Sunday, May 6, 2018

Hot Docs '18 Film Review - The Accountant of Auschwitz

The 2012 trial of John Demjanjuk in Munich represented a paradigm shift in the international practice of bringing perpetrators to trial for crimes against humanity. Before you had to be a trigger man to be brought before the courts. With the Demjanjuk trial, the standard shifted to being present, knowing  what was going on and serving a role contributing to the process leading to Oskar Groning charge and 2015 rial.  and brought to trial. Similar to the fate of a getaway driver if armed bank robbers take a life. Witness were brought in from the U.S. Canada and Hungary to give their accounts and see the proceedings on German soil. The 93-year-old Groning told his story matter of factly commented on his role to sort through the prisoners luggage for valuables as they were not going to be needed them anymore. He was on the ramp as prisoner's were selected into groups of those fit to do labour and the others that were headed to the gas chambers.

Director Matthew Shoychet focuses on a small group of witnesses that travel to Luneberg locals for the trial. They have conflicting emotions. So much was taken away from them but what is the value of putting a 93-year-old man on trial events that he was on the fringes on 70 plus years ago. It's German prosecutor Thomas Walter who presided over the Demjanjuk trial that convinced them to go. This trial is not for you only its also for the future. People who make the choice to be complacent in Crimes against humanity in the future must know that justice will pursue them to the end time.

The narrative looks at events going right back to Nuremberg including on camera accounts from Benjamin Ferencz the prosecutor at Nuremberg who is in his 98th year. they progress through to the mid 60's where the record of convictions that stuck was very low. The SS had 800,000 members, 100,000 were investigated, 6,200 were brought to trial leading to 124 life sentences. The German people were not into the process plus many of the judges were former SS members themselves. The use of visuals for the questions during the trial was very effective, The questions swiped across the screen followed by the answers and Gronings likeness. Holocaust deniers lead by Ursula Haverbeck were also present at the trial. However, her narrative was cut off by the police under threats of imprisonment.

The Accountant of Auschwitz is an important reminder of the consequences of participating even in a seemingly passive role in genocide, mass murder or chrimes against humanity. If found, you will be brought to justice no matter your age or status in life. The goal to serve as a deterrent to current and future generations but looking back at the the last few decades with Kosovo, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Syria it seems like the worst aspects of Human nature will triumph over any fears of facing a show trial at the end of your life. A sad commentary but true and history appears destined to repeat itself over and over again

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Accountant of Auschwitz | Matthew Shoychet | Canada | 2018 | 80 Minutes.

Tags: Holocaust, World War 2, Luneburg, Trial, Prosecution, Sentence, Nazi, Auschwitz, Poland, Israel, Detroit, Toronto, Forgiveness.

Hot Docs '18 Film Review - Transformer

Marc Kroc Kroczaleski is looking through old photo albums and comes across one in his high school football jersey. He remarks that the players would wear their jersey's to class on game days and the cheerleaders also wore their uniforms. He often thought about switching places knowing he would be more comfortable in their clothing than his. Janae Marie Kroc is the female side of the equation. Having come out to his three boys when they were 2, 4 and 6 the divorced ex-marine deals with parents that can't face the change and a level of fame as a champion powerlifter.  A 2015 You Tube incident outed Marc as Janae pushing the on and off again move to transitioning down the road to permanent change.

However, lifting weights runs deep Janae still meets up with old lifting buddies that are very accepting as are powerlifting commentators and fans. It seems that only his former sponsor Muscletech have a problem as they did not renew his contact after the news came out. His sons are very accepting coming for a weekend visit, asking questions that Janae openly answers playing video games as their dad does his makeup and adjusts his wig at the dining room table ahead of a night out on the town and being helpful with he calls out for assistance to find his purse.

Director Michael Del Monte presents the story of a riveting subject. Marc was 118 pounds entering high school. He was bullied, felt vulnerable and did not want to feel that way again so he turned to weights, the marines, bodybuilding then powerlifting. He transformed himself so people would leave him alone. Then did it again to bring stares and sideways looks at a 250 lbs musclebound woman. Del Monte's camera is passive as Janae progresses. Stepping up the estrogen, no more testosterone, appointments with surgeons to make changes in her voice then traveling to Seoul to a leading doctor to make facial changes.

Janae's goals are really simple to for the first time like the person that stares back at her in the mirror. Her sons are in full agreement with the plan. Suicide had been contemplated before remaining a possibility if this path is not followed. Despite the trepidation of his parents, Janae has a wide support system of old, new and weightlifting community friends. The film is a valuable insight into two worlds powerlifting and transgendered transitioning that is informative and well worth a watch.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Transformer | Michael Del Monte | Canada | 2018 | 78 Minutes.

Tags: Transgender, Marines, Power Lifter, Dead Lift, Facial Surgery, Vocal Surgery, Estrogen, Makeup Wigs.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Hot Docs '18 Film Review - On Her Shoulders

On August 3rd, 2014 Nadia Murad Basee Taha's life changed forever. Murad was a student and farmer in her northern Iraqi Yazidi village of Kocho when Isis forces clad in black came to town. The separated the men from the women, then the children from their mothers killing most of the adults and taking the women and children up into the mountains as captives. Nadia became a sex slave attacked repeatedly by her captors. Although she felt bad about what was happening to her she felt worse for her fellow captives as young as 10 that were suffering the same fate. Nadia managed to escape was sent to Germany for treatment and counseling but after one session she left determine to bring relief for her  people no matter how many time she had to tell her story. The documentary builds toward Nadia's address to President's and Prime Ministers at the United Nations General assembly. She is repeatedly reminded that she only has 3 minutes to speak starting off a lengthy process spanning two continents as she visits world cities, speaks to politicians does interviews recounting the atrocities to herself and her people. In any downtime, she works on her speech and in her spare time she brings toys, present and hope to her fellow Yazidis in refugee camps.

Director Alexandria Bombach handles her subject superbly. She does not focus on the low hanging fruit of the blow by blow physical abuse suffered by Murad. Instead, she looks at what the Yazidis want now. Recognition and justice of the genocide that occurred, a solution for the Yazidis in refugee camps and freeing their homeland from Isis control. Bombach deals with the facts up front in at the form of a crisply edited sequence of interviews build on one long-form radio spot in Ottawa. Nadia is telling the details of her experience in different forums leaving her drained, crying and exhausted. These are the hard moments of being an activist outside of meeting political leaders, receiving gifts and touring politics capitals.

Nadia Murad is the reluctant heroine of her people's cause. She survived sex slavery the slaughter of 18 members of her family captivity and torture. As one of her experienced supporters, international prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo states it up to her to bring to light the fate of the Yazidi people. All she wanted to do was study, be an athlete, a farmer and open a salon one day as it would bring joy and comfort to Yazidi women. That is all gone and she will consider herself worthless until there is justice for her people. In one tell seen while in Ottawa she sees the Canadian soldiers on parade but can't help thinking that all the Yazidi soldiers are dead. She smiles and says thank you in English to well -wishers but wants to see action as she addressed the U.N. security counsel on Human trafficking, is elected a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and does get to speak to the General Assembly in the end.

On Her Shoulders is the story of one young woman's quest to bring recognition of the plight of her people, legal action against the perpetrators and a plan of action for her below Yazidis living in refugee camps. Nadia Murad succeeds on all fronts. Teamed with high profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, Two strong fellow Yazidi's  Murad Ismael and Ahmed Khudida Burjus she is able to keep up a hectic pace quickly recover from endless interviews and photo ops to get the message out. The world does take notice as the slow wheels of justice begin to turn.

**** Out of 4

On Her Shoulders | Alexandria Bombach | U.S.A. | 2018 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Yazidi, Sinjar, Kocho, Islamic State, Genocide, Sexual Slavery, Activist, Refugee, United Nations, Parliament Hill, Brandenburg Gate,

Hot Docs '18 Film Review - King Lear

Veteran actor Viktor Rotin sees his life as mirroring that of King Lear. The 86-year-old is in the same age range as the Shakespearian King and identifies with adult children nipping at his heels. His biggest complaint is the scene where King Lear addresses his kids in the play. The king is seen as vain but Rotkin sees Lear as expressing love for his youngest Cordelia. Early on in the piece, our protagonist attends a lecture from a visiting English scholar arguing his view on the subject.

Director Denis Klebleev follows around the larger than life Rotin as he goes about his daily life. In the opening scene, the actor is caring to the graves of relatives stating that his labour is his gift to the departed below as he could easily pay for strangers to do the same task. Klebleev trains his lens on Rotin as he storms around the countryside riding motorcycles, traveling on trains and dropping in at his chess club. Often ending his day laying on a hallway couch After world win days often laying on a hallway couch with a deer print perched above his head.

As the viewer spends more time with the Actor his pressure points become plain. His ex-wife who never let him live with his kids, His kids who are only after his money and his willingness to launch into a monologue from the play at any moment. Usually going to his to his favourite passage a passionate plea to his youngest daughter Cordelia who the King expected to take care of him in his later years. So when he attends an experimental screening his reaction to the actors being silent on stage is as to be expected. In King Lear Klebleev follows literally an example of life imitating art absorbing all of its personal and professional consequence.

*** Out of 4.

King Lear | Denis Klebleev | Russia | 2017 | 56 Minutes.

Tags: Shakespeare, King Lear, Stage Performer, Scooter, Chess, Cordelia, Summer Home, Vain, Love.

Hot Docs '18 Film Review - Over the Limit

Celebrated Rhythmic Gymnast Margarita Mamum is training and competing in events leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. She was at the top of the rankings the prior two seasons but has been struggling in this crucial year.  Her teammate and friendly rival  Yana Kudryavtseva is now on top and the darling of the Russian Federation trainers. Rita has to work through her fog to get her game back. She is backed by her personal coach Amina Zaripova but has to deal with gymnasts head coach Irina Viner-Usmanova who motivates through old-school Soviet-style terror.

Rita is competing in Stuggart at the opening working though her hoop routine seemingly graceful and athletic. But when she is done and the marks come in coach Amina tells her she must push past her limits and fight for herself.  Then Ms. Irmina pounces accusing Rita of failing out of spite. Saying she only received as many marks as she got because the judges took pity on her kind-hearted eyes. Imploring her to keep going when she makes a mistake as she will still get marks on the next element from her own Russian judge. Rita retires to the locker room exhausted already beginning to prepare for the next day.

Director Marta Prus alongside camera work by Adam Suzin bring the audience into the intimate machinery of the vaunted Russian Athlete training system. It's harsh, ruthless downright cruel but does get results. Rita undergoes extreme psychological abuse being told that she is fat when she loses or that she soon will be covered by dirt dust and moss. As Rita is being tormented her performances look good and judging by the audience reaction podium worthy.

Over the Limit is a rare behind the curtain look at the ultra competitive world or rhythmic gymnastics. Each athlete has to fend for themselves. They are backed by a coach and a team but it's up to them to push through sort out the constructive criticism from the petty to bring home the gold medal. Its a fascinating study of how much one young woman can take and still break through to deliver that performance on the day.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Over The Limit | Marta Prus | Poland / Germany/ Finland | 2017 | 73 Minutes.

Tags: Rio Olympics, Russian Olympic Team, Hoops, Clubs, Ribbon, Ball, Elements, Training, Competition.

Hot Docs '18 Film Review - Take Light

Nigeria has a power supply issue. The failing state-run companies were privatized but the blackouts continued as many residents have to rely on generators to get power. Along with generators come the potential for injury and the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. The country can generate 12,000 megawatts of power but just 4500 is actually being produced. Part of the reason is due to the gas supplies. Militants regularly attack the pipelines stating that the oil and gas belong to the people thus disrupting service.

Enter Martins Enya Ilang electrician for PHED Port Hardcourt Energy Distribution company  who is on the ground in an industrial area serving the company for little pay along with servicing the local residents. Martins goes into the community each day alongside customer service agent Deborah Ikhile. They talk to customers, read meters and ask to see residents bills If they have not paid Martins puts up his ladder goes up to the line and cuts the wire to the home amid often hostile responses from the residences and at least on one occasion a power surge that hit him with a bold of electricity sending him crashing back to the ground. The wires are often a tangled mess as illegal electricians reconnect lines for a fee mainly at night using inferior materials.

Canadian director Shasha Nakhai goes back to her native land to tell the story of a countries utility that has been neglected, mismanaged and abused resulting in severe consequences for the population. The sequence in the hospital that follows Opus Davies an engineer is the most telling. First the the generator related  injuries coming in; burns as people try to fill running ones with gas plus carbon monoxide scares as residents pull the generators inside to use. Then the difficulty of running a hospital without consistent power. Opus inspects the generators on the roof that are covered with soot that seems to be falling all over the area. The freezers are not in use in the morgue so bodies are dry embalmed and left outside.

N.E.P.A.  National Electric Power Authority is the name known by most people. Opus calls them  Never Expect Power Again. The residents see PHED and NEPA as interchangeable companies coming to cut the light. The diligent crew due their duty often on the wrong end of hostile reactions from the public and ridicule from the likes of You Tube sensations James & Harry Two Angry Men. The situation and prospects are dire but there are some burgeoning elements in place along with hard fair workers like Martins and Deborah and Opus could make a change.

*** Out of 4

Take Light | Shasha Nakhai | Canada | 2018 | 78 Minutes.

Tags: Power Generation, Grid, Electric Distribution, Blackouts, Light, Electric Bill, Pipelines, Privatization, Port Hardcourt, Niger Delta, Oil, Gas, Halliburton.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Film Review - Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of a ten-year plan creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe that started with 2008's Iron Man. The franchise is built on four pillars Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Along the way, the Guardians of the Galaxy showed up along with the second wave that cemented their status in the first Avengers film. The last two additions to round out the players were Dr. Strange and Black Panther. Enter Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) a Giant who is ever the equal of the Hulk sporting a jagged chin the equivalent of the front end of a freight train. He is hunting the six infinity stones that are spread throughout the galaxy. We see his initial power as he gets the better of the Hulk in a one on one battle early on in the film. Thanos' plan; bring balance to the world by eliminating half of the population. He's been working on this going from planet to planet but with all six infinity stones placed in his specially made gauntlet he can snap his fingers making it instantly so.

Directing brothers Joe and Anthony Russo have their work cut out giving everyone screen time but manage to do so. Starting with Thor and The Hulk battling Thanos in Space, Dr. Strange, Spiderman and Iron Man taking on his confidant Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) in New York, then Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon coming to the aid of Vision and Scarlet Witch after being ambushed by Black Order members Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glavine in Scotland. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely raise some heady questions with the narrative that has real world implications. Is Thanos' plan the best way to deal with overcrowding in a world with dwindling resources or is it genocide on a universal scale.

Robert Downy Jr's Iron Man continues to be the lead character of the franchise. He battles in multiple settings ending up alongside The Guardians on Thanos' home planet Titan for a key segment of the feature. Chris Hemsworth's Thor hits many outposts during the proceedings including one particularly absorbing sequence where he runs into Eitri (Peter Dinklage) a Giant Dwarf who forged both his Hammer and Thanos' Gauntlet to hold the stones. Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch is placed in a no-win situation where she has to make the toughest choice possible displaying her immense power in a scene where the stage is cleared for her main contribution to the production.

Avengers: Infinity War delivers. It's true to the characters that audiences have met and grown to love over the last ten years. Because the viewers are invested in these heroes it's even more shocking when Thanos continues to gain power then brings it to bear against Earth's Mightiest Heroes. The film is an important signpost making fans both uneasy and excited to see the next set of films will take the franchise leading up to the fourth and final Avengers film.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Avengers: Infinity War | Joe Russo / Anthony Russo | USA | 2018 | 149 Minutes.

Tags:  MCU, Crossover, Infinity Stones, New York, Scotland, Titan, Knowhere, Wakanda, Genocide, Balance, Glass Eye, Rabbit.