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 Best film openign this week is the intriguiging and original French drama/thriller MADELEINE COLLINS.  The mystery will keep you guessing from start to finsh.  Netflix's HUSTLE is an entrtainign watch.

 

FILM REVIEWS

END OF THE LINE (USA 2022) ***1/2

Directed by Emmett Adler

 

END OF THE LINE is a doc about the massive consequential failure of infrastructure as witnessed in the New York City subway line.  The doc scans the years 1961 to the present when the Pandemic CoronaVirus reduced the number of passengers down to some 20%.  The first question that comes to mind is how a film about the subway line in a distant city  be of interest to Torontonians or others not living in NYC.   Well, director Emmett Adler’s doc moves as quick and efficient as a well functioning subway train that contains many reasons one should not dismiss the film as irrelevant.

For one, most large cities have a subway system.  One can see and compare and do one's part to ensure that one’s subway system never reaches the dire straits of the NYC subway system.   Much can be learnt of reasons maintenance is always cast aside.  The political conflict that occurs between the city’s major and Governor is also a reason the system never got fixed.  Blaming someone else always appears the easy way out.  But the most important reason to sew Adler’s END OF THE LINE is that it is a fascinating and intriguing document of an enormous failure and the attempt to bring the system back to  accepted  functionality.

Establishing the vital economic importance and grandeur of New York City’s historic subway system, the film dives into its dire modern-day troubles picking up in the late 2010s when flooding, overcrowding, power failures, and derailments have become commonplace.  Adler includes scenes of all the system's problems.  One scene shows a passenger swept by the flooding waters coming in through the subway station.  The crowds of people waiting on the platforms for trains is a common sight and one any subway rider can recall at one time or another.

Finally, after a particularly bad spate of disasters in the summer of 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proclaims a state of emergency and hires a new international wunderkind executive named Andy Byford to save the subways.   His speech is included in the doc.  Byford, an earnest Briton with an impressive resume, enters as a charismatic would-be hero.   Adler devotes quite a bit of screen time on Byford.  Byford is a charismatic public figure, and there are lots of newsreel footage on him.  His work on the system including his plan for improvement has been widely publicized as well.  It is as if Bedford is the star of the doc and in a way he is the hero.  When forced to step down after a period of two years, Byford returns to the U.K. but becomes a hero for New Yorkers.

Director Adler never forgets the businesses impacted by the subway - especially when stations have to be closed for repair.  Scenes in barbershops, bodegas, and bakeries show the frustration and devastation among business owners and residents who are caught in the middle. 

Director Adler finally brings his doc to the present day.  Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic furthers this, and brings to light America’s need to shore up its infrastructure in cities across the country and the inequality struggles that are central to this debate. A heartfelt and scrupulous exploration, this film poses the question: what happens when the lifeline of a city goes flat?

As fascinating a doc END OF THE LINE IS is the director's resume.  Adler is an Emmy-winning filmmaker who has taught art in Shenzhen, China, was once a chess champion in the state of Illinois and can juggle pins while walking on stilts. He has over a decade of experience as a freelance documentary and commercial film editor. In 2021, he made his directorial debut with the feature documentary END OF THE LINE which naturally premiered to sold out audiences at DOC NYC film festival. 

Trailer: 

ERZULIE (USA 2021) **
Directed by Christine Chen


Erzulie is a camp teen horror movie that is somewhat fun but could be ‘funner', with co-writer and director Christine Chen trying too hard while missing a few opportunities.

ERZULIE is the name of some swamp mermaid Goddess that is supposedly a protector of women.  The four main characters in the story are women and women who need protection for that matter.  The film is set in a Louisiana swamp by a river.   A swamp is disgusting- smelly, full of bugs and mosquitoes and foul air.  But there is a river and the 4 girls apparently had some fun there in the past.  So they hope to reprise a good time swimming in the river, except for the fact that when they arrive , they’re told by the ‘resort’ manager that the river is off limits.  Apparently some kid had been killed by a killer alligator and they have not caught it yet.  If the manager, a mama’s boy, does not keep the girls out of the water, the mother will be angry.  The manager is played by Jason Kirkpatrick, who is first seen bending over with the crack of his butt exposed.  Kirkpatrick is really funny and makes the comedy of the film.  He is also a sort of villain who gets his comeuppance.  

The film follows four close friends seeking a temporary escape from their lives as they arrive at the retreat of a river/swamp resort.   Each has suffered varying degrees of personal trauma, not the audience really cares.  These tend to bog down the movie as who really cares about personal drama in a  campy horror flick?  Director Chen should have realized the fact and just skimmed over the problems.  But she dwells on the drama dragging down the film’s pace.   There is Fay (Zoe Graham), recovering from a relationship with a controlling abuser, Wendy (Courtney Oliviér) , recently informed sacked from her job at a women’s shelter. Then, there are the other two friends,  Violet (Elizbeth Trieu) and tough  Ari (Diana Rose).

ERZULIE is a feminine movie - nothing wrong with that.  Writer and director and female and the film has four female heroines with a female Goddess that protects women.  The story also tackles environment issues with toxic waste dumped into the river., though this issue os just dismissed quickly,

The soundtrack is excellent, engaging the emotions of the audiences during the climatic sequences.  The climax involves a segment that takes place in the swamp waters in the dead of night.  It is indeed dark and the lighting is insufficient for the audience to distinguish clearly what is happening on the screen.  The reviewer watched the film via a streaming link and the images were really dark and indistinguishable for the most part.  Hopefully, the theatrical version should be clearer.

The main issue with ERZULIE the film is that the genre is already a well-worn genre where everything has been tried before in countless B-horror movies.  Even the scene where the hunk Brick is killed by Erzulie has a scene with dangling legs, reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS.

ERZULIE will be released on various digital platforms on June 14.

Trailer: 

HUSTLE (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Jeremiah Zagar

 

HUSTLE is a sports film about a dedicated very talented basketball scout who discovers by accident, a remarkable talent in Spain but with who has some baggage.  The coach, Stanley Sugerman has his task of getting him recognized and playing in the NBA.  But odds are against him.  If the premise of the film sounds familiar, it should as sports movies  always have similar themes.  HUSTLE comes across as the typical sports movie with no fresh ideas but it works as the actors  try very hard and audiences love to see an underdog make good.  Countess films have been made on the subject and the genre is a well worn one with films like THE KARATE KID, the ROCKY franchise, just to name a famous few.  But the type of sport can be changed from boxing to ring to karate and now to basketball, similar to a film like HOOSIERS.

“Do you love this game?  Do you want to be in the NBA?  Is that a kitten purring in there?  I cannot hear you.”  These are typical dialogue lines heard during the film.  Cliched words that have been heard in one form or other before?  Do they work?  Answer is that they still do, in some form or other.

It is not about the last game.  It is about the next.  These are his words of advice as he coaches players but when life dishes out misfortune on him, it is his wife who rings out the same words of advice to her husband.  Again cliched, but the intimate segment of  support and care still works.

The film works from superlative camerawork and editing, a must for sports games featuring crucial matches.  These add to the excitement and score several credit points for the movie.  The basketball segments are very well shot, showing the  talent of the player and the skill  possessed by star players.   It helps that the basketball discovery from Spain, Bo Cruz is played by NBA player Juancho Hernangómez.

Adam Sandler gets to flex his acting chops in this sports drama - exhibiting both exhilaration, as he trains his basketball protege and when everything fails him, such as the loss of his job and hopes.  Sandler manages a credible job.  Though not Academy Award winning material. it makes an improvement over his silly comedies, entertaining as they were.  Sandler has proven himself apt in drama as in HUSTLE and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE as well as in comedies as in THE WEDDING SINGER and HAPPY MADISON.

The film contains some swearing about women, mothers and whores.  But Sandler also puts in ‘fat’ jokes on himself to counteract any possibility of complaints.

The actors that display their talent are both Sandler and Hernangómez, both up on the screen for the majority of screen time.  Queen Latifah plays Stanley’s wife, giving the film a colourful and correct perspective.  Latifah is good and one wishes there is more of her on the screen.  Robert Duvall makes a brief cameo at the start of the film.

HUSTLE is a Netflix original sports movie and it opens on June the 15th on the Netflix streaming service.  This is good family entertainment with a solid theme but it contains a bit of swearing.

 Trailer: 

MADELEINE COLLINS (France/Belgium/ Switzerland 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Antoine Barraud

 

The film’s trailer makes the film look like a thriller but the film is more a drama with some suspense.  So, it is easy to be fooled just as the film’s main female protagonist’s men are fooled by her.  The woman goes by two different names, and leads two separate lives juggling both rather well till trouble rears its head in paradise.

The woman (Virginie Efira) leads a double life: two lovers, two sons in France as Judith Fauvet and one daughter in Switzerland as Margot.   In France, she is married to orchestra conductor Melvil Fauvet (Bruno Salomone) while in Switzerland,  her lover is Abdel (Quim Gutierrez).  Entangled in secrets and lies, her lives begin to shatter.

The film begins impressively with a lady (Mona Walraven), well dressed though her hair a bit dishevelled entering the dress department of a departmental store.  She is shown dresses and takes a few to a fitting room, before she faints and knocks her head on the wall.  As she is led out the department by a vendeuse (Anne Depla), she is heard but not seen.  She has evidently fallen.  “There is blood everywhere.  She does not have a pulse.”  These are the words heard on the soundtrack.  What is impressive about this opening, is not what takes place, though still interesting, but the posh way in which the entire segment is done in real-time in one take as the camera moves around the store fluidly.  It must have been a tough scene to be done so masterfully, and must have taken several takes to finalize with the perfect one long final take.

The film will arouse the curiosity of the audience.  What this scene has to do with the rest of the story is only revealed at the end.  The lady at the beginning, played by Walraven, looks a bit like the main protagonist, and one might get confused whether these two are the same person.  And the reason the film is called MADELEINE COLLINS as the two women in the film are called Judith and Margot is revealed finally at the film’s end.

In the film, director Barraud is as manipulative as the lead character.  Madeleine soft talks to her men and knows how to pretend to be angry to distract them.

In the past, it was the men who kept a wife and mistresses on the side.  This film portrays the opposite where the men function as the victims and the female as the aggressor.  Judith/Margot here, juggles two lives, two mens and two sets of children.  It is too convenient to have her as the intelligent one, still loving both men and playing them for fools.  One variation is that one of her men knows about the other but not the second one.  But it is a tale that as predictability goes, one can tell it is  about how the setup has worked in the past, and how it can come crumbling down.  And how the female aggressor will deal with the catastrophe.

MADELEINE is a neat little menage-a-trois, fresh in concept with a strong female slant to the story for a change.  The film has already opened in Quebec in April and opens in Toronto on June the 10th.

Trailer: 

NINJA BADASS (USA 2020) *
Directed by Ryan Harrison

 

The film opens with the main character, called Rick (Ryan Harrison) using ninja fighting tactics to fight what appears to be a dragon.  The dragon bleeds to death.  But this is no real dragon, but a dragon as in men dressed in a dragon costume in the Chinese lion or dragon dance, often performed during the lunar New Year.  This appears to be the man’s rite of passage with the scene ending with him proclaiming that he is now a ninja.

Meanwhile and somewhat unrelated, the Ninja VIP Super Club is doing a slow drag across the American Midwest, culminating in female sacrifice. When they kidnap a super hot babe that local scumbag, Rex, has his eyes on – it is up to Rick to become a ninja and steal her back!

The film has a flashback wth the titles reading: Two Goddamn weeks before that fucking shit…”.  The following scene is just as silly, with Rick quitting his volunteering job and riding away on a little girl’s pink bicycle.

If the silliness of the opening two segments seem funny or show some potential, then this Ryan Harrison produced, directed, written and starring vehicle might, just might be for you.

  From exploding cows to bazooka cops, hillbilly ‘sensei’s, even more super hot babes - Rick sends half the movie trying to rescue a damsel (that looks like Laura Dern) in distress - deadly flying feet, badass ball rippers and an over-the-top ninja villain in cowboy boots with an appetite for everything that’s soft and fuzzy.  The film features an original song “I’m a Ninja Now” from Vince Johnson, the singer-songwriter behind Joe Exotic’s viral songs such as “I Saw a Tiger”.

Harrison is not that funny.  His supporting cast is much funnier, especially the actor playing the head of the VIP Super club - the villain of the piece.

  NINJA BADASS appears to have a cult following. “A guerilla gem of outlandish comedy” (Sydney Underground FF), NINJA BADASS, the debut feature from multi-hyphenate Ryan Harrison (who also wrote, produces and stars), has garnered accolades and acclaim on an international tour through more than three dozen film festivals, capturing awards such as “Best Comedy” at San Antonio’s Rivercity Underground Film Festival, “Best Grindhouse Feature” at the Slash Night Film Festival, “Best Horror/Comedy” at Nightmares Film Festival and the “Best Director” and “Audience Choice” awards at the GenreBlast Film Festival. But truth be told, audiences and critics do not often agree.  And this is a case in point.  If the silliness of NINJA BADDASS was remotely funny, it would have worked.  But I did laugh once, at a nonsensical scene where a woman kicks a man’s head off and hits Rick in the head.  (I must have let my guard down.)   NINJA BADASS is just an awful and terribly bad and unfunny film, posing as an outlandish comedy.  Give the film a shot, if you do not believe me!

NINJA BADASS opens on Video On Demand June 10th, 2022.

Trailer: 

ON THE 3RD DAY (Argentina 2021) ***

Directed by Daniel de la Vega

 

ON THE 3RD DAY is an Argentine atmospheric horror chiller with a touch of mystery thrown in for good measure.  Everything works well during the first half of the movie with solid scares and puzzles in the story but falls apart into silliness once the film tries to explain the mystery.  Not only do things turn silly but it turns out that there are too many elements in the story and too much that director Daniel de la Vega and her crew can handle.

Cecilia (Moro Anghileri) and her son Martín have a car accident.  The hits a truck carrying an unknown ‘cargo’.  On the third day after the crash, she wanders by herself on a lonely route and there is no clue of her son. She can't remember what happened during this time and she is desperately looking for her son. She ends up in hospital.  Her doctor is a caring one, going out of his way to look after her,  On her quest she finds coincidences with her case and other police files, which seem to be acts of a brutal hunting. T he circles goes round and Cecilia ends up facing a religious man, who is the responsible of this slaughter. For her, he is a lunatic. For him, Cecilia is the enemy.

Director Daniel de la Vega achieves full marks for the creating a horror film atmosphere - reminiscent of the best Italian Gallo B-flick horror - even from the bloody red opening titles to the poor English dubbing over its original language version.  Daniel de la Vega’s techniques include:

  • using eerie sounds and music
  • odd camera angles especially of facial expressions
  • heightened sounds like the sound of footsteps and ticking of metronome
  • repeated dialogue like “Where is my son?”
  • :shadows and use of the darkness of night
  • use of antique props
  • religious underton

The dialogue is used to the maximum potential to be menacing.  Such dialogue help, like:“What are you doing?  I had a nightmare.  I dreamt of my son.  I cannot take any more.”  “You have to sleep more.  I will prescribe more painkillers.  The police are here to see you.  They want to talk to you.”  “Her condition is unstable.  She must have been abused.” “We are all capable of hurting others, don’t you think?  Come to Room 16.  We got a suspicious death.  A very suspicious death.”

Cecilia undergoes hypnotism in order to jolt her memory as to the events that have occurred.  The events are shown in jarred flashbacks, giving the audience the feel of what Cecilia is going through.  As Cecilia screams as to what s happening, the audience is giving just bits and pieces and they have to put the pieces of the puzzle together  The result is a satisfying mystery thriller that is constantly absorbing from the very start.

The only problem is that the film’s climax is unable to match the film’s incredible build up.  The final vampire-type monster that shows up from the cargo crate destroys all the credibility that had been invested.

The film opens this week on Shudder, the horror streaming service.

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