Film Review: TROUBLE IN THE GARDEN (Canada 2018)

Trouble in the Garden Poster

Bailed out and taken in by a brother she hasn’t seen in years, an Indigenous protester and her adoptive family reckon with betrayal – of love, land, and blood.


Roz Owen


Roz Owen

The film is appropriately entitled TROUBLE IN THE GARDEN as retesting activist Raven also known as Pippa McTavish (Cara Gee) is camped on in a tent in the garden of her surety who bailed her out and who is under house arrest in his home.  Raven is trouble personified.

The film opens with Pippa arrested and jailed form protesting land development on disputed Indigenous land.  Arrested – McTavish.  A white man, Colin (Jon For) bails her out and she has to stay house arrest with his family.  The following scene has Colin putting up a real estate sign, as he sells houses under the name McTavish.  It is then revealed that Pippa is the adopted daughter and Colin the son of a white family.  Pippa was disowned by the father for the reason disclosed later in the film.

The script by Owen is a bit too over-the-top in its good intentions.  It is written for plenty of dramatic theatrics which means that there are too many incidents that are too coincidental to be believable.  Example of cliched dialogue: “They are white but they are fucked.  But they are the only family that I got.”

Another of the film’s problems is its feminism and radicalism.  Sure, the land of the Indigenous people have been stolen, but the white man is considered evil with no redemption whatsoever.  The script squeezes in a lot of key issues.  Among these include the fact that: the natives were never allowed and the government considered it a crime for them to hire lawyers till the 60’s to fight to gain back their stolen land – a point that would anger many Canadians besides the natives. One can imagine the anger of the Indigenous people over the stolen land – an issue that can never be resolved.  As the saying goes, why bring it to the courts?  Can one expect justice in stolen land?  

The script makes a twist to have the brother’s wife side with Raven. When Colin’s wife finds out about her husband Colin’s unfaithfulness to his sister, she storms out of the house and family. One would think her loyalty more to her family, especially when she is expecting a second child than side with Pippa who the audience learns has also upset Colin and the wife’s wedding reception.

Actors Gee and For are good and more worthy than the material they are given.  They commit to their confrontation scenes with conviction and bring enough drama to the film,.

Owen is a British born filmmaker now residing in Toronto.  She must have taken up the cause of the Indigenous people while maintaining her strong female saint in her filmmaking.  

The film boasts: Betrayal and reckoning – the issues that Raven will have to come to grips with, not to mention trying to reconcile with her brother and her well-intentioned adoptive parent.  These are too ambitious and too many issues that are never satisfactorily resolved in the 70 minute movie.



Film Review: ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (USA 2019) ***

Alita: Battle Angel Poster

A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is.


Robert Rodriguez


James Cameron (screenplay by), Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »

Not really looking forward to this Hollywood extravaganza, ALITA:BATTLE ANGEL turns out not too bad, aided by its awesome looking futuristic setting of a junkyard metropolis after a devastated War.  The city looks like an overcrowded India with Zalem another city hanging over it.  

The film is based on a manga graphic series which usually spells trouble in the narrative department.  But the script is written by no less than AVATAR helmer James Cameron with Laeta Kalogridis blending in some action and romance to bring in females into the target audience in what is essentially a male movie despite its female protagonist.                                                                                                                                                        The film’s setting is the year 2562 after a huge war referred to as ‘the fall’ has destroyed Earth.  All the inhabitants of the planet has settled into Iron City.  At the film’s start,  Cyborg scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Oscar Winner Christoph Waltz) discovers a disembodied female cyborg with a fully intact human brain.  Ido rebuilds the cyborg and names her Alita (Rosa Salazar) complete with doll face looking a bit like Cameron’s AVATAR creatures).                                                                                                                                  As the film progresses, Alita and the audience learn more of what’s happened to Earth.  Warrior hunters are brought in.  Ido is revealed to be one of them.  Alita falls in love with a human named Hugo.  Hugo has the dream of entering the sky city of Zalem, that stands like a kind of Utopian heaven.  There is also a violent game of motorball (reminiscent of ROLLERBALL) that Alita has some talent for.  Alita also discovers her past and her exceptional fighting capabilities..The story’s villains are Vector and Nova played by Mahershala Ali and Edward Norton respectively, each taking their role tongue-in-cheek as if not to laugh uncontrollably. Christoph Watlz gets a break from playing a baddie, which one would think must’ve pleased him.  At theToronto International Film Festival press conference for DOWNSIZING,  Waltz was questioned by a journalist if he faced a problem with all those baddie roles.  Waltz was visibly upset and replied maybe that was the journalist’s problem.  Waltz plays the role of an eccentric father this time around.  Jennifer Connolly plays his sympathetic ex, Shiren.                         The story is nothing special, understandable since it is based on a manga graphic novel.  What makes up for it is the well orchestrated fight scenes and the motor ball sports matches even though it looks as if they were taken right out of ROLLERBALL.                                                                                                                         The climax includes a segment where Alita and Hugo are on a gigantic tube that connects Iron City to the high city Zalem.  Hugo climbs the tune up to Zalem.  It is a spectacular sight (looking more spectacular if viewed in 3-D IMAX, high I was fortunate enough to see the film in).  One really ridiculous looking scene has Alita holding Hugo’s hand as he hangs for dear life after falling.  Trouble is that only his torso is left, as he was repaired as a cyborg.  Seeing Alita trying to save a torso looks really funny though that cliff having suspenseful scene was taken quite seriously by the audience at the screening I attended.                                                                 ALITA ends up not the best of Rodriguez and Cameron’s efforts but still an entertaining one for all the corny manga story is worth.


Next Wave Film Festival Review: BLUE MY MIND (Switzerland 2017) ***

Blue My Mind Poster

15-year-old Mia is facing an overwhelming transformation which calls her entire existence into question. Her body is changing radically, and despite desperate attempts to halt the process, … See full summary »


Lisa Brühlmann

This Swiss production, shot in Swiss German follows the difficulties of a young Mina (Luna Wedler) as she goes through puberty.  At the same time, a strange transformation is occurring as she has appetite and swallows the goldfish in her fish tank.  In the surreal tale, she attends a new school where she turns from being bullied to being belonged.  Her group of school friends now accept her and she turns out to be worst then them in terms of partying and having sex with the boys.  “Do you sleep with anyone, you slut!” says one of the boys to Mia.  

Her clueless parents are of no help either.  One wishers there are more scenes with Mia’s parents as they are unintentionally funny and interesting.  Actress Wedler is marvellous as Mia, creating a character that one can feel sympathetic for, despite her rebellious nature.  

One wonders the reason director Lisa Brühlmann inserted the surrealism in the film as the film could have done just as effective without it.


Film Review: THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (USA/Denmark/Australia 2019) ****

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Poster

It’s been five years since everything was awesome and the citizens are facing a huge new threat: Lego Duplo invaders from outer space, wrecking everything faster than they can rebuild.


Mike Mitchell


Phil Lord (screenplay by), Christopher Miller (screenplay by) | 3 more credits »

THE LEGO MOVIE 2’s  story in the human world starts after the events of the first film made in 2014, just as Finn’s toddler sister Bianca starts to play with Duplo blocks and tries to take over Bricksburg.  Bianca has grown up.  In the intervening years, Bianca has taken more of the Lego sets into her own room to incorporate into her own creations causing Finn  to get angry with her when he discovers this.   Meanwhile in the Lego story, the Duplo invaders have turned Bricksburg into a post-apocalyptic wasteland named Apocalypseburg, and continue to invade periodically.  On one occasion, Master Builder Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) attempts to broker peace between the citizens and the aliens with a Lego heart, to no avail.  The ordeal has made most of Apocalypseburg’s citizens hardened, but Emmet remains upbeat, wanting to move into a dream home with Lucy (Elizabeth Banks).   However, Emmet is troubled by dreams of a pending “Our-mom-ageddon”.

The film pays nods to a dozen films including the MAD MAX films, JURASSIC PARK, STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, BACK TO THE FUTURE and of course all the films the other Lego characters come from like Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Aquaman (Jason Mom) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) among others.  These are the super heroes from the Warner Bros films.

The animation is impressive.  The Lego character also include fabrics and paper, exploring multiple animation styles for each playlet, thus expanding the target audience for girls as well as boys.

Mike Mitchell takes over the director reins from Lord and Miller who directed the original and Chris McKay initially signed to direct the sequel.  Mitchell does an awesome job.  Chris Miller and Phil Lord who stay around this film to write the screenplay.  The story is inventive and clever incorporating tow different worlds and in the concept of good and evil.

THE LEGO MOVIE worked, so there is no need to change the successful formula.  The format of the first film is kept similar including an ending involving human beings coming into the picture with the LEGO characters transforming into inanimate toys.  Will Farrell is again present (though is voice is only heard, shouting words like: “Where are my pants, honey?”)

Is the sequel just as awesome as the first?  It is awesome and just as inventive and hilarious.  The climax where Maya Rudolph appears as the mother is simply non-stop laugh-out loud laughter.  The original famous song “Everything is awesome” is replaced by a sister song “Everything’s Not Awesome” with news owns like “Catchy Song” written by Jon Lajoie who did the songs for the first movie.  The “Catchy Song” has the phrase ‘this song is gonna get stuck inside your head’ and indeed it does  Great songs and soundtrack!

THE LEGO MOVIE 2 is an animated film that should please both kids and adults.  It is tamed down several notches making it more coherent that the terrible LEGO NINJA movie.


Interview with Festival Director Brent Kado (Chicago Independent Film +TV Festival)

The Chicago Independent Film and TV Festival supports international and national filmmakers and showcase strong independent work in the city of Chicago.

CIFF fills the overdue need for a quality international independent film festival in Chicago. Ran by filmmakers with a recognized and notable track record, CIFF not only brings quality projects to Chicago but partners with reputable, knowledgeable local film and arts groups. We will use an inside-out approach to championing local creators. After having worked in both Chicago and Los Angeles for nine years we understand the realities of film and video in Chicago and the bulk of the opportunities outside of the region. We see the need to educate and champion local production opportunities but also the actuality of the current industry.


Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Brent Kado: We are connecting them with strong opportunities to success both in Chicago and in LA. We’re happy to be working in both cities and love connecting the two filmmaking communities together.

2) What would you expect to experience if you attend your upcoming festival?

We are doing many co-events with our sister festival Chicago Comedy Film Festival. Between the two festivals we will have over 300 filmmakers, actors, agents and producers in attendance. So it is a great way to network. Obviously you’ll see amazing premieres of films and enjoy talking with those involved in each project.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

Chicago premiere and not online or distributed.

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

Not really. There is a gluttony of film festivals right now. So many little towns have them, 100s in LA, so I feel you can get in somewhere. But the really difference maker is getting into the top tier fests.

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

We are filmmakers who understand the festival circuit. We’ve had our own successes (and failures). Our team understands the work and love for independent filmmaking. We’ve also seen a lag in good advise, education and credibility in Chicago’s scene and really try hard to inform and promote our filmmakers to the larger industry in Chicago and LA.

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

Good overall. The main issues with them is, again, this gluttony of festivals and awards “contests” and needing to do better weeding out the scams and misleading events.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023?

With Chicago Comedy Film Festival we’ve seen growth happen in areas I never would have thought. Things happened organically and I expect the same for CIFF. I hope we grow as needed and continue to work with Chicago Comedy Film Festival on creating content and having educational initiatives that make a difference.

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

Besides my own, Friday and Gimme Shelter

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


10) How is the film scene in your city?

Chicago is a great place to create. Cheap, lots of resources and supportive. It’s also a great city to consume art, including film.


chicago 2

Film Review: THE PRODIGY (USA 2019) ***

The Prodigy Poster

A mother concerned about her young son’s disturbing behavior thinks something supernatural may be affecting him.


Jeff Buhler

THE PRODIGY is a horror slasher/possession film that by nature of the script evokes a lot of thinking – at least from my part.  Part of these will be mentioned in the review.

The plot centres around a child, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) whose disturbing behaviour signals that an evil, possibly supernatural force possessed him, forcing his parents, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) to investigate whether sinister forces are involved.  Miles is a prodigy with exceptional learning ability though socially backward.  The film is clear later on to let the audience know the difference between possession and reincarnation though the effect of both on a horror film is the same – i.e Miles behaves like a different being.

The film begins with three intercut scenes.  One is a woman screaming for help, running out of the woods stopping a car driven by another woman, who stops.  The second is a birth, an early one at that, with the mother in labour.  The scene is intercut with a man in his tool shed, called out by the police and then gunned down in the yard.  The man clasps what seems to be a severed hand.  When the woman gives birth the writhing baby fades into the dying man that was gunned down by the police.   The film then moves on in years when the baby is now grown to a boy of different ages 8 and 10.  It does not take a genius to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together, but it is still fun doing it.  The dead serial killer is reincarnated in the boy.  The parents have to figure out what is happening and who the reincarnating killer is and save the day, and hopefully their son in the process.  A doctor, Arthur Jacobson (played by Canadian Colm Feore) aids in solving the mystery.

The film is supposedly set in Pennsylvania but shot in Canada.  The actors are a mix of Canadian and American casting.

McCarty’s film is both scary in concept and execution.  One is not knowing what your child will grow up to be.  One scene has the mother wondering the same question, then assured by the physician that the boy is giftedly bright.  The film contains graphic gore and violence – the most disturbing scene involving the boy hitting another with a huge wrench.

Not to mention any details, there is one glitch in the story that I thought evaded the scriptwriter.  But upon closer examination, the script allowed for that discrepancy if one thinks hard enough.  The details will not disclosed for plot twists would have to be revealed.

THE PRODIGY is not without its loose ends (how did the boy get the sharp shears in the car?  How did the boy have the tools to make the camera to spy on his parents), which is forgivable in a low budget horror movie.  Still this is one hell of a thinking horror film, and a satisfying one nevertheless.


Film Review: WHAT MEN WANT (USA 2019) **

What Men Want Poster

A woman is boxed out by the male sports agents in her profession, but gains an unexpected edge over them when she develops the ability to hear men’s thoughts.


Adam Shankman


Tina Gordon (screenplay by) (as Tina Gordon Chism), Peter Huyck (screenplay by) |8 more credits »

WHAT MEN WANT is a black woman’s fantasy romantic comedy, a loose remake of the 2000 film WHAT WOMEN WANT.  It is fantasy as the plot follows a woman who, after drinking a potent concoction given by a shaman, gains the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts.  

There is nothing new or innovative in this rom-com with a little spin targeting a black female audience.  Last year’s Netflix original NAPPILY HAPPY AFTER saw a Black lady get her man.  The twist here is hair that made up her life – hair standing as a metaphor for her ego.  WHAT MEN WANT’s twist is less subtle, after an incident, the female protagonist can hear men’s thoughts.

So what do men think that is funny?  Apparently not much as the film attests.  Lots of dirty thoughts, gay thoughts and ridiculous thoughts, most of them more outrageous than funny.  

The woman in question is Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson), a successful sports agent working in a man dominated world of sports.  Her personal agent, who is gay, Brandon (Josh Brener) dreams of becoming a sports agent but Ali wants him all to herself.  When she is passed over to become partner in the firm she questions what she needs to succeed in a man’s wold.  This is when she gains, half hour trough the movie, the ability other men’s thoughts.  This allows her not only to gain the upper hand at work but to engage in sex with several hunks including one who becomes her main romantic interest.

Of all the comedic set-ups, one stands out.  Oddly, the stand out if from Henson’s outrageousness as well as the scene’s.  This is the sex scene between Ali and Will (Aldis Hodge).  Ali plays the dominant sex partner, totally in control and freaking Will out so much so he can hardly breathe (yes, she chokes him) or speak.  Finally after they complete the act, she rolls over to her side to sleep ignoring him and leaving him looking totally flabbergasted.  I would not consider revealing this scene a spoiler as it has to be seen as description does not do the segment justice.

Other parts of the story involving Will’s son, Will and Ali’s misunderstanding and her work among men in the office fall into cliched territory.  The part where Ali makes up with her friends propel the plot but is rather uninventive.

It is interesting to note that Ali possesses this ‘power’ for only half of the movie.  She gains the power only after the 30 minute mark and loses it 30 minutes before the film ends.  Obviously the filmmakers do not think too highly of this niche in the rom-com story.

The film runs close to 2 hours, and that is very long for the typical romantic comedy.  And one feels the length of the running time.  The material is stretched out far too long for too many unfunny parts just to get the narrative flowing and unnecessarily.  Credit to Taraji P. Henson for trying really hard to make the film work.