Film Review: RACETIME (Canada 2018) ***

Racetime Poster

A spectacular sled race through the village. Frankie-Four-Eyes and his team, including Sophie as the driver, take on the newcomers: the mysterious and conceited Zac and his athletic cousin … See full summary »

If the Canadian (Quebecois) animated feature’s characters look family, you might have seen the film THE DOG WHO STOPPED THE WAR which RACETIME is based on or SNOWTIME which is its prequel.  RACETIME, as its title implies is a race of sleds. 

The subject is the  spectacular sled race through the village. Frankie-Four-Eyes and his team, including Sophie as the driver, take on the newcomers: the mysterious and conceited Zac and his athletic cousin Charly.  The fantastic sled designed by Frankie disintegrates right before crossing the finish line.  This becomes the most bitter loss for Frankie who refuses to accept that he might have made some building mistakes.  Frankie gets into  a fight with Sophie who blames the sled.  Together with his friends, Frankie manages to prove that Zac cheated during the race.  Frankie demands a rematch; which Zac accepts on condition that Frankie build an entirely new race track. Frankie and his friends build a spectacular race track. Zac realizes he is up against a worthy opponent so he raises the stakes even more by cornering Frankie into betting the barn.  As the two teams prepare for race day, Zac has no scruples about cheating even more to weight the outcome of the race in his favour.  But Frankie and his team have a few surprises of their own in store for him.

The Canadian animation can nowhere be compared to the animation of Disney and Pixar studios.  But RACETIME holds it own.  What it might lack in technology is compensated by creativity.  The animation fo the races, the one at the start and the climatic one are both brilliantly conceived and executed with the sleds soaring into the air, while the sleds turn as if cameras were placed in the real sleds.  The snow in the animated scenes also looked remarkable real.

The film could do with a solid villain or a nastier Zac than one who merely cheats.  The part where Frankie befriends his nemesis treads clichéd territory.  However, this can be forgiven for a family film.

The film contains a few scenes with blurry images and a few where objects are flung out (like snow pellets) of the screen.  RACETIME must have been conceived as a 3-D film at one point.

Of all the voice characterizations, the best one is Frankie’s.  Frankie is voiced, surprisingly by a female, Lucinda Davis, who has to ability to make even the most ordinary of lines like ‘How dare you?’  funny.

For the audience who likes a bit of romance in the story, there is a sub-plot involving the strongest kid in the village, Chuck and Charly, the sister of the cheating Zac.  The film also contains a few messages for the young audience – put in for good measure.

There are a few song and dance numbers -the songs courtesy of Cindi Lauper.  The animated dance sequence at the end to celebrate the winner  of the race is also sufficiently lively.

RACETIME turns out to be an entertaining harmless family romp (never mind the one fart joke), credit to the Canadian and Quebec filmmakers.


Film Review: VIRUS TROPICAL (Ecuador/Colombia 2017) ****

Virus Tropical Poster
Paola is born in a traditional Colombian family, or at least that is what they try to be. Her father is a priest, her mother is a “psychic” and her sisters are not what their parents … See full summary »


Santiago Caicedo


Entique LozanoPaola Gaviria (as Powerpaola)

This full length animated feature is inspired by the graphic novel by the Colombian-Ecuadorian illustrator Power Paola, and directed by Santiago Caicedo,  TROPICAL VIRUS is so called because when Paolita’s (as Paola is called) mother had her in her womb, the doctors told the mother that she was not pregnant and had contacted a tropical virus.  She conceived anyway going birth to Paolita, the youngest of three sisters.

  The film  a shows us the life of the Gaviria family, seen from the perspective of her, from her unexpected birth to the inevitable journey to reside in another country.  Paolitia faces a series of events that will change her perception of the world that surrounds her.  Caidedo’s film is high spirited, full of keen observations, totally femminist and totally delightful an refreshing.  It is a coming-of-age stay set in a foreign place (Ecuador and Colombia) though the problems encountered by the young protagonist is common to all.  

The animation is simple but stylist offering a different look in an animated film.


Interview with Festival Director Anastasia Cazabon (GRRL HAUS CINEMA)

 GRRL HAUS CINEMA is an ongoing program of short films and video art made by women. A mix of local, national, and international artists present work from a variety of disciplines: narrative, documentary, experimental, and conceptual. With an emphasis on low budget and DIY, GRRL HAUS is a space for underrepresented voices in the arts today.

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

Anastasia Cazabon: GRRL HAUS CINEMA began as a way to showcase short films and video art by women directors. We show films by emerging filmmakers, many who have just started their journey into filmmaking.

2) What would you expect to experience if you attend your upcoming festival?

We put on multiple events throughout the year. We have screenings every other month at IL KINO Berlin. End of the year screenings at The Brattle theatre in Cambridge MA, USA. And then many other screenings dispersed through the year. Some past venues include, The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers, WORM Rotterdam, Oblomov Kreuzkolln, Loophole Berlin and Dorchester Art Project.

Some events are more traditional movie-going events in cinemas, and others are in DIY spaces. We have had events that have included art exhibitions, bands, vendors, performance art, dancers and DJ’s.

So every event is different, but they all have a common theme in celebrating women filmmakers and artists.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

The qualifications is that the film must have been directed by a women (female identifying) . And the film must be less than 30 min.

We try to select films without distribution and lower budget.

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

I think it’s pretty hard for many low budget films to compete with higher budget and distributed films. Which is unfortunate because lower budget doesn’t mean lower quality – this is one of the reasons that GRRL HAUS exists, to give an audience to these amazing films.

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

GRRL HAUS events are really fun to put on, and seeing the filmmakers at the events is a great experience. Many of the filmmakers we feature are just starting out and have never shown their films to a public audience, so giving them this opportunity really motivates us.

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

The FilmFreeway process as been great. It’s a really great platform to view films and super user friendly.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023?

I see the festival expanding to different locations and growing as a community of filmmakers.

In Berlin, we have recently began short-term residencies for filmmakers. Where we will be showcasing 2-3 international filmmakers at a time, with three opportunities for public screenings.

So I hope to continue with different events and ways of giving female filmmakers a platform.

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

That’s really hard to say- I’ve watched a lot of movies, and I re-watch a lot of movies. Let’s say Mulholland Drive, Daisies, Vertigo and Dazed and Confused.

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

When every element involved – cinematography, screenplay, sound, acting, editing, etc- comes together seamlessly, for the same artistic purpose.

10) How is the film scene in your city?

GRRL HAUS is currently located in Berlin. The film and art scene is incredible here and thriving.




 girr haus 1


Hale County This Morning, This Evening Poster

Composed of intimate and unencumbered moments of people in a community, this film is constructed in a form that allows the viewer an emotive impression of the Historic South – trumpeting … See full summary »


RaMell Ross


RaMell RossMaya Krinsky (co-writer)

This nonfiction documentary debut and  U.S. Documentary Sundance Award winner by RaMell Ross is a minimalist doc about the lives of black people in Hale County, Alabama.  Running just about an hour and a quarter, Ross picks a few people to focus his points on.

The film shows the limited opportunities available to the citizens of Hale.  The film opens with the first subject who specializes in psychology and basketball.  There are extended scenes with subjects practice basketball giving the film the feel of an art movie.  It is for this reason that the film could have got the rave reviews but the capsuled film is lacking in many areas.

For one only the blacks are centred.  Very little is heard or revealed on the white pollution – even whether they are a minority, as if they did not matter one bit.  The film is pessimistic in outlook.  Nothing is mentioned of the decrease in unemployment or the increase in voter turnout in the years following the film being made  The film generalizes from just the few subjects chosen on camera.

There are two main subjects on show.  The other is a black kid called Daniel.  He is shown to be a kind of anti-social wild person that one would stay clear away from.  The film attributes the cause to be his upbringing where his grandmother prevented his mother from raising him.  Daniel is a very angry teen.  Daniel blames his mother, who on camera confesses that it was not her fault.  On one occasion, she tried to get her son back but with little success.  The grandmother called the cops on her.  This intimate section brings some life into the doc.

Having a background in photography, director Ross’s simple film is beautiful to look at, in a simple way, without glamour or special effects.  This suits the mood of the lives of the simple Hale County citizens on display.

It is hard to fault small well-intentioned films like HALE COUNTY which aims low and needs little research, contains no whistleblowing and ruffles few feathers.  It is easier to find faults with larger docs which have more chance of making errors.  HALE COUNTY also provides no answers to the problems of poverty and racial image brought up.  But the film offers a rare look at the African American in small towns in the black belt region of the U.S. instead of big or inner cities.

Narration is minimal and replaced by interwoven images, a few of which are long takes.  One shows Daniel, all sweaty practicing basketball on his own.  This is one long take of a practice that could have lasted hours.

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING is a film the many have not heard of – then suddenly appears out of nowhere for a limited engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  It is also thanks to Bell Lightbox that small films like this one have a chance at being seen.


Film Review: GLASS (USA 2018)

Glass Poster

Security guard David Dunn uses his supernatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities.


M. Night ShyamalanM. Night Shyamalan (characters)

GLASS is a superhero thriller written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film is a sequel to Shyamalan’s previous films UNBREAKABLE (2000) and SPLIT(2016), cumulatively forming the Eastrail 177 Trilogy.  All the main stars are present – Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard who reprise their Unbreakable roles, while James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy return as their Split characters.

The premise is the fight between good and evil, the good being the super hero David Dunn (Willis) and the bad the McAvoy split characters.

The film opens two years after the events of SPLIT.   David Dunn (Willis) works with his now adult son Joseph (Clark) in using his superhuman abilities to protect people from criminals under a new alias known as “The Overseer”.   This part is incredibly silly and unbelievable.  David learns from Joseph that Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, has a group of cheerleaders held up in a warehouse.  David goes to free them after discovering the fact out of pure coincidence but encounters one of Kevin’s personalities known as “The Beast,” and the ensuing fight spills out into the streets.  The Philadelphia police department are called leading to the eventual capture of both David and Kevin.  Why David is brought in is never really explained as he has done no harm. The two are sent to a mental institution where Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), David’s sworn enemy, in another wild coincidence, is being held.

Shyamalan introduces a new character into the story.  Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is the head doctor of the mental institution and works with patients who claim to have special powers. In order to have them suppress those thoughts, she tries to persuade them that there is no such thing as superhuman powers and that they actually have a mental illness. Meanwhile, Elijah (Jackson) is secretly working with Kevin to unleash “The Beast” and expose the world to the existence of superheroes. With the help of “The Beast,” Elijah escapes but he is soon pursued by David, who again battles Kevin on the institution’s grounds.  The Dr. Staple character is the silliest of all the characters – coming off as a  pompous dumb bitch know-it-all who will obviously be roved wrong, cliche-wise at the end of the story.

At this point, the film appears to have gone through full circle with nothing at all accomplished.

GLASS is a trilogy of two UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT and this one.  A word of warning that one must be familiar with the other two films or end up completely lost in following the plot or characters in GLASS.  Director Shyamalan makes no attempt to update his audience to the current proceedings of GLASS.  

One point of observation.  This is the rare film where the actor Samuel L. Jackson’s character does not utter the ‘mf’ word.

Shyamalan make a guest cameo at a store in the film.  He sees David Dunn and mentions that he recognizes the man from the stadium where Dunn used to work security, stating that he used to do shady things when younger.  Those familiar with UNBREAKABLE will recall that Shyamalan gave himself a cameo in UNBREAKABLE selling drugs at the stadium.

There are many reasons that the word ‘split’ would apply to GLASS.  One is the main character from SPLIT portrayed by Jame McAvoy who is also one of the lead characters in GLASS.  Second, the film splits between the thriller and super action hero genres though unfortunately not blending well.  The fight scenes are minimal and the thrills and suspense are also unimpressive.  As GLASS contains two main characters, one from SPLIT and the other, the Bruce Willis superhero from UNBREAKABLE, there was debate regarding the film’s distribution.  Distribution is now split.  Universal now distributes the film in North American while Buena Vista (UNBREAKABLE was from Touchtone Pictures) internationally.  Willis’ performance is stoic while McAvoy’s is downright crazy as he switches from one personality to another instantly.  Director Shyamalan films often splits between the excellent (SIGNS, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT, THE VISIT) and the duds (LADY IN THE WATER, THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH).  Unfortunately, GLASS belongs to the latter category.  Audiences will undoubtedly be split on whether liking or hating GLASS.  But GLASS is long, boring, too dead serious on its subjects despite the general silliness overall.

At the promo screening, a fair portion of the audience stayed to the end of the closing credits as in SPLI there a was a surprise appearance of Bruce Willis at the ed of that film signalling the sequel GLASS.  No such luck in GLASS.


Film Review: THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING (USA/UK 2019) ****

The Kid Who Would Be King Poster

A band of kids embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace.


Joe Cornish


Joe Cornish

The film title THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is likely used due to familiarity with the medieval hit, John Huston’s 1975 Rudyard Kipling adaptation of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.   Don’t let either the title or the fact that this is a family film discourage you from seeing this picture.  Despite the film’s limitations of targeting a family audience, there is plenty to enjoy for adults. Also ignore the silly ad” “Kids Rule” that would turn off adults. 

The story follows Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) a young boy who is picked on at school and does not appear to be very special at all.  However, that soon changes when he finds and pulls King Arthur’s famous sword Excalibur in the neighbourhood construction site.  He discovers that he is destined to form a new round table for an upcoming battle with the medieval villain Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who summons evil forces to rule the world, after being banished by King Arthur.  All this information is revealed at the film’s prologue – animation style.  The wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie) assists Alex in his quest. He is depicted as a young incarnation of Merlin in the film but capable of transforming to his old self (Sir Patrick Stewart).

If Morgana’s evil forces, creatures made up dark black with infra-red eyes look familiar, these creatures bear an uncanny resemblance to the invading aliens in ATTACK ON THE BLOCK, a small first feature that was a hit.  And with solid reason.  KID is directed by that film’s same director Joe Cornish who has the talent of bringing his films filled with spirit, humour and imagination.

Performances are surprisingly spectacular.  Deserving of mention is relative newcomer Angus Imrie who plays the young Merlin, who suddenly appears as a new student to help Alex in his quest to save the world.  Also delivering a heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching performance is Denise Gough, an Olivier Award (British Theatre) winner who plays Alex’s mum.

The location where the fights and setting take place is stunningly captured on film by cinematographer Bill Pope.  The film is shot in the Cornwall area, south coast of England.  The film can also be considered to be a super action hero film, with Alex as the young schoolboy King Arthur type hero saving the world.  The film also has plenty of special effects to go with it – so action fans will be delighted.  The special effects is dished out small doses at a time with nothing much at the first half of the film but then coming out strong at the end creating a solid climax for the film.

Cornish’s clever script contains plenty of messages as if to mock films with messages.  These come on strong even at the beginning of the film.   “Telling the truth and doing the right thing.”  “The world doe not change – you do!”  “You do not need what you already have!”  “Use your enemies as your allies.”

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING is an often imaginative super hero adventure cleverly blending medieval times with the modern with lots of good messages from the director Joe Cornish who the TFCA (Toronto Film Critics Association) awarded the Best First Feature way back when for his equally impressive 2011 ATTACK ON THE BLOCK.  This film rules!


Film Review: STAN & OLLIE (USA/UK/Canada 2018) ***1/2

Stan & Ollie Poster

Laurel and Hardy, the world’s most famous comedy duo, attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain.


Jon S. Baird


Jeff Pope

STAN & OLLIE (or perhaps alternatively called LAUREL & HARDY) is a capsule biographical film of the two of the world’s most famous comedians and a tale of undying friendship.

The film is a biographical comedy-drama film directed by Jon S. Baird (from TV films and a few obscure theatrical films) from a screenplay by Jeff Pope.   The comedy is derived mainly from their acts on stage and Laurel’s s often smart mouths remarks while the drama is the story of their friendship and  Oliver’s illness). Based on the lives of the comedy double act Laurel and Hardy, the film stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It already premiered in October 2018 at the BFI London Film Festival.  The film had a limited release in the United States on 28 December 2018 and will be released widely in the United Kingdom, the United States and in Canada in January 2019.

The film is boosted by two outstanding performances.  Besides being impressionists, the actors have to act as well.  Both Coogan and Reilly enable audiences to forget who they really are but for their characters of Stan & Ollie.  It is a tough decision to see who does the better job.  Being American, Reilly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (the Golden Globe is more American than foreign press) while Brit Coogan got snubbed.  The other way around for the BFTA (British awards) where Coogan was nominated for the Best Actor award with Reilly up for nothing.

The film is a U.K. co-prodcution as most of the film is set in the U.K.  The film begins with the duo embarking on a gruelling music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland during 1953, and struggle to get another film made – their own (comedy) version of Robin Hood.  There is stop during the tour in Newcastle, though no-one during those segments speak with any Geordie accent.

The film’s narrative is choppy (the script picks up a few incidents in the duo’s lives that mostly affected their bonding) punctuated by the duo’s acts on stage with the dramatic set-pieces.  These acts are at least well performed.  The audience get to see their best acts performed by the impressionists, which shows both how good the acts are and how good the impressionists are as were the original performers.  

The film gets a bit sentimental at times, especially in the last scenes where Ollie is ill from poor health.  But the film’s two best segments are the dramatic confrontation where their friendship is tested and the comedy act where the two are supposed to meet by a change room but fail to see each other.

The shooting of the last performance on stage – the dance number routine by Stan & Ollie must also be commended.  The use of shadows, camera angles and editing to emphasize the talent of the duo is expertly done and watching the sequence is well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film ends appropriately with the epilogue that Ollie’s health deteriorated after the tour, leading to his death in 1957 and Stan’s eight years later in 1965. Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy in the last eight years of his life.