confirmed with its unbelievable and senseless climax.

In Dicken’s OLIVER TWIST are the characters of Bill Sykes and Nancy.  Bill Sykes is arguably the greatest villain ever known to literary readers and film audiences.  Why?  Because Sykes killed Nancy, the love and kind girl who looked after the boy Oliver Twist.  In this film, Sykes is gender switched to a female played by Lena Heady and the character looks silly and misplaced, more camp rather than menacing.  The character of Nancy, a key in the Dickens novel showing that there is some compassion and love in the cruddy world is reduced to Syke’s same-sex lover.

Continuity is poor at best.  Besides the story jumping in time, there are details that defy explanation.  One is when Twist spray paints a traffic warden’s van as he gives a ticket to a driver.  No one is ale to spray paint such a picture in such a short period of time.  The switching of many scenes is clumsy rather than stylist and ends up annoying and distracting. 

Performance are awful.  Raff Law’s (son of Jude Law) acting is amateurish at best, he thinking that he is the sexiest thing on the planet.  What was Academy Award Winner Michael Caine thinking when he agreed to do the role of Fagin?

TWIST is a SKY original  For those unfamiliar with British media, Sky is a streaming service in the U.K. similar to Netflix.  Giving TWIST a one star in this review is already quite generous.  At the time of writing, the film has a 16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The film begins with a voiceover saying that this story has no music or singing (referring to the Oscar winning best picture OLIVER! by Carol Reed).  This film is nothing much of anything else.

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Jul 2, 2021)

26 Jun 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

THE 8TH NIGHT (South Korea 2019) **

Directed by Kim Tae-hyung


THE 8TH NIGHT is one of the two international films premiering on July the 2nd (this week) on Netflix.  It is good marketing for the international streaming service, Netflix, to include international films that will be watched by not only their own country of origin by by many others, like myself who treasure foreign films.  

This one is a South Korean mystery-horror-thriller film directed by Kim Tae-hyung for Gom Pictures and starring Lee Sung-min, Park Hae-joon, Kim Yoo-jung, and Nam Da-reum, names western audiences are not familiar with.  The film depicts the age-old struggle of an exorcist to stop the resurrection of the two mysterious beings that tormented humans and were locked up in 2 caskets for 2500 years. The life-or-death battle spans eight days with the climax occurring on the 8th day, hence the film’s title.  The aim is to prevent the breaking of the seal that restrains “That Which Must Not Awaken.” Once awakened, it can cross the stepping stones to wreak havoc on this world i.e. it will be forever hell on earth. 

A man who was once an exorcist, suffers until he faces a demon that is freed. The night exists between real and unreal, their struggle to stop the resurrection of the demon has begun!

About two and half millennium ago, two mysterious beings that tormented humans were locked up in 2 caskets.  They are required to infiltrate 7 weak human hosts to assume their form. After a few centuries, Monk Ha-jung (Lee Eol), the protector of one of the caskets, realizes that one of the beings has reawakened and so he asks monk Chung-seok (Nam Da-reum) to seek Park Jin-soo (Lee Sung-min), who was born to stop these beings. Jin-soo begins the hunt to find the being with Chung-seok in order to stop 'it' from causing havoc on the earth.

The film is more complicated than the story needs to be, and it gets really confusing with too many incidents involving too many characters.  The special effects are excellent and look like a cross between the Japanese devil doll horror films and the Hollywood exorcism films.  By the time the film reaches its climax, which is the 8th day - the film unfolds one day at a time, and there is some mumbo jumbo about stepping stones and other items like talismans and red and black eyes uniting, all really silly stuff , despite the film’s cute serious look.

The film plays two sets of characters, which makes the film more interesting.  There is the old guard and the novice monk who is helping him guard the relics.  And with gruesome murders taking place, a detective is assigned to the case with his side-kick , a novice cop who is quite a bumbler as well.  Then there are the possessed killers that create havoc with deaths of innocent people.  The two sets of characters gradually meet and there are lots of fights.  The line between good and evil is ambiguous as the demon can possess any one except for the old guard, who seems to be shot at one point and then survive.

Director Kim seems too serious with his film. To his credit, his film looks good, with well shot night scenes and scary set pieces.  It is too bad the narrative is a mess and difficult to follow, unless it is a South Korean thing that South Koreans can follow all the mumbo jumbo.

 

Trailer: 

AUDIBLE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Matt Ogens

Matt Ogens’s 38-minute doc short tackles the series epic of coming-of-age of the deaf, set in the Maryland School of the Deaf.  It begins with the subject, with headphones on, screaming in silence before it is revealed that he is deaf.  Ogens then takes his audience to the football field where Amaree (the subject) takes his anger out the field.  Athlete Amaree McKenstry and his close friends face the pressures of senior year and grappling with the realities of venturing off into the hearing world.  They battle to protect an unprecedented winning streak, while coming to terms with the tragic loss of a close friend. Though deaf, these kids still face the identical up to adversities of the world, showing they does not need to shout to be heard.  Three main issues are dealt with in the story.   One is the death of the friend, Teddy who was transferred to an all hearing school. Another is the relationship between Amaree and his father who left the family when he was 25.  There, he was bullied.  Unable to deal with a string of issues, he ended up hanging himself.   After being saved by Jesus Christ after dealing heroin on the streets, father and son are finally reunited.  The  other and main issue is dealing with the world after graduation from the school of the deaf. Though over-serious, Ogens gets his message on deaf minorities across.  Opens up for streaming on Netflix on July the 1st.

 

BLACK CONFLUX (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Nicole Dorsey


BLACK CONFLUX tells the dual stories of two disillusioned people set in 1980’s Newfoundland.  The film could very well be set in the present in Toronto close to where director Dorsey earned her film degree and lives.  The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity.  

Fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood. Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call.  

Director Dorsey loves to play with symbols.  There are two scenes involving bugs, the significance only realized after a bit of deep thought at the end of the film.  

Dennis’ story is more interesting as his character is an ambiguous creepy one that could explode at any instant.  McDonald delivers a powerful performance as the much misunderstood Dennis.  There is so much anger inside but he is over-polite on the outside.  He seems to invoke sympathy from his colleagues, both his boss who does not know what to do with him but comically writes him up, as an example to show to his other colleagues.  Instead of anger, Dennis responds with an apology.  The scene in the bar where he lets his anger out on the dance floor shows how sexy and scary his character can be.  Oddly enough, it attracts a woman who he ends up taking home to bed.

Jackie’s story, though less interesting, is still a well-written one.  Her character and behaviour are contrasted with her mates, especially that of her best friend, Amber (Olivia Screen).  Jackie is a young teen who is frivolous in her character and is occasionally serious.  She learns the importance of responsibility when she is turned down the opportunity of singing in the school choir after initially not committing to it.

The film is a little slow paced because of director Dorsey’s decision to spend screen time on character development.  It pays off!

The atmosphere of 80’s Newfoundland is effectively created in the film, though the story could very well be reset to the present.  Director Dorsey always has the beautiful sea in view in her frames.

The film has a solid ending when the two stories eventually converge and the two meet.  The meeting arrives at the very last 5 minutes of the film when one is about to give up on the chance of the two meeting.  One would expect a powerful explosion of an encounter as the Dennis character can be likened to a ticking time bomb.  The same can be said for the more timid Jackie, but what eventually occurs, not to be revealed in this movie, shows Dorsey’s  bravery and faith in her story telling.   The ending is a surprise one would not have expected.  A very assured debut feature from Dorsey again enforcing the power of women.

BLACK CONFLUX premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 when I first saw the film.  It was worth the second viewing.

Trailer: 

 

BONE CAGE (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Taylor Olson

It might seem odd for a serious film like BONE CAGE based on the play of the same name to pay a nod (perhaps unintentionally) to one of Monty Python’s most famous musical numbers.  The lyrics of one of the verses go like this:

He's a lumberjack and he's okay

He sleeps all night and he works all day

I cut down trees, I skip and jump

I like to press wild flowers

I put on women's clothing

And hang around in bars.

Though the lead character in BONE CAGE, Jamie (played by director Olson himself) does not press wild flowers in the film, he is a lumberjack wearing the typical plaid lumberjack shirt and does dress up in women’s clothing in one of the film’s key scenes.

Jamie works operating a wood processor, clear-cutting for pulp. At the end of each shift, he walks through the destruction he has created looking for injured animals, and rescues those he can.  One is a hawk, the breed is not mentioned, but it can be assumed to be a wild bird like the kestrel used in Ken Roach’s minor masterpiece KES.  Jamie’s desire to break free from this world is thwarted by the very environment and circumstance he's trying to escape.

Jamie comes with a whole lot of baggage.  He is looked down upon by his father.  His brother Travis had been killed in the military.  He does not have a high school diploma.   He is about to be demoted to chainsaw duties at the lumber company he is working for.  His best pal, Kevin is bullied and often beaten up by a local.  His mother gives him hack for wanting to get married so early.  His only solace is his fiancé and sister Kristy who he lives with.  Things appear to be getting worse and Jamie wants to leave Nova Scotia for British Columbia where things look brighter (but are they really?) and unable to do so for two reasons - the lack of both funds and education.

It seems that the baggage is too much for Jamie and the film to carry.  Many issues are left hanging or unresolved.  But the audience gets the picture.  Jamie has to leave town.  The suspension bridge in walking distance appears to be trouble.  Jamie and Kevin attempt to jump from the bridge into the water, after getting drunk and disillusioned.  But this, obviously, is dangerous.

To director Olson’s credit, who thinks he is the greatest thing in film, acting as if he was Brad Pitt - he does create an effective and credible mood and atmosphere for his film.  The confines and trappings of small town Canada are well created, with lots of attention to detail.  The audience can see the piles of logs in the background of many scenes, and the devastation of the forest in the background of other scenes.  Olson is fond of using hand held camera to give the film a more realistic look.

For a film and story grounded in authenticity and the reality of life, the climax is a surreal and artistic one that leaves the audience to form their own conclusions, going against the flow of the rest of the film.

Trailer:

THE BOSS BABY: FAMILY BUSINESS (THE BOSS BABY 2) (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Tom McGrath 

 

The first BOSS BABY was a huge success earning it an Academy Award Nomination for Best Animated Feature.  THE BOSS BABY: FAMILY BUSINESS, known as THE BOSS BABY 2 in other territories should do more of the same.  The sequel is more entertaining and funnier than the original.  The stories are based on the picture books by Marla Frazee.

Tim (James Marsden) and his Boss Baby little bro Ted (Alec Baldwin) - have become adults and drifted away from each other.  Tim is now a married dad.  Ted is a hedge fund CEO. Sibling rivalry is one of the film’s themes.  Tim and Ted reunite to save the world and in the process learn to work with each other again. 

Tim is a stay-at-home dad.  He and his super-mom wife Carol (Eva Longoria) live in the suburbs with their super-smart 7-year-old daughter Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), and super-cute new infant Tina (Amy Sedaris). Tabitha, who's at the top of her class at the prestigious Acorn Center for Advanced Childhood, idolizes her Uncle Ted and wants to become like him, but Tim worries that she's working too hard and is missing out on a normal childhood. When baby Tina reveals that she's—ta-da!—a top-secret agent for BabyCorp on a mission to uncover the dark secrets behind Tabitha's school and its mysterious founder, Dr. Erwin Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), it will reunite the Templeton brothers in unexpected ways, leading them to re-evaluate the meaning of family and discover what truly matters.e meaning of family and discover what truly matters.  In this animated feature, babies talk while Tim and Ted are reduced to babies again by drinking a potion.

It is all fun and games with a lot of animated high jinx at hand.  Director McGrath treats his animation like an action feature using intercutting of his animated scenes and some neat editing.  The film contains a few catchy songs to boot.

It is extremely tough these days for any animated feature to compete with those churned out by Disney and Pixar.  The filmmakers of BOSS BABY 2 realize the need for a niche and for product differentiation and distinguishes their product by making it much goofier and often moving it at break-neck speed.  The film, as a result contains lots of animated slapstick, and a whole lot of hilarious goofiness which will appeal to adult audiences as well as the little ones.

The voice characterizations are excellent from Alec Baldwin to Amy Sedaris.  Jeff Goldblum has a hoot voicing the villain, his cartoon character wearing the same kind of glasses the actor wears in real life.

The film opens theatrically in the United States on July 2, 2021 in RealD 3D and Dolby Cinema by Universal Pictures.  The film will also stream on Peacock on the same day as its theatrical release date for 60 days.[

Trailer: 

DYNASTY WARRIORS (Hong Kong 2019) ***

Directed by Roy Chow

DYNASTY WARRIORS is an international Netflix action movie based on a video game.

The video game is a series of hack and slash action games created by Omega Force and Koei. The series is a spin-off of Koei's turn-based strategy Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, based loosely around the Chinese historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, from which it derives its name in Japanese.

As expected, since the film is based on a video game, the film contains lots of CGI, especially during  the massive battle scenes.  The film has the feel of the LORD OF THE RINGS battle scenes.  DYNASTY WARRIORS is a video game action film with CGI gone mad.  Surprisingly the film’s most effective moments are ones where the CGI are removed and the camera focuses on the individuals- like the details of the armour worn by the generals or the metal plates on the horses.

The film works best when it narrows down to the conflicts or fights between individuals.  The rebel fights are all in the history books but these are less interesting than when one general of the Han Dynasty is fighting against a rebel.  It is not surprising then that the film’s  best scene is the one that is similar to a David and Goliath gent when a little known guard first against one of the Han Dynasty’s mighty warriors, a sort of Goliath.  It is an exciting segment extremely well done.

The film contains many stars of the Hong Kong film industry that western audiences may not be familiar with.  But there are recognizable faces, which means that Asian audience would be able to relate more to the film.

For a film based on a video game, the film puts a lot of emphasis  on its characters  These  characters are portrayed by a host of well known Hong Kong actors.  These characters lift the film above what most video game based films fail to do - which is to create credible beings that audiences care about.

The film has a little romance added, though not a very convincing one.  One of the generals, General Lu falls in love with a lady of the lake, firsts seen trying to commute suicide.  What she is doing all alone right up right in the mountains and all alone is never explained.

The script captains a narrative that wanders all over the place.  There is only one main plot of an evil ruler of the Han Dynasty usurping the throne from the rightful prince, a boy.  The rebels are trying to fight and oust him. The rest of the story centres around the individual loyalists of the country who battle him.  The film follows the style of most Hong Kong sword sagas, lots of excellent fighting choreography but with a weak narrative.

DYNASTY WARRIORS has already opened in Asian countries.  In Hong Kong, it was number 1 at the box-office for its two opening weekends.  Netflix purchased the film's global distribution rights with a record breaking eight-figure price for a Chinese-language film and will be released for streaming on 1 July 2021.

Trailer: 

 

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Leigh Janiak

FEAR STREET is a trilogy of three teenage slasher films that opens on Netflix a week apart from each other, beginning July the 2d.  Similar to teen horror flicks like SCREAM and FRIDAY THE 13TH, the first of the series called FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 based on the book of the same title, is not bad and should (it does not take much) satisfy horror fans.

It is 1994, and a group of teenagers find out that the terrifying events that have occurred in their town of Shadyside, Ohio, may be connected to each other, and that they may be the next targets.

Fear Street has its origins as a teenage horror fiction series written by American author R. L. Stine, starting in 1989.   R. L. Stine stopped writing Fear Street after penning the Fear Street Seniors spin-off in 1999.  In summer 2005, he brought Fear Street back with the three-part Fear Street Nights miniseries.   As of 2010, over 80 million copies of Fear Street have been sold.  Stine revived the book series in October 2014.  In 2021, a trilogy of films based on the series will be released on Netflix.

The title of the ilm comes from a fictional street in a small American town called Shadyside.   The town has been cursed with serial killers who appear to be possessed by a witch in the past called Fier who was burnt by the town at the stake.  It was Fier’s revenge on the town.  Apparently the family changed its name from Fier (the letter that could be rearranged to spell fire) to Fear.  The film begins with Ryan in a skull mask (possessed)and costume at Shadyside Mall violently slaughtering  a girl who worked there after closing.   The girl is played by Maya wake, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.

The story enters on a teen lesbian couple in a high school in Shadyside, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Welch).    Falling out has Sam match up with Peter and move across town to another twin town called Sunnyvale, supposed to be a wealthier town.  The two towns have an enmity against each other.  A football game brings the students together with disastrous results such as the witch starts possessing serial kills and begins attacking a group of students that include Deena, Sam, Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger).  The reason given, a silly one, is that Sam spilt blood on the witch’s grave and the witch is hunting Same down.  The group, obviously, are doing their damn best to save Sam.  This wouldn't be easy as the wits cannot be killed by fire or any other means,and keep coming back to life, including a second and third movie.

Director Zaniak who directs all the three films and also co-wrote the script knows her teen horror films.  She keeps the action fast and furious with lots of blood and gore in the killing scenes.  The film is made politically correct with coloured lead characters and a lesbian theme to boot, with the ending primed for a sequel.

PART 1 should see fans tune in to the other 2 FEAR STREETS.

Trailer: 

 

THE FOREVER PURGE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Everardo Gout

THE PURGE is a media franchise consisting of a series of dystopian action horror films distributed by Universal Pictures and produced by Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes, which are written and directed by James DeMonaco, except this supposedly final one.  THE FOREVER PURGE is the latest and supposedly last film in the franchise though DeMonaco is reported to be writing a new story based on what he calls a novel concept.

The concept of the purge: it is the annual American holiday when all crime including murder is legal for a 12-hour period.  The reason for it is explained in the first film.  It has something to do with the cleansing of the nation - or some kind of  bullshit that is not convincing in the least.  So, citizens, good ones, have to lock themselves behind shutters doors and windows while on the outside, others kill and loot.  The film has the feel of a zombie horror flick, because that is the same situation  characters in zombie films face.  In THE FOREVER PURGE, the marauders decide to have the purge continue forever.

If one thinks the entire concept is totally ridiculous, it might seem so.  But after experiencing Trump’s America, what transpires on screen during the page is totally real.  Imagine, no more democracy, the white rednecks doing what they want, and minorities like Mexicans looked down upon, as in this film.

THE FOREVER PURGE focuses on a Mexican couple, Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) escaping from a drug cartel stranded on a Texas ranch. There, they will be at the mercy of a group of outsiders who plan to unlawfully continue their own Purge, and turn against the couple to eliminate them.  In all this mumbo jumbo, one good white guy, who owns the range is Caleb Tucker (Will Patton) who is sympathetic to the Mexicans and his cow hands.  But the co hands are rednecks, who believe like Trump supporters that the world belongs to them and owes them a living.

I personally hated all THE PURGE films and thought the concept totally unbelievable.  But after one term of Donald Trump,  the concept could become a reality.  What is seen in THE FOREVER PURGE could be happening in Trump's America.  Given what it is, a silly franchise, THE FOREVER PURGE is a somewhat OK action flick basically about a couple escaping predators.

Trailer: 

THE GOD COMMITTEE (USA 2021) **

Directed by Austin Stark

THE GOD COMMITTEE is a film arriving with great promise.  It deals with social issues and how man attempts to deal with them.  The film is written and decried by a young 42 year old Austin Stark, an American film director, writer, and producer best known for films highlighting social issues, from mental illness in INFINITELY POLAR BEAR to this latest medical drama THE GOD COMMITTEE.   Unfortunately, it is not very good, having problems with credibility, dealing with too many subplots and falling into melodrama.

THE GOD COMMITTEE is made up of Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Andre Boxer, Julia Stiles as Dr. Jordan Taylor, Colman Domingo as Father Dunbar, Janeane Garofalo as Dr. Valerie Gilroy, Dan Hedaya as Granger and Peter Kim as Dr. Allen Lau.  They are so called because they make decisions regarding life and death:  i.e. who they think best should be the one to receive  an existing organ before the organ expires; ie. they decide who lives and who dies.  Whenever there is a new organ donated, time runs out before the organ cannot be used.  Within that time frame the committee sits down and debates, based on documentation and interviews of dying patients who makes the best fit to receive the organ.  In the film, the committee is faced with a few of these crucial decisions.  One is a super rich patient whose father is willing to donate $25 million dollars to the hospital if his son gets the organ.  The committee wrestle on the conflict of interest question while noting that if the hospital gets the money, more lives will be saved.  Dr. Boxer, who has been on the committee for umpteen years, is in need of a new heart.  At the same time, he is involved in ground breaking research that has organs transplanted from animals to humans that would make organ scarcity a thing of the past.  Into the picture comes Dr. Taylor, new to the committee.  She is pregnant, having an affair with Dr. Boxer.  This affair is both unbelievable and the melodramatic part of the story.  This side plot could have been eliminated from the story with no great effect.  Director Stark makes no attempt to make the affair believable.  The two actors never kiss or embrace.  Dr. Boxer looks much older than Dr. Taylor, and could pass off as her father.

The film feels very much like a play with director Stark rarely taking his film out of a building or room.  With the characters arguing all the time, especially when debating as the committee, the film looks even more stage bound.

The actors all look out of place.  Grammar, who has played a psychiatrist for ages in CHEERS looks too old for a romance.  Janeane, a well-known comedienne does her best to suppress any humour but those knowing her well would expect her to crack a joke at any time.  The placement of a coloured priest and an Asian doctor also looks too convenient to have the film look politically correct.

Despite a few dramatic scenes, the social issues never surface to make any impact or insight.  It seems a sorry failure that this social issue could have been covered more thoroughly or be even more entertaining.

Trailer: 

LET US IN (USA 2020) **

Directed by Craig Moss

The film begins with the definition of black-eyed kids, which is what the film is about - black eyed kids terrorizing a small town.  Black-eyed children (or black-eyed kids) are an American contemporary legend of paranormal creatures that resemble children between ages 6 and 16, 16 in this film with pale skin and black eyes, who are reportedly seen hitchhiking or panhandling, or are encountered on doorsteps of residential homes.  In the film they abduct other teens, asking them: Will you let us in?” before taking them away.

The history: While tabloid coverage of these creatures has claimed that tales of black-eyed children have existed since the 1980s, most sources indicate that the legend originated from 1996 postings written by Texas reporter Brian Bethel on a "ghost-related mailing list," relating two alleged encounters with "black-eyed kids."  Bethel describes encountering two such children in Abilene, Texas in 1996, and claims that a second person had a similar, unrelated encounter in Portland, Oregon.

A spirited 12-year old girl, Emily starts investigating the sudden disappearances of several missing teens in their small town.  She is aided by a young boy, Christopher who attempts to connect with his inventions to record communication from outer space.  Realizing there might be something deeper happening,  Emily might be up against forces she can't even imagine.

The one good thing about the horror flick is its modernization especially with the use of cell phones.  The phones are used for its ability to be used as a flashlight to fight against the black-eyed kids.  Emily uses her cell to text for help from all her friends.

The film works quite well in the first half with mystery and suspense in the air.  The script tackles a few teen issues like bullying, guilt, parents/children relationships and growing-up pains.  But the script co-written by Moss and Joe Callero never finishes what it begins or never deals with them in enough detail.  At one point, the film feels like a horror version of MEAN GIRLS.  There is no real explanation of the black-eyed kids, where they originated or the reason they have to ask permission to ‘let us in’.  And why only 5 kids between those ages.  A lazy script results in a lazy horror film with very few answers.

Unfortunately, the film gets silly once Emily and Christopher and their cohorts start rescuing the kidnapped teens and fight the black-eyed kids.  The black-eye kids are afraid of light, whether artificial from flashlights or cellphones. with no reason given.  It appears that the scriptwriter is making it up as the story goes.  The audience is led to believe that Emily can overcome and fight off these weird aliens without much effort.

The film has Judy Geeson (the British pop sober from TO SIR WITH LOVE) in the role of Emily’s grandmother.  Other cast members are relatively unknown.

There is a little twist to the story at the end, which does not really make any sense.  The only good thing about the film is its crisp short running length of around 80 minutes.

Trailer: 

PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY (Australia/India/UK/USA/Canada 2021) ***
Directed by Will Gluck

The popular Peter Rabbit (lovable characters created by Beatrix Potter) children books and DVD series (there are quite a few of them) are aimed at pre-school children.  The show and books follow mischievous, charming Peter as he overcomes obstacles, outwits predators and avoids danger. Peter wants to grow up to be just like his late father and carries his journal (a guide on how to be a good rabbit) on his adventures with his friends Cousin Benjamin Bunny and new character Lily Bobtail. The show will be aimed at a preschool audience in an attempt to teach them important life lessons and skills.

The stories have spawned two PETER RABBIT full length features, both directed by Will Click and starring James Corden as the voice of Peter Rabbit.  The first one that debuted in 2018 was actually the better one, funnier, more inventive and fresher at the time.

Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) and Bea (Rose Byrne) are now married and living with Peter and his rabbit family.   They have created a makeshift family, but despite his best efforts, Peter cannot seem to shake his mischievous reputation.  Adventuring out of the garden, Peter finds himself in a world where his mischief is appreciated, but when his family risks everything to come looking for him, Peter must figure out what kind of bunny he wants to be.

Bored of life in the garden, Peter goes to the big city, where he meets shady characters and ends up creating chaos for the whole family.

As in all animated features for kids, tee is always a message.  The message, obvious in this one, is the love for family.  Peter leaves the McGregors hoping to fill in the shoesof his late father by having enough food without having to worry about it for the rest of his life.  While in town, he gets to meet shady Barnabas (Lennie James) who entices Peter to carry on a  ‘job’ with his friends from the McGregor arm only to be betrayed.  There is much homage paid to Charles Dickens in the film.  References are made to his books as Bea is a writer who aims to be as good as him, and she quotes from his books.  When Peter meets Barnabas and his gang of questionable acquaintances, the story that immediately comes to mind is that of Dickens’ OLIVER where Oliver meets Fagin and his gang of pickpockets.  The only thing missing in the film is a good villain like Bill Sykes in OLIVER.  Bill Sykes, to Dickens’ credit, is the most evil villain of all time.  Because he kills innocent Nancy who protects the boy.  No such classic story in PETER RABBIT 2.  In fact the story is marred by predictability and cliches and the fact that the target audience is younger, as the stories were initially aimed at pre-school kids.  The only thing good about the film is its production values.  The characters are beautifully created, cute and lovable as any real bunny.  The humour, mostly slapstick, is slight as well as the drama.

PETER RABBIT 2 has suffered many, many delays in its opening, and finally makes its debut on July 2.  Bring the kids!  Or , Rent it at home on July 2!

Trailer: 

 

THE PHANTOM (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Patrick Forbes

 

There is nothing more exciting than watching a documentary that riles up one's interest.  One of the issues that is definitely to anger audiences is injustice and the miscarriage of justice.  As one wise man has said, with regards to North America: “How can there be justice on stolen land?”

THE PHANTOM tells the story of one of the darkest episodes in the long history of American justice - a story of how the State of Texas (the town of Corpus Christi, in particular) knowingly sent an innocent man to his death and left a serial killer at large.  A case in which - for the first time - it can be conclusively proven that the U.S. courts executed a blameless man.  This film uncovers the shocking truth behind a tale of murder, corruption, and lies that unfolded in the dusty, desperate streets of a Texas oil town nearly thirty years ago.  DeLuca protested his innocence until his execution, declaring that it was another Carlos (the phantom of the title)who committed the crime.

The ilm begins with a 9-1-1 call.   On Feb. 4, 1983, Wanda Lopez, a cash register clerk at a gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas was stabbed to death by a robber while she was making a frantic 911 call.  It is assumed that the recording of the call is real while other things on display like the images might be re-enacted, obviously as the camera crew could not be at the store during the crime.  Police arrived too late to save the victim but managed to arrest a suspect, Carlos DeLuca, shirtless hiding under the car.  DeLuca was tried, found guilty and executed.  Director Forbes attempts to prove the man’s innocence and to show the injustice carried out in the killing of an innocent man.

The doc covers actually two issues.  Besides the issue of miscarriage of justice, it also covers the topic of racial injustice, a topic that is also popular in films particularly non documentaries.  Director Spike Lee has made DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) and BlacKkKlansman (2018) and the recent JUST MERCY (202) had Michael B. Jordan portray a defence attorney representing a wrongly accused Jamie Foxx sitting on death row.

One of the nagging things about the doc is the reason DeLuca was hiding under a nearby car without a shirt.  Director Forbes never explains this or attempts to.  One of the key arguments supporting the case for  DeLuca’s innocence was that no blood was found on the man despite the violent stabbing.  Perhaps DeLuca got rid of the short as it might have been stained with blood.  As this would rob the film of its main aim, director Forbes could have deliberately omitted the fact.  It is odd too that the point was never brought up in caught, as any defence lawyer would question the evidence.

Director Forbes makes the bold assumption that the real killer might be still present and roaming the streets,  To Forbes’ credit, he has assembled worthy interviewees, many directly involved in the DeLuca case from the actual prosecutors to those close to DeLuna.  A lot of them conclude the same sad point that DeLuca was not educated and never had a proper defence.

An important documentary, well researched and put together teaches audiences again the importance of an objective non racial prejudiced judicial system - something that is practically unachievable as history has proven.

(And available on demand nationwide 7/2 on
iTunes / Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video)

TRAILER:

Trailer: 

TOVE (Finland/Sweden 2020) ***
Directed by Zaida Bergroth

TOVE, short for Tove Jansson, is little known outside her Scandinavian origins, but this illustrious biopic on her life, work, achievements and troubles should shed sufficient light on her.

Tove Marika Jansson was a Finnish-born novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author.  For her contribution as a children's writer she received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1966.  Jansson is best known as the author of the Moomin books for children. The first such book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, appeared in 1945, though it was the next two books, Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll, published in 1946 and 1948 respectively, that brought her fame.  Jansson died in Helsinki, Finland from natural causes at the age of 86.  She also shared a few same sex relationships which the biopic emphasizes.

The film contains a simple plot.  The movie centres on the early life of Tove Jansson Alma Pöyst), dating back to her life from the wartime to the mid-1950s, showing both her personal relationships with people such as Vivica Bandler and Atos Wirtanen, and the creation of the Moomin Character, and the popular book series.

The film is set in Helsinki, 1945.  The film’s period atmosphere from the set decorations (rooms, buildings, exteriors of Helsinki and period Paris to the wardrobe, props and nostalgic music are marvellously re-created.  Director Bergroth captures too the mood of the new freedom that comes with the end of the war and with it brings the new sense of artistic and social freedom that painter Tove Jansson discovers.  Breaking away from her strict conventions of her parents, she indulges in both an open relationship with a married politician, Artos (ShantiRoney) and her unrequited love for Vivica, the mayor's daughter (Krista Kosonen).   Tove finally finds solace in her cartoon drawings of the Moomins that she creates.  The Moomins, infused with inspiration from her own life, bring Tove international fame and financial freedom.  There are daily comic strips, a stage play and stories that continue to delight people around the world.  The film also serves as a troubled coming-of-age story of the international artist.

  Director Bergroth shows her dark and imperfect side rather than place her on a pedestal as an accomplished artist.  The audience often sees not too likeable characters, warts and all.

TOVE’s story of her search for fulfillment in art and sexual desire could have been told as a documentary.  This would require lots of photos and archive footage.  Telling the story as a non-fiction feature instead of a documentary allows a more rigid and stronger narrative with sex scenes that would be left out in a documentary.   One wishes that some more could be told of Tove’s childhood, which is noticeably missing in this film.

TOVE's budget was €3.4 million, which makes it the second most expensive film in Finland.  It has been released to critical acclaim, and was selected as the Finnish entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, but was not nominated in the short list.

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This Week's Film Reviews (June 25, 2021)

17 Jun 2021

FILM REVIEWS:


CANCER: AN INTEGRATIVE PERSPECTIVE (USA 2021) **

Directed by Nathan Crane

CANCER: AN INTEGRATIVE PERSPECTIVE is directed by health researcher Nathan Crane.   This is his baby.  He gives himself quite a bit of screen time as well as he advises on the topic of the cancer cure.

This supposedly groundbreaking film takes a deep dive into the fast-expanding paradigm of holistic and integrative wellness approaches for preventing and reversing cancer that treats the disease with conventional tools, while also supporting patients’ strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-based natural therapies.  Director Crane splits his film into chapters that cover topic by topic of the integrative perspective.  This includes chapters like “Hope”, “Moving Forward” and such, mainly looking at a different kind of cancer therapy compared to chemo-therapy.

There have been more documentaries, similar to this one, that champions the benefits of positive thinking and holistic cures and puts down traditional medical treatment like chemotherapy than films that talk about the pluses of chemotherapy.  It would be good that these docs also talk about the success rates of chemo rather than just putting it down without much fat.s  It is doubtless that corporations make a lot of men from chemo, but this doc fails to address or examine this issue.

Crane has assembled quite a number of health experts, researchers, master teachers and scientists who share innovative new evidence about the extraordinary power of the mind, ancient Eastern traditions, and the incredible capacity of the human immune system.   The film features cutting edge insights from pioneers such as Gregg Braden, Bruce Lipton, Dr. Sherrill Sellman, Chris Wark, Mike Adams, Master Mingtong Gu and Ty Bollinger.  Inspiring stories from cancer survivors Adrea Brier, Elaine Gibson, Dr. Veronique DeSaulniers, Jackie Mendez, bring real hope for a revolutionary integrative approach to fighting the worldwide cancer epidemic.  But it is all mostly talk and quite a lot of information offered to absorb in a short period of time.  Crane should understand about the ability of the human brain to absorb new material.  One cannot concentrate after 15 minutes or so and the brain’s learning curve diminishes rapidly.  The pacing is also poor with not much variety of information.  The doc looks like a poorly put together film, similar to “The Secret” which contains lots of repetitions and talking heads all talking about the same thing many times.  The doc could also do better than its hospital music-like soundtrack.

Upon reflection after seeing the doc, one does not really come off with much new insight than can be expected.  Everyone already knows the power of positive thinking.  The cancer healing process is definitely touted in the doc, but it is not wholly convincing.  This is made worse with the list of persons the doc acknowledges at the end who have passed away, assumed due to cancer.  Crane should have included footage or photos of the cancer survivors before and after.  More details on the actual positive lifestyles ( a few segments of ex-cancer patients drinking green stuff or sitting on a rock by a waterfall pasted in the background) are not enough to be convincing.  “Love your cancer and feed it,” says an ex-cancer patient.  Not much detail is offered after her words either.

Cinema Libre will release CANCER: AN INTEGRATIVE PERSPECTIVE on DVD and Video on Demand (Vimeo) on June 22, 2021

The doc is a marketing tool for further products.  Apparenlty, if interested in the natural therapies featured in the documentary, one can buy additional guides and products or purchase permanent access to the documentary after the screening.

Trailer: 

FATHOM (USA 2021) **
Directed by Drew Xanthopoulos

FATHOM is a measurement of approximately 2 yards that is used to measure the depth of the sea or ocean.  Whales are found in the deep, atoms deep.  The word is used as the title of the documentary on whale communication.

Directed and photographed by Drew Xanthopoulos, the Apple+ original documentary follows two scientists/marine biologists Dr. Ellen Garland and Dr. Michelle Fournet, focused on the study of humpback whale songs and social communication.  As they embark on parallel research journeys on opposite sides of the world, they seek to better understand whale culture and communication.  The communication is through the sound these whales make called whale songs, that is supposed to be transmitted miles and miles throughout the waters around the world.

The ambitious documentary film also uniquely reveals a deep commitment and reverence to the scientific process and the universal human need to seek answers about the world around us.  This is the oldest and most important form of communication and the film hopes to promote more interest in whale communication.

Director Drew Xanthopoulos takes his film all over the world from Frederick Sound in Alaska to Scotland to way out to French Polynesia.  There are beautiful shots of the open oceans with nothing man-made in view but perhaps the boat of the scientists.

The trouble with this doc, despite the beauty of nature in the show, is that director Drew Xanthopoulos does nothing to promote interest among general audiences.  The doc traces the journey of hunting down the whales that they have recorded, hoping to find the same sounds recorded to prove that whales do communicate.  A major part of the film is on the boat, that the scientists spend many countless hours on, in their study.  It can all be too boring unless one is well versed in mammal studies.  Dr. Fournet confesses that there is a very high probability that the project will fail.  And it seems like a lot of money invested in the study will go to waste.  But predictably, the scientists will find what they are looking for, and this is how the doc ends.

FATHOM would have been more interesting if it explained the details of how the measurements are taken rather than just showing it being done.  The origin or source of this kind of study should also be included to make the doc more whole.  The scientists complain of how their lives will not be the same after they return from their long trip of study, but one can hardly feel sorry for people that get to do what they love doing, especially seeing Dr. Fournet walking around on the boat wearing her designer sunglasses.

The film has got a below average rating on RottenTomatoes at the time of writing the review and it is not difficult to see the reason.  What transpires in the doc would be just as effective reading the information from a book or from the papers written.  FATHOM misses the opportunity to inspire and mesmerize but instead shows the mundane task of scientific work of discovering whale communication.

FATHOM debuts on Apple+ on Friday June the 25th.

Trailer: 

 

GAIA (South Africa 2020) ***

Directed by Jaco Bouwer

The title of the new horror film GAIA comes from Greek mythology.   Gaia from Ancient Greek is the personification of the Earth and one of the Greek primordial deities.  Gaia is the ancestral mother—sometimes parthenogenic—of all life. She is the mother of Uranus (the sky), from whose sexual union she bore the Titans (themselves parents of many of the Olympian gods), the Cyclopes, and the Giants; as well as of Pontus (the sea), from whose union she bore the primordial sea gods.  Her equivalent in the Roman pantheon was Terra.  In the film, GAIA is one scary mother of a bitch and ugly as hell, thanks to the amazing monster special effects.

When pruning off the weeds in my garden some time back, I was horrified to see my plant and the weed mutate into a new species of plant where the branches of one grew into the trunk of the other.  (I never knew this was possible till I read it up.)  In GAIA, the audience sees an even scarier mutation - one between plant and the human species.  The audience sees buds and flowers emitting from the skin of the heroine, not a pretty sight even though they are pretty flowers.

Two forest rangers Gabi (Monique Rockman) and her boss, Wisnton (Antony Oseyemi) are doing their work, recording on camera different parts of a primordial forest in South Africa.  Gabi and Winston split up (one knows trouble is afoot when one ventures alone into the unknown in a horror movie) deeper into the forest where she finds herself injured by an animal trap.  Winston, on the other hand fares no better, being attacked by some plant-like creature.  Gabi is rescued by two survivalists (a father and son) that might turn out not to be a good thing after all.  The father Berend (Carel New) appears completely out of it, worshipping nature and plants while homeschooling his son Stefan (Alex van Dyk) who has grown up to be quite the handsome lad, evoking the sexual drive of Gabi.  One night, the three are attacked by strange creatures.  They survive, but Gabi realizes that nothing is what it seems.

What lacks in a cohesive and credible story is more than made up for by the development of the scary atmosphere and stunning night cinematography (courtesy of d.p Jorrie van der Walt) and frightening visuals.  Indeed, this is a slow burn scary ecological horror film almost guaranteed to give one nightmares and never to sleep beside a plant again.  Anyway, as a kid, I was taught never to do so as plants breathe in oxygen instead of carbon dioxide at night, a fact everyone in the British education system seems to know but not in the North American system.  Director Bouwer keeps his thriller intriguing and scary without having to resort to silly scares that can be found in more commercial works like THE CONJURING or A QUIET PLACE.

GAIA is a film from South Africa, filmed in English and in anger language, which I assume is Afrikana.

Trailer: 

 

GOOD ON PAPER (USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Kimmy Gatewood

GOOD ON PAPER is described as goofy, raunchy and dead pan, three adjectives that don’t normally go together, but actually does well together in GOOD ON PAPER, the new romantic comedy opening on Netflix Wednesday.  Though not a fan of romantic comedies, this one is rather refreshing following a stand up female comic finding an almost too good to be true mate.  The story is grounded with reality which makes the film more credible and endearing.

As the protagonist is a practising stand-up comic, the film includes scenes of her in action, performing onstage.  Director uses Andrea’s routines not only to provide humour but also to summarize the incidents as well as revealing how she feels as she talks about her relationship with him on stage.  “Never be too picky.  Accept that ugly ring that looks like a penis.”  Andrea tells her stand-up comic audience.

What is most important in a romantic comedy is the chemistry between the two stars.  Iliza Shlesinger and Hansen have an excellent repertoire together and watching their blossoming romance is a real treat.  Both are vulnerable personalities with weaknesses and emotions and imperfect in trying to make their love lives perfect.  Margaret Cho provides solid comic content as Andrea’s gay best friend, Margot.  Margo is the one who digs up all the dirt on Dennis and tells Andrea, making her super suspicious.

The Dennis character is a prized one.  Making Dennis not the perfect physical hunk helps a great deal.  He is almost perfect in other ways, especially being able to provide all the right answers in any situation.  The scene in the pool where the camera reveals Dennis’  chubby not-too-perfect body is not only quietly hilarious but incredibly moving and credible to the story.  One wonders if this is really Hansen’s body as his head is not shown with his body in the same image.  To his credit, Dennis is quite a handsome guy under the glasses

A romantic comedy works primarily for the romance and not for the comedy though the comedy might forgive a dozen mistakes.  GOOD ON PAPER is pretty hilarious, eliciting a couple of solid laugh-out loud humour.

Every romantic comedy like any Harlequin novel has an obstacle in the romantic in which something happens that causes a quarrel putting the romance in peril.  In GOOD ON PAPER, it is Dennis’ credentials.  At the start, Dennis is discovered lying about his house though he gives a viable excuse.  Later on, his education at Yale is in question.  Andrea and Dennis attend a retreat with her cousin and fiancé.  At a golf session, director Gatewood creates some tension when the topic of Yale comes up.  Dennis seems to dodge the questions while feigning (or is it real) a back injury in order to escape the golf session.  This raises Andrea’s suspicions.   One thing about the obstacle in this rom com is that it is not just arbitrarily created in the middle of the movie, but this question on Dennis’ honesty was there at the very start of the relationship.

To the script’s credit (script written by Iliza Shlesinger), no one would imagine where the climax of the story would lead to.  And another adjective should be added to the three adjectives (in the ads) of goofy, deadpan and raunchy, describing the movie - smart.

The film debuts on Netflix June 23rd, Wednesday.

Trailer:  

 

THE ICE ROAD (USA 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh


At the very beginning of the film, the audience is told that in the coldest regions of North America, drivers traverse man-made roads, often frozen lakes, rivers and oceans of ice less than 30 inches thick in 65,000 lb. vehicles.  These treks are dangerous and often fatal.  Some drivers describe them as suicide missions.  These are so called Ice Roads.

The truckers in director Hensleigh’s ambitious action thriller are a tough bunch of die-hards who would stop at nothing to get the job done - because the villains of the piece have made it personal for them, in the words of the hero of the piece, Mike played by Liam Neeson.  Mike has his problematic PTSD-addled Iraq War veteran brother, Gurty (Marcus Thomas) who gets him fired from their current job.   Desperate for money, they undertake a job of driving the dangerous trek at the time of April when the ice is thinning.  Their job is to transport the heavy equipment necessary to save 30 odd miners trapped in an underground  mine before their air runs out.  Add to the team Laurence Fishburne and a feisty young Native American Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), whose brother is one of the miners running out of air.   Along for the ride is the ass-hole villain of the piece,  Varnay (Benjamin Walker), whose presence proves the evil of the conglomerate business.

I viewed THE ICE ROAD with the least of expectations.  The reason is the review embargo date being the same as the film’s opening.  When the distributors have the review embargo date so close to the opening day, they know that their film is problematic and likely to be panned by the critics.  Surprisingly, despite some flaws, THE ICE ROAD is a solid action thriller that often keeps one at the edge of the seat, coupled with some fresh scenarios set in the ice.  Include in the package is a skidoo truck chase; a fight while driving the rigs, a rescue under the ice, rigs outrunning an avalanche added to some nerve wrecking suspense as the heavy trucks traverse the cracking ice in the style Henri-Georges Cluzot’s 1953 French thriller LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR (THE WAGES OF FEAR).  The film includes a look at how hospitals in the system mistreat war veterans by prescribing opiates and how businesses cut costs at the safety of their workers - though the criticism is over-simplified.

Though almost reaching the age of 70, 68-year old Neeson continues to impress in his action films, primarily for the reason that he is such a good actor who brings credibility to all his roles, more so compared to otter’s like Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others.  Fishburne, a Shakespearean actor also gives the story more clout.

The film’s main flaw is that it contains too many subplots that can be handled.  There is the sibling relationship, the trapped miners racing against time to be rescued, the native American Tantoo’s own story, not to mention the main story of tracking the trucks through the ice roads.  That aside, director Hensleigh’s action pieces are magnificently orchestrated and should not disappoint even the hardest of action fans.

The film is shot entirely in the proven of Manitoba, Canada.

Trailer:


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MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE (USA 2021) **1/2
Directed by Vanessa Roth

Mary J. Blige is quite the superstar.  Not only is she a nine-time Grammy®-winning recording artist but a twice Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress and Best Achievement in Music both for the film MUDBOUND.  In Oscar®-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth’s documentary MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE the singer, producer and actress reveals the demons and blessings that inspired the record and propelled her from the soul-crushing world of New York’s housing projects to international stardom.  It is a very, often too personal documentary.  In the process, she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her most influential work by performing the album live for the first time. 

As in most biopics, Roth’s doc follows her subject from childhood through stardom, while including the messy parts of her life.  Fortunately, Blige recovers and gets to tell her story.  To Blige, as the doc reveals, this discovery is every important part of her life.  Drawn to suicide at one point in her life, she needs to tell her story and does.  Blige says that she tells her all not because of others but for herself that she needs to get it all out by telling her story.  In the film, a young black gay male also confesses to the identical trauma of suicide.

Blige was born January 11, 1971, in Fordham Hospital in the borough of the Bronx, New York City. She was born to mother Cora, a nurse, and father Thomas Blige, a jazz musician. She is the second of four children. She has an elder sister, LaTonya Blige-DaCosta, a younger brother, Bruce Miller, and a younger sister, Jonquell, from a later relationship Blige's mother had with another man after divorcing Mary and LaTonya's father.  She spent her early childhood in Savannah, Georgia, and Richmond Hill, Georgia, where she sang in a Pentecostal church. Her father was a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.  At the age of five, she was molested by a family friend, and as a teenager she endured years of sexual harassment from her peers.  She would eventually turn to alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex to try and numb the pain.  Blige dropped out of high school in her junior year.

Blige eventually overcame her trauma.  She set the music world on fire with her trailblazing 1994 LP “My Life,” a collection of powerful confessionals about her battles with abuse, depression and addiction that forged a profound and enduring connection with millions of fans around the globe.  As expected, the best part of the doc is her performing her songs.  Her background singing at the pentecost church when young can be seen as the influence on her way of singing.

MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE is an often too personal doc on the artist singer/songwriter.  Blige keeps hammering the point of her abuse and recovery.  The audience already gets the point and the film need not have to be that preachy.  But kudos to her for coming upon numero uno.

Trailer: 

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY (US 2021) ***1/2

Directed by James Bobin

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY is an original Disney series of 8 episodes based  a novel written by Trenton Lee Stewart and illustrated by Carson Ellis, first published in 2007.   It tells the story of four gifted children: Reynie Muldoon (Mystic Inscho), George "Sticky" Washington (Seth B. Carr), Kate Wetherall (Emmy DeOliveira), and Constance Contraire(Marta Kessler), who form the "Mysterious Benedict Society" and are sent to investigate an institution called L.I.V.E. (the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened), run by a man named Ledroptha Curtain (Tony Hale).

` The first two episodes are previewed here.  They are introductions to the high fight against evil that will come in the later episodes.  The two episodes are intriguing enough, both for adults and children with lots of puzzles and riddles to delight.

S1E1:

The first episode focuses on Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon, an orphaned boy who lives in the Stonetown Orphanage.  One morning at breakfast, his tutor "Miss Perumal" notices an advertisement in the newspaper targeted towards gifted children.  Reynie follows up and finds himself presented with a series of complex puzzles and odd tests.  He passes all of the tests and qualifies to help Mr. Nicholas Benedict.  He meets three other gifted children: George "Sticky" Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire.  They solve further puzzles before meeting the big boss.  Mr. Benedict, the organizer of the tests, is assisted by his subordinates Number Two, Rhonda Kazembe (hilarious, bringing much of her SNL-type humour), and Milligan, the secret agent that turned into a security guard for Benedict.

S1E2:

Episode 2 sees the four gifted orphans just freshly recruited by the peculiar Mr. Benedict, after the first episode.   They are just in the midst of embarking on the dangerous mission to save the world from a global crisis known as The Emergency.  What they do is try to prevent the abduction of Mr. Benedict.  Other than that, the 4 indulge in not-so-important matters such as coming up with the name for the group.  The eventual name they decide on is the title of the series.   The group also has problems with getting on with each other.  The story shows each kid as an individual, with problems like pride, co-operation and tolerance.  Constance appears to be a problem getting along with.  Reynie turns out to be the leader.  The episode is interesting enough as it personalizes the 4 talents before they spring into action.  The episode culminates with the riddle of the three switches, one of the 3 turning on the bulb in the other room.  The riddle is a brilliant one.

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SILENT NIGHT (UK 2020) ***
Directed by Will Thorne

It is Christmas.  Christmas is in the air.  A little girl is enjoying sitting on the wooden rocking horse that her father had carved out of wood for her and decorated with his own hands. She is smiling and happy. This is the only joyous Christmas scene in SILENT NIGHT, a British gangster film, the type that the U.K. used to churn out in the 70’s and 80’s most of them pretty solid stuff.  The Christmas carols are heard at a slow speed on the soundtrack, particularly different versions of SILENT NIGHT, and the lighting is dim rather than bright, and the feeling is that something ominous is going on.  The contrast between the bleak events and the festive season highlights the importance of family to the film’s protagonist, Mark (Bradley Taylor), an ex-convict who wants to make good, while providing a good contrast in the film.

The mood and atmosphere of South London are brilliantly created in SILENT NIGHT - from the rustic pubs, dirty auto garages to the terraced houses and shops in the neighbourhood.  The story is nothing new,  Mark (Bradley Taylor) has just finished doing time at the local prison for a job and also for partly taking the rap for a friend.  His ex-wife is displeased with him and wants very little to do with him, except when he shows love for their daughter, who is a sweet little doting thing, who thinks the world of mummy and daddy.  Mark works in the ‘tree’ industry, cutting down, pruning and clearing trees, a sort of modern woodcutter in this sort of gangster fairy tale where even the baddest gangster wishes to live happily ever after.  But things are not going well for Mark, as can be expected in films of this sort.  His job is paying, just enough and past acquaintances begin to influence him in bad ways.  Caddy (Frank Harper) is a sort of Godfather who will not leave Frank alone.  It is a matter of ‘one last job’ that is never the last and Frank and his over-violent and never-listens-to- instructions sidekick  (Cary Crankson) keep botching up the job.  For example, when asked to bring the hand of one of the victims that wears a ring, they chop off the wrong hand.

SILENT NIGHT is entirely watchable despite the well worn storyline.  It is necessarily violent but director Thorne keeps the incidents credible.  Mark is not a super Martial-Arts Master who can single handedly demolish all his victims.  It is 70’s and 80’s gangster style action.

Taylor, who is also one of the film’s producers, does a credible job as the  gangster hero,  a sort of less in shape and less charismatic Jason Statham.   It is good to see Frank Harper, always playing gangsters, on the screen once again.

Audiences have seen all this before.  There is nothing really fresh about the gangster film SILENT NIGHT, but it is one of those tough British gangster flicks, like Michael Apted’ s 1977 THE SQUEEZE with an atmosphere and mood that one cannot forget about.

Trailer: 

 

AN UNQUIET GRAVE (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Terence Krey

A film by Terence Grey (director and so-writer) and Christine Nyland), AN UNQUIET GRAVE is an effective blend of horror, both psychological and physical, and drama condensed into a crisp 75 absorbing minutes.

The tragedy begins when a husband and wife traveling in a car on a remote road run into an accident.  Julie aka Jules (Christine Nyland) is killed.  Her husband Jamie (Jacob A. Ware ) is distraught and so is Jules’ twin sister Ava, who is extremely close to her.  Within the next 15 minutes of the film, the two have concocted a plan to bring Ava back to life.  They have to travel to the accident site, her ‘unquiet’ grave and perform a ritual to bring Jules back to life.  Apparently, they have rehearsed everything.  But Ava is still anxious while Jamie is confident and too eager.  “What if something goes wrong?” “What if Jules is not the same person that is brought back to life? “Can you correct any mistakes”  These are the nagging questions that Ava is anxious about.  Expectedly the two carry on the ritual.  Or there would be no film.  Then, things go terribly wrong.

Jamie and Jules lead a life together for an entire year.  But is Jules really Jules?  The oddest thing is that it is Jules that is doing the questioning, while humorously, all Jamie wants to do is hump her.

What differentiates AN UNQUIET GRAVE from other horror films of this genre is the lack of gore and violence.  The only blood scan is the wound on Jules’ arm that she seems fond to pick with, much to the consternation of Jamie.  Very little details are given in the film.  The source of the ritual, the execution of the ritual and what actually happened to Ava while all this is happening are all conveniently omitted.  Another difference in this film is the extremely slow pace the story unfolds.  Yet, director Krey keeps his audience constantly in check as his film unfolds effectively while creeping along slowly.

One wishes that there would be a bit of humour to relieve the seriousness of the proceedings and to lighten the mood of this heavy film.

Most of the scares occur with thought and premeditation.  The audience can only imagine the horror that is going on in the minds of both Jamie and Jules.

The film is a two-hander with only two actors Ware and Nyland playing Jamie and Ava/Jules respectively.  They both deliver strong performances that depict their desperation, before and after the  horror of the events that unfold.  The cinematography, particularly the night scenes are well shot by d.p. Daniel Fox, who specializes in horror films.

The confrontation marks the climax of the film.  One wishes that there would be a more satisfactory ending, though the film succeeds enough as a horror movie.  AN UNQUIET GRAVE is a small budget unquiet little gem of a horror flick.  It opens on the Shudder horror streaming service on June 24th.

Trailer: 

 

 

SUN CHILDREN (Khorshid) (Iran 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Majid Majidi


Children in peril has always been a favourite genre among film classics.  French Master Francois Truffaut rose to fame with his classics about kids, LES QUARTE CENTS COUPS (400 BLOWS) and L’ARGENT DE POCHE (SMALL CHANGE).   Alexandre Rockwell has just directed SWEET THING about three children runaways that is currently playing.  The film SUN CHILDREN is centred on the children that attend a special school that recruits kids from the streets.  The school needs private funding as the government does not supply enough funds for it to survive.  The reason the children are called SUN CHILDREN is explained in the film.  The film opens with a dedication to the world’s 152 million children who are in the situation of forced labour. The film centres on child labourers.

Ali (Rouhollah Zamani) and his three pals work hard, doing odd jobs and committing petty crimes to make fast cash.  They have no fathers, as revealed in the scene where they fill in the forms for school registration.  Their fathers are dead, in prison or otherwise absent.  In Ali’s case, he wants to make enough money to get his mother out of a psychiatric ward and take care of her.  So he is excited when a crime boss entrusts him to find buried treasure (every child’s dream).  Ali must first get his gang enrolled at the charity-run Sun School, whose basement tunnel is the only way to the treasure, as it is supposed to run beneath the graveyard.

Majidi’s film contains a few unforgettable images - the most remarkable one being a crucial scene in which the children scale the walls of the locked down school.  The school had been under lock and key by its landlord as the school did not have sufficient funds to pay the rent.  The anger of one of the teachers also leads him to an uncontrollable outburst (righteous anger?) that gets him in trouble with the law.  Ali digs a tunnel, despite personal danger to get to the treasure to save his mother, and runs into water almost drowning him.  The tunnel segments are realistic and demonstrate both the claustrophobia and risks of digging underground.  The scene is reminiscent of the tunnel dug in John Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE.  Director Majidi elicits some suspense from the situation as the kids have to dig in secret, unknown to the school authorities.


Director Majid Majidi is no stranger to children films.  His CHILDREN OF PARADISE was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film (now renamed Best International Feature) in 1999.  Majidi’s special talent is his ability to elicit superior performances from the child actors.  This is evident for the expressions often seen on the children’s faces.  Zamani won the Marcello Mastroianni Award at Venice 2020 for emerging talent. 

Majidid’s often chilling film is a worthy dedication to the children around the world working in forced labour.  He also covers other issues like the Afghan children in refugee camps who have no rights and are stricken with poverty.

SUN CHILDREN  is available June 25 to rent or buy on the Apple TV app/iTunes and other VOD platforms.

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VICIOUS FUN (Canada 2020) ***

Directed by Cody Calahan

Shot entirely in Hamilton, Ontario VICIOUS FUN is a Canadian comedy horror that is best described by its title.  VICIOUS FUN is simply VICIOUS FUN.  It is funny, with a good share of blood, violence and gore and moves at a quick enough pace that its low production values owing to its low budget can hardly be noticed.

VICIOUS FUN contains a simple premise.  Joel (Evan Marsh) , a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers.  With no other choice, Joel attempts to blend in or risk becoming the next victim.  He pretends to be Frank, though he discovers soon that Frank is then a corpse in the basement freezer.

The cast is a list of little known actors, but many of whom have been around in many little Canadian films.  One recognizable face belongs to British born Julian Richings whose very appearance gives one the feeling of creepiness.  He recently had a starring role opposite Sheila McCarthy in the horror flick from  a year ago, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON.

The film contains the customary gore, though director Calahan must have got his hands full trying to provide scenes not seen before in other horror films.  These include two pencils through each ear of a victim, or seen before but still chilling scenes like a stabbing through an eye and a chopped hand, together with other bits and pieces.

One set piece has two heroes, Joel and the girl posing as a member of the group but exacting revenge in what is supposed to be a safe haven - a police station, where they have been locked up after being arrested is a solid one.  The cops are a bunch of misfits who think that they are God’s gift to mankind.  It is just a matter of time, as expected for a killer to appear and to hack away with the bunch of them.

The script co-written by Calahan and James Villenueve adds a variety of serial killers in the group to add a bit of spice into the story.  There is the creepiest one and the main villain, Bon (Ari Miller) who also has a habit of rising p as a killer clown, another creepy Fritz (Richings), a gigantic monster of a man, Mike (Rober Maillet) and an Asian one, Video (Sena Baek) to boot.

The actors all appear to be having fun, either getting diced or killing off another member of the cast  Marsh is edible as the reluctant hero, actually good looking, but dressed in geeky clothes.  He has two women to choose to have romance with, his roommate or the disguised serial killer.

The humour is mostly tongue-in-cheek with a little deadpan comedy added in.

Don’t expect too much for VICIOUS FUN.  Just sit back, relax, if possible and enjoy the gore and laughs.

VICIOUS FUN debuts on the horror streaming service Shudder on June 29th, Tuesday.

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WOLFGANG (USA 2021) ***

Directed by David Gelp

Everyone should have heard of the high end restaurant of the stars, Spago.  Wolgang Puck is its founder.  Spago is Wolgang’s first restaurant in the United States, in Los Angeles.

On a personal note, my best friend’s cousin worked at Spago 20 odd years ago, the one in Palo Alto.  We were supposed to meet him at work.  Going to the restaurant and seeing the posh limousines and customers in their evening wear, we realized that we were not dressed properly to enter through the front.  The Spago chef, (the cousin worked there as one) finally met us at the back.  The names Spago and Wolgang Puck are now household names that even granny will recognize.  This is the doc of the great restaurateur.

The doc follows the usual path of biopics.  The doc traces the childhood of Wolgnag, to his arrival in the United States.  His rise to fame is documented, the artist shown at work with talking heads parsing him.  In the typical doc, there is always a downside where the celebrity has experienced his worst life.  Fortunately for Wolfgang, he had a good life, but always working too hard, away from family.  His only downside in life occurred at a very young age when he was abused and seated by his step-father.  But this only made him more determined to succeed in life.  The doc is expectedly inspirational.

Wolfgang Johannes Puck was born July 8, 1949, an Austrian chef, in Austria, Puck moved to the United States at the age of 24. In 1973, Puck moved to Los Angeles, opening his first restaurant, Spago, in 1982.  He learned cooking from his mother, who was a pastry chef.He took the surname of his stepfather, Josef Puck, after his mother's remarriage. The marriage produced two younger sisters and a younger brother for Wolfgang. He trained as an apprentice under Raymond Thuilier at L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux-de-Provence, at Hôtel de Paris in Monaco, and at Maxim's Paris before moving to the United States in 1973 at age 24. After two years at La Tour in Indianapolis, Puck moved to Los Angeles to become chef and part owner of Ma Maison restaurant.

All the above are mentioned in the film.  Director Gelp is fortunate to have Puck still alive talk about his life, work and aspirations.  His ex-wife Barbara Lazaaroff is also interviewed in the film.  Help also has access to an incredible amount of archive footage, including old photographs that show Wolfgang, young, middle aged and at his current age.

Wolfgang has a simple philosophy in life that he shares with the audience :  Know what you are good at; take charge; and be a success.

Puck now runs over 100 restaurants around the world, holds two Michelin stars, is the only two-time recipient of the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award and has been the official caterer for the Academy Awards®for over 20 years. His name spans across cookbooks and kitchen and food merchandise. His trademark recipes have been syndicated in newspapers and websites. He hosted the Emmy® Award-winning show “Wolfgang Puck” on the Food Network, was the first regular guest chef on “Good Morning America,” has been honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame. 

WOLFGANG, the doc is formulaic, predictable but still enjoyable as a literal food feast for the eyes.

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ZOLA  (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Janicza Bravo

The film, ZOLA as the opening credits claim that what follows is mostly true.  This is one film that can be described as fierce, reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s AMERICAN HONEY (2016) and Paul Verhoeven's SHOWGIRLS (1995).   In October 2015, Detroit waitress Aziah "Zola" King posted a 148-tweet thread about a trip she took to Florida with a stripper named Jessica; the story, containing details of prostitution, murder and an attempted suicide, quickly went viral, garnering the recognition of people such as Missy Elliott, Solange Knowles and Ava DuVernay.  About a month later, Rolling Stone's David Kushner published an article interviewing people involved in the story; while the article noted several inconsistencies in the stories, and King has admitted to embellishing some of the more sensational detail, most of the involved have admitted to the general gist of the story.

The film begins with an image of Zola (Taylour Page) and Stefani (Riley Keough).  Zola says: “You want to hear how me and this white bitch fell out?  It’s kind of a long story, but it is full of suspense.”  This is exactly what the film is all about.

Zola meets a sex worker named Stefani at a restaurant where Zola waitresses, and the two immediately bond over pole dancing.  Only a day after they exchange numbers, Stefani invites Zola on a cross-country road trip to Tampa, Florida, where the goal is to make as much money as possible dancing in Florida strip clubs.  Zola agrees, and suddenly she is trapped in the craziest, most unexpected trip of her life, partaking in a wild two-day trip with Stefani, her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun), and Stefani's violent pimp, X (Colman Domingo).  Zola discovers that Stefani indulges in the sex trade as well.  Zolan abstains, regaining her dignity but is under threat and abuse by X.  What transpires too, is Zola’s coming-of- age story, and a fierce one.

One knows that director Bravo who also co-wrote the script with Jeremy O. Harris that they intend a no-nonsense approach to the story.  One scene where there is a lose up of the toilet bowls after the two girls do a number 1 says it call.  There is a close up of Stefani’s yellow urine in the toilet bowl.

The underbelly of society, particularly the United States is effectively captured in the film.  And it is a scary one.  Derek befriends a black stranger who turns out to be a gangster who kidnaps Stefani and threatens the group, claiming that they cannot just enter his territory and do shit.  They get out of the situation but not without having to shoot the guy in the neck, in one bloody shocking scene.

Performances are nothing short of excellent.  Of all of the awesome acting. Nicholas Braun stands out as the naive boyfriend who falls head over heals in love with Stefani.  Riley Keough, a rising star in indie films is the most outstanding as the confused Stefani.

Not one’s typical enjoyable bit of commercial cinema but ZOLA is fantastic if one can bear to watch it.

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This Week's Film Reviews ( June 18th, 2021)

06 Jun 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by James Fletcher

Love or hate him, Donald Trump is one of the most newsworthy Presidents of the United States.  Trump has shown to be as unpredictable as his Presidency win.  The news loves him, as he increases their ratings and provides more entertainment than the most outrageous comedians.  THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT examines how the man became the President of the United States of America and stops right there.  How he fared during his presidency and how he lost to Biden are clearly omitted in the doc, likely spawning perhaps, another sequel that could also be intriguing viewing, maybe even more so than this one.

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT is directed and produced by British filmmaker/journalist James Fletcher who brings his journalistic insight into the events.  The film uncovers a detailed play-by-play from all angles on how it all went down, the state of America that led to the results, what the electorate was really motivated by, and how a former reality show host with an elevated understanding of the media and entertainment was able to connect with voters from all walks of life and stage a takeover of Washington D.C. -- whether he meant to or not.

Like a villain in a film that everyone loves to hate, Trump is a President everyone loves to make fun off.  The doc even begins with night time talk chops host Seth Meyers saying that when Trump said he was running, he thought he meant running as a joke. The entire country was laughing at Trump.  Robert De Niro says that Trump is an embarrassment to the country.  A joke!  No way!  The President?  But Trump did it.

Director Fletcher tries his best to stay neutral in his doc on Trump, giving both sides of view.  When Trump’s campaign is up a few notches over Hillary Clinton’s, Fletcher is not afraid of praising Trump.  There are so many wrong things about Trump, but Fletcher sifts through the good from the bad.  Fletcher is also quick to mention that unlike what many think that only idiots vote for Trump, there are also many brilliant and wealthy people who are pro-Trump.  One of the most valid facts that Fletcher points out is that people are sick of the confidence and attitude of the politicians and that people just want a change and to shake up the system.  People don’t care about past political records and such.  The fact is demonstrated then the American public forgave Trump for his locker room remarks about grabbing a woman’s pussy.  This is likely the same reason the Brits voted for Brexit.  They were sick of the over-confident politicians and wanted a change.

One of the best picks Fletcher got as a talking head is writer/director Aaron Sorkin who states that voters have to take responsibility and insist on a higher level of debate.

In Sorkin’s words: America always gets the President they deserve.  American got Trump and now they got Biden.

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT, as watchable and entertaining as Trump is, will be screening in limited U.S. theatres beginning Monday, June 21, 2021, and will be coming soon to Starz.

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BLACK CONFLUX (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Nicole Dorsey

BLACK CONFLUX tells the dual stories of two disillusioned people set in 1980’s Newfoundland.  The film could very well be set in the present in Toronto close to where director Dorsey earned her film degree and lives.  The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity.

Fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood. Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call.

Director Dorsey loves to play with symbols.  There are two scenes involving bugs, the significance only realized after a bit of deep thought at the end of the film.

Dennis’ story is more interesting as his character is an ambiguous creepy one that could explode at any instant.  McDonald delivers a powerful performance as the much misunderstood Dennis.  There is so much anger inside but he is over-polite on the outside.  He seems to invoke sympathy from his colleagues, both his boss who does not know what to do with him but comically writes him up, as an example to show to his other colleagues.  Instead of anger, Dennis responds with an apology.  The scene in the bar where he lets his anger out on the dance floor shows how sexy and scary his character can be.  Oddly enough, it attracts a woman who he ends up taking home to bed.

Jackie’s story, though less interesting, is still a well-written one.  Her character and behaviour are contrasted with her mates, especially that of her best friend, Amber (Olivia Screen).  Jackie is a young teen who is frivolous in her character and is occasionally serious.  She learns the importance of responsibility when she is turned down the opportunity of singing in the school choir after initially not committing to it.

The film is a little slow paced because of director Dorsey’s decision to spend screen time on character development.  It pays off!

The atmosphere of 80’s Newfoundland is effectively created in the film, though the story could very well be reset to the present.  Director Dorsey always has the beautiful sea in view in her frames.

The film has a solid ending when the two stories eventually converge and the two meet.  The meeting arrives at the very last 5 minutes of the film when one is about to give up on the chance of the two meeting.  One would expect a powerful explosion of an encounter as the Dennis character can be likened to a ticking time bomb.  The same can be said for the more timid Jackie, but what eventually occurs, not to be revealed in this movie, shows Dorsey’s  bravery and faith in her story telling.   The ending is a surprise one would not have expected.  A very assured debut feature from Dorsey again enforcing the power of women.

BLACK CONFLUX premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 when I first saw the film.  It was worth the second viewing.

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CENSOR (UK 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

Horror has always been a favourite genre among cineastes.  Special sections similar to Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have been created specially to cater to this genre of films that delight audiences who like their entertainment doused with lots of blood and gore.  CENSOR is one such bloody love letter to this genre of films, particularly video nasties, the ones that flooded the British market during the mid-1980s.

CENSOR is a film in which life imitates art - in a similar way as occurred in Toronto with Peter Jackson’s 1992 horror zombie flick.  DEAD ALIVE  featured a young man's mother bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey.  She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbours.  Jackson’s brilliant film was hilariously graphic and is my personally top 3 horror films of all time.  I first saw the film at the Midnight Section at TIFF but the film was banned and released finally a year later with censorship cuts available only in video under the different title BRAINDEAD.  The big video chains like Blockbuster Video refused to carry the video nasty but one could get it for rent at the smaller independent shops.  Video nasties are important in providing a market for these films.  CENSOR contains a scene in which a video store owner rents out banned films under the counter.

CENSOR is set in Thatcher’s 80’s.  Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond takes great pains in creating the 80’s atmosphere which distinguishes CENSOR from other run of the mill horror flicks.  She has also included a scene with the Prime Minister preaching her policies on television.  CENSOR is filled with aesthetics of the British horror films of the times like those churned out by Hammer Film Studios.  Her film is a trip down horror nostalgia lane.

The film follows Enid (Niamh Algar), a censor, often agonizing over whether to cut (or not to cut) graphic scenes like eye gouges and decapitation.  She is a prim and proper lady, dressing always in a prudish fashion, despite her occasional liberating ways of censorship.  This results in her being under scrutiny, especially after the press tries to link a brutal murder to a film that she approved.  But Enid has a secret.  She is riddled with the guilt of losing her sister during an outing in the woods when they were younger.  When she views a new film that bears an uncanny resemblance to the tragedy she had endured, she decides to solve the puzzle.  This is where reality and fiction begin to blur in terrifying ways.

CENSOR is an ambitious first feature.  But true commercial horror fans might get bored owing to its slow pace, despite the excesses in gore and violence.  Director Bailey-Bond also makes an effective statement on the #MeToo Movement with a creepy film producer (Michael Smiley) who makes sexual advances towards Enid.

CENSOR had its world premiere in the Midnight Section of Sundance this year and opens June the 18th VOD.  It is definitely worth a look for its 80’s period look!

 Trailer: 

 FATHERHOOD (USA 2021) **

Review embargoed till Wednesday noon

 

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LUCA (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Enrico Casrosa

LUCA is new new Pixar film premiering on Disney+ directed by Enrico Casarosa (in his feature-length directorial debut) and written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones.   The film is dedicated to Italian musician Ennio Morricone (the famous composer of the Italian spaghetti westerns), who was originally considered to compose the soundtrack, but died before he was asked to do so.

Set on the Italian Riviera between the 50s and 60s, the film centres on Luca Paguro, a sea monster boy with the ability to assume human form while on land, who explores the town of Portorosso with his new best friend Alberto Scorfano, experiencing a life-changing summer.

The film tries to be everything Italian including an Italian-like soundtrack with an Italian song and Italian dialogue as the film opens.  The fishing boat is too close to the town which has legends of sea monsters , or more like Italian sea monsters.  As this is a family Pixar film, the sea monsters are cute and have childish faces and look like those sea monkeys kids used to shell out their pocket money for, and got duped.

If the story sounds familiar, it is nothing really fresh.  A sea creature wanting to be human is the age old Hans Cristian Anderson’s fairy tale THE LITTLE MERMAID.  The film is described as paying homage to classic filmmakers like the Japanese Hayao Miyazaki who himself made a similar LITTLE MERMAID film called PONYO.  The animation in the film is similar to Hayao Miyazaki’s, of hand-drawn and stop motion works.  One scene has an image of Italian star Marcello Mastroianni, again a nod to old Italian classics like those made by Fellini (like 8 1/2 that starred Mastroianni). 

The main voices are provided by Jacob Tremblay as Luca Paguro, the 13-year-old sea monster and Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto Scorfano, a teenage sea monster and Luca's best friend. The two heavyweights in the cast include Maya Rudolph as the mother, she has been playing a lot of mothers lately and Sasha Baron Cohen, hamming it up as Uncle Ugo, a sea monster and distant relative Luca’s.  Ugo comes from the really deep where it is so very dark out of lack of sunlight, but according to him, there is nothing much to see anyway.  Cohen does an outrageous Italian accent and his character’s red heart has to be punched hard ever so often when he goes into a coughing fit.  There is not enough of Ugo in the film.

LUCA was made around the same time by Disney as SOUL.  While SOUL covered more series themes like death and finding one’s purpose, LUCA deals with kids also searching for meaning, but also having fun such as diving off cliffs and riding on Vespas.

During the making of Luca, LUCA was given a whole lot of publicity together with the Oscar Winning (for Best Animation) SOUL.  LUCA, in comparison never reaches the jazzy dizzy heights of SOUL but is still charming summer fun in the sun - Italian style.

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 LES NOTRES (The Others) (Canada 2020) ****

Directed by Jeanne Leblanc

LES NOTRES opens with the 5-year term mayor, Jean-Marc Ricard of the Quebec town Sainte-Adeline giving a speech during a ceremony for the opening of a local park, the Saint Germaine.  He is well respected and has a photo taken of is family, as he claims.  It does no take a genius to guess that something is afoot, and perhaps this mayor is up to no good.  Director Leblanc plays her cards well s her somewhat brilliant small-town drama unfolds.  This opening scene, if one examines carefully after watching the film, is one that takes place after the story not before.

The film is set in the tight-knit community of Sainte-Adeline, Quebec, where everyone knows everyone else and gossip moves around really fast and is deadly.  Magalie (Émilie Bierre) appears as a normal suburban high school sophomore surrounded by friends.  Magalie collapses one day in her dance class and a doctor’s examination reveals his popular teenage girl is harbouring a shocking secret: she’s pregnant. Her mother is informed and word spreads.  When Magalie refuses to identify the father, suspicions among the townsfolk come to a boiling point and the layers of a carefully maintained social varnish eventually crack.  As said, it does not take  genius to guess that the father is the mayor, the fact revealed after the film’s 30-minute mark.  Mr. Ricard is clearly the bad guy in the story, preying sexually on under-aged girls and clearly deserving of no mercy.  Director Leblanc makes that clear and the audience despises this evil sorry excuse of a human being from the first sight of the pudgy man.

The story is seen from two points of view - those of Magalie and of her mother.  Director Leblanc dishes out the details, without any judgement with the audience being sympathetic to both sides.  When they argue, one could take either side, as both have the right to feel angry and unappreciated.

There are many moving scenes and these are what makes the movie such a compelling watch.  One occurs when mother an daughter arrive home after the mother discovers the pregnancy.  The babysitter of the little brother remarks: “Your son was very well behaved.”

Or the exchange of words between the social worker, Patrice and the mother: “I am looking out for her best interest.”  Her retort: “I have been doing that for the past 13 years.”  Or the mother to daughte when first told of the pregnancy:”I don’t understand.”  Daughter’s reply: “I am sorry.”

The emotions run wild.  Both  mother and daughter do not know how to deal with the situation.  One moment the mother tells the daughter that she loves her and the next she is screaming at her in order to find out who the father is.  The 13-year old has mixed feelings, too young to realize that the father has no intention of loving her or keeping the baby, while she is doting on him.  All these questions are left to the climax of the film, which I can only reveal as a very powerful one.

The small yet brilliant LES NOTRES gets my vote for Best Canadian film of the year!

Trailer: 

SONGS FOR A SLOTH (USA 2020) **
Directed by Bradley Hasse

SONGS FOR A SLOTH opens with a man digging up a yard in the middle of the rain.  His brother shouts through the house window at him, questioning him as to what he is doing.  he scene shifts to the brother’s room that turns out to be his toilet.  The brother is wiping his bum as he shouts though the window.  There is absolutely no reason that the man has to be wiping his ass while talking.  There is also no reason the other man, Maxwell (Richard Hollman) should be digging up the garden.  In fact, the film would not have made any difference i its first 10 minutes were cut out of the picture.

It appears that director Bradley Hasse and film cast and crew seem eager to provide humour in the worse way.  And that is how the humour is often provided in this film - in the worst way.

Well, the first scene does reveal that perhaps Maxwell, who is digging in the rain has a screw or two loose.  On the edge of a nervous breakdown, Maxwell is shocked to find he has inherited a sloth sanctuary from his father.   Again, the unfunny meting between his father’s lawyer (Arian Moayed) and the brothers could very well be dispensed with, as well.  Now, then a talking sloth (voiced by Jack McBrayer) visits Maxwell’s dreams.  This could have been funnier.  Maxwell becomes obsessed with saving the animal's habitat in his waking life by returning to his first passion, music.  His brother, Barney (Brian McCarthy) had just given him a guitar as a present.   Maxwell write a song about sloths in order to raise money for his charity.

His song goes something like this, as if sung by a sloth: Don’t let me die.  I live in a tree…. to save energy!  (Note the rhyme.)   Please, please, don’t let me die.

In order to complete the task though, he must enlist the help of his lazy brother Barney (Brian McCarthy) and self-involved sister (Ava Eisenson). 

So what is SONGS FOR A SLOTH all about?  According to the press notes, it is a film about the struggle to be both the person we want to be and the person we feel responsible to be, and about coming to know that it's never too late to pursue one's dream in life. It is also about live video games, secret paintings, viral videos, social media influencing, paintball, fancy banquets, and drones.  One feels as if the filmmakers are making it up as the film goes along.  Everyone seems passionate about nothing important, which is symbolized by the sloth sanctuary.

Director Hasse’s film comes finally to some focus near the end.  Maxwell has organized a fundraising event with the aid of both his sister and elder brother.  When not a single person shows up, due to hindsight Barney’s hindsight, all hell breaks lose.  The theme of the dysfunctional family sets in - and this really what the film is all about.

TRAILER: 

SUPERDEEP (Russia 2020) ***
Directed by Arseny Syuhin

Russia does THE ABYSSS - a horror film about a sleeping monster awoken in the deep underwater.  It has been done before, but almost everything has been done before.  SUPERDEEP is thus, worth a look and it is to half bad.

A small research team went down below the surface to find out what secret the world's deepest borehole was hiding.  What they have found turned out to be the greatest threat in history. And the future of humanity is in their hands -  a sleeping monster frozen during the Ice Age now awoken with all its rage on mankind.  It is up to the Russians to save mankind.  All the actors speak in English with a Russian accent, sometimes difficult to decipher.  It is difficult to tell if the film was shot in Russian and dubbed in English as the lip synching appears to be quite matched.

The film follows the stereotyped scenes expected in this kind of horror flicks.  There is the skimpy dressed (ok - thee is an excuse as it is terribly hot with increased temperatures well below the surface, but how come the male counterparts are not running around in their underwear?) female protagonist, Anna (Milena Radoluvic) running around trying to escape her predator.

The best thing about this movie is the endless amount of corny lies, that are mostly quite funny, to the film’s credit.

“The man you so wanted to help is no longer.  He is a laking dead.”

“It is not a war!”

“It is a war!  Our country (Russia) is falling apart and we need a weapon.”

“Something is happening to me.”  says an infected girl with a growth to which she is told, “I can cut this.”

“You can’t help!  If they’re dead, the are dead.”

“Will the doors hold?”  followed by “I wish I knew.”

These lines provide the best laughs.

Peter, one of the scientists shoots a fellow crew member, saying that he wishes to be famous and remembered fro the discovery of the creature.  It does not take a genius to guess how Peter will come to his death end.

To director Arseny Syuhin’s credit, Syuhi who also wrote the script, the film delivers an incredible and terrifying atmosphere of the superdeep.  One of the most spin-chilling scenes is the one where the crew travel at top speed down the shaft in the elevator to the superdeep.  They are covering their ears, their faces contoured as they experience  the great increase in pressure as they make their descent.  Anyone who has taken a plan descending can appreciate the pain due to increased pressure.  The use of limited lighting in the dark abyss and the narrow corridors of space available also add to the claustrophobic fear of the crew.  The special effects are quite solid as well, with special mention given to the creation of the huge monster.

SUPERDEEP is available to stream on Shudder on June the 17th 2021.

Trailer: 

 

SWEET THING (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Alexandre Rockwell

The story revolves around two siblings, Billie (Lana Rockwell) and Nico (Nico Rockwell) and their struggle to find a solid foundation in the homes of their alcoholic father, Adam (Bill Paxton) and negligent mother (Karyn Parsons).  Things come to a boil when Billie and Nico stay at the beach house with their mother and her boyfriend, Beau (M. L. Josepher).  When Beau turns abusive, he gets stabbed and left for dead.  Billie, Nico and their friend, Malik (Jabari Watkins), who had stabbed Beau, take off.  The children ultimately run away and find a way to fend for themselves.

Director Rockwell shoots his film in black and white, colour and saturated colours, often to reflect the mood of his film.  The film’s saturated colours flow into the bright sun’s rays when the children are having fun in the sun at the beach house.

Director Rockwell elicits magnificent performance from his actors.  Paxton is marvellous as is Josepher playing the abusive mother’s boyfriend, Beau.  The children Nico and Billie are played by Rockwell’s two children as the role of the mother played by Rockwell’s wife.

At its best, SWEET THING reminds one of Francois Truffaut’s 1959 classic LES QUARTRE CENTS COUPS (400 BLOWS) about a young boy, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime or the scene where the teacher in Truffaut’s 1976 L’ARGENT DE POCHE (SMALL CHANGE) talks about children’s rights.  It shows how much effort and thought go into creating a classic.

The main reason Rockwell’s film is different from Truffaut’s classics is that Truffaut’s stories are down-to-earth ordinary and concerns everyday common occurrences.  In 400 BLOWS, the boy goes to the fair and enjoy the centrifugal rotating ride; in L’ARGENT DE POCHE an abused boy’s beatings are only discovered by a school medical check-up.  In SWEET THING, Rockwell has to go to extremes such as the mother’s boyfriend coming on to Lana, or the boyfriend being stabbed or the tacked on happy ending to make his points.  Truffaut’s films feel so natural whereas Rockwell’s seems forced.

Young punk kids, helpless runaways or sweet things?  By the end of the film, one decides consciously or non-consciously which category the three children fall into.  Or perhaps children are little magic that got into miracles. as al old man the children meet claim them to be.  Yet, the man and his wife betray the kids in an incident that is not fully credible.

One problem with Rockwell’s film is the often sudden change in mood or story telling.  At one point the children can be having fun and in the next they are in a precarious position.  A person can be ultra nice and then turn on them.  The mother can be loving and then abandoning.  The children are always right and the adults are all shown as mostly untrustworthy, they only exception being the father’s love.

Though not reaching those dizzy heights of Truffaut’s film on youth, SWEET THING still emerges as Rockwell’s amazing yet scary ode to youth with all its splendour, danger and horrors.

Trailer: 

 

TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland

There are many valid reasons to watch this new documentary TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE: AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION.  For one, these are the two most famous American writers of their time, if not of all time.  They share incredibly intriguing lives, both being openly gay when homosexuality was a crime back in the day.  Both were friends, rivals and each a genius in the literary field.

One of Capote’s famous quotes take from his book “Other Voices, Other Rooms”: ‘The brain may take advice, but not the heart, and love having no geography, knows no boundaries’  One of the doc’s more interesting segments has the novelties talk to a talk show host on the subject of love, whee he distinguishes between sex and love relationships claiming that he had and fallen out of more of the latter.  Capote was an American novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and actor.  Several of his short stories, novels, and plays have been praised as literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and the true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966), which he labeled a "nonfiction novel". His works have been adapted into more than 20 films and television dramas.

Tennessee Williams quote from his play and film A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE: ‘“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains.” Ironically, William took in one main lover in his life and loved him so very much even after his death.  But before that, he claims he was always the pursuer in any relationship or pick-up.  Tennessee Williams was an American playwright, considered among the three foremost playwrights of 20th-century American drama.  Williams became famous with the success of The Glass Menagerie (1944) in New York City. This play closely reflected his own unhappy family background. It was the first of a string of successes, including A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and The Night of the Iguana (1961).  Much of Williams' most acclaimed work has been adapted for the cinema.  Film clips of all the above works are shown in the doc.

The brilliant work, personal struggles, and cultural impact of iconic American writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams explode onto the screen in this innovative dual-portrait documentary.  Director Vreeland illustrates both their similarities (especially their southern and gay backgrounds) and differences, emphasizing that they remained friends for am major part of their lives.  The doc benefits from the large amount of footage shown of the two writers.  The inclusion of the films made of their works also make the film more interesting.

The voiceover work by award-winning actors Jim Parsons (Capote) and Zachary Quinto (Williams), with much of the words taken from their writings sounds very authentic.  Parson's voice , though recognizable from his, could very well pass on as Capote’s while Quinto’s raspy voice sounds realistic as well.

TRUMAN AND TENNESSEE is a tremendously entertaining doc about two hight entertaining gay writers with lots of old film clips to boot.

Trailer: 

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