Film Review: SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) “Gems you may have missed!”

SWISS ARMY MANA hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Writers: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

by Kierston Drier

This issue of Gems You May Have Missed is all about unlikely heroes, psychological breakdowns and dead bodies with magical boners. Yes. I said that.

SWISS ARMY MAN is a rare beast of a film. Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and released in early July 2016, this piece requires commitment to your distension of disbelief. But if you can jump that hurdle, the film pays off big in the realm of emotional dividends and offbeat humor. Really offbeat.

Hank (Paul Dano), a nondescript everyman with a healthy dose of melancholia acts as our unlikely hero, when we find him at the opening of the film, stranded and starving on a desert island. He is about to hang himself when Manny (Daniel Radcliff) washes up on shore. Desperate for human contact of any kind, Hank forms an emotional and slightly creepy attachment to our dead friend. Believing that the appearance of Manny must be a sign, Hank drags the corpse off the beach and begins the long trek to seeks help and a way home.

The film starts on a dark note but quickly spirals through dark comedy and into a strange, but loveable hybrid of genre all its own, when Radcliff’s character Manny begins to talk. Not only talk, but also perform life saving tricks for Hank- like gush fresh water from his mouth, use his erection as a north-pointing compass, and, wait for it, fart so powerfully that he can work as a human motor boat. Hank and Manny form a bizarre bond of friendship, compassion and an utterly fresh take on instrumental friendship, as they must work together to get back to civilization.

It is hard to explain what makes SWISS ARMY MAN such an incredible cinematic experience. It boasts gorgeous, lush cinematic visuals, beautiful art direction and breathtaking cinematography. It is also largely a two-hander which means huge applause must go out to both Dano and Radcliff for engaging and grabbing performances. While both actors do a fantastic job in their roles, a special nod must be given to Radcliff who, has the added challenge of conveying a depth of character while still managing to pull of character that is, well, dead. The script is quirky, emotional and vibrantly original. But what makes SWISS ARMY MAN a real gem, is how startling unique it is. There is simply no film quite like it.

A viewer can watch this movie and feel a vast array of feelings- confusion, absurdity, hilarity, sorrow, compassion, concern and disbelief all within an hour and half. We never really know if we are watching a metaphor, one man’s delusion, or a strange world where anything-can-happen. But we feel something. The feeling may be complex and confusing but it is undeniably authentic. You may need to let go of logic and reason and strap yourself in for this roller-coaster of a film, but it is worth every minute of the ride.

Inside the Chaos: How To: Shift Careers within your field

shift careersby Kierston Drier

Are you in your desired profession, but not in your desired career? Maybe you want to be a Director of Photography one day, but you are stuck as a set P.A. Maybe you want to be a food stylist but you are toiling away at a Craft job to pay the bills. Maybe you want to be a writer, but all you’ve managed to get is a few self-produced pieces while you wait tables part time? Or perhaps you’ve had a happy and fulfilling career in one area of the industry you love already, but it’s time to move on- you’ve worked in distribution for years and now you want to be a producer. Or you’ve had a successful career as an editor, but you want to try your hand at writing? How do you make the shift from working that job that pays the bills, to working the job that pays the bills and fuels your passion?

It is not always easy and smooth to change career paths, and it doesn’t always happen over night. But with research, patience, and planning, you can maximize your efficiency in the transition. Below are a few steps to get started.

Know Your Goal. And What It Takes To Get There.

Take some time to envision exactly what you want. It might already be crystal clear, or it could still be very nebulous. Figure out if what you desire is a single goal (Ex: I want to be a writer on a Comedy Show) or something more fluid (Ex. I want to be working in content-creation, in a leadership capacity.)

Next, figure out what skills you need to achieve this goal. What soft skills and hard skills do you already have? What do you need? Can you get these skills through your own research, or will you need more professional training?

Engage Your Network.

There is nothing wrong with learning from your network. Attend events, mixers and social gatherings that are centered around your main goal. Be friendly, kind and polite and read the room. Be curious about other people and their roles in the industry and ask them about their experiences. Even if they are not in the career path you are interested in, there is always something to learn from someone else. People can be invaluable sources of both insight and inspiration. Clubs, online groups, forums, organizations and committees are all great places to begin expanding your sphere of contact as your change careers.

On the topic of engaging your network, be active in the community you are interested in. Are their volunteer or part-time gigs that you can engage in that will help build your skill set or make connecting? Are there industry-related communities that offer networking, mentorships or internships in your desired field? Tapping into these areas may be time-consuming, but a slow-and-steady approach to changing careers can pay dividends as it allows your your network and contact base to grow.

Innovate And Market Yourself.

You have skills. And you probably have some very good ones. How can you turn those skills into marketable products to get you closer to your desired goal? It may take an afternoon (or several) to come up with some unique ways to get yourself out there, but may be the most beneficial tool you have. Make a reel, or a demo, or a strong pilot piece and put it up on your own social media. Host or livestream a reading of your work (or a mixture of your work and others), contact companies you want to work for and inquire about their hiring process or if they have any freelance opportunities. It may be highly subjective, depending on what goals you are aiming for, but marketing yourself is a crucial step.

Plan For It To Take Time.

Sometimes an opportunity knocks and we simply cannot say no. Be prepared to take the opportunity when it comes! Until it does, however, have a plan to help sustain and support yourself while you tackle your new dream. It may feel like having two jobs- the job you work at, and the job you are aiming to work at. It is important to be practical; as the saying goes, Empires are not built overnight. Yet, all dreams that are worth having are worth working for!

It may be hard to get out of a stagnant career rut. In contract-based industries it can be very hard to shift gears, and move yourself forward. It is our dreams and aspirations that fuel or best creative moments. It is rare that the path to our perfect job goes smoothly- but it is all the more wonderful when that goal is achieved.

Inside The Chaos: How To Make The Most of Your Time As A Freelancer

freelancerby Kierston Drier

Film and television production is a freelance industry. And freelance industries are complicated for the people they employ. In one corner, we have making your own working hours, as much free time as you desire, and the potential to make a lot of money when you do work. In the other corner we long stretches without work, the stress of a feast-or-famine work frame and FOMO when multiple jobs come our way at once. And worse still, if we are looking to advance our careers while still getting calls for the same type of work. How do we manage in the high-octane, fast-paced world that is freelance?

As a freelancer who has made a good living in an expensive city I’m here today to share a few tips with anyone is struggling or juggling to find balance in this intense industry.

The 80/20 Rule

This is my golden rule. You see it in lifestyle-diets : eat eighty percent healthy and twenty percent whatever you want. I correlate this to my working life. Eighty percent of the time I spend work that keeps my lights on. I like all the jobs I take but these jobs have a primary purpose- they pay my bills.

The other twenty percent of my working time is spent on passion projects. These passion projects fall under a number of headings- work I do on a friends’ project, work I do for free as a favor, or work I do for lower than a normal rate in order to gain a new skill of polish an old one. Some of them go on my resume and some I do just be help out a buddy. But all together- these are professional or semi-professional jobs I do, that I do purply because I want to. What has been wonderful about this twenty percent rule, is that every so often, this jobs or favors, lead me to a lucrative gig that I also enjoy doing, that can bleed over into the eighty percent of my jobs that pay my bills. That is a wonderful place to be in!

2. Utilize your weekends. Mostly.

The traditional Monday-Friday 9-5 is quickly disappearing. And while some people mourn that, freelancers may embrace it. You may not have a traditional 5 day, 40 hours work-week. You may be working 12 hour days, or you may have shifting schedules that don’t give you two days off in a row. No matter how crazy or unpredictable your schedule can be, you can still utilize these tools. I use this strategy when I’m working a standard set-based 12 hour day with two days off.

Pick two days where you can carve out free time. Even if it is only for a few hours.
On one of these days, plan to do nothing related to work. Seriously. Go out, see your friends, read a book, watch TV, take a bubble bath, go for a run. Live your life.
On the other day, divide the free time in half. Spend one half cleaning up your life, in whatever form you may need- manage your meal prep, check your emails, do your laundry. Whatever you have to do that you can’t find time for when you are working night-shoot crazy hours and have barely had time to wash the sweat off.
In the other half of the last day, do a work related thing that matters to your personal development. Work on a script you’ve been developing. Edit a reel you’ve been working on. Coordinate with creative partners on creative projects.

The bottom line here, is use maximum efficiency with the free time that you do have while still being able to live your life. If you have an off season, where you can potentially have weeks at a time free, have a plan of attack to devote more time to your creative projects.

3. Build Yourself A Float

Another vital rule I utilized early on in my career and reaped benefits from later. I did whatever I could when I had an influx of jobs to live below my means. I put aside a small stipend of liquid assets to utilize when lean months came. This helped me out by cutting down on the stress and panic that comes with the mindset of “I need a job, any job! I have to pay rent!” It allowed me to carefully weigh my options when jobs came my way, and gave me the freedom to choose to the best professional option for myself.

Understandably, this isn’t always an option everyone has access too. Sometimes jobs are scarce and you need to take whatever comes your way. Take the jobs you need, and set aside whatever you can for a rainy day. A good plan in freelance is have two to three months of basic living expenses saved up for when jobs are harder to find.

4. Find An Inspiring Side Gig.

Get a hobby for those dry spells. And make it something you love. Whether you blog about your favorite TV shows, write reviews for a local paper or online magazine, do freelance editing or script covering on the side, whatever helps keep your creative passions sharp and inspired. If it adds a little money to your pocket book as well, all the better. Freelance is all about versatility. Not just in taking on different jobs with different people, but with your ability to be hired for your many professional facets. What starts as a hobby today, can become a marketable and valuable professional skill later.

The freelance game isn’t always easy, but it can be hugely rewarding! For better or worse, our society is moving more and more towards a freelance and contract-based economy. It is a system, but with a little work and strategic planning, you can make it work for you in a very effective way.

Do you have any freelance tips? We’d love to hear about them!


birth of the dragonSet against the backdrop of 1960s San Francisco, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a modern take on the classic movies that Bruce Lee was known for. It takes its inspiration from the epic and still controversial showdown between an up-and-coming Bruce Lee and kung fu master Wong Jack Man – a battle that gave birth to a legend.

Director: George Nolfi
Writers: Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
Stars: Billy Magnussen, Yu Xia, Philip Ng

Review by Gilbert Seah
Premiering last year at the Toronto International Film Festival at a running time of 103 minutes, this shorter version is a re-cut version, according to the film publicist that now runs a 10-minute shorter version. I had not seen the original version but a colleague of mine at the press screening had seen both, remarking that the re-cut version is an improved one. Which is not saying much – since BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is still not a very good movie.

The end credits say that the film was based on a Bruce Lee article: ‘Bruce Lee’s Toughest Fight’. In other words, the film was inspired by true events. The setting is 1964 in San Francisco, where a real fight took place between Bruce Lee, 9 years before his fame and making of his first movie and a monk named Wong Jack Man. The question then is who won the fight. Since this film is about Bruce Lee, and not the monk, one assumes that Lee won the fight, or why make a movie if he lost the fight. But the script has more up its sleeve.

The film opens with a monk (Xia Yu) fighting in a province of China, which the title claims is the place of birth of Kung- Fu martial arts. The monk is said to travel to America to learn how Kung Fu has been taught there. It has been taught a great deal by Bruce Lee (Philip Ng), then and shown to be a conceited and proud instructor, though his intentions are respectable. The two fight in a competition with a plot that is supped to cause a girl to be enslaved unless there is a clear winner. So, one of Lee’s pupils, a hot-headed Mack (Billy Magnussen, BRIDGE OF SPIES, INTO THE WOODS and the recent INGRID GOES WEST) decide to save her. The two fighters combine their efforts to save the girl, but unfortunately they are unable to save the movie.

The film is aimed strictly for Bruce Lee or Kung Fu fans. Main actor Ng who plays Lee suits the part, with a chased body much like Lee. Ng’s mannerisms (body stances, sounds) down to his face twitching resembles Lee too.

According to my colleague who had seen the original film, the original was centred on the white man, Mack, who is given a less impotent role after the film’s major re-cut. This makes more sense in that no one be satisfied paying good money to see a Bruce Lee story than end up with a film with a white man story. The white man plot is now reduced to a subplot with him in a minor supporting role ending up in hospital, though Mack does get his (Chinese) girl.

BIRTH OF THE DRAGON aims high in revealing the fact that Bruce Lee changed his style of fighting and became the man he did, as a result of the fight – thus he film title BIRTH OF A DRAGON. This might be true but the film is still quite the mediocre film.


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HIGHLIGHTS & VIDEOS: Experimental/Music Video Festival – July 20, 2017

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: THE SQUARE (Norway 2017) ***** Top 10

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

THE SQUARE.jpgThe Square is a poignant satirical drama reflecting our times – about the sense of community, moral courage and the affluent person’s need for egocentricity in an increasingly uncertain world.


Ruben Östlund


Claes BangElisabeth MossDominic West

In director Östlund’s (FORCE MAJEURE) film, the square is a place of trust and caring where everyone shares equality and obligations. It is also the name of the newest project of curator Christian (Claes Bang) which he hopes will bring in money for the cutting edge art museum in Sweden he represents.

Christian hires two young TV publicists to spread the word on social media. The film is made of a number of cinematic set-pieces. Though these set-pieces appear unconnected on the surface, they upon close examination all tie into the great scheme of Östlund’s universe.

The film is also not without arresting images, courtesy of cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel. The two most striking ones include the shot of Christian building with escalators and star is rising above him like a maze (see trailer in link below) and the other with Christian in a heap of garbage as he searches for the piece of paper containing an important address.

The film deservedly won this year’s Palme d’or Prize. The film is as wicked a wicked satire can be as well as sexy, brilliant, complex and bitingly hilarious. It is a cruel, absurd and unforgiving world we live in and Östlund has captured it masterfully in his minor-masterpiece. Clearly the best film I have seen this year – hands down.


TIFF 2017 Movie Review: PYEWACKET (Canada 2017) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

A frustrated, angst-ridden teenage girl awakens something in the woods when she naively performs an occult ritual to evoke a witch to kill her mother.


Adam MacDonald


Missy PeregrymLaurie HoldenNicole Muñoz
Leah (Nicole Monoz) is the typical teenager in high school, as the film reveals at the start. She is happy, nuanced and has issues with her parents, in this case her mother after her father’s death.

The mother (Laurie Holden) is falling apart, in depression and boozing. She conjures the demon PYEWACKET to do away with her mother.

This is a case of paranoia versus actual demonic horror. Are there really footsteps in the night and monsters or are they all part of Leah’s imagination?

This is where MacDonald’s film works best. There is nothing supernatural that occurs in the first half of the film. When a monster is shown in the second half, the audience is still unsure whether the creature is real or Leah’s imagination.

The film makes good use of sound (example the crescendo of traffic noise) for scare effects. The cinematography (the woods with no leaves) by Christian Bielz also adds an eerie creepiness.

PYEWACKET ends up a solid scare flick but it could do with more gore and violence.


Film Review: L’ECONOMIE DU COUPLE (AFTER LOVE) (France 2016) ***1/2

after love.jpgAfter 15 years of marriage, a couple with two kids is about to divorce. Until the husband find a new place to live, they have to cohabit, and figure out how to share their belongings.

Director: Joachim Lafosse
Writers: Fanny Burdino
Stars: Bérénice Bejo, Cédric Kahn, Marthe Keller

Review by Gilbert Seah

Those that know Cédric Kahn will definitely remember his excellent 2004 directed suspense drama FEUX ROUGE (RED LIGHTS) which he also co-wrote. The story concerns the marriage breakdown of a mediocre salesman Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his attractive, successful and increasingly aloof wife, Hélène (Carole Bouquet), as they are en route to pick up their daughter from camp, bickering as usual. The broken relationship is seen from the backdrop of her sudden disappearance when she decides to take the train.

Kahn leaves the director’s chair to play the husband in this equally absorbing broken marriage story of Boris (Cédric Kahn) and Marie (Bérénice Bejo). Though the background is different, both films have similarities and are both equally a difficult watch. The couples have seen their love gone sour and both try to give it a second chance. In this film, the couple have decided to separate after 15 years together. They have two girls that they adore, but tensions rise as cash-strapped Boris continues to live in the family home. Neither of the two is willing to compromise, making their apartment a war zone.

Sexual and emotional tensions remain high. An example is when the Boris accidentally enters the bathroom while Marie is having a bath. He claims that he did not see her inside and just getting his toothbrush. When she is angry he replies that he has seen her naked before. These are words and incidents that will eventually happen, regardless whether by a accident or not and will always lead to confrontation and uneasiness. The scene is done from the point of view of Marie, the camera focused on her expressions while she lies in the bath when the dialogue goes on between the couple.

Lafosse takes no sides. The audience sees the irrationality of both the husband and wife and how emotions blur their better judgement. At one point, they scream uncontrollably in front of their two daughters. The scene in which they both eventually sit down as a family and the parents promise their daughters never to shout at each other is a touching one.

One would imagine that watching a film on this topic be a brutal one. Surprisingly it is not, because Lafosse makes what appears on screen incredibly real than theatrically brutal. The sensitive and humanistic sides are also shown.

Kahn and Bejo, especially are excellent in their roles.

But all is not hate. In one sensitive and brilliant moment, Lafosse demonstrates that the love the couple once felt for each other was present in the past and not forgotten. “I did really love him” says Marie to her friends one evening party before Boris shows up and creates emotional havoc. The one unexpected visit by Marie turns out to be an evening of family warmth with the father and two daughters dancing together, edged on by the mother.

Lafosse leads his remarkable AFTER LOVE to its obvious ending as Boris and Marie eventually separate but for the better.


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Film Review: PATTI CAKE$ (USA 2017) ****

PATTI CAKE$PATTI CAKE$ is centered on aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, who is fighting an unlikely quest for glory in her downtrodden hometown in New Jersey.

Director: Geremy Jasper
Writer: Geremy Jasper
Stars: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay

Review by Gilbert Seah

PATTI CAKE$ is a story of a big white girl, Patricia “Dumbo” Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), from Bergen County, New Jersey who seeks fame and fortune as a rapper. She lives in a really untidy house with her mother (Bridget Everett) and looks after her bed-ridden Nana. The film introduces her as she wakes up in the morning. The camera shows her ‘fat’ side while she does her daily routine like brushing her teeth, while rapping. She swaggers down the street with the camera showing her floating up in the sky – a great start for the movie. Her talent is rapping and she with her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and new discovery (Mamoudou Athie) hope to make it in the rap scene. The film is their difficult success story.

The film has 3 big plusses and with these three plusses, one can hardly go wrong. The first is a killer rap soundtrack. Director Jasper shows the origins of a song, how the lyrics come about and how the melody is created. The finish product is a marvel. The second are the great performances from the entire cast and thirdly, the script though not flawless, is nevertheless quite good covering many current issues. It is expected that the film has a happy ending and the tacked on turn of events is a bit manipulative.

Australian actress Danielle Macdonald is a real find and should be heading for stardom. Bridget Everett is also winning as Barb, her mother while Cathy Moriaty as Nana is a scene stealer.

Besides rap dance, the film covers a lot of relevant issues though not all to great depth. But it helps keep the film interesting rather than just focused on one issue. Bullying and non-acceptance is the other main issue. Patricia is big and when she does the rap battle, her size comes into play. She is also bullied in the neighbourhood and called “Dumbo’ by almost everyone. The mother and daughter relationship is also covered with satisfactory detail. Her mother has no time for Patricia and has no idea that her daughter is into rap, though she is also a real talented singer. One issue just touched on is the health care. When Nana is taken to hospital with a stroke, Patricia and her mother has to come up with the money. Patricia works extra shifts in her part-time job while the mother juggles the credit cards to pay the hospital bills. The difficulty of getting recognized in the music industry is also eminent throughout the film as the rap group try all measures to get a break.

Besides crooning out the rude lyrics with the ‘f’ word in almost every phrase, the film also shows that in order to survive one has to work very hard and be disciplined. Patricia works long 8-hour shifts as a part-time bartender, forcing a smile on her face all the time, in order to help pay the family bills.
The film is quite a marvel from a first time director. It is my sure bet that this film will win the Toronto Film Critics Association Prize for first film feature. Though the film is a hard watch from start to finish, every minute is worth it.


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