Film Review: AIDA’S SECRETS (Israel/Germany/Canada/USA 2016) ***

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Aida's Secrets Poster

Family secrets, lies, high drama and generations of contemporary history unspool in this international story that begins with World War II and concludes with an emotional 21st-century … See full summary »


Alon SchwarzShaul Schwarz (as Saul Schwarz)


AIDA’S SECRETS is a heartfelt documentary about secrets that could very well have been a fiction suspensor.  

Though the film has Aida in the title, the woman Aida does not appear until half way into the picture.  She is first seen in a senior’s home in Quebec visited by her two sons.

AIDA’S SECRETS begins with the character of Izak.  Izak is clearly Jewish, getting up there in age and is first shown in a torn T-shirt sitting in a yard living in Israel.  Izak, as a child was brought up by a loving family in Israel who never told him the truth of his origin.  As a boy, his friends teased him that his parents were not his real parents.  He finally finds out that he was an adopted child and that his birth mother is living in Canada.  To his greeter surprise or rather shock, Izak finds that he has a brother, who is blind also living in Canada all through a family tree agency, the agent who seems as talented as a Sherlock Holmes.

Director Schwarz builds up his first third of his documentary with great finesse, piquing the audience curiosity as much as he can.  The audience is as curious as Izak as to why his foster parents never told Izak the truth and why his mother kept he secret of his brother from him, after the two of them have met.  As he title implies, there are more secrets to come – not to be revealed in this review to prevent spoilers.

Schwarz’s film takes a noticeable turn after the firs third when he finally meets his blind brother Shep for the first time in Canada.  Suspense is unfortunately, turned into melodrama.  Izak quips and hugs his brother Shep too many times: “You are my little brother.  I love you.  My little brother!  My family!”  

Aida has passed away since the film was completed leaving many questions the two sons unanswered.  But some answers were provided by DNA tests as suggested by the agent of the family tree company.  To his credit, many discoveries were made.

It is also fortunate that Izak’s father was a photographic specialist.  There were lots and lots of old photographs that were studied with many conclusions drawn.

One touching scene is the first meeting of Izak and Shep at a Canadian airport.  It is doubtful that the cameraman followed Izak on the plane or waited at the airport to capture the prized moment.  It is more likely the reconciliation was an re-enactment.  But the scene is still a powerful one.

The film also educates on what happened to the Jews after they were freed from the Nazi concentration camps.  They were placed in displacement camps, like Izak’s father.

Ultimately AIDA’S SECRETS is about survival during the war.  And the consequences, some uncontrollable that affect the lives of ordinary people. That is the reason the film is able to hold interest from start to end.



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Film Review: Molly’s Game

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Molly's Game Poster

2:07 | Trailer
The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.


Aaron Sorkin


Molly Bloom (book), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay)


MOLLY’S GAME is writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut.  Sorkin also adapted the script from the memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom.  Anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work, the most notable being the script for THE SOCIAL NETWORK will surely know that a lot of dialogue is expected and the actors in the film have to be motor-mouthed to be able to speak Sorkin’s dialogue at hundreds of miles per hour.  Lead actors Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba do just that and supporting actor Michael Cera known for his fast speaking does the same.

MOLLY’S GAME is stud poker.  It would be beneficial if one knows the rules of the game in order to appreciate the film.  There are suspense scenes involving being dealt the winning card and if one is unsure whether a full house or a royal flush wins, then one might do better to learn the rules of poker before venturing into a poker film.  Besides the fact, Sorkin has done his homework on high poker stake games around the world and what transpires on screen in extremely credible.  No doubt the memoirs must have have been quite detailed.

There will undoubtedly be those who will complain about the film being too talky.  But this is the niche of watching an Aaron Sorkin film – script or direction.  Sorkin has the gift of words and though the film is talky, he is to be given credit for a fast moving 140 lengthy film.  His attention to detail is an additional bonus.  

Sorkin’s both subtle and over-the-top humour is also present.  This can be observed in the detailed and lengthy 10 minute introduction to the film where the voiceover announces that the Molly’s skiing has nothing to do with her poker.  The film then establishes from scratch how Molly enters the game and finally how she becomes super good at ti before it all crumbles.  Then the biggest joke is that all this is revealed at the film’s end to be caused by skiing after all – to be due to that twig that trips Molly during her final ski jump.

In the story, the FBI presses Molly to reveal the high profile players so that they can be investigated leading to persecution.  Molly sticks to her principles against her lawyers advice.  Yes, this leads to more verbal debate!  Sorkin stays true not to reveal any big names in the film as well.

As in the other Sorkin scripted films, the dialogue goes on so fast that one can understand 20% of its if lucky.  But Sorkin has the gift of making the audience feel as if they have understood everything necessary for the film to go on.  Sokrin’s scripts and MOLLY’S GAME, his first film are strong on his style of writing.  To be fair to him, his story gets through and the film moves fast, at times as fast as the dialogue.  But if one wants to complain about this, stay away from this film.

MOLLY’S GAME premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed critical reviews.  Love it or hate it, but the Sorkin dialogue film has its pleasures.


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BIG TIME (Denmark 2017)

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Big Time Poster


BIG TIME follows Bjarke Ingels during the course of 7 years (2009-2016), while he struggles to finish his biggest project so far. We are let into Bjarke’s creative processes as well as the endless compromises that his work entails.


BIG TIME is look at Danish “starchitect” Bjarke Ingels, (following him for 7 years from 2009 to 2016) named “one of architecture’s biggest innovators” by The Wall Street Journal.  In 2016, Time Magazine named him one of “The 100 Most influential People” on the planet.

The film opens with Bjarke in a cab in NYC.  He is there to take on two high-profile projects that will change the Manhattan skyline, the VIA 57 West, a pyramid apartment complex with a courtyard inspired by Central Park.  The other is Two World Trade Centre.

At one point in the documentary, a character, Mr. Sullivan praises the man to be one where creative juices are flowing and how people working with him are on a high exhilarating level.  That feeling of exhilaration occasionally rubs off the film onto the audience as the audience witnesses the man’s work.

Often, Bjarke (as he is more affectionally called) stands in front of a table, white paper in front of him, holding a felt pen. He outlines his designs while speaking aloud articulating both the design and the philosophy behind it.  These few segments are the best in the doc that show how the creative genius thinks and how the ideas flow.  Bjarke is at the age of 40 with a lot of his successful work done between the age of 31 (when he started) and 40.  Bjarke also says in the film that one should not wait but continually create and build, with the example given of past architects that have suddenly died.  Louis Kahn died of a heart attack in a restroom at Manhattan’s Penn Station.  Le Corbusier drowned while taking a swim in the Mediterranean Sea.  

Antoni Gaudi was hit by a tram on his way to church in Barcelona.

It is within reason that Bjarke speaks this way.  The film begins too with music accompanying weird patterns on the screen.  It becomes apparent only later in the film what these patterns are.  They are the patterns obtained from the MRA and MRI scans of Bjarke’s brain.  Bjarke has what could be a small tumour which is discovered at the mid-point of the film.  It gives him incredibly bad headaches preventing him from working any further.

Bjarke’s triumphs include Copenhagen’s Amager Bakke waste-to-energy plant with a 

ski slope on its roof and a chimney that emits “smoke” rings that are actually steam.  Ingels is also the brain behind Vancouver House, set to open in 2018.  He also talks about Sydney’s Opera House as the world’s greatest architecture design.

Director Schröder (RENT A FAMILY) also reveals Bjarke’s personal life thus making the doc more personal.  Bjarke at 40 is finally finding his partner in life in the form of a Spanish lady who he intends to marry, by buying her a unique engagement ring.

The film ends with Bjarke and fiancee walking through the completed VIA 57 West complex, ending the doc on an appropriate high.


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Films Reviews: Films of Andrei Tarkovsky – SOLARIS/STALKER

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TIFF Cinematheque Presents – The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (4 April 1932 – 29 December 1986) was a Soviet filmmaker, writer, film editor, film theorist, theatre and opera director.  He is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and much respected by other respected filmmakers notably Ingmar Bergman.

Tarkovsky’s films include Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975), and Stalker (1979). He directed the first five of his seven feature films in the Soviet Union; his last two films, Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986), were produced in Italy and Sweden, respectively.   His work is characterized by long takes, unconventional dramatic structure, distinctly authored use of cinematography, and spiritual and metaphysical themes.

TIFF Cinematheque presents for the first time a good retrospective of Tarkovsky films with weeklong engagement of both STALKER and SOLARIS (both films capsule reviewed below).

My favourite Tarkovsky film is SACRIFICE (OFRET) with the single long tie at the film’s end of a burning house with its inhabitants running around outside it.

Full fill program and schedule of screenings, please check the Cinematheque website at:

CAPSULE REVIEWS OF Selected Tarkovsky Films:

SOLARIS (USSR 1972) ****

Directed bh Andrei Tarkovsky

SOLARIS is Soviet science fiction art film adaptation of Polish author Stanisław Lem’s novel Solaris (1961).  Co-written and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, SOLARIS moves at the low moving pace one has associated Tarkovsky’s films with.  This one runs 2 hours and 42 minutes, so be prepared for a long haul.   A meditative psychological drama occurring mostly aboard a space station orbiting the fictional planet Solaris, the story involves a stalled scientific mission because the skeleton crew of three scientists have fallen into separate emotional crises.   The terror in space is not physical but mental and emotional.  Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donata VBanionis) travels to the Solaris space station to evaluate the situation only to encounter the same mysterious phenomena as the others.  He meets who could be or could not be his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) as she had previously died 10 years back.  He sends her off in a rocket getting himself burnt, but she re-appears.  Great ideas but the please in this film has to be earned.  SOLARIS won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, the FIPRESCI prize and was nominated for the Palme d’Or and was remade by Steven Soderbergh in a film with the same title.


STALKER (USSR 1979) ****

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

STALKER refers to the guide to a special place called The Zone in Tarkovski’s boring mini-masterpiece of the same title.  In it three men, THE STALKER, the guide, and two others referred to as the professor and the writer (it be best to remember who is who) enter a place called The Zone.  The Zone is apparently inhabited by aliens and contains the Room, where in it is believed wishes are granted.  The government has declared The Zone a no-go area and have sealed off the area with barbed wire and border guards.  However, this has not stopped people from attempting to enter the Zone.   The writer wants to use the experience as inspiration for his writing and the professor, who wants to research the Zone for scientific purposes.  Things do not turn out as expected.  Neither does this sci-fi film, so beware!  One scene has the trio roaming in a long pipe (tunnel) before one says:  “There is a door.”  They argue not only who should go in first but why bring and point a gun through the door.  “No one waits at the door,” one answer when questioned whether to enter.  This scene is typical of what happens throughout their trip into The Zone.  Nothing happens but a lot of arguments.  The sets like the tunnel dripping with water from the ceiling are stunningly bleak and typical of a dystopian society.  Running at over two and a half hours with nothing much happening for a sci-fi film, STALKER is undeniably boring.  Very, very boring!  But crazy as it might sound, it is still a captivating film that should be seen by all cinephiles.


Andrei Tarkovsky.jpg


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Film Review: MUDBOUND (USA 2017) ***

Mudbound Poster

Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.


Dee Rees


Virgil Williams (screenplay by), Dee Rees (screenplay by) |1 more credit »

MUDBOUND, a Netflix original movie, is understandably a difficult film to be made for general audiences dealing with racial tensions, mixed relationships and the Ku Klax Klan.  Despite complaints about Netflix movies not being ‘real’ movies distributed in theatres, in Netflix defence – it is thanks to them that difficult films like these, worthy and gut wrenching get made.  MUDBOUND is a film about class, friendship and the fight against ‘the land’.  The characters are pitted against a landscape of mud, with the elements of nature working against them.  Just as they are about to succeed, the characters are pulled back into the mire.  Hence the film is entitled MUDBOUND, and also perhaps it is a metaphor used too often in the story.

The film is narrated by a few of the story’s characters but mostly by Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan).  The story follows two families, one white, the McAllans, newly arrived from Memphis to his new farm in the Mississippi Delta.  The other, the Jacksons are coloured folk, sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations, but struggling to make a living.  Laura’s husband is Henry (Jason Clarke), a decent man, though stuck in his racist ways and they have two daughters.  The father-in-law is a racist pig.  The Jacksons are Hap (Rob Morgan), Florence (singer Mary J. Blige) and children.

The film setting is just after World War II.  The end of the war sees the return of Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell).  The war allows the race barrier to be broken between the two war heroes but their friendship is not tolerated by the town, especially the father-in-law.  When it is discovered that Ronsel bears a son with a white woman (a German during the war), he is brutalized by the Ku Klax Klan.

Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, and written for the screen by director Rees and Virgil Williams, the plot follow multiple stories divided between the two families.  Rees’ film flows smoothly with each story transitioning into another without the feeling of Rees acting like a cop directing traffic.

The film’s most unsettling scenes involve Hap Jackson’s infected leg, shown with all the pus and sores and the other the sudden appearance of the Ku Klax Klan.  Ronsel’s beating is also not easy to watch.  Rees gets her point across.  For a film about families working the land, Rees should have included more scenes depicting the hardship of toiling – though a few token ones are included.  The same goes for the war segments with one or two scenes in the tank and in the fighter jets.

The only trouble with MUDBOUND is the lack of one central character.  As the story divides between Laura, her husband, Ronsel, Florence Jackson and Jamie, the film loses its impact.  Still, MUDBOUND has nary a dull moment and gets its message that friendship and tolerance will save the day.


Film Review: GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (UK 2017) ****

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Spring. Yorkshire. Young farmer Johnny Saxby numbs his daily frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex, until the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker for lambing season ignites an intense relationship that sets Johnny on a new path.


Francis Lee


Francis Lee

2017 sees the arrival of three critically acclaimed gay films .  BPM from France, this one from the U.K. (at point of writing with a 99% rotten tomatoes rating) about a young Yorkshire sheep farmer and from Italy, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.  While the latter also deals with first love, unlike that sugar-covered unreal gay love story, GOD’S OWN COUNTRY is a hard look at gay life – acceptance and reality, the way it happens in real life.

The film is set in Yorkshire, around Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) who lives on the family farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart) and grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones).  Due to his father having suffered from a stroke, and his grandmother’s age, much of the day to day running of the farm falls to Johnny.   As his friends have left for university, there is little time for socializing.  What time there is, he fills drinking excessively on his own at the pub. With the lambing season fast approaching, Johnny’s father tells him that they have advertised for extra help for the farm that arrives in the form of a Romanian worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu).  When the two are sent out into an isolated place to look after the sheep (shades of Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN), the two form a relationship after some initial rough sex and hostility.

When the two return to the farm, both Derdre and Martin discover what the two have been unto resulting in Gheorghe leaving the farm.  Whether Johnny will make a stand and go out to get him back takes up the rest of the film.

What makes the film work for both the gay and hetro-sexual audiences is the honesty of the portrayal of the couple’s love.  The film also serves as a coming-of-age rite of passage journey for Johnny who before just engages in casual encounters.  This is aided by the film’s sheep farming setting, which unlike many pictures with a farm setting, just cater to one or token farm scenes.  In GOD’S OWN COUNTRY, the sheep, landscape, Yorkshire scenery and farming are in the forefront.  There are many eye-opening facts that can be learnt about sheep farming from the film like a lamb dying from a breech birth. 

The rough macho life of men are on display – as in the rough sex practised by Johnny.  Sexual gratification can be obtained without the fuss of a second hook-up or a budding relationship.  The land is just as rough, but tenderness is also present, as witnessed by Gheorghe as he takes care of a weak lamb that almost dies.

The film contains one perfect scene somewhere in the middle when Johnny and Ghoerghe sit together overlooking the beautiful yet somewhat barren Yorkshire landscape.  It is a rare moment, a turning point in the life of both, when the two lovers appreciate the beauty of GOD’S OWN COUNTRY and nothing else in the world but that and their love matters.

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY is in many ways just as perfect a gay love story.


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Goodbye Christopher Robin Poster

A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.


Simon Curtis


There is one scene that sums up Simon Curtis’ film on the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.  It is the one where father, A.A.  fondly called Blue (Domhnall Gleeson) serves his son fondly called Billie (Will Tilston) porridge he had made as the nanny has the day off.  Billie lifts his spoon to reveal a real lumpy porridge.  That is exactly the way director Simon Curtis (MY WEEK WITH MARILYN) has served his film and it is going to go down lumpy down the audience’s throats.

The film, however, does open impressively with shots (cinematography by Ben Smithard) of the beautiful English woods with sunlight beaming down the trees and spreading among the flowers, pretty much like the pictures of a Winnie the Pooh children’s book.  Blue receives a letter from the postman, the wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie) looking on, obvious that the letter brings bad news of the death of their son who has gone off to fight in the War.

The film tells the story of Blue’s creation of Winnie the Pooh and how the fame aversely affected the family especially the impressionable child Billie.  Blue goes to war and comes back with shell shock.  His evil wife Dafne, insists he keeps writing and he eventually lies it and takes the whole family to live in the country.  Evil wife gets upset ,leaves and threatens never to return unless the husband writes again.  Father and son bond in the woods and father creates Winnie the Pooh (the name Winnie coming from the rescued bear from Winnipeg, Canada).   The boy, Billie also appears in the Pooh books and known as Christopher Robin.  Fame and publicity prevents the boy from playing and having a normal childhood.  Confrontation results between husband and son (now played by Alex Lawther).  Amidst all this is the cheerful nanny, Olive (the wonderful Kelly Macdonald) who can never do any wrong.  She gets to tell the parents off and to calls the evil mother a horse in her face.

As the film is not based on a book, one wonders where all the material for the story comes from.  One can surmise that a lot has been imagined by the scriptwriters Frank Cottrell-Boyce Simon Vaughan.  The film turns into sentimental mush at the end with the news of the son’s death.  Dad, mum and Olive are grieving and more lumpy mush again when it turns out when Billie shows up.  The father son reunion is neither credible as well.

Robbie and Gleeson sport silly English accents.  At least Macdonald, the only one worth watching in this silly enterprise gets to keep her Scots accent.

The film has one believe that Winnie the Pooh did wonders for world peace just because one soldier fighting in the trenches hummed a Pooh tune.

The film ends with old photographs of the real characters in the film followed yes, by old photos of the real toys of the bear tiger, piglet and all.  As if the film is not sentimental enough.



Film Review: THE GARDENER (Canada 2016) ***

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the_gardener.jpgThe Gardener is a documentary directed by Sebastien Chabot about Frank Cabot’s Les Quatre Vents, aka Cabot Garden, a magnificent private garden in the Charlevoix region near Quebec City.

Director: Sébastien Chabot
Writer: Sébastien Chabot
Stars: Francis Cabot, Anne Cabot, Adrienne Clarkson

Review by Gilbert Seah
Veteran of Canada’s TV industry, director Sébastien Chabot first feature documentary THE GARDENER offers audiences a rare opportunity to experience arguably the most beautiful garden in the world. This garden is designed and cultivated by Frank Cabot (recently deceased in 2011), THE GARDENER of the title who is also a philanthropist and horticulturalist.

The garden’s beauty, as well as Cabot’s boundless passion and his commitment to refining their every last detail are captured in the pensive and stunningly photographed film.

The garden is called Les Quatre Vents (The Four Winds) at Malbaie, Quebec. It is only near the end of the film that Chabot reveals that this Garden of Eden is now open to the public. It is open only for 4 Saturdays of the year at a price of $30 per person and sold only in November. Needless to say, the tickets are always sold out and each person is allowed a maximum purchase of 4 tickets. (this year’s tickets are sold out and the 2018 tickets go on sale in December). It is practically a sure thing that anyone watching Chabot’s film will mark this calendar date to book the tickets.

The film contains two days of interviews of Cabot. It is fortunate as audiences get to hear Cabot’s perspective on life and on the design of his garden. Cabot was ill at that time but agreed to be interviewed. His wife and close friends also tie in their points of view on the garden.

The best segments of the film are the shots of the garden. From the tiered waterfalls, sculptured hedges, flowers and stone sculptures to the garden paths, the tour of the 20-acres of Cabot’s land is nothing short of magnificent.

Cabot talks about his garden being like a symphony. It is a bit tacky that Chabot immediately follows this comment with symphony music. It is also quite obviously artificial that he adds in the sound of bird chirping during the tracking shots. These are a few forgivable complaints on the film. Original music of the film is provided by Luc St-Pierre.

Chabot spends a fair amount of time, necessarily on the background of the man. It is insightful to see where his ideas originated. Cabot was a rich and wealthy man and a genius in his own right. One can see that a man full of riches and owner of such a magnificent garden would eventually want to share the beauty with the rest of the world. He thus opened the garden to the public for the first time in 1987.

“It was a true pleasure to document the beauty of Les Quatre Vents, and the bold vision of Frank Cabot,” said director Sébastien Chabot. “I’ve been elated to see festival audiences respond so enthusiastically to the film, it’s a privilege to offer people the opportunity to experience a stunning place that only a lucky few have had a chance to see.” These are the same thought echoed in the words of Chabot when interviewed in the film.

The film offers a rare opportunity to see true beauty. Don’t miss it! From May 19, THE GARDEN opens theatrically at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema for a week-long run.



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Full Review: THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (USA 2016) ****

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the_belko_experiment_poster.jpgIn a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.
Director: Greg McLean
Writer: James Gunn
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona

Review by Gilbert Seah
Aussie director Greg McLean (Australians always have their special edgy sense of humour) and scriptwriter James Gunn (remember his super-gross SLITHER?) join forces to deliver the perfect horror thriller on office culture. Originally premiered in the Midnight Madness section at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the film still proves a fascinating watch the second time around.

Office politics turns into a real-life survival of the fittest when workers at Belko Company are forced into a sick game of kill or be killed by unknown sinister forces (revealed at the end of the film) that lock down their building, in this gruesomely funny horror thriller. It at first seems to be an ordinary morning on the job for a group of Americans working for a not-for-profit company in a modern office building in Colombia. After noticing that their Colombian colleagues have not arrived for work, office worker Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.) spots some unfamiliar security guards entering a large hangar nearby. Moments later, an icy voice comes over the building’s PA system and calmly explains that the employees must kill 2 other employers of their choice within 30 minutes — if not, they will be killed themselves. While the boss (Tony Goldwyn) tries to calm the troops, Mike belatedly realizes that something truly sinister is going on — and when metal doors come sliding down on all the building’s exits and windows, it becomes clear that friends and colleagues are now suddenly enemies in a bloody and brutal battle to the death.

Even before the action begins, McLean delivers lots of inside office jokes like the isolation of working in a cubicle, sexual harassment and the introduction of new employees. The film contains a good cross-section of workers like the maintenance men, the security, the bitchy lady manager et al. The film is a mix between disaster, sci-fi, horror and comedy which means that the filmmakers have plenty to play around with. In the kill to survive scenario, there is the good guy with all the right motives, the bad boss (handsome Goldwyn doing the villain as he did in GHOST), the unstable psycho, the asshole, the plump good meaning lady and so on.

The music, by Tyler Bates (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2), is an assembly of musical numbers from classical Tchaikovsky to a Latino version of “I Will Survive” effectively used at appropriate intervals. The sounds effects are superb especially the metal closing of the windows and doors.

Besides being a well-made horror thriller, McLean also squeezes in office satire and a fews good metaphors like the segment of the dos shitting and covering up its shit outside the Belko compound. There are a few predictable parts – like the one involving the office pervert/asshole sexually harassing the pretty employee. His comeuppance, with his life at her mercy comes as no surprise but provides the biggest cheer of the movie.

Best of all, the ending is unexpected, also providing a good twist to the story. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT proves to be very violent and satisfactory fun, if one can stomach the graphic violence.


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Film Review: HOUNDS OF LOVE (Australia 2016) ****

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houndsoflove.jpgVicki Maloney is randomly abducted from a suburban street by a disturbed couple.

Director: Ben Young
Writer: Ben Young
Stars: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry

Review by Gilbert Seah 

 Not wholly original, but still absorbing, HOUNDS OF LOVE, writer/director Ben Young’s story of an abducted teenager by a disturbed couple pays homage to David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET. The slow motion beginning of HOUNDS OF LOVE and the common theme of kidnapping reminds cineastes immediately of BLUE VELVET.

HOUNDS OF LOVE is supposed to be based on true events – macabre as they may be. The setting is 1987, Perth, Australia whee a seemingly typical Australian suburban couple have a secret hobby – kidnapping schoolgirls and murdering them. But their latest desperate victim finds ways inside their heads.

The slow motioned tracking shot of schoolgirls playing netball after school is stunning as it is eerie. One can tell something is going to happen – the abduction of the first victim of the kidnapping couple. For those unfamiliar with the game (played in places like Britain, Australia and Singapore where this reviewer was born), the scene is even more fascinating with the girls in netball outfits tossing a ball into a net.

The film then settles on the next victim. Vicki (Ashley Cummings), a rebellious teen, is first seen in the film after having ‘it’ with her boyfriend Jason (Harrison Gilbertson). Vicki is staying with her mother, Maggie (Susie Porter) who she cannot get along with. After being grounded, Vicki sneaks off to a party at night when she is abducted by Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry). The audience would likely think that this is what Vicki deserves, after misbehaving and disobedience. But then, no human being should go through what she does in the next few days.
The one thing that stands out in this film (and differentiates from Lynch’s BLUE VELVET) is director Young’s ability to connect his audience with his characters.

Director Young devotes a lot of time towards his female characters. Evelyn is shown to be the most sympathetic of the film’s characters. She loves her dog, her partner-in-crime, John (a real nasty piece of work) and is just caught with all the bad luck. The audience ends up sympathizing with both her as well as Vicki. Vicki’s mother, Maggie is also portrayed as a strong mother, who despite having to take s*** from her daughter, loves her to no end and will not give up in the search for her. The father, Trevor (Damian de Montemas) and Jason are hilariously given token roles.

What is impressive too are the top notch performances all around. Emma Booth carries the lead role confidently as well as the two other women Cummings and Porter. Stephen Curry who plays the nastiest villain seen in a while, looks completely different (most remembered from the Aussie film THE CASTLE) with his tacky moustache. Young spends some time with him grooming his moustache in the mirror before strutting out of the bathroom like a stud.

The film is expectedly violent and the ending matches the violence of BLUE VELVET without resorting to tricks like the cutting off of an ear. The climax of the film is a real nail-biter.

HOUNDS OF LOVE unsettled festival audiences in Venice and at SXSW and will definitely do the same with audiences everywhere. Young is clearly a talent to watch. Universal Pictures has already signed him on to direct the new 2018 sci-fi thriller EXTINCTION.



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