2019 TIFF Movie Review: AFRICA (Israel 2019) *** Directed by Oren Gerner

Africa Poster
AFRICA is a cinematic MRI of an aging parent from the hands of his son, Blurring the lines between fact and fiction.


Oren Gerner

AFRICA is set in the village of Beirut near the border of the West Bank where director Oren Gerner films his father, Meir (Meir Gerner), a 68-year old engineer retiree who is coming to terms with the problem of old age.  

He passes his time with his Alsatian dog and his wife, in his daily routines.  Life becomes especially meaningless when he is denied organizing the village ceremony which he has done in the past 30 years.  Why is the film called Africa?  Reason is that he and his wife visited the continent in the past and memories are now taking effect.  Africa brings back pleasant memories.  

The film provides a candid look at what it means growing old and making meaning out of what is left in life.  Gerner’s film moves at a leisurely pace allowing the audience to ponder at the film’s material.  Mildly funny but occasionally melancholy in its outlook on life.

Trailer:  (unavailable)

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: WESTERN (Germany/Bulgaria/Austria 2017)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Western Poster
A group of German construction workers start a tough job at a remote site in the Bulgarian countryside. The foreign land awakens the men’s sense of adventure.


Meinhard NeumannReinhardt Wetrek,Syuleyman Alilov Letifov

Likely called WESTERN because the characters in this Cannes hit travel to new frontiers like the classic John Ford and Howard Hawks westerns. A group of German construction workers labouring in the Bulgarian countryside to earn more money but trouble arrives in unexpected ways.

They raise their German flag proudly at the site. One of the workers tease the local girls swimming in the river. The locals take offence and old war resentment arises.

The workers and the locals have a problem of communication because of language The film is a bit hard to follow as one wonders which language is actual spoken and who can communicate. Nothing much happens.

Europeans particularly Germans would be able to appreciate this difficult diim more than North Americans.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8f8zHDwv_c

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: APOSTASY (UK 2017) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

 APOSTASY.jpgA faithful Jehovah’s Witness is forced to shun her own sister because of a religious transgression. As the separation draws out, she starts to question the meaning of God’s love.

Director: Dan Kokotajlo
Writer: Dan Kokotajlo
Stars: Siobhan Finneran, Robert Emms, Sacha Parkinson

Review Gilbert Seah

APOSTASY is a term for the formal abandonment of ones faith, regardless of what the faith might be. In this minimalist family drama set in Manchester, England, the faith of a family is put to the test. The family concerned is the mother, Ivanna (Sobhan Finneran) and her two daughters, 20-year old Louisa (Sacha Parkinson) and 18-year-old Alex (Molly Wright).

They are Jehovah Witnesses, who are rigorously devoted to their religion. They also take their religious mission door to door amongst a large Pakistani community in Oldham of Greater Manchester.

Alex has already received a blood transfusion at an early age, dictated by the hospital to save her life but a definite no-no in the belief of the faith. When Louisa gets impregnated by a non-believer, she is dis-fellowshipped by the Elders of the church. Not only that, but her mother and sister are disassociated and not allowed to see her.

All three main actresses are nothing short of superb. Director Kikotajlo is fond of using close ups to show the emotions of his characters’ faces. APOSTASY is a small budget film that dramatically achieves its aim of revealing the truth and hardships of a religious belief.

Trailer: (non available at time of writing)


TIFF 2017 Movie Review: COCAINE PRISON (Bolivia/Australia/France 2017) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

From inside Bolivia’s craziest prison a cocaine worker, a drug mule and his little sister reveal the countries relationship with cocaine.

Director: Violeta Ayala
Writers: Violeta Ayala (story),
Stars: Daisy Torres, Hernan Torres, Mario Bernal

Review by Gilbert Seah

Shot in Bolivia — including inside the notorious San Sebastian prison — over five years, Violeta Ayala’s COCAINE PRISON takes a close look at two subjects – the cocaine trade and the conditions of the prison.

What the audience sees is definitely shocking in this engaging film. The film follows Hernan and his sister Deisy, two Bolivian teenagers going to high school in Cochabamba with dreams of starting a band. Hernan gets caught and put to jail after attempting to carry two kilograms of cocaine across the border to Argentina.

He is sent to San Sebastian prison, a scarcely staffed open-air facility where the prisoners make most of the rules. Prisons in Canada, in comparison look like a summer relax camp. In San Sebastian, inmates have to cough up US$2000 to buy a cell in the prison grounds or sleep outside with the risk off getting mugged.

Director Ayala also follows the drug trade emphasizing the workers harvesting the leaves to the mules like Hernan who get imprisoned while the real drug dealers go free.

There is a sort of happy ending for Hernan as he gets pardoned but things on the whole do not look good for anyone else, including Hernan after he is released. Director Ayala taught English in the prison, which gave her access to filming inside it.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=14&v=WgZJWuFgMew


TIFF 2017 Movie Review: HAPPY END (France/Germany/Austria 2017) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

HAPPY END.jpgA drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.

Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz

Review by Gilbert Seah

HAPPY END can be seen as a film that infuses many of the traits of Haneke’s previous films. When the film opens, the audience sees what is happening though the recording on a cell phone, the routine of a 12-year old (Fantine Harduin) similar to the video surveillance in Haneke’s film CACHE (HIDDEN).

This 12-year old is not one to be tampered with. She has a mean streak, spying on her father’s (Matthieu Kassovitz) computer and discovering his affair. This is reminiscent of the power of children in Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON. The family is held together by Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert), the father’s sister. But suicide is in the mind of Anne’s father, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).

In Hanake’s first film, THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, the whole family committed mass suicide after a banquet meal. The dysfunctional family is all reminiscent of FUNNY GAMES in which a family is disrupted by a home invasion. All the events are seen from the point of view of the 12-year old, which brings the film to a good focus.

The ending is just as funny and shows that life goes on, happy or not. What constitutes a HAPPY END, is the question Haneke poses.

Trailer (en Francais): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0hv8I9YbDk

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOT TO BE ME (USA 2017) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.
sammy davis jrA star-studded roster of interviewees (including Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal) pay tribute to the legendary, multi-talented song-and-dance man.


Sammy Davis Jr.

As in the words of Sammy Davis, Jr. himself, “I am coloured, Jewish and Puerto Rican. When I move into a neighbourhood, I wipe it out.”

The same might be said for this exhaustive documentary, courtesy of director Sam Pollard, notable for having worked with Spike Lee. Davis’ talent and gift are so immense, that his presence takes over the entire movie. The doc does not contain a whole list of interviewees but just the most important ones – all being comedians including the recently deceased Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal.

All pay tribute to the legendary, multi-talented song-and-dance man, in this exhilarating documentary which is part of the American Masters series. Davis is shown here as dancer, singer (including a full rendering of the songs ‘I’ve Got to be Me’ and ‘Mr. Bojangles’), impressionist, and actor of unparalleled charisma.

He broke racial barriers (including marrying a white wife) but paid a heavy price for it. Pollard’s documentary of the legend ends up both an insightful and entertaining piece. I am sure many like me, could watch Sammy Davis, Jr. for hours.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu8AV81ANTw

sammy davis jr1

Film Review: QUEEN OF KATWE (USA 2016) ***

queen_of_katwe_poster.jpgQUEEN OF KATWE (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Mira Nair

Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o

Review by Gilbert Seah

The film is based on the book entitled “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” by Tim Crothers. The title itself tells exactly what is going to happen in the Disney film – Disney Studios the one being most famous for making formulaic films. Do we need then to watch this movie?
Apparently a lot of people think so. QUEEN OF KATWE has already been selected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and the London Film Festival later in November.

QUEEN OF KATWE is directed by Indian American Mira Nair. She is an odd choice for the job having taken on controversial projects like THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST. But she has directed crowd pleasers like MISSISSIPPI MASALA and SALAAM BOMBAY! The public will likely be quite pleased with QUEEN OF KATWE as Nair hits as many right notes as she can in this biographical sports drama.

For sports dramas where the sport involved is football or soccer or boxing, whoever watching the game knows what is happening and who might be winning. The same cannot be said for chess. Even at the crucial moment of a checkmate, by looking at the pieces on the board, no one can tell what is happening. This is a challenge for the director who needs to incite excitement in the game. This is achieved in one vey funny part when one character asks another during a match. “What does it mean?” The answer is jubilantly shouted: “It means she is winning!”
The film begins in 2011 when Phiona is playing in the chess championships. The rest of the film is told mainly in flashback – how Phiona has reached this point in her life and the film carries on from here.

Once can hardly complain about Nair’s direction or William Wheeler’s script. The film is thorough to include everything that an underdog has to go through to become a champion. The girl Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her family are evicted form her home; Phiona comes into conflict with her uneducated mother (Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong’o) who understands little of the importance of education; she loses an important game; she learns humility etc. etc. etc. By the time the film gets to the last reel with the climatic crucial chess game, the story has stretched out far too long. But for many who love getting their right buttons pushed. QUEEN OF KATWE will likely have them reaching for their tissues. David Oyelowo plays her coach Robert Katende, who always has the right advice for everyone and cannot do the wrong thing.
The best and most important part of the film is the one in which Phiona grows too proud after winning a game and decides she is too special to wash the vegetables for her mother. Her mother pulls her out of bed in the important scene screaming that maybe Phiona needs her feet washed as well.

The film ends well with each actor standing beside the real character their portrayed. There are no photos here, real people with real actors.

The film will be screened with in conjunction with a delightful and inventive animated short called INNER WORKINGS (director Leo Matsuda) – a sort of alternative take on INSIDE OUT. Running just over 5 minutes., this terribly funny film outshines QUEEN OF KATWE. But QUEEN won the runner-up prize for the People’s Choice Award at the recent TIFF.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4l3-_yub5A