LAAPFF Short Film Review – ‘Hinekura’ & ‘Liliu’

The 36th edition of Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival has kicked off and we decided to dive into some short films. The short films are selected and grouped in themes. Our first duo is part of “Pacific Cinewaves” – cinematic love letters to the living culture of the Pacific.

‘Hinekura’

On the day she gets her first menses, the young woman Hine (Kahumako Rameka) is initiated into adulthood with a ceremony. She’s taken to a school of learning where her role within the tribe is revealed to her. A culturally accurate short drama, shot in New Zealand and completely spoken in Māori.

Writer and director Becs Arahanga briefly introduces key characters, while hinting at their personalities in the different ways they interact with each other, before and after Hine’s ceremony. Cinematographer Simon Temple has a unique and slick way of handling his camera, spotlighting the beauty of Rotorua & Whatatutu’s pristine nature and the actors, who look stunning in their traditional Māori clothing (some even with incredible ta moko). The score and sound of water, tui’s unusual call and ferns rustling in the wind, complete the already perfect picture. Kahumako Rameka is perfect in her first ever on screen role, showcasing not just her ability to act, but also the incredible control she has over her voice when singing alongside her fellow actors. The rest of the ensemble is equally as talented, as they each portray a wide range of roles within the tribe, while we never get the feeling they’re overacting in any way. Every single interaction feels natural, conveying both the strength and unity of each character.

Hinekura‘ is Māori-perfection. Becs Arahanga’s direction is confident, polished and beaming with pride for her culture. She never misses a mark and makes sure even those who didn’t grow up Māori can understand the (his)story.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘Liliu’

In colonial Samoa post World War I, ambitious court interpreter Solo risks everything when a wrongfully imprisoned Chief fights to get back to her stranded grandchildren. A tale about tradition, culture and the power of words.

Jeremiah Tauamiti‘s newest short film ‘Liliu‘ is exceptionally powerful. It’s so powerful it moved me to tears. He found a way to recreate an artistic vision of colonizers’ wrongdoings in Samoa, and how it changed an entire population’s way of living. Vito Vito plays the part of interpreter well, but by trying to protect his people from getting punished, he comes across as a traitor. This all changes when Nua (Ana Tuisilia) stands in front of the judge, and refuses to let her life be overthrown by a white man. She also surprises the judge with her educated wise words and willpower. Her important monologue crushed me. Ana Tuisilia’s performance is beyond remarkable and full with dignity, something that can’t go unnoticed, and by the time you have wiped your tears away, the Western Samoan Teachers’ Training College’s rendition of ‘Faleula’ will make you grab for tissues again.

Liliu channels the power of every single Samoan that had to endure the suffering brought on by colonizers. It’s not just a short film, but an essential experience.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hinekura and Liliu both screen as part of LAAPFF’s Short Program, “Pacific Cinewaves” on:
– Saturday, September 26 at 4pm (online)

More information HERE

LAAPFF Short Review – ‘Hinekura’ & ‘Liliu’

Hinekura

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 26, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 17 min.

PRODUCTION: An AWA Films production. Producers: Kath Akuhata-Brown, Sharlene George. Executive producer: Julian Arahanga.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Becs Arahanga. Editing: Luke Evans. Cinematography: Simon Temple. Score: Steve Gallagher.

WITH: Kahumako Rameka, Mere Boynton, Aporonia Arahanga, Kasina Campbell, Rerehau Haitana, Hinetu Dell, Te Oherere Reneti, Jarod Rawiri, Antonio Te Maioha, Jessie Parata-Aramoana, Manaia Hampton-Aramoana.

Liliu

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 26, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 17 min.

PRODUCTION: A SunPix production. Producer: Ngaire Fuata.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Jeremiah Tauamiti. Editing: Chris Davis, Peter Roberts. Cinematography: Tim Flower. Score: Matatumua Opeloge Ah Sam.

WITH: Vito Vito, Ana Tuisila, Peter Hayden, Uelese Petaia.

Review – ‘Hail To The Deadites’

Steve Villeneuve directs his very own documentary feature about the Deadites – it’s what the fans of the Evil Dead-franchise call themselves. He uses archival footage, interviews with the cast, crew, collectors, freaks, geeks and videos created by the fans, to put together a tribute to the movie Stephen King once called “the most ferociously original horror movie I have ever seen“.

Fresh from winning a Bronze Audience Award at the Fantasia Film Festival, ‘Hail to the Deadites‘ was recently acquired for a Canadian release by Indiecan Entertainment. Since the original cult classic was released in 1981, an ever-growing following has been supporting the franchise that now consists of four films, a TV-series, comic books, collector’s items and much more. The documentary wants to celebrate the stars these Deadites look up to, but in the meantime also points the camera in their direction, to understand where their love for Evil Dead comes from.

After IGN went looking for the biggest Evil Dead-fan, ahead of Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake/sequel, Villeneuve had a conversation with uberfan Bri Cummings, who made him realize there’s a much bigger following than he ever could’ve imagined. This realization made him embark on a cross-country road trip to visit horror conventions all over the US and Canada, and finally meet all those other interesting individuals. Of course he’s not just there to meet the Deadites, but also the stars of the franchise, who never could’ve predicted the success it has today. Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly, Ellen Sandweiss, and many more share their experiences after the original trilogy garnered cult status over the last couple of decades.

Some of these experiences are quite heartfelt. A superfan and Evil Dead’s FX creator, Tom Sullivan, even conduct a marriage proposal in the crew members’ mini-museum at a horror convention in Ohio. This and other unique little anecdotes make ‘Hail to the Deadites‘ a unique movie watching experience that isn’t as much of an investigative report on the franchise itself, but was made to celebrate everyone who has been keeping the Evil Dead-spirit alive and kicking. Let us just hope the Necronomicon has nothing to do with this…

Professionally narrated by Scott Shaw and with a killer soundtrack by Ian Blumfield, the former cast members explain the success of Evil Dead. Evil Dead 2‘s Kassie Depaiva, who played Bobby Joe, claims it’s because of Sam Raimi‘s insight and Bruce Campbell‘s talent. The great script, over-the-top gore and inventive camera work made the 1981 classic a once-in-a-lifetime cinema experience, but the stars of the franchise know all too well they have to thank their immense success to the cosplayers, the musicals, the fanmade short films, and now also ‘Hail to the Deadites‘, which celebrates all that is Evil Dead and puts the fans front and center.

Villeneuve’s unconventional approach results in a from the heart celebratory research into the Deadites. Another step forward in preserving the legacy and memory that is Evil Dead. Groovy.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review – ‘Hail To The Deadites’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 24, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 79 min.

PRODUCTION: An Indiecan release of a Diggerfilms production. Producer: Steve Villeneuve. Executive producer: Glen Alexander.

CREW: Director: Steve Villeneuve. Screenplay: Steve Villeneuve, Andre Farant. Editing: Steve Villeneuve. Cinematography: William Dio, Jonathan Bonenfant. Score: Ian Blumfield.

WITH: Bri Cummings, Martin Bruyere, Kevin Edwards, Robyn Lamblez, Adam King, Elise Holmes, Dennis Carter Jr., Don Campbell, AC McCray, Michael Witchy, John Dowding, Emanuele Crivello, Tom Sullivan, Richard Demanincor, Theresa Tilly, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Richard Domeier, Dan Hicks, Sarah Berry, Kassie Wesley Depaiva, Ted Raimi, Bill Moseley, Bruce Campbell.

Review – ‘Sputnik’

Where most sci-fi horror films bring the alien on board a spaceship to wreak havoc, ‘Sputnik‘ decides to take the action with them to good old planet Earth. This Russian creature feature could easily be described as ‘Arrival‘ meets ‘Life‘, but stands on its own two feet with its somber cinematography and terrific performances. “A cosmonaut’s health is always good“, but can he also survive a symbiote residing inside him?

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I. The successful launch came as a shock to experts and citizens in the United States, who had hoped that the United States would accomplish this scientific advancement first. The fact that the Soviets were successful fed fears that the U.S. military had generally fallen behind in developing new technology. As a result, the launch of Sputnik served to intensify the arms race and raise Cold War tensions. During the 1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union were working to develop new technology. Sputnik remained in orbit for roughly three months, when it re-entered and burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The sci-fi horror movie Sputnik took inspiration from these events as a Russian craft crash-lands in Kazakhstan with Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov – ‘The Darkest Hour‘) as the sole survivor. When scientist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina – ‘The Bourne Supremacy‘) gets asked by Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk – ‘The Lenin Factor‘) to examine the cosmonaut at a secret facility far away from Moscow, she soon finds out there’s more to Veshnyakov’s health problems than meets the eye. As it turns out, his body works as some sort of spacesuit for an alien that feeds off him. As this cosmonaut becomes dependent of the extra-terrestrial being, it becomes clear the host and visitor share one conscious mind. The symbiote was responsible for Veshnyakov’s speedy recovery after the crash, but is now using his host to adapt to Earth’s atmosphere and slowly grows stronger to become an independent life force that feeds on the Sputnik crew member’s cortisol levels. It’s up to Tatyana to find a way to split them up and contain what doesn’t belong here.

Director Egor Abramenko‘s first feature film is a gripping sci-fi horror that looks and sounds great. The set design is simple, but effectively engineered, to give that confining feeling of imprisonment. Oleg Karpachev‘s epic score fits wonderfully with the ongoing flawless sound design and even though there’s a lot of dialogue, at least the film doesn’t fall flat at any given moment. The cast is enthusiastic and give convincing performances, and while we mostly focus on what’s happening in the All-Union Scientific Research Institute, the film also flashes back occasionally to a side-story that has to do with Veshnyakov’s abandoned son. This makes for a more emotional background, without ever going full melodrama. Akinshina plays the role of Tatyana quite cold, but does it so well. She gets a few opportunities to dig deeper into her character’s psyche when facing the alien, in search for a connection others rather ignore. Fyodorov and Bondarchuk are both able to convey a lot with so little, with the latter perfectly balancing Colonel Semiradov’s personality between caring and threatening.

The film has a more somber cinematography to really set the mood. ‘Sputnik‘ opens with a breathtaking shot of the spacecraft looking down on Earth from space. The constant tension that follows keeps you on the edge of your seat, until the end credits start rolling. What’s most impressive is the creature itself, being all slimy, pale and bony with screeching sound effects to truly make it as terrifying as possible. Whenever the alien comes on screen, you can expect some sort of bloodshed, as it reacts unexpectedly to behaviour, sound and its surroundings. Especially when you get a good look at it in broad daylight, the visual effects are truly impressive. Besides these technicalities, you have to applaud the writers for filling the film with scientifically accurate terms you rarely pick up on in these kind of films. The film also has enough depth and twists to keep you entertained and involved until the very end.

Sputnik is a surprisingly well made monster flick. Abramenko’s confident direction successfully translates into an instant hit, something you don’t expect from a first feature. Memorable creature design and an engaging cast make for a compelling sci-fi horror that’s better than most Hollywood productions, without shying away from gory blood splatter, crazy cover-ups and ace action sequences.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

IN AUSTRALIAN CINEMAS OCTOBER 1 (*Excluding Victoria)
NSW: Ritz Randwick & Dendy Newtown / ACT: Dendy Canberra / Qld: Dendy Cooparoo / SA: Wallis Cinemas

From October 1 until October 14 it will also be available to rent via Foxtel and Fetch and will thereafter screen on digital home entertainment from 28 October.

Review – ‘Sputnik’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 24, 2020. Rating: MA15+ Running time: 113 min.

PRODUCTION: A Rialto Distribution release of an Art Pictures Studio, Hype Film, Vodorod production. Producers: Aleksandr Andryushchenko, Fedor Bondarchuk, Pavel Burya, Vyacheslav Murugov, Murad Osmann, Ilya Stewart, Mikhail Vrubel. Executive producer: Michael Kitaev.

CREW: Director: Egor Abramenko. Screenplay: Oleg Malovichko, Andrey Zolotarev. Cinematography: Maxim Zhukov. Score: Oleg Karpachev.

WITH: Oksana Akinshina, Fedor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov, Anton Vasilev.

Review – ‘On The Rocks’

(L-R) Marlon Wayans, Rashida Jones, Alexandra Mary Reimer, Liyanna Muscat Photo Courtesy of Apple

Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans, both known for their comedic talent, take it down a notch and play a New York middle-class couple who seem to have disconnected in more than one way. In walks Bill Murray with some serious dad-jokes and playboy-vibes to get the party started, but in a more nuanced and dare I say, sophisticated way. Sofia Coppola is back with her newest, and most commercial film to date.

Laura (Jones – ‘Parks and Recreation‘) thinks she’s happily hitched, but when her husband Dean (Wayans – ‘Sextuplets‘) starts logging late hours at the office with a new co-worker, Laura begins to fear the worst. She turns to the one man she suspects may have insight: her charming, impulsive father Felix (Murray – ‘The Dead Don’t Die‘), who insists they investigate the situation. As the two begin prowling New York at night, careening from uptown parties to downtown hotspots, they discover at the heart of their journey lies their own relationship.

When we first meet the rather naive Laura in her beautiful NY apartment, she seems stressed, defeated, and even lonely. Her daily routine doesn’t really help with getting out of this downward spiral, but she keeps herself busy with her youngest and gets easily distracted while worrying over her writer’s block. Dean, on the other hand, seems to be having the time of his life, but barely shares any of it with his wife. You respect his success, but he’s a bit selfish. This classic heteronormative household is waiting to implode, and just like that, Laura’s father, Felix comes along, to bring some unexpected excitement and support into her life.

Murray is known for playing the goofiest characters with bone dry humour. As soon as he pops on screen in ‘On the Rocks‘, you can tell he’s matured. It’s a nice change of pace in the film’s rather repetitive first third, and as soon as he exits stage, you already wish we would follow his daily life instead. He knows how to command your attention. Just like his on screen daughter says, “it’s must be nice being you“, when trying to bribe himself out of a speeding ticket, after chasing his son-in-law down the streets of NY, ‘Fast and Furious’-style. Some surprising father-to-daughter moments really lift up the entire film, where Jones’ and Murray’s on screen connection feels more sincere than the subzero chemistry Jones shares with Wayans.

Coppola also wrote her newest film. You feel the need to hug Laura, and you’d wish Felix was your cool dad, but not everything is as simple as it seems. As Laura waits for the right moment to finally ask Felix why he left her mother, it seems like father dearest wants to make up for his wrongs, while overprotecting his daughter when he notices that she’s in need of some loving. “We all just wanna be loved.“, as Felix tells his daughter.

On The Rocks isn’t here to shake things up, but it’s also something you don’t expect from the Academy Award-winning director. As if she’s stepped away from her more indie approach of storytelling, and found a way to embrace the commercial aspect of filmmaking. An affecting buddy-comedy, that takes the insecurities of life and deals with them as we go.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In select cinemas *nationally from October 2
Releasing globally from October 23 exclusively on Apple TV+
*Cinematic release excludes Victoria

Review – ‘On The Rocks’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 23, 2020. Rating: R. Running time: 96 min.

PRODUCTION: An A24 (theatrical) and Apple TV+ (TV) release of an A24, American Zoetrope production. Producers: Sofia Coppola (p.g.a.), Youree Henley (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Roman Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Fred Roos.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Sofia Coppola. Editing: Sarah Flack. Cinematography: Philippe Le Sourd. Score: Phoenix.

WITH: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jenny Slate, Jessica Henwick, Barbara Bain, Nadia Dajani, Musto Pelinkovicci, Jules Willcox, Alexandra Mary Reimer.

Cover photo: (L-R) Rashida Jones, Bill Murray Photo Courtesy of Apple

Review – ‘The Swerve’

Holly lives in a nice house in a lovely suburban neighbourhood with her ambitious husband and two demanding teenage boys. She likes teaching, but it seems something’s not entirely right. Medicated for her insomnia, she dreams these very vivid nightmares – so vivid they might even be real. When a mouse pops up in her kitchen, she starts obsessing over it, to the point of completely losing her mind and her seemingly perfect life. Dean Kapsalis explores a week in the life of a woman who’s mental health is deteriorating with each passing day.

The Swerve is a thriller/horror, in the most realistic way possible. It deals with the psychological desolation and longing of a woman who’s hurting right underneath the surface. She’s lost in a world that keeps using her as if her feelings don’t matter. Kapsalis’ directorial debut is tense from the very first scene. Holly (Azura Skye – ‘The Men‘) isn’t your typical suburban mom, but rather one that’s trying to find her way, even though she has everything most people would die for. The thing she doesn’t have is someone who will listen and understand. Her family doesn’t treat her like a person, and we find out a little bit more about Holly’s past when she becomes the laughingstock at a family dinner with her estranged alcoholic sister.

This being Kapsalis’ directorial debut is beyond comprehension. It’s made in such a meticulous way, with a terrific ensemble cast and an eye for detail that exuberates atmosphere. There’s a constant sense of anxiety, as if you’re waiting for everything to go south. I’ve been a fan of Skye ever since I first saw her alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar in the final season of ‘Buffy, the Vampire Slayer‘, where she played a teenager who knew she was going to die. Watching her in the role of Holly, feels like a continuation of that character’s story – if she had survived, with that constant fear of dying. Skye does a phenomenal job at breathing despair into her performance. She seems comfortable while making the viewer uncomfortable. I don’t like using this term, but credit where credit’s due – this is a career best performance that deserves to be seen by audiences everywhere.

Where Holly is the protagonist in her own story, composer Mark Korven‘s (who also composed the score for ‘The Lighthouse‘) score is like the soundtrack that guides her to the one and only exit. Hauntingly beautiful, it takes over several visionary sequences in which we witness Holly aimlessly walk through the aisles of her husband’s supermarket or drive her car down a dark road. Kapsalis has a way of working with darker shades of colours, as if they’re rotting on screen. He doesn’t want any vibrancy in Holly’s life, because there is none. A nice touch that works well with the sense of dread and despair.

This deeply textured horror film about the normal things in life becomes an absorbing experience thanks to Azura Skye’s incomparable tour de force. The Swerve will haunt you for days.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Swerve is now available on VOD and Digital.

Review – ‘The Swerve’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 23, 2020. Rating: TBC Running time: 95 min.

PRODUCTION: An Epic Pictures release of a Spark Chamber production. Producer: Tommy Minnix.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Dean Kapsalis. Editing: Dean Kapsalis, Alec Styborski. Cinematography: Daryl Pittman. Score: Mark Korven.

WITH: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib, Deborah Hedwall, Dan Daily.

Review – ‘No Escape’

(L-R) Keegan Allen as Cole and Ronen Rubinstein as Alexei in the horror/thriller film “NO ESCAPE” a Vertical Entertainment release. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

If you thought splatter films had gone extinct, think again. Soft-splatter film ‘No Escape‘ doesn’t redefine the horror sub-genre, but tries to popularize it with the use of social media and influencers. Think ‘Hostel‘ in the digital era.

When Cole (Keegan Allen – ‘Pretty Little Liars‘) travels with his friends to Moscow, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his 12 million+ subscribers channel #ERL – ESCAPE REAL LIFE, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into. His friends planned a secret activity at an unknown location, which excites him knowing he’ll be able to shoot some new content for his successful vlog. Always pushing the limits and catering to a growing audience, they all enter an escape room owned by Russian rich kid Alexei (Ronen Rubinstein – ‘9-1-1: Lone Star‘), who claims it’s going to “change his life”. Cole will have to free his friends from deadly torture devices, such as a water tank, an electric chair and an iron maiden – before the timer runs out, solving a series of puzzles, while his followers can follow his every move online. The group will have to fight to escape, and survive the unexpected challenges they face.

Director Will Wernick (‘Escape Room‘, 2017) was clearly influenced by Eli Roth’s classic torture porn. Not only is there no reason to revive this sub genre, that died with the declining quality of the Saw-franchise, but I also believe by pushing it into the digital era, it becomes even more of a sub genre that no one is waiting for. That social media element does work for the first third of the film. You can tell Cole feels a ton of pressure to put on a certain kind of facade and “entertain” his followers. In the meantime, his girlfriend Erin (Holland Roden – ‘Channel Zero‘), can’t get used to him constantly choosing to share every single thing they experience together.

The first 30 minutes are quite enjoyable and promising, but just when this group of friends enters an abandoned Russian prison, the film starts to wander into familiar and unfortunately also generic territory. Wernick tries to bring a fresh take to the torture puzzles, but with the majority of the cast not really giving a convincing performance, you have a bit of a failed experiment. At the end of the film, those unconvincing performances seem intentional, when ‘No Escape‘ spins the entire story into a certain David Fincher-scenario.

Roden is without a doubt the film’s strongest asset. Why Wernick (who also wrote the story) decided to barely use her in the film is a mystery to you and I, but at least she knew what she was doing. Allen also does a fine job in the film’s first half hour, but from then on it becomes clear he doesn’t quite have the range to convincingly portray the emotional roller coaster Cole has to go through. The remaining supporting cast has their moments, but mostly under performs when given the chance to leave a lasting impression.

No Escape‘ isn’t gory enough to be scary, and not exciting enough to be memorable. Wernick’s ‘Hostel‘ meets ‘The Game‘-vehicle tries too hard, making it difficult to relate to these unfortunate influencers’ “struggles”. Well intentioned, but not worthy of a double-tap. Keep scrolling.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

NO ESCAPE is now available on Digital and On Demand

Review – ‘No Escape’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 22, 2020. Rating: MA15+ Running time: 92 min.

PRODUCTION: A Vertical Entertainment release of an Escape Productions production. Producers: Jeff Delson, Kelly Delson, Sonia Lisette, Will Wernick. Executive producers: Mike Bundlie, Babacar Diene, Philip W. Schaltz.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Will Wernick. Editing: Cris Mertens. Cinematography: Jason Goodell. Score: Crystal Grooms Mangano.

WITH: Holland Roden, Ronen Rubinstein, Keegan Allen, Denzel Whitaker, Emilia Ares, Pasha D. Lychnikoff, Kimberly Quinn, Inja Zalta, Dominic Pace, Siya.

Cover photo: Holland Roden as Erin in the horror/thriller film “NO ESCAPE” a Vertical Entertainment release. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Trickster’ Episodes 1-2

Everybody knows TIFF is the place to be for groundbreaking new content. This year they gave Michelle Latimer the chance to present two projects she’s worked on. The first one, ‘Inconvenient Indian‘ – a documentary that explores the cultural colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America – was previously reviewed by us (review can be found HERE) – and just won both the People’s Choice Documentary Award and the Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film. Her other project is something completely different. Trickster is a supernatural thriller mini-series that follows an Indigenous teen named Jared who struggles to keep his dysfunctional family afloat when a stranger named Wade ruptures the balance and myth, while magic and monsters slowly infiltrate his life.

Latimer is the director and co-creator of this unique CBC series. Her and Tony Elliott (‘ARQ‘) turn the bestselling trilogy of novels by the award-winning Haisla and Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson, into an Indigenous Gothic coming-of-age story unlike any you’ve ever seen. Trickster eventually might get compared to Riverdale or Supernatural, but even though it has a similar vibe to both of those shows, it feels more mature with a dark sense of humour, great special effects and terrific acting all across the board.

The trickster is a devilish rule breaker in myth and folklore. For the Haisla, their trickster is Wee’git, and portrayed as The Raven. They are most often foolish and childlike troublemakers. Some tricksters can be harmless, others heroes, and still others even cruel or selfish. In Haisla culture, the Raven is the most powerful of mythical creatures. His appetites include lust, curiosity, and an irrepressible desire to interfere and change things, and to play tricks on the world and its creatures. 

Jared (Joel Oulette – ‘Monkey Beach‘) holds down an after-school job in a fast food joint, where he sells “extra salty fries” aka ecstasy, on the side, to support his separated parents – his mom Maggie (the terrific Crystle Lightning – ‘Diverted Eden‘), who self-medicates an undiagnosed mental illness while partying 24/7, and unemployable dad Phil (Craig Lauzon – ‘Royal Canadian Air Farce‘), who’s struggling with addiction. When Jared starts seeing strange things — talking ravens, skin monsters, shapeshifters — appear at locations he visits on the daily, he slowly starts losing grip on reality while trying to find answers. There’s secrets surrounding his birth, the place he grew up in and those who live in it. What first seems like hallucinations, quickly become all too real when supernatural forces invade his world.

The first two episodes of Trickster make you want to bingewatch the entire series, which holds an electrifying score by Todor Kobakov (‘Cardinal‘) that sounds like Disasterpeace’s anxiety inducing work in ‘It Follows‘, clever editing and breathtaking scenery. I can only hope international audiences get the chance to experience CBC’s newest mini-series in the near future, because this is something worth checking out. Latimer is a pro at Indigenous storytelling, and that translates to what’s being shown on screen.

Trickster is a spirited coming-of-age story filled with ancient magic, that’s made with respect to the myth and Indigenous traditions. Latimer knows her craft and by putting Indigenous talent front and center, she creates a wide new world for first-rate artists that are waiting to share original stories with all of us.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

TRICKSTER premieres Wednesday, October 7 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC and CBC Gem

TIFF20 Review – ‘Trickster’ Episodes 1-2

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 20, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 6 x 42 min.

PRODUCTION: A Kew Media Group release for a CBC and CBC Gem presentation of a Sienna Films production. Producer: Sienna Films Inc.. Executive producers: Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny, Michelle Latimer, Tony Elliott.

CREW: Director: Michelle Latimer. Screenplay: Michelle Latimer, Tony Elliott. Editing: Kye Meechan, Katie Chipperfield. Cinematography: Steve Cosens. Score: Todor Kobakov.

WITH: Joel Oulette, Crystle Lightning, Kalani Queypo, Anna Lambe, Nathan Alexis, Craig Lauzon, Joel Thomas Hynes, Gail Maurice, Kirsten Johnson, Darren Hynes.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Enemies Of The State’

For our final film at Toronto International Film Festival 2020, we decided to check out the world premiere of Sonia Kennebeck‘s documentary, ‘Enemies of the State‘. TIFF20 has had a couple of standout documentaries this year, such as Inconvenient Indian, which felt urgent and should be mandatory viewing. Kennebeck’s film however, watches like a film-version of Netflix’s ‘Tiger King‘, meaning it’s a wild ride from start to finish. The subject seems like something that’s made up by some overexcited conspiracy-theorist, but the evidence provided doesn’t leave much to your imagination. It tells the the real-life story of an American family seeking refuge in Canada after their hacker son is targeted by the US government. And just like that, the film starts with an Oscar Wilde quote: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

Enemies of the State‘ is a gripping spy story that should be seen to be believed. Back in 2010, the FBI raided the home of the then 25-year-old Matt DeHart, who used to work for the US Army, just like his parents, with whom he still lives. These government officials were holding a search warrant for child pornography. The DeHart-family denied the charges, and knew these government officials were there to investigate Matt’s involvement with Anonymous and that organization’s links to Wikileaks. After the hacktivist spend 21 months in prison, Matt and his parents crossed the border into Canada, seeking asylum based on the convention against torture.

Kennebeck puts together a report, combining archival footage and photography the DeHart-family made themselves, interviews with government officials (not the FBI, because they refused to comment on the matter), reenacted scenes while using original audio from hearings and trials, and the expertise from professors and refugee lawyers. ‘Enemies of the State‘ is filled with facts and it sometimes feels like as if this should’ve been made into a series, instead of a 100-minute documentary.

That’s also when I realized that the film has too much information and jumps from one scene to another one too many times, while going forward and backwards on the timeline, making it at a certain point a tad bit confusing. Kennebeck’s choice to incorporate cheesy reenactments, starring Leann and Paul DeHart themselves, was a poor choice, as it cheapened the film for me. Nonetheless, this is a story that I personally didn’t know much about and intrigued me from the very first minute. Insa Rudolph‘s compelling score fit the film perfectly, and while the blue-grey-filter feels quite gimmicky, it didn’t distract me from what’s actually happening on screen.

The journalistic investigation style of reporting is a smart choice on Kennebeck’s behalf, who also often hints at former whistleblowers who’ve made the news, such as Edward Snowden, who’s also an enemy of the state, and who’s story has already been turned into a documentary and feature film. The director doesn’t just dig deeper into Matt’s past, but also tries to figure out who his parents were and their possible involvement in this entire investigation. Luckily, they were very cooperative in the making of this film.

Enemies of the State is a riveting, engrossing and thought-provoking documentary, that leaves you second-guessing for most of its runtime. As entertaining as your favourite Netflix-docu-series, but not as time-consuming, the film exposes the truth behind dodgy malpractices, making a John Grisham-novel look like a fairy tale.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Enemies of the State’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 19, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 103 min.

PRODUCTION: A Codebreaker Films production. Producer: Ines Hofmann Kanna. Executive producer: Errol Morris.

CREW: Director: Sonia Kennebeck. Editing: Maxine Goedicke. Cinematography: Torsten Lapp. Score: Insa Rudolph.

TIFF20 Review – ‘True Mothers’

Naomi Kawase’s melodramatic adaptation of a novel by Mizuki Tsujimura, is directed with finesse, but relies too heavily on PSA-style storytelling that rather explores the past than the present with situations that miss their mark in trying to establish a real emotional force.

After trying to conceive for a while, a Japanese couple undergo tests. Kiyokazu (Arata Iura) gets diagnosed with aspermia and thus they settle for a life without children. But when a tv-report for a nonprofit adoption agency, Baby Baton, catches their attention, they decide to check it out. Adoption wasn’t really on their radar, but once there, they meet with an adolescent mother, who’s unfit to take care of her baby, Asato. The wealthy Satoko and Kiyokazu, bring their adoptive child home and start living their life as a happy family. Six years later, Asato’s biological mother comes looking for him.

True Mothers obviously focuses on the mothers in this story – the innocent young woman who doesn’t want to be erased from her child’s life, Hikari (Aju Makita), and the adoptive mother Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku). Kawase explores both these women’s timelines, up to the point of their meeting six years after Asato’s birth. The film starts of with Satoko’s trust being challenged, due to an incident at her son’s school. Big Little Lies comparisons aren’t too much of a stretch, when a neighbour starts threatening her. Desperately in need for the truth, Satoko starts daydreaming about her life before Asato joined the family and how the adoption process fueled her now undying love as a mother.

When she gets contacted by a woman, claiming to be Asato’s mother, they decide to meet up. Kiyokazu denies the identity of the woman sitting across from him, and the rest of the film explores Hikari’s intense romance with a boy from school and the crumbling relationship with her family. Not only is there a ton of exposition that could’ve been cut from the final version, Kawase just spends too much time building up to the film’s conclusion, without really digging deeper into her character’s motivations.

Both Aju Makita and Hiromi Nagasaku do a perfectly fine job at portraying these heart-aching mothers. Where Satoko feels the desperate need to care for someone, Hikari is the total opposite, wishing someone would hold her and stop abusing her goodwill. This girl really can’t catch a break. The film is well-directed, but just like the score, the overly dramatic tone of the story becomes monotonous, making it difficult to hold your attention.

True Mothers is a one-note melodrama, clearly giving the benefit of the doubt to the middle-class mother, and kicking the lower-class young girl when she’s already down. The traumatic experiences Hikari has to endure change her into a completely different person, unrecognizable to those who grew up with her. This gives Aju Makita a little more of an edge in showcasing her ability to act.

The film doesn’t really make you want to start a family – it paints too much of a traumatic picture of parenthood. The conclusion doesn’t seem deserved, with its overly saccharine way of combining both worlds. A flawed look at the struggles of motherhood.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

TIFF20 Review – ‘True Mothers’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 19, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 140 min.

PRODUCTION: A Kino Films International Sales release of a Kazumo, Kino Films, Kinoshita Group, Kumie production. Producer: Yumiko Takebe. Executive producer: Naoya Kinoshita.

CREW: Director: Naomi Kawase. Screenplay: Naomi Kawase, Izumi Takahashi. Editing: Tina Baz, Yoichi Shibuya. Cinematography: Yuta Tsukinaga, Naoki Sakakibara.

CAST: Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Aju Makita, Miyoko Asada.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Passion Simple’

The second film on our #TIFF20 schedule has taken a turn for the worse. Danielle Arbid (‘Parisienne‘) takes on Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical fiction novel that focuses intensively and almost exclusively on the passion our protagonist has for a man with whom she has an affair. Once one of the hottest books in France, now one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. Pardon my French.

Basically, it’s about a mother who finds herself getting more and more obsessed with the Russian diplomat she’s having an affair with, but with whom she has nothing in common. Alexandre (Sergei Polunin – ‘The White Crow‘) is working in Paris, and becomes the object of Hélène’s (Laetitia Dosch – ‘Les Apparances‘) passion, but it is just that passion that keeps their connection somewhat “alive”. Hélène’s passion for Alexandre is deep and intense, almost and entirely like an overwhelming teenage crush. Everything she does revolves around her clandestine affair with Alexandre. Because he is married she can only rarely see him, and neither text nor call him. She is dependent on him, and questions his every move by interrogating him before or after every shag. You’d almost forget she has a teenage son walking around, oh right, she doesn’t seem to care.

Their passion covers the full spectrum, from adoration and worship to jealousy and fear. But that’s just where Arbid complete loses control and turns the film into a cheap looking 90s porno (which counts no less than eight sex scenes), with the most forced story line you can imagine. If only ‘Passion Simple‘ was a tiny bit more interesting, but even the way everything is poorly constructed in terms of cinematography, editing, awful choice of music and annoying close ups of thrusting hips, hands disappearing between thighs and repetitive scenes in the same boring locations, that are just as uninspired as the choice of outfits, it still wouldn’t have been possible to save this film from crashing.

Is it in a way realistic that a person becomes enamored with a lover until they realize they can’t be together because life doesn’t always go as planned? Sure. But why make it so dull and insufferable, while Hélène is clearly suffering through some mental struggles that could count for a more interesting viewing. The saving grace of the film is Dosch, who really tries her best to show the pain and suffering of her character, without turning into a caricature too much herself. It’s also not very hard to outshine Polunin, who has the same dead look on his face for the entirety of the film, and doesn’t even bother to put any effort in delivering his lines. The ending wraps it up nicely, though it is perhaps too easy an out, and loses all emotional effect it could’ve had when Arbid decides to play The Flying Pickets’ 1983 hit ‘Only You’ over the final minutes of the film.

Once again, a book fails to translate to the big screen. Even if it’s only loosely based on the written story, I have to wonder who ‘Passion Simple‘ was made for in the first place. Perhaps a generation who grew up with the Emmanuelle-collection can find a redeeming factor in what I would personally label as “DOA”.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Passion Simple’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 9, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 96 min.

PRODUCTION: A Les Films Pelléas production. Producer: David Thion. Executive producer: Anna Bochkareva.

CREW: Director: Danielle Arbid. Screenplay: Danielle Arbid (based on the novel by Annie Ernaux. Cinematography: Pascale Granel.

WITH: Laetitia Dosch, Sergei Polunin, Caroline Ducey, Grégoire Colin.