Film Review: LOVELESS (Russia/France/Germany/Belgium 2017) Top 10

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Loveless Poster

A couple going through a divorce must team up to find their son who has disappeared during one of their bitter arguments.


Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (THE RETURN, LEVIATHAN) latest film of a boy gone missing, is one that appears simple on the surface but is in reality an extremely powerful (with strong political overtones) film on the tragedy that emerges from the result of lovelessness.  A divorcing couple’s son goes missing after all their shit.  LOVELESS is an analysis of the couple’s shit intercut with the detailed process with the police and volunteer group involved with the exhaustive search process.

Films about a couple’s breaking up have been surfacing quite frequent lately, the most recent two being AFTER LOVE (L’ECONOMIE DU COUPLE) a French film that has still no release in Toronto and the upcoming Emma Thompson film THE CHILDREN ACT about a high court judge’s foundering marriage.  Though expected to be a difficult watch, these films (LOVELESS included) have astonished with what else can be drawn in with the subject.

Zvyagintsev’s tale unfolds in the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  While searching for the missing boy, news can be seen on the TV of dozens of people killed senselessly from the war.  The couple’s relationship is also under deep scrutiny by the audience.

When the film begins, Boris and Zhenya are in the midst of a nasty divorce.  They still live together (as in THE CHILDREN ACT and AFTER LOVE) which makes matters worse.  In one of their fights, they argue that their 12-year old boy, Alyosh was a mistake.  Neither one wants custody of the boy and the father remarks that he best be sent to boarding school, in preparation for the army afterwards.  She says she never wanted him in the first place.  The boy, meanwhile, in the film’s most moving scene is shown crying his eyes out, after overhearing what have been said by his parents.  He is clearly, in his opinion unloved.  He disappears.  

Boris and Zhenya are forced to come together to search for their missing son.  The police do not have sufficient resources to help and they seek the aid of a volunteer group.  A huge segment of the film is devoted to the boy’s search.  Besides watching the amazement in efficiency of this group, the audience is treated to the thoroughness of how a search for a missing person could take place.  In the midst, the resentment of husband and wife is still clear, with one fiery argument leading to Boris dumping Zhenya out of the car in the middle of the road.  One can only wonder where their love (if ever they had any) had gone.  Zvyagintsev explains in one scene that this love never existed in the first place.

LOVELESS is not devoid of much needed humour.  The most hilarious scene is the meeting of Boris and Zhenya at her mother’s house.  The verbal intercourse that goes on, says it all.  Zhenya’s mother is all caustic and says the first thing that comes across her mind, including her telling Zhenya in the past to have aborted the child.

Meanwhile Zhenya has another man while Boris another woman.  They do not find the boy but life must go on.  The film ends a few years after the boy’s disappearance – no spoilers to be given in the review.  LOVELESS is a powerful film that instead of showing the power of love, shows the opposite, how life cannot survive with love.  A terrific movie that won the Jury Prize at Cannes!


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Film Review: IN BETWEEN (BAR BAHAR) (Israel/France 2016) ***1/2

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In Between Poster

Three Palestinian women living in an apartment in Tel Aviv try to find a balance between traditional and modern culture.


Maysaloun Hamoud


IN BETWEEN is a film that follows the lives of three young Palestinian women living in the vibrant heart of Tel Aviv.  For males just about to dismiss the film as another feminist movie, it should be noted that though all the characters, writer and director all being female, IN BETWEEN especially opens the eyes of those in North America, male and female alike on what it is like to be female in Tel Aviv.  For one, the film covers the little-known underground club scene (which the director grew up on).

The three women are Lalia (Mouna Hawa), Salma (Sana Jammelieh), and Nur (Shaden Kanboura) who share an apartment in Tel Aviv.  Lalia, a criminal lawyer with a wicked wit, loves to burn off her workday stress in the already described underground club scene. Salma, slightly more subdued though no less lively, is a DJ and bartender.  Nur is the younger, religious Muslim girl who moves into the apartment in order to study at the university.  Nur is both intrigued and intimidated by her two sophisticated roommates but eventually grows closer to see a new view of life.

Director Hamoud then introduces males into the picture.  The most hilarious of these is

Nir’s conservative fiancé who visits.  He is totally horrified (to the audience’s delight) by her secular friends, entreating her to hasten their marriage, leave Tel Aviv, and assume her rightful role as a wife.  This is when Hamoud’s film begins to make a statement, and an important one for all females all over the world that has more meaning now with all the sexual abuse allegations going on in the world.  Hamoud turns on the dramatic content in the film’s second half.  Nur refuses her fiance’s wishes, and his violent rebuttal leaves all of the women shaken.  Salma and Lalia also face turmoil: Lalia has found love with a modern Muslim man whose acceptance proves less than unconditional while Salma discovers that her Christian family in a northern Galilean village is not as liberal as they claim.  Hamoud riles up the audience’s anger at the fiancé by making him also a hypocrite and bold face liar.

The three interwoven stories are all very interesting and different enough.  Hamoud has her audience rooting for her spirited characters of three very different women finding themselves doing the same balancing act between tradition and modernity, citizenship and culture, fealty and freedom.  The film’s soundtrack also deserves mention.

Looking deeper into the film, the three characters incorporate females younger and older; from the town and the city as well as more traditional and less traditional.  Feminism is revealed in a different light especially in the film as a necessity to be liberated from the abuse of men.  Hamoud accomplishes the rare achievement of having even males despise male behaviour in her film.

The film has been selected for quite a few International Film Festivals so far including the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016 where it won the NETPAC Award, 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.  


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Film Review: THE MONKEY KING 3 (Hong Kong/China 2018) ***

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The Monkey King 3 Poster
A travelling monk and his followers find themselves trapped in a land inhabited by only women.


Soi Cheang (as Pou-Soi Cheang)


Ning Wen (screenplay) (as Elvis Man), Cheng’en Wu(novel) (as Wu Chengern)


The third instalment of the MONKEY KING films, THE MONKEY KING (2014) and THE MONKEY KING 2 (2016), number 3 arrives just in time for Chinese New Year opening on the first day of the lunar New Year.  Chinese film goers are always promised a good blockbuster commercial film treat yearly, and THE MNKY KING 3 is one of the big Chinese films opening that should guarantee good box-office receipts.

Like the other two films, this is an adventure fantasy film based on the classic novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.  All three are directed by Cheang Pou-soi and all three stars Aaron Kwok, though only the last two with him playing the title role.

The first film had Donny Yen and the second Sammo Hung as the fight choreographers.  This one has none credited as this instalment takes the franchise on a different route.  Romance replaces fights.  The only fights are against monsters.  The Buddhist Monk Xuanzan (Willija Fend Shaofeng) meets his match romantically.

The story involves Buddhist monk Xuanzang and his disciples – Wukong the Monkey King (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing), pig demon Bajie (Xiao Shenyang) and the blue-skinned sand demon Wujing (Him Lo Chung-him) – inadvertently entering the Womanland of Western Liang, a nation populated by women raised to believe that men are fatally deceptive in matters of the heart.  Love nevertheless blossoms between Xuanzang and the Womanland’s young queen (Zhao Liying), even though her royal preceptor (Gigi Leung Wing-kei) is hell-bent on sentencing the men to death.  As Wukong and friends search for a way out of this nation surrounded by a vast magical net, it soon transpires, conveniently, that romantic love is the only key to opening the gate.  So the magic question is whether Xuanzang will give up on his sacred mission and stay with the queen.

The magic net is an excuse for some of the film’s special effects – cheesy though the results turned out.  Monk and gang also get to fly up into the sky with the huge moon in the background.

The film is a take on Amazon Women.  As in similar films tackling this subject, they fall into into identical traps.  The foremost is credibility.  Thee is no explanation on how these females reproduce themselves.  The impregnating river is a laugh. When the males arrive, they are again initially treated with hostility, but that is made way to love (and maybe sex, if the film is more daring).

The humour that largely replaces the action could have been funnier or insightful.  The segment on abortion (called miscarriage in the film) is nothing short of ridiculousness.  There is a scene where the two main characters talk about their shortcomings.  The main one is is monk’s sexual abdication, but like the film, he cannot bring himself to talk about it.

As hard and well-intentioned though the efforts may be by the filmmakers and cast, MONKEY KING 3 ends up a flawed but handsomely mounted production with gorgeous costumes, elaborate sets and landscape, colour and special effects.  Undemanding families out for a good Lunar New Year outing, however should be satisfied.



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Full Review: SHINERS (Canada 2017) ***

Shiners Poster
 Directed by:

SHINERS is a feel good, occasionally over manipulative documentary on shoe shiners.  Writer/director Tenenbaum ensures the audience is constantly kept up with their uplifted emotions.

The film is narrated by the shoe shiners themselves, who dish out their values on life.  What they say is occasionally insightful, though one must always take what they say with a pinch of salt.  They might be biased and slanted in putting in their two cents worth, though what they say may be funny and insightful.

Tenenbaum loos at shoe shiners around the world from the United States to Canada to as far as Bolivia and Japan.

The film opens with shoe shiner Don from New York City, the U.S.  “I plan my route,” he proudly admits while smooth talking, sometimes insulting the passersby while he shines his customers’ shoes on his contraception.  Ron is funny enough to entertain the audience, in fact providing the most laughs of all the shoe shiners on display in the film. 

On a more serous note are two shiners from La Paz, in Bolivia.  Balloo covers his face, as do most shiners in La Paz, afraid of what their friends will think while seeing them doing this low profession.  Sylvia, on the other hand, is proud and carries her baby and does the job with her face uncovered.  She brings dignity to her job as well as the film. Another shiner wears a suit and charges $25 per job, which could take as long as an hour.  Yuya in Tokyo, polishes shoes in a high end establishment.  As does Kevin and Company in San Francisco in another high end store.

Ramiz in Sarajevo is a man who talks about taking over his father’s shoe shoe business.  His family’s business is recognized by the city’s mayor and the entire town.

Toronto, Canada is not forgotten when Tenembaum introduces Vincent in his haircutting place.  Vincent suffers from a mental and physical disability (he is also gay and knits) but the job gives him a life and dignity.

Credit goes to Tenembaum for an excellent cross-section selection of charismatic shoe shiners from all over the world.  What they share is their love for their profession which all of them are very good at. 

Personally, shoe shining is a formidable task.  Being in the army, shining ones own army boots takes days, care, patience and skill. The lumpy boots have to be burnt smooth with a heating iron before they can be polished with a cloth, water and and black kiwi.  It was an art and one that I myself could not master.

SHINERS premiered in Toronto during the Hot Docs festival.  SHINERS might not be the best movie of the year, being small in production (and less than 90 minutes), values and limited in scope by its subject, but it still comes close to being as mighty uplifting as getting a bright new shoe shine.

Film Review: MOM & DAD (USA 2017) ***1/2

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Mom and Dad Poster

A teenage girl and her little brother must survive a wild 24 hours during which a mass hysteria of unknown origins causes parents to turn violently on their own kids.


Brian Taylor


Brian Taylor


MOM & DAD is a black horror comedy in which parents go on a rampage turning violently killing their children.  It is not the first time films have pitted parents against their children.  The very clever PARENTS was one of them, way back when, when the son had to deal with his human flesh eating parents.  Black comedy is the best way of dealing with this subject matter.

MOM & DAD imagines a 24-hour nightmare where parents worldwide succumb to a mysterious mass hysteria that turns them violently against their own children.  It is a macabre and inspired conceit, and works mainly because writer/director Brian Taylor (CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, CRAMER, GHOST RIDER) knows how to play the genre right and keeps his film funny and smart.  Though one might think this one idea premise might run out of steam, Taylor has fresh ideas all through the film, that runs only at 83 minutes.

Taylor use the tactic of flashbacks to inject humour to many a horror scene.  Taylor has one where Cage and son sit down talking about  his f**ked up life with a flashback on how Cage drove his dad’s car into an accident and had to work and pay him back for the damage. The same goes in the segment where Cage lets it all out in a flashback in the pool table man cave episode.

Taylor pays tribute to the great suspense and horror directors like Hitchcock, Truffaut and Argento.   The scene in which mom and dad spend ages trying to open the basement door is reminiscent of the segment in TORN CURTAIN, where Hitchcock shows how difficult it is to kill a man without a weapon.  The sealing of the air of the basement door immediately reminds one too of Truffaut’s THE BRDE WORE BLACK when Jeanne Moreau sealed off the air from the staircase locker to suffocate Michel Lonsdale.  The suspenseful scene with daughter, peeking through the keyhole where a knife is at the other end is right out of Argento’s OPERA.  There are many other classic film nods that are fun to pick out.  Taylor’s film contains a few ultra violent scenes (the dental hook), though they should be taken tongue-in-cheek.

Like Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, Taylor does not go into the explanation how the state of affairs parents wanting to do away with their children came about.  It is immaterial.  It could be guilt or nature’s revenge, none really knows.  Like Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, MOM & DAD has an appropriate abrupt ending.

Nicholas Cage and Selma Blair are nothing short of perfect as the killer parents.  Cage goes into his famous self-ranting rage, playing himself at his crazy best.  He is plain hilarious while occasionally being scary at the ams time.  Blair complements his performance.

MOM & DAD appropriately premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness Section in 2017 last year.  It is the perfect film parents, frustrated at their disobedient kids need to see to get some steam off.  It is also the perfect anti-family day movie.


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Film Review: NOSTALGIA (USA 2017)


Mark Pellington


Mark Pellington (story by), Alex Ross Perry (story by) |1 more credit »

This is a film that the filmmakers would like audiences to cry about – not cry as shout about but literally bawl about.  Written by Alex Ross Perry and directed by Mark Pellington (two mediocre movies, ARLINGTON ROAD and THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES), NOSTALGIA follows the lives of people connected through loss and analyzes the way people find love and solace in memories and objects they share with one another.

The film opens in a diner setting where the audience is introduced to an insurance agent, Daniel (John Ortiz), who is obviously a very nice guy from his conversation with the expecting waitress serving him.  The next scene sees his visit to an elderly Ronald (Bruce Dern) who he convinces that his collection of ‘nostalgia’ might contain great monetary value.  As if the audience is not already reminded of Daniel’s abnormal good nature, Mr. Ortiz is given a third chance to show himself in the home of another family where he insists that every story he hears is a new one.  This is one of the main flaws of the film that already runs too long at two hours based on already on a sombre subject.  Repetition.  The camera also lingers on the detailed movements of the characters, as they walk to the car, as their faces twitch or their lips breaking into a smile.  The film can easily be reduced by 30 minutes.

The story contains many characters that are worthy of tearing at the audience’s heartstrings.  Besides Daniel, there is Helen, who has lost 30 years of nostalgia in a fire.  Her story is connected through Daniel, who is also her insurance appraiser.  Another sob story and the main one that brings the film to its teary climax is that of Will’s family.  Will is Donna’s (Catherine Keener) brother.  Donna’s daughter (Annalise Basso) is killed in a car accident.  If one does not weep during one story, one can anticipate that there is another sob story around the corner that will try harder.

All of these make Pellington’s film annoying and a total bore.  One wonders at his intentions at making a film like this.  Worst still, Pellington delves into pretentious territory.  A number of segments are linked by flashes of light like the opening and closing of a camera shutter, if that is to mean anything.  If being preachy is not enough, the audiences is also given a dose of an essay on love and its power to heal.  Another flaw of the film is Pellington’s fondness of going into lengthy verbal monologues which again end up too preachy and artificial.

One segment has a character ranting about nostalgic artifacts compared to social media.  The character complains that in the past memories could be obtained from written notebooks or diaries but now in the age of electronic social media, all is lost when someone goes.  This is not true, as more can be stored on devices like icloud (an unlimited number of photographs and documents).  All one needs to do is to pass down the password, or if not, a tech savvy expert could likely unlock the nostalgia there.

NOSTALGIA ironically will end up a forgettable film, unless a memorable one for all the wrong reasons.


HIGHLIGHTS: January 2018 EUROPEAN Festival

Film Review: BE THE ONE, Switzerland, Crime/Music Video

A five minute  experimental music video from Switzerland, BE THE ONE is a strongly visual and deeply gritty crime-centric piece. Two charismatic robbers enter a strip club to do a deal and must face a host of equally rough-and-tumble archetypes along the way.

Powerfully cinematic with its style and approach, this music video boasts a high production value and strong artistic license. Laced with nuance, it is worth watching twice to catch the small details that pull the piece together. As with many music videos, the cinematic story itself is highly dependant on the musical component, but the visual work in BE THE ONE compliments the musical score extremely well.  A strong, emotional musical piece paired with strong emotional visuals makes a powerful experimental film that is satisfying on many levels. A rollercoaster joy ride of bad-boy wish-fulfillment, BE THE ONE is an escapist fantasy.  

Review by Kierston Drier

PLAYED at the January 2018 EUROPEAN Film Festival.

WATCH the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

BE THE ONE, 5min., Switzerland, Crime/Music Video
Directed by Remo Fritzsche Two charismatic robbers face a variety of strong stereotypes and a major twist while attempting to obtain a mysterious bag from their adversaries.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!