Sunday, October 23, 2022

TADFF 22 Film Review - Mal de Ojo (Evil Eye)

Little Luna (Ivanna Sofia Ferro) suffers from a serious illness. She has a digital device attached to the back of her neck that tracks her heartbeat. When she suffers an attack the seizures begin and she requires an EpiPen type needle plunged into the opening on the device to bring her heartbeat back to normal and stop the attack. Her older sister Nala (Paola Miguel) that shares a room with her sister is over the whole Luna thing. Everything is about Luna. She gets all of her parent's affection. The family lives in a building where the children are all getting sick. Plus she is about to be dragged out to the middle of nowhere as her parents do anything they can think of to find a new treatment for their youngest daughter.  The family head out to Josefa's (Ofelia Medina's) house. This is where Mom Rebecca (Samantha Castillo) grew up. Josefa is introduced to the girls as their Grandmother. She lives in a big old three story home with spacious grounds but the interior seems cold, eerie and parceled off. Nala has the immediate sense that something is not right in the home. She is also keen to pick up on the very outward tension between her Grandmother and Mom. 

Director Isaac Ezban came across the script for the film in 2016. A coming-of-age horror from the Dominican Republic. Ezban thought the story had potential but felt it could use some tweaking. The central element of the story The legend of the three sisters remained. Ezban added his signature themes of exploring the passage of time the push/pull of getting older or young and duplicity as he picked up a co-writer credit. The tale of the triplets is touched on briefly at the start of the film. The legend is driven home with force by Josefa's housemaid Abigail (Paloma Alvamar). As she expertly weaves the tale her hand movement and gestures are just as or even more pivotal in the retelling of the tale that the words she speaks or the images on screen to supplement the telling. 

A day into the visit Mom Rebecca and Dad Guillermo (Arap Bethke) leave the girls with their Grandmother as they head out further into the countryside to a dangerous area to secure the risky last ditch treatment method for their young daughter. Back at Grandma's an epic battle of wills commences between Josefa and Nala. Josefa finds her Granddaughter to be as stubborn as her Mother was at that age. Josefa has the upper hand as the battle takes place on her home turf. But Nala's suspicions that  were only inklings when she first entered the country house grow real as she sleuths finding out more than she bargained for about her family history. 

Mal de Ojo features several layered and meaty female performances. Starting with Ivanna Sofia Ferro as young Luna who is positive and hopeful despite her serious illness that has stopped responding to any form of conventional treatment. Ofelina Medina's portrayal of Josefa is strict, blunt, tough and faithful to her set of rules and routines. Between them lies Paolo Miguel's Nala. At first, a vapid angry teen tethered to her phone seemingly neutral to the plight of her much younger ill sister. Then evolving into Luna's best defender risking her personal safety and facing severe consequences and punishment to protect her sister and keep her safe. It's a descent at first slowly into the tradition of Dominican and Mexican folklore that quickly plunges into visceral ritual and sacrifice leaving the siblings and audience alike struggling to catch their breath as they hang on while the story twist and turns before flipping everything up and over again.  

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Mal de Ojo | Isaac Ezban | Mexico | 2022 | 120 Minutes.

Tags: Folklore/Horror, Sisters, Triplets, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Illness, Witch, Witchcraft, Baca Black Magic, Curse, Evil Eye, Skin, Salt.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

TIFF 22' Film Review - Venus

Lucia (Ester Exposito) is a go-go dancer in an ultra-popular Madrid nightclub. She jumps off her platform during the middle of a song making a beeline to the club offices where she breaks into a locker and swipes a large duffle bag. One of the bouncers spots her wondering why she is not on stage demanding to see what's in the bag. They scuffle Lucia manages to get out suffering a significant wound. Desperate with few options, She heads to her sister Rocio (Angela Cremonte) and niece Alba Ines Fernandez) apartment in the bad part of town. Little does she know that people are trying to get out of the Venus apartments more urgently then she is trying to get. in. As Lucia is arriving Rocio has packed up Alba fleeing the apartment in the night tired of the noises upstairs, bad dreams, and sludge coming from the taps. They make it to the stairwell when they run into the wounded Lucia headed their way. 

Director Jaume Balaguero crafts a horror/thriller contained mainly in the setting of one apartment complex. Lucia is hiding out from the criminal employer she stole from while Rocio is trying to get rid of her estranged always in trouble kid sister so she and her daughter can leave once and for all. The duffle bag is filled with synthetic drugs that Lucia hopes to see with the help of a friend. Her employers are sure Lucia had help and Rocio has disappeared leaving Lucia to get to know and take care of her niece Alba. She ventures out with Alba but sees heavies scouting the area having found her abandoned car. Back in the building, Alba's only child age friend is throwing a birthday party a couple of floors below. Writer Fernando Navarro slowly shifts the focus of the threat to Lucia from the external where her criminal pursuers are lurking to inside the Venus apartments starting with events at the birthday party. The neighbour's mother aunts, and other female relatives are present. A strange occurrence since everyone else seems set on leaving the building. The females ask Lucia some very personal questions that put our protagonist on the spot foreshadowing the direct nature of these women that will feature more as the narrative marches ahead. 

Venus is a horror film that witches from a heist/gangster, hunter/hunted to something more spiritual and ritualistic along the way. The moment of the switch is plain, obvious, and shocking, especially to the unfortunate soul whose on the wrong side of the moment. Ester Exposito who is best known for the Netflix series Elite gives a very physical performance seeming quite at home in her first horror film role. There are memorable killings, and plot point that seem unimportant at first only to pay off big later. In amongst the blood and gore, lies the development on a strong bond between aunt LuĂ­sa and niece Alba that unite the pair helping them in the present and setting them up for a strong future. 

*** Out of 4. 

Venus | Jaume Balaguero | 2022 | U.S./Spain | 100 Minutes. 

Tags: Night Club, Go Go Dancer, Theft, Designer Drugs, Hunt, Apartment Complex, Full Moon, Ritual, Queen of Sorrows. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Lofty Sky Entertainment Film Review - Eternal Spring

Falun Gong is a religious movement that was founded in China in the 1990s. At first, the movement was not on the radar of the Communist government. But as the groups practicing the outdoor Buddhist/ Taoist exercise movements that encourage independent thinking. Meditation is also a large part of the practice. The end goal is the purification of the heart attainment of spiritual salvation. There are some cultist and alt-right sentiments mixed in here that the Documentary through the eyes of practitioners does not touch. The government saw them as an ever-increasing threat. The Party line was that Falun Gong promotes teachings that are dangerous and not in keeping with the cultural and social progress the Party wishes to obtain. A  heretical organization that causes social instability. The government talking points were repeated over and over on State television in living rooms across the county every night when families gathered to eat their dinner. 

To combat this false narrative in the eyes of its practitioners a plan was hatched to hack into the state TV signal in Changchun City and broadcast the truth about the movement. The next segments are perhaps the best of the film. Staging, training and planning for the takeover ahead of the March 5th, 2002 go date. The recruitment and prep hit all the beats of classic heist pictures from the past. Here the training includes learning to scale a cable pole. Keeping the planning meetings secret and avoiding the police who have a list of practitioners on their arrest for interrogation list.

The film is a combination of first person accounts and 3D animation re-enactment of events. Illustrator/ Comic book Artist  Daxiong a practitioner that fled from China to Canada helms the visuals. They are crisp on the screen as they seem to pop with each frame. The good, bad ,and violent are all broadly on display. Animated scenes of captured members being tortured in prison are followed by tender reunions of those that escaped often feeling guilty they survived  The other main voice in the piece goes by the moniker of Mr. White. He too escaped prosecution and lives with his family in Seoul, South Korea. Mr. White carriers a heavier burden than Daxiong  possessing a deep case of survivor's guilt that rushes to the service when he talks about colleagues that have passed or those that were captured in the same back alleys and laneways of Changchun City where he used to roam. 

The timing of the film is apt as current groups that stray from the expected path are cracked down even harder in recent years. Once independent Hong Kong has been drawn back to the practices of the Mainland. The percussion and treatment of the Uighurs is front and centre and China has turned a menacing eye towards Taiwan with recent  military shows of force circling that island. It's a wonderfully shot and paced film that I can recommend. 

***1/2 Out of 4.

Eternal Spring | Jason Loftus | Canada | 2022 | 86 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Animation, Falun Gong, Hacking, State TV, China, Religious Prosecution, Prison, Torture, Escape, Toronto, Seoul, New York City.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Greenwich Entertainment Film Review - We Are As Gods

Stewart Brand was at the right place at the right time for the majority of his life. He has had a knack to sense, be first to a new frontier, then gone before the masses show up on to something more interesting.  His current cause is doing whatever he can to promote and champion reintroducing lost species to the planet. The one he is focused on is the woolly mammoth. Bringing them back using DNA to the Siberian tundra to slow down and eventually reverse the thawing of the permafrost and on a larger scale stop the release of greenhouse gases. Opponents will take the other view that man messing with nature always brings unexpected and unintended results. But even at 82 he is optimistic always seeing  the good in people. So it pains him visibly when he is on stage at various events promoting de-extinction often beside like-minded geneticist George Church from Harvard how people he respects and admires could have such strongly held and vigorously argued views that are polar opposites of his. His lifelong philosophy has been to try stuff early on before there are rules against it to be part of the new thing in the world. 

Stewart got his problem-solving gene from his M.I.T. educated engineer father and his love for books from his mother. She was also big on preserving nature. His best friend as a kid where chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and opossums. From the homestead in Rockford Illinois, he went to Stanford where he moved in the direction of ecology and evolution. His biology training told him that taking species out of an ecosystem affects the evolution of every other thing remaining. His first adult job was a commission to photograph a tribe of Indians in Oregon. Through this project he met his first wife Lois Jennings. They put all of their stuff in a trailer and moved to San Francisco embarking on bohemian lifestyle and meeting Ken Kesey author of One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest. Kesey was the defacto boss of the Mary Pranksters. Stewart fit in perfectly fuelled by LSD. His biggest contribution was the Trip's Festival designed to Pass the Acid test as the Pranksters called it when one of the flock attempted to make the grade. It was very successful with bands like the Grateful Dead showing up to play. The birth of Height Asbury and the Hippie movement took shape.  

From there, his focus moved to Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet? He lobbied everybody then NASA went and did it. The photo changes everyone's perspective. the earth is fragile and must be protected pushing the photo of the mushroom cloud the last dominant image to the side. Inspired by the image environmental movement was born.  Keeping to type Sturt was on to the next. thing  A catalogue to effect change by providing people with the tools. With that thought as a guide, he started the who Earth Catalogue in 1968 which Steve Jobs later described as google in paperback before google existed. In the catalogue's pages lies the title of this film under Purpose: We are as gods and might as well get good at it. Lois was the perfect foil to Stuart's devil may care unemployed artist mentality. She had a head for business. The catalogue was all the information in one place. Tools and technology on display for everyone to see. It won the National Book award and made Stewart Brand a household name. 

Two characters show up halfway through the film Sergey Zimov and his son Nikita. Both are in charge of Pleistocene Park in Siberia. The spot where Stuart and George Church want to put their de extinct Woolly Mammoths. The Zimovs are preparing the ecosystem for the Mammoths.  The plan is forming not too late as there are signs the permafrost is getting rapidly faster and melting. Nikita tells it in an underground ice bunker that the temperature has increased from -6 to zero since he was a kid. Melting leads to Carbon release leads to methane greenhouse gasses being released. Demonstrated by fire on the water. But Stewart was back on the wrong side of environmentalists. Intervention is bad as is technology nature is always right and humanity wrong. His clash back in the sixties and early seventies send him into a deep depression isolated and cut off. The catalogue went, his marriage went and Sturt spent most of the 70s alone. His next move was in the direction of personal computers. Stewart wrote an article for Rolling Stone and found himself again on the ground floor for the next big thing. He had a connection to the Homebrew Computer Club where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak met before they went on to start Apple. Stuart played organizer for them and in this forum, he met his second wife entrepreneur Ryan Phelan. Setting up a different event than he did in the sixties. The hacker's conference. Ideas were exchanged, codes shared and the plan was to free the tools from the likes of IBM and those buried in government vaults. The latest project that Stuart joined is the building of the 10,000 year clock that ticks once a century. The goal is to change the perception of time leading them to act more responsibility as the photo of the whole earth did 50 years earlier. 

**** Out of 4.

We Are As Gods | David Alvardo / Jason Sussberg | U.S.A. | 94 Minutes. 

Tags: Wholly Mammoth, De-Extinction, Stanford, Photography, San Francisco, Counter Culture, Hippies, Environmentalists, Depression, Pleistocene Park, Homebrew Computer Club, Conservationist, Technology, 10,000 Year Clock, American Chestnut. 

The whoe earth catalog descrid by Steve Jobs at Google in paperback Why haent ck from was a Brand creation. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Vortex Media Film Review - Carmen

The Catholic church has many ingrained traditions. Many of which lead to a quizzically raised eyebrow at the least in 2022. One of them is if a son becomes a priest and has an unmarried sister. She must follow him to his posting and care for her brother while he performs his priestly duties. This was the reality for director Valerie Buhagiar's elderly Aunt Rita and the inspiration for her version of Carmen. When Buhagiar told others the story she discovered that similar events occurred in different cultures around the world. Hearing about all of these women fueled her need to tell the story. 

Carmen (Natascha McElhone) is a forlorn solitary figure occupying the back pew clad in black at her brothers church. The townsfolk believe that she is basically already dead walking around with a with a frozen lamb in her heart. Her brother the priest then dies suddenly and she has no idea what to do having been his servant for the past 34 years. She hides in the bell tower for a bit then wanders into the priest's side of the confessional box coxed by a guardian angel pigeon and begins to give beneficial advice to the townsfolk. She is caught out by the new caretaker Rita (Michela Farrugia) awaiting her brother to come to replace Carmen's. Cast out with a small suitcase in hand she first gets her hair cut. sells some church trinkets of questionable ownership on the other side of the island and buys a bright red dress. Carmen is finally expressing herself drawing the attention of Men for the first time in a long time.

Director Buhagiar who was born in Malta but grew up in Toronto is very at home on the island. The villages, landscape and blue waters were all accented by cinematographer Diego Guijarro's well trained lens. The viewer can almost feel the cool breeze, the rocks under your feet, and sense the warmth of the Mediterranean Sea. As writer as well the long time screen actor wanted to tell the tale of a woman that was pushed aside seemingly invisible to the townspeople slowing coming back to life, getting her colour back, and beginning to live for herself again. Natascha McElhone is strong in the title role. She learned some Maltese and transforms right before the viewer's eyes as the film progresses. The ratty hair gone, a carefree attitude bubbles to the surface willing to go wherever the day may take her. Buhagiar's decision to set the film in the 80s adds to the adherence to tradition as it was a simpler time.  We are on Island time here where things move at a much slower pace, people are generally happier and things still get done. Michela Farrugia is a fiery equal to McElhone as Rita the new caretaker for her never arriving brother. She holds Carmen to account for her reckless actions, has a strong romantic interest in Tonio (Andre Agius) that she will have to abandon when her brother arrives as she is dedicated to the rules and tradition of the church. Despite Rita's hostility towards her Carmen does not want Rita to suffer the same fate as she has encouraging Rita to follow her heart. 

*** Out of 4. 

Carmen | Valerie Buhagiar | Malta /Canada | 2022| 87 Minutes.

Tags: Malta, Catholic Church, Rectory, Lost Love, Caregiver, Housekeeper, Servant, Absolution, Offerings, Tower Bell, Suitcase, Pigeon. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Vortex Media VOD Digital Release Film Review - The Legend of Molly Johnson

The Australian outback can be a tough place at the best of times. Image it in colonial times of the 1890s. Your a wife at home with no one around for miles raising four young kids with another on the way. Unpredictable wildlife surrounds your isolated cabin with ne'er-do-wells roaming about. This reality for  Molly Johnson (Leah Purcell) as she waits for the return of her husband Joe from up in the hills herding sheep. The nearest town Everton is just getting off the ground. Her oldest 12 year old Danny (Malachi Dower-Roberts) is the defacto man of the house looking out for his younger siblings. Danny is inquisitive and looks at his Mom with awe. Especially at how proficient she is with a rifle. Their new lawman Sargent Nate Clintoff (Sam Reid ) and his activist writer wife Louisa (Jessica De Gouw) arrive at the Johnston cabin exhausted and hungry having underestimated the Outback almost to their peril. Molly offers them food from a recent to wild boar killing. In exchange, they take Molly's four children to town while she remains at home set to give birth on her own. Yada (Rob Collins) an escaped Aboriginal prisoner arrives on the scene to assist with the birth in exchange for food and shelter. Joe's colleagues soon show up looking for him and their interaction with Yada does not go well. 

This film is a passion project for Leah Purcell. Her involvement began with a stage play followed by a  novel then this screenplay reimagined from a female Aboriginal perspective. The outback itself serves as a main character as it often does in these Australian colonial Westerns. The harshness and unpredictability of the land itself and the widely varying weather are all participants in the story. Cinematographer Mark Warham takes full advantage of the expansive canvas at his disposal. The original source material is Henry Lawson's 1892 renewed novel The Drover's Wife. In Lawson's book, the settlers are the heroes beating back the Indigenous Peoples who are depicted as dangerous heathens. Purcell changes the focus here  bringing  in the feminist point of view though Louisa who big on exploring the trauma caused to women who regularly suffer beatings from their husbands.

Sargent Clintoff is fresh in town when he has a case of a murdered family to solve. Yada's picture is posted as a wanted fugitive as the Sargent also has to navigate the politics of Everton. Clintoff worried about Molly being on her own with a killer loose sends his timid Trooper Leslie (Benedict Hardie) down to her cabin. Another encounter that doesn't go well follows. The plot begins to clear with the future looking murkier for our protagonist. She is on the receiving end from just about everyone that passes through. The main exception is Yada who the authorities would consider a dangerous element. Molly is a fierce frontierswoman who is well equipped to survive off the land. Her ferocity is captured completely by Purcell. It's the multiple interlopers and combative relationships that are the source of her problems that eventually become insurmountable in the end. 

*** Out of four. 

The Legend of Molly Johnson | Leah Purcell | Australia | 2021 | 109 Minutes.

Tags: Outback, 1890s, Drover, Aboriginal, Fugitive, Child Birth, Rape, Physical Abuse, Wild Boar. 

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Iambic Dream Films Film Review - Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes

 A living breathing catalogue of Jamaican music is on display in Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes. Vincent Randy Chin took a job repairing jukeboxes in the '50s. As the records changed out the company usually just threw the old ones away. Vincent asked if he could buy them which he did and started a store with his soon to be wife Patricia selling used records at a discount. The set up at 17 North Parade street right in the centre of the downtown Kingston, Jamaica music scene. Artists would come in, talk music exchange stories eventually leading to a studio upstairs where every major artist passed through at some point. There was a buzz around the place and a specific sound was generated in the studio ala Muscle Shoals in Alabama or Stax Records in Memphis Tennessee. Plus session musicians hung around downstairs, out front, and next door at a local spot known as Idlers Rest. The guest producer was Lee Scratch Perry arranging, and orchestrating in his unique way. Perry would bless the studio using his flask of white rum splashing all four corners of the studio moving in his herkie jerky fashion. Perry felt his job was to bring people together, find solutions and destroy problems. Scratch felt the studio had pure sound while others had a hum, woooh or a shhh  sound. Main sound engineer Errol Thompson had a habit of letting the meters creep into the red. The sound got very heavy and identifiable under Errol. The jump from two to four tracks helped as well. As long as there was no distortion the sounds were left peeking. 

History is mixed into the story voiced by narrator Levi Roots. Starting with the milestone of August 12, 1962 Independence of Jamaica. An initial bump and flourish followed but the film does not shy away from depicting the decline, violence , poverty, and political corruption that took hold of the country no more than 15 years later. The underground method of distribution is  also highlighted. Reggae was not played on the radio. Instead, artists went door to door to sell their music. Pat tells it that they offered the musicians money if they left their goods at Randy's taking away their individual leg work that was not producing much. The performers working upstairs in the studio could record and press their records come downstairs to listen to the product then sell it all in one spot. Archivist Melody Kenneth and picture producer Sarah Wells deserve special mention for gathering, sorting and ordering old clips, and photos  to bring the Kingston Downtown parade back to life. Editor Paul Burgess then performed the difficult task of putting it all together is a tight 85-minute package. 

Clive Chin the next generation moves to the centre as the story progresses. He learned at his father's knee plus a keen ear for sound engineering working hand and glove with Errol Thompson. His first big splash was working with Augustus Pablo alongside Thompson on Java creating the Dub sound. Heavy roots under Pablo's melodica. An echo reverb sound between drums and base where the main vocal, doubles back different and complements itself underneath; the early stages of what would grow to become drum and bass. The family had to flee Jamaica in the late 70"s due to all of the political violence. They fled and left everything behind where it stood setting up anew in New York on Jamaica avenue rebranding as VP Records. Clive eventually rescued the master tapes from Kingston transferring them to digital after the tragic shooting death of his firstborn son Joel who returned to Jamaica to get a better sense of the artist the family worked with. Joel's death inspired Clive to get the digital transfer complete brining back memories, hearing live raw footage including background chatter of some long lost friends. A bonus was finding some unfinished unreleased tracks like Kissing by Lord Creator and When You Get Right Down To It by Dennis Brown. The Brown track leads to a compelling third act segment where a 16 year old protegee of Dave Stewart, Hollie Stephenson at the same age as Brown was when he recorded the song finishes the vocal. 

**** Out of 4.

Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes | Mark James | U.K. | 2019 | 85 Minutes. 

Tags: Jamaica, Independence, Calypso, Ska, Dub, Reggae, Kingston, North Parade, Lee Scratch Perry, Errol Thompson, Lord Creator, Augustus Pablo, Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Brian & Wayne Jobson, New York City.