Film Review: HAIL SATAN? (USA 2019) ***

Hail Satan? Poster

A look at the quick rise and influence of the controversial religious group known as The Satanic Temple.


Penny Lane

In the middle of the new doc HAIL SATAN?, a member of the Satanic Temple tells the audiences that a lot of people appear disappointed when told what the Satanic Temple is all about.  Despite its name, it does not worship the devil or burn human flesh or indulge in sex but is an alternate religion that challenges Christianity as an American religion.  Similarly, those who go to see HAIL SATAN? might be disappointed that this doc is a mild doc that dos not expose any controversial devil worship.

Penny Lane’s (OUR NIXON, NUTS!) HAIL SATAN? is an entertaining eye-opening (and yes, noncontroversial and mild) documentary that traces  the rise of The Satanic Temple (TST), one of most colourful religious movements in American history.  Under enigmatic leader Lucien Greaves and headquartered in Salem, MA, TST is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul.

  As the doc reveals, these Satanists are not what one might expect.  They fight for individual rights.  They fit against tyranny.  They do favour hoods, the colour black, horns and shock tactics.  But they also aim to take the “evil” out of devil, challenging authority to ensure that America remains secular.  Their target – Christianity.

Director lane uses the first half of the doc to extol TST’s virtues.  Their beginnings go back to 2013 when they rallied to fight Florida Governor Rick Scott’s push to allow prayer in public schools. Why?  Because the United States is not a Christian nation, so inviting God into the classroom would require schools to do the same for Satan.  But it was their 2015 win that put them on the map.  They forced the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from Oklahoma government property by petitioning to erect a statue of goat-headed Baphomet beside it.  Garnering international attention, TST membership grew from three to 100,000 in just three years with chapters worldwide.  Hey, I myself would join the membership.   Also on their agenda are a Pink Mass, a Black Mass, an after-school Satan club and a “Menstruatin’ With Satan” drive for sanitary products for shelters.  And when they help pick up litter, it’s with a pitch fork.

Lane includes excerpts from classic films involving dvil worship including ROSEMARY’S BABY.

  Lane’s film fails to expose the ‘bad’s of the TST.  The only incident where the legitimacy of the TST is challenged is when the film records Gov Scott’s anger at Lucien Greaves.  Scott says even Lucien’s name is false.  But the TST’s expansion also brings internal woes.  Greaves cuts ties with the Detroit chapter leader after she calls for a presidential assassination in one of her speeches.  Greaves maintains that such acts are not in line with the temple’s beliefs.

The film contains extensive interviews wth Greaves, who in real life has one eye, looking rather demonic.  But the doc reveals him as a decent film, rather smart and entrepreneurial and able to tackle and challenge bullying institutions.

The film uses the TST’s fight to be able to put up its own monument the Baphomet Statue, as its climax, so that the film would end with a rousing happy ending.

Lane’s film ends ups a satisfying noncontroversial eye-opening doc about the Satanic Temple proving that there are always good people around despite what they call themselves.



Hot Docs 2019 Review: BUDDY (Netherlands 2018) **

Buddy Poster
Fascinating, multi-talented, indispensable dogs and their loving masters.


Heddy Honigmann

BUDDY follows the stories of six guide dogs and their owners exploring  the close bond between animal and human.  Among them are a now 86-year-old blind woman who reflects back upon all the dogs that have been at her side since she was 21,  an autistic boy who explains how his loyal friend Utah can tell when he’s upset and a war veteran suffering from PTSD.  

 These owners are not very interesting to listen too and director Honihmann spends more time on the humans than the dogs.  Nothing is revealed on how these dogs are trained on how they are bred or why a certain  breed is suitable for different disabilites. 

 The dogs look really sad in the way they are forced to care for their masters.  I love dogs and dog movies, but BUDDY does not do anything for me nor shed any insight of these poor lovable caretakers.


Hot Docs 2019 Review: THE WORLD OR NOTHING (EL MUNDO O NADA) (Canada 2019) **

Directed by Ingrid Verninger

The film, the first doc from Canadian director Ingrid Verninger is a portrait of 29-year-old Cuban twin brothers, Rubert and Rubildo Donation Dinza, which begins two-months after their arrival in Barcelona, Spain.  

The film, shot in Barcelona explores the obsession and opportunity of today’s social media, the emotional cost of having big ambitions, the intimate bonds of sibling love, and the challenges of building a new life.  

For the brothers, “The World” means achieving one-million friends on social media, making their parents proud, starting a family, and gaining international recognition as a dancing, singing, performing duo. “Nothing” is not really an option.  The twins are not particularly bright nor do they have anything worthwhile to offer, except maybe a bit of cool dancing.  Why Verninger has selected these two as her subjects is puzzling.  

She has done better with her fiction films that are down-to-earth that offer the occasional insight on life.  This one is simply boring.


Film Review: DIANE (USA 2018) ***

Diane Poster

Diane fills her days helping others and desperately attempting to bond with her drug-addicted son. As these pieces of her existence begin to fade, she finds herself confronting memories she’d sooner forget than face.


Kent Jones


Kent Jones

DIANE is an aptly made film about a caring individual who works herself to sleep many a day for trying too hard.  Diane not only helps out in the soup kitchen but aids others in bringing food and comfort.  Her one burden is her son, who is an addict, and often dirty and not eating. The film is Diane’s story – as Diane is performed by Mary Kay Place, she giving on of the best performances of her career.

For a film about about sick and depressing people, the film has a sly look at things thus giving the film some humour and a cutting edge.  Comedienne Andrea Martin from SCTV provides some laugh-out humour offering her two-cents worth on things while yapping all the way on-stop.  She plays a good friend of Diane who always sorts her out when she is down.  Diane’s son, Bryan (Jake Lacy) a man-baby still unable to function on his own, is quaint to look at.  He is rather good looking but acts like a complete baby.

One of the film’s oddest scenes has Diane counselling Bryan while an odd whirling noise is heard on the soundtrack.  “I think I want to give birth to something,” Bryan says.  “I think you need help.  We have to go through this one more time,” replies Diane.

The trouble with DIANE is that the film appears aimless as Diane moves along in her life.  The ending is just sufficiently satisfactory.

Besides Place’s performance, the impressive cast includes Oscar Winner Estelle Parsons (remember her as Gene Hackman’s screaming wife in BONNEY AND CLYDE?), Glynnis O’Connor and Joyce Van Patton from the 70’s.

DIANE is helmed by Kent Jones who has made the documentaries A LETTER TO ELIA and HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.  This new feature has already won three Awards in Tribeca, including Best Narrative Feature and the oecuminal Prize at Locarno 2018.


Film Review: AVENGERS: ENDGAME (USA 2019) ***1/2

Avengers: Endgame Poster
After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.


Anthony RussoJoe Russo

Prior to the press screening of the new blockbuster most anticipated film so far for 2019, AVENGERS: ENDGAME the Disney official introducing the film made a request that the critics do not spoil the key scenes of the film and to respect the Marvel Universe fans.  As it turns out, there are many, may things that could be kept from the fans, even from the very start, on the slightest of details  So this critic will try to be as discreet as possible.

The film opens with Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) having a picnic with his family.  He is teaching his daughter the bow and arrow while the wife the boys baseball.  It is a beautiful idyllic setting.  Suddenly, the daughter disappears followed by the rest of the family.  It is an excellent beginning that connects the audience to humanity despite the film  being based on super heroes.  It is soon revealed that half the Universe has been destroyed by the villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), an intergalactic despot from Titan who collected the 6 infinity stones to do the job.  This explains the disappearance of Barton’s family.  In order to say the destroyed half of the universe, the Angers band together and come up with an elaborate or impossible (but always possible in movies) scheme to reverse the damage done. 

Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)  suggests travelling through time in a quantum time machine to undo the deed.  The concept involves immense risk, which means it can be done in a movie.  Directors Joe an Anthony Russo slowly but surely introduces the other Marvel super action hero Avengers.  Iron man (Robert Downy Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans looking super dashing) are the two action heroes given the most attention and they are shown at loggerheads in terms of ideas.  Iron Man, the leader and benefactor of the Avengers is a self-described genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist while Captain America is fugitive superhero and leader of a faction of Avengers.  Almost every other marvel hero seen in films in the past decade make their appearances including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), the Hulk (ark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth who is simply hilarious as the overweight drunk), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a host of others in minor parts like Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Vision (Paul Bethany), Falcom (Anthony Mackie) and others way too many to mention.

The action sequences are more than aptly executed with the directors playing it smart to play up the human parts of the story.  There are moments that will bring audiences to shed a tear or two.  The logic of the story does to always make sense.  For example the logic of time travel is difficult to follow and the Infinity Stones also do not make much sense in the flow of things.  But these are fantasy elements that should be present in futuristic action films.  

Marvel and Disney make good again in their latest action superhero outing compared to Warner Brothers who seem to make one blunder after another.  Everyone at the press screening stayed to the end of the closing credits (lasting a full 15 minutes or so) hoping to see some surprise.   Is there one?  Sorry, no spoilers even for this point.  Stay to the very end to find out.


Hot Docs 2019 Review: FOR SAMA (UK/USA/Syria 2019)

For Sama Poster
A young woman’s struggles with love, war and motherhood over the span of five years in Syria.
The doc begins with the image of a baby and a picture of a an 18-year old girl, that is supposed to be taken 10 years prior to the making of the doc.  It turns out that the girl is Waad Al Kateab, the doc’s co-director and mother of the baby named Sama.  She is making the doc for her daughter Sama, detailing the experiences she and her husband went through in evacuating the city of Aleppo, Syria, where she grew up. 
 Over the course of several years, Waad al-Kateab has been filming the uprising in her home city of Aleppo, Syria.  Capturing the brutal conflict all around her comes with added personal stakes as she falls in love and becomes pregnant with her first child.  The film also attests the strength of women in war.  
At one point in the film, the women chant: “We are resilient!  We are strong.”  The film contains disturbing images of war.  After six months of the city under siege, the camera pans the destruction of rubble and dust ads the citizens of Aleppo prepare their evacuation. 
 FOR SAMA captures the danger and turmoil the citizens of Aleppo have gone through.   

Hot Docs 2019 Review: PUSH (Sweden 2019) ***

Push Poster


Fredrik Gertten

Housing prices are skyrocketing in cities around the world.  Incomes are not. PUSH sheds light on a new kind of faceless landlord, our increasingly unlivable cities and an escalating crisis that has an effect on us all.  Cities that director Gertten examines and takes his audience to include Toronto and London. 

 The film follows Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, as she is travelling the globe, trying to understand who’s being pushed out of the city and why. “I believe there’s a huge difference between housing as a commodity and gold as a commodity.   Gold is not a human right, housing is,” says Leilani.  

The film shows that lean can make a difference as she organizes meeting around the world to combat the villains like Blackrock Funds.  Gertten and Leinai will both be present during the film screening at Hot Docs.


Hot Docs 2019 Review: ADVOCATE (Canada/Switzerland/Israel 2018) ***

The doc is he story of tireless and fearless Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel who defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from nonviolent demonstrators to armed militants.   She is not popular among the Israelis.   ADVOCATE follows Tsemel’s caseload in real time, including the high-profile trial of a 13-year-old boy — her youngest client to date — while also revisiting her landmark cases and reflecting on the political significance of her work and the personal price one pays for taking on the role of “devil’s advocate.”

Directing duo Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche assume the privileged position of a fly on the wall of Tsemel’s practice, where a year of documenting is like gathering a lifetime of evidence.  The film is exciting as the two cases presented, and the audience sees not only Lea at work but how judicial systems work.  Even if the accused is innocent, a plea bargain is created for the accused to plead guilty for a lesser charge or face greater penalty if found guilty.  

The film is hastily edited with the intercut cases and a lot of padding is evident from the life of Lea from student to her current position.  The interviews of her family – husband, son and daughter break the flow the court cases.


Hot Docs 2019 Review: PREY (Canada 2019) ***1/2

PREY opens with a shot of a man dress  up in a tie and suit.  He is Rob Tallach, a Civil Lawyer.  He is nicknamed the priest hunter as he hunts down these priests perpetuators that prey on young boys.  And he has quite a number of cases to his credit.  Many have only recently come forward to speak publicly, while others have been silenced through settlements.

One of the perpetrators, Father Rod Marshall, (interviewed in the movie when he was still alive) pled guilty to 17 assault charges; a colleague, Father David Katulski, called him a “very good pedophile.” One of his victims, seeking closure for this traumatic part of his childhood, filed suit against the Basilian Fathers of Toronto for its role in enabling Marshall’s depravity. The film is partly courtroom drama. 

 Everyone loves a solid courtroom drama and PREY provides one of the best.  But this trial was not about guilt or innocence, but about how much money the church should pay in compensation for the devastating fallout from the abuse.

  The climax of the film is the verdict.  


Film Review: FAR: THE STORY OF A JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD (Germany 2017) ***

Weit: The Story of a Journey Around the World Poster
Two young Germans spend three and a half years traveling around the world just by hitchhiking, bus, train and ship. They travel almost 100,000 kilometers through Europe, Asia, North and Central America.

The fantasy disappears and the experience begins: so says the character in the film as she touches for the first time – an elephant in India.  The dialogue immediately asks the audience which would be considered more important, fantasy or pleasure?

The film begins with the title: “The First Year”, where the feet touch the ground.  The couple, Gwen and Patrick, the subjects of the film are on their way, singing to Bulgaria in what appears to be a cab. It is revealed late that the subjects are hitchhiking around the world, first leaving Germany towards Bulgaria and soon in in Kazakhstan.  Armed with a tent, noodles and tomato sauce, they make their way through third world countries like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China  These are vast lands that often has no vegetation.  This journey is interesting to the viewer as one seldom sees the deserted landscapes of these lands.  But they are beautiful.  With every hitchhike, the couple are told different stories and they learn lessons.  It is a freedom that requires a lot of energy. 

The camera follows the couple on their journey around the world.  One can tell that there is a third person involved as well – the cameraman.  A few scenes are re-enactments, as are quite obvious like the one where a car is stuck and later the car shown unstuck, being driven off.  But at one point, the unseen cameraman is heard asking the couple he could help push the car.

The voiceover occasionally jumps to the future.  Gwen and Patrick will have a baby one year from then in Mexico.  Four years, one of the hosts will become a guest at the couple’s place in Germany.  The doc attempts to inform audiences of the surprises life.  Not every person would embark on a journey as gruelling as this one.  It requires a different kind of person – one that will put their riches and things of the world and enjoy freedom.  

The film contains a very positive attitude and free-spirit.  The voiceover is provided by both Patrick and Gwen.  They often praise (never condemning) the different people (Iran and Pakistan) and their hospitality despite their stringent rules and laws.  Iran has the death penalty for homosexuality and bans drinking yet the Iranians are the most inviting.

One of the film’s big surprises is the beauty of Pakistan.  The film informs that the country has been given a bad deal because of a few extremists.  Pakistan is the couple’s favourite country and the magnificent landscape of the country reveals the reason.

In the same way as this world journey might not be for everyone, neither would this doc.  This doc is mostly in German and runs at a lengthy 120 minutes, many segments of which contain lots of travelogue.  A lot of time is spent revealing the different peoples, their culture and their ways living.  But for those who wish to embark on the journey of viewing this film which occasionally soars to ecstatic heights, the reward is well worth it.  

Ultimately, the film shows that people, no matter where they come from, are good.  Recommended viewing for President Trump!