The American Independence Day weekend proves to be a boom for new films opening.  Netflix has two winners opening - GOYO and the Japanese animated THE IMAGINARY.  And also streaming is the long-awaited Eddie Murphy BEVERLY HILLS COP: ALEX F.  For family, DESPICABLE ME 4 is the best of the franchise and for action films, KILL from India is action-packed aboard a crowded train.

 

FILM REVIEWS:

BEVERLY HILLS COP: ALEX F (USA 2024) ***
Directed by Mark Molloy

 

The 4th installment of the BEVERLY HILLS COP franchise which began in 1984 when Eddie Murphy was a mere 22 years of age begins with the same hit song ‘The Heat is On’  from that film playing at the film’s start.   Eddie Murphy’s Alex Foley has highjacked a snow plow and raced through the streets of Detroit demolishing cars in the city in a high-speed chase.   It is a high adrenaline-fuelled chase scene well executed with enough energy of hilarity and crashes that should keep the audience’s blood pumping.

So effective is this tactic of combining a super popular tune to a car chase that the same is repeated with the Pointer Sisters' song “Neutron Dance” with another chase this time with Foley on a parking cop’s scooter.  And then one-third time with a lesser-known song and another chase.

Eddie Murphy is now 60.  The latest in the franchise BEVERLY HILLS COP: ALEX F is produced by both Murphy as well as Jerry Bruckheimer.  Has Murphy still got what it takes?  Apparently he has as he is still able to keep audiences laughing with his outrageous shenanigans - as when he touts the name Foley against the name Saunders that his estranged daughter has taken to conning victims with his sweet talk and calling them names like ‘Smart Pants’.  Murphy has trouble getting his character’s sincerity believable on screen.  In his defense, audiences come to see this film to laugh not to watch serious drama.

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, a street-smart police lieutenant from Detroit, Michigan, who frequently travelled to Beverly Hills to investigate crimes that previously had mutual colleagues or friends of his wounded or killed.This time, Foley returns to Beverly Hills after his daughter Jane's (Taylour Paige) life is threatened. She and Axel team up with her ex-boyfriend, Detective Abbott Bobbitt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)  and his old pals, John Taggart (John Ashton) and Billy Rosewood, (Judge Reinhold) to uncover a conspiracy.

Two good cameos deserve mention.  One is the return of Bronson Pinchot as Serge, a former art gallery salesman turned weapons dealer who worked for Victor Maitland. Pinchot returns to the role after 30 years from Beverly Hills Cop III.  The other is actor Luis Guzmán as Chalino Valdemoro.  Kevin Bacon plays the villain,  corrupt cop wearing Rolex and thousand dollar shoes.

Murphy has come a long way since his first BEVERLY HILLS COP film in 1984.  Murphy was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor DREAMGIRLS but did not win, likely because he lost his clout with his comedy NORBITT released the same time as DREAMGIRLS in which he played Norbitt, Norbitt’s over-obese wife Rasputia as well as Mr. Wong.  Someone this silly should not deserve the Oscar. This thought was likely in the minds of the Academy voters.  Murphy was almost the MC for the Oscars - he would have been perfect and hilarious but had to bow out due to some controversy at the time.  Murphy is still the funny donkey in SHREK.

BEVERLY HILLS COP: ALEX F is a long-anticipated Beverly Hills Cop Netflix original.  It succeeds as forgettable entertainment as his fans should not be disappointed.

Trailer: 

DESPICABLE ME 4 (USA 2024) ****
Directed by Chris Renaud

 

One might think that with the 4th installment of the DESPICABLE ME franchise, the filmmakers would have run out of ideas with Gru (Steve Carrell) and his minions, but truth be told, DESPICABLE ME 4 is the best of the series yet.  Not only is DESPICABLE ME 4 full of fresh ideas but the voice characterizations and animation are top-notch aided by several fresh and hilarious comedic set pieces, the funniest happening at the film’s start as a parody of an Awards ceremony.  DESPICABLE 4 is so far the most entertaining animated feature this year and not only for kids loving those pesky cutesy minions.  The trailer is funny enough but more hilarity is on screen not shown in the trailer.

DESPICABLE ME is an American media franchise created by Sergio Pablos, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.  It centres on a former supervillain turned secret agent named Gru, his adoptive daughters, Margo, Edith, and Agnes, and his yellow-coloured Minions. The franchise is produced by Illumination Paris, and distributed by its parent company Universal Pictures.

At Lycée Pas Bon, Gru's alma mater, set in a remote castle in a mountainous region, a reception is taking place: the Award for the Best Pupil among the alumni of the year 1985 is awarded to Maxime Le Mal, who has equipped himself with embedded cockroach body parts. But Gru and Anti-Villain League (AVL) agents manage to arrest him at the end of the ceremony. Following his escape from prison, he and his girlfriend Valentina seek revenge on Gru and his family, including his baby son, Gru Jr.  The AVL puts the whole family into relocation for their protection, under new identities, with only three Minions. Gru's new name is Chet Cunningham, a salesman for solar panels, while Lucy is excited to become a hairdresser. The rest of the Minions are moved to the AVL headquarters, where five of them are augmented with superpowers. But the short career as superheroes of these Mega-Minions is a flop. In their new well-off residential town, Gru and his family meet their new neighbours, the Prescotts, and their teenage daughter Poppy. The latter recognizes Gru and blackmails him into a spectacular robbery: stealing Lycée Pas Bon's mascot, Lenny, a ferocious badger. Gru, Gru Jr and the three Minions ally with Poppy on this mission. They all go home with Lenny, but the badger's collar contains a tracker. Maxime is thus informed of the secret location of Gru and his family and kidnaps Gru Jr. in his flying cockroach vessel. Gru finally saves him with the help of Poppy.

Several hilarious comedic set pieces include a supermarket chase down the food aisles, Poppy’s engineered heist that also includes a chase by the old headmistress in a wheelchair, the Mega Minions, the tennis games and the beginning Awards ceremony.  Will Farrel and Steve Coogan steal the show in their voice characterizations the former as the villain and the other a James Bond type M.

For information, the franchise began with the 2010 film of the same name, which was followed by three sequels, Despicable Me 2 (2013), Despicable Me 3 (2017), and Despicable Me 4 (2024) and by two spin-off prequels, Minions (2015) and Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022). The franchise also includes many short films, a television special, several video games, and a theme park attraction. 

DESPICABLE ME 4 opens July 4th.

Trailer: 

GOYO (Argentina 2024) ***½

Directed by Marcos Carnevale

 

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes i.e. Goya was a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker. He is considered the most important Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  His paintings, drawings, and engravings reflected contemporary historical upheavals and influenced important 19th- and 20th-century painters.  Goya is often referred to as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns.  The new romantic comedy/drama GOYO features an autistic protagonist who loves to paint, which is a name probably a derivation of the famous painter’s name Goya.

A young autistic museum guide lives by a strict routine until he falls in love with his coworker and must confront a whirlwind of new, intense emotions.

One can tell from the start of a film how the movie will turn out.  The same can be said when watching the first few scenes of GOYO.  The audience sees Goyo, an autistic man (he has Asperger’s) taking his pill medication, capsules in blue and black, also the colour of his checked shirt.  Such coordinating details imply that a lot of details will be put into the filming.  And indeed this can be experienced as the film progresses.   The film’s setting is Buenos Aires, observable from the words on the side of the metro train at the station in one scene,

GOYO is a rare film made with not only care but with sensitivity considering the issues covered.  A romantic comedy where the girl faces prejudice when her friends warn her of her beau not being normal,  Yet it is most moving when someone tells her she cannot expect more when someone loves and admires her this much, does tons for her and loves her unconditionally.  And him being cute as hell too.  

Nicolás Furtado portrays the autistic Goyo with his hair slicked back and with his gait with his arms unmoving by his side.  Her facial mannerisms with his sudden stares all reliably reflect a person with autism.   Goyo is irritated with loud sounds, especially sudden ones.   The dialogue reflects his character’s accuracy with numbers.  He remembers dates while being good with numbers and historical data.  The film also celebrates women’s independence.  The security guard he falls for has just kicked her husband out and has to look after her two sons, the elder one exhibiting teenage rebelliousness,  She puts him in place.  Yet, the film shows her as a vulnerable person, having to smoke up to calm her nerves,  The care and thought that goes into the making and writing of this film are very impressive.  The best trailer used in the script - Goyo cannot and does not lie.

The film compels one to admire diversity while reflecting on one's values as well as others’ prejudices.  The film also contains extra with Down syndrome, celebrating diversity in film.

GOYO is a Netflix original film that opens for streaming this week.  Don’t let the romantic comedy genre put you off as this is a rare and endearing film moving and brave as well.

Trailer: 

THE IMAGINARY (Japan 2023) ***½
Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose and written by Yoshiaki Nishimura,

 

The much anticipated Netflix original animation THE IMAGINARY by Studio Ponoc based on hand drawing animation, the dominant form of animation before the switch to computer-generated animation, is based on the 2014 British children's novel written by A. F. Harrold and illustrated by Emily Gravett.  It is about a small girl, Amanda, and her imaginary friend, Rudger.  The book has been described as not quite as innovative as it might be, but nevertheless a winningly whimsical celebration of the imagination, beautifully enhanced by both black-and-white and full-color illustrations.   (Kirkus Reviews found it "Wonderfully entertaining”)

The Japanese title of the film THE IMAGINARY is Yaneura no Rajā, which means  'Rudger in the Attic’. Rodger is the name of Amanda’s imaginary friend.

In a world where imaginations can live and be eaten by others, Rudger, an Imaginary boy, can be seen by no one but his creator, a young girl named Amanda. Their shared existence is confined to the attic of Amanda's residence, where they delve into her vibrant imagination.  Always protect each other - Never cry! However, Imaginaries are subject to an inexorable fate: dissolution with human forgetfulness. Baffled by this eventuality, Rudger clings to a glimmer of hope, embarking on an inconspicuous odyssey after Mr. Bunting, who hunts Imaginaries, arrives at Amanda's doorstep. His journey leads him to the enclave referred to as "the town of Imaginaries", a sanctuary for forgotten Imaginaries. This encounter initiates a monumental voyage that steers the course of familial bonds and cherished connections, shaping their forthcoming trajectories.

There are deeper issues dealing with imaginary playmates.  The most pressing issue is whether an imaginary playmate would do more harm than good for the child in particular.  Why would a child have an imaginary playmate?  The best reason even is the child’s loneliness which leads to the classic joke: I was so alone as a child that even my imaginary playmate refused to play with me. (the origin of the joke: the play STEEL MAGNOLIAS).  The next question is the issue of what determines the nature of the imaginary friend.  Horror films often use psychological troubling issues of the mind to create a monster.  The reason for Rutger’s existence is not given till half the film has passed.

The source material is British.  There are two versions of the film, a Japanese-voiced and an English-voiced version.  But the British setting is kept, with English names for the story’s characters and words in English (like the signs on shops and on busses) in the Japanese version.  The villain has a British name, Mr. Bunting.

The film takes flight into a world of imaginaries in the part where Rudger discovers others of the same, and many taking different shapes and forms such as Snowflake the pig and other animals and mechanical distortions.

THE IMAGINARY is an imaginative and worthwhile watch from another Japanese Animation Studio that takes a fresh look at an English children’s novel - imagination that can turn into hope and then into reality.  It opens for streaming this week on Netflix.

Trailer: 

JUNE ZERO (USA/Israel 2023) ***½

Directed by Jake Paltrow

Shot in super 16mm in Israel and Ukraine, writer/director Jake Paltrow’s JUNE ZERO is an ambitious film that puts his mark with some insight based on true events in which Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, whose one signature would send thousands of Jews to their death in gas chambers, is being tried.  And he is convicted.  During the trial, he did not deny the Holocaust or his role in organizing it but said he was simply following orders in a totalitarian Führerprinzip system.  He was found guilty on all of the charges and was executed by hanging on 1 June 1962.  The trial was widely followed in the media and was later the subject of several books and of this Paltrow film, including Hannah Arendt's 'Eichmann in Jerusalem', in which Arendt coined the phrase 'the banality of evil' to describe Eichmann.

Why is the film called JUNE ZERO?  The film’s title references a tabloid that keeps popping up in the story (based on a real magazine from that era, kind of a cross-between Charlie Hebdo, Playboy and New York Post).  “June 0” is the date printed on the execution issue, so as not to commemorate the event.

The anthology-styled film contains three stories bookended by the first about a Palestinian boy’ coming-of-age while working for a Jewish oven maker.  All stories are based on the fact that the State of Israel is facing the question of how to keep Adolf Eichmann's grave from becoming a neo-Nazi pilgrimage site and how they got to keep him alive and out of public publicity before his execution.

The stories include Eichmann’s Jewish Moroccan prison guard, an Israeli investigator who also happens to be a Holocaust survivor and David, a precocious and clever 13-year-old Libyan immigrant.  The three are inexorably connected through the parts they played in this seminal moment of Jewish history.  The best story is the one of the boy David while one of the guards is glorified and the one of the survivors least pressing.  According to the press notes, director Jake Paltrow who co-wrote the script with Israeli writer Tom Shova drew inspiration from his father (late filmmaker Bruce Paltrow) who passed on a deep interest in World War II and Jewish history to him. 

Paltrow’s film contains moments of suspense (the barber cutting the prisoner’s hair), lightheartedness (David’s shenanigans) and sensitivity (the Israel investigator’s experiences).

Added authenticity is provided with the film shot in 16mm, giving it a period feel, as well as being voiced mostly in Hebrew.

JUNE ZERO underscores the notion that shared traumas have the power to forge the strongest bonds and give rise to unexpected moments of triumph and connection.  The film stands as a fable on the current Hamas and Israel war on how Palestinians and Jews could function together utilizing the best of their human abilities.   As the film delves into the complexities of the human experience during this pivotal trial, it serves as a poignant reminder that history's impact can be both diverse and unifying.

JUNE ZERO opens in theatres on July 5th at the Varsity.

Trailer: 

KILL (India 2023) ****
Directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

 

The title KILL appears only after the one-hour mark of the film.  The action is so fast and furious no one would’ve noticed the title not appearing on the screen as yet,

When army commando Amrit (Lakshya) finds out his true love Tulika (Tanya Maniktala) is engaged against her will, he boards a New Delhi-bound train in a daring quest to derail the arranged marriage. But when a gang of knife-wielding thieves led by the ruthless Fani (Raghav Juyal) begin to terrorize innocent passengers on his train, Amrit takes them on himself in a death-defying kill-spree to save those around him — turning what should have been a typical commute into an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.

The train saga pays a nod to the famous Bong Jung-Ho’s SNOWPIERCER in which different classes of people are kept in different carriages of the train.  In KILL, the train bandits are stuck within one lot of carriages while the wedding party is in others.

Several factors make KILL more interesting and entertaining than most martial arts action flicks besides the fact that all the action-taking place in close-quartered train carriages.  The story involves a father-and-son relationship of the bandits.  The father and son never agree on anything and when things spiral out of control with the bandits, the father and son still argue, as to what to do with one of the hostages on the train, the train transport owner.  Another is the romance built into the action plot.  The main action lead’s character was planning to elope with the daughter of the wealthy transport owner.  The fight sequences are all masterly executed with more than a touch of violence.  There are tons of beatings and punches but the characters never stay down and never seem to have any broken bones.  They keep coming up fighting.  In many films like this, the fights look ridiculous but in KILL< the excitement is maintained.  Also inserted into the mix are characters like a cousin of the head bandit, who is a strongman that cannot be defeated, just like the tough baddie Odd Job, the Korean with the steel bowler hat in James Bond’s GOLDFINGER.

KILL is inspired by real-life train robberies in India by a class of criminals known as “dacoits,” KILL laces its high-concept premise with familial melodrama that cuts across both sides of the battle lines.  Desperate to protect Tulika and her family, Amrit and Viresh parry all manner of knives into gangster heads, shoulders, knees, and toes and, as the body count rises, so too does the ire of the crooks, especially that of the clan’s psychotic black sheep Fani, portrayed with charismatic lunacy by Raghav Juyal.  The climax includes a violent fight to the death, as in most classic action Hollywood films, of the hero and villain.  A predictable fight yes, but a necessary one in the true classic tradition.

Indian director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat proves to be a force to be reckoned with.  He already has multiple film and television credits including Long Live Brij Mohan (2017), The Gone Game (2020) and Hurdang (2022).  KILL premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year to become the runner-up winner for the Midnight Madness Section.

KILL, action aboard a packed train ranks with THE BEEKEEPER as the top 2 action films of 2024.

Trailer: 

MAXXXINE (USA 2024) ***
Directed by Ti West

 

MAXXXINE, is, as slasher horror fans of filmmaker Ti West and Hollywood slasher queen Main Goth already know, the third of the trilogy of ‘X’ films beginning with X and PEARL.  PEARL is the best of the lot - hard shoes to fill, but their latest MAXXXINE isn’t half bad either.

The X movies proved to be surprise hits for the A24 movie studio (their most recent being their largest production ever, CIVIL WAR), garnering acclaim from both critics and horror fans alike, doing immense success at the box office.  X and  PEARL were made around the same time during the pandemic (to their credit) and released in 2022.  PEARL was a prequel to X, and featuring Mia Goth’s character of a young girl (similar to SHOWGIRLS, but meaner and more daring) insatiable desire for fame and stardom at all costs.  MAXXXINE pays tribute to the Bette Davis (and Joan Crawford) classic WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? with young Maxine trying to please her father as a child star as Baby Jane Hudson did in the film.

In 1980s Hollywood, adult film star and aspiring actress Maxine Minx finally gets her big break.  But as a mysterious killer stalks the starlets of Hollywood, a trail of blood threatens to reveal her sinister past.  Of course, Maxine discovers the one responsible and takes things into her own hands.

The impressive cast includes Kevon Bacon.  Bacon plays a private investigator who is good at the job but not good at taking care of himself.  He gets beaten up by Maxine with his nose broken and a plaster (the Brit term for Band-Aid) across his nose, looking pretty much like Jack Nicholson in Roman Polanski’s masterpiece CHINATOWN.  Director Ti West pays tribute to  CHINATOWN.  One wishes Bacon’s character survives but unfortunately does not.  Bacon is an excellent actor and he is always a pleasure to watch on the screen, regardless of the character he plays.  Director West obviously knows this and uses it to his best advantage.

But the prize performance belongs to Elizabeth Debeicki who plays the talented and impossible-to-work-with director of Maxine’s movie,  The actors playing the two detectives trying to solve the case of the serial killer are also entertaining to watch.

Director West’s slasher horror black comedy is still an entertaining watch given the over-used plot of a novice actress trying to succeed in Hollywood.  But Mia Goth is quite the prized actress and a pretty good one at that, as can be observed in her audition film at the art of the film.  In that scene, she really nails it.  And her character does say to the rest at the auditions to go home as she had already nailed the part.

Already passed on June the 25th, but audiences can get back to where it all began when Ti West’s deadly slasher PEARL is returning to theatres with a special sneak peek of MAXXXINE for a one-night-only special event!  (Pearl – Fan Event Featuring MAXXXINE Sneak Peek – June 25, 2024).  For Toronto, the event took place at the The Fox Theatre, Toronto)

Ti West and Mia Goth make an excellent pair of filmmakers.  One wonders what comes next after the trilogy.

Trailer: 

 

POPULATION PURGE (USA 2024) **

Directed by Brian Johnson

 

There are ripoff films and films that do worse than ripoffs.  The new action dystopian film POPULATION PURGE belongs to the latter category.  The film rips the word ‘purge’ from the box-office successful THE PURGE franchise.  From the title POPULATION PURGE, one would immediately connect the film to one of the PURGE films but this film has nothing to do with the Purge film franchise except that both are dystopian action horror films,

It is easy to see the reason the film is so named.  Though the franchise has received a mixed critical reception, it has grossed over $450m overall, against a combined production budget of $53m.   THE PURGE films are written and in some cases also directed by James DeMonaco. The films present a seemingly normal, crime-free America in the near future. However, the country is a dystopia that observes an annual event known as "the Purge", in which all crime, including murder, is legal for a 12-hour period.

In a dystopian world where a radical government has unleashed a deadly poison to control the population, only those with blood type AB-positive remain unscathed. But instead of outright death, the rest of the population is left to suffer in a state of chronic illness, causing widespread chaos and panic. As the majority slowly succumbs to the effects of the poison, their only hope lies in receiving transfusions of AB-positive blood from the few immune survivors, like Charlie and his granddaughter Maya. Living in the decrepit remains of an abandoned amusement park, Charlie is a renegade supplier of blood to the underground market. But their sanctuary is threatened by the iron-fisted rule of District 22's ruthless warden, Onslow, who will stop at nothing to save his own dying son. As Charlie and Maya fight to defend their haven and their own sanity, the eccentric duo must navigate through a world of danger and betrayal.

Though the premise is relatively simple, the script and direction of the first 15 minutes are terribly confusing and one wonders who is who and what which group are survivors and which are not.  Once it is established who Charlie and his granddaughter are and who the members of District 22 with the warden are, the film starts to flow, but not necessarily for the better.

The actors either resort to over-acting with screaming and venting at the top of their lungs or just really poor laughable performances.  It might have come across as quite entertaining and funny but they are too loud and annoying.

Director Johnson makes no special effort to make any of his characters particularly likable.  If one dies, no one really cares.  The action sequences are executed with not much aplomb either, with many victims down away with by shotgun or crossbow.

POPULATION PURGE was written by Brian Johnson and Toby Osborne and directed by Johnson. To give the film some credit it did win awards at numerous festivals including Best Feature Film / Best Cinematography at the 2023 Los Angeles Cinematography Film Festival, Best 1st Time Director of a Feature Film at the Best Actor & Director Awards, and Best Feature Under $250,000 at the 2023 International New York Film Festival.

POPULATION PURGE  will be released on digital platforms on July 9, 2024.

Trailer: 

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