Films Of 2017



  1. Phantom Thread
    BBBBB  (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)  A high-end London couturier’s crack sewing team and his hard-edged business manager sister indulge his rigid habits and it frees him to obsess over the creations that take people’s breath away at aristocratic functions, but his equilibrium is upended when he hires a waitress to be a model and she has no fear of interrupting his sacred routines.  It’s a masterful look at love and design that makes its aestheticism a character of its own (it’s the finest costume work of Mark Bridges’ career) without ever losing touch with the explosive human drama at its centre (imagine if Max Ophuls finally had a bad day).  Oscar:  Best Costume Design; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis); Best Supporting Actress (Lesley Manville); Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson); Best Original Score.  Trailer

  2. Loving Vincent
    BBBBB  (Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Poland/United Kingdom/USA)   The son of a local postman is in possession of Van Gogh’s last letter and is instructed to go to Auvers-sur-Oise and find out how it should be delivered. A remarkable achievement, this is a fully painted feature film that uses 65,000 oil paintings done in the style of Van Gogh to tell its noir-style plot through his mind’s eye, one of the most unforgettable movie experiences you will ever have.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

  3. Dunkirk
    BBBBB  (Christopher Nolan, United Kingdom/Netherlands/France/USA)   British and French soldiers, approximately 400,000 in number, have been pushed back to the French town of Dunkirk, their only possibility for evacuation the wide open sea behind them.  Told with a shockingly spare narrative style that offers no back stories to the individuals it focuses on, Nolan’s superb war epic is his leanest, strongest film yet, and possibly the most powerfully intense look at a World War II battle since Overlord.  Oscars:  Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director (Christopher Nolan); Best Cinematography; Best Production Design; Best Original Score.  Trailer

  4. Last Men In Aleppo
    De sidste mænd i Aleppo
    BBBBB  (Feras Fayyad, Steen Johannessen, Denmark/Syria)    The city of Aleppo has a rapidly dwindling population thanks to people dying in bombings or survivors heading for the border, while rescue workers engage in the daily struggle of using what few resources they have to save people from the wreckage of bombed out buildings and, where possible, provide medical care.  The man featured in very famous footage of a baby rescued alive from the rubble is among the individuals focused on in this excellent film, seen here greatly changed by stress and fatigue and doing his best to raise his (very adorable) children under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

  5. The Shape Of Water
    BBBBB  (Guillermo del Toro, Canada/USA)  A mute woman who works as cleaning staff at a research facility in 1950s Baltimore discovers that a strange package delivered to her workplace contains a creature from a South American blue lagoon who she decides is as much a misunderstood outsider as she is. Shot to look like the paranoid Cold War science fiction adventures that thrilled children of the 1950s, this dazzling film represents del Toro at the top of his game, combining elements of fantasy, thriller and romance with incredible skill, the screenplay perfectly smoothed out to provide a satisfying resolution to all the narrative strands it introduces.  Oscars:  Best Picture; Best Director (Guillermo del Toro); Best Production Design; Best Original Score; Nominations: Best Actress (Sally Hawkins); Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins); Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer); Best Original Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing.  TIFF:  2017.  Venice:  Golden Lion.  Trailer

  6. Call Me By Your Name
    BBBB.5  (Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France/Brazil/USA)  A graduate student is invited to stay with his archaeology professor in northern Italy in the summer of 1983, sparking up a forbidden romance with his host’s seventeen year-old son that initiates the young man into a deeper awareness of himself. Unfolding in the most natural and unassuming manner, this emotionally striking film captures the pain and elation of a first sexual experience with incredible accuracy and generosity, all of it possible thanks to a breakthrough, world class performance in the lead by Timothée Chalamet.  Oscar:  Best Adapted Screenplay; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Timothee Chalamet); Best Original Song (“Mystery of Love”).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

  7. The Florida Project
    BBBB.5  (Sean Baker, USA)  Not far from the happiest place on earth, a series of brightly painted motels service the tourists visiting Disney World on a tighter budget, a great deal of them also inhabited by more permanent dwellers who pay their weekly rent and raise children in tight quarters.  It sounds like the kind of grimy indulgence in misery that is often the result of filmmakers disguising their exploitation of the lower classes as pompous finger-wagging at the ignorant bourgeois, but the magnificence of Baker’s film is in how funny and spontaneous it is. Oscar Nomination:  Best Supporting Actor (Willem Dafoe).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

  8. Faces Places
    Visages, Villages
    BBBB.5  (Agnes Varda, JR, France)  Experimental filmmaker Varda teams up with celebrated mural artist JR for one of the most delightful and inventive of the many delightful and inventive films in her oeuvre.  They go to small towns in France aboard their photo booth on wheels, taking pictures of locals and pasting large size prints on the sides of buildings, vehicles, shipping containers, and in one fascinating (and sadly temporary) case a World War II bunker that has tumbled from a cliff to the beach below.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

  9. Coco
    BBBB.5  (Lee Unkrich, USA)  A little boy has grown up without music and must listen to it, learn it and play it in secret thanks to his family’s having banned all traces of it at home after his great-great-grandmother, long deceased and founder of the family’s successful shoe business, was jilted by a musician and never forgave him.  Some younger viewers might scratch their heads trying to figure out the complicated plot details, but the gorgeous animation, wonderful musical score (including many a memorably tuneful song) and zesty direction will keep even the smallest kids from rejecting this satisfying film’s many offerings.  Oscars:  Best Animated Feature; Best Original Song (“Remember Me”).  Trailer

  10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
    BBBB.5  (Jon Watts, USA)  Tony Stark/Iron Man returns Peter Parker to his life in New York City, telling him to go back to his Sci-Tech-focused high school and await further instructions, which he does until he gets wind that a former construction boss has gotten hold of alien technology and is using it to create doomsday weapons.  Tom Holland’s tiny figure and boyish voice convince us that he really is in danger of being destroyed despite his super strength and impressive web-swinging moves, and there are sequences that are impressively scary, including a gasp-worthy near-death experience on the Washington Memorial, an amazing disaster aboard the Staten Island Ferry and a brilliant climax aboard an unmanned airplane.  Trailer


    Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
    Honour Roll: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread; Colin Farrell, The Killing of a Sacred Deer; Ethan Hawke, First Reformed; Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
    Glenn Close, The Wife
    Honour Roll:  Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool; Juliette Binoche, Let The Sun Shine In; Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water; Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
    Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
    Honour Roll: Christopher Plummer, All The Money In The World; Adam Sandler, The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected); Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water; Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name/The Shape of Water
    Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
    Honour Roll:  Holly Hunter, The Big Sick; Allison Janney, I, Tonya; Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird; Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
    Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
    Honor Roll: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread; Sean Baker, The Florida Project; Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water; Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name



All The Money In The World
BBB.5  (Ridley Scott, USA)  The estranged son of J. Paul Getty is kidnapped for a very pricey ransom, his wife doesn’t have the money to pay his captors and his father, the richest man in the history of humanity, refuses to fork it over.  Flashy and exciting, this film doesn’t represent Scott at his deepest (and so few of his films do), but it does show him at his most technically efficient and energetic, the best moments coming from Christopher Plummer as the villainous yet devilishly charming old man.   Oscar Nomination:  Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer). Trailer

Baby Driver
BB.5  (Edgar Wright, United Kingdom/USA)  “Baby” wears headphones in his ears at all times to help him deal with the tinnitus he acquired in a childhood car accident, his perpetually setting his life to his own personal soundtrack not at all a detriment to his abilities as a getaway driver.  Neon lights and tunes from all decades abound in this frenetic time-waster that has little inspiration but plenty of motion to keep you in it ’til the end.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing.  Trailer

Beauty And The Beast
BB.5  (Bill Condon, USA)  Belle, the bookworm daughter of a skittish artist, is bored of village life but gets to see something beyond the everyday when her father is entrapped by a magical beast in a castle and she takes his place in order to set him free.  That Emma Watson is fresh-faced and smart is not enough for her play a character who, in cartoon form, had an amazing sense of instinctive empathy that doesn’t happen here, and the cast is rounded out by performers who, in most cases, have already proven their singing abilities but give canned and awkward performances of slowed-down and overdrawn adaptations of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Oscar-winning songs.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Production Design; Best Costume Design.  Trailer

The Big Sick
BBBB  (Michael Showalter, USA)  A stand-up comedian is heckled by a pretty grad student and it sparks a delightful romance, but they break up when she realizes that he hasn’t told his traditional Pakistani family about their very serious relationship and, before they can consider any resolution, are separated by her being admitted to the hospital with a near-fatal disease.  The scenes in which Kumail Nanjiani (playing a fictional version of himself) and Holly Hunter (as his mother-in-law) get to know each other are the best in this delightful comedy, though it does indulge in the tired trope of the ethnic guy held back from the freedom of the white world by two-dimensional parents (why the star and co-writer is so hard on his mom is hard to understand).  Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Screenplay.  Trailer

Blade Runner 2049
BB.5  (Denis Villeneuve, USA/United Kingdom/Canada)   Thirty-odd years after the events of the first film, the world is still one where replicants infiltrate human existence, and a serial-numbered LAPD officer charged with seeking out older models to retire them stumbles upon a mystery that prompts him to investigate his own consciousness and, much the same as Scott’s film did, ask questions about the existence of the human soul.  Villeneuve is so terrified of an outburst of rabid fans on Twitter that he sticks to way too many relatable people and only indulges in visual magnificence when it involves calling back to the original, with a mystery plot that is not in the least bit mysterious and a far longer running time, at almost three hours, than it could possibly require to tell.  Oscars:  Best Cinematography; Best Visual Effects; Nominations: Best Production Design; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing.  Trailer

The Boss Baby
BBBB  (Tom McGrath, USA)  A young boy’s perfect life as the top priority of his loving parents is dashed when they come home from the hospital with that most horrific of surprises, a baby brother, who turns out to speak to unseen cohorts in an adult male voice.  Despite having a ludicrous plot (a great deal of it copied from The Incredibles and Meet The Robinsons) which, even in the world of animated films that anthropomorphize the most unlikely subjects, stretches all manner of logic, this perpetually funny charmer is kept aloft by endlessly inventive sequences and an irresistible tone of sassy humour.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

The Breadwinner
BBBB   (Nora Twomey, Ireland/Canada/Luxembourg)  A young girl cuts her hair and pass herself as a boy as a way to earn money for her family after her wounded war veteran father is arrested and sent to prison without any word as to when he will be released.  Skillfully written and directed and lushly filled out by a beautiful musical score by Jeff and Mychael Danna, this combination of gritty reality and enchanted fantasy results in something dramatic and moving.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

Darkest Hour
BB.5  (Joe Wright, United Kingdom)  Ailing prime minister Neville Chamberlain steps down to make way for the far more robust and energetic Winston Churchill, famed for his wit and rhetoric, who happily takes the position and immediately makes his feelings known: negotiation with Germany is pointless and England must fight for victory.  Gary Oldman is impressively accurate as Churchill, but the performance is far more achieved by the superb makeup work then by anything we can see in his latex-smothered eyes, a rather soulless performance in a heartless film, one that beautifully photographs the Great Moments In History it presents but saps them of any emotion.  Oscar:  Best Actor (Gary Oldman); Best Makeup and Hairstyling.  Nominations: Best Picture; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design; Best Costume Design. TIFF:  2017. Trailer

The Disaster Artist
BBBB  (James Franco, USA) Aspiring actor Greg Sestero is having trouble breaking past his inhibitions in a San Francisco acting class until a long-haired, intense-looking man in his forties named Tommy Wiseau, who claims to be from New Orleans despite what is clearly an Eastern European accent, unloads incomprehensible rage on the classroom floor.   Franco’s film about the making the notorious 2003 film The Room sweetly takes what is often written off as a bad joke involving a deluded victim of Tinseltown and turns it into a sincere tale of creativity supported by friendship, when this serious project that Wiseau puts his heart into becomes a carnival, his disappointment is heartbreaking and his decision to be such a good sport about it is a triumph.  Oscar Nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

A Fantastic Woman
Una Mujer Fantastica
BBBB  (Sebastián Lelio,  Chile/Germany/Spain/USA)  After a business owner dies of an aneurysm, his ex-wife reclaims her identity as his partner and forbids his trans girlfriend Marina from coming to the funeral, while his son escalates threats in demanding his apartment back and prompts Marina’s own awakening to the strengths she possesses in a society that is too obtuse to accept her.  Bright colours permeate the cinematography without ever taking away from the film’s darker or more tragic moments, and Daniela Vega gives a performance in which she lets the audience know her inner life even when the character is fiercely protecting it from the conflicting situations she faces so frequently.   Oscar:  Best Foreign Language Film.  Berlin:  Best Screenplay.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBB  (Carlos Saldanha, USA)  The bulls on a rural Spanish farm are all proud of their hypermasculinity, with the exception of sweet Ferdinand, a kindly calf with a heart of gold and a passion for the beauty and smell of flowers.  The delightful humour of the supporting characters (including some sassy hedgehogs and some hysterically snobby horses) are combined with a few clever sequences for a film that could stand to be a bit shorter, but what it lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in sweetness and sincerity.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

First Reformed
BBBB  (Paul Schrader, USA/United Kingdom/Australia)   The minister at a centuries-old church whose parishioners are few in number is asked by a woman to counsel her depressed husband, while his church is pending a re-consecration overseen by the megachurch that owns the property. The slow movement of the plot and the lengthy, still shots of near-empty religious spaces feel important and weighty without ever veering into the pretentious or, no pun intended, preachy, while a third-act voyage into the surreal is handled with the right level of humour, this is Schrader’s best film in years.   Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Screenplay. Venice:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

Get Out
BBB.5  (Jordan Peele, USA)  A black man nervously heads to the country with his white girlfriend and is greeted by her overly polite and accommodating family, who reveal more sinister secrets in a delightfully funny satire on race relations that is equal parts Roman Polanski, Georges Franju and Ira Levin.  Balancing comedy and horror effectively (though admittedly with more emphasis on the former), it’s a shame that Peele’s script isn’t as twisty or complicated as his sense of allegory is smart and fresh, but it’s directed with a great deal of strength (including an outstanding hypnosis scene that is the film’s highlight) and has more than a few genuinely creepy moments.   Oscar:  Best Original Screenplay; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya); Best Director (Jordan Peele).  Trailer

The Greatest Showman
B.5  (Michael Gracey, USA)  P.T. Barnum marries his childhood sweetheart, goes into business with a partner and befriends the various “freaks” that he exploits for ticket sales in his show, defending himself against the snobbery of art critics who call him a fraud and the intolerance of religious mobs who believe that the presentation of “God’s mistakes” is a sin.  The idea the film is trying to sell, that Barnum was a hero of inclusivity who celebrated people who were outsiders and outcasts, is ludicrous to say the least, and the songs are pretty but feel like they’ve been slotted in from a different musical.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song (“This Is Me”).  Trailer

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
BBB  (James Gunn, USA)  Taking Gamora’s sister Nebula into custody and running from a planet of golden-hued superhumans who don’t take too kindly to Rocket stealing their superpowered batteries, our heroes find themselves in big trouble until they are saved by a mysterious figure who turns out to hold secrets to Peter Quill aka Star-lord’s past.  It’s a good-natured and pleasant adventure, but even if it gets points for never taking itself too seriously, there’s no denying that it’s at least fifteen minutes too long and draws far too small a plot over too long a film.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects. Trailer

I, Tonya
BBB.5  (Craig Gillespie, USA) The life and career of a figure skating champion who became world famous with one swipe to a competitor’s knee is related in mockumentary style, with Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers compiling a humorous, blistering experience based directly on Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly’s testimonies.  Gillespie, however, forgets to be either spontaneous or kind in the way he presents everything, having gorgeous movie stars play these characters feels like the filmmakers are making fun of their townie-ness, with a sense of the burlesque in the performances that prevents the film from really hitting deep.   Oscar:  Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney); Nominations: Best Actress (Margot Robbie); Best Film Editing.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBBB.5  (Bryan Fogel, USA)  Filmmaker and cycling enthuasiast Fogel witnessed the Lance Armstrong doping scandal along with the rest of the world and, while he was appalled by the revelations of widespread corruption among the Tour De France’s best athletes, it also ignited his curiousity about the effectiveness of doping itself.  The story then takes a crazy twist (to say the least) when media reports about Russia’s state-sponsored doping program go viral, a doctor turns whistleblower and the implications reach the Olympic Committee.  Oscar:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

The Insult
BBB.5  (Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon/Belgium/Cyprus/France/USA)   A foreman whose crew is bringing apartment buildings in a Beirut neighbourhood up to code insults a car mechanic who destroys the piping that the workers are trying to install, a breach of civility that results in a bonfire of a controversy that lights up the entire country.  Doueiri’s compelling and entertaining political drama seeks to question the possibility of peace when people are so committed to their righteous, vindictive anger, creating characters who inhabit their situations with vibrancy and intelligence, but he is not above shameless manipulation and there are twists in the plot that belong in a soap opera.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film.  TIFF:  2017.  Venice:  Best Actor (Kamal El Basha).  Trailer

Kong: Skull Island
BBB.5  (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, USA)  With the Vietnam War winding down and the American government looking to increase its power in the South Pacific, a scientific expedition and its military escort head to the uncharted Skull Island where a giant gorilla appears out of nowhere and starts swatting helicopters out of the sky.  This film delivers on fun and thankfully isn’t the bloated length of Peter Jackson’s 2005 extravaganza, though a touch of the romanticism of the classic original wouldn’t have hurt the pleasures of all the rampant disaster either.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects.  Trailer

Lady Bird
BBBB  (Greta Gerwig, USA)  A teenager about to graduate from her Catholic school in conservative, colourless Sacramento has parents who are struggling financially, she loves her best friend but can’t resist the urge to drop her when the school’s most popular girl befriends her, and insists that everyone call her by her chosen, artistically whimsical nickname “Lady Bird”.  The cruelest moments, particularly those between mother and daughter, also have generous helpings of humour and affection that never feel manipulated or sentimental, and Gerwig has a spot-on instinct for what points of the story are worth keeping in and gets through a lot of narrative without it feeling like one big montage sequence.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan); Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf); Best Director (Greta Gerwig); Best Original Screenplay.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBBB  (James Mangold, USA)  Professor X is mentally degenerating, looked after by an aging, broken down Logan, aka Wolverine, who finds both trouble and rich adventure when a woman approaches him and begs him to take her and a little girl to a safe haven in North Dakota.  Loud, violent and relentless, this combination of superhero tale and Clint Eastwood Lone Man action films, with hints of Terminator 2 and Fury Road thrown in, is a wholly satisfying road movie that is not ruined by its dour tone, dark narrative, or some of the more predictable sequences (don’t give her that iPod, dude).  Oscar Nomination:  Best Adapted Screenplay.  Trailer

BB.5  (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia/France/Germany/Belgium)   A couple who are divorcing and awaiting the sale of their Moscow apartment fight with each other on a regular basis, not the least bit aware that their heartbroken son crumbles under the weight of their unashamed bitterness.  A plot that sets up some great opportunities, a dark comedy of remarriage, for example, or a thriller with the depth of human emotional pain, is instead a boring polemic on the destructive nature of smartphones (get OVER it, people), with Zvyagintsev so dead set upon judging his characters that the whole thing is stale and obsessed with symbolism instead of drama.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film.  Cannes:  Jury Prize.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BB.5  (Reginald Hudlin, USA)  Years before making history as the first African American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall is a lawyer for the NAACP defending cases in which the defendant’s race is being used as a hindrance against their receiving justice, in this instance defending a chauffeur accused of raping his employer’s wife.  The determination on the filmmakers’ part to tell this story accurately without offending anyone (not an easy task considering their chosen case proves racism by accusing a rape victim of lying) ends up watering everything down and results in a very bland screenplay about a man who is mostly prevented from doing anything in the story’s most dramatic moments.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song (“Stand Up For Something”).  Trailer

Molly’s Game
BBB.5  (Aaron Sorkin, China/USA)    Molly Bloom is asked to supervise a high stakes poker game that her Hollywood producer boss is participating in, and when she finds that the gig appeals to her intelligence and talent, it soon becomes a very profitable business for her that also risks her heretofore spotless relationship with the law.  Sorkin’s knack for pouring words out and making it feel good has never failed him, it’s actually quite fun to be in his turbo-fueled brain, but the fact that everyone basically sounds like him does also mean that the Based On A True Story elements of the film ring a bit false.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Adapted Screenplay.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBB.5  (Dee Rees, USA)   A financially struggling white couple buy a farm with a black family who are tenants, the tension in the Jim Crow south reaching a dramatic, explosive boil when a man from each clan returns from serving in World War II and their friendship brings negative attention.  The narrative could use some tightening, it’s hard to find the story’s centre and the Faulkner-esque narration is superfluous and sometimes confusing (which combined with perpetually dark cinematography can make for some genuine frustration), but the best moments hit deep.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Supporting Actress (Mary J. Blige); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Original Song (“Mighty River”).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

On Body And Soul
Teströl és lélekröl
BBBB  (Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary)  Dreams in which he is a deer encountering a mate in the forest make the manager of a slaughterhouse very pensive in his waking hours, and when he meets the new quality control manager, an intelligent woman with a very severe manner, they discover that she has been having the same reveries at night.   Even the highly controlled shots that turn their workplace into a series of cold geometric designs contribute to a dark sense of humour, the film a slow and steady burn that is also intense and sexy.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film.  Berlin:  Golden Bear.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

The Post
BBB  (Steven Spielberg, United Kingdom/USA)   After Nixon’s White House all but shuts The New York Times down for publishing The Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post has an opportunity to pick up where they left off but the situation has gotten very dicey, legally, and the decision rests in the hands of Kay Graham, daughter of the newspaper’s former owner.  Great dialogue and confident direction can do little for a mild-mannered film that aims to be a prequel to All the President’s Men but feels more like a brief prologue.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Actress (Meryl Streep).  Trailer

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
BBBB  (Dan Gilroy, Canada/United Arab Emirates/USA)   A lawyer who specializes in social justice takes a corporate job as a last resort and, after being rejected by the people he felt he was fighting for but fitting in poorly in his new environment, accepts his disillusionment and gives the Ayn Rand life a try, announcing that purity is impossible and indulgence is the way of the world.  The experiment revolves around one major moral choice that has a devastating effect in this intelligent film that features Denzel Washington in a smooth and compelling performance that never overplays what could be easy awards bait, the character has an emotional consistency at its core even when his behaviour does not.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Actor (Denzel Washington).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

The Square
BB.5  (Ruben Ostlund, Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark)  The director of a fancy Swedish art museum that is preparing to host an exhibition focusing on a conceptual piece called “The Square” goes somewhat overboard in his vengeance to get his stolen wallet and phone back, leading to further consequences that distract him from the social media campaign that the museum has concocted to promote the exhibit.  A number of skillfully shot, beautifully directed sequences present the ways that humans agree upon certain behaviours in certain spaces and the various ways that we react to them being violated, but the finger-pointing is relentless and, despite being so well shot, it’s never intelligent enough to justify a ridiculous running time and methodical pace.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film.  Cannes:  Palme D’Or.  TIFF:  2017. Trailer

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
BBB  (Rian Johnson, USA)  Rey has gone to meet the legendary Luke Skywalker to request help for her pals who are, as usual, trying to keep their rebellion together against the evil First Order, General Organa is trying to keep her beloved rebels safe but is finding it difficult to get away from a massive fleet of First Order ships surrounding them, and Finn, Poe Dameron and new friend Rose Tico embark upon a highly complicated quest to block a tractor beam.  The movie is chock full of great effects and exciting moments, but it’s weighed down by too many narrative tangents that keep it from feeling like the fun ride that most of its predecessors are, with Johnson thinking that sarcastic dialogue and a few cute animal characters are enough to make up for the fact that this movie has plenty of jokes but no humour.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Visual Effects; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Original Score.  Trailer

Strong Island
BBB  (Yance Ford, USA/Denmark)  Twenty five years after the murder of a young man named William Ford, filmmaker Yance Ford revisits the judicial nightmare that followed his death and the effect it had on his family.  There’s an interesting contradiction to William, he was interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement but also had trouble with the law, and while it’s understandable that his brother wants to present this aspect of him in the least critical light, it all results in a film that leaves you with more questions than answers by the time it’s over.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
BB  (Martin McDonagh, United Kingdom/USA)  The sleepy little town of Ebbing, Missouri is brought to screaming consciousness when one woman’s frustration over the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter inspires her to do something about what she feels is lax law enforcement.  It’s clearly a script by a playwright who is writing about America but is not American, drawing his characters with plenty of humour but little affection and providing suspiciously articulate dialogue for people who have been drawn as being inarticulate about their own lives or emotions.  Oscars:  Best Actress (Frances McDormand); Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell); Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Woody Harrelson); Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score.  TIFF:  2017.  Venice:  Best Screenplay.  Trailer

Victoria and Abdul
BB.5  (Stephen Frears, United Kingdom/USA)   Queen Victoria is charmed by another outsider, this time a lowly Indian clerk sent from the furthest reaches of the empire to present her with a coin as a token of affection from her subjects in the far east, but her increasing admiration for him causes nothing but strife for the tense and terrified men and women surrounding her.  The fact that the supporting cast can only manage one tone of emotion over what is years of his presence in the household is ridiculous, the pointed commentary on British hypocrisy towards its own subjects (foreigners are usually in your face because you stole or at least interfered with their country) is enough a part of the story without needing to present Abdul as a simple and flat symbol.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Makeup and Hairstyling; Best Costume Design.  TIFF:  2017. Trailer

War for the Planet of the Apes
BBBB  (Matt Reeves, USA/Canada/New Zealand)   We are moving ever closer to getting Charlton Heston naked in the desert, with a planet whose dwindling human population has broken out into all-out war as the genetically developing primates are multiplying in great numbers.  Dark, brooding and highly involving, this magnificent film maintains the quality of its two predecessors, a worthy effort in this wonderful series and never too heavy despite the places that the plot goes.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects.  Trailer

The Wife
BBBB  (Bjorn Runge, United Kingdom/Sweden/USA)  A celebrated author is informed that he has been selected to win the Nobel Prize for literature, and during the trip to Sweden and the days of rituals and functions leading up to the main ceremony, his wife fends off any suggestion of her own personal sacrifice to the point that she even requests not to be mentioned in his acceptance speech.  Skillfully directed and photographed, the film is a rewarding opportunity to see Glenn Close at the height of her abilities, for while she rules the screen in the moments that demand her well-known brand of scene-chewing fury, watching her quietly observe the clash of egos happening around her is equally fascinating.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Actress (Glenn Close).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BB.5  (Stephen Chbosky, USA/Hong Kong)  A little boy born with notable facial disfigurement is being sent to middle school after years of being home-schooled by his mom, his parents terrified of how children will react to their son but understanding that getting him out into the world is something that he needs.  Julia Roberts is wonderful as a woman who is both extremely vulnerable and extremely intelligent, and watching her try to be both at the same time makes for the film’s most poignant moments, more than making up for the fact that Jacob Tremblay, true-hearted and sweet as he is, seems to have little to offer beyond either whispering or shrieking his lines.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Makeup.  Trailer




The Beguiled
BB.5  (Sofia Coppola, USA)  A wounded Irish mercenary turned Yankee soldier recuperates in a Virginia plantation house turned girls’ school, where the all-female belles in residence have their spidey-senses tuned directly, threateningly, to the handsome mystery in their midst.  Coppola remakes Don Siegel’s excellent 1971 drama by wisely switching the point of view from the soldier to that of the women, taking a thriller about sexual paranoia of female sexuality into an examination of characters relegated to living as hothouse flowers kept under glass, but in doing so she has also done away with all the tension and humour.  Cannes:  Best Director (Sofia Coppola).  Trailer

BPM (Beats Per Minute)
120 battements par minute
BBBB  (Robin Campillo, France)   It’s 1989 and members of the HIV-positive community and their friends are out of patience with the government’s delays, the public’s intolerance and the corporate greed that are not permitting the breakthroughs in medical technology that could deal with the crisis, and are inspired to do something about it via headline-grabbing stunts.  Campillo’s writing and direction are superb, but he also assembles a flawless cast with no weak spots, the best of them Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as the would-be protagonist Sean, whose own personal conflicts are as dramatic as what he faces against the outside world, and Adèle Haenel as one of the most intelligent and articulate of the activists.  Cannes:  Grand Jury Prize.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

The Day After
BBB  (Sang-soo Hong, South Korea)  After telling his wife that he has no reason to be on a diet and that her observation of his improved looks do not at all mean that he’s having an affair, we witness a middle-aged book publisher spending evenings at dinner with the volatile young woman who used to work as his assistant.  As always it is the nuance with which Hong films his characters that makes them so endearing, not to mention the strength of his actors to keep their subtle performances so even and steady through very long, unbroken takes.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

Double Lover
L’Amant Double
BBB.5  (Francois Ozon, France/Belgium)  A woman consults a psychiatrist about a personal problem she is having, but they develop a mutual attraction and it prevents their professional relationship continuing, so she goes in search of another doctor and finds herself being treated by his identical twin brother. Ozon films what Hitchcock would likely have made of Fifty Shades of Grey, a very sexy erotic thriller whose only letdown is its weak conclusion, while the gorgeous cast, stunning cinematography and editing and the appearance in a small role by the always outstanding Jacqueline Bisset are its pleasures.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

A Gentle Creature
BB.5  (Sergey Loznitsa, France/Germany/Russia/Lithuania/Netherlands/Ukraine/Latvia)  A woman in the barren countryside is distressed when the care package she sent to her imprisoned husband is returned to her as undeliverable, and so undertakes a lengthy train journey to the prison’s outpost but upon arrival is greeted with more difficulty. What Loznitsa puts across so beautifully is the flowing of one event to another, everything trades on coincidences and spontaneous twists of fate that can only be the result of a society that refuses to have a proper social safety net, but the preachy tone is relentless and the concluding dream sequence takes us from overstated to downright patronizing.  Cannes:  In Competition. Trailer

Godard Mon Amour
Le Redoutable, Redoubtable
BBB.5  (Michel Hazanavicius,  France/Myanmar)  Anne Wiazemsky stars in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Chinoise and becomes personally involved with becoming the director in the process, soon coming to understand that what she thought was a mercurial angel of integrity and conviction is actually a man addicted to his own bourgeois comforts, motivated as much by a desire to be thought of as young and hip as he is by any kind of noble calling to change the world.  Based on Wiazemsky’s own memoir of her short time with Godard, this film is not a hard-hitting look at the man behind the myth, but a sympathetic and enjoyable caprice that has a delicious time poking fun at one of the country’s intellectual giants without encouraging any hatred towards his foibles.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

Good Time
BBBB  (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, USA)   A bank robbery in Flushing is pulled off successfully by two small time hoods, but an unforeseen security measure pops up mid-getaway and one of them spends the night trying to scrounge up cash to help the other make bail.  Taking place almost entirely in one period of time, this fascinating trip down a grimy rabbit hole is concerned with unsavoury characters who are never lionized as members of an unfairly oppressed economic class nor judged for their bad life choices, with turns of the plot that never fail to engage or amuse.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

Happy End
BB.5  (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany)   The weak centre of a seemingly impermeable bourgeois family in gorgeous Calais includes a woman who is trying to keep the family’s construction business afloat despite a major accident occurring under her son’s watch, which brings strife from the workers as well as imposing on her own relationship with him.   This is a very simple critique of xenophobia without nearly the same searing rage bubbling beneath a deceptively calm surface that Haneke did with such controlled brilliance in Cache, the various strands of the plot never connect and the silences do not resonate.  Cannes:  In Competition.   TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

In The Fade
Aus Dem Nichts
BBB.5  (Fatih Akin, Germany/France)   A German woman is devastated when a bombing takes the lives of her family, the police are convinced that the Turkish victims of violence were involved in shady business but the clues she provides eventually bring Neo-Nazi villains to trial, who hire a clever defense lawyer to argue all the details of the case.  Akin’s politically motivated thriller is not the most complex affair you’ll ever sit through, but thanks to intelligent writing and a detailed and dedicated performance by Diane Kruger in the lead, the film’s easily delineated morality is never insulting or manipulative.  Cannes:  Best Actress (Diane Kruger).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
BBBB  (Yorgos Lanthimos, United Kingdom/Ireland/USA)  A cardiac surgeon whose successful career is complemented by a large, beautiful home that he shares with his ophthalmologist wife and their young, healthy children is visited by a young man who feels that the surgeon took something from him, and in order for Farrell’s family to survive a mysterious curse that befalls them he will have to make a choice involving a dark and dire sacrifice.  Just when you think Lanthimos’ sense of humour can’t get darker or more disrespectful, he comes up with another story set in that slightly heightened reality that he has mastered over the course of his career in which situations become increasingly, delightfully, ridiculous.  Cannes:  Best Screenplay (tie).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)
BBB  (Noah Baumbach, USA)  The abrasive personality of a dissatisfied and selfish, aged artist dampens the lives of his grown children, who all struggle with setbacks tied to this difficult relationship.  Emma Thompson has a gleefully fun supporting role and Candice Bergen an exquisite, short sequence, but despite their presence and some wonderful passages of dialogue, the whole thing doesn’t stitch together as sharply as it should, there are far too many personal breakthroughs for one movie and the overall feeling is one of witty, intellectual excess.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

BBBB  (Joon-ho Bong, South Korea/USA)  A food corporation looks to both improve its villainous image and help with world hunger and population growth by breeding a giant superpig that will taste great, feed the masses and make little environmental impact.  Bong never lets the technical achievements overtake the storytelling or the depth of the characters’ interactions (the way his shallow, mostly conceptual Snowpiercer did), but the ending isn’t quite up to the standard of the rest of it, with a plot turn in the conclusion that feels far too convenient and comfortable for everything wild and expressive that preceded it.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

BB  (Naomi Kawase, Japan/France)  A woman who has been assigned the task of writing the narration for films that have been modified for the visually impaired spends a great deal of her day observing the world around her and practices describing the things she sees, then screens scenes from the film with her written passages for a focus group who give her feedback on the effectiveness of her work.  Hokey and shallow, Kawase’s melodrama is awash in cheap sentimentality and painful symbolism: at the point that the two main characters become friends and she tells him how much she loves sunsets, you might want to give up, though great acting and beautiful photography at least help keep the empty experience from being too boring.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BB  (Todd Haynes, USA)   A little boy in 1970s Minnesota recently orphaned by the death of his loving mother loses his hearing after being struck by lightning and decides it is time to head to New York and seek out the father he never knew, a story which is intercut with the tale of a hearing-impaired girl in 1920s New Jersey who heads to the same city in search of her famous actress mother.  Neither strand of the story has any particular emotional resonance, a narrative full of secrets but no surprises, and it’s surprising the lack of technical skill that Haynes brings to his recreation of silent cinema, but it is at least told with a sincerity that provides a few rewards in the conclusion; just don’t expect to be mesmerized by all the details.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

You Were Never Really Here
BBB  (Lynne Ramsay, United Kingdom/France/USA)   A veteran prowls the streets of Manhattan by night as a hired thug, then takes care of his aging, ailing mother by day, assigned to rescue a senator’s daughter from a child sex slave ring which he does with his usual violent ease but inspiring immediate reprisals.  Ramsay achieves some of her best visuals yet, telling vast amounts of plot in masterful editing and framing shorthand, but while it’s wonderful to see a revenge story that doesn’t fetishize violence, her avoiding the kind of self-righteous vigilante passion that these movies usually indulge in also results in the film lacking a middle act.  Cannes:  Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix); Best Screenplay.  Trailer




Jusqu’à la garde
BBB.5  (Xavier Legrand, France)  A divorced couple in court mediation over the custody of their younger son cannot prove the wife’s claims that her ex-husband is stalking her, leading her to having to endure his terrifying rage whenever he is near them.  This continuation of Legrand’s Oscar-nominated short Just Before Losing Everything is not a particularly layered or subtle movie, it depicts the plight of abusive marriages with assured clarity and instructs your sympathy in no uncertain terms, but it also doesn’t cave in to the temptation to become a genre thriller in the vein of a more familiar Hollywood film.  Venice:   Silver Lion.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBB  (Samuel Maoz, Israel/Switzerland/Germany/France)  A Tel Aviv couple are informed by army personnel that their son has been killed in the line of duty before the army then reveals that a mistake has been made, their son is fine and it was someone else with the same name who was killed, which makes the soldier’s father more agitated with the military’s incompetence.  Excellent acting and cinematography are a plus in what is a frequently absorbing melodrama that has, not surprisingly, become a controversial talking point in its home country, but ignoring that noise and looking at the film on its merits leaves one with something that frequently undercuts its own powerful content with too much self-congratulation. Venice:  Grand Jury Prize.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBB.5  (Darren Aronofsky, USA)  A happily married couple live in a remote country home when the random appearance of a couple who mistook their place for a bed and breakfast pushes their discomfort over the edge, followed by more strangers who begin collecting in their home in large numbers.  As recreations of dreamlike states go, I’ve rarely seen it pulled off with more technical skill, but the film is more emotionally involving when the uncanny situations still bear a distinct resemblance to reality in the first act; by the time you reach the unapologetic devotion to absurdity in the climax, it’s hard to feel vulnerable for a character whose situations aren’t the least bit convincing.  Venice:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer




On the Beach at Night Alone
Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja
BBBB  (Sang-soo Hong,  South Korea/Germany)  A successful film star absorbs her feelings about her recently explosive affair with a married man on a trip to Hamburg that takes her to her emotional sore spots, while wandering the beaches of a Korean seaside town only makes her more contemplative.   As subtle and charming as all of Hong’s films, this one has a much more melancholy edge than his usual investigations of the quiet rhythms of daily life, and Kim Min-Hee keeps pace with his darker ruminations without ever letting go of the brightness she always brings to his work.  Berlin:  Best Actress (Kim Min-hee). Trailer

The Party
BB.5  (Sally Potter, United Kingdom)  A woman newly named England’s Health Minister invites a few friends over to celebrate but barely has food in the oven before the guests arrive and drop truth bombs that make her achievement seem insignificant by comparison.  Potter sets this miniature feature in a confined space and emphasizes theatrical dialogue and performance that is pulled off in a genuine manner by skilled actors, who insert enough human vulnerability into the not-too-subtle commentary on modern day British issues (the NHS, capitalism, etc), but it’s far too short in length and effect, its characters and situations having little development beyond a second act.  Berlin:  In Competition.  Trailer

BBBB  (Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik, Poland/Germany/Czech Republic/Sweden/Slovakia/France)  An isolated village in rural Poland is plunged in winter and a mysterious number of deaths begin occurring, bodies show up in the forest with no evidence of harm except for animal footprints, and the police are exasperated by the constant harassment of a lonely spinster schoolteacher who insists that their deaths are part of the restorative balance of the natural world.  There are so many elements worth noting in this absorbing dramatic thriller that at times you’re not sure if you can handle them all, from the expansively beautiful shots of forests rich with mystery, to the wide panorama of supporting characters surrounding our heroine, to the mindset of the protagonist herself, as bewitching and fascinating as she is offputting and strange.   Berlin:  Silver Bear.   Trailer

Summer 1993
Estiu 1993
BBBB  (Carla Simón, Spain)  A woman’s death leaves a little girl orphaned, sent to live with her uncle and his wife on their farm where they must deal with the child’s grief and fear coming out in increasingly troubling and upsetting ways. The narrative of this exceptionally touching film by Simón, who bases it on her own childhood experience, is simple to describe, but it plays out in small, subtle moments that narrative description would reduce to something banal. Berlin:  Best First Feature.  Trailer




Battle Of the Sexes
BBB  (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, United Kingdom/USA)  Appalled by male tennis players getting far more publicity and higher prize money than females, Billie Jean King, along with promoter and World Tennis Magazine founder Gladys Heldman, starts a rival tour with eight other women, inspiring Bobby Riggs to offer the gals a big prize to match any of them in a highly publicized game.  The directors do a terrific job of finding a lot of joy and pleasure in the camaraderie of the tennis players while also respecting the dramatic elements of the story, but it feels flimsy thanks to a script full of hackneyed dialogue and the miscasting of Emma Stone, who despite her established talent can never quite bring King’s personality to life.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBB  (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel, France)  Castaing-Taylor and Paravel take their cameras into the home of Issei Sagawa, the man who murdered a fellow student at the Sorbonne in 1981, Renée Hartevelt, and was caught while trying to dispose of her half-eaten body.  The film will read for some as being too soft on this man who seems a bit too proud of his cannibalistic desires, challenging our notions of understanding as instantly equaling forgiving, but it’s more likely that the filmmakers, in observing without comment, are forcing us to reckon with the existence of this man by putting us directly in his world.  TIFF:  2017. Trailer

The Children Act
BBB  (Richard Eyre, United Kingdom)  On the day that her husband informs her that he wants to have an affair with another woman to offset the distance that her job has put between them, a judge is assigned an explosive case involving a teenager dying of leukemia who is refusing a blood transfusion, because his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness prohibit his doing so.  Emma Thompson’s interactions with Fionn Whitehead are fascinating until they hit a familiar trope in Ian McEwan’s stories, the regular person who must grapple with having an oddball obsessed with them, but these scenes are still more successful than her moments with Stanley Tucci as her husband, which are written and directed and, in Tucci’s case, performed like bad community theatre.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

The Death Of Stalin
BBB  (Armando Iannucci, France/United Kingdom/Belgium/Canada)    After a night of planning the next in his series of injustices and cruelties, Stalin takes to his bedroom, has a seizure and keels over onto the floor, after which his close council members wheel and deal their loyalties while at the same time wondering if the victims of Stalin’s megalomania should be left rotting in prison or perhaps released.  The subtle, absurdist tone allows for jokes to be told alongside a frank treatment of Stalin’s atrocities without upending the balance, but the focus on the ridiculousness of people commanding great power by acting like feral animals is emphasized so hard and treated with so little irony that the film, despite being so intelligently performed, comes off a bit one-note.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool
BBBB  (Paul McGuigan, United Kingdom)  While appearing on stage in 1981, actor Peter Turner gets a call that faded screen queen Gloria Grahame has collapsed during the run of a London play and needs him to come to her, and doing so flashes him back to years earlier when they met and fell into a passionate but troubled love affair.  Despite having very little physical resemblance to the star she is playing, Annette Bening does share Grahame’s eternal charm, and Jamie Bell is no slouch as co-star, it’s a very sad film that is also a great tribute to love.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

First They Killed My Father
BBB  (Angelina Jolie, Cambodia/USA)  The autobiography of human rights activist Loung Ung is the basis of this moving melodrama, in which we see Cambodia’s turbulent years of war and dictatorship from a child’s perspective.   Jolie elicits terrific performances from the entire cast and, unlike Roland Joffe’s (admittedly much better) film on a similar subject, The Killing Fields, allows Cambodian citizens to be the focus of the story instead of filtering the tale through a foreign narrator, but she also doesn’t get to know her characters very well and they often come off as little more than beautifully photographed symbols of tragic oppression.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
BBB.5  (Chris Smith, USA/Canada)  Jim Carrey reportedly spent most of his time on the set of Milos Forman’s 1999 film Man On The Moon in character, and, nearly twenty years after that film’s release, footage from the electronic press kit is assembled and added to present-day Carrey claiming to have been possessed by Kaufman and controlled by his spirit.  Carrey’s latest case of mistaking the opportunities of fame with some kind of enlightenment is less a convincing possession narrative than another suggestion of his complicated ego, a common formula for comedians at his level of (deserved, and I would never suggest otherwise) success, though Smith tiptoes around this carefully.  TIFF: 2017.  Trailer

Mary Shelley
BB.5  (Haifaa Al-Mansour, USA)  A rare chance to focus the flesh and blood author behind one of the most deeply affecting tales of science gone awry ever written, but Al-Mansour offers up little more than the domestic misery between Shelley and her rakish poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley.  The film is honest about the failures of bohemian living (free love mainly just means that guys don’t take responsibility for the mess they leave behind), but too much of the character’s headstrong individuality is spelled out to an almost condescending degree by a hacky script riddled with bad dialogue, and Al-Mansour downplays the fact that the great author was ahead of her time but not quite up to date with ours (specifically, her book was a publishing success after she gave into bourgeois convention and married her lover).  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

The Mountain Between Us
B.5  (Hany Abu-Assad, USA)  A photojournalist and a surgeon anxious to get to Denver are exasperated by the cancellation of their flight, so she comes up with the idea of their hiring a small two-seater charter that crashes in the Rocky Mountains, stranding them in the cold with injuries and very little food.  Indulgence in the glamorous aspects of the situation would be welcome if the film had some awareness of itself, but trying to sell what would take up four days of soap opera episodes as some kind of Jack London experience is insulting, made even worse by the painfully hokey ending.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

Outside In
BBBB  (Lynn Shelton, USA)  Getting out of prison after twenty years for a crime he didn’t commit, a man struggles to find his way back to the quiet life of his small town in the Pacific Northwest, moving in with his brother and reconnecting with his former high school teacher, with whom he believes he is in love. Finding humour in the darkest places and exploring a very sexy chemistry between her leads, Shelton makes something that is as compelling as it is generous and moving, combining a sense of gritty reality with artistic flights of fancy that threaten to turn twee but never do.  TIFF: 2017. Trailer

The Upside
BB.5  (Neil Burger, USA)  After his parole officer tells him that he needs to at least prove he is looking for a job, an ex-con becomes assistant to a quadriplegic who needs 24-7 care.  This latest in a long line of American remakes of foreign films takes Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s Intouchables and rearranges it to suit its New York milieu, but Kevin Hart’s soulless performance relies too heavily on his staccato delivery of his perpetually wordy dialogue, his character’s personality becomes trite very quickly and the actor doesn’t have the depth to save it.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer

BBB  (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/Spain/France/Netherlands/USA/Brazil/Mexico/Portugal/Lebanon/Switzerland)  A colonial functionary in a forgotten South American corner of the Spanish empire is hoping to get transferred away from the heat and hopelessness of his coastal town, spending his days watching the place rot, visiting his indigenous lover with whom he has had a son and conflicting with other colonials.  Smoothly directed and shocking in its poignancy, Martel emphasizes a sense of languidness that doesn’t have the level of mystery of her previous films but is soulful and contemplative, the feeling of authenticity a great reward for a narrative sparseness that is difficult to digest.  TIFF:  2017.  Trailer






The Fate of the Furious
Fast & Furious 8
(F. Gary Gray, USA)  Dom and Leti are honeymooning in Cuba (and saving the poor by racing cars), their bliss interrupted when he is convinced by an international cyberterrorist to work against his own team, while his friends go to work in tandem with black-ops government operative Mr. Nobody to prevent the global nuclear disaster that Dom is helping make happen.  It’s actually a perfect action movie, gorgeous, exciting, seamless and funny, ruined only by a weak ending that, in desiring to leave room for sequels, does not do a good job of at least putting current issues to rest before they will be resurrected for the next film.  Trailer




(Ferenc Török, Hungary)  The war is over, the Iron Curtain has fallen and a small village in Hungary is preparing for a wedding when the sight of Orthodox Jews pulling a wagon through town sets the place into a flutter, worried that they have come to get revenge on the neighbours who denounced them and stole their property.  This tight, clever drama works elements of High Noon and Bad Day At Black Rock into a thoughtful examination of anti-Semitism and its contribution to the ease with which Nazi ideology destroyed Jewish life in Europe.   Trailer

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
(David Soren, USA)  Harold and George are best friends thanks to their shared love of practical jokes and the comic book adventures they write together, their pranks the bane of their grumpy principal’s existence until they hypnotize him into thinking that he is Captain Underpants himself.  Smart and superbly written, this delightful film has a touching affection for the friendship between its heroes that makes the whole thing so very endearing, while the quality of animation is consistently excellent.  Trailer

City Of Ghosts
(Matthew Heineman, USA)  With ISIS having overpowered much of Syria and destroyed the city of Raqqa, a group of journalists calling themselves “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” are dedicated to cutting through controlled and censored media by letting the country and, hopefully, the world know about their oppressors’ atrocities.  Heineman, who previously infiltrated the world of police corruption in Cartel Land, once again goes bravely into perilous territory and gets up close and personal with these unsung heroes, eventually traveling around the world with them as members of the organization go into exile and do their work from abroad.  Trailer

God’s Own Country
(Francis Lee, United Kingdom)  Two men are drawn to each other on a miserable Yorkshire farm, the unmotivated but exhausted son of an increasingly disabled father and dour grandmother and a seasonal Romanian worker who has come to help with the sheep.  The plot is straight out of a romance novel, but the sentiments with which it is played are all genuine, directed with expert intelligence and energy by first-time feature filmmaker Lee, who gets as much realistic grit out of the actors’ physical intimacy as he does out of watching them perform their daily agricultural duties (among which is included the gorgeous sight of lambs being born).  Trailer

I Dream In Another Language
Sueno en Otro Idioma
(Ernesto Contreras, Mexico/Netherlands)  A Mexico City university linguistics student heads to a rural village looking to speak to the last two living people known to communicate in Zikril, a fictional language that represents the many indigenous cultures lost to Spanish colonialism, and discovers that a third speaker of the language exists but is refusing to participate because of a tempestuous love affair of the past.  Excellent acting and beautiful photography highlight a tale that tells of the destruction of a culture and, in this case, the dissolution of human connection that has resulted from the greed of conquerors and the oppressive religion they brought with them.  Trailer

(Andy Muschietti, USA)   The children of Derry are finished school and ready for a fun summer, which is about to be ruined by a menace in their charming town: a scary clown named Pennywise is capturing and devouring children.  The film is too obviously inspired more by the success of the Netflix series Stranger Things than Stephen King’s book (with cast member Finn Wolfhard stolen as proof), but the excellent dialogue and more than a few good chills are enough to let it succeed on its own.  Trailer

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
(Jake Kasdan, USA)  Four teenagers are sent to detention for their various misdeeds, and, while cleaning out an abandoned room filled with junk, happen upon an old video game that gets them sucked into the cartridge and stuck inside a video game as avatars of various identities. The opportunities for humour are plentiful and well taken advantage of by a cast of actors who generously share their pleasure with the audience, while the clever script, vastly improving on the anemic 1995 adventure starring Robin Williams, provides the right level of twists and stakes to match the jokes for a colourful and memorable ride. Trailer

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
(Matthew Vaughn, United Kingdom/USA)  Fun sequel to the surprisingly good original is equally engaging and ridiculous, continuing the adventures of the chav young man who spies for the British operation masquerading as purveyors of fine menswear.  After a capricious drug dealer obsessed with retro-fifties Americana devastates the British home office, our hero and a systems expert land in her Cambodian lair to save the world of drug users from ultimate destruction.  Trailer

Let The Sunshine In
Un beau soleil intérieur
(Claire Denis, France/Belgium)  An artist in a perpetual emotional freefall is unable to deal with the dissolution of her marriage and looks for something meaningful in a series of men who are as confused by her as she is baffled by them.  Denis turns away from her more familiar style of dialogue-free, beautifully composed explorations to instead pay tribute to chatty Eric Rohmer comedies with her own cynical bent, her deeply sympathetic sense of humour making her confused protagonist an avatar for our own worst fears on the subject of love.  Trailer

The Man Who Invented Christmas
(Bharat Nalluri, Ireland/Canada)  After achieving worldwide renown for the popularity of his many novels, author Charles Dickens is trying to find a way out of a recent slump when a funeral in a churchyard attended only by a cruel, elderly gentleman fills his mind with fantasies of a tale to do with Christmas, ghosts and regrets.  The idea that all of Christmas is the product of one man’s imagination is ludicrous, but this film is far too well acted and beautifully shot to be criticized harshly for this conceit, and scenes with a wonderful Dan Stevens sparring with his imagined version of Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge are the film’s best.  Trailer

Mommy Dead and Dearest
(Erin Lee Carr, USA)  The murder of Dee Dee Blanchard is just the beginning of a horror story that defies the scariest tales ever made up for the movies, as strange as fiction ever was. In eighty short minutes, Carr manages to draw her audience into the world of this unusual and unforgettable case, the film told in the familiar format of HBO documentaries (file footage, talking heads, straight chronology) but the details potent enough to raise it above its technical conventions.  Trailer

My Cousin Rachel
(Roger Michell, United Kingdom/USA)  After his uncle dies abroad and the woman he recently married is returning to claim her estate, a young aristocrat is determined to enact vengeance on what he believes is a gold-digging black widow until he falls in love with her mysterious beauty.  Michell’s sumptuous adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel gives you everything you love about the great source author’s writing, a decaying mansion that presents the ghost of former aristocratic power, the sexual intrigue of two people who are in a constantly heightened emotional state and the hint of crime and sin behind everyone’s behaviour be it good or bad.  Trailer

Paddington 2
(Paul King, United Kingdom/France/USA)   Paddington decides to get a job and put aside a few pennies to buy his beloved Aunt Lucy a present for her 100th birthday, but his desire to purchase a vintage pop-up book is at odds with the plans of a once-glorious thespian, now starring in dog food commercials, who delivers his nightly monologues to the costumed mannequins in his attic.   Every opportunity to brighten a scene up with delicate humour is indulged, the laughs are plenty and so are the light plucks of the heart strings, while Hugh Grant is magnificent as the greedy, unethical maniac who will stop at nothing to get that one thing that so few actors know anything about, financial security.  Trailer

A Prayer Before Dawn
(Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, United Kingdom/France/China/Cambodia/USA)  Billy Moore is living in Bangkok and making cash as a Muay Thai prizefighter before the authorities break into his home and arrest him on a drug charge, then once behind bars struggles to make his way through the inmates’ bartering system while becoming even more dependent on the heroin that is easily available.  While this adaptation of Moore’s memoir has little to offer, plotwise, than a million other jail films you have ever seen, Sauvaire’s drama is memorable for its brutal atmosphere, the energetic direction emphasizing a non-stop soundtrack of aggravating noise that recreates the feeling of being trapped in a place that is a relentless assault on the senses.  Trailer

Whitney: Can I Be Me
(Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal)  Sensitive and intelligent biographical documentary that, despite its frank honesty about the dark aspects of Houston’s life, isn’t an episode of a bad celebrity news show but a celebration of the time that the world got to benefit from this powerhouse singer’s talent.  Broomfield’s fascinating film has a wealth of footage and brings back terrific memories of her best music, plus goes into Houston’s friendship with close friend Robyn Crawford in an intelligent manner that doesn’t apply the kind of tabloid sensationalism with which it has been most often been treated.  Trailer

Wind River
(Taylor Sheridan, United Kingdom/Canada/USA)   A hunter for the Fish and Wildlife Department in the snowy peaks of Wyoming discovers the body of a young girl who has died of exposure but clearly bears injuries that suggest she was running away from something traumatic.  Dark, moody and often terrifying, this is a gripping thriller whose rich characterizations enhance the fascinating and devastating mystery at its core.  Trailer

Wonder Woman
(Patty Jenkins, USA/China/Hong Kong)   World War I is raging outside Themyscira’s protective bubble and the crash landing of an American spy working for the British government piques Diana’s interest, drawing her into human civilization despite being warned that the world of men does not deserve her.  Jenkins keeps all aspects of the film under control and on an even keel, from the wonders of the opening sequence to the humour of the fish-out-of-water scenes (basically a delightful remake of Splash) through to the last, and frankly weakest, third act that focuses on fighting.  Trailer




Atomic Blonde
(David Leitch, Germany/Sweden/USA)  A British superspy is sent to divided Berlin on the eve of the wall coming down, charged with recovering that age-old (and quite frankly worn out) MacGuffin of spy movies, the list of covert agents.  The film lurches frequently when switching gears, Leitch has far more skill with directing fights than he does verbal interplay, but this matters very little thanks to the fetishism of period aesthetics and a near-pornographic usage of eighties music on the soundtrack.  Trailer

Beach Rats
(Eliza Hittman, USA)  A sullen Coney Island teenager spends a great deal of aimless time with his friends, hitting on girls, smoking up and staying out late, but when he’s alone he goes online to look up guys he can have sex with, almost all his liaisons taking place in furtive, dark places.  Hittman’s subtle, moody film has all the makings of something indulgent and preachy (like Oliver Hermanus’ Beauty, for example), but it unfolds with a natural rhythm that makes it feels like sympathetic observation instead of a depressing collection of teachable moments.  Trailer

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives
(Chris Perkel, USA)  A look at the life and career of one of the recording industry’s most influential executives, a man who entered the business with only a passing interest in the artform before revolutionizing it more than once thanks to his frequently spot-on instincts.  It soon becomes clear that this documentary is a puff piece on the man and not an incisive documentary examining him from all angles, but it has a lot of interesting information in bullet point summary form and the pleasure of a voyage through a music catalogue that never stops.  Trailer

(Heather White, Lynn Zhang, China/USA/Hong Kong)  Documentary examining the health crisis affecting millions of citizens in China, who work in factories that create most of the world’s electronics but are getting deadly diseases from the chemicals used in production.  If the film was blessed with a bigger budget it could have told us more about the larger picture in China as well as providing even more damning criticism of the very matter its title suggests, that people are dying for our pleasure thanks to our addiction to our phones.  Trailer

Girls Trip
(Malcolm D. Lee, USA)  Four women who were best friends and roommates in college don’t spend much time together anymore, so when the one who has become a super successful author and television host is invited to be the keynote speaker at the Essence festival, she sees it as an opportunity for a reunion.  The film is a wild ride that provides plenty of laughs from a cast of actors who have marvelous chemistry, their appeal more than making up for a generous running time and a final third that takes far too long to resolve itself.  Trailer

Happy Death Day
(Christopher Landon, USA)  Sorority girl Tree’s night ends with her being chased down a tunnel by a masked killer who stabs and kills her, then, much to her surprise, this is followed by her waking up in the boy’s dorm the next morning, only to relive the same day again. Delightfully deranged, this lightweight horror take on Groundhog Day benefits greatly from a star turn by  Jessica Rothe as the obnoxious but sympathetic heroine who has a multitude of Scream Queen moments all in one film (including in a truly funny montage sequence), all of which she pulls off with great style.  Trailer

Justice League
(Zack Snyder, USA/United Kingdom/Canada)   A depressed world mourns the loss of the Caped Crusader, his presence missed by a brooding Batman and that formidable Queen of Can-Do, Wonder Woman, just in time for a loud and surprisingly bland villain named Steppenwolf to come to Earth to collect three video game tokens and use them to…I guess destroy the Earth?  Co-screenwriter Joss Whedon’s contribution shows itself in painfully obtuse ways (the self-effacing geek who is always used for punchlines, honestly this again?), but for the most part this is an inoffensive ride that, unlike Whedon’s Avengers movies, never pretends to be more than it is.  Trailer

Logan Lucky
(Steven Soderbergh, USA)   A struggling construction worker needs an infusion of cash when his stern ex-wife informs him that she’s moving across state lines with their daughter, so he and his one-armed bartender brother decide to put together a team to rob a NASCAR race.  There are no end of fun twists and surprises in this Oceans 7-11 that are only easy to see coming because this sort of film always has fun twists and surprises, while the charming performances don’t feel like Hollywood stars patronizing the folks of the heartland despite their tacky accents and overly teased hair.  Trailer

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda
(Stephen Nomura Schible, Japan/USA)  After decades of creating music as a solo performer, with his band Yellow Magic Orchestra and as composer of numerous film scores, Sakamoto finds himself forced to bring his years of non-stop work to a sudden and difficult halt when he is diagnosed with throat cancer and the treatment requires him to rest.  This delicate documentary catches up with him throughout this period and observes as he finds the inertia painful and difficult, eventually going back to work perhaps a bit prematurely because music isn’t just a job for him, it’s a way of life and is his way of expressing his concern for the world.  Trailer

Thor: Ragnarok
(Taika Waititi, USA)  Thor is trying to avoid the oncoming Asgardian apocalypse but his plans are interrupted by the death of his father Odin and the reappearance of his Goddess of Destruction sister Hela, who scatters her brothers across the universe to a violent, inner city-looking planet run by an immature and indulgent tyrant.  Good action sequences, bright colours and the main hero’s very relieving haircut contribute to a film that looks great and moves even better; the only true disappointment is the hiring of someone of Cate Blanchett’s caliber, dressing her up as a fantasy Wicked Witch complete with attitude and powers, then barely giving her any juicy preening to do.  Trailer

The Villainess
(Byung-gil Jung, South Korea)  After a murder spree on the drug dealers who killed her husband, a woman wakes up in a secret police training cell where she is given plastic surgery to change her features, trained in all manner of arts (from killing to cooking) and told that she must serve as an assassin for hire for a period of time before she can be set free.  This one never feels like a tired old revenge tale, but the work it puts into being original and unpredictable ends up being somewhat overcooked, there’s only so many bends in the narrative’s road that can be turned before the surprises get tiring.  Trailer

The Zookeeper’s Wife
(Niki Caro, Czech Republic/United Kingdom/USA)  A Polish couple whose zoological garden is taken over by Nazi forces turn their property into a pig farm as a cover for helping Jewish friends escape.  Jessica Chastain gives an elegant, perfectly pitched performance as a woman terrified for herself and her family but unable to resist doing what she considers a natural human duty, her work the outstanding element of a film that has very few sequences that are particularly memorable.  Trailer




(Kathryn Bigelow, USA)  The draw of the auto industry promising employment to people coming from other parts of the country combined with the city’s racist residential laws has created a tension that bursts into riots in 1967, turning the Victoria Park neighbourhood into a war zone after the raid of an after-hours bar frequented by African American soldiers who have just returned home from the Vietnam War.  The violence is believable and, as usual, both Bigelow and writer Mark Boal concentrate on presenting dramatic situations without manipulative moralizing, but there’s a lack of personality to the whole thing that is likely the result of having too many characters we don’t get to know too well, and poor casting in those we do. Trailer

Ghost In The Shell
(Rupert Sanders, USA)  The melding of a human brain with an artificial body results in a moral human consciousness in an infallible warrior, who is given a laundry list of scientists to kill that takes her deeper into the secrets of her own past.  Adapted quite closely from the anime film of the same name, this beautifully shot science-fiction adventure is an easy but unimpressive indulgence, gorgeous in its every neon-hued frame but not exactly brimming with memorable conflicts.  Trailer

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
(Guy Ritchie, USA)  After the noble Uther Pendragon is betrayed and murdered by his evil brother Vortigem, young Arthur is whisked away to safety and raised in a brothel until reaching his manhood, quickly thrust beyond his humble place in life when he is forced to test his ability to wield the sword Excalibur.  As usual, Richie presents a no-girls-allowed-in-the-treehouse camaraderie between his male characters (along with posh accents for the villains and working-class tones for the noble rogues), but this surprisingly energetic and inventive action film is never light or fun enough to make up for the fact that it is completely unimportant.  Trailer

Our Souls At Night
(Ritesh Batra, USA)  A widow visits her widower neighbour and makes an unusual but not unwelcome proposal, that they sleep together platonically to beat the loneliness of their empty nests.  There’s a lovely sense of peace to this film when the two actors are left to their own devices, the chemistry that they have enjoyed over the last fifty years in no danger of dissipating, though the idea that two stars as glamorous as Jane Fonda and Robert Redford can be believed as plain folk midwesterners who never left their home town is absolutely ridiculous.  Trailer

Murder on the Orient Express
(Kenneth Branagh, Malta/USA)  Hercule Poirot, the fussy, arrogant detective who gladly agrees to the title of Best In The World without the slightest twitch of his ridiculously ornate moustache, accepts the invitation of the son of the director of the freshly minted Orient Express to take the train from Istanbul to northern Europe for a relaxing break, but it is barely the next morning when the crew find the body of a brash American hood stabbed multiple times in his own bed.  It’s beautifully photographed and moves at a snappy rhythm, but reworking the murderer’s motivations to amp up the story’s emotional weight feels like a forced (and in my mind unsuccessful) attempt to bring Agatha Christie’s harsh moralizing into modern, sensitive times.   Trailer

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
(Matt Tyrnauer, USA)  The publication of Full Service, a memoir in which Scotty Bowers revealed his participation in the sex lives of the stars of Hollywood’s golden era, is followed by a documentary in which Tyrnauer follows Bowers and his wife Pat Broad in the wake of his brief, late-life success.  Tyrnauer touches on a few of the salacious stories from Bowers’ book and doesn’t go much beyond its content, neither contending with the possibility that none of it is true or really getting deep in the weeds of why it would be okay if it was.  TIFF: 2017. Trailer

Super Dark Times
(Kevin Phillips, USA)  Zack and Josh are best friends who join schoolmates Daryl and Charlie on an afternoon in the woods near their upstate New York town, bringing along a Japanese sword taken from Josh’s basement for the purpose of having fun slicing milk cartons, but things quickly go south.  Atmospheric and harsh, this low-key horror film will be a natural fit for lovers of cult cinema, but any style or humour is suppressed so hard in the name of naturalism that the film feels overwhelmed by its perpetual sense of dread.  Trailer

A Very Sordid Wedding
(Del Shores, USA)  Follow-up to Shores’ plays, the 2000 cult hit film Sordid Lives and the 2008 television series of the same name catches up with LaVonda, Sissy and Noleta becoming increasingly alarmed by the anti-equality sentiment being shown by their fellow citizens, supporting LaVonda’s son when he decides to marry his partner in their Texas town. Charming, breezy and full of plenty of laugh out loud humour, Shores’ political message preaches to the already converted in a manner that’s too on-the-nose and the film works best when it’s not trying to be important.  Trailer

Wonder Wheel
(Woody Allen, USA)  While all of New York gathers in crowds on the beach in 1950s Coney Island underneath bright yellow umbrellas or enjoys the distractions of roller coasters and fun houses, employees of the amusement park live in meager dwellings adjacent to the park’s rides.  The many strands of the plot feel awkwardly compiled from earlier Allen movies, but it’s interesting that his increasing penchant for period films has resulted in weaker narratives but increased visual strength, with Vittorio Storaro’s dazzling camerawork showing the park’s bright colours constantly intruding on the characters’ personal spaces in the most beautiful ways.  Trailer

The Wound
(John Trengove, South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France)  A young man is among the group of initiates undergoing the controversial Xhosa circumcision ritual known as ulwaluko, there because his father hopes that the elders will make a man out of him, though he has no personal conflicts with his sexuality or his love for his best friend.  A somewhat tiresome pace and lack of humour mar what is otherwise a fascinating and rare look into a culture that exists both in opposition and in accordance to modern-day prejudices, offering a frank depiction of rituals and sexual identities that have, not surprisingly, landed the film and its director in plenty of hot water at home.  Trailer




(Laura Schroeder, Luxembourg/Belgium/France)  Catherine has returned to Luxembourg after having been in Switzerland for a decade, and decides to look up her daughter Alba who has been raised in the meantime by her grandmother Elizabeth.  While this sometimes poignant drama avoids a lot of the typical moments of melodrama that, in other films, feel like they are exploiting an unbalanced character for the sake of excitement, there’s no escaping the fact that Schroeder hasn’t managed to put a new spin on a very old idea.  Trailer

Before We Vanish
Sanpo suru shinryakusha
(Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)   Three aliens come to Earth and take over human bodies, sent here on a scouting mission to get to know the species they are planning to eventually annihilate, one of them taking over the life of a young man with Alzheimer’s disease whose wife believes his stories about being a stranger from another planet are symptoms of his illness.  Clever as the story sounds, it contains very little insight or emphasis on interesting characters, which are usually essential elements of science-fiction films that don’t rely on digital effects or artificially created environments.  Trailer

Dating My Mother
(Mike Roma, USA)  Danny lives in New Jersey with his widowed mother Joan, having moved back in with her after his attempt to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood has failed, but when she decides to open an online dating account and meets a lovely man, her success with this venture highlights Danny’s disappointment with his own career and love life.  Told with sympathy and care, this film has a great cast (perked up by a supporting performance by a luminous Kathy Najimy) and an appealing setting, but it lacks substance, every time the characters have an argument about anything serious the film never clues in to the fact that there might be something underneath their rhetoric about pot-smoking or whether or not true love is a realistic goal.  Trailer

Everything Is Free
(Brian Jordan Alvarez, USA)  An American ex-patriate living in his parents’ house in Cartagena, Colombia hosts the visit of a college friend and his mentally unstable brother, with whom the host falls in love.  The film begins with a confidently even tone between good natured humour and sexy eroticism that gets out of control with a conclusion that veers into uncomfortable melodrama, it feels as if only part of it was thoroughly considered before being rushed to the finish.  Trailer

Fifty Shades Darker
(James Foley, USA/China)  Now working her dream job in publishing as assistant to a handsome editor, Anastasia is enjoying her independence until the billionaire sadist she let go at the end of the last film shows up and begs her to come back.  It’s as ridiculous as it was the first time around, but at least the stars have better chemistry and the sex scenes generate a little more heat, with Dakota Johnson particularly charming in a performance that puts across a great deal of sincerity.  Trailer

How To Talk To Girls At Parties
(John Cameron Mitchell, United Kingdom/USA)  Three teenaged boys hit the town looking for the fun that London’s late seventies punk scene promises, but get lost and take refuge at a house party in which strange people in bright plastic clothing indulge in cultish behaviour, who turn out to be aliens visiting earth.   Mitchell tries mixing the heady science-fiction elements of the kind that Neil Gaiman, upon whose story this is based, normally provides with a rebellious, Liquid Sky-type alien-as-rebellious-art-metaphor and the result is, like its cast, uneven, its light and inventive tone giving way to something heavy in the last third that it hasn’t earned.  Trailer

John Wick: Chapter 2
(Chad Stahelski, USA/Hong Kong)  Picking up almost immediately after the end of the exciting first chapter, this second adventure in the life of killing machine John Wick has him try for retirement before an ambitious gangster presents him with a job that he refuses, despite owing the man a favour, and the retribution for his refusal is severe.  The existence of a sequel is understandable considering that the first movie was a masterpiece and a huge hit, but this follow-up doesn’t benefit from the emotional setup that led the previous entry to a very juicy exploration of revenge, though the quality of action and gorgeous neon cinematography are still at at top-tier quality.  Trailer

(Daniel Espinosa, USA)  The crew aboard an international space station orbiting Earth capture a probe returning from Mars, carrying samples that could possibly answer the question of whether or not there is life on the red planet but which turn out to be hostile in nature.  Basically a remake of Alien with much less directorial style, this film wastes a talented cast and some pretty nifty visual effects in a humorless ninety minutes of murder by numbers.  Trailer

Marvin ou la belle éducation, Reinventing Marvin
(Anne Fontaine, France) Marvin recalls growing up sensitive in a family of tough strivers, now a young adult in drama school who is working on creating a one-man show in which he describes his coming of age.   The adult character’s need to tell his story doesn’t make much sense, Marvin always seems anxious to be left alone and, from the little we see of his final piece, it’s impossible to believe that his play would cause as much of a stir as it does, but Isabelle Huppert’s cameo as herself is fun and the script at least goes for a kind of comforting conclusion after indulging (without processing) so much pain.  Trailer

The Mummy
(Alex Kurtzman, USA)  Roguish army men and relic hunters find an Egyptian burial site in modern day Iraq (and all the complications that that entails) and, along with a rival archaeologist (and spurned woman, that old trope) awaken a centuries-old mummy who has her sights trained on human sacrifice. This is a reboot that no one needed, never scary and not particularly smart, but easy enough to sit through.   Trailer

Nobody’s Watching
Nadie nos mira
(Julia Solomonoff, Argentina/Spain/Colombia/Brazil/USA)  An actor lives in New York City after having left a relatively high profile career in Buenos Aires, keeping afloat by waiting tables, managing an Airbnb and babysitting for a compatriot who is married to a wealthy Frenchman, but his optimism is on an alarming decline as the challenges get tougher.  It’s obvious that the character refuses to face his own failures in love and work but we’re never sure if it’s because he’s passionate and inspired about an impossible goal or if it’s insecurity, or even an actual personality disorder that makes him not want others to see what he lacks in this humorless, grim movie.  Trailer

(Erlingur Thoroddsen, Iceland/USA)    A distressing call in the middle of the night from his ex-boyfriend sends Gunnar out to Einar’s remote country home where they try to heal the pain of their separation, but are interrupted by mysterious sounds  in the middle of the night.  Good acting and potent atmosphere are a plus but the details are obscure rather than ominous, and the end result is not rewarding.  Trailer

(Jonathan Levine, USA)  A woman invites overprotective mother to take the unclaimed ticket to Ecuador she was supposed to go on with her now ex-boyfriend, but a handsome stranger at their destination resort lands the ladies in the arms of kidnappers who hold them for ransom.   The combination of two very funny women and a lighthearted plot straight out of the Concept Comedy vault provides for a fair number of laughs and an overall innocuous feel, though the unplanned humour that results from Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn interacting with each other in what feel like improvised scenes is far more successful than writer Katie Dippold’s poorly punched-out screenplay.   Trailer




Alien: Covenant
(Ridley Scott, USA/United Kingdom/Australia/New Zealand/Canada)  We move ten years past the events of Prometheus and find ourselves aboard the Covenant, a vessel carrying colonists to a distant planet where they will create a new civilization, but circumstances interrupt their voyage and force a landing on an unknown planet that turns out to possess a very dark secret.  Just about every step of this dull and passionless film is a rehashing of previous films in the series told with not a bit of irony, the human crew members never behave the least bit rationally or bravely, and most surprising is the flimsy quality of the visual effects, the few appearances of the alien are as disappointing as a number of environment designs that also backfire.  Trailer

Crooked House
(Gilles Paquet-Brenner, United Kingdom/USA)  A private investigator is visited by an ex-lover who asks him to look into her grandfather’s death, bringing him to a sprawling estate in the British countryside where the deceased lived with his children and his Vegas showgirl second wife.  A number of the actors are giving it their all and the production values are lovely, but the central tension between Max Irons and Stefanie Martini, colleagues who are trying not to be lovers, isn’t really there and was likely something this dull Agatha Christie adaptation was hoping to rely on for dramatic fuel.  Trailer

The Dark Tower
(Nikolaj Arcel, USA)  A New York pre-teen is plagued by terrible dreams that make their way into his drawings, of a grizzled gunslinger, a magically-abled man in black, and the building of the title which, if destroyed, would allow for the monsters and demons that reside beyond our known universe free reign to cause trouble.  A simple, streamlined plot is somehow gleaned from seven novels by Stephen King into a flimsy and uneventful movie, with relationships that have no effect and a quest that doesn’t really reach a climax.  Trailer

The Hitman’s Bodyguard
(Patrick Hughes, USA/Hong Kong/Bulgaria/Netherlands/Canada/United Kingdom/France)  A high stakes bodyguard’s career is destroyed when a Japanese arms dealer dies on his watch and he is now doing crummy assignments in obscurity, getting the opportunity to reclaim his glory when a Belarusian tyrant is on trial at The Hague for human rights violations and only a skilled hitman can secure a conviction.  Hughes doesn’t try too hard to get anything significant out of the situation, focusing on a series of loud and expensive action sequences that are all perfectly well achieved, but it plays like it’s for kids while featuring very gory violence and ripe language, which makes it feel either like a transgressive family film or a thriller for adults with no effort made at a memorable plot.  Trailer

The Little Hours
(Jeff Baena, Canada/USA)  A 14th century convent has all manner of madness occurring behind its stone walls, and its ornery nuns only increase their wanton behaviour when a handsome young servant pretending to be mute shows up, himself on the run from the nobleman whose wife he slept with.  Baena has adapted one of the tales from Bococcio’s Decameron and gives it modern-sounding dialogue, likely aiming to tell us that humans have always been ambivalent about who they want to be versus how they actually behave, but it’s rarely actually funny and focuses too much on Alison Brie and Dave Franco’s characters, a real-life couple that has zero chemistry on screen.  Trailer

Marjorie Prime
(Michael Almereyda, USA)  An elderly woman succumbing to dementia has taken advantage of a near-future technology, recreating her deceased husband as a hologram to keep her company despite the misgivings of her daughter.  Beautiful cinematography and production design suggest things to come on a low budget and the cast is sturdy, but the contemplative, seemingly endless dialogue was far more potent on stage and feels quite stilted on film.  Trailer

The Only Living Boy In New York
(Marc Webb, USA)  A recent college graduate is as conflicted about his choice of future employment as he is frustrated by the crush he has on his best friend, his mental state further complicated by learning that his father is cheating on his mentally ill mother with a young, beautiful woman. Beautifully photographed and featuring a stellar cast, the best of them Pierce Brosnan as the elegant gentleman twisting his morality to suit himself, this film meanders in search of tension and never finds it, dragged down by poor dialogue and a third-act twist that, while nothing short of preposterous, is also where the film finally announces what it’s actually about.  Trailer

(Cory Finley, USA)  Two girls in an affluent Connecticut suburb get together for what the darker and more cynical of the two calls a “play date”, cooking up a scheme to get rid of her stepfather before vacillating back and forth between being committed to the task, or giving in to an existential feeling of pointlessness that is the curse of their hyper-conscious generation.  A spare but curious style of production design is a plus in this cool and quirky drama (imagine if Wes Anderson indulged all his resentments), but despite exceptional performances from the leads, there is far too little propulsion and the film lacks tension.  Trailer

Where Is Kyra?
(Andrew Dosunmu, United Kingdom/USA)  Taking care of her aging mother in their Brooklyn apartment, a woman is devastated by her sudden death before being plunged into the harsh reality of her own mounting debts, deciding on a drastic solution to her problems while beginning a muted romance with a neighbour in her building.  Throughout the film are too many poorly lit scenes that smother the entire operation in irritating obscurity, it becomes quickly apparent that Dosunmu only has one note to strike, but Michelle Pfeiffer, in a rare performance in a small independent film, handles herself brilliantly.  Trailer




Beatriz At Dinner
(Miguel Arteta, USA)  A masseuse and healer is invited to stay the night at a client’s mansion when her car won’t start, meeting a group of rich, entitled guests when she joins her hosts’ dinner party and is placed in a very awkward situation.  Salma Hayek gives a perpetually intelligent and elegant performance despite the fact that screenwriter Mike White has almost as much disdain for her as he does his villainous one-percenters (her character specializes in healing arts that have no actual medical value), while John Lithgow gives a lot of grace to a character who is less a person than a series of qualities assembled from all your stupidest friends’ Facebook posts.  Trailer

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge
(Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg, USA)  The son of Will Turner is devastated by his father’s being doomed to roam the seas forever on the enchanted Flying Dutchman and is desperate to break the curse, going in search of Poseidon’s Trident despite having been warned that it is a myth that does not exist.  Johnny Depp’s performance as Captain Jack Sparrow has degraded into merely a collection of double takes and hip-swings this many sequels in, while the visual effects and set design are merely serviceable.  Trailer

(F. Javier Gutierrez, USA)  A woman looking for her missing boyfriend walks into a strange cult experiment that causes her visions full of clues that suggest she is linked to a deeper mystery.  What should be a fun Nancy Drew caper with a horror film upgrade is a silly collection of loud sound cues and overwrought dialogue that is completely disrespectful to its juicy situations, in favour of the least interesting aspect of the old Restless Ghost Because Of The Past narrative.  Trailer

The Snowman
(Tomas Alfredson, United Kingdom/USA/China/Sweden)  Women are vanishing all over the city of Oslo, and it’s a burned-out alcoholic cop who is responsible for uncovering the reason for their disappearances while dealing with the turmoil of his personal life with his ex-girlfriend and her son.  This scatterbrained thriller lacks thrills thanks to a mess of a screenplay that never gets a hold of its plot, there is no sense of process in which the clues mount to the eventual finale, none of the details contribute to unveiling the mystery and the eventual identity of the killer is basically a solution that drops out of the sky. Trailer




(Seth Gordon, USA)  A lifeguard unit works on a California beach whose dangerous riptides make it necessary to be in Olympic-level shape to keep up with the near-fatalities that they are constantly dealing with, their leader angry when he is forced to take on a Ryan Lochte-esque Olympic medalist who has a bad attitude and a love of the indulgent life.  Somewhere between the green light and the big screen everything has gone wrong, for this painfully unfunny and overlong misfire fails miserably and barely provides enough laughs to justify its running time or its unnecessarily complicated, yet simultaneously simple, plot.  Trailer

The Circle
(James Ponsoldt, United Arab Emirates/USA)  A new recruit at a Googlesque communications company is blown away by the work environment and overwhelmed by the perks, quickly impressing the company’s leader and coming up with an innovative tool for constant world surveillance that turns out to be dangerous.   Anyone with at least an ounce of intelligence knows that movies about places that seem too good to be true always turn out to be so, but here the protagonist’s inability to see through the Disney-like cheer of the place or the homey charm being doled out by her superiors makes her difficult to defend, it’s either the best movie of 1995 or the worst episode of Black Mirror ever made.  Trailer

Elijah’s Ashes
(Ryan Barton-Grimley, USA)  A young advertising executive is called home when he learns of the death of his father, learning that he and his homophobic brother have been left their father’s house on condition that they fulfill the deceased man’s desire to be driven to his first wife’s plot in California and buried next to her.  Story details that make little sense are as frustrating as the uneven performances in a film whose one main character is unnervingly dull (Ari Schneider for the most part refuses to allow any expression to come through either his face and voice) and whose other is poorly defined (we’re supposed to hate Barton-Grimley as an ignorant villain but he behaves more like a character in an Owen Wilson comedy).  Trailer

(Dean Devlin, USA)  A complex satellite system surrounding our planet that controls the weather and prevents the devastating events that have resulted from climate change begins to malfunction and the scientist who created it is sent up into the international space station to figure out the problem.  You should be able to suspend your disbelief and allow this to be fun, junky science-fiction, but Devlin, formerly co-writer on similar films by Roland Emmerich, seems to think he is making The Right Stuff and not When Worlds Collide, and the bad performances by normally better actors give ample evidence of this.  Trailer

Kept Boy
(George Bamber, USA)  Dennis has been kept in a luxurious lifestyle by television producer Farley for more than a decade, but when Farleigh starts dropping hints that Dennis should hit the gym more often, then tells him to get a job, our young hero worries that he is being ousted out of his comfortable position in favour of the hotter, younger pool boy.  Robert Rodi’s delightful novel about a young man who takes his sugar daddy on an adventure to Greece and ends up on a journey towards his own self worth is turned into a dour and miserable romantic melodrama, whose appealing cast struggles to make something cohesive out of a drab screenplay (and the trip is now an isolated resort, with far fewer characters, in Colombia).  Trailer

Mrs. Hyde
Madame Hyde
(Serge Bozon, France/Belgium)  A quirky physics teacher who usually can’t keep her classroom under control tinkers with her retro-looking toys in her personal laboratory, which electrocute her and turn her into a blazing roman candle in the middle of the night, becoming connected with the underprivileged kids who live in the giant apartment complexes just beyond her comfortable suburb.  Flimsy and confused, this oddball comedy suggests something by its titular reference to the Robert Louis Stevenson story, the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde of the story is the world that the film takes place in, but the messages about class and race division in French society get lost in endless scenes of technobabble.  Trailer

Rough Night
(Lucia Aniello, USA)  Four women who have been best friends since college fly to Miami for a political hopeful’s last weekend of fun before marriage, which gets complicated when a skeezy couple want them to fulfill their swinger fantasies and a hustler they hire to entertain them dies in a freak accident.  The whole thing is, surprisingly, an unbelievable fail, Aniello wisely sees the value in a female Hangover but can’t manage to inject any irony into the dead-on-the-nose cliches, her direction particularly lacking in spontaneity.  Trailer

Something Like Summer
(David Berry, USA)  Ben is bullied in high school for being gay but has a crush on the school’s star athlete Tim, then in adulthood finds love with someone new and Tim manages to keep popping back into his life in increasingly worrisome and dangerous ways. This unholy mess of a movie suffers from bad acting, confused direction and a fully illogical screenplay, adapting the popular graphic novel by Jay Bell into something amateurish and embarrassing. Trailer

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
(Luc Besson, France/China/Belgium/Germany/United Arab Emirates/USA/United Kingdom/Canada)  Intergalactic security officers are assigned to retrieve a “converter”, a little creature that can be fed any substance and replicate it in massive quantities, which takes them across the universe away from greedy humans and towards a dying, peaceful alien race.  A picaresque narrative and a bubbly look should be enough to guarantee empty-headed fun, but Besson does not have a history of being light-hearted enough to understand when he is making a guilty pleasure, and the whole thing lacks energy or bounce.   Trailer




Cherry Pop
(Assaad Yacoub, USA)  The Cherry Pop nightclub’s specialty is getting someone new to perform for the first time, but the boy who going to be initiated on this particular evening has trouble finding his way to the stage when the other queens who perform there, who are all as catty you love them to be, treat him like a leper when they find out that he’s got a girl waiting for him at home and not a man. There are a few genuine laughs thanks to the cast of mostly Drag Race alumnae, but it’s amazing how out of touch this film is with the sense of vibrancy that accompanies the world of drag performance.  Trailer




Brotherly Love
(Anthony J. Caruso, USA)  A man is conflicted about his decision to become a monk with a rather progressive order that doesn’t mind that he’s gay but wishes he would tone down the partying, and accepts an offer to spend the summer volunteering at an AIDS hospice where he meets a handsome landscaper with whom he falls in love.  Caruso’s flat and unintelligible performance makes it impossible to see any inner life to the character, he has the same flippant response to every situation be it serious or light.  Trailer


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