Review: The Eyes of My Mother

In a remote farmhouse, Francisca (Olivia Bond as a child and Kika Magalhaes as an adult) lives with her mother, a former surgeon from Portugal, and her hardworking father. Her mother has shown her some of her surgical skills on the cows on their land, and Francisca has never really feared death. When their peaceful life is shattered by an intruder who kills her mother, Francisca is left to live with her withdrawn father and the strange desires this event has awakened in her. As the years pass, Francisca’s need for an outside connection leads her to some very disturbing behaviour.

I’ve always been fascinated by “nature versus nurture,” the idea that a person exhibits behaviours based on the way they’re raised, or something they have inherited. Obviously both play a role in people, but the idea that someone could be born “bad” is one that plays into a lot of horror films. It’s this idea that drew me into Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother.

When Francisca was little, her mother exposed her to things that other children would find horrific. An image of the two of them sitting at the table with a cow head would send most kids screaming from the room, but Francisca is not bothered by this. When her mother is brutally murdered, she doesn’t even scream, and when her father arrives home in the middle of the crime, she simply states that she couldn’t leave mother.

This begins a life of disturbing behaviour for Francisca, not all of it her own doing. Saying more would only spoil the twisted fun of The Eyes of My Mother, but she finds herself in a number of situations that opens up a new world for her. A world where pain and murder bring her a pleasure she’s never really known.

Visually, The Eyes of My Mother can get quite graphic. While onscreen death isn’t really something that happens, the aftermath of an attack is typically on display for all to see, and that’s graphic enough. This isn’t what makes the film so disturbing though. The performance from Kika Magalhaes as Francisca is what’s truly terrifying. She displays no empathy for anybody around here, and views other people in a clinical way, much like her mother would have viewed someone she would operate on. It’s Magalhaes who brings the terror to the film.

This brings it all back to nature or nurture. Was Francisca born with this lack of empathy towards people, or was the fact that her mother brought her up in a place where things were more cold and calculating the reason for her actions as an adult? Thinking about the glimpses of her traumatic childhood while watching an adult Francisca take part in some frightening behaviour gives The Eyes of My Mother an level of intelligence rarely seen in horror films.

Indie Tuesdays: Hive

Director Adam Ciolfi (The Lady of Names, Broken) brings a moving stop-motion experience to viewers with his latest short film, Hive. The short follows three survivors of an alien race as their world crumbles around them. Trapped in a church, they discuss what has become of their world, how it has affected their faith, and what little hope they may have left.

Ciolfi also handles writing duties for Hive, which feels particularly prescient after the recent elections south of the border. While I’m sure this is all coincidence, there’s no escaping the fact that his short certainly echoes the way many people seem to feel at the moment. His characters talk about the way that they ignored the signs of what would come, and moved forward believing that everything would be right, even though they knew it wouldn’t. If that doesn’t fit our current thinking, nothing does.

The story soon moves onto questions about God and faith, and while nothing is really surprising in what is said, it doesn’t make it any less powerful. More importantly, the short doesn’t choose sides. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to belief, and it shouldn’t change the way we look at one another.

The design of Hive is fantastic, and the stop-motion is quite smooth, something that doesn’t always happen when it comes to lower budget offerings like this. The characters look a bit like ants, which also brings to mind the place where they live. One could go off on wild tangents imagining that their world is simply existing inside our own, or that it’s on its own out in the universe. Trapped in one location, there’s nothing to suggest where everything is taking place, adding another level of mystery that we can bring our own conclusions to.

While it may not be earth shattering in what it says, Hive is still powerfully written and well voice acted. With an interesting design and solid techniques, it’s a short film that you shouldn’t miss, which is perfect because it happens to be screening at Carlton Cinema as part of Little Terrors Horror Shorts on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at 9:00 pm. Check their website for more information.

Hive Trailer

Review: Antibirth

If there was one film to sum up the kind of experience you should be looking for at a genre film festival, Antibirth would be it. This is one movie you don’t want to miss out on. The film follows Lou (Natasha Lyonne), a drunken stoner who spends most of her time hanging out with her friend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny). After a drunken party that Lou can’t even remember, she realizes that she may be pregnant, but can’t figure out how. As Lou tries to figure out what happened during her blackout, she starts to become incredibly sick. Soon she’s hearing voices and seeing things, and her pregnancy becomes a part of an even bigger nightmare.

That’s about as much information as you should know about Antibirth. The twists and turns in director Danny Perez‘s film are best experienced without knowing very much. The film manages to smash a variety of genres together quite successfully, and the slow build towards an outrageous ending is captivating. It can be difficult to follow at times, but viewers won’t really mind when the result is so successful.

This is the kind of film that you’ll want to watch over and over, just to catch all the little details you may have missed on previous viewings. Lyonne and Sevigny give outstanding performances, while Meg Tilly steals the show towards the end of the movie as Lorna, a woman who shares some things in common with Lou, and someone who happens to know more about what’s going on. The finale delivers on the promises that the film has made, and while not everybody may enjoy it, it’s impossible to deny that it’s powerful and filled with some of the most amazing effects on display.

Remixing the elements: interview with Antibirth director Danny Perez

It’s typically best to know as little about a film as possible before going to watch it. With that in mind, my conversation with director Danny Perez, whose film Antibirth screens at the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, contains a few spoilers for the film. This mind bending, genre mashing, psychedelic treat tells the story of Lou (Natasha Lyonne), a drunken stoner who finds herself seemingly pregnant after a blackout drunk evening with her friend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny). Lou can’t figure out how she could be pregnant, as she knows she hasn’t slept with anybody in weeks, but since she can’t remember the last party she was at, she figures it has to be from that night. As Lou and Sadie try to find out what happened to her that evening, Lou becomes incredibly sick. She’s starting to see and hear things, and it starts to become apparent that this is anything but a normal pregnancy.

That’s as much information as you should really know before seeing Antibirth. I can guarantee you that you’ve never seen something quite like this, even if all the pieces do feel a bit familiar. If you’ve been heading out to genre film festivals for any number of years, it’s safe to say that Antibirth may just be the definition of a perfect genre festival film. It checks all the boxes of what you would want from a festival film, and manages to become something you won’t soon forget. Read on if you don’t mind finding out a little more about the film, but I would recommend just going to watch it first and coming back to hear what Perez has to say about the film.

“The movie is supposed to be a meltdown theatre dream freakout.”

When I get in touch with Perez about a week before his film screens at Toronto After Dark, he’s actually walking through the desert around Joshua Tree National Park shooting a video and getting ready for an outdoor screening of Antibirth. It’s a fitting location for the twisted film, as well as part of the inspiration for Perez while writing the film. “My older brother is in the Marines. When
I came out here to visit him, he told me they had a lot of problems with the Marines at night on the weekends because you’re out here in the desert and there’s nothing to do. These are 18 to 22-year-old guys, so they would just get into weird drugs and whore houses and massage parlours on the weekends, and I felt that was a really interesting duality. The harshness of the military with the reckless abandon of partying in the desert.”

Antibirth is set in a military town, with Lou living in a rundown trailer inherited from her father, who served himself. It provides a background for the events that take place, but it’s something that you may not fully realize on a first viewing. There’s a lot going on in the film and multiple viewings will allow audiences to really grasp all the little details, something that Perez explains was the plan all along. “Everything is very intentional, it’s very calculated. It’s very intentional as far as all the different references and devices butting up against each other. There’s a lot going on in the sound design and the music and the TV stuff and I know the narrative isn’t super clear as far as a big explanation at the end but there’s actually many hints and touches throughout the movie. The information is there, it’s just kind of organized and displayed in a different way.”

Every detail seems important, including those moments on various television sets throughout the film that Perez spoke about. If you can catch all those tiny moments, the bigger details are basically explained in the smaller ones. “I like to have a little bit more of an ambiguous atmosphere.” Perez says about the way the film tells its story. “Really the whole movie is about consumerism and consumption and the shitty stuff that our culture has done to ourselves as far as our bloated state, but the visual parable or the analogy I’m using is of pregnancy.”

“I definitely knew the whole time, regardless of what the narrative exposition or climax was going to be, I knew that I wanted to have a really harsh left turn at the end of the movie.”

Trying to sum up Antibirth can be difficult, although Perez has had plenty of practice from pitching the film. “When I was trying to sell it and pitch it around Los Angeles, I kept telling people it’s The Big Lebowski meets The Fly, because everybody wants this comparison, they need a ‘this meets this.’ I’m definitely of the mindset that everything has been done before and at this point we’re just reconfiguring and remixing the elements to try and make something new. I’m not so proud or naive to tell you you’ve never seen anything like this before. I can point to every scene in the movie and be like yeah, this is a reference to this, this is a reference to The Fly, this is a reference to this experimental filmmaker that I like. It’s all stuff I could easily point you to. I’m just playing with stuff that I like and trying to make something new.”

While the narrative of the film can be a bit difficult to follow at times, Perez knew exactly where he wanted the film to wind up.”I definitely knew the whole time, regardless of what the narrative exposition or climax was going to be, I knew that I wanted to have a really harsh left turn at the end of the movie. I like movies like that that will kind of hit you over the head with something really intense at the very end and leave you shell shocked in a way. It’s hard to sell those endings to both actors and producers and stuff, but I knew I wanted the movie to end with a punch to the audience’s face and leave them wanting more.”

Perez succeeds spectacularly on that point, as Antibirth may have one of the most insane endings in film, but it doesn’t work for everybody. “I mean I obviously didn’t make this movie with too much concern for commercial reception. I’ve been surprised at the reaction. Some people really love it, love the ending, and some people really hate the movie and are just like ‘I don’t get it, I don’t understand it, I feel like it’s just weird for weird’s sake.’ I like leaving people confused and or pissed off. If you’re pissed off at the end of Antibirth, you’re probably going to remember this more than some other movie where you’re like ‘Eh, it was okay.’ I read some reviews and they’re like ‘It doesn’t make any sense’ or ‘It’s messy,’ and it’s supposed to be messy. The movie is supposed to be a meltdown theatre dream freakout. It’s not supposed to be neat and clean.”

Review: The Apology

During the Second World War, more than 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. A small handful of these women are still alive, referred to now as “grandmas” and many of them are in their 80s and 90s. All they want is an apology from the government, but that seems to be a dream that may never come true. The disrespect these women still face is astounding, and even government officials aren’t above slinging insults towards the women. Looking at the lives of three of the “grandmas,” The Apology is a shocking look at a practice that somehow still seems to be accepted by a government fearful of admitting their past mistakes.

It’s not unusual for documentaries to infuriate viewers, but The Apology may be one of the most difficult and maddening films to screen over the years. Known as “Comfort Women,” these hundreds of thousands of women were simply taken from the street and forced to live in brothels to service men in the army. When the war was over, they were left with nothing and many couldn’t even return to their families.

They felt shame for what they had done, and this response is thrown back in their faces to this day. Watching one of the “grandmas” head to a protest while people scream derogatory terms at them and tell them to “go home” is outrageous. That anybody could hear their story and insult them for it is disgusting. Even the government has been known to make inappropriate comments without remorse. It’s difficult to hear, but important for all.

Dark Nights: Tales of the Third Dimension

December has arrived and it always brings my two favourite things together: Christmas and horror films. The holiday season inspires love, kindness, and generosity, but it also seems to inspire filmmakers to unleash some bloody vengeance. Perhaps it’s the long lines as you wait to buy gifts, or the endless stream of Christmas music that seems impossible to escape, but the holiday season has delivered some fantastic horror films that we’ll be looking at this month.

Actually, they’re not always fantastic, but that is what makes some of them so wonderful to enjoy, and Tales of the Third Dimension fits into that category quite well. B-movie producer Earl Owensby delivered a string of 3D films in the ’80s, all made for the bare minimum, and all somehow managing to return a profit. This film happens to be an anthology, featuring three stories with a wraparound segment hosted by a Rod Serling impersonating skeleton named Igor.

Sitting up out of his grave, the puppeted Igor is joined in the graveyard by a bunch of vultures who happened to be modelled after The 3 Stooges and Laurel and Hardy. After delivering their cheesy dialogue, viewers are sent off into adventures of bad acting, ridiculous situations, and one of the craziest Christmas films ever.

The Rod Serling sounding skeleton puppet Igor takes viewers through the stories in Tales of the Third Dimension.
The Rod Serling sounding skeleton puppet Igor takes viewers through the stories in Tales of the Third Dimension.

Young Blood kicks off the three segments, with the story featuring a vampire couple looking to adopt a child. If you asked a kid what a vampire would look and sound like, you would wind up with what’s presented here, and it’s hilarious. Surprisingly, the segment ends on a rather surprising note when the child they have adopted has his own secret from the world.

Next up is The Guardians. The weakest part of the film, the story follows some grave robbers who get more than they bargained for when they try to break into a sealed of series of catacombs. What they really wind up against is some booby traps, angry rats, and an encounter with one pissed off bat. It may feature some of the best acting of the film, but the story doesn’t deliver, and neither do the things they come up against.

It all leads up to the one reason you’ll sit down to Tales of the Third Dimension. The final segment, Visions of Sugar Plums, is the story of Susy (Kathy O’Toole) and Dennis (Neal Powell), two kids on their way to Grandma’s (Helene Tryon) house for the holidays while their parents go to Hawaii without them. Right away we’re into some strange territory. What family would leave their kids behind while they go to Hawaii? Dennis suggests to his dad that it’s because he’s cheap, which causes dear old dad to pull off his belt and start slapping the kid, demanding that he get into the Christmas spirit. Dad actually happens to be driving the car at that moment, so they almost wind up in the ditch before they can even get to Grandma’s house.

The family does arrive safely, but mom and dad don’t even get out of the car to say hello to Grandma. They can’t possibly get away fast enough, and Susy and Dennis are quickly left alone with Grandma. Things seem pretty normal at first. Grandma is delighted to have her grandkids around for the holidays, and they happily begin planning the days leading up to Christmas.

When we watch Grandma digging through her pills, desperately searching for some only to find that she’s almost out, we start to realize that Granny isn’t quite right without her medication, and it’s going to lead to the most insane Christmas ever. Grandma starts to slip away from sanity, attempting to poison Susy with some hot chocolate (which completely backfires on Grandma), and flipping out on the kids when they mention Santa Claus.

Helene Tryon stars as the gun toting Grandma in "Visions of Sugar Plums", the final segment in Tales of the Third Dimension.
Helene Tryon stars as the gun toting Grandma in “Visions of Sugar Plums”, the final segment in Tales of the Third Dimension.

Helene Tryon is hilarious as the completely crazed Grandma. She switches from sweet old lady to insane psychopath and back in an instant, leaving the kids wondering what the hell is wrong with Grandma in the first place. It’s actually very reminiscent of The Visit from M. Night Shyamalan, except Visions of Sugar Plums is way over the top. The kids think Grandma is just getting older and is suffering from dementia, but it’s something far worse.

While Grandma slips further from reality, the kids just want to make it until Christmas Eve when their parents will return, and Santa will deliver all kinds of presents. Their parents plane is delayed though, which Grandma tries to say is because it crashed and killed everyone aboard, so it’s up to Grandma to tuck the kids into bed. She recites the most outrageous version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” you’ve ever heard, leaving the children shaking in terror. Seriously, someone needs to put this version into book form because it’s the most inappropriate and hilarious reading of this classic tale you’ll ever hear.

It’s here that Grandma finally loses her grip on reality, taking up a shotgun and chasing the kids around the house in her motorized wheelchair. She blasts the place apart, barely missing the kids at every step. Finally their parents arrive home, but they’ve forgotten the presents at the airport. Susy and Dennis stand at the front window screaming and waving their arms, but mom and dad don’t even notice. Neither of them wants to wait behind for the other to go back, so they decide to both go back to the airport, leaving the kids to deal with Grandma.

It is Christmas Eve though, and Santa is scheduled to arrive. He shows up just at the right moment, saving the kids from Grandma in the most ridiculous and hilarious way possible. Leave it to Santa to make Christmas a joyous time again. If you’re tempted, you can watch Santa save the day in the video below, but I would recommend seeking Tales of the Third Dimension out and just watching the entire segment.

As far as strange Christmas movies go, this is easily one of the most outrageous and entertaining B-grade films I’ve had the pleasure to watch. It can be difficult to find, although videos of the film do show up across the internet, but I can’t recommend this one enough. Make yourself a warm fire and a very alcoholic egg nog and sit down to watch what is sure to become your new favourite Christmas film.

Toronto Film Scene Holiday Gift Guide 2016

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It’s that time of year again. The Christmas carols are taking over the airwaves, the holiday films are on every channel you turn to, and it’s time to stuff the stockings of friends and family. Fear not because Toronto Film Scene is here with our gift guide to help you out with the film loving fans you know.

Personally, I love the holidays more than any other time of the year, but it can be difficult to find just the right gift for the movie lover in your life. We’ve got all the bases covered though, as we look at some of the great gifts available for movie fans, art lovers, and toy collectors, and they’ve all got a great film spin on them.

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For the film lover

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As far as affordability goes, you can’t beat wrapping up a few DVDs or Blu-rays and putting them under the tree. There’s also a ton of options out there before Christmas comes.

For the family, you can get pick up some of the great films of the year right now, including Pete’s Dragon, Kubo and the Two Strings, Finding Dory, and The BFG.

Films releasing in December include The Secret Life of PetsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and Storks.

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For anybody looking for a little more action at Christmas, you’ve got plenty of great choices, and leading that list is the holiday packaging of Deadpool. Also available now are Aliens 30th Anniversary Edition, Independence Day 20th Anniversary “Attacker” Edition, Hell or High Water, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Independence Day: Resurgence.

Releasing over December, titles include Morgan, Suicide Squad, and The Magnificent Seven.

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If you know someone who happens to be looking for something a little more intense, there are some bloodier choices for the holiday season.

Titles available now include The Neon Demon, Green Room and Don’t Breathe, with the latest Rob Zombie film, 31, coming later in December.

There’s also no shortage of classic Christmas horror films like Black Christmas, Santa’s Slay, and Silent Night, Deadly Night.

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If the film lover you know also enjoys the holiday season, the list of Christmas movies for them to enjoy is almost endless. From goofy comedies to emotional classics, you’ll have no problem choosing a present from this list.

For some great laughs, try Jingle All the Way, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Deck the Halls and The Family Stone.

To touch a more emotional chord, pick up the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street or the 1994 remake.

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For The Art Lover

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If you’re looking for something for the film fan who enjoys decorating his walls with art, you can’t go wrong with the talented Canadian artists Justin Erickson and Paige Reynolds of Phantom City Creative (artwork on the right) or Ghoulish Gary Pullin (artwork on the left).

Their artwork is absolutely outstanding and their selection on their respective websites is impressive. Any of their pieces would be a wonderful addition to a film fan’s home.

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For The Collector

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If the film lover you need to buy for is anything like I am, chances are there are at least a few collectables sitting on shelves in their home. There’s no better way to fill those shelves for a reasonable price than by picking up a few Funko figures.

For under $20, you can pick up a very cute figure from just about every genre of film you can imagine. From horror hits like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and even Hellraiser, there’s something for every horror fan.

They don’t stop there though, as you can find figures from Star Wars, Inside Out, Harry Potter, Star Trek, American Horror Story, Nightmare Before Christmas; the list goes on and on. They also carry a wide range of accessories, plush figures and clothing as well.

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Although it can get rather expensive, Lego sets are another great way to make the collector happy during the holidays. Their huge selection of Star Wars, Marvel, and DC Comics sets are hard to beat.

They don’t stop there though. There’s Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons, Scooby Doo, Ghostbusters, and Jurassic World to name a few.

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To close out this edition of our Holiday Gift Guide, look no further than NECA for all your collectable needs. You’ll find toys and prop replicas large and small here, like the full size replica of Slimer from the Ghostbusters film pictured on the left. It happens to be about 3 feet tall, and is sure to be a prize among a collection.

There are lots of other options at NECA, and some that won’t break your budget either, but if you are looking for some of the top items on your list, this is a good place to start.

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Review: Be Here Now

After years of searching for his big break, Andy Whitfield landed the lead role in the television series Spartacus. While he had finally accomplished one of his goals in life, he was soon faced with the devastating news that he had cancer. With his wife Vashti by his side, Andy began treatment to overcome the cancer. Be Here Now follows Andy and his family on his journey through treatment, as well as the realization that none of his options seem to be working out.

Director Lilibet Foster brings viewers directly into the battle that Andy and his family must face with Be Here Now, and the results are heartbreaking. Many people may know where the story ends, and for viewers who have ever dealt with a loved one fighting the same disease, the film can be a difficult thing to watch. Andy is always hopeful that he’ll find some way to beat his cancer, whether it’s through chemotherapy or more natural methods, and his drive to make the most of whatever life he has left is infectious. It’s not always easy to watch, but if viewers can take away the message that life is meant to be lived, Andy’s struggle will mean something to the world.

You couldn’t think of a person more deserving of an easy and wonderful life. Andy is charming, open, honest, and kind. He loves his family, and it’s easy to see how much they love him as well. That only makes his diagnosis more heartbreaking. Through the very intimate look at his life provided by Foster, we are very quickly attached to this man we may only know through his roles in film and television. Andy and his wife Vashti hold nothing back, revealing their innermost feelings about the process and their fears and hopes for the future. It’s not exactly new to watch a documentary about what someone is going through while struggling with disease, but hearing Vashti speak about what is happening does feel different. It’s her hopes and fears that provide an insight that we don’t always get, and it adds another level of joy and pain to the film.

By the final moments, it will be impossible to hold back the tears. Even in the most dark moments, there’s always something good that can be taken away though, and Be Here Now will give that to viewers. Andy’s story may not seem like the happiest subject to explore, but the way he lives his life and the way his family comes together in crisis are messages we should all take to heart.

Blood in the Snow 2016 Review: Streamer

Jared (Jared Bratt) is a lonely man living a solitary existence. He’s got no friends, has never had a girlfriend, and moves through his life in repetitive actions as if he’s waiting for the moment he can finally stop. He begins frequenting an adult online chatroom where he becomes enamoured with one of the women (Tanya Lee). He soon realizes that she actually lives in the same building as he does, and he goes out of his way to strike up a friendship with her. While their relationship seems to be growing, Jared finds out that his new love has a boyfriend, and he’s not sure if there’s actually something between the two of them, or if this women is just stringing him along.

Directed by Jared Bratt and Vincent Pun, Streamer won’t necessarily satisfy viewers looking for a demented, disturbing, and horrific genre film. Streamer is purely psychological, showing its character’s slow descent into full on madness. This works both for and against the picture. While Bratt’s performance as the unstable lead is well done, it’s also nothing new. Many scenes are simply viewers watching Jared stare longingly into the distance while he stumbles through his life. It’s not exactly the most riveting film during these moments.

Once he finally meets with the unnamed woman who he’s had encounters with online, things start to pick up. Her intentions aren’t ever really clear, but Jared’s mental state makes things even more confusing. You’re never quite sure if what has happened between Jared and this woman are true, or if some of the events are things that have only happened in Jared’s mind.

The scenes with Lee and Bratt together are filled with uncomfortable moments, due mainly to the fact that Jared has never been with a woman before, so his actions are always awkward and tinged with a kind of subtle instability. Where the story is lacking in originality and surprises, it’s made up by the performances and chemistry of Lee and Bratt. Viewers may find themselves wishing things moved along a little more quickly, or that things turned out a little more horrific, but what’s here is still a great start.

Review: Moana

On the island of Motunui, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) lives a quiet life. Ruled by her father Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), with Moana next in line, the islanders have thrived for years. Chief Tui has forbidden anyone from ever sailing beyond the reef of their island though, and Moana has always wondered what lies beyond. When the island begins to wither under a curse, created when demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, Moana feels called to action by her ancestors and sets out to find Maui and make him return the heart of Te Fiti.

That brief synopsis is only scratching the surface of what Moana has to offer viewers. Filled with the kind of culture you’ve never witnessed in any animated feature before, this is a film that embraces its story, background, and characters. Honestly, the trailers just aren’t selling this one enough. There’s a rich history to be found within the film, all beautifully explored in its setup. Stories of gods and legends fill the opening frames, all leading up to a perfect merging of the stories with the reality that Moana lives in. It’s exciting to watch, beautiful to look at, filled with some great laughs, and most importantly, has a lead character that finally leaves the trends behind.

Don’t be mistaken, Moana is an amazing animated film. It’s fun and exciting, with just enough tension to keep you watching to see what happens, but that’s not why the film is so incredible. This film succeeds where so many others have failed, and will hopefully mark a turning point for films in the future. Moana is the most amazing character to grace a Disney film, whose history of offering princesses to the world has left some wondering why there wasn’t more to the characters.

Moana isn’t set to marry someone. She’s not searching for her true love either. Nobody questions how a young woman can do any of the things she does. She’s the next in line to rule the islanders, and nobody says a word about the fact that she’s a woman. She is simply Moana. She is able to do what she does because she is a person, not because she’s a woman. When she fails at something, it’s not because she’s a woman, and when she succeeds, it’s not looked at like an accomplishment because a woman has done it. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to sit down and watch a film that doesn’t involve some kind of romance at the heart of it. It’s the reason I tend to steer clear of Disney films to be honest. This changes things. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

The performances are wonderful, from Auli’i Cravalho’s portrayal of Moana and Dwayne Johnson’s overly confident, slightly egotistical, and always funny Maui, down to the less seen roles like Moana’s grandmother Tala (Rachel House) and a hilarious sequence led by Jemaine Clement’s jewel adorned giant crab Tamatoa. The animation is incredibly well done, offering up swirling storms on the ocean, and some rather creative villains standing in the way of Moana and Maui. The music just adds another layer of perfection, and the songs will leave you singing your way out of the theatre.

That’s all just icing on the cake though. The reason to see Moana is because of the outstanding female characters they’ve created here. Little girls finally have a hero to look up to that isn’t out searching for a man. Little boys will realize that girls can do everything they can do, and that it’s not a shock when they do it. The world has shown that values and ideas are hard to change when we’re older. Moana couldn’t have come at a better time. This is a message that kids need to learn, so that perhaps they’ll be able to live in a world that is vastly different from where we are right now. See this because it’s a wonderful film that the whole family will love, but also because it’s a film that will teach kids the way things should really be in the world.

Review: The Birdwatcher

When single mother Saffron (Camille Sullivan) is diagnosed with cancer, she struggles with the knowledge that her children have no other family to care for them. Working as a social worker, she has seen firsthand what can become of children in the system, and she wants nothing more than to leave them with a stable foundation when she’s gone. This begins a journey to reconnect with her estranged birth mother, Birdy (Gabrielle Rose), who is an ornithologist and isn’t really interested in finding the daughter she left behind so many years before.

The debut feature of director Siobhan Devine, The Birdwatcher is not a film that will leave you feeling cheerful in the end. Devine and writer Roslyn Muir deliver a very emotional and realistic tale with this film. As with life, things don’t always work out to have a happy ending, and it’s a fact that we are sometimes left with making the best of a bad situation. This is where Saffron begins her journey, learning she has cancer and realizing that the only family she has for support is a mother who gave her up for adoption as a baby.

Things really only get more depressing from there. Saffron packs up her two kids and heads out to camp where Birdy happens to be. Birdy doesn’t know who Saffron actually is, and is less than happy to be sharing her space with anybody. She has a dislike for people in general, and watching how she reacts to the kids that are suddenly camping near her doesn’t make viewers feel very good about where things can possibly end up.

The Birdwatcher isn’t out to leave you feeling happy in the end though. This is an incredibly powerful drama that looks at a situation in a realistic way. There are no miracle cures, either for disease or broken families, and The Birdwatcher doesn’t try to solve its problems this way. What it does do is give us hope though. It shows us that even in the darkest moments of our lives, we can rise above it and forge a path for ourselves and our family. While you’ll certainly leave the theatre wiping tears away, you’ll also leave knowing that we can always do the right thing, no matter how hard it may seem.

Freedom First Film Festival Review: The Fifty-Sixers

Screening at the Freedom First Film Festival, commemorating 60 years since the Hungarian uprising over the Soviets in 1956 which brought 37,000 refugees to Canada, The Fifty-Sixers gives an in depth look at the uprising that started this historic moment, and the ways in which Canada aided the refugees by offering a new home. Not everything was smooth though, and we hear from some of the people who moved to Canada about their highs and lows in their new country.

What Young Rebels briefly looked at at the Freedom First Film Festival, The Fifty-Sixers explores in a more in depth and historical point of view. Exploring the actual uprising, the film gives a brutal look at what Hungarian people were subjected to during the reign of the Soviets. The uprising was violent and deadly, for both sides of the battle, but it was the Hungarian people who quickly lost to the much more powerful Soviets.

The race to escape was on, and while the overall idea of Canada helping sounds beautiful and hopeful, it was not something that happened quickly. This is where The Fixty-Sixers excels in its storytelling. It doesn’t hide that fact that while Canada was certainly a country who was willing to help the refugees, they were also not quick to do so. The political landscape led to a bit of feet dragging when it came to finding these refugees a home, and it wasn’t until things were almost at their lowest point that Canada stepped up.

Eventually, the aid they needed was given, and in massive numbers. These new Canadians still faced some uphill battles with racism, but many of them were simply glad to have a place to live where they weren’t being terribly oppressed. As the years have passed, some of the struggles have faded, and listening to the stories of these one time refugees shows just how happy they are to be in their new home of Canada.

Freedom First Film Festival Review: Young Rebels

This brief documentary tells the story of teenage revolutionaries in Hungary as they attempt to overthrow the Soviets who have occupied their home in 1956. This moment led to 37,000 refugees fleeing to Canada, becoming the first group to be welcomed into Canada, changing their lives and our country for the better.

Commemorating 60 years since the uprising in Hungary that led to a mass of refugees entering Canada, the Freedom First Film Festival begins with a screening of Young Rebels, and it’s a relatively quick introduction to this historic moment. At just 45 minutes long, there’s not a lot of in depth knowledge to be found here, but there’s plenty of inspirational messages that can, and should, be applied to our thinking today.

Following a brief uprising that only lasted 12 days, Hungary was quickly taken back from the rebels by the Soviets, leaving thousands dead and wounded, and forcing the citizens to flee their homes. Young Rebels focuses on the students and children, some of them as young as 11-years-old, who took part in the revolution before being forced to flee. Their part in the revolution isn’t exactly as powerful as you may imagine. Their youth mainly kept them from participating in a major way, but their race to escape is as dangerous as everybody else’s.

It’s when these teens become refugees searching for a home that Young Rebels truly stands out. Canada is quick to accept them, allowing them free travel and quick acceptance into the country. With over 37,000 of them accepting and making their new home in Canada, we hear from the people themselves what their lives became, and see how they started with absolutely nothing to make themselves important members of society. This is certainly something we need to think about at this time in our world.

Review: The Age of Consequences

If climate change didn’t have you worried before, The Age of Consequences looks at the problem in an entirely new and frightening way. We’re all aware that there is definitely something going on with our world, and it’s a direct result of the people that live on the planet. What you may not have ever really thought about is just how devastating climate change can be not just to the planet and its resources, but on things like national security, war, civil unrest, and massive amounts of immigration.

Director Jared P. Scott takes viewers on a journey that few have probably ever imagined. There have been an endless amount of documentaries aimed at how we can combat climate change and how it’s hurting our planet. None of them have ever explored things in the way that The Age of Consequences does. Instead of focusing on the ways in which we’ve damaged the environment, Scott’s film accepts climate change as an undeniable fact and looks at how events like floods, droughts, and melting ice have dramatically affected civil unrest, war, and immigration.

Although Scott is quick to point out that climate change is not the direct cause of war in areas like Africa or Syria, he does show how they play a major role in what is occurring. Terrorist organizations are able to capitalize on the effects of drought by offering a way out for young farmers who have no work. They can also take hold of the areas where water is still readily available in order to essentially hold the people hostage.

Even when the film arrives in North America, we can see how an increase in natural disasters can quickly turn what we think of as civilized areas into areas of lawlessness and upheaval. Climate change has so many different ways it can affect our world, and chances are you’ve never thought about so many of these. It’s actually quite frightening, and The Age of Consequences doesn’t hold back. While there’s still a hopeful message to be found in this film, it’s rather small in comparison to everything else explored. This may be the wake up call that so many people desperately need in our world today.

Review: True Memoirs of an International Assassin

Kevin James stars as Sam Larson, an author who is mistaken for a legendary assassin in the latest Netflix original film True Memoirs of an International Assassin. When Larson writes a new novel chronicling the adventures of an assassin nicknamed The Ghost, he finds himself kidnapped El Toro (Andy Garcia), a revolutionary in Venezuela who actually believes that Larson is an assassin. El Toro wants Larson to murder President Cueto (Kim Coates), but things continue to get complicated when Larson is kidnapped again by  drug lord Anton Masovich (Andrew Howard), who wants him to kill El Toro. To finish the circle, the President wants him to kill Masovich, but Larson just wants to get home again. With help from Rosa Bolivar (Zulay Henao), a woman with the actual skills Larson writes about, there may be a way to bring peace and justice to Venezuela.

Kevin James continues being the lovable buffoon in True Memoirs of an International Assassin, and for fans of the comedian it will be worth the time invested. The film manages to take everything you would expect from this kind of action spy film and double down on the the kind of ridiculous situations its characters are bound to wind up in. The backstabbing, action beats, and secret deals are all over the top, but work well within this world of comedy.

Beginning with Larson finishing up his novel, which is marketed as a true story to sell more copies, you feel as if you’ve simply stepped into his book, right down to the obvious clichés that come with a fictional story of this nature. The film acknowledges these moments though, and then proceeds to take them even further than you would think. It lands somewhere between straight up comedy and action spoof. Things certainly end up where you would expect, but the path there is always a wild one.

Larson is not an action hero, although his constant study has actually given him the talents to be one. He knows how to handle weapons, has trained himself to be a great fighter, and understands what it takes to pull off the kind of assassinations that he’s writing about. The problem is that he’s just a regular guy, and deals with these outrageous situations exactly how a regular guy would. That’s where Henao comes in. Her role as Rosa Bolivar is the hero of the film. She’s the one who kicks ass like you know the star should, and she’s never relegated to the damsel in distress, even when she may be the one who has been captured.

Fans of James will enjoy this one, as well as those who enjoy a film that is willing to take shots at the action genre while still existing in the same world. True Memoirs of an International Assassin knows that it’s a ridiculous movie, and that’s what makes it so much fun.

Reel Asian 2016 Review: Seoul Station

Seoul Station is the animated prequel to Train to Busan from director Yeon Sang-ho. While the connections between the two films seems almost non-existent, Seoul Station definitely delivers an equally entertaining zombie film. After a homeless man collapses in front of Seoul’s central subway station, basically ignored by those around him, a deadly zombie outbreak begins. Trapped in the middle is Hye-Sun, a young woman who has left her boyfriend behind after an argument. Trapped in the middle of the zombies, Hye-Sun is forced to survive while her boyfriend and her father search desperately for her.

On the surface, Seoul Station is a straight up zombie film, and entertains in the ways that you would expect from the genre. If you care to dig a little deeper, you can start to see comments on the way we treat those around us, especially people who may not be in the same position financially. Either way you view it, the film is tense and exciting, and features more than enough zombie action to please fans of the genre.

Not content to just offer up a simple zombie story, Yeon Sang-ho’s script offers some great twists and makes sure to show us that the uninfected can be just as terrifying and horrible as the zombies that threaten them. It’s something that every great zombie story is quick to point out now, and Seoul Station is no exception. The only downside to this film may be the animation. It’s not always as smooth and detailed as some viewers could want, and there are a few scenes that lack the tension they deserve because of this, but it’s a small complaint for a largely successful film.

Review: Doctor Strange

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to roll along with their latest film Doctor Strange, a film that manages to be a rather large departure from what has come before, but also one that is starting to feel all too familiar within the Marvel film world. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, the film seems like it’s priming Cumberbatch as the next great leader for the Avengers, particularly because he’s so similar to Tony Stark.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a cocky, egotistical neurosurgeon whose ability far exceeds those around him, and he’s sure to let everybody know. He tries to work only on people who will allow him the greatest success, never performing operations on someone who he feels he can’t cure. Looking for new patients while also driving his car, Strange winds up in a car accident that destroys his hands and essentially ends his career. Exhausting all other possibilities, he gets a tip from a friend about a healer called The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who may be able to help him regain the use of his hands.

At first ignored by The Ancient One, Strange eventually finds his way into a world of magic and mysticism that is now being threatened by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of The Ancient One. As Strange realizes that he possesses power beyond his wildest dreams, he must decide how to properly use that power to overcome the destruction that Kaecilius is set to unleash on the world.

Doctor Strange is an incredibly different film visually from anything Marvel has delivered before. While magic isn’t entirely new to the Marvel Universe, it’s never been shown like it is in Doctor Strange. It’s a fantastic ride to be on, and is actually the first Marvel film that is enhanced by 3D, but the problems like outside of its flashy visual style.

The formula is getting a bit old now, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Doctor Strange is a lesser recognized character from Marvel, nobody would want to sit through another origin story. There’s very little difference between Doctor Strange and Iron Man except for the fact that one represents magic, and one represents technology. They have the same attitudes, the same hurdles to overcome, and wind up in the same places.

They also happen to have some bland villains to contend with. I’m not sure how it’s taken this long for me to realize just how boring all the villains are in the Marvel Universe. They rarely have any story to really speak of, and their ambitions for world destruction or domination can be boiled down to a quick evil monologue. The fact that Mads Mikkelsen plays such a by the numbers bore of a villain is surprising. His turn in the Hannibal series is outstanding, but you’ll find none of that evil charm here. His character is simply there to be defeated by the hero and nothing more.

Cumberbatch is at least entertaining as Doctor Strange, playing some strange cross between Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes, but there’s little to be said for those around him. There’s not much given to anybody else in the film, so it’s left to Cumberbatch to pick things up, which he does remarkably well. There’s also that outstanding visual style of the film. Hurtling through various universes and realities, and the way in which the magic is created and its effect on the world, is absolutely incredible. Doctor Strange is easily the most interesting and entertaining Marvel world to look at.

It’s those two things that make Doctor Strange worth watching. It’s not hard to tell that the allure is quickly wearing off the superhero film though. The story is all too familiar, but the way it’s put together at least offers viewers another entertaining adventure in the Marvel Universe.

Cinéfranco 2016 Review: Saint Amour

Bruno (Benoît Poelvoorde), a cattle breeder who is growing tired of the work, is attending the Paris Agricultural Show as he does every year. This time he’s accompanied by his father Jean (Gérard Depardieu), who has been retired for 5 years but just can’t stop working. Instead of working to win, Bruno is more interested in his annual wine tour of the booths at the show. Jean would prefer that Bruno take things seriously, as he wants him to continue their breeding work, and decides that the two of them should actually travel together through wine country in an attempt to come together and convince Bruno to take the family business. Accompanied by Mike (Vincent Lacoste), a taxi driver, the men set out on a memorable trip through the country.

Written and directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern, Saint Amour is a quiet blend of family reality and completely absurd situations. Bruno is quite unhappy with his life, unable to find love and working in a business that he has no interest in anymore. The problem is that it’s the family business and his father wants him to continue the work. Their relationship is strained, so there’s no surprises when it comes to them reconnecting in the film. It’s incredibly touching though, and doesn’t resort to anything over the top.

That’s the complete opposite of just about everything else in the film. The situations they find themselves in are ridiculous and unbelievable, but they react to them in such a realistic way that you can’t help getting caught up in their lives. This is even more true with Depardieu, whose character is still dealing with the death of his wife. There’s an element of sadness in everything that he does, and Depardieu is wonderful in the role.

Toronto After Dark 2016 Review: Antibirth

If there was one film to sum up the kind of experience you should be looking for at a genre film festival, Antibirth would be it. This is one movie you don’t want to miss out on. The film follows Lou (Natasha Lyonne), a drunken stoner who spends most of her time hanging out with her friend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny). After a drunken party that Lou can’t even remember, she realizes that she may be pregnant, but can’t figure out how. As Lou tries to figure out what happened during her blackout, she starts to become incredibly sick. Soon she’s hearing voices and seeing things, and her pregnancy becomes a part of an even bigger nightmare.

That’s about as much information as you should know about Antibirth. The twists and turns in director Danny Perez‘s film are best experienced without knowing very much. The film manages to smash a variety of genres together quite successfully, and the slow build towards an outrageous ending is captivating. It can be difficult to follow at times, but viewers won’t really mind when the result is so successful.

This is the kind of film that you’ll want to watch over and over, just to catch all the little details you may have missed on previous viewings. Lyonne and Sevigny give outstanding performances, while Meg Tilly steals the show towards the end of the movie as Lorna, a woman who shares some things in common with Lou, and someone who happens to know more about what’s going on. The finale delivers on the promises that the film has made, and while not everybody may enjoy it, it’s impossible to deny that it’s powerful and filled with some of the most amazing effects on display.

Remixing the elements: interview with Antibirth director Danny Perez

It’s typically best to know as little about a film as possible before going to watch it. With that in mind, my conversation with director Danny Perez, whose film Antibirth screens at the 2016 Toronto After Dark Film Festival on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, contains a few spoilers for the film. This mind bending, genre mashing, psychedelic treat tells the story of Lou (Natasha Lyonne), a drunken stoner who finds herself seemingly pregnant after a blackout drunk evening with her friend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny). Lou can’t figure out how she could be pregnant, as she knows she hasn’t slept with anybody in weeks, but since she can’t remember the last party she was at, she figures it has to be from that night. As Lou and Sadie try to find out what happened to her that evening, Lou becomes incredibly sick. She’s starting to see and hear things, and it starts to become apparent that this is anything but a normal pregnancy.

That’s as much information as you should really know before seeing Antibirth. I can guarantee you that you’ve never seen something quite like this, even if all the pieces do feel a bit familiar. If you’ve been heading out to genre film festivals for any number of years, it’s safe to say that Antibirth may just be the definition of a perfect genre festival film. It checks all the boxes of what you would want from a festival film, and manages to become something you won’t soon forget. Read on if you don’t mind finding out a little more about the film, but I would recommend just going to watch it first and coming back to hear what Perez has to say about the film.

“The movie is supposed to be a meltdown theatre dream freakout.”

When I get in touch with Perez about a week before his film screens at Toronto After Dark, he’s actually walking through the desert around Joshua Tree National Park shooting a video and getting ready for an outdoor screening of Antibirth. It’s a fitting location for the twisted film, as well as part of the inspiration for Perez while writing the film. “My older brother is in the Marines. When
I came out here to visit him, he told me they had a lot of problems with the Marines at night on the weekends because you’re out here in the desert and there’s nothing to do. These are 18 to 22-year-old guys, so they would just get into weird drugs and whore houses and massage parlours on the weekends, and I felt that was a really interesting duality. The harshness of the military with the reckless abandon of partying in the desert.”

Antibirth is set in a military town, with Lou living in a rundown trailer inherited from her father, who served himself. It provides a background for the events that take place, but it’s something that you may not fully realize on a first viewing. There’s a lot going on in the film and multiple viewings will allow audiences to really grasp all the little details, something that Perez explains was the plan all along. “Everything is very intentional, it’s very calculated. It’s very intentional as far as all the different references and devices butting up against each other. There’s a lot going on in the sound design and the music and the TV stuff and I know the narrative isn’t super clear as far as a big explanation at the end but there’s actually many hints and touches throughout the movie. The information is there, it’s just kind of organized and displayed in a different way.”

Every detail seems important, including those moments on various television sets throughout the film that Perez spoke about. If you can catch all those tiny moments, the bigger details are basically explained in the smaller ones. “I like to have a little bit more of an ambiguous atmosphere.” Perez says about the way the film tells its story. “Really the whole movie is about consumerism and consumption and the shitty stuff that our culture has done to ourselves as far as our bloated state, but the visual parable or the analogy I’m using is of pregnancy.”

“I definitely knew the whole time, regardless of what the narrative exposition or climax was going to be, I knew that I wanted to have a really harsh left turn at the end of the movie.”

Trying to sum up Antibirth can be difficult, although Perez has had plenty of practice from pitching the film. “When I was trying to sell it and pitch it around Los Angeles, I kept telling people it’s The Big Lebowski meets The Fly, because everybody wants this comparison, they need a ‘this meets this.’ I’m definitely of the mindset that everything has been done before and at this point we’re just reconfiguring and remixing the elements to try and make something new. I’m not so proud or naive to tell you you’ve never seen anything like this before. I can point to every scene in the movie and be like yeah, this is a reference to this, this is a reference to The Fly, this is a reference to this experimental filmmaker that I like. It’s all stuff I could easily point you to. I’m just playing with stuff that I like and trying to make something new.”

While the narrative of the film can be a bit difficult to follow at times, Perez knew exactly where he wanted the film to wind up.”I definitely knew the whole time, regardless of what the narrative exposition or climax was going to be, I knew that I wanted to have a really harsh left turn at the end of the movie. I like movies like that that will kind of hit you over the head with something really intense at the very end and leave you shell shocked in a way. It’s hard to sell those endings to both actors and producers and stuff, but I knew I wanted the movie to end with a punch to the audience’s face and leave them wanting more.”

Perez succeeds spectacularly on that point, as Antibirth may have one of the most insane endings in film, but it doesn’t work for everybody. “I mean I obviously didn’t make this movie with too much concern for commercial reception. I’ve been surprised at the reaction. Some people really love it, love the ending, and some people really hate the movie and are just like ‘I don’t get it, I don’t understand it, I feel like it’s just weird for weird’s sake.’ I like leaving people confused and or pissed off. If you’re pissed off at the end of Antibirth, you’re probably going to remember this more than some other movie where you’re like ‘Eh, it was okay.’ I read some reviews and they’re like ‘It doesn’t make any sense’ or ‘It’s messy,’ and it’s supposed to be messy. The movie is supposed to be a meltdown theatre dream freakout. It’s not supposed to be neat and clean.”