January of the New Year is known for its lack of outstanding films.  This is true this year as well but there will be exceptions.  One is the Italian gay drama based on a true incident called FIREWORKS which arrives on VOD on the 18th.  ALL OF US STRANGERS is another exception opening later in January.


BITCONNED (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Bryan Storkel


One of  Netflix’s new movies opening the week of January 2024, is BITCONNED, the docu-film about Ray Trapani’s crypto scam and the rise and fall of his company Centra Tech. 

A bit of background first is needed on what Bitcoin is to appreciate the documentary.  Bitcoin is the first decentralized cryptocurrency. Nodes in the peer-to-peer Bitcoin network verify transactions through cryptography and record them in a public distributed ledger, called a blockchain, without central oversight.  Use of Bitcoin as a currency began in 2009, with the release of its open-source implementation.  In 2021, El Salvador adopted it as legal tender.[Bitcoin is currently used more as a store of value and less as a medium of exchange or unit of account. It is mostly seen as an investment and has been described by many scholars as an economic bubble.  As bitcoin is pseudonymous, its use by criminals, including the one featured in the doc, has attracted the attention of regulators, leading to its ban by several countries as of 2021.  Trapani foresaw the scamming g potential of bitcoin trading in the form of conversion for use via a debit card and started the ball rolling with his group of conspirators.

Trapani and his co-conspirators claimed that they "developed platforms that connect world commerce and cryptocurrencies.”  This was the Centra Card, which operated much like any other debit card, allowing "cardholders to spend their cryptocurrencies in all fiat currency transactions.”  The company claimed that its Currency Conversion Engine (CCE) Module would "enable customers to convert their blockchain assets to market value fiat to obtain near-perfect exchange rates.”  The company's investors were essentially duped into purchasing "unregistered stocks in the form of digital tokens.”

The doc shows Trapani to be an extremely interesting person, which of course, makes the doc more interesting.  Ever since he could learn to talk, the audience is told, he would say he always wanted to make money.  When he grew up, like other kids who wanted to be a doctor or lawyers, he wanted to become a criminal.  Trapani is interviewed in the doc and speaks candidly of his beliefs, regardless of the consequences of what he is saying, again making the doc more interesting.  When finally accosted by the FBI, he cooperated fully with the government resulting in him serving no jail time.  This involves ratting out all his co-conspirators all of whom serve jail time.  Truth be told, Ray Trapani should be the one in prison.

The doc should be less interesting to those uninterested in the Bitcoin business but still should be informative and educational enough to be deemed a worthwhile watch.  For those in the know, BITCONNED is not only informative but insightful providing views from both sides of the story on the bitcoin scam devised by Ray Trapani.  On a personal note, this film reviewer has absolutely no sympathy for financial scammers, as the reviewer has been scammed as well, thankfully for only a paltry sum.  They deserve the maximum punishment allowed by law.

BITCONNED is currently streaming on Netflix from the New Year.


GOOD GRIEF (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Daniel Levy


When his husband, Oliver (Luke Evans)  unexpectedly dies in a taxi accident during Christmas and it is revealed in the Christmas card that he has another love in Paris, Marc's (Daniel Levy) world understandably shatters, sending him and his two best friends on a soul-searching trip to Paris that reveals some hard truths they each needed to face.

The Christmas song “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is played in the coffee shop where Marc meets his lawyer to discuss the past finances of his late partner only to discover the awful truth that the spending included two people, the other not being himself.  Realizing that his partner had been seeing someone else mass it was one of the most awful times of his life, after spending a year in mourning.  The Christmas song serves as a stark contrast used to highlight the situation.

Daniel Levy is quick with his comedic wit and has been more than hilarious, as observed in his successful television hint SHITT’S CREEK is more ink comedic check here.  Though the humour is present, it is only slight, an example lies in the segment when the title of the film, GOOD GRIEF suddenly appears on the screen, at the film’s beginning.

Written by Levi, it is interesting to note the character's personality, Marc has written and chosen to play.  Marcus is a character that is pitiful yet not paretic, someone that the audience needs to feel sorry for.  But he can be a bit of a prick when he invites his two best friends to Paris because he needs support as to what he can dig up on Oliver’s past.  The characters Levy pens share common traits of being painful bitches half the time.  His best friend Thomas (Himesh Patel) is nothing more of a complainer who blames others rather than himself and the girl, Sophie (Ruth Negga), self-effacing, comes across as too coy and annoying.  Do all gay written characters behave this way?  Oliver, Marc’s deceased husband, however, has the personality of a straight man, confident, cheating on a relationship and able to command respect and success at work.

Performances are credible.  A bit of heavyweight casting is of British actress Celia Imrie as Marc’s lawyer.  She is an Olivier award-winning and Screen Actors Guild-nominated actress, a Variety magazine 'Icon' and Women in Film and Television 'Lifetime Achievement award' winner.  Her role as a lawyer includes some pivotal advice she gives to Maqrc.

To Levy’s credit, Director Levy’s film contains a few bright spots.  One is the realization that one can still do shady shitty stuff to someone one loves.  The opening scene in which Oliver designs and delivers the Christmas song, sung in parts among the guests is a scene extremely well done, with soundtrack, editing, performances and all.

GOOD GRIEF is an impressive first full-length feature, a bit sappy but still, a film that nevertheless surpasses the typical cliched and often forced theatrical sincerity.  Daniel Levy, who has started his own production company, while making a deal with Netflix, is a talent to be reckoned with, undoubtedly and one hopes he will be able to surprise his fans in the future.

GOOD GRIEF, a Netflix original, opens for streaming on Netflix this week January 5th.



Directed by Jeff Darling

Set in 1964, HE WENT THAT WAY is a taut thriller based on a true crime story, based on Conrad Hilberry's non-fiction book entitled Luke Karamazov that puts a wicked spin on the buddy road trip film.  The film follows 19-year-old serial killer Bobby (Jacob Elordi) as he is picked up by a celebrity animal handler, Jim (Zachary Quinto), on a desolate stretch of Route 66 with priceless cargo in tow, Jim's chimpanzee, Spanky, an American TV darling. As stress between Bobby and Jim rises and their fiery personalities combust, the road only becomes more treacherous the farther they go.

The serial killer Bobby’s real name is Larry Lee Reeves while Jim’s is Dave Pitts.  Have the real names been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty?

HE WENT THAT WAY is basically a male-oriented movie with males leading the cast of characters and a male writer (Evan M. Weiner) and director (Jeff Darling).  Even the film title has the word ‘he’ in it.  Females are largely missing in the film.  William’s wife is only heard over the telephone and never seen in person.  A bartender mentions his daughter in conversation but the daughter is never shown.  The teen girl seen at the gas station is just shown for a fleeting moment and has not much use otherwise in the tale.  The two teen partiers who end up in the motel room are shown sleeping for the most time.

Though described in the press note as a thriller, the film can hardly be described as a thriller but rather than a drama of the relationship between the two men of opposites - one of timid nature and the other too brave for his own good.

The film hardly holds much interest besides the emphasis at the start that this film is based on a true story and that it is almost impossible to guess where this true story will lead to or end.  This raises high hopes for the audience that does not come to fruition.  It is hard to identify less feel sympathetic for two losers on the road.  The first and main character Jim is a spineless being, who is used by his brother-in-law for a loan and then never paid back.   When confronting the brother-in-law he is humiliated.  When he meets Bobby, Bobby taunts and robs Jim while making Jim obey his every need.  Jim tries to change Bobby to become a better person, but this attempt fails as well.  There is also little suspense and little humour in the story.

The film is dedicated to the director Jeff Darling (this is his first film) who died in a surfing accident in March 2022 in Sydney, Australia.

The film premiered at the Tribeca Festival on June 9, 2023.  In October 2023, Vertical Entertainment acquired distribution rights to the film. It is scheduled to be released in a limited release on January 5, 2024, before video on demand on January 12, 2024.



PRIME (South Africa 2023) **

Directed by Thabiso Christopher


PRIME, a new feature set in  South Africa is about the past traumas and buried prejudice of a proud young man, Marius (Richard Gau), who threatens to push away his loving and devoted partner, Thembi (Nomsa Twala), when his racist father dies. Marius's unwillingness to forgive his father for causing his mother's suicide and his determination to not be a failure like his father pushes him to the max as he tries to keep a major project at work, one that's threatened to be taken away from him to satisfy empowerment requirements.  Added to this is Thembi's silent struggle at having lost an opportunity at a new job and being assaulted by a friend, which she struggles to speak to Marius about.  Marius witnesses the friend kissing her, but not the part where she rejects the friend.  This results in the perfect storm for the couple, a storm that is taken advantage of by Eva, an ancient demon who preys on men's souls through seduction and manipulation.

The horror part regarding Eva does not occur till after the halfway mark in the film.

January, the month right after Christmas and New Year, especially in the dead of winter is considered by many as one of the most depressing months of the year, not helped by normally mediocre films after a past of big festive season films.  PRIME is an extremely slow-moving and depressing film about a protagonist who mopes and sulks half the time.  Marius is super-depressed after his father’s death and cannot bring himself to reunite with his family, though the reason given has something to do with the inheritance and his mother's suicide.  Marius hallucinates and time seems to always go backwards a few minutes.  His wife Thembie puts up with him, trying to get him to open up with her.

South African films are usually fast and furious, take the famous DISTRICT 9 films.  PRIME is a slow burn - the slowest South African film I have seen.  The lazy script, written by director Christopher omits many details such as the real reason Marius is at loggerheads with his family, or why he does not want to open up to his wife, or what his job is as chief engineer.  In one scene, Marius claims that he wants to do something useful with his life as chief engineer.  The script includes too many hallucinations and repeated dialogue that could have been omitted in the first place.

The film is not a pleasant watch for a number of reasons, the main one being the depressing and loser behaviour of the protagonist.  Director Christopher uses a lot of annoyances like stroking lights and high-pitched sounds to highlight the trauma faced by Marius.  The frequency of the handheld camera resulting in a jittery screen does not help either.

One wonders the reason Thembie puts up with Marius.  Marius never opens up to her, wears old clothes that stink and never keeps his appointments.  (What this appointment is also never made clear, but hinted as something to do with business.)

For a film set in South Africa, not much is seen of the place.  One assumes that the film is set in the capital of Cape Town.  There are scenes of the beach and the seas South Africa borders the sea.

PRIME is Thabisco Christopher’s first feature.  To his credit, he does invest a lot of time into his characters and this comes with his characters having solid personalities.

PRIME is not a Netflix original film but it premieres in South Africa on January 3rd  and opens on Netflix on January 5th, 2024.

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