Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Magnolia Pictures Film Review - TICKLED

Celebrity and the bizarre is the wheelhouse of New Zealand TV host David Farrier. While surfing the net in the newsroom he happened onto the site for competitive endurance tickling. The videos featured young men in gym gear on a raised mat straddle and surrounding the victim who is lying on his back tied down and ticked by the other players. The participants are clothed and the perks presented to poor young men to participate is great but it's not an activity that they would want to get out to family, work, or friends.

Intrigued Ferrier does some more digging to find out that the company behind the leagues is Jane O'Brien Media. He decides to contact the company to potentially set up and interview and is met with venomous vitriol in a severe attack filled with not readily available. Instead of backing off Ferrier teams up with Dylan Reeve to shoot a documentary about the subject.

As directors Ferrier and Reeve start shooting and gathering information the legal cease and asset letters start coming from the US followed by a visit from representatives from Jane O'Brien Media. The visiting trio play classic good cop, bad copy with the pair, do to want to be filmed leading the production to use alternative methods to get audio and video of their encounters.

The focus shifts to the US for the balance of the film as our protagonists pursue their legal adversaries  and to see the home base for competitive tickling.  The authors locate a former performer who is willing to sit down for an interview in his gym. He tells his story about being up for anything, being a risk taker and participating due to the fact that there were some family money issues. He was first surprised that there were no women present then he was tied down, straddled by other young athletic men and tickled over and under his shirt, on his feet and under his arms. The performer thought nothing of it then his introduction interview video showed up on the online followed by the full venom of the Jane O'Brien Media empire when he asked them to take it down in an attempt to destroy the young man's family,work and social life.

The co-directors continue to unravel the tickling empire their path taking them from Southern California to the East Coast and Midwest of the United States. They meet up with a former casting director that reveals participant zero of the tickling fetish who  started out as a heavy participant on the tickling message boards in the eighties.  The casting director had several telling items still in his possesion to show what happened to him when he crossed the largest tickling enthusiast.

Tickled is a documentary that is less about the fetish and more about the people behind the fetish empire. The co-directors set out to find why the people behind Jane O'Brien Media come out firing in every situation. Why do they have lawyers and private investigators on retention on two sides of the pacific? Why is there so much money involved in a very niche activity? The authors attempt to unspool all of the levels until they get to the core with the aim to confront face to face the people at the top of the pyramid.

**** Out of 4.

Tickled | David Farrier / Dylan Reeve | New Zealand | 2016 | 92 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Fetish, Competitive Tickling, Lawsuit, Internet, Identity Theft, Aliases.

Hot Docs Film Festival - Screens Saturday April 30 9:45 PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

                                                        Monday May 2 19:30 Am TIFF Bell Lightbox.


The familiar cadence, tone and wit of director Werner Herzog underpins his latest production Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World embarks to examine the story of the internet from its first transmission to the present and into the future. The film is commissioned by NetScout a cyber security firm and the director leans to much on interviews from employees of Carnegie Melon but Herzog's playful style dominates the film.

The narrative proceeds step by step divided into distinct chapters.  The first chapter features a series of interviews with internet pioneers opening with a shot of the UCLA campus that is identified as the birthplace of the internet. The camera leads the viewer down a hallway and into a room guided by Leonard Kleinrock who describes the events of October 29th 1969 when the occupants sent a transmission host to host to Stanford but the intended message of Logon cut out at Lo which gives some background of the films title. Pioneer Bob Kahn tell tales of the early days including the original idea that the internet would be used by a small group. The initial user group was so small that  a thin phonebook housed the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of every Internet user.  The pioneers did not think about security, bullying or cyber attacks because anyone who was acting offside could be look up and called. It was not meant to be anonymous.

Another highlight was the discussion surrounding the dark side of the modern Internet. Stemming from the fact that people can find just about any information and post it online. The Catsouras family is interviewed about the tragic death of their daughter Nikki who wandered away from home and wrapped a sports car around a pole. Pictures of the dead girl began to appear online leading to harassment of the family that based on their all black attire for the interview is still affecting them all today.

Another chapter looks at Internet addiction focusing on two residence of a treehouse based rehab centre. The story is the same as with another addition exempt with this one the addict is much more comfortable in the world of the internet as opposed to the real one and slowly and progressively begins to spend more time in the latter than the former. Related is a community in Green Bank West Virginia that has developed in the shadow of a massive telescope that due to its need to be clear of electromagnetic signals on earth is a tech free zone. The residence all share an allergy to tech devices and electronic waves that are so extreme they are highly emotional and haunted when Herzog asks them to describe their life before coming to the Appalachian Mountains.

Finally the narrative turns to the future. The possibility with robotics, the linking of the human brain to the internet.  The future of artificial intelligence and the question of whether or not the internet or machines dream.

Lo and Behold is a multiple chapter expansive study of all parts of the Internet. Colourful characters from the early days, scientists from the present hackers and net cops give their input. A narrower  focus would have served the production better but there is sufficient material and antidotes in the documentary to make it worth the watch.

*** Out of 4.

Lo and Behold | Werner Herzog | USA | 2016 | 98 Minutes.

Tags: Internet, Pioneer, UCLA, Host-to-Host, Protocols, Addiction, Cyber Attack, Green Bank West Virginia.

Hot Docs Film Festival screens Thursday April 28 9:45 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.

                                                        Friday April 29 1:00 PM  Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Magnolia Pictures Film Review - VIVA

Jesus (Hector Medina) works as a hairdresser in Havana.  He has private clients during the day and at night he does hair, makeup and wigs in a stylish drag club. At the club he marvels at the acts on stage believing that he can follow their path. Back at home his childhood friend Cecilia (Laura Aleman) takes advantage of him at every turn. She wants his apartment for her dates and mocks his homosexuality to get a reaction.  Even her grandmother Nita a regular customer warns Jesus to stay clear of her granddaughter.  Jesus has no family. His grandmother and mother have passed while his father might as well have as he left when Jesus was 3 to pursue a boxing career. Money is very tight amongst the locals. Jesus has a client base but they are often short on payment. When things get desperate he heads to the city centre where his friend Don hangs out for a chance to meet tourists looking for a good time.

After getting the opportunity to perform at the club. Jesus is unimpressive at first but slowly gain confidence as a performer. His emotions begun to build as he commands the stage and the room at one of his stronger performances. A  patron brings the show to a sudden stop by striking Jesus. The customer turns out to be his father Angel (Jorge Perugorria).

Director Paddy Breathanach presents a story that is more about a relationship between a father and a son and the setting of Havana than the rise of a performer. The city is prominent in the piece and a major character. Jesus spends most of his day wandering around Havana's lane and alleyways. His apartment is rundown but full of character. Javier and Jesus try to learn more about each other having had no relationship for many years. The former the revered boxer who did time in prison. The latter the hair dresser who never had an interest in girls and had become used to being on his own and fending for himself.

Hector Medina shines as the lead character. He is often vulnerable and desperate, short on money and lacking in confidence.  Medina is at his best when he stands up for himself in battles with his father, Celeste and fights to be himself in the Club. Jorge Perogorria is well cast as Jesus' father Angel. He exudes macho rage and shows the miles of decades of a life on the fringe.  Luis Alberto Garcia is strong as Mama nightclub owner and defacto parent of Jesus. He confronts Angel having dealt with bully's all of his life and fiercely looks out for the best interest of the club.

Viva is a father and son story set in the seedier section of Havana. The title character is the alter ego of a young man conflicted by various emotions and used to fending for himself.  The setting, cast and location work well making a film that is well worth the watch.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Viva | Paddy Breathnach | Ireland / Cuba | 2015 |100 Minutes.

Tags: Performer, Boxer, Havana, Drag Queen, Prison, Wigs, Hairdresser, Havana, Father & Son.

Friday, April 22, 2016



LITTLE DOOR GODS  -  Screens Saturday April 23, 2016 at 5:00 PM.  Ages 10-13

                         Second Screening   Sunday  April 24, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Modern times have brought unbalance to both the Human and Spirit world. Humans are consumed with technology and either don't pay attention or have no time for Godly spirits. The gods see that they are becoming irrelevant sparking a summit to decide how they are going to adapt. Caught up in this debate are two door gods Yu Lei and Shen Tu whose image humans used to put up in doorways to keep out evil spirits. Brothers with the former being the fitter of the pair they are put on probation at the meeting and forced to be present at home each night for a midnight roll call under the command of the shady Night Spirit.

In the human world young Raindrop and her mother move to a small Chinese town to take over the family wonton soup shop featuring a 100 year old family recipe and the only door gods poster in town. With the move to a new town Raindrop has difficulty making friends while the shop's soup recipe is increasingly seen as bland leading to less customer traffic. On top of these issues the owner of the neighbouring modern eatery and his henchmen are constantly trying to sabotage the family wonton shop.

Light Chaser Studio and director Gary Wang bring to the screen a visually stunning a rich production with a story that children can learn from and love featuring not to subtle pokes at modern Chinese society that older viewers will resonate with older viewers. The spirit world dwellers (workers) are in an economic crisis due to a lack of interest and belief in them from the human world (government). They face possible reassignment, firing or retraining then are summoned to a group think pep session at the Palace of Heaven where they are invited to embrace change and the future while being judged how enthusiastically they do the newly branded deity dance (irrelevant statistics).

Yu Lei short sighted solution to the crisis is to release an evil beast know as the Nian a former serious threat to both the Spiritual and Human world that he feels will make the gods useful to the human world once again. Yu Lei jumps to the human world to seek the Nian followed by his brother Shen Tu. Both come into contact with Raindrop and are surprised to find that the Universe does not fall apart when deities interact and speak to humans.

Little Door Gods is a feast for the senses. The production demonstrates particular precision depicting objects in many scenes that either fall to the ground or rise to the sky in sharp clarity and bold hues. The story delivers strong messages on friendship, loyalty, pitfalls of perceived stereotypes, benefits of working together, and the dangers and real consequences of acting rashly. It's a film that will play well to an audience of young and old alike.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Little Door Gods | Gary Wang | China | 2016 | 103 Minutes.

Tags: Animated, Fable, Spirits, Re Education, Summit, Family Restaurant, Secret Recipe, Gods, Humans.

Monday, April 18, 2016



HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY -  Screens Wednesday April 20 at 12:00 PM.  Grades 4-6

Vicky and his little sister Kaku spend a lot of cherished time together. Their grandfather Dadu takes them to catch the public bus ever morning. They share the same bed at night and do their studies together. Their family does not have much money but the pair are always cheerful and happy.

One of Vicky's classmates Sachin tells him about a holiday called Mother's Day that is not well know in their town. The siblings become determined to get a present for their mother who they respect appreciate and love very much. Sachin implication that no present means they do not love their mother strike the pair very hard.

Director Ajuli Shulka crafts a heartwarming film that spans the spectrum emotion. Shulka goes handheld for the majority of the scenes where the siblings go on walkabout around her village. The camera is fixed for most of the classroom scenes along with those in the family home. The narrative describes a family that is poor in money but nowhere near that way in they attitudes and interactions with each other.

The family shop is failing so patriarch Pradeep decides to go back to Delhi to finally get tourism licence. While he is away Vicky and Kaku try several different methods to raise funds to get a present for their mother that is beyond their means. As they stumble in their efforts they become quiet and solemn as they are sure that failure means they do not love their mother as much as their other richer classmates that have all bought Mother's Day gifts.

The ensemble cast perform their roles well. Farzan Shaikh Nasir and Prapti Jani are solid as the two child leads. The easily portrait deep affection for each other and genuinely appear to enjoy each other's company. Look for Gufi Paintai as the Grandfather Dadu who is the backbone for the family and the voice of wisdom and reason. Happy joyful smiles and laughs are commonplace amongst the players in the family home.

Happy Mother's Day is straightforward tale with good social lessons on the important topics of greed, envy, selfishness, obedience, kindness and unconditional love. Well acted and entertaining despite its limited budget it's a film that will have a strong appeal to its targeted audience and beyond.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Happy Mother's Day | Anjuli Shulka | India | 2015 |108 Minutes.

Tags: Tourist Town, Lemons, Holiday, Pedlar, Public Bus, Siblings, Chinese Noodles.

Sunday, April 17, 2016



LITTLE AZKALS -  Screens Tuesday April 18 at 12:15. Ages 8-13

Little Azkals is a documentary full of firsts for a group of 22 U-11 soccer players from the Philippines.  The government sports federation decided to make a real effort for the non soccer centric nation to increase the skill of a selected group of players to target future U-17, U-19 and even a future world cup. This is the first attempt at an Under 11 team as the former practice was to start targeting kids for an U-13 team. With younger kids there are new challenges. The kids are more attached to the parents and grandparents, likely to become homesick and need more supervision.

Director Baby Ruth Villarama uses her lens to highlight these unique elements. The first extended sequence displays the boys trip to the airport for their first trip abroad. There are difficulties with guardian's names on documents. Some kids are not willing or able to carry their own bags so coaches have to step in and the young players have struggles settling down into their seats ahead of take off.

Once the team hits England for their three week training stint the production begins to showcase the players skills. Villarama is also keen to keep the off field elements in focus as well. Everyday activities such as meals are highlighted as the Philippine and English cuisines are diametrically opposed. However back on the pitch the team hold their own impressing their English coaches in drills and prove very competitive in games with local teams that have been together for several years.

The feature also gives a voice to the parents left back home. They talk about their son's and their regular routine at home such as sleeping with parents or grandparents or one mothers trick of providing a piece of clothing with her perfume so her son is more comfortable while away.

The narrative does not focus often on individuals but one player Kano Rojo stands out slightly from the group. He is from a small region and plays centreback for the team. He is slight but fearless and a key figure during a pivotal contest on the pitch. The cameras show Kano's local facility to clearly contrast his England experience.

Little Azkals is an upbeat film abut a group of underdog kids. They embark to world class complex at the home of soccer to improve their skills and grow off the field as well. They suffer from homesickness but show their skills that will be a challenge in the future to continue to develop given their modest facilities at home.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Little Azkals | Baby Ruth Villarama |  Philippines / UK 2014 | 87 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Football, Soccer, National Team, Birmingham, Loughborough, Homesick, Training, England, Britain, Philippines, Azkals.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016



MINA WALKING -  Screens Tuesday April 12 at 12:15. Ages 12-13

12 year old Mina (Farzana Nawbi) wakes up in a makeshift dwelling in Kabul. She is greeted to sounds of her grandfather foaming at the mouth in the next room. Mina runs outside amongst the rocks and dirt in her yard then up a ladder to find a stash of medicine for her granddad. She returns administers it then proceeds to get ready for school. Next Mina is next off to school where she takes her place in class having completed her homework. Mina is active and engaged in school but her day is just beginning. After school she heads to the local market to obtain the goods that she all try and sell for the day. She is given scarves that are often hard to sell to businessmen and tourists as they pass through the market area.

Director Yousef Baraki uses two distinct shooting styles in the film.  The main camera work is handheld. The camera is right on Mina as she walks through the streets of Kabul into the alleys and amongst the nooks and crannies of her home compound. The other is a series of overhead shoots where the camera is stationary that is mainly used during the market scenes. You see the street urchins following the townsfolk as they walk past trying to persuade them to buy as their item is of the highest quality. The stationary overhead camera is also used for shots to set the scene for the town. You the rubble, the half collapsed buildings, the broken down military vehicles that serve as climbers for the towns children and the small vehicle whipping though the cities dirt roads.

The first reveal answers the questions about Mina's parental figures. We learn that he mother died at the hands of the Taliban and her father is a heroin addict hence the need to hide her grandfathers medication. Mina's dad is mean to her on a regular basis. He spends most of his time passed out in his room berates Mina for restraining her grandfather so he does not wander away. He dad doesn't see the point of her going to school when she should be working full time to support her family. Mina suggests that he should look after her dad but he insist that he out looking for work.  Mina has her doubts as the leader of her Street Urchin pack Bashir is also the main drug supplier for her dad.

Farzana Nawbi turns in a natural and powerful performance as Mina.  She is always in motion has anther task to perform as she tries to survive in a shell of a town doing whatever she can to help her family and herself. He is a fighter, stand up for herself and will sell her position and make her thoughts herd whether she is dealing with a customer, her employer or her father. Nawbi is at her best in the scenes at school when she interacts with her fellow classmates and her teacher.  Massoud Fanaie is also strong as Bashir the street boss. He is the only one that Mina does to get the upper hand on for a god part of the film. He is friendly on occasion but can switch to scary confrontational at a moments notice.

Mina Walking is a up close study of a young girl in a turbulent environment. She is doing tasks that no 12 year old should be performing. She is nursemaid to her grandfather, mother to her dad, and the breadwinner for her family.  The film is a painful and hard watch but the experience is exactly what  director wants for his audience to see the world through Mina's eyes and realize that her hard choices are what she has to do to keep moving forward.

**** Out of 4.

Mina Walking | Yousef Baraki | Canada / Afghanistan | 2015 | 110 Minutes.

Tags: Kabul, 12 year old Girl, Burka, Street Urchin, Heroin, Taliban, Afghanistan.

Thursday, April 7, 2016



ANTBOY 3 -  Screens Saturday April 9 at 3:30 P.M.  Ages 10-13

Antboy (Oscar Dietz) has eradicated all crime in Middlelund. Things are so quiet he is planning to go to boarding school with his girlfriend Ida (Amalie Kruse Jensen). He is unsure how he will tell his friend Wilhelm (Samuel Ting Graf) that he is giving up Antboy and leaving town. Especially after  Wilhelm gives him an Antboy watch that doubles as a police scanner.

Soon the watch lights up due to a robbery in progress at a warehouse. Antboy arrives on his hello BMX bike only to be upstaged by a new hero on a skateboard. Antboy has no idea who this new masked rival is but due to his keen sense of smell he picks up the scent of sweet and lemons. Meanwhile at the big corporation in town Exoform Alice Dufort (Paprika Steen) has taken over her fathers company.  She has re decorated the entrance hallway with animal trophies from her hunting trips around the world. The company is working on mechanical suits that will be of service to first responders giving them increased strength and power to do their jobs. While at the prison his arch enemy The Flea (Nicholas Bro) is released having being rehabilitated.

Director Ask Hasselbalch completes his trio of Andboy films. This third one with the plot and storyline has the feel of a franchise coming to an end. Crime is down, Antyboys alter ego Pelle is set to leave town. Wilhelm is also indicating that he is off to school outside of Middlelund.

The Flea's alter ego Gaemelkra returns to the family home amid protests from the town citizens. They remember that he kidnapped their children and held them hostage. Gaemelkra insists he's changed including refusing initially to go back to Exoform to work. He eventually returns to find that the reason that Alice Dufort wants him back in the fold is vastly different from the original selling pitch.

Antboy 3 focuses from early on in the production on the next chapter of the main players lives. The film has the tone of a piece that is wrapping up a trilogy. The story features characters that play ever-changing roles during the film. A new threat in town leads to an unlikely alliance to defend Middlelund. The narrative moves quick but features several twist that should be enjoyable to its target audience.

*** out of 4

Antboy 3 | Ash Hasselbalch | Denmark | 2016 | 85 minutes.

Tags: Superhero, alter ego, boarding school, Sidekick, Big Game Hunting, Taxidermy, Comic Books.



HOW TO STEAL A DOG  -  Screens Saturday April 9 at 3:30 P.M. Ages 9-13

Ji-so (Le Re) does not want to let others know her living situation.  When she gets a ride home from school she asks to be dropped blocks away from the supposed location of her home. The reason being that she is homeless and lives in a van with her mother and baby brother. Their father had left home and her mother moves from job to job not able to establish a working career.

Ji-so has an idea of how to get her family get back on track. She sees a flyer showing the large amount of money that the wealthy will pay to recover a lost pet then another that advertises homes available for a starter price of 500 won. She lets her best friend Chae-rang (Lee Ji-won) in on her plight and plan.

They target a dog of Lady Marcel the owner of the that Ji-so mother currently works. The girls work up an elaborate plan with Ji so's little brother  Ji-seok (Hong Eun-taek) often being the voice of reason despite comments that anyone named seok is not very smart.  The pair take a couple of attempts at the feat but meet strong opposition from the owners nephew who has plans of his own for the pet.

Director Kim Seong-ho adapted the story from a novel by Barbara O'Connor, Seong-ho rounded the dark edges, added in several spots of humor delivering a film with several good messages. Stealing is never a good idea. Do not judge people on first impressions. Being truthful to yourself and others is always the best course of action.

The child cast is the centre of the feature and perform their roles well. Le Re as Ji-so shows many different sides to her performance. She's plotting, a planner, minds her baby brother, is bratty to her mom because of the family situation and is contrite and apologetic in her pivotal scene with Lady Marcel. Kang Hye-jeong is strong as the family matriarch who is determined to get her children a home despite a string of failed employment opportunities.

How to Steal a Dog is a light feature with some valuable lessons mixed in with several comedic moments. The ending is what the viewer would expect however the film is worth a watch.

*** Out of 4

How to Steal A Dog | Kim Seong-ho | South Korea | 2014 | 109 Minutes.

Tags: Pizza Van,  Homeless, Doggie Day Care, Inheritance, Hotel, Dognapping, Bankrupt.