Directed by Matthew Heineman


This is the story and biography up to this stage, the artist Jon Batiste is still alive at the age of 37.  The film is so-called AMERICAN SYMPHONY as the artist has been chosen to compose and conduct a symphony at Carnegie Hall.  The doc mostly records the process of Batiste composing his first symphony.  The doc takes place during one year in the life of Batiste.

Jonathan Michael Batiste is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, and television personality.   He has recorded and performed with artists including Stevie Wonder, Prince, Willie Nelson, Lenny Kravitz, Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey, Roy Hargrove, Juvenile, and Mavis Staples. Batiste, with his band Stay Human, appeared nightly as bandleader and musical director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert from 2015 to 2022. His interview with Colbert forms one of the lighter moments in the doc.

Batiste also serves as the music director of The Atlantic and the Creative Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. In 2020, he co-composed the score for the Pixar animated film Soul, for which he received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Grammy Award and a BAFTA Film Award (all shared with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross).  Batiste has garnered 5 Grammy Awards from 14 nominations, including an Album of the Year win for his album We Are (2021)..

The doc also shows, from archive footage his father and mother’s influence on his music.  His mother insisted that he learn classical piano as the basics.  Batiste was also selected to the famed Juilliard School in NYC.   This is where he formed his band ‘Stay Human’.

The doc documents Batiste’s courage, talent and humanity as his wife, Suleika Jaouad faces leukemia.

This is no Hollywood bullshit like Bradley Cooper helming Leonard Bernseain’s biography in MAESTRO which is more or less Oscar bait.  AMERICAN SYMPHONY is the real thing - a real-life American composer and conductor, Jon Batiste, whose life and aspirations are shown in this little but earnest and honest documentary.  This is a Netflix original doc just like MAESRO, which is the reason Netflix probably coincided with the two films’ opening dates.  The film had its world premiere at the 50th Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2023.



Directed by Reginald Rudlin


A man is determined to win the neighbourhood's annual Christmas decorating contest. He makes a pact with an elf called Pepper (Jillian Bell) to help him win - and the elf casts a spell that brings the 12 days of Christmas to life, which brings unexpected chaos to town.

Review Embargo lifted 9 am Nov 30th Thursday ET


FIRELINE (USA 2023) ***½

Directed by Tylor Norwood


The word FIRELINE is the title of a new documentary that examines the work of Californian firefighters.  The word Fireline in British  English means the strip of open land in a forest or prairie, that arrests the advance of a fire (another name for firebreak).   Though the title Wireline is used, the usage of this tactic is not specifically shown in the film.

The doc begins with the scene of a fire in Northern California at 3 am.  The Dixie Firenin Lasengeer County has already burnt 500,000 acres of land. 6,000 men are already on the job.

Enter the spectacle and drama of a megafire, alongside a firefighting team struggling to save anything they can while protecting each other. FIRELINE takes audiences into the firescape, to feel for the first time what those fighting these blazes face, especially as climate change makes megafires larger and more frequent. It's an intimate portrait of a system stretched to its breaking point, revealing the friendship, heartbreak, and exhilaration experienced by those who go to war against this elemental force.

FIRELINE focuses on three firefighters from the Cal Fire Lassen-Modoc Unit, and their harrowing experience fighting a megafire for 36 emotional hours. The filmmakers also worked with The California Fire Foundation, which provides emotional support to families of fallen firefighters, firefighters and the communities they protect.  “If are not nervous, then there is something wrong with you.”  The fire can change direction and course without a moment’s notice.

The importance of the planning of the tactical maneuvers in firefighting is shown and likened to the importance of the military tactics used in battles by General MacArthur.   

A fair portion of the doc focuses on the firefighters.  It is stated that these firefighters spend more time with their colleagues than with their friends and family, so the firefighters form a close-knit family on their own.  They work together.  However, there is little conflict or problems shown in the doc of the firefighters.

The doc focuses mainly on the Californian firefighters and the fires that have raged out of control in California.  There is little mention of fires or the firefighting that goes on in the other countries of the world - elect for a token nod with brief images of fire in Brazil, Europe and Australia.  International cooperation is mentioned but largely omitted.

What is immediately noticeable and not addressed in the film is the largely white men who form the firefighting team.  There are hardly any women, black or Latino that are seen.

Justin, Tyler and Riley, 3 firefighters featured in the doc had to do a 60-hour no-sleep duty before being able to sleep in their beds.  The doc says that other firefighters go through the same gruesome routine to perform their largely thankless task.

FIRELINE covers not only the firefighting performed by the firefighters but also the human aspects of the arduous tasks giving the audience insight into what it means to be firefighters on the job, while also showing the trauma of the victims of the fires who have lost their homes and basically everything of their livelihood.  An informative eye-opening documentary that needs to be seen.

The doc will be released on digital platforms on December 5, 2023


MAESTRO (USA 2023) **

Direct by Bradley Cooper


The MAESTRO (Italian word for Master or Teacher) in the film is famous American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.  This is the long-awaited vehicle starring and directed by Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper, telling of Bernstein’s life and achievements.  However, as almost perfect as the film is, in most departments particularly in the acting and makeup ones, the film definitely has the feel of ‘Oscar bait’ as Cooper aims to win one for Best Actor if not get a nod for Best Direction.

Leonard Bernstein who passed in 1990 at a relatively early age of only 72, is considered to be one of the most important conductors of his time.  He was the first American conductor to receive international acclaim. Bernstein was "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history" according to music critic Donal Henahan.  He has numerous honours and accolades including seven Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, and 16 Grammy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award as well as an Academy Award nomination. He received the Kennedy Center Honour in 1981.

As for the film, he composed the original score for the Elia Kazan drama film On the Waterfront (1954), and theatre works including On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953), Candide (1956), and his Mass (1971).  One would have expected more mention of his theatre and film works since this is a filmed biography that Cooper noticeably leaves out.  There is only a brief mention of Bernstein’s most popular musical WEST SIDE STORY.

The most obvious and arguably most embarrassing moment in the film is the segment in which Cooper directs the orchestra (Mahler) and in another when he shows a novice what to do,  If this is not Oscar bait, then no one knows what is.  

Cooper’s direction is also odd at times. In one confrontational scene between Bernstein and his wife (Carey Mulligan), he films the fight at a distance as if in a stage play.  There are no close-ups or edits as the two argue their points of view.  Perhaps Cooper does not want the audiences to be influenced by taking sides but one will never know the reason for this off-filming tactic.

From the photos of the real Leonard Berstein, Cooper looks almost exactly like the man in various states of his life.  Credit to the great work from the team of the makeup and prosthetics (Vivian Baker) and hair stylist departments.

The part of Bernstein’s lifelong humanitarian, efforts working in support of civil rights, protesting against the Vietnam War, advocating nuclear disarmament, raising money for HIV/AIDS research and awareness, and engaging in multiple international initiatives for human rights and world peace are all omitted in the film.

As a biography of Leonard Bernstein, the film’s a failure with only his philosophies in life are mentioned as Cooper recites a few monologues as if being interviewed and lots of scenes of him conducting orchestras and arguing with his wife, with only a small of the life included and with his childhood and early background totally ignored.

MAESTRO opens in theatres on November 1st, 2023.


MONSTER (Japan 2023) ***½

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda 

Quiet and reserved Minato (Sōya Kurokawa) — no longer a kid, but not yet an adolescent — lost his father when he was a young child and lives with his mother (Sakura Andō). When he starts behaving strangely, obsessed with the idea his brain has been switched with a pig’s, the mother suspects his teacher Hori (Eita Nagayama) and calls a meeting with the school principal (Tanaka Yūko) only to face a wall of silence and stiff apologies. Someone must have put that idea in Minato’s head, but something doesn’t add up. Is Minato telling the truth, or is his professor innocent?  Looking at the story from various points of view, and told non-chronically and with crisscrossing of events, nothing is what it seems and things can be interpreted differently with dire consequences.  Kore-eda’s film is a bit confusing in the beginning till one realizes what he is trying to do.  The film also covers current issues of single parenting, school bullying, first romance and coming-of-age.  Also, the great soundtrack from legendary musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, who died last March, Monster being his last soundtrack.





MY ANIMAL (Canada 2023) **

Directed by Jacqueline Castel


The film MY ANIMAL has a mudded beginning that sets the tone for the rest of the film.  A young girl, Heather is watching a horror film on TV when she suddenly experiences weird body changes with blood dripping from her orifices.  Her mother calls out to Heather as Heather disappears from the room.

Heather, an outcast teenage goalie, longs to play on the hockey team of her small northern town in Ontario, Canada.  She meets and falls in love with newcomer Jonny, an alluring but tormented figure skater. The girls’ relationship blossoms despite Heather’s struggles with her alcoholic mother, her hidden sexual orientation, and a familial curse that transforms her into a feral wolf under the full moon. Heather and Jonny’s secret tryst soon clashes against the conformity of their small community, exposing dangerous truths and igniting a passionate, violent night of personal transformation. 

As much as director Castel tries to create winning personalities for her two female characters, one cannot help but still feel disconnected with them.  After one awful night for each of them, Jonny has it out with her coach, as seen by Heath as she begins an awful hockey session as a goalie.  It does not help that the two girls decide to go out after their individual troubles and enjoy themselves by doing huge ‘wheelies’ on the ice with their car and then making hot lesbian love shots with red lighting.  Heather’s telling of a scary story to Jonny is also as irritating as it is unoriginal, as everyone has heard this similar scare story tactic before,

The film aims to be a coming-of-age story - one with a difference, in which Heather tackles several problems including turning into a wolf.  The film’s different narratives does not blend well together and it definitely is a case of taking up too much on one’s plate (lesbian love story; coming-of-age; alcoholic mother/daughter relationship; females in the male sports world; horror werewolf story).

The best thing about the film is its authentic Northern Ontario setting, shot in the dismal and cold winter where the sun is rarely shown shining.  The whole atmosphere is depressing, which unfortunately adds a damper feeling for the film.

There is no explanation given to the wold or werewolf background, just the fact that it has run in the family and Heather is going up and the wolf instincts are beginning to manifest itself.  The mother’s alcoholism adds to Heather’s distress and seems unnecessary in the story to put additional trauma on the teenager.

The film contains some neat and exciting editing work, especially during the filming of the hockey games.

Good intentions and hard work do not always translate to a good film, the fresh new take on teen lesbian love, a werewolf metaphorical story set in a small town hockey setting turns out a disappointment.

MY ANIMAL has opened at several festivals around the world including:

Sundance Film Festival 2023 - World Premiere

Outfest Los Angeles 2023 - Centerpiece film

Fantasia Film Festival 2023 - Canadian Premiere

and opens in theatres on December the 1st, 2023.



Directed by Sara Nodjoumi and Till Schauder


Nikzad Nodjoumi, more commonly known as Nicky Nodjoumi (born 1942) is an Iranian-born American fine art painter. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His paintings address Iranian politics, history, power and corruption.  For this reason, he has been banned from Iran and his paintings taken away from the Art Museum in Tehran.  Were the paintings destroyed?  Were the paintings stolen?  Were the paintings re-located?  No one knows.  The artist claims that a part of his life had been lost with the lost paintings.  The doc tells the story of the missing painting.  The doc is directed by the artist Nicky’s daughter and her husband.

In their hybrid political thriller and verité portrait documentary A REVOLUTION ON CANVAS, Sara Nodjoumi makes her directorial debut alongside her husband and co-director Till Schauder, with this personal film diving into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of more than 100 "treasonous" paintings by her father, the seminal Iranian modern artist Nickzad “Nicky” Nodjoumi - one of Iran’s most revolutionary artists.

The doc also shows Nicky at work during a painting, using time-lapse photography.  Nicky speaks to the camera ever so often, informing the audience that his canvas shows the story of the revolution - hence the title of the doc, A REVOLUTION ON CANVAS.  He also says that the paintings have to be recovered, not because they are his best work, but because they tell an important story.

He is concerned about issues like contracted borders (who gets to live where), the environment, war and revolution being a few of them.  So what makes Nicky different from other artists?  The doc makes it clear that he is one who cannot help himself but express current troubled news as art.  Whenever a troubling issue appears in the news, Nicky creates art from it.  The director, his daughter when interviewing him, has declared himself to be a revolutionary.  He looks like one from the archive footage, with his beard.  There is a bit of his romance with his wife in the story, the girl who loved him and ignored her family’s objections.  His daughter can be considered to be following in his footsteps by making this documentary on him and telling his story.

A REVOLUTION IN CANVAS is the daughter’s director’s extensive home movie on her father.   The film has interesting material though the material might be considered too personal and too Iranian or too narrow in its appeal.  All this considered, the doc overs a good tale of the artist, his life, his beliefs, his fame and his works.

A REVOLUTION ON CANVAS will have a limited theatrical release in U.S. movie theatres starting Friday, December 1st in New York at Cinema Village. A week later, on Friday, December 8th, it will open in Los Angeles at Laemmle Royal and in San Francisco at The Roxie. The film will have its Toronto theatrical premiere on Sunday, December 3 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. The film’s directors will participate in Q&A’s at Toronto’s premiere.



Directed by John Woo


The new John Wood action film is entitled SILENT NIGHT for two reasons.  The setting is Christmas eve and the protagonist has lost his speaking ability after recovering from a shot in the throat jugular rendering him unable to speak.

The film begins with a two-car chase with shots firing between the two cars as the cars react around a neighbourhood.  Caught in the crossfire is the young boy who is ultimately killed by a stray bullet.  The father (Joel Kinnaman from TARZAN) pursues the chase on foot - kind of unbelievable - and ends up cornering one of the cars but unfortunately, gets a shot in his throat an brought to the hospital in an ambulance.  After a super gross-out scene in which he is operated on and the bullet removed (yes, there is the clinking sound of the retrieved bullet lancing in the metal bowl), he returns home unable to walk or speak.  Angrily he hunts down the gang members responsible for the son’s death.

The film boasts a no-dialogue script.  Even the confrontation between husband and wife is wordless.   Unfortunately, the pro of a complete no-dialogue film does not work.  the novelty wears thin after a while.  Apparently, the filmmakers have forgotten to tell a story, forgetting that a plot is necessary and one with emotions and credibility.  The audience is led to believe that the father Brian Goodrich is available to hunt down the suspects with the aid of getting photographs from a detective in charge of gang warfare (Scott Mescudi) while learning how to fight and use weapons better than any gag member after the accident.

The film does not require much from actor Kinnaman, who is normally a good and buffed actor, but here looks grim and angry.  The wife has to be played, by a Latino, not by an African American actor.  The detective is played by an African American for political correctness.

A film with minimal plot and action sequences packed one after another was first explored by the successful JOHN WICK 4 film, followed by Simon Wincer’s THE KILLER.  SILENT NIGHT attempts more of the same with one violent action sequence after another but ends up the worst of the films.  There is one extended hand-to-hand combat scene that shows how difficult it is to kill a man but does too over-the-top.  Master of Suspense shows how difficult it is to kill a man with Paul Newman and a woman trying to kill a spy in TORN CURTAIN, the segment is done slow and credible, unlike in SILENT NIGHT.

The editing and fight segments are well executed, but there is much more required to make a good action movie than just action alone, as his film proves.

SILENT NIGHT is the ‘perfect’ anti-Christmas movie in which unforgiveness rules.  After a 2 decade hiatus, Hong Kong director  returns with this awful violent movie, the poorest version of a JOHN WICK 4 and THE KILLER  action movie that has the audience ask the question: “Am I supposed to be entertained by all this?”

SILENT NIGHT opens in theatres on November 1st.


WOMEN ON THE EDGE (NO ME ROMPAN) (Argentina 2023) ***

Directed by Azul Lombardía


A comedy that relates the tale of two ladies who, despite coming from different worlds, are subject to many of the same demands, obligations, and mandates.

WOMEN ON THE EDGE sounds like a shorter title of the 1988 Pedro Almodovar romp WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A MENTAL BREAKDOWN.  There are several similarities between the two films.  Firstly, both films are shot in Spanish, though WOMEN ON THE EGE is Argentinian Spiniest and the other one is Spanish Spanish.  Both films deal with the empowerment of women and both have a strong female cast.  Both are also colourful comedies the colourful to be taken literally as both films contain lots of colour.  Bot films are also about wronged women,  The Almodovr file deals with a woman going on a journey to find out why her lover left her and WOMEN ON THE EDGE has the man leaving one of the women in the two-women story,

WOMEN ON THE EDGE begins bright and colourful.  The camera spans a wide array of beauty products like grape collagen to other outrageous products as the second woman in the story has an organic cosmetics line, though it is revealed that she does not test her products,

WOMEN ON THE EDGE is a female movie all the way.  The film has two female protagonists, wronged by the male.  The alee is the main female public enemy number one.  And the ladies are about to exact a revenge that is not to be forgotten.

WOMEN ON THE EDEG might not win any film awards, but it is good old-fashioned female fun. like the sexy but harmless comedies that turned out in the 60s.

WOMEN ON THE EDGE is open for streaming on Netflix, a Netflix original film this week.


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