THE BLACKENING (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Tim Story
In the typical slasher horror flick, the token minority member like the single black in an almost all white group is the first one to be killed off. This premise cannot happen in the horror flick THE BLACKENING because the entire group that is invited to the cabin in the woods is all black. Who is the first one to go then? As the poster says: “We all can’t die first!”
The only black guest with the white father?
The BLACKENING centres around a group of Black friends who reunite for a Juneteenth weekend getaway only to find themselves trapped in a remote cabin with a twisted killer. Forced to play by his rules, the friends soon realize this ain’t no motherf****** game.
THE BLACKENING refers to the board game (quite racist being complete with the head of “Sambo” with the big black lips) in the cabin’s game room that forces the guests to play a deadly game of 'answer the question correctly' or die. This horror comedy knows all the horror cliches and parodies them hilariously and to great effect. Running just around 90 minutes before it runs out of steam, THE BLACKENING is more fun than horror though a few of the guests do get brutally done in.
THE BLACKENING, which premiered in the Midnight Madness Section at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival opens in theatres across Canada on June the 16th, 2023.
ELELMENTAL (USA 2023) *
Directed by Peter Sohn
ELEMENTAL (USA 2023) ***1/2
Directed by Peter Sohn
ELEMENTAL the film is so titled because the film deals with the elements of fire and water being two different beings. The female is fire and the male water. It is a love story where two totally different elements defy all logic and odds to find love with each other,=.
The animation is of course amazing. It was once considered impossible to animate water as it is so fluid, especially with stop animation and the same also goes for fire. But in this age of computer simulation and the advent of Pixar, anything is possible. ELEMENTAL is helmed by first time director, Disney brought up animation prodigy Peter Sohn who has made this project his love child and it shows.
Director Peter Sohn was personally here in Toronto promoting his film a few months back before his film was completed speaking about his film and the difficult work and meticulous care taken by his crew involved in the process of animating this film. To better appreciate the film, a bit of Sohn’s background should be stated, as he explained during his talk promoting the film.
Peter Sohn, who previously directed the feature film THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015) and the short film PARTLY CLOUDY (2009), pitched the concept to Pixar to develop Elemental based on the idea of whether fire and water could ever connect or not. Sohn also says the idea for the film was inspired by his experiences as the son of immigrants in New York City in the 1970s. He stated: "My parents emigrated from Korea in the early 1970s and built a bustling grocery store in the Bronx." He also stated: "We were among many families who ventured to a new land with hopes and dreams — all of us mixing into one big salad bowl of cultures, languages, and beautiful little neighbourhoods. That's what led me to ELEMENTAL.
In the film, it is also revealed that Ember was born in Elemental City, but grew up in a fire town, since the neighbourhoods are sort of split up in different ways. Sohn stated: "I am quite emotional about getting the characters and the story out for sure." He also stated: "This movie is about thanking your parents and understanding their sacrifices. My parents both passed away during the making of this thing. And so, it is hugely emotional, and I'm still processing a lot of it. The emotional tread in ELEMENTAL is quite powerful. In the promo screening I attended, the audience cheered when Ember and Wade kissed for the very first time.
Kudos to Pixar and Disney for investing an ethnic romantic story about teenagers in ELEMENTAL instead of some super action hero movie like the awful SPIDER-VERSE. It is included in the story saving mankind, in this case from folding due to the damage of a dam. The only fault of the film is the predictable storyline that is a trap all romantic films can never seem to escape.
ELEMENTAL opens in theatres June the 16th. The wonderful animation should be seen in theatres on the big screen.
THE FLASH (USA 2023) ****
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Barry Allen / The Flash (Ezra Miller) travels back in time to prevent his mother's death, which traps him in an alternate reality without metahumans. Barry enlists the help of his younger self, an older Batman (Michael Keaton) and the Kryptonian castaway Supergirl (Sasha Calle) in order to save this world from the restored General Zod (Michael Shannon) and return to his universe.
THE FLASH is a film that contains many other d.c. characters like Batman, General Zod, Supergirl as well as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). They arrive at different parts of the story as welcome surprises.
One plus of the film is that the script written by Christina Hudson explains every incident that occurs in the story. The going through the walls into the building by the Flash is explained by the vibrating molecules. The term ‘the butterfly effect’, part of chaos theory, which states that there are limitations to predictions even in small discrete systems is used in the story. Small differences in starting conditions can, over time, make a big difference in the way that a complex system of interrelated phenomena evolves. In the story, Barry’s mother sent the father to the supermarket to get a can of tomatoes she had forgotten. The Flash goes back in time to put a can of tomatoes in her mother’s cart when she was shopping, this not forgetting the can and not sending father to get tomatoes and be at home thus thwarting her death in the home invasion. But not all went as planned.
Unlike the terrible SPIDER-VERSE with the reason for the multiverse never fully explained in the film’s weak narrative, the presence of alternative universes in THE FLASH makes more sense in its time travel narrative. Travelling through time but to the wrong time, Barry enters a universe in which two Barrys exist. The two Barrys are played by the same actor Ezra Miller sporting different haircuts, Miller delivering a knockout performance.
There is major talent involved in the making of this $200 million dollar production. First and foremost is the film’s director, Argentinian Andy Muschietti, this his fourth film after his successful MAMA and his Hollywood hits IT and IT CHAPTER 2. The other is the film’s star Ezra Miller who made it big with his masterpiece performance as at the teen son shooter in Lynne Ramsey’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Miller is a major force to be reckoned with, who can also be seen currently playing the young Salvador Dali in DALILAND. Special mention should also be given to actress Maribel Verdú who plays Barry’s mother. She is able to deliver a heartwarming performance of a caring human being.
THE FLASH is one of the most exciting super action hero movies recently. Warner Bros. has finally got it right after their disastrous BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, THE BATMAN and other duds. If there is an Academy Award for Best SuperHero Action Film of the year (there might very well add one owing to the currently large number of this genre films opening every year), THE FLASH would be the clear winner.
THE FLASH has had a very troubled production for a number of reasons including the changing of different directors and the Pandemic. The $200-$220 million production finally opens widely in theatres on June the 9th and is well worth the wait.
PERSIAN LESSONS (Russia/Germany/Belarus 2020) ***½
Directed by Vadim Perelman
Directed by Vadim Perelman, PERSIAN LESSONS is a captivating Holocaust drama set in occupied France in 1942. The film tells the story of Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), the son of a rabbi from Antwerp, who is captured by SS soldiers and sent to a German transit camp along with other Jews. In order to escape sudden execution, Gilles pretends to be Persian, inventing a fake "Farsi" language. However, his survival hinges on a life-or-death mission: teaching Farsi to Nazi camp leader Koch (Lars Eidinger), who dreams of opening a restaurant in Iran after the war.
As with any Holocaust film, the horrors of war are not left out or compromised in the film.. PERSIAN LESSONS showcases chilling moments, such as an angry German soldier punishing a Jewish kitchen worker by burning her hands on a hot stove due to her dirty hands, or the harrowing sight of Jewish prisoners rushing to stand in line, only to be shot dead after the formation of the line. These depictions, presented matter-of-factly, enhance the film's impact. However, the director's focus goes beyond the atrocities of war, emphasizing the eccentricities that arise from the protagonist's fictional story, which draws inspiration from true events based on Wolfgang Kohlhaase's "Erfindung einer Sprache."
The film explores the power of the mind to recall and memorize names, exemplified by Gilles' invention of the "Parsi" language using the names of fellow prisoners.
To enhance the film's entertainment value, Perelman injects humour into the narrative, primarily through the character of a pompous Nazi officer, Koch who refuses to be corrected or wronged. His relentless pursuit of his desires leads to hilariously ironic situations, finally culminating in his downfall. More important is the fact that the humour never trivializes the horrors of the Holocaust and the thousands who have lost their lives in the concentration camps, unlike the Italian comedy "Life is Beautiful" (1997), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. There is also a lot of humour in the dialogue, occasionally quite brilliantly written. Example:
Klaus Koch: As long as you work for me nothing will happen to you. I bet 20 cans of meat that nothing will happen to you.
Gilles: Too bad I won't be able to eat them since I'll be dead.
PERSIAN LESSONS boasts stunning cinematography that vividly captures the WWII era, with scenes of trucks transporting prisoners at night and chilling lineups of Jews awaiting execution. The film's production values are exceptional, contributing to an immersive atmosphere enhancing credibility and adding depth to the story.
Overall, PERSIAN LESSONS is an intriguing Holocaust movie that explores the horrors of war while injecting a fresh perspective into a well-worn genre. Directed by Ukraine-born Canadian filmmaker Vadim Perelman, known for his triple Oscar-nominated debut feature "House of Sand and Fog," the film promises a thought-provoking and impactful cinematic experience.
PERSIAN LESSONS was Belarus' official submission for the 'Best International Feature Film' category of the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021, but was disqualified by the Academy because the majority of individuals involved in making the film were not from Belarus.
PERSIAN LESSONS premiered on June 16 in Toronto (Varsity and Empress Walk) and Vancouver (Fifth Avenue). It will be released on June 23 in Ottawa and Edmonton, with subsequent screenings in other cities throughout the summer.
SEIRE (South Korea 2021) ***
Directed by Park Kong
Every race has its folk traditions and superstitions. South Korea is no exception. Stories borne of these beliefs often make good horror fodder. In Korean, the word samchil-il also known as SEIRE, the title of this new Korean horror flick that refers to the 21 days after a child’s birth. The house is then often guarded by protective rope ensuring the infant’s safe passage into the world and no taboo should be broken. The baby is believed to be especially vulnerable to bad luck, curses and evil spirits. The film centres on one couple’s first child. The father is generally a non-believer and the mother is a ‘better play safe than sorry’ follower. So she and as well as forcing her husband - protect the baby. The couple is also neighbours with the wife’s sister who is expecting a baby.
Though North America is familiar with Japanese horror films, many of which have spanned Hollywood remakes (best example: THE RING) but Korean horror films are still a rarity. Many would be unaware of the practice of SEIRE. SEIRE comes as a welcome surprise and it is a solid horror chiller with some dark humour added for good measure.
New mother Hae-mi carefully follows every one of the SEIRE practices. Father Woo-jin is reluctantly willing to play along, but when he attends an ex-girlfriend's (from college as he says) funeral, he unwittingly opens the door to dark supernatural dangers. Plagued by terrible nightmares, the skeptical Woo-jin gradually begins to understand the siere custom, as he is forced to unravel the mystery of what is haunting him and his family.
Park loves to blur the lines of reality and imagination. Because of fear, Woo-jin sees rotting apples, whenever he cuts one open to eat or for his wife, the shape of the cut apple resembles a womb where a fetus gestates. His wife tells him: “ I am craving apples”, which forces him to leave the house in the middle of the night to get her apples. When she returns, she denies the fact and asks where he had been. Then she relents and says that she is just messing with him. So what is true and what is imagined is never clear in the film. All the confusion adds to the confusion of the couple. Park’s film moves at a slow pace, but he keeps counting the tension. Boredom is never the issue.
As would be expected in horror films, SEIRE contains a few gory and graphic scenes -the most disgusting as well as most effective, being a fetus dropping from Woo-jin’s vagina after her water is broken.
Park, a new voice in the Korean horror genre is best known for his "chilling indie horror debut” (SCREEN ANARCHY), an Official Selection in the Fantasia New Flesh Competition, was nominated for Best Film and captured the New Currents FIPRESCI Prize at the Busan International Film Festival, and also received a nomination for a Golden Eye Best International Feature at the 2022 Zurich Film Festival.
SEIRE premieres on VOD and Digital on June 16th, 2023.
STAN LEE (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by John Gelp
The doc on Marvel cartoonist Stan Lee has the simple title of Stan Lee for the very reason that his name by itself would attract countless comic book fans and Action Hero movie fans to see the movie. Stan Lee is a legend in our own times.
The doc follows Stan’s journey to become one of the most influential people in the world of comic books and pop culture. Tracing his life from his challenging upbringing (from a child to teen to adult) as Stanley Lieber to the meteoric rise of Marvel Comics.
In order to tell the story of Stan Lee, the doc uses a combination of archive footage and animation while always using Stan’s voice as voiceover and narrator.
One of the film’s more intimate moments tells of Stan’s creation of one of the world’s most beloved Spider-Man. First of all, he made Spider-Man a teenager - and one with problems. He questioned the reason for being a superhero and often did not want to be one. He would not be allowed to go out and fight crooks because his Aunt May would not let him go out because it was raining. Stan made the action hero more down to earth and human with problems and that was what, according to him, made those comics sell. The doc also included a part on how Stan fooled his boss to publish the first of the series that broke record numbers. In short, Stan became a superhero on his own terms. On being questioned what made a superhero popular, Stan said that readers must relate to the characters. Spider-Man had empathy, the word Stan used many times to describe Spider-Man and the other heroes.
Also insightful is Stan’s description off the importance of the graphic artists. He preferred Steve to Jack as Jack would draw the highlights of the action while Steve concentrated more on the story and human aspects of the series.
The doc also goes on to describe other heroes like Captain America and The Mighty Thor with the hammer. It is interesting to note that The comics on The Might Thor was banned in Singapore, where this reviewer grew up, a country that is famous for censorship. Thor was considered too violent and hence Thor was banned. As a kid, my classmates would have someone go over to neighbouring Malaysia to buy the Their comic books. So, Singapore kids did get to read those comics anyway. Also good to note is that Marvel superheroes are all from Earth while those of the D.C. comics hailed from other planets or other worlds.
Stan Lee is also famous for appearing in a cameo in all the Marvel super hero action movies. These are of course, too many to mention. The doc is insightful and informative showing only the positive of Stan's life. But the doc omits the more troubled life of Stan in his older age, of how he was abused as an elderly and how his business manager had physically and mentally abused him in his old age.
STAN LEE is available for streaming on Disney+ from June 156th, 2023.
VILLAGE (Japan 2023) ***
Directed by Michihito Fuji
Life is but a dream. So goes the rhyme: Row, row, row your boat! Gently down the stream….Life is but a dream,” This new Japanese horror film begins with the words: Dreams are fleeting. Besides knowing this, humans still dream. Waking up after 50 glorious years, it was all merely a dream… so goes Kantun, a Japanese Not Play. Dream stuff is also quoted in Shaekespeare’s THE TEMPEST. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." - William Shakespeare. From Act IV of The Tempest, this line is spoken by Prospero, as he compares his magical illusions "melted into air, into thin air," to the transient nature of our lives.
In VILLAGE the dreams are more like nightmares as can be witnessed in the beginning disturbing sequence which intercuts a play with several images: a hole in the ground surrounded by rubbish; a boy witnessing a fire; a man with a sweaty face.
Yu Katayama is a young man who lives in the remote, but beautiful village Kamonmura. He has lived there since he was a child and is unable to leave due to an incident in his past. To pay off his mother's debt, Yu works in a garbage disposal facility nearby. He lives without a dream or hope in his life. One day, Misaki Nakai returns to Kamonmura from Tokyo. Yu and Misaki were childhood friends. Her return changes Yu. As they say, there is more than meets the eye.
VILLAGE runs for a full 2 hours. Though it takes its time to tell its story (effectively mounting the suspense), the images are haunting, the storytelling convincing and the horror often felt. The Japanese atmosphere also aids in the film’s intrigue. Worth the watch on Netflix which begins streaming the film June the 16th.