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This Week's Film Reviews ( Sep 22, 2021)

16 Oct 2021

Quite an assortment of new films opening this week.  Most notable must-see's are Wes Anderson's THE FRENCH DISPATCH and Kiyushi Kurosawa's WIFE OF A SPY,  Sci-fi fans will be thrilled by VOYAGERS, opening on Amazon Prime.

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

THE MUSTANGS: AMERICA’S WILD HORSES (USA 2021) ***
Directed by  Steven Latham and Conrad Stanley

There are a lot of thugs about horses the world does not know.  And even more about wild horses that the world does not know.  As executive producer, a well known fighter for the cause of horses Robert Redford, narrates at the start of THE MUSTANGS, there are 50 thousand wild horses roaming in North America and 80 thousand in Government controlled areas.  Redford also executively produced the 2019 film directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, a fiction film entitled THE MUSTANG.  To the astonishment of many, the population of these horses cannot be maintained due to the obvious lack of space.  Wild horses are part of the history of North America but their future is questionable.

The scenes following showing wild horses galloping in the open are enough to send spirits soaring.  This beautifully shot film comes with a powerful message.

The film is informative to all, non-horse lovers included and educational.  The film reveals, among other things:

  • how wild horses are located
  • how they are located and trained
  • whether to keep mustangs running free (not enough water; not enough land) or gathered

If left wild, the mustangs will double in population every 4 or 5 years, as they have little to no predators.

  • One of these horses is Remmington, and the story of Remmington is told from the point of view of his trainer, an expert in mustang.

There are a lot of facts about horses that the film brings to light.  Narrated by a Pulitzer Prize winning author on horses, the audience learns about the market for mustangs.  He is David Philipps, also a New York Times journalist, and interviewed in the film, and he talks about his 2017 book “Wild Horse Country”.   After the first World war when the demand for horses collapsed, they were made into dog food.

The directors also include shots of mustangs from the TV series THE LONE RANGER.  “Hi ho Silver away…” can be heard as the lone ranger instructs his horse to gallop away.  There is also a scene from the Clark Gable Marilyn Monroe film THE MISFITS (John Huston’s 1961 film) where a horse is treated badly.  There is a shot of tear emancipating from Monroe’s eyes.

The audience also learns of Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnson who fights for the rights of wild horses.  This is one of the lighter and most amusing segments of the documentary.  Appalled at the way these horses were treated, she fought for better treatment of the horses.  Wild Horse Annie started a crusade that ended up taken by schools.  To see school children fighting for a worthy cause is not moving and inspirational.  The amazing feat of hers resulted in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 in which killing a wild horse became a federal crime.

The last portion of the film educates the audience on horse sanctuaries.  And the need to control the population of horses to a sustainable level by fertility vaccination.  The doc suffers from some repetition of the narration here.

If this doc moves you, watch for MONTANA STORY, the upcoming film about an ageing horse about to be put down.

The film has just opened and has a VOD release on November the 23rd.

Trailer: 

 

RON’S GONE WRONG (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine and Octavio E. Rodriguez (c-director)

From 20th Century Fox Studios comes their new animated feature RON’S GONE WRONG.  Fox, being bought over by Disney, is thankfully allowed to keep producing animated features.  Disney not only delivers the best animated features each year, many winning the Academy Award for Best Animation, but RON’S GONE WRONG, though not as good as OSCAR, last year’s Oscar Winner still manages to hold its own.

This is the story of Barney, an awkward middle-schooler and Ron, his new walking, talking, digitally-connected device. Ron's malfunctions set against the backdrop of the social media age launch them on a journey to learn about true friendship.

The plot involves, yes again saving the world - in this case from unfriendly B-bots.  The villain in this case is the corporation making the B-bots that is personalized as Andrew, a figure inspired by the likes of the millionaire entrepreneurs of Facebook, Google and Apple - the FAANG companies.  The small inventor, in this case, a coloured teen is not given his chance to excel.  A young boy is one of the last to receive his own personal B-bot.  As a result, he is teased and bullied.  He finally gets one by the name of Ron (looking like a small snowman) and Ron goes wrong.  There is something incorrect in his functioning.

The story involves the power of friendship.  Friendship is finally distributed to all the B-bots in the world and the world is saved.  Silly?  Yes, but this is after all a kid’s film, more suitable for kids than for adults, judging from the humour and storyline.

The universally themed story of the benefits of friendship is a bit stretched.  The animation is up to Disney standard.  The characters are amusing enough without resorting to being extra cutesy.  There are no embarrassing songs like the vibes found in FROZEN but the soundtrack is pretty bad in telling the audience exactly how to feel, emotions-wise, as if the audience needs to be guided how to react.

RON’S GONE WRONG should entertain kids while adults might have to stretch their kiddie entertainment appreciation abilities.

Trailer: 

VOYAGERS (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Neil Burger

A Neil Burger quote: “the goal is always to try to create a movie that I would like myself and that would knock me out, challenge me or intrigue me in some way.”  That said Burger has made two movies that resemble too close to home, the effects of particular drugs on humans in real life.  In his sci-fi LIMITLESS starring Bradley Cooper, the central character took a drug that enabled him to expand his mind 100%.  I would say that this drug is quite similar to crystal meth, that taking it, like the drug in LIMITLESS, allows the user to function without sleep and also expand his thinking.  The drug taken in his latest film VOYAGERS prohibits sexual arousal and other human stimulants.  This is the same powder that prison authorities use in the food of prison inmates to inhibit sexual desires.

VOYAGERS again returns the writer/director to drug sci-fi territory with a plot too similar to the LORD OF THE FLIES story.   As the planet earth is slowly poisoned by toxins and pollution, humans need to find another inhabitable planet to colonize.  One is found but unfortunately is around 86 (wonder where Burger got this number from) space years away.  So, a pod of specially genetically engineered teens, all super good-looking, led by Richard (Colin Farrell, who does not look too bad here either, all trim and clean-cut) travel to the new destination planet with the aim of re-populating it with their offspring.  They are given a blue liquid to drink that, unknown to them, inhibits their human emotions, mostly their sexual desires.  The authorities would have done better to put it as a powder in the food like the prison system does.  As human nature goes, two of them are curious enough to experiment not taking the blue stuff and sexual desires and male dominance result.  The good guy is Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and the bad one is Zac (Fionn Whitehead).  Zac tries to control the ship by having the others fight and kill each other off.  Christopher tries reasoning which in the end comes to a battle between the two.  No wrestling match here, but a fight still ensues.

The Earth going bad and re-populating another in space is a premise not new to sci-fi films.  It has been used so often that it has become rather stale here when the premise is proposed.  Many critics would immediately react with a shrug.  The LORD OF THE RINGS -type story also enforces the fact that there is nothing really original in the plot.  That said, Burger, the director of the young adult film DIVERGENT appears at ease at directing young adults, which is assumed also to be the target audience of this film.  Burger captures the attention of his audience more effectively in the first half, particularly the sexual tension, but it is predictably clear where the story will lead in the last half.  The set decoration looks something right out of Kubrick’s 2001 with the only thing missing being the HAL controlling robot.

The film receives a pass for effort and for the probable success in reaching its target of young adult audience.  VOYAGERS, an Amazon original (or rather un-original) film opens on Amazon Prime October 22.

Trailer: 

 

WIFE OF A SPY (Japan 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

WIFE OF A SPY is veteran Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s gorgeous-looking period piece set in the year 1940 in Kobe just before Japan’s entry into World War II.  Local merchant and amateur filmmaker Yusaku (Issey Takahashi from KILL BILL) senses that things are headed in an unsettling direction.  Following a trip to Manchuria, he becomes determined to bring to light the horrors he witnessed there, and secretly filmed the atrocities.  Meanwhile, his wife Satoko (Yû Aoi) receives a visit from her childhood friend, now a military policeman.  He warns her about Yusaku’s seditious ways and reveals that a woman her husband brought back from his trip has died.  Satoko confronts Yusaku, but when she discovers his true intentions, she is torn between loyalty to her husband, the life they have built, and the country they call home.  This is the halfway mark of the film, where the story takes a twist.

WIFE OF A SPY immediately brings to mind the classic Hitchcock suspense thrillers like NOTORIOUS and particularly TORN CURTAIN.  There are many similarities between the wife in this film and the Julie Andrews character in TORN CURTAIN.  Andrews played the wife of scientist Paul Newman who, like the wife of this film, is unaware of the husband’s espionage activities.  Both wives begin to suspect infidelity and both begin meddling.  TORN CURTAIN remains one of my favourite all time spy thrillers and WIFE OF A SPY holds one’s attention as well.

There are classic elements in this spy thriller - suspense, mystery and dread in a period atmosphere of danger.  One notable is the unspoken sexual attraction between the spy’s wife and the villain, previously childhood friends.  The villain is tall, dark and handsome but with a real sinister look.  His torture of a victim to extract information is evidence of his true nature.  The act is also very important and key to the fact of how the Japanese acted during World War II.  Everyone knows of the Germans and the Holocaust but not many know about the cruelty of the Japanese.  I come from Singapore which had to endure the Japanese Occupation during WWII.  My mother used to tell the stories of how much the civilians feared the Japanese during the occupation.  This film brings to light some of these truths.

WIFE OF A SPY bears other resemblances to TORN CURTAIN.  The couple’s defection to the United States is similar to the TORN CURTAIN’s couple’s escape back to the United States.  Both films involve hiding in crates.  In both movies, the espionage tests the genuine love the couples have for each other.  “You get two meals a day, and you use the bucket as the toilet,” says Bob to the wife as she enters the crate to be smuggled away to the U.S.

WIFE OF A SPY also includes a female protagonist which is the trend of the majority of films these days.

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa won the Silver Lion (Best Director) at the Venice Film Festival for this suspenseful Hitchcockian-styled thriller shot in stunning 8K.  Definitely a treat for fans of the spy genre.

Trailer:

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Cinefranco 2021

15 Oct 2021

Cinefranco 2021

One of my favourite local film festivals is Cinefranco for the reason I, like many others, adore French films.  French films (particularly by François Truffaut) is the reason I studied French.  This year, Cinefranco under the direction of the ever-energetic Marcelle Lean offers once again a wide variety of films from all over the world.

Cinefranco welcomes audiences once again to in-theatre, as well as online screenings for its 24th edition.  The hybrid festival will take place Tuesday, October 26 – Tuesday, November 2, 202, with 27 features, 3 shorts programs, post-screening Conversations, and Panels, at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema and via the festival platform, accessed at:

www.cinefranco.com   

 

 

Capsule Reviews of Selected films:

MESSE BASSE (THE LODGER) (France 2020) ***
Directed by Baptiste Drapeau

Jacqueline Bisset has a starring role in MESSE BASSE (translated literally in English to Low Mass that might mean more appropriately ‘whisper’) and is one of the main reasons to rush to see this film.  In the film, she, an English actress (veteran of dozens of films including RICH AND FAMOUS, TOO MANY CHEFS, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) speaks fluent French in this film as in one of her early films, SECRETS.  (She was educated in French).   The story follows university medical student Julie who moves into the house of Elizabeth (Bisset), an old widow as a lodger.  Elizabeth lends her a room in exchange for her help with daily chores.  But things get weird as Elizabeth acts as if her dead husband, Victor, is still alive. . But soon, Julie starts feeling his presence…and an inescapable and dangerous love triangle begins.  Director Baptiste Drapeau’s supernatural treatment of the film encompassing romance, mystery, mental imbalance and murder does not always work but at least he tries.  At best, this worthy effort has the feel of a Chabrol film but Bisset is the reason not to miss this film.

Trailer: 

PROFESSION DU PERE (MY FATHER’S STORIES ) (France 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Jean-Pierre Améris 

A crazy father played no better than by one of my favourite French (actually Belge) actors, Benoît Poelvoorde is the cause for alarm in this strange, wonderful but eventually disturbing story.   12-year-old Luc adores his crazy father who tells him that he is a judo champ, a parachutist, a soccer player and even an advisor to Général de Gaulle.  The scene where Poelvoorde freaks out at De Gaulle on TV accusing him of betraying France is in itself worth the price of the admission ticket.  Both comedic and scary (as in the scene where Luc is badly beaten with a belt) Poelvoorde portrays a violent man who needs to be understood and treated for the danger he poses to his family.  Luc, who has the talent for drawing, is also coerced by his father to write the names of resistance fighters on the walls of buildings around Lyon.  All these antics drive Luc’s mother crazy and with reason.  Set in 1960’s Lyon, Jean-Pierre Améris directs PROFESSION DU PÈRE with subtlety and sensitivity the collateral damage caused by a parent’s madness.  The film also tackles the issue of racism as when Luc encounters a new classmate from Algeria, a pied-noir (black feet, plural, a term that refers to French and other European origin born in Algeria during the period of French rule from 1830 to 1962).   The film’s relevant message about mental illness comes through loud and clear!

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 15th, 2020)

09 Oct 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

BERGMAN ISLAND (France 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve 

Director Mia Hansen-Løve is a master of films on relationships.  She examines the mechanics of them, often offering valuable and entertaining personal insight.   These deal with quite a few of young teen relationships but returns to an older couple here, as she covers the sensitive relationship between a middle-aged couple, both writers in their own right.

BERGMAN ISLAND is the island of Fårö, where legendary director Ingmar Bergman spent most of the end of his life.  Bergamn was born in Upsala, not Fårö.  A tourist attraction, Fårö sees Chris and Tony renting a place, in order to write.  The residence holds the bedroom where Bergman shot SCENES OF A MARRIAGE, the film that caused a million people to divorce, a joke of the film.  Hansen-Løve has been one of the most respected and outstanding French directors since LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS (The Father of my Children), all her films about relationships, mostly young ones.   Tony’s work is fêted at their artist residency while Chris struggles with her screenplay and the two, despite a tender rapport, seem to be at an unspoken impasse, navigating romantic malaise and subtle professional enmity under the spell of the stunning island and Bergman’s legacy.  Chris’s in-development script comes to life: a bittersweet love story starring Mia Wasikowska as Amy, a young filmmaker and obvious alter ego to Chris, who is reunited with her first love Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) at a mutual friend’s wedding on the same remote island.  Hansen-Løve does Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman in this film, with a surprise revelation at the end that should keep audiences thinking.

Occasionally clever and vastly entertaining, BERGMAN ISLAND should not disappoint Hansen-Løve’s fans.

BERGMAN ISLAND premiered at this year’s Cannes and continued its run at the Toronto International Film Festival.  It opens in theatres October the 15th and is available to rent everywhere on October the 22nd.

Trailer: 

CHRISTMAS AT CATTLE HILL (Jul på KuToppen) (Norway 2020) ***

Directed by  Will Ashurst


It looks like politically correct films have intended their influence to kiddies animated features.  Though the protagonist in CHRISTMAS AT CATTLE HILL is a female calf, the animation clearly shows the calf to be a black female.  The film also modernizes the typical family which here consists of a separated mother and father.

Klara the Calf is excited to spend her first Christmas on Cattle Hill with her father, but when they arrive at the farm Klara is disappointed to see he has not attempted to decorate for the holidays.  When her father is unexpectedly called away for work, Klara sees it as an opportunity to make Cattle Hill a Christmas paradise with the help of the cheeky Christmas gnome who lives on the farm, but as Klara finds out it is about being together at Christmas which is the most important.  Her friend, a young male sheep (a lamb) helps her inner high jinxed activities.

The film is dubbed in English and was a hit when it opened Christmas last year in Scandinavia.  CHRISTMAS AT CATTLE HILL has the standard happy ending and predictable plot but  to be fair the film is more targeted for kids than the parents.  The animation is all right, though nothing really fanciful.  

There are a few hilarious scenes like the one in which the gnome destroys a huge outdoor decorated Christmas tree screaming ‘oatmeal’.

Kids will not be disappointed, but parents might be bored if they are not enchanted by the simple and universal story of goodness at Christmas.  Short and sweet at an hour and 8 minutes.  Opens Oct 19 on VOD/Digital.

Trailer: 

 

DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN (Germany/UK/Austria 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Franz Böhm

With global protests on the rise, DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN is a film about the new generation at the heart of this seismic political shift. The doc focuses on three young activists.  Rayen protests for social justice in Chile, Pepper fights for democracy in Hong Kong and Hilda battles the devastating consequences of climate change in Uganda.  Facing almost impossible odds and grappling with the staggering impact of their activism on their personal lives, the film asks these three young women why they keep fighting.

Of all the three activists, it is difficult to say which of the three is the most interesting.   I found the Hong Kong protests to be the most affecting, but only because this critic is Chinese, born in Singapore.  Being in the region of Asia in the first part of his life before settling in the west in Canada (which I consider very lucky to have moved to the best country in the world), I know that China can never be trusted.  China can say one thing and lie outright.  Documentaries on Chinese manufacturing also reveal outright unscrupulous practices.  Companies have three books for their accounting - one for their parent company (be it European or American), one for the Chinese Government and the real one for themselves.

The doc’s best, most effective and most moving segment is young Hilda’s speech at the Climate Change Conference.  Fighting back tears until she chokes, Hilda tells of how her family had to sell their land because of drought as a result of climate change,  The family faced death and fear.  Yet, she says the children right to the other side of the Earth are fighting for the future for action against climate change.  This will teach a lesson or two to the politicians of the world.  When Great of Sweden appeared on the cover of TIME as person of the year because this autistic girl gave up so much to fight for climate change, all ex-president, Donald Trump, well known for reversing all the work done pro-climate change, would do is quibble why he was not on the cover   of TIME for ‘man of the year’.  Perhaps TIME should create a new title each year for a person to appear on the cover as ‘Bastard of the year”.   Hilda’s speech was from the heart and soul and spoken with wisdom and conviction.  What can be more moving?

The film contains one powerful conclusion where each of the three female teen activists summarize their emotions of the tireless and handles work - packing one hell of a punch!

One might dismiss DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN as yet another doc about protests.  This is true but one cannot hide the effect this doc can still make in the message to the world for everyone just to be decent and true.  Obviously, this is just too much to ask from our politicians and leaders.

DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN premiered at Hot Docs and opens in Select Theatres on October 15th and VOD on October 29th.

Trailer:

 

FEVER DREAM (DISTANCIA DE RESCUTE) (Chile/Peru/Argentina/Spain/USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Claudia Llosa  

A young woman named Amanda lies in pain, while a young teenager named David urgently questions her, forcing her to unravel the truth of what happened to her. She is not his mother and he is not her son. Together they will reveal a disturbing and evocative tale of broken souls, an invisible lurking terror, and the fragile threads that bind parents and children.

The English title of the film is FEVER DREAM which is the state that the film’s protagonist suffered as a major impact on her life occurs.  But the more appropriate title would be DISTANCIA DE RESCATE (Distance of Rescue) which is the title of the novella by Samanta Schweblin from which director Llosa wrote the script.  In the film Amanda looks from the car, her daughter Nina as she plays near the edge of the pool.  She wonders about the distance between her and Nina which would determine whether she has time to save her daughter if she fell into the water.  It is as if there is a tread between the two that she is pulling.

Director Llosa’s direction aided by the excellent cinematography by Oscar Faura is nothing short of marvellous.  The reflection of many images in the water of the ponds in the countryside or mirrors in the house show the filmmakers’ expertise in the creation of an eerie and creepy atmosphere.  One scene using shadows has the shadow of a horse blended into the shadow of man revealing the shape of a centaur, emphasizing the man’s obsession with horses.  The film’s best scene has Amada driving in the dead of night while seeing through her windscreen very weird looking children crossing in front of the car as she pulls into a gas station.  She is told that children are not usually born normal around the area.  Director Llosa injects some humour by having one flopping on the ground in front of the car, as a thud sound can be heard.)

FEVER DREAM is that rare genuine horror mystery chiller that does not resort to cheap jump scares but to superb storytelling, cinematography and excellent camerawork often using images and shadows to create the mood and atmosphere necessary for success to work.

The enjoyment of FEVER DREAM depends a large deal on the audience’s acceptance of the often complicated plot though the plot is well told and not particularly confusing.  It begins with a boy David talking to a woman named Amanda, as if connected to her.  The reason for this is finally revealed at the conclusion of the film and one has to unravel the clues to see the reasons events have unfolded in a  certain way.

The film is an international production from Spain, the U.S. and the South American countries of Chile, Argentina and Peru.  The story is set in Argentina with references to Spain and the director is Peruvian.

FEVER DREAM is a Netflix original.  There is a good side and bad side tooth’s.  The good is that this intriguing film would otherwise never be made and the downside is that watching the film at home means there is greater distraction for audiences like using the cell phone or texting while watching the movie.  This movie requires full undisturbed attention to be appreciated.  The time spent is well worth it.

Trailer:

 

 

I’M YOUR MAN (Ich bin dein Mensch)(Germany 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Maria Schrader

It has finally happened - a romantic comedy in which one falls in love with a robot.

The film brilliantly introduces the robot Tom (Dan Stevens) to his mistress, Alma (Mren Eggerrt) in the same way director Maria Schrader introduces him to her audience.  Alma as well as the audience is fascinated by Tom, or rather at the marvel that Tom can be a robot.  This is until Tom malfunctions repeating the words: “I’m your…”   before being briskly whisked off to be re-programmed.

I’M YOUR MAN (Ich bin dein Mensch) is an entertaining romantic comedy with a little sci-fi about a single German woman who, as part of a test trial, agrees to live for three
weeks with a humanoid robot that is programmed to be her perfect man.   As a scientist at Berlin’s famous Pergamon Museum, Alma only participates because she thinks it will help obtain funding for her own research into ancient cuneiform.  “I’m not here to find the perfect partner,” Alma tells Tom the first morning of the 3 weeks he is staying with her.”  “I am just here to write the evaluation.”  Director Schrader injects a bit of ironic humour by having Tom scratch his head.  It is these little details that add a bit more to the film’s charm and entertainment.  Tom (Stevens) is definitely handsome and even knows what cuneiform is.  At first Alma shrugs off Tom’s attempts, including a candle-lit evening with bubble bath and rose petals.  No matter, Tom’s algorithm simply adapts to make Alma happy. 

Alma finds Tom annoying after a while.  It turns out that Alma, probably like many others, does not know what she really wants or likes.  A perfect man annoys Alma and his perfect knowledge and advice turn out too much for her.  Then there is the sex factor that comes to play.

As a sci-fi film and a romantic comedy, director Schrader successfully engages her audience to both the characters and the story.  One knows the story works, when one wants the romance to be successful, despite the fact that one is not a human being.

Dan Stevens plays Tom, brilliantly.  In the script, Tom is a robot that speaks German with a British accent, as is desired by Alma.  Alma had stated that she finds men who speak German with a foreign accent sexy.  Surrey-born actor Dan Stevens performs well, a devilishly-handsome looking male specimen but playing a robot.  Stevens, himself speaks German in real life putting in a dash of hisBritish accent as well.  Stevens studied German in Cambridge.

I’M YOUR MAN won actress Maren Eggert Berlin’s 2021 Silver Bear for Best Actress. The film was also screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations Section.  The film has been  selected by Germany for the 2022 Academy Awards for Best International Feature.

Trailer: 

KNOCKING (Sweden 2021) **

Directed by Frieda Kempff

KNOCKING is a low budget thrill that has made a successful run around festivals (particularly horror ones) around the world.

The film is about a very fragile girl, Molly (Cecilia Milocco).  After suffering a traumatic incident, Molly moves into a new apartment to begin her path to recovery, but it is not long after her arrival that a series of persistent knocks and screams begin to wake her up at night. Molly’s new life begins to unravel as the screams intensify and no one else in the building believes or is willing to help her.  At first the audience can hardly hear the knocking when it happens.  Then they can, faintly, then these sounds turn into morse code and then to the words: “Help Me.”

It is the typical psychological thriller that is made under the lockdown times of Covid-19.  Most of the scenes has Molly alone or socially distanced part from the other actors.  The film is basically a one-handler.

The scrip adds several factors to make more interesting.

Add the background that Molly has just been released from a psychological institution.  Is she still crazy or has she recovered?

Add the fact that no one, not even the cops believe her when she reports knocking.

Add another fact that no one else hears the knocking sound.

Add yet another that she finds a bag of clothes in the trash containing blood stained clothes.

Molly paints her fingernails with a dark green colour.  She spills the nail polish which spreads on the ground like a high viscosity fluid.  She lies on the bed.  The camera shows her head in an used down position on the screen.  She then witnesses a domestic dispute outside a window, reports it and nothing happens.  Then it rains.  Warning: KNOCKING is as slow as a thriller can be.

KNOCKING really tests one patience.  It is not a bad film but it could have been condensed into a half hour featurette instead of stretching it to an overlong 83 minutes.  It does not help that the film has a totally predictable storyline.

Trailer: 

THE LAST DUEL (USA/UK 2021) ***** Top 10

Directed by Ridley Scott

In 1386, Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) claims to have been raped by her husband's best friend and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver).  Her husband, knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), challenges him to trial by combat.  It is the last legally sanctioned duel (hence the title THE LAST DUEL) in France's history.  The film opens with the jousting between the two foes before the film flashbacks into the incidents that have led to this state of affairs.

The story is told from three points of view with the titles “The truth according to…”.  First is the story or truth according to Pierre d’Alencon, then to Le Gris and finally to Marguerite.   Certain scenes are repeated (as many as twice) as well as details added into the story.  The film’s climax is the continuation of the duel as seen at the film’s start but carried on to its brutal end.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck collaborated on the script with Nicole Holofcener.  The last time Affleck and Damon wrote a script together was GOOD WILL HUNTING in which both actors came away with Best Screenplay Oscars.  They could very well win again as the film succeeds primarily from its fresh and distinguished script as well as the visual art of director Ridley Scott ’s vision.  This is Scott’s best film since BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN.  Scott has tackled period duelling in one of his early films stilted THE DUELLISTS with Keith Carradine  and Harvey Keitel playing the foes.

Though somewhat original, this is not the first time a film tells a story as seen from different people.  In the classic RASHOMON by Akira Kurosawa, the same story is told by various characters in the film, a few telling lies to benefit themselves.  Director Scott has the title “the truth according to…” begin each of the film’s chapters to emphasize the fact that the story is told from three different perspectives, it is the truth according to the characters.  Each character sees the details differently and it is the devil in these details that make the film.

Damon is brilliant in his role, with an ugly scar on his right cheek to match.  It would not be surprising if he earns an Oscar nod for Best Actor as this is clearly his best role to date.  Affleck provides humour in a role he clearly relishes while Driver makes the perfect villain, all cunning while hiding the rape behind what he declares is his uncontrollable love.

Being set during the gloomy and grim medieval times, director Scott ensues the look of his film being constantly grey and depressing.  Females will be put off seeing this film as it is brutal with the big climatic fight and it is not a pretty film of colour and flowers.  The film had problems in completion and release due to Covid-19 but it is finally here, opening on the big screen where it should be seen.  THE LAST DUEL is one helluva exciting film and one of the best action films of 2021 - forget all the Marvel superhero action nonsense.

Trailer: 

 

MASS (USA 2021) **

Directed by Fran Kranz

Two sets of parents try to resolve a situation in a civilized manner as their idiosyncrasies rise to the surface.

The above statement can be used to describe the new drama MASS but it also applies to the excellent 2011 Roman Polanski film, CARNAGE (a four star film).  Comparison is inevitable.

The film’s success depends a lot on the performances of its cast.  The cast:

Reed Birney as Richard

Ann Dowd as Linda

Jason Isaacs as Jay Perry

Martha Plimpton as Gail Perry

The 4 give their all, doing their best to overcome the shortcomings of the script.  The script at least should be praised for being politically correct.  At the film’s start, the arrangements of the meeting are performed by a white woman with a male assistant under the instruction of a black woman.  The issues and concerns during the meeting are initiated largely by the wives.  The husbands just provide additional information.  As the writer/director of the film is female, this would be expected and the female slant of the film’s material is definitely noticeable.

It would  be reasonable to assume that almost every person venturing out to stream or watch the film in theatres would already be made aware of the fact that the film is basically the meeting of the couples to come to some kind of understanding and closure of the killing of one son by the other.  Thus, the first 15 minutes or so, when this fact is kept from the audience seems superfluous.  When the fact is finally brought to light, around the third mark of the film, it appears that the material is wearing thin.  The fact that the meeting is dealt serious, there is understandably less opportunity for any humour.  Some humour is provided at the start of the film prior to the meeting, but one wonders of Kranz’s sense of humour.

To sit through the couples’ meeting is as aggravating as watching the film.  One wonders at the reasoning of the couples’ decision to meet.  All the facts of the tragedy have already been brought to light.  Attorneys of the two have already settled the case.  One cannot get blood from stone.

The comparison with Roman Polanski’s CARNAGE.  CARNAGE stars bigger stars performing at their best.  Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly make one couple and Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz form the other.  3 of the cast here are Oscar Winners.  Reilly is also a superb actor who can do both comedy and drama.  CARNAGE is a black comedy providing a larger avenue of entertainment.  It also comes with the reputation that it is based on the Tony Award-winning 2006 play Le Dieu du carnage by French playwright Yasmina Reza.  MASS on the other hand is both written and directed by Kranz.

MASS is watchable and has garnered an impressive rating 94% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of the writing of this review.  But the film is pale by inevitable comparison with Polanksi’s excellent CARNAGE which would  provide a better second watch than viewing MASS.

THE MEDIUM (Thailand/South Korea/UK/Australia 2021) ****

Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun

A rarity!  This fortnight sees two horror films from countries not known for horror films - Taiwan (DETENTION) and now Thailand’s THE MEDIUM.  Horror fans are in for a real threat.

THE MEDIUM is a 2021 Thai-South Korean supernatural horror film directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and produced by Na Hong-jin.  The film premiered at the 25th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival on 11 July 2021.  It was theatrically released in South Korea on 14 July 2021 and was adjudged as the best feature film at 25th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and was awarded with the Bucheon Choice Award for the best film.  THE MEDIUM is one of the most amusing horror films seen in a long time - and a most welcome one.

The movie starts with a group of Thai documentary team traveling to the northeast part of Thailand, Isan to document the daily life of a local medium, Nim, who is possessed by the spirit of Bayan, a local deity whom the villagers worship.  Bayan is an ancestral God and has been possessing women in Nim's family for generations. The latest in the line of succession was Nim's sister, Noi. However, Noi did not wish to be a medium and turned to Christianity. The spirit of Bayan moved onto Nim and has been with her ever since.

While en route to the funeral of Noi's husband, Willow, Nim reveals misfortune always befall the men in his family, the Asatia family. His grandfather was stoned to death; his father's factory went bankrupt and he committed suicide after he was caught setting fire to the factory for insurance fraud; her son, Mike, died from a motorbike accident. Noi only has 1 daughter left, Ming, who does not believe in Shamanism and attends Church with her mother.

Ming's family and friends, as well as the documentary crew, notice her displaying strange and aggressive behaviours, along with displaying multiple personalities such as one of an old man, a drunkard, a child, and a prostitute. She starts to have strange dreams, hearing voices in her head, and experiences debilitating abdominal and vaginal pain. She is fired from her job after her boss caught her having sex with multiple men at work. Nim is initially convinced Bayan wishes Ming to succeed Nim, but Noi refuses to let Nim perform an Acceptance Ceremony to move Bayan's spirit onto her daughter.

And the plot thickens.

THE MEDIUM contains unforgettable scary scenes that are typically found in Asian folklore.  One has Noi breaking an egg on a plate for a sacrifice to the Gods.  Out of the cracked egg comes a black liquid.  Another has the possessed Mink putting her finger in a glass of water, part of the ceremony to calm the demon possessing her.  The finger emits a cloudy black fluid.  Then the glass breaks.

But the decision to tell the horror story mockumentary style works very well for really hilarious parts, with the hilarity not interfering with the horror.  It is clear to the audience, unless the audience were born yesterday, that this documentary-styled feature is all fiction and little fact.   Every several minutes or so, the characters will say to the screen: “Stop filming!”, as if the cameraman was present at every important incident of the story.  One hilarious scene (one has to pay attention to notice this) has Ming's condition deteriorating after the ceremony where she bludgeons Noi with a camera from the crew.  Yet the filming continues after the incident as if the camera was never broken.

It is hard to tell whether the director believes in the stuff or not.  The film goes into great detail on the religious beliefs of the shaman.  Yet, it is occasionally played for laughs emphasizing the director’s talent in storytelling.

Watch THE MEDIUM on Shudder.  A real treat!

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

THIS BLAZING WORLD (USA 2020) **
Directed by Carlson Young

Carlson Young does triple duty here as co-writer with Pierce Brown, director and star in a psychological thriller that premiered at Sundance.

 The tongue-in-cheek attitude of the film is befitting to its odd premise of alternate universes.  Nobody really believes in alternate universes, so revealing the concept tongue-in-cheek is a clever tactic to distract credibility.  “Life takes you down to rabbit holes.  I know!” says a black author in her car in one scene where she is confronted by the protagonist Margaret Winter (Young).

The film begins with a fierce argument between husband and wife Mr. (Dermot Mulroney) and Mrs. Winter (Vinnessa Shaw) before the little Margaret witnesses her twin sister's drowning in the pool.   She also sees a weird figure (played by Udo Kier) beckoning her sister into what seems like a big tunnel (another form of a rabbit hole?).  Decades later, Margaret returns to her family home, and finds herself drawn to an alternate dimension like what the back lady in the car was talking about.  Margaret begins an epic journey down the darkest corridors of her mind as she tries to reason out the impossible and exorcise her demons and Udo Kier.

The soundtrack consisting of thumping sounds and stringy elastic melodies add to the film’s ‘mind-fucked’ atmosphere of the film.  Director Young loves to use acid inspired colours so that the film has the look of an Alice in Wonderland book.

“Do you want to know the answer to life’s dark secrets?” asks a friend at a gathering as she pulls out tarot cards.   Margaret attempts to find out the truth behind her sister’s death.

What filmmaker Young has is an incredible odd sense of humour which is evident in almost every scene of the film.  At times, this roles some humour and while increasing the intensity of the situations.  The acid LSD scene is an example of Young pushing her film to the edge.

What Margret does next is to enter the rabbit hole.  In it she encounters Udo Kier again, who tries to be as weird as the film’s premise.  The audience is then led to believe that Margaret has to obtain three keys (one is given to her by Kier, who insists that he is a friend and not a slave) and the other three though a journey through a door corridor lit only by a candle that Margaret is given.  If she fails to obtain the 3 keys by the time the candle burns out, darkness will consume her.

If all this sounds intriguing, it is but the film fails to come together as a whole.  Once Margaret enters the rabbit hole, the film begins to fall apart.  The tongue-in-cheek humour grows as tiring as Udo Kier’s tactics.  With credibility being thrown out to the dogs with the film’s ending that does not follow any logical reasoning, THIS BLAZING WORLD ends up going up in smoke.

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Oct 8, 2021)

05 Oct 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

DEFINING MOMENTS (Canada 2021) **1/2

Written and Directed by Stephen Wallis

The incomparable Burt Reynolds (SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films, THE LONGEST YARD, FUZZ) plays a father, Chester turning 80 who thinks he is about to die.  Who would think that this would truly be a DEFINING MOMENT for this famous actor?  DEFINING MOMENTS is Burt Reynolds’ last movie.  Hardly memorable, Reynolds has starred in many minor comedies like this one.  “There are only two things sure in life - and that is death and love.”  Chester says in the film.  Expect a bit of sentimentality - the audience is warned at the start of the film.

A defining moment is defined at the beginning of the film as one single moment in time that changes you from who you were to who you will be.  Life, the audience is told is made up of these moments, and o take these moments one step at a time.  The film, written and directed by one of Canada’s most respected scriptwriters, Stephen Wallis is a Canadian production that features some famous Canadian actors like Graham Greene (who like Reynolds, is now in his twilight years) and Eric Peterson.

The talent of Wallis as a writer is evident in a few of the film’s scenes.  One is his use of the metaphor of the tiger for life.  A senior explains that living life is like riding a tiger but one must to let the tiger or life eat one up.  The film contains a storyline that might make many a critic or audience shrug - as there are already too many films about dysfunctional families meeting during Christmas or Thanksgiving or some other occasion.  Yet, Wallis still keeps his so-so film interesting, with his film touching and moving without resorting to too many cliches and too much sentiment.

Director Wallis unfolds his film in Chapters - from one to ten, each a define moment being of changes, saying goodbyes, of truth or others.   He coves a few current issues like Alzheimer’s, mental illness and coming-out gay.  On the not so successful level, the touches on the rekindling of a relationship - unfortunately Harlequin-style.

The film follows several families, most dysfunctional and with new problems with ether defining moments that ends during the Christmas season.  This is probably the earliest a Christmas film is going to be releases - way before Halloween. 

Defining Moments will be available on VOD and Digital October.

Trailer: 

DETENTION (Taiwan 2021) ***
Directed by John Hsu

The film has an odd setting that non-Taiwanese should be made familiar with.  It is 1962 Taiwan, during the time of the White Terror.  The British have left and left with a bad taste in the mouth.  Martial law is in full force across the country.  In a time of extreme repression, all ideas considered to be dissident are banned, and the culprits are tortured or executed.  One of these tortures is shown to be hanging the dissident upside down with his legs tied and dunking his head into water.  The film says that very few survive this torture.

The setting is Tsuihua Secondary School, with young girls and boys getting their education as well as developing a strong impression on the rest of their lives.  The school is not an exception from this on-going government oppression.  Despite close surveillance by the military police, Professor Zhang (Fu Meng-Po) and his girlfriend and co-teacher, Miss Lin run an underground literary club where he and his students learn about banned books and dream of freedom.  One of his club members, Fang (Gingle Wang, in a Golden Horse-nominated performance) is madly in love with him.   It is a case of hero-worshipping and teenage love.  One can guess that this relationship will not go smoothly.  The usually shy teenage girl from an abusive home manages to open up like a book in his presence.

But then, Zhang disappears……   One night, Fang wakes up at her desk, the school around her changed and distorted. As she wanders through the sinister corridors and dilapidated rooms in search of her teacher, she meets her classmate Wei (Tse Jing-Hua). Together, they must confront the ghosts and monsters that have taken over their alma mater in order to find out what has happened there.

The film shifts non-linearity in time.  Though this technique could turn out confusing in many films, it is used here to explain certain facts of the story - like who is the one who gave the forbidden book to the authorities.

DETENTION covers many film genres.  The horror monster flick; coming-of-age drama; political thriller; teen love are blended in quite skillfully, except that the supernatural monster part seems out of place.  Director Hsu, who also co-wrote the script.  But the film is its most effective in his creation of the atmosphere of constant dread of an oppressed environment created under martial law.

DETENTION opens in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide on Friday, October 8th.

Trailer: 

THE RESCUE (UK/USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

Oscar-winning directors E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin detail the headline-making rescue of a Thai soccer team and their coach trapped in a cave for 16 days.

It has been 5 years since the worldwide rescue operation of a young Thai soccer team trapped in a cave overrun by flood waters.  It is inevitable that a film be made of the heroic rescue and this documentary more than serves its purpose in recognizing the bravery and commitment of all those involved particularly the cave divers.  Thai Navy Seals collaborated with an international collection of devoted cave specialists including British divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen.

A fair amount of time in the doc is devoted to cave divers.   The one who stands out is John from England.  It is shown that cave divers are a unique breed of men who are suited to this very remote and dangerous activity.  Many of them talk about being bullied at school for being different and unsuitable for team sports.  Their solace is this extreme sport where they excel and find satisfaction.

The film begins after the boys and their coach have been trapped for 20 hours in a cave tunnel.  Tthere are details in terms of educating the audience in the subject of physical geography.  The structure of the underground tunnels, how the water seeps into the limestone and how difficult the rescue operation is, are all explained.

THE RESCUE is a doc that has the best elements of a suspenseful thriller, working better than many a fiction film.  And the wonder of it all is that all that transpire on screen are true.  The directors blend in footage from the news together with re-enactments of the diving and certain dramatic scenes to make the film an exciting whole.

Despite the sombre nature of the subject, the directors inject humour whenever possible to lighten the mood.  One is the confrontation mentioned in voiceover between the young and fit Thai Navy Seals and the two middle-class cave divers.  They do not see eye to eye at first and the Seals cannot understand what the middle-aged men could do well that they could not.  The divers also claim that they enjoyed being flown first class to Thailand but had to sleep on a double bed.  But top to toe as they admit, jokingly.

The film also contains a bit of animation - Asian style with the folklore of the Goddess and the formation of the mountains and rivers explained.

A solid and impressive list of interviewees have their say on screen.  They include a retired Navy Seal, the expert cave diver, John, the widow of the Navy Seal who died out of lack of oxygen while trying to save the boys as well as other experts on the rescue and on the geography of the caves.

The boys are first found at the doc’s 40 minute mark.  As the audience feel a bit relieved, it is explained that the most difficult part is yet to come - the bringing up of the boys to the surface.

THE RESCUE premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival going on to win the Audience People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary.  This is not at all surprising as the doc contains thrills, suspense, humour, pathos - all the elements that make solid entertainment at the movies.

TRAILER: 

TRAILER: 

 

SUMMERTIME (USA 2020) **

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada

Over the course of a hot summer day in Los Angeles, the lives of 25 young Angelenos intersect.  Who or what are Angelenos?  Angelenos are residents of Los Angeles (L.A.)  SUMMERTIME is the poetry and music of 25 Angelinos.  Before dismissing the film as low end sub-par  art, it should be noted that the film won the Audience Award at the Americana Film Festival.  So, it is at least a crowd-pleaser that supposedly reflects the life of real life people in L.A.  The film also won accolades of praise at other American film festivals.  Americans, especially those in L.A. will find the film more relevant that others, though the film does offer a look at a good slice of life among races.

A skating guitarist, a tagger, two wannabe rappers, an exasperated fast-food worker, a limo driver-they all weave in and out of each other's stories. Through poetry they express life, love, heartache, family, home, and fear. One of them just wants to find someplace that still serves good cheeseburgers.

The film plays like a continuous series of skits, each of which contains poetry in the form of prose and rhymes, rap, songs and other forms.  Some are funny and some are serious but all show a slice of L.A. life.  If one is not that good, one can be sure that another round the corner might be an improvement.

A serious skit takes place on board a pic transit bus.  As two elderly women kiss, a young man interrupts saying it to be improper behaviour in front of kids on the bus.  The gay babysitter freaks out an rattles off gay rap poetry to him in front of he other passengers  The man tries to get off the bus.  The driver finally lets him off after she finishes her poetry.

The funniest one and my personal favourite involves art in the form of spare paint graffiti.  The cops begin to arrest one such painter before realizing that he was paid to do the art by the proprietor of the property.

The good poetry skits are the ones that can tie in relevance, humour or drama with an L.A. slant.  With good skits also come bad ones.  The one in the coffee shop where a regular rants and raves over the change in menu is silly and annoying.  Not only does this black teen embarrass his two friends,  but also insults the poor waitress who is serving him.  Of course, everyone understands that he cannot get his regular cheeseburger, but he could always go to a burger place instead of forcing all the customers to listen to his complaint poetry.  The worst is the poem on time.  ‘Time has no fingers, no feathers.  Time cannot fly unless you throw it  away.   Love is an art.  Learn from the lessons of pain  Time is your servant… etc.  etc.  All I ask from you is to fly.  I will see you in the clouds some day.  I got a pocketful of dreams, so don’t let me down.”  Corny, sentimental and disconnected, director Estrada unfortunately uses the poem at the film’s climax.

SUMMERTIME might not sound like something that might attract everyone.  Director Estrada’s film should be given a chance.  To his credit, he has assembled an impressive list of artists, each performing their art, some but not all delivered in quite an entertaining manner.

SUMMERTIME opens digitally October the 5th, 2021.

Trailer:

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Oct 1, 2021)

01 Oct 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

AMERICAN NIGHT (Italy 2021) **

Directed by Allesio Della Valle

AMERICAN NIGHT is described as a neo-noir set in the New York City's corrupt contemporary art world where the art dealer John Kaplan and the ruthless head of New York's mafia, Michael Rubino, fight for money, art, power and love.

When the film opens, the audience is warned that the film unfolds in 3 Parts and those in the know would shrug at the film’s long running time of 2 hours and 5 minutes, especially when the film has a muddled lacklustre opening which is all over the place.

The film jumps into 4 separate parts within the beginning 5 minutes.  The audience witnesses, first a silly argument how one can kill with the correct stance and swing, as stuntman and wanna ninja (Jeremy Piven) explains to another.  The film switches to two females in a car, who are described as black market art dealers.  The film jumps to a painter (Emile Hirsch) in a suave outfit throwing paint on a canvas before shooting the canvas with bullet holes.  This is supposedly art.  Then the setting is a mansion of some mobsters where respects are being paid to a recently deceased, supposedly the father of the painter.

The story concerns a highly coveted Andy Warhol painting that suddenly surfaces.  It triggers a chain reaction of danger-filled events for an oddball group of characters including: a forger turned art dealer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers); a mobster and painter (Emile Hirsch) with a penchant for scorpions; a seductive museum conservator (Paz Vega); and a stuntman and wannabe ninja (Jeremy Piven). Filled with daring double-crosses and surprising twists and turns, the race for the painting comes to an explosive conclusion…one American Night.

  The Jonathan Rhys Meyers paint splattering sex scene that is perhaps inspired by Antonioni’s BLOW-UP is definitely disgustingly low grade trying to pass on  \artistic.  The entire film has that similar feel, with director Della Valle trying to pass his nonsense as art.  The Andy Warhol slant in the film is typical.  Does Warhol pass as art or is he just plain kitsch?

Substituting style for substance (or the director’s version of style more accurately) does not really work in this tedious overlong exercise of an American crime noir by an Italian.

Trailer: 

 

IMPLANTED (USA 2021) **
Directed by Fabien DuFils

The new sci-fi horror attempts to be as relevant and current as the film IMPLANTED opens in the setting 3 years after the global pandemic.  Humans are tested with an implanted chip in order to diagnose one’s health and as sure as can be, things go haywire.  The film begins with a man gone mad in the middle of night.  From the looks of it, as he grabs his head with both hands, there is something impacted in him that is causing him to experience great pain - pain that he cannot bear any longer.  Blood is then revealed covering his hands as he collapses in the middle of the street.

Sarah, a struggling young woman living in Brooklyn, agrees to volunteer as an experimental test subject for a pharmaceutical company called Dynamic Health Cure and to be implanted with the LEXX nanochip. Sarah hopes that the money ($20,000) received for her participation will solve her financial troubles and help her to take care of her mother who has Alzheimer’s. A nanochip is implanted in her cerebral cortex. It is designed with artificial intelligence technology to take control of the body at the inception of any disease or illness. When the implant turns sinister and orders her to commit crimes, Sarah is plunged into a murderous spiral with only one choice: to live or die.

How does implantation work?  The audience follows Sarah (a female to make the film more politically correct), as she is given a personal profile with LEXX from the company.  Everything appears fine till Sarah gets pissed off at LEXX and requests a reset.  Like HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, LEXX cannot be controlled and takes over Sarah.  “Sarah, you cannot leave me.  We are partners.  Now, we have to rectify your error.  You are under my control.  From now on, you have to obey my instructions.  You will obey or you will die.”

IMPLANTED is clearly made during the Pandemic as most of the characters are socially distanced from each other.  The majority of the film follows an alone Sarah, a homeless person, not in touch with many people.  There are few people around Sarah in most of the scenes.

Director Dufils ejects a bit of satire into his film.  “Take deep breaths, hydrate, ….”   These are typical advice humans are given by their therapists daily.  It is funny to see these repeated by LEXX. 

In these two weeks, this reviewer has seen 3 one-handlers in which the protagonist spends the majority of the screen time talking to one person.  In Phillip Noyce’s soon to be released LAKEWOOD, Naomi Watts spends most of the time jogging and on her mobile talking to the police regarding saving her son from a shooter at his school.  In Antoine Fuqua’s soon to be released THE GUILTY, Jake Gyllenhaal spends most of the screen time on a 9-1-1 call at the 9-1-1 dispatch centre.  In IMPLANTED, Sarah spends most of the time talking to LEXX.  In each of the three films, the directors up the angst in what could be a very intense period.  The movie is reduced here to a one-act play.  One can and should complain that movies are meant for the big screen and audiences expect blockbusters.  It is of no surprise that IMPLANTED has scored low on the audience tomato metre on Rotten Tomatoes.  IMPLANTED is not a bad psychological thriller but it is tiresome to see films made during the Pandemic with one protagonist talking to one person or in this case one computer during the entire movie.  Movies should be more than that.

IMPLANTED  is available on digital platforms on October 1, 2021

Trailer: 

MAYDAY (USA 2021) **
Directed by Karen Cinorre

MAYDAY may qualify as one of this year’s weirdest fantasy, that somehow might seem relevant for two reasons - the #MeToo Movement and the Covid-19 Pandemic.  The film follows its female protagonist Ana, who enters a rabbit hole (in this case an oven) similar to ALICE IN WONDERLAND, landing in an alternate universe in what seems to be World War II.

The film, MAYDAY begins with the army alphabet phonetics: Mary, Alpha, Yankee, Delta, Alpha, Yankee” standing for''Mayday ``.  Those who have been in the army or associated in the army will immediately know that this is wrong.  Mike is used for the letter ‘M’ not Mary.  It becomes clear in writer/director Cinorre’s film that this is the female version with Mary replacing Mike.  MAYDAY , her new movie is clearly a part of the #MeToo Movement, a female fantasy where women take revenge on the male species. 

The audience is introduced to the film’s protagonist, Ana.  Ana (Grace Van Patten) works in a hotel where she is harassed by her male manager., both work-wise and sexually.   After an unusual storm causes a short circuit, Ana opens an oven door that leads to a land where three women warriors (Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu and Soko) live in a stranded U-boat during what seems to be WWII.   Pretending to be damsels in distress, they send out “Mayday” signals, luring
soldiers to their death.  Payback for the way men treated them in the past?

There is a lot of male hate in this female fantasy  where women lead male soldiers to their death.  It is surprising that female director Cinorre is working with her male life partner Sam Levy as her cinematographer who shoots some beautiful shots.  The film was shot largely in Croatia, making it an ideal tourist ad for the country.

“I am afraid of heights.” “No wonder, you are always at the bottom.” is the reply to Ana’s remark.  When she insists that she is an easy target, she is told that she should be the attacker.  Ana is trained as such.  Ana is to be trained to be a man-hater but she is unable to be turned into one, falling in love with one of her victims.   The rest of the film has her attempting to return to normalcy.  This involves her being at the right place at the right time, something really silly that makes no sense or credibility.

It can be seen that this is a Pandemic influenced film. Ana is seen in many scenes alone, and if with others, socially distanced. 

Besides some fresh ideas, MAYDAY’s outrageous story about female man-haters set in a fantasy world of women runs out of steam and credibility.  Who really cares about Ana and the others?  Juliette Lewis livens the proceedings a little, making two small appearances, but she cannot save this exercise.

The film debuted in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2021.  It opens at the Carlton Cinemas October 1st, which has just recently opened after being closed for a long period due to Covid-19.  It is also available on VOD.

Trailer: 

NO TIME TO DIE (James Bond)

(reviewer on long deserved holiday at Turks and Caicos - missed preview screening)
 

SEANCE (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Simon Barrett

SEANCE is a new teen horror flick opening this week on Shudder.  SEANCE is about a seance conducted that supposedly brings back the spirit of a dead girl, as the participants attempt to find out the truth of her death - if it was suicide or murder.

Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse) is the new girl at the prestigious Edelvine Academy for Girls.   Camille takes the place of a girl that has recently been found dead after having fallen from her bedroom window.  Soon after her arrival in the dead of winter, six girls invite her to join them in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls.   The camera loves to show the white wintry conditions outside the school building, a scene reminiscent of old horror films, that depict that something ominous is about to happen.  But before morning, one of the girls is dead, leaving the others wondering what they may have awakened.  Written and directed by Simon Barrett (YOU'RE NEXT, THE GUEST), Barrett has already proved himself quite apt at the horror genre.

SEANCE is derivative from other films.  If it is to steal from other films, it might have been stolen from the best.  SEANCE could have borrowed from as it bears resemblance with Dario Argento’s SUSPIRA (slasher in a music academy), CANDYMAN (say the spirit’s name in front of a mirror and the shirt will appear behind you), BLACK CHRISTMAS (slasher in a dorm), MEAN GIRLS (bullying running foul) and also with Mrs. Langley the headmistress of the college looks much like Rachel Robert’s headmistress in Peter Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.  The camera shot of two girls sharing the same bed is also right out of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.  The closing credits are done in bright pink, similar to the bright red credits that always follow the Italian Gallo horror films of the 70’s and 60’s.

The film delves into what a group of girls will do if they band together.  The most obvious is that they form a pack, not allowing newcomers to join in.  There is bullying, and the fight to be the leader.

If there is any predictability in the story, it has to be the identity of the slasher.  In this case, the obvious suspect is Trevor, the handsome son of Mrs. Langley.  In films like Agatha Christie’s TWISTED NERVE and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and other murder mysteries, the killer often turns out to be the most good-looking guy, and the least suspect, like the boyfriend of the lead character.  Whether Trevor is the one, the identity will not be revealed in the review.   The film has a resolved but still open ending.

SEANCE does not break new ground but director Barrett’s aims to rehash old material.  Nothing wrong here, as Barrett succeeds in keeping his audience entertained by the murderous goings-on at the academy if not titillating them with young female flesh, though no nudity is present, just lots of teasing.

Don’t expect much but the teen thriller, SEANCE delivers in terms of an easy to watch entertaining time waster.

Trailer: 

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The Best of TIFF 2021

24 Sep 2021

THE BEST OF TIFF 2021

2021 marks the return of the Toronto International film Festival to in-persons screenings after the Pandemic limited last year’s TIFF to on-line only.  Yet the cinemas were empty due to capacity restrictions.  As would be expected, the quality of films this year is lacklustre, yet there are sufficient outstanding films that can make the Top 10 of any critics’s list.

Below are my TOP 10 of TIFF 2021.  For complete capsule descriptions of these films, please click on the link below:

https://afrotoronto.com/content/articles/67-movies/2172-toronto-international-film-festival-2021-capsule-reviews

My TOP 10 Films: 

(in order)

1. ALI & AVA

2. PETITE MAMAN

3. HUDA’S SALON

4. BENEDICATION

5. ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT?

6. AS IN HEAVEN

7. LE BAL DES FLLES (THE MADWOMAN’S BALL)

8. NOBODY AHS TO KNOW

9. .SALOUM

10. TERRORIZERS

Below are other awards given for ‘Best’ Films:

Festival Awards 2021

FRIPSECI:

ANATOLIAN LEOPARD

Runner-up:
PAKA: RIVER OF BLOOD

People's Choice Awards

A long-standing tradition at TIFF, the People’s Choice Awards is marking its 44th year. The awards consist of the People’s Choice Award, the People’s Choice Documentary Award, and the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award.  All feature films in Official Selection must screen both in-person and on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox to be eligible.

2021 Winners

People’s Choice Award

BELFAST

First Runner Up: SCARBOROUGH

Second Runner Up: THE POWER OF THE DOG

People’s Choice Documentary Award

THE RESCUE 

People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award

TITANE

Platform Prize

2021 Platform Prize Recipient

YUNI: dir. Kamila Andini

Honourable mention: Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), dir. Jenna Cato Bass

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Sep 24, 2021)

22 Sep 2021

A slow week of new openings this week following the end of a very busy Toronto International Film Festival.

FILM REVIEWS:

A.RTIFICIAL I.MMORTALITY (Canada 2021) ***

Directed by Ann Shih


As technologies advance faster than our ability to understand their consequences, virtual immortality awaits us through developments in artificial intelligence. The doc ARTIFICIAL IMMORTALITY examines what separates humans from machines when androids assume our identities.   Director Ann Shin explores the broader and more personal implications of a post-biological world by collaborating with programmers and robotics engineers.   By uploading her memories to create a digital clone, she gives her future descendants the option to have a simulated conversation with her, rather than rely on photo albums and family memories alone.  As her aging father (there is a fact-time talk between her family and her father) faces a faltering memory, the desire to preserve her own past takes on a new urgency.  The film makes an important note that A.I. can never replicate the human brain.  As the film concludes, the audience gets to see the director’s avatar, in which the avatar talks to Shin’s children.  The doc might appear too technical for some audiences in terms of following its logic or understanding but it exposes the limitless boundaries of mankind.  The doc first premiered at Toronto's own HOT DOCS 2021 and finally gets its release.

Trailer: 

 

DEAR EVAN HANSEN (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Stephen Levenson

Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) has a social anxiety disorder.  His therapist encourages him to write a letter to himself to help his recovery to normalcy and this he does with each letter beginning with: DEAR EVAN HANSEN.  As the story goes, he has two altercations with a schoolmate, Conor (Colton Ryan) who ends up stealing his letter.  Conor is another student with mental problems.  Conor commits suicide with the letter found in his pocket.  Conor’s parents  believe Evan to be their son’s only friend from the letter, and their lives change from the letter.

The letters to himself have the goal of recognizing the good things in his life.  One of these is his classmate Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), on whom he has an enormous crush.   Zoe happens to be Conor’s sister.  Evan concocts a friendship that never existed, constructing a whole new life for himself.

The film is a coming-of-age story dealing with teenage crush, suicide and the importance of truth.  It is clear in stories like these that the truth will eventually come out.  And it does. 

Evan finds that his dreams have suddenly come through because of the lie.  Director Levenson ensures that this part of the tale takes prominence.  The film tracks Evan’s success at getting his drama girl and almost securing a paid college education from Conor’s wealthy parents.  The then confrontation scene between Evan and his mother is what heightens the drama and message of the film.  The mother had suffered a difficult divorce and is now working very hard to support her son through college.  The audience sees the hurt she experiences when she finds that some other family just offered her son the passage through college, which she, understandably cannot accept.   The film has many moments that will bring emotional heartbreak but director Levenson nowhere indulges, thankfully, in sentimentality.

Director Levenson directs from the Tony Award Winning play displaying sensitivity, emotion and care while injecting just the correct amount of humour to keep the film interesting while keeping the film’s sombre tone.  He has done a marvellous job in his breakthrough film THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, as well as this one, both films endorsing his talent.

Ben Platt reprises his Broadway role which won him the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor.  He looks, acts and sounds like a younger Jesse Eisenberg in this film.  He carries the film well, and is a solid singer, crooning out the majority of the songs solo.  Kaitlyn Dever is a delight to watch after she made her breakthrough movie in Olivia Wilde’s BOOKSMART,  She is clearly an actress to watch out for - a quiet beauty with great potential.  Other heavyweights lending their hand in the film include Oscar Winner Julianna Moore and Oscar nominee Amy Adams.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the kind of film that would be a shoo in for the Festivals’ popular People’s Choice Award.  But the prize went to BELFAST.  Undoubtedly, these two films will lead the list of Best Picture Oscar

Trailer: 

THE GUILTY (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

In these times of the Pandemic, small budget films with only one actor doing all the work seems to be a more common practice.  Two films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival attest to the fact.  There is Phillip Noyce’s LAKEHHOOD where Naomi Watts spends the entire film time jogging alone while speaking on her mobile to the cops regarding a shooter at her son’s school.  In Antoine Fuqua’s THE GUILTY, almost the entire film is spent on a 9-11 responder, Joe Bayler (Jake Gykkenhaal) trying to save a damsel in distress.   If the film seems familiar it should, as I vaguely recall a film with this familiar premise - a Danish thriller some years back. I don’t recall the title, which means that the film did not make too much an impression.  This one might, but only because Jake Gyllenhaal is in it, and it is difficult to forget the car in this low-budget entry.

One of the key issues whether the film succeeds depends on the character of Joe and how he affects the audience.  Joe is shown to be a man with baggage.  From his mobile calls, the audience learns that he has a daughter and is separated from his wife.  Joe is shown to be an often angry person, who does not know his place.  In the story, he exceeds his limits by being over concerned at saving his caller.  He orders the cops around on the phone, tells them what to do and screams and curses.  Joe is portrayed as an unliveable man, though director Fuqua attempts to demonstrate that his anger is justified.  “You do your job and I will do mine.” That is the response Joe gets more than once.

“Have I been an asshole, sometimes?’’ Joe asks his co-worker next to him at one point in the film.  “Yes, you have.”  They laugh.  He then says: “We should go for a beer sometime.”  When his co-worker finally says: “When are we going for that beer?”, he is ignored.

Director Fuqua does his best to make his film authentic.  All the technology in the 9-1-1- dispatch is displayed - the panels, lights and buttons.   In the background of all the commotion, there is the added crisis of the uncontrollable forest fires that are ongoing in L.A.  The air is thick and Joe has to inhale from his puffer ever so often.  Fuqua updates the Danish film to L.A. with the fires always in the background.  Fuqua has proven he can work with small films in enclosed spaces like THE GUILTY and his break-trough film TRAINING DAY as well as in the open as in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Gyllenhaal carries the entire film on his shoulders, Fuqua often religious close-ups of his actor to portray the desperation of the abduction case.  There are other well-known actors (Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, and Paul Dano) in the cast, though the audience only hears them through their voices.

Director Fuqua ups the angst in the film’s second half, but this is where the film fails and caution is thrown to the wind.  It gets really silly and the audience is forced to unbearably sit through Gyllenhaal's portrayal of a cop guilty of manslaughter.

The film paints an awful picture for those with mental problems.  It would not be surprising that mental illness advocates would voice concerns about the movie.

THE GUILTY is an awful watch, an example of the filmmakers trying too hard and with lots of Gyllenhaal’s closeups.

Trailer: 

 

THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES (Das geheime Leben der Bäume)

(Germany 2020) ***
Directed 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: 

 

INTRUSION (USA 2021) **

Directed by Adam Salky

INTRUSION begins as a home invasion gone bad for the home invaders.  Then it goes bad for the invaded couple.  INTRUSION is a Netflix movie and a mediocre one at that, complete with questionable script and lazy direction, perfect for a lazy evening at the movies in the comfort of one’s own home.  Don’t expect much and one will not go away disappointed.

Freida Pinto (LUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) and Logan Marshall-Green (PROMETHEUS) play a handsomely perfect couple, Meera and Henry in this new thriller of sorts where the script is supposed to hide the fact that nothing is what it seems.  The setting is the large mansion the husband has built for his wife, which ends up being the star of the film.

Meera and Henry appear the perfect couple.  Wealthy enough and seemingly loving to the point of annoying, they leave a busy bustling city to settle in New Mexico in a huge mansion that Henry designed and built.  Henry seems to love his wife to death.  Meera had suffered from cancer and Henry had made sure he had looked after her with great expense, time-wise and financially.  So what can go wrong with the apparently perfect couple?

A lot - according to the awful messy script by Chris Sparling.  The film begins with a home invasion.  Henry has a gun hidden in one of the flower pots, uses it and shoots the intruders.  Meera, instead of praising her husband, admonishes Henry for hiding a gun from her.  But Meera’s suspicion of her husband turns out not to be entirely false.  There is a dark side to Henry, besides him always expressing his true love for her. 

The film works in the first half before falling apart in the second where credibility is thrown to the wind, once it is revealed that the villain of the ice is the over-loving husband Henry.  When discovering her husband’s weird past, she asks; “Who are you?”  “I am your husband!” is Henry’s reply, which intentionally is the film’s funniest line.  It is at this point that one realizes that the film could do with a bit more humour to enliven the activities,  Dishing out stand horror fare, including cheap typical jump scare (like loud noises and sudden appearance of people), there is nothing really fresh in this supposedly horror thriller.

Director Salky appears to be applying all the lessons  covered in FILMMAKING 101 in film school.  He does the tiled camera on the husband when it is suspected that he is up to no good.  To emphasize the couple drifting apart, they two are shown dining at a table where they sit at opposite ends quite far apart.  The soundtrack also crescendos whenever suspense is building up or when Meera is in trouble.

One knows that there is trouble with the script when the film demonstrates difficulty in finding an ending. It finally concludes with the car driving away on the road - which is pretty pathetic and obvious that the film is in trouble.

Trailer: 

MAN IN THE FIELD: THE LIFE AND ART OF JIM DENEVAN (USA 2020) ***

A film by Patrick Trefz

The new documentary MAN IN THE FIELD profiles pioneering American multimedia artist and chef Jim Denevan, revealing the personal and circumstantial struggles behind his myriad and mysterious artistic gifts.  As Jim battles to overcome mental illness in his family, he creates a body of inimitable work.  His canvases are twofold: he makes land art, epic geometric formations. And he creates dinners that transcend the experience of what we know as a meal. Both forms of expression originate from Jim’s need for both community and solitude; both touch people, including the artist, in unexpected ways.

Art today, gone tomorrow.  This best describes the art of Jim Denevan.  Jim Denevan works with natural materials to create massive scale drawings in sand, ice, and soil.  His sculptures are not placed in the landscape, rather, the landscape is the means of their creation.  His process goes beyond drawing and implies a spiritual land-finding process.   MAN IN THE FIELD is an eye-popping documentary of the man and his work - a documentary that is as beautiful as the art that it envisions.

Jim Denevan often uses a stick and a rake to draw on sand.  His creations usually last a few hours before being washed away by the tides.  Aerial photography or video is needed to comprehend the final work.  Denevan's most recent notable work was commissioned by the clothing brand Stüssy.  The work of art is featured on a T-shirt, highlighting the features of the northern California coast.  "For the launch of Stüssy’s Summer 2020 collection, Artist and California local Jim Denevan drew an iconic Stüssy curly “S” in the golden sand of Northern California. Monumental in scale, precise in execution, but fleeting like a live performance. Here today, gone tomorrow.

The film traces the origin of his works.  The first time he did it, he climbed a cliff and watched his painting from above.  He told himself : “This what I am doing for the rest of his life.”  His relatives like his brother and close friends are interviewees who reveal information about the man.   The sand paintings are simple, pure and amazing. The man is also a celebrity chef who serves his guests out in the fields sometimes amidst his artistic works, the table and guests seated in masterful patterns.  It is farm to table but dinner at the farm, as the voiceover says.

Denevan is shown in one segment setting up a meal for guests in a field in a farm.  The best chefs come to a farm and basically throw a big dinner party.  Small farms are also supported in these gigs.  The pressure on everything going smoothly is enormous.  The weather also determines the outcome.  Jim’s genius is to show people how food is grown, to eat a meal where the food is grown.  Jim discovers the brilliant idea of how emotional this experience can be for the guests.

Jim’s torment and mental suffering are also featured.  Jim had three schizophrenic brothers and a mother who were all institutionalized, causing him great grief.  As the film is sick topping out, there is a fine line between genius and madness.

MAN IN THE FIELD is an intriguing film examining the genius and madness of an artist.

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Sep 17, 2021)

31 Aug 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

23 WALKS (UK 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Paul Morrison


23 WALKS is a heart-warming comedy/drama about finding love later in life.  If there have been too many such films in the past, it would be good to say that 23 WALKS is one of the better ones, being more sensitive though with no brakes on pulling to the heartstrings.  Dave (Dave Johns) and Fern (Alison Steadman), two older strangers, have been bruised by their individual circumstances. They meet walking their dogs in a North London park, (Hertfordshire to be exact) and over the course of twenty-three walks together romance begins to blossom.  But Dave and Fern haven’t been completely honest with one another and their future together may be threatened by the secrets they have withheld.   This is still a Harlequin styled romance with the obstacles that need to be overcome before living happily ever after.

Dave and Fern meet while walking their dogs.  One walk leads to another and so on….

The man has a big dog as expected and the lady a female one, yes, as expected.  The big dog is female and the little one male to balance the situation.

As expected, director Morrison does not shy from adding the charm.  The couple share funny songs like the mud song.  She then says there is nothing better than listening to the woods.

Besides the two principles being white, the film does succeed in representing other minority groups.  Dave’s wife is clouded and his children are therefore coloured.  One of his sone is gay, so that is two minority groups easily covered.  The film also addresses mental health as Fern’s family has to deal with the death of her daughter at the early of of 18 due to meningitis.  One of the sons got addicted to drugs. The film also deals a little with poverty as Dave is forced to leave his flat, being unable to cover his rent.

The two dogs are well trained and as expected, the clause goes at the end credits that no animals were harmed in the filming.  Best dog actor must go to Tilly - a beautiful Alsation (called a German Shepard in North America).

Alison Steadman is an actress I could watch forever.  I loved her in Mike Leigh’s LIFE IS SWEET.  Steadman is Leigh’s ex-wife.  She is expert at displaying emotions, as she proved in LIFE IS SWEET and again in 23 WALKS.  Dave Johns is also a veteran  actor.  He played the lead in Ken Loach’s I, DANIEL BLAKE, again giving a superlative performance.  Needless to say, they are both a joy to watch together, both exhibiting excellent chemistry.

One of the film’s most beautiful moments has Fern singing a Spanish love song to Dave.  The song goes without subtitles, which is apparently not needed for cinema to do its magic.

The ultra heart-warming and charming 23 WALKS is an excellent senior romance if one can forgive the obvious audience manipulation.

23 WALKS opens in select theatres and on demand everywhere Sept 17th.

Trailer: 

BLUE BAYOU (USA 2021) **

Directed by Justin Chon

Lee Isaac Chung’s acclaimed hit MINARI last year made the theme of the difficulty of immigrant adjustment to American life a hot topic.  That film went on to win multiple awards and nominations in the prestigious Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.  The film was also an official selection of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival BLUE BAYOU adds on another film to the list and adds in the topic of deportation as the subject should have been an American citizen if his adoptive parents had served the appropriate adoption papers at the time, but never did.  A big lesson to everyone here is the importance of the timely filing of important documents.

Just Chon does quadruple duty here as writer, director, producer and main actor of BLUE BAYOU.  The topic of unwarranted deportation of immigrants in the U.S. is a timely subject and one can see his dedication in getting his message across.  As expected, the closing credits emphasize the number of cases still unresolved and the number of deported adopted immigrants still undocumented and largely unknown.  Still BLUE BAYOU feels like Chon’s ego trip with the way his film is delivered, he being in almost every scene and his character being almost faultless,

BLUE BAYOU aims at being the moving and timely story of an uniquely American family fighting for their future.  Antonio LeBlanc (Chon), a Korean adoptee raised in a small town in the Louisiana bayou, is married to the love of his life, Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and step-dad to their beloved daughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske).  The reason the Korean is given is explained at the film’s start when he is introduced as an adopted son in a job interview where he explains that the name was given to him by his adoptive parents.  Everything seems to be going well for Antonio and his family till an incident with the police at a grocery store gets him discovered that he is an illegal.  He should be legal if his adoptive parents had filed the papers, as their expensive lawyer explains.  Of course to add fuel to the fire, Antonio, working in a tattoo parlour is broke.  Worse is the skeleton in the closet he has kept from his wife.

If the plot (prone to cliches) has not already deterred one from the film, the delivery of the cliched material should have one gasping for fresh air.  There  is also the addition of an unwed subplot of a woman dying of terminal cancer together with the metaphor of her favourite flower - the water lily and wait for it….. a flower without apparent roots.  he climax of the film at the airport designed to wring out tars from the most hardened filmgoer does not help either.  And in all this, there is the hidden ‘who can look the cutest on film contest’ between Antonio and ‘baby girl’?  The best looking actor actually  is Mark O’Brien who plays Jessie’s ex.

BLUE BAYOU though well intentioned is so deliberately and obviously manipulative that it destroys the very message it wishes to deliver which is indeed a real shame.  At the end of the promo screening, I heard some say that this was one of the best films she had seen.  So, the film could appeal to some.

Trailer: 

 

BEST SELLERS (Canada/UK 2020) ***
Directed by Lina Roessler

 

BEST SELLERS is a comedy about a publishing heir who goes on a book tour with a
curmudgeonly author.  It stars two hot names - 2-time Academy Award Winner Michael Caine and sensation Aubrey Plaza.  Since inheriting her father’s New York publishing house, Lucy
(Plaza) has almost tanked it with failing YA titles.  Now her only hope is Harris Shaw (Caine), an author whose bestseller put the company on the map 50 years ago.  Although Harris has not been
seen since his heyday,  Lucy tracks him down after discovering that he owes the company a book.  Her timing is perfect.  Harris needs money and has a new novel (which he hates).  But his old contract stipulates that he must promote it.  What follows is the book tour from hell.

 As they travel from venue to venue, Harris creates a sensation. Trouble is, the book isn’t selling.  From there, the story takes some surprising twists, culminating in an appropriate ending.

One would expect that a film about a best selling author would contain a quality script.  To the film’s credit, the script is a decent one and fortunately one that caters to its two main actors - Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza.  Plaza has played bad-ass roles in films like DIRTY GRANDPA and THE LITTLE HOURS with her deadpan comedic style.  Plaza is the only  actress who can make a line like “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” laugh out loud funny.  Caine as Harris smokes, coughs, drinks and swears – with his British-accented “Bullshite” becoming a hipster hashtag.

If the script fails to deliver in terms of an alternative to a predictable and cliched tale of a vile angry old drunk writer driven to do a book tour by his equally angry and frustrated publishing manager, the script at least contains a few good comedic set ups, the best of these occurring during the book tours.  The script by Anthony Greico did win the 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting award.  One best scene has Shaw choking an arrogant and pompous book critic (played amusingly by Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE), looking like the film critic Rex Reed) with his walking cane.

Would BEST SELLERS turn out to be a best ticket selling comedy?   The decent script and more than amusing performances by Caine and Plaza would definitely help in this otherwise forgettable yet quite entertaining two-handler.

 Also starring are Scott Speedman as a rival publisher and Ellen Wong as Lucy’s assistant whose job includes looking after Harris’s cat.

Though set in the NYC, United States, BEST SELLERS’s country of origin is Canada and the U.K. with a large part of the film shot in Montreal and partially in New York City.

The film premiered as a Gala at Berlinale.  The film is available September 17 to rent or buy on the Apple TV app/iTunes and other VOD platforms.

Trailer: 

 

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Michael Snowalter

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE premieres at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival but the story told in the film is a familiar one.  The new film is said in the press notes to be based on the documentary of the same name made in 2000.  This implies that the doc is superior.  In a way it is, for a more candid and authentic look all at the TV evangelist celebrity.  Director Showalter is in the big league now, after the success of his debut low budget comedy THE BIG SICK, now directing major names like Jessica Chastain playing the lead, Tammy Faye and Spiderman’s Andrew Garfield playing Tammy’s husband, Jim Bakker.  Micheal Showalter’s version is a bit of a mess, with the film never having any clear direction. 

Be that as it may, the film would attract an audience looking for sensation and scandal  But as the film tries to humanize Tammy Faye and show her as a  human being full of flaws (sexual temptations) and sympathy, the sensationalization is compromised.

Director Showalter films his story like a biopic beginning with Tammy as a kid, who attends church, an unwanted child from a first marriage and how she was saved as a born-again Christian.  Tammy is shown as a flamboyant televangelist and singer, the woman who would, alongside husband Jim Bakker, build a multimillion dollar ministry empire.  The Bakkers’ spectacular fall from grace thrust Tammy Faye into the mainstream spotlight. Her fashion and makeup choices were regular subjects of derision in late-night talk shows and sketch comedies, which cemented her place in popular culture.  Even her husband pokes fun at her, which she discovers.

The unexpectedly passionate college courtship with Jim makes one of the film’s more interesting segments  This is the time the audience sees more of  Jim’s character.  Jim has the personality of a smart-talking travelling salesman, thus making him ideal to be a success as a travelling preacher.  Together, they refined the message and delivery of the prosperity gospel that would attract so many followers to their satellite network and Heritage USA theme park at the height of their success, before Jim’s conviction for defrauding viewers and donors in 1989.  It is not surprising that the husband Jim turns out to be the more intriguing character.  It is no surprise that actor Garfield was drawn to the role.  Garfield looks all pudgy faced and has gained some weight for the role - the sexy slim man now looking like a soon to be overweight white trash.

The segments involving Jerry Falwell  (Vincent D’Onofrio) as the self-righteous bigoted preacher putting down gays for the sake of his money grabbing ministry are sufficient to anger  many an audience.  Tammy earned most of her popularity among the gay population for her fight for gay rights.  Jim is shown here to be a person with no backbone, undecided whether to please his wife or his sponsor Falwell.

Showalter’s film succeeds and gets more interesting when it deals with the ministry and less so when looking at the trivialities of Tammy Faye who in the film seem to be secondary sheaf of the primary focus.  Still, those who love to see those disgusting TV preachers fail and get their comeuppance would not be disappointed.

Trailer: 

THE INFLUENCER (USA/Canada 2021) **

Directed by Meghan Weinstein

THE INFLUENCER is a low-budget campy social comedy that attempts to shed some light on the social media industry.  Directed by Meghan Weinstein who also penned the script, THE INFLUENCER follows the adventures of one successful social media celebrity who suddenly finds herself under attack.  While she learns some lessons about the social network and life, director Weisntein does not seem to be aiming too high with her script and film.  Perhaps this is good, as her film does not pretend to be excellent, just entertaining.  Aiming low instead of high leads to less risk of failure. 

The film follows this route.  The subject is influencer, Abbie Rose, a super popular social-media influencer known for her lifestyle, fashion and makeup videos.  One night she signs a coveted contract with Nutrocon, a notorious cosmetic company known to pollute, test on animals and treat female workers unfairly.   After a night out in which she spurns Justin (Mark Valeriano) who wants her in bed, she is taken down and tied up in her home by a group of masked activists.  Overnight, they force Abbie through the filming of a video, advertising a mysterious new makeup kit.  As the hacker’s plan unfolds, we learn the real reason for their visit and as Abbie’s facade fades the audience learn more about the lies she’s been living.

So with this story, director Weinstein and her crew are up to entertain their audience.

Kasia Szarek’s Abbie Rose has the occasional mannerisms of late drag queen Divine of low-budget gay drag trash hits like FEMALE TROUBLE an PINK FLAMINGOES directed by John Waters.  Divine performs better in films where she is the provocateur rather than the victim.  In fact those films where she played the victim failed at the box-office.  At the start of the film, Abbie Rose is the provocateur and becomes the victim after a home invasion hostage situation.   To Szark’s credit, she functions well in both types of roles.  She can be a nasty diva as well as a screaming damsel in distress as the film demonstrates.  A lot of the film’s weight lies on her shoulders.

Szarek is a real life Instagram influencer who naturally gained an online following with her comedic personality and glamorous pin-up style.  She promotes loving yourself and having fun no matter your size, (though she is not that big in size, just slightly plump) and often gets messages from followers on how her posts inspire them to embrace their curves.

THE INFLUENCER is not as funny as it hopes to be.  The three clownish activists annoy themselves more than entertain the audience.  One is supposed to be a software genius, another a sex offender and the third and male a meth maker of a new strain.  The facts appear to amuse rather than be funny.  Abbie Rose struts her stuff as much as possible, again hardly funny material.  The film’s message is literally shouted out to the audience rather than delivered subtly.  There is also an elementary lesson on options given to the audience of calls and puts.

THE INFLUENCER will be available on DVD and VOD, platforms including iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and through local cable & satellite providers on September the 14th.

Trailer:

 

THE NORTH WATER (UK/Canada 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Andrew Haigh

THE NORTH WATER is a handsomely mounted period piece comprised of 5 one-hour episodes.

Based on the critically acclaimed, best-selling novel by Ian McGuire.   Set in the UK and the ice floes of the Arctic in the late 1850s, the series tells the story of Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell), a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up as the ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. But the ferocity of the elements is matched by the violence of his crew mates, including Drax (Colin Farrell), a harpooner and distinctly brutal force of nature. As the true purpose of the expedition becomes clear, confrontation between the two men erupts, taking them on a journey far from solid ground and way beyond the safe moorings of civilization.

THE NORTH WATER will make its first Canadian debut on Super Channel Fuse on Sunday, September 19 at 9 p.m. ET with each episode available on Super Channel On Demand the day following its weekly linear broadcast, followed by wide release on CBC TV, CBC Gem, ICI TÉLÉ and ICI TOU.TV in fall 2022. Super Channel is available via most cable providers across the country, as well as Amazon Prime Video channels and the Apple TV app. THE NORTH WATER will premiere in the UK on BBC Two this fall, and is streaming on AMC+ in the U.S. this summer.

The reviews based on the 1st two episodes:

The first episode introduces the audience to the story’s two principles characters, both contrasting in personalities.   The audience first sees the rugged, uncouth and reckless Drax (Farrell) as he wages his knife for a drink and loses in the coin toss.  After being tossed out of the dodgy pub, the other character, a doctor Sumner (O’Connell) is introduced.  He is hired as a ship’s doctor.  The ship is to take a whaling crew to the Arctic Waters where both men become unlikely mates.  Much of the first episode is set on land, with the boat just venturing into the cold at the near end.  The story of the doctor’s disgrace is told through flashbacks.

The episode ends with Sumner falling into the ice as he scrams for help - all the more to entice viewers to tune into the second episode.

 

 

THE NOWHERE INN (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Bill Benz

THE NOWHERE INN is a mockumentary about the making of a documentary.  When one hears of the term mockumentary, a term only known in motion pictures, one thinks of fun, comedy and maybe some satire on the industry of its subject.  In THE NOWHERE INN, writer/director Bill Benz very ambitious and self conscious mockumentary on music glamour star diva St. Vincent, he attempts to tear away the layers of the sensation and reveal the real human being behind the star.  The mockumentary resulting is no comedy but quite uncomfortable drama, which is not that enjoyable to watch, but nevertheless insightful and revealing.

The weird beginning sets the tone of the entire film - oddness and discomfort.  St. Vincent (played by St. Vincent) is driven in a limo across a desert.  The chauffeur (Ezra Buzzington) asks who she is, as he often drives celebrities but then claims not to know who St. Vincent is.  He phones his son who has no idea who she is either.  “We will find out who you are.” he claims.  Director Benz then introduces St. Vincent to his audience - a singer dressed in spacemen togs and high shiny boots, crooning weird sounds and emitting weird music that is not for everyone.  Yet she has her fans.  “I am not for everybody,” she admits to the chauffeur.

The mockumentary involves St.Vincent also known as Annie Clark commissioning her friend, Carrie (Carrie Brownstein) to shoot a documentary of her new tour for “people to know who I really am.” in order to reveal the real St. Vincent.   

The adage of ‘be careful of what you wish for” comes true in this case.  Clark is not that enormous ego.  Carrie catches her many times unaware and puts her subject in severe discomfort, though she has the highest respect for her subject’s talent.  Perhaps Clark should be St. Vincent and not her real self 100% of the time.  The project falls apart, though it would seem unlikely as both are desperate to make the doc work - Carrie to show off her work and St. Vincent to revive her declining fan base.

The audience also sees the artist in predicaments.  St. Vincent faces a crying fan claiming that her music had saved her life while it is clear St. Vincent just wants to get away from her.  St. Vincent is also forced to humour her interview journalist who wants a plus one for her cousin to attend her concert.  St Vincent finally says no to her face in one of the film's best (and rare humorous) scenes of the film.

The film also contains some odd moments with Dakota Fanning.  Fanning plays Clark’s same-sex lover.  Clark insists that Carrie films herself and Fanning’s character making out.  It is clear that Carrie feels terribly uncomfortable doing this and has no intention of carrying it out.

THE NOWHERE INN, reveals the seriousness glamour music divas face in the industry and there is nothing much funny in this mockumentary.

 

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Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Capsule Reviews

27 Aug 2021

 

All capsule Reviews are embargoed until their first screening (Press and Industry or Public) at the festival.  Dates embargo lifts are stated below.  Capsule Reviews will be posted once embargo lifted; what follows is just the brief synopses with no comments.

 

FILM REVIEWS:

AFTER BLUE (PARADIS SALE) (France 2021) **
Directed by Bertrand Mandico

Described as a sci-fi acid western, whatever that means, in the press notes, director Mandico’s sci-fi dystopian opus has the audience believe that humans have left the planet Waert and colonized another called After Blue.  Males are irradiated but their sperm keep to fertile the flames and continue the human race.  If here are no males around, all the females have left is to make love to each other, in what is director Mandico’s gay lesbian fantasy.  The story has Roxy (Paula Luna), the lonely teenage daughter of the colony’s hairdresser Zora (Elina Löwensohn), impulsively unearths a notorious criminal called Kate Bush, who promises to grant her three wishes, the ensuing violence exiles mother and kin from the settlement, so they may track down and bring this legendary killer to justice.  Armed with designer Gucci rifles and Paul Smith pistols, the duo ventures into a hostile alien landscape rife with toxic gases, slime-encrusted crystalline entities, and promiscuous fashionistas. From there, things get pretty weird. The film is not as good as it sounds and is likely for acquired tastes, not to mention that the film is too long, running just over 2 hour

Trailer: 

 

ALI & AVA (UK 2021) ****
Directed by Clio Barnard

The latest from acclaimed British writer-director Clio Barnard (THE SELFISH GIANT, one of the best films made that year) is a tumultuous, fiercely affecting working-class love story between a British Pakistani and an Irish lady.   Both are middle-aged and carry baggage from the past.    Ali (Adeel Akhtar), is a working-class landlord who forges close bonds with his tenants.while Ava (Claire Rushbrook) is an Irish-born teacher and single mother of five.  Barnard is one of my favourite British directors and she does not disappoint here.  Her use of music as in the one scene where Ali drives a load of kids in a car, all doing hip-hop is one of the most spirited pieces I have seen in a film this year.  Watch this clip, link below, where director Barnard turns a situation of racial intolerance into one of fun and unity,  Barnard shoots her film in Yorkshire, with her characters based on people she has met.  This is a wonderful love story celebrating differences and what a great movie!

Trailer: 

ANATOLIAN LEOPARD (Turkey/Germany/Poland/Denmark 2021) ***

Directed by Emre Kaysis

 

Like his country’s counterpart Nuri Bilge Ceylon (WINTER SLEEP, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA) , director Emre Kaysis debut feature is a slow burn drama but a very well thought out one that plays with a wry sense of humour as in Kafka.  The period and mood of the film is deliberately depressing.  It is New Year’s Eve and it is raining buckets.  The protagonist misses his bus.   Everything seems to be going wrong which suits the film’s theme.  To help save the Turkish zoo where they work, two employees collude to hide the death of a leopard.  Firstly, Fikret (Uğur Polat) is a melancholic divorcé who leads a lonely life.  Dedicated to his work of 22 years, he is the director of Turkey’s oldest zoo in the historical yet somnolent capital of Ankara.  The second is his co-worker and assistant Gamze (Ipek Türktan).  Together they conspire to fake the leopard’s escape, setting in motion an absurd charade that inevitably turns the ensuing capture attempt into a three-ring circus while rousing Fikret’s long-buried idealism, while Kikret finds her his true romance, which director Kaysis cleverly sneaks on his audience.  A worthy watch for the patient!

 

ATTICA (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Stanley Nelson


A doc on the longest prison hostage ever in the United States when September 9, 1971, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York enacted the largest prison uprising in United States history, taking staff as hostages. After protracted negotiations and a five-day standoff, the New York State Police raided the facility with shocking brutality, leaving 43 dead, followed by vicious reprisals against survivors and then an elaborate cover-up. It was the bloodiest one-day clash on American soil since the US Civil War.  Now, five decades later, when the country has the world’s highest incarceration rate, the story of what happened at Attica deserves fresh attention.  edit to director Nelson for assembling archive footage and for the research he did on his controversial subject.  Nelson also knows how to push the right buttons and play on the emotions of his audience.  The segment on Jerry the jew on the judge seal would have one easily cheering before Nelson informs after that Jerry was wrong.  The all important message the doc delivers is the need to treat everyone with respect even those incarcerated for crimes committed.  The inhuman prison conditions revealed in the doc are also disturbingly real.  Note that this is not the only but one of the many films made on the prison takeover.

Trailer: unavailable

AS IN HEAVEN (Du Somer Er I Himlen) (Denmark 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Tea Lindeburg

The title AS IN HEAVEN is taken from The Lord’s Prayer that Lise, the film’s protagonist recites in the religious horror drama.  Director Tea Lindeburg’s assured debut feature is a true horror story seen from the eyes of a budding young woman, Lise, imprisoned by religion and her own guilt.  Set in rural Denmark in the early 19th century, Lise lives and looks after her siblings with her mother and largely absent father.  When her mother gets really ill during pregnancy and refuses to see a doctor, Lise’s faith comes into question.  She had also borrowed her mother’s hairpiece without permission and lost it.  Bound by guilt, she believes God might take her mother aways as punishment.   All the horror is made worst as she has no one to confide too and ironically, is forced to instead take on additional responsibilities.  At the same time.Lise is going through puberty and starts to long for romance.  Director Lindeburg paints a horrid picture of life for poor Lise.   Rural Denmark looks stunning through Lindeburg’s camera (especially at the film’s beginning with the menacing crimson clouds hovering around the open wide fields as if God is about to lease out punishment to the disobendient), contrasting the beauty and the horror that exists.  AS IN HEAVEN is an engrossing and powerful horror film illustrating that real horror can be present all around us.

ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT” (China 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Wen Shipei

An assured and impressive debut by director Wen in this Chinese neo-noir pic with the mood and atmosphere heightened by the famous Elvis Presley song “Are you Lonesome Tonight?” crooned by a blind night-watchman.  The lives of three people converge in Wen Shipei’s thrilling debut: a young man who believes he’s killed someone, the dead man’s widow, and the policeman in charge of the investigation. A lot of the story is revealed through flashbacks, but not in the conventional format.  The occasionally seemingly clumsy flashbacks that occur are often disconnected with a character and come about non-chronologically.  But it is this and other daring risks that make Wen's film stand out.  For instance, a major plot revelation occurs when a band delivers fanfare amidst a lion dance.  A shoot out in the warehouse  filmed in red is also deserving of mention.  Wen’s shows ingenuity in his story telling.  Director Wen’s film is by no means perfect but his feature, filmed with spirit and flair shows promise that this director has the best that is yet to come.

Trailer: 

LE BAL DES FOLLES (THE MAD WOMAN’S BALL ) (France 2021) ****
Directed by Melanie Laurent

The trouble in the story begins when Eugenie becomes disoriented when combing her grandmother’s hair one night.  She stops and rummages through her grandmother’s drawers to discover a lost locket in it, on the underside of one of the drawers.  When she claims a dead spirit has led her to the locket, she is deemed crazy.  This is pretty much a female movie with a tough female protagonist and with a family that is generally ruled by its women.  THE MAD WOMAN’S BALL is a handsomely mounted period piece as evident from the films' art from everything to costumes and set design to wardrobe to lighting and soundtrack.  Director Laurent provides some well needed humour in all the dire surroundings with Eugenie’s night mate, Louise.  Though described as a total nutcase, she humorously describes the illnesses of all the other inmates to Louise.  Besides the suspense, there is much to enjoy and observe in LE BAL DES FOLLES.  Highly recommended!

Trailer: 

 

 

A BANQUET (UK 2021) 
Directed by Ruth Paxton

A widowed mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) grapples with eldest daughter Betsey’s (Jessica Alexander) disturbing conviction that her body has become a vessel for an unknown higher power, one that has ominously robbed her of any appetite, and which Betsey believes heralds a cataclysmic upheaval and tat she is the chosen one.  At first, her condition is suspected to be an act of adolescent rebellion or a psychological break.  But despite her refusal to eat, Betsey loses no weight and gains a growing faith in her newfound and enigmatic sense of purpose.  As her daughter’s personality is further subsumed by this affliction, Holly finds herself confronting the boundaries of her own beliefs and the repressed traumas of her past. Director Paxton puts a lot of prep and planning into her film as can be witnessed by the meticulously laid out and executed scenes.  Camera placement, lighting, props and acting all seem to be perfectly set up for each segment. Director Paxton builds up the mystery and suspense in her film as evident at the start of the film.  Unfortunately the whole does not match up to the individual parts.  The supposedly surprise ending turns out more unbelievable and tacked on.

Clip: 

BENEDICTION (UK 2021) ****
Directed by Terence Davies

Those who enjoyed A LONG DAY CLOSES and DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES will be pleased to be entertained with more of the same by Terence Davies in this more ambitious effort that includes both a stronger narrative and a personal touch.  Lots of music and songs with scenes reminiscent (like the cinema theatre scene) of THE LONG DAY CLOSES but it is surely the beautifully written and spoken English that brightens this mostly darkly themed effort.  BENEDICTION as the title implies, a sombre and sumptuous portrait of 20th-century English poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden as the younger and Peter Capaldi as the senior).  Sassoon’ attempt at conscientious objection to the war leads to his being committed to a Scottish hospital, where he meets and mentors fellow poet and soldier Wilfred Owen. Davies tracks much of Sassoon’s life after the war as a chain of fraught romances — most notably with actor and homme fatale Ivor Novello — and ongoing questions of sexual identity, social mores, and integrity both artistic and personal, leading to Sassoon’s late conversion to Catholicism and struggle to connect with his son.  Director Davies clearly leaves his imprint in the poet’s biography and it makes nothing less than superb cinema.

Trailer: (none)

BERGMAN ISLAND (France 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve 

BERGMAN ISLAND is the island of Fårö, where legendary director Ingmar Bergman spent most of the end of his life.  A tourist attraction, it sees Chris and Tony renting a place, in order to write.  The place holds the bedroom where Bergman shot SCENES OF A MARRIAGE, the film that caused a million people o divorce, a joke of the film.  Hansen-Løve has been one of the most respected and outstanding French directors since LE PERE DE MES ENFANTS, all her films about relationships, mostly young ones.   Tony’s work is fêted at their artist residency while Chris struggles with her screenplay and the two, despite a tender rapport, seem to be at an unspoken impasse, navigating romantic malaise and subtle professional enmity under the spell of the stunning island and Bergman’s legacy.  Chris’s in-development script come to life: a bittersweet love story starring Mia Wasikowska as Amy, a young filmmaker and obvious alter ego to Chris, who is reunited with her first love Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) at a mutual friend’s wedding on the same remote island.  Hansen-Løve does Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman in this film, with a surprise revelation at the end that should keep audiences thinking.

Trailer: 

CHARLOTTE (Canada/France/Belgum 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Eric Warin, Tahir Rana

 

Done in glorious animation, CHARLOTTE is the remarkable true story of Charlotte Salomon, a German Jewish artist defying incredible odds to create a masterpiece during World War II.  She died at the age of 26 in Auschwitz but left behind a legacy.  

Charlotte Salomon is the enigmatic young German Jewish painter who created a sprawling masterpiece in the face of both private turmoil and sweeping global cataclysm.  Born into a wealthy but troubled family in Berlin, Charlotte is preternaturally gifted, with a wild imagination and grand ambitions.  In 1933, at age 16, she saw her dreams dashed. The antisemitic laws and violent mobs of the Nazis, who have seized power in Germany, force her out of school and later spur her to leave for the South of France, where, despite relative and temporary safety, life for Charlotte becomes increasingly difficult. Struggling to comprehend — and come to terms with — both a traumatic past and present, she sets out to paint her autobiography. Within 18 months, Charlotte completes nearly a thousand gouaches depicting the lives of everyone near and dear to her.  The animation captures the period mood and despair of WWII persecution of the Jews.  The animated rain, water and fire is also stunning as are the paintings seen in the film.  A star that needs to be told, to remind the world of the horror of racism, non-tolerance and the danger of family pride.  The film also incorporates the coming-of-age story of poor Charlotte - a doomed and gifted painter.

Trailer: none

COMALA (Mexico 2021) ***
Directed by Gian Cassini

 

A documentary that follows filmmaker Gian Cassini investigating several generations of men in his family caught up in violence, including his father, who was a hitman by the name of El Jimmy in Tijuana, Mexico.  In 2010, Mexican newspapers reported the murder of El Jimmy, a small-time hitman in Tijuana. For most readers, it was another death amongst thousands in the country’s tragic drug wars. But for filmmaker Gian Cassini, the news triggered deeper questions because El Jimmy was his estranged father.   Director Cassini works his doc as a mystery detective film noir together with femme fatal as in this case El Jimmy’s girlfriend.  It works during the first half, but the tactic eventually wears off and so does the interest of Cassini’s family.  Who really cares about a small time hood or the director’s family?  To Cassini’s credit, he tries his best to arouse interest like including a segment on his grandfather talking about his gun collection including how to use several weapons.  The doc is a bit confusing as the audience is required to remember all the members of the family portrayed like his grandfather, father, brother, sister, father’s girlfriends, wife and other assortment of characters.

 

Trailer: 

COMPARTMENT NO. 6 (Finland/Germany/Russia/Estonia 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Juho Kuosmanen

Two passengers share a compartment, COMPARTMNET NO. 6 on a train to Murmansk.  They are not friends.   They are divided by class, nationality, and language.  Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish grad student, has just said goodbye to her same-sex Russian lover Irina and boards a train headed for Murmansk, a remote city in the Arctic circle, to see the rock drawings — supposedly a fitting, poetic conclusion to her time studying in Russia.  The loutish Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), who polishes off a large bottle of vodka the first night of the trip, is reporting for work at the massive mine in the region.   He makes rude sexual advances and insults her.   As the journey drags on, though, cracks appear in the facades they present and their vulnerabilities force them to recognize each other as far more complex than the fronts they present to the world — or what their own prejudices dictate.  It make sense to show how true bonding can happen with no sex involved as Laura is gay.  The film is a brilliant examination of how differences and similarities can and two people. 

Trailer: 

THE DEVIL’S DRIVERS (Qatar/France/Germany/Lebanon 2021) ***

Directed by Daniel Carsenty and Mohammed Abugeth

The ad for the film goes: The Devil’s Drivers has the intensity of a 1970s chase film as it follows Palestinian smugglers (the drivers) on high-speed trips to help workers cross the border.  “On the left side is Israel, on the right side is Palestine,” explains Hamouda as his beat-up car speeds through the desert trying to evade Israeli soldiers he smuggles Palestinian workers across a southern gap (to make more money in order to suvive) where Israel’s border wall hasn’t been finished.   The workers are desperate to cross to where labour is in high demand.   8-years in the making, filmmakers Daniel Carsenty and Mohammed Abugeth follow the drivers Hamouda and his cousin Ismail (and two others) who are Palestinian Bedouins in the town of Yatta.  The message and information in the film are all provided in the brief synopsis above.  The doc is narratively weak though the urgency of the situation is fully realized.  The film jumps among the 4 subjects and includes a history of the situation of time span of the doc.  Despite the well intentions of the filmmakers and the exciting and timely topic, THE DEVIL’S DRIVERS fail to engage to the level expected.  The doc is also prejudiced to the side of the Palestinians.  They can smuggle, drive terrorists, work illegally but do no wrong.  The Israelis are all treated as inhuman villains.  Well shot with beautiful barren desert landscapes.

Trailer: 

 

ENCOUNTER (USA 2021) **
Directed by Michael Pearce

A decorated Marine, Malik Khan (Riz Ahmed) goes on a rescue mission to save his two young sons from an inhuman threat.  Director Pearce shows the threat to be real from the initial scenes showing a meteorite landing and bugs galore, all in horrid close-ups.   But what Malik does is the equivalent of kidnapping in the eye of the law and has the state cops after him.  Malik has mental problems and shoots and kills a few people on his road trip with the sons who initially believe that their father is taking them to safety.  Is the  invasion threat real?  That is the question that is never made really clear though director Pearce initially makes out to be,  The blending of the two genres of sci-fi and broken down family relationships do not work at all, with everything coming together at the end in total silliness and predictability.  Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer has never been so wasted in a rile as Malik’s hapless parole officer.

Trailer: 

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Michael Snowalter

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE premieres at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival but the story told in the film is a familiar one.  The new film is said in the press notes to be based on the documentary of the same name made in 2000.  Director Showalter films his story like a biopic beginning with Tammy as a kid, who attends church, an unwanted child from a first marriage and how she was saved as a born-again Christian.  Tammy is shown as a flamboyant televangelist and singer, the woman who would, alongside husband Jim Bakker, build a multimillion dollar ministry empire.  The Bakkers’ spectacular fall from grace thrust Tammy Faye into the mainstream spotlight. Her fashion and makeup choices were regular subjects of derision in late-night talk shows and sketch comedies, which cemented her place in popular culture.  Even her husband pokes fun at her, which she discovers.  Showalter’s film succeeds and gets more interesting when it deals with the ministry and less so when looking at the trivialities of Tammy Faye who in the film seem to be secondary sheaf of the primary focus.  Still, those who love to see those disgusting TV preachers fail and get their comeuppance would not be disappointed.

Trailer: 

 

FARHA (Jordan/Sweden/Saudi Arabia 2021) ***1/2

Directed by rain J. Sallam

FARHA is the name of the 14-year old girl, the protagonist in this bold tale, based on true events, and a story that needs to be told.  Farha lives in a small village in Palestine, 1948. Girls her age are traditionally married off or spoken for yet Farha wants to continue her education despite traditions and the restrictions of  schooling in her village for boys only.  Inseparable from her best friend Farida, who lives in the city but who spends weekends in the village, Farha dreams of joining her at a school in the city.   As British control over Palestine comes to an end, what Farha and her father do not yet know is that forced displacements are already happening across the region. When Israeli bombs reach their village, Farha’s father locks her in the cellar of their home.  Like a true Grimm fairy tale storytelling, Farha is helpless and watches from a locked cellar, in true Hitchcockian style, as catastrophe consumes her home.   A coming-of-age drama effectively told and captured on screen with all the danger of bombings and gunfire surrounding.  Hallam carefully builds the climax of his film from the point of view of FARHA, from her innocent laughs and play with Farida to the realization that all her hopes are being destroyed in an instant beyond her control.  A remarkable debut from first time director Sallam.

Trailer: none

THE GAME (Serbia/USA 2021) ***

Directed by Ana Lazarevic

THE GAME is the common term given to the journey refugees and smugglers take through the Balkans to each their destination.  The journey is, as expected, fraught with danger and fatalities.  Strahinja helps to smuggle refugees and migrants through the Balkans to keep up with his gambling habit and tendency to live beyond his means.  His estranged wife is not impressed with his dangerous occupation or his halfhearted parenting of their son, Luka, on the days he has custody. When Strahinja meets refugee teen Yousef and his younger brother Hamed, what should be a lucrative but typical job is complicated by an unexpected police encounter.

Director Lazarevic appears more focused on the relationship between the smuggler and his refugees than the journey itself and it shows.  All the imminent danger is substituted with the one-off bickering and  separation/ reuniting of the two groups.  The film’s open ending does not help in establishing the director’s goal in her film that suffers from a weak narrative.

Trailer: none

A HERO (Iran 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

A minor hit at Cannes this year (the film won the Cannes Grand Prix) but not as good as his previous films, Iranian director (who so far has two of his films winning the Oscar for Best International Film) returns with another suspense unfolding drama worthy of the best  of Hitchcock.  Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is a calligrapher who was imprisoned when he could not repay a mounting debt.  While Rahim is on a two-day release from his medium-security penitentiary, his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust) presents him with a golden opportunity that will secure his release.  Once he becomes a so-called free man, Rahim is flanked by his family — including a vulnerable son from a previous marriage. Whatever the theme of his films, Farhadi plays on the anticipation of his audience, a style that is now characteristic of this talented filmmaker.  A HERO unfolds occasionally like VERTIGO where the truth is finally exposed at the end and where nothing is what it seems.  Farhadi depicts his hero as a human being complete with human failing like a bad temper and desperation.

Trailer: unavailable

HUDA’S SALON (Israel 2021) ****
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad

HUDA’S SALON is a nest of spies blackmailed into working for the Israeli Secret Service by its owner Hula.   A major surprise with this fresh political drama of two women trying to survive in occupied Palestine.  Reem (Maisa And Elhadi) goes to HUDA’S SALON to get her hair done.  As they chat, what starts as a lovely domestic drama shifts hard when Reem is betrayed by Huda (Manal Awad) and thrown into a dangerously compromising situation. She’s offered only one way out: work with Israel’s secret service, spying on her own community. As Reem tries to extricate herself from an impossible dilemma, Huda’s actions threaten her own safety. As in every region torn apart by war, the broader battle lines and larger violence also take a more intimate form between individuals trying to survive at any cost.  Palestinian award winning director Abu-Assad shoots his two actresses in close-ups intensifying the seriousness of the situation, while keeping the audience glued to the screen throughout the film.  His humour is also bitingly funny.  He is unafraid to shock his audience with surprises like the setting fire to a male model and a sharp but satisfying ending.  A total winner of a film and comes with my highest recommendation.

Clip: https://www.vimooz.com/2021/09/08/first-clip-movie-trailer-hudas-salon-hany-abu-assad-thriller-tiff/

 

INEXORABLE (France/Belgium 2021) ***

Directed by Fabrice Du Welz

INEXORABLE stars and is largely carried by Belgium born actor Benoit Puelvoorde who rose to fame with the 1992 cult classic (that I have not seen) MAN BITES DOG.   But I have recently seen Puelvoorde in comedies VENICE N’EST PAS EN ITALIE and the recent Netflix hit I AM NOT A SUPERHERO both films demonstrating his acting prowess in comedy and drama.  In INEXORABLE, Puelvoorde plays Marcel Bellmer a successful author suffering from writer’s block who moves into the colossal old country manor belonging to the family of his wife and publisher Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey) for inspiration.  Long hidden secrets start to haunt him.  Distraction and certain danger arrives in the form of Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi), a shy, awkward young woman with no home or family of her own who, by happenstance, connects with Marcel and Jeanne’s daughter Lucie.  Gloria is invited and stays with the family.  Gloria confesses to Marcel that reading his work, and the book Inexorable in particular, saved her life during its darkest moments. But as Gloria becomes increasingly involved in the family’s affairs, a whole new darkness threatens to consume the lot of them.  Bearing a resemblance to the 1970’s film, Harold Prince’s SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE but more sombre and chilling,  INEXORABLE shares the common theme of a stranger entering a wealthy home and destroys it.  Everyone loves a good mystery thriller but this one is a tad hard to swallow. INEXORABLE, though not without its flaws satisfies to a point.

Trailer: none

 

 

KICKING BLOOD (Canada 2021) **
Directed by Blaine Thurier

KICKING BLOOD is director Thurier’s modern take on vampires with a story set in Ontario, Canada during the dead of winter.  The protagonist is vampire Anna (Alanna Bale) who is disappointed with eternal life.  Yes, it is over-rated.  She wishes to kick the habit of drinking blood, hence the film’s title just as two other characters are planning to quit a bad habit - Anna’s mortal senior friend, Bernice (Rosemary Dunsmore) of her medication and an ex-victim, Robbie (Luke Bilyk) of alcohol.  One of the vampires tempts Robbie to turn him into a vampire saying that eternal life is stuff of the Gods.  Robbie rebuttals with the fact that eternal life is less than being human.   Anna has two vampire pals who go hunting for victims together.  All this does not make much sense and director Thurier never explains anything - not even the origin of his vampires.  Besides trying to involve emotions and authenticity to his horror tale, the open ending and artsy take do not really help but confuse matters as to his goal in telling his tale.  The  film does look good with impressive cinematography of the wintry Canadian town.

Trailer: unavailable

LAKEHOOD (USA 2021) **
Directed by Phillip Noyce

It has been done before - a low budget film where the majority of the film concentrates on the taking of a 9-1-1 call.  In LAKEWOOD, which takes place in a neighbourhood of that name/  The film has a mother (Naomi WaTTs) going for a run in the woods while on her mobile trying to find out about the safety of her son, when she learns that his school has been on lockdown.  A shooter at the school has taken several hostages and the cops have been called in.  The film is pretty much the mother on the phone, talking to several people including the car mechanic who she persuades to ding out more information, several teaches friends and the like.  Despite some solid acting by Watts, this is all manipulative stuff not helped by a cliched and predictable storyline complete with lots of melodrama at the end.  Aussie director Noyce gas made much better films in the past like his other thriller DEAD CALM and his newsreel men drama NEWSFRONT which I consider the BEST Australian film of all time.

 

LEARN TO SWIM (Canada 2021) 
Directed by Thyrone Tommy


LEARN TO SWIM charts the stormy romance between two very different contemporary jazz musicians set in the contemporary jazz scene.  Dezi (Thomas Antony Olajide), a doggedly private, very talented sax player, and Selma (Emma Ferreira), a vivacious but less experienced singer. meet, sparks fly, but their respective emotional baggage and their temperaments make the road to romance bumpy at best.  The jazz score is awesome but the film offers very little else, looking much like a drama made for a cable pay service.  It does not help that director  Tommy loves to use closeups of his actors, mistaking closeups for drama.  Olajiide delivers a horrid performance of a diva who believes he is God’s gift to mankind.  The listing is really dark, so unless the print is yet to be finalized, most of the actor’s faces and expressions cannot be seen.    Unless one likes jazz, the film will  come off as even more boring.

Trailer: none

LO INVISIBLE (Ecuador/France 2021) ***

Directed by Javier Andrade

 

Javier Andrade’s LO INVISIBLE film follows a woman, Luisa (Anahí Hoeneisen, who also co-wrote the script with the director) who comes home from a psychiatric clinic after a bout with severe postpartum depression.  This is pretty much Hoeneisen’s show as she penned the script and is in almost every scene in the movie.  She is pretty and apt enough to deliver a sensitive yet strong enough performance able to carry the film to its climax.  But it is the slow burn of the build up that makes the film tick.  Not much is known of Luisa at the start when she arrives by chauffeur to her wealthy home and husband.  Plot points are then revealed as to her return - she tried to kill the baby; she hallucinates; she has difficulty fulfilling her wifey duties; she does not have milk to feed her baby.   The title comes about from these facts being invisible to herself.   A tale of emotional survival and as expected, not an easy watch.

Trailer: 

THE MIDDLE MAN (Norway/Canada/Denmark/Germany 2021) ***
Directed by Bent Hamer

 

Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer, known for his oddball sense of humour comedies like EGGS and KITCHEN STORIES returns with his latest oddball comedy called THE MIDDLE MAN, a vocation involving relying bad news in an isolated midwest American town named Karmack where bad news never seems to end.  Though straight faced, Frank Farrelli (Pål Sverre Hagen) delivers bad news to people (a son dies of accident, a best friend in a coma) because none of the residents can bear to do it themselves anymore.  The humour is as expected black and quite funny, and delivered just as Frank delivers the bad news.  There is a little story involved in all this, which is based on the novel “Sluk” involving a little romance.   Recognizable Canadian heavyweights Kenneth Welsh, Don McKellar, Paul Gross, Rossif Sutherland and Sheila McCarthy land welcome cameo roles in an amusing comedy.

Trailer: 

 

MLUNGU WAM (Good Madam) (South Africa 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Jenna Cato Bass

Don’t let the fact that 12 writers appear at the end credits discourage one from this quite scary film from South Africa that was filmed entirely in Cape Town in English and Xhosa.  GOOD MADAM is a solid piece of horror that is ambitious enough to include issues like Apartheid, colonial land theft, domestic services and family dysfunction.  Following the death of her grandmother — the woman who raised her — Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) and her daughter are forced to move in with Tsidi’s estranged mother, Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe), who has lived and worked in the wealthy suburbs of Cape Town for most of Tsidi’s life. There, Tsidi finds the sprawling manicured property from her faint childhood memories, owned by Diane (Jennifer Boraine), Mavis’s ailing and mysterious white “Madam.” With the house feeling more eerie than she remembers, and with Mavis more enthralled by Diane than seems right for South Africa’s fabled days of democracy, Tsidi pushes past tangled resentments to try and convince Mavis that she deserves better.  Things start to get weird, and even more so that Tsidi and the audience never get to see the mysterious white madam in the flesh.  Nothing more should be said of the plot.  Director Bass makes good use of closeups and amplified sounds (brushing of teeth; scrubbing of floor) to enhance the horror.

 Trailer: unavailable

 

 

MONTANA STORY (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel


Two siblings, a brother and sister (estranged) return to the family ranch  in Montana to care for their ailing father and must confront painful truths.   In their introduction to their film, the directors claim that they decided to make a film based on a story of a family, brought together in the times of the pandemic.  MONTANA takes the first half hour to make its footing, meandering and demanding patience from the viewer in what seems to be a silly concocted and boring story.    Then, there is the dying horse, Mr. T.  But the actors are good, and the filming is confident, as sure as the directors slowly  draw in the attention of their audience after the first third of the film.  Owen Teague plays Cal Thorne, a young man drawn back to the family ranch to be with his ailing father, Wade.  A migrant nurse, Ace (Gilbert Owuor), has been hired to care for the old man, and longtime employee Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) tries to help manage the sprawling property.  But Wade has dug his family a deep debt to the bank, and Cal is ill-prepared to take the reins. His answer to what to do with their horses infuriates his sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) when she arrives from back east. The stage is set for an eternal conflict, that plays out authentically without cheap theatrics, that pushes Cal and Erin to see each other truly.  Beautifully shot in Montana, MONTANA STORY is another addition to the list of the fine films by McGehee and Siegel.

Trailer:  none

NOBODY HAS TO KNOW (Belgium/France /UK 2021) ****

Directed by Bouli Lanners

NOBODY HAS TO KNOW follows Phil (played by director Lanners) who suffers from amnesia following a strike.  The amnesia might be temporary, says the doctor, as Phil slowly but surely remembers his past after a while.  Do not expect the speed of a JASON BOURNE IDENTITY movie - this one is a pretty slow burn with lots of gloom and grey, typical of the Scottish environment.  Phil works on a remote Scottish island and the story follows Phil’s journey to recovering his memory — and the love story he’s told along the way — lies at the heart of this tender, gorgeous film.   Phil’s boss’s daughter, Millie (Michelle Fairley), helps him acclimate back to his life, reminding him of his origins, his likes and dislikes… and the fact that he and Millie were secret lovers.  But the fact is kept whether that romance ever existed in the first place.  NOBODY HAS TO KNOW is an extremely moving film both meticulous and sublime and comes highly recommended as a romantic drama about grabbing opportunity before it is gone forever.

Trailer: none

THE ODD-JOB MEN (Sis Dies Corrents)(Spain 2021) ***
Directed by Neus Ballús

THE ODD-JOB MEN are a trio of mismatched workers brought to work together by the fickle finger of fate.  The setting is Barcelona, a sleepy place where fuses blow, pipes leak and air-conditioning units breakdown.  Mohamed (Mohamed Mellali) is a shy but determined Moroccan immigrant starting his week-long trial at a small plumbing and electrical repair company.   He is expected to take over for Pep (Pep Sarrà), who is looking forward to retirement after decades on the job.  But, Mohamed (or Moha, as he quickly begins to be called) faces intense scrutiny from his partner-to-be, the outspoken, pushy, difficult but very humorous Valero (Valero Escolar). Valero is devastated to lose Pep, and very uncomfortable with everything Moha does — and likely who he is.  But Moha’s politeness and consideration make him well-liked by most customers, especially women.  Moha is also asked to pose for pictures by one female customer.  Valero provides the comedy, Moha the foundation and Pep the bridge between the two. Director Ballus comedy is subtle, funny and keenly observant, especially on the immigrant/refugee issue. 

Trailer: 

ONE SECOND (China 2020) ***

Directed by Zhang Yimou

This capsule review is based on viewing only 90 minutes of the film as the streaming expires around 15 minutes before it was supposed to, I suspect due to technical difficulties.  It is a pity as Zhang Yimou’s ode to the cinema begins really badly but improves tremendously towards the end.  So much so, the ending would have definitely made a greater impact on this review.  The main protagonist is a man (Zhang Yi) escaped from a labour camp who seeks for a glimpse of his beloved daughter. This is to be achieved by seeing a screening of a newsreel where his daughter has been captured briefly on screen, immortalized as a model student and worker. In this journey towards a fleeting, cinematic reunion with his beloved daughter, his unexpected companions include a scruffy orphan girl named Liu (Liu Haocun) — pursuing her search for celluloid, to make a lantern — and Mr. Movie (Fan Wei), widely known as the best projectionist around.   Each of the three have a different use for the film celluloid.  The first part of the film has the worst that director Yimou has to offer, a silly unbelievable plot, sentimentality and obvious audience manipulation towards the nostalgia of old cinema.  But as the film progresses, the story becomes more believable and Yimou eventually gets the audience to feel for his characters.  The sight of reels and reels of film made arranged in a loop in order to keep a segment of film repeatedly shows as well as the mechanism workings shown on how the film is assembled on the projector machine are marvellous.  Not the best of Yimou’s films like RAISE THE RED LANTERN or JU DOU, ONE SECOND still shows off the best that the Master director has to offer.

Trailer: 

PETITE MAMAN (France 2021) ****
Directed by Céline Sciamma

Mesmerizing, beautiful and magical, director Céline Sciamma’s latest film about loss and discovery from the point of view of a young girl, Nelly (Josephine Sanz) is an unforgettable film that is a must-see.  This is the director that has amazed critics with PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE and demonstrated her smarts with her script for the amazing animated MA VIE EN COURGETTE, nominated and should have won the Oscar for Best Animated feature.  When Nelly’s granny dies, she goes to her home with her parents and meets a girl her age, also long somewhat like her.  As she plays and gets acquainted with Marion, but it turns out that the new friend is her mother when her mother was her age.  The film moves in and out comfortably, between times, between personalities as Nelly learns about her mother.  There is immense intelligence and sensitivity and remarkably thought-out scenes like the connection between the two girls while having soup or playing.   The English translation of the title LITTLE MOTHER prepares the audience for Nelly to meet her maman when she is little.

Trailer: 

QUICKENING (Canada 2021) **

Directed by Haya Waseem

QUICKENING follows Sheila (Arooj Azeem), a Pakistani Canadian teenager living in the suburbs.  Nearing the end of first-year university and having fallen in love for the first time, with her classmate Eden, Sheila desires a freedom that her mother and father (played by Azeem’s real-life parents) are unwilling to offer.  Sheila gets pregnant and goes through a mental breakdown.   This is the film that covers issues totally hot and current - minority women of colour (in this case Pakistani); mental breakdown; male dominance and lack of support; and one that bs tone seen because of this.  Writer/director Waseem steers her film methodically and artistically (film is often set in Sheila’s dance classes) but with little surprise and kick.  Not a bad film, bitten wishes decor Waseem could have provided more insight and solution, not helped by the open ending, than just presenting the problem of the troubled teen.

Trailer: unaviailable

SALOUM (Senegal 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot

Shot mainly in French though set in the poorest regions of Africa.  A trio of mercenaries navigate a mysterious region of Senegal, in Jean Luc Herbulot’s perhaps coolest film of the festival.   His film demonstrates great ingenuity and spirit with lots going on in each layered scene that what might be overlooked.  Amidst Guinea-Bissau’s coup d’état of 2003, Bangui’s Hyenas, an elite trio of mercenaries, skillfully extract a drug dealer and his bricks — both gold and narcotic — from the chaos and make tracks for Dakar, Senegal. But when their escape plan is unexpectedly waylaid, the Hyenas find themselves and their bounty stranded in the Sine-Saloum Delta, a coastal river realm speckled with insulated island communities and steeped in myth and mystery.  Believing they can keep a low profile at a nearby holiday encampment, they attempt to blend in with the tourists but are soon at risk of exposure with the arrival of both a suspicious police captain and an enigmatic  Signing deaf woman who harbours secrets of her own.  The film is not perfect, as it is messy and occasionally confusing, but SALOUM is definite evidence that Herbulot has the best that is yet to come.

Clip:   

 

SILENT LAND (Chica Ziemia) (Poland/Italy/Czech 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Aga Woszczyńska

SILENT LAND traces the downward spiral of a bourgeois Polish couple ’s relationship from the very start to the end of the film.  Though on paper, the story looks simple and plain, director Woszczyńska who also-cowrote the script, delivers a deliciously wicked comedy (or drama) of manners that has the feel of a classic Chabrol movie, even to the extent of the possibility of a murder.  The film is also reminiscent immediately fo Dominik Moll’s Cannes Opening film LEMMING (10 years or so back) which traces a couples’ suffering relationship.   The setting is an Italian holiday vacation rental which the couple is staying at.  The first thing they notice on arrival is that the swimming pool is empty.  Their Italian host swiftly sends over a migrant worker to fix the situation. The young, muscular Arab man immediately faces a language barrier with the couple. When he suffers a terrible accident poolside, it is as if fate had been conspiring against all three of them from the beginning.  Director Woszczyńska sublimely builds up an atmosphere of dread and menace culminating in a surreal scene at the end that is kept as a surprise.

 Trailer: none

 

 

SILENT NIGHT (UK 2021) **
Directed by Camille Griffin

SILENT NIGHT follows a family and friends Christmas gathering taking place in the English countryside involving higher class English.  Keira Knightley and Lily-Rose Depp star in Camille Griffin’s feature directorial debut, about a family’s eventful Christmas dinner in the country.   Nell (Keira Knightley), Simon (Matthew Goode), and their boy Art (Roman Griffin Davis, of JOJO RABBIT) are ready to welcome friends and family for what turns out to be a dysfunctional dinner as everyone is going to die.   A poisonous cloud is descending upon the United Kingdom.  An extinction event is imminent as   has access to a suicide pill, even the children.  This is a horrid scenario making an awful and tedious film in which director Griffin cannot decide to go for drama or black comedy.  She does not create any doomsday atmosphere.  The characters which Griffin does not make any attempt to have her audience care about, appear all intent at arguing with each other for the sake of satisfying their egos.

Trailer: none

SNAKEHEAD (USA 2021) **
Directed by Evan Jackson Leung

A SNAKEHEAD is a smuggler of human refugees.  SNAKEHEAD tells the story of one snakehead, a woman who rises through the ranks of the gang that smuggled her into New York City, in Evan Jackson Leong’s fact-based debut feature.   The press notes say that the film is a decade-long labour of love for documentary filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong (LINSANITY).  The film is inspired by the real-life Cheng Chui Ping, a.k.a. Sister Ping (Shuya Chang), who ran one of the largest snakehead operations — gang-led human-smuggling rackets — for nearly 20 years before her arrest, as well as other ripped-from-the-headlines stories of human smuggling and organized crime in New York City’s Chinatown.   Sister Tse had paid a snakehead to get her to New York City so she could search for her daughter, who was adopted by a Chinese American family while Tse was in prison.   Uninterested in working at a massage parlour to pay back her astronomical smuggling debt, Sister Tse earns the respect of gang matriarch Dai Mah (Jade Wu) through her rebelliousness. Sister Tse quickly rises through the ranks, upsetting Dai Mah’s reckless but ambitious older son, Rambo (Sung Kang of Fast & Furious fame).  Like they say, the road to all is paved with good intentions.  The story comes across and has the feel of a B-action flick rather than a drama based on a true story.  Leung’s use of the camera, colour and flashbacks create a pretentiousness rather than artistry.  The only saving grace is Chang's performance.  Even Jade Wu’s performance as Dai May looks forced and stereotyped.

Trailer: 

STE. ANNE (Canada 2018-2020) **

Directed by Rhayne Vermette

Selected to be in the Wavelength Category of TIFF , which means that the film has not much meaning and little story and lots of experimental visuals - STE. ANNE is exactly what one would expect from a Wavelengths film.  Set and shot in Treaty 1 territory, which today includes Winnipeg and the nearby town that lends the film its title, this meditation is a deeply mysterious and alluring examination of home by way of places and people.  The central revenant is Renée (Vermette), who returns to her young daughter Athene — now living with Renée’s brother Modeste and his wife — after an unexplained absence of several years.  The reunion is fraught, not in the least due to Renée’s closely held secrets and obvious unease with the prospect of settling into a traditional role of mother or homesteader. The fragmentary (and at times fractious) nature of the dynamic is heightened by an approach that incorporates experimental diversions, as well as beguiling ambiguities and anachronisms that locate the film out of time.  Filmed in French and English.

Trailer: none

TO KILL THE BEAST (Argentina/Brazil/Chile 2021) 
Directed by Agustina San Martín

Emilia, a young woman from Buenos Aires, arrives at a small town near Argentina’s border with Brazil, looking for her lost brother and hoping to ease the strained relationships in her family after the passing of their mother.  (embargoed till Sept 14th)

Trailer: unavailable

LA SOGA 2 (USA 2020) 

Directed by Manny Perez

LA SOGA 2 is the sequel to LA SOGA which arrived in 2009 with TIFF.  The action star Dominican American Manny Perez takes over the director reins.   LA SOGA 2 continues the story of the former hitman. Luisito (Manny Perez) now recruited by the crooked politicians to wipe up evidence of their involvement in crooked activities.  The politicians hire another crook Jimmy Mac (Chris McGarry) to kidnap and hold Luisito’s girlfriend Lia (Sarah Jorge Leon) hostage to force Luisito to do the job.

(embargoed till Sept 14th)

Trailer: 

TERRORIZERS (Taiwan 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Ho Wi Ding


TERRORIZES is not the first film with multiple narratives done together with a common tread.  Though this is not commonly a method of storytelling undertaken by filmmakers, it is an effective one that this new Taiwanese film TERRORIZES once again proves.  The common segment in all the stories besides many coincidences is the public slashing.  The slasher is a disgruntled man suffering from unrequited love.  His heart pains so much that he goes berserk with a sword.  The story revolves around Ming Liang (Austin Lin), the disturbed young man who has committed a slashing attack in public, and five characters he crosses paths with. Yu Fang (Moon Lee) studies acting and lives with her father, a politician who is about to get married to his pregnant girlfriend.  She falls for Monica (Annie Chen), an aspiring actor who is desperately trying to get decent roles in regular plays but is haunted by her past as a porn performer. Xiao Zhang (JC Lin) has always been in love with Yu Fang and is now determined to settle down with her. Kiki (Pipi Yao) is a high-school student and cosplayer who is in love with Ming Liang.  If all the stories sound confusing, it is not in the film as director Ho meticulously weaves his tale intercutting the stories, all equally interesting, with confident flair.  The result is an intriguing and often powerful study of youth that the director convinces his audience to care about and their associated problems.

Trailer: 

THREE MINUTES OF TIME- A LENGTHENING (Netehrlands/UK 2021)
Directed by Bianca Stigter

In Bianca Stigter’s THREE MINUTES, A LENGTHENING, the director transforms David Kurtz’s shimmering images from over 80 years ago into a remarkable meditation on what it means for a lost community to be captured on film.  Instead of 8mm stock, Kurtz shot on colour 16mm film. His footage gives Stigter rich material to illustrate the detective work needed to recover the stories of a village destroyed by the Holocaust.  Kurtz’s original footage sometimes in slow motion, sometimes still, forwards and backwards to draw meaning from each frame, the distance originally created by looking at 83-year-old fashions and hairstyles collapses into the immediate present: those faces.  

(Embargo lifted Tuesday Sep14th 4 pm)

Trailer:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un5DJgMgJ7U

TUG OF WAR (Tanzania/South Africa/Qatar/Germany 2021) **

Directed by Amir Shivji

A young revolutionary and a runaway bride struggle for forbidden freedoms in Zanzibar.

In this adaptation of Adam Shafi’s award-winning Swahili novel, set in 1950s Zanzibar, a romance is buffeted by the harsh waves of British rule and the local militant struggle for liberation.  The story follows Denge, a young Mswahili revolutionary, fighting for a free Zanzibar.  Slipping past unrelenting colonial police through the tight alleys and crumbling walls of a segregated Stone Town, “De” (Gudrun Columbus Mwanyika) and his comrades import socialist pamphlets and distribute Swahili translations across the island, staging revolts in dance halls and expat clubs to demand political autonomy.  De dreams of nothing else until he meets Yasmin (Ikhlas Gafur Vora), a young Indian-Zanzibari woman seeking her own forbidden freedoms who does not expect to be intrigued by De’s mystery.   There are lots of subplots, adventure and intrigue in the novel, but the film’s small and limited budget shows.  It does not help that director Shivji loves to film in closeups, giving the film a claustrophobic look instead of the wide expanse of a bigger production   De’s escape looks too simple to be successful and the romance lacks Chemistry.  One tends to side with the British oilers when the Inspector says that it is them that built the roads and started the global trade for the country.  A lacklustre production that fails to excite and eventually bores one down with the typical story of colonial oppression.  The film could also do with more dramatization of events like Yasmin’s arranged marriage to the old man.

Trailer: unavailable

 

UNCLENCHING THE FISTS (Russia 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Kira Kovalenko

UNCLENCHING THE FISTS is a no-nonsense drama of a teen stuck between a toxic family and her monotonous life in a small desolate town.   Nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, in the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, Mizur is a desolate industrial town where Ada (Milana Aguzarova) is the second of three siblings.  Their well-meaning but overprotective single father, Zaur (Alik Karaev), uprooted the family from the neighbouring town of Beslan after the 2004 school siege, where over 1,100 citizens were taken hostage by Chechen terrorists demanding Russia’s withdrawal from Chechnya and more than 330 hostages were killed — over half of them children. Just as President Vladimir Putin manipulated those horrific acts to further expand his power on a national scale, Zaur responded by firming his grip over his family, and specifically over Ada.  Director Kovalenko often films in cinema-verity mode with hand held camera and the actors often running in the streets or just driving around.  Winner of the Un Certain Regard Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, UNCLENCHING THE FISTS proves to be a solid drama, tough to watch but nevertheless very well put together.

Trailer: 

WILDHOOD (Canada 2021) ***

Directed by Bretten Hannam

 

A gay indigenous themed Canadian film is almost 100% certain of getting made and selected for TIFF.  Two-spirit Mi’kmaw teenager Link (Phillip Lewitski) is just discovering — and asserting — his sexuality when his already volatile home life goes off the rails.  His abusive father Arvin explodes after the cops bust Link and his half-brother Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony) for stealing scrap metal.  When he finds out that his supposedly dead mother Sarah may be alive, Link sets fire to Arvin’s truck and flees with Travis. Sparks fly in a chance encounter with teen drifter Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), who shares Link’s Indigenous roots and offers to help find Sarah — but will Link’s (well-founded) mistrust of people ruin his potential new relationship and the group’s mission?  WILDHOOD is combination of a coming-of-age gay sexual awakening story done in a road trip easy style.   The two young actors are at and convincing enough but there is nothing really in this film that has not been seen before in one form or other, except of it being done with an indigenous setting.

Trailer: (none)

WHETHER THE WEATHER IS FINE (Philippines 2021) **

Directed by Carlo Francisco Manatad

Dystopian society set in the near future where the population is devastated.  This movie genre has been traded to death and the last thing this critic would like to see is yet another.  WEATHER THE WEATHER IS FINE falls int the genre but with a different.  The horror is real. Instead of society wild out by aliens or some disease, this is a true event when the Philippines was hit by a typhoon and a city is destroyed.  Instead of a few survivors, the are too many, all hunting for food and supplies.  Devastated after the impact of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, the Filipino coastal city of Tacloban is largely reduced to rubble.   The three subjects here are a mamma’s boy, his holier than holy deviate mother and his impatient girlfriend, who provides a bit of humour in the situation.  Th three are trying o board a boat for Manila where things are expected to be better.  Other than that, it is the same old bring story, the only things that marks this film up a notch is the authentic depiction of a devoted city after the typhoon’s destruction.

WOLF (Ireland/Poland 2021) **

Directed by Nathalie Biancheri

Jacob (George MacKay, best known from 1917) has species dysphoria and believes he is a wolf trapped inside the body of a teenager.  He is sent to “the zoo,” a clinic specializing in the condition, operated under the watchful eye of Dr. Mann (Paddy Considine).  Nicknamed “the zookeeper,” the controversial and cruel practitioner — who could make Narcissus himself blush — enacts extreme “curative” therapies, expecting nothing short of toadying behaviour and swift reform from his pet subjects.   Other animal parents include Rufus the German shepherd (Fionn O’Shea), Judith the parrot (Lola Petticrew), Ivan the duck (Senan Jennings), Jeremy the squirrel (Darragh Shannon), Louise the horse (Elsa Fionuir), Annalisa the panda (Karise Yansen), and Ola the spider (Amy Macken), Wolf sends up a cacophony of alarms and excursions.   WOLF is the silliest series drama of the festival and is a total waste of time.  The film is supposed to be a powerful reflection on self-determination and belonging in societies that dictate behaviour but the film never amounts to anything.  MacKay howls through his role while the veteran actor Paddy Considine delivers a Nazi-type character performance for his role in the cardboard zookeeper.

Trailer: none

YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER (Ireland 2021) ***

Directed by Kate Dolan

An Irish horror filmed in Dublin with all the characters speaking with strong Irish accents might be too much for non-Irish folk but the film is authentic and has a solid Irish feel.  When a missing mother surprisingly shows up as if nothing has happened, her teenage daughter senses something amiss.  Her mother is not eating, prone to weird behaviour and personality changed that could be due to her meds.  But as her mother’s changes get extreme, Charlotte becomes increased vexed and confused.  It does not help that her grandmother thinks the supernatural is involved.  Meanwhile, Char is bullied at school , though one of her classmates held her as a friend.  Excellent performances are delivered by bot Carolyn Bracken as Angela and Hazel Doupe as Char.  Though the film contains a few loose ends, (like what happened to granny at the end?), Dolan keeps the suspense and horror solid in her debut feature

Trailer: unavailable

YUNI (Singapore/Indonesia/Australia/France 2021) **
Directed by Kamila Andini

The third film of director Andini to premiere at TIFF, YNUI is the story of an Indonesian teen school girl by the name of Yuni, played by Arawinda Kirana.  Yuni loves the colour purple, has a clutch of close friends, and characteristically teenage views.  She longs to study in college, hopefully winning a scholarship in the process.  Her loving family is more bound to tradition than she is.  When her family receives first one, then a second proposal of arranged marriage for her, Yuni’s grandmother urges her not to refuse this “blessing.” With each passing day, at home and at school, Yuni sees her horizons closing in.  Director Anini paints a troubled teen life and the audience gets to learn what Indonesia is like as well as what teen girls have to face.  But she takes on a bit too many issues that include her literature teacher turning out gay and proposing to her as well.  Whether Yuni wins her scholarship is not the key issue of the story here, and one wonders what is after the film concludes with an open ending.

Trailer: 

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This Week's Film Reviews ( Sep 3, 2021)

16 Aug 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

 

DOGS (Romania 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Bogdan Mirică

Even as the Toronto International Film Festival approaches September the 9th, next week, there are still films - discovery style and festival quality that can be viewed outside the festival.  One of these films is DOGS that premiered at Cannes in 2016, just getting here after 5 years.  The film is surprisingly a real winner after it came away with the coveted FIPRESCI Prize in the Un Certain Regard Section.  This reviewer sits on the FIPRESCI jury this year at TIFF picking out the prize winner out of 18 Discovery Films.

Though there is only one dog in the film, the title likely refers to the cohort of crooks that squat on an inherited piece of land.  That only dog in the film is a fierce, barking and biting , scroungy looking mongrel that one would definitely one to avoid, especially when it shows its teeth when being ferocious.

DOGS begins with an impressive opening that reminds one of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO ending scene where a car bobbles in and out of a pond.  One wonders whether the film inspired director Mirică’s opening scene.  In a dense marsh covered with green vegetation, a bubbling from beneath the water can be observed.  As the scene piques audience interest, the audience would probably strain their eyes to determine what is the object bobbling out of the green water.  It turns out to be a chunk of flesh, barely discernible, but revealed later to be the foot of a victim who had the unfortunate luck of having it bitten off by some pig.

DOGS can best be described as a mystery noir spaghetti western.   The man with-no-name happens to be called Roman (Dragos Bucur, from POLICE, ADJECTIVE), who has just arrived on his inherited land from his recently passed grandfather known around the parts as Uncle Alecu.  The land is far and wide, the ends of it cannot be seen while standing on most parts.  There is nothing growing on the land, the land is just vacant and barren.  He is told the land is precious as it is not what it is but what is surrounding it, like the Black Sea that makes it valuable.  Roman wants to sell the land but is advised against it because of shady goings-on in the past.

A mystery film noir is never complete without a femme fatale.  The lady who suddenly appears out of the blue, in this case at the halfway mark of the film, is Roman’s girlfriend.  She is out there in God’s forsaken country because she misses him - and he, her.

The Romanian DOGS is one of the slowest police mystery noirs but one that is so impressive for the director’s attention to detail and unique style of story-telling.  This is likely the reason the film came away with the FIPRESCI prize, as international critics love to award odd, fresh, different and well shot films their prize.

The villain of the piece is Samir (Vlad Ivanov) and the police chief (Gheorghe Visu) who aids Roman, a funny character who can only do so much.

There is a lot of humour in the film - the director’s brand.  Though not overtly funny or laugh-out loud, the humour  helps in making the film amusing and interesting.

DOGS opens in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide on Friday, September 10th.  Filmed in Romanian with subtitles.

Trailer: 

 

FINDING YOU (USA 2020) **

Directed by Brian Baugh

FINDING YOU based on the Jenny B. Jones’ book ‘There You’ll Find Me’ is a teen romance with the excuse of being set in Ireland.

 After an ill-fated audition at a prestigious New York music conservatory, a Violinist Finley Sinclair (Rose Reid) travels to a coastal village in Ireland to begin a semester studying abroad.   At the B&B run by her host family she encounters the gregarious and persistent heartthrob movie star Beckett Rush.  They first meet on the plane on the way to Dublin.  They begin an unlikely romance.  Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre).  Rush is filming a GAME OF THRONES (what else would he be in?) type series.  Goodacre plays a bad actor badly.

There is a lot of green on display in the cinematography from the green grass and meadows right down to of the colour Beckett Rush’ green convertible.  A few of the sights of Ireland are visited for Finley which are really for the benefit of American audiences.  The first of these is the Cliffs of Moher which is grand, amazing and magnificent, bringing back memories of the Ireland which I visited .  Yes, been to Ireland no less than half a dozen times including the Cliffs of Moher.  A lot of castles are visited too.

Still, this is a teen movie and being one, is filled with cliches.  Writer/director Baugh has the idea that the typical teen might not be aware of stuff done in other romance films before but he is forgetting the other adult audiences and also the fact that teens are quite a bright group too.

One of the major heavyweights in the cast is Academy Award Winner Vanessa Redgrave (HOWARD’S END, ISADORA and dozens of other films).  As expected, she is given a juicy role, that of a ‘witch’ , the term used to describe her by Finley.  Finally has to look after Miss Sweeney in the senior home as part of her college assignment.  Finley has to get a good grade in order to get into the conservatory.  The other well known name belongs to Patrick Bergin who plays Seamus, a fiddler.  Bergin played Julia Roberts’ menacing husband in SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY.

There are two secrets in the film that lead to unnecessary  melodrama when revealed.  One is the secret of the cross in the drawings of Finley’s late brother’s book that he left her.  The other is Miss. Sweeney’s other sister who she wants to meet.  It is these two screws that lengthen the film to almost two over-bearing hours.

It takes a lot of patience to sit through this Harlequin styled romance, complete with silly obstacles to the couple’s final romance.  At least director Baugh captures a bit of the true Irealnd, that I see.  One is the Irish hospitality.  The Irish, I find, are the friendliest people in the world and this can be seen in the film.  Their love of the drink is also on display.

FINDING YOU might be bearable for a few but it's unlikely to be a film remembered as a romantic teen romance.

Trailer: 

THE MADNESS INSIDE ME (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Matthew Berkowitz

As the title THE MADNESS WITHIN ME implies, the film is a psychological thriller that examines the downward spiral of its protagonist, Madison (Merrin Dungey) when a home invasion results in the brutal killing of her husband, Jeremy (Anthony DeSando).

Madison is a forensic psychiatrist, spending her days interviewing prison inmates and evenings with her husband Jeremy. vWhen he is killed in a home invasion by Francis Tate (Devon Graye), her world begins to turn itself inside out.  Madison’s fascination with morbid crime begins to gnaw away at her character.  She becomes sleepless, spending her evenings stalking and photographing strangers.  Photography is apparently her hobby and she does the night photos to relax herself.  She refuses to identify her husband’s killer (she initially identifies him i a line-up and then changes her mind) and instead chooses to stalk him.  Whether this is for the purpose of revenge is left to the film’s climax and twist in the plot.   Now finding pleasure in her new thrill-seeking, dangerous life choices, she starts to put herself in compromising situations for arousal.   Francis and Maddy meet up and he is extremely attracted to her.  It is also hinted at the beginning that Maddy and her husband’s relationship is in question, which gives her an excuse to finds ex outside the marriage.  Is her relationship with criminals an excuse for her to rebel or is this the person who has always been inside her?

The film questions how one should cope in a tumultuous experience as in the tragic loss of a loved one.  Madison first copes with changing her residence claiming that she cannot live in the place where her husband was killed.  She ponders changing jobs but her current work allows her to plan some satisfaction though she is not sure where everything is leading to.  She stalks the suspected killer.  The killer admits to killing her husband busby accident.  The killer is hot and the sexual chemistry between the two poses more questions.

Her nosy sister-in-law, Cynthia (Jennifer Gelfer) is not much help either.  She becomes more of a busybody than a help, showing up at Maddy’s place when she is working.

The one problem abut the film is that the crazier Maddy gets when she gets into the deeper relationship with the killer, it gets more difficult for the audience to root for her.  She screams at James and Cynthia who wishes to helper that all they want to do is to control her.  Her erratic decision at work do not help her case either.  During this time, it is left vague as to the purpose of Maddy’s intentions.  Is she just confused or is she planning a revenge?

The subject is an intriguing one that makes it all the more relevant as it questions Maddy’s position as a psychiatrist.  If she is so shaken, how can she be deemed qualified to make the decision of whether a prisoner should be granted parole.  In the same way, it is disturbing to think how many fucked up primary school ethers are teaching our young children.

The intriguing subject matter brought up by the script that is also written by director Berkowitz is never addressed further.  The film ends with a logical conclusion but one wishes the film would delve deeper into the controversial issues brought up.

Trailer: 

 

MEMORY HOUSE (Brazil/France 2020) ***

Directed by João Paulo Miranda Maria

films movies TIFF toronto international film festival

In writer/director João Paulo Miranda Maria’s sad take on misplaced culture, a black indigenous man, Cristovam (Antonio Potanga) has made sacrifices to adapt to the Austrian colonism of the north.   Christovam has moved to the south and in the film’s opening, is given a long speech by management to explain his wage cut.  He moves into an old abandoned house, the MEMORY HOUSE of the film’s title, which contains artifacts reminding him of the past.  This is the story of a man pushed to the limits with disastrous results not only for him but for the community.  The film is a slow burn with many long takes.  Still, one has to be attentive as to what is going on onscreen.  The cinematography by Benjamin Echazarreta is magnificent as is the soundtrack by Nicolas Becker.  MEMORY HOUSE is a Cannes Festival Official selection and the only latin-American film in the selection.  This film also screened at TIFF 2020.

Trailer: 

 

POWDER KEG (Denmark/Norway 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Ole Christian Madsen

POWDER KEG is based on true events that occurred in Copenhagen, Demark as a result of the terrorist assassination in Paris on the Charlie Head employees, cartoonists who poke fun at Islam and the Prophet Mohammed that turned int death.  Co-written by director Ole Christian Madsen and Lars K. Andersen, POWDER KEG follows the path of 4 different individuals who reside in Copenhagen whose lives are allowed to explode.

In Copenhagen, the newly released criminal Omar has his own agenda. Meanwhile filmmaker Finn, Jewish watchman Dan and the worn-out action force officer Rico live their various everyday lives unaware of their common destiny.  All of them are affected by a rapidly changing world while they try to make sense of their own, and too late realize that life changes in an instant, fast and merciless, leaving only one of them left to tell the story about the tragic attack that forever changed the country.

The script divides almost equal screen time among the 4 principles of the story.  Each is just as interesting and the audience is left to decide who is right or wrong as well as consider the unfortunate circumstances that have resulted.  The message is the ability of the individual to adapt, though adaptation is not specifically mentioned as the message, though definitely implied.

Omar has just been released from prison.  He is unfortunate enough to have his leg stabbed in the metro that has prevented him from being a success at kickboxing.  He himself has stabbed others a number of times, the last one that got him into prison  When released, he has no job or place to stay and is forced to live with his mother.  Dan Uzan is a political science graduate who has trouble landing a job.  He coaches sports and works as a security guard.  He is kind, and a model citizen but life has not been too kind of him.  When Dan is questioned to change his last name Uzan, he says that it is the only thing his father has left him.  Finnis a filmare who has finally had it.  “I had enough,” he quips  He is truly upset when his programming idea is then over by another department at work.  He lashes out at the system during a dinner in what is a lively debate with valid points brought up by the dinner guests.  Then there is Rico, again one where life has cheated him.  Injured, he is forced to take it from the SWAT team.  His boss calls him a model employee that all should follow.  The story unfolds primarily from his perspective.

When Rico rides his bike on the fateful day that forms the film’s climax, the camera pulls back to an overhead shot showing him riding toward a crossroad.  Indeed, this is a metaphor for the 4 principles whose paths are now about to meet.   

POWDER KEG works better in the first half where anger and fate rule.  The film is understandably intense but this intensity unfortunately cannot be maintained in the second half.  Still POWDER KEG is a story that needs to be told, the best thing about the film being the message which is up to the apiece to figure out right than being handed out on a platter.

Trailer: 

RAGING FIRE (HK 2021) **
Directed by Benny Chan

RAGING FIRE should attract action fans of Ho Kong actioners for two reasons.  Number one is that it stars the ever popular Donny Yen who has achieved international fame after the successful IP MAN franchise.  The second is that it is the last film from director Benny Chan who has made a name in directing martial arts films.

 The film follows Bong (Donnie Yen), a hardline cop with a long history of success, but his past comes back to haunt him when a sting is attacked by a group led by his former protégé (Nicholas Tse), a man set on destroying everyone who ever wronged him.

The film attempts to be a more humanistic act flick initially showing Bong with his wife and in court forced by conscience to tell the truth but eventually the character development is forgotten when the action starts.  The action then is numero uno priority.  Action fans should be delighted whereas more serious cinephiles will brush RAGINF+GFIRE as just another action flick.

RAGING FIRE ends up the typical Hong Kong actioner where lots of well staged fight exist to entertain the action loving crowd with nothing more, just as its ordinary generic title RAGING FIRE might suggest.  Whatever high aims the filmmakers might have aspired to are washed away by the decision to up the angst in fighting technology..

RAGING FIRE has just opened in theatres and will be available for streaming October the 22nd.

Trailer: 

SUPERHOST (USA 2021) **

Directed by Brandon Christensen

The term SUPERHOST might not be familiar to some, but for the internet savvy who travels a lot using airbnb’s or better still hosts them, it is a familiar and desired term.  A superhost has hosted his or her listing multiple times with generally favourable reviews so it makes them a desired host of places to stay.

In the new SHUDDER original film, SUPERHOST, travel vloggers Teddy (Osric Chau, Supernatural) and Claire (Sara Canning, Nancy Drew) share their experiences in and around vacation homes with their subscribers while maintaining a moderate level of internet fame.  They are as geeky as computer nerds come.  When their follower count starts to dwindle it is not difficult to see the reason as Teddy can come across as incredibly annoying, not to say the least that all these postings are also very corny.  They now pivot to create viral content around their most recent host, Rebecca (Gracie Gillam, Z Nation).  With all eyes turned towards their “superhost,” Rebecca, they slowly start to realize something is not right and as they investigate further.  Rebeccas is quite the character - super weird.  They unlock a horrifying truth, thus making the scary circumstances ideal fodder for the SHUDDER streaming service.

Actors Chau and Canning as well as director Christensen serve as producers to the film, which means they are touting their own projects.  This often means caution as it might have been difficult to otherwise get their project off the ground.

SUPERHOST is a fair piece with low aims and thus low achievements.  There is nothing much in the story with the story reaching its expected climax.  The little twist at the end is nothing short of exceptional either.  As a SHUDDER scary film, it is less scary than most but there is (beware!) one horrid bloods and guts segment,

Young internet bloggers can be very annoying.  Teddy is.  But even more so is their superhost, Rebecca.  Does the director really need to inlaid pauses in the film to emphasize their ability to annoy?  Gracie Gilliam wins the grand prize of being the most annoying actress in this film or of any film this year.   

Despite the current relevance of its subject, SUPERHOST turns out to be a cliched minor horror flick that is just mildly scary and entertaining.

Trailer: https://www.ign.com/videos/superhost-official-trailer

 

TED BUNDY: AMERICAN BOOGEYMAN (USA 2021) *

Directed by Daniel Farrands

Ted Bundy is one of America’s most notorious serial killers.  There have been more than a half dozen films including a documentary series on Bundy which shows America’s or Hollywood’s fascination with the man.  TED BUNDY: AMERICAN BOOGEYMAN is the latest of the lot and it is frankly, plain awful.  The last Bundy film is best remembered and paints a  more intriguing portrayal of the man.  That film showed Bundy to be EXTREMELY EVIL, SHOCKINGLY WICKED AND VILE, the words Judge Coward used on Bundy and also the title of the film on Bundy, directed by Joe Berlinger and starring Zac Ephron as the titular killer.  That film was based on the book written by Bundy’s former girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall.  This film is based on a script written and directed by Daniel Farrands.

Director Farrands’  Ted Bundy film plays like a B-horror flock with a slasher on the loose.  The boogeyman could have been Freddy Kruger from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or Jason from FRIDAY THE 13th but only less interesting.  From the low budget, Farrands’ film looks more like a TV movie than one made for the big screen.

Director Farrands cannot decide whether to concentrate on the character of Bundy, the detective investigating or Bundy’s next prey.  He jumps from one character to the other without much aim.  Bundy is displayed as a real creep, initially introduced as a man faking  injury using crutches as he stalks a young girl.  The young girl is unwittingly saved by her boyfriend before he stalks another one.  Whether this is true is assumed but does one really care?  Bundy loves to play with mannequins and does not have enough money to pay rent.  His landlord tells him that she can wait for him to go to the bank for the deposit because she is a good judge of character. Again, does one really care?  Chad Michael Murray plays Bundy as a good looking man who can get any girl he wants, sporting a moustache as many men doin the 70’s.

Tracking him the killer are the intrepid female detective Kathleen McChesney (Holland Roden), working out of the Seattle Police bureau, and rookie FBI profiler Robert Ressler (Jake Hays), the government agent who coined the term “serial killer.”    The silliest part of the film is its climax where Detective Kathleen breaks into the house to save the victim just in the nick of time as he almost kills his last victim.  A true story behind the manhunt that brought America’s most fearsome boogeyman to justice?  Highly unlikely!

Another ridiculous part has the detective visiting Ted’s mother out in the boonies questioning his whereabouts.  The mother (Lyn Shaye) is shown as a person who is not all there.  At one point she describes Ted as the best son in the world and the next as one born right out of hell.  Though one of the more amusing segments, it makes little sense.

The film opens on VOD/DVD September the 3rd.

Trailer:  

WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Sean King O’Grady


WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING is as the title implies, a film in which a family is in a catastrophe and they realize that they need to do something.  The age old message of family and blood is everything is again put to the test.  The family in this case might not be considered dysfunctional, not at the beginning anyway, but they each get on each other’s nerves.  By the end of the movie, director O’Grady would have proven that this is the most dysfunctional family depicted in a film for some time. An interesting film with an interesting scenario, when the family is trapped in their house due a storm and all emotions run loose.  

The protagonist chosen could have been any one of the family members - father, mother, daughter or son.  As films tend to be politically correct these days, the one choses is the female lesbian Melissa wears make up like a circus clown or a mentally disturbed person.  After Melissa and her family see shelter in their home from a storm, they become trapped.  With no sign of rescue, hours turn to days and Melissa comes to realize that she and her girlfriend Amy might have something to do with the horrors that threaten to tear her family and the entire world apart. The film falls under the horror genre.

Director O’Grady takes his time before the film shows itself as a horror film.  The family dynamics are first on display.  As expected, the teen daughter is one of a rebellious nature, annoying her father and her mother.  Melissa herself is annoyed by every other family member.  She is mad at her father for dropping her phone in the storm.  Her mother is always on her case and her little brother, a know-it-all, irritates her deliberately and she is constantly chided for getting back at him.  The father is short tempered and is never too shy to use foul language like fuck and shit.  He is also not good at helping and seems more bark than bite.  No one is particularly funny, but this is not a comedy.  Still, it cannot hurt to insert some needed humour in any horror film.  But to director O’Grady’s credit, he has mastered the art of pacing with his film racing towards its horrific climax.  O’Grady ups the angst several times.  By the end, not to reveal any spoilers, he has his audience gasping in horror at what has happened to the family.  The rattlesnake in the story is an inspiration in horror.  It first bites the boy, and later the father in the face with him finally biting the snake’s head off.  The camera’s close-up of the hissing snake in close up demands mention.

The film has graced film festivals including the Tribecca Film Festival and Outfits 2021 because of its slight gay relationship between the daughter and her schoolmate.   The film is an IFC Midnight premiere and is worth a look.  



Trailer: 

WILD INDIAN (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.

WILD INDIAN is a moody thriller that follows a troubled protagonist Michael as he tries to live with the guilt of a murder he has hidden from the past.

Decades after covering up his classmate’s murder, Michael (Michael Greyeyes) has moved on from his reservation and fractured past. When a man who shares his violent secret seeks vengeance, Michael goes to great lengths to protect his new life with his wife (Kate Bosworth) and boss (Jesse Eisenberg) from the demons of his past.

It is early on in the movie that it is revealed that Michael has murdered an adversary.  Even though he was a kid at the time, the murder was pre-meditated and Michale is guilty as hell.  When grown-up, the murderous act is constantly haunting him - affecting his family life and work.  The point that the murder is revealed at the start and not at the end as a skeleton in the closet as might be done in other films that prefer a nonlinear timeline, offered the audience the ability to judge Michael for the act.  This leaves the audience two options.  One to convict Michael of the fact and to want him to pay penance.  The other is to absolve Michale of the crime as the circumstances of him being bullied and tormented justifies the act (even more so in the film and not in actual real life).  Director Corbine does not judge Michale and leaves it to his audience.

A film about minorities with important current issues like bullying stands a better chance of success of getting made.  This very point is emphasized, ironically in the film when Michel’s boss claims that he got to be where he is - in the company’s comfortable position because of the fact that he is a native, something that might not have happened a decade or two ago.

One problem of the film, which is coming with films with a larger time frame is when the protagonist and the other characters grow up, from pre-teen to teen to adult and occasionally to old age.  Different actors need to be employed, who seldom ressembler the initial appearance of the character or characters when first introduced in the film.  The transition is difficult and causes the audience some disorientation to put the two different actors into one of the same character that they are portraying.   In WILD INDIAN, the Michael portrayed by the different actors takes some time to sink in.

WILD INDIAN is a moody slow burn but effective thriller covering timely issues like bullying and minorities.  Well worth a look.  It opens Select Theaters and On Demand September 3rd

Trailer: 

 

YAKUZA PRINCESS (Brazil 2021) ***
Directed by Vicente Amorium

YAKUZA PRINCESS begins in Osaka,Japan where a killing is in progress before switching 20 years later in a country far away to Sao Paulo in Brazil where the little girl in Osaka who has witnessed the slaughter of her family is now all grown up.  She is not taught and well equipped with the art of kendo (Japanese sword fighting, which I myself took for only 3 weeks but did not achieve the status of ‘samurai critic’.  I quit when I started getting blisters on my feet for having to shuffle on barefoot during training).  The film contains some magnificent kendo fight scenes.

While all the above is happening, the audience is introduced to a handsome patient who wakes up in hospital with amnesia, BOURNE IDENTITY-style.  If the patient looks familiar, he should be, as he is Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a rare action role, kicking butt.  Meyes looks efficient and convincing enough as an action star.  He has the rough figures for it, including a real nasty scar across his face, courtesy of the make-up department.

How are the two interconnected?  The connection is a mysterious sword that is supposed to possess special powers drawn from the blood of those who have been killed by its blade.

Based on the acclaimed graphic novel "Samurai Shiro" by Danilo Beyruth and set in the expansive Japanese community of Sao Paulo, Brazil — the largest Japanese diaspora in the world — YAKUZA PRINCESS follows orphan Akemi (played by pop star MASUMI), who, upon turning 21, discovers that she is the heiress to half of Japan's expansive Yakuza crime syndicate.   After forging an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who believes an ancient sword binds their two fates,  Akemi unleashes war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead.

YAKUZA PRINCESS turns out to be a slightly above average action thriller and rip-roaring action flick for a variety of reasons.  It has a slightly above ordinary though slightly convoluted plot that stands out, yet the story is engrossing proving that it is not the story that counts but how it is told.  The devil is in the details.

Trailer: 

 

 

ZONE 414 (USA 2020) ***

Directed Andrew Baird

 

Australian Guy Pearce has chosen his films to be weird, odd and very strange.  If they turn out bad, his films would at least be very intriguing.  One of these, BRIMSTONE (2016) where he plays an evil villainous preacher is a minor-masterpiece while his 2021 SEVENTH DAY is kind of a mess.  In ZONE 414, Pearce plays a guilty private detective hired to find the missing girl of a very wealthy businessman lost in ZONE 414.

ZONE 414 is the only zone where androids and human beings are allowed to live together.

Everything is not what it seems.  This adage seems to be the film’s followed rule and it works giving the film an air of strange mystery whilst keeping the audience’s anticipation piqued at all times.

Set in the near future (where the characters still use rotary dialled telephones), the film follows private detective David Carmichael (Pearce), who is hired by Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), an eccentric businessman, to find his daughter, Melissa (Holly Demaine).  David teams up with an advanced A.I. to solve the mystery.  The businessman owns the company that makes the androids.  What do wealthy men want?  Everything!  Wealthy sickos pay lots of money to have kinky dealings with the androids (yes, like sex) who are almost human perfect.  The A.I. is Jane (Matilda Lutz) an android who, like Pinocchio, wants to become human.  Jame has befriended David and helps him get into contact with an assortment of characters in order to find Melissa.  Melissa is the opposite of jane.  Melissa is a human who hates her father so much that she disappears into ZONE 414.  She was an android.   

The intriguing characters encountered include Marlon’s brother, Joseph (Jonathan Aris), a sort of right-hand man who does nothing for the company.  Another is Royale (Olwen Fouéré) who sets up the client and customer, forming the ‘madame’of the android brothel.  Royale has all the answers in good business, always realizing that she is paid money to do the job and will not risk anything to ruin her employment. 

Pearce is an excellent actor who can inhabit any role.  His starring role of David was initially taken by Travis Fimmel who now plays a supporting role.  Fimmel is an actor one can describe as one that chews the scenery, hamming up his performance every opportunity he gets.  Given what it is, he is extremely watchable and is as weird as the story’s setting.

The film is written by Bryan Edward Hill who is an author, screenwriter, graphic designer and comic book author.  The film’s impressive cinematography by James Mather and production design, reminiscent of BLADE RUNNER is to be commended given the film’s limited budget of only $5 million.

ZONE 414 succeeds as a strange and fascinating sci-fi thriller that stands above the film in the genre for its weirdness and creepiness.  An absorbing watch, credit to director Andrew Baird.

Trailer: 

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