Sunday, August 25, 2019

TIFF Bel Lightbox Film Review - Tigers Are Not Afraid

10-year Old Estrella is a bright smart girl in school. Her class is in the middle of a lesson when gunfire rigs out just outside the school grounds forcing the entire class to duck for cover. School is canceled indefinitely. On television, a local politician running for office vows to clean up the community for the residents.  As Estrella leaves the grounds she is faced with police tape surrounding a dead cartel victim at the entrance to the school. Orphaned Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) is living on the streets lurking in the shadows looking for food when not robbing cell phones from inattentive people passing by.

He stumbles upon cartel member Caco (Ianis Guerrerro) relieving himself beside a building not paying attention to his phone or gun which Shine lifts. He heads back to his band of orphaned boys showing his haul from the evening. Estrella returns home from school to find his mother missing. When she does not turn up the next day her worst fears begin to surface. Her mother has been taken away by the cartel.

Fantasy mixes with harsh reality in director Issa Lopez film. Estrella has been granted three wishes as she is surrounded by butterflies, birds, and snakes in this film space. Lopez brings the viewer into the bleak reality of a Mexican slum. The cartels have killed so many people that little kids are forced to join together for safety and survival. The supernatural blends with fantasy and reality. Here as in Guillermo del Toro's Devils Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth Humans in authority are the real monsters that prey and the innocent and weak. It's fitting that del Toro is such a champion of the film imploring anyone his vast social network can reach to see the film. The art department are influential in creating this world including the swatting locations the kids occupy during the film. Cinematographer Juan Jose Saravia work with shadows, reflections, light and dark help to portray both the fantasy and desperation of the kids' situation. The spray painted murals tell the story of the relationships in the community with the kids and the cartel members some describing tragedy easily invoking tears.

Paola Lara fills the screen as Estrella. She is scared and frightened at first returning home to find her mother missing with no food available or coming. But she finds her strength and resolve becoming key planner for the orphaned group to the anger of Shine. Juan Ramon Lopez occupies that second in command role. He is moody upset that he lost control of the group but willing to step up at the most critical time.

Tigers are Not Afraid is a deep look at violence and fear experienced in cartel run Mexican communities. It's even better on the second viewing and needs to be seen to inspire future storytellers with original ideas to find a way to get their work out there. The nimble young cast of first timers bring authentic voices to their roles. As del Toro stated in the Q & A to kick off the films 2 week run at Toronto's Bell Lightbox Tigers Are Not Afraid falls into the wake people up category rather than the put people to sleep one.  The story is chilling but likely reflecting actual events. It's a desperate situation that needs to be exposed as done so here by Issa Lopez and her team.

**** Out of 4.

Tigers Are Not Afraid | Issa Lopez | Mexico | 2017 | 83 Minutes.

Tags: Tigers, Snakes, Birds, Squatting, Graffiti, Hunger, Orphaned, Disappeared, Cartel, iPhone, Campaign, Video.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Ready or Not

The Rich as a species are the villains it Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's Ready or Not. Their quirks, family traditions, games rooms with hunting trophies and weapons on full display and paintings of revered past patriarchs for hanging on the walls. The legendary story here is of the Le Domas family Great Great Grandfather Victor met a fellow traveler and game enthusiast at sea circa U.S. Civil war. A deal was struck and a box passed to grant the Le Domas any gift. But the price, anyone marrying into the family has to be married at the family home and draw a card to play a game at midnight. The games can be benign if you draw chess or old maid but if you draw hide and seek the new bride or groom his haunted until dawn as a sacrifice to the benefactor to keep the family fortune moving forward.

Grace (Samara Weaving) who is quickly turning into a modern scream queen given her 2017 turn in Mayhem alongside Steven Yuen stars as the latest initiate to the Le Domas family. They are gaming royalty having started with playing cards in their grandfathers day, moving to board games the next generation and on to owning sports teams in current patriarch Tony (Henry Czenry) era.  Grace is the love of Alex (Mark O'Brien) estranged from his relatives who witnessed to the last time this tradition turned deadly as a six-year-old when Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) husband had to be sacrificed. Following the wedding and a brief time together in Alex room the pair present themselves for the traditional midnight game. Grace draws the hide and seek card, is given time to hide the quickly learns that the hunt is for keeps.

Weaving excels in the genre with her full embracement of body horror as she slowly turns her wedding dress into an effective kit for battle. Adam Brody is strong as Daniel the unenthused alcoholic son who Grace describes as hitting on her at every opportunity he gets. Melanie Scorano   as sister Emily sets the comedic edge early showing the privileged natural disdain for servants.

Ready or Not is a funnier than expected squirm fest that takes dead aim at the old money country club set of dubious origins.  The film has signature scenes: At the fence, In the goat pit, I the kitchen that will bring back feelings of anxiety and dread to the viewer when mentioned.  communicate to the . It's a heart pounding seat gripping ultimate stakes ride that I highly recommend.

***1/2 Out of Four.

Ready or Not | Matt Bettinelli-Olpin / Tyler Gillett | U.S.A. | 2019 | 95 Minutes.

Tags: Cards, Games, Wedding, In-Laws, Hide and Seek, Sacrifice, Ritual, Satan, Midnight, Dawn, Wedding Dress, ONSTAR.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Universal Pictures Film Review - Good Boys

12-year-old boy hijinks rule the day in director Gene Stupintsky's feature debut Good Boys. Stupintsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg cut their teeth writing for the U.S. version of the Office. They're backed by Seth Rogan and Evan Golberg who spawned Superbad hence the natural comparison that has been promoted in the launch of the film. Filled with moments that will make you squirm in a good way plus rapid fire F-bombs the three best friends that refer to themselves as the beanbag boys set out to educate themselves on the art of kissing ahead of their first ever kissing part as they deal with a drone mishap.

Jacob Tremblay of The Room and Wonder is the leader of the trio as Max. He's  crushing on classmate Brixlee (Millie Davis) while cut-off shirt wearing Thor (Brady Noon) lives to sing but downplays it as it's perceived as not cool topping off his embarrassing nickname sippy cup earned in a beer drinking fail. Rounding out the friends is Keith L. Williams as Lucas. He's the only one that can pass as a high schooler but hopelessly naïve and honest to a fault which is a major problem when you're ditching school to replace Dad's drone plus you may have to make a trade for drugs with two older girls.

The action takes place over one day in a tight laugh filed 90 minute package as the boys weave their way across town trying to solve the drone issue ahead of the return of Max's dad and the inevitable serious grounding. Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Frances) are memorable as the arch rival villains of the piece. The older girls that confiscate the drone discovering it when the friends use it to spy on them poolside. Their battle turns into a mutually assured destruction standoff as the boys steal a purse at the first confrontation containing the girls molly (MDNA) meant to enhance their partying experience that evening.

Good Boys has its above the fold hooks of bad language, tween boys interpretation of sex acts and toys and their BMX bike riding adventure.  But beneath there is a sweetness as they are discovering a multitude of things for the first time, still willing to cry openly when sad thinking it's the end of the world when the smallest thing goes wrong.  The constant flow of bad language from 6th graders can be grading at times but the overall message of support and friendship makes the film worth the watch.

*** Out of 4

Good Boys | Gene Stupintsky | U.S.A. | 2019 | 90 Minutes.

Tags; Drone, Ditching School, First Crush, Kissing Party, Sex Toys, Drugs, MDNA, School Musical, BMX Bikes, Skate Park.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Film Review - Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark

Based on in Alvin Schwartz campfire folklore favourite of short stories from the '80s. Andre Ovredal Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark follows a bunch of misfit teens in 1968 with Donovan's Season of The Witch setting the tone as the story kicks off. Stella (Zoe Coletti) and her two friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) reluctantly go out on Halloween knowing that the will have to face bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) at some point in the evening. They do, pull a prank to get the best of the letterman wearing jock then end up in a padlocked haunted house, alongside Ramon (Michael Garza) a passing through town loner and Chuck Sister Ruby (Natalie Ganzhorn) who Tommy dumped on the spot. The locals inform Roman of the myth of the Bellows family that owned the home. Well to do town founders that started the paper mill. However, children went missing and were traced back to the house when legend has it that youngest Bellows daughter Sarah told children scary stories through the wall in her room just before they disappeared. The family kept her isolated never allowing her to go outside. In the home, Stella finds Sarah's book a collection of stories with strange titles all with a doomed lead character. Without telling her friends she takes it home sealing the fate of everyone that was in the house when she took it.

The source material clearly drew for Guillermo del Toro to the project. In Chuck's conjure, Stephen Gammell's drawing of the Pale Lady is brought to life a creation that could easily pass as a del Toro original.  Events play out linearly for the first teen to face Sarah Bellows rage at the theft. But when Sarah's pen turns to the next target Stella then Ramon see the story written on the page right before their eyes.

The five young main actors all play their slotted roles well. Zoe Coletti leads from the front as Stella. She lives with her dad, her mom had run off long ago. Her room is fully decorated with horror posters and she can quote The Night of the Living Dead by rote. Michael  Garza is quiet but resourceful as Ramon. He is a target of the town bullies and police because of his Mexican background but has an immediate connection with Stella after he assists in getting the friends out of a Halloween jam.  Natalie Ganzhorn does a lot more than the usual with the one dimensional pretty girl role of Ruth. She is willing to challenge jock Tommy and may be in the centre of the Scary Story that will resonate as the biggest fear of most The Red Dot.

Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark plays on the fear created though campfire stories. Schwartz's anthology housed universal stories. Stella states that you do not read the book. Instead, the book reads you playing on your darkest fears bringing them to life to paralyze you with fear first then kill.

*** Out of 4.

Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark | U.S.A. / Canada | 2019 |  111Minutes

Tags: Alvin Schwartz, Halloween, Haunted House, Small Town, Scarecrow Spiders, 1968 Election, Vietnam,  The Pale Lady, Asylum, Dreams, Anthology, Toe, Stew.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Universal Pictures Film Review - Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

A futuristic threat, gunplay, chase scenes, style, high wire stunts, a lead defending the honor of their sister and nitrous oxide.  All the elements one would expect from a Fast and Furious franchise spinoff is all here. Director David Leitch whose action chops include a hand in John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 whose star Ryan Reynolds entertains as Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson's) handler give the viewers what they want right off the get-go. Two side by side scenes of Hobbs and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) taking out the bad guy with an unusual choice of weapon in L.A. and London respectively.

London is where the action kicks off. M.I.6 are safeguarding a biological weapon that part machine Brixton (Idris Alba) a former colleague of Shaw's intercepts a military convoy to try to steal. Decklan Sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with the virus and escapes. Now she has 72 hours before it activates inside her, then goes airborne spreading rapidly with deadly consequences. Hobbs and Shaw are recruited separately to work together to stop the threat.

The narrative is full of verbal sparring and one-upmanship by the two leads. They have their fights each getting in their licks along with Shaw's verbal threats to Hobbs to stay away from his sister. Brixton is being driven by paramilitary, tech, media, scientific group Eteon. They have their hands in everything controlling enough media outlets to spin a story any way they want. The action moves to Ukraine then on to Samoa where there is a final showdown with old world fighting tactics and weapons take on the super modern biometric ones. A few key characters pop up in the latter part of the film that injects energy into the proceedings playing a large part in moving the mission towards success.

Idris Alba and Vanessa Kirby do not take a step back from the two leads. There are several scenes with either facing off with the above the line stars where they give more than they get. The motorcycle stunts alone though the streets of London and burned out abandoned Ukraine Nuclear plant are worth the price of admission. It's a true popcorn movie that checks all the boxes for an action-fantasy thriller.

*** Out of 4

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw | David Leitch | U.S.A.| 2019 | 135 Minutes.

Tags: C.I.A. , F.B.I. M.I.6, Virus, London, Moscow, Ukraine, Samoa, Visitation, Elevator.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Knives & Skin

Caroline (Raven Whitley) dressed proudly in her marching band school uniform is out by the lake with jock Andy (Ty Olwin). She is concerned about her new glasses as Andy makes his advances. When she rebuffs him demanding that he take her home he leaves her stranded; Caroline does not make it home. The ripples of her disappearance brings out the quirk in an already offbeat small Illinois town. The most affected is Caroline's mother Mrs. Harper (Marika Englehart) who is the choir teacher at the school where Carolyn and her friends attend. As she spirals downward her students sing in  pop songs from the Go Go's to Cindi Lauper in layered multi-part harmony as they whisper to each other the truly disturbing thoughts that most teens have in their minds bubbling under the surface.

Caroline's three main friends and bandmates form the core of the film. Joanne Andy's sister makes cash on the side selling underwear to teachers. Cheerleader Laurel (Kayla Carter) whose dad Doug (James Vincent Meredith) is the police chief quietly pursues her crush on a fellow female student. Charlotte (Ireon Roach) whose a Grace Jones type performance artist wears tribal face paint in class and turns every presentation in class into a theatre event. Their parents are no less dull, in and out of each other's beds looking for a connection they cannot find at home.

Director Jennifer Reeder's film will draw immediate comparisons to Twin Peaks and other provocative Hight School dramas such as Heathers. The rich soundtrack sets the dreamlike atmosphere plus the peculiar behavior of the adults invoke the Lynchian comparison. However, Reeder's narrative is more about inclusivity and the need for females to stick together being cruel if need be as the writer-director screams verbally and an overt act by Kayla Carter's Laurel demonstrates specifically that boys often don't treat girls very well.

Knives and Skin loses its way at some points but the overall narrative is one that is empowering to females and outsiders alike who feel like they don't fit in are bullied or demeaned by the entitled class. Be yourself, develop a hard edge and support fiercely those that will do the same for you. The young cast of relative unknowns do not make a wrong step in a piece from a rising voice in film.

**1/2 Out of 4.

Knives and Skin | Jennifer Reeder | U.S.A.| 111 Minutes.

Tags: High School, Disappearance, Marching Band,Glasses, Choir, Football, Mascot, Sad Clown, 80's New Wave, Letter Jacket, Mustang.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Dead Dicks

Becca (Jillian Harris) has just received the offer of a lifetime. Acceptance into a prestige graduate nursing program. However, her thoughts turn almost immediately to her mentally ill brother Ritchie (Heston Horwin) she has been his main support system for all of her life for her medicated brother. As she decides how she will tell Ritchie the news she goes to a shift at the bar where she works during which discovers multiple urgent voice mails to his apartment . Fearing the worst she cuts out of work running into Ritchie's downstairs neighbour Matt (Matt Keyes) a corporate looking busy body who h brother is apparently disrupting push up regime.Becca enters the apartment to find Ritchie hanging in the closet. Mortified she goes to take him down when she hears her brother voice behind her explaining that this scenario has occurred before.

Based on an intriguingly original idea, the narrative of Dead Dicks continues to twist and turn at each moment the audience things they have things pegged. Writer directors Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer pack plenty into their limited budget one main set production. The mechanism that allows Dick to keep coming back is plain to see and understand  but the different developing mutations of the process range from grotesque to surprising the latter in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers -John Carpenter The Thing type of way.

The viewers see the story mainly from Jillian Harris as Becca's point of view. She has to talk Ritchie off the ledge, is the one to get eyes on the full regeneration process and frustrates when she is slow to get in position to witness the rebirth. She's also the one tasked to dealing with the multiple Ritchie's. Heston Horwin work is more on the physical side as Ritchie. He's doing the body horror as he navigates the conflicting messages in his mind.

Dead Dicks is at its centre a relationship between a brother and sister. As anyone can relate that has a sibling the relationship can be frustrating at times to the point where time apart can be the best remedy. The writer directors show in the piece that it is O.K. to admit that frustration even if you are the sibling that is supposed to be the stronger supportive one. The opening waring at the start of the film directing those that need help to get it as what follows could be triggering is thoughtful. The film is a crisp narrative by a pair of fresh voices making moviegoers looking forward to what they will have to offer next.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Dead Dicks | Chris Bavota / Lee Paula Springer | Canada | 2019 | 83 Minutes.

Tags: Skype, Nursing, Graduate School, Mental Illness, Depression, Caregiver, Voice Mail, Suicide Attempt, Portal, Rebirth, Suffocation, Hanging, Electrocution, Medication.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - The Fable

A man dressed in black sporting a toque with eye holes bursts into a celebration of Yakuza suits. He then starts picking them off one by one with extreme precision. This is the work of the mythical contract killer known as The Fable (Jun'ici Okada). After the job, he meets up with his hard drinking handler (Fumino Kimura) and their Boss (Koichi Sato). He is directed to take a year off and a new name in Osaka. If he kills anyone during that time the Boss will do the same to him.

Now known as Akira Sato he checks in with the local Yakuza head and the manager Ebihara (Ken Yasuda) There is a power struggle going on amongst the next generation that soon draws in Sato. He manages to stay clear working a menial job until his local crush Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto) is forced into the newly released from prison Kojima (Yuya Yagira) web of prostitution.

Director Kan Eguchi adapts Katsuhisa Minami's Magna of the same name for the film. The piece nimbly shows how The Fable works out his precision shots and his trademark process to turn on kill mode. Trained as a killer from his youth Sato's lack of basic humans social skills are painfully evident as he attempts to live like a normal person in Osaka

The pinnacle set piece of the narrative occurs at A waste management plant run by Sunagawa (Osamu Mukai) one of the young rivals. Sato has to negotiate the stories of  piping, girders ducts and beams to protect Misaki avoid two chasing contract killers looking to take him out ad steal his mantle all the while honoring his no shot to kill promise. The conditions make for the perfect setting for more physical close range combat using anything that is not nailed down as a weapon. Its a strong turn of an assassin driven plot with plenty of dialogue and situation points of comedy making for a unique entry into the Japanese Magna adaption field.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

The Fable | Ken Eguchi | Japan | 2019 | 123 Minutes.

Tags: Contract Killer, Silencer, Drinking Games, Yakuza, Boss, Osaka, Pornography, Normalcy, Parrot

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Fantasia'19 Film Review - White Snake

Light Chaser Animated Studios team with Warner Brothers for a big push into the west with this origin story of one of the core four Chinese Folklore tale. The Universal theme of forbidden love is explored. Here, a demon snake that can take the form of a woman Blanca (Zhang Zhe Voice) falls in love with a human Xuan (Yang Tianxiang) after suffering amnesia. The story is set in the Tang Dynasty 500 years before the traditional tale.

Blanca is given a powerful Jade pin by her sister Verta (Tang Xiaoxi voice) She is ported to the Tang Dynasty time to assassinate evil general (Zhan Yaohan voice) alongside his second Little General (Zhang Boheng voice) collect and use the essence of snakes with the thought it will lead them to immortality. The local village where Xung lives is terrorized by the General's as they demand that the villagers catch snakes for them or suffer extreme consequences meaning every villager from a very young age is inundated with a hatred of snakes and demons.

The visuals from Light Chaser Studios are the must-see aspects of the film. From the outset when we first meet Blanca rich colours flow across the screen circling up into lush clouds and black smoke rings. Water presents in a deep crystal blue fabric flows freely easily around the players form making the viewer sense that they can her it rippling.

White Snake is an ambitious piece by a burgeoning Chinese animation studio. Known to all cultures the story contains valuable lessons on tolerance and prejudice. The film does have a smattering of adult content that would no make it suitable for children. It's a feast for the eyes that needs to be seen on the big screen to truly be enjoyed.

*** Out of 4.

White Snake | Amp Wong / Ji Zhao  | China /U.S.A.| 2019 | 99 Minutes.

Tags: Amination, Fantasy, Romance, Hairpin, Jade, Amenisia, Giant Python, Umbrella, Tang Dynasty, Assassin, Pagoda.

Fantasia '19 Film Reivew - Extra Ordinary

Comedian Maeve Higgins scores a well deserved leading role in Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman's Extra Ordinary. Her low key Irish accent on full display, the viewer has to pay attention to her delivery for fear of missing one of her low register one-liners. She works as a driving instructor having suppressed her talents for speaking to ghosts due to an unfortunate accident over a decade ago. She is drawn back into the practice by kind widower Martin Martin (Barry Ward) whose deceased wife Bonnie still runs the household and daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman)has been targeted by a one hit wonder artist Christian Winter (Will Forte). Winter who has name recognition but bordering on bankruptcy has taken up the dark arts to get his carrier back on track. Sarah being the virgin sacrifice required to seal his deal with the devil.

The directors see the film as inhabiting the supernatural comedy world rather than straight horror. Their theory on display in many sequences especially in the banter between Winter and his wife Claudia (Claudia O'Doherty) who constantly pokes at him while he attempts his incantation completely disregarding the rules of engagement leading to the explosion of the first virgin target. There are also the running T.V. episodes of Rose's dads show as he explains ghosts to the viewer, how they commit minor every day acts in an attempt to be noticed.

Maeve Higgins experience as a comic makes her the perfect fit for the role. She comes home each night from teaching her students to an empty house, locked room where her magic equipment has been sealed off, a bouncing ball in a corner of her kitchen and frozen dinners. Claudia O'Doherty shines in the supporting role of Ms. Winter. Her impatience with the entire satanic ritual process is always on display. This peaks when she has had enough of the virginal procession to their castle needing to hasten thing up and get back home before her Chinese food order arrives.

Extra Ordinary is a charming low key genre-crossing piece that loses its way a bit toward the end of the second stanza. The narrative rights itself as it heads to the final showdown and series of confrontations. The final reveal is an item that has been telegraphed from the opening scene but that is not enough to take away from a good hearted light piece of filmmaking that is worth the watch.

*** Out of 4

Extra Ordinary | Mike/Ahern/Edna Loughman | Ireland /Belgium | 2019 | 94 minutes.

Tags: Driving Instructors, Supernatural, Ghosts, Pentagram, Virgin Sacrifice, Satan, Blood Moon, Holding Spell, Magpie, Pregnancy, Birth

Monday, July 29, 2019

Film Review - Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino is at his bests when he is placing his imaginative products fantasy narratives in his films. Perhaps the most famous of these his fictional Red Apple Cigarette Brand that first appeared in 1994's Pulp Fiction. Here, Tarantino's creative juices are on overdrive as his central figures are an imaginary T.V. star on he decline from his heyday in the '50s alongside his faithful stunt double who is always there to help carry the load. Once Upon  Time In Hollywood features the two leads fake movies, T.V. guest spots and variety show appearances all with the August 1969 impending Tate/ LA Bianca murders lurking to be addressed at the end of the film.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio) was a major TV star on N.B.C.'s Bounty Law bringing in fugitives for a Dead or Alive Reward in the neighborhood of $500.00 Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) was Dalton's stuntman a supposed war hero that apparently got away with murdering his wife but has not had real steady industry work in the 8 years since Bounty Law has gone off the air. As Dalton describes in an interview on set. He could fall off a horse himself but if he did so and sprained an ankle the production could be set back a week while he healed so that's where Cliff comes in. The pair are inseparable, Cliff on the Dalton payroll mainly driving Rick around to his current string of guest starring roles as the Heavy since Rick lost his driver's license to too many drunk driving episodes.  Early on in the piece Dalton takes a meting with seasoned agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) who tires to encourage Rick to go to Italy to star in Spaghetti Westerns (ala Clint Eastwood) A chance to be the star again as the role of heavy is one step away from being unlikable and out of show business altogether.

Dalton's home in the Hollywood Hills is next door to that of newlywed couple Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) who's role is heavy on facial expression, physical presence but short on dialogue and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) who appears to be an Austin Powers clone bombing around in a British sports car and velvet suits. Robbie's performance peaks in a scene where she goes to see a public screening of herself in The Wrecking Crew. Tate's physical comedic acting on display to the delight of the audience Tarantino clearly showcasing her as a star on the rise. Every time Rich sees the pair his thoughts turn to a future role with his neighbour who Rick points out directed Rosemary's Baby that could get his career back on track.

The set department, costume design,and wardrobe were on high alert to get February and August 1969 on point. Bright colours rule the day especially in how Robbie and Pitt are outfitted. Cliff Booth does a lot of fast driving around own with plenty of vintage cars from the ear passing by or parked tantalizingly on the street on the fore or background. The grungy dirty hippie feel of the Spahn ranch where Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme and Lena Durham as Gypsy appear as acolytes is brought home with the wardrobe, set and design choices. It's in this scene where Pitt does his best work. Taking the group of peacenik hippies on that the audience know are prone to extreme violence head on and escaping unscathed.

Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood is a fantasy account of 2 February plus two August days in 1969. Tarantino is paying homage to Serio Leone with the title, format and his lead characters dabble in Spaghetti Westerns. The film is a tribute to the background details of the industry at the time. Downtime between scenes, that produce a wonderful conversation between Dalton and precocious child actor Trudi (Julie Butters), bets and dares leading to a confrontation between Cliff and Bruce Lee (Mike  Moh) on the backlot of the Green Hornet, the makeup trailer, set designers and wardrobe working spaces. The third act leads to the inevitable events of August 9, 1969. Tarantino is back on track with this one that will firmly loge itself in the top groupings of anyone's list of Tarantino outings.

**** Out of 4

Once Upon A time... In Hollywood | Quentin Tarantino | U.K. / U.S.A./ China |161 Minutes | 2019.

Tags: Tate/La Bianca Murders, 1969, Hollywood, Manson Family, Spahn Ranch Celio Drive, Spaghetti Western, Flame Thrower.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Riot Girls

N/R Canada 2019 81 Minutes

Action, Sci-Fi, Drama, Horror.

In the post Black Gut plague world of Potter's Bluff all adults are wiped out by the disease and the town is split into two. The poorer outsider kids live on the East Side while the rich lettermen, sweater wearing ones live in the West. The East is graffiti riddled inhabited by punks with spiked leather jackets while across town rows of cookie cutter homes with manicured lawns and strict rules reign. Jeremey (Munro Chambers) letterman captain and karate practitioner makes the rules sitting on his throne in the West Side High School Gym. Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) is the leader of the East, stealing to survive when he can and ambushing Westside deliveries when the opportunity presents. It's after one of these ambushes where Jack gets picked up and taken to the notorious A block in West side high school leaving his sister Nat ( Madison Iseman), Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski) and new ally West side defector Sony (Ajay Friese) to attempt to get into the school and break him out.

Director Jovanka Vuckovic presents a narrative that is strong on loyalty, champions the underdog and featuring plenty, suspense, action, violence and character arcs. A punk/metal soundtrack underpins the piece that will entertain audiences in an intersection of dystopia and fanatical law abiding. The payoff being someone stepping up at a critical moment to speak to fill a void resetting the balance of power.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Culture Shock

Shot for Into The Dark on Hulu and the feature debut of Gigi Saul Guerrero, Culture Shock follows a desperate pregnant woman Marisol (Martha Higareda) as she makes her second attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. Adding to the stakes Marisol is pregnant having been raped by her boyfriend Oscar (Filipe de Lara) and abandoned by her Coyote (Sal Lopez) on her last attempt. Higareda shines in the opening section of the piece as she tracks down her Coyote, convinces him to take her on his next trip and seeks the blessing from the tight circle female support she has at home before leaving.

Marisol bonds with a young boy from Guatemala who is making the crossing on his own having lost his parents along the way and the heavily tattooed Santo (Richard Cabral) who's jail cred even scares the heavies running the border crossing ring. The journey does not go as planned with the Cartel and U.S. Border control both intervening. Marisol wakes up from the failed attempt in the U.S. wearing a beautiful pastel dress, her baby within reach and Betty (Barbara Crampton) smiling face there to greet her.    

Culture Shock explores the main issue of the day, immigration into the U.S across the southern border. Here the U.S. government has sanctioned a private firm to try something different to keep the illegals out of the crowded detention centers yet compliant with their current situation. There are strong elements of The Stepford Wives, Get Out and Pleasantville in the piece with a dash of The Truman Show. Marisol and her fellow new arrivals seem to not remember what has gone before, their native language and what happened after the floodlights shone on them at the border.

All of the forces that play a role in the immigration puzzle pay their part of the film. The coyotes that prey on the most vulnerable taking exorbitant fees from the poor and desperate with no guarantee of safe passage. The Mexican cartels defending their territory are not immune to going target hunting when they spot a group of illegals on their nightly patrols and the U.S. government who seem to have no solution for the crisis throwing different ideas at the wall each day hoping one will stick.

**1/2 Out of Four.

Culture Shock | Gigi Saul Guerrero | 2019 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Border Crossing, Southern Border, Mexico, U.S.A. , Coyote, Pregnancy, Private Contractor, Government Experiment, Fourth of July.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Idol

The son of a rising morally sound politician Myung-hui (Han Seok-kyu)with a green agenda hits a mentally challenged man bringing the body home to his parents to deal with. The boy's father Jong-sik (Sul Kyung-gu) who owns a hardwood store is stuck in denial at first then rages at the perpetrators and the system that appears to be protecting their rising golden boy. However, there is a witness the daughter in law Ryeon-hwa (Chun Woo-hee) who was at the scene then fled due to her shaky immigration status in the country. Both fathers attempt to track her down for very different reasons is the main thrust of the story.

The initial outline becomes complicated as the first of several twists is revealed as Myung-hui reviews the security video of the events that occurred in the family garage the night before. Now the original timeline is in jeopardy as the autopsy will clearly show meaning that probation is likely off the table and Myung-hi's political career in jeopardy. He also starts to make choices that are contrary to his pristine image. This is on full display by his actions when he finally catches up with Ryeon-hwa. The lead of the piece also switches back and forth between the three principles. Myung-hi has the reigns to start then Joong-sik takes the wheel followed by Ryeong-hwa who the narrative follows in the third act to bring the story home.

Writer-director Lee-Su-jin second feature is high on suspense and mystery along with exploring the real rivalries between different districts in China and South Korea. However, the moving target that is the centre of the film can leave some viewers lost in sorting out the characters and their agendas. Lee plays up the 40's noir angle as it rains constantly especially during the night scenes.

Idol is a dark thriller that features multiple twists in the story. Chun Woo-hee continues her run of strong roles following up her memorable turn in The Wailing. Cinematic design is a leading character playing a major role in the look and feel of the film. It's one that requires our full attention with more than enough meat on the bone to leave the attentive viewer full and satisfied.

*** Out of 4.

Idol | Lee-Su-jin | South Korea | 2019 | 144 Minutes.

Tags: Hit and Run , Political Election, Illegal immigration, China, Acid, Massage Parlor, Political Machine, Morgue, Leaves.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - House of Hummingbird

1994 was a significant year in South Korean history. The country was expanding moving towards a Western financial capitalistic consumer society. Three signature events took place. The World Cup in the U.S.A. where the South Korean Men's team participated, The death of North Korea's Kim Il-sung and the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge. All are mentioned with each passing event having a larger impact on the storyline.

14-Year-Old Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu) is a grade 8 student and the youngest of three siblings. Middle child Suhee (Bak Suyeon) is out all hours of the night while older brother Daheoon (Son Sangyeon) carries the weight of family pride having to do well in school and go on to be successful in University. All three suffer from under parenting as their parents work long hours in a rice cake shop priding themselves on their fresh ingredients but openly argue in front of their children in their small council estate apartment.

The neglect, lack of privacy and abuse as her older brother Daheoon often beats her with no consequence leads Eun-hee outside in search of love and belonging. She develops a crush on a well to do boy whose parents do not approve of the Rice Shop Girl, another with a female classmate who gives her gifts and the attention that she craves then a strong mentor, mentee relationship with Chinese Cram school instructor Young-Ji (Kim Sae-byuk).

Director Kim Bo-ra shows the dynamics of South Korean society during that pivotal year. The soccer team participating in the 1994 World Cup was a point of national pride. The death of Kim Il-sung and the images of the scores of crying North Koreans meant uncertainty. Could it lead to war? The collapse of the Seongsu bridge was a major tragic event. A school bus full of kids perished alongside everyday Koreans headed to work in morning rush hour. Kim's narrative touches on the pressures on children to succeed in school to avoid embarrassing their family, the willingness to inform on your neighbour that is demonstrated in two key moments of the film and the second class status of women that Eun-hee, her sister both experience as did their mother a generation before.

Park Ji-hu shines as Eun-hee as she deals with dysfunction at home, changing alliances, friendship and crushes at school plus the immense pressure to do well at her studies and be respectful. Then as a bonus a major health issue that she more or less has to face on her own. Kim Sae-byuk as Young -ji is the mentor and only consistent positive influence in Eun-hee's life. She helps Eun-hee to gain confidence and makes her promise to always stand up for herself. These two performances anchor a notable first feature from writer director Kim Bo-ra. Her adept skills at storytelling, camera movement, and use of colour make her a rising talent sparking curiosity of what she will do next.

**** out of 4

House of Hummingbird | Kim Bo-ra | South Korea | 2019 | 138 Minutes.

Tags: 1994, World Cup, Kim-Il-sung, Seongsu Bridge Collapse, Chinese Cram School, Abuse, Lump, Surgery, Rice Cakes, Trampoline, Yellow Benetton Back Pack.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Daniel Isn't Real

8-Year-Old Luke (Griffin Robert Falkner) doesn't have any friends and is witness to raised voices and flying objects as his parents split up right in front of him. His mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterton) is also suffering from mental illness to compound the situation. Wandering out of the house to avoid the latest argument he happens onto the scene of a mass shooting at the café. The killer's dead body lying with its head back, eyes starring at him from the doorway on the other side of police tape. Another apparent bystander Daniel kid slightly older than Luke strikes up a conversation starting a friendship. However only Luke can see Daniel who has a mean streak. Following an incident orchestrated by Luke's imaginary friend that threatens Clair's health, she instructs Luke to banish Daniel to his Grandmothers old dollhouse where he locks the door and puts away the key.

Sophomore director Adam Egypt Mortimer adapts Brian DeeLeeuw's novel on a project seven and a half years in the making. Mortimer made some changes to the source material but the essence remains a story of a lonely stressed boy turned young adult dealing with mental issues of his mother and his own the latter possible stemming from an outside force as opposed to something internal.

The story jumps ahead to college where dorm dwelling Luke (now Miles Robbins) seeks help from counselor Dr. Cornelius Braun (Chuckwodi Iwuki) who suggest that Luke embrace his imagination once again. He returns home to his increasingly unstable mother to open the dollhouse releasing the adult Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) who at first is helpful to Luke but soon reveals a different agenda.

Daniel Isn't Real is a film that studies the intersection between mental health and demonic possession. Is someone with mental health issues being driven to act by an internal dialogue, a hidden personality or an outside invading entity? Lead by sons of famous actors (Tim Robbins and Arnold Schwarzenegger) with a strong supporting performance by American Honey's Sasha Lane the story will hold the audience attention as Mortimer unpeels layers building the tension. Some of the choices by the characters especially Dr. Braun are puzzling yet overall the storytelling is original backed by a  visually engaging cinematic design.

*** Out of 4

Daniel Isn't Real | Adam Egypt Mortimer | U.S.A. | 2019 | 96 minutes.

Tags: Brooklyn, Active Shooter, Divorce, Imaginary Friend, Schizophrenia, Hallucinations, Possession, Tibet Mythology, Friendship.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Dance With Me

Shizuka Suzuki (Ayaka Miyoshi) is a salary woman working at leading financial firm Yotsuba Holdings. Shizuka and her three friends barely touch their lunches, walk back from break armed with Venti Starbuck beverages and all fawn over dreamy young executive Mr. Murakami (Takahiro Miura) who has a sudden opening on his team that they are all vying to fill. Shizuka by chance gets a rush assignment for Murakami her work interrupted by her sister and niece but she manages to complete the project. With some free time, she takes her niece to Fortune Land where they encounter slippery hypnotist Martyn Ueda (Akira Takarada) whose spell to help her niece lands on Shizuki. Now she is compelled to break out into Dance and Song whenever she hears music. Not a good trait for a mid- level salary woman trying to advance her career.

Writer-Director Shinobu Yaguchi takes shots at the conservative corporate ladder climbers and pre conceived notions with the film. He shows the employee's morning rush into the corporation like ants, swiping their passcards and filling the elevators shoulder to shoulder. Instead, he emphasizes the opposite message of being be true to yourself and do something to follow you passion.

Shizuka's awkward performance helps Murakami to land a deal leading him to offer her a position on his team. Shizuki accepts but wants a week to track down Martyn who has disappeared from the park taking his show on the road while he tries to keep one step ahead of loan sharks. She is accompanied on her search by Chi (Yu Yashiro) Martyn former roper who was swindled by the con man herself. The pair are total opposites Chi free and easy to rigid Shizuki who comes slowly out of her shell as the trip progresses. Look for a road rage encounter with a pair of gang members that solidly drives home the director's theme of preconceived notions.

Dance with Me is a feel-good piece that will have audiences tapping their toes as they rock in their seats to the musical numbers. The story is straight forward but full of valuable lessons that are helpful to both young and older moviegoers. The ensemble cast do not make a wrong step and the closing Bollywoodesque number that brings all of the main characters together as the credits roll will put a smile on your face that will remain there for your entire trip home from the theatre.

*** Out of 4.

Dance With Me | Shinobu Yaguchi | Japan| 2019 | 103 Minutes.

Tags: Hypnotism, Rat Race, Musical, Road Trip, Sapporo, Stage Fright, Dance Off, Wedding Crashers, Psycho Ex, Mood Ring, Aura.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Bliss

Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll are the elements fueling Joe Begos' latest film Bliss. Dora Madison from Friday Night Lights fame is Dizzy Donahue a nocturnal artist who heads out for fun when the sunsets parties till all hours coming home to paint until dawn. Right now she is in a rut, her debts piling up and her agent looking to drop her. She has a piece due for her biggest client but has nothing on the canvas. Looking to fuel her creative side she checks in with her drug dealer Hadrian (Graham Skipper) for something new and exciting. Taking the most potent option of "bliss" Diablo cocaine. After the first hit she finds herself sunken into the floor then hooked up with often absent pal Courtney (Tru Collins) and her guy Clive (Jeremey Gardner). Dizzy gets more that she bargained for from the encounter but her inspiration to paint has returned even though she can't remember any of the brushstrokes.

Writer-Director Joe Begos uses 16mm as the grainy underbelly vehicle for this hard charging, intense ear splitting soundtrack filled gorefest that dances across the screen. Dizzy, of course, wants more as her painting that will be her masterpiece takes shape. She comes to realize that she craves something more than alcohol and drugs alone to keep the creative juices flowing. Begos rapid fire writing style keeps the narrative barreling ahead towards the finish line in a battle for Dizzy's soul between the need to finish the piece and her ultimate survival.

Dora Madison gives a full throated performance as Dizzy. She throws herself with reckless abandon into each scene as the perversion, blood lust, hallucinations, and blackouts intensify. Graham Skipper tries to assist as Hadrian the drug dealer with a conscious. Actually telling Dizzy that she ought to lay off for a while despite her being a paying customer. Look for George Wendt a longtime friend of Begos as one of the cronies hanging out at Hadrian's places swapping old war stories with his buddies before ending up on the wrong side of Dizzy's blood lust.

Bliss is a wild ride that plays more like a long-form performance art piece than a film. Anchored by the total commitment by lead Dora Madison the film is mix of purple, blue and red energy that could have gone sideways fronted by a less engaged actor. It's a compelling study of an artist drive to create and complete, riding that wave as it flows thought them tossing everything else aside including their own health and well being.

***1/2  Out of 4

Bliss | Joe Begos | U.S.A. | 2019 | 80 Minutes.

Tags: Los Angeles, Painter, Creative Block, Advance, Agent, Gallery Show, Cocaine, Dive Bar, Vampires, Blood Lust, Dante's Inferno, Metal.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - The Father's Shadow

9-Year-Old Dalva (Nina Medeiros) is the de facto head of the household. Her parenting figure Aunt Cristina (Luciana Paes) has moved out to live with her fiancée Elton (Raphel Raposo) while her dad Jorge (Julio Machado) works a grueling hard labour construction job at a dangerous dusty site. Cristina has delved into the magical arts introducing Dalva to it and seeing right away that her young niece has a special gift. Dalva does the laundry, gets the groceries, cleans up the household as her dad lumbers around still mourning the death of Dalva's mother. He is not the sharpest and neglectful of his heath and the safety measure that should be followed on the job site. Dalva's only chance to be a kid occurs when she spends time with her friend Abigail (Clara Moura). They play in Abigail's room where Dalva teaches her pal some magical chants that latter directs towards her baby brother whom she sees as taking away her mothers' affection.

Writer-Director Gabriela Amaral tackles several major issues with the film. How people react to and handle a loss. The struggle of the working poor willing to take risks with their own safety for a regular income. How fragile the family dynamic can be and the loss of a parent can completely upset the balance.

Nina Medeiros is rock solid as Dava. She is in primary school yet stronger mentally and more emotionally stable that her Dad and Aunt combined. She's the reassuring voice telling Aunt Cristina that everything will be O.K. when she has a fight with her boyfriend and brings her dad to the hospital by herself when a neglected injury reaches a critical state. Luciana Paes runs the emotional range as Cristina. She is a true believer in the magical arts. Is sure she and Elton will be together forever then balling her eyes out over him the next moment. But is more stable that her brother who she advises Dalva is big and dumb like most men.

The Father's Shadow is an ambitious piece that touches on and ties together many divergent elements. Dalva uses her special gift to help her friend Abigail, her Aunt with her love life then sets her sights on a larger tasks that moves the project into horror suspense territory. Workplace safety, the plight of poor families and the ease of how children can get lost by the system are also explored. Director Amaral brings all of these elements together in a smooth structure that fits together well.

***1/2 Out of 4.

The Father's Shadow | Gabriela Amaral | Brazil | 2019 | 92 Minutes.

Tags: Death, Mourning, Magic, Social Services, Workplace Accident, Horror Movies, Zombies.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Fly Me To Saitama

City vs Suburb rivalries is a topic that is universal with those in the city always boasting that they are superior. They have cultural, marquee events, financial centres, and everything is walking distance or a short trip on transit while Suburbia claims to have safety, more livable space and the expansive shopping malls. The divide is elevated to the highest level here in Hideki Takeuchi's adaptation of an 80"s Manga by Mineo Maya.

Its the hottest day of the year in Kumagaya, Saitama known as the warmest in place in Japan. Aimi is headed to Tokyo for her engagement party driven by her dad (Brother Tom) and mom (Kumiko Aso).Aimi is happy that her fiancée is well to do and living in Tokyo where she has dreamed of living all of her life. Her puts downs of Saitama anger her father who stops the car vowing to return home. Mom calms the situation switching on radio program broadcast of a fantasy tale about Saitama rising up to overthrow Tokyo oppressors.  Over the rest of their drive into Tokyo, the family listens to the broadcast becoming more invested in the story as it advances.

Set in the 80's visas are required to enter into Tokyo. All of the prefectures are ranked with Saitama being at the bottom. At the prestigious Hakuhodo school, Momomi (Fumi Nikaido) who's dad Kenzo (Akira Nakao) is the Governor is President. Momomi's fiefdom is challenged and toppled by Rei Asami (Gackt) who has schooled in America but is a Saitama plant. After a shared kiss Momomi is willing to follow Rei anywhere becoming his partner in the quest to abolish the visa requirement and grant Saitama dignity, inclusion, and status.

Takeuchi plays on the neighbourly rivalries to the extreme in the film. Saitama's closest rival Chiba looks down on the former because they have no access to the sea. Their liberation front soldiers employ a unique form of torture; stuffing the captives every orifice with peanuts. Gunma prefecture is made out to be a prehistoric Jurassic Park like place to keep the public away from a critical secret hidden there.

Fly Me to Saitama is a wild tale that rides to the edge of absurd but never crosses the line. Fumi Nikaido as Momomi and Gackt as Rei play it straight adding strength to the material. The film's flipping back and forth from the fantasy to the Sagawaras drive into Tokyo and commentary on the events unfolding in the play works to build anticipation, interest and emotional investment of the audience. The narrative includes nods every type of rebel alliance from Samurai legends, to Braveheart to Star Wars. It's a funny, entertaining, and joyful time in the theatre that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Fly Me to Saitama | Hideki Takeuchi | Japan | 2019 | 107 Minutes.

Tags: Rivalry, Revolution, Engagement, Radio Play, Satiama, Chiba, Tokyo,Visa, Peanuts, War, Alliance.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - A Good Woman Is Hard To Find

Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is struggling to support her family after the murder of her husband in the notorious Belfast Estate neighbourhood. Her son Ben (Rudy Doherty) has not spoken since his Dad's death while daughter Lucy (Macie McCauley) tries to fill the void left by her brother's silence. Sarah is hassled constantly by a creepy store monitor at the local grocery store and her mom wants her to move back in with her believing that Sarah's late husband Steven took away the youth, vibrancy, and potential of her daughter.

Into this picture storms small-time street hustler Tito (Andrew Simpson). He bursts into the family home while running from the Miller gang who he's just ripped off deciding to stash the stolen drugs at Sarah's as the perfect cover. Sarah is reluctant but her cut of the sales allows for more for the kids until Ben discovers and destroys the balance of the stash.

A mother trying desperately to keep her independence, solve the murder of her husband and seek treatment for her now mute son centres Abner Pastol's film. We see pictures of Sarah when she was happy, stress free and healthy opposing her current state of anxious uncertainty while mourning the death of her husband. Rohan Blaney's script has no extra scenes or wasted dialogue. A sequence that might seem to be a throwaway at the time links to a key event later in the piece.

Sarah Bolger is in just about every frame of the film. She is meek cowering early on when harassed by the Greens Food Fare store monitor, dismissed by the police and demeaned by her mom. Her fortitude grows during a visit from social services building to a critical interaction with Tito and on to her actions in the third act. Eric Hogg is the gangster scholar as Leo Miller. He corrects the grammar of his intended victims before he is about to strike and gives the best explanation of Realpolitik riffing off Tito's name this side of a 3rd year University History class. Andrew Sampson as Tito injects a unique comedic perspective on how he sees the world. He's a home invader but fair to Sarah even though he has mite on his side. These three performances drive the film that is fair value for its 97 minute run time and one that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find | Abner Pastol | U.K. /Belgium/ Ireland | 2019 | 97 Minutes.

Tags: Widow, Murder, Psychological Trauma, Car Theft, Robbery, Home Invasion, Stash, 40%, Realpolitik,  Good Samaritan.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - The Purity of Vengence

Dutch author Jussi Alder-Olson wrote a series of crime novels that focus on Department Q  investigating cold cases in Copenhagen. The Purity of Vengeance originally titled Journal 64, is the fourth in the series to make it to the big screen. Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares reprise their roles as hard-nosed sympathy lacking straight to the point cop Carl Morck and his positive, reliable, warm Syrian born partner Assad. Here the case is one for ages, construction workers knock down a false wall in a vacated apartment to find three bound mummified corpses sitting around a table having tea. The perpetrator wanted this scene to be known but proves exceedingly hard to track down.

Slickly packaged, stylishly presented with a driving bass filled soundtrack lurking below the action the film tells an unflinching story of abuse and anti-immigrant activity that borders on social cleansing. The story starts in 1961 when Nete (Fanny Bornedal) is sent to Sprogo island an institution for troubled girls because she is in love with her cousin and will not let it go. There she meets head Dr. Wad who has some disturbing practices that harken back to the Nazis controlling nurse Gitte (Luise Skov) and is paired with sex-crazed roomie Rita (Clara Rosager). The three terrorize Nete during her stay leaving her with scars that will last for a lifetime.

Skip forward to the present Dr. Wad is thriving as the proprietor of the leading fertilization clinic in Copenhagen.  He has strong political links as he has helped prominent Danes achieve pregnancy later in life. However, some of his old theories might still be in practice and it's up to Kaas and Fares to prove the case and make it stick.

The Purity of Vengence is any enjoyable film that feels too condensed and would benefit from the longer format that the small screen could provide. Although the fourth in a series the film stands on its own meaning viewers need not search out the prior three to follow along. The three Q Department leads Kass, Fares and do it all Rose (Johanna Louise Schmidt) are very comfortable in their roles being more like sparing siblings then work colleagues. It's a captivating story that could easily be ripped from today's headlines which is believable and chilling both at the same time.

*** Out of 4.

The Purity of Vengence | Christoffer Boe | Denmark /Germany | 2018 | 119 Minutes.

Tags: Cold Case, Institution for Girls, Conspiracy Theory, Secret Society, Pregnancy, Abortion, Forced Sterilization, Henbane

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Ode to Nothing

The majority of Ode To Nothing takes place in a big old gated home that has a funeral business on the main floor. Sonya (Marietta Subong) runs the funeral home where clients are scarce. Her aging father Joone (Mang Rudy) appears once a day to eat at the large dining table on the second floor not ever speaking to his daughter.  Local heavy Thoedor (Dido De La Paz) is often luring about looking to collect on the debt owed threating violence, taking furniture, reminding Sonya that the interest is building and that he holds her deed.

Into this desperate situation one night two men drop off an elderly bloodied female body to be dealt with no questions asked. They will pay cash so Sonya takes the body placing it on the lesser used table. After the arrival of the old woman Sonya's luck begins to change. She sees an influx of customers, with multiples becoming common. Accompanying flower sales increase and she can make a significant payment to Theodor to gain some breathing space. Plus the local taho vendor Elmer (Anthony Falcon) for whom Sonya has a thing begins to pay her more attention. However, the obsession over the corpse moves to a new level when Sonya brings it up to the living space and both she and her dad begin to treat it as the third member of the family.

Isolation, loneliness, and loss are the main themes explored in Dwein Baltazar's film. Sonya job as an embalmer alone in a room with corpses all day is isolated and lonely as it gets. The interactions with customers and how they display grief runs the gambit peoples reaction to loss. Neil Daza's lens gives the piece a smoky soft yellow tinge especially evident in the nighttime scenes in the hallways and bedrooms for the family living quarters.

The set, makeup, and prosthetics departments play a major part in the film. They forge the structures to get the old lady upright and mobile, make her look presentable as possible and cobble together the form that is the old woman herself. Well acted, thoughtfully written and gripping visually Ode to Nothing is the push and pull of long passages of silence followed by brief hectic periods of activity that the production team envisioned and delivers.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Ode To Nothing | Dwein Baltazar | Philipines| 2019 | 92 Minutes.

Tags: Funeral Home, Embalmer, Cassette Tape, Debt, Deed, Taho Vendor, Corpse, Luck, Flowers.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Sator

A labour of love based on personal experience forged on a micro-budget. Jordan Graham bares his soul showing a family rife with dysfunction under the heavy weight of a grandmother Nani (June Petersom) who is a vessel for the spirit Sator writing down the offerings. Nani's state along with absenteeism attitude of his mother comes to a head on a key birthday for Adam (Gabe Nicholson). His sister Evie (Rachel Johnson) sending him out into the woods as her brother had potentially become a serious threat to the rest of the family. There, Adam spends most of his days wandering around with a rifle on his back shooting at cans and checking out the vegetation and caves in the forest. When in the cabin, he looks at Deer Cam videos on an early version Pentium computer then at night suffers through dreams that border on hallucinations.

Brother Pete (Michael Daniel) who has problems of his own is the only one that visits Adam on occasion. Otherwise, he is left on is own isolated and cut off spending all of his time in is own head leading to in increasingly bizarre and freakish results. Evie meanwhile takes care of Nani in the family home trying to keep the fragments of her family together the best that she can.

Besides directing Graham, wrote, Dp'ed, Edited, Produced and hand wrote the opening credits of the film. The project took five years to complete with atmosphere over dialogue being the driving force of the production. The low lighting might have been a budgetary necessity but it helped produce a murky bordering on found footage quality where the viewer is not sure what they are seeing on screen which can both be confusing and a challenge mentally.  The format worked best as Adam cranked up the pixels on Deer Cam recorded events to reveal a presence that ramped up the psychosis to a peak level.

Sator is a study of family mental instability brought on by two generations of self-absorbed or worse indifferent matriarchs. The next generation is in taters with no prospects of another to follow. The dysfunction hits Adam the hardest leaving him isolated in exile with rational Evie dreading the consequence should one day he develop the energy or feel the need to come back home. The film will likely divide audiences with those up for the challenge finding it rewarding while others that are not exhausting.

**1/2 Out of 4.

Sator | Jordan Graham |  U.S.A. |2019 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Spirit, Spirit Keeper, Isolation, Deer, Birthday Party, Camcorder, Rifle, Deer Skull, Deer Pelt, Gasoline Can, Match.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - 8

There has been a surge in new South African cinema telling stories that do not focued on politics or race relations. Last years homage to Rear Window, Number 37 and the recent Five Fingers of Marseilles to name a couple. Exploring folklore is also a rising trend in the horror world. Both merge together here in Harold Holscher's 8.  Holscher had a curiosity of what different cultures in South Africa think happen to displaced souls at death. One traditions is on the Buffalo Thorn tree where a healer goes asks for a branch that a goat eats, is sacrificed then buried with the family member that died away from the homestead bringing the soul home. Holscher took this further to a figure that collects these souls giving birth to the main character of the film.

The Wanderer /Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) is snuck up on by precocious Mary (Keita Luna) as she searches for food to feed her silkworms. She introduces her worms by their names to Lazarus who is immediately taken by the child escorting her back home to the suspicion of her Aunt Sarah (Inge Beckmann) and thankfulness of her Uncle William (Garth Breytenbach). William needing assistance with the farm offers that Lazarus can stay in the shed and work on the property. The local village sense that Lazarus has returned to the community. To them, he is a demon that comes to steal souls of the villagers at night. But some remember him as a man and grieving father that lost his wife and daughter in a fire. In a moment of extreme sadness and despair, he made a deal with evil to bring his daughter back. The creature that is not Lazarus' true daughter demands souls in return to feed its hunger.

Little known actor Tshamano Sebe rules the screen as The Wanderer. He is father, demon, handyman and a validating friend to young Mary. Keita Luna gets inside Lazurus pain shield to fully engage him, their blossoming relationship the reason that a leap from character works in the third act. Inge Beckmann plays the stern, protective, barren Aunt to the hilt making the audience emotionally root for a demon soul stealer over the clear-eyed guardian.

8 is at its core a story about guilt. Lazarus has guilt over not protecting his family and the deal he made with evil at the most vulnerable time. Sarah's is due to being barren and not able to produce an heir for William.  William's because he squandered all of his money forcing him out to the sparsely populated countryside to run a farm. Mary's is survivors following the untimely death of her parents. The first time feature director brings these elements together to produce a film that is well worth the watch.

*** Out of 4

8 | Harold Holscher | South Africa | 2019 | 105 Minutes

Tags: Farm, Shed, Fire, Evil, Orphan, Chant, Soul, Limbo, Pregnancy.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - The Wretched

Ben (John-Paul Howard) who been acting out since learning of his parents plans to split up goes to spend the summer with his dad at a Northern Michigan boating community. Despite a broken arm, he lands a job working at the Marina where his dad is the manager. There he meets Mallory (Piper Curda) a sharp new colleague, his Dads current girlfriend Sarah (Azie Tesfai) and a group of spoiled rich kids that like to prank the new guy. The stage is set for a summer of sun, fun and moderate territorial battles but lurking in the woods beneath the root of an ancient twisted tree lies a witch with the power to inhabit and move between female bodies, render men docile servants with a whisper and an appetite for young children whose existence she wipes from the memory of loved ones and families minds.

Directors Brett and Drew Piece blend a couple of different witches from folklore to obtain the qualities they wanted in their monster. Being anti CGI they use practical effects wherever possible with Madelynn Stunkell as The Wretched in full costume and makeup covered in chocolate syrup interacting with the children giving the actors something tangible to react to. They also break the sacred Tennent of showing violent attacks on kids. From the prologue set 35 years in the past where The Wretched has occupied the body of the mother of the house feasting on her toddler in the basement. To the Witches appearance, present day snatching a baby from a crib and munching on its flesh.

Ben notices changes with his next door neighbour Abbie (Zarah Mahler) that are also picked up by her son Dillon (Blane Crockarell). The witches powers grow as she builds a shrine of rocks, branches, and skulls dotted with photos of those abducted, erased or set as the next target. Mahler is key in establishing the essence of the witch. How she takes hold of her intended host, shapeshifts into their skin, turning males into drone like servants while making them with a whisper into the ear forget about their small children. The exposition is done physically here which is much better than a stuffy subject matter expert giving a nauseating soliloquy on the topic.

The Wretched is full of classic horror elements. Evil living among us, animals and nature knowing what it is and reacting first, followed by kids, teenagers and lastly adults. The Pierce Brothers have taken their time here as storytellers to bring to the screen a physical, practical anti-structure horror  film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

The Wretched | Brett & Drew Pierce | U.S.A. | 2019 | 95 Minutes

Tags: Prelogue, Seperation, Honor System, Marina, Casserole, Skinny Dipping, Ancient Fable, Salt, Child Abduction, Mind Control.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - 1BR

Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) has moved to L.A. for a fresh start. She has a talent sketching and sewing planning to take a course locally to hone her craft and make new contacts. She is staying in a motel room, her Dad regularly calling her to come home believing that she does not have a solid plan. She works as a temp in a law firm for the worst kind of boss one who blames her mistakes on her subordinates and drops urgent projects on them at the last minute. She learns of a one-bedroom apartment available that would be perfect for her needs. Sarah goes to the open house almost walking out immediately seeing the number of interested parties. She is encouraged to stay by the Manager Jerry (Terry Nichols) who helps her to fill out the application where she gets stuck on the no pets question. Sarah gets the place, is warmly greeted by the residents who are more like a community especially handsome next-door neighbour Brian (Giles Matthey) who always seems to pop out of his apartment as she is walking past.

However, the dream apartment is not as advertised. At night the pipes creak and knock leaving her sleep deprived. Peculiar tenant Lester (Clayton Hoff) keeps staring at her from afar and she begins to get anonymous messages reminding her of the no pet policy meaning  that someone knows she smuggled in her pet cat Gyles. Plus everyone seems to have a copy of the book The Power of Community, that emphasizes Selflessness, Openness, Acceptance, and Security. The reality of the situation hits Sarah hard one night when she awakes to a burning smell and noise inside her apartment. The Asilo Del Mar residence are not as expected nor is their version of Community.

Director David Marmor researched many Groups / Utopian communities in crafting the story. L.A. is a breeding ground for them as many people escape to the city looking for a new beginning. Many may have left a trauma behind making them vulnerable to these entities. Here, Sarah is trying to put as much distance as she can between her and her father who cheated on her dying mom with the treating nurse. The tenents of these communities are a tool used to wedge the individual away from their family, friends, former life and into a state where the Group becomes their whole world.

1BR is an exercise that is autobiographical for Marmor. He moved to L.A. in his twenties, lacking confidence, entering a world that his parents didn't understand giving pause as he walked around waving to new faces. These groups are out there for the lost and traumatized. Scooping up new recruits each day disappearing them from their families and loved ones.

*** Our of 4.

1BR | David Marmor | U.S.A. | 2019 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Los Angeles, Open House, Temp, Utopian, Community, Tennents, Brainwashing, Feline.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Blood on Her Name

Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) has just made a catastrophic mistake. She is in her auto repair shop Tiller's Auto with blood on her that's not her's staring at a body by the car hoist as a growing pool of blood forms. She is not unaccustomed to trouble. Her husband is in jail, her son Ryan (Jared Ivers) has to meet regularly with his parole officer and pee in a cup plus her dad works for the Sheriff's office but has fractured a serious rule on more than one occasion. Leigh grabs her cell phone to call 911 but stops. Deciding instead to get rid of the body setting in motion a series of events each making it harder to escape her inevitable fate over the likely result if she had made the call.

Director Matthew Pope who along with Don Thompson wrote the story of a series of desperate people living on the fringes in flyover country. Money is tight, prospects are worse and the players seem doomed to follow the behavioural patterns of the generation that came before. The writers put a sharp edge on the narrative that gives it bite. The wardrobe is mechanic grease and sweat stained with the beverages of choice being domestic beer and whiskey.

Bethany Anne Lind gives a strong physical performance as Leigh. She does a lot of heavy lifting but has an underlying sense of justice that can lead her astray. Will Patton is cut straight through to quick as Sheriff Department Officer Teller. He sizes up a situation ready to act whether the intended course adheres to or is against the law. Elizabeth Rohn is drawn into this conflict late as the victim's wife holding her wits well against the seasoned foes opposing her.

Blood on Her Name is a story that will hold interest throughout its brisk 85 minutes run time. It starts in the middle of the central event then introduces the well composed core group of characters who have depth seemingly from the moment they appear on the screen. It's a weighty presentation by a first time feature director that is well worth the watch.

*** Out of 4

Blood On Her Name | Matthew Pope | U.S.A. | 2019 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Running Cars, Mechanic, Auto Repair Shop, Murder, Shrinkwrap, Parole, Necklace,  Colorado.

Fantasia '19 Film Review - Swallow

Hunter (Haley Bennett) seems to have everything anyone would want. Her husband Ritchie (Austin Stowell) is an extremely fit financial market heavyweight that has been just been promoted to run the family firm by his no-nonsense father (David Rasche) while her mother in law Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel) was in her shoes when she became Michael's bride offers on the balance helpful advice.

However, in the opening frames of film underlying issues emerge. She is ignored when she begins to speak as the three adults move on to more important issues. She lives in a remote glass house that her father in law bought. She appears to have no family, car or friends of her own with her only goal being to make Ritchie happy.

Events turn darker when she discovers that she is pregnant. Ritchie is elated telling his parents right away. Hunter begins to work on the nursery but in reality, she is losing more sense of herself, falling further into the tight grip of this high powered family. She reacts by ingesting unelidable objects, first a marble, then a push pin followed by a battery. In her mind, these small acts of rebellion give her back a sense of control until she winds up in the hospital needing surgery. The family now have reason to tighten to noose hiring Nurse / Babysitter / C.O.  Luay (Laith Nakli) "The Best in the Business" to watch her 24 hours a day.

Writer-Director Carlos Mirobella-Davis explores a topic that bubbles under popular discourse. The victim is viewed as lucky, the bruising is on the inside and not out and the damage is psychological and not physical.  The crux being Hunter is in a prison, with no say on what she does, who she sees, or what she can or can't do with her body. The most subtly chilling example of the latter occurs when Mother In Law Katherine comments on her hair and how Ritchie likes the hair on his girls long. Leading to obsessive touching of her bob likely thinking each time that it is making Ritchie unhappy.

Swallow is a psychological struggle of a young wife with whom many would gladly switch places. Haley Bennett produces a multi-layered performance as Hunter spanning the range from subservient to reckoner.  Austin Stowell is perfectly cast as the silver spoon neglectful husband while Laith Naki shines as the former Eastern European soldier turned Au-Pair. Look for Mirobella-Davis' unique way of weaponizing texting as a tool to show overt indifference.  It's an important look at a common yet ignored aspect of society where women in this predicament often are not helped or supported.

**** Out of 4.

Swallow | Carlos Mirobella-Davis | USA / France | 2019 | 94 minutes.

Tags: Job Promotion, Weaponized Texting, Pregnancy, Nursery, PICA Disorder, Self-Help Book, Surgery, Marble, Push Pin, Battery, Nail