BLACKBERRY (Canada 2023) Top 10 *****
Dorectedby Matt Johnson
BLACKBERRY sees the rise and fall of the company, Research in Motion (RIM) through their main product the smartphone, a smartphone that combines, text, the internet and the phone using their famous clicking keypad. The film follows the founders of RIM, two friends, Mike and Doug played by Jay Baruchel (who also executively produced the movie) and director Matt Johnson himself. They hire the fired CEO of another company Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) who turns the product of RIM into a success and the companying a billion dollar company. This is where the film soars the audience to feel-good highs as then underdogs take on the world. The film’s second half sees, sadly the company’s downfall as greed, pride and of course Apple’s iPhone, with no keypad) revolutionaries the smartphone industry.
Many stars shone in BLACKBERRY Among them is dismartrector/actor Matt Johnson. hailing from Toronto itself and seldom heard of American actor Glenn Howerton, only previously seen before in limited TV series, the most notable being IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. Howerrton down a bald wig to look like the balding character, a high-flying CEO and Harvard Business graduate, Jim Balsillie who arguably can be the one considered the genius the rise of Blackberry (or the company behind it, Research in Motion) as well as its downfall. The first question that will come to many an audience’s mind is: “Where did this guy come from?” Absolutely perfect in the role, Howerton stable to swing the audience to his side as he champions the BLACKBERRY product and also get the audience to despise him when he brings the company down. The film should bring this talented young actor, who looks much younger than his bald character to fame. Ironically, Johnson and Howerton are both comedians at heart, transiting successfully to comedic drama in the film.
The film looks like the period it is set from the 80’s to early 20’s from the props (Cathode ray tube monitors, range of Blackberry products on display, landlines in the office), wardrobe, set decor and even the choice of its throwback music soundtrack.
BLACKBERRY is the excellent case of Canadian moviemaking that does almost everything right especially in acting, directing, and writing, making modern Canadian history and high-tech both entertaining and a pleasure to watch. BLACKBERRY will be a strong contender (the film gets my vote anyway) for the Toronto Film Critics Association Best Canadian Feature next year.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to rule the world, only to find that no one would listen? This is the intriguing story of how a group of geeks took over the world, which has been adapted into a true-story film featuring real people from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The film focuses on the rise and fall of Research In Motion (RIM), a small Canadian company that initially lacked business acumen, but changed the tech industry with the invention of the world’s first smartphone. Who better to direct this movie than Matt Johnson (THE DIRTIES, OPERATION AVALANCHE), a gifted director known for his remarkable films featuring geeky characters and stories? With his growing popularity, Johnson is the perfect choice to bring this incredible tale to life on the big screen.
BLACKBERRY depicts the success of RIM through its main product, the smartphone, which combined text, internet, and phone capabilities using its iconic clicking keypad. The movie follows the founders of RIM, two friends named Mike and Doug, played by Jay Baruchel (who also served as an executive producer) and director Matt Johnson himself. They hire Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), the fired CEO of another company, who transforms RIM's product into a billion-dollar success story. The film takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of feel-good emotions as the underdogs take on the tech industry. Unfortunately, the film's second half depicts the company's downfall due to greed, pride, and the revolutionary impact of Apple's iPhone, which lacked RIM's iconic keypad.
BLACKBERRY boasts a talented cast, including director/actor Matt Johnson, who hails from Toronto itself. The film also features Glenn Howerton, an American actor who was previously seen in limited TV series, with his most notable role being on IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. Howerton dons a bald wig to look like the balding character, Jim Balsillie, a high-flying CEO and Harvard Business graduate, who is arguably the genius behind the rise of Blackberry (or the company behind it, Research in Motion) as well as its downfall. Howerton's superb acting skills swing the audience to his side as he champions the BLACKBERRY product, and also garners their despise when he brings the company down. The film should bring this talented young actor, who looks much younger than his bald character, the recognition he deserves. Ironically, Johnson and Howerton are both comedians at heart, who make a successful transition to the genre of comedic drama in the film.
BLACKBERRY is set in the period from the 1980s to the early 2000s, which is reflected in the props, wardrobe, set design, and even the choice of the throwback music soundtrack. This film is an excellent example of Canadian moviemaking that does almost everything right, especially in acting, directing, and writing. It makes modern Canadian history and high-tech both entertaining and enjoyable to watch. BLACKBERRY will undoubtedly be a strong contender for the Toronto Film Critics Association Best Canadian Feature next year (and it certainly gets my vote!).
BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER (USA 2023) **
Directed by Bill Holderman
Writer/director Bill Holderman and the main cast returns to the big screen after the successful box-office hit THE BOOK CLUB in 2014 that cost only $14 million to make and made $104 million. Four women have attended a monthly book club for 40 years, bonding over the suggested literature, and have become very good friends. The plot of that film has the 4 women read the well-known and naughty Fifty Shades of Grey and are turned on by the content. Viewing it as a wake-up call, they decide to expand their lives and chase pleasures that have eluded them.
Book Club: The Next Chapter , the sequel follows our four best friends as they take their book club to Italy for the fun girls trip they never had. When things go off the rails and secrets are revealed, their relaxing vacation turns into a once-in-a-lifetime cross-country adventure.
The returning four are:
Vivian (Jane Fonda), who owns and builds hotels, runs into Arthur (Don Johnson), a man whose marriage proposal she turned down 40 years before. They begin a flirtation, but she has always refused to settle down because she enjoys her independence. The magic question which no genius needs to get the incorrect answer is whether they will wed in the end. The story here has a surprise wedding planned by the other 3for Vivain but there is a hitch getting to the wedding on time.
Diane (Dian Keaton who has star billing) is recently widowed, and her daughters would like her to move closer to them in Arizona because they perceive her to be in danger as she lives alone.
Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge who's been single since she divorced her son's father over 18 years ago. Sharon is flaring with a police officer (Giancarlo Giannini)
Carol (Mary Streenburgen) has a successful marriage to Bruce (Craig T Nelson), who has recently retired, but they have recently rekindled their intimacy.
Holderman’s lazy script fails to explain the reason the film is called BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER. Nothing is mentioned of how the 4 met or the notion of any book club. Without the first 10 minutes of screen time, the audience sees each of the 4 women change among half a dozen outfits for no reason - a point emphasizing that Hollywood is just too much money to spend on garbage. Which is what the script is - falling into cliched territory with hardly any surprises on the way. The film is also an ego trip for the 4 ageing actresses - stars in their heyday, credit given to them, but are now resolved to playing ladies that are still able to have sex and get any handsome men their hearts desire. Needless to say, the script contains a huge number of lewd jokes to say that these four women are still cool.
The script co-written by Holderman and Erin Simms does contain a few laughs at the first third, judging from the screening I attended, though none came from this reviewer. This film is strictly for fans of Fonda, Keaton, Bergen and Steenburgen. And even then - there is a huge strain to enjoy this sequel as the original was barely passable.
BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER opens in theatres May the 12th.
CALL ME KATE (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by Lorna Tucker
(photo of Hepbrun in LION IN WINTER)
She is known as Miss Hepburn but she would insist: CALL ME KATE. The doc on the 4 time Academy Award Winner - the most times every actor or actress have ever won the coveted Oscar (MORNING GLORY and in her last 3 films: GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, THE LION IN WINTER and ON GOLDEN POND; the LION IN WINTER being my fondest role of Hepburn). Her most famous films include BRINGING UP BABY, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and THE AFRICAN QUEEN.
The doc begins with the name Katherine Hepburn repeated a few times in voiceover, making the audiences wanton to repeat the star’s anew as many times as well. She is introduced by the legendary Angel Lansbury.
Katharine Houghton Hepburn (she lived to 97) was an American actress whose career as a Hollywood leading lady spanned over six decades. She was known for her headstrong independence, spirited personality, and outspokenness, her personality the first thing that is highlighted in the doc, cultivating a screen persona that matched this public image, and regularly playing strong-willed, sophisticated women. Her work was in a range of genres, from screwball comedy to literary drama, and earned her various accolades, including four Academy Awards for Best Actress—a record for any performer. In 1999, Hepburn was named the greatest female star (and indeed she is) of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute.
Nostalgia flows from the beginning of the doc to the end. It repeats from the black and white archive footage, shots from other old films particularly the famous ones and the return to the look of old movies.
The dad point in Kate’s life, that many of hr fans are unaware of is the death of her eldest brother by suicide from hanging. She had gone to fetch Tom one morning for breakfast and found him hanging in his room. She took the body down and laid the cold body on the bed. Her parents dealt with the grief by instructing the family never to mention Tom and as if Tom had never lived. Bit Kate would live life for both of them. Tom had told her the night before his death that he had loved her but she did not think too much of that,
The film’s most touching moments is the love relationship between Kate and her husband and good friend Buddy. They married but she realized thatch had too much difference in personality. She wanted to go back to New York. But Luddy, her husband, in the words of the doc realized that he had married a madwoman.“Whatever you want to do Kate…. I love you.” And Judy packed up their bags and moved to New York with Kate.
The magic question asked to Hepburn as in an episode of the Dick Cavett show is what inspired? Hepburn credits her success to intelligent and inspiring parents and experiences that she went through before the age of 15.
If Katherine Hepburn has never inspired you, this doc on Hepburn certainly will inspire you and with great admiration for her determination, ability and body of work delivered with a huge dose of nostalgia .
CALL ME KATE is a Netflix original; documentary streaming beginning May th 12th. The doc makes an easy and light entertaining watch at home.
CARMEN (Australia/France 2022) ***
Directed by Benjamin Millepied
Benjamin Millepied, former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and choreographer of the film "Black Swan," makes his directorial debut in CARMEN, a modern-day interpretation of Bizet's classic opera. The film opens with a breathtaking dance performance in the Mexican desert, where the mother of the protagonist is tragically shot by a gunman. The surreal and impressive scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, which features dream-like dance sequences and a majestic score by three-time Oscar nominee Nicholas Britell.
CARMEN tells the story of Carmen, a fiercely independent young woman who flees to the US after her mother's murder. Along the way, she meets Aidan, a border guard and Marine suffering from PTSD. Their journey together leads to a budding romance, but it is a poor imitation of the love story in the original opera. Solid performances are delivered by both Melissa Barrera and rising star Paul Mescal, looking really buffed as a marine should, compared to his physique in his last film AFTERSUN.
One of the film's strengths is the presence of Rossy de Palma, a regular actress in Pedro Almodovar's films, who plays the mercurial owner of La Sombra nightclub, a sanctuary of music and dance where Carmen and Aidan find solace and their unwavering love for each other. However, the film's attempt to blend reality with dance and music is uneven, and the dance and music sequences often feel disconnected from the rest of the story. The climactic dance scene between Carmen and Aidan is impressive, but it feels out of place in the film. Actor Mescal’s dance looks pale in comparison to Barrera’s.
Despite its flaws, "CARMEN" is an ambitious film that showcases Millepied's talent as a director and choreographer. The impressive dance and music sequences, as well as the strong performances by the cast, make it worth watching. In particular, Paul Mescal's performance demands attention and shows that he will continually be a talent to watch in the future. CARMEN opens in Toronto and Vancouver on May 5th, and in Montreal on May 12th, with more cities to follow throughout the spring and summer.
EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH (Belgium 2021) ***
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THE MELT GOES ON FOREVER - THE ART AND TIMES OF DAVID HAMMONS
(USA 2022) ***
Directed by Judd Tully and Harold Crooks
At the beginning of the doc on the black American artist who refused to follow convention - David Hammons, an explanation is given as to the reason the doc is called THE MELT GOES ON FOREVER. In one of Hammon’s artistic stints, he sells snowballs. When a customer buys one, the snowball is given to her in a plastic bag, which she keeps in her freezer for 6 months till her mother asks her to throw it out. It is then that this customer realizes that this was the work of David Hammons.
THE MELT GOES ON FOREVER chronicles the singular career of the elusive African-American art star David Hammons from Watts rebellion era ’60s L.A. to global art world prominence today. Hammons’ category-defying practice – rooted in a deep critique of American society and the elite art world – is in the words of one art critic “an invitation to confront the fissures between races” as the artist seeks to go beyond the dominant culture and his own to a new one for the 21st century.
Featuring eminent artists, curators and critics, a rich trove of archival footage, animation, and an evocative soundscape, The Melt is a record of the work of an artist who constantly defies the establishment and remains subversive at every turn.
For many unfamiliar with the work of Hammons, the doc provides invaluable insight of an artist who works on the fringe, often in poverty unable to buy expensive art materials and how he managed his own success. His works are often shown on full display in the doc, many meticulously and painstakingly done like the poles made up of beer caps.
THE MOTHER (USA 2023) ***1/2
Directed by Niki Caro
New Zealand female director Niki Caro and Jennifer Lopez join forces in an above average action drama THE MOTHER. Caro is famous for the New Zealand film, WHALE RIDER followed by the Disney live action hit, MULAN.
Jennifer Lopez plays the unnamed mother who is also a former high profile assassin. While fleeing from dangerous assailants, this former assassin comes out of hiding to protect the estranged daughter she left behind. Films about a strong woman protecting a child has been successful box-office fare in the past, as is evident by the two GLORIA films, particularly the first one directed by John Cassavetes starring his wife Gena Rowlands playing an ex-gangster moll protecting her neighbour’s boy, the son of the mob’s accountant turned informant. In THE MOTHER, the strong woman is protecting her daughter who she is forced to give up for the daughter’s safety. There is a play of emotions, though excessiveness is kept at bay.
THE MOTHER must be complemented for its extremely well executed and exciting action scenes. All the tension is achieved primarily through sharp editing. In the most impressive of these - the kidnapping of the daughter, now grown up and in school is superb taut edge of your seat suspense. From one camera shot of empty cartridges flying off the mother’s rifle to the look through the rifle’s sighting scope, to the falling of the shot dead bodies, the arrival of additional vehicles to the kidnap of the girl, there are about a dozen appropriate edits within the span of a few seconds. The other impressive similar scene arrives at the beginning of the film where two interrogating FBI agents are taken out - a foreshadow of the action to come. A chase with the mother on a motorbike is done with the use of a hand-held camera, the jittering framing adding to the nerve-wrecking situation. Comically too, are the procession of schoolgirls and a wedding just waiting to be run down by the mother’s bike and the chased prey.
Segments are set in Havana in Cuba. This is indeed rare for an American film to be shot in Cuba and the film sure looks as if it did. In reality, the film was shot in the old town of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria to substitute vapour Havana in Cuba. The Gabinete Literario, located there, was used as a casino. The south of the island was also chosen to film a party in a villa. Principal photography also took place in Vancouver, Canada.
Je-Lo, as is expected of Je-Lo the star singer actress with the great bod to show off, gets to show it off when she has to change her clothes in a car - a weak excuse to show off her body.
THE MOTHER is a Netflix original Jennifer Lopez movie and marks one of her better outings, streaming beginning Friday May the 12th.
A NEW OLD PLAY (China 2021) ***
Directed by Qiu Jiongjiong
There are two big factors that initially turn one off from venturing into watching this occasionally magnificent and stunning period Chinese epic. The fritz is the almost 3 -hour running time and the second is the generally little known history of Chinese opera and its function in the twentieth century. But this is education and a grand one in the making. As a boyinnSingapore, I walked to the back of the stage of one such opera and noticed the singers in action, voicing extremely high notes loud and clear, nothin that I have heard being so astounding - an early experience I could never forget. This film A NEW OLD PLAY brings back immediately that childhood memory, expands on the subject and mesmerizes. A NEW OLD PLAY is understandably difficult to watch though not without its rewards.
The film opens in the dark of night with shadowy figures on the screen that can be made up of a man slowly pumping up, slowly the tires of a bicycle. It turns out that Qiu Fu, a leading clown-role actor in 20th-century Sichuan opera, departs this world and must reluctantly set off for the Ghost City under the escort of two underworld officials, the underworld being hell of course. Qiu Fu is familiar with the two escorts, him having performed operas with characters from the underworld - ever so often. Along the way, he meets old friends. As they recall the past, earthly scenes creep into the mists of the Netherworld.
The story is based on the family history of the film’s director Qiu. It depicts the birth of the New-New Theatre and Opera School—in Sichuan Province, in the nineteen-twenties—as a by-product of the civil war and the Nationalist Party’s victory. The troupe’s founder, a soldier and a true lover of Sichuan opera called Pocky (Qiu Zhimin, the director’s actual father), welcomes a seven-year-old foundling named Qiu Fu (Chen Haoyu), rejected by the other opera troupe, as observed in a stretched out but comical dinner scene alike to OLIVER TWIST in which the poor street urchin is derived from getting a helping of porridge. who becomes his prize student. During the Second World War, the company joined the resistance to Japanese occupation. After the adult Qiu Fu (Yi Sicheng) emerges into a star performer, he realizes his dreams. But the changing political times have drastic consequences on the opera.
As power shifts, the troupe is cast loose to wander meaninglessly through a broken world. Despite this unsettled destiny, shaped by war, famine and political turmoil, Qiu Fu becomes one of the finest clown-role performers in Sichuan opera. And yet, one day he finds himself clapped in a pigsty as a political revolution rages outside.
In the director’s own words, the film is a slice of his own history and his family’s; but also a travelogue of minstrels wandering together through this world and the next. They are his immediate forebears, and this is his ‘pre-biography.’
A NEW OLD PLAY, though not a bad film will be a hard sell to Canadian audiences as it is overlong and deals with a subject unfamiliar and likely uninteresting i.e. Sichuan opera.
A NEW OLD PLAY has a digital release on May 16 2023, coming to Prime Video, iTunes, & Vimeo-On-Demand.
TWICED COLONIZED (Canada/Denmark/Greenland 2023) ***
Directed by Lin Alluna
TWICE COLONIZED has been chosen to open the 2023 Hot Docs in Toronto for many reasons, the more important ones being its timely subject matter, the film being Canadian and that the film is made by and concerns indigenous people.
The film centres on Inuk activist Aaju Peter and marks a Toronto homecoming for Peter after her 2006 film, ANGRY INUK chronicled her campaign to preserve the Inuit seal hunt, the film that won the audience award at the 2016 fest.
The doc follows Peter as she continues her fight for Inuit, Indigenous, and First Nations communities to have a say in discussions about their own affairs. Warning: It is a very angry film as can be witnessed in the film’s first 10 minutes as Peter lashes out her points of view on several key issues like the seal hunt and the mining while emphasizing that the Inuits are children of ice, and all human beings are children of the sun.
“We knew from the moment we watched this potent film that it was the right doc to open our milestone 30th-anniversary Festival,” said Hot Docs Artistic Director Shane Smith in a statement from the festival. TWICE COLONIZED doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths as it sharply addresses Canada and Denmark’s colonizers past and present. It brings this urgent and crucial story to life. Captivating, riveting and angry. However, the film is clearly one-sided and though relevant and crucial points are made, there is always some good that has come from colonization that is not mentioned. Neither are there any solutions offered. At the start of the film, Peter complains of having to live in Denmark as she was singled out to move there as she was a top student in her school. Her father championed the fact. Peter complained about having been taught to brush her teeth daily and use the fork and spoon during meals. Brushing teeth is a plus and a positive lesson. Also, the education that Peter received eventually allowed her to be a lawyer to fight for the rights of her people. If she was not taken out of her indigenous school, she would not be able to accomplish what she has accomplished to this date. She also complains that seal-hunting is the right of her people. She claims that unemployment and teenage suicide rates among the Indigenous are the highest in the world. The rest of the world has advantages that her people do not have. True, but she is unwilling for any compromise. Also seal hunting is extremely cruel and should be banned or at least the number killed be limited as a compromise. Her experiences at the residential schools are omitted in the film with the excuse that she had been uprooted so many times that she cannot remember her childhood.
TWICE COLONIZED premiered in the World Cinema Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Alluna and the director, Peter and other guests were on hand at the Hot Docs premiere on April 27 ahead of Twice Colonized’s theatrical release on May 12.