AUTUMN AND THE BLACK JAGUAR (Le Dernier Jaguar) (Canada/France/Germany 2023) ***½

Directed by  Gilles de Maistre


If the director’s name sounds familiar, AUTUMN AND THE BLACK JAGUAR is the third film from Gilles de Maistre and Prune de Maistre following the hit family films MIA AND THE WHITE LION and THE WOLF AND THE LION.  It marks another successful wild animal and human adventure story.

Growing up in the Amazon rainforest gave Autumn (Lumi Pollack) the rarest of friendships - a lost jaguar cub she discovers named Hope.  When a tragic event forces Autumn to leave Hope for the unknowns of New York City, she dreams for years of going back to the rainforest and her friend.  Aged 14, and having grown accustomed to city life, Autumn discovers her childhood village is under threat from animal traffickers and decides she must return to the Amazon to her beloved jaguar. Anja - Autumn's endearingly clumsy biology teacher (Emily Bett Rickards, providing some slapstick humour) - unsuccessfully tries to dissuade her from this reckless plan. Joined by Anja, Autumn embarks on a journey to reunite with Hope and save her from those who seek to destroy the rainforest and its wildlife.

This is a decent family film, entertaining while having a solid message on the environment and the saving of endangered species.

Some excitement is provided as well, as in one scene where Hope the jaguar fights off a menacing snake.  The encounter between the jaguar and the snake is more exciting than the silly-looking battles in GODZILLA X KONG.

The issues covered in the film include deforestation in the Amazon which is huge and out of control.  There is also animal trafficking like almost nowhere else in the world. Our films often come from a message that is more optimistic, taking a child’s point of view. and the film will speak equally to children from France, Colombia, China or Morocco. As in the Whitney Houston song "The Greatest Love of All”,  the lyrics go:  Children are the future, and they will lead the way. …. The director has made documentaries dealing with childhood for 40 years, and especially child suffering.

There are two real jaguars used in the film - no CGI.  The filmmakers retrieved two baby jaguars from Mexican breeders (animal trade is legal there) and the animal coordinators immediately took care of them and their well-being.  Jaguars are on the verge of extinction, mainly due to deforestation.

The film has a few sappy moments.  For example: Autumn is told by her mother activist before she is gone: that she is to say the words: “I will always be loved.  There is nothing to be afraid of.  There is nothing I can do wrong.”  To this effect, Autumn decides at the one-third mark of the film to leave NYC and travel back to the Amazon to save the black panther.  “My father doesn’t understand me.  You do not understand me!  I know it is dangerous.  My friend is in danger and I have to save my friend.”   She says to her biology teacher who ends up trailing her.

AUTUMN AND THE BLACK JAGUAR opens in theatres on March 29th.


FEMME (UK 2022) ***

Directed by Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping


With his performances as a drag queen at a London gay club, performance name: Aphrodite Banks, Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, CANDYMAN) has a place among London’s celebrated drag artists.  One night after a show, Jules steps out to get some cigarettes and is brutally attacked by a man (George MacKay, 1917), out with a gang of his friends.  Although Jules recovers physically, he withdraws from the outside world, traumatized.  Months later, he recognizes his attacker by chance in a gay sauna.  Without make-up and wrapped only in a towel, Jules is able to approach the other man incognito and find out who he is. He begins an affair with the closeted Preston, with a plan to take his revenge.

Actor Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay are both excellent performers who carry this sexually charged revenge drama.  The dark and seedy atmosphere of the gay London clubs where bare walls showing bricks are reminiscent of the real gay clubs in London.  Wherever there is a venue available, the gays will gather and party. Directors  Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping keep their film on track as a steamy thriller though a few flaws exist in terms of credibility.  The main one of Preston not recognizing Jules is one main factor.  There is even a segment where Preston notices a scar from the bashing on his head.  Jules dismisses it as a scar from a fight which Preston believes totally.  “Give me a name and I will fuck him up,” is Preston’s response to Jules.

The film features both Preston’s friends (if one can call them friends, as they are just hang-outs) and Jules’ as well.  These characters build up the world around the two main characters.

The villain of the piece, Preston, the gay drag basher is depicted in the film as totally despicable with zero redeeming qualities.  This makes him too easy a target as a villain in the story.  Preston admits that he has a short temper.  Preston is manipulative, always angry, rude, demeaning, untruthful and of course, violent.  He is also shown as a drug dealer and a showoff, driving his uncle’s BMW half the time.  He is violent in both sex and behaviour.   The only change in behaviour is shown as a change from dominant to a little submissive for the purpose of sex.   If Preston had a few redeeming qualities, the revenge would not only be more difficult to plan out but create a more interesting story.

Actor George MacKay, best known for his performance in 1917, does a marvellous job as Preston.  MacKay has donned many different types of roles to enhance his career, this one, one of his boldest.  His portrayal of this explosive and volatile character makes the movie, though his conversion from dominating to submissive does not quote work, though this is not totally MacKay’s fault.

FEMME premiered at the 2023 Official Selection, Berlin International Film Festival where it received a standing ovation and was picked up by Elevation Pictures and opens at TIFF Lightbox on March 29th.



Directed by Adam Wingard


GODZILLA X KONG is the sequel to the largely successful 2021 epic GODZILLA VS. KONG.  The latter film is set five years after the dragon-like extraterrestrial King Ghidorah awakened the monstrous "Titans" around the world and was defeated by Godzilla.  Kong is monitored by Monarch within a giant dome on Skull Island, which has been taken over by the storm that previously kept it hidden from the world.  Kong is visited by Jia, the last Iwi (Kaylee Hottle) native and young adopted daughter of Kong expert Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall).  Jia is deaf and communicates with Kong via sign language.

In the new film, Kong and Godzilla now unite together against a mysterious Hollow Earth threat known as Skar King, an orangutan-like kaiju. The film also focuses on the previously untold origins of the Titans and Skull Island, which in reality is a complete bore on screen.  The battles in the origins are depicted in a segment that looks out of place with the rest of the movie, confusing as it was not announced that it was a flashback.

 Last year’s Japanese GODZILLA MINUS ONE is the better movie, a film that won an  Oscar for Best Visual Effects.   It had a more streamlined story and was more controlled and made more sense than this latest nonsense.

GODZILLA X KONG is all over the place and a basically emotionally hollow experience.  The plot includes some mumbo-jumbo about Dr. Andrews and her adopted daughter Jia not being able to belong.  It seems that this inconvenience is just put in the story for some human effect in the film, but the cliche-ridden ploy does not work.  The film’s climax is the big battle between the monsters, all done with special effects, which means it is a complete emotionless bore again, with exploding pyrotechnics that mean nothing.

The film includes a short tribute to GODZILLA MINUS ONE (2023) with a shot of the ground bursting beneath Godzilla's footfall for the film's Rome sequence

Comic relief is provided by two actors, Dan Stevens who has worked with director Wingard before in the horror film THE GUEST and Brian Tyree Henry as podcaster Berbie.  The latter wins more laughs than Stevens who is a more serious actor.  Stevens plays a veterinarian called Trapper who specializes in Titans.  In a red Hawaiian shirt, Aviator glasses and a goofily charming grin, Stevens could have been Dr. Andrews’ romantic interest. 

The best King Kong/Godzilla movie remains the 1962 Japanese classic entitled KING KONG VS, GODZILLA.  As a young kid, my parents brought me to see it several times.  The night segment in which a train travels through the mountains where a monster appears remains the most frightening in a child’s (my) memory.

GODZILLA X KONG is less a movie than a video game in which the players are someone else.  The film proves that two actors in Godzilla and Kong costumes can provide more entertainment and two CGI-generated tag team monsters.  Despite all the expense and effort (the production reportedly costs $150 million), the ‘movie’ should have been better than it turned out.

GODZILLA X KONG opens in theatres everywhere on Easter Friday.



HEART OF THE HUNTER (South Africa 2024) ***

Directed by Mandla Dube


The film is based on the book of the same name by Deon Meyer.  This book was dense and complex, exploring historical, political, racial and cultural divisions as tangled as described in other police stories from the country of South Africa.   The book earned rave reviews, being named one of the best thrillers of 2004 by the Chicago Tribune, and long-listed for what's now known as the Dublin Literary Award. 

Tiny Mpayipheli, a giant man with a gentle demeanor, once earned his living as a government gun for hire.  Tiny (named for irony?  He is supposedly 6 ft 5 inches in the book) was once a feared assassin and freedom fighter, trained by the Stasi and KGB. In post-apartheid South Africa, he's happily working in a garage.  The film disposes o the name Tiny for Zuko.  Now leading a quiet, ordered life in the countryside, he is reluctantly summoned back into the game when a trusted old friend is kidnapped. With just seventy-two hours to deliver the ransom, with an army of security forces deployed to stop him, and with a diabolical double agent perilously close to assuming absolute power, Tiny races a hijacked motorcycle across the wilds of backcountry Africa in a thrilling epic adventure.

The fight scenes are done with a wry sense of humour.  One fight scene at the start of the film takes place in an abandoned upper floor of a building, the two fight with just one piano in the background.  The piano is obviously there for dramatic effect as they fight and bang against the keys, making plunking sounds.  Why else is the piano there and one except for no other reason?   More humour is provided in the dialogue, especially in the use of overused cliched sayings like Sometimes a few will suffer so that many can benefit.  To make an omelet, it takes to break a few eggs.  And another:  The stone that the builder refuses eventually becomes the cornerstone.  Another really silly line brings out laugh-out-loud humour.  “I tell you not to give him her son) sugar early in the morning. “The mother says Zuko.  “You’re my sugar,” he says humorously to her.  These bits enhance the film’s entertainment value and lend a lighter touch to an otherwise serious action film.  And another piano appears in another part of the film.

The film has a good build-up in terms of story, plot and suspense, one assuming that the film follows the book closely.  Zuko is also retired and living with a woman and her son, which gives the story a romantic slant,  The romance is well executed with strong Chemistry between Zuko and his woman, the woman who is then kidnapped for interrogation by the bad guys when Zukogoes off to do his job.

Zuko is supposed to fight for the Alkebu-lan though he says he is doing this for his new family and not for the Alkebu-lan shit, it being the ancient name of Africa meaning “mother of mankind’s ‘Garden of Eden”.     HEART OF THE HUNTER is an above-average international (South African)  action thriller, full of thrills, action, suspense, romance and colourful locations, not to be missed.  The film opens for streaming on Netflix on Easter Friday.


REST IN PEACE (Descansar en paz) (Argentina 2024) ***

Directed by Sebastián Borensztein


REST IN PEACE is an Argentinean crime drama that plays like a true story as it blends a real-life terrorist attack, the largest one in Argentinian history to its story,  The drama surrounds the protagonist, by the name of Sergio who is heavily in debt.  He figures there is no way out, until…..

It is all about debt and desperation,  “Do you love yourself?  Do you love your family?’  asks the debtor to Sergio.  Sergio’s worried look tells all.  “I want all the money by Monday,” the debtor adds.  The threat to the family begins with photographs taken of Sergio’s wife and daughter.

The first 30 minutes of the film are dedicated to illustrating Sergio’s desperation.  He has kept it from his wife till a thug from a borrower shows up at his daughter’s bar mitzvah.  “You cannot afford to pay back your debt but you throw parties?”  asked his biggest lender.  A family party almost disintegrates into fistfights as Sergios’ father and brother.

Then a bombing is heard on the news  - the AMIA bombing,

The AMIA bombing occurred on 18 July 1994 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and targeted the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; translates to\:  "Argentine Israelite Mutual Association"), a Jewish Community Centre. Executed as a suicidal attack, a bomb-laden van was driven into the AMIA building and subsequently detonated, killing 85 people and injuring over 300.  To date, the bombing remains the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentine history.  In 1994, Argentina was home to a Jewish community of 200,000, making it the largest in Latin America and the sixth-largest in the world outside of Israel.

Sergio, cornered by debt, decides to take advantage of a coincidence and an unpredictable circumstance to disappear.  After many years of living away from his country, he moves to Paraguay, under a false identity, a chance discovery provides the irresistible temptation of wanting to know how the people of his town have moved on in his absence. The question becomes an obsession: Can an entire life disappear and be forgotten? Can you start from scratch and never look back?

The film concentrates more on drama than the crime itself, though the film is described as a crime drama.  The drama is that of Sergio as the film is divided into three parts.  The first is Sergio's debt, the second is his new life in Paraguay under his new identity with his new life and the final part of the re-unification of his family.  The three parts are quite different but interesting enough as an entertaining film.

The script also blends into the social media platform Facebook.  As Sergio tries to hide his identity, he discovers Facebook.  The film is set in the time when Facebook was first reduced and becoming popular,   For anyone wanting to disappear, Facebook poses a threat.  Sergio enquires about Facebook at one point in the film.

REST IN PEACE is a Netflix original film from Argentina that opens for streaming on March 27th, 2024.


RYUICHI SAKAMOTO | OPUS (Japan 2023) ***

Directed by Neo Sora


The word OPUS means work: especially: a musical composition or set of compositions usually numbered in the order of its issue.

The film is the work of Ryuichi Sakamoto (January 17, 1952 – March 28, 2023).   Sakamoto was a Japanese composer, pianist, record producer, and actor who pursued a diverse range of styles as a solo artist and as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). With his bandmates Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, Sakamoto influenced and pioneered a number of electronic music genres. 

With regards to his contribution to film: as a film score composer, Sakamoto won an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Grammy, and two Golden Globe Awards. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) marked his debut as both an actor and a film-score composer; its main theme was adapted into the single "Forbidden Colours" which became an international hit.  His most successful work as a film composer was The Last Emperor (1987), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, making him the first Japanese composer to win an Academy Award after which he continued earning accolades composing for films such as The Sheltering Sky (1990), Little Buddha (1993), and The Revenant (2015).  He was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the Ministry of Culture of France in 2009 for his contributions to music.

On March 28th, 2023, legendary composer Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away after his struggle against cancer. In the years leading up to his death, Sakamoto could no longer perform live. Single concerts, not to mention sprawling global tours, were too taxing. Despite this, in late 2022, Sakamoto mustered all of his energy to leave the world with one final performance: a concert film, featuring just him and his piano.  This is the film.

Curated by Sakamoto himself and presented in his chosen order, the twenty pieces performed in the film wordlessly narrate his life through his music. The selection spans his entire career, from his popstar Yellow Magic Orchestra period to his magnificent Bertolucci film scores, to music from his meditative final album, 12.  Intimately filmed in a space he knew well, surrounded by his most trusted collaborators, Sakamoto bares his soul through his music, knowing this may be the last time that he can present his art.

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO | OPUS  a film shot in black and white with just the maestro and his piano with the opus heard on the soundtrack is a celebration of an artist's life in the purest and unadulterated form, serving as Nakamoto’s definitive swan song.

The film screens at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto as well as other cities across Canada on March 29th.



Directed by Tyler Russell


Based on the novel by #1 NYTimes bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, SOMEONE LIKE YOU is an aching love story. After the tragic loss of his best friend, a grieving young architect launches a search for her secret twin sister.

The film begins with a C.S. Lewis quote: “If you love deeply. you will hurt badly.† C.S. Lewis was an Irish-born scholar, novelist, and author of about 40 books, many of them on Christian apologetics, including The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. 

The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Karen Kingsbury,  Kingsbury who co-wrote the film and also produced it, is a #1 New York Times Bestselling novelist who writes Life-Changing Fiction(TM) and has been called America's favourite inspirational author.  There are more than 25 million copies of her award-winning books in print, including several million copies sold in the past year. Karen's last dozen titles have topped national bestseller charts.

Architect Dawson Gage fell in love with London Quinn in high school, even though she told him not to. Ten years later, the two are still best friends when tragedy strikes. Now, the grieving Dawson is compelled to do one final act of love for London. He launches an impossible search for her secret twin sister, twins separated during their parent's procedure. 

States away, And Allen has no idea she was adopted as an embryo. The news rocks her world and sends her into a spiral that culminates in her leaving home to meet her biological parents. But what will happen when Andi walks through the door of the parents she never knew? All while she’s missing the parents who lied to her? 

With one set of parents grieving the loss of a daughter, and the other set grieving the truth they never told, only Dawson can show Andi everything she missed about her twin sister. But neither of them imagined the attraction they would d feel for each other. Except maybe the audience of this film.  Now can Dawson help Andi make her way back home, even though he has fallen desperately in love with her?

At its worst, this is one of those annoying films that is filled with lyrics of songs that dictate how audiences should feel throughout the film.  The film tries its best to stay away from being goody-goody Christianity-based,  But still, it cannot help but have to add a few segments like Andi suggesting to say grace at the dinner table at her new parents.  The abandoned adopting parents also say: it takes a lot of faith to believe, though God is never mentioned.

After a slight argument with the couple London and David about attending church in which London says she will likely never go there, David is clearly annoyed which indicates that this could be one of those Christian faith movies. The script contains quotes from the Bible as in the scan during the final where St. John’s Gospel is quoted.

A mixed bag of tricks. SOMEONE LIKE YOU is at its worst, too sappy and faith-based, though it covers a good bit of a far-fetched story on forgiveness and the surprises that life can offer.

 SOMEONE LIKE YOU opens theatrically across Canada beginning on Tuesday, April 2nd.



STOLEN TIME (Canada 2023) ***½

Directed by Helene Klodawsky


STOLEN TIME is a documentary about unsung hero Melissa Miller.  This unsung hero fights battles in a different type of battlefield.  She is a personal injury lawyer for the most vulnerable - the elderly.  From the very start of director Helene Klodawsky’s documentary, she gets the audience all riled up at the injustices committed by the conglomerates who earn big profits at the expense of the elderly in nursing homes.

The audience hears of unspeakable acts.  There is no nurse working in one nursing home for 100 days.  A change in medication cannot be realized for a substantial period of time.  Elderlies are sedated without consent to the point that they cannot eat, drink, or move.

This is a compelling call for justice, as the film follows charismatic elderly rights lawyer Melissa Miller as she takes on the corporate for-profit nursing home industry—an industry notorious for its lack of transparency and accountability. As the legal battle unfolds, families, frontline caregivers and change-makers chronicle an urgent crisis with ramifications—and inspiration—for us all.

The film chronicles Miller’s most challenging case yet: a mass tort representing hundreds of families fighting some of the world’s most powerful long-term care corporations. 

Her adversaries stand accused of neglecting their vulnerable charges as they reap huge profits. Booming elderly populations worldwide add urgency to holding these corporations to account.

In STOLEN TIME, desperate families turn to the courts as a last resort.  The audience witnesses shocking testimonies and images from researchers, advocates and, most notably, frontline caregivers whose work is often undervalued but disproportionately blamed for what goes wrong.  The film is a rare and required inside look at a crucial legal battle and an emerging elder justice movement.

Much insight is provided regarding the litigation.  The insurance companies are the ones that will be paying out and the staff is normally blamed.  The corporations that made lots of money from the homes run off scot-free.

The film also deals with the Pandemic.  The government passed a legislature to protect the homes from lawsuits.

Caregivers are also given the spotlight.  They are overworked, frustrated and underpaid.  Nursing homes can be joyful places and sometimes, there are.  The system has been set up for failure.  Up to this time, Melissa’s mass tort is still continuing,  The film chooses for its climax the wins of Melissa’s court cases, in which a monetary settlement is awarded to the plaintiffs.

STOLEN TIME asks the question how far would one go to protect our loved ones?  This shocking eye-opening doc on the abuse of the elderly in nursing homes can hardly be called entertaining for what it reveals on-screen.

Playing  in Toronto:

Tuesday, April 2, and Wednesday, April 3, at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto

Presented as part of Doc Soup, a screening series from Hot Docs.  A bonus is filmmaker Helene Klodawsky and elder rights lawyer Melissa Miller being in attendance, with a Q&A on both nights.   In addition:

Doc Soup will also be streaming Stolen Time online for subscribers.

More info:




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