FLOAT (Canada 2023) **½

Directed by Sherren Lee



FLOAT is an innocent enough title about a girl learning how to swim. A funny title that more accurately tells the story would be HOW TO LEARN HOW TO SWIM AND FALL IN LOVE IN THE PROCESS which basically is the premise of a rather simple love story that is set in the small seaside town of Holden in Florida.

The movie is based on Kate Merchant's popular Wattpad teen romance story which accumulated over 25.5 million reads on the user-generated fiction platform.  Wattpad is a website for reading and publishing original written fiction and connecting with fellow writers and readers. Its most popular genres are romance, teen fiction, and fan fiction.  As of November 2021, Wattpad has more than 90 million monthly users and there are over 665 million story uploads in total.  But having 25.5 million reads does not guarantee a good story or a good film.

Waverly (Andrea Bang) thought she had her future figured out.  She'd start her medical residency in Toronto after a summer visit to her parents in Taipei.  She feels rejected when her parents cancel her visit to Taipeh and skips Toronto, not telling them, visiting her Aunt Rachel in Holden instead. There, she meets local lifeguard Blake (Robbie Amell).  After he saves her from nearly drowning at a beach party, Blake offers to teach Waverly to swim, and as the lessons continue, the two unexpectedly find themselves falling in love.  But will Blake's ties to his past and Waverly's plans to begin a new job keep them apart once summer ends?  It does not take a genius to guess how the ending turns out.  The film also makes the point that going to medical school to advance a career as a doctor is not as important as puppy love.

The story in the film is quite different from the one in the book.  In the film, Waverly is sent to her Aunt Rachel but in the book, she makes an unannounced detour to her Aunt Rachel.  She is supposed to be in Toronto doing some coop in preparation for medical school.

For a teen romance, the story is corny and filled with cliches complete with obstacles to the romance and makeup at the end.  The Chemistry between the two actors does not quite work well, a factor being that actress Bang looks a bit too young for her age and her settling down to an adult forever relationship is too unbelievable.

Besides being a love story, the film is also one about relationships.  There are several relationships in the story - all estranged ones, of course.  One is between the lifeguard and his sister, another between Waverly’s aunt, Rachel and her mother and the all-important one between Waverly and her parents. which is the reason she has ended up in Holden instead of Toronto.  An addition alone involving two lesbians having a baby is also added for good measure.

The mediocre film has won a string of awards, mainly from the province of British  Columbia.  B.C. supports its own film industry, which is a good thing.  FLOAT opens in theatres, on-demand and on all major platforms on February 9th.


HOW TO HAVE SEX (UK 2023) ****

Directed by Molly Walker


Like hundreds of others, three British teenage girls have come to party in the sun-drenched Cretan town of Malia.  Best holiday ever?  The three girls are awaiting their examination results.  The film is very British from the very start of the film - a good thing - as like many, I love everything British.  The film is based on director Walker’s own high school holiday experiences,  “My fags are all wet,”  cries one as she dips into the sea while the wave sweeps out her pack of cigarettes.  A hungry one cries: “I want big extra-large chips.” while another cries “Mum just called”.  Americans also use the term vacation instead of holidays.  The film is vibrant in the opening as the girls party it out and their enthusiasm and spirit are catching.

They decide the biggest room in their unit that overlooks the pool will belong to the one who manages to get the most sex during the vacation. And so the premise of the film is that the story is less important than the spirit of the movie.  But the premise then turns the film into a more serious setting - a rites-of-passage or coming-of-age story for the three heroines.   Indeed, it’s a rites-of-passage holiday that should be the best summer of their lives.  While awaiting their final exam results, the besties are ready to let loose and live it up, drink and hook up. 

The 3 females are Skye, Tara and Em.  Unlike Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis), Tara (mesmerizing Mia McKenna-Bruce) is still a virgin.  Despite the girls being loud, crazy and all over the place, to her credit, Director Walker keeps the personalities of the three girls endearing and not annoying to the audience.  (Who should want to watch a bunch of annoying teenage girls?)  Director Walker also keeps the film smart, funny and moving.  Even the corny jokes are funny.  “Why doesn’t anyone see pigs hiding in a tree?  Answer: “Because they are pretty good at it.  Or: What is the difference between a rabbit and a plum?”  On the second day, before even the bikinis and lip gloss are barely unpacked when Tara spies the two slightly older British boys staying next door.  One is a friendly goof (Shaun Thomas, THE SELFISH GIANT) who shares Tara’s corny humour.  The other is a handsome asshole (Samuel Bottomley). 

Don’t let the film title fool you.  Despite its playful-sounding title, the film delves into serious territory and covers the material well and with flair.  Winner of the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2023, Molly Manning Walker’s stunning HOW TO HAVE SEX offers up a vibrant depiction of the agonies, ecstasies and ride-or-die glory of young female friendship.  The film also paints a painfully familiar portrait of how first sexual experiences play out.  Yes, the glories, fun and precociousness of youth!

  HOW TO HAVE SEX opens February 9 in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Vancouver and Montreal.



Directed by Zelda Williams


The official synopsis of LISA FRANKENSTEIN the new horror comedy goes like this: In 1989, a misunderstood teenage goth girl named Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) reanimates a handsome corpse (Cole Sprouse) from the Victorian era during a lightning storm and starts to rebuild him into the man of her dreams by using a broken tanning machine in her garage.  After going through a playfully horrific transformation, the romantic duo embarks on a murderous journey to find true love, happiness, and a few missing body parts along the way.

LISA FRANKENSTEIN plays like a teen comedy with a premise that follows along the line of WEIRD SCIENCE in which teen boys create the perfect female.  Here, a female teen creates her true love. 

Director Williams borrows and pays nods (probably more accurate than using the term ‘copy)’ from various classic films through the decades.  For one, the poster of LISA FRANKENSTEIN looks quite like that of WEIRD SCIENCE so one wonders if the poster was modeled from it.  Actress Kathryn Newton as Lisa shares the same goulash hair-do as Helena Bonham Carter, ex-wife of Tim Burton.  Director Williams’ film also plays like a Tim Burton movie notably BEETLEJUICE and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.  In fact, the actor who plays the creature in the film looks like a replica of Johnny Depp in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS with makeup as in BEETLEJUICE.   There are nods to other film classes as well such as the B-horror flick THE CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON, the poster of which can be seen hanging on Lisa’s room wall.  In fact the character of Lisa and her encounter with her step-sister and other girls in school also plays like a varied version of MEAN GIRLS.  One flaw of the movie is the description of Lisa’s heartthrob, Michael Trent (Henry Eikenberry) who is twice described in the film as not having the body of an athlete.  When shown in the bedroom later on in the film, Trent has quite a chiseled body. 

LISA FRANKENSTEIN is not very good - which is a real pity as the film excels in many departments like make-up and wardrobe - generally superior production values and a clever premise that does not translate well into funny comedy.  The humour is generally teenage infantile, but teenage infantile could be hilarious if executed well, as in films like LICENCE TO DRIVE, WEIRD SCIENCE and a whole bunch of John Hughes films.  For example in the upcoming teen sex comedy which is quite good called HOW TO HAVE SEX’, There is a joke: “Why can’t you see pigs hiding in a tree?”  Answer:  “Because they are quite good at it.”  A comedy is supposed to display comedic timing, surprise and inventiveness which this horror comedy unfortunately lacks.  The main flaw is that LISA FRANKENSTEIN is just not funny enough,

LISA FRANKENSTEIN opens February the 9th in theatres together with the other teen sex comedy HOW TO HAVE SEX.  Forget the former film, see the latter.



Directed by Sam Hobkinson

A twisted and different romance for Valentine's Day!

Lover, Stalker, Killer is a real-life crime documentary that tells the complicated story of love, dating, anger, and murder. The horrific crime is explored using interviews, circumstantial evidence and archive footage. This is from Netflix and the new crime documentary that opens Friday 9th, February on the streaming services a short and sharp crime thriller that will keep one glued to their seats from start to finish.

` The film begins with a great setup pushing the start button on audience anticipation.  The audience is told that this crime, according to the prosecutor is the most bizarre and twisted while the defending attorney claims that the murder might not even have happened.  There was no weapon, no body and no crime scene. making one of the strangest murder trails.  It is all caused by a love triangle gone awry.

The doc unfolds in true Hitchcock fashion in which director Hobkinson always keeps audience anticipation at its height.  The audience is set up for a murder in which they are kept guessing as to which one is the victim and who would be the stalker and killer.  The film is narrated by the guy, Dave, an auto-mechanic, so one might guess that he would not likely be the perpetrator.  Or could he be?

Though narrated by Dave Kroupa the docs largely a re-enactment with three actors playing Liz, Cari and Dave.

Here is the gist of the story.  Dave is a lonely guy who moves to Nebraska after a failed marriage tome with his kids.  Going a doing site, Dave gets to meet Liz.  Both connect, sharing the same interests like heavy metal and motorbikes.  Dave has one.  They decide to have a plutonic relationship.  But as they stay so close to each other, they see a lot of each other.  trouble beings brewing when Cari appears one day at Dave’s garage to have her car fixed.  Dave dates her after finding her profile on the dating website and hell slowly but surely reds lose.

No more should be said of the plot at this point but that it gets more and more interesting.  The police investigation also enters the story and one can see how they were initially fooled.

LOVER, STALKER, KILLER is one of the best crime docs to be streamed on Netflix - a completely compelling watch with strong Hitchcock tones in a true story that is almost too bizarre and twisted to believe.


THE PROMISED LAND (BASTARDEN) (Denmark/Germany/Sweden 2023) ***** Top 10

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel


At the Toronto International Film Festival screening, director Nikolaj Arcel mentioned that Denmark had a population of only 5 million and had vast areas of land, like Jutland, the film’s setting, in the north that goes as far as the sea.  He also said that he wanted to make an epic and often there is not that much money available.   Be that as it may, THE PROMISED LAND comes across as an efficient enough epic, epic in emotional and storytelling proportions that come with an all-important message to boot.  The film returns to filmmaking at its best, in what is definitely one of the top movies of the year.  It is a gripping adventure drama, compelling and riveting from start to finish.

The film reunites Mads Mikkelsen with director Arcel, who previously directed him in A Royal Affair (TIFF ’12).

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Ludvig Kahlen, the illegitimate son of a maid and a nobleman, who defied his low status to succeed in Denmark’s military.  Hence, the Danish film title THE BASTARD.  He took 25 years to attain the position of captain whereas a nobleman with royal blood would have taken much, much less time.  Though many had already tried and failed to realize the hopes of King Frederik V for the wild heath of Jutland (the saying goes: the heath cannot be tamed) to be tamed and cultivated.  Kahlen believes he has the necessary mettle to triumph over the inhospitable soil, roving thieves, and many other obstacles.  His most formidable enemy proves to be Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), the landowner who knows that any progress on the heath will cost him his power.  For all his stoic self-reliance, Kahlen soon realizes he cannot succeed without allies such as Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin), a worker who comes under his protection, and Edel Helene (Kristine Kujath Thorp), de Schinkel’s cousin and very reluctant betrothed.

The film is based on the book “The Captain and Barbara” but retaining this title would have given away some of the key points to the plot.  For this reason, the director chose to name his film BASTARDEN.

 BASTERDEN works as an excellent period epic full of spectacle, especially of the barren and almost impossible-to-be-tilled heath of Jutland.  Actor Mikkelsen is nothing short of superb in this role, carrying the film steadily with his serious-looking face, unable to give up his ambition.

Director Arcel does not shy away from violence, which is much needed to get his points across.  Despite the film’s setting of a male-dominated world - for example, de Schinkel rotates having sex with his different female staff, the women in the story particularly Ann Barber and de Schinkel’s cousin have major roles to play in the twists of the story.

There is also much history and geography to learn from the film, in terms of offering methods, instruments and apparatus for surveying and farming the land.  The cinematography depicting the harsh first and blowing winter snow and ice is also stunningly depicted.

THE PROMISED LAND aka BASTARDEN displays filmmaking at its best,  executed with verve and conviction, by a director and actor both at the top of their form. It is the Danish entry for the Best International Feature at the upcoming Oscars and made the shortlist.  The film opens in theatres on February 9th.







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