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BITS 2015: Secret Santa

The Christmas party for a group of college kids is terrorized by a psychotic killer in Secret Santa. It is Christmas Eve and Olivia (Nicole Kawalez) is hosting a Secret Santa party for her friends Nicole (Annette Wozniak), Carissa (Keegan Chambers), Bryan (Brent Baird), Dwayne (Geoff Almond), and Oliva's professor/boyfriend Preston Ramsey (Tony Nashed). However, in the shadows lurks a killer that will make sure that these friends don't have a very Merry Christmas.

BITS 2015: Night Cries

A gunslinger tries to save his wife in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Night Cries. Joseph Morgan (Andrew Cymek) has been scowling the wasteland, fighting demons and psychopaths, trying to locate his wife Sarah (Brigitte Kingsley). However, not long after finding her, Joseph crosses paths with The Hat (Colin Mochrie), who has declared himself the warlord of this new land.

BITS 2015: Farhope Tower

A team of ghost hunters investigate an abandoned skyscraper in Farhope Tower. The Unspecters are a group of paranormal investigators hoping to get their reality show picked up by a network. Desperate for a next level experience, team leader Jake (John White) suggests that the Unspectors head to Farhope Tower, a long-abandoned skyscraper notorious for the amount of suicides committed on the premises. Despite warnings from Jake's best friend Andre (Evan Williams) that the tower would not be safe, the team of camera operator Judy (Lauren Collins), tech guy Simon (Tim Doiron), and rookie Zoe (April Mullen) venture into the halls of Farhope Tower.

BITS 2015: Bite

This review was originally published as part of my coverage of Fantasia Fest 2015

A young women undergoes a horrifying transformation in the body horror film Bite.  Shortly before her wedding to her fiance Jared (Jordan Gray), Casey (Elma Begovic) goes on a bachelorette holiday to Costa Rica with her friends Jill (Annette Wozniak) and Kirsten (Denise Yuen).  While swimming in an off-path spring, Casey gets bitten by something under the water.  After returning home, Casey begins to worry about whether she is ready for her upcoming wedding.  At the same time, her bite becomes infected and she undergoes some increasingly grotesque changes.

My Thoughts on Room

A young boy and his mother adjust to life outside the confined quarters where they lived in Room. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is a five year old boy, who has only known existence in "room," where he lived with his mother Joy (Brie Larson). Joy has tried her best to shelter Jack from the truth of their living situation, but has decided that the time has come to leave room. However, getting out is only the first of the many challenges for this mother and son.

Doc Thoughts: The Trick with the Gun

A Toronto-based magician prepares to perform the dangerous bullet catch trick in The Trick with The Gun. Scott Hammell is a young magician from Toronto, who has broken four Guinness World Records with high-risk stunts, while also being a motivational speaker for youth. Hammell is approached by Victoria-based writer Christopher Gudgeon to do a TV special with Hammell performing a bullet catch. In an offhand suggestion, Chris is asked to be the one to shoot the gun, which results in growing tensions between the two as they prepare for the trick with the gun.

Interview: Tonje Hessen Schei discusses Drone

The documentary Drone opens today and covers the very timely subject matter of drone strikes in the middle east. The film is directed by Norwegian director Tonje Hessen Schei, who is previously known for the documentaries Independent Intervention (2006) and Play Again (2010). When Drone screened earlier this year at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, I sat down with Tonje Hessen Schei to discuss her reasons for making this documentary.

Doc Thoughts: Drone

The controversy surrounding US drone strikes is explored in Drone.  Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, the CIA announced to George W. Bush that they had the capability to arm drones.  Drone strikes went on to become the defining weapon of the War on Terror, with the main selling point by politicians being that these strikes don’t endanger the lives of soldiers or innocent civilians.  However, evidence from former drone operators and the survivors of drone strikes show that this is not the case.

Blindspot 2015: 40 Years of TIFF: Precious

It is time for the penultimate edition of this yearlong celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Toronto International Film Festival. This month, I will be looking at Lee Daniels' Precious (Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire), which won the TIFF People's Choice Award in 2009 and went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, with Precious winning the awards for Best Supporting Actress for Mo'Nique and Best Adapted Screenplay for Geoffrey Fletcher.

Precious centres around the titular protagonist of Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), who lives in Harlem with her abusive mother (Mo'Nique). Precious was repeatedly sexually abused by her father and she is currently pregnant with her second child by him. Precious is sent to an alternative school, where Ms Blu Rain (Paula Patton) helps Precious learn to read and write and help turn her life around.

Reel Asian 2015: Wrap-Up

For my third year covering the Toronto Reel Asian International Festival, I was unable to be as comprehensive as I was last year, though I still ended up seeing a decent sampling of the festival line-up. All together I saw 11 films at this year's festival and I always find Reel Asian to have an interesting selection of films.

Reel Asian 2015: Our Times

A girl reminiscences about her first love in Our Times. Lin Truly (Vivian Sung) is a shy high school student, who is pining over Ouyang (Dino Lee), the most popular boy at the school. After an incident involving a chain letter, Truly is forced into a reluctant friendship with Hsu Taiyu (Darren Wang), a feared troublemaker. However, Truly begins to see Taiyu for who is really is and the two begin to develop feelings for each other.

Reel Asian 2015: Full Strike

A team of ex-cons teams up with a former champion to prepare for a badminton tournament in Full Strike. Beast Ng Kau-sau (Josie Ho) was once considered to be the Queen of Badminton with seven titles, however her violent temper resulted in her being disqualified. Ng comes across a trio of ex-cons, headed by Lau Dan (Ekin Cheng), who want her to train them for an upcoming tournament. Together with Champion Chik (Andrew Lam) and Aunty Mui (Susan Shaw), the "Lau Dan Spirit Club" prepare for the Fantastic 5 Badminton Championships and a face-off with the Fury Team headed by the arrogant Suck Nipple Cheung (Ronald Cheng).

Reel Asian 2015: Seoul Searching

Teens of Korean ancestry from around the world travel to a summer camp in Seoul to learn about their heritage in Seoul Searching. In the 1980s, the Korean government started a summer camp for foreign-born Koreans to learn about their heritage. A number of kids arrive for the 1986 camp, including the punk rocker Sid (Justin Chon), Madonna-loving Grace (Jessika Van), German-born Klaus (Teo Yoo), Mexican lothario Sergio (Esteban Ahn), and Kris (Rosalina Leigh), an adoptee curious about her birth parents. Throughout the course of the summer, these kids learn more about themselves and each other.

Reel Asian 2015: Two Thumbs Up

A gangster and his crew team up for one last heist in Two Thumbs Up. Lucifer, aka Big F (Francis Ng) has just got out of prison and brings back together his crew of bowling alley employee Crazy B (Simon Yam), back-alley hairstylist Johnny T (Patrick Tam) and mechanic East L (Mark Cheng) and they all come up with a plan that involves converting an minibus into a police Emergency Unit van and stealing a body that is stuffed with money. However, it seems that there was another gang of robbers that had the same idea and two groups end up getting into each other's way.

Reel Asian 2015: Port of Call

A Hong Kong detective tries to decipher the motive behind a gruesome murder in Port of Call. A sixteen year old prostitute named Wang Jiamei (Jessie Li) is found brutally murdered and dismembered. Even though an overweight man named Chi-chung Ting (Michael Ning) quickly turns himself in for the crime, Officer Chong (Aaron Kwok), the detective in charge of the case, becomes obsessed with trying to figure out why Ting would commit this horrible crime.

Interview: Jessica Edwards discusses Mavis!

The music biography Mavis! opens today at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. The documentary looks back at the career of Mavis Staples, who was best known as one of the members of the Staples Singers. Mavis! is the first feature-length documentary by director Jessica Edwards, who previously directed the documentary shorts The Landfill (2012), Tugs (2011), and Seltzer Works (2010). When Mavis! screened earlier this year at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jessica Edwards and discuss the film.