Sunday, August 6, 2023

Fantasia Film Festival 2023 Film Review - Sometimes I Think About Dying

A celebration of the mundane and venturing out and away from isolation and loneliness are the  main focuses of Rachel Lamberts' Sometimes I Think About Dying. Fran (Daisy Ridley) of Star Wars fame is an office worker in a small Oregon town. Her daily routine consists of going into the office in muted colours keeping to herself as conversations and debates occur amongst her colleagues around her. Fran stares at her computer screen filling generic orders, working on spreadsheets attending meetings where an e-mail could have sufficed. After work, she heads home to her small residence preparing her usual microwave dinner to consume alongside an ever-present glass of wine.

A large crane is placed at eye level outside of her office window leading Fran to imagine being lifted up by the crane and hanging from it. That image joins her more regular nightly thoughts of lying lifeless in a dewy forest with bugs crawling over her skin or dead tangled in a driftwood pile at the beach. New employee Robert (Dave Merheje) arrives at the office and not knowing any better engages Fran in conversation. The topic of film comes up and Fran agrees to meet Robert at the local theatre. He has his own routine as well, seeing movies and visiting a local restaurant nearby for dessert after a screening. 

Robert seems genuinely interested but Fran cannot understand why anyone would be so she unwittingly sabotages things at an early opportunity. Fran gets a moment to shine during one of their outings attending a Murder Mystery dinner party. She gets to tell the attendees how she died in one of the set pieces. Her fantasies about death come to the fore to the delight of the entire party. 

Writer Kevin Armento Adapts his play Killers for the screen. The theatre roots are evident in the production. The original live-action short director Stefanie Abel Horowitz also gets a credit. Lambert lingers on the most minuscule unglamourous parts of Fran's existence. So much so that when she steps completely out of her character buying donuts for the office one morning the viewer can easily understand what a big step it is for Fran and fully believe the level of excitement her gesture creates. Marcia DeBonis features in the small role of Carol. Her going away party at the office opens the film and serves as the first glimpse into Fran's status as a true outsider. Fran runs into Carol by chance later in the film and again DeBonis dominates the space as they catch up.

Daisy Ridley does a lot with the minimalist outline of her character Fran. She doesn't speak for a good chunk of the opening sequences despite being constantly on screen. She instead communicates with her body and through her eyes. Her daydreams are elaborate and her awkwardness papabile. She lurks in the background looking over her shoulder at normal interactions between colleagues from safety behind the walls of her three-sided cubicle. The rest of the ensemble cast pull their weight in this small feature which is a different style of filmmaking that hits its mark. 

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Sometimes I Think About Dying| Rachel Lambert| U.S.A. | 2023 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Office Work, Daydreaming, Death, Murder Mystery, Retirement, Cruise, Movie & Dessert. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Fantasia Film Festival 2023 Film Review- Aporia

What if you could go back and change a catastrophic event that devastated your family? But to do so would have a lethal effect on the perpetrator of the event. Would you worry about the effect on other aspects of your and your loved ones' lives? Would you care about the consequences on the perpetrator's  family? Does making one change in the recent past have a lesser ripple than multiple or changes further back in time?  These are the questions debated and agonized over amongst the characters in Writer-Director Jared Moshe's latest film Aporia. 

Sophie Rice (Judy Greer) has seen her life crumble since the death of her husband Mal (Edi Gthegi) He was killed by a drunk driver while crossing the street and despite showing up for repeated court hearings the driver is not being punished. Her daughter Riley (Faithe Herman) is skipping classes and has lost interest in her one true passion science that she shared with her Dad. Sophie works in a Long-Term Car facility. She is dedicated to her patients but the strain over everything has grinded her down. Her friend Jabir (Payman Maadi) who was best friends with Mal, bonding through their love of science. Jabir reveals to Sophie a machine that he worked on with Mal. It looks like a 70s muscle car engine on a metal stand with too many batteries and wires attached. But the machine can reach into the past and send a projectile to a specific GPS-targeted location with the force of a bullet. The payload able to write the wrong that devastated Sophie's family before the accident even occurred. When it works the real hard questions begin. 

Moshe crafts a practical science fiction film with zero VFX.  A time travel story where the main characters never leave the room where the machine fires up and sends its accelerated particle projectiles back into the past then the participants step out of the room to an altered timeline all around them. The differences can be subtle; a change of duties at the Long Term Care facility, different living room furniture and throw pillows picked put by your returning spouse, or something greater and vastly more significant. The homemade science project has moved from the theoretical to real-world impact bringing with it life-altering implications. The foreboding soundtrack that underpins the story is a constant reminder of the high stakes and potential consequences of everyone's actions. 

Judy Greer commands the screen in the role of Sophie. She is overwhelmed with grief at the outset of the film. She is not getting justice. Her daughter is spiraling downward losing interest in everything and anything she used to hold dear. Edi Gathegi serves s connective tissue is in the role of Mal. He understands exactly what has occurred when Sophie and Jabir level with him on what they have done? His scientific mind works out all of the combinations and permutations. Faithe Herman plays multiple versions of the couple's daughter each time the machine is fired up. She is despondent at first then downright joyful once Sophie tracks her down in a new timeline after emerging from Jabir's household lab. The bottom line appears to be firing it up once you can get the desired effect. But human nature won't stop there meaning cataclysmic change is likely inevitable. 

*** 1/2  Out of 4. 

Aporia | Jared Moshe | U.S. A. | 2023 | 103 Minutes. 

Tags: Drunk Driver, Widow, Grief, Court Case, Long Term Care, Physicist, Time Travel, Rocket Ships, Ponzi Scheme, Birthday Party, Hamlet. 


Sunday, July 23, 2023

Fantasia Film Festival 2023 Film Review - Raging Grace

Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla) is a curious, impetuous, prankster of a schoolgirl living in London, England with her mother Joy (Max Eigenmann). Joy is an undocumented Filipina immigrant working cleaning homes and as a caregiver to London's upper crust trying to gain funds to make her residency in London legal. Resources stretched, she often resorts to squatting with her daughter in the homes of clients that she knows are on vacation. On occasion only managing to vacate the premises moments before the family turns the key to enter the home upon their return. She is getting close to her intended dollar target but her source to get her papers has given a fast-approaching deadline to provide the money in total. Into this vulnerable timeline, a too- good-to-be true job offer pops up.  Katherine (Leanne Best) the Niece of a rich dying landowner (David Hayman) will pay Joy a large salary in cash to clean her Uncle's large country estate and care for him. The only task  Katherine will not give up is the administration of medication to her Uncle. Joy will get her own large room with an ensuite as part of the arrangement. Joy moves in sneaking Grace into the home in a large suitcase. Katherine does not want Joy to use Employer housekeeper formalities but constantly snaps at Joy when she feels that she steps out of line. 

The job is going well until Grace while exploring the home from the shadows notices the real reason that Katherine wanted to maintain medication duty. Joy dismisses her daughter's concerns at first but begins to notice odd things as well. When Katherine has to leave for business Joy becomes in charge of the pills and makes some changes that lead to surprising results especially to Katherine upon her return home. Joy is firmly on Mr. Garrett's side seeing him as the victim then slowly sees a different dynamic as she learns more about her new aging benefactor. A throwaway comment about cock fighting in the Philippines can be seen later upon reflection as a metaphor for the Upper-Class view of those in a lower state. Mr. Garrett continues to charm Grace. Giving her freedom on the grounds, listening intently to her in conversations. He eventually becomes a source of conflict between Mother and Daughter. 

Writer/Director Paris Zarcilla brings two completely opposite worlds together at an English country estate in this film. Joy and Grace are transients hovering near the lower rungs of society. They operate  at the grey edges to survive and get along. Mr. Garrett and his niece Katherine have a large Estate to roam with pictures of relatives three and four generations back staring at them on the walls. World travelers, Barristors, Old money. The top rung squarely below them. Zarcilla flips the dynamic on its head. The working class class immigrants don't need the money of the rich. Rather the rich need them to do just about everything for them and their families from cradle to grave.

Max Eigenmann is in just about every frame of the film as Joy. She may seem passive and obedient but underneath that public front, she is adaptive, smart,and a fierce advocate for her daughter. Jaeden Paige Boadilla steals just about every scene she is in as Grace. Leanne Best and David Hayman shine in their supporting roles. Natural villains of the piece, they both have nuance and moments when they play ally to Joy and Grace. Their scenes together are a battle of equal imposing wills, with the upper hand changing regularly throughout the film. Raging Grace is a horror-thriller with a strong socioeconomic thread at its centre. Well written, and shot featuring a superb staccato score in the Hitchcock tradition. It's a film that is well worth a watch. 

***1/2 Out of Four. 

Raging Grace | Paris Zarcilla | U.K. | 2023 | 99 Minutes. 

Tags: Domestic worker, Philippines, Single Mother, Citizenship, Terminal Cancer, Caregiver, Uncle, Niece, Country Estate, Over Medicating, Declared Dead. Immigration Authorities. Church Choir. 

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Hot Docs 2023 Film Review - July Talk: Love Lives Here

Toronto Indie band July Talk want their band, fans, audiences, and ultimately their band to be inclusive, a safe space where everyone has a voice and can be heard. Their reputation was built though touring starting with the smallest and growing steadily upward mainly by word of mouth, some airplay but mainly by audiences seeing the band in person. The Pandemic took away the live show so for their only show of 2020 they decided to try something different. Play a Central Ontario Drive in Two raised large screens  a good distance from the stage, multi-cameras broadcast out to their fans and everyone on site theoretically in their cars facing the stage. The events leading up to the live show are the foundation of the documentary. 

One of the two poignant moments that crystalize what the band is about occured at a show in Buffalo at the Towne Ballroom in December of 2016. A lout in the crowd hurled a sexist derogatory remark at co-front person Leah Fay Goldstein. She pounced, The band and audience backed her up. The culprit was quickly identified and turfed. The other James Bailey recruited by Leah from a spiritual service who brought along Kyla Charter to back up and sort though the harmonies.  The result of the collaboration produced the song Champagne digging into how privilege works from two very different perspectives. When the song is played; James and Kyla take centre stage as true collaborators. The visuals as the back story is told in a live frenetic concert sequence causing chills. There are many such instances throughout the piece. Especially with the lens falls on Leah. The monochrome tone invokes an Andy Warhol performance art feels. 

A major theme during the lead-up to the concert is co-front person Peter Dreimanis' health. He was inexplicably losing weight. down about 30 pounds. His bones were clearly visible. The weight loss was not covid related making the other band members worried. On top of the health concerns, Peter was pushing hard to make the drive-in show a reality along with fourteen hours a day of  post-production work on the newly completed album. Four days before the August 12, 2020 concert. Peter got confirmation of a type one diabetes diagnosis along with a plan of insulin therapy to treat it.  Accompanied with a warning of doing two shows full on back to back in four days could lead to low blood sugar, hypoglycemia shaking sweating and potentially passing out in the middle of nowhere at the Stardust Drive-in. Not to mention a covid scare with another of the band members. 

July Talk: Love Lives here tracks the rise of an indie rock band from their first EP sessions in 2012 after a prologue announcement of the Drive-In dates, time-lapse set build and last words before hitting the stage. Their process front and mission statement are always at the forefront. Covid-19 telltale signs are everywhere. Along with the true message, that the band needs this, their fans need this show and society in general by August 2020 needed reasons for people to get together to begin to share common experiences again. 

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

July Talk: Love Lives Here | Brittany Farhat | Canada| 2023| 83 Minutes.

Tags: Concert, Covid-19, Indie Rock, Touring, Studio Sessions, Type 1 Diabetes, Collaboration, Stardust Drive-In. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Hot Docs 2023 Film Review - Iron Butterflies

Piecing together the sequence of events leading up to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, 2014, then on to and the investigation afterward are the push and the pull of Roman Liubyi's documentary film Iron Butterflies. The director had a premonition that the making of this film would serve as a warning to head off a potential future war. In reality, the war in Liubyi's home country of Ukraine has been raging for more than a year as the film has hit the festival circuit.  Only his thought of a larger conflict has yet to take place. A Dutch court in November of 2022 found Russia responsible for the incident. The missile that struck flight MH17 was Russian made and the fateful strike was fired by a four person anti-aircraft team or Russian BUK missile-launcher made up of 3 Russians and one Ukrainian based in Eastern Ukraine. Western powers' reaction to this event plus the invasion of Crimea  was part of Vladimir Putin's calculus that he could march into Ukraine unopposed in February 2022. Expect to be in Kyiv in a few days, remove the sitting government, and put in a Russia-friendly one without any involvement except maybe empty rhetoric from the West. 

The information communications and media clips gathered, organized, and presented by Liubyi and his team is staggering. The audio intercepts alone show the joy of the ground from the initial thought that they had hit a military target, to justifications based on the plane being used to smuggle weapons to the truth that children and civilian bodies and luggage were all that were found at the scene then the panic and plan hatched to avoid and shift blame being forming in real-time. The Russian propaganda machine shifts into overdrive. Discrediting the scientific findings. Calling independant footage from multiple sources of Russian equipment movement as doctored. Even going as far as doing their own recreation to get to the expected favourable conclusion. 

Liubyi's film plays more like a defense attorney laying out exhibits to garner a conviction rather than a writer's storyline. The title comes from the shape of the shrapnel fragments embedded into the nose and front section of the Malaysian serving as fingerprints leading the investigators to Russian missile stock. Also included for reference are old 80's era instructional videos on the BUK and the roles of the four unit members. A narrative contradicted by the Russian in-house reconstruction. A first-person account from the debris field to the courthouse in The Hague by former Dutch soldier turned musician Robby Oehlers. He had a cousin who was with her boyfriend on the plane at the time of the attack. Oehler probes smartphones, takes video at the crash site and shows film of happier times with his relatives. He also poses important questions at the time that peaked at the start of the current war. If the courts found Russia responsible resulting in scores of Dutch causalities.  Why are the Netherlands and the rest of Europe still buying their oil filling their coffers?  A telling shot towards the end of the film shows flight paths across Europe. In most countries, you can see below a bee hive activity of planes above. Except for one noticeable spot above Russian and separatist-controlled Ukraine is a gaping hole. 

***1/2 Out of 4

Iron Butterflies | Roman Liubyi | Ukraine/Germany| 2023 | 84 Minutes.

Tags: Flight MH17, Eastern Ukraine, Malaysian Airlines, Russia,  BUK Missile Launcher, The Hague, War Crime, Video Footage, Intercepted Audio, Crime Scene, Butterfly shaped Shrapnel, Reconstruction,  Disinformation, 

Monday, May 1, 2023

Hot Docs 2023 Film Review - Smoke Sauna Sisterood

Nestled in an Estonian forest lies a wooden sauna beside a small lake.  A group of female regular inhabitants seeking refuge with the knowledge they can speak freely and openly on any topic that comes to mind. This tradition is elemental to the Estonian Voro community. Bodies of all shapes and sizes on display. This particular peer group is into or approaching  middle age still scared by stinging comments about their looks hurled at them by their mothers decades ago. The story starts in the wintertime as the women go from their discussion inside the smoke sauna trekking through the snow and into a  swimming hole cut in the nearby freezing lake for a different physical experience. They chant,lay on the wooden sauna benches, and out in the snow. Pour buckets of water on themselves and each other and use birch whisk bundles to massage each other to clean the skin and improve  blood flow and circulation.  

Water and steam are the lifeblood of the experience. droplets fall everywhere. Beads form on all sections of the sauna and dot every body part. Director Anna Hints' lens is closely trained on each moment of activity as it unfolds. Men and the patriarchy are as expected major topics. Struggles to survive in a male-dominated society. Even a survey on who has received dick pics.The conversation probes today's issues and tales are told dating back to the women's grandmother's time. Including the reality of no clear path to escape a loveless or evan an abusive marriage two generations back.   

Ants Tammik's cinematography is particularly stunning. The small windows to the outside world are bathed in light. A stark contrast to the dark shadowy interior of the sauna full of bodies and steam clouds rising. Sound also plays a vital role. Whether it's the rhythmic chanting. Smacking of birch whisks on skin. Water and wooden buckets being filled overflowed and spilled. Or the rising and falling of voices as stories are told.  Director Hints takes her time with her vulnerable subjects. Each is allowed to put as much of themselves on film in line with their individual comfort level. 

Two stories stand out amongst the tales told in the film. The first, a bather tells the details of coming out to her parents. The viewer can hear the anxiety and trepidation in her voice as she vividly remembers the event. The cumulation of which was her father's reaction which she feared the most but amounted  no big deal at all. The other was a recount of a teenage rape followed by a second sexual assault that same evening. The bather lying on her back with the crook of her arm across her eyes gives a specific chronological account of those terrifying events with the others in the communal group fixated on every word. She is surrounded by encouraging support then the bathers exit out into the lush green grass of the forest and into a much warmer summertime lake. The smoke saunas of Southern Estonia  are UNESCO listed Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Structures as noted in the closing titles.  They are a place of healing of the physical and the spiritual in unison.

***1/2  Out of Four.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood | Italy/Norway | 2023 | 89 Minutes.

Estonia, Smoke Sauna, Pregnancy, Forest, Lake, Steam, Birch Whisks, Motherhood, Nudity. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Hot Docs 2023 Film Review - Satan Wants You

If history is not heeded it is bound to be repeated. A refrain that you will hear over and over again. That message is very applicable as when referring to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s that is being played out again right now with the Conservative factions whipping up the base when discussing  Liberals linking them to Satanic and Pedofile activits through their Media mouthpieces and Right Wing politicians that has already lead to Deadly consequences. Patient Zero for this  phenomenon Is Michele Smith. Subject and Co-Writer of the Book Michelle Remembers with her Psychiatrist and Co-Author Dr. Larry Pazder.

The story starts focuses in on a 14 months when Michelle was five-year-old and turned over to a group of Satanists for grooming to be the bride of Satan. Repressed memories revealed that  she was restrained. Sacrifices occurred. Candles and Chanting were omnipresent. Plus unimaginable realistic  actives such as orgies, eating feces, and dismembering fetuses also occurred. Michelle's mother was on the outside of the circle not directly involved according to Michelle but not protecting her either. 

Reenactments are a major part of the production. The sessions with Dr. Pazder are a central piece. The pair of them in a room shot through a blurry lens. Michelle talks Larry Pazder interprets. Many hours were spent together. An unorthodox relationship building. The book brings local, National, and International attention to the duo. They attend lectures and conferences all over North America. Speak to Police organizations that use the book and seminars as a checklist to investigate satanic activities and crimes. Daycare, Educational,  and other childcare settings becoming the main battleground. Children and Adults alike providing details of abuse, sacrifices, and ritualistic events that lead to dubious arrests, trials, and convictions to satisfy parental outcries mostly without any backing evidence. 

With all of Law enforcement, academia, the courts, and journalist swirling about it is odd that Larry Pazder's Ex-wife Marylyn is the first person to look into Michelle's story with a critical eye. She saw that she was losing her husband as he spent more and more time away from his family to be with Michelle. She became a stalker in her life. Calling at all hours of the night. Following them on vacation. Being ultra needed for Larry's attention. A pillar of Michelle's story is that 14-month period when she was five when she was held captive by the cult. She simply went to the school that she attended, looked at the yearbook from the period and Michelle was there standing there with her classmates. Larry had spent time in Nigeria in the mid 60's witnessing ritualistic practices firsthand. Was Michelle aware and saying things to lead Dr. Pazder in that direction? Or was the Psychiatrist leading the witness into territory where he was familiar. Marylyn also recounts Larry's obsession with the 1976 TV movie Sybil starring Sally Field noting the similarities between the Sybil character and Michelle seeing the scenario as a path to fame. 

Directors Steve Adams and Sean Horlor take the story step by step from 1976 in Victoria B.C. when the sessions start after a miscarriage suffered by the then 27 -year- old Michelle. Originating  with a series of disturbing post-miscarriage dreams of spiders crawling all over her skin. The involvement and sponsorship of the Catholic Church onto full-on panic when the story caught fire in the U.S. spawning damaging and life ruining events in that country. The overarching narrative later fully debunked leading to a measure of retribution for several of the accused. The most terrifying aspect is the link to what is occurring today. QAnon and right-wing extremists are front and centre. Society in 2023 is right back where it was at the peak of the Satanic Panic from the 80s through the early 90s.

***1/2 Out of 4. 

Satan Wants You | Steven J Adams • Sean Horlor | Canada | 2023.

Tags: Michelle Remembers, Victoria B.C., Psychiatry, Satanic Cult, Catholic Church, Satanic Panic, FBI, McMartin Family, Court Trials, Stolen Babies. Ma Mere.