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

29 Nov 2020



QUEER JAPAN (USA/Japan 2020) **

Directed by Graham Kolbeins

Director Graham Kolbeins’ colourful documentary showcases railblazing artists, activists, and everyday people from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality that

defy social norms and dare to shine in this kaleidoscopic view of LGBTQ+ culture in contemporary Japan.

Among those interviewed who have their say are Vivienne Sato, a drag queen, Nogi Sumiko with gender identity disorder whom loves to make things, Genjoroh Tagame a gay-erotic artist and Tomato Hatake transgender activist.  As these interviewees are not famous people but taken at random or perhaps convenience, one wonders the director’s choice of these individuals.  To director Kolbeins’ credit, the tactic does humanize the doc with ordinary people.  But what they have to say is not especially revolutionary.  Though one would grimace at piss drinking or fisting, one knows that these acts exist and that there are many who indulge in these acts.  Apparently, more than a hundred interviews were conducted over a span of 3 years in locations across Japan before a few had been singled out.  Of the more interesting ones are Councilwoman Aya Kamikawa who recounts her rocky path to becoming the first transgender

elected official in Japan and at the legendary kink-positive hentai party Department H, non-binary performance artist Saeborg who uses rubber to create a second skin.   Saeborg’s creations, especially for the female sow are dazzling.

Audiences should beware as a few of the interviews talk about their sexual preferences that can get pretty nasty.  One talks about his/her obsession on fisting and a friend says that he/she is satisfied with anything that goes up his/her ass.  Another talks about liking almost everything including drink pee and rimming.  Thankfully, none of these are displayed on screen.

The film includes a few commonly used Japanese terms.  Hentai (the Romanized version of the Japanese sounding words) mens abnormal sexuality  for example, not that these terms would be useful to non-Japanese audiences.

The film also explains the need for  LGBTs to bond together to have a place where they can socialize and feel comfortable without being made fun of.  Many talk about being bullied when young and being friendless.  Places like Department H provide a safe outlet.

QUEER JAPAN is pale in comparison to another LGBT documentary, DEEP IN VOGUE that is also opening around the same time.  Both docs discuss the issue of the need for identity, while showcasing the diversity of its subjects.  But the latter has more to offer DEEP IN VOGUE with its Vogue dances, balls and houses has more content and than QUEER JAPAN which just focuses on a smaller group in only one country.  Still one would expect more depth and insight from QUEER JAPAN which seems only too content to glamourize than anything else.  IN DEEP VOGUE only lasts an hour and one does not want it to ed while QUEER JAPAN lasts 99 minutes and grows tedious after the first third or so.  QUEER JAPAN has a fresh and engrossing trailer (click on link below), but the full doc does not live to the trailer’s expectations.



Directed by Jia Zhang-Ke

In May 2019, a large number of prominent Chinese writers and scholars gathered in a village in China’s Shanxi Province (director Jia Zhang-ke’s native province).  Images from this literary event open an 18-chapter ‘symphony’ which spans the history of Chinese society since 1949.   The documentary unfolds through memories of 4 writers, the late writer-activist Ma Feng and three major writers who are active today: Jia Pingwa (born in the 1950s), Yu Hua (born in the 1960s) and Liang Hong (born in the 1970s).  Together, they weave a 70-year spiritual history of the Chinese people.

The film unfolds in chapters.  Chapter 1 is entitled ‘Eating’, Chapter 2 entitled ‘Love and so on, the change in chapters taking place amidst the interviews, as the stories overlap from one chapter to another.

There are several reasons I found this film especially endearing, the film often touching sensitive moments of my past, thus making the film somewhat special to me.  First my background:  I emigrated to Canada from Singapore and educated in a British missionary school where English was my mother tongue and Chinese (Mandarin) was the forced second language that most of us hated to learn in school, being something from the past and unfashionable.  Worst was when the school forced students to take part in extracurricular activities like mass drill, where students had to perform Chinese like coordinated drills that mimic those practiced in China.  When taking Chinese lessons, there was always emphasis on the success of the communists Government, with sayings like those (example: unity to win greater victory) that appear in Zia’s film.  Nostalgic too is the look of the old Chinese villagers that appear in the film.  One particular woman with white hair is almost an exact replica of my late mother.  I could not believe what I was seeing.  That said, other viewers might not share the experience.

The first and most interesting Ma Feng, talks of his literary contribution to Shanxi history.  A proud leader, he was involved in the formation of groups who campaigned to improve the village’s agricultural output through initial treatment of the irrigated water to remove its alkalinity.   The second Jia Pingwa, is the son of a counterrevolutionary who became a leading figure in China’s roots literature movement.  Next is Yu Hua, the one that swam out from the river to the sea till the water turned from yellow to blue.  He explains what fame is: ‘ Before he has to send stories everywhere hoping to get published.  Now, they are asking for his stories.  He shows his friends the letters explaining that that is fame.  Lastly the youngest Liang Hong, the only female  reflects on her mother’s death through her writings.

These talks are about people and times that I would not have been interested in when I was younger in school, but somehow Jia’s film made me realize the importance of ancestry.  Though a fair portion of the doc involves having to listen to what these 4 writers have to say, their talk invokes memories of a valued past.  The revelatory film demonstrates the power of story telling without the use of archive footage.

What is touching is the simplicity of life of the authors.  Jia’s film has the appearance of being simply made with 4 authors telling stories but the effects are astounding.

The film theatrical starts December 11, 2020 (Exclusive digital TIFF Bell Lightbox) / December 18, 2020 (Rest of Canada)


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

21 Nov 2020



LUXOR (Egypt/UK/United Arab Emirates 2020) **

Directed and written by Zeina Durra

Written and directed by Zeina Durra, LUXOR follows the interactions of Hana (Andrea Riseborough) and Sultan (Karim Saleh).  On leave from working as a doctor in neighbouring war torn areas, British aid worker Hana returns to the ancient city of Luxor, meeting her former lover Sultan by chance.   Sultan is an archaeologist staying in a grungy hotel much cheaper than at the Winter Palace where Hana resides.  As Hana wanders, haunted by the familiar place, she struggles to reconcile the choices of the past with the uncertainty of the present.

At best the dialogue goes like this:

Hana: I've heard this thing: The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born - now is the time of monsters.

Sultan: Who said that?

Hana: Do you know, I've actually forgotten!

They both laugh.  

The dialogue does not get better than this. 

The film’s most exciting scene is when Sultan is asked by hotel security to get out of the hotel swimming pool for swimming in his boxers.

LUXOR is a very slow burn, if it burns at all.  It demands a considerable amount of patience to watch this movie, to watch Hana travelling in and out of cabs, walking around, smiling, not smiling, in the same unflattering clothes.  “When I am walking, I kind of feel something,” she says.  Hana does not portray the personalities of a doctor.  A doctor is scientific and should not be believing in tombs and Egyptology.   The script does have her attend to a fellow tourist who faints during one of the tours.

The magic question is whether Hana and Sultan will rekindle their relationship and become lovers again.  This question is toyed around for the entire first half of the movie.  Hana’s body language says no, but she is always smiling and leading Sultan on.  Sultan is a consistent smiler, smiling too much that he appears a bit of a weirdo.  Yes, they finally go to bed, only seen with covers.  So, that puts an end to the big question and suspense to the drama.

To the film’s credit, LUXOR is a beautiful film to look at.  Luxor, the city located on the east bank of the River Nile in Egypt, has frequently been characterized as the "world's greatest open-air museum", as the ruins of the temples complexes at Luxor stand within the modern city. Immediately opposite, across the River Nile, lie the monuments, temples and tombs of the west bank which includes the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.  The film occasionally plays like a travelogue taking the audience on a field trip to the historic sites.  Luxor has also been the site where a large number of tourists had been killed and injured in a political attack.

LUXOR is available December 4th VOD/EST.



SPRING TIDE (China 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Yang Lina (Tian-yi Yang)

SPRING TIDE is an accomplished piece of family drama that spans three generations.  It moves leisurely with reason, as many of the incidents unfold in the course of the time the audience learns and absorbs the individuality of writer/director Yang’s characters.

Three females.  All three living in the same flat.  The film opens with a journalist Guo Jianbo (Hao Lei) questioning a teacher who has been accused of sexual abuse of his students.  The teacher brazenly denies the accusations while calling himself an exemplary teacher.  He is met with a tight slap across the face by Guo who then storms out of the room.  Her mother, Ji Minglan (Elaine Jin) at one point in the film is so angry that she throws her daughter and granddaughter out of the flat.  The granddaughter, Wanting (Junxi Qu) in a fit jumps on the top of the piano and stamps her feet on the piano keys.  These three are family - daughter, mother and granny all hot-tempered with fiery dispositions.  Living together is a formula for explosive disaster, as director Yang’s film shows.

But despite their ages, each still has a lot to learn.  In a way, SPRING TIDE is a coming-of-age story for each of the three females.  The film shows that one can learn and grow into a more mature human being regardless of age.  Granny falls in love illustrating the fact that it is never too late to do so.  Her new husband is loving and caring, so different from her previous one, who was a sex pervert.  This is the pleasure of watching SPRING TIDE, where the surprises come unexpectedly.

Jianbo is a journalist specializing in social news. Much of the reporting she does on social issues causes her great pain and agony.  Her retired mother helps out in the local co/director Yang’s community.  She is warm and friendly to all the residents and people in that community and regularly organizes singing competitions.   But there exists an invisible barrier between Guo Jianbo and her mother.   Jianbo’s daughter bears the brunt of this and grows up and develops her character amidst the family squabbles. 

SPRING TIDE like the recent Ron Howard film HILLBILLY ELEGY shows the power of family.  As the Glenn Close character in HILLBILLY ELEGY claims, that is totally applicable in SPRING TIDE, ‘If not for family, what becomes of us?’

It often takes a tragedy to bring a family together.  In the case of SPRING TIDE, this comes from granny Ji who gets sick  and admitted to hospital.  It is then that conciliation begins and peace is once again retired to the family.

Though unknown to western audiences, the lead actress How Lei and Elaine Jin are accomplished talents.  Elain Ji is a Taiwanese actress with a film career spanning 45 years.  Director Yang began her career in documentary (OLD MEN, THE LOVE STORY OF LAO AN and WILD GRASS.) with SPRING TIDE as her second fictional feature.

SPRING TIDE is released on premium VOD platforms December the 4th.



Directed by Quinn Armstrong

SURVIVAL SKILLS as defined by Wikipedia are techniques that a person may use in order to sustain life in any type of natural environment or built environment.  The environmental in concern in this new comedy is a built one, the police force, where the audience follows the path of a rookie police officer by the name of Jim Williams (Vayu O’Donnell).

SURVIVAL SKILLS the film, concerns a lost training video from the 1980s.  In it, Jim is the perfect policeman, but he gets in over his head when he tries to resolve a domestic violence case outside the law.

The video is played, all scratchy as are the displays coming from old VCR cassettes, from the start to end of the film.  The video is narrated by Stacy Keach, who has been made famous by playing a cop in one of his first films, THE NEW CENTURIANS opposite George C. Scott.  The narrator offers the knowledge of how to survive in the police force by following simple lessons, 7 in all as outlined in the video.  The main character who appears in the video, Jim unfortunately gets out of hand, while being too eager to do good as a good Samaritan.

The character of Jim Williams is a decent one.  He is the best intentions of everybody he encounters while trying not to to offend anyone in the process.  He is extremely polite while at it.  The trouble is that he is too naive in people’s goodness, which he discovers is nonexistent in many.  His naiveness comes across to may as inexperienced, dewy-eyed and simple-minded.  It is both his naiveness and good intentions get in the way of his survival skills in the Middletown Police department.

Keach delivers his lesson tongue-in-cheek style, showing his mettle as being a comedian.  Half way through the video, he has to warn Jim not to do what he is about to do but to follow his instructions.  When he fails, he screams, “I am the narrator.”  The film balances on the line of absurdist and deadpan comedy.

One problem the ilm faces is whether to go serious or silly.  The problem occurs a few times.  One is when Jim tries to convince an abused mother, Allison (Ericka Kreutz) to file charges on her husband and to leave the family home with the daughter   This is a pretty serious material for a comedy.  Director Armstrong bravely attempts both.

The film also pokes harmless fun at the Christian faith.  When seeking advice, he encounters twice the same message in the scriptures about faith, which says that faith is able to move mountains.  At this point, the blend between comedy and drama is achieved effectively.

Subtly, the film delivers the message of whether one is to follow ones heart or to go by the rules.   Jim undertakes the first to the detriment of the video’s narrator.  When Jim’s wife leaves him, it is a very touching scene when Jim cries, pleading with era “Please don’t go!”  The narrator scolds him on video: “You stupid fucking, naive child!  What have you done?”

The novelty of the unrealistic over documented training video delivered deadpan style runs its freshness quite early in the film.  But it is thanks to both actors O’Donnell and Keach for putting in their 100% in believing in the material and saving the comedy. 



YES, GOD, YES (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Karen Maine

After an innocent AOL chat turns racy, a Catholic teenager in the early 00s discovers masturbating and struggles to suppress her new urges in the face of eternal damnation.  Alice (Nathalia Dyer) who attends a strict Catholic school enrols for a 4-day Retreat under Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) to cleanse herself and save herself from what she believes is from her going to hell.

The ironic thing about the 4-day retreat is that there are good looking hot boys and girls grouped together in an environment that is supposed to discourage pre-marital sex or sex in general.  This is like putting all the arrested drug dealers together in the same cell waiting for their court hearing.  What they do is obviously to share notes.   When Alice first lands in the retreat and alights her bus, the first thing she sees is the big hairy arm (shown in close-up) of one of the hunky camp councillors, Chris (Wolfgand Novogratz).   One can imagine her drooling and waiting to go to some quiet place to do some serious masturbation.  And as it turns out, the hot guy with the hairy arms, Chris is Alice’s group leader.

“You are here because it is God’s plan. ”  “You do not need a watch (Alice’s watch is taken from her, but she hides her cell phone) as we are on Jesus’ time.” are part of the Christian crap Alice is indoctrinated with.  Her odd smirk indicates that she is taking all this in stride, and maybe she realizes what she is going through might be a travesty.

Director Maine loves to use closeups of facial expressions to make a point or to inject humour into a situation.  When Alice’s paper on expressions is collected by one of the elders, her grimace as she collects Alice’s paper as she tries desperately but unsuccessfully to remove the emotion ‘turned-on’ on her paper, is hilarious.  Another scene during a group outdoor walk in the woods, has Alice feigns falling down and spraining her ankle.  Chris, just behind carries her as Maine’s camera focuses on the grimace from one of the boys behind them, as if saying: ‘ Ahem, ahem.”

Funny too is the part when Alice’s phone is discovered.  “We have to punish you,” says Father Murphy.  Next scene has the nun instructing Alice: “You have to empty the trash here.  There are 4 receptacles…”  Maine gets her message across in her film with smartness and humour, a combination that can not go wrong.

Director Maine has a message amidst all the mayhem that goes on during the 4-date Retreat.  The message is delivered when Alice goes up to the podium to share her experience and what she had learnt during camp.  One wishes that father Murphy, the biggest hypocrite of them all, caught watching porn by Alice, yet deems himself perfect would get his comeuppance.  No such luck, these 4-day retreats will keep going on and unless one is resourceful enough like Alice, that person will remain confused and worst still steered in the wrong direction.  Alice has come of age during her 4 days, learning ultimately and hilariously, that masturbation is not wrong as she demonstrates in the film’s closing scene.  Director Maine’s message is to follow your heart though it might include chatting online and masturbation.



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This Week's Film Reviews (Nov 27, 2020)

20 Nov 2020

BLACK BEAUTY (USA/UK/Germany/South Africa/France 2020) ***
Directed by Ashley Avis

The title BLACK BEAUTY is immediately recognizable from one of the best selling books of all time, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

In the 1944 novel, the story is narrated in the first person as an autobiographical memoir told by the horse named Black Beauty - beginning with his carefree days as a foal on an English farm with his mother, to his difficult life pulling cabs in London, to his happy retirement in the country.  Along the way, he meets with many hardships and recounts many tales of cruelty and kindness. Each short chapter recounts an incident in Black Beauty's life containing a lesson or moral typically related to the kindness, sympathy, and understanding treatment of horses.

Disney’s version turns the gender of Black Beauty from male to female.  BLACK BEAUTY is now a wild mustang living the wild life with other mustangs including her mother.  With her curiosity to cross into forbidden territory, BB sees humans, who trace her to capture her and the other mustangs into captivity.  She ends up in the farm ranch of John Manly (Iain Glen). It is here that she meets a kind human being, an orphaned girl, Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy) who is sent to live with her uncle John.  Two lonely souls meet, horse and human and the wild mustang is tamed only by Jo.  A strong relationship exists between the pair.   Circumstances result in Black Beauty being leased and sold several times.  BB loses contact with Jo but being a Disney film that demands a Hollywood ending, it takes no genius to guess that the two will re-unite in a super sappy ending.

Another big change in this is the modernization of the story, which is set to the current.  Whether this works better for the story is up to the individual but I am not one who likes dabbling with the classics.

Kate Winslet plays the horse in absentia.  Her voice narrates the story from start to finish with the audience seeing the equine point-of-view of life.  “It is impossible to break the spirit of a mustang” are the words told to her by BB’s mother before passing on.  To make things cornier, these words are added: “If things get tough, close your eyes and think of good things.”

BLACK BEAUTY contains a few exciting sequences.  The one with the overflowing river where BB saves the day is a well done sequence.

During current times, all Studios attempt at making politically correct films.  As such, the horse and protagonist are female and one of the kindest owners of BB happens to be Terry, a black fella (played by Hakeem Kae-Kazim), who treats BB with care and concern.  The villains of the story are the wealthy white trash - the mother and daughter Winthorps.  The dreamy Winthorp boy, George (Calam Lynch from DUNKIRK) plays Jo’s romantic interest.

The Anna Sewell book, BLACK BEAUTY is a children’s book and the film plays as one (or as a family film).  The film is currently playing on Disney+.


FATMAN (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms

Santa Claus has gone by many names including Father Christmas, Chris Cringle,  Pere Noel and Saint Nicholas and now a new one FATMAN.  Apparently, because most kids are no longer nice but nasty, Santa has his workload reduced, unable today his bills like his electric bill, and now putting on a bit of weight.  FATMAN is a new American black comedy on Santa that is not for children.  In fact one wonders what the target audience of this film will be, as it is a bold step to invest money in a film that has a very narrow target audience - likely those who like their films nasty rather than nice and with an odd sense of humour that the general public do not get.  And with FATMAN played no less than by Mel Gibson who has been getting a lot of negative publicity as of late.  Maybe people have forgotten and will give him a second chance being the Christmas season.

In this film, Chris Cringle (Gibson) lives with his wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, best known from Mike Leigh’s SECRETS AND LIES and still keeping her Brit accent in this film) and runs his Christmas present shop on a farm near the town of North Peak, Alaska. With his income on the decline because of too many children turning too vicious, the United States government, who maintains an interest share in Chris' business, sends Captain Jacobs (Robert Boackstael) to propose a two-month contract for producing components for a new jet fighter for the US military. The liasion agents override Chris' misgivings by virtually threatening to withhold the government's subsidies, but Ruth manages to restore his spirits.

Here comes the clincher.  On Christmas Eve, spoiled rich boy Billy Wenan Chance Hurstfield, a child actor who has an adult face and looks like the real mean kid) receives a lump of coal from Chris for his selfishness (the film’s singular best joke), and swearing revenge, he hires his personal hitman Jonathan Miller aka Skinny Man (Walton Goggins) to kill Chris.  They should have known that Chris is immortal and can heal from any mortal wound, which he does at the close of the film.

Santa’s good deeds include convincing men trying to pick up at the local bar to go home to their families.  The bartender is puzzled why all the good-looking men suddenly disappear from her bar once Chris arrives.  This Santa keeps weapons like guns and rifles.  He also swears and drinks.  He has lost his faith (I’m just a fatman in a red suit”, he says) which his good wife Ruth, with her British accent tries to restore.  Yes, there is a semi-nude scene with Santa and his good missus in bed.  Not to worry - no nasties on display just intentions.

The climax comes with a showdown, western style between FATMAN and the Skinny Man.  Every bad person gets his comeuppance in the film including the kid who got a lump of coal for Christmas.

FATMAN because of its weird premise does not always work, but when it does makes for quite fresh entertainment.  I would recommend it!



FUNNY BOY (Canada/USA 2020) ****

Directed by Deepa Metha

FUNNY BOY is Canadian/Indian Deepa Metha’s adaptation of Shyam Selvadurai's 1994 novel of the same name, the film centring on the coming of age of Arjie Chelvaratnam, a young Tamil boy (Arush Nand) in Sri Lanka who is coming to terms with his homosexuality.  The setting is Colombo, Sri Lanka against the backdrop of the increased tensions between Tamil and Sinhalese people before the breakout of the Sri Lankan Civil War.  This war only recently ended in 2009.

The film traces Arjie’s school days when he was a teenager (Brandon Ingram).  The transition from child to teen is realized when Arhjie attends school when the actors change from Band to Ingram.  Director Metha superimposes the image of the boy in the teen to facilitate a smoother transition of the characters, the transition very important in films where characters undergo large age in age.  Arjie’s first gay encounter is sensitively portrayed, with the teen unsure of his budding sexual emotions.  The danger of the civil war is always in the background when he is bullied by Singhalese in school to the final days when his family has to leave Sri Lanka for Toronto, Canada.  Arjie’s aunt plays a big part in Arjie’s life.

There is one scene in the film where a pianist at a bar is playing Maurice Jarre’s famous and beautiful Lara’s Theme from David Lean’s 1965 massive epic DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.  Perhaps director Metha is paying homage to Lean, hoping her film reaches similar heights.  To Metha’s credit, one of the best things in FUNNY BOY is its cinematography by Canadian d.p. Douglas Koch who has done marvellous work before as in the dystopian piece, Don McKellar’s LAST NIGHT.  Sri Lanka has been praised by many to be one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, some saying that it was the original Garden of Eden.  The stunning landscapes on display attest to the fact.  The beginning shot of the train chugging along (reminiscent of Lean’s THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), just steps away from the stunning beach and sea is unforgettable.  The production sets and props are impressive from the tennis outfits and vintage racquets seen during the family games.  The dialogue is partly in English with British terms such as ‘fatty-fatty bom-bom’ not heard in North America but common in British colonies like India and Singapore where I come from.

Lean has made a film in India A PASSAGE TO INDIA, which might be a good companion piece to FUNNY BOY.

Praise to Metha for directing another gay themed film after her lesbian drama FIRE resulted in protests in India and a theatre burnt down.  She also made a fierce film on spouse abuse in MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN which was based on controversial author Salman Rushdie’s novel.  FUNNY BOY is produced by her husband David Hamilton.  I have great admiration for Metha as a director who is brave enough to follow her unique vision. 

Though FUNNY BOY is no cinematic epic reminiscent of  director David Lean, Deepa Metha’s film aims high and is still a pleasurable watch.  FUNNY BOY is one of my favourite Metha’s films alongside BEEBA BOYS and MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN.

FUNNY BOY is selected as Canadian’s 2021 entry for Best International Feature (formerly Best Foreign language Film). 


THE GREAT INVISIBLE (The Impact Series) (USA 2014) ***
Directed by Margaret Brown

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.  It killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in American history. The explosion still haunts the lives of those most intimately affected, though the story has long ago faded from the front page. Director Margaret Brown fashions her doc as a corporate thriller and a human drama involving the victims while exposing the evils by uncovering the deeds of the secretive oil industry.  BP has refused to participate int his doc, as expected.

The culprit is BP, which had cut safety corners in the construction and operation of the Deepwater Horizon.  The result is a huge explosion resulting in the oil spill which they have up to this day only cleaned up a third.   The explosion is shown through the eyes of oil executives, survivors and Gulf Coast residents who experienced it first-hand and then were left to pick up the pieces while the world moved on.

The doc, through the eyes of a few survivors recount the event of the explosion when everything went dark and the workers on the rig panicked.  One wishes Brown did more research on the cause of the explosion, rather than giving the blanket reason that it was owing to lack of safety measures.

What is moving is the testimony given by one of the survivors of the explosion Doug Brown .  At one point after the accident, he had contemplated suicide.  His wife moved all the material (books, new articles BP pamphlets) that would remind him of the disaster from the house.  Gordon speaks to the camera that he feels guilty working for BP.  This shows that there are good people around, typically the foot soldiers that worked for the company.  A bit too much camera time is given to a volunteer worker as he gos about his rounds delivering food and supplies to the affected residents.  The CEO of BP makes his false promises saying that the company will take full responsibility of the spill, all bullshit as far as most people are concerned, showing once again the unethical behaviour of the conglomerate entity.  Unsurprising is the fact that the company gave huge bonuses to the top executives that year.  BP had the gall to say that the Deepwater Horizon accident aside, the company met most of its safety requirements.  The doc goes on the emphasize that the compensation the company for the disaster offered was less than 1% of its profits.

Barack Obama was the President of the United States at the time of the accident, and Brown has Obama bragging that the U.S. has the largest rig count in the world and a major player in oil production.  And don’t expect Trump to do any better.  In fact he did much worse - taking the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and reversing California’s legislation to go carbon free by the year 2025.  It is a shame that since the disaster, nothing much has changed.  Congress has not passed any new legislation in safety measures in offshore oil drilling.




Directed by Ron Howard

HILLBILLY ELEGY is a film about a hillbilly family.  Such families do not like to be called rednecks, as evident in one key seen in the movie where the boy lashes out at the term used to describe his family.   The film is based on the best selling novel ‘Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis’, a 2016 memoir by J. D. Vance about the Appalachian values of his Kentucky family and their relation to the social problems of his hometown of Middletown, Ohio, where his mother's parents moved when they were young.   The film traces J.D.’s coming-of-age stay from boyhood to being accepted at Yale Law School. 

The film is a modern exploration of the American Dream through three generations of the Vances, an Appalachian family; most notably focusing on J.D. Vance's relationships with his troubled mother and her ongoing addiction to heroin along with the love and care of his supportive grandmother.   

The film benefits from being a likeable tale of a sure fire hit premise - the triumph of the human spirit (J.D.’s) and even more so with so much against him (his dealing with his mother’s heroin addiction).

The best seller was criticized for the reason that the author, J.D. formed conclusions and generalizations from his upbringing in suburban Ohio.   The script by Vanessa Taylor avoids the pitfall and lets the action speak for itself and the audience to draw their own conclusions.

But it is the top-notch performances of the cast that elevates HILLBILLY ELEGY above other films in this genre.  Amy Adams plays Bev Vance, the heroin addicted mother displaying both her strength and vulnerability while Glenn Close (bound to win her Oscar this time) as mamaw, the smart grandmother who holds everything together.  Another heavyweight is Hayley Bennett who plays J.D.’s sister.  Relative newcomer Gabriel Basso holds his own.

Ron Howard makes forgettable films.  Maybe it is just me who thinks so.  But   I can hardly recall any memorable segment from his hit films like APOLLO 13, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, SPLASH except for maybe PARENTHOOD with the scene where Steve Martin gets a blowjob while driving.  But HILLBILLY ELEGY contains many scenes that will remain in ones mind - as in the one Amy Adams hits her son in the car countless times or the one where the adult son bashes in the bathroom door to find his mother shooting up.  HILLBILLY ELEGY is one of Ron Howard’s best films to date and it clearly makes it point that family has to stick together regardless of circumstances.

It is also amazing what the closing credits reveal.  The resemblances of Amy Adams and Glenn Close to the real life characters they portray are uncanny.  Good job not only in the make-up department but in the casting and of course the Oscar winning performances by both Close and Adams.  The credits are quick to note that Bev has been clean for 6 years and that J.D. made Yale.



MAKE UP (UK 2019) ***
Directed by Claire Oakley

(release now postponed to January2022) 

MAKE UP begins with a vehicle first seen only by its headlights, two small dots of light on the large screen as the vehicle manoeuvres around a windy road in the midst of a misty darkness.  It is a metaphor for the film’s protagonist a teen girl, Ruth (Molly Windsor) as she heads for an uncertain future, likely with equal twist and turns as she heads for a caravan park in Cornwall.  She is to meet and live with her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn).

She is met in the dead of night by the campsite manager, Shirley (Lisa Palfrey).  Shirley is such a character, with such an infectious and hilarious laugh that she could be the central character of another film.  One wishes there were more scenes of Shirley in the film.  Shirley offers a job to Ruth.

Nothing much happens in terms of stories or events in director Oakley’s film.  The rest of the film follows Ruth around the campsite, which is closed after the summer months.  She is working, by clean g up the rented caravans and she meets the other two that work on the campsite,  one of which is Jade (Stephanie Martini) who begins a friendship with Ruth.

Ruth suspects that Tom is having an affair with someone else but is unsure.  She finds red hair on his clothes while doing laundry but the only red hair comes from a wig that Jade owns.  Jade claims never to have worn that red wig.

When moving to a completely new place to live with someone that one is never sure of can be a nightmare and a really scary experience.  Director Oakley knows it and shoots her film like a horror movie.  The light go out in a scene reminiscent of a horror flick.  She also uses shadows to create an eerie atmosphere.  Her camera movement looks as if a predator is lurking around the corners.

The film contains a few light touches for a serious coming-of-age movie.  Jade asked after making pot: “If there is anywhere in the world you would go where would it be?”  When no one replies, she says “Mauritius ”.  “What is there in Mauritius?” she is asked.  “I don’t know. Wanna come?” 

Directly Oakley charts the troubled relationship between Tom and Ruth as would normally be expected for young couples.  But Ruth’s transition towards the same sex as she develops a fondness towards a same sex relationship with Jade is not entirely convincing.  Is this just another transitional phase of experimenting as she did withTom?

The beaches in Cornwall are white and generally flat, as depicted in the swimming segments by cinematographer Nick Cooke.

Oakley’s film might be frustrating to come as her loose narrative of Ruth’s coming-of-age journey seems to be meandering without direction.  But it is for this fact, that her film stands out without falling into cliched pitfalls. 

The film is called MAKE UP because Ruth dons make up for the first time towards the end of the film.  The putting on of the make up is again a metaphor that she has now grown up.

The theatrical release date is November 27th.


ROCKS (UK 2019) ***
Directed by Sarah Gavron

Director Sarah Gavron’s (BRICK LANE, SUFFRAGETTE) is another strong female film this time entering around a black teen school girl under serious duress.  Her mother has not returned home and she has to look after her younger brother while trying to dodge social services.  Her mother has left before but this time has not come back and looks like never going to.  This is the story of Shola (a remarkable performance from newcomer Bukky Bakrov) in what translates to guerrilla filmmaking where the camera follows the girl on all her activities.  Director Gavin demonstrates that life is not easy for the less fortunate.  She shows Rocks maturing as she takes on responsibility.  Stull, Rocks is not the perfect human.  She steals money from those who aid her.  But what is important is her perseverance and humanity towards her younger brother who is too young to understand what is going on.  One wishes the film would take a stronger narrative and a solid path for Shola, but this is Gavron’s style for this film.  ROCKS premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019.


STARDUST (UK/Canada 2019) **
Directed by Gabriel Grant

Though touted as a biography of David Bowie, it is really not.  The film’s start is quick to inform that what follows is (mostly) fiction.  The film spans two years from 1971 and 1972, beginning with Bowie on a plane to Washington D.C. to promote himself to the Americans.  It ends with a concert in 1972.

The film also runs into problems with this one fact.  Bowie's estate did not approve the film and did not grant rights to use Bowie's music. Instead, STARDUST has Bowie performing covers the real Bowie performed in this period, such as "I Wish You Would" by the Yardbirds and "My Death" by Jacques Brel.  So, none of Bowie’s hits are heard or performed in the film.

It is not surprising that the Bowie estate did not approve the film as Bowie is painted in a film with no redeeming qualities.  Bowies is shown prissy half the time, always in makeup wearing women’s clothing, clueless, selfish, always thinking of himself, annoying his manager to no end, doing drugs and delusional, screwing up at every single opportunity he is given for exposure or success.  He basically bungles his way through the two years of his life depicted in the film.   After an argument with his wife, he annoys the audience by noisily plucking away at the piano.  The film also shows all of Bowie’s failures rather than his successes. 

The most recognizable song in the film is not any David Bowie song.  No “China Girl” or “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” but Anthony Newley’s “What Kind of Fool Am I?” reflecting Bowie’s foolish character depicted in the film.  The film’s climax is Bowie’s stage performance, where once he succeeds in winning fans.  Again the film is not allowed to showcase any of Bowie’s songs resulting in a climatic letdown.

Bowie’s wife, Angie is featured in the film.  In real life, she was his first wife who married him in order to get citizenship and she admitted that they never loved each other.  Angie’s first appearance shows her nastiness as she reproaches a girl hitting on Bowie.  No love is shown between the pair, though at one point she complains that when on tour, Bowie never thinks of her.

Bowie, in real life claimed he was a homosexual and later than he was bisexual.  Was Bowie the man really that confused or delusional?  His brother Terry was committed to an asylum and Bowie is afraid he would have similar problems.  Bowie’s gayness is hinted at in the film, but no same sex scenes are on display.  Bowie wears a man dress and lady shoes and exhibita\s a lot of effeminate mannerisms.

Johnny Flynn who looks like Bowie and even more with his hair dyed red and wearing his famous garb, is passable as Bowie.

One wonders the reason they made a film on Bowie when such an awful picture is painted on the famous singer/songwriter.  The film is equally tedious with little insight provided on Bowie.

STARDUST opens select theatres, and across all digital and on-demand platforms November 27.





Directed by David Gregory

TALES OF THE UNCANNY is simply a  documentary about Horror anthology films.  The doc directed by David Gregory is a guilty pleasure, nothing really extraordinary but it contains short interviews of 60 experts in this area together with assembled clips from a whole lot of experts.  The experts, who include legendary directors like Joe Dante and Roger Corman also talk to the camera giving their two cents worth on the subject.  It is a wonder why no one has thought or done this before as is simply heaven for any horror fan to see this.  It also allows fans to make lists of what horror films to see next, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

My personal BEST horror anthology is the 1945 British classic DEAD OF NIGHT (not to be confused by another American film made much later of the same title and a TV program) with various directors that include Basil Dearden and Alberto Cavalcanti.  The framing story concerns a man visiting a country manor where he meets guests that tell each of their horror stories.  The film ends with the man getting up from a nightmare and travelling to he same country mansion.  The best and the last of these stories is the one of the ventriloquist played by Michael Redgrave who believes that his dummy is alive.  Creepy, scary and extremely well done, watching TALES OF THE UNCANNY makes me want to see this classic again next.  DEAD OF NIGHT is totally enjoyable with a bite of the British humour embedded in the scares.

Among the pleasures are watching the clips from the old Masters.  There is a hidden gem that I never knew about - a short horror film called TONY DAMMIT by Italian Master Federico Fellini from the anthology called  SPIRITS OF THE DEAD. Dario Argento and Mario Bava, two horror Masters are also mentioned as well as horror film production studios like American International Pictures and Hammer films

The doc also includes a few horror features and a few international classics.  The Japanese WOMAN IN THE SNOW shows the typical Japanese scary apparition of the long haired female ghoul, which likely inspired all the new Japanese films like the killer doll and video films. 

The best of the lot, according to the experts is 1980’s CREEPSHOW.  Everyone’s favourite seems to be the episode with Stephen King playing the hick farmhand who discovers a meteor had landed in his backyard.  “Meteor shit” is the term he uses of the green slime the meteor getsonnhis body. The doc ends with a list of the best anthology films followed by the best of the short features as selected by the 60 talents.  DEAD OF NIGHT was voted the second best of the list.

These are in order:

  • The Twilight Zone
  • Night Gallery
  • Tales of Terror
  • Black Mirror 
  • Dead of Night
  • Creepshow (1980)

            The doc also lists the best of the individual segments.

Tickets and further details on the Winnipeg Cinematheque virtual theatrical run can be found here: https://winnipegfilmgroup.com/event/tales-of-the-uncanny/



TRIGGERED (South Africa 2020) ***
Directed by Alastair Orr

Never heard of this film before and where did it come from?  Apparently from South Africa from director Alastair Orr with a script by David D. Jones.  Billed as a horror movie with lots of violence and gore similar to the SAW franchise, Orr looks like he aims to be the next Eli Roth of South Africa.  But all traces of South Africa are erased from this film.  The setting of the film is not mentioned but all the actors speak with American accents so that the film would pass for an American film for the larger American market.  The characters are all fool-hardy teens that all share attending the common high school and from the description of their high school and Universities attended, the setting is definitely American.

Nine ‘friends’, all harbouring a dark secret, go camping in the woods.  After a wild night of partying, they wake up with bomb explosives strapped to their chests, all with varying times on their countdown clocks.   Apparently an uninvited guest, their old science teacher, Mr. Peterson had shown up to take revenge on them as one of them had killed his son at a party.  If the time on the clock runs out, the wearer explodes and dies.  If he or she kills someone, the time is taken over and the killer has a longer time.  Only the last one will emerge victorious and alive.  And so goes the premise of the rather silly plot.  The mechanics of how the invention is carried out is briefly explained, with just enough technical jargon for audiences to believe.  In fact the explanation is so fast no one can follow but one would naturally assume it all works.  The most logical thing for the 9 to do is to work out how to disarm the bombs or find help.  But they discover it is easier if they can 'take' one another's time by killing each other.

The film comes with a few flaws.  The nine friends are hard to distinguish from each other, worst still as the action takes place in the dead of night.  The hunt and prey premise has also been done to death though one can argue that this would be a good variation of the theme.  The teenagers are quite annoying with few redemptive qualities and no one really cares who survives or dies.

But the film though billed as a horror film comes with quite the few laughs, well paced and not unintentional.  If one goes to see TRIGGERED for scary fun, then there will be no disappointment and the person will enjoy a good time.  The dialogue is occasionally silly, hilarious.  The funniest line of the film occurs in the film’s last scene spoken by the stranger in the car stopped by the last survivor screaming out: “all my friends are killed.”

The success of the film proves that no matter how silly the premise is, if all the departments are serious enough to put in their 100% and believe in the material, the result can be remarkable. 



Directed by Nathalie Bibeau

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

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

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

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

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



ZAPPA (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Alex Winter

ZAPPA is the long due documentary of Frank Zappa who passed away in 1993.  Frank Vincent Zappa was an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader.   His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture.   In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist.   As a self-taught composer and performer, Zappa's diverse musical influences led him to create music that was sometimes difficult to categorize. While in his teens, he acquired a taste for 20th-century classical modernism, African-American rhythm and blues, and doo-wop music.

The doc by Alex Winter (from the BILL AND TED EXCELLENT ADVENTURE films) follows the path of most bio-pics.  It includes a history of the artist from his childhood to his later days in his life while highlighting his ups and downs in his life.  The doc also reveals ZAPPA as an inspiration to his fans and mankind.

The doc reveals that as a child, he started music late.  He was more interested in film and audio recordings before he got into music at the age of 15.  He was fascinated with the guitar and self taught himself to play it.   He began writing classical music in high school, while at the same time playing drums in rhythm and blues bands, later switching to electric guitar.  His talent and success led to his 1966 debut album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, combined songs in conventional rock and roll format with collective improvisations and studio-generated sound collages.   He continued this eclectic and experimental approach whether the fundamental format was rock, jazz, or classical.

The doc benefits from lots of archive footage of Zappa speaking to the camera, working with his band and of course, his performances on various stages.  The doc also reveals the genius of the man together at how difficult it is to survive and maintain ones principles and art in the often corrupt commercial in this case, record industry, field.  He shows his disdain especially at Warner Bros. who he describes in one segment as a bunch of assholes.  He is also a strong force against records/music censorship and expresses surprise that no one else in the music industry would speak out with him  The comparison of China and the U.S., a favourite minor subject in many docs is included in the film. 

Because of Zappa’s early interest in film, he has kept in storage VHS cassettes of every recording he had done.  This allows the doc to show many of its prized performances, which includes many famous artists like Joni Mitchell, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, John Lennon. Yoko Ono and notorious folk like Charles Manson.

Poignant moments in the film include the segment with widow Gail Zappa speaking of her husband with great fondness and admiration.  The doc is dedicated to Gail who recently passed on.

One stage of Zappa’s life involves him convalescencing after being thrown off the stage by a spectator.  Being a hyperactive person, he started dabbing in clay stop-motion.  A fair part of the doc  has his claymation on display, often to make a valuable point.

Appropriately, the climax of the film leans towards the end of Zappa’s life after he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Being the workaholic he is, he still worked 930 to 5, but with more bad days than good.  His final concert with the Modern Ensemble that ended with a 20 minutes standing ovation says it all.  Director Winter has through his earnest documentary shown Frank Zappa to be a great man who has transformed the world of music through his dedicated work and music.


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

14 Nov 2020

It is not December yet and there are 4 Christmas movies opening this week.  COLLECTIVE, a thriller doc is the best film (from Romania) opening this week.  All the reviews indicate at the end how each film can be viewed. It appears thattehre are more film every week than before theatres were closed.


Also Cinefranco begins this week - the best of commeical French cinema.





Directed by Chris Columbus

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES: PART 2 is a Netflix original movie, the sequel to the 2018 film which was also a Netflix original.

Part 2 as in the original, follows the adventures of Kate Pierce (Darby Camp), a True Believer of Santa Claus (played by Kurt Russell) who helps him save Christmas.   She has a brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) who only briefly in the second film.  Christmas is at stake as an ex-elf of Santa, called Belsnickel( Julian Dennison) attempts to steal the start of Santa Village and thus destroy Christmas.

Goldie Hawn plays Mrs. Claus thought the film.  Hawn was the surprise in the original movie appearing only at the end as Mrs. Claus, she being the real wife of  Kurt Russell.  It is good to see Hawn again after long absence on the screen , she still projecting her charm.  It is Russell as Santa Claus who again steals the show like the first film.  But he is not as winning.  He does not croon Rock n Roll songs in jail wearing dark shades or utter priceless hilarious one-liners (example: “I got fat eating all those milk and cookies”.)   Russell gets to sing an original Christmas song at the airport (bigger but not necessarily better) and that is nowhere as good.  The other actors in the original appear in the sequel. 

The film aims at political correctness by having a female (girl) protagonist died by a black kid.  The white brother only appears at the beginning and disappears with his new girlfriend.

There is always a message in the family flick and in CHRONICLES 2, it is a Christmas one at that.  Corny as it is: Christmas is to where you are, but who you are with. 

The good one surprise comes with time travel through a wormhole where Kate gets to meet a boy, Doug who saves the day.  No more should be said to spoilt the surprise.

Number 2 has sufficient special effects and magic to entertain the younger ones.  Animation of the elves speaking their elfish language, the Santa Village, the reindeers and slight racing through the skies should fascinate and entertain them.

The villain is Belsnickel, an envious elf, in the form of a fat Latino looking child sporting a British accent, turns out more silly than evil.  He wants to start a new village to rival Santa’s by destroying Santa’s and stealing the star from Santa’s village, the one that gets the Bethlehem’s light.

This Chris Columbus at sub-par level.  Columbus best works include GREMLINS (under instruction by Spielberg not to make a scary but fun movie), HOME ALONE and the first HARRY POTTER film of the franchise.  He also co-produced the first CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES.

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES PART 2 can nowhere be compared to the original made 2 years ago.  The first half of it is rather ‘blah’ but the film improves during the second half.  The original CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES happens also to be currently playing on Netflix.  See that one again instead of this generally unfunny sequel.  It would be a nifty exercise to see why the first works so well and the second doesn’t.


CODED BIAS (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Shalini Kantayya

Intelligence is defined by the military as ‘the gathering of information’.  Artificial Intelligence is defined by scientists and engineers as learning that can learn from itself.  The subject in director Shanlini Kantayya’s doc is face recognition, a form of artificial intelligence in which conglomerates by means of computers can examine the images of suspecting people and categorize them according to the information the computers already have on them.  This is not right for it infringes on the rights of human beings.  It is shown that in the U.K., people have been photographed and stopped from the pictures taken of them at random and identified, often wrongly that they identify with some criminal.   The other factor is that the information is biased, favourable to the white male.

The doc goes on to prove the point taking the audience around the globe from the States to the U.K. to China, Africa and other parts of the world.   The most insightful information about face recognition is that it is already widely used and the comparison is made of the U.S. and China.  In China, every citizen has a social credit score.  If someone says something bad about the government,  his score as well as his or her family’s goes down.  A girl in China says to the camera that she favours this, as she can find out the score of her potential date without having to find it out by first going on several dates with the person.  The Americans say that they wish they would never reach this state in China.  The doc states that there is a significant difference between China an the U.S.  In China, all this is totally transparent while in the States, it is not. The recognition is hidden and used by companies for commercial purposes whereas in China it is mainly used for positive use.

One wishes that director Kantayya would have allowed the big businesses like IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have their say to defend themselves.  The companies claim to be cooperative and it would have been eye-opening to hear what they have to say, whether true or false.

The doc follows two main characters.  One is Joy Buolamwini, founder of The AJL ( the Algorithmic Justice League) who at one point the film, wears a super hero cape like a crusader for justice.  The other is Cathy O’Neil, author of ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’.  The two who know each other, having met at a bookshop where Cathy was doing a book signing, have worked together or the identical purpose of exposing the threats to civil liberties posed by an increasingly data-driven automation.

CODE BIAS ends like most documentaries touting injustice do, with a positive note.  The U.S. has seen, as the film informs, many States banning the use of face recognition software with  with Amazon putting a hold on its Face Recognition for a year.  Still, there needs to be some federal approval on new algorithms as the film also informs.  The fight is never over.

CODED BIAS’s virtual launch will kick off community screenings, and a series of online conversations with scientists and citizens across the globe about the ethical use of artificial intelligence.  Coded Bias’s theatrical release is part of a national Science on Screen initiative, promoting scientific literacy through entertainment, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Coded Bias had its world premiere in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.  The film is a necessary watch  as everyone’s lives are impacted by this technology and even more so in the future.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/414917737


COLLECTIVE (Colectiv) (Romania/Luxembourg 2019) ****
Directed by Alexander Nanau

On October 30, 2015 a fire broke out at the COLLECTIVE club. 27 died and 180 were injured.  37 more died after 4 months in hospital. 

Unfolding in real time, Alexander Nanau’s COLLECTIVE (Colectiv) is a gripping documentary that follows a team of journalists who expose Romania’s health-care fraud in the wake of a deadly nightclub fire.  The images of the fire is even more disturbing being shown on the big screen in a block that represents a podcast taken by a cell phone.  The sounds of screaming can be heard before the screen goes completely white. Half way through, the doc switches the protagonist from the journalist to the health minister and the work he undertakes to overhaul the corrupt system.

The cause of the initial 27 dead is mostly due to the insufficient number of fire exits.  The press notes indicate the reason were the bribes taken by the authorities and cut corners during the construction.  The death of the burnt victims in the hospital was due to corruption on several levels,  The former was not investigated in the film but the latter to great detail.

The film begins with what appears to be a public hearing.  A man sadly and angrily stands up to complain against the rotten health system.  He says his son had died 12 days later after hospital admission due to a delay in the transfer to another hospital and that his son had been killed by bacteria.  “How can a communications error kill my son?” he complains.  The  complaint is quickly followed by several others that share death due to unfortunate identical circumstances.  The worst thing is that the officials keep reassuring the public that surviving victims will receive good care, as good as any other found in the rest of the European Union.       

The daily newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor (Sports Gazette) springs into action.  Intrepid reporters led by Catalin Tolontan discover corruption at a local firm that supplies disinfectants to hospitals.  The disinfected disinfectants were diluted and deemed useless in combating bacteria in the hospitals.

The film feels more like a mystery thriller than a doc when the disinfectant firm’s owner dies under mysterious circumstances and the health minister quietly resigns.  Another health minister is appointed and he works doggedly at changing the health system.

According to the news, the firm’s owner died from suicide.  The theory put forth by director Nanau is that he was murdered in order to silence him from revealing his conspirators.  His wife claimed that he was not one to take his own life.  The reason the health minister resigned remains a mystery.  The new health minister is Vlad Voiculescu, who is a former activist which the audience is told through the film titles. The corruption then revealed in Romania is unbelievable.  Trump looks like an angel in comparison.  The climax is the election where one hopes that the Social Democrats will lose their power.  The question of whether a new party would make a difference. is conveniently left out in the film. 

The doc also focuses on one of the burn victims.   A young woman,  Tedy Ursuleanu – with burn scars and amputated fingers – uses art to heal her trauma. Her image of her amputation and scarred body is scary.  (See image inset.) Director Nanau makes his point.

  What begins as a small doc turns out to be an ambitious voice reflecting the need for the world to change - from lying corrupt Governments (the Trump Administration) and the work that still needs to be done.  The Social Democrats again won the election at the end, but record numbers showed up at the polls.  Collective is Romania’s 2021 Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film (the old Best Foreign Film).  The short list will be announced in December and the nominees in 2021.  The film is available November 20 to rent on the Apple TV app!  The film also opens in select theatres – November 27 in Vancouver and throughout the fall in other cities.  It gets my vote for Best Documentary Feature of the year.


Directed by Debbie Allen

Dolly Parton does her Christmas number in a comedy musical centred on a female Scrooge, Regina Fuller (Christina Baranski) about to sell the town of Fullerville so that some giant mall can be built in its place.  All the residents are given eviction notices and they have to move out by Christmas eve.  Why Christmas eve?  Because Regina has no heart.  She is called by Fullerville ‘the wickedest witch of the middle’ and the ‘Queen of Mean’.  So it requires a miracle to save the town.  The miracle appears in the form of an angel with spirit, played obviously by Dolly Parton.  Jenifer Lewis is in the musical too, leading a few of the musical numbers so expect a lot of spirited dances - Christmas style.  Lewis is Hollywood’s most recognizable face, having made more than 300 appearances on television.

Parton is generous enough to give the film’s spotlight to Baranski and Lewis.  Baranski has more screen time than Parton and Lewis has more outrageous songs and dances that her.  But Parton gets to play the angel.

The main story is of ‘Scrooge’ Regina seeing the light and changing her mind.  The film goes to having her change her heart and then her heart to change her mind.  The script includes subplots of a father and daughter, Violet, a pastor and his girlfriend, a love affair between Regina and an old flame, Carl (Treat Willimas) and an angle-in-training, Felicity (Jeanine Mason) who works for Regina but under the instruction of Parton as the Angel with No Name.  Director Allen directs the film like conducting a Gospel church choir. 

Call it the film’s most moving or the most sappy segment.  This is the one in which Regina has a change of heart.  After being put downy the angry residents at the town hall meeting, she goes into a bar to have a drink, only to be served by Violet, a child as all the adults are away at the meeting.  They sing the song “Life is not a fairytale”.  Regina learns that Violet lost her mother because the mother had gone to get medicine for her when she was ill and got into an accident in a storm.   Regina learn that she was responsible for closing the local drug store that made Violet’s mother have to travel out of town.  If that is not sappy enough, it gets worse, when Violet is hit by a car and is on her death bed in hospital.

Beware!  As mentioned, this Dolly Parton vehicle is extremely cheesy.  And extremely sappy.  Fortunately, the humour is hilarious and the script (by Maria S. Schlatter, no stranger to comedy) gives Baranaski the best lines, which she delivers like a top notch comic.  It is an odd blend of hilarity and sappiness.  One cannot help but cheer for the good spirit of the film.  And for Dolly Parton now at the age of 74, delivers her brand of Christmas magic in her rhinestones.

The film is a Netflix original making its debut Sunday November 22nd.  As Parton, the angel sings in the movie: “We all need a little Christmas.”

Trailer: https://tvline.com/2020/10/22/dolly-parton-christmas-on-the-square-netflix-trailer-video/


THE LAST VERMEER (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Dan Friedkin

An artist, Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) is suspected of selling a valuable painting, a Vermeer, to the Nazis, but there is more to the story than meets the eye.  After the war (the film opens with the setting in May 29, 1945),  Lt. Joseph Piller (Claes Bang) becomes an investigator assigned the task of identifying and redistributing stolen art, resulting in the flamboyant van Meegeren being accused of collaboration — a crime punishable by death.  But, despite mounting evidence, Piller, with the aid of his assistant, Minna Holmberg (Vicky Krieps), becomes increasingly convinced of Han's innocence and finds himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save his life.   The film follows the relationship between the two men, the investigation and the resulting trial where van Meegeren is tried for death.

Director Friedkin’s dedication to the project, he himself a lover of the arts is apparent from the details of his film.  The research that goes into proving a painting’s authenticity is clear in the execution of the courtroom scene.  In reality, there were a total of seven Vermeer paintings Han van Meegeren sold to the Nazis between 1936 and 1942; every one of them was highly valued by Hitler’s top officers. 

The film examines the very nature of art is enigmatic — how it’s created, why it moves us, and what classifies it as great in the eyes of experts and in history.   In one segment, the failed van Meegeren gives his spill of how he has been wronged by the art world - how his work had been degraded by critics because he did not play the game.  The value a civilization puts on its art and its artists the film shows, reflects itself, and how it views its inner life and values

Though set in the Netherlands, the dialogue of the film is English with European accents.  It would have been more authentic if the film was shot in Dutch with subtitles.  In one scene, a character talks about redemption then saying that more importantly is survival being the key.  The word importantly is a word that has only been used in the last 4 years or so in the English language and certainly not in1945, after the Second World War.  It is just as if a character in the film made a mistake and says: “My bad!” or uses the word ‘mother fucker” again terms never used in those times.

THE LAST VERMEER is a handsomely mounted production with the departments of production design, costumes, hair and make up and even music deserved top marks.  The one scene where troops in their vehicles observed from a window before the camera moves to the outside is an impressive image to remember.

The two leads deliver top notch performances complementing each other.  Dane actor Claes Bang plays the Jewish investigator in a controlled intensity that contacts Guy Pearce outlandish artist.  Bang has been in recent films about art paintings like THE SQUARE and THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY including this one.  Pearce appears to have a fondness of playing weird outlandish characters as in his recent films such as the Reverend in BRIMSTONE.

For those who love courtroom drama, there is an excellent 15 minute piece that should satisfy fans.  And for those who love plot twists there is a solid discovery at the film’s climax, not to be revealed in this review.  It is really hard to believe that all these incredible events are based on a true story.   The film is adapted from the novel ‘The Man who made Vermeers’ by Jonathan Lopez.

THE LAST VERMEER opens November 20 in theatres (where permitted) across Canada!  It is an absorbing, handsomely mounted production of an incredible true story on art and the depths human beings go to achieve their goals.



Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Swiss Director Alexandre O. Phillipe is best known for the documentary films DOC OF THE DEAD, THE PEOPLE vs. GEORGE LUCAS, and most important of all, the 2017 post-modern documentary examination of the Psycho shower scene directed by Alfred Hitchcock entitled 78/52.  LEAP OF FAITH is about the making of THE EXORCIST as told by its director William Friedkin.

LEAP OF FAITH is all about filmmakers and filmmaking.  It should delight and inspire filmmakers and cineastes and then some.   The name William Friedkin should be familiar to those and if not, it is probably time then it is time to sit up and pay attention.  LEAP OF FAITH is primarily director Friedkin sitting on his armchair with fire burning in the fireplace background speaking to the camera on filming his most famous work, William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST and his contemplation on life.  Though one might dismiss the latter as subjective nonsense, it is worthwhile examining what  influenced the man in directing the scenes in arguably the scariest movie of all time.  Friedkin’s talking to the camera is interspersed with scenes from THE EXORCIST as well as those form his/her works like KILLER JOE and THE FRENCH CONNECTION where he won the Academy Award for Best Director.

Everything has to do with fate or destiny.  These are the words of Friedkin as the doc opens.  He talks about how he got the job after famous directors like Mike Nichols turned the project down.  He ties in how fate got him into filmmaking as a child, when he entered a movie theatre for the first time at the age of 7.  He describes the unforgettable experience of the light going down and the screen illuminating.  “This is what I want to do,” he told himself.  He talks about the element of fate in Orson Welles CITIZEN KANE.  Besides this element in life, he talks about other incidents that greatly affected his life.  One is a visit to the temple grounds in Kyoto where he saw a display of isolated rocks in a sea of finely combed sand.  He explains how the display got him tearing uncontrollably.

But what most audiences will come to see are Friedkin’s thoughts on filming THE EXORCIST.  There are lots to satisfy here.  Friedkin also talks about how Jason Miller was cast as the Father Karras.  Miller had called Friedkin and told him that he was Father Karras, convinced him.  The studios had to pay off Stacy Keach full salary as he had already been signed on initially for the part. Friedkin also talks about key element in filmmaking and how they were utilized in THE EXORCIST.  One was music.  He had prepared the great Bernard Herrmann  to score his movie.  The score was not right.   Friedkin also talks about grace notes and other devices.  The most important segment of the doc is his take on the last scene in THE EXORCIST where Father Karras jumps out the window to his death with the demon inside him.

Firedkin also talks about images and the effect of paintings on his images.  The misty image of the priest outside the house below a street lamp with his figure illuminated from the bedroom light coming from the upper storey of the house in THE EXORCIST is a masterpiece.

This lyrical and spiritual cinematic essay on THE EXORCIST is exactly what the doctor ordered for ones faith to be restored in the cinema during these times when movie theatres are being shut down left and right.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5FXjdKxgrA&feature=youtu.be



Directed by Ken Cunningham

After 9 theatrical films including the first one directed by George Lucas and multiple spin-offs including TV and video games, comes yet another spin off made with Lego.  The Lego film franchise is also growing so tremendously that I myself cannot remember all the Lego films made so far.

The STAR WARS stories have already morphed into too many parts going back and forth in time so it could be good to know where in time this holiday special stands in terms of the series.

Directly following the events of  STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (the only STAR WARS film I have not seen),  Rey leaves her friends while preparing for Life Day and training young Finn, to set off on a new adventure with BB-8 to gain a deeper knowledge of the Force.   But before he is able to At a mysterious Jedi Temple, she is hurled into a cross-timeline adventure through beloved moments in Star Wars cinematic history, coming into contact with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan and other iconic heroes and villains from all nine Skywalker saga films.  But will she make it back in time for the Life Day feast and learn the true meaning of holiday spirit?  It is obvious she does as the film emphasizes the importance of family, even over saving the Galaxy.

   The filmmakers put outlandish comedy over action in the film and it works!  Even when the fight scenes occur, the villain says: “No more talkie talkie, more fightie  fightie!”   There are humour and laugh out moments every minute with jokes like the choice of an appropriate title ‘supreme leader’  or the plot of ‘tossing Skywalker down the reactor’.  The villain’s main ingenious plan: “Grab Skywalker and friends and toss them down the reactor!”  The LEGO films are fast and furiously funny compared to the STAR WARS films which are action packed.  The blend works as director Cunningham is clearly aware that one can only incite so much action or thrills from Lego figures.  So he correctly goes for hilarity.

It should be noted that this film is derived from a 1978 STAR WARS TV spin-off called THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.  This was never rebroadcast nor released as a home video due to negative reception.   Directed by Steve Binder, it was the first Star Wars spin-off film, set between the events of the original 1977 film and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980).   In the similar storyline that ties the special together, following the events of the original film, Chewbacca and Han Solo attempt to visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate "Life Day”. The characters in the LEGO version are changed due to the different time setting.

One might cringe at this collaboration between Lucasfilm and LEGO, but this short 44 minute works.  It is totally fun and entertaining.  It is also a good and safe idea that it is released on the Disney+ streaming service.

 THE LEGO STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL premieres Tuesday, November 17 on the streaming service.


Directed by Jeff Gibbs

The opening credits boldly informs the audience of Michael Moore being the executive producer of this environmental documentary -  the title taken from PLANET OF THE APES, a film where humans lose control of their planet.   Directed by Jeff Gibbs who is co-producer with Moore on a couple of films like BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and FAHRENHEIT 9/11, the doc is certainly one fashioned in the style of the Michael Moore films - which is to wake audiences up to the issue at hand and to do something.  Gibbs' aim is to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late.

The doc begins with various bystanders being asked the question: “How long do human beings have?”  The answers are varied, but they all share a common tread.  They all share the effect of a deteriorating planet, which everyone agrees upon.

The film traces writer/editor/director Gibbs how he became involved as an environmentalist at a very young age.  There are shots of him at work at various ages, and in different movements at different places.

Is there hope?  The film shifts to ex-President Barack Obama as he takes a positive stance on the issue, meeting with Biden and Al Gore, promising lots of money for renewable energy.

The film shares certain issues with the recent doc I AM GRETA about the Swede girl who scolds politicians and those who have been given the opportunity of making a difference in climate change.  They do very little to nothing.

Important facts revealed in the doc include what little effect solar panelling and wind turbines really do in renewable energy.  Solar Panels last around 10 years.  Mountain areas are being cleared for wind turbine construction sites, raising the question if this is the legacy that is desired to be left behind.  Everything renewal is not what seems  The Green Environmental Company is bought over and owned by Enbridge Gas.

The doc gives valuable insight on Biomass, what many believe is green renewable energy.  Biomass and biofuels get energy by turning trees.  The number of Biomass plants around the country is disturbingly increasing.  When company spokespeople are asked about Biomass, they display ignorance.

But most insightful is the doc showing that Al Gore is full of shit.  The doc shows how he benefited from fooling the world of his supposedly green efforts.

Gibbs says, as Greta does and only a few others will – that “we are losing the battle to stop climate change because we are following environmental leaders, many of whom are well-intentioned, but who’ve sold out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America.” This film is the wake-up call to the reality which we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the so-called “environmental movement’s” answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. “It’s too little, too late,” says Gibbs. “Removed from the debate is the only thing that might save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. Why is this not the issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business.”

PLANET OF THE HUMANS is now available on Apple TV (iTunes), Amazon, YouTube Movies, Vudu, and Google Play





Directed by Mark Rohl

As Christmas arrives, so do the Christmas movies - and Netflix has a handful of them.  THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES and THE PRINCESS SWITCH both Netflix original movies debuted in 2018 and both films 2 years later emerge with their sequels, both debuting on Netflix within one week of each other.  They share the same traits.  They are pale comparisons to the original.  PRINCESS SWITCH and SWITCHED AGAIN share the same director, Mark Rohl.

It takes 5 minutes at the film’s start to get the audience on par with the plot of the sequel - mostly done with voiceover.   The story follows Margaret Delacourt, the Duchess of Montenaro, who suddenly inherits the throne to her home country of Montenaro. As her Christmas coronation approaches, she and Stacy switch places once again so Margaret can fix her relationship with Stacy's friend Kevin.  Unbeknownst to both women, a third look-alike, Margaret's wicked cousin Lady Fiona, disguises herself as Margaret in a scheme to steal the throne.  Vanessa Hudgens plays all three roles.

The Duchess, Margaret is torn between two male suitors - the handsome Antonio (Tony), the chief of staff who has known her since childhood schooldays and in her employ in the palace and her old flame Kevin.  The audience is kept guessing who the one she ultimately choses - not that anyone would really care.  But the story plays like the typical but dressed up Christmas romantic comedy.  I would pick Tony - more handsome and more charming.  Tony is also more suited for the current State of Affairs.

The question is the excuse for Margaret and Stacy to switch again.  Is there a need to such and will they do the switch?   Obviously yes, or this movie will not exist, but it is a sorry not really credible excuse for the switch.  They switch so that Margaret can find out more about Kevin and their possible rekindling relationship.  At this point, the film goes downhill, not that it had been uphill at any point.  One knows for sure that Kevin is the one for Margaret and the other more handsome beau left to do menial State of Affairs duty for the fictitious Kingdom - again, not that anyone cares.  The problem of the audience distinguishing between Margaret and Stacy as they are both played by the same actress arises.  Before, one can tell the difference, as Margaret would speak with a British accent.  Now that they have switched, Margaret has to to speak that way to fool the other characters in the cast.

The production sets, costumes, music departments all do a solid job for the Christmas Kingdom.  One cannot help but recall that THE PRINCESS SWITCH is a rip-off of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, the last time I can recall made into a movie not too long ago in 1977 entitled CROSS SWORDS in the U.S. directed by Richard Fleischer with Raquel Welch.

At its worst, the plot is once again completely predictable, with the film going downhill into cliched territory (as most romantic comedies do).  Both Margaret and Stacy, during the switch, discover their true love while Fiona gets her come-uppance.  (Many years of Community Service.  Really?)  The only fun thing in the film is observing all the fake British accents.

The film is now playing on Netflix.



Directed Tom Jennings

One might think that Tom Wolf’s novel THE RIGHT STUFF has been adapted to death in film adaptations.  The best of this is the critically acclaimed but commercially failure THE RIGHT STUFF directed by Philip Kaufman in 1983 that went on to win 4 Academy Awards.  On October the 9th, Disney+ aired the Warner Bros. TV production series THE RIGHT STUFF with 8 different episodes that ends on November the 29th, the date this new doc from National Geographic opens. 

The series plays more like a soap opera concentrating on the families of the astronauts, their family problems, astronauts’ affairs and fights.  Directed by various directors, the series is all over the place, and interest is lost by the mid section of the episodes.  It is good timing that the doc starts after the series has ended, as who would want to watch a  dramatization of real events when one can watch THE REAL RIGHT STUFF as a documentary.

The doc could have arrived earlier.  It is now nearly six decades after NASA successfully sent its first astronaut into space, restoring the world’s faith in the U.S. space program.   THE REAL RIGHT STUFF ventures back to the very beginning of the high-stakes space race era, always emphasizing that American must beat the Russians in the space race.  It tells the remarkable true story of the nation’s first astronauts, the original Mercury 7, and pulls from hundreds of hours of archival film and radio broadcasts, interviews, home movies and other rare and never-before-seen material to catapult viewers back to the late 1950s.  The doc is clearly free  of modern day narration and interviews.  This is not surprising as most of the astronauts are gone  now.  John Glenn the first astronaut of the Mercury 7 to orbit the Earth died at the age of 95 in 2016.  Narration is done mostly by Tom Wolfe, the author of the novel as well as the various news broadcasters as archive footage of the launches and commentary are seen on screen.  Director Jennings has assembled a whole lot of archive footage together (with editor David Tilman) to deliver a cohesive narrative, to his credit.  Viewers are thus given unparalleled access to the early days of the space race.

The best parts are when the doc gets into action/thriller mode especially with the footage of the flights of John Glenn and Scott Carpenter.  Carpenter’s was the most thrilling as he lost communications between NASA during the last bout of his flight.  Not until his pod was opened was it certain that he had made it.  His wife Renee’ reactions, shown in the footage, add to the suspense.

The doc aims also to serve as a history lesson on the space program - on the urgency of the program (to beat the Russians; to maintain National Pride); its beginnings, challenges and successes and the politics that went on with it.

THE REAL RIGHT STUFF is a comprehensive examination of the Space Program as well as the Mercury 7 astronauts that serves as a more efficient watch than the 8-episode TV series.



Directed by Grant Singer

Shawn Peter Raul Mendes is a 22-year old Canadian singer and songwriter.  He gained a following in 2013, posting song covers on the video-sharing application Vine. He has since released three studio albums, headlined three world tours, and received several awards.

To his credit, in 2018, he became the first artist to achieve four number-one singles on the Adult Pop Songs chart before the age of 20 as well. In 2019, he released the hit singles "If I Can't Have You" and "Señorita", with the latter peaking at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100.

The doc on Shawn Mendes can hardly be called a biography since it is hardly fitting for a biopic be made on someone who is only 22.  22 is less than a quarter the age that most artists live to.  When the film opens, the audience sees Mendes insisting that this is not about his ego, but the doc seems to show otherwise, with one scene with him spreading out of his arms like the Jesus figure in Rio de Janeiro and in the repeated scenes of him taking a shower displaying his chiseled youthful body

There is one main problem of this doc.  One is its subject.  Mendes, the subject is too young for a full biopic to be made of him.  Secondly, the target audience is likely to be young teen females infatuated with this singer, as evident by images of his huge base of young females fans during his concerts.   It is difficult for adults above the age of 25 to have Mendes as a role model, even more difficult when it is noted that Mendes had Justin Bieber as his career role model.   Not to put Mendes down, I do like his songs especially his hit “Treat You Better”.  At best, the doc shows the artist at his self-discovery and with his family and friends and at his most vulnerable.

Mendes is talented.  He learnt the guitar by watching YouTube videos.  He learnt how to survive in the music industry.  His only downside in life, well he is only 22, is when he had medical problems with his vocal cords and had to cancel his Rio concert.

Besides showing Mendes in the shower, his huge number of female teen fans screaming or crying when one of his concerts is cancelled, there are shots of him with his girlfriend, Camila and his family.

Time Magazine listed Mendes as one of the most influential 100 people of the year.  This may be true.  One can hope that this teen will grow up to be a good citizen, make a difference in the world and not fall into the traps of fame.  In the doc, Mendes did confess that the enjoys hanging around with family and friends and smoking the odd joint.  I have nothing against drugs - in fact joints are not longer illegal in Canada - I do wish the best for this undoubtedly talented and influential singer.  The doc does bring back for adults good memories of youth, especially for me when I was once young and pretty, but in the later years, one can only look back at what good one has done to make a difference in the world or in others.

SHAWN MENDES: IN WONDER is available on Netflix from Monday November the 23rd.


SOUND OF METAL (USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Darius Marder

SOUND OF METAL is an American drama of a drummer who loses his hearing.  A first time feature, it is aptly directed by co-written by Darius Marder, and by the looks of the film is a director to be reckoned with.

The film goes through the typical story line expected of a drummer losing his hearing.  First, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is introduced, first when performing as a drummer with his singer girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke).  The performance involves very loud music and sound, as is such when a live band performs.  Personally, I hate live band performances, especially in an enclosed bar or club due to this reason of overloud music.  I am glad that era has passed, and it is DJ mixed music that prevails.   This loudness is hinted as the cause of Ruben deafness.  The film goes through the usual denial and then acceptance by Ruben. The doctor’s advice to Ruben says it all and explains the hearing problem.  Of course, Ruben, being the person that he is - wants a quick cure.  Which is not possible.  The hearing could be improved by the eliminated exposure of loud noises; implants that will help.  But they are costly at $40 and $80 thousand a pop.  It is revealed later that Ruben is a rehabilitated drug addict who has done the hard stuff like heroin.  But he is sober and his girlfriend Lou is very sympathetic and loving.  His sponsor makes him go meet Joe (Paul Raci), who leads a deaf community. With the help from them, Ruben struggles to accept his situation.

It is in the deaf community that the film takes a more sombre turn.  Ruben is taken away from the world of loud noise and immersed in a totally different world of quiet, where the deaf community accepts their predicament and do not consider it a handicap.  Ruben struggles with this, always hoping to get mishearing back again.  As such, he does not fit in the community.  The actors in the deaf community are genuinely deaf, giving the film the feel of authenticity.

One must give credit to the sound engineers (led by sound designer Nicolas Becker) working on the film.  The film alternates among silence, muffled and distorted sounds and normal sounds so that the audience feels what Ruben goes though.

This is Ruben ’s story which looks very much like a true biography of many a drummer or band performer.

Riz Ahmed (THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, his best film) is in real life a rapper and acted as a rapper in the upcoming 2020 film MOGUL MOWGLI.  His passionate performance in this film shows.  For the film, Ahmed took six months of drum lessons and also learned American Sign Language.

It is interesting to note that heavyweights Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts were initially signed on to play the duo but Ahmed and Cooke perform admirably.  Ahmed, an actor demanding more recognition, gets my vote for best actor of the year.  An actor going all out with research and study for a role in a film should be respected.

SOUND OF METAL opens in select theatres including Virtual TIFF Bell Lightbox and digitally and on demand Dec 4th.



TEAM MARCO (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Julio Vincent Gambuto

If the premise of a grandfather moving into the grandson’s room, invading his space and privacy sounds familiar, it is the identical one for TEAM MARCO and the recent Tim Hill Comedy THE WAR WITH GRANDPA, the latter being more heavyweight featuring Robert De Niro as grandpa.

In TEAM MARCO, the script co-written by director Julio Vincent Gambuto adds in the sport of bocce ball, something that I have not heard of before.  Apparently bocce, of Italian origin is an extremely popular sport quite similar to the French pétanque that I know of, as I studied French at the Alliance Francaise where they had pétanque matches on the weekend.  Similar but different.  Marco forms a team to challenge his grandfather’s in a bocce match.  Unlike boxing, football or hockey, bocce is a quiet game where one can hardly get terribly excited screaming from their seats while watching the game.  So, director/writer Gambuto has other tricks up his sleeve during the confrontational bocce match, not to be revealed in this review.

The story involves the typical precocious 12-year old boy obsessed with video games, his cell phone and his iPad.  Marco (Owen Vaccaro) hardly leaves the house and his mother, Anna (Anastasia Ganias) has to ration him screen time.   It is currently just the two of them as the father, Richie (Louis Cancelmi) has apparently left the household for some new woman.  But when Marco's grandmother dies and his grandfather moves in, Marco's life is turned upside-down and he's forced…   to go play outside.    Nonno" (Grandpa) introduces him to bocce ball and to the neighbourhood crew of old Italian men who play daily at the local court.   With sport, laughter and love, Marco finds connection to other people and rounds up a team of neighbourhood kids to take on Marco's grandfather and his pals.

Both THE WAR WITH GRANDPA and TEAM MARCO are funny enough.  Though there is no Oscar Winner in TEAM MARCO, Anthony Patellis (well-known actor from THE SOPRANO) holds his own.  But it is Owen Vaccaro who plays 12-year old Marco steals the show.

Despite the familiar storyline, director Gambuto thankfully holds back the sappiness and lets the charm of the script follow through.  The inclusion of an Italian family with Italian jokes adds a little spice to the story.  The film is set in present day Staten Island, New York City.   The film side-tracks a bit with Anna and Richard, when the father suddenly shows up at Marco’s birthday party.  Director Gambuto has also done his homework on game technology and what appears on screen would be fully appreciated by young teens hooked on gaming.  Nothing really surprising occurs in the script so charm is Gambuto’s weapon which he  uses quite effectively together with a few nostalgic songs like “Till There Was You” the 1957 song from the musical THE MUSIC MAN.

TEAM MARCO is a harmless family comedy with a message that is a bit too obvious - real friends is more important than gaming. Perhaps a film, parents should force their kids to watch!



THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (Canada 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Matthew Rankin

In Mathew Rankin’s feature debut THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, he draws his inspiration from the old movies in terms of German impressionism and from more recent fellow Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Madden’s gothic surreal films.  THE TWENTIETH CENTURY is closest to Madden’s THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (2015) in which both films share chapters on weird competitions taken by the film’s characters. 

The film is an epic of Mackenzie King, or more accurately his quest to become Canada’s Prime Minister, told in 10 Chapters set in the Toronto of 1899.  Chapters titles go like these…  Chapter 1 is entitled :In how Mackenzie falls in love; Chapter 2: Dominion School of Brotherhood; Chapter 3: The Solitary Vice (of boots) and so on.  These are chapters that affect and are part of Mackenzie’s life, though not necessarily connected with each other.  But they serve to tie the various segments of the film, disconnected though they may seem into a narrative whole. 

The film has a refreshing humour and it a laugh-out loud moment every minute or so, that is both fresh and surreal.  Toronto looks like a Kafka-is society with its oddly shaped architectures and weird goings-on.  Rankin includes some sexual kinkiness with Mackenzie developing and  indulging in  his boot fetishes that eventually lead him into some trouble.  He is warned by a Dalai Lama looking priest who gives him a cactus plant that symbolizes a warning from him.  When Mackenzie masturbates to the boots, the cactus spurts gooey liquid at the top.  In short, the film is a bizarre biopic of William Lyon Mackenzie King (David Beirne), which reimagines the former Canadian Prime Minister’s early life as a series of abject humiliations, both professional and sexual.  Though cartoonish in its looks, Beware! - as there are segments of S&M, violence, sex, humiliation and other assorted nasties that should all be taken with a grain of salt. 

Director Rankin dresses his lady characters with moustaches or have them performed by males in hideous drag.  The dialogue is equally strange.  Mackenzie’s proposal of marriage to his mother’s nurse, Nurse Lapointe includes taking advantage of family discounts.

The film, set in Toronto with many Torontonian references like the Baron of Mississauga (aka Lady Violet) and Ossington Apartments that might go over the heads of audiences not living in Toronto.  Mackenzie’s gifts include a log from Hyde Park and a bouquet of sticks from the Cabbagetown Ravine.  Still the film is a most original delight.  Canada is described as one failed orgasm after another by Lady Violet.

Politics, as would enter into any film abut a Prime Minister rears its head in terms of contests like races replacing world wars.  The race forms the film’s climax.

Winner of the Best Canadian First Feature Film Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, THE TWENTIETH CENTURY set in both English and French opens in virtual theatres this week.  With the aim to shock and surprise with weirdness of images, dialogue and characters, the film gets my vote for Best Canadian feature of the year.


VANGUARD (China 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Stanley Tong

Director Stanley Tong and action comedy star Jackie Chan team up once again (RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, FIRST STRIKE) in their 9th collaboration in what they do best - ridiculous tongue-in-cheek martial-arts action comedy.   Asians, especially those in Hong Kong are familiar with this genre of action comedy, most films making the big bucks in the Asian box-office.  For westerners, this might be a first and unfamiliar look at the genre.  VANGUARD, like other films in the genre, is entertaining guilty fun with superior choreographed action sequences.  Just don’t underestimate the artistic excellence in other departments.  Editor Chi Wai Yau does a remarkable job splicing together the action scenes during the Chinese New Year celebrations in London.  VANGUARD has a much larger budget than most similar films with shooting taking place in 9 cities across 5 countries including London, Dubai, Zambia, India, and China.

VANGUARD, the head of which is played by Jackie Chan, is a covert security company made up of ex-military and mercenaries who supply protection and security services for the very rich and famous.  One of their employers is an accountant who had unknowingly made money for an evil villain who seeks weapons for mass destruction.  Omar, who is affiliated with the world’s deadliest mercenary organization, wants money from the accountant due to him or he will kill any of his family members, one of whom is in Africa supporting animal rights.  The African segments with the wild animals are especailly cheesy.

The plot or story in this kind of film hardly matters.  It is just an excuse for action comedy in which Jackie Chan is an expert of.  He is joined here by other younger fighters to provide the excitement and entertainment expected of his fans.

VANGUARD has a wide theatrical release in the U.S. and Canada including drive-ins and IMAX theatres on November 20, 2020.    Link to find theatre nearby screening this film: 






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DOC NYC 2020 Film Review of BARE

11 Nov 2020

DOC NYC 2020 Coverage:  Film: BARE

The site will not be covering the DOC NYC 2020 this year.  However, one film will be mentioned and reviewed.

DOC NYC 2020 Film Festival (Special Review)

BARE (Belgium 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Aleksandr M. Vinogradov

This eye-opening dance documentary begins with shots of parts of the male human body.  With close ups, its takes time to distinguish which part of the body the camera is focussing on.  When the image of a hairy penis appears, it would seem that one should be comfortable with male nudity to watch this doc - just as one should be comfortable with male nudity in order to appreciate the choreography of Belgian dance Master Thierry Smits.

The doc continues with a short clip of the auction process where the dancers are selected and the unsuccessful ones sent off.  Practices ensue.  During the process Smits, speaking in a blend of French and English is totally respectful and polite to the dancers.  One would envision some friction between Smits and his dancers, but none are shown.

Eleven naked men audition, rehearse and perform for the premiere of master Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits’s new contemporary dance piece called Anima Ardens.  Mixing intimate rehearsal footage with extensive and breathtaking dance sequences, BARE follows the choreographer and his team as they work (from audition to premiere) to explore difficult, often taboo subjects through nudity and dance.  It is a bold and enlightening exploration, erotic no doubt, with BARE skin on display, of artistic conflict, gender, and sexuality the one constant is the conceit that the body is the last bastion of personal freedom.

In the words of Smits, it is erotic nudity not obscene nudity but beautiful nudity on display.

Russian director Aleksandr M. Vinogradov is also of dance background.  Together with Thierry Smits, they provide an unforgettable experience, with yet another insightful view of the art of dance.

The climax of the film is the premiere performance.  This is reserved for the doc’s last 5 minutes which only short clips of the dance are shown.

The virtual 11th edition of America’s largest documentary festival, DOC NYC runs from November 11th to 19th and will be available online throughout the US.

Trailer: https://youtu.be/0sTZHMJge7A

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Cinefranco 2020

07 Nov 2020

Cinefranco 2020

Cinéfranco 23rd annual festival of International and Canadian Francophone cinema will be held online from Friday, November 20 – Saturday, November 28 with 17 features, 2 shorts programs, post-screening Conversations, and Panels, using the Eventine festival platform, accessed at www.cinefranco.com   Two new films will be added daily with 48 hr for a household to view once a stream is activated.  Closing Night on November 28 will see three new films on the platform.

Because of Covid-19, the films in Cinefranco this year will be screened virtually instead of in physical theatres.   This allows for the first time, Cinéfranco to expand its reach across all of Canada, where lovers of French language cinema can also discover the Cinéfranco community. 

Cinéfranco 2020’s program includes feature films from Belgium, Canada, France, Lebanon, Morocco, and Senegal reflecting the diversity of the Francophone world.  The festival also celebrates filmmakers from Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick with the return of the popular Courts toujours (In Short) programs.

“In a year to remember, full of challenges for everyone, we at Cinéfranco are blessed and privileged to be able to continue bringing the best of International and Canadian francophone cinema to our audiences”,  said Marcelle Lean, Artistic Director and Founder.  “During the pandemic we’ve stayed in touch with our community online, presenting films and conversations and are looking forward to embracing new audiences across Canada during the festival. The pandemic has given us all reason to pause and reflect as well as witness amplified inequities. We’ve curated this year’s film selection with that, as well as a need for some levity, in mind.”

Marcelle Lean, I am proud to say, is a personal friend of mine, whom I known since the festival’s inception.  She is always cheerful, helpful with an astonishing passion for film notably francophone films.

For complete information of the festival including descriptions of the films, please click the Link:



AU NOM DE LA TERRE (In the Name of the Land) (France/Belgium  2019) ****
Directed by Edouard Bergeon

A modern JEAN DE FLORETTE tale of farming the land, AU NON DE LA TERRE tells the hardship of a farmer and his family.  According to the film credits there is a farmer who commits suicide every 2 minutes in France.  The film is based on a true story which will literally jolt you out of your seat at the film’s climax when reading the tombstone.  The film begins with a young Pierre Jarjeau (Guillaume Canet) returning home from Wyoming at the age of 25 to marry his fiancee (Veerle Baetens) and take over the family farm, Les Grands Bois (the grand woods) which he purchases from his strict no-nonsense father (Rufus).  Pierre and family work extremely hard with their hired help with crops and goat breeding.  The goats and kids are extremely adorable and thank God the audience is spared from seeing these any of these creatures slaughtered.  It is the human beings that do the suffering as the farm goes into debt, followed by a huge fire that destroys the farm buildings.  Director Bergeon captures the beauty and hardships of farm life aided by superb performances all around with newcomer Anthony Bajon as the young son deserving mention.  Not an easy watch, seeing human beings suffer so much but the Jarjeau family story is a story that needs to be told.

Trailer: https://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19584392&cfilm=268282.html

BAAMUM NAFI (Nafi’s Father) (Senegal 2019) ***1/2

Directed ny Mamadou Dia

From theAfrican country of Senegal comes this Shakespearean ROMEO AND JULIET tragedy of a couple in love amidst warring families.  The families in this case are two brothers, who live in a small town, one, Tierno, the acting imam and the other, his rich brother Ousmane who wishes to control the two by means of controlling the people by means of bribing them with money from who Tierno terms a terrorist.  Nafi is Tierno’s only high spirited daughter who is engaged to be married against his wishes to Ousmane’s son.  Tierno is totally against the marriage despite his wife and daughter’s wishes.  Politics get ugly and everyone suffers especially the young couple.   The two brothers have affiliations to two different forms of Islam.  Director Dia’s drama is a slow burn but no less effective as he engages his audience to examine the detrimental effects of personal differences an personal and political gain.  The film also provides a welcome change of an unfamiliar Senegal setting with a universal story with a strong message.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpv49NtiHEo


LA BELLE EPOQUE (France 2019) ***

Directed by Nicolas Bedos

A high concept comedy that turns out too smart for its execution. This French comedy follows an old fashioned cartoonist, Victor (Daniel Auteuil) now out of work with print making way to websites that do not favour cartoons.  To make matters worse, his wife, Marianne (Fanny Ardant) is totally modern with her self driving Tesla, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.  She is bored with him.  Victor engages in a service called ‘Time Travellers’ that takes clients to their desired past historical moments.  Victor picks 1974 the time he had first met and fallen in love with his wife.  Writer/director Bedos (MR. & MRS ADELMAN) creates an original premise blending modern technology with old-fashioned French romance.  Bedos edits his film at quite the manic pace so that the audience has hardly any time to breathe, thus often missing the simplicity of comedy.   Still this is Bedos’ unique style that is still entertaining, nevertheless.  Auteuil and Ardant are a delight to watch on screen.


LA BONNE EPOUSE (HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE)(France/Belgique 2020) ****

Directed by Martin Provost

French director Martin Provost returns with his SERAPHINE star Yolande Moreau in a more playful yet no less engrossing piece centred on the role of the female in society.  The society here is set in the year 1969 when life in France expects females to be selfless, obedient and docile.   These ‘ideal’ traits are taught to young girls in an institute founded by Van Der Beck (François Berléand) who has a keen eye for young flesh.  L’ecole is run by his wife, Paulette (Juliette Binoche), sister (Moreau) and a ultra-strict disciplinarian nun (Noémie Lvovsky).  The girls are less than thrilled and like most girls of their age are more interested in mischief and sex.  Binoche, Moreau and Lvivsky are so entertaining to watch that they cloud any appearance of the students and their antics.  The film also questions when a good wife can become her own woman when the husband dies from choking from his sister’s rabbit dish and she has to take control.   Director Provost is here in lighter vein and in control of the subtle hilarity.

Trailer: https://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19585872&cfilm=271733.html

ÉNORME (France 2019) ***

Directed by Sophie Letourneur

   ÉNORME stars Jonathan Cohen and Marina Foïs s a couple expecting their first baby.  Foïs plays the world famous concert pianist while Cohen plays her husband who also acts as her PR, assistant, manager.  a baby is out of there question for the busy couple.  But when the husband changes his mind after delivering a baby on board a plane, he tricks her into a pregnancy.  She grew totally enormous as a result while he gains weight in the process.  Sounds funny, and at times it is, especially for couples who have had a baby since they can relate to this kind of comedy.  To her credit, Director Letourneur tries everything in her power to make her film funny, from gross jokes like smelling the water when the water is broken, to her actors hamming it out to the fullest.  The camera angles showing the enormity of the wife’s pregnancy are at times overdone but funny.  Sometimes the humour works, and at other times it does not.

Trailer: https://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19585671&cfilm=258205.html

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

NADIA, BUTTERFLY begins with a lengthy 20 minute swimming session that introduces Olympic swimmer Nadia (Laterine Savard) ending with the race itself when her team of four win the bronze medal.  The segment shows her doing laps, her arms plunging into the pool water, her arguments with her trainer and interview with the press.  NADIA, BUTTERFLY has its setting in Tokyo 2020 where the Summer Olympics is held, according to the film.  With all of Plante’s efforts to give his film the feel of authenticity, the efforts fall flat since the Olympics in Tokyo had been postponed indefinitely.  Plante could have changed its setting to the Olympics to the 4 years prior.  The heart of the film is Nadia dilemma’s of whether to continue or quit swimming.  If she quits, she goes against the grain of her teammates and coach and if she continues, she will be untrue to herself.  The success of the film also rests on the lead performance by Savard.  Fortunately, being a Bronze medal swimmer herself, she looks the part and also must have given a lot of consideration to her role.

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

QUEBEXIT (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Joshua Demers

Hot on the heals of BREXIT news, comes director Joshua Demers ambitious comedy about Quebec trying to exit Canada as the province tried to in real life in many unsuccessful referendums.  QUEBEXIT adds an additional element of the indigenous people.  So there is the sovereign question of land as argued upon by the Quebecois, the Canadians (in this case New Brunswick) and the Cree indigenous people. The film requires the dialogue to be spoked in three different languages with actions that will show the diversity of Canada.  All this takes place when the construction of an interprovincial pipeline results in a successful third Québec sovereignty referendum, a small road at the Québec-New Brunswick border becomes a lightning of conflict between the new Québec military, the Canadian Armed Forces and two indigenous women who cross the border frequently.  The film is quite funny and relevant, typically for Canadians.  In the film, the groups are loud and intolerant of each other, making cooperation an almost impossible task.


TOUT SIMPLEMENT NOIR (Simply Black) (France 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Jean-Pascal Zadi and John Wax

The funniest film screened at Cinefranco, the documentary has the protagonist, a black Parisien, JP organizing a “Black Lives Matter’ type protest in the heart of the city, at the Place de la Republique.  There is one problem.  He is not very bright and hence having lots of trouble trying to recruit anyone to show up for the protest.  It does not help that he is not that good looking either, with his buck teeth that many insult him with, after her offends them with his personal views.  Oddly he is himself racist only recognizing himself as black and others as not being black enough or mixed (black) raced.  The film is extremely funny when he is filmed on camera or when he has altercations with those that do to agree with him.  The film lags a little in the middle unable o keep up with the hilarious humour at the start.  Omar Sy, the most famous back actor in France has a cameo at the end, though Sy’s scene does not match up to the build up to his appearance.  Still, TOUT SIMPLEMENT NOIR is an entertaining film allowing audiences to laugh at themselves in this politically incorrect rendering of current black matters.  Cinefranco’s Marcelle Lean told me she fought really hard to get this movie, so put this on your must-see list.

Trailer: https://www.cinefranco.com/tout-simplement-noir






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

02 Nov 2020


AMMONITE (UK/Australia/USA 2020) Top 10 *****

Directed by Francis Lee

The setting of AMMONITE (predator shell creatures now extinct) is set in 1840s England.   Acclaimed, self-taught but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and a young woman, Charlotte (Sairise Ronan) sent to convalesce by the sea by her stand offish husband, Roderick Murchison develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.  Mary lives and supports her ailing mother (Gemma Jones) but her work hardly suffices a decent living.

Subtlety and mystery are the two elements that elevate Francis Lee’s (GOD OWN COUNTRY) AMMOITE to one of the best films this year.  Lee has impressed with his last gay film GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (1997) about a about young farmer’s gay relationship.   Both films share common threads though AMMONITE is a period piece on women while GOD’S OWN COUNTRY on men.  But both films see the navigation of love through personal lives that need be changed.  In GOD’S OWN COUNTRY, the male is satisfied with rural life and casual sex.  In AMMONITE, the female is content with her shuttered land sexless life.  Both films involve a stranger entering the protagonists’ lives, awakening their dormant desires resulting in life altering decisions.  Yet ideas are not forced unto the face of viewers.  There is much to be read between the lines or rather to be seen between the images.

Director Lee first developed interest in the real life true character of palaeontologist Mary Anning while looking for a fossil gift for his ex-boyfriend.  But Lee decided not to create a biography of her but to deal with her wok and relationship in a film that deals with her survival, class, gender and landscape.  The result is a lush and emotional gut wrenching story that on paper (about two women discovering a same sex relationship in the quiet seaside of Dorset, England) might sound dull, but on the contrary.  A lot of details and preparations had begun before filming took place.  Actress Winslet learnt about excavating fossils through a real fossiler by spending weeks digging on the beaches in Lyme Regis where the film is set.  Ronan mastered the piano and for her piano playing and needlework for embroidery scenes so that no hand doubles were needed.  Their sex scenes were also done without doubles.

Subtlety is key in the revelation of the story of the two women.  Nothing is said of Mary’s past relationships or whether she had any.  Her displeasure with a local lady, Elizabeth (Fiona Shaw) also a fossiler suggests that they might have had something together.  This is suggested in a scene when Elizabeth places her hand on Mary’s to comfort her.   The attraction of the two is gradual starting from stares and glances.  The relationship between Charlotte and her husband is also left murky.  How Mary lost her father is also omitted in the story as in how Mary gained her wide reputation.

The film is foremost backed by the powerful performance of it two leads, Winslet and Ronan.  Winslet delivers a quiet performance where more can be read from her mannerisms an actions than from the dialogue.  Rona does likewise, hardly speaking a word till she blooms after the spark of love ignites.

AMMONITE is a powerful story led by powerful performances that reveals that much meticulous deliberation is required in the navigation of ones loves and relationships.  Lee’s film, is nothing short of brilliant!




Directed by Paul Leyden

It had to happen - a female version of the FIGHT CLUB.  Thankfully, the filmmakers did not attempt to outdo that series classic.  Instead, it takes a lighter look at the sport from a female point of view.

The premise of CHICK FIGHT is utterly over-the-top unbelievable.  Yet, the audience is to accept the reason of the club’s formation and everything else in the story that goes with it.

The film begins with an early morning in the life of Anna (Malin Akerman).  Anna had just got her car re-possessed.  She has to walk to work.  She later finds that her father is now dating some Chinese dude, so as to explore all aspects of life.  She is then brought by her  best friend, Charlene (Dulcé Sloan) to a female fight club where she discovers a revelation.  Her mother founded the club for women, an underground association so that female can bond and release stress.  If they win a fight, they pin  dollar to the wall.  Anna aims to continue the tradition.

There are too many absurd things that the audience have to believe.  Among them:

-   a female fight club exists

  • everyone respects the rules
  • winner gets nothing in return
  • the reason Anna’s mother kept the club a secret from her
  • why Anna herself wants to train
  • if Anna is such a loser in real life, why the sudden drive
  • the list goes on and on.

So, Anna enlists the help of a dead drunk, Jack Murphy (Alec Baldwin) to train her to fight, so she can beat Olivia (Bella Thorne) one of the club’s star fighters, who she challenges for a match.  Again, why did Anna challenge her?  An she also challenges two others in the process.   Also, Murphy admits to Anna that he gets his fight methods for YouTube, so why is she hiring this man?

For some kind of action comedy, there is nothing really funny about all the antics.  Unless you consider Baldwin falling down drunk half the time and making fool of himself.  But Baldwin still manages to be amusing despite the limited comedic material, having proven himself portraying Trump on SNL.

Males might go for this kind of film to see some skin and to see women beat the shit out of each other.  To each his own.  But for the filmmakers who make the film with the #MeTooMovement in mind, the purpose is totally defeated.

With the lack of a true villain, the story lacks a strong purpose.  Anna’s main opponent, Olivia is just a lady with attitude.

The only other film I remember about women fighting is Robert Aldrich’s THE CALIFORNIA DOLLS about women wrestlers.  That was tacky because it was meant to be, sexy, funny and entertaining while delivering a subtle message on the side.  CHICK FIGHT comes nowhere close in comparison.  CHICK FIGHT, good only for a few laughs is mainly an unfunny, unbelievable and mediocre piece of filmmaking.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wMCCiCSNAY

THE CLIMB (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Michael Angelo Covino

THE CLIMB is clever comedy written by Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin about two characters also named Michael and Kyle.  The characters Michael and Kyle as well as their writers are bff’s (Best Friends Forever).  Being best friends forever is a huge commitment requiring lots of sacrifice, tolerance and the occasional screaming, which the film attempts to demonstrate.  It also involves forgiveness especially in the case of the fictitious story of Kyle and Michael.

Why can be the most critical test of a friendship?  This is likely the question posed to the two writers during the progress of the script.   The worst is when a man sleeps with his best friend’s girl.  Michael does worse.  He has not only slept with Kyle’s fiancee but is still in love with her and in fact ends up marrying her.  When the film opens, Michael confesses to Kyle while cycling together in a hilarious sequence that sets the audience for a film that is radically different from the norm.  The first segment is titled “I’m Sorry” followed by 6 other chapters.

This girl dies before the second chapter begins.  A punishment?  The second chapter called “Let Go” opens with the funeral.  As the other chapters unfold, Michael and Kyle put ways their differences and become friends again.  Then, Kyle is to be married, to Marissa (Gayle Rankin), but Michael ends up sleeping with her, yes, again.

Nothing more should be said on the story so as not to spoil any surprises.  And there are many.

THE CLIMB is not merely a storytelling experience but a very artistic and cinematic one.  The first chapter for example is filmed in one long take lasting a full 10 minutes.  It also looks like a film taken right out of the 70’s.  The camerawork is occasionally outstanding.  In the third segment where a Christmas dinner takes place, the camera spans different rooms from the outside of the house.  Musical numbers are also used to inject some spirit into the storytelling.  At the end of the funeral service in Chapter 2, there is a beautiful a cappella rendering of “They Shall Not be Moved”.   In another three Ukrainian musicians embark on a violin performance.  In the ski segment, the audience gets to enjoy some ski ballet and later on in the film a velodrome bike performance.

THE CLIMB is an extremely well paced film that builds up to a neat climax.  The segment where Kyle falls into the ice while ice fishing is also exciting.

The filmmakers Kyle and Michael appear to love French culture.  Many segments involve French personalities like a French doctor, French cyclists with a few French songs (like ‘What now my Love (et maintenance)’.  The film premiered at Cannes in 2019.

THE CLIMB comes up as totally enjoyable fresh entertainment, demonstrating that smart and funny always works.  This comedy demands a sequel.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr4MKhV5QVw


COME AWAY (UK/USA 2020) **

Directed by Brenda Chapman

COME AWAY depicts the story of a young Peter Pan and a young Alice in Wonderland before they became famous with their stories.  The premise assumes that the audience believe that the two could be siblings.  The problem of Peter and Alice being black is never questioned, but they are children together with their eldest sibling, David of mixed parents, Rose (Angelina Jolie) and Jack Littleton (David Oyelowo).  The film follows Peter and Alice helping their parents overcome the death of David in a drowning accident.

It should be noted that director Brenda Chapman is the first female to win the Academy Award for Best Animated feature, the Disney/Pixar action comedy BRAVE.  BRAVE was totally hilarious and brilliant pitting the young female protagonist up there on par with all the other action heroes.  None of the hilarity or freshness of BRAVE is found in COME AWAY.  Chapman appears to go for glossy sappiness and a half baked plot where the idea of a budding Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan never comes to full fruition.  Perhaps, she is hoping to a few sequels after COME AWAY.

To Chapman’s credit, the film has an impressive fairy tale look that often looks Christamassy at times, making the film ideal to open during the advent season.  The film is shot in Shad Thames (around Tower Bridge) in London as well as Windsor Great Park in both the South Forest and around Johnson's pond. 

The filmmakers are daring enough to go for a mixed raced family where the father is black and the mother, white, both dominated by a wealthy white aunt, Aunt Eleanor (Anna Chancellor) who is symbolized as a wicked witch.

The cast is impressive, consisting of heavyweights like Michel Caine as Charlie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the adult Alice and Derek Jacobi, very briefly.  There is no adult Peter Pan though.  Jolie and Oyelowo are also star names that should draw a decent crowd.

Though basically a family picture with lots of scenes with children playing, story-telling and fantasy and imagination, the main plot of overcoming the death of a child is adult material that will scare children.   The origin of Peter Pan and Alice is dabbling with classic storytelling, which might not go very well with fans of the classics either.

There is hardly any magic or wonder in this outing where the death of the boy, David lingers throughout the film, which Chapman keeps reminding her audience of.  It does not help that father is always in trouble especially regarding his gambling debt.  The scene where he wrecks all his work in a fit of anger also reduces the happiness factor in a holiday movie.  Other darker moments include Rose taking to drink and Peter’s befriending of the lost boys, a group of street urchins that seem to come out of Dicken’s OLIVER TWIST.

COME AWAY will be releasing for EST (English only) on Friday, November 13th. It will be available in both French and English on EST and VOD.  The DVD/Blu-ray date is still TBC.


DATING AMBER (Ireland 2020) ***1/2

Directed by David Freyne

Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) is DATING AMBER (Lola Petticrew) - but for show.   These two high school students embark on a fake affair to combat same sex prejudice in 90s Ireland.

Set in Kildare County, Ireland, Eddie lives with his often absent military father, his mother and know-it-all hilarious younger brother.  Eddie is shy, awkward and is keen on passing the military physical exam to join the army to please his father.  Amber is tom-boyish, lives with her single mom and cleans trailers, which she occasionally rents out by the hour to her schoolmates for a safe place to have sex.

Director Freyne is careful with the details of each scene.  Like they say - the devil is in the details and it is in these details that he gives the film that extra edge.  Take the scene where Eddie and Amber and watching a movie in the theatre each with their bags of popcorn.  Behind them on the right about three rows back is another teen couple.  The girl’s arm is having an up and down motion a bit of humour easily missed if one is not paying attention.  Another detail is at the end when the father offers the son a phone card so that Eddie will call home.  It is so quickly forgotten the important reliance on phone cards to make trunk calls especially in Ireland and the U.K Yet another detail is the small character of Tracy (Emma Willis).  Eddie choses Tracy to snog with, before meeting Amber.  Tracey reminds one of one of comedienne Catherine Tate’s schoolgirl characters, Lauren Cooper in terms of mannerisms and looks.  Lauren is the one with the “Am I bothered?” attitude skits.

The last gay teen comedy that reminds one of HANDSOME DEVIL which incidentally also starred Fionn O’Shea.  The teen actor looks like he is going to make it big in the film business if he can out of being type cast as the awkward gay teen.  Another similarity between the two films is he discovery of another classmate who is gay while seeing him in a gay bar.

DATING AMBER could have very well be a straight romantic comedy if the script is slightly altered.  As such, DATING AMBER would be better enjoyed by the gay persuasion than straight.  For one, coming out and hiding ones sexual identity as a teen is a big thing and every gay teen goes through the same process.  The gay audience can relate as each one have gone through the identical hassle.  Straight audiences would more than likely just brush off the incident.

The homophobia in the 90’s is effectively captured in the film.  Eddie’s straight teacher means well but is homophobic as well, worried than if anyone who night think him gay would cost him problems at work.  The script skips Eddie’s parents reactions at their son’s coming out.  On the other hand, time is invested on Amber’s coming out to her mother.

What is neat in this film is the even distribution of screen time and importance of its two main characters.  Both Eddie and Amber are gay, both have to deal with coming out and both finally come to terms with their sexuality.

DATING AMBER is totally entertaining, more so if one is gay made more effective for the detailed craftsmanship director Freyne puts into his well meaning coming out, coming-of-age comedy.




Pixar Animation Studios, commonly known as Pixar is an American computer animation studio, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios owned by The Walt Disney Company.  Pixar began in 1979 as part of the Lucasfilm computer division before Disney purchased it in 2006. The desk lamp from the studio's 1986 short film of the same name, is the studio's mascot.

Pixar has produced 22 feature films, beginning with Toy Story (1995) which was the first ever computer-animated feature film to its most recent film was Soul (2020), the latter featured in the first episode.   All of the studio's films have debuted with CinemaScore ratings of at least an "A−," which indicates a positive reception with audiences.

INSIDE PIXAR - Inspired is a documentary series of personal and cinematic stories that provide an inside look into the people, artistry, and culture of Pixar Animation Studios the - first collection of stories explores what sparks inspiration and the journey from idea to execution.

The doc includes sneak peaks of the upcoming Pixar movies LUCA and SOUL.

  The Original Docuseries Premieres on Disney+ November 13, 2020.

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




Directed by Tom Kaplan

Kemp Powers is one of the main writers and co-director (with Pete Docter) of the upcoming Pixar film SOUL that opens Christmas Day.  It offers a valuable sneak peak of SOUL and from it, one can tell that this is top class animation and entertainment.  In the episode, Kemp Powers discusses the personal experiences that led him to write a pivotal scene in SOUL.  As the title goes, Powers talks of how he finds inspiration and connection in his writing.  He also emphasizes the team work that goes along with the job and how important it is to meet datelines.  SOUL concerns a jazz musician, Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself.  Kemp talks about his inspiration to create a segment that would make Joe more human.  So, Kemp creates a scene about a black barbershop.  He visits on in his neighbourhood to observe the goings-on in the haircutting place.  The episode shows part of the final product which is amazing.  Afro hair is captured with all its textural complexity.  The goal of making Joes human with this necessary and repeated activity indeed works.




Directed by Erica Wilson

Deanna  is the character art director at Pixar.  She works with the film director and production designer to create the looks of characters from human features to the wardrobe they wear.  She talks about the vintage clothing (which she loves to wear) of one of her characters, Edna Mode in the INCREDIBLES films.  In this short, she tells of the important of having to pivot in order to get inspiration, often when one’s mind goes blank.  This could be just getting out of the house and observing people.  Deanna is currently working on the new Pixar animated film LUCA, directed by Erico Casarosa set in Italy where Deanna herself comes from.  LUCA is set in the Italian Riviera where an unlikely but strong friendship grows between a human being and a sea monster disguised as a human.  Disney sent Deanna to Italy to get inspiration for her work.  Here, she observes notably the sights but the people and their mannerisms and nuances.  She says that it is the details that lifts the animation to greatness. 


Directed by David E. Talbert

If the story of widower Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) and his toy inventions seem familiar, it is also the story of widowed inventor Charactacus Potts played by Dick Van Dyke in the Ken Hughes co-written Roald Dahl film 1968 musical family fantasy CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG based on the Ian Fleming (James Bond) novel.  This is of no surprise as writer/director David E. Talbot has claimed that this film among others was an inspiration for JINGLE JANGLE.  The fact that the film has been inspired by so many musicals is apparent as the film is a lavish production with over-the-top musical numbers, many Carol Reed’s OLIVER-style  but with little surprises as evident in the film’s first scene.

When grandmother (Phylicia Rashad ) is asked by her to tell again the ‘Twas was the night before Christmas story’, one knows immediately granny is going to tell another story, one in which it will turn out that she is one of the story’s characters. 

It is a story where the protagonist, Jeronicus Jangle (an obvious Christmas name).  Jeronicus is a Victorian-era toymaker in the imaginary town of Cobbleton.  The rather unimaginative plot, which would be a major irritant to film critics, revolves around Jeronicus falling on hard times after the death of his wife and this lost spirit and about to be lost shop, the shop of Wonders and Magic.  The old man will learn lessons from his grand-daughter, Journey (Madeken Mills) who will make him see the light.  The villain of the piece is his ex-apprentice, (Keegan-Michale Key) who has stolen his key toy, Don Juan Diego (voiced by Ricky Martin) and his invaluable book of inventions.

The town of Cobbleton looks something right out of a typical Charles Dickens film, where the town folk go around dressed in festive garb carrying baskets and women donning colourful bonnets.

One must give credit to the musical numbers, giving the film the look of a modern stage musical.  The songs by John Legend (who also produced the film) and Philip Lawrence are catchy and worthy of mention.

Talbert’s film is a stunning combination of CGI, stop motion animation and live action.  The elaborate costumed action figures are elaborately detailed and most impressive.

Despite the film suffering from a tedious middle section - the film could have been shorted from its lengthy 2 hours - one must admire and give credit to Talbert for his efforts.  It is clear that he hopes the film become a Christmas classic.  This is also a film caters to the target audience of the Black American with Whitaker, who can sing all his songs beautifully, in the lead and half the folk seen in the film being of colour.  This is not a usual sight for a Christmas film where an all-white cast is the norm, but it is a welcome change - thank you Netflix for offering filmmakers a chance to make a difference.



THE LIFE AHEAD (La Vita Avanti de Ase) (Italy 2020) ***
Directed by Edoardo Ponti

Sophia Loren, star of the Hollywood Golden Age and Italian actress and Academy Awards Winner for her performance in Vittorio De Sica’s (1961) TWO WOMEN, is the prime reason to watch the Netflix distributed Italian movie THE LIFE AHEAD directed by Edoardo Ponti, the son she had with Carlo Ponti.

THE LIFE AHEAD is a 2020 drama film directed by Ponti from a screenplay by Ponti and Ugo Chiti, based upon the novel The Life Before Us by Romain Gary. 

Now at the age of 88, the age of course shows.  No amount of plastic surgery can hide the fact but Loren’s beauty at the ripe age also shows.  She delivers a fierce performance as Madame Rosa, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, now living a secluded life looking after kids of the neighbouring prostitutes.  If the name Madame Rosa sounds familiar, that is also the name of another film, which is also an adaptation of the same novel which starred the late Simone Signoret as the title character.

The film begins with her bag snatched by Momo (short for Mohamed) (Ibrahim Gueye) at the local market.  She is pushed and almost falls down as she claims, when the boy is forced to return the candlesticks (shared from Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES?) that he had stolen from her by the priest who is looking after him.  The priest asks her to look after Momo.  In return for the favour of the returned candlesticks plus a sum of money, Madam Rosa agrees to look after Momo.

Momo is no innocent kid.  He sells for the local drug dealer and makes enough money to buy a nice bike.  Rosa does not really care.

The film examines the bond between the two lonely souls.  Despite differences in age, the two form a bond, especially when they get into difficulties.

Director Point’s film indulges in some melodrama, though there is the usual loud shouting, typical of Italians, which provide some of the film’s humour.  The boy’s mouth is matched by Rosa’s with swear words coming out as common as day.

Loren is a pleasure to watch, reminding one of the days of her youth when she used to deliver unforgettable performances.  The young black actor playing omg holds his own in the presence of the Italian star.

As of the two different versions, I prefer Signoret’s version of MADAME ROSA, just as I prefer watching Signoret to Loren, no disrespect intended.

It should be noted that THE LIFE AHEAD is set in an Italian port compared to the original French setting.  The current topic of immigrants is brought into Ponti’s picture and one can feel the director trying to make a point.  Momo is himself one, from Senegal, now transported to a new place where he has to learn to survive.  Ponti’s film also shows the need for different races to work together.  The image of both Momo and Rosa holding each other’s hands - black and white hands intertwined - is a powerful one.

The film has a limited release on November 6, 2020, followed by digital streaming on Netflix November 13, 2020.



MARTIN EDEN (Italy/France 2019) ***
Directed by Pietro Marcello

Based on the Jack London novel of the same name, Pietro Marcello’s latest film follows a sailor, MARTIN EDEN (Luca Marinelli) trying to remake himself as a writer, in this passionate and timeless story of class consciousness and failed ideals. 

The story is reset to a port town in Italy.  Eden has two things going against him in life.  The first is his falling in love with Elena (Jessia Cressy) who s wealthy and upper-class and way over his social standing.  This second is his desire to succeed and make his living as a writer that is as difficult a vocation as his survival in poverty.  Worst still, his ideals in socialism makes him extremely unpopular with Elena’s family while getting him into trouble with the locals.  Does Martin Eden survive?  Hardly as displayed in a rigorous telling of a tale of hardship and perseverance. 

The period piece is beautifully shot by cinematographers Francesco Di Giacomo and Alessandro Abate, featuring hot new Italian star Luca Marinelli in he title role - all reasons to see this lavish production.

Actor Marinelli, who has been playing everything from a doomed lover to a drug pusher in the past few years (THEY CALL ME JEEG) has finally got a role to be reckoned with.  I have noticed the young actor from films screened during the past few years at the ICFF (Italian Contemporary Film Festival) and he has instantly delved superior work.

MARTIN EDEN, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 opens at Digital TIFF Bell Light box November the 13th.





(Canada 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott

 THE NEW CORPORATION is as the title states, the necessary sequel to The CORPORATION made in 2003 where legal decisions defined corporations as persons and gave them the same legal rights as people.   And the bad results that followed.  The new film examines how, since the 2008 economic collapse, corporations claim to have changed, passing themselves off as socially responsible. 

The film is very current.  Have they really changed?  The FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) stocks are also ruling the world in NASDAQ.  They get in trouble with the government and they claim to self censor.  It ends with the current events of the George Floyd riots and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The film is extremely business technical in the first half before becoming more accessible to everyone when poverty and human rights are addressed.  Another recent doc and a good companion piece, CODED BIAS also addresses human rights looking from the view of face recognition technology. 

The directors have assembled impressive footage as well as important interviewees and subjects.  While taking down corporations by examination of how they continually fool the world (through the rules of an imagined corporate playbook), the film ends on a positive note of change.  A documentary that is educationally informative that calls everyone to action in creating a  better planet to live in.

The doc had its premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

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



Directed by Deborah Shaffer

Co-directed (and edited) by Rachel Reichman

There are two movies here in this insightful documentary entitled QUEEN OF HEARTS.  One shows the work of a photo realist (explained later) and the other the life a devoted mother and housewife.  Audrey Flack has her ups and downs, at one time ready to end it all having lost her passion for living and at another giving others advice on the joy of living.

Audrey Flack had given up on her art.  Her manager is infuriated at her as she can make money at an instant with anything, she then reaching the height of her fame.  Now at the age of 88, Audrey Flack returns to her canvas for the first time in decades, revealing her longtime struggles as an artist and mother to find her rightful place in the art world.

  For those not familiar with the art world or who have not heard of Audrey Flack, Audrey has held a unique place in the history of contemporary art in America.  Feminist, rebel, mother, painter, sculptor and teacher, Audrey's often controversial 40-year career evolved from abstract expressionism in the 1950s to photorealism in the 1970s.  A photo realist is an artist who paints using a photograph as the source - a case of more real than real. It was at the time, looked down by fellow artists, but now more generally accepted.  One of the first women ever included in the famed Janson's History of Art, Audrey continues to create, explore, and inspire with her unique style and indomitable spirit. 

QUEEN OF HEARTS also follows Flack as she takes her work in a brand new direction and reveals her long-term struggles as the mother of a child, Melissa with autism.   The portion of the film on Melissa is ready to break any mother’s heart.  Autism was not that understood at the years around the birth of Mellisa.  Audrey knew that something was wrong with Melissa.  As an adult she could hardly speak and communicate.  Audrey had to tend to her while working as an artist.  Because of Melissa’s disability, Audrey was classified as a refrigerator mother.  She was deemed the reason being unfeeling and secluded Melissa turned out that way.  She makes her point when she says that men can work on their art and then return home to for a good dinner made by their wives.  For her, after work which included tending for Melissa, she has to go home and cook for her husband.  Thank God he second daughter turned out normal.  Both daughters as adults appear on screen.  It is this part of the doc that works into the audience making a solid connection between the human being and the artist.  It is also is what keeps the do so compelling to watch.  Flack is thus a feminist with a reason and one can sympathize with her.

Director Shaffer also shows Audrey at work at her art and has her speak to the camera for a fair bit of the doc.

A solid doc, Shaffer’s study of Audrey Flack clearly shows her as a Queen of Hearts.


ROCKS (UK 2019) ***
Directed by Sarah Gavron

Director Sarah Gavron’s (BRICK LANE, SUFFRAGETTE) is another strong female film this time entering around a black teen school girl under serious duress.  Her mother has not returned home and she has to look after her younger brother while trying to dodge social services.  Her mother has left before but this time has not come back and looks like never going to.  This is the story of Shola (a remarkable performance from newcomer Bukky Bakrov) in what translates to guerrilla filmmaking where the camera follows the girl on all her activities.  Director Gavin demonstrates that life is not easy for the less fortunate.  She shows Rocks maturing as she takes on responsibility.  Stull, Rocks is not the perfect human.  She steals money from those who aid her.  But what is important is her perseverance and humanity towards her younger brother who is too young to understand what is going on.  One wishes the film would take a stronger narrative and a solid path for Shola, but this is Gavron’s style for this film.  ROCKS premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019.


SAINT FRANCES (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by  Alex Thompson

SAINT FRANCES is a comedy drama that follows a stage in the life of a thirty-something named Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) searching for some meaning and purpose in her life.  The film is written by its lead actress O’Sullivan and directed by Alex Thompson.  Though strong in female content, the male female combination makes a good balance of its content.  The guy who impregnates Bridget for example, is seen from a positive light, being supportive, kind and loving.

SAINT FRANCES begins with a scene at a party where a 34-year old loser is telling Bridget about his dream of jumping out the window after not achieving anything at his age, with no money, no job and no relationship.  When asked of her job, Frances says she is a server in a restaurant too and the audience gets it that she is like the loser she had been speaking too when she is interrupted by a guy who says he is a server at a restaurant too.  The segment is absorbing as the main character shifts from the guy to Frances to the couple who then have sex after the party.  In the morning, there is blood everywhere as Frances is having a period.  An excellent and  good solid start with some drama, humour and true to life characters.

It is difficult to continue to impress like the beginning.  Unfortunately, the film does not though it tries and it shows.  The script follows Bridget as she gets the job of a nanny to a gay couple Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu).  Bridget is to look after a 6-year old , precocious Frances (Ramona Edith Williams).  The film is likely called SAINT FRANCES as the child acts like a saint entering and doing wonders for not only Bridget but for her two mothers.

O’Sullian’s script covers key issues like gay parenting, depression, abortion, counselling and companionship  and lesser though irritant issues like the right to breast feed in public.   The 2 mothers suffer from depression.  The abortion issue is covered by Bridget’s decision to abort her baby after a fling with Jace (Max Lipchitz).  It helps that all the characters in the film are endearing.  Even Jace, a lovable lug is supportive.  And the woman who confronts  Maya for public breast feeding is not that nasty either.  All this positive character traits in the script create pleasant entertainment without undue stress and pretentiousness on the audience.

The script is brave enough to cover realities such as bleeding post abortion and also bleeding during sex while the female is having her period.  The script jokes that there are men who like this kind of sex and they are called ‘bloodhounds’.

The characters are well-written, they eventually figuring out for themselves what is wrong and how to deal with their problems.  The tactic is used for Bridget and two mothers and even the kid Frances.

Winner of the 2019 SXSW Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice, SANT FRANCES will be released November 13 by Game Theory Films on iTunes Canada and on-demand.



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Reel Asian Film Festival 2020

28 Oct 2020

Capsule Reviews of Select Films:


DUST AND ASHES (South Korea 2019) ***
Directed by: Park Hee-kwon

Nothing much appears to be happening in this extremely slow burn of a movie, likely the slowest film to be screened at Reel Asian this year.  But careful concentration reveals that there is more than meets the eye.  As the camera follows a young woman (Ahn So-yo i) over 3 days (dividing the film into 3 chapters) on the course of her daily routine of work at the factory by day and at a restaurant kitchen at night, the audience learns that she is scamming (which the audience can assume, but never 100% sure) the insurance company with the help of her reluctant brother of the life insurance money from the death of their recently deceased mother.  Again, nothing is said whether the mother had died from natural causes or at the hands of her children.  The camera often shows the protagonist’s back, reminiscent of the Dardennes films.  DUST AND ASHES premiered at the Tallinn Film Festival and is an ok watch that demands lots of patience in its short running time of 83 minutes.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/361755386

GOODBYE MOTHER (Vietnam 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Trinh Dinh Le Minh

Nau is returning to his home country Vietnam from the United States with his boyfriend Van in tow.  They are to spend some time with Nau’s family.  Nau has not revealed Van to be his partner and the family pressures him to get settled with a wife and children.  The matriarch of the family is also suffering from angina and diabetes.  This all sounds too familiar a plot, and this story has been told countless times in gutless films.  But the American boyfriend is not white but Vietnamese.  The Vietnamese setting is new.  Director Trinh also has great sympathy for his character making each one of them very endearing and ones that the audience will care for.  The actors playing Van and Nau are also super cute.  An altogether endearing film that ends up showing what true love (the airport scene where the two sit together waiting fro their flight back to the U.S.) between a male couple.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/401822402

THE HORSE THIEVES.  ROADS OF TIME (Japan/Kazakhstan 2019) ****

Directors: Yerlan Nurmukhambetov and Lisa Takeba

A western set in the vast Central Asian plains with bad men and horse herding.  The hero of the piece is a stranger who suddenly appears to a family akin to the man with no name in the Sergio Leone westerns of perhaps akin to the classic SHANE by George Stevens.  The father of a family with mother and three children is killed by horse thieves when the stranger appears to help the mother and family as they move from their village to live with a relative.  The setting is spectacular with scenes seen that are uncommon to western audiences courtesy of cinematographer Aziz Zhambakiev.  The horse herding segments are grand to observe as in the way of life of these people.   Don’t let the slow pace fool you.  The film comes with suspense and exciting action scenes.  All the events are seen from the point of view of the 10-year old son, Olzhas who tells the stranger that he recognizes the watch with the cracked glass worn by his father’s killer at a tavern.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4rug5Qjd5s

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This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 30, 2020)

24 Oct 2020

A quieter week for new movies opening with only a small handful.  New Canadian horror movies make their debut with the BLOOD IN THE SNOW film fsetival that begins this week.  Check separate article for this fest.




Directed by Megan S. Smith

What a title!  bOObS!  There is a solid message in this doc that it delivers with some humour making it more watchable.  It begins with a disclaimer that one has to decide for themselves and a lot of what is about to transpire will shock.  Citations are provided.

Firstly mammography is denounced.  Mammography is explained to be equivalent to about 100 chest X-Rays, and therefore deadly.  It is used for early detection of breast cancer.  The doc now defuncts this myth.  When a lump appears on the body, if cancerous, it has been there for 2 to 5 years.  Therefore mammography is not an early detection of cancer, the audience is informed not once but with the sentence repeated and told for a total of five times.

The doc goes into ‘The Carla Case’.  Carla speaks to the camera.  With the radiation treatment, survival is 5%.  Carla said no, based on the odds, did research and is still living after 2 years be eating well.  All her tumours disappeared and the one on her reacts shrunk half the size.

Two other cases are examined by the doc.  The Capella Case and the Katie case, all equally intriguing. 

One of the key things taught in the doc is breast density.  If a woman has dense breast then, mammography will not be able to detect breast cancer accurate to 50%.  Also, having dense breast means one is 3 - 5 % more likely to develop breast cancer.  There is the fight to create legislature so that women will be able to find out about their breast density before taking a mammogram.

The film loves to poke humour at the way data is displayed.  When some important message is explosive, the letters explosive goes exploding on the screen.  The doc repeats certain segments a couple of times to get the messages across.

bOObs is downright clear about what it wishes to say.  An expert tells the audience directly: Be educated about your your breast density.  Eat right!  Live right!  Talk to your physician!”  And most important of all:  The ultrasound is needed as the mammogram will miss the tumour detection for women with high breast density.

Another insightful revelation is the fact that a lot of cancer tumours grow very slowly or by Gods’ s great plan just die off.  It is better to leave the tumour alone that to treat it which often leads to early death.  Treating it is risky as the doc also explains, verified by the experts.  Another topic is the amount of radiation that goes with a mammogram.  Then there is the question of the new 3D mammogram vs. the 2D mammogram., the latter involving much more relation with not much improvement in detection.

The interviewees also speak of an alternative to mammography - thermography, a safer and surer way of  cancer detection.n

bOObs is  a doc that every woman worried about breast cancer should see.  For males and those not worried about breast cancer, the doc should also provide invaluable information that should not be missed.  A fun watch as well, despite the morbid theme with a whole of information to be relayed.

bOObs is available on demand, DVD and VOD from October 6th.

Trailer: https://bit.ly/2GjMLZK


COME PLAY (USA 2020) **

Directed by Jason Chase

Oliver (Azhy Roberston) watches Spongebob Squarepants and then looks into the television set with the camera taking a TV-eye view from within.  Spongebob Squareapants never looked so creepy after this.

The premise of COME PLAY is a children’s book that appears in the movie entitled ‘Misunderstood Monsters’.  In it exists a very lonely monster that seeks a friend from another world - which is Earth.  The monster wishes to befriend the little ‘mute’ boy.  The monster can achieve this if it and the boy grab each other’s hand and according to the book, the monster will drag him back to its world.  The monster evidently travels through electricity which the boy finds out.  One way to stop the monster travelling is to remove electrical devices in the vicinity.   If this sounds scary, it could be, but the script appears not to have nailed the scares.

The film's protagonist is a boy called Oliver.  He is mute but is undergoing speech therapy with the hope that he can speak a few sentences.  He is aided in speech by an app on the phone, though his classmates make fun of him, jealous that he can and that they cannot use their phones in class.  Oliver has no friends which worry his parents.

Things go bump in the night.  There are countless cheap shots at making the audience jump out of their seats by using sudden loud noises, (dragging of chair on the floor, opening of a door) sometimes for no apparent reason.

The film contains silly sequences.  One has mother (Gillian Jacobs) and son hiding under the bed from the monster.  One would assume the monster does not rely only on sight and sound to catch its prey.  Another has the son suddenly speaking “Fear… Fear…Fear..” the boy utters when he and the mother are chased by the monster.   The silliest portion is the supposedly Hollywood ending.

The film contains a few hilarious laugh-out loud moments which reduces the horror at hand.  When the boy’s mother sees and believes the existence of the monster - which occurs only too easily to be believed, the boy’s speech therapist talks to the mother about physical impasse - the response of someone feeling the same as a loved one.  The mother asks the monster the typical ridiculous question found in horror film genres: “Why are you doing this to us?”   Even the dialogue admits  the stupidity of the plot’s concept.  “I know it sounds silly, but the monster uses electric power to move around,” explains the mother.  When the mother explains that the monster os able to light up the lamps in the house, the father (John Gallagher Jr.) remarks: “It is helping you with the chores.  You do not have to screw a light bulb.” 

The monster looks sufficiently scary, courtesy of the special effects monster department.  A few frightening images include the monster coming out from a table lying horizontally on the floor.

COME PLAY is so ridiculously stupid that one cannot help but watch it to its end.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/?v=LQwiqhdMQ7g

FISHBOWL (USA 2018) ***1/2

Directed by Stephen Kinigopoulos and Alexa Kinigopoulos

An indie film true and true, this small budget gem is directed by a sibling team and shot on location in the house up the street from where they live, a spooky house that they discovered were owned by the nicest people, allowing the film to be shot there.  Not that there are many big Hollywood films opening during these times of Covid-19, more of indie films, but this one stands out as an indie mystery thriller.  At 92 minutes, it is attention grabbing from start to finish.

FISHBOWL is an absorbing and disturbing tale of sin and redemption.  The setting is small-town Bishop, filled with secrets.  The story focusses on the Simon sisters (Emily Peachey, Caroline Coleman, Belle Shickle) who are trying to cope with the absence of their mother (Judith Hoag) and maintain a normal life, while enduring Catholic school and typical teen struggles under the watchful eye of their demanding teacher, Mr. Barnes.  Silently repressing the sisters to the point of abuse is their damaged father, Rick (Rick Kain) who, quite adrift himself, is growing increasingly obsessed with The Rapture that he believes is imminent.  He pays $1000 for a ‘save your soul’ kit.  For the girls, home is anything but a refuge.   In the midst of rebellious acts, punishments, and religious imposition, the sisters must cling to one another to survive. On the night that Rick believes to be The Rapture, he will attempt to take his daughters to the second coming.

The Kinigopoulos siblings film their drama in deadpan style with still frames with little movement of the camera.  Often, the characters enter the frame, and when they do there is not such movement either.  The tactic allows the audience to stare at the screen and wonder what is going on, and ponder what might happen next in the film.  Often the silence can be overwhelming.  So overwhelming that when a character suddenly speaks, it may cause the audience to jump or laugh at its unpredictability.  Example is the scene at the party where a boy turns to one of the sisters shouting over the music playing:”What is your name?”

The dialogue often contains deadpan humour.  “I don’t know how to say it, but I will say it.” the local church pastor tells the father.  Or when after one of the sisters having accepting Jesus Christ during the service returns to the pews and asks the father: “Can we go now?”

The film pokes fun at religion, particularly Christianity and particularly TV evangelists who ask for money.  Hopefully, this film will help put these evangelists out of business.

The word fishbowl besides its literal meaning can refer to a large number of things including a debate method, a software server and even a song.  What the title refers to is not explained in the press notes, nor can I determine for sure where the reference comes from.  My best guess is that the title is the metaphor of a real fishbowl where the Simon sisters are entrapped.

FISHBOWL will opens in select theatres and be available on demand October 27. 

Trailer: https://www.dropbox.com


Directed by John Whitesell

THE HOLIDATE is a Netflix original romantic comedy that has little originality. The term romantic comedy is enough to scare many an audience away, particularly critics.  And with reason.  Romcoms are usually cliche ridden forced to have a romantically satisfactory Hollywood ending, thus limiting any freshness a script could attempt.  The HOLIDATE is no different unfortunately, and what transpires on screen is what audiences have seen before - many times. 

The script by Tiffany Paulsen defines the term holiday as a date for the holidays.  Holiday gatherings usually involve a single male or female bringing a date, and this usually turns out problematic with family pressure and feelings put to the test.  So, a holidate is perfect - a date soley for the purpose of being a date for all the holidays, no strings attached, no feeling attached no sex involved.   

Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) hate the holidays!  So a holidate to both of the would be the perfect solution.  Sloane and Jackson meet at a mall and decide to be each other’s holidates.  Needless to say, they eventually begin to have feelings for each other and fall in love.

The first holiday chosen is Christmas and the film ends again during the advent season.  THE HOLIDATE can thus be classified as a Christmas movie.  Usually every year, the first Christmas themed movie arrives early November, but this one arrives early at the end of October.  The first of such films usually sucks, and so does this one.

To be fair to the filmmakers, the film ’s 10 minutes look promising.  The jokes are quite hilarious.  It starts with Sloane putting out a cigarette butt on Santa’s head (Santa is an outdoor Christmas ornament) with her saying, “another fucking holiday”.  When her mother asks her if she was smoking, she says no to which the mother relies: “No man wants to marry a smoker….. who lies.”  Other humorous antics occur during the family gathering where the audience is introduced to the other family members, the funniest being Aunt Susan (played by Tony Award Winner Kristin Chenoweth) who would pick up anyone for the family gatherings.

Paulsen’s script tries to make the romcom different from others.  Jackson is Australian, which allows a few Crocodile Dundee jokes.  But the lazy script fails to reveal any of Jackson’s family or past.  He has one friend, an African American who works with him in his golf profession, who helps him (unfunnily) with some dating advice.

The film contains lewd language with the ‘f’ word uttered a couple of times.  One horrific segment has Jackson lost a finger from an accident and rushed to the hospital.  This is of course, the opportunity to include a lot of finger jokes like: “ cannot put my finger on it.” and so on… many of which are corny and unfunny.

The climax has Sloane declare her love for Jackson in public, in this case at a mall during Christmas, ending with the mall public clapping and cheering at the couple.  This has been tried so many times and more effectively, say in Martin Scorsese’s ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE where the customers at a diner applaud the couple Ellen Burstyn and Kris Kristofferson.

A few very hilarious moments are not enough to save this cliched romantic comedy where one can only shrug at the truth of Sloane’s words when she says that this is her worst Thanksgiving ever.



Directed by Mary Wharton

This new doc on former President of the United States Jimmy Carter, is a breezy, light and entertaining while insightful look at the man, his life and his policies while being the commander-in-chief of the largest economy of the world.  There have been countless docs on former Presidents, the more notorious ones like Richard M. Nixon getting more coverage than the good guys.  Jimmy Carter is considered one of the good guys, and is my most favourite Presidents in my lifetime.  Trump is having more and more angry docs (among them UNFIT, TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL) made about his failings.

Director Wharton’s doc opens with Carter in 1976 quoting one of the best musicians who ever lived - Bob Dylan.  The doc concentrates on Carter’s love for rock and roll music, particularly Gospel music, jazz and rock and roll.  It also ties music into his Presidency and how it affected his election. 

Carter was President for just one term from 1977 -1981, losing the Presidency to Ronald Reagan.  The doc highlights his successes and failures - the former winning the Nobel Peace Prize and the latter the Iran hostage crisis which was due to his taking care of the cancer-ridden Shah of Iran in the United States.

The doc is interspersed with rock and roll music including the famous Mr. Tamborine with guests that include rock and roll stars giving their two cents worth like Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, Paul Simon, Roseanne Cash, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks.  His son, Chip provides quite the insight of his father.  Chip confesses in a light moment that he has smoked pot with Nelson.

Carter’s love for rock and roll helped him in his Presidency campaign.  The Allman Brothers and Jimmy Buffet helped him gather finds and crowds.  Also, connecting with rock and roll allowed Carter to connect with the younger votes of the United States.

Current President Donald Trump by inevitable comparison to Republican former President Jimmy Carter clearly shows that he has none of the solid traits Carter possesses.  Trump will ditch his friends (his lawyer is serving time for him) while Carter did not abandon Willie Nelson when he was in jail.  Carter cares about people, winning the Nobel peace prize.  Trump just brags about his foreign visits.  In fact, might as well stop the comparisons since there is absolutely nothing good at all to say about Trump.

Those who love Bob Dylan will love the references director Wharton makes to this man.  Dylan says that when he met Governor Jimmy Carter, Carter was able to quote the lyrics all his songs.   This began a long friendship.   Nelson also spoke of smoking pot while visiting him in the White House with a member of the White House staff, but the doc reveals it was Chip who did it.

As set by the tone of the title JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT, Wharton’s doc tells happy and entertaining stories interspersed with unforgettable music of an otherwise great former President and human being.




MY NAME IS PEDRO (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Lillian LaSalle

A doc is often as interesting as its subject.  The subject in this doc is a little known school assistant superintendent named Pedro.  Pedro Santana is not a world famous artist or President or King or an evil Corporation that have ruined millions of lives but a normal human being.  But as he says, he likes to encounter and meet people to change some little thing that they can remember him by.  Pedro is an endearing person and therefore makes an endearing and watchable subject.  His hair says it all.  Long curls that make look like a rock star, his hair also infuriates his family, but he likes his hair that way.

Lillian LaSalle's documentary MY NAME IS PEDRO explores what public education meant to South Bronx Latino maverick educator, Pedro Santana, and what he, in turn, meant to public education.  The film begins with Santana greeted by many followers in what appears to be a tribute to his work.  Taking the microphone, he says that he will tell his story.  And this begins the film.

MY NAME IS PEDRO is a profound story of how one person actualizes learning and positive change in children, adults, environments and communities through an 'impact' ripple effect strategy that he has effortlessly perfected.  The film is also an essential and timely reminder of the importance of great educators (and of how one person can make a difference) that exist within the infrastructure of our country's public education system.  Being an educator myself, (film reviewing is my passion and does not pay the bills), I find the film inspiring with the film often bringing tears to my eyes.

As a child, his grade school teacher tells the camera that Pedro was not the brightest kid in the class.  But he was the most hardworking and that was what made him stand out and what make her want to pay special attention to his efforts.  This likely influenced Pedro in his dealing with children’s education when he grew up  - that everyone is special.  Director LaSalles is observant enough to also make the point that kids know when adults are interested in them or not.

The film also has special meaning for me.  As a child Pedro stuttered and had to practice speaking and practicing his speech constantly.  I stuttered as a teen too but I could not pronounce the ’s’ at age 6, and had to go for special tutoring.  I still remember having a lot of trouble trying to pronounce ‘Esso’.  I could not pronounce ‘ch’ till after Grade 6, pronouncing ti as ‘sh’ till a classmate kept on making me practice the correction.  Now, I have no trouble in speech and my public speaking is excellent.  Pedro is also an excellent speaker when he reached adulthood.

One wishes director LaSalle included more segments of Pedro at work.  There are a few obvious enactments.  This is here the Pedro’s and the doc’s magic works.

MY NAME IS PEDRO opens across cities in virtual theatres in the United States this weekend and at Toronto’s Hot Docs on the 29th of October.


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

23 Oct 2020

Please note:

Not al the reviews are publsihed on the publsihing date of the article.   A few reviews are added on from that date.  Embrgo dates for the reviews as reqested by the film distributors are thus respected.

 A few solid films opening this weekend including Universal's LET HIM GO, the scariest film of the year KOKO-DI KOKO-DA and the doc WATSON.



18 TO PARTY (USA 2018) **
Directed by Jeff Roda

18 TO PARTY is set in 1986 in small town America.  The era is defined when the kids talk about President Ronald Regan and how they dislike him.  The subject are the small town kids waiting to enter a local club to hear their favourite local bands.  Trouble is that they are still kids and are only let in, if they are lucky once everyone else had got in, and at the discretion of the bouncer of the day.  Such is the life of these kids who have nothing better to do but to complain about an assortment of things, argue among themselves and talk shit like the existence of UFO’s. No adults appear in the film.

18 TO PARTY seems very contrived.  A whole lot of kids, mainly 8th graders talking about whole lot of shit.  They go on and on about their own stuff.  Nothing really interesting for adults and if you are an 8th grader, it is seriously doubtful that you would be interested in their talk either.  Their talk comes and goes.  At one point, one of them keeps asking his friend, who he is going to be sleepover with, if he can get back him to do his chores own he will be grounded.  Another kid says doing the chores is like being grounded.  He remarks that he is not likely rich kid not having to do chores.  He is compared to being a little kid in little house on the prairie.  The chores are described - cleaning out the garage; sweeping the floors etc.  The topics of conversations change.  New kids arrive and those that stay. take their turns with the conversations.  The film feels  too much like a play where each character has his or her say and then it goes on and on, talking about what they think. 

At one point, one girl talks about being in a school play OUR TOWN.  They then talk about it, making the audience aware of the film’s affinity to plays, particularly this one.  Thornton Wilder ’s OUR TOWN is set in a small American town like the film.  The play’s  setting is in the actual theatre where it is being performed.  The backlot of the club looks like the typical stage in a theatre to put up a play where the characters can move in and out. 

Kids do not really talk like the ones in the film.  They also do not take turns to talk like the typical characters in any play.  In real life, kids’ talk are often silly and they normally play or good around and not just sit around and talk and talk and talk.

The different topics range from death and the coincidences of it being a jinx, UFO’s and a kid called Lanky who for some reason not mentioned is in a special school after being expelled.   Lanky’s brother and girlfriend have both died from suicide. 

At one point in the film, Lanky refers to the kids as faggots waiting to get inside the club.  One would the think that writer/director Roda would be respectful enough not to have that term used in his film, not only that it is a degrading term but he makes it seem that is all right at any era to use the term.

There are better things to do, even during these Covid-19 times than watching these kids talking trash throughout in a film that ends up with a tacked-on silly happy ending,

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3jqnEzuHWI


CODED BIAS (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Shalini Kantayya

Intelligence is defined by the military as ‘the gathering of information’.  Artificial Intelligence is defined by scientists and engineers as learning that can learn from itself.  The subject in director Shanlini Kantayya’s doc is face recognition, a form of artificial intelligence in which conglomerates by means of computers can examine the images of suspecting people and categorize them according to the information the computers already have on them.  This is not right for it infringes on the rights of human beings.  It is shown that in the U.K., people have been photographed and stopped from the pictures taken of them at random and identified, often wrongly that they identify with some criminal.   The other factor is that the information is biased, favourable to the white male.

The doc goes on to prove the point taking the audience around the globe from the States to the U.K. to China, Africa and other parts of the world.   The most insightful information about face recognition is that it is already widely used and the comparison is made of the U.S. and China.  In China, every citizen has a social credit score.  If someone says something bad about the government,  his score as well as his or her family’s goes down.  A girl in China says to the camera that she favours this, as she can find out the score of her potential date without having to find it out by first going on several dates with the person.  The Americans say that they wish they would never reach this state in China.  The doc states that there is a significant difference between China an the U.S.  In China, all this is totally transparent while in the States, it is not. The recognition is hidden and used by companies for commercial purposes whereas in China it is mainly used for positive use.

One wishes that director Kantayya would have allowed the big businesses like IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have their say to defend themselves.  The companies claim to be cooperative and it would have been eye-opening to hear what they have to say, whether true or false.

The doc follows two main characters.  One is Joy Buolamwini, founder of The AJL ( the Algorithmic Justice League) who at one point the film, wears a super hero cape like a crusader for justice.  The other is Cathy O’Neil, author of ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’.  The two who know each other, having met at a bookshop where Cathy was doing a book signing, have worked together or the identical purpose of exposing the threats to civil liberties posed by an increasingly data-driven automation.

CODE BIAS ends like most documentaries touting injustice do, with a positive note,  The U.S. has seen, as the film informs, many States banning the use of face recognition software with  with Amazon putting a hold on its Face Recognition for a year.  Still, there needs to be some federal approval on new algorithms as the film also informs.  The fight is never over.

CODED BIAS’s virtual launch will kick off community screenings, and a series of online conversations with scientists and citizens across the globe about the ethical use of artificial intelligence.  Coded Bias’s theatrical release is part of a national Science on Screen initiative, promoting scientific literacy through entertainment, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Coded Bias had its world premiere in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.  The film is a necessary watch  as everyone’s lives are impacted by this technology and even more so in the future.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/414917737

THE DARK DIVIDE (USA 2020) ****`

Directed byTom Putnam

THE DARK DIVIDE is based on the story of renowned butterfly expert Robert Pyle (David Cross) who embarked on a life-changing trek through one of America's most important unprotected wildlands in the summer of 1995.   Who would think that a film about a butterfly collector could be so endearing and captivating?  A lepidopterist is a specialist in butterflies.  Bob’s  character is exactly what one would expect of someone with a hobby no one understands and likely pokes fun at.   Bob is terribly needy, nerdy, naive and acts like a grown-up kid.   After the death of his wife, Bob pushes himself (after given the drive from his wife) to the limit by hiking through Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  His friend asks Bob when told of the quest: “Have you even gone camping before?”

The Gifford Pinchot - it is a National Forest located in southern Washington, USA, managed by the United States Forest Service. With an area of 1.32 million acres (5300 km2), it extends 116 km along the western slopes of Cascade Range from Mount Rainier National Park to the Columbia River.  The film is shot on location there where the true quest of Bob takes place.

THE DARK DIVIDE immediately draws attention to the recent NOMADLAND with human beings being in tune with nature.  With are separately different entities and both have their individual pleasures.

For a film about a butterfly collector, the film is full of surprises.  Just as Bob lies in his tent all zipped up in the dead of night, he hears sounds of what could be wild dogs or wolves followed by horses.  It is never made clear what the sounds are.

As Bob embarks on his journey, the audience is to be taken of a journey of discovery as the poster says, finding oneself by getting lost.  While trying to net a butterfly, Bob almost falls off a cliff in one hilarious and stunning scene.  He at another point, had his apples eaten by animals and the boy scouts and girl guides camping nearby give him advice as to hang up the food. “No one ever told me that.”  Bob replies.   Another hilarious scene has the camera focused on a flowing stream, as the water gushes over rocks.  The next is seen Bob’s mesh tins and tin  cups in the water as Bob has obviously fallen into the water.  Bob also slips on bear shit while escaping a bear while taking a shit on his own.

Bob is soon known around the area as the butterfly man.  He encounters a disgruntled ranger who he asks about whether she had seen Bigfoot.

The film’s best segment has Bob talking to other human beings.  This happens in a few instances, where words are exchanged, often of intelligence and insight.

The scenery is also, as expected nothing short of stunning, courtesy of cinematographer Sean Bagley.  The catchy music soundtrack really suits the wild setting.

THE DARK DIVIDE is in theatres now.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laMQZYPsHh8


Written and Directed by Nicol Paone

This is the time of the year where Thanksgiving and Christmas films start appearing.  There have been countless such films, most of them turkeys that are stuffed full of nonsensical silliness.

DINNER WITH FRIENDS arrives just in time for the American Thanksgiving.  Most Thanksgiving films centre on the gathering of a dysfunctional family with excessive drama, skeletons coming out of the closet and unfunny high-jinx.  Expect much of the same except that the people attending the dinner is not typical family excepting one mother and daughter but mainly ‘dysfunctional’ friends.  But everyone still goes through the same shit.  The film also deals with the relationship of two best friends, Abby (Kat Dennings) and Molly (Malin Akerman).  They have both recently just been through breakups and have been there supporting each other.  So, they had decide to have a Thanksgiving dinner - just the two of them.  But the result ends up a dinner with more than a dozen friends and acquaintances.  Molly’s mother, Helen (Jane Seymour) shows up uninvited, while inviting other friends including one of Molly’s ex-flames.  Molly is currently seeing Jeff (Jack O’Donnell) who seems both a delightful human being and a great sex partner as evident in the film’s opening dominatrix scene. 

The funniest of the guests is Molly’s old flame, a wanna shaman, Chelsea (Chelsea Peretti) who prefers being called a sha-woman.   The script pokes fun of her musings.   She shows up with some pie she made which looks totally inedible with a half purple topping probably made of health nuts and beans.  The pie ‘described as organic garbage which should be punched up the ass’ is the agreed reaction that Abby volunteers.  Claire talks about having to be alone with nothingness in order to find that something. They get into a big argument.  Mother Helen is also quite funny, trying to flirt with all the men at the dinner.  There are two cameos from Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho who play two of the trio of Fairy God Mothers, though a bit too brief.  A few lines of dialogue when Molly is on shrooms are also quite funny.

On the serious side there is a big verbal fight between Molly and Abby that is supposed to be the highlight of the film, similar to Herbert Ross’s THE TUNING POINT where Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine duke it out near the end.  Unfortunately, the scene hardly generates much interest.

Director Phone attempts a few fresh approaches in the delivery of her film.  One is the introduction of the two lesbians, invited to be possible dates for Molly.  When each show up, their images are paused with their profile read out to the audience.  Paone’s script tires to be as funny as rowdy as possible.  She also has the guests to include different people from all walks of life from gays to blacks to singles to married, young and old, conservative and outlandish.

But director Paone’s desperation in making her film work is only too obvious when the film ends with the line: “Someone’s going to get laid tonight.”  at least one of the film’s characters is going to have a good time unlike those watching the characters in the film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=an7YTh5LBIs

THE KID DETECTIVE (Canada 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Evan Morgan


THE KID DETECTIVE is so called not because it is a family film, because it is NOT.   It is so-called because the film’s protagonist began his sleuthing as a kid, when he used his brains to solve crimes in school - for example who stile the candy from his classmate.  The film premiered at this year’s Toronto International FilmFestival.  Not many have seen it for the reason that it was in the Industry Selects section, unavailable to the public.  As press, I managed to catch this little gem of a mystery comedy.

The Patrick Chang murder is the latest case of the now grownup kid detective, Abe Applebaum played aptly by Adam Brody.  Though the film is Canadian, Brody is American known for supporting roles as in MR. and MRS. SMITH and SMILEY FACE.  As a kid by the age of 12, Abe was a celebrated small-time sleuth making headlines in his small Canadian town.   Abe is grown up, made nothing of his life since then and hungover half the time.  “You can’t play detective and assume everyone will go along with you.  You got to grow up.”  is the advice he often gets.  If he stops a car following him, it turns out to be his concerned parents making sure if their son ran into trouble, they would be there to help.

What could be a classic film noir story is turned into a solid small town detective mystery.  Do not let the title fool you.  Though the femme fatale is a 16-year old teen, Caroline (Sophie Nelisse), the adult story involves drugs, pedophilia, sex with lots of swearing though with noticeably little violence.   THE KID DETECTIVE may not be the best film of the year but the well written and executed adult comedy mystery is a lot of fun.



KINDRED (UK 2020) ***
Directed by Joe Marcantonio

Co-written by director Marcantonio and Jason McColgan, KINDRED is a psychological horror thriller set in a country mansion in the United Kingdom.  It stars veteran Fiona Shaw playing the mother-in-law from hell (though the couple is question is never wed) and rising stars Jack Lowden and Tamara Lawrance.

KINDRED follows the dilemma of Charlotte (Lawrance).  Charlotte is kept captive in the mansion and if she escapes, she has nowhere to go.  She is forced to deliver a baby to her deceased boyfriend’s family, and she is thus KINDRED, as the film title takes.

When the film opens, Charlotte falls ill and throws up at work. At the Medical Centre, she is told she is expecting.  Surprised at the news, she says out loud her doubts whether to abort or keep the baby.  “Discuss it with Ben, Don’t rush to any rash decision.” is the doctor’s advice.   The news throws her and Ben’s plans awry as they had planned to leave the U.K. and immigrate to Australia much to the dismay of Ben’s mother, Margaret (Shaw).   Things take a worse turn when Ben is killed.  Charlotte wakes up in Margaret’s mansion.  The horror begins.  Charlotte finds herself a prisoner with the crazy Margaret and her step-son Thomas (Lowden).  They claim that Charlotte is unable to take care of herself and wishes to ensure the baby is fine. 

The script paints a vague view as to Charlotte’s sanity.  Charlotte has nightmares, often of ravens.  Her mother had a mental condition. Charlotte is prone to outbursts and seems unable to care for herself.  When she first throws up, she insists that all is well.  This lowers the audience’s sympathy for her character and many will wonder if she be better taken care of in the mansion.

The story falls into predictable territory.  In two of Charlotte’s escape attempts, she ends up at square one, back at the mansion due to the person she trusted having ties to Margaret.  Charlotte and Thomas begin having a connection with each other, proving once again that the Stockholm Syndrome is well and alive in scripts on kidnapping.

The over use of Debussy’s “Claire Le Lune” does not help either.  When Thomas plays the piece on the piano, it is continued with Charlotte playing on.  The ‘yes, they play beautiful music together’ metaphor is a bit too obvious.  The piece played again at the closing credits, make the film feel plagiarized even thought popular classical piece is given credit to Debussy.  Too many films have used this piece on their soundtrack.

At times, KINDRED feels like Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY with the common theme of the baby being looked after at all costs, mother aside.  This is especially felt, when Charlotte discovers that something had been added to her tea.  Director Marcantonio is also fond of using Charlotte’s nightmares to add  more chilling effects to his story.

With KINDRED’s script limiting all possibilities of Charlotte escape from the claws of Margaret’s family, one can tell the story can go nowhere with little surprises left.  The result is a open ending where nothing else is left open for poor Charlotte.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9McAe8WFco

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA (Sweden/Denmark 2019) ****

Directed by Johannes Nyholm 

The title KOKO-DI KOKO-DA and the image of a cat in the poster gives the false notion that this is some Japanese animated feature.  Far from it!  The words stand for the noise a rooster makes, and the song sung by travelling entertainer trouper (Peter Belli) wearing a white suit with  cane while doing nasty things - like murder again and again.  The film can best be described as a nightmarish psychological GROUNDHOG DAY where the audience is force to watch the same horrific sequence again and again with a few differences but with the same result.  The sequence is indeed horrific and in this time of the Convid-19 pandemic, the film might not be for everyone.

The film begins with this travelling topper with a giant of a man and a girl with long har.  The man is carrying a dead dog while another dog is leased.  They walk trough the woods - innocently enough, only to appear 30 minutes later in the film to create havoc on a couple.

The next sequence in the film cuts to a young couple, Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund) and their young daughter who is given a music box for her upcoming birthday.  The daughter dies in hospital after Elin gets sick, an allergic reaction that one assumes to be mussels she had eaten.  They family are made up with rabbit faces to celebrate the birthday.  The film then shifts to a 2 dimensional paper shadow puppet show in which the family is represented by three rabbits.  A black rooster from the sky picks out the daughter who dies in the show.

The odd film moves three years into the future where Elin and Tobias go on a camping trip for their vacation.  They encounter a horrific experience with the three intruders and enough need be said of the plot without spoiling more of the horror.

Director Nyholm who also wrote the script is an expert at creating horror with surprisingly little gore.  Despite the repeating nightmare (or is it not a nightmare?), the scares get more intense.  Unlike other films of this genre, Elin and Tobias learn only a bit from their past experience and end up in the same demise.

The script offers no explanation for the events taking place, and does not seem intent to do so.  It really does not matter.

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA was supposed to open theatrically in NYC March the 27th, but I doubt it did.  A very original film, despite its GROUNDHOG DAY theme, but be forewarned that this is one nightmarish film that is no easy watch.  Will make one think twice before camping in the woods again.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival  and went on to play at the Rotterdam Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Fantasia Film Festival 2019 (WINNER! AQCC-Camera Lucida Prize), and Fantastic Fest 2019.  One wonders the reason this scariest film so far this year was not picked up for the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi850247193?playlistId=tt9355200&ref_=tt_ov_vi


LET HIM GO (USA 2020) ****

Written for the Screen and Directed by Thomas Bezucha

A retired sheriff, George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) is living a stable life on his farm ranch with his wife, Margaret (Diane Lane), son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife, Lorna (Kayli Cater) and grandson, Jimmy when tragedy strikes.  James is killed while riding.  Lorna remarries Donnie Weboy (Will Britain).    Lorna and Donnie move out of the farm to live in the nearby town.  One day in town, Margaret witnesses something very disturbing from the seat of her car.  She sees Donnie hitting her grandson and daughter-in-law in bright daylight.  Later, Donnie, Lorna and Jimmy disappear from their home.  Still grieving over the death of their son, George and Margaret set out to find and reclaim their only grandson.

Good epics take their time to tell a good story.  The film based on the novel of the same name by Larry Watson and the story that director Bezucha adapted from the novel contains one.  There is also a long journey and a good build up of both suspense and mystery before the action starts.  And when it starts, it hits hard.

LET HIM GO has well written female roles.  The story pits the wits of two strong women against each other.  The heroine is Margaret Blackledge who silently but surely controls the Blackledge household.  By her sheer determinant and occasional silence she is able to get her husband, bound by her strength and his respect to grant her, her wishes, often at the risk of his own life.  The villainess is the matriarch of the Weboy clan, Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville, who delivered a strong Academy Award nominated performance in P. T. Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD), a personality outright loud and controlling and the main force governing the activities and decisions of the clan.  In the journey to find their grandson,  Margaret and George encounter an indigenous Indian, Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart) who later has a positive impact on the couple  in getting their grandson back.  Peter is self-banished to live a solitary life but shown to be a man’s man with positive traits.  The couple initially thinks him a thief, but their prejudice is shown false leading to an everlasting friendship.   Films like LET HIM GO should be credited for being politically correct, written with strong female roles and with indigenous minorities portrayed in a positive light.

Performances are top notch, with Kevin Costner delivering a solid performance and  Diane Lane portraying her character as a tower of strength.  Kostner and Lane had portrayed husband and wife once before in the SUPERMAN film, MAN OF STEEL.

LET HIM GO is Thomas Bezucha’s modern western epic about a couple searching and reclaiming the grandson, a theme reminiscent of John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS in which John Wayne searches for his abducted niece.  Though never reaching the heights of the Ford classic, LET HIM GO is a solid piece of filmmaking putting audiences in anticipation of Bezucha’s next film.  (Bezucha last entry is his script for Mike Newell’s comedy THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PIE SOCIETY which I saw in France that was never released Canada.)

Universal Pictures Canada plans to release LET HIM GO in theatres on November 6, 2020 subject to theatre re-openings.







Directed by Martin Wood


The festive season is almost upon us.  Once November arrives, the first lot of Christmas films will be released - mostly comedies.  Netflix, that needs to provide substantial content to warrant its subscription rate increases is first to jump on the band wagon with OPERATION CHRISTMAS DROP.  The film, is based on a real-life, ongoing U.S. Military mission - the oldest humanitarian mission our military engages in. “This is a from-the-heart, wonderful love story, wrapped around a true humanitarian endeavour that happens every year at Christmas.  How wonderful (and sappy)!   It all began when screenwriters Gregg Rossen & Brian Sawyer stumbled upon a video of the U.S. Air Force executing a Drop.  The mission is weaved into a romantic comedy - which sort of puts a great deal pressure for the film to break out of the cliched romcom mode.


  Chasing a promotion, congressional aide Erica Miller forgoes family Christmas to travel across the Pacific at her boss’s behest.   The first part of the film shows how Miller has to ditch family plans for her job, and she is eyeing a promotion.  Nothing new in the scenario.  It is the typical where she will realize that career is not everything - something everyone already knows but do not follow.  The scene in which Erica looks at the photograph of her late mother and says: “I’m trying”, says it all.  Upon landing at a beachside Air Force base, she clashes with her guide, a hunky Captain Andrew Jantz, who knows her assignment is finding reasons to defund the facility.  The pilot’s pet project — Operation: Christmas Drop, a genuine, decades-old tradition where gifts and supplies are parachuted to residents of remote neighbouring islands — has lawmakers wondering if his unit has too much spare energy.   Despite their initial opposing goals, Erica softens once she experiences the customs and communal spirit of Andrew's adopted home.


The film boasts to be one for the first films shot on location in Guam, the film serving to be a tourist advertisement for the island.  The inviting beaches, open markets and vegetation are all on display.  It also features thrilling and exotic set-pieces - from C-130 flights to jungle scenes and helicopter rides including Christmas snorkelling - with nearly the entirety of the movie shot on location.  Even the bar, Bamboo Willie's, was a practical location on the base and even some of the beach scenes were filmed on the base.” As there is no way to build an Air Force base for a movie unless one has a Cecil B. DeMille budget, - the film moves into one.  The Navy is reported to have helped in providing two helicopters, a picture ship and a camera ship in order to portray an air-to-air sequence of travel to a distant island.


Well intentioned films do not always translate into good films.  Apart from scenes of Guam, this exercise in Christmas goodness is exactly the reason one hates the commerciality of Christmas.  But given the film’s limitations, OPERATION CHRISTMAS DROP still manages to entertain, mainly because of the Guam Setting, the unfamiliar military setting and the often funny dialogue.  Very Christmas sappy but I fell for it!




Directed by Jerri Sher

  The words QUIET EXPLOSIONS do not sound welcoming.  They refer to the damage done to the brain as a result trauma which could be physical or mental.  Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the subject of this documentary that kept me glued watching from the start to end.

Director Sher’s doc first introduces the brain with a 100 billion nerve cells, then the injury, explaining how it may be caused as well as the horrendous effects (insomnia, mood swings, nightmares, migraines, anger, memory loss), it has on the injured.  A number of high profile patients are  interviewed and they tell their personal stories, which are often both gut wrenching and sad.  The talks are interspersed by  the medical advice and counselling given by the expert physicians.

The stars of the do are the interviewees.  The interviewees are nothing short of inspirational.  The physicians particularly Dr. Mark L. Gordon have only the best interests of their patients in mind.  Dr. Gordon would often visit the homes of his patients.  His dedication is evident throughout in is dealings.  Another champion for the cause is the podcast host Joe Rogan, a huge supporter of veterans and wounded warriors who brings in humour to the doc.

Additional hope and insightful methods are offered from experts Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Scott Sherr, Dr. Robert Sammons, Dr. Alan Sherr and Dr. Kristen Willeumier in this growing field.

  The real heroes are the injury patients, who are brave enough to let their stories be told, so that others may benefit, for the good of mankind.

Among them are:

 - MARK RYPIEN, the Super Bowl XXVI MVP winner and quarterback for the Washington Redskins. After a stellar career playing football, Rypien suffered severe traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

 - ANDREW MARR, Sergeant First Class & Special Forces Green Beret, is the Co-Founder of the Warrior Angels Foundation, and co-author of Tales From the Blast Factory. His two tours in Afghanistan left him with PTSD and TBI's from the blast trauma, as he was a breacher blowing up buildings with explosives.  He has the most screen time and the reason is apparent.  He is able to elicit the greatest sympathy from the audience.

- SHAWN DOLLAR suffered thousands of concussions while surfing. At 32 he was the champion surfer holding the world record in Guinness World Records for the largest 61 foot wave ever surfed.

 - JULIANNA HARPINE, one of the only two female patients interviewed was a gymnast since she was a child. Several concussions caused severe headaches and pain, such that she was ready to take her own life.

QUIET EXPLOSIONS is both inspirational and informative in its delivery of the miracle of the resilience of the human brain, giving us hope that human beings are capable of finding healing in the most desperate of illnesses.

  QUIET EXPLOSIONS will be available on both DVD & SVOD in November the 10th, Tuesday.



WATSON (USA/Australia 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Lesley Chilcott

The name Paul Watson is by and large a household name.  Watson or Captain Paul Watson is the captain of the Sea Shepherd aka Greenpeace, nicknamed the eco-terrorist as the environmental activist would stop at nothing to prevent damage to the animals of the sea.  A hero by and large, there have been already many films made featuring Watson.

As of present WATSON is the latest documentary made on the man.  Watson has been featured in any other media outlets.  A biographical documentary on Paul Watson's early life and background entitled Pirate for the Sea was produced by Ron Colby in 2008.  In the same year, the documentary At the Edge of the World chronicled the efforts of Watson and 45 volunteers to hinder the Japanese whaling fleet in the waters around Antarctica.  In 2010, long time friend and filmmaker Peter Brown released the documentary Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist, a satirical look back at the last 30 years of actions. That doc features interviews and footage with early Greenpeace members Rex Weyler and Patrick Moore.  In addition, Watosn was featured in a South Park episode ‘Whale Whores’ and a ’60 Minute’ episode.

One has to create shit to stop shit.  This statement would likely run true regarding Watson’s activities.  Greenpeace has called Watson a violent extremist and will no longer comment on his activities.  Watson is thus a too interesting subject for a doc.

Paul Franklin Watson is a Canadian-American conservation and environmental activist, who founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an anti-poaching and direct action group focused on marine conservation activism. The tactics used by Sea Shepherd have attracted opposition, with the group accused of eco-terrorism by both the Japanese government and Greenpeace. Watson is a citizen of Canada and the United States.

Director Chilcott’s doc charts Watson’s early beginnings.  The Toronto native joined a Sierra Club protest against nuclear testing in Amchitka Island in 1969.  He was a co-founder of Greenpeace, crewed and skippered for it and a founding board member in 1972. He has been credited by The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other publications with being a founder of Greenpeace. 

Chilcott includes the turning point in Watson’s life, the reason he has dedicated his entire life for the purpose.  When stopping the Russian whaling fleet, he witnessed he killing of a whale right in front of his eyes.  Watson speaks of the reason.  They want the whales’ oil to make missiles which in turn would destroy human lives.  “Everything I would do in my life would be for the whales.”

Chilcott does not forget that any film needs light and fun moments especially if it is a doc with a serious theme.  In the film, the antics of the Sea Shepherd’s crew are recorded.  The crew often consists of no less than 25 nations and they have a whale of a time (pardon the pun) on the ship when no cursing the fishing pirates.

The doc includes just a mention of Watson’s personal life.  Watson regrets he is unable to spend enough time with his daughter.  Watson has married four times.

Though there is nothing new in the doc WATSON that I do not already know about the man, director Chilcott’s doc is still a reminder of how much the world needs to change and do to in our lifetime.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUvH3kpjQhQ

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