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FILM REVIEWS:

 

100UP (Netherlands 2020) ***
Directed by Heddy Honigmann

 

100UP is not to be confused with the Michael Apted documentary series 7 UP, 14 Up, 28 UP and 56 UP which follow the lives of several subjects at 7 year intervals in Britain  to examine and celebrate the lives of human beings.  100UP is also a documentary, this one from the Netherlands but deals with subjects all over the world.

The film's first subject is 100+ old lady from Norway.  She is seen walking her dog with her stroller down a hill to pick up the morning paper.  There is ice on the ground, depicting spring or early summer.  The next scene shows her reading the paper under a special lamp with some magnification sitting by a window with a beautiful Norwegian scenic view.  The next scene takes the audience to New York where an old lady is given a fashion-styled hairdo as commented upon by her daughter.

100UP demonstrates that age is just a number.  100UP is a film which investigates the will to live.  It portrays a colourful selection of 100+ year old people from all over the world. They have lived for over a century and witnessed great historical events, but instead of dwelling on the past, they look ahead.  With the clock inevitably ticking, these centenarians cling to life, set new goals with a joie de vivre, refusing to admit the betrayal of their deteriorating bodies. Time is both their enemy and their friend.  They have overcome diseases, lost partners and some of them survived their own children. Nevertheless, these active, curious and creative 100+ year olds are amazingly good at restarting every new day.   Needless to say, 100UP is a tremendously moving documentary.  Everyone can connect to the film as everyone will grow old though not everyone will reach a hundred.

The 100+ aged group in the film discuss some of the important issues that life has made on human beings.  The grandmother in New York talks about the day abortion was made legal.  She argues that that was such a bog step as before people were dying from illegal abortions.  She has a point in saying that when women were desperate, they would do anything to get an abortion.  Now, she adds, anti-abortionists want to go backward.  Another New Yorker talks about survivors of the holocaust.  Her daughter died at the age of 50 of breast cancer.and she says the survivors as a result were sick inside and had somehow passed it on to their children.  She claims she kept the article on it.

One wishes that there were fewer subjects from the United States and more from the rest of the world, as of Asian, a group that is unrepresented in the film.  One also questions the reasons these subjects were chosen.  100UP  is a doc that is easily made, without much research or difficulty, but whose charm is derived from the subjects.

“Are you happy with life?”  Professor Irwin Corey was asked on his 100th birthday.  His answer: “Life is an amazing phenomenon.”  100UP achieves its goal by showing that indeed, life is an amazing phenomenon.

 

 

AHED’S KNEE (Israel/France/Germany 2021) **
Directed by Nadav Lapid

 

Writer/director Nadav Lapid wowed audiences with his THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER and his last film SYNONYMS.  His latest feature that won the 2021 Cannes Festival Jury Prize share certain similarities with his last fitlm

Director Lapid realizes the power of musical numbers in film.  In SYNONYMS, there are two of the film’s energetic moments, one being the rendering of the song by two women of “Hallelujah”  during  military funeral and the other, a hilarious segment (great camera work and editing by the director's mother here) where Yoav steals food in a club amidst beautiful ladies dancing to “Pump Up the Jam''.  In AHED’S KNEE the loud banging of drums and loud music at the film’s start demonstrates the spirit and raw energy that is to come.  AHED”S KNEE begins with a segment of tremendous energy as a woman with a stylish bike suit rides the highway in the rain, stunningly shot with water pouring down in a  collage of image intercutting closeup and distancing scenes.  But the film is not about her.  It is about someone else.

The story tells of a celebrated Israeli filmmaker named Y (Avshalom Pollak).  He arrives in a remote desert village to present one of his films at a local library.  Struggling to cope with the recent news of his mother’s terminal illness, he is pushed into a spiral of rage when the host of the screening, a government employee, asks him to sign a form placing restrictions on what he can say at the film’s Q&A.  Told over the course of one day, the film depicts Y as he battles against the loss of freedom in his country and the fear of losing his mother.

The film is called AHED’S KNEE because Y’s character in his film, Ahed slaps a soldier in a video that goes viral.  She is arrested but a soldier wants her knee shot so she can pay for her deed the rest of her life.

One cannot argue that Lapid’s film is not energetic or stylish.  Take for example the character of Y in the sequence where he is wearing headphones, dancing and prancing around in the desert while wearing his black leather jacket, the camera swirling around in equal style and spirit.  But then, these moments are intercut by many long dialogue scenes in which director Lapid explains what is going on in the story.  The first meeting between Y and his guide, a deputy director takes too much time, though the sequences show her flirting with him, while he tactically brushes her off.

AHED’S KNEE contains scenes making it one of the most spirited films of the year - never mind the confused theme or message.  But AHED’S KNEE, unlike his other films, is the most disjointed resulting in often annoying segments inserted without much connectivity.

AHED’s KNEE opens Friday, April 1 in theaters in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Other cities in Canada include Vancouver (3/25), Ottawa (4/1), and Montreal (4/1).

 

BETTER NATE THAN EVER (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Tim Ferdale


Dream Big! says the film’s poster.  Everyone wishes their dreams come true as the Disney motto goes: ``When you wish upon a star…”  BETTER THAN NATE is a film about a wish coming true.  

13-year-old Nate Foster (Rueby Wood) is an unpopular Midwestern )fromPhiladelphia) kid who entertains vivid fantasies of becoming a big Broadway musical star.  In the meantime, however, Nate can't even get a decent role in his middle school's drama productions  - the one called ABE THE MUSICAL, on AbrahamLincoln, getting cast as a tree in the chorus instead of the lead role he craves.  However, when he and his best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) mastermind a daring trip to New York City, without their parents' knowledge, to audition for "Lilo and Stitch: The Musical," Nate may be on the verge of fulfilling his lifelong dream.  But first, he has to overcome a series of comical obstacles with the aid of his Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow) that threaten his Broadway adventure with disaster at every farcical turn.

It is clear that Nate is not particularly super talented but this is also true for many current Hollywood stars.  But Wood who plays Nate has already starred in musicals like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and MARY POPPINS.

In one scene where Nate is asked the question, to cheer him up after not getting the lead in the school musical, what is the best animated movie of all time, comes the answer LILO And stitch.  Understandably because NATE THAN EVER is a Disney film, LILO AND STITCH is a 2014 animated Disney movie and not only that but it is being remade as a live action film to be released in 2024.  Talk about unabashed publicity!

Like the film’s protagonist 13-year old Nate, is director Tim Ferdale going places?  He has already made  HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL:THE MUSICAL, THE SERIES and has a mother movie SISTER ACT 3 in post-production.  Ferdale showcases some spunk, spirit and freshness amidst his predictable debut feature and like Nate, deserves a chance at realizing his dreams coming true.

BURN (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Patrick Lazzara

 

BURN is a somewhat noir crime gangster movie not to be confused with the Mike Gan film with the same title and made the same year 2019.

In this film BURN, Patrick Lazzara does triple duty as writer. director and main led in his directorial debut.  BURN is a low budget crime thriller with a nod to the crime film noir classics complete with femme fatale but is more a bare bones yet brutal film.  Aiming low, Lazzara’s film succeeds in entertaining his audience who should not have high expectations.  Director Lazzara demonstrates some stylish and slick and well-paced work.  The opening scene is impressive with a shot of blood on a white dress.  The contrast is further heightened by the white flowers and white walls of the room.  BURN is a neat, low budget absorbing little thriller.

A hit man, Max (Lazzara) who finds out his younger brother, Vince killed the mob boss's trophy wife.  He has two days to find him and get him out of town before the contract killer, Seth catches up with them.

Lazzzara’s film unfolds in non-chronological order.  It is not at all confusing and everything comes together by the last reel.  Lazzara intercuts Max’s affair with the femme fatale of the story, his boss’s wife, Laurel who is as deadly as the gorgeous dresses she wears.  She is a tease and one who cannot be controlled.  The boss knows that and it does not take long before he discovers what is going on.  What he intends to do with Max is the twist of the story, not to be revealed in the review.  All that can be said is that Max is hired to kill his brother Vince who is also having an affair with the boss’ wife.  No wonder she is called ‘trash’, the term the boss uses to describe his trophy wife.

Vince is better looking than his brother Max but is as dumb as fuck.  Max is the brainier one played by Lazarra who can get all the girls.  So much for the director’s ego.

The best performance belongs to Dawn Barber which plays the sultry siren Laurel, seducing everyone in her path and destroying every one, including herself as a result.  Eric Stayberg is not half bad playing the handsome but dumb Vince while John Fava should be credited for playing Max’ somewhat friend and sarcastic colleague, Seth

Lazarra’s script also contains a few classy lines such as:  “Why are you hot and bothered?  You don’t like to see me with my husband?”  The boss’s wife calls Max at one point in the movie.

Nothing is what it seems in the film, as Lazzara likes to keep his audience in anticipation.  Every character appears to have a hidden agenda.

It feels that the film could have been a classic under the hands of a more experienced director.  BURN comes across a little flat occasionally, not living up to its full potential.

BURN is released across North America beginning April 1st.

  

TOUT S’EST BIEN PASSE (EVERYTHING WENT FINE) (France 2021) ****

Directed by Francois Ozon

 

A new film by French auteur  Francois Ozon is always something to look forward to, since Ozon is now in top form with his recent hits like L’ETE DE ’85, L’AMANT DOUBLE and THE NEW GIRLFRIEND.  This is Ozon’s most serious film, where all his details in the film appear to be a premonition of the worst that is yet to come.

The serious premise of the film: When André (Andre Dussollier, who is 77), 85, has a stroke, Emmanuele (Sophie Moreau) hurries to her father's bedside.  Director Ozon spends 5 minutes or so showing the hurried journey, taking the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator and then going back to her apartment  because she has forgotten her contact lenses.  Sick and half-paralyzed in his hospital bed, he asks Emmanuele to help him end his life. But how can she honour such a request when its one’s own father?   The  sight of her father with a half paralyzed face is not a pretty sight.

Ozon, being so well-known, is able to attract the best of French actors like Sophie Moreau in the title role.  Andre Dussollier, plays the role of his career, the father suffering from a stroke.  When his wife visits, the audience should be pleased to see Ozon’s sometime collaborator Charlotte Rampling (SWIMMING POOL, SOUS LE SABLE) enter the hospital and soon saying: “I am going home.”  The father’s bed neighbour is played by veteran Jacques Nolot, also suffering fut recovering from a stroke.

Nolot has one of the film’s most moving scenes.  When his character recovers, he meets Emmanuele just as her father is transferred to another hospital.  “You are lucky,” she tells him after hearing that he will be returning home the next day.  “No, he is the lucky one.”  surprised at his reply, he adds: “He has you as his daughter.  This is just at the film’s 25 mark when Andre, in his hospital bed tells his daughter:”I want you to help end it all.” as a tear rolls down the side of his face.

EVERYTHING WENT FINE, based on the script adapted by Ozone based on the novel written by Emmanuèle Bernheim, the name of the main character of the story is a layered one with many other important subplots related to the theme of the subject of medically assisted suicide.  There is much research that goes on behind the scuicide as to how it is legally done in France.  The relationship between father and daughter Emmanule is also of paramount importance in the plot.  The decision of why the father asked her and not her sister to look into the suicide is also is examined as it the relationship between the family and her brother.   Ozon is a gay writer/director and the theme of homosexuality appears in one scene where the father reveals the reason he hates his in-laws with such venom being that they never accepted their daughter’s marriage to a homosexual.  Nothing else is said about the subject whether Andre is gay, as gay males are often found with families.

French films seldom get a release in Toronto lately.  French film cineastes should be pleased with the release of Ozon's relevant new drama.

Trailer: 

 

FAMILY SQUARES (USA 2022) **
Directed by Stephanie Laing

 

Directed and co-written by Stephanie Laing with Brad Morris, FAMILY SQUARES is a film made during the Pandemic and themed with Pandemic affected characters.  The characters are a dysfunctional family forced to get-together for a funeral,  Because of the Pandemic, they are forced  meet via Zoom, which makes a  diversion from the general dysfunctional family gathering.

Secrets in the closets will be revealed.  Old wounds will be healed. This is the typical dysfunctional family drama or comedy that Thanksgiving or Christmas Hollywood mass produces, with a film appearing every season, most of the films tedious, predictable and cliched. 

This  drama/comedy was filmed  during the pandemic and is back with a theme of vengeance with Family Squares — now with Zoom. The dysfunctional family has been somewhat estranged for a number of years, but they gather via Zoom after Grandma Mabel passes away.  Naturally, chaos ensues. The family consists of characters played by Ann Dowd, Henry Winkler, Margo Martindale, Casey Wilson, Judy Greer, Timothy Simons, Scott McArthur, and Elsie Fisher.  While gathered for a final goodbye to Mabel, the family descends into madness when long-buried family secrets are revealed. The moral of the story is that, while one cannot choose their family but one can choose friends, the script claims to be smart enough to brag that — one can choose family to be friends with them.

It is encouraging to see filmmakers adapt to current times with their films.  This is one film made during the Pandemic that takes the situation of self-isolating into the story.  The family members are unable to meet as it is assumed that they cannot fly and so meet through ZOOM.  The funeral director also does  a ZOOM consultation.  The film tackles the problem of getting used to ZOOM, typical in a ZOOM meeting - such as constant beeps, accidentally muting and one member talking too much for too long a time.  The only thing missing from the film is that no one is seen wearing a mask.  There are, however, no scenes where there are people gatherings or not social distancing,

But just as there are problems with ZOOM meetings, the Pandemic and dysfunctional family films, the identical problems arise in the film.  It is difficult to be motivated by people in a ZOOM chat compared to an in-person conference or meeting.  Talking squares get even smaller as more people join the meeting and get less and less effective.  Everyone is sick of the Pandemic and the havoc it has caused around the globe.  Watching a film about the Pandemic when the world is so fed up with it is the opposite of a feel-good movie.  Dysfunctional family films that always prop up during Thanksgiving and Christmas times are already a dime a dozen.  Another one like this one just adds to the bunch of forgettable movies.  There is nothing really standing out in this dysfunctional family except for the one big skeleton in the closet, not to be revealed in this review.  Even stars like Ann Dowd, Henry Winkler and Margo Martinale try but can hardly make a difference.

FAMILY SQUARES is another uninspired dysfunctional family film forced to be watched ZOOM-style.

 

THE LAST MARK (Canada 2021) **

Directed by Reem Morsi

 

THE LAST MARK belongs to the category of Canadian film that tries to pass on as American.  The town or city the film is set in is not mentioned but a glance at the protagonist’s dropped driving license indicates that she lives in Chicago.  One thus assumes that the story is set around Chicago.  The sets and location of the film of a gloomy suburbia probably means THE LAST MARK was shot in a Canadian small town.  The closing credits reveal that the film was shot in Sudbury, Ontario.

It is Peyton, Keele and Palmer forming the main cast of characters.  Alexia Fast, Shawn Doyle and Bryce Hodgson play the trio respectively.  

After the young woman, Peyton witnesses a mob hit, the seasoned assassin, Keele and his psychotic partner Palmer must track her down before she turns them in, but she proves to be the hardest mark to kill.   This simple story is given a little ante at the start as Peyton is a small-time hooker in the midst of satisfying her fat client (the mob hit) before the assassins suddenly appear with her hiding beneath the bed.  She runs out of the room when discovered by the hitmen. 

The film focuses on Keele, who has a look throughout the film of disinterest.  Even his partner in the film tells him:”You don’t look too enthusiastic.”   Everything that can go wrong will and at the worst possible time.  Murphy’s Law seems to apply specifically to Keele.  Not only was the witness present at the time of the hit, but it turns out that there is a relationship between the two from the past.  He is not too keen now to kill and dispose of the witness as he is supposed to.  Keele notices the name on the driving license to be identical to the woman that he used to be with.  The question is whether Peyton is his real daughter.

Dialogue is not too impressive.  “She called me an asshole.”  Keele says of Peyton, when asked of the conversation between the two.

The simple premise means that the film runs out of material soon, despite its 90 minutes running time.

The performances from the relatively unknown cast are all right, at best and one cannot blame the characters for the script’s lack of bite.  The film could have been more violent to jolt audiences out of their seats, or the dialogue more biting or funnier.  Palmer, the psychotic of the two hitmen could also have been crazier or nastier.  Hodgson plays him mainly for humour.  The lazy script also fails to mention any of the character’s backgrounds.  Even the film’s title, THE LAST MARK sounds quite blah.

THE LAST MARK has an ok premise of a crime thriller.  Despite a few distracting set pieces inserted clearly to liven up the proceedings, the film still fails to engage the viewer from start to finish.

 

LAST SURVIVORS (formerly: SHTF) (USA 2021) ***

Directed by Drew Mylrea

 

LAST SURVIVORS was to be released way back in 2021 but its release date has been postponed since then.  A lot of things can happen during the time lapse and one is the decision to change the film’s title from SHTF (an acronym for Shit Hits the Fan) to LAST SURVIVORS.  The original title might seem more appropriate given the plot, in which shit does hit the fan midway, but having the ’s’ word in the title, even abbreviated, must have been looked down upon.

A father and son, who have been living off grid for 20 years, encounter an outsider who threatens to destroy the utopia they've built.  The father has had the son believe that world war three had begun and that all people are evil and killing off each other.  When the son meets a woman, she tells him the there is no WWIII and that the world has been going on as normal, and SHITF -  shit hits the fan.

The actress from CLUELESS, Alicia Silverstone has been absent from the screen for a long time and it is good to see her once again, this time in a dramatic role as that woman.  She has grown up, as in the one scene where her husband causes her after seeing her with Jake: “Is he even legal?”   Relatively new newcomer Drew Van Acker plays the son, Jake, an almost perfect specimen of a human being, handsome and a chilled body to die for.  Van Acker has worked before in Mylrea’s previous film SALT, an action comedy.  British theatre actor Stephen Moyer plays the father, Troy.

When the film begins, the audience sees two men living alone without all the modern amenities yet surviving from living completely with nature including the ability to make a fire during winter.  Through flashbacks that tell little, director Mylrea hints at the reason the men are living off the grid.  The two appear to be living in harmony in a respectable and loving father and son relationship.  When Troy is wounded, Jake goes out to retrieve modern medicine to the wounds or the father will die.  He encounters Henrietta.  There are two well executed confrontational scenes one being Henrietta and her ex-husband, both offering their reasons and rightly ones for separation.  The other is the one between Troy and Jake.  Troy goes mental, locking up Jake in a shed and venturing out with his rifle to kill Henrietta believing that this needs to be done to remove the threat to the family.

LAST SURVIVORS plays as  dystopian futuristic film in the first half before switching the family drama then finally to horror story.  The transition is not really smooth and one wonders immediately the intention of the director in the making of the film if this was his purpose or was it accidental.

The script by Josh Janowicz contains an interesting debate on religion.  “Hope for hope is all they believe in,” says Troy to his son.  Humans need to believe and there is a nod to the story of SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON.

Still, despite its flaws, LAST SURVIVORS is an entertaining time-waster with enough incidents for the story to move merrily along.

 

 

 

 

 

THE LAST TOURIST (Canada 2021) ***
Directed by Tyson Sadler

 

THE LAST TOURIST examines the history of modern tourism and offers a critique on its current state of affairs, primarily the problems caused by tourism.

The film opens with an introduction to the tourism industry considering it a wonderful break from the real world.  Director Sadler offers initially a dim look at the industry that many countries rely on, for their GDP and for their people to survive.  The whole commercial airline industry, for example, is dependent on tourism.

Director Sadler takes his film around the globe from various countries including Kenya, Cambodia, Thailand, Ecuador, Jamaica the United States concentrating more on third world countries where people are poor and the tourism industry is high.  Sadler’s main complaint here, and a true one, is that the money obtained from tourism does not go back to the people or the country but to the big companies that organize the tours.  The perfect example Tyson gives are the cruise ships.  The passengers have everything they need on the ships.  When at ports, they are told where to go and where to shop.  The big companies get a cut of the money from the shops and tour guides leaving nothing for the locals.  Director Sadler interviews a Jamaican woman who has nothing but disdain fro tourists who are rich while Jamaicans are poor and do not reap the money spent by them.

The film distracts too, with other topics like the segment on orphanages.  This is an eye opener as the film reveals orphanages where the children are not really orphans but have one parent at least.  These orphanages attract volunteers who pay and feel good at coming into poorer countries to teach these children, thus making money for the orphanages.  The film terms this as volunteerism.

The most disturbing aspect of the film is the segment on animal cruelty.  Watching bloodied elephants wounded by hooks to offer rides to tourists is disgusting and hits the point home.

THE LAST TOURIST, despite its director’s good intentions, falls into the trap of the flow of usual documentaries on world problems.  The film introduces the problems, escalates it with lots of examples, often infuriating audiences to the point of disgust, then ending not only on a high note offering solutions but listing a website in this case the lasttouristfilm.com where the audience can do their part in the project.  THE LAST TOURIST has some of the most stunning images of places to visit on the planet, but offers no surprises in terms of storytelling.  The film is at its most effective at the end when various individuals tell the audience what they have done and can do to promote sustainable tourism.

THE LAST TOURIST was awarded the ‘Special Jury Prize for Social Impact’ by the Canadian Documentary Jury at the Calgary International Film Festival and nominated for Best Canadian Documentary by VFCC.  The Last Tourist features the world’s leading travel and tourism visionaries including Dr. Jane Goodall (Jane Goodall Institute, United Nations Messenger of Peace), Lek Chailert (Save Elephant Foundation), Gary Knell (National Geographic), Meenu Vadera (Sakha Cabs For Women) and Jonathan Tourtellot (Destination Stewardship Center).

The film opens in select theatres on April the 1st in Toronto and across Canada.

 

 

LET ME BE ME (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Dan Crane and Katie Taber

 

LET ME BE ME is the story of successful fashion designer Kyle Westphal.  But to get where he is, was no simple journey.  Lots of sweat, blood and tears, perseverance and love brought Kyle to his success.  Everyone had to let Kyle be Kyle.

Kyle Westphal was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a child,  As Kyle  grew up from a baby, he acted differently from his other two siblings - he exhibited strange behaviour, could never make eye contact always wanting to be alone, hiding in blankets, and not being able to keep still for more than 2 seconds.  Desperate, the parents tried everything before getting some success from the ‘son-rise’ program.

LET ME BE ME is a short 75 minutes documentary on Kyle Westphal.  The film focuses on his rise to success from a reclusive child suffering from autism to successful fashion design with a celebrated fashion collection.  The film can be divided into two parts - one of Kyle as a child being treated and the other with him as an adult as a fashion designer.  The transition is a difficult one.  The result is a feel-good movie that shows that when everything seems hopeless and the world appears to be crumbling down, there is hope as witnessed in Kyle’s incredible journey to manhood.  It is thanks to the ‘son-rise program” an education designed for children like Kyle that archive footage was available that helps the audience understand the difficulties Kyle and his family went through.

The ‘son-rise’ program lets the child be himself.  The adults go into his world and connect rather than get the child to come out of their seclusion.  In the case of Kyle, it started with a room where Kyle can go.  Kyel’s parents placed all of Kyle’s favourite things in the room.  The parents spend time, very patiently, as shown in the archive footage to help their son.  As the doc shows, nothing works perfectly, and Kyle went into relapse after much improvement.  It was back to square one, when Kyle suddenly returned to the improved state he was previously in.  The film shows the program not without flaws.  For one, the program never addressed the problem of the child connecting with other children , only adults.  The film shows Kyle watching lots of television, learning from the shows how to make friends and how to act among their kind.

Besides the archive footage, directors Crane and Taber utilize animation to illustrate certain segments.  The animation is colourful and bright - a big plus. The animation portrays The characters as texture dolls, just as Kyle loves to dress up dolls.  As Kyle loves the story from  Cinderella, there are clips of Disney’s CINDERELLA included in the film.

Despite the good intentions and insightful information provided, the film runs out of material - one reason the film runs less than 90 minutes.  But Kyle’s success at the end lifts the film back to its feet.

NIGHT’S END (USA 2022) **
Directed by Jennifer Reeder

 

NIGHT’S END belongs to one of those films where there is only one character on the screen during the majority of the film, this kind of film being more popular during the Pandemic where crows are looked down upon.

 Ken Barber (Geno Walker), an anxious shut-in who unwittingly moves into a haunted apartment.  The camera is on Ken Barber for the majority of the movie.  Barber is kind of a loser, no job, separated with his apartment a complete mess with clutter, newspapers covering his windows and so on.  He thinks he can make it, with lots of hits on the internet and has devised several projects such as ‘Kim Barber’s Management Tips’ but mostly with ghostly supernatural sites, with the help of a successful blogger called Dark Waters.  In all this mess, he is encouraged on by Kelsea Lees (Kate Arrignton) and her husband (Michale Shannon, lending his hand here as the only famous actor in the list of relative unknowns).

It is odd that the protagonist is male since the film has a female director who is fortunately to be part of the Shudder team, with two of her films already screening on the streaming service.

Director Reeder spans the first third of her film setting the introduction up for her character.  The first signs of supernatural trouble only begins around the halfway mark - a tactic the great Master, Alfred Hitchcock (THE BIRDS) and even Spielberg (in JAWS, following Hitchcock) use always to great effect.  The first sign that something is going on is when a jar falls off the shelf. 

Despite a few innovative filmmaking tactics, the film suffers from a plot that is not only hard to believe but silly upon closer examination.  Barber has a glass jar with symbols pasted on the outside of it.  This jar is supposed to be able to capture a spirit - and the spirit of a murdered at that.  If this all sounds ridiculous, it is quite ridiculous.  If a jar can capture a spirit, why would it capture that particular spirit?   The characters of Kelsea and husband could very much be eliminated from the story without much effect.  The husband is only there for Shannon to strut his stuff just because he has been hired for the movie.  Barber ends up hiring a mysterious stranger, Colin Albertson (Lawrence Grimm) to perform an exorcism which takes a horrific turn.

But it is hard to root for a loser who is not too bright, ambitious or attractive.  Barber has few redeeming qualities and director Reeder does not make him look any better either.

NIGHT’S END is an ok horror watch, not  particularly good but nothing really wrong with it either.  Not particularly exciting and many an audience would be glad when all the proceedings are over.  It is a long NIGHT’S END.  Reeder is glad to be part of the Shudder family and has already two films including V/H/S/94 streaming on the service.

 

NITRAM (Australia 2021) ****
Directed by Justin Kurzel from a screenplay by Shaun Grant.

 

 

 This new Australian psychological drama is based on a convicted Australian mass shooter who murdered 35 people and injured 23 others in the Port Arthur massacre, one of the world's deadliest shooting sprees, in Port Arthur, Tasmania, between 28 and 29 April 1996.  Martin Bryant is concurrently serving 35 life sentences, plus 1,652 years, all without the possibility of parole, at Risdon Prison in Hobart.  The film is called NITRAM as this is the name of the film’s main character which is based on Martin Bryant which is Martin spelled backwards.

NITRATE, directed by Justin Kurzel from a screenplay by Shaun Grant has a documentary feel from the very start.  It opens with an interview of a young patient who has been hospitalized for a week as a result of burns from fireworks.  When asked if he had learnt a lesson, he says yes while replying that he will continue to play with fireworks..  The film's lack of use of  music and the increased loudness of the surrounding sound of the scenes such as traffic, buzzing bees,coupled by everyday conversation without flowery words, all aid in creating an increased authenticity that helps the audience feel of the story.  The dialogue has bite and the occasional wry humour, for example in the line the other says to her son when he asks for money to buy a surfboard: “I’m your mother, I love you but certain things are not for you.”

Controversial films on mass killers (shooters or bombers or others) often focus on the cause of the subject’s actions.  Lynne Ramsay’s 2010 WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN like NITRAM spins the entire film on the subject’s actions leaving the audience to sift through all the incidents that finally triggers the subject’s final breakdown.   Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT takes a slightly different route with little clues resulting in a more disturbing study.  In NITRAM, it is clearly indicative that it is everyone’s rejection of Nitrate that causes him to breakdown.  His mother ( a brilliantly controlled pperfromance by Judy Davis) and father (Anthony LaPaglia) appear at a loss on how to deal with their son.  It shows that it is both the boy’s mental state as well as the environment that have led to the Port Arthur massacre.  Caleb Landry Jones, a Texan who had to spend time on his Aussie acent is also excellent here.

The contrast of the film’s brighter segments make the biggest effects.  When Nitram meets a kind lady, Helen (Essie Davis) who hires him to walkl her babies (what she calls her dogs), the film takes a different turn.  “Considerate, helpful, funny.  A special man.  A deer friend”  These are the words Helen uses to describe Nitram.

The film hints that the catastrophe could have been avoided.  If Helen had not died or if the father had bought the property for the Bed and Breakfast business that Nitram was supposed to help him with, Nitram could not have gone off the rails.

The question that goes into one's minds is how much of the script would have been made up to make a credible background for the massacre.  This is what caused the controversy in Australia when the film came out.  The film was also not shot in Tasmania but in Geelong, Victoria.  Regardless of the answer, director Kurzel (THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS and the excellent THE TRUE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG) shows NITRAM as compelling masterful work, him working at his prime.

Trailer: 

THE YELLOW WALLPAPER (USA 2021) ***
Directed by  Kevin Pontuti and Alexandra Loreth


The film THE YELLOW WALLPAPER is an adaptation (the last made in 2011 by Logan Thomas) based on the important short story by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine.  The publication is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature for its illustration of the attitudes towards mental and physical health of women in the 19th century.  

The story follows much of the story in the magazine.  Narrated in the first person, the story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband (John) has rented an old mansion for the summer. Forgoing other rooms in the house, the couple moves into the upstairs nursery. As a form of treatment, the husband forbids the unnamed woman from working or writing and encourages her to eat well and get plenty of air so that she can recuperate from what he calls a "temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency", a diagnosis common to women during that period.

The film begins with Jane (Alexandra Loreth) and her husband, John in a horse carriage travelling to the summerhouse where Jane will be convalescing.  There is a baby in a basket besides Jane.  The baby starts crying loudly.  Jane is unmoved.  “Do something!” shouts the man.  Jane picks up the baby and throws it out of the carriage.  “Stop!” shouts man to the driver.  The next scene reveals the man and woman husband and wife arriving at the summerhouse where they are asked how their journey was.  “Uneventful” comes the answer.  Nothing ever again is said and one wonders whether the incident ever occurred.  The baby is seen once again alive but never again during the rest of the film.  This unforgettable beginning is the most eventful part of the film.  Nothing, absolute nothing happens after this.  There are lots of walking around, sleeping, taking down the yellow wallpaper, dreaming and hallucinating.  John is a physician and he recommends his wife get better by rating in the upstairs bedroom with that dreaded wallpaper.  He forbids her to do anything else but walk in the garden. and after a while, even forbids her to do that.  The wallpaper, never shown clearly to the audience, looks eerie enough with repeated patterns of twines and such.  These twines give Jane nightmares.  Jane confesses that the twines are poking and prodding her - tighter and tighter.  She begins scaring and tearing off the wallpaper.

Though nothing much happens, directors Pontuti and Loreth are apt enough to keep his audience’s attention.  One cannot say the film is boring as Pontuti and Loreth keep anticipation growing.  Some humour is injected into the story, humour so dry that it might not generate any laughter.  One wonders how the hired help can stand Jane.  In one funny segment, one help loses it - complaining about having the difficulty of cleaning the yellow stains on Jane’s dress.  The sex scene between husband and wife is so offish, it is funny.

One cannot blame the film for the fact that nothing much is going on, as it follows close to the source material.  Excellent cinematography, creation of tense and odd mood and atmosphere and pacing all make the movie. 

 

YOU WON’T BE ALONE (Australia/Serbia/UK 2021) ***
Directed by Goran Stolevski

 

Written and directed by newcomer Goran Stolevski, this horror film, shot completely in Serbia and in Macedonian, is an international co-production involving Australia.  Except for Noomi Rapace, the unknown cast consists of Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Carloto Cotta, Félix Maritaud and Sara Klimoska.

Set in an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, YOU WON’T BE ALONE follows a young girl who is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit. Curious about life as a human, the young witch accidentally kills a peasant in the nearby village and then takes her victim’s shape to live life in her skin. Her curiosity ignited, she continues to wield this horrific power in order to understand what it means to be human.

The film’s narrative is definitely hard to follow, with the story occasionally jumping chronologically, characters that are dead re-appearing and incidents that could be real or hallucinations.   The segments are often disjointed and director Stolevski appears disinterested in whether his audience can follow the story.  As such, the simple synopsis described above might not be deciphered from the film.  But his images are solid and scary, with the dialogue appropriately strange and ambiguous.  The special makeup of the witch is impressive with the witch looking so real and so distorted.  The creation of the doomed village and its atmosphere of dread helps people the horror that is to come.  The sex scenes are erotic and make their point.

It’s a wicked thing this world - as the poster reads, and the line used in the film as well make a good alternative title describing the film.  It’s also a wicked thing, this film.  An art-house horror that is well made though not for everyone.

Trailer: 

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