BROTHER (Canada 2002) ***1/2
Directed by Clement Virgo
BROTHER is Toronto’s own director Clement vein’s latest drama after he wowed audiences in 1995 with his debut feature RUDE, proving him a reliable filmmaker. This time around Virgo adapts David Chariandy’s award-winning 2017 novel about two brothers coming of age in 1990s Scarborough, where they reconcile their dreams and expectations with the violence that confronts them around every corner. The film is shot in non-linear fashion often intercutting the lives of the two brothers as kids and as grownups. The tactic works well and is never confusing at any point.
The film begins with the two brothers, Francis and Michael attempting to climb a dangerous transformer tower. It becomes apparent soon that the elder, Francis has lost his life and one wonders whether it is due to this dangerous climb.
Lamar Johnson (TIFF ’18 Gala premiere The Hate U Give; TIFF ’18 Rising Star) and Aaron Pierre (The Underground Railroad) play the inseparable brothers Michael and Francis.
The story is split into two time lines intercut multiple times throughout the film. As the title implies, the story is told from Michael’s point of view with the relationship between him and his brother, Francis the focus.
One timeline has their mother (Marsha Stephanie Blake), every night, before leaving for work, give them strict instructions to stay indoors and keep the TV off, but the two inevitably become entangled in what’s going on outside, both in person and through nightly news reports. Michael, a timid teenager, is always protected by the slightly older Francis, who, in their father’s absence, steps up to be his mentor. The two also make an attempt to meet their absent father, who has no desire to see his children.
The other timeline is set ten years later. Francis is gone and Michael, unmoored, struggles to take care of his mother, who is now incapacitated by grief. The film slowly pieces together their tragedy, jumping back and forth through time to capture its weight, and to track how a mother’s painstaking efforts to protect her children can only extend so far.
Michael and Francis are buffed, excellent human specimens. The film should have at least one scene showing them working out as males do not get a full muscled chiseled body so easily.
The story set in the black community of Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, shows despair of an outer city, the crime as well as police brutality especially towards the black community.
Director Virgo uses music to create the effective atmosphere of the period. Francis loves music and is a talented DJ. The dance and music scenes are well choreographed bringing the film to a soaring high. Virgo uses the famous song written by Jacques Brel “Je ne me Quitte pas” to conclude his moving film.
BROTHER is one of the best Canadian features made in 2022. It is one of the three (RICEBOY SLEEPS and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE) being the other two, nominated for the Best Canadian Feature by the Toronto Film Critics Association, The film gets my vote for the esteemed and grand prize. BROTHER opens in July 28th, 2023.
A COMPASSIONATE SPY (USA 2022) ****
Directed by Steve James
Director Steve James's latest project is the spy documentary, following Ted Hall, a compassionate spy. The reason he is said to be compassionate is revealed quite early in the film. Steve James is the director of the hit HOOP DREAMS, which earned him an Oscar nomination.
A COMPASSIONATE SPY opens with Joan Hall interviewing Ted Hall for archive purposes, as she explains. The interview introduces the subject of the doc - no nonsense added - to the audience and takes place in the year 1998 at Cambridge.
A COMPASSIONATE SPY is a gripping real-life spy story about controversial nuclear physicist Ted Hall, his wife Joan, and the explosive secret they kept over a remarkable 52-year marriage. Through a long interview with the subject and his wife, the story is told using archive footage and dramatic reenactments. The film tells the story of Manhattan Project physicist and Soviet Union spy Theodore Hall. The reenactments take a fair amount of the film’s running time and help humanize the story.
One of the film's most educational and informative points is how the Soviet Union is looked upon at the time. Most Americans think of the Russians as an enemy, especially in current times when Russia is invading Ukraine. However, at the time of WWII, it was not the case, as the doc is quick to point out and insistent to make the point loud and clear. The Soviet Union is a great nation and was not the enemy. The media during WWII was quick to highlight that the Soviet Union lost 20 million lives in their fight against the German Nazis, especially when Germany was invading Russia. It was pointed out that Russia was protecting the rest of Europe from Nazi Germany. The doc includes clips from the propaganda film MISSION TO MOSCOW, directed in 1947 by Michael Curtiz, about Ambassador Joseph Davies (played by Walter Huston) being sent to Russia to learn about the Soviet system and returning to America as an advocate of Stalinism. As noted, Ted Hall, when passing nuclear information to the Soviets, is not considered treasonous, as the Soviets were considered notably friendly but a respected nation by the United States. However, the film shows that after the war, the Soviet Union was deemed an enemy, and Ted and his wife Joan were then investigated as spies.
Director James's film plays like a suspenseful dead-serious espionage thriller. But he includes a few light moments, like the romance, as revealed in Joan's interview. Another uplifting point of the movie is the inclusion of the Irving Berlin song "This is the Army" played on the soundtrack. The song is played over footage of Ted complaining of his uniform while being in the army in Los Alamos, where he worked when Oppenheimer was also present.
The documentary premiered out of competition at Venice in 2022. The release of the film is timed after the opening of Christopher Nolan's blockbuster multi-million production OPPENHEIMER, about the man and his invention of the atomic bomb. A COMPASSIONATE SPY opens on August 4 in Toronto (Hot Docs Cinema) and Vancouver (Vancity)!
POISONED: THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT OUR FOOD (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Stephanie Soechtig
“We have (America) the safest food supply in the world.” The identical statement is uttered by more than one interviewee in the film POISONED. It is obvious that the statement is spoken by the heads of the monitors of the food industry like the heads of the USDA (animals) and the FDA (produce). But advocates for the dangers present in America’s food chain strongly disagree.
POISONED : The Dirty Truth about our Food is a doc on food contamination and how it affects America. The doc covers: a few litigation cases against companies regarding food poisoning; what the authorities are doing - whether enough or just going by the book; the work done by the activists; and where America is headed. The doc attempts clearly to be an eye-opener and often uses cheap tactics to make its point. But to the film’s credit, it is very informative and there is much to be learnt behind what is bought at the grocery store. It also answers a few curiosity questions like: What is the most dangerous vegetable to eat and why? (It is romaine lettuce.) How does America fare compared to Europe? As expected, very badly. In America, they test the meat of the chicken after slaughter if they are contaminated. In Europe, the chickens are vaccinated against Salmonella, which makes more sense as it eradicates the problem from the source. The statistics from the results also show the difference between the two processes,
The hero of the doc is William Marler, who is featured in the major part of the film. In 1993, Marler represented 9-year-old Brianne Kiner in litigation against Jack in the Box following an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, securing a $15.6 million settlement. He subsequently directed his practice toward foodborne illness, representing many more people affected by diseases such as E. coli, hepatitis A, and Salmonellosis. He has been involved in litigation relating to most of the large foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, representing individuals against large companies such as Chili's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dole, and ConAgra. The second hero of the story is Darin Detwiler, who lost his 16-month-old son Riley to E.coli during the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak. He is now an educator on the subject of food contamination. He was offered the settlement on condition that he kept quiet about the death of his son. This only illustrates the evil companies do to cover up their bad practices.
The best part of the doc are the practices shown on camera at the Perdue chicken plant. The company that has a poor record for poisons safety was kind enough to allow filming. The segment is eye-opening and is the doc’s most compelling segment. It is interesting to note that the doc does not attack the company as it granted the filmmakers permission to film.
POISONED is based on the bestselling book “Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat”. The doc raises more issues with the food industry and the fallout from contaminated food but only barely touches the solution to the problem. One may argue that there might not be any possible solution. The onus, according to the doc, is on the public. The public is supposed to initiate the cause by pressuring their legislators to make a change in Congress.
REVEILLE (Germany 2022) ***½
Directed by Michael Akkerman
REVEILLE is an anti-war German film that has so far garnered a whole slew of awards at international film festivals. It is a carefully crafted story that goes deep into the war fighting machine showing all the innocence of youth lost amidst the violence and horrors of WWII. The setting is the battle fought in the specific battle at Mignano Gap in Italy, 1943. During World War II, this was the location of the German Bernhardt Line - a German Army defensive line in Italy during the Italian Campaign of World War II. The Bernhardt Line was defended by XIV Panzer Corps (XIV Panzerkorps), part of the German Tenth Army.
While Germans are generally shown in movies as the bad guys, they have been recently shed in a different light as in the multi AcademyAward winner German production (not the American one) ALL QUIET THE WESTERN FRONT where the fighting is shown from there Germans’ point of view and the excellent Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee the Danish film LAND Of MINE set after WW1, where a group of young Germans are mistreated when given the task of dismantling German mines in the north of Denmark under the command of a Dane sergeant who clearly has something against the Germans, as is every Dane in the area.
REVEILLE joins the ranks of the list of memorable anti-war films that show the Germans’ point of view.
The message in the movie is delivered amidst suffering wounded POW soldiers and the morality of their captors. The film begins with Articles of the 1929 Geneva Convention: As soon as possible after capture, POWs shall be evacuated to depots far removed from the danger zone. As this is not possible for the severely wounded in the film, they may be kept in the zone only if removal proves more dangerous.
The film is at his most effective when the two different points of the soldiers are shown. At the film’s start, an American squad is shot, wounded and captured by a German squad. While a few Americans are killed and one badly wounded that he can hardly walk a few steps without fainting, they are taken in by the Germans. After an order from a higher German command, a German squash is sent out to ‘recce’ a hill. They are then ambushed by the American squad. The audience sees two points of view - the captured Americans followed by the captured Germans. War is shown at its futility and there are no clear winners. Only casualties.
There are many incidents that are not black and white as to what should be done, when looked upon on principles of humanitarian reasoning. Take the incident when the American sergeant asks one of his men: “Why are you shooting? They surrendered.” asked the American sergeant to one of his men. “His face was blown off. I was doing him a favour.”
There are many incidents like the above that would ask the in REVEILLE is dividual in the audience what would he or she have done? This is what makes this film so emotional, raw and disturbing. There are clearly no solutions. And immediate human instinct is often the solution carried out. The script is based on archival documents and interviewing family members of soldiers who had survived the second world war.
REVEILLE is available VOD August 4th, 2023.
SHORETCOMINGS (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Randall Park
The first few minutes of a film often reveal to the audience the tone expected for the rest of the film. For instance, James Bond films always begin with a thrilling 10-minute action sequence, unrelated to the main story, but setting the tone for an action-packed adventure. Often, no other action set piece in the film can match the intensity of this opening sequence. In the case of the new Asian comedy/drama SHORTCOMINGS, much more can be inferred from the film's opening sequence.
The movie starts with a film within the film, where Mrs. Wong is denied the booking of her suite in a posh hotel mainly catering to white clientele. The concierge tells her that she meets most of the requirements, but he 'no likee likee.' Undeterred, Mrs. Wong leaves the concierge to speak to her husband and returns with the news that she has bought the hotel, and the email confirmation should arrive shortly. This scene is reminiscent of a moment in the popular movie "CRAZY RICH ASIANS," where Michelle Yeoh's character is denied a hotel room on a rainy evening.
The Mrs. Wong movie is being screened at a local Asian American Film Festival attended by Ben (Justin H. Min) and his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki), with whom he lives in a luxurious Berkeley, California apartment owned by her father. Miko is also the co-organizer of the local Asian American Film Festival. During the festival, Ben and Miko have a heated argument over the film. Ben dislikes the way the Asian American audience applauded the movie, as he believes films should better represent their culture. Miko counters with the question, "Is it wrong that they are enjoying themselves?"
Ben aspires to be the next Eric Rohmer, but instead, he manages a struggling arthouse cinema, watches Criterion Collection DVDs, and frequents diners with his best friend Alice (Sherry Cola), a queer grad student with a habit of serial dating. Ben also obsesses about unattainable blonde women, which prompts Alice to remark, "God, you're predictable." When Miko moves to New York for an internship, Ben starts to explore his desires and ambitions. However, the film encounters problems in terms of direction. It struggles to decide whether it aims to be a romantic drama that explores relationships in an Asian American setting or a crowd-pleaser like the film that Ben previously criticized.
SHORTCOMINGS ends up being a compromise of both genres but fails to excel in either. One flaw is Ben's character; he cannot seem to make up his mind, or in other words, the script cannot decide how to portray Ben's personality consistently. At times, Ben appears shallow and predictable, while at other times, he shows a more apologetic and thoughtful side towards Alice. The film injects humour through Jacob Batalon and Scott Seiss's performances as dorky cinema staff, but it is Sherry Cola who steals the show as Ben's female best friend.
SHORTCOMMINGS received critical acclaim at both Sundance 2023 and Tribeca 2023 and opens across North America on August 4th.
SOULCATCHER (Poland 2023) *
Directed by Daniel Markowicz
SOULCATCHER belongs to the group of Netflix international films that allows not only Americans but people all over the world to experience films from other countries. SOULCATCHER is an action flick from Poland that is shot in Polish. Unfortunately it is quite bad.
A military contractor hired to seize a weapon that turns people into savage killers seeks revenge when his brother falls victim to the device. There is a confusing fight between the hero and his brother in which the latter is killed leading to the chain of events that occur.
The action sequences are lacklustre at best. many shot in the dark resulting in the audiences unable to see exactly how the fights are choreographed. If one has seen the JOHN WICK films and even the lower quality TIL DEATH DO US PART , the ones here are no way anywhere in comparison. The performances are nothing exceptional either, not for want of trying since the performances are hampered by the lazy script. There is nothing else in the plot that creates anticipation or any excitement. Sitting through the whole movie is a mission in itself.
STAY AWAKE (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Jamie Sisley
STAY AWAKE has a repeated disturbing scene where the mother is passing in and out of consciousness in the car as her sons are taking her to hospital. The sons are singing songs asking their mother to guess the title (Film tunes are heard: “Everyybody’s Talkin’ of Me” from MIDNIGHT COWBOY for example) in order for her to STAY AWAKE.
The opening sequences show the love each family member has for each other. The mother cooks for her children, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she instructs them. The film’s initial scene has her cooking them a meal before the camera focuses on a pill, one assumes is an opioid. The mother is overweight, which can contribute to her lack of confidence and her drug taking. Audiences could be unsympathetic to such a woman, a drug addict and opioid user, but the purpose of the film is not to justify the use of opioids but rather to examine the effects they have on families.
The opioid addict is the mother with the two loving sons. From the first scene, the mother character is one that everyone looks down upon. She gets the opioid meds by pricking her finger and putting a bit of blood in her urine sample at the doctor’s. She overdoses every so often and has to be driven to the hospital by her sons. Her sons have to pay for her rehab and the son’s lives are practically constrained by their mother’s addiction. The elder son is clearly upset at her and lets her know it. The question is why cannot she control herself and not change? This is where the film gets deeper into the dilemma of addiction. Or is not and the mother makes it clear that she wants to stay clean but she just cannot. That is what addiction does to a person. Sessions with her therapist/doctor at the rehab centre also paints an eye-opening look at the problem. And the difficulties both the staff and patients have.
STAY AWAKE is understandably a difficult film to watch and can hardly be described as entertaining. The film suffers during the initial 30 minutes or so with the script’s storyline dealing with addicts and their family that one has seen before in one film or another. But the film slowly but surely invests time and care into the creation of the film's three characters so that one does feel for each person, though not always on their side.
The film besides covering the mother’s addiction and strife towards recovery but also deals with the coming-of-age of each son. The younger has a scholarship to a prestigious college and has trouble with his girlfriend. The script is smart enough to have the mother offer solid advice, showing that the mother still can have a profound effect on her offspring.
The film clearly gets the audience to root for its characters, keeping the audience in suspense and on the edge of their seats whether the family will survive.
TIL DEATH DO US PART (USA 2023) **
Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr.
TIL DEATH DO US PART (not to be confused with the 2017 Taye Diggs film of the same title) tells the story of a runaway bride - why she abandoned the marriage and how to remain apart from all the groom and friends.
The film begins with the wedding best man (Cam Gigandet) preparing and reciting his best man speech “Love is an intense feeling of love and concern….” a very mediocre speech and he knows it. The film unfolds in two parallel timelines - which makes the film quite confusing. One timeline sees the bride (Natalie Burn) and groom (Ser’Darius Blain) on a boat with a long time married couple (Jason Patric and Nicole Arlyn). The other has the bride escape from the wedding and is pursued by 7 grooms (played by an assortment of good-looking and built actors) who are out to kill her. The question of what all this is about is answered slowly but surely as the story progresses. What the bride is trying to do is to escape ‘the organization’, something like the same existing in the John Wick franchise. The bride and groom are part of an organization of top notch hit persons and they are contracted for life.
The film is sexy and violent. One fight sequence in which the bride has the best man in a choke hold for several minutes is for example, uncomfortably sexy. There are lots of arm to arm combat with the bride able to give chokeholds with her legs.
There is nothing spectacular in the script by Chad Law. The analogy of the shark and the dolphin is one neat idea in the script.
The film’s press notes claim the film to be brimming with stylish violence and blood-soaked action, seamlessly blending the slick, kinetic thrills of John Wick with the dark, twisted revenge tale of Kill Bill. But the film lacks the originality of the two and turns out to be a poor man’s wannabe of the two films. Most of the fights take place in a mansion where the bride disposes of the 7 kills one by one, so there is not much variation in the action set pieces.
The is the second film starring Jason Patric and Cam Gigandet, the other being SHRAPNEL that opened last week, also a lacklustre action flick.
If lowbrow action with a bride in a bridal outfit throughout the film kicking the butts of 7 groomsmen sounds exciting then TIL DEATH DO US PART is your type of movie. At the time of writing, the film has a 100% score on its Rotten Tomatoes rating - but take the score as a caution, as the score is based only on a few reviews.
TIL DEATH DO US PART opens in theatres August the 4th.
ZOM 100: BUCKET LIST OF THE DEAD (Japan 2023) *
Directed by Yasuke Ishida
The title ZOM 100 refers to zombies and the 100 things on the protagonist’s list that he wants to do before being bitten by one.
Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead is also a Japanese manga series written by Haro Aso and illustrated by Kotaro Takata. It has been serialized in Shogakukan's seinen manga magazine Monthly Sunday Gene-X since October 2018, with its chapters collected into fourteen tankōbon volumes as of June 2023. The film is a condensed version of the series.
In short, the film is about the protagonist caught in a zombie apocalypse in Tokyo. He forms a bucket list. The rest of the film has him doing them and ticking each one of them, not in order, off on his list.
The film is best described as a teen comedy, though hardly funny at all. It runs a lengthy 2 hours and streams on Netflix, one of their more forgettable international excursions. The other awful one streaming on Netflix is SOULCATCHER from Poland. It is a tough toss which gets the prize for the worst one opening this week.
Akira Tendo (Eiji Akaso) works at an abusive company where he suffers endless late hours, power harassment from his boss, and illogical tasks. Akira has to do two all-nighters on his first day. He spends his days feeling more dead than alive. One morning, the town is overtaken by zombies and the familiar landscape is already devastated. Seeing such destruction, Akira shouts with glee that he doesn’t need to go to the office anymore. Showing his innate positivity, Akira comes up with a list of 100 things he wants to do before he becomes a zombie, including cleaning his home and camping on his balcony and sets out to complete his bucket list.
The bucket list consists of 100 things among them being:
- clean my room
- put things ninth supermarket cart without looking at the price
- ride a motorcycle
- set off fireworks display
- be a superhero and see mankind
- have drinks with a flight attendant
- f\go paragliding
- go as a trio on a road trip
As many of these items are lame, they are in reality as lamely executed as the film which is also all over the place. There are at times scary zombie scenes, a romance, a coming-of-age passage and abuse in the workplace.
The film, though advertised as a zombie movie, is not really one. Following the adventures of a young man just out of school getting his first job, it tells of this first dream job and first infatuation with a girl at work. Overworked, Akira does not have the guts to quit, the silly reason given being that he had tried so hard to get the job in the first place. “Shut up and do what you are told,” is what his supervisor tells him. .Then comes the zombie apocalypse that occurs without any reason given. The adventures that follow the hapless hero turns\ out to be a comedy though the laughs are few and far between. The film is amusing at best and perhaps might elicit a smile or two.