Film Review: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (Mexico 2016) ***

Tigers Are Not Afraid Poster
A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.


Issa López


Issa López

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is a Mexican supernatural fairy tale horror fantasy thriller that comes with the stamp of approval of Mexican horror Master Guillermo del Toro.  It is easy to figure the reason.  TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID bears many traits and look of his early films like PAN’S LABYRINTH, CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKONE and THE SHAPE OF WATER.   Besides the look of CRONOS, TIGERS bears a young female protagonist as in PAN’S LABYRINTH stuck in a horror fantasy.  Again the protagonist has to outsmart the authorities as in THE SHAPE OF WATER to escape certain danger.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID has a beautifully dark setting of a coastal Mexican town where drug cartels battle that results in many orphaned children. As Mexico is famous for its many festivals of the dead, the orphaned children rise from the dead seeking revenge from the bad drug people who caused their deaths.  One of the dead happens to the the protagonist’s mother, who Estrella wants to be re-untied with.  But as they say, be careful of what you wish for.  The mother materializes as a ghastly corpse commanding her daughter, Estrella to bring the dreaded corrupt official to the labyrinth of tunnels where the dead are buried so that they can kill him in revenge.

Poor Estrella.  Not only is she orphaned but is ostracized by the largely male group of boys who run around her old residence like a gang.  It is in a male world that the filmmakers and the female director Issa Lopez weave a tale where the female gender rises above the males.  The protagonist is female who has to prove her worth to the boys.  The ghost is female too, the mother who has a big impact on the story.  The story could also be told with he genders switched but the story this way has more dynamic impact.

The story also serves as a coming-of-age tale of Estrella who grows up to be a fine woman.  Her character is also not perfect, she having to lie in order to get ahead.

Director Lopez’s script cleverly blends the fairy tale element into the story.  Estrella is doing an exercise in school of writing ones own fairy tale when a shootout occurs.  Her teacher gives her 3 pieces of chalk granting her 3 fairy tale wishes, which she uses.  As most fairy tales have a dark element, so does the Estrella’s tale, taking an especially dark side she never imagined.

Director Lopez’s film is rich in period atmosphere (2006) and she creates a sold horror piece.  But this being her first feature, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is linear – one straight story told in a grim setting.  With experience, her films will be more layered (as in the del Toro films) with more unexpected turns and twists with the setting playing a greater impact and influence on the story.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.




The Moneychanger Poster

THE MONEYCHANGER, based on the novel of the same name by Juan Enrique Gruber begins with a scene of Jesus in Biblical times overturning the tables of the moneychangers at the market place with the voiceover underscoring the evil of men be derived from the deed of moneychangers.  

The film setting is 1970s Uruguay (beautifully shot) centred on Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler), who furiously throws himself into the buying and selling of currency, a rapacious endeavour supported by his father-in-law, a veteran in the business of capital flight.  He learns and become expert at this business, controlling everything except his unflappable, tough-as-nails wife, Gudrun (Dolores Fonzi). 

 Trouble arrives when he launders the largest sum of money he has ever seen.  Director Veiroj tells his tale in a deadpan style emphasizing each incident with increasing oddness.   At the end of it all, Brause questions his wife if she loves him when she offers a reply that is equally deadpan.  An intriguing and gripping tale.


2019 TIFF Film Review: 37 SECONDS (USA/Japan 2019)

37 Seconds Poster

Yuma is a young Japanese woman who suffers from cerebral palsy. Torn between her obligations towards her family and her dream to become a manga artist, she struggles to lead a self-determined life.





37 SECONDS without breathing at birth has caused the now 23 year old Yuma (Mei Kayama) to have developed cerebral palsy.  Now, the physically restricted 23-year-old, wheelchair bound Yuma is over-pampered by her mother (Misuzu Kanno) while working drawing manga for Sayaka (Minori Hagiwara), who passes Yuma’s work as her own. 

 Director Hikaru traces the steps taken by Yuma, with the help of an assortment of friends in the sex industry, gain her independence from her mother and work while discovering sex and other pleasures (like getting pissed).  Yuma also discovers through her uncle that she has a missing twin sister teaching in Thailand.  

Director Hikaru’s film on harsh reality is given the fantasy treatment while blending manga and pop which just does not work.  The audience is to believe that this wheelchair bound girl can fly to Thailand on a whim to meet up with her twin sister with her Japanese friend who suddenly is able to speak Thai.


2019 TIFF Film Review: INCITEMENT (Israel 2019) ***1/2

Incitement Poster
Details the year leading to the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995), from the point of view of the assassin.


Yaron Zilberman

INCITEMENT is a rigorous psychological thriller by American-Israeli director Yaron Zilberman that leads up to the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin through the worldview of his assassin, Yigal Amir (Yehuda Nahari Halevi).  Yigal is an ultranationalist, right-wing Zionist who opposed the leader’s signing of the Oslo Accords.  Zilberman includes lots of newsreel footage to add authenticity to the story.   

Rabin’s murder is held to be a definitive — and infamous — moment in the struggling peace process with Palestinians and also in Israel’s charged history.   The film is entitled INCITEMENT because the film concentrates on Yigal’s motivations (arising from family, friends and protestors) that led to Rabin’s death.  Unlike other films about assassins like THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, INCITEMENT is based on true facts. 

 Director Zilberman has crafted a truly disturbing and chilling period piece while emphasizing the fact that there is no easy solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.


Film Review: BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON (USA 2019) ***

Brittany Runs a Marathon Poster

A woman living in New York takes control of her life- one block at a time.

The easy going sounding title captures the easy going spirit of the new inspirational comedy BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON where he protagonist Brittany does run a marathon.

The film has a cliched plot – a sort of romantic comedy type in which through an overweight is shown that beauty is not alway on the outside and that she can win romance while getting the message across.  The plot comes complete with the typical best gay friend.  The good thing about it is that director Colazzo still manages to steer his movie out of these cliched traps into something unexpected while still squeezing some surprise while at it.  This is what make BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON stand out and end up so entertaining.

The story concerns Brittany Forgler (Jamie Bell), a hilarious, friendly, hot mess of a New Yorker who always knows how to have a good time,.  A 27, her late-night adventures and early-morning walks-of-shame are starting to catch up to her. When she stops by a Yelp-recommended doctor’s office in an attempt to score some Adderall (the film contains drug use), she finds herself slapped with a prescription she never wanted.  Forced to face reality for the first time in a long time, Brittany laces up her Converse and runs one sweaty block. The next day, she runs two. Soon she runs a mile. Brittany finally has direction–but is she on the right path?

The film would not work if it had not been for its lead actress Jamie Bell who plays Brittany.  Besides charmin her audience, she is totally believable in her role.  The actress reportedly lost 40 pounds as the film progressed and it shows on screen.  She manages to hook up with two extremely hot guys as well, particularly her short-term one that she dumps out of insecurity.  

The film also demonstrates the work both physically and emotionally that goes into the preparation of running a marathon.  And running well as well as completing the marathon are two different things.  Brittany is shown almost to give it up as she endures physical deterioration due to exhaustion. 

The film also pokes fun at social mores of the city be it NYC or any other city.   When told of the fees of joining a gym, she correctly states that one can run outside for free instead of paying to run inside on a track.  She finally joins a gym in the end, though, which is what most city dwellers do after running outside for a time – myself included.

As Brittany’s physical appearance changes, so does the emotional.  The script shows two emotional outbursts – one good one bad.  The bad one has her lash out at an overweight friend at a party to the shock of all those around her.  She is totally wrong but the script lets her go off easy.  The other has her, deservedly telling off her Asian roommate, for treating her as a convenient fat best friend.

For those unconfident of their body weight, BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON offers a reality check as well a the necessary dose of inspiration that goes with it.  Having a few laughs while watching the film is an additional bonus.


2019 TIFF Film Review: THE AUDITION (Das Vorspiel) (GERMANY/FRANCE 2019) ****

The Audition Poster


Ina Weisse


Daphne Charizani (screenplay)

An intense study of how obsession can not only destroy the person concerned but those around the person.  A stern, particular violin teacher, Anna (Nina Hoss) becomes fixated on the success of one of her pupils at the expense of her family life,  from acclaimed German actor Ina Weisse who co-wrote the script with Daphné Charizan.  

 It all starts at the school’s annual entrance exam, and despite the opposition of the other teachers, Anna promotes the admission of Alexander (Ilja Monti), a boy in whom she detects a remarkable talent.  Her relationship with Philippe (Simon Abkarian), her charming, violinmaking French husband, with whom she has a 10-year-old son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev), is in slow decline.  

Besides the brilliantly acted drama, the violin concertos are extremely well orchestrated.  Hoss carries the film just as well as a violin virtuoso captures an audience.  Director Weisse steers the intensity a terrifying climax.


2019 TIFF Film Review: BLOW THE MAN DOWN (USA 2019) ****

While grieving for the loss of their mother, the Connolly Sisters suddenly find they have a crime to cover up, leading them deep into the underbelly of their salty Maine fishing village.

The setting of this absorbing thriller drama is a fishing village in Easter Cove, Maine.  The film opens in what appears to be a man’s word.  Men are singing in chorus the song “Blow the Man Down”.  But this female directed feature by Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole switches to female mode where the story takes a 180 degree turn.  And more likely for the better.  

Two sisters in a small Maine fishing village try to cover up a violent crime and avoid running afoul of the suspicious and threatening proprietor of the local brothel (Margo Martindale).  One of the sisters murder a low level scumbag while escaping a sexual assault.  She leaves her family knife behind which is picked up by the proprietor who blackmails them to return the money they stole from her.   

The directors create a dark, moody and scary atmosphere which is the reason the film works so well.  Nothing is what is seems in the story where women take the upper hand and men are at their mercy in this deliciously wicked and entertaining fable.

2019 TIFF Film Review: KNUCKLE CITY (South Africa 2019) ***

Knuckle City Poster

KNUCKLE CITY takes place in the the reputed birth place of world champion boxers, in the director’s home township of Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa where crime and drugs are rampant.  

The film centres on Dudu (Bongile Mantsai), a local who has become a womanizing professional boxer and his brother Duke (Thembekile Komani), now a career criminal, chasing money and thrills at every turn.  With Duke set to be released after a three-year stint in prison, Dudu enlists the help of his brother’s criminal connections to try to get himself one last shot — but both end up with a much bigger fight than they bargained for.  Qubeka’s fast paced family boxing family drama is all action accompanied by a wild soundtrack of rap music.  

Qubeka does not judge his characters and they act and behave the way they do because they do not know any better.  Such a dangerous lifestyle leads to trouble.  But as their father told then boys when they were young: “It is all about family”.  

KNUCKLE CITY also reveals the poverty of the township while keeping the audience entertained with lots of boxing action.


2019 TIFF Film Review: EASY LAND (Canada 2019) ***

Easy Land Poster
Jasna, a Serbian architect and mother, wants to create a better future for her daughter but her mental illness proves to be a problem in their relationship.


Sanja Zivkovic

A single mother bringing up a child is a dauntless task.  Director Zivkovic adds on to the protagonist’s problems by adding on two extra ailments.  Jasna (Mirjana Jokovic) is a single mother who with her daughter, Nina (Nina Kiri) are Serbian refugees trying to settle in a new country – Canada. 
 Jasna, a previous architect is currently suffering from mental problems and takes meditation so that she can keep her work and hence life straight.  The film is a two-handler with the story intercutting between the two protagonists.  Both protagonists, mother and daughter, Nina are also at loggerheads with each other.  When the two come together in certain scenes, the film gathers greater strength.  Both actresses Nina Kiri and Mirjana Jokovic  deliver strong and convincing performances.  
The film’s setting is Toronto.  The neighbourhood where the mother and daughter reside is not stated, but from the view of the Toronto subway whizzing by, one can guess roughly where it is set. 


This Changes Everything Poster

An investigative look and analysis of gender disparity in Hollywood, featuring accounts from well-known actors, executives and artists in the Industry.


Tom Donahue

Nobody likes a complainer nag on and on on an issue – the person being a man or a woman.  The same can be said about the film THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING that at first goes on and on at how women are mis-represented and how they have been ignored, less abused, with the film industry targeted.  Fortunately, the film switches in the last 30 minutes to show how changes have been implemented.  The film turns encouraging and crowd pleasing (to both genders).

But what is most strikingly visible is the fact that this doc that complains about the minority of women in the directing field has enlisted a male to direct what basically is a woman’s film.  The fact goes against not only what the film stands for but against total logic.

The doc neglects to consider other fields with women in the employ to get a better perspective of the situation of women in industry.  The doc also fails to note the advances of the progress that has been made.  It does mention that Kathryn Bigelow is finally the first female to win the director’s Academy Award for THE HURT LOCKER in over a century but instead of losing at it as progress, bitches about it  The doc could do very well to tout the fact that women also excel in certain areas and that theses days the ratio of female themed or made film to their male counterparts has steadily been increasing.  A good example of similar themed female vs. males films are BOOKSMART and GOOD BOYS.  BOOKSMART about two female high school girls was funnier, raunchier with superior comedic set-pieces and cinematography than the male teen Seth Rogen collaboration GOOD BOYS.

One wonders what the purpose of the doc is.  The under-representation of women in the film industry is already a known fact, but whatever seems to be done appears insufficient.  Aside of the fact that the director of this doc is male, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING would be considered a good film if it does a few things.  Firstly, it must convince the audience that the under-representation of women in the film industry exists and is a danger if not corrected.  The doc must also anger audiences to act towards the change.

The ‘This’ in the film title is accomplished by actress Geena Davis (THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, THELMA AND LOUISE).  She founded the Geena Davis Institute and commissioned a two-year study, he first of tis kind on the subject.  Davis used to address the issue on film meetings, when told that the problem is known and something has already been done about it.  The important study shows otherwise. “Females are not properly represented in kids’ films”  was one of the findings.  An example is Disney’s FINDING NEMO when all the fish voices were done by men.  And in her won words which is 100% true in all case of prejudice, If the bias is unconscious, it is therefore present and the most harmful.

Understandably, the film’s climax takes in hot issue of the Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment case.  The case is the perfect example of Hollywood gone wrong now being in correction mode.

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING ends up an insightful look at the injustice done to women in the film industry particularly by the major film studios, with Disney and Paramount Pictures singled out.  Yes, there has been progress (take for example last week’s new film releases: Out of 6, one of which is neutral – a doc on the environment, three were female based) but still much work needs to be done.