Film Review: UNDER THE TREE (Iceland/Denmark/Poland/Germany 2017) ***1/2

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Clip

When Baldwin and Inga’s next door neighbours complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbours in the suburbs unexpectedly and violently spirals out of control.

Writers:

Huldar Breiðfjörð (story and screenplay), Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson (screenplay)

 

UNDER THE TREE is a simple story that unfolds in all its unpredictability and horror.  It is trouble for two neighbours, something that many can relate to.  The shade from a front yard tree brings tensions to a boil for two families in an Icelandic suburb.  The husbands Baldvin (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) have a small argument over trimming the big tree as Konrad’s wife, Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) likes to lie in the sun and does not want the shade from the tree.  But the wives argue.  The tires of  a car are slashed followed by rude gnomes ornaments placed in the front of the house.  Then when the cat goes missing, all hell breaks lose.  

Amidst the arguing, there is a subplot of the son, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) losing custody of his daughter after cheating on his wife., Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir).   

Director Sigurdsson knows how to up the angst, as evident at the film’s start, the wife catches the son watching porn.  “Is that you in the porn?”  she suddenly notices.  “Isn’t that Rakel in it with you in the porn?”  she asks again before kicking him out of the house and taking custody of their daughter.  Again this is an incident that many separated couple go through, fighting for custody.   Sigurdsson also keeps certain factors unknown to keep the audience guessing.  Did the neighbour really slash the tires?  Did the neighbour really put in the gnomes?  And where is that darn cat that has disappeared, though the final incident is revealed at the end of the film.

Sigurdsson keeps his film engaging from start to end by making his characters real, reacting and doing things that normal people all over the world might end up doing, when pushed to the limit.  

Of all the characters, Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) seems the nastiest.  She seems to be director Edda Björgvinsdóttir’s favourite. Inga slings dog shit at Eybjorg, calls her a cow and even calls her son a loser when he cheats on his wife.  The wives inch their husbands, who seem more tolerant, on.

Besides the black comedy, the film also contains segments of dramatic tension, like in the ones where Atli abducts his daughter or when he abuses her at her workplace.

The film is shot in the suburbs of the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.  These houses are modern looking, colourful, modest and too close to each other for comfort.   Trees and sun are scarce in Iceland so one can understand a neighbour not wanting the shade and the other not wanting his tree touched.

Edda Björgvinsdóttir’s film demonstrates the worst there is in human beings, creating a dark comedy at its blackest. His characters are unforgiving (Agnes cannot forgive Atli for cheating), vindictive (Agnes calls her cheating husband out as a masturbator of sex videos he indulges in, at a community meeting) and cowardly.

The ending comes with a good twist that leaves audiences satisfied that they have seen a really black comedy/drama.  The film dominated the Edda Awards (Icelandic equivalent of the Oscars) with seven wins, including best film, director, actor (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), actress (Edda Björgvinsdóttir), supporting actor (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), screenplay and visual effects.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU7KeDwJCAc

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Film Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (USA 2018) ***

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Sorry to Bother You Poster
Trailer

In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe.

Director:

Boots Riley

Writer:

Boots Riley

 

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU are the words one often hears on the telephone when called by an annoying telemarketer.  Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfiled) has just landed the job as one after an interview where he is discovered for bringing in fake trophies and prizes.  He is told that one only needs to read and come to work with a smiling face to get a job.  But one has to stick to the script (STTS), the most important motto and one that is pinned everywhere in notices around the office cubicles.

The film is set in an alternate present-day version of Oakland, where Cassius is having a rough life—living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and struggling to find a job.  Strapped for cash and desperate, he lands a position as a telemarketer, but has difficulty getting people to listen to him—until he discovers a magical key (introduced to him by a fellow telemarketer played by Danny Glover) to customers’ attention: using his “white voice”.   David Cross does Cassius’ white voice.  Cash quickly rises to the top of the telemarketing hierarchy, but risks losing sight of his morals as he achieves greater and greater success.

Things get crazier when Squeeze (Steven Yeun) organizes a strike.  But Cassius is singled out to become a power seller.  He gets to meet the big guy, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and begins working in a stranger environment when the film becomes weirder and weirder as a satire.  Nods are given to the George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where Boxer the horse is a hard, tireless worker but eventually turned into glue when unable to work any longer.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is a complex satire that obviously had a lot of work put into it.  When Cassius gets to work in his cubicle reading his script to a customer in a home, Cassius literally drops into the homes and catches them in odd positions including making love. 

The film contains no real insightful message of things that people do not already know.  Besides having really impressive sets and art direction, and really hard effort put, the film is a mixed mess.  One has to complement the superb coordination of work by the set and art director and writer/director Boots Riley.  Riley follows the company’s motto of sticking to his script though diverting into surrealism as much as opportunities arise.  One thing to be learnt from this effort is that there need be some order in the creation of a satire on disorder.

For all that has been described this overlong feeling film running at 105 minutes feels really boring for the first 30 minutes or so, as Riley sets up the stage for his satire.  His film then kicks into action and pretty crazy action at that.

Though Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU might be a textbook example of maximum effort and minimum results, one cannot help but give the man (who is supposed to be an activist, musician and artist) credit for trying.  It is this trying and effort that gives his film the most pleasure.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_5cO6RU3nw

 

 

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Film Review: THE DEATH (AND LIFE) OF CARL NAARDLINGER (Canada 2016) ***1/2

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The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger Poster
When a mild-mannered IT specialist discovers that a man with the same name as his is missing, he goes looking for him in the Toronto ravines. But instead of finding him, he finds the missing man’s identical twin brother.

 

THE DEATH (AND LIFE) OF CARL NARRDLINGER is one of those quirky little films about quirky little characters that succeeds in a quirky sort of way.  Consistent, meticulous and occasionally insightful, this was the kind of Canadian film that shot directors like Atom Egoyan and Ingrid Veninger to fame.

Carl Naardlinger (Matt Baram) has spent most of his life answering questions – on the telephone.  When your computer does not work – he is the IT consultant you call. Patient, intelligent and kind he is a voice in the interconnected ether – touching the lives of thousands of people he will never see, or meet. The film opens with Carl Naardlinger in action, doing what he does best on the telephone, though the caller goes on and on (comically) about her life rather tan seeking the solution from him.

The next scene is set in the Naardlinger home where Carl celebrates his birthday with his wife, Pam (Grace Lynn Kung).  Pam is a real estate agent, over meticulous over her work and also in maintaining the perfect relationship with her husband.  They eat healthy, speed walk daily and tell each other everything that happens daily.  Well, almost.  After Carl blows out the candle on his cake, they are interrupted by a knock on the door by missing persons person, Detective Renton (Anand Rajaram).  A man with the same name as his has gone missing and is presumed dead.  Carl instinctively feels related to the stranger that bears his own name.  Pam, his wife, is unnerved by a shocking coincidence of her own, when their annoying neighbour dies after she wishes it. It seems the Universe is playing a cruel joke on them both. Things get stranger when instead of finding the missing Carl Naardlinger, Carl finds his identical twin brother Don (Mark Forward) who happens to be in town for a conference.

If all these events sound implausible, director Schleemer resolves the puzzle neatly at the end.  But her film is not to be enjoyed for the puzzle but by the odd behaviour of each character in her story.  Two other characters, a couple Paula (Beatriz Yuste) and Larry (Ryan F. Hughes) a non so perfect couple, acquaintances of the missing Carl come into the picture.  The one common trait among all of Schleemer’s characters is neediness.

Of all the actors creating all these oddballs, Grace Lynn Kung is terrific as the perfectionist Pam.  Kung won the Best Actress ACTRA Award for her role in this film.

The film is shot around Toronto in the city area and in the ravines where there still are lots of green.  The script make good use of Toronto and its surroundings with familiar names (to Torontonians) of areas and streets mentioned in the film.

Given the unknown names in the cast, the odd plot and the small budget, the film might no attract big enough a crowd to give this film the credit it deserves.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrWZPADPm3I&feature=youtu.be

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Film Review: DARKEN (Canada 2017) **

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Darken Poster
A nurse finds herself in a dark and mysterious world.

Director:

Audrey Cummings

Writer:

RJ Lackie

The words at the beginning of tho new Telefilm Canada horror film DARKEN tells the audience: DARKEN is the resting sanctuary for all souls – whatever that means.  Darken is set in a bizarre, mysterious, and violent unknown world supposedly set with danger and death around every corner.  

Mother Darken appears to be the God in some alternative universe or different dimension.  Her high priestess, Clarity (Christine Horne) and oddball looking and acting assistant, Martin (Ari Millen) accuse a member of their religious sect of betrayal.  When the betrayer admits her guilt, she is stabbed and pushed out a door out of this universe.

A nurse, Eve (Bea Santos) helps the wounded girl, but ends up entering DARKEN through a one-way door.

Eve finds a violent prison-like world of labyrinthine rooms, interconnected with no apparent rhyme or reason and no way of escape.  If all this sounds weird and unbelievable – it is! As she fights for survival within this brutal place, she finds allies who are rebelling against the rule of a self-appointed religious despot who demands allegiance to the all-powerful god called “Mother Darken.”  Eve and the exiles, as they are called must fight with everything they have if they are to have any hope of surviving the horrors Darken has in store for them.  The exiles are told that they have to keep moving.  But apparently, they are moving nowhere – and getting to nowhere fast.  And again when one exile is wounded, Eve (humorously) says:” We need to move her now.”  

The film plays like a children’s playground game adults that have forgotten to grow up indulge.  The fight scenes are executed for more gore and violence that excitement.  Lots of pain are inflicted on the wounded.

Olunike Adeliyi playing an exile, Kali deserves an acting award for the most over-acting performance in a movie this year.  She demonstrates how to act with her eyeballs, nose, lips and grimaces.   The dialogue is terribly silly: “Mother (Darken) is terribly upset!”  “Whenever I turn my back, they always disobey me.”  “Mother is so angry with us.”  – being a few examples.  The character Clarity is exceptionally good at giving orders and doing nothing.  The exiles use lighters that they somehow have, to light their way in the darkness though none of them smoke.

Prior to the film’s theatrical release, the producers Shaftesbury had released an 11-part digital prequel series, Darken: Before the Dark on YouTube, taking audiences deep inside the fantastic otherworld of DARKEN.  The audience is presented here with multiple points of entry on a range of platforms to build a world around the film. With DARKEN, audiences can watch the digital series, connect and discuss on social, immerse themselves via the VR experience, see the film on the big screen, or pre-order it to re-watch at home

DARKEN went on to win Best Science Fiction Feature at Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, Best Fantasy Feature at Motor City Nightmares International Film Festival, and won four awards at Blood In The Snow Festival including Best Director and Best Cinematography.  Whatever all these awards mean, DARKEN is not a very good horror film – overacted, overdone, unbelievable story – a textbook case of maximum effort and minimum results.  But DARKEN is recommended for its unintentional humour!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Itt-itaQZi0

 

 

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Interview with Festival Director Oliver Wolfson (THE 60 SECOND FILM FESTIVAL)

Introducing The 60 Second Film Festival India 2018. Presented with Yayin Studios, Pune India. Event sponsored by Chandan Kumar Entertainment, Chandan Kumar Film Director & Producer.

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1) What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

We give filmmakers a chance to be seen and enjoyed by peers and professionals. We also offer freedom of creativity for artists.

2) What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2018)?

Joy, entertainment, education, and community.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

Films should be 60 seconds or less, and have some good qualities that can benefit a live film festival audience.

4) Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

No we think there are massive opportunities for filmmakers now to get their work seen at festivals, but also a lot of competition. There are no barriers except for the filmmakers energy, endurance, and creativity.

5) What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

We love to see talented creatives join together and become more than the sum of their parts.

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

We like this platform. It has been wonderful so far.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023?

We have many interesting plans for this festival, but it will grow organically, so it’s hard to predict. We expect our audience and amount of creators to grow a lot by then.

8) What film have you seen the most times in your life?

16 Candles. I was stuck in a snow lodge for three month with only this VHS (in the late 1980s)

9) In one sentence, what makes a great film?

Emotional impact.

10) How is the film scene in your city?

Film and video is constantly being consumed on big and small screens.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Film Review: DISOBEDIENCE (UK/Ireland/USA 2017) ***1/2

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Disobedience Poster
Trailer

A woman returns to the community that shunned her for her attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

 

Three big reasons stand out for one to see DISOBEDIENCE.  The first is its director, Chilean Sebastian Leilo who won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for A FANTASTIC WOMAN this year.  The second is the script, based on Naomi Alderman’s 2006 acclaimed novel, co-written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz who wrote the Best Foreign Film Oscar Winner IDA, a few years back.  The third is the cast of Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams who go all out to do a same-sex love story compete with a no-holds barred erotic sex scene.

The film begins with a scene of a dissatisfied New York photographer, Ronit (Weisz), a single woman in the city, shown never smiling and having casual sex while receiving news of her father’s passing in London.  She travels to London only to be met with a surprise welcome by the Orthodox Jews that she ran away from.  Her father was a strong pillar, a Rabbi of the Jewish Orthodox Community and she is deemed an outcast.  This is material that moviegoers would shy less run away from.  The film takes a while to gets its footing, and if one is patient enough not to give up on the uncommercial storyline, the reward is a well told powerful tale of freedom, especially from the feminine point of view that is so relevant in today’s times.

So, with her edgy clothing and tousled hair, Ronit looks out of place among the Orthodox women in their plain black garments and synthetic wigs.  She is also in for some unsetting surprises, including the contents of her father’s obituary and will.  She is further shocked to find that her two childhood friends – Esti (McAdams) and rabbi-to-be Dovid (Novice) – are now married.  When Dovid invites Ronit to stay with them, Esti and Ronit rekindle their secret passion for each other.  The film’s second half focuses on the love affair and Esti’s demand to be freed from her marriage form Dovid.

The Jewish rituals are respectfully created with perfect voices singing of the hymns.  But the film clearly has a prejudiced view of the Orthodox Jewish ways.  It looks down at the practices from the very first scene with the over-stern sermon on devils and angels given by the Rabbi before suffering the heart attack that initiates the story’s chain of events.

The sexual scenes are very graphic and erotic especially in the sharing of saliva during a sex scene, reminiscent of Stephen Frears’ sex scene in MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE

The same-sex love is also seen for Esti’s point of view, not only from Ronit’s.  This makes the drama even more relevant.  Understandably, the film’s best scene is the confrontation between Esti and her husband when beating him on the chest, she confesses that she always loved Rachel.

The one reason the film about freedom is so powerful is that erector Leilo switches the points of view from Ronit to Esti to Dovid.  The audience sees and sympathizes with each, not only seeing each person in the love triangle’s point of view but knowing that each are trapped by the past and present emotions.

It does not matter how the story ends.  The film is about emotions and the right to choose, and Leilo’s message comes across bight and clear in his well-executed drama.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEVonh8bjC0

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Film Review: A QUIET PLACE (USA 2018) ***1/2

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A Quiet Place Poster
A family is forced to live in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound.

Director:

John Krasinski

Writers:

Bryan Woods (screenplay by), Scott Beck (screenplay by) |3 more credits »

A QUIET PLACE is actor John Krasinki’s third directorial effort, a horror film that premiered at the South by Southwest film festival.  Krasinski also co-write the script with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck based on their story.  His first two films (THE HOLLARS, BREIF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN) were, to put it mildly, nothing to write home about .  A QUIET PLACE also stars Krasinki’s wife, Emily Blunt, which is a clear signal to stay away.  But DON’T.  A QUIET PLACE is his assured directorial piece that would put many horror directors to shame.  It is scary, suspenseful and even had the audience (at the promo I attended) cheering at the end.  These are signs of a good horror film, and the film has been getting rave reviews since its premiere.

The poster looks like David Cronenberg’s RABID.  A woman, bloodied lies in a bath tub.  The scene occurs in the middle of the film when Evelyn (Blunt) has to deliver a new born in silence while the monster attracted to sound lurks around the house.

The script concentrates on scary set-ups but omits details and history of the setting.  Nothing is mentioned on how the situation came about.  What brought about the destruction of the human race?  Where did these supposedly deaf creatures come from?  What is the reason the Abbott family is the only one that survived?  But one can argue that if the film works in its aim at scaring, no one should question these omissions in plot.  As Hitchcock as proven in many of his films, the same holds true in A QUIET PLACE.

The placement of an expecting mother having to give birth in silence for fear of monsters attracted to noise is nothing short of brilliant.  The delivery scene kept the audience at the edge of their seats, evident as I looked around the theatre during the segment.

A word of warning!  This film requires a very silent audience, so pick a seat away from others.  The screening I attended had a person bring his own snacks, and one could hear him crackling his packages open and cans of pop.  Really annoying.  The theatre should ban popcorn and snacks for the screening of this film.

The special effects and sound are impressive.  The monster with its big ears and dripping saliva moving around to the sound of a creaking door is sufficiently menacing.

It is well to note that Millicent Simmonds (Todd Hayne’s WONDERSTRUCK) who plays Regan the deaf daughter is deaf in real life.  Krasinksi did not want a non-deaf actress pretending to be deaf.  Most important is the fact that a deaf actress would help his knowledge and understanding of the situations tenfold.  Simmonds who communicates in American Sign Language in the film to avoid sound taught the actors ASL during the filming.  The authenticity comes through in the film.

A QUIET PLACE achieves what it aims at, a solid horror film with a message of strong family values that ends up satisfying entertainment for all. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9wE8dyzEJE

 

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