ALONERS (South Korea 2021) ***
Directed by Hong Sung-eun

 

ALONERS is a South Korean film that has played in international film festivals that finally gets a release in North America.  It is a contemplative film about an alone (one figures an alone is a person whom prefers and goes about doing one's duties without the company of others).  The subject and protagonist of the film is an alone called Tina.  She does not even have a pet to keep her company.  She is satisfied with her ‘alone’ life but has the occasional phone call with her father.

Jina (Gong Seung-yeon) is the top employee at an unarmed call center, but despite talking to customers all day, she has shut out the world beyond her headset; she lives alone, eats alone, sleeps alone, and her cell phone is her constant companion.  When one day she's tasked with training a friendly and naive new hire (Jung Da-eun), her icy armour is threatened.   She is forced to work with someone else.  She is reluctant at training the new hire and lets her supervisor know the fact.  But Tina has no option or choice but to train her.  At the same time, she must navigate an incessantly ingratiating new neighbour, and increasingly urgent phone calls from her father, leaving Jina teetering on the edge of an existential crisis, forcing her to confront why she has isolated herself all these years.  

Riffing on the Korean ‘honjok’ – a phenomenon of young people who live alone and skirt social interaction – to examine the personal traumas of loss and alienation, this subtly poetic directorial debut is a "stirring portrait of the cages we build for ourselves and questions how and when we may want to be free of them," 

Director Hong’s film follows Tina at work, at home and everywhere else.  Through the routines, the audience learns about what Nina does, of her personality, aspirations and frustrations.  As expected, a film about a lonely person is a slow burn, and one needs to be patient while watching the story unfold.  There is little humour or enlightened drama.  The drama in Tina’s life is mostly self brought on and one needs to see the reason for her  anger and dissatisfaction.  Often, it is her territory of comfort that is threatened.  her comfort zone had already been disrupted with her inheritance.  Tina was supposed to have the inheritance from her deceased mother but now things have changed.

On a different level, it is also neat to see houma call centre operates.  The workers are all organized into cubicles and treated less as human beings but as tools of the company to generate profits.  They are constantly reminded that the number of calls each makes has to be increased.  Everything is about profit.

Director Hong’s film does not contain any happy ending or any major revelation.  The pleasure of her film comes from observation - observation of human behaviour.  Often, human behaviour can be more than intriguing, and director Hogan has fashioned an intriguing film while at it.

ALONERS premiers in North America via VOD and digital on June the 9th, 2023.

Trailer: 

AMERICONNED (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Sean Claffey

 

In the United States, there has been an upward redistribution of over $50 trillion from the bottom 90% to the top 1% over the last 40 years.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans have created a protection racket for the rich, and corporations are deliberately crushing unions.

The doc opens with a candid look at democracy.  The beginning titles on the screen state that the big divide of the rich and the poor of a country and democracy can never exist in harmony.  The camera moves to the high skyscrapers owned by the rich and then contrasted to the homeless on the streets.  And there is a scene of the storming on Capitol Hill.  It is an angry and effective beginning of a doc with a current and problematic issue in the United States.  And how America has been Americonned.

In this David vs. Goliath story, Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer lead a movement to unionize Amazon workers for the first time, after the corporation fired Smalls for speaking up for workers’ rights. They are inspiring legions of workers across America to, as the late, great Congressman John Lewis said, get into “good trouble.”

After an angry introduction to linear lower income groups. The audience is introduced to assistant supervisor of Amazon, Chris Small.  Small was fired from his job for speaking out - two hours after organizing the workers at Amazon,  Small spiked out at the company’s silence of infected Covid-19 workers and is classed as a union agitator.  There is a shot of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos’ 80 million penthouse apartment in New York City.

Every narrative fiction has a villain - the more evil the villain is, the better the story.  This doc and subject has its share of villains as the doc shows in clips of Elon Musk, Mark Zukerberg among others.  The most evil villain singled out by the doc is Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.  Amazon is the big target for this doc and with reason.  Bezos’s Amazon only never paid any taxes, but received millions in Government subsidies.  Yet, the company still exploited their workers while lying to the public of its intentions.  All the company wants to do is to drive price down at the expense of the workers.  An interviewee says that they are not only not treated as human beings nor robots but treated as human data.  Bezos, of course, denies all this, saying that the workers have good working conditions and are paid well.  If this is true, why then is he afraid of his workers being unionized?  The doc occasionally shifts to other issues like a truck driver single mother caring for her kids, and a family with a laid off Oracle father and an art teacher wife who cannot make ends meet.  But the doc always returns to Amazon, and with reason as this is the most interested of all the subjects and also an easy target because it is the most blatantly obvious target.

The doc finally takes things further with the footage of the recent attack on Capitol Hill, citing the inequality between the wealthy and the needy as the underlying problem.

It is easy to complain and list problem after problem of American society.  Director Claffey ends his doc on a high note with an interview with the Boston mayor who offers opportunity to his people saying that they have to accept the society to succeed, hopefully to bring down the disparity between ethnic income groups.  And the result the Staten Island Amazon Union vote.

One might not agree with all the arguments made in AMERICONNED, but director Claffey has undoubtedly given his audience a lot of food for thought.  The doc has a Canadian VOD release on June the 13th.

Trailer: 

BEYOND PAPER (Canada 2022) ***
Directed by Oana Suteu Khintirian

 

Running a lengthy 2 hour and 10minutes, BEYOND PAPER is an intellectual contemplation of human progress and loss in words as related to one’s origins and heritage.

Every film begins with a first image.  The image first seen in director Khintirian’s documentary is that a word press, just as every story begins with a first word.  Words are shown printed on paper as by an old printing press, something that is going obsolete as the world becomes paperless,  Bill Gates predicted a paperless world in 1995 and this predication is almost true.

1995 is the same year, the audience learns that the director left her homeland in Romania to move to Canada through Montreal.  She brought a box of letters that contained her family’s entire life, though the box could not fit the size of a person.

This is the critical moment in the history of the written word, as humanity’s archives migrate to the cloud, one filmmaker goes on a journey around the globe to better understand how she can preserve her own Romanian and Armenian heritage, as well as human being’s collective memory.  Blending the intellectual with the poetic, director Khintirian embarks on a personal quest with universal resonance, navigating the continuum between paper and digital—and reminding us that human knowledge is above all an affair of the soul and the spirit.  Personal because she draws the experiences of her family into the picture, with her young son making several posts in the film.

From the fragile grain of centuries-old manuscripts to blinking servers in digital libraries, the film takes us around the world and introduces us to “guides” such as Maria Sebregondi, president of the Moleskine Foundation, who speculates on the possibilities of “augmented paper;” Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, who describes the massive web library as “fabulous and terrible;” Maria Kodama, widow of Jorge Luis Borges and president of the Borges Foundation, who brings to life the words of the Argentinian writer, breathing contemporary meaning into them.  Borge predicted the internet world in his time.

Filmed in locations including a “city of libraries” in the midst of the Mauritanian desert and El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires (one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world), as well as in Bucharest, Montreal, San Francisco, Milan and Copenhagen, Beyond Paper blends reflection and emotion, reminding us that human knowledge is above all an affair of the soul and the spirit.

Food for thought that often boggles the mind, BEYOND PAPER is as fascinating as it is informative, poetic as it is current and a doc that is both personal and inspirational and cinematic.

The director will be present for a Q&A on June the 13th.  The film had its world premiere on March 15 at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal and recently received the Cercle d’or Award for Best Documentary at the Festival cinéma du monde de Sherbrooke.

Screening schedule at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

June 9 | 4:30 p.m.

June 12 | 4:00 p.m.

June 13 | 6:30 p.m. (Q&A with filmmaker)

June 17 | 4:30 p.m.

Trailer: 

DALILAND (USA/UK/France 2022) **
Directed by Mary Harron

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian director Mary Harron takes on her most ambitious project to date, exploring the life of one of the most controversial artists of all time, Salvador Dali. Harron gained recognition with her previous films, I SHOT ANDY WARHOL and AMERICAN PSYCHO.  The latter, starring Christian Bale as a charismatic and sinister protagonist, demonstrated Harron's ability to delve into decadence and the dark side of humanity.  This theme resonates in DALILAND, which focuses on the notorious and renowned artist Salvador Dali, best known to audiences as the director of the collaborative short film  UN CHIEN ANDALOU with Luis Bunuel. The film features a striking opening scene depicting a human eyeball being slashed with a razor, accompanied by surreal imagery and disjointed timelines that create a dreamlike atmosphere.

DALILAND opens with Dali participating in an episode of the popular TV show "What's My Line?"  Blindfolded panelists ask him if he is an artist, performer, entertainer, cartoonist, or actor, to which he humorously responds "yes" to each question, eliciting laughter from the audience.  Eventually, one panelist correctly guesses that the mystery guest is Dali based on his answer about his famous moustache. Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley portrays Dali and bears a striking resemblance to the artist in Mary Harron's DALILAND.  Dali was one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century, celebrated not only for his surrealist art but also for his iconic curled moustache.

The film primarily unfolds through the eyes of James (Christopher Briney), a young gallery assistant, and focuses on the later years of Dali's unconventional marriage to Gala (Barbara Sukowa), as their seemingly unbreakable bond begins to fracture.

The main story is set in 1974, with Dali and Gala spending their winter at the St. Regis hotel in New York.  James is entrusted with the task of ensuring Dali produces enough artwork for a major gallery show scheduled to open in three weeks.  Immersed in Dali's demimonde, a world of lavish parties and constant revelry, James soon realizes that only Gala has the power to motivate Dali. However, Gala becomes distracted by her latest romantic interest, a young man named Zachary Nachbar-Seckel.  As time ticks away for Dali's exhibition, the story transitions to his native Spain, where James uncovers some dubious activities.

"What is it like working for Dali?" James is asked at a pivotal point in the film. He describes the experience as being on another planet. Indeed, DALILAND often feels like an alien world, as the film disorients the audience.  Despite the film’s excellent production values, including well staged lavish parties with intricate costumes, DALILAND fails to inspire.  Dali's artwork is notably absent, and the origin of his genius remains unexplored.  The audience is merely offered a hint that his genius stems from the anger he and Gala share.  The film portrays Dali in all his ugliness and indulgence, such as conducting the wind atop a mountain, without delving into any of his redeeming human qualities.  With its focus on sycophancy and conflicts, particularly between Dali and Gala, the film proves to be a rather unpleasant and  hollow viewing experience.  The character of James, meant to provide an unbiased perspective for the audience, falls short due in part to a weak performance by Christopher Briney, who often appears more confused than anything else.

DALILAND opens June 9 in Toronto (Carlton) and Vancouver (Vancity)!  The film is also available June 9 to rent or buy on the Apple TV app and other VOD platforms.

Trailer: 

 

TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Steve Caple Jr.

 

There is something that cannot really be explained on the fascination human beings have (especially males) of a human being being transformed part by part into a machine or top vehicle.  During one of the promo screenings, a kid wore one costume in which she could turn into a yellow Volkswagen.  As a result TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS has succeeded in becoming the 7th instalment of the transformers film franchise - itself being a sequel to the last and highly box-office success of BUMBLE BEE and which  also could stand as a standalone movie.

What makes TRANSFORMERS stand out among other super action hero movies such  the emotionless SPIDERVERSE is its super-hero story that is connected a human story that audincences can relate to.  The fight for the universe and the saving to the universe that includes the planet Earth is brought down to family level.  The story revolves around family-man Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramoz, best known as the original cast of the musical HAMILTON), an ex-military electronics expert who lives with his family in Brooklyn, trying to support them.  Trying to get a job runs through the story at the beginning and end of the film.

The actual story of the film take places outside the realm of Earth.  It begins on a distant planet that has vegetation looking a bit like Earth’s.  The homeworld of the Maximals, an advanced race of beast-robots that have evolved on a jungle planet colonized by Transformers long ago, comes under attack from the planet-eating dark god Unicron - the tough villain of the piece,  His heralds, the Terrorcons, led by Scourge, seek to obtain for their master the Maximals' greatest piece of technology, the Transwarp Key, which can open portals through space and time. Maximal leader Apelinq sacrifices himself to allow the other Maximals to escape the planet before Unicron devours it. Now under the command of Optimus Primal, the Maximals use the key to flee to Earth, where most of the action takes place as they say in a more down-to-eartyh story.

Moving to 1994 Brooklyn, ex-military electronics expert Noah Diaz struggles to find a job to support his family, he is convinced by his friend Reek to steal a Porsche to sell, only to discover that the car is the Autobot Mirage in disguise.  Concurrently, museum intern Elena Wallace studies an ancient statue of a falcon bearing the Maximal symbol and winds up breaking it open to reveal half of the Transwarp Key hidden inside. The key releases an energy pulse that is detected by Optimus Prime, who summons the other Autobots; Mirage is contacted in the middle of Noah's attempted theft, and Noah winds up being roped into the robots' mission to recover the key so they can use it to return to their homeworld, Cybertron.  Drawn by the key's signature, the Terrorcons arrive on Earth, and Elena is caught up in the conflict when the villains attack the Autobots outside the museum.   This is where the story starts to come together and the two protagonists, Elena and Noah meet.  

The film is also shot in beautiful and stunning Peru including the famous Machu Piccchu.  The film contains a well mixed blend of natural country mixed with CGI animated backgrounds.

TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS had its premiere at the futuristic and stunning Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (the birthplace of this film critic) on May 27, 2023, and is scheduled in the North America on June 9, 2023,

Trailer: 

 

THE WRATH OF BECKY (USA 2023) ****

Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote

 

THE WRATH OF BECKY is the sequel, an action thriller with a little bit of horror to the little seen BECKY with the returning cast of Lulu Wilson in the title role and Seann William Scott (GOOD, DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR, AMERICAN PIE 1 and 2).  Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote, Angel wrote the screenplay based on a story by himself and Coote.

There is something the matter with Becky.  The audience is informed of the fact right at the start of the film so that there is a lot of audience anticipation - the factor that dramatically affects the interest of the audience on a film, a technique often used by the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock himself.  Becky’s parents were killed by a group of Neo-Nazis who hid a key beneath the family’s house.  Becky has got her revenge by slaughtering them.  Becky, the audience is told, has escaped from 3 foster homes.  At the film’s start she is welcomed into a new foster home.  ‘Should we say grace first before the meal?” She says to the foster parents, Alice (Alison Commit) and Ted (Derek Gaines), her foster mother delighted at her request.  One can tell something awful or unexpected is going to happen in the new foster family,

Three years after escaping a violent attack on her family by four Neo-Nazis, Becky, now 16, and her dog Diego live with a kind elderly woman named Elena Connor to rebuild their lives. But when a fascist organization known as the "Noble Men" break into their home, attack both Becky and Elena and kidnap Diego, Becky must take on the Noble Men by returning to her old ways to protect herself and her loved ones, rescue Diego and uncover the Noble Men's political attack plans before it's too late.

What makes THE WRATH OF BECKY wickedly entertaining and satisfying are the little parts that might have little to do with the plot but do demonstrate the wrath of Becky.  One is the diner where she works, the scene where she pushed a cup of hot coffee onto the lap of a  very abusive customer.  Another is her fantasizing a customer’s throat cut by her after he insists that she butters his toast so that the butter is melted on it.  It also helps that the film does not skimp the violence and horror when necessary, especially when needed to make a point.

Scott who normally plays comedy and occasionally psychotic comedy as in AMERICAN PIE 2 where his character gets to take a shit in a cooler, gets to play an insurrection psycho in this movie, one who can use his hadn’t to tear a face off, and with gleaming pleasure.

THE WRATH OF BECKY opened in US theatres on May 26th, however it has shifted to June 9th in Canada. The film is a short and effective 83 minutes that fly past for the reason that is so delightfully wicked. More fun than SPIDERVERSE, TRANSFORMERS and FAST X put together,

Trailer: 

YOU DO YOU (Turkey 2023) **

Directed by Cemal Alpan

 

Unfamiliar is usually good and a surprise.  The new Netflix original comedy from Turkey YOU DO YOU is an example.  Not many have ever seen a modern Turkish comedy and YOU DO YOU which ones on Netflix on the 9th of June is one.

The film opens with a woman sneaking around her own apartment she shares with her mother.  The reason she is stealing around like a burglar is that she is picking up mother’s snazzy clothes for a job interview.  YOU DO YOU begins with this scene accompanies my music with corny lyrics like “chicky. chicky boom- d-ay”.  The Turkish film looks like a colourful Spanish comedy but unfortunately this wannabe Spanish-styled comedy fails.

One main reason is  the character’s personality.  She is too headstrong - displaying too many obvious annoying new-age beliefs not to mention that she is rude and too independent, saying at all times what she thinks.  The latter can be observed during an unfunny job interview set-up when she gets kicked out of the interview room faster that she can get a rejection answer.  She does not want money, she wants o fashion design, she says and is clear throughout the film,

The film then turns into a romantic comedy.  There is a shot of her new beau at the start of the film as the handsome man is seen eyeing her apartment while in his car.  Merue Kult (Ahsen Eroglu), the protagonist, gets evicted from her apartment because her father is bankrupt.

YOU DO YOU then turns into predictable rom com fare, with few laughs with the annoying, unlikeable protagonist not helping either.  If one is interested in a female centred comedy, the other one from the Netherlands, THE WONDER WEEKS about a mother’s club is much funnier.    

This colourful Spanish styled Turkish comedy unfortunately fails miserably.

Trailer: 

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