Full Review: PORCUPINE LAKE (Canada 2017) ***1/2

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Porcupine Lake Poster

Porcupine Lake is a story of bravery and the secret life of girls set in Northern Ontario during a hot and hazy summertime when adulthood has not yet arrived, but childhood is quickly vanishing.


Ingrid Veninger


Canada’s darling Ingrid Veninger has always been a director of films with strong female content.  Who then best to write and direct PORCUPINE LAKE, a story of bravery and the secret life of girls set in Georgian Bay, Northern Ontario during a hot and hazy summertime when adulthood has not yet arrived, but childhood is quickly vanishing?  

Verninger has made low budget Canadian films that have gone on to win many awards.  ONLY, MODRA, i am a good person/i am a bad person are her most popular ones.  They all reflect the ease of Veninger’s craft and are personal yet entertaining features.

Port Severn is displayed proudly on a sign in one of the film’s scenes.  This is a beautiful yet quiet region that a few tourists venture to, for good old Canadian nature.  Veninger has chosen an appropriate and pretty place for her film’s setting, that few films have.  Another scene has a Canadian flag on a pole.

Ally (Delphine Roussel) arrives with 13-year old daughter, Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) in tow from Toronto to meet up with her husband, Scotty (Christopher Bolton).   Bea learns through a local, Kate (Australian Lucinda Armstrong Hall) independence, as well as the facts of life about boys and growing up.  All Be a wants is a friend she can hang around with.  As they say, be careful what you wish for.  Kate is the companionship Bea’s mother is unable to offer, and the two bond a strong friendship.  But Kate is sometimes a friend from hell.  Kate teaches Be a nasty things, like practical French kissing and some facts of life.

Verninger is quick to insert conflict into her characters.  In one scene she has Scotty talking about keeping his store (place) within his family and another next scene with Ally telling another person about selling the place.  Another has Bea keen to sleep over at her friend’s with Scotty asking Ally to let her.  “Please don’t,’ says Ally to Scott right after.  Most of the conflict occurs between couples, as can be seen in other instances in this film and in her others, perhaps reflecting director Veninger’s personal experiences (not a bad thing) with conflict with her relationships.

The climx of PORCUPINE LAKE is whether Kate will end up going to Toronto with Bea.  Kate wants to go and Bea loves for her to come along.  The mothers object for obvious reasons.

PORCUPINE LAKE is the most ambitious and strongest of Veninger’s films (also beautifully shot by Benjamin Lichty), her popular film ONLY being screened at a local cinema that Bea and Kate attend at one point in the film.  Veninger proves once again, she is always in control of her material and meticulously drives her film to its emotional climax and coming-of-age message.  The film works because Verninger shows she understands her characters, all of whom undergo development for the better.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0Lm-EC3e5s

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Film Review: MY PIECE OF THE CITY (Canada 2017) ***

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This feature documentary explores the revitalization of Regent Park through the youth who live there as they navigate the challenges of performing in the musical showcase called ‘The Journey’.


Moze Mossanen


Moze Mossanen

Every year, young people from Regent Park come together to perform “The Journey”, a musical exploring the complex history of their community’s revitalization, one of North America’s largest urban transformations.  The young artists come together to perform THE JOURNEY, a musical that helps them explore various challenges during this crucial period of their lives.  MY PIECE OF THE CITY is the new Canadian documentary that follows these young artists as they create the building blocks of the show, soar with their own artistry, and explore all that they have lost and gained as a new world builds around them.    

The transformations are shown in archive footage showing the old buildings together with the new.

Regent Park first started as a residential estate where there are no roads or streets entering it.  It therefore formed a bubble in the city of Toronto, different from other housing estates.  But this no-streets community became enclosed resulting in high crime of violence and drug dealing with the result of run-down buildings that finally had to be demolished to make for the new.  MY PIECE OF THE CITY is a documentary that tells the stories of the resident of Regent Park – both old and new, from different cultures as far as Brazil and Jamaica all striving to make their lives a better living.  Among the interviewees who have their say are Jackie Richardson, Alana Bridgewater and Jeremiah Sparks.  The documentary captures the hard work and drive of these people, often touching and moving mainly because these rare real people dealing with real problems.  

One character at one point in the doc says how she first came from Jamaica to Canada and this is the only Canada she know.  Another complains about the old community that is lost and how new residents fail to see the history of the community.

This is a story of poor people in a poor community.  Still, it is powerful to see how these people try to make the best of what they have.  The film also shows the difficulty of putting up the musical.  At one point, the organizer loses it for the participants not showing up for rehearsals on time.

MY PEACE OF THE CITY opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox Friday 23rd of February with a Question and Answer session at the 7 pm showing with its director Moze Mossanen.  In his own words: “I am more than thrilled to have “My Piece of the City” screen at the TIFF Lightbox as we’ll be able to share this extraordinary and moving story about the young artists in Regent Park with a larger part of our great city.  The transformation of Regent Park is one of the key turning points in Toronto’s evolution and I’m truly grateful to the programmers at TIFF for shining a light on this important moment as well as the people who are partners in this transformation.” 

This is a small doc with a running time of just an hour that might be a hard sell at today’s box-office. Still MY PIECE OF THE CITY is a quiet important piece that is well worth ones time at the cinema.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/237568333


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Interview with Festival Director Elena Altman (BASH- Bay Area Short Film Festival)

BASH – Bay Area Shorts Film Festival takes place at the ROXIE Historical Theater in San Francisco, CA- Each year, the Annual BASH Film Festival will continue its tradition of showcasing a diverse sampling of BAY AREA made shorts and mini features, award-winning directors along with amateurs breaking in the industry and blowing everyone away..


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

Elena Altman: Providing an Excellent Platform for Bay Area Filmmakers to Showcase their Work.

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

Expect to see the Top Selected Bay Area Made Short Films Showcasing and Vote for Your Favorite Bay Area Film of 2018!

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

They must be Bay Area Made to Qualify

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

I think that there are so many movies being submitted these days, that it is hard to get chosen.

5) What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

We want to continue to provide Bay Area filmmakers with a place to showcase their work.

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

Very easy

7) Where do you see the festival by 2020?

We hope to run in more often and in more theaters around the Bay.

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

I would have to say Beetlejuice – lol

9) In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Good story, great acting, and amazing camera work!

10) How is the film scene in your city?

Very much alive and thriving! /


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!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLegoO4NdD8

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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.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPiVZj8Mm7o

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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.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7MR5MsIoSQ


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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.