Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Films 2015

2015 was another strong year in film. I would rank it as more very good films than 2014 but not as many great memorable movies.  Here at Flick Hunter we branched out and covered the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. It was a top notch affair in a city that we do not visit enough and will be back in the future. Without further adeau here are my top 10 films for 2015.


9.,  CAROL


7.,         TAG




3.,     ROOM



Sunday, December 20, 2015

Film Review - Star Wars The Force Awakens

Parallels to Episode IV Star Wars a New Hope dominate the plot of Star Wars Episode VII  The Force Awakens. Jakku replaces Tatooine as the desert planet home of a new fledgling Jedi soon to discover their powers. The Empire is now the First Order and the Rebellion is the Resistance. The film also introduces a new reluctant rogue hero who is drawn to support the Resistance's cause.

Director J.J. Abrams crafts a film that has the style, pace and feel of the original trilogy. The story is simple, the goal plain and the steps to complete the Resistance's task straightforward. The main villains are easily identified from the moment they arrive on screen. Abrams also mixes in a fair amount of timely comedic moments that were missing from the middle set of films.

The episode starts out on Jakku. Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow) a learned elder is meeting with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) the best resistance pilot to discuss the whereabouts of a missing Luke Skywalker. Tekka hands over a map to Skywalker's location that Poet places into his droid BB-8 for safekeeping. When the First Order arrive on the planet one of their ranks Finn (John Boyega) has issues with their tactics while Poe seeing that his escape route is cut off sends BB-8 off with the map with a plan to retrieve it later. We next meet Rey (Daisy Ridley) scavenging from long abandoned vehicles from the days of the Empire. She brings her daily haul for ever reducing rations and lives in an abandoned vehicle herself waiting for her family how left when she was a little girl to return.

Maz Kanata's castle fortress on Takodana is the location where a diverse group of aliens meet to trade and exchange goods. Its vibe is very similar to the Mos Eisley cantina from the original film. It's on Takodana where Rey is called to the basement catacombs having visions of events that have occurred in the past and those that will take place in the future. The Fortress is also the current resting place of Luke's lightsaber that Finn takes to use in battle against the The First Order when they invade the planet.

Finn and Rey are worthy of their roles as the new leads of Star Wars trilogy 3.0. Rey is agile and effective at every tasks she attempts from rigging bypasses on spaceships to wielding a staff against wood be attackers to beginning to harnessing unforeseen skills that she begins to develop as the film progresses. Finn shows moral strength when he deserts from the Stormtrooper ranks after his unit is ordered to commit a horrible act on Jakuu. He teams with Poe to escape the First order and comes back to help Rey in the fight at Maz Kanata's compound.  Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Peter Meyhew (Chewbacca) are at their rogue smuggling banter filled best from the moment they appear on screen. However the production has a major flaw in casting Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. He has a mask, pays homage to Darth Vader but takes it off too frequently and simply does not personify evil as the character should. He is also a character one would expect to be an expert with a light sabre but has difficulty in exchanges with foes who have just picked up the device for the first time.

Star Wars The Force Awakens is a welcomed trip back to the sensibility of the originally trilogy. The film has some strong elements and introduces new heroes that work in unison with old familiar faces. But the casting falls down in a critical area on the main villain for the 3.0 universe who when on screen makes it hard to shake the thought of his roles in New York based female driven vehicles.

 *** Out of 4

Star Wars the Force Awakens | J.J. Abrams  | U.S.A. |2015 | 135 Minutes

Tags: Star Wars, Space, Jedi, Droid, Space Opera, the Force, Dark Side, Massacre, Kidnapping, Stormtroopers.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fox Searchlight Film Review - He Named Me Malala

At the centre of Davis Guggenheim's documentary He Named Me Malala is the strong bond between a Father and Daughter. It's in the title and clearly visual as Malala Yousafzai's dad Ziauddin is by her side or just off camera at all of her public appearances and accompanies her on all of her trips around the world. The quieter thread is the realization of the Yousafzai family that they will likely never again see their home in the Swat Valley back in Pakistan having left after Malala was singled out on a bus home from school and shot by the Taliban because she had first spoke out on a BBC blog under an assumed name then openly in public.

The film opens with an animated sequence on the fabled character after whom Malala was named. The historical figure from the 19th century lead Afgan fighters back to the battlefield against the British from a mass retreat.  She is killed in battle but her fellow countrymen won a great victory because she stood up and made her voice heard. Ziauddin Yousafzai must have had a strong feeling when his daughter was born, as she would mirror her namesake by standing up as a young teenager to fearlessly defy the Taliban fighting for the right for girls to obtain a complete education.

Director Guggenheim next turns the aftermath of the shooting and Malala's waking up in a hospital bed in a foreign country. The story follows her on 2013 visits to the United States, Kenya, Nigeria, and the Jordanian Syrian border. At each stop she champions the rights of girls and children in general to have access to education. Yousafzai knows her subject well having frank discussions with President Obama then tough words for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan over his weak response to Boko Haram's abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls. The production also shows the other side of Malala to remind viewed that she is a teenage girl that both loves and battles with her two brothers, gets no special treatment from her high school teachers in Birmingham and becomes exceedingly shy when the topic turns to boys.

The films middle section climaxes with the 2013 Noble Peace prize announcement for which Malala was a leading candidate. After the announcement the narrative switches back to her rehab post shooting in Birmingham regaining her motor skills, adapting to paralysis on the left side of her face then  building up to her first address at the United Nations.

He Named Me Malala is uniquely crafted biopic on one of the leading figures for peace in the world today despite still being a teenager. The story shows her public side meeting with world leaders, accepting awards around the world and appearing on popular Television shows. Yousafzai's public activities are balanced in the piece by insightful looks at her family and private life. The film touches only briefly on decisive persona back home but at its core it's a Father daughter story about a family that because they stood up to the Taliban their daughter was thrust into the spotlight and they can never return home. It is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

He Called Me Malala | Davis Guggenheim | United Arab Emirates / U.S.A. | 2015 | 87 Minutes.

Education, Nobel Laureate, Taliban, Pakistan, Swat Valley, Boko Haram , United Nations, Syrian Refugees.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

TIFF 15 Film Review - Body (Cialo)

Starting with a police investigation of an apparent hanging suicide that turns into the deceased getting up and walking a way. Body is an off centre narrative focused on three peoples differing ways of how they view the human body and deal with loss. Janusz (Janusz Gajos) is the investigator at the scene of the non-suicide.  He has a daughter at home Olga (Justyna Suwala) who is borderline anorexic and not his biggest fan.  She mocks the way he eats trying to turn him off of his dinner by describing how chickens are treated before they are killed for human consumption. Anna (Maja Ostaszewska) is a therapist at a clinic for anorexic women.  We first meet her as she is giving a shout therapy session to a group of recovering girls.

Janusz investigates a crime scene where a woman dismembered her newborn child leaving the body parts in a bathroom stall at the Warsaw Gadansk rail station. Janusz shows no ill effects from the event while his colleagues are visibly shaken. The investigator ends the work day greedily slurping a large bowl of soup as a junior colleague gives him an update.  He comes home to find Olga slumped by a puke filed toilet leading to her admission to the clinic where Olga is a Therapist.

Director Malgorzata Szumowska presents a story that is grim but sprinkled with occasional comedic moments. The main focus of the production is how the three main characters.  Olga remains devastated over the death of her mother, blaming her father for the event.  Anna lost an 8 month old son 8 years ago but pretends when visiting her mother that the child is still alive and keeps a crib in her apartment. Janusz deals with dead bodies as his trade showing no outward emotion to the death of his wife Hanna.

The film gives a good representation of methods to treat anorexia. The various group treatment sessions at the Clinic feature scream therapy, role-play, dance, body image outlines and strict rules that must be followed at meal time before moving on to the next treatment session. The narrative also looks at daily city life. It's rainy damp and cold but Szumowska documents the regular interaction between apartment dwellers from friendly hellos to quiet neighbourly request to keep the music down.

Janusz Gajos leads the cast as the cynical criminal prosecutor who's character bears his first name. His is curt, emotionless and mocking of those that show emotion or warmth. Justyna Suwala is angry and vulnurable as his anorexic daughter Olga. Her anger and disgust at her father shows in her eyes, body language and actions. Olga clearly has not gotten over the death of her mother that manifests itself psychologically leading to her hospitalization. Maja Ostaszewska turns in the standout performance in the piece as Anna. She is Olga's therapist who herself is dealing with a personal loss. She lives modestly with her large dog Fredek. Anna has visions of the dead and can write their communications to the living on paper while in a trance like state. Despite her mundane existence  she does her best to help the recovering girls and their families.

Body is a film that has a very narrow focus and will result is a small commercial appeal. The subject matter is heavy, the film has very few smiles or laughs and the landscape is dreary and washed out. The tone of the film is set early on and its subject matter is not one that will not likely have a wide appeal.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Body | Malgorazata Szumowska | Poland | 2015 | 90 minutes.

Tags: Anorexia, Suicide, Psychiatry, Clairvoyance, Prosecutor, Crime Scene, Warsaw, Dead Infant,  Dismemberment, Scream Therapy.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fox Searchlight Film Review- Mistress America

Tracy (Lola Kirk) is an inspiring writer and freshman at University in Manhattan. Her roommate doesn't like her, she has no friends and the schools elite writing group the Mobius Literary Society just rejected her first short story. She meets Tony (Matthew Shear) who saves her from being caught sleeping in a class both bond over being rejected by Mobius. Tracy thinks there may be a spark with Tony but learns that he has a girlfriend named Nicolette. Tracy is once again alone eating by herself in a restaurant. She takes a chance and calls Brooke (Greta Gerwig) who's in her late 20's and whose dad is about to marry Tracey's mom.  The two become fast friends Brooke inspiring Tracy to write as the former takes her future step sister on a tour or her New York haunts revealing her plan to open a  restaurant with her boyfriend Stavros who will be returning soon from Greece.

Director Noah Baumbach and his muse and co writer Greta Gerwig tell a contemporary tale in the big city that is dripping with rich quick and witty dialogue. Brooke a seasoned New Yorker talks a mile a minute bouncing from one subject to the next while going about her day doing one diametrically opposed activity to the next. She's a spin class instructor and junior high school tutor but only until she can pass her SATs to teach older kids and make better money. Brooke has a very large vocabulary and even better at turning a phrase not to mention Tracy and her peers who are all literary University students.  Most of Baumbach's scenes are shot conservatively in the piece except for one sequence early on in the film that serves to establish the two main characters. It's Tracy's first time at Brooke's commercial space hearing about her soon to be relative's Arch enemy Mamie-Claire who stole her boyfriend, catchy floral top idea along with her two cats and apparently her favourite red pants. While Brooke rants and raves in the foreground Tracy heads into the closest to have a look for the garment.  The camera moves in then back and forth between the two as Brooke tells her tale until finally resting on Tracy as she reveals the pants bringing a smile to Brooke's face.

The action is mainly based in Manhattan except for a delightful interlude in Greenwich, Connecticut to seek a last minute investment in the restaurant from her ex Dylan and the aforementioned Mamie-Claire because they owe her. Tony and Nicolette accompany the pair to Connecticut where they meet a creepy neighbour of the targets and a book club full of pregnant women. It's on the road trip where the girl's relationship changes and the audience gets a better picture of the true nature of the films protagonists.

Greta Gerwig is at her manic whirlwind best as Brooke. She is pretty but not threatening, connected but not braggy a multi tasking high functioning being that is a perfect fit for New York. Lola Kirk is quieter but keenly focused as Tracy. She narrates the piece as she writes her second short story for Morbius based on her experiences with Brooke.  Jasmine Cephas Jones does extremely well with a relatively small role as Tony super possessive girlfriend Nicolette.

Mistress America is the definition of a dialogue driven piece. The narrative is very quick sneakily  funny and a story that will appeal to a wide audience.  It's a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Mistress America | Noah Baumbach | U.S.A. | 2015 | 85 minutes.

Tags: Manhattan, University, Literature, Writing club, Step- Sisters, Wedding, Thanksgiving, J Crew,  Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, Psychic.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Film Review - Straight Outta Compton

Eric Wright A.K.A. Easy E (Jason Mitchell) drives up to a Compton home in the middle of the night. He gets out, pulls out a gun and a wrapped package from below the spare tire in the trunk and heads into a Dope house. The deal goes bad and Easy barley escapes. Nearby Andre Young A.K.A. Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) is listening to records in his mother's home. She's not happy that he's not working or gong to school leading Dre to head to a friend's to occupy a couch. About the same time O'Shea Jackson A.K.A. Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) is writing lyrics in a notebook on a high school bus. A local gang leader comes on the bus to threaten some heckling students. The gang member then gives a stay in school speech and leaves. This is how the audience is introduced to the three main members of N.W.A. The business man Easy E, melody maker Dr. Dre and lyricist Ice Cube.

The film is a tour of late eighties Los Angeles. It touches on the large social events, the political landscape, and gives a glimpse into the record industry. It chronicles the birth of gangster rap where 5 guys put the stories of their experiences in the streets to paper, mike and record. It also touches on the controversy of the genre. Is the music causing violent angry criminal behaviour or reflective of what is going on in the community.

Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff's screenplay raises several powerful points. One memorable sequence occurs as the group speaks at a press conference following being arrested in Detroit the night before. They are asked about the violence, the drug use, the guns and the criminal elements in their songs. Ice Cube responds with a question of his own.  How are the drugs and guns getting hit his community? None of them have a passport nor does anyone in their community own planes.  The aforementioned riot was caused by ignoring a warning not to sing the song F**ck the Police. The creation of that song is another big point in the film. The group is recording in Torrance for their producer Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) when they go outside on a break. Immediately two police cars pull up and the boys are forced on the ground with their hands behind their back. Heller comes out explains that the group are Artist. The police yield, the group goes back in and Ice Cube writes the lyrics to the song from this as the topper of many similar experiences.

Director F. Gary Gray uses a lot of unique devices and strong passages to build tension in the film. He intro's the three main players individually displaying their given then known names in the background of the scene. The two other members M.C. Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) are first seen in a group scene at the R & B club where Dr. Dre D.J's at night.  He shows Compton 1986 with police helicopters and stop and searches are regular occurrences. He displays the Rodney King beating and verdict a year later through the eyes of the band. Then Gray uses quiet moments to introduce future monsters in the industry Suge Knight, Snoop Dog and Tupac.

Jason Mitchell stands out in his portrayal of Easy E in the film. Easy E had the money to start Ruthless Record and get Studio time.  He sang their first hit Boys in the Hood that attracted airplay and the attention of future manger Jerry Heller. O'Shea Jackson Jr.  gives several looks in the film that remind you of his dad Ice Cube. He also displayed timely comedic barbs and powerful command of the stage when delivering a lyric. R. Marcos Taylor is a scary and unpredictable as the real Suge Knight in the film. Easily switching from smiling and helpful to violent, pit bull wielding, pistol- whipping goon the next.

Straight Outta Compton is a historical journey through lat 80's early 90's Los Angeles as seen through the eyes of 5 teenagers who grew up in the tough town of Compton. The film gives a full flavour of the time pulls no punches nor attempt to be balanced. The film portrays the World Most Dangerous Group featuring their in your face raw lyrics and bold rich beats. It's violent, intense, riving and emotional a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** Out of 4

Straight Outta Compton| F. Gary Gray | U.S.A. | 2015 | 147 Minutes.

Tags: Gangsta Rap , Compton, Late 80's, Early 90's, L.A. Riots, Ruthless Records, Priority Records, Lynch Mob, Death Row, Rodney King.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Film Review - Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

The IMF is in front of a Senate committee for events that occurred at the Kremlin in Mission Impossible-Ghost Protocol at the opening of Rogue Nation. William Brant (Jeremy Renner) is advocating for the IMF while CIA director Alan Huntly (Alec Baldwin) argues against. Because of their destructive actions the Force is shut down and all agents called in to do desk work for the CIA. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is out in the field as the London Check-in is compromised. He knows who is behind it and will not come in until he catches his target.

The adventure brings the team to Austria, London, Morocco and back to London. The Mission impossible elements are all present. Masks, unique check in points, identity swap, car chases, motorcycle chases and penetrating an unpenetrable location. Another big factor in a Mission Impossible film is innovation. Rogue Nation delivers in this category as well. The first being a palm print vehicle entry and the second being a wet suit equipped with a digital timer and oxygen indicator on the wrist area of the glove.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie crafts a high-energy face passed film from the pre-opening credits scene. The story is intriguing, the script contains few throwaway lines and editor Eddie Hamilton scaled the film expertly. A key element in all action films is sound which the team met their target for tis production. The department's work particularly is notable during the motorcycle chase scene through the alleys, streets and highways of Casablanca and when Cruise free dives into an underwater vault bringing the element of muffling into the picture.

The teams mission is to track down the leader of a black bag group called the Syndicate a brain child of the West using dissolved or presumed dead agents to change the course of politics affording deniably cover to Western Governments.  Their leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) has gone rogue facilitating large disasters to achieve their goals faster before full approval of their activities have been authorized.

Tom Cruise continues to shine as Ethan Hunt. The 53 year old does not look out of place in the role that he started playing back in 1996. While other action franchise leads get stale in the role after three or four outings Cruises performance in Rogue Nation may be his best yet as Ethan Hunt.  Not surprisingly a Sixth film has already been announced. Simon Pegg returns as Hunts sidekick and frequent source of comic relief as Benji Dunn. Directly effected by the dismantling of the IMF at the start of the film and relegated to playing Halo 3 at a desk all day dodging passerby's he springs back into his technical expert role when called to Vienna by Cruise under the ruse of winning opera tickets.  Relative newcomer Rebecca Ferguson is very effective as Ilsa Faust. Exuding all of the best qualities of the European female spy the audience is never sure whose side she is on as she plays off everyone in the piece. Look for Alec Baldwin in a key supporting role as CIA director Huntly. He plays a key role at the beginning, crux and closing sections of the film.

Mission Impossible-Rouge Nation is an outstanding entry into the series that shows that there is plenty of life left in the franchise. The returning cast members turn in enthusiastic performances plus the new main players deliver what's expected in their recognizable spy film roles. The narrative is fresh and crisp making this a film I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation | Christopher McQuarrie | U.S.A. | 2015 | Minutes.

Tags; London, Senate Committee,  Disavowed, Free dive, Motorcycle Chase, Casablanca, Computer Hack.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Raven Banner Entertainment Film Review - Turbo Kid

The dystopian future is 1997 in Anouk Whissell , Francois Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell's new film Turbo Kid. The world was destroyed due to wars, a nuclear winter and Acid Rain. Technology stopped in the 80's and the most precious item is water. The Kid (Munro Chambers) lives in an underground bunker with traps rigged to catch small animals around the compound. He goes out scavenging daily hoping to find some items that he can trade for water or the occasional comic book of his hero Turbo Rider. He rides his BMX bike, the main mode of transportation in the Wasteland on his hunts following his main rules of staying away from people that look evil, always having water with him and a makeshift weapon that can be used for defence or offence.

The Kid's world is turned upside down when he meets a staccato speaking highly positive girl named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) The Kid is put off by her at first but grows to enjoy her company. When she is abducted by agents of Zeus (Michael Ironside) the ruler of the Wasteland and the controller of the water the Kid goes to the warehouse to save her. Armed with a suit found in a buried spaceship that's equipped with a power glove that can explode matter. The Kid is thrown into a partnership with Frederick the Arm-Wrestler (Aaron Jeffery), defeats Zeuses fighters in a gladiator style battle then escapes with a wounded Apple on the run to a spot to get her healed.

The narrative is a s stripped down telling of futuristic apocalyptic world tale. The BMX bikes stand in for the home made road vehicles but a ruthless ruler that controls the precious resource remains the same. The story makes many references to 80's items that sets a tone the from the opening 80's pop song. The Kid comes across a rubix cube on his first scavenging outing. The VHS tape was the last form of home movies and the computer system on the downed plane looks like a cross between a Commodore 64 and an early Apple Mackintosh. The special effects are low tech as well from the blast that shoot out of the Kids glove to the power source in the ship.

Munro Chambers is fresh faced and energetic as the Kid. He is an orphan, loner and survivor having seen his parents killed for their water supply as a child. Laurence Leboeuf is highly unconventional as Apple. She is hyper positive, smiling and happy when she shouldn't be but teaches Turbo Kid a few things that he needs to know about life, fighting and being a friend. Michael Ironside turns in another strong Sci-fi villain performance and New Zeland Actor Aaron Jeffery is the perfect balance for the kid with his gruff, short sentence, stay out of my personal space turn as Frederick.

Turbo Kid is a fun low budget science fiction romp with comic book violence that may not be suitable for some younger kids. The writing is clean, the cast strong as is its message on friendship and rallying together to oppose a common enemy.  It is a film I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

Turbo Kid | Francois Simard /Anou Whissell / Yoann-Karl Whissell | Canada / New Zealand | 2015 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Dystopia, Post Apocalypse, Nuclear Winter, Acid Rain, Water, Friendship, Scavenging, BMX Bike.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - H.

A tale set in Troy New York featuring two parallel stories both with lead characters named Helen as a Meteor strikes at the outskirts of town possibly signalling the end of the world is the premise for H. The elder Helen (Robin Bartlett) lives with her husband Roy (Julian Gamble) in their Troy home. They are regular seniors with growing aches and pains doing mundane daily tasks. The exception is Helen's "Reborn" vinyl baby doll Henry that she treats like a real baby. Helen dresses Henry, wakes up for feedings, washes Henry and puts him in a car seat when she goes out for drives.

The younger Helen (Rebecca Dayan) lives with her partner Alex (Will Janowitz). The pair are performance artists and expecting their first child. They battle each other physically and mentaly to create their art following their mantra: creation needs destruction. When out one evening Helen spontaneously lactates as the pair are giving a talk to a class. Then later outside a coffee house Alex hears a piercing sound that leaves him with one bloodshot eye a growing trend around town along with people standing facing walls rocking back and forth. This is followed by cars parked abandoned with the drivers side doors open left by the owners who have headed off to the outskirts of town.

The directors Renia Attieh and Daniel Garcia throw a lot of ideas at the wall but most fail to stick or fully develop. The narrative features several appearances of a black horse running though town and in the woods. There are no details on the origin of Helen's doll or why theses other women that come to rebirth party. When the story switches to Alex and Helen at their home they lose time in large chunks but do not seem too concerned that this is highly unusual. The only explanation for any of the events is a T.V. report stating that some members of the population have slipped into a Narcoleptic State. The high point of the film is the work of the sound department that produced the ear piercing noises, sharp instances of electric interference, pulses and hums that cause the towns people to act out of the ordinary.

Robin Bartlett performance as the older Helen is the notable. She is very convincing when she' s taking care of Henry in the early scene that the viewer is not sure if she truly believes that its real. Her later persistence search for her husband when he is linked to the missing townspeople is agonizing and in the end disturbing. Rebecca Dayan is sound portraying the younger Helen. She's a free spirit and open artist that begins to see and hear things after the meteor crash. Helen becomes compelled to go the gathering on the outskirts of town acting as if she is being called home.

H. is a valiant attempt to create an end of the world film set in a small upstate New York town. The creators have several good ideas and some sequence of the film play out well. The directors take a low tech approach to the apocalypse which could have some merit. But here too much is going on that make the film appear scattered resulting it a production that will not have wide appeal.

** Out of 4

H | Renia Attieh / Daniel Garcia | U.S.A. / Argentina | 2014 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Vinyl Dolls, Rebirth, Performance Art, Meteor, Apocalypse, End for the World.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Dark Places

Libby Day (Charlize Theron) was eight years old in 1985 when her two sisters and mother were killed and her brother Ben convicted of the crime. The case gained national attention and people from all over the country sent her money that was managed in a Trust.  At present Libby is no longer a cute little girl and the trust is down to $482.12. At the films opening Libby is discussing the Trust with the fund manager who advises that if she had taken any time of job over the last 10 years to contribute some funds to the Trust it would have been much healthier. Now broke Libby receives a mysterious letter from a Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult). He is a member of the Kill Club that wants Libby to appear as a special gusts.  The club re enacts famous killing and reviews cold or controversial cases. Libby agrees as she needs the money but is not prepared for their passionate plea that her brother Ben did not do the killings.

The club want Libby to help them go back over the facts and meet with her brother to discuss the case. She's three months behind in her rent plus her car is stuck in the shop so as she takes them up on their offer. The club sends her the file, she goes to visit her brother becomes intrigued by the documents and some items found in the family farmhouse and starts her investigation.

Dark Places is based on a Gillian Flynn best settling novel following the 2014 David Fincher adaptation of her movie Gone Girl. Director Gilles Paquet- Brenner's screenplay looks at the modern day investigation by Libby assisted by Wirth juxtaposed to the days leading up to the night of the murders in 1985. The jail house  meetings between the siblings are intense expertly filmed and cut.  Adult Ben (Corey Stoll) calmness when looking at the person that put him in prison is remarkable. The narrative also peaks depicting the relationship between young Ben (Tye Sheridan) and his girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace Mortez) documenting how mesmerized young Ben was by his rich unbalanced teen companion.

Charlize Theron turns in a hard-edged performance as Libby Day. She is still traumatized from the 1985 events, often wakes up from nightmares, doesn't want anyone in her personal space, is angry all the time and dresses like she's been in a garage fixing cars all day. Both the younger and older Ben's balance each other well. Sheridan as the younger where he is still a follower to older kids but can be an intimidating loner to pre and early teens. Stoll as the older with his quiet acceptance of his fate showing no anger or malice to anyone or anything.

Dark Places is a rich narrative that builds slowly to the events of the fateful 1985 evening. The screenplay places little clues throughout that lay the seeds for how individuals act on the night of the killings. It's a compelling story and a film I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Dark Places | Gilles Paquet- Brenner | UK/France/USA | 2015 | 113 minutes.

Tags: Kansas, Murdered Family, Satan Worship, Trust Fund, Post Traumatic Stress, Crime Groupies, Jail House Visits, Failing Farm, Gillian Flynn Novel.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Tag

The roots of Tag lies in a 2001 novel from Yusuke Yamada where people with the same last name are hunted and killed. Similar stories using the concept that depict a chase and kill scenario or tagging have appeared since the 2001 Yamada book. Sion Sono gives his take on the subject using three main female characters that are all chased by supernatural forces throughout the film trying to survive as those around them are gruesomely cut down.

Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) is on the second of two busloads of schoolgirls headed down a quiet road. Her classmates are taunting her calling her foreigner for being mixed and spending too much time doing poetry. Mitsuko bends down to the floor of the bus to retrieve her fallen pen as a mysterious wind slices through the air at seat height cutting the both buses and occupants in two at the midriff leaving Mitsuko as the only survivor.  Our heroine runs chased down the road, though a stream and back to her school by the wind to find her friends Aki (Yuki Sakai) Jun (Maryjun Takashahi) and Mutsuko (Sayaja Isoyama) who knew nothing of the event leading Mitsuko to doubt if it even occurred. Shortly after they're seemingly friendly homeroom teachers point heavy artillery at the students and begin firing. Mitsuko and her friends run from the class room and school where Mitsuko ends up alone where she is spotted by a police officer that begins to call her a different name Keiko.

Sion Sono presents another production that is visually stunning and full of frantic camera work. A good number of shots are from the perspective of the presence chasing the heroine. Therefore the camera follows Mitsuko as she is looking back while running away or when portraying the razor sharp wind it sweeps up and around then swoops down suddenly which is particular effective in one instant as Mitsuko dives for cover after warning some citizens about the wind but they are not so lucky suffering the sliced through the torso fate. Sono's story evokes thoughts of the Matrix or the Wizard of Oz as the audience wonders who is controlling the action that we are seeing on screen?

Renia Triendl is memorable as Mitsuko. We meet her when things first appear normal then she departs during the middle portion of the film to return in the final segments of the proceedings to make a major choice to bring the cycle of being hunted to an end. Yuki Sakai appears in different segments as Mitsuko's loyal friend Aki who speaks outside of the boundaries of their environment and also willing to make a sacrifice for the benefit of her friend. Mariko Shinoda (Keiko) and Erina Mano (Izumi) who play the heroine when Triendl is not on screen both are solid but the audience are not as invested in them as they are with Triendl's Mitsuko as she is the original.

Sion Sono continues his hectic 2015 six film slate with another winning production. His adaptation of the chase scenario is original and compelling. His direction imaginative supporting his strong ensemble cast.  Tag is a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Tag | Sion Sono | Japan | 2015 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Schoolgirl, Bride, Runner, Supernatural Force, Game, Inventor, Homeroom.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - They Look Like People

The mind is one of the most complex things on the planet.  Despite the vast increase in medical knowledge over the last 100 years we still know little about how it works. When someone has a mental issue they go to a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist who provide coping mechanisms and medication by trial and error hoping to hit on something that will work and not cause any more harm.

Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) arrives in New York City outside of his old friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel) Walk-up with a duffle back draped over his shoulder.  Wyatt claims that he has a place to stay but Christian invites him in insisting that Wyatt stay with him. The pair catch up on each others lives talking about the recent break ups of both of their long time relationships and work. Wyatt had been working at a rural nunnery while Christian is trying to get ahead at an Ad agency listening to positive reinforcement tapes that will allow him to dominate in the office. Christian has also been spending a lot of time in the gym to present a stronger bigger presence. He also finally got up the courage to ask co-worker Mara (Margaret Drake) out for a date.

Perry Blackshear wears just about every behind the camera hat for the micro budget production. He writes, directs and edits plus served as cinematographer and executive producer on the project. The story is internal as it gets as it focuses on the nuances of a Wyatt's damaged mind causing him to hear things, see things and believe things to be true that are not. The immobilizing horror revolves around what he will do to work his way out or will he carry out the orders from the voices or believe his eyes and attack the enemies that reveal themselves.

MacLeod Andrews turns in an understated yet powerful performance as Wyatt. Andrews uses a lot of subtle body language to communicate the stress level of his character including lowering his head, fidgeting, avoiding eye contact and throwing in uncomfortable pauses before responding to simple questions. Evan Dumouchel comes across as the ideal best friend in the production. He sacrifices a date with Mara by bringing Wyatt along. Entertains his friend's theories and ultimately puts himself into harms way in an attempt to shock Wyatt back into reality. Margaret Drake is also very effective as Mara. She's the toughest and most together of the three main characters and is willing to give both Christian and Wyatt the benefit of the doubt despite strange behaviour from both.

They Look Like People is an intense study of the intricacies of the mind on a minimalist stage. Perry Blackshear provides big content for a small price as the critical action of the piece all takes place in Christian apartment. The story is excellent and the results of Blackshear's vision is a film I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

They Look Like People | Perry Blackshear | U.S.A.  | 2015 | 80 Minutes.

Tags: Mental Illness, Schizophrenia, Monsters, Evil, Preppers, Friendship, Self Help, Psychiatry, Nail Gun, Axe. Sulphuric Acid.

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Lady Psycho Killer

Ella (Kate Daly) has lived a very sheltered life. She has not had many friends, been intimate with boys or ventured too far form the safety of her home. Her mother Patricia (Meredith Heinrich) kept a watchful eye on Ella setting things up so they're each other's only friend. Ella is now at Tellmont University and looking for things to change. She is starting to develop urges as she settles in to her Psychology 101 class with Professor Douglas (Michael Madsen). Professor Douglas challenges his students in an untraditional manner.  His assignment for the year; do something that breaks a sexual norm. Ella thinks at first it might mean to consider dancing at a strip club but soon realizes that her urges are really a bloodlust that can only be satisfied by killing male members of the population in her town.

At the same time Ella starts a relationship with classmate Daniel (Dennis Andres) who is kind, respectful and not a target of Ella's bloodthirst. But the relationship remains secondary to her desire to cut into flesh with a sharp edged knife. The most curious reaction comes from her mother who sees her daughter come home covered in blood on more than one occasion choosing to help her clean up once she is sure that her child is not injured. Her actions remind her of similar activities she performed for Ella's father up until she was pregnant and had to put some distance between him and her baby.

Director Nathan Oliver tells a horror story that has a strong comedic spine. Oliver also shares a writing credit with the films producer Albert Melamed. The dialogue portrays a playful and seductive heroine who's internal debates on whether or not to strike are more amusing than chilling. The narrative gives just enough back story on Ella's father to give some reasoning behind her sudden turn towards violence and her mothers blinding support of her activities.

Kate Daly shines as the titular character. She plays timid good girl, seductive temptress, attentive student and psychotic killer at different points in the film. The inner dialogue device and dream sequences allow her to play good and bad at the same time. Meredith Heinrich is solid as Ella's mom. He unconditional support of her daughter and her dad before demonstrates a duality of being used or encouraging the behaviour with her silence. Look for Malcolm McDowell as creepy neighbour Gerald. Usually armed with his pruning shears Gerald has the habit of staring at Ella inappropriately and uttering phrases to her that are better off kept private.

Lady Psycho Killer is a slasher movie with a twist. The killer is proud of her work, wants to show it off and expects an A in Psych 101 for her efforts. The film benefits from a charismatic lead actor and a narrative that bends away from tradition. It's good messy fun that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Lady Psycho Killer | Nathan Oliver |  Canada / U.S.A. | 2015 | 82 Minutes.

Tags: Serial Killer, University, Strip Club, Disco, Stuffed Animals, Knife, Psych 101, Class Assignment.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review- Socialphobia

Perhaps the worst by product of the internet is the bullying and public shaming that occurs on the web. People who would never say something confrontational in person feel empowered behind a username on the web to spew vicious criticism or to post personal information. These online elements are key in Director Hong Seok-Jae internet mystery film Socialphobia.

Ji-woong (Byeon-Yo-han) and Yong-min (Lee Joo-seung) are both training to become police officers having completed the first stage of tests. They spend time with a group of college friends who are always on their phones, posting in chat rooms and sending out tweets on trending topics. A solider from the army deserts and commits suicide thus becoming the number one media story on the web. A female poster Ha-yeong (Ha Yoon-Kyeong) known a Rena tweets unflattering things about the solider and men in general. She receives immediate backlash from the Korean Netizens leading Ji-woong, Yong-min and their friends join up with Internet live show host Mr. Babble to go after her to shame her live on air for her comments.

Rena address is made public and the group head to her place with laptop in hand streaming live on the air. When they arrive she is found hanging leading to quick police involvement and a crystal path of the boys activities on the web. The students now face a backlash themselves as the internet devotees begin to theorize that Rena was possibly murdered.  Ji-woong and Yong-min's jump on the investigation hoping to clear their names and not jeopardize their chances of joining the police force.

Director Hong Seok Jae continues the growing trend of turning the movie screen into a giant social media display. Tweets, instant messages, chat boxes all appear on screen as does the feed of the Mr. Babble show. The result is a cluttered landscape that takes the viewer out of being in the moment with the film. The technique is used effectively on one occasion as a key piece of information is gleaned then discussed in a chat room. However this time the screen is black save for the white wording and current users comments on screen. The production also suffered from uneven writing. The investigation into the death is poorly done turning into a mob attack and accusations of guilt on whoever appears to be the key suspect at the moment.

The cast is functional with no member separating from the ensemble to warrant specific comment. For the majority of the time the characters are staring at or typing on their phones passing them around to colleagues to view when they have said something particularly insulting to some unseen adversary.

Socialphobia is a mean spirited look at the pitfalls of social networking. The story is uneven and the main plot point for does not reach a satisfactory conclusion. There are some elements here that could have been developed into a useful commentary on the topic but it just doesn't occur.

** Out of 4

Socialphobia | Hong Seok Jae | South Korea | 2014 | 100 Minutes.

Tags : Internet bullying, suicide, homicide, Chat Room, Twitter, Cell Phone, investigation, Mob mentality.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review- Scherzo Diabolico

Aram is a good worker and team player. Despite working significant overtime and solving all of the major problems in the office he does not receive a promotion, raise, or extra pay for the overtime. He is fiercely loyal to his boss although both know that he is the key to the success of the office and his wife is giving him grief at home for not standing up for himself at work. His only true pleasure is a CD of All Time Piano's Greatest Hits that he plays in his car and the office when he works late. Even his boss likes the CD pledging to pick up a copy for himself.

But Aram has a dark side as well. He spends many an afternoon as a regular client of a call girl. He also hatched a private project methodically making a list of needed items followed by detailed scouting for timing and execution. Aram then kidnaps a high school girl, holding her hostage in an abandoned building. He administers electric shocks plus several forms of psychological torture on his victim before suddenly releasing her.

Writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano based the story on an idea he had contemplated for a while on the male psyche and societal standards of measuring success. He also wanted to touch on the fact that hard work alone will not get you ahead. One needs to play politics, have someone champion your position or abuse someone to move towards the next level. The fantasy plays out through an extreme lens featuring a quick rise to success followed by an even a greater fall due to the protagonists own bad actions.

Francisco Barriero carries the film in the role of Aram. He plays meek and agreeable with his boss and wife. As opposed to a planner, plotter, ruthless and cruel monster in his exchanges with the victim. Then he balances attentive and carnal with his extra marital female dalliances. Daniela Soto Vell is very convincing as Anabella. She starts out as a confident high school student with the school principal amongst her admires. Next projects a timid schoolgirl when kidnapped and restrained but soon adapts to a strong vicious women bent on revenge for her extended suffering.

Scherzo Diabolico is a darkly written fantasy sporting a very strong narrative. The lead and supporting characters all yield strong performances that give weight to the story. Director Adrian Garcia Bogliano continues his run of strong storytelling in a genre that is rarely supported in Central and South America. It's a film that I highly recommend.

***1/2  Out of 4.

Scherzo Diabolico | Adrian Garcia Bogliano | Mexico / U.S.A. | 2015 | 91 Minutes.

Tags; Office Politics, Kidnapping, Psychological Torture, Taser, Mexico City, School Uniform, Classical Music, Mozart, Rats.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Bite

Casey (Elma Begovic) is a couple of weeks away from getting married and away at her bachelorette party in Costa Rica with best friends Kristen (Denise Yeun) and Jill (Annette Wozinak). You would except that this would be a happy occasion but it's not for Casey. She loves her fiancé Jared (Jordan Gray) but is not ready for marriage. While on vacation she gets carried away partying and makes some poor decisions. The girls also find of a hidden natural swimming hole where Casey is bit by an unseen insect.

Upon returning home our protagonist begins to feel sick plus she has to deal with all of the final  wedding plans and being belittled by her future mother-in-law (Laurene Denkers). She develops a large blistering infected bite on her right hip and puncture marks on the right side of her neck. Casey also becomes turned off by food unable to keep anything down. The transformation really begins to take place shortly after she discovers that she's pregnant. After coming too in the bathtub following a disturbing dream she survey's the apartment to find piles of small gel like dripping eggs. A quick look in the mirror reveals sores on both temples and a change in the texture of her skin.

The film is the vision of the director Chad Archibald who also shares a writing credit with Jayme Laforest. The spark originated from a conversation with a friend that had recent returned from a trip covered in bites of different shapes and sizes not likely knowing what caused each bite.  The director also knew how he wanted Casey to move physically after the transformation and how he wanted her gooey, sticky apartment turned nest to look on screen.

Elma Begovic plays a physically engrossing character in her feature film debut. Her performance picks up steam when she attempts to treat the bite herself by pressing on it causing it to rip and ooze then frantically trying to scratch at it. As her transformation continues she moves on to white liquid and eggs dripping from her mouth ending as a crouched neck twitching human reptilian hybrid.

The set design and make up teams both contribute greatly to the production. The dripping slime filled nest is so realistic that the viewer can almost smell the oder that illicit's a gag reflex for anyone who enters the apartment. Amanda Wood and Jason Derushie make up effects work to transform Casey into a frightening presence especially their work on her eyes, skin tone and facial prosthetics.

Bite is a film that takes a different angle on the horror transformation formula. The process stops at an early enough point to allow the protagonist to keep a humanoid form and mental abilities. Allowing the story to explore how she reacts differently to friends as opposed to foes and betrayers. The narrative has more meat that expected for films of this ilk making it a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Bite | Chad Archibald | Canada | 2015 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Wedding, Bachelorette Party, Costa Rica, Cold Feet, Insect, Bite, Infected, Transformation, Pregnancy, Nest.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Fatal Frame

The settling is a rural all girls school in a Victorian style mansion. The Reverend mother and sisters run the school. They are devoted to Ophelia from Hamlet with a picture of her floating down a river to her death displayed prominently behind the Reverend Mother's desk. The star pupil is Aya (Ayama Nakjo) she is the tallest and prettiest girl in school and sings the Ophelia song like an angel. Just about all of her class mates carry a secret crush.  Suddenly Aya locks herself in her room and refuses to come out. Her actions stir up old rumors of a curse that has once again resurfaced at the school. Stories began to spread about a kissing game where you kiss a picture of the person you love at the strike of midnight. Then a picture of Aya appears that seems to put those who possess it into a trance with some of the girls vanishing altogether. Aya still will not come out of her room, the dorms are put on lockdown and everyone wonders in hushed tones if the past rumours are true.

Director Mari Asato delivers all of the main elements one would expect to find in a Japanese horror film. There are no shock moments but instead a steady increase of a ghostly presence that approaches  transfixed subjects to whisper three hushed words LIFT MY CURSE.  Another staple is also present the use of muffled sound rising in volume in unison with the level of terror felt by the actors. Asato's screenplay based on the novel Eiji Ohtukha gives the narrative its needed time to unfurl. The main players are given their just time to develop and divide the supporting from the lead characters in the piece.

The Victorian school and dormitory are a major element in the film.  Footsteps echo through the halls, the dorms are old shaped with awkward beams and drawstring attack entrance. Plus the most memorable ghostly apparition in the piece takes place in the grand hall well the girls gather to hear important announcements.

The casting department assembled a strong cast. Aoi Morikawa emerges from the group in the lead role of Michi. Morikawa plays several different emotional states in the film. Early on she is a secondary supporting character then one of the main spellbound students  and finally the one that has the best chance of breaking the curse. Ayama Nakjo has the most to do in the film as Aya. She is worshipped as the prized student at the outset then absent except for a ghostly presence for the middle of the film before she partners with Michi in the attempt to end the curse.

Fatal Frame is a classic telling of a Japanese Ghost story. The narrative is strong and the setting, acting and subtle special effects strike the right mix. The film has a deliberate stride that winds its way to a satisfying conclusion.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Fatal Frame | Mari Asato | Japan | 2014 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Ghost, Catholic Boarding School, Suicide, Pact, Curse, Picture, Possessed, Reservoir, Drowning.

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Cop Car

Two 10-year-old boys Travis (James Freeson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hayes Welford) are walking though farmland on the outskirts of town having decided to run away from home. They are armed with walking sticks and believe that they must have gotten 10 miles away by now as they maneuver through a barbed wire fence between properties.  After listening to their conversation for a short period of time it's obvious that Travis is the instigator and Harrison the more reserved thinker of the pair.  As they continue their walk they come across a Cop Car sitting parked on a dirt road. Immediately they drop to the ground and hide, then take turns running up and touching it. When they realize that the car appears to be abandoned they try all the doors finding the driver's side open and the keys under the visor. The boys start the car and gingerly roll away.

A short time earlier Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) drives to a remote area outside of town and parks his cop car. He finishes his beer and puts it on the hood. Next he takes off his gun belt, strips down to his undershirt, removes a tarp and goes to the trunk. Kretzer removes a body then drags it through the trees to an abandon well. When he heads back to his vehicle he finds it gone.

Director and co-writer Jon Watts builds an imaginative tale from a simple premise along with his writing partner Christopher Ford.  Two curious kids find an abandoned police car, take it for a joy ride and explore with fresh young eyes and minds all that the car can offer.  The flip side, the car belongs to someone, they will want it back and what are the potential consequences of the boys actions. The  expansive and flat Colorado shooting location allowed the crew to employ several long and wide shots that are used very effectively to gradually build suspense the moment anything of interest entered the frame.

The two young leads James Freeson-Jackson and Hayes Welford turn in veteran level performances. When a decision is needed they discuss each give an opinion then they proceed on a united front.  The pair are genuinely wide eyed as investigate all of the equipment in the car and are thankfully aided by great sense of timing in the script when fiddling with dangerous ones. Kevin Bacon physical nuanced performance is impressive. He has only a handful of words for first 20 minutes he's on screen. Bacon uses his eyes, gestures, grunts, moans and curse words to get Sheriff Kertzer across to the audience.

Cop Car is an uncomplicated story that brings the viewer to the spot where three people intersect on a  particular day. Refreshingly there is no obligatory flashback to explain why the boys had run away or why Sheriff Kertzer is out in a remote area off the grid using his cruiser to do things that he ought not to be doing. It's a well acted and written film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

Cop Car | John Watts |  U.S.A. | 2015 | 86 Minutes.

Tags: 10-year-olds, Joy Ride, Rural, Police, Runaway, Guns, Shootout, Cocaine, Body.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review- Love & Peace

Two things are needed when viewing a Sion Sono a film. The first be willing to suspend belief. The second, no matter how wacky things are going on screen remember Sono has a plan that will yield a satisfying result in the end.  This principal is never truer than for his current feature Love & Peace where the co-lead character is a Godzilla sized turtle.

Ryochi Suziki (Haroki Hasgawa) is a failed musician who had a glimmer of fame in his early twenties. He's now confined to a dead end job making parts for musical instruments. Suziki is constantly ridiculed by his co-workers for his clumsiness and awkwardness but has one friendly face at work Yuru Tarajimi (Kumiko Aso). One day on his lunch break he buys a miniature turtle that he takes home and names Pikadon. The turtle becomes Ryo's muse singing out song melodies and inspiring lyrics in a very unusual manner. However when his colleagues tease him about the pet Ryo flushes Pikadon down the toilet temporarily separating them and beginning an adventure in the sewers for the tortoise.

Writer/Director Sino Sono presents a fantastical story whose narrative is split above and below Terra Ferma.  Below ground Pikadon arrives at an underground workshop of Pa (Tokiyuski Yashida) who takes in abandon toys and animals that make their way to his door. Then through magical glowing gumball sized potions he gives them the ability to speak. The fixed and repaired orphans stay with Pa battling their desire to return home. Meanwhile above ground Ryo's popularity continue to grow and a mistaken dose of a wish potion fed to Pikadon gives the tortoise the ability to fulfill his owner's dreams. The side effect being that as Ryo's career advances so does the size of his pet.

Haroki Hasgawa delivers an exaggerated manic physical performance as Ryochi Suzuki. He is meek hunched and paranoid at the start of the film. But with the aid of his muse progresses to leather clad rock star then on to a David Bowiesque solo performer. Kumiko Aso is strong as Yuru Tarajimi she is often dressed in two many layers sporting her horn rimmed glasses with her awkwardness going mostly unnoticed due to the presence of Ryochi in the office. Tokiyuski Yashida is superb as the mysterious sewer dwelling Pa.

Love & Peace is a magical fairytale set on the streets and in the sewers of Toyko. The screenplay finds Sino Sono at his creative best supported by strong performances by the cast and a melodic theme song that will make you smile as you hum it for days after leaving the theatre. It's a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Love & Peace | Sino Sono | Japan | 2015 | 117 Minutes.

Tags: Turtle, Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Nippon Stadium, Punk Rock, Musical Muse, Rock Star, Toys, Christmas.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Traders

A financial business goes bust with 14 billion defect on the books. The satellite offices in London and Singapore label staff from that branch toxic. The employees were making very good money having expenses to match their expected monthly income. Now that a regular paycheck is gone their respective collars begin to tighten. Into this space steps Vernon Stynes (John  Bradley) from Game of Thrones who has a new business plan to cash in on econoside (the theory that for every point the unemployment rate goes up the suicide rate increases in lock step).

The plan is a contract between consenting adults to liquefy all of their assist, put the cash into a green bag, meet the other agreeable party and fight to the death for the cash in both bags. The options are death or double your money a better option to someone desperate for funds than a low decent into financial ruin. Stynes calls this new venture Trading. Participants can go to the website find a match meet their opponent in a pub, check for guns (which are not allowed), exchange and disable cell phones then head out to a remote area using multiple busses to avoid tails to Trade.

Vernon's colleague from the bankrupted firm Harry Fox (Killan Scott) is appalled when Vernon first approaches him with the new business idea. But after he gets a full grasp of his new financial reality that includes a minimum wage data entry position and threatening calls from his bank he agrees to Trade. Unexpectedly Harry finds that he is very good at it and has videos from you tube military instructor Big John (Tom Davis) to help him deal with injuries especially knife wounds suffered out on the field of play.

Writer /Directors Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy bring an unbelievable but chillingly conceivable story to the screen.  In this current economic client with people seriously in debt, business, corporation and even countries threatening to fail a chance to double your money or end it all quickly could appeal to a very desperate person. The direction peaks when the fights are depicted on screen. The combatants are very cordial when they are going through the initial steps then all of a sudden the fight is on and despite several fight scenes the audience never is ready for that first violent strike.

Killian Scott is perfectly cast as the main trader Harry Fox. He is first unwilling then ready to give his opponent the chance to back out but as his successes pile up he turns into a cold-blooded quick strike assassin. John Bradley continues to build a career as a thinking sidekick.  His Vernon Stynes character is an encyclopaedia of mundane facts but strikes on the concept of Trading. Look for Barry Keoghan in the supporting role of Ken. He becomes involved in Trading as Vernon's proxy, is much younger and smaller than the other players but makes up for is youth with ultra violent knife proficiency.

Traders is a compelling study of an underground activity. The rules set the framework and the participants willingness for the most part to follow is reminiscent of David Fincher's Fight Club. Killian Scott even has that late 90's Brad Pitt look. The film has a very strong narrative that is eerily plausible making Traders a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Traders | Rachel Moriarty / Peter Murphy | Ireland | 2015 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Economic Collapse, Bankrupt, Financial Crisis, Suicide, Mortgage Payments, Desperation, Duel, Fight, Death, Knives, Bruises, Knife Wounds, Remote Location, Grave.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - The Demolisher

Female Cop Down is the opening phrase of writer/director Gabriel Carrer's The Demolisher.  The Officer (Tianna Nori) attempted to stop a ritualistic sacrifice when the Cult members attacked her   leaving her paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.  Her husband Bruce (Ry Barrett) a cable repair man feels the need to get revenge for what happened to his wife Samantha.  He takes to dressing up in full body armour roaming the cities back alleys at night looking for criminals of any stripe to dispense some citizenry vigilante justice. Bruce has a heightened sense of duty now that he has to care for his disabled wife.  He sets his watch alarm to know when he has to get home to next inject her medication and wears their wedding rings on a chain around his neck to remind him of his commitment.

Bruce starts out punishing wrongdoers but as his need for violence and bloodlust grows his fuse shortens. After an unfortunate incident on a repair call his focus shifts to a young female (Jessica Vano) who happened by accident to pick up Bruce's chain that he lost in a theatre. Thus begins the main part of the film a relentless pursuit of Marie by the Demolisher over a long dark night through the streets of Toronto.

Carrer's film tells the story of a man who's world and mind turn inside out after a violent attack on his wife. Bruce takes to the streets to exact revenge but the weight of his situation is too much for him to bear. He starts to hear things, becomes increasing violent until anyone and everyone becomes a target of his wrath. Career paces the film well. The narrative peaks during the late night foot pursuit through city streets, empty buildings and in and out of stairwells. The story puts the vigilante into robotic mode as he steadily tracks Marie around the city.

Ry Barrett turns in a top notch brooding, concise bordering on mute performance as the title character. Instead of speaking his anger is often portrayed by body language. Closing the distance to get into someones space, fists clenching, neck muscles bulging and beating on his chest plate for effect. Jessica Vano shows resourcefulness as Marie.  She is willing to face her pursuer head on, tries to use any advantage she may gain in the confrontation and shows dogged determination to keep on moving and fighting.

The Demolisher is a tense impactful thriller showing ones man's meltdown as his grip on reality slips away.  Bruce's rage steadily consumes him until his actions are not different from those that he took up the billy club to defeat. The film features a strong sparsely worded narrative and is one that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

The Demolisher | Gabriel Career | Canada | 2015 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Vigilante, Trauma, Chase, Body Armour, Gang, Cult, Sacrifice, Paralyzed, Police Officer.