Film Reviews

VIFF 2021 – Closing Round-Up

With the 2021 Vancouver International Film Festival drawing to a close, the traditional local to global nature of its lineup is on full display…

Handle With Care: The Legend of the Notic Streetball Crew

Nothing beats a complete sports documentary; a classic rise and fall reflected upon in totality by those who lived and breathed it. All of them, together again, for better or worse. That’s what the Notic was in Vancouver, a true collective who happened to do something great, almost without realising it. They were a crew of young immigrants and working class kids with a common passion: streetball.

Rarely is a set of sports doc talking heads as honest and likeable as the Notic crew is today. Directors Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas are the same Vancouverites who began filming the group at the city’s Hoop It Up tournament in 2002, and the pair would go on to produce Notic’s two era-defining streetball VHS mixtapes. From the first whistle it is clear that the conversations they’re coaxing have a direct openness to them that may not have been present otherwise.

They were never famous in a commercial sense, but the pure joy displayed by the likes of Joey Haywood, Jermaine Foster, John Mubanda, Andrew Liew, and Rory Grace, regularly in the face of brutal societal struggle, and all in pursuit of what they loved most, is beautiful to watch, both now and in the frankly insane archival footage.

READ MORE: The Maid – Film Review


The inflated value of a simple family home coupled with the seemingly impossible task of attaining one is a frustration felt on a global scale, to the point where all you can do is laugh. Korean director Kim Ji-hoon seeks to do just that with his disaster comedy, spotlighting recent first-time buyers the Parks, whose Seoul apartment building collapses into a sinkhole just days after they move in, having waited 11 years to buy it in the first place.

As Mr. Park, his neighbour, and several co-workers come together to try and escape their newfound hell, naturally, hilarity ensues. Well, sort of. Unfortunately, most of the lighthearted humour that lands and character development that resonates comes prior to main disaster sequence. It’s by the numbers stuff, but it works. Things don’t fall completely into the abyss alongside the Parks’ building, but the collapse is where Sinkhole becomes less interesting, its tone muddled, and its length bloated.

The bright spot is Cha Seung-won, whose sarcastic neighbour and single father is not only the funniest character, but the best performance out of an otherwise somewhat flat cast.

READ MORE: Friend of the World – Film Review


When Swiss private banker Yvan de Wiel (Fabrizio Rongione) arrives in Buenos Aires, he can feel the underlying tension. Argentina in 1980 is in the midst of a military dictatorship, a dark period during which thousands were disappeared at the behest of the ruling junta. His partner, the successful, well-liked René Keys, has disappeared in the city, and Yvan is there to pick up the pieces.

The ultimate slow burn that reveals everything and nothing, albeit without overstaying its welcome, Azor is a dry, incredibly subtle, yet well-crafted debut from writer-director Andreas Fontana. As de Wiel navigates the taught, nervy Buenos Aires elite in the hope of securing his former partner’s clients and information on his whereabouts, Fontana successfully utilizes the engaging tactic of cracking each door barely enough for us to see inside the opaque, seemingly impregnable world de Wiel operates within.

Featuring deliberately underplayed and impressive multi-lingual performances, Azor is heavy on the mind if not on the senses. If you’re looking for a flick to fully dial in to, check it out.

READ MORE: The Old Ways – Film Review

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko

What would be VIFF without an extra large portion of anime. Charming, silly, and unexpectedly mouthwatering, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is a coming-of-age tale of teenager Kikuko (Cocomi) and her jolly, plus-sized mother Nikuko (Shinobu Otake), whose love of comfort food is something we can all identify with.

As Kikuko navigates high school, Nikuko’s wild history and lust for life are unceremoniously unfurled in a story split into two distinct character studies that intersect at the core emotional beats, eventually coming full circle when Kikuko discovers Nikuko’s long-hidden secret. While Kikuko is really the lead, her story is a standard anime teenage drama, whereas Nikuko’s frequent, vibrant appearances are a breath of fresh air.

Brilliantly animated and steeped in self-aware wit, Nikuko is a literal larger than life character who defies convention. The same can almost be said for the food she consumes (and there’s a lot of it), which somehow becomes an effective supporting character in its own right. If by the end you can’t taste the remnants of BBQ, rice balls, and French toast, you may need to take a COVID test.

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