FIFF2020 Review – ‘La Troisième Guerre’

In Giovanni Aloi‘s feature directorial debut ‘The Third War‘ aka ‘La Troisième Guerre‘, which was most recently nominated for the Venice Horizons Award at Venice Film Festival, the fresh out of basic training, Leo lands his first assignment: a surveillance operation that sees him roaming the streets of Paris with nothing to do but remain alert for potential threats. Given the task of securing the borders of a massive anti-government demonstration, Leo finds himself plunged into the heart of a raging crowd. All the pressure and impotent fury that has built up over weeks is about to explode.

Leo (Anthony Bajon – ‘Teddy‘) patrols the streets of Paris with fellow soldier Hicham (Karim Leklou – ‘The World Is Yours‘), who’s always bragging about his time in Mali when trying to impress Leo, and their sergeant Coline (Leïla Bekhti – ‘The Eddy‘), who seems to be dealing with her own share of private issues when not looking after her squad. The endless shifts take our trio to all corners of Paris, where they keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour and possibly dangerous packages. After the terrorist attacks a couple of years ago in France, the army hasn’t left the streets, making sure the people of France stay safe. ‘The Third War‘ feels rather topical with what’s happening all over the world with police brutality and the BLM-movement. When the soldiers then also go head to head with a couple of police officers who think they have everything under control, the difference between the two kinds of law enforcement couldn’t be more clearer.

Aloi’s film plays like a documentary and could easily be one. It’s shot in a way as if we’re part of the squad walking down the streets, making Parisians feel uncomfortable while soldiers get triggered by the smallest things. It’s meant to lend a sense of realism to the film, and it works, as does most everything in the movie. The trigger-happy factor the blue forces these days suffer from aren’t an unknown effect to these soldiers, who like to spend their spare time playing games and talk shit about women they’ve had sex with or the imaginary relationship between their superiors. Especially when Leo, who clearly comes from a broken family, doesn’t want to go back home, starts disobeying orders. When everything looks like war, isn’t Leo entitled to behave like a soldier?

Writer Dominique Baumard (‘Roulez Jeunesse‘) and co-writer Aloi manage to overcome stereotypical army-storylines mainly thanks to the great chemistry between the actors, and the way they are able to build tension. It’s not all soldier-at-work we get to see. After an incident on the street, Leo finds a phone that belongs to someone the police had been following for a while. He tries to connect with a woman that’s been calling the phone, which could jeopardize his career in the army and his fellow team members by opening up to this stranger. This gives the movie an almost unbearable tension near the end, as we, more so than Leo, wonder and worry about what’s happening in the crowd of a massive demonstration that could explode at any given moment.

The chemistry is stronger than the story, because Bajon, Bekhti and Leklou are just so damn good. It’s not about being a soldier in this day and age, but more about the experience that changes an individual so drastically they start to lose control. ‘The Third War‘ is one of the best army-films made in years, taking the action and drama to the more relatable madness of a metropolitan area.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

FIFF2020 Review – ‘La Troisième Guerre’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), October 5, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 92 min.

PRODUCTION: A Capricci Films production in association with Wild Bunch International. Producer: Thierry Lounas.

CREW: Director: Giovanni Aloi. Screenplay: Dominique Baumard, Giovanni Aloi. Editing: Rémi Langlade. Cinematography: Martin Rit.

WITH: Anthony Bajon, Karim Leklou, Leïla Bekhti, Arthur Verret, Jonas Dinal, Raphaël Quenard, Esdras Registe, Igor Kovalsky, Maxime Cailliau, Jules Dousset.

Hulu Review – ‘Books Of Blood’

Bennett (Yul Vazquez), shown. (Photo by: Courtesy of Hulu)

Hulu gets ready for Huluween by dropping horror-infused content all month long. Based on Clive Barker’s acclaimed and influential horror anthology Books of Blood, this feature takes audiences on a journey into uncharted and forbidden territory through three uncanny tales tangled in space and time.

Brannon Braga‘s feature directorial debut starts of with bloodshed, when a librarian in debt gets killed by a mysterious man after disclosing the location of a valuable book. We jump straight into the first of three stories wherein Britt Robertson (‘I Still Believe‘) plays Jenna, a hypersensitive girl who suffers from ‘misphonia’ (an abhorrence of sound). As she learns her mother is about to send her back to the ‘Farm,’ she steals her mother’s cash and sets out for Los Angeles. While taking refuge in a cosy B&B, the always pessimistic Jenna keeps hearing scratching sounds coming from behind the walls in her room, whenever she takes off her noise cancelling headphones. Carrying a secret with her that she refuses to discuss turns her nightmares into a living nightmare. The two abnormally friendly owners of the bed and breakfast quickly make Jenna feel welcome, a feeling she hasn’t felt in a very long time, but when the sounds coming from behind the walls of the cockroach-infested B&B start to make her feel more and more uncomfortable, she also has to deal with being followed by a mysterious man. It’s up to Jenna to read the room and figure out what’s really going on.

The first story that eventually weaves together with the following two, is probably the strongest standalone story, with the strongest ensemble of actors. Running from her own past, while stranding in a small town makes for a great location to feel trapped in – even more than in the confined walls of her mother’s beach side modern mansion. Joel J. Richard‘s (‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum‘) score sounds like the tunes coming out of a music box. The eeriness of his music helps with establishing more of a menacing atmosphere than Bragga was able to conjure with his direction. Especially the second and third story fall completely flat.

When we get to Miles’ story half way into the movie, the change of pace has shifted to something that doesn’t fully connect with what we’ve just witnessed before. We see a naked Rafi Gavron (‘Godfather of Harlem‘) waking up in some sort of cell, with text written in what seems blood all over the walls. He plays Simon, a handsome, charismatic young man who convinces Mary (Anna Friel – ‘Marcella‘) that he is a ‘ghost whisperer’. Mary, a brilliant, beautiful psychologist who has gained fame as a skeptic that debunks all theories or beliefs that are not solely scientifically based. She has lost her 7-year-old son, Miles, to leukemia and when Simon becomes her lover, he convinces her that he speaks for her dead child. Fully convinced he’s speaking the truth, the dead are bound to unravel secrets that hover above the new couple’s head.

Mainly due to the somewhat unconvincing acting of Friel and Gavron, this segment doesn’t completely work. It’s not entirely the actors’ fault, when they’re just trying to do the writing some justice on screen. Knowing Barker’s Books of Blood have been written all the way back in 1984, the film as a whole feels rather dated. When some horrible CGI-creatures and body gore makes their entrance, you can’t help but think of other Clive Barker-vehicle, Hellraiser. Luckily, by the time Miles’ story sort of wraps up to make place for the final story that links all three, and continues the film’s opening with Bennett (Yul Vazquez – ‘The Outsider‘), a professional killer whose latest assignment clues him in on a priceless book that may allow him and his wife to permanently retire, we’re close to the end of the film. On his search for the tome, his quest leads him straight into supernatural terror. Close to a runtime of two hours, Books of Blood feels unnecessarily long and not scary at all.

Some of the imagery presented, is definitely disturbing (the bloody opening credits deserve praise above all), but Books of Blood lacks suspense and doesn’t clearly define what kind of story it’s going to tell until the very end. I’m glad the film wraps up nicely, linking back to Jenna’s disturbing story, making you rethink why you were rooting for her in the first place.

Books of Blood isn’t as scary as it could’ve been. It’s medium-rare grimly sadistic tone works best when it lets the characters breathe and connect with the viewer into liking them (which you shouldn’t!). The brand-new reiteration of Barker’s Books of Blood feels too dated to be blood-curdling.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

‘Books of Blood’ premieres on Hulu Wednesday, October 7th

Hulu Review – ‘Books Of Blood’

Reviewed online (screener provided by Hulu), October 4, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 107 min.

PRODUCTION: A Hulu release of a Fuzzy Door Productions, Fox 21 Television Studios, Touchstone Television production. Producers: Jason Clark, Michael Mahoney, Joseph J. Micucci. Executive producers: Brannon Braga, Seth MacFarlane, Erica Huggins, Alana Kleiman, Brian Witten, Jeff Kwatinetz, Josh Barry, Clive Barker, Adam Simon.

CREW: Director: Brannon Braga. Screenplay: Brannon Braga, Adam Simon (based on the book by Clive Barker). Editing: John Duffy. Cinematography: Michael Dallatorre. Score: Joel J. Richard.

WITH: Britt Robertson, Rafi Gavron, Anna Friel, Yul Vazquez, Freda Foh Shen.

Cover photo: Jenna (Britt Robertson), shown. (Photo by: Chris Reardon/Hulu)

FIFF2020 Review – ‘Miss’

The 35th edition of Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur has begun, and of course we couldn’t miss it for the world. Presenting a wide range of French spoken features and short films, the festival celebrates cinéma as we know it. Our first film is the French/Belgian co-production ‘Miss‘.

When the graceful 9-year-old Alex tells his classmates he wants to be Miss France someday, they make fun of him, because after all Alex is a boy. 15 years later, Alex (Alex Wetter – ‘Kiss Me!‘) has lost his parents and his self-confidence, and lives a rather monotonous life. After an unexpected meeting with a childhood friend, his big dreams and aspirations rush back. Alex, who hardly gets by with the little bit of money he makes, decides to compete in Miss France by hiding his identity as a man. This merciless competition based on beauty, elegance and popularity will test his strength, but with the help of his chosen family, Alex will set off to conquer the title, connect with his femininity and above all, find who he is…

Ruben Alves‘ sophomore film combines heart and laughter in Alex’s exploration of his sexual identity. Friendships are put to the test, while the androgynous looking Alex makes his dreams come true. Even though ‘Miss‘ relies a lot on witty dialogue and ballsy jokes, writers Alves and Elodie Namer (‘The Tournament‘) add just the right amount of emotional depth at the right time. Some twists and turns are too coincidental while some serious conflicts also get resolved too fast in trying to move Alex’s story forward. That doesn’t change the fact the glamour of pageants and Alex’s anonymity within it, both have their own ups and downs.

Luckily, model/actor Wetter knows how to break through gender conforming stereotypes with his appearance, while sending a clear message on gender fluidity. The Miss France pageant isn’t known for being very inclusive, but with themes such as misogyny and the emancipation of women, you’d expect transphobia, or in this case excluding any other phobia pointed towards any form of gender fluidity and sexual identity, to be eradicated by now. Unfortunately, as becomes clear in the film, this isn’t the case. ‘Miss‘ also points at the discrimination of trans sex workers and the constant abuse they have to endure. These themes are rather tough to watch and quite triggering. Alex, becomes victim of such abuse as soon as he embraces his feminine side. Some of these scenes work well and have an empowering effect on Alex, others just don’t make sense whatsoever and are purely added for shock value, done in poor taste.

The combination of heavier themes with comedy create some sort of crowdpleasing effect. That’s mostly due to the fantastic ensemble. Alex’s colourful family of housemates are delightful. The chemistry is off the charts, as they bounce of each other with every line that gets delivered. The camaraderie (or lack thereof) between the beauty queens and organizers doesn’t get explored enough in my opinion, but does have a redeeming factor when we inch closer towards the third act. The cast is strong, with a capital S.

Miss‘ will surprise and even shock audiences that aren’t as open minded, and are expecting something as “simple” as ‘Miss Congeniality‘ or ‘Dumplin‘. Personally, I’ve never seen gender identity, fluidity and androgyny explored and expressed in such a mainstream way as ‘Miss‘ did, so I have to applaud and thank Alves and the entire cast/crew for successfully bringing more diversity to the big screen.

Even though the film falls into a rather typical storytelling structure, tripping over its own story, it always manages to get back up and reach for the next milestone. Miss‘ vulnerability lies underneath a layer of oppressed emotions that so gracefully gets shed by star-in-the-making Alex Wetter. Miss tackles themes such as identity, family and femininity in both hilarious and a beautifully humane style.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

FIFF2020 Review – ‘Miss’

Reviewed online (screening at FIFF2020), October 3, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 107 min.

PRODUCTION: An Other Angle Pictures release of a Chapka Films, Zazi Films production. Producers: Laetitia Galitzine, Hugo Gélin.

CREW: Director: Ruben Alves. Screenplay: Elodie Namer, Ruben Alves. Editing: Valérie Deseine. Cinematography: Renaud Chassaing. Score: Lambert.

WITH: Alex Wetter, Isabelle Nanty, Pascale Arbillot, Thibault de Montalembert, Stéfi Celma, Hedi Bouchenafa, Moussa Mansaly, Quentin Faure, Alexiane Torres, Cécile Rebboah.

Review – ‘Miss Juneteenth’

Films that center a former beauty queen who tries to get her offspring to step into her footsteps isn’t anything new. ‘Miss Juneteenth‘ takes two different routes. The first one is the rather obvious one I just mentioned, the other one is a much more evocative one, that tackles the struggles of motherhood and living up to certain expectations.

Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie – ‘Black Mirror‘) is a single mom juggling several jobs to provide for her rebellious daughter. Spending most of her time at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge, Turquoise desperately tries to get her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) ready for the annual Miss Juneteenth (referring to the day slavery was abolished in Texas) pageant. Even though Turquoise’s life didn’t bring the wealth and fame that usually comes with the title, but determined as she is, she’ll make sure Kai will do it right this time. A battle that doesn’t seem as simple as it sounds…

The feature debut of director/writer Channing Godfrey Peoples isn’t always as streamlined of a film as you’d expect, but neither is the life of the film’s protagonist. Channing has a story to tell, and while the message seems a bit muddled at first, it speaks loud and clear by the time we reach the third act. Bittersweet at times, ‘Miss Juneteenth‘ carries a big heart for female empowerment, and the entire talented cast knows perfectly how to elevate the dialogue and scenes that easily could’ve fallen flat in the hands of someone else.

Nicole Beharie isn’t a well known name in mainstream media, but once again proves she should be. Her portrayal of the strong willed Turquoise, who seems tough but carries a heart of gold, carries the entire film. She’s front and center, and delivers every line as if she’s personally been through a similar situation. A maturely confident performance that deserves recognition. Her on screen daughter Alexis Chikaeze seems confident right next to a powerhouse like Beharie, and with this being her on screen debut, she’s for sure a name to watch.

While Turquoise is so desperately trying to make Kai take over her legendary status as Miss Juneteenth, her daughter has completely different ambitions. She’d like to be a dancer and doesn’t care for the entire pageant-world. Her mother ignores her wishes and desires, and while Kai tries to meet her mother halfway, financial insecurity and men longing for attention make Turquoise’s daily life not as easy as she’d like it to be.

In the end, Miss Juneteenth mostly avoids predictable outcomes and delves deeper into the bond between mother and daughter. It’s an engaging slice of life and a rare example of how films about pageants don’t necessarily need to be just about becoming an established beauty queen. Miss Juneteenth is a lesson in learning how to love yourself, even if you’ve failed your aspirations in life. We’re more than just the crown that’s given to us. We create our own and wear it with pride.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

IN SELECT AUSTRALIAN CINEMAS OCTOBER 8
*Excluding Victoria

Review – ‘Miss Juneteenth’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), October 1, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 103 min.

PRODUCTION: A Rialto Distribution release of a Sailor Bear, Ley Line Entertainment production. Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Page, Neil Creque Williams. Executive producers: Nate Kamiya, David Lowery.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Channing Godfrey Peoples. Editing: Courtney Ware. Cinematography: Daniel Patterson. Score: Emily Rice.

WITH: Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze, Lori Hayes, Marcus M. Mauldin, Liz Mikel, Akron Watson, Phyllis Cicero, Lisha Hackney.

Review – ‘The Curse Of Audrey Earnshaw’

Set in an isolated settlement somewhere in North America, a community of faithful Irish families stays true to their old ways. It’s 1973, and ever since they’ve settled here about a hundred years ago, there hasn’t been a fruitful harvest and their livestock doesn’t live long enough to benefit from it. Except for one farm, belonging to Agatha Earnshaw, a woman who’s believed to have poisoned the ground with her witchcraft. Agatha (Catherine Walker – ‘Cursed‘) has been keeping her 17-year-old daughter Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) hidden from the community that abandoned them, but like the fearless rebellion she is, Audrey has a mind of her own. One that’ll keep the Earnshaw-legacy alive for centuries to come.

Clearly meant as a horror folk tale, Thomas Robert Lee‘s newest film isn’t necessarily scary. He excels in building a specific kind of atmosphere you only get to see in indie films, and with the use of a gritty colour palette, some effective split diopter shots and breathtaking Canadian scenery, it becomes a sure standout in this subgenre. ‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw‘ doesn’t just impress on a technical level, it’s the performances that embody the real fear and intensity the story visually supports. For those who are looking for a simple jump-scare-gore-fest, this won’t be your cup of tea. Those who are willing to sit through a slow burn and be taken on a journey – what are you waiting for?!

The director cautiously takes some creative decisions by focusing on two different families – one more in touch with the supernatural, the other faithful to their own god. The way these two stories slowly weave together and split up again is one of the highlights of the film, where from here on anything can happen and will happen. A ceremony where women are seen drinking a blend of blood, fingernails and skin shavings to connect with a higher being, is just the beginning of a series of twisted scenes. Self-mutilation, cattle-cradling, dirt-eating – nothing’s too crazy for Lee. What’s so wonderful about it all, is that it pushes the story further and isn’t just used for shock value.

Shot in the middle of Alberta’s wilderness, the film creates an isolated feeling. Everything seems handmade, from the houses to the costumes. I’m not an expert on linguistics, but I couldn’t fault anyone on their Irish-accented dialogue, even though not all of them are of Irish descent. Cinematographer Nick Thomas‘ virtuous compositions, which are specifically stunning in the indoor candlelit scenes, show how in touch he is with his craft. Bryan Buss and Thilo Schaller‘s score could’ve gone even bigger to elevate the sense of paranormal remoteness to unknown heights.

As mentioned before, the casting is strong. Reynolds’ debut as an on screen actor is a big success, as she showcases her range in playing an at first quite timid but adventurous girl, quickly growing into a spirited force to reckon with. It’s mainly the female cast that impresses, where Hannah Emily Anderson (‘The Purge‘-series) stands out as the mourning Bridget Dwyer, who gets put under a spell by Audrey as revenge for her husband hitting the witch’s mother.

Thomas Robert Lee discreetly builds tension in his horror folk story, rather going for atmosphere than having to rely too heavily on horrifying imagery. ‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw‘ feels a bit too limited in what it desires to be, but makes up for it with effective performances, plot and a clear vision. A menacingly ambiguous tale of revenge and community.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

‘The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw’ will screen in limited theatres from Friday, October 2, and will be available on VOD + Digital from Tuesday, October 6.

Review – ‘The Curse Of Audrey Earnshaw’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 29, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 94 min.

PRODUCTION: An A71 Entertainment release of a Gate 67, Telefilm Canada production. Producer: Gianna Isabella. Executive producers: Shaked Berenson, Susan Curran, Patrick Ewald, Thomas Robert Lee, James Mahoney, Bill Marks, George Mihalka, Marie-Claude Poulin, Divya Shahani.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Thomas Robert Lee. Editing: Ben Lee Allan. Cinematography: Nick Thomas. Score: Bryan Buss, Thilo Schaller.

WITH: Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson, Hannah Emily Anderson, Geraldine O’Rawe, Don McKellar, Sean McGinley, Jessica Reynolds.

LAAPFF Short Film Review – ‘The Quiet’ & ‘The Other Side’

The 36th edition of Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival has some incredible short film programs, all grouped into themes. This time we choose to explore “WWYD (What Would You Do?) 2020“, where emerging filmmakers reflect on difficult decisions in life and dare to ask the question “What Would You Do?”

‘The Quiet’

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Radheya Jegatheva surprises you with his 10 minute short film, ‘The Quiet‘. The Perth based Australian filmmaker created an animated universe that tells the story of an astronaut pondering on the quietude of space. He’s very self-aware, but while looking back at the relationship with his brother, he’ll face the truth that’s written in the stars.

Meticulously narrated by Jay Jay Jegathesan (‘iRony‘), ‘The Quiet‘ takes you on a visually and audibly pleasing journey, filled with colourful animation, stellar sound effects and distinct sound mixing. The talent that goes behind this type of storytelling is out of this world. From the first frame, he combines ordinary sounds with images that are out of this world. The sound of someone using a salt shaker shows stars appearing on a black sky. Or what about turning on a stove and right when the fire appears, some sort of big bang happens. Ingenious top shelf storytelling that goes deeper than you’d expect. ‘The Quiet‘ is made with such precise detail, it could easily qualify for the biggest awards in the industry. Just like Jegathesan’s astronaut says at the start of the film, “Silence is the most beautiful thing that exists in the universe“, it can also be the most terrifying thing in the universe. That’s exactly how Jegatheva plays with our mind, by turning his story upside down. In space you don’t know what’s up or down anyway. Without a doubt, a rising star to follow.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘The Other Side’

Days before his 18th birthday, Abel finds himself about to age out of his orphanage, which means leaving his younger brother behind. When a prospective adopting couple threatens to break their relationship apart, the brothers wrestle with waiting for a dream that may never be fulfilled.

Inspired by a true story, ‘The Other Side‘ never strikes an emotional chord to pull you in. The reason for that is the unbalanced way of how the story is being portrayed. Technically, there’s not much to fault, besides the score that’s ill-fitting and would feel more at home in a thriller. The cinematography is clean and feels natural considering the topic of the film, giving you more the feeling as if this was some sort of documentation of Abel’s real life. Unfortunately, the performances aren’t strong enough to deliver the heavier scenes in which these two brothers confront each other physically about their own beliefs. Abel (Ethan Herisse – ‘When They See Us‘), bitter because he no longer believes there’s a chance for him to get adopted into a better life, is the total opposite of his younger brother, Kiya (Adonai Kelelom), who’s innocence is still intact. Jealous of that untouched innocence, Abel teases his brother up to the point of beating him. These are subjects that should hit harder than they did in Josh Leong‘s sophomore short. The direction isn’t as strong as I had hoped, unnecessarily jumping back and forth in time one too many times.

For a film that’s only 17 minutes long, ‘The Other Side‘ fails to leave a lasting impression. There’s some interesting ideas, but cohesive it is not. A missed opportunity, that could benefit from a longer runtime to fully explore the connection between these two orphaned brothers.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Quiet and The Other Side both screen as part of LAAPFF’s Short Program, “WWYD (What Would You Do) 2020”.
This program is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County) from October 1, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 31, 2020 at 11:59pm PT. 
More information can be found HERE

LAAPFF Short Film Review – ‘The Quiet’ & ‘The Other Side’

The Quiet

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 29, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 10 min.

PRODUCTION: Co-producers: Jegatheva Jegathesan, Radheya Jegatheva.

CREW: Director/editing/cinematography/score: Radheya Jegatheva. Screenplay: Jegatheva Jegathesan, Radheya Jegatheva.

WITH: Jegatheva Jegathesan.

The Other Side

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 30, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 17 min.

PRODUCTION: A The Mill production. Producers: Sofia Bara, Bemnet Yemesgen. Executive producer: Khalil El-Ghoul, Jonathan Ferguson, Augustine Hong, Sounil Yu.

CREW: Director/screenplay/editing: Josh Leong. Cinematography: Tom Ingwersen. Score: Gavin Brivik, Sam Gryzwa.

WITH: Ethan Herisse, Wayna, Adonai Kelelom.

LAAPFF Short Film Review – ‘QUẬN 13’ & ‘Yai Nin’

The 36th edition of Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival has lots of short programs to choose from. After exploring “Pacific Cinewaves” earlier, we now look at two short films shown in LAAPFF’s “Across the Dinner Table” program.

QUẬN 13

Paris is home to one of the largest and oldest Vietnamese communities in the world; however, little has been documented about it. Hieu Gray’s short documentary debut, QUẬN 13, which refers to the Vietnamese name for Paris’ 13th arrondissement or district, is about the Vietnamese diaspora in Paris told through the lens of food.

Award-winning journalist and producer, Hieu Gray, takes us on a 15 minute tour of Paris’ Vietnamese food culture, with one question in mind: “What does it mean to be Vietnamese?“. Fascinated with people who adapted their kitchen to their new homes, she visits a handful of talented Viet Kieus who thrive in the French capital. Hieu mentions how Vietnamese restaurants are often hidden in plain sight. “Do et Riz” is a good example of that. The owner of this busy restaurant claims the success behind Vietnamese food in this culinary city is the ability to give Parisians the desire to go to Vietnam – and because Vietnamese cooking requires less oil/fat, while the food is a mix of sweet, savory and sour. Hieu’s laid back style of interviewing works well with establishing a sense of familiarity and innocence, that makes her interviewees open up to her. Professor Quan Pham, owner of “Drapeau de la Fidelité” for 33 years, shares a glimpse of his life through old family photos and shows Hieu the secret behind his very own pho. Thinking about Vietnam makes him emotional. Paris will never be his home, it’s just a residence. The fluent cultural identity with their kitchen being the heart of every Vietnamese community, is a very central topic, no matter who she interviews.

QUẬN 13 makes you want to visit Paris’ 13th district, just to experience the same treatment Hieu Gray serves us on a platter. It’s more of a delicious ode to the Vietnamese cooking culture than it is an in-depth documentary, but it does exactly what it’s set out to do – make you hungry.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

‘Yai Nin’

Ninlawan Pinyo is the matriarch of a Thai American family, who hustled for her fortune by founding a pork sausage factory in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Even though Nin owns Naem Pinyo, she still gets up every day to makes her very own recipe of naem – a style of fermented pork. Just like every family business, she gets some help. Her brother manages the factory operation and workers, who all can Nin “mom”. Since she treats everyone as if they’re her own (grand)children, being all overprotective and constantly worrying, he often tells her to go take a break. Hi-tech as she is, she checks the cameras wherever she goes on her tablet, to make sure everything in the factory is running smoothly, although she claims “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself“.

Champ Ensminger‘s first short film in almost a decade, is not just a character study of Ninlawan, the director also explores Nin’s long distance relationship with her family in America, and through some nifty animation she explains her tough past, raising four children and losing her husband. Yai Nin is a buoyant short film that looks and sounds beautiful (the first thing you hear is Satta Rojanagatanyoo‘s energetic score) but also tells a strong, powerful story filled with rich emotional notes.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

QUẬN 13 and Yai Nin are part of LAAPFF’s “Across the Dinner Table” short program. This program is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County) from October 1, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 31, 2020 at 11:59pm PT.
More information can be found HERE

LAAPFF Short Film Review – ‘QUẬN 13’ & ‘Yai Nin’

QUẬN 13

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 27, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 15 min.

PRODUCTION: A Hieu Gray Creative production. Producer: Hieu Gray.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Hieu Gray. Editing: Richard Van. Cinematography: David Woo. Score: Bao Vo.

WITH: Hieu Gray.

Yai Nin

Reviewed online (screener provided by LAAPFF), September 27, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 13 min.

PRODUCTION: Producers: Michael Peak, Kristy Peak, Michele Choy, Alec Ansusinha. Executive producers: Gerald Ensminger Sr., Styles Upon Styles.

CREW: Director/editing: Champ Ensminger. Cinematography: Liam Morgan. Score: Satta Rojanagatanyoo.

WITH: Ninlawan Pinyo.

Review – ‘Once Upon A River’

John Ashton as Smoke and Kenadi DelaCerna as Margo Crane.
Once Upon A River arrives in virtual cinemas beginning October 2, 2020 from Film Movement.
CREDIT: Daniel Klutznick

Based on the best-selling novel by Bonnie Jo Campbell, ‘Once Upon a River‘ could easily be described as a less gritty ‘Winter’s Bone‘. Haroula Rose directs Kenadi DelaCerna as a young woman in search of her estranged mother. This dramatic tale about facing your fears, your past and choosing your own family and destiny in life is something that’ll touch a lot of viewers.

The barely talkative 15-year-old Margo Crane (DelaCerna) hasn’t had the easiest childhood. It’s the late 1970s in rural Michigan, and this young Indigenous girl is growing up fast, too fast. Living with her dad, she’s learned how to hunt for food and stay out of trouble, but after a series of horrific tragedies, she sets out in search of herself on the Stark River, meeting characters along the way that’ll help her find her own path in life.

The film starts off strong, menacing in a way. Margo lives in a hostile environment, where white privilege and power abuse seem like the most normal thing. As soon as she flees that prison and connects with the freedom of nature, the film gets a more amicable vibe turning the story in a touching coming-of-age story.

There’s a few particular scenes that are severely troubling, especially when you keep Margo’s age in mind. Drugs, sexual abuse and manipulation take turns, until she finds peace with an elderly sick man called Smoke (John Ashton – ‘Gone Baby Gone‘), who slowly but surely becomes her best friend. It’s mainly this on screen friendship that tugs at your heartstrings. DelaCerna and Ashton are the highlights in this already strong ensemble, both portraying their characters with professional finesse. This has to do with the look in their eyes. The age difference between the two is visible, but where Smoke is an actual man of age, Margo gives off an overpowering old-soul-vibe.

Rose’s directorial feature debut isn’t your typical coming-of-age story, nor is it your typical drama. She borrows bits and pieces from each sub-genre, while creating her own authentic fearless story. The scenery, set design and gorgeous cinematography are of a certain quality, that makes ‘Once Upon a River‘ memorable and atmospheric. Rural Michigan looks a lot more inviting than it has any right to be.

Once Upon a River‘ takes its time to step away from formulaic genre tropes, with a profoundly tender performance by breakthrough star Kenadi DelaCerna as the cherry on top. Never overwhelming in balancing modesty and grace, ‘Once Upon a River‘ takes us on a quietly-powerful journey inwards.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In Virtual Cinemas Beginning October 2, 2020

Review – ‘Once Upon A River’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 28, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 92 min.

PRODUCTION: A Film Movement release of a Chicago Media Angels, Thirty Tigers, Neon Heart Productions, Shawnee Lane production in association with River Run Films. Producers: Jacqueline “JJ” Ingram, Haroula Rose, Grace Hahn. Executive producer: Susan Berghoef, Julian West, David Macias, Ted Reilly, Kelly Aisthorpe Waller, Rhianon Jones, Sam Bisbee, Ian Keiser, Heather Rae.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Haroula Rose (based on the novel by Bonnie Jo Campbell). Editing: Sofi Marshall, Steven Lambiase. Cinematography: Charlotte Hornsby. Score: Zac Rae.

WITH: Kenadi DelaCerna, Tatanka Means, Coburn Goss, Sam Straley, Josephine Decker, Arie Thompson, Dominic Bogart, Lindsay Pulsipher, Ajuawak Kapashesit, John Ashton, Kenn E. Head.

COVER PHOTO: Kenadi DelaCerna as Margo Crane.
Once Upon A River arrives in virtual cinemas beginning October 2, 2020 from Film Movement.
CREDIT: Daniel Klutznick

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.