Saturday, October 22, 2016

imagineNATIVE '16 Film Review - Maliglutit (Searchers)

Influenced by John Ford's 1956 iconic film The Searchers director Zacharias Kunuk puts his spin on the American Western with the vast Nunavut territory replacing the Great Plains and sleds dogs supplanting horses as the chief means of transportation. Set in 1913 a group of troublemaking men are exiled from a small community due to the inappropriate actions. The men leave headed into the cold northern night hurling insults at their rivals.

Husband Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) is out hunting with his son for Caribou. They are successful in their pursuit leading to a night spent out on the tundra before a return home the next day. Back at their  northern dwelling. His wife, daughter, young son and parents spend a joyful evening eating telling stories while enjoying each other company. Into their home charge the exiles whom perform several acts of violence on the inhabitants taking the wife and daughter as hostages. Kuanana returns to aftermath of the attack on his family. He's told to use the loon Kallilik to guide in his search for his family members. Chanting Kallilik three times asking for help he heads out across the endless tundra with his son after the raiders.

Kunkuk's film is not a direct remake of the Ford film. The later features settlers pursuing Indians while here fellow Inuit commit the atrocities. The harsh environment and limitation of the dogs and sleds creates a slower pace to the escape then adding in the enormous flat landscape increases the difficulty for the exiles to disappear.  The director's lens is especially effective shooting the action scenes on the sleds. The piece employees several low angle camera shots along with tight framing on the kidnapped women giving the appearance that the sleds are floating above the crunchy snow below.

Cinematographer Jonathan Frantz uses colour, lighting shadows and firelight to bring to life the elements of the northland making the territory a major character in the story. Frantz eye is especially effective with the overhead fixed camera shots of the sleds far away in the distance. He also uses natural sunlight effectively several times particularly when it's settled low on the horizon. Costume designers Atuat Akkitirq and Susan Avingag work with furs and skins give the film an authentic feel. Their creations drive one passage where the family patriarch methodically undresses removing each layer as he readies for bed. Their clothing choices are also important to distinguish the garments of the two rival family members and associates.

The ensemble cast present themselves well in the production with the afore mentioned Benjamin Kunuk along with Joey Sarpinak as the main raider Kupak and Karen Ivalu as his wife Aulla leading the cast. Kunuk relentlessly pursues his family members building suspense and tension. Sarpinak and Ivalu have the most memorable scenes together one clearly stands out when the women attempt an ill-fated escape then Kupak tries to bring his new wife back to camp with her acting as dead weight fighting him at every turn.

Maliglutit (Searchers) is a story presented plainly without extra or unneeded plot points or sequences. Director Kunuk's storyline could translate to any setting or circumstance. The piece's cinematography is outstanding, editing crisp featuring a strong acting cast making it a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Maliglutit | Zacharias Kunuk / Natar Ungalaaq | Canada | 2016 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Nunavut, exile, kidnapping, Hunting, dogsled, Caribou, Kallulik, Revenge, Avenge.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Planet in Focus Film Festival Review - Theater of Life

One billion people on the planet have an overabundance of food while the same number on the other end of the spectrum have little or nothing to eat at all. The goal of Chef Massimo Bottura is to bring these two extremes closer together by using the waste from the former to feed the latter. The opening quote of the film refers to bread being gold. Massimo's plan is to use the daily disregarded food from the 2015 Milan Expo to feed the poor of the Greco district in the bottom of a historical theatre. Bottura made a few calls leading to 60 chefs from all over the world including Mario Batali, John Winter Russell, Jeremy Charles and Yoshihiro Narisawa attending Milan to cook for the locals.

Director Peter Stavek focuses on a few of the regulars that attend the Refettorio Ambrosiano Soup Kitchen. Svatek spent time with them learned about their lives outside of the kitchen, what has happened in their past and their hopes for the future. As a few of the Chef said the normal conversation with guests are different in this situation.  It's hard to ask how things are going at work or what the next big upcoming event is if your audience are the homeless and refugees.

The main ingredient for the meals at the Refettorio Ambrosiano is bread the main waste item from the Expo's pavilions. The bread is stale so the chefs have to improvise to make dishes for the guests. The next plentiful ingredients are vegetables and elements to make sauces that the expert use to create their gourmet meals.

The first locals introduced are Stefi and Marco who live in the Monza train station. They are happy despite their current situation and are only looking for a home. Marco sings an Italian version of Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone that a defacto theme for the soup kitchen's guests. Fawaz is the most defiant of the regulars. He feels treated like an object at the kitchen believing that no one cars about his fate once he steps outside of the kitchen's doors. Fatou is the most positive dreaming of being a model despite being confined to a wheelchair. She is friendly to everyone  always having  a smile on her face. Georgio and Christiana have the most challenging backgrounds. Girogio had several mental issues that included a suicide attempt while Christiana past includes prostitution and being abandoned by the father of her young child.

Director Stavek touches on several leading issues in today's society in the film. The locals discuss the new refugees in Italy with the native Italian feeling that there is no room in the shelters due to the influx of the new arrivals. The waste of food is a hot topic all over the world. Chef Bottura and his partner Lara Gilmore have taken action forming whose presence was at last seen at the Rio Olympics at Refttorio Gastromotiva . Food is family and meals are a forum to exchange ideas and thoughts so much so that the Refettorio Ambrosiano Soup Kitchen turned into the community centre for the poor Greco district of Milan.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Theater of Life | Peter Svatek | Canada | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Bread, Milan Expo 2015, Monza Train Station, Like a Rolling Stone, Refettorio Ambrosiano,Soup Kitchen, Gourmet Chef, Homeless, Refugee.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

imagineNative '16 Film Review - Angry Inuk

The Anti-Seal hunt activist groups lead by IFAW, Humane Society and Greenpeace have made a fund raising killing for decades with their stance to ban seal hunting. The groups know that when you show a cute baby seal with tears in its eyes or the image of a baby seal about to be clubbed over the head by a hunter that people will open up their wallets and give to their organizations. They also claim that stopping the seal hunt will not hurt the Inuit as they are exempt from the ban and can continue subsistence hunting. The facts are that seals are not on the endangered species list, the white seal hunt is banned, the population of seals is actually on the rise and not the decline and that the seal hunt and commercial sale of seal products is essential to maintaining the Inuit way of life for a society with the highest cost of living and the lowest level of employment and income.  

Director Althea Arnaquq- Baril brings a film crew to her hometown of Kimmirut in Nunavut. The narrative opens in the Spring the directors favourite time of year. It's the time of the seal hunt that reminds her of her earliest memories as a child. Her people use all parts of the seal. They use the skin for clothing, eat the meat chopping and dividing up the meat from a fresh catch is a community event. They use the oil and the waste product returns to the earth. The community also needs the means to be able to sell the pelts for money to sustain the community, buy supplies as part of the cycle of life.

The dominant event at the opening portion of the piece is the pending EU parliament vote to ban seal products in 2009. The film crew and some community leaders fly to Brussels to oppose the vote but are met with the massive efforts of the anti-seal lobby that were entrenched long before their arrival sealing the fate of the vote.  The Inuit were opposed as they remember the effects of the 1983 ban that lead to falling prices for pelts, unemployment in the community, followed by poverty an increase in depression and suicides.   After the vote the pattern from '83 repeated in 2010. The hunt went from 60,000 to 30,000 with the prices per pelt dropping from $100 to $10 not to mention the decreased sales of seal mitts, boots and coats.

The ironic part is the attack on the seal trade forces the Inuit to purchase southern food that is flown in at a great expense. A 12 pack of pop cost $83.00 while a jar of Cheeze Wiz is $18.00. The other consequence is a push towards seismic testing in the Baffin Island region threating all of the wildlife in the area and could force the Inuit to mine their minerals which will have an even greater environmental effect.

Angry Inuk is a very effective activist production. The narrative clearly and plainly delivers the facts on the Seal Hunt shows the value of the animal to the Inuit community and explains why a ban with an exemption will have a devastating effect on indigenous peoples. Director Arnaquq-Baril asks the tough questions in her film  to which  the leaders in the Anti-Seal lobby refuse to respond.  Today a new generation uses social media to their advantage in a battle of 32,000 Inuit vs a media and environmental activist machine with millions of dollars in the bank.

**** Out of 4  

Angry Inuk | Alethea Arnaquq-Baril | Canada| 2016 | 85 minutes.

Tags:  Baffin Island, Seal Hunt, IFAW,  Greenpeace, EU Parliament, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Protest.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Television Series Review - Shoot the Messenger

Airing Monday nights at 9:00 PM on CBC; Shoot The Messenger is a crime thriller that mixes police, journalists, the judicial system, politics, sex and violence hovering between in the gritty and glamours sections of  the big city.  Newbie journalist Daisy Channing (Elyse Leveque) is fresh off the entertainment beat leaping into investigative reporting in the series opening scenes. She is interrupted during the night by a text from a source who she rushes out to meet. As she arrives at the meeting location she sees her source arguing with a young man who is shot from a distance. Her contact avoids a spray of bullets then speeds away from the scene.

Over the first three episodes the narrative develops more details on the lives and loves of the main characters. Daisy is fleshed out first then we learn more about Detective Kevin Lutz (Lyric Bent) who is lead investigator in the homicide she witnessed and the other side of the middle of the night interruption by her source Hassan Ali (Arya Mengesha). Ali is a driver for business mogul  Eric Lawson (Al Sapienza) who has a potentially embarrassing item to protect worth the services of a professional sniper. Simon Olenski is an engaged senior reported at the Gazette who is very protective of his bi lines but growing intrigued by Daisy.  Alex Kingston is Mary Foster the no nonsense chief editor of the Gazette who has a history with her senior reporter.

On the political front Sam Charles (Ari Cohen) is the Attorney General with large political ambition challenging the police department with respected Judge Susas Reeves (Brenda Bazinet) heading up his task force. Charles works closely professionally and personally with his policy advisor Chloe Channing (Hannah Emily Anderson) Daisy's straight laced sister.

Series Creators Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness train their attention towards the underbelly of a big Canadian city featuring everyday language that may be more expected on HBO then CBC. The language, tone, and locations give the piece an authentic edgy feel not normally explored on Canadian television. A good part of the early action takes place in  the fictional Dixon City projects dominated by Somali Canadians. It's the battle ground of two rival gangs the Mogadishu Boys and the 5PM gang. The series initial victim is the artist brother of the head of the Mogadishu Boys leading to a drive by act of revenge.

Saskatchewan bred Elyse Levesque leads the cast as Daisy. She is often overwhelmed at outset of the multiple difficult situations but steadies her nerves to obtain information to keep her investigation moving along.  Lyric Bent may have viewers thinking of Luther as he deals with suspects, fellow officers along with his dangerous relationship with Daisy. Alex Kingston's Mary Foster is the the other strong presence in the initial episodes of the series. She is smart, loud, tough but fair with her staff at the Gazette.

Shoot the Messenger  is a quick moving, sharply polished crime drama. The main characters all have potential and are written to draw the viewer in and quickly care about their fates. The initial three episodes are a good start to the series that will surely build the suspense and inter relationship between the cast and hopefully continue to build on its' feeling of other superior productions like the Killings and the above noted Luther.  

Shoot the Messenger by Jennifer Holness & Sudz Sutherland. Starring  Elyse Levesque, Lyriq Bent, Lucas Bryant & Alex Kingston.  Airing Monday's 9:00 PM on CBC Television.

Tags: Crime, Thriller,  Police, Judicial, Politics, Gangs, Somalia, Imam, Cell Phone, Cocaine,


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fox Searchlight Film Review - The Birth of a Nation

By choosing the title The Birth of A Nation and making a film about the bloodiest slave uprising in U.S. history Nate Parker ensured that his film would peak curiosity, attract controversy and detractors while sparking a large amount of interest. Parker's film released a century after D.W. Griffith's 1915 The Birth of a Nation in which the Klu Klux Klan are the heroes with white actors in blackface the negro villains sees that script flipped in version 2.0.

Based on a true story Nate Turner played in youth by Tony Espiona then Parker himself. Is the Baptist preacher who led an 1831 slave rebellion that took 60 slave owner's lives leading to retaliation that left 200 slaves dead. The events are graphic, brutal and horrific as Nate witnesses   increasingly dehumanizing acts of degradation of his people on a preaching tour meant to quell rumblings of revolt that's lucrative to his master Shawn Turner (Armie Hammer). The more he sees the more he's compelled to switch his interpretation and preaching of the bible building towards defiance. The narrative presents elements of African traditions as the main characters grand parents generation were born in Africa. It also contains hints of Bravehart where the Lord / Master can bed the wife of a surf/slave. A violent rebellion is lead by a charismatic orator /leader on horseback that suffers a predictable fate then his remains are brutalized as a warning to future usurpers.

Cinematographer Elliot Davis' provides the piece's authentic look. The shots of the morning light over the seeming endless fields of cotton along with the spellbinding night time scenes fuelled by lantern light against the background of grandiose plantation houses put the viewer squarely in the early 19th century American south. Parker serves as writer, director, lead actor and producer for the film. It's intriguing to watch his direction of the scenes that he's in contemplating the level of coverage especially of himself that could be key in the editing process.  The stories rhythmic pacing features two excellent transitions one in the cotton fields to introduce Nate Turner and the second to jump forward from Nate's time to the American Civil War.

Parker assembled a dynamic cast for the production led by Aja Naomi King as Cherry a slave bought by Nate's master Armie Hammer at the formers urging showing obvious signs of physical and mental abuse grows to be Nate's love and wife. Penelope Anne Miller gives her best performance in years as Shawn's mother who teaches Nate to read and encourages him to be a preacher. Turner's other duties for the film do not detract from his role as lead actor on screen. Jackie Earle Haley is terrifying as Raymond Cobb the local Sheriff and slave patroller dispensing swift justice at night to runaway slaves or by day to slaves that are out of range of their plantation.

The Birth of A Nation is an important story that recounts an American historical event from a non traditional perspective. It's an instant where slaves organized banded together took action to taste freedom even if it was for a brief moment. The subject matter is topical today given the current racial unrest and tension in the United States.  The ensemble cast do not take a wrong step supported by an evenly paced narrative that could be viewed as a too violent for some but those scenes are necessary to accurately tell the condition of the time and the series of events that lead to the uprising.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Birth of a Nation | Nate Turner | U.S.A. | 2016 | 120 Minutes.

Tags: Biography, Preacher, Virginia, Plantation, Cotton, Slavery, Slave Patrol, Hunger Strike, Rape, Rebellion, Raid, Torches, Axes, Knives, U.S. Army.

Monday, October 3, 2016

TIFF 16 Film Review - Lion

Five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) looks up to his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) following him around like a shadow everywhere he goes. They spend lazy days hopping on trains taking coal to sell in the city then walking on the rails to go back home.  Saroo is very active as he runs around his village and out to his mother where she crouches to work to collect rocks. One day Guddu goes to the local train station to look for work. Saroo begs to go along as well then the pair become separated with Saroo ending up on a train that travels 1600 Km away to Calcutta where Bengali not Hindi is the language and he is completely lost without precious little information to get back home.  He ends up in an orphanage where he is deemed suitable for adoption to Tasmania. He is very well adjusted compared to the second adopted child by the Brierley's Nicole Kidman & David Wenham.

Once grown Saroo (now Dev Patel) attends Hotel Management School in Melbourne where he learns of Google earth and begins the task of piecing together his past in an attempt to find his mother, brother and home. He is supported by his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) along with his classmates but he fears that his mother might see this as being ungrateful so he shuts her out of the process causing her even more harm giving the difficult situation with his brother Mantosh.  

Garth Davis directorial debut is a true story based on the book Lion by Saroo Brierey. The film is a commentary on the massive amount of children that go missing and wander the streets in India each year and the place of ones original culture when a child is adopted into a vast new environment. It's also a strong story on the altruistic Brierey's who decided to make it their goal to give children that  were already in the world and suffering a better life rather than having their own kids.

The early sequences where the young Saroo is alone in Calcutta fending form himself yet weary of questionable adults is a high point in the film. Saroo is befriended by Prama (Pallavi Sharda) but becomes suspicious of her friend Rawa (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). He is taught some skills by a social worker at the orphanage then quickly displays them once he is placed in the Brierey's home in Tazmania.  The contrast to his brother Mantoh is chilling as his childhood experiences are to traumatizing to let go despite being thousands of miles away on a new continent.

The film features many fine acting performances. Nicole Kidman is strong in a plain straight forward role of Sue Brierley. She is inspired by Saroo but at the same time drained by Mantosh then she looses Saroo as well to his private project to find his home. Dev Patel steps easily into the leading man role as Saroo. He's the total Australian surfer guy in his first moment on screen but when his classmates light the fire to search for his past he becomes obsessed shutting out everything else. The best performance belongs to Sunny Pawar as young Saroo. His struggle to survive on the streets, calling out for his brother and mother at night, attempting to communicate with the locals who speak  Bengali a both heart wrenching and tragic as he has little information plus a language barrier preventing him from returning home.    

Although the film lags early in the second part as the Google Earth searches are plodding and takes longer than needed. Lion is an emotional watch that quickly draws the audience into an invested state through its young hero and will challenging the viewer to remain dry eyed at several points in the piece. It's a strong debut film by a gifted filmmaker that we hope to see more work from in the future.

***  1/2  Out of 4

Lion | Garth Davis |Australia / UK / USA | 2016 | 129 Minutes.

Tags: Orphan, Hindi, Bengali, Decommissioned train, Calcutta, Adoption, Tasmania, Melbourne, Google Earth.

TIFF16 Film Review -Toni Erdmann

Complicated Father -Daughter relationships are a bit of a theme this year on the festival circuit. Its curious how a segment of films suddenly get the green light all at the same time. Most of them focus on heavy depressing subject matter. The exception is Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann that's a full-fledged comedy bordering on farce territory. It's a film that is a refreshing crossover appeal candidate coming to the screen from the unlikely source of German comedic cinema.

Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is the divorced father of a grown daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) She is a successful consultant working overseas mainly in Shanghai but is currently based in Bucharest, Romania. Her dad is a music teacher and lifelong practical joker that Ines found fun when she was a kid but his act has become tiresome now that she's a grown working woman. Ines returns home for a reception at her mother's house where Winfried gets it in his head that she has become way too serious. After a couple of events free him from ties at home, Winfired decides to surprise her in Bucharest as his alter ego Toni Erdmann. Once there, he throw up a series of obsticals in his daughter's path to make her think on her feet in the hopes of making her life more interesting and enjoyable.

Writer-director Maren Ade presents a pleasing comedy that picks up the pace significantly once the action gets going in Bucharest. The attempts to be part of /disrupt Ines life continue to increase on an every larger scale culminating with an outlandish woolly beast costumed appearance at a non-stop laugh filled yet extremely uncomfortable team bonding scene in Ines apartment. .Ade is very adept at showing the less glamorous moments of Ines high leverage consulting job as she if forced to take a clients wife shopping or is rebuffed for her characterization of the team current project. The production also shows jokester Winfried's lonely instants as well.  The early part of the film does drag and a few of the opening gags could be shortened or removed to tighten up the production and reduce the massive 162 minute run time.  

The success of the piece comes down to the work of the two main actors. Simonischek and Huller play well off one another as father and daughter. Ines is clearly exasperated by her fathers actions but genuinely likes to have him around and sees how his lightheartedness has a positive effect on everyone around him. Huller has to go in many different directions with her richly written character but hits each note true delivering one of the better acting performances of the year.

Toni Erdmann is a funny yet thoughtful complicated piece that has a strong anti- workaholic message that's presented subtly enough for the viewer to absorb and not feel that they are being lectured. The early part of the film could uses a bit of editing but overall the performances, dialogue and story-line make it a film that I can  definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Toni Erdmann |  Maren Ade |  Germany /Austria | 2016 | 162 Minutes.

Tags; Father-Daughter,  Alter Ego, Consultant, Shanghai , Bucharest, Team Building, Birthday party, Brunch,Power Point, False Teeth, Wig.