500 DAYS IN THE WILD (Canada 2023) ***½

Directed by Dianne Whelan


Award-winning director and cinematographer Dianne Whelan is the only person to complete this epic journey of discovery—hiking, biking, paddling, snowshoeing and skiing across the country.

The film begins with a very angry woman throwing things into the fire one evening, She is full of disappointment and anger, mainly of the deaths of too many indigenous women.  The woman turns out to be filmmaker Diane Whelan who wants to get away from it all -  people and technology.  She sets to make a doc on the longest trail in the world, travelling from east to west (as to follow the sun, she says) starting from the TransCanada Highway in St. John’s Newfoundland,  The trail contains 487 different routes on water and land which she will travel by bike or canoe.

Whelan is not an extreme sportsperson but an extreme filmmaker.  Here she will be filming herself as she has filmed sports extremists in the past.  For a woman in her 50s who is not an extreme athlete, it was sometimes gruelling, occasionally harrowing, often exhilarating and always surprising. She started out alone, disillusioned with the state of the world and worried about climate change, to look for different ways of caring for the land and each other.  She ended the journey a bit wiser, more hopeful, in love and with a passion to share this story.

In case one is wondering about the filming process, Whelan makes it clear from the very start of her doc how this is done.  She is doing most of the filming on her own, as she carries a tripod and camera on her bicycle.  She mentions that she is also getting the help of friends with the filming as well as the use of drones.  The latter seems awkward as one of the purposes of other ventures is to get away from technology.  Guess, it is impossible to get away completely from technology,

Whelan also makes it clear that is is mighty dangerous out there.  First of all, she is a woman, not to mention being all alone most of the time.  She could be attacked by a bear or by nasty people.  And there is no lock on the tent which is her daily living quarters.

The most dangerous part of Whelan’s journey is by canoe through the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior.  She paddles by canoe while large shipwrecks of steel ships lie beneath its cold waters.  It is said that water is so cold that dead bodies do not float in the water. (Whether this is true needs to be examined as the density of water is at its maximum at 4C).

The journey takes Whelan to the famous Bruce Trail around Toronto.  It was then -18C and after crossing a stream she and her friend of 20 years, who was helping her along were both soaking wet.  Everything is frozen.  The trail is not a straight path, up and down hills and with fallen small trees often blocking the paths.

500 DAYS IN THE WILD is a beautiful film that also displays the beautiful country of Canada in all its 4 seasons and terrain.  Director Whelan also makes sure the message of getting connected with Mother Earth gets through to her audience.


CODE 8 PART II (Canada 2023) ***

Directed by Jeff Chan


A sort of Canadian filmmaker’s dream come true, it all started with his 2016 short film called CODE 8, a science fiction action short film directed by Jeff Chan, co-written by Chan and Chris Paré.  The film is a futuristic vision taking place in a world where 4% of the population is born with some supernatural ability.  The idea is somewhat similar to the Marvel X-MEN comic book series where certain humans are harvested and schooled for their unique super-powers.  Instead of being billionaire superheroes, most ‘specials’ live in poverty and resort to crime, forcing the police to become more militarized.  Starring Robbie Amell, Stephen Amell (the Amells are cousins) and Sung Kang, the film was expanded into a feature-length project, also titled Code 8.

The feature film CODE 8 in 2019 is set in the early 21st century (could be the present), when the public becomes aware of people with superhuman abilities, known as Powers.  This results in the government passing a law requiring all Powers to register their abilities.  Although they are initially popular in the workforce, as the Third Industrial Revolution begins, Powers are marginalized.  A crime syndicate known as The Trust has flooded the streets with an addictive drug called Psyke, made from the spinal fluid of trafficked Powers. Police departments begin using drone-deployed robots, called Guardians, and facial recognition software to combat Power-related crime while a citywide Powers ban is debated.  Connor Reed (Robert Arnell), a 26-year-old Electric (electrokinetic) looks after his mother Mary, a Cryo (cryokinetic), whose ailment impedes her from controlling her powers.  In this film, he comes across baddie Garrett (Stephen Arnell) as well as crime boss Marcus.

All these characters and the identical background appear in the latest, CODE 8 PART II.  But it does not require watching the short of the first CODE 8 as the script is easy to follow.  Once again as stated by the opening credits the film centres around the 4% of people living in fictional Lincoln City who possess special abilities. It follows the journey of a teenage girl, Pavani (Sirena Gulamgaus) fighting to get justice for her slain brother at the hands of corrupt police officers., led by Sergeant ‘King’ Kingston (Alex Mallari Jr.).  After becoming a witness to the cover-up, she becomes a target and enlists the help of an ex-con, Conor and his former partner-in-crime Garrett.

Highlights of the film include the police robotic canines nicknamed K9.   Meticulously designed so that they function almost like real dogs but programmed so that they are almost perfect animal machines so that no crook, Powers included, can escape from their clutches or mechanical paws.

The film is a blend of sci-fi, action, super-hero action and drama and does not concentrate on any of these genres.  The film is a pleasant enough entertaining watch, suitable for the family with a possible message of the immense potential danger of A.I. and the subject of falsifying effective policing in a community. The producers are already thinking of another sequel, with the film’s ending priming for a continuation.  Why not, if Netflix is picking up the cost tag?

The film is shot around Toronto and Hamilton.  The film’s rights have been acquired by Netflix.  The film opens on Netflix for streaming on February 28th.


DUNE PART 2 (USA 2024) ***

Directed by Denis Villeneuve


Frank Herbert’s novel DUNE is a complex and complicated novel not easily be transformed into a film.  The first attempt directed by David Lynch (MULHOLLAND DRIVE, BLUE VELVET) was a mess that most audiences could not understand.  When Canadian helmer Denis Villeneuve was offered the job, he negotiated a two-film deal due to the novel’s complexity.

Most of the story of DUNE PARTY 2 has been established in Villeneuve’s first DUNE in 2021.

At the end of DUNE Part 1, Baron Harkonnen gives command of the conquered Arrakis to his nephew, Rabban (Dave Bautista), and orders him to restart spice production to recoup the cost of the invasion that occurred in DUNE Part 1.   Paul Atreides (Timothee Chamalat) and Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are found by Duncan and Kynes, and Paul discloses his plan to marry one of Shaddam's daughters to avert the civil war that would ensue from news of the Emperor's treachery.  Duncan sacrifices himself to enable Paul and Jessica to escape;  Kynes is mortally wounded and lures a sandworm to devour her and the Sardaukar. In the deep desert, Paul and Jessica encounter Stilgar's tribe, including Chani (Zendaya), the girl in Paul's visions. 

In DUNE PART 2, Paul Atreides continues his journey, united with Chani and the Fremen, as he seeks revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family, and endeavors to prevent a terrible future that only he can predict.

Director Villeneuve’s film lasts a full 2 and three-quarter hours.  The production sets, set decor and art direction are nothing short of stupendous making a watch on iMAX a solid must.

On the other hand, the film contains a lot of CGI special effects.  The film is a demonstration of CGI gone mad.  It is hard to get excited watching 20 thousand CGI figures battling another 20 thousand CGI figures on the big screen.  The film’s most exciting part is the old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat (between Butler and Chamalat) at the end.  Despite the main actor Chamalat’s emotional performance, the story can hardly be felt by any audience.  The first half of the film is boring as nothing much happens, the only pleasure derived from the film being the production values.

The all-star cast contains big names including Austin Butler (ELIVS), Florence Pugh, Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, though a few of the faces are hardly recognizable under the makeup.

At best, DUNE PART 2 is visually stunning in all departments and despite its lack of a human story with emotional impact, the film should satisfy sci-fi space fans, hands-down.  As for the future, Villeneuve has expressed interest in making a third film based on Dune Messiah, the second novel in the series

The film’s production budget is listed as a hefty $120 -190 million.  With all the hyop]e of the DUNE book and this being the first blockbuster of 2024, DUNE PART 2 will most likely make a profit considering the first DUNE in 2021 made $440 million on a budget around the same size as this one.   The estimated gross for the first weekend is projected at $65 million.

DUNE PART 2 opens in theatres on March 1st.  See it in iMAX.



MY NAME IS LOH KIWAN (South Korea 2024) ***

Directed by Kim Hee-Jin


For North Koreans trying to flee their country, making it often takes crossing the border to China that is only the beginning of a torturous journey toward freedom. That journey and the motivations of North Koreans who want to defect are the subject of the recent and excellent documentary called BEYOND UTOPIA.   The Chinese government has a hard-line policy of finding North Korean refugees, arresting them and detaining them and then forcibly sending them back to North Korea, where they will face investigation, torture and a range of harsh punishments.

MY NAME IS LOH KIWAN, based on the book of the same title tells the difficult story of fleeing North Korea to China and then to Belgium from the point of view of twenty-somethibg Loh Kiwan (Song Joong-ki).  Films on or about North Korea are few and far in-between and one knows very little about North Korea.  A film like MY NAME IS LOH KIWAN is a welcome entry to Netflix.  The recent refugee film IO CAPITANO which opened last week about two Senegaleses making a death-defying journey against all odds for a better life in Italy, this film also shows the difficulty in perilous joinery from a different adventurous look.

It is not mentioned in the film whether this is a true story, but it is, possibly partly.

When Loh tells his mother before his defection that he regrets putting her through all the hardship while is is still young and able, his mother replies: “Having a healthy son is all that every mother wants.”  Dialogue like this one tells a lot about the personalities of the characters and also sets the tone of the film.

Besides dialogue, a lot can be read from the actions of the characters.  When Loh just lands in Belgium and the broker waves him off, the broker gives Loh his card and tells him to call if he (Loh) ever wishes to return to China.  The next scene shows Loh crushing the card.  Loh walks past a litter bin on the street but he does not toss the crumpled paper away. Another scene at the film start has Loh wiping away what appears to be blood on the street.  Nothing is explained at this point

Escaping from China, North Korean defector Loh Kiwan sets out to fulfill his mother's dying wish, to find a place where he can truly own his name and live on his own terms. He travels to Belgium to seek refugee status but ends up being in limbo with no means to make a living or put a roof over his head. Marie, who used to represent the Belgian national shooting team and is now battling her inner demons, chances upon an exhausted Kiwan and steals his wallet. The two end up in a heated confrontation.

The film depicts Loh’s very difficult and tiring defection process showing his impoverished living conditions and the equally gruelling enrollment procedure for refugee status.  Mostly, the moving film credibly and effectively shows that life is not always dished out on a silver platter and one like Loh has to make do while taking one step at a time.

Director Kim appears to love the use of flashbacks.  He uses it once at the film’s start when he tells the story after Lot wipes away the blood on the street and again after the immigration officer questions if it is Loh’s mother who gave him the money to travel to Belgium.



THE PARADES (Japan 2024) **

Directed by Michihito Fujii


What happens when one dies?  This is the magic question that many filmmakers examine,  from Albert Brooks’ excellent DEFENDING YORU LIFE in which the dead has to defend his or her life to move forward to the afterlife.  Albert Brooks falls in love with Meryl Streep at this point.  But another film that really surprises is the 1999 masterpiece Hirokazu Kore-eda's AFTER LIFE, a film that reaches out gently to the audience and challenges us: What is the single moment in our own lives we treasure the most?  In the film the dead is asked to recall the happiest moment, which is filmed and the dead will take this as a memory for eternity forgetting everything else.  This film put Kore-eda on the filmmaking map.  In THE PARADES, a similar premise holds.

Japanese director Michihito Fujii (HARD DAYS, THE LAST 10 YEARS) has hard shoes to fill.  The title of the film THE PARADES is so called because from the parades held every month, the deceased gather to find the person they long to see again, slowly reaching into the depths of everyone’s hearts.

Though the film takes 15 minutes or so to establish to the audience that the main character is already dead, those going into the film likely already know the fact.\, an thus have to play along patiently.  The film begins on a beach covered with trash, a sorry sight, where Minako (Masami Nagasawa) wakes up.  She is servicing her lost son Ryo, She frantically runs around asking anyone insight whether they have seen him.  She encounters Akira (played by Kentaro Sakaguchi), a former gang member Katsutoshi (played by Ryusei Yokohama), a former film producer Michael (played by Lily Franky), and their friends, only to realize that she has already passed away. She is unable to move on to “the beyond” due to unfinished business in this world, she is told.

Though intriguing as the plot can be, the story also dwells on the stories of the others, which tends to eclipse the main story of Minnako.  Unfortunately, there are too many other stories, and these including the story of Mink can hardly be described as terribly interesting.  Director Fiji’s director character might be a reflection of his own character, but he comes across as a person too full of himself.  His character is always able to get what he wants.  Even the Yakuza gangster, the most interesting of all the dead characters follows his advice.

THE PARADES is essentially a ghost story of regrets and redemption.  It has recently been done in ALL OF US STRANGERS and in other after-life films like DEFENDING YOUR IFE, AFTER LIFE and done much better,  The stories are also not convincing enough as they seem to be just put on for show.

As they say in many funerals, the film is a celebration of life rather than about the end of it.

The Netflix movie THE PARADES will be released globally on Thursday, February 29, 2024.


SPACEMAN (USA 2024) **

Directed by Johan Renck


Tech space giants are charging an arm and a leg to travel into space.  Most vacancies have been filled.  But many do not really have the reality of the tedium and danger of such an excursion.  The recent disaster of the vessel designed to look at the Titanic shipwreck going bust is a case in point where millionaires have died while paying for the trip.  SPACEMAN illustrates and demonstrates the other side of space travel - dangerous, unhealthy, psychologically damaging and the possibility of other mishaps.

SPACEMAN  is a 2024 American science fiction drama film directed by Johan Renck and written by Colby Day.   It is based on the 2017 novel Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař.  The film stars Adam Sandler in a serious role, Carey Mulligan, Kunal Nayyar, Isabella Rossellini, and the voice of Paul Dano. As an astronaut, Jakub Procházka (Sandler) is sent to the edge of the solar system to collect mysterious ancient dust and finds his earthly life falling to pieces, he turns to the only voice who can help him try to put it back together.  It just so happens to belong to a creature, Hanus (voice of Don) in the shape of a spider from the beginning of time lurking in the shadows of his ship

Adam Sandler (Jakub) is not a happy camper.  To make things worse, the toilet isn’t working from the very start of the film.   When he asks for the toilet to be fixed, Control tells him the camera gets first priority.  (What is a Sandler movie without a toilet joke?)

The accents are out of the ordinary,  Sandler puts on a slight but weird Czech accent while Carey Mulligan as his wife, Lena keeps her British accent.  The rest of the cast spot a variety of different accents.  Jakub looks dishevelled owing to his beard throughout the film.  6 months apart insulation is enough to make anyone go mad.

The special effects and art decoration are worthy of mention.  Jakub is often seen floating in his cabin without the effect of gravity.  This is likely the first space film that shows how untidy and cluttered, again mentioning the malfunctioning toilet the inside living quarters of a spaceship can be, in contrast to neat, efficient and modern as in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001A SPACE ODYSSEY or any other space movie.  The reason is to emphasize the discomfort and monotony of a long flight into space.

Adam Sandler has proven his acting mettle in man-child comedies but in serious films like PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and UNCUT GEMS gaining the respect of critics that many comics do not have.  SPACEMAN adds to the list but unfortunately is not one of his better Sandler films.  Despite incidents occurring at a regular pace as the film progresses, the whole exercise involving the beginning and end of time and Jake’s realization of the failure of his marriage is a turgid affair.  The introduction of Hanus the talking spider does not help either.  No one is ever sure what is happening or what could happen.  The way life’s discovery and regrets for Jakub are realized is not convincing enough.  

SPACEMAN debuted in theatres beginning last week (the review was not posted then, as a link was not made available till this week) but opens for streaming on Netflix.  SPACEMAN is a Netflix original Adam Sandler film.


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