ReelAsian 2018 Festival Review: MIRAI (Japan 2018) ***

Mirai Poster

A young boy encounters a magical garden which enables him to travel through time and meet his relatives from different eras, with guidance by his younger sister from the future.


Mamoru Hosoda


Mamoru Hosoda

Director Mamoru Hosoda’s (he started his own animated studio Studio Chizu) MIRAI is his third feature after his studios’s WOLF CHILDREN and THE BOY AND THE BEAST.  Again his interest in children and their fantasies are under consideration in his latest tale from the point of view of young Kun, the elder son in a typical Japanese family.  When the film opens, Kun is greeted with the arrival of a new born baby sister.  Things around the house are altered, as father now tends to the household chores of cleaning and cooking while mother goes on full time work.  

Emotions like jealousy and anger start to emerge.  Kun fantasizes meeting his sister when she is grown up as well as his dog, humanized while shown how to ride a bike by his late great grandfather who was in the Japanese navy.  The film’s animation is somewhat similar to Studio Ghibli’s in look and feel, especially since both studios are fond of animal creatures and Japanese folklore.  

MIRAI is simplistic in its theme, just about a boy growing up, and it is this simplicity that the film works its charm.


Film Review: TAKE LIGHT (Canada 2018) ***1/2

Take Light Poster

TAKE LIGHT is a look at the tangled wires of Nigeria’s electricity crisis, told through the everyday trials and tribulations of a charismatic electrician.


Shasha Nakhai

A web of corruption and anger leaves 50% of Nigerians without electricity in Africa’s largest energy-producing country.  The film opens saying that Nigeria produces more gas than any state in Africa.  Yet 50% of the population are without electricity and those who are with have it for a few hours at most.  The film blames the corrupt post-colonial Government.  These are everyday stories of people connected to the grid.

Being an electrical engineering by profession who got a job at Singapore Power but did not work there as I just got my Canadian immigration approved at that same time, I take special interest in the technical portions of the film – like how the control room at the power plant operates.  The director keeps the engineering jargon at a minimum so that the layman can understand the basic principles of power generation, such as the reason blackouts occur.  The reason is attributed to two causes.

Despite the grim subject, the director does not fail to provide some needed humour.  The film also tracks the PHED workers as they cut off electricity supply to the cities that default on their payments.  The PHED is the new name for the Government Power Supply company though every Nigerian still insists on the old name – NEPA (acronym: Never Expect Power Again).  In a humours spill, they say that the are the most hated employees in Nigeria.  Everyone also thinks they are corrupt.  One swears that on the job application form, one has to declare that one is corrupt.  Also interviewed are James and Harry, in the words of Harry: “We are James and harry, two angry men on YouTube.”  They complain about the dwindling value of the currency.

A few reasons to see TAKE LIGHT:  one is that few films provide a glimpse inside the country of Nigeria and her people.  The second is a fairly understandable examination of the workings of a electricity power plant.  The third is to witness how the Nigerians deal with public corruption.

One of the film’s most intriguing segments shows Godwin, a illegal Nigeria electrician at work.  He studied electrical in school, is smart and works under the cover of darkness.  “We youth are tired of empty promises,” he says.  “We are smarter that PHED and we move fast, without safety measures.”

The film shows two sides of the argument.  The camera follows the citizens complaining about power outages.  The PHED or NEFA CEO, Jay McCowsky is interviewed mid-point during the film.  The film also includes a very disturbing image of from space, at night. Nigeria is awash in light.  But the glow almost entirely flares from oil and gas wells – accelerating global warming and polluting the planet.  The country, with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, leaves half its population without electricity, and the rest with erratic service.

Before its opening run, TAKE LIGHT has a Special Event Screening on October 29,  2018 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema where director Shasha Nakhai, Cinematographer/Editor Rich Williamson, Producer Ed Barreveld (who also narrated the doc) will be in attendance and holding a Q+A following the screening.



Movie Review

Directed by Tony Gilroy
Starring: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
Review by Matthew Toffolo


A pair of corporate spies (Owen and Roberts) who share a steamy past hook up to pull off the ultimate con job on their respective bosses — but can they learn to truly love and trust one another?


If there is any type of film that I am biased about, it's the figuring out who done it/how to pull off a great con in a complex step by step plan film. I love these movies, perhaps because I personally am exactly like these people.

No, I am not a conman, but I do like to make a plan and these plans are usually very complex and hard to pull off. The trick is to bring something to the world without having any trace that you are the one who did it. OR, in the case of these types of film, pulling off a scam without people realizing that you pulled off the scam.

Duplicity has the right title because this is the type of film that is part thriller, part romantic comedy, part crime drama. You don't really know what you're getting into when you sit down to watch it and the film's overall TONE is the exact opposite in the film's trailer and marketing concept to sell the movie to audiences. They are trying to tell us one thing whereas the film itself is another thing entirely. And people might be thrown off because of it.

I do have to admit I was very confused by these selling trailers because Director and Writer Tony Gilroy is not the type to make an all out romantic comedy. He's the man who wrote the screenplay's for all three Bourne movies and then gave us the terrific Michael Clayton in 2007, a film that I consider to be the most underrated film of this decade.

Gilroy's overall writing (and now directing) grammar is about people caught in the complex corporate system of our society. And how these people are all just ponds on the chess board who can easily be killed off without a hitch to serve and benefit their overall game. And his character's journeys are their attempts to beat the system and come out clean. But you can never come out clean as soon as you enter the game.

Duplicity is just like his past films with the only difference being that there is a love story in between the moments of the capitalism game. Clive Owen and Julia Robert's characters have come up with their own scheme to beat the big boys at their game. So for two hours we watch to see if they will win this game and outduel the masters at their own game or not. And there is definitely a surprise ending that will occur, something that I was shocked about.

Interesting thing about screen connections. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts definitely have fantastic chemistry. They are this generations Bogart and Bacall. We love them and want them to be together as soon as we see them. There are 7 scenes in the film of them just standing across from each other talking and nothing else and we are completely into it emotionally. Only two people with on screen connection like this can pull this off. And Gilroy uses it to his advantage.

The key to Duplicity is for us to like and believe that these two characters are in love with each other. They are both the middle-management version of the spy game and know they only have a short time left. And what's next for them? Is there a spy retirement home? These characters want to get away and they have figured out a plan to make some money and scam the people who have been scamming them for years.

All I can say is that you should never underestimate the Chief Operating Officers of gigantic corporations. They are on top for a reason. (but of course as of the writing of this review 21/03/2009, there is a certain rolling of the eyes with a comment like that)

I enjoyed this film and I can't wait to see what Gilroy does next. And Julia Roberts seems to have really leaped as an actress. After Mike Nichols shot her in Closer (2004), Ms. Roberts is letting the cinematographers of her films to shoot her anyway that suits her role and overall theme of the movie she's in. If you look at her past film roles, she is always shot from a Hollywood angle and there is never a hair out of place. The older she's getting, the more free she's becoming. And it usually works the opposite for female stars.

This movie might get lost in the shuffle in 2009, but it’s an entertaining movie that should be seen.


Movie Reviews

Directed by Ryan Murphy

Cast: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Ali Khan
Review by Joshua Starnes


Happily married Elizabeth Gilbert (Roberts) takes a right turn in her life by enduring a painful divorce and proceeding to take a round-the-world journey of self-enlightenment and fulfillment.


Do you know what the most interesting thing in the world to you is? You. Do you know what the least interesting thing in the world to anyone else is? You.

That’s not entirely true because people have relationships and empathy, but I think we can safely call it 95% true. So how do you get around that problem in a story that is essentially about you? As an author or filmmaker you can either make your ‘you’ stand-in so likeable and/or universal that everyone else sees themselves in it and goes along for the ride out of shared experience. Or you can make your stand-in such a vehicle for ridiculous wish fulfillment that everyone else comes along to pretend the have the shared experience.

A lot of movies like “Eat Pray Love” like to pretend to themselves they’re the first kind of story, without realizing (or actively) ignoring the fact they are the second, resulting in something that is simultaneously preachy and shallow, which is about as aggravating as it sounds. Try imagining one of the ‘Real Housewives’ of wherever explaining to you what you need to do reach spiritual enlightenment. Well, maybe not that shallow but certainly that immature.


Liz (Julia Roberts) isn’t happy with life. She doesn’t know why, she just is. She married her goofball husband (Billy Crudup) too early to realize that wasn’t what she wanted and the affair she has with a young actor (James Franco) doesn’t make things any clearer. Her only solution is to check out of life: travel to several countries (all beginning with the all important letter I) so that she can spend some time focusing on herself and what it is she really wants.

The thing is what Liz really wants is to be 20 again, with the wonderful expanse of life ahead of her and none of the cynical realizations of maturity to keep her from enjoying it. If that sounds really, really hard to relate to, it is. Liz maybe the most unlikeable character Julia Roberts has ever had to play, not because co-writer/director Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) is trying to make her so (and eventually redeem her) but because everything the film does pushes her in that direction.

I suspect that’s because his eye is less on his characters than it is on the loving, beautiful travelogue he has put together of Italy and Indonesia and India. Especially Italy. Sure, it’s the part of the movie that’s supposed to be about giving in to physical pleasures as a real thing not to feel guilty about, but it also seems to be the only part of the movie anyone making it really understands because it’s the only part that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. I swear to God, they spent longer lovingly lighting the spaghetti under Robert Richardson’s watchful eye than they did trying figure out why on Earth anyone would ever like Liz.

However as it moves into its spiritual journey, with Liz embracing her inner ashram in India and her attempt to balance the competing desires of her heart of India, “Eat Pray Love” reveals itself to be the con man it is. It knows people want to have their cake and eat it too, and it’s going to do its best to give it to them, while spinning just enough spiritual platitudes to make sure you’re not really paying attention to the smoke and mirrors.

After a year of discovering herself Liz literally runs into a dashing Brazilian ex-pat (Javier Bardem) in Bali with all the finesse of a Harlequin romance and has to wonder if it was all for naught and all she really needed was someone else to make her happy after all. It’s the sort of thing people rake “Sex and the City” over the coals for but at least they had the honesty to be up front about it.

There are some descent supporting performances scattered in “Eat Pray Love” from Richard Jenkin’s sloganeering Texas pilgrim to Viola Davis as Liz’s publisher and one and only model of sanity in the world. But they’re not enough to turn the tide that is all, all about Liz.

“Eat Pray Love” is the shallowest of shallow wish fulfillment, which wouldn’t be so obnoxious if it wasn’t trying to gussy itself up with the clothing of enlightenment. But maybe I’m the one who’s cynical. If I met the supermodel of my dreams on a beach in Bali, I’d probably get over any personal problems I had, too.



Movie Reviews

Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, Kimberly Scott
Review by Melissa R. Mendelson


Medical students begin to explore the realm of near death experiences, hoping for insights. Each has their heart stopped and is revived. They begin having flashes of walking nightmares from their childhood, reflecting sins they committed or had committed against them. The experiences continue to intensify, and they begin to be physically beaten by their visions as they try and go deeper into the death experience to find a cure.

NOMINATED for Best Special Effects OSCAR


What is our fascination with death? What feeds our need to know more? Is it fear that there is nothing waiting on the other side, or is it wonder to know if life exists beyond life? What drives our imagination to create so many movies based on death, and why must we feel drawn to watching and hearing every story made and written? What really lies deep within our fascination?

With every step into this world, we experience life. Mistakes made and that could never be changed haunt us. Loved ones leave us too soon, and some still carry the blame of not doing enough, not being there, and living on beyond them. Taking every moment for granted and breaking all the rules is one road many take, but how far will they reach toward the end? The definition of life is the sum of all of our experiences, but once we experience death, what would define us then?

The hunger to know what really lies beyond, to prove that life still exists after death fuels one man’s bold experiment to cross that divide. Pulling a team of young, talented minds together, one doctor, Nelson puts the question to the test and places his life literally on the line. The sound of his heart races along the monitor, and minutes later… Flatline.

After a brief struggle to regain his life, the team succeeds in bringing Nelson back to the world of the living, but what they don’t realize is that he does not return alone. And one after another, members of the team take turns “walking on the moon” and experiencing life beyond death, but one by one, they discover that their amazing adventure comes with a heavy price. And there is no turning back.

The past has always stayed one footstep behind, but when you experience death, it now walks ahead but then turns around to stare you right in the face. All the mistakes that you could never erase wait to strike back. All your selfish, ruthless acts wait to taunt you. All the ones that you wronged get their revenge, and “in the end, we all know what we have done.”

The question of is there life after death has been answered, but what about all your sins let loose upon your life? How do you take back the past? How can you fight death?

Redemption. Face the past. Confront yourself. Admit being wrong and pay the price, but how can you, if the one you wronged is dead? Where do you go from there?

For one member of the team, opportunity reveals itself in her darkest moment. The blame that Rachel carried over her father’s death brings her face to face with the man that now haunts her, and no matter how hard she fights to escape, the past was waiting for her. And her father slowly rises to meet her and asks for her forgiveness, embracing her in his love, and all the blame that has held her prisoner for so long melts away. And her father’s spirit is finally at rest.

But for Nelson to find his redemption, he would once again have to cross that divide, and there was no coming back. He would confront his past, right his wrongs, and sacrifice his life. This was all his doing and his price to pay, and his heart frantically beats along the monitor. Minutes later… Flatline.

And the team hurries to his rescue, a race against time, but death is against them. And after a long struggle, they surrender, admitting defeat. The question of is there life beyond death should never been answered because you open a door that could never be closed afterward, and a heavy price has to be paid. But would they pay for it with Nelson’s life, and the answer is… No, and again they try to save him. And in the end… “Today is not a good day to die.”

With the heart and soul of a talented cast, brilliant writing, and a perfect example of a classic movie, Flatliners breaks ground in our hunt to know what lies across the divide between life and death. The storyline carries us through flickering, illuminated lights of experience, the past lying in red, and into the darkness, where the ghosts are waiting. We are carried along waves of passion and dedication by actors bringing their characters to life, and they captivate us in their struggle against what lies in wait. And the music lifts our spirits, touches our hearts, and carries us off in the end, and this movie marks forever a deep impression in our hunt to know life beyond death.


Movie Reviews

Directed by Hebert Ross
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts
Review by Matthew Toffolo


Revolving around Truvy’s Beauty Parlor in a small parish in modern-day Louisiana. A film about female friendship. The funniest movie ever to make you cry.


Steel Magnolias was one of three films that we owned when I was a kid growing up. The other two being Lethal Weapon 2 and When Harry Met Sally. Why we owned those films I had no idea, but I burned out the tapes after many viewings.

I had no idea what I was going to do with my life when I was 12-13 years old, All I knew is that I loved watching movies. But back then it was a world of only 5 TV channels, renting a movie at the video store was a big thing, and going to a movie theater was as rare as rain in Los Angeles. So Steel Magnolias was one of those films that I’ve seen many times. I hadn’t seen it in years until recently and it still stands the test of time.

This is a movie about friendship with a group of southern woman living in Louisiana. It could of easily been a movie about friendship of a group of athletes in a football locker room. The themes will remain the same. There is a lot of love in this movie and it was love that I craved for as a child, which is why I kept watching this film over and over again.

Only later did I realize that this is what they called a chick flick. And men weren’t supposed to watch this type of movie. So I abandoned Steel Magolias in my teenage years never to be watched again until 2009. Of course this is just silly stuff and I’m sure men would like these ‘chick flicks’ a lot more than woman do. After all, what better way understand women than to watch a movie about women?

I also grew up with a mother and two older sisters, so my influences growing up were mainly females. With their friends and other female family members, my mother and sisters formed a clan just like the women did in at the beauty shop in Steel Magnolias. A clan I attempted to join but was not welcome. They couldn’t talk the same when a boy was in presence. Of course I listened anyway as I eavesdropped on their conversations so I could hear what they talked about. A talent I formed then and continue to use to this day.

When the girls got together it was usually to talk about men and gossip about other woman. Why they were so fascinated about other people always blew my mind. After awhile the talk began a version of the same thing every time and that was when I fell in love with baseball and football. So I left the group of women behind and began to form or belong to my own male groups. In hindsight you sort of wish that there are more opportunities in life for woman and men to merge. But I guess these days there is, because almost as many men now go to beauty shops as woman do.

Watching Steel Magnolias was like watching my own mother and sisters. Except in the movie they were a lot nicer and the gossip talk always started with a rationalization to why they are speaking about someone else when they aren’t present. Gossip they did while they also learn a lot about themselves and their deep love to each other.

I loved the themes of this film and all of the performances are top notch. I always found it unfair that the male characters all had limited scenes but of course compared to almost every other Hollywood movie, this is a silly statement. Hollywood needs to tell more stories like this. And there are a ton of female actors who are ready and waiting for them.


Film Review: SCIENCE FAIR (USA 2018) ***1/2

Science Fair Poster

Nine high school students from disparate corners of the globe navigate rivalries, setbacks, and hormones on their quest to win the international science fair. Only one can be named “Best in Fair.”

School kids giving their best for some world competition has always made good fodder for feel-good, inspiration and entertaining documentaries.  Spelling bees, ballroom dancing have successful source material and now science projects in a typical school science fair.  Hopefully these projects will do the world a change and make it a better place.  Yes, the children are our future!

SCIENCE FAIR follows nine high school students as they navigate rivalries, hiccups and triumphs on their journey to compete at the 2017 International Science and EngineeringFair (ISEF) in LA.  As 1,700 of the smartest, quirkiest teens from 78 countries face off, the stakes are high for the fair’s $75,000 top prize.

The film does well to make the subject personal as these students are interviewed and tell the camera their aspirations and goals in life.  The audience sees these kids as both highly intelligent talent as well as normal children wanting to have a good time while attaining their goals.

Choosing which nine students from the seven million that try to qualify for ISEF must have been a daunting task for directors.  And why 9?  9 seems an appropriate number to show differences and variety in the film.  I am sure whichever 9 the directors would have picked – the nine would still be interesting – so it is clear the most charismatic the ones chosen the better and the more eclectic the better, which appears to be the case in the film.

Among the 9 students: A West Virginia math whiz nearly failed algebra, yet he taught a computer to rap like Kanye West.  At a sports-obsessed South Dakota school, a Muslim girl turns to the football coach when she can’t find a teacher to serve as her research advisor.  In a poor Brazilian area, two friends identify a protein that inhibits the Zika virus.  In Germany, an aeronautics fanatic redesigns a century-old wing.  But will it fly?  Then there’s the Kentucky trio who invent a new kind of stethoscope and, from the same school, a child prodigy who deals with a set-back.

There is nothing wrong too with a touch of nostalgia.  Also interviewed are 93-year old Dr. Paul Teschen, winner of the first-ever national science competition in 1942, and Dr. Nina Schor, the first girl to win after boys and girls were allowed to compete against each other.  Script is by Jeffrey Plunket, Costantini and Foster.  Costantini and Foster also collaborated on the award-winning short documentary Death by Fentanyl.

One cannot argue that SCIENCE FAIR lacks spirit.  The film’s most energetic segment sees the finalists dancing up a storm at a dance party.  Consider the background of the doc’s two directors.  But Costantini is a two-time alumna of ISEF, thus giving her an insight into 

the scene.  Foster was a science kid too, but he admits that the level at which Costantini competed was another world.  She even skipped going to the junior prom with her high school crush so she could compete at science fair.  Dedication and obsession!

SCIENCE FAIR is a very entertaining and inspirational documentary that went on to win the Audience Award winner at both the 2018 Sundance and SXSW festivals.  SCIENCE FAIR is not the kind of doc that would go on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary but the best thing is that it is such a pleasurable and easy yet inspirational watch.