ALL THE WORLD IS SLEEPING (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Ryan Lacen
It appears that ALL THE WORLD IS SLEEPING and that no one is aware of my problems. This is the immediate thought of the film’s protagonist Chama (Melissa Barrera), a drug addict with a daughter taken away from her by social services and with another baby on the way. She is an addict who keeps going back to the drugs. Well, that is what addicts do, and the reason the term addict is given to them.
This film was created with the aim of pushing back against the stigma faced by pregnant women and people living through addiction. ALL THE WORLD IS SLEEPING attempts its utmost best, perhaps trying too hard, as witnessed in many segments, light on the realities of addiction, and the resources that are so desperately needed for families living in cycles of addiction. Credit should definitely be given to the well-intentioned film that unfortunately shows stereotypically that a happy ending or the road to heaven is paved with rocks and stones.
The film’s main character, Chama, played by the talented actress Melissa Barrera, is an imaginative composite of the seven Women that encompasses elements of their bravery and struggles all while exposing the arduous circumstances they have endured. Barrera, along with co-star Jackie Cruz, worked with the mothers on and off set to authentically capture and represent their truth. Throughout production and post-production, the seven mothers remained an integral part of guiding the film to completion. This film is an extraordinary collaboration merging the worlds of non-profit grit and movie glamour all while working alongside a community eager to see their story represented on the big screen.
The best performances in the film, which are needed to create a movie with a powerful message of this sort, come from the lead Barrera and the supporting actress Cruz who plays Toaster, Chama’s best friend who also happens to be an addict.
ALL THE WORLD IS SLEEPING follows Chama (Melissa Barrera), who as a young girl in New Mexico, strived to be different from her mother. Now in her twenties, she’s found herself falling into a similar cycle of generational addiction. This struggle then threatens her balance as a mother to her own daughter. As Chama tries to keep it all together, a harrowing accident will spiral her out of control, causing her daughter to be taken from her custody. With nothing left, she’ll have to confront her past in order to fight for a future — one that can either guide her closer to getting her daughter back or lead her deeper into this dangerous cycle.
Though the story line follows the saying “we have seen all this before,” the film is still an important one in the message it carries. The film’s main plus is its authenticity, which is not surprising given the input the film has got from the 7 women advisors.
Gravitas Ventures releases ALL THE WORLD IS SLEEPING in theatres and on digital platforms on March 17, 2023. The film has a running time of 1 hr 50 min and will not be rated by the MPAA.
ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT (China 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Wen Shipei
An assured and impressive debut by director Wen in this Chinese neo-noir pic with the mood and atmosphere heightened by the famous Elvis Presley song “Are you Lonesome Tonight?” crooned by a blind night-watchman. The lives of three people converge in Wen Shipei’s thrilling debut: a young man who believes he’s killed someone, the dead man’s widow, and the policeman in charge of the investigation. A lot of the story is revealed through flashbacks, but not in the conventional format. The occasionally seemingly clumsy flashbacks that occur are often disconnected with a character and come about non-chronologically. But it is this and other daring risks that make Wen's film stand out. For instance, a major plot revelation occurs when a band delivers fanfare amidst a lion dance. A shoot out in the warehouse filmed in red is also deserving of mention. Wen’s shows ingenuity in his story-telling. Director Wen’s film is by no means perfect but his feature, filmed with spirit and flair shows promise that this director has the best that is yet to come. ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT premiered at Cannes in 2021 followed by screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival. This mesmerizing, twisted Neo-Noir thriller, Premieres via VOD & Digital on 3/17.
FULL RIVER RED (China 2022) ***½
Directed by Zhang Yimou
A Zhang Yimou film when the Chinese director was at his prime was something to really look forward to. But he had a spat of disappointing films like HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS which are pretentious and over-calculated compared to his more earnest historical sagas like RED SORGHUM, RAISE THE RED LANTERN and JU DOU. So with current hit and misses, thankfully, Yimou’s latest entry, a very different historical drama that has an Agatha Christie mystery whodunit element. FULL RED RIVER marks something different and is one of his better films. Through running a bit overlong at 2 hours and 20 minutes (though the time flies), the film is more playful that the usual Yimou film. The film has been described as a GLASS ONION type Chinese historical mystery whodunit.
The film opens after some massive historical information is dispensed to the audience. It is important to digest the information or if not, following the storyline would be difficult. This information is splashed on screen tab the start of the film. 800 years ago, Yue Wei was a general of the Song Dynasty known for leading forces against Jin. Qin Hui framed him and had him executed. 5 years later after Yue’s death,. Qin Hui leads thousands of imperial guards to the border to meet with Jin Delegation. They arrived at midnight. Local officials cleared the courtyard (where the film opens) for the army to rest. But mayhem occurs 2 hours before dawn which is where director Yimou’s story begins.
A mysterious murder occurs at Qin Hui's residence when he meets delegates from the rival Jin Dynasty. The two main protagonists are a soldier and a commander who become entangled in a large conspiracy as one of the Jin envoys perishes and a confidential letter is reported missing. Righteous vigilantes are responsible for the incident and want to kill a suspected traitor.
The two run round acting like chickens circling around with their heads cut off. They argue, agree and question and kill and intimidate suspects. It is all done in fun without much violence. The film at its best, can be looked at as a very funny satire on the Chinese way of governing - be it communist or communist-run. Everyone is suspicious and with good reason. Everyone is vying for a top spot or a promotion from an existing position. The system barely works whether the leaders succeed or not. All those governed survive regardless of the consequences.
Director Yimou’s film, though taking place mainly in the dark early hours of morning, is still magnificent to look at, as witnessed in his earlier films like RAISE THE RED LANTERN and JU DOU, my two favourite Yimou films. The soundtrack of old Chinese music and sounds remind one of watching Chinese opera. These create the mood of a historical epic.
FULL RED rIVER has already opened in China to great success, making its opening during the Chinese New Year celebrations lat year. FULL RIVER BLOOD makes its debut this week at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
INSIDE (USA 2023) **
Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis
If INSIDE can be described as torture porn, director Katsoupi puts the audience as well as his subject, Nemo through an exhaustive human endurance. In one instance at the start of the film, he has the audience experience the same Nemo goes through, The audience hears the loud sounding alarm of the penthouse’s security system malfunctioning. The sound lasts close to 7 minutes. It is as if one’s smoke alarm has gone off and one cannot turn it off but have to listen to the alarm at arm’s length. It is a very annoying if not irritating experience, and as the audience, I am sure many have already got the point without having to sit though the probably ear damaging noise. There is no reason to have to sit through this useless exercise in the guise of a thriller of an art thief trapped in a penthouse. Also annoying is director Katsoupi’s frequent use of closeups.
Nemo, a high-end art thief, is trapped in a New York penthouse after his heist does not go as planned. His partner on the cell abandons him. Locked inside with nothing but priceless works of art, he must use all his cunning and invention to survive. This is another case of the poem ‘The Ancient Mariner’ where there is water everywhere but not a drop to drink.
Who else to play Neo the tortured soul by Willem Defoe? Defoe has played more than one of these kind of roles before, as in Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST. Defoe doesn't do anything new for the role that audiences have not seen already.
There are a lot unexplained in the film, the main one being why the security function malfunctioned in the first place. Or why no one monitors the system once the alarm has gone off. The audience is then led to believe that the penthouse is understocked and that Nemo has to survive with just limited sustenance. He has to lick the sides of the freezer of debone tropical fish from the aquarium to make a different kind of sushi, that is before the maggots get to the fish meat. All of what transpired on screen is pretty disgusting. Then there is Nemo’s gradual descent into madness. He screams to himself and talks to himself, being all alone and confined.
The only plus of this otherwise terrible movie is the production design. As expected the penthouse is beautifully crafted as are the art paintings on display.
But wait, director Katsoupi then offers doses of arthouse philosophy for his audience. Or bullshit, if one wishes to call these musings by another name. Without destruction, there is creation, the voiceover informs. And at the film’s start, Meno reminisces on the three things he was asked as a child that he would take away if there was a huge fire this dwelling. The cat, his sketch book and an ac/dc album is his answer. The album he had lent out never got returned and animals die. So art is forever!
Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis and co-written with Ben Hopkins, this is one film where there is absolutely no attempt to let the audience be in any way entertained in what might be considered another form of torture porn. INSIDE opens on March the 17th.
LEAVE (Norway 2022) **
Directed by Alex Herron
The new horror film opening on Shudder begins with a 9-1-1 call made about an abandoned baby in a cemetery at Jackson Hill Cemetery, in the United States. Everything appears American. It looks strange then as the opening credits appear tat all the names listed in the cast and crew appear Nordic. LEAVE is a new horror flick picked up from Norway where trolls and gothic horrors apparently exist. Last year saw,, also on Shudder one of the best horror films of the year entitled THE INNOCENTS. Though not reaching the heights of THE INNOCENTS, LEAVE is not bad a horror film as director Alex Heron plays it safe and smart.
An abandoned infant is found in a cemetery in the United States. The child is wrapped in a blanket with satanic symbols. A Wolf’s Cross pendant hangs around her neck. 20 years later: Hunter is obsessed with finding out why she was abandoned and who her biological parents are. A genetic test, the blanket and the Wolf’s Cross lead her to Norway. Hunter is closing in on the terrifying truth, but visions of a dark figure warn her: LEAVE!
The film begins, racially correct, with Hunter saying goodbye to her adoptive father, who turns out to be black. Nothing is shown of her mother, who is assumed to be passed. Maybe the audience will be informed later on. Hunter is about to drive, as the dialogue of the film informs, between adoptive father and daughter to her college campus in Georgetown. A long drive, Hunter promises to drive safe, call her father back on arrival and no boys in her dormitory. She breaks the rules when she secretly drives to the airport for a plane headed straight to Norway to discover her roots and other questions. Armed with newspaper cuttings and other clippings of information of her biological parents, she hopes to find the truth. Director Herron tells his tale in a straightforward fashion, with no flashbacks or confusing mechanisms though it turns just a little during the last 30 minutes, so that his film is relatively easy to follow and enjoy. His film is also down to earth displaying certain truths such as what fear and apprehension exists for a young girl of 20 like Hunter going to a strange city, in this case Bergen on the west coast of Norway. Bergen is a beautiful city where one can get a day tour of the gorgeous fjords, but none of these can be seen in this horror film. (Review’s note: Bergen is one of the most beautiful cities I've visited.)
The film weirdly dispenses stereotypes. Black metal, though frowned upon by many, is given a fresh look in the film. The lead singer is a kind and helpful lady who helps Hunter all the way from their first meeting. Hunter’s father, initially shown in the institution, is not that crazy or as first thought to be.
The film’s only complaint and a main one at that is the climactic last 30 minutes or so when credibility is pushed to its limits. Hunter is rescued just in the nick of time by her father who suddenly appears, free from the institution. How does he know where she is at that time?
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS (USA 2023) **
Directed by David F. Sandberg
This week sees two Hollywood blockbusters burst into North American screens, courtesy of spring break. This week SHAZAM! opens and next week comes JOHN WICK 4. Firstly for the older students such as college and university undergraduates, there is the ultra-violent and ultra long JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4. If you fall into the much younger student crowd comes Warner Bros.’ SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS based on the dc. comics. This super action hero film has a group of teens becoming adult super-heroes. They all attend school in their true human identities and they undergo teen love, strict parenting and other teen issues.
Upon exclaiming the word SHAZAM! 18-year old Billy transforms into an adult action superhero. Zachary Levi who was born in 1980- making him over 40 years off age here speaks like 18-year old Asher Angel who plays Billy Batson. Shazam is supposed to be the champion of an ancient wizard, who possesses "the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury”.
Billy Batson and his foster siblings, who transform into superheroes by saying "Shazam!", are forced to get back into action and fight the Daughters of Atlas. They must stop them from using a weapon that could destroy the world
orced to get back into action and fight the Daughters of Atlas. They must stop them from using a weapon that could destroy the world
Two heavyweight actors play the villains and put in the bit of polish largely needed in this film. Lucy Liu and Academy Award Winner Helen Mirren play the daughters of Atlas with more seriousness than comedy.
The film that cost a whopping $130 million to make is the utter bore and silliness, particularly for the adult audience. Yes one understands that the target audience for this film is the younger crowd - teens that worship their superheroes. The jokes are infantile, the characters speak too fast and often say silly things while contradicting themselves within the same sentences and do all the annoying things teens do. There is no excuse for a teen film not to also cater to an older crowd as seen in many blockbuster teen hits like SIXTEEN CANDLES and many of the John Hughes films.
The one plus of the film are the action scenes, particularly those that involved mythical creatures. The dragon creature is stunning and worthy of mention, credit going to the special effects/creature development department. The disaster set piece, done to the lyrics of the song “Don’t Be a Hero” with the super heroes saving people in their cars where a bridge is in the midst of collapse is the best segment of the film.
The film touches a few teen issues. The bullying in school is seen as a problem though never satisfactorily solved with the bullies neither punished or getting any comeuppance. The characters are an eclectic cast of races and even has one disabled family member.
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS called Fury of the Kings in other countries where the word God cannot be uttered opens in theatres on March 20th, the ending week of March break.
YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER (Canada 2022)
Directed by Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky
YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER is a touching story about a teenage girl who falls in love with the daughter of a Jehovah’s Witness elder.
Review to be posted next week when it opens