Film Review: 2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts (Documentary) **** Highly Recommended

Oscar nominated shorts will be screened at the Bell Lightbox from now (Feb 8th) till Oscar Presentation Day – on February the 24th.  There are 3 categories – animated; live action and live action documentary.

Watching shorts is a real treat and less tiring than watching a full length feature. Plus, not knowing what these shorts are about, one will surely be in for a nice surprise as well.

One thing about this program of shorts is that they are true stories about life and hardships.  The subjects of these docs are as different as night and day and range from the U.K. to India and Africa.  These are docs are both educational and entertaining and most will leave one teary-eyed as well.  Total length of program around 140 minutes.

BLACK SHEEP (USA 2018) ****
Directed by Ed Perkins

This gut-gut-wrenching emotional shocker has my vote for best doc short.  It all begins for rather innocently for a black kid Damilola Taylor returning from school.  A 10-year old school Nigerian boy has just been murdered in his neighbourhood.  Camilla finds his mother crying when he got home  The family move out of London (from Peckham to Essex) only for Damilola to find matters worse – in terms or racism in his new neighbourhood of all whites.  His first encounter is a young boy calling him nigger.  I understand and feel for Camilla as I experienced the same thing while in Ireland while walking when kids in a car made slanted eye faces at me.  The short works as what transpires is real and the enactment is terribly effective.  One can never predict how the narrative of the short will lead to making it even more intriguing.

END GAME (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Rob Epstien and Jeffrey Friedman

This doc follows medical practitioners and several patients as the patients live their last years of their lives.  The staff try their utmost best to make the patients comfortable and their last days meaningful., thus encouraging the audience to re-evaluate their own lives in the light of what is happening.  Many of the subjects in the film have now passed away.  END GAME is a very sad and needless to say, emotional film about life and death.

LIFEBOAT (USA 2018) ***

Directed by Skye Fitzgerald

This well intentioned short has the aim of informing audiences of the plight of refugees as they risk their lives for a better life.  The film has many disturbing scenes such as overcrowded raft lifeboats filled with refugees with their legs dangling over the side.  They have nowhere to do their business.  Many are sick with fever.  Many die  The short begins with  a search of dead bodies on a beach.  The film follows volunteers from a German non-profit organization as they risk the waves of the Mediterranean to pluck refugees from sinking rafts pushing off from Libya in the middle of the night.  LIFEBOAT puts a human face on one of the world’s greatest contemporary global crises and provides a spark of hope surrounding how civil society can intervene in the refugee crisis in a meaningful way.  Unfortunately, the narrative is fragmented resulting in the film seeming all over the place.  Still LIFEBOAT is quite the eye-opener.  This one will likely win the Oscar because its theme is the most current.


Directed by Marshall Curry

This is a short, black and white short doc that is no less disturbing for its theme.  Assembled from archive footage, A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN  details a ‘German-American Bund’ rally held at the Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939.  American Nazi leader Fritz Kuhn speaks to the gathered crowd when one man, 26-year-old Isadore Greenbaum, rushes the stage to protest the gathered National socialists.  What happens to Greenbaum is gut shattering.


Directed by Rayka Zehtabchi

This feminist (in such a good way that it will leave even the males cheering the women) short starts of on the ignorance of Indians on menstruation and slides from topic to topic ending with the manufacturing of women’s pads.  The film centres o a few Indian women from a rural village outies Delhi, India who strive to do more as women.  One wants to join the police force.  Others make, sell and market women’s pads.  This is the lightest of all the documentary shorts but no less educational, informative and entertaining.

Film Review: ISN’T IT ROMANTIC (USA 2019) ***

Isn't It Romantic Poster

A young woman disenchanted with love mysteriously finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy.


Erin Cardillo (screenplay by), Dana Fox (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is a romantic comedy that is supposed to be a satire of romanic comedies.  High aspirations!  The film plunges its protagonist, Natalie (Rebel Wilson) an Australian architect living in New York City into an alternative universe of the romantic comedy.   After being mugged and bumping her head, Natalie now lives, while being aware, of this alternative PG-13 Universe with the running joke that the ‘f’ word cannot possibly be uttered.  She must escape every cliche in order to find love and live happily ever after.

Nat finds the most handsome client at the office (Liam Hemsworth) speaking Australian and falling in love with her.  Hemsworth is Australian, so for him speaking like an Aussie is no problem.  But Natalie realizes that she should be with her best friend (Adam Levine) who she had previously in her past life totally ignored.  Natalie decides to go all out to get him back.

Rebel Wilson is the slightly plump Aussie comedian that has been popping up in supporting roles in films of recent years.  She is mostly annoying than funny.  Wilson is at least tolerable in this film where she is given the main lead, turning annoying into over-endearing.  It is too obvious that she is the pitiful girl that the audience should pity and root for and in the end go head-on cheering for.

Strauss-Schulson’s film is however, not without its pleasures.  The film’s best segment tis a romantic musical number set in a Karaoke bar where Natalie shows up to the couple’s party with the full intent of stealing the groom.  They break up into an over-the-top kitsch that is unexpected and refreshing, sort of like when Rupert Everett broke out into the lip-synching song: in MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING.  A similar musical number at the film’s end however loses its punch, not being able to beat the Karaoke one.

ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is described in the ads a a satirical fantasy film about romantic comedies.  A film is a satire if it tears its subject in this case the romantic comedy apart, disbelieving everything about it being true.  I generally do not consider romantic comedies as my favourite genre and I would love to see the concept of romantic comedies totally torn apart.  No such luck – ISN’T IT ROMANTIC, still falls into all the pratfalls of a rom-com.  It has a romantic happy ending, is fully predictable, the girl gets the guy she wants at the end and worst of all is filled with one cliche after another including the girl’s best friend being gay, the supportive girl’s best friend at work and a cutie pet at home.  Other examples: Natalie is passed over at work, is a decent human being and not a beauty and worst of all a bump on her head that shifts her romantic universe (the last film with this similar premise was  WHAT MEN WANT where a bump on the head gives the female protagonist the ability to hear men’s thoughts).  So there is nothing truly innovative about ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  It has a premise that the script does not really know what to do with.  Isn’t it sad?

The film opens Wednesday in time for Valentine’s Day.


Film Review: 2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts (Animated) **** Highly Recommended

Oscar nominated shorts will be screened at the Bell Lightbox in Toronto from Feb 12th until Oscar Presentation Day – on February the 24th.  There are 3 categories – animated; live action and live action documentary.

Watching shorts is a real treat and less tiring than watching a full length feature. Plus, not knowing what these shorts are about, one will surely be in for a nice surprise as well.

One thing about this program of shorts is that most of the animated shorts will leave one teary-eyes.  And for a variety of reasons – joy, sadness, loss and pure beauty.  These are animation for adults that kids can also enjoy.  Total length of program around 70 minutes.


Capsule Reviews:


Directed by Alison Snowden and David Fine

Five different animals meet with a canine therapist to discuss their inner angst and how to overcome it.  Among them is a praying mantis (who eats her partner after mating), an angry ape, a worm and a cat and a pig.  This animated shot moves fast and furious and is undoubtedly the craziest and most hilarious of all the shorts.  A bit of all over the place piece but one can forgive this fact if one laughs hard enough.

BOA (USA) ****

Directed by Domee Shi

This American production is from Disney/Pixar and will most likely be then that will win the coveted Oscar.  Set in Toronto, the animation is immediately recognizable from the subway train interior to the neighbourhood chinatown.  The story follows an aging Chinese mother suffering from empty nest syndrome.  One of her dumplings becomes her new son till it grows big and leaves hime.  BOA is a feel-good tearjerker that will definitely leave one in tears – but in a  good way.

LATE AFTERNOON (Ireland) ****
Directed by Louise Bagnall

An elderly woman Emily switches from the past and present memories in what could be Alzheimer’s.  A perfect excuse for the animator to have colours and images flow comfortably into each other resulting in a  very beautiful piece of animation.  Emily tries to piece together her life while trying too to remember what is going on at present.  Very sad and remarkably moving, LATE AFTERNOON is my favourite of all the animated shorts.


Directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas

This is a beautifully told animated tale of dreams coming true.  The protagonist is a little girl who lives with her shoemaker father.  She dreams of becoming an astronaut.  No wonder her name is Luna Chu.  The story unfolds from the point of view of the shoes that grow from kid’s spaceman boots to adult footwear.  Luna has problems in school, in sports but presses on till she eventually succeeds.  Teams can come true when one does not give up on them,

WEEKENDS (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Trevor Jimenez

Another animated short from the U.S. (besides BAO) in this program that is set in Toronto.  The CN Tower can be seen in the background.  On WEEKENDS, a young boy leaves his mother’s house to stay with his Japanese samurai loving father who then has custody,  The living conditions are very different.  The boy appears to enjoy both worlds.  The boy drifts into fantasy and dreams and ponders over his stay at both places together with their new partners his mother and father are dating.  Beautifully drawn and touching, WEEKENDS is a pleasure to watch.

Other shorts films shortlisted that will be screened:  

Wishing Box, dirs. Wenli Zhang and Nan Li, USA, 6 minutes, English  Tweet Tweet, dir. Zhanna Bekmambetova, Russia, 11 minutes, Language TK

Film Review: TROUBLE IN THE GARDEN (Canada 2018)

Trouble in the Garden Poster

Bailed out and taken in by a brother she hasn’t seen in years, an Indigenous protester and her adoptive family reckon with betrayal – of love, land, and blood.


Roz Owen


Roz Owen

The film is appropriately entitled TROUBLE IN THE GARDEN as retesting activist Raven also known as Pippa McTavish (Cara Gee) is camped on in a tent in the garden of her surety who bailed her out and who is under house arrest in his home.  Raven is trouble personified.

The film opens with Pippa arrested and jailed form protesting land development on disputed Indigenous land.  Arrested – McTavish.  A white man, Colin (Jon For) bails her out and she has to stay house arrest with his family.  The following scene has Colin putting up a real estate sign, as he sells houses under the name McTavish.  It is then revealed that Pippa is the adopted daughter and Colin the son of a white family.  Pippa was disowned by the father for the reason disclosed later in the film.

The script by Owen is a bit too over-the-top in its good intentions.  It is written for plenty of dramatic theatrics which means that there are too many incidents that are too coincidental to be believable.  Example of cliched dialogue: “They are white but they are fucked.  But they are the only family that I got.”

Another of the film’s problems is its feminism and radicalism.  Sure, the land of the Indigenous people have been stolen, but the white man is considered evil with no redemption whatsoever.  The script squeezes in a lot of key issues.  Among these include the fact that: the natives were never allowed and the government considered it a crime for them to hire lawyers till the 60’s to fight to gain back their stolen land – a point that would anger many Canadians besides the natives. One can imagine the anger of the Indigenous people over the stolen land – an issue that can never be resolved.  As the saying goes, why bring it to the courts?  Can one expect justice in stolen land?  

The script makes a twist to have the brother’s wife side with Raven. When Colin’s wife finds out about her husband Colin’s unfaithfulness to his sister, she storms out of the house and family. One would think her loyalty more to her family, especially when she is expecting a second child than side with Pippa who the audience learns has also upset Colin and the wife’s wedding reception.

Actors Gee and For are good and more worthy than the material they are given.  They commit to their confrontation scenes with conviction and bring enough drama to the film,.

Owen is a British born filmmaker now residing in Toronto.  She must have taken up the cause of the Indigenous people while maintaining her strong female saint in her filmmaking.  

The film boasts: Betrayal and reckoning – the issues that Raven will have to come to grips with, not to mention trying to reconcile with her brother and her well-intentioned adoptive parent.  These are too ambitious and too many issues that are never satisfactorily resolved in the 70 minute movie.


Film Review: ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (USA 2019) ***

Alita: Battle Angel Poster

A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is.


Robert Rodriguez


James Cameron (screenplay by), Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

Not really looking forward to this Hollywood extravaganza, ALITA:BATTLE ANGEL turns out not too bad, aided by its awesome looking futuristic setting of a junkyard metropolis after a devastated War.  The city looks like an overcrowded India with Zalem another city hanging over it.  

The film is based on a manga graphic series which usually spells trouble in the narrative department.  But the script is written by no less than AVATAR helmer James Cameron with Laeta Kalogridis blending in some action and romance to bring in females into the target audience in what is essentially a male movie despite its female protagonist.                                                                                                                                                        The film’s setting is the year 2562 after a huge war referred to as ‘the fall’ has destroyed Earth.  All the inhabitants of the planet has settled into Iron City.  At the film’s start,  Cyborg scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Oscar Winner Christoph Waltz) discovers a disembodied female cyborg with a fully intact human brain.  Ido rebuilds the cyborg and names her Alita (Rosa Salazar) complete with doll face looking a bit like Cameron’s AVATAR creatures).                                                                                                                                  As the film progresses, Alita and the audience learn more of what’s happened to Earth.  Warrior hunters are brought in.  Ido is revealed to be one of them.  Alita falls in love with a human named Hugo.  Hugo has the dream of entering the sky city of Zalem, that stands like a kind of Utopian heaven.  There is also a violent game of motorball (reminiscent of ROLLERBALL) that Alita has some talent for.  Alita also discovers her past and her exceptional fighting capabilities..The story’s villains are Vector and Nova played by Mahershala Ali and Edward Norton respectively, each taking their role tongue-in-cheek as if not to laugh uncontrollably. Christoph Watlz gets a break from playing a baddie, which one would think must’ve pleased him.  At theToronto International Film Festival press conference for DOWNSIZING,  Waltz was questioned by a journalist if he faced a problem with all those baddie roles.  Waltz was visibly upset and replied maybe that was the journalist’s problem.  Waltz plays the role of an eccentric father this time around.  Jennifer Connolly plays his sympathetic ex, Shiren.                         The story is nothing special, understandable since it is based on a manga graphic novel.  What makes up for it is the well orchestrated fight scenes and the motor ball sports matches even though it looks as if they were taken right out of ROLLERBALL.                                                                                                                         The climax includes a segment where Alita and Hugo are on a gigantic tube that connects Iron City to the high city Zalem.  Hugo climbs the tune up to Zalem.  It is a spectacular sight (looking more spectacular if viewed in 3-D IMAX, high I was fortunate enough to see the film in).  One really ridiculous looking scene has Alita holding Hugo’s hand as he hangs for dear life after falling.  Trouble is that only his torso is left, as he was repaired as a cyborg.  Seeing Alita trying to save a torso looks really funny though that cliff having suspenseful scene was taken quite seriously by the audience at the screening I attended.                                                                 ALITA ends up not the best of Rodriguez and Cameron’s efforts but still an entertaining one for all the corny manga story is worth.


Next Wave Film Festival Review: BLUE MY MIND (Switzerland 2017) ***

Blue My Mind Poster

15-year-old Mia is facing an overwhelming transformation which calls her entire existence into question. Her body is changing radically, and despite desperate attempts to halt the process, … See full summary »


Lisa Brühlmann

This Swiss production, shot in Swiss German follows the difficulties of a young Mina (Luna Wedler) as she goes through puberty.  At the same time, a strange transformation is occurring as she has appetite and swallows the goldfish in her fish tank.  In the surreal tale, she attends a new school where she turns from being bullied to being belonged.  Her group of school friends now accept her and she turns out to be worst then them in terms of partying and having sex with the boys.  “Do you sleep with anyone, you slut!” says one of the boys to Mia.  

Her clueless parents are of no help either.  One wishers there are more scenes with Mia’s parents as they are unintentionally funny and interesting.  Actress Wedler is marvellous as Mia, creating a character that one can feel sympathetic for, despite her rebellious nature.  

One wonders the reason director Lisa Brühlmann inserted the surrealism in the film as the film could have done just as effective without it.


Film Review: THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (USA/Denmark/Australia 2019) ****

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Poster

It’s been five years since everything was awesome and the citizens are facing a huge new threat: Lego Duplo invaders from outer space, wrecking everything faster than they can rebuild.


Mike Mitchell


Phil Lord (screenplay by), Christopher Miller (screenplay by) | 3 more credits »

THE LEGO MOVIE 2’s  story in the human world starts after the events of the first film made in 2014, just as Finn’s toddler sister Bianca starts to play with Duplo blocks and tries to take over Bricksburg.  Bianca has grown up.  In the intervening years, Bianca has taken more of the Lego sets into her own room to incorporate into her own creations causing Finn  to get angry with her when he discovers this.   Meanwhile in the Lego story, the Duplo invaders have turned Bricksburg into a post-apocalyptic wasteland named Apocalypseburg, and continue to invade periodically.  On one occasion, Master Builder Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) attempts to broker peace between the citizens and the aliens with a Lego heart, to no avail.  The ordeal has made most of Apocalypseburg’s citizens hardened, but Emmet remains upbeat, wanting to move into a dream home with Lucy (Elizabeth Banks).   However, Emmet is troubled by dreams of a pending “Our-mom-ageddon”.

The film pays nods to a dozen films including the MAD MAX films, JURASSIC PARK, STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, BACK TO THE FUTURE and of course all the films the other Lego characters come from like Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Aquaman (Jason Mom) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) among others.  These are the super heroes from the Warner Bros films.

The animation is impressive.  The Lego character also include fabrics and paper, exploring multiple animation styles for each playlet, thus expanding the target audience for girls as well as boys.

Mike Mitchell takes over the director reins from Lord and Miller who directed the original and Chris McKay initially signed to direct the sequel.  Mitchell does an awesome job.  Chris Miller and Phil Lord who stay around this film to write the screenplay.  The story is inventive and clever incorporating tow different worlds and in the concept of good and evil.

THE LEGO MOVIE worked, so there is no need to change the successful formula.  The format of the first film is kept similar including an ending involving human beings coming into the picture with the LEGO characters transforming into inanimate toys.  Will Farrell is again present (though is voice is only heard, shouting words like: “Where are my pants, honey?”)

Is the sequel just as awesome as the first?  It is awesome and just as inventive and hilarious.  The climax where Maya Rudolph appears as the mother is simply non-stop laugh-out loud laughter.  The original famous song “Everything is awesome” is replaced by a sister song “Everything’s Not Awesome” with news owns like “Catchy Song” written by Jon Lajoie who did the songs for the first movie.  The “Catchy Song” has the phrase ‘this song is gonna get stuck inside your head’ and indeed it does  Great songs and soundtrack!

THE LEGO MOVIE 2 is an animated film that should please both kids and adults.  It is tamed down several notches making it more coherent that the terrible LEGO NINJA movie.