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This Week's Film Reviews (May 21, 2021)

10 May 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

DROLES D’OISEAUX (Strange Birds) (France 2016) ***
Directed by Elise Girard

STRANGE BIRDS is the second feature film from filmmaker Girard (BELLEVILLE TOKYO) which world-premiered in the Berlinale’s Forum, who finally reaches North America on the SVOD Platform on May the 21st.

STRANGE BIRDS is a quirky, absurdist tale of two very different people who forge an unlikely relationship.  27-year-old Mavie (Lolita Chammah, AT ETERNITY’s GATE) -- clumsy, beautiful and full of doubts and looking for her path in life, has just moved to Paris from the provinces.   She dreams of a future as a writer, but is plagued by doubt and uncertainty.  She has an apartment which is really noisy from the sound of her flat-mate having sex at all hours of the da and night.  She seeks an alternative living accommodation and in the process meets 76-year-old misanthrope Georges (Jean Sorel) who runs a bookshop in Paris.  She helps to and gets free lodging.  George is a secretive and bitter person who sees to have some secret life he had left behind.   Georges is cynical and no longer expects much from life, while Mavie is still brimming with expectation.  Yet something magical happens between them, until Georges’ dark secret suddenly catches up with him – and Mavie is caught up in something very different. 

This is a low budget little feature with not much going on.  Yet, it is a charming sophomore effort from director Girard who in her film, shares the beauty of life from her point of view.  She is clearly against nuclear plants as nuclear protests are observed throughout her film.  When Mavie walks around Paris, she sees dead birds fall dead in front of her  The mystery is revealed to to be the result of the birds being poisoned from eating waste  at a nearly dump, where nuclear waste is discarded.  Mavie is charmed by Paris and director Girard paints a quieter and more charming view of  France’s capital.  The sights of the street on a slope, the insides of little cafes and the tree-lined avenues all contribute to the film’s atmosphere.  But the centre of the film is story of the strange relationship between the 27 years old and the 76 year-old.  Their ’love’ relationship is described by lines they write to each other.  They talk about their imaginary love affair.  There is no kissing or frolicking between the two.  But they talk about a love that could happen if there had been no age difference.  They also talk about children that they could have.  Despite them never seen even touching each other, jealousy prevails,  When Georges sees Mavie with a younger man, he leaves and never returns.

It is wonderful to see veteran actor Jean Sorel in films again.  Sorel was simply one of the most gorgeous actors of his time, becoming noticed after BELLE DE OUR with Catherine Deneuve.  Much older in this film, one can still see his charming personality.  Virginie Ledoyen has a small supporting role.

Director Girard includes a film clip of Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece  CHARULATA about a love relationship between two people who share their love for literature, reflecting Georges and Mavie’s work together in George’s bookshop.

STRANGE BIRDS is an absurdist yet charming romantic drama about a ‘could be’ relationship between two highly different.

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MOBY DOC (USA 2010) ***
Directed by Rob Gordon Bralver

If one wonders what David Lynch the famous director of films like MULHOLLAND DRIVE, BLUE VELVET and TWIN PEAKS is doing on the talent let in a doc about Moby, it is his respect for the music artist.  Moby mixed hit first song “Go” which just sold 1500 with the Twin Peaks soundtrack and sold over a million copies.  Moby never ceases to amaze!

As they say a doc is only as interesting as its subject.  Moby is the subject of the new doc MOBY DOC (a play on the name Moby Dick) and if he is not interesting enough, the film does its best to reinforce the fact.  There is an image of Moby singing among mountains, and him offering his view on the meaning of life.

Why make this doc?  This is a doc made by Moby himself.  “Why in the world would I make a documentary about myself?”  It is a legitimate question that Moby asks aloud in the film and proceeds to answer as his film unfolds.

Moby Doc is a fresh, never done surrealist biographical documentary about singer/songwriter/D.J. Moby, narrated by Moby himself.  He reflects on his turbulent personal life in a comical way.  He hires actors to play his mother and shoots it as a film.  His only solace away from his mother and alcoholic father were the animals, leading him to be an animal activist.  He has been Vegan for 30 plus years.   The doc charts his iconic music from underground punk bands to chart-topping solo artist, and from struggling addict to vegan activist.  Moby confesses his first acid experience leading to his panic attack that lasted for years after.

Featuring interviews with David Lynch and David Bowie, along with extraordinary concert footage, utilizing a unique blend of re-enactments, interviews, and archival footage, the audiences is treated to an insightful, unvarnished look at an artist who has sold more than 20 million albums, an activist who has long championed animal rights, and a man whose traumatic childhood shaped him in profound ways.  This introspective journey sets out to answer existential questions of purpose and meaning by examining a life of extreme highs and lows, joy, tragedy, success and failure.

Moby’s doc contains deep contemplative moments.  He was at one point asked what he would think differently if he was an animal instead of a human being.  Moby are up poor in a rich neighbourhood.  As a kid, he was too embarrassed to have his friends visit his home.  Growing up as a poor artist, moving from Connecticut to NYC and staying in an abandoned factory, Moby lived the hard life.  Finally making his dream of selling millions of records. pay found himself o less happier once achieving his dream  In a posh hotel, he contemplated suicide, only the windows of his room prevented it.

MOBY reveals much of the life of the artist that many know but not so much in detail.  The doc is insightful, just as Moby is, making it one film that is both eye-opening, insightful and biographical.

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RIDERS OF JUSTICE (Retfærdighedens ryttere) (Denmark 2020) ***** Top 10

Directed by Anders Thomas Hensen



RIDERS OF JUSTICE re-unites Dane director Anders Thomas Hensen and actor Mads Mikkelsen, once again after many successful collaborations, their last one being MEN & CHICKEN, 5 years ago.  Those who have seen it would not have forgotten the wild but extremely biting humour of MEN & CHICKEN, a film that made my list of Best 10 of 2015, and indeed RIDERS OF JUSTICE belongs to that category of Best Films of the Year as well.  The film is described as an action, comedy and drama and indeed it is, credit to director Hensen who also penned the script, blending these elements masterfully together.

Director Hensen bookmarks his film with the Christmas season.

The film opens at Christmastide with a soft rendering of “Little Drummer Boy” heard on the soundtrack.  (Soft likely because Christmas is still a while away.)  The titles indicate that the setting is Tallinn, Estonia.  A girl wants a blue bicycle for Christmas but only a red one is left at the store.  She will wait for a blue one she says, following which a phone call is made resulting in a blue bicycle stolen in Denmark.  As coincidences happen, the blue bicycle belongs to Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), the events leading to her mother and her taking a train.  An explosion occurs on the train and the mother is killed.  Mathilde is reunited with her PDST father, Markus (the always excellent Mads Mikkelsen, just recently seen in ANOTHER ROUND).

It seems like a train accident until a mathematics geek, Lennart (Lars Brygmann) who was also a fellow passenger on the train, and his two colleagues, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) show up at the Markus home.   They convince Markus that this is no accident according to probability statistics and they go hunting for the one they think is responsible, a ruthless biker gang leader.  The film switches gear to action mode.  Markus doesn’t not go through the three stages of grief (disbelief, anger and acceptance) a normal person would but deals with the grief the only way he can - with violence.  Markus is a trained fighter and weapons expert from the military, who can single handedly take out dozens of men.  This director Hensen shows through excellent choreographed fight segments.

Mikkelsen is excellent in what is basically the Liam Neeson TAKEN role.  Under a heavy beard, he is still recognizable for his famous stoic expressions.  Nicolas Bro steals the show as the fat Emmanthaler, lured into the project by the sight of pizza.

While all the killings are going on, director Hensen never lets go of the humour.  It is a laugh out loud moment every minute or so, despite some ultra violent scenes such as finger breaking.  Whilst all these are happening, the theory of ‘what if’ coincidences are inserted in the script to tease the audience.  All these elements are extremely brilliant in creating a smart, intelligent and entertaining flick.  Even the title RIDERS OF JUSTICE has two meanings - the name of the villainous biker group or the name of Markus’ vigilante group that take out the bikers.

RIDERS OF VIOLENCE make my list of top 10 films of 2021.  A Must-See!

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SOUND OF VIOLENCE (USA 2019) **
Directed by Alex Noyer

SOUND OF VIOLENCE follows a deaf girl of colour experiencing hearing loss after an illness.  The hearing comes back to her after a traumatic experience but she is slowly losing her hearing again.  The sound on the film’s soundtrack goes on and off, following Alexis’ hearing problem - a technique used in the recent hit film that won the Oscar for Best Sound and Best Film Editing, Darius Marder’s THE SOUND OF METAL with Riz Ahmed.

The film begins with the girl at the tender age of 10, a young child experiencing a traumatic family tragedy.  Alexis witnesses the brutal murder of her family committed by her brother just back from active military duty.   She stops him by essentially butchering him.  The good thing?  She gains her hearing.  The visceral experience awakened synesthetic abilities in her and started her on a path of self-discovery through the healing tones of brutal violence.   

Director Noyer who also wrote the script does not seem to care about his film’s credibility.  As the film progresses, he adds more horror and violence.

Alexis goes on to pursue a career teaching and experimenting to find new sounds.  There are several scenes in the film showing Alexis lecturing to students in a  classroom.  She is supported and loved by her roommate Marie who seems unaware of the dark secrets behind Alexis’ unique music and the part she unknowingly plays. There are lesbian overtones.  As the film progresses, it is revealed that Marie has a boyfriend and the same sex feeling is likely one-way, from Alexis though Marie tolerates it.

Faced with the likelihood of losing her hearing again, Alexis escalates her pursuit of her masterpiece through gruesome sound experiments and devastating designs. She won’t let anything stop her, not even love.  According to her, beats is the language that tells a story.  She claims she does not hear sound, she sees them.  Alexis is not fooling anyone, especially the audience.

The experiments begin when she hires a couple to perform a S & M sex act while she records the sounds of pain and violence.  She wants the couple to go past the limit.  Eventually, the experiments lead to Alexis hunting down victims to kill just to record their screams.  Alexis figures that she can get away with it if she kills nobodies like the homeless.  This is where the film goes right down the drain.  It briefly turns into a slasher flick, director Noyer not knowing where his film should end up.

Noyer adds in after the film’s half way mark the character of a no-nonsense female detective who everyone in the force obeys.  She figures out all the clues and manages to hunt  down Alexis.

What happens after is totally unpredictable, but in a bad way.  Director Noyer seems to think that because his heroine has a disability, she can do what she wants like kill anyone and get away with it.  The result is a film filled with senseless violence that goes nowhere.

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This Week's Film Reviews ( May 14, 2021)

07 May 2021

FILM REVIEW:

 

HIGH GROUND (Australia 2019) ****
Directed by Stephen Johnson

A minor success already everywhere it has or possibly shown, especially in native Australia, HIGH GROUND unites once again director Stephen Johnson and writer Chris Anastassiades  who worked together almost 20 years ago with their first effort YOLNGO BOY.  HIGH GROUND is a solid action drama depicting the unspeakable crimes the White man have committed on the indigenous people.

The film begins in Arnhem Land in Northern Australia 1919 with a peaceful scene.  An Aboriginal father and teaching his son to hunt in the beauty of the outback.  They return to their family near a river where disaster strikes.  In a security patrol, the police end up shooting and killing the daily members except for two.  The son Gutjuk hides underwater breathing through a reed and is saved while his uncle, Baywara is left for dead but still alive.  Gutjuk’s grandfather nurses Baywara back to life while the boy is rescued by a sympathetic Travis (Simon Baker) who is so disgusted with the massacre that he quits the police force after killing the other white men except for a missionary and his spotter.  This is an extremely violent scene to watch and expectedly so.  Director Johnson uses this unforgettable segment to root the rest of his story set 12 years after when Gutjuk has grown up to be a young man.

The rest of the film has Travis tracking down Baywara who is creating havoc in the region looting and burning the white man’s ranches with Gutjuk as his tracker.  The film focuses on the relationship between the two while they attempt to deal with the non-ending war between the Aborigines and the White man.

Australians will be able to relate more with the substance of the story as they would have seen quite a few similar pictures with the same theme.  However for western audiences in North America, much of what is seen on screen appears new.  One can hardly imagine the injustice and cruelty human beings are capable of.

In contrast to the horror, the film is set against the stunning landscapes of 1930s Arnhem Land, and shot by cinematographer Andrew Commis in the Kakadu National Park of the Northwest Territory.  The unfamiliar sights of the creatures of the land like the snakes, alligators, birds and insects such as thousands of ants feeding on a leaf are all on full display here.

The confrontation scene between the Aborigine and White chiefs depicts the differences of their laws.  The same issue is relevant in all colonial lands including North America where the White man has stolen the land of the Indigenous people and forced their law and principles on them.

The film is told from the points-of-view of two characters, Gutjik who at the same time is coming-of-age and learning the truth behind who had massacred his family.  The other is the sympathetic Travis who is stuck between what is right and what he is able to do with his limited power.

HIGH GROUND, the film is so titled as Travis is a sniper who can take advantage in a battle when on high ground overlooking the enemy and surroundings.  In one scene, Travis and Gutjik are on high ground, the metaphor of them being able to see what is really going on between the White Man and the Aborigines.  Yet, having that advantage does not mean winning the battle, as the film illustrates.

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THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Robert Machoian

The deed of THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS could have occurred in the film’s first 5 minutes if not for the sound of someone using the bathroom distracting the man with the gun.  David (Clayne Crawford) has broken into the bedroom to find his wife, Niki (Sepideh Moafi) sleeping in the bed with her new lover, Derek (Chris Coy).   As he is about to fire the pistol, he hears the flush of the toilet and leaves through the front window of the house.  There is a long drive home in his car.

David desperately tries to keep his family of six together during a separation from his wife. They both agree to see other people but jealous David struggles to grapple with his wife's new relationship.

The theme of the film is the breakout of a marriage.  This theme was thrashed to death (but in a good way) in Noah Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY last year but the two film’s are highly different.  MARRIAGE STORY shows the process of the breakup while KILLING the aftermath.  The wife, Niki is more comfortable with her new lover and the kids.  In contrast, David is stuck living with his father (Bruce Graham) who hilariously treats him just as a little kid while getting to see his kids only on the weekends.  David spends a lot of time driving in his pick-up, where he often turns into a different person, full of anger when he is alone in his truck.  Beware when David gets into his truck.  There is also minimal dialogue in KILLING compared to MARRIAGE STORY.

There is not much that happens incident wise in the story.  David argues with his wife, plays with his children, argues with his eldest teen daughter, Avery (Avery Pizzoto) and yes, drives around, doing the odd job or so.  But emotionally, a lot transpires.  David is an emotional wreck, but keeps it cool when in front of other people.  With his kids, he is the perfect dad, caring for them, playing with them and asking them how they are doing in school.  He also knows how to deal with his teenage daughter.

One would think that the film would end up with David completely losing it and using his gun.  But director Machoian keeps the audience guessing and what audiences think might happen might very well not be the case.  Machoian steers his film towards a confrontational climax where David, the wife and her lover have an argument outside the house by the truck, where David has a gun hidden.   The climatic emotional confrontation is as exciting as a rollercoaster ride.

The stunning landscape of the snowy mountains is always in the background thanks to the talents of the d.p. Oscar Ignacio Jiménez.  The film is shot in the town of Kadosh, a little place out of nowhere in Utah - the remoteness of the place reflecting the emptiness David feels.  Yet the relationship between David and Niki is not hopeless.  Despite misunderstandings and David’s often childish behaviour, the two still have the spark of love for each other.  It is this spark that enables David to show tenderness and decency towards his family - to his wife and 3 children despite his caustic anger.

KILLING is an intense and absorbing watch.  I had initially opened the link just to check the sound/image synchronization and could not stop watching the film after that.  Writer/director Machoian debut feature is a real knockout.

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MISS ANGELA (USA 2020) **

Directed by Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood

The film introduces the subject, Angela Alvarez by the introduction of the Cuban by fellow Cuban actor, star and Academy Award Nominee Andy Garcia (THE GODFATHER III).  Garcia introduces her in Los Angeles at the posh Avalon as she renders the songs of her life.  Garcia also serves as executive producer for the film.

Angela Alvarez might be well known in Cuba but outside Cuba, her name might not be a familiar one.  Myself, I had never heard of her till watching the documentary, though I must admit I am not a music fan in general in the know.  As such, it would be difficult for most audiences to be excited about a documentary on Angela Alvarez, highlighted by the fact that she is not American.  It is then up to the film’s directors Lloyd Stanton and Paul Tooggod to make her as exciting a subject as can be and their doc intriguing.

The synopsis on imdb says the film tells the remarkable story of 91 year old Cuban-American singer-songwriter Angela Alvarez who's lifetime of songs were nearly lost to the world.   An inspiring tale of love, loss, struggle but ultimately triumph, 'Miss Angela' is a story 75 years in the making.

Directors Toogood and Stanton humanize Alvarez’s story so that audiences can relate.  This is a dream come true tale of a little girl with very high hopes.  In pre-revolutionary Cuba, a young Angela Alvarez announced to her family that she wanted to be a singer and songwriter but was immediately forbidden to do so by her father and grandfather.  Such endeavours were not permitted for women.   And so she was relegated to writing her songs in secret.  She married and had four children before the world turned upside down.

The film gets most interesting when it talks about Cuban History and how Fidel Castro’s propaganda affected Cubas and Alvarez.  Cuban oppression was kept from the western world and through Alvarez’s story, the truth comes out.  For Angela and her family, the revolution quickly shifted from emancipation to repression. The schools were closed and there were threats that children would be removed from their parents to be raised in Leninist-Marxist education camps; the Alvarez family decided they had to get out. But when her own visa was refused at Havana airport Angela made the agonizing decision to send her children on and catch up.  They became part of the Pedro Pan exodus where 14,500 unaccompanied children were spirited out of Cuba between 1960-62.  It took Angela four more long, frightening years to escape and reunite her family, finally settling down in the United States.  Only decades later would her music find life, culminating in a concert at the historic Avalon in Hollywood as recited at the beginning of the film, hosted by Andy Garcia, no less.

The film is an incredible journey of Alvarez overcoming adversity, defying the odds, and pursuing her dream of becoming a famous singer.

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PROFILE (USA/UK/Russia/Cyprus 2021) ***
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

PROFILE is an internet political thriller directed by Timur Bekmambetov.  Timur Bekmambetov is a well known Russian producer/director known for action flicks such as DAY WATCH and NIGHT WATCH as well as the flop re-make of BEN-HUR (why remake a classic?).  This internationally produced thriller is based upon the non-fiction book In The Skin of a Jihadist by Anna Erelle.

PROFILE, a 2018 internationally produced film had its world premiere at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival on February 17, 2018, in the Panorama section. It is scheduled to be released in the United States on May 14, 2021 after Pandemic complications.  This version is updated to the year 2021 in the closing credits though it is essentially a 2018 film.

PROFILE is so called as creating a profile is the first thing one does when going on a site the requires personal data.  The profile is supposed to contain accurate and true data but not one can be sure that the data in ones profile is not totally made up. 

The film follows a journalist Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) who is assigned a story by her boss Vick (Chistine Adams).  In order to investigate the recruitment of young European women by ISIS, journalist Amy creates a new Facebook profile under the alias of Melody Nelson, a false name.  She creates a persona online of a woman who has recently converted to Islam.  Soon Amy is contacted by a very shady Bilel (Sjazad Latif), an ISIS fighter from Syria. They begin to talk to each other regularly and after some time she begins to develop real romantic feelings for him. 

Director Bekmambetov’s film is very tech-savvy.  The film is most often seen from Amy’s computer screen as she does the computer work - like chatting with her boyfriend, communicating with her boss, saving files, taking photos sometimes multitasking - which could lead to some confusion.  Her screen, for example has a pause button, but streaming the film looks as if the pause button is actually on the viewer’s screen.  If one views the film in the theatre, this confusion will not there.  It is also difficult to see so many things appearing on the screen at one time.  It is easy to multitask, but to multitask while figuring out what is happening in term of plot and character development can again be confusing and needless to say, intense.

The story can be told from the computer screen point of view or in the normal format of telling a story in the film.  Choosing the former is to director Bekmambetov’s credit, gives the film a fresh look while being more authentic and caters to an audience more computer related and tech-savvy. 

PROFILE also tackles the issue of the female movement and how women especially in the Islamic religion are often misused and mistreated.  One can see in the film how persuasive and charming Bilel can pretend to be and how a naive young girl would fall to his tricks.

PROFILE ends up an occasionally confusing and intense suspense drama told with a fresh perspective for the computer savvy.

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THE RECKONING (UK 2021) ***
Directed by Neil Marshall

The film begins with the title words indicating the film is inspired by actual events.  The events in this case is the plague in England in the 1600’s when the film is set.  It was also the time when witch hunters prevailed under the guise of being servants of God.  These unscrupulous men would target innocent women as witches, arresting them and burning them at the stake.  THE RECKONING is one of these horror stories.

The film opens with young Grace Haversack as a child  She witnesses her mother burnt at the stake, forced to confess, falsely, that she is a witch.  Now grown up, Grace (Charlotte Kirk) appears destined to undergo an identical fate.

After losing her husband to the Great Plague, Grace is unjustly accused of being a witch and placed in the custody of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter, Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee, Dog Soldiers).  It is her landlord, the squire who accuses her after she resists his sexual advances after her husband’s death.   Captured by witch hunters with her house burnt down and her baby daughter forcefully taken for her, Grace is imprisoned and forced to endure physical and emotional torture while steadfastly maintaining her innocence.  At the same time, Grace must face her own inner demons as the Devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.

THE RECKONING is not an easy film to watch.  It is heartbreaking to watch an innocent mother falsely accused of witchcraft and sentenced to lashings and unbearable prison conditions.  But for Grace the worst is her baby daughter taken away from her.  All his because she refuses the sexual advances of her landlord.  For myself if I were in Grace’s shoes, I would agree to sex to save myself and daughter.  So, one must admire Grace for her bold principles.

Director Marshall (GAME OF THRONES), who co-wrote the script, puts considerable effort into getting the atmosphere  of the period accurate and the film pays off. From the wardrobe to the mud on the ground to the props and soundtrack, THE RECKONING has the feel of olde England, the time where people suffered the most.  There are solid horrid scenes like wild dogs devouring a corpse and visuals of the plague with boils and other external sores on the victims.  The attempted rape scene which is totally absorbing deserves mention.  The film could do less with Grace’s hallucinations, inserted into the film to provide cheap scares in order to have the audience jump out of their seats.  The horror of the times of the plague is scary enough without having to resort to the cliched cheap horror theatrics often found in horror flicks where things go bump in the dark.  

Director Marshall gets top marks for the creation of a solid horror period piece.  The film is an entertaining watch, moving at an efficient pace with a solid performance from Kirk as Grace.

THE RECKONING is now available on Shudder.

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STAND! (Canada 2019) ***

Directed by Robert Adetuyi

STAND! is a new film based on the stage musical of the same name.  I admit that I have not heard of the Canadian musical and neither have many of my friends.  So, the film arrives with a challenge to attract audiences to see this relatively unknown musical.  Director Robert Adetuyi (STOMP THE YARD and TROUBLE SLEEPING) has done a decent job.

STAND! is set 100 years ago against a backdrop of civil unrest and a violent general strike that changed Canada’s history.  The story follows an immigrant Romeo & Juliet in 1919 as they battle for love and a better life on the streets of Winnipeg, amid political and social turmoil.  Stefan (Marshall Williams from GLEE and HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BOY) and his father Mike (Gregg Henry) fled Ukraine for the New World, where they struggle to earn enough to reunite the family. Stefan is instantly smitten with the Jewish suffragette neighbour, Rebecca (Laura Wiggins), but Rebecca’s brother Moishe and Mike oppose the would-be couple. Meanwhile, soldiers returning from WWI are angry at the lack of jobs after the war and violently threaten the city’s immigrants, including Emma (Lisa Bell), a refugee from racial strife in Oklahoma.  When a movement develops for workers to leave their jobs in protest, a wealthy lawyer (the villain of the piece) pits all against each other in a dramatic and inspirational final stand.

Though set a century back many of the issues depicted in the film are still relevant today.  Racial tension and fear of losing jobs to foreigners are always relevant issues and so is the concept of evil and power.  The script by Juno-winner Danny Schur and Rick Chafe often falls into cliched territory but the actors perform their duties with such conviction that the flaws can often be overlooked.  For example, Stefan’s obstinate father Mike refuses to join in the strike and even works as a scab but knows that he will eventually end up in the protest march, which he does in the end.  For a period piece, the art direction, wardrobe and atmosphere are impressive.

STAND! can stand (pardon the pun) very much as a drama on its own without being classified as a musical.  The actors do not breakout into song or dance that often, so that the film does not really feel like a musical.  A few of the songs are also pretty good, tune and lyrics as well.   Despite being a small budget, the film looks grand.  The climatic march at the end of the film requires a march of ten thousand people.  This is quite hefty logistics.

STAND! the Juno-award-winning musical hit set against the Winnipeg General Strike by composer Danny Schur & Rick Chafe’s hit musical opens across Canada on November the 29th.  A small but effective musical, STAND! is worth a look.

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TRIGGER POINT (Canada 2021) **
Directed by Brad Turner

One wonders the reason this action flick from Canada bears the title TRIGGER POINT.  It could be the point in the film that triggers some important event or the firing of weapons in the film.  It is assumed the former as the film concerns an ex-agent forced out of retirement to fend for himself - forced out by a trigger point.

The ex-agent is Nicholas Shaw aka Nick played by British Columbian Barry Pepper.  Pepper is one of my favourite actors who has proven himself in many supporting roles, the one that stuck me being THREE BURIALS though he would be likely be known for his portrayals in the Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT and Clint Eastwood’s FLAG OF OUR FATHERS.  He gets a leading role in an TRIGGER POINT, and he turns out to be the best thing in this otherwise lacklustre action flick.  Canadian staple Colm Feore (GOOD COP BAD COP) plays Nick’s ex-boss.

The film feels like a blend between the film noir films such as the Philip Marlowe films and the current auctioneers like JOHN WICK only with less action and less film noir, thus succeeding in little of both.  The film moves too slowly as an action pic and besides having an unsatisfactory ending is filled with cliches.  A good exercise while watching the film would be to list each one together with a film reference.

For one an agency formed for the reason of assassination is one right out of the Diana Ring Oliver Reed British 1969 classic THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU directed by Basil Dearden.  Then dialogue like: “Nobody knows Quentin… that is why he is so powerful” or “The world does not work that way anymore” are lines that ring a bell having come from other films.

The skinny thin plot concerns Nick getting out of the assassination bureau called the agency in the film.  Nick is now living in isolation until called out to help his former boss, Elia.  The two go in search  of a list and to rescue Elias’ daughter.  Though the plot is thin, Michael Vicekerman’s script still manages to be a bit confusing.  Once one realizes that the plot doesn't really matter, then the action should be enjoyable.  The action segments, though not too many, are executed with some flair, reminiscent of the KINGSMEN and JON WICK movies.  A few inconsistencies can be noticed.  There is an action scene in which Nick has to fire twice to kill one of the guards.  This is puzzling as Nick is supposed to be a sharpshooter as evident in all the other scenes where he can take out a victim from afar and with only one shot.

The film is pretty serious in its delivery but includes a few notable humorous incidents, the most memorable being the one in the auto shop where Nick asks to borrow a phone and then pay for the use of a car.  This joke (not to be revealed in the review) is the only memorable thing in this sorry and disappointing action film.

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THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (USA 2021) **
Directed by Joe Wright

British director Joe Wright is a legend in his own right having made minor masterpieces like ATONEMENT which introduced the world to actress Saoirse Ronan, then playing a 13-year old, and other female strong films like HANNA and ANNA KARENINA.  Wright’s films work best when they are set in wide open spaces like ATONEMENT where soldiers await in Dunkirk to be sent back home.  THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, also a female film with Amy Adams in the lead role of a female psychologist who herself is undergoing psychiatric treatment, takes Wright into confined spaces.  Adams plays Dr. Anna Fox who suffers from agoraphobia.  Wright does not perform that well in enclosed spaces either.

Wright does Hitchcock but rather badly.  Anna, watching the murder of a neighbour across the street through a window is a plot lifted directly out of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, REAR WINDOW with James Stewart with a broken leg stuck in his apartment witnessing a murder committed by neighbour Raymond Burr.  The one scene with Anna adjusting the lens of a camera on a tripod is an image directly taken from REAR WINDOW.  Homage, nod or pure copy?  That is up to the viewer to decide.  To Wright’s benefit, based on the history of his superior filmmaking, I would take it as an homage as there are other several familiar Hitchcockian images.  The film’s climax is on a rooftop similar to the top of the bell tower in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.

It would be a delightful experience to watch REAR WINDOW and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW back to back.  

When Anna reports the murder of Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) to the police, they arrive at her place with husband played by Gary Oldman.  Oscar Winner Oldman is quite the screen presence, observable the instant he appears on screen.  Oldman won the Oscar for Best Actor in Joe Wright’s film on Winston Churchill, DARKEST HOUR.  The husband denies that he has killed his wife, introducing the police and Anna to his wife, now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.  This incident is similar to the Hitchcock scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST where Cary Grant calls the police to report kidnappers in a house only to find different people residing there.

For a film with a simple plot, the script makes the story unnecessarily complicated.  There is no real need to create such a desperate character (overkill) as Anna suffering multiple problems like mental psychiatric distress, a past car accident, over drinking, pill-popping, a separation, agoraphobia and a weird tenant among others. Adams seems lost with too many issues to handle.  Her own therapy is to play chess with non-humans and to spy at her neighbours.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was slated to open with an early 2019 release in the theatres but due to Pandemic and test audiences poor reactions, the film has been now slotted straight for streaming.  It opens on Netflix on Friday May the 14th.  THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is so terribly derivative filled with over-the-top dialogue that it makes a hilarious viewing.

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This Week's Film Reviews (May 7, 2021)

30 Apr 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

15 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT BIGFOOT (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Zach Lumplugh


Bigfoot, also commonly referred to as Sasquatch (the term also used in the film), in Canadian and American folklore, is an ape-like creature that is purported to inhabit the forests of North America.  Supposed evidence of Bigfoot's existence is based on a number of anecdotal visual sightings, disputed video and audio recordings, photographs and casts of large footprints.  Some of these are speculated or known to be hoaxes.  

There have been many films made on Bigfoot, the most famous being the low budget indie sci-fi BIGFOOT(1070) directed by Robert Slatzer.  Scientists have generally agreed that there is no such creature.  This low budget comedy attempts to shed some light on Bigfoot’s existence while bringing in a few laughs.

Glasses. Joggers. Vapes.  As a millennial blogger, Brian (Brian Emond) has everything... except happiness and the vocation of his dreams. Which is simple enough - to become a broadcaster, of if not at least a journalist of some integrity covering stores or news that matter.  Brian wants to be another Carl Bernstein as the film opens with an image of Richard Nixon waving from an aircraft.  Brian has to opt for a second choice.  All his life he wanted to work in news, but his spirit has been broken by too many obstacles.  Recently passed over for a promotion to become, yes a broadcaster, Brian is begrudgingly sent on another waste of his time:  Bigfoot.  In order to write this piece, Brian must trade Brooklyn for the mountains of North Georgia.  Guided by cryptid-rockstar Jeffrey (Jeffrey Stephenson), Brian embarks on an overnight research expedition where he sees something that cannot be explained.   Faced with his own mysterious sighting,  Brian discovers that maybe for the first time in his career, this story could be real.  Then with the discovery of a dead body in the woods, Brian uncovers something sinister.

Though 15 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT BIGFOOT is a simple premise for a film, under careful examination, it is quite the clever one.  It incorporates a bit of satire, criticism of today’s modern society and its love for silly gadgets and brings out silly laughs when the audience takes a look, basically of themselves and how ridiculous everything can be. 

There are no 15 things in this film that the audiences are informed about Bigfoot, but it is a great title.  Actors Brian Emond and Jefferey Jefferson, who use their real first names in the film are a good comedy match, playing off each other.  Emond plays Brian to be the complete knob - one that knows what he wants out of life but does not know how to get it.  Stephenson plays another kind of knob, one that knows what he wants, and actually lives it as a famous Bigfoot Youtuber, but it is not a respected sought-of vocation.  When the two are arguing, it is hilarious.  Jeffery loves to be called the Cryptid Commander but Brian just calls him a liar.  When the two are forced to join forces, they learn to come to terms with each other.

The comedy is an easy watch and if one is not too demanding in one’s choice of movies, this will be an entertaining film.

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A BUMP ALONG THE WAY (Northern Ireland 2019) ***
Directed by Shelley Love

Any time, Any place, anywhere!  These are the words painted on Barry’s work van.  But the words are seen by the audience just after Barry has had sexual intercourse with his new date.  The newly met middle-aged couple, appear happy enough that what might transpire eventually is a relationship.  And the title of the film - A BUMP ALONG THE WAY?  - sounds like a romantic comedy.

But just as you think that, a nice surprise that it is not one.  The film worlds is already saturated with romantic comedies ranging from all ages, pre-teens, teens. middle age and even seniors.  Director Love gives her audience a welcome break in a  surprising comedy about a daughter/single mother relationship.  The boozy 44-year-old single mother, Pamela (Bronagh Gallagher) becomes pregnant from her one-night-stand, much to the shame of her buttoned-up teen daughter, Allegra (Lola Petticrew).

A BUMP is a strong female picture all the way - from its director and writer (Tess McGowan) and main protagonist.  It also tackles the female movement of male abuse.  When Pamela tells Barry that she is pregnant, he runs aways, shoring his fatherly duties like a pure coward.  But the main issue underlying the story is the topic of bullying.   Bullying is one typeof male abuse.  When her mother is pregnant, Allegra is bullied and teased in school.  When Pamela hears about it, se realizes tat Allegra just takes it quietly as se has seen her mother being bullied by her ex-husband Kieran as well as Pamela’s own awful mother who she had to take care of.  he script also solves h bullying issue in an unexpected way.

There are twin stories told in the film.  Pamela is the 44-year old mother balancing the hardship of raising the daughter while working in a bakery.  The film also spends a fair amount of time on Allegra - how she functions in school, ; how she relates to her friends and also her infatuation with a schoolmate.  Both teens and older audiences for the target audience of this film that can be both charming and sad at the same time.

But it is the miracle of birth that can win the heart of anyone.  Director Love knows it and utilizes Pamela’s birth scent as the film’s climax.  As the baby is delivered, the camera settles on the face of Allegra (wisely, and not on the baby) who is her mum’s birthdate.  As she witnesses the miracle of childbirth, the audience sees the gleam in her eyes as she realizes the wonder of perfection.  It is a clever gamble of where to place the camera that pays off.

A BUMP ALONG THE WAY ends up as a charming surprise of what could b the sleeper of the year.

The film is shot entirely in Derry, the second largest city (after Belfast) in Northern Ireland.  Watch for the rare and awesome landscape of Northern Ireland.

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

Directed by Ivo van Aart

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

That said, THE COLUMNIST, is a satisfying revenge fantasy, both wicked and deliciously entertaining set in the current times of unblocked social media.

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DEAD PIGS (China/USA 2018) ***
Directed by Cathy Yan

Director Cathy Yan’s first feature is as impressive as its first 30 minutes where she introduces her 5 (plus one more on the side) main characters in an upbeat lively style that can best be described as wide-eyed discovery.

DEAD PIGS follows a disparate group of characters in the midst of a baffling nationwide mystery.  It is the mystery of the dead pigs.  Over ten thousand of these carcasses have been thrown into the river causing contamination and flooding.  The Government steps in to disinfect the carcasses and to bury the.  No choices around are eating pork (their favourite meat) in the meantime.  A TV reporter (the secondary other character) attempts to find the reason by interviewing the pig farmers.  But the reason is only revealed at the end of the film.

Shifting between Shanghai and the neighbouring provincial town of Jiaxing, the film centres on the intersecting stories of five characters, whose loose connections begin to fatefully intertwine.

The first is a down-on-his-luck pig farmer.  He owes money from lost investments and has to pay up the loan sharks or suffer the consequences.  He is a simpleton, blown away by VR video games.   Then there is a feisty home-owner, Miss Wang defending her property who struts around as Meryl Streep did in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA.  This homeowner is a diva in her own right and stands her ground.  Every story needs a little romance which here is provided by a lovestruck busboy for the other character, a rudderless rich girl who is the story’s most annoying character.  The fifth is an American expat architect from Minnesota pursuing the Chinese Dream. Their fates converge and collide as thousands of dead pigs are found floating down the Huangpu River.

Director Yan, who also wrote the script intertwines the characters quite simply.  The simpleton’s sister is Miss Wang who he tries to borrow money from.  His son is the busboy who fools his father that he has money.  The architect is an executive for Golden Happiness, the company that wants Miss Wang’s property.  The film works best when it tells each individual story but gets clumsy when the characters meet each other.

They come together at the climax where bulldozers are ready to destroy Miss Wang's house while she stands on the roof of the house  refusing to move and defending her property.  All the other characters converge - not very convincingly particularly the bus boy who suddenly appears there, the previous scene had him in hospital after an accident.

Yan offers western audiences a glimpse of China that one expects to be toned down.  Though a criticism of modern Chinese development and society, the Chinese government has been conveniently left out of the picture.

DEAD PIGS, has an impressive beginning half hour but suffers towards its climax.  It remains a flawed but still fresh satirical look at the effects of modernizing China.

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DRIFTING SNOW (Canada 2020) ***

Directed by Ryan Noth

There are two kinds of Canadian movies.  The first is out to make money and tap the American market.   Though Canadian, these films disguise the fact that they are Canadian and not American, often with Canadian cities standing in for their American counterparts.  These films often appear groundless.  The other kind embraces the beauty of Canadiana, with lots of Canadian country landscapes, unafraid to list the towns and cities they portray.  Fortunately DRIFTING SNOW falls into the latter category.  As the title implies, there are lots of scenes with snow and ice and of course, drifting sow.  Mention of wildlife like coyotes and wolves that exist and living close to humans are included.  The film is shot in Prince Edward County in the province of Ontario, Canada.

Chris (Jonas Bonnetta who also composed the music soundtrack for the film) , an aspiring filmmaker who must cope with failing eyesight and the recent loss of his mother; and Joanna (Sonja Smits), a widow coming to terms with the rituals of daily life after losing her husband), set out on a road trip together after a nighttime car accident.   As the pair drive, their drifting memories reveal parallel experiences, helping each of them shift the focus of their destination.

Cinematographer and co-producer Tess Girard captures Prince Edward County’s serene yet brutal winter landscape beautifully, establishing it the outright star of the movie..
The environmental message is also eye-opening.  One deals with little known wind turbines.  As much as most people think wind turbines are environmentally friendly, they create noise pollution and like fracking, they turn well water black, as the film informs.

DRIFTING SNOW is a metaphor for the lives of the film's two lonely souls.   One is a man taking on odd jobs with his drones specialty in the country, after moving there from Toronto.  His mother has just passed away and his sister and him have arguments when she visits from L.A.  The other soul is a lady who also moved into isolation after her partner passed.  The film explores the power of connection in the face of grief.

Director Ryan Noth, a documentary filmmaker  (NO HEART FEELINGS, THE NATIONAL PARKS PROJECT) himself retreated from Toronto for a more rural lifestyle in Prince Edward County a decade back, and was welcomed in by a community of artists, environmentalists and farmers.   Noth used his new found isolation and the time spent exploring country roads and commuting back to the city on the highway in his pensive film on moving through the landscape as a trigger for unlocking memories.

The film does make an effect on audiences.  When watching the scene of the two having a full Canadian breakfast. I had to make one myself, viewing the screener in the morning.   The film definitely celebrates everything Canadian.  The film’s single best scene has a car wait with the two inside as hundreds of sheep cross the road in the midst of the winter ice and snow.

DRIFTING SNOW, a pensive beautifully crafted film ironically creates a warm fuzzy feeling celebrating the quiet pleasures of human connection in a gorgeous Canadian wintry setting.

DRIFTING SOW is available on iTunes Canada, Apple TV and VOD (Vimeo on Demand) beginning May 11.

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FRIED BARRY (South Africa 2020) ***1/2

A Ryan Kruger Thing

Written and directed by Ryan Kruger, FRIED BARRY is described as a Ryan Kruger thing as his film is about aliens - or rather an alien abducted loser in South Africa.

Barry (Gary Green) is a drug-addled, abusive bastard who - after yet another bender - is abducted by aliens.  The abduction scene is not for the squeamish as it involves sharp objects betting all the refines of poor Barry’s body.  In fact before the film’s star, there is an explicit warning of the ilm’s 18 warning that this is an adult film and not one to been at home.  Barry takes a backseat as an alien visitor assumes control of his body and takes it for a joyride through Cape Town. What transpires is an alien point of view or camera placed at Barry’s eye level as the audience experiences an onslaught of drugs, sex and violence as our alien tourist enters the weird and wonderful or horrid, whichever one, one imagines, world of humankind. 

The question is who would want to watch a film described like this awful 18 rated film film premise?  The same question can be asked who would want to view a 90-minute silly Martial-arts flock or a romantic comedy?  The answer does not matter.  FRIED BARRY is quite good and awhile lot of fun to watch, if one can put up with the scenes involving heroin shoot-up, blow jobs, blood-splattered and other graphic scenes. 

Gary Green who plays the aline possessed Barry is quite the actor.  He can control his face to depict extreme pain or ecstasy.  Green is the typical looking addict - tall, slim with balding long hair and downright someone one would walk the other way when seen min down the street.  He is abusive and cares about nothing including himself.  “Fuck this shit!” are one of the first words that come out of Barry’s mouth in the film.

Given what it is, Kruger’s film is quite inventive, always having something new around every corner.  And what does the alien do when it rooms the streets of Cape Town as Barry?  He witnesses a heart attack, true love from a couple with a bay in the park and a preacher warning the world of aliens.  The aline learns from the sightings.

The special effects are not half bad either.  From the impregnation of the woman who eventually gives birth to the alien baby to Barry soaring through he skies ta one point, the dazzling sights are quite a sight for sore eyes.

Totally disgusting and funny!  FRIED BARRY at some points reminds one of one of the oddest but best Australian films  and Peter Jackson’s 1992 zombie more BRAINDEAD released in Norther American as DEAD ALIVE.  I had seen Ray Lawrence’s 1985 BLISS in which a man played by Barry Otto wonders whet he is in hell after surviving a new death experience.

The film’s climax of the escape from a mental ward is something that need to be seen to be believed.

FRIED BARRY is based upon the short film of the same name, which earned 57 official selections and 12 wins at festivals around the world.  The fear is a Shudder Original tag May the 7th.  Pure adulterated fun if one can handle it!  The feature has also won numerous awards including South Africa’s Horrorfest Film Festival.

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HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN (USA/Ireland 2019) ***
Directed by Eoin Macken

Written and directed by Eoin Macken based on the novel by Rob Doyle, HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN is an Irish youth drama that follows three teens just out of school - Dublin teenagers Matthew, Connolly (Dean-Charles Chapman), nihilistic Rez (Ferdia Walsh Peelo), and the deranged Joseph Kearney (Finn Cole).

The teens indulge in recreational drugs as they pop oxy’s ever so often in their mouths.  These are relatively harmless drugs compared to the heavier stuff which they do not indulge in, except for maybe a one or two of coke, occasionally.  They are not pissed drunk though they drink a lot.

The three lads are quite different in personalities.  Matthew is the most stable of the three, his character anchoring the film.  Rez is the nihilistic while Kearney the most unstable one.  The film also includes several scenes with the lads’ parents to make the film more whole.  One jarring experience of the three involves witnessing the killing of a young girl from a car accident.  The target has different effects on each of the three.  The tragedy clearly shows that despite their childish antics, they are still human beings with emotions of guilt and sadness.

Of the three young actors playing the teenagers, only Ferdia Walsh Peelo is Irish , the other two being Brits, though they get away with their Irish accents.  It is primarily the three solid dramatic and realistic performances that make the movie .  The film suffers from a weak narrative, likely derived from the novel.  The best performances can be observed in the confrontational scene between Matthew and Kearney who had just attempted to have sex, to the point of rape with Mathhew’s girlfriend Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy).  Kearney swears and almost convinces him that Jen was lying about the incident to him and that the two of them are set mates forever.  Chapman’s performance is so good that one can see the reason Matthew is led to believe him.

Being set in Dublin, director Macken makes sure there are lots of famous sights of Dublin on display including the famous bus quay by the River Liffey.  The river is a central feature of Dublin with everything happening there, and it also divides Dublin’s north side from its south side.

Audiences must be disappointed with the film as there is not much story.  But director Macken makes it sure that the story is not the point of his film.  It is more a closer examination of today’s youth, particularly Irish youth as they come of age.  Matthew is told by his school headmaster that he has high hopes for Matthew to which Matthew replies that all he needs to say is that he has made an impression on Matthew though it might not be true.  On a drunken binge, Matthew encounters him again. though ending with a ruder altercation.                                                                                                            

HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN is now available VOD/Digital and the physical please is on June the 29th with pre-booking available from May the 25th from Well Go USA.  A well-made teen drama well worth a look!

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KARL MARX CITY (Germany 2016) ***
Directed by Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker

KARL MARX CITY is the name of an actual city but had its name changed, according to the film’s narration.

Twenty-five years after the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), filmmaker Petra Epperlein returns to the proletarian Oz of her childhood to find the truth about her late father’s suicide and his rumoured Stasi past.  Her father had hung himself and wrote her a farewell letter, but not to anyone else.  Petra obviously had to find out the cause of the suicide.  Had he been an informant for the secret police?  Was her childhood an elaborate fiction?   As she looks for answers in the Stasi’s (Ministry of the Secret Service of the former German Federal Republic) extensive archives, she pulls back the curtain of her own nostalgia and enters the parallel world of the security state, seeing her former life through the lens of the oppressor. Reconstructing everyday GDR life through declassified Stasi surveillance footage, the past plays like dystopian science fiction, providing a chilling backdrop to interrogate the apparatus of control and the meaning of truth in a society where every action and thought was suspect.

The people then lived according to the Communist Manifesto.  That summarizes Marx and Engels' theories concerning the nature of society and politics, namely that in their own words "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles".  It also briefly features their ideas for how the capitalist society of the time would eventually. The dangerous last paragraph of the Manifesto, the authors call for a "forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions", which served as a call for communist revolutions around the world.  But judging from the living conditions and the fear of the populace, it does not appear to be working according to them.  Which finally resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The film spends a lot of time on  Stasis’s surveillance.  It was not Google then and all the information and to be a hardcopy as shown in the images of stacks and stacks of index cards and files.  Common sense tells that this is all too much information.  How then to use and analyze the information?  Nobody trusts anybody because of the number of informants.  Everyone is suspect.  If 3 people are in a meeting, at least one is deemed an informant or snitch.

This is obviously a depressing doc about a depressed society and political society made even grimmer by its black and white, grainy footage and images of unhappy people.  The doc blends the living conditions together with Perra’s personal life, thus making the try more personal and horrific.  The soviet is described to be similar to George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 where every move is watched by Big Brother and nothing gets unnoticed.

KARL MARX is a very detailed and educational doc.  Though what has happened is in the past, the issues are just as relevant today.

KARL MARX CITY has its FM+ PREMIERE on May the 7th.

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OXYGEN (France/USA 2021) **1/2
Directed by Alexandr Aja

French horror helmer alexander Aja has made quite a name for himself in horror movies with his brand of exquisite colourful bloody horror.  His most famous works include THE HILLS HAVE EYES and HAUTE TENSION.  In his new horror outing, OXYGEN, a Netflix original film, he is given a bigger budget with a sci-fi premise.

A woman wakes up in a cryogenics pod.  She has apparently not remembered anything of her past especially not how she got there.  She breaks out of his mucky suit and tries to escape what she thinks has been forcible confinement or even a kidnapping.  The thing is that the oxygen level is low - and hence the title of the movie.  At one point in the movie, the lab computer MILO announces: Oxygen is at a level of 29%, Probability of Survival is zero.  The suspense is set high.  The woman, later disclosed to be Elizabeth Hansen (Mélanie Laurent) has to figure out a way to escape before the oxygen levels reaches zero.

Director Aja is limited in having to make a large portion of the film about one woman in a confined space.  He brings the audience out into the open with a few beautifully shot flashback scenes when Elizabeth reminisces the past, trying to recall her life with her husband.  Aja’s limitations can be observed in the middle fo the film when it starts to lag, because of lack of material.

The special effects are nothing too fancy but sufficiently convincing for the audience to believe the setting of the film.  Cyrogenics is the production and behaviour of materials at extremely low temperatures, which has nothing to do with the film though Elizabeth is supposedly woken up in a cryogenics laboratory.

To Aja’s credit, he has included a number of appropriately scary images - a few of these psychologically horrific.  The first is the image of a white mouse in a maze that appears to be going on forever.  If the mouse makes it around one corner, it will encounter and another and another and another - the camera pulling back to reveal an initiate number of possibilities in the maze.  The sight of a sharp needle especially one attached from a syringe is a sight that will make anyone cringe.  Aja has Elizabeth wrestle the arm of a machine programmed to inject with a needle into her eye.  White rats dying and a grey blob mucky substance include other scary images that Aja uses.

Netflix has asked reviewers not to reveal the discoveries Mélanie Laurent’s character makes about herself, aside from her name nor the location of the action beside that it taking place in a cryogenic unit - two solid twists in the plot.
Director Aja’s hefty aims of a sci-fi horror sinks under its lofty goals. The shift from a claustrophobic entrapment thriller to a sci-fi thriller, the unsatisfying film also suffers from a tacked on happy ending.

OXYGEN is a Netflix original and as all Netflix films can be viewed in different languages.  As OXYEGN is filmed originally in French, it is best viewed in French with English subtitles, if need be.  OXYGEN is available ob Netflix May the 12th.

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SILO (USA 2019) **
Directed by Marshall Burnette

SILO, the movie is the product of an extensive collaboration between city-based filmmakers and the rural American community.  The entire creative team spent years working with farmers, fire/rescue workers, and trusted agricultural institutions to ensure the authentic portrayal of the all-too-common danger of grain entrapment. SILO is not just a dramatic reminder of the importance of agricultural safety — it is also a testament to what communities can accomplish when they work together.  Unfortunately, despite  a few well shot suspense segments, it is not a very good film.  SILO plays like a disaster movie, the type that Irwin Allen used to make - TOWERING INFERNO, THE SWARM and others like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and BEYOND HE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.  These are films that audiences soon grow tired off, as they are filled witH melodrama and padded with silly romances and human relationship problems like past events and conflicting personalities.  SILO, written and directed by feels pretty much the same.

Cody is the rebellious son of a single mother.  The single mother is a nurse, but the past has shifted the two apart.  So, what is needed his an old fashioned tragedy to bring them together again.  And of course to show the female resilience, something that is getting more and more popular in films these days.

Disaster strikes when teenage Cody becomes the victim of a grain entrapment accident. Family, neighbours, and first responders must put aside their differences to rescue him from drowning in the 50-foot tall silo (a huge structure used for storing grain) where corn quickly turns to quicksand.  The script adds in Cody’s asthma and Cody needs his puffer in order to breathe.  When entrapped in grain, his puffer is in his pocket and reaching it means disturbing he grain that might sink him deeper in, to his suffocation and death.  There is a lot of huffing and puffing acting by the young actor.  And a lot of screaming from mummy, “Save my son!”

The above premise is very simple for a feature film and writer/director adds lots of fillers, as mentioned to make his feature more complete.  There are extended scenes where characters sit down to battle out their differences while Cody is busy groaning in grain.  Unfortunately the additions include a lot of b.s. leading to predictability, cities and melodrama.

The film is backed by the American Farm Bureau Federation.  Based on true events, the accidents bring light to the real difficulties in agricultural farming as a living.  ”SILO lays bare the many, very real stresses of life on the farm, especially the physical dangers.  It places equal emphasis on how rural communities come together when a neighbour is in need."  says The American Farm Bureau Federation.

The well intentions SILO aimed at educating audiences on agricultural hardships ends up a cliched low budget disaster film that is neither insightful nor too entertaining.

This Friday May 7th, a portion of SILO's proceeds are proudly being donated to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, The Progressive Agriculture Foundation, and The John Bowne Agricultural Program

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STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH (USA 2021) ***
Various Directors

STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH  
“Star Wars: The Bad Batch” follows the elite and experimental clones of the Bad Batch (first introduced in “The Clone Wars”) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. Members of Bad Batch—a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army—each possess a singular exceptional skill that makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew.

“Star Wars: The Bad Batch” makes its debut on Tuesday, May 4, with a special 70-minute premiere, followed by new episodes every Friday starting on May 7.

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Episode 1:

AFTERMATH (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Steward Lee, Saul Ruiz, and Nathaniel Villanueva

There have been so many sequels and spin-oops of George Lucas’ STAR WARS  that it is hard to keep track of what and where every film is.  AFTERMATH is the first of the animated series and follows the Bad Batch first introduced in THE CLONE WARS.

Clone Force 99 is the Bad Batch—a group of 5 elite clone troopers ((Hunter, Wrecker, Tech, Crosshair and Echo) with genetic mutations that take on daring mercenary missions in the aftermath of the Clone Wars.  When the film opens a battle is fought and Clone Force 99 is sent as reinforcements.

The story: While Jedi Knight Depa Billaba and her Padawan Caleb Dume (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr. after a super long absence from the screen) are fighting on Kaller against the Separatists, Order 66 is issued and Billaba killed.   The Bad Batch overhears the order, but except for Crosshair, they feel no compulsion to execute it, and Hunter lets Caleb escape.  Back on Kamino, the Bad Batch encounters Omega, a young female clone who is genetically as unorthodox as they are. Admiral Tarkin later arrives to evaluate whether the clone army is of any more use to the newly formed Empire, and after receiving Crosshair's report on Kaller, he sends the Bad Batch to Onderon to eliminate a group of alleged insurgents and thus test their loyalties. When the "insurgents" are revealed as fugitives from the Empire led by Saw Gerrera, the Bad Batch decides to go rogue, but are captured when returning to Kamino for Omega. Crosshair, who is still under the influence of his inhibitor chip, is reprogrammed by Tarkin to turn against his squadmates, and the Bad Batch and Omega are forced to flee Kamino without him.

The above story is no more than an excuse for fighting between good and evil forces.  It is good to know the plot as it can get quite confusing with white being the bad guys and black being the good guys.  The directors spend a lot of effort to make the film more personable by introducing Omega, and by having a little humour, especially delivered by an impatient, always wanting a fight, Wrecker, from the Bad Batch.

It is difficult to get really excited with animated beings fighting each other or animated weapons and structures being blown up.  Episode 1 does what it is supposed to do, introduce the series, introduce its characters and set up the basis for many battles to follow in the forthcoming episodes.

Episode 2: 

HIT AND RUN (USA 2021)
Directed by Steward Lee

HIT AND RUN follows after the end of the first episode running only half the time around 30 minutes.  The Bad Batch with Omega land on a distant planet, make friends and embark on a mission to steal chain cards.  “Your great plan is looking pretty lousy right now,” says a member of the Bad Batch to the Hunter, the head, in what could be mirrored as a kind of lousy action piece for this second episode.

 

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Marilyn Agrelo

STREET GANG refers to the Sesame Street gang that founded this great children’s television workshop that took the 60’s television by storm.

The informative and often inspirational doc, based on the book by Michale Davis and directed by Marilyn Agrelo reveals both the genius and hard work behind SESAME STREET.  The word sesame is not from Sesame Seeds, but from the word ‘Open Sesame’, I guess that originated from the children’s tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. 
In the late 1960s, as the US was rocked by dissent and social change, a socially conscious media executive working in the fledgling world of public television was presented with a challenge: could she create a children's show that would "master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them"?  This person was the inspirational Joan Ganz, that the doc makers manage to get to speak on camera.  Inspired by the civil rights movement, Joan Ganz Cooney envisioned a program that would both entertain and educate, specifically reaching less-advantaged children to fight the educational gap created by racism and poverty.  She assembled a team that included Jon Stone (the star creator of SESAME STREET) , the original director who set the tone and style of the series, and the incomparable Jim Henson with Frank Oz, whose Muppets became an iconic part of the magic that is Sesame Street.

Featuring exclusive footage from behind the scenes of the first two decades of the show, as well as over 20 original cast and creator interviews, Street Gang introduces us to the people (and the Muppets!) who entertained and educated children like never before. The result was one of the most influential and enduring children's programs in television history.

The best part of the doc is watching SESAME STREET episodes with the muppeteers who can be seen at work.   But the film goes deeper into the psychology of children between the ages of 3 -5 .  What they like to watch and what gets their attention span thus focusing learning on those items, allowing the children to learn and be entertained while they are not realizing it.  The setting of Sesame Street is the ghetto where kids are outside the steps of the apartment buildings.  The actors on the series never talk down to the kids.  Kids and performers are diversified, often coloured thus reaching to the poorer children at the same time.

Music is not forgotten.  The genius behind many of the classic Sesame Streets is the tireless composer Joe Raposo.  The audience gets to see him in action, composing, singing and recording.  Watching all these artists at work while having the high aim of educating the children of poorer families is inspirational.

The doc also has sad moments.  Director Agrillo shows footage of the death of one of the program’s key performers and decides to teach children about death through one of the characters, Big Bird.  Jim Hansen also passed away which is another sad point during the series.  The doc also mentions Jon Stone’s depression and how Sesame Street helped him.

STREET GANG shows the power of what good can accomplish, thus making watching (it) quite inspirational!

Trailer: 

TOGETHER TOGETHER (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Nikole Beckwith

 

The film begins with what appears to be an interview.  The man asks the woman a couple of questions, the most awkward one being: “What is the worst thing you have ever done in your life?”  to which her answer comes: “That is kind of private.”  The audience is kept in the dark as to what kind of interview -  a job? a date? it is.  The scene ends with her asking him the same question: “What is the worst thing you have ever done?”  It turns out it is the conversation between Anna (Patti Harrison) and Matt (Ed Helms).  Anna is the surrogate for single Matt who wants to have a baby in his life.  This is the rather clever introduction to their story.

Director Beckwith appears to have covered all the angles in the story.  She includes the background of the surrogate.  Patti first got pregnant earlier in college and had to give up her baby for adoption much to the chagrin and disapproval of their parents.  Matt has had relationships in the past but now seems to prefer being single.  The reactions of both parents are included in the story including the baby shower party where everyone meets.  But most important of all are the emotions going through the surrogate and the father, particularly the surrogate.  Anna feels lonely most of the time.  She is unable to find happiness and seems that bringing a baby for someone else would make her happy by making someone else happy.  These little musings are what makes this film stand out.  There are lots to read between the lines and to be seen between the images.

Both the characters Anna and Matt are quite different.  Anna is more the loner while Matt the opposite.  That is the reason Matt seems flabbergasted when he is so excited about the baby that he wishes to tell everyone compared to Anna who wants to keep the news quiet.  The inevitable possible romance between the two, despite their 20 year age difference is not omitted in the story.

The film also has the expected awkward moments for the couple.  These occur at the baby shower party, the counselling and the ultrasound segments at the hospital.  The couple eventually learn to be comfortable with each other and to appreciate the good each has done for the other.  TOGETHER TOGETHER is an appropriate title for a film with many hidden messages.

Ed Helms, from THE HANGOVER settles for a more sobering role as the single dad displaying more drama and emotions than comedic drunken high-jinx.  Helms still displays comedy in the form of a rather persistent and awkward over-caring father who should drive his surrogate more crazy than the film depicts.

To many audiences including myself who know nothing about parenting nor about the birth process, Beckwith’s film educates with the trials, worry and wonder of the miracle of childbirth.  She keeps the miracle to the film’s very end, springing it as an appropriate climax.  As the film ends its story, the audience realizes that the story has only begun for Anna, Matt and the new baby.

Trailer: 

WRATH OF MAN (UK/USA 2021) ***

Directed by Guy Ritchie

British director Guy Ritchie gangster film helmer of hits like LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) AND SNATCH (2000) and the awful Sherlock Holmes films is one delivering a mixed bag of tricks.  His latest action entry starring his fav Jason Statham, who has joined him in no fewer than 4 films plays the title role again.  Ritchie co-wrote the script with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, based on the 2004 French film Cash Truck by Nicolas Boukhrief.  Unfortunately, the film itself is a mixed bag of tricks.  The film has an excellent first 30 minutes, before getting muddled with confusing flashbacks and storytelling non chronologically before getting its footing again.

To his credit, Ritchie can deliver solid action scenes if he puts his heart and soul into it.  This is witnessed in the first truck hold up scene, taking place from the point of view inside the truck.  It is a solid segment that sets the tone of the best 30 minutes of action seen in a film this year.  The film then introduces a stranger as an employee known as H (Jason Statham).

H, a cold and mysterious stranger, is hired by a cash truck company resonsible for moving hundreds of millions of dollars around Los Angeles each week.  During one such job, the truck gets held up at gunpoint and H single-handedly deals with the robbers, showcasing advanced combat skills and training.  Secretly, H is hunting for the people who murdered his son during a similar robbery, and plans to use his new position to set traps for every would-be robber in the city until he finds his son's killers.

Besides Statham who aptly carries the action thriller, WRATH OF MAN contains other performances worthy of mention.  One comes from one of my personal favourite British actors, Eddie Marsan who I first saw in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY playing Sally Hawkins’ driving instructor.  Marsan plays a cowardly, follow-the-book supervisor.  Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott plays the nasty villain of the piece, Jan while Josh Hartnett, steals the show playing a loud-mouth coward who earns his valour ‘wings’ in the end.  These supporting characters lift the film from meaningless action to an action film with some solid characters with individual personalities.

The introduction of the Andy Garcia character at the middle who re-appears at the film’s end is not a very convincing one that does nothing much for the story.   The role could have eliminated totally making the story leaner.

I have not seen the French movie CASH TRUCK but it would be an interesting watch to compare the two films.  WRATH OF MAN has already made its rounds where theatres can be open, been released in Russia, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, and nabbed around $7.6 million from previews and limited theatres.  It is scheduled to be released in the United States on May 7, 2021, by United Artists Releasing, and in the United Kingdom on July 23, 2021, by Lionsgate.

Trailer: 

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

23 Apr 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

 

ABOUT ENDLESSNESS (Sweden/Germany/Norway 2019) ****

Directed by Roy Andersson


ABOUT ENDLESS is an extremely slow moving film.  But doesn’t slowness imply endlessness?  ABOUT ENDLESSNESS, a Roy Andersson film is as slow as any other Andersson film but his films (SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR, A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE) are not without their pleasures.  Warning:  Some patience is required!  And lots of contemplation would help as well.

The film is a quiet reflection on human life in all its beauty contrasted with cruelty, displaying both of life’s splendour and banality.  Inconsequential moments take on the same significance as historical events: a couple, hugging, floats through the clouds over a war-torn Cologne; on the way to a birthday party, a father stops to tie his daughter’s shoelaces in the pouring rain; teenage girls dance outside a cafe (the most uplifting segment); a defeated army marches to a prisoner of war camp.

The trait of an Andersson film is a beautiful still image, that could be an exterior or interior shot.  His figures then move and in and out of the image.  This technique is repeated again with several other images, some related to each other while others not.  Dialogue is sparse, and could be the narrator contemplating the scene on display of the characters saying a few words.

Among the many segments many precede with the words: I saw a man or I saw a woman…

I saw a man who lost his way…

I saw a man begging for his life…

I saw a woman who had problems with her shoe…

I saw a man who wanted to protect his family’s honour but changed his mind…

I saw a man who wanted to conquer the world but would fall….

These vignettes last no longer than a few minutes, but are keen observations of human nature and behaviour.  Most of Andersson's subjects are older or at least middle-aged people except for the segment with the 3 dancing girls.

Most of the vignettes are quite serious, many sad and many left for audiences to just look and contemplate their emotions.  Only a small handful are funny.  The most hilarious is the visit to the dentist.  A man complains of a toothache yet refuses anesthesia because he cannot stand needles.  Whenever the dentist prods, the man screams: Ow! Ow!  The dentist finally gives up and walks out of the room, to which the dental assistant says that he had had a bad day.  Another funny segment has a priest who has lost his faith insisting to see his shrink but arriving at closing time.  But whatever form the vignette is, they share the same trait of wry humour or sadness with the subjects moving in and out of the frame like controlled puppets.  

The images are all beautifully shot and a lot of thought have obviously been given to each individual vignette.  The result is an excellent piece of filmmaking, proving once again director Andersson’s talent at filming with his customary aloofness.

Trailer: 


AMBER’S DESCENT (Canada 2020) ***

Directed by Michale Bafaro

Amber Waltz (Kayla Stanton) is suffering mental trauma after her husband’s attempt to slit his own throat while giving the reason that Amber was not devoting enough time into their relationship.  To Amber, a gifted pianist and composer puts her craft first.  Her goal in life is to complete her latest symphony.

With her disturbing past and hope of putting it away, Amber buys and retreats to a huge isolated country house in Okanagan.  Though the county is not mentioned in the film but in the closing credits, one can safely assume that is the place the story is set.

The Okanagan, also known as the Okanagan Valley and sometimes as the Okanagan Country, is a region in the Canadian province of British Columbia defined by the basin of Okanagan Lake and the Canadian portion of the Okanagan River.  It is part of the Okanagan Country, extending into the United States as Okanogan County in north-central Washington.

The region is known for its dry, sunny climate, dry landscapes and lakeshore communities and particular lifestyle.  The landscape is rightly displayed in the film making it look like a retirement  place that suits Amber’s wants.  Agriculture in Okanagan has been focused primarily on fruit orchards, with a recent shift in focus to vineyards and wine.  Amber’s house has an orchard out in the back and it is in the orchard that Amber experiences her few encounters with the spirit.

Throughout the film, the film poses the question of the cause of the hauntings.  Is Amber really going crazy after the emotional trauma she had faced?  Is AMBER”S DESCENT into madness really happening?  Or is the isolated mansion in the country really haunted with the spirit of the previous owner waiting to possess Amber?

The script co-written by director Bafaro and Michael Mitton includes several characters of ‘questionable’ personalities to enhance the creepiness of the story.  One is Miss Murphy, the ‘certified crazy’ old lady (Sheron Russell) who Amber visits to find out answers as to the history of her house.  Her nurse (Kirsten Khorssand), is as strict and nasty as Nurse Ratchet in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKKO’S NEST.  And there is the creepy handyman Jack (played by co-writer, Mitton) who comes on to Amber, not to mention Mark who keeps appearing to Amber in her hallucinations.  Some humour is provided by the local priest, Other Lawrence (Don Knodel) who seems to have all the answers with his sense of humour.

Weird happenings, though not clearly explained also add to the chills. A door opens and shuts itself when Amber enters a back room.  Her symphony appears to be writing itself.

The answer to the cause of the hauntings is finally answered by director Bafaro to the film’s end.  Though the reasoning of the hauntings is not very convincing, one has to admit that the final scenes are indeed quite chilling, and mentally scary in what can be described as a satisfying psychological horror thriller.

AMBERiS DESCENT, an IndieCan Entertainment production, will be available on iTunes, Rogers, Telus and Amazon Prime on May 4th. 

Trailer: 

THE COUNTY (Iceland/Denmark/Germany/France 2019) ***
Directed by Grímur Hákonarson

Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson whose best known film the 2015 RAMS that won the top prize at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section returns with a female protagonist film.  An Icelandic woman takes on the corruption of her local co-op and the outdated, exploitative system that supports it.  Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) has always questioned the slavish devotion of her husband, Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson), to the co-op, even as the co-op's debt has spiralled out of control and their prices remain much higher than those of their competition. When disaster strikes, Inga decides to openly take action against the co-op via social media. As her campaign progresses, she soon finds out just how low her adversary (the villain of the piece) is willing to go. 

Themes of the underdog versus the establishment make good small movies like THE CASTLE (a farmer’s fights for his house to be bought over for a new airport runway, women seeking unionization NORMA RAE, MADE IN BANGLADESH) and THE COUNTY is no exception.  Iceland like most Scandinavian countries has been admired for their advancements but the film shows an uglier seedier side of it, like the harsh conditions Icelanders face for their land.  Hákonarson’s uncompromising film ends with a realistic ‘unhappy’ ending that makes his film even more effective in getting his message across.

Trailer: 

EAT WHEATIES! (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Scott Abramovitch

EAT WHEATIES! is the story of a segment in the life of loser Sid Straw (Tony Hale). Sporting a moustache, a receding hairline and a slight gut, this unfit middle class male is not exactly not one who would count as a good catch.  Yet he manages to catch a date with Kate and goes around thinking and telling others that Kate is his girlfriend.  He even says his phone call “Kate is my girlfriend”, though Kate’s phone comes out with the rebuttal “Kate is just a  friend.”

The segment of life examined in the film is Sid’s pleasure of being co-organizer of his school reunion party.  Sid had the pleasure of dating Elizabeth Bank’s sister, and so this forms Sid’s claim to fame though he actually dated Bank’s sorority sister, and not her real one.  Of course no one, not even his immediate family, brother, sister-in-law or parents believe this to b e true.  Sid Straw's life begins to unravel as he tries to prove that he was friends with a celebrity in college.

Written by, Michael Kun, based on the book "The Locklear Letters" and directed by Scott Abramovitch, this is the decent story of a lovable lose or sad sack reminiscent of Jared Hess’s 2004 comedy also of a lovable loser (but a teen) NAPOLEON DYNAMITE.  In fact, it would have been credible if the character in EAT WHEATIES! is a grown up Napoleon Dynamite.

There are films about winners and films about losers.  Films about losers are a little trickier.  If the loser turns out to be loud, obnoxious and unlikeable it will be a tougher film to like if the protagonist annoys the audience.  Fortunately in EAT WHEATIES! Sid is a hapless loser, that despite a few annoying outbursts like his speech at his brother’s party where he insults everyone including his parents (by talking about his mother’s breakfast lasagne, which was quite funny), he is still quite likeable as he is well intentioned.

One wonders the reason the film is called EAT WHEATIES!  A brief hint is given at the start of the film but the full explanation is revealed only during the court case.

There are various similarities between the two films.  One of the most glaring ones is that both films rely on the climax of the film for its success.  For this film, it requires NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, the protagonist to prove to the audience his talent and his winning  abilities despite his awkward outward appearances.  Fortunately for both movies, the climaxes work and both films succeed.

The ultimate question on every audience’s mind while watching the film is whether the real star Elizabeth Banks will appear at the end of the movie.  The answer will not be revealed in this review but be in for an unsuspected surprise.  This does not necessarily mean the answer being yes.

A winning film about losers, which has won a few awards in the festival circuit, opens VOD/LevelFilm on May the 4th 2021.

Trailer: 

 

GOLDEN ARM (USA 2020) *

Directed by Maureen Bharoocha


Written by Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly and directed by Maureen Bharoocha, GOLDEN ARM is about the golden arm of arm wrestling - with women.  The big question is whether anyone would want to watch a film about female arm wrestlers at a national competition.

At least the filmmakers do not take the matter more seriously to make it a ROCKY type sports film.  But as a comedy, GOLDEN ARM has nothing much going for it either.  A sorry premise of a plot, an unconvincing story line with unliveable characters and no villain hardly amen a movie with any hope of interesting audiences.

A tough lady trucker, Danny (Betsy Sodaro) trains her wimpy best friend, Melanie (Mary Holland) to compete in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship.

Girls talking tough!  Or girls trying to talk tough!  “I got motorcycle grease in my butthole and I don’t even know how it got there.”  Lines like these are supposed to be funny and are not not, and disgustingly low-life humour.

The performances look as desperate as the film’s theme attracting a mass audience.  Sodaro comes across as a female version of Jack Black.  Think boisterous, in-you-face annoying.  Imagine having to put up with her for a full 90 minutes.  The only time I can tolerate Jack Black is watching the KUNG-FU PANDA movies when his face cannot be seen.  Sodaro needs a female KUNG-FU PANDA equivalent.  It is surprising Melanie can deal with Sodaro’s character. Danny.  Danny lies to her half the time, forces her to do things she does not like and screams at her face half the time.  They do not see convincing as best friends.  In real life, both Sodaro and Holland are comedians.  

Romance comes in, in the form of Greg (Eugene Cordero).   But the story does not need another distraction.  The romance is both forced and predictable and would have been best to have been omitted from the story to no detriment.

Another question is the sexual orientation of Betsy.  Betsy is established at the film’s start as gay, which might suit her tough nature but later is shown bringing a man back for sex.  

The supposedly ‘funniest’ line in the movie.  “I have seen bigger bites from a balloon animal.  And I have seen a lot of balloon animals.’” says someone snubbing Melanie as an arm wrestler.  The humour in the film is generally weak at best and offensive at worst.  I didn't laugh once during the entire comedy.

On the plus side, cinematographer captures the greasy, seed side of underbelly America with the back bars and strip clubs.  Which makes the film look even more unattractive.

Other attempts at comedic set-ups include Melanie trying on different outfits for an arm wrestling match - from cartoon bear, to the pope to killer cleaning lady.

The result of stupidity taken to the next level is a film like GOLDEN ARM.

Trailer: 

THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES (USA 2020) ****

Directed by Mike Rianda

Every family has its challenges.  For the Mitchells it is the machine apocalypse.

The machine apocalypse does not take place till the one third mark of the movie, when Mark Bowman (pardon the pun) is captured by the machines.

The first third of the film centres on the Mitchell family.  When Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson), a creative outsider, is accepted into the film school of her dreams, her plans to meet "her people" at college are completely upended when her nature-loving dad Rick (Danny McBride) plans for an ultimate family road trip.   This means instead of flying there as she planned, Rick, her wildly positive mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), her quirky little brother Aaron (Mike Rianda), and the family's pet pug Monchi, will drive Katie to her school together. However, Rick's plan of getting all of them to truly bond as a family for one last time is suddenly interrupted by a tech uprising: all around the world, the electronic devices that Katie, Linda, Aaron and most all other people love – from mobile phones to home appliances to an innovative new line of personal robots – decide it is time to take over. With the help of two friendly malfunctioning robots, the Mitchells will have to get past their problems and work together to save the world.

Who or what can be more menacing than the ever smart controlling computer that took over the spaceship in Stanley Kubrick’s space masterpiece 2001:  A SPACE ODYSSEY?  The answer is the new computer PAL in the new animated feature THE MITCHELLS AND THE MACHINES where smart machines take over the world.  It is up to a typical all-American family to save the world and destroy those damned machines led by Oscar Winner Olivia Coelma.  Actually it is Coleman who lends her voice to the evil machine brain of the machine takeover.  All this came about after overconfident CEO Mark Bowman led his smartphones get too smart for his high tech company.  Mark shares the same first name as the head of Facebook but given a politically correct new look as a black man.

THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES is a very clever satire.  It satirizes the typical American family and high tech while being absolutely laugh-out loud funny half the time, making this new Phil Lord and Christopher Miller production (the duo responsible for CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and THE LEGO MOVIE).  It is good to laugh at oneself or one's family or at a family that resembles the one depicted on screen at least.  Myself, the Mitchells represent a family I know very well  with the alpha male dad acting the same way right down to the pet dog.

The film celebrates differences.  The Mitchells are a weird family and it is for that reason that they are the last family alive - and the one to save mankind.  “It is the difference that makes one great!”, coons Rick, the father.

Director Mike Rianda co-wrote the script with Jeff Rowe.  The pair must have a really keen sense of humour as there are tons of laugh-out loud bits that tend into today’s high-tech world.  The audience is given statistical information such as 90% of calls from moms get ignored to machines getting fed up with their faces (or screens ) being constantly poked and swiped (poke, poke, swipe, swipe) all the time.

Worth a look!  Opens Netflix May 30th.

Trailer: 

THE OUTSIDE STORY (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Casimir Nozkowski

Written and directed by Casimir Nozkowski, THE OUTSIDE STORY is a comedy of discomfort - a comedy where unfortunate incidents keep happening to the main character or characters.  If one is unable to root for the films characters, then the comedy can be annoying not to say very uncomfortable which results in the comedy not being very funny.  In comedies like Neil Simon’s THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS, made into two versions, bad things keep happening to a married couple that visit NYC.  In the new comedy THE OUTSIDE STORY (the title a play of WEST SIDE STORY as a segment involves the protagonist on the outdoor fire escape steps, which is seen in the WEST SIDE STORY poster), the misfortunes are surprisingly not annoying but funny, as Charles (a wonderful performance by Brian Tyree Henry (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, ATLANTA) who has previously only been given supporting roles, now gets his big main role takes everything in stride.

Charles is an introverted video editor, trying to recover from a broken heart.  His lover has left him after making out with another woman.  Perceiving a betrayal of trust as a sign his girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green) is leaving him, Charles preemptively blows up his relationship and sequesters himself at home (before it was cool).   What happens is a burrito delivery incident that leaves Charles locked out, outside.  Hence, the title THE OUTSIDE STORY.

Charles encounters one weird incident after another, every one appearing to be testing his patience.  To make matters worse, he is running around in socks, having left his shoes indoors, his phone running out of juice and money also low.

A lot of the comedy arises from the unaccommodating people who he meets.  One is the East-Indian traffic cop (Sunita Mani) outside his place who seems to be having a whale of a time giving out tickets.  She is wearing a police uniform, obviously many sizes too large, looking like a misplaced cop trying to prove herself.

Other characters that Charles has to deal with include his friend who supposedly has an extra set of his kets.  He shows up with a bag full of keys and it turns out that not one key fits.  Another is his landlord who is never seen in the film, as he shows up at the door when Charles is not there.  “Do not get a locksmith,” is the landlord’s advice thinking that all locksmiths make an extra set of keys ignorer to enter and rob a place later.  Charles also meets his upstairs neighbour who has two sex visitors (the term ‘a swinging couple’ that is used these days) from Norway.

Director Nozkowski’s script is pretty cool too.  Who can dislike a character like Charles who has a job as an editor for TCM?  The script sneaks in a romance and messages like “Everything happens for a reason” and helping one’s neighbours.

THE OUTSIDE STORY is a low budget but efficient title comedy that is entertainingly funny enough with a message to boot.  The film has already won numerous awards in the festival circuit and opens VOD/digital on May the 4th.

Trailer: 

 

SON OF THE SOUTH (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Barry Alexander Brown

A film on the fight for the Civil Rights Movement could not arrive at a more appropriate time.  Based on Zellner’s memoir “The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement,” SON OF THE SOUTH is a passage-of-rites story of activist Bill Zellner, the grandson of a famous Ku Klux Klansman and his involvement in his fight against racism.

The film opens with a bloodied Bob Zellner (Lucas Till), dragged by two whites and hung from a noose for the crime, as Bill says in voiceover for writing a college paper on the Civil Rights Movement.  He continues to add that many whites have a very short fuse with regards to tolerance of the Civil Rights Movement.   The film then moves back in time to the true events leading to the segment.

Bob Zellner is the son of a Methodist minister, a senior attending all-white Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama in 1961.  Seeking information with which to write research papers on race relations, Zellner and four fellow students attended an event held in a Black church to mark the fifth anniversary of the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott.  The event is conducted by Ralph Abernathy (Cedric the Entertainer) and Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lainer). When police arrive to arrest them, the white students evade arrest by fleeing through a back door.  Dubbed the 'Huntingdon Five' in a newspaper, a cross is burned on the yard outside Zellner's room. Zellner's klansman grandfather (Brain Dennehy) warns him not to involve himself in the civil rights movement.

Later on in the film, witnessing a mob attack on the Freedom Riders, Zellner helps Jessica Mitford get to safety.

Initially a passive supporter of the movement, Zellner goes on to become SNCC's first white field secretary by the film’s end.

The late Brian Dennehy who passed away in April has a solid unforgettable role as the racist grandfather of Bob.  His role is so different from the major leading role he had in DRIVEWAYS where he played a lovable senior neighbour.  This ultimately evil character threatens to put a bullet in the head of his grandson if he keeps fighting for the blacks.  another solid supporting performance is delivered by comedian Cedric The Entertainer (the name he goes by) in a totally serious role as a black minister of the church who fights for civil rights.  Lucas Till should also be given credit as lead actor for carrying the film successfully.

Director Barry Alexander Brown, best known as Spike Lee’s talented editor does a decent directing job in the film, especially blending the real events in basically his selected re-enactments of Bob Zellner’s Civil Rights fight.  Though treading precariously in cliched territory, he builds the drama effectively from reluctant activist to a full blown committed one - and one who would give up his fiancee for doing the right thing.  Spike Lee serves as executive producer to support Brown’s film.

SON OF THE SOUTH, based on a true story, words proudly displayed at the start of the film is a film that matters, and one that riles up righter anger against racism and puts up Civil Rights Activists up on a pedestal, which is where they should be for all to admire and perhaps emulate.

Trailer: 

TOM CLANCY’S WITHOUT REMORSE (USA 2021) **

Directed by Stefano Sollima

TOM CLANCY’S WITHOUT REMORSE has been finally released for audiences after a tumultuous past.  After many, many production attempts including Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy in the title role of John Clark, the role eventually went to Michael B. Jordan.  The film was delayed again due to the Pandemic and finally bought over by Amazon Prime.  One would expect the film to be a mess after such problems.  And it is a mess.

For one, the John Clark character had been portrayed by white actors Willem Defoe and Liev Schreiber before in early films so the switch to a black actor might be considered politically more correct, though it might throw a bit of confusion to the story.  The film is supposed to be based on the 1993 Tom Clancy novel WITHOUT REMORSE but the story of the film based on a script written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples contains an entirely different premise.  For one the Vietnam War and the wife kidnapping has been changed to the War in Syria and a murdered wife.  The only thing retained is the character of John Clark.

The film opens with the setting in a war-torn region of Syria.  An elite team of US Navy SEALs led by Senior Chief John Clark (Michael B. Jordan) rescues a CIA operative taken hostage by ex-Russian military forces.  Three months later, in apparent retaliation for his role in the mission, Clark's pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London) is murdered by a squad of Russian assassins. Despite being shot multiple times himself, Clark manages to kill all but one of the attackers before being rushed to the hospital.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Clark's friend and former SEAL team member Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) meets with CIA officer Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) and Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce) to discuss response options. Leaked news of Russia's unprecedented attack on American soil has caused the already-strained relations between the two nations to sour further. If something isn't done soon, the result could be a full-scale war.

This script gets my vote as the laziest script of the year.  Execution is not much better.  The full scale war is finally explained to Clark that it is good for America.  America needs a common enemy for the production of military equipment and weapons to keep the economy going and to keep the U.S. having an external enemy, for if not, they will be fighting among themselves.  This, as everyone knows, is a message that rings so true.  But still. the U.S. is so fucked up that the sorry state of events is still taking place.  Thank you, Donald Trump.  Thank God, Biden is trying to undo the damage.  All the execution of the action scenes are mediocre at best and have been seen in other action films.  This film is primed for a Tom Clancy/John Clark sequel - and that is all there is to this sorry excuse of an action film.

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

17 Apr 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

AN AMERICAN SATAN (USA 2019) **
Directed by Aram Garriga

A documentary is often as interesting as its subject.  In the documentary AN AMERICAN SATAN,  it is the Church of Satan that is the subject.  Though the church boasts members across the globe, many know very little of its practices.  Thus, the title of the doc alone should pique the interest of many.  Any devil worshipper is preconceived with nastiness such as indulgence in human sacrifice, animal killings,  unusual sex and cult suicides.

The doc is quick to offer information on the Church of Satan.  Founded in 1966 in California by a former organist and lion tamer named Anton Szandor LaVey, the Church of Satan has often been surrounded by mysteries, scandals and moral panics.   Some of today’s active members of the church and other free-styled Satanists will share their views, memories, ritual practices and personal stories about how they got involved with Satanism, discussing the false myths that still surround the movement.   AN AMERICAN SATAN, from director Aram Garriga (who co-wrote the script with Xavi Prat), intends to take his audience into an immersive journey into one the most fascinating phenomena of American religious pluralism.

Unfortunately, AN AMERICAN SATAN is NOT the first doc to examine people who supposedly worship Satan.  Last year, Penny Lane’s 2019 doc, HAIL SATAN? looked at the Satanic Temple.  The Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple are similar but Garriga’s doc never mentions anything about the Satanic Temple.  A lot of people will appear disappointed when told what the Church of Satan is all about.   Despite its name, it does not worship the devil or burn human flesh or indulge in sex but is an alternate church with milder beliefs.

Garriga’s doc ends up a noncontroversial and mild documentary that traces the rise of the Church of Satan through its founders, high priests and followers.  The film gives a lot of screen time to LaVey.  But LaVey and his high priests come across as life losers who cannot fit into society.  Their excuse is not to follow the flow but to be individualistic.  That is easy to say if society rejects you.

The doc also includes the reactions of parents to individuals when discovered of their interest in Satanism.  Some could not care.  Others encourage their children.  Others ignore and pretend their children are uninvolved.  Does the audience really care?

Garriga references several horror classics like THE EXORCIST, ROSEMARY’s BABY, THE DEVIL’S RAIN and THE OMEN.  But the connection is weak and unconvincing.

  The interviewees also talk about hate speech aimed at them.  One claims the existence as to what really is hate speech.  One also talks about the first and second amendments and how he reasons out the having the right to bear arms is his belief.  Again who really cares what these society rejects believe.  Director Garriga expresses the views of his Satanist as if what they say is the Gospel (or Satanic) truth.

With Satanic worship de-demonized and the followers shown as ordinary people wanting to express their individuality, the doc ends up a boring collage of interviews.  By inevitable comparison, Lane’s HAIL SATAN? was more interesting and dealt with the Satanic Temple with more depth than AN AMERICAN SATAN does with the Church of Satan.

Trailer: 

 

BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL (Ireland/UK 2020) ***
Directed by Chris Baugh

Writer/director Chis Haugh vampire horror comedy arrives with a fresh look at the blood sucking legend.  Set in the county of Six Mile High (a fictitious one as no such county exists according to Wikipedia), it purports that Dracula author Bram Stoker made a visit to Six Mile High and encountered the blood sucking monster before it was defeated that give him inspiration to write the most famous horror novel of all time.  The film is quick to point out that Stoker was an Irish author, a true fact, according to Wikipedia.  But this vampire or vampire spinoff tale does not follow the vampire rules.  In other words, a stake through the vampire’s heart, garlic and sunlight all do no harm to the beast.  This beast even when decapitated, can survive.  (How the monster is disposed of, will not be revealed in this review.)

Baugh injects lots of humour into his vampire cautionary tale.  To his credit, he exhibits a keen sense of humour.  When a pair of tourists (Canadians, hilariously, recognizable by the Maple Leaf badge one wears on his sleeve) gets scared, he asks: “Don’t you guys have anything else better to do?”.  “No, we don’t”, comes the reply.  Or in the scene when  the father gets his leg injured and the son asks his father, while running away from the monster, “Can you run?”  “I can hobble”, comes the hilarious reply.  Baugh has to indulge in graphic violent scenes to counteract the comedy to induce the horror back into his tale.  This includes ghastly scenes like poles jammed into the master and a leg chopped off.

Baugh incorporates a lot of Irish into his Irish film - giving it a solid Irish flavour.  All the characters (except for the two Canadian tourists) speak with Irish accents and use Irish terms like (That’s grand!  and sentences with the word ‘wee’ - the words grand and wee always used in Irish dialogue).  The stones underneath the monster were initially buried is typical of Irish folklore.  The Irish countryside and landscape all add to the film’s ‘Irishness’, not to mention all the characters’ fondness for the drink.

The story revolves around the boys of the title, led by Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan),  a layabout who spends most of the time drinking his life away in the local pub called ‘The Stoker’ after the author Bram Stoker.  His father (Nigel O’ Neill) is displeased with his son’s laziness and the pair finally get to bond after their many differences at the end of the film.  It all begins when the rocks covering the grave of the beast are disturbed by Eugene’s friend, Michael after a drunken fight leaves some blood on the stones.  The monster resurrects, creating havoc on Eugene and his friends, as his father and friends have got a contract job  excavating the land containing the burial site.  So the monster attacks them and they have to destroy it before the monster kills off the town of Six Mile High.

Baugh’s film is fresh and entertaining while sticking to its Irish roots.  The film opens on Shudder on April 22nd and is worth a look, despite the film lagging a bit towards the middle.

Trailer: 

BROTHERS BY BLOOD (Netherlands/France/Belgium/USA 2020) **

Directed by Jeremie Guez

BROTHERS BY BLOOD is a thriller/drama based on the novel “Brotherly Love’ By Peter Dexter.  It has two actors that I admire and love to watch - Joel Kinnaman and Matthias Schoenaerts.  If you are wondering what Dutch actor Matthias Schoenaert is doing in this movie, the reason is that the film is a Netherlands co-production with other countries.  Unfortunately, these two are unable to save this awfully executed movie that ends so abruptly that one wonders if something must have been left out.

Director Guez has the knack of confusing audiences with his story-telling technique.  It is really confusing for the first half of the movie as the two actors play Michael and Peter, both with the same last name.  One would assume that Peter and Michael are brothers as the title even implies so.  But Peter keeps warning others about his cousin.  No cousin is seen.  So, one would assume that maybe the two are cousins and not brothers.  The fact is cleared only after half the film has passed.  As a kid,  Peter is brought to stay with his cousin after his father, Charlie (Ryan Philippe) is killed.  So they are cousins but are like brothers by blood.

In the beginning, Peter and Michael indulge in a drinking binge and Peter jumps off the edge.  Michael tells the other friend: “He has done that before.”  It seems odd as Michael is the crazier one and Peter the saner one, so one would not expect Michael to be doing silly things.  Incidents also appear out of the blue.  The beginning meeting with a business proposal is also confusing.

The film’s story unfolds in two timelines.  Peter is also shown as a kid with his explosive father as the main story unfolds with Peter’s relationship with Michael.

The main story involves crime gangs.  Michael is rising in the ranks as he kills off his rivals.  It is a gang war between the Irish and the Italians.  And the Italians are winning as the Irish have no control of their emotions.  Charlie puts it spot on when he says: Only an Irish would bang his fists on the wall.  But when he hits a stud, it is damage done with no turning back.  Or only an Irishman would open a beer with his teeth.  Only an Irishman would hurt himself and there is no excuse for this.  Obviously these words must have fallen on deaf ears, as Peter is constantly hitting himself in danger by protecting Michael.

If one wonders the reason Peter is putting up with all of Michaels bullshit, the reason is given by Michael telling Peter: “You have to be on my side.  You are my brother.  You are the only one I trust.”

For an action drama, there is not much action.  Director Guez not only likes to confuse but tease his audiences as well - especially with the abrupt ending in which he brings his tiresome film to an end.

 

Trailer: 

 

SPIDERMABLE - A REAL LIFE SUPERHERO STORY (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Kelly Wolfert

SpiderMable is introduced as a film based on a real story.  The talking head admits that the film will pull at one heartstrings and is a good feel movie.  Director Wolfert knows that his story of cancer kid, 6-year old Mable who draws her inspiration from Stan Lee’s comic book hero SPIDER-MAN is such a film and milks it for all the drama and feel-goodness that can be mustered.

Tragedy strikes, a superpower is revealed, and the hero must come to terms with their new abilities. That's the story arc of great comic book heroes. It's also the real-life journey of a selfless 6-year-old cancer patient's desire to help others even while she is in the battle of her life. SpiderMable - a real life superhero story is a feature documentary following cancer-fighter Mable Tooke who lives out her dream of fighting crime with her hero Spider-Man and is then thrust into the realm of celebrity after her wish day becomes a viral sensation.  Mable must learn to manage her newfound popularity and harness her power in an attempt to give back to the community that is helping her survive.

The Children’s Wish Foundation made Mable’s wish come true with support right down from the Mayo of Edmonton.  Telecast on Alberta TV, the mayor gives SpiderMable free access to the city in order to complete the dauntless task of finding a purple caped villain and rescue missing Edmonton Oilers Captain.  SpiderMable is laser focused and enters the police station, in the midst of an important police meeting to talk to the police.  SpiderMaple is in charge.  All this make belief is to make a child’s wish come true.  Lots of people, including working folk in Edmonton were tweeting as to where SpiderMable is.

Famous talents on display includes Canadian News Anchor Peter Mansbridge, filmmaker Kevin Smith (in total serious mode here) and the creator of Spider-Man, Stan Lee among others who lend their time for Mable.

The film also follows Mable as a daffodil champion in raising money for Charity for cancer patients.  This is her true super-hero ability.

But Mable has to return to reality.  This means she has to remember she has cancer and to continue receiving hospital treatment of chemotherapy.   

SpiderMable will be inevitably be compared to the Swede documentary, Nathan Grossman’s I AM GRETA which follows Greta Thunberg, a teenage climate activist from Sweden, on her international crusade to get people to listen to scientists about the world's environmental problems.  SPIDERMABLE fails to show Mable’s shortcomings which every child or person has, instead of an all-perfect human being.  In I AM GRETA, Greta is also shown in a segment as a child who sometimes acts spoilt because of all the media attention, disobeying her parents.

Despite the film's good intentions, and this reviewer not wanting to be a wet blanket but the film ends up a bit much, beating its theme to death.  A shorter featurette would have served the purpose of the story just as well.

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

STILL THE WATER (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Susan Rodgers

STILL THE WATER is a film about second chances, as it is made known to the audience at the start of the film.  Nicky (Colin Price) scolds his brother Jordie (Ry Barrett), the two of them having a troubled past, “Helping a coward like you does not make me a believer (in second chances), but makes me a sucker.”  This is the theme of STILL THE WATER - the relationship of the two brothers with Nicky, especially hating Jordie, but one can guess where the film will be heading.

It is strange for a female to make a film with hockey as its central theme - especially when hockey is a male chauvinist sport, one that involves fighting and violence often during the crucial matches.  But the film is also about the trouble and reconciliation of two brothers, a film about forgiveness and truth that females should have a better grip of than their male counterparts.  The brothers take their aggression to the ice in the rink when they play hockey on the same team, though this is no excuse for Nicky to slam and punch out his brother.

STILL THE WATER can be described as a decent film - for a decent film it is, one that has human values like accidents and fate and how normal human beings have to deal with their anxieties and blame.  In the story, two brothers are having problems from an incident in the past.  The problem is not made known to the audience till after the first half of the movie. “You’ll be surprised at how much I know about you and Nicky” says Jordie’s ‘girl’ to him, even though the audience has no clue at this point what had transpired between the two brothers.

The best thing about STILL THE WATER is the cinematography (d.p. Christopher Ball) of Prince Edward Island where the film was shot.  The setting is not a familiar one, even for Canadians, as P.E.I. is a small island that few have visited though many wish to do so, including myself.  The island is shot in all its glory from the lobster fishing to the fishing docks that the fishing boats react to the causeway from the island to the Canadian mainland.  Indeed, P.E.I. is a beautiful place and director Rodgers was wise to expose the island’s beauty in her film.

The film’s beginning that cannot be forgotten for its brutality has Jodie punching up his hockey opponents that caused his disgrace and suspension.  Near the end of the film, he is told that he is an inspiration for the kids in terms of hockey.  The two do not go together, how a fighter that goes against the rules can be a role model for future hockey players.

One knows that the estranged brothers will eventually recondite, putting their difference aside by the film’s last reel.  They do.  But director Rodgers does not have to overdo it with cheap theatrics like the two brother kneeling on the ground with their arms around each other.

Trailer: 

TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY (Croatia | Norway | Sweden | USA 2020) ***
Directed by John Von Sydow


The more interesting the subject, the more interesting the documentary.  The do cTINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY can hardly go wrong as it is based on one of the weirdest celebrities ever performed in history - TINY TIM.  Tim is also lovable, funny, amusing, immensely talented while leading a very interesting life at the same time.  Director Von Sydow talks about these traits in his doc on the tragic but magnificent life of Tiny Tim.

TINY TIM: KING FOR A DAY is a biographical doc about a musician who is not only well known for hits such as TipToe Through The Tulips but for his trailblazing personae that paved the way for other rock stars such as David Bowie, Prince, Iggy Pop and Boy George. An outcast from a young age, Herbert Khary’s rise to stardom as Tiny Tim is the ultimate fairytale. Considered a freak by many of his peers, Tiny Tim left no one unaffected. His wedding on the Carson Show was watched by over 45 million Americans and his queer personality have been celebrated by the likes of Bob Dylan, Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga. 

Tim suffered a difficult life primarily because of his talent.  His talent was at the same time odd and silly icing him little respect though his audiences loved his silliness.  This can be observed in the looks of Johnny Carlson when Tim guests on his shows.  Carlson can be seen rolling his eyes back as can also be observed in other shows that Tim guests on.  It is not surprising that Tim was picked on in school and even kicked out of the house by his parents.

One sure good trait that Tim radiates is his love for people.  Married 3 times, he is revealed to be forgiving to his wives though the first two had left him.  Tim also had his mother and father sit in the front row on the Ed Sullivan Show when he was on.  He was also buried with his parents nearby in close plots.  Tim was also loving Jesus Christ in his religion.

Tiny Tim is not so tiny. In his later years, especially before his death, the footage shows Tim to be getting quite used in size, not considering his over 6 foot height.  It is not surprising that he suffered from diabetes, weight and other health problems that eventually led to his heart attack.

It is fitting that entertainer Weird Al Yankovic serves as narrator of the doc, reading from Tim’s own diaries.  The audience can see Tim as a sad and tragic but talented man, eager to be loved, with plenty of love to give and most tragic because he was a man who begs to be understood for the character that he is.  Now that he rests in peace and with this new documentary out, one can look more objectively on this remarkable personality.

Tiny Tim died from a heart attack in the midst of a performance while he was on stage.  He had admitted to his 3rd wife that he was not feeling well at that stage.  His remains are entombed in a mausoleum in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. A large mural of Tiny Tim with tulip themes by famous Australian artist Martin Sharp is in the Macquarie University Student Council in Sydney, Australia.  Sharp has previously worked with Tim advancing his career in Australia.

Trailer: 

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

07 Apr 2021

FILM REVIEWS



3½ MINUTES, 10 BULLETS (USA 2015) ***1/2

Directed by Marc Silver

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving November 2012, four boys in a red SUV pull into a gas station in a Florida neighbourhood after spending time at the mall buying sneakers and talking to girls.  With music blaring, one boy exits the car and enters the store, a quick stop for a soda and a pack of gum.  A man and a woman pull up next to the boys in the station, making a stop for a bottle of wine. The woman enters the store and an argument breaks out when the driver of the second car asks the boys to turn the music down. 3 1/2 minutes and ten bullets later, one of the boys is dead. 3 1/2 MINUTES dissects the aftermath of this fatal encounter.

The doc begins with the court case.  The boys take the stand and tell their story.  So does the shooter’s girlfriend, who together have left a wedding after consuming a considerable amount of alcohol.  David Michale Dunn is on trial for murder of Jordan.  Jordan’s parents also have a say to the camera making the doc a very personal one.

Director Marc Silver’s well crafted and executed documentary 3 1/2 MINUTES. 10 BULLETS unfolds with more emotional drama than most fiction films.  There is also an important message in the tragic story of two families.  It is the question of tolerance and repeat.  If these two values were observed by the victim and predator, the tragedy could surely be avoided, to the relief of both families.  But what is done is done and the doc shows the horrid consequences both parties have to face in the court of Florida.

What actually happens is quite straightforward, but there are so many points of view or ways of examining the situation as demonstrated in the courtroom.  Basically there was an argument about the loud music.  When the victim came out of his car, he was shot, the shooter claiming it to be self defence.

Director Silver shows both sides of the story but clearly his film is one the side of the victim.  The audience will be too, as there is absolutely no reason for anyone to get shot no matter what the circumstance.  And self defence can be an argument used as some excuse but killing someone is no excuse for bad behaviour that should be punished.  The sight of the killer sitting in the courtroom trying to look sad and sympathetic makes him look even more pathetic.  Silver’s camera settles on him a number of times before he is revealed to be the defendant.

One of the film’s most moving and surprising parts is Dunn’s girlfriend’s testimony.  Dunn claims that he perceived the boys having a weapon.  When cross-examined she tells the truth that Dunn never mentioned to her of him seeing or imagine seeing a gun to her that day, evening or next day.  This testimony has a big effect on the jury as it implies Dunn lying about his self-defence defence.

It took a while before this 2015 doc premiering widely on Hollywood Suite, Monday, April 26 at 9pm ET.  The doc is definitely worth a look.

 

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ARLO THE ALLIGATOR BOY (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Ryan Crego

 

ARLO THE ALLIGATOR BOY is an upcoming American 2D Netflix original animated adventure musical film directed by Ryan Crego in his directorial debut.   

Arlo, when he first appears can be seen to be half human, half alligator.  Did his human father have a thing for alligators?  Don’t ask?  Many cartoons have unimaginable background stories which might be too adult for kids to imagine.  So as the saying goes, Ask no questions and no lies be told!

When the film opens, Arlo is living happily in his sheltered life in the swamp.  Upon learning that he is from New York City,  Arlo decides to leave the swamp and goes to New York City in search of his human father.  It is a journey in which Arlo will encounter a whole lot of adventures, while growing up as well in this rather imaginative coming-of-age animated feature.

Warning: this animation feature is extremely silly.  Silly is not the same as goofy but both can be hilarious as many animated cartoons have proven.  Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd) and SPONGEBOB SQAREPANTS are extremely goofy.  And funny.  ARLO THE ALLIGATOR BOY is pure silly.  Take the unrelated scene where director Crego has a cat and cow kissing for no apparent reason.  Or the introduction of a charter called Bertie, a huge gigantic girl who becomes Arlo’s friend and protector.  When Arlo meets Bertie (aka ‘the beast’), he sings the ‘Bertie’ song.  When Arlo is attacked, Bertie would shield Arlo shouting: “Why don’t you pick someone twice your size?”  The film is also filled with catchy, uppity songs - just to enliven the mood of anyone down with the Covid-19 blues.

The feature’s best segment is the duet sung by Arlo and big  Bertie ``Follow me Home”.  The song, a beautiful melody with meaningful lyrics tells of how lonely one can be when one is different from the others, as Bertie feels.  All Arlo’s friends join in the song as they frolic in the ocean,  The musical number ends with a hilarious one-liner from Marcellus the fish.  The best joke?  “I’m walking here,” as the bus driving Arlo swerves around the pedestrians who scream the phrase first heard coming from Ratso Rizzo played by DustinHoffman when he crosses a street in NYC in John Schlesinger’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY.

The question is whether Arlo is able to find his real father among the huge population of NYC, and if he does, whether his father will accept him.  The film lags a bit after Arlo finds him, with the film heading towards a quite unreliable (even for an animated feature) ending.  But as this is an animated fantasy, one should not complain.

According to the closing credits, the feature was made during the Covid-19 lockdown, which in itself is quite the achievement.

ARLO THE ALLIGATOR BOY opens on Netflix Friday April 16th and will be followed by a 20-episode streaming television series titled I ❤️️Arlo.  Judging from the pilot film, it should be a success, following the footsteps of the similar goofy animated excursion, SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS.  It will be a good challenge to see which one is goofier.

Trailer: 

 

THE BANISHING (UK 2020) **

Directed by Christopher Smith

 

A Shudder original film, THE BANISHING is an haunted house horror film set in the U.K. with a period setting.  With a popular haunted house scenario, the film capitalizes on the Borley Rectory, the county manor that is very well-known and given the ‘prestigious’ title of the most haunted house in England.  

When the film opens a woman and her daughter moves in with her husband into the said haunted house.  Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay of DOWNTON ABBEY) re-unites with Linus (John Heffernan), the local vicar.   Daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) eventually becomes the home of a possessing spirit, for silly seasons made known later by some stranger, Harry Price (Sean Harris) who somehow seems to know everything.  He is deemed major trouble by Linus and the bishop with the Biblical name, Malachi (John Lynch).  Malachi is quite the character, a nasty bishop if ever one has seen, who enjoys wearing the huge gold cross around his neck like a gangsta.  He also behaves as one.

Cinematography-wise the film looks close to picture perfect, the only one good plus in this otherwise dense and uninteresting film, despite the outrageous evil bishop and Findlay’s performance.  Findlay holds the film together until the end when director Smith decides two have two Mariannes on show.

The film’s setting of WWII with Hitler coming to power has little to do with the story.  The excuse of not doing anything being worse than doing something appears the only reason for the setting.

Director Smith must have great dislike for the church.  Any character in the film connected to the church is full of faults.  The vicar, Marianne’s husband is truly nasty.  He screams at the family servant, never fulfils his duty as husband (“refrain from sexual acts,” he reads from the Bible) and mistreats his wife.  The bishop is not much of an improvement either.  He has ties to Hitler.  The bishop is a vicious prick who scares Marianne using religion as an excuse.  When he dislikes someone in the parish, he hires thugs to get them beaten up.

The script seems eager to quote the scriptures out of context.  Besides the ‘refrain from sexual acts, another involves Jesus on the cross crying to God :Why has you forsaken me?”

For a haunted house movie, there are the usual expectations like things that go bump in the dark; eerie music; weird noises (real or imagined?) and strange behaviour.  All this comes with the need to deliver a message at the end.  During the vicar’s sermon to his parishioners are heard” “I have been asked to pray for peace, and peace is a good thing”, and “There is nothing worse than doing nothing, referring to the war with Hitler, and some mumbo jumbo about darkness and light.”

Yes, THE BANISHING gets sillier as it tries to get scarier.  It all comes down to the vicar not having sex with his wife.  Best banish this horror flick from your list of films to be seen during lockdown.

If you still want to see the film, THE BANISHING comes to Shudder in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand on April the 15th.

Trailer:

 

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BEAST BEAST (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Danny Madden

The film begins with the words: "Today is the day of reckoning.  BEAST BEAST, ready to act” which are chanted by kids, all a premonition of some horror yet to unfold, though the film just breezes through the activities of the kids in the first half hour of running time.

The kids in the film do supposedly cool stuff like skateboarding tricks, partying, making videos, and attending acting classes.  The adults, however, are shown to always be in conflict with the kids and idiots.  Having fun seems to be the only thing of importance in the kids’ minds.

The actors are given a free hand in the film to express themselves, as their characters are told the way to act in a scene by their professor where they study in an acting class.

The characters are shown their personalities by their actions.  For example, one kid fires a weapon near a road in the woods, thinking it is cool.  That is the personality of an asshole.  Another puts her feet up while in a class.  This reveals a personality of a kid with an attitude who thinks herself better than others.

After a lengthy introduction, the film focuses on three of the kids.  All three carry on their own brand of charisma.  One is Krista (Shirley Chen) who is one of the spirited participants in the drama class.  There is one short scene where she is shown auditioning for a role, which could very well be the role of this film.  Krista is confident, makes friends easily and ends life a breeze.  The opposite can be said of Adam (played by the director’s brother, Will Madden), a gun-totter who hopes to make money on the internet by posting ‘how to’ with various weapons.  He is charismatic in his own way, talkative and would be successful if guided in the correct path.  However, his parents have left Adam to disown devices, leaving him locked up in his room all day and ending up a loser with no real goal in life.  He initially only gets 46 views for his effort and when he gets over 4 thousand views, they all criticize his work negatively.  The third is Into (Jose Angeles) good looking, well built and pretty cool with his skateboard.  With his good looks, Into can charm almost anyone.  Unfortunately he runs into a gang of thieves.  Bad company leads to stealing and doing other bad things.

The paths of the three intersect.

Director Madden appears to be having fun with his cast as evident in most of the film segments which are amusing despite bad undertones.  For example, when Nito steals stuff from the grocery store, the cashier is described as bitch face and the incident unfolds comically rather than in a tense fashion.

Nito’s locker is above Krista’s locker in school.  They meet and become friends.  Krista says hi to Adam’s dad  in one scene as she walks by Adam’s house.  But what eventually happens (not disclosed in the review) is totally tragic and avoidable.  Director Madden’s film gets more serious and darker as his film progresses towards its tragic climax leading to a film with a solid punch.

Trailer:

 

BEATE (BLESSED (Italy 2018) **

Directed by Samad Zarmandili

A comedy about nuns always appears quite an attractive concept on paper.  But comedies about nuns seldom make the mark - not even Monty Python spin-off’s NUNS ON THE RUN was remotely funny.  The Italians get a go where with their 2018 venture entitled BEATE which means BLESSED in English.  They succeed with just a little more humour (though the film is credited with 3 writers) though one could hardly call it a success.  This could be the reason this Italian comedy (in Italian with English subtitles) took this long to be available in North America.

This comedy comes with a message of displaced workers who should be given rights and respect.  To the film’s credit, the message is not pounded into the audience but just left in the storyline.

A small lingerie sewing operation on the Italian northeast coast is betrayed by a boss who wants to move their skilled labor to Serbia.  The seamstresses team up under Armida (Donatella Finocchiaro) with an endangered local convent, famed for its lace work, to try and save both institutions.  Armida’s aunt (Lucia Sardo) is one of the convent’s nuns.  Armida is also the sewing company’s boss’ pet, thus she is given a rude awakening as well as ‘shit’ from her co-workers.  The boss, Veronica is played with more humour than evil cunning by Anna Belato.  It is time for the females to unite.  This is pretty much a female story - no harm in that - with hardly any men in the feature except for the pope and Armida’s always in-heat boyfriend who seems to be around only as Armida’ sex object.  He is described by her as a nobody but he claims that at least he is quite the hunk of meat.

The Italian town is not identified and it is very apparent that it is a very small town.  How then can there be a large enough market to buy all the merchandise made to pay the salaries of all the workers as well as the convent renovations?

The best thing about this Italian female comedy is its colour - from the wardrobe, set decoration and props.   The art decor is reminiscent of the female Pedro Almodovar comedies like WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.  (Almodovar has also made a ‘nun’ film - DARK HABITS.

Despite the film’s unfunniness, the characters are quite hilarious.  Lucia Sardo’s aunt is quite hilarious with her huge eyes and fussing personality.  The Mother Superior is in ill health with a semi-stroke but still insists on bossing every nun around.  Unfortunately, Finocchiaro’s Armida falls flat as comedy.  Her character is a 40ish single mother, who walks with a lifelong limp  due to being born with a clubbed foot.  A minor character is young Sister Caterina (Maria Roveran) who takes over running the convent and saving it.  When the other nuns complain about making the devil’s garments, Caterina’s reply is for them to shut up and just do it.

BEATE wastes a good concept with cheap and unimaginative humour - but at least it is filmed in glorious colour.

Trailer: 

BILL TRAYLOR: CHASING GHOSTS (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Jeffrey Wolf

Many have not heard of the artist Bill Traylor.  As one of the interviewees says at the introduction of the film, Bill Traylor is the greatest artist one has never known.  Director Jeffrey Wolf attempts to show the reason in his intriguing new documentary on Traylor entitled BILL TRAYLOR: CHASING GHOSTS.   One of his paintings has a ghost-like figure being chased.  The film’s opening words begin with the quote: One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it.

The documentary explores the life of a unique American artist, a man with a remarkable and unlikely biography.  It begins with the history of Traylor.  Bill Traylor (1853 - 1949)  was born into slavery in 1853 on a cotton plantation in rural Alabama.   After the Civil War, Traylor continued to farm the land as a sharecropper until the late 1920s.   Aging and alone, he moved to Montgomery (the town in Alabama)  and worked odd jobs in the thriving segregated black neighbourhood.  A decade later, in his late 80s, Traylor became homeless but living in the busiest street in Montgomery, and started to draw and paint, both memories from plantation days and scenes of a radically changing urban culture.  He eventually lost one leg due to gangrene before his death.

What is most intriguing is the history of the black slave captured on film and illustrated with images, many of Traylor’s.   Having witnessed profound social and political change during a life spanning slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration, Traylor devised his own visual language to translate an oral culture into something original, powerful, and culturally rooted.   He made well over a thousand drawings and paintings within his life time. This colourful, strikingly modernist work eventually led him to be recognized as one of America’s greatest self-taught artists and the subject of a Smithsonian retrospective.  What made Trayor unique was the fact that he was a slave, he was self taught and he was pure.  A subject joked that if he was a woman he would become even more famous.

Using historical and cultural context, Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts brings the spirit and mystery of Traylor’s incomparable art to life.  Making dramatic and surprising use of tap dance and evocative period music, most of it quite uplifting, the film balances archival photographs and footage, insightful perspectives from his descendants, and Traylor’s striking drawings and paintings to reveal one of America’s most prominent artists to a wide audience.

A fair portion of the film is narrated by Charles Shannon, the white man who claims himself to be the one who discovered Traylor.  His narration puts Traylor’s drawings into time perspective.  Bill’s grandchildren and great grandchildren,  also interviewed create more personality and intimacy (many humorous) for the film.  Many knew that Bill drew, but did not know that his drawings became famous and precious.  This had resulted in a big lawsuit.

This film opens April 16 in select theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide.

Trailer: 

 

INTHE EARTH (UK 2021) **

Directed by Ben Wheatley

 

IN THE EARTH is a cautionary hallucinatory nightmare that shows the damage that can be done when nature and humans interact to the point of obsession and insanity.

As the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus akin to what the world is currently going through with Covid-19, a scientist, Martin (Joel Fry) and park scout, Alma (Hayley Squires) venture deep in the forest for an equipment run in a study of soil fertility.  They come across Zach (Reech Shearsmith), a squatter in the woods who apparently is very nice to them, but only for the time being.

It is a simple story that turns horrific.  The plot starts going all over the place without making much sense.  Too bad, as the relevant premise could have generated much more interest given the virus setting.  Directly Ben Wheatley has been an intriguing young filmmaker rising to fame since his initial hit, THE SIGHTSEERS leading to hits like THE KILL LIST, A FIELD IN ENGLAND (that I absolutely hated) and his most recent REBECCA.  Except for the SIGHTSEERS, I never really liked Wheatley’s work.  IN THE EARTH falls short of the mark as well.

Despite the straight forward storyline, a lot of incidents occurring in the film are scattered and have been hastily put together, which Wheatley does with flashbacks.  One is the beginning scene where a rock is being hammered to bits and then placed on the ground and covered.  This scene is revisited later on in the film.  The quarantine (the staff at the woods facility all wear masks) and the virus are never explained clearly.  The casting of two British actors with an east Indian accent leads to difficulty in understanding what they are saying, especially for North American audiences.  For example,  I cannot make out the film’s last line of dialogue spoken by Squires.  Wheatley could have asked his actors to speak slowly and to be more articulate.

For a horror sci-fi film, Wheatley is quite nasty in his depiction of his graphic violence.  There is one almost unwatchable scene where Zach chops off (Zach’s version of surgical amputation) not one but two of Martin’s toes.  Not only that, but Wheatley extends the scene by having Zach perform three extra chops with his axe, the first three being misses.  Then there is the stitching of Daniel’s injured foot with a big gaping hole and his screams after alcohol is poured on the wound.

IN THE EARTH was filmed under the Covid-19 third wave.  The virus also enters the storyline as the protagonist has to be quarantined from an unknown virus, similar to theCorona CoronaVirus.  The closing credits inform that the film was made under special Covid-19 supervision from proper authorities, credit to Wheatley.  To his credit as well, his cast is generally non-white with a strong female element.  The female, Alma in the film gets to save the day and does all the fighting at the climax instead of being the damsel in distress in most films.

There is much difference between IN THE EARTH and Wheatley’s last movie, the Hitchcock remake (though Wheatley refuses to call it a remake), REBECCA.  REBECCA is mostly interiors while IN THE EARTH is shot outdoors in a wooded area an hour outside London.  Surprisingly, IN THE EARTH has more suspense than REBECCA.

The film opens in theatres where allowed, April 9th.

Trailer: 

KENNY SCHARF: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Malia Scharf and Max Basch

KENNY SCHARF: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE is an intimate portrait of American artist Kenny Scharf, whose unique brand of "pop-surrealism" made him a 1980s art star.

Kenny Scharf, born November 23, 1958, still alive today, is an American painter known for his participation in New York City's interdisciplinary East Village art scene during the 1980s, alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.   Along with friends Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf grew from a graffiti artist into a major force in the 1980s NYC art scene. Obsessed with garbage, cartoons, and plastic, Scarf, with his playful Peter Pan’s roller coaster career flourished despite the decimation of the AIDS crisis and the fickle tastes of the art world.  From street art to museums, Scharf continues to create colourful and complex work that puts him at the forefront of where popular culture meets fine art.  

Scharf's do-it-yourself practice spanned painting, sculpture, fashion, video, performance art, and street art.  Growing up in post-World War II Southern California, Scharf was fascinated by television and the futuristic promise of modern design.  His works often include pop culture icons, such as the Flintstones and the Jetsons, or caricatures of middle-class Americans in an apocalyptic science fiction setting.  Unfortunately, Scharf’s contemporaries are dead, Basquiat at 27 and Haring, his soul-mate at 31.  This doc benefits from the fact that Scharf is still alive.  Still at a ripe age and alert mentally, he talks to the camera of his past and of the present.

The doc also shows Scharf at work producing his masterpieces  But as the artist himself admits at the start of the film: he just does it; no planning.  He mixes everything, whatever comes out of his head.  It is therefore of no surprise that he is obsessed with collecting trash.  When he was living with his true love in a remote part of Brazil away from everyone with no electricity, he would collect trash from the sea and turn it into trash sculptures.  As Scharf sees faces in everything, there are always eyes embedded in most of his abstract paintings.

Though he gained fame in the 80’s there is no information on his use of drugs.  So one can assume if he did any, it was under control as Scharf had no addiction problems.

Every artist has a downfall in life.  In fact every person artist or non-artists do.  Scahrf’s downfall was the period where his artwork went out of style.  He was not a businessman and could do nothing else.  His family suffered from poverty during those times.

The doc benefits from an impressive list of interviewees that say their two cents worth on Scharf.  These include Yoko Ono, Kaws and from archive footage Haring and Basquiat.  There is footage of Scarf with Andy Warhol as well.

Scharf is as playful now as he was in his youth, “Many people think I am ok,” he says.  “I think I am ok.”  Spanning the 80’s from the Vietnam war to the nuclear war to AIDs, the doc represents a good portion of the history of American as experienced through the art and mind of Kenny Scharf.

Trailer:  

THE MARIJUANA CONSPIRACY (Canada 2019) **

Directed by Craig Pryce

The long synopsis of THE MARIJUANA CONSPIRACY from the film’s press notes reads:  Based on a true story, this entertaining and informative film took place in 1972.  It’s about an outlandish study on the effects of marijuana on young women.  This film centres around five young women who shared a common goal: to make some money and have a fresh start in life.  It began as fun, like Hippie camp, and many of the young women thrived and at their given tasks despite their “toke times”.  The scientists, frustrated and surprised with the women’s motivation, decided to give them ever-increasing THC levels. This didn’t stop most of the women’s productivity until many became zombified by the excessive doses.  The girls used their unique strengths, resilience and friendship in order to overcome this extreme adversity.  To this day, the women still do not know the results.  They deserve their story to be told, and they deserve answers.

Several factors have taken out the bite of this fictionalized account of what could have been a documentary.  The most important is the fact that the film is dated and that marijuana is already legalized in Canada, where the film is set, which is largely in Toronto.  So, the effects of the drug are already very well known and despite the common knowledge that marijuana will relieve pain and make one high, there are no other unknown or insightful effects to be made known.  The question posed at the beginning of the film: “Is marijuana harmful or not?’” would therefore fall on deaf ears.  With so many young women as subjects, director Pryce serves as the role of a traffic cop of who comes next in the picture.  It is also difficult to sympathize with women that take part in the experiment for the sole purpose of making money.  Most important of all is that the results of the experiment were not made known then, is not known now and for that reason, is not made known or speculated in the film.  The film runs two hours - a  boring trudge through the dated material on subjects the audience feels little emotion about.

Director Pryce, who also wrote the script inserts anti-feminist issues, black and LGBT discrimination into his film.  One of the experiment’s subjects is black and she has a romantic relationship with a white.  She gets upset when unable to find a record of her choice in a store is told that the store keeps coloured music in stock for poor demand, the store clerk explaining that it is a question of supply and demand.  The other is a nurse who is outed.

The experiment lasts a full 98 days, and the film after a 30 minute introduction starts off with Day 1, leading to the 98th day.

THE MARIJUANA CONSPIRACY is a history lesson that could be missed without dire consequences.

The film is available VOD/Digital April the 20th.

Trailer:

 

Trailer: 

THE VIOLENT HEART (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Karen Sanga


THE VIOLENT HEART refers to the heart of the protagonist Daniel (Jovan Adepo).  As a child, he witnessed the killing of his elder sister.  He first saw her taking a suitcase and entering a car with a man.  Later in the woods, the car is driven away and the sister left for dead.  The murder was never solved.  The trauma led to Daniel being violent in a school fight, blinding one eye of his schoolmate.  This gives Daniel a criminal record which haunts him for the years after.  The story provides him a way out by joining the marines, like his father.  He  meets a girl Cassie (Grace Van patten).  They fall into a Romeo and Juliet type romance.

Grace Van patten looks too old to play an 18-year old high school student.  Checking her age on Wikipedia, she is 24 and the 6 year age difference shows.  The chemistry between the two lovers needs a bit of believing.  The reason for Cassie's attraction to Daniel is never made clear.  In the press notes, the attraction is stated to come from the opposites of both their lives.  Cassie has the perfect but claustrophobic lifestyle while Daniel’s is open but imperfect, him haunted by a traumatic past.  

Director Sanga’s film takes a while before getting its footing.  The beginning is a bit confusing though Sanga clears the doubts eventually.  It helps that the film unfolds in chronological order. The film picks up after the first third when the audience can see what director Sanga is trying to do with his characters.  As the mystery of Daniel’s sister unravels the film, fortunately it becomes more interesting.  One can probably predict the outcome of this doomed romance, which will not be revealed in this review.

More mystery is added with Cassie's father who she thinks is having an affair unknown to her mother.  A good play in the script has her with conflicting interests of respect and fear of her father.  The father has a hidden skeleton in his closet but he explains the rationality of his actions.    The film stresses the importance of family.  Daniel looks after his mother and little brother while respecting his father in the marines.  Cassie’s father protects her family as well.

It helps the story that the script pays attention to the supporting characters.  Daniel’s younger brother, Aaron (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) has inferiority complex issues with his mother (Mary J. Blige in a welcome role) thinking himself less important than Daniel.  When he turns violent in a fight in the classroom, Daniel makes his say in the film’s most dramatic scene.

Relative unknown actors Adepo and Van Patten perform their roles impressively, despite the lack of chemistry.  The chemistry is deterred too by the couple being inter-racial, even though films tend to be more liberal these days.

Director Sanga takes the film’s inspiration from Nicholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and Douglas Sirk’s MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION.  Though not bad, THE VIOLENT HEART never reaches those heights.

THE VIOLENT HEART is available VID/digital on April the 13th.

Trailer: 

 

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Hot Docs 2021 Capsule Reviews

05 Apr 2021

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

Directed by Ann Shih


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

 

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

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

A MARRIAGE (Czech Republic/USA 2021) ***
Directed by Katerina Hagar and Asad Faroqi

A MARRIAGE has the feel of the TV reality show 90-DAY FIANCE except for the fact that the romance between Zdennka of the Czech Republic and Tabish of Sri Lanka is a true one.  Zdenka, a single woman in Czech Republic, started playing online games with strangers before meeting Tabish, a computer scientist a world away in Pakistan.  Their friendship turned to romance, and after flying to Sri Lanka to meet in real life, the committed couple married. Tabish filled out Czech immigration applications and Zdenka eagerly awaited her husband's arrival.  But five years later, the two remain apart, forced to live their married life on Skype.  Time and again, the Czech government rejects Tabish's entry requests.  The reason is never made clear except the hint given that the government is protecting its citizens from bogus marriages.   But the couple persist despite obstacles and the waiting finally pays off.  The directors try their best to film their doc as the events happen, but one can tell that many of the segments are re-enactments.  What is revealed in the doc is how sincere the couple is.  This is a once in a million couple.

 

DARK BLOSSOM (Denmark 2020) **
Directed by Frigge Fri

DARK BLOSSOM is a doc that follows the lives of three Danish Goth teens that come together because no one else want anything to do with them.  The three love things that are different, radically different such as tattoos, macabre make-up and fashion, piercings, nose rings and heavy punk music.  The doc shows what happens when one of them falls in love (with an older man) and friendship is threatened.  The trouble wth this doc is that these three teens act spoilt and careless and it is unlikely that many will be sympathetic towards them,  Director Fri does not make any effort in making them likeable either, letting them do what they want most of the time.  Fri does bring the audience to take a look at the Goth culture but does not go into any depth of its origins, popularity or future.  Instead of the subculture being fascinating and standing out, it ends up as a boring collage of images.  It wold be surprising if many would  really care about these three annoying rebellious losers and their sub-culture.  An example is the time wasting scene (does Fri really think this scene is amusing?) in a diner when they argue about the pop being served not being original Pepsi.

 

HELL OR CLEAN WATER (Canada 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Cody Westman

The doc trails the work of Shawn Bath, a born fisherman who finally after diving for sea urchins for a living, decided that he should give back to the environment what humans have taken from it.  Indeed, the images of trash in the ocean is unfathomably disturbing.  And the garbage endangers sea life as well, as crabbed orcas get tangled and die from discarded fishing nets and while lobsters and crabs eat plastic that eventually move up the food chain to be eaten by human beings.  Director Westman shows the hardship that Bath undergoes in his basically thankless endeavour.  The film shows cleanups down around Newfoundland and Labrador, where fishing is the main industry and livelihood for many.  The landscape and scenery are a sight for sore eyes.  HELL OR CLEAN WATER is an extremely moving doc and it would be no surprise that many would after watching the doc be happy to do their part with a hefty donation to do their part in cleaning up the waters.

 

 

MOLECULES (Italy 2020) ***
Directed by Andrea Segre

The world has heard the sad news about Venice.  Venice is sinking.  Due to global warming leading to the increasing high tides, many of Venice’s buildings are flooded often.  Since the pandemic of Covid-19 after March of 2020, tourism was at a standstill and the city of Venice, a hot tourist spot has emptied out.  MOLECULES, an Italian doc, set in Venice shows images of the suffering city for audiences first hand.  It is not a pretty sight.  The film is called MOLECULES because the director’s father was interested in Physics and reserved a career as a molecular physicist.  Using old Super 8 family films and an unanswered letter he wrote to his father decades earlier, director Segre's captivating investigation into his father's silences and absences beautifully dissolve into the emptiness of Venice itself. Through this arrested landscape stripped down to its natural frailties and lack of solidity, Segre unearths the roots of his father's and his own unease.   A captivating yet sad story of Venice and its citizens.  Definitely worth a look - especially for those who have visited (myself have been there twice - really awesome city) or plan to visit Venice in the future.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD (Sweden 2021) ***

Directed by Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri

 

The title of the doc would likely attract the attention of many an audience.  A boy is searched from countries like Hungary, Poland, Finland and Russia before the chosen one was selected by famed Italian drier Luchino Visconti, an openly gay filmmaker who has made other films with gorgeous leading men like casting Helmut Berger in THE DAMNED.  From Sweden Björn Andresen in 1971, and 15 years of age at the time, during the world premiere of DEATH IN VENICE, Italian director Lucino Visconti, was proclaimed his Tadzio as the world's most beautiful boy, a title which would say with the by for the rest of his life.   In Visconti’s casting director’s words, the boy is extremely beautiful and photogenic.  The curious doc, narrated largely by the adult Andresen,  examines the shadow that today, 50 years later, as it weighs Björn Andresen's life.  Visconti was a very powerful figure who protected the boy as his filming crew comprised almost all homosexuals.  For cineastes who hail Visconti’s DEATH IN VENICE and for those who admired the Thomas Mann novel, this doc would be of particular interest.

 

RAISE THE BAR (Iceland 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Gudjon Ragnarsson

RAISE THE BAR is centred ona young (around 8 to 9 years of age) girls basketball team trained by an over-enthusiastic coach, Brynjar who ends up stirring up trouble with the country’s Basketball Association.   The film’s first half goes about showing the talented and hard-working girls in training under Brynjar with his unconventional methods.  Being young girls, their parents object to some of the coach's practices such as his fondness of swearing.  Brynjar argues that he is training the girls to survive in the real world and his coaching also involves building the character of the girls to be empowered young women.  In order to raise the bar on the training, Brynjar gets the girls to play against older and stronger girls but runs into trouble when the federation disallows the girls to play against a boys team.  Emotions run wild and Brnjar coaches the girls to rebel.  The doc turns controversial here and what seems to be a harmless doc about girls training for basketball turns into one of rights and principles.  Director Ragnarsson cleverly pulls off the stunt off.

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

28 Mar 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

AMUNDSEN - THE GREAT EXPEDITION (Norway 2020) ***

Directed by Espen Sandberg


AMUNDSEN is a film on the Norwegian explorer of polar regions, Roald Amundsen.  AMUNDSEN was a key figure of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.  The film begins with his plane crash in the Arctic.  While missing, his brother, Leon and Roald's lover Bess discuss the explorer’s life which tells the film’s story.

Born in Borge, Østfold, Norway, the film follows Amundsen’s career as a polar explorer as first mate on Adrien de Gerlache's Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897–1899.  From 1903 to 1906, he led the first expedition to successfully traverse the Northwest Passage on the sloop Gjøa.  In 1909, Amundsen, tricking his King and his financial backers, began planning for a South Pole expedition.  He left Norway in June 1910 on the ship Fram and reached the South Pole placing the Norwegian there in December of 1911.  It was a race for him against the British as emphasized in the film, which implies the film should have been called THE GREAT RACE.   His party established a camp at the Bay of Whales and a series of supply depots on the Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf) before setting out for the pole in October.  The party of five, led by Amundsen, had become the first to successfully reach the South Pole on 14 December 1911.

For a film set in the snowy white icy south, the cinematography, as expected is nothing short of breathtaking.  The scenes of the snow storms, the ship stuck in the ice and a sled full of goods almost plummeting into a gorge are all worthy of mention.

The story unfolds all through flashback as the adventures are recounted.   Amundsen and 15 other men in the airship Norge became the first explorers verified to have reached the North Pole.   Amundsen disappeared in June 1928 while flying on a rescue mission for the airship Italia in the Arctic. The search for his remains, which have not been found, was called off in September of that year.

Roald is depicted in the film as a tough man who will put up with no nonsense in order to achieve his expedition or race goals.  He risks the lives of his fellow men while putting them down when challenged.  Director Sandberg leaves the audience to decide whether Amundsen is a likeable character.

As it is a Norwegian film, it as expectedly praises the Norwegians for their bravery and courage while putting down the British particularly Scott, Roald’s competitor in the process.  The British claim after Roald’s victory that the real heroes are the dogs referring to the Norwegians, though the dogs are actually the ones who pull the sleighs and are eaten when food runs out.  There is one segment where the men eat dog stew, which looks pretty delicious on screen.

There is always something in human beings in wanting to discover new worlds and to be number one at that.  The film acknowledges this and watching the film is entertaining while a bit tiring due to its length, verifying man’s need to learn more about themselves and the world they are living in.  But the film has been criticized by Norwegian critics as boring and inaccurate.

AMUNDSEN opens digital/VOD April the 6th.

 

BETTER DAYS (少年的你) (Hong Kong 2019) ****
Directed by Derek Tsang

BETTER DAYS (Chinese: 少年的你 which translates literally as ‘in your youth ’) is a 2019 Chinese romantic crime film that is nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best International Feature.  Banned from the Berlin Film Festival last year for reasons unknown, the film is directed by Derek Tsang and starring Chinese heartthrobs Zhou Dongyu and Jackson Yee.  The film is adapted from the popular Chinese YA novel In His Youth, In Her Beauty by author Jiu Yuexi, went on to become a box office and pop cultural phenomenon in China and ended up grossing a total of US$230 million.  It is an excellent film, and is Hong King’s official entry, not China’s which was terrible.

The subject is bullying and how it devastates everyone involved - the bullies, the bullied, their families and school authorities.  What makes this film stand out are the other issues that come with the film’s subject - the craziness and stress of the college entrance examinations; the Chinese culture of school and living and even the way authorities deal with bullying.  Though bullying is bullying whether in North America or in China, the China setting makes everything different as well as interesting.  The film also goes into detective investigation suspense mode at the end with a murder involved with a doomed teen romance, Romeo and Juliet style.

The film begins with Chen Nian (Zhou) teaching her class English getting them to repeat after her: “This was my playground; this used to be my playground.”  She goes on to ask the class the difference between the two saying that the latter denotes a sense of loss.  This might be true but it could have a different implication as well, but let's not go there.  The film then moves back to when Chen Nian was a 12th grader preparing for her college entrance exams which is considered the most important and hence stressful part of a student’s life.  The entrance to the best universities will determine one future not only for the student but for the family as well.  The stress is heightened when she is picked upon by Wei Lai (Zhou Ye) and her friends.  Things improve a little when Chen Nian gets protection from a local gangster, Liu (Jackson Lee).  But with the protection comes major complications.  They fall in love.  Wei Lai is murdered and Chen Nian becomes prime suspect of young police detective Zheng Ye (Yin Fang).  This is when the film moves into a romantic and Hitchcockian mood.  But the tactic works.  One can tell as the film’s lengthy 2 and a quarter running time moves fast.

Director Tsang does not skimp with the raw emotions involved with the bullying, together with the physical scars that go with it, making the film at times quite an often unbearable watch, but in a  good way.

A few flaws on the way involve the sudden disappearance from the scene of Chen Nian’s mother when detective Zheng Ye arrives at the house to confront Chen Nian in her home and an ending where one expects the lovers to go free but the credits say otherwise, as if the film is based on true events.

BETTER DAYS is now playing at Virtual TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Trailer: 

 

CONCRETE COWBOY (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Ricky Staub

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

The Netflix original film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year is now available on Netflix.

Trailer: 

THE CONDUCTOR (De Dirigent)(Netherlands/Belgium 2018) ****
Directed by Maria Peters

THE CONDUCTOR is a handsome period piece about a girl who dreams and will stop at nothing to achieve her goals of being an orchestra conductor.  It is the true story set in the 1920’s of Antonia Brico (Christanne de Bruijn) but she isn't taken seriously because she is a woman.  In the meantime, she falls in love with a handsome beau, Frank Thomsen (Benjamin Wainwright) who at first gets her fired from her job.  All this is established in the film’s starting 10 minutes before the opening credits are done. Antonia meets Frank in the gentlemen’s toilet of the theatre as she pretends to conduct the orchestra with a chopstick, hearing the music from the thin walls of the gent’s toilet.  But before one can dismiss it all knowing the entire story, it is often how the journey is fulfilled rather than the result of the journey.

“I detect a slight accent, where are you from?” asks a guest to Antonia at the dinner table.  When she confesses that she wishes to be a conductor, the guests respond unanimously with scornful laughs to which Willy retorts: I thought America was the land of opportunity,” to which the reply comes: “not to everyone.”  The last phrase is so true, especially for immigrants and even more so for women immigrants.  By the phrase, the film re-ascertains itself as a feminist film.

The conflict between love and ambition forms the heart of the film’s drama.  Director Peters uses this to the best of her ability, inflicting the film with its best moments in the scene in Germany when Frank visits Antonia unexpectedly and asks her to marry him.  She mentions an acquaintance’s wife mentioning she is a perfect singer but she does not sing any more.  It is clear what Antonia will choose and sacrifice.  Director Peters’ decision to intercut the two segments of Antonia’s first stint at conducting an orchestra (though not very convincing) with Frank’s wedding to another woman emphasizes the conflict.

But THE CONDUCTOR is also a film that shows the enormous influence of fate and how man or woman cannot escape its clutches.  Karl Muck (Richard Sammel), Antonia’s teacher has an excellent spill on it and how the higher one rises, the harder one falls, to which Antonia realizes she is doomed either way.

The LGBT and #MeToo movements are brilliantly sneaked into the story giving the film an unexcited lift.  Credit goes to the exceptional subtle performance of Scott Turner Schofield as Robin Jones.

The question that obviously arises is how Antonia supports herself in Berlin.  But she receives money from America from an anonymous source.  The bank is not at liberty to reveal the name of Antonia’s benefactor safe to say that the benefactor is a female and a supporter of the arts.  Here, there are shades of Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS though the similarity might be looked down upon.

A co-production between Belgium and the Netherlands, the film is shot mainly in English but with a little Dutch and German.  A handsome period epic (that feels like one) with a solid story, well directed and acted.  Though not flawless a piece of filmmaking, THE CONDUCTOR still comes with my high recommendations.

Trailer:  

FRENCH EXIT (Ireland/Canada 2021) *** 

Directed by Azazel Jacobs

FRENCH EXIT is a film directed by Azazel Jacobs (THE LOVERS, 2017) based on the novel and adapted to the screen by Patrick DeWitt.  DeWitt wrote the book THE SISTERS BROTHERS, a period western black comedy that was an excellent film directed by Jacques Audiard in 2018, that did terribly at the box-office due to poor marketing.  FRENCH EXIT sports similar quirkiness of THE SISTERS BROTHERS.

FRENCH EXIT is a leave from a situation or event without proper notice.  The film’s plot centres on the relationship between an odd-ball mother, 65-year of Manhattan socialite, Frances Price (Michelle Pfeifer) and her son, Malcolm (Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor in  MANCHESTER BY THE SEA).   Pfeifer had played a socialite before in Martin Scorcese’s  1993 AGE OF INNOCENCE.

When the film opens, Frances takes her young son Malcolm out of boarding school in the middle of a term to go on a trip with her on a whim, with total disregard of the school rules.  The film moves on years later when she is being advised by her lawyer of her dire financial circumstances.  Frances is smart-talking which makes her character less likeable, akin to a spoilt child who had been living the good life for too long.  With almost nothing left, she sells her jewelry and paintings and moves with her son and pet cat to Paris, staying in a flat owned by her friend.  They believe the cat is possessed by Frances’ late husband.  At the same time, Malcolm is saying goodbye to his fiancée (Imogen Poots) in a really irresponsible way that no-one would be comfortable with.  Starting a film with two annoying, dislikable and reckless characters is indeed a risky undertaking, as it requires the audience to be able to root for the two for the movie to be likeable.   The first 20 minutes is set in the U.S. and they then embark on a cruise to France at the 20-minute mark.

Mother and son land in Paris at the film’s 30-minute mark.  It is Christmas eve.  They know no one.  The depressing situation is made even more pressing from the fact that Christmas is practically cancelled for the world due to Covid-19.  One high spot is the restaurant scene, where the two get their own back at a lazy French waiter.

The film, fortunately picks up tremendously after they settle in Paris.  The quirkiness turns endearing.  The story turns the unlikeable characters to become real human beings that need to be understood.  Dialogue like: “You father was an emotional moron.  But he was not evil.”  This is the explanation given by the mother to Malcolm who hated his late father.  Other interesting characters show up, like Madame Reynald (Valerie Mahaffey) who desperately needs a friend and a private detective, Julius (played by Isaach de Bankole, who I first seen as a prissy effeminate maid feather dusting in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES).

The script and director Jacobs steer the film towards a good turn with FRENCH EXIT ending up quite the great finale.  A few loose ends are left unresolved as to what the mother and son will do now that their more has run out and whether Frances has accepted the son’s engagement to Susan.

Trailer: 

 

NO ORDINARY MAN: THE BILLY TIPTON DOCUMENTARY (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Aisling Chine-Yee and Chase Joynt

To those, like me, unfamiliar wit Billy Tipton, Nilly Tipton was a trans jazz musician.  He also a bandleader, and talent broker.  For decades, Tipton assumed a male gender identity. Tipton's female birth sex was not publicly revealed until after his death, and the revelation came as a surprise to both family and friends.  Tipton's music career began in the mid-1930s when he led a band for radio broadcasts.  He played in various dance bands in the 1940s and recorded two trio albums for a small record label in the mid-1950s.  Thereafter, he worked as a talent broker. Tipton stopped performing in the late 1970s due to arthritis.

  The film can be divided into these parts: Billy’s life; Billy’s career and primarily his transgender issues, the latter given the most screen time.  One wishes the doc be given the most emphasis on Billy’s talent with more performances (the one audience hearing “The Nest Things In Life Are Free” is simply astounding) shown, as this would be the point of the doc - to show Billy’s talent rather than discuss his transfer identity.

What is most troubling that the doc reveals about people is their constant insisting of finding out whether the family knew of Billy’s sexuality - not knowing that the man was essentially female.  Billy’s biographer who wrote the book “Suits Me” comes across as the worst of these people.  Also guilty in part are the directors of this doc who spend a lot of time on the issue.  On the other hand, it can be argued that the purpose is to bring the issue into light of the un-acceptance of transgenders.

Several parts of Billy’s life is left out in the doc, like the fact that he was married a couple of times.  It is also recorded that one of Billy’s sons William did not know that he father was female.  The first thing that would come to mind is the question of William’ was conceived, which is entirely left out.  The answer though is quite obvious, that William was adopted, as were the rest of Bill’s children.  The fact that Billy’s marriages were illegal are also not mentioned.

The doc references to the trans drama BOYS DON’T CRY where the trans and her partner were murdered. 

One wishes there would have been more archive footage of Billy and perhaps more of his performances in his band.  A reason could be the unavailability of such footage.

It can be seen the directors aim (again to show how difficult it is to portray Billy, especially of a man trying to conceal his femininity) of showing the auditions of various actors trying for there of Billy Tipton but these segments take too much time and over stay their welcome.

It would be fair that the title NO ORDINARY MAN would imply that the story to be told w that this man was female - no ordinary man.  One could still do with less trans issues and more of Billy’s tremendous talent.

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

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

Trailer: 

 

SENIOR MOMENT (USA 2020) *
Directed by Giorgio Serafini

After drag racing his vintage convertible around Palm Springs, a retired 72-year old NASA test pilot, Victor (William Shatner) loses his license.  Is he guilty?  Guilty as hell but the film treats it as ok and to Victor this is a joke.  Never intending to take a bus (taking a bus is for losers and old people), taking one gets him to meet the woman of his life.  Forced to take public transportation, he meets Caroline and thus learns to navigate love and life again.  Christopher Lloyd from BACK TO THE FUTURE plays his side-kick, Sal who is just as annoying.

There are many political and morally incorrect things projected in the movie.  For one, it is deemed cool that someone races his or her car at top speed risking the lives of innocent people.       One of the characters who helps Victor out is a hispanic who has saved time - bad stereotyping of races.  There is more!

What is worse than a movie about old bogies trying to be young?  Answer: a movie about old bogies making sexist comments throughout the film, thinking it funny and getting away with it.  William Shatner (STAR TREK) plays this dirty old man who goes around googling young beautiful comments making comments like (looking at a policewoman’s bum): “like 2 hard boiled eggs doing the salsa.”   The film also legitimizes driving fast cars dangerously.  Showing off and risking lives are ok as long as the inconsiderate male is having fun.

Films can be remembered for excellent dialogue.  SENIOR MOMENT can be remembered for the worst.  When asked the reason a man of his age still chases beautiful women, Victor replies it is because they are so beautiful.  He adds that he does not want to be a male chauvinist pig.  The girl’s reply: “Pigs are so smart.”

The script is also full of shit.  In one segment, Caroline tells the story of he cuckoo clock designed by some 102 year old and is the embodiment of love.  In truth, no one ever knows the origin of the cuckoo clock.  (My family and a cuckoo clock which was terribly noisy and annoying.)

Beware!  There is an after sex morning scene.  At least the audience is spared with Shatner keeping his top on.

For a film about fast cars, SENIOR MOMENT goes nowhere, and nowhere fast!

Trailer: 

SUGAR DADDY (Canada 2020) *
Directed by Wendy Morgan

SUGAR DADDY is a low-budget Canadian indie coming-of-age story written and starring Kelly McCormack and directed by Wendy Morgan that deals with the topic of getting ones dreams despite certain risks.  The story unfolds in three stages from her growing from timid to joyous and to finally atrocious.

If one wants a date with a SUGAR DADDY as the protagonist, Darren in the film does, there are sites which state that they can hook a girl up with successful men who they are attracted to.  Of course, there is the other known fact that girls can also hook up with men for the sake of being pampered by money.  That is the premise in the new artsy drama SUGAR DADDY in which a singer/songwriter Darren wishes to fund her so professed singing talent.  She claims that she creates music that no one has heard before - or perhaps that no one wants to hear ever.  She sings screech-like musical notes that not everyone might appreciate in the film’s opening segment.

Darren (Kelly McCormack), a young talented musician, dreams of making music like nobody has before.  But she is broke.  She cannot afford a pair of proper shoes, thus wearing dirty sneakers for her catering job that gets her fired.  Desperate for cash, she signs up to a paid-dating website, throwing herself down a dark path that shapes her music with it.

SUGAR DADDY is filmed with the camera often close-up to Darren’s face.  This shows and highlights her immediate emotions.  The film therefore looks very similar to the other recent, low-budget Canadian indie ANNE AT 13,000 FEET (voted by the Toronto Film Critics Association as Best Canadian Feature 2020) but is slightly more versatile in that director Morgan pulls her camera back more often than the director of ANNE does.

It is neat to see tables turn during the first meeting between the sugar daddy, Gordon (veteran actor Colm Freore, BON COP, BAD COP) as the attraction is immediate but not from the old man but from Darren to Gordon for his intelligence and experience and advice.

The issue of how far a girl should go in being paid for a date is discussed in the film.  The subject of paid dates is discussed thoroughly during Darren’s birthday celebration.  A friend compares it to prostitution though Darren insists that there is no sex solved while another argues that the man in from t of her definitely would have sex in mind.  The guy says he would never allow his girlfriend to do this.

There is nothing really wrong with SUGAR DADDY but the main flaw is the audience being able to connect with Darren’s character.  This is a difficult point especially if one is a male.  Being a male critic, I can see the effort put in by the water, director and actress in a female centred film that I can hardly relate to or have any emotions for.  Unless one can care for the future of Darren, or what she goes through, the film can be a real bore.  It definitely does not help that her character comes across as terribly caustic and that she does not care what any of her friends think or do.  I would not like to put down this film for this reason, only to say, to each his or her own.

SUGAR DADDY is available digital/VOD form Tuesday April 6, 2021.

Trailer: showing.net/2021/kelly-mccormack-is-a-young-musician-in-sugar-daddy-film-trailer/

 

UNDERPLAYED (Canada 2020) **
Directed by Stacey Lee

UNDERPLAYED features women (and women of colour) in the electronic music scene. DJs like Alison Wonderland, Sherelle, and Canada’s own REZZ are featured with much emphasis on REZZ.  There is a segment on her in her Canadian home in Niagara Falls working very hard in the basement before getting famous and becoming a headliner in music festivals and clubs.  But the emphasis of the doc is to highlight the under-representation of females in the industry. 

One wishes the doc has more music on display more than the artists complaining about females being underrepresented in the electronics music world.  The fact is obviously true as 5% of the top 100 DJs were women, in a survey recently, but the film just goes on too much about it. 

Director Lee’s doc is quite shallow without going into the depth of the problem and perhaps a possible solution.  The doc is a series of one complaint after another and this gets really tiresome and boring.  Myself, going to the clubs weekly and partying in my younger and prettier days, it made no difference to me whether a DJ is male or female as long as they play good, cool tunes, whether with vocals or without, electronic or non-electronic.   I am sure the public, like myself could not care less of the DJ.’s gender.  In fact, me and my mates have two favourite female DJ.’s but the doc is right in that the clubs never hired that many females.  The doc does not examine the issue - if 5% of the top DJ’s were women, what is the real percentage of female to male DJ’s?   

At its best, the doc shows the realistic 2019  summer festival season, criss-crossing around the world.

The doc premiered this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and is available on demand March the 8th, Monday.

Trailer: 

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2021 Oscar Nominated Shorts

28 Mar 2021

Oscar Nominated Shorts (Animated/LiveAction/Doc)

 

Do not the term 'shorts' put you off.   Every year, the Oscar nominated shorts are available for audiences to enjoy and appreciate buddng talent.  The shorts are fresh, timlely in their messages and arrive from all over the globe.  The shorts come in 3 programmes - animation; documentary and live action.  if you have time to watch only one group, this year's best section belngs to 'live action'.

All three programmes will be available on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (digital.tiff.net) as of April 2.  Oscar Winners are announced Sunday April 25th.

 

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS - ANIMATION

BURROW (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Madeline Sharafian

Much ado about nothing, which in this case is the rabbit’s simple architectural plan for his new dream home.  A little brown rabbit has drawn a rough, childish sketch of her dream home on a piece of lined paper.  When she starts to dig, two of her new neighbours, a mole and a field mouse, both eagerly offer their assistance, showing off the elaborate blueprints and floor plans of burrows they constructed for their families. Embarrassed at the simplicity and inexperience of her own drawing, the rabbit hides it from them, pretends she has somewhere to be, and starts frantically digging deeper to get away from them, leaving them confused, while accidentally burrowing into other animals’ underground homes.  A funny and fast little fable from Pixar which has aired on Disney+ with the cute rabbit earning her dream home at the end.

GENIUS LOCI (France 2020) ***

Directed by Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise

In the study of law of entropy in Chemistry, “in all energy exchange, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will be less than that of the initial state. In simple terms, left to itself, everything in the universe moves toward disorder and decay; metal rusts, food rots, the body etc…”  This law can be seen as figures transform and matter from one form to another in the visually dazzling GENIUS LOCI.  The world of chaos is displayed with for example, a minotaur forming from the light of a passing train.  GENIUS LOCI does not contain a narrative or story so it is best just to sit back and appreciate the visuals of the talented animators, though it might be quite trying for some.

IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Michael Govier and Will McCormack

IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU is a beautifully sketched animated short film that takes the audience on a raw emotional journey of a father and mother both struggling to deal with the death of their daughter.   The title comes from a note the daughter wrote before her death - a horrid school shooting.    The story unfolds through shadows of the parents and daughter.  The shadows represent the humans’ emotions and they try to reconcile the parents.  The brutal violence of the shooting is not shown on screen but only the awful sounds of the shots are heard.  The trouble with this impressive sort, however, is that it is very difficult to follow and understand.  Only after one has read the entire synopsis of the film can one truly appreciate the work of the storytellers.

Trailer:  

 

OPERA (USA 2020) *****
Directed by Erick Oh

This one will be hard to beat.  OPERA is the only non-narrative animated short with no story nor dialogue but is so fascinating one can watch it a hundred times and still miss something.   OPERA is inspired by the great Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Botticelli.  The animation, which can be played on a continuous loop, looks at a society that exists within a pyramid structure with the camera moving slowly away then inwards shows many individuals living and dying and interacting with each action impacting another.  One has to look carefully at each minute part of the image to examine what is going on.  At one point, the audience sees figures being killed because they have different coloured heads (i.e. different races).  Director Oh examines racism, terrorism and religion in his intricate pyramid that looks like hell on earth.  I hope this one wins the Oscar, it being short of a masterpiece.

TO: GERARD (USA 2020) ****  (this one was short listed but not nominated)
Directed byTaylor Mecham

TO: GERARD is a real charmer.  The short is about hope and how doing a good deed pays off at the end.  Gerard alas dreamt of being a magician.  He has perfected the magic trick of the disappearing and appearing coins but has never found an audience.  He is now older and works as a postman.  A chance encounter with a little girl enables him to show off his skills and impress the little girl of his magic coin tricks.  As a good deed he leaves the girl with the gold coin, ensuring her to become a famous magician as an adult.  Now a hunchback old man, Gerard is given his dream come true from the good deed.  This is such a charming film about old people and about hope that it will bring tears to many.  And did I forget to mention that the animation (especially the 3D rendering of the humans) is really impressive.  The animation with the magic is also to be commended.    From Dreamworks Animation Studies.

YES-PEOPLE (Iceland 2020) ***

Directed by Gísli Darri Halldórsson

Gísli Darri Halldórsson’s animated short can be understood in any country as it is language free dialogue except for the repeated word “Yo”, which is assumed to mean ‘yes’ in Icelandic. The film tells the story of an eclectic mix of people who one morning face everyday battles such as work, school, washing the dishes and even sex.  They do not interact with each other except just in passing, as many people in the world don’t.   As the day progresses, their relationships, and their capacity to cope, are tested.  But they survive being yes people.  A generally amusing and entertaining short that is observant not only of Icelandic folk but of people in general who would live life in the same manner.  The impressive animation is cute and humorously depicts Icelanders as an unfit and chubby bunch.

 

 

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS - DOCUMENTARY

COLETTE (France 2020) ***
Directed by Anthony Giacchino

The doc comes with a warning that many will find this depressing.  And it is!  Colette isColette Marin Catherine who makes a journey to the concentration camp at the age of 90 to pay tribute to her brother who died there after being arrested by the Germans.  She herself was like Jean-Pierre in he French Resistance.  With the help of Lucie Fouble, she is brought bak difficult memories.  Colette has gone through a lot, as evident from the film and director Giacchino shows her losing it a few times, even at a former mayor’s speech in her honour.  It all shows that it is still all a bit too much to take for poor Colette which affects Lucie and the audience of this short as well.  A well-intentioned short that might just be too depressing to win the Oscar.

A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers

A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION focuses on Bowers’ 91-year-old grandfather, Horace, and the discrimination he faced as he tried to escape the Jim Crow South.   The story unfolds from the conversation with his grandson, Kris Bowers a virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer who has succeeded as a black artist.  The doc is intercut with black and white archive footage relating how much prejudice exists then.  Horace would not get approved of bank loans if he showed up in person because of his colour and had to get approval through the mail.  But perseverance proved its worth.  This doc might just win the Oscar for its timely subject and also the fact that it is an American short which helps in the Academy voting.

THE HUNGER WARD (USA 2020) ****

Directed by Skye Fitzgerald

THE HUNGER WARD begins with harsh words about man. ‘It is not God that kills children.  Not fate that butchers them.  Or destiny that feeds them to the dogs.  It’s us!  What follows is a harrowing look from inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen.  HUNGER WARD documents two female health care workers fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war.  The film provides an unflinching portrait of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they try to save the lives of hunger-stricken children within a population on the brink of famine.  The sight of malnutritioned children on the brink of death is frightening.  Ex-President Trump again rears his ugly head having supported Saudi Arabia missiles and weapons leading to the tragedy.   Excellent cinematography as well depicting the streets and wards of Yemen.  THE HUNGER WARD gets my bet and vote for the Winner in this shorts category.

 

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS - LIVE ACTION

FEELING THROUGH (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Doug Roland

This simple looking made short is inspirational in showing the amazing craft of making movies given a limited budget.  The film is brimming with emotions with characters that audiences can root for, and filled with suspense though the short is not a thriller.  Nothing is black and white and the film has a brilliant climax that proves the good in humanity.  Tareek a poor street kid with nowhere to stay, is waiting for his girl to respond to his request to stay over .  Tareek meets a blind and deaf man who needs help taking a bus getting home.  Out of the kindness of his heart he helps the man, later known to him as Artie, while stealing $10 from his wallet.  FEELING THROUGH is thoroughly engaging and this one gets my vote for BEST of the live action shorts.  FEELING THROUGH, breaking barriers is the first film starring a Deaf/blind Actor to be nominated for an Oscar.

THE LETTER ROOM (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Elvira Lind

THE LETTER ROOM is the new office that ‘promoted’ corrections officer, Ricard (Oscar Isaac) works in.  Richard is now the director of Prisoner Communication, but the job title is just a glorified name.  At first enthusiastic, he learns that it is a menial job having to censor every single letter incoming, outgoing and internal.  Richard decides to bring humanity back into his work, while taking risks at the same time.  As he discoverssurprises on the way, Richard decides to make all this work, in what is a really simple yet charming moral tale of the charity that can still be offered to prisoners on death row.  Despite being an angel with good intentions, Richard is also depicted as a human with temptations as he is shown in one scene jerking off, after reading one of his inmate’s love letters.  Golden Globe Winner Oscar Isaac lends his hand in this short showing likely his admiration for director Lind’s work.

THE PRESENT (Palestine 2020) ***

Directed by Farah Nabulsi

THE PRESENT deals with the present undesired and absurd situation of borders that exist because two peoples that have in history never come to an agreement on anything from lands to rights to peace - the Arabs and the Israelis.  Director Nabulsi takes a microscopic look at the absurdity of the situation with a father and daughter trying to make a crossing back to their house after purchasing a refrigerator.  It all comes to the whims and fancy of a crossing guard who uses the excuse that he has to follow orders.   Yusef (Saleh Bakri) has crossed the border many times but the guard who knows him is not present.  A Kafka-is situation eventually boils down to whether he can push the fridge through a doorway too narrow for it to go through.  Director Nails allows the tensions to rise above boiling point, getting  audience at the edge of their seats with weapons about to go off.  The film ends with the famous words of Jesus who said in the Bible: "And a child will lead them.” A touching and effective examination of racial tensions!

 

TWO DISTANT STRANGERS (USA 2020) ****

Directed by Martin Desmond Roe and Travon Free

It takes a while before this short takes hold, but once it does, TWO DISTANT STRANGERS surprises and captivates.  It all begins with a common one night stand in which Carter James (Joey Bada$$) leaves his trick’s  (Zaria Simone) condo only to be stopped by a cop outside (Andrew Howard) for smoking some weed and killed, Rodney King style, complete with the “I can’t breathe” dialogue.  It is after this point that the groundhog day scenario takes effect.  Carter relives the same situation, waking every morning after being killed by the cop.   Carter learns from the previous incident (after reliving it a hundred times) and tries his best not to get killed and to reach home to feed his super cute dog - but to no avail.  Nothing more should be revealed in this effective and powerful message  comedy/drama which delivers its Rodney King message with a punch.

 

 

WHITE EYE (Israel 2019) ****
Directed by Tomer Shushan

Israeli director Tomer Shushan’s fable of the stolen bicycle, set in Tel Aviv begins when a Tel Avivian sees his stool bike locked on the street.  In his attempt to get the lock broken and get his bike back, he encounters the cops who tell him to call them back when the thief shows up, unless he will get arrested himself.  That he does and the cops show up with unexpected results in this unpredictable tale of morals.  What the audience assumes might just not be the actual case.  The amazing thing about this short is that it runs in real time and filmed in one continuous take.   The short also covers current issues like class, race, prejudice  and immigration.   Director Shushan also delivers a solid sprite ending to boot with a message to be tolerant to everyone despite race and background.

 

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

27 Mar 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

AWAKEN (USA/United Arab Emirates 2021) ***
Directed by Tom Lowe

Just in time to lighten up the dreary mood caused by the Covid-19 third wave lockdowns, AWAKEN should provide some relief with the beauty the world has to offer.

AWAKEN, is a globe-spanning, immersive, 75-minute 4K documentary, narrated by Liv Tyler (Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ad Astra, The Strangers), that showcases the world’s natural wonders.  A few man-made wonders are also included in the film such as the letting floating of hundreds of candle lit lanterns at night.

AWAKEN comes with the talents of several veteran filmmakers.  The film’s director is the acclaimed cinematographer and photographer, Tom Lowe.  The executive director is none other than the Award winning director Terrence Malick whose most famous film THE TREE OF LIFE was voted by the TFCA (Toronto Film Critics Association) as Best Picture of the year.  The other executive producer is Godfrey Reggio who directed  KOYAANISQATSI.  The one scene with the traffic moving in fast motion is reminiscent of the images from that film, a classic at the time of the film’s release.

Shot entirely in 4K over a 5-year period in more than 30 countries, and pioneers state-of-the-art time lapse, time-dilation, underwater, and aerial cinematography techniques to give audiences new eyes with which to see our world.  One can experience an unique and timely film experience featuring immersive imagery, beautiful cultures, and an inspiring message.

Director Lowe appears fond of using slow motion.  There are dozens of slow motion segments, notably with many of children running in slo-mo.  The already short 90 minute running time can be even shortened if all segments run in real time.

Most of the scenes shot are natural except for a few.  Of the naturalness, many stand out such as:

  • a girl among different coloured horses
  • awesome and strange looking trees
  • dolphins  diving out of the water
  • elephants in armour and decoration
  • hovering over the clouds
  • underwater swimming in the sea close to the sea bed with one diver carrying red starfish.
    • The scenes are accompanied by soothing music and poetic prose.

     But the doc has no direction or narrative.  The doc is strictly for cineastes who enjoy images without the influence o anything else.

AWAKEN debuts on Apple TV, Amazon and all other major VOD platforms on April 9th.

Trailer: https://youtu.be/P1teZQpCQYI


BREWMANCE (USA 2020) *** or **
Directed by Christo Brock

BREWMANCE is about home and craft beer brewing.  The target audience would be anyone who drinks beer and even more for those who love and drink beer regularly.  Others should stay away from this amusing and well-intentioned doc, as there would be nothing much to interest non-beer drinkers.

First thing about this reviewer with regards to the topic of the doc:  I have home brewed beer myself, not now but in my earlier years when I used to consume as much as a 2-4 every week.  So, I tried home brewing and did it for a short while.  So this reviewer knows his beer.  This reviewer’s favourites are bitters and wheat beer with Hacker Pschorr (Germany) as my favourite brand.  One cannot get a good cask conditioned beer easily in Toronto.  Only a few places serve it.

So the first question addressed by the doc is why home brew.  The following reasons are put forward, many of them being right spot-on:

  • the U.S. has a limited amount of beer varieties, mostly watered down lager.
  • home brewing allows different beers.  (I used to brew ciders as ciders were unavailable in Toronto 30 years ago, unlike now.  I also brewed bitters which is still difficult to find in Toronto.)
  • a good way to express oneself in terms of being innovative in what one loves to consume

But the doc leaves out the disadvantages of home brewing which are:

  • lots of trouble bottling and capping the beer
  • batches can often go off as bad batches
  • can create quite the beer stench when fermenting
  • tagging along one's own home brew is often looked down upon as being cheap as it is much cheaper than buying beer from the store

The doc also focuses on craft beer companies and how they started up, which is intercepting from a business point of view.

The interviewees include mailing home brewers such as John Palmer, author of “How to Brew”, Charlie Papazian, a self professed Godfather of home brewing, Steve Hind of Brooklyn Brewery among others.

The film also amusingly educates on how simple it is to make beer.  Beer is explained as containing only 4 constituents: water, hops, malt and yeast.  Then comes the waiting time involving the fermenting.  It is simple but a lot of work which I myself can attest.  Myself, it works more like a hobby than anything else.  My cider turned out quite well though my bitter turning out too dark.  One example of successful home brewing is given of a father and son who never got along until they started working together home brewing.

There are two ratings for this doc.  If one does not drink or like beer, forget this doc, it will be worth two stars just for being a curiosity piece with the person likely being bored most of the time.  On the other hand, if one loves beer, this amusing easy-going doc is an entertaining time waster.  i.e. Strictly for beer drinkers!

Trailer:

 

 

FELIX ET LE TRESOR DE LA MORGAA (Felix and the Hidden Treasure of Morgaa) (Canada 2021) ***

Directed by Nicola Lemar

Maison 4:3 presents a new family animated feature FELIX ET LE TRESOR MORGAA, which will be seen in Ontario and other English speaking regions in the English dubbed version instead of the French version original that will be shown in Quebec, where the film originates.  It is an adventure film with family values.

The protagonist is Felix, a young boy who lives with his now single mother, younger sister and pet dog (that might be a cat, from the looks of it).  Convinced that his father, who had disappeared at sea two years earlier, is still alive, 12-year-old Felix sets out to find him in the company of old Tom, a retired sailor, Quack, the one-legged pickpocketing parrot and Ulysses the cat. who behaves like a dog. Their journey leads them to the Isle-of-the-Eternal-Night, in an underground city where hides a secret society led by the megalomaniac Morgäa, holder of a treasure.

The treasure of Morgaa is actually in the form of a spider.  When stung by it, the victim would gain immortality in the form of the fountain of youth.  Move aside Ponce de Leon!  Films seem imperative that they must include a message and here is one about the futility of wealth here, though it does not really work convincingly.

The animation is pleasant enough, not too elaborate nor stylish that will attract attention.  Still, the animation encompasses a lot of shadows that require more work, that also creates more reality into each scene.  The difficult animated sequences requiring water and fire are done with minimal efficiency.

The film’s humour is slight and the film could be improved had it been funnier or even goofier.  The cat pretending to be a dog, barking and always grabbing a bone in its mouth is only slightly funny, as is the rest of the film’s humour. Segments are predictable.  When the parrot and cat fight for the bone on the ship deck, it does not take a genius to predict the bone falling into the water.  When Felix and Ulysses are capsized from their dingy the first time they venture into the sea, again it does not take genius to expect Tom to show up in his boat to rescue them.

The voices of the characters are dubbed in by local actors, none too famous unlike American animated features from Dreamworks or Disney.  They work well enough.  No one needs Brad Pitt to voice Tom, Robin Williams to voice the parrot  or Lassie to bark like Ulysses.

FELIX ET LE TRESOR DE LA MORGAA is an all right watch for young kids, especially boys who love fishing or to go treasure hunting or who love the open sea.  For others like adults or even girls, the film might be less interesting.

FELIX ET LE TRESOR DE LA MORGAA is available on VOD/digital April 9th 2021.

Trailer: 

THE GOOD TRAITOR (Denmark 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Christina Rosendahl

THE GOOD TRAITOR begins with a scene in a sanitarium in Skodsborg, Denmark in 1963.  A woman pines over and kisses the forehead of what is assumed to be her beloved husband, lying in bed before….…  It is a sad scene.  One naturally assumes that the couple have gone through a lot together in the past.  Indeed this is true and the film flashes back to WWII in 1939 where the younger couple is living in America and the man, Henrik Kauffmann serves as the Danish  Ambassador to the United States.

THE GOOD TRAITOR follows the story of Henrik Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen), who was the Danish ambassador to Washington in 1939 when World War II started and who declared himself to be the only true representative of a free Denmark in opposition to the Nazis.

The reason is that Henrik does not and will never support the Nazis.  The Nazis had given Denmark an ultimatum: “Surrender Copenhagen or it will be wiped out.”  Henrik’s argument is that he is serving  free Denmark and no longer as it is not more free, but one working at gunpoint.  So Henrik declares his embassy independent from the King and government.  President Franklin Roosevelt tells Henrik at one point (conically) in the film: “You have a problem.”

THE GOOD TRAITOR is a spy thriller where the war is fought with a battle of words.  Even though shot in Danish with English spoken only whenever the Danes speak to the Americans, the translation as seen in the subtitles is efficient enough.  “Diplomacy is 50% information and 50% gambling,” says Charlotte, Henrik’s wife.  What is not said is that diplomacy is 100% words and dialogue.

Besides therapy intrigue, director Christina Rosendalh, being female, inserts romance as a strong influencer into the film’s mood and atmosphere, creating a nice break from all the spy stuff.  Besides a very romantic relationship between husband and wife throughout the first half of the film, The Kauffmann’s marriage runs into trouble when Charlotte (Denise Gough) catches her husband kissing her sister.  As a result, Henrik sleeps in his office and discovers one of his employees at the Embassy going behind his back.  The marriage trouble provides two  plusses into the story.  One is to humanize Henrik that despite him being a proud and righteous diplomate, Henrik is a man with human desires and one that can fall into temptation.  The other is blending the problem into the spy story smoothly.

THE GOOD TRAITOR is a film that displays a solid period atmosphere.  The film was nominated for both Best Picture and Best cinematography (d.p. (Årets fotograf) for the Danish equivalent of the Academy Awards, while winning the latter.

Though THE GOOD TRAITOR  is mostly talky and in Danish, Rosendlah’s film is still an engaging spy thriller. Rosendahl manages to manoeuvre her directing skills like an expert military fighter finally steering her film into a victory as what might look like entertaining spy fluff but is actually a story that is inspired by true events.

THE GOOD TRAITOR is available on VOD/digital from April the 13th.

Trailer:

Trailer: 

HELD (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing

The new horror chiller HELD covers a scenario in which a couple is trapped in a house where modern technology becomes their enemy instead of their friend.  They are forced to obey commands given by a voice while they hope and plan to escape.  But the house is so modernly innovated that it seems impossible to do so.  Ever since HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the computer has the capability to take over man.  In the recent 2019 thriller Mariano Cohn's 4X4, that is supposed to be based on true events, a car thief is trapped inside a high tech car that locks him in.

HELD has a simple scenario but a huge house compared to the confines of a car that the characters are trapped in..  This allows a less claustrophobic film with more opportunity for scares.  The directors also use every opportunity to turn up the volume of the soundtrack to scare their audience from the sound of opening a fire door to a phone ringing, even the unzipping of a suitcase.

The film begins with a teenage girl being trapped by two males inside a car.  The car is locked by Shawn who turns to the other male in the car to say: "She is all yours. ”  Then he turns to the girl: “Relax, you are not going anywhere.”  This scene is then left and the film moves to another story involving another couple.

The directors' best scary parts are the creepy, vague ones.  When Emma (Jill Awbrey) is brought to the house by a driver, the driver is shown to be super creepy.  He shakes Emma’s hand and holds it longer than she is comfortable and utters words like: “Is your husband really coming tomorrow?”  while even asking her for a larger tip.  

The  story is made more interesting by having the couple losing their spark in their marriage.  Emma (Jill Awbrey) and Henry's (Bart Johnson) relationship is strained.  It is later revealed (by the computer in the house) that Emma is having an affair.  In an effort to reconnect, they vacation to a remote high-end rental, complete with automated smart house features and integrated security.  However, after suspecting a nighttime intruder (seen only as a nightmare that Emma has - could be true, could be imagined - they decide to flee, only to become forcibly trapped inside by the automated security system. Emitting from the house, an unknown 'Voice' watches their every move through an array of hidden cameras, revealing an intimate and unsettling knowledge of their relationship.   The audience is taken for a solid mysterious ride as to what is really happening and how can this computer or person controlling it know so much about the couple.  While the situation grows increasingly brutal, Emma and Henry must work together to uncover the truth and find a way out before it's too late.

Warning!  There is one scene that made me jump out of my seat.  And this was not a false alarm or sudden increase in volume of the soundtrack.

The climax (not revealed here) contains one glaring inconsistency unless this reviewer has missed something here.  However, that aside, HELD just rises above the average thriller.

Trailer: 

LOOKING FOR A LADY WITH FANGS AND A MOUSTACHE

(Nepal/Mexico/Singapore 2019) ***

Directed by Khyentse Norbu

Though the film is listed as a mystery drama, LOOKING FOR A LADY WITH FANGS AND A MOUSTACHE is a slow trudge of almost 2 hours, but not without its subtle rewards.  As the playful title indicates, the protagonist is in search of such a lady and the search itself is half the fun.

The protagonist is Tenzin (Tsering Tashi Gyathang) who has his eyes on making money as an entrepreneur, opening a western style coffee shop.  Being ambitious is looked down upon by the monks, unlike in the west.  As it does, Tenzin wanders around trying to find a site for the shop in Kathmandu, at the base of Mount Everest, obviously a small but attractive tourist site.  With the help of local friends, he embarks on his quest.  Unfortunately, the man has a series of dreams that disturb him.  When led by his friend to see an eccentric Buddhist monk (Ngawang Tenzin), the monk predicts his death unless he finds this woman with fangs and a moustache and perhaps also having three eyes.

Comically this monk asks him if he can postpone his death after the weekend, or it will affect his family with even more deaths.  This is quite the monk, as the audience will discover.  The monk bets Tenzin his headphones thatchy will be given to him if he is wrong and Tenzin does not die.  The monk constantly moves around with his headphones over his ears while wearing cool shades.  The monk (with no name) has the cheek to refer him to a higher monk for help, one with the title Master of Left Hand Lineage (Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche) .  The Master of Left And Lineage turns out to be a month eve more attitude, who ends up insulting Tenzin most of the time, calling him too stupid to understand his advice.  This monk is the one who tells Teni to look for the lady of the film’s title, so that he will not die.  The trouble is that this lady is no easy find which leads Tension to go around the village seeking the lady like a complete idiot.  Also funny is that the Master gives him a secret signal so that the lady when she sees it will respond and Tenzin will know that she is the one.  But Tenzin can only show the signal twice.  And so goes Tenzin in his crazy search while his coffee house collaborators get really annoyed because of Tenzin’s reactive behaviour.

Tenzin has the talent of meeting strange people.  When going to the doctor for a cat scan to determine if he will really die, the doctor asks if he wants antidepressants.

Enjoyable too is the film’s soundtrack that is quietly soothing and pleasant.  Included are local songs played on seldom seen instruments and simple dances.  All this creates a solid few for the atmosphere and tone of the story.

The mystery is comically solved and director Norbu brings his film to a rather neat conclusion.

Trailer: 

 

MOFFIE (South Africa 2019) ****
Directed by Oliver Hermanu


A moffie is a weak, effeminate and illegal male in Apartheid’s South Africa.  The portage hides his ‘moffie’ qualities when serving his 2 years compulsory military service.

Before going on to the review, I would like to disclose my background as this would bring more incite to this review.  I was raised in my early years in Singapore where I was born.  There, I had to serve two and a half years National Service.  I am gay and hid it throughout the service.  I had not come out then.  It was my time after high school before entering University.  As in the film, I pretended to be straight even putting down gays.  It is what everyone did that time - hide their same sex orientation.  I did first 3 months boot camp (basic training) and then after graduating from the NCU course as a corporal, served the rest of my time as a boot camp instructor, when the tides were turned and I became the merciless, screaming relentless instructor of recruits.  I remember as a recruit, I wondered how humans can be so inhuman, but I became the same way.  That is human nature that is basically bad!

MOFFIE is set in 1981 and South Africa’s white minority government was embroiled in a conflict on the southern Angolan border.  Like all white boys over the age of 16, Nicholas Van der Swart must complete two years of compulsory military service to defend the Apartheid regime.  The threat of communism and “die swart gevaar” (the so-called black danger) is at an all-time high.  But that’s not the only danger Nicholas faces. He must survive the brutality of the army – something that becomes even more dicult when a connection is sparked between him and a fellow recruit.

The ilm can be divided into three parts, unfolding in non chronological order - the introduction and his life before the army; his basic training; then fighting the blacks at the Angora/South African border.

Hermanu’ Nick is not openly gay.  Nick does not display effeminate gestures, hiding them well.  He denies any homosexuality.  In fact fro the first third of the film, it is not certain of Nick’s sexual orientation.  Only during a flashback where Nick, as a boy is caught observing another boy in the public toilets and getting caught that Nick is revealed as gay.  The boot camp section is similar to Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET, right up to the super strict sergeant Brand.  One other tittered weaker recruit picked on by Brand ends up shutting himself just as in FULL METAL JACKET.  It is at Boot Camp that Nik encounters another and gfalls for a fellow recruit who is taken away and sent for ‘re-education.

Director Hermanu’s film is often subtle despite the fact that one can tell where the story is headed.  He ends the film in an open note as well.

MOFFIE is a carefully crafted film, filled with sexy gay eroticism without the need to show any nudity or sex.  The sight of sweaty naked recites playing volley ball, underwater swimming scenes and even a peck on the lips can be erotic.  Hermanu also captures the prejudice and unacceptable of the times in what can be concluded to be a powerful message drama.

MOFFIE is available to rent on AppleTV on April 9th, and will be available this summer on IFC Films Unlimited.

Trailer:  

THE POWER (UK 2020) **
Directed by Corinna Faith

A Shudder original, THE POWER written and directed by Corinna Faith is to be commended for its detailed creation of a creepy and scary atmosphere typical for a horror thriller.

The film is performed by a cast of unknowns, with Rose Williams in the lead.  The cast is eclectic to the casting director and filmmakers’ credit who perform well as an ensemble cast.  It is immediately noticeable that the film slants towards the female gender firstly with so few male characters in the story.  Where there is one like Dr. Franklin (Chareles Carrick) and D.J. Mike (Joe Haddow) they appear only for a short period of time.

The setting is January 1974, in East London.  It is a time of a failing economy where the Trade Unions and fighting against the government.  Rolling blackouts are common in order to save power in the crumbling economy.   A young nurse, Val (Williams) is forced to work the night shift by the overtly strict and nasty matron (Diven Henry) in a crumbling hospital as striking miners switch off the power across Britain.  But inside the walls lurks a terrifying presence that threatens to consume her and everyone around her.

Director Faith makes use of many tactics to create an eerie, creepy and scary atmosphere.   These include a ward of dying patients, many in a comatose state; a new nurse in a new and unfamiliar hospital; lockouts; the nurse’s feat of darkness; long dark corridors between wards as well as weird colleagues who cannot be trusted.  Poor Val.  Not only has she had to deal with all these problems, she comes under the spell of some demon because she wears some bracelet she finds in the hospital basement.  Note to the audience never to wear strange objects found in basements.  If she took out the bracelet in the first place, the film would just have ended right then and there.

Director Faith offers few breaks from the chilling tale.  One has a d.j. play the 70’s hit song “Chirpy, Chirpy Cheep Cheep” by the Scottish band Middle of the Road, a song that I have not heard since the 70’s when I was in high school.  When Val goes into a seizure, she claims that she is normal to high, another nurse’s reaction is a loud “Huh!”  Otherwise, the film is devoid of any humour or lightness.

The film has a few distractions.  “Why are you so nice to me?  asks a nasty nurse to Val.  “That is what nurses do,” is the answer.  Val’s character is one of timidness, desperate, kindness and obedience.  The presence of d.j. Mike could be left out of the story with hardly a difference.

Despite impressive creations of a horror film atmosphere including its period setting, the film lags because of its lack of a solid story, its slow pace and meandering of the storyline.   The film is entitled THE POWER though it fails to fully utilize the full potential horror from power blackouts.

Trailer:

(unavailable)

THE SEVENTH DAY (USA 2021) **

Directed by Justin P. Lange

THE SEVENTH DAY is a decent earnestly made exorcism horror film with a bit of comedic bite directed by Justin P Lange.  The story follows two cops, a rookie, Father Daniel and a 25-year old veteran Father Peter played with tons of cynicism by Guy Pearce who seems to enjoy playing odd roles these days.

The film plays like a rookie cop/seasoned cop movie.  It reminds one immediately of THE ROOKIE with Charlie Sheen and Clint Eastwood.  I remember hearing someone young say in the subway when THE ROOKIE opened, who would want to seed Eastwood and not Sheen?  But Eastwood continues to astound and is still much respected.  The same can be said of Pearce as he clearly shows his clout in the role.

The film opens with your Peter experiencing his first exorcism with a fellow priest - one that failed and left Father Peter scarred with the failure for life.  And it's the guilt.  It seems that 25 years have still not allowed him his redemption and that he has something to prove, some challenge that he needs to conquer, which leaves the audience guessing as to what that challenge is.  And also why the film is entitled THE SEVENTH DAY.

The trouble with THE SEVENTH DAY and all exorcism films is that these films have hard shoes to fill after classics like THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN, and with all their mediocre sequels.  Director Lange’s film follows most of the stereotyped dialogue that the priests utter to exorcise the demons, down to the distorted faces of the possessed.  To be fair, there is hardly any stone uncovered with this respect.

With director Lange playing his horror film like a rookie/veteran buddy cop movie, it is difficult to laugh at a horror exorcism film.  The one-liners do not turn out that funny (unless one wants to count the silliness of the film’s climax) though the script tries very hard.  “Did you get his name (of the demon)?” is the question asked to Father Daniel by Peter when he enters the possessed kid’s (a 12-year old who went on a killing spree) house for the first time alone.

Director Lange’s attempts to make his exorcist flick stand out is apparent.  He includes video gaming kids speaking their ‘talk’ (dude; fuck off) while  employing an eclectic cast of actors, black and hispanic, primarily.  The tying in of current issues like mass killing are tied into this story.  One admires the attempt but it does not really work - coming across as not only too obvious and not really believable.

It is good as always to see Guy Pearce in a meaty role and the same can be said in THE SEVENTH DAY.  Unfortunately, he cannot save the piece.

THE SEVENTH DAY fails not for lack of trying, so-so entertaining, but for taking too much that it can handle and not too convincingly.  The film might be worth a look as a curiosity piece.

Trailer: 

 

SLALOM (France 2020) ***
Directed by Charlene Favier

Slalom is an alpine skiing and alpine snowboarding discipline, involving skiing between poles or gates. These are spaced more closely than those in giant slalom, super giant slalom and downhill, necessitating quicker and shorter turns. Internationally, the sport is contested at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, and at the Olympic Winter Games.

Under the guidance of a strict ex-champion known only as Fred (Jérémie Renier) in the film a promising 15 year old girl Lyz (Noée Abita) trains as a professional skiing star.  The question is whether she will be able to endure the physical and emotional pressures.

The effect of pressures of training for a particular sport on an individual has always been interesting fodder for film scripts.  Just last year saw Nadia, an Olympic swimmer break down under enormous training and expectation pressures in Pascal Plante’s Quebec entry NADIA BUTTERFLY.

SLALOM was the 2020 Cannes selection which allowed me to review the film then.  SLALOM bears similarities with NADIA BUTTERFLY.  But slalom skiing is a different sport from the butterfly stroke.  Both films attempt for authenticity.  NADIA, BUTTERFLY excess in this respect as the script is a closer and more scrutinizing study of human endurance while SLALOM focuses more on the protagonist Lyz, coming-of-age.   There is a scene of the 15 year old having her period in the shower.  The issue is also addressed by her coach, Feed who tells her the effects on her muscle during that time of month.

Needless to say, the skiing segments are exhilarating to watch.  This point lifts the film above other sports films, as it is more difficult to shoot and to illustrate slaloms.

The story of SLALOM follows an all too familiar path, with a lot of incidents predictable as the story unfolds.  The Lyz has an accidental first glance at her icao Fred totally nice taking a shower, one can tell that she will be involved sexually with him.  As a pre-teen, one knows too that she will be pressuring Fred to continue the affair.  Unfortunately, this fact undermines the severity of the coach’s sexual abuse.  Fred’s abuse is revealed in stages.  He notices her period.  He measures her body fat with no-one else in the room.  Lyz’s rebellious nature towards her mother is also expected and leads to the same old story where the mother has found a new boyfriend and she is left jealous and abandoned, here during the Christmas holidays.

The sexual abuse is left hanging with the guilty left uncharged.  The director has based her story on true events so one wonders if and how bad she herself have encountered in terms of sexual abuse.

SLALOM is an ok watch, not too demanding but unfortunately too commercial for many critics' liking.  But it is a good sign to see more French films released in Ontario in what is a bilingual country.

Trailer: 

 

THUNDER FORCE (USA 2021) **
Directed by Ben Falcone

(Embargoed till Friday 12:01 am)

 

 

WILLY’S WONDERLAND (USA 2020) **

Directed by Kevin Lewis

Academy Award Winner Nicholas Cage (LEAVING LAS VEGAS) stars in yet another crazy horror movie WILLY’S WONDERLAND.  So one can expect super nonsense from Cage as is expected and delivered by the actor in all his recent films.  So the question is what WILLY’S WONDERLAND has to offer that is different and perhaps worthy of notice?

As expected in this Nicholas Cage movie, every character present including Cage’s has an attitude.  What makes this character of Cage is that he does not utter a single line of dialogue.  He has no name either.  According to the press notes, this was what attracted Cage to the role.  So he plays a janitor with no name similar to the Clint Eastwood spaghetti action westerns.

So whatever the excuse is, which is that he is the town’s next fodder for the killers, is that Cage’s character gets a job at WILLY’S WONDERLAND. What ensures the movie.

As Cage has no Marvel super hero role, he creates his own.  As Super Janitor, he is able to do away with all the amusement park’s killer mascot animals without any weapons.  In one scene, he kills one often by choking him with his one knee so that it can’t breathe - Rodney King style.  One can imagine that the filmmakers must be half crazed and having a ball of a time making this movie.

So the story involving WILLY’S WONDERLAND is a history of serial killers.  The serial killers who murder the children of the town make a pact with the devil when convicted.  They possess all the animal mascots of WILLY’S WONDERLAND, thus able to do major damage forever - not that all make much sense no of the rest of the plot.  So the residents of the town make an agreement with the possessed mascots not to kill their children and to leave their town alone on condition that the town will provide them victims - any visitors from  out of town,  Cage’s character is one of them.  He is hired as a one night janitor of Willy’s Wonderland.  Everyone expects him dead the next morning.  But no, the new janitor fights off the killer mascots one after another while cleaning up the place spic and span at the same time.

The film also introduces a band of teenagers who attempt to burn the wonderland down, led by Liv (Emily Tosta).  Liv knows exactly what is going on and hates being controlled by Sheriff Lund (Beth Grant) and the other adult folk.  Liv tries to save the janitor.

  WILLY’S WONDERLAND shifts among protagonists at one point - Cage’s janitor, Sheriff Lund and Liv.  The film pays nods to past horror films like FUNHOUSE, the FRIDAY THE 13th series and THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise as well.  When a film takes mediocre horror films as its model, one cannot expect too much from it.

WILLY’S WONDERLAND is occasionally fun (such as the Rodney King reference), though one might complain it being of bad taste) but it does not have enough bite to make it rise above the average horror spoofs.

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