Saturday, November 30, 2013

KinoSmith Inc. Film Review - In Real Life

About a year ago I noticed that whenever I looked at a teenage they had an electronic device in their hand that was connected to the internet. The first questions were why don't you leave the device alone? Followed by How can you do your homework while constantly checking Facebook? Then the more important questions. What are your privacy settings?  Do you know the person your talking to on the other end? These are the first points raised by director Beeban Kidron's  in her film InRealLife. Under the voice over is the imagery of a sewer in East London with twisting cable rising out of the water then cutting to cable on the sides on the tunnel wall accompanied by scraping, crackling, crushing, bending and breaking sounds of the cable with an undertone pulse or heartbeat.

Ryan and Ben two teenage boys from East London are the first interviewee's. They are experts internet porn, can rhyme off just about every type of site plus providing intricate details of each sites fetish whith is quite remarkable considering they are both only 15 years old.  They claim that they are not addicted rather its part of their daily routine but they do admit that it's a hard habit to break. Ryan remarks that porn ruins his expectations of real girls. In his mind the right girl is like the one he saw on the internet. He will deal with the regular ones for a time but tell them to go away then its on to the next because they don't measure up to the blonde endowed ones he sees online.

Another interviewee 19 year old Tobin spends 5 hours a day playing Xbox and 2 on You Tube.  However he doesn't think that he is addicted to gaming. He reports that he can stop but sees no reason to.  It's not something that is bad for him. He can see how people want someone to stop doing something bad such as drugs but his gaming is not the same. Even though he flunked out of Oxford and he sees that there are other things he could do but because they are hard he avoids them.

Director Kirdon includes commentary from academics, authors and internet pioneers in the piece. Most of their messages are similar. There is a need to be wary of corporations that are collecting your information, data and personal history on servers that belong to them for commercial purposes. The people behind these sites have hired very smart people to get people to come to the sites and stay on them for as long as possible then if they leave get them back as soon as possible. A key trait is giving incredible response to something posted. It gets the user chasing that response again using the psychology of a dopamine trigger or the thrill of wanting something very fast. The efforts of these companies are very dangerous to teens, as they have not developed any other way to obtain
information, meet people or socialize. They are used to a world with constant noise, beeps, chirps and ringtones. Part of development is the need for solitude, which is not happening for the digital native generation.

Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia added the private company that has your information wants to monazite it. Therefore they monitor what the user does, reads, writes, visits sending out links to get them to point, click and buy. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange added that the Internet is the greatest spy tool ever created.

The most disturbing parts of the piece are an interview with a 15 year old girl named Page that is so addicted to her blackberry that she post status updates upon waking, while she is getting ready to go out then when she arrives at her destination. The first time she lost her phone she considered doing sexual acts to get the money to get it back. The second time when it was stolen on a train she followed the boys that took it to a house and did sexual acts to have it returned. The other is the story of 15 year old Thomas told by his parents. Thomas was bullied over the internet being constantly challenged to fights at school or at home if he did not show up at school. He took his own life in his parents back garden.

Kirdon keeps the cable motif going throughout the production.  She includes tours of two major server hubs, a complex in West London and an office building in Manhattan. There are images of the cable winding its way along in the depths of the Atlantic ocean and a rudimentary explanation of what occurs when the cable meets your provider in the building. The intriguing part is that there are thousands of buildings around the world holding data only 12 matter. Two of which are in New York City including the most important one at 60 Hudson Street where all the big providers including KPN, Deutshe Telekom and Verizon are present. These key hubs have 400 to 500 networks interconnected. Some of the other major hubs are in Los Angeles, Miami, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London and Tokyo.

The film does mention the main Tech players but as they all refused comment for the piece they are mainly mentioned by the Industry observers. Of the group Google and Facebook are singled out by the experts as not being trustworthy questioning their intentions for all of the personal material that they collect. The narrative also includes a comment on the  number of data requests placed by US Security Services to the leading Tech Corporations.

InRealLife is an important project that gives credible examples of the effect that the multitude of devices and the Internet are having on teenagers. The narrative is also correct to point out that kids emulate what they see from adults and many digital immigrants are more addicted to technology than teens.  The key point is to turn the devices off, spend some quality solitary time and connect with people face to face. In some cases Adults may need to step in to find their kids if they are perpetually lost in cyberspace. Director Kirdon has done a credible job presenting the material and it's a film I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

InRealLife | Beeban Kidron | U.K. | 2013 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Teens, Internet, Data, Privacy, Marketing, Addiction, Bullying, Monazite.

Friday, November 29, 2013

BITS 2013 Film Review - Discopathe

Duane Lewis (Jeremie Earp) is working at a diner in New York in 1976 when three customers enter with a radio that's playing an early disco tune. The sound and the speakers mesmerize Duane. He burns the order he is working on and fired.  Next he heads to the skate park where he meets a young girl who brings him back to her home then out to a popular disco club. He has the same reaction waking up the next day alone and confused with blood on his clothes. He vacates the scene to find the morning paper reporting that the girl he was with the night before was murdered.  He flees New York that morning heading for Montreal.

The story jumps ahead 4 years to Montreal in 1980. The setting is College Sainte-Lucie girls Catholic  boarding school and from the first few scenes it appears that the plot has shifted focus to a new set of characters. However when the deaf and dumb school character is introduced using the name Martin Lopez it's clear that Duane has changed his identity and is using hearing aids to avert his murderous tendencies.  He managed to keep quiet for 4 years but when two young students say behind for some along time to experiment on a long weekend Duane hears their disco 45's and his murderous tendencies return even stronger.

Director Renaud Gautier has created a homage to 70's exploitation, grindhouse fare. It's full of over the top acting especially by the three main police officers in the piece and the frantic pace including lengthy chase scenes on foot shot at a distance that is common for the era. The back story on Duane is a traumatic event in his youth when his father a music aficionado who while fooling around with tape to tape machines, speakers, wires and mixer manages to electrocute himself right in front of young Duane.

The Music is a bevy of 70's staples that is heavy on K.C. and the Sunshine Band. The main song used is Walter Murphy's band Flight 76 that serves as the films theme and appears several other times rung the piece particularly when Duane is torturing a hostage in the basement of St. Lucie. Another tune that works well is I'm a Boogie Man from the aforementioned K.C. and the Sunshine Band.  It's the track that first gets him switched on in New York and serves the story well as boogieman can have two different meanings. The Quebecois song Stop ou Encore is the 45 the private school girls were spinning that sets Duane off again and is the background music to his attack and brutalization of the pair.

The best work on the film goes to the set, prop and wardrobe department. From the first dolly shot along the counter with the authentic mid 70's 7up and Pepsi Cola bottles to the 1980's gas guzzling vehicles the items in the film ring true.

The recreation of the Quebecair gate check in and stewardess outfits brings the viewer back to a bygone era. The set even had a vintage poster announcing the 76' Montreal Olympics and the 70's staple plastic gate airport lounge chairs.

The male characters sport wide collars and ties while the girls at the skate park are adorned with Linda Ronstadt style tanks and shorts to accompany their 4 wheel roller skates.

The ensemble cast filled their roles well. The vision of this piece was camp with a side of horror and a touch of humour. No one performance stood out amongst the group but the cast hits its stride more in the Montreal part of the piece as most are Francophone.

Discopathe is a very specific genre film who's enthusiasts will seek out the material.  It is not meant to be and won't find a mass audience or distribution. It has some good passages and a very different premise. Fans of the era will appreciate Gautier's effort and attention to detail but overall it's too uneven a piece to recommend to a wider audience.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Discopathe | Renauld Gautier / Marie - Claire  Lalonde | Canada | 81 Minutes.

Tags: Serial Killer, Disco, 1970's, Childhood Trauma, Catholic School, Private School, Crime, Detectives,  Cold Case.

BITS 2013 Film Review - Blood Riders: The Devil Rides with Us

Unusual beginnings to films are rare these days, normally a movie begins with the introduction of the main characters, an event that will shape the rest of the piece or in a non linear narrative a scene from an hour or so into the movie that the story will eventually catch up to in the course of the plot. Blood Riders: The Devil Rides with Us manages to do something different. It starts with a character that is already dead talking to an interviewer in a white cube space between this world and the next. She reflects on her life, how she got here, how her death will affect her family and friends and the fate she hopes befalls the people that killed her.

Two friends Janek (Corey Lof) and Kyle (A.J. Morabito) are out on a Friday night.  They are looking for something different to do to make themselves stand out from being ordinary so they decide to steal a car.  Zoey (Caitlynne Medrek) and Dane (Joel Ballanger) are sitting on a curb on the other side the street watching the event. They go in for a closer look forcing the two friend to retreat eventually stealing a different car with the taunting Zoey and Dane along for the ride. They discover an unexpected surprise in the trunk that sets off a series encounters over a weekend.

Director Lari Teras presents a story that features violence with a slice of humour.  A number of the killings could be classified as accident, impulsive or opportunistic rather than a cold premeditated plan of action. Teras appears to be captivated by the splatter effect using it on the opening title sequence and often on the slayer or bystander as the blood of the latest victim hits them. Teras shooting style is straight ahead and right at the viewer. There are no killings that are heard off camera or seen in the distance. The direction is full on plain acts of violence. Most of the scenes are a two camera tight in crop shot furthering Teras goal to have the audience see everything close up.

The friends' two main combatants in the piece are occultists and neo-Nazis. They stumble across some information that they attempt to use to escape their situation. As part of the deal they are forced to visit white supremacist Gerhard (Will Conlon) to obtain an item. Things don't go as planned at Gerhard's place or when they deliver the item to the occultist complete the deal. The result is two very serious groups dedicated to their cause that now have a score to settle with the quartet.

The soundtrack is well appointed to a weekend killing spree. It's an equal mixture of hard driving rock and punk tracks plus effective instrumental interludes that accompany the ritualistic scenes of the occult.  The TV Freaks song Real Pain runs over the opening credits foreshadowing the upcoming events with the constant refrain of I guess it could get worse as the quartet inspect and eventually settle on a car to steal.

Of the main characters Caitlynne Medrek stand out as Zoey. She's a finisher rather that an instigator. Zoey points out the car that eventually gets the group into trouble. Several of her impulse acts early on in the piece force the troop deeper and deeper down a path of violence and death. She is also the subject of a running gag that at least one person in every new situation the group encounters knows her from the past. Ashley McDonald is notable in the role of Rosie a well traveled occultist that switches sides to join up with our heroes. Chris Feltis is also effective as the Interviewer who chats to several victims after they die then gleefully snaps his fingers sending them to the fires of hell.

Blood Riders is a joyful hour and 10-minute jaunt. The plot has a couple of twists and features a multiple different manners of death to satisfy the horror enthusiast. There is no great theme here but perhaps a message is to be yourself as there is no need to act out of character to be noticed or maybe to repent for your questionable actions in this world because you may be asked about them on your way to the next. The film is a blood splattered weekend adventure that I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Blood Riders: The Devil Rides with Us | Lari Teras | Canada | 2013| 71 Minutes.

Tags: Peer Pressure, Afterlife, Hitler, Occult, Stealing Cars, White Supremacist, Neo Nazi, Devil Worship.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

BITS 2013 Film Review - Evangeline

Evangeline (Kat de Lieva) arrives for her first year of University in the back of a car filled with religious symbols. She enters her dorm room and is directed to her bed by roommate Shannon (Mayumi Yoshida). Her roommates friend Mark (Anthony Shim) is present and pair immediately proceed to break a porcelain angel bowl the only item that Evangeline seems to hold dear. It's also the night of the party put on by the best frat on campus. Despite first being tentative Evangeline jumps right into the festivities being noticed by Mark Konner (Richard Harmon) the head of the frat.

The next morning as most of the campus heads off for a holiday weekend Eva stays mainly because she is still feeling the effects of the night before.  Mark Konner is also on campus and takes her out to his fathers hunting cabin in the woods. However, his intentions towards her are not honourable. He is joined by his two lieutenants who take part in the violent attack. Paralleling the events on campus a middle age teacher know as Mr. K.(David Lewis) roams the quite roads around the woods. He is fastidious, particular and has a pension for picking up young women walking alone at night along the side of the road.

Writer/Director Karen Lam's narrative fails to build tension and comes across rushed. The main character is introduced as timid quiet and reserved then moment later burst out of the bathroom dressed as a punk princess eager to be the life of the party without any context. There is a bit of back story on a younger sister that dying of a terminal disease and reference to a preacher father but these relationships are not well developed.

The highlight of the films are the scenes and imagery in the cube that represents the space between this world and the next. Here we find the spirit of the women killed by the murderous Mr. K. It's also where Eva dwells following the attack by the frat boys. This is also the space where the demonic spirit merges with the protagonist starting her down the path of revenge. The mixing of sharp jarring sounds when Evangeline occupies the cube is jolting and ominous.

The film does feature a pulsating soundtrack to back the action on the screen. The brooding theme that follows Mr K. as he goes about his business in the woods. The understated guitar riff accompanying the initial flashback to Evangeline's sister. The mixing of sounds and tones as the demon first enters Eva's body followed by the long notes on the organ when she strikes for the first time.

The best acted portion of the film occurs after Eva is found by some drifters in the woods. Her personality has changed as she is shellshocked and mute. Kevin Redvers is notable as Billy the PSTD suffering ex solider. Nelson Leis adds to the proceedings as the attempted stalker Uncle Dee.

Evangeline is a revenge film that doesn't take the time to build characters which is necessary for the audience to have a vested interest in their fates. The result is not a strong like or dislike of the players it's instead indifference which is far worse. There are some good elements in the film but not enough to hold the whole project together. Overall it's not a film that I can recommend.

** out of 4.

Evangeline | Karen Lam | 2013 | Canada | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Religion | Spirits | Serial Killer | Torture | Revenge | Redemption | Campus Live.

BITS 2013 Film Review - Thanatomorphose

Thanatomorphose is described in Reverse's French language dictionary as modifications visibles ques la mort provoque sur les organismes. Translated into English: visible changes that death causes on organisms.  In what may be the most disturbing film since David Lynch's Eraserhead or at least since The Human Centipede. Writer/Director Eric Falardeau delivers a complete and extremely close up view of a case of decomposition. The twist is the subject that decomposes is not an orange that you find under the rear seat in your car, bananas that you stumble across in a bag under your bed or even an animal that was hit by a car and discovered in a ditch at the side of the road. The object of this study is a woman who literally rots from the inside out.

The story opens with a young nameless woman wandering around in her apartment naked after having sex with her boyfriend. He soon comes out bedroom in the same state to use the bathroom. It's quickly apparent that this is not a deep relationship. The woman notices a bruise on her right shoulder but thinks nothing of it. The next morning she awakes heads to the shower and looses two fingernails as she prepares for work. Thus begins a daily pattern of waking to new bruises, skin discolouration, weakness and increased pain.

The most curious aspect of the film is the woman's reaction to the changes. She doesn't react alarmed or panicked. She doesn't consider going to the hospital at the early stages of the metamorphosis. Instead she is detached almost observing the changes as a scientist charting the progress of an experiment. Our heroine does display signs early on in the film that she is a person that is very much alone, empty and suffering from low self esteem. Her circle of friend is small, there is no mention of any family, her boyfriend is both neglectful and abusive. She is focused on sex as attempt to feel but above it all she is  about to abandon her one passion in life sculpting.

Cinematographer Benoit Lemire keeps the lens set to a small aperture for the majority of the production.  Every scene in the film takes place in the woman's apartment and for the most part in low light. The lighting scheme fits well with the claustrophobic feeling for the piece. It also helps to make the audience  work to decipher what they really see as the lead character transforms. The darker tones also play well with the hand held camera work that follows the protagonist as she regularly stumbles from the bedroom to the bathroom to discover what has befallen her each day.

Actress Kayden Rose turns in an extraordinary performance in the lead role. It's her first role in a feature film and she is in every frame of the movie. The role is extremely physical as she has to often demonstrate the pain and suffering inflicted on her character throughout the piece. It's a very gutsy performance as she spends a lot of time on camera without any clothing and as she decays the number of prosthesis increase and she is covered in the natural evidence of a rotting organism.

Special makeup effects designer David Scherer who's majority of earlier work has been in shorts and T.V. created some signature work in this film. His endeavour to slowly turn a fit mid 20's woman into an oozing bundle of cells is both hard to watch and mesmerizing at the same time. Every day she's a little more discoloured and she's leaking somewhere new another appendage is now useless and either comes off by itself or is forcibly removed by the owner.

Thanatomorphrose is a riveting, horrifying spectacle that goes beyond the category of a horror genre film. It's the visualization of the link between the emotional and the physical.  The main character is emotionally vacant which her body physically manifests. I'm not going to recommend this film but will instead say go see it but beware that it will stay with you long after you walk out of the theatre.

*** 1/2 out of 4.

Thanatomorphrose | Eric Falardeau | 2012 | Canada | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Horror, Decay, Diseased, Emotionless, Lustful, Transformation, Hopeless, Inevitable, Loneliness, Despair.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - A River Changes Course.

A little girl is chopping sugar cane alone in a remote section of the Northern Cambodian Jungle. She has a small basket that she fills with some small sections of cane and climbs down a steep embankment where she finds her mother also working the land. The pair load up their haul and head back to their thatched hut. A father is perched at the front part of a wooden boat on the Tonle Sap River in Central Cambodia. His teenage son is driving and steering at the back. The pair stop to check and empty their fishing nets. They season and eat a few fish then bring home the rest to sell to market.  In the rice fields outside of Phnom Pen a mother and eldest daughter work the field collecting and tying off bushels of rice. They lament that this years harvest is not good and their buffalos are eating all of the rice.

A River Changes Course follows three families from different parts of Cambodia. All are struggling to maintain a way of life that may not survive beyond the current generation. All seeing that the return on their labour is not producing as much as it did for the generation before. The other factor is the encroachment of modern society and corporations into their lands effecting the natural wildlife and habitat.

Director Kayanee Mam focuses on one member of each family to tell their story. Sav Samourn is the matriarch and main voice for her family. Her very young children have learned to do the work required  to keep the family going. They work out in the fields, hunt for potatoes on their own, go to the watering hole to collect fresh water, are adept with large knives that are very sharp and take care of their infant siblings physical and educational needs.

Sari Math has dropped out of school to fish full time with is father. He has to help the family so his younger siblings can continue to obtain an education. However their catches continue to dwindle as there is less fish in the river. Some of the younger siblings now come out on the boat and start to miss school as they are also helping out with their younger brothers and sisters at home.

The rice fields are not producing a big yield because there has not been enough rain this season. The family has a large dept with the bank forcing Khieu Mok to go to the Phnom Penh to work in the factories. First she has to be trained to use a sewing machine then work for a wage of 60 USD a month with the potential of 100USD for overtime. The day starts with a pass card scan at the entrance of the factory, followed by a full day at a machine ending with a ringing bell and a pat down by security on exit. The workers head home to wash, eat, sleep and prepare for the next day at work.

One of the best exchanges captured in the film is director Mam's interview of 3 factory workers on Khieu Mok block as they do their evening washing. They speak about their villages, why they had to come to the city and their plans to go back home.  Another is Sav Samours account of how she has been sick for the last 10 years. How her body aches, she hardly wants to eat and she is always dizzy. Her smallest child was sick for a while and her husband was so sick he almost died. She traces the cause to either their food as they used to only each what the family produced directly but now they buy food from others or more ominously the water.

A River Changes Course is a minimalist view of a vanishing way of life in Cambodia. The rural population that for generations lived off of the land, worked in the rice fields or fished are facing the reality of having to make drastic changes to survive. They are a segment of the population that are used to working for themselves and not for someone else. As Sav Samourn described it's hard to work for someone else, you're moving forward when you work for yourself but when you work for someone else you have nothing.  A River Changes Course is a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

A River Changes Course | Kalyanee Mam | Cambodia | 2013 | 83 Minutes.

Tags: Child Labour, Cambodian Jungle, Rice Fields, Fishing Hamlet, Deforestation, Development, Education, Sweatshop, Poverty, Survival.

Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - Gringo Trails

Gringo Trails is a term used in South and Central America for the destinations where foreign tourist normally frequent. Travelers come in three categories, drifters who stumble upon an area alone or possibly with one or two other people and stay for an extended period of time. Backpackers who come in larger groups but are still frugal in their approach and tourists who expect the same standards in foreign countries as at home. The last group are looking for familiar restaurant, bars, shops and services causing construction of these establishments thus changing the authenticity of the location.

The story starts with the tale of Yossi Ghinsberg who heard about a stretch of uncharted Amazon while in Bolivia in 1981 Ghinsberg was looking for the remote, tribal and unusual headed out to explore getting lost in the jungle. He was swept away in one of the worst rainstorm in the history of the area but manage to survive 25 days alone in the jungle near Rurrenabaque before rescue.  He turned his experience into a 1985 book which started a trend of Israelis coming to the area to see if the story was true and try to gain their own taste of the Ghinsberg experience.

Director Pegi Vail presents the development of tourism in many hotspots normally plot into three stages: the initial sprinkling of travellers that discover a spot, which leads to increased popularity amongst backpackers then total saturation.  The narrative touches on the effect on the land, the habitat of the local animals inhabitants. The film also includes antidotal stories from travel book writers, TV hosts and bloggers. Be sure to catch the running gag of backpackers standing around brushing their teeth in the morning sunlight to start their day.

The next point of interest is Salar de Uyuni also in Bolivia, the largest salt desert in the world measuring at 4086 square miles. Inchausai Island first a destination to gather cactus began to see early tourists arrive in the 80's. By 2000 it became a steady destination for small groups of tourist having seen features on Fredo Lazaro Ticoma the first inhabitant in their guidebooks soon after scores of SUV's began to arrived full of travellers creating the usual scene of picnic tables full of visitors, restaurants, information spots, alcohol and garbage. By 2010 the numbers had swelled to 300-400 tourist per day.  Ticoma who used to interact with the early tourist now only serves lunch to the guides as the government runs the island.

The worst example in the piece is Haad Rin Beach on Koh Phangan Island in Thailand. National Geographic staffer Costas Christ tells his story of first going to Koh Phangan Island in 1979 spending a month with a local family at the beach. 10 years later 150 people were on the beach with a small group of bungalows available for accommodation. By 1994 it's a regular traveling stop with tourist from more popular islands coming by for Full Moon parties. New Years eve 1999 saw 15,000 partiers on the beach to welcome in the millennium, a decade later tourists came by express boat and 50,000 revellers were present to mark the start of 2010.

The film includes two examples of locations that followed the right approach. Bhutan opened up to tourism in 1974 but they targeted a specific market.  They looked for older tourist mainly the well to do, retired University professors and Hollywood types who had means had done the party thing in the past therefore more likely to respect their culture and traditions. Tourist are charged $250.00 per day and can be told to leave if they do not respect the country's traditions and rules. The other is Chalalan Lagoon in Bolivia. The guides are well trained explain to tourist what the land, animals and nature means to them, their parents and grandparents generation. They engage in Eco-tourism, Yossi Ghinsberg retuned to Bolivia in 1992 and is working with the group at Chalalan Ecolodge alongside some of the people that were in the search party to save him. He raised money from the U.S. to support their project of community based tourism.

Gringo trails is a fascinating look at modern tourism and the impact of the traveler on the destinations that they visit. It's a unique take as they find as much fault with the locals for not educating the tourists but instead looking to make a quick buck as with the tourist for disrespecting local customs and traditions. A key rule for the host is to set the ground rules early, limit numbers, have a clear plan on what to do with waste and keep a close eye on the effect on wildlife and culture.  A good tip for the traveller when they come across a supposed exotic local with volleyball courts, bars on the beach and restaurant serving western fare is to ask a local what's going on at the island or village next door. Gringo trails is a documentary that I highly recommend.

**** out of 4.

Gringo Trails | Pegi Vail | U.S.A. | Bhutan | Bolivia | Mali | Thailand | 2013| 80 Minutes.

Tags:Yossi Ghinsberg Drifters, Backpackers, Institutionalized Tourist, Eco-Footprints, Eco-tourism, Sustainable development, biodiversity, Bolivia, Bhutan, Thailand.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - Bidder 70

Tim DeChristopher was a student at the University of Utah and a lover of the States parklands and wilderness when he heard about a controversial BML Oil and Gas lease auction. On December 19, 2008 he went down to the location to perhaps join with the protesters when he found himself inside the building and asked if he was here to be a bidder. He said yes, they handed him bidding paddle number 70 and despite knowing he did not have the funds to pay he won bids on 22,000 acres of land most of them in the most sensitive environmental areas. Once discovered he was charged federally for fraud carrying a potential 10-year jail sentence.

DeChristopher was at the beginning of his activism when he took this major step. After the event he became more involved then a leader in the Peaceful Uprising movement that preached non violent action often using arts, crafts and acting out scenes to get their message out. His action of disrupting the lease auction had inspired the other members of the group. The dispute in the DeChristopher case had one side stating that his actions were planned He made false statements during a bidding processes that demands punishment. On the other is the argument that this was a spur of the moment incident of civil disobedience. It was a choice of evils and taking this action was better than letting Southern Utah land near community treasures like Arches and Canonylands National Park go to large oils and gas companies.

Directors Beth and George Gage follow this case from the Incident right up to the trial and eventual sentencing in July 2011. The documentary follows Tim as he grows in stature from the initial event to a keynote speech at Power shift 2011 2 months after a guilty verdict at the February 2011 trial and with the sentencing date looming three months into the future. His action may have sparked a review of the  process as incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cancelled the leases on 77 parcels of land in February 2009.

One DeChristopher's initiative was his craiglist add seeking a peoples candidate for congress for Utah's second district. The current congressman Jim Matheson, a democrat in name only was essentially under the control of corporations and special interests. The campaign found Claudia Wright a retired school teach who split the vote at the state convention making it thought to the night of the primary election before loosing to Matheson. Another significant event during the pre-trial period was the April 20, 2010, BP Deep Horizon spill. First of all it provided renewed strength to activists as it showed in an unfathomable scale the level of environmental damage a mega oil company can do to the ocean, wildlife, ecosystems, beaches and communities. It also lead to another postponement of the trial as the appetite waned to try a case disrupting the oils and gas industry.

Two things kept DeChristopher going with the uncertainty of the trial hanging over him.  He was not able to leave the country had to check in with his parole office once a week and the unknown is often harder to deal with than a known fate.  One was his activism and role in Peaceful uprising.  The other his participation in and support from the First Unitarian Church of Utah.

Bidder 70 is a tough look at the potential consequences of activism and civil disobedience. The believers feel that they are contravening unjust laws but they all realize that their actions could lead to arrest, personal restrictions, fines and perhaps even jail time. The activist has to decide whether they are willing act and risk their personal freedom for their cause.  Tim DeChristopher was willing to do so exchanging 21 months of his freedom to save 22,000 acres of beloved unique american landscape. Bidder 70 is a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Bidder 70 | Beth and George Gage | USA | 2012 | 73 Minutes.

Tags: Civil Disobedience, BML, Deep Horizon Spill, Peaceful Uprising, Dept. of the Interior.

Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - Elemental

Kanpur India leather factory, a smokestack spews black smoke into the air inside the workers treat the  leather products as the camera focuses on the drainage pipes taking water out of as the plant always getting darker at every stage as it empties into open waterways in the street then into the River Ganges. The result, a thick layer of dark sludge floating on the top of the river where it meets the shore. Onto the scene walks Rajendra Singh a commissioner with the Ganges River Basin Authority sample are taken showing significant levels of acid, chromium and lead. Singh concludes unless something is done Mother Ganges the source of 60% of the countries drinking supply will be killed.

Eriel Deranger boards a small plane headed home while her talk at a recent conference is recounted. She is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan Band working for the Rainforset Action Network in Edmonton Alberta targeting the development of the Northern Alberta tar sands. Its extraction zone is bigger that Wales and England combined and it takes 4 tonnes of dirt to produce 1 barrel of oil. A mixture of highly toxic chemicals is required to extract the oil.  As Eriel gives her talk the screen is filled with images of the process as Eriel flies overhead. The excavation areas, the multiple buildings,  smokestacks, the mixing process and to mirror the plight of the Ganges drain pipes shooting black water into the local waterways.

Next onto a conference in Hong Kong, China where we meet Inventor Jay Harman a nature enthusiast from an early age. He developed a keen scene on how nature worked and natural elements moved especially spiraling swirling patterns. There are elements of swirling water movement in everything in nature.  At the beach its seashells, in humans its the heart muscles, arteries and inner ear. It's what nurture uses to make thing work and to minimize energies. Harman created a Vortex ring based on this and uses it to create industrial items that are quieter, use less energy and requires significantly less chemical to maintain purity levels.

Directors Gayatri Roshan and Emmanuel Vaughn Lee chose three Echo- Crusaders from different regions of the Commonwealth to be the subjects of their film. The story follows the three as they try to bring change to today's environmental reality. Rajendra Singh goes on a pilgrimage a war of purification where he visits all points along the Ganges in an attempt to stop the damming of the river and get the citizens to respect and not pollute it.  Eriel Deranger organizes protests shows up and Enbrige board meeting shames the Tar Sands development and keystone XL Pipelines financiers to defeat their project. While Jay Harden's inventions draws interest from all over the world from financiers and governments alike looking to support radical projects.

The production is beautifully shot. The scenes along the Ganges with the citizens doing laundry,  bathing and conducting community activity are stunning. The night time shots of cultural events along the river are bright and colourful. Things change as the pilgrimage heads up to the mountains, clothing scenery, landscape roadways.  The opening sweeping shots over the tar sands and the work sites is razor sharp. The smoke billowing out of the local plants and presentation of the busses upon busses of workers heading in and out of the plants bring home the scope of the operation. the highlight of the piece is the underwater work as Jay Harman spends time where he is most comfortable in the sea.  The sea creatures, underwater vegetation,  the richness of the water itself is a highlight of the shoot.

Elemental is a solid production that follows the right number of activists for a ninety-minute presentation. The three subjects have the drive to foster change, bring attention to their causes but in the end could be a bit more structured in their approaches. The overall result for the three is that their effort to reach their main goals is trending in the right direction. Elemental is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Elemental | Gayatri Roshan / Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee | USA| 2012 | 92 Minutes.

Eco - Activists | Ganges River | Pollution | Pilgrimage | Alberta Tar Sands | Keystone XL Pipeline | Vortex Ring | Reduced Energy Consumption.

Friday, November 22, 2013

EUFF 2013 Film Review - Bullhead

Jacky (Mattias Schoenaerts) emerges from his truck and marches up to a cattle rancher. He rough's him up, slaps his face the stands angrily in front of him.  Jacky demands that the rancher use their products when told to, only sell his beef to his Uncle and extorts that the only reason why cattle farmer is not treated worse is because he knew Jacky's dad. The action is proceeded by a long  multi directional tracking shot that effectively sucks the viewer into the nasty world of livestock doping.

The scene shifts to the docks in Zeebrugge, Belgium, where Diederik (Jerone Perceval) and his associates have the back of a semi open thats full of beef Marc DeKuyper (Sam Louwyck) appears taking one package then the remainder of the cargo is transferred to a different tailer for transfer.

The third opening sequence is in Waremme, Belgium a 5 series BMW rolls into the Filippini & Fils garage. The brothers are told to get rid of the vehicle but they notice that it has a bullet hole in the bottom of the rear door frame. News reports spread that the Hormone Mafia have killed a police detective named Daems.  The Filippini's realize that the vehicle in their shop was used for the crime and try to decide what to do to their Flemish cohorts.

Jacky and his group meet with Dedrick, DeKuyper and their gang to do business. Jacky knows there is something wrong with the proposed arrangement he's pacing bouncy, menacing then suddenly leaves the room. Diederik is sent to locate him.  He knows Jacky but is not acknowledged. Then we learn of a horrifying event in Jacky's past to which Diederik was the only witness.

Writer/Director Michael Roskam weaves an intricate plot around the under explored bad side of the beef industry featuring as main players: farmers, cattle ranchers, vets, dealers, gangsters and cops. The plot  cris-crosses Belgium moving back and forth between the French and Flemish sides. The narrative  is based on true events in Belgium sparked by the death of a police officer who was investigating the trade. The script includes several extended dialogue less passages where the actor on screen has to use other tools to express their emotions.

Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis' standout work permeates every frame of the film. The peak of which is the series of solo scenes with Jacky in his private space taking his cocktail of injections and pills related to his life defining event. The shadowing of the scenes and use of natural light as Jacky shadow boxes around the room is impressive. Another strong sequence is the offloading of the beef trailer.  The scene is a night but it has the yellow tinge of incandescent street lighting.  Karakatsanis uses the actors personal shadows and the contours of their clothing to give a clear impression that the attendees are underworld figures that work and live in the margins of Belgian society.  Director Roskam  also has an inclination for shooting clouds. The Production includes a couple of spectacular shots early on in the proceedings.

The casting department made several excellent choices for the supporting characters. Erico Salamone and Philippe Grand Henry as the Filippini brothers Christian and David;  Mike Reus as the enforcer Richter plus child actors Robin Valvekens and David Murgia in the young Jacky and Bruno roles.

Mattias Schoenaerts is remarkable as Jacky Vanmarsenille, the Limburg cattle farmer/pharmacist/ enforcer who's emotional and social development appears to have stopped due to a terrifying event in his youth. He is easily prone to rage, broods, does not speak much and more likely to deliver a head-but than shake hands. Jeroen Perceval as Diederik is his foil, surprisingly cerebral, very cautions and full of his own nervous ticks and hidden thoughts.  The Filippini brothers as noted above are also standouts in the piece their back and forth banter and comments on the Flemish highlight the uneasy relationship between the ethnic divide in Belgium.

Michael R. Roskam has authored a gripping tale exploring the underbelly of the beef industry in Belgium. The film is beautifully shot, chalked full of great performaces and tightly edited. The two lead characters are more that what one would initially expect. Overall Bullhead is a film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Bullhead | Michael R. Roskam |  Belgium | 2011 | 129 Minutes.

Tags: Cattle Ranching | Hormones | Beef | Childhood Trauma | Police Killing | Organized Crime.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

EUFF 2013 Film Review - Love.Net

The online dating industry is a 2 billion dollar business. Many people have Internet access in the palm of their hand and with the prevalence of social networking dating on the net is the next logical step. There are sites for singles, specific ethnic groups and religions groups. Now even sites for married people that are openly looking to have affairs. Online dating has produced marriages, divorces, thefts, stalking, assaults and unfortunately deaths. looks at this world through a section of people in Bulgaria linked by family, friendship or encounters on the Net.

After a high-tech opening featuring many keyboards and individuals in cubicles we meet Emila (Koyna Ruseva) a real estate agent that is looking for fast brief encounters.  The catch phrase on her profile is insatiable, impatient and sexy signing off with next please. Here 14 year old daughter Devora (Lora Cheshmedjieva) is also online posting provocative pictures of herself attracting the attention of much older men that includes one with the screen name Easy Rider who very much wants to meet her. The main driving character of the film is Andrey Bogatev (Zachary Barharov) a reporter for DABND magazine that writing a story on the subject from where we get the title of the film. Andrey's brother Filip (Hristo Shopov) an emergency room doctor is also online having become so accustomed to his wife Mila (Lili Lazarova) that they no longer communicate. All characters are armed with Sony Vaio laptops as they check out their profiles and cruise though a plethora of potential partners.


Director Ilian Djevelekov's production does not comment one way or the other on this disposable method of dating. Writer Andrey does remark during his first encounter with Niki (Dilyana Popova) that it use to take half the night and a trip to a bar to pick up women. Now via a dating site it's done in 30 minutes and you're at her home. The weakness in the narrative is its egalitarian approach and cumbersome attempt to interconnect all of the characters.  There is some good material here and an attempt to focus on Andrey's article, his brother's failing Bogatev marriage and perhaps the story of Emilia and her daughter as a secondary tale would have worked better. However the need for Devora and Filip's son be schoolmates and friends all the way down to a computer hackers dad be a former patient of Filip's gives the impression of trying to hard. Less characters and better editing would also help to cut down the almost two hour runtime for the piece.

The account does lightly skim the topic of internet stalking exploring the relation ship between Dev and an older man touching on what could occur if you give out too much information online as a minor and agree to meet with an internet acquaintance.

The best performances in the film are from Hristo Shopov and Lili Lazarova as Dr. Filip and Mila Bogatev. They have some worthwhile scenes as they ignore each other in the same space then each's personality changes and evolves when the get online. Look for John Lawton former Uriah Heap front man in a supporting role as a 70's musician who's contacted by a young woman Joana (Diana Dobreva) Mila's best friend looking for one of his songs that her dad used to play for her when she was a child. is a mixed effort without any overly strong direction or message. It attempts to speak on a genre with an over abundance of possibilities and appears to have been stuck down by the size of the task. Not to mention the multiple sightings of Sony Vaio laptops. It is not a film that I can recommend.

** out of 4. | Ilian Djevelekov | Bulgaria | 2011| 109 minutes.

Tags: Internet Dating, Pop Culture, Stalking, Sex, Love, Loveless Marriage, Duality,Teenagers.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

EUFF 2013 Film Review - Dream Team 1935

Set in the run up to the Second World War. Dream Team 1935  based on true events tells the story of the first European Basketball championship. The main players are the members of the Latvian team, its coach, his wife, neighbours and the leaders of the Latvian Sports Committee. Basketball was a much different game in the mid thirties. Every possession started with a jump ball there was no inbounds pass, free throws were shot underhand and the players were not specialist. As a sign of the times in Latvia the leading players were either from the University or from the Army Sports Club team.

The brains behind the team was Vlademars Baumanis (Janis Amanis) and excellent tactician and student of the game. He is set with the task of bringing players together from rival squads, molding them into a team and getting them to Geneva for the championship with little money or support. Baumanis' first move is to hire a strength and conditioning coach. The next to practice drills over and over again. The third improvise using any location available to practice; make the uniforms by the hand led his wife Elvira (Inga Aslina) and cut travel and lodging expenses to the bare bones.

Director Andrejs Ekis sets a comfortable pace to the production featuring a soundtrack peppered with swing and big band standards. The film is shot in a straight ahead manner not suffering the mistake of overusing of slow motion sequences or reaction shots that befall many sport movies.

The piece features many stand out scenes that drive the plot. A particular forceful one is Baumanis challenge to get his team to finally break their long standing rivalries forcing them to work together off the court to accomplish a goal. Another piece of Baumanis psychology is the approach he used to get the University Sport top players to join the National team despite being coach for the arch rival Army team.

Costume Designer Natalia Zamahina did wonderful work on this project. Starting with the look and material of the players uniforms continuing with the players' formal attire especially the wardrobe of the Swiss team and concluding with the casts regular daily attire. A special mention has to go to the hats. Just about everyone wore one at this time and Zamahina produced a multitude of different versions that spanned the era.

Production designers Martins Milbrets and Neils Matiss were the other main contributors that recreated the time.  Their initial stand out piece is the military hanger that is transformed into a basketball court for the opening game in the film between University Sport and the Army team followed by the intricate detail of the train that team travel on first to Lithuania and then on to Geneva. The last and most spectacular is the Sports centre in Geneva the host site of the 1935 Championship.

Janis Amanis gives an energetic and relentless performance as Valdermars Beaumis the coach, leader and vision behind the team. Inga Alsina is sturdy as his wife who is very supportive willing to do anything to help not giving up on the dream even when her husband begins to weaken when faced with a mountain of obstacles. The players on the team fall into their traditional roles with no one performance rising above the other.  The group to watch are from the network of friends and neighbours that orbit the Beaumis home some times criticizing but in the end responding when called upon.

Aigars Garaba has produced a very watchable film on a fresh topic from a nation with a burgeoning film industry. The narrative of an underdog overachiever is always attractive and the performances are on balance solid. The costume, production and prop departments skillfully bring the viewer to in to the mid thirties. The film continually emphasizes that proper preparation will lead to a successful outcome each and every time. The capsules explaining the postscipt of each member of the troupe is a sobering touch highlighting how fast ones fate can change. Dream Team 1935 is a film I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Dream Team 1935 | Aigars Garaba | Latvia/ Switzerland  | 2012| 120 Minutes.

Tags: Sports Firsts, European Basketball, 1935 Events, Innovation, Bureaucracy, Determination.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

EUFF 2013 Film Review - Kuma

Wedding day in a small Turkish village Ayse (Begum Akkaya) is about to be married and leave her village to head to Vienna. Her betrothed Hasan (Murathan Muslu) is reveling amongst the men when Ayse emerges in traditional attire to complete the ceremony. The next day the family packs up to head back to Austria. Ayse says her goodbyes to her family and as they pull away amongst the stone buildings the local kids chase after the vehicle down the dirt road.

Once back in the family apartment in Vienna the truth behind the marriage is revealed. Ayse is to be second wife (Kuma) of family patriarch Mustafa (Vedat Erincin). Hasan his second son played groom in order to bring Ayse into Austria. They family do not reveal the truth to community or extended relatives. The arrangement leads to an first night for Ayse as one by one the family leaves the living room including Mustafa's wife and family matriarch Fatima (Nihal Koldas) leaving Ayse and Mustafa alone for the first time.

Director Umut Dag brings to the screen an intimate look at the inner workings of a Turkish Austrian family. The roles of the females and males are strictly defined. The family follows Sharia law and the acceptance of these roles is out of the ordinary in western society. Fatima is the most welcoming to the arrival of Ayse. She is having health concerns undergoing chemo therapy and sees Ayse as her replacement that she can teach how to take care of her family before she's gone.

The drawback of the film is the way that it was shot. Cinematographer Carsten Thiele had no independent ideas or style for the feature. It's either a lack of vision in the shooting or the writing area but and over abundance of scenes end with not transition and just the standard fade to black.  The piece only had two notable scene shifts one when the family attend a funeral beginning with a small patch of flowering grass plants then expanding to an overhead shot of the complete field showing the men surrounding the grave site while the women huddled a distance away. The second occurs when Ayse sinks to the ground in a hallway after receiving devastating news one evening. When she rises from the floor it's morning of the next day.

Costume Designer Cinzai Cioffi did a great job creating the traditional turkish outfits. The bride's dress at the wedding featured the customary fabrics, woven precious metals and lace outlines. The young males were well represented in their groomsmen attire. The red scarf accenting Hasan's outfit stood out to signify that he was the groom. The wardrobe of the female characters rings authentic throughout the piece.  When friends and family meet the couple the visiting females are adorned in heavy gold fabrics and colourful Hijab's. Even the scarfs that the children where at home are well appointed.  The soundtrack features established Turkish pieces. The wind instruments and drums pierce over the voices at the wedding ceremony. A single guitar plays as Ayse leaves her village to head to Vienna.

The strength of the film is the acting by the female characters. Nihal Koldas is wonderful as the family matriarch Fatima. She is the most accepting of her husbands second wife and continues to support her when events do not unfold as planned. Begum Akkaya is solid as Ayse the Kuma. Her character grows from the timid village girl to mother/auntie and a main contributor to the family. Dilara Karabayir  performs well as the middle daughter Nurcan who is most upset at Ayse at the beginning but helps her to learn German and turns out to be her main defender at a critical point in the film.

Ulmut Dag presents a thought-provoking story on an intriguing topic. The film has many notable performances but in the end it seems like Dag could have done more with the material. The failing of this movie is on the production side. On balance it is not a film that I can recommend.

** Out of 4.

Kuma | Ulmut Dag | Austria | 2012| 93 Minutes.

Polygamy, Religion, Affair, Cancer, Islamic Laws, Village Life, Transplanted Community.

Friday, November 15, 2013

EUFF 2013 Film Review - oh Boy

Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling) cannot stick to anything or with anyone for an extended period of time. The film opens with Niko at his girlfriend Elli's place in the early morning hours. He insist that he has to leave because he has appointments but it's quite obvious he doesn't plus he has no real excuse why he cannot return that evening. She offers to make him coffee but he claims that he has a million things to do.  The failure to obtain a coffee is the first of the two running bits thought the film. The other being his constant search for a light for a cigarette.

The story moves forward an undisclosed period of time Niko is moving into a new place, his girlfriend is reduced to a series of photos in a box. He has no furniture and a new nosy upstairs neighbour. While lounging around his new place he realizes that he is late for an appointment. He rushes to an office building where he meets with a government official who has Niko driving future in his hands. The meeting does not go well thus starting a series of disappointing episodes that play out over the course of the day.

First time director Jan Ole Gerster delivers a clean linear story to the screen. It's an account of a mid twenties loafer that wanders in no particular direction around Berlin because he can. He is keenly aware that if he gets into any real trouble he can always go to his parents to bail himself out. The tale includes many appealing characters that Niko meets in is travels. Amongst them is his friend Matze (Marc Hosemann) who is an actor that was top of his craft in acting school but is working in advertising as no role he is offered is worthy of is talent. Julika Hoffman (Friederike Kempter) a classmate from grade school who he used to make fun of because of her weight in and is now a dancer and performance artist. Perhaps the best encounters are with two senior citizens; Frau Baumann the grandmother of Matze drug contact and an old man that he meets in the bar at the end of his long nightmarish day.

The presentation is in black and white and features many compelling shooting choices. The opening scene with Niko and Elli is introduces with a shot from outside the doorway of her room.  The shooting angle emphasizes the dark shadows on the wall leading to the room and captures the morning light coming in through the drapes and under the bed. The film is mainly conversational and most of these scenes are a two camera shot with a camera fixed behind each actor on the screen.  The black and white environment really brings out the shadows on the actors faces, under the folds of clothing and the quiet parts of the frame.

Cinematographer Phillipp Kirsamer took full advantage of the black and white environment.
The film is beautifully shot with a crisp lens. Kirasmer uses a lot of reflections in his work. Niko reflection in a mirror in is bathroom, the cityscape passing by reversed on the passenger door glass of Matze's car and off the large windows on the patio at his father's golf club. Another notable section of Kirsamer's work is in the bar scene where Niko has a conversation with the old man. The understated lighting is pleasing to the eye and the smoke from Niko's cigarette headed up to the ceiling lights is reminiscent of a 1940's film. The quintessential shooting sequence is a passage when night turns to day in the city. It's a series of quick cuts between landmarks backed by piano showing the stillness of Berlin at dawn.

The musical passages are mainly in two genres jazz and classical. Jazz notes form the background of Niko's first scene with Elli and the bar scene with the old man while classical piano is prominent as Niko rides though town with Matze at night. The piano is also the background music in Niko encounter with Ms. Baumann as she lets him try her reclining chair in the living room. There is even a bit of dixieland as late afternoon in Berlin turns to early evening.

Tom Schilling is impressive as the rudderless Niko Fischer. He is in every scene in the film and very comfortable in the role as a University dropout that is in no particular hurry to decide what to do next. Marc Hosemann is strong as his unconformist friend Matze. Look for Ulrich Noethen as Niko dad Walter Fischer who delivers a memorable performance in a small role telling Niko that that best thing he can do for him is nothing more as he shuts off the money tap. Friederike Kempter is formidable as Julika; Niko grade school classmate that was picked on as a little girl, transformed herself but still fraying on the edges of her personality.

oh Boy is a superb first effort from and emerging filmmaker. As writer director Gerster has presented a piece with a strong narrative full of solid characters. There is no heady theme or message to take with you as you leave the theatre. It's an enjoyable story and a film that I strongly recommend.

*** 1/2 out of 4.

oh Boy | Jan Ole Gerster | Germany | 2012 | 83 Minutes.

Twenty-somethings, Berlin, Quitter, Bullying, Redemption, Tough Love, Performance Art, Film Set, Coffee, Cigarettes, Graffiti.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reel Asian 2013 Film Review - Linsanity

Jeremy Lin holds the record for points per game and assist for the first nine games as a starter n NBA history. He also holds the record for most points in a single game over that span putting up 38 opposite Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. How could a player with such talent have gone undrafted  out of college and only been offered on division one scholarship after leading his high school team to the California State Championship? Directors Evan Leong's Linsanity tells the story.

Evan Leong first heard about Jeremy Lin while Lin was at Harvard. As an Asian-American with hoop dreams of his own he was intrigued with the stories of an Asian American setting records in the Ivy league along with early whispers that Lin might have the talent to play in the NBA. Leong headed to Harvard to meet with Lin at first hopeful that he could do some short interviews that he would post onto you tube but after a successful kickstarter campaign that raised $117,000 he was able to shoot this documentary.

Leong shoots Lin's career with the aid of footage from many different sources. Jeremy's dad had plenty of home videos which were incorporated into the film. The recordings showed Jeremy in his early days playing at the local YMCA sinking shots as a 6 year old. Leong used local television and school archival footage for Lin's Palo Alto high school games. At of Harvard Leong was personally on scene and could use his own film roll. After Lin's free agent signing with Golden State and stint in the Developmental league the NBA were on board with the project featuring a Taiwanese - American with NBA potential.  The league sent crews to film Lin's Reno Bighorns D-league games even fitting him with a microphone during game action.

The crux of the story is that of an athlete that does not fit the mold of what is expected in a sport getting one opportunity to play from youth league to High School to College and beyond and taking that solid chance, succeeding only to have to prove himself again at each level. It's a true underdog story that just about everyone can understand having been in that position at some point in their lives trying to complete a task or achieve a goal.

A key element in Jeremy Lin's life is his faith. It's what got him through is darkest days when he was down in the D-league then cut by Golden State followed by a second cut a few days later by the Houston Rockets on Christmas Day. Lin was on the verge of being out of the sport until his chance to start on February 4, 2012, for the New York Knicks vs. the New Jersey Nets starting Linsanity. The second rung on Lin's tote board is family. He is the middle of three basketball playing brothers born in California to Taiwanese parents and Chinese grandparents.  His family was always supportive even during his attempts as a youth to master piano. One of the funniest sequences in the film is the family video of Lin playing the one piece that he learned on the piano year after year at his piano recital.

Linsanity is a rousing story about a Northern California kid from a different demographic that has made it in the NBA.  The film is filled with background and inside information from Lin including the exchange he had Knick coach D'Antoni asking him if he should ship his car out from California to which D'Antoni responded slowly I'm not so sure. The fact that he was sleeping on Knick teammate Landry Field's couch which was no more that a glorified love-seat. To his struggles to enter the players entrance at Madison Square Garden as security thought he might be a trainer at best. The message of the film is to never give up, keep on trying and everyone gets knocked down the key is what you do when you get back up.

*** out of 4.

Linsanity | Evan Leong | U.S.A. | 2013 | 89 Minutes.

Palo Alto, Taiwan, China, Stereotypes, 2010 NBA Draft, D-League, Faith, Family, Basketball.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reel Asian 2013 Film Review - Tales From The Dark 1

Simon Yam wanted to tell a ghost story but with a Hong Kong feel. He did not want an ultra violent Japanese or Korean horror film. He wanted nice ghosts in his film. The result was Stolen Goods the first of three stories in this feature. The film focuses on the poor people in Hong Kong.  The former British colony is very expensive. The poor have less and less as the cost continue to rise.  The rich have more than enough but continue to want more. Yam represents the rich with a ghosts named Boss Lee who's constant refrain is I'm so full but continues to shove fresh food into his mouth Yam's common man character Kwan lives in an apartment that is only large enough for a single bed. His main companions are two ratty dolls one of which is a ghost that hovers in his space as he rants and raves.

For Simon Yam's first feature he has chosen to discuss the social inequalities in his homeland. The gap continues to grow between the rich and the poor leading a large part of the population to be marginalized. Yam shows that that every growing group may become desperate. They are willing to work hard but may resort to actions that will be noticed by the elite.

The second film A Word in the Palm is more of a comedy than a scary movie. Master Ho (Tony Leung) is a palm reader who has decided to heed the advise of his wife and shut down his shop. The fact that he is able to see ghosts has put a strain on his relationship with his her and his son.  His wife is also not happy with his relationship with Lan (Kelly Chen) the owner of a spiritual crystals store who sports special contacts that reputedly help to see ghosts. On this last day he is visited by a high school swim coach and his wife. Ms. Cheung has recently felt a presence near hear along with the feeling of dampness and the ocean. Master Ho sends them to the crystal store as their case will take some work and he is closing down. Next Fai is visited by the ghost in question a young swimmer on the coaches team Chan Siu-ting. Master Ho and Lan team up to find out about Siu-ting's background to determine the steps needed to lead the spirit into the next world.

The last segment  of the production Jing Zhe is both violent and intense. It centres on a roadside villain basher named Chu (Siu Yam-Yam). Customers come to her street corner operation, provide pictures of the targets of their anger and she hits them with a shoe like tool chanting horrible events and consequence that will befall the target and their family. On occasion customers will feel that Chu is not going far enough and take the tool to beat the pictures themselves. Toward the end of her night a young girl appears requesting her services.  The girl has four targets 3 women and a man. Reluctant at first Chu agrees to see her. The girl gets into a trance like state as she takes the tool and then another item from Chu and beats the targets with increasing frantic pace leading to catastrophic consequences for the targets that appear in real time on screen.

The skills of the makeup team were definitely on display in all three segments of the film. Notable was the work done on the fat ghost in the Simon Yam contribution along with the presentation of the twins. The waterlogged look of Siu-ting in the second feature was very convincing and as were the visual effects on her eyes. The makeup on the girl in the third piece was understated but effective.

Tales From the Dark 1 is a gripping anthology that has powerful themes and pivotal moments. It is not ultra violent the first two features actually have some funny moments and at their peaks barley break into the realm of horror. The Fruit Chan feature is correctly placed as the anchor hitting many of the right horror notes as a delicious revenge piece. The direction is more psychological than psychotic and as an overall work it's a film I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Tales From The Dark 1 | Simon Yam / Lee Chi-nagi / Fruit Chan | Hong Kong | 2013| 112 minutes.

Hong Kong, Horror, Fantasy, Excess, Gluttony, Poverty, Spirit World, Revenge.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reel Asian 2013 Film Review - Without Shepherds

Pakistan is a very misunderstood country.  Historically it is the birthplace of many significant ancient societies and a centre for art and culture. Currently it is viewed as a very dangerous place subject to suicide bombings and drone strikes and an apparent safe haven for terrorists. It's viewed as acting like Western ally when its time to collect aid then switches to a rogue state on other occasions.

It's under this setting that director Cary McClelland and co-director/cinematographer Imran Babur embarked on a two-year project to follow six Pakistanis from different walks of life to obtain each participant's individual vision of the country and an impression of the country as a whole.

The film begins by displaying a map of Pakistan on screen a device that is used throughout the film to situate the players. The map shows where Pakistan was cut out from colonial India and its other neighbours Iran to the West, Afghanistan to the North and China to the East. Next we meet truck driver Abdullah Khan who is at a Northern town looking to pick up a load. He has a heated discussion with his suppliers about the nature and size of the load not being the same as promised. We meet model Vaneeza Ahmad as she is being interviewed for television. The male interviewer is obviously uncomfortable with her looks, success and presence however Vaneeza that effect what she has to say. Journalist Labia Yousafzai is introduced while touring a northern refugee camps speaking to women and families learning their stories of escape from Afghanistan. Musician Arieb Azhar serves as the narrator of the film. He has lived a third of his life outside of Pakistan including 13 years in Croatia.

The most recognizable face and name in the production is cricket legend turn politician Imran Khan. He felt obliged to become involved politically after Musharraf seized power. Khan has an energy that the people will follow. His main refrain at his rallies is: What is the meaning of Pakistan? Answer: There is no God but God. Khan sees Musharraf as a fraud and the only way forward for the country is to fight for democracy. He also senses hypocrisy from the West. The want democracy in Iran and forced out Saddam Hussein but in Pakistan they are perfectly willing to work with Musharraf who took power by force.  The last member of the group that McClelland follows is Mohammed Ibrahim a student who while estranged from his family took up with the Mujahideen fighters. At the time they filled a void in his life providing friendship and guidance.

The production team follows the activities of the group around the country. The camera is along for the ride as Abdullah Khan takes his cargo in his elaborately decorated truck from the North end of the country to the South. He always stops to take time out to pray as he traverses his route.  He commands respect when he is behind the wheel of the truck but laments that he is not treated well by is fellow citizens when he is not.

Imran Khan is seen a various rallies for the PTI Party and at home with is family. A touching sequence is his description of the fear that  his older son has for his safety using the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as a reference point. Imran was jailed when he first started on his political course. As he describes it by the same people that cheered him when he led Pakistan to their first every Cricket defeat of India. He noticed that there were many good people in jail and the murders and thieves who should be in jail were running the government. Khan sees no difference between the current ruler Zardari and Musharraf proclaiming that they are both cut from the same cloth.

One of the top exchanges in the film comes between Vaneeza and the factor that is producing her designs. The factory heads explanation for why the colours are running is that the women don't know how to wash properly. He proceeds to demonstrate a method that no one would ever do. Vaneeza comments that this is an example of the problem with the country. Everyone is only committed to do the minimum to get by.

The editing team lead by Fasil Azam did excellent work on the film. Key examples are Laiba Yousafzai's interview with a young boy who is being sent back to Afghanistan. He remarks that if there is no school close by he will follow in his father who was martyred in the war's footsteps. The boys tears are closely followed by Mohammed Ibrihim with his face buried in his hands crying as he discusses the reasons why he left the Mujahid and what he has considered doing given his current state of mind.  Another great transition is from the Khan family heading for a hike on a lush green trail to Ibrihim and a friend hiking in the narrow passages in the high desert. Ibrihim's friend recites the theme behind the title of the film. Animals in these hills are often without shepherds they are allowed to roam free and no matter how far they go they will always come home by dusk.  That freedom is also the essence behind Imran Khan God is God refrain.

Without Shepherds is a ground level look at today's Pakistan thorough 6 very different set of eyes. It's a fascinating study of a Country born out of colonialism and virtually in a constant state of conflict with its neighbours ever since. But its citizens see a lot of good and potential in the State if one is willing to stand up and fight for it. Unfortunately many residence see different avenues to pursue the goal or worse do nothing allowing the status quo to continue.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Without Shepherds | Cary Mclelland / Imran Babur | U.S.A. / Pakistan | 2013 | 89 Minutes.

2008, Transition, PTI Party, Cross Country Travel, Religion, God, Freedom, Mujahideen, Mujahid, refugees, Taliban, Terrorism.

Reel Asian 2013 Film Review - Evangelion 3.0

Evangelion 3.0 is the third installment of the Rebuild of Evangelion series. The episode starts in earth's orbit. Askura Langley Shikinami is left on her own in Eva Unit 2 to battle the Steele drones released from Eva Unit 1 piloted by an unconscious Shinji Ikari. Unit 1 responds independently to destroy the drones before returning with Askura to earth.

Under the order of WILLIE Colonel Misato Kastsurgi Shinji is revived and fitted with an explosive collar that will go off by the colonel's hand if Shinji pilots another Eva. Confused by his treatment under the supervision of  his former allies Shinji demands an explanation only to learn that he has been suspended for 14 years in Eva Unit 1. Following another Drone attack Rei Ayanami arrives in seperate Eva unit rescuing Shinji before the WILLIE crew can react to detonate the choker taking him to NERV headquarters and its commander his father Gendo Ikari.

Hideaki Anno's writing of the opening sequence is chaotic and challenging to follow at best. It's chalked full of technical terms for the ships, maneuvers and defensive and offensive capabilities that the viewer is easily lost. If this is the viewers first experience with the series there are no clues to decipher who are the good guys and why each side is fighting the other. The best part of the opening portion of the scrip is Shingi's undefined role in the events that have taken place and the unexplained reason behind the cold treatment by his former colleagues.

The production does improve when the narrative focuses on NERV Headquarters and the interactions between Shinji, Kaworu Nagisa, Rei Ayanami and his father Gendo. The interplay between Shinji and Kaworu is very entertaining and the exchanges between the two are a highlight of the film.

The visuals are very well done especially the presentation of the ruins of NERV Headquarters full of  jagged edges and prickly points dominated by blood red structures giving the appearance of a location that is constantly suffering the effects of repeated volcanic eruptions. The Evas and the fleet's other ships are expertly crafted. Another superior visual is the WILLE fleet traveling through space led by Colonel Katsuragi at the helm of the Wunder. 

Production General Manager Anno assembled a strong group of actors to voice the characters. The standout of the ensemble is Yuko Miyamura voicing the overly aggressive Asuka Shikinami. Miyamura rises to the challenge of the emotionally intense Asuka who verbally abuses both living and inanimate objects during battle and is always looking to react physically to solve a problem. Fumihiko Tachini is notable at Shingi's father Gendo pulling the strings from his perch at NERV headquarters. Akira Ishida is also strong as Kaworu Nagisa in his role to gain Shingi's trust showing that the can work together first side by side on the piano then as a team in an Eva Unit.

The sound department led by Haruka Matsushita did their job on this feature.  Their efforts during the battle scenes are remarkable. Their work complements the visuals of several catastrophic events on screen. However the peak of their contribution to the piece has to be in the first battle sequence when Asuka battles the drones in her attempt to secure Shinji in Eva Unit1.

Evangelion 3.0  is a film that I would recommend to fans of the original television series and Anime fans in general. The opening sequence goes too far in depth on the minutia of the mechanics but the story builds on the deck of the lead WILLE vessel and grows when the action shifts to NERV.  The plot does suffer from middle instalment malaise as in the end its purpose is to set the tale up for the final episode. The goal of the production was to introduce the Neon Geneis Evangelion series to a wider audience that were not familiar with the television series.  With the two prior titles and this film that includes a hint towards the finally at the end the production team have hit their goal.

*** out of 4.

Evangelion 3.0 | Hidaeki Anno,Mahiro Maeda, Masauki, Kazuya Tsrumaki | Japan | 2012 | 96 Minutes.

Japanese, Anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, tetralogy, Post Apocalyptic world, fantasy, science fiction.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reel Asian 2013 Film Review - Bombay Talkies

Commissioned to celebrate 100 years of Indian Cinema Bombay Talkies is divided into four short films by a roster of India's leading directors Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kasyap.

The Johar offering begins with a bang. A young gay man storms into his parents house looking for his father pulling him out of is bed and throwing him against a wall screaming that he is a homosexual and not a eunuch. The young man Avinash (Saqib Saleem) goes to intern at gossip magazine working closely with the editor Gayatri played by Bollywood superstar (Rani Mukerji). Gayatri spends her days emerged in salacious details of celebrities lives but has none of that at home in stuck in a sterile marriage to her television presenter Husband Dev (Randeep Hooda). Avinash comes to dinner at their home on his birthday night turning their uneventful home life on its side. A highlight is the angelic singing of old Hindi songs by a young beggar girl (Alisha Shaikh) perched on a bridge situated over a set of train tracks.

The best of the four shorts is the Dibakar piece that features Nawazuddin Siddiqui who was a standout in The Lunchbox that played at this years Toronto International Film Festival.  Siddiqui plays Purandar who is jobless, sleeps on the balcony of his small home and has a bedridden daughter. He goes out to find work but arrives late at the location to discover that the posting is already filled. On the way home he is drafted into a film as a featured extra, gains some wisdom and a one on one encounter with an action star. Purandar now new material to tell is daughter in and engrossing pantomime breaking the repetitiveness of the usual bedtime story routine.

The other two shorts are uneven and uneventful, the Akhtar one by the only female director in the group focuses on gender issues. A father (Ranvir Shorey) will not fund his daughter Kavya (Khushi Dubey) school history trip. Instead he pays for soccer training for his disinterested slight son Vijay (Naman Jain) who is obsessed with Katrina Kaif and would rather dance than play sports. The two siblings work together to ensure that each gets what they really want.

The Kasyap entry focuses on the cult of celebrity. Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) is sent from his small town of Allahabad to Mumbai by his father to ask legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan to take a bite of Vijay's mothers Murabba (preserved fruit) believing his illness will be cured if he takes the next bite. Vijay's father had done the same venturing to the City to have superstar actor Dilip Kumar lick from a jar of honey on his father's behalf. Vijay ends up begging for entry over a series of days at the gate of Bachchan home ending up having to improvise as his father did a generation before.

The big dance number at the end features a slew of Bollywood legends singing the theme song of the film amongst clips from Bollywood films over the last 10 decades. The theme of the project is the effect that cinema has had over the years on the common man.  In the end the offering is mixed and not a film that I can recommend in it's entirety.

**1/2 out of 4.

Bombay Talkies | Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar  Anurag Kashyap India | 2013| 128 Minutes.

100 years of Indian Cinema, Bollywood, Legendary Actors, Homophobia, Quest, Celebrity Worship. Sexism.