Sunday, October 28, 2018

Planet In Focus '18 Film Review - Island of Hungry Ghosts

Poh-Lin is a therapist that works with asylum seekers on the Australian territory of Christmas Island off the coast of Indonesia. It's a crossroads of cultures with Chinese, Australian and indigenous peoples exerting their influence.  The spirit world permeates the Island. The natives believe that the spirit of those that have died on the Island and not been buried hover around looking for peace. A relevant belief as detainees disappear or meet an unknown fate all around the area.

The trauma counselor practices a form of sand therapy where she places a sandbox in front of her patients then gives them the opportunity to create whatever they want in the space. Some just run their hands though the sand remarking on how it feels or sounds. Others place some of the army of Poh-Lin's figures and structures into the sand to represent scenarios and settings. While they work in the sand Poh-Lin asks them about their journey coming to the Island and what their experience has been like since they have arrived.

Countering the desperate state of the Asylum seekers is the red crab migration that takes place as events unfold. The crabs are moving from the jungle to the sea supported by the authorities and every soul on the Island going to extreme measures to protect the creatures. Government employees build bridges with logs so they can transverse water areas and roads.  Road Closed signs are strictly followed. All residents have rakes at the ready to sweep the animals gently out of the way as they maneuver around them to get from point A to B. Director Gabrielle Brady who expanded her 2017 short film The Island to create this mixture of documentary and scripted dialogue includes these scenes for a reason. They show that the locals treat these creatures far better than the human beings locked behind rolls of barbed wire in the detention centre.

The most harrowing story is a voice over of a protest from the past, It starts off peaceful but the guards throw the participants into isolation tied up without beds or blankets. One of them manages to get a hold of a needle and thread then proceeds to sow his mouth shut. Followed by a second person then a fourth, eventually up to 20. Another riveting account comes from a young man that is in the detention centre with his mother.  They are looking for singles to take elsewhere when his name is called. He thinks its a mistake but he is soon separated from his mom as he is 18. They get to visit, but those begin to spread out until his mom stops running to meet him when he arrives due to a sickness that she has picked up in detention.

Island of Hungry Ghosts is a different take on the current refugee crisis. It's not about escaping the home country or the journey to the new land. It doesn't touch on adapting to the culture. Instead, the focus is on those that find themselves in limbo. At a detention centre for an indefinite amount of time. A day turns into a week, a year then potentially 10 years. The common thread amongst all of the detainees that come to meet with Poh-Lin is suffering. They suffer themselves, try to be strong for their relatives and friends but see them being taken away to unknown fates day after day. They have no control over the situation except to know that things will only get worst. Some get so desperate that they choose to affect the one thing that they can which is when their own life will end. The toll on Poh-Lin is substantial as the people that she is there to help are in a worse state every time she sees them. Missed appointment pile up, the whereabouts of her patients not disclosed by detention ops she inevitably comes to realize that she is not in a situation where she can have any chance of a positive impact.

**** Out of 4.

Island of Hungary Ghosts | Gabrielle Brady | U.K. / Germany/ Australia | 2018 98 Minutes.

Planet In Focus '18 Film Review - Ground War

Environmental filmmaker Andrew Nisker brings his most personal inquisitive story to the screen. His inspiration for the piece was sparked by the death of his father Harold who was the healthiest person Andrew knew.  Harold ate well, was into supplements before it was a thing golfed just about every day for forty years and was a ski guide well into his eighties. Then Harold was diagnosed with the very rare Mantle cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma that took his life and Andrew wanted to know why.

The director began to examine the elements in his dad's life. the medical records all stated that he was very fit. He talked to some experts that pointed him in the direction of something in his dad's environment might be the culprit. The first potential answer was household cleaners considering the toxic ingredients mixed into many on the market.  The second and most compelling was pesticides possibly from Harold's beloved game of golf.

Andrew begins to look into the chemicals used to keep golf courses so green and pristine at his father's old club then golf courses in general. He comes across a pesticide 2.4-D in general use that happens to be one of the two major components for Agent Orange that came to prominence during the Vietnam War as a tool to clear the trees in Vietnam allowing the American troops to see where the enemy was hiding.  The director also learned that the rules in Canada for golf courses are different from the rest of the public. Many dangerous pesticides that are banned elsewhere are allowed on the golf course.

The narrative explores the use of these chemicals on both sides of the border with our investigator going as far as the Bahamas and Scotland to gather information. The conclusion is nothing definitive but a higher rate of cancers to people in close proximity or regular uses of these products are a fact. Farmers and golf course groundskeepers are two central groups plus the products have a direct impact on human beings and the ecosystems nearest their concentrated use.  Harold who golfed just about every Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday while he worked then 6 days a week in retirement may have been a victim alongside children that play on playgrounds, sports fields and in some jurisdiction, their own front and back yards that pesticides makers boast their products make living room beautiful.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Ground War | Andrew Nisker | Canada / Bahamas / U.S.A. / U.K. | 2018 | 78 Minutes.

Tags: Cosmetic Pesticides, Golf, 2,4-D, Cancer, Lymphoma, Bahamas, Coral Reef, Evasive Algae, Links Land, Chlorothalonil, Bensulide, Dicamba, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, Silent Spring

Friday, October 26, 2018

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is in one of the worst predicaments possible. She has name recognition as published biographer dating back to the 70's & 80's but she is broke. She's trying to pitch her latest one on vaudeville notary Fanny Brice. However at present in 1991 New York City she has been working as a copy editor with co-workers half her age that talk behind their back dreading the possibility still doing the job at Lee' age.  She lives in an old world apartment that she rarely cleans. Her cat Jersey her only true friend is ill and in need of treatment but her owner is unable to pay the current tab at the vet.

While researching her Fanny Brice project Lee she comes across a couple of letters from her subject tucked in a book. She takes them and sells them to a bookstore for a decent fee. The buyer Anna (Dolly Wells) indicates that something similar with a bit more personal touch could fetch a larger sum. Desperate and with little to nothing to loose Israel grabs typewriters from the eras of her literary targets to write postscripts from the grave to letters from the likes of Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker learning that collectors will pay more than the equivalent of one month's rent for the pieces. What she calls embellishing the buyer, collector and authorities would instead use the word forgery.

Director Marielle Heller handles the material and her star performer well. Melissa McCarthy is given free reign to wallow in her curmudgeonly ways, disheveled attire while slinging whiskey like an alcoholic day drinker. Nicole Holofcener co-wrote the piece featuring an unlikeable main character that pushes everyone away even those that she needs to get her next work published. But the narrative gets to the inner core of Lee who has a good heart is incredibly trusting once she lets you in and is ultimately willing to take responsibility for her actions.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a film that takes its title from a quote from one Lee's heroes Dorothy Parker. Melissa McCarthy turns in her impeccable comedic timing for a biting bordering on cruel sharp wit. Richard E. Grant shines riding shotgun as literary circle notable Jack Hock trying desperately to hold onto what's left of his good looks, romantic charm and name recognition. Dolly Wells is touching as the vulnerable bookshop owner Anna who gives Lee her first sale and willing despite the formers attitude and appearance to explore a deeper relationship.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? | Marielle Heller | U.S.A. | 2018 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Lee Israel, Biographer, Whiskey, Forgery, Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, Memoir, Agent, Publisher, Yale, Archives.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

imagineNATIVE'18 Film Review - Select Shorts

                                                                      Boom Boom

Sami writer Director Per-Josef Idivuoma tells a story based on True events of the Sami involvement against the Nazi in WWII.  A Nazi soldier is chained by officers to a bridge who enjoy mocking him. Local Sami Reindeer herders happen upon the scene playing a part in changing the balance of power between the two sides. During World War two Sweden remained neutral while  Norway opposed the Nazi empire.

Boom Boom | Per Josef Idviuoma | Sweden/ Norway | 2018 | 17 Minutes.

                                                     Gobmemainnas (Ghost Story)

Asiat Pieski tells a story from his youth. He is on the way home from a store in the winter time when he realizes that he is being followed. He uses all of his speed and cunning to get away from the presence but it is of no use. Finally, He happens upon a familiar home where things first go slightly wrong then Asiat experience is completely changed with the utterance of one phrase.

Gobmemainnas (Ghost Story)  | Niki Rasmus | Finland | 2017 | 7 Minutes.

                                                             The National Interest

The notion of immigrants going to take away good paying oil jobs or protesters trying to stop the industry is turned on its head. Here an establishment worker is protesting when a futuristic sleek robot also with a sign supporting the oil industry comes up beside him. The suited management figure soon realizes that his own days' may be numbered in the industry by a more efficient type of employee.

The National Interest | Andrew Genaille | Canada | 2018 | 4 minutes.

                                                          Out of Nothing

The Story of Creation is explored first in the scientific space of huge particle accelerator machines that are being deployed to recreate the Big Bang Theory. Opposed to this is the creation story of the Shinnecock Nation where the earth blows into three shells creating everything 13.8 Billion years ago. The Great Spirit seeing man misbehaving creates a flood resulting in minimal survivors. The Land is revived again through the effort work of the Loon Turtle and surprisingly enterprising Muskrat.

Out of Nothing | Alexandra Lazarowich | Canada | 2018 | 15 Minutes.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

imagineNATIVE '18 Film Review - Sgaaway K'uuna (Edge of Knife)

Two extended families from the Haida Culture spend their summers on the Haida Gwaii Islands. They set up camp weave baskets, fish and hunt and dream of Black Cod  Their time spent on the island is far from a vacation. The food the catch and clothes that they make will serve the community for the upcoming winter. Adiits'ii (Tyler York) is a young free-spirited member of the group. He promises grandiose things but often fails to deliver. He is looked up to by Kwa's (Willy Russ) son who hopes that he will take him out fishing. Kwa is against the plan knowing Adiit'ii nature but the pair go out anyway leading to tragedy.

Adiit'ii returns to the island and goes off into the woods turning into the fabled Wildman (Gaagiixid) as the grief-stricken remainder of the families leave the Island for the winter. A good portion of the middle portion of the film follows Aditt'ii as he is alone on the island. He slowly transforms into the Gaagiixid seeming to punish himself at every turn likely out of guilt from the earlier events.

The rest of the tribe return the next summer soon realizing that he is alive and in need of help. Kwa struggles with this the most and he has suffered a great loss due to Additt'ii. His first thought is of revenge as opposed to helping.

Directors Helen Haig-Bown and Gwaai Endenshaw produce a film in a rapidly disappearing language set in the 19th century. Today only a few handfuls of people speak the Haida language. The film is set on the traditional Haida islands (Queen Charlotte Islands) in Northwest B.C. The remoteness of the location lens itself well to this story set at a time when the canoe was the main form of transport and one looked at the sky to determine the weather. It's a compelling tale that thrives in its long stretches of minimal to no dialogue. An important look into a culture near lost that is well worth a watch.

*** Out of 4

 Sgaaway K'uuna (Edge of Knife)  Helen Haig-Bown / Gwaai Endenshaw | Canada | 2018 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Haida Gwaii | Haida Language, Gaagiixid, Canoe, Fishing, Weaving, Summer Camp, Knife, Mask, Fire.

Friday, October 19, 2018

imagineNATIVE '18 Film Review - Toyon Kyyl (The Lord Eagle)

Set in Yakutia circa 1930 a rural Northern section of Siberia that the Soviet Union is just starting to insert their influence. Mikipper and his wife Oppuos live a very simple life. Their stone house in the middle of nowhere has the stables attached to the side.  Mikipper goes out on a donkey powered sled to fetch wood for the fire in the forest while Oppous tends to the cows. They have seen tragedy in their lives believing that their next generation was cursed. Into their midst, one day comes a great Eagle. The animal is sacred in their culture with Mikipper being afraid that the bird could be a bad omen or attach their livestock. They begin to feed it meat hoping it would go away but instead the animal settles in a large tree out front seeming to set up home for the winter months.

The old couple set about their activities as the Eagle comes closer to the home each day being more comfortable with the couple. On Christmas Day it appears at the front door to be let into the home. The bird finds a perch near the family shrine in the home becoming a de facto house guest. The couple is secretive about the fowl not wanting anyone to know their predicament. They had invited a close friend to do a shaman ceremony but it has no effect on the Eagle. Eventually, the bird leaves then starts bringing gifts to the couple commencing with with a fox pelt seemingly thanking them for helping it though the harsh winter.

The Yakuita has been a recent spot for many emerging independent voices in Russia. Director Eduard Novikov adapts a story written by Sakha author Vasily Yakovlev The Larch that Grew Old with Me  cloaked it in folklore, intrigue and a good level of suspense. It's also an important historical time. The Soviets are branching out enacting new rules to the community that have to be followed or a fine imposed. In the case of our couple, their stables is ruled to be out of code and must be separated from the living quarters to avoid a penalty.

Toyon Kyll (The Lord Eagle) is a spiritual clear story of a visitor unwelcome at first that becomes a comfort to its unexpected hosts. The Northern Russian land plays a major part in the piece along with everyday farming life in the early 1930's from the region. The two leads play well off each other bickering that the other is not doing their share of the chores or is to blame for the Eagle's appearance. It's a unique tale underpinned by a harrowing indigenous soundtrack of an underrepresented locale and period that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Toyon Kyyl (The Lord Eagle) | Eudard Novikov | Russia | 2018 | 80 Minutes.

Tags, Sakha Republic, Yakuitia, Marksman, Rabbit, Fox Pelt, Bolsheviks, Soviet Union, Soldiers, Patrol, Bull, Cattle, Sleigh.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

imagineNATIVE '18 Film Review - Angelique's Isle

Saul Saint Marie, Ontario in 1845 was a mixture of Ojibway indigenous peoples and French- Canadian fur trappers that lived off the land is a peaceful joyful community. However, the opportunities for trapping was scarce and treasure hunters from across the river in the U.S. came into the community during the copper rush of '45 looking for crews to go out find rich deposits and stake their claims. Under these circumstances Angelique (Julia Jones) who is very close to her traditional grandmother Green thunderbird (Tantoo Cardinal) and new husband Charlie (Charlie Carrick) set out on a crew with a Detroit business man Cyrus Mendenhall (Aden Young) in search of Copper Ore. Landing on Isle Royale on Lake Superior near Thunder Bay they find a whole boulder full that is too large to move. Charlie agrees to stay and protect the claim until the Americans can raise the funds back home to return with the equipment to move the find. Angelique demands to stay with her husband. The stay that was promised to be two weeks turns out to be the entire Northern Ontario winter leaving the pair to scrounge for food against the harsh elements on a barren island that they arrived on with summer clothing.

Co-directors Michelle Derosier and Marie Helene Cousineau detail Angelique & Charlie slow descent from happy newlyweds alone on their own paradise to desperate freezing, hallucinating beings eating bark and potentially becoming a threat to each other. The battle in Angelique's mind is particularly intriguing. Her history in residential schools that forced Christianity upon her commanding that she loses her traditional ways then the emergence of the traditions under the dire conditions that help her to survive. Charlie, on the other hand, feels first like a fool for trusting the Americans, then becomes despondent with an inability to hunt soon followed by the loss of desire to even get out of the bed in the abandoned cabin they find on the land. 

Julia Jones is very effective as Angelique. She is 18 at the time of her marriage, very respectful of her grandmother but a devoted Christian woman wanting to make her own decisions. She is the first to become wary of the Americans even pleading with Charles not to tell the Americans about the find on the island but fiercely loyal  demands to stay with her husband despite her intuition as it's the right thing to do. Her move toward the spiritual, traditional ways is a sharp turn as she calls on the skills embedded in her needed to survive. Charlie Carrick's Charlie is a basic trusting, loving soul who loves the French Voyageur tradition and practices no less that Angelique affinity to her Ojibway ones. He has his peoples names for the constellations, loves his wife dearly alongside his way of life. 

Angelique's Isle is an important story in Canadian History. An 18-year-old woman manages to survive the harsh Lake Superior, Northern Ontario winter on an island without food or any real expectation of being rescued. It's a story of three cultures crossing with the sophisticated one demeaning and taking advantage of the other too in search of profit and fortune. The film is well shot and paced presenting the facts evenly in a package that I can recommend. 

*** Out of 4

Angelique's Isle | Michelle Derosier / Marie-Helene Cousineau | Canada | 2018 | 90 Minutes. 

Tags: Isle Royale, Lake Superior, Fort William, Ojibway, Voyageur, Copper Ore, Copper Rush, Bark, Rabbit, Canoe, Rice. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Film Review - All All About Nina

Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a stand up comic with a very large self-destructive streak. She patrols the New York Comedy clubs at night and a better than average looking girl on the circuit can have her pick of fellow comics or fanboys. At the films opening she picks up a young guy at the end of her set and brings him home. There she finds her on and off married cop boyfriend Joe (Chace Crawford) who scares off the young guy hits her then spends the night. Seeing that things are not working out in the City and a quick goodbye visit to her mom (Camryn Manheim) she talks the chance to audition for the popular show go Comedy Prime in Los Angeles.

Once there its obvious that she is in a new world, the roads are hilly and her first encounter with the woman putting her up Lake (Kate del Castillo) an author with whom she shares a pregnant agent (Angelique Cabral). Lake is very spiritual all about auras and signs declaring that she is water based. Nina unable to resist the softball snarls that she is whiskey based as she tries to slip a hug and comments about preferred pronouns. Keeping busy she takes some local gigs and meets Rafe (Common) after a show. He's unlike guys she knows from New York, He's honest seems happy and someone who she may want to see more than once.

Writer-Director Eva Vives goes deep into the female psyche with this film with Winstead eager to go on the ride. The raw side of the female experience is discussed on stage.  Nina is always looking to skip the dinner and movie part and get straight to the sex. She has panic attacks, throws up every time she comes off stage and admits openly that she has daddy issues but that's only scratching the surface.

All About Nina is a story about a woman who is clearly a loud taker as opposed to the giving supportive wife figure that is commonly portrayed on screen. Winstead attacks as Nina showing her claws often. But her tuff exterior and her pension for disrupting anything good may be challenged by good guy Rafe. Its a story of a woman who has buried a traumatic event in her past in her past that has shaped her worldview. Maybe in this new setting, her outlook can can finally change.

*** Out of 4

All About Nina  | Eva Vives | U.S.A. | 2018 | 97 Minutes.

Tags; Stand-up | Comedy Club, New York, L.A., Audition, Impressions, Network Show, Panic Attack, Meltdown, Cat Therapy.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Film Review - The Hate U Give

Director George Tillman  Jr. gets right to the point with the first scene of The Hate U Give. The Carter family is around the dining room table with Patriarch Maverick (Russell Hornsby) giving The Talk to his kids explaining step by step what to do when the eventuality of being stopped by the police occurs. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is 9 when the event occurs a year before she sees the first of her friends die before her.  Starr has to lead two different lives, one at home in Garden City where she lives with her family her aforementioned dad Maverick a reformed number 2 of main gang in the neighbourhood the King Lords , mom Lisa (Regina Hall) who works at the hospital, year older half brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and younger brother Sekani ( TJ Wright). At school, she turns into Starr version two leaving Garden City driven by her mom along with her two brothers to Williamson a full dress uniform school far away from her home.

Starr likes Garden City especially on the weekends when she can relax with her friends. She runs into one of her oldest and dearest Khalil (Algee Smith) who offers a ride home when a house party has an incident. The pair are stopped by the police Starr knows what to do, Khalil does not and ends up dead by the front wheel of his car. The event goes national leaving Starr with tough questions to decide.

Writers Audrey Wells and Tina Mabry adapting from Angie Thomas's give a first person account from the mind of a teenage girl. Starr is being tugged on all sides.  Her dad tatted ex-gang banger turned store owner devotee to the Black Panther 10 Point Program wants Starr not to be silent. Mom Lisa who can see her daughter being targeted for coming forward preaches caution.  Civil rights lawyer April Ofrah (Issa Rae)  brought in by Khalil's family want her to step up for the community. Her classmates at school see the incident as a chance to faux protest but sympathize more with the officer than the victim with a questionable past.

Amandla Stenberg is in just about every frame of the film as Starr. She lives in one world goes to school in a different one struggling every day to reconcile the two. Russell Hornsby dominates the screen as Maverick. He has left the gang life behind as a promise to his wife Lisa but when his family is put in harms way the old instincts come crashing back to the surface. Regina Hall is strong, strict and supportive as Lisa. Look for Common continuing a string of strong roles as Starr's Uncle Carlos who as a cop himself gives a chilling account of what goes through a cops mind and likely reaction to the same set of circumstance in the black community vs an affluent white one.

The Hate U Give manages to bring new depth to the regularly reported occurrence of an unarmed black teen shot by a white police officer. Starr is caught between two worlds struggling to fit in either until she finds her voice. The shadow behind the title is Thug Life. If you don't give little kids something positive they will be a problem for everyone.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Hate U Give | George Tillman Jr. | U.S.A | 2018 | 133 Minutes.

Tags:  The Talk,  Black Panther 10 Point Program, Traffic Stop, Nike, Air Jordan's, Hoddie, Grand Jury, Funeral Protest, March, Harry Potter, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 2PAC