CANDY CANE LANE (USA 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
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.
A REVOLUTION IN CANVAS (USA 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.
SILENT NIGHT (USA 2023) **
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 2 decade hiatus, the Hong Kong director returns with this awful violent movie, the poorest version of a JOHN WICK 45 and THE KILLER action movie that has the audience asking the question: “Am I supposed to be entertained by all this?”
SILENT NIGHT opens in theatres on November 1st.