fbpx

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

04 Jul 2021

FILM REVIEWS:

 

AILEY (USA 2021) 
Directed by Jamila Wignot

AILEY is a documentary on the life and works of African-American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist Alvin Ailey Jr. (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989).   AILEY founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT).  He created AAADT and its affiliated Ailey School as havens for nurturing black artists and expressing the universality of the African-American experience through dance.  Ailey's choreographic masterpiece Revelations ( bits of it are shown in the doc) is recognized as one of the most popular and most performed ballets in the world.

Director Wignot tackles his subject in the standard way of most biopics.  Wignot begins with the subject’s childhood, following it with the subject’s rise to fame, while including a part of the artist’s life that is his downfall, in this case is Ailey’s depression and death due to AIDs followed by a climax which normally extols the subject’s work or greatness.  Wignot has access to Ailey’s work, thus providing archive footage of Ailey’s dances.

Ailey was born in Rogers, Texas, at the height of the Great Depression in the violently racist and segregated south, during his youth Ailey was barred from interacting with mainstream society.  The racial segregation and prejudice are emphasized in the voiceover with grainy black and white footage of period Texas.  The audience sees two boys playing - Ailey and his best friend, Chancey Brown who saved him from drowning by placing his body over Ailey’s, which one might see as Ailey’s first gay experience.  It is also mentioned that Ailey was abandoned and never saw his father.  Ailey had also watched his mother raped at the hands of a white man when he was five years old, an important fact that was omitted in Wignot’s film.  The childhood portion of the doc is the most interesting, though there is none of the genius displayed yet.  The archive grainy look gives a sense of nostalgia, aided by the appropriate music.  Ailey’s youth was his inspiration and introduction to dance.  Wignot provides footage of black folk dancing.  The voiceover goes: People would get together and dance.  It was a time for love, a time for caring.

Director Wignot keeps the topic of racism topical throughout the documentary.  When Ailey’s dance troupe toured America, there are shots of the rundown hotels that they were housed in.  They never got to stay in the better hotels like the Holiday Inn because of their colour.  The performances on stage are a pleasure to watch.  Those unfamiliar with Ailey’s work are in for a big treat, as his choreography is indeed a masterwork, as Cicely Tyson claims as she introduces him at the start of the film.

Ailey’s gay lifestyle is gradually brought into the picture.  This lifestyle cannot be omitted since he contracted AIDs and died from it.  His bouts of depression are also mentioned.  Wignot attributes it to the lack of a personal relationship, which is likely correct.  Ailey was only close to his mother.  His mother had sacrificed a lot for her children, being a single mother.

Wignot’s AILEY is a worthy tribute to the genius artistry of choreographer Alvin Ailey, providing a look at his life and work both in dance and his activism.

Trailer: 

ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT (USA 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Jeremy Elkin

The doc ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding, the new documentary is an examination of a culture many cineastes are unfamiliar with - a good thing as the culture will likely be fascinating and educational.  Despite the uneasy and unfamiliar subject, director Elkin uses standard filmmaking of archive footage and talking head interviews to tell his story.  To his credit, he has assembled quite a massive amount of talent, particularly the DJs of the NYC scene of the time as well as selected archive footage which appears very related to the story he wishes to tell.  Elkin also interviews many  skateboarders, many unknown, as many are unfamous and never made it big with money or fame, but their say is still relevant.  The beauty of all this is that everyone, no matter who he or she is, has something important to say.

Of all the talking heads, Elkin gives the most screen time to actress Rosario Dawson and DJ Stretch Armstrong.  Adrian Bartos known professionally as DJ Stretch Armstrong is a New York-based DJ and music producer, known as a former co-host of hip hop radio show The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, alongside Bobbito Garcia.  Utterly talented to the max, Stretch had a major influence on the NYC club and street scenes.  He is seen in the doc, working his gig as a DK at the club while informing the audience with insight.  Dawson is an American actress and producer. She made her feature-film debut in the 1995 independent drama KIDS.   The film KIDS has a special significance to the street kids.  The director of KIDS, Larry Clark hung around the skateboarders filming them many, many times.  Clark eventually went on to make the minor classic doc KIDS on the kids.  Clark was much older and always hanging around.  The kids admit that they did not know him at first, thinking that he was some kind of pervert.

The doc is narrated by Eli Morgan Gesner.  Gesner is a film director known for his work on CONDEMNED (2015), CONCRETE JUNGLE (2009) and TONY HAWK'S PROVING GROUND (2007).  He is also a co-founder of the famous brand ZooYork.   That brand incorporated street graffiti into its designs.

Other guests on display in the film include most of the important people in hip hop and the NYC skateboarding scene, many from the latter group may not be familiar with.  The music artists include  musicians Darryl McDaniels, Fab 5 Freddy, and even Moby (recently seen in his own doc called MOBY DOC), among others, with skaters like Jeff Pang, Mike Carroll, Josh Kalis, and many more.  There are lots of shots inside the clubs with lots of serious hip hop music.  Of all the famous clubs in NYC, Club mars is singled out as the only one featuring hip hop and street music.

The important thing is that the raw spirit and energy of the NYC street scene are captured in this do,c rubbing off on the audience making ALL THE STREETS ARE SILENT an amazing watch.  The doc can be watched by clicking on the website: filmswelike.ca

Trailer: 

BANKROLLED (FONDEADOS) (Mexico 2020) **
Directed by Marcos Mucay

Think HAROLD AND KUMAR in Mexico speaking Spanish and smart (or dumb) enough to be able to execute a scam involving the internet and one will have BANROLLED, original title FONDEADOS.   BANKROLLED is a low-brow low budget stoner comedy, so one should not get their expectations too high, or even expect too many laughs.

Two directionless millennial bros get high and pitch a bold new social justice app that raises millions.  Now they have to come up with the app.  The plot is as simple and silly as that.

The boys are old school mates who live together and out of money.  Polo Rios (Aldo Escalante) and Blas (Ricardo Polanco) wake up each morning with no job.  They chug beer very early in the morning and do not do much but watch TV and go online.  They finally decide to do something.  They need money and decide to get rich.  They attend a meeting on networking, score some new drugs and in a parallel universe come up with some internet scheme, a  kind of business/game platform that should earn millions of hits and make them famous.

Polo and Blas live together.  The gay aspect is eliminated as they refer to themselves as bros.  In fact they have also grown up as kids.  As kids, they had at least common goals such as not to piss  in bed; riding a pony and escaping the local priest.  Now they are aimless.  Polo has a girlfriend, a fitness and slim freak who is always on Polo’s case to stay slim and fit.  Blas does not care and has no girlfriend.  But Blas is the smarter one.  He is tech-savvy.  So he comes up with the scheme with Polo being the spokesman  and CEO of their new venture.

The comedy is not really that funny with a hit and miss ratio being too high, even for a stoner comedy.  Fart jokes?  Yes there are and they come quite early in the film when Blas and Polo share the same bathroom and one farts while the other can smell the stink while taking a shower.  Yes, the fart jokes are not that funny.

The script, written by director Mucay also falls into the trap of having too many cliches.  The bromance between Blas follows the same path as a Harlequin romantic novel with an obstacle to their friendship.  They make up and become friends with all the cliches dumped into the script as expected.

The two comedians playing the duo are at least a little funny without being too annoying.  At least they are natural and do not try too hard to be funny or ridiculous.  The script contains enough internet jargon and has enough technical information to make the story credible.  There is one funny part that should be mentioned.  This is the scan code tattooed on a drug dealer’s neck.  If someone wants to make an order, the customer can scan the code on his neck.

BANKROLLED just rolls along to this inevitable predictable ending without much aplomb.  BANKROLLED is a Network international original from Mexico opening Friday, 23rd.

Trailer:  

BEANS (Canada 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Tracey Deer

BEANS, a fresh coming-of-age story with a strong female indigenous presence directed by an indigenous female on an topical and relevant indigenous subject.  The plot follows a Mohawk teen nicknamed BEANS as she navigates through lessons in life.

The purpose of BEANS is multifold.  One is to show the harm violence and racism causes.  Things get ugly.  And things get uglier when an innocent family and children are involved.  There is plenty of anger displayed in BEANS, arising mostly out of ignorance and prejudice.

BEANS is based on true events. Director Tracey Deer's awesome debut chronicles the 78-day standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in 1990, Quebec.   She places an indigenous family in the middle of these events, with a teen protagonist making her film also a coming-of-age story.

The film introduces the audience to an indigenous family.  A daughter is being interviewed for college admission.  Beans is the daughter’s nickname.  Beans is described in the report as focused and determined.  But when she is asked the reason she wants to become a doctor or lawyer, she is stumped for an answer.  The film moves on to the family dinner where it is revealed that the father is against the daughter going to college despite the mother’s wishes.  Director Tracey leaves the audience guessing at the daughter’s real wishes.  But there is always something clear about director Deer’s direction.  She is always one step ahead of her audience.  One can also say director Deer is focused and determined like her subject.

The protests involving land rites of the indigenous people are first observed on TV by the family.  The government wishes to build a golf course on Mohawk land and that includes their burial grounds.   “Lets go!” says the mother.  The subject is slowly introduced to the audience, as the family visits the protest site.  What appears to be an innocent protest (on the way to it, the family sings ‘We got the Power’ in the car) ends up a violent and lengthy standoff.

Director Deer proves her prowess at drawing her audience’s attention into her cause.  Mother and father are seen arguing at the dinner table.  When gunshots are fired and violence erupts at the protest, they embrace with passionate kisses, showing the deep down love they have for each other.  Audiences are more drawn into a story grounded in individual emotions.  Director Deer demonstrates a solid control of her characters.  They are shown to be human beings with weaknesses and vulnerability, often not sure what they are doing.  Deer also captures the indigenous spirit and accomplishes one of the rarest goals ever  -  that one should be proud to be Mohawk.

The film ends as the stand-off is resolved.  With so much invested in the stand-off, one wishes more details would have been given as to how the problem was resolved.  A few other events are too conveniently resolved in the story, like the settlement of the quarrel between Beans and her friend April, the aftermath of Beans’ attack on a policeman and the delivery of the baby (shown off screen).

BEANS premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews.  It finally opens in reopening cinemas.

Trailer:

Trailer: 

BLOOD RED SKY (Germany/USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Peter Thorwarth


BLOOD RED SKY a, German/US Netflix co-production combines several genres like the vampire, hijacking, action, family drama- which looks terrible on paper.  Upon execution, director Peter Thorwarth who co-wrote the script with Stefan Holtz has created quite an awesome product.

A woman with a mysterious illness is forced into action when a group of terrorists attempt to hijack a transatlantic overnight flight.

The film begins with an emergency plane landing in Scotland.  Everyone at the airport is on alert as terrorists are suspected.  But they see a little boy emerge from the plane.  The boy is questioned by authorities and the film unfolds in flashback till this point in time when the film then goes into climax mode.

It turns out that the boy Elias (Carl Anton Koch) is accompanying his mother, Nadja (Peri Baumeister) to the United States for   treatment as her mother has ‘bad blood’.  When their flight is hijacked and Nadja is shot, she survives.  Why?  Because she is a vampire.  If all these events sound silly, they are, but silly events executed with so much conviction by director Thorwarth result in an absorbing and compelling action thriller.

Director Thorwarth plays his airplane disaster flick with finesse showing that he understands what works and what doesn’t.  The screaming passengers as they run through the narrow aisles; a gunshot that shatters a plane window resulting in decreasing air pressure (everything sucked out); scurrying through to the baggage compartments below deck all work well to keep the audience glued to their seats.

Director Thorwarth ups the angst with a series of ultra violent segments well spaced throughout the film.  These include rapid stabbing through a victim’s eye (enough to make even the hardest audience cringe); Nadja pulling out her sharp new vampire teeth with tongs; a head smashed by crutches and the chopping off of an infected hand bitten by a vampire.  Extra blood gushes out whenever there is a chance for it.

The film also effectively pokes fun at typical airplane flights.  Even the  corny dialogue is fun.  “We need a doctor!” followed by “I am a doctor.” uttered by another passenger.  “We got everything under control, don’t worry!”  is said when everything is obviously not in control.  There is the gay flight attendant - there usually are a couple on any flight.  This one, called Eightball (Alexander Scheer)  is introduced humorously.  An annoying passenger makes a pass at a lady flight attendant.  She goes to Eightball and tells him, “He’s all yours!”  Better still Eightball turns out to be part of the terrorist team that hijacks the plane and the most psychotic of the lot.   Scheer is a superb actor who has played an incredible variety of roles if one were to look up his resume on imdb.   Surprisingly the best performance comes from the boy, Koch who plays Elais, who is able to elicit compassion from the audience when he goes all out to protect his vampire mother.

BLOOD RED SKY is filmed in both German and a little English.  It is totally fun if you can master the over-the-top ultra violence, which actually adds to the entertainment.

Trailer: 


THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (USA 2021) **

Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell

Shudder appears to have a new horror flick opening every Thursday.  These are often a hit and miss.  This Thursday, it is THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR which opens - a variation of the slasher flick.  Instead of a scantily clad sexy female escaping her predator or predators, it is two boys escaping their kidnappers.

 It is a night of unimaginable terror that awaits twelve-year-old Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and his best friend, Kevin (Ezra Dewey), when they are abducted on their way home from school.  Managing to escape his confines (the boot of a car), Bobby navigates the dark halls of the nearby house, praying his presence goes unnoticed as he avoids his captor at every turn.  Even worse is the arrival of another stranger (a female) , whose mysterious arrangement with the kidnapper may spell certain doom for Kevin. With no means of calling for help and miles of dark country in every direction, Bobby embarks on a rescue mission, determined to get himself and Kevin out alive… or die trying.

THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR has one of the simplest premises in a horror film this year.  It is just 2 boys trying to escape their predators.  There is no reason given for their kidnapping and the entire film has Bobby (the main boy) helping his best pal Kevin escape their kidnappers.  With a storyline so paper thin, there needs to be some ingenuous elements to keep the audience’s attention from start to end.  Unfortunately there are a few, but not enough.

There is a reason a script contains plot twists and sub plots and supporting characters.  There are none of these.  Within the first 30 minutes, despite some good suspenseful segments, the film grows tiresome quite fast.  Even a shocking scene like a little boy stabbing a man right in the gut fails to shock (or entertain) after a while.

A cop or private investigator that suddenly shows up in a horror flick is certain to meet a gruesome death.  In Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. Martin Balsam met his death, falling down the stairs in the Bates motel.  In this film, the cop who shows up, responding to the 9-11 call is expected to and does receive a gruesome hacking -  an axe to his stomach.  One would think that filmmakers of film in the horror genre would come up with something more unexpected.

One of the kidnapper killers turns out to be a woman at the middle of the film.  A good alternative to a predator.  The woman looks like an extremely angry but less anorexic version of Angelina Jolie.  She speaks aloud, uttering lots of foul language.  A big warning is that this film contains a lot of torturous scenes, similar to the type found in the SAW franchise.

The main question (never addressed) that should be in the mind of someone watching the film, if the person still bothers, is the reason these two boys are kidnapped in the first place.

Trailer:

Trailer: 

 

BROKEN DIAMONDS (USA 2018) ****
Directed byPeter Sattler

BROKEN DIAMONDS, a new comedy drama begins with the protagonist Scott Weaver (Ben Platt) drives in his car practicing French to an audiotape.  He celebrates his going away party at work in a surprise party.  He discusses his plans of moving to Paris to be a writer.  During the surprise party, his stepmother Cookie calls, informing him that his dad has passed away in his sleep, and Scott needs to pick up his sister, Cindy (Lola Kirke) and come see the body before the crematorium van arrives.  Scott ends up having to care for his mentally ill sister.

BROKEN DIAMONDS is a comedy of discomfort.  Like Neil Simon’s THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS, the subjects are placed in comedic situations when they are in trouble, so that it becomes occasionally difficult to laugh at them, as one wishes them to be happy and not run into any bad luck.  In BROKEN DIAMONDS, Scott is forced to look after his sister.  The comedy involves his problems and discomfort at having to undertake this task.

But the script overcomes this difficulty.  This is because the majority of the jokes are on the side and not specifically on any mishaps.  Example:  Scott’s passport is burnt by a fire caused by Cindy.  The sight of the burnt passport is quite funny.  And the other jokes are quite funny too.  Take the film’s best joke that occurs in the ice-cream joke.

The film has a high hit-and-miss laugh ratio and had me in stitches many times.

Director Sattler has the talent of eliciting laughs from any situation.  Even when Scott sits in a therapist’s office,

The sibling dynamics work well in the story. Director Tan refrains from any melodrama, which is quite tempting with films in this genre.

As an additional bonus, the often hilarious film takes a candid look at mental illness (a big plus) - both from the points of view of the sufferer and of those close to them.  No other film has dealt with the topic of schizophrenia like BROKEN DIAMONDS does – the film makes it real.   Even more real as everyone has had some kind of experience with someone they know or close to them that has a form of mental illness.  The brilliant script by Steve Waverly is personal according to the press notes and this is the reason the film is so moving.  Waverly himself moves fromL.A. to Paris to write and had to look after his mentally ill sister in real life.The film talks about the voices schizophrenic sufferers hear.  The voices convince the patents to go off their meds.  The voices take over as the sufferer now listens to the voices thinking that they have become more powerful.

Platt and Kirke both deliver superlative performances.  The awesome songs on the soundtrack livens the film’s mood though keeping the serious tone of the events.

The closing credits indicate the year of production to be 2018.  It took a long while for the film to be released.  Believe me, this film is worth the wait.

Trailer: 

 

 

CAN YOU BRING IT: BILL T. JONES AND D-MAN IN THE WATERS

Directed by Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz

CAN YOU BRING IT: BILL T. JONES AND D-MAN IN THE WATERS

is a dance documentary that delivers the vision of both its directors and its subject.  It is insightful, informative, riveting and powerful.

The film begins with Jones at the 1989 Bessie Awards receiving an Award and speaking about his work, D-MAN IN THE WATERS.  He likes it to be a dream and a celebration of life, looming large with hanged dances.  His dances show the mechanics of movement and dance, as the ceremony is followed with him training his young dances at a studio.

Director Hurwitz and LeBlanc’s brings to life the extreme hard work and sweat that goes into the creation process of choreographer-dancer-director Bill T. Jones’s tour de force

ballet D-Man in the Waters.  This is Jones'  most important works and famous works of art and dance to come out of the AIDS crisis.  The film shows that in 1989, D-Man in the Waters gave physical manifestation to the fear, anger, grief, and hope for salvation that the emerging Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company (both partners at the time) felt as if they were embattled by the AIDS epidemic. As a group of young dancers in the present re-interpret the work, they deepen their understanding of its power – exploring what is at stake in their own lives in order to commit and perform it successfully.

Through an extraordinary collage of interviews, archival material, and uniquely powerful cinematography, this lyrical documentary uses the story of this iconic dance to illustrate the power of art and the triumph of the human spirit.

The story of the dance performance is set in the era of AIDs.  Directors LeBlanc and Hurwitz have transformed ‘D-Man in the Waters’ into present times, reminding audiences of the relevance of an epidemic.  Clearly, the world recovering from Covod-19 can find the connection..  As the doc’s subject T Bill says:  “It is about the dark spirit of what is happening in the world and how you push back against it.”

The film has premiered at DOC NYC 2020, Frameline Film Festival 2021 and Toronto’s own Inside Out 2021.  CAN YOU BRING IT is now available to rent on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (or digital.tiff.net).

Trailer: 

 

FOR MADMEN ONLY: THE STORIES OF DEL CLOSE (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Heather Ross


The doc’s title FOR MADMEN ONLY is appropriate as its subject is a mad and crazy man.  Del Close used to be transported from the institution to perform and then whisked back there.  Del Close has therefore quite the colourful history, and colourful is probably too mild a word to describe the madman’s life.

Close ( March 9, 1934 – March 4, 1999) was an American actor, writer, and teacher who coached many of the best-known comedians and comic actors of the late twentieth century.  In addition to an acting career in television and film, he was a premier influence on modern improvisational theatre.  In 1994, Close co-authored the book Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation (with Charna Halpern and Kim Johnson), which outlines techniques now common in long form improvisation and describes the overall structure of "Harold", which remains a common frame for longer improvisational scenes.  Improv had been given the nickname ‘Harold’ for a very silly reason.

Though most biopic docs spend time discussing its subject childhood and influences, director Ross gives these a brief mention (Del was brilliant as a kid; father was never present; he loved his mother and not his father) and goes right through to the mid of Close’s success.  The doc boasts that all the dialogue from the film has been taken from Close’s recordings.

One cannot deny that Close was a really funny man with a strange but exceptional sense of humour.  One one scene where he gets a meeting with writer Tennessee Williams, a cockroach crawls from his sleeve into Williams’.  “I believe you have something that’s min,: says Close to Williams.  When he did improv theatre with wriggly worms shown on the screen, he would switch off the theatre lights and throw warm spaghetti at the audience.

Director Ross aims at showing more of Close - with parts of his life many might not know of.  Close briefly had his own DC comic-book series, an anthology series called Wasteland.   The doc has many images from the comic book, which was quite popular during its day.  The doc also documents the famous celebrities who were influenced by close like -  Mike Nichols (THE GRADUATE and WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?) and Elaine May (director of comedy classics like A NEW LEAF and THE HEARTBREAK KID) who had worked together with him in comedy theatre.   

But it is improv theatre that director Ross devotes a lot of her doc’s screen time to.  For those who love improv comedy, this will be a treat.  (Myself, I never liked improv.)  The doc shows the problems and difficulties arising from improv,  Close eventually came up with certain rules of improv.  Rules like: Don’t change but respect the others’ input; take the unlikely route and ever to mime.

Director Ross includes clips of comedies like AUSTIN POWERS, MEATBALLS and WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, lowbrow but nevertheless affecting comedies.

FOR MADMEN ONLY is a worthy tribute to Del Close, highlighting his success in life while being very funny at the same time.

Trailer: 

HOLY BEASTS (LA FIERA Y LA FIESTA) (Dom Rep/Argentina/Mexico 2019) **

Directed by Israel CárdenasLaura  and Amelia Guzmán

Fading star Vera V. (Geraldine Chaplin) gathers with the remainder of her 70's social circle to shoot her last film: an unfinished script left behind by cherished friend J. L. Jorge.  In other words, Chaplin plays herself, she being in her 70’s.  Her age shows, more so as she is slim looking much older than she really is.  To her credit, she does not do stuff like plastic surgery which often result in older actresses having distorted fat lips.  Geraldine Chaplin is Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, and everyone has seen her at one time or other before as she has been in countless films.  She is matched with Udo Kier playing her character’s choreographer, Henry.  Kier loves odd roles and does them well.  Henry is one such role.

 HOLY BEASTS (LA FIERA Y LA FIESTA), a campy, tongue-in-cheek fictional film-within-a-film in honour of flamboyant and eccentric B-movie filmmaker, writer and theatrical producer Jean-Louis Jorge, an active member of the trendy ’70s underground scene who was murdered by three teenagers in 2000 at the age of 53.  Chaplin plays aging punk diva, Vera, who arrives in Santo Domingo to direct the musical La Palace, one of Jorge’s unfilmed screenplays about vampires and starlets, to be filmed on his home island. Welcoming her are two old friends, a producer and cinematographer Jaime Pina and Udo Kier), both members of the artistic troupe they all started out in.  But while the Caribbean production is sumptuous and the musical numbers are grand, mysterious forces threaten the shoot and death begins to creep up on the haunted production. 

So what can go wrong in such a movie?  Everything.  HOLY BEASTS is a artistic mess of mostly boring material.  The only good thing about the film is its cast, though they cannot save the film from it awful script and silly direction, though one cannot say that the direction is unimaginative.

HOLY BEASTS pays homage to real life director Jena -Louis Jorge.  Jorge is a director low budget B-horror films.  He was born in 1947 in Santiago de los Caballeros and died on March 13 , 2000in Santo Domingo.  He  directed his first feature film, THE SNAKES OF THE PIRATE MOON, with a team of students and a paltry budget 2 . The film won the ‘Cinema Today’ Grand Prize at the 1973 Toulon Festival.  There is archive footage of Jorge’s actual films on display in HOLY BEASTS.  His fans should be pleased.

If one loves surrealism and camp, these two elements of weirdness blend well in HOLY BEASTS.  Henry turns into a vampire during filming (don’t ask why) and starts sucking the blood of other crew members.  A dancer, Yoni (Jackie Ludueña Koslovitch) is taken in by Vera as her grandson.  Koslovitch plays Yoni as a long haired effeminate dancer who prances around half the time.  He is hilarious.

HOLY BEASTS will premiere on July 23rd in North America, a week before Geraldine Chaplin’s birthday.

Trailer: 

 

KANDISHA (France 2020) **

Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

 

Based on an idea and written and directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, KANDISHA is a French teen horror movie filmed in French about three female best friends during their summer break.  Unfortunately the idea is a one shot thing, and the film runs out of momentum really fast.  Even at a short running time of less than 90 minutes, the abrupt ending is testament that there is nothing much else of a story to tell.

KANDISHA is a Moroccan lady spirit that, according to the idea of the directors, can be summoned quite easily, a sort of urban legend.  Actually the idea is not that fresh as there have been other films made of the Moroccan demon.  The demon apparently is some Portuguese lady in the past who have been wronged and seeks vengeance on the male species.  This man-hating horror flick has all the males - teen cocksure ones down away with one at a time.  The girls survive but have to begin saving their love ones.

The three girls are Amélie, Bintou and Morjana who hang together daily with the neighborhood teenagers. At night, they have fun sharing goosebumps stories and urban legends. But when Amélie is assaulted by her ex, she remembers the story of Kandisha, a powerful and vengeful demon.  Afraid, upset, she summons her.  The next day, her ex is found dead. The legend is true and now Kandisha is on a killing spree.  The three girls will do anything to break the curse.

The film is quite violent.  Amélie’s sexual assault has her biting and spitting out part of her ex’s lip.  The demon attacks with violent wrath, able to break the wrists of her victims.  The film works but when the dynamics and camaraderie of the girls are on display.  Their childish pranks and antics are put to a halt when they suddenly realize that they have the responsibility to stop the havoc created by Kandisha.  Atmosphere, lighting, and mood are right.  The film contains sufficient scares with the only complaint being the abrupt ending, the surprise of which can be predicted.

A shudder original opening on the streaming service July 22, Thursday.

Trailer: 

NORTH HOLLYWOOD (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Mikey Alfred

There are quite a few things that come with the new skateboard comedy drama NORTH HOLLYWOOD, but not all of them are good.  Firstly, the ads boast it to be the first film to be about becoming a professional skateboarder.  Upon  careful consideration, this is not a fact one might want to brag about.  The film stands out as one from a 25-year old director who also penned the script, Mikey Alfred.  Lastly, the film is renowned to have been rejected from Sundance.

The film’s setting is the present, in North Hollywood.

As director Mark Alfred himself is an avid skateboarder, his film on a skateboarder’s coming-of-age is authentic and current.  It also helps that the main lead is also a skateboarder, Michael (played by skateboarder Ryder McLaughlin) doing most of the stunts in the film.  Director Alfred gives himself a small role as Mr. Laface..

NORTH HOLLYWOOD is the young director’s debut feature.  The fact can be easily observed in the film.  Skateboarding is director’s Alfred’s passion and all the skateboarding scenes have excellent stunts, most of them done by the young actors themselves.  One notable supporting actor is Nico Hiraga, who plays Michael’s buddy, Jay, immediately recognizable from Olivia Cook’s excellent BOOKSMART.  In that film, one can see Hiraga on a skateboard as well.  Hiraga is an excellent  actor showing great promise.  One hopes that he can be seen in a larger role in the future, maybe even a leading role.  The dialogue and slang used by the young actors demonstrate the director’s experience in the field. 

Director Alfred’s film works best when he shows the interaction and camaraderie of the youth.  Narrative-wise, the film is occasionally all over the place.  The scenes between Bill and his father (Vince Vaughan) are predictable and follows what would be expected in a father and son argument in films.  In fact, the confrontation scene is quite identical to Stanley Kramer’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, the one where Sidney Poitier’s character argues with his father.  The father is always giving Michael a hard time, for example when Michael wears a sweater and shorts.  "It just doesn't make sense!" the father screams.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD shows a new director, Mark Alfred with promise.  In this film, he tackles a subject he is familiar with.  It will be exciting to see how he handles his next project.

Trailer: 

OLD (USA 2021) *

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

There are no two ways of saying it.  M. Night Shyamalan once the master of the horror mystery films like THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), UNBREAKABLE (2000) and SIGNS (2002) have bungled again (like the horrid LADY IN THE WATER (2006) and his worst THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010) and AFTER EARTH (2013) with a mess of an adaptation of a graphic novel, ‘Sandcastle’, taking on a tale too ambitious for its own good.  The story involves characters ageing rapidly, a situation too complicated to be put on film.  The characters are of various ages and portrayed by different actors of various ages.  When they age a decade, the characters have to be portrayed by different actors that bear a resemblance to their younger selves or if not, wear makeup that make them look aged.  And the actors have to act as if they are older as well.  That said, the logical explanation for ageing on a beach has to have some credibility.  To make matters worse, director Shyamalan takes too much time to set his story up and then hurries through an ending.  The pacing is inconsistent.

The film centres on a husband and wife Guy and Prisca Capa (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps) vacationing with their son and daughter on what is to be their last family outing as they are about to be separated.  Mummy is also ill with cancer.  They intend to reveal the bad news after the trip.  The children, 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (Nolan River), hear their parents argue at the resort and resort to having a good time regardless.   They are told about this secluded awesome beach and are taken there.  At the beach they meet others from the resort.  There is a surgeon (Rufus Sewell) with a temper you do not want to temper with, along with his trophy wife ( Abbey Lee) and daughter.  And there is, in contrast, a long-married couple Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) , the latter suffering from epileptic fits.   It is soon discovered that everyone at the beach will begin ageing prematurely because of some silly reason like the rock surrounding them.  The kids grow up and are played by Alex Wolff (HEREDITARY), Thomasin McKenzie and Eliza Scanlen.

The premise at least looks interesting and indeed, the film is intriguing for the first third.  It starts going downhill really fast when things get worse and even worse when Shyamalan begins explaining all the reasons for the situation.   The guests decide that they have to leave the beach.  A few die while trying to escape.  The film feels like Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS where the characters are slowly done away one by one.  The story also blends in the story of a family but Shyamalan resorts to melodrama to emphasize points..  There are bits of detective work involved with the guilty supposedly brought to justice.  Add in a few laughable subplots, like the delivery of a bay and the removal of a gigantic tumour.  If all this sounds messy, it is and the film is quite a mess. 

It is a hard fight to see which actor has delivered his or her worst performance.  All the actors do not seem to know what to do with their ageing and the silly story.

GILLIGAN’S ISLAND meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  OLD looks like an episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND where everyone is still trying to be rescued but then all grow old on the island for no credible reason.

Trailer: 

PINK OPAQUE (USA 2020) **

Directed by Derrick Perry

The publicity materials for PINK OPAQUE claim it to be one of the most awarded original movies screened at the best film festivals.  This is a perfect example of blowing one’s own horn, which means that the statement most likely might not be entirely true.  In fact, it is more than entirely false.  The film is cliché ridden and full of stereotyped characters and director Derrick Perry appears only too eager to milk out any possible moment for melodrama.

The film has that kind of story that makes good indie films.  The subject is a man where his past has to be accepted in order to move forward into his future.  But this is also a trap of the film falling into cliched territory, which it does.  The protagonist is a black film student Wolfe Elijah Boothe) who needs to complete his project film in order to graduate.  Sob-sob, his mother has worked hard to give him all the money to succeed in her son’s dream of being  filmmaker.  Of course, Wolfe must be super talented.  He is in love with an Asian (-  a coloured and Asian couple is perfectly politically correct these days) whose brother (Daniel C.) is a real bad-ass. Wolfe is out of money and broke.  He has to complete his film project in order to graduate.  In desperation, he seeks help from his estranged uncle who is conveniently rich enough to help him out including a place to stay when Travis cannot pay his rent or gets his car towed.

Some example of dialogue found in the film that have been used countless time in one form or another in other films:

“You are always in a rush, Travis, but where are you going?”

“I know what I said is not what I feel.”

“This will be the greatest mistake in my life.”

“You always think you know everything but you don’t.”

“When you reach rock bottom, the only way to look is up!”

The last line, the most cliched of all the lines, is used in Travis’ college movie which is supposed to be excellent.

The dialogue is corny as hell, as in the scene when Travis’ uncle talks to his white friend about a project.  The white guy talks trash while the coloured  characters always appear to have the right words.  The film looks racist - the other way around.

Situations in the film follow the same path:

Car got towed.  Everything was in there, my hard drive, all my work.  As if things cannot get worse, cell phone is snatched away by a thief.

The film likely got made because it had a coloured lead character with an Asian girlfriend.

The character, Travis, behaves like the typical American, who thinks that the entire world owes him a living.  But the worst thing of all is that the script fails this belief.  Travis’s friend helps him, even when Travis abuses him in order to borrow his camera.

The best thing about the film is that it is beautifully shot with good camera angles and placement.

The mostly unknown cast deliver ok performances with only Daniel C. standing out while being an absolute hoot to watch with his gangsta chain and clothes.

When Travis is really down at one point in the film, all director Tan can do is have him sit in a car, drink booze and cry his eyes out.

PINK OPAQUE emerges as an unoriginal cliche-ridden film that shows no promise.

Trailer: 

BLOOD RED SKY (Germany/USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Peter Thirwarth

BLOOD  REDSKY a, German/US Netflix co-production combines several genres like the vampire, hijacking, action, family drama- which looks terrible on paper.  Upon execution, director Peter Thorwarth who co-wrote the script with Stefan Holtz has created quite an awesome product.

A woman with a mysterious illness is forced into action when a group of terrorists attempt to hijack a transatlantic overnight flight.

The film begins with an emergency plane landing in Scotland.  Everyone at the airport is on alert as terrorists are suspected.  But they see a little boy emerge from the plane.  The boy is questioned by authorities and the film unfolds in flashback till this point in time when the film then goes into climax mode.

It turns out that the boy Elias (Carl Anton Koch) is accompanying his mother, Nadja (Peri Baumeister) to the United States for   treatment as her mother has ‘bad blood’.  When their flight is hijacked and Nadja is shot, she survives.  Why?  Because she is a vampire.  If all these events sound silly, they are, but silly events executed with so much conviction by director Thorwarth result in an absorbing and compelling action thriller.

Director Thorwarth plays his airplane disaster flick with finesse showing that he understands what works and what doesn’t.  The screaming passengers as they run through the narrow aisles; a gunshot that shatters a plane window resulting in decreasing air pressure (everything sucked out); scurrying through to the baggage compartments below deck all work well to keep the audience glued to their seats.

Director Thorwarth ups the angst with a series of ultra violent segments well spaced throughout the film.  These include rapid stabbing through a victim’s eye (enough to make even the hardest audience cringe); Nadja pulling out her sharp new vampire teeth with tongs; a head smashed by crutches and the chopping off of an infected hand bitten by a vampire.  Extra blood gushes out whenever there is a chance for it.

The film also effectively pokes fun at typical airplane flights.  Even the  corny dialogue is fun.  “We need a doctor!” followed by “I am a doctor.” uttered by another passenger.  “We got everything under control, don’t worry!”  is said when everything is obviously not in control.  There is the gay flight attendant - there usually are a couple on any flight.  This one, called Eightball (Alexander Scheer)  is introduced humorously.  An annoying passenger makes a pass at a lady flight attendant.  She goes to Eightball and tells him, “He’s all yours!”  Better still Eightball turns out to be part of the terrorist team that hijacks the plane and the most psychotic of the lot.   Scheer is a superb actor who has played an incredible variety of roles if one were to look up his resume on imdb.   Surprisingly the best performance comes from the boy, Koch who plays Elais, who is able to elicit compassion from the audience when he goes all out to protect his vampire mother.

BLOOD RED SKY is filmed in both German and a little English.  It is totally fun if you can master the over-the-top ultra violence, which actually adds to the entertainment.

Trailer:

 

STILLWATER (USA 2021) ****

Directed by Tom McCarthy

 

Director Tom McCarthy (TIMMY FAILURE, WIN WIN, THE STATION AGENT) has been having a hit and miss of his films lately.  STILLWATER, McCarthy’s latest effort has been receiving a lot of hype having premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival.  The film stars Matt Damon which raises the film’s profile.  Do not expect Damons’ JASON BOURNE action flicks but more of Clint Eastwood’s pensive THE HEREAFTER.  Which is a good thing.  There are already an over supply of action flicks so another mystery drama would be a welcome addition to the current spate of films being released.

Bill Baker (Matt Damon), an oil worker in Stillwater, Oklahoma, learns that his estranged daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), while studying for a year in Marseille, has been falsely arrested pending trial and charged with murdering her friend and partner Lina (not shown).  He travels there to visit her in prison and discovers that she has all but exhausted her legal options. He moves permanently to France and struggles to clear her name, contending with the language barrier, cultural differences, and a complex and unfamiliar legal system based on the French penal code.  He is aided by a French woman, Virginie (Cottin), and her eight-year-old daughter Maya. As the pressure mounts, he must decide just how far he is willing to go.

There is a trend for current films to be politically correct.  Filmmakers sometimes go overboard by having a husband and wife being a mixed couple, which might alter the impact of the plot.  STILLWATER has a story of a white roughneck helping his daughter.  The filmmakers could have had a coloured actress play the daughter, which means that Bill Baker’s wife as coloured but that would have compromised the story.  But the script co-written by McCarthy covers quite a few current issues like racism and LGBT very well and personal issues like family loyalty and romance.   In one scene, Virginie takes Bill to see who could have been a witness to the murder.  The bar owner turns out to be totally racist, hating Arabs and unafraid to show it.  Virginie storms out of the meeting saying that she will not communicate with the shit head.  The LGBT issue coms from Allison.  Her lover is an Arabic girl.  So the LGBT and inter-race issues are covered politically correctly.

Allison is Bill’s rebellious daughter who moved to Marseilles, France to be as far away from her father.  The relationship between father and daughter is the main subject of the film.  This is Matt Damon in a pensive mood.  Expect a film akin to Clint Eastwood’s THE HEREAFTER.  The only one action segment has Damon fight off a bunch of young thugs, but he gets beaten up.  The film is largely shot in Marseilles in both English and French.

What is most amazing in the film is the important message that McCarthy brings to the audience, though it has been dished out more subtly.  Life is harsh.

STILLWATER runs a lengthy 138 minutes and is a slow burn.  Yet director McCarthy keeps his film totally engrossing throughout.A well written and excellent mystery thriller, STILLWATER (despite generally negative reviews from Cannes) also dishes out a few solid lessons on life.  Note: I am a sucker for mystery thrillers.

Trailer:

WE ARE MANY (UK 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Amir Amirani

The words of the 1819 poet Shelley who wrote the following words in the Masque of Anarchy that inspired the title of my film is splashed on the screen at the film’s start:

“Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable numbers!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

Ye are many - they are few.

WE ARE MANY is an inspirational documentary meticulously put together that has an all important message for everyone.  In the middle of the film, the cover of TIME magazine’s person of the year is revealed as ‘the protestor’.   The protestor often is one in millions who believe strongly enough that the protesting issue at hand is urgent enough for him or her to do a part and that it will make a difference.  Director Amir Amirani who has never protested before in 2003 and who protested for the first time has made a doc to prove the point.

After the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in NYC, the then American President George W. Bush enlisted the help of then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair to begin a war on Iraq.  The war was based on two false points - that Iraq was somehow responsible for the attack and that Iran had accumulated weapons of mass destruction. 

It all led to the very important date of February 15th, 2003.  On that day, up to 30 million people, many of whom had never demonstrated before, came out in nearly 800 cities around the world to protest against the impending Iraq War. WE ARE MANY is the never before told story of the largest demonstration in human history, and how the movement created by a small band of activists changed the world. This fearless, thought provoking documentary is the remarkable inside story behind the first ever global demonstration and its surprising and unreported legacy. 

The first two thirds of the film documents the events that led to the global protest of February the 15.  As everyone knows, this did not deter Bush and Blair (appropriately called war criminals) from bombing Iraq and killing thousands of innocent people including women and children.  This is made worse for the fact that is mentioned in the film that Bush never had his twin sons enlisted but cowardly sent other Americans to be killed in the War.  Trump looks like a saint compared to Bush and Blair.  This is the power of Amirani’s documentary.

Amirani has assembled an impressive list of interviewees.  These include: :Noam Chomsky  (Philosopher and Activist), Ron Kovic (Veteran and Author of Born on the Fourth of July), Medea Benjamin(Code Pink Co-founder), Bill Fletcher Jr.(Activist and Author of They’re Bankrupting Us!), Mark Rylance, John le Carré (World-Renowned Author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Dr. Hans Blix(formerUN Weapons Inspector), Lindsey German( Stop the War Coalition Founding Member), Jesse Jackson (Founder of Rainbow/PUSH), Danny Glover and a few surprises like the image of Pedro Almodovar (uncredited).

But it is what happened after the Iraq War during the last third of the film that makes this movie.  The effect of the global protest was not a failure but it ignited the world’s conscience.  To say more would spoil the effect of this doc.  Safe to say, this is one doc that should be on your must-see list.

Opening on VOD/Digital on July 23.

Trailer: 

Comments powered by CComment

Get our latest stories in your inbox!

Most popular articles

Search Site

Latest Articles

Latest on Instagram

Featured Events

No events found.

Join Our Mailing List

Advertise with us

Subscribe to podcast (English)

Find a Job

AfroToronto.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you purchase an item featured on our site. These affiliate links, along with advertisements, support us and they come to no expense for you.

Media Kit | Member Access

Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | Terms and Conditions

Copyright © 2005-2021 Culture Shox Media. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.