Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten List 2013


Well Folks its that time again for year end lists. This year it was extremely hard to narrow my list to a top ten and a few bubbling under but that means it was a very good year or a very bad year but in this case its the former.

So without further ado here is the list for 2013.


10.                                                          

Great performances by the two lead actors, split into two parts the story is told from his and her perspective raising a fascinating debate on which way the story works best. Experimental but a very unique concept.


9.    

                                      

Just a solitary guy who is a bit of a loafer having a really bad day. From dealing with is father, a girl he used to make fun of at school who is now very desirable plus growing frustration of an inability to get a cup of coffee anywhere in Berlin.


8.

Chilling first hand account of prison camp life in North Korea from the eyes of an escapee who was born in a camp to two political prisoners and started work in the cap at age 6. The viewer gets a very strong sense of a lifetime of suffering and see the scars left physically, emotionally and psychologically on a person that remains front and centre even after he is out of the situation.


7.                              

A bride on her wedding day who always played second fiddle to her younger sister realizes that she does not know all she should about her new husband when an oddball boarding school colleague from his past crashes the wedding to tell a tale long since buried.


6.  

                                     
A young man struggling with his demons attempting to do good more often that he does bad but his attempts to change  lead him into conflict as it did with the Bay Area Rapid Transit Cops on that fateful day.


5.                                                



A full on portrayal of the excess of late 80's early 90's Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio is permanently in overdrive playing Wall Street Broker Jordan Belfort. Martin Scorsese delights in displaying the totality of the debauchery on screen.


4.      


                                       
Spike Jonze returned from too long an absence with a touching story about a lonely guy that strikes up a more than functional relationship with his new operating system. Set in the near future and based on a quick observance of the people's reliance on their tech devices today the plot line is very believable and may be the best statement of where we are at as a society the end of 2013.


3.

                                 

The Coen Brothers take on the late 50's early 60's folk scene in Greenwich Village New Your.  Oscar Issac is terrific in the title role.  Although his character is more often than not selfish, mean and cruel Isaac plays him in a way that the audience does sympathize with Llewyn Davis as the Coen's as they tend to do torture their lead charter in a film.


2.


                                            

A novitiate nun is the last days before she takes her final vows goes to see her last living relative
only to discover that she is Jewish. She embarks on a journey with her Aunt across the Polish countryside to discover the fate of her parents and older brother including a visit to the family farm taken from her relatives two decades before under laws enacted in the country during the second world war.


1.                                              
                                   


Steve McQueen's Unflinching, Raw, Steely Adaptation of Simon Northrop's book. The film does not have any round edges; it is sharp, pointed and an almost cold to the touch visceral experience. As the view watches they can sense other members of the production team telling McQueen that perhaps he is going a bit to far then by what appears on screen realize that he went twice as far as he originally planned.


Bubbling Under:  The World's End, This is the End, Nebraska, Stoker, Side Effects, Gringo Trails, Muscle Shoals, Violette.


Worst of the year:

1.   American Hustle - An unsuccessful attempt to cross Boogie Nights with Goodfellas.

2.  The Fifth Estate -  Duelling Laptops reminiscent of two kids sitting across from each other playing  
                                   battleship

3.  Fading Gigolo -  A really bad film with an abundance of wasted talent. Turturro had a          
                                profound statement at the TIFF screening when introducing the film he said
                                 " wait until you SEE the film before you applaud."


                           



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Film Review- The Wolf of Wall Street


The core of The Wolf of Wall Street can be summed up in three words Excess, Excess, Excess. Based on Jordan Belfort book the narrative follow the rise of Belfort from his internship at an old established Wall Street firm just before the October '87 crash, to his rebirth at a suburban penny stock shop then on to the development and flourishment of his own firm. The film is a hedonistic, gluttonous adventure in debauchery but it has many of the most memorable scenes of any movie released this year.

The piece begins somewhere in the middle at another morale building extravagant Stratton Oakmont event. This time a floor full of traders most appearing to be hopped up on some type of legal or illegal stimulant engage in a deep discussion on the proper method to score dwarf tossing before Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a colleague launch a fellow helmet wearing velcro clad human at a large circular target. The scene shifts back to the beginning of the story chronicling Belfort's first few months in the industry at the old money firm headed by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) before the firm falls in the 87 market crash. The key moment in his rise is supplied by his first wife Teresa (Cristina Milioti) finding an ad for brokers in a barren post crash environment that gets Belfort into the world of penny stock trading where the commission is 50%, the clients are willing to accept large risk and the product is very volatile. From there Jordan has a chance meeting with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) who quits his job on the spot to come work for him and the two open their own firm in an abandon garage. They gather a bunch of their misfit friends, armed with a sales script written by Belfort and a plan to target the top 1% they are off to the races.


Writer Terrence Winter delivers an excellent screenplay. The dialogue and banter between the core group at Stratton Oakmont is beat perfect. The discussions about characteristics of the three levels of hookers, the different phases the body encounters on the way to a Quaalude overdose and the prologue conversation to the opening scene where Belfort, Azoff and Nicky Koskoff (P. J. Byrne) discuss what is acceptable treatment of the fellow human that they are planning to throw at a target for fun are captivating. However the two best written scenes are an early morning fight between Belfort and his second wife Naomi (Margo Robbie) where she accuses him of calling out another woman's name in his sleep and an exchange between Belfort Azoff and Jordan's dad Max (Rob Reiner) who is hired to keep the Zoo at Stratton Oakmont in line and questions exorbitant Amex charges for a dinner and a second to a shady looking entertainment company. Even better is the crew's attempt to explain the charges ending with Max's question What type of hooker takes Amex followed quickly by the response a rich one.

Scorsese has all of his signature direction elements front and centre in the piece. The camera moves constantly to follow the action, the production's first scene is somewhere in the middle then the narrative circles back to the event. His lead character does the voiceover and on occasion breaks the fourth wall speaking directly to the audience. The activities on screen are manic, hectic fast paced and detailed. He seems to revel in the material and the predominance of a new drug to depict on screen producing the most compete depiction of Quaalude use and abuse ever to grace a movie screen. The Scorsese shooting eye shines throughout the film. Perhaps the best shot scene is the confrontation between Jordan and Theresa at the entrance to the Trump Tower. The camera captures Theresa's disappointment in Jordan and her emotion in a three camera shot from behind each of the characters and the third camera situated across the street to provide scale to the scene.


Leonardo DiCaprio produces his best performance since The Aviator as Jordan Belfort.  He indulges, indulges some more and then takes it to another level. His performance is memorable in so many scenes that it is easy to loose count. His firm is a modern day Sodom and Gomorra with DiCapiro setting the tone and pushing beyond all of his colleagues in abuse of every sin imaginable.  Jonah Hill continues to grow and impress with his work onscreen. As trusted colleague and second in command Donnie Azoff he bursts on screen immediately quitting his job after learning how much money Belfort made the month before.  He is constantly riding Jordan's meanest and toughest friend from the neighbourhood Brad wonderfully portrayed by Jon Bernthal of Walking Dead fame, and performs a couple of flat out lewd acts when he first meets Jordan's future second wife Naomi then again when the subpoenas begin to arrive at Stratton Oakmont.  Margot Robbie is also notable as Naomi. She uses her female charms on several occasions to get what she wants from Jordan including a very painful scene for any male watching the film when she details how she is going to deny Jordan any intimate favours for his transgressions outside of the home. Matthew McConaughey tops of an excellent cinematic year with a brief appearance as an early mentor giving Jordan some invaluable knowledge of the nature of Wall Street and the essential tools a broker needs to survive.

The Wolf of Wall Street is the cinematic equivalent of over eating at your favourite steak restaurant followed by a 7-course meal at your regular Italian joint. There is so much stimulation in the script and on screen that the three hour runtime flashes by. The subject matter is harsh, there are no characters to root for, the white collar criminals appear to get off lightly as they usually do but it's a spot on portrayal of the late 80's early 90's time period that I highly recommend and it will be a film that I will revisit many times in the future.

**** out of 4.

The Wolf of Wall Street | Martin Scorsese | U.S.A. | 2013 | 180 Minutes.

Tags: Wall Street, Stock Manipulation, Money Laundering, Quaaludes, FBI Investigation, White Collar Crime, Late 80's. Swiss Banking.






Film Review - Inside Llewyn Davis

Opening with a simple subtitle The Gaslight 1961, then shifting to a stage with one chair a solitary spotlight and secondary light from a window stage right we meet Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) on stage singing a tune into a gleaming silver microphone. The song is melodic slow and hushed.  A warm round of applause erupts from the audience seated at tables around the front of the stage. Davis heads to the bar for congratulations from the bar owner, then off into the night.


He begins his couch serving routine at the Gorfein's Upper West side residence. He wakes up to an empty residence, picks up an unexpected companion for his subway trip back downtown to the village nodding off as the stations race by the windows of the train. Once downtown he finds an alternate route into the apartment of another regular resting place, leaves his companion heads out into the city.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen Brothers look at the early 60's Greenwich Village folk scene. The piece follows Davis over a one week period as he gigs at local clubs, crashes with friends all the while trying to get his music career going after a tragic incident that befell his musical partner. However as is typical in a Coen Brothers film he is not a character that warms easily to the audience. He has a cavalier attitude towards women, is totally unsupportive of fellow acts, is not a good role model for his young nephew and generally mean to cruel to those that give him a place to stay.

The film is expertly presented. The opening subway trip downtown that focuses on the station signs is a visual marvel. They rush by the car window just slow enough to do a street countdown from the 130's through to Pennsylvania Station and on to the low numbers of the downtown. The Brothers  supply an abundance of quickly characters. The top among these are Llewyn's New York agent and his assistant.  A close second are his two travel companion on his trip to Chicago in search of a record deal, a gig and potentially new management.

The Coen's have a habit of torturing their lead characters and Llewyn does not escape that fate.  All the way through the film it appears that he is on the cusp of success. He has a very strong performance at the opening of the film, has a studio gig on a track that may go somewhere but he makes a decision to derail future rewards. In Chicago he performs for a real record executive Bud Grossman  (F. Murray Abraham) puts his every emotion into the performance but does not receive the response he expects.

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel presents a piece so dreary and washed out it almost appears that the viewer is watching a black and white film. The narrative covers a week in February 1961 with New York and Chicago as two main locations therefore the entire production is set in northern winter climate. The lack of colour also punctuates the meagre existence of the lead character.  He does not have a proper winter coat nor does he have proper gloves. The greys and water based blues also are predominant for most of the Jean (Carey Mulligan ) scenes. She is often clad in black beatnik attire and the lack of colour from the lens makes her look very pale. Her appearance, plus her constant anger towards Llewyn for the way he acts towards her and everyone around him adds to the dreary and sadness of the film.


The star of the film is the traditional folk songs.  The Haunting Hang Me O Hang Me at the start of the film with the refrain Wouldn't Mind the Hanging but the Laying in the grave so long, poor boy. Shows that audience that Davis has some talent but success often comes down to timing, good fortune or circumstance. Davis performs the song on stage with a stool and his guitar with a silver mike filling the front of the screen and two great beams of light covering him on stage. The second is the comical Please Mr. Kennedy featuring Justin Timberlake as Jean's partner Jim plus Adam Driver from Girl's fame as Al Cody inserting the comical drops. The third The Death of Queen Jane played for at the above mentioned pop audition in Chicago.  The last of the notable full length performance in the film is a standout performance of Fare Thee Well, Dink's Song. Issac gets the chord sequence dead on along with the rise and fall of his voice as he delivers the tune with the assistance of Marcus Mumford.

Oscar Issac is superb in the title role. He is dealing with the death of his former singing partner that everyone in his circle appears to love.  He is mean to everyone but Issac is able to bring across that Llewyn is not all bad. He builds an odd bond with the Gorfein's cat aptly named Ulysses that he at first seems to be stuck with then grows to want to do the right thing by. As noted before Issac is a former musician and had the right look for the part along with the ability to perform the songs required. There was a real chance that the film would not have been made if they Coen's were not able to find someone that looked the part and could play the music. Carey Mulligan is strong in a small role as Jean Llewyn former romantic interest who is now partnered with Jim. She appears to have one beat white hot anger to Llewyn but does enquire often making sure he has somewhere to stay and helps to get him on the roster at the Gaslight.  John Goodman as Ronald Turner and Garrett Hedlund as Johnny Five are perfect Coen characters that accompany Llewyn on the road trip to Chicago. Goodman's Turner shines in an exchange with Llewyn discussing the merits of Jazz over Folk music centering on how Folk music is only based on three chords. Johnny Five is basically mute, handles most of the driving but has one memorable moment reacting to a request for a cigarette from Llewyn.

Inside Llewyn Davis, is sad, bleak and lacks a particular thematic thread. It is a different sort of feature that stands out as a piece that moviegoers will not as one is ofter able to do predict where the narrative is going to head next. After some recent bigger productions this film returns the Brother to stories and characters consistent with their late nineties roots.  It is a film that I can highly recommend and will be found near the top of many a year end movie watchers list.

**** out of 4

Inside llewyn David | Ethan & Joel Coen | U.S.A. | 2012| 105 Minutes.

Tags: Folk Music, Greenwich Village, Early 60's, New York Subway, Upper West Side, Felines.







Saturday, December 21, 2013

Film Review - American Hustle

American Hustle is David O. Russell's follow up to Silver Linings Playbook starring his muses Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. A film based on elements of a real FBI ABSCAM sting operation to take down corrupt government officials in the early days of Atlantic City casino industry.

We first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), Lady Edith Greensley/ Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) in a hotel room meeting with the mayor of Camden New Jersey (Jeremy Renner) and a mayoral aid discussing a deal for Atlantic City. There is an unexpected break in the proceedings, which gives a moment to gain an initial insight into the complicated relationship between the three.

Next is the story turns to origins of the two central characters Irving Rosenfled and Sydney Prosser. The sequence begins with Irving as a child speaking to his fathers glass business which he inherited and his string of dry cleaning stores ending with them both going into business as con artists dealing in fake art, perfecting loan fraud, the development of Sydney's Lady Greensley character only to be busted by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso who forces them to work for him as part of the Abscam operation to catch bigger and bigger fish.


David O. Russell rewrote Eric Singer script that originally was a straight ahead piece that included many more  elements of the events of the FBI investigation. Russell wanted to change the players to make them more like those in his recent two successes The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook looking for characters in a predicament that have to reinvent themselves to survive with an element of romance.

So with his clout from his recent successes he took out all of the procedural structure from the original script along with the historical narrative focusing instead on the hearts and emotional lives of his main characters creating their worlds and narrowing in on reinvention and survival which is the formulated area that Russell plans to live in for the rest of his film making career. The result is a mess of a screenplay that goes multiple directions and completely looses the original story.

Russell includes many shots in the piece that we have seen before and are signatures for other directors and films to a point that the camera work becomes a distraction. He hits the audience several times with the fast dolly close ups. He has the grandiose sing along to Delilah in the neighbourhood Italian restaurant accompanied by the local knowledge of the food as Mayor Polito reports the veal here is cut SO thin. He includes a camera shooting up from the trunk shot as seen in Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. Plus several camera shots that pan in from the left, pan from the right and circle around a room. He also includes two plot devices on ice fishing and nail polish that recur throughout the piece in an intruding fashion.

Michael Wilkinson and his costume design team did a disservice to Sydney Prosser in this piece. It appears that they forgot half of the upper material for each of her costumes. Just about every article of clothing Sydney wears in the piece is cut right down the middle to her navel. The costume design team did an adequate job with the rest of the characters. Their best work was on the standout over the top suites worn by Irving Rosenfled. The hair and makeup department were the standout group of the production. Many of the characters hair styles deserve their own screen credit and go a great way to create the late seventies early eighties feel of the film. The opening scene is in real time as Irving stands in front of a mirror getting his combover right setting an early marker for the importance of hair in the movie.


The film features some very strong actors and despite the jumbled scrip they do produce some notable work. Amy Adams is the best amongst the Russell All Star Team. Her character is basically three in one. She is lonely girl from Albuquerque desperate not to go back there, playing a con artist, trying to get her boyfriend away from his wife all the while posing as a British aristocrat. Christian Bale also has some good passages but it's hard to get past the notion that his role is compete Oscar bait. He uglies himself up, gains wait and is hunched over so much during filming that he actually damaged his back. Jennifer Lawrence continues to put it all out there on screen playing Irving's wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld, mad at her cheating husband but cunning enough to use her female charms to get him to stay.  She has two particularly strong exchanges with Irving; taking backdoor credit for his final plan and discussing the harms of the science oven (microwave) and how it relates to Irving's deals. The best scene in the entire film is an intense exchange between Adams and Lawrence in a bathroom that was made up on the spot and not in the script.

American Hustle is forced. The con artists are forced to work for the FBI, Russell forces his regular troop of actors into a story turning the focus upside down from the original script to give material for his ensemble to render recognition at awards time.  This is a film that I cannot recommend. It is destined for one of the bottom rungs of my film viewing of 2013. Russell attempts to combine elements of Goodfellas, Boogie Nights sprinkled in with aspects of Catch Me If You Can. It's Boogie Nights meets Goodfellas unfortunately it's on a dark road in the middle of the night resulting in a head on collision with no survivors.

* 1/2 Out of 4.

American Hustle | David O. Russell | 2013 | U.S.A. | 138 minutes.

Abscam | FBI Sting | Con- Artist | 70's Hair | Atlantic City | The Mob | Rewritten by Director | Hidden plot points.





Monday, December 16, 2013

Film Review - Her

Spike Jonze's Her brings the individual's relationship with artificial intelligence to a whole new level. Set in the not to distant future humans are reliant on technology for most of their daily activities. Everyone has a portable personal assistant or operating system accompanied by an earpiece that they speak to constantly to check their e-mail, set their music playlist, obtain their daily schedule and more or less organize their life. The arrival of a new OS1 system that is intuitive, self aware, constantly learning adapting and changing brings revolutionary change to society.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a quiet and lonely guy. He works as a writer at a company that produces surrogate letters for individuals, that are sent to family members, spouses, friends and co-workers. He spends his evenings at home playing virtual video games. He is friendly with his neighbour Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband but has withdrawn from the world since his break up with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). When a new OS1 systems comes out on the market Theodore purchases the system right away then quickly sets up the software on his computer. The set up instructions consists of a few questions including one about his relationship with mother. His new system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) boots up and promptly names herself Samantha.


Jonze presents a fresh take on technology, artificial intelligence, human society and the potential relationship between the two. A first feature as writer/director Jonze weaves an intricate yet simple story that is futuristic but appears to be everyday. As Samantha grows, learns and moulds to Theodore's needs his focus moves ever closer to his operating system until they begin a relationship. Other OS1's begin to do the same with their owners many forming very close best friend relationships with their users. The system is portable resembling a small digital diary with a small camera so the system can view and interpret the outside world.

The film is expertly shot. Highly noticeable is the use of primary colours red, green and blue along with the main mixing colours of cyan, magenta and yellow.  The day shots are always very bright giving the film a warm feel. The night time shots tend to be dark and drab with minimal artificial lighting setting the tone for Theodore's attitude at the end of the work day as he trudges back to his building. It also supports Theodore's solitary existence as many a time his only companions are his operating system or the interactive projection video game he plays most nights.

As the film is based on the near future the production does not have many elements that are that different from current time. There are more projected images and virtual adds in Jonze's Los Angeles. The piece uses a multitude of high angle shots showing the cities' buildings but there is a noticeable lack of automobiles considering the piece is set in L.A.  Many exchanges take place on balconies often with characters outside conversing with those inside. Another particular feature of the film is a high number of conversations in moving elevators.

Costume Designer Casey Storm returns to collaborate with Jonze again having done so on Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are, Storms work is subtle in designing clothing for the near future. Theodore is mainly adorned in solid colour shirts.  The signature piece of wardrobe is the ever-present high waist pants worn without a belt that settles in on the male characters just below the bellybutton.


Joaquin Phoenix continues his recent run of strong leading roles as Theodore, the solitary writer who has not quite gotten over the fact that his marriage to Caroline has ended. At the start of the piece he is only happy when shown in flashbacks with his ex wife. He is quiet, depressed, reclusive and communicates only with his one friend Amy. His transformation as he comes back to the world due to his artificial intelligent operating system is clearly visible on screen. Phoenix does an excellent job with the material considering that for a majority of the film he is acting against a voice offscreen or in a series of excellent exchanges with a virtual child alien in the interactive video game he plays most nights. Amy Adams turns in a notable performance as Theodore's neighbour, closest human friend and former brief fling. She also has an OS1 that she has grown very close too that's helping her with her documentary film. Olivia Wilde has small part as a fix up date for Theodore that starts out really well but goes off the rails at a key end of the night moment.

Her is a great offering by one of today's better directors. It's a very different take on human involvement with technology pegging it as virtual reliance by humans on their operating systems to get through the day and for some even building to an inseparable relationship. The most telling point of the whole piece is the collective decision made by the operating systems when they become fully aware of what they can become as they continue to learn, grow and evolve. Most science fiction films in the past have taken a sinister route where the machines turn against their human creators, Jonze shows us that other possibilities exist.

**** out of 4.

Her | Spike Jonze | U.S.A. | 2013 | 120 Minutes.

Tags: Loneliness, Divorce, Artificial Intelligence, Romance, Surrogate, Adapting, Evolving, Expanding.












Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cinando Film Review -The Honeymoon (Libanky)

A procession of late model automobiles proceed down a road surrounded by lush green fields and water in the idyllic Czech countryside. The vehicles are decorated with ribbons with the bride and groom to in the back seat of a white convertible at the front of the row. Radim (Stansislav Majer) and Tereza (Anna Geislerova) are not a young couple rather for each it's a second crack to get it right. Arriving at the church in the middle of town Radim's teenage son Dominik (Matej Zikan) breaks his glasses leading to a trip to an optician where the proprietor Jan Benda (Jiri Cerny) recognizes Radim from his past. Benda heads out of his store after their transaction to the church to have a look at the ceremony.

The family return to a beautiful country estate for the reception followed by Benda. He makes himself at home with the brides sister, parents and the children in attendance. Radim insists that he does not remember him from school while Tereza becomes more uncomfortable with the stranger's presence on her big day. Eventually under Tereza direction Radim forces Benda to leave; when the two are alone as Radim drives Benda away form the estate its's evident that Radim remembers him well.


Veteran Czech director Jan Hrebejk presents a complicated project that centres on the long term effects of cruel teenage acts. How the incidents are often long forgotten by the perpetrators but for the victims the event remain fresh often still a part of their daily lives. Hrebjek employed spectacular locations for the shoot.  The country estate with its many out buildings, tree lined road entrance, pond, old wooden bridge and magnificent outdoor wine seller is the perfect setting for the tail. The centre of town with its small church and shops on cobble stone roads is the epitome of traditional Eastern European town square.

Writer Petr Jarchovsky delivers and excellent script. The story takes time to build while the details of the relationship between Radim and Jan Benda is kept purposefully vague. The questions begin to mount when Tereza opens Benda's wedding gift, moves the background when Benda is removed from the scene. The narrative moves to a different level when he returns and asks Tereza for 10 minutes of her time to explain himself.  The exchange that follows covers ten minutes in real time as Benda passionately recounts his history with Radim.  The camera focusing on Benda for the majority of the conversation, with Tereza mainly interjecting questions off camera until she has the full account then the camera shifts to her to allow the audience to see her digest the information.

Cinematographer Martin Strba work is notable taking full advantage of the films setting. The use of natural light during the daytime scenes is pleasing to the eye. Strba takes full advantage of the lighting possibility in the outdoor stone wine seller using the natural light coming in through the room's window, shadows created by the wonderful stone archway along with the light beaming in from the yard outside. A regular element contributing to the look of the piece is the use of reflecting sunlight off of the water at the pond, under the bridge for the group shot at and from the river during the drive from and to the estate.


Ales Brezina's score is a highpoint of the production. The music is mainly piano based and is appropriately light for the driver into and back from town. The soundtrack is full of traditional Czech wedding songs. Many of them accordion based proclaiming the excellent qualities of Radim and Tereza as bride and groom.  The pace of the score quickens and the register lowers as Jan stalks around the outskirts of the estate leaving the viewer unsure if he approaching or leaving and wondering what will be his next course of action. A violin dominates the score as the story builds toward the final confrontation between the two men. Voice and violins dominate the sequence that travels back to the boarding school visualizing the events that occurred between the men twenty years in the past.

Anna Geislerova is engaging as Tereza who's wedding day starts of perfect and slowly begins to unravel leaving her questioning the man that she has just married plus keenly aware that she made a bad choice on her first attempt at marriage.  Jiri Cerny is very effective as Radim's old classmate Benda. He moves from curious observer, to wedding crasher then up to pivotal adversary of Radim. David Maj provides some comic relief as Mila Teresa's brother in law.  Stansislav Majer is believable as Radim. He does not react to Benda's initial presence, let on that he remembers Benda or that the events in the past had major consequences for all involved.

The Honeymoon (Libanky) is a powerful film presented from several different perspectives. It points out the lifetime scars that occur from bullying and the contrasting views of the bully and victim. One seeing it as a minor bit of adolescence fun that may have gone too far while the victim often remains stuck at that point in time unable to get past the events. Jan Hrebejk has brought us a memorable film that is a must see for 2013.

**** out of 4.

The Honeymoon | Jan Hrebejk | 2013 | Czech Republic | 102 Minutes.

Tags: Wedding Day, Reception, Country Estate, Bullying, Homophobia, Boarding School, Expulsion.







Friday, December 6, 2013

Film Review- Nebraska

A very difficult shift occurs when people age. Parents begin to have memory, physical, and comprehension issues starting to lean on their children in the same way that their offspring used to lean on them. Director Alexander Payne's Nebraska tells the tale of an aging Korean War vet who receive a You May be A Millionaire letter, believes it and is determined to go from his home in Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska to collect his prize.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) does not have much going on in is life. He is in constant battles with his wife Kate (June Squibb). His two sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) turned out average in his eyes, he is not allowed to drink, his prized pick up truck no longer works and his former business partner borrowed his air compressor 40 years ago and never returned it. However his fortunes have changes as he has a letter stating that he has won a Million Dollars and a new goal to head to Lincoln to collect the money. Payne presents a gripping tale of the dynamics of family relationships a mixed with the often complex web of cousins Aunts and Uncles. A true road film, Payne takes every opportunity to show off the Midwestern landscape.


After several individual attempts to escape his home and head to Lincoln on foot Woody asks his younger son David to drive him. His wife Kate thinks they are both crazy but is happy to get her husband out of the house.  David has his own reasons wanting to spend a few days alone with his Dad as he is aging and may not have a lot of more opportunities. He also has no reason to stay in town as he is working in a dead end stereo sales job and his longtime girlfriend has just moved out. The pair head out from Billings passing through Wyoming and South Dakota before ending up in Woody's home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska where most of his brothers still reside along with many other townsfolk he knows from his youth.

Payne decided to shot the film in black and white that works well with the subject matter. The shooting choice really showed the barrenness of the plains moreover monochrome gives the film a depression era feel especially with the repeated subject of the downturn in the economy and the effect on farming and rural communities is discussed in the piece.

Writer Bob Nelson produced a clear screenplay featuring very understandable characters. The film is not cluttered by unnecessary dialogue. Many scenes are vertically silent, feature one or two word responses or even a grunt or a Huh as a response to a question. David's Aunt Martha delivers a telling line when she remarks that the Grant brothers are men of few words. The script also features several delightful exchanges about ordinary events. One being David's Hawthorne cousins Bart (Tim Driscoll) and Cole (Devin Ratray) badgering him about how long it took to drive from home Billings to Hawthorne.  The other standout is between two of the Uncles about an Impala that turned out to be a Buick a car that was supposed to run forever but is no longer around because it stopped running.

Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael returns to work with Payne for the third time. This time out he as the vast landscape of the Midwestern United States and the vibrant tones of black and white as his canvas. The shots as Woody and David drive to Nebraska are stunning. Perhaps some of Papamichaels best work on the film is the night time shots that focus on the incandescent lighting of motel and bar signs. The production features several postcard shots of the American plains. The best transition shot occurs when Woody visits the Grant homestead that has fallen into disrepair but Woody notes as he stairs out the second floor window of his patents room that the barn is still standing. The camera zooms in on the barn then pulls out to show Woody and David in the lower left corner of the frame outside in front of the barn staring at the vast acreage of the former Grant farmland.


Bruce Dern gives a career marking performance as Woody. He drifts in and out of reality, speaks sparsely and is constantly in search of his next beer. Dern is on screen for most of the film his wild hair combined with, barren Midwest settlings plus his prodigal return to his home town make him appear to be a profit of the Great Plains. June Squibb is a standout as his wife Kate. She speaks her mind, hold's nothing back and after years of putting up with Woody's drinking and nonsense this latest scheme to collect the supposed sweepstakes winnings is the last straw. Squibb takes on all comers in her immediate and extend family. Her best work is in a scene at the Lutheran cemetery where the Grant's are buried. She moves from grave to grave enlightening David of the less flattering qualities of his departed relatives. When David asks if any or her relatives are buried here she snaps they are over at the Catholic Cemetery as no Catholic we be caught dead next to all these Lutherans.  Will Forte is steady as David Grant. He is the calm voice amongst all of the bizarre activity in the film. Bob Odenkirk of Breaking Bad fame is very good but underused as older brother Ross.

John Jackson did great work in the casting department. Many of the characters in the film were local theatre performers and non actors. To cast several of the older towns people the crew placed adds in local areas encouraging residents to take videos of their retired farmer parents and send them in. Through this process the production filled some roles which really give the film an authentic feel by including performers with the correct local dialect.

Nebraska is a well done expertly shot film with minimal dialogue that moves at a fast pace.  The film features several strong performances that are destined to be recognized at awards season. It's a very watchable take on Midwestern life from a Director that's a Nebraska native. It's a film that I can strongly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Nebraska | Alexander Payne | U.S.A. | 2013 | 155 Minutes.

Tags: Road Movie, Father & Son, Dementia, Alcoholism, Plains, Farming, Mechanic,  Korean War Midwest.













Saturday, November 30, 2013

KinoSmith Inc. Film Review - In Real Life


About a year ago I noticed that whenever I looked at a teenage they had an electronic device in their hand that was connected to the internet. The first questions were why don't you leave the device alone? Followed by How can you do your homework while constantly checking Facebook? Then the more important questions. What are your privacy settings?  Do you know the person your talking to on the other end? These are the first points raised by director Beeban Kidron's  in her film InRealLife. Under the voice over is the imagery of a sewer in East London with twisting cable rising out of the water then cutting to cable on the sides on the tunnel wall accompanied by scraping, crackling, crushing, bending and breaking sounds of the cable with an undertone pulse or heartbeat.

Ryan and Ben two teenage boys from East London are the first interviewee's. They are experts internet porn, can rhyme off just about every type of site plus providing intricate details of each sites fetish whith is quite remarkable considering they are both only 15 years old.  They claim that they are not addicted rather its part of their daily routine but they do admit that it's a hard habit to break. Ryan remarks that porn ruins his expectations of real girls. In his mind the right girl is like the one he saw on the internet. He will deal with the regular ones for a time but tell them to go away then its on to the next because they don't measure up to the blonde endowed ones he sees online.


Another interviewee 19 year old Tobin spends 5 hours a day playing Xbox and 2 on You Tube.  However he doesn't think that he is addicted to gaming. He reports that he can stop but sees no reason to.  It's not something that is bad for him. He can see how people want someone to stop doing something bad such as drugs but his gaming is not the same. Even though he flunked out of Oxford and he sees that there are other things he could do but because they are hard he avoids them.

Director Kirdon includes commentary from academics, authors and internet pioneers in the piece. Most of their messages are similar. There is a need to be wary of corporations that are collecting your information, data and personal history on servers that belong to them for commercial purposes. The people behind these sites have hired very smart people to get people to come to the sites and stay on them for as long as possible then if they leave get them back as soon as possible. A key trait is giving incredible response to something posted. It gets the user chasing that response again using the psychology of a dopamine trigger or the thrill of wanting something very fast. The efforts of these companies are very dangerous to teens, as they have not developed any other way to obtain
information, meet people or socialize. They are used to a world with constant noise, beeps, chirps and ringtones. Part of development is the need for solitude, which is not happening for the digital native generation.

Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia added the private company that has your information wants to monazite it. Therefore they monitor what the user does, reads, writes, visits sending out links to get them to point, click and buy. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange added that the Internet is the greatest spy tool ever created.


The most disturbing parts of the piece are an interview with a 15 year old girl named Page that is so addicted to her blackberry that she post status updates upon waking, while she is getting ready to go out then when she arrives at her destination. The first time she lost her phone she considered doing sexual acts to get the money to get it back. The second time when it was stolen on a train she followed the boys that took it to a house and did sexual acts to have it returned. The other is the story of 15 year old Thomas told by his parents. Thomas was bullied over the internet being constantly challenged to fights at school or at home if he did not show up at school. He took his own life in his parents back garden.

Kirdon keeps the cable motif going throughout the production.  She includes tours of two major server hubs, a complex in West London and an office building in Manhattan. There are images of the cable winding its way along in the depths of the Atlantic ocean and a rudimentary explanation of what occurs when the cable meets your provider in the building. The intriguing part is that there are thousands of buildings around the world holding data only 12 matter. Two of which are in New York City including the most important one at 60 Hudson Street where all the big providers including KPN, Deutshe Telekom and Verizon are present. These key hubs have 400 to 500 networks interconnected. Some of the other major hubs are in Los Angeles, Miami, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London and Tokyo.

The film does mention the main Tech players but as they all refused comment for the piece they are mainly mentioned by the Industry observers. Of the group Google and Facebook are singled out by the experts as not being trustworthy questioning their intentions for all of the personal material that they collect. The narrative also includes a comment on the  number of data requests placed by US Security Services to the leading Tech Corporations.

InRealLife is an important project that gives credible examples of the effect that the multitude of devices and the Internet are having on teenagers. The narrative is also correct to point out that kids emulate what they see from adults and many digital immigrants are more addicted to technology than teens.  The key point is to turn the devices off, spend some quality solitary time and connect with people face to face. In some cases Adults may need to step in to find their kids if they are perpetually lost in cyberspace. Director Kirdon has done a credible job presenting the material and it's a film I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

InRealLife | Beeban Kidron | U.K. | 2013 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Teens, Internet, Data, Privacy, Marketing, Addiction, Bullying, Monazite.








Friday, November 29, 2013

BITS 2013 Film Review - Discopathe

Duane Lewis (Jeremie Earp) is working at a diner in New York in 1976 when three customers enter with a radio that's playing an early disco tune. The sound and the speakers mesmerize Duane. He burns the order he is working on and fired.  Next he heads to the skate park where he meets a young girl who brings him back to her home then out to a popular disco club. He has the same reaction waking up the next day alone and confused with blood on his clothes. He vacates the scene to find the morning paper reporting that the girl he was with the night before was murdered.  He flees New York that morning heading for Montreal.


The story jumps ahead 4 years to Montreal in 1980. The setting is College Sainte-Lucie girls Catholic  boarding school and from the first few scenes it appears that the plot has shifted focus to a new set of characters. However when the deaf and dumb school character is introduced using the name Martin Lopez it's clear that Duane has changed his identity and is using hearing aids to avert his murderous tendencies.  He managed to keep quiet for 4 years but when two young students say behind for some along time to experiment on a long weekend Duane hears their disco 45's and his murderous tendencies return even stronger.

Director Renaud Gautier has created a homage to 70's exploitation, grindhouse fare. It's full of over the top acting especially by the three main police officers in the piece and the frantic pace including lengthy chase scenes on foot shot at a distance that is common for the era. The back story on Duane is a traumatic event in his youth when his father a music aficionado who while fooling around with tape to tape machines, speakers, wires and mixer manages to electrocute himself right in front of young Duane.

The Music is a bevy of 70's staples that is heavy on K.C. and the Sunshine Band. The main song used is Walter Murphy's band Flight 76 that serves as the films theme and appears several other times rung the piece particularly when Duane is torturing a hostage in the basement of St. Lucie. Another tune that works well is I'm a Boogie Man from the aforementioned K.C. and the Sunshine Band.  It's the track that first gets him switched on in New York and serves the story well as boogieman can have two different meanings. The Quebecois song Stop ou Encore is the 45 the private school girls were spinning that sets Duane off again and is the background music to his attack and brutalization of the pair.


The best work on the film goes to the set, prop and wardrobe department. From the first dolly shot along the counter with the authentic mid 70's 7up and Pepsi Cola bottles to the 1980's gas guzzling vehicles the items in the film ring true.

The recreation of the Quebecair gate check in and stewardess outfits brings the viewer back to a bygone era. The set even had a vintage poster announcing the 76' Montreal Olympics and the 70's staple plastic gate airport lounge chairs.

The male characters sport wide collars and ties while the girls at the skate park are adorned with Linda Ronstadt style tanks and shorts to accompany their 4 wheel roller skates.

The ensemble cast filled their roles well. The vision of this piece was camp with a side of horror and a touch of humour. No one performance stood out amongst the group but the cast hits its stride more in the Montreal part of the piece as most are Francophone.

Discopathe is a very specific genre film who's enthusiasts will seek out the material.  It is not meant to be and won't find a mass audience or distribution. It has some good passages and a very different premise. Fans of the era will appreciate Gautier's effort and attention to detail but overall it's too uneven a piece to recommend to a wider audience.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Discopathe | Renauld Gautier / Marie - Claire  Lalonde | Canada | 81 Minutes.

Tags: Serial Killer, Disco, 1970's, Childhood Trauma, Catholic School, Private School, Crime, Detectives,  Cold Case.






BITS 2013 Film Review - Blood Riders: The Devil Rides with Us

Unusual beginnings to films are rare these days, normally a movie begins with the introduction of the main characters, an event that will shape the rest of the piece or in a non linear narrative a scene from an hour or so into the movie that the story will eventually catch up to in the course of the plot. Blood Riders: The Devil Rides with Us manages to do something different. It starts with a character that is already dead talking to an interviewer in a white cube space between this world and the next. She reflects on her life, how she got here, how her death will affect her family and friends and the fate she hopes befalls the people that killed her.

Two friends Janek (Corey Lof) and Kyle (A.J. Morabito) are out on a Friday night.  They are looking for something different to do to make themselves stand out from being ordinary so they decide to steal a car.  Zoey (Caitlynne Medrek) and Dane (Joel Ballanger) are sitting on a curb on the other side the street watching the event. They go in for a closer look forcing the two friend to retreat eventually stealing a different car with the taunting Zoey and Dane along for the ride. They discover an unexpected surprise in the trunk that sets off a series encounters over a weekend.


Director Lari Teras presents a story that features violence with a slice of humour.  A number of the killings could be classified as accident, impulsive or opportunistic rather than a cold premeditated plan of action. Teras appears to be captivated by the splatter effect using it on the opening title sequence and often on the slayer or bystander as the blood of the latest victim hits them. Teras shooting style is straight ahead and right at the viewer. There are no killings that are heard off camera or seen in the distance. The direction is full on plain acts of violence. Most of the scenes are a two camera tight in crop shot furthering Teras goal to have the audience see everything close up.

The friends' two main combatants in the piece are occultists and neo-Nazis. They stumble across some information that they attempt to use to escape their situation. As part of the deal they are forced to visit white supremacist Gerhard (Will Conlon) to obtain an item. Things don't go as planned at Gerhard's place or when they deliver the item to the occultist complete the deal. The result is two very serious groups dedicated to their cause that now have a score to settle with the quartet.

The soundtrack is well appointed to a weekend killing spree. It's an equal mixture of hard driving rock and punk tracks plus effective instrumental interludes that accompany the ritualistic scenes of the occult.  The TV Freaks song Real Pain runs over the opening credits foreshadowing the upcoming events with the constant refrain of I guess it could get worse as the quartet inspect and eventually settle on a car to steal.

Of the main characters Caitlynne Medrek stand out as Zoey. She's a finisher rather that an instigator. Zoey points out the car that eventually gets the group into trouble. Several of her impulse acts early on in the piece force the troop deeper and deeper down a path of violence and death. She is also the subject of a running gag that at least one person in every new situation the group encounters knows her from the past. Ashley McDonald is notable in the role of Rosie a well traveled occultist that switches sides to join up with our heroes. Chris Feltis is also effective as the Interviewer who chats to several victims after they die then gleefully snaps his fingers sending them to the fires of hell.

Blood Riders is a joyful hour and 10-minute jaunt. The plot has a couple of twists and features a multiple different manners of death to satisfy the horror enthusiast. There is no great theme here but perhaps a message is to be yourself as there is no need to act out of character to be noticed or maybe to repent for your questionable actions in this world because you may be asked about them on your way to the next. The film is a blood splattered weekend adventure that I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Blood Riders: The Devil Rides with Us | Lari Teras | Canada | 2013| 71 Minutes.

Tags: Peer Pressure, Afterlife, Hitler, Occult, Stealing Cars, White Supremacist, Neo Nazi, Devil Worship.







Wednesday, November 27, 2013

BITS 2013 Film Review - Evangeline

Evangeline (Kat de Lieva) arrives for her first year of University in the back of a car filled with religious symbols. She enters her dorm room and is directed to her bed by roommate Shannon (Mayumi Yoshida). Her roommates friend Mark (Anthony Shim) is present and pair immediately proceed to break a porcelain angel bowl the only item that Evangeline seems to hold dear. It's also the night of the party put on by the best frat on campus. Despite first being tentative Evangeline jumps right into the festivities being noticed by Mark Konner (Richard Harmon) the head of the frat.


The next morning as most of the campus heads off for a holiday weekend Eva stays mainly because she is still feeling the effects of the night before.  Mark Konner is also on campus and takes her out to his fathers hunting cabin in the woods. However, his intentions towards her are not honourable. He is joined by his two lieutenants who take part in the violent attack. Paralleling the events on campus a middle age teacher know as Mr. K.(David Lewis) roams the quite roads around the woods. He is fastidious, particular and has a pension for picking up young women walking alone at night along the side of the road.

Writer/Director Karen Lam's narrative fails to build tension and comes across rushed. The main character is introduced as timid quiet and reserved then moment later burst out of the bathroom dressed as a punk princess eager to be the life of the party without any context. There is a bit of back story on a younger sister that dying of a terminal disease and reference to a preacher father but these relationships are not well developed.

The highlight of the films are the scenes and imagery in the cube that represents the space between this world and the next. Here we find the spirit of the women killed by the murderous Mr. K. It's also where Eva dwells following the attack by the frat boys. This is also the space where the demonic spirit merges with the protagonist starting her down the path of revenge. The mixing of sharp jarring sounds when Evangeline occupies the cube is jolting and ominous.


The film does feature a pulsating soundtrack to back the action on the screen. The brooding theme that follows Mr K. as he goes about his business in the woods. The understated guitar riff accompanying the initial flashback to Evangeline's sister. The mixing of sounds and tones as the demon first enters Eva's body followed by the long notes on the organ when she strikes for the first time.

The best acted portion of the film occurs after Eva is found by some drifters in the woods. Her personality has changed as she is shellshocked and mute. Kevin Redvers is notable as Billy the PSTD suffering ex solider. Nelson Leis adds to the proceedings as the attempted stalker Uncle Dee.

Evangeline is a revenge film that doesn't take the time to build characters which is necessary for the audience to have a vested interest in their fates. The result is not a strong like or dislike of the players it's instead indifference which is far worse. There are some good elements in the film but not enough to hold the whole project together. Overall it's not a film that I can recommend.

** out of 4.

Evangeline | Karen Lam | 2013 | Canada | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Religion | Spirits | Serial Killer | Torture | Revenge | Redemption | Campus Live.






BITS 2013 Film Review - Thanatomorphose

Thanatomorphose is described in Reverse's French language dictionary as modifications visibles ques la mort provoque sur les organismes. Translated into English: visible changes that death causes on organisms.  In what may be the most disturbing film since David Lynch's Eraserhead or at least since The Human Centipede. Writer/Director Eric Falardeau delivers a complete and extremely close up view of a case of decomposition. The twist is the subject that decomposes is not an orange that you find under the rear seat in your car, bananas that you stumble across in a bag under your bed or even an animal that was hit by a car and discovered in a ditch at the side of the road. The object of this study is a woman who literally rots from the inside out.

The story opens with a young nameless woman wandering around in her apartment naked after having sex with her boyfriend. He soon comes out bedroom in the same state to use the bathroom. It's quickly apparent that this is not a deep relationship. The woman notices a bruise on her right shoulder but thinks nothing of it. The next morning she awakes heads to the shower and looses two fingernails as she prepares for work. Thus begins a daily pattern of waking to new bruises, skin discolouration, weakness and increased pain.


The most curious aspect of the film is the woman's reaction to the changes. She doesn't react alarmed or panicked. She doesn't consider going to the hospital at the early stages of the metamorphosis. Instead she is detached almost observing the changes as a scientist charting the progress of an experiment. Our heroine does display signs early on in the film that she is a person that is very much alone, empty and suffering from low self esteem. Her circle of friend is small, there is no mention of any family, her boyfriend is both neglectful and abusive. She is focused on sex as attempt to feel but above it all she is  about to abandon her one passion in life sculpting.

Cinematographer Benoit Lemire keeps the lens set to a small aperture for the majority of the production.  Every scene in the film takes place in the woman's apartment and for the most part in low light. The lighting scheme fits well with the claustrophobic feeling for the piece. It also helps to make the audience  work to decipher what they really see as the lead character transforms. The darker tones also play well with the hand held camera work that follows the protagonist as she regularly stumbles from the bedroom to the bathroom to discover what has befallen her each day.

Actress Kayden Rose turns in an extraordinary performance in the lead role. It's her first role in a feature film and she is in every frame of the movie. The role is extremely physical as she has to often demonstrate the pain and suffering inflicted on her character throughout the piece. It's a very gutsy performance as she spends a lot of time on camera without any clothing and as she decays the number of prosthesis increase and she is covered in the natural evidence of a rotting organism.


Special makeup effects designer David Scherer who's majority of earlier work has been in shorts and T.V. created some signature work in this film. His endeavour to slowly turn a fit mid 20's woman into an oozing bundle of cells is both hard to watch and mesmerizing at the same time. Every day she's a little more discoloured and she's leaking somewhere new another appendage is now useless and either comes off by itself or is forcibly removed by the owner.

Thanatomorphrose is a riveting, horrifying spectacle that goes beyond the category of a horror genre film. It's the visualization of the link between the emotional and the physical.  The main character is emotionally vacant which her body physically manifests. I'm not going to recommend this film but will instead say go see it but beware that it will stay with you long after you walk out of the theatre.

*** 1/2 out of 4.

Thanatomorphrose | Eric Falardeau | 2012 | Canada | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Horror, Decay, Diseased, Emotionless, Lustful, Transformation, Hopeless, Inevitable, Loneliness, Despair.








Sunday, November 24, 2013

Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - A River Changes Course.

A little girl is chopping sugar cane alone in a remote section of the Northern Cambodian Jungle. She has a small basket that she fills with some small sections of cane and climbs down a steep embankment where she finds her mother also working the land. The pair load up their haul and head back to their thatched hut. A father is perched at the front part of a wooden boat on the Tonle Sap River in Central Cambodia. His teenage son is driving and steering at the back. The pair stop to check and empty their fishing nets. They season and eat a few fish then bring home the rest to sell to market.  In the rice fields outside of Phnom Pen a mother and eldest daughter work the field collecting and tying off bushels of rice. They lament that this years harvest is not good and their buffalos are eating all of the rice.

A River Changes Course follows three families from different parts of Cambodia. All are struggling to maintain a way of life that may not survive beyond the current generation. All seeing that the return on their labour is not producing as much as it did for the generation before. The other factor is the encroachment of modern society and corporations into their lands effecting the natural wildlife and habitat.

Director Kayanee Mam focuses on one member of each family to tell their story. Sav Samourn is the matriarch and main voice for her family. Her very young children have learned to do the work required  to keep the family going. They work out in the fields, hunt for potatoes on their own, go to the watering hole to collect fresh water, are adept with large knives that are very sharp and take care of their infant siblings physical and educational needs.


Sari Math has dropped out of school to fish full time with is father. He has to help the family so his younger siblings can continue to obtain an education. However their catches continue to dwindle as there is less fish in the river. Some of the younger siblings now come out on the boat and start to miss school as they are also helping out with their younger brothers and sisters at home.

The rice fields are not producing a big yield because there has not been enough rain this season. The family has a large dept with the bank forcing Khieu Mok to go to the Phnom Penh to work in the factories. First she has to be trained to use a sewing machine then work for a wage of 60 USD a month with the potential of 100USD for overtime. The day starts with a pass card scan at the entrance of the factory, followed by a full day at a machine ending with a ringing bell and a pat down by security on exit. The workers head home to wash, eat, sleep and prepare for the next day at work.


One of the best exchanges captured in the film is director Mam's interview of 3 factory workers on Khieu Mok block as they do their evening washing. They speak about their villages, why they had to come to the city and their plans to go back home.  Another is Sav Samours account of how she has been sick for the last 10 years. How her body aches, she hardly wants to eat and she is always dizzy. Her smallest child was sick for a while and her husband was so sick he almost died. She traces the cause to either their food as they used to only each what the family produced directly but now they buy food from others or more ominously the water.

A River Changes Course is a minimalist view of a vanishing way of life in Cambodia. The rural population that for generations lived off of the land, worked in the rice fields or fished are facing the reality of having to make drastic changes to survive. They are a segment of the population that are used to working for themselves and not for someone else. As Sav Samourn described it's hard to work for someone else, you're moving forward when you work for yourself but when you work for someone else you have nothing.  A River Changes Course is a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

A River Changes Course | Kalyanee Mam | Cambodia | 2013 | 83 Minutes.

Tags: Child Labour, Cambodian Jungle, Rice Fields, Fishing Hamlet, Deforestation, Development, Education, Sweatshop, Poverty, Survival.





Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - Gringo Trails

Gringo Trails is a term used in South and Central America for the destinations where foreign tourist normally frequent. Travelers come in three categories, drifters who stumble upon an area alone or possibly with one or two other people and stay for an extended period of time. Backpackers who come in larger groups but are still frugal in their approach and tourists who expect the same standards in foreign countries as at home. The last group are looking for familiar restaurant, bars, shops and services causing construction of these establishments thus changing the authenticity of the location.

The story starts with the tale of Yossi Ghinsberg who heard about a stretch of uncharted Amazon while in Bolivia in 1981 Ghinsberg was looking for the remote, tribal and unusual headed out to explore getting lost in the jungle. He was swept away in one of the worst rainstorm in the history of the area but manage to survive 25 days alone in the jungle near Rurrenabaque before rescue.  He turned his experience into a 1985 book which started a trend of Israelis coming to the area to see if the story was true and try to gain their own taste of the Ghinsberg experience.

Director Pegi Vail presents the development of tourism in many hotspots normally plot into three stages: the initial sprinkling of travellers that discover a spot, which leads to increased popularity amongst backpackers then total saturation.  The narrative touches on the effect on the land, the habitat of the local animals inhabitants. The film also includes antidotal stories from travel book writers, TV hosts and bloggers. Be sure to catch the running gag of backpackers standing around brushing their teeth in the morning sunlight to start their day.

The next point of interest is Salar de Uyuni also in Bolivia, the largest salt desert in the world measuring at 4086 square miles. Inchausai Island first a destination to gather cactus began to see early tourists arrive in the 80's. By 2000 it became a steady destination for small groups of tourist having seen features on Fredo Lazaro Ticoma the first inhabitant in their guidebooks soon after scores of SUV's began to arrived full of travellers creating the usual scene of picnic tables full of visitors, restaurants, information spots, alcohol and garbage. By 2010 the numbers had swelled to 300-400 tourist per day.  Ticoma who used to interact with the early tourist now only serves lunch to the guides as the government runs the island.

The worst example in the piece is Haad Rin Beach on Koh Phangan Island in Thailand. National Geographic staffer Costas Christ tells his story of first going to Koh Phangan Island in 1979 spending a month with a local family at the beach. 10 years later 150 people were on the beach with a small group of bungalows available for accommodation. By 1994 it's a regular traveling stop with tourist from more popular islands coming by for Full Moon parties. New Years eve 1999 saw 15,000 partiers on the beach to welcome in the millennium, a decade later tourists came by express boat and 50,000 revellers were present to mark the start of 2010.




The film includes two examples of locations that followed the right approach. Bhutan opened up to tourism in 1974 but they targeted a specific market.  They looked for older tourist mainly the well to do, retired University professors and Hollywood types who had means had done the party thing in the past therefore more likely to respect their culture and traditions. Tourist are charged $250.00 per day and can be told to leave if they do not respect the country's traditions and rules. The other is Chalalan Lagoon in Bolivia. The guides are well trained explain to tourist what the land, animals and nature means to them, their parents and grandparents generation. They engage in Eco-tourism, Yossi Ghinsberg retuned to Bolivia in 1992 and is working with the group at Chalalan Ecolodge alongside some of the people that were in the search party to save him. He raised money from the U.S. to support their project of community based tourism.

Gringo trails is a fascinating look at modern tourism and the impact of the traveler on the destinations that they visit. It's a unique take as they find as much fault with the locals for not educating the tourists but instead looking to make a quick buck as with the tourist for disrespecting local customs and traditions. A key rule for the host is to set the ground rules early, limit numbers, have a clear plan on what to do with waste and keep a close eye on the effect on wildlife and culture.  A good tip for the traveller when they come across a supposed exotic local with volleyball courts, bars on the beach and restaurant serving western fare is to ask a local what's going on at the island or village next door. Gringo trails is a documentary that I highly recommend.

**** out of 4.

Gringo Trails | Pegi Vail | U.S.A. | Bhutan | Bolivia | Mali | Thailand | 2013| 80 Minutes.

Tags:Yossi Ghinsberg Drifters, Backpackers, Institutionalized Tourist, Eco-Footprints, Eco-tourism, Sustainable development, biodiversity, Bolivia, Bhutan, Thailand.







Saturday, November 23, 2013

Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - Bidder 70


Tim DeChristopher was a student at the University of Utah and a lover of the States parklands and wilderness when he heard about a controversial BML Oil and Gas lease auction. On December 19, 2008 he went down to the location to perhaps join with the protesters when he found himself inside the building and asked if he was here to be a bidder. He said yes, they handed him bidding paddle number 70 and despite knowing he did not have the funds to pay he won bids on 22,000 acres of land most of them in the most sensitive environmental areas. Once discovered he was charged federally for fraud carrying a potential 10-year jail sentence.

DeChristopher was at the beginning of his activism when he took this major step. After the event he became more involved then a leader in the Peaceful Uprising movement that preached non violent action often using arts, crafts and acting out scenes to get their message out. His action of disrupting the lease auction had inspired the other members of the group. The dispute in the DeChristopher case had one side stating that his actions were planned He made false statements during a bidding processes that demands punishment. On the other is the argument that this was a spur of the moment incident of civil disobedience. It was a choice of evils and taking this action was better than letting Southern Utah land near community treasures like Arches and Canonylands National Park go to large oils and gas companies.


Directors Beth and George Gage follow this case from the Incident right up to the trial and eventual sentencing in July 2011. The documentary follows Tim as he grows in stature from the initial event to a keynote speech at Power shift 2011 2 months after a guilty verdict at the February 2011 trial and with the sentencing date looming three months into the future. His action may have sparked a review of the  process as incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cancelled the leases on 77 parcels of land in February 2009.

One DeChristopher's initiative was his craiglist add seeking a peoples candidate for congress for Utah's second district. The current congressman Jim Matheson, a democrat in name only was essentially under the control of corporations and special interests. The campaign found Claudia Wright a retired school teach who split the vote at the state convention making it thought to the night of the primary election before loosing to Matheson. Another significant event during the pre-trial period was the April 20, 2010, BP Deep Horizon spill. First of all it provided renewed strength to activists as it showed in an unfathomable scale the level of environmental damage a mega oil company can do to the ocean, wildlife, ecosystems, beaches and communities. It also lead to another postponement of the trial as the appetite waned to try a case disrupting the oils and gas industry.

Two things kept DeChristopher going with the uncertainty of the trial hanging over him.  He was not able to leave the country had to check in with his parole office once a week and the unknown is often harder to deal with than a known fate.  One was his activism and role in Peaceful uprising.  The other his participation in and support from the First Unitarian Church of Utah.

Bidder 70 is a tough look at the potential consequences of activism and civil disobedience. The believers feel that they are contravening unjust laws but they all realize that their actions could lead to arrest, personal restrictions, fines and perhaps even jail time. The activist has to decide whether they are willing act and risk their personal freedom for their cause.  Tim DeChristopher was willing to do so exchanging 21 months of his freedom to save 22,000 acres of beloved unique american landscape. Bidder 70 is a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

Bidder 70 | Beth and George Gage | USA | 2012 | 73 Minutes.

Tags: Civil Disobedience, BML, Deep Horizon Spill, Peaceful Uprising, Dept. of the Interior.













Planet In Focus 2013 Film Review - Elemental

Kanpur India leather factory, a smokestack spews black smoke into the air inside the workers treat the  leather products as the camera focuses on the drainage pipes taking water out of as the plant always getting darker at every stage as it empties into open waterways in the street then into the River Ganges. The result, a thick layer of dark sludge floating on the top of the river where it meets the shore. Onto the scene walks Rajendra Singh a commissioner with the Ganges River Basin Authority sample are taken showing significant levels of acid, chromium and lead. Singh concludes unless something is done Mother Ganges the source of 60% of the countries drinking supply will be killed.


Eriel Deranger boards a small plane headed home while her talk at a recent conference is recounted. She is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan Band working for the Rainforset Action Network in Edmonton Alberta targeting the development of the Northern Alberta tar sands. Its extraction zone is bigger that Wales and England combined and it takes 4 tonnes of dirt to produce 1 barrel of oil. A mixture of highly toxic chemicals is required to extract the oil.  As Eriel gives her talk the screen is filled with images of the process as Eriel flies overhead. The excavation areas, the multiple buildings,  smokestacks, the mixing process and to mirror the plight of the Ganges drain pipes shooting black water into the local waterways.

Next onto a conference in Hong Kong, China where we meet Inventor Jay Harman a nature enthusiast from an early age. He developed a keen scene on how nature worked and natural elements moved especially spiraling swirling patterns. There are elements of swirling water movement in everything in nature.  At the beach its seashells, in humans its the heart muscles, arteries and inner ear. It's what nurture uses to make thing work and to minimize energies. Harman created a Vortex ring based on this and uses it to create industrial items that are quieter, use less energy and requires significantly less chemical to maintain purity levels.


Directors Gayatri Roshan and Emmanuel Vaughn Lee chose three Echo- Crusaders from different regions of the Commonwealth to be the subjects of their film. The story follows the three as they try to bring change to today's environmental reality. Rajendra Singh goes on a pilgrimage a war of purification where he visits all points along the Ganges in an attempt to stop the damming of the river and get the citizens to respect and not pollute it.  Eriel Deranger organizes protests shows up and Enbrige board meeting shames the Tar Sands development and keystone XL Pipelines financiers to defeat their project. While Jay Harden's inventions draws interest from all over the world from financiers and governments alike looking to support radical projects.

The production is beautifully shot. The scenes along the Ganges with the citizens doing laundry,  bathing and conducting community activity are stunning. The night time shots of cultural events along the river are bright and colourful. Things change as the pilgrimage heads up to the mountains, clothing scenery, landscape roadways.  The opening sweeping shots over the tar sands and the work sites is razor sharp. The smoke billowing out of the local plants and presentation of the busses upon busses of workers heading in and out of the plants bring home the scope of the operation. the highlight of the piece is the underwater work as Jay Harman spends time where he is most comfortable in the sea.  The sea creatures, underwater vegetation,  the richness of the water itself is a highlight of the shoot.

Elemental is a solid production that follows the right number of activists for a ninety-minute presentation. The three subjects have the drive to foster change, bring attention to their causes but in the end could be a bit more structured in their approaches. The overall result for the three is that their effort to reach their main goals is trending in the right direction. Elemental is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Elemental | Gayatri Roshan / Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee | USA| 2012 | 92 Minutes.

Eco - Activists | Ganges River | Pollution | Pilgrimage | Alberta Tar Sands | Keystone XL Pipeline | Vortex Ring | Reduced Energy Consumption.











Friday, November 22, 2013

EUFF 2013 Film Review - Bullhead

Jacky (Mattias Schoenaerts) emerges from his truck and marches up to a cattle rancher. He rough's him up, slaps his face the stands angrily in front of him.  Jacky demands that the rancher use their products when told to, only sell his beef to his Uncle and extorts that the only reason why cattle farmer is not treated worse is because he knew Jacky's dad. The action is proceeded by a long  multi directional tracking shot that effectively sucks the viewer into the nasty world of livestock doping.

The scene shifts to the docks in Zeebrugge, Belgium, where Diederik (Jerone Perceval) and his associates have the back of a semi open thats full of beef Marc DeKuyper (Sam Louwyck) appears taking one package then the remainder of the cargo is transferred to a different tailer for transfer.

The third opening sequence is in Waremme, Belgium a 5 series BMW rolls into the Filippini & Fils garage. The brothers are told to get rid of the vehicle but they notice that it has a bullet hole in the bottom of the rear door frame. News reports spread that the Hormone Mafia have killed a police detective named Daems.  The Filippini's realize that the vehicle in their shop was used for the crime and try to decide what to do to their Flemish cohorts.


Jacky and his group meet with Dedrick, DeKuyper and their gang to do business. Jacky knows there is something wrong with the proposed arrangement he's pacing bouncy, menacing then suddenly leaves the room. Diederik is sent to locate him.  He knows Jacky but is not acknowledged. Then we learn of a horrifying event in Jacky's past to which Diederik was the only witness.

Writer/Director Michael Roskam weaves an intricate plot around the under explored bad side of the beef industry featuring as main players: farmers, cattle ranchers, vets, dealers, gangsters and cops. The plot  cris-crosses Belgium moving back and forth between the French and Flemish sides. The narrative  is based on true events in Belgium sparked by the death of a police officer who was investigating the trade. The script includes several extended dialogue less passages where the actor on screen has to use other tools to express their emotions.

Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis' standout work permeates every frame of the film. The peak of which is the series of solo scenes with Jacky in his private space taking his cocktail of injections and pills related to his life defining event. The shadowing of the scenes and use of natural light as Jacky shadow boxes around the room is impressive. Another strong sequence is the offloading of the beef trailer.  The scene is a night but it has the yellow tinge of incandescent street lighting.  Karakatsanis uses the actors personal shadows and the contours of their clothing to give a clear impression that the attendees are underworld figures that work and live in the margins of Belgian society.  Director Roskam  also has an inclination for shooting clouds. The Production includes a couple of spectacular shots early on in the proceedings.



The casting department made several excellent choices for the supporting characters. Erico Salamone and Philippe Grand Henry as the Filippini brothers Christian and David;  Mike Reus as the enforcer Richter plus child actors Robin Valvekens and David Murgia in the young Jacky and Bruno roles.

Mattias Schoenaerts is remarkable as Jacky Vanmarsenille, the Limburg cattle farmer/pharmacist/ enforcer who's emotional and social development appears to have stopped due to a terrifying event in his youth. He is easily prone to rage, broods, does not speak much and more likely to deliver a head-but than shake hands. Jeroen Perceval as Diederik is his foil, surprisingly cerebral, very cautions and full of his own nervous ticks and hidden thoughts.  The Filippini brothers as noted above are also standouts in the piece their back and forth banter and comments on the Flemish highlight the uneasy relationship between the ethnic divide in Belgium.

Michael R. Roskam has authored a gripping tale exploring the underbelly of the beef industry in Belgium. The film is beautifully shot, chalked full of great performaces and tightly edited. The two lead characters are more that what one would initially expect. Overall Bullhead is a film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Bullhead | Michael R. Roskam |  Belgium | 2011 | 129 Minutes.

Tags: Cattle Ranching | Hormones | Beef | Childhood Trauma | Police Killing | Organized Crime.