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

27 Dec 2020

 

A quiet week with only a few new openings.  Still lots of good films to carrying forward from the previous weeks.  This week sees the debut of Venezuela' entry for the Oscar's Best International Feature entitled ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA, a little gem.  Want somehing completey different?  There is KNUCKLEDUST.

 

FILM REVIEWS

 

KNUCKLEDUST (UK 2020) ***1/2

Directed by James Kermack

Written and directed by James Kermack, KNUCKLEDUST is an efficient action and incredibly manic thriller comedy shot between October and ending in December 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic began.  It will definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will surely take audiences on a wild ride.  Violent, lightning-paced and tremendously funny, the laughs will forgive the film’s shortcomings.  The title is the name of the underground (is there any other?) fight club in the U.K. where the action takes place,

The film begins with a fight at KNUCKLEDUST.  A police raid is about to take place.  There, police discover an elite fight club where they find seven underground levels, filled with the dead bodies of fighters from around the world.  Only one man is found alive. He is known as Hard Eight (Moe Dunford), who turns out to be the hero of the story.  The task force has to work out if he’s a mass murderer or the lone survivor.

The film has a few French actors - mainly the uglier ones who are the fighters who get killed or severely damaged.  In American films, villains are often British or speak with a Brit accent.  In this film, it is hilarious to see the villain of this British piece, Serena (Camille Rowe) speak with an American accent.  There are lots of humour in the film, non-stop laughs for start to finish, some subtle like the one just described and others out in your face.   The one about the cop Maccready’s (played by director Kermack himself) wife’s weekly cooking classes is a riot.  He complains to his nerdy partner that this was his weekly sex night when he had to be called on duty.  When questioned on how his wife felt about this, Maccready replies that this is the night of his wife’s cooking classes.  Maccraedy later discovers that his wife got the better of him.  She was cheating on him weekly on pretext of the cooking classes as he was realizing that her cooking never got any better.

The film contains quirky characters.  They are introduced with flashing titles and they come with an assortment of names like ‘Happy’,’Tick Tock’, ‘Hot Lips’,’Tombstone’ and others.  Of all the actors is Kate Dickie, best known for RED ROAD which won her a BAFTA Best Actress Award, playing the no-nonsense chief inspector Keaton. “I’m not your friend. I’m not your enemy. I’m your boss!”  These are her words to her subordinates.

Oddly enough, director Kermack sneaks in a message about caring for vets soldiers who return after fighting, especially those who suffer from PTSD.  The film is also politically correct in having strong female characters like Keaton and Serena in an otherwise all male themed fight film.

As if the film isn’t odd enough, animation appears, with a little poetry thrown in at the one hour mark.

How good is KNUCKLEDUST?  The Guardian calls it rubbish.  But at least it is hilarious unforgettable rubbish.  KNUCKLEDUST is available VOD January the 5th.

Trailer:

 

 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA (Venezuela/UK/Brazil/Austria 2020) ****

Directed by Anabel Rodríguez Ríos

A film with the title that begins with ONCE UPON A TIME implies an all important story that is sculptured from the place of concern.  ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA is a tragic story of how deposits from oil refineries had destroyed the village of Congo Mirador .  The village was situated at the lake where sits large deposits of oil. 

Dredging is the removal of unwanted things from the bottom of a river, lake, etc. using a boat or special device.  These unwanted formed  sediment deposited near the village that needed to be removed by dredging.

The doc begins beautifully as director Ríos takes her audience on a tour around the village of Congo Mirador.   The houses in the village sit on stilts just inches above the deep Lake Maracaibo, where it was once prosperous and alive with fishermen and poets.  In recent years, it has decayed and disintegrated, rotting beneath pollution and neglect—a small but prophetic reflection of Venezuela itself.  The camera lingers on several candid scenes - a family, a little girl given a bath by her mother;  a school where the children are preparing for classes; a boat ride down the water.  These are beautiful sights seldom seen.  It must be wonderful to be living on water, and even better if the river water is not polluted like the one seen in the film - all muddy and brown.

ONCE UPON A TIME is clearly a women’s picture.  It was developed by the ‘Women Make Movies’ Movement with a female director while featuring two female protagonists.   At the centre of the village’s existential fight for survival stand two female leaders—Mrs. Tamara, the Chavista government coordinator of the village, and Natalie, a vocal teacher and opponent of Mrs. Tamara and her state-approved practices of bribery and intimidation.  As the contentious national elections approach, fear within the community extends beyond the partisan divide of Venezuelan politics; the villagers’ homes are quite literally vanishing into the sedimented water, displacing families with no means of surviving elsewhere.  There is no villain here despite the two women hating each other.   The climax of the film has Mrs. Tamara having a conference with the main elected official who seems to have other things better to do than to solve the village problems.  The end result is inevitable.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENEZUELA is one of the saddest films to appear this year, yet a story that needs to be told.  It ends with images of the abandoned houses of Congo Mirador.  Not a soul can be seen.  The words appear on the screen that the film is dedicated to the people of Congo Mirador… wherever they are now.  It is indeed sad that this once thriving water village is now like a fairy tale…. once upon a time back when.

The film (shot in Spanish) is Venezuela’s entry for Best International Feature at the 2021 Academy Awards.  The shortlist for nominations are out in March.  This is a beautiful film, but there are a large number of contenders from almost every country in the world, so making it to the list is an achievement in itself.  The film is available in Virtual Cinemas New Year’s Eve December the 31st, 2020.

Trailer:

 

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

 

 

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

 

Trailer:

 

SING ME A SONG (France/Germany/Switzerland 2019) **
Directed by Thomas Balmes

SING ME A SONG is part of the IMPACT (films that impact us) series of films.  This film and speaker series, focusing on social change, is the centrepiece of a multimedia platform that will initiate, extend, and sustain discussions across traditional and new media channels.  Conceived to bring people together and take action, the platform will scale a discussion for the purpose of change.

SING ME A SONG is about the effects of technology particularly the internet and the cell phone on a remote village.  The film’s setting is Bhutan situated between India and China at 4000 feet high in the Himalayas, the last nation on Earth to be introduced to television and the internet.  Laya is the last village in that country to be connected.  That is where the film’s protagonist, a young monk lives.   The film opens ten years back, when the audience sees the seven-year-old Buddhist named Peyangki who lived in a monastery set against a stunning mountainous backdrop.   Peyangki confides to the camera his hopes and fears about the arrival of electricity.  He claims he had heard that electricity is the largest cause of house fires.  The film moves to the present when Peyangki is now a 17-year-old monk, still at the monastery.  As the monastery gets modernized with the smart phones, the monks are all now hooked on the new toy - just like the kids of the modern world.   The monks are obsessed with the phones even during prayers. 

The film follows the protagonist Peyangki.  The film is a coming-of-age story where Peyanki falls in love - with a girl he meets via a chat app..   The virtual relationship is with a bar singer, Ugyen who lives in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu.  Unknown to him, she has plans to make money by travelling to Kuwait.  She also has a one year old daughter that she has not told him either.  She sings him love songs, hence the film’s title.  Peyangi saves money from collecting medicinal mushrooms to go visit her and runs AWOL from the monastery.

Whether the relationship will come to fruition is difficult as in any long distance relationships.  Expectations are high and the meetings do not always go as planned.

Balmes’ film seems to be going all over the place (as did his early doc BABIES) with his weak narrative.  The film staggers among the different stages of Peyangi’s life.  There is a meeting with him and his mother but nothing comes further from that.  The same can be said of his sister who he goes mushroom picking with.  The only thing going for the film is the film’s backdrop, with the mountains and clouds always in the background - like a fairy tale place, Buddhist style.  There is one odd scene where the girls watch on the cell phones a Muslim beheading, but again the segment leads nowhere.

SING ME A SONG might have been more satisfying if director Balmes did not leave the ending open as to what the monk is going to do, after he discovers all his paths have been closed in front of him.

The film will be available in both Canada and the US beginning January the 1st. Canadians can access exclusively at www.theimpactseries.net, and the United States can find it on VOD courtesy of Participant Media.

Trailer:

 

 

 

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