Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Mary Goes Round

An early scene in director Molly McGlynn's Mary Goes Round sets the tone for a series of ironic events that are soon to follow in the films narrative. Following a night of heavy drinking Mary (Aya Cash) is seated on a chair in a circle of an obvious AA meeting. As the viewer expects her to eventually take her turn to tell her story instead it turns out she is the counselor that is leading the group. Mary is on a short leash with her boyfriend then she trashes his car, is charged with DUI becoming the subject of a You Tube video of the incident that goes viral she decides to respond to a Facebook poke from her estranged father and head to Niagara Falls from Toronto on his request to get to know her half sister.

Upon arriving in the Falls she learns that her 15 year old half sister Robyn (Sara Waisglass) didn't know she was coming, claims to not know who she is and that her father Walt (John Ralston) wants Mary to do the dirty work of telling Robyn that he has a terminal disease plus take care of him in his final days having refused invasive medial treatment.

Writer director McGlynn's film is at its heart a story of a 29 year old woman who has to grow up take responsibility for her actions and admit that she has flaws and faults. Mary continues to drink in Niagara Falls where she encounters a friend/ sponsor Lou (Melanie Nicholls-King) who has seen several ups and downs spotting right away that Mary is in complete denial. Her dad also catches on to her current state noting that she is not driving plus as an addict himself has had dealings with Lou in the past.

Aya Cash is in just about every frame of the film as the titular character. She's angry, sarcastic, selfish and sympathetic all under her red striped blue toque. Cash flips easily from being the grownup in one situation to acting as a selfish child in the next. Melanie Nicholls-King supporting role as Lou touches all of the other main character but she is also fallible as an addict herself that can slip from time to time.

Mary Goes Round is a tightly spun narrative that tacked the subjects of addiction, abandonment and reconcillation in a non-heavy handed manner. Given the subject matter here the film could have been weighty, intense and serious. Instead McGlynn injects enough humour, bluntness and lighter moments to tell the tale but not overwhelm the viewer with morbidity. It's an evenly paced entertaining story that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Mary Goes Round | Molly McGlynn | Canada | 2017 | 84 Minutes.

Tags; Alcoholic, Substance Abuse Counselor, AA Meeting, Serenity Poem, Sponsor, Sobriety, Small Cell Cancer, Half Sisters, Sandbanks, Timmins, Niagara Falls, Drunk Driving, Suspended Licence, Frat Party.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Custody

A strong narrative combined with understated initial acting beats serve to build the suspense and tension in director's Xavier Legrand's full feature directing debut. The subject is domestic violence starting with a custody hearing in the first few frames of the piece. Miriam (Lea Drucker) her two children Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) who's about to turn 18 and Julien (Thomas Gioria) the real subject of the hearing have been living in fear of the mental and physical abuse by their hulking father Antoine  (Denis Menochet). Antoine uses the hearing to apparently regain access to Julien but the real aim is to re establish contact with his ex-wife. Antoine demands that she come out to meet him when he arrives at her parent's house to pick up his son. He finds Mariam's number in her son's notebook requesting that she ask him directly if Julien can attend his sister's eighteenth birthday party that falls on a weekend that he has custody.

Director Legrand is a strong advocate fighting to expose domestic violence in France. At the TIFF screening he commented how in a 20 minute hearing a judge can set into a motion a series of events that can lead to a life threatening situation for several parties involved. The director's tactic to take a slow steady approach actually could have some viewers taking Antoine's side especially with the events that occur in the second act.

Denis Menochet as Antoine is the key performer in the film. He has to be menacing in his gestures and movement but not overtly violent for the narrative to work. Lea Drucker is also effective as the not entirely sympathetic Miriam. In the early stages of the film the audience is not sure if the children genuinely do not want to see their dad or are their comments and actions coloured by their mother. Thomas Gioria is highly believable as 12 year old Julien. He is completely fearful that his dad will physically attack his mom so much so that he constantly lies to him about her whereabouts despite the growing possibility that Antoine could take out his anger on him directly.

Custody is a warning to state institutions, law enforcement, the public and the courts that domestic violence is mainly suffered in silence with the psychological scars outweighing the physical ones by a large margin. It may make sense on paper for a parent to re enter a child's life but the effect of reestablishing regular contact with abused partner could lead to catastrophic results.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Custody | Xavier Legrand | France | 2017 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Custody Hearing, Judge, Lawyers, Visitation, The Projects, Birthday Party, Grandparents, Unlisted Number, Apartment Hunting, Shotgun, 911 call.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Patti Cakes

Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) outside persona is diametrically opposed to her inside one. In her head she's the protege of The Godfather of rap O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).  In her small New Jersey suburban community she's Dumbo Dumbrowski so nicknamed since junior high daughter of Barb (Bridget Everett) a chronic drunk who lives out her early 20's fantasies as a power rock ballad singer at a dive bar full of bar flies where Patti tends bar. Rounding out her world is her best friend/hype manager Hareesh aka. Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) an East Asian Pharmacy assistant who's the greatest believer in her rapping talents introducing her as; Patricia Dombrowski aka Patti Cake$' aka Killa P. Plus the mysterious experimental punk rocker Bob aka Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) an Anarchist who lives in a shack behind the towns graveyard.

Director Geremy Jasper brings the viewer uncomfortably into Patti's personal space in the first frames of the film. The camera is very tight as she wakes up in her dump of a room, hits the washroom, then sits on the toilet as she works through rhymes. It's not any prettier in her mother's room or out in the living room where her Nana (Cathy Moriarty) is perched in her wheelchair watching her favourite courtroom show. Nana however always has time for her granddaughter giving a warm greeting to her superstar before the latter heads out the door.

Patti and Jheri try all avenues to get her on a stage to show her skills. She battles in parking lots, at gas stations, spitting rhymes as she rolls in her red Cadillac sporting pattiwgn tags. On the street her main battles are with small time pizza maker /drug dealer Danny (Patrick Brana) who she's also crushing on hard. They eventually raid Basterd's shack an occult trinketed recording studio where they mix a track featuring a key drop from Nana birthing the group PBMJ and signaling an uptick in our heroine's fortunes. At the same time she lands lucrative part time work for a prestigious caterer company that brings in much needed funds to assist with the Dombrowksi's debts.

Australian Daniella Macdonald is convincing as the suburban plus sized rap princess from her first utterance of Ma with a sharp Joisey accent. Her timing is spot on using strategic pauses as she plots responses in rap battles or before she launches into a set on stage. Siddharth Dhananjay is perfect as sidekick Hareesh. He owns his ridiculousness sending only positive vibes to his best friend. Mamoudou Athie's Basterd is a soft spoken soul underneath the angry hard man scary outward projection. Needy Mother Barb Bridget Everett an established New York cabaret performer sees her daughter as a sister encouraging her to use her god given weapons to get what she wants spending her time  running up a tab drinking shots of Jaeger ending up too often in a bathroom at the dive bar with her daughter holding her hair.

Patti Cake$' is an indie film that champions a down and out marginalized member of society. A topic that indie films excel at when they get the character right. First time helmer Geremy Jasper does so here supported by the fine acting work of Daniella Macdonald bringing Patti to life. The production is gritty, the sets small but functional allowing the dialogue and story to breathe resulting in what could be the best indie film of the year.

**** Out of 4.

Patti Cake$' | Geremy Jasper | U.S.A. | 2017 |108 Minutes.

Tags: New Jersey, Pharmacy, Rap Battle, Spitting Rhymes, Beats, Demo CD, Karaoke, Cadillac, Bartender, Diner, Catering, Chit Chat, Bulling, Cemetery, Recluse.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Film Review - Detriot

With the current climate in the United States where race relations is front page news, competing factions are fighting in the streets and politicians are obligated to state where they stand. Detroit is a timely film that looks at subject two generations back at the tail end of the sixties. The tension between the black community and the police was a tinderbox waiting to ignite in what was at the time the fifth biggest city in the U.S. That spark was a police raid of a 12th street speakeasy. As the occupants were marched out and lined up the neighbourhood began to circle the area raising the temperature until the last paddywagon filled and left. The police retreat prompted smashing of store windows, looting and days upon days of rioting. The authorities responded with the National Guard, State and local police. Under the declared state of emergency and curfew many liberties were taken culmination with the events at the Algiers hotel that is the centre of the film.

Dismukes (John Boyega) works as a security guard protecting a store. He sets up for the night shift across from the Algiers hotel. Feeling the tension he brings coffee for the guard troops across the street. Into the situation comes the cop trio of Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O'Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor)who are treating the city like the wild west intimidating, strong-arming and abusing citizens with impunity. The members of the Dramatics are disrupted trying to get home. Two of the crew Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore) end up taking a room at the Algiers to hunker down for the night.

Kathryn Bigelow flanked by her regular writing partner Mark Boal focus on the July 25th, 1967 events at the Algiers building the narrative it out from the Dramatics failing to hit the stage at the Apollo for their audition on earlier in the evening to the three renegade cops heading back out on patrol after a reprimand for an earlier incident that day then over to Dismukes heading out to work that double shift to protect a store. The shooting style consists of very long takes that makes the confrontation at the hotel excruciating physiological terror thats hard to watch.

John Boyega takes top line status as Dismukes. His strategy as a security guard is to use kindness and cooperation with the  authorities in order for everyone to go home safe. Will Poulter another Brit playing American is the off the rails racist cop Krauss. His first instinct is to uphold the law but that soon degenerates to a paranoid delusion that he is being disrespected and deadly force is not out of the question to teach someone a lesson. Look for Hannah Murray another other Brit from Game of Thrones and Skins fame as Julie one of the two white women in the hotel that winds up the cops even further as they would apparently rather spend time with African American males then them.

Detroit is the retelling of significant historical event that may have been the start of several seismic shifts. It could have been the signal that started the decline of the City from 5 to 23 where it ranked last year. The riots, looting and confrontation with police would multiply in the time period morphing to police shooting plus left right violent conflicts that are front page news today leading news cycles on cable TV. Bigelow concentrates on a couple of key events to present a story that brings the audience right into the issues, prejudices and feeling of the time. It's a look at social protest from the past that can be a lesson with value to use in today's society.

*** Out of 4

Detroit | Kathryn Bigelow | U.S.A. | 2017 | 143 Minutes.

Tags: Detroit, 12th Street, Riot, Raid, Algiers Hotel, National Guard, State Police, Trial.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - A Taxi Driver

The 1980 Gwangju Uprising is the subject of Jang Hun’s new film A Taxi Driver. At the flim opening Kim Man-Seob (Song Kang-Ho) is a struggling taxi driver in Seoul. He's behind in his rent, his fares often short pay him or beg to pay the next day and his 11 year old daughter has anger issues stemming from the untimely death of her mother.  Mr. Kim tries to maintain a standard keep by keeping his cab in good working condition and returning home to have dinner with his daughter each evening by a reasonable hour. When news circulates at the taxi stand that a German Foreigner Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann) is willing to pay W100,000 for a ride from Seoul to Gwanju and back before curfew, Mr. Kim steals the fair to take the reporter on his journey.  

The spring of 1980 was a very turbulent time in South Korea. The military dictator Park Chung- hee  had been killed but the military still had a strong hold on the country ad martial law was in place with a strict curfew being enforced. The worst of the conflicts were in Gwanju where the student opposed the paratroopers and plain clothed army in the streets in alleys often being beaten within an inch of their livers or dodging a hail of bullets as they sought democracy.  Peter got word of the events in Gwanju while working in Tokyo grabbed his passport and video camera hopped on a plane and headed to the scene. The government forces had blocked the roads into and out of the city. Had army units stationed on the secondary roads, censored the newspaper and media reports and cut all of the phone lines. To the rest of South Korea and the world, the students were violent protestors, communists and the instigators of the violence that resulted in minor casualties.

Director Jang Hoon tells a story that is violent authoritarian that inhabits a critical point in South Korean South Korean history. The storyline of army soliders shooting  students in the streets is more what one would expect from the neighbours to the North.  In taxi driver Kim Man-Seob the narrative gives the steps in one individual to parallel the nation realization of the truth of the situation. At first he is completely unaware of the events in Gwangju, then having served on the army himself sympathetic to the solders but as his eyes see what's actually occurring moves firmly on the side of the students knowing that the military has to be stopped. Thomas Kretschmann's journalist is the perfect counter balance to the taxi driver. Hinzpeter speaks few words is calm and cool keeping his eye on the task at hand; record the events and get the story out. 

A Taxi Driver recounts historical events that were suppressed at the time by the South Korean government and media. The two lead actors communicate to the audience and each other the urgency, danger and difficulty of the situation despite a hefty language barrier. Its a story which needed an outlet that director Jang Hoon forcefully provided.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

A Taxi Driver | Jang Hoon | South Korea | 2017 | 137 Minutes.

Tags: Gwangju Uprising, Martial Law, Democracy, Military Dictatorship, Paratroopers, Foreign Reporter, Germany, NDR.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fantasia "17 Film Review - Night is Short Walk on Girl

Senpai (Upperclassman) has a crush on The Girl with the Black Hair (Underclassman) but he is unable to tell her. Instead he arranges to be where she is and continue to run into her by coincidence. He is hopeful that all of these chance meetings will make her see that they are meant to be together. The film opens with a wedding for a university friend. Senpai's handsome friend who can pass as a girl mocks him for his cowards towards the girl. His other friend Don Underpants so named because he refused to change them until he meets a girl that he saw once and fell instantly in love drinks one beer after another slamming his mug on the table. The wedding is nice but the after party is the main event. Senpai plans to sit next to The Girl there and tell her his feelings. However the pair end up on separate paths The Girl at a drinking competition Ri Haku while Senpai is pants by Ri Haku's henchmen leaving him searching for a replacement pair of underpants.

The narrative is split into four parts: the drinking competition, a book fair, a school festival and a cold outbreak. Director Masaaki Yusa blends the elements of Tomohiko Morimi's novel together to bring a seamless transition into each new chapter.  Each section of the production has a peak the above mentioned drinking competition in the first, the eating of life altering hot food in the second, The final scene of the school musical in the third and The Girl's attempts to get to Senpai's house in the fourth.

Yusa fills the screen with colour, moving pieces and multiples. He seems to have a thing for Carp in this film as they continue to show up repeatedly in the visuals and as part of the narrative. His best work displaying the different elements battling in Senpai's head as he learns that the Girl is coming to his house showcasing his decision making process as what he should do. The story features many comedic moments the pinnacle being the final scene in the student play. Where multiple characters hit the stage professing love for one another including Don Underpants finally learning the truth about his long missing love.

Night is Short Walk on Girl is a musical jaunt through the seedy and fun section of Kyoto. The party is non stop as the nightlife rages leading to the tipping of many classes. The spector of Ri Haku is always present and the device of watches spinning faster the older you are to signify time passing faster is a nice touch.

*** Out of 4.

Night is Short Walk on Girl | Massaki Yusa | Japan | 2017 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Kyoto, Nightlife, Erotic Woodblock Art, Sophists, Watches, Clocks, Book Fair, Musical, Epidemic,

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Mayhem

Derrick Cho (Stephen Chen) started out as a fresh faced employee at Towers & Smythe Consulting. His firm was responsible for finding a loophole in the law that allowed Nevel Reid to skate on a murder charge because the infectious red eye virus causes victims to loose control of their ID, want to have sexual relations in public and are willing to beat up or kill anyone that looks at them the wrong way. The virus is not fatal and there is a cure but it takes a while for the antidote to take effect,

Derrick is framed by The Siren (Caroline Chizkie) called so because she has the ear of the C.E.O. John Towers (Steve Brand) Derrick is blamed by The Siren for a million dollar error on a file he never touched but was assigned to him in an outdated system. Derrick tries to plead his case but is fired. His last act was to deny an appeal of a foreclosure for Melanie Cross (Samantha Weaving) The CDC descend on the Towers building as reading show that the Red eye virus has broken out in the he building. The antidote has been piped in but the premises are under full lockdown for the next 8 hours. Derrick is thrown into a basement room where he's met by Melanie. As the virus starts to take effect they both realize that they have 8 hours for Derrick to get his job back and Melanie to reverse the foreclosure order.

Director Joe Lynch working off Matais Caruso's script takes a big run at corporate culture, backs up and runs over it again. TSC Legal Structure is literally a corporate elevator (ladder) You need a level card or a key code to get to the 8th Floor then a level three Card to get to the next step then further cleanse to get up to the Penthouse where the Boss and gang of 9 board of directors reside. The virus brings out the hidden emotions to the surface. Co-workers and beating , strangling and stabbing each other. Others are shouting at customers and breaking equipment while out duo load up with hammers, drills, saws and axes in the basement then begin their climb up to the Penthouse to set thing right.

Stephen Chen of walking dead fame is clearly at home in a chaotic situation where a virus effects the general population. As the movie progresses he throughs off his corporate restraint looking to do what right for himself and fixing Melanie's dilemma. Australian actress Samantha Weaver shines as the wronged, no nonsense or mercy property owner with a rage on for all suits as she tries to get her foreclosure reversed. Steve Brand is brilliant over the top billing obsessed, cocaine addict C.E.O. that uses corporate perks to pit employees against each other at they battle to climb the floors at Towers & Smythe.

Mayhem is a dark view of the corporate world. Employees betray each other, treat clients unfairly, cover up their errors and if they can't sweep mistake under the rug find someone junior to take the fall. It's a film for anyone who every worked in a dysfunctional office or wanted to punch a co-worker or boss in the mouth. And since its lawyer tearing each other apart theres some satisfaction for all of you out there who hate lawyers as well.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Mayhem | Joe Lynch | U.S.A. | 2017 | 86 Minutes.

Tags: Virus, Foreclosure, Key Card, Termination, Billings, Nail Gun, Code, Elevator, Painting.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Jailbreak

Underworld moneyman Playboy (Savin Philip) has been arrested forced to do the perp walk in front of the T.V. cameras. Facing a lengthy sentence in Prei Klaa maximum security prison he's agreed to flip spilling the beans on his business partner Butterfly Gang leader Madame Butterfly (Celine Tran). Wanting the threat eliminated the gang leader sets up a multiple pronged plan to take him out before he can testify starting from holding, on the road to the prison then if need be in the prison itself. An elite team of police officers skilled at Cambodian Bokator Dara (Dara Our) Socheat (Dara Phang) and national female MMA champion Tharoth (Tharoth Sam) are joined by visiting French Cambodian officer (Jean Paul Ly) are assigned to bring Playboy safety to the prison.

Once inside the walls gang contact Bolo (Sisowath Siriwudd) fakes a realistic looking seizure that get sets in motion the Butterfly Gangs Plan C to get to Playboy with the added consequence of setting off a full blown prison riot.

Dara Our and Jean Paul Ly also serve as the fight choreographers for the film. The pair whip up elaborate complex intricate moves in tight quarters using mainly baton, knives and blunt object as weapons. Director Jimmy Henderson camerawork flowing from one to the next police officer as they each battle 5 or 6 inmates heightens the battle. The odd switch to the point of view of an inmate is thrown in giving the viewer the feel of being on the wrong end of a first person shooter video game. The visuals work well with the work of the sound mixing team isolating and amplifying the thuds of fist or blunt objects hitting bone plus the swish of knives as they cut through the air or flesh.

Henderson who's previous film Hanuman that also started Savin Philip has made his last three films in Cambodia making him possibly the man that will lead a resurgence of the countries movie business. Jailbreak will undoubtedly be compared with other South East Asian martial arts fests The Raid and Ong Bak but the strengths and originality of its fight scenes will give the piece its on space in the genre.

Jailbreak is a non-stop cat and mouse game between rival gangs, the police and an outside puppet master with a whiney cowardly potential snitch s the prize. Just about all of the production takes place inside at the space of the prison with fighting and retreating occurring as rivals turn each corner.  The story and action are raw mainly because the bulk of the cast are amateurs but viewers come to this  type of a film for the action which Jailbreak exceeds twice over.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Jailbreak | Jimmy Henderson | Cambodia |  2017 | 92 minutes.

Tags: Riot, Informant, Crime Boss, Bokator, Police, Prison Guard, Gangs, Canibal, Swat, Baton, Knives, Samurai Sword.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Fashionista

April (Amanda Fuller) and Eric (Ethan Embry) have carved out a satisfying existence for themselves. They are co-owners of a thriving vintage fashion store in Austin, Texas, married living in an unique space that doubles as their storage facility adorned with an excellent set of classic movie posters. April has an addiction to fabric and clothes that she's managing to keep under control until a new girl Sherry (Alexandria DeBerry) starts to work at the store and catches Eric's eye. April becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair following him and checking up on his appointments. When her suspicions are proved to be true she retreats further into her addiction as she starts up a destructive relationship with rich playboy Randall (Eric Balfour).

April goes deeper into Randall's world of strict control and fetish sex. When she's not with him she's lashing out at Eric first by cleaning out all of inventory for the store from the flat then burning them in a field as she keeps in contact with him but continues to push him away at critical times.

Director Simon Rumley continues his run of gritty guerrilla filming with this production. His decision to treat a fashion addiction on the same plane as an alcohol or drug one could have went into the world of camp if not handled delicately. He's brought back Amanda Fuller from Red White & Blue for her most challenging role to date. The narrative Alex allows the seedier sections of Austin to play their part helped by a vibrant vintage culture due to the cities strong music culture. A curious thread features a young woman (Alex Essoe) whose residing in a psychiatric hospital. She's walking the halls meeting with health providers then released from the facility. How she works into the main story is not revealed until deep into the third reel.

Fashionista is a look into the world of clothing addiction that is a real debilitating habit for more people that you would expect. Rumley treats the subject very seriously as does Amanda Fuller who excels in the role of April as she goes into any situation openly if it will feed her addiction. Rumley shoots in Austin again a setting he is familiar with allowing it to shine and play a major supporting role in the film. The subject matter and presentation may not be for everyone but if you have an interest in or experience with addictive personalities you will find those elements presented her possibly fostering a very emotional reaction. The end goal of the project to show that if you are suffering from addiction of any fashion your are not alone.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Fashionista | Simon Rumley | U.S.A. | 2017 | 110 minutes.

Tags: Addiction, Fabric,Vintage, Austin, Affair, Franchising, Abuse, Alais, Homeless, Fetish, Retail.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Spoor

Janina Dusjezko (Agniezska Madat) is a fierce animal rights advocate who insisted on being referred to by only her right name and you better get the pronunciation correct. The retired civil engineer turned part time school teacher lives outside a town in a remote region of Poland near the Czech border. Her day starts off waking up in her small cabin with her two dogs at her feet. She takes them out for a walk and run then sets about to see what the day will bring. Dusjezko is at odds with many of the villagers and most of the town leaders. Her community is heavily into hunting with the seasonal calendar having a prominent place in the police station. The local priest tells her not to worry about them so much as animals do not have a soul. One of leading townspeople who lives nearby keeps animals in cages alongside his country brothel. Dusjezko is seen as either harmless or annoying with the police and government officials giving her a little time to voice her concerns but mainly avoid her and do not respond to her letters.

The temperature changes with the death of a recluse neighbour who is a poacher. The elderly Matoga (Wiktor Zborowski) who she likes and has a shady past himself tells her of the news leading both to the cabin to investigate. There Dusjezko finds a photo that takes her advocacy to an even higher level. Other members of the local hunting club begin to turn up dead with evidence of animals near the bodies. Dusjezko believes its a sign that the animals are taking their revenge. The law is not so sure as Dusjezko seems to be entangled with these events in some way.

Writer Director Agnieszka Holland blurs right and wrong on a story based on Olga Tokarczuk's novel Driving Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead. The hunters have the law on their side. Hunting serves the purpose of culling herds thus leaving enough resources available for a strong group to survive. Dusjezko sees hunting as murder especially the practice of the local club to poach and kill animals out of season. She has support from her Matoga, local police I.T. wiz Dyzio (Jakob Gierszal) and a local girl who she calls good news (Patricia Volny).

Madat's performance is the skeleton and muscles on which the piece is built. Her impassioned pleas to anyone that will listen is touching and valid but in increasing exchanges ventures towards hysteria. Miroslav Krobot's entomologist Boros appears part way through the film. He may be the only character more passionate about animals then Dusjezko. He's studying cucujus beetles for the local Czech University considering deforestation that upsets the beetles larvae a holocaust.

Spoor is a murder mystery set in a remote Polish Valley. At first animals are being killed unjustly in some eyes. Then the victims switch to humans all from the same hunting club. The hunting calendar serves as the introduction of each new chapter announcing the type of animal that is now in season. Lead by an impassioned performance by Agniezska Madat the narrative is a compelling piece of film work that is well worth a watch.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Spoor | Agnieszka Holland | Poland/ Germany/ Czech / Sweden / Slovakia | 2017 | 128 Minutes.

Tags: Klodzko Valley, Hunting Club, Hunter's Calendar, Poachers, English Teacher, Deer, Boar, Beetles, Caged, Murder, Arrest, Astrology, Epilepsy.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Better Watch Out

Robert (Patrick Warburton) and Deandra (Virginia Madsen) are heading out to a Christmas party but still think that their 12-year-old son Luke (Levi Miller) needs a babysitter. Instead of protesting that he's about to be thirteen and can stay on his own; Luke who has had a crush on his babysitter Ashley (Olivia Dejonge) since he was eight sees this as a chance to declare his feelings for the 17 year old. Besides Ashley is moving away making this his last opportunity to make his move. Luke spectacled best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) is in on the plan to scare Ashley. Luke could then act like the hero and save her that in the pre teens eyes will have Ashley fall into his arms.

However, strange noises start to be heard at the house, doors that were closed appear to open on their own and a brick comes hurtling through an upstairs window. A pizza arrives without being ordered then Luke and Ashley are faced with a masked man sporting a shotgun doing a room to room search of the house.

Director Chris Peckhover who confesses a love for John Hughes films in general and Home Alone in particularly decides to take that wholesome Christmas time feeling and turn it on its ear. He has mixed the mid-western feel of a Hughes film with the unexpected killer twists of Scream to create a real player in the home invasion horror market. Pack on top of this that the events occur at Christmas time gives the film potential of regular views each holiday season.

Levi Miller has a lot to do as Luke. He's a tween split between the desire to be seen as a grown up but still wanting to have the best parts of being a kid. His pal Garrett makes fun of his fetus noise machine that he uses every night to fall asleep. He has recently started sleepwalking that is a concern for his mom. But he tries to impress Ashley by popping and guzzling out of a bottle of champagne then pledges to protect her from the intruder rummaging around upstairs.  Olivia Dejonge has a very physical role to handle as Ashley. She is the main target of the killer. Has to deal with her fear of Spiders on more than one occasion while still trying to assert her authority as the babysitter as events spiral out of control. Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen shine in their limited scenes as Luke's parents. They have a great exchange discussion Roberts gay icon Christmas ornaments that Deandra will not allow on the tree. Warburton flirts openly with Ashley as he shows off his Christmas ties over the scolding from his wife and her request that he not embarrass her again tonight as he did last year.

Better Watch Out is a strong new entry into the home invasion horror market. The Christmas time setting will give the production extra appeal. Peckhover's film has the violent acts but although the outcome is clear the majority of the moments of truth take place off camera. The narrative has a critical moment part way through that takes the story in a different and unforeseen direction making the viewer want to go back for a rematch to link together all of the clues in the first act that set up the turn. It's suspenseful, scary horror film with a signature killing and several slices of humour mixed in making it one that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Better Watch Out | Chris Peckover | Australia / U.S.A. | 2017 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Christmas, Carolers, Babysitter, Pizza Deliver, Intruder, Sleepwalking, Shot Gun, Tripwire, Paint Can, Suicide Note.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - The House of The Dissapeared

Mi Hee (Kim Yunjin) comes to from being pushed into a mirror. She hears the screams of her son  from the basement and goes to investigate. Downstairs she finds her husband (Joe Jae-Yun) stabbed then sees her son standing at the far doorway before he is pulled into the blackness by unknown forces. the police arrive at the home taking away then charging Mi Hee for the murder of her husband and son who's body was never recovered.

Skip ahead 25 years for Mi Hee's release from prison with an advanced case of Larynx cancer. She is returned to her home that she knows has a bad feeling to be greeted by a police posting and a priest Father Choi (Ok Taecyeon) who asks her questions about what occurred on that night to a cold response. The undeterred father goes off to research the home learning that every 25 years on November 11th there have been disappearance at the home dating back to 1942. The home was build by a shaman on that particular spot for a reason. Choi returns to the home to impart that information to Mi Hee and warn her that date for the next occurrence is imminently approaching.

Director Dae Wung Lim presents a time bending non-linear piece that spans 75 years of history. the narrative brings all moments of time together on a November 11th where all past inhabitants come together in one space. the story employs flashbacks to give details of Mi Hee's life including a pair of earlier tragedies that had a deep effect on her family. Mi Hee had to be a strong perennial voice while dealing with the mood and attitude swings of her police detective husband.

Kim Yunjin who most Western audiences will know form her role on Lost Continues to be one of the finest international actresses working to day. She has a very complex role;playing tow different stages in life often acting against herself. Ok Taecyon is effective as the relentless Priest determined to find the truth about what occurred on that fateful November night in 1992 that cost Mi Hee and her family their formative years.

The house that Disappeared is an intense horror mystery thriller with a complicated plot delicately handled by the production team. the violent acts are few but the threat is prevalent throughout the film. the actors do not make a wrong step in an emotional piece that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

The House that Disappeared | Dae Wung Lim | South Korea | 2017 | 100 Minutes.

Tags:  Haunted House, Dissaperance, Murder, Shaman, Fung Shui, Skipping School, Corporal Punishment, Catholic Church, Prison Sentence, Larynx Cancer.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Good Time

The Safdie brothers Josh and Benny where many hats and hate an imageless screen when they are working on a film. They direct, write, act and have their hands in the score normally with the seedy edges of New York City as their canvas. Robert Pattinson liked their method and reached out to make a film together. Safdie regular Buddy Duress had just got out of prision with a story to tell that could be the basis for a film. From the mixing of these elements comes Good Time.

Connie Nikas' (Robert Pattinson) brother Nick (Benny Safdie) has a hearing impairment and mental issues. At the opening are tight close up scenes of Nick as he is attempting word association tasks with psychiatric hospital therapist (Peter Verby). The close ups show the angst in Nick's face over the questions as the therapist tries to pull out more and more information to Nick's growing agitation. Connie bursts into the room declaring that Nick does not need this treatment or this place taking him out of the building leaving the protesting therapist behind.

Then were right at a bank with Nick and Connie sporting African American masks hoddies and sunglasses. They rob a teller using a note demanding $65,000 with a minor comedic hitch. The pair seem to get away then a die pack explodes that starts off a chain of events that sees Nick landing in Rikers Island with a desperate Connie thinking on his feet trying to do anything he can to get Nick out before something critical occurs.

Josh Safdie and regular writing partner Ronald Bronstein craft a narrative that is equal part dialogue and action driven. The peak verbal exchange occurs in the bail bondsman shop. Connie arrives with his spinner girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as she's trying to put the remaining $10,000 collateral on her mom's credit card. Connie is talking to the bail bondsman urging him to get this done tonight. The Bail bondsman is speaking to his contact at the court house to see if this can be done as he discusses the status of the payment with his wife while she's investigating Corey's card issues. Corey calls and yells at her mom for blocking the card in-between she asks Connie if they are still going to go away if posting bond falls through.

Connie Nikas is Robert Pattinson's best film role to date. He nails the local New York dialect, is both manic and calm, comforting and violent while encouraging his brother with positive reinforcement at every turn. Benny Safdie does double duty co-directing and acting. He slides comfortably into the role as the mentally challenged hearing impaired Benny. Being the character as his director's mind thinks of correct coverage and angles for the scene. Jennifer Jason Leigh is solid as always as Connie's high strung girlfriend Corey. Look to Safdie muse Buddy Duress for a wonderful turn as Ray. He provides several comedic moments as the authentic foul mouth ex-con whose the subject of mistaken identity seemingly in the wrong place all of the time.

Good Time is a gritty grainy gripping urban heist gone wrong film set in the bowels of New York City. The do it all Safdie's hit all the right notes with their 4th offering. Robert Pattinson turns in his best on screen performance surrounded by a strong supporting cast. The acting is tight with the right balance of violence including one of the most subtle bank robbery scenes with nary a spoken word.  It's a film that I can strongly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Good Time | Joshua and Bennie Safdie | U.S.A. | 2017 |100 Minutes.

Tags: Brothers, Hearing Impairment, Mental Illness, Bank Robbery, Dye Pack, LSD, Amusement Park, Rikers Island.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Let There Be Light

Fusion is the Unicorn, Holy Grail and Arc of the Covenant all rolled into one for the physicist scientific community. The ability to create a star on earth then harness the energy using only seawater to power the infinite indefinite source is the dream. The fact that theres a massive international project based in the south of France with little fanfare was the impetuous for co-director and writer Mila Aung-Thwin  to bring the story of the scientists on the front line of harnessing this energy to the screen.

In the simplest of terms fusion is created when two hydrogen nuclei collide at a high rate of speed and stick together. When this occurs a tremendous amount of clean energy is released. This event  occurs repeatedly in space when stars are formed. The catch is in order to create the sticking part great heat 150,000 degrees and speed are required along with a vessel to hold the reaction.

This is where the project in France comes in; a potentially 3 story International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) but the project is way behind schedule and massively over budget. The European Union have put up over 40% of the funding. The Americans are involved but lukewarm having pulled out once back in 1999. South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and India are among the other major sponsors. The logistically challenging project is haunted by bureaucratic and program management shortfalls that now project the first plasma test at Christmas 2025. Mark Henderson a leading American physicist that's working on the project compares it to those that worked on churches in the middle ages. They are laying a brick in the foundation today but know that they will be long retired or gone before the structure is finally complete.

There are other working on smaller scale projects all over the world Michel Laberge runs General Fusion in British Columbia. His philosophy is that if an item can't be found at Home Depot then it can't go into his device. The ITER project he believes will work but it will never be stable as a power plant because it's too complex and expensive to run. Eric Lerner's operation Focus Fusion is based in Middlesex New Jersey. His device is chaotic, looking like its made from spare parts. The theory here is not to fight the natural instability of the base elements but use that element to achieve fusion. It will be cheaper but may take longer in the end to achieve with the risk of funding running out. The most successful enterprise to date is W7-X out of Germany. They are using Stellarator Coils that pre date the current in vogue Russian invited Tokamak method that the world have funded for the last 40 years. The Stellrator is self propelling once it gets started. They have had a successful firing although it only lasted for fractions of a second.

Let There Be Light brings the race to produce power through fusion out of the shadows. With the world still heavily reliant on fossil fuels, coal and crude oil its perpetuating an energy model that's not sustainable. Although not said directly a full commitment is required from the United States to reduce the timeline into a reasonable amount of years. But the potential successes are still theoretical and the delivery vehicle up still for debate. It's a pursuit that is not critical today but with the current patters of use and waste if there are not real successes in the next 20-30 years an undeniable crisis will be at our doorsteps.

**** Out of 4.

Let There Be Light |Mila Aung-Thwin / Van Royko | Canada /France/ Switzerland/ Italy/ U.S.A | 2017 | 90 minutes.

Tags: Energy, Fusion,  Hydrogen, Nuclear, Physicist, France, ITER, General Fusion, Focus Fusion, W7-X, Tokamak, Stellrator

Fantasia Film Festival '17 - Bad Genius

ABCD are the first four letters of the alphabet to most people but to Thai high school seniors it's the choices on a piece of paper that could determine your future. Good marks on an exam mean honour to your family prestige amongst you peers and if its an entrance exam that leads to the chance to study abroad at a Western university. Therefore the Thai high school student is desperate to make the right choice between ABCD even if it means joining a scheme that is too good to be true.

Lynn (Chutimon Cheungcharoesukying) has always been the smartest kid in school with math being her strongest subject. When she is not studying she is an accomplished pianist who has recently neglected those studies for schoolwork. Her dad (Thaneth Warakulnkroh) is a teacher in her current school but wants his daughter to have the chance to study abroad so he applies to get her into an elite Bangkok school. Lynn secures a scholarship to reduce the burden on her struggling father. At her new school she continues to shine when she agrees to tutor her friend Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) but that's not enough leading to the first cheating scheme. Grace tells her privileged boyfriend Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinvo) who is under great pressure from his dad to get good grades and follow in his footsteps to Boston University. Pat and four friends are willing to pay Lynn for help on tests causing the cheating scam to evolve cleverly incorporating her piano skills.

Director Nattawut Poonpiriva turns the most boring of subjects sitting and writing an exam into a high stakes high-risk caper. The first improvised cheating plan sets the tone. The narrative builds the tension as Lynn gets Grace's attention then advises of the delivery device and peaks as she passes that device to her friend under the watch of a very attentive teacher. Giving out the prompts for the answers near the end of a test also brings in a time factor for the scammers to finish before the time's up, pencil down end of test moments. The physical aspects of furrowed sweaty brows, pencils scratching, stretching and other personal nervous ticks add to the built up pressure as well.

Bad Genius is a story based on true events that starts with an impromptu tutoring sessions between friends on the floor between isles in a Bangkok library that grows to 6 figure cuts for the perpetrators for beating the fictional version of the International SAT's called STIC in Sydney Australia. Lynn deals with a local rival fellow scholarship student Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) sharp teachers, multiple test options, proctors, faulty cell phones and monitors who attempt to get in her way. It's a hyper paced air gulping drama in the tradition of the best caper films ever to appear on screen.

**** Out of 4.

Bad Genius | Nattawut Poonpiriva| | Thailand | 2017 | 130 Minutes.

Tags: Scholarship, High School, Cheating, Piano Lessons, ISAT, Bangkok, Sydney, ABCD, Boston University, Thai Embassy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Tragedy Girls

A robust social media presence is a key element in a modern teens life. Its right up there with making the cheer squad, the football team and having marks at the top of your class. Retweets and likes have supplanted letter jackets and being a part of the right clique. At Rosedale High McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hilderbrand) take their presence to an extreme birthing a site called Tragedy Girls that trace the recent string of murders in the community even encouraging the violence to bring more hits and likes and followers to their site.

The girls start out by giving contrasting definitions to serial killings and a killing spree with the former taking place over a lengthy period of time. As fans of the killer they manage to get the upper hand on him but instead of turning him in they keep him sequestered expecting that will be their mentor. Giving them pointers on how to follow in his footsteps joining forces to reek havoc on the town which will of course provide content to make their has tags trend nation wide.

Director and co-writer Tyler Macintyre film is very much in the tradition of a dark comedy high school tale such as Heathers, Better of Dead and Pump Up The Volume. McKayla and Sadie's adventures around Rosedale definitely have a body count. The pairs main hashtag #who will be next continues to trend as they trumpet memorials on their site for fellow students and citizens that have died gaining followers by the moment. Their path to national fame is not a straight rise as local chief Blane Welch (Timothy V. Murphy) constantly plays down their theories to maintain order while his son Jordan (Jack Quaid) has a thing for Sadie threading to come between the best friends.

Tragedy Girls is a spirited romp that is more comedy then horror. The two leads Shipp and Hilderbrand devour their roles getting the maximum of the page. The story while it has some similarities to past films takes its on angle on the subject matter. It's a face paced satisfying watch making it a film that I can fully recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Tragedy Girls | Tyler McIntyre | U.S.A. | 2017 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Killing Spree, Serial Killer, Ohio, Cheer Squad, Senior Prom, Parking, High School, Hashtag, Lifetime Movie.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Animals

Chef Nick (Philipp Hochmair) is not happy at home. He is having an affair with his upstairs neighbour Andrea that he's trying to break off. His wife Anna (Brigit Minichmayr) knows that her husband is no longer interested in her and hopeful that a trip abroad to Switzerland will help their relationship as he works on a new cookbook and she takes a step to Adult writing leaving children books behind. The strangeness starts when their house sitter Mischa (Mona Petri) arrives who could be Andrea's twin. It continues with two significant events. Mischa steps on a skate board falling hits the back of her head leading her to the emergency room.  On the road from Vienna to their Swiss cottage Nick strikes a sheep causing seemingly minor injuries at the time. After these incidents time warps leading the players into a loop not sure what's real or imagined or what events occurred and in what order.

Director and co-writer Greg Zglinski weaves a tale of human relationships interesting with those of everyday animals. The scrip also contains eerie parallels in both settings of Vienna and the Swiss countryside. Both have a women with a head wound bandaged up for healing. Both have a door to a room that's off limits and a black Siamese cat befriending the two lead female characters. But it's in the bending of time where the narrative excels. Mischa returns to the hospital to find the doctor that treated her but he no longer has a distinct feature from their first encounter. Then the incident causing that feature occurs later that evening. Nick and Anna arrive back from town where Nick asks Anna when she will get going on her book? Anna is surprised as she thinks they have only arrived when in fact they have been in Switzerland for 12 days.

Brigit Minichmayr has the most influence on the piece in the role of Anna. She knows from the outset  something is wrong as Nick no longer wants to touch her. He's having odd reactions to cell phone calls and she's convinced he is lying to her about his day trips to gather antidotes for his Swiss  cookbook. On top of this she believes her injury from the accident was not minor as Nick states. Mona Petri is a strong female co lead as Mischa. She fends off Andrea's ex-husband who thinks that she's her. Deals with Anna's hostility when she comes to sublet the apartment and turns in an unexpected physical performance, as mishaps seem to strike her more than the average person.

Animals is a psychological thriller where the Animal world and the human combine. Cats, birds and Sheep provide major plot points for the feature. The main actors deliver in the roles backed by a scrip that brings him the feel and pace of the Swiss countryside. It's a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Animals | Greg Zgliniski | Switzerland/ Austria/ Poland | 2017 | 95 Minutes.

Tags: Affair, Writer, Cookbook, Recipes, Sublet, Suicide, Vevey, Fribourg, Sheep, Siamese Cat

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Atomic Blonde

The last days of the Berlin Wall is the baseline for David Leitch's new cold war era spy film Atomic Blonde. The film opens with Ronald Regan's call to Mikail Gorbachev to tear it down with the final scenes taking place as champagne is sprayed on top of the structure as East Germans stream into the West.  In this setting we meet Lorraine Broughton ( Charlize Theron) top spy on Her Majesty's Secret Service plunged deep in an ice bath sporting a wicked set of bruises. She emerges to have a glass of Stoli on ice tub side before heading into MI6 headquarters to be debriefed on her latest mission. She's met by her boss Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA observer Emmett Kurtfeld (John Goodman) whose presence she protests.

The Berlin mission is recounted which gives the story a staccato like feel as the tape is paused for commentary. The fact that she's telling the tale means the viewer knows that Lorraine gets out of every jam to come ahead of time. The reel-to-reel rolls then Lorraine begins to speak on the record.  Her mission is to capture a secret list of all operating agents that includes their alias skills and allegiances. The holder is about to sell the information that will comprise every working government agent. Of course the Russian, American, and French want the list as well. Broughton's contact is Berlin Section Chief David Percival (James McAvoy) who's been in Berlin for 10 years, knows the ins and outs and has become a low-tech precursor of Amazon online in the city.

Leitch who co-directed John Wick shows again that he knows how to fill the screen with action. There is no one better at filming close quarters hand to hand combat, improvisational items at weapons and the up close and personal headshot. Again the narrative is questionable including many elements seen in past films: NOC List from the first Mission David Leitch, Sean Connery stating Take Me For A Ride upon being picked up by sinisters on his landing in Jamaica at the start of Dr. No.

The other driver of the production is a top list choice of 80"s songs that set the tone for scenes and serve to feed the plot. We are in Berlin in the late eighties so Falco's Der Kommissar and Nena's 99 Luftballons are a given. Mix in Depeche Mode, a couple of Bowie tunes, Peter Shilling's Major Tom and Public Enemy's Fight The Power the stage is set.

Charlize Theron continues the trend of strong female action roles as Agent Broughton following in the footsteps of her turn as Furiosa in the last Mad Max film and this years giant hit Wonder Woman with Gal Gadot. Theron fought to bring this character from Anthony's Johnson's Graphic Novel The Coldest City to the screen as evidenced by her top line producer credit. James Mcivoy is a crafty foil as Percival while little know Bill Skarsgard is very effective as Merkel, Broughton's personal contact in East Berlin.

Atomic Blonde is an effective action thriller. In this window action and not story drive a film. The lead acting performance all fit nicely into this space. Audience will find the piece an enjoyable two hours in the theatre and likely leave amazed at least two of the action sequences while they hum an 80"s song from the soundtrack that is stuck in their heads.

*** Out of 4.

Atomic Blonde | David Leitch | U.S.A. | 2017 | 115 minutes.

Tags: Berlin, MI6, KGB, CIA, Berlin Wall, French Intelligence, Defector, Double Agent, Spy List, Stolichnaya Vodka.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Most Beautiful Island

Luciana (Asa Asensio) is near the end of her rope, physically, mentally and psychology. She is in New York City but undocumented. She does not have a social Insurance number therefore she is relegated to cash paying day jobs. Beneath the surface she is suffering from a self inflicted wound that she continues to pick at linked to a tragedy back home in Spain hinting towards the death of a child. Her main job babysitting two bratty kids but even that work plus the temporary gigs make it difficult to pay the rent in her cockroach infested apartment.

The first sign that Luciana is on the edge of society is encapsulated in a doctor's visit. She goes to see Dr. Horowitz (David Little) directed there by Russian immigrant acquaintance Olga (Natasha Romonov) although she has no health coverage. Blocked by paperwork at reception Luciana is forced to bust into The Doctor's office and insisting not to leave until he diagnosis her problem. After a particularly humiliating sequence of events culminating with a job handing out flyers for a restaurant dressed in a chicken suit; Olga tells Lucinda about a cocktail party where she can make $2000.00 if she attends in Olga's place. Desperate and not asking the right questions Lucinda agrees to attend but its not until she is in a basement rom with several other terrified model type women including Olga does she gain a sense of the stakes.

Director Asa Asensio's stars in her feature film debut that is based on her experiences when she arrived in the United States and over stayed her Visa. The life of the undocumented is always hustling, taking low and demeaning jobs for cash or risky ones for a quick payday while suffering the humiliation of asking to pay for items the next day or being on display or a plaything for rich seedy New Yorkers. The pivotal scene pays out as a challenge or test of nerves for the women who are invited in by the rich attendees who bet on their fate. If successful the model leaves shaken with an envelope full of cash. If not screams are heard from the room from which the invitee will not emerge.

Asensio uses hand held super16 filming for a good portion of the film. it brings out the hectic nature of Lucinda life as she crisscrosses the City trying to get through the day. She does all the heavy lifting her directing, writing and staring in the film. Natasha Romonov is credible as the Russian beauty who seemingly has high brow connects but gives off the air of someone that is not to be trusted.  Caprice Bendetti is wonderful as the over the top Model wrangler Vanessa.

Most Beautiful Island is a gritty tale of the struggles and potential fate of undocumented residences in New York City. They hustle from  one menial cash job to another. If they are pretty enough a potential big pay day could be in the offering but it's likely at a great risk. Asensio's film is fast paced shot mainly handled to reflect the hectic nature of her life. It's a feaure that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Most Beautiful Island | Ana Asensio | U.S.A. | 2017 | 80 Minutes.

Tags; Undocumented, Immigrant, New York, Cocktail Dress, Basement, Game, Chicken Suit, Ice Cream, I.O.U.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Lowlife

An obviously corrupt ICE agent bust through the door of a motel room dragging out the inhabitants then lining them up on their knees and cuffing them. The motel owner Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) confronts the agent only to receive a gun in her face. The illegals are taken to the basement of a Taco shop where they are hosed down and prepped for organ harvesting. All except a young girl who is thrown in a room to be part of Teddy Bear's (Mark Burnham) prostitution ring.

Monsters the first titled sequence introduces El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) a Luchador mask wearing heavy for Teddy Bear who married to Teddy's pregnant daughter Kaylee (Santana Dempsey). El Monstruo gives an impassioned speech about his family's tradition how he's a runt that could not live up to his fathers and ancestors stature until he found his rage. El Monstruo speech is directed to the daughter of a thug that owes Teddy money. The Thug returns won't pay leading to a confrontation where we first see the results of an El Monstruo fit of rage.

In the next chapter Fiends the relationship between Teddy, Crystal and Kaylee is clarified. Crystal and her Husband Dan (King Orba) were such drug fiends that they sold their daughter to Teddy for money to feed their habits. Crystal also has a habit of buying items that are never opened but sit in boxes as clutter filling up their room at the motel and their mini-van.

Chapter 3  Thugs introduces Teddy's embezzling accountant Keith (Shanye Ogbonna) picking up his childhood friend Randy (Jon Oswald) from prison. Randy who's a mixture of Eminem, Vanilla Ice and Snowhas a large swastika tattooed on his face forced by the Arian nation when he was inside. This vignette provides the most humour as Randy tries to navigate through the ethnic neighbourhoods  of L.A. with the universally hated symbol on his face not to mention he is being chauffeured around by his black friend. The pair loose out on a confrontation with Teddy compelled to kidnap pregnant Kaylee who's to provide a kidney for Dan.

All of the characters come together in the final section Criminals. Unexpected connections are established while long overdue ones are made with Nicki's Micheaux's Crystal leading the cast as she has the largest scope involvement with the other charters in the film. Mark Burnham is very strong as the menacing but reasonable Teddy while Richardo Adam Zarate blackout raging Luchador steals scenes as the sound cuts when his rage scream builds leading to an aftermath of violent deaths and carnage.

Lowlife is a welcomed new entry into the tradition of non-linear violent thrillers featuring the 99%. The violence is harsh, the players morals questionable but a strong script, rich visuals and killer score put the film right in the sweet spot of the genre. It's a gripping feature from first time director Ryan Prows that audience will want to see then wait with anticipation for is next project.

**** Out of 4.

Lowlife | Ryan Prows | U.S.A. | 2017 | 96 Minutes.

Tags: I.C.E., Illegal Immigrants, Organ Harvesting, Luchidor, Protector, Taco Shop, Drug Addict, Ex- Con, Prostitution Ring.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - A Thousand Junkies

Tommy, T.J. and Blake are up early sorted and ready to start their day. It's just after 8 AM and the trio are waiting in a Los Angeles parking lot for their heroin dealer Jimmy to arrive to make them well. As the hour is early the withdrawal symptoms have not started to kick in yet. They pass the time telling stories about the best Los Angeles bathroom for shooting up and argue over mundane daily issues. As time passes they begin to get alarmed. They have been at the lot for almost and hour with no sign of Jimmy. A phone call determines that his wife is in labour so the meeting point has to change. Tommy fires up the one step from scrap Volvo station wagon the friends head to the first of many detours that will make up their day.

Tommy Swerdlow directs a film that is very personal. He is know as the writer of Cool Runnings, Little Giants and Snow Dogs but during that time he was addicted heavily to heroin that on at least two occasions almost cost him his life. His two co-stars in the film T.J. Bowen and Blake Heron were also caught in the depths of the heroin haze. The three met in rehab making the film ring authentic as its content is based on true-life experiences.

During the course of the day resigned that Jimmy is preoccupied the addicts try other avenues to make that needed score. First they hook up with Igor (Dinarte de Freitas) who takes his sisters' last two hundred dollars then lead the group on a wild goose chase in a dry area. After his departure the stakes raise as do the withdrawal symptoms leading to more desperate and pathetic attempts to get money to score peaking with Tommy sneaking to his ex wives house trying to get his daughter to give him a hundred dollars in order to get well.

The dialogue and antidotes for which T.J. and Blake both secure a co-writers credit are the key to the film. Junkies don't do much. They sit around complain, ache and scrounge as they try to get money or items they can sell from anyone they know for that next hit. Its the banter taking about money on gas cards, odd names in contact lists that could be a source to going back to acquaintances that they didn't wrong too badly who can help in this current emergency.

A Thousand Junkies is public service announcement for what you could become if you start down the path of serious drug addiction. There are no glamour points here but instead desperation, pain and hurt. It's not a tough watch due to the smart dialogue, outlandish situations and even a brief cameo by Bill Pullman playing himself forced to give the lend seeking Tommy The hard no. It's about being obsessed with getting that next fixed no matter the cost without the realization that the cycle will continue to repeat until one gets clean.

*** Out of 4.

A Thousand Junkies | Tommy Swerdlow | U.S.A. | 2017 | 75 Minutes.

Tags:  Heroin, Addict, Methadone, Stealing, Drug Dealer, Pregnancy, Los Angeles, Bathroom, Volvo.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - November

Fable, storytelling, deals with the underworld and witchcraft are at the centre Ranier Sarnet's black and white adaptation of Estonian writer Andrus Kivirahk's novel Rehepapp. The tale features peasants living in the shadow of a German Baron's manor working the land surviving on next to nothing. The peasants dwell in cramped wooden structures, may have an animal or two and are so weak from lack of food they rely on demonic mechanical devices known at Kratts to help with field and household chores.

Liia lives in this world. She is young smart determined and in love with Hans who has eyes for the Baroness (Jetta Loona Hermanis). Liia battles her father, fends off a much older potential suitor is one with the wild and tries to trade for nice female clothing. The community rations everything even their wafers from church which they horde after church to use for hunting later.

Director Rainer Sarnet presents a story where dialogue is sparse. Key events occur deep in the woods in true fable traditions. Magical elements appear right from the open scene building to a new level with the events on All Souls Day. The day when the dead come home to their family for a meal followed by a quick rest in the sauna. Legend states that they look like large chickens pecking about then Sarnet shows that the image on screen. Cinematographer Mart Taniel shines during the procession of the dead sequence. The dark forest with its century old trees lit up by candlelight serve as a path for the dead clad in white as they march through from the cemetery to their family homes. Taniel use of light and reflections off faces make this a haunting yet warm scene.

Rea Lest turns in a physically challenging performances as Liia. She works the land pushing and maneuvring heavy equipment on the same level as any villager. At night she's out in the fields and forest moving in rhythm and sync with wolves. She is also the victim of attacks from an unwanted groom to be as well as her father while suffering from a deep love that will not be returned. Heno Kalm' Sander  is the leader of the peasants. He's the keeper of the black current used to deceive the Devil in the woods. He also counsel's the villagers on how to battle a plague that comes to town in a very strange form. Dieter Laser steals scenes as the Baron. He's a cross between Liberace and a Tim Burton character. He seems to be oblivious to what is going on but in fact may be two steps ahead rather than one behind.

November is a monochrome spectacle that puts pagan old world ideas side by side with modern religion. The grubby muddy peasants contrast the villagers that work in the Manor. The forest itself is a character in the film. It's the location for Liia's adventures; the spot for the mythical buried treasure and the home of the Devil; the provider and taker of souls. The film is a visually sharp original production that I can fully recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

November | Rainer Sarnet | Estonia / Netherlands / Poland | 2017 | 115 Minutes.

Tags: Trickery, Stealing, Sadness, Wolves, Manor, Sleepwalking, Plague, Kratts, Soul, All Souls Day.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Film Review - Dunkirk

A group of British solders are walking through the cobblestone streets of an empty town. A hose is picked up hoping for a few drops of water. A window opened at the site of an ashtray then rummaged through for a smokable cigarette butt. Then the bullets start to fly whipping through the sky piercing flesh. Soon only one is left Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) to hop a fence fire back before disappearing behind the sandbag line manned by the French protecting the path to the sea. On the beach the solders link up a half mile long 8 feet deep on the Mole waiting for evacuation but also serving as sitting ducks for the German planes circling and dive-bombing the position from above.

The narrative focuses on three sections, the above noted Mole, the sea and the air. The mole part is a desperate struggle  to get off the continent and back home made all the more aggravating by the fact that they can see home from the breakwater wall. The solders on the beach are shot at by German snipers, constantly ducking for cover on the sand and the mole, climbing on then jumping off rescue ships as they are struck from above. Even a momentary pause for nourishment eating a bread and jelly sandwich is thrown into chaos when a torpedo strikes the  rescue vessel. The Air portion is perhaps the most intellectual. Two spitfire pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Jack Lowden (Collins) engage the Messerschmitts at sea undermanned as the Germans have air superiority plus High Command have decided to save their resources for the inevitable battle for the homeland to the disappointment of the stranded rank and file on the beach.  The Sea centres on the call to local boats and pleasure craft from the homeland. Commandeered to head out with a sense of duty to get the boys back home. The Moonstone piloted by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) His son Peter (Thomas Glynn-Carney) who are joined by Peter's friend George (Barry Keoghan) who jumps on board last minute declaring that he would be useful.

Nolan as he always does did his research for this project employing historian Joshua Levine for the fine details of the 400,000 troop evacuation between  May 26-June 4 1940. The uniforms, coats, life jackets guns and distinctive helmets are all accurate for the time. The hum of the Rolls Royce engine Spitfires communication devices and analogue dials of the planes are all from the period. The script is heavy on action. The solders only speak a few brief words which comes to the fore in a pivotal scene 3/4 through the picture when the audience realizes that one of the main characters has not uttered a single word up to that point. The tension of the subject matter is naturally there but longtime Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer cranks up the score featuring an audible tick tick tick of a stopwatch in the undercurrent. The story is very British as the participants weave from one catastrophe to the next but seem to not move above a resting heart rate. In pone particularly tense moment a ditched pilot is rescued from his sinking plane as the water rushes in to drown him. His only words to his rescuers are "Good Afternoon".

The ensemble case do not set a foot wrong portraying the roles of the calm Englishmen doing their duty inside and outside of the Service. Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard are the prominent highlanders trying several methods to get off the beach and into a vessel that can take them to England. Nolan regular Hardy is notable as Farrier the Spitfire pilot taking calculated risks to potent the troops and boats below. Mark Rylance stands out as the compassionate father taking his youngest son across the sea with a storage room full of lifejackets to do what every they can to help with the evacuation.

Dunkirk is a significant World War Tow film. It highlights the selflessness of past generations driven
by the readiness to act without question when a nation requires your service. Nolan brings home the helplessness of the troops sitting on the Mole or on the beach waiting for hours or days to be rescued. It's a special piece of filmmaking that has to be scene on the big screen.

**** Out of 4.

Dunkirk| Christopher Nolan | U.K. /Netherlands/ France U.S.A. | 2017 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Dunkirk, France, Evacuation, World War II, France, Spitfire, Messersmith, The Mole, Drowning, Oil, Survival.

Fantasia '17 Film Review - Free and Easy

Soap Salesman comes to a small northern seemingly abandoned town in winter time. He meets a young man (Chen Xi) upon arrival. The young man displays his athletics and talks about his Kung Fu ability. The Salesman opens his briefcase to offer a free bar of soap so he can spread the word around town. The Salesman encourages a smell test as the bar is unique having a different scent on all four  sides. After a few sniffs the young man falls to the ground unconscious allowing the salesman  the opportunity to empty out his pockets. After coming to youth meets a Monk (Xu Gang) who claims that his temple has just burned down offering a blessed talisman for a donation. Ncxt he heads to the police station to report the crime. There he finds two officers identified only by number that are more interested in taking the latest pill rather than solving a crime.

Director Geng Jung brings together a cast of small minded criminals mixed with down and outers to form a bumbling group of the downtrodden in an abandoned. Cinematographer Wang Weihua gets the most of the desolate environment using an abundance of natural light as it flows over and through decrepit structures reflecting off of the thin layer of slow. Viewers could find issue with the pacing of the film. Scenes are simply composed measuredly highlighting the mundane.

Zang Ziyong heads the cast of part time actors as the Salesman. Xu Gang is next prominent as the Temple less Monk. Xue Baohe occupies the most thoughtful role as the arborist fighting a series of tree thefts that it's unclear if they are real or imagined.

Free and Easy is a farcical tale set in a remote location. Pacing may be an issue for some but Director Jung has something to say about elements of Chinese society plus the hustler grifter in general. As the one pure character Gu Benbin a Christian looking for his long missing mother puts it you reap what  you sow.

*** Out of 4.

Free and Easy | Geng Jung | China | 2016 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: China, Winter, Soap, Flyers, Talisman, Robbery, Scam, Gun, Christian, Buddhist.