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Film review: Ru brings Kim Thúy's beloved novel to achingly beautiful life — Stir

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Film review: Ru brings Kim Thúy's beloved novel to achingly beautiful life — Stir

AUTHOR KIM THÚY’S Governor General’s Award–winning novel Ru gives unique access to the refugee experience, following her family from Vietnam across the ocean to a new life in Canada. But what makes the book, and the extraordinary new movie based on it, so touching is the specific mix of that story with the French-Canadian culture that the family learns to call its own. 

In his new screen adaptation, Canadian director Charles-Olivier Michaud finds the warmth and humour in everything from a stepdance welcome in a community gym to the healing magic of maple taffy made on fresh snow. Or ham decorated with canned pineapple chunks and maraschino cherries. Or a fridge full of donated shepherd pies. 

The story is told nonchronologically, through the eyes of preteen Tinh (a remarkably unaffected Chloé Djandji) and following her family’s harrowing journey from upper-class comfort in Vietnam to the refugees once known as “boat people”, eventually starting over again in Canada. The culture shock is immediate: upon arrival in Quebec, the trip into Granby is by bus, through a blizzard, following a snowplow. In one of Michaud’s poetically surreal moments, a wide-eyed Tinh spots a new bride, crying and drinking champagne, still wearing her long white gown, on the hall floor of the motel the family calls home for many weeks. 

The script (by Thuy working with Michaud and Jacques Davidts)  uses restraint but never glosses over the trauma the parents and their children carry with them into their new lives. Via flashbacks, we see soldiers ransacking the family’s books and belongings, and witness the inhumanity of the dank boat hold. Through assured visual storytelling, Ru lets us in on the experience of forced migration—specifically, the trials, big and small, that “boat people” faced—whether it’s a parent sewing money into shirt hems or a camera slowly panning through a garment factory. In one scene, Tinh’s mother (a steely Chantal Thuy) stares from the ship hull, up a long ladder to the first daylight she’s seen in weeks. It’s a complex mix of despair about what’s behind her and fear of the unknown that awaits at the top of the hatch. Later, she refuses to speak to her daughter and two young sons in anything but French, and drives them to study harder. At the same time, the parents’ sacrifices are moving, the educated father (a quietly dignified Jean Bui) mopping cathedral floors and delivering Chinese food. What’s so poignant is that everyone’s too busy to pay too much attention to the growing pains and trauma that Tinh is quietly navigating herself—at a time when PTSD wasn’t a term yet, and everyone, even children, were expected to tough things out.

To his credit, director Michaud chooses not to tell this story through a lot of dialogue, but rather through imagery and often achingly beautiful visual details. A perfect symbol of all of the cultural upheaval comes with recurring shots of a second-hand toaster, which a kind Quebec sponsor assumes will be a necessity for the Vietnamese family’s breakfasts, but that becomes a chopstick holder abandoned in a corner. 

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Movie Reviews

‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

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‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

Becky checked out Abigail to see how it stacks up to other vampire movies.

I need to start off with a bit of blunt honesty: I initially thought it was a mistake for the trailers to give away that Abigail is a vampire. It would’ve been an immensely satisfying twist had the audience gone in completely blind to the truth of what Abigail really is.

That being said, having seen the film, I can now admit that it wasn’t a mistake at all. In fact everything given away in the trailer only serves to whet the appetite, so to speak, for what’s to come in the rest of the film.

Abigail, an extremely loose re-interpretation of Dracula’s Daughter (1936), follows a group of kidnappers as they snatch a wealthy mogul’s daughter, the titular Abigail, to hold her for ransom. It seems like a simple job: hold the girl until her father coughs up the ransom, everyone gets paid, everyone is happy. There’s just one little detail the kidnappers don’t know: Abigail is actually a vampire, and she’s very hungry.

The story does take a bit of time to properly get going, with a major chunk of time passing before anything remotely supernatural happens. However, once the creepy vampire activities start happening, the story kicks into a whole new gear. The basic set up is frightening, as these criminals find themselves locked in a house with a vampire and no exits. The thing is, the story also comes across as funny at times, in a weird and twisted sort of way.

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For instance, there’s a scene revealed in one of the trailers where the group debates how they’re going to take the vampire down and they list off the different kinds of vampires known in fiction (citing Anne Rice, True Blood, and Twilight among other things). It makes sense that this is how most people would have any information about vampires, yet the way it’s presented you can’t help but laugh a little when it comes up.

The cast is one detail that makes Abigail a very good film. Alisha Weir almost completely steals the show with her performance as Abigail and proves she has a bright future in movies. Kathryn Newton also rocks as Sammy the hacker. This is the second horror film I’ve seen her in this year and she is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. However, all praise needs to be given to Melissa Barrera’s performance as Joey. She absolutely killed it throughout the film and it’s mesmerizing to watch her interactions with Abigail shift throughout the story.

One thing that needs to be noted is that Abigail is a very gory film. It’s not constant, but when it does happen, it’s a lot. The filmmakers definitely played these moments up for maximum effect and it works.

Something that worked unexpectedly well is the theme of ballet that is woven throughout the film. That is one detail I wasn’t sure would work, but if anything it serves to make Abigail even more terrifying. To be followed throughout the mansion by a vampiric ballerina is quite unsettling and definitely makes Abigail one of the more memorable additions to the lore of vampiric cinema.

In conclusion, Abigail is equal parts scary, gory, and believe it or not, fun. It likely won’t win any awards, but I truly feel that most people who go in to see it will leave feeling satisfied. Abigail is the very definition of a good ‘popcorn movie’ and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

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Short Film Review: Wooden Toilet (2023) by Zuni Rinpoche

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Short Film Review: Wooden Toilet (2023) by Zuni Rinpoche

“You separated from us”

Winner of Best LGBTQ Short Film’ at the International Kolkata Short Film Festival this year, “Wooden Toilet” had an extensive festival run before premiering in its country of production, Bhutan.

The 11-minutes short begins with a rather impressive sequence, of a procession of people dressed in white through the mountains, with an exception of one woman who is eventually revealed to be the one whose husband’s funeral the group of people were attending. The sudden laughter of a man breaks the ritualistic approach, and we find out that there is something unusual about this man, who is later on trying to explain it to the aforementioned woman. The back story of another man, where he is trying to reveal something to his father but is instead met with anger and scorn, highlights, to a point at least, what the issue with the two men is. One of the final scenes makes it rather clear, while the last scene connects the short with its title.

The first thing one would notice about “Wooden Toilet” is its impressive visuals. Starting with the initial procession, the close ups that emit a sense of horror, the hanging ropes and the red bedroom are all truly memorable, with Zuni Rinpoche implementing symbolism in order to make his comments. The symbolisms, however, are somewhat difficult to understand what they are about, although the comment about the racism and lack of understanding queer people have to face is made quite clear.

The non-linear approach, which also includes much surrealism, apart from the aforementioned symbolism, adds much to the narrative, particularly through the implementation of the aforementioned scenes. One could say, that on a number of levels, the film could be described as experimental, although there is also a basis in terms of story, that does not allow it to go fully towards that direction.

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All in all, “Wooden Toilet” is an intriguing short by Zuni Rinpoche, who would definitely benefit from a longer duration, that would allow the director to unfold his story and his symbolisms in more eloquent fashion. Still, the film deserves a watch for its visuals and the overall approach to the queer concept.

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“Unsung Hero” Movie Review: A True Story of Faith, Music, and a Family's New Beginning –

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“Unsung Hero” Movie Review: A True Story of Faith, Music, and a Family's New Beginning –

Staff Report

“Unsung Hero” is an inspiring tale of resilience and hope that charts the journey of the Smallbone family from the shores of Australia to the heart of America. After the collapse of his music company, David Smallbone, portrayed by Joel Smallbone of for KING + COUNTRY, along with his pregnant wife Helen, played by Daisy Betts, and their seven children, embark on a daring move to the United States. Armed with nothing but their luggage, a shared love for music, and unyielding faith, the family seeks to rebuild their shattered lives.

Set for release in the United States on April 26, 2024, “Unsung Hero” is directed by Joel Smallbone and Richard Ramsey, with Lionsgate handling distribution. The film’s poignant and uplifting score is crafted by Brent McCorkle, ensuring that music plays a pivotal role in narrating the Smallbones’ story. Produced by Justin Tolley, Josh Walsh, and Luke Smallbone, and brought to the screen by Kingdom Story Company and Candy Rock Entertainment, this film promises a heartwarming cinematic experience.

“Unsung Hero” delves deep into the challenges and triumphs of the Smallbone family as they navigate their new environment. Helen’s unwavering faith becomes a beacon of hope for her family, inspiring her husband and children to cling to their own beliefs even when their dreams seem out of reach. It’s this foundation of faith that ignites the musical talent within their children, ultimately leading them to become two of the most acclaimed acts in the world of Inspirational Music. The story not only celebrates their eventual success—highlighted by GRAMMY awards for both for KING + COUNTRY and Rebecca St. James—but also pays homage to the silent sacrifices made by David and Helen.

“Unsung Hero” is more than just a biographical film; it’s a testament to the power of faith and family, and the incredible impact of nurturing talents. As the Smallbones find their footing in a new country, they also discover that their greatest strength lies within each other and their shared passions. This film is a must-watch for anyone who believes in the power of starting anew and the magic that music and faith can bring to life’s darkest moments. For more information, visit Rotten Tomatoes’ page dedicated to “Unsung Hero”

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Reference link:

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/.

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