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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.

Trailer:

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.

Trailer: 

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.

Trailer: 

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.

Trailer: 

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.

Trailer: 

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.

Trailer: 

 

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!

Trailer: 

 

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.

Trailer:

Trailer: 

 

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.

Trailer: 

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

Trailer: 

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.

Trailer:

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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