FILM REVIEWS:

ALAM (The Flag)(France/Tunisia/Palestine/Saudi Arabia/Qatar, 2022) ***

Directed by  Firas Khoury

 

Director Khoury looks at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from the eyes of youth, five Israeli-Palestinian high-school classmates — struggling under the burden of forced forgetting — weigh the risks involved in remembering a different history.  They live in an Israeli-occupied country.  Marked each year by celebrations, Israel’s Independence Day coincides with the commemoration of Al-Nakba (the Catastrophe) — the day Palestinians memorialize their dispossession and displacement. For Tamer (Mahmoud Bakri, a member of the acting dynasty begun by veteran Palestinian performer Mohammad Bakri) and his high-school friends — Safwat (Mohammed Abd El Rahman), Shekel (Mohammad Karaki), and Rida (Ahmed Zaghmouri) — the social and psychological dissonance of being Palestinian in Israel is a daily struggle that is only heightened in the lead-up to Nakba Day.  The film concentrates on Tamer, who has a romantic fling but stays away from the over-used coming-of-age story.  Not much of a story - only about a flag that initiates violence, the film is a sincere and honest look at the forever never-ending conflict.

Trailer:  

BOY KILLS WORLD (South Africa/Germany/USA 2023) ****

Directed by Moritz Mohr

 

When his family is killed, a deaf man named Boy escapes to the jungle, where he is trained by a mysterious mentor to enact vengeance on the murderers.  Bill Skarsgård stars as "Boy" who vows revenge after his family is murdered by Hilda Van Der Koy (Fame Janssen), the deranged matriarch of a corrupt post-apocalyptic dynasty that left the boy orphaned, deaf and voiceless.  Driven by his inner voice, one which he co-opted from his favourite childhood video game, Boy trains with a mysterious shaman (Yayan Ruhian of THE RAID) to become an instrument of death and is set loose on the eve of the annual culling of dissidents.  Bedlam ensues as Boy commits bloody martial arts mayhem, inciting wrath of carnage and blood-letting.  As he tries to get his bearings in this delirious realm, Boy soon falls in with a desperate resistance group, all the while bickering with the apparent ghost of his rebellious little sister, the one who has disappeared and the one he has sworn allegiance to.

There might be little nuance to this mayhem, but heaps of heart, particularly in Boy’s naive sincerity. 

Of the cast, one will recognize South African actor Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9), a veteran of weird South African films who plays a wacko spokesman for Van Der Koy.  In addition, the story includes to other compelling characters,  Jessica Rothe as a hardened enforcer who communicates via her sick LED motorcycle helmet, and a hilariously mumbly Isaiah Mustafa, whose frequent exposition transforms into surrealist asides on account of Boy’s bad lip-reading

If the action martial arts flick BOY KILLS WORLD shares the same mayhem as the best of Sam Raimi’s horror and action films, it is the fact that Raimi serves as one of the producers of this film.  The actioner stars Bill Skarsgard, all handsome with a chiseled and muscled physique, brother of Alexander and son of Stellan Skarsgard.  Bill marks another feature debut of Bill after the two Stephen King IT horror films.

The action sequences though appearing chaotic are well shot and exciting enough - if not too violent.  The climactic fight has two good guys fighting the very powerful shaman villain, something similar to combining forces to fight an extra strong villain, as in King Hu’s memorable DRAGON INN.  There is also a twist in the plot that seems a bit too fantastic to believe, so much so that one wonders whose side Boy is on.  Boy is totally drenched in blood and cuts in the climactic fight scene.

BOY KILLS WORLD looks like another cheap run-of-the-mill martial arts flick but it surprises and succeeds as fresh, hilarious and exciting entertaining.  The plot could be dismissed as crazy rubbish but this crazy rubbish is excellent crazy rubbish.  Highly recommended as a crazy mayhem action film!  The film premiered in the Midnight Madness Section of the Toronto International Film Festival last year and turned out to be a surprise gem.

BOY KILLS WORLD opens only in theatres on April 26th.

Trailer: 

 

CHALLENGERS (Italy 2024) ***** Top 10

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

 

Luca Guadagnino is an Italian film director and producer known for his 'desire' trilogy films I AM LOVE, A BIGGER SPLASH and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, the latter film that shot Timothee Chamalet to fame. His films are characterized by their acute observations, emotional complexity, eroticism, and sumptuous visuals and if anything else, always something to look forward to.

The three characteristics of Guadignino’s films emotional complexity, eroticism, and sumptuous visuals are not only present in CHALLENGERS but pushed to their limits.

Written by frequent collaborator Justin Kuritzkes (including their next film QUEER), the plot follows a professional tennis champion, Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) who plots a comeback with the help of his wife, Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a former tennis prodigy who retired after an injury, as he goes up against another player, Patrick Zweig (Josh O'Connor), who also happens to be his former best friend and wife's former lover. Nothing more should be revealed in the story except that her strategy for her husband's redemption will take an unexpected turn.

The chemistry among the three stars is stellar, their performances bouncing off each other like the balls of a winning tennis match.  In preparation for her role, Zendaya spent three months training with pro-tennis player-turned-coach Brad Gilbert.  Gilbert also served as a consultant on the film.  As can be observed in many of her tennis games in the film, Zendaya serves a wicked backhand, using both hands and completing it with a full backswing over her shoulder.  As for O’Connor, his serves seen from the starting point from the back of his shoulder are impressive.  As for Faust, he makes two jumps over the tennis net, once when goofing around and another when running to Tasho’s rescue after her knee injury.

Thai cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (who has worked on the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul such as in UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES) shoots the tennis matches with verve and style.  There are many excellent framed shots, the best of which shows the two tennis combatants Art and Patrick to the left and right with Tashi, watching their match in the centre of the same frame though they are distances apart.  The climatic overhead shots of the two players over the net make the perfect ending.

The film’s music score deserves mention.  The film's original score was composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  A remixed version was released in collaboration with Boys Noize.  The sound mixing alternating between intensity and also alternating with silence is very effective in shifting the mood of a scene.

If one wonders what the movie is about or who is the main character, then director Guadagnino and writer Kuritzkes have achieved their goals.  Art and Patrick play tennis or are they playing a love match for the prize of Tashi?

Romantic comedies are this reviewer’s least-liked genre but the romantic thriller is another ball game,  CHALLENGERS, best described as a romantic thriller hits the mark, making CHALLENGERS Luca Guadignino’s best film so far.

CHALLENGERS opens only in theatre on April 26th.

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CITY HUNTER (Japan 2024) **
Directed by Yûichi Satô

 

CITY HUNTER is based on the manga series "City Hunter" by Tsukasa Hojo (published 1985 - 1991 in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump).  It was serialized in Shueisha's shōnen manga magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1985 to 1991, with its chapters collected in 35 tankōbon volumes.  The manga was adapted into an anime television series by Sunrise Studios in 1987. The anime series was popular in numerous Asian and European countries.  City Hunter spawned a media franchise consisting of numerous adaptations and spin-offs from several countries.   The latest is this latest live-action film adaptation from Japan opening this week on Netflix.

The series follows the exploits of Ryo Saeba, a "sweeper" who is always found chasing beautiful girls and a private detective who works to rid Tokyo of crime, along with his associate or partner, Hideyuki Makimura.  Their "City Hunter" business is an underground jack-of-all-trades operation, contacted by writing the letters "XYZ" on a blackboard at Shinjuku Station.

One day, Hideyuki is murdered, and Ryo must take care of Hideyuki's sister, Kaori, a tomboy who becomes his new partner in the process. However, Kaori is very susceptible and jealous, often hitting Ryo with a giant hammer when he does something perverted. The story also follows the behind-the-scenes romance between Ryo and Kaori and the way they cooperate throughout each mission.

The film follows a similar premise.  Set in present-day Shinjuku ward, Ryo Saeba (Ryohei Suzuki) works as a "sweeper." He likes beautiful women and when he sees one, he doesn't hesitate to talk to them. Nevertheless, when he receives a request from a client to carry out a mission, he does excellent work with his elite gunman skills, physical ability, and cold attitude. After Ryo Saeba's partner Makimura is killed, he begins to work with Makimura's sister Kaori (Misato Morita). They form a new team to uncover the truth behind his death.

At its best, the cinematography and filming of Shinjuku are impressive, sometimes raining, looking like the set of BLADE RUNNER.   The crowd scenes and the mayhem ensuing are all executed with style and excitement.

But the film has a too cartoonish effect, which likely suits the manga and animated previous versions.  The lead character is played by Ryohei Suzuki with maniac childishness, downplaying the seriousness of the kidnapping and the huge crime at hand.  The humour is less funny when executed coming across as silly and infantile.

The fact that Rio loves sexy girls does not help the film’s image as well.  The film comes across as male chauvinistic and sexist with girls portrayed below their potential.  Ryo cannot control himself as the saviour of Shinjuku, flirting with all the girls and any pretty girl who happens to fall in his path.  Ryo has few redeeming qualities except that he kicks the butt of the bad guys.

The film’s story is simple enough to follow for a manga film, but nothing out of the ordinary.  The action set pieces are satisfactorily done.

CITY HUNTER looks like manga and with its production values could have been a better film under more capable hands that favours a more forward execution.

Trailer: 

THE DOOMSDAY CULT Of ANTARES DE LA LUZ (Chile 2024) ***

Directed by Santiago Correa

 

The first and yet most disturbing cult sacrifice in Chile!

  The crime committed in this documentary is the sacrifice of a 2-day-old baby by a religious cult.  When the doc begins, it talks about the hierarchy of crimes committed.  The worst of which will be punished in prison when the prisoners themselves will kill those imprisoned for the worst of crimes.  The prisoner convicted of sacrificing a baby would never survive.  In this disturbing and revealing doc, the psychology and reason behind the crime is examined, from the point of view of a crime journalist, who claims that she is interested in what goes behind the commitment of the crime.  Ultimately, the motive behind the crime was not the usual motive for example of stealing a car or of a crime of passion.  The motive behind this crime was saving the world.

The title of the doc comes from the leader of the cult who’s himself the name Antares.  Ramón Gustavo Castillo Gaete was a Chilean musician and leader of a doomsday-oriented religious sect stationed in Colliguay, a rural area in the Valparaíso Region, where he claimed to be the second coming of Jesus and was known as "Antares de la Luz" (from Spanish, "Antares of the Light”).  In 2012, one of the cult members, 25-year-old Natalia Guerra, became pregnant with his child, who he believed to be the Antichrist. Castillo's infant son was ultimately immolated in a bonfire on 23 November of that year as a human sacrifice, to prevent the supposedly incoming end of the world on 21 December 2012.  After Chilean authorities were informed of the murder in April 2013, a nationwide manhunt headed by the Investigations Police of Chile began, which soon spread to neighbouring Bolivia and Peru, the latter of which where he hung himself to evade capture.

This doc works primarily for the enormity of the crime and the curiosity behind the motive behind the crime.  The look at human nature and behaviour behind what happened is the most intriguing as to what is the reasoning behind the man who calls himself Antares is made to act the way he did.

The doc also plays like a part courtroom drama.  As Antares’ followers were at the scene of the crime where the 2-day-old infant was killed and tossed into the fire, they faced a trial for manslaughter.  Would they be found guilty?   The defendants’ lawyers argue that they could not act on their own will, being manipulated to think that Antares was God.  On the other hand, the prosecutors believe that this crime should not go without any punishment.

The story from start to finish is told from the mouth of one of its main followers, Pablo.  Pablo describes in chilling detail how he was fed the plant drug, hallucinating and seeing visions thus making him think Antares is God.  It is intriguing to see how Pablo could be so easily convinced of the falsity and indeed many wold have followed the same.  Not shown is the death of hanging by Antares, thus escaping the punishment due to him.

 

THE FEELING THAT THE TIME FOR SOMETHING HAS PASSED (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Joanna Arnow

 

THE FEELING THAT THE TIME FOR SOMETHING HAS PASSED follows Ann (Arnow), a 30-something Brooklynite who passes time in her long-term BDSM relationship, low-level corporate job and quarrelsome Jewish family, with Ann’s parents, played by Arnow’s real ones.  For nine years, Ann has been involved as a submissive partner with an older man (Scott Cohen) who can’t even remember what college she attended (Wesleyan, Arnow’s alma mater).  Ann decides to move on to other men (including one who wants her to wear a pig costume) and finally meets someone with whom she might find love.  Director Arnow is unafraid to go all out for her film including revealing her own full frontal; nudity. Director Arnow is fond of using the style of Director Roy Andersson, especially in his use of deadpan humour and stationary camera.  This is clearly an Arnow’s styled film, with the auteur serving as the star, writer, director and editor of the film.  Though not autobiographical, the press notes claim that the film is based on the filmmaker’s experiences. 

Trailer: 

 

HACK YOUR HEALTH: THE SECRETS OF YOUR GUT (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Anjali Nayar

 

The doc HACK YOUR HEALTH: THE SECRETS OF YOUR GUT often feels like a Biology lesson.  It begins by telling us the importance of the gut, then explains microbes, particularly the Mirobione.  What is more interesting is of course, how all this affects human beings.  The doc treats the subject lightly, often including cutesy animation in order to make a point.

The microbiome is the community of microorganisms (such as fungi, bacteria and viruses) that exists in a particular environment. In humans, the term is often used to describe the microorganisms that live in or on a particular part of the body, such as the skin or gastrointestinal tract. These groups of microorganisms are dynamic and change in response to a host of environmental factors, such as exercise, diet, medication and other exposures.  The doc praises the 9% good bacteria in our bodies.  So for humans, bacteria that live in your gut help in the digestion of food, and bacteria that live on your skin help to break down the lipids to produce a natural moisturizing factor for your skin. These microbes that live on your skin or in your gut are also wonderful in providing colonization resistance. They're basically taking up all the space so that the pathogens that might want to try to invade humans don't have the opportunity, and that's really our greatest protection against microbes that want to colonize us but don't help in our health.

The microbiome affects each individual human being differently.  To prove the point, the doc interestingly picks several different people who are interviewed to talk about their bodies:

  • one Japanese cannot feel hunger.  He can eat but never feel the satisfaction of having eaten and is envious of the fact that people can feel that they are full.  His full-time job is competitive eating.  The doc includes a clip with him doubling down on hot dogs.
  • one black woman complains about her weight.  She says she has tried everything to lose weight but whenever she loses weight, she gains more than she had lost.
  • a white girl complains about the pain she feels in her gut.  She has that pain forever and it hurts her ever so much
  • one is a pastry chef who can eat nothing but vegetables, which makes her job increasingly difficult.  She does have a craving to eat a hamburger and rare beef.

The 4 subjects’ microbiomes are studied as their brains are observed during an MRI conducted with each person with food pics shown to them,  As expected, each individual’s brain reacts differently,

Most of what can be seen in the doc is available out there in books and of course on the internet.  But the film gives us the pleasure of having assembled all the information together, making learning about gut education, entertaining and of course useful.

HACK YOUR HEALTH: THE SECRETS OF YOUR GUT is a Netflix original doc opening for streaming this week.

HUMANE (Canada 2024) ***
Directed by Caitlin Cronenberg

 

HUMANE is director Caitlin Cronenberg’s feature debut, written by Michael Sparaga.  If the director’s last name sounds familiar, that is because Caitlin is the daughter of horror master David Cronenberg and the sister of Brandon Cronenberg.  Her film will be much anticipated for this reason and might be judged a little too harshly.

The film is a dystopian satire taking place over a single day, mere months after a global ecological collapse has forced world leaders to take extreme measures to reduce the earth’s population.   Lack of essentials such as drinking water is no longer a problem in poor countries but for everyone due to reasons like overpopulation, careless use and global warming.  “All international borders will be closed and all countries will have one year to meet their population reduction goals.”  This is the voice heard (Colm Freore’s) as an announcement by the Government at the start of the film.  In the wake of this environmental collapse that is forcing humanity to shed 20% of its population, a family dinner erupts into chaos when a father's plan to enlist in the government's new euthanasia program goes horribly awry.

Director Caitlin takes the film down to a more personal level.  In a wealthy enclave, a recently retired newsman, Charles York (Peter Gallagher) has invited his grown children (a host of Canadian actors led by Jay Baruchel of GOON) to dinner to announce his intentions to enlist in the nation’s new euthanasia program.  Right after dinner before the children leave, the euthanasia people led by Bob (Enrico Colantoni) appear at the door to carry out their duties.

As it turns out, although Charles and his wife, Dawn Kim (Uni Park from KIM’S INCONVENIENCE) have agreed, Dawn has chickened out and disappeared.  Dawn insists that a replacement be made by one of the other members of the family.

The film takes a direct stab at ex-President Trump.  Trump has blamed the pandemic on the Chinese without much proof.  Blame is Trump’s strategy in the Pandemic rather than finding a solution, resulting in many hate crimes among Asians in the U.S.  In the film, The blame of the ecological collapse is again blamed on Asians resulting in the hate crime of Ann’s Asian restaurant burnt down to the ground.

“We are hardly family, ” says Rachel (Emily Hampshire), one father and daughters, “I only see you one or two times a year during family birthdays.  I know more about the girl who does my nails.”  When told that they have to decay on a replacement, an all-out war begins in which each member distrusts every other and tries to kill off a sibling to survive and have a larger inheritance.  Director Caitlin ups the ante with a bit of violence that includes stabbing and swiping to the head with a walking cane.

Director Caitlin shows total control of her material as her film succeeds in maintaining a constant atmosphere of seriousness and desperation, even though the premise is futuristic and hypothetical.

Trailer: 

UNSUNG HERO (USA 2024) *

Directed by Richard Ramsey and Joel Smallbone

 

Warning!  UNSUNG HERO is a faith-based film that many would avoid!  And with reason.

UNSUNG HERO begins with the caption on the screen - This is a true story.  Most films would state that it is based on a true story.  The fact that this statement reads “this is a true story’  upholds the fact that the message of the film would be straight in one’s face, and for the worse of it.  The company behind the film is called For King + Country which implies a faith message is forthcoming.

When David Smallbone's successful music company collapses, he moves his family from Australia to the United States in search of a brighter future.  With nothing more than their six children, their suitcases, and their love of music, David (for KING + COUNTRY's Joel Smallbone) and his pregnant wife Helen (Daisy Betts) set out to rebuild their lives from the ground up.  Based on a remarkable true story, the mother's faith stands against all odds; and inspires her husband and children to hold onto theirs.

True story or not, the fact does not make for a good film or even a compelling one.  Just because UNSUNG HERO is termed a true story does it make the film a credible one.  It depends on how the film unfolds with regard to performances, story buildup, atmosphere, music and others.  UNSUNG HERO turns out incredibly boring right at the one-hour mark and it does not take a genius to figure out how things will eventually turn out for the Smallbone family.

The Smallbones is a family with 6 children.  The script does not make any attempt to distinguish any one child from another, except for the eldest daughter who turns out to be the star singer.

The film has a more female slant, the family is held together more by the mother rather than the father whose pride gets in the way. The family is also saved from poverty by the daughter.

There are quite a few faith-type messages in the story.  One key message is the strength of the family and how the family needs to stay together despite all odds.  The other is the strength of the church as the Smallbones are helped with donations from the church.  The vanity of Pride is yet one of the other messages.  David has immense pride that almost causes the downfall of the family.

The film contains a few songs, that are supposed to be chart-busters.

UNSUNG HERO is the typical faith-based feel-good movie that critics detest for the main fact that it is manipulative, cliched, artificial and unoriginal.  This is not to mention that the music is scored so that it tells the audience how to feel and react at different parts of the film.

UNSUNG HERO plays like it is staged by a Sunday Day School teacher for her Sunday School class.  And it feels like an adult forced to sit through a Sunday School lesson.  UNSUNG HERO opens on April 26th.

Trailer: 

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