Friday, November 30, 2012

Film Review - Lincoln

The civil war battlefield was not pretty. Today we see romanticized views of those battles and many travel to fields in Virginia to perform Civil war re-enactments sporting pristine Blue and Grey uniforms.  These history and war enthusiasts march in line shoot their weapons happily heading home at days end.

We get a real view of the fighting in the opening scenes of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. It's close and personal, face to face , more of a wrestling match in the mud then anything else and ends with a knife to a vital organ, strangulation or a strike with any blunt object one can get ones hands on. After the battle all that is left is intermingled rotting copses from both sides and the buzzing sound of flies.

The debate in Congress to amend the Constitution for the 13th time to abolish slavery is the main topic of the film. Lincoln's Republican party pro and the Democratic Party con. Based on both parties ideology today their positions flipped at some point the why, how and who was responsible would be a great subject for a film in it's own right.

President Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) first has to convince his Cabinet to support the position moreover the last attempt failed so he will need Democratic support to get the bill  passed. Secretary of State William Seward (David Stratharairn) employees three nefarious characters led by W.N. Bilbo     (James Spader) armed with patronage appointments for vulnerable Democrats to get those votes.  Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) The senior senator from the great state of Pennsylvania is the grand old man of the senate. A crusader for emancipation for many years he knows that the vote will be close and vows to keep himself in check to not let his enthusiasm scare off potential Democratic supporters or be reported to the media and alarm the country.

Against this background is the ongoing civil war. The South loosing more of its strongholds sends a delegation to sue for peace. If the delegation gets to Washington the motion will be in jeopardy.  Lincoln believes that the temporary status of the slaves freed for the war must be made permanent for their and their descendants future. If the democrats or the public learn of the delegation negotiations to end the war would become paramount  and the vote postponed. Lincoln wants the vote because it's the right thing to do and after it passes the South is still fighting a loosing battle and will have to still sue for peace.

Daniel Day Lewis the greatest actor working today is Abraham Lincoln on screen. In two particular quiet scenes you will feel that your are listening to the man himself.  The first is in a Northern base camp He is speaking to two black soldiers asking where they are from and learning a little about their lives and their actions on the battle field.  One mentions that he heard the address at Gettysburg.  Two white soldiers then wonder in to report that they were at Gettysburg as well. The three of them begin to recite parts of the address while the fourth is silent. As they all turn away and head their separate ways the fourth picks up where the others left off recounting the next part of the speech perfectly word for word.

The other is a a quiet middle of the night conversation with is his two speech writers. He asks them about their prior occupations before coming to Washington. One was an engineer and they discuss the nature of that profession. Lincoln ties in the science of engineering to the vote. They also discuss whether one choose the times in which you are born or fit into your era eloquently ending with his reasoning on why this vote must pass.

The film is packed full of great performances Jones as the above mentioned Thaddeus Stevens, Spader  as Seward agent Bilbo and Sally Field is wonderful as Mary Todd Lincoln who will stand up to any politician including Thaddeus Stevens to make her point even if a it means holding up a receiving line at the White House. While on the flip side can come across as emotionally unstable describing her self as a burden on the President. They have an epic disagreement over their son Robert ( Joseph  Gordon Livett) who upon returning from his legal studies in Boston wants to sign up for the Army rather than return to school.

Screenwriter  Tony Kushner and Spielberg focus on a distinct period January 1865 for the film and avoid the temptation of touching on two many subject. The world created for the film is outstanding. The wooden sidewalks, the mud, the horses and a small veterans hospital with a pit full of recently severed body parts out back gives a multi sense authentic experience of the day. The closeness to the leaders and access of the public to the leaders is unmanageable especially in today's post 911 world. Citizens can wonder down to the congress floor during a debate or off the street through the front door and into Lincoln's White House office at a whim. At some points the President appears to be a local town official in a store front office hearing and making recommendations to his constituents.

The star of the film is the set of House of Representatives itself. Jim Erickson and Peter Frank created a set that has tight quarters with a balcony closely hanging over top to give the sense of a sunken theatre with the gallery on top of the players. The closeness of the representatives desks adds to the lively debate.  The  floor of the House is only two steps from the front row of representatives so when a speaker is making a thunderous point like leading Democratic Representative Fernando Wood he is literally right in the face of his republican adversaries.

Long time Spielberg collaborator John Williams delivers and excellent score supporting the visuals where needed and building to a crescendo in the right instances to underscore the story on the screen.

A film of immense scope Spielberg has created the definitive film on the 16th President of the United States.

***  out of 4

Lincoln | Steven Spielberg | USA | 2012 | 150 Minutes.

o wan

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Film Review - Skyfall

Agent Down! Agent Down! is the key repeated phrase crackling over the speakers at MI6 headquarters in the opening sequence of Skyfall the 23rd instalment of Ian Fleming's James Bond as Academy Award winning director Sam Mendes takes his turn at the helm of a Bond film.

Mendes who's credits include 1999's American Beauty which won Best Picture in the best year for movies since 1939 and the underrated Jarhead breathes new life into the series after the uneven Quantum of Solace which is more than likely in bottom 5 of any Bond aficionados list of Bond films.

This time out James Bond (Daniel Craig) returns from the dead to help as MI6's is under attack from an enemy that knows all of the organizational protocols, fail safes and is a master of computers, technology and digital devices. This adversary has stolen the confidential list of undercover agents and has threaten to post the names on the web.

At the same time M (Judi Dench) is under attack from the government and it's ministers for her handling of the spy agency. She is blamed for loosing the list and Government official Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is tasked to advise M that she has been extended the opportunity to retire gracefully which she refuses to do until the job is done.

Upon his return Bond undergoes a series of fitness, shooting and endurance tests needing to prove at his advanced age that he still has the ability to be a field agent. We met the new Q (Ben Whishaw) who  provides simple tools to 007 for this mission all the while mocking the extravagant gadgets of the past.

We also have the return of the classic bond girl in Severine (Berenice Marlohe) more exotic that than her locale, at ease with a cigarette in her hand, even easier on the eyes and english is definitely not her first language. Naomie Harris is also very strong as Eve a MI6 operative who can take out a bad guy, is as fast with a quip and double entendre as 007 and can slip into an evening gown when required.

In one of the all time Bond villain entrances Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) enters the scene from the far side of the room. He knows Bonds entire resume and operative history recounting as he enters a magnificent story about rats that has everything to do with the survival of the fittest. He even has Bond's evaluation scores which were a fail in every category.  This first face to face and literally hands on encounter with 007 is riveting. However Silva knows M even better that he does Bond and is looking to settle a long outstanding score with the head of MI6 branch.  

How to you gain the upper hand on a modern technology genius do the opposite and go low tech. Back to the basics back to the beginning where technology cannot be turned against you leaving a sophisticated trail of high tech bread crumbs to lure the adversary to you counting on his obsession with M.

Skyfall is very well written John Logan was added to the regular writing team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and the combination brought a return to the Classic Bond formula for this film. Logan who's extensive credits include Gladiator,  Any Given Sunday, Star Trek Nemesis, The Aviator and Hugo took the script in a new direction as Paul Haggis did when he was added to the writing team for Casino Royale. One of the best written sequences of the film is the approach and first few moments on Silva's Island a shell of a place that looks like it survived a nuclear winter. The passage shows what lengths Silva had to and would be willing to go to make something that he wants his.

Purvis and Wade can be hit and miss as their credits include The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day and the aforementioned Quantum of Solace adding two more to mosts bottom 5 list of Bond films.

Director Mendes delivers the right amount of action from the opening battle on top of a train in Istanbul to hand to hand combat on the top floors of a newly finished building in Shanghai, a chase through the streets, underground and tunnels of London and ending with a last stand in the rolling barren hills of Scotland. The action sequences don't overwhelm instead work in tandem with the story that Mendes tells so well.

Daniel Craig is excellent as the always well tailored but aging 007. Bardem is well cast as his foil with his bleached blond hair, relaxed, understated but deadly demeanour. Craig indicated that this would be his last go round as 007 however with the success that is Skyfall he can name his price to producer Barbara Broccoli to star in the next two scheduled films.

*** 1/2  out of 4

Skyfall |  Sam Mendes  | U.K. / U.S.A. | 2012 | 143 minutes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

EUFF 2012 Review - Stopped On Track

Frank and Simone Lange sit in a doctors office as the doctor plainly describes that Frank headaches  over the last few month are due to a brain tumour. The couple are shown brain images and the doctor explains that because of the location and size of the tumour surgery is not an option. Their next decision is on how and when to tell their 14 year old daughter Lilli and 8 year old son Mika that their father only has a couple of months to live.

At first Frank continues to go to work at the plant and all seems relatively well. One night as the family is around the dinner table Frank seeing his family together and happy becomes distraught and Simone tells her children that their father is not well.

The family takes an overnight trip to a water park that starts out fine until Frank goes missing in the middle of the night to be found by his kids lying on the ground near a garden unable to get back to their sleeping quarters. They decide to leave the park right away. Next we see Frank as he becomes violently ill in the car on the way home.

Frank begins to use his iPhone as a tool to discuss and record the changes that are occurring to him and the reactions of people around him.  He even sees the tumour as separate entity a kind of conjoined twin that is sharing his life.

Radiation and Chemotherapy treatments serve to make Frank weaker and appearingly sicker. He takes to using a cane, begins to forget where certain rooms are in the house and when his parents come to visit they are devastated by his appearance.

As the family have opted for home-care the strain on Simone is immense. She is drinking quite often  while she is at home and her only relief is when she goes out to work as a tram driver. The kids are also involved to different degrees in the home care and helping their father to get around.

After a very violent seizure during which Simone and Mika struggled to get him into a bed.  Frank becomes bedridden and their palliative care aid begins to brief Simone on what she should expect from here on in and how her children will need to be there at the end for their well being.

Some family and friends come by to visit and each react in their own way to Frank condition. Some are able to face it head on, others avoid and most cannot even come to the home to see him.

A multi award winning and sought after festival circuit film Stopped on Track is a very powerful drama. Frank downward trajectory from a healthy family man to a bed ridden helpless individual is detailed step by step on film.  Starting with increased difficulty with everyday activities, memory loss, loss of motor skills, fits of rage, crying spells and eventually quiet and peaceful.  All of the main cast turn in excellent performances. Especially poignant is the increased involvement of his children in his hands on care as he deteriorates.

A film that I can highly recommend.

**** out of 4

Milan Preschel; Steffi Kuhnert; Taslisa Lili Lemke; Mika Nilson Seidel

Stopped on Track | Andreas Dresen | Germany | 2011 | 110 minutes.

European Union Film Festival 2012.

EUFF 2012 Film Review - Bread and Circuses

Family Patriarch Josip  (Peter Musevski) sits in the family apartment watching a small TV screen. His wife and daughter are making costumes for a popular game show similar to wheel of fortune. The Novak's have won a spot on the show and have to drive from their small town to the shows taping in Ljubljana where they will a meet shows famous host Jos Bauer (Jonas Znidarsic).  At first Josip and his son Simon do not want to attend but decide to go to avoid the wrath of his wife Jelenka (Sasa Pavcek).

On the way to the show they stop for a rest break where they have a run in with the police who mistake their cat outfits for the show as a disguise and arrest them for attempted bank robbery.  The two arresting officers release the Novak's but make a show of it to impress a local girl. Simon takes advantage of the situation and collects a couple of souvenirs from one the unwitting officers.

The family make it to the show only to get into a rear end accident with the aforementioned Bauer. They negotiate a settlement involving the prize that the Novak's will have a chance to win during the game show.  Jelenka takes an immediate interest in Bauer and he notices her as well. As the different families check in for the show Josip starts a feud with the patriarch of the family dressed as roosters which last throughout the rest of the film.

Bauer is very busy back stage flirting with Jelenka, calming down his upset girlfriend and dealing with his wife the shows producer. He even finds time to spend quality time in the men's room philosophizing with Simon.  The police eventually show up looking for Simon's trophies but Bauer gets Simon out of the jam with the law mainly because he needs him for the show.  The game show itself never really gets started and by halfway through show prep no one really expects it to.

Klemen Dvornik tells a late 80's former communist republic story with an eastern european sense of humour. The characters refer to each other as comrade. Seemingly throwaway items to a westerner are cherished and revered.

A full out farce Bread and Circuses has several laugh out loud moments but beneath the surface the politics of eastern europe are always present, perceived favouritism, ferocious competitiveness background secret deals, and seemingly harsh punishments for minor offences.

** 1/2 out of 4

Bread and Circuses| Klemen Dvornik | Slovenia | 2011 | 94 Minutes.

 European Union Film Festival 2012.

EUFF 2012 Film Review - By Miracle

Aliki (Eliza Patsalidou) mourns the loss of her 4 year old daughter who died by accident one year ago. She spends many a day going to her daughters grave, in her daughters room looking at her daughters favourite clothes and wondering why her husband Andreas (Lefteris Salomides) does not show the same level of grief.

Aliki sees the report of a miracle in her town. The Icon of the Virgin Mary in the local church weeps real tears and performs miracles for the faithful.

Marios (Giorgos Hatzikyriakou) is and elementary school teacher who lives at home with is mother Demetria (Androulla Irakleous).  His mother obsesses over Marois feelings, eating, relationship status and future.  All the while Marois meets with random men in parks for sexual satisfaction or views the content of male explicit male magazines.

Aliki tries to reconnect with Andreas but their relationship has changed. Their conversations are different and Andreas spends more late nights at the office appearing to avoid Aliki. They are trying to have another baby without success Aliki believes that they are being punished for having been bad parents in the past.  When she mentions the Virgin Mary and the topic of miracles Andreas shows that he is a not believer to Aliki disappointment.

An intriguing stranger Alexis catches Marois interest at the swimming pool. They arrange to meet and Marois begins to become generally interested. At this point he starts to ignore Alexis' phone calls while his mother becomes even more concerned with Marois evening outings often staying up until he comes home at night.

While at the cemetery to visit the grave of her late husband Demetra notices Aliki at the cemetery at the grave of her daughter and pauses to watch and consider the level of grief a mother must feel with the loss of a young child.

Aliki goes to the church and rubs the Virgin Mary Icon which is moist under the eye areas. Soon after pregnant Aliki collapses in the bathroom where Andreas finds her. She is admitted to hospital where she is treated by Nurse Demetra.  The women have several conversations and Aliki gives Demetra a book on miracles.

The two main female actors Patsalidou and Eracleous gives a strong performances. However the visuals appear dull and soft. The story moves at a slow pace almost coming to a standstill in places.
Director Marinos Kartikkis has an interesting story to tell but as an entire project the film does not hold together.

** out of 4

By Miracle | Marinos Karikkis | Cyprus 2010 | 85 Minutes.

Opening Gala European Union Film Festival 2012.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

RAFF 2012 Film Review - Architecture 101

Seung-min (Tae-woong Eom) is a leading Architect for a large South Korean firm. He has lead many projects and is at the top of his profession.  A former classmate from college Seo-yeun (Ga-in-Han) visits his firm.  At first Seung-min does not recognize her but it turns out that Seo-Yeung was in class with him back in college.

After college Seo-Yeung married well and is looking to Seung-min to build her a house on the family homestead on Jeju island.

The film flashes back to their first year of college where both of them were very close and spent most of their time together. Seo-Yeung a Music student and budding presenter took the Architecture 101 course as a first year elective.  Sueng-min had great affection for Seo-Yeung but acted as if there were just friends. Seo-Yeung knew of the affection but did not let on.  His only display is a quick kiss while Seo-Yeung was asleep beside him at a bus stop.

They spent a lot of time in an abandoned house in Seung-Min's neighbourhood that they cleaned up and made a pact to meet there at first snow fall. Seung-Min promised to build Seo-Yeung a house and even completed a diagram and a rough model.

However Seo-Yeung took up with an older schoolmate at the radio station and while Seung was waiting to surprise her with is diagram at her apartment he sees the two of them coming home. He deposits the model in the garbage ending their college relationship. Seo-Yeung finds the model and the diagram and turns up at the abandoned house on the first snowfall as planned by Seung-min does not show.

Back in modern day the pair go out to dinner. Seung-min reveals that he is aware that Seo-Yeung is divorced and she is not pleased that he let her pretend that she had her act together for so long.   She is also not happy that he is engaged and planning to move to America to start a new life with his fiancĂ© and future wife.

Seo-Yeung has family issues as her father is in hospital and her plan is to have the house ready for him to live with her there after his release.

Sueng-min presses on and builds her house. Events towards the close of the film reveal that they each kept distinct souvenirs of each other and saw each other as their first and possibly only true loves.

Yong-joo Lee's film touches on many universal subjects first loves,  missed opportunity, reconnection and resolution. The story is a bit melodramatic but that is to be expected with this subject matter.  Architecture 101  is a very watchable film but it does not break any new ground on the subject matter of  unrequited love.

** 1/2 out of 4

Architecture 101 |Yong-joo Lee | South Korea 2012  | 115 Minutes.

 Closing Gala  2012 Reel Asian Film Festival.

RAFF 2012 Film Review - Seeking Asian Female

The main publicity photo for Seeking Asian Female tells a lot the story of Debbie Lum's documentary. The filmmaker is in the signature wedding photo of her two main characters Steven and Sandy. The photo shows that Lum has blurred the lines between director/observer and friend/confidant/marriage counsellor for the couple.

Lum decided to make this documentary based on her experience growing up on the US west coast. Lum describes a history of constant interest from white males as she describes it only because she is Asian or because they have Yellow Fever. Lum who is married to a caucasian male sets out to explore this phenomenon and begins a search for a subject to be the centre of her documentary.

During her search of the Asian dating websites she comes across Steven's profile and knows that he is the perfect subject. Twice divorced recently turned 60, with zero filter and living above a store in San Francisco Steven would be a goldmine of material for her documentary.

Steven has a long history of dating Asian women that spans all the way back to the days of catalogues up to the modern day Internet sites.  He has had several strong relationships, when he meets Sandy online and determines that she is the one that he wants to marry.

Steven arranges to bring Sandy to America on a one year visa and if they do not marry within the year she has to go back to China.

Lum explores Sandy's reasoning for coming to get to know and possibly marry Steven.  She is now in her thirties and considers herself with little chance of obtaining a suitable husband in China. She is hopeful that she can lean a profession and become happy in America.

Due to Sandy's lack of English and Lum's knowledge of Mandarin Sandy confides her thoughts and wishes to the director which puts Lum in the middle of the relationship. The couple have several disputes where Lum is called in at all ours of the day and night to smooth things out and is conflicted with the thought that if she was not around perhaps Sandy would have returned home and the wedding would not take place.  If they don't marry it may be best for the two of them in the long run but would it be best for her documentary?

Seeking Asian Female gives a unique look into the world of ethnic specific dating from the few of the pursuer and the pursued. Director Lum found two interesting and muli-layered main players for her documentary who openly show the ups and downs of any relationship with a language barrier, cultural and pre- conceived notions of each others culture on top to create a fascinating, funny, emotional and on occasion cringe worthy piece.

A film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4

Seeking Asian Female | Debbie Lum | U.S.A. 2012 | 85 Minutes.

Reel Asian Film Festival 2012.

RAFF 2012 Film Review - Cold Steel

Mu Lianfeng ( Peter Ho) is a hunter in a small Chinese village. He is camped out in a tree on a boar hunt when a American fighter crashes directly overhead. Mu rescues the American pilot and brings him back to their village. This is the opening sequence of David Wu's Sino- Japanese war film Cold Steel. Wu a long time John Woo collaborator who cut his teeth as an editor knows how to keep the action

The Yank teaches Liangfeng how to shoot before he heals up from his wounds and heads back to his unit.

A Chinese platoon comes to the local tea house and are rough with the clientele and the owner Liu Yan ( Jai Song).  Mu a friend of the owner takes exception and takes on the unit.  Mu is defeated and taken to the platoon leader for punishment. Along the way The soldiers are pinned down by a Japanese sniper  Liangfeng using his hunting skills takes out the sniper.

When Mu is brought before the platoon leader he is given the choice of death or joining the army.
Mu joins the sniper group for an undercover mission to take out a group of Japanese Generals behind enemy lines. Mu fails to follow orders and the mission does not go completely as planned.

Still Mui returns to his village as a hero and is now on the watch list for his opposite number Commander of the Japanese forces. All the while Lianfengs feelings continue to develop for Lin Yan leading to the inevitable choice between duty and his feelings. His platoon leader exalts that duty is the only option Liangfeng must complete his mission.

The group's next plan is to hit a Japanese Base at the same time the Japanese are planning to go to Mu's village in search of the new Chinese Sniper hero. The sniper group makes it into the base and escape  kidnapping a nurse who turns out to be fiancĂ© of the Japanese commander.

The final showdown occurs in Liangfengs village where Liangfeng is blinded at one point and the action and explosions are cranked up to eleven.

Drawing elements from his favourite directors and films Wu brings the action from the opening reel to the last scene including scenes that pay tribute to the Bourne Ultimatum and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The film stumbles in the dialogue, character development and drama departments However if an action film fits your fancy then Cold Steel fits the bill.

*** out of 4

Cold Steel | David Wu | China | 2011| 94 Minutes.

Reel Asian Film Festival 2012.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

RAFF 2012 Film Review - Wolf Children

Mamoru Hosada main character Hanna (voiced by Aoi Miyazaki) meets a boy at college that appears to be on is own and does not speak to anyone else. Hanna starts to study with the mysterious student and a romance begins between the two.

Hanna learns her new friend's secret before they get two serious and she still wants to continue their relationship. They move into an apartment and soon Hanna is pregnant with her fist child a daughter Yuki followed shortly by a son Ame.

A rainy night hunting expedition produces a tragic accident that leaves Hanna on her own to raise two infants. The two kids show their fathers traits when angry, neighbours complain about the noise and social services come  around to see why the children have not had their shots. Hanna shows the frustration of any parent left to fend with two children without the proper tools or knowledge to deal with their mods or illnesses.   Hanna decides to move to the country so her children can determine how they want to live in their lives.

Hanna buys a run down home and tries to grow her own food. She is not successful at first but with the help of the initially reluctant neighbours her crops flourish. Yuki takes to the country and is very rambunctious and out going.  Meanwhile Ame is sickly and sticks close to his mother most of the time. He is troubled by the portrayal of his other side in books and the media. He does not want to be portrayed as the bad guy.

The new life finally comes together with the first snowfall and a carefree run by all three through the forest.

Yuki reaches school age and decides that she wants to attend school but can only go if she promises to keep the other side of her personality in  check. Hanna starts a job as a forest ranger she Ame spends time with her amongst the animals and takes special interest in the wolf.

Eventually Ame goes to school but is not popular while Yuki is a class standout. She does have some differences with the other girls due to the other side of her nature.

One year a new boy comes in the middle of the year.  He teases and pushes Yuki. She breaks her nature and attacks him. Yuki is ready to face the consequences but the boy does not blame her for his injury.

Meanwhile Ami spends less time at school and more in the mountains amongst the animals.

When a storm comes to the area Ame goes into the woods. Hanna is asked to pick up Yuki at school
but goes after Ame instead. Each child has made their decision on which side of their nature they will embrace and it's not the choice one would have expected during their early development.

Wolf Children is an excellently fable that is very funny in the most unexpected places. Hosoda weaves a film that is very strong on story and high on character development.  This film clearly establishes Hosoda as a director to watch.

A film that I would definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 out of 4

Wolf Children

RAFF 2012 Film Review - Dal Puri Diaspora

Canadian Director Richard Fung brings a history of Roti to the screen.  Fung who is of Chinese Trinidadian heritage touches on the beginnings of the dish brought to Trinidad by East Indian Indentured servants.

The Story starts in Toronto in the dead of winter and discusses the current day city tradition of wrapped Roti.

Next stop Trinidad and a detailed discussion of the make up of the country. The African slaves that were brought to the Island to work in the cotton and sugar cane fields. The Indentured workers who followed after the slaves gained their freedom and demanded pay for their work.

The film looks at the different types of Roti including the Buss Up Shut named because it looks like a busted up shirt. Roti was considered the food of the poor descendants of the indentured workers. Interviews with their descendants revealed that they were laughed at when the broth Roti for lunch to school. The other students ate sandwiches but eventually they would trade and try a bit of everything.

 Next to the motherland India. Fung could find nothing similar to Trinidadian roti in New Deli. Their version was based on a different type of flower. The search moved to East India where the tradition is to fry when they have the means to do so.

The history of East India used to be rich with a variety of crops. They began to grow the opium poppy crop and became dependant on that one crop which when it failed led to the exodus to the Caribbean.

Dal Puri Diaspora is a good history lesson of food, Trinidad, African Canadians and East India.

The story comes back to Canada for a history of Caribbean Canadians and their arrival in the late 50's through the start of a thriving community the mid 60's.

The director takes a turn at making Roti himself toward the end of the film with comical results.  The constant cooking and recipe talk will leave the viewer salivating. Not a film to see on an empty stomach.

*** out of 4

Audience Award Winner 2012 Reel Asian Film Festival.

Dal Puri Diaspora | Richard Fung | Canada 2012 | 80:00 Minutes

RAFF Film Festival 2012 - A Fish

Professor Lee is not going to class and its not the first time he has let his students down. He is in his car driving and picks up a dishevelled fellow to whom he has a connection.

A young and old fisherman are in a boat telling stories and discussing what species are found in salt water.

The professor and his travel partner go to a small town where they hire a boat to go to Jindo Island a even more remote area.  It is in this remote area that they find the subject of the professor's search. His target has left everything in the world behind to become a shaman.

The fisherman catch an unusual fish that brings a lot of questions. The Fishermen turn on each other with severe  consequences.

It turns out that the companion is a private detective hired to find the target for the professor and the professor and the target have a relationship that spans two worlds.

Shot in 3d  A Fish delves into the relationship between this world and the next focusing on one soul that spans between both worlds and not able to realize that they should be headed to the next.

After a good start  A Fish does not work out in the end. Ho-min Park fails to develop his characters and the film comes across as wallowing in a disjointed haze.

This is a film that I cannot recommend.

** out of 4

2011 South Korea 97 minutes

RAFF 2012 Film Review - Tatsumi

A series of short animated stories interwoven with snippets of the life story of Yoshiro Tatsumi. The biopic is based Tatsumi's  manga autobiography A Drifting Life.  The story starts at the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima when Tatsumi was 10 years old.

The short focuses on a photographer that goes to Hiroshima to report on the state of the city and takes an iconic photo. Tatsumi's first writings as a teenager and his first pay check is discussed. His unemployed father is jealous and Yoshiro leaves home.

The next highlight centres around an older man near retirement and how he feels increasingly marginalized by his co workers, family and his pan to gain his revenge on everyone. In this time period we see Yoshiro Tatsumi as a youth living with two other cartoonists.

Another top short tells the store of a cartoonist who's weekly strip in a daily newspaper comes to an end. He wonders into a bathroom stall that is filled with pornography. At first the cartoonist is discussed but at the same time continually drawn back to the stall. He eventually is offered a job at an adult magazine but his obsession with bathroom pornography leads to his downfall.

The best story is based on a factory worker that has a pet monkey. The owner is ignored by the monkey  who will not look at him at any time.  The factory worker suffers an accident with one of the machines on the factory floor. He is given a severance package but is let go due to the damage he has caused the company. The factory worker now without a job decides to give the monkey to a zoo. However the monkey troop at the zoo attack the unknown simian producing horrifying results.

The story shifts to Tasumi in his later years and centres on the awards and recognition he has received over his life.

The last story reverts to world war two era. A young women is taking in US soldiers for sex.  She spends a lot of time with one named Joe depicted as an oversized giant in animation. Joe leaves to go home to his wife and kids and the woman is distraught. She gets extremely inebriated as she would ted and takes out her frustration on her own father who is destitute and comes by on occasion to ask for some money treating him as she would any other man.

Lastly we shift to Tatsumi in live action at is desk then back to animation at a bookstore with the main characters from the movie reading Tatsumi short stories.

*** out of 4

Tatsumi  Eric Khoo  Singapore 94 minutes

Valley of Saints

Musa Syeed wrote and directed Valley of Saints featuring Gulzar Ahmed Bhat as a young boat taxi driver that lives on Dal Lake in Kashmir.

He lives with his aged uncle in a home with a leaky roof. The lake is a tourist attraction and its own self contained community. Travellers from the West come daily looking fir rides around the lake to see the attractions. Commerce takes place all over the lake with vendors selling their wares on long boats on the river wile visitors rent out houseboats from the locals.

Against this backdrop there are daily protests in the street by the youth for freedom and riot police armed to keep the peace. Gulzar plans to leave Kashmir with his best friend Adzal as soon as they have an opportunity.

Gulzar's Uncle goes away for Adzal comes by to put their escape in motion. However their plans are put on hold as the the police put a one week curfew in place which is the centrepiece of the film.

Gulzar is asked to look in on a residence of a houseboat by an owner who is trapped outside the city due to the violence and curfew. Gulzar discovers the resident is a female and starts to bring her food daily.

The friends spend most of their day goofing off and horsing around. They take on small jobs at night mainly stealing rice for resale as prices skyrocket during the curfew.

At first Adzal and Gulzar fight for Asifa's attention. They learn that she studies in the US and is conducting a project on the lake checking the pollution levels. Gulzar takes her around on his boat. Asifa takes water samples and readings. As they travel they view residences of the lake dumping plastic bottles directly into the lake and near the shore is a film of wrappers , plastics and other floating debris.

Sayers weaves a captivating tale mixing the old world and modern day. Dal lake is the lifeblood of the community that the residence do not protect but rather continue to build on the lake sneaking in illegal concrete and wood that is actually killing the lake.

*** 1/2 out of 4

Valley of Saints | Musa Syeed |  India /USA 2012 | 2012 Reel Asian Film Festival