KOKOMO CITY (USA 2023) ***
Directed by D. Smith
KOKOMO CITY serves as a prime example of guerrilla filmmaking. After facing rejections from five directors, D. Smith took matters into her own hands, acquiring a camera and becoming the driving force behind the film. Smith impressively took on multiple roles, including producer, writer, director, composer, and cinematographer, even though she was a novice in filmmaking.
The documentary opens with a powerful account from Daniella, a transgender woman from New York City, recounting a harrowing incident involving a man she brought home for sex. The tension escalates as Daniella reveals that she was forced to defend herself with a gun. This candid and gripping narrative sets the tone for the film, showcasing its raw energy and unfiltered honesty.
The heart of the documentary revolves around the lives of four Black transgender sex workers - Daniella Carter and Dominique Silver from New York, and Koko Da Doll and Liyah Mitchell from Georgia. These resilient individuals shatter the barriers imposed by their profession, courageously sharing their experiences and struggles.
KOKOMO CITY sheds light on the challenges faced by transgender individuals, depicting the lack of respect and sensitivity they often encounter from others. Director D. Smith, herself a trans woman, brings a unique perspective to the film, having experienced firsthand the struggles in the music industry after her transition.
The film's soundtrack, curated by Smith, features a diverse range of songs, including Randy Crawford's "Street Life" and the evocative "Sissy Man Blues" by Kokomo Arnold, from whom the film derives its title.
As a minimalist documentary, KOKOMO CITY primarily consists of the four subjects sharing their experiences directly with the camera, supplemented by interviews with a few men who have interacted with them. At certain points, animated drawings are incorporated to emphasize specific points, adding a creative touch to the storytelling.
The documentary offers an intimate portrayal of black transgender sex workers, delving deep into their lives and experiences. Although the subject matter might be niche and unconventional for some viewers, it remains compelling and thought-provoking.
Tragically, one of the documentary's subjects, Koko Da Doll, was fatally shot in Atlanta in April 2023. This news adds a layer of poignancy and sadness to the film, emphasizing the harsh realities faced by the transgender community.
Despite the challenging subject matter, KOKOMO CITY has received critical acclaim and accolades. The documentary was honoured with the NEXT Innovator Award and the NEXT Audience Award at Sundance 2023, in addition to the Audience Award in the Panorama Documentary section at Berlin 2023.
KOKOMO CITY is set to open on July 28 in various cities, including Toronto (TIFF Bell Lightbox), Vancouver (Vancity), Montreal, and Quebec City, offering audiences a unique and emotionally charged cinematic experience.
THE LADY OF SILENCE: THE MATAVIEJETAS MURDERS (Mexico 2023) ***
Original title: La dama del silencio: El caso de la Mataviejitas
Directed by María José Cuevas
A lady speaks in voiceover over archive photographs describing her mother, how loving she was and how she poured all her love to her and her children. The voiceover goes on to announce that on that fateful day between 1 and 130 pm, she received a phone call from her nephew that her mother had been strangled by a telephone cable. This is one of a series of killings targeting old women that has the police of Mexico City totally baffled. This doc which opens for streaming on Netflix tells the story - thriller style.
The excellent clip is followed by credits that move in the style of the opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST greeting the audience in the Netflix original documentary THE LADY OF SILENCE: THE MATAVIEJETAS MURDERS.
Between 1998 and 2005, a wave of murders targeting elderly women hit Mexico City, triggering the hunt for and capture of a most unlikely suspect.
The investigators break down the stages of the serial killer’s actions. The first is the stalking in which the killer follows and finds out where the victim lives, whether she lives alone and when is the possible time to attack. The next is the seduction phase. The killer will then pose as someone who can offer the victim services such as a government official who can offer a senior card to access financial aid. The third is the attack phase where the killer is in the home and strangles the old lady with anything like the cord of a telephone or tape recorder, the rope tying up the curtains or any cable lying around. The killer would normally take a souvenir to remind him or her of the victim.
The doc should satisfy the curiosity of audiences fascinated by the motive or motives of serial killers. The doc references a few past international serial killers, as the Mexican police seek aid from other countries in finding this serial killer, not having much experience since Mexico had no history of serial killings since the 1940’s. There are clips of serial killers from archive footage - from Ted Bundy to Jeffery Dahmer and even France's most notorious serial killer nicknamed the monster of Montmartre who follows elderly ladies to their homes, tortured them in order to find where they hid their savings and then strangled them.
Director Cuevas also details how Mexican police also garnered the help from other countries. There is a segment that shows the French educating and giving a course on serial killers. He notes the difficulty of the Mexican police and how procedures in France might not apply in Mexico. Often there is no connection between the victims and killer which makes it difficult to identify new possible cases.
Director Cuevas includes a nostalgic segment on grandmas with a clip from an old Mexican movie with old age star Sarah Garcia as a loveable granny.
THE LADY OF SILENCE: THE MATAVIEJETAS MURDERS plays like a taut suspense documentary full of cinematic pleasures that finally satisfy the audience’s curiosity on serial killers and this one’s particular capture. The doc drags on during the last 30 minutes after the killer is caught with the doc's different focus on Mexico's judiciary system and the killer's new celebrity status.
THE MURDERER (Thailand 2023) ****
Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng
THE MURDERER begins like a typical horror movie. It is the dead of night and ominous music can be heard in the background. A white man appears and is drenched in blood. He hears a voice saying: “Help me, help me, please.” followed by a scream. The next scene that follows is a completely different one with a police investigator, a real goof of a policeman questioning suspects, the actor playing him, a well-known Thai comedian who overacts in a goofy way. THE MURDERER is the new Netflix film opening this week that can be described as a blend of different genres - horror, comedy, suspense, romance and family drama.
The story unfolds in flashbacks as the police investigator questions various suspects in the investigating room, the two words printed large and clear so that no one would miss the purpose of the room. There has been a mass murdered in which 7 family members have been slaughtered brutally. The chief suspect is a white man. It is revealed that a Thai girl who is 29, has just married a white man, a Brit and has brought him home to her family in the North of Thailand. To set the record, this is the first film to be shot in this Thai dialect, according to the press notes. The white man is given the term ‘ferang’ by the family.
As the film is told in flashbacks, there are titles such as 1) the arrival of the white man 2) the suspect 3) the girl 4) the fortune teller’s prediction etc. all of which does not really gel together. But who cares as long as the audience is being entertained? On the positive side, the script by Abishek J. Bajaj is rather smart with neat little unexpected plot twists and turns. AN upcoming nasty storm is also in the background casting menace over the situation at hand. The film also plays as a whodunit, the obvious suspect - the feared or white man being the one, but obviously too obvious to be the true killer. Nothing is what it seems and the script is full of hilarious surprises as well.
This very silly yet brilliant blend of slasher horror and wacky comedy (from Thailand) with rarely a dull moment will definitely impress horror fans and put its Thai director on the filmmaking map. Smart too is the reverse racism depicted in the film. The white man, the outsider is the victim here, with all the Thai family firmly disliking and having bad thoughts about the white man. Worse is the person in authority, the police investigator who believes the white man is guilty at the very start.
And there is good news for those that enjoy this horror romp! Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, director of content for Netflix Thailand had announced three films and two series. The first film was released on November 16 last year and can already be streamed on Netflix. The LOST LOTTERIES is a madcap heist film about five losers on a mission to retrieve a lottery ticket from a mafia gang in a firecracker factory. Next is HUNGER about a woman from a family-run local noodles joint who is invited to join a top high-end restaurant and rounding up is MON RAK NAK PAK which follows a travelling cinema troupe as it goes on the road to bring the joy of live-dubbed films to local audiences.
NORTH OF NORMAL (Canada 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Carly Stone
Based on Cea Sunrise Person’s 2014 memoir, director Carly Stone’s accomplished NORTH OF NORMAL recounts the author’s tumultuous, unconventional childhood. In the 1970s, Cea’s hippie grandparents, Grandpa Dick (Robert Carlyle) and Grandma Jeanne (Janet Porter) flee the repressive climate of the United States for the untrammelled wilds of Alberta and British Columbia with Cea and her teenage mother, Michelle (Sarah Gadon), in tow. Surrounded by permanently-stoned adults acting with little regard for any conventions (especially sexual ones), Cea lives a blissfully ignorant, near idyllic life. This is the coming-of-age passage and story of Cea and unlike many other films of this genre, the passage takes a decade or more to journey through, not one summer or year.
The film is stunningly shot, one assumes in northern Ontario and not in B.C. or Alberta since this film is a project of Ontario Creates. River Price-Maenpaa and Amanda Fix who play Cea as child and teenager, deliver exuberant and credible performances in an otherwise charming and realistic film of the strength of family bonding.
NORTH OF NORMAL premiered at TIFF in 2022 and opens in theatres July the 28th.
PARADISE (Germany 2023) ***
Directed by Boris Kunz, Tomas Jonsgården and Indre Juskute
The PARADISE being referred to in the new German sci-fi thriller is the near-future world where there exists a new technology that can transfer a person’s life years to another human. With this comes a price. Aeon is the company promising that one can “Donate your time and start a new life.”
The audience is shown how the process works by a segment at the film’s start, showing one of the company’s top salespersons by the name of Max, interviewing a prime candidate to convince him to donate his years. He is promised 700,000 euros for taking 15 years of his life. He is convinced by Max that he cannot make this amount of money in 15 years and that money will buy him and his family a new life - they are currently refugees. This is quite the attractive offer one can hardly refuse.
The next scene shows Max awarded top salesperson of the year at AEON, and praised by the CEO, Sophie Thiessen who gives a speech revealing more information for the audience. But the gist of this is that the donor gets older while the receiver younger in years.
Aeon faces trouble from activists who they deem as terrorists. A terrorist group called the Adam Organisation rises up, believing that Aeon is exploiting another system to allow the rich to get richer and the poor to eke out a (much shorter) living. They target all the receivers and in an early scene, infiltrate the Aeon facility and eliminate all 15 receivers.
The main plot of the film concerns Max and his wife. After Max’s wife is forced to give up 40 years of her life as payment for an insurance debt involving a fire in their luxury apartment, Max desperately searches for a way to get them back.
The film also takes a slight diversion by examining the two responsible to bring Tom and his wife to justice. One is a black woman, herself a remuneration subject , looking much younger than her real age of 64, and thus totally loyal to Sophie Thiessen. The other is a bearded investigator who is also top notch at what he does. They embrace the motto of the company they work for: "Your life; your chance; your your choice”. When questioned about using illegal tactics (software and devices not known to the police) to track down the company’s enemies, they justify that they just work for security; not for world peace.
PARADISE feels less like a sci-fi thriller, assuming that is what it is aimed at, because the film spends too much details to make it credible as well as a complete world. To the latter effect, PARADISE succeeds. The film creates a dystopian new world complete with rules and problems and examines how people on both sides - the donors and receivers, as they are called live their lives, with their conscience. When donors are approached the interview process is also shown, to show how the donors are convinced. The script also goes right down to the details of pricing. It costs 700,000 euros for 15 years, thus working out to giving up 40 years of Elena’s life to pay her debt of 2.5 million euros.
PARADISE streams on Netflix beginning this week.
SHRAPNEL (USA 2021)***
Directed by William Kaufman
Directed by William Kaufman and written by Chad Law and Johnny Martin Walter, SHRAPNEL is an action flick about a man protecting his family when one daughter goes missing after being kidnapped. With his wife and other daughter in tow he tracks down the bad guys, TAKEN-style.
The film opens and plays like TAKEN where a father goes all out, no holds barred to find and rescue his ‘taken’ daughter. Instead of showing the daughter taken, the film opens with the father finding the daughter’s car mysteriously missing in Mexico and unable to explain how the car disappeared, has to go back to the United States.
Sean, the father (Jason Patric) then teams up with her former marine partner (Cam Gigandet) and faces off against the cartel responsible.
“You promised to keep us safe. You didn’t! Get out!” exclaims the other daughter to the father as he tries to speak to her in her room. He exits and closes the door. Some drama is necessary and added to the action set pieces at times.
Patric and Gigandet are two action stars and it is good to see them both together in one film.
Gigandet joins the action only at the last third of the film. He is the more handsome of the two and gets to deliver the funny lines to enliven the proceedings. The magic question is whether the two will survive storming he cartel chief’s stronghold.
The film is set in the border towns around Mexico and the United States but filmed in the state of New Mexico. It is a dry but still beautiful country, well demonstrated by the d.p. Mark Rutledge, with lots of poverty on display.
The film contains a lot s of violence and shows how far a father will go to protect his family.
Director Kaufman’s SHRAPNEL is a no-nonsense action flick that skimps on subplots like romance, redemption etc. but still touches these issues without compromising on the action. With loud shouting, jittery and held camera and chase stunts, SHRAPNEL is a low budget effective thriller that delivers its product without any shit.
SHRAPNEL opens in theatres, on Digital and On Demand July 28, 2023. From Saban Films.
TALK TO ME (Australia 2022) *
Directed by Danny and Michael Philippou
TALK TO ME is a 2022 Australian supernatural horror film, the hit at the Adelaide Film Festival, directed by Danny and Michael Philippou, in their feature film directorial debut. Written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman from a concept by Daley Pearson. The concept is a n embalmed hand. If someone holds it and says the words: ‘Talk to Me’ followed by 'Let Me In', then whatever spirit is in the hand will possess the person holding it, while a candle is also lit.
TALK TO ME opens with a young man, Cole, stumbles through a crowded house party as he attempts to locate his brother Duckett, who is injured. While Cole is escorting him out, Duckett stabs Cole before fatally stabbing himself. The stabbing is enough to have the audience jump out of their seats and prepares the audience for what is to come in what is a very scary jump-out-of-your seat horror possession flick.
17-year-old Mia is struggling with the second anniversary of her mother Rhea's suicide and her emotionally distant relationship with her father, Max. m She finds solace in her best friend Jade's family, consisting of Jade's mother and little brother Riley. Mia, Jade, and Riley sneak out to a party hosted by Hayley and Joss. The main attraction is a mysterious severed embalmed hand, which they use to conjure spirits by lighting a candle and saying, "Talk to me," which allows them to meet the spirit. Next, they say "I let you in" for full possession; the candle is blown out after 90 seconds to "close the door"; otherwise, the spirits will stay. Mia goes first and is possessed by a spirit that threatens Riley, although the possession exceeds the time limit. Apparently the hand had been passed from someone else and continues to pass from one person to another,
There is nothing really new in the concept of possession from a possessed object LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and the scares like banging on one's head loudly on a desk or table. Ari Aster did it in HEREDITARY, his first horror film. But the rehash of material is at least well-put together culminating in a sufficiently scary film from down-under.
UNKNOWN: COSMIC TIME MACHINE (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by Shal Gal
The best documentary features ( 4 in total) arrive on Netflix once a week, every Monday except the last one on the 31st, to entice and fascinate. They belong to the UNKNOWN series and begin in July of 2023. UNKNOWN is made up of four docs, with a new feature-length documentary releasing each week through July 2023, and its alternative focus makes it one of the best Netflix shows especially if one wants something a little different.
The one reviewed here is the 4th of the series entitled UNKNOWN: COSMIC TIME MACHINE. For the cinephile who loves the space genre or astronomy and space studies, like myself, this one is a must-see!
13.8 billion years ago, atoms and molecules of hydrogen combined together to form stars and the galaxy.
COSMIC TIME MACHINE (which isn't about actual time machines) follows NASA as it worked to make the James Webb Space Telescope, which from the news in July 2022 as the first photos from this expedition were well publicized. The time machine element comes from the theory of light speed measured in light years. The telescope captures an image of stars millions of light years away, a light year being the distance light travels in one year. Light travels at 300,000,000 meters per second, so one can imagine the enormous distance traveled in a year that is made up of 365 days multiplied by 24 hours ,utilized by 60 minutes by 60 seconds. So what is photographed has therefore happened way the past by the time the light reaches the telescope, the telescope functioning like a time machine. This concept is briefly explained in the film.
The Cosmic Time Machine of the film title refers to the James Webb (named after the second administrator of NASA) Space Telescope (JWST) - the largest space telescope, made to conduct infrared astronomy. Its high-resolution and high-sensitivity instruments allow it to view objects too old, distant, or faint for the Hubble Space Telescope. This enables investigations across many fields of astronomy and cosmology, such as observation of the first stars, the formation of the first galaxies, and detailed atmospheric characterization of potentially habitable exoplanets. Webb operates in a halo orbit, circling around a point in space known as the Sun–Earth L2 Lagrange point, approximately 1,500,000 km (930,000 mi) beyond Earth's orbit around the Sun. Its actual position varies between about 250,000 and 832,000 km (155,000–517,000 mi) from L2 as it orbits, keeping it out of both Earth and Moon's shadow.
The doc can be divided into these main parts: the design of the James Webb telescope including the difficulty of testing and probability of error (the first ;punch failed); the actual launching followed by its travel to its destination obit at L2; the first image taken, as announced by President Biden followed by the explanation of what the dots and brightness of the image represent. It is all so elating and mesmerizing to see how everything works and how mankind is able to work together to accomplish a miraculous goal.
Amazing, mind-boggling and incredible! With the telescope’s search for life, the way humans understand the universe will dramatically be changed. The doc streams this week on Netflix.