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

26 Jun 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

THE 8TH NIGHT (South Korea 2019) **

Directed by Kim Tae-hyung


THE 8TH NIGHT is one of the two international films premiering on July the 2nd (this week) on Netflix.  It is good marketing for the international streaming service, Netflix, to include international films that will be watched by not only their own country of origin by by many others, like myself who treasure foreign films.  

This one is a South Korean mystery-horror-thriller film directed by Kim Tae-hyung for Gom Pictures and starring Lee Sung-min, Park Hae-joon, Kim Yoo-jung, and Nam Da-reum, names western audiences are not familiar with.  The film depicts the age-old struggle of an exorcist to stop the resurrection of the two mysterious beings that tormented humans and were locked up in 2 caskets for 2500 years. The life-or-death battle spans eight days with the climax occurring on the 8th day, hence the film’s title.  The aim is to prevent the breaking of the seal that restrains “That Which Must Not Awaken.” Once awakened, it can cross the stepping stones to wreak havoc on this world i.e. it will be forever hell on earth. 

A man who was once an exorcist, suffers until he faces a demon that is freed. The night exists between real and unreal, their struggle to stop the resurrection of the demon has begun!

About two and half millennium ago, two mysterious beings that tormented humans were locked up in 2 caskets.  They are required to infiltrate 7 weak human hosts to assume their form. After a few centuries, Monk Ha-jung (Lee Eol), the protector of one of the caskets, realizes that one of the beings has reawakened and so he asks monk Chung-seok (Nam Da-reum) to seek Park Jin-soo (Lee Sung-min), who was born to stop these beings. Jin-soo begins the hunt to find the being with Chung-seok in order to stop 'it' from causing havoc on the earth.

The film is more complicated than the story needs to be, and it gets really confusing with too many incidents involving too many characters.  The special effects are excellent and look like a cross between the Japanese devil doll horror films and the Hollywood exorcism films.  By the time the film reaches its climax, which is the 8th day - the film unfolds one day at a time, and there is some mumbo jumbo about stepping stones and other items like talismans and red and black eyes uniting, all really silly stuff , despite the film’s cute serious look.

The film plays two sets of characters, which makes the film more interesting.  There is the old guard and the novice monk who is helping him guard the relics.  And with gruesome murders taking place, a detective is assigned to the case with his side-kick , a novice cop who is quite a bumbler as well.  Then there are the possessed killers that create havoc with deaths of innocent people.  The two sets of characters gradually meet and there are lots of fights.  The line between good and evil is ambiguous as the demon can possess any one except for the old guard, who seems to be shot at one point and then survive.

Director Kim seems too serious with his film. To his credit, his film looks good, with well shot night scenes and scary set pieces.  It is too bad the narrative is a mess and difficult to follow, unless it is a South Korean thing that South Koreans can follow all the mumbo jumbo.

 

Trailer: 

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

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

 

BLACK CONFLUX (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Nicole Dorsey


BLACK CONFLUX tells the dual stories of two disillusioned people set in 1980’s Newfoundland.  The film could very well be set in the present in Toronto close to where director Dorsey earned her film degree and lives.  The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity.  

Fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood. Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call.  

Director Dorsey loves to play with symbols.  There are two scenes involving bugs, the significance only realized after a bit of deep thought at the end of the film.  

Dennis’ story is more interesting as his character is an ambiguous creepy one that could explode at any instant.  McDonald delivers a powerful performance as the much misunderstood Dennis.  There is so much anger inside but he is over-polite on the outside.  He seems to invoke sympathy from his colleagues, both his boss who does not know what to do with him but comically writes him up, as an example to show to his other colleagues.  Instead of anger, Dennis responds with an apology.  The scene in the bar where he lets his anger out on the dance floor shows how sexy and scary his character can be.  Oddly enough, it attracts a woman who he ends up taking home to bed.

Jackie’s story, though less interesting, is still a well-written one.  Her character and behaviour are contrasted with her mates, especially that of her best friend, Amber (Olivia Screen).  Jackie is a young teen who is frivolous in her character and is occasionally serious.  She learns the importance of responsibility when she is turned down the opportunity of singing in the school choir after initially not committing to it.

The film is a little slow paced because of director Dorsey’s decision to spend screen time on character development.  It pays off!

The atmosphere of 80’s Newfoundland is effectively created in the film, though the story could very well be reset to the present.  Director Dorsey always has the beautiful sea in view in her frames.

The film has a solid ending when the two stories eventually converge and the two meet.  The meeting arrives at the very last 5 minutes of the film when one is about to give up on the chance of the two meeting.  One would expect a powerful explosion of an encounter as the Dennis character can be likened to a ticking time bomb.  The same can be said for the more timid Jackie, but what eventually occurs, not to be revealed in this movie, shows Dorsey’s  bravery and faith in her story telling.   The ending is a surprise one would not have expected.  A very assured debut feature from Dorsey again enforcing the power of women.

BLACK CONFLUX premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 when I first saw the film.  It was worth the second viewing.

Trailer: 

 

BONE CAGE (Canada 2020) ***
Directed by Taylor Olson

It might seem odd for a serious film like BONE CAGE based on the play of the same name to pay a nod (perhaps unintentionally) to one of Monty Python’s most famous musical numbers.  The lyrics of one of the verses go like this:

He's a lumberjack and he's okay

He sleeps all night and he works all day

I cut down trees, I skip and jump

I like to press wild flowers

I put on women's clothing

And hang around in bars.

Though the lead character in BONE CAGE, Jamie (played by director Olson himself) does not press wild flowers in the film, he is a lumberjack wearing the typical plaid lumberjack shirt and does dress up in women’s clothing in one of the film’s key scenes.

Jamie works operating a wood processor, clear-cutting for pulp. At the end of each shift, he walks through the destruction he has created looking for injured animals, and rescues those he can.  One is a hawk, the breed is not mentioned, but it can be assumed to be a wild bird like the kestrel used in Ken Roach’s minor masterpiece KES.  Jamie’s desire to break free from this world is thwarted by the very environment and circumstance he's trying to escape.

Jamie comes with a whole lot of baggage.  He is looked down upon by his father.  His brother Travis had been killed in the military.  He does not have a high school diploma.   He is about to be demoted to chainsaw duties at the lumber company he is working for.  His best pal, Kevin is bullied and often beaten up by a local.  His mother gives him hack for wanting to get married so early.  His only solace is his fiancé and sister Kristy who he lives with.  Things appear to be getting worse and Jamie wants to leave Nova Scotia for British Columbia where things look brighter (but are they really?) and unable to do so for two reasons - the lack of both funds and education.

It seems that the baggage is too much for Jamie and the film to carry.  Many issues are left hanging or unresolved.  But the audience gets the picture.  Jamie has to leave town.  The suspension bridge in walking distance appears to be trouble.  Jamie and Kevin attempt to jump from the bridge into the water, after getting drunk and disillusioned.  But this, obviously, is dangerous.

To director Olson’s credit, who thinks he is the greatest thing in film, acting as if he was Brad Pitt - he does create an effective and credible mood and atmosphere for his film.  The confines and trappings of small town Canada are well created, with lots of attention to detail.  The audience can see the piles of logs in the background of many scenes, and the devastation of the forest in the background of other scenes.  Olson is fond of using hand held camera to give the film a more realistic look.

For a film and story grounded in authenticity and the reality of life, the climax is a surreal and artistic one that leaves the audience to form their own conclusions, going against the flow of the rest of the film.

Trailer:

THE BOSS BABY: FAMILY BUSINESS (THE BOSS BABY 2) (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Tom McGrath 

 

The first BOSS BABY was a huge success earning it an Academy Award Nomination for Best Animated Feature.  THE BOSS BABY: FAMILY BUSINESS, known as THE BOSS BABY 2 in other territories should do more of the same.  The sequel is more entertaining and funnier than the original.  The stories are based on the picture books by Marla Frazee.

Tim (James Marsden) and his Boss Baby little bro Ted (Alec Baldwin) - have become adults and drifted away from each other.  Tim is now a married dad.  Ted is a hedge fund CEO. Sibling rivalry is one of the film’s themes.  Tim and Ted reunite to save the world and in the process learn to work with each other again. 

Tim is a stay-at-home dad.  He and his super-mom wife Carol (Eva Longoria) live in the suburbs with their super-smart 7-year-old daughter Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), and super-cute new infant Tina (Amy Sedaris). Tabitha, who's at the top of her class at the prestigious Acorn Center for Advanced Childhood, idolizes her Uncle Ted and wants to become like him, but Tim worries that she's working too hard and is missing out on a normal childhood. When baby Tina reveals that she's—ta-da!—a top-secret agent for BabyCorp on a mission to uncover the dark secrets behind Tabitha's school and its mysterious founder, Dr. Erwin Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), it will reunite the Templeton brothers in unexpected ways, leading them to re-evaluate the meaning of family and discover what truly matters.e meaning of family and discover what truly matters.  In this animated feature, babies talk while Tim and Ted are reduced to babies again by drinking a potion.

It is all fun and games with a lot of animated high jinx at hand.  Director McGrath treats his animation like an action feature using intercutting of his animated scenes and some neat editing.  The film contains a few catchy songs to boot.

It is extremely tough these days for any animated feature to compete with those churned out by Disney and Pixar.  The filmmakers of BOSS BABY 2 realize the need for a niche and for product differentiation and distinguishes their product by making it much goofier and often moving it at break-neck speed.  The film, as a result contains lots of animated slapstick, and a whole lot of hilarious goofiness which will appeal to adult audiences as well as the little ones.

The voice characterizations are excellent from Alec Baldwin to Amy Sedaris.  Jeff Goldblum has a hoot voicing the villain, his cartoon character wearing the same kind of glasses the actor wears in real life.

The film opens theatrically in the United States on July 2, 2021 in RealD 3D and Dolby Cinema by Universal Pictures.  The film will also stream on Peacock on the same day as its theatrical release date for 60 days.[

Trailer: 

DYNASTY WARRIORS (Hong Kong 2019) ***

Directed by Roy Chow

DYNASTY WARRIORS is an international Netflix action movie based on a video game.

The video game is a series of hack and slash action games created by Omega Force and Koei. The series is a spin-off of Koei's turn-based strategy Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, based loosely around the Chinese historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, from which it derives its name in Japanese.

As expected, since the film is based on a video game, the film contains lots of CGI, especially during  the massive battle scenes.  The film has the feel of the LORD OF THE RINGS battle scenes.  DYNASTY WARRIORS is a video game action film with CGI gone mad.  Surprisingly the film’s most effective moments are ones where the CGI are removed and the camera focuses on the individuals- like the details of the armour worn by the generals or the metal plates on the horses.

The film works best when it narrows down to the conflicts or fights between individuals.  The rebel fights are all in the history books but these are less interesting than when one general of the Han Dynasty is fighting against a rebel.  It is not surprising then that the film’s  best scene is the one that is similar to a David and Goliath gent when a little known guard first against one of the Han Dynasty’s mighty warriors, a sort of Goliath.  It is an exciting segment extremely well done.

The film contains many stars of the Hong Kong film industry that western audiences may not be familiar with.  But there are recognizable faces, which means that Asian audience would be able to relate more to the film.

For a film based on a video game, the film puts a lot of emphasis  on its characters  These  characters are portrayed by a host of well known Hong Kong actors.  These characters lift the film above what most video game based films fail to do - which is to create credible beings that audiences care about.

The film has a little romance added, though not a very convincing one.  One of the generals, General Lu falls in love with a lady of the lake, firsts seen trying to commute suicide.  What she is doing all alone right up right in the mountains and all alone is never explained.

The script captains a narrative that wanders all over the place.  There is only one main plot of an evil ruler of the Han Dynasty usurping the throne from the rightful prince, a boy.  The rebels are trying to fight and oust him. The rest of the story centres around the individual loyalists of the country who battle him.  The film follows the style of most Hong Kong sword sagas, lots of excellent fighting choreography but with a weak narrative.

DYNASTY WARRIORS has already opened in Asian countries.  In Hong Kong, it was number 1 at the box-office for its two opening weekends.  Netflix purchased the film's global distribution rights with a record breaking eight-figure price for a Chinese-language film and will be released for streaming on 1 July 2021.

Trailer: 

 

FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Leigh Janiak

FEAR STREET is a trilogy of three teenage slasher films that opens on Netflix a week apart from each other, beginning July the 2d.  Similar to teen horror flicks like SCREAM and FRIDAY THE 13TH, the first of the series called FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 based on the book of the same title, is not bad and should (it does not take much) satisfy horror fans.

It is 1994, and a group of teenagers find out that the terrifying events that have occurred in their town of Shadyside, Ohio, may be connected to each other, and that they may be the next targets.

Fear Street has its origins as a teenage horror fiction series written by American author R. L. Stine, starting in 1989.   R. L. Stine stopped writing Fear Street after penning the Fear Street Seniors spin-off in 1999.  In summer 2005, he brought Fear Street back with the three-part Fear Street Nights miniseries.   As of 2010, over 80 million copies of Fear Street have been sold.  Stine revived the book series in October 2014.  In 2021, a trilogy of films based on the series will be released on Netflix.

The title of the ilm comes from a fictional street in a small American town called Shadyside.   The town has been cursed with serial killers who appear to be possessed by a witch in the past called Fier who was burnt by the town at the stake.  It was Fier’s revenge on the town.  Apparently the family changed its name from Fier (the letter that could be rearranged to spell fire) to Fear.  The film begins with Ryan in a skull mask (possessed)and costume at Shadyside Mall violently slaughtering  a girl who worked there after closing.   The girl is played by Maya wake, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.

The story enters on a teen lesbian couple in a high school in Shadyside, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Welch).    Falling out has Sam match up with Peter and move across town to another twin town called Sunnyvale, supposed to be a wealthier town.  The two towns have an enmity against each other.  A football game brings the students together with disastrous results such as the witch starts possessing serial kills and begins attacking a group of students that include Deena, Sam, Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger).  The reason given, a silly one, is that Sam spilt blood on the witch’s grave and the witch is hunting Same down.  The group, obviously, are doing their damn best to save Sam.  This wouldn't be easy as the wits cannot be killed by fire or any other means,and keep coming back to life, including a second and third movie.

Director Zaniak who directs all the three films and also co-wrote the script knows her teen horror films.  She keeps the action fast and furious with lots of blood and gore in the killing scenes.  The film is made politically correct with coloured lead characters and a lesbian theme to boot, with the ending primed for a sequel.

PART 1 should see fans tune in to the other 2 FEAR STREETS.

Trailer: 

 

THE FOREVER PURGE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Everardo Gout

THE PURGE is a media franchise consisting of a series of dystopian action horror films distributed by Universal Pictures and produced by Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes, which are written and directed by James DeMonaco, except this supposedly final one.  THE FOREVER PURGE is the latest and supposedly last film in the franchise though DeMonaco is reported to be writing a new story based on what he calls a novel concept.

The concept of the purge: it is the annual American holiday when all crime including murder is legal for a 12-hour period.  The reason for it is explained in the first film.  It has something to do with the cleansing of the nation - or some kind of  bullshit that is not convincing in the least.  So, citizens, good ones, have to lock themselves behind shutters doors and windows while on the outside, others kill and loot.  The film has the feel of a zombie horror flick, because that is the same situation  characters in zombie films face.  In THE FOREVER PURGE, the marauders decide to have the purge continue forever.

If one thinks the entire concept is totally ridiculous, it might seem so.  But after experiencing Trump’s America, what transpires on screen during the page is totally real.  Imagine, no more democracy, the white rednecks doing what they want, and minorities like Mexicans looked down upon, as in this film.

THE FOREVER PURGE focuses on a Mexican couple, Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta) escaping from a drug cartel stranded on a Texas ranch. There, they will be at the mercy of a group of outsiders who plan to unlawfully continue their own Purge, and turn against the couple to eliminate them.  In all this mumbo jumbo, one good white guy, who owns the range is Caleb Tucker (Will Patton) who is sympathetic to the Mexicans and his cow hands.  But the co hands are rednecks, who believe like Trump supporters that the world belongs to them and owes them a living.

I personally hated all THE PURGE films and thought the concept totally unbelievable.  But after one term of Donald Trump,  the concept could become a reality.  What is seen in THE FOREVER PURGE could be happening in Trump's America.  Given what it is, a silly franchise, THE FOREVER PURGE is a somewhat OK action flick basically about a couple escaping predators.

Trailer: 

THE GOD COMMITTEE (USA 2021) **

Directed by Austin Stark

THE GOD COMMITTEE is a film arriving with great promise.  It deals with social issues and how man attempts to deal with them.  The film is written and decried by a young 42 year old Austin Stark, an American film director, writer, and producer best known for films highlighting social issues, from mental illness in INFINITELY POLAR BEAR to this latest medical drama THE GOD COMMITTEE.   Unfortunately, it is not very good, having problems with credibility, dealing with too many subplots and falling into melodrama.

THE GOD COMMITTEE is made up of Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Andre Boxer, Julia Stiles as Dr. Jordan Taylor, Colman Domingo as Father Dunbar, Janeane Garofalo as Dr. Valerie Gilroy, Dan Hedaya as Granger and Peter Kim as Dr. Allen Lau.  They are so called because they make decisions regarding life and death:  i.e. who they think best should be the one to receive  an existing organ before the organ expires; ie. they decide who lives and who dies.  Whenever there is a new organ donated, time runs out before the organ cannot be used.  Within that time frame the committee sits down and debates, based on documentation and interviews of dying patients who makes the best fit to receive the organ.  In the film, the committee is faced with a few of these crucial decisions.  One is a super rich patient whose father is willing to donate $25 million dollars to the hospital if his son gets the organ.  The committee wrestle on the conflict of interest question while noting that if the hospital gets the money, more lives will be saved.  Dr. Boxer, who has been on the committee for umpteen years, is in need of a new heart.  At the same time, he is involved in ground breaking research that has organs transplanted from animals to humans that would make organ scarcity a thing of the past.  Into the picture comes Dr. Taylor, new to the committee.  She is pregnant, having an affair with Dr. Boxer.  This affair is both unbelievable and the melodramatic part of the story.  This side plot could have been eliminated from the story with no great effect.  Director Stark makes no attempt to make the affair believable.  The two actors never kiss or embrace.  Dr. Boxer looks much older than Dr. Taylor, and could pass off as her father.

The film feels very much like a play with director Stark rarely taking his film out of a building or room.  With the characters arguing all the time, especially when debating as the committee, the film looks even more stage bound.

The actors all look out of place.  Grammar, who has played a psychiatrist for ages in CHEERS looks too old for a romance.  Janeane, a well-known comedienne does her best to suppress any humour but those knowing her well would expect her to crack a joke at any time.  The placement of a coloured priest and an Asian doctor also looks too convenient to have the film look politically correct.

Despite a few dramatic scenes, the social issues never surface to make any impact or insight.  It seems a sorry failure that this social issue could have been covered more thoroughly or be even more entertaining.

Trailer: 

LET US IN (USA 2020) **

Directed by Craig Moss

The film begins with the definition of black-eyed kids, which is what the film is about - black eyed kids terrorizing a small town.  Black-eyed children (or black-eyed kids) are an American contemporary legend of paranormal creatures that resemble children between ages 6 and 16, 16 in this film with pale skin and black eyes, who are reportedly seen hitchhiking or panhandling, or are encountered on doorsteps of residential homes.  In the film they abduct other teens, asking them: Will you let us in?” before taking them away.

The history: While tabloid coverage of these creatures has claimed that tales of black-eyed children have existed since the 1980s, most sources indicate that the legend originated from 1996 postings written by Texas reporter Brian Bethel on a "ghost-related mailing list," relating two alleged encounters with "black-eyed kids."  Bethel describes encountering two such children in Abilene, Texas in 1996, and claims that a second person had a similar, unrelated encounter in Portland, Oregon.

A spirited 12-year old girl, Emily starts investigating the sudden disappearances of several missing teens in their small town.  She is aided by a young boy, Christopher who attempts to connect with his inventions to record communication from outer space.  Realizing there might be something deeper happening,  Emily might be up against forces she can't even imagine.

The one good thing about the horror flick is its modernization especially with the use of cell phones.  The phones are used for its ability to be used as a flashlight to fight against the black-eyed kids.  Emily uses her cell to text for help from all her friends.

The film works quite well in the first half with mystery and suspense in the air.  The script tackles a few teen issues like bullying, guilt, parents/children relationships and growing-up pains.  But the script co-written by Moss and Joe Callero never finishes what it begins or never deals with them in enough detail.  At one point, the film feels like a horror version of MEAN GIRLS.  There is no real explanation of the black-eyed kids, where they originated or the reason they have to ask permission to ‘let us in’.  And why only 5 kids between those ages.  A lazy script results in a lazy horror film with very few answers.

Unfortunately, the film gets silly once Emily and Christopher and their cohorts start rescuing the kidnapped teens and fight the black-eyed kids.  The black-eye kids are afraid of light, whether artificial from flashlights or cellphones. with no reason given.  It appears that the scriptwriter is making it up as the story goes.  The audience is led to believe that Emily can overcome and fight off these weird aliens without much effort.

The film has Judy Geeson (the British pop sober from TO SIR WITH LOVE) in the role of Emily’s grandmother.  Other cast members are relatively unknown.

There is a little twist to the story at the end, which does not really make any sense.  The only good thing about the film is its crisp short running length of around 80 minutes.

Trailer: 

PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY (Australia/India/UK/USA/Canada 2021) ***
Directed by Will Gluck

The popular Peter Rabbit (lovable characters created by Beatrix Potter) children books and DVD series (there are quite a few of them) are aimed at pre-school children.  The show and books follow mischievous, charming Peter as he overcomes obstacles, outwits predators and avoids danger. Peter wants to grow up to be just like his late father and carries his journal (a guide on how to be a good rabbit) on his adventures with his friends Cousin Benjamin Bunny and new character Lily Bobtail. The show will be aimed at a preschool audience in an attempt to teach them important life lessons and skills.

The stories have spawned two PETER RABBIT full length features, both directed by Will Click and starring James Corden as the voice of Peter Rabbit.  The first one that debuted in 2018 was actually the better one, funnier, more inventive and fresher at the time.

Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) and Bea (Rose Byrne) are now married and living with Peter and his rabbit family.   They have created a makeshift family, but despite his best efforts, Peter cannot seem to shake his mischievous reputation.  Adventuring out of the garden, Peter finds himself in a world where his mischief is appreciated, but when his family risks everything to come looking for him, Peter must figure out what kind of bunny he wants to be.

Bored of life in the garden, Peter goes to the big city, where he meets shady characters and ends up creating chaos for the whole family.

As in all animated features for kids, tee is always a message.  The message, obvious in this one, is the love for family.  Peter leaves the McGregors hoping to fill in the shoesof his late father by having enough food without having to worry about it for the rest of his life.  While in town, he gets to meet shady Barnabas (Lennie James) who entices Peter to carry on a  ‘job’ with his friends from the McGregor arm only to be betrayed.  There is much homage paid to Charles Dickens in the film.  References are made to his books as Bea is a writer who aims to be as good as him, and she quotes from his books.  When Peter meets Barnabas and his gang of questionable acquaintances, the story that immediately comes to mind is that of Dickens’ OLIVER where Oliver meets Fagin and his gang of pickpockets.  The only thing missing in the film is a good villain like Bill Sykes in OLIVER.  Bill Sykes, to Dickens’ credit, is the most evil villain of all time.  Because he kills innocent Nancy who protects the boy.  No such classic story in PETER RABBIT 2.  In fact the story is marred by predictability and cliches and the fact that the target audience is younger, as the stories were initially aimed at pre-school kids.  The only thing good about the film is its production values.  The characters are beautifully created, cute and lovable as any real bunny.  The humour, mostly slapstick, is slight as well as the drama.

PETER RABBIT 2 has suffered many, many delays in its opening, and finally makes its debut on July 2.  Bring the kids!  Or , Rent it at home on July 2!

Trailer: 

 

THE PHANTOM (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Patrick Forbes

 

There is nothing more exciting than watching a documentary that riles up one's interest.  One of the issues that is definitely to anger audiences is injustice and the miscarriage of justice.  As one wise man has said, with regards to North America: “How can there be justice on stolen land?”

THE PHANTOM tells the story of one of the darkest episodes in the long history of American justice - a story of how the State of Texas (the town of Corpus Christi, in particular) knowingly sent an innocent man to his death and left a serial killer at large.  A case in which - for the first time - it can be conclusively proven that the U.S. courts executed a blameless man.  This film uncovers the shocking truth behind a tale of murder, corruption, and lies that unfolded in the dusty, desperate streets of a Texas oil town nearly thirty years ago.  DeLuca protested his innocence until his execution, declaring that it was another Carlos (the phantom of the title)who committed the crime.

The ilm begins with a 9-1-1 call.   On Feb. 4, 1983, Wanda Lopez, a cash register clerk at a gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas was stabbed to death by a robber while she was making a frantic 911 call.  It is assumed that the recording of the call is real while other things on display like the images might be re-enacted, obviously as the camera crew could not be at the store during the crime.  Police arrived too late to save the victim but managed to arrest a suspect, Carlos DeLuca, shirtless hiding under the car.  DeLuca was tried, found guilty and executed.  Director Forbes attempts to prove the man’s innocence and to show the injustice carried out in the killing of an innocent man.

The doc covers actually two issues.  Besides the issue of miscarriage of justice, it also covers the topic of racial injustice, a topic that is also popular in films particularly non documentaries.  Director Spike Lee has made DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) and BlacKkKlansman (2018) and the recent JUST MERCY (202) had Michael B. Jordan portray a defence attorney representing a wrongly accused Jamie Foxx sitting on death row.

One of the nagging things about the doc is the reason DeLuca was hiding under a nearby car without a shirt.  Director Forbes never explains this or attempts to.  One of the key arguments supporting the case for  DeLuca’s innocence was that no blood was found on the man despite the violent stabbing.  Perhaps DeLuca got rid of the short as it might have been stained with blood.  As this would rob the film of its main aim, director Forbes could have deliberately omitted the fact.  It is odd too that the point was never brought up in caught, as any defence lawyer would question the evidence.

Director Forbes makes the bold assumption that the real killer might be still present and roaming the streets,  To Forbes’ credit, he has assembled worthy interviewees, many directly involved in the DeLuca case from the actual prosecutors to those close to DeLuna.  A lot of them conclude the same sad point that DeLuca was not educated and never had a proper defence.

An important documentary, well researched and put together teaches audiences again the importance of an objective non racial prejudiced judicial system - something that is practically unachievable as history has proven.

(And available on demand nationwide 7/2 on
iTunes / Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video)

TRAILER:

Trailer: 

TOVE (Finland/Sweden 2020) ***
Directed by Zaida Bergroth

TOVE, short for Tove Jansson, is little known outside her Scandinavian origins, but this illustrious biopic on her life, work, achievements and troubles should shed sufficient light on her.

Tove Marika Jansson was a Finnish-born novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author.  For her contribution as a children's writer she received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1966.  Jansson is best known as the author of the Moomin books for children. The first such book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, appeared in 1945, though it was the next two books, Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll, published in 1946 and 1948 respectively, that brought her fame.  Jansson died in Helsinki, Finland from natural causes at the age of 86.  She also shared a few same sex relationships which the biopic emphasizes.

The film contains a simple plot.  The movie centres on the early life of Tove Jansson Alma Pöyst), dating back to her life from the wartime to the mid-1950s, showing both her personal relationships with people such as Vivica Bandler and Atos Wirtanen, and the creation of the Moomin Character, and the popular book series.

The film is set in Helsinki, 1945.  The film’s period atmosphere from the set decorations (rooms, buildings, exteriors of Helsinki and period Paris to the wardrobe, props and nostalgic music are marvellously re-created.  Director Bergroth captures too the mood of the new freedom that comes with the end of the war and with it brings the new sense of artistic and social freedom that painter Tove Jansson discovers.  Breaking away from her strict conventions of her parents, she indulges in both an open relationship with a married politician, Artos (ShantiRoney) and her unrequited love for Vivica, the mayor's daughter (Krista Kosonen).   Tove finally finds solace in her cartoon drawings of the Moomins that she creates.  The Moomins, infused with inspiration from her own life, bring Tove international fame and financial freedom.  There are daily comic strips, a stage play and stories that continue to delight people around the world.  The film also serves as a troubled coming-of-age story of the international artist.

  Director Bergroth shows her dark and imperfect side rather than place her on a pedestal as an accomplished artist.  The audience often sees not too likeable characters, warts and all.

TOVE’s story of her search for fulfillment in art and sexual desire could have been told as a documentary.  This would require lots of photos and archive footage.  Telling the story as a non-fiction feature instead of a documentary allows a more rigid and stronger narrative with sex scenes that would be left out in a documentary.   One wishes that some more could be told of Tove’s childhood, which is noticeably missing in this film.

TOVE's budget was €3.4 million, which makes it the second most expensive film in Finland.  It has been released to critical acclaim, and was selected as the Finnish entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, but was not nominated in the short list.

Trailer: 

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