EVIL DOES NOT EXIST (Japan 2023) ***½

Directed by Hamaguchi Ryusuke


Single father Takumi and his daughter Hana live in Mizubiki Village, close to Tokyo. Like generations before them, they live a modest life according to the cycles and order of nature. One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a ‘glamping’ site near Takumi’s house; offering city residents a comfortable ‘escape’ to nature.  Blaming is glamorous camping,  When two company representatives from Tokyo arrive in the village to hold a meeting, it becomes clear that the project will have a negative impact on the local water supply, causing unrest.  The agency’s mismatched intentions endanger both the ecological balance of the nature plateau and their way of life, with an aftermath that affects Takumi’s life deeply.

The origin of the film EVIL DOES NOT EXIST is a strange and rather remarkable one.  Composer Ishibashi Eiko had asked film director Hamaguchi Ryusuke, both of whom had worked together in the 2021 film  DRIVE MY CAR to create a film that would accompany her live performances of a new music piece called ‘Gift’.  The result is the film EVIL DOES NOT EXIST which places the musical score forefront to many of the film’s important segments.  Observable from the very first scene when the score shifts from one mood to another, so does he film’s atmosphere.  The first segment is an idyllic setting where the camera shows the sky through the tops of the trees in the woods (similar to what Akira Kurosawa did for his films like YOJIMBO) before setting in for a more settling tone where the audience sees a single father Takumi (Omika Hitoshi) chopping wood, working as an odd-job man for a village that needs fresh stream water in order to survive.  The first segment is a slow burn before humans are introduced into the story, but the scene also of Takumi collecting fresh water has an important impact in the story.

The story involves a deeper building of a camping facility which poses a threat to the villagers.  The developer has be two employees down to have a Q&A with the villagers for settling public outrage.  But the two get more than they bargained for as the villagers bring out strong points like the threat of the location of the glam camp’s epic tank and the threat of wildfires, not to mention the destruction of the deer trail.  The meeting is tense and recalls one of the key scenes in Fred Zinnemann’s classic town hall meeting in HIGH NOON where the townsfolk gather to decide whether to stay or abandon the town when their sheriff meets the men he has sent to jail arrive to take revenge.

As the title EVIL DOES NOT EXIST, there is no inherent evil in any of the deeds of the story's characters though the results might be questionable.  The story contains a mystery element with lots of solitude enabling Eiko’s music to make a greater impact.

The film’s ending is abrupt and left mysteriously open ended leaving one wondering what caused the action that was taken.

EVIL DOES NOT EXIST opens at the TIFF Lightbox on Friday, May 10th.



Directed by Rob Miller and Kwabena Oppong


In 2021, a dramatic England penalty defeat to Italy and chaos as thousands of un-ticketed fans attempted to storm Wembley Stadium.  The doc tells the story of the events that occurred.    The doc stars Darren Lewis and Emma Saunders (both are broadcasters of the day) Liam Boylan who is the director of Wembley Stadium.

England won the World Cup way back when in the year 1966.  The year is now 2021, right after the Pandemic.  People were depressed from staying locked down and needed to go out and have an outlet.  The World Cup finals held in Wembley Stadium, London would provide the outlet. The rest is history. The 1966 FIFA World Cup was the eighth FIFA World Cup, a quadrennial football tournament for men's senior national teams. It was played in England from 11 to 30 July 1966. England defeated West Germany 4–2 in the final to win their first-ever World Cup title. 

And so says an England fan. “You don’t need running shoes to run.  But it helps.”  “You don’t need beer to have a good time.  But it helps.”  In England and much of Europe, unlike North America, one can carry a beer and drink in public as in a bus or in the tube.  The big match was on at 8 pm but all the fans were drinking and making merry already.  The doc spends a bit of screen time, and likely deservingly so, on the absolute bonkers spirit of the fans.  Another movie that captured the spirit of football fans was Ladj Ly’s LES MISERABLES”, the film set on the day of the World Cup played in Paris when France won the World Cup.

On July 11, 2021, Wembley Stadium was on the brink of a historic win for Gareth Southgate's England team. The squad had inspired the country on their journey to England's first major final since 1966, and the European Championship was within their reach. But as England supporters arrived at Wembley from all corners of the country, celebration quickly turned to chaos.  Mayhem took over with scenes of drunkenness and drug-taking, and ticketless fans saw an opportunity to storm the stadium.  With compelling security footage and first-hand testimony from both fans and those in the industry (like the event manager at the stadium and the reporters) and visceral user-generated content, this is the dramatic story of a day that began with euphoria and ended in a nation left reeling from shame.  The term hooligan has been rightly reserved for football fans gone amok.

The doc also gets close and personal with innocent people caught in the mobs.  One is an Italian father taking his daughter for the first time to a game.  As the match was between Italy and England, the two were bombarded with insults with bottles thrown at them.  Another man brought his 70-year-old father-in-law who though fit enough to walk, is shocked by the rowdy crowd.

The doc includes highlights of the game including the penalty overtime.  Most important, the doc takes a look at racism after England lost with fans blaming the blacks for the loss.

THE FINAL: ATTACK ON WEMBLEY opens for streaming on Netflix this week.   Wish you were here at Wembley Stadium.  Likely not!


FOR SALE (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Christoper Schrack


Horror comedies are not particularly popular as a film genre  Disney’s recently HAUNTED MASION flopped terribly at the box office as did other horror comedies like HAUNTED HONEYMOON and THE SPIRIT IS WILLING,  The latest entry opening this week on digital platforms is FOR SALE about a hunt house being on the real estate market.  One thing good is that this is a low-budget indie production so that it does not have high aims at recouping huge production costs.

Mason McGinness (Andrew Roth) has always been good at two things: selling himself and finding ways to cheat people into buying when they shouldn’t. One day, his brazen swindling catches up with him and he finds himself fired from his job and kicked to the curb by his ex-girlfriend, Alison.  Mason finds a small realty company that needs someone to sell a piece of property that is considered “unsellable.” 

“What do you fear most?  asks his interviewer to Mason.  “Failure.  Fear of failure.” comes the answer.  The realty company manager smiles under his breath with a few cautionary words.

“Sometimes I cannot believe my own luck!”  exclaims Mason at one point,  Is this bad or good luck that is being mentioned?   The catch of selling the property? It is the infamous Scarlett Clay house -- a haunted house where anyone who inhabits it ends up dead. Now, with the help of a quirky psychic named Claire, Mason must find his humanity to get his life back... or die trying.

The ghosts start appearing only after the first half of the film has passed.  The first half of the film deals with Mason’s sorry life.  The film proves to be both scary and funny with a few jump scares provided as well.  For a very small indie film, FOR SALE achieves its humble goals.

Mason is the sweet-talking swindler salesman that everyone hates - even in films as they can be so annoying.  Fortunately, actor Andrew Roth who plays Mason achieves the difficult task of making his character sympathetic so that though one might disagree with his tactics, one feels sorry for him, and hopes he makes it in the end.  But so far things are not looking too good for him.  He has to sleep in his car,  So when he comes across the house to sell, Mason is none too pleased as he can sleep in the bedroom of the house, that is if he can be brave enough to live in a haunted house. 

  FOR SALE is a handmade film in the truest sense – a crew of three, a cast of ten, and produced by director Christopher Schrack and lead actor Roth.  Despite its humble budget, the film went on to receive multiple awards on the festival circuit, including BEST FILM (Magic of Horror 2023), BEST COMEDY FEATURE (International Comedy Film Festival 2024), BEST ACTOR and BEST DROP DEAD FUNNY (Haunted House FearFest 2023), as well as receiving numerous other nominations.

  Gravitas Ventures will release the film on digital platforms on May 7, 2024



H2: THE OCCUPATION LAB (Israel/Canada 2022) ***½

Directed by Idit Avrahami & Noam Sheizaf


Hebron is the only Palestinian city with a Jewish settlement. There is conflict in the past and the conflict grows.

The Palestinians in H2: Hebron live like prisoners under Israeli lockdown.  Across the neighbourhoods of the H2 area of Hebron – the 20 percent of the Palestinian city where some 700 Israelis live in illegal settlements and the Israeli military has full control – the streets are mostly empty of H2’s approximately 35,000 Palestinian residents.  Patrolling the streets and manning the rooftops, instead, are Israeli soldiers and armed settlers in military uniform on the lookout for any movement from Palestinian homes. Besieged, Palestinian families describe conditions in which they are attacked, deprived of vital supplies and services, and have had their livelihoods cut off.

This is occupied Hebron.  History has shown that there can never be peaceful living in an occupied territory.  France, occupied by the Nazis,  Singapore occupied by the Japanese during WWII and Vietnam occupied by the Americans, the most unsuccessful of all occupied in history and mentioned in the doc all enforce the point,

This doc is more timely after the Hamas attack on the West Bank.  Peace has never been easy between the Palestinians and Israel and continues to be the case.  The doc serves as both an account of the history of Hebron and a lesson in current affairs.

Along a one-kilometer road in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron lies H2 — a neighbourhood with a Jewish settlement closely guarded and highly surveilled by the Israeli military.  At the end of this stretch of road lies the Cave of the Patriarchs, a holy place for both Jewish and Muslim faiths. This is where both the Hebron Massacre of 1929 took place— effectively birthing the Jewish settlement movement — and where the policy of ethnic separation was first implemented by the Israeli military.  Rich with a history of Jews and Muslims and the only city in the State of Palestine with a Jewish settlement, H2: THE OCCUPATION LAB has acted as both a microcosm for the entire conflict and as a laboratory for the methods of control implemented by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank for over 50 years.

The film is shot in Arabic Hebrew and English with English subtitles and comprises many residents of both sides talking about their experiences living in a difficult and dangerous place.  One complaints of the modern and numerous checkpoints within a small radius of the city and this is not for borders but for travel from home to a grocery store or to schooler to work. One wonders the reason the people will just not move out of Hebron,

H2: THE OCCUPATION LAB, nominated for Best Israeli Film at the 2022 DocAviv Film Festival, is a clear-eyed case study using archival footage and interviews to tell the city's history and how it has fuelled the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

H2: THE OCCUPATION LAB is an immensely watchable and informative documentary, taken right out of current headlines that proves once again the impossibilities of different cultures living in harmony together.

The doc premieres via VOD and  Digital Platforms on May 10, 2024.


Directed by Wes Ball


The original PLANET OF THE APES ended up with to many sequels that made the entire series quite silly.  The second one had the apes attacked by some ugly creatures that ended up with the entire Earth being destroyed in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES and the third has astronaut apes escaping the end of the Earth in ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES.  The franchise got too absurd and uninteresting after that.  The reboot fared much better and KINGDOM comes as a nice surprise.  KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES runs a hefty 2 hours and 25 minutes, but director Wes Ball keeps the audience intrigued from start to finish.  The production sets are nothing short of magnificent, the jungle, the sea and beaches and interiors.  Story aside, director Ball manages to achieve the feat of having a solid film despite a flimsy storyline.

300 years after the events of War for the Planet of the Apes, ape civilizations have emerged from the oasis to which Caesar led his fellow apes, while humans have regressed into a feral, primitive state. When the ape king Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand), armed with weapons forged from lost human technologies, perverts Caesar's teachings to enslave other clans, the chimpanzee hunter Noa (Owen Teague) embarks on a harrowing journey alongside a human woman named Mae (Freya Allen) to determine the future for apes and humans alike.  Noa is a young chimpanzee hunter living nearly 300 years after Caesar's time and likely his descendant, while Mae is  a feral young woman who joins Noa on his journey while having an agenda of her own

Canadian actor Kevin Durand makes a solid impact in his performance as the villain of the piece, Caesar.  Too bad that one is unable to see the face of Durand under all the ape makeup.  Durand is one of the best Canadian actors working today, his performance also stealing the show in the recent ABIGAIL.

There are many loose ends in the script.  One is the existence of the human character played by William H. Macy.  Where did he come from and why is he the sole survivor and what makes him so pro-ape that he would turn away his heritage just to live without notice in the Kingdom,  His character finally gets its comeuppance.

One of the best surprise ending in motion picture ending is the climax of Franklin J. Schaffner’s PLANET OF THE APES, where Charlton Heston rides off on the beach only to see a buried Statue of Liberty revealing that the Planet of the Apes is in fact Earth.  KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES attempts a shock ending as well, the ending of which of course, will not be revealed in this review as it would be an unforgivable spoiler.  The shock and surprise is there nevertheless, but the ending does not really make much sense when related to the whole story.    There are too many loose ends that come with the surpass twist.


LAZARETH (USA 2024) ***
Directed by Alec Tibaldi


The Covid-10 Pandemic rocked the world from March 2020.  As of 21 April 2024, the pandemic has caused 7,044,637 confirmed deaths, making it the fifth-deadliest pandemic or epidemic in history.  LAZARETH poses the question of what would happen if a similar more dangerous disease outbreak occurred that cannot be contained.

LAZARETH is the name of the man raised from the dead by Jesus in the Bible.  In the film, LAZARETH is the place that serves as the rebirth of a family made up of an aunt and her two nieces after the almost complete death of a contaminated world. 

As the film’s premise of a crippling Pandemic disease similar to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the story comes too close to home for comfort.  Writer and director Alec Tibaldi is aware of this fact and uses it to milk the most from his script.

The film opens like a fairy tale where a young girl is told a story.  It turns out that the tale is the story of what will happen in the rest of the film, with the fairy tale turning into a sort of dystopian nightmare.

Following the death of their parents, Lee (Ashley Judd) adopts her nieces, Imogen (Katie Douglas) and Maeve (Sarah Pidgeon), and raises them in a remote cabin as a deadly pandemic rages on around them. For over 10 years, the girls are raised to never leave the woods, avoid any and all interaction with outsiders, and ultimately rely on Lee as their only connection to the outside world.  Lee has convinced the girls this is the key to survival in what is now an infectious and violent world. But when Imogen and Maeve discover an injured man in the nearby woods, Lee’s absolute control begins to disintegrate as their faith in her, and everything they’ve ever known begins to unravel.

`The film has a female slant with three females as the main characters living in Nazareth.  The first intruder is a male who is under instruction by the females.  When the group of intruders finds Lazareth, there is an abused female, by the male of the group.

Director Tibaldi ups the ante in the film’s last half.  Intruders have compromised Lazareth and they will return.  Lee tells the two girls:  “We have been preparing for this.”  Lee hides her truck so that the intruders will believe that they have left.  “No one will do anything until Imogen’s signal,” instructs Lee.  The audience is primed with anticipation as the film shifts gear into suspense mode.

LAZARETH is intriguing for the fact that its story could happen to the world if the Pandemic went out of hand into a full-blown scale, which most people will remember as a time that shook the world.


LAZARETH opens in Select Theatres and On Demand on May the 10th.

LET IT BE (UK 1970) ****
Directed by Michale Lindsay-Hogg


The definitive Beatles movie and a must for all Beatle fans!

Let It Be is the twelfth and final studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. It was released on 8 May 1970, almost a month after the group's public break-up, in tandem with the documentary of the same name.

Let It Be is a 1970 British documentary film starring the Beatles and directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. The film documents the group's rehearsing and recording songs in January 1969 for what was to become their twelfth and final studio album Let It Be. The film includes an unannounced rooftop concert by the group, the last public performance of the four together.

The film was originally planned as a television documentary that would accompany a concert broadcast. When plans for the concert broadcast were dropped, the project became a feature film production. Although the film does not dwell on the dissension within the group at the time, it provides some glimpses into the dynamics that would lead to their breakup. After the film's release, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. Footage filmed for Let It Be was later used in Peter Jackson's 2021 documentary The Beatles: Get Back.

A restored version of the film will be made available on stream on Disney+ for the first time on 8 May 2024.  This review is of the restored version.  The version begins with a 5-minute footage of two world-class directors Lindsay-Hogg and Peter Jackson who made the Beatles documentary called GET  BACK with used footage from Lindsay-Hogg’s LET IT BE.   They put perspective into the do, the original 1970 LET IT BE, which we are told was supposed to be a Beatles concert movie.

The film observes the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) from a "fly on the wall" perspective, without narration, scene titles, or interviews with the main subjects. The first portion of the film shows the band rehearsing on a sound stage at Twickenham Film Studios. The songs are works in progress, with discussions among the band members about ways to improve them. McCartney dominates the proceedings while his bandmates show comparatively little interest. Also appearing are Mal Evans, providing the hammer blows on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", and Yoko Ono at Lennon's side at all times.

The album’s most famous songs LET IT BE, GET BACK, THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD and DON'T LET ME DOWN are all performed and heard on the film’s soundtrack.

There was trouble in Paradise during the making of the movie especially with what to include in the final cut,  John Lennon described Let It Be as a film "set up by Paul for Paul" that was typical of the projects that, in alienating himself and Harrison, had brought about the Beatles' break-up.

Still, the film is a nostalgic look down memory lane especially with George Harrison and John Lennon no longer with us, the re-issue of LET IT BE is totally magic, myself having seen the film when it was first released and now once gain with opening commentary by directors Peter Jackson and Michael Lindsay-Hogg.



Directed by Brad Bestelink and Alex Parkinson


At the film’s start, the voiceover touts the leopard as the most supreme predator, followed by the reasons for its ability to dive, hunt, and climb.  The voice is then revealed to belong to a man who has lived with leopards for years (the leopard man?) who claims that each has a unique personality.  The introduction to LIVING WITH LEOPARDS promises to be an intriguing and revealing documentary about the leopard.

Tigers, lions and other predators have been fond of fodder for nature documentaries.  One of the best and my personal favourite is Disney’s THE JUNGLE CAT (1960) directed by James Algar, a film I grew up with and have seen 7 times, every time it opens at a cinema close to me when my parents would keep bring me to watch the film about jaguars, the supreme ruler of the Amazon.

LIVING WITH LEOPARDS is a nature documentary that follows two leopard cubs as they make the journey from infancy into adulthood.  One is male and the other female is given the names ‘the shy one’ and ‘power’ (Dakunga) for the male pone.  From the first three months in the den, till they begin to venture out, the adventure is tremendously exciting.

The camera follows the mother catching an elk for her cubs to the time she teaches her cubs to hunt.  According to the doc, fewer than half the leopard cubs make it to maturity.

The doc is not without suspense and action. The main threat to the leopard cub is another male leopard.  One would kill the cubs with the hope of mating with the mother.  A tense scene show the father of the cubs fighting off a male intruder.  Unfortunately, they fight in an enclosed unseen area that cannot be seen.

In many nature documentaries, there are predator and prey killings, bloody and violent that will not be suitable for kids.  But this doc shows that this is life and what nature is.  The mother leopard has to make her kill or she and her cubs will starve.

LIVING WITH LEOPARDS is an exciting and educational doc that also shows the care and difficulty of filming a true nature documentary.  It pays off with this remarkable doc that opens for streaming on Netflix on May 10th.


WE GROWN NOW (USA 2023) ****
Directed by Minhal Baig


The title of the film WE GROWN NOW implies a coming-of-age-themed film.  Truly WE GROWN NOW is.  My two personal best coming-of-age films are Ken Loach’s KES (1969) about a boy’s unflinching spirit set in Northern England and Francois Truffaut’s 1959 LES QUARTRE CENTS COUPS (100 BLOWS) about a boy turning to crime in a small French seaside town.  The setting more often than not, is as important a factor in the coming-of-age process.  The setting of Cabrini-Green in WE GROWN NOW is as interesting as the film’s subject and director Baig gives importance to both subject and setting in his moving story.

WE GROWN NOW is set in the fall of 1992.  Cabrini-Green has seen better days.  Cabrini-Green was a public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, once a model of successful public housing, but poor planning, physical deterioration, and managerial neglect, coupled with gang violence, drugs, and chronic unemployment turned it into a national symbol of urban blight and failed housing policy.  The audience is informed at the start of the film that Cabrini-Green was the Frances Cabrini Homes, at its most successful, completed by the CHA in 1942 to house an influx of war-industry workers as well as veterans returning to Chicago during World War II.

Set in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project, Minhal Baig’s WE GROWN NOW is a coming-of-age story about two elementary school boys whose friendship takes a turn after a tragic incident.  For residents like Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez), the community is still a community of family and friends.  Malik lives with his hardworking mom (Jurnee Smollett), his sister, and his grandmother (S. Epatha Merkerson) who came years ago from Mississippi.  Friends since birth, Malik and school chum Eric are inseparable, “flying” onto old mattresses, goofing off, or telling corny jokes.  In the community, nothing is more important than ‘jumping’ (onto a mattress).  The jumping is obviously a metaphor for life.  Corny jokes include: “What do you call three trees?”  “A trio.”  But things change after a fatal shooting (based on the real-life death of seven-year-old Dantrell Davis, a tragedy that shook the community and made the projects a symbol of urban blight).

Conversations can lead everywhere.  From a conversation starting point of staying at a friend’s and a leaky faucet, a family conversation leads to the building of an ark like boat if there is a flood.

The catalyst that pushes the story is the shooting and killing of an innocent little boy Dan, a tragedy that affects the entire community.  One related scene involves Malik’s mother freaking out on him when he skips school with Eric with her having no idea where Malik is.  The scene is both moving and revealing, showing how much a mother cares for a son.

Besides the family unit, outward events like the escalating crime of neighbouring Chicago affect everyone’s lives.

The film’s best segment is the one where Eric talks to his dad after the fight with Malik.  Eric pours out his feelings, scared to make up with his long-life friend as he thinks Malick might be mad at him.  His conversation reveals his genuine thoughts and emotions that though childlike, hold many adult truths.  The father’s final advice is: “You know what to do now.  You are no longer a baby. You are all grown now.”

The film won the Shawn Mendes Foundation Changemaker Award at TIFF 2023, and two awards (Chicago Award, Best U.S. Feature Audience Award) at Chicago 2023.  WE GROWN NOW opens May 10 in Toronto (TIFF Lightbox) and Vancouver!  The film also opens May 17 in Ottawa, June 8 in Saskatoon and throughout the spring/summer in other cities.


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