Friday, October 31, 2014

imagineNATIVE Film Festival Film Review - Among Ravens

Joey (Johnny Sequoyah) is seated in the passenger seat of her mother Wendy's (Amy Smart) jeep as they head to their lakefront house for Fourth of July weekend.  10 year old Joey clutches her little bird book and begins to tell the story of the Raven. It was the most beautiful bird as legend has it but due to its arrogance and attitude it was stripped of it's most beautiful colours and left only with black. Joey pronounces Ravens as evil and that her family is made up of a group of Ravens.

Shortly thereafter we meet the rest of her family and mother's friends. Ellis her mother's second husband who Joey refers to as provider daddy who doesn't work and relies on his trust fund. Her dad Saul (played by co director Russel Friedenberg) a best settling author with billboard around town announcing his new book. Saul's new wife Emma (Victoria Smurfit) plus stuck in the 60's nomad Hal and his new 20 something girlfriend Saturn.

Into the setting wonders Chad (Will McCormack) a friend of Fourth of July weekend regular Jay who wants to borrow Chad's truck and leaving him at the country house. Right off the bat it's evident that Chad has a mental issue. He is also obsessed with birds and taking nature photographs which leads him to be fast friends with Joey.

The directors Frienderberg and Randy Redroad have made an attempt at the annual weekend outing with a quirky interloper the that does not work. The dialogue is pedestrian, characters stereotypical and climatic twists telegraphed from the opening moments of the film.

Cinematographer  Darren Genet does admirable work capturing the big sky and lush landscapes of McCall, Idaho. The presentations of hawks soaring though the air and vast still lakes backed by majestic mountains and trees are the highlights of the film.

In the end the film fails as just about all the characters are unlikeable leaving the audience with no one to identify with or root for with co director and writer Russel Friendenberg being the worst of the lot. The production attempts to bring across the point that the naive and forthright are too fragile for this world but the point is lost in the muddle of plain words and stale actions of the cast.  Family and friends coming together for an annual weekend is a recurring subject in film. Among Ravens ventures into the genre without success.

* 1/2 out of 4.

Among Ravens | Russell Friedenberg /Randy Redroad | U.S.A. | 2014|  103 Minutes.

Tags; Vacation Home | 4th of July Weekend | Trust Fund | Idaho | Mental Illness | Birding.

imagineNATIVE Film Festival Film Review - Trick or Treaty?

Treaty 9 or the James Bay Treaty is the central subject of Alanis Obomsawin new Documentary film Trick or Treaty? The government of Canada were represented by Duncan C. Scott and Samuel Stewart. Daniel G. MacMartin represented the Province of Ontario.  The northern first nations communities each appointed a leader at each stop of the commissioner's tour to sign on behalf of their community.

The controversy lies in the fact that there are two versions of the treaty the oral and the written. In the written document key words seed, surrender, release and forever are present.  The Elders argue that their grandfathers and great grandfathers were given a different message orally. They heard in their discussions that the treaty was to represent a sharing of the land and resources.  The Native communities had the right to hunt, trap and fish as they always had and were not restricted to territory.  They also understood that if there were to be new developments, mines, forestry or housing that both sides had to agree to and share in these projects.

Obomsawin film focuses on the Ojibway and Cree bands. A key figure in the piece is Stan Louttit a Cree leader from Moose Factory.  He brings his interpretation of the treaty as a document of sharing and co-operation first to all of the Northern communities all the while pushing for the oral version to be upheld. Next he plans to bring his vision of the treaty to all Canadians.  Louttit's grandfather a mixed blood Scottish and Mushkegowuk signed the 1905 treaty.

Another key figure in the piece is Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and her hunger strike that she vowed to end only when Prime Minister Harper and the Governor General would agree to a meeting with First Nation leaders.  Spence believed that the Governor General should be at the meeting as Govern General Earl Grey was directly involved in the 1905 negotiations. Spences action laid the groundwork for the Idle No More Movement to stop the perceived denial of treaty Rights in the contents of government bills C-45 and C 30 affecting forest and waterways.  Director Obomsawin captures an early talk with the media on Turtle Island and follows Spence right up to her arranged meeting with Prime Minister Harper.

A third event is the March of the Youth 4 Lakes Walkers who went on 10 weeks 2000 kilometre journey from Manitoba to Ottawa inspired by Chief Spence to bring attention to pollution in the Nations waterways.  The march is important as it was a youth movement a sign of the next generation being active. Especially given the despondency and very high suicide rate for Native youth.

The film also touches on a major dark period in Native:Government relations the era of residential schooling. Starting in 1920 Commissioner Scott, now head of Indian affairs made it mandatory for all Native children between the ages of 7 and 15 to attend a residential school. Scott was quoted that the plan would get rid of the Indian Problem. A policy to continue until all Indians were absorbed into the body politic ceasing the need for an Indian department.

Trick or Treaty? is an in-depth look at First Nations:Government relations. The difference in each sides approach is  found in their core of their make up. Natives history is not written but based in stories passed down from generation to generation. While on the Canadian Government side is the British tradition of laws and books. The film is historically significant and presents both sides of the issue that will spark further debate.

*** Out of 4.

Trick or Treaty | Alanis Obomsawin | Canada | 2014 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Treaty 9, Residential Schools, Cree, Ojibway, Moose Factory, Idle No More, James Bay.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reel Indie Film Fest Review - Born To Ruin

On Day 16 of recording four members of the Toronto based indie band Wildlife are seated in a room with keyboard player Tim Daugulis serving as the focus of attention. Quickly its evident that the film has started in the middle of an intervention. Dauglulis has the habit of getting blind drunk, falling down and hurting himself.  He knows it, doesn't care about himself, but does care if it effects the relationship with the band. The other three band member in the room singer, guitar player and songwriter Dean Povinsky, co-song writer and bass player Derek Bosomworth and drummer Dwayne Christie all drinkers themselves just want him to be a bit more careful. Derek adds that he himself is the only one that has drank every night since they arrived in Connecticut to record their sophomore album On the Heart at Tarquin Studios. The only band member not present is lead guitarist Graham Plant who is older than the other members and the one that has the most problem with Tim's behaviour.

The scene then shifts back in time to Toronto for the pack up and departure to the States by the band to recored their pivotal sophomore album. The plan for this album is to show that Wildlife has matured as they reflect on their first album that featured songs about partying and having a good time. They have a unique opportunity to work with renewed producer Peter Katis who has worked with the likes of The National and Tokyo Police Club. They also have scheduled a short session with Gus Van Go known of his hands on approach and sports the Stills, Hollerado and the Trews in his stable.

Director Brendan McCarney followed the band for three months to make the film. Each band member gets their moment to shine and the others give their comments on their mates.  The core four have been together for 6 years while keyboardist Daugulis has been in Wildlife for three. McCarney uses a lot of hand held shots for the project. Days are spent perched on the putrid green couch in Katis' converted house studio listening to track and going over the smallest passages in a song. Guitarist Graham Plant is first on the hot seat as he tries to get a passage correct on a tune as the rest of the band looks on from the green eyesore. Next up is drummer Christie attempting to get the beat right in a two person session with bassist Bosomworth who eventually leaves Christie on his own to figure it out.

Just as the band gets used to and the film begins to saturate with the mechanics of Katis' studio its time to shift to Brooklyn. Where Gus van Go provides an outside perspective as he comments that there is not really one leader wondering aloud if a democratic approach is really the best way to run a band. Its also in Brooklyn where Daugulis realizes as the sessions are ending that he has not contributed to the album.  Dean and Derek have recorded the keyboard parts, he hasn't had any input in the songs, plus he hasn't spoke up in any of the in studio discussion. With reality hitting him squarely in the face Daugulis embarks on a one person on camera beer shotguning session that basically signals his departure from Wildlife.

Born to Ruin is an appealing look at the record recording process.  It also benefits from the fact that the band used two producers allowing for a comparison of van Go and Katis' styles. It's rewarding to see the creative process up close. The nuances of each individual instruments recording technique  including Derek Povinsky vocals to be pieced together later to create a finished song. For those who like a behind the scenes look at the making of an album Born to Ruin is worth a look.

***  Out of 4.

Born to Ruin | Brendan McCarney | Canada / U.S.A. | 2014 | 79 Minutes.

Tags: Wildlife, Indie Rock, Peter Katis,  Tarquin Studios, Bridgeport Connecticut, Gus van Go, Williamsburg Brooklyn, Intervention.

Reel Indie Film Festival Review - No Land's Song

September 19, 2013 is the date when the first concert featuring a female solo singer in Iran took place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. No Land's Song recounts how the concert came to the stage lead by the driven and determined Sarah Najafi. From a smiling Sarah Najafi on stage the scene jumps back two and a half years to Sarah discussing with some female friends the times before the revolution focusing on classic Iranian female soloist from the two glory ages of the 1920's and 1960's.  Next she heads to the Ministry of Culture and the Department of Music for her first encounter with the State in the film.

Director Ayat Najafi (Sarah's brother) presents this first and all encounters with the State in a very effective manner. They are all audio only featuring a completely black screen with the subtitles popping up as the dialogue fills the theatre. This format forces the viewer to focus on the dialogue gaining an insight to the slow prodding and often reversing pace of the State.

Sarah decides that the best way to pursue her goal is to make the concert a two country effort. Her reasoning that the State would be more apt to shut down an Iranian only event but not want to risk international attention in stopping or angering foreign performers. To do so she enlist Elise Caron and several of her Paris based musician colleagues.

The production boldly points out the artistic history of Iran. Showing the Tehran Theatre with flashbacks to its glory in contrast to its modern use as a big vast open storage facility for large spools of electric wiring. The other historic building featured is the Grand Hotel where 1920's singing icon Qqmar gave her first concert. The building, now a shadow of its former elegance littered with broken windowpanes and overgrown foliage brings a sadness over Sarah as she tours the courtyard. Another educational look into the past occurs when Sarah visits a tea house in the centre of town. Sarah discusses with the seasoned men in the building life in the sixties in the area.  They remember fondly the music clubs formally on the block, women singing freely, drinks to be had by all and late nights out revelling.

Perhaps the most telling and frustrating exchanges in the film are between Sarah and a local religious leader. Sarah appears respectfully with her hijab properly in place, speaks rationally as to why she wants to put on the concert looking for support. The response she gets includes various phrases to do with women being tender and men getting too excited in their presence and if this concert goes on men will go out of control leading to dire consequences. The reaction is not that surprising as local musician lair comments that this is a society that discourages women from speaking to strange men.

No Land's Song is an engaging look at a compelling subject. The film manages to keep and build suspense on Sarah success eventhough the opening scene shows that her project made it to the stage.
It's a good study on how to get a diffucult goal accomplished, completing it  may lead working both inside and outside the system.  It is a film I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

No Man's Land | Ayat Najafi| Germany/France/Iran | 2014 | 93 Minutes.

Tags; Documentary, Islamic Law, Ministry of Culture,1979 Iranian Revolution, Music, Female Soloist, Activism, Hijab.

Reel Indie Film Festival Review - Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory

The first nursing home resident we see on screen is Henry.  He is 94 years old, withdrawn and curled up in a small section his chair.  Dan Cohen a retired social worker turned Music Therapy pioneer puts a set of headphones with an iPod mini attached over Henry's ears causing him to steadily come to life as the music of his personal playlist takes him back to the best events of his younger years. Starting out as a one day project. Alive Inside The Story of Music and Memory takes director Michael Rossato- Bennett around the United States following Dan Cohen as he attempts to bring music to patients with Alzheimer's in retirement homes mainly through his own effort plus his attempts to get funding for the iPods and support of the retirement facilities.

Mesie is the first senior we meet as the prelude interview for the film. She can't remember anything about her past, stumbles to find words her childhood memories a distant memory. After a brief series of questions the headphone go on playing Louis Armstrong. Mesie is transported back to her front porch as a little girl. Friends from the time come flashing back as do the early words of wisdom from her mother and vivid memories of her school friend.

Dr. Bill Thomas who attempted similar alternative therapies with children and animals in nursing homes in the past is a large contributor to the project. He is the subject of many on camera interviews pointing to the fact that Nursing Homes tend to shy away from anything new. That the model moved ion the 1930's from neighbourhood based to the hospital based that continues today. As a result seniors are not viewed as respected retirees but rather patients to be medicated on a regular basis. The cost of pills are no object but a small cost for anything off script has to be approved by too many administrative levels.

The film delves into the science behind the positive effect with the aid of leading neurologist Oliver Sacks. Humans develop a rhythm and a beat from before they are born. Many newborn's crying is in the pattern of the mothers' speech. The portion of the brain linked to music is largely untouched by Dementia therefor the strong psychological like to music and events remain intact as the rest of the brain and the person atrophies.

While the feature paints a very negative picture of the Nursing industry and its Administrative leaders a whole it is quick to point out that the front line health care works invest their time, effort and love into caring for their patients. A statistic is raised that 50% of the people in nursing homes do not have any visitors. Therefore it is the front line staff that interact with and truly care for these patients.

Alive Inside is an informative study on the relationship between music and memory in humans. One telling sequence has Bobby McFerrin playing a human piano in front of the audience Through his jumping back and forth on imaginary keys he gives the audience a few notes and they instinctively can hum out the rest of the passage in unison following his movements. The film brings attention to a form of therapy worth investigating and is an educative piece for those with aging family members and in a position to influence their local nursing homes.

*** Out of 4

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory | Michael Rossato-Bennett | U.S.A. | 2014 | 78 Minutes.

Tags; Documentary , Music Therapy, Alzheimer's, Dementia, Pharmaceducials, Beauracy, Administration.

Reel Indie Film Festival Review- A Life In the Death of Joe Meek

Using a multitude of first person interviews from the key sections of his life, A Life in the Death of Joe Meek tells the story of a ground breaking producer that was well know and sought after by musicians in the U.K.  but not as popular with the public and even less so on this side of the Atlantic.

The piece starts with Meeks early years in Newent told through interviews with his younger brother Eric, his sister in law and the local doctor. Meek was the middle of three boys, not into sports therefore he clashed with his father. He would rather spend hours in the family shed using what ever   he found find to make sound. Meek, an animal lover did not take to hunting so when tasked by his father to shoot birds that were nesting in a family orchard he instead rigged up some speakers using a distinct frequency instead to scare them off. Due to his paternal conflict he leaned more toward his mother who having always wanted a girl and took to dressing Joe up as one in her spare time.

Having exhausted all avenues for developing his craft in his home the town Meek ventured off to London in 1954 where he took a job at the IBC but he feel out with them due to their stringent rules then moved on to a two man shop with Denis Preston before opening his own shop above a leathers store at 304 Holloway Road.  It was here where Joe's creative talents flourished. The studio was up some very narrow stairs and turned out to be basically an unconverted flat. He used all of the rooms to get the sound he wanted especially different and unique echoes.  He would put bands in the bathtub. Stomp on the stairs to establish a beat and was one of the first to mic the instruments themselves. He was also a pioneer in looping using a short section of music played back and repeated which later became the basis of modern hip hop music. But he is most know for pushing the sound to the edge and over or overloading tape. Meek worked in stereo at a time when everything on the radio was mono. Some of his finished products were so distorted that when he went to get them pressed at the big labels they often refused at first.

Meek's most famous hit was Telestar  by the Tornadoes a number one hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1962. He also saw the rise of the jukebox and created songs that would sound good in that format. But his success in the music could not be repeated in his private life. Meek was quite openly gay in a time in the U.K when homosexuality was illegal. He was arrested at 33 and his name printed in the papers which he never fully got over.

Many of the biggest musician of the day came through Meeks studio.  Jimmy page was a session player along with Ritchie Blackmore and Steve Howe. Leading artist from David Bowie to Tom Jones and Rod Stewart passed through his doors. A Life in the Death of Joe Meek is a comprehensive look at an innovative but complicated individual. It may not find the mainstream as the songs are not easily recognizable toe tappers to a North American audience but the story of the central figure is deserving of a modern telling of his story.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

A Life in the Death of Joe Meek | Howard S. Berger / Susan Stahman | U.S.A. | 2014 | 122 Minutes.

Tags: IBC, Looping, Overdub, Reverb, Cole Miking, Independent Producer, Echo effects.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TADFF 14 Film Review - Predestination

Time Travel tales all tend to have very particular rules: You are not to run into yourself in the past, try to avoid unnecessary contact with too many people, even the most minor actions in the past could severely effect your future and don't take anything from the present with you. Based on a 1960, 13 page short story entitled All You Zombies by Robert A Heinlein Predestination turns all of your preconceived notions of time travel on its ear.

Ethan Hawke plays a Temporal Agent who is very close to retirement.  His last mission is to take one last shot at catching a criminal nicknamed the Fizzel bomber who terrorized New York City in the late 60's and 70's cumulating in a March 1975 blast that leveled a city block killing over 10,000 people. The Agent last effect to catch the bomber left him severely burned and out of action for a long period of time due to extensive reconstruction surgery.

For his last attempt he heads to 1970 New York setting up work as a bartender in a quiet establishment. At the bar he meets a patron (Sarah Snook) who writes as the Unmarried Mother telling stories for women on how their lives could or ought to be. On a bet for a bottle of alcohol The Unmarried Mother tells a story giving in an insight on how an appealingly male columnist could know so much about the female condition.

Directors Michael and Peter Spierig produce a knotted tale that bounces around the 60's and 70's like a superball. The story has as many if not more twist and turns in the narrative line along with several transformations and reveals of the two central characters. The directors expand the source material adding another central character Mr. Robertson (Noah Taylor) who plays Agency head /Recruiter and confident for the patron starting from youth.

Ethan Hawke delivers another in a series of solid performances as the Temporal Agent. He is quiet and understated and speaks with a grading gruff voice.  The Agent is often physicallyweakened due to the extensive number of jumps of various length he has taken throughout his career. Sara Snook is an emerging revelation as The Unmarried Mother. Her Jodie Foster like looks play well for her role as a total outsider, outcast and someone that is different from just about everyone else on the planet.

Predestination is a very intelligent production. It has fewer action sequences than one would expect but shines in its dialogue and tape recorded inventory checklist reminders.  The dance between Bartender Hawke and Snook as the Unmarried Mother recounts the latter's story from spot to spot in the 1970's bar is magical stuff.  It is a film that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 out of 4.

Predestination | Michael & Peter Spierig |Australia |  2014 | 97 Minutes.

Tags: Time Travel, Bullying, Government Agent, Gender, Orphanage, 40's, 60's 70's,Terrorism, Bomber.

ImagineNATIVE Film Festival Film Review- What We Do in the Shadows

Opening with a clock striking 6:00 PM. What We do in the Shadows introduces to the audience to four vampire flatmates  Viago ( Taika Waititi) Deacon ( Jonathan Brugh) Vladislav( Jermaine Clement and Petyr (Ben Fransham) the 8000 year old patriarch of the group.

Shot reality style in the tradition of The Real World and The Office Viago takes the lead role in interaction with the film crew. The audience is witness to a family meeting (less Petyr) where Deacon comes under attack it's his turn to do the dishes and he has not done so for 5 years. The film followed the lives of the flatmates for a period of time leading up to the highlight of the Undead Calendar the Unholy Masquerade featuring Werewolves, Witches, Zombies and Vampires and the odd caged human as a raffle prize.
The piece is tightly written and actor/ directors Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi employ the moving and shaking camera style that is prevalent in reality television. The cast turn in strong performances especially Taika Waititi as the chatty, whiney Dandy Viago and Jermaine Clement as the brooding Vladislav.

Beyond the family meeting the flatmates are shown doing everyday normal activities. Trying to get into the hottest bars in town, surfing the internet, playing as a musical trio, bringing girls home. The only difference being that the houseguests tend not to leave in the same state they arrive. One intriguing exchange between Viago and Deacon is his the former's attempt to get the latter to put down newspaper before he drains his victims in an attempt to keep blood of the couch.

What We do in the Shadows is an enjoyable watch and a comedic departure on the every expanding vampire genera of film.  It is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

What We Do In The Shadows | Jermaine Clement / Taika Waititi | New Zealand | 2014 | 86 Minutes.

Tags: Vampires, Wellington, Flat, Documentary, Actor/Director, Reality filming, Werewolves , Zombies.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Film Review - Gone Girl

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) wanders into the bar that he owns with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). It's the morning of his 5th anniversary and he needs a drink of bourbon at 9:30 AM. He receives a phone call from a neighbour then returns home to find his wife Amy( Rosamund Pike) is missing and calls the police to report it.

As the police gather information, Nick's lack of knowledge of his wife's likes, activities, friends and accomplishments seem odd.  On top of this his laid back attitude towards the events raises the suspicions of lead investigator Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens)

Director David Fincher has a rich amount of material to work with for this film. A mystery of a missing person, potential murder case,  quirky mid-west investigating detectives, a young big city couple moved to suburban middle America, plus a media circus driven by cable TV.  Gillian Flynn writer of the book adapts her complex novel to the screen with very positive effects.

A good portion of Nick and Amy's relationship is presented as flashbacks; entries narrated by Amy from her diary. Starting with their first meeting at a party, to key events in their courtship and into the first couple of years of marriage are portrayed in the earlier parts of the film. Things are good between the two and many of their exchanges are punctuated with the phrase that they are not going to be that couple followed by mention of a negative characteristic of most other couples.

However, as time goes buy they do become that couple as the recent recession effects both of their writing careers, a family health issue leads them to Missouri, and life, time and familiarity all have a profound effect on their relationship.

Ben Affleck turns in one of his better performances as Nick Dunne. He plays boyish charm well and is very believable as a man who is either half a step behind or 2 steps ahead of the events. Is he making honest mistakes or is the weight of what he has to hide betraying his actions? The star of the film is clearly Rosamund Pike. Donning first and American followed closely by a southern accident she transforms herself into at least 5 different personas during the film. She uses all manner of expression and she constantly unpeels different layers of Amy.  Pike emphasizes facial expressions, physical appearance, tone of voice, wardrobe and most importantly sudden unexpected acts to construct her character.  Kim Dickens is also strong as Detective Boney relying on the facts and not yielding to sentiment, media or public perception of the case.

Gone Girl is an engrossing portrayal of modern marriage. The Dunnes like many newlyweds think that they have it figured off the bat. But family, finances, and circumstance tend to eventually arise to show that you don't.  The film drags a bit in the second part of the first act but once it hits its groove with a new character in the driver's seat.

*** Out of 4.

Gone Girl | David Fincher | U.S.A.  | 2014 | 149 Minutes.

Tags: Diary, Disappearance, Missouri, Writers, Suburbs, Crime, Media, Search, Stalker

TIFF 14 Film Review - In the Crosswind

Based on the diary of a survivor, In the Crosswind tells the story of Baltic state residences from Estonia, Lativa and Lithuania who were rounded up starting in June 1941 and transported by train north to Siberian camps facing a very uncertain future and with a great likelihood of never seeing their homeland again.

Our narrator is Erna (Laura Peterson) who is enjoying her beautiful home life with her husband and daughter. Then on June 14, 1941, Russian troops show up, force the whole neighbourhood out of their homes, into trucks, then eventually boxcars for the ride north to Siberia. In a clearing before they are loaded into the cars the men are separated from the women and children then prepared for transport.

Erna's letters serve as the script of the film. She writes to her husband Heldur describing every event of her journey. Starting from the first rolling sounds of the cattle cars, events aboard the 26 day journey by train, scarcity of food, plus detailed descriptions of the weak, sick and dying. The four day trip by boat that followed and the reality of the bleakness of their new home.

The real achievement in this project is the style of film making. Just about all the scenes in the camp are presented in stop motion. The actors are fixed portraying the act described in Erna's letter as the camera moves around them and the landscape highlighting the key points in brilliant monochrome. Director Martti Helde weaves the camera thorough the players like a snake slithering hither and yon up and down and into the darkest corners of the camp where the harshest reality lay.

The women and children face all manner of abuse; psychological, physical, sexual, emotional, starvation and for far too may the ultimate fate of death. They have to do whats need to survive and obtain the basics such as bread for themselves and children. All the while Helde's lens captures the story and emotion from the letters presenting each chapter as a richly painted tapestry.

As the weeks, months and seasons go by Erna's letters to her husband always starting with his name giver her hope to one day to see him again in their homeland. A well appointed landmark to mark the passage of time is the announcement of Stalin's 1953 death which lead to a relaxing of some of the harder conditions and gave the labourers increased hope that they may return home. No matter how horrific the subject personally or to the group Peterson delivers the content of the letters in an even voice of an outside observer viewing the events from a distance as opposed to the reality of being in the camp experiencing the events first hand.

In the Crosswind is a unique portrayal of a lesser known significant historical event. It is very timely today given the events occurring in modern day Ukrane and fairly recent events in the modern balk in states. The film is visually stunning, emotionally wrenching and one that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

In the Crosswind | Martti Helde | Estonia | 2014 | 90 Minutes.

Tags : Estonia, Siberia, World Ward II, Deportation, Ethnic Cleansing, Labour Camp, Starvation,  Death, Stalin.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TIFF 14 Flim Review - Force Majeure

The story opens with Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) speaking to fellow tourist at a ski resort in the French Alps. Ebba is there with her family as her husband Thomas (Johannes Kuhnke) works too much and is finally going to dedicate 5 days to her and the kids while her confidant is on a break from her husband.

The key event in the film occurs on the second day of the family trip. The family is having lunch on an outdoor terrace when a controlled avalanche starts on the mountain. The avalanche gathers speed causing panic on the balcony and Thomas to flee saving his smart phone and ski gloves leaving Ebba to protect the kids. The event has a severe impact on all of the family members that they now have to work through for the rest of the vacation.

Writer Director Ruben Ostlund creates a fascinating family relationship study. The children Vera ( Clara Wettergren) and her younger brother Harry (Vincent Wettergren) don't speak and do not want anything to do with either of their parents immediately after the incident. Ebba does not know how to react and most noticeably Thomas is unable to process the consequences of his act.

The next day on the slopes is very quiet followed by cocktails with the woman and a new friend where Thomas implies that it was Ebba that was a little afraid during the event. He also continues the denial another night when his friend and his new girlfriend come to the resort for a day of skiing and end up drawn into the argument and how they would react under the same circumstances.

Cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel does memorable work capturing the look and feel of a mountain resort with spectacular shades of the mountains and the graininess of the snow a realistic shots of lack of visibility that one experiences when conditions change at different points of the mountain. Event the overnight work on the mountain by caterpillars, snow mobiles and dynamite is very accurate. Director  Ostlund adds to the realistic Alpine elements with several shots of chair lifts, their creaky sounds and uneven if not bouncy accents up the mountain. His visuals of the avalanche, the snow plume covering the mountain top restaurant and slow retreat of the snow spray are times to perfection.

One key shooting decision that builds tension between the family members in the film is Ostlund's choice to shoot many of the key emotional scenes just outside of the families room in the open concept ringed hallway of the resort. This element is juxt opposed of the regular end of day routine of various family members brushing their teeth armed with electric toothbrushes.

Johannes Kuhnke hits many different peaks and valleys as Thomas the family patriarch who after the events on the terrace sinks to the bottom rung on the family totem pole. He is particularly strong in two key scenes towards the latter part of the film. Lisa Loven Kongsli is the straight line that cuts through her up and down husband as Ebba. She is very even keeled and matter a fact about the events not looking to dwell on but wanting her husband to own up to his actions.

Force Majeure is an excellent psychological family study of a significant event that flips a family tree upside down. It's a production that forces the audience to think what would they do at a moment of crisis and may lead to some sideways looks form significant others. This is a film that I can highly recommend and expect it to be very prominent at award season in early 2015.

**** Out of 4

Force Majeure | Ruben Ostlund | Sweden Denmark / Norway| 2014 | 188 Minutes.

Tags: French Alps, Ski Vacation, Patriarch, Survival mode, Avalanche, Fight or Flight.