Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film Review - Elle

Underneath the opening credits the audience hears the sounds of glasses and dishes breaking followed by screams and signs of an obvious struggle.  Paul Verhoeven's frame settles on a black cat then shifts to an ongoing rape ending with the accoster fleeing from the scene. The victim Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) picks herself up, cleans up the mess then goes on about her evening as if the event never occurred.

The next day she arrives at work where her gaming company is behind schedule on a major game release. Michelle reads the riot act pushing for the game to be more violent, more graphic, more explicit gaining praise from most of her programmers. She returns home greeting her neighbours Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and Rebecca (Virgine Efira) who are working on their Christmas decorations. Her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) who's being dominated by his manipulative girlfriend drops by for a visit looking for money for an apartment for the pair and soon to be born child of questionable lineage.

Director Paul Verhoeven takes the Philippe Djian novel and cranks up the perversity meter to fourteen with his first foray into French language filmmaking. Huppert is not a participant but rather the driver of the twisted action as she is in control in every relationship despite how it may appear some times on screen. The narrative's other subplot involving Michele's father explains our heroine's reluctance to trust the police or go them to report the assault. The piece lays out multiple complex relationships for Michele that Huppert navigates smartly.

After her attacker begins to stalk her wanting more contact; Michelle goes to a hardware store making purchases to protect herself leading to the most comedic scene in the film where her ex husband suffers the wrath of the new found defensive measures. Back at work the game progresses slowly leading to confrontations with her staff. As her mother pushes her to attend a major upcoming legal event for her father. While her son seems to be entangled with a woman that's an unappreciative bully while he works a minimum wage job to support a child bearing no resemblance.

Isabelle Huppert once again shows her mastery of the craft and a willingness to tackle the most challenging roles. Her work is physical, emotional and psychological shifting throughout the film. Judith Magre is very strong as Michele mother Irene. She is desperately trying to hang on to the last embers of youth spending time with men that Michele fears she may be paying for thier company.

Elle is a psychological thriller that is worthy of a capital P and a capital T. Verhoeven camera does not flinch at the violent exchanged but instead leads audience in closer for a better view. The story is nimbly paced featuring enough twist to through the viewer off track of the assailant but not to many to make the narrative seem staged. It's a unique production featuring one of the greatest actors working today making it a film despite its graphic depictions at times well worth the watch.

**** Out of 4

Elle | Paul Verhoeven | France/ Germany/ Belgium | 2016 | 130 Minutes.

Tags: Rape, Gaming, Violence, Pregnancy, Prison, Bail Hearing, Dinner Party, Stroke, Coma, Midnight Mass, Nativity Scene.

Film Review - Hidden Figures

A green broken down Chevy Impala sits at the side of the road, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is perched below trying to get the car to start as a local police officer pulls up to access the situation. Once the women show him their NASA badges he provides an escort to Langley after Dorothy completes a quick fix on the car. The women Dorothy, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) are human computers. They work in cramped quarters in an outbuilding basement on the NASA labeled the Coloured Computing Group. The calculate manually the geometry to project the launch and landing for the Mercury 7 astronauts. The Americans are in a race with the Soviet Union who have put Sputnik into orbit and are close to doing a manned mission into space.

Director Theodor Melfi tells an important story however the screenplay written by himself and Allison Schroeder does not deep enough into the dirty areas of the subject matter. The racial reality of Virginia in 1961 is displayed in several scenes but the passages are brief and could have used a longer look to give the sequences more impact and meaning. The script more often that not plays up the comedic aspect of racial injustice as in the running gag of Katherine's need to run back to the West Computer Building to find the only coloured women's washroom on campus when can't hold it ably longer and has to relieve herself.

The narrative does hit the main parts of the women's stories Mary Jackson's struggle to become the first NASA female engineer having to go to court for the privilege of attending night engineer courses at a local high school. Dorothy Vaughan knowing the meaning of the arrival of the IBM machine learns FORTRAN and teaches her girls to code the IBM mainframe to protect their jobs. Katherine's struggles external with her all male Space Task Force colleagues and internal with herself to trust that she's the best with numbers in the room.

The three female leads present their real life counterparts well. Singer Janelle Monae who was also very strong in this years Moonlight seems to get all of the best comedic lines and is the most assertive of the three. Octavia Spencer's Dorothy Vaughan is the most thoughtful of the three while Taraj Henderson leads the cast as the mathematical genius Katherine G. Johnson. Kevin Costner provides a steady hand as department head Al Harrison and look for Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali in his third notable performance of the year in vital supporting roles.

Hidden Figures tells the story of important contributors to the golden age of the American Space program that were not allowed to put their names on reports, were hidden away in a basement out building but did key work for NASA getting their rockets off of the launch pad and back for a safe splashdown. The women faced many obstacles to do their work many of them put in place by the laws of their country and their colleagues. The battles fought deserved more screen time but the subject matter of the piece makes it worth a watch.

*** Out of 4.

Hidden Figures | Theodore Melfi | U.S.A. | 127 Minutes.

Tags: NASA, Langley Virginia, Computer, Coloured, Mercury 7, Sputnik, John Glen, Alan Sheppard,

Film Review - Fences

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis bring their tony award winning roles of Troy and Rose Maxson to the big screen as Washington also takes on the directing duties for the August Williams creation that's the central cog in the writers Pittsburgh Cycle of works. The film opens with one of the few scenes that's outside of the Maxon's family home and yard. Troy (Washington) and fellow rubbish collector Bono (Stephen Henderson) are working their route commenting on how there are no black drivers in the department. Troy has filed a formal complaint that's lead to a meeting at the Commissioners office that could result in him loosing his job. At home Troy is constantly at odds with his younger son Corey (Jovan Adepo) who has a chance at a College scholarship that Troy plans to thwart as his baseball dreams were shattered by the colour barrier and the fact that integration did not come to the Major Leagues until he had reached his 40's. Troy's also saddled with the knowledge that the family home is due to the benefit paid to his brother Gaberial (Mykelti Williamson) due to a WWII brain injury that netted him a metal plate. Lastly Troy's wandering eye with the females that has got him into trouble in the past has started up again in the opening moments of the film.

Denzel sinks his teeth, arms to the elbows and soul into this film. He delivers his lines without any effort giving the audience the feel that he is not playing a role but more greeting reacquainted with an old friend as he spouts the Troy Maxon Manifesto in his yard. Davis' Rose leads the rest of the cast along side the afore mentioned Henderson and Williamson as Bono and Gabriel. Washington seems more at easy on his third time out directing using a mixture of wide, circular, high and low angle shots effectively and to augment the action on screen.  August Williams screenplay being from a stage play is naturally heavily dialogue driven. The minimal amount of set locations does not diminish the production as it has in other stage adaptions to the big screen.

Washington's directorial eye is in step with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen as they set the tone of a mid-50's lower class Pittsburgh neighbourhood in a few sharply shot scenes; the opening where we meet Troy and Bono riding on the back of a Pittsburg sanitation garbage truck followed by Gabriel's first appearance in the neighbourhood mocked by the local teenagers as he chases after Hell-hounds and calls out to St. Peter.  Christensen's work also puts a cap on a key scene at the end of the film that leaves the players jaw dropped by the visual.      

Fences is a superbly acted film featuring the best two male and female performances in any feature this year. The entire cast are at home with the material as August Williams words flow freely over the pieces 138 minute run time. The subject matter is tough, challenging and gritty but the acting and the screenplay inject several light moments to keep an up tone beat for a good portion of the proceedings. Denzel Washington has clearly found his grove as a director with this film featuring material that he knows intimately will backed by excellent set, cinematography and costume design working making it a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Fences | Denzel Washington | U.S.A. | 2016 | 138 minutes.

Tags: Baseball, Negro Leagues, Pittsburgh, 1950's, Sanitation, Affair, Marines, WWII, Mental Illness, Football, College Scholarship.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Film Review - Rogue One : A Star Wars Story

Gareth Edwards directs the first Disney Stand Alone Star Wars film. The film is based on central characters not seen before in the Star Wars universe and answers the question: Why would a weapon as complex as the Death Star be vulnerable to destruction by a single photon torpedo. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) witnesses a tragic family event as a child as her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken away by Imperial Captain Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to finish work on the Death Star that he created.

We next catch up to Jyn as a young adult having been in and out of trouble with the law for petty criminal acts. She's freed by the Rebel alliance with a plan that she could be of use to get the rebels close to her father to halt the completion of the Empire's super weapon. The Rebels send leading pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) with her to find her former protector Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) on Jedha who may have the key to locate Galen Erso. On Jeda the pair link up with blind martial artist Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Mercenary Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) along with Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) to form the group that will attempt to find Jyn's dad then obtain the schematics of the Death Star.

Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy craft a more grime less fun story from the main topic of the opening act of the original Star Wars film where Darth Vader boards Princess Leia's ship hunting for the just stolen Battleship plans. The plans take centre stage again in the last act of Star Wars when they are downloaded from R2D2 then the rebel pilots are briefed how to destroy the Death Star. The writers fill the backstory with several unique and intriguing multi-dimensional characters that one expects suffered a negative fate as none of them appear in the first Star Wars trilogy.

Felicity Jones turns in another of a string of strong performances as Jyn Erso. She witnessed a family tragedy at a very young age, was raised until 16 by Saw Gerrera then fended for herself in the shadows as she entered young adulthood. She grows from a selfish petty thief to the leader of a vital mission for the rebel alliance. Diego Luna's Cassian Andor also has experienced trauma since the age of six due to Empire aggression. He's a leading rebel Captain that follows his orders with brutal efficiency only to evolve to think and choose the best course of action as he becomes more influenced by Jyn and the other members of their band of rebels. Ben Mendelsohn is formidable as the main Imperial heavy Captain Krennic. He is a longtime colleague turned pursuer of Galen Erso. His ambition exudes from every pore as does his single-minded determination to prove that his plant killing Death Star is the best weapon in the Empire's arsenal reaping all of the glory that will follow for the distinction. Watch for Alan Tudyk voicing the reprogrammed Imperial security droid K-2SO. The droid has many of the best lines of the film often keeping all of the main characters off balance.

Rogue One:A Star Wars Story does start off a little slowly in the opening frames but once the action picks up in Jeda the film finds its rhythm and does not look back. The writers did a credible job of fleshing out a full story from a plot point focused on twice in the original film aimed directly at a grown up audience.  The ensemble cast fall easily into their roles backed by the usual stunning visuals and trappings of the Star Wars universe making it a film that I can definitely recommend. It's the film audience were hoping to see when they walked into the original disappointing reboot The Phantom Menace. Based on this first outing and new technology to reverse the aging process and literally bring actors back from the dead  I strongly predict more stand along Star Wars Stories in the future.  

**** Out of 4.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | Gareth Edwards | U.S.A. | 134 minutes.

Tags: Star Wars, Death Star, Engineer, Imperial, Empire, Rebel Alliance, Computer Generated, The Force, Stand Alone Project.


Friday, December 9, 2016

levelFilm Film Review- Sugar Mountain

Brothers Miles (Drew Roy) and Liam West (Shane Coffey) are broke. The family boat and business Sugar Mountain Costal Charters that their mother kept going for 21 years they have seemingly destroyed in 3. They cannot pay their mooring fees, their insurance is behind due to 600K claim for detached fingers of a pianist making them desperate for money.  They come up with a plan with the aid of their childhood friend Tracey Huxley (Melora Walters) who is also Miles girlfriend and Liam's lifelong crush to fake Miles' disappearance on Sugar Mountain then sell the story when he appears out of the wilderness several days later. Miles cites the story of the guy in Utah who fell into a crevasse and cut of his arm as an example of how survival stories can sell.

Miles is the one to get lost as no one would believe it if Liam went missing as he knows the mountain too well. The trio add in an extra twist to juice up the narrative and ward off the search efforts as they were beginning to obtain leads on Miles' whereabouts. The local sheriff Jim Huxley (Cary Elwes) who's Tracey's dad and not a fan of Miles begins to poke holes in the scheme while local heavy Joe Bright (Jason Momoa) puts on the pressure to recover a personal debt owed by Miles.        
Alaska plays a major role in the film. It's the location of the action plus its environment,stark elements and isolated nature serves well as the backdrop of the film. The production uses many sweeping shots of the mountain and local waterways to set the tone of the piece. Director Richard Gray mixes in several shots where nature intersects with the main characters for memorable results. The most impactful being the sequence where Miles hikes into the woods passing a couple of moose standing no more than 200 yards away with a thin swatch of trees separating the actors and crew from the 1000 pound animals.

The common theme of the story is lying and withholding information. Every character except for Joe Bright the recent parolee is not what they appear. The indiscretion can be minor like a couple of local kids staling an iPad found during the search to larger ones like Sherriff Huxley's every present flask in his inside pocket feeding his daily craving of scotch.

The relative inexperience of the three lead actors allow them to sink into their roles along with the audience willing to go along because they do not have prior signature performances in mind. The novice leads are backed by veterans Cary Elwes and Jason Momoa who bring grit and toughness to their roles.

Sugar Mountain is a story driven by the harsh Alaskan landscape and nuances of day to day life in an isolated community. The small ensemble cast hit the right beat for the piece as the plot unfurls right up to the climactic moment. The viewer will think that they're on top of the storyline early only to be faced with performances that challenge type. It's a physical, emotional, earnest tale that's well worth a watch.

*** Out of 4.

Sugar Mountain | Richard Gray | USA | 2016 | 106 Minutes.

Tags; Alaska, Boat Tours, Family Business, Hoax, Debt, Insurance claim, Hike, Lost, Survival, Search, Diary, Secrets.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Landed Entertainments Television Pilot Review - Day Players

Naveen Ghezzi ( Farid Yazdani) is a Day Player. He lands acting jobs that are normally one day's work usually with no dialogue. At the start of the episode he's working as a bartender in the background of a murder investigation catching hell from the director (Naomi Snieckus) as she finds his ethnic features distracting. After that unpleasant experience he returns to his flat where his pals Devon Hayes (Brendan Jeffers) and former child star Blake Summers (Brock Morgan) hang out between bit roles and promotional gigs. The trio decide to take an acting course in order to improve their skill set and up their odds of success at future auditions.

At the acting class taught by the over expressive Professor Edmund (Adam Tsekhman) we meet the other half of the inspiring actor content of the piece. Vincent Adamo (Julian Robino) is consumed by intensity seeming to have a problem with dialing it back. He is the perfect foil for the former child star of Zac Attack fame who continues to dine out on his early childhood successes. Shiva Negar is Trinity Grace a mysterious figure of few words and very intense glances her partner in the story is destined to be the take it as it comes Devon Hayes.  Lastly, Naveen's ex Veronica Blackwell (Ashley Leggat) appears as the students are being paired up for Improv. She's paired with Naveen and they immediately begin to bicker, he jealous of her current success modeling and she upset by how their relationship ended. These improve pairings create natural chemistry likely be further explored if the story catches and there are future episodes.

Yazdani takes a writing credit along with Chris D'Alessandro. The narrative has many laughs that are not to inside of the walk on acting world that the whole audience can understand and react. The pilot plants a jumping off point for further development of the characters both in the present and the past. The production team have outlines for 10 future episodes that see different characters taking the lead then drifting back into supporting roles.

Day Players is a Canadian project that has potential for a regular episodic run on television. It's  a fresh take on the world of bit part acting which is the normal fate of the majority of people in the profession rather than the red carpet walking multi picture deals of stars like Tom Cruise Jennifer Lawrence and Will Smith. Depending on the platform the piece would work as an edgier adult oriented cable show or the comedic aspects could be bumped up for network television perhaps with a portion of the bite kept in a safe harbour time slot. The production could be challenged to keep all of its Can Con content if they find a U.S. buyer but based on the first offering they have a good chance to find a home and be to play off their tag line: Lights.Camera.Your're Signed.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Day Players | Aref Mahabadi | Canada | 2016 | 30 Minutes.

Tags: Visible Minority, Walk-on Role, Fired, Rent, Child Star, Acting Class, Billboard, Sex Tape, Stardom, Green Fury          

Sunday, December 4, 2016

BITS '16 - Selected Short Films Reviewed

WHAT DO YOU SEE - Directors Charlie Hamilton & Zach Ramelan

Opening with a shot of a teenage girl Selena (Raven Cousens) running down a residential street as if her life depends on it; What Do You See is a short film crafted by Charlie Hamilton and Zach Ramelan that could easily be fleshed out into a full feature. Selena reaches her destination a house where she is greeted by Isaac (Austin Duffey) who sports scratches on his face that we soon learn are from their last encounter. Isaac is assistant to Elijah ( Rich Piatowski) a hypnotist who puts Selena back under to face a demon in a small space where she must obtain a special object to defeat the creature before it takes greater hold of her and crosses over to the known world.

**** Out of 4

MRS. RAFFERTY'S RED ROSES - Director Greg Kovacs

Mrs Rhonda Rafferty (Alex Graham) is watering her roses when her doorbell rings It's a Mr. White (Grieg Graham) who is going door to door to offer a special service for a very low cost. He's an assassin for hire. He will exterminate anyone anywhere at any time desired. They retire to the garden where Ms. Rafferty explains her beef, gives the name of the target, location and the small fee is paid. The final touch is settling on a  message to be delivered to the intended then the hit man performs one act readies himself humming as he leaves on his way to acquire the new target. It's a clever bit of film-making by director Greg Kovacs with a very unexpected ending.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

SUMMONED - Director Victoria Angell

Amanda (Hope LaVelle) is seated in a circle of magic blood spattered on her white nightgown as the action starts. We discover that she had good reason to summon the demon who did what she wanted but continued beyond her expectations. Amanda is faced with two options; to yield or to play. She tries to explain that the results were not what she wanted, she only had one target in mind but the demon states that there is much sin to go around. Amanda has a critical thought then makes her decision. Director Victoria Angell presents a chilling short that locks the audience in from the sharp initial title sequence. The subject matter is serious and difficult featuring a cast that each perform physically challenging acts for their roles.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

INGRID AND THE BLACK HOLE - Director Leah Johnston

Time Travel should you go forward or back is the question in Leah Johnston's Ingrid & The Black Hole.  Editing is the key as the narrative jumps back and forth through Ingrid and Conrad's lives. Starting when they are both 7 and treating all time as one as the action jumps to different points in their story. The music of Christopher Barnett is paramount to set the scientific astronomy/ fantasy feel of the piece.  Is she moving back and forth through time or is Ingrid an old woman suffering from deteriorating mental health who now mistakes her son John for her late Husband Conrad?

**** Out of 4

TAKING POSSESSION - Director Peter Campbell

Isaac (Martin Huss) looking for peace and quiet buys a rural Victorian Era farmhouse and is handed the keys by his realtor  Ashleigh (Jemma Robinson). He shows up with one suitcase explaining that the truck is coming Monday with more stuff. Before she departs  Ashleigh comments that there is 150 years of memories in the farmhouse. Alone he begins to hear the noises of the home before he retires to bed. Jarred awake in the middle of the night by a child's voice hauntingly similar to his daughter Bev, he heads to the basement to investigate only to discover the real reason why the house was available.

*** Out of 4.

Monday, November 28, 2016

BITS '16 Film Review - 3 Dead Trick or Treaters

A man rides his bike through the fringes of town delivering papers a few days after Halloween. The main headline is a story about three trick or treaters that remain missing. At the end of his route he delivers to a seemingly abandoned remote home. The deliverer goes to inspect finding three crooked fresh graves marked by makeshift crosses on the property. Attached to each monument is a scribbled folded note thats the narrative to the three allegoric tales to follow.

The first story follows a young couple that meet up and go shopping to prepare for Halloween night. They visit a costume store pick out masks then head out for a Devil's Night role reversal adventure. The second features cultish religious overtones as two women and a man with Halloween as a backdrop prep their victim for a particularly painful death until one of the three help the victim to attempt an escape leading to significant consequences. The third stories lead characters are street youth hiding their candy stash the day after Halloween. But one does not contribute leading to a vengeful act by the other two who are suffering from an extreme state of hunger.

Director Torin Langen weaves together the three featured tales that were all shot at different times spanning a 4 year period. The newest or 4th story added focus on two police men one older and the other younger that have a side business placing traps in the woods then delivering humans caught in the traps to a client for a fee.

The twist of the feature is the absence of dialogue. The cast demonstrate emotion and feeling through gestures, eye movement and body language. The soundtrack, sound effects and cinematography are all critical in a film that has no dialogue.

Director Langen also does a superior job in the editing room for this production. The three stories were all originally shot as stand alone but due to shooting style, similar pacing , women driving the majority of the story and violence the stories all fit seamlessly together.

The cast of relative unknowns many friends of the director all perform well without a major tool in acting dialogue being available as a device to give voice to their characters.

3 Dead Trick or Treaters is possibly the only silent horror anthology ever made. The visuals are gritty the storylines rough and unpolished featuring acts of horror that are up close and personal. the film is blessed with superior editing bringing the whole packed together with a cleaver final story featuring the writer of the scribbled notes making the production a film that i can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

3 Dead Trick or Treaters | Torin Langen | Canada | 2016 | 72 Minutes.

Tags: Halloween, Devil's Knight, Silent Film, Kidnapping, Cannibalism, Homeless, Trapping, Writer, Pencil, Serial Killer.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

BITS '16 Film Review - Inspiration

Samantha (Emily Alatalo) has seen her fortunes as a writer plummet since she decided to leave the horror genera behind for romance writing. Her agent Coraline (Tianna Nori) continues to receive requests for more Grinning Charlie novels but Sam declares that she's moved on from horror. However with her husband Mark (Ry Barrett) business dealings faltering combined with her reduced income Sam can't refuse an offer from a large publisher linked to a film deal. Planning a surprise for Mark with the news on their anniversary she shows up at home unexpected to witnesses an event that turns her in a different direction. Sam decides to go to the small town of Warren for isolation and a bit of Inspiration to write her new book.

Once in town Sam's greeted by friendly real estate agent (Colin Paradine), knowledgeable but respectful neighbours Lena (Valerie Morrissey) and Maynard (Andrew Roth) plus two dogs that came with the house. Our heroine makes great progress with her novel until an unfortunate accident effects her mental state and alters the rest of her time in the community. She begins to see things that are not there, has premonitions about bad events while reports start to surface about locals going missing.

Writer Director Jason Armstrong pens his first feature after a long absence working with Emily Alatalo who he recently directed in his TV project 9 Days with Cambria. The narrative is crisp and concise. The story moves fast not telegraphing the plot forcing the viewer to pay attention and think along with the characters.

Emily Alatalo plays the physically and mentally challenging role of Samantha. She is onscreen for just about every frame of the film having to switch from being half of a big city power couple; to an isolated remote single home occupant in the dead of winter. Her character is aggressive, determined and in charge one moment then vulnerable, confused and a target the next. Andrew Roth is strong in the supporting role of Maynard. He does not speak much, knows the rural surroundings well and always has a piece of good advise for Sam.

Inspiration is a challenging film that will leave the viewer recalculating their current theory of the events several times. The action cumulates in a frantic third act where twists and turns in the plot spiral totally out of control. The cast acquit themselves well given the harsh setting of the bulk of the piece. The soundtrack could have been dialed back a few decibels but that a minor issue that does not detract from the film being one that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Inspiration | Jason Armstrong | Canada | 2016 | 87 Minutes.

Tags; Horror Novelist, Mask, Bonfire, Cheating, Book Signing, Fans, Isolation, Divorce, Advance, Hitch Hikers.

BITS '16 Film Review- Kidnap Capital

A sedan pulls up on a quiet Phoenix suburban street followed by a white van. The van pulls into the garage as the car occupant enters the house to greet his wife and child. The occupants of the van are  forced into the home as raised voices panicked breathing and confusion fill the opening frames of Felipe Rodriguez Kidnap Capital. After the frantic activity ends one of the new arrivals removes his black hood to discover that he is in a room filled with other mainly frail Central American migrants clad as he is only in their underwear. The room is dirty dark and cramped. The bathroom has dripping water no tap handles and a toilet without a seat and dirty water. One of the new arrivals Manolo is panicked as he does not see his wife. The leader of the captures enters and asks a simple question. Do you have $2800.00? If so you can leave, if not you have to stay until someone can pay your rent.

Writer director Felipe Rodriguez presents a story that is gripping, intense, suspensful and heartbreaking. Its' based loosely on the epidemic of drop houses in the Phoenix Arizona area where migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American countries leave everything behind at home walk, ride the rails, are transported n hidden compartments in vehicles to get across the American border. When they think they have reached freedom they are snatch again brought to suburban homes in nice neighbourhoods that are hollowed out prisons where they are held for ransom until their families can pay or their capture loose patience.

Manolo (Johnathan Sousa) came from Guatemala with his wife Elena (Michelle Arvizu) to raise their soon to be born child in a place away from the gangs that have terrorized his own town. Along the journey he meets Pedro (Pedro Miguel Arce) auto an overweight, soft underachiever who's only friend appears to be his mother. The pair along with the other detainees take turns being led to the basement where they are repeatedly asked who can help them to produce the $2800. Mental and physical intimation are both used on the prisoners to motivate them to become creative to convince family, friend or acquaintance to come up with the funds for the captors.

Johnathan Sousa leads the cast as Manolo. The audience enters the home with him on day one of his arrival. His only goal is to see that his pregnant wife is safe as he is racked with guilt because he persuaded her to come on this journey north. Paulo Nunes is strong as his opposite number Wyler. He is the warden of the house and clear that his goal is to get the money from the prisoners as he owes a lot further up the chain. Wyler is good cop and bad cop all in one. He is ruthless when needed but practical and willing to put down a lieutenant if they jeopardize the operation. Pedro Miguel Arce is notable as Manolo sidekick Pedro. He is a blabbering, crying weakling when reacting to his current situation. However, he is able to show a different side to his character on more than one occasion in the film. Lara Gilchrist has a small but intriguing role as Wyler's wife Kay. She lives in the drop house with her infant son Tyler. She knows what goes on and has female underwear clad migrants as servants while she plays suburban housewife to the neighbours.

Kidnap Capital is a gut wrenching film on a vastly under publicized subject. It focuses on extortion of migrants that come to the US illegally. They have no status in the US but cannot go back for legitimate reasons. The prospects for these people are so poor in their country that they would rather take their chances in a drop house then be rescued by the authorities and face the prospect of deportation. The ensemble cast shine on the screen which is particularly remarkable considering that the entire film takes place mainly in three rooms of a home. It's an important piece of filming and one that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Kidnap Capital | Felipe Rodriguez | Canada | 2016 | 93 Minutes.

Tags: Kidnap Ring, Migrants, Extortion, Drop House, Phoenix, Guatemala, Ransom, Suburbs, Mexico.

BITS '16 Film Review - The Sublet

Geoff (Mark Matechuk) and Joanna (Tianna Nori) approach a four story walk-up ring the bell to announce that they are here about the sublet. The door opens and the couple with their newborn son enter the apartment to a note from the absentee owner. The key is in a drawer they can stay if they  like the place but if not they must lock the door and leave right away. They decide to stay the noting that one room is locked and off limits. The narrative divides the story into parts each new chapter introduced with the start of a new week. In week one we learn that Joanna is suffering from postpartum depression, she sees herself as fat, does not want Geoff to touch her to initiate sex plus   isolated spending all day in the apartment alone with the baby. Adding to her stress are strange creaking noises, knocking from above, next door and out in the hall.

One morning the door to the room that's off limits swings opens to reveal a nursery with framed photos of mothers and their newborns, along with a rocking chair and partly completed quilt. Joanna also finds a diary that she begins to read as she notices that her son Porter is very calm and happy when he is in the room. The diary tells the tale of a woman who lived in the apartment long ago, feeling trapped in an abusive relationship with her neglectful husband. Joanna is feeling some of those same emotions, as Geoff appears to be more concerned with his acting career than her considering their minimal interaction since they moved into the apartment.

Director and co-writer John Ainslie brings a new approach to a paranormal psychological story. The condition of postpartum depression plays a major role as does quizzical fact the couple uses a sugar bowl each day that was left in the apartment by a prior occupant. The viewer will wonder if the events as Joanna sees them are actually taking place. Joanna's depression is subtle at first but picks up in a jarring scene when Geoff invites his ex and colleague over for dinner without warning only adding to our central figure strong body image issues. Her psychological stresses continue to grow as she spends more time in the nursery, reads more of the journal beginning to loose gaps of time each day.

Black Fawn Muse Tianna Nori fits well as the heroine slowly loosing her mind with every additional moment spent in the apartment. She hears noises in places then goes to investigate only to find no one there. She thinks Geoff is cheating on her with no evidence, is convinced that the sugar she uses each morning is poisoned and seems to be the only one that sees a homeless woman hovering around the building. Mark Matechuck thrives as the self centred Geoff. He is well meaning but continues to make comments that push Joanna deeper into her postpartum depression. You can almost detect a hidden smirk as nudges Joanna further towards the cliff. He sees his partner loosing her grip but his only solution would bring her further from reality.

The Sublet is psychological horror story set in one location with a small tight cast. There are not a lot of jump scares or obvious monsters or villains around every corner. The writers take a direct look at the often neglected subject of postpartum depression coupled with a historical psychological storyline destined to repeat itself with each new occupant of the space. The small cast does not take a wrong step in their roles. It's a steady infusion of paranoia and loneliness that swells to a singular climatic act thats well worth a watch.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Sublet | John Ainslie | Canada | 2015 | 82 Minutes.

Tags: Postpartum Depression, Isolation, Diary, Abuse, Newborn, Nursery, Sugar, Running Lines, Homeless Woman, Creak, Knock.

Friday, November 25, 2016

BITS'16 Film Review - 24x36 A Movie About Movie Posters

The one sheet dimensions of  27 x 41 is the classic size for a movie poster due to a most particular reason. The posters are that size because movie companies used to ship them inside the canister with the film and that size that would fit when the poster was folded into quarters. It's also the reason why classic movie posters for 1927's Metropolis or the classic Boris Karloff horror films from the 30's have creases in them from the fold. Director Kevin Burke's documentary tackles the history of the art form touches on the radical change that started in the nineties then the revival of movie poster art by small independent agencies.

Starting with the 18th century French origins and an explanation of the original creative process the film jumps to the early iconic examples of the medium evidenced by the above mentioned titles mixing in other golden age examples of Gone With The Wind , Little Caesar and Charley Chaplin's Modern Times. The art of these pieces included little vignettes of the events of the film. It gave the moviegoer several snapshots of what to expect in the film.


The narrative moves ahead to the modern legends of the field Bob Peak, John Alvin and Richard Amsel who were responsible for the best work from the final stage of the original practice with memorable work for Jaws, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now and Raiders of the Lost Ark. These were pieces where the viewer took their time to take in each small detail that fit together combining to form an exciting blueprint for the film.

Unfortunately things changed with the dawn of the computer, the ability to use Photoshop and the birth of the fast food consumer disposable society. People now looked at small images on their phones to make their movie choices or small boxes on their Netflix home page.  Movie companies, producers and especially the agents wanted more control of their talent's image giving rise to the floating heads of the stars at the top of the poster with a small image from the film at the bottom as evidenced in the Scream films and every Tom Cruise vehicle since Mission Impossible.


Thankfully a market has emerged for high-quality limited quantity move posters through small indie firms Mondo, Skuzzel and Great Matter Art. Director Burke takes the viewer into the cultural world of movie poster collectors, shows at the firms, examples of the fine art of screen printing creating a new standard size of 24 x 36. The collectors discuss the online community, being poster buddies, meeting to buy, exchange and display their purchases. Several of the artists' work is featured including Akiko Stehrenberger, Jason Edminston, Daniel Danger, Ken Taylor and Mondo's leading man Tyler Stout. The topic of licensing is discussed in detail including those instances where an artist or company go rogue creating a poster without proper permission.

24 X 36 A Movie about Movie Posters is an insightful short exploration of movie posters from their origins through the golden age to the end for the first phase of artist rendering. Listening to a marketing rep try to justify the move to the floating heads because an artist rendition may make the audience conclude that the film is likely animated will make you want to tear your hair out but it seems that in the last few years the industry is moving away from that practice. Tom Hodge is producing great work for films such as Spy and The Heat.  The world of movie posters is a subject that could easily be worthy of a future update to see where the industry stands. Hopefully we will see one in the not too distant future.

**** Out of 4.

24 x 36 A Movie About Movie Posters | Kevin Burke | Canada /USA | 2216 | 82 Minutes.

Tags: Movie Posters, Artitis, Screen Printing, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Collecting, Mondo, Skuzzel, Tyler Stout.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

BITS '16 Film Review - Capture Kill Release

A fuzzy disjointed cutting in and out 911 call opens the action of Capture Kill Release. A male voice cuts in and out with the only decipherable phrase being "come quickly". The scene shifts to a young couple trying out a new video camera having a seemingly casual conversation until a closer look reveals that the pair are talking about picking up and killing a random person for the thrill. The pair next move into research mode. They pick up tools at a hardware store, drive to a spot to scout out potential victims ruling out seniors, minorities and children. They check their home for the perfect spot to do the dismemberment making sure that their tub can hold the victim and test the their tools on raw cuts of meet. All the while they film all of their actions relating to this project.

After the theoretical preparations are complete, Farhanj heads to work for an important meeting with his boss while Jen stays home deciding on her own to move their project forward. She brings home a victim that she had a good encounter with before springing him on Farhanj thus giving him no opportunity to back him out of back out of the pact.

Directors Nick McAnulty and Brian Allen Stewart present a film based on ideas that could easily be floating around peoples heads and even occasionally verbalized in closed quarters but taking that next step to research, scout, purchase equipment, plan and execute is normally not the end result. Jen is clearly the driver of the action leaving Farhang to follow agonizing along due to his strong attachment to his wife.

The special effects of Mitchell Stacey deserve special mention. The prosthetics are so good that it appears that the pair are really cutting into human flesh, the blood flow looks authentic and when they take the steps to remove identifying items from the victim the sequences are truly stomach turning. The writing is crisp featuring a slow burn build to the pure psychosis of our heroine.

Farhang Ghajar is well cast as the male lead bearing his name. He is deeply in love with his wife, thinking that the early conversations are just talk then is faced with the reality of his wife's obsessions first in an extreme act of cruelty then escalated when he comes home to the victim sitting at his dinner table. Jennifer Fraser as Jen is strong as the driver of the story. She has been on camera and making films since her youth somewhat explaining the first person hand held found footage angle of the production. He anger is first evident during an encounter with a rich businessman then builds into full on psychosis.

Capture Kill Release is a gut churning, suspenseful ride that sprints to red hot confusion, tension and chaos in the third act. Our protagonist is almost paralyzed by the events as they unfold with his wife playing puppet master to all involved. It's a smart piece of horror filmmaking that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Capture, Kill, Release Nick McAnulty / Brian Allen Stewart | Canada | 2016 | 96 minutes.

Tags: Found Footage, Kidnap, Scout, Hardware Store, Drill, Axe, Body, Blood, Dismember, Affair, Video Camera.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Film Review - The Birdwatcher

Saffron (Camille Sullivan) likes to help people. She works as a counselor in a drug rehab centre in Vancouver. She is a single mother of two children, a teenage daughter that fiercely wants her independence and a pre teen curious inquisitive son that hangs on her every word. Saffron is also battling cancer. She attends chemotherapy session and smokes marijuana at night opening her bedroom window to reveal the ever-present hummingbird feeder. Her health concerns turn terminal when she learns that her cancer has metastasized forcing the need to make arrangements for her children.  Anna (Nneka Croal) her friend at work is unwilling to take them, the children's father Wynne (Aidan Devine) a former counselor turned junkie is unable leaving only her birth mother who she never met and has a request for no contact on the file as the final option.

The film suffers from a lack of character development in Roslyn Muir's script. The characters especially (Matreya Fedor) as Lucy the bratty teen daughter Lucy are thin for the majority of the film.  The method used by Saffron to approach her mother is also unpleasant boiling down to being a cruel ambush. Her actions in pursuit of her birth mother make her unlikeable and unsympathetic which is a stark contrast to what one would expect from a patient empathetic drug rehab social worker. The dialogue of the film is at its lowest during the exchanges between Saffron and her co-worker Anna the pair battle to determine who can say the most curse words in the shortest period of time. Saddled with this script director Siobhan Devine tries to present a story about a difficult subject matter but except for the two scenes with Saffron's ex Wynne (Devine) the rest of the cast does not have the grit or depth to pull off the content.

The majority of the film takes place in an RV park in British Columbia's North Shore Mountains that is prime bird watching territory. Safforn's birth mother Birdy a curmudgeonly (Gabrielle Rose) does  not like people believing that their only purpose is to disturb nature. She is working on her latest book on a tight deadline when Safforn and the kids show up at the camp invading her space to such an extent that she thinks that her campsite neighbour is actually a groupie. A series unwanted events from Birdy's perspective ensue cumulating at an event hosted by Birdy and her cheerful artist partner Finch (Garwin Sanford).

The film has some stronger moments in the final sequences before the credits roll but piece is centred  on a narrative that has been told many times before with stronger writing featuring more seasoned actors with superior range. Director Devine deserves credit for bringing a full length feature project to the screen. Hopefully this process will be a development tool that can aid her in her next and future projects.

** Out of 4.

The Birdwatcher | Siobhan Devine | Canada | 2015 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Cancer, Birding, Binoculars, RV Park, Counsellor, Junkie, Foster Care, Birth Mother, Vancouver, B.C.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Secret Sessions - The Movie Experience

A couple of weeks back I received a curious e-mail titled MEDIA INVITE: Secret Immersive Movie Experience.  Intrigued by being a part of an actual event I responded positively stating that I would like to attend.  The location and subject matter of the film remained top secret until just before the November 8th event with the only hint being that the audience would be brought into the fold of a cult classic film.

The next e-mail a couple of days before included the details of my character. Guests were cast in the role of a 1970's newscaster. Time for adult make believe; Farrah hair for the ladies moustaches for the men.  Clothing from the era, wide bottom pants, loud shirts and wide collars were recommended. The instructions from The News Team ended with the phrase Stay Classy.

The last communication 24 hours out directed Reporters to appear tomorrow Camera Ready at 301 Adelaide Street West downtown Toronto at 7:00 PM sharp to cover an exciting news story. Reports were again reminded that the event was top secret and that were all: Kind of a Big Deal.

The date of the event turned out to be the same night as the U.S. Presidential election. It was a rainy evening but once inside the event space had the vibe of studio 54 on a good night. I met up with one of my fellow bloggers to mingle with attendees including members of the cast along with some other who appeared to be actors not in roles from the film but mixed in to stimulate and engage the invited guests. If you hadn't guessed from the hints Stay Classy and Kind of a Big Deal the evenings film was Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.  The main cast members were all represented by the Movie Experience Team; Ron Burgundy, Dan Fantana,Victoria Corningstone, Champ Kind and Brice Tamland. They mingled with the crowd posed for pictures and acted out a few scenes from the film as the guests settled in walking amongst the sharp set designed pieces the best of which was Dan Fantana's cologne cabinet including the infamous panther cologne "that contained real panther".  Each guest had the opportunity to play an active part reenacting the rumble scene with the Spanish News Team, Public News and fierce Channel 4 rivals Channel 2 news.

After some tasty catered food with a Tex Mex flare the lead actors Steve Hobbs playing Ron Burgundy and Mandy Roveda as Veronica Corningstone took to the newsroom set to deliver an early electoral tally while staying in character wondering who are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Next the film was projected to the guests with the cast members wondering out in front of the screen to perform some scenes in unison with the film. A spotlight appeared on the performers as they made their entrance creating an anticipation amongst the audience of the next live read. The live segments were very entertaining but the actors had to battle with the action on screen during their performance. Hopefully the production can fix this for future endeavors.

The cast emerged themselves in their rolls and made it a point to talk to all of the patrons often posing for pictures as the one displayed above. The set designers brought the participants right into the Channel 4 news room and to Tino's where Ron and Victoria went to end their tour of the town outing. It was an enjoyable evening featuring a living interpretation of a universally loved film leading me to strongly recommend their next production only asking for a slight tweak to adjust the battle between the selected film playing in the background and the live reenactment segments.

***1/2 Out of 4.

The Secret Sessions | The Movie Experience | Artscape Sandbox | November 2016.

Tags: Stay Curious, Ron BurgundyLive, Immersive, Interactive, Stay Classy, Top Secret, 1970's.



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

20th Century Fox Film Review - Trolls

Danish toymaker Thomas Dam created Good Luck Trolls in 1959 for his daughter to help her to get over her fear of monsters. They had big eyes, crazy long colourful hair, large heads, short bodies and bare feet.  Directors Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell wanted to keep faithful to the original concept in Trolls. The directors also decided to explore the theme of happiness especially in a world that's currently full of so much negativity, isolationist and xenophobic rhetoric.

The films narrative is a linear as one can get. The tiny always happy tree dwelling Trolls spend their days doing three things; hugging, dancing and singing. One day the joyless ogre like Bergens discover the Trolls then determine that they can only find happiness all be it for a brief period when they eat a troll. Not wanting to overindulge they celebrate Trollstice once a year when their Chef (Christine Baranski) prepares the Trolls for eating until their prey plant fake wooden versions of themselves in the tree and escape to safety.

When we move to the meat of the story King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) leader of the escape with the motto No Troll Left Behind has taken a back seat to his daughter Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) who has never known the fear of the Bergens. She and her friends throw louder, bigger and brighter parties all year long despite the warning of Branch (Justin Timberlake) the only grumpy non singing, dancing or hugging Troll that sees an impending arrival of the Bergen around every corner. The now exiled Chef hears and sees one of these celebrations, arrives in their midst, abducts Poppy's friend in a scheme to return to Bergentown to become Queen. She now sees herself as the keeper of the Trolls making her the source of Bergen happiness.

Co-directors Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After) and Walt Dorn who had prior writing and Art department work on Shrek 2 and Madagascar produce a psychedelic musical ride that would be worthy of any Haight & Ashbury dweller circa 1968. The bright colours pop; glitter spews abound around the disco setting of the new Troll homeland and in the forest as Poppy and Branch head back to Bergentown to rescue their friends. Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger of Kung Fu Panda fame manage to embed a valuable lesson in the piece. Outside forces or elements are not required to find happiness. Rather happiness is something that comes from within but sometimes you just might need someone to show you how to find it.

Other than the visuals the other driver of the story is the films soundtrack. The tracks feature Justin Timberlake's Cant's Stop The Feeling that was written for the film, occupies a key moment in the plot and is well known due to heavy rotation airplay over the summer. Anna Kendrick sings a determined  Get Back Up Again as she ventures into the forest initially alone in the pursuit of her friends as she battles plants and animals that seem friendly at first glance but have a pension for eating or trapping anything smaller than themselves. Zooey Deschanel sings a sad haunting version of Lionel Ritchie's Hello to properly introduction Brigitte the Bergen scullery maid that is in love with King Gristle (Christopher Mintz- Plasse).

Trolls is a family friendly feature that will be loved by the younger set but has enough nuggets to keep adults engaged as well. The visuals are a trippy kaleidoscope of colour backed by an easy to follow plot with a valuable lesson baked in the final product. Children will be dancing in their seats and singing the films songs long after they leave the theatre. If they embrace the concept of happiness coming from what they already have they will tread lightly on their demands for the tie-in merchandising which will serve as a moment of growth and a point of relief for parents throughout the land.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Trolls | Mike Mitchell / Walt Dohrn | USA | 2016 | 92 Minutes.

Tags: Good Luck Trolls, Musical, Animation, 3D, Happiness, Adventure, Glitter, Singing, Dancing, Hugging, Friendship, Betrayal, Exile.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Planet in Focus Film Review - Behemoth

China is the biggest coal consuming nation in the world. These mining efforts have a serious and permanent impact on the land and the people that work in the mines. Director Zhao Liang examines this industry up close in his film Behemoth. 

An explosion rocks the ground and surrounding area in the films opening shot. Next heavy machinery rolls across the ground negotiating around the mining space. The earth is trampled, toiled and moved in pursuit of the mineral target. A space that was once green with vegetation and full of healthy animals living in a balanced ecosystem is now filled with mining holes, hills of displaced soil and plumes of smoke and dust. The Sheppards remain with their flocks but have smaller parcels of land each day to maintain their heard. The dominant group of humans are the migrant workers who toil in the mines coming home each night exhausted and covered in coal dust that they try to wash off but a little less seems to come free from their skin with each passing day.

Zhao next trains his lens on the ironworks industry as the narrative follows a group of workers that spend their days in scalding hot conditions breathing in tiny metal particles that slowly destroys their lungs and become in-bedded in their exposed skin. It's in this sequence that Zaho's narrative link to Dante literary work jumps to life. One powerful segment is of a long close up on one of the workers where the viewer sees the little chunks of silver particles scattered across the workers face. The piece follows these workers home to their sparce living conditions and to the local hospital where many are fitted for oxygen faced with the knowledge that they most will likely not reach their sixtieth birthday.
Zhao wraps up his study with a segment on the growing number of ghosts towns in China. Sprawling cities with high risers, brand new roads, shiny traffic lights and street signs but no inhabitants. Here we follow a work tasks with cleaning up the roads and sidewalks in a town where no one lives.

Behemoth points out the totally destructive effect on humans and environment alike due to China rush to modernize and industrialize at a lightning fast pace. The end goal of profit and dollars seem to justify the heavy human and environmental toll of this march toward progress Director Zhao weaves in a stage play element with each sequence featuring a naked man normally in the fetal position as a transition device.  The references to the old testament based title and Dante's work drive home the literary elements of the piece. Visually stunning images appear one after another in the three  distinct chapters from the exhausted lands of eastern Mongolia, to the claustrophobic  Ironworks setting ending on the hollow streets of the ghost town. Banned in its home country the film is a powerful production that I can highly recommend.
**** Out of 4.

Behemoth | Zhao Liang | China / France |  2015 | 95 Minutes.

Tag; Mining, Eastern Mongolia, Sheppard, Black Lung, Iron Works, Ghost Town


Monday, October 24, 2016

Planet in Focus Film Review - The Anthropologist

Anthropology is the scientific study of the behaviour and the physical, social and cultural development of humans. The previous of the profession go out into the field to study societies learn about cultures and societal developments. Directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A Miller and Jeremy Newberger present a piece that is a dual mother daughter story. Susie Create and her daughter Katie travel to three distant locations to learn about the local cultures that are being effected by climate change. Mary Catherine Bateson speaks of her mother Margaret Mead who began her exploration in Samoa in the South Pacific in 1925 then onto New Guinea in 1932.

Susie and Katie start off with a place that they know well Siberia. Susie met Katie's dad there and they travel back each summer to meet with relatives. On this trip the land is in a crisis setting. The ice is melting due to climate change causing the permafrost to melt turning grasslands into marshes or to a state of fully water bound. The trip shows imagines of cows sinking into the water below and stories from the locals of areas where there were structures that are now lakes.

In between trips Susie and Katie return to Fairfax Virginia where her friends think that her mom is a hippy and Katie is determined not to follow in her mothers footsteps. The next trip is to Kiribati in the South Pacific a set of islands that are slowly being covered by the raising water levels. The pair land, meet with the officials then get to work meeting and talking to the locals. Susie pays special attention to the reaction of the inhabitants. Do they have a plan to leave? Do they have a plan of attack? Or as Mary Catherine Bateson comments based on her experience do the locals resign to the fate of her cultural and civilization and choose to mourn their loss.

The directors tell the story of two daughters relationship with their mothers who took them around the world in pursuit investigation into human culture and behaviour. The difference in the daughters is an interesting part. Bateson is in her sixties and turned into an Anthropologist herself. Katie grows from 14 to 18 during the filming becoming more like her mother dispite her protests headed to university to study International studies and history.

The Anthropologist is a study in climate change that goes to the source to show the direct effect on communities of the changes to the earth. As Susie Create describes after the dignitaries are met then you go to the people to do real research. The investigation is not theory but based on conversation with the elders in a community who can comment on the culture and their land a generation back when they were kids. The narrative is an important commentary on the state of the planet that leaves it up to the viewer to decide what steps they can take to get involved.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Anthropologist | Seth Kramer / Daniel A. Miller / Jeremy Newberger | USA / Kiribati / Peru / Russia | 2016 | 78 Minutes.

Tags: Protest, Permafrost, Saha , Siberia, Fairfax Virginia, Margaret Meade, Kiribati, Samoa, New Guinea, Peru.

Planet in Focus Film Review - In Pursuit of Silence

If a human is present pure silence does not exist. The quietest place on earth is an anechoic chamber. When a human enters the chamber they will notice two hums one high and the other low. The high one is from the nervous system firing while the low one is blood flowing through the body. Patrick Shen's film shot all around the globe carries a similar message from the experts. Too much noise is pollution, surprisingly noise pollution starts at a low decibel level and that the sounds that many of us are exposed to daily can do severe pyscholigical and physical harm.

Several shots in forests, parks and fields are used as a linking device between subjects with a measured decibel count in the corner of the screen. These reading of a still natural setting lie in the lower sound range of 30 to 45.  The narrative contrast these passages with shots in the New York subway, a busy bar, airplanes passing overhead and even a public school next door to an elevated rail. These location have sound ranging in the 100 db range and beyond which effects concentration, is annoying and occupies the majority of ones attention.

The production focuses on a few key subjects. The leading figure is John Cage who's silent composition 4'33 sparked anger and outrage when first performed but is now revered with audiences finding it a unique opportunity to share silence with a large group of people.  Greg Hindy who took a vow of silence to walk across America appears towards the latter part of his journey. Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki forest therapy project in Japan that has brought healing to the participants, reduces the effects of some diseases and improved mental health of the subjects is also presented.  

Cinematography is especially important in a film where action and sound are at a minimum.  Shen and Brandon Vedder shots feature rich vibrant colours that jump out in the field, forest and park scenes. The production uses a lot of shots through windows or open spaces allowing natural sunlight to lighten an area or to bring out the shadows if that's the desired effect.

Two sequences exemplify the duelling themes of the film. One is a Japanese Tea ceremony in Kyoto the other a montage of shouting talking heads on cable news shows. In the former the guest for tea leave all of their status, outside thoughts and even their shoes behind before entering the teahouse to enjoy the ritualistic event of tea. In the latter each person talks louder than the other filibuster to get their point across into an ever increasing level of noise and pointlessness. Ego and Self importance rule in the cable news show panel world.

In Pursuit of Silence is a bold attempt to explore the importance of silence and how as a modern technological society the nuances of the art have been largely lost. The production does well to include the overabundance of stimuli on the eyes as part of this pollution as well. The film touches on many subjects in several countries with the anechoic chamber and tea house spots being the most meditative. Shen's film is very informative on an important subject that lets the viewer know that everyone should take some time and just turn the volume down for the good of their mental functioning and their physical health as well.

*** Out of 4.

In Pursuit of Silence | USA / UK / Japan | 2016 | 81 Minutes.

Tags: Silence, Noise, Pollution, 4'33, John Cage, Kyoto, Tea House, Decibel, Reflection, Meditation.          

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,