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ASTÉRIX ET OBÉLIX: L’EMPIRE DU MILEU

(ASTÉRIX AND OBÉLIX: THE MIDDLE KINGDOM)
(France 2022) ***1/2

Directed by Guillaume Canet 

 

The French get it right with their latest live action comedy of the Belgium-French favourite cartoon comic books of Asterix and Obelix written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo.  This is the only film (there has been more than 15 such films, all animated except two other live-action) not based on the stories of the comic book or comic books and originally written for the film.

The bande dessinée comic book series and film is about a village of Gaulish warriors who adventure around the world and fight the Roman Republic, with the aid of a magic potion created by the druid Panoramix (played by French comedian legend Pierre Richard), during the era of Julius Caesar, in a historical telling of the time after the Gallic Wars.   

The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely... One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.  The Empress of China has just been imprisoned following a coup d'état incited by Deng Tsin Qin, a traitorous prince.  Helped by Finatheses, the Phoenician merchant and her faithful bodyguard Mai Wei, the Empress' only daughter Princess Sass-Yi flees to Gaul to ask for help from two valiant warriors Asterix (Canet) and Obelix (Gilles Lellouche), who are endowed with superhuman strength thanks to their magic potion.  The two inseparable heroes gladly accept to help the Princess save her mother and free her country. And thus begins a great voyage and adventure on the silk road to China. But Caesar (Vincent Cassel) and his powerful army, thirsty for a new conquest, are also heading toward the Middle Kingdom.

There is much to be entertained in this film adaptation.  Firstly, an all star cast of famous French stars like Vincent Cassel, the director Canet himself, Gilles Lellouche, Marion Cotillard as Cleopatra and of course Pierre Richardlend their hand.   Adults too, should be entertained with their fond memories of the comic characters that first appeared in 1961.  To boot, there are a few adult ‘dick’ jokes that are done in good taste.  A few Chinese characters have joke names like Pu Nee (for someone with a little one) or Sil Lee might be too harmless to be racist to offend some.  Otherwise, the film pays respect to the Chinese (take the toke line: “Watch the Chinese fight!”) as the two cultures the Gauls and the Chinese blend nicely together.  The heroes Asterix and Oblelix both fall in love with two Chines females as well, one the princess and the other the princess’s bodyguard.

The film also tackles issues like female roles and alpha males while criticizing unhealthy meat edibles.  Colonization is also looked down upon in the story, too bad there s little too much fun poked at the Chinese.

Almost the perfect family entertainment for the bilingual family, ASTÉRIX ET OBÉLIX: L’EMPIRE DU MILEU opens February 1st.

Trailer: 

 

ATTACHMENT (Denmark 2022) ***
Directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason

 

ATTACHMENT is an Orthodox Judaism horror film.  Orthodox Jews and their rituals have been the favourite of the horror genre lately since the success of THE VIGIL two years back, competing perhaps with Roman Catholicism as its subject.  The recent weeks had the release of another film in this category, THE DEVIL”S OFFERING, which shares similarities with ATTACHMENT in terms of possession and Judaism.  ATTACHMENT and THE VIGIL are the better films.

ATTACHMENT is so called for two possible reasons.  One is for the attachment, a love attachment between the two lead characters Leah and Maja.  The other the the attachment of a possible demon, a possessing of Leah.   The demon is called a dybbuk, the Jewish word for demon.  But besides these two reasons, the attachment might also refer to that of Leah and her obsessive mother or vice versa.

Literally bumping into one another at the local library in Denmark, two young women Leah and Maja meet each other.  ATTACHMENT is a horror romance about Maja, a has-been actress in Denmark, who falls in love with Leah, a young, Jewish academic visiting from London, in the UK. When Leah suffers a mysterious seizure, Maja fears their whirlwind romance might be cut short and decides to follow Leah back to her home in London. There, Maja meets her new downstairs neighbour: Leah’s mother, Chana. An overbearing, seemingly religious (Jewish) and highly secretive woman, Chana seems resistant to all of Maja’s attempts to win her over.  Maja also gets to meet Chan’s brother and Leah’s uncle who sheds light on what is happening.  And as Maja notices strange occurrences in the building, she begins to suspect that Chana’s secrets could be much darker than first anticipated.

The film also unfolds as a lesbian story.  Once Leah and Maja meet, it does not take a genius to figure out that the two will fall in love and the question will be posed whether their love is strong enough to overcome many obstacles.  But is demon possessing too tough an obstacle to overcome?   The film moves slowly but surely with director Gislason, who also co-wrote the script mounting on the audience anticipation factor.  It is a confident and relatively absorbing film (wth a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing of this review) aided by apt performance of all its leads especially Sofie Gråbøl as the weird mother and Josephine Part and Ellie Kendrc as Maja and Leah, respectively.

The film contains a few moments of humour, though not many.  One hilarious segment involves Maja introduced to the term dybbuk by Leah’s uncle, where she questions the difference between a dybbuk and a ghost.  She finally learns that a dybbuk possesses a human being and will not leave until it reveals its identity and until it is found the purpose of its possession.  ATTACHMENT filmed in both Danish and English opens on Thursday Feb the 9th on Shudder, the horror streaming service.  Good stuff with Shudder released new horror films from various parts of the world.
Trailer:  

 

BLACK ICE (Canada 2022) ***
Directed by Hubert Davis

 

In the current times of systemic racism, BLACK ICE tells of the racism against black hockey players to this present day.  This incisive, urgent documentary examines the history from the segregated leagues of the 19th century to professional leagues today, where Black athletes continue to struggle against bigotry.  From its formation in Nova Scotia in 1895 to its dissolution in 1930, the Coloured Hockey League was the home for Canada’s best Black players, and the stage for their innovations in how the game was played. The CHL was the first league to see goalies dropping to their knees to make a save, while Eddie Martin of the Halifax Eureka was the first player to deploy the slapshot. Decades after the league dissolved, when Black players finally became part of the NHL, the sense of triumph that accompanied that overdue inclusion was rapidly tempered by racist incidents both on and off the ice — sometimes by toxic fans, The film opens the most screen time with the history of Halifax which includes land displacement and other prejudices besides in hockey.   

The doc informs a bit especially on the black hockey league that was finally dissolved so that blacks can now be accepted into the NHL.  A happy ending but on that, prejudice unfortunately continues.

BLACK ICE premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens Feb 3rd, 2023.

 

GODLAND (Volada Land)(Vanskabte Land) (Denmark/Iceland 2022) ***1/2

Directed by Hlynur Pálmason

 

Director Hlynur Pálmason’s (A WHITE, WHITE DAY) severe critique of the devastating effects on both the colonizer and the colonized GODLAND comes with two other titles Volada Land and Vanskabte Land which mean the same thing as God’s Land in Icelandic and Danish respectively, just as the film is shot in these two languages as well as in English.  The Icelandic language is looked down upon in the film as inferior as the Danes are treated in the film as superior though they both get their fair share of mishaps. 

The opening scene perfectly encapsulates the privilege and contempt that characterizes the colonizer, as the young priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), being sent in the late-19th century in Denmark to take over a parish in remote Iceland (then a Danish colony), meets with his gluttonous, profane superior.  The older man tells him that Iceland is pretty much hell on Earth, which is what Lucas discovers, but everything will be okay as long as he adapts to the circumstances Icelanders face — something far easier said than done.  From the moment he arrives, it’s clear Lucas is ill-suited for this assignment. Uninformed, inexperienced, and ridiculously proud, Lucas is paranoid and threatened by everyone — convinced that anyone speaking Icelandic is disparaging him. The biggest threat in Lucas’s eyes, though, is his guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurðsson), who’s as accustomed to the harsh environment as Lucas is discomfited.  Their relationship soon devolves into a fierce, dangerous battle of wills, demonstrated in a wrestling match between the two during an even) between colonizer and colonized, pedant and peasant.  Lucas looks down on Ragnar so much that he refuses to take a photograph of him, calling him ugly.

Things get ugly too when the elder daughter falls in love with the priest.  Her father says that he does not dislike the priest but it is just not good for her.  Matters escalate to murder at the end of the story.

Director Pálmason films his frames like old photographs as seen on the big screen giving the effect of the images taken by the priest with his old camera that he trudges along on his journey.  It is these old discovered photographs that inspired the making of this film.  Included in the film are a few magnificent photographs taken by the priest.  These include among others a girl lying in her horse; a dog in the iced man standing in a flowing river, all images of a magnificent and wild Iceland.  This film would be a great advertisement for the Icelandic Tourism Board.  On the other hand, not so visually pleasant are the images of dead carcasses in the icy wilderness

GODLAND ‘wowed’ critics at Cannes last year where it premiered and in truth, it is a pretty awesome epic that runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, trudging along, though the journey is well worth it.  GODLAND opens Friday Feb 3rd at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the home of often excellent foreign movies.

Trailer: 

LINE OF FIRE (Australia 2022) ****
Directed by Scott Major

 

From down under comes a psychological taut thriller with the unassuming title of LINE OF FIRE.  But despite the harmless title comes a really nasty piece of film - but nasty in a good way.   The film clearly shows how far someone would go to exact revenge when the person has absolutely nothing to lose.  The film plays as a tragic ripped-from-the-headlines shooting meets 21st century online bullying. 

When policewoman Samantha Romans (award-winner Nadine Garner, SAVAGE RIVER, THE DOCTOR BLAKE MYSTERIES) fails to intervene in a school shooting where her own son among twenty-two others dies, she draws the condemnation of her colleagues and community as well as the attention of ambitious journalist, Jamie Connard (Samantha Tolj).  Keen to reignite the career she put on hold to have children, Jamie ignores Romans' pleas to be left alone and pursues her relentlessly.  And with nothing to lose, Romans retaliates by forcing Jamie into a night of terror that threatens everything Jamie holds dear.

Actress Garner who plays the rogue cop is a magnificent performer, so good that she wins the audience to her side despite what she does.  Samantha Told is not bad either, doing a more difficult role where the audience is supposed to turn from despicability to concern for her character.  These two carry the movie which is half character driven.

The film can be roughly divided into two parts.  The first and quieter part introduces the audience to the two main characters explaining how each got to their current status.  Journalist Jamie is shown to be all out for benefiting herself, both finally and career-wise, even at the expense of her family.  Her character remains one of the leads in the film I CARE A LOT where career dethrones the decency of a human being until the character meets the wrong person to cross.  Samantha is shown to be vulnerable at this point and distracted over what had happened both personally, with the death of her son and the trouble at work.  She learns that she can trust no one and that the whole world is against her.  It is revealed that she had lost other members of her family as well.  The pace and tone of the film speed up during the second half.

Director Major makes good use of flashbacks (at the end of the film) to aid the audiences into feeling the deep emotions Samantha had when she underwent the personal trauma.

Produced, written by Christopher Gist and directed by Scott Major, LINE OF FIRE has the audience on their toes from start to finish while questioning their allegiance between the two lead female characters.  There are sufficient twists in the plot to keep the story fresh and exciting and to the writer and director’s credit, the film’s credibility is spot on as well.

 LINE OF FIRE has been nominated for Best Indie Feature and deservedly so at the 2022 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards.  The film premieres on VOD and digital on February the 7th, 2023.

 Trailer: 

 

QUEENS OF THE QING DYNASTY (Canada 2022) ***
Directed by Ashley McKenzie

 

“I’ll be your housewife  making you dinner. You can be my husband,”  so says the Chinese hospital volunteer caseworker from China to a young female patient, Sarah suffering from mental trauma at a local hospital.  The scene plays out for some 10 minutes or so with Sarah replying,  “I am not queer.  You are evil, you are giving me poison,” before the two eventually bond in a rare friendship.

QUEENS OF THE QING DYNASTY is a queer friendship romance that breaches the absurd and poetic. In a remote small town, Star (Sarah Walker), a neurodiverse teen, forms an unlikely rapport with An (Ziyin Zheng), an international student from Shanghai volunteering at the hospital.  Between the two, a bond forms, cemented by their candid conversations, nightly text messages, and exchange of their deepest secrets. The boundaries of their friendship quickly expand into something special, altering both Star and An’s inner alchemy.Both intimate and intense, it explores the intrinsic beauty and innate flaws of what it is to be human, the profundity of connection, the vortex of mental illness, and the creativity of neurodivergence. The electronic music score blurs between cinema foley and sound design to create a feeling of an alternate plane. An affectionate ode to women, asexuals, and genderqueer individuals who exist beyond the norms of society by writer and director Ashley McKenzie.

Actor Zheng is himself in real life suddenly from China, arriving partly to find a gay soulmate besides completing his studies.

Director Ashley McKenzie (she/they) is a filmmaker who has made the mark as a rising star director based in Unama’ki–Cape Breton Island, Canada.   The director writes and directs films in collaboration with people in the community, compelled by the stories near that may otherwise be overlooked.  McKenie’s debut feature WEREWOLF won the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association in 2017, the most generously endowed film prize in Canada. It was theatrically released by Factory 25 in the US and Les Alchimistes in Europe. Film Comment called Werewolf "an austere, marvelously focused debut feature,” while The New Yorker named it to their “Best Movies of 2018” list. Ashley’s films have screened at the Berlinale, New York Film Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival, as well as been curated by the Criterion Channel, MUBI, and Anthology Film Archives. QUEENS OF THE QING DYNASTY premiered in the Encounters Competition of the 2022 Berlinale, before going on to screen at TIFF and NYFF in the Wavelengths and Currents section respectively.  The film is a slow trudge but often than not, it takes time to tell a story that needs to be settled in -  a real story with real life characters.

The film will have its theatrical release across Canada beginning on March 3, screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, followed by March 10 in Ottawa and Winnipeg and March 17 in Vancouver with more cities to be announced soon

SKINNAMARINK (USA 2022) **

Directed by Kyle Edward Ball

 

The premise of the experimental horror film SKINNAMARINK opening on Shudder, the horror streaming service follows two children as they wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing, and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished.  The title derives from a gibberish children’s song, if you have ever heard of it.  This is an experimental film from start to finish, so do not expect any explanations to the story.  It is a kid’s nightmare from Kevin’s point of view.  There are only 4 actors in the cast - Kevin, his older sister Kaylee and their mum and dad.  None of the actors’ faces are even shown, only their voices are heard, and with subtitles.   Director Ball shows objects moving around in the dark, the wall, the floor and ceiling.  Weird sounds can be heard with some jump starts to scare the audience.  Old cartoons like a cartoon character feeding the birds can be seen on the television screen - the type of cartoons kids themselves will find boring.  Unless one is a fan of experimental films in which one is prepared to bear the patience to see nothing of essence happening on screen, the entire exercise can be boring, sorry a very boring waste of time.  This is what an experimental film is all about.

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