FILM REVIEWS:

 

BEYOND UTOPIA (USA 2023) ***½

Directed by Madeleine Gavin

 

BEYOND UTOPIA is a documentary film about North Korea, directed by Madeleine Gavin.  The film debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary centres on Seungeun Kim, a pastor who defected from North to South Korea and who facilitates North Korean defections.  At the start, audiences are informed that the film is about people trying to escape the most dangerous pale on earth.  And that is North Korea.

The doc is called so for the reason that North Koreans believe that they live in a Utopia even though millions have died in the recent famine and many still live in poverty.  They see through television, propagated by the North Korean dictatorship that every other place in the world is in poverty.  They see homeless people in the United States and are told that South Korean children do not even have clothes to wear.  The North Koreans do not have any idea what the world outside is like, thus believing that North Korea is a Utopia, of course not knowing any better.

The doc opens the world of North Korea to audiences and it is a very disturbing world.  North Korea has two prisons and if one is sent to the worst one there is no chance of ever seeing freedom again.  If sent to the more lenient one, they are tortured and if set free, it is after a long stretch with much suffering.  Defectors who are caught and many of them are tortured and beaten.  The scene showing one captured defector being beaten and kicked is almost too brutal to watch.

The doc boasts that nothing is seen on the screen are re-enactments.  Everything appearing onscreen is actual footage.  All sorts of secret cameras were used, including flip phones.

  The hero and main subject of the film is Pastor Kim.  On the outskirts of Seoul, Pastor Seungeun Kim runs an “Underground Railroad” to help North Koreans escape, employing a network of brokers in North Korea, China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. This dangerous route must be taken to freedom in South Korea.  For a decade, Pastor Kim has helped 1,000 defectors, jeopardizing his own life.  Pastor Kim is constantly at risk of being kidnapped by North Korea.  If that happens, he would not only be killed but tortured and beaten before that.
The film follows two stories that began in the months before the pandemic.

These are some of the last known attempts at defection from North Korea.  The first involves the Rohs – a family of five, including a mother, father, two young daughters and an 80-year-old grandmother.  Their journey means crossing rivers, climbing mountains and traversing jungles on foot.  The doc shows maps showing the routes of possible escape.  Many have to take extreme distances of detouring to escape detection and capture.  The second is about a mother who hasn’t seen her son since she defected 10 years ago and wants to bring him – now a teenager – to South Korea.  With every furtive phone call, the emotions play out – from anticipation to fear.  The son had been tortured to half his weight in prison.  He is beaten with angled rulers and has broken teeth preventing him from eating and walking properly,

  More intriguing as it is disturbing, viewers also get a look at what life is really like inside North Korea – through clandestine footage, or from interviewees like author/defector Hyeonseo Lee.  How do residents get water?  Why do they have to collect their “poo”?  It’s interesting to hear the Roh grandmother’s rosy viewpoint after decades of indoctrination.

BEYOND UPTOPIA is one doc that would surely open one’s eyes to the horrors that mankind still install for the sake of power.  The North Korean regime has been compared to Nazi Germany and with reason.

Trailer: 

 

GHOSTS OF THE VOID (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Jason Miller

 

“It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”  So goes the saying at the start of the film before the first image occurs, the line from comedian George Carlin.

Spending the night in her car, a newly homeless woman wrestles with exhaustion, her crumbling marriage, and the threat of mysterious, masked strangers.  Jen and Tyler Wilson (Tedra Millan and Michael Reagan) used to have it all: a solid marriage, a nice home, and careers that promised a bright future.  But when Tyler's drinking problem worsens, and his writer's block continues, the debt collectors show no mercy, forcing the couple out of their home and into their car.  The film is largely set in the dead of night with the couple in or by the car.  Their past life is revealed in flashbacks.  They seem to think it is the creditors who are responsible for the horrors imposed on them.

Beyond stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed with feelings of failure, Jen and Tyler park their car in a vacant lot, hoping to get a good night's sleep before dealing with the realities of tomorrow.  However, their sleep becomes interrupted by homeless passersby, mischievous local kids, and eventually, ominous strangers in harrowing masks.  Why don’t they drive off?  Two reasons.  Someone has placed a tire clamp on their car.  Then Jen leaves the keys in the lock of the trunk and the keys are then stolen.  Tyler has had it and goes after what thinks might also be teenagers creating pranks.  When he says: “It’s ok - I will be back.”  He will be in trouble.  he then encounters the three masked predators.

Writer/director Jason Miller carefully crafts a riveting, slow-burn thriller that delves deep into the psychological depths of a crumbling marriage stuck in the middle of nowhere.

The film contains a simple premise.  With something simple, less can go wrong.  The saying holds. GHOSTS OF THE VOID exposes the fragility of the human psyche in the face of adversity while leaving audiences to question the thin line between reality and the supernatural.

The masked strangers who up only after two-thirds of the film - in the three colours of red, white and blue (the three colours of the American flag, indicating more of the American dream becoming a nightmare.  They live in individual blue, red, and white tents.

The pressures on her -  Tyler drinks and abuses her.  He has a temper.  She is pressured by her mother to get a job and leave him.  The question is whether she should leave him.  But according to Jen, she loves him.

GHOSTS OF THE VOID has won several awards in international film festivals, particularly horror film festivals.  A well-made combination of horror drama and thriller, GHOSTS OF THE VOID is proof that a simple premise story without any need for the supernatural can result in a tense horror film.   GHOSTS OF THE VOID is available on digital and on-demand on November the 7th, 2023.

 Trailer: 

HANDS THAT BIND (Canada 2021) ***

Directed by Kyle Armstrong

 

HANDS THAT BIND has one common thread with the recent Martin Scorsese’s epic KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON.  Both films open with a vast landscape, in this film the Canadian prairies of Alberta beautifully shot by cinematographer  Mike McLaughlin, (the scene of the burning carcass of the dead heifer in the dead tree as dusk settles in is stunning).   Both films tell a story between man and his land, and both films introduce various stories before honing in on one.  HANDS THAT BIND contains several different narratives each of which could diverted into a different story film.

The setting of the film is 1981, Alberta and it is a handsome period piece without the nuisance of modern gadgets like the cellphone and the laptop.  1981, Alberta.  Having severed ties with his own father, Andy (Paul Sparks) toils as a hired hand to support his wife ( Susan Kent) and two young children, hoping he will eventually inherit the farm from his boss Mac (Nicholas Campbell).  No such luck!  Andy serves as a substitute son to both Mac and a lonely neighbour (Bruce Dern - generous of the star and veteran actor Dern to lend his hand to this Canadian production).  But Andy’s hopes are dashed when Mac’s prodigal son (Lance Liboiron) shows up.  The darkly handsome son is a lazy loutwho clearly is underserving of his father’s love.  He had lost his job in the oil fields.  Andy refuses his boss’s suggestion that he return to his own father’s farm, (the riff between Andy and his father not explained at the film’s beginning) rebuffs his wife’s wish to go back to work herself, and instead makes a choice that plunges him toward chaos.  Meanwhile, his turmoil is mirrored by mysterious occurrences – mutilated cows, burning trees, and unexplained lights.  The world is becoming increasingly unfamiliar.

The several stories that could evolve include:

  • perhaps a sci-fi story with aliens from Andy’s observation of the weird lights coming from the night sky
  • a predator movie which could explain the mutilated refer which showed no signs of blood
  • a family drama between Andy and wife 
  • the estranged relationship between Andy and his father
  • the story of the white man and the indigenous land (Andy finds an arrowhead at the start of the film and discards it elsewhere in the field).

Director Armstrong has a good feel for his material and his film comes across as genuine and authentic.  The drama is never overdone and much of it can be seen from the undertones of the scenes rather than huge outbursts from the characters.

The film is directed by Armstrong, who grew up in southern Alberta, this being his second feature after UNTIL FIRST LIGHT.

  The meticulously crafty Western Canadian film won the 2022 Edmonton Film Prize, awarded by the Alberta Media Production Industries Association (AMPIA) in collaboration with the Edmonton Arts Council.   HANDS THAT BIND opens November 3 in Toronto (Scotiabank)!
The film is also available on November 3 to rent or buy across Canada on the Apple TV app and other VOD platforms. The film opens on November 24 in Edmonton (Metro Cinema).

 

THE HOLDOVERS (USA 2023) *****

Directed by Alexander Payne

 

Written by David Hemingson and directed by Alexander Payne, this film won the runner-up prize for the Audience Choice Award at TIFF.  The film could be considered an updated variation of Charles Dickens’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL, in which the miser is replaced by a very strict and unflinching schoolmaster whose past catches up with him with the help of a troublesome student who eventually brings out the man’s good side.   The film is both sad and funny with Paul Giamatti (already an Oscar nominee in CINDERELLA MAN) delivering a career-best Oscar-winning performance.  

During this process, Paul is forced to deal with one particularly rebellious but troubled student, Angus (Dominic Sessa), who is grieving the loss of his father. 

Set in the early 1970s (the year no revealed till the new year is shown on the TV), the film follows Paul Hunham (Giamatti), a disliked teacher at Barton Academy, who's responsible for supervising students who are unable to return home for the Christmas holidays.  Dominic Sessa, a newcomer who plays the ld role as Angus Tully, the dent holdover is also nothing short of excellent, holding his own against Giamatti.  Sessa will be an actor to definitely be reckoned with.

The atmosphere of the 70s is exceptionally created, thanks to the cinematography, dialogue, wardrobe and sets.  If one is to watch a 70’s film like Mike Nichols’ two classics, THE GRADUATE or BOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE, one cannot tell that THE HOLDOVERS was not made in the 70’s.  The year 1971 is not given to the audience well into the film, though one notes that it is not a modern piece because of the absence of the use of cell phones.  The soundtrack also sounds like something that could be composed by Simon and Garfunkel who scored the soundtrack for THE GRADUATE.

One also learns the all-important lesson that there are much more alike in human beings than one can imagine.  The fact that the film is set at Christmas with sad characters also enlivens the contrast between sadness and joy.  Extremely funny and quotable dialogue too!  Two examples are:  “A body that does not exercise devours itself.”  “You are cancer pain in human form”.  And there are countless more in Hemingson’s articulate script.  The script also contains a few powerful lines.

THE HOLDOVERS was runner-up in the People’s Choice Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival losing first place to AMERICAN FICTION, though in my opinion, the two excellent films should have their places switched.

THE HOLDOVERS is one movie that will make one laugh and cry at the same time - sometimes during the same scene.  One of Alexander Payne’s (SIDEWAYS, DOWNSIZING, THE DESCENDENTS) most emotional movies.

Trailer: 

HURRICANE SEASON (TEMPORADA DE HURACANES (Mexiso 2023) ***½

Directed by Elisa Miller

Halloween October 31st still attracts lots of horror features.  A new surprise arrives from Mexico which, thankfully does not have to resort to the supernatural to supply the scares.

Many famous directors begin by making short films.  When these make it to festivals and win big prizes, the directors get a chance for big-time - feature films for the bid studios.  Elisa Miller is a prime example of such a breakthrough director.

There are several reasons HURRICANE SEASON, a Netflix original horror flick should be watched.  Firstly, the film’s director Elisa Miller is a Palme d’Or winner.  She won the Cannes Prize for her short VER LLOVE in 2007.  Secondly, her film, based on the book of the same name has the perfect moody and horror atmosphere rich with superstition and mystery of a poor Mexican village where the village folk have nothing better to do but create trouble for each other.  The village also keeps a deadly secret.  Thirdly the film also contains a breakout performance by putting teem Palma Alvamar as she comes-of-age amidst all the turmoil.

The atmosphere is created right from the film’s first scene.  “What its that rotten stench?” asks one of the boys as they venture through the trees onto the river.  It is a not and swealtring day, and one can almost smell the stench of the sea corpse floating in the canal. ripe with a snake writhing out of the corpse’s mouth.

When \this group of teens finds a corpse floating in a canal, the brutal reality behind the perverse crime unravels a town's hidden secrets.

The corpse, the audience learns belongs to a questionable woman the villagers call a witch.  The so-called witch holds grand parties with young boys with lots of sex and rugs involved.  None of the villagers like the witch but a group of older women turn up at the place station to claim her body in order to give her a proper burial.  It is at least what she deserves, one of them says, before they are shared out of the place amid lots of female swearing.  The scene then shifts to the protagonist, played by Almavar, who now tells her story that she wishes to report a murder.  The story then occurs about this moody unloved (by her grandmother) who wants to just grow up with a bit of love.

The girl had witnessed the witch having sex with her cousin and reported it back to her grandmother.  But the cousin is her grandmother’s favourite son and the girl has hair cut as the grandmother accuses her of telling lies about her favourite grandson.

HURRICANE SEASON is filmed in Mexican Spanish and offers a good atmospheric coming-of-age scary rich Mexican drama.  It opens for =streaming this week on Netflix.  The film has won its director Best Picture at the Moria Film Festival.  The film is definitely worth a watch.

Trailer: 

JEZABEL (Argentina/Mexico 2023) ***

Directed by Hernán Jabes Aquila

 

Four wealthy, hedonistic young adults are tormented by a brutal murder in this new erotically charged psychological thriller.

The new psychological horror thriller which can also be listed as a crime thriller, from Argentina takes the name JEZABEL (also spelled often as JEZEBEL) from the biblical character in the Book of Kings in the Bible’s Old Testament.  Jezebel is known to be the conniving, wicked and manipulative Queen of Israel.  Jezebel was the daughter of Ithobaal I of Tyre and the wife of Ahab, King of Israel.  According to the biblical narrative, Jezebel, along with her husband, instituted the worship of Baal and Asherah on a national scale.  In addition, she violently purged the prophets of Yahweh from Israel, damaging the reputation of the Omride dynasty.  But in the film, the name is used for Eli’s prom website.  Eli does not know what to do with her life but she wants to make lots of money.  So she intends to go to prom.  But things do not turn out as she had planned and she dies a violent death,

JEZABEL is set in present-day Venezuela, where political and social chaos reigns, four best friends Lolo, Cacá, Eli, and Alain live a carefree lifestyle as wealthy young adults in Caracas, Venezuela.  Their hedonistic relationship, full of drugs, group sex, and dangerous (often sexual) games, comes to an abrupt end when one day Eli is brutally murdered.  Still haunted by her death sixteen years later, Alain is shocked to discover that Eli’s alleged killer is not who everyone believes he to be.  The dominating math teacher, is the one, who has also tormented the friends is not that innocent either.  With the help of journalist, Salvador, Alain must confront the ghosts of his past in this erotically charged psychological thriller.

Director Jabes’ films his debut feature as an artistic and stylish thriller in nonlinear mode - intercutting his story in flashbacks.  The film is in reality a whodunit with lots of distractions.  It is almost impossible to guess the identity of Eli’s killer, not because of the intricate plot, but because of the story’s outrageous premise and all the false clues that go along with the plot.  It is for this reason that the audience feels cheated in the storytelling, stylish though it may be, that the film fails as a satisfactory whodunit.

Director James places lots of distractions on the whodunit.  Salvador and Alain begin a torrid gay affair that does not line with the story as in Alain’s early years, Alain has non-gay sex, only heterosexual sex with his three other female friends.  Director James does not shy away from the sex scenes - gay or heterosexual.  The result is some very hot sex scenes that serve to provide some excitement to the film.  The story also includes the political and social problems of Argentina - the elections and freedom of the elections.  The students complain about the political situation but instead of doing anything, indulge in their own selfish tendencies.

JEZABEL opens on VOD and other leading platforms on November the 7th 2023.

LOCKED IN (UK/France/USA 2023) **

Directed by Nour Wazzi

 

The title LOCKED IN of the new Netflix original psychological thriller comes from the medical term: locked-in syndrome.   Signs and symptoms of locked-in syndrome are usually characterized by quadriplegia (loss of limb function) and the inability to speak in otherwise cognitively intact individuals. Those with locked-in syndrome may be able to communicate with others through coded messages by blinking or moving their eyes, which are often not affected by the paralysis.  The symptoms are similar to those of sleep paralysis. Patients who have locked-in syndrome are conscious and aware, with no loss of cognitive function. They can sometimes retain proprioception and sensation throughout their bodies. Some patients may have the ability to move certain facial muscles, and most often some or all of the extraocular muscles. Individuals with the syndrome lack coordination between breathing and voice.  This prevents them from producing voluntary sounds, though the vocal cords themselves may not be paralyzed.  One of the best films with the locked-in syndrome is the French film True Story THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, based on Jean-Dominique Bauby's 1997 memoir of the same name, the film depicting Bauby's life after suffering a massive stroke left him with the condition.  In this film, LOCKED IN,  after a nit and run, Katherine (Fameke Janssen suffers from locked-in syndrome.  Her nurse MacKenzie is a well-meaning worker who earnestly tries to help her recover while finding out the truth behind the accident.  There are a lot of unanswered questions.  This deals with an unhappy newlywed Lina (Rose Williams) who finds herself battling with her mother-in-law, who happens to be Katherine who is also her adopted mother.

The film has a complete plot with a script by Rowan Joffe and contains lots of twists and side plots.  Lina’s mother dies and the mother’s best friend Katherine, a Hollywood car takes her in as her guardian.  Katherine has a son, whom Lina eventually falls in love with and marries.  The son suffers from fits and is generally unhealthy.  Enters the local doctor, Robert whom Lina falls in love with.  Katerie’s late husband leaves the will of the estate of his sonny Katherine has nothing.  Lina now the wife with the son has control over the estate.  So, the twist and turns of the street unfolds.

The story though a little complicated is a good one, with lots of potential for black humour and unexpected thrill and suspense. The result could be a top-notch thriller.  Unfortunately, the film fails to reach that level.  The story ends up looking implausible and unbelievable, with no thanks to what might be needed as tight direction and a more focused script.

Of all the actors, Janssen as Katherine comes across as the best performer..  Alex Hassell, who plays Doctor Lawrence, who ends up the villain of the piece could have delivered a more sinister performance,  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what prevented the film from being the tithe black thrilling psychological drama it could have been, instead of a largely unbelievable piece of fictional horror that comes with a slasher ending.

LOCKED IN opens for streaming on Netflix this week.

NUOVO OLIMPO (ITALY 2023) ***

Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek

 

Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek has a ton of films already under his belt, the most famous one being FACING WINDOWS.  NUOVO OLIMPO is his latest Netflix collaboration and the title refers to the name of the repertory Italian cinema house in Rome where two lovers meet for the first time.

 NUOVO OLIMPO is a gay romantic drama film set in late 1970s Rome.  One thing to note is that the two main male lovers also carry on heterosexual love affairs, though one eventually for a long-term gay relationship with somebody else.  The story follows two young men who meet by chance in Nuovo Olimpo and fall deeply in love.   It is never explained, but the cinema appears to be a pickup place for male gay sex and the nasties are carried on in the cinema’s lavatories.  This is where Enea notices a shy Pietro.  They meet in the restroom but do not engage in sex.  “Is this your first time?”  Enea questions Pietro.   Pietro declines sex but they meet again at the cinema.  They end up having pizza instead but eventually have sex in Enea's friend’s grandmother’s apartment.  From the sex scene, it does not seem that is  Pietro’s first time.

There were riots in 70s Rome.  A big protest that turns into a riot results in the cinema house being opened for the protestors to take refuge.  Pietro suffers a broken arm and they lose touch.  Why they do not exchange addresses or phone numbers is one of the story’s mysteries and flaws.  It appears to be an excuse for a lone 30 years romanticizing the hope of finding each other again.   Pietro keeps coming to the cinema but Enea never returns.

As time flies, Pietro becomes an important surgeon while Enea succeeds as a successful film director, the first gay director to come out with what he describes as emotional films.

NUOVO OLIMPO is indeed a slow burn.  It takes half an hour before the two lovers take to the bed, Pitro keeps giving silly excuses while Enea patiently waits.  The concept of love through the ages - time and space will not get in the way of love (this appears to be the message in the film)  - a poetic and aspiring one comes instead quite forced and if one examines the film and story more carefully as it unfolds, quite unbelievable and cliched, including the scene when Pietro appear to Enea by the window of a passing train.  (Really?)  Director Ozpetek also aims at blending the nostalgic element of cinema into the romance.

Enea (Daminano Gavino), and medical student Pietro (Andrea Di Luigi) do make hot lovers and the two male actors, particularly Gavis extremely adorable.  But the make-up that goes on the two actors as they age through 30 years is plain horrid, least of all, laughable. The film sweetly filters a love for cinema through a love between two people, though it’s not quite a romance for the ages.

NUOVO OLIMPO is currently streaming on Netflix this week.

PRISCILLA (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Sofia Coppola

 

Priscilla is a 2023 American biographical drama film written, directed, and co-produced by Sofia Coppola, based on the 1985 memoir Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley (who serves as an executive producer) and Sandra Harmon. Who else better than Sofia Coppola, the director of strong female-themed films like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, LOST IN TRANSLATION and THE BEGUILED to direct this very personal film on the wife of the one and only Rock and Roller Elvis Presley, Priscilla Presley?  The film follows the life of Priscilla and her relationship with Elvis Presley.  Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi star as Priscilla and Elvis.

PRISCILLA, first of all, is not a very likable personality, as depicted in the film, and also likely so in real life. Director Coppola shows Priscilla as such and this poses a problem for the film if the audience dislikes or does not connect with its main character.  Priscilla comes from a devout Christian family and was not allowed much freedom as a teenager.  She is also shown as not very bright, and not doing well at school.  A moment in the film that shows Priscilla cheating on an exam, by promising her classmate that she will be invited to an Elvis party, shows her tomb dishonest and of a questionable nature.  Though understandable, Priscilla is jealous of her husband’s popularity with other girls.  She is quietly hot-tempered and impatient.

Director Coppola keeps the film focused on only two characters - Priscilla and Elvis.  No other supporting characters take any part of the spotlight.  The colonel, Elvis’ manager who largely controls the business of Elvis is never shown on camera.  Elvis is just heard talking to the colonel on the telephone, unlike the biopic ELVIS where Tom Hanks as the colonel overshadows the Elvis character.  The result is a claustrophobic depressing film that goes into depression mode just as the two characters go down the rabbit hole.

The editing and the music and songs in the soundtrack are, however, beautifully scored.  The sets, decor, and art direction all clearly evoke the period atmosphere so important in the story-telling,  As for performances Cailee Spaeny is wonderfully captivating while Jacob Elordi makes a really sexy Elvis, especially when he is in his swimming trunks.

Director Coppola shies away from the Elvis performances.  Only the quieter tunes like “Love Me Tender” make the cut to the soundtrack.  The film mentions the decline of Elvis showing his temper tantrums, throwing stuff at Priscilla at one point and then apologizing later.  Elvis’ drug use (taking the hallucinatory LSD) is shown with him partaking with his wife, Priscilla.  The arguments between the married couple are displayed in all its ugliness.

PRISCILLA is a very well-made film, no argument here, but it is a story that comes out too personal with director Coppola focussing too much on Priscilla and Elvis leaving all other characters that might enliven the story to the sidelines to the point of omission  The film is not a pleasant watch, understandably as who would like to watch a couple’s marriage go downhill or watch their fights all the time?  (Unless it is over the top as Mike Nichols’ direction of Edward Albee’s WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

PRISCILLA opens in theatres on Nov the 3rd.

Trailer: 

QUIZ LADY (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Jessica Yu

 

In QUIZ LADY a brilliant but tightly wound, game show-obsessed young woman, Anne (Awkwafina), and her estranged, train-wreck of a sister Jenny (Sandra Oh), must work together to help cover their mother’s gambling debts.  When Anne’s beloved dog, Linguini is kidnapped, they set out on a wild, cross-country trek to get the cash the only way they know how: by turning Anne into a bona-fide game show champion—the host of the game show is played by none there than Will Ferrell.

This is not a particularly well-written or original scripted comedy.  Apologies to the scriptwriter, but there is nothing really fresh or original that one has not seen in comedies like his one before.  The humour is mixed with family drama as Jenny is constantly in need and has to be bailed out by Anne.  But together the film shows they can achieve much more.

It all begins with Anne getting a phone call from her mother’s nursing home.  “Your mother has left us,”  says the person to Anne on the line.  “Oh, that was horrible phrasing.  I meant your mother has disappeared from the home.”  As an example of the comedy in the script, the comedy is not that funny.  But the comedy works wonders under the comedic duo of Sandra Oh and Awkwafina who both prove their comedic prowess together.  They also outshine Will Ferrell in laughs.  The plot and story just roll the film around and the drama between the sisters is a standard family drama that one knows will be solved at the end.

Despite the mediocre script, QUIZ LADY is still a barrel of laughs owing to the excellent comic timing of the comedic duo Sandra Oh and Awkwafina.  QUIZ LADY opens for streaming on Disney Plus this weekend, after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.

Trailer: 

SLY (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Thom Zimny

 

SLY is the documentary on Sylvester Stallone, one of the hottest stars of all time, the only one to remain number 1 at the box office for decades.  His ROCKY and RAMBO franchises have crowned him action hero number 1.  Now close to the age of 70, his new franchise THE EXPENDABLES stars elder action heroes.

In the film SLY, Sylvester Stallone looks back on his life and career in this valedictory documentary directed by Thom Zimny.

Sylvester Stallone is  Rocky Balboa, John Rambo, and Barney Ross, the guy who runs the team of aging action heroes known as The Expendables.  The doc shows the other side of the man - an artist who’s spent the last half-century trying to prove he is more than just a guy from Hell’s Kitchen — to his critics, to his family, and most of all, to himself.

For Stallone fans, the doc takes a nostalgic trip down memory lane of both his successful and failed films.  ROCKY, Stallone’s success story is, of course, examined in great detail.  But the doc does not shy away from the next two failures that followed.  F.I.S.T. was a disaster (nicknamed J.U.N.K) and PARADISE ALLEY (name forced to be changed from HELL’S KITCHEN) before ROCKY 2 made Stallone’s comeback.  The doc shows the struggles of Stallone and the pressures and demands of the film business.  Out is not a friendly environment.  The doc contains many scenes from his films reflecting the actor's ups and downs in life.

As much as the doc talks about Sly’s life, his unsuccessful marriages are clearly omitted.  The death of his son, Sage is mentioned though, and how the death affected the actor.

Those interviewed include Quentin Tarantino  who praises Stallone to no end, also giving his views on Stallone’s films, ROCKY’s director John Avildson and the other action hero Arnold Swartzchenegger,

SLY premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival with Stallone present to talk about the film, despite the actors strike.  The film now opens for streaming on Netflix.  SLY is an easy enjoyable watch and a comfortable look at Stallone’s philosophy on life.

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