Sunday, November 25, 2018

B.I.T.S. '18 Film Review- Isabelle

Matt (Adam Brody) and Larissa (Amanda Crew) have been in their new dream home in Saratoga Springs for only a couple of weeks. Larissa is very pregnant due any day now and very careful with what comes into contact with her expectant son. Matt is a lawyer in a busy firm lets Larissa have her way as his loving Cop father Clifford (Booth Savage) is in the picture along with Larissa's out of town sister Jessica (Krista Bridges) both ready to help in any way.  One day our heroine goes out to get the mail meeting the next door neighbour Ann (Sheila McCarthy) who seems saddened dressed in a long black dress in the middle of summer.  She says hello then spots Ann's daughter Isabelle (Zoe Belkin) in an upstairs window staring down at her. Immediately she feels pain in her stomach, blood gushes and she is rushed into surgery where she's recorded as clinically dead for a minute. The other major consequence of the event is the stillborn birth of her son. at her son. Matt is also warned by hospital staff that he may see changes in his wife from the significant trauma of the ordeal. These changes manifest in Larissa hearing the baby in the nursery, seeing Isabel staring at her relentlessly from the second story window across the way and feeling guilty for what she must have done wrong to cause the miscarriage.

The narrative builds on that one minute flat line for a good part of the story. Larissa at first says she did not see anything, then admits that she saw flames and felt that she was being pulled down into them. Matt sensing that he cannot get through to his wife who has become lethargic and pouty brings in the hospital priest Father Lopez (Dayo Ade) first at the hospital then to the home but Larissa is cold and dismissive to him on both occasions. He next turns to his sister-in-law who flies in to bring her sister to a healer who sees the presence of an evil spirit fighting to take control of her soul that she must fight off by demonstrating a strong will to live. This is complicated by an event in her past and some other large family mental health issues.

The other branches of the story focus on Larissa's post-miscarriage depression and the odd history of the family next door from past reports and current goings-ons in the home. The writing-directing team of Donald Martin and Robert Heydon likely would have served the material better by narrowing the focus of the story. The strongest acting comes from the always reliable Sheila McCarthy in the small role of Ann. She is a god fearing woman who punishes herself for her shortcomings in dealing with her daughter and not doing enough to stop her husbands' actions that had a devastating effect on her child and family.

Isabelle is the story of a young woman dealing with the after effects of a miscarriage topped off with a near death experience. For an extra helping of stress, the next door neighbours have a history of satanic rituals performed by father on his daughter leaving her alone in a locked room staring into the Kane's bedroom. Director Heydon gets the isolating psychological trauma ramped up early with the final segments truly showing Larissa's level of the jeopardy. However, the sections linking the initial shock and final standoff don't cover any new ground that would put the film near the top of the list in the crowded psychological horror genre.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Isabelle | Robert Heydon | Canada / U.S.A.  | 2018 | 80 Minutes.

Tags: Miscarriage, Clinically Dead, Post Partum Depression, Hallucinations, Punishment, Satanic Rituals, Spiritual Healer.

B.I.T.S. 2018 Film Review - Level 16

Canada, 102 Minutes, 2018.

 Sci-Fi, Thriller

A boarding school for girls, orphanage, prison and finishing school are the pieces put together to form Verstalis Academy the institutional setting of writer-director Danishka Esterhazy new film Level 16. The timeframe is not given but the girls are shown lectures from the fifties plus movies from the 40's on moving picture night as to not compromise their cleanliness (the first virtue) or foster curiosity (the first vice) The students are prompted by buzzers and lights to know when it is time to go to bed, take their medication, eat their meals or go to assembly the last tending to be a time when nothing good happens. The narrative focuses on two girls Vivien (Katie Douglas) and Sophia (Celina Martin) They are best of friends during their level 10 year when Vivien makes a sacrifice to help her friend resulting in the former's punishment. They meet again in the graduating year known as Level 16 where they will be repaid for their obedience, humility and patience alongside cleanliness by being adopted by wealthy families to a good home or so they are told. Sophia tells Vivien a secret she has been sitting on for three years about the place that will impact Vivian's thoughts about her education, the academy, plus most importantly spark her ability to think and act.  This is a feature where the audience will become deeply invested in Esterhazy's characters forming a strong rooting interest for the two leads. It's a sharp look into a totalitarian paternalistic regimented world whose tenets shockingly could be duplicated and used to manipulate today.

B.I.T.S. '18 Film Review - The Hoard

A cross between Ghost Hunters, Extreme Home Makeover and Hoarders with a touch of Dr. Phil and a dab of Storage Wars mixed in The Hoard covers all of the reality show bases. Rockford Ohio or to be more specific Rockford Ohio, March 19, 2017 is the setting for the piece. The plan was to create the ultimate reality show titled Extreme Haunted Hoarders; however the truth of the story was too extreme leading to several breakdowns amongst the team with the production teetering on the edge of a full stop. Professional Organizer Sheila Smyth (Lisa Stolberg) assembled the team together. The members include Dr. Lance Ebe (Tony Burgess) and his every present gold Smokey and the Bandit-era Trans AM, Ghosties clairvoyant Chloe Black (Elma Bergovic) and her ex paranormal gadget guy Caleb (Ry Barrett) who is at his chameleon-like comedic best in this feature. The home makeover content comes from Duke Jango (Marcus Ludlow) who is full of ingenious swear word combinations for both his renovating partner The Falcon ( Justin Darmanin) day worker Charles Ivey and any observations he may have on the job. The crew descends on Horder Murph Evans three homes with 48 hours to clean them up before the city moves in to condemn.

Directors Jesse Thomas Cook and Matt Wiele hit all of the reality show tropes with this mocumentary production. You have the confessionals, the camera following the crew even when they are not aware, the extremely dramatic narrator and quick editing all staples of the genre. The narrative unfolds smoothy in the opening stanza. Things begin to go sideways when Dr. Ebe and Lisa follow Murph as he claims to be headed to another property. Instead, he detours ending up at a previously undisclosed residence which becomes the focus of the remainder of the feature.

Lisa Solberg is the glue linking the teams as Sheila Smyth. She is cheery and positive almost to a fault but has her own weak moments due to the weight of the situation and the monumental size of the task the group has undertaken. Marcus Ludlow stands out as Duke Jango. He is a sledgehammer on a search and destroy mission. From the moment he rolls up on a set of local layabouts looking for a day worker. He is at the centre of the action anytime he is on screen. Ry Barrett continues to flourish in the Canadian indie film scene. His ghost hunting techie Caleb Black spews out the names of the devices he monitors but perhaps his most impactful discover comes via good old fashioned black light. Tony Burgess who also has a co-writer credit goes through perhaps the biggest transition as Dr. Ebe. He is the respected professional at the outset, displays sticky fingers around Murph's antiques, then descends into the behaviour patters he is accusing Murph of possessing during his first assessment of his subject.

 The Hoard is a laugh filled ride that hyper exaggerates all of the worst qualities of reality television. The writers have tucked in a fitting comment on the whole genre when Sheila tells Murph that he is the only normal one amongst the whole group. Each cast member takes their license to free roll and runs with it. It's a fun time at the movies that is not overtaxing and will have the audience leaving with a smile on their face which is much needed at this time where negativity dominates the landscape in just about any direction your turn.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

The Hoard | Jesse Thomas Cook / Matt Wiele | Canada | 2018 | 139 Minutes.

Tags: Hoarding, Rockford Ohio, Eviction Notice, Ghost Hunters, Show Runner, Auction, Antiques, Chairs, Picture Frames, Shotgun, Settee.

Friday, November 23, 2018

B.I.T.S. '18 Film Review - Shorts Showcase Part 1 Selected Reviews

He Likes it Rough

A woman (Kat Threlkeld) comes in her front door late at night. She crumples to the floor in the dark foyer crying. Something obviously did not go well that evening. She calls 911 but hangs up deciding to do something more personal.

Cut to another location with a close up of a medical degree for M.D. Steven Johnson Lifechangers (Steve Kasan) then on Steven himself and the other half of the story comes into focus. He is examining himself in the mirror as his wife who is away at a conference calls.

Next, we see how the woman has decided to handle the situation.  The camera zooms in as she starts an incantation with a busted lip.  Her choice has a devastating result that in hindsight would make her target wish that she had gone with her first instinct.

**** Out of 4.

He Likes It Rough | Kat Threlkeld | Canada | 2018 | 4:58

Tags: Date Rape, 911 Call, Business Trip, Witch, Incantation, Voodoo Doll, Fingernails, Scratch, Fire, Levitation, Torture.


Starting with a sweeping overhead shot pulling into and around a school and playground above the snow-covered ground. Frostbite opens with a sound piece of advice on how to spot the onset of frostbite. It's coming when the wind blows cold and the snow feels like splinters on your cheeks. If you don't dress warmly you also open yourself up to potentially catching it as well. The production uses an ingenious device to demonstrate. A group of students out in the woods without gloves decide to light a fire but frostbite still approaches claiming victims. The moral; cover up or you will get frostbite. Its an educational and entertaining feature written, directed, edited and acted by the Grade 5-9 Class at Kaw Tay Whee School in Dettah North West Territories.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Frostbite | Grade 5-9 Class Production | Canada | 2018 |  4:43.

Tags: Frostbite, Winter, Snow, Forest, Zippo, Fire, Gloves, School, Playground, Puppet, Victims, R.C.M.P.

Quiet Room Bears

Simon (Nick Smyth) is at his summer home ahead of his wife and child to get a jump on the remodeling of the home. He's met by a noisy forward neighbour Alex (Zoe Georgaras) that wants to encroach on his space and time. As he's about to head in the house he notices a teddy bear that he brings in putting it beside the one he has for his daughter Casey. The random bear has an effect on Simon losing track of time and making him feel ill. He continues to spiral downward as the influence of the bear increases. He doses off awaking to find himself in a transformed space where the terror truly begins.

**** Out of 4

Quiet Room Bears | Lee Howard | Canada | 2018 | 10:43

Tags; Summer Home, Teddy Bear, Sanitarium, Body Horror, Mask, Exacto Knife, Self Mutilation, Doll, Quiet Room, Urban Legend.

Santa's Helper

It turns out that the elves do all of Santa's dirty work and if they fail severe consequences await. Santa takes all of the glory delivering soon to be loved toys to the kids on the nice list. He gets to sit in a comfy chair and feast on milk and cookies But when you are naughty an elf will struggle ungracefully down the chimney to put a lump of coal in your stocking. Our unfortunate elf in this story (Ken Hall) is down to the last kid on his list Zoe (Zoe Hatz). He marks off her name then spies milk and cookies on a retro 80's television. He guzzles the milk falls down then wakes up tied up with 8- year- old Zoe watching over him. She has had enough, no more coal, leading to an epic negotiation where the elf promises to put in a good word with the old man if she will let him complete his task if not he will be condemned to suffer the ultimate punishment. It's a test of wills between two devious minds headed towards MAD Mutually Assured Destruction.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Santa's Helper | Andy Hatz | Canada | 2018 | 9:56

Christmas Eve, Elf, Stockings, List, Figurine, Milk & Cookies, Sleepy Pills, Coal, Shelf Elf.

The Suburbanight

Todd Petersen (Tom Edwards) and Aria Lefler (Melissa Thingelstad) don't get along as neighbours. He takes meticulous care of his yard while there's is full of high grass, thick leaves, and weeds. Her kid Stuart (Aidan Hamilton) is always paying in his yard leaving toys about that get stuck in the blades of his lawn mower. Now his dog Regal has gone missing and Mr. Peterson has an inkling that his neigbours may know more about it than they are letting on. The lights come on at night at the Lefler home. They have a mix of small animals in cages that have to breed.  Things come to a head when the noise from the T.V. gets loud, Stuart complains to his mom about what's for dinner and the mower is left running by the chain link fence between the two properties.  Mr. Peterson has had enough, comes storming over to confront his neighbour getting more than he bargained for as a result.

*** Out of 4.

The Suburbanight |  Eva Colmers | Canada | 2018 | 11:07

Tags: Lost Dog, Suburbs, Lawn Mower, Mulch, Guinea Pigs, Homework, Movie Night, Dinner.

Hunting Season

Callie (Hannah Levien) is working the graveyard shift at a 24-hour gas station. She's a recovering alcoholic therefore not allowed to drink. A report comes over the radio about a bear or possibly cougar attacks in the area.

Into the station comes some locals to fill up on their way out for hunt hoping to collect the10K reward.  They chirp her about her alcohol problem and her not so glamorous job. There also seems to be an electrical problem at the station. As the radio reports become more ominous retired cop Hank (Howard  Siegel) is the next one though on his way out after the beast. Callie gets more frustrated with her current state and how her drinking has brought her here. The latest radio update describes sighting of the beast in the vicinity of the station just as the power completely fails. The reward has been increased again with Callie finding herself in a spot where she could potentially collect or make a more altruistic choice.

*** Out of 4.

Hunting Season | Shannon Kohli | Canada | 2018 | 11:08

Tags: Alcoholic, Gas Station, Graveyard Shift, Animal Attacks, Solitaire, Crossbow, Arrow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

B.I.T.S. '18 Film Review - Hammer Of The Gods

Eric ( Rob Raco) is the lead guitarist and writer for the rock band Sled Dog. They had a big hit Backfire a few years back but have not had a song that has found heavy rotation on the airways or top of the download list recently. Eric is feeling the pressure and after talking to one of his idols Emerson Gilmour decided to follow in his footsteps and take a canoe trip down a Sacred First Nations spiritual root where the shamans traditionally sent their children. The guitarist hopeful the journey would spark his creative juices.  His planned solo trip continues to get encroached, first by his bandmates Mitchell ( Josh Collins) the airy Jim Morrisonseq lead singer and gritty girl drummer Olivia (Samantha Carly) who is along for the ride to stop Eric from offing himself. Then April (Parmiss Sehat) a superfan camping on the river who Mithcell rolls up on a few moments after the trio set off. Eric has a map,  five checkpoints he has to hit and and 4 tabs each of LSD that has to be dropped at the same specific time each night.

Things begin to go awry the first night. Eric passes out next to the river seemingly having recorded a great new piece of music that he doesn't remember. The crew beginning to see violet, orange coulors on the river while sensing a presence lurking just out of sight at the edge of the forest. The uncertainty of their situation quickly shifts to knowledge that the group is being watched and stocked. The friends journey changes from a leisurely trip of discovery to a race through the checkpoints to get to the highway and safety.

Director Nick Szostakiwskjy's follow up to Black Side Mountain again finding the survival in the outdoor elements the main theme. There the dead of winter in the Yukon was the palate, Here its the hight of summer in B.C. There a mysterious ancient virus is released as opposed to  the appearance of shadowy creatures possibly brought on by tainted drugs.

Josh Collins leads the cast as Mitch. He is easy going, soft spoken, kind and willing to have a meaningful conversations with just about anyone.  Rob Raco is a lot more moodier as Eric. He took it hard when his guitar hero did not like his music calling it uninspired. .Vowing to follow his path along a native right of passage to get out of the rut and create more depth in his art. Samantha Carly is the glue between the two. She is level, not getting  to hight or low and may care more about the band that the other two combined. Szostakiwskjy's script does not dwell long on set up. The pace ticks up early building suspense marking the end of each act with a punch to the gut that will making the audience uncomfortable but if you're in the theatre to watch a film in this genre that is exactly how you want to feel.

*** Out of 4.

Hammer of the Gods | Nick Szostakiwskji | Canada  | 2018 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Rock Band, One Hit Wonder, B.C., Canoe Trip, Rite of Passage, Camp, Check Points, L.S.D, Cabin, Headache,  Cigarettes


Monday, November 19, 2018

B.I.T.S. '18 Film Review - Altered Skin

American engineer Craig Evans (Robin Dunne) is working in Pakistan taking meetings back the U.S. on conference calls alone in a boardroom while supporting his doctor wife. His wife  Insiya (Juggan Kazim) is treating a patient in the early stages of a developing local virus named MN-2. Before the protocols of the disease are know the patient spreads the virus to Insiya leaving her fellow medical practitioners with little choice but to put her into an induced coma to slow down the disease. Meanwhile, an investigative reporter Shehzad Ameen (Aamir Qureshi) is gathering information about the outbreak and the drug company InGenec that's making a fortune by selling a Cidhar patch that calms the early symptoms of uncontrolled violence and rage. While in Orangi Town a poor section of Karachi many infected referred to as carriers can't afford the patch quickly progress to the advanced stages of the disease that turns them into frothing wild animals. As Ameen gets closer to the heart of the story he disappears prompting his wife to deliver all of his paperwork to Evans who she has seen on T.V. giving an update on his wife's condition. With a personal stake in the matter, the engineer takes an interest in Ameen's material starting an investigation of his own.

Writer-Director Ananan Ahmed film is shot on location in Karachi, Pakistan. The city and country play a major part in the story rising to the level of a central character in the piece. Early on a local comments on how Pakistan deals with a crisis: If you could ever fix a problem by denying it existed this pace would be a F*cking Utopia. Instead, those in power warn anyone that would speak up to keep their eyes closed and let the incident pass. That comment sets the tone on how the authorities handle the outbreak, treating the infected and getting answers from InGenec a local economic success story with a pending massive deal to sell to an American firm. The narrative also contrasts the different experience between rich and poor in the city. One group works in air-conditioned skyscrapers when not at their gated homes. The others do grunt work in the shadows living in small dusty spaces in neighbourhoods that the authorities have largely abandoned protecting.

Ameen's wife went to Craig because as a foreigner he could go places and ask questions that her peer group just can't. Our protagonist picks up the threads of the story and with the help of a local contact and some sympathetic locals at a key moment flesh out the details. The piece is a study on Pakistani culture, lack of corporate governance and the important role of whistleblowers who come forward to speak the truth.

*** Out of 4

Altered Skin | Adnan Ahmed  | Canada / Pakistan | 2018 | 80 Minutes.

Tags: Pakistan, Karachi, Engineer, Foreigner, Virus, Coma, Investigative Reporter, Pharmaceutical Company, Treatment, Researcher, Scientist, Test Subject, Lab.

B.I.T.S. '18 Film Review - Alive

Rob Grant director of last year's micro-budget self-examining sleeper Fake Blood returns with a full length feature Alive. A man (Thomas Cocquerel) wakes up covered in wires, bandages, stitches, and tubes. He puts his hand up to shield himself from the bright overhead lights. He realizes that he is on a hospital gurney. Tubes are pulled he falls to the ground attempts to crawl only to be scooped up by the mysterious caretaker (Angus Macfayden) who is apparently in charge of his care. One day the man wakes up to find a woman (Camille Stopps) on a bed beside him. She starts to ask him questions about who he is? Does he know how they got there? Is there a relationship between them and a hopeful does he know who she is?

Rob Grant presents a story that unspools deepening degrees of horror. The pair is not sure if their caretaker is a friend or foe. He claims that he recused them, he's the one helping them heal but he will not allow them to leave or contact anyone outside as the woman maintains that loved ones must be looking for them. The narrative is set in what appears to be an abandoned and isolated hospital. There are no central or overhead lights, most of the doors are barricaded or lead to brick walls. The garden out back is topped by thick rounds of barbed wire fence.

The pair continues their efforts to piece together their past. The woman has the feeling that she has a child out there somewhere. The man thinks that he may have been bad in the past possibly spending time in prison before the event. The duo decides to force their departure attempting to navigate the labyrinth of hallways, stairs, freezers and makeshift surgery stations rigged with obstacles set up by the caretaker who has his trusty rottweiler at his side for the pursuit.

Alive is more of a mystery than a horror film. The man and woman are is a tough predicament seemingly suffering from amnesia and both weakened from the ordeal, stress, and fog of medication from their partial recovery.  The couple finds some clues around the hospital and in flashbacks that can aid to patch together their pasts. But ultimately the physical and psychological trauma relating to their current situation keeps them trapped in fight or flight mode. Grant leads the audience to a payoff that is both rewarding and terrifying making the film one that I can definitely recommend.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Alive | Rob Grant | Canada | 2018 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Hospital, Surgery, Stitches, Bandages, Amnesia, Flashbacks,  Tattoo, Needles, Polaroid, Subbasement.

B.I.T.S. '18 Film Review - SuperGrid

N/R Canada 80 Minutes 2018.

Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller

From the creative team behind the WolfCop films comes SuperGrid set in a dystopian future where a large section of the population has been wiped out by an airborne microbial pneumoconiosis called the black lung. The population is warned in cheery P.S.A.'s from mining conglomerate Sino-Gazam to stay in the cities as the highway (SuperGrid) is mob controlled, unstable and littered with hijacking deadly terrorist tribes known as Jackals that will shoot you on sight. Smuggler Deke (Marshall Williams) last run on the grid for the conglomerate failed costing him dearly. His employer Lazio (Jonathan Cherry) demands that he go back out to complete the mission recommending that he team up with his old driver Jesse (Leo Farfard) who has retired from the game. They are not told the nature of the cargo as it's on a need to know basis and Sino Gazam heavy Guan Yin (Fei Ren) decides that they don't. The pair head out on the grid with Jesse's sharpshooter ex-wife North (Natalie Krill) watching their backs. Look for former W.W.E. superstar Christian Jay Reso as Kurtis head of the Jackal Border guard. Director Lowell Dean weaves a tale where those on the fringes are better equipped to see the big picture, able to set aside their differences to work together and do the right thing. It's always a valuable lesson especially in today's climate where our elected leaders are stuck in their ideological silos while leading C.E.O's are focused more on what's in it for them, profit and how will an action make them look. The film strong and timely message lurks below an abundant dose of action and chaos plus a jerry-rigged mix of new and old tech cementing its place in the genre alongside earlier Neill Blomkamp projects District 9 & Elysium, Paul Verhoeven's RoboCopTotal Recall and of course George Miller's Mad Max films.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

EUFF '18 Film Review - The Whiskey Bandit

Attila Ambrus achieved folk hero status in Budapest during the 90's. He had come to Hungary from Romania having grown up in Transylvania. He played goal for the local hockey team and also served as team maintenance man. He drove the Zamboni, swept the floors in the arena and changed light bulbs. The pay was little, and although he was given an apartment, he was still in the country illegally and needed money to properly take out his new girlfriend Kata (Piroska Moga). With little options, he happened to find himself across from a post office one day spotting an official with a series of keys on chains going into the building. An idea hatched he did his first robbery quickly finding he was very good at it and in his mind so good that no one ever got hurt.

From an opening sequence of Attila intensely portrayed by Bence Szalay downing a whiskey in a bar before heading across the street to commit a robbery, the narrative shifts back to Attila as a youth in Transylvania being dragged by his ear back to the home of his grandmother. The priest incensed at his latest and last transgression. He had eaten all of the wafers on top of an earlier incident where he drank all of the communion wine. Attila was banned from church over his grandmothers' protests. His misguided youth continued leading him to youth prison where he fostered a healthy hate for Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu that continues even when he ended up in the army before his escape to Hungary.

Director Nimrod Antal chose to tell the story as a conversation between Ambrus and a detective the extremely crusty Zoltan Schneider recounting the events from the formers' point of view. Antal chose this format likely because this is how he learned of the story from the subject himself. Zoltan Kovacs' editing of the opening sequences, robberies and particularly the two main action segments is especially crisp. Antal's shooting choices stand out throughout especially in one series of shots showing an unusual way to hop a train and another where Ambrus retreats to a rooftop across the street from a just-completed job as the police roll up below. The camera circles the protagonist as he leans out from the parking structure with a bird's eye view of the scene that he created below.

The Whiskey Bandit is a speeding locomotive from the first frame on screen. It follows an anti-hero that becomes a media darling although he is working on the wrong side of the law. Ambrus declared at the time of the events that he never hurt anyone in all of the jobs that he pulled. But he blinded himself to the terror that he inflicted on tellers, bank managers, security guards that he often mocked plus the general public face down on the floor not knowing if a bullet may come his way. He got his moniker from a local journalist who also rose in popularity due to his reporting of the incidents. Witness reported that he smelled of alcohol (vodka) at the robberies. The reported said on air that we'll call him the Whiskey Bandit leading Ambrus to immediately switch from vodka to whiskey. The pair were linked again when the reporters show moved to Monday nights. A plea to move the next robbery to Monday afternoon for content to the show was heard and executed.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Whiskey Bandit | Nimrod Antal | Hungary | 2017 | 126 Minutes.

Tags: Bank Robber, Wig, Toy Gun, Getaway, Car Chase, Motorcycle Chase, Post Office, Hockey, Prison Escape, Ceramics.

EUFF '18 Film Review - Sunrise in Kimmeria

A touch of foreign excitement entering a small community is a common theme in film from The Gods Must Be Crazy where a discarded Coke bottle falling from above caused chaos to the Dish in rural Australia where the small community there became responsible for a segment of the Apollo 11 landing to here where a Global Map (UFO to the locals) crash lands into a field owned by local handyman Skevos (Athos Antoniou). Skevos is a bit of an underachiever in the community. His distinction is his Swedish mother who came to the community briefly then left long before Skevos could form clear memories. His family owes money to Pambos the Shark (Antonis Katsaris) who owns the local aquarium. Skevos pays down the debt by doing work at the facility. Pambos proposes a deal to reduce the debt greatly if Skevos will pull the UFO out of the knee-deep smelly water pit where it landed. Being not the swiftest or aware of the potential danger to his health or legal consequence by entering the zone and taking the object. Skevos does so putting it in a safe place as he negotiates a better deal with Pambos.

Director Simon Farmakas injects a foreign element into a small sleepy town where the biggest event is the local beauty pageant. The fallout from the GM crash landing in the community includes the arrival of the American retrieval team led by Sam Fuller (Tim Ahern) that wants to protect the confidential data in the device. The U.N. is also on high alert with troops in both the British and Turkish zones at the ready as a reckless cowboy squad of Americans exudes their arrogance as they trample into the theatre.

Athos Antoniou is effective at Skevos. He is proud of his Swedish heritage that makes him unique. He might not be that sophisticated but when setting his mind on a task he is determined and persistent. Kika Georgiou stands out as Maria. Her politician father whats her to leave the small town as in his opinion there is no one worthy for her there. She takes a linking to Skevos despite his outward persona seeing that he is doer willing to take some personal risk. Tim Ahern as Fuller is the anti Ugly American. He has a job to do but is willing to take in the local culture and show the Cypriots a level of respect.

Sunrise in Kimmeria hits all of the tropes and beats one would expect when outside forces descend on a small remote community. Director Farmakas takes his time to show the daily rhythm of the locals especially evident in a discussion about a wall of photos in a local home showing family members going back several generations. The payoff is a series of misunderstandings, cross-purpose conversations and cultural differences that naturally lead to comedic moments and funny interactions playing off the language barrier issue. If your a fan of comedy rooted in different cultures coming together then this film will be one to put on your watch list.

*** Out of 4

Sunrise in Kimmeria | Simon Farmakas | Cyprus | 2018 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Swedish, GM, UFO, Cyprus, Election, Loan Shark, Debt, U.N. Americans, British, Turks, Buffer Zone, Sunrise.

EUFF 18' Film Review - Titanium White

Titanium White is a paint colour closely associated forgery. Those involved in the criminal act on occasion use the paint to build the palate of a painting but it was not invented at the time when several masters toiled thus becoming a clue open for detection when a "lost" painting suddenly surfaces to go up for auction. Given these facts its fitting that Piotr Smigasiewicz has chosen the paint colour for the title of his first feature film. Dominik (Daniel Olbrychski) is a PhD Art student from Poland. His subject/obsession are the works of painter Michelangelo Caravaggio. He keeps the local archivist up into the wee hours of the morning as he studies his subject. Dominik finds support from his eccentric German professor (Torsten Voges) sent to Porto Ercole in Tuscany all expenses paid to study the last works of the 17th Century painter. Once there, things begin to unravel almost at once. Leaving the student a mix of frustrated, in danger, exhilarated and confused.

Dominik teams up with Father Paolo (Luca Calvani) soon after his arrival. Paolo has taken over services at the church from Father Tornatore who was a great admirer of Caravaggio. So much so that there is evidence of his work in the church.  There are also two Irishmen in town asking questions about the painter looking to go into the crypt in the church basement but Paolo new to the role does not have the keys. That night a Caravaggio piece is stolen from the church leading the police in direction of the newcomer to town as a person of interest.

Director Smigasiewicz comes from the world of documentary film having spent considerable time in Northern Ireland and Ireland. He developed a keen interest in the Ulster conflict focusing on Polish people moving into the Protestant areas.  The director puts the focus of the production more on the main character rather than the paintings. The Art department led by Marek Warszewski deserves special mention for their work in preparing the Caravaggio paintings used in the film. Cinematographer Arkadiusz Toniak helps to set the tone with his use of light and shadows in indoor settings especially choosing how the light will fall on the Caravaggio paintings.

Titanium White is a film that delves into the world of Art History, appreciation and forgery. The seaside town of Porto Ercole is the perfect setting to tell the tale of the work of an Italian Master who may have some lost works suddenly uncovered. The narrative is however somewhat uneven with the author of the conspiracy not thoroughly fleshed out. The result is the main character being lead unwittingly by an unseen hand that does not deliver a payoff in the end.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Titanium White | Piotr Smigasiewicz | Poland | 2017

Tags: Art History, Michelangelo Caravaggio, 17th Century Master, PhD Student, Tuscany, Italy, Grant, Priest, Fiat 500.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Film Review - Widows

Director Steve McQueen's follow up to 12 Years A Slave, written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, based on a 1983 British television mini-series staring an All-Star cast lead by Viola Davis and Liam Neeson featuring Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and Robert Duvall. Those were the headline-grabbing initial details circulating about Widows. Lofty expectations were immediately hatched but from the moment the audience is dropped into the middle of the attempted getaway of Harry Rawlings (Neeson) and fellow criminals Jimmy Nunn (Coburn Goss), Florek (Jon Bernthal) and Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) from the police in what seems to be a setup. The audience is hooked, expectations are met, a high starting marker placed that is soon exceeded.

After the failed heist the crews' partners are left to pick up the pieces. Veronica (Davis) Harry's widow is visited by local crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) who was the target of the botched job placing the 2 million dollar theft on her. Veronica finds her late husband's notebook with the details of the crew's next job that will net 5 Million. She recruits the only people she can for the venture. The other partners that lost their husbands in the Manning job to assist. As if there is not already enough meat on the plot point bone the production throws in the twisted world of Chicago politics where Manning supported by his sadistic younger brother Jatemme (Kaluuya) is running for 18th ward Alderman hoping to occupy the open seat of Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) that is also being contested by Mulligan's posh looking, fast talking son Jack (Colin Farrell) whose a long time hushed associate of Harry.

McQueen brings together all of these divergent elements with a masterful hand. His special eye for framing a shot shines in many instances throughout the piece. Paramount is the sequence where Jack (Farrell) is riding with his assistant from his gated home into the poor ethnic ward 18 where he is running. The camera is placed outside aimed at the front windshield of the limo.  Jack is having an unseen heated political discussion inside. The houses and streets rush by at the side of the frame continually getting smaller, less manicured and more run down as the limo goes deeper into the district. The story also focuses on the split between rich and poor with a heavy focus on female entrepreneurs trying to keep their businesses afloat in poorer communities. Among them the always feisty Michelle Rodriguez as Linda the freshly widowed mother of 2 trying to keep her new clothing store viable despite her late husband Carlo's (Garcia-Rulfo) gambling debts reaching out at her from the grave.

Viola Davis leads the line as Victoria, her husband Harry(Neeson), was the meticulous brains behind the crew. She's the one under direct threat therefore she recruits, funds and organizes the women's job.  Model turned actor Elizabeth Debicki is extremely resourceful as Alice. She was abused by her deceased husband Florek (Bernthal), at first glance seems the victim but uses her skills to secure valuable information for the heist. Robert Duvall is the best that he has been on screen in years in the limited role of Tom Mulligan. He sees his son as a disappointment and will not stand for a Mulligan not running the ward that is the family birthright. Look for newcomer Cynthia Erivo as Belle a blue-collar late arrival to the party that has a significant impact on the caper.

Widows is an excellent platform for a drama oriented director to expand his action film chops. The loaded cast supported by a superb script and a helmer who continues to delight with new and unusual visuals make this a must see that will grace many a top ten list at years end along with top line consideration come awards season.

**** Out of 4.

Widows | Steve McQueen | U.K. / U.S.A. | 2018 | 129 minutes.

Tags: Robbery, Widow, Funeral, Election, Chicago, Politics, Escorting, Recruiting Safe Room, Blueprints, Reconnaissance. Gun Range, Masks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Film Review - Overlord

An American airborne division has a mission to drop behind enemy lines and knock out a radio transmitter atop  a church ahead of the planned Allied D-Day invasion. On the bomber headed into enemy territory is Boyce (Jovan Adepo) fresh out of basic and three months from hanging out on his grandma's porch in Louisiana. Wiseass New Yorker Tibbet (John Magaro) shutterbug  Chase (Ian De Caestecker) and the mysterious Ford (Wyatt Russell) the explosive expert who transferred in from another unit.  The opening sequence as the bomber heads to the drop site in Normandy is harrowing. The plane is under attack, explosions are going off all around. The aircraft is teetering, hit several times, about to go down as Sargent Resin (Bokeem Woodbine) tells the soldiers to hold until they hit the jump point.  On the ground the main players rally together crossing paths with Chloe (Matilde Olliver) who brings them to her home where she resides with her younger brother and sick aunt. There the Americans go about finalizing their plans on how they will take out the church.

James Avery film starts out as a straightforward World War two story then morphs into something more. The first snag is SS officer Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) that has an arrangement with Chloe planting himself on the main floor of the residence. The next is the realization that strange activities afoot in the church. The townsfolk are being subject to experiments with the end goal of a super solider to facilitate the 1000 year Reich. The tool a red serum that grants invincibility but at an incredible price.

Jovan Adepo is at the centre of the action as Boyce. He has a strong moral compass demanding to do what has to be done to wipe out the Nazi lab in addition to completing the mission. Kurt Russel's son Wyatt is the strong and silent Ford. He's more in the join them school but makes the right decisions when crunch time hits. Matilde Olliver is very effective as Chloe. She does what she has to do in her occupied town for the benefit of her younger brother being submissive when required but ferocious when the opportunity presents.

Overlord is a World War Two Nazi hunting tale with a twist. It will remind viewers of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds but the action is on boil just about the whole way through with a set of possibly the most unlikable Nazi ever on film. Which of course leads to great satisfaction when they meet their fate. Its a straight -ahead story that takes a detour that it rounds well on its way to a satisfying result.

*** Out of 4.

Overlord | James Avery |  U.S.A. | 2018 | 109 Minutes.

Tags; World War II, Airborne, D-Day, Nazi, Experiments, Serum, Super Soldier, 1000 Year Reich, Baseball.

Film Review - Boy Erased

Gay Conversion Therapy is the subject matter explored in Joel Edgerton's new film Boy Erased. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) who shined in Manchester By The Sea is the son of an Arkansas Baptist preacher Marshall (Russell Crowe) and proper Southern lady Nancy (Nicole Kidman). He goes off to college where he is attacked by his running buddy, forced to have sex with him against his will. Confused Jared says nothing about the incident then his attacker outs him to his family leading to late night clandestine meetings with religious elders ending with Nancy driving her son to a gay conversion therapy program in Georgia. Once at the church all modern devices are removed alongside any written material the attendee may have. They are given binders, mandated to dress a specific way and told certain actions and topics are off limits but there is no indication that the participant is not allowed to leave if they choose. It's more the confusion, shame and pressure from family making them feel that they need to stay and change that keeps them there.

Director Joel Edgerton who plays the camp's untrained lead therapist and founder Victor Sykes has a message he is trying to get across with this film. These camps overwhelmingly have a negative effect on everyone they touch expect for the proprietors of the facility. The participant is mentally emotionally and physically confronted. The family can be split apart by the process plus friends, extended family and the community get word of the circumstance before an individual has sorted out their feelings, emotions, orientation, and path themselves.

Australian Edgerton enlists fellow Aussies Kidman and Crowe to play Jared's parents. Crowe's Marshal tried to take the analytic approach to fix his son while Kidman's big haired Nancy keeps her emotions and thoughts to herself letting her husband make the decisions until a critical point. Look for Flea channeling an Army Drill Sargent as an instructor at the camp. Lucas Hedges who seems to be everywhere this year is understated as Jared. He is not sure of his sexuality, honestly not knowing if he is gay and willing to do what his parents wish. He has suffered a recent trauma that he has not come to grips with plus has unresolved charged issues with his dad.

Boy Erased is a critical look at conversion therapy programs. Edgerton explores how they are run, dramatizes the confrontations student to student /student to staff/ attendee to their family. The qualifications of the instructors and experts are scrutinized in a subtle yet effective manner. The goal here looking at the end credits postscript is to have kids and parents communicate with each other on an equal footing with the teenager having the final say after significant research and discussion to determine if this is the path to be followed.

**1/2 Out of 4

Boy Erased | Joel Edgerton | U.S.A. | 2018 | 114 Minutes.

Tags: Arkansas, Baptist Church, Running, Rape, Gay Teenager, Outed, Conversion Therapy, Confusion, Embarrassment, Understanding, Acceptance, Ford Dealership.

Film Review - The Front Runner

Bad timing is the key takeaway from the story of Gary Hart's failed presidential campaign portrayed in The Front Runner. Politicians a generation before from Eisenhower, to LBJ and of course JFK had an unspoken understanding with the press that their personal lives were off limits. The sexual scandal itself took place at the birth of tabloid journalism igniting an appetite for the American public for the salacious details of the affair. It's also bad timing that the film is coming out now in the Trump era where such an incident today would not even cause a candidate to blink. The film opens at the tail end of the 1984 Democratic race for President where a camera weaves around a political campaign hotel room eventually getting to Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) as he is about to concede to Walter Mondale. Jump to the start of the 1988 race where Hart is the clear Front Runner to be the next President of the United States. He has the look, is the darling of the media, is full of boundless energy and a forward thinker. His run undone by a dalliance on a boat with a model named Donna Rice who he later flew up to his Washington brownstone while his wife was back home in Colorado with his daughter. The bad timing for Hart also referred to the leap forward in technology of the time. News coverage had increased. Information zips through fax machines, reports now appeared live on scene supported by news vans with satellite up -links.

Director Jason Reitman and writer Matt Bai whose book All The Truth is Out:The Week Politics Went Tabloid is the blueprint for the film take a sympathetic approach towards Hart. They show him as a friend to the press particularly in a scene where he helps a reporter AJ Parker (Mamoudou Athie) deal with a fear of turbulence as a premise to make the reporter seem ungrateful later when asking Hart tough questions. The Miami Herald reporters that cement the story are shown as unsavory staking out Hart's Washington brownstone then confronting him in the back alley of his residence in the middle of the night to ask questions about Rice.

The biggest flaw with the production is that the story is no longer relevant today. There is no need to tell this story in today's political climate where a similar event today would not even occupy an afternoon of the news cycle. The theory of if Hart had won things would be different today is a trip down an unknown rabbit hole that can be labeled as fake news.

Hugh Jackman turns in a strong layered bold and blind performance as Gary Hart. Vera Farmiga fleshes out a more complicated role that it appears at first glance as Hart's wife Lee . She has an understanding with her husband that is tolerable in a private setting but not as much when the medical is camped out at her front gate. The strong lead performances, however, cannot propel the film into the realm of recommended viewing given the subject matter does not resonate today.

** Out of 4.

The Front Runner | Jason Reitman | U.S.A. | 113 Minutes.

Tags: Politics, Washington, Democratic Party, 1988 Presidential Campaign, Sex Scandal, Colorado, Miami Herald, Stakeout, Press Conference.

Friday, November 2, 2018

ABMO Films Film Review - Suspiria

Six acts and an epilogue set in divided Berlin is the title card for Luca Guadagnino's remake of Dario Argento's regal Art House film Suspiria. A wet disheveled feral female bursts into her psychologist's office. She is babbling about people trying to get inside of her. Her psychoanalyst Dr. Jozef Klemperer a doting old man with a strange look that's hard to place. He tries to listen to her disjointed tale about the dance company where she's a member the need for revolution but she storms out leaving her bag never to be seen again. Cut to Susie (Dakota Johnson) stumbling in the U-Bahn at Suspiria station, hiding her money from the counterculture youth while trying to get her bearings. She finds her destination a building literally right beside the Berlin Wall with TANZ written above the door. She enters the Helena Markos Dance Company doors being told immediately that they tried to call and cancel her audition. She gets to dance anyway impressing the directors and compelling the artistic director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) to poke her head in the room to watch. Susie is forceful steps and razor-sharp movements as she commands the floor. She is precise, passionate and has that quality that Madame Blanc likes; moves that would break a nose if you got in her way.

Behind the scenes, the directors are struggling for control of the company split between the Blanc and Markos camps. The battle is not only over the direction of the club but also for the path of the witches coven that dwells below the surface. Susie makes the all-female troop rocketing up to lead for the upcoming performance of Volk with Madame Blanc firmly in her corner. Her complete commitment to her routines leads the directors to discuss the possibility of her being an asset in the activities at the lower level of the building seeing that Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) last seen panicked in her psychologist office couldn't handle the responsibility.

Director Guadagnino could not have picked a more polar opposite project to follow last year's summer romance film Call Me By Your Name. There you had a research student and the Professors son hanging out in a lazy small Italian town. Here you have Berlin in the height of the Cold War with the spectre of the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Lufthansa highjacking on every, T.V., radio and newspaper front page. The films 152 minute runtime is not an issue as it whips by for the first three acts. However, some will become increasingly uneasy in an extended 4th act ritual scene that goes full on mother! towards the end.

Suspiria has several elements that will remind the audience of other directors. Argento is obvious, the title card is von Trierish and the closing third dreamlike chaos. The viewer will have an opinion on this film. It will likely be strong whether positive or negative featuring a sharp scrip pointing out revelations such as Susie explaining that the Mennonites broke away from the Amish because the latter was too liberal or Madame Blanc remarking that if you want to be a dance you have to learn French. Tilda Swinton is steely focused as alway while Dakota Johnson turns in a very physical performance. It's violent, jarring, gruesome, sad yet funnier that one would expect and you definitely won't come out of the theatre yawning after the house lights go up.

***1/2 Out of 4

Suspiria | Luca Guadagnino | Italy / U.S.A. | 2018 | 152 Minutes.

Tags; Cold War, Berlin, Baader Meinhof Gang , Dance Company, Witches Coven, Meat Hook, Porcelain, Compound Fracture, Sacrifice, Ritual, Nazi Camp, Sliced Pear.