Tag Archives: Jonas

VIFF 2021 Review: Flee

Flee is an animated documentary of Amin: an Afghani refugee living in Denmark who always felt he had to hide his true past from everyone. Including the man he loves.

Flee was the first time I was able to see an animated film at the VIFF this year. It isn’t just an animated film. It’s part-story, part-documentary that tells a lot about a remarkable story.

The story begins with a man named Amin. He tells the story of his life and his ordeal. He tells it in fluent Danish. He first tells of his story of how he had to flee as his whole family had been killed off. This is a story he also tells his boyfriend Kasper. This is on the verge of Kasper about to buy a house for him and Amin. Meanwhile Amin is undecided whether to accept living with Kasper or accept a teaching job at a university.

The interviewer then takes Amin to a private place. There, Amin can tell the true story. It starts when he reflects of his childhood in Kabul. His biggest memories are of being four in the mid-1980’s and running down the streets with a Walkman with pink earphones in his hand and wearing a dress! However the harsh realities hit Amin and his family in 1989 when Amin turns eight. The Mujahideen have taken over Afghanistan, just two years after the Soviets withdrew from the nation. Their father has been captured and they don’t know what happened to them. Fearing they’ll be next, Amin, his mother, two sisters and brother seek refuge on a plane. The plane takes them in Moscow as the USSR is one of few countries willing to take the family in because of their status.

Life is not very good for the family in Moscow. Even after the fall of communism, they can only do limited work, live in a cramped flat and constantly be harassed by corrupt policeman who heckle them for being different. They know they will have to flee to another country if they are ever able to be free for once. However their only hope depends on human traffickers. They all want to flee to Sweden. The eldest brother is the only one who can work. It is he who will have to provide the money for these trips.

The first trip, which involved being in a car failed and they found themselves back in Moscow. The second trip involved the whole family travelling at once. This involved a long walk through the woods with others right in the coldness of winter. It then led them all to a fishing vessel where they had to hide themselves in the fish trap. The feel of the boat trip was nerve-wracking with the water splashing. Then water started coming in, which involved the passengers coming out of the trap to get the water out. Fortunately a cruise ship discovers the boat. Unfortunately, the cruise ship calls Estonian police to rescue the passengers. That meant back to Moscow.

The long wait is frustrating. The mother is getting older, the siblings including Amin himself are growing and missing out a lot on their future, and the oldest brother is having the frustration of his future being squandered to saving up for these illegal immigration stings. It’s frustrating, but they can’t go on watching Mexican soap operas and being harassed by Moscow police forever. Finally the brother finds a new illegal immigration operation. It’s way more expensive than the ones in the past, but this has excellent chances of working. However this involves each of the family members to go alone.

Amin is to go with one other teen male. The agent gives both boys strict instructions to obey. The trip starts with both of them being inside a van and lying down. During the trip, Amin senses a feeling he has toward the other male. The male gives him his gold chain. Before they board the plane, the agent gives the two plane tickets and passports: Amin for Denmark and the other boy for Switzerland. They all go on a flight to Istanbul. As the flight lands, the agent advises the two to do everything he instructs them to do and once they arrive in their country of destination to tear up the passport and tell officials their story. After the agent leaves, the two depart but not without one final goodbye.

Hours later, Amin arrives in Copenhagen, tears up the passport, and tells his story of being a completely orphaned Afghani refugee. As he’s transported to safety, he looks out the window of the car and sees freedom, but can’t feel it or sense it. He spent years living in a shelter living with various families and pursuing excellent grades in school. Then one day, he receives a phone call. It’s his brother in Sweden. Amin learns his brother found refuge in Sweden from his own trip from the trafficker.

Time would improve for Amin. Soon he’d learn all of his family including his mother had found refuge in various places in Europe with his two sisters also living in Sweden. His life has improved as he has been able to become a strong academic and even had lecturing jobs at American colleges. However he’s still had to keep his true life a secret from his boyfriend and his homosexuality a secret from his family as Afghani culture considers homosexuality to bring shame to the family. One day, when the brother and sisters get into conversation about Amin not being married, he then outs himself to the shock of all. The brother then tells Amin to get into the car. Amin is uncertain and fearful about what will happen next during the car ride. The brother takes him to a gay bar and hands him some money. They knew all along! Inside the gay bar, Amin discovers a freedom he never thought possible. The film then flashes forward two years later showing how Amin’s life has improved.

This is definitely a story about a current hot topic: refugees and illegal immigrants. It’s constantly an issue. As long as there’s political oppression and corruption, there are going to be people fleeing. Refugees and illegal immigrants probably feel they have something to hide about themselves. Even if they become legit citizens of their country, they feel they still have something to hide and they have to lie for their freedom. Roughly they’re still mentally ‘on the run.’ Even the fact that the subject has to tell his whole truth under the pseudonym Amin Nawabi adds to this factor. It becomes evident when Amin first tells the interviewer of his story of his family deceased. Then when he’s in a private room, he tells the truth. It’s also evident how he’s unsure whether to commit to marrying his boyfriend Kasper and instead accept an offer at an American university.

Amin’s story is definitely a story of intrigue. This is a story of a man who pretty much feels he has his ‘life on the run.’ He had to flee his home of Afghanistan with his family and first settle in Russia, only for all to find another nation to live in. This is a case of three attempts and the frustration of wondering if you’ll ever be free. This is about feeling that you have to hide the truth of yourself even though you’re now living in a free country. This is about even hiding a truth about yourself that is forbidden and seen as shame in your home country. I think that’s the point of the story. About hiding things. It starts off as a case that Amin has a lot to hide. However over time, he opens up. Hidden truths about himself no longer become a taboo. It’s a case as we see the story unravel over time just as we get to the part where he outs himself to his siblings.

This is a story of from a life of refuge to a newly discovered freedom. When you look at it, Amin’s freedom in Denmark is the best thing to happen to him. We all see he had to deal with life in Russia along with his siblings. Even without attempts to immigrate, Russia was no place for them. Not as they were constantly being harassed. Afghanistan was no place for them either as their father may had been killed and they would be in pursuit. It’s especially no place for Amin as his sexuality was obvious at a young age. If he had not fled from Afghanistan in his lifetime, he could have been executed for his homosexuality. That really gets you thinking. Especially when we recently heard about the return of the Taliban to power. It’s something how Amin is born in a country with the harshest attitude towards homosexuality and finds himself in one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage!

I give top accolades to writer/director Jonas Poher Rasmussen. He’s done films about people’s struggle with homosexuality before. The story does a very good job as it goes from the interview to the re-enactments of Amin’s past. From running down the streets listening to Take On Me to the family forgetting their problems as they watch Mexican soap operas, it does a good job of telling the story while mixing other elements in the background. The images do a great job in capturing the drama of the time. The voice acting was also very good. The animation from Sun Creature Studio did an excellent job of depicting the story in both the present and the past. The addition of the music of the times and of the Mexican soap operas also add to the story.

Flee is a great animated film about a man who feels like he has always had to be on the run. On the run from danger, on the run from authorities, on the run to achieve freedom, and on the run from how he was meant to live and who to love. It’s an eye-opener and a delight to see at the same time.

VIFF 2021 Review: Kicking Blood

Alanna Bale plays a modern world vampire who faces a life-or-death decision in the Canadian thriller Kicking Blood.

Right during the first week of the Vancouver International Film Festival, I fulfilled my first VIFF goal of seeing a Canadian feature when I saw Kicking Blood. It also became my first Altered States film of the VIFF. It’s a vampire story that’s something.

Anna celebrates her birthday with a slice of cake and with Bernice and Gus: two of her co-workers at the library. During the shift, Bernice is upset Gus is leaving her for another woman. That night, Gus is about to make love to Anna. He thinks he’s the one in control. What he doesn’t know is that anna is a vampire. She delivers him the fatal bite!

Somewhere else in the city, Robbie is an alcoholic who’s being booted out of the house of a young woman who’s been looking after him. She caught him making out with her fiance! Robbie finds himself out on the streets. Anna walks by him. She sees him with a bottle in his hands. However she notices something about him. Somehow she’s willing to take him in. She’s able to let him live in her place and feed him well. He is expected to recover from his alcoholism, if he says he’s willing to change. Anna conducts business as usual at the library. She has her friendly conversations with Bernice. She then comes home to Robbie. She learns she has feelings toward him. Feelings of love. But she doesn’t know how to deal with it.

One night in a nightclub, two men named Boris and Ben are having fun and drinking. There they meet what appears to be a woman alone named Nina. Ben is attracted to her. He tries to get closer to her, but Nina knows he’s married and trying to hide it. Soon it’s the three of them with Ben doing cocaine. They’re having good conversation. Anna joins the conversation. However it’s apparent Ben will become Nina’s latest victim. She does eventually bite the life out of him.

It becomes apparent there is a trio of vampires in the town: Anna, Nina and Boris. They bite people out of their lives and then live off their possessions. Anna is very good from hiding it from Bernice and Robbie: two people who mean a lot to her, but how can she keep it a secret? It shows in her restraint as she wants to make love to Robbie, but she can’t get any closer. How is Robbie going to find out? That also hits her as she learns from Bernice she won’t take her pills and will rely on her inner strength and her mentality on her physical condition. A vampire like Anna can’t have connection to humans. How can Anna make this work?

The trio’s next victim is an artist who lives alone. They visit her in her apartment as she’s making a sculpture. They first ask her questions about her art, but then they shift the focus on how her art may be remembered after her death. The questions of her art seen after her death continue, which the artist kindly answers them. Then Nina bites the life out of her. Instead of enjoying this, it’s a turning point for Anna as she shows huge concern.

The last incident of vampirism affects Anna. She knows as a vampire, she can’t connect with humans emotionally. Problem is she has been connecting with humans as she watches Robbie go through his alcoholic withdrawal and as she visits Bernice in the hospital as she’s dying. She is reminded she has human sensitivity. She can’t have that as a vampire If she does, she would have to identify with mortal humans. She reveals her identity to Robbie, but he is shocked and leaves her. While at a bar, he meets Vanessa: an old flame from his college days. The two start heating up.

However the time is coming for Anna. This is the time she will have to choose between life as a vampire or human mortality. First she confronts Vanessa with Robbie. The two face off right in the middle of the road as Nina and Boris arrive. Vanessa is the latest victim. Then the two remind Anna that Robbie is her last chance. One bite of him will keep her immortality active. Refusing to bite will lead to her death. The ending is slow and more about intensity than effects, but dramatic and unconventional.

I’m sure we’ve all seen our fair share of vampire stories. From the classic stories of the legendary Count Dracula to the teen craze of the Twilight series, vampires still intrigue us and captivate us. This is a unique story of a young female vampire who’s part of a trio of vampires. As they welcome themselves in other peoples’ lives, they kill them with one bite and take material things of theirs. Anna is a vampire who works a librarian job, but pursues her victims. Often you’ll understand why a librarian like Anna has so many luxuries. However it’s an odd twist when she takes in a homeless alcoholic like Robbie. Often you wonder why would she? He has nothing to take from. Would he still be one of her eventual victims? More on that later.

The thoughts continue when you learn of the vampire trio she’s a part of. It’s after she meets and tends to Robbie that she starts to reconsider her life as a vampire. She has feelings for Robbie and doesn’t want to kill him, but her vampirism is her immortality. Should she continue to be a vampire and have Robbie as one of her victims? Or will she choose the life of mortality? That she’d rather die than kill Robbie? Even with the presence of Boris and Nina, it gets you wondering. Does she like being a vampire? Or is she controlled by the other two?

The film has Robbie as the surprising secondary character. Anna meets Robbie on the streets right after his previous ‘keeper’ booted him out and with a bottle in his hand. You’re left wondering why would a vampire like Anna take in a man like Robbie who has nothing? Would he be her next victim? Even later as she houses him instead of giving him a fatal bite like all the others, you wonder why is she keeping him alive? Is it something in herself that she sees and only Robbie can bring that out in her? Is it Robbie that gives her the change of heart? Boris and Nina remind her that her biting is her key to immortality and that a vampire is not to connect or empathize with humans. But Robbie is the human that does exactly that. Even though her best friend Bernice is the first human to get her to connect as a human instead of maintain her vampire separation from humans, it’s Robbie who best conveys Anna’s human feelings. It’s also Robbie, as he goes through alcoholic withdrawal, who sends the message to Anna of the vampirism withdrawal, a fatal withdrawal, she could face. Is it worth it?

This is a film full of a lot of twists and surprises. The vampire legend is always full of various elements of the legend. I’m sure many stories play with the legend. One thing that caught my attention is how these vampires are perfectly unaffected by the sunlight. Most vampires are either affected by sunlight or the light is fatal to them. The trio of vampires are unharmed by the sunlight, but it’s the nighttime where their vampirism comes to life. Maybe that’s the trick. They act like everyday humans by day, but their vampire side comes out at night. Even the story of how another woman tries to steal Robbie from Anna adds into the drama. For the most part, the story makes sense. If it’s a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces fit well. The story however carry itself out in a slower-than-usual pace. It settles more for the intensity of the situation, rather than the sensational images of bites of the flesh. Also I feel we learn the fact that Anna is part of a trio of vampires later in the film than we should. However those who come to a film about vampires and are huge fans of seeing ‘vampires in action’ may be disappointed. The ending works, but there were even small bits where it had some flat moments, or could have been better. Like Nina’s last line.

I give top marks to director Blaine Thurier. He does a very good job in directing the play he co-wrote with Leonard Farlinger. I like how he plays along with the legend and creates a unique story of vampires in the modern world. It even gives you the feeling of a vampires-next-door story! Also very good is the acting from Alanna Bale. Playing a character that goes from an everyday girl to a vampire at night to a vampire with human feelings is not an easy task. She does a very good job of it and keeps her focus well. She makes it work. Luke Bilyk is also very good as the recovering alcoholic Robbie. He does more than just play a recovering alcoholic. His role is also that of human feelings and feelings of love to Anna. He does a very good job of showing the importance of Robbie in the story.

The film also has a lot of great supporting performances too. Rosemary Dunsmore was great as Bernice, the librarian who gives Anna her human feelings. Vinessa Antoine was also very good as Vanessa, the woman who tries to win Robbie away from Anna. Ella Jonas Farlinger (daughter of scriptwriter Leonard Farlinger) and Benjamin Sutherland were good as the two other vampires, but their roles lacked dimension.

Kicking Blood is not your typical vampire story. It does offer a twist in the common vampire story that delivers the unexpected. Despite it’s small but noticeable glitches, it will still keep you at the edge of your seat.

Movie Review: Gravity

Sandra Bullock plays a rookie astronaut who struggles to survive in space after a freak accident in Gravity.

Sandra Bullock plays an inexperienced astronaut who struggles to survive in space after a freak accident in Gravity.

DISCLAIMER: Okay, I know Gravity has been out in theatres for weeks. Even I saw it almost a month ago. But as you can tell from my VIFF writing, I lacked the ambition to write for weeks. It’s only until now I’m getting it back. So I hope you understand. Also I hope you like my review.

Gravity is a movie that promises not to be like your typical outer space movie. The trailer also promised a thrill ride. The question is does it deliver?

The film shows a space shuttle mission commanded by two people: Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski. This is Ryan’s first journey. She receives guidance from Matt: a veteran on his last shuttle trip. It is while they both service the ship’s hubblescope that they learn the Russians did a missile strike on a defunct satellite. It appears to be no big deal until the debris comes straight to their spaceship. The debris detaches Stone, damages the shuttle to the point it’s unusable and leaves the rest of the crew dead. Fortunately Kowalski is able to catch Stone before she flies away into oblivion.

Stone and Kowalski are the only two survivors left. They know they have to make it to the International Space Station (ISS) within 90 minutes to avoid the orbiting space debris. The two talk. Stone admits she hasn’t had a happy life since her young daughter died. They approach the ISS finding many of the Soyuz models inoperable. Kowalski finds one still operable and suggests it be used to travel to a Chinese space station to return back to Earth. However the force of weightlessness becomes too much for the two to travel to the Soyuz together. Kowalski leaves Stone to the Soyuz despite her protests and floats away.

Stone is left on her own in the ISS trying to get to the one safe Soyuz even as there’s a fire in the ship area. Fortunately she finds her way there in time as the debris make a return orbit to commit further damage. Stone tries to communicate with the Chinese ship only to come across audio of a Greenlandic fisherman cooing his baby. Stone turns off her oxygen resigned to giving up. She receives a change of heart from Kowalski where he scolds her and tells her to go on and she receives instructions.

Stone immediately realizes that her conversation with Kowalski was a dream but she develops the will to go on. She directs herself to the Chinese capsule only to learn that it’s been damaged too. She immediately has to find her way to land back to Earth. She has to do it and time is running out. Nevertheless the movie ends as many believe it will but actually not as many originally though the ending would be.

This is one of the best and one of the most unique against-all-odds stories I’ve seen in a long time on the big screen. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know everything was against Ryan. She suffered tragedy in her life and made a loner of herself. She was completely inexperienced in space travel and nothing disastrous was expected to happen. The debris of the satellites leaves the ship damaged and the crew dead. Then Matt Kowalski, her partner in need, floats off into oblivion. She’s left all alone to fend for herself, try and work two damaged spaceships she has no clue how to operate and with broken communication and bring herself back to Earth. Being in the theatre will leave one at the edge of their seat not knowing what will happen next. I myself remember feeling the intensity of the moment during its high-tension scenes. Once you thing something is solved, it turns out that it isn’t and a new decision has to be made.

The best thing about this movie is that it’s not just and outer space thrill-ride. It’s a thrill-ride that’s able to keep its focus on one main actor practically throughout the whole movie and it succeeds in being both entertaining and thrilling. Even having it almost completely in space without ever really focusing outside of it during the space scenes also adds to it being an accomplishment. I remember 127 Hours attempted to focus on one person and their story but there were a few times it shifted away in flashbacks or other scenes. Gravity was better at the focus. It was almost like watching a moment in real-time.

Without a doubt, Sandra Bullock was the performance of the movie. She was the lead role and it was her movie technically from start to finish but she did all the right moves. She succeeded in making her character not just a player in the action but a three-dimensional person with deep feelings. That’s what made the movie more. George Clooney also did well in his supporting role. His role didn’t include the depth or range as Bullock’s but he succeeded with his presence and playing an experienced astronaut who’s cool under pressure.

The big accomplishments go to Alfonso Cuaron and his son Jonas. Alfonso directed it. Alfonso and Jonas both wrote it. Alfonso also co-produced and co-edited it. They took a story one normally could not create a good box office-winning movie with. Trying to turn a story like that into an eye-catching movie would take a huge amount of effort and may needs the right effects to be added to it to make it work. But they made it work. The cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki and the music from Steven Price also added to the excellence of the movie.

Gravity is a sci-fi movie that goes above and beyond what one would expect from a space movie. No big space wars. Just one person and their struggle to stay alive and make it back to Earth. A tough job to turn into a winning picture but it succeeds brilliantly.

Film Review: Blood Pressure

Michelle Giroux reads a letter from a secret 'friend' in the Canadian-made thriller Blood Pressure.

Michelle Giroux reads a letter from a secret ‘friend’ in the Canadian-made Blood Pressure.

Even though I’m excited about the summer fare in movies, I’m also interested in what the independent movies have to show. Blood Pressure is one. Shown at the VIFF Theatre in Vancouver, it’s Canadian-shot, Canadian-produced and Canadian-made. But is it one film for those who want to get off the beaten path?

The film begins with the reading of a letter addressed from ‘a friend.’ It’s to a woman named Nicole. The letter from this ‘friend’ appears to be one who knows a lot about her. The ‘friend’ knows she’s a pharmacist and married mother of two living in a Toronto suburb. The ‘friend’ even knows where she graduated from. The friend also knows she’s not too happy with her job and her family life. You’ll soon see the friend is right. She’s not happy with her marriage or her job at a pharmacy. The one person she can confide to is retiring from the pharmacy.

Interestingly the ‘friend’ knows what to give Nicole as this ‘friend’ gives her a card for a complimentary massage and a manicure. The friend even knows of her wishes as just days after talking to her husband about a vacation to Mexico, she follows a set of lights to a chair with a plane ticket to Mexico. And the friend gives her shooting range sessions and martial arts classes. The ‘friend’ then asks of her to do things to prove her loyalty such as set up a flyer in the mail a certain way. Then the requests get bigger as the ‘friend’ asks her to observe a young man with a cane in a cafe at a certain time. Then the requests become even more voyeuristic as the ‘friend’ asks Nicole to observe the man while talking on the phone without being noticed. It didn’t work and the friend asks her to view the man in his bed at a certain time and be very observant.

However this fixation of these letters starts to bear down on Nicole’s life. The shooting sessions and martial arts classes work for her and even improve her relationship with her daughter. However it’s leading to difficulties in her marriage and even disputes with her boss on the job. Then the moment when she can finally find out who the friend is: a request to give the man an envelope at the cafe. It’s there she finds out that he’s the friend but it’s at his hotel suite she finds out why. At the suite she learns of this man, Darryl Saunders, and of his debilitating physical handicap. He is impressed with her loyalty to him and gives her one last request: kill him.

Nicole doesn’t know how to take this request. She tried looking up his medical information only to learn of a Daria Saunders instead, who is Darryl’s deceased wife. Meanwhile she develops feelings for the man and has simultaneously won over the attraction of her pharmacy boss. This even has her husband suspecting an affair. This all leads to a surprise decision from Nicole which leads to finding out another surprising truth about Darryl. The end result is one that will surprise you and the movie ends on a note that can leave the audience deciding for themselves how it all ends.

This film is a very good example of a creative idea paying off. It all started with an idea from scriptwriter Bill Fugler from an idea while talking with writing friends at a café bookstore. Co-writer and director Sean Garrity added narrative elements to bring the story to the big screen. It was originally to be filmed in Winnipeg when a sudden career change with his wife led to shoot it in suburban Toronto: Richmond Hill to be exact. Jonas Chernick was cast to be Darryl. Michelle Giroux, a friend of Jonas Chernick, was a stage actor and originally only read with the male actors during pre-production. Garrity was so impressed by her reading, she was cast as the lead. It was an excellent choice as Giroux owned the film. She was given a very complex lead role that spoke volumes even when she wasn’t speaking at all and she delivered excellently. Jonas was also good as the hurting Darryl as was Jonah Katz as the struggling husband. Tatiana Maslany did an excellent job of portraying a teenage daughter despite being much older.

After seeing Before Midnight, I was tempted to think that Blood Pressure was about reaching middle age in today’s world and the emotions that run through people. Even though Nicole possessed a lot of feelings and frustrations one would have at middle age, it’s not what this movie’s about. It’s more of a psychological thriller that uses human emotions to keep the audience thrilled instead of special effects.

One thing unique about Blood Pressure is its surprise success. The film made its big screen debut at the Busan Film Festival. It was screened in Garrity’s home city of Winnipeg in February 2013 to sold out shows at Cinematheque cinema which led to a screening at the Grant Park Cinema weeks later. The film would soon have popular screenings in Toronto in March. Its success in Toronto and Winnipeg has led to other screening nationwide including Calgary screenings and a Vancouver debut on June 29th. I actually thought something like this would make its Vancouver debut at the VIFF. looks like its buzz made it happen faster.

Blood Pressure is a surprise for the summer but not on a large scale. Those interested in Canadian film will like this. This is an excellent triumph for Manitoba filmmakers.