CIVIL WAR (USA 2024) ***½

Directed by Alex Garland


CIVIL WAR is set in a dystopian near future when an ongoing war is being fought between the government of the United States and the Western Forces (WF), led by Texas and California.  Does the division sound familiar?  The story concentrates on a team of journalists who travel across the United States during the rapidly escalating Second American Civil War that has engulfed the entire nation. The U.S. Government has become a dystopian dictatorship and partisan extremist militias regularly commit war crimes.

Among the journalists are a renowned war photojournalist named Lee (Kirsten Dunst), her colleague Joel (Wagner Moura) and Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), an aspiring young photographer who accompanies Lee and Joel on their journey.  Also reluctantly travelling with them is Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson),  a journalist and Lee and Joel's mentor.

The film’s best segment belongs to actor Jesse Plemmons (POWER OF THE DOG, KILLERS OF A FLOWER MOON) who plays a redneck in one 4-minute scene that is well worth the price of the admission ticket  Donned in red-framed red-coloured shades depicting his characters as a redneck, his character is an unnamed soldier who captures two reporters and then asked to free them by the other reporters.  His question: “Where are you from?” would result in an answer promising death or freedom.   Plemmons completely embodies the role of a redneck - crazy, the type that would storm Capitol Hill in the name of America for whatever ridiculous cause he believes in.

Director Garland does not skimp on the violence or length of the violent scenes.  The result is a tough and disturbing watch that reflects the troubles faced by the current somewhat divided America, as seen by the eyes of a British (Garland is British) outsider, and what could happen.  The poster describes the film as an adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride through a near-future fractured America balanced on the razor’s edge.

The other segment demanding mention is the climatic storming of the White House where the then President of the United States is about to be assassinated by the Western Forces (WF).  What would the President (played by Nick Offerman) look like?  More like Trump or Biden?  The answer is left to be very last end with the image of the President being shot while him making a last quote for the reporters.

CIVIL WAR never seems to amaze as director Alex Garland (King of dystopian society stories) has always a surprise or two up his sleeve as in his previous films.  Garland wrote the novel THE BEACH which was made into the Tilda Swinton/Leonardo DiCaprio film and screenplays like 28 DAYS LATER, 28 WEEKS LATER and SUNSHINE, also directed the 2014 film EX MACHINA).  Forget the film’s flaws like the somewhat incredible premise or the unexplained reasons behind certain segments.

CIVIL WAR cost $50 million to make, making it A24’s most expensive film to date.  had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 14, 2024, to a positive response. It is scheduled to be released in the United States by A24 and by Entertainment Film in the UK on April 12, 2024




Directed by Ned Benson


Find the right song, change your past.  Find the right person, change your future,  These are the two captions on the film’s poster that totally describes the entire film, not that it is not predictable enough. 

 Harriet (Lucy Boynton) finds art imitating life when she discovers certain songs can transport her back in time – literally. While she relives the past through romantic memories of her former boyfriend (David Corenswet), her time travelling collides with a burgeoning new love interest in the present (Justin H. Min). As she takes her journey through the hypnotic connection between music and memory, she wonders – even if she could change the past, should she?

The dialogue is often downright silly.  One is assumed to be moved by dialogue like: “I wish I do not like you,” says Harriet to which David replies: “I wish I do not like you too.”

The silliness of the film’s romance is matched only by the silliness and non-credibility of its premise.  It does not take a genius to foresee the outcome of what can be classified as a totally formulaic Harlequin-type romance.  Harriet will eventually come to items with the present and fall in love with David.  Though predictable, there is a little neat plot ploy in the script near the end of the film.

One can hardly blame Lucy Boynton for this awful film, as she does her best given the horrid material.  The same can be said for actors David Corenswet who gets mainly to show his abs and Justin H. Min who plays Harriet’s lovers.  The film stops short of any sex scenes, and the chemistry between the couples is barely credible at best.

More interesting than the fantasy plot is the examination of Harriet’s two male boyfriends,  Harriet must love facial, hair as both share fascial hair - David with a mustache and the dead boyfriend, Max with a mini-beard.   Max is more stubborn and would not generally agree or listen to what Harriet says while David is more accommodating,

Totally boring, predictable and a boring excuse for a romantic fantasy, THE GREATEST HITS is a Fox Searchlight picture that heads head straight for streaming where one can be grateful that this dud has stayed out of the theatres.

THE GREATEST HITS will be streaming exclusively on Disney+ in Canada on April 12th, 2024


HOUSEKEEPING FOR BEGINNERS (Poland, Serbia, Australia, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and United States 2023) ***

Directed by Goran Stolevski


Dita (Anamaria Marinca) is forced to raise her girlfriend's two daughters even though she has never aspired to be a mother.  HOUSEKEEPING FOR BEGINNERS is a touching tale about an odd family's battle to be together emerges when their separate wills collide.

It would be hard to imagine a more hectic and disruptive household than Dita’s.  There are so many ‘members’ of the household as there are problems.

The film disproves the saying that a family is one that one cannot choose.  Dita chooses hers - both straight and queer, mostly queer,   Despite lofty aspirations, director Stolevski has taken too much on his plate with one issue with one family member tossed in and out of another.  At times, it is difficult to follow all the members of the extended family.  Dita is also over-patient and over-kind, something that is quite hard to accept given the circumstances.  Despite its flaws, the saving grace is the performance of Anamaria Marinca as Dita.

The film tackles a few world issues like human trafficking, poverty, and LGBT+ issues as well as social issues like familial relations.

The film premiered on 6 September 2023, at the 80th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Queer Lion. It was selected as the Macedonian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards.

The film is shot in Albanian, Macedonian and Romani with English subtitles.

HOUSEKEEPING FOR BEGINNERS opens in theatres on April 5th.


IN BED (Keilu ein mahar) (Israel 2022) ***½

Directed by Nitzan Gilady


IN BED is set over a hallucinatory 24 hours, the line between violence and intimacy getting dangerously tried following a shooting during a Tel Aviv parade in writer/director Nitzan’s  (WEDDING DOLL, his first feature in 2015) giddy, erotic thriller drama.

Tel Aviv, the then present day. Two friends, Guy (Israel Ogalbo) and Joy (Moran Rosenblatt) are taking part in the city's LGBTQ+ Pride Parade celebrations.  Prepared for a night of hookups, drugs and dancing, their fun is suddenly cut short when a violent shooting sends everyone in the crowd running for safety.   The shooting is real real-life incident that occurred in Tel Aviv.  Fleeing the scene into the safety of Guy's home, they take in a fellow pride parader, Dan (Dean Miroshnikov), a fellow parade attendee, and bring him back to Guy's apartment to wait out the mayhem. A manhunt for the shooter begins outside. Back in Guy's apartment, however, the three are determined to still have a good time. Still in shock and with plenty of drugs at their disposal, a dark, sex-fuelled odyssey begins. As the drugs continue to distort his perception, a paranoid and strung-out Guy discovers the line between intimacy and violence is getting dangerously blurred.

Speaking from experience as a gay partier in his younger days, IN BED brings a lot of wonderful personal memories and experiences.  For one, the world-renowned DJ Offer Nissim is credited as providing the original music for his film.  Offer Nissim is one of the best DJs in the world, who has performed in Toronto at FLY in one of the best nights ever at FLY. (I was there when he DJ’ed.)  FLY was packed solid and every partier there just had a small space to dance but everyone, me included had the best time ever.  It was the BEST FLY night ever in Toronto.  Offer Nissim, being an Israeli Jew brings his experience and energy to the film  The film begins with popular gay anthems heard on the soundtrack as Joy and Jay head for the streets to celebrate Israel's Gay Pride.

Director Gilady does everything hit for this gay drama and thriller, capturing the super-charged energy of a Pride parade from the points-of-view of young honey partiers with colourful atmosphere, costumes and of course uplifting music from DJ Offer Nissim.

The happy delirium is interrupted by the gloom brought by the gunner in what the news denounces as a disgrace to Israel.  The paranoia can be seen in the emotions of Dan, who is shaking with her, made worse by his intake of drugs during the parade.  The film is based on a real-life shooting that occurred in 2009 in Tel Aviv,  What makes it so scary is the public being told that the suspect could have come from the LGBTQ+ community.

There is a scene in which Joy gives Guy a hard-on in the bathtub they are sharing.  Joy almost induces Guy to have sex with her but Guy says: “This is wrong.”  This best-friend relationship between the female and gay male makes total sense and hits a truthful spot in many best-friend relationships.  The scene is a subplot to the story but a real and emotional one.

IN BED, a sexually charged gay dramatic thriller with exhilarating party mixes by world-famous DJ Offer Nissim is a must-see for every gay partier!   IN BED opens on VOD/Digital Platforms on 4/12.


IN FLAMES (Canada/Pakistan 2023) ***

Directed by Zarrar Kahn


IN FLAMES is set in present-day Karachi, the capital of Pakistan centering on a medical student, Mariam (Ramesh Nawal) as she struggles to keep her family together while being stalked by forces she can’t entirely understand.  She is grieving the fresh loss of her grandfather and doing her best to support her grieving mother (Bakhtawar Mazhar) and brother (Jibraan Khan) while preparing for her upcoming exams.  It does not help that she is suffering from fainting spells that require her expensive medical costs.  The mother claims Mariam had asthma as a child but never as severe as she is suffering  now

IN FLAMES is a female film in which the females have to struggle and fight to survive in a cruel male chauvinistic world.  The male threat comes in a number of ways from her uncle, an incident involving a man throwing a brick at her car to the man masturbating in front of Mariam’s window.

The estranged uncle (Adnan Shah Tipu) re-enters their lives and declares himself their new patriarch, making noises about handling their finances out of the kindness of his heart. Mariam’s mother is grateful for the help. Mariam, on the other hand, sees disaster looming, warning the mother not to sign any documents.  She fears, and with reason that he intends to secure the family’s property.

Meanwhile, Asad (Omar Javaid), a charming fellow student freshly back from Canada, offers the possibility of romance and security, but even that is fraught with its own specific dangers.  And after a motorcycle accident, Mariam finds herself even more alone and vulnerable. Something seems to be stalking her through the streets, something that never quite comes into focus but whose presence she can feel at every turn.

The film occasionally feels like a horror movie because many scenes are shot in the dark with many of them involving Mariam’s nightmares, when she wakes up screaming or unable to breathe.  The use of a religious faith healer also creates the feel of the supernatural.  But the greatest horror occurs in Mariam’s real life.  Her exams are approaching but instead of spending time studying, she suffers trauma, personally for her breathing attacks and missing Assad and filial with the relationship wither mother topped with financial difficulties.  No one would wish to be in her place.

Director Khan’s film is a slow burn with a slow but effective build-up of tension and trauma for Marian.  It does not help that she is living in squalor with broken and dirty walls and neighbouring dirty streets.  Assad’s accident is only heard but not seen, an accident that occurs in the dead of night and so nothing is seen by the audience.

Nawal and Mazhar both deliver strong and powerful performances as the traumatized and desperate daughter and mother.

The film had a prestigious premiere at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes followed by screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens on April 12th,  2024.





Directed by Andy Brown and Brian Lindstrom


Within the first 10 minutes of Judee Sill’s biopic doc, the audience already learns that she is a heroin addict, served time, did armed robbery (actually saying: This is a fuck up, mother sticker!) and a singer/songwriter of exceptional talent who sadly died of a drug overdose.  What follows is a detailed life story of Judee Sill as she rises to fame and how she got to where she did.

Judith Lynne Sill (October 7, 1944 – November 23, 1979) was an American singer-songwriter. She was influenced by Bach and wrote lyrics drawing on Christian themes of rapture and redemption.

Sill was the first artist signed to David Geffen's label Asylum. She released her eponymous debut album in 1971, followed by Heart Food in 1973. In 1974, Sill recorded demos for a third album, which was never completed.  Sill was fired from her record label for calling Geffen a fat fag in public, something she regretted and tried to apologize for, that Geffen never forgave.

The doc is made up mainly of archive photos and the use of archive interviews.  There are only a few montages of Sill, mainly in her performances.   Added in, are some animation sequences to add flow to the material.

One of the very insightful segments that highlight the film, undoubtedly is the breaking down of the composition of her song ‘The lamb ran away with the crown’ as Judee sings it.  Again this is yet another one of her wonderful songs.

 She had a long-term relationship with the poet David Omer Bearden, who contributed lyrics to Heart Food and toured and performed with her.  The doc dedicates a fair amount of time to this troubled relationship.   Sill dedicated Heart Food to him.  As Asylum's first published artist, Sill also had a close friendship with David Geffen and wrote "David Geffen, I love you" in the sleeve for her first album.  Their relationship soured after comments she made in frustration about not receiving enough promotion for her second UK tour.

After a series of car accidents and failed surgery for a back injury, Sill struggled with drug addiction and dropped out of the music scene.

Judee Sill is a name that many including many singer/songwriters have not heard of, not for want of talent but for her many misfortunes that prevented her genius from being famous.  This biopic does justice to the genius and work of Sill and includes quite a few renderings of her songs that should help promote her fame in the music business, if never too late.

There is life after death.  Sill struggled with addiction for much of her life and died of a drug overdose in 1979. She did not find commercial success, and no obituary was published; however, several artists have since cited her as an influence. Her demos were released with other rarities on the 2005 collection Dreams Come True.

LOST ANGEL: The Genius Of Judee Sill opens in Theatres, on Digital and on Demand (Apple, Amazon, Vudu, major platforms) in the US and Canada on April 12.


Directed by Vera Drew


THE PEOPLE’S JOKER parodies characters from the Batman comics, and the main character is a transgender woman based on the Joker, played by co-writer and director Vera Drew.  in a dystopian world monitored by electronics and cameras by Batman after his retirement, a young child grows up in Smallville, Kansas idolizing the performers on a sketch comedy program, UCB Live. The unnamed protagonist's mother (Lynn Downey) is disturbed when her child asks, "Was I born in the wrong body?" and immediately books a session with Dr. Crane (Christian Calloway) of Arkham Asylum, who prescribes Smylex: a drug that forces its users to put on a happy face, even if they feel depression, anxiety, or gender dysphoria.  This explains the origin of the film’s Joker.  The villain of the piece is a closeted gay Bruce Wayne who had abused Mr J (Kane Distler) as a child.

The film’s main story is set fifteen years later.  Joker has grown up and moves to Gotham City to join the cast of UCB Live, where a computer designates him a male Joker, who will be allowed to have an individual identity in the cast, unlike the women, who are all assigned to be nameless Harlequins that serve as back-up dancers. The process to become on-air talent includes paying $15,000 and enduring improv comedy classes from UCB cast member Ra's al Ghul. The hero strikes up a friendship with Oswald Cobblepot, another struggling comedian who cannot afford the entrance fee and the duo decide that they will instead make their own comedy troupe. To avoid rules that outlaw unapproved humour, they will call their act "anti-comedy".

Joker falls in love with Mr. J, a fellow member of the Red Hoods Gang.  How does Penguin know that?  “Do you want me to introduce the two of you?”  “How do you know?: asks Joker.  Because you’re laughing at a joke is so bad I wouldn’t tell  and cartoon hearts are popping out of your  eyeballs.”   As in this sequence and in many others in the film, the film is all over the place, grabbing at straws at humour and inventiveness.  “Acting like a slut while looking like a bitch” are the words of one catchy song that bursts out of nowhere.  All this could be either a plus or a negative for audiences, depending entirely on how one wants to look at it.

Drew takes the film one step further with Joker falling in love - and with a trans.  They talk about love while riding a boat through an amusement park’s Tunnel Of Love. (HR Hugginhink’s Funny Tunnel Of Love, it is called).

The controversial film had an equally controversial release.  According to Drew, "a media conglomerate" sent her "an angry letter (misreported as a 'cease and desist') pressuring them to not screen" shortly before the premiere.  Some media outlets assumed this to be Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent company to DC Comics, but neither Drew nor Warner Bros. have confirmed this.  On September 14, 2022, a day after the film had premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, subsequent screenings of the film were cancelled.  The TIFF website stated, "The filmmaker has withdrawn this film due to rights issues.

THE PEOPLE’S JOKER opens in Toronto with these upcoming Toronto dates:

Apr 12-13 / Toronto, ON @ Fox Theatre

Apr 27 & 30 / Toronto, ON @ Revue Cinema


PURE O (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Dillon Tucker


PURE O stands for the words Pure Obsessional, a crippling form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

OCD is an offensive word that is used to describe someone who worries a lot about small details and has a strong dislike of anything that is not perfect or to describe the behaviour of someone like this.  It is best to know the definition of the term before venturing into the film.  Wikipedia offers this timely description: Compulsions are repeated actions or routines that occur in response to obsessions to achieve relief from anxiety. Common compulsions include excessive hand washing, cleaning, counting, ordering, repeating, avoiding triggers, hoarding, neutralizing, seeking assurance, praying, and checking things. People with OCD may only perform mental compulsions such as needing to know or remember things. While this is sometimes referred to as primarily obsessional obsessive–compulsive disorder (Pure O), it is also considered a misnomer due to associated mental compulsions and reassurance-seeking behaviours that are consistent with OCD.

In PURE O, a rehab counsellor (Daniel Dorr, FURY, 20th CENTURY WOMEN) questions his sanity when he is diagnosed with a crippling form of OCD known as Pure Obsessional. With the help of his friends, a therapy group, and his addiction recovery clients, he discovers the life-affirming power of community to fight through the darkest moment of his life.

“You will get better,  In this community, we help each other.”  These are soothing words to a person just diagnosed with who finds it extremely difficult to understand the state of anxiety he is in.

Compulsions are repeated actions or routines that occur in response to obsessions to achieve relief from anxiety.   Common compulsions include excessive hand washing, cleaning, counting, ordering, repeating, avoiding triggers, hoarding, neutralizing, seeking assurance, praying, and checking things.  A few of these are demonstrated in the film.  People with OCD may only perform mental compulsions such as needing to know or remember things.  While this is sometimes referred to as primarily obsessional obsessive–compulsive disorder (Pure O), it is also considered a misnomer due to associated mental compulsions and reassurance-seeking behaviours that are consistent with OCD.   The rehab counsellor in the film constantly suffers from the thought of hacking his fiancé Emily and then committing suicide.  Besides him, the sufferings of the other members of his support group are also brought into focus.

PURE O, as expected is not an easy watch due to its subject.  In terms of educating the audience director Tucker, who himself suffers from OCD does a tremendous job.  Actor Daniel Dorr delivers a credible and nuanced performance.  But the film suffers from an ending in which director Tucker tries too hard resulting in a condescending tone that undermines an otherwise sincere effort.

PURE O was nominated for the Grand Jury award at 2023 SXSW and received critical acclaim. Script Magazine called it "vulnerable, honest, and remarkably, it feels real, “ and Signal Horizon said the film is “ one of the most poignant and optimistic films I have ever seen.”  PURE O opens Friday, April 12 - Digital release on major platforms.  Territories: US, Canada, UK.


STOLEN (Sweden 2024) ***
Directed by Elle Marja Eira 


STOLEN tells the all-important indigenous story of the Sami people of Sweden, reindeer herder.  As in many films on indigenous people, it is always land or something close to land that is the focus of the story, like Martin Scorsese’s FLOWERS OF THE KILLER MOON.  Less epic in scope with a much smaller budget arrives the Swedish entry STOLEN directed by Elle Marja Eira and written by Peter Birro and based on Ann-Helen Laestadius’ book.

The film works better in the first half where the audience sees herds of reindeer and is introduced to a family of herders treated by unknown forces.  It helps that the story unfolds from a young indigenous girl’s point-of-view made even more pressing when her pet reindeer calf is killed right in front of her eyes.  STOLEN also Dackels current issues like climate change the ecosystem and the infringement of rights of indigenous people including prejudice, colonization and the suppression of the Sani language in English colonized schools.

The film centres on a Sami family that is made of Elsa, Mattias, Nils Johan, Marika, and Ahkku.  Much like the rest of their tribe, the family’s livelihood depends on reindeer. But someone is slaughtering and beheading them, and the police and society are doing nothing about it.  Since it’s customary for every member of the Sami to mark a reindeer, by making a small slice off its ear,  little Elsa chooses a white calf and is told by her mum that the animal is not her's butt borrowed from Mother. Things seem to be going fine until one fateful day, Elsa witnesses a man called Robert brutally murder her calf that she had named Nastegallu and he walks away unscathed after committing such a crime.  Young Elsa sees the culprit but is unable to say anything due to trauma.

STOLEN opens for streaming on Netflix on Friday 12th of April.


WHAT JENNIFER DID (UK 2024) ***1/2

Directed by Jenny Popplewell

  The face of Evil

When Jennifer Pan calls 911 to report that her parents have been shot, she becomes the primary focus of a captivating criminal case.

WHAT JENNIFER DID is a film title that will arouse one’s interest.  What did Jennifer do?  The Netflix original doc opens with two intercept segments.  One has a teenage Jennifer at the police station recounting what happened that night at her family house in which her parents were shot - her mother dead and father wounded in the head and hospitalized.  The other segment is the 9-11 call and police arrival at the home.  The voiceover informs that this is a case that the police have never seen before and never suspected where it would lead.  If the voiceover claims that the crime is close to home - it is.  The crime took place in a residential home in Avenue Roadi in  Markham, Ontario, which is very close to her this film reviewer used to live,  From the beginning the doc works like a murder thriller mystery - very much like the recent fictional film THE ANATOMY OF A MURDER that won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for its director, Justine Triet and co-writer in which the wife of the prorated fall of her husband, dead from the balcony fall b echoes prime suspect of a murder.  “I did not kill him,” Sandra Huller who plays the wife insists.  Did Jennifer shoot her parents?  What did Jennifer do? is the question asked to the audience of this documentary.

The doc is made up of re-enactments, reviews and archive footage.  Except for actress Samantha Chang who plays young Jennifer, the cast from Alan Cooke who plays the homicide investigator, Bill Courtice as the lead investigator, Deborah Gladding and the victim liaison officer to Jennifer’s friends are all played by themselves seen in interviews or through archive footage,

The film is shot in English and in a bit of Vietnamese as the family arrived from Vietnam.

By inevitable comparison with THE ANATOMY OF A MURDER, the way WHAT JENNIFER DID unfolds with lots of cliches from the false clues to the crime investigation.  Ironical the fictitious ANATOMY has a predictable outcome but is generally free from cliches.

The film includes details about the Vietnamese Pan family which enhances the interest of the film.  The doc is directed and also written by Jenny Popplewell (AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR (2002).  The family owns two cars a Mercedes and a BMW.  The mother does line dancing and is an auto manager while the father is a machinist.  Jennifer is seen as racist as she describes her ‘attackers’ as black and one with a Jamaican accent,

The doc originated from the U.K. with a Canadian setting.

WHAT JENNIFER DID, a Netflix original documentary that opens for streaming this week is intriguing for its content -  a crime drama depicting evil in its vilest form, its good execution as a documentary and its immigrant family subjects.

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