ASTRAKAN (France 2022) ***
Directed by David Depesseville
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ASTRAKAN opens with a shot of a boy looking at the cage of a tarantula in a zoo. The similarities of the loneliness that exists between both the boy and the spider become apparent. The boy is then rushed into the car with the other two children as they go to the farm of the mother’s family, greeted by her brother.
The relationship between the boy and the foster family, his emotions, and how all are affected are slowly revealed in director David Depesseville’s debut feature. This is a coming-of-age story of Samuel, an unloved and lonely, orphaned boy who ends up learning life lessons the hard way.
Samuel is gradually forced to face the demons he is holding on to internally, as well as those that exist within his new family. Swept up in the motions of coming of age for the very first time — falling in love with the girl next door, exploring hobbies and indulging in childhood passions — he also begins to learn of the secrets his foster family (a nasty one involving incest) are keeping, leading him to question everything around him. As these questions emerge, Samuel is pushed in and out of crippling anguish, bridging a harsh gap between dense realism and feverish fantasy which leads to a stunning and transcendent final act, not to be revealed in this review.
There is a certain similarity between Samuel (even in his looks) with the boy in Francois Truffaut’s masterpiece on the trials of children immersed in the world of adults in L’ARGENT DE POCHE (SMALL CHANGE). One of the most emotional moments in Truffaut’s film, a teacher speaking to his class right after one of the students was discovered with abuse marks on his body during a school health inspection. The teacher speaks on the abuse of children and how children, just as adults have rights as well. The classic Punch and Joy scene in Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS is mirrored in the clownish juggling segment in which the camera focuses on the different reactions of the kids watching the show. Samuel is himself given a thrashing from his foster father after he opens his room door to him after being promised that he will not be hit. In ASTRAKAN, during a church service, the priest preaches from the Bible how Jesus says that a man will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven if he does not treat a child right, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Samuel displays both a sense of innocence and an altered innocence that results from his current situation. Will good or evil emaciate from the boy?
Samuel is teased as the ‘foster boy’. He gets a beating for soiling his pants. But the bad is also balanced with intimate moments as in the time he buys an ornament for his foster mother with the words engraved “I love you, mother”, at the gym when he is given a pat on the back for his improvement in gymnastics.
ASTRAKAN is a powerful coming-of-age film of altered innocence, marvelously captured at points by director Deppesville, displaying the best traits of French Nouvelle-vague director Francois Truffaut in his early classics such as L’ARGENT DE POCHE, L’ENFANT SAUVAGE and 400 BLOWS. The film has a muddled somewhat confusing ending where various images of Samuel’s past incidents are strung together.
ASTRAKAN opens on VOD September the 1st.
THE EQUALIZER 3 (USA 2023) ****
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
In the number 3 of the Equalizer franchise, based on the old TV show, The Equalizer 3
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington reprising his role) is found in a villa after taking down some nasty people in Sicily. But a misjudgment, McCall is been shot by a .22 calibre bullet that almost kills him. He is nursed back to life by the local Italian doctor. McCall (two C’s and two L’s, as he claims) is a retired U.S. Marine and former DIA officer which explains his expert fighting and timing skills. Since giving up his life as a government assassin, McCall (Denzel Washington) has struggled to reconcile the horrific things he's done in the past and finds a strange solace in serving justice on behalf of the oppressed. Finding himself surprisingly at home in Southern Italy, he discovers his new friends (the doctor and the man, gendarme Gio who finds him wounded, among others) are under the control of local crime bosses. As events turn deadly, McCall knows what he has to do: become his friends' protector by taking on the mafioso.
The film is set in Sicily, Naples and Rome with Washington and the cast speaking quite a bit of Italian. The film if seen in IMAX, will show the magnificent Italy that is Napoli and Sicily with its cobblestone narrow winding streets beside the sea.
There are many good lines in the script besides it always giving the hero McCall superhero abilities, that can take down the bad guys in any situation.
Take the best scene in the film, a McCall is threatened by a mafia henchman in a restaurant:
Robert McCall: Is that a Timex?
Marco Quaranta: No, it's a B...
Robert McCall: [grabs Marco's arm] That's the median nerve that I'm compressing. On a scale of one to ten, that's two. That's three. (Man screams.) You don't want me to go to four. I go to four, you shit yourself. You don't want that? I don't want that! They don't want that! Tell your compadres that they can leave. Tell them to beat it!
When the doctor nurses McCall, he asks McCall whether he is a good or a bad man to which McCall answers that he does not know. The doctors say that a bad man would never give that answer.
There are many other supercharged scenes such as the one in which the police chief's fingers are chopped off by the Mafia boss, Vincent. The action scenes are also often brilliantly delivered, with a touch of S and M, but also with a violent style.
Everything falls in place too efficiently and McCall never gets anything wrong. So long as the film is entertaining enough, the credibility factor can be overlooked.
The story dispenses of any romance though there are two strong female characters in the film, one played by Dakota Fanning.
THE EQUALIZER 3 is action-packed entertainment, the kind delivered with style, finesse, violence and humour that should satisfy close to 100% of the action fans.
GHOSTS OF THE CHELSEA HOTEL (AND OTHER ROCK AND ROLL STORIES) (USA 2022) ***
Directed by DannyGarcia
The Hotel Chelsea (also the Chelsea Hotel or the Chelsea) is a hotel in Manhattan, New York City, built between 1883 and 1885. The 250-unit hotel is located at 222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in the neighbourhood of Chelsea. It has been the home of numerous writers, musicians, artists and actors. Though the Chelsea no longer accepts new long-term residents, the building is still home to many who lived there before the change in policy. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying at the Chelsea, and poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso chose it as a place for philosophical and artistic exchange. It is also known as the place where the writer Dylan Thomas was staying in room 205 when he became ill and died several days later, in a local hospital, of pneumonia on November 9, 1953, and where Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, was found stabbed to death. Arthur Miller wrote a short piece, "The Chelsea Affect", describing life at the Chelsea Hotel in the early 1960s. The building has been a designated New York City landmark since 1966, and on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977 and is the subject of this documentary.
A documentary about an old hotel and the famous guests that have stayed or partied there might hardly seem interesting fodder or enough material to fill up a full-length documentary. To Director Garcia’s credit, he aims to overcome these shortcomings.
The doc contains archive footage of guests at the hotel and the celebrities who were present. One shot of Andy Warhol appearing at one point on the screen makes one wonder about its relevance or where the shot was taken from. In most cases, talking heads, mostly long-term residents current and past, talk about the celebrities who stay at the hotel while director Garcia splashes an image of the celebrity spoken of, on the screen - all this very basic filmmaking. There is quite a lot of repetition in the dialogues, but there are interesting things said as well.
He begins his doc with a resident who lives in 901. 901 is a dump he says, but it is my dump. He delivers a monologue on the hotel and lists the famous guests he knows who have stayed and ends with the words of Michael Morris (an English television director and producer, the director of The Old Vic Theatre in London from 1999 to 2002, and an executive producer and director of the television drama Brothers & Sisters from 2006 to 2011): “There is a party in my mouth and I want you to cum.” The camera moves along the hotel’s corridors creating the effect of Kubrick’s THE SHINING.
The climax of the film has the long-term residents talk about the ghosts of the hotel. Half of them believe that they have seen ghosts. But these-role also sound half crazy. The doc is occasionally interesting when it offers a weird fact or two but is also repetitive and all over the place.
Certain places have powers. This hotel has these powers. Powers that make you want to create. The Chelsea Hotel allowed director Garcia (who has made similar documentaries about rock and roll legends like SAD VACATION and THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CLASH) to create this occasionally fascinating history of the Chelsea hotel.
GHOSTS OF THE CHELSEA HOTEL (AND OTHER ROCK AND ROLL STORIES) has a screening at 4pm September 10th at the Paradise Theatre on Bloom and opens September in various countries.
SCOUT’S HONOUR: THE SECRET FILES OF THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
(USA 2023) ***
Directed by Brian Knappenberger
SCOUT’S HONOUR: THE SECRET FILES OF THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA is a Netflix original documentary that opens for streaming early this coming week, one that covers the subject of pedophilia within the scouts which by now is not surprising but still shocking. Everyone by now knows and it is no longer a secret that there is a lot of nastiness and pedophilia that got in within the Boy Scouts of America. The doc examines the subject in detail.
Ash Patino, recent 2022 documentary BOY SCOUT’S HONOUR, a short and sweet (and actually not sweet at all, from its subject) about pedophiles in the Scouts and how these crimes were covered up will inevitably be compared to this new Netflix doc. BOY SCOUT’S HONOUR is more focused on just one abuse and deals with it very thoroughly with all its horrors. Aaron Averhart, now an adult, tells his four-year harrowing account of the pain and horror he suffered at the hands of Boy Scout leader, Bill Sheenan. After spending decades thinking he was alone, a late-night internet search for his abuser leads to the uncovering of dozens of additional victims in a town 1,500 miles away.
SCOUT’S HONOUR: THE SECRET FILES OF THE BOYS SCOUT OF AMERICA covers the subject by dividing the film into separate parts. The first details the history of the organization from its founding in 1908 in England. The doc goes into what the scouts stand for - the core American values. It also goes on to say that the organization is non-denominational from Catholics to Protestants to Mormons and even Muslims. It then goes on to give several abuse cases, and how they are covered up. Victims, now adults have their say. What the Scouts Organization does next is also examined.
The two main personalities who are interviewed, among others, include one of the heads of the Scouts Organization and another, a black man hired for Youth Protection, who serves as the whistleblower, The aim of the former, who has a strict and convicted goal is to make scoring a safe place for kids, that includes hotline, a screening process and access to the secret files, known also by other names like the perversion files. The Organization has covered up the pedophilia crime and the result is a huge number of lawsuits, the number increasing. The doc documents 82,000 abused adults who have come forward as a result. The doc goes into the repercussions that include suicide, torment, depression and other illnesses the victims face. The doc also goes into the bankruptcy act for the Organization files for bankruptcy with the number of lawsuits arising. The doc goes on to mention that it is only the lawyers that benefit and many victims do not see a cent, not that monetary compensation can compensate for the damage done.
There is obviously no solution to the problem as yet and the film ends with a hotline number and a site that victims and future victims can call for help. Like any voter corporation that makes money for profit, the safety of the kids is sacrificed for profit making.
POLARIS (Canada 2022) ***
Directed by Kirsten Carthew
After the fires, came the floods then the freezing - the world as you live it ceased to exist. The year is the future, 2144 to be exact with the world supposedly frozen over. These are the words of the voiceover heard at the start of the film, implying a dystopian film set in the future. But POLARIS slowly turns out to be an action film, with an environmental message to boot. Director Kirsten Carthew expands her 2015 short film with a similar theme into this full length feature. Though the transition from futuristic to action flick is kind of odd and not really smooth, the film moves with a kind of mystery that propels the film along with the audience not knowing or being able to guess what is going on or going to happen.
The film begins with and follows Viva Lee as Sumi, a young girl who is trying to reunite with her mother after being kidnapped by marauders, and is lost in a frozen wasteland where her only guide is a polar bear. Sumi had been brought up by the polar bear, which she calls mama. But it is not helping that the marauders kill the poor bear and capture Sumi in a cage. Sumi is a wild child who can violently dispose of her attackers.
Director Carthew does not skimp on the gore. Sumi is able to claw and kill her victims, which she does twice, slashing their throats, There is also one decapitation scene in which a head is severed from the body.
Set in 2144 against the harsh backdrop of a frozen wasteland, Sumi, a human child raised by MAMA POLAR BEAR, narrowly escapes capture from a brutal MORAD hunting party and sets out across the vast winter landscape. When Sumi stumbles across FROZEN GIRL, an unlikely friendship is forged and together they race ahead of the vindictive hunters towards the only guiding light Sumi knows, the POLARIS star.
The cinematography of the film, especially at the beginning with Sumi and the mama, is quite impressive. David Schuurman won the award for Best Cinematography in a Borsos Competition Film, and Lee received an honourable mention for Best Performance in a Borsos Competition film.
POLARIS is undoubtedly an intriguing film with its narrative not conforming to any of the usual courses following in films. The film has a strong female slant - its director female, Sumi and her new friend female and the polar bear that brought her opals female. The old person and the first human Sumi meets is an old woman.
POLARIS premiered at the Fantasi This gives the film both a kind of surprise unpredictability but also leaves a few questions unanswered as to how mama polar bear brought up Sami. International Film Festival (Montreal, Canada) on 14 July 2022. The film is a co-production of many provinces including Quebec, Northwest Territories and Ontario. It was later screened in the Borsos Competition at the 2022 Whistler Film Festival. The film will open across Canada in theatres on September the 1st.