DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE (Fiesta en la madriguera)(Mexico 2024) ***
Directed by Manolo Caro


Down the Rabbit Hole is a metaphor for adventure into the unknown, from its use in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  It is also both the English title of and metaphor of the New Mexican Netflix original comedy that opens this week.  Though described by Netflix as a comedy, it is too dark, disturbing and weird to be actually considered a comedy.  The film DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE is based on the Spanish short novel called Fiesta en la Madriguera (which in direct English translation means Party in the Burrow) by Juan Pablo Villalobos.  The short novel has been praised for being masterful, comical and cruelly happy.  The same can be said of the film.

The film opens with the introduction of Tochtli, a bald boy who likes hats, dictionaries, samurais, guillotines, and the French.  The hat fetish is observed at the start, where on the boy’s birthday, he has to choose one of the many hats he has hung on the walls of his room.  And now, all he wants is a new animal for his private zoo: a Namibian pygmy hippo.  But he gets a woodpecker, one of the endangered species from Brazil.  His father, Yolcaut, is willing to satisfy his every whim, even if that whim is an endangered exotic animal.  Because Yolcaut will always manage.  ‘Because Yolcaut can’ is the saying that both the father and son constantly repeat. Tochtli lives in a palace.  A burrow covered in gold in which he lives with thirteen or maybe fourteen people: thugs, prostitutes, dealers, servants and some corrupt politician.  And then there is Mazatzin, his private teacher who teaches the boy Literature that he claims is terribly important as it allows one to learn about oneself, for whom the world is a place full of injustices where the imperialists are to blame for everything. The reason is that Yolcaut is a high-end drug trafficker who kills those who go against him.  He tries to keep this from his son but Tochtli is one smart cookie.  He is an avid learner, picking up difficult new words from his teacher.  He soon discovers the truth about his father,

The film is the chronicle of a delirious journey to fulfill a whim. Severed heads, rivers of blood, human remains, mountains of corpses!  The burrow (rabbit hole) can be considered to be the metaphor for Mexico that the audience already knows: Mexico is sometimes a magnificent country and sometimes it is a disastrous country.  Things are like that. Life, after all, is a game and a party.

The film is fresh in that it is told from the boy’s point of view about adult things like drug trafficking and killings.  The title though innocent as it seems describes not a child’s but an adult movie with an adult theme.

Despite being in Spanish, the film comes with a few fresh looks at life.  In the zoo, for example, the boy is taught to keep picking up the animals’ shit in order to remember to keep humble.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE (Fiesta en la madriguera) opens for streaming on Netflix this week.


THE FALL GUY (USA 2024) ***
Directed by David Leitch


THE FALL GUY is the title of both the new 2024 Ryan Gosling action romantic comedy as well as the hit ABC TV series that ran from 1981 to 1986.  Both the series and film share the common protagonist - stuntman Colt Seavers.

In the TV series, Lee Majors plays Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter.  He uses his physical skills and knowledge of stunt effects (especially stunts involving cars or his large GMC pickup truck) to capture fugitives and criminals. He is accompanied occasionally by fellow stuntwoman Jody Banks (Heather Thomas).  Both Lee Majors and Heather Thomas have cameos in THE FALL GUY film, so watch for them.

In THE FALL GUY film, Hollywood stunt performer Colt Seavers, who primarily works as the stunt double for famous action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is severely injured during a stunt gone wrong.  Blaming himself, Colt abandons his career and his girlfriend, camera operator Jody Moreno  (Emily Blunt).  Eighteen months later Colt, now a valet for a small Mexican restaurant, is contacted by Tom's film producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham). She says Moreno is directing her first film, a science fiction epic called Metalstorm, and wants him to join the production in Sydney, Australia.  However, when Colt arrives on set, he learns that Jody never asked for him and is still angry about their breakup.  This is an excuse for the romance to rekindle and for a happy-ever-after ending.  Gail reveals that Tom has disappeared after getting involved with drugs, and she wants Colt to find him before his absence causes the film's cancellation.  This is the excuse for the action in the romantic action flick.  The story element in the film is quite hokey but action fans will likely overlook this shortcoming and focus instead on the action set pieces complete with elaborate stunt work and the romance between hotties Gosling and Blunt.  In this respect the film delivers.

If there can be too much of a good thing, THE FALL GUY has too many stunts that go on relentlessly.  One scene has Colt do a fire/rock stunt three times.  The romantic comedy element in the film is given a new stunt work setting which is a welcome change.  the recent CHALLENGERS was a romantic drama with a tennis setting.  Romantic-themed films need fresh settings to entice audiences these days.

At its best, THE FALL GUY is a tribute to stunt people, the most overlooked contributors to action films.  THE FALL GUY is directed by former stuntman David Leitch.  Needless to say, the stunt work performed in the film is spectacular.   Leitch was a stunt double for Brad Pitt five times and two times for Jean-Claude Van Damme. Leitch and his crew won two awards for The Bourne Ultimatum at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  n American filmmaker, stunt performer, stunt coordinator, and actor.  Leitch made his directorial debut in the 2014 action film John Wick with Chad Stahelski, though only Stahelski was credited.   Leitch also directed the 2017 thriller film Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron, and 2018's Deadpool 2.


JEANNE DU BARRY (France/Belgium/United Kingdom/Russia/Saudi Arabia 2023) ***½

Directed by Maïwenn

Co-written, directed by and starring Maïwenn with co-star Johnny Depp as Le Roi (King Louis XV the new French film JEANNE DU BARRY about the illegitimate affair between the King and a commoner is filmed entirely in French.  In case one is wondering, Depp is fluent in French an spoke for hours during his interview with Maïwenn.

Based on true historical events in France, regarding Royalty and the royal court, JEANNE DU BARRY tells the story of the woman and her life with King Louis XV.

Jeanne Vaubernier (Maïwenn), a common girl eager to rise socially, uses her distinct charms to get out of her condition.  Her lover, the Count du Barry (Melville Poupaud), who is getting rich thanks to Jeanne's lucrative gallantry, wishes to introduce her to the King (Johnny Depp).  He organizes the meeting through the intermediary of the influential Duke of Richelieu (Pierre Richard).  It is good to see Pierre Richard again, Richard who used to make so many comedies with director Francis Veber).  This meeting exceeds his expectations: between Louis XV and Jeanne, it's love (or is out lust?) at first sight... With the courtesan, the King rediscovers his taste for life - so much so that he can no longer do without her and decides to make her his official favourite.

The one huge plus about the film that makes it entirely compelling are the film’s production values.  The extravagance of King Louis XV and his court is matched by the extravagance in the film’s production values.  Mention is made of the forty dishes the King partakes of, for a meal, all tased by the King’s Taster.  The people at his court including his ugly daughters are all robed in magnificent garb with hairdos of multiple styles and colour,  The film has been nominated for Cesars in the departments of production and costume design.

.The unfamiliar practices of French royalty are also of immense interest,  In 1768, when the king wished to make Jeanne maîtresse-en-titre, etiquette required her to be the wife of a high courtier, so she was hastily married on 1 September 1768 to Comte Guillaume du Barry. The wedding ceremony was accompanied by a false birth certificate, created by Jean-Baptiste du Barry, the comte's older brother.  The execution by guillotine during the French Revolution on accusations of treason is omitted in the film, which concentrates mainly on her romance with the King,  Also intriguing is the behind-the-scenes of Versailles of the time the elegantly masked power struggles, finely weaving links between the 18th century and our time

Depp performs well, exceeding expectations and speaking fluent French as the King, apparently fully recovered from the brutal court case he was acquitted of.  But this is Maïwenn’s film from start to finish, she plays the extravagant beauty that seduced the King.  The credibility issue is in question here.  Though Maïwenn is a pretty actress, undoubtedly, she is not an absolute ravishing beauty, so to believe that the King would single her out among a hundred other women in court and to invite her to his bed needs quite a lot of believing.

JEANNE DU BARRY opens only in theatres, where it should be seen on the large screen, beginning May 2, 2024.



LOST SOULZ (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Katherine Propper


Though a work of fiction LOST SOULZ is a cinema verite piece centred on American rapper known as Sol.  In order to appreciate this feature, it is best to learn a bit about Sol, like listening to one of his cool tracks on youtube before venturing out into viewing the film.

Sol is 35 years old and the feature is one about young people, youth and their love of freedom.  Dol rose to fame as a hip-hop artist when in 2012, he released his second studio album Yours Truly, which received critical acclaim and rose to number one on the iTunes U.S. Hip-Hop Albums Chart while also charting on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart.  Sol has collaborated with other artists such as Macklemore, Blue Scholars, Grynch, and The Physics.

When aspiring rapper Sol (Sauve Sidle) is discovered by a group of Gen-Z musicians after performing at a house party, he joins their tour through the heart of Texas and embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip. Sol and his new collaborators bond over their shared pains and longings for the lives they left behind. Bold and brash, yet surprisingly sensitive and vulnerable, these young artists pour their souls into the music they create together..  The director studied filming in Texas which explains why her film is set on the culture of the youth of Texas.

The novelty of Sol’s newfound family fades as the demons Sol left behind come back to haunt him, including his guilt over abandoning his ailing friend. His sense of self is put to the ultimate test as he seeks refuge from the rootlessness and loss that has defined his existence. The film benefits most from the easy-to-watch ensemble’s winning chemistry to shine, especially when they perform songs, many original and often impromptu at various points in the film.

Though keeping in with the spirit of the free-spirited, one must criticize caution regarding glamourizing Sol’s character in the film.  His character is not one that always sets a good example for youth to follow.  For one, he abandons his best friend he is living with at a party when the friend overdoses and has to be taken to hospital. He leaves the family he is living in to travel with a group of new friends, all of questionable character for freedom and fame.

.Written and directed by Katherine Propper, born and breeding L.A., she claims that she draws upon experiences including working on director Terrence Malick's (BADLANDS) editing team. Her short films can currently be streamed on The New Yorker, Short of the Week, and Omeleto.  In LOST SOULZ, her feature debut she has both fictional and non-fictional worlds in her filmmaking,   This can be observed by the blending of the camerawork with videos taken from a cell phone though the latter tends to be a bit much.  After all, one pays to see a movie, not a podcast and the tactic wears thin after a while.

The ultimate question is whether one might be converted to Sol’s music after listening to his songs.  There is definitely a strong possibility.

LOST SOULZ premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2023 and opens in the U.S. and in Toronto at the TIFF Lightbox on May 3rd.


NEW LIFE (USA 2023) ***
Directed by John Rosman


Director John Rosman's feature directorial debut, NEW LIFE is a two-character-driven story that upends traditional horror conventions through its intimate exploration of mortality. The film follows the story of a mysterious woman on the run (Hayley Erin) and the resourceful fixer assigned to bring her in (Sonya Walger). As their two stories inexorably link, the stakes of their pursuit rise to apocalyptic proportions.

The predator and prey both suffer similar demises that one can feel sympathy for.  For this reason, the audience is kept guessing as to who will triumph in the end with director Rosman keeping the suspense ongoing.

The reluctant predator is sympathetic as she herself is suffering from an illness - ALS.  (ALS) is a disease that weakens the muscles used to move, swallow and breathe.  It can, in some cases, also cause changes in behaviour and thinking. The effects of ALS grow more severe over time and eventually become fatal.  Elsa knows her timing is approaching and she is presently walking with the aid of a cane, and even so, is prone to falling down when the disease attacks.  The symptoms and progression of ALS may vary greatly from person to person, which can make the disease difficult to diagnose, manage and treat.  The recent horror film THERE IS A MONSTER tackles the topic of ALS, as a monster that attacks the protagonist - the monster of the title that is only revealed as ALS in the final frame.  The prey, Hayley, however, is suffering from a new and unfamiliar but deadly contagious disease.

ALS is a disease that has no cure and life expectancy is around 5 years.  The film is based on a real-life case that director Rosman dedicates the film to, recalling a story he worked on about a young woman diagnosed with ALS (Summer Whisman).

What is most disturbing about the film is the treatment of good-natured kind people.  When Jessica steals canned food from the garage of an elderly couple, the couple (Blaine Palmer and Betty Moyer) take her in with kindness.  But they succumb to the disease and eventually die a horrible death.  The same goes for an isolated bartender, Molly (Ayanna Berkshire) who out of her kindness offers Hayley a job and lodging only to also succumb to the disease.  Hayley is totally unaware of the fact and is running away believing that she has committed a murder.

A small but efficient thriller that forces the audience to think, NEW LIFE, blends several genres such as horror, cat-and-mouse thriller, dystopian futuristic and action.  It has been getting rave reviews.  NEW LIFE kicked off its festival run with its world premiere at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival and quickly became a festival favour rite, earning critical acclaim and continuing with buzzed-about screenings and stops at FrightFest London, Overlook Film Festival, Panic Fest, Florida Film Festival, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, and the Heartland International Film Festival, where it took the 2023 Audience Choice Award.

NEW LIFE opens in Select Theatres & On Demand May 3 From Brainstorm Media.




Directed by Ashley Gething


With exclusive access to the famous Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan, SECRETS OF THE NEANDERTHALS follows a group of archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and Liverpool John Moores University, led by Professor Graeme Barker, as they team up with their Kurdish colleagues to excavate this iconic site for the first time since 1960.  Over a number of seasons, they make a startling discovery - a new body, ‘Shanidar Z.’  This is the first articulated Neanderthal skeleton to be found in the region for almost a quarter of a century. The film follows lead palaeoanthropologist Dr. Emma Pomeroy as she painstakingly excavates these precious remains and sets about reassembling them with the team in Cambridge.

The doc includes the esteemed contribution of American archaeologist Ralph Solecki.  Ralph Stefan Solecki (October 15, 1917 – March 20, 2019), as can be seen in the doc’s archive footage. Solecki was born in Brooklyn, New York in October the son of Polish immigrants – Mary (nee Tarnowska), a homemaker, and Casimir, an insurance salesman.   The doc traces his best-known excavations were at the Neanderthal site at Shanidar Cave, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  His publications include early works on aerial photography and photo interpretation as well as two volumes on Shanidar 

What are the Neanderthals like?  The focus of the doc is often on the Shanidar Cave excavation in Iraqi Kurdistan which is understandably captivating. Archaeologists unearth new evidence that sheds light on Neanderthal behaviour and rituals.  The documentary also explores intriguing sites in France and Croatia, adding depth to the Neanderthal story. They are assumed to be ugly people of lower intelligence and slow in thinking.  At one point, the doc convinces the audience that they resorted to cannibalism, but not out of starvation.  It is believed that they ate the flesh of another that they might have respected so that a legacy could be continued.  Of course, these are just theories.  These thoughts make the doc intriguing in how archaeologists and historians come to their conclusions on their findings.  But there are two sides to the coin,  Archaeologist Ralph Solecki found pollen in the skulls dug up which led him to believe that they are also cultured gathering flowers in caves where flowers could grow during the ice age.

This flower burial theory has also come under fire.  The process is shown which reveals how many theories can easily be formed and mistaken.

What looks a bit tacky, though one can understand the use of the use of actors to re-enact the Neanderthals to enliven the proceedings.  Gabriel Andreu plays an older male Neanderthal while Ibbi El Hani plays a younger female Neanderthal.

Archaeology and excavation is very tedious and painstaking and the doc emphasizes the fact.  At times, the doc feels that way as well, despite the fact that it is all too important to learn about human history, and how they developed.

The subject of the secrets of Neanderthals is not one that audiences can get super-excited about, not for a doc or for any film for that matter.  But the filmmakers do their best, stressing the untiring dedication of the archaeologists and restorers as well as emphasizing the importance of knowing one’s past.

The film is largely narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart of STAR TREK, whose low authoritative voice brings credibility to the proceedings.  SECRETS OF THE NEANDERTHALS opens for streaming on Netflix this week.




UNFROSTED (USA 2024) ***
Directed by Jerry Seinfeld


I first heard of Jerry Seinfeld’s new movie UNFROSTED when I attended the funnyman’s stand performance in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island last summer, when he touted his new film.  UNFROSTED is a 2024 American comedy film directed by Jerry Seinfeld (in his feature directorial debut) from a screenplay he co-wrote with his writing team of Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, and Andy Robin.  The film is loosely based on the true story of the creation of Pop-Tarts toaster pastries, written by William Post, one of the Kellogg employees,

Of course, news has leaked involving the making of the movie.  One incident had a crew member freak out, screaming at the top of is voice causing everyone to freeze.  Seinfeld diffused the incident by saying:  “This is a pop tart movie.  This is not important.  Nothing is important!”  followed by laughs from everyone,

The film appears to be designed to be silly - from the song “Wooly Bully” to the cereal ‘Grandma’s Holes’ that did not make it commercially.  A few of Seinfeld’s jokes are blue, so families going to the film should be aware.

Being set in the ’60s the comedy qualifies as a period piece and director Seinfeld keeps the period atmosphere real enough.

Being a standup comic, Seinfeld has included an impressive list of comic and standup cameos including Cedric the Entertainer as Sty Smiley, Toy Hale as Eddie Min, Joe Hamm as yes, Man #2, Bill Burr as President John F. Kennedy and Dan Levy as Andy Warhol.  Of the cast, Amy Schemer is excellent as the Head of Post as is Hugh Grant as the complaining  Thurl Ravenscroft, an English actor cast as Tony the Tiger.  Thurl Ravenscroft was a real-life character.

UNFROSTED has got panning reviews on the day it made its debut on Netflix.  To be fair to Seinfeld, the film is funny, thanks to its comedic timing, only that the subject matter might annoy critics.  One wonders, though the reason the pop-tart was made so popular.  Was it that tasty?  Myself, I liked old fashioned corn flakes which Post stole to make Bran flakes.  But muesli, the healthy choice (without the sugar) should be everyone’s healthy choice.  But as Seinfeld had said during the film production: “This is not important!  The is a pop tart movie. Nothing is important.”

Hilarious enough despite its silly subject, FROSTED is an easy watch on Netflix.



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