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I love entertainment...

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Language: English
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      • 5/5 (2 votes)
      • Pacific Rim Movie Review : Pathetically Grim
        5/5 (2 votes)
        Pacific Rim Movie Review : Pathetically Grim

        Pacific Rim is a Guillermo del Toro film. Let me say that again because it’s little a hard to believe. Pacific Rim is a Guillermo del Toro film. The first time I saw the promo of this film, I said to myself it’s going to be...

      • 5/5 (1 votes)
      • Interstellar
        5/5 (1 votes)

        Nolan’s "Interstellar," about astronauts traveling to the other end of the galaxy to find a new home to
        replace humanity’s despoiled home-world, is frantically busy and earsplittingly
        loud. It uses booming music to jack...

      • San Andreas
        5/5 (1 votes)
        San Andreas

        In a match between a supremely catastrophic California
        earthquake and the former wrestling star turned movie action hero Dwayne
        Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock, aptly enough here I guess, although he’s not thusly
        credited), who are you going to bet...

      • image

        B.J. Novak’s new anthology series “The Premise” is something of a hot-button “Black Mirror,” in that it takes different major topics and explores them over 30 minutes with twisty, sometimes funny narratives. But while the similarities to that Netflix hit are evident, the excitement of “The Premise” is in how it seems to create its own type of anthology feel, getting you to think about numerous different ideas while relying on character-driven satire. Sometimes it seems like one episode's topics were pulled from a hat, and that the writers were challenged with ways to combine them all and create purpose. With these guiding values, "The Premise" is the rare type of anthology that's far more hit than miss—if one piece of an episode doesn't work, there's something else happening on screen that will keep you watching.  

        The first episode, premiering on September 16, has the series showing off the way it wants to layer different ideas, regardless of whether every individual piece is allowed to equally sing. “Social Justice Sex Tape” incorporates ideas of injustice by police against people of color, deep fake videos, cloying white allyship, and the clownish sex tape by one white guy (Ben Platt) that might be able to prove the innocence of an incarcerated Black man (Jermaine Fowler). Directed by Kitao Sakurai, it’s a wild Robert Downey Sr.-like circus about a lot of issues, paralleling any discomfort about social justice and racial issues with the awkwardness of having to put Platt’s character’s sex life and lengths of allyship in question. The episode bounces between its major thematic pieces as it playfully ramps up its absurdity, especially as a up and coming lawyer (Ayo Edebiri) tries to make this her big case and get justice for the wrongfully accused man. 

        One of the series’ most effective ways of hooking you with its episodes comes with casting; it loves to take recognizable movie stars and put them in roles that jostle you, even just for a half-hour. Take gruff action star Jon Bernthal in “Moment of Silence,” written and directed by Novak. Bernthal plays a man hired to do a PR for a national gun lobby after losing his five-year-old daughter in a shooting—his performance is muted and devastating, showing its pain in awkward interactions that progressively unsettle his coworkers. Written and directed by Novak, the episode shows off the series’ ability to ask sharp “what if?” questions that flip the script of what we’d expect someone like Bernthal’s character to do in real life, a premise made believable here by the dramatic depths everyone is willing to go. 


        Or on a different tonal register, Lucas Hedges plays a pop star named Wheelz who brings an extreme proposition to the students of his former high school. Hedges embodies a type of Justin Bieber knockoff, complete with Hillsong-like consultant, and it’s very funny without being overly jokey. There’s a striking weirdness in seeing such a dramatically articulate young actor help articulate its ideas that overlap celebrity and religion, with mostly a straight face. And true to how the series can be very good at throwing in faces that make for dynamic comedy, George Wallace and the late Ed Asner appear with gem performances that are made all the more funny because they have the cadences of those respective legends. This episode captures the series at its most expansive, mindful, and goofy, which are its three best modes (it's not necessarily a laugh-out-loud show, even when it's trying). But it also shows how the series' hand can be too slight with some characters, as in a cloying subplot involving a promising Asian student that doesn't deconstruct stereotypes but pronounce them as an easy joke and then simply put them to the side. 

        In the five episodes that were given to press from the anthology series, it becomes apparent that the episodes that are the least challenging are the least effective, however relatable they might be. That’s the case with “The Commenter,” written by Novak and Trick Mirror writer Jia Tolentino, directed by Darya Zhuk. Its premise about a troll’s comments becoming a woman’s inner monologue is poignant but the episode isn't able to build on the material, leaving a lead performance by Lola Kirke in an emotional gray zone that at least gets to a surprising ending. 

        “The Premise” is initially about savvy conversation with its audience, but it does find a sweet spot when it’s even more about listening, in which characters go into paragraphs and paragraphs of dialogue related to the inspired issues. Kaitlyn Dever has a series highlight in the “The Ballad of Jesse Wheeler” with a monologue about schooling that provides a compelling, entertaining perspective about the industry of education, all because she really wants what Wheelz is offering whoever wins valedictorian. But the show’s greatest feat, at least so far, has to do with a breathless monologue given by Eric Lange to a statuesque Daniel Dae Kim. The topic concerns butt plugs, in a context that needs no spoiling. When you see that episode you’ll understand its impressive nature, and also that only a show like this, with writing as ambitious as it is self-assured, could hold your attention for so long and change the way you see the topic at hand. 

        Five episodes screened for review. "The Premise" premieres exclusively on FX on Hulu on September 16.

        By: Nick Allen
        Posted: September 15, 2021, 1:14 pm

        • Entertainer
          Entertainer published a blog post I'm Your Man


          Maria Schrader’s “I’m Your Man,” which won an award at Berlin earlier this year before a limited theatrical release from Bleecker Street next week, is a clever little movie, a film that defies its set-up as a familiar, quirky rom-com to become something deeper and more poignant about the human condition. Of course, using unimaginable technology to highlight what it really means to be human has been the foundation of science fiction for generations but Schrader and co-writer Jan Schomburg (working from a short story by Emma Braslavsky) imbue their genre hybrid with eloquence and intelligence. And it helps a great deal to have two delightful performers to deliver their themes. “I’m Your Man” may not break the mold, but it operates within it with confidence and grace.

          Maren Eggert, an actor prize winner at Berlin, plays Alma, a worker at the kind of museum that struggles to find funding (which is basically all museums in 2021). An archaeologist at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Alma has the kind of job that gives her unique expertise in how people have (and haven’t) changed over generations of human existence. It’s also kind of a lonely profession, especially lately for Alma. Her ex-partner Julian (Hans Löw) still works in her field, adding to some melancholy, and her only real partner in life is her father (Wolfgang Hübsch), who is succumbing more to dementia every day. Her boss Roger (Failou Seck) encourages her to participate in a daring new project regarding human companionship in order to obtain more funding for her work and because, well, she’s the only single candidate, and the project? It's testing out an android boyfriend.

          A suspiciously cheery facilitator (the great Sandra Hüller) introduces Alma to Tom (Dan Stevens of “The Guest” and “Downtown Abbey” fame, speaking German with a slight British accent because Alma likes “exotic” men but not too exotic), who is a dream guy. Tom meets Alma at an event that looks designed to heighten romantic feelings. Beautiful couples dance in the background as Tom woos Alma. It's all a façade. The couples are holograms and Tom is an android, specifically designed to meet all of Alma’s needs. And yet the dynamic feels almost too perfect right from this rom-com set-up. No one wants a partner who breaks down how the likelihood of a car accident improves if the driver adjusts her chair a bit. He’s right. He’s protective. He’s boring.

          There’s something wonderfully childlike about Stevens here as he dials down his natural charisma ever so slightly while still understanding why he would be a model for a perfect male partner. Tom has a childlike wonder as if he senses he’s not quite getting it right with Alma, trying to adjust to his partner’s needs with each exchange. There’s a great line about his disconnect with the world in “He’s never understood, yet he understands everything.” When he says something that doesn’t get the programmed response, he knows it, but Stevens doesn’t go broad with that dynamic, almost making him into a classic straight man, looking sideways at a world he’s trying to understand.

          Eggert is even better, taking what could have been a generic rom-com leading lady and making her much more complex than that. Not only is Alma hesitant to open up even to a non-human partner, but “I’m Your Man” becomes most fascinating as it starts to examine how perhaps technology hasn’t always been the best thing for humanity. We have this assumption that every tech advancement is also an evolutionary one. Maybe not. Eggert perfectly balances Alma’s intellectual skepticism with the emotions that this forced relationship starts to bring up in her, without making those into classic rom-com clichés. In fact, what starts with a set-up for a relatively predictable comedy gets more poignant and complex in its final act in very rewarding ways.

          As Tom starts to unpack Alma’s emotional baggage, he helps clarify how her imperfections are essential. She describes her pain as banal and pathetic, and his response is one of 2021’s best: “It is pathetic. Your pain is pathetic because it’s relative. But it’s also not pathetic, because it’s part of you, and that’s why I love it.” So many movies are about loving each other’s beauty and grace—“I’m Your Man” becomes about how we have to love each other’s pathetic pain too, and, more importantly, we have to love our own. What’s more human than that?

          This review was filed from the Toronto International Film Festival. The film opens theatrically in limited release on September 24th.

          By: Brian Tallerico
          Posted: September 15, 2021, 4:22 pm

          • Entertainer
            Entertainer published a blog post Cry Macho


            Clint Eastwood will be 92 next May. 

            Now. To take a particular kind of stock of this fact. The Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira lived to be 106. And he completed his final film in 2015, the year he died. So when we are talking about Eastwood’s ostensibly late filmography, and we consider the speediness with which he completes his films—which some insist also yields slapdash results, the fake baby from 2014’s “American Sniper” standing as Exhibit A—we can consider that he may actually have another 14 or 15 movies in him yet. That’s worth noting when we’re talking, as we are now, of his “late” filmography. 

            Because even if Eastwood keeps up his filmmaking pace for another decade or more, “Cry Macho,” which he directed from a long kicking-around script by Nick Schenk and N. Richard Nash, and which began as a 1975 novel by Nash (and this movie adapts it very loosely, to say the least), will end up one of his more unusual films. Its title and trailer suggest a potentially blistering, and likely rueful, action thriller. The movie itself is something wholly other. 

            For its first 20 minutes or so, one may look through the fingers of a facepalm trying to figure out just what it is. Gorgeous vistas of Western sunrises and starkly beautiful desert plains alternate with story-establishing scenes in very awkwardly on-the-nose registers. Starting in 1979, the movie depicts Eastwood’s Mike Milo showing up at the horse ranch of Dwight Yoakam’s Howard Polk well after the lunch hour. Howard tells Mike he’s late, and Mike says “for what?” Howard then lays into Mike with scrolls-worth of expository dialogue, evoking Mike the one-time rodeo star, mentioning the inevitable career-ending “accident,” and so on. “Before the pills ... before the booze,” Yoakam proclaims in decidedly declamatory tones, dropping the hammer with “You’re a loss to no one.” He fires Mike and then we cut to a year later, when, um, he re-hires Mike—asking him to go to Mexico and kidnap his now-teenage son, who lives with his hard-partying mother Lara in an abusive household. Mike takes the shady gig—he owes Howard still, for something. 

            Things remain awkward when Mike gets to Mexico and finds Lara in a mansion, attended by two bodyguards, and telling Mike he’s welcome to the kid—a gambler, drinker, and cockfighter named Rafa (Eduardo Minett), and not even 14 yet—if Mike can find him. The hotsy-totsy Irresponsible Mother even tries to lure Mike to her bed. Which is a bit of a stretch. One thing Eastwood’s continuing career on screen is teaching us is that there are discrete gradations of old. As written, Mike Milo ought to be a character in his late sixties to mid-seventies. As good as Eastwood may look, 90 or 91 is not late sixties to mid-seventies. In matters of personal intimacy, even if the spirit and the flesh are equally up to the task, the most game woman on earth is going to think twice about jumping the bones of a nonagenarian, lest she shatter them. 

            You’re probably wondering when this movie gets good enough to warrant my rating. To be perfectly frank, it does require some patience if not indulgence. Mike discovers Rafa; Rafa is indeed a cockfighter and he’s named his rooster “Macho.” They make it out of a police raid on a cockfight and hit the road, one of Lara’s bodyguards trailing them. Rafa is wide-eyed at the prospect of living on a Texas horse ranch—as Howard assured Mike, the kid is crazy about cowboys. As the two get to know each other, Mike expresses to Rafa his hard-bitten skepticism about over-valuing toughness—“macho” itself, as it was popularly called both north and south of the border in the period in which the film is set. This is all pleasing and a little predictable.

            Where the film really blossoms is after the mid-section. After some narrow evasions of both bodyguards and cops, and some hasty car-switching, Mike and Rafa find themselves in a small Mexican town not too far from the border. They take shelter in a homey restaurant owned by a middle-aged woman named Marta (Natalia Traven) and later in a small shrine to the Virgin Mary on the outskirts of the town. The two come upon a horse ranch, where Mike offers his services in breaking the wild ones. He also teaches Rafa to ride, saying he won’t be much use in Texas if he doesn’t know how to ride. 

            Mike is good with animals, so soon the town locals start treating him as if he’s a vet. Mike and Rafa meet Marta’s grandchildren, one of whom is deaf; Mike can sign, and he makes an immediate, vital connection with the little girl. 

            These small events transpire in beautifully shot, unhurried scenes. This is Eastwood’s version of pastoral. Mike pieces his ruined life back together in a sense. He finds pleasure in being of service to a community. The professed agnostic takes Marta’s hand when she prays to begin a meal, and likes it. The simple sincerity about what’s worthwhile in life is the movie’s reason for being. Nothing more and nothing less. 

            Available in theaters and on HBO Max for 30 days starting Friday, September 17.

            By: Glenn Kenny
            Posted: September 15, 2021, 4:00 pm

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            TIFF is often a home for potential Oscar contenders and celebrities who look great on a red carpet but there’s another thing that’s easy to find every year in Canada: very serious subject matter. A trio of films that premiered there this year work with themes of survival, trauma, abuse, school shootings, and much more. It’s all very intense stuff, but it’s all also largely mishandled and manipulative, to varying degrees. Two of these films will have fans purely because of the commitment of their talented stars, while the third buries its lead in the worst script I’ve seen put to film this year.

            Thirty years ago, TIFF would have instantly turned Barry Levinson’s “The Survivor” into an Oscar contender. It has an Oscar-winning director, a true story, a serious subject matter, and a performer who transformed his body to play the lead role (the Academy loves that). Times have changed and I suspect Levinson’s deeply personal project won’t make those kind of waves (although I could be wrong). It has nothing to do with the commitment of its leading man, doing some of the best work of his notable career, but the fact is that even Academy voters have grown more aware of the tropes of Oscar bait (“Green Book” excepted). “The Survivor” unfolds with almost zero artistry, telling a true story that has inherent power but doing it with an alarming lack of subtlety and nuance, almost as if it’s going for that statue instead of a greater art.

            Ben Foster lost and gained dozens of pounds to play Harry Haft, a boxer in the ‘40s who was literally billed on posters and by announcers as “The Survivor of Auschwitz!” He’s introduced after the war, encouraging his manager to get him a high-profile fight with Rocky Marciano. It’s not that Harry thinks he can beat the champ—it’s that he wants his name and face in as many papers across the country as possible. The hope is that a missing loved one will see it. At the same time, a woman (Vicky Krieps) who has dedicated her life to such reunions befriends the deeply traumatized Haft.

            How did he survive? He boxed at Auschwitz. In black-and-white flashbacks, Levinson reveals how Harry became the pet project of an SS officer (Billy Magnussen), who forced him to fight fellow prisoners to the death. Harry would win the fight and his opponent would be shot. It’s unimaginably cruel and vicious. And when Harry’s history comes out in a news story (by a reporter played by Peter Sarsgaard), his community rejects him. He keeps fighting. It’s all he can do.

            How do you keep moving through such incredible trauma and guilt? Foster does an incredible job of allowing that historic pain to seep into every one of Harry’s bones and muscles. It’s in his body language and his eyes—the way he carries himself outside the ring and even how he almost seems to punch with panic behind it. It's a fantastic performance.

            The shame is that such dedicated work is in a film that almost defiantly refuses any sort of nuance. It’s one of those projects that is constantly spelling out its themes through unrealistic dialogue. We don’t need a character who says, “If I could cut every memory from my head, I would.” We know that. It’s a film in which everyone is too often saying what they’re thinking and feeling, becoming way more interesting in its quieter moments, a downcast look from Foster or a sympathetic one from Krieps. They’re great performers—I just wished “The Survivor” wrapped a film around them that lived up to their abilities.


            There’s a similar sense that solid performances are getting buried in lackluster filmmaking that pervades Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s disappointing family drama “Montana Story.” Two excellent young performers hold enough of it together, but a languid pace that feels almost designed to mimic the speed of life in Big Sky Country goes too far, leading to a film that drifts with the wind instead of driving home its emotional undercurrents.

            Owen Teague (the recent version of “The Stand”) plays Cal Thorne, a young man who returns home from Cheyenne to the heart of Montana to basically say goodbye to his dying father Wade. Strapped into machines at his own ranch, the only people left around Wade are his longtime employee Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) and his wise nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor), who tells Cal that Wade has no more story left to tell. All of his chapters are written.

            However, the same isn’t true for Cal or his sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson), who comes home for the first time in seven years. The film takes too long to reveal why Erin was estranged from Cal and Wade, but it comes back to an abusive past, including one particular incident that divided siblings forever. “Montana Story” is basically about using a death of a father to heal the wounds he caused in the first place. Teague and Richardson don’t strike a single false note, but McGehee and Siegel allow their storytelling to meander across this dusty land, withholding aspects of their past instead of really allowing to breathe as characters. These two young performers are the kind who will likely win awards someday, but not for this one.


            A veteran performer who should know better is Naomi Watts, star of Phillip Noyce’s “Lakewood,” one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my years of TIFF coverage. Stunningly incompetent when it’s not being offensively exploitative, this is an infuriating film, one that has the nerve to suggest that what it really takes to stop school shootings is attentive mothers before arriving at a coda that’s arguably even more offensive than that, if you can believe it. For a movie to use our current national nightmare of school shootings as a framework for a thriller requires a deft hand that understands the crisis without exploiting it—this ain’t it.

            Chris Sparling, the writer of “Buried,” clearly set out to produce another actor’s exercise in this story of Amy Carr (Watts), a mother who goes for an ordinary jog on a very extraordinary day. She gets a call that there’s an active shooter at her son’s school. Rather than jog home, she’s far enough that she tries to run to the school, making calls along the way. She contacts the auto body shop across the street. She gets through to a 911 operator who tries to calm her. Before long, she’s talking to an officer who has some questions about her son that are unsettling. All the while, she’s running. Can a great actress deliver a great performance while jogging? She sure can try, and Watts definitely emotes through exasperated breathing.

            Noyce surrounds her with every trick in the book like overheated music and shaky camera angles, and the whole thing gets exhausting before it gets ridiculous. As a parent with children who go through lockdown drills all the time, “Lakewood” made me angry. It’s not just a feeling that the national tragedy of the death of children should be treated with more respect and nuance but the sense that no one involved here ever even considered how to handle the topic other than to use it for a cheap, manipulative thriller.


            By: Brian Tallerico
            Posted: September 15, 2021, 5:17 pm

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            My continued coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival’s African cinema programming included three more gems: Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s coming-of-age short film "Astel" from Senegal, Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s romantic drama "The Gravedigger's Wife" from Somalia, and Jean Luc Herbulot’s genre-defying thriller "Saloum." Finding raw emotions in both subtle familial drama and larger-than-life situations, these filmmakers each explore how location and interpersonal relationships affect our sense of self. 

            In her debut short “Astel,” writer/director Ramata-Toulaye Sy introduces us to the titular Astel, a spunky 13-year-old girl (Hawa Mamadou Dia) who would rather spend time with her father (Cherif Amadou Diallo) herding cows than working the fields with her mother (Khady Diallo). One day the two encounter another (male) shepherd in the bush, prompting Astel’s father to realize his daughter is coming-of-age and it may no longer be safe for her to accompany him. Pushing her to join her mother for dinner one night, Astel reluctantly acquiesces, with Dia’s longing glances back towards her father as she takes her place among her mother and the village’s other women saying more than words ever could.  

            Sy teases out the changing family dynamics subtly, allowing Astel’s slow understanding of exactly what is happening to form organically. Dialogue is employed economically, with much of the storytelling boiiled down to glances and reactions, smiles, and eye contact. Sy has brought together a talented crew to bring her vision to life. Amine Berrada’s lush cinematography captures the beauty of both the gorgeous purple dawn and washed out browns of the field, with Fatimata Sow’s vibrant costuming adding pops of color and distinct personality to each of Sy’s carefully crafted characters. Amine Bouhafa’s playful guitar and violin score blends seamlessly with the natural sounds of birds and cows, adding depth and sense of place to this world. “Astel” is an incisive and delicate debut short, and I cannot wait to see what Sy creates next. 


            Finnish-Somali writer/director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s tender romance “The Gravedigger’s Wife” follows Guled (Omar Abdi), as he spends his days waiting outside the hospital in Djibouti City with his friends for bodies to bury. He lives in relative poverty with his doting wife Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) and their son Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim). When Nasra’s failing health due to a kidney infection sends the family into a tailspin, Guled and Mahad each seek money for her much-needed surgery. 

            Estranged from their families decades early for defying their villages with their marriage and their move to the big city, Guled heads on a journey home in an attempt to raise the money selling his share in the family herd of goats. Meanwhile the rebellious, yet enterprising Mahad and his friend head to the streets to hustle for the money doing menial tasks for others. 

            Abdi and Warsame’s chemistry is sensual and steamy; you truly believe they fell in love at first sight and ran off to the city together. One particularly lovely scene shows the two “borrowing” a goat in order to crash a wedding, so the two can share a romantic dance before Nasra’s illness strikes her bedridden. Ibrahim gives a complex performance as their son who resents their poverty and illiteracy, but whose love runs deeper than maybe he even realized. Ahmed wisely allows his actors the room to be playful amongst the film’s dramatic plot, bringing a true sense of familial bonds. Charming and wistful without ever feeling maudlin, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” is a beautiful love letter to the power of family.


            Congolese-born writer/director Jean Luc Herbulot’s second feature film “Saloum,” which had its world premiere as a Midnight Madness selection, defies genre and is probably best watched knowing as little about it as possible. Featuring dialogue in French, English, Spanish, and Wolof, as well as sign language, the film is a true pan-African film. The action begins during the 2003 coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau, as a trio of mercenaries known as Bangui’s Hyenas extract a drug dealer—along with his gold and drugs. As the four make their way toward Dakar, their plane goes down just outside of the coastal river region of the Sine-Saloum Delta. As they spend time in a rural hotel waiting for fuel and resin to repair their plane, it becomes clear that not only does the village have a secret, but their leader does as well.

            Yann Gael sizzles as the trio’s lead Chaka. Oozing charisma and pathos, Gael has the swagger of a born leader, but as the film progresses we get a glimpse of the past that haunts him. There's a real lived-in feeling to Bangui’s Hyenas, Gael’s chemistry with his partners Rafa (Roger Sallah) and Minuit (Mentor Ba) made me wish we had a whole prequel series so I could keep watching their adventures. 

            Clearly influenced by the likes of "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "Predator" are clear, Herbulot's infusion of both African-Caribbean folklore with a soulful meditation on the real-life horrors of Africa’s current state of social-political upheaval, make "Saloum" a refreshingly original action-horror hybrid. It’s also just really damn cool.  

            By: Marya E. Gates
            Posted: September 15, 2021, 4:42 pm

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            The Toronto International Film Festival, a bellwether for the awards season, typically invites a certain kind of film: prestige period pieces, serious dramas on heavy subjects, and especially biopics. This year offers three wildly different kinds of biopics an eccentric Victorian set tale concerning one man’s love of cats, a famous actor’s modest childhood within the religiously divided city of Belfast, and a miniseries about a politically passionate quarterback. They show the wide eclectic range that can sometimes spring from what can be a rote genre. 

            Director Will Sharpe’s quirky biopic “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” shouldn’t work. Opening in 1881, the film follows Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), a gifted but troubling eccentric illustrator careening through the social mores of Victorian England in search of love. Following the death of his father, Wain is tasked with caring for his five sisters and aging mother, but is wholly unsuited for the position. Unlike his taskmaster sister Caroline (played by an icy Andrea Riseborough), Wain would rather pursue his varied creative outlets: composing terrible operas and drawing animals for pennies on the dollar, than concern himself with finances.

            The peculiar Louis falls for his sisters’ governess Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), causing great scandal due to their opposing social statuses and Emily’s spinster’s age. But Louis cares little for idle gossip. Emily accepts his depressive thoughts—a recurring nightmare sees him drowning on a storm-ravaged ship—his cleft lip, and his physical oddness. Cumberbatch lays the artifice on thick as Louis, crafting the character as a mound of overbearing mannerism. For that reason, the first half of this movie is all over the place, with disparate tonalities that depend on Chaplin-inspired vaudevillian physical comedy from the slender Cumberbatch.

            Sharpe also relies on hyper-stylized aesthetics: distracting lens flare, infrared tints, wildly swinging camera work, etc. while Olivia Colman provides witty voiceover narration to actualize Louis’ disintegrating mental state. When tragedy strikes the illustrator, his only solace against the unbearable grief is his pet black-and-white cat Peter. Inspired by his feline companion, Louis gains worldwide fame by fashioning a long-running series of anthropomorphized cat cartoons (this is a film made for cat lovers). Taika Waititi and Nick Cave make cameos, and Toby Jones is a calming influence as Louis’ editor. 

            “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” is extremely flawed, and rarely makes any logical or tonal sense. Even so, you can tell how much Sharpe identifies with Louis. That connection gives this bizarre biopic its strange heartbeat. “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” is just an exceptionally sincere piece of filmmaking. 


            A brightly lit, colorful montage of aerial shots captures present-day Belfast, mostly the shipping yards where the Titanic was built. The array of images play with the uniqueness of a Chromecast screensaver before a harsh transition takes us back in time to a black and white 1969-set residential corner of Belfast. Buddy (Jude Hill) skips down the street, waving to his cheerful, salt-of-earth working class neighbors. It’s an idyllic scene of an apparent, tight-knit neighborhood, that is blown asunder by an approaching mob. The rioters are the first sign of The Troubles, and are composed of Protestants. They want the local Catholics out. 

            In this destruction-laden scene, director Kenneth Branagh relies on every visual cliche in the book: the soundscape of explosions is overcooked, flattening the intended heart-stopping effect to a permanent flatline. The camera does an obnoxious 720 rotation around Buddy as he stands in the middle of a melee composed of punishing wooden clubs and smashed windows. Branagh’s “Belfast,” a personal story for the writer-director, contains little dramatic momentum, and even less of a coherent visual language. 

            “Belfast” is about a disintegrating way of life: Buddy’s parents are fighting because his Pa (a serviceable Jamie Dornan) is in debt to the taxman, and his mother (Caitriona Balfe) can’t seem to pay it off. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are charming as Buddy’s grandparents, a bickering old couple. Buddy has a crush on the smartest girl in school. And every day he and his family are being asked to choose sides in this local religious skirmish. These compelling narrative components aren’t enough to propel “Belfast,” a film chock-full of saccharine pieces but devoid of deeply felt stakes. 


            Colin Kaepernick was once a Super Bowl starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Now he’s out of the league. It’s not for lack of talent. Kaepernick had all the attributes NFL franchises look for in a QB. Those qualities were ignored when he took an action the NFL despises, the one unwritten rule—he became political. 

            In 2016, before the 49ers fourth preseason game, Kaepernick unleashed a maelstrom when, in protest of police violence against Black people, he kneeled during the national anthem. Berated as un-American by many, as a “thug” by Donald Trump, he hasn’t played a snap of NFL football since that season. In that time however, he became a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement, and a passionate activist decrying police brutality. Now he’s teaming up with director Ava DuVernay for a six-episode Netflix-Array series entitled “Colin in Black and White,” to recount his life. 

            Co-written and co-executive produced by Michael Starrbury, Kaepernick serves as host and moderator. He can be stiff: in the DuVernay directed premiere his voice overbears the importance of the subject matter. Still, he looks the part, a suave range of black overcoats and his robust afro form a great profile. He discovers great ease as a narrator, providing heartfelt recollections of how his emotional response to certain events, such as his parents’ want for him to cut his hair rather than keep his Allen Iverson-inspired cornrows. Some of the series’ best moments have the action on screen freezing, only for the camera to pan to Kaepernick watching the action unfold from a minimalist set, reacting to their import. 

            The show aims to have several directors helm the varying episodes: the second, for example, was led by Sheldon Candis, and the third by Robert Townsend (“Hollywood Shuffle”). The topics covered include: the origins of the word “thug,” microaggressions, and white privilege. Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman are a winning pair as the QB’s racially illiterate parents. And Jaden Michael as the young Kaepernick gives a detailed performance, offering slight variations in his delivery to impart his calm, sorrow, and belongingness. “Colin in Black and White” is subversive and provocative, bearing passing similarities to DuVernay’s “The 13th”—it's brisk, witty, and sweet, and offers a thoughtfully constructed critique of America’s racial history and present.     

            By: Robert Daniels
            Posted: September 12, 2021, 3:23 pm

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            Terence Davies is one of the living masters, a filmmaker who has never made a bad movie and has made several great ones. His latest serves as a reminder of his nuance and grace as it tells the life story of Siegfried Sassoon, a famous World War I poet. Davies allows this unique biopic to unfold like a poem, moving in and out of chapters of Sassoon’s life, including flash forwards to closer to the end of it, as he considers his legacy. Like a lot of Davies’ historical dramas, it feels deeply personal to the filmmaker, one who may too be questioning his place in artistic history. When Siegfried’s son tells him, “Most people live for the moment, you live for eternity,” it feels like something that could be said to Davies too, a director whose films will live forever.

            The opening scenes of “Benediction” set up a tone of memory or even dream. It opens with Sassoon (a stunning Jack Lowden, doing easily the best work of his career) and his brother attending a symphony before shifting to footage of the growing World War I, to which both men will soon be shipped. Only one will return. Sassoon comes back with deep trauma that sends him to a Scottish hospital to recover. Davies layers Sassoon’s poetry read aloud by Lowden with archival, grainy footage from the war, enhancing a sense of detached lyricism, and yet he also doesn’t forget to give it all an emotional undercurrent. It’s there in Sassoon’s impassioned criticism of the war and in the way he forms bonds with his doctor and another patient and fellow poet named Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson).

            After the war, Sassoon’s life becomes a series of romances, including a notable one with someone who seems to be his opposite, Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), who Sassoon’s mother calls “amusing but unpleasant.” Sassoon seems to be consistently drawn to men who criticize and almost emotionally abuse him, as if he thinks he deserves it. Years later, we meet Sassoon as an older man, played by Peter Capaldi, who is converting to Catholicism and tells his son that he’s seeking something “unchanging.” Sassoon’s life has been one of inconsistency, questioning his sexuality, place in society, and artistic ability. It makes sense that he would try to find stability before he no longer has a chance to search for it.

            “Benediction” is a story of the impactful moments and relationships in our lives, the ones that a poet like Sassoon (and Davies) turns into art. But it’s also about what’s lost over the course of a life—a brother and a lover to war, a partner to his career, an artistic passion to the pain of the world. It is a gorgeous, lyrical, moving film. We should expect nothing less from Terence Davies.


            While Davies has been something of a celebrity at TIFF for the right people—his films regularly premiere there—the event is still one of the biggest of the year for more traditional red carpet names like Jessica Chastain, here with two films this year. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is the more traditional of the two (and my review will run tomorrow along with an interview with the star by Nell Minow), but it actually follows a very different world premiere in that of John Michael McDonagh’s adaptation of The Forgivenby Lawrence Osborne. A tense study of culture clashes in the Moroccan desert, it features a very strong ensemble who struggle to hold together one of McDonagh’s thinner scripts. The result is a film that struggles to find its identity, lacking the real teeth that it promises in its set-up as it loses its way in the sand.

            David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (Jessica Chastain) are drinking and driving their way to a lavish party at a house in the middle of the desert. It’s late at night and David has had too much to drink. He’s speeding. A young Moroccan boy steps out into the road to sell some fossils to the tourists and David plows into him. They put his body in the car and continue on to the party, where their host (Matt Smith) helps them figure out what to do. Then the boy’s father comes to claim the body, and he insists David comes with him.

            As David has a long journey of his conflicted soul, Jo embraces her demons, drinking, partying, and flirting with a young man who catches her eye, played by Christopher Abbott, who has palpable chemistry with Chastain. Everyone sounds a bit overwritten in terms of dialogue, but Chastain and Abbott find the haughty socialite tone that makes it work, especially in their flirtation scenes. They have an old-fashioned movie star connection.

            Sadly, the set-up for “The Forgiven” doesn’t have much of a follow through. There’s something interesting about one half of a couple getting deeper while the other gets shallower, but there’s just not enough to this story of beautiful people contrasted against a harsh landscape. I wasn’t convinced all the politics and commentary on cultural tourism really holds up. It feels like a very white perspective on Morocco, although that is arguably embedded in the narrative. It’s about people who don’t understand the people on the land in which they have decided to party. At one point, someone says that it “Feels like a country where a useless man could be happy.” The idea that a death leads a useless man to question his happiness is a rich one, I just wish McDonagh dug into it with more gusto.


            There’s a similar meandering quality to Stephen Karam’s adaptation of his own award-winning play “The Humans,” a deeply frustrating film that also has interesting ideas given no direction or shape. Karam makes his directorial debut with this text, and it feels like that was probably a mistake as a veteran could have figured out how to open up this work in a more cinematic, less precious way. Karam’s play was highly acclaimed for its set design, using a two-floored apartment in New York to chronicle the growing anxiety and tension of life in the 2010s. To mimic that forced perspective, Karam shoots his drama through doors from other rooms, rarely showing us the faces of the people actually talking, turning us into detached observers when the only way this story works is if we come to identify with the people involved.

            The ensemble is undeniably strong. Richard Jenkins is the stand-out as Erik, husband to Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell). The parents have come to the NYC apartment of their daughter Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun) and brought Erik’s mother (June Squibb) and Brigid’s sister (Amy Schumer). The film unfolds as a series of conversations around Brigid’s Chinatown duplex as Karam explores the emotional minefields of a working-class family around Thanksgiving. The passive-aggressive exchanges and hints of darker secrets amplify tension, but Karam is stubbornly unwilling to give anything to the viewer. He keeps everything at a distance, and it’s all such subdued material, the kind of thing that might have worked in the quiet of a theater but refuses to meet audiences halfway in a movie.

            At one point, Erik says “Don’t you think it should cost less to be alive?” That’s the theme that tries to hold “The Humans” together—the seemingly increasing cost of day-to-day existence. Karam adds loud pipes and cracks in the ceiling to increase the sense that something is just wrong. Everywhere. I just kept hoping that the ominous sense of drama led somewhere more interesting than an acting exercise that I wished I had seen on a stage.  


            By: Brian Tallerico
            Posted: September 12, 2021, 8:31 pm

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            The international slate of films at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival included a nice helping of titles from Africa, three of which debuted over the course of the festival’s first three days. These included the Afrofuturist-musical “Neptune Frost” from Rwanda, the horror film “Mlungu Wam (Good Madam)” from South Africa, and mother-daughter drama “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds” from Chad. Each helmed by filmmakers with distinct cinematic voices combining the lingering effects of a colonialist past with strong visions for their community’s present and future; they could not be more different in genre and approach.  

            Written and directed by Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, early in “Neptune Frost” we’re told that stories have many interpretations, just like dreams. This story follows the titular Neptune, an intersex hacker played by both Cheryl Isheja and Elvis Ngabo, who flees toward their mother’s homeland. There they encounter a compound of hackers who seek to escape the ravages of genocide and entrapment by the coltan mines through the use of technology.  

            As the hackers evade the military and gain notoriety on the internet, they debate amongst themselves what is best for their future as both a collective and for their individual lives. Neptune also finds themselves drawn to Matalusa (Bertrand “Kaya Free” Ninteretse), a coltan miner mourning the death of his brother. 

            Playful, but dense, “Neptune Frost” is filled with complex ideas about gender, colonialism, freedom, technology, existence, and meaning that leaves viewers with more questions than answers. I particularly enjoyed the play on words between mine and mine, as Williams and Uzeyman investigate the way in which Rwanda's resources have been mined, its people often forced to do the mining, while they also are unsure what they have that they can really call "mine."

            Utilizing a color palette of ultraviolet and neon blues and greens, infused with music and dance, the filmmakers have crafted a world that feels both part of the greater tradition of Afrofuturism, while also feeling uniquely its own.


            Similar in its exploration of post-colonialist themes, and in particular apartheid, comes the horror film “Mlungu Wam (Good Madam)” from South African director Jenna Cato Bass. The film has a whopping 12 credited screenwriters and unfortunately it shows through its muddled message and uneven tone. In a taped intro for the film director and co-writer shared her intent to use the horror genre to explore colonialism’s lingering hold on South Africa. Despite the film’s almost entirely Black cast, it’s hard to forget there is a white woman at the helm, attempting to unpack weighty racial themes that do not feel hers to explore.

            We’re introduced to Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) who is forced to reconnect with her mother Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe) after the death of the grandmother who raised her forces her from her home. With her daughter in tow, Tsidi comes to live in the suburban home where Mavis has lived and worked for decades. As the film progresses we learn that Mavis’ loyalty to Diane, her Madam, may be caused by even more sinister force than simple colonialism.  

            While she is great at building tension from menacing static shots of the home’s interior, Bass’ continual panning across Diane’s fine china and her collection of traditional African art, has the opposite effect of what was likely intended. Tsidi feels othered in the home, but in attempting to broadcast to viewers, Bass’ gaze instead begins to other her cast. 

            Equally bungled is the way Bass cuts her cast up by showing only their hands or bodies sans head in frame as they complete cleaning tasks. The intention it seems is to show how they are seen by the white people they serve, but the effect mostly relegates her characters to symbolism, stripping them of any form of agency. Bass also manages to lean heavily into exoticizing tropes with her score; her use of traditional chants to heighten certain “spooky” scenes left a terrible taste in my mouth. Ultimately, the film is muddled by too many half-baked ideas, poor execution, and distasteful directorial choices. 


            Making its North American debut after playing Cannes this summer, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s latest film “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds” is the best of the bunch. A perennial festival favorite, Haroun’s deeply humanist films generally explore facets of manhood in his home country of Chad. Taking a chance outside his comfort zone, with “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds” Haroun focuses on the strength and resilience of women in the face of a dangerously patriarchal society. 

            Living on the outskirts of N’Djamena, we meet Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane), a single mother who was cut off by her family for having a child out of wedlock. When her daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio), now 15, is expelled from school after also becoming pregnant the two face the event together. Abandoned by the father, Maria wants an abortion—illegal in Chad and forbidden by their religion—so that she can return to school and get her future back on track. Unlike her family, Amina does not turn her back on her daughter, but rather does everything she can to secure the health services she requires. 

            Souleymane's performance is tender and raw, seething under the surface with the anger she carried all these years for the community that exiled her, but also buoyed by the deep love she feels for her daughter. Through Amina and Maria’s journey to reproductive freedom, Haroun both shines a light on the strict patriarchal laws of the country, but also the powerful connections women form to help each other survive within them. 

            By: Marya E. Gates
            Posted: September 12, 2021, 3:28 pm


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