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.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqLice1D7Pc

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.

Director:

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. 

Film Review: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (USA 2018)

This Changes Everything Poster
Trailer

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

Director:

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.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=dPGwJmSMoPs

2019 TIFF Film Review: MARIA’S PARADISE (Marian paratiisi)(Finland/Estonia 2019) ****

Maria's Paradise Poster
The orphan Salome is the servant and devout follower of Maria Åkerblom, a charismatic sect leader. But as Salome befriends a rebellious outsider and starts to have doubts, Maria turns dangerous.

Director:

Zaida Bergroth

Forget Avi Aster’s Scandinavian religious sect horror MIDSOMMAR.  MARIA’S PARADISE is the real thing – based on the real events that took place with a religious sect in Finland in the 1920’s.  Where Aster has instilled his odd humour and imprint on MIDSOMMAR making it more terrifying but less believable, director Bergroth lets the real horror as seen by one of the sect members reflect the terror without resorting to any theatrics.  

Salome, a teenage follower begins to question the teachings (and actions) of the fringe religious sect in which she has been raised.  Salome eventually discovers that her mother was murdered by the sect and that she is being led into the same dilemma by the cult’s leader, Maria.  When Salome leans that her best friend is also murdered, she decides to take matters in her own hands with an escape plan.  Director Bergroth has her own style and it is one that underscores the credibility of the events. 

 The film is slow moving but the horror unfolding is even more lasting.  Chilling and captivating!  Shot in Finnish.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smFtoYp5QUo

2019 TIFF Film Review: LA GOMERA (THE WHISTLERS) (Romania/Germany/France 2019) ***** Top 10 Film

The Whistlers Poster
A policeman intent on freeing a crooked businessman from a prison on Gomera, an island in the Canaries. However, he must first learn the difficult local dialect, a language which includes hissing and spitting.

The foreign title of the film is the name of a Canary island – LA GOMERA.  The English title THE WHISTLERS refers to the people that speak the land’s native tongue, a language totally formed out of whistling – a whistling language called El Silbo Gomera.   

Crooked cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) learns to speak this language from his Spanish-speaking Mafioso ‘friends’ so that he can communicate with them without the knowledge of the cops who has every place under surveillance including Cristi’s home.  The story unfolds in 8 chapters each one named after a character in the story.  For such a serious theme on the Mafioso, director Corneliu Porumboiu is unafraid to inject his brand of humour.  Porumboius’s film is full of similar surprises.  

Besides the nod to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO shower scene, director Porumboiu brilliantly places a clip from John Ford’s THE SEARCHES that includes a scene where a whistle signal is made in a crucial moment.  It is the attention to detail and the outrageous plot unfolding in absolutely dead seriousness with style and wit that makes Porumboiu’s film so deliciously wicked and entertaining.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRFK2i0FklI

Film Review: SURVIVAL BOX (USA 2019)

Survival Box Poster
Seven teenagers. Five months. Twenty feet underground. No exit. The gripping story of a handful of high school kids trapped in a wealthy Philadelphia family’s backyard bunker.

Director:

William Scoular

SURVIVAL BOX opens with radio announcements of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II, the Cuban missal threat and the North Korean and President Trump threat of who first push the red button (or the bigger red button).  From the film title, anyone without any prior knowledge of SURVIVAL BOX can guess what is going to happen next in this awful low budget Canadian disaster (literally) flick.

Some kind of nuclear explosion has eradicated the planet.  A group of 7 has made it by chance to a SURVIVAL BOX, a nuclear bunker and living with sufficient food, water and air (again by chance) for 300 or so days before the radiation dies down.  What happens during these days make the story and the film.

The group of 7 happen to be teens at some party or other.  They decide to party it up privately in the wealthy family’s nuclear bunker when the nuclear disaster occurs and the exits of the bunker are automatically locked.  

There are countless reasons SURVIVAL BOX fails to engage.  Among the reasons:

  • the story contains too many coincidences for credibility.  For one the timing of the disaster with the timing of the party;  the availability of food, water and air for survival and the readily apparent anti-radioactive suits that can be worn to venture to the outside
  • nothing much happens after the group of 7 are trapped.  The 7 have to sit through the 300 or so days.  The audience has to sit through 90 minutes of boredom.  Who will break first?
  • the teens are terribly annoying,  They bitch and argue half the time.  The teen actors are not convincing either.
  • one of the girls delivers a baby.   Really?  Teens suddenly manage to deliver, feed and clothe a baby.
  • the teens go about without having to do the nasties like the number 1’s and 2’s.  The males do not have beards after being down there for months and the girls’ hair do not grow longer either
  • nothing much is shown of the outside but the winter landscape of some countryside depicting the nuclear fallout
  • the romance of a couple during the nuclear fallout creates even more problems on the film’s credibility
  • the inane dialogue is also awful  After girl hit a girl hard on the head, he says: “I am sorry.”  “OK.  All is forgiven,” comes the response.

Despite all the faults, the production values are impressive and the low budget film does look good in both the interiors and exteriors.  At one point in the film, there is talk on ‘functional democracy’.  But nothing much else is heard of the matter.

The clichéd line used in already too many thriller or horror films is heard one again in SURVIVAL BOX.  “We will get through this.”  The same question could be asked to the audience whether they can get through this cliched teenage version of an end of the world post apocalyptic survival story.

Trailer: https://www.tribute.ca/trailers/survival-box/25410/

Film Review: ANGELIQUE’S ISLE (Canada 2018) ***

Angelique's Isle Poster
Angelique’s Isle is a harrowing tale of perseverance and survival that unfolds during the great copper rush of 1845, when newlyweds ANGELIQUE, a young Ojibway and CHARLIE, her voyageur … See full summary »

Writers:

Michelle DerosierJames R. Stevens (based on novella “Angelique Abandoned”)

Premiering back in 2018 and screened for free at the ImagiNative Film Festival, ANGELIQUE’S ISLE, an entertaining indigenous story and period piece finally gets a commercial run.

The setting is 1845 during the copper rush.  Times are changing – retrospectively.  Fur trade is down and fur trappers have to search for an alternative for of living.  So faces the problems of Charlie Moss and his working buddies.  The film begins with Charlie’s marriage to an indigenous woman before an offered job which he takes on due to the hard times with his new wife in tow.

Angelique, a young Anishinaabe woman (Julia Jones), and her voyageur husband Charlie (Charlie Carricj) are abandoned on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale by a corrupt copper hunter (Aden Young).   Granny initially advises her not to go but Angelique replies: “He is my husband.”  The newlywed couple have been left with few provisions and as the winter sets in they begin to starve.   With Charlie beginning to demonstrate strange behaviour, Angelique – a devout Christian – struggles with her faith and must rely on the teachings she received from her grandmother (played by Tantoo Cardinal, who appears to be in every single indigenous film sees days) in order to survive the harsh winter.  Angelique’s Isle is a harrowing tale of perseverance and a testament to the resilience and strength of Indigenous women.   The story is based on the novella “Angelique Abandoned”, a true story of Angelique Mott. 

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer, Celiana Cardenas.  The winter on Angelique’sIsle is indeed beautiful though harsh for human beings.  One look at the winter there and one immediately feels for the unfortunate couple who have been abandoned there.  The couple have nothing and no provisions. Angelique eats bark and when spring finally arrives, the wild berries she finds and grinds.  One thing that looks odd is the interior of their hut which looks too cosy to be real.  

The reason for Charlies’s descent into madness is never clear explained.  If he goes mental, why not Angelique?  Again, this is yet another film that testifies to the strength of the female.  One can also appreciate the love the couple for each other.  It is truly a wedding bond for better or for worse, which in this case is for the worse.

The suffering of the couples appreciated but is toned down several notches for the audience.  There are no nasty scenes of violence or suffering.  As such, ANGELIQUE’S ISLE comes across as a family film, with a little warning regarding certain scenes, but it is a handsomely mounted Canadian Indigenous tale of hardship and survival.

ANGELIQUE’S ISLE won 3 awards at the American Indian Film Festival.  It won for Best Picture, Best Actress (Julia Jones) and Best Supporting Actress (who else but Tantoo Cardinal?)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWNlZyPweP0