Movie Review: CHICKLAND (Short Film) 2015

CHICKLAND played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

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  MOVIE POSTERCHICKLAND, 11min, France, Comedy/Sci-Fi
Directed by Stanislav Graziani

Bubu and Toufik think they are the next Steve Jobs and Martin Zuckerberg… They have implanted a chip in their brain, which gives them access to the web… giving them instant access to universal knowledge. For their first experiment, they test it on picking up girls…

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Chickland left me a little bit on the fence. With the growing dissemination of devices like the Google Glass, and the expansion of Virtual Reality technology Chickland is a bit of a terrifying reminder of a reality that we could all soon be living in. Nevertheless, director Stanislav Graziani did a good job at balancing out the miracles of new technology, with the limitations of our own human psyche, providing  a slightly less dystopic view of the future.

The hardest thing to understand about the film was the age range of the actors involved. The male actors seemed far too young to be approaching the girls they were trying to pick up, although perhaps this was done on purpose, considering the end result of their experiment. The end of the film itself is also a bit reassuring, emphasizing the humanity of even the most technologically oriented minds.

There isn’t much that can be said about Chickland without revealing much of the film’s plot. It’s a peek into the future, into what life might look like if Google Glass ever really catches on. Of course there are certain differences. It’s not likely that the Google Glass “victims” of the future will have no suspicion of the tactics being used on them. Then again perhaps this was what Graziani was indicating in his depiction of the boy’s interaction with the math student.

Students of art might also find this film a little insulting in how easily the one boy was able to fake being a literary connoisseur, while his counterpart struggled to prove his math prowess. Nevertheless both the boys’ reactions to “completing the task” at the end of the film showed a lot of emotional sensitivity, one that most young boys of that age would normally not be so ready to admit or expose.

Chickland is an interesting experimental look into what our future might look like, how our grandchildren might date, find partners, or explore their sexuality. It sparks a lot of thinking about where our technological pursuits are heading, what it might truly bring us in the future. This wasn’t by any means one of my favourite short films to watch, but it certainly carried some interesting ideas that will inspire you to consider how natural human emotion is able to coexist with the calculated patterns of digital technology.


Movie Review: THE LAST POST (Award Winning Short Film) 2015

THE LAST POST played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

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  MOVIE POSTERTHE LAST POST, 15min, UK, Comedy/Social Media
Directed by Adam Preston

A halfwit is invited to speak at the funeral of a girl he only knew through the internet.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Hilariously cringe-worthy. There’s no other way to describe this one. We all now a girl like her; updating her social media constantly, her life seems near perfect, everything she does is amazing, and fun, everything she eats is delicious, and if you wanted you could find out everything about her. Well, almost everything. As we all know social media and online profiles only give us little peeks into a person’s life. No matter how often you update it, how much content you add to it, it’s hard to know the real truth of who a person really is purely through their social media profiles.

Adam Preston has somehow managed to perfectly balance the tragedy and comedy of our excessively interconnected lives. Using the knowledge you can typically gather from a person’s social media accounts Preston writes a hysterical eulogy for one such social media star. This is certainly one film where credit needs to be highly awarded for performance. The Last Post’s main character had me tearing up with laughter non-stop.

Admittedly Preston could have added to the comedic value of his short by having the funeral attendants accept the eulogy as a sincere tribute to the deceased. Nevertheless his actual choice of direction didn’t  detract from the hilarity in any way. I also feel obliged to question Preston’s choice of the social class of the deceased and her family. It seems a little reductionist to have her and her family be from a region with a certain reputation for ignorance, simplicity, and poverty. It might have been a little more interesting if they had been from a posh family. However, part of the reason for this could have been to increase the threatening demeanor of the two bully brothers.

The Last Post is more than just a hilarious short film; it’s a commentary on today’s modern, digitally centered society. I had a very odd feeling as soon as the film was over because after having laughed the entire way through the film, I found myself pondreing deeper issues as soon as it was over. Comedy is for everyone, and comedy that is pertinent to current issues is all the more worth it. It kind of suits all flavour preferences; if you’re up for something more serious, this movie will work for you, if you’re up for a good laugh, add this to your list, heck it even has a little violence if that’s your cup of tea! I think you can see where I’m going with this one. Definitely give The Last Post a watch, whatever your inclination. It will be worth it.


Movie Review: SHOOT GRANNY (Short Film) 2015

SHOOT GRANNY played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

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  MOVIE POSTERSHOOT GRANNY, 5min, Spain, Comedy/Musical
Directed by Olivier Kowalczyk

Shoot Granny or when an ordinary tea time between three friends turns into an improvised Gymkhana. On a music of Todd Terje.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Shoot Granny garnered a really good laugh from the audience, with great reason. It’s common to hear complaints about loud, partying teenagers, but what happens when those loud partiers are actually your grandparents?

The director Olivier Kowalczyck says he was inspired by his work as a doctor; disappointed by how they seemed to perscribe anti-depressants to help seniors sleep rather than provide them with any real psychological support. He claims to have felt like more of a drug dealer than a doctor, and this thought led him to create the storyline for Shoot Granny.

Thankfully Kowalczyck has managed to turn this upsetting subject matter into quite a hilarious repartie. With the background knowledge of this film in mind it might be easy to reprimand Kowalczyck for his comedic approach, but in actual fact what he has done by injecting comedy into this topic is open it up to a much wider public that might otherwise want to ignore the issue. Kowalczyck also manages to add a stronger element of agency to the elderly, allowing us to relate to them as people who like to enjoy themselves, just as we all do, rather than as victims with no control over their ailments.

Some members of the audience seemed a little put off by the loud music, or by the fact that the film didn’t carry subtitles, but Shoot Granny could very well be played on mute and still get its message across. Someone once told me that a film is only truly good if it is able to be played in black and white, and silently while still achieving the same level of emotional impact. Despite the fact that its bright, psychodelic patterns and blaring music adds greatly to the story, I still believe this film would achieve the same purpose without these elements. I think anyone would benefit from watching Shoot Granny, who knows, it might help you approach and understand again, or your elderly loved ones, with just a little more affection and care.

Movie Review: POINT BREAK (2015)

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point_break_posterPOINT BREAK (USA/China/Germany 2015) *1/2
Directed by Ericson Core

Review by Gilbert Seah

POINT BREAK is a remake of the Kathryn Bigelow 1991 hit film starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. Bigelow is a female director able to create big hits with strong male content action films like THE HURT LOCKER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, STRANGE DAYS and my favourite and her first film, NEAR DARK. Director Ericson Core has tough shoes to fill.

The surfing definition of POINT BREAK refers to the type of long-lasting wave found off a coast with a headland or point. A point break is formed when a swell moves around the land almost at a right angle to the beach and a break which begins near the point gradually progresses along the wave. Bigelow’s film involves a FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers disguising themselves as surfers.

The difference in the new POINT BREAK is a series of robberies done by not surfers but extreme sport specialists. They do the big surf in the last climatic scene but engage too, in other sports such as snowboarding, rock climbing and wingsuit flying.

The story of the new POINT BREAK involves a young FBI agent, Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrating a team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists. He engages in this quest as redemption after losing his brother in an extreme sport accident. Deep undercover, and with his life in danger, he strives to prove these athletes are the architects of the mind-boggling crimes that are devastating the world’s financial markets.

Newcomer Luke Bracey delivers a weak performance. With his blond hair and chiseled body, he looks like a model in many scenes with his perfect blond hair flung across his face. Delroy Lindo playing Utah’s boss fairs worse. All he does is bitch about Utah’s job. Utah takes the risks and fights the bad guys but his boss keeps complaining and giving Utah a hard time. Edgar Ramirez (an up and coming star, his last film JOY), who plays bad guy Bodhi, cannot help much either.
The film contains some good scenes involving extreme sports. The rock climbing, surfing and motorbike segments are well shot. But the action and fight sequences lack any excitement.

The plot lacks credibility. The eight ordeals that Bodhi seeks make little sense. He ends up completing seven with the last one left in limbo. Utah somehow manages to figure out all the ordeals Bodhi has completed, something hardly believable.

POINT BREAK which costs close to $100 million only made $10 million domestic the first weekend. However, being a Chinese and German co-production, it opened elsewhere a week before North America grossing a remarkable $50 million, which helps the poor domestic numbers. Still, POINT BREAK is far from being a satisfying action flick. The film sags after the first 15 minutes and picks up just a little towards the end. The open ending does not help either. Action fans prefer closure. Open endings are more suited to artsy films which POINT BREAK definitely isn’t.

POINT BREAK ends up the most boring action film of 2015.

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Movie Review: EXIT RIGHT (Award Winning Short Film) 2015

EXIT RIGHT was awarded best film at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival.

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  MOVIE POSTEREXIT RIGHT, 5min, Germany, Drama
Directed by Bernhard Wenger & Rupert Holler

Look away or intervene? When a black man is victim of unfounded, racial abuse in a packed bus, there is only one passenger who won’t ignore the situation like everyone else.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

In Exit Right Bernhard Wenger & Rupert Holler take a light hearted approach to an unfortunately all too common situation. With the current discussion about Syrian refugees, as well as the Paris bombings, this film is incredibly relevant to the issues we face today, and yet still manages to permeate through time with it’s gentle, comedic approach to the topic. It’s comforting to see that even tragic and disturbing issues can be given a lighter tone.

Those of us who use public transport frequently are well accustomed to witnessing awkward, messy, and at times even violent situations while riding the bus, or sitting in the subway car. On these occasions most of us will look away and pretend we don’t hear or see anything, however every once in a while a brave samaritan will stand up and do something about it. Wenger and Holler decided precisely to portray one such situation in their short film, and with it demonstrate that standing up to bullies doesn’t always need to result in aggression, or negativity.

It’s a lesson that we all learned in school, but often needs to be repeated throughout our lives. Many different cultures have similar stories that you may have heard before in different manners, but no matter how many times it is told or portrayed, the result is always heartwarming. By bringing this anecdotal tale to life within modern day Europe, Wenger and Holler also emphasize how this lesson persists through time periods, cultures, and locations.

Exit Right is definitely a great film to watch when you feel like you’re starting to lose your faith in humanity a little, but it’s also a fun short to enjoy on any day of the week. The directors did miss a slight opportunity for a fun extended ending that could have shown what happens to the man after he has been kicked off the bus, but that itself did not leave the film lacking in anything. This one is worth a few repeated watches, whenever you feel like you need a reminder that standing up to bullies and racists is always the right thing to do, so long as you don’t stoop to their level and respond with equal aggression.



Movie Review: SVENGALI (UK 2015)

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svengali_posterSVENGALI (UK 2013) **1/2
Directed by John Hardwick

Review by Gilbert Seah

The story of this straight to Video on demand British film is as simple the mind of the lead character who nicknames himself Dixie (Jonny Owen). Dixie leaves his small Welsh mining town for the big city of London. He intends to become the manager of what he thinks is the best band in the world. This he thinks after watching them on Youtube. He brings along to London his long-suffering girlfriend, Shell (Vicky McClure). Things are not that straightforward in the big city but Dixie and Shell manage somehow.

As the ads ask, can Dixie manage a relationship, a band and his life? That is what director Hardwick (mostly British TV stuff) intends his audience to find out.

Hardwick’s film has several charms. For one, the lead character, though annoying that he may be at times, wearing the same old disgusting vintage parka and carrying around a Tesco plastic bag, is a loveable lug who always means well. His favourite words are: “I am sorry” uttered with his Welsh accent. It is hard not to feel for a small town boy (big though he may be) moving to London in search of his big dream.

Newcomer Jonny Owen isn’t half bad as Dixie. He basically plays himself, a music enthusiast, star and producer of his own internet-based sketches of the same title in real life, which he has expanded for the big screen. But running at 90 minutes, the task becomes massive and different from the execution of short skits on the net. The little jokes and humour fail to sustain, and the one idea film soon runs out of steam. The story is also too predictable but there are a few prize characters such as the fat pop drinking Russian landlady. The camera is fond of showing her ass.

It would be an additional bonus if the band did put out some good songs on film. As it is, the band members are all shown as a lot of arguing misfits.

The word Svengali, the film title, refers to a person who manipulates or exerts excessive force over another. It also refers to a character in the George Du Maurier’s 1895 novel made into a film several times called Svengali who hypnotizes and brings to fame a young singer. It is not clear which of the three director Hardwick or writer Owen has fashioned his title from. Dixie manipulates his girlfriend and the band to stardom, though not with excessive force.

The film contains cameos from several TV personalities that North Americans will not be familiar with. Martin Freeman from the three Lord of the Rings HOBBIT films is perhaps the only one recognizable.

It is difficult to envisage huge North American audiences getting too excited about this small British export. Unless one is ex-British staying in North America, in the music business industry, in a struggling band or have Welsh roots, SVENGALI will have little appeal. This film therefore goes straight to VOD (video on demand) skipping the theatres on January the 10th. Myself, I visited Wales 2 years back, which is the main reason this little film attracted me to review.

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Movie Review: HOUSEBOUND (New Zealand 2014) ***** Top 10

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housebound_posterHOUSEBOUND (New Zealand 2014) ***** Top 10
Directed by Gerard Johnstone

Review by Gilbert Seah

It is not often that a film comes out of nowhere that turns out to be the biggest surprise of the year. HOUSEBOUND might be that film for 2015.

This is the story of story of Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), an ill-tempered delinquent forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. Her punishment is made all the more unbearable by the fact she has to live there with her crazed mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) – a well- intentioned blabbermouth who’s convinced that the house is haunted. They do not get along. Kylie dismisses Miriam’s superstitions as nothing more than a distraction from a life occupied by boiled vegetables and small-town gossip. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers and strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her mother’s overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit who’s not particularly thrilled about her return. Nothing more should be said about the story as surprises are around every corner.

The film contains priceless stereotyped characters everyone would love to laugh at. These include stupid follow-the-book police officers, a therapist that offers the most obvious observations and a parole officer that asks the silliest questions. But the supporting characters are also priceless. The best is the gossiping, superstitious mother who can believe that the ouse is haunted but not what her daughter tells her.

The horror comedic set-us are equally brilliantly staged from the climatic fight on the roof to the exploding head scene. As far as predictability goes, Johnstone parodies the familiar in horror films but the joked and set-ups are genuinely fresh.

HOUSEBOUND is the best horror comedy surprise coming from New Zealand since Peter Jackson stunned the world with BRAINDEAD (banned in Canada and released straight to video under the title DEAD ALIVE). Hollywood rewarded Jackson with THE FRIGHTENERS and the rest is Tolkien history. Who knows? The same may follow suit for Gerard Johnstone.

But what the film overlooks in explanation is the possessed stuffed bear. If all the noise and moving objects were due to the stranger living behind the walls, how did the bear come alive?

The film may be considered violent depending how one looks at it. Harmless fun perhaps? But funny, nevertheless. Scenes such as the one in which Kylie uses a grater to her attacker’s face could go wither way. But there are also nice touches such as Kylie finally protecting and bonding with her annoying mother.

O’Reilly is winning as the attention deficit Kylie. But Te Wiata ias the mother is completely unforgettable.

The film has had a super successful international festival run that included premieres at SXSW, Toronto After Dark, Vancouver International Film Festival, and Neuchâtel International Fantasy Film Festival 2014 where Housebound won the HR Giger ‘Narcisse’ Award for Best Feature Film, and the Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival in Scotland where it landed an Audience Award.

Peter Jackson has seen HOUSEBOUND and calls the film: “Bloody Brilliant!” It certainly is!

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Movie Review: LEGEND (UK 2015)

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legend_posterLEGEND (UK 2015) ****
Directed by Brian Helgeland

Review by Gilbert Seah

The second film about the notorious Krays, (the first was called THE KRAYS in the 80’s directed by Peter Medak) the gangster twins that terrorized London the 50’s and 60’s is given a glossier more modern approach.  But just as violent.  The Kray twins in LEGEND are both played by Tom Hardy.

Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL his best film) and based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, the film is told from the point of view as well as narrated by Frances Shea (Emily Browning) the wife of Reggie Kray.   She met Kray at 16 and married him aged 22 in 1965 . She committed suicide in 1967, and narrates the film from beyond the grave.  “It took a lot of love to hate him the way I did,” were her famous words.

When the film begins, the Krays are already established gangster princes.  The script does not detail how they got to be such prominent gangsters except by having them usurp the turf from Charlie (Paul Bettany) and his brother Eddie, childhood friends of the Krays and the leaders of notorious south London gang (also known as the Torture Gang).  That was when Reggie met Frances.  The film that goes on to deal with the further rise and fall of the Kray twins; the relationship that bound them together, and charts their gruesome career to their downfall and imprisonment for life in 1969.  And all from Frances’ angle.  

LEGEND is necessarily violent.  The best segment is the well executed fight between the two brothers (made trickier to shoot as both brothers are portrayed by the same actor) which is guaranteed to make you cringe in your seat.

The script is set up to have the audience take the side of Reggie, the sane brother.  The other, who is ultra violent and homosexual and certified insane not once but twice is the script’s set up for the downfall of the Kray’s empire.

Hardy does an exceptional job playing the Krays, definitely proving to be Oscar material here.  He creates two very different characters in the Krays, one sane and the other insane.  Though the film uses the tactic of Ronnie’s glasses to distinguish the twins apart, Hardy creates different nuanced behaviour for each.  Of the other performances, David Thewlis stands out as the Krays business and lawyer connection who wants to make the business more legitimate, thus running foul with Ronnie.

Ronnie’s homosexuality is treated in the film with campy seriousness.  He justifies his gay sexual acts by claiming to be the giver and not the taker.  One difference between the two KRAY films is that Medak’s dwelt on the Kray’s doting mother’s influence, the mother played by Billie Whitelaw in THE KRAYS.

The 50’s and 60’s London atmosphere is effectively created, complete with the period posh suits, vehicles and Burt Bacharach songs like ‘The Look of Love’.

Hard to fault, LEGEND belongs to the genre of excellent British crime thrillers of the 70’s that used to be popular.


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Movie Review: THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (Canada 2015)

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the_forbidden_room_posterTHE FORBIDDEN ROOM (Canada 2015) ****
Directed by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Another weird and wonderful film by Guy Maddin with co-creator Evan Johnson – and one of Maddin’s best and most structured, which is not saying much.  And the film is in colour instead of black and white.

The film begins, humorously with a man in a bathrobe (Louis Negin) giving lessons on how to draw a bath.  This vignette is linked to another concerning a submarine crew in dire distress.  The captain is missing and the air supply is running out.  They chew on flapjacks to utilize the oxygen bubbles in the batter.  Does not make sense?  It does not matter.  All this is part of the weird pleasure that is abundant in a Maddin film.  A woodsman (Roy Dupuis) suddenly appears and the crew figure if there is a way in the sub, there must be a way out.  It turns out the woodsman is one of many out to rescue a damsel in distress from a pack of forest bandits.  And so it goes on.  

The way in which one scene leads to the next is impossibly funny.  A bust of the God Janus leads to possession of the carrier transforming him into Lug Lug.  To get rid of the bust, he finds a night auction to sell it to.  But he ends up bidding with his double but finally winning the bid and buying the bust back.  He turns into Lug Lug again to kill his double.  This is one example.  But it is the most hilarious segment.  And beware – the ASWANG!  – a black rotten black cone shaped rotting banana aka the jungle vampire.  (The aswang actually is the devil in the banana tree in Philippines folklore.)

Shot in Paris, which is the reason the film contains a more than impressive cast of French and Quebecois actors including Roy Dupuis, Udo Kier, Mathieu Amalric, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling, Maria de Medeiros, Jacques Nolot and a few other surprises.  Shot in various old gothic styles of films of old, Maddin’s film is terribly funny, nostalgic and the perfect vehicle to watch while under the influence.  A real treat that might be too weird for everyone’s taste!



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Movie Review: OUR LAST TANGO (UN TANGO MAS) (Argentina/Germany 2015) ***

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our_last_tango_posterOUR LAST TANGO (UN TANGO MAS) (Argentina/Germany 2015) ***
Directed by German Kral

Review by Gilbert Seah

This documentary tells the story of love between the two most famous dancers in tango’s history – María Nieves Rego (aged 81) and Juan Carlos Copes (aged 84).

When the film begins, a closeup of Maria has her say that if she was given the chance to do it all again, she would not change a thing – for tango. The only thing is to do it without Juan. The camera moves back to show Maria and Juan standing very close, face to face. They begin to tango. This is a powerful start. Why did Maria make that statement about Juan. Did she bare that much hatred fro him? Or did she love him too much that she cannot handle it? The doc goes on to reveal the reason.

The film would naturally have a slow feel with two aged subjects. Director Kral (who got his film experience working as assistant to Wim Wenders) tries to counteract this by animating his film as much as possible. This is most evident in one scene where Maria’s two interviewers more than act out their surprise at Maria’s answers to their questions.

OUR LAST TANGO is less a film about the tango than about the relationship between Marian and Juan. And it is not a love but more a hate relationship. It becomes a bit tedious, with each complaining about the other, from start to finish of the film. Director Kral offers two sides of the story, so that the audience takes no sides. Often each would complain about the other at great length. Maria loves Juan too much but not unconditionally. Her pride is terribly broken she Juan bears a child with another woman. On the other hand, one can sympathize with Juan when he says he cannot stand Maria. It is not easy to live with someone whom one cannot stand despite the fact that that someone loves you.

The film has quite a lot of tango dances but not many shown in great detail or to great length. Rather many different types are shown during the different stages of their lives. The duo exported their dance to Broadway with ‘Tango Argentino’.

One wishes that there be more archive footage of Maria and Juan dancing together. Young dancers perform too many re-enactments so the film has too much of a made-up feel.
There is little said in the film of how the two became so famous and how rich or successful they became. Their dances on display in the film reveal very little of their talent as well.

OUR LAST TANGO is also a film about ageing, though not much is said of the subject. But one can see on the faces of both Juan and Maria – their past glories and regrets. Maria is also suffering from some nerve problem, evident in her old age. She cannot stop shaking her head.

It is difficult to imagine OUR LAST TANGO being interesting to those with little to do with dance, for the love/hate relationship of the couple is also not something that audiences will flock to.

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