Thursday, November 23, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - Fake Blood

Hollywood film companies want to get as wide of an audience as they can for their films. A tool to do so is not to show blood when people are shot. The reward, if you don't is a PG-13 rating. The possible side effect to your audience is a belief that violence is not messy which can lead to desensitization. Rob Grant and Mike Kovac had made a couple of small budget horror films that had moderate success on the festival circuit. Their second film Mon Ami followed two guys who worked in a hardware store that decided to kidnap the bosses' daughter for ransom. The bumblers end up killing her by mistake then go back to their hardware store to get tools to dismember the body. It's a video of this shopping spree that a fan sends to Rob making him begin to think about his responsibility to the public as a horror filmmaker.

To find out Rob and Mike go to a range and shoot guns, Mike gets in a fight in a dojo then they  contact a criminal defines attorney friend to learn what it's like to interact with real criminals on a daily basis. Another contact links them to film consultant that they call "John" who has seen and likely participated in real violence. The repeated theme is in real life violence happens and it's over fast. You can beat someone up in eight seconds. If you're caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; one moment you're here and the next your gone.

Somewhere along the way, the theme of the film changes from determining the responsibility if any of a director to the public for the level of violence portrayed on screen to chasing down those that have experienced real violence on both sides to find out how it made them feel. The latter a more dangerous proposition with real-life consequences that could put the subjects, filmmakers, family, and friends in jeopardy.

Fake Blood is a tense mix of lighthearted investigation and full-on psychological with the hint of physical peril. The documentary crosses over into reality inviting real-life consequences when the filmmakers ill-advisedly dig deeper into consultants John's stories. The switch is jarring leading to a final stanza that will stay with the viewer long after they exit the theatre. Another big difference pointed out to the pair is in movies as opposed to real life there is no aftermath. The filmmakers get to see the chilling aftermath of their actions first hand during the making of this documentary. As "John" states: Movies don't make people go out and kill people but they can change how guys who kill people behave.

**** Out of 4.

Fake Blood | Rob Grant | Canada | 2017 | 81 Minutes

Tags: Documentary, Consultant, Parking Lot, $600.00, Vancouver Island, Drug Trafficker, Manslaughter

Monday, November 20, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - Kill Order

David (Chris Mark) has a haunting dream where he is being medically prodded then sees a suggestive fiery figure demanding that he kill. At that points he wakes sweating, heart pounding as the alarm clock goes off in the background. He heads off to his academy school still dazed for the first class on psychosocial development.  Into first period burst a tactical team looking for David. They attempt to take him down when his hidden skills buried deep inside kick in along with his natural instincts to disable the team and escape.

This is an action film that delivers. From the first sequence when David takes out the kill team. The choreography is on point and the benefit of casting stunt people in the acting roles is clearly apparent. David is part Jason Bourne and a third Neo as he flows through the classroom taking out his adversaries.

Writer/ Director James Marsh tells a tale that is low on dialogue in its place is hand-to-hand combat, swords, slo-mo/fast paced gravity-defying sci-fi effects, blunt objects, and knives. The sets of these battles are low tech, a classroom, apartment, clearing in a forest and a medical facility. The soundtrack works in concert to communicate the intensity of the battle with David's implanted training kicking in where required. Marsh takes a co-credit for stunt coordination plus acts as the literal Ying to Davids' Yang. Besides starring as David Chris Mark also serves as fight coordinator for the film.

The narrative slowly gives clues to David's past. There's Shiro Fujitaka (Denis Akiyama) the head of the Saisei Corporation that's hit upon a new energy source. The shadowy Mr. Collins (Jason Gosbee) with a team of sunglasses suited goons that walk and talk like Agents from the Matrix. Then there's the Organization an off the book entity authors of David's augmentation in the first place.

Kill Order is a chance for the unsung to step out from the shadows and in front of the camera. The cast filled with stunts performers do the heavy lifting but don't hear cut to be replaced when its time for a close-up. The narrative is secondary to the visuals as it should be for this type of film, making it  an overload for the visual pleasure sensors not to mention a seamless set up for a sequel.

*** Out of 4.

Kill Order | James Marsh | Canada | 2017 | 77 Minutes.

Tags: Orphan, Programming, Experimentation, Reprogramming, Trigger, Tactical Team, Clean Up Crew, Spirit Energy, Kill-Love, Electric Shock, Purpose, No Name, Ying-Yang, Revenge.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - Buckout Road

Three students decide to do a project on an infamous road in their Westchester New York town. After completing their project they all begin to have strange dreams based on the stories then fear they may be killed. One story is shown grindhouse style featuring two albino cannibals who appear along the road if you park and honk your horn three times. A second surrounds a wife that's accused by her husband of being impregnated by a slave. She defends herself when he attacks producing a fatal result. The third is the story of three witches who were hunted down and burned at the stake right on the roadway.

Into this environment comes Aaron Powell (Evan Ross) home from the military to stay with his grandfather (Danny Glover). Dr. Powell has a session with Cleo Harris (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) one of the students from the project. Aaron strikes up a conversation with Cleo then begins to have dreams about the urban legends himself. The twist with Aaron is he can interact with the historical figures in the nightmares as opposed to being paralyzed by the events.

Aaron joins Cleo and the Ganzer twins to do some more investigation into the Buckout Farmhouse owned by slaveowner John Buckout and wife Mary, the disheveled house of the two albinos then the  three witches that were killed that is marked by three x's on the road. They learn the story of the witches is real and that they may be being punished for their project doubting the myths.

Buckout Road is a psychological thriller, horror, mystery and historical fable mixed together. The ensemble cast does not make a false step in the piece. The young leads are backed by a veteran core of actors that beside Danny Glover include Henry Czerny and Colm Feore. If you're looking for a historical thriller with secrets passed down and protected through generations then this film is for you.

*** Out of 4.

Buckout Road | Matthew Currie Holmes | Canada | 96 Minutes.

Tags: Witches, Westchester, Sleepwalking, Curse, Cannibals, Suicide, Slave Owner, Schizophrenia.

BiTS '17 Film Review - Red Spring

The undead has been a staple of movies and television since their rebirth since the rebirth of the virus spread phenomenon in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.  With so many writers giving their vision on the genre it's hard to break new ground. Jeff Sinasac has managed to do so with Red Spring. The Canadian production follows a small group of humans that have survived an outbreak that has transformed the majority of the population into vampires. Some of the standard rules are followed, people are bitten and transform, they are normally not out in the day but the twist is the turned keep their abilities they had from before. They can drive cars, form roadblocks, shoot guns and track humans by sent that is used by the small band of humans to their advantage.

Sinasac stars in the film as Ray who at the fins opening is surveying rotting bodies in a shelter that has been overrun by vampires. He's looking for his wife and daughter who where were evacuated to the camp but are now missing. He head's back to the van where the rest of the group Bailey (Lindsey Middleton) driving, Solider Mitchell (Reece Presley) the defacto leader, Eric (Adam Cronheim) who himself had escaped from a farm just before becoming food and Carlos (Jonathan Robbins) are aboard with a plan to head out of the city. On their way, they come across Vicky (Elysia White) who persuades them to head to her Dad's place where there's a bomb shelter with plenty of food and security cameras to track any approach.

Sinasac flips the narrative part way through the film to give the vampire's point of view. They have a new recruit that knows the survivors well. The new disciple taunts his former friends, disrupts their hideout as a valuable tool to the vampire leader (Andre Guantanamo) who has past military training himself. The story uses scent in the spot where others have used movement or sound. The group is very aware of this leading them to use different methods to disguise their scent.

Red Spring is a fresh entry into the undead genre. The film has a healthy distrust of authority as the population was directed into shelters where many met their fate. Sinasac has something new to say about vampire behavior met with original strategies by survivors. It's a thoughtful piece and a film that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Red Spring | Jeff Sinasac | Canada | 2017 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Vampires, Kincardine, Bomb Shelter, Motorcycle, Rain, Mud, Boat, Gunshot, Antibiotics, Ballet Class.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

EUFF 17' Film Review - My Name Is Emily

Mental stability and genius are two edges of a thin piece of wire. Robert (Michael Smily) is bubbling under the wrong side of the ledger until his daughter Emily (Evanna Lynch) is born. Emily inspires more engagement then Robert fully blossoms after taking a job as a teacher. He's moved to write a book about people needing to have more sex that becomes a best seller leading to book tours, fame and happiness for his family.

Cut to the second stanza where Emily comes home searching the daily mail for a letter greeted by a man and a woman who are not her parents. Emily is in a foster home in Dublin her mother having died in a car accident causing her dad to progressively loose grip on reality and end up in a mental hospital up north. Emily is concerned as her regular birthday card from her dad has not arrived. She enlists the only friendly face in her new school Arden (George Webster) in a plot to head up north and break her dad out.

Writer/Director Simon Fitzmaurice who is paralyzed due to A.L.S. crafts a tale that is heavy on water birthing imagery and lyrical death references. The story uses timely flashbacks to fill in the gaps. Fitzmaurice challenges convention with a key theme that "A Fact Is A Point of View." Cinematographer Seamus Deasy is gifted the Irish countryside as a creative palette. Deasy takes advantage with lush green grasses and pale blues shots of the sea. Translucent underwater scenes highlighting Evanna Lynch's blue eyes mixed with a bright yellow vintage Peugeot complete the picture.

My Name is Emily is a switch in the coming of age story formula. The kids Emily and Arden not the adults are the teachers. Fitzmaurice cuts out modern convince right from the start killing Arden's mobile phone then putting the pair in a vehicle barely above walking speed. It's a pleasantly paced non-linear story that I can recommend.

 My Name is Emily | Simon Fitzmaurice | Ireland | 2015 | 94 minutes.

Tags: Father -Daughter, Book Tour, Foster Home, Mental Hospital, Weird, Road Trip, Maps, Shoplifting, The Sea.

EUFF 17' Film Review -The Citizen

Wilson (Dr. Cake-Baly Marcelo) has been trying to pass the citizenship test for years. He reads the material but the finer points just don't stick. He is a political refugee in Hungary having lost his wife in a conflict in his native land Guinea-Bissau. His two daughters also went missing due to the conflict.  He works as a security guard in a supermarket and lives in an apartment complex that mainly houses new arrivals.

After his friend Prince leaves for a job in Austria one of his aquatints Shirin (Arghaven Shekari) arrives just about to give birth. She is without status in the country as is her child that is born in Wilson's apartment. When not working or looking out for Shirin and her child Wilson starts to study with his boss' sister Mari (Agnes Mahr) in order to pass the test. Instead of mainly looking at books she takes him to the sights so he can internalize the material. Mari having been cooped up at home caring for her Husband and two grown boys comes to life in these outings growing increasingly closer to Wilson to her own surprise.

Director Roland Vranik presents a timely story in light of the migrant crisis in Europe and growing nationalism around the world. The sentiment of he is not like us bubbles beneath the surface at every turn of this film.  Wilson is a hard working individual contributing to society wanting only to have a fair shot at becoming a citizen. Vranik contrast his approach with Shirin who escapes from a refugee camp. Is hiding in the shadows without papers with her newborn child.

Dr. Cake-Baly Marcelo who himself came to Hungary as a refugee is steady, kind and thoughtful in his first acting role. He manages to hold his temper for the most part despite legitimate and dubious roadblocks put in his way alongside stereotypical attitudes of the locals. Agnes Mahr produces a complex performance as Mari. She is introduced as a tough no nonsense teacher but soon softens in the presence of her attentive expressive student. Look for Istvan Znamenak as Hentes Wilson's sonly local friend who injects some comedic moments into what is otherwise heavy narrative.

*** Out of 4

The Citizen | Roland Vranik | Hungary | 2016 | 109 Minutes.

Tags: Refugee, Camp, Birth, Citizenship Test, Papers, St. Stephen, Budapest, Magyar, Employee of the Year, Austria.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Anger is the fuel that drives the action both literally and metaphorically in "Three Billboards". At the head of the wronged cast of characters is Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) who 7 months after her daughters rape and death has heard nothing new from the police and does not want the case to fall off the radar. Next in line is Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) living with his mother, short on smarts but angry ever since his fathers death takes out his anger on the citizens of the small Missouri town especially the ones that don't look like him. Third is Mildred's ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) an ex-cop and former wife beater who is now shacked up with a dimwitted 19 year old (Samara Weaving) who could be a surrogate for easing the pain of loosing a teenage daughter in a violent act.

If you live in a town where the police department openly spout derogatory names for its colourful citizens while Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) states that if you got rid of all of the racist cops the ones left would be homophobic then you're clearly in frontier land. Writer Director Martin McDonagh has not made a feel good movie. Instead his creation is raw, hurtful mean and confrontational. McDonagh goes a different way by turning the background sound off during intense exchanges.

Frances McDormand sets the tone as Mildred. She is tough as nails with a heart full of pain that will take on a police chief, rogue deputy or teenage girl if they get in her way. Lucas Hedges continues a run of strong teenage performances as Mildred son Robbie all. He has to suffer the consequences of his mom's actions at school. Then on the way home see the billboards that continually rip open the unhealed wound of the violent loss of his sister. Robbie openly opposes his mom's authority with verbal attacks then takes it to a differently level towards his dad in perhaps the most intense moment in the film.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not about what the viewer would expect when they first enter the theatre. Instead it's about family and community relationships in a small town where startling if not criminal acts are largely ignored becuase deep down the actor is a good person that the town supports. But even if they aren't the citizens are still willing to look the other way. An excellent cast master a challenging and unique material making this film one that I can truly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri | Martin McDonagh | UK/USA | 2017 | 115 Minutes.

Tags: Advertising, Billboards, Murder, Rape, DNA Testing, Police Brutality, Iowa, Live Eye, Zoo Worker.