24 HOURS WITH GASPAR (Indonesia 2023) ***

Directed by Yosep Anggi Noen


The 24 hours of the title refers to the 24 hours left Gaspar has left to live, as predicted by his doctor after a malfunctioning mechanism that keeps his heart working. Gaspar has a heart condition with the heart on the left side of the body.  (Writer’s note:  I know someone with this condition, heart on the left side of the body,  who functions perfectly normally without any contraption.)  Question:  Does Gaspar have one hour more or less if it is daylight-saving time?  The film countdowns the number of hours left starting from the 24 count, and with the sound of the heartbeat on the soundtrack,

24 HOURS WITH GASPAR is essentially an action film set in a futuristic dystopian society of Jakarta, Indonesia.  Laced with heavy voiceover throughout talking about philosophy and how human beings should react, the film tries to be a worthy adaptation of Sabda Armandio’s 2017 novel ’24 Hours With Gaspar’.   To the director and his D.P.’s credit, the film has a seedy and depressing dystopian atmosphere, a look that appears characteristic of all films in this genre.  The explanation given is the spread of some plague, which is likely inspired by Covid-19 that the real world is still recovering from.   When the film begins, the characters hang out in a FIGHT CLUB setting, where fight after fight is carried out with a winner eventually becoming a loser and so on.

There are two stories on display in the film, the two stories however linked.

Gaspar (Reza Rahadian), a somewhat punk amateur detective, investigates a government-involved mass slaughter case.  During the process, he stumbles upon clues about his friend who disappeared without a trace during childhood and traces a human trafficking villain. However, due to a malfunctioning artificial heart, Gaspar has only twenty-four hours left to live. With little time remaining, aided by friends Agnes and Kick, he seeks to exact revenge.

This gloomy-looking present is contrasted with the bright sunlight and pastel colours of repeated flashbacks where 11-year-old Gaspar (Ali Fikry) is a lonely lad who makes a cherished friend Kirana (Shofia Shireen).  Of all the wishes in the world, the lonely boy wishes for a friend, so he becomes obsessed with her when she goes missing after he returns from a procedure at the hospital regarding his heart.

The action set-pieces are exciting enough, though nothing as spectacular as in some Martial-Arts or Hollywood action films.  The narrative, however, is blurry and more clarity would help the story along.  There is more voiceover and less character dialogue in this film compared to other films in this genre.

24 HOURS WITH GASPAR had its world premiere at the 28th Busan International Film Festival on 6 October 2023, competing for Kim Jiseok Award.  The film was scheduled to be screened in Indonesian cinemas in 2024. However, the plan was altered with Netflix acquiring its distribution rights, releasing it on 14 March 2024.  The film premiers on Netflix streaming beginning Thursday 14th of March.



THE ANIMAL KINGDOM (LE REGNE ANIMAL)(France/Belgium 2023) ***½

Directed by Thomas Cailley


Films of the dystopian genre often have one parent and one daughter or son escape from predators while etching out survival in the country.  THE ANIMAL KINGDOM puts a bit of spin on the genre with a father and son left alone in the dystopian futuristic society in which the mother had turned into an animal.

Set in the near future, Thomas Cailley’s The Animal Kingdom (La Règne animal) is a trippy French thriller about a mysterious phenomenon that is gradually transforming parts of the population into human-animal hybrids.

There is a disease unexplained (the film avoiding to offer any clues) that turns humans into animals.  Mother is supposed to be recuperating and getting better.  But the son is transforming.  The father tries his best to protect his son.

When humans start sprouting things like feathers, beaks, wings, or scales, these “critters” – as they are derogatorily called – are considered dangerous.  In fact, they are sent to specialized centres in an attempt to stop their mutations and control their seemingly violent tendencies.  When his afflicted wife is sent to such a facility in the south of France, François (Romain Duris) moves with his teenage son Émile (Paul Kircher) to be near her.  But a convoy carrying mutants (including his wife) crashes, scattering the occupants into the forest.  As François searches the wilds for his wife, he loses his grip on Émile, who himself has started to transform.

  Also in the mix are a policewoman (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who is at odds with her colleagues, Émile’s school friend (Billie Blain) who has overcome issues of her own, and a bird-like mutant (Tom Mercier) who opens Émile’s eyes to the humanity of the creatures in the forest.

The film’s impressive most intimate moment occurs when father and son are searching in the forest for their transformed mother.  The father is playing the mum’s favourite song, cheesy though he admits it may be, while both are screaming her name “Lana” in the car as it whizzes by the forest.

Though not a comedy, director Thomas Cailley captures a few laugh-out laughs with his superb timing - either dramatic or comedic.  When Emile’s wound from a supposed dog bite, is stitched up at the hospital, the nurse tells him, that if happens again, he has to be put down.”  “The dog, not the boy,” he says in what is a rare lighter moment in an otherwise serious movie.

The film was shot during the pandemic which makes the incidents in the film - the unknown disease and the scramble to contain and understand the disease all the more relevant.

The film runs a bit over 2 hours with a few stretched-out parts.  The film could have been shortened and made more efficient.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM is more of an emotional drama of relationships set in a sci-fi setting rather than a sci-fi dystopian thriller.  It succeeds well with director Cailley bringing his roller-coaster emotional ride to a satisfactory climax.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM opened Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2023,  winning many awards, including five at the 2024 Césars(Visual Effects, Sound, Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Music) and New Voices New Visions at Palm Springs 2024.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM opens on March 15in Toronto (TIFF Lightbox) and Vancouver (VIFF Centre)!


THE ART OF LOVE (Turkey 2024) **

Directed by Recai Karagoz


Directed by Recai Karagö and written by Pelin Karamehmetoglu, THE ART OF LOVE is a combination of art heist and romantic comedy which explains the title of this Netflix original light comedy.  Original in concept it might be, or parts of it, but the film is a total dud.

For one the chemistry of the two leads just isn’t there for the making.  The actress and actor both prance around as if they are the best-looking human specimens on the planet, attitudes included.  The result is two arrogant characters that the audience will not care for. 

After learning that the art thief, Guney (Birkan SokulluHakan) Alin (Esra Bilgiç) has been chasing her ex-lover, an officer working for Interpol concocts a plan to catch him red-handed.  How she discovers and convinces her boss that billionaire Guney is the thief is beyond belief.  The reason they have broken up is not revealed at first, not that anyone cares.

Apart from a  few stylishly shot scenes, (there are lots of use of reflections), there is nothing particularly exciting or interesting about any of the film’s parts.

After a third of the film’s running time, one can surely predict where the film is headed.  Unfunny and not really romantic, the film ends up a boring dud.

THE ART OF LOVE opens for streaming on Netflix on Thursday, March 14th.


CLUB ZERO (Austria/UK/ Germany/Denmark/France 2023) ***½

Directed by Jessica Hausner


CLUB ZERO is often a pitch-black horror film added with deadpan humour and a bit of satire on food consumerism.

The club of CLUB ZERO refers to the group of students led by their teacher of the course called Conscious Eating that leads towards removing the need to eat.  At an international boarding school, an unassuming, yet rigorous, Miss Novak (Mia Wasikowska) joins the teaching staff to instruct a new class on “conscious eating.” Her impressionable teenage students each have their own reasons for joining the class – to improve fitness, reduce their carbon footprint, or get extra credit. Although early lectures focus on mindful consumption, Miss Novak’s discussions soon become increasingly disordered and extreme. A suspicious headmistress, concerned parents and the failing health of her students lead everyone to question the inscrutable Miss Novak’s motivations for teaching the class. As a few devoted pupils fall deeper under her cult-like tutelage, they are given a new, even more sinister goal to aspire to – joining the ominous CLUB ZERO.

Director Hausner’s film competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year.  She is known for her earlier films such as LITTLE JOE and HOTEL.

Words on the screen warn at the film’s start that there is disturbing behaviour control and eating disorders displayed.

At the time of the writing of this review, CLUB ZERO had attained a Rotten Tomatoes Rating of only 57%.  Who really cares about whether the film really comes together as a cohesive whole or whether it is satisfactory?  This film is so compelling in its viewing that many would just be mesmerized by where the events in the story would lead to.

The film is to be praised for its creation of atmosphere, fear, dread and anticipation.  The pounding new-aged sounding soundtrack, and the weird art decor in many of the wealthy homes including the school are all to be praised.

There was a complaint years back that there have not been enough female-represented films.  The opposite seems to be true these days as this film emphasizes the strength of the feminine gender.  The protagonist is female and most of the pupils’ mothers have an important say.  The protagonist also prays to the Almighty Mother, a female God who guides her through (though not necessarily correctly) her daily routines and goals.

The dialogue is also deliberately ambiguous and mind-boggling titillating.  Take a sample of the film’s dialogue lines many of which create much audience anticipation;

  • The parents pay a lot to send their children to this school.  They expect not to be bothered.
  • You have been chosen to follow the great path.  Once chosen there is no turning back.
  • It is not easy to do the right thing.  You don’t have the slightest idea of what you are capable 

The film contains good irony.  It is realized that the parents of the children who had stopped eating because of Miss Kovacs now need to trust her to convince their children to continue eating,  Will the parents get her re-instated after she had been fired and if so, will she convince the children to resume eating?

CLUB ZERO opens theatrically on March 15th.



FRENCH GIRL (Canada 2024) ***

Directed by James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright


Sweet Gordon (Zach Braff), an affable English teacher in Brooklyn, has beaten the odds; a French Girl, Sophie Tremblay (Evelyne Brochu) has fallen in love with him and he’s fallen even harder back. But their future is thrown into limbo when she interviews for an executive chef position in her hometown of Quebec City.  It is a variation of MEET THE PARENTS.  But another threat is looming.  To Gordon’s dismay, her future boss (Vanessa Hudgens) also happens to be her former lover, a celebrity Chef with oceanic eyes and a hit TV show.  Can love survive the odds of a possible breakup?  All fans of romantic comedies will easily die you the answer.  So, Gordon Kinski follows his girlfriend and chef Sophie Trembla\NCto her hometown of Quebec City where she is testing for the Michelin 3-star restaurant of super-chef Ruby Collins.

Firstly the title of the film should be QUEBEC GIRL.  There are distinct differences between France and Quebec, in terms of culture, language and practices.  At least all the actors playing

Written and directed by James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright, both of whom are from anglophone and francophone parents put their experiences of their parents into the conflict of cultures in the romantic comedy.  The credibility is a major plus and the film has sufficient set up quirky incidents to both keep the film moving and to keep the interest of the story going while keeping boredom and cliches at bay.  Most romantic comedies do not have a villain, but this one has in the form of Sophie’s ex-lover, Ruby whose evil motives are revealed at the end of the film.  The gay ex-relationship between Ruby and Sophie is taken as a given and is accepted as the same as a straight relationship, even with a farming family.  This updates the film to the present where gay relationships are no longer frowned down upon.  A host of solid Quebecois actors join the cast led by the famous Lucy Card who pays Sophie’s father.  It is the Quebec French. that is spoken throughout the film and not the French French.  The swear words heard in the dialogue are ‘tabernacle’ instead of ‘putain’, for example.

The one flaw of this romance comedy is the hilarity that is lacking.  The humour is amusing at best and there are too few if any laugh-out-loud moments.  At the Q&A after the promo screening, the two writers/directors when asked where they got their jokes from, confessed they took it from A.I.  They might be joking but the jokes in the film often fall flat.  One that is unfunny is the running gag of the family goose that keeps chasing Gordon around the farm.  The comedic set-up piece of Gordon kicking out his future father-in-law by accident in an MMA match generates a few laughs as well, though it moves the plot along.

FRENCH GIRL is a satisfactory entertaining rom-com that is interesting for its different set pieces and different premise but lacks the edginess and hilarity that is often missing in this film genre.

HIGH & LOW (UK/France/USA 2023) ****

Directed by Kevin Macdonald


Kevin Macdonald is a top Scots director who has astounded the film world with his excellent documentary films like ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER in 1999 and TOUCHING THE VOID in 2003, docs that made my Top 10 List of those years.  HIGH & LOW does not fall behind and tells the highs and lows of the controversial design celebrity of the House of Dior, John Galliano.

Director Madonald’s film begins with the December 2010 encounter at a Paris bar one evening when a drunken Galliano insulted a group of Italian women in Paris with antisemitic slurs, which was caught on camera.  The video resurfaced in February 2011, just before Paris Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2011/2012. Facing public and legal scrutiny, he was fired from his role as creative director at Dior.  What did the man say?  At the Paris bar La Perle, he was quoted as saying: "I love Hitler... People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers would all be fucking gassed." The video is revisited after the halfway mark of the movie.  It is a powerful scene that obviously affected the life and career of Galliano.

Galliano dressed some of the most beautiful and prominent men and women in the world for almost 15 years at Givenchy and Dior and was widely recognized as one of the most successful fashion designers of the 1990s and 2000s. However, his career abruptly ended when he was caught on camera in 2011 hurling antisemitic and racist insults at bystanders outside Paris's Café La Perle.

The doc is not a biopic of Galliani though there is some mention (only briefly, of him being abused by his father) of his childhood.  But it does inform of his humbler begins studying at St. Marvin’s School in London.  It is not an easy watch as Galliano is often out of control with his alcohol, drugs and overwork.

HIGH & LOW showcases archive footage of the breathtaking haute couture and high-fashion runways of the period, and features extensive interviews with Galliano himself, alongside conversations with Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Penelope Cruz, Charlize Theron, Anna Wintour, Edward Enninful and more, this nuanced look at Galliano confronts the toxic work culture behind-the-scenes of the fashion industry. 

There are two excellent achievements from director Macdonald’s documentary.  One is the intercutting with Abel Glance’s French masterpiece NAPOLEON, the film whose costumes and look inspired the designs of John Galliano.  The intercutting occurs throughout the film and shows the influence the film had on Galliano.  The other is Macdonald’s ability to get Galliano to earnestly speak his mind. candidly on camera.  MacDonald asks pertinent questions to Galliano:  “Do you think you are racist?”  and also elicits important responses.  Macdonaald’s film is well constructed and well crafted and delivers in the same spirit both uplifting and gut-wrenching as Galliano’s mixed excess lifestyle.

The film opens in theatres on March 15th.


RE: UNITING (Canada 2023) ***

Directed by Laura Adkin


The film follows Rachel, played by Michelle Harrison, who receives life-changing news, she secretly grapples with her mortality while playing host to her friends who have grown up and gone their separate ways since college. 

Director Atkins's film’s premise is nothing fresh, the subject is already covered well and very well in two films by inevitable comparison.  One is Lawrence Kasdan’s THE BIG CHILL (1983) in which a group of seven former college friends gather for a weekend reunion at a South Carolina vacation home after the funeral of another of their college friends.  Then there is Denys Arcand’s 1986 THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE (Original title: Le déclin de l’empire américain) in which sexual revelations emerge when a group of academics and their partners spend a weekend at a country retreat.  The former was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and the latter for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.  Director Adkin has tough shoes to fill.

` Adkin’s film is Canadian like Arcand’s and set in Bowen Island, British Columbia, Canada.  It is the story of six friends reuniting at a giant waterfront house 25 years after their college graduation.  Bowen Island is an idyllic destination in the middle of Howe Sound, just a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver. Quiet and alluring, a short distance from Vancouver, it’s a welcome escape from the stresses of city life.  As the host of the reunion says: “Forget all the stresses of city life.  It is time to party.”

Director Adkin aims for a lighter version of THE BIG CHILL or THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE going for more humour and more quirky characters.

Among the six are the main character Rachel, the host of the perfect house, a loving husband (Jesse L. Martin), and happy kids, but seems to be carrying the weight of a secret.  Natalie is a neurosurgeon with a penchant for shooters. The male characters are made more complicated.  There is Danny, played by Adkin’s husband David James Lewis His character is the perennial party animal we meet naked in bed one morning (at the start of the film), still handcuffed to a one-night stand he may or may not recognize.  The film was shot during COVID-19 with all the prowls in place.

Laura Adkin, born and raised in Vancouver, BC, began her career almost 20 years ago as an actor then moved behind the camera as a producer, writer and director. Her directorial debut The Goodnight Kiss received the Bravofact grant and went on to play festivals around the world earning many awards.

The film plays in Toronto at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas with a Q&A with Adkin on March 15th, in Vancouver at Cineplex Odeon International Village with a Q&A with Adkin and select cast on March 16th and at The Vic Theatre in Victoria with a Q&A on March 17th. In Toronto and Vancouver, the film will be screening until March 21st.


UPROAR (New Zealand 2023) ***½

Directed by Hamish Bennett and Paul Middleditch


There is something to be said bout this rare gem from New Zealand that features a Maori teenager, an unknown but with acting experience in the title role, which means that he has to carry the movie on his own shoulders.  The Maori actor is to a hunk of great physique but looks are not everything.  Julian Dennison plays 17-year-old Josh Walker.  Dennison delivers another powerhouse performance after DEADPOOL2 and  Taika Waititi’s HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE.  There is one reading scene in the film that illustrates the fact, the one in which Josh ‘wow’s his teacher who invites him to go audition for a prestigious drama school.

The story is set in 1981, the year the South African rugby team toured New Zealand, sparking protests across the country about the government’s decision to let them play, given South Africa’s apartheid policy.  Mandela is in prison and there are protests to free Mandela.  While this battle for the nation’s identity rages, 17-year-old Josh Walker  (Julian Dennison) has to figure out his own place in the world.  Robert Muldoon was the then Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Within the first 10 minutes of the film, a lot of information is disseminated to the audience, so much so that one has to be totally alert.  The audience learns of Josh Walker’s family - his widowed mother, Shirley (played by Minnie Driver) and a disabled older brother Jamie (James Rolleston), who is in a numb stasis after an injury has kept him from continuing his rugby career.  Their mother Shirley spends most of her time working to keep the family afloat.  While rugby is on everyone’s mind at home and in school, one of his teachers (Rhys Darby) pushes Josh to audition for drama school. This opens up new ways of looking at the world, and soon he starts to see the activism in his community differently.

The film succeeds as a bright and funny coming-of-age story with a Maori teen trying to find his identity and place in a racist society.  A few feel-good moments will have many cheering in their seats.  On the more serious side, the racism examined exists in South Africa and New Zealand.  A lot of good people surround our young titular hero.  There is his drama teacher etching him on, his hard-working motor working as a cleaner in the school making ends meet for the family and mostly his disabled brother who offers him the best and most direct advice of all - that it is ok to be different as the world is different and to stand up in society.  The film contains moving moments as well.  Josh’s drama teacher admits that he is a coward.  He says in an intimate moment to Josh that he is against apartheid but is afraid to speak out of fear of losing his job  Yet, he does what he can on the side like forming his drama society known to the authorities.

UPROAR premiered at the Special Presentation TIFF Next Wave Selects Section at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and opens in theatres on March 15th.


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