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This Week's Film Reviews (June 25, 2021)

17 Jun 2021

FILM REVIEWS:


CANCER: AN INTEGRATIVE PERSPECTIVE (USA 2021) **

Directed by Nathan Crane

CANCER: AN INTEGRATIVE PERSPECTIVE is directed by health researcher Nathan Crane.   This is his baby.  He gives himself quite a bit of screen time as well as he advises on the topic of the cancer cure.

This supposedly groundbreaking film takes a deep dive into the fast-expanding paradigm of holistic and integrative wellness approaches for preventing and reversing cancer that treats the disease with conventional tools, while also supporting patients’ strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-based natural therapies.  Director Crane splits his film into chapters that cover topic by topic of the integrative perspective.  This includes chapters like “Hope”, “Moving Forward” and such, mainly looking at a different kind of cancer therapy compared to chemo-therapy.

There have been more documentaries, similar to this one, that champions the benefits of positive thinking and holistic cures and puts down traditional medical treatment like chemotherapy than films that talk about the pluses of chemotherapy.  It would be good that these docs also talk about the success rates of chemo rather than just putting it down without much fat.s  It is doubtless that corporations make a lot of men from chemo, but this doc fails to address or examine this issue.

Crane has assembled quite a number of health experts, researchers, master teachers and scientists who share innovative new evidence about the extraordinary power of the mind, ancient Eastern traditions, and the incredible capacity of the human immune system.   The film features cutting edge insights from pioneers such as Gregg Braden, Bruce Lipton, Dr. Sherrill Sellman, Chris Wark, Mike Adams, Master Mingtong Gu and Ty Bollinger.  Inspiring stories from cancer survivors Adrea Brier, Elaine Gibson, Dr. Veronique DeSaulniers, Jackie Mendez, bring real hope for a revolutionary integrative approach to fighting the worldwide cancer epidemic.  But it is all mostly talk and quite a lot of information offered to absorb in a short period of time.  Crane should understand about the ability of the human brain to absorb new material.  One cannot concentrate after 15 minutes or so and the brain’s learning curve diminishes rapidly.  The pacing is also poor with not much variety of information.  The doc looks like a poorly put together film, similar to “The Secret” which contains lots of repetitions and talking heads all talking about the same thing many times.  The doc could also do better than its hospital music-like soundtrack.

Upon reflection after seeing the doc, one does not really come off with much new insight than can be expected.  Everyone already knows the power of positive thinking.  The cancer healing process is definitely touted in the doc, but it is not wholly convincing.  This is made worse with the list of persons the doc acknowledges at the end who have passed away, assumed due to cancer.  Crane should have included footage or photos of the cancer survivors before and after.  More details on the actual positive lifestyles ( a few segments of ex-cancer patients drinking green stuff or sitting on a rock by a waterfall pasted in the background) are not enough to be convincing.  “Love your cancer and feed it,” says an ex-cancer patient.  Not much detail is offered after her words either.

Cinema Libre will release CANCER: AN INTEGRATIVE PERSPECTIVE on DVD and Video on Demand (Vimeo) on June 22, 2021

The doc is a marketing tool for further products.  Apparenlty, if interested in the natural therapies featured in the documentary, one can buy additional guides and products or purchase permanent access to the documentary after the screening.

Trailer: 

FATHOM (USA 2021) **
Directed by Drew Xanthopoulos

FATHOM is a measurement of approximately 2 yards that is used to measure the depth of the sea or ocean.  Whales are found in the deep, atoms deep.  The word is used as the title of the documentary on whale communication.

Directed and photographed by Drew Xanthopoulos, the Apple+ original documentary follows two scientists/marine biologists Dr. Ellen Garland and Dr. Michelle Fournet, focused on the study of humpback whale songs and social communication.  As they embark on parallel research journeys on opposite sides of the world, they seek to better understand whale culture and communication.  The communication is through the sound these whales make called whale songs, that is supposed to be transmitted miles and miles throughout the waters around the world.

The ambitious documentary film also uniquely reveals a deep commitment and reverence to the scientific process and the universal human need to seek answers about the world around us.  This is the oldest and most important form of communication and the film hopes to promote more interest in whale communication.

Director Drew Xanthopoulos takes his film all over the world from Frederick Sound in Alaska to Scotland to way out to French Polynesia.  There are beautiful shots of the open oceans with nothing man-made in view but perhaps the boat of the scientists.

The trouble with this doc, despite the beauty of nature in the show, is that director Drew Xanthopoulos does nothing to promote interest among general audiences.  The doc traces the journey of hunting down the whales that they have recorded, hoping to find the same sounds recorded to prove that whales do communicate.  A major part of the film is on the boat, that the scientists spend many countless hours on, in their study.  It can all be too boring unless one is well versed in mammal studies.  Dr. Fournet confesses that there is a very high probability that the project will fail.  And it seems like a lot of money invested in the study will go to waste.  But predictably, the scientists will find what they are looking for, and this is how the doc ends.

FATHOM would have been more interesting if it explained the details of how the measurements are taken rather than just showing it being done.  The origin or source of this kind of study should also be included to make the doc more whole.  The scientists complain of how their lives will not be the same after they return from their long trip of study, but one can hardly feel sorry for people that get to do what they love doing, especially seeing Dr. Fournet walking around on the boat wearing her designer sunglasses.

The film has got a below average rating on RottenTomatoes at the time of writing the review and it is not difficult to see the reason.  What transpires in the doc would be just as effective reading the information from a book or from the papers written.  FATHOM misses the opportunity to inspire and mesmerize but instead shows the mundane task of scientific work of discovering whale communication.

FATHOM debuts on Apple+ on Friday June the 25th.

Trailer: 

 

GAIA (South Africa 2020) ***

Directed by Jaco Bouwer

The title of the new horror film GAIA comes from Greek mythology.   Gaia from Ancient Greek is the personification of the Earth and one of the Greek primordial deities.  Gaia is the ancestral mother—sometimes parthenogenic—of all life. She is the mother of Uranus (the sky), from whose sexual union she bore the Titans (themselves parents of many of the Olympian gods), the Cyclopes, and the Giants; as well as of Pontus (the sea), from whose union she bore the primordial sea gods.  Her equivalent in the Roman pantheon was Terra.  In the film, GAIA is one scary mother of a bitch and ugly as hell, thanks to the amazing monster special effects.

When pruning off the weeds in my garden some time back, I was horrified to see my plant and the weed mutate into a new species of plant where the branches of one grew into the trunk of the other.  (I never knew this was possible till I read it up.)  In GAIA, the audience sees an even scarier mutation - one between plant and the human species.  The audience sees buds and flowers emitting from the skin of the heroine, not a pretty sight even though they are pretty flowers.

Two forest rangers Gabi (Monique Rockman) and her boss, Wisnton (Antony Oseyemi) are doing their work, recording on camera different parts of a primordial forest in South Africa.  Gabi and Winston split up (one knows trouble is afoot when one ventures alone into the unknown in a horror movie) deeper into the forest where she finds herself injured by an animal trap.  Winston, on the other hand fares no better, being attacked by some plant-like creature.  Gabi is rescued by two survivalists (a father and son) that might turn out not to be a good thing after all.  The father Berend (Carel New) appears completely out of it, worshipping nature and plants while homeschooling his son Stefan (Alex van Dyk) who has grown up to be quite the handsome lad, evoking the sexual drive of Gabi.  One night, the three are attacked by strange creatures.  They survive, but Gabi realizes that nothing is what it seems.

What lacks in a cohesive and credible story is more than made up for by the development of the scary atmosphere and stunning night cinematography (courtesy of d.p Jorrie van der Walt) and frightening visuals.  Indeed, this is a slow burn scary ecological horror film almost guaranteed to give one nightmares and never to sleep beside a plant again.  Anyway, as a kid, I was taught never to do so as plants breathe in oxygen instead of carbon dioxide at night, a fact everyone in the British education system seems to know but not in the North American system.  Director Bouwer keeps his thriller intriguing and scary without having to resort to silly scares that can be found in more commercial works like THE CONJURING or A QUIET PLACE.

GAIA is a film from South Africa, filmed in English and in anger language, which I assume is Afrikana.

Trailer: 

 

GOOD ON PAPER (USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Kimmy Gatewood

GOOD ON PAPER is described as goofy, raunchy and dead pan, three adjectives that don’t normally go together, but actually does well together in GOOD ON PAPER, the new romantic comedy opening on Netflix Wednesday.  Though not a fan of romantic comedies, this one is rather refreshing following a stand up female comic finding an almost too good to be true mate.  The story is grounded with reality which makes the film more credible and endearing.

As the protagonist is a practising stand-up comic, the film includes scenes of her in action, performing onstage.  Director uses Andrea’s routines not only to provide humour but also to summarize the incidents as well as revealing how she feels as she talks about her relationship with him on stage.  “Never be too picky.  Accept that ugly ring that looks like a penis.”  Andrea tells her stand-up comic audience.

What is most important in a romantic comedy is the chemistry between the two stars.  Iliza Shlesinger and Hansen have an excellent repertoire together and watching their blossoming romance is a real treat.  Both are vulnerable personalities with weaknesses and emotions and imperfect in trying to make their love lives perfect.  Margaret Cho provides solid comic content as Andrea’s gay best friend, Margot.  Margo is the one who digs up all the dirt on Dennis and tells Andrea, making her super suspicious.

The Dennis character is a prized one.  Making Dennis not the perfect physical hunk helps a great deal.  He is almost perfect in other ways, especially being able to provide all the right answers in any situation.  The scene in the pool where the camera reveals Dennis’  chubby not-too-perfect body is not only quietly hilarious but incredibly moving and credible to the story.  One wonders if this is really Hansen’s body as his head is not shown with his body in the same image.  To his credit, Dennis is quite a handsome guy under the glasses

A romantic comedy works primarily for the romance and not for the comedy though the comedy might forgive a dozen mistakes.  GOOD ON PAPER is pretty hilarious, eliciting a couple of solid laugh-out loud humour.

Every romantic comedy like any Harlequin novel has an obstacle in the romantic in which something happens that causes a quarrel putting the romance in peril.  In GOOD ON PAPER, it is Dennis’ credentials.  At the start, Dennis is discovered lying about his house though he gives a viable excuse.  Later on, his education at Yale is in question.  Andrea and Dennis attend a retreat with her cousin and fiancé.  At a golf session, director Gatewood creates some tension when the topic of Yale comes up.  Dennis seems to dodge the questions while feigning (or is it real) a back injury in order to escape the golf session.  This raises Andrea’s suspicions.   One thing about the obstacle in this rom com is that it is not just arbitrarily created in the middle of the movie, but this question on Dennis’ honesty was there at the very start of the relationship.

To the script’s credit (script written by Iliza Shlesinger), no one would imagine where the climax of the story would lead to.  And another adjective should be added to the three adjectives (in the ads) of goofy, deadpan and raunchy, describing the movie - smart.

The film debuts on Netflix June 23rd, Wednesday.

Trailer:  

 

THE ICE ROAD (USA 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh


At the very beginning of the film, the audience is told that in the coldest regions of North America, drivers traverse man-made roads, often frozen lakes, rivers and oceans of ice less than 30 inches thick in 65,000 lb. vehicles.  These treks are dangerous and often fatal.  Some drivers describe them as suicide missions.  These are so called Ice Roads.

The truckers in director Hensleigh’s ambitious action thriller are a tough bunch of die-hards who would stop at nothing to get the job done - because the villains of the piece have made it personal for them, in the words of the hero of the piece, Mike played by Liam Neeson.  Mike has his problematic PTSD-addled Iraq War veteran brother, Gurty (Marcus Thomas) who gets him fired from their current job.   Desperate for money, they undertake a job of driving the dangerous trek at the time of April when the ice is thinning.  Their job is to transport the heavy equipment necessary to save 30 odd miners trapped in an underground  mine before their air runs out.  Add to the team Laurence Fishburne and a feisty young Native American Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), whose brother is one of the miners running out of air.   Along for the ride is the ass-hole villain of the piece,  Varnay (Benjamin Walker), whose presence proves the evil of the conglomerate business.

I viewed THE ICE ROAD with the least of expectations.  The reason is the review embargo date being the same as the film’s opening.  When the distributors have the review embargo date so close to the opening day, they know that their film is problematic and likely to be panned by the critics.  Surprisingly, despite some flaws, THE ICE ROAD is a solid action thriller that often keeps one at the edge of the seat, coupled with some fresh scenarios set in the ice.  Include in the package is a skidoo truck chase; a fight while driving the rigs, a rescue under the ice, rigs outrunning an avalanche added to some nerve wrecking suspense as the heavy trucks traverse the cracking ice in the style Henri-Georges Cluzot’s 1953 French thriller LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR (THE WAGES OF FEAR).  The film includes a look at how hospitals in the system mistreat war veterans by prescribing opiates and how businesses cut costs at the safety of their workers - though the criticism is over-simplified.

Though almost reaching the age of 70, 68-year old Neeson continues to impress in his action films, primarily for the reason that he is such a good actor who brings credibility to all his roles, more so compared to otter’s like Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others.  Fishburne, a Shakespearean actor also gives the story more clout.

The film’s main flaw is that it contains too many subplots that can be handled.  There is the sibling relationship, the trapped miners racing against time to be rescued, the native American Tantoo’s own story, not to mention the main story of tracking the trucks through the ice roads.  That aside, director Hensleigh’s action pieces are magnificently orchestrated and should not disappoint even the hardest of action fans.

The film is shot entirely in the proven of Manitoba, Canada.

Trailer:


 Trailer: 

MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE (USA 2021) **1/2
Directed by Vanessa Roth

Mary J. Blige is quite the superstar.  Not only is she a nine-time Grammy®-winning recording artist but a twice Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress and Best Achievement in Music both for the film MUDBOUND.  In Oscar®-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth’s documentary MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE the singer, producer and actress reveals the demons and blessings that inspired the record and propelled her from the soul-crushing world of New York’s housing projects to international stardom.  It is a very, often too personal documentary.  In the process, she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her most influential work by performing the album live for the first time. 

As in most biopics, Roth’s doc follows her subject from childhood through stardom, while including the messy parts of her life.  Fortunately, Blige recovers and gets to tell her story.  To Blige, as the doc reveals, this discovery is every important part of her life.  Drawn to suicide at one point in her life, she needs to tell her story and does.  Blige says that she tells her all not because of others but for herself that she needs to get it all out by telling her story.  In the film, a young black gay male also confesses to the identical trauma of suicide.

Blige was born January 11, 1971, in Fordham Hospital in the borough of the Bronx, New York City. She was born to mother Cora, a nurse, and father Thomas Blige, a jazz musician. She is the second of four children. She has an elder sister, LaTonya Blige-DaCosta, a younger brother, Bruce Miller, and a younger sister, Jonquell, from a later relationship Blige's mother had with another man after divorcing Mary and LaTonya's father.  She spent her early childhood in Savannah, Georgia, and Richmond Hill, Georgia, where she sang in a Pentecostal church. Her father was a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.  At the age of five, she was molested by a family friend, and as a teenager she endured years of sexual harassment from her peers.  She would eventually turn to alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex to try and numb the pain.  Blige dropped out of high school in her junior year.

Blige eventually overcame her trauma.  She set the music world on fire with her trailblazing 1994 LP “My Life,” a collection of powerful confessionals about her battles with abuse, depression and addiction that forged a profound and enduring connection with millions of fans around the globe.  As expected, the best part of the doc is her performing her songs.  Her background singing at the pentecost church when young can be seen as the influence on her way of singing.

MARY J. BLIGE’S MY LIFE is an often too personal doc on the artist singer/songwriter.  Blige keeps hammering the point of her abuse and recovery.  The audience already gets the point and the film need not have to be that preachy.  But kudos to her for coming upon numero uno.

Trailer: 

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY (US 2021) ***1/2

Directed by James Bobin

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY is an original Disney series of 8 episodes based  a novel written by Trenton Lee Stewart and illustrated by Carson Ellis, first published in 2007.   It tells the story of four gifted children: Reynie Muldoon (Mystic Inscho), George "Sticky" Washington (Seth B. Carr), Kate Wetherall (Emmy DeOliveira), and Constance Contraire(Marta Kessler), who form the "Mysterious Benedict Society" and are sent to investigate an institution called L.I.V.E. (the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened), run by a man named Ledroptha Curtain (Tony Hale).

` The first two episodes are previewed here.  They are introductions to the high fight against evil that will come in the later episodes.  The two episodes are intriguing enough, both for adults and children with lots of puzzles and riddles to delight.

S1E1:

The first episode focuses on Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon, an orphaned boy who lives in the Stonetown Orphanage.  One morning at breakfast, his tutor "Miss Perumal" notices an advertisement in the newspaper targeted towards gifted children.  Reynie follows up and finds himself presented with a series of complex puzzles and odd tests.  He passes all of the tests and qualifies to help Mr. Nicholas Benedict.  He meets three other gifted children: George "Sticky" Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire.  They solve further puzzles before meeting the big boss.  Mr. Benedict, the organizer of the tests, is assisted by his subordinates Number Two, Rhonda Kazembe (hilarious, bringing much of her SNL-type humour), and Milligan, the secret agent that turned into a security guard for Benedict.

S1E2:

Episode 2 sees the four gifted orphans just freshly recruited by the peculiar Mr. Benedict, after the first episode.   They are just in the midst of embarking on the dangerous mission to save the world from a global crisis known as The Emergency.  What they do is try to prevent the abduction of Mr. Benedict.  Other than that, the 4 indulge in not-so-important matters such as coming up with the name for the group.  The eventual name they decide on is the title of the series.   The group also has problems with getting on with each other.  The story shows each kid as an individual, with problems like pride, co-operation and tolerance.  Constance appears to be a problem getting along with.  Reynie turns out to be the leader.  The episode is interesting enough as it personalizes the 4 talents before they spring into action.  The episode culminates with the riddle of the three switches, one of the 3 turning on the bulb in the other room.  The riddle is a brilliant one.

Trailer: 

 

SILENT NIGHT (UK 2020) ***
Directed by Will Thorne

It is Christmas.  Christmas is in the air.  A little girl is enjoying sitting on the wooden rocking horse that her father had carved out of wood for her and decorated with his own hands. She is smiling and happy. This is the only joyous Christmas scene in SILENT NIGHT, a British gangster film, the type that the U.K. used to churn out in the 70’s and 80’s most of them pretty solid stuff.  The Christmas carols are heard at a slow speed on the soundtrack, particularly different versions of SILENT NIGHT, and the lighting is dim rather than bright, and the feeling is that something ominous is going on.  The contrast between the bleak events and the festive season highlights the importance of family to the film’s protagonist, Mark (Bradley Taylor), an ex-convict who wants to make good, while providing a good contrast in the film.

The mood and atmosphere of South London are brilliantly created in SILENT NIGHT - from the rustic pubs, dirty auto garages to the terraced houses and shops in the neighbourhood.  The story is nothing new,  Mark (Bradley Taylor) has just finished doing time at the local prison for a job and also for partly taking the rap for a friend.  His ex-wife is displeased with him and wants very little to do with him, except when he shows love for their daughter, who is a sweet little doting thing, who thinks the world of mummy and daddy.  Mark works in the ‘tree’ industry, cutting down, pruning and clearing trees, a sort of modern woodcutter in this sort of gangster fairy tale where even the baddest gangster wishes to live happily ever after.  But things are not going well for Mark, as can be expected in films of this sort.  His job is paying, just enough and past acquaintances begin to influence him in bad ways.  Caddy (Frank Harper) is a sort of Godfather who will not leave Frank alone.  It is a matter of ‘one last job’ that is never the last and Frank and his over-violent and never-listens-to- instructions sidekick  (Cary Crankson) keep botching up the job.  For example, when asked to bring the hand of one of the victims that wears a ring, they chop off the wrong hand.

SILENT NIGHT is entirely watchable despite the well worn storyline.  It is necessarily violent but director Thorne keeps the incidents credible.  Mark is not a super Martial-Arts Master who can single handedly demolish all his victims.  It is 70’s and 80’s gangster style action.

Taylor, who is also one of the film’s producers, does a credible job as the  gangster hero,  a sort of less in shape and less charismatic Jason Statham.   It is good to see Frank Harper, always playing gangsters, on the screen once again.

Audiences have seen all this before.  There is nothing really fresh about the gangster film SILENT NIGHT, but it is one of those tough British gangster flicks, like Michael Apted’ s 1977 THE SQUEEZE with an atmosphere and mood that one cannot forget about.

Trailer: 

 

AN UNQUIET GRAVE (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Terence Krey

A film by Terence Grey (director and so-writer) and Christine Nyland), AN UNQUIET GRAVE is an effective blend of horror, both psychological and physical, and drama condensed into a crisp 75 absorbing minutes.

The tragedy begins when a husband and wife traveling in a car on a remote road run into an accident.  Julie aka Jules (Christine Nyland) is killed.  Her husband Jamie (Jacob A. Ware ) is distraught and so is Jules’ twin sister Ava, who is extremely close to her.  Within the next 15 minutes of the film, the two have concocted a plan to bring Ava back to life.  They have to travel to the accident site, her ‘unquiet’ grave and perform a ritual to bring Jules back to life.  Apparently, they have rehearsed everything.  But Ava is still anxious while Jamie is confident and too eager.  “What if something goes wrong?” “What if Jules is not the same person that is brought back to life? “Can you correct any mistakes”  These are the nagging questions that Ava is anxious about.  Expectedly the two carry on the ritual.  Or there would be no film.  Then, things go terribly wrong.

Jamie and Jules lead a life together for an entire year.  But is Jules really Jules?  The oddest thing is that it is Jules that is doing the questioning, while humorously, all Jamie wants to do is hump her.

What differentiates AN UNQUIET GRAVE from other horror films of this genre is the lack of gore and violence.  The only blood scan is the wound on Jules’ arm that she seems fond to pick with, much to the consternation of Jamie.  Very little details are given in the film.  The source of the ritual, the execution of the ritual and what actually happened to Ava while all this is happening are all conveniently omitted.  Another difference in this film is the extremely slow pace the story unfolds.  Yet, director Krey keeps his audience constantly in check as his film unfolds effectively while creeping along slowly.

One wishes that there would be a bit of humour to relieve the seriousness of the proceedings and to lighten the mood of this heavy film.

Most of the scares occur with thought and premeditation.  The audience can only imagine the horror that is going on in the minds of both Jamie and Jules.

The film is a two-hander with only two actors Ware and Nyland playing Jamie and Ava/Jules respectively.  They both deliver strong performances that depict their desperation, before and after the  horror of the events that unfold.  The cinematography, particularly the night scenes are well shot by d.p. Daniel Fox, who specializes in horror films.

The confrontation marks the climax of the film.  One wishes that there would be a more satisfactory ending, though the film succeeds enough as a horror movie.  AN UNQUIET GRAVE is a small budget unquiet little gem of a horror flick.  It opens on the Shudder horror streaming service on June 24th.

Trailer: 

 

 

SUN CHILDREN (Khorshid) (Iran 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Majid Majidi


Children in peril has always been a favourite genre among film classics.  French Master Francois Truffaut rose to fame with his classics about kids, LES QUARTE CENTS COUPS (400 BLOWS) and L’ARGENT DE POCHE (SMALL CHANGE).   Alexandre Rockwell has just directed SWEET THING about three children runaways that is currently playing.  The film SUN CHILDREN is centred on the children that attend a special school that recruits kids from the streets.  The school needs private funding as the government does not supply enough funds for it to survive.  The reason the children are called SUN CHILDREN is explained in the film.  The film opens with a dedication to the world’s 152 million children who are in the situation of forced labour. The film centres on child labourers.

Ali (Rouhollah Zamani) and his three pals work hard, doing odd jobs and committing petty crimes to make fast cash.  They have no fathers, as revealed in the scene where they fill in the forms for school registration.  Their fathers are dead, in prison or otherwise absent.  In Ali’s case, he wants to make enough money to get his mother out of a psychiatric ward and take care of her.  So he is excited when a crime boss entrusts him to find buried treasure (every child’s dream).  Ali must first get his gang enrolled at the charity-run Sun School, whose basement tunnel is the only way to the treasure, as it is supposed to run beneath the graveyard.

Majidi’s film contains a few unforgettable images - the most remarkable one being a crucial scene in which the children scale the walls of the locked down school.  The school had been under lock and key by its landlord as the school did not have sufficient funds to pay the rent.  The anger of one of the teachers also leads him to an uncontrollable outburst (righteous anger?) that gets him in trouble with the law.  Ali digs a tunnel, despite personal danger to get to the treasure to save his mother, and runs into water almost drowning him.  The tunnel segments are realistic and demonstrate both the claustrophobia and risks of digging underground.  The scene is reminiscent of the tunnel dug in John Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE.  Director Majidi elicits some suspense from the situation as the kids have to dig in secret, unknown to the school authorities.


Director Majid Majidi is no stranger to children films.  His CHILDREN OF PARADISE was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film (now renamed Best International Feature) in 1999.  Majidi’s special talent is his ability to elicit superior performances from the child actors.  This is evident for the expressions often seen on the children’s faces.  Zamani won the Marcello Mastroianni Award at Venice 2020 for emerging talent. 

Majidid’s often chilling film is a worthy dedication to the children around the world working in forced labour.  He also covers other issues like the Afghan children in refugee camps who have no rights and are stricken with poverty.

SUN CHILDREN  is available June 25 to rent or buy on the Apple TV app/iTunes and other VOD platforms.

Trailer: 

VICIOUS FUN (Canada 2020) ***

Directed by Cody Calahan

Shot entirely in Hamilton, Ontario VICIOUS FUN is a Canadian comedy horror that is best described by its title.  VICIOUS FUN is simply VICIOUS FUN.  It is funny, with a good share of blood, violence and gore and moves at a quick enough pace that its low production values owing to its low budget can hardly be noticed.

VICIOUS FUN contains a simple premise.  Joel (Evan Marsh) , a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers.  With no other choice, Joel attempts to blend in or risk becoming the next victim.  He pretends to be Frank, though he discovers soon that Frank is then a corpse in the basement freezer.

The cast is a list of little known actors, but many of whom have been around in many little Canadian films.  One recognizable face belongs to British born Julian Richings whose very appearance gives one the feeling of creepiness.  He recently had a starring role opposite Sheila McCarthy in the horror flick from  a year ago, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON.

The film contains the customary gore, though director Calahan must have got his hands full trying to provide scenes not seen before in other horror films.  These include two pencils through each ear of a victim, or seen before but still chilling scenes like a stabbing through an eye and a chopped hand, together with other bits and pieces.

One set piece has two heroes, Joel and the girl posing as a member of the group but exacting revenge in what is supposed to be a safe haven - a police station, where they have been locked up after being arrested is a solid one.  The cops are a bunch of misfits who think that they are God’s gift to mankind.  It is just a matter of time, as expected for a killer to appear and to hack away with the bunch of them.

The script co-written by Calahan and James Villenueve adds a variety of serial killers in the group to add a bit of spice into the story.  There is the creepiest one and the main villain, Bon (Ari Miller) who also has a habit of rising p as a killer clown, another creepy Fritz (Richings), a gigantic monster of a man, Mike (Rober Maillet) and an Asian one, Video (Sena Baek) to boot.

The actors all appear to be having fun, either getting diced or killing off another member of the cast  Marsh is edible as the reluctant hero, actually good looking, but dressed in geeky clothes.  He has two women to choose to have romance with, his roommate or the disguised serial killer.

The humour is mostly tongue-in-cheek with a little deadpan comedy added in.

Don’t expect too much for VICIOUS FUN.  Just sit back, relax, if possible and enjoy the gore and laughs.

VICIOUS FUN debuts on the horror streaming service Shudder on June 29th, Tuesday.

Trailer: 

WOLFGANG (USA 2021) ***

Directed by David Gelp

Everyone should have heard of the high end restaurant of the stars, Spago.  Wolgang Puck is its founder.  Spago is Wolgang’s first restaurant in the United States, in Los Angeles.

On a personal note, my best friend’s cousin worked at Spago 20 odd years ago, the one in Palo Alto.  We were supposed to meet him at work.  Going to the restaurant and seeing the posh limousines and customers in their evening wear, we realized that we were not dressed properly to enter through the front.  The Spago chef, (the cousin worked there as one) finally met us at the back.  The names Spago and Wolgang Puck are now household names that even granny will recognize.  This is the doc of the great restaurateur.

The doc follows the usual path of biopics.  The doc traces the childhood of Wolgnag, to his arrival in the United States.  His rise to fame is documented, the artist shown at work with talking heads parsing him.  In the typical doc, there is always a downside where the celebrity has experienced his worst life.  Fortunately for Wolfgang, he had a good life, but always working too hard, away from family.  His only downside in life occurred at a very young age when he was abused and seated by his step-father.  But this only made him more determined to succeed in life.  The doc is expectedly inspirational.

Wolfgang Johannes Puck was born July 8, 1949, an Austrian chef, in Austria, Puck moved to the United States at the age of 24. In 1973, Puck moved to Los Angeles, opening his first restaurant, Spago, in 1982.  He learned cooking from his mother, who was a pastry chef.He took the surname of his stepfather, Josef Puck, after his mother's remarriage. The marriage produced two younger sisters and a younger brother for Wolfgang. He trained as an apprentice under Raymond Thuilier at L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux-de-Provence, at Hôtel de Paris in Monaco, and at Maxim's Paris before moving to the United States in 1973 at age 24. After two years at La Tour in Indianapolis, Puck moved to Los Angeles to become chef and part owner of Ma Maison restaurant.

All the above are mentioned in the film.  Director Gelp is fortunate to have Puck still alive talk about his life, work and aspirations.  His ex-wife Barbara Lazaaroff is also interviewed in the film.  Help also has access to an incredible amount of archive footage, including old photographs that show Wolfgang, young, middle aged and at his current age.

Wolfgang has a simple philosophy in life that he shares with the audience :  Know what you are good at; take charge; and be a success.

Puck now runs over 100 restaurants around the world, holds two Michelin stars, is the only two-time recipient of the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award and has been the official caterer for the Academy Awards®for over 20 years. His name spans across cookbooks and kitchen and food merchandise. His trademark recipes have been syndicated in newspapers and websites. He hosted the Emmy® Award-winning show “Wolfgang Puck” on the Food Network, was the first regular guest chef on “Good Morning America,” has been honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame. 

WOLFGANG, the doc is formulaic, predictable but still enjoyable as a literal food feast for the eyes.

Trailer: 

 

ZOLA  (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Janicza Bravo

The film, ZOLA as the opening credits claim that what follows is mostly true.  This is one film that can be described as fierce, reminiscent of Andrea Arnold’s AMERICAN HONEY (2016) and Paul Verhoeven's SHOWGIRLS (1995).   In October 2015, Detroit waitress Aziah "Zola" King posted a 148-tweet thread about a trip she took to Florida with a stripper named Jessica; the story, containing details of prostitution, murder and an attempted suicide, quickly went viral, garnering the recognition of people such as Missy Elliott, Solange Knowles and Ava DuVernay.  About a month later, Rolling Stone's David Kushner published an article interviewing people involved in the story; while the article noted several inconsistencies in the stories, and King has admitted to embellishing some of the more sensational detail, most of the involved have admitted to the general gist of the story.

The film begins with an image of Zola (Taylour Page) and Stefani (Riley Keough).  Zola says: “You want to hear how me and this white bitch fell out?  It’s kind of a long story, but it is full of suspense.”  This is exactly what the film is all about.

Zola meets a sex worker named Stefani at a restaurant where Zola waitresses, and the two immediately bond over pole dancing.  Only a day after they exchange numbers, Stefani invites Zola on a cross-country road trip to Tampa, Florida, where the goal is to make as much money as possible dancing in Florida strip clubs.  Zola agrees, and suddenly she is trapped in the craziest, most unexpected trip of her life, partaking in a wild two-day trip with Stefani, her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun), and Stefani's violent pimp, X (Colman Domingo).  Zola discovers that Stefani indulges in the sex trade as well.  Zolan abstains, regaining her dignity but is under threat and abuse by X.  What transpires too, is Zola’s coming-of- age story, and a fierce one.

One knows that director Bravo who also co-wrote the script with Jeremy O. Harris that they intend a no-nonsense approach to the story.  One scene where there is a lose up of the toilet bowls after the two girls do a number 1 says it call.  There is a close up of Stefani’s yellow urine in the toilet bowl.

The underbelly of society, particularly the United States is effectively captured in the film.  And it is a scary one.  Derek befriends a black stranger who turns out to be a gangster who kidnaps Stefani and threatens the group, claiming that they cannot just enter his territory and do shit.  They get out of the situation but not without having to shoot the guy in the neck, in one bloody shocking scene.

Performances are nothing short of excellent.  Of all of the awesome acting. Nicholas Braun stands out as the naive boyfriend who falls head over heals in love with Stefani.  Riley Keough, a rising star in indie films is the most outstanding as the confused Stefani.

Not one’s typical enjoyable bit of commercial cinema but ZOLA is fantastic if one can bear to watch it.

Trailer:

Trailer:  

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