Festival du Nouveau Cinema Wrap-up: Triple Feature

I don’t usually do double features for any movies that I see at Festivals, let alone triple features, however after having a hard time really fleshing out my thoughts and the festival already behind us almost 2 weeks, I decided that these three films that I saw at Festival du Nouveau Cinema actually is a great fit together as it looks at teens and friendships and coming of age in one way or another. All of them have a snippet of the lives of these characters in all three stories.

Sticks and Stones (2018)

Brakland Sticks and Stones

Director: Martin Skovbjerg

Cast: Jonas Bjerril, Vilmer Trier Brogger, Natalia Reyes, Patricia Schumann, Emma Sehested Hoeg, Benjamin Kitter, Laufey Eliasdottir

Simon arrives in Vesterby from Copenhagen. He is an outsider in a brand new place and alone until he meets Bjarke – Vesterby’s alpha male and heir to the local speaker factory. The two start challenging each other in intimate and transgressive actions as they forge a friendship. But when embezzlement forces Vesterby’s speaker factory to close, the town is bereaved of its livelihood, and Bjarke’s family is blamed. The anger thrust upon him by the locals triggers the beast in Bjarke, and Simon is faced with either having to turn away or save his friend from self-destruction. – IMDB

Its hard to put into words why I felt that Sticks and Stones is a really great film. In fact, I had such a blast being captivated by this friendship that started quite abruptly through being paired up for a project. Comparing everyday lives of grown-ups and the people around them to apes. At the same time, boys will be boys and these two definitely had their share of shenanigans as they go from a creative angle to going overboard in their video project. At the same time, reflecting possibly their feelings and contained emotions in their personal life. The two characters draw a parallel to what is going on in their lives and explains why their friendship works but it also highlights the differences in some friends cross our lives for a moment but can’t stay because of whatever reason and in this case, its a toxicity. Everyone sees it but themselves and you choose to put them behind or wait for them to constantly hurt you. Everyone has gone through friends like this, and its probably because of that, it resounds to me.

In the end, Sticks and Stones was able to channel some very intense feelings in whichever endeavors they were portraying. There is a lot of thought in using their documentary style filming for class and meshing it with the traditional filming as we watched the film unfold. There’s a lot of youth experiences and emotions especially with teens that go through sudden loss and other hard times. The acting is raw and it has to go to these young main actors, Jonas Bjerril and Vilmer Trier Brogger. There are situations of being a newcomer, being an alpha male, young love, family issues and so many conflicting issues that take these two for such a ride and in the end, one of  them needs to make a decision. Let me tell you, this film was a subtle hit for me. I didn’t really think I connected with these two so much as some of the things were over the top but in the final scenes, there was so much there that did hit me really hard emotionally.

Tourism (2018)

tourism

Director (and writer): Daisuke Miyazaki

Cast: Nina Endo, Sumire

Fun fact is that after I saw this movie, I have talked and tried to summarize this film to at least two other people and it turns out sounding so basic that it doesn’t quite seem to work as a movie.

During the opening message to the audience, Daisuke Miyazaki hoped that his film will make the viewers want to go on a trip or an adventure (I can’t remember the exact word). Tourism falls into this fun like day adventure. Just like how we see Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is very fun to watch, Tourism sees Nina, one of the girls on this trip to Singapore who loses her friend and her cellphone and ends up wandering around the city and meeting interesting characters but also being immersed in the culture and everyday lives. The way Miyazaki brings to life the characters is to take some time in the beginning to highlight these roommates and how the trip came out.

tourism

One of the best moments which hooked me in completely was how they chose their destination. There’s a joy in travelling with a companion (that you get along with) and seeing the landmarks but also another one when you wander the city alone and see the beauty and detail of the culture. That is the power of travelling and the adventure of communicating and meeting new people and learning more about the world around us. Sure, the story doesn’t sound like its anything intriguing but sometimes with all the technology and everything available at our fingertips, we forget the rush of beauty of the simple things in life. The hours Nina spends searching to get back to her friend or the hotel is not only a message about our reliance on technology but also the most entertaining parts of the film.

The premise might be simple but sometimes its in the simple joys that do pack in a lot of genuine feelings. This one is a pleasant surprise.

Firecrackers (2018)

firecrackers

Director (and writer): Jasmin Mozaffari

Cast: Michaela Kurimsky, Karena Evans, Callum Thompson, David Kingston, Tamara Leclaire, Scott Cleland, Dylan Mask

Lou and her best friend Chantal plan to get out of their isolated, run-down town and move to a city far, far away. When Chantal’s unstable and possessive ex violates her during a night of partying, the girls decide to exact their revenge on him through a night of vandalism and debauchery. The consequences of their actions are devastating, threatening the girls’ chances of ever leaving. The more Lou fights tooth-and-nail to save her friendship and hold onto her dreams, the more she spins out of control as she begins to realize that freedom will come at a high cost. – IMDB

I still remember the reason why I added this movie into my viewings despite its late hour and knowing that I had to run home in a hurry to catch the last bus home as it was compared to Fish Tank which is one of the movies that I like a lot. To be honest, there are some parallels to the film but in some ways, this one is a different movie. In fact, if you took something like Sticks and Stones and used it in a friendship between girls, you might arrive at this one. However, this one is about two best friends who want to leave behind their messed up lives in this small town. What turns out to be a perfect plan ends up having these bad turn of events. Lou is the main character here and we follow a lot of her character development with each road block that occurs and we see this coming of age development as she sees clearer the consequences of what she is leaving behind as well as the tough decisions between her friendship and also the teen angst as well as the sudden aggression or lack of thought in her actions.

Firecrackers takes on this snippet of Lou and Chantal’s life and their friendship in a genuine and raw way. It never feels over dramatic and honestly, makes us truly feel for these two girls on screen. It can remind us of the hurdles of growing up and wanting more and fighting for everything you can to make things better. There are bad decisions and bad life choices but its all part of growing up and these girls have it particularly hard but at least, they have their friendship.

This wraps up this triple feature and the Festival du Nouveau Cinema’s last three films I saw.
In some ways, this was the best way to talk about them as there isn’t much to say but rather its a movie experience.
There’s a lot to love about these films for both their similarities and their differences as it embraces this true and genuine snippet in each of these stories. 

Double Feature: Lifechanger (2018) & Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

double feature

And you thought Fantasia Festival stuff was over, right? Yeah, this double feature comes as something of a surprise as the reviews posted when the movies showed at Fantasia were reviewed by David. I managed to be able to check them out also back then but just kind of needed a break from Fantasia for a moment so here we are, a month after Fantasia closes, to clear out the overdue stuff and get some quick thoughts in for them as these are two selections that are very unique.

Lifechanger (2018)

Lifechanger

Director (and writer): Justin McConnell

Cast: Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako, Rachel VanDuzer, Steve Kasan, Bill Oberst Jr.

A murderous shapeshifter sets out on a blood-soaked mission to make things right with the woman he loves. – IMDB

If you haven’t seen or didn’t check out my Poor Agnes review HERE, Lora Burke is a fascinating actress to watch on screen particularly in that role. When I knew she was attached to Lifechanger, count me in. Lifechange isn’t really about Lora Burke’s character in fact, our main character is narrated and keeps changing lives as the title implies. The idea of this character and who he is looms throughout the film as he goes from one body to the next. His situation becoming more in danger than the next as he starts being able to choose his victims carefully until his situation of the body he carries running out of time makes him having to make desperate choices.

Lifechanger

Lifechanger is a unique angle to take especially as it seems to challenge the deeper notion of survival versus living. Our main protagonist changes lives so quick and in turn, lives the life of this new person temporarily without any way to settle into anything that makes him truly enjoy life. When does it become all worth this trauma? Is it perhaps asking the deeper question of what we do this for and to what ends?  As much as this movie is fantastic at being this horrifying gruesome experience of the transition and the notion of what this man is about as he filters through all kids of lives in just the short span we were watching, there is an urgency and tension and with that, the film also ramps up the pacing as well in a tight little run time package.

Lifechanger is unique to say the least. Its packed with some pretty impactful moments and strives this balance between some horror elements in a thriller-esque and kind of dramatic story. It works really well and honestly, a great idea in itself.

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Director (and writer): Issa Lopez

Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramon Lopez, Tenoch Huerta, Ianis Guerrero, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas

A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war. – IMDB

If you don’t know me, you put tigers in a title and I’m in or at least I’ll watch the movie. I actually totally missed this one in the first rundown of the tentative scheduling but saw the poster during the festival and added it on. So lucky that I did because Tigers Are Not Afraid is an exceptional film. Its one of those hidden gems that I’ve heard some people draw comparison to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. I can definitely see how there is a sort of link to it.

tigers are not afraid

Using five children who band together, specifically four boys adding in a girl who comes home and finds her mother missing, is a really broken group in itself as we learn a little about the background of the kids. You can also see how mature especially the leader of the pack, Shine, is in terms of his cautious nature as well as the way he chooses for her to be a part of the group. At the same time, there is a vulnerability to using kids as the main lead because it gives us these kids stuck in a very dangerous situation like living in the cartel and drug war and being caught in the crossfires to make them have to defend themselves in these drastic ways with no one to really turn to. What makes Tigers Are Not Afraid more special is that it never forgets that we are dealing with kids because they still have hope. They believe in the tales about the tigers who protect the neighborhood and draw inspiration from that, we see this with this animated tigers throughout the film in the arts on the wall moving around and even at the scene above with a plush tiger coming to the rescue. And the kids also being still innocent, they bask in the moments they can enjoy being a child again like celebrating their successes and playing when they believe they are safe in the moment.

tigers are not afraid

Being able to bring in this dark material and yet feeling so real in what the kids trapped in the drug war go through in this story (and probably drawing from some reality as it does feel plausible and genuine) and also bringing in those hints of innocence makes this movie so effective. Its has these adorable childlike moments that elevate this movie and make it unique while also ramping the tensions in the movie as the kids try to survive and navigate through this world as they get involved and end up getting dragged into a bigger cartel secret they were never supposed to know in the first place. Its violent, brutal and so very dark but the director never forgets to give this a childlike fantasy touch to pair up with maybe the remaining hope that these children have in their minds, making Tigers Are Not Afraid an outstanding movie and quite the gem that you need to check out if and when you get the chance.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Knuckleball (2018)

Knuckleball (2018)

Knuckleball

Director: Michael Peterson

Cast: Luca Villacis, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Kathleen Munroe, Chenier Hundal

Somewhere in western Canada is a farmhouse. A seemingly ordinary and simple farmhouse with a seemingly nice and normal farmer named Jacob residing within. There would be no reason to fear this farmhouse, but for Mary it’s a farmhouse that harbours bad memories and a real sense of dread. Now, a family emergency forces her to drop her son Henry off at this farmhouse for a few days with Jacob, her father, who doesn’t know his own grandson. A love of baseball helps the two bond, but that connection is broken by the arrival of Dixon , the creepy next-door neighbour who seems to know a lot about the farmhouse and holds a pretty mean grudge against Henry. Over the course of the next few days, Henry is going to learn a lot about family, about survival, and how to throw a good knuckleball like his life depends on it? because it does. – Fantasia Festival

Set in the isolated Western Canada landscape, Knuckleball captures the lonely rural area setting perfect for this film’s sense of survival and gritty secrets. It has been exciting times in recent years to see how filmmakers take the Home Alone formula and give it an imaginative dark twist. Just like last year’s Better Watch Out, what starts off with ideas of a young kid trying to find clever ways to defend and survive through the night takes a wildly different and dangerous tone as the story and secrets unfold. There is a great craft here by director and co-writer Michael Peterson in the way he tells this story, skillfully taking the time to slowly not only drop hints but give pieces of this dark puzzle so the audience is kept guessing and invested in this thriller. What propels and builds each scene is also the score here which has its subtle moments and creates these sounds that match with the environment and helps build tension.

Knuckleball

Knuckleball has a small and tight cast which works in its favor. There are some incredible young talent here. The first is the young boy sent to this farm, Henry played by Luca Villacis who excels in making the gritty survival elements truly shine in a convincing way. Unlike a lot of children in films, he is worthy of the audience to cheer for his survival. The film is primarily in his point of view and therefore as the story unfolds, his surprises are also ours. Not to mention, Henry is clever and resourceful but still has those moments when his judgement puts him in a undesirable situation. Playing opposite him is a troubled young man and weird neighbor Dixon played by Munro Chambers who has so much depth to his characters. As we see his character truly unveil one layer at a time, there is a great depth to him even though he is violently pursuing Henry. The game that he plays as he hunts and Henry tries to survive is filled with tension. It is engaging and smart. In the supporting role playing as the grandfather Jacob is Michael Ironside. While his character dies fairly quickly, his presence in the film is undeniable because of the influence his character has over Henry and Dixon. It’s these intertwined relationships and the story about family and upbringing and how each character interprets life that truly brings in that extra depth.

If we are to talk about presence and characters, the house is a character in itself. The real house has 100 years of history and this aspect is amplified in the scenes from the massive isolate land surrounded by trees to to the nooks and crannies that Henry crawls between to escape from Dixon. The house is utilized so well as the scenes move from one part of the house to the next. There are school buses on the land and a rusted barnhouse further away. Everything feels like it has a purpose and builds on the uneasy feeling that Knuckleball aims to deliver.

Knuckleball
Knuckleball is a real treat. The movie comes together in a gritty effective way and while its a horror thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat, its core is about more than that. Packed with great characters and an even more powerful setting, its a movie that you shouldn’t miss.  

This post was also on That Moment In.

Valentine’s Marathon: What If (original title: The F Word, 2013)

And we are finally here! The first random movie to kick off the Valentine’s Marathon is a romantic comedy. I have honestly taken a huge break from these the last few years mostly because a lot of them didn’t seem that appealing. However, Daniel Radcliffe post-Harry Potter phase and the lovely Zoe Kazan sounds like a fun time. So here we are!

Lets check it out!

What If (aka The F Word) (2013)

Director: Michael Dowse

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan , Adam Driver, Megan Park, MacKenzie Davis, Rafe Spall

Wallace, who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life. –IMDB

What If is adapted from a play called Toothpastes and  Cigars. Honestly, I’ve never heard of the original source material so obviously, I have nothing to compare to. With that said, the original title of The F Word seems to be more fitting for this story because we do spend a lot of time with Chantry and Wallace as really good friends. But then, I guess What If works on the level like the all time question, “What If  *insert good friend’s name* was my boyfriend or girlfriend?”  The story itself being a romantic comedy and all, is somewhat familiar and if you are looking for some breakthrough unpredictable story, then you probably aren’t looking for that. However, if you are like myself who enjoys a fun little romantic comedy, What If does deliver on it because of its fun and sharp dialogue between the characters which brings me back to something like why I love Gilmore Girls so much along with a lovely chemistry between the two main characters. There are some annoying parts in What If and we’ll talk about that as well. Plus, the setting is in Toronto. I love Toronto and go visit it at least once each year and always have a great time so let’s say I’m slightly biased as well.

what if 2013

With that said, the setting being as charming as it is, the true bright light of What If is its two main characters. Zoe Kazan has caught my eye since I saw her in In Your Eyes (Review) which is probably one of my favorite movies that I watch at least once a year. She’s very natural in her roles and in this one as Chantry, she’s incredibly charming and silly to watch. Its easy to fall in love with her character. Opposite her is Daniel Radcliffe who plays Wallace. I’m going to admit that post Harry-Potter Daniel Radcliffe, there’s only been one film that I saw and that’s The Woman in Black (review). The fact that I’m a decent fan of Harry Potter even if the movie adaptations at times did fall short from the novels themselves, it really is hard to break away that image. However, something about him playing Wallace seems to work quite well here. Maybe its the weirdness he has or just having the right person to act with. Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan bring Wallace and Chantry to life especially when paired up with their fun dialogue back and forth with random responses that truly are quite amusing. Most romantic comedies start off with characters that loathe each other and then see another side and then realize they fell in love with each other (most rom com scenarios, there are exceptions, I know), but this one builds them up as really good friends first and I think that is much more realistic.

What If 2013

Adam Driver, aka all you Star Wars fans’ Kylo Ren, was in What If as one of his roles. Putting Star Wars aside and whether you think he’s adequate as Kylo Ren, he plays Allan, the cousin of Chantry and something like a good friend of Wallace. He gives some good and bad advice and has this somewhat of a sleazy goofball sort of expert thing going on here as Wallace is more of a closed and introvert guy who needs a bit of guidance due to his many failed relationships in the past. While some parts worked, I wasn’t a huge fan of the character here. A few of the things felt so over the top that it seemed to break out from the friendship/relationship between Chantry and Wallace that felt quite believable and grounded. I know that a lot of the character of Allan and his girlfriend, Nicole (played by Mackenzie Davis) was meant to be funny however, it felt much less sophisticated that seemed to throw off the balance a little. Like I always say, humor is subjective.

With that said, What If is one of those romantic comedies that I really did enjoy. Zoe Kazan and Daniel Radcliffe really give some great performances that cancel out the negative things I felt about the film. A pleasant surprise is always a great way to start a marathon.

April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

Netflix A-Z reviews will be taking a break as I review the movies that I saw on my flights to and from Vancouver. The selection was pretty decent.

The first that caught my eye was an animated film I wanted to see earlier this year called April and the Extraordinary World, which is originally a French-Belgian-Canadian animated movie and the main character is voiced by Marion Cotillard in its orginal French version. That is definitely a highlight. Plus, French animated films tend to have this dark tone but adds a hint of dark humor that works for me. Perfect example would be one of my faves, Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart (review) or The Suicide Shop (review). Still, they hold a unique touch that many animated films don’t often have nowadays.

April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

April and the Extraordinary World

Director: Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci

Original French  Voice Cast: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet, Marc-André Grondin, Bouli Lanners,

English Voice Cast: Angela Galuppo, Tony Hale, Tony Robinow, Mark Camacho, Tod Fennell, Paul Giamatti

1941. France asleep in the nineteenth century, governed by steam and Napoleon V, where scientists vanish mysteriously. Avril, a teenage girl, goes in search of her missing scientist parents. – IMDB

April and the Extraordinary World is hard to explain. I don’t mean the plot because they did a great job telling the story and injecting some humor into it. However, despite some silly characters that make them enjoyable and break the serious tone, this animated film is set in a dystopian steampunk world. April has lost her parents and lives by herself with her talking cat. She continues her parents’ and grandfather’s chemistry work to make a serum that will cure illnesses. There somehow holds a strong message about playing God and its consequences.

April and the Extraordinary World

The characters themselves are well done. However, they are as expected. April amd her talking cat, her parents who hold diverging perspectives on their dedication towards the science they are making and their family’s safety. There is the eccentric grandfather who is actually not as crazy and lost as it seems. However this character’s silliness, while at times a little expected and predictable is a joy to watch. And of course, there is a police officer obsessed with chasing them down because the world has banned scientists and its one of the reasons April and her parents got separated. However, this detective is also quite comedic. On top of that, there is a boy that enters the picture as a kind of mole but then becomes tangled into the mess that April discovers. However, the best character is April’s companion, her cat. He is overly dramatic at times, but also thoughtful and intelligent and the dialogue he is given is done well to make him a simple and genuine character to love.

April and the Extraordinary World

Another aspect about April and the Extraordinary World is the world creation. The gadgets in this steampunk future gives it a unique touch. From the flying devices to the tone of the France they have created, it is like a depressing yet enchanting experience. The music itself is pretty good. The animation itself and art style of the entire film is unique especially when most animated films have computer graphics influences. This one looks hand drawn and brings us back to a comic book sort of feeling. Its simple but still very nice in the choices in the artistic touches.

April and the Extraordinary World

Here’s where I’m a little hesitant in saying that April and the Extraordinary World is an outstanding movie. Rotten Tomatoes rates this at 98% fresh. I agree that a lot of the film is done right however, there was a hint of familiarity in this film that seems to pay tribute to a lot of Studio Ghibli films. After some thought, that isn’t a bad thing because they do it great justice especially choosing the steampunk world they did. It helps to create a  more unique experience and as always the dialogue is what creates the difference between this perhaps only being influenced by Studio Ghibli but still keeping it its own piece.

All in all, April and the Extraordinary World is a fine animated film. It has many elements that are done right. While it gives off hints of inspiration by a few Studio Ghibli films, it still manages to stay unique with its world and tone. The characters are enchanting and the story engaging enough. It does drag in various parts but the film is a decent length which works in its favor to keep the plot moving forward.

Have you seen April and the Extraordinary World?

Book Review: The Water Rat of Wanchai (Ava Lee #1) by Ian Hamilton

Out of a totally spontaneous venture to the bookstore a while back, I bought this book which is the first of a series called The Water Rat of Wanchai.  Why I chose it is because it is set using a female protagonist who is Chinese-Canadian and well, Wanchai is in Hong Kong.  I always like to venture into these sort of books, even though this one, I’ve never heard of before.  Peculiar enough is that the author is not Chinese so I was interested in how authentic the interpretation of it would be. Lets get started with the plot!

the water rate of wanchai coverAva Lee is a Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant living in Toronto.  She affiliates her business with a close family friend called Uncle who is in Hong Kong.  Her job is to take on contracts from people who have had money stolen from them and track down where it has gone, in exchange her service is a commission of the amount she was able to collect back, in full or not.  This time, she is sent to take care of business of a friend of Uncle’s who swam down from mainland China when China was in turmoil.  Its a relationship and bond that can’t be broken.  She needs to help his relative Andrew Tam seek out money that he lent out for a wholesale fish import business that had gone bad and the owners were completely off the radar.

The Water Rat of Wanchai is a very smart novel.  It approaches it in a way where our strong female character leads us onto a journey where we learn about her abilities and how she uses certain qualities to get what she wants with her extremely sensitive observation and analysis skills.  The only issue I had was that at times, Ava Lee was too tough.  Tough to a point where its unrealistic even though the novel aims at possibly being more realistic as its set in very real places around the world.  Sometimes, Ava Lee can also be a character where her feminism is slightly overbearing.  As much as those characteristics may hinder her character, we do get a few surprises to her character.

The most intriguing part of the novel is how the investigation proceeds.  It really pulled me straight into the action and every step of the way, it kept me wondering what Ava Lee would do to solve her problems.  Going into foreign countries and having to deal with other cultures and their own set of politics as well as using many resources to trace where she had to be next to try to retrieve the money.  In many parts, I actually sensed the urgency of the situation and by the end, the book had turned into a page-turner.

The Water Rat of Wanchai has a lot of good features to it and its compelling and engaging to read.  It is a page-turner and a pretty good mystery novel.  Ava Lee is an interesting character to put on paper.  She shows a lot of Chinese values and qualities enveloped with the Canadian born values to mesh into someone who can transform herself to be likable in certain situations.  Forensic accounting would’ve been what I’d have wanted to do if I had become an accountant so to me, it had a even deeper meaning and stronger connection.  I like investigation and analysis in stories and this one did a very good job at it.

Definitely recommend it! As for me, I’ll be looking for the second one in the series soon!