Saturday, November 18, 2017

EUFF 17' Film Review - My Name Is Emily


Mental stability and genius are two edges of a thin piece of wire. Robert (Michael Smily) is bubbling under the wrong side of the ledger until his daughter Emily (Evanna Lynch) is born. Emily inspires more engagement then Robert fully blossoms after taking a job as a teacher. He's moved to write a book about people needing to have more sex that becomes a best seller leading to book tours, fame and happiness for his family.


Cut to the second stanza where Emily comes home searching the daily mail for a letter greeted by a man and a woman who are not her parents. Emily is in a foster home in Dublin her mother having died in a car accident causing her dad to progressively loose grip on reality and end up in a mental hospital up north. Emily is concerned as her regular birthday card from her dad has not arrived. She enlists the only friendly face in her new school Arden (George Webster) in a plot to head up north and break her dad out.

Writer/Director Simon Fitzmaurice who is paralyzed due to A.L.S. crafts a tale that is heavy on water birthing imagery and lyrical death references. The story uses timely flashbacks to fill in the gaps. Fitzmaurice challenges convention with a key theme that "A Fact Is A Point of View." Cinematographer Seamus Deasy is gifted the Irish countryside as a creative palette. Deasy takes advantage with lush green grasses and pale blues shots of the sea. Translucent underwater scenes highlighting Evanna Lynch's blue eyes mixed with a bright yellow vintage Peugeot complete the picture.

My Name is Emily is a switch in the coming of age story formula. The kids Emily and Arden not the adults are the teachers. Fitzmaurice cuts out modern convince right from the start killing Arden's mobile phone then putting the pair in a vehicle barely above walking speed. It's a pleasantly paced non-linear story that I can recommend.

 My Name is Emily | Simon Fitzmaurice | Ireland | 2015 | 94 minutes.

Tags: Father -Daughter, Book Tour, Foster Home, Mental Hospital, Weird, Road Trip, Maps, Shoplifting, The Sea.

EUFF 17' Film Review -The Citizen

Wilson (Dr. Cake-Baly Marcelo) has been trying to pass the citizenship test for years. He reads the material but the finer points just don't stick. He is a political refugee in Hungary having lost his wife in a conflict in his native land Guinea-Bissau. His two daughters also went missing due to the conflict.  He works as a security guard in a supermarket and lives in an apartment complex that mainly houses new arrivals.


After his friend Prince leaves for a job in Austria one of his aquatints Shirin (Arghaven Shekari) arrives just about to give birth. She is without status in the country as is her child that is born in Wilson's apartment. When not working or looking out for Shirin and her child Wilson starts to study with his boss' sister Mari (Agnes Mahr) in order to pass the test. Instead of mainly looking at books she takes him to the sights so he can internalize the material. Mari having been cooped up at home caring for her Husband and two grown boys comes to life in these outings growing increasingly closer to Wilson to her own surprise.

Director Roland Vranik presents a timely story in light of the migrant crisis in Europe and growing nationalism around the world. The sentiment of he is not like us bubbles beneath the surface at every turn of this film.  Wilson is a hard working individual contributing to society wanting only to have a fair shot at becoming a citizen. Vranik contrast his approach with Shirin who escapes from a refugee camp. Is hiding in the shadows without papers with her newborn child.

Dr. Cake-Baly Marcelo who himself came to Hungary as a refugee is steady, kind and thoughtful in his first acting role. He manages to hold his temper for the most part despite legitimate and dubious roadblocks put in his way alongside stereotypical attitudes of the locals. Agnes Mahr produces a complex performance as Mari. She is introduced as a tough no nonsense teacher but soon softens in the presence of her attentive expressive student. Look for Istvan Znamenak as Hentes Wilson's sonly local friend who injects some comedic moments into what is otherwise heavy narrative.

*** Out of 4

The Citizen | Roland Vranik | Hungary | 2016 | 109 Minutes.

Tags: Refugee, Camp, Birth, Citizenship Test, Papers, St. Stephen, Budapest, Magyar, Employee of the Year, Austria.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Anger is the fuel that drives the action both literally and metaphorically in "Three Billboards". At the head of the wronged cast of characters is Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) who 7 months after her daughters rape and death has heard nothing new from the police and does not want the case to fall off the radar. Next in line is Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) living with his mother, short on smarts but angry ever since his fathers death takes out his anger on the citizens of the small Missouri town especially the ones that don't look like him. Third is Mildred's ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) an ex-cop and former wife beater who is now shacked up with a dimwitted 19 year old (Samara Weaving) who could be a surrogate for easing the pain of loosing a teenage daughter in a violent act.


If you live in a town where the police department openly spout derogatory names for its colourful citizens while Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) states that if you got rid of all of the racist cops the ones left would be homophobic then you're clearly in frontier land. Writer Director Martin McDonagh has not made a feel good movie. Instead his creation is raw, hurtful mean and confrontational. McDonagh goes a different way by turning the background sound off during intense exchanges.

Frances McDormand sets the tone as Mildred. She is tough as nails with a heart full of pain that will take on a police chief, rogue deputy or teenage girl if they get in her way. Lucas Hedges continues a run of strong teenage performances as Mildred son Robbie all. He has to suffer the consequences of his mom's actions at school. Then on the way home see the billboards that continually rip open the unhealed wound of the violent loss of his sister. Robbie openly opposes his mom's authority with verbal attacks then takes it to a differently level towards his dad in perhaps the most intense moment in the film.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not about what the viewer would expect when they first enter the theatre. Instead it's about family and community relationships in a small town where startling if not criminal acts are largely ignored becuase deep down the actor is a good person that the town supports. But even if they aren't the citizens are still willing to look the other way. An excellent cast master a challenging and unique material making this film one that I can truly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri | Martin McDonagh | UK/USA | 2017 | 115 Minutes.

Tags: Advertising, Billboards, Murder, Rape, DNA Testing, Police Brutality, Iowa, Live Eye, Zoo Worker.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Film Review - The Heretics

Gloria (Nina Kiri) the centre piece of a group cult sacrifice has not suffered any side effect of the event going on five years. She has a devoted girlfriend Joan (Jorja Cadence) who is willing to accept her despite her scars both physical and emotional due to that traumatic event. Still unsure of the reasons for that episode she is abducted by Thomas (Ry Barrett) on the eve of the current Locus Moon. Thomas takes her to a remote cabin deep in the woods where as the Locust Moon rises Gloria begins to undergo physical transformations.


Director Chad Archibald continues his exploration of the body horror realm that he pushed boundaries in with Bite. Again it's a female character thats the focus of the transformation, she's confirmed to a small space and the confirmation is both messy and painful sparked by an inner entity. Cinematographer Jeff Maher return to produce that shiny golden familiar nighttime hue that is a staple of the Black Fawn universe. The narrative is deliberate, developing slowly with just enough twist to keep the viewer guessing.

The ensemble cast embrace their roles. Ry Barrett turns in another solid anti-hero role as Thomas. Newcomer Jorja Cadence has perhaps the most to do as Joan. She fiercely hunts for her missing partner willing to use any means necessary to extract information for someone who she thinks could supply a lead. Nina Kiri gives a storm physical performance as Gloria. She's chained to a wall sitting on the floor for a good part of the film. Only moving when a new hole protrudes from her body to reveal a new appendage or black puss oozes from a pore.

The Heretics features a shifting narrative that's a strong entry into the body horror genre. The nimble actors roll with their every changing fates backed by visuals and makeup effects that will draw in the horror enthusiasts. Chad Archibald commands the set with a steady hand producing a tightly packaged film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

The Heretics | Chad Archibald | Canada | 2017 | 87 Minutes.

Tags: Cult, Abduction, Locus Moon, Ritual, Sacrifice, Mass Suicide, Demon, Winnebago, Shotgun, Black Fawn Films.





Saturday, November 4, 2017

Film Review - Thor: Ragnarok

The Ragnarok prophecy is the underlying element of the latest output from the MCU Thor: Ragnarok. Taika Waititi whose last few works include the brilliant Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows is a different type of action director. Waititi puts his stamp on the production from the first scene. Thor (Chris Hemesworth) is suspended shackled in a cage speaking of the need sometimes to be captured to gain information. As he is speaking to his capture Sutur (Clancy Brown) wrapped in chains he spins slowly in a clockwise direction asking his tormenter often to pause exposition each time until he can complete a rotation.


Waitit injects an unprecedented amount of comedy into a Marvel film. Thor does not take himself seriously in the slightest. His banter scenes with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) on who is the strongest along with the Hulk being a sympathetic pouting character when slighted are a sight to see. A straight forward narrative also helps to keep the momentum of the film going. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) first born child Hela (Cate Blanchett) returns from exile revealing a hidden chapter of Asgardian history. She follows Thor and the ever cheeky Loki (Tom Hiddleston) back to Asgard knocking her brother and adopted sibling off course. The pair end up in a pleasure planet Sakaar where garbage literally falls from the sky. There Thor meets the last surviving Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and must fight the Hulk in a gladiator challenge in order to return to Asgard and stop the Ragnarok prophecy.


The visual effects team alongside the set designers do yeomen work creating the films footing. The golden city of Asgard, metallic space junk falling from the sky in Sakaar stand beside the Norwegian seaside landscapes on earth. Chris Hemesworth is extremely comfortable in Thor's headspace. He pokes fun at his dependence on his hammer often standing arm outstretch waiting for the weapon to return. Tom Hiddleston continues to be his perfect foil as Loki. He's as slippery as ever but every once in a while willing to do the right thing. Look for Westworld's Tessa Thompson as the no nonsense bounty hunting hard drinking last of the Valkyries. The only character that follows a straight line is Cate Blanchett. She is mean and ruthless from first frame to the last that she is on screen.

Thor: Ragnarok is a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe. Director Taika Waititi raises the comedy level to 12 leading the cast to an improv environment that they were all willing to inhabit. It's a risk taker that ventures far off brand. The result is a fun ride that still gets the point across in a way that leans more Guardians of the Galaxy than Captain America:Civil War.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Thor Ragnarok | Taika Waititi | U.S.A. | 2017 | 130 Minutes.

Tags: Prophecy, Queen, Contest, Gladiator, Thunder, Norway, Wormhole, Revolution, Evacuate, DireWolf.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Film Review - Wonderstruck

Two different narratives 50 years apart drive the action in Todd Haynes latest film Wonderstruck. Both follow a child's search for a parent that also happens to be their first visit to New York City. In Gunflint, Minnesota Ben (Oakes Fegley) wakes up from a nightmare about wolves to see his cousin beside him. His mother Elaine (Michelle Williams) recently died leaving Ben to live with his Aunt and her family.  His mother would not tell him any details about his dad waiting for the right time that never came. However Ben finds a book about museums among his mother's things along with a bookmark for a New York City bookstore. Wanting desperately to find out about his dad despite an unfortunate accident ventures to New York with this one clue in hand.

In 1927 Hoboken, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf living with her well to do father obsessed with silent film star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) Rose learns that her favourite actress is staring in a stage play in New York so she hops on the ferry for her first trip into the City greeted by the impressive cityscape as the ferry approaches the pier. The storyline jumps back and forth between the pair as they explore around the city both eventually ending up at the American Museum of Natural History. Each have an employee connection to the museum giving them unique access to the historical treasures.


Director Todd Haynes opts for black and white for the 1927 sections playing with a silent picture feel that comes off as being a bit too modern. The musical selections for this piece are often jarring when Rose has a conflict to try and indicated her emotions. Ben in 1977 comes out of the bus terminal to 70's funk music, big hair and bell-bottoms. Here we get one of the projects better transitions as we switch between Rose and Ben walking amongst a throng of humanity. The 70's New York looks more authentic with grainy bright colours abundance of graffiti and the expected ethnic mix just outside the port authority bus terminal where at 41st street meets 42.


Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds share top billing as Ben and Rose. The pair are both adventurous and resourceful as they wander the city. It seems as though Ben is following in Rose's 50 year old footsteps as he looks at exhibits in the Museum especially when he stops to spend time at a large meteor that crashed to earth in 1902. The narrative transitioning from him reading the plaque to Rose running her hand across it.

Wonderstruck is a child focused film with a pair of youngsters searching for a family connection in the largest American city. Julianne Moore serves as the link between the pair strenthing the 70's storyline when she enters but the twenties tale weakens after she leaves that thread. The film has several good elements but the banal feel of the Rose thread leaves the piece wanting in the end.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Wonderstruck | Todd Haynes | USA | 2017 | 117 minutes.

Tags: New York City, Minnesota, Hoboken, Ferry, Bus Terminal, Museum, Worlds Fair, Bookstore, Deaf, Sign Language, Electricity.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review- Our People Will Be Healed

To call Alanis Obomsawin a prolific director would be a severe understatement. The 85 year old has been producing films at a rate of about one a year since 2012. Most of her latest works have centered on the harsher aspects of the Indigenous experience with government entities but her latest production looks at a success story: Helen Betty Osbourne Ininiw Education Resource Centre at Norway House in Northern Manitoba. This school competes on equal footing with others in Manitoba for teaching talent. It serves students from Nursery to Grade 12 featuring an exceptional music program, strong science classes plus Cree language teaching starting in nursery and grade 1.


Obomaswin camera roams the bright sunlit curved hallways observing a science class studying metal oxidation, geometry, music/fiddling and a grade one group learning basic Cree phrases. Students are interviewed all with big hopes and dreams for future employment. They marvel at the abundance of resources and equipment available to them at the school. Several of the senior classes have had the opportunity to go on rewarding trips to locations like Ottawa but also the chance to take guided canoe trips through their territory where they learn traditional fishing, hunting, building and portaging techniques all part of Cree culture and oral storytelling.

Of course it wouldn't be an Obomsawin film without highlighting some dark aspects of the struggle. The school is named after Helen Betty Osbourne a Norway House resident that was abducted and killed while walking alone when away at a resident school in The Pas in 1971. This event as told by her peers lead all Indigenous women to be sure not to go anywhere alone while away at school. The negative effect of colonialism is also illustrated through discussions about the Sundance Ceromony. An Indigenous tradition that was banned by the Indian Act at the turn of the last century but still practiced in secret. It took the adoption of a Human Rights declaration by the United Nations to openly revive the tradition again in 1951 with the film looking at the 2016 version at Norway House and it's highly emotional effect on the residents showing its importance to the community.

The school is evidence that the best approach is to invest in the social development and education of children plus teaching the culture and impact of treaties to allow the community to heal. Their parents were caught up in drugs, alcohol, gangs suffering from lack of education and despair. Their grandparents were ripped from their communities to suffer abuse, separation and racism in the residential school era passing that trauma on to their kids. The piece is positive and uplifting pointing towards endless possibilities for the current and future generation of Indigenous peoples.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Our People Will Be Healed | Alanis Obomsawin | Canada | 2017 | 97 Minutes.

Kinosao Sipi, Norway House, Manitoba, Frontier School Division, Helen Betty Osbourne, Residential Schools, Portage La Prairie, The Pas, Fiddle Jamboree, Sundance Ceremony.