ABIGAIL (USA 2024) ***½

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett







It is best to enter the screening of the new Universal Pictures horror comedy ABIGAIL with no prior knowledge of the film or story whatsoever.  Of course, this is clearly impossible as the film’s poster gives it away, not to mention the hype that has been going around the film already.  Yes, ABIGAIL (Alisha Weir) has superpowers, that of a vampire and she does away with her kidnappers with ghastly violence one by one.

But even if one knows this fact, the directors can still make use of the fact to their advantage.  Take Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS or Steven Spielberg’s JAWS.  The first sight of the attacking birds or shark does not appear till the second half of the film,  prompting the audience's anticipation.  In the same fashion director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett tease their audience with Abigail’s first revelation of other powers during the film’s second half.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are to be credited for their ability to blend horror and fun.  The script contains lots of laugh-out-loud humour as well as genuine scares that will keep the audience at the edge of their seats quite so often.  The laughs are often goofy and driven by the often hilarious cast ensemble.  Take, for example, one of the kidnappers, Dean (Angus Cloud) suddenly appearing in Sammy’s (Kathryn Newton) room saying: “I saw the way you looked at me.  Maybe we could…” to which Sammy replies: “Get the fuck out of my room!”  or the heavy, Peter the Quebecois (Canadian Kevin Durand) running to bash down a heavy door unsuccessfully, only to remark: “It is locked.”   Durand is the funniest of the lot and steals every scene he appears in.   From the film’s excellently crafted beginning where the 12-year-old ballerina, Abigail is first seen rehearsing in a huge empty theatre to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake before she is kidnapped, the film is never short of excitement and laughs.  The script by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick which is smart and funny combined with the excellent timing of the directors proved a deadly combination.

The assorted gang of misfits are all unknown to each other and given fake names just as the crooks in Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS were given colours in order to each other.  The other misfits are Frank (Dan Stevens) and Joey (Melissa Barrera) and Rickey (William Catlett).

Cineastes will be thrilled with the nods to many famous films including DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, OCEAN’S ELEVEN (The Rat Pack), RESERVOIR DOGS, TEN LITTLE INDIANS (…AND THEN THER WERE NONE) and every Dracula movie among others.

The story involves the misfits putting their stupid prejudices and mistrust aside and working together to outsmart Abigail, who is the main predator.

Though the climax drags on a little at the end, there is a neat twist with a surprise appearance.   The film is dedicated in loving memory to actor Angus Cloud who plays Dean in the movie.

ABIGAIL opens everywhere in theatres on Friday, April 19th.


Directed by Jen Rainin and Beth Medow

Curve (magazine) is global lesbian media.  The magazine covers news, politics, social issues, and includes celebrity interviews and stories on entertainment, pop culture, style, travel, and a website that hosts an internet forum focusing on lesbian issues, active since 2000.

The film focuses on the beginnings of the magazine as seen from the eyes of its founder, known amicably in the doc as Franco, who is in almost every frame of the film.  Frances "Franco" Stevens in San Francisco in 1990, first published Curve as Deneuve but was renamed in 1996 after a trademark dispute with French actress Catherine Deneuve.  The film says the magazine was so called because Franco had a cat called Deneuve and the magazine name translated means ‘new’.  But the film does include an image of the lesbian vampire film cover THE HUNGER which starred Catherine Deneuve.  

Diane Anderson-Minshall was editor-in-chief when the magazine was acquired in October 2010 by Australian media company. Avalon Media.Merryn Johns became Curve's editor-in-chief.  With the change in ownership, Curve became headquartered in Sydney, this fact not mentioned in the film.

The doc works best when it deals with the magazine itself - its contents, the difficulty of it being made, how it grew in popularity and what type of articles made its sell.  This provides insight to those working in magazines particularly gay themed ones, like Dragon Magazine and Banana Magazine, two Toronto gay Asian magazines (like Curve) that catered to a niche gay target audience.  This reviewer started his film reviewing career writing for free for Dragun Magazine that lasted less than three years.  Curve covers articles of importance, often getting gay women in politics to submit articles or well known personalities who have come out to agree to be on the cover.  When Budweiser and Subaru advertised with Cure, the magazine became more mainstream and popular.  The doc also documents many lesbians from small town America who probably were the only gays in the village.  They claim that the magazine was their only connection to the gay world.

The film also follows its founder, Franco, talking about the magazine.  Franco goes about in a motorized wheelchair as a result of an accident of boxes falling on her feet.  

Nothing is also mentioned of other gay magazines, particularly the male ones that would either complement or be in competition with Curve.  Curve magazine got a bit of free publicity when it tried to out gay actress Michelle Rodriguez.  Many then, got to hear of the magazine for the first time.  Nothing in the film was mentioned about the controversy, which made a big impact on Curve.  It is quite clear that the editor and publisher of Deneuve/Curve are not well versed with legal and business practices.

Like the magazine Curve, the film would have limited appeal being catered to the niche target audience of lesbians.  But the directors make a conscious effort in making her doc more widely appealing in its content.   The result is an interesting and insightful documentary that affects more of the LGBT community.  A fair bit of screen time is devoted on the importance of LGBT rights.  Ex-President Trump again, rears his ugly head in passing back the law that lets employers fire LGBT employees.



Directed by Rod Blackhurst


BLOOD FOR DUST is a 2023 American action crime thriller film written by David Ebeltoft and directed by Rod Blackhurst.

In noir fiction form, Cliff (Scoot McNairy), a traveling salesman drowning under the weight of providing for his family and the myth of the American dream, finds himself on a dangerous path after a chance encounter with Ricky (Brit actor Kit Harrington playing an American role), a colleague from a dark past.  By accident, Cliff meets Ricky at a strip club and this is where the trouble starts.  Trafficking guns and drugs are now on the agenda, which Cliff keeps from his woman.

Noir fiction stories are characterized by their use of dark and gritty realism, exploration of moral ambiguity, and often the use of unconventional narrative structures.   The atmosphere created in the film is definitely on the side of the nitty, gritty realm especially when Cliff travels from small town to small town frequented by visits to seedy bars and equally seedy strip clubs.  Cliff’s characters are flawed (drinking and having an affair) and compromised, as are the characters generally found in noir crime novels by authors like James Ellroy  (L.A.CONFIDENTIAL), who could pretty much be the writer of this piece.  Credit is to be given to scenarist David Ebeltoft.  Cliff is an honest salesman who has avoided the temptation of going into the shady business but he has a hard time providing for his family.  The first half of the film is devoted to bringing out Cliff’s haricots and surroundings giving the film a solid atmosphere and placing.  The film is set and shot in (Billings) Montana.   The film thus possesses realism and psychological depth though it might require a bit of patience due to its slow burn.

The owner of the New England Patriots American football team, Robert Kraft, is one of the richest men in America and a political crony of Donald J. Trump. In 2019 he was arrested for visiting a day spa in Florida where he paid sex trafficked women for illegal sexual services. The sex-trafficked women working at the day spa were arrested, charged and convicted of prostitution.  A privileged white man gets away with breaking the law while accepting no responsibility for his actions or choices and is then allowed to proceed in all of his ways with impunity. While the real victims were punished. Because that’s America and America is broken.

BLOOD FOR DUST is director Blackchurst’s creative reflection of this truth and a film for our current moment about the desperation so many of us face as we struggle to provide for the ones we love and change our stars in the face of systems, institutions and power all designed to disenfranchise and beat us down

Director Blackhurst builds the suspense and suspense to a climactic shoot-out at the end.   BLOOD FOR DUST has garnered favourable reviews in general and should satisfy both action fans and crime nori fans, but more of the latter.

BLOOD FOR DUST opens in elect Theatres & Digital on April 19.




DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD (Romania/Luxembourg/ France 2023) ****

Directed by Radu Jude


The director of BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN returns with a much ruder piece with a milder title DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD.

DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD  paints a very bleak picture of the world, particularly Romania but doused with a hilarious adulterated sense of humour.  The capital Bucharest is where most of the action takes place, shown as an overcrowded city where traffic is found and with run-down buildings and rubble often seen around the city.  The residents talk about trash not collected for months with rats running around yet they say that the world is shit but the people are good.

The film has been presented as a tale of Cinema and Economics in Two Parts: "Overworked and underpaid, Angela drives around the city of Bucharest to film the casting for a 'safety at work video' commissioned by a multinational company.”  This part "A" of the film also contains edited elements of a 1981 film about a lady taxi driver in Bucharest (Angela played by Lucian Bratu) and Angela's own Tiktok videos. Part "B" consists of the shooting of the safety promotion campaign video in front of the entrance to the chosen employee's factory.

Are these people in director Ray Jude’s movie good people?  Maybe they are but they do not show the fact as they are extremely rude.  The main protagonist is Angela (Ilinca Manolache), a bombastic production assistant working 16-hour days while, on her own time, honing a quippy online brand featuring her alter ego, a self-pronounced friend of misogynistic media personality Andrew Tate, currently facing human trafficking and other charges in Romania.  Angela is first shown totally nude waking up in the morning, with the camera now shying away from her tattooed body.  “Blonde skank,” is what one driver calls her.   Angela has her own curse words at motorists: "Why’re you so nervous?  You should get treatment.”  Or “You are hurrying to your own funeral!”  If not cursing she is telling horrible jokes. “What did the blind man say at the fish market?”  “Hey, girls!“  But Angela is shown, despite her outwardly rude personality to have a kind side.  She gives money to a needy beggar while drinking her coffee and chiding the cafe’s owner for chasing the beggar away.

The film’s title comes from an aphorism from the Polish poet Stanisław Jerzy Lec.  The film touches on labour, exploitation, death, and the new gig economy. Part comedy, part road movie, part montage, it is a film that is innovative, fresh, hilarious and a solid satire if not being too rude and naughty.

The film though running a bit long at 163 minutes, is so, much bad guilty entertainment that one wishes it not to end.

DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD premiered at the 2023 Locarno Film Festival on 4 August 2023, where it received the Special Jury Prize.  It opens in Canada on April 19th.  In Toronto, slightly later -  May 4 at TIFF and Carlton Cinemas.


FOOD, INC. 2 (USA 2024) ***½

Directed by Robert Kenner and Melissa Robledo


The filmmakers never intended to make a sequel for 2008’s doc Food, Inc. – the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning documentary that showed viewers how the food system could be changed with ethical shopping. 

So what has changed since 2008 that warrants the making of a sequel?   The number one reason is the Pandemic that occurred that changed the world, especially in terms of food supply and distribution and second are the changes in food production in the small handful of multinational corporations.

The first film targeted two large companies, Monsanto and Perdue.  Monsanto was revealed for its unethical practices in the introduction of genes into plants in what is now known as (GMO) genetically modified crops.  The doc also revealed that Perdue Farms harvested chickens in the cruelest of ways.

FOOD, INC. 2 contains lots of information that continues to anger the public, especially with the growth of the fast food industry since the 1950s.  From the mistreated immigrant workers (the audience is informed of workers tied to their transporting vehicles) to the minimum wage workers in fast food restaurants ( a black woman is interviewed as saying she can hardly support her family, resorting at one point to sleeping in her car).

The food companies are nothing more than businesses wishing to satisfy their shareholders.  Bigger sales, mean eating more and bigger earnings.  Food is sold everywhere including clothing stores where racks of candy are placed near the checkout counters.  The doc also addresses ultra-processed foods.

Most of what is seen in the docs is nothing really new.  FOOD, INC. 2 like the first FOOD , INC. seems to be throwing at the audience any material it can get its hands on.  But this might be understandable as there have been so many violations by the multinationals.  But there are the details in the practices that are new and disturbing.

One of the most interesting details involves the company PepsiCo initiating a research study as to the correlation between energy and sweeteners.  When the researchers showed results that PepsiCo was not happy about, the company claimed that the results were incorrect and removed funding instead of using the results to improve their products.  This behaviour though totally intolerable is expected as why would a company spend money to harm its image instead of improving its sales?

The doc ends, as many docs do, on an optimistic note, in both plant and animal food farming.  One is the justification of soil fertility with animals consuming plants while putting them back into the soils and the other deals with the farming of an alternative seafood source such as kelp farming,

If there was a message from the two FOOD, INC. docs, the message from the 2008 film, the same message holds for the sequel, which would be to push the government for better controls and power by the FDA and USDA, and to eat more organic food.

FOOD, INC. 2 opens April 19 in Toronto (Hot Docs Cinema)!  The film also opens throughout the spring in other cities.


INFESTED (VERMINES) (Frane 2023) *** 1/2

Directed by Sébastien Vanicek


` Spiders have always freaked humans out as creepy crawlers.  One can imagine the horror of a spider killed and dozens of little baby spiders crawling out of the mother’s body. It is no surprise that spider horror movies are almost a genre in itself with films like ARACHNOPHOBIA, EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, TARANTULA, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, most of them not very good.  From France, premiering at Cannes last year arrives INFESTED (previous title: VERMIN), arguably the best of the lot, and is as creepy as hell.

The film has a solid good build-up of suspense and thrills to the final climax.  It begins with the introduction of the deadly spider nested in the sands of a sweltering desert.  A group of Arabs hut for these creates and one shoots for jot having discovered a nest only to be killed by one jumping and stinging him on his face.  A few of these spiders (not tarantulas as they look different) are captured in small boxes and sold as exotic pets.  One comes into the hands of Kaleb (Theo Christine), a teen Arab living in a Paris suburb.  The visually striking buildings where the action is set are the Picasso arenas in Noisy-le-Grand, near Paris, designed by architect Manuel Núñez Yanowsky in the 80s.

Kaleb is about to turn 30 and has never been lonelier. He’s fighting with his sister over an inheritance and has cut ties with his best friend. Fascinated by exotic animals, he finds a venomous spider in a shop and brings it back to his apartment. It only takes a moment for the spider to escape and reproduce, infesting the whole building into a dreadful web trap. The only option for Kaleb and his friends is to find a way out and survive.

The script that is co-written by director Vanicek and Florent Bernard devotes a lot of time to the characters of Kaleb and his sister and friends (friends that argue, fight, and call each other names half the time).  The dialogue is crisp and ripe with swear words and slang, the way the living marginally speak, creating an atmosphere of credibility as well as sympathy for those living at the edge of poverty.  The word putting can be heard dozens of times.  Putting is French for whore but it is more used s a curse word for ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’.  The janitor, an old Asian lady is bullied by the resident youth, but is rescued in one scene by Kaleb only to be scolded by her instead of her thanking him.  Such is life!  Will the band of so-called friends and family of Kaleb band together to find the new menace of their apartment building?  The spiders reproduce rapidly within the hour with offspring much larger than their parents.  The result is infestation.

The spiders are partly created by CGI with some of them actual real creatures.  Director Vanicek keeps his film smart, fun and scary, a sure-fire formula for a successful spider horror movie.

INFESTED is the first feature film for director Sébastien Vanicek, who had directed a few shorts before.  The film was nominated for two Cesars, for Best First Feature and Best Visual Effects.  Vanicek has pitched the movie to producer Harry Tordjman, who loved it and introduced him to Netflix.  They loved it as well and thought the movie deserved a theatre release before ending up on Netflix, which is a big deal in France as the minimum legal delay in 2023 between a theatre release.  INFESTED is available for streaming on Shudder Friday, April 26th with a special screening on the 24th at the TIFF Lightbox.



IRENA’S VOW (Canada/Poland 2023) ****
Directed by Louise Archambaul


IRENA’S VOW follows her solemn silent and personal vow Irena makes when she witnesses a German officer killing an innocent Jewish baby by crushing it with his military boot.  It is a terrifying scene that makes the entire audience gasp in shock and sets the raison d’ete for Irena’s actions for the film..  In occupied Poland, a former nurse (Sophie Nélisse) risks her own life to shelter a dozen Jewish men and women from the Nazi war machine.  The setting is Warsaw, 1939: when the Nazis invade Poland, and nurse Irena Gut (Sophie Nélisse) is displaced and forced to work in support of the German war effort, eventually assigned to run the home of a Nazi commandant (Dougray Scott) where she hides the Jews.  Director Archambaul keeps the tension mounting throughout from start to end, with the fear that the Jews will be discovered at any moment.  But one knows Arena survived since the film is based on her story.  The film shows the triumph of the spirit over impossible odds, all made the more astonishing that the story is all true.  One of the best Canadian films of 2023.


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