Sunday, August 25, 2019

TIFF Bel Lightbox Film Review - Tigers Are Not Afraid

10-year Old Estrella is a bright smart girl in school. Her class is in the middle of a lesson when gunfire rigs out just outside the school grounds forcing the entire class to duck for cover. School is canceled indefinitely. On television, a local politician running for office vows to clean up the community for the residents.  As Estrella leaves the grounds she is faced with police tape surrounding a dead cartel victim at the entrance to the school. Orphaned Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) is living on the streets lurking in the shadows looking for food when not robbing cell phones from inattentive people passing by.

He stumbles upon cartel member Caco (Ianis Guerrerro) relieving himself beside a building not paying attention to his phone or gun which Shine lifts. He heads back to his band of orphaned boys showing his haul from the evening. Estrella returns home from school to find his mother missing. When she does not turn up the next day her worst fears begin to surface. Her mother has been taken away by the cartel.


Fantasy mixes with harsh reality in director Issa Lopez film. Estrella has been granted three wishes as she is surrounded by butterflies, birds, and snakes in this film space. Lopez brings the viewer into the bleak reality of a Mexican slum. The cartels have killed so many people that little kids are forced to join together for safety and survival. The supernatural blends with fantasy and reality. Here as in Guillermo del Toro's Devils Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth Humans in authority are the real monsters that prey and the innocent and weak. It's fitting that del Toro is such a champion of the film imploring anyone his vast social network can reach to see the film. The art department are influential in creating this world including the swatting locations the kids occupy during the film. Cinematographer Juan Jose Saravia work with shadows, reflections, light and dark help to portray both the fantasy and desperation of the kids' situation. The spray painted murals tell the story of the relationships in the community with the kids and the cartel members some describing tragedy easily invoking tears.

Paola Lara fills the screen as Estrella. She is scared and frightened at first returning home to find her mother missing with no food available or coming. But she finds her strength and resolve becoming key planner for the orphaned group to the anger of Shine. Juan Ramon Lopez occupies that second in command role. He is moody upset that he lost control of the group but willing to step up at the most critical time.

Tigers are Not Afraid is a deep look at violence and fear experienced in cartel run Mexican communities. It's even better on the second viewing and needs to be seen to inspire future storytellers with original ideas to find a way to get their work out there. The nimble young cast of first timers bring authentic voices to their roles. As del Toro stated in the Q & A to kick off the films 2 week run at Toronto's Bell Lightbox Tigers Are Not Afraid falls into the wake people up category rather than the put people to sleep one.  The story is chilling but likely reflecting actual events. It's a desperate situation that needs to be exposed as done so here by Issa Lopez and her team.

**** Out of 4.

Tigers Are Not Afraid | Issa Lopez | Mexico | 2017 | 83 Minutes.

Tags: Tigers, Snakes, Birds, Squatting, Graffiti, Hunger, Orphaned, Disappeared, Cartel, iPhone, Campaign, Video.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Ready or Not

The Rich as a species are the villains it Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's Ready or Not. Their quirks, family traditions, games rooms with hunting trophies and weapons on full display and paintings of revered past patriarchs for hanging on the walls. The legendary story here is of the Le Domas family Great Great Grandfather Victor met a fellow traveler and game enthusiast at sea circa U.S. Civil war. A deal was struck and a box passed to grant the Le Domas any gift. But the price, anyone marrying into the family has to be married at the family home and draw a card to play a game at midnight. The games can be benign if you draw chess or old maid but if you draw hide and seek the new bride or groom his haunted until dawn as a sacrifice to the benefactor to keep the family fortune moving forward.


Grace (Samara Weaving) who is quickly turning into a modern scream queen given her 2017 turn in Mayhem alongside Steven Yuen stars as the latest initiate to the Le Domas family. They are gaming royalty having started with playing cards in their grandfathers day, moving to board games the next generation and on to owning sports teams in current patriarch Tony (Henry Czenry) era.  Grace is the love of Alex (Mark O'Brien) estranged from his relatives who witnessed to the last time this tradition turned deadly as a six-year-old when Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) husband had to be sacrificed. Following the wedding and a brief time together in Alex room the pair present themselves for the traditional midnight game. Grace draws the hide and seek card, is given time to hide the quickly learns that the hunt is for keeps.


Weaving excels in the genre with her full embracement of body horror as she slowly turns her wedding dress into an effective kit for battle. Adam Brody is strong as Daniel the unenthused alcoholic son who Grace describes as hitting on her at every opportunity he gets. Melanie Scorano   as sister Emily sets the comedic edge early showing the privileged natural disdain for servants.

Ready or Not is a funnier than expected squirm fest that takes dead aim at the old money country club set of dubious origins.  The film has signature scenes: At the fence, In the goat pit, I the kitchen that will bring back feelings of anxiety and dread to the viewer when mentioned.  communicate to the . It's a heart pounding seat gripping ultimate stakes ride that I highly recommend.

***1/2 Out of Four.

Ready or Not | Matt Bettinelli-Olpin / Tyler Gillett | U.S.A. | 2019 | 95 Minutes.

Tags: Cards, Games, Wedding, In-Laws, Hide and Seek, Sacrifice, Ritual, Satan, Midnight, Dawn, Wedding Dress, ONSTAR.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Universal Pictures Film Review - Good Boys

12-year-old boy hijinks rule the day in director Gene Stupintsky's feature debut Good Boys. Stupintsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg cut their teeth writing for the U.S. version of the Office. They're backed by Seth Rogan and Evan Golberg who spawned Superbad hence the natural comparison that has been promoted in the launch of the film. Filled with moments that will make you squirm in a good way plus rapid fire F-bombs the three best friends that refer to themselves as the beanbag boys set out to educate themselves on the art of kissing ahead of their first ever kissing part as they deal with a drone mishap.


Jacob Tremblay of The Room and Wonder is the leader of the trio as Max. He's  crushing on classmate Brixlee (Millie Davis) while cut-off shirt wearing Thor (Brady Noon) lives to sing but downplays it as it's perceived as not cool topping off his embarrassing nickname sippy cup earned in a beer drinking fail. Rounding out the friends is Keith L. Williams as Lucas. He's the only one that can pass as a high schooler but hopelessly na├»ve and honest to a fault which is a major problem when you're ditching school to replace Dad's drone plus you may have to make a trade for drugs with two older girls.


The action takes place over one day in a tight laugh filed 90 minute package as the boys weave their way across town trying to solve the drone issue ahead of the return of Max's dad and the inevitable serious grounding. Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Frances) are memorable as the arch rival villains of the piece. The older girls that confiscate the drone discovering it when the friends use it to spy on them poolside. Their battle turns into a mutually assured destruction standoff as the boys steal a purse at the first confrontation containing the girls molly (MDNA) meant to enhance their partying experience that evening.

Good Boys has its above the fold hooks of bad language, tween boys interpretation of sex acts and toys and their BMX bike riding adventure.  But beneath there is a sweetness as they are discovering a multitude of things for the first time, still willing to cry openly when sad thinking it's the end of the world when the smallest thing goes wrong.  The constant flow of bad language from 6th graders can be grading at times but the overall message of support and friendship makes the film worth the watch.

*** Out of 4

Good Boys | Gene Stupintsky | U.S.A. | 2019 | 90 Minutes.

Tags; Drone, Ditching School, First Crush, Kissing Party, Sex Toys, Drugs, MDNA, School Musical, BMX Bikes, Skate Park.



Sunday, August 11, 2019

Film Review - Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark

Based on in Alvin Schwartz campfire folklore favourite of short stories from the '80s. Andre Ovredal Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark follows a bunch of misfit teens in 1968 with Donovan's Season of The Witch setting the tone as the story kicks off. Stella (Zoe Coletti) and her two friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) reluctantly go out on Halloween knowing that the will have to face bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) at some point in the evening. They do, pull a prank to get the best of the letterman wearing jock then end up in a padlocked haunted house, alongside Ramon (Michael Garza) a passing through town loner and Chuck Sister Ruby (Natalie Ganzhorn) who Tommy dumped on the spot. The locals inform Roman of the myth of the Bellows family that owned the home. Well to do town founders that started the paper mill. However, children went missing and were traced back to the house when legend has it that youngest Bellows daughter Sarah told children scary stories through the wall in her room just before they disappeared. The family kept her isolated never allowing her to go outside. In the home, Stella finds Sarah's book a collection of stories with strange titles all with a doomed lead character. Without telling her friends she takes it home sealing the fate of everyone that was in the house when she took it.


The source material clearly drew for Guillermo del Toro to the project. In Chuck's conjure, Stephen Gammell's drawing of the Pale Lady is brought to life a creation that could easily pass as a del Toro original.  Events play out linearly for the first teen to face Sarah Bellows rage at the theft. But when Sarah's pen turns to the next target Stella then Ramon see the story written on the page right before their eyes.

The five young main actors all play their slotted roles well. Zoe Coletti leads from the front as Stella. She lives with her dad, her mom had run off long ago. Her room is fully decorated with horror posters and she can quote The Night of the Living Dead by rote. Michael  Garza is quiet but resourceful as Ramon. He is a target of the town bullies and police because of his Mexican background but has an immediate connection with Stella after he assists in getting the friends out of a Halloween jam.  Natalie Ganzhorn does a lot more than the usual with the one dimensional pretty girl role of Ruth. She is willing to challenge jock Tommy and may be in the centre of the Scary Story that will resonate as the biggest fear of most The Red Dot.

Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark plays on the fear created though campfire stories. Schwartz's anthology housed universal stories. Stella states that you do not read the book. Instead, the book reads you playing on your darkest fears bringing them to life to paralyze you with fear first then kill.

*** Out of 4.

Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark | U.S.A. / Canada | 2019 |  111Minutes

Tags: Alvin Schwartz, Halloween, Haunted House, Small Town, Scarecrow Spiders, 1968 Election, Vietnam,  The Pale Lady, Asylum, Dreams, Anthology, Toe, Stew.




Friday, August 2, 2019

Universal Pictures Film Review - Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

A futuristic threat, gunplay, chase scenes, style, high wire stunts, a lead defending the honor of their sister and nitrous oxide.  All the elements one would expect from a Fast and Furious franchise spinoff is all here. Director David Leitch whose action chops include a hand in John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 whose star Ryan Reynolds entertains as Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson's) handler give the viewers what they want right off the get-go. Two side by side scenes of Hobbs and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) taking out the bad guy with an unusual choice of weapon in L.A. and London respectively.


London is where the action kicks off. M.I.6 are safeguarding a biological weapon that part machine Brixton (Idris Alba) a former colleague of Shaw's intercepts a military convoy to try to steal. Decklan Sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with the virus and escapes. Now she has 72 hours before it activates inside her, then goes airborne spreading rapidly with deadly consequences. Hobbs and Shaw are recruited separately to work together to stop the threat.


The narrative is full of verbal sparring and one-upmanship by the two leads. They have their fights each getting in their licks along with Shaw's verbal threats to Hobbs to stay away from his sister. Brixton is being driven by paramilitary, tech, media, scientific group Eteon. They have their hands in everything controlling enough media outlets to spin a story any way they want. The action moves to Ukraine then on to Samoa where there is a final showdown with old world fighting tactics and weapons take on the super modern biometric ones. A few key characters pop up in the latter part of the film that injects energy into the proceedings playing a large part in moving the mission towards success.

Idris Alba and Vanessa Kirby do not take a step back from the two leads. There are several scenes with either facing off with the above the line stars where they give more than they get. The motorcycle stunts alone though the streets of London and burned out abandoned Ukraine Nuclear plant are worth the price of admission. It's a true popcorn movie that checks all the boxes for an action-fantasy thriller.

*** Out of 4

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw | David Leitch | U.S.A.| 2019 | 135 Minutes.

Tags: C.I.A. , F.B.I. M.I.6, Virus, London, Moscow, Ukraine, Samoa, Visitation, Elevator.







Thursday, August 1, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Knives & Skin

Caroline (Raven Whitley) dressed proudly in her marching band school uniform is out by the lake with jock Andy (Ty Olwin). She is concerned about her new glasses as Andy makes his advances. When she rebuffs him demanding that he take her home he leaves her stranded; Caroline does not make it home. The ripples of her disappearance brings out the quirk in an already offbeat small Illinois town. The most affected is Caroline's mother Mrs. Harper (Marika Englehart) who is the choir teacher at the school where Carolyn and her friends attend. As she spirals downward her students sing in  pop songs from the Go Go's to Cindi Lauper in layered multi-part harmony as they whisper to each other the truly disturbing thoughts that most teens have in their minds bubbling under the surface.


Caroline's three main friends and bandmates form the core of the film. Joanne Andy's sister makes cash on the side selling underwear to teachers. Cheerleader Laurel (Kayla Carter) whose dad Doug (James Vincent Meredith) is the police chief quietly pursues her crush on a fellow female student. Charlotte (Ireon Roach) whose a Grace Jones type performance artist wears tribal face paint in class and turns every presentation in class into a theatre event. Their parents are no less dull, in and out of each other's beds looking for a connection they cannot find at home.


Director Jennifer Reeder's film will draw immediate comparisons to Twin Peaks and other provocative Hight School dramas such as Heathers. The rich soundtrack sets the dreamlike atmosphere plus the peculiar behavior of the adults invoke the Lynchian comparison. However, Reeder's narrative is more about inclusivity and the need for females to stick together being cruel if need be as the writer-director screams verbally and an overt act by Kayla Carter's Laurel demonstrates specifically that boys often don't treat girls very well.

Knives and Skin loses its way at some points but the overall narrative is one that is empowering to females and outsiders alike who feel like they don't fit in are bullied or demeaned by the entitled class. Be yourself, develop a hard edge and support fiercely those that will do the same for you. The young cast of relative unknowns do not make a wrong step in a piece from a rising voice in film.

**1/2 Out of 4.

Knives and Skin | Jennifer Reeder | U.S.A.| 111 Minutes.

Tags: High School, Disappearance, Marching Band,Glasses, Choir, Football, Mascot, Sad Clown, 80's New Wave, Letter Jacket, Mustang.




Fantasia '19 Film Review - Dead Dicks

Becca (Jillian Harris) has just received the offer of a lifetime. Acceptance into a prestige graduate nursing program. However, her thoughts turn almost immediately to her mentally ill brother Ritchie (Heston Horwin) she has been his main support system for all of her life for her medicated brother. As she decides how she will tell Ritchie the news she goes to a shift at the bar where she works during which discovers multiple urgent voice mails to his apartment . Fearing the worst she cuts out of work running into Ritchie's downstairs neighbour Matt (Matt Keyes) a corporate looking busy body who h brother is apparently disrupting push up regime.Becca enters the apartment to find Ritchie hanging in the closet. Mortified she goes to take him down when she hears her brother voice behind her explaining that this scenario has occurred before.


Based on an intriguingly original idea, the narrative of Dead Dicks continues to twist and turn at each moment the audience things they have things pegged. Writer directors Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer pack plenty into their limited budget one main set production. The mechanism that allows Dick to keep coming back is plain to see and understand  but the different developing mutations of the process range from grotesque to surprising the latter in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers -John Carpenter The Thing type of way.

The viewers see the story mainly from Jillian Harris as Becca's point of view. She has to talk Ritchie off the ledge, is the one to get eyes on the full regeneration process and frustrates when she is slow to get in position to witness the rebirth. She's also the one tasked to dealing with the multiple Ritchie's. Heston Horwin work is more on the physical side as Ritchie. He's doing the body horror as he navigates the conflicting messages in his mind.

Dead Dicks is at its centre a relationship between a brother and sister. As anyone can relate that has a sibling the relationship can be frustrating at times to the point where time apart can be the best remedy. The writer directors show in the piece that it is O.K. to admit that frustration even if you are the sibling that is supposed to be the stronger supportive one. The opening waring at the start of the film directing those that need help to get it as what follows could be triggering is thoughtful. The film is a crisp narrative by a pair of fresh voices making moviegoers looking forward to what they will have to offer next.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Dead Dicks | Chris Bavota / Lee Paula Springer | Canada | 2019 | 83 Minutes.

Tags: Skype, Nursing, Graduate School, Mental Illness, Depression, Caregiver, Voice Mail, Suicide Attempt, Portal, Rebirth, Suffocation, Hanging, Electrocution, Medication.