Films Of 2019



  1. 1917
    BBBBB  (Sam Mendes, United Kingdom/USA)  Two soldiers who are three years into the exhausting battle of World War I are informed by their commanding officer that they must undertake a dangerous mission, crossing No Man’s Land into German-controlled territory to warn another unit that they are about to march into a trap.  Filmed in what has been, through excellent digital blending, rendered as one long continuous take, this is a smoothly photographed voyage across a barren terrain whose efficient plotting strips every moment down to its essence (you either survive or you don’t), orienting its movement in a single direction as the characters push forward to their goal.  Oscars:  Best Cinematography; Best Visual Effects; Best Sound Mixing; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director (Sam Mendes); Best Original Screenplay; Best Makeup and Hairstyling; Best Production Design; Best Sound Editing; Best Original Score. Trailer

  2. The Lighthouse
    BBBBB  (Robert Eggers, Canada/USA)  A young man has come to work as a “wickie” for a veteran lighthouse-keeper, relegated to the more arduous tasks of moving rocks and mud through pouring rain, but a storm isolates the two men and what was at first friendly bickering becomes outright conflict not helped by the younger man’s nocturnal visions of screaming sirens and sea serpents. Every element is brought to a perfect boiling point in this masterful experience by Eggers, who takes inspiration from Herman Melville but plugs his peaceful melancholy into an electrical socket, indulging in experimentation that dovetails perfectly with his tangible narrative.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Cinematography. TIFF:  2019

  3. Parasite
    BBBBB  (Bong Joon-Ho, South Korea)  The son of a family of four strivers takes over as private tutor to the daughter of a wealthy family, bringing his sister and parents into their home in increasingly dark and manipulative ways until the tables are turned on them with a surprise revelation.  Our belief that money can replace our anxieties about class turns out to be our own delusion, and this masterful film’s only flaw is that Bong spells this message out a bit too clearly in the very violent climax, recalling his straightforward and almost pedantic Snowpiercer and defying the visual and narrative originality that the movie has been enjoying for so long.  Oscars:  Best Picture; Best Director (Bong Joon-Ho); Best Original Screenplay; Best International Feature Film; Nominations:  Best Production Design; Best Film Editing. Cannes:  Palme D’Or. TIFF:  2019. Trailer

  4. Collective
    BBBBB  (Alexander Nanau, Romania/Luxembourg/Germany)  A fire in a Bucharest nightclub in 2015 leads to political controversy over the lack of safety precautions at the venue, before the deaths of patients from non-life-threatening burns prompts an investigation into hospital practices that then sparks a national scandal over government corruption.  This film is a fascinating jump down a rabbit hole that takes on a flavour of black comedy with its increasingly ridiculous series of revelations, managing to maintain a cynical irony without ever undercutting the bravery of the investigators and doctors who are determined to tell the truth on camera.  Oscar Nominations:  Best International Feature Film; Best Documentary Feature.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

  5. The Irishman
    BBBBB  (Martin Scorsese, USA)   An Irish-American teamster turned hit man for the mob recalls his experiences from the perspective of his old age, including his crossing paths with labour organizer and working class superstar Jimmy Hoffa, whose fate is at the centre of his picaresque tale.  Scorsese returns to his familiar realm of tough guy tales for what is probably his best foray into gangland yet, leaving behind the self-aware stylistics of Casino and focusing solely on riveting, steady storytelling, his most critical look at the kind of obsession with maleness that alienates the protagonists from their supporting women.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Al Pacino); Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci); Best Director (Martin Scorsese); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Visual Effects; Best Production Design; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing.  Trailer

  6. Little Women
    BBBBB  (Greta Gerwig, USA)  Aspiring writer Jo March shows up in New York City and meets a handsome, shy professor who encourages her to find her true authorial voice, flashing back to her younger years growing up with sisters Meg, Amy and Beth, and their loving Marmee, in diminished circumstances in Civil War-era New England.  Gerwig shakes up earlier cinematic adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved story by restructuring the familiar picaresque narrative as memories in the author’s mind, turning it into an examination of the development of artist, and doing so without removing any of the warmth or rich sentimentality of the beloved earlier versions.  Oscar:  Best Costume Design; Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan); Best Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Score. Trailer

  7. Pain And Glory
    Dolor y Gloria
    BBBB.5  (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)  An Almodovar-esque filmmaker (complete with spiky hair) has reached his sixties saddled with a pile of physical and mental health problems, reuniting with an actor from his past and flashing back to scenes from his childhood involving his concerned and harried mother. Watching Almodovar’s films become increasingly elegant and precise has been one of the great pleasures of following his career, here he strips away the melodramatic juiciness of films like All About My Mother and lays his concerns bare, or at least as bare as this perpetually creative director can.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Actor (Antonio Banderas); Best International Feature Film. Cannes:  Best Actor (Antonio Banderas). TIFF:  2019. Trailer

  8. Portrait of a Lady On Fire
    Portrait de la jeune fille en feu
    BBBB.5  (Céline Sciamma, France)  An art teacher flashes back to the experience that inspired a painting that captures her students’ attention, a trip to an isolated island where she was hired to paint the portrait of a woman promised in marriage to a Milanese nobleman, with whom she fell in love.  Sciamma’s elegant period piece is a visually stunning effort whose painterly images are the direct expression of her character’s emotions, it recalls Rohmer’s Marquise of O in its marrying sumptuous iconography with the deeply felt but not always verbally expressed longings of its players.   Cannes:  Best Screenplay.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

  9. Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood
    BBBB.5  (Quentin Tarantino, USA/United Kingdom/China)  An aging star whose best days on a western television series are behind him is driven around by his ego-boosting best friend while, next door, Roman Polanski has moved in with his beautiful actress wife Sharon Tate, and the Manson Family makes trouble at Spahn Ranch.  Tarantino sets up an elaborate story involving his fictional characters that switches the train of history onto a different track, and his seemingly effortless command of plot structure delivers a collection of vignettes that do this brilliantly.   Oscars:  Best Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt); Best Production Design; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio); Best Director (Quentin Tarantino); Best Original Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing. Cannes:  In Competition. Trailer

  10. Sound Of Metal
    BBBB.5  (Darius Marder, USA)  A heavy metal drummer who tours the country in his RV with his girlfriend/lead singer plays to enthusiastic fans in clubs, experiencing sudden, complete hearing loss that forces him to learn to not only cope with a disability, but possibly thrive with a new identity.  As movies about people whose lives are pushed in a whole new direction against their will go, this one accomplishes the task with the most grace, intelligence and poignancy since John Sayles’s Passion Fish, with Riz Ahmed’s sensitive portrayal of the lead character making for deeply felt viewing.   Oscars Best Film Editing, Best Sound; Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Riz Ahmed), Best Supporting Actor (Paul Raci), Best Original Screenplay. TIFF: 2019. Trailer


    Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
    Honour Roll: Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari; Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse; Adam Driver, Marriage Story; Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
    Awkwafina, The Farewell
    Honour Roll: Lupita Nyong’o, Us; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women; Charlize Theron, Bombshell; Yeo-jeong Jo, Parasite
    Brad Pitt, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
    Honour Roll: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood; Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes; Joe Pesci, The Irishman; Wesley Snipes, Dolemite Is My Name
    Laura Dern, Marriage Story/Little Women
    Honour Roll: Annette Bening, The Report; So-dam Park, Parasite; Florence Pugh, Little Women; Shuzhen Zhao, The Farewell
    Sam Mendes, 1917
    Honour Roll: Joon-ho Bong, Parasite; Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse; Greta Gerwig, Little Women; Martin Scorsese, The Irishman




Ad Astra
BBB.5  (James Gray, China/USA)   In a not-too-distant future where humans are operating transfer stations on the moon (complete with Subway franchises), an astronaut is tasked with travelling to Mars to help a colonization project by determining if a series of electrical storms might be connected to his father’s disappearance.   Gray creates a gorgeous visual landscape across which his intimate drama can play, the scientific illiteracy matters little when compensated for by the poetic visual imagination he applies to this muted adventure, but the relationship at the heart of the story isn’t emotionally grounded and you find yourself only intellectually sympathetic with its stakes.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Sound Mixing. Venice:  In Competition. Trailer

Avengers: Endgame
BBB.5  (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, USA)  After ending the previous film by collecting all six Cracker Jack prizes and using them to wipe out half the population of planet Earth, evil Thanos has flown off to his retirement planet and the remaining Avengers need to figure out their next plan of action.  The exuberance that kept the last one so fun is weighed down by too much emphasis on dark drama and brooding, while actors who are forced to get into peak physical shape have their characters’ energies deadened by this genre’s complete terror of human sexuality (even Ingmar Bergman’s ruminations on morality and death allowed his characters the pleasure of a little nookie every once in a while).  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects Trailer

American Factory
BBBB  (Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, USA)  Two years after GM closes an auto plant in Dayton, Ohio and puts thousands of people out of work, the Chinese auto glass manufacturing company Fuyao opens a factory on the same site and saves the place from becoming a ghost town, but the culture clash provides as many delightful opportunities as it draws concern.  This riveting film tears through all polite double-speak and presents its case with shocking frankness while keeping its bias at a minimum: it would be easy to demonize the invading Chinese labour force as taking advantage of desperate people in desperate circumstances, but the filmmakers focus on the missed opportunity of two different cultures who probably mean to find the middle of the road but very likely can’t. Academy Award:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
BBBB  (Marielle Heller, China/USA)  A reporter for Esquire magazine, whose penchant for taking apart famous egos has given him a negative reputation, is assigned to do a four hundred-word profile on famed children’s television show host Fred Rogers, his gentle sincerity influencing the journalist to deal with his own family discord.  The convenience of the author’s plot fitting into Rogers’ mission to have us all feel our feelings without trying to figure them out creates a ripe opportunity for the worst kind of manipulative nonsense, but with a sturdy script supporting a first-rate cast and intelligent direction by Heller guiding them all, the film is instead a tribute and an evocation of the subject’s own television program.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hanks).  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Better Days
Shaonian de ni
BB.5  (Derek Tsang, China/Hong Kong) A high school student becomes the target of bullies and befriends a streetwise young man after saving him from being beaten up by a gang, and with him forms a pact to have each other’s backs as they navigate a cruel and unsympathetic world.  The melodrama begins strong and rich in this shamelessly manipulative film, the instant appeal of Dongyu Zhou’s cleverness and vulnerability in the lead role draw you in to caring about her fate, but it soon becomes a dull series of repetitive scenes of its main character being degraded while remaining stoic in her determination to reach her goals.  Oscar Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film. Trailer

BB.5  (Jay Roach, USA/Canada)  Kayla lands her dream job at Fox News and attempts to work her way up, while the true-life sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Gretchen Carlson against CEO Roger Ailes puts Megyn Kelly into a quandary about whether or not she should do the same.  Roach abandons his usual irreverence as if terrified of diminishing the importance of the subject matter by applying any sarcasm to these specific figures, ignoring the irony that the women who scored such a huge liberal-style victory against ages-old patriarchal sexism are themselves quite conservative and remain so, and that, while Ailes and Bill O’Reilly got more in severance pay than their victims got in damages, Kelly got even more from NBC after championing blackface a few years later.  Oscar:  Best Makeup; Nominations:  Best Actress (Charlize Theron); Best Supporting Actress (Margot Robbie). Trailer

BB  (Roxann Dawson, USA)    Three friends fall through a frozen lake and two are rescued relatively quickly, while the third remains submerged and, after finally being recovered, fights for his life in a hospital bed while his mother relies on her belief in God to pull him through his ordeal.  This entry in the genre of big-budget Christian-themed films really works hard to stretch one true-life incident over a two hour film, in place of dramatic twists we have a series of ridiculous deus ex machinas that show the Christian God to be a cosmic cash machine, the mother throws out a prayer and hospital machines immediately start pinging with the positive response.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song (“I’ll Stand By You”).  Trailer

The Cave
BBBB.5  (Feras Fayyad, Denmark/Germany/France/United Kingdom/USA/Qatar/Syria)  With the city surrounded by Russian-supported Syrian military, the people of Ghouta have gone underground, creating a series of tunnels and pathways mostly taken up by an underfunded and meagrely stocked hospital run by doctors living separately from their families.  Fayyad, who was not permitted into the city and directed his cinematographers remotely, shoots and edits the film like a Hollywood thriller and some of it feels intentionally manipulative, as if he was worried that his previous efforts covering the Civil War were not getting through to an apathetic audience, but the moments that count are the moments that work, namely the power of seeing young people suffering so much needless harm, and the generous and fascinating personalities taking care of them.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Corpus Christi
Boze Cialo
BBB.5  (Jan Komasa, Poland)  Showing up in a small town to work at a saw mill as part of his parole, a young man is mistaken for the new village priest and goes along with the error, delivering Sunday sermons to the community while still drinking beer with the local kids before a genuine spiritual calling sees him addressing a past scandal that has torn the community apart.  Filmed in a stark, drab style that emphasizes lead actor Bartosz Bielenia’s lightning-blue eyes against colourless backdrops, this moody combination of Chocolat and Sister Act sometimes relies too much on powerful visuals and doesn’t always back them up with saturating content; where we arrive in the film’s rather overdue conclusion is difficult to understand.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Edge of Democracy
BBBB.5  (Petra Costa, Brazil)  Costa weaves her own biographical timeline into this fascinating exploration of the last thirty-odd years of Brazil’s political history, having been born around the time that a lengthy dictatorship ended and the country began conducting democratic elections, seeing the careers of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff lead to a disturbing rise in popularity of right-wing nationalism.  Costa’s languid voice-over narration reveals her to have little hope for a permanent improvement in the cyclical nature of her country’s trends: democracy only works when the rich are afraid, she quotes a Greek philosopher, and in a country where most industries are run by old and powerful families, that fear is not likely to last long. Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature. Trailer

For Sama
BBBB  (Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts, United Kingdom/Syria/USA)  Al-Kateab narrates a story of meeting and falling in love with her husband, a doctor helping injured citizens at his Aleppo hospital where they are in danger of being bombed every day, recording their experiences of daily survival while waiting for the birth of their own child, to whom she is addressing her tale.  Rarely do films give you as good an example of the personal as political, the footage is raw and extremely painful but exceptionally powerful, packing a great deal of story information into a compact ninety minutes that is edited to perfection.   Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

Ford v Ferrari
BBBB.5  (James Mangold, USA/France)   Ford Motors attempts to boost the company’s sagging sales and poor corporate reputation by participating in the world of sports car racing, tasking former driver turned car designer and salesman Carroll Shelby to create the machine that will be the company’s winner at Le Mans, with his temperamental best buddy Ken Miles at the wheel.  This exciting, gorgeously photographed biopic presents some of the best racing scenes ever displayed on film, Mangold puts you behind the steering wheel and delivers a good sense of the speed that these guys travel at without ever letting it feel disorienting, and he gets just as much mileage out of the chemistry between the two leads, whose good-natured friendship is endlessly watchable.  Oscars:  Best Best Film Editing; Best Sound Editing; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Sound Mixing. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Frozen II
BBB  (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, USA)  We return to Arendelle and the court of Queen Elsa, who hears a disembodied singing voice calling her at night, inspiring her and her royal gang to trek beyond their familiar surroundings and go in search of the solution to an impending natural disaster. Well meaning and sweet, populated with another host of reasonably tuneful but not unforgettable songs, this film plays its themes up harder than it does any twists of the plot, aiming for its audience’s approval without caring about actually entertaining anyone.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Song (“Into The Unknown”). Trailer

BB.5  (Kasi Lemmons, USA)  Harriet Tubman, a slave in mid-nineteenth century Maryland, decides to escape to freedom in Philadelphia and does so despite the great hardship of her journey, then risks her newfound freedom travelling up and down the coast line escorting slaves to the city of brotherly love.  Tubman’s story is presented with as much unironic reverence and unimaginative direction as the clunkiest true-life dramas out there, the metaphysical miracle of her communications with God comes off painfully twee and Cynthia Erivo can do little with a one-note role.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Cynthia Erivo); Best Original Song (“Stand Up”).  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

BBBB.5  (Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov,Republic Of North Macedonia)  Hatidze Muratova lives in a tiny village in the mountains of North Macedonia, hunting for wild bees and collecting their honey which she periodically takes to the city of Skopje to sell, then after a family moves into the property next to hers and abuses the privileges that the bees persent endangers the ecology of her home and her trade.  Kotevska and Stefanov discovered Muratova while researching an environmental documentary, returning to see her for a few days at a time over three years and gathering footage that they have seamlessly woven into a fascinating examination of human interaction with nature.  Oscar Nominations:  Best International Feature Film; Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
BB.5  (Dean DeBlois, USA)  Now the king of his domain, Hiccup has found out that leadership is not all fun and games, considering the suggestions of marriage to his lady love Astrid and forced to lead his people to safety when their lives are being threatened by a dragon hunter.  The concept is charming and simple, a tale of learning to face reality despite what our emotions tell us to want, and given that the film doesn’t seem to aim for much else than to entertain the kids, its lack of appeal to grown-ups is perfectly acceptable.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

I Lost My Body
J’ai perdu mon corps
BBB.5  (Jérémy Clapin, France)  A young man who is haunted by the trauma of his childhood in Morocco lives in a cramped Parisian apartment with relatives, working unsuccessfully as a pizza delivery boy and falling in love with a customer, while across town a severed hand makes its way across town in search of its destination. Where these two stories connect is a simple yet effective tale of love and loss, of hands and voices and fractured bodies trying to put themselves together in a world that is always falling apart.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

Jojo Rabbit
BBB  (Taika Waititi, Czech Republic/New Zealand/USA)   A ten year-old boy is proud of his country’s move towards right-wing nationalism, so determined to be a good German that he turns his chancellor Adolf Hitler into his imaginary friend to guide and inspire him at all of life’s confusing turns.  Waititi adapts Christine Leunens’ dramatic novel Caging Skies to his own brand of insouciant humour, bringing an improvisational feel that emphasizes the absurdity of Nazi ideology, but the overindulgence in twee whimsy makes it feel as if The Tin Drum were being remade for the Adderall generation.   Oscar:  Best Adapted Screenplay; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson); Best Production Design; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

BBB.5  (Todd Phillips, USA/Canada)   Arthur Fleck is an emotionally unstable loner who works temp jobs as a clown on the streets of Gotham, and lives at home with his mentally fragile mother who is obsessed with getting in touch with billionaire Thomas Wayne, for whom she used to work. Shining a flashlight into every possible corner of the superhero universe in an attempt to squeeze as much cash as possible out of the genre’s popularity (while it lasts, please God in heaven save us) results in movies like this one, an artfully directed and thoroughly enjoyable if completely shallow biography of the man known as Joker.  Oscars:  Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix); Best Original Score. Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Director (Todd Phillips); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Makeup and Hairstyling; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing. Venice:  Golden Lion. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

BBB  (Rupert Goold, United Kingdom)  Judy Garland finds herself having failed to escape both the financial woes that have dogged most of her post-studio life and the substance abuse that she relies on to get through her grueling work schedule, taking a gig at Talk Of The Town in London but, physically unwell and emotionally even lower, she has trouble putting herself together before each show.  This adaptation of Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow focuses on the legendary singer’s final days and turns a play that relied more on fantasy elements into a straightforward biopic, and it ends up feeling like a retread of similar films.  Oscar:  Best Actress (Renee Zellweger). Nomination:  Best Makeup and Hairstyling. TIFF:  2019. Trailer

BBBB  (Sergio Pablos, Carlos Martinez Lopez, Spain)  Jesper is an unmotivated, privileged son of a Danish aristocrat who has no desire to excel at the family’s business of handling the royal mail, sent to a barren outpost of the kingdom where he stumbles upon a family vendetta and meets a reclusive woodsman named Klaus who lives alone in a house full of toys.  Every detail of story elements from commonly accepted North American Christmas celebrations is given an origin story in this whacky charmer, one that mostly avoids being sappy or saccharine by being genuinely funny.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature. Trailer

Knives Out
BB  (Rian Johnson, USA)  A famous mystery author who has built his brand into a multi-million-dollar publishing industry is found dead, a private investigator shows up claiming to have no idea who hired him and begins combing through the private lives of the victim’s survivors in order to determine who killed him.   Johnson’s obsession with making sure we know that Ana De Armas’ character, the daughter of an undocumented immigrant, is a good person supersedes any effort to give her a personality or put any sleuthing, twists or revelations into his mystery plot, while the impressive cast is wasted in two-dimensional roles.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Original Screenplay. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Lion King
BBB  (Jon Favreau, USA)  Once again we are treated to the birth of the adorable lion cub Simba, whose father Mufasa is the king of the Pridelands before his conniving brother Scar usurps the throne and sends the boy into exile.  Like the Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast live-action adaptations before it, this computer-generated upgrade of the 1994 classic is also too long and lacks the capricious humour that made its predecessor so good, though unlike those two films the music department has at least kept its end up and the score and singing are on par with the original.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects. Trailer

Lunana: A Yak In The Classoom
BBBB  (Pawo Choyning Dorji, Bhutan/China)  Unmotivated in the big city and waiting to make his dream of moving to Australia come true, Thimphu resident Ugyen accepts the temporary assignment of teaching schoolchildren in a remote mountain village and, after a difficult start in a rural place with unreliable electricity and a yak as classroom assistant, is eventually won over by the charm of the locals and undergoes a spiritual awakening.  There’s no hiding the fact that its plot has nothing new to offer the seasoned feel-good film lover, you know from the moment that Ugyen undergoes his first Captains Courageous-level challenge of wading through days of mud that he’ll eventually be transformed by the simpler life and cleaner air, but his experience has a reserved wisdom to it that never feels like it’s beating you over the head.  Oscar Nomination: Best International Feature Film.  Trailer

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
BB.5  (Joachim Ronning, USA/United Kingdom)   The vengeful Fey with a heart of gold enjoys her time on the moors with her adopted daughter, but their tranquil life in what looks like a feminine deodorant commercial is plunged into sorrow when Aurora announces that handsome Prince Philip has asked to marry her and the horned, winged matriarch refuses to give her blessing.  The familiar concerns about tolerance and fear-based politics make up the unsubtle basis of this overlong and overly complicated film, one that could learn a thing or two from the fun that Michelle Pfeiffer is having in a supporting role and not take itself so seriously.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Trailer

Marriage Story
BBBB  (Noah Baumbach, United Kingdom/USA)  A couple doing their best to pull off an amicable split descend into chaos pain when their disagreement over custody brings in the unstoppable devastation of divorce lawyers.  Baumbach puts us through every step of this awful process and does so beautifully in this heartfelt and delicate film, relaying these terrifying realities without ever placing blame on either character, even the blood-sucking lawyers come across as human beings who can’t help but be good at their jobs.  Oscar:  Best Supporting Actress (Laura Dern); Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Adam Driver); Best Actress (Scarlett Johansson); Best Original Screenplay; Best Original Score.  TIFF:  2019.  Venice:  In Competition. Trailer

Les Miserables
BBBB  (Ladj Ly, France)  A new recruit to the Paris police force joins two colleagues, a hothead cowboy who thinks that he has to throw force down quickly or else risk being disrespected, and a son of African immigrants whose heritage acts as a kind of bridge when communications between the other cop and the mostly immigrant suspects go awry.  The harsh realities of Paris’s slumlike banlieu is the setting for this absorbing drama that borrows the title of Victor Hugo’s most famous novel, asking us what is the value of a police force in a place where people feel that they are being set up to fail.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign-Language Film. Cannes:  Jury Prize. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Missing Link
BBBB  (Chris Butler, Canada/USA)  A global explorer who is bent on making a discovery that will win him acceptance from the snooty adventurers back home in London receives a letter informing him of the existence of a mysterious, giant creature roaming America’s Pacific Northwest, who turns out to be a sasquatch with surprisingly good English letter-writing skills and manners.  Full of winsome, witty humour and terrific voice performances (the best of them Emma Thompson as the dry and unfriendly leader of a group of Yetis), this charmer is one that both kids and adults will love.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

B.5  (Matteo Garrone, Italy/France/United Kingdom)  Geppetto is a very poor carpenter who carves a puppet that talks, breathes, walks and becomes the son he never had, receiving advice from those wiser and more experienced than him and ignoring it in order to learn from the consequences of his disobedience.  The makeup effects on young actor Federico Ielapi are the film’s most impressive quality, there has never been a more convincing image of a living creature made of wood, but otherwise it’s a visually unpleasant and shallow film, far too drawn out and featuring plenty of grotesque imagery but little effective horror.  Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup; Best Costume Design.  Trailer

Richard Jewell
BB.5  (Clint Eastwood, USA)  After losing his job in the sheriff’s department and finding he gets no respect as a campus security guard, Richard Jewell gets a job at the 1996 Summer Olympics where his spotting a suspicious bag turns him into national sensation thanks to the authorities assuming he planted the bomb himself.  Eastwood has basically remade Sully, another film about how good men can’t do good things in a world where everyone gets to express their opinion, but here the dialogue is stilted and the entire supporting cast runs rings around Paul Walter Hauser, who sometimes seems like he’s parodying the man in a MadTV skit.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates). Trailer

BBBB  (Dexter Fletcher, United Kingdom/USA/Canada)  Told as a non-diegetic musical, where the characters actually perform the songs within their dramatic situation and not solely on concert stages or recording studios, this refreshing and captivating film presents a singing, dancing kunstlerroman of the early life of Elton John, born Reggie Dwight in late-forties London.  Taron Egerton is wonderful in the lead role, impressively singing and dancing up a storm while never being less than endearing as a man whose need for love allows him to get lost so easily, but who also challenges himself to face his fears and conquer them whenever it really matters (most delightfully in a series of increasingly zany costumes).  Oscar:  Best Original Song (“I’m Gonna Love Me Again”).  Trailer

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
BBBB  (Will Becher, Richard Phelan, United Kingdom/France/Belgium/USA/China/Australia/Japan/Finland/Germany/Ireland)  Shaun’s mischief as the major troublemaker among the ovine residents of Mossy Bottom Farm is complicated by the appearance of an otherworldly child named Lu-la, who lands nearby after stealing their parents’ spaceship and going on a joyride across the galaxy.  There are more than a few laugh out loud moments, including Shaun’s attempt to recover Lu-la from a supermarket, and a number of action-packed thrills in this endlessly creative charmer.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
BBB.5  (J.J. Abrams, USA)  Rey is still training under General Leia but needs to find a Sith device known as a “wayfinder” that will lead the rebels to the evil emperor Palpatine, while Kylo Ren is starting to have mixed feelings about his place on the Dark Side. A better narrative balance than the overly indulgent Last Jedi puts a capper on many of the characters we have come to love over the last forty-two years, though it doesn’t feel all that momentous thanks to plotting that lacks spontaneity.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Visual Effects; Best Sound Editing; Best Original Score.  Trailer

Toy Story 4
BBB.5  (Josh Cooley, USA)  Woody and company are now the property of a four year-old named Bonnie who haphazardly crafts a figure from a spork in kindergarten that, once finding itself bursting with sentient life when humans aren’t looking, doesn’t understand his own existence but who Woody has to keep safe for Bonnie’s sake.  As entertainment, this more than passes muster, not to mention that what is clearly a major advancement in animation technology is very evident on screen, but one cannot help but miss the deeper themes that made the first film so charming.  Oscar:  Best Animated Feature; Nomination:  Best Original Song (“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away”). Trailer

The Two Popes
BBB.5  (Fernando Meirelles, United Kingdom/Italy)  Eight years after being appointed Pope, Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia Joseph Ratzinger (now consecrated Pope Benedict XVI) asks for a private meeting with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who is hoping for a response to his request to resign, but it is Ratzinger who plans to become the first man in the top seat to do so.  At times very smart, at other times a bit sluggish, this intelligent two-hander isn’t exactly the Vatican answer to The Crown but it marks a return to form for Meirelles and an exciting return to prominence for Hopkins, who gives one of his most electrifying performances in years and brings dimensions to a man who has been reduced to caricature in the history books.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Actor (Jonathan Pryce); Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins); Best Adapted Screenplay. TIFF:  2019. Trailer




BBBB  (Mati Diop, France/Senegal/Belgium)  A woman’s secret lover leaves Dakar to go work in Spain, returning on the eve of her arranged marriage with another man but bringing with him a series of strange, otherworldly events that may be linked to the doomed sea voyage that took him to Europe.  Mati Diop’s hypnotic, sexy and smart romantic fable weaves elements of modern-day themes with traditional magic realism to great effect, this is a beautifully photographed, exceptionally acted and confidently directed movie that casts a spell and never breaks it.  Cannes:  Grand Jury Of the Prize.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

BBBB  (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles, Brazil/France)  A woman goes to her family’s village and attends the death of her grandmother, the nonagenarian matriarch of Bacurau whose death is quickly followed by a number of increasingly strange events.  Featuring gemlike performances from the likes of Udo Kier and Sonia Braga, this entertaining horror film combines grindhouse delights with deeper considerations of colonialism and class.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Dead Don’t Die
BB.5  (Jim Jarmusch, USA/Sweden/South Africa)  Two laconic police officers, whose busiest day often involves calming the temper of a MAGA-hat-wearing farmer or checking in on a mentally unstable loner in the woods, have their duties ramp up when the unlikely event of the earth being knocked off its axis causes deceased citizens to rise from their graves.  Cleverly handing out in-jokes like party favours, from the casting of Iggy Pop to the tombstone bearing the name of Samuel Fuller, this droll comedy never gets out of first gear, Jarmusch has a good time delving into the zombie genre but doesn’t seem have much to say except for a few predictable jokes about undead bodies staring at their smartphones.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

BB  (Ira Sachs, France/Portugal)   In the misty, beautiful vacation destination of Sintra, Portugal, a famous actress has plenty of worries about her traveling companions, including a depressed husband, a stepdaughter on the verge of divorce, a lovelorn son and a best friend with relationship issues.   By the time we get to the reason that she’s been interfering in everyone’s lives, we’ve been treated to too much of writer-director Sach’s tin-eared feel for drama to actually care, as he sets up a group of people in various crises without ever giving us anything particularly insightful or even interesting about them.  Cannes:  In Competition. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

A Hidden Life
BBB  (Terrence Malick, Germany/USA)  An Austrian farmer refuses to pledge an oath of allegiance to Hitler despite the danger it poses to him and his family, stating that he finds the Nazi regime morally repugnant to his Christian beliefs.  A powerful true story about a man for all seasons, one who sticks to principle when it is least convenient for him, this respectable film is knocked out of the possibility of being a classic thanks to the fact that the little dialogue we are given is, when in English, mostly bad, often sounding like Malick asked non-English speakers to improvise their idea of living under the Third Reich, while the “bad” Germans, in an inexplicably stupid choice on the director’s part, all speak actual German.  Cannes:   In Competition.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Little Joe
BBBB  (Jessica Hausner, Austria/United Kingdom/Germany/France)  Scientists working to genetically engineer house plants that are beautiful to the eye and sensually pleasant to the olfactory organs are developing a flower that, one breeder learns all too late, is determined to survive its engineered sterility by making humans the carrier of its pollen.  Hausner smoothly guides this funny, subtle exploration of the difficulties of modern life as pitted against modern technological obsessions, avoiding the avenues to which someone like David Cronenberg would take this potentially horrific situation and instead staying focused on the psychological fragility of her characters.  Cannes:  Best Actress (Emily Beecham).  Trailer

Matthias & Maxime
Matthias Et Maxime
BBB.5  (Xavier Dolan, Canada/France)  A trip to a friend’s cottage puts best friends Matthias and Maxime in an awkward position when their host’s little sister asks them to be in her experimental short film, performing a love scene that, once completed, leads to a break in their previously unexamined relationship.  Dolan has a great deal of sympathy for the pain of these two characters’ confusions, though it’s too long (a less than usually indulgent Dolan is still an indulgent filmmaker), and despite their sexy chemistry he and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas aren’t convincing as long-time best friends, as guys who have an issue with kissing guys or as guys who are the same age.  Cannes:  In Competition.  Trailer

Sorry We Missed You
BBBB  (Ken Loach, United Kingdom/France/Belgium)  Unable to find a job and unwilling to go on the dole, a family man takes a job working package deliveries for a company that signs him up as an independent contractor (he’s paid per delivery) but is run by an overseer who barks expectations at him on a regular basis, while his wife works as a personal care worker, doing home visits that are harder to manage now that she’s had to sell her car to finance the van her husband needs to do his deliveries.   As with I, Daniel Blake, a system that makes it nearly impossible for people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is condemned in no uncertain terms by Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty, though with less obvious manipulation than the last time around and with a much more spontaneous sense of one setback leading to bigger ones after it.   Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Traitor
Il traditore
BBB.5  (Marco Bellocchio, Italy/France/Germany/Brazil)  A Cosa Nostra mob boss leaves Palermo and holes up in Brazil with his wife and kids after becoming disenchanted with the mafia’s modern emphasis on drug trafficking, but when friends and family get killed in remarkable numbers back home, he is arrested in Rio and extradited back to Italy where he becomes a fully cooperative informant in a notorious public trial.  Bellocchio is determined to stay free of melodrama, directing an anti-GoodFellas/Godfather film that involves no codes of honour or stylish murders, though it would have been interesting if it also called the main character’s own ego into question: is he actually the man who brought down the mafia, or did he just believe that about himself?  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Whistlers
La Gomera
BBBB  (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania/France/Germany)  A henchman for the mob who is also a cop is sent to the Canary Islands to hole up with his fellow goons and learn the island’s secret whistling language, which will help his plans to make off with thirty million Euros that he helped steal in a robbery.  This is a film that teases you by forcing you to put the pieces together out of sequence, but in a way that invites you into its mystery and never feels frustrating.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Wild Goose Lake
Nan fang che zhan de ju hui
BBBB  (Yi’nan Diao, China/France)  A low-level mob boss becomes a major criminal when he clears his escape on a stolen motorcycle by shooting a man in his way, and the victim turns out to be a police officer, leading to his meeting a stranger who tells him she is connected with his criminal colleagues and is there to help him.  This stylish gangster thriller has a rather obscure plot but gets by on its aesthetic pleasures and a cast of mysterious and glamorous characters, the images drawing you into a lull that is broken by the film’s occasional bursts of gory violence.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Young Ahmed
Le Jeune Ahmed
BBBB  (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France)  Ahmed is on the verge of manhood and has taken to religion with the same obsessive fervour that his mother says he had for video games a month ago, his commitment to a very literal application of Islam earning him a rejection from his Imam and putting him in custody for juvenile criminals.  The Dardennes risk the accusation of Islamophobia with this subject, but their concern is actually the tension created by European countries that make claims of tolerance and inclusion but are tested by the demands for religious freedom by people whose lower economic situations have seen them demonized as destabilizing intruders, in this case also highlighting the young man’s carelessly applying his indoctrination to his own personal wounds and fears.  Cannes:  Best Director (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne).  Trailer




BBB  (Pablo Larraín, Chile)  A dancer who is married to her performance group’s director regrets giving a child they adopted back to the orphanage, finding and seducing both members of the couple who are now raising him, which drives a wedge between her and her husband.  The undeniably captivating visuals are exciting, but Ema doesn’t work as a femme fatale, it makes not a whit of sense that the common-sense people she meets disrupt their lives to explore her mystery, in particular because actress Mariana Di Girólamo has none.  TIFF: 2019.  Venice: In Competition.  Trailer

The Laundromat
BB  (Steven Soderbergh, USA)  A widow trying to resolve a settlement from a tour group’s insurance company discovers that the situation dovetails with the reason that she was screwed out of a Las Vegas apartment she tried to buy, investigating both and going down a rabbit hole of shell companies and business fraud that leads to a shady law firm in Panama City.   As the film progresses and the various pieces of the plot’s mosaic fail to come together as a whole, the outrageous stylistics reveal themselves more as distractions to cover up a lack of substance than methods to put any of the film’s truths into context.  Venice:  In Competition. TIFF:  2019. Trailer

Martin Eden
BBBB  (Pietro Marcello, Italy/France/Germany)  A rough and tumble sailor falls in love with a bourgeois girl and she inspires him to pursue learning which, eventually, results in his becoming a world-renowned novelist whose political idealism is hollowed out by a level of success that no longer means anything to him.  A dark and troubling Künstlerroman that questions the nature of popularity and fame, this adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 novel, which transports the action from turn of the century California to Naples in the forties, is rich with deeply felt characters and exciting performances, with Luca Marinelli doing a particularly magnetic job.  TIFF: 2019.  Venice: Best Actor (Luca Marinelli).  Trailer

The Truth
La vérité
BBB.5  (Hirokazu Koreeda, France/Japan/Switzerland)  A veteran film star who has spent a great deal of her life being catered to by colleagues, family and a longtime devoted assistant receives a visit from her long estranged daughter, who has come with her husband and small child to unpack her frustrations over her mother’s recently penned memoir that she wasn’t permitted to read before publication.  The latest entry in the genre of eastern directors making western debuts is a fine, satisfying drama by Koreeda, who applies his usual poignant delicacy to a story of familial trouble while adding a clear and confident grasp of French cynical reserve into the mix.  TIFF: 2019.  Venice: In Competition.  Trailer

Wasp Network
Cuban Network
BBB  (Olivier Assayas, France/Spain/Belgium)  A Havana pilot’s routine day turns out to be anything but when he steals a plane, flies it to Miami where he defects, leaving his wife to raise their daughter alone while claiming that he wants to help move his country away from the oppression it has suffered under Castro’s rule.  Assayas returns to Latin America for the first time since his crime epic Carlos (also starring Edgar Ramirez) but with less memorable results, this one feels like it’s been cut down from a bigger movie and is merely the highlight reel of a miniseries. Venice:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer




I Was At Home, But
Ich war zuhause, aber
BBBB  (Angela Schanelec, Germany/Serbia)  An adolescent boy disappears for a week and his mother’s relief at his return is followed by confrontations with other characters that reveal her to still be disturbed by a deeper grief.  There is definitely a narrative involved in Schenelac’s investigation of alienation among various characters in modern-day Berlin, but the magic is the elliptical, mysterious manner with which she sews together the varied and incongruous moments in their lives without overtly explaining them. Berlin:  Best Director (Angela Schanelec).  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

BBB.5  (Nadav Lapid, France/Israel/Germany)  Yoav arrives in Paris from Tel Aviv determined to leave his native country behind him, forgetting his culture and his language and focusing on becoming proficient in French while taking a series of soulless jobs in the City of Lights.  There is little concern with making sure we fully understand what we are watching because details don’t matter, Yoav’s experience is an emotional one, and Lapid isn’t making a Dardennes brothers film that would pore over the minutiae of employment or class, he’s more interested in a state of mind.  Berlin:  Golden Bear.  TIFF:   2019.  Trailer




BBB  (Jill Culton, China/USA)  At a scientific lab owned by a billionaire industrialist who loves to collect rare creatures, a mythical Yeti has been held captive but, at the beginning of this charming family film, escapes his captors and is discovered by a young woman who takes him on a journey to find more of his kind.  As storytelling goes, this film has nothing new to offer and its characterizations barely rate above the standard comedic stereotypes that suit this kind of quest, plus it is never particularly funny and a bit too long, but there’s something sincere about it that makes it easy to warm up to.  TIFF:  2019. Trailer

Bad Education
BBBB  (Cory Finley, USA)  Long Island school district superintendent Frank Tassone and his assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin have turned the area into an educational paradise whose kids have very high rates of entering prestigious post-secondary institutions, which comes with increased property values in an affluent land of endless McMansions, but a foolish error by Gluckin’s son with the board’s credit card and a keen teenager writing a puff piece for her school paper alerts the public to mismanagement of funds by both these figures.   Why people are allowed to be shocked that monetizing every aspect of life, even the acquisition of knowledge, turns out badly is one of the questions that Finley poses in this darkly satiric look at one of the most insane cases of wrongdoing in American history.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

BBBB  (Chinonye Chukwu, USA)  A prison warden refuses to acknowledge her own depleted physical and emotional state despite the difficulty of connecting with her husband at home, and the near-catatonic response with which she is starting to respond to trouble at work.  Moody, heavy and relentless, this is a personal and intimate film that keeps in direct contact with its lead character, and Alfre Woodard has all the charisma and intensity required to play it so close to the bone. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Climb
BBB  (Michael Angelo Covino, USA)  Mike and Kyle are in France for Kyle’s wedding to Ava, and while cycling up a mountain in the days leading up to the ceremony, Mike reveals to Kyle that he and Ava have actually carried on a physical affair while she and Kyle were together.  It’s possible that Covino and co-screenwriter Kyle Marvin believe they’re leaving women out of the jokes in the name of pointing out their characters’ failures at the kind of masculinity they aspire to, but as neither character ever gets introspective in any meaningful way, the emphasis is purely on the shallow comedic possibilities of each situation instead; as comedic situations go, though, there are few that are funnier than the deadpan manner in which these two are constantly crashing into each other (physically and metaphorically).  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Color Out Of Space
BB.5  (Richard Stanley, USA/Malaysia/Portugal)  A couple are living a lush, idyllic life on their isolated farm with their three children when one night, out of nowhere, they receive the visit of a glowing pink meteorite-like object falling on their land that begins to transform the flora and fauna around it.  There’s a creative artificiality to the visual effects that only makes them more beautiful, while the gory creature effects that represent the very stomach-turning metamorphoses of people and animals are effectively achieved, but such a free-for-all gorefest should have a lot more humour than we get here.    TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Dolemite Is My Name
BBBB (Craig Brewer, USA)   Reaching his mid-forties and feeling like his opportunities to make it in show business have passed him by, Rudy Ray Moore is inspired to begin performing rhyming poetry that leads to a character named “Dolemite”, first winning over nightclubs before directing himself in one of the biggest independent hit films of the decade.   Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski follow their past successes with biopics about creative outsiders with another energetic look at an artist who beat the odds, and as with Ed Wood and The People Vs. Larry Flynt, they manage to make it impossible to tear your eyes away despite the fact that they’re not particularly interested in the character’s internal contradictions. TIFF:  2019. Trailer

First Love
BBBB  (Takashi Miike, Japan/United Kingdom)  An attempt to steal drugs from dealer Yasu goes wrong from the get-go, as eccentric gangster Kase bungles the robbery and commits a murder while his associate, who was meant to keep an eye on Yasu’s girlfriend Julie, isn’t prepared for how well she can take care of herself.  This film’s violence is not for the faint of heart, but Miike keeps a firm eye on the colourful personalities involved (and there’s quite the range of them in the cast, the best of them Becky’s descent into mad rage), so that the bloody rampages become the satisfying expression of their conflicts instead of an endless procession of noisy effects work.  TIFF:  2019. Trailer

The Goldfinch
BB  (John Crowley, USA)  A boy survives a terror incident at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that takes the life of his mother, growing up to become an antiques dealer who is haunted by the item he took from the wreckage that he has never told anyone about.  A few moments of dramatic poignancy at the beginning soon give way to mindless boredom as Crowley seems to have no idea what to do with this narrative, except compile whatever incidents he can squeeze in from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt.   TIFF:  2019. Trailer

BBBB  (Lorene Scafaria, USA)  The new girl at a Manhattan strip club is mentored by the alpha dancer who teachers her some fancy moves on the pole, as well as the moves required to keep Wall Street bankers bathing them in money after the economic devastation of 2008.  Playing like a female GoodFellas with a boost of Flashdance, this incredibly fun film wisely relies more on its characters’ chemistry than on any attempt to deliver a tricky heist plot or overwhelm you with any kind of narrative irony.   TIFF:  2019. Trailer

I Am Not Alone
BBB  (Garin Hovannisian, Armenia/USA)  This film is reviewed on That Shelf Magazine.  TIFF:  2019  Trailer

La Llorona
BBBB  (Jayro Bustamente, Guatemala/France)   An aged Guatemalan general is preparing for a summary judgment from a tribunal that has been called to look into his alleged crimes against the country’s Mayan population many years earlier, while at home his entire staff, all indigenous, abandon their posts because of an otherworldly justice coming his way.  Bustamante emphasizes visual inventiveness without actually resorting to gory imagination, scenes of inhumanity related through supernaturally influenced memories affirm the evils of colonialism by literally forcing an alternate perspective on the unbelieving, terrors on par with all the ghosts and ghouls you may have hoped to see in this stylish, moody, and thoughtful film.   TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Motherless Brooklyn
BBBB  (Edward Norton, USA)  A Tourette’s-afflicted private investigator in 1950s New York City is on a routine job working backup for his boss when he witnesses a murder, and while investigating it discovers the struggle between a housing activist and a corrupt building tycoon.  Played in a dampened but not dreary tone that suits the jazzy score and shadowy cinematography, this drama has moments of thrills that are quite nerve-wracking, increasing the tension as the mystery reveals the well-known tale of rotten dealings at the core of the modernizing impulse of most American cities.   TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

The Report
BBB.5  (Scott Z. Burns, USA)  Senate member Daniel J. Jones is picked by his boss Dianne Feinstein to head up a report investigating the presence of torture in post-9/11 detentions and interrogations, which ends up taking over ten years and inspires blowback from the CIA, who try in vain to put it in context to save their reputation.  Burns directs for the first time and does so like a writer, there’s a clinical perfection to the way that events are compiled and presented in smooth working order that feels intelligent and flavourless at the same time, but Bening is perfectly cast as Feinstein, her deep and commanding voice making a film determined to avoid eccentric drama into something riveting and intense.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Simple Women
BB.5  (Chiara Malta, Italy/Romania)  A documentary filmmaker whose childhood was marked by her suffering epileptic seizures has always had Elina Löwensohn’s character in Hal Hartley’s Simple Men as a role model, then as an adult meets Löwensohn on the streets of Rome and convinces her to be the subject of her film.  Malta’s debut feature film sets up an incredibly bewitching tale for movie lovers (not to mention an indulgence for Hartley’s fans), one that plays on various levels of reality in increasingly playful and incisive ways, but a painfully weak ending undoes everyone’s good work. TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

State Funeral
BBBB  (Sergey Loznitsa, Netherlands/Lithuania)  Images that have been cleaned to gleaming perfection are addended with an equally spiffy soundtrack as Loznita arranges and edits down many hours of film taken on the four days of The Great Farewell, the ceremonies around the funeral of Joseph Stalin. Loznita provokes a great deal of thought and reflection on whether people are grieving the loss of a beloved leader or simply fear the uncertainty of their daily lives in his absence, the rush of crowds that caused the deaths of many attending the ceremonies were, curiously, not filmed and their absence is notably felt by anyone watching this with any historical context in mind.   TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Uncut Gems
BBBB.5  (Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, USA)  A New York City jeweler, whose addiction to betting on basketball games has him constantly shuffling assets to keep up with payments, receives a package in the mail that he believes is his deliverance, a piece of rock containing raw opals retrieved from a mine in Ethiopia, but lending it a famous basketball player only multiples his problems.  You can feel the doomsday clock ticking throughout this incredibly tense movie as the Safdies superbly maintain a level of beautifully conducted chaos in tempered by occasional moments of quiet that help maintain your sanity.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Vitalina Varela
BBBB  (Pedro Costa, Portugal)  A woman gets off a plane from Cape Verde and searches Lisbon for traces of her late husband’s life, a man she hadn’t seen since he moved to Portugal looking for work almost three decades earlier.  Told in Costa’s usual method of lengthy slow takes, emphasizing deep, dark images that all feel like the kind of forced reality you see on a theatrical set, the film is less about its narrative and more about representing the emotional state of its main character, existing as she does in limbo between devotion to her spouse and a desire to move on, and between two different lands.   TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

While At War
Mientras dure la guerra
BBB  (Alejandro Amenabar, Spain/Argentina)  A professor at the University of Salamanca’s mild reaction to anti-communist nationalists makes him a totem for their cause until he begins to realize that their desire to keep everyone in line actually contradicts his academic belief in independent, nuanced thought, and things get that much worse when his friends and colleagues, with whom he enjoys healthy debates, start to disappear.  That Amenabar wants to make a contribution to the art world’s response to the rising popularity of right-wing nationalism is genuinely admirable, but there’s an earnestness to the way this story is told that makes it feel plain and unimportant (despite subject matter that is clearly the opposite).  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer

Zombi Child
BB.5  (Bertrand Bonello, France)  A young girl from Haiti has moved to Paris following the devastating 2010 earthquake and is attending a private school for the children of France’s most honored citizens, befriending a girl who becomes obsessed with her Haitian origins and wants her to use her cultural traditions to help rid her of her obsession with a boy she’s in love with.  Bertrand Bonello’s fascinating combination of the zombie genre with more resonant themes gets plenty of points for style, it’s a dynamic and charismatic movie but far from a deep one.  TIFF:  2019.  Trailer






(Alejandro Landes, Colombia/Argentina/Netherlands/Germany/Sweden/Uruguay/USA/Switzerland/Denmark)   A group of militant rebels occupy a mountain top, filthy and young and happy to shoot guns in the air to release the tension brought on by boredom and cold, holding an American engineer hostage and serving an unspecified organization that the country’s official military is seeking to stamp out.   A series of characters who all make their mark as individual personalities, both bewitching and terrifying, are placed against a vivid backdrop in this intense and exciting movie, one whose crisply photographed images add to the terror of a plot whose twists and turns can rarely be predicted.  Trailer

(Olivia Wilde, USA)  Two best friends who have spent their entire high school career working hard and getting amazing grades find out that the party animals in their class are also attending prestigious post-secondary institutions, and decide to make up for what they missed with one crazy night looking for the location of a major pre-graduation party.  The thing about originality is, of course, that it does not exist, and a successful story is one that feels fresh even when it isn’t, which is what you have in this blissfully good comedy that is ticking off boxes without offering the slightest apology for doing so.  Trailer

Spies In Disguise
(Nick Bruno, Troy Quane, USA)  When an evil supervillain commits a major security breach at a national spy agency and frames it on superspy Lance Sterling, the world-famous agent becomes the target of an internal investigation and needs to find the nerdy science genius he recently fired to help him clear his name, but it results in his accidentally turning himself into a pigeon.   The gorgeous production design contributes to a very enjoyable James Bond-like adventure, one whose bent but never vulgar humour makes it perfect for kids while amusing adults, stacked from top to bottom with laughs, thrills and even some good, warmhearted lessons about true friendship.  Trailer




Apollo 11
(Todd Douglas Miller, USA)  To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the walk on the moon, an event that propelled scientific achievement forward and captured the imagination of the entire planet, NASA has released a mass of gorgeous, pristine footage, all of it filmed in 65 or 70 millimeter and much of it never seen before. There are no talking heads, there is no narration, there is simply music (specifically using only technology that existed in 1969) and the footage itself, arranged chronologically to guide you, in ninety very satisfying minutes, through the entire mission.  Trailer

The Assistant
(Kitty Green, USA)  An assistant to a powerhouse producer is going through her mundane office chores when she begins to slowly put together the clues of what she believes is bad behaviour on her employer’s part, but reporting what she sees to HR only results in a brush-off and a demand that she apologize for doing so.  Kitty Green’s solid, uncomplicated and absorbing drama is clearly inspired by controversies following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein in late 2016 thanks to journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s reporting, in which the character’s attempt to See Something and Do Something is no match for a business that is set up to accommodate her boss’s abuses and which requires that everyone turn a blind eye in order to ensure that paycheques are not interrupted.  Trailer

Captain Marvel
(Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, USA)  An elite member of the intergalactic police force escapes capture and crash lands on the planet we call Earth in the mid-nineties, looking to track down her enemies while suddenly subjected to haunting flashbacks to a human life that she doesn’t remember leading.  Ignore the silly plot holes (aliens hurtling through the atmosphere always crash land in America, in her case in exactly the spot she needs to be) and have a great time with this beautifully designed, easily enjoyable adventure that emphasizes a sense of fun and an engaging plot in place of endless explosions and battle sequences.  Trailer

Cold Case Hammarskjöld
(Mads Brügger, Denmark/Norway/Sweden/Belgium)  The 1961 plane crash that killed Secretary General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld as he was en route to ceasefire negotiations over the Congo Crisis inspired conspiracy theories that were later, through documents made public as recently as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in the late nineties, linked to a black-ops merchant military operation that was led by the now-deceased Keith Maxwell.  Claims in this documentary have been clarified, challenged and refuted (some of this makes it into the end title cards), but Brügger doesn’t play the story out in any way that feels irresponsible; there are enough times that he calls out when theories are based on unverified inference and he does not hide his own joyful glee at putting the facts together in the way that suits an exciting thriller plot.  Trailer

End Of the Century
Fin De Siglo
(Lucio Castro, Argentina)  An Argentinean poet and marketing executive who lives in New York has rented an AirBnb in Barcelona for a few days of solo vacation and, while sunning himself at the beach spots a handsome hunk with whom he ends up spending a lovely afternoon, before realizing that they have a connection from the past. The two lead actors draw us into a very powerful intimacy that makes for a sunlit counterpart to Weekend, their subtle, graceful performances captured by a director who, making his first feature, underplays any sense of visual style and increases the film’s intensity by doing so. Trailer

The Farewell
(Lulu Wang, USA)  A financially distressed New Yorker is upset when she learns that her grandmother is dying and her family has chosen to hide the news from her, traveling to China to attend a wedding that is secretly a final farewell to their beloved matriarch.  Wang’s touching film is deeply sentimental and all the more satisfying for it, she gets great reserves of feeling from Awkwafina’s perpetually stymied expressions that speak to her character’s ambivalence about her situation, her emotional honesty matched beautifully by Shuzhen Zhao’s irrepressible charm as her loving grandmother.  Trailer

The Gentlemen
(Guy Ritchie, USA)  An American gangster in London has an impressive marijuana operation that he runs from bunkers hidden beneath some of the biggest (and brokest) country estates in England, and is looking to retire to leisure with his sharp-heeled girlfriend but bribes and robberies are messing up a potential sale and bodies are piling up with alarming speed.  Enjoying the indulgence of a rich cast of characters, including a marvelous Colin Farrell as a boxing coach with a delightful collection of matching plaid track suits, Ritchie pulls this adventure off with glee, never for a moment trying to convince you that it’s any deeper than it needs to be, but keeping his rapid-fire editing flash to a minimum as well. Trailer

The Hottest August
(Brett Story, Canada/USA)  The recent election of Donald Trump as president, which has created a divide in the nation that feels permanent, the effects of Hurricane Sandy and the lingering remains of the economic crash of 2008 are not explicitly discussed by any of Story’s interview subjects but are clearly on their mind as she travels the five boroughs asking New Yorkers to tell her about how they feel about life and the future.  Documentaries that make a city their main subject often try to capture the spirit of the place, but you don’t often have the pleasure of a film that attempts to capture a city’s soul, in which parks, bars and streets are turned into gorgeously composed, hauntingly framed images that inspire feelings beyond just visual pleasures.  Trailer

The King
(David Michod, United Kingdom/Hungary/Australia)   The dramatic events that Shakespeare covered in his plays about Henry IV and V are given the Braveheart treatment in this entertaining and intelligent film.  Michod takes the family dynamics that made his Animal Kingdom so exciting and puts them back in the fifteenth century, as the elder King languishes in madness-inducing illness while his young son, called Hal by his friends, enjoys a life of wenching, boozing and shirking his duties as the future monarch of England.  Trailer

Official Secrets
(Gavin Hood, United Kingdom/USA)  Katharine Gun works as translator for British intelligence at Government Communications Headquarters, having few qualms with the job until she receives an email from above requesting that she and her colleagues spy on heads of state in an effort to blackmail them ahead of an upcoming vote at the United Nations.   For anyone who isn’t familiar with Gun’s real story, things don’t go where you expect them to in this absorbing legal drama, one that avoids any unnecessary flash and relies instead on the grounded performances by the cast. Trailer

Spider-Man: Far From Home
(Jon Watts, USA)   Peter Parker is still finding it difficult to balance his scholastic duties with his nightly activities as your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, his plan to leave all superheroing behind on a trip to Europe ruined when giant “elemental” creatures cause havoc and destruction in Venice, and a new superhero named Mysterio is on hand to replace the absent Tony Stark as his role model.  The tension was more exciting in the last one and the surprises a bit more shocking, but this is still a full-course meal of a good time, aided by great effects and a cheerfully appealing supporting cast that fills out Peter’s world and makes his non-action scenes as fun as seeing him swing through those streets.   Trailer

Yes, God, Yes
(Karen Maine, USA)  A Catholic high school student is the focus of a rumor involving sex acts she doesn’t even understand, deciding to attend a religious retreat that she believes will bring her closer to God but which, instead, brings her to a deeper understanding of the flawed humanity of the judgmental people around her and the natural desires growing within herself.  Natalia Dyer is pitch perfect in the lead role of a film of the “we’re all just people” variety that is never condescending, presenting a series of darkly humorous situations that sympathize with her innocent curiosity while still sparing plenty of humane sympathy for the people who expect such a high standard from her while unable to provide it themselves.  Trailer




The Addams Family
(Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, United Kingdom/Canada/USA)  Gomez Addams is preparing for his son’s “Mazurka” (an age-old bar mitzvah-like family rite of passage), Morticia becomes increasingly concerned with pre-teen Wednesday’s detachment from enjoying decapitating her dolls as much as she used to, and an overly ambitious realtor and reality television star decides to turn their New Jersey town against the Addamses with an onslaught of fake news.  The film lacks the lush beauty of earlier versions but it is, for the most part, true to the spirit of what has made this Halloween-flavoured Leave It To Beaver so endearing for so long, its ghoulish heroes are actually more decent than the people who call themselves normal in what was, at the time, a lampooning of post-war conservativism that is now on-the-nose commentary about Trump-era America.  Trailer

The Blonde One
Un Rubio
(Marco Berger, Argentina)  A Buenos Aires carpenter offers a vacant room to an unassuming single father, their lengthy glances eventually resulting in a prolonged sexual affair that increases in tenderness and affection when they’re actually having sex but, the rest of the time, one ignores the other and spends time with his girlfriend.   Berger’s previous films usually end with consummation after an extended torture of denial and repression, here the physical connection is made early and he finds that even when forbidden objects of desire are conquered and consumed, there is still plenty of room for loneliness and disillusionment.  Trailer

Blood On Her Name
(Matthew Pope, USA)  A woman kills a man who attacks her in her economically struggling auto body shop, then asks her estranged sheriff father for help in disposing of the body.  Violent and sharp, this character’s resolve remains intact through the revelation of a number of explosive secrets, while the audience is informed that a successful community needs to draw the circle of its family much wider if these towns are going to succeed against the odds.  Trailer

Dark Waters
(Todd Haynes, USA)  A lawyer represents farmers suing DuPont Chemicals for manufacturing a chemical (used in Teflon) that has been killing their animals, but which turns out to be a much bigger problem than initially believed.  Haynes does his best to make this more than just your average David vs. Goliath legal drama, a series of quiet, measured conversations between legal and scientific experts manage to hold your attention as effectively as a more exploitative film would, but there are also more than a few tired conventions, including Victor Garber as DuPont’s conventional villainous attorney and Anne Hathaway as the “Honey come to bed” wife.  Trailer

Downton Abbey
(Michael Engler, United Kingdom/USA/China)    The runaway success of Julian Fellowes’ upstairs-downstairs television series follows its small-screen finale with a big-screen sequel, returning us to the titular country manor whose inhabitants struggle to survive the changes that are rocking Britain in the early half of the twentieth century.  It’s hard to have the same level of intimacy with individual characters in one feature film that you could cover in eight episodes a season, the majority of plots that focus on specific people take place among the toffs and most of them are dull, while the rambunctious energy of the rich array of servants, maids, cooks and housekeepers is mushed into one silly heist adventure.  Trailer

Gay Chorus Deep South
(David Charles Rodrigues, USA)  This film is reviewed at That magazine.  Trailer

Goddess of Fortune
La Dea Fortuna
(Ferzan Özpetek, Italy)  Alessandro’s best friend Annamaria shows up at his house and asks him to look after her children while she goes to the hospital for a series of routine tests, having no idea that she has entered at a vulnerable time in his fraught relationship with his partner Arturo.  Things go to rather an extreme melodramatic turn by the last third, but Ozpetek always displays his sentimentality proudly and nothing in this film feels like a cheat, the actors are beautiful, their homes are exquisite and their problems are deeply sympathetic even when they feel like something in a soap opera.  Trailer

Hail Satan?
(Penny Lane, USA)    One nation under God is put to the test with the rising power of The Satanic Temple, an organization that plays at provoking religious fundamentalism with its blaspheme-centered energy but is actually, it seems, aiming to remind the country of its supposed separation of church and state.  This bouncy, fun documentary moves through a great deal of material with swift glee, working as an indictment of the religious citizens of a country who say they stand up for what is right and decent, and yet it’s the members of the Satanic Temple who have to wear bulletproof vests in public.  Trailer

Isn’t It Romantic
(Todd Strauss-Schulson, USA)  A mugging incident on the subway gets a woman thrown face-first into a pole and she passes out, waking up in a fantasy world created out of the rom-coms she loved as a girl, with every street corner decorated with flower-pots, every second storefront a cupcake bakery and every gentleman a handsome prince ready to love her for who she is on the inside.  It’s as light and unimportant as the movies it is making fun of, and its empowerment message rings hollow, but it commits so beautifully to the cruelty of its gags that it can easily spread one joke over the whole film without dimming the humour.  Trailer

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
(Chad Stahelski, USA)  Ex-communicated from the international network of fancy assassins, Wick is now on the run, visiting old acquaintances, cashing in some favours and traveling as far as Casablanca looking to get right with the “high table” that controls everything. After a disappointing second act that continued the adventures of the excellent original, this third chapter is a refreshing bit of bloody whimsy, ridiculously expanding the character’s universe to include such magical figures as Anjelica Huston as an underworld matriarch and Halle Berry as his jaded contact living in the middle east with her vicious guard dogs.  Trailer

Knock Down The House
(Rachel Lears, USA)  A grassroots organization looks around the country for candidates who will be willing to run in the 2018 midterm primaries, the result sees unlikely figures come out of the woodwork and this energetic, bright documentary focuses on four women who put their fears aside and go for the gold. This film does not delve deep into its subjects and never feels like it ever intended to, any cynicism about justice in the American system of government is kept at a minimum while focus is placed on admiring the hard work and determination of these four politicians, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez getting the lion’s share of attention.  Trailer

Late Night
(Nisha Ganatra, USA)  A chemical plant manager gets a shot at her dream life when she snags a vacant spot on her favourite late-night talk show, whose host has been accused of being narrow-minded thanks to her all-white, all-male writer’s room.  Mindy Kaling’s screenplay is unconventional and frequently unpredictable, giving as much room to plot twists as it does, thankfully, to her own comedic charm and Emma Thompson’s wickedly charismatic presence, but loses its power the less it pushes for laughs towards the end, as if Kaling doesn’t trust us to get that she’s laughing with the modern, liberal world and not at it.  Trailer

Our Friend
(Gabriela Cowperthwaite, USA)  A married couple become best friends with an actor that she meets doing a play, then years later he leaves his uninspiring retail job to take care of her when she takes seriously ill and her husband needs to keep working.  Based on journalist Matthew Teague’s account of losing his wife Nicole to cancer as documented in an Esquire article, this touching and sincere tearjerker features sympathetic performances but the fractured timeline, flipping back and forth between good times and bad out of sequence, feels like unnecessary creative overkill.  TIFF: 2019.  Trailer

A Rainy Day In New York
(Woody Allen, USA)  A rebellious college student who is as allergic to his patrician privilege as he is happy to take advantage of its delights treats his Yardley College girlfriend to a trip to the Big Apple when she is invited to interview a famous director for the school paper.  This one has individual parts that work very well in isolation, Selena Gomez is riveting as one of Chalemet’s old flames and her scenes with him are the film’s finest, while other moments, like Cherry Jones’s intense monologue about her past, feel like a climax that the nefarious auteur was trying to fit in from another script.  Trailer

The Souvenir
(Joanna Hogg, United Kingdom/USA)  The daughter of posh, distracted parents entertains friends in her new flat while preparing to start film school, meeting a debonair, cultivated gentleman with whom she begins a pleasant and polite affair but, in her naivete, fails to see the signs of his heroin addiction until it’s too late.  Hogg’s spare and unsentimental film has one of the least interesting stories you’ll see, the tale of an insecure girl whose coming-of-age occurs thanks to the pain of an eye-opening relationship is not exactly breaking news, but intelligent direction coaxes realistic performances and refuses to allow anything to feel manipulated or melodramatic.  Trailer

Terminator: Dark Fate
(Tim Miller, USA/Spain/Hungary)  We arrive almost thirty years after Skynet sent a bad Terminator back in time to kill John Conner, with another future at stake as nasty artificial intelligence comes to Mexico in 2019 to take out a young woman who is thankfully being protected by a human with cyborg upgrades.  This exciting action movie isn’t on par with James Cameron’s originals, the character detail isn’t as grounded or nuanced as it was back when the filmmaker had control over every aspect of the project, and it lacks the grandeur of Mad Max: Fury Road from which it also takes more than a few cues, but the pace is kept at a speedy tempo until the very end.  Trailer

(Jordan Peele, USA/Japan)  Years after she had a terrifying experience at an amusement park in Santa Cruz, a woman returns with her family for a relaxing getaway that turns tense when they look outside their front window and see four strangely dressed individuals standing in their driveway.  The issue of American life existing on a binary of privilege and struggle (along racial and/or economic lines, depending on what’s more on your mind) is intelligently explored, but Peele hasn’t worked out all the rules of his game, it’s a wonderful film if you don’t look at its logic too closely.  Trailer




Almost Love
Sell By
(Mike Doyle, USA)  A man who ghost-paints canvases that a snooty Manhattan cause celebre takes credit for is constantly being left out of plans by his fashion blogger boyfriend, their friend has started dating a man she discovers is homeless, and a married woman realizes that her husband is cheating on her.  Neither the writing nor the direction try too hard, allowing the performances to ease into the characters’ issues with sensitivity as they examine the compromises that come with their stage of adulthood; it’s a happier movie than this makes it sound, but Doyle’s respect for the melancholy at the centre of even the most joyous situation makes it always feel smart.  Trailer

And Then We Danced
(Levan Akin, //France)  This film is reviewed at That Shelf Magazine.  Trailer

The Best of Enemies
(Robin Bissell, USA)  Civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Ku Klux Klan president C.P. Ellis are forced to find a way to connect when the NAACP sues the town for not having integrated its schools.  Bissell’s direction is free of manipulation and there are nuggets of intelligence in the script, but Sam Rockwell’s sympathy is far too obvious and it’s hard to believe him as a hard-line white supremacist, and Taraji P. Henson in fake breasts and a fat suit has the unintentional result of making her look more like Tyler Perry’s Madea than a remarkable figure in Civil Rights history.  Trailer

Gemini Man
(Ang Lee, USA/China)   A top-flight hit man decides to get out of the game and retire to a small fishing village, but when bad guys show up at his house and start raining bullets down on him, he learns that the man who is trying to kill him is a cloned younger version of himself.  Impressive visual effects allow for anti-aging technology on Smith that looks better than anything of the kind that has been done yet, and there are a number of chase sequences that are truly exciting and inspired, but Lee goes in search of the emotional resonance in the story and it is nowhere to be found.  Trailer

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find
(Abner Pastoll, United Kingdom/Belgium/France)  A financially struggling widow with two small children is forced to let a dealer stash his stolen drugs in her apartment and she, desperate to keep violence out of her house but also anxious to find out any information about her husband’s death, is at her wit’s end as to how to keep the situation in balance before taking matters into her own hands.  Things take a highly improbable turn in the final third but, after almost an hour and a half of Sarah Bolger giving the same panting sob to the camera, the film’s switch to grindhouse revenge thriller is a welcome relief.  Trailer

The Kitchen
(Andrea Berloff, USA)  Three women living through the grimy reality of New York’s Irish mob-controlled Hell’s Kitchen in the seventies are struggling to make ends meet after their spouses go to prison, so they start collecting protection money from local businesses that has them eventually make a real bid for authority in the area.  Based on the comic book series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, this film’s terrific setup and strong cast should have made for something if not as legendary as The Godfather or GoodFellas, at least as hypnotizing, but after doing a great job of getting the ball rolling in the beginning, it fails to live up to its promise.  Trailer

Last Christmas
(Paul Feig, United Kingdom/USA)   A woman who survived a serious medical emergency is now on a downward spiral and can barely keep herself employed as an elf in a Christmas-themed London shop, but begins to change her methods when she meets a handsome bicycle courier with whom she develops a very sweet romance.  A sincere movie whose heart is genuinely warm and always in the right place (no pun intended) is made pleasant by a soundtrack of George Michael songs, but what it has in sympathy it lacks in sense, a third act twist comes out of nowhere and feels like a slap in the face (even if you do know the words to the title song).  Trailer

Long Shot
(Jonathan Levine, USA)  A journalist who quits his job on moral principle is hired as speech writer for the United States Secretary of State who is also, coincidentally, his childhood babysitter upon whom he once had a massive crush, and who needs his help to improve her image in preparation for her plans to run for President.   Political comedies usually work best when the world of politics is presented accurately, allowing the element of comedy to sweep in as a subversive force, but this film is written by people who can never decide how committed they are to the ludicrous, wholly unbelievable premise.  Trailer

(Ari Aster, USA)  A grieving post-graduate student joins her boyfriend and their friends on a trip to a village in Sweden whose pagan traditions will be the subject of an anthropology thesis, initially greeted warmly but eventually treated to a series of increasingly disturbing rituals.  Visually striking, this moody horror movie is too predictable to justify its weighty two and a half hour running time, Aster seems to think he’s the only person who ever read Shirley Jackson or watched The Wicker Man, but waiting for the inevitable to happen is only frustrating for your intellect, not your patience.   Trailer

Murder Mystery
(Kyle Newacheck, USA)  A couple well past the hottest period of their marriage take a trip to Europe, meet a handsome millionaire and are invited to ditch their planned bus tour and come on his yacht instead, which they accept before their first night ends in murder.  Trying to solve the mystery and get themselves out of trouble, our stars also wander the Riviera in this sunny and appealing comedy that goes for easy jokes but is never stupid, honest about the fact that it plays more like an adaptation of Clue than Agatha Christie and always keeping its eye on its desire to deliver plenty of light fun.   Trailer

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
(Martin Scorsese, USA)  Bob Dylan remembers so little of his 1975 Rolling Thunder tour that Scorsese decides to do the remembering for him, compiling a series of terrific onstage performances with talking heads interviews that range from real to completely scripted.  Dylan’s form of storytelling through music has always had him veering in and out of fictional representations of himself, but the invented elements of the film are done with little humour and play only to devoted fans in the manner of a smug private joke.  Trailer

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
(André Øvredal, Canada/USA)  In a small Pennsylvania town in the late sixties, a group of teenagers enter an abandoned old house and find an alleged murderer’s notebook full of terrifying stories that continue to be written by an invisible hand, telling tales of the people reading them and the nasty ends that they will meet. The popular series of children’s books, whose terrifying illustrations made us really wonder if they were actually meant for children, are adapted to an enjoyable if ultimately too familiar horror movie.  Trailer

Sequin In a Blue Room
(Samuel Van Grinsven, Australia)   A teenager in Sydney explores his sexuality via erotic encounters with men who remain as emotionally detached as he does, but after attending a sex party where he connects with a partner who then disappears, he becomes fixated on finding him while avoiding an older lover who has become obsessed.  While at first it might feel like this very evocatively photographed and sexually provocative drama is aimed at condemning the impersonal nature of modern-day gay dating life, Van Grinsven never actually treats his main character like he is judging him but is, rather, giving him room to learn from his errors in judgment, never doing so with any self-righteous love vs. sex messaging.  Trailer

Where’d You Go, Bernadette
(Richard Linklater, USA)  An emotionally explosive woman living with her successful tech executive husband and precocious teenage daughter spends the majority of her time avoiding socialization with her neighbours, once a high-profile architect who walked away from it all and is now oppressed by the weight of her own creative inertia.  The first half of this adaptation of the novel by Maria Semple is better than the second, watching Cate Blanchett rage against the people who keep trying to limit her is immensely satisfying, while a middle-of-the-road resolution feels like a cop-out when it’s probably meant to be enlightening.  Trailer




(Guy Ritchie, USA) Aladdin dreams of being more than just a scrabbler surviving the streets of Agrabah, and gets his chance to rise above his station when the Grand Vizier of the imperial palace throws him into a cursed cave to fetch a magic lamp that he desires.    As was the case with the Beauty and the Beast rehash, the human version has all the grandeur of the original but none of its charm or whimsy, telling the story of the crafty and clever “street rat” of the title with such heavy sincerity that Ritchie may possibly have thought that he was remaking PixoteTrailer

Come To Daddy
(Ant Timpson, Ireland/Canada/New Zealand/USA)  A man leaves his mother’s Beverly Hills mansion and shows up at a remote beachside home in rural Oregon (actually shot in Tofino, British Columbia), drawn there by a letter sent to him by his estranged father, but a chance discovery of a hidden chamber with a great deal of secrets turns this film from a grim family drama into a grindhouse action movie about one man against a host of very scary enemies.  A clever conceit and a thrilling switch indeed, carried by Elijah Wood’s reliable ability to portray vulnerable incredulity, but Timpson and screenwriter Toby Harvard have a created a top-heavy plot that spends far too much time on a set up that, rather than being upended and informing the second part, feels like an excuse for a low-budget film to kill time before delivering the more expensive sequences.  Trailer

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
(David Leitch, USA)  Having practically stolen the last Fast and The Furious film away from the main cast with their hostile chemistry, the duo of Hobbs & Shaw gets centre stage as they track down a deadly bioweapon that has been stolen by an MI:6 agent gone rogue.  The action sequences are big and loud and the perpetual bickering between the two leads is generously placed, but Leitch fails to maintain the energy and pace of his superior John Wick and here makes a very choppy and unenthusiastic movie (which is a lot to say about a film that has trucks form a daisy chain to take down a helicopter).  Trailer

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
(Michael Dougherty, USA/Japan)  It’s been five years since the big lizard ate San Francisco, and one scientist has actually engineered the awakening of the awe-inspiring Mothra, while the Monarch corporation is trying to convince the government to allow them to integrate fire-breathing, winged creatures into our everyday human life. As fun as this sounds, and as good as the visual effects are, none of the actors are having a good time, resulting in a movie that, despite being about big lizards and dragons, refuses to have any fun.  Trailer

Good Boys
(Gene Stupnitsky, USA)  Three sixth graders see the opportunity to up their social status when one is invited to a really cool kid’s party, but they need to to steal drugs and sell them to pay for the expensive drone they broke, and the girls they took them from will stop at nothing to get them back.  Most of the jokes are low-hanging fruit, with a few gags involving their parents’ sex toys that hit the mark, and the film is a tiresome rehashing of many similar movies from recent years that, like its protagonists, talks a lot tougher than it actually is.  Trailer

The Good Liar
(Bill Condon, USA)  A wealthy widow goes online in search of companionship, not realizing that the charming man she meets and gets immediately close to is a high stakes grifter who cons investors out of their wealth through bogus business deals. There’s very little tension in this dramatic thriller, adapted from the book by Nicholas Searle, Helen Mirren can’t convincingly play someone naïve enough to fall for Ian McKellen’s line, whose character isn’t exactly the last word in confident confidence man, while the revelations in the final twist feel too convenient.  Trailer

High Flying Bird
(Steven Soderbergh, USA)  A sports agent finds himself in a financial bind during an NBA lockout between managers and players, deciding to deal with his own money worries by finding a clever way to keep players busy and in the public eye without violating any terms of the contract, but his doing so causes trouble between his client and another popular player (and his shrewd manager/mother). This intelligent if not particularly exciting drama was shot quickly on iPhones and it only shows in the spontaneous nature with which it plays out, as having a director as accomplished as Soderbergh behind the camera means that it never feels amateurish and the performances never come off as one-take fumbles.  Trailer

It: Chapter Two
(Andy Muschietti, Canada/USA)  Almost three decades after the incidents of the surprisingly good first film, the Losers Club is reunited in Derry when Mike, the one member of their group who never left town, calls his childhood friends and tells them that the evil Pennywise is wreaking havoc again.  Muschietti brings the same level of high production value to the second half of this adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 bestseller (the author makes a cameo here) but there’s little he can do to make up for the fact that it’s by far the less interesting of the two entries. Trailer

(Tate Taylor, USA)  Teenagers ask a vet clinic nurse to buy them drinks from a liquor store and accept her invitation to hang in her basement, partying hard with no limits before realizing that she actually has sinister plans for them.  A great cast is a boost to this sometimes juicy but mostly overwrought thriller that gives Octavia Spencer so much room to create a full-bodied character that she somewhat tips the film’s balance in the wrong direction, it’s hard to know if you’re watching a revenge thriller or a sympathetic melodrama thanks to Taylor directing Strait Jacket as if it was Mildred Pierce.  Trailer

Rambo: Last Blood
(Adrian Grunberg, USA/Spain/Bulgaria)  It’s been ten years since we last spent time with Vietnam vet John Rambo, who is now in Arizona and leading a sedentary life on a giant ranch, his peaceful days ruined when his teenaged ward decides to go across the Mexican border to find her biological father and he must rescue her from sex slavery.  Stallone is fine form and it’s surprisingly easy to believe that, even in his early seventies, he can pull off the stunts that he is required to perform here, but the film’s attempt to give Rambo his Logan is ruined by a rushed script that never lets any tension build.  Trailer

Ready Or Not
(Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)  A new bride’s anxiety about her fiancé’s rich family reaches a full boil when she is forced to take part in their annual tradition of parlor games, which this year is a game of Hide and Seek that involves everyone hunting her down and killing her by dawn. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett present a woman in a bridal gown, that age-old western symbol of purity, being sacrificed at the altar of the patriarchy, but never really let her get revenge on the passivity expected of her, there are too few moments where she gives as good as she gets before a last-minute cop-out by the screenwriters saves her from making any effort at all.  Trailer

The Secret Life of Pets 2
(Chris Renaud, France/Japan/USA)  Max and Duke are taken to the country on a family trip that sees them left outside with the other animals on the farm, fluffy poodle Gidget loses Max’s favourite toy in the apartment of a cat lady whose feline companions number in legion, and new character Daisy enlists the crackpot bunny Snowball to help her save a tiger cub from cruel circus owners. There’s a sense that the creative team has really stretched themselves a bit too hard to come up with a sequel to the surprise 2016 hit, cobbling together a bunch of story ideas and smoothing them over without really making them feel solid.  Trailer

Tu Me Manques
(Rodrigo Bellott, Bolivia/USA)  This film is reviewed at ThatShelf.comTrailer

What Men Want
(Adam Shankman, USA)  Nancy Meyers’ 2000 comedy is remade and given a gender switch, she’s now a sports agent who is turned down for partnership at her agency but, after a nasty bump on the head, suddenly has the ability to hear mens’ inner thoughts and uses it to her advantage.  Audiences might take issue with a film that ends with the moral lesson of telling a black woman to be more tolerant, not to mention its featuring a sneaky criticism of excessive career ambition, but try to just enjoy the premise as a concept-comedy lark and Taraji P. Henson’s spirited performance, and you might have a good time. Trailer




Doctor Sleep
(Mike Flanagan, USA)  Decades after the events of The Shining left him fatherless and more than a little shaken, Danny Torrance is now grown-up Dan, handsome and alcoholic and on the run from his bad habits, while a supernatural Manson Family has been traveling the country killing children and drawing Dan and another psychic child to join forces and rid the world of their evil.   Although billed as a sequel to both Stephen King’s original book and Stanley Kubrick’s milestone film, this one is really just a pale retread of story elements from other King novels with a conclusion at the Overlook Hotel disingenuously tacked on, aggravated by an obsession with lingo and gadgets and an excessive running time.  Trailer

Dora And The Lost City of Gold
(James Bobin, Australia/USA)  The little girl whose passion for exploration thrilled many a toddler’s heart on her animated television series graduates to feature film, her keen desire to explain the secrets of the jungle coming in handy when she, Diego and two of their fellow students are kidnapped and forced to help mercenaries find the location of a city of gold.  Don’t hold it against your kids if they love it, but don’t be surprised if you find it confusing; sometime it’s an attempt at the Brady Bunch Movie’s self-aware skewering of its main character, other times it’s a sincere adventure, either way the sets look fake and the visual effects are bad.  Trailer

(Zara Hayes, United Kingdom/USA) An unhappy woman has decided to ignore the treatment she needs for terminal cancer, selling her home and moving to a Stepford-like retirement community where she resurrects her high school ambitions as a cheerleader that were thwarted by her mother’s own illness and death.  The intentions are all good here, but the humour is canned and the characters are lifeless, and sitting through it is torture no matter how much you love all the women on screen.  Trailer

(Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala/France/Luxembourg)  The son of a large, wealthy Guatemalan family has drawn the concern and anger of his relatives after leaving his wife and two children in the cushy suburbs to live in a ratty apartment in the city with the man he now says he loves, denied access to his children and threatened with violence while tortured by self-doubt.  This film’s intention is to show a society held back by religious ignorance and too much faith in a limited idea of virile masculinity, but it fails to be convincing thanks to its reliance on a very limited understanding of its characters or their situations, that this story represents the real experience of people in small, closed communities is more than likely, but being dramatically convincing isn’t the same thing as having your facts in order.  Trailer




(Tom Hooper, United Kingdom/USA)   The gathering of a group of four-footed critters, with names that sound like things your grandmother calls you after too much Bailey’s in her hot chocolate, is the general idea around which a plot inspired by T.S. Eliot’s 1939 collection of poetry exploring his own ruminations on his feline friends revolves.  The stage musical is essentially a collection of showcase numbers that give you a sense of the performer’s dazzling ability to sing and dance in a furry costume, but what should be just as charismatic and strange an experience on film is ruined by terrible visual effects, hideous production design and performances that vary from magnificent (Judi Dench) to uncomfortable (Ian McKellen) to out of tune (newcomer Francesca Hayward).  Trailer




Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
(Rob Letterman, USA/Japan/Canada)  A boy travels to Ryme City and teams up with his late father’s Pikachu companion to discover the truth behind his father’s death and unearth a conspiracy having to do with genetically modified Pokémons.  There’s some good effort put into the production design, while the plot, though never more than a pale retread of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is cute and clever, but the direction is dreadful and the actors never look like they know how to pretend to feel about their CGI companions.   Trailer

(Steven Knight, USA)  A man who runs boat tours on his tropical island is approached by a femme fatale from his past who asks him to help kill her abusive husband, while at the same time a strange employee of a fishing supplies company keeps dogging him and reveals clues to something far more sinister in the air. Throwing elements of Double Indemnity, Source Code, The Truman Show and Beasts of the Southern Wild into a blender (maybe a little Islands In The Stream while we’re at it), Knight has created not a mess but something whose various genre elements, when combined, diminish each other into something pale and weak.  Trailer




(Brian De Palma, Denmark/France/Belgium/Italy/Netherlands/USA/United Kingdom)  Copenhagen police officers are investigating a terror suspect and their attempted arrest goes awry when they find a man escaping a murder scene, and trying to catch him sends one cop on a cross-European trek that turns out to be complicated by interference from the CIA.  The paranoid conspiracy thriller aspect to the story can’t match up to Blow Out because it barely makes sense, the plot has holes the size of a crater and the personal stakes for these characters feels poorly constructed.  Trailer

Velvet Buzzsaw
(Dan Gilroy, USA)  A snotty art critic is one of a number of characters who come into contact with the supernaturally-imbued paintings found in a dead man’s apartment, which bring about a number of nasty deaths. There’s probably an overarching theme about the art world’s having destroyed the value of creativity with ceaseless capitalist ambition, but Gilroy’s lecture is severely diminished by confused storytelling, particularly the highly inconsistent method by which the malevolent force operates.  Trailer


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