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Pacific Rim: Uprising Poster

Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.


Steven S. DeKnight takes over the director’s reins from Guillermo del Toro making his directorial debut in the sequel to the 2013 hit PACIFIC RIM.  PACIFIC RIM is del Toro’s most successful film at the box-office making over $400 million worldwide at the box-office.  UPRISING costing $150 million aims to do the same.

The premise of the first film which is the backdrop for uprising is summarized in voiceover at the start of the film by Jake Pentecost (John Boyega from STAR WARS).  That film was set in the future, when Earth is at war with the Kaiju, colossal sea monsters which have emerged from an inter-dimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  To combat the monsters, humanity united to create the Jaegers, gigantic humanoid machine robots, each controlled by at least two pilots, whose minds are joined by a mental link.  The Jaeger was championed by General Pentecost, Jake’s father played by Idris Elba.  Jake was partying it up when the film opens.

UPRISING is set ten years after the Battle of the Breach, the oceans have become restless once again, but the Jaeger program has evolved into the next generation for the PPDC.  However, a mysterious organization has reopened the Breach for the Kaiju and a Jaeger has gone rogue.  Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, rises up to stand against the evolved Kaiju and the mysterious rogue Jaeger, Obsidian Fury, to prevent humanity’s extinction and preserve his father’s legacy.

The film is divided into two parts.  One is the action sequences, which with its $150 million budget are executed with all the pyro-technics, metal crunching and noise expect from a Hollywood blockbuster.  The film will also be released in iMAX which boasts – “See a movie, or be a part of one.”  Regardless, be prepared to get a headache.  This is a very loud film.  The second is the camaraderie among the Jaeger group.  Jake Pentecost bonds with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son) and 15-year-old hacker Amara (Madeleine McGraw), against the new Kaiju threat.  The pilots are all buffed and ideal specimens of the human race.  The script by Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin displays the normal enmity as well as camaraderie of the Jaeger fighters.  But dialogue like: “…not how you perform but what people think how you perform…” are meant to be taken tongue in cheek, playing with typical cliched lines.  The banter between Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) works better.

As the first film was huge hit in China, UPRISING has a few scenes shot in China, as observed by the Chinese on the streets running away from the monists, looking like old monster movies.

Despite the efforts for making PACIFIC RIM UPRISING rise above the first PACIFIC RIM and TRANSFORMER franchise, UPRISING turns out to be a big bore with too much noise and CG effects.



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Film Review: THE DEATH OF STALIN (UK/France 2017) ***

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The Death of Stalin Poster

Follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.


Armando Iannucci



Steve BuscemiSimon Russell BealeJeffrey Tambor

Joseph Stalin dies unexpectedly turning his ministers into panic.  There is a re-balance of power and power grabbing, a state funeral and other un-niceties.  The premise appears perfect for a black comedy.

THE DEATH OF STALIN, as the film is appropriately called can be divided into three parts, with sufficient chaos devoted to each.  The first part of the film establishes who is who around Stalin.  The  second is the passing of Stalin and his funeral.  The third is what happens after with Stalin’s ministry.  The film is described on film sites as a ‘comedy’.

Among the who’s who is Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buchemi) who starts taking charge after Stalin’s passing.  Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) receives the worse end of the death, being accused of murder, execution, torture and yes, multiple rapes of little girls, of which Beria demands a fair trial.  Other well known actors Michael Palin (of Monty Python), Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine and Jeffrey Tambor add to the impressive cast making up ministers of various departments like defence, agriculture and so on.

Unlike his previous hit IN THE LOOP, Iannucci ’s THE DEATH OF STALIN, treads on the same grounds of political humour bordering on satire but turns out more crass and desperate for laughs.  The word ‘fuck’ is uttered too often and sounds out of place in a setting where the real Stalin and his men actually should be speaking Russian.   Example: When Stalin’s son is its on making a speech at his father’s funeral, Khrushchev’s response is: “and I want to fuck Grace Kelly.”  The questions: “What the fuck is going on?” is uttered many times.  The running joke of enemies of the State executed, tortured or imprisoned is fondly used.  When Stalin suffers a hurt attack and a doctor needed urgently, it is remarked that all the old doctors have been sent to he Gulag.

The film feels artificial with English spoken throughout, instead of Russian with subtitles.  The spectrum of accents is distracting.  While Buscemi speaks as if an American, the majority including Stalin speak with a strong British accent.

Despite the variety of accents, the performances are quite convincing.  Each actor could pass of as a Stalin comrade.  Buschemi is particularly hilarious, though the use of vulgarities could be toned down a little.  Jason Isaacs is also memorable as the Russian field marshall who is very fond of punching those he does not like right in the face, and then joke about it.

The sets, costumes and production design is to be commended for an authentic period Russian piece. 

In THE DEATH OF STALIN, which premiered last year at TIFF, cheap jokes and crass humour with lots of vulgarity appear the order of the day!  But these still bring in the laughs.  Just don’t expect classy black satirical humour but crass black satirical humour.  The ending is superb though with a shot of Leonid Brezhnev watching over the new proceedings like a cunning fox.



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Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit Poster

People can grasp the concept of a dog show.  But people cannot grasp the concept of  a cat show.  This is the film, CATWALK’s premise and mission to put cats on the film map just as the successful dog show film BEST IN SHOW did for canines.

One difference between BEST IN SHOW and CATWALK should be noted.  BEST IN SHOW was a mockumentary that followed 5 different dogs with their owners as they showed off their dogs in different shows while CATWALK is a real documentary.  This does not mean that a real documentary is less funny that a mockumentary as the film occasionally proves.

The cats are judged by a panel according to:

what cat perfection is (agility; intelligence etc.)

the best of the breed (example: if the exhibitor does not comb out the knots of his/her long haired cat, a whole lot of points will be lost

The main cat that has won the most points by touring the catwalk circuit in Canada, when the film opens, is a white playful cat named Bobby owned by Kim. The other, is a Red Persian breed full of fluffy fur named Oh-La-La by owned by Shirley.  The film shows that the cat owners are just as interesting to observe than the cats.  When Oh-La-La is showcased on stage, the camera locks on the face of Kim, showing how jealous she is that her cat, Bobby might be upstaged.  Bobby and Oh-La-La are completely different cats.  The former loves to play, winning the hearts of the judges from its friendliness as compared to Oh-La-la who just sits proudly, unconcerned of the surroundings.  There is a scene whee the two cat owners are seen joking with each otter.  Deborah says to Kim: “I don’t think evil of you…. just of your cat.”

The film takes a distraction with a segment on Kim taking scuba diving lessons and having a new group of friends she considers her family.  There is no purpose this segment serves with regards to cats except as a time filler.  CATWALK runs at a brisk 75 minutes.

The film interviews two main cat owners/exhibitors and a few breeders while featuring a few of the show’s judges.

The main owner is Kim Langille who shows off her pride a white Turkish Angora.  Kim is also a show organizer and her enthusiasm for cats rubs off n her audience.  She as a wise pick to be the doc’s main character.  The other is her competitor, Shirley McCollow who spends hours grooming her Red Persian for the show.  There is a sweet moment of an autistic cat owner who overcomes her disability by devoting her efforts on her cat.

CATWALK is made more colourful  by the titles that appear on screen, one on purple or green or orange background.

CATWALK the film does not offer any advice to cat showers or messages for the audience.  (Oh, maybe just one message from a cat breeder: Good things come to good people who do good things.)   It is just an entertaining fun picture about cats, even for non-cat lovers like myself.




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Interview with Festival Director Amanda Drewniak (Ardor Creative Media)

 Ardor Creative Media is a “NO BULLSHIT” Non Profit for film and filmmakers. They strive to bring forth the best in Seattle Independent Film making.

Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Amanda Drewniak: Cine City is curated by our non-profit Ardor Creative Media. Cine City is only the piece of the puzzle for local Washington State Filmmakers. This monthly Screening encourages our local filmmakers not only to create but exposes their film(s) to audiences that may have not seen it or known about local made films in our community. Especially since Cine-City has no submission fees, we reach out to more local participants who both can and cannot afford the steepening fees of other festivals. We also have very basic rules to encourage “unknown” filmmakers to create: 1. The film overall must be playable 2. You must show up to the screening (filmmakers get 2 free tickets) and support your film otherwise you do not qualify for the “Best Of” final competition of the Year. 3. You must live in Washington State to participate.

What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2018)?

We hold our monthly screenings at Naked City Brewery and Taphouse in their screening room, it’s a small space (75 max occupancy) so it can fill up fast. During all screenings you get full food and bar service. In addition to our film screening, Jeffrey Robert (aka The Gay Uncle) a wonderful local comedian and host works the crowd, conducts trivia (with prizes) at the beginning of the event, leads the Q & A session with the filmmakers at the end of the event and enforces the rules on voting for audience favorite films. At our end of year festival or “Best Of” in November we take all the films that were voted best during the year and have them compete against one another for prizes. Films are voted on by the audience and we announce the winners at the end of the night. At this event, we have harder trivia questions (with better prizes) and a silent auction.

Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

As someone who has screened for local festivals, I really think that most festivals are revenue driven. I understand the need to cover overhead and pay your employees but I do feel more could be done to encourage our local filmmaker scene. I mean of course I have turned downed films at Cine City, you have to have a quality standard. I usually send an email explaining why the film was not accepted. Few times I have had a filmmaker comeback with a better film. I do not think there is enough encouragement of talent and cultivating a supportive scene that will ensure quality films are made locally.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Over all, we love film. We love watching films, making films. We want to see more of what Seattle has to offer. It’s hard at times and we feel we want to quit because some screenings have a tough crowd or you get your share of egos thrown at you but every month we comeback to it. We push through and cultivate the type of screenings we want to see more of. We want our neighborhoods and communities to see we have strong talent and quality local entertainment.

How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

I personal feel the FilmFreeway process has definitely made receiving submissions easier. It helps me organize submitted films into subcategories and helps me stay organized for the Best Of at the end of the year.

Where do you see the festival by 2023?

We are so low budget, I really just take it a year at a time. I hope by 2023, our screenings will become more popular and we can have several a month in different areas of the city and create a really nice Best Of that attracts audiences from out of state to come just to see what Seattle and Washington State has to offer. In general I think Seattle should be the film epicenter of the Pacific Northwest.

What film have you seen the most times in your life?

What a tough question. I am constantly looking for something new. Hmm.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

For me, the ride. It doesn’t have to be the greatest fim created, I just have to enjoy myself. Sorry that was two sentences and this one makes three.

How is the film scene in your city?

Are you asking me to ruffle some feathers? I mean that’s what I do, in my city with film, I ruffle feathers. I love the filmmakers, I love the talent, I think it’s disorganized. I think we need a big wig or two to come through and encourage filmmakers to be proud of their work and encourage our communities to stand behind them. I am originally from Miami and it was a culture shock to see how many filmmakers rush to finish a record amount of films a year and do not slow down and cultivate a project, market a project, and support a project. It’s been a bit of an uphill battle but I am slowly winning people over. I really truly believe there is more to the Seattle film scene and Seattleites just haven’t discovered it in themselves yet. I am hopefully that by 2023 Seattle’s filmmakers will have more courage under their belt to pour their hearts into their projects. I have hope for all the talented people here.


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Film Review: ABU: FATHER (Canada/Japan/Saudi Arabia/Pakistan/Thailand 2017) ***1/2

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Abu: Father Poster

Using family archives and animation, Arshad Khan shares a deeply personal story of migration from Pakistan to Canada, self-discovery and familial reconciliation.


Arshad Khan


Arshad Khan (story), Arshad Khan


On the imdb film website, a user review praised ABU as the most moving film he had ever seen in his life.
ABU is the first name of filmmaker’s Arshad Khan’s father.
A documentary about a son spending his whole life trying to gain his father ’s approval is certainly a moving subject especially proven with books/films like EAST OF EDEN.  ABU is moving without sentimentality.
Using family archives and animation, filmmaker Arshad Khan turns the camera (Khan studied cinema in Montreal in 2006) on himself with his father Abu Khan, always in the foreground affecting his every move in life.  This is a sort of home movie that serves as a life story as well.  This is a very intimately painted picture that would move every immigrant.  Every person (or a family member) is an immigrant at some time or other.  The Khan family immigrated to Canada to Mississauga in 1991.  (Myself I immigrated here in 1986, not long before.)   Khan shares a deeply personal story of migration from Pakistan to Canada, self-discovery and familial reconciliation.  An additional factor is that Khan is gay.  Therefore, as a gay man, Khan examines his troubled relationship with his devout, Muslim father Abu.
One of the most fascinating points in the film is Abu’s dream, that Abu only disclosed to his wife.  The dream concerns three wise men who visited the father.  One told him of a visit to a mosque in Pakistan another of his pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and the third of his death at 3 o’clock.  The prophecy of the three events including the timely death in the hospital with the death certificate stating the time of death at 3 pm all came true.  (Abu 1937 – 2011).  This is disturbingly coincidental.  Is Islam really the true religion?  This would be a question to ask the filmmaker for sure.
ABU begins with an animated sequence involving a dream and a prophecy of a monster wearing a light blue buttoned shirt.  (Khan seems extremely fond of prophecies).  It was a dream Khan had 6 months before his father’s death.
Abu used to tell the family and relatives that Arshad and his sister would bring him either great fame or great shame.  From the film, Arshad probably brought him both at various times in his life.  But often enough shame or fame could be interchanged, depending how one looks at it.
The film contains many moving moments for sure – besides the father/son re-conciliation.    (That occurring on the father’s death bed makes it even more endearing.)   The part of his father telling his son that he loves him despite being gay is also unexpected given the Islam’s non-acceptance of homosexuality.  Yet another, is Khan’s initial encounter with gay love at the age of 14 (with a fellow Pakistani called Elvis) and his parents relationship.
ABU is an extremely watchable and moving film made entertaining from Khan’s personal style of filmmaking.  It unveils the fact that every other person in the world has an equally interesting story that needs to be told and filmed.

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Film Review: LOVE, CECIL (USA 2017) ***1/2

Love, Cecil Poster
Lisa Immordino Vreeland directs this documentary about Academy Award-winning costume designer Cecil Beaton. A respected photographer, artist and set designer, Beaton was best known for … See full summary »

LOVE, CECIL is a love letter by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland on two-time Academy Award-winning costume/set designer Cecil Beaton.  Cecil Beaton won Oscars for Best Costume and Set Design for MY FAIR LADY (a clip is provided of Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison at the races from the film illustrating the gorgeous costumes included)  and GIGI.  Cecil was also a respected world renowned photographer, artist and set designer.

When asked whether to describe himself as a painter, a photographer, an author or even a dandy, Cecil has no particular one to choose from.  Cecil is in is own words, fascinated by the labyrinth of choice so does not undertake a single path like most people.  Much of the film’s narration comes from his personal diary, as voiced in the first person by Rupert Everett.  “Hundreds of thousands of words and pictures to describe fleeting moments.”

“I started out with so little talent but was tormented by too much ambition…”  The film also contains interviews with photographer David Bailey, artist David Hockney, designer Isaac Mizrahi, and Beaton’s biographer Hugo Vickers.

Like the subject itself, the doc is filled with beautiful narration (with many quotables) and visuals so that the audience is completely immerse in Cecil’s personal world.  The camera is often on Cecil himself, courtesy of archive footage and the audience gets a good glimpse of the man, from his ‘pretty young things’ age to his older years.   It is funny that Cecil was bullied at Health MountSchool by Evelyn Waugh who wrote “Pretty Young Things” that was also made into a film by Stephen Frears.

Cecil’s career is intimately traced by Vreeland.  As expected, it is not entirely a bed of roses.  Cecil has a bad spell when he played a joke by means of a photograph in American Vogue.  He had the word ‘kike’ scribbled obscurely in the photograph.  The word could still be seen by its Jewish owners  This was an act that got Cecil fired and perhaps humbled the man.  It took a while during the war when he finally redeemed himself by taking sympathetic shots of the devastation of War.   Many said that his work influenced America to aid Britain in the War effort.

What is most impressive and invigorating about Vreeland’s film is that she excites the audience to see the beauty that Cecil himself sees, the beauty captured in his photographs and his work.

LOVE, CECIL is an intimate portrait of an artist by Vreeland.  She makes no attempt to convince her audience to like Cecil.  She provides a detailed documentary of the man showing his openly gay life, dandy and all.  She lets Cecil’s work speak for itself, that the audience can see the genius in the man’s work – visually and verbally.  If one is not drawn by art, film, photography and words, which is rare, LOVE, CECIL might a total bore and the document of the life of the man would mean nothing.

Still, LOVE CECIL is a beautiful biography of Cecil Beaton and many who have not known him will at least now be able to appreciate his 60 years of work.


Film Review: FOXTROT (Israel/France/Germany/Switzerland 2017) ****

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Foxtrot Poster


FOXTROT as most people know is the name of a dance, which is performed a third through the film by a bored soldier at his deserted outpost.  It is also known in the military to stand for the letter ‘F’ when spelt out as taught in signalling courses to prevent confusion in communication.  (Alpha is for ‘A’, Bravo for ‘B’ etc.)  In the film it is also the name given to a military operation.

The film is divided into 3 parts, each almost equal in running time.  The opening sequence is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when a mother faints after hearing the news of her son’s death during WWII.  The story begins at the home of Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafna (Sarah Adler), where an army detail arrives with the news of their son Jonathan ((Yonatan Shiray).  Dafna faints and is sedated.  Meanwhile Michael spirals from anguish to anger.  He even kicks his poor unsuspecting dog.  Nothing new here, the film seems treading on water.  The film picks up when he begins to suspect that he has not been told the whole story when the army refuse to let him see the son’s body in the coffin during the military funeral.  Not soon after, there is news that the boy is alive.  Apparently, there is another Jonathan Feldman and it is this other Jonathan that died.  Michael freaks out and demands that his son be returned home right away.  Michael and Dafna have an argument, she accusing him of being nasty, he of her being too nice being sedated on drugs.

The film ends on a bright note, with a touch of surrealism.  The second section begins with the narrator describing the foxtrot dance followed by a very uplifting and amusing dance sequence.  The musical interlude jumps out of the blue and is a fantastic surprise.  The audience then learns of Jonathan’s mundane military duties at the check post, identifying everyone that drives through.  The soldiers also let a camel through.  Writer/director Maoz pulls another trick up his sleeve with a twist in the plot.  When  a passenger in a car tosses out an empty drink can, the soldiers open fire thinking it to be a grenade.  There are been more twists in the plot but they will not be mentioned in the review to prevent to many spoilers.   A few of these twists could be reduced for the film to be more effective.

The film works as a very different film audiences have never seen before.  FOXTROT is a  surrealistic film set in the midst of the israeli/Palestinian conflict, a very unlikely setting, which makes the surrealism work even better.  Maoz’s story also shows that fate plays games with people’s lives – and there is nothing one can do about it.  Michael and Dafna try to make sense of what is happening.  At their best moment, as their daughter, Alma tells them: “You two look beautiful when you are together.”  Perhaps, that is the only thing human beings can hang on to, each other in the midst of the quirky hands of fate.

The film won the Silver Lion (Grand Jury Prize) at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.  FOXTROT is definitely worth a look.


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