Saturday, December 2, 2017

Film Review - The Shape of Water

A shadowy government research lab is the setting for Guillermo del Toro return to form film The Shape of Water. del Toro finds himself back in the fantasy sweet spot where his imagination pushes out to the outer edges but he remains colouring within the lines. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute member of the nighttime laboratory cleaning staff. She is chronically late for her shift absorbed in her world of jazz music and musicals. His friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is often saving her by punching her time card. Into the lab comes a mysterious project titled The Asset sealed in a human-sized water filled tank destined to be a scientific test subject. His main handler is Strickland (Michael Shannon) a paint by number suited government goon taking credit for spiriting the amphibian from the Amazon jungle to early 1960's Baltimore.

On the nightshift, Eliza finds herself often alone in the lab with the creature. Due to her heightened senses, they bond through sign language, jazz, and boiled egg lunches. She quickly develops a rapport with the Asset becoming his protector along with scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbard) who also sees the monster as an intelligent sentient being. On the other hand, Strickland whose home life is apple pies and white picket fences is more in favour of dissection and corporal punishment with his handy cattle prod at the ready.

del Toro creates a wonderful tapestry for this film with lush blues and greens being the primary colours. Cinematographer Dan Lausten plays a major part in bringing this world to light especially in his attention to angles, light, and shadows particularly in the scenes set in Eliza apartment or in her close friends Giles (a brilliant turn by Richard Jenkins) space who down the hall. His work fits perfectly in tandem with veteran score writer Alexandre Desplat. The pair produce scenes that are more ballet like than a pedantic procession. As Strickland becomes frustrated with the creature and his bosses with him Eliza and her friends feel the urgency to act before the formers extreme ideas are approved then carried out.

The Shape of Water is a fantasy tale at its best. Sally Hawkins is dialed in as the lonely intuitive cleaning woman who makes a real connection with the Amphibian man. The plot is highly believable through an X-files, Area 51 lens helmed by a meticulous director who took three years to craft his Michelangelo's David of amphibian men. It's this level of filmmaking and vision devoted to creating  a fairytale world for that I can truly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Shape of Water | Guillermo del Toro | U.S.A. | 2017 | 123 Minutes.

Tags: Government, Military, Intelligence, Creature, Laboratory, Mute, Sign Language, Musicals, Cleaner, Bathtub, Boiled Eggs. Salt.

Film Review - The Disaster Artist

James Franco has been scuffling trying to find the right project to match his creative talents. Neither passion project Child of God nor stories from legendary authors Steinbeck In Dubious Battle or Faulkner The Sound and Fury hit the mark. Franco may have found the vehicle based on a book by the co-star of what is widely known as the worst movie ever known The Room.

The central force of the source material is Tommy Wiseau a mysterious figure of unclear age and background with way more confidence than talent who wrote, directed, starred and financed the 2003 film. Wiseau made the most bizarre production choices ever for a film. Instead of renting he bought the filming equipment. He paid for a special freestanding personal toilet. He built his own alley for a scene when a real one was just outside the studio door. Then to top it off he shot in both digital and 35mm. His spending brought the project's ticket to just short of 6 million dollars-leading to an opening weekend of 200 paying customers.

Franco known for his method acting became Tommy on the set whether the cameras were rolling of not working to master Wiseau's ever changing Eastern European sounding accident despite the auteur's insistence that he is American like everyone else being from New Orleans.  Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero the author of the source material book and a struggling actor who met Wiseau in a San Francisco drama class. Wiseau convinces Sestero to come to L.A. to star in his film. Seth Rogan as the script superior Sandy Schklair is the voice of reason on the set often giving Tommy the "Are you sure you want to do that" warning before he makes another ill-advised step dumping money down a black hole.

The Disaster Artist brings out from the shadows one mans singular effort to put his cinematic vision on the big screen. There are laughs with, laughs at and groans a plenty to go around. It's all due to the eccentricity of the director that the film has gained midnight showing cult classic status.  James Franco has finally found a story fitting his multi-faceted talents producing a piece that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Disaster Artist | James Franco | U.S.A. | 2017 | 103 Minutes.

Tags; Biopic, The Room, Tommy Wiseau, San Francisco, Waiting for Godot, Streetcar Named Desire, Stella, Set, Script, Improv, Water bottle, Babyface.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

levelFILM Film Review - Wexford Plaza

Lonely 19-year-old Betty (Reid Asselstine) takes a job at a Security guard at a strip mall that has more stores shuttered then open. Here workplace poisoning boss Rich (Francis Melling) gives her the orientation tour advising her that she’s to check the ally behind the store on a regular basis. As part of the tour, she meets Danny (Darrel Gamotin) The bartender at the mall’s restaurant with very few patrons.  After a couple of drunken encounters between the pair, Betty perceives wrongly that there is more between them leading her to pursue Danny hard.

Director Joyce Wong brings a story to the screen that is close to her heart. She is a native of the Toronto suburb of Scarborough where the action takes place. Wong wanted to focus on the underdog with her main characters and also with the Strip Mall format itself as today Walmart, Home Depot and Multiplexes anchor Big Box centres cutting out the mom and pop local feeling of the 70’s & 80’s staple shopping environment.  Joyce tells the story in two non-linear halves. The first is entitled Betty as we meet her on her first day on the job, see a bit of her home life and get her encounters with Danny and the spaces in between from her point of view.  Part two is focused on Danny we go right back to that first encounter then many beats are revised through Danny’s eyes.

Reid Asslestine is delightful as Betty. Due to her appearance and lack motivation her prospects aren’t great She active on a Tinder pseudonym Winder where guys want to meet her 10 minutes after a match. However, she’s equipped with a captivating smile and willing to give as good as she gets. Darrel Gamotin is effective as the friendly money strapped Danny. He has a live-in girlfriend that wants to move out of their basement apartment but he's in a low paying job struggling with 12k  credit card debt.  

Wexford Plaza is a bare bones tale of minimum wage workers that dwell on the fringes. They spend their times talking smoke and weed breaks drinking in suburban watering holes where bottle service and velvet ropes would never think to tread. Social media plays a prominent role in the piece and Wong flips back and forth between showing text messages up on screen or on the screen of the smart phone itself. It’s an engaging tale that delves deeper than expected making it a film I can recommend.

*** ½ Out of 4.

Wexford Plaza | Joyce Wong | Canada | 2016 | 80 Minutes.

Tags: Strip Mall, Security Guard, Bartender, Direct Sales, Karaoke, Basketball, YYZ.

levelFILM Film Review - Suck It Up

Dealing with a terminal illness and the grief after the inevitable death can affect people in many different ways. Some can’t handle seeing a loved one in extreme pain as they wither away pain while others are present giving as much care and comfort as they can. It’s even more challenging when one of the two special people to the patient completely withdraws from the scene.  That’s the case here in Jordan Canning’s sophomore effort Suck It Up.

Ronnie (Grace Glowicki) and Faye (Erin Carter) are two former best friends and principals of the film. Ronnie has been on a self-destructive downward spiral since her brother’s Garrett’s death of cancer drinking and drugging constantly while spending time hanging out in her brother’s room wearing his clothes.  Faye who also happened to be Garrett’s ex-girlfriend is trying to land a job as a teacher having been estranged from the family since Garrett broke up with her a year ago to save her the fate of seeing him deteriorate. After a mishap with a lawnmower, Ronnie’s mom Dina (Nancy Kerr) calls Faye to come and help noting that her stepdaughter had hit rock bottom. At first, Faye tries to help Ronnie in the family Calgary home but then she takes a bold step of loading the passed out Ronnie into Garret's vintage Mustang for a road trip to the family Invermere  B.C. cottage for a change of scenery. The pair clash along stereotypical lines at first but soon revert more to the centre as they interact with several colourful locals.

Director Canning tells a story that has almost universal appeal. Just about everyone has suffered loss  and been in a situation where they felt that they had contributed more than someone else. The summer events chip away at Faye’s prim and proper exterior while Glowicki devours the role of wild child Ronnie taking the opportunity to breathe in all the goodness that the Columbia Valley can provide. Cinematographer Guy Godfree lens adds depth and context to the production displaying the Mountain ridges and lush valleys of the territory.

Suck It Up shows that millennials to have some depth responsibility and are willing to look out for each other. Especially taking into accounts today’s climate it was refreshing to see how often Ronnie’s friends and acquaintances looked out for her when she was in vulnerable positions. The film also had a strong message for those that have a health or physical issue that they can manage it and get on with life.

*** ½ Out of 4.

Suck It Up | Jordan Canning | Canada | 2017 |101 Minutes.

Tags: Cancer, Bender, Black Eye, MDNA, Invermere, Asthma, Diabetes, Stuttering, Canada Day, Mustang, Skype, Interview. Mud Wrestling.    


Sunday, November 26, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - The Child Remains

Taken from the true account of the Butterbox babies dating from pre -1950's Nova Scotia. Native son Michael Melski builds out from the source event to create a narrative about a 42-year-old expectant first time mother Rae (Suzanne Clement) and her husband Liam (Allan Hawco) who arrive at a newly opened small town Inn to celebrate Rae's birthday. Rae was a crime reported but the violent events and imagery of the job affected her psyche forcing her to step away from the profession. Her Liam husband set up the weekend to help his expectant wife clear her mind as part of her recovery.

The pair meet their proprietor Monica (Shelly Thompson) the daughter of the original owner Rose. It turns out the inn has just reopened so they will be the only guest during their weekend stay. Melski titles the chapters by day. On the Friday arrival, Rae senses that there is something not right with the place. She has flashes of distressed mothers, babies crying and blood smeared on doors.  She goes for a walk coming upon a barbed wire fence with warnings that seem to try too hard to keep people away from a seemingly benign wooded area. Meanwhile struggling jingle writer and self-described hack Liam finds musical inspiration in an upper-level suite in the Inn where a mysterious device indicates that there is another presence in the room.

Writer-director Melski's narrative is full of ebbs and flows embedded in a complex challenging plot that pays off for the attentive viewer. Everyone featured has a connection to the house. Rae feels connected as she senses that the house like hers left is suffering from PSTD from all of the horrors its scene in the past. Melski underpins the piece with a fitting score inspired by his favourite genre films from The Shining to The Changeling.

Canadian award-winning actress Suzanne Clement leads the cast as Rae. She's compelled to dig into the Inn's past even though it could upset her delicate mental state, effect her marriage as her husband is running out of patience plus if her suspicions are correct could be dangerous to her self and unborn child. Shelly Thompson disappears into the role of Monica. Her devotion to her mother who sent her away for most of her life is unusual. She's quick to gain leverage on Liam shielding him from a past dalliance and allowing him to use of a space where he can finally grow as a musician.  Look for veteran Canadian actor Geza Kovacs as Talbot. He is a keeper of the Inn's secrets that has a soft spot for Rae.

The Child Remains title alone is a clever source of clues as to where this production is headed. The four main actors handle the material well as each character shifts dramatically from where they start at the outset of the film. The story is proof that the actions of people in real life outstrip any imagined thought of fiction. It's a story from an era that has hopefully gone by but with the growing religious zealousness today bad acts could be excused if you present as a good religious person.

*** Out of 4.

The Child Remains | Michael Melski | Canada | 2017 | 112 Minutes.

Tags: Butterbox Babies, Adoption, PSTD, Unwed Mothers, Faith, Prudence, Country Inn, Elixir, Ghosts Box, Gods Will.

BiTS '17 Film Review - Darken

Karisse (Gabrielle Graham) challenges Priestess Clarity (Christine Horne) on her pronouncements about Darken. It's not immediate death and peril if you leave this dark, grimy desolate place but instead, there is sunlight, water, and trees. Clarity banishes her with a parting gift sending Karisse into the unknown into the light to the horror of her partner Taro (Jon McLaren). Upon the wounded  
Karisse wonders Eve (Bea Santos) a nurse suffering from guilt over patients she cannot save. She renders assistance then upon hearing that there are others behind a door of an apparent abandoned building enters only to have the door lock behind her sealing her in.

Audrey Cummings helms a piece that is centered in a parallel labyrinth full of chambers, crawl spaces and tunnels. The exits aren't evident but lead to multiple alternate worlds depending on when you step through. The citizens are split between disciples who are loyal to Clarity and devoted to the creator Mother Darken and outliers forced to hide in the shadows who question Clarity's reign. As Eve explores deeper into the world she encounters Kali forcefully portrayed by Olunike Adeliyi and mute Mercy (Zoe Belkin) who introduce her to the exiles plight.

The desire to be free from a despotic leader is a theme that's permitted society and films for generations. The fear disseminated by these regimes keep their populations in place afraid to venture into the unknown or rising up due to openly advertised consequences. Survival and escape are the driving forces of the exiles. They struggle to tell what is truth versus fiction about Mother Darken and if they and disciples receive the true message from the creator as everything funnels through Clarity.

Darken is a hopeful story despite the pain and suffering endured by a good portion of its people. The citizens struggle with the dark dangerous environment run by an iron-fisted despot with some being more intuitive than others. However, when a crucial moment faces the devotees their decision is one that strengthens the viewer's faith in humanity.

*** Out of 4.

Darken | Audrey Cummings | Canada | 2017 | 85 Minutes.

Tags: Dystopian, Disciples, Sanctuary, Outsider, The Keeper, Haven, Exiles, Key, Doorway, The Light.

BiTS '17 Selected Short Film Reviewed

BESTIA - Director Gigi Saul Guerrero

A sole figure (Mathias Retamal) dressed in furs comes too on a patch of sand surrounded by water and the most magnificent setting of stumped trees imaginable. He awakes with a start remembering the terror that faded him before he passed out. Off camera, there are the growls of a very large beast. As our hero tried to get his bearings the sound seems to follow him as he enters the woods. More clues turn up to explain what went wrong before. As a bad situation progressively gets worse the protagonist must make a harrowing decision on what to do next.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

FUN - Director Greg Kovacs

Greg Kovacs is a 7-time alum of The Blood in The Snow Film Festival. His latest Fun asks the question what if when the hyper-positive children show host received a NO answer to her questions asked to the viewing audience. Pigtailed Anna (Tiffany Hunter) the host of Poppyseed place is untangling a skipping rope. Into the frame comes muppet like Ellery (voiced by D. Campbell MacKinlay)y to assist with days topic FUN. Ellery is invited to play jump rope but the audience has other more sinister suggestions on what would be FUN to do with the rope and to Ellery.

**** Out of 4.

CONSUME - Director Michael Peterson

The timely topic of residential schools is explored in this short based loosely on true events.  Former Resident school student Jacob Wematim (Julian Black Antelope) is facing losing his land and the break up of his family. He is visited by mythical wendigo spirit in the form of a female elder (Wilma Pelly). She directs him to provide meat for his family, which in his desperate state morphs into a final solution for Jacob.

*** Out of 4.

ITCH - Director Sean Patrick Kelly

John Smith (Sean C. Dwyer) is watching an infomercial for an itch remedy lotion that he's already purchased. After it ends he develops an uncontrollable itch on his right hand. He tries to scratch it then rub it with the cream. Still unable to find relief he moves on to increasing physically scarring measures to scratch that itch.

*** Out of 4.

SCRAPS - Director Christopher Giroux

Billy (Jordan Gray) and Jessica (Emily Alatalo) are leaving a bar after hitting it off on the first date. As they walk back to his place the journey seems to be taking longer and longer. The guy who seemed nice at first looks like he's leading his date astray. Soon the pair is confronted muddying the issue as to who is actually leading whom into a trap.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - Once Upon A Time At Christmas

Jennifer (Laurel Brady) is growing tired of the charade being put on by her parents Lucy (Brook Fletcher) and Frank (Robert Nolan). They are obviously headed for divorce but try to keep up the facade of a happy family Christmas. Into their sleepy town of Woodbridge, New York come two psychotic killers posing as demonic Santa (Simon Phillips) and Harley Quinn channeling Mrs. Claus (Sayla de Goede) who sports pigtails while wielding a mean baseball bat. The pair picks off their first three days of victims before local law enforcement glean to what's going on.

Writer co-director Paul Tanter breaks new ground in the Christmas time horror market. His story is anchored on two holiday traditions an Advent calendar based title for each new day plus clues from the crimes that link to The Twelve Days of Christmas.  The tone is set early by a special spooky version of jingle bells greeting the viewer as the opening credits roll.

A film like this depends on the strength of its villains. Phillips and de Goede play of each other perfectly as the Kringles. She's often the lure disarming potential victims to his axe swinging hammer. We learn that they met in a psychiatric institute for the criminally insane which is where you would expect this duo to have gotten together. The other pair that works hand in glove is local Sheriff Mitchell (Barry Kennedy) and his number one deputy Fullard (Jeff Ellenberger). Sheriff Mitchell has veteran savvy knowing how to link together evidence in an investigation. Fullard is full of youthful exuberance eager to do the legwork checking out every last angle to catch these killers. Laurel Brady's Jennifer is not your typical scream queen. She's smart, resourceful and refuses to be the victim as she does her own research to determine why she seems to be the link to much of what's going on during the twelve-day killing spree.

Once Upon A Time At Christmas is a film with enough originality and tongue in cheek violence that it could land in heavy rotation both at Halloween and Christmas time each year. The straight-ahead narrative has enough twist to keep the audience mildly guessing. The toxic pair of killing Clauses like to play with their food as they corner then dispatch their victims. It's a deliciously gory feature that I can recommend.

***1/2 Out of 4.

Once Upon A Time At Christmas | Paul Tanter | U.K. | 2017 | 102 Minutes.

Tags: Santa Claus, Christmas, Divorce, The Mall, Axe, Bat, Crossbow, FBI, Drum Fest, Eggnog Latte, Bear Trap.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - Fake Blood

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

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

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

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

**** Out of 4.

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - Kill Order

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

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

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

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

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

*** Out of 4.

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

BiTS '17 Film Review - Buckout Road

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

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

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

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

*** Out of 4.

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

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

BiTS '17 Film Review - Red Spring

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

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

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

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

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

EUFF 17' Film Review - My Name Is Emily

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

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

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

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

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

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

EUFF 17' Film Review -The Citizen

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

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

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

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

*** Out of 4

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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

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

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

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

**** Out of 4.

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Film Review - The Heretics

Gloria (Nina Kiri) the centre piece of a group cult sacrifice has not suffered any side effect of the event going on five years. She has a devoted girlfriend Joan (Jorja Cadence) who is willing to accept her despite her scars both physical and emotional due to that traumatic event. Still unsure of the reasons for that episode she is abducted by Thomas (Ry Barrett) on the eve of the current Locus Moon. Thomas takes her to a remote cabin deep in the woods where as the Locust Moon rises Gloria begins to undergo physical transformations.

Director Chad Archibald continues his exploration of the body horror realm that he pushed boundaries in with Bite. Again it's a female character thats the focus of the transformation, she's confirmed to a small space and the confirmation is both messy and painful sparked by an inner entity. Cinematographer Jeff Maher return to produce that shiny golden familiar nighttime hue that is a staple of the Black Fawn universe. The narrative is deliberate, developing slowly with just enough twist to keep the viewer guessing.

The ensemble cast embrace their roles. Ry Barrett turns in another solid anti-hero role as Thomas. Newcomer Jorja Cadence has perhaps the most to do as Joan. She fiercely hunts for her missing partner willing to use any means necessary to extract information for someone who she thinks could supply a lead. Nina Kiri gives a storm physical performance as Gloria. She's chained to a wall sitting on the floor for a good part of the film. Only moving when a new hole protrudes from her body to reveal a new appendage or black puss oozes from a pore.

The Heretics features a shifting narrative that's a strong entry into the body horror genre. The nimble actors roll with their every changing fates backed by visuals and makeup effects that will draw in the horror enthusiasts. Chad Archibald commands the set with a steady hand producing a tightly packaged film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

The Heretics | Chad Archibald | Canada | 2017 | 87 Minutes.

Tags: Cult, Abduction, Locus Moon, Ritual, Sacrifice, Mass Suicide, Demon, Winnebago, Shotgun, Black Fawn Films.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Film Review - Thor: Ragnarok

The Ragnarok prophecy is the underlying element of the latest output from the MCU Thor: Ragnarok. Taika Waititi whose last few works include the brilliant Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows is a different type of action director. Waititi puts his stamp on the production from the first scene. Thor (Chris Hemesworth) is suspended shackled in a cage speaking of the need sometimes to be captured to gain information. As he is speaking to his capture Sutur (Clancy Brown) wrapped in chains he spins slowly in a clockwise direction asking his tormenter often to pause exposition each time until he can complete a rotation.

Waitit injects an unprecedented amount of comedy into a Marvel film. Thor does not take himself seriously in the slightest. His banter scenes with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) on who is the strongest along with the Hulk being a sympathetic pouting character when slighted are a sight to see. A straight forward narrative also helps to keep the momentum of the film going. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) first born child Hela (Cate Blanchett) returns from exile revealing a hidden chapter of Asgardian history. She follows Thor and the ever cheeky Loki (Tom Hiddleston) back to Asgard knocking her brother and adopted sibling off course. The pair end up in a pleasure planet Sakaar where garbage literally falls from the sky. There Thor meets the last surviving Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and must fight the Hulk in a gladiator challenge in order to return to Asgard and stop the Ragnarok prophecy.

The visual effects team alongside the set designers do yeomen work creating the films footing. The golden city of Asgard, metallic space junk falling from the sky in Sakaar stand beside the Norwegian seaside landscapes on earth. Chris Hemesworth is extremely comfortable in Thor's headspace. He pokes fun at his dependence on his hammer often standing arm outstretch waiting for the weapon to return. Tom Hiddleston continues to be his perfect foil as Loki. He's as slippery as ever but every once in a while willing to do the right thing. Look for Westworld's Tessa Thompson as the no nonsense bounty hunting hard drinking last of the Valkyries. The only character that follows a straight line is Cate Blanchett. She is mean and ruthless from first frame to the last that she is on screen.

Thor: Ragnarok is a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe. Director Taika Waititi raises the comedy level to 12 leading the cast to an improv environment that they were all willing to inhabit. It's a risk taker that ventures far off brand. The result is a fun ride that still gets the point across in a way that leans more Guardians of the Galaxy than Captain America:Civil War.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Thor Ragnarok | Taika Waititi | U.S.A. | 2017 | 130 Minutes.

Tags: Prophecy, Queen, Contest, Gladiator, Thunder, Norway, Wormhole, Revolution, Evacuate, DireWolf.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Film Review - Wonderstruck

Two different narratives 50 years apart drive the action in Todd Haynes latest film Wonderstruck. Both follow a child's search for a parent that also happens to be their first visit to New York City. In Gunflint, Minnesota Ben (Oakes Fegley) wakes up from a nightmare about wolves to see his cousin beside him. His mother Elaine (Michelle Williams) recently died leaving Ben to live with his Aunt and her family.  His mother would not tell him any details about his dad waiting for the right time that never came. However Ben finds a book about museums among his mother's things along with a bookmark for a New York City bookstore. Wanting desperately to find out about his dad despite an unfortunate accident ventures to New York with this one clue in hand.

In 1927 Hoboken, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf living with her well to do father obsessed with silent film star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) Rose learns that her favourite actress is staring in a stage play in New York so she hops on the ferry for her first trip into the City greeted by the impressive cityscape as the ferry approaches the pier. The storyline jumps back and forth between the pair as they explore around the city both eventually ending up at the American Museum of Natural History. Each have an employee connection to the museum giving them unique access to the historical treasures.

Director Todd Haynes opts for black and white for the 1927 sections playing with a silent picture feel that comes off as being a bit too modern. The musical selections for this piece are often jarring when Rose has a conflict to try and indicated her emotions. Ben in 1977 comes out of the bus terminal to 70's funk music, big hair and bell-bottoms. Here we get one of the projects better transitions as we switch between Rose and Ben walking amongst a throng of humanity. The 70's New York looks more authentic with grainy bright colours abundance of graffiti and the expected ethnic mix just outside the port authority bus terminal where at 41st street meets 42.

Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds share top billing as Ben and Rose. The pair are both adventurous and resourceful as they wander the city. It seems as though Ben is following in Rose's 50 year old footsteps as he looks at exhibits in the Museum especially when he stops to spend time at a large meteor that crashed to earth in 1902. The narrative transitioning from him reading the plaque to Rose running her hand across it.

Wonderstruck is a child focused film with a pair of youngsters searching for a family connection in the largest American city. Julianne Moore serves as the link between the pair strenthing the 70's storyline when she enters but the twenties tale weakens after she leaves that thread. The film has several good elements but the banal feel of the Rose thread leaves the piece wanting in the end.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Wonderstruck | Todd Haynes | USA | 2017 | 117 minutes.

Tags: New York City, Minnesota, Hoboken, Ferry, Bus Terminal, Museum, Worlds Fair, Bookstore, Deaf, Sign Language, Electricity.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review- Our People Will Be Healed

To call Alanis Obomsawin a prolific director would be a severe understatement. The 85 year old has been producing films at a rate of about one a year since 2012. Most of her latest works have centered on the harsher aspects of the Indigenous experience with government entities but her latest production looks at a success story: Helen Betty Osbourne Ininiw Education Resource Centre at Norway House in Northern Manitoba. This school competes on equal footing with others in Manitoba for teaching talent. It serves students from Nursery to Grade 12 featuring an exceptional music program, strong science classes plus Cree language teaching starting in nursery and grade 1.

Obomaswin camera roams the bright sunlit curved hallways observing a science class studying metal oxidation, geometry, music/fiddling and a grade one group learning basic Cree phrases. Students are interviewed all with big hopes and dreams for future employment. They marvel at the abundance of resources and equipment available to them at the school. Several of the senior classes have had the opportunity to go on rewarding trips to locations like Ottawa but also the chance to take guided canoe trips through their territory where they learn traditional fishing, hunting, building and portaging techniques all part of Cree culture and oral storytelling.

Of course it wouldn't be an Obomsawin film without highlighting some dark aspects of the struggle. The school is named after Helen Betty Osbourne a Norway House resident that was abducted and killed while walking alone when away at a resident school in The Pas in 1971. This event as told by her peers lead all Indigenous women to be sure not to go anywhere alone while away at school. The negative effect of colonialism is also illustrated through discussions about the Sundance Ceromony. An Indigenous tradition that was banned by the Indian Act at the turn of the last century but still practiced in secret. It took the adoption of a Human Rights declaration by the United Nations to openly revive the tradition again in 1951 with the film looking at the 2016 version at Norway House and it's highly emotional effect on the residents showing its importance to the community.

The school is evidence that the best approach is to invest in the social development and education of children plus teaching the culture and impact of treaties to allow the community to heal. Their parents were caught up in drugs, alcohol, gangs suffering from lack of education and despair. Their grandparents were ripped from their communities to suffer abuse, separation and racism in the residential school era passing that trauma on to their kids. The piece is positive and uplifting pointing towards endless possibilities for the current and future generation of Indigenous peoples.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Our People Will Be Healed | Alanis Obomsawin | Canada | 2017 | 97 Minutes.

Kinosao Sipi, Norway House, Manitoba, Frontier School Division, Helen Betty Osbourne, Residential Schools, Portage La Prairie, The Pas, Fiddle Jamboree, Sundance Ceremony.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review - Out of State

Kalani, David and Hale are the three main subjects of Ciara Lucy's Out of State. The three men were at different stages within the prison system. Kalani is the most permanent serving a life sentence with no chance for parole for 45 years. Hale is coming to the end of a 15 year stint while David has been in and out of prison and about to be released at the films opening. The men are housed in Saguaro Correctional in Arizona a for profit prison that was built especially for Hawaiians due to overcrowding back home. The inmates are 3000 miles from home making any family visits impossible. Therefore the men focus on their culture. Kalani is one of the main teachers. Imparting knowledge of the Maori language, Dance, Music, writings and culture.

David is the first to be released back home. He lands a job that turns out to be part time teaching the Haka war dance that does not produce enough income to cover rent and alimony. A fight with a student leads to a fast dismissal. David is proud and closed off despite the best efforts of his daughter and court appointed therapist making his release not go so well.

Hale lands a job as a driver for an airport shuttle service while on work furlough back on the island. He has a woman that loves him and he will get married as soon as he is fully paroled. Hales support system plus his humility will set him up for success.

Kalenee remains behind bars, far away from home serving his time filling his days writing, educating and teaching the new and serving inmates as they come to the prison.

The film can be a tool for the viewer to feel empathy for the images gong though this process and lead to discussion for moving these Hawaiians out of these far away for profit prisons back to facilities on the island. But that cost money and at the moment the government is not willing to spend. On the island prison is seen as punishment thus the men are out of site out of mind forgotten by the community. The film could lead to the population seeing the possibility of rehabilitation in a prison closer to home.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Out of State | Ciara Lucy | U.S.A. | 82 Minutes.

Tags: For Profit Prison, Life Sentence, Alimony, Haka War Dance, Marriage, Work Furlongs, Driver, Teacher, Maori Culture.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review - Indictment

Want to be model Paris Dunn liked the persona of Denver Nugget player Chris Birdman Andersen. She liked his look so she sent him a message on his Facebook page. Then to her surprise she received a response. That began an online relationship that escalated to nude photos being exchanged followed by a ticket to Denver to vista the basketball star. In Denver some of the conversations did not match the information that had been exchanged online. Once back home her exchanges with Andersen's friend Tom Taylor who had encouraged her to go on the trip changed to aggressive and threatening. Paris panicked and told her mom who called cops. Birdman's house was raided then the police went thorough all of the prior conversations to find that the originated from a small town of Easterville, Manitoba at the hope of Shelly Chartier.

Chartier lived as a shut in caring for her bedridden mother for the past decade. She dropped out of school at age 12 due to bullying with a real fear of interacting with people. So when she saw online this girl Paris looking for attention on Birdman's Facebook page. She made a fake profile to say Hey to her. Followed by a text to Chris putting the two together through her. She also created the Tom Taylor persona to move the action along. What she thought was a harmless prank let to the RCMP at her door, guilty plea and a 12-month jail sentence. Interested parties in the US were not happy with the plea leaving open the possibility of a much stiffer sentence if she heads stateside.

Directors Shane Belcourt and Lisa Jackson delve into the background circumstances that brought Shelly Cartier to this point. The earliest evidence dates back to 1962-63 when Manitoba Hydro flooded the old reserve that had lush land to grow vegetables waters to fish and soil to build proper homes.  Their new location is built on rock.  Leaving the former self sufficient Cree Nation facing  high unemployment and lack of prospects. Experts also discuss the Gladue Sentencing Principles that were not considered in this case. The principals consider status of Aboriginals as they are overrepresented in Canadian Prisons and backgrounds could include unemployment, lack of opportunities, little education, substance abuse, loneliness and community fragmentation.

Indictment gives a different look at Shelly Charier aka Manitoba's Master Manipulator or Ghost of Easterville. It shows a reclusive young woman who launched a catfish scheme on an NBA star amongst other alleged celebrities out of boredom and loneliness.  It's unclear if she made any money off of her actions that left her with a criminal record but her online activity did lead to a boyfriend turned husband which has hopefully broken her spell of being alone.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Indictment | Shane Belcourt / Lisa Jackson | Canada | 2017 | 44 Minutes.

Tags: Catfishing, Birdman Andersen, Paris Dunn, Easterville, Manitoba, Denver Nuggets, Chemawawin Cree Nation, Cedar Lake, Call of Duty.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review - Kayak to Klemtu

The plan to put pipelines or use oil tankers to transport the product through natural ecosystems is an issue of great concern that has become a balancing act for many governments. The oil companies state that they are conservationists taking every step to avoid any impact to the natural environment that they are in. The Indigenous peoples and environmentalist point out that it only takes one mistake  one spill to wipe out an entire ecosystem for scores of years. The Indigenous peoples that rely on the water for fishing, washing and life itself say that risk is not acceptable plus what is in the water will always come to the land itself.

14-year-old Ella (Ta'kaiya Blaney) had planed to make the 500 Km trip from Tai'Amin to Klemtu up the Inside Passage with her Uncle Dave (Evan Adams). However at the films opening Uncle Dave had just passed from a terminal disease but made Ella promise that she would make the trip and testify in his place against the pipeline permitting oil tankers into the territorial waters. Still determined to make the trip against the wishes of her mother Maureen Ella enlists Dave's stepson Alex, widow Cory (Sonja Bennett) and her other Uncle the reluctant Don (Lorne Cardinal) to make the journey. School teacher Cory who's been having great difficulty with Dave's passing is definitely an indoor girl but ready to go. Alex who can be described as clumsy at best is game as well. Don who has money issues plus an estranged son up in Klemtu takes the most persuading to join the party.

Director Zoe Leigh Hopkins manages to find several funny moments in a serious and somber adventure. The group is inexperienced except for Don, on a tight deadline to get Ella to Klemtu to in time in addition to pledging to spread Dave's ashes along the way. Lorne Cardinal authors the best comedic moments as Don. His rant against environmentalist is a classic oratory extent. Non-native Cory provides the physical humour balancing delicately on that border between laughing with and laughing at.

The natural beauty captured along the trip is breathtaking. Seals great the foursome as they push off. They cross many whale sightings both tails in the distance and Hopkins great use of underwater shots. But The best sequence may be when the paddlers argue if they are passing an abundant group of seals or Sea Lions within arms reach on their port side.

Kayak to Klemtu puts the spotlight on an important issue that could have disastrous effects on our waterways and coastlines. Just after the film wrapped there was a spill near Bella Bella that saw a tugboat hauling an American fuel barge go down spilling 100,000 litres of diesel into the main food gathering source for the area shutting down the clam fishery as it leaked oil for 32 days. This labeled minor incident not requiring an environmental impact survey will effect the fishing in the area for at least 10 years.

*** Out of 4.

Kayak to Klemtu | Zoe Leigh Hopkins | Canada | 2017 | 90 Minutes.

Tags: Tai'Amin, Klemtu, Inside Passage, Great Bear Rainforest, Kyak, Ashes, Community Gathering, Pipeline, Oil Tanker, Oysters.

Other Animal Film Review - Poor Agnes

When you take a human life you become God just for an instant but if you take a human mind you own a sole then you ARE God is the manifesto of Agnes Poelzl (Lora Burke) as she goes through life on a different plain from most human beings. She young, attractive, energetic and direct but lacks a human quality that at first you might not be able to put your finger on.

The opening shot of the film is a sweeping overhead view of an isolated home deep in the woods of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It's the first of many shifts in angles used by director Navin Ramaswaran to bring the audience in close or keep them back at a distance.  Inside the house we find Agnes pontificating about men and woman in base terms. Into this environment comes Mike (Robert Notman). He is working on behalf of the parents of an old boyfriend who's been missing for 10 years. Mike senses a spark with Agnes which he explores starting a twisted level of dependancy that the term sub cannot even begin to describe.

Writer James Gordon Ross researched the CIA handbook on how to break someone down mentally in preparation for the film Agnes goes through the steps from the 60's manual to turn the investigator into a puddle of mush. He also thought Agnes' key character trait of a devout relationship with God as an important element in line with other megalomaniacs from Hitler to Mussolini or other narcissist. In her mind God is smiling down on her as she carries out her acts. Ross sees it as a flaw in the human species that we are attracted to these dangerous bullies; the cruel people.

Lora Burke is in just about every frame of the film as Agnes. She is driven, talented, intelligent but poor of spirit clearly missing that empathy gene. Robert Notman is effective as Mike the main target of her mind games. Seeing his character being broken down right before our eyes is quite disturbing. Look for Will Conlon as Chris a computer nerd that Agnes meets on a dating site who she uses to fill the spaces when she is either angry, bored or tired of Mike.

Poor Agnes is a very strong entry into the psychological thriller category with a perfectly cast titular character. James Gordon Ross provides a rich script that gives the players plenty to do even packing compelling moments into apparent throwaway scenes. The content will stay with you long after you walk out of the theatre. It will definitely spark sideways looks at the next person that passes by with handcuff bruises on their wrist. But likely best not lead to an interaction for fear of what could come next.

**** Out of 4.

Poor Agnes | Navin Ramaswaran | Canada | 2017 | 95 Minutes.

Tags: Serial Killer, Psychopath, Missing Person, Private Investigator, CIA Handbook, Stockholm Syndrome, Handcuffs, Torture Survivor, Axe, Shotgun, Thunder Bay, Baseball Bat.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

imagineNATIVE 17 Film Review - Sweet Country

Set in 1929 Sweet Country walks the razors edge of race relations between Aboriginals and Whites deep in the Australian. The relationship between the communities span from being treated with respect and dignity to being seen as property depending on whose land you’re on.  The aborigines work as labour and domestic help on the properties but fear that the continued expansion of the white settles continue to encroach on their historical lands. 

Sam Neil’s Fred Smith is at one end of the spectrum. He treats his workers fairly and sees them as equals in conversation and based on his actions.  Nearby Mick Kennedy (Thomas M. Wright) beats a teenage aboriginal boy  Philomac (Tremayne/Trevon Doolan) who is likely his son with a belt as he stole a watermelon from the garden. The other end of the spectrum is occupied by Harry March (Ewen Leslie) the recently arrived war veteran, drinks constantly Philomac  to a post when he comes to work on his property then rapes Sam Kelly’s ( Hamilton Norris) wife Lizzie ( Natassia Gorey-Fuber) who came along with Sam and the boy to help March settle in to his new  place.  Philomac escapes pursued by Harry March leading to a exchange of gunfire between Sam Kelly and March. 

Director Warwick Thorton explores frontier justice and customs in his expansive visually stunning productions. The Northern territories with its vast open spaces, lack of green and never-ending orange,, sun and dust serve as a featured character in the film. A group of four lead by the local law man Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and including Mick and Fred chase after Sam and Lizzie who outwit them based on their knowledge of the land. As the tale unfolds Thornton uses the nifty device of flash forwards to give a glimpse of what the future will hold for the main participants.      

Sam Neil continues his streak of strong performances as the steady handed preacher Fred Smith. Acting neophytes Tremayne / Trevon Doolan alongside Hamilton Morris as Sam Kelly hold their own in a community that is set up against them  where they have no idea how they will be treated from one person to the next. Ewen Leslie is powerful and impactful in the limited role of Harry Marsh that serves to get the main thrust of the story kick started.      

Warwick Thorton explores native/settler relations in the most remote regions of Australia in the first part of the last century. The settlers see their presence as just scratching the surface of the territory while the Aborigines see them as already to deep into their territory. This difference of opinion and position will always lead to conflict, tension and confrontation that is unfortunately still not fully resolved today. 

**** Out of 4. 

Sweet Country | Warwick Thornton| Australia | 2017 | 112 minutes. 

Tags: Outback, Station, Stockmen, Servants, Rape, Beating, Shotgun, Self Defense, Chase, Trial, Verdict, Sentence.  


Monday, October 16, 2017


The dark corners of Maori society are prodded, probed and laid bare in the multi directed Waru. The linking element is the death of a young boy at the hands of a caregiver. The split is that the action is told by eight different female directors covering the same 10 minute period from a different direction. The shooting style of a one shot take that is evident in all of the segments is best presented in the first segment that focuses on the family Auntie as she runs a military style kitchen preparing food for the mourners. She finds the Waru's mother sobbing in a storage room delivering to her tough talk enabling her to stand and somewhat compose herself.  The two weaker sections focus on the child's kindergarden teacher Anahera (Roimata Fox) who's trying to explain the situation to Waru's classmates while juggling a workplace affair. The other the media reaction directed by Chelsea Cohen giving the majority reaction to the Maori problem through the slow burning eyes of a Maori anchorwoman.

The common elements help the production establish and keep cohesion. Drue Sturge serves as cinematographer using blown out grainy natural elements in most of the vignettes except for the sterility of the television studio scene another reason why that passage sticks out from the rest. The action all takes place at 10 AM in all sections plus the commitment to a one shot take that is also common amongst the films.

Two of the stronger segments point a finger at the failure of male authority figure in the community. In one directed by Paula Jones a young woman backed by her mates takes up makeshift arms against her male abuser. In the other helmed by Awanui Simich-Pene two sisters Titty and Bash head to a male dominated drinking hole to take back what's hers. Both of these sessions end at the moment things are about to escalate. The gaze back by Bash (Miriama McDowell) to the camera as she is about to enter the breach is the harrowing moment of the film.

The potential standout portion centres on the funeral (tangi) for the young boy. Both grandmothers adorned in green spar for the fate of the body. Renae Maihi's camera weaves between the two like a third character as the matriarchs try to settle the dispute. When the body is finally carried out to a waiting vehicle. The sobbing mom appears from the first scene to play a part in the fate of her child.

Waru is a powerful story told by voices that are not often heard in greater society. The content is somber as base feelings including grief, remorse, anger and guilt are explored throughout alongside the underlying question of how can this pattern be stopped from happening again? The well-trained lenses sharply deliver their snippets that despite needing a bit of tuning in a couple of instances make it a story I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Waru | Renae Maihi / Awanui Simich-Pene/ plus 6 others | New Zealand | 88 Minutes.

Tags: Maori, Abuse, Waru, Tangi, Funeral, Dragons, Gas, TV Station, Female Directors, One Take, Spare Key.

TAD17 Film Review - Rabbit

Michael Darren's score is the first think that hits you from Luke Shanahan's Rabbit. It announces loudly that chilling events will follow with its mix of classical instruments and high pitched tech beats leadings one's mind to anticipate violence pain and suffering. In the opening frames we see a young girl in two different settings attempting to escape something terrifying. As the narrative begins it's explained that Maude (Adelaide Clemens) who is staying medicine in Germany has a twin sister also played by Clemens who had disappeared over a year ago. Since her sister Cleo has gone missing Maude has these dreams that appear to be Cleo's experiences or an attempt to tell Maude where she is. One day while studying a cadaver for class Maude becomes agitated seemingly needing to get some air then collapses. After this event she returns home to Australia determined to find her sister.

The next part of the narrative looses the frenzied quick opening replacing it with an expositional heavy slow trot. Maude's parents are introduced along with her sister's fiancee Ralph (Alex Russell) who's been helping out at the house. There is tension there as her parents had a funeral for Cleo which Maude did not attend while the local now on leave police detective who was consumed with the case Henry (Jonny Pasvolsky) still feels that Ralph had something to do with the death.

The action quickens when Maude follows her visions out to a Caravan full of American Horror Story types with Ralph and Henry in tow. Here cinematographer Anna Howard shines as her lens illuminates the southern Australian palate regardless if the sun or moon is at a highpoint in the sky. Maude tries to put substance to her dreams trying to determine if they are a path to Cleo. Amongst the fringe they meet a normal couple a German trained doctor Nerida (Veele Baetens) and her husband Keith (Charles Mayer) From there the story moves to one last port of call a sterile yet ominous Victorian Mansion which doubles as a medical facility appearing to be the spot where Maude's dreams and the bits and pieces she's picked up along the way will lead her to answers.

Rabbit is a psychological thriller that has several compelling elements but just does not seem to get to the juicy centre. The score overwhelms leaving a lot for the story to colour in. It's a beautiful looking landscape with an ensemble cast that supports the material. However, several passages require more bite to bring the entire project up to the level of the visual and auditory elements of the piece.

** 1/2 Out of 4

Rabbit | Luke Shanahan | Australia | 2017 | 103 Minutes.

Tags:  Disappearance, Twins, Medical School, Caravan, Forest, Southern Australia, Hide n Seek, Experiments.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kinosmith Film Review - 78/52

78 pieces of film from Alfred Hitchcock and 52 cuts from editor George Tomasini throw in the chilling score from Bernard Herrman, a helping of Hershey's chocolate syrup and you have the essence of the shower scene from Psycho. Director Alexandre O. Phillipe has put together the all encompassing detailed frame by frame analysis of the film with a band of the films aficionados interviewed in a setting similar to the Bates motel to provide their thoughts. The discussion looks at the US in the time before the film juxtaposed with what was to come after, Political Assassinations, Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Vietnam and Protest. The participants point to three films Some Like It Hot, Anatomy of a Murder and Suddenly Last Summer that began to push new boundaries. Where these films pushed, Psycho smashed leaving many wondering how Hitchcock got away with what he put on the screen.

No stone is left unturned. Marli Renfro who was Janet Leigh's body double for the scene features heavily in the production. She answered an ad for the role, stripping down for Hitchcock then again for Janet Leigh before getting the gig a couple of days later. Renfro talks about prop difficulties on set to that fact that she was hired for a couple of days work that turned into a week. Hitchcock in fact shot the scene entirely separate from the rest of the picture.

To really experience the horror of the scene one has to go back to the time and the directors' recent history. He had just come off North by Northwest pus several Technicolor marvels before it. He was also hearing the talk that Henri-Georges Clouzot was coming for his title of master of suspense with 1955's Diabolique being exhibit 1. Hitchcock was having none of it wanting to make a mike drop statement in black & white in a motel shower.

Among the commentators are Directors Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro actors Elijah Wood and Jamile Lee Curtis alongside composer Danny Elfman who comes to the fore when Bernard Herrmann's  slashing strings music that opens the attack followed by the lower octave baseline as Marion Crane slowly takes her last breaths. Director/ Actor/ Critic Peter Bogdanovich was at the press screening from the opening. He recalls that from the moment mother pulls the curtain back and the knife comes into frame the audience started a sustained screen that did not stop until the scene faded to black. Bogdanovich felt like he was assaulted not to mention Hitchcock's misdirection as Vera Miles appeared in the shower in the trailer. Plus it was unheard of in mainstream films of the day to kill off you presumptive lead character 40 minutes into the film. Phillipe also recruited a series of editors including Chris Innis ( Hurt Locker) Walter Murch ( Apolocype Now) and Bob Murawski (Spiderman) to break down Tomansini's work. They focus in on the dead space to the left of the frame, the switch from Marion's back to the wall to back to the curtain in order to introduce Norman Bates into the scene and the knife stabs themselves cutting through the shower spray and only touching Marion's body in on frame near her belly button.

78/52 is a film historian, director obsessed, editing nerds Valhalla. The documentary has clips of the director from his Sunday night show, interviews, doc with Truffaut doc and stories of his idiosyncrasies. The score is dissected, Saul Bass' storyboards examined along side the battle with the sensors. It's a master class in filmmaking that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4

78/52 | Alexandre O. Philippe | U.S.A. | 2017 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Interviews, Shower, Murder, Shots, Cuts, Film, Psycho, Hitchcock, 1960, Black & White, Body Double, Bates Motel, $40,000.

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Goodbye Christopher Robin

London playwright Alan A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) suffered from a serious case of shell-shock known today as PSTD when he returned to England from The Great War. Loud noises, corks popping, bright lights and especially bees would bring him back to the Western Front in a trench at  the Somme seeing men's lifeless bodies piled up with files spawned from maggots buzzing around. During one of his episodes his illustrator friend Ernest Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore) who was at Passchendaele during the war commented that for him it's his motorcycle backfiring. Shepard then summed up that they both would be fine they just need to get things right up here pointing to his temple.

The English people were collectively down after the war. A generation of first sons lost leaving a shortage of marriage options with many who returned prone to sudden fits of anger. Milne had to get out of the city which his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) who craves fast pace action opposed remarking that a Westend playwright needs to be in London. Soon after their arrival in Sussex Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) their largely ignored 8-year-old son arrives. His mother wanted a girl telling anyone who would listen that the birth almost killed her. Milne had remote contact with the child leaving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) to be the child's default parent.

Director Simon Curtis takes his time with the material introducing the iconic toys slowly with each member of the family playing their part in providing the names. Pooh was initially directed at another animal entirely, Daphne who did most of the playful voicing came up with Kanga and Roo while Alan Milne the author himself felt that Eeyore would be a good name for donkey. A bear that Billy saw in the Zoo named Winne short for it's birthplace Winnipeg became the titular character Winnie the Pooh.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard is greatly responsible for bring the story to life. From the opening shot light and shadow play a major role displaying the mythical Hundred Acre 100 Wood. Including the wooden footbridge across River Medway where Smithard lens captures the energy of each game of Poohsticks flowing downstream below.  Natural light also cuts into interior scenes at the country house through windowpanes. At nighttime it's the moonlight that lights the actors as it hovers about the quiet Sussex countryside.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fitting backstory for characters that are universally known and loved. The reveal here is the strain that the books put on Milne son who had to bore the mantle of Christopher Robin. As a child he was a show pony trotted out to events to sell product. By his teens ridiculed and bullied then as a young man seeking anonymity headed off to the front for the Second World war as Private Milne. It's a sweet tale that children of all ages will find nuggets that make them smile making it a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Goodbye Christopher Robin | Simon Curtis | UK | 2017 | 107 Minutes.

Tags: The Great War, London, PTSB, Sussex, Toy Bear, Ashdown Forest, Vanity Fair, Book Signing, New York, London Zoo.