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FILM REVIEWS:

 

223 WICK (USA 2022) **
Directed by Sergio Myers

 

Director Sergio Myers sets up the stage for his religious supernatural thriller 223 WICK at the start with the introduction of his two main characters

One is Father John (Alexi Stavrou).  When the audience. first sees him, he has just woken up in his bedroom all sweaty and disturbed.  He is seen sitting on his bed just wearing underwear, which makes him look really sexy before he opens the door to meet  his superior (Jack Dimich) who warns him that he might be too plagued by visions and nightmares to continue his teaching position.  The second is his student, Arthur (Sergio Myers II) who is introduced as the evil one.  The voiceover (Arthur speaking) informs that he died the day he arrived at the address of 223 WICK.  Now he has become a vessel for the spirits and awaiting their return.

Director Myers moves his story fast.

Father John is ousted from his parish. With nowhere to turn to, he follows the sinister visions calling him and discovers a deal he alone must stop. While his student Arthur finds himself an unaccounted for pawn in an ancient web with a different God.

One can understand the difficulty of securing funds for use for special effects in a small budget movie.  In Myers’ film, the use of sound primarily is the main source used to enhance the horror surrounding the story.  Metallic and screeching ends are often used, and also, glowing in brightness kaleidoscope patterns, which unfortunately makes the film look quite cheesy.  The use of a hand held camera also enhances the effect, the camera sometimes swinging from side to side to reveal different corridors as Father John prowls the building.  The image of the huge golden eye looks really ridiculous and could better be just removed from the film.

Dawn Lafferty, who plays the owner of the building 223 Wick, appears to be playing her role for laughs.  She looks something like Elvira, only without the overdone makeup, always informing Father John of details that often make no sense, as if she is ridiculing him.

At one point in the film, Father John look-up at the glowing white Kaleidoscope in the sky, saying: “I do not understand you.  Obviously the audience is on the same page with Father John on this.  The next image shown is the silly big golden eye.

223 WICK has the cliched premise of a troubled priest, in this case Father John. who was his elders about an upcoming danger and catastrophe.  As expected, nobody believes him, least of all his immediate supervisor, Father John who eventually suffers a death that comes somehow from choking.  Then the Elvira owner, the 223 Wick takes over the story.  Nothing really fresh in Director Myer’s delivery of the standard tale, a religious horror film with cheap special effects that don’t really work or look scary and a conclusion all too predictable, despite the attempt at a twist at the end.

 

BANDIT (Canada 2022) ***
Directed by Allan Ungar

 

BANDIT the film is about and based on the book called The Flying Bandit.  The name Flying Bandit was also given to another robber, Ken Leishman, famous for the biggest gold heist in Canadian history.  This flying bandit, however, is about Robert Whiteman based on the book ‘The Flying Bandit’ by Robert Knuckle from a screenplay by Kraig Wenman.  He is so called as he flies all over the country to rob different banks.

When Janice Whiteman (Elisha Cuthbert) met her husband Robert, real name Gilbert Galvan (Josh Duhamel) at the regional airport in Pembroke, Ontario, she was stunned when he was tackled in front of her by plainclothes police and arrested for armed robbery.  Since the day they met, Robert had been leading a double life--husband and father at home and spectacularly successful armed robber on the road. In a spree lasting thirty-three months, in cities large and small from Vancouver to Halifax, Robert committed fifty-nine robberies, sometimes two in one day, for a combined take of over two million dollars.  The film traces the extraordinary true story of the most daring criminal in the nation's history: Canada's Flying Bandit.

The film hammers the point several times that what is to be seen is a true story.  The words ‘This is  true story’ bursts on the screen at the film’s start.  During one robbery when a gun is left behind, an arrow appears on the screen pointing to the gun with the words: ‘This is true’, just as Robert orders a pizza during his arrest at the police station.

There are many ways to tackle the story.  One can tell that it was a bit of the problem as the film takes a full 30 minutes before it gets its footing during which, many might be turned off by the dullness of the material.  It first concentrates on the robberies, which is not that spectacular, in the first place.  The robber is shown to be cocky and arrogant, not good personalities in favour of audiences.  It is only after Robert hitch and settles down with Janice that the film establishes a sure footing.  One reason is that there is more ad stake at Robert getting caught, which heightens the suspense.  The film also turns its focus on two cops who begin ‘Project Cafe’ and obtain hard needed funds to watch criminals.  Oddly the emotions of the audience change at wanting the cops to succeed and the other for Robert to escape.

Duhamel does a fine job as the charismatic robber, he also serving as executive producer for the film.  Mel Gibson plays Tommy, who fiancé’s Robert’s jobs.  The film also enforces the good in human beings.  At the film’s start, it is stated that no man is bad.  But it takes practice in order to be bad.  At another point in the film, when Robert finally gets caught, his wife tells him that her (she is also a social worker in real life) main trouble in life is that she trusts people.

The adage goes that one only gets caught (robbery; drug dealing; thefts) when one gets too greedy.  And, if one does not stop, it will eventually happen that the person gets caught.  59 robberies is quite the record for bank robberies.

BANDIT is a slightly overlong over 2 hour account of the flying bank robber, tackling often too many different topics that it can chew.  But the film is entertaining enough within its different parts to succeed.

 BANDIT opens in theatres and on demand this Friday, September 23rd. 

 Trailer: 

BURIED: THE 1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE (USA 2021) ***1/2

Directed by Jared Drake and Steven Siig 


Rescue from nature’s grand disasters makes one of the more interesting subjects in documentaries.   The recent excellent doc on the rescue of the trapped young Thai soccer players in a cave overrun by monsoon flood waters, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s 2021 THE RESCUE which was remade as a non-documentary a year later by Hollywood helmer Ron Howard in THIRTEEN LIVES proves the point.  On the heels of these two successes arrive an avalanche rescue film - BURIED, a gripping account of the deadliest avalanche in US ski resort history.

Using archive footage and interviews of survivors and staff of the ski resort, the ordeal and difficult rescue is brought to light.  There are many stories to be told in the film  - the triumph of the human spirit, hope, despair, survival and the aftermath that occurred and the effect of life afterwards.  The magic question is asked: “If the avalanche did not happen, would your life be different?’   The answer is obvious.

The subjects and heroes of the story are members of the Alpine Meadows ski patrol. In the early 1980’s, the ski patrol at the Alpine Meadows ski resort were the undisputed gods of winter in the mountain hamlet of Lake Tahoe, California.  Their esprit de corps was centred around keeping the skiing public safe,  primarily through avalanche control and largely through triggering slides with explosives.  One of the most intriguing segments of the film and a little known fact is the method of how avalanches are tracked and how the explosives are used.  A bit technical in its presentation but nevertheless very important information.  For this group and the others caught up in these events, the innocent era of seemingly endless sun drenched powder and apres-ski parties would come to a sudden and harrowing close on March 31st, 1982.

The suspense portion of the film involves the rescue of one of the staff.  It is a rescue dog that prompted the rescue team not to give up the rescue effort amidst another big storm brewing.  Anna was rescued unlike Frank, her boyfriend who died.  She is shown in archive footage recovering in the hospital while also later, speaking of the experience.  Not so lucky for a family of 3 that died.  The family sued the resort.

The ski patrol are interviewed in the film.  Many are in their senior years and they recount the good old young days.  The mention of marijuana, and alcohol use expected for youth when they do work of this sort.   They are still painted as heroes in the film.  The film also includes the fact that they had done their best in the situation and the resort had made the best decision at the time.  The family did not win the court case and they refused to be interviewed for the film.

BURIED is more a film about the human spirit rather than the rescue or avalanches.  It is a well made all round doc covering all the angles while concentrating on the correct subject core - the mental and health of the survivors.

THE 1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE premiered at the Telluride's Mountainfilm festival where it won the Audience Award, the first of several subsequent festival awards.

BURIED: THE 1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE  opens in New York City, San Francisco, and Northern California theatres on September 23rd and expands to subsequent markets the following weeks during a 45 day exclusive theatrical window and onTVOD/EST and DVD.

CARMEN (Canada/Malta 2021) **
Directed by Valerie Buhagiar

 

The film CARMEN has little to do with Bizet’s opera CARMEN.  CARMEN happens to be the name of the film’s protagonist, a lonely, miserable woman who has served almost all her life, as the housekeeper of her brother, a priest in Malta.  Her lover had died earlier leaving her without a man.  Things take a turn when the brother dies.

Set in a sun-dappled village in Malta in the 1980s, Natascha McElhone gives a career-best performance as a 50-year-old woman finding a new start in life through romance.  In a small Mediterranean village, Carmen has looked after her brother, the local priest, for her entire life.  Carmen has to leave as a new priest is about to arrive and the housekeeping is to be taken over by another woman, Rita (Michaela Faruggia). When the Church abandons Carmen, she is mistaken for the new priest. Carmen begins to see the world, and herself, in a new light.

In Malta, it is tradition for the younger sister to devote her life to the church when an older brother enters the priesthood.  Thus, the film is inspired by true events.

CARMEN is a Maltese Canadian co-production.  The director is Canadian.  This is Buhagiar’s third feature film as a director.  She is also known as an actress in Canadian classics as ROADKILL (1989) and HIGHWAY 61 (1991).  One of the characters that Carmen has a short romany=tic fling with is a pawnshop owner whose parents have left for Canada.  As for Malta, the film is set in the beautiful island of Malta, south of Italy.  The rocky cliffs and sea demonstrate the beauty of the landscape.

CARMEN is a fantasy for the lonely soul.  Carmen finds her potential and helps others by offering common sense advice pretending to be the priest in the confessional box.  The advice she gives to the locals who confess works and the tithes, she uses for her own benefit, promising to return the money.  She buys a red dress, goes out and romances Paolo and an older man with a sailing boat.  Of course, she is discovered and has to face the consequences.

CARMEN is a charming little film that unfortunately never really surprises, despite an overdone ending.  Though director Buhagiar devotes a lot of screen time to her heroine and McElhone delivers a credible performance, the film’s not as compelling as it should be.  It does not help that the film contains a lot of loose ends.  Near the end, Rita dives into the sea to save a drowning Carmen.  Then the two ride a bike and the segment ends with Rita uniting with her lover at the dock.  And there is a film that Paulo plays near the end of the film, where it is revealed the truth about Carmen’s lover, an Arab boy.  Worst still is the concept that the town then allows Carmen to enter the confessional box again to listen to confessions of the villages once again and to give advice is hardly believable.

HUNTHER (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Aleshia Cowser Jackson

 

HUNTHER, stars April Parker Jones (“Bel-Air,” “Tom Swift”) and Hassan Johnson (“Flatbush Misdemeanors”) as newlyweds Morgan and Charlie Westbrook, set off to Birmingham to begin their life together. Morgan’s preteen daughter, Lauren (Jasmyn T. Curry), takes to Charlie, and the two develop a special bond.  But when that bond goes beyond boundaries, residue from Charlie’s past surfaces and Morgan realizes she must fight through the virtual and literal prisons that her once-upon-a-time prince charming has built around her.

After learning that her new husband touches her daughter inappropriately, Morgan's plans to leave him unwittingly turn into the fight of her life.

HUNTHER is a lean and mean film but expanded to include unnecessary subplots involving Charlie’s brother into the equation.  The brother would do anything for Charlie.

There is nothing really new in HUNTHER that has not been seen in one slasher film or other, yet director Jackson still manages to capture her audience’s attention and keep them at the edge of their seats. 

But HUNTHER contains some tense moments  in a time waster of a horror slasher flick.

Trailer:  

 

A JAZZMAN’S BLUES (USA 2022) ***1/2

Directed by Tyler Perry

 

A JAZZMAN”S BLUES is producer, writer and director’s first serious heartbreaking tale of forbidden love lays secreted within a tantalizing murder mystery spiked with a series of dazzling musical numbers.  Perry directs from his Type Perry Studios, a Netflix original film that premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and opens on Netflix this week.

The film opens in In 1987, in Hopewell County, Georgia.   A stack of letters is delivered to a state attorney general by an old woman with a limp, possible evidence in the long-unsolved murder case of Bayou (Joshua Boone).   The film flashbacks to 1947 Georgia, where Bayou first meets Leanne (Solea Pfieffer) at a lively jazz outdoor social. They fall in love, but Leanne’s relatives forbid the relationship, and the couple are torn apart.  When they meet again years later, Bayou has become a song-and-dance sensation and Leanne has married another man — and is passing as white.  Their desire for each other reignited, they conspire to escape together, but dangerous secrets from their past threaten to destroy their relationship permanently.

Director Perry has been known for his over zealous and religious comedies in the past, often loud and in our face, many featuring Medea portrayed by Perry himself in drag.  Medea is a big woman who is unafraid to have her say or slap children who misbehave  Perry has created in his first serious feature a lively excellently shot period atmospheric piece with a great jazz score that should be seen to be believed.  It is his long-gestating passion project. The film features songs by Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard, choreography by the legendary Debbie Allen, and music by composer Aaron Zigman, A Jazzman’s Blues is a testament to Black American music, resilience, and storytelling.

Trailer: 

RAVEN’S HOLLOW (UK/Latvia 2022) ***
Directed by Christopher Hatton

 

RAVEN’S HOLLOW features Edgar Allen Poe serving in the military as the main protagonist.  In real life, Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre.  He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States, and of American literature. Poe was one of the country's earliest practitioners of the short story, and considered to be the inventor of the detective fiction genre, as well as a significant contributor to the emerging genre of science fiction.  Poe is the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.  Though RAVEN’S HOLLOW is fiction, it draws on certain true life facts of its main character.  In real life, Poe enlisted in order to supplement his meagre earnings as a writer and is seen in the story as a military man of principle.  When Poe sees a corpse killed with the clue of ‘Raven” uttered just before the victim dies, there is the detective element in the story.

RAVEN’S HOLLOW is set in Autumn, 1830.  West Point military Cadet Edgar Allan Poe and four other cadets on a training exercise in upstate New York come upon a man eviscerated on a bizarre wooden rack.  His dying words direct them (the word ‘raven’) to a forgotten community, which they believe is guarding sinister secrets.  Enthralled by the Innkeeper’s beautiful and mysterious daughter Charlotte and fuelled by the town resident’s refusal to speak to the murder, Poe determines to uncover the truth.  Risking his life and more, Poe ultimately comes face to face with the terror that will haunt him forever.

There is a weird part in which Poe decides to take opium so as not to have his mind influenced by the demon raven.  Apparently the raven can enter and screw up the minds of tis victims.  He gulps quite a bit down with opium mixed with drink and then goes staggering about in his duties.

A rare and unusual film blending gothic fiction with real life characters, that explores the early days of Poe’s life while serving in the military as a backdrop, Hatton’s film (which) Hatton co-wrote with Chuck Reeves) brings together history and fiction to create a truly unique British supernatural period horror rich with dark gothic imagery.  It does not always work. Unfortunately despite its promising beginning, Hatton's film gets progressively both more ambitious and muddled during its second half leaving its rich atmospheric period setting as the film’s main attraction.  Some solid special effects are also on display in Hatton’s film.  There are some poetic musings on true love at the film’s end that goes against the grain of the story.  Still, there are many unanswered questions at the end.

RAVEN’S HOLLOW streams Exclusively on Shudder Thursday, September 22.

 Trailer: 

SIDNEY (USA 2022) ***1/2

Directed by Reginald Rudlin

 

SIDNEY is a sweeping documentary portrait of the late, great Sidney Poitier (who passed away January of this year) that surveys his films, life story, and litany of accomplishments as an artist and activist who forever changed what it means to be Black in America.

The doc features Poitier in many segments.  Poitier’s own words provide the narration, telling the story of a boy born to tomato farmers in the Bahamas.  Moving to the US at age 15, he quickly learned the brutal realities of the Jim Crow era but also found his passion for acting. Director Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Boomerang, Marshall) weaves together a rich mix of archive footage and contemporary interviews with a stellar group of interview subjects Poitier’s contemporaries and the holders of his legacy detail just how extraordinary his rise was, from early failure at the American Negro Theatre to Oscar-nominated roles in films to becoming the living, big-screen embodiment of America’s hopes for racial justice.   Poitier’s rise to stardom occurred in tandem with his commitment to social change, marching for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. alongside his lifelong friend Harry Belafonte, and helping to usher Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, a milestone in portraying Black American experience, from Broadway to the big screen.

SIDNEY boasts an impressive cast of interviewees that speak to the screen.  Among them are Harry Belafonte who is perhaps the most important one, a childhood and prefer friend of Poiter, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Nelson George, Lou Gosset JR., Katharine Houghton, Quincy Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Spike Lee, Lulu, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Denzel Washington and Oprah Winfrey.  Winfrey is one of the film’s producers and she appears a number of times steering her film into her frame of mind.  She ties his work to the movement of black people citing, appropriately, a scene from Stanley Kramer’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, where Poitier’s character claims to be a man while his father in the film claims to be a black man.

` The doc also reveals a lot of background on Poitier from his childhood, and slow but sure rise to fame.  It is miraculous and insightful to note that Poitier might have never been.  He was torn 2 months premature in the Bahamas and not expected to live.  In fact his father brought back  shoebox to store the baby’s corpse on the way home the first day.  Yet Poitier survived and practically schooled himself as he was uneducated.  This is definitely a rise from rags to riches story.

Also included in the film - every cineaste’s delight - is a whole lot of clips from Poitier's old movies.  These include his first film THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE including his hits TO SIR WITH LOVE, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, LILIES OF THE FIELD, A PATCH OF BLUE and his breakthrough controversial film which won him his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor THE DEFIANT ONES with Tony Curtis.

SIDNEY is a solid and exhaustive biopic of a great actor and human being, Sidney Poitier with many lessons to be learnt on the hard work that is demanded in order to be a success.

SYDNEY premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is available to stream on line this week on Apple TV+ and various other platforms.

 



TO THE MOON (USA 2021) **
Directed by Scott Friend

 

TO THE MOON not to be confused with the art film of the same title about meditation and the moon is a new age comedy and psychological horror/drama, sort-of, of a couple trying to heal themselves from substance abuse at a retreat out in the woods.  It is established at the start of the film that the couple love each other very much.

The script distinguishes the different personalities of the male and female.  The female is more inviting and a happier person while the male is more introverted, jealous and less accommodating.  The two personalities together obviously bring conflict.

But the weekend of healing for Dennis (Scott Friend, who also serves as writer and director) Mia (Madeleine Morgenweck) becomes a hallucinatory nightmare when Dennis' estranged brother, Roger (Will Brill) arrives and begins to distort their sense of reality.  As they say, you can choose your friend but you cannot choose family.  Roger, the brother is as weird as they come.   The retreat used to be used by a nearby monastery and there is some discussion between the brothers that their father used the retreat with the monastery.  The monks are never seen but only talked about.

The film, despite its general weird atmosphere, contains a few but well executed tender moments.  One is when the couple are sitting and talking it out.  They argue about living their future in the county or in the city.  Mia tells her husband: “What are your problems?  You have to tell me.  I am your best friend.”

Director Friend loves to keep his audience guessing.  Often, he blurs the line between reality and nightmares with Dennis hallucinating.  Dennis sees his brother making a mov on Mia, for instance and which turns out to be his imagination.   One also wonders where his film is heading or what the aim of the film is.  The film changes mood near the end, turning a bit into a horror movie.

Friend’s film contains a twist at the end.  Unfortunately, it does not make much sense nor goes with the grain of the story.

TO THE MOON contains a lot of new age - or new age bullshit, looking at how the material is treated.  The couple is taught body movements - arms to the sky then down to the centre of the heart and then around in a sphere and then breathing from the gut, making animal sounds.  If all this sounds weird, it is, rather than funny.

TO THE MOON is writer director Scott Friend’s film debut.  It won him Best director with the film nominated for Best Film at the American Film Festival.

Trailer: 

https://afrotoronto.com/content/articles/67-movies/2297-this-week-s-film-reviews-sep-23-2022

 

 

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