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.

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Wild City

Ringo Lam returns to the Director's chair of a feature film for the first time in 12 years with Wild City.  Following a detour directing Jean Claude Van Damme he's back in his element overseeing a Hong Kong action film with all of the required elements. T-Man (Louis Koo) a former cop turned bar owner tells  Yan (Tong Liya) that she has to leave as it's closing time. Yan overpays the bill then leaves to get into her blue Masarati but it's obvious that she is in no condition to drive. T-Man takes her home to his step mother's house to spend the night. There, his half brother Chung (Shawn Yue) meets Yan awkwardly in the family bathroom. Chung is a blue collar guy who had dreams of being a race car driver. He now drives a red cab or a tow truck and is less refined than his older brother.

The pair agree to help Yan recover her car the next day but lean that she's tied to her Lawyer boyfriend Chiang (Michael Tse) who has strong underworld connections and several criminal elements are looking to eliminate her for what she's taken and what she knows. After the brothers foil an attempt to snatch  Yan the police become involved but show their ex-colleague T-Man no favouritism in their investigation.

Lam is clearly in his comfort zone with this feature that he also wrote. The film checks all of the Hong Kong crime thriller boxes.  There's a memorable car chase with T-man as pursuer ending with a spectacular conclusion that splits a city bus into two. Lam throws in hand to hand combat, shoot outs, knife play and a boat propeller killing for good measure. The Triads are part of the piece but not the most dangerous criminal element in the production. That honour goes to a ruthless Taiwanese gang.

Louis Koo stands out as T-Man. He is prim, proper button downed and a student of the ills that the obsession with money causes. But if pushed he can flip and be ultra violent to reach his goals. Shawn Yue is Koo's foil playing his half brother Chung. He's hot headed keeping his emotions close to the surface, does not have much respect for the rule of law but is fiercely loyal to his family. He also provides some key comedic moments to counter his serious brother and the uptight law enforcement officers.

Wild City marks a welcomed return to the Hong Kong action film genre by Ringo Lam. Lam gets a lots of things right with this film setting the feel right off the hop with sweeping shots of the Hong Kong skyline at night. He's even cranked up the sound mix to enhance the ripping of steel as cars collide, bullets fly and knives slice through the air or flesh during the production. Here's hoping its not too long before he directs another full length feature again.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Wild City | Ringo Lam | Hong Kong | 2015 | 120 Minutes.

Tags; Hong Kong, Money, Ex- Cop, Taxi, Maserati, Triads, Taiwanese Gang, Kidnap, Chase, Metal Briefcase.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Wonderful World End

Shouri (Ai Hashimoto)  is a modern day multiple media personality. She has an interactive blog, an agent booking her for modelling and acting jobs and she does live appearances on the weekends.  Just about every one of her thoughts is broadcast, texted, recorded or distributed. During one of her outings handing out flyers she meets Ami (Juno Aonami) a fourteen year old girl that follows everything that Shouri puts out. Ami is quiet,meek and dresses in Shouri's patented Gothic Lolita style. She tells Shouri that she has come all the way from Yokohama to see her. Shouri is living with her boyfriend Kohei (Yu Inaba) who is a stage actor and in Shori's opinion self-absorbed. One day when Shori returns to the apartment she finds Ami there playing video games with Kohei. A line has to be drawn with fans she tells Kohei . But he has sympathy for Ami who has run away from home. It's Shouri who leaves the apartment deciding to find her own space.

Director Daigo Matsui continues a growing trend of using the movie screen as a display or home screen of a social media device. Bubbles appear containing text notes along with emoji always increasing in number and size, Shouri's blog home page pops up with the number of current viewers in the top right corner and the total viewers of the blog in the left. The camera acts in several sequences like a video being shot on a camera phone. The characters themselves spend a significant amount of time gazing into their phones, sending texts or using them to record or take pictures. However the film does have an original story. It's a completely different telling of the over zealous fan. In the usual mode Ami would try to take Shoui's place, take her boyfriend or begin to terrorize her idol. Instead the reverse occurs.

The subplot on Shouri's efforts to make it as an actress is also important. Her agent tries to get her work but is not leading her in the direction she wants to go. He is against her blog and her modern girl fashion and make up tips. He wants her to be serious and professional but when he stumbles into one of her broadcast where she is showing a little bit of skin he jumps on the opening to offer some dubious work even asking if Ami could join her to model together. Shouri sticks to her morale code and refuses the work.

Ai Hashimoto shows a surprising range in the lead role of Shouri. At the films outset she is confident sure she is gong to be a star and proud of her legion of fans. As the film progresses she turns vulnerable, begs for attention and begins to give in slightly to the trolls on her blog that ask her to show some skin. She is wiling to go on calls for jobs that are not to her liking and considers loosing her morals at her agents suggestion. Juno Aonami is solid as Ami. She's a withdrawn 14 year old follower but does not waver from who she is. She stays steady through the film while those around her rise and fall emotionally.

Wonderful World End is a story on the surface about modern technology, how it's at everyone's fingertips and can be totally absorbing. Today your're free to start your own blog, set up a You Tube channel and broadcast your every waking idea. But underneath this is a narrative about the relationship between two girls where the hero role flips and the story delivers a strong message on the willingness to draw a line in this high-speed disposable society.

*** Out of 4

Wonderful World End | Daigo Matusi | Japan  | 2015 | 124 Minutes.

Tags:  Video Blog, Actress, Model, Agent, Superfan, Yokohama, Runaway, iphone, emoji.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Cash Only

Elvis Martini (Nickola Shreli) is on a really bad streak. He is in court because he's behind on his mortgage for his rental apartment and the bank wants to foreclose. Luckily the Judge gives him an extension to try to piece the funds together. Most of his tenants are behind on their rent. The ones that pay are constantly at him to fix items that are broken in their units. His daughter Lena is at home playing video games all day because he is behind on payments to the Albanian religious school. He owes the community loan shark $10,000 and to top it off he regularly listens to the last phone message from his wife who died accidentally in a fire that he caused.

Despite all of his issues Nickola manages to keep a calm demeanour as he attempts to find a way out of the hole. His first move is to step up the presser on the renters. Rolexa (Maia Noni) who has a son about Lena's age works the streets at night and is $1800 behind in her rent. Nickola decides to evict, changes her locks and finds a stash of cash in her apartment that he confiscates. He is oblivious to her threats when she comes banging on his door looking to get back into her apartment. Nickola uses the new found wealth to pay down on some of his debts then gets an ominous call from someone looking to get into Rolexa's apartment to recover something that was left there.

Director Malik Bader does an excellent job of making the dilapidated city of Detroit a major character in the film. Bader shows that its rundown, dark, bland and cold emphasizing that the citizens hanging on to the lower rungs of society are potentially Nickola's tenants. Elvis Martini is also the writer of the story. It's a narrative he knows well having been an apartment landlord in Detroit. The story moves along at a measured pace introducing fully formed characters as tenants in the building or members of the Detroit Albanian community. The script features card games in the local Albanian Social club, outdoor hard liquor parties to celebrate an impending wedding and the community church leader offering words of wisdom or a blessing for good luck to citizens.

The story shifts to a higher level when the ominous voice, Dino (Stivi Paskoski) takes something precious to Elvis that will only be returned in exchange for the stolen money plus interest and tax. Elvis has to use all of his creative powers to raise the money and decide ethically how far he is willing to go to make the deal. The build up to and the exchange provides the most intense moments on film this year.

Cash Only is a slow build intense drama that achieves a red hot burn in the closing segments. The viewer's imagination will get away from them as their eyes sweep the screen contemplating the multiple options available to inflict punishment on the protagonist. The narrative flows smartly and the cast comfortable with the Albanian-American experience.  It's a hard piece but a film that I highly recommend.

**** Out of 4

Cash Only | Malik Bader | U.S.A. / Albania | 2015 | 91 minutes.

Tags; Landlord, Detroit, Albania, Loan, Rent, Dog Fighting, Ransom, Eviction, Balkan.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - The Royal Tailor

Dol- Seok (Han Suk-Kyu) served the court of the Joseon Dynasty for 30 years. He started from humble beginnings but rose to nobility mainly for setting the clothing standards of the Royal Court and being fierce adherer of Court rules. His staff crafted traditional attire guided the base principals of social status and decorum permeating though every cuff and collar. Into this proper society drops Kong- Jin (Ko Soo) armed with radical ideas from the countryside. He sleeps with his customer's wives, is fond of using a half stitch and believes that clothes should be tailored to fit the person as opposed to the other way around.

Ko Soo's new ideas first come to the attention of mid level nobleman Pan -Soo (Ma Dong-Seok) who is the first wear the new style tailored outfit. Next he catches the eye of the queen (Park Shin-Hye) when he fixes a ceremonial robe for the king damaged by one of her attendants.  Then the King himself (Yoo Yeon- Seok) requests that Kong- Jin create a new hunting outfit. The battle lines are drawn between the new and the old methods but the two Sanguiwon are respectful both seeing the other's talent. It's the king that settles the argument choosing a camp due to a political opportunity to cement his year old reign.

Director Lee Won Suk presents a story that at its core features base instinctual elements that have been explored many times before. In sports it's' the proven veteran player facing off against the young talented rookie. In music, the seasoned pop star trying to hold the stage vs. a new pop sensation. In the wild it's the mature male fighting off a challenge from a younger rival. The story is quite linear and could have used some trimming to its 127 minute run time especially during segments of the final act. However, the clothing is the real star of the production. Cinematographer Ji-yong Kim and the costume design team worked well in tandem to bring out the rich colours of the costumes.  The garments feature intricate embroidering plus rich, reds, purples, blues and browns that leap off the screen. Director Suk does a superior job of capturing the movement of the fabrics as they cut through the air through gestures or movements of the wearer.

Suk-kyu Han is prominent in the title role. He is especially strong when conveying a clear recognition of  Ko Soo's genius but is enrage by his attitude and actions that are contrary to every rule at Court. Park Shin Hye turns in a sound performance as the Queen. Her character is conflicted on several levels. She's left over from the prior regime being the widow of the Kings older brother. The King's eye wonders to concubines, women at court and daughters of advisors who could maneuver to replace her as Queen. She has her standing but is often on the fringe of court life and events.  Dong Seok Ma is notable as nobleman Pan-Soo. He is the first to go to Ko Soo for his services eventually becoming his main supporter. Pan -Soo is the centre of an excellent interlude when he shows off his fresh form fitting garment with short cuffs.

The Royal Tailor provides a window into the Royal Court during the Joseon Dynasty. The film gives a look at the elements that were deemed important to show social standing and the behaviour that was required to succeed in society. The film suffers from some unneeded elements that build and play a major part in the third act.  However if you have an interest in the period or ceremonial fashion and costume the film is worth a viewing.

** 1/2 out of 4

The Royal Tailor | Lee Won-Suk | South Korea | 2014 | 127 minutes.

Tags; Joseon Dynasty, Sanguiwon, Rivalry, Royal Court, Fashion, Royal Hunt, Treason.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - 100 Yen Love

Ichiko (Sakura Andu) has turned doing nothing into an art form.  She eats junk food all day long, wears baggy tee shirts and pajama pants as a uniform. Ichiko regular pummels her young nephew in video games and refuses to work in the family Bento shop. When she runs low on munchies she heads to her favourite convenience story where everything cost 100 Yen (a dollar) to refill always leaving a decent tip. Ichiko continues to fight with her sister (Saori) in the family home the later labelling the former as useless and complains that her parent go to easy on her. After one extreme incident between the two Ichiko leaves home to venture out on her own and start anew.

Our protagonist gets a job at her favourite convince store and rents out a top floor apartment nearby. As she has no social life she is willing to work the night shift that the other employees avoid. A boxing gym is beside the store. Ichiko frequently stops in front and peers in at the activity on a regular basis. One boxer (Hirofumi Arai) who catches her eye frequents the dollar store to buy bananas earning the nickname banana man. Eventually Ichiko enters the gym to get in better shape finds she has a knack for the sport then begins to excel and transforming her body and mind.

Director Mashaura and writer Shin Adachi present a story that deals with relationships and finding motivation on many levels. Many of the characters are not likeable for at lease a portion of their time on screen  including our protagonist who's a drain on her family at the out site of the film. Several of the employees at 100 Yen love are very self serving looking to take an advantage possible by evidence on how many instances the store has been robbed by current and ex employees alike.

The real strength of the film is the work by Sakura Andu in the lead role. She undergoes a remarkable transformation for the role. Starting out as a junk food eating but scratching slacker then morphing into a double time rope jumping, precise shadow boxing fighter. Herofumi Arai is effective as an aging fighter. Arai is quiet and moody. He starts a relationship with Ichiko after she takes him in one evenings but he drifts away after taking a job selling tofu out of a street cart.

100 Yen Love is an interesting study of a person who gains self worth through boxing. The sport brings a purpose to Ichiko's life as she now has goals, training, studying to past the government boxing proficiency test then prepare for and have her first fight. The secondary characters at the 100 Yen store all have their quirks some of them possessing character traits and flaws that are more dangerous than others. The films dialogue is rich and full and the subject matter covers a story worth telling. It is a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

100 Yen Love | Masaharu Take | Japan | 2014 | 113 Minutes.

Tags: Slacker, Boxer, Clerk, Robbery, Transformation, Fight, Bento Box, Tofu.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Ludo

Teens have a difficult time trying to get together for some private fun in Kolkata. Their parents are checking their phones, pushing them to dress more conservatively, threatening potential dates and in some cases barring them from going out.  Ria (Suboliha Sen) has to deal with all of these annoyances when she tries to go out for a night on the town with her friend Payal (Ananya Biswas) her boyfriend Babai (Ranodeep Bose) and his pal Pele (Sumendra Bhattacharya) who may be a match for her.

The four meet up ride mopeds around town hit a club and eventually end up at a food-stand. There two corrupt cops flag them for violations then demand cash to avoid a trip to the police station. Next the foursome try to rent a hotel room but do not have any luck. Payal suggests that they go to a shopping mall at closing time which they do and meet an older frail couple that are hungry for food and water.

Directors Quashiq Muckheje and Nikon loose direction of the film early into the second act. The premise of sex seeking teens looking for a spot to release their desires turns into an exploration of an ancient demonic game that lures then binds unsuspecting players.

The production would have been cleaner if started with the main plot point and focused on the brother and sister (Joyraj Bhattacharya) and (Rii) who are eternally linked to the board game. Instead   the main story plays as an interlude making the audience wonder when they will get back to the hormonal quartet.  The board game itself is very repetitive. On every turn the players sit transfixed constantly shaking a weathered dice in a glass bottle. The soft cloth board has not discernible markings except a glowing centrepiece the initial element that draws players into the fold.

Ludo is a poorly crafted and positioned film. The focus of the piece changes early into the second act and the story bogs down in an attempt to tell the tale of an ancient cursed game. The writers had some elements to work with here but the end product is jumbled and flawed and not a film that I can recommend.

* 1/2 Out of 4.

Ludo | Quashiq Muckheje /Nikon |India | 2015 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Borad Game , Curse, Siblings, Shaman, Temple, Kolkata, Teens, Nightlife, Shopping Mall, Condoms.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Assassination Classroom

The story starts with a confrontation between the Japanese Army and an unseen  the films opening a monster that had already destroyed the moon leaving only a crescent then headed to earth. Among the monster's supernatural features are multiple razor sharp tentacles and the ability to move at Mock 20. The visitor's next target is planet Earth itself.  However liking a challenge the monster (Koro Sensei)  is willing to teach a middle school class. If they train their skills and are able to kill him he would be a gracious looser and the earth would be saved. The worlds nations agree to let Japan handle the situation and the reward for the students if they can kill Koro Sensei is 10 billion yen.

The 3-E class name the monster U.T. for unkillable teacher. U.T. is determined to teach the class all subjects as he made a secret promise. The student are trained by Kadomini Karsura (Kippei Shiina) from the Ministry of Defence. Since they are middle school students they are given weapons that are not harmful to humans but lethal to U.T.  The other professional assigned to the class is Irina Jelavic an seasoned assassin herself who's always looking for an opportunity to strike.  Each day of class begins with attendance. The students grab weapons, prepare strategy and have the opportunity to attempt to assassinate U.T.   The period normally ends with U.T. pleased that everyone is present then the alien announces the number of hits on his person for the day.  After roll call is complete its on to the days lessons.

Director Elichiro Hasumi presents a story based on a complex Japanese Magna. The premise is fantastical but writer Tatsuwa Kansawa balances action, comedy and the scenes of violence in the right mix. The characters include an autonomous robot and an ultra violent student with  U.T's tentacle mutation but the film absorbs these elements and outside of the regimented time for violence the story really is about a bond between a beloved teacher and group of middle school student that were the laughing stock of the school until they found a dedicated teacher to motivated them.

The ensemble cast turn in credible performances. The reluctant leader Nagisa Shiota (Ryosuke Yamada) is constantly taking notes on U.T. and uses a quiet timid approach to outwit a seasoned military opponent in a challenge. He has a crush on a girl in a gifted class whose rank means that she should have nothing to do with the flunkies in 3-E. His foil is Karuma Akabane (Masaki Suda) who was kicked out of a higher class for defending a bullied student. He is smart, resourceful aloof, arrogant and loyal.

Assassination Classroom is successful in the attempt to bring a challenging Manga to screen. The narrative is strong and the production has a solid message on the true reason for teaching. Director Hasumi does a credible job with difficult material avoiding the potential pitfalls and the possibility of the material drifting into the absurd.  The young actors turn in strong performances working in an arena of green screens and stand in props that undoubtably needed a lot of post production work. It's a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4

Assassination Classroom | Elichiro Hasumi | Japan | 2015 | 110 Minutes.

Tags: Alien Monster, Middle School, Assassins, Department of Defenese, Revenge, Loyalty, Education.

Fantasia 2015 Film Review - Raiders!

Eric Zala remembers clearly the July 1981 debut of Raiders of the Lost Arc. His future collaborator Chris Strompolos recalls seeing the film and the urge to recreate it. Strompolos knowing that he could not do this on his own spotted Eric reading a Raiders comic one day on the bus to school and struck up a conversation. The pair added Jayson Lamb who had a nose for special effects to form the core members needed to get the project off the ground.  The trio along with friends and siblings proceeded to spend the next 7 summers working on the film completing every shot except for the airplane flying wing scene that was out of their budget and expertise.

The documentary Raiders! covers several main story-lines. It shows scenes from the original VHS tape made by the boys which is unique and compelling because they did not shoot the film in order leading to large swings in ages of the players as the film goes along. The documentary  adds new material following the attempt  to get that one missing scene completed. Plus the ever changing relationship between Zala and Strompolos is the underlying thread of the film.

In the opening scene Zala and Strompolos try to secure the capital needed to shoot the airplane scene. The pair work an old time Mississippi gentleman for the money. Directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen pace the film smartly. They show shots from the VHS tape, mix in stories about the main three creators along with other friend that played parts in the film. Many cast members played multiple parts especially Eric brother who had roles such as Egyptian digger #2 and Nazi solider #3. The comments from Eric and Chris' family are also good additions to the narrative. Eric's mother was particularly closely involved as their house was the main set with the Zala living room turning into a movie set summer after summer. Chris' mom had an important role as well.  She worked for the local TV station and secured the cameras for the boys that they used in the shoot.

The spark for the revival of the project can be traced back to the 2002 Butt- Numb-A- Thon film marathon. An event where super movie geeks get together to watch films vintage films, premiers and trailers for 24 hours straight normally featuring a first screening of a major film for that year. Major attendees Director Eli Roth and Ain't it Cool News' Harry Knowles got their hands on a copy of the boys film and decided to show it at the event. They ran it at breakfast ahead of the big release that year Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Forty-five minutes in to the screening they had to shut it off to show Two Towers resulting in boo's from the captivated audience. The reaction led the pair to track down the authors for a special screening with the full premier treatment.

Raider! is an entertaining romp that will have audiences rooting for the kids and their adult alter egos complete the project. The directors handle the material well especially using a clever device of showing the boys scenes side by side with the original film. It's an enjoyable time at the movies and a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 out of 4

Raiders! | Jeremy Coon / Tim Skousen | U.S.A. | 2015 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Re create, Shot for Shot , Kids, 7 Year project, High School, Butt-Numb-A -Thon, Harry Knowles, Eli Roth.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fantasia Film Festival 2015 Film Review - Therapy for a Vampire

The resurgence of the comedic Vampire film started with last years What We do in the Shadows. The trend continues with David Ruhm's strong Austrian entry Therapy for a Vampire. The pair of films serve to wash away the pain of past disastrous attempts as the George Hamilton vehicle Love at First Bite or the even worse production Once Bitten. Count Geza von Kozsnom (Tobias Moretti) has a problem.  It's now 1932, he no longer loves his wife and fears that time has run out to reacquaint with his true love Nadila who promised to return to him after her death centuries ago in Constantinople. To relieve his heartache he seeks out professor Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) commencing treatment sessions nightly at 8:00 PM. The Countess Elsa (Jeanette Hain) is obsessed by the fact that she cannot see her reflected image. She is desperate and would consider any option to know her true face.  The other couple in the feature have their own issues. Vicktor (Dominic Oley) has a fantasy vision of his fiancé  Lucy (Conelia Ivancan) in mind that she stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. His vision happens to be Nadila, the Count's lost love. Plus Vicktor is an expert portrait painter and probably the only person that can grant the Countess' wish.

Writer /Director David Ruhm weaves an ever unspooling narrative.  The writing is robust; simple concepts and phrases morph several times over to produce amusing results. Ruhm does not only focus on the main actors in the film. The narrative gives plenty of opportunity for the secondary characters in the cast to shine. As in most Vampire film the chief action occurs at night however the presentations is far from dreary. Cinematographer Martin Gascladt uses his main ally the moonlight to illuminate the proceedings especially for shots in and around the Kozsnom schloss. The moon plays a duel role in the piece as the cycle of the full moon provides a major plot point to the production.

Tobias Moretti deftly plays the lead role. He's bored of the eternal life, drinks only bottled blood and attends sessions with the Professor to restore his will to carry on. Jenette Hain devours the role of Countess Elsa von Kozsnom. She puts extra gusto into her nightly feeding hunts.  The Countess has a look of a true huntress in her eye but can turn sweet and gentle if needed to get what she wants. Anatole Taubman is also very effective as the third member of the von Kozsnom household. Ignaz is their driver, finds targets for the Count, doubles as their butler and disposes of the bodies after his masters have fed. He also benefits from a strong comedic twist after he unknowingly completes a hypnotic suggestion authored by the Count.

Therapy for a Vampire is a witty vampire tale that features prominently several aspects of vampire legend. Mirrors, garlic, stakes and crosses all figure prominently in the script. Rhum makes particularly good use of the Vampire obsession with counting several times in the narrative. The cast is strong, the dialogue falls into a superb rhythm and 1932 Vienna is an ideal setting for the story. It's a film that I highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Therapy for a Vampire | David Ruhm | Austria /Switzerland | 2015 | 87 Minutes.

Tags: Psychology, Sigmund Freud, 1932, Vienna, Constantinople, Reincarnation, Eternal Life, Flying, Transfusion, Steak Haus.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fantasia Film Festival 2015 Film Review - Bridgend

Sara (Hannah Murray) is the new girl in town in the Welsh Valley community of Bridgend. She arrives with her police detective widower dad (Steven Waddington) and her horse Snowy. A grey dreary atmosphere hovers above the town that's experiencing a high number of teen suicide deaths. The count hit 23 when Sara and her dad pulled into the driveway of their new residence.

Sara meets her peers in her first few days of school. Laurel (Elinor Crawley) finds Sara at the stable where she's grooming Snowy inviting her to the main hangout spot in the woods by the lake.  The area is also the location where most of the teens committed suicide usually leaving no note. There she meets the rest of the group and has an immediate connection with both Thomas (Scott Arthur) the apparent leader of the group and Jamie (Josh O'Conner) who is more of a quiet brooder. The lake is the private domain of the troop where they skinny dip, drink, smoke and build bonfires. As they leave at the end of Sara's first visit they pass the shrine at the spot where the last victim Mark took his life. The teens lift their heads to the sky and shout out his name at the top of their lungs in a ritualistic fashion all except Sara who is still new to the behaviour.

Writer/Director Jeppe Ronde adapts a story that dominated the headlines in the area. The Bridgend Suicide Incidents as they are known peaked between 2007 and 2009 when almost all of the deaths were by hanging. Cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonk work stands out in the feature. A lot of the action is shot in the woods. Jonk's use of natural lighting and shadows in the forest catches the viewers eye from the opening frame of the piece. The film also uses as a device scenes shot through window panes as a character looks through to observe unfolding events.

The ensemble cast handle their roles well. Hannah Murray of Skins and Game of Thorns fame character Sara shows key instances of growth throughout the film as she draws closer to the fold. Adrian Rawlins is notable in a smaller role as the local Vicar and Jamie's dad. He tries to reach out to the teens to offer support from the Church but is mocked by the group often with Jamie standing quietly by.

Bridgend is an eerie obsessive feature that brings the viewer deeper into the increasing groupthink of the Valley teens. Their activities are pack like with severe consequence inflicted on anyone showing a desire to depart the circle. Director Ronde presents the material plainly. The production does not put their slant on the events. The closest comment to a reason comes from Jamie when he responds that their view is not what this is to a theory presented by an adult.

*** Out of 4.

Bridgend | Jeppe Ronde | Denmark | 2015 | 93 minutes.

Tags; Suicide, Cult, Wales, The Valley, Teens, Woods, Ritual, Police, Church.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fantasia Film Festival 2015 Film Review - Ant Man

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has a particular set of skills; unfortunately his talents lie on the wrong side of the law. As the films opens Lang is released from San Quentin after a three-year stint picked up by his former cellmate Luis (Michael Pena) who already has job in mind for the old crew to pull off. Scott explains to the group that he is not a robber, did not use weapons and stole only from the rich who had wronged their community. He also has a young daughter that he wants to see grow up plus her future new step dad is a cop. At the same time Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who was forced out of his company by his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and former protégé Dan Cross (Corey Stoll) learns that the Enterprise is on the verge of duplicating his work. Pym had shut down his research a generation ago as he saw the dangerous implications of the technology in the hands of the military.

Director Peyton Reed brings to the screen a superhero tale that is bright, funny, light hearted and ver playful. An approach used in last summers Marvel hit Guardians of the Galaxy (that also sneak peaked at Fantasia). Writer and original director Edgar Wright plays a balancing act between the comical and absurd and occasion wobbles towards the latter. The narrative shines presenting the chain of events that bring Pym and Lang together. Only outdone when it builds on the two father daughter relationships at the centre of the film.

As in any action film the action sequences, sound and massive destruction on a large scale are key.  Ant- Man scores an A in all three categories. Look for a key plot point delivered through a Marvel cross franchise pollination sequence. Ant-Man's first appearance demonstrates how ordinary daily items turn into a minefields when your stature is reduced to that if a pea. The production design team did memorable work turning everyday hand held items into potential propellants of death. The destruction meter is turned way up as well especially when our hero has in his hand discs that can shrink or more spectacularly enlarge any item they strike.

Paul Rudd turns in a solid performance as good hearted criminal Scott Lang. Rudd is at his strongest when he doggedly sticks with an activity despite multiple failures. Cory Stoll is notable as Pym's former protege turned rival Cross who keeps pushing to solve the Pym equation paying little attention to who or what gets destroyed as a result.  Judy Greer is strong in a very limited role as Rudd's soon to be ex-wife Maggie. She could have been given more to do in the production but does deliver a key line; Be the hero that your daughter thinks that you are that motivates Scott in his battles.

Ant-Man is an enjoyable film that keeps the heavy dramatics to a minimum. It's a true summer popcorn film that is pure family entertainment.  Director Peyton Reed takes a differently slant on the super hero genre building seamlessly on Edgar Writes voice and vision. It's a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

 Ant- Man | Peyton Reed | 2015 | U.S. A | 117 Minutes.

Tags;  Science Fiction, Comic Book, Marvel, Burglary, Atoms, Defence Contract, Father / Daughter, Ex-Con.

Fantasia Film Festival 2015 Film Review - Miss Hokusai

Haniko Sugiura was a Japanese Manga (Comic) Artist focused on the Edo period in Japan's history when the fighting amongst different warrior factions eased and the merchant class came to the front of Japanese society. A shift from years of internal warfare lead the inhabitants of Edo (modern day Tokyo) to other pursuits chiefly geisha's, brothels and Art. Since Sugiura was a devotee to the Edo period it is fitting that her manga centered on O-Ei the daughter of the most famous artist of the period Tetsuzo would be the material that director Keiichi Hara and screenplay writer Miho Mauro adapted for their film Miss Hokusai.

Set in 1814, O-Ei is living in several different worlds.  She's assistant to her famous Artist father whose only interest is to paint.  As E-Oi states early on in the film her nutty father doesn't clean, doesn't smoke so when a home becomes cluttered with crumpled disregarded sketch paper they just pack up and move elsewhere. Her second and most compelling role is big sister to O-Nao who was born blind and lives with her mother. E-Oi's parents are divorced and Tetuszo does not have any interest in a blind daughter perhaps for superstitious reasons or that being blind O-Nao cannot appreciate or help with his art. The third area is her personal life. He dad taunts her remarking that she is not a good liar therefore she is unable to get a husband. E-Oi has many potential suitors among the apprentices and Artist that come around to see her father for his wisdom and guidance.  The main one is Hatsuguro who our protagonist regularly moves towards then pulls away from throughout the film.

Production I.G. presents a superior animated feature. The characters are crisp and their movements sharp. In one memorable sequence  O-Ei and O-Nao take a boat ride that brings them beneath the main bridge where the merchants sell their wares.  The viewer is brought right into O-Nao's world as she picks out the distinct noises from the bridge above. Another key moment involves the sisters as the elder gives the younger a piggyback.  Their father walking towards them does not acknowledge the pair. The sky shifts from light to dark as the family members intersect O-Nao having no idea that her father has failed to acknowledge her once again.

Miss Hokusai is a historical tale set in the Japanese Edo period. Tokyo in its infancy.  The production gives an educational view of the main elements of the era. Merchants, Artists, Ladies and Drink are at the players as a society shifts its attention from years of regional wars to a united country.  It's a film I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Miss Hokusai | Keiichi Hara | 2015 | Japan | 93 Minutes.

Tags:  Animated Feature, Tetsuzo Hokusai, Painting, 1814, Edo,  Japanese History,  Blindness, Merchants, Brothels, Apprentice, Rival, Blindness.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NXNE Film Review - Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story

Amy Winehouse's life had certain inevitability to it from the first time she burst onto the scene. She was surrounded by a series of enablers and hangers on that unfortunately included her closest relatives. A weak support network mixed with a bad self-image plus a close analysis of the lyrics  show the observer where the talented artist was headed. Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story tells the tale of a brief life through a series of interviews, first had accounts of the events and home videos supplied by family and friends. The documentary starts off in and around the release of her first album Frank.  The home videos that focus on the main people in Amy's life at the time seem somewhat eerie when she sings songs inspired by those events. The lyrical element is crystalized especially due to Director Asif Kapadia's device of displaying the lyrics on screen as Winehouse delivers them.  At this point Amy appears to be at her happiest being a pure jazz musician playing clubs and festivals. It's during one of these early interviews that she makes the comment on how she could not handle it if she truly became a famous public figure.

Kapadia who had earlier success with his documentary on Ayrton Senna does not attempt to influence the narrative but lets the footage and interviews play out as they will. He speaks to Amy's long time friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, her first manager turned close friend Nick Shymansky, ex- husband Blake Fielder and later professional influences that clearly did not have the singer's best interest at heart. The most curious subject is her father Mitch Winehouse who Amy would have listened to if he said she was in a bad way and needed help. But clearly he did not do fuelling her addiction by making Amy thing that she was fine. The debate amongst family, friends and her manager plus her dad's stance served as the foundation of her biggest hit Rehab.

When the feature turns to Amy's childhood we see a happy outgoing child that was full of joy and energy. This all changed when her parents divorced when she was 9 leading Amy to soon realize that her mother could not control her and she could smoke weed, bring boys over and do whatever she wanted. A circumstance that is shocking similar to the account of another tortured artist, member of the notorious 27 club and subject of a current documentary. Kurt Cobain's parents also divorced when he was 9 shattering his happy childhood. In an audition for a record label at 16 we see a healthy girl who succulently states that the music on the radio today does not speak to her.  She writes her own songs plays guitar and sings with the voice of a jazz / blues singer from the 20's. Her artists aren't on Top of the Pops but rather the classics sung by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.

The subject matter on the screen is often hard to watch. Her two best friends tell the incident of how they found her unconscious on the floor in a tropical resort apartment after a long distance lovers quarrel with Blake. Another of her held up in her Camden North London flat with Fielder grotesquely abusing heroin that eventually landed her in hospital and him in jail. On top of the alcohol and drug abuse she was destroying her inner organs through episodes of bulimia dating back to her teens. A subject that her family members viewed as a running joke or as her dad Mitch commented was not a big deal. Another foreshadowing sequence is her satellite performance from London during the 2008 Grammy awards when she won Record of the year. It's an occasion when Amy is sober and should be a highlight but in a quite moment after the win all she can think of is that the moment is boring because she is not on drugs. Lastly, the topper is promoter turned Manager Raye Cosbert's 2011 Belgrade Festival booking. Winehouse was enjoying a good period before the event, had to binge drink to get on the plane, appeared completely smashed on stage, refused to sing and was eventually booed off the stage.

Raw: The Amy Winehouse Story is at a time where a sad tragic tale of a great voice that was taken from the world too soon. The chaos and additions peppered thorough her family, business and personal relationships set the singer on a path that would only end one way. There were certain points and opportunities for people close to her to help her avoid her impending fate but the really distressing point may be that without the factors in her life her music may not have been as rich and powerful.  As Amy stated early on in her career that she won't right a song unless it was personal.  It's a documentary exploration that I highly recommend.

4 Out of 4.

Amy | Asif Kapadia | U.K |  2015 | 128 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary , Biography, Voice, Musician, Old Soul, Father/Daughter, Camden, Grammy, Heroin, Bulimia, Rehab, 27 Club.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Film Review- Minions

The Minions were around long before man walked the earth. Their one and only goal has always been to have someone to serve preferably the biggest baddest boss. The Minions have always been successful in finding a boss. Their difficulty has been keeping a boss to serve. For some reason they seem to constantly have mishaps that lead to an unfortunate fate for their chosen leader.  After a particularly bad outcome in the early 19th century the Minions retreated up north near the Arctic Circle for several generations. But with no one to serve they began to atrophy become  slow in their movement and loose all enthusiasm and energy. One day Kevin came forward with a plan to head south to find a new boss to invigorate the tribe. He had two partners Bob and Stuart. The three set out on their journey eventually landing in 1968 New York City greeted by the Statute of Liberty, a clothes line with perfect fitting overalls and the Rolling Stone's 19th Nervous Breakdown.

The trio soon find their target Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock) the top villain in the world and the main attraction at Villain Com 1968 in Orlando. The protagonists soon find a ride along side a family of bank robbers lead by Walter and Madge Nelson (Michael Keaton & Alison Janney). At the Convention the Minions win a challenge to become Scarlett's new henchmen and head off to London to serve their mistress and her inventor husband Herb (John Hamm).

Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin deliver an entertaining feature that is enjoyable for both children and adults alike. Writer Brian Lynch's script is long on dialogue that is not overwhelmed by the action on the screen as is often the case in animated features.  The Minions speak in their own language that is just recognizable enough to tell where the conversation is going. The story is easy to follow as is the main plot point.  The trio get a task to complete from their mistress and the consequences of failure are not to subtly outlined.

Sandra Bullock is notable in her first true villain role as the voice for Scarlet Overkill. She is the master criminal in the world, an expert in hand to hand combat, but underneath it the pain of a her youth as a poor, underprivileged, invisible little girl is still fresh in her mind and the main reason for her megalomania.  Look for Jennifer Saunders voice work as QEII in two memorable scenes. First in the Royal Carriage with Stuart when she demonstrates her best wrestling moves. Then later in a local pub as she is on a break from the throne, arm wrestling and telling Queen jokes. Geoffery Rush is also strong as the narrator delivering the details of the Minions history, customs and the actions of the proceedings as they occur.

Minions is an entertaining feature with a tight script, firm sense of the late 60's and a killer soundtrack full of A list performers. The film is well paced and rewarding for moviegoers of all ages.  There is no deep message the production is trying to deliver but in the end the Minions do find their boss with a sense of humour that is very much on their level.  It is a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Minions | Kyle Balda / Pierre Coffin | U.S.A. | 2015 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Animation, History, Crime, Crown Jewels, Tower of London 1968,New York City, Orlando.