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FILM REVIEWS:

 

A CHIARA (Italy/France 2021) ***
Directed by Jonas Carpignano

 

A CHIARA follows the happenings of young, 15-year old daughter Chiara (Swamy Rotolo) after her father abandons his close-knit family in Cambria, Italy.

Director Carpignano’s fable of Chiara is not a coming-of-age story but one that seems to provide more confusion than closure to her somewhat secluded life of school, home and vaping.  Vaping is looked down upon and made known to her, every time she lights up.  When admonished, she says that men smoke at her age.  This is a keen observation that unfortunately leads nowhere, though it stresses the fact that males play a more dominant part of the family.   Her father makes the main decisions and the mother is supposed to just follow.

The reason the father suddenly leaves the family is never made clear though there are a couple of hits.  One is an argument witnessed by Chiara of her father and mother one evening, with the father storming out of the house.  Another is her discovery (on tv) that her father is a wanted criminal.

Chiara’s confusion is further heightened when her love for her father is tested with his criminal activity.  The father tells her that it is just a business of making profit.  But she retorts questioning about his selling of drugs and the reason for a car bomb.  

Director Carpigano often leaves the audience to find their own solutions to the actions of the characters.  As a result, the film has a feel of being lost in direction and motive.  The lack of a strong narrative does not help either.

In the first quarter of the film, there is an around 15- minute segment on her sister, Giulia’s 18h birthday party.  Chiara’s immediate family are there, her siblings, mother and father (Claudio Rotolo) as well as other members of uncles, aunts and cousins.   They joke, laugh, dance and scream to their delight, showing the close knit family that they are part of.  There is even a dance contest at the party where the four judges are the Chiara’s father, uncles and aunt.  The expressions of the faces of the individual members vary from total enjoyment to annoyance to befuddlement - a whole range of wonderful expressions seen on the faces of the Italian family.  The scene where the father refuses to toast Giulia’s birthday, much to her  chagrin, is masterfully done, full of surprise and emotion, marking the film’s best segment.  The birthday party segment demonstrates the director’s mastery of filmmaking and it is also the most entertaining part of the film.

But the film contains a meandering and tedious middle with long takes that show more of a situation than the progress of the story.  The portion will be trying for audiences of non-commercial movies like this one.

A CHIARA had its premiere at Cannes last year and the film has won a few accolades.

Trailer: 

 

 

CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (Canada/Greece 2022) ***
Directed by David Cronenberg

 

Touted as 22 years in the making, the Robert Lantos and David Cronenberg collaboration CRIMES OF THE FUTURE premiered at Cannes in the Official Competition and arrives in Toronto, Cronenberg’s home right after its premiere.  According to Lantos, Cronenberg was not ready to shoot the film then and waited for the correct time, which is the present.  The film returns the writer/director’s roots to the horror genre and contains scenes reminiscent of VIDEODROME and THE FLY.

Though the setting of the year is unstated, it is assumed to be set in the future, from the title and from the way humans have evolved from the current environment.  Humankind is learning to adapt to its synthetic surroundings.  This evolution moves humans beyond their natural state and into a metamorphosis, which alters their biological makeup.  While some embrace the limitless potential of trans-humanism, others attempt to police it. Either way, Accelerated Evolution Syndrome is spreading fast.

The film’s best segment is at the film’s start where the audience sees a boy at play on the beach.  (The film is shot entirely in Athens.)  His mother tells him to come into the house.  A disturbing scene occurs in the family’s toilet where the boy is seen eating the plastic bucket.  While going to sleep, the mother suffocates the boy with a pillow.  She calls the father to inform him of the deed and to get rid of the corpse.  The film then progresses on the main protagonists of the story.  Saul Tenser (Cronenberg’s frequent actor Viggo Mortensen) is a beloved performance artist who has embraced this new state, sprouting new and unexpected organs in his body.  Along with his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux) , Tenser has turned the removal of these organs into a spectacle for his loyal followers to marvel at in real time theatre. But with both the government and a strange subculture taking note, Tenser is forced to consider what would be his most shocking performance of all.  They are to perform a live autopsy of the dead boy on stage.

Cronenberg’s film contains large portions of graphic nudity including that of the adolescent.  It is an adult film with an adult theme that children will not get anyway.  Some adults might not get it too.  There are deep incisions performed on the nude bodies so beware, those who cannot stomach blood and gore.  The special effects are superb and the audience sees the actors, particularly Mortensen, suffering and groaning half the time.

But the script is a muddled mess with no strong narrative leading nowhere unlike Croneneberg’s best films, SPIDER, EASTERN PROMISES and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE or his horror works like THE FLY and SCANNERS.  The abrupt ending does not help either.

This is the film with the costume design not done by David’s sister, Denise after her passing in 2020.  Costume design is by Mayou Trikenoti, a blend of archaic wardrobe and vintage fare.

But Cronenberg is one of Canada’s prized directors and his works are always worth seeing.  CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is a worthy wait for a Cronenberg film, his last one made after a while.

 Trailer: 

DOUBLE THREAT (USA 2021) **

Directed by Shane Stanley

 

After skimming money from the mob, a beautiful, well-trained fighter, Natasha, finds herself on the run with a kind, naïve accountant Jimmy, whose life is about to get more thrilling than he could ever imagine.

It all begins with the meeting of Natasha and Jimmie at a convenience store.  Jimmy (Matthew Lawrence) recently loses his brother and promises to scatter his ashes in the ocean.  His plans, however, are derailed when a normal convenience store pit-stop becomes a mob attack on cashier Natasha (Danielle C. Ryan). As Jimmy tries to flee, he discovers Natasha hiding in the back seat, and learns that she isn't some random cashier, but a woman on the run from the mob with a split personality: Nat and Tasha.  Together, she becomes Natasha- get it?  After some convincing, Nat and Tasha tag along with Jimmy on a road trip across the country, hoping to escape on a boat to Hawaii. But when the son of the crime boss, Ellis (Kevin Joy), joins forces with right-hand mobster Ask (Dawn Olivieri), an explosive and violent cross-country chase ensues.  Why the right-hand woman is called Ask is sillily explained in the film.

The film tries to be an action comedy with a romantic element tied in.  Unfortunately there is nothing really funny about the film and the film definitely does not work as a romantic comedy.  The romantic dialogue are the worst written in a film this year.  A lot of the script is also over-the-top, such as Natasha’s background, being not only an orphan but also having a twin sister taken away from her, with the hint that they were forced to do ‘work’ they did not want to, and finally her, escaping and finding her true fighting self.  The action, however, is passable.  The premise of the script does not sound too bad though.

The guy is a forensic accountant while the girl is an ex-mobster’s moll on the run.  If the vocation of forensic accountant sounds like a boring profession because of the word accountant attached to it, it is in reality far from that.   Forensic means ‘suitable for use in court’.  Forensic accountants give expert evidence at the eventual trial, not only utilizing their accounting and auditing skills, but also their investigative skills to determine what events actually took place in a financial setting.  In the story the male is the brain while the female is the brawn.   One assumes the title is derived from the double threat these two pose to the mob.  The poster says” Those who chase her will pay the price.”

The action scenes are nothing too fantastic or out of the ordinary - just exciting and credible as one does not want any Martial-arts choreography in the film which would outdo the setting.

Ultimately, the film fails because of a bad script, that results in bad acting (though one can hardly blame the actors for trying),bad execution and unworkable scenarios.  The ending scene where Ask claims that it is the best scenario for an execution is the writer giving shameful praise to himself for his script.


 

 Trailer: 

FIRE ISLAND (USA 2022) ***

Directed by Andrew Ahn


A pair of best friends (both Asian) set out to have a legendary week-long summer vacation in FIRE ISLAND with the help of cheap rosé and a group of eclectic friends.  Fire Island is the large centre island of the outer barrier islands parallel to the south shore of Long Island, New York.  FIRE ISLAND often a gay destination for parties and celebrations is the story’s colourful setting.

FIRE ISLAND originally started as a TV series project for the now defunct streaming service Quiz.  Fox Searchlight bought the script and turned it into a movie, the project with the  Asian actors Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang on board all the way.

The  two friends in the story are Noah (Korean comic Joel Kim Booster) and Howie (out gay comic from Saturday Night Live who is Chinese).  The director Ahn is Korean who has made SPA NIGHTS and DRIVEWAYS in the past.  The film also stars Korean Margaret Cho as Erin, in the role of a slightly older fag hag of the two.  Erin is the house mother in FIRE ISLAND of the gay group.  Cho’s character admits and laughs at her role in the film.

FIRE ISLAND is catered for the gay Asian male and it shows.  It is a totally gay fairy tale Harlequin type romance full of gay nuanced stereotyped characters and the filmmakers are unashamed to flaunt them.  The script/story is outlined in Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  Those familiar with the Austen novel will have a field day identifying similar charters in both stories.  

This is what makes FIRE ISLAND so interesting and entertaining for gay males - it makes sense that gays can relate to the story and characters and of course laugh at themselves.  The film also is daring enough to include a  scene in the bath house where Noah is down on his knees about to give someone a blow-job when he spots someone else there.  The dialogue makes reference to drugs as if they were common everyday use - as one character casually admits that he would rather be doing ‘K’ by the pool.   But it is true for gay clubbers that drugs are an everyday normalcy.  As a bonus all the actors in the film are drop dead gorgeous.  It appears that the one criterion to pass the screening test of the film is to have a good bod and not any acting talent.  Fortunately the actors do come across as not only believable but hilarious and the drop dead gorgeous element helps too.  Beware!  Heterosexual males should stay away from the film!

FIRE ISLAND has a special presentation at Inside Out Film Festival in 2022 and will be available on Disney+ on June the 3rd.  FIRE ISLAND is an irrelevant film about  irrelevant issues and about gays living in a fantasy world.  It is pure escapism for the gay crowd.  The gays are the majority and not the persecuted minority in this world.  The queers have taken over FIRE ISLAND, and with a vengeance for gay Hollywood endings.

Trailer: 


 

JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY (USA 2022) ***1/2

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern

 

The documentary JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY has one of the brightest and most spirited openings that can be found in any film this year,  “Let's start right here,” scream the words followed by lively jazz music that would clearly blow one away  The New Orleans Jazz Festival is introduced and it is a celebration.  Performers claim: “There is nothing in the world like playing the New Orleans Jazz Festival.”  “You see legends.  You see the real stuff.”  “Magical!”

The documentary JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY has one of the brightest and most spirited openings that can be found in any film this year,  “Let's start right here,” scream the words followed by lively jazz music that would clearly blow one away  The New Orleans Jazz Festival is introduced and it is a celebration.  Performers claim: “There is nothing in the world like playing the New Orleans Jazz Festival.”  “You see legends.  You see the real stuff.”  “Magical!”

The documentary calls the festival “the world’s greatest backyard B-B-Q,” and “the most kick-ass party in the world.” through the words of the doc’s subjects .  The doc intends to prove the statements.

JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY celebrates five decades of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, an annual event that showcases the Big Easy’s colourful culture, cuisine and music, including jazz cousins like soul, pop, funk, gospel, blues and R&B.
Co-directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, the film weaves together interviews, archival footage and star-studded performances.  The directing team is responsible for past documentaries like SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL (HBO), FINDING OSCAR (Amazon), THE CHINA HUSTLE (Magnolia), to mention a few.

The film traces the festival’s beginnings in 1971 with archive footage.  The archive footage of Louis Armstrong playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” is simply wonderful.  

But finally in 2019, the 50th Jazz Fest features 7,000 musicians on 14 stages
over eight days, with attendance reaching 100,000 per day.  Among the highlights in the documentary are performances by Earth, Wind & Fire (also marking some 50 years
in the business), Katy Perry (delivering a vibrant rendition of “Oh Happy Day” and then her own empowerment anthem “Firework,” both accompanied by the New Orleans Gospel Soul Children choir), The Marsalis Family (four sons performing for the last time with their |now-late father Ellis), Jimmy Buffet (a festival staple)and Aaron Neville (crooning an oh-so-soulful “Amazing Grace.”).   Bruce Springsteen ‘the boss’ also croons a winner near the end of the film.

The film also praises the power of music. Whatever race - Black, white Asian, Hispanic -  music is the common denominator that unites. It is also stressed that the fest is also what makes the United States great.  The scenes of different races of the spectators dancing hand in hand, hugging and just having a plain good time, make the movie.

Everyone loves to eat.  Part of the festival is the food that is sold and consumed during the festival.  The range of foods available are described and shown on the screen. The count of chicken, shrimp and meat cooked is unbelievable.  On display are local food like Cochon de Lait Po-boy, Fatty Cracklins and beignets smothered with who-knows-what-kind of decadence.

The film ends appropriately with the song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and the lyrics continue…  “but you might get what you need”.  At the film’s end, there is a collage of performances and audience dancing that equals the spirit of the film's beginning.

JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY opens June 3 in Toronto (Hot Docs Cinema)!

Trailer: 

MIRACLE (Romania/Czech Republic/Latvia 2021) ****

Directed by Bogdan George Apetri


Like many Romanian films that make it to international markets, MIRACLE is slow moving with long takes, with little going on in many scenes but with long pauses given for the audience to reflect on the goings-on.  In MIRACLE, the scene of passengers as they are driven in a car or taxi are the especially long takes with lots of information dispelled during the car rides.

MIRACLE is an absorbing and compelling watch - absolutely no doubt about this, despite its slow pace, thanks to the director's talent.  The film can be divided into two totally separate parts.

When a novice -- the young, beautiful Cristina Tofan (Ioana Bugarin) sneaks away from an isolated convent in rural Romania to mysteriously attend to urgent matters, Director Apetri withholds key information about her motives as we follow her enigmatic journey, allowing tension to steadily build to a wavering precipice.  What are her motives of escaping the convent and what she is doing at the hospital are only revealed in the film’s second part.  MIRACLE’s second part follows Marius Preda (an excellent yet controlled performance by Emanuel Pârvu), a determined inspector retracing Cristina's steps days after her departure. Here, the narrative opens into both gripping police thriller and devastating social commentary, as Marius gradually uncovers clues and revelations leading not only to the unfathomable truth behind Cristina’s mysterious actions, but possibly, to an actual miracle as well.  While the first part is intriguing, it is the film’s second part that will blow audiences away.

The film also offers the directors views on certain key issues.  Director Apetri reveals what he thinks of religion and the convents.  He has the audience side with the inspector against the nuns especially when the nuns are lying about Cristina in order to protect the institution - until the inspector calls them out.  Director Apetri condones police violence, as he shows that it is sometimes necessary to obtain evidence regardless of consequences.

MIRACLE is a taut and gripping thriller that is fresh as it is original.  There is a segment at the end that does not make sense.  In the segment, a man is shot several times and is shown as shot dead.  In the following scene this same man is shown alive, his death reduced to him having him peed in his trousers.  The director probably did the segment with two different endings one clearly to shock the audience while the other to propose an alternative ending.  But nothing is said about the two endings, which will definitely cause some confusion among audiences.

MIRACLE is an extremely well paced and satisfying mystery crime thriller, compelling from start to finish that captures the additional touch of Romanian tone and atmosphere.

MIRACLE premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival and was featured at the Hamburg, Vancouver, and Zurich Film Festivals. Apetri was awarded the Critics’ Prize from CinEast and the Grand Prix at the Warsaw Film Festival.  The film opens June the 3rd in the U.S. Theatres and soon on VOD and other platforms.

Trailer: