Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fantasia 16' Film Review - The Arbalest

We all go to the movies hoping to see something different. We are looking for a unique story, original dialogue and a fresh approach to acting. Adam Pinney's Fantasy film The Arbalest checks all of these categories and more. The film is set in a parallel universe where items were not invented as they were on our timeline.  The first clue is the film's title announcing that there has been no advancement in weaponry since the 12th century invention of the modern crossbow. Thus what would be the board game Risk in our world is the Arbalest the game of world domination.

Into this picture steps Foster Kalt (Mike Brune) a nervous young man working on his pitch at the 1968 Toy Convention. Two other convention attendees join him to kill time before their presentation.  The pair show Foster their invention, two variations on the Rubik's cube. Forster's toy is not complete but Sylva (Tallie Medel) is encouraging while her male partner ridicules. A night of over drinking, drugs and inebriated declarations of love follows leaving Sylvia in charge of the cube that she asks Foster to present in exchange for a steady supply of royalty cheques if the toy is a success.

Pinney's film is the story of a man who has large commercial success while his personal life is a disaster. In 1970 the Kalt Cube made Forest Kalt more popular than Neil Armstrong the year after the lunar landing. However he can't get past rejection from Sylvia as he remarks she kept the royalty cheques but returned all the love letters. The dialogue in the film is very direct and simple. The main topics are toys, unrequited love and a vow of silence. The viewer could easily see these events occurring in a 12-year-old child's world. Cinematographer Hugh Braselton and costume designer Karen Freed work set the colour palate of the film and the look of the two main time frames of 1968 & 1978 which were vastly different although only 10 year apart.

Mike Brune presents three versions of Kalt in the production. He's shy unsure then lovestruck from the slightest bit of kindness and attention shown by Sylvia in 1968. When the storyline jumps forward to 1978 he's the eccentric millionaire recluse who has taken a vow of silence but agrees to an interview to present his new invention. In 1974 he is complete obsessed with Sylvia, moves next door to watch her every day until a Game Night playing of Arbalest reveals his true level of mental instability.

The Arbalest focuses on a central character who is a fraud and failure win the affections of his perceived life's love leads to severe erratic behaviour despite fortune and fame. He has not had his one great invention and the idea did not come until driven to by the need for revenge. The story is original the dialogue crisp, concise and peppered with sardonic humour along with strong acting performances make it a film I highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

The Arbalest | Adam Pinney | U.S.A. | 2016 | 73 Minutes.

Tags, Fantasy, Toys, Invention, Convention, Love, Hate, Fraud, Interview, Recluse, Albert Lamorisse, Revenge.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - The Priests

Father Kim (Yun seok-Kim) is the infant terrible of the South Korean Catholic Church. He won't follow the rules, has radical ideas and now has come to the church leaders with the request to perform an exorcism. The subject Yong-shin (So dam-Park) is a14 year-old girl who is suffering greatly and a member of Father Kim's parish. The leaders try to mention other potential causes pointing out the trouble media exposure could cause.  The final decision is to allow Father Kim to proceed but it's not an official endorsement. After a severe misstep Kim's assistant Father Jeong quits. Forced to scramble Kim accepts a student from the seminary Deacon Choi (Dong-wong-Kang) as a replacement. Choi himself has proved to be a rule breaker and risk taker during his studies.

The pair approach the girl who has recently come out of a coma after the prior incident. They are armed with crosses, blessed waters, and a legendary bell from St. Francis. Their goal is to get the demon to state its name. The battle of will starts with the evil spirit throwing out all forms of personal insults imaginable at the two priests. The psychological warfare continues, intensifies as volleys are thrown and repelled but the priests are not initially successful.

Jae huyn-Jang's film will inevitably draw comparisons to the Exorcist. The story differs as the focus is on the assistant Priest. Other than his antics in the Seminary the viewer learns of a tragic event from his youth that greatly affected him then and now. A traditional Korean Shaman appears to make an attempt to remove the evil spirit.  The other wrinkle is the lack of focus little on the possessed girl or her family. The parents are an afterthought contained downstairs as the Priests work up in Young-shin's room. Young-Shin only appears in a couple of scenes before the Exorcism begins.

Dong-Wong-Kang's Deacon Choi has the most material to work with in the film. Kang plays joker, fearful, forceful and determined at different points during the piece. He flips from one trait to the other with ease He is particularly effective when delivering his incantations at the demon. Yun soek-Kim takes a more serious tact as Father Kim. He knows too much about the strength of the demon and the potential life and death consequences of his actions.

The Priests is a useful addition to the exorcism catalogue. Director Jang decision to presents the film from a different voice works but more screen time with Young-soo would have helped to flesh out her character and give the audience a more emotional connection to her fate. The ability to present a battle between good and evil without overwhelming special effect is beneficial to the project. The  piece is a rare and welcomed foray into the genre by an Asian filmmaker.

** 1/2  Out of 4.

The Priests | Jae huyn Jang | South Korea | 2015 |103 Minutes.

Tags: Exorcist, Priest, Deacon, Possessed, Shaman, Pig, Occult, Religion, Good, Evil.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - Under The Shadow

The Iran - Iraq war spanned from 1980-1988 making it the longest continuous war in history. The war escalated from a shooting war using heavy military equipment to launching missiles at each others capital city. Running parallel to the war was the firm entrenchment of religious leadership in Iran that started with the 1979 Revolution. Opponents of the revolution were killed, tortured, jailed or sanctioned by the government.

It's in this arena towards the end of the war that we meet Shideh (Narges Rashidi) a modern thinking mother who it at the University looking to resume her medical studies. She is told no one and last final time by the Director due to her left wing political activities during the revolutionary period. Dejected she returns home to her daughter Dora (Avin Manshadi) who has a constant companion in her doll Kimia. Her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi)  a doctor himself does more to annoy her than console when he remarks that the University's decision may be for the best. The bombings intensify in and around the family complex as Iraj learns that this year's conscription will send him near the front lines. Refusing to leave Sideh stays in the home with her daughter often racing down to the basement for air raid warnings her only relief being exercising to her Jane Fonda Workout video tape.

The film takes its time to transition into a horror in writer director Babak Anvari's script. Only after Iraj heads to the front followed by a missile that strikes an upper apartment of the complex causing a severe crack in Shideh's roof does the tension and fear increase. Anvari uses the Middle eastern myth of the Djinn an evil spirit that travels on the wind as a device to increase the terror. Many of the residents believe that the Djinn will possess you by taking a cherished item. In this case the item is Dora's beloved doll.

The mother daughter leads are both excellent in their roles. Avin Manshadi strongest work as Dora occurs when she vehemently opposes her mother. Accusing her of hiding her doll and talking to an unseen lady who convinces the young girl that her mother cannot protect her. Narges Rashidi thrives in the break out role of Shideh. She is a strong female in a country that keeps half of its population one step back. She drives, wants her independence and is comfortable with Western ideas and values. Her performance intensifies as she starts out dismissing the Djinn, to gathering information on the subject to fighting to shield her daughter against the evil spirit as the narrative progresses.

Key elements including no big studio special effects, the right amount of jump scares and a small cast in a confined area command Anvari's film. The pacing works as the audience is brought along for the ride as Shideh slowly begins to recognize the threat to her daughter and herself are real. The main performances are excellent, the myth of the Djinn serves to make the premise plausible for this film   I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Under the Shadow | Babak Anvari | Iran / Jordan/ Quatar / U.K. | 2016 | 84 Minutes.

Tags: Medical School, Iran- Iraq War, Bomb Shelter, Air Raid Warning, Djinn, Doctor, Jane Fonda Workout.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fantasia '16 film review - If Cats Disappeared from the World

A young postman (Takeru Satoh) is happy jovial and friendly to everyone he meets as he rides his bike along his route. Suddenly he's thrown off his bike while peddling along the boardwalk. A visit to the hospital follows where he learns that he has late stage brain cancer and only a short time to live. The mailman returns home to find a spirit sitting in his apartment. The visitor who is a mirror image of the postman promises extra days of life in exchange for removing an item from the world. The spirit will pick but the catch being the item will truly be missed and any connections formed through it will be lost as well.

Realizing he could die any day the mailman calls his old girlfriend who he meets for lunch.  The pair discusses how great their conversations were on the phone and how their relationship started due to a misdial and the fact that Fritz Lang's Metropolis was playing in the background. They can't seem to find a reason why they broke up and at the end of the day the postman reveals his condition. Returning home the spirit takes away the first item from the world phones. Because phones are gone the wrong number never occurred meaning his ex-girlfriend no longer has a memory of him.

Genki Karamura's graphic novel serves as the backbone of the film Director Akira Nagai builds on the book along with screenplay writer Yoshikazu Okada. As each day passes the devil takes more items from the world leading the audience to wonder at what point will the postman say stop. The other section of the narrative tells the mailman's family story starting from when they take in a stray cat that they name lettuce through the complicated father son dynamic all the while focusing on the close relationship that the postman has with his mother.

The talented cast performs their roles well. Meiko Harada distinguishes herself as the family matriarch. She is allergic to cats but soon grows to love lettuce even more than her son. She is the warmth that contrasts her industrious husband. She battles a personal illness for a good portion of the film but puts her family first.

Filled with an abundance of emotional moments If Cats Disappeared from the World is a genuine heartwarming film. The storytelling builds relationships both in the present and through flashbacks. It makes the viewer realize how important items are as a tool to start a relationship. The film also displays the internal dialogue that each individual has with death and when forced to face it the  struggle to get to a point where they are at peace.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

If Cat's Disappeared from the World | Akira Nagai | Japan | 2016 |103 Minutes.

Tags: Brain Tumour, Mailman, Cats, Phones, Clocks, Movies, Argentina, Buenos Aires, The Devil, Metropolis.

Fantasia '16 Film Review - The Wailing

Somebody got killed are the opening remarks of small village cop Jong-gu (Jo Wan Kawk) before returning to the family table to have breakfast with is daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan Hee) and mother in law (Heo Jin). From there Jong-gu heads to the multiple victim crime scene. In the small aluminum home are brutalized bodies, a large human sized nest in addition to the expected perpetrator sitting out front on the step shivering, covered in muck and sporting visible infected boils and rashes.

The cause of the maddening act is pinned at first on tainted wild mushrooms.  A fellow officer tells Jong-gu a tale of a stranger with red eyes that roams the forest feeding on dead deer carcacsses. Jong-gu dismisses the story but begins to have terrible nightmares about the stranger. A sense of foreboding hovers over the town as more residents start to show the rash, display erratic behaviour and commit extreme acts of violence. Rumours surfaces about a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who appeared recently in town occupying a place up in the woods.  The towns folk claim that the killings and disease started after his arrival.  Jung-gu brings a colleague and a translator Yang Yi-Sam (Kim do-goo) a Catholic priest along for the visit. The effort is not productive as the police invade the strangers space. Upon his return home Hyo-jin begins to act strange body.

Director Hong jin-Na continues to bring a special take to the thriller genre as he did with his two prior films Chaser and Yellow Sea. The story has a strong sense of slow building dread that will continue to grow in the community. Jin-Na mixes in religion, the occult, friendship and duty to drive the plot. The viewer can see that the town is dealing with a situation that they are ill equipped to handle.

Cinematographer Hung Kyung-Pyo's lens is crisp, bright and flush throughout the piece. When it rains as it often does in Gokseong the viewer can see the light bouncing off the raindrops as the fall from the sky. Jin-Na uses this element for one particular memorable crane shot of Jong-gu making him look to the heavens for answers to the case.

Jo Wan Kwak is well suited for the role of Jong-gu. He is a mistake prone police officer in a small sub district prone to thoughtless fits of rage. He's the burly fellow the role requires that's willing to kick over a hornets nest. Jun Kunimura is perfectly cast as the Japanese stranger. He can be completely stoic as is on full display the two times the police attend his mountain home. Then very expressive during a ritual; eyes glowing, arms flailing as he works himself into a frenzy. Kim Hwan- Hee stands out as Hyo-jin. She is a smart, bright intuitive officers daughter at the outset then switches with ease to foul-mouthed, confrontational and violent as the disease takes hold of her.

The Wailing is a superior achievement in a police thriller occult toned mystery. The pacing and intensity grab the audience for the full  156 minute run time.  Director Hong jin-Na has elevated the crime thriller to a new level. The narrative races downhill provides twist and turns along the way with the outcome and orchestrator in doubt right up to the final frames. It's a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

The Wailing | Hong-jin-Na | South Korea | 2016 | 156 Minutes.

Tags: Goksoeng, Village, Murder, Police Investigation, Serial Killer, Rash, The Occult, Religion, Shaman.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - Tank 432

Reeves (Rupert Evans) and Karlsson (Deirdre Mullins) are British mercenaries in the aftermath of a fire fight gone wrong at the outset of Tank 432. One of their unit Capper (Michael Smiley) has a severely injured leg while their commanding officer Smith (Gordon Kenney) tries to figure out the next step to get them out of trouble. They head to an abandoned industrial area where they locate a Jeep and a young girl living in a storage container. Evans ( Tom Meetem) is the first to see the shadowy approach of their adversary. Gantz (Steve Garry) makes a grizzly discover of the members of another Unit on site.

The crew moves out taking two hooded prisoners refereed by Smith as cargo and the girl with them. Capper is left behind along with Evans who has grown more unstable. The others cross a vast field when they sense the appearance of the enemy again. Looking for a temporary location for cover the troop spot a Bulldog tank and hastily pile in.  In the chaos the rear hatch door jams leaving no way out. The mercenaries are trapped as the mysterious enemy approach.

Nick Gillespie a regular collaborator of Ben Wheatley directs the action. Wheatley serves as a Executive Producer on the film. The story is vague on the Unit's mission, the acts perpetrated by the two orange jumpsuit clad prisoners or intelligent info on why the masked robed enemy that appear then disappear from view are such a threat. Instead the narrative focuses in on the growing paranoia of each team member as it hits each of them in different stages along with the strange effect the colour orange appears to have on everyone. The only constant is the ever present shots and pills doled out to the group by Karlsson. First she gives Tapper shots to ease his pain, next to Evans for his increasing anxiety then pills to everyone in the tank to help them get some shut eye.

Rupert Evan's Reeves is given the most to do in the piece. He leads the reconnaissance missions to each new location. He keeps a level head despite seemly to alway be thirsty for water and having a bit of a week stomach. Deirdre Mullins is strong in a supporting role of Karlsson acting as the default medic but begins to sense that there is something not right with the mission. Michael Smiley the go to British character actor provides another offbeat acid tongue performance as Capper who is left behind after act one but provides some surprises later in the production.

Tank 432 is filled with genuine sequences of true paranoia, fear and angst amongst the crew. The narrative falls down by not presenting at least one direct incident to give the audience a clear idea of the threat level. Instead the tragic fate of another Unit provides an indirect example. The story also fails to indicate why the mercenaries are in their location or the crimes committed by the prisoners. The film does build some momentum in the opening act but stalls in the second and is unable to recover in the third.

** Out of Four

Tank 432 | Nick Gillespie | U.K. | 2015 | 88 Minutes.

Tags; Mercenaries, Soldiers, Prisoners, Medical Injections, Bulldog Tank, Hallucinations, claustrophobic, Mission.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - Realive

Marc Jarvis (Tom Hughes) is a highly successful California artist, just settled in with his longtime sporadic girlfriend Naomi (Oona Chaplin) , a beautiful home overlong the ocean and just found out that he has an inoperable throat cancer. His doctors give him a year to live but having seen his father suffer before his death Marc does not want to endure the same fate. Cryogenics is Marc's answer. He's encouraged by the recent developments in organ regeneration and stem cell research that medicine will advance to cure his cancer and bring him back to life. His brother voices the first medical concern of the film when he questions if these firms can be trusted or will the one he chooses be even viable when the time comes. Naomi is particularly upset as she was willing to spend all of his remaining time with him now Marc was taking that away for a risky chance to be reborn in the future.

Elizabeth (Charlotte Le Bon's) first day on the job at Prodigy Health in 2084 is just before Project Lazarus will be attempted on subject Marc Jarvis. Elizabeth will be the nurse then partner of the subject and signs a confidentially agreement as do all Prodigy employees. She is given a tour by Dr. West (Barry Ward) to learn the main elements of the upcoming surgery. As Marc's eyes flutter open he hears the voices then sees the faces of the medical team. He is barely able to speak at first plus he is connected to a computer through an umbilical cord plug that keeps him alive. He is surprised by how fragile he is as he takes his first steps. Next Marc is introduced to mind writer a headset that can record and store your memories.  The rebirth is not what he expected as Dr. West admits under questioning that Marc will likely not regain all of strength, will have to be connected to a computer on occasion on top of the early stages of memory loss that has started and can't be corrected.

Medical morality and the desire to beat death are the two main themes of writer director Mateo Gill's story. Although pitched to Elizabeth and Marc that Project Lazarus is a series of firsts Marc begins to ask questions then finds and watches the horrible videos of the failed Lazarus attempts before him. The medical team discuss the protests agains their work, the need to show a return on investment for their shareholders and how the project is on the verge of running out of money. Gill uses flashbacks as an effective plot device. While Marc is adjusting, learning and adapting in the future we see snippets  of major events his past right up to his decision to inject poison before the cancer spreads.

Tom Hughes carries the film as the main character Marc. He is calm, inquisitive, practical and analytical despite the fact that he's an artist. He does not show extreme emotion upon diagnosis but instead goes about systematically getting his affairs in order. Oona Chaplin's Naomi is his foil. She is a very emotionally being bouncing in and out of Tom's life but is by his side when needed the most. Charlotte LeBon is engaging throughout as Elizabeth. She's a caregiver, singularly concerned with the needs of her patient and adopts fully the widely held view of sex as a disposable commodity 70 years into the future.

Realive is a highly plausible piece of science fiction storytelling looking at where science and medicine are at today. The moral aspect will always be an issue especially the agenda of the cryogenic firms as they may not be willing or able to deliver on their contracts. Director Gill presents the potential dangers in once sequence of horrible testing errors from failed prior attempts.  In the future the subject matter will be intensely debated as technology advances light years ahead that the current work with animal organs and stem cells today.

*** Out of 4.

Realive | Mateo Gill | Spain /France | 2016 | 112 Minutes.

Tags: Cryogenics, Cancer, Suicide, Surgery, Rebirth, Computer, Human Experiments, Art, Advertising.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - Embers

What if you lived in a world where a disease spread where once infected you lost all long-term memories and had no ability to sustain new ones. That is the premise of Embers from rookie director Claire Carre. The world has suffered a catastrophic global event leaving the survivors to fend for themselves seeking shelter in the hollowed out buildings and abandoned cars.  People experience the memoir loss differently depending on their age. If you were a kid then your stuck at an infant, toddler or juvenile mental capacity as opposed to a lesser effect on a fully developed adult brain.

Ben and Jenny know they are connected because they wake up together but have no idea why. They have a blue plaid string tied to their wrist serving as a tangible link.  Each day begins with picking names for each other  followed by an enjoyable day falling in love again then pledge, not to go to sleep as they will have no memory of the day.

Director Carre starts with the thought of how precious memories are to each individual person. Different people can experience the same event but their perception and point of view creates a unique memory.  The narrative also includes the story of a father and daughter that escaped the disease by bunkering below ground. The daughter is willing to take the risk and leave to experience the outside world while her father is well aware that once outside they all likely loose their memories that make them who they are.

Locations play a key role to establish the mood of the film.  Two distinct ones are used to set the tone naturally for the natural deteriation of an abandoned urban environment overrun by nature and a vast countryside outside of a city where the bunker is located.

Jason Ritter and Eva Gocheva make a fine pair as the lovers that rediscover each other each day. They are part detective as they start a day by figuring out how they fit. Part explorer as they trek through abandoned buildings, recreation centres and churches and soul mates ending the day in a passionate embrace. Tucker Smallwood is notable as the professor James Robertson. He has rigged yarn all around his rural property to remember routes to and fro. Most of his day is spent scouring his scientific books trying to work through the problem of memory loss.

Embers is a film about the loss personal memories.  The story touches on the upside of losing a painful or negative memory, which serves as valuable a plot device. Director Carre brings the audience into the action at the moment when the lovers rise to start a day thus seeing the world as Ben & Jenny.  This choice shifts the viewer's progression from behind, to level to ahead by the next daybreak  Severe Amnesia is concept that has been explored before most notably in Christopher Nolan's Momento. However this time its presented on a massive scale.

*** Out of 4.

Embers | Claire Carre |  U.S.A. | 2015 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Anterograde, Retrograde, Amnesia, Memory Loss, Ruins, Rape, Lovers, Bunker, Sci-Fi, Disease, post apocalyptic.

Fantasia '16 Film Review - Fourth Place

Joon-ho (Jae-Sang-Yoo) loves to be in the water to  swim freely for the enjoyment. He swims the 200 freestyle in school competitions  but due to a lack of focus and concentration in races always seems to finish in fourth place.  His mother Jung Ae (Hang-na-lee) grows increasing distraught with each fourth place finish. She wants Joon-ho to win metals, go to University on a swimming scholarship and bring prestige to the family. The film's prologue shot in black and white flashes back to successful Korean athletes in the late 1990's bringing glory to the country and pride to their families. We meet Gwang -su (Have Joon- Park) a leading swimming hero of that time who's talent made him a nation record holder despite a horrible training habits. After he returns from a 10-day stint of missed training sessions days before an international meet his coach employs extreme corporal punishment that results in Gwang-su walking away from the sport.

16 years later Hang-na-lee turns to Gwang-su to train her son one on one to elevate him to the top of the podium. Jun-ho' daydream attitude persist angering Gwang-su leading him to employ the same corporal punishment that had be administered to him. In Gwang-su mind if his coaches had been harder on him he would have had full glory of a swimming career himself.

Director Ji-woo Jung makes a strong statement on corporal punishment, which has been always a decisive issue in South Korea. Jung film strongly shows that its the not the way to train or discipline a child. The director makes sure to include a complicit parent in the willing to look the other way as long as the practice achieves the desired results. The productions team breaks new ground filming the swimming races. There are three main races in the piece and each is shown differently bring the accidence closer to the actions with each successive race culminating with the last one where the viewer is literally in the pool with Jun-ho.

Cinematographer Kang Min-Woo work warrants special mention. His work with the underwater swimming scenes especially the sequence after hours is truly memorable. Woo's use of light in the pool and the reflections peeking though the coiled lane ropes give the impression that a spaceship has landed on the surface of the water with Joon-ho swimming around freely in the depths below.

Hang-na lee leads the cast at Joon-ho's mother. She wants her son to win medals and will do anything within her power to make it happen. She is aware of the treatment her child is enduring under his new coach but after a second place finish the first time out off the shoot chooses to ignore her sons suffering.  Hang-na lee actually remarks that she would rather see her child get beaten then come in fourth place.

Fourth place is a raw brutal and frank presentation of corporal punishment used as a motivator in Korean society. Director Ji-woo Jung is clearly against the practice using this story as an educational piece to his fellow citizens. The easy by which former victims pass down the practice is also highlighted in the production. The film presents a strong lesson for athletes, students, coaches teachers and parents alike.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Fourth Place | Ji-woo Jung | South Korea | 2015 | 116 minutes.

Tags: Swimming, Competition, Corporal Punishment, Gambling, Olympic Hopeful, Reporter, Medals.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - I, Olga Hepnerova

Olga Hepnerova is not a normal 13 year old girl which is obvious from the first moment she appears on screen. Olga refuses to go to school because she doesn't feel like it then takes an overdose of meprobamate to prove her point. After a visit to the hospital to have her stomach pumped her mother delivers the first of many psychological attack of the film when she remarks to commit suicide you need to have a strong will something you certainly do not have.  Her family ships her off for a stint at a mental hospital for youth where she encounters same sex coupling and under age smoking for the first time. Olga suffers gang beatings in the shower after she declares that everyone should stay clear. Her quiet time in the hospital is spent reading depressing literature.

Upon her return home Olga becomes more distant from her family. Her birthday wish is to get away from her family. Shortly thereafter she sets up house in a small cabin then starts to take several laborious jobs before settling in as a truck driver. On the personal side Olga realizes that she is a lesbian beginning to openly explore her sexually although she refers to herself as a sexual cripple.

Rookie writer/directors Petr Kazda and Thomas Weinreb craft their film based on a true story. Their Protagonist on July 10, 1973, drove a truck intentionally onto a Prague sidewalk at a trolly stop mowing down 20 citizens eight of whom died. Before she committed the act she mailed out letters to the local newspapers stating that she is sentencing humanity to death for the bullying she had endured throughout her life. The directors chose to shoot their film in black and white which gives the production a sharp, crisp and clean look. An additional by product of the colour palate along with the antiquated eastern european amenities gives the the viewer a strong feeling of the old Eastern Communist block.

Polish newcomer Michalina Olszanska immerses herself in the title role. She developed a special fast paced restricted shoulder walk, sported an exceedingly bad bob haircut and a unique way to hold and smoke a cigarette that fits her character. She plays Olga throughout the entire film from the age of 13 until her execution at 23. Klara Melishovka is very understated as Olga mother. She delivers biting lines to her child but when her daughter lashes out in her direction most of the time the response is silence or indifference. Martin Pechlat has a supporting role as Miroslav. A hard drinking older Communist worker who seems to be the only person that Olga can maintain a friendly relationship with throughout the piece.

I, Olga Hepnervoa is a somber and dark tail of a neglected and abused girl who was always on the verge of pushing back until she did finally did so on a July day in 1973. The old world communist setting plays a big part in the film as does the concept of bullying which is a frontline concept in todays society. Michalina Olszanka star continues to rise with this performance alongside her work in The Lure also released this year.  The directors handle a very tough and difficult subject matter in subtle manner leaving some of the more harsher elements off screen. The story does have some slower passages and focuses in a bit too much on the lead characters quicks however overall it's a film I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

I Olga Hepnerova | Petr Kazda / Thomas Weinreb | Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, France | 2016 | 105 Minutes.

Tags: Murder, Psychopath, Bullying, Prague, Communism, Comrade, Driver, Lesbian, Trial, Hanging.

Fantasia '16 Film Review - Psycho Raman

Raman Raghav was a notorious serial killer in Mubai back in the 1960's. He confessed to 41 murders but before doing so made some very unorthodox requests of police. Rajhav was to be the subject of directors Anuraj Kashyap film but the scale of completing a story from the sixties gave way to a modern tale of foils of Psycho Raman. Kashayap gives a wink to his former project at the films opening and there are sprinklings of Raghav facts throughout the piece.

The criminal Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and cop Raghaven (Vicky Kaushal) first meet 2 and a half years before the main story takes place. Ramanna makes his first kill of an "Uncle" of Raghaven who stumbles on the scene reaps the rewards of Ramanna's actions but is forced to silence a witness as Ramanna hides watching sensing an immediate kinship.

The story continues to unfold with the pair circling each other using virtual the same methods but because Raghaven has a badge and is a respected policeman his violent actions and reckless behaviour is accepted if not applauded. Rammana on the other hand wonders the slums dragging a tire iron behind him openly admitting to his growing body count to strangers.

Director Anuraj Kashyap continues his string of high wire violent films with an over decibel soundtrack. However unlike his Gangs of Wasseypur Kashyap keeps the graphic violence mainly off screen. The narrative of a cop and a criminal being two sides of the same coin has been seen before but here Kashyap goes further linking his leading men to a point where they effectively share each others experiences. One of the standout plot points is an old fashion foot chase through the Mumbai slums.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui continues his roll of standout performances as Ramanna. He can communicate full evil with a look or a gesture but the next moment sell himself as a snivelling victim of a group attack. He plays dumb when it serves his purposes, asks questions at the level of a police interrogator when needed but is at his scariest when he calmly and unemotionally takes someone's life.  Vicky Kaushal does a credible job with his material in the film. He's the hotshot police detective that can have his pick of any girl in any club in Mubai. During the day crime scenes are held until he shows up to investigate. Kushal best moments occur when he battles his internal demons especially the continued open disappoint of his parents on how he lives his life.

Psycho Raman is a psychological thriller that shines a different lens on a tried and true storyline. Director Anuraj Kashyap's fingerprints are all over the production. His muse Nawazuddin Siddiqui commands the screen and his bi-play with Vicky Kaushal are worth a look.

*** Out of 4.

Psycho Raman | Anuraj Kashyap | India | 2015 | 133 Minutes.

Tags: Serial Killer, MDNA, Disco, Tire Iron, Mumbai, Detective, Slums, Pedofile, Brother/Sister.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fantasia 16 Film Review - The Alchemist Cookbook

Sean (Ty Hickson) has checked out from society. He's living permanently in a family trailer in the woods with his main companion his cat Kasper. His only human contact is with his cousin Cortez (Amari Cheatom) who brings him supplies. Sean spends most of the day working with his hands. He cuts batteries, pounds potions, works his blowtorch and checks on vials of blood in his sparsely filled fridge. His garbage bin appears to be anywhere he throws something in the trailer. The two main sources of nourishment are sports drinks and Doritos chips.

However he does have a purpose out in the Michigan hinterland. Sean plans to use the science of Alchemy to make gold, become rich and build a mansion in the woods where he and Kasper can live in peace away from society. Somewhere along the way his plan is derailed by the sounds of the forest that are interpreted as a demon an entity that Sean has decided to summon.

Writer / Director Joel Portykus third film continues the minimalist vision of his prior features Ape and Buzzard. As is his nature Portykus takes focusing on mundane daily activities to an art form. Two particular sequences stand out in this regard. We see Sean slowly drink an unmarked sports drink until the last drop is drained. In the other our protagonist eats several Doritos in slow bites until he's distracted by a bang outside.

As the action progresses sparked by Cortez forgetting Sean's meds on a supply run the demon wins out over the Alchemy. Sacrifices are prepared and given becoming more personal with each offering.  Sean's features begin to change along with his behaviour both inside and outside the trailer.

Ty Hickson occupies just about every frame of the film in the role of Sean. His mental state is constantly under debate throughout the piece. How much of what we are seeing on the screen real and how much is in his head? The pace is exceeding slow giving Hickson a lot to do to keep the viewers interest considering that most of the time for the majority of the film he has no foil. Amari Cheatom pops in at just the right times when the narratives begins to strain. Cheatom offers much needed comic relieve as Cortez firing several factorial yet funny observational points on his cousins state of affairs.

The Alchemist Cookbook is a strong piece of indie cinema. The scale and budget are as small as the remote trailer where most of the action takes place but Portykus gives the viewer enough material to trigger the audiences imagination to flesh out the shadowy, hidden and unspoken elements of the film. It's a study in patience but in the end a worthwhile watch that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Alchemist Cookbook | Joel Portykus | U.S.A. | 2016 | 82 Minutes.

Tags: Alchemy, Demon, Belial, Doritios, Sacrifice, Michigan, I-Roc, Dancers, Prescription Meds.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Fantasia 16 Film Review - Kidnap Capital

A sedan pulls up on a quiet Phoenix suburban street followed by a white van. The van pulls into the garage as the car occupant enters the house to greet his wife and child. The occupants of the van are  forced into the home as raised voices panicked breathing and confusion fill the opening frames of Felipe Rodriguez Kidnap Capital. After the frantic activity ends one of the new arrivals removes his black hood to discover that he is in a room filled with other mainly frail Central American migrants clad as he is only in their underwear. The room is dirty dark and cramped. The bathroom has dripping water no tap handles and a toilet without a seat and dirty water. One of the new arrivals Manolo is panicked as he does not see his wife. The leader of the captures enters and asks a simple question. Do you have $2800.00? If so you can leave, if not you have to stay until someone can pay your rent.

Writer director Felipe Rodriguez presents a story that is gripping, intense, suspensful and heartbreaking. Its' based loosely on the epidemic of drop houses in the Phoenix Arizona area where migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American countries leave everything behind at home walk, ride the rails, are transported n hidden compartments in vehicles to get across the American border. When they think they have reached freedom they are snatch again brought to suburban homes in nice neighbourhoods that are hollowed out prisons where they are held for ransom until their families can pay or their capture loose patience.

Manolo (Johnathan Sousa) came from Guatemala with his wife Elena (Michelle Arvizu) to raise their soon to be born child in a place away from the gangs that have terrorized his own town. Along the journey he meets Pedro (Pedro Miguel Arce) auto an overweight, soft underachiever who's only friend appears to be his mother. The pair along with the other detainees take turns being led to the basement where they are repeatedly asked who can help them to produce the $2800. Mental and physical intimation are both used on the prisoners to motivate them to become creative to convince family, friend or acquaintance to come up with the funds for the captors.

Johnathan Sousa leads the cast as Manolo. The audience enters the home with him on day one of his arrival. His only goal is to see that his pregnant wife is safe as he is racked with guilt because he persuaded her to come on this journey north. Paulo Nunes is strong as his opposite number Wyler. He is the warden of the house and clear that his goal is to get the money from the prisoners as he owes a lot further up the chain. Wyler is good cop and bad cop all in one. He is ruthless when needed but practical and willing to put down a lieutenant if they jeopardize the operation. Pedro Miguel Arce is notable as Manolo sidekick Pedro. He is a blabbering, crying weakling when reacting to his current situation. However, he is able to show a different side to his character on more than one occasion in the film. Lara Gilchrist has a small but intriguing role as Wyler's wife Kay. She lives in the drop house with her infant son Tyler. She knows what goes on and has female underwear clad migrants as servants while she plays suburban housewife to the neighbours.

Kidnap Capital is a gut wrenching film on a vastly under publicized subject. It focuses on extortion of migrants that come to the US illegally. They have no status in the US but cannot go back for legitimate reasons. The prospects for these people are so poor in their country that they would rather take their chances in a drop house then be rescued by the authorities and face the prospect of deportation. The ensemble cast shine on the screen which is particularly remarkable considering that the entire film takes place mainly in three rooms of a home. It's an important piece of filming and one that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Kidnap Capital | Felipe Rodriguez | Canada | 2016 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Kidnap Ring, Migrants, Extortion, Drop House, Phoenix, Guatemala, Ransom, Suburbs, Mexico.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

levelFILM Film Review - Queen Of Spades : The Dark Rite

Queen of Spades Show Yourself repeated three times is the final step in a ritual to summon a demon into your midst. 11 year old Anya (Alina Babak) is pressured into delivering these words by her friends Matvey (Valentin Sadiki), Sergey (Sergey Pokhodaev) and Katya (Valeriya Dmitrieva). The opening steps in the ritual are to draw a doorway on a mirror in lipstick with a set of stairs leading downward  and to light a single candle.  The group summons the entity then bad things start to happen to the players starting with the ghost cutting a lock of hair from the target when they are asleep followed by a violent encounter with the demon.

Anya father Anton (Igor Khripunov) is brought into the loop and starts a facts based investigation. He too begins to have odd dreams and sees disturbing reflections in mirrors. Aton gathers information about the Queen from Sergey who seems to know the most on the subject. His investigation leads to Smirnov ( Vladimir Seleznyov) who has had encounters with the Queen in past, knows her origins and can provide a plan to make her go away.  

Director Svyatoslav Podagyevskiy does an excellent job with the difficult task of building suspense during daytime  scenes.  Early on in the film Anya attempts the simple task of making tea for one of her pals. Pogadyevskiy through pacing, light plus the input of the sound department enhance the scene to a white knuckle level.  It's ritualist steps to summon the spirit remind the viewer of the story of Bloody Mary. The ghost backstory is original tragic and cruel. The exploration of the father daughter bond adds an extra element to the proceedings.

Igor Khripunov stands out from the rest of the cast as Anya's father Anton. His work enhances the highlights father daughter relationship widening the base of the film. Anton is skeptical at first but is willing to listen to the youngsters and participate himself to see first hand what his daughter is experiencing. Once committed Anton takes the next steps to fight for the safety of his daughter including avoiding negative comments against Anya's mother. At one point when Anya asks why he left them for another woman he responds simply with when you are older you'll understand.  Look for Vladimir Seleznyov as Smirnov. He first appears as a shadowy figure giving intel to Sergey but grows to be a key player in the second half of the production.

Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite is a suspenseful thriller with a powerful demon at the centre balanced by an even stronger father daughter bond. The story is easy to follow changing it's pacing to pick up  steam in the third act.  The horror is more sensory than graphic with several scary moments that will appeal to lovers of the genre.

*** Out of 4.

Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite | Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy |  Russia | 2015 | 92 Minutes.

Tags: Legend, Ritual, Exorcism, Orphanage, Mirror, Lipstick, Tag, Scissors, Hair, Dream.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

levelFILM Film Review - The Debt

Oliver Campbell (Stephen Dorff) has spent a significant amount of the past two years mastering Spanish and ignoring his young family while working on a major land deal in Peru. The local farms are failing and he and his partner childhood friend Ricardo (Alberto Ammann) are buying up the farms for pennies on the dollar. Local businessman Ruben Caravado (Carlos Bardeem) is also busy in the area targeting one specific remote mountain region but one land owner Florintino Gammara  (Amiel Saya) does not trust Caravado or any other potential landlord and refuses to sell. Florintino's son Diego (Melvin Quijada) has lost track of the family llama Chico while gazing at a military helicopter that often flies around the mountain tops. Furious and knowing the importance of the Llama to the teetering farm and herd Florintino orders Diego to find the llama and not return until his task is complete.

In Lima nurse Maria Ruiz (Elsa Olivero) takes care of her sick mother who needs constant supervision at home.  She is having seizures that are getting worse but does not qualify under state rules for the surgery needed to correct her ailment. Maria can move her mother to the front of the line for a fee bit does not have the funds on hand plus she needs the signature of the chief doctor on staff to make the surgery happen.

Writer / Director Barney Elliot creates a straight ahead narrative with enough linear shifts and bends  to build real tension in the production. The main characters do not act to type with many appearing to be of one nature then perform and react differently than expected during key points in the film. Cinematography Bjorn Stalle excels at setting the mood through colour for each location of the shoot. His work is especially notable during the scenes in the Peruvian Mountains using the natural light of the expansive landscape. Stalle contrasts these scenes with the use of mainly muted blues and blacks in the  New York and Lima indoor and outdoor city scenes.

Stephen Dorff provides one of his stronger performances in recent years as Oliver Campbell. The viewer can't be faulted for thinking that this script went through many hands before landing with him but Dorff is seamless as the well groomed slick Wall Street businessman switching easily back and forth between Spanish and English while he dispassionately scoops up farms that the inhabitants have been on the land for generations dating back to when many escaped from slavery.  Carlos Bardem is key performer as Ruben Caravado. He is Oliver's key rival a shrewd local option to the farmers but very tactical shielding a guarded true agenda. Elsa Olivero character Maria is the centre of a strong counterbalance to the financial plot line. She is a caring nurse in an underfunded overcrowded hospital. She is also willing to do whatever it takes to get her mother the surgery she needs including taking extreme risks and making decisions that are unexpected of a career caregiver

The Debt is a tense entertaining financial thriller. The principal cast starts out in recognizable roles but by their choices and actions throughout the piece add depth and complexity to their characters. The settings of Lima, New York and the Peruvian Mountains offer a pleasing contrast to the production and a palate for the superior cinematography work in the film to shine.  It's a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

The Debt | Barney Elliott | U.S.A. / Spain / Peru | 2015 | 99 Minutes.

Tags: Finance, Land Deal, 60 Million, Farmers, Bonds, Government, Seizures, Affair, Llama, Helicopter, Peru, Lima, Pills, Needles.