Category Archives: Kick-ass!

TIFF20: Beans

The Oka Crisis. It’s an ugly piece of Canadian history that those of you outside our borders will not have heard of and those of us inside find shameful and painful to own. But own we must.

In brief: white people set sail to find a route to Asia and landed in and around Canada instead. White people are lousy sailors but they’re awfully good at taking what isn’t theirs. We even gave it a fancy word: colonization, a polite term for stealing land and dispossessing current inhabitants. By 1956, the Mohawk First Nation had just six remaining square kilometers from their original 165 around the Oka area and in 1959 the town (of white people) approved the development of a private nine-hole golf course on a portion of that land. The project bordered a sacred Mohawk burial ground in use for nearly a century but the Mohawk were not consulted and soon a parking lot bordered their cemetery. In 1990, it was announced that the golf course would be expanding by an additional nine holes and even more land would be bulldozed to make room for condos. In protest, the Mohawk people erected a barrier blocking access to the area. This land dispute lasted 78 days, with 2000 provincial police and 100 special operatives, as well as 4500 members of the Canadian Forces deployed to “keep the peace.” Tactical units used tear gas and concussion grenades on the barricade, prompting gunfire exchanged from both sides, killing one. At the time, there were only about 30 armed Mohawks behind the barricade. That number doubled after the raid, but obviously the sides were still incredibly uneven. The Mohawks had support from other First Nation communities across Canada but their white neighbours lined the streets to throw rocks at cars of evacuating women and children.

The Oka Crisis wasn’t so much resolved as ended with both sides feeling used and bruised. It was a dramatic stand-off for sure, but only a symptom of a much larger problem in Canada and in many countries where indigenous populations were pushed aside and marginalized in their own territories. The relationship between Canada and its Aboriginal people is still uneasy, with systemic racism practically baked right into the foundation of our country.

There have been many documentaries about this turbulent time in Canadian history, but Beans is the first narrative film, one that captures the time and the tension rather eloquently. The film is told from the perspective of an 11 year old girl behind the barrier called Beans (Kiawenti:io Tarbell) and largely divorced from politics. It is a humane and personal account of the crisis, which writer-director Tracey Deer experienced herself as a child.

Beans has no agenda. She’s just a kid who loves riding her bike and is excited to meet the new baby her mom Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) is carrying. Beans is a bright kid but she’s young, and susceptible to peer pressure. She doesn’t realize she’s living through a historical event, she’s just trying to make it through the summer without embarrassing herself in front of the older kids she’s been hanging out with. But as the tension becomes undeniable and the violence ever closer to her home, Beans is about to face things no kid her age ever should.

Because Deere (along with co-writer Meredith Vuchnich) is recounting events from the perspective of a child, the conflict itself is simplified and we experience it on a visceral rather than diplomatic level. We feel her fear, her shame, her confusion. There may be two sides to every dispute, but there’s no excuse for terrorizing a pregnant woman and her children. There are certainly challenges for Beans and her peers growing up on the reserve, but outside of Mohawk territory, the racism alone poses a real danger and threat.

Deere isn’t condemning anyone with her film, but she is exorcising some ghosts she’s clearly carried with her into adulthood. Her images are beautiful, her story is balanced, and she’s made an important contribution to our cultural legacy – for better or for worse.

TIFF20: Pieces of a Woman

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are excited to welcome their first child. Well, excited/terrified in proportions that vary wildly from moment to moment, and depending on what kind of shade Martha’s judgy and manipulative mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) is throwing. Usually it’s quite a lot, but what can they say when she’s co-signing the loan on their new minivan?

Martha is opting for a home birth but of course when she goes into labour, some other thoughtless pregnant lady is monopolizing her midwife and she has to settle for her back-up, Eva (Molly Parker). It’s not exactly the birth plan Martha had naively hoped for, but none of it matters once those contractions get serious. Her labour is long and difficult, and we get a front row seat. It is raw and captivating, told in a good 30 minute chunk of some of the most intimate film making I’ve ever seen.

Director Kornél Mundruczó shows the birth of a beautiful baby girl in excruciating, glorious detail. Her death is much more swift. It is easy enough to show a baby’s arrival, and I suppose also her loss, but it is another thing entirely to show a mother learning to live without her.

Vanessa Kirby is astonishing in this – numb with grief, achingly lonely, and finally, explosive with anger. The film’s second half can’t quite compete with its dizzying first (very little can), but even if it occasionally slips, Kirby does not, she soldiers on, the portrait of a woman fractured by her loss, still wearing badges of motherhood without the defining, essential thing. Her life, her home, her relationship have all become haunted by the ghost of such brief life. Martha stumbles along the path toward some kind of acceptance, but Kirby’s Oscar track is sure-footed and just.

TIFF20: Another Round (Druk)

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) has been burned out and running on autopilot for some time. There’s little time or reason for joy. His job has become dull and burdensome for both himself and his students. I’m not excusing the behaviour that’s to follow, but I am giving you the context in which Martin and friends/colleagues Peter (Lars Ranthe), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) agree to conduct a social experiment.

Under the guise of “research,” they agree to test the theory that people operate better with a constant 0.05 blood alcohol level. Drinking at work: what could go wrong? Certainly four professionals should know better than to fall for such pseudoscience and likely they do, but caught up in some major midlife malaise, any excuse to numb the drowning desperation sounds like a good one. Drinking all the time to maintain that certain level needs not only commitment but opportunity which does involve some risk. But soon their classrooms are enlivened, their home lives invigorated. Martin and his friends are relaxed, they’re enjoying life again, people notice they’re less inhibited.

You and I can spot the problems coming a mile away, but feeling cocky, and perhaps with slightly impaired judgment, they all agree that since 0.05 is good, more must be better. This is the inevitable folly of man. Soon Martin and his gang are dosing themselves at ever-increasing levels. It’s fun, at first. They’re completely stress-free at work and they’re spending loads of their free time in each other’s company, where everyone is similarly inebriated and having a good time. Everyone else seems so uptight in comparison, but together they mix drinks and dance. They dance! Four white middle aged men just dance around their living rooms unselfconsciously. And since more is so much more fun, even more must be even better right? So now they’re alienating their families and risking their jobs but they don’t care or notice because they’re so intoxicated.

No matter how low they go, director Thomas Vinterberg, who wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm, manages to keep the film quite dignified even when its characters are not. We are witnesses to a social experiment, it’s just not quite the one that Martin and friends set out to prove. It feels dangerously easy for such a film to veer off course into raunchy comedy mode but Vinterberg maintains a steady hand and a thoughtful introspection

Mads Mikkelsen is at his very best in the film, teetering on one ledge or another, giving a thrilling performance that is being constantly and expertly recalibrated. But at its heart, Another Round is an ensemble, and Mikkelsen is very ably supported by Ranthe, Larsen, and Millang. The script gives them each something to chew on, ensuring that the audience gets an impressive menu which ultimately ends in a very satisfying meal.

Enola Holmes

Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) has had a strange but delightful childhood, raised and educated by her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) in a manner perhaps inappropriate for a fine young lady of her time, but according to Eudoria’s own standards. Eudoria valued intellect and wit of course, but also independence (hence Enola’s name, alone spelled backwards) and a free spirit. They were happy together, not even lonely though Enola’s father had passed and her brothers left home years ago. But waking on her 16th birthday Enola finds that her mother has disappeared and left her no choice but to summon her older brothers.

Brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) is a bit of a famous detective – maybe you’ve heard of him? And Mycroft (Sam Claflin) is the persnickety one who finds his sister’s lack of social graces to be untenable. He lines up a finishing school to send her away to, so of course she absconds, not unlike her mother has. Enola has gone to London of course, not just to find out where her mother is, but who her mother is, or was. To do it, she’ll have to stay one step ahead of brother Sherl, who is a a bit of a sleuth himself, and not easy to outwit.

The part suits Millie Bobby Brown to perfection – plucky, canny, charming and engaging, she adds a new dimension to the already beloved and fully realized Holmes universe, not only proving her worth but making room for herself and room for change. Sherlock has always lived very much inside himself, apart from and above the rest of the world, of whom he takes little notice unless they’re part of the case. Enola, however, is very much a product of and a force of change in England, which is already in flux when we meet her in 1884. Though she spent her early years in near isolation with her mother, her future is very much her own to make of it what she will.

TIFF20: 76 Days

An unidentified and unidentifiable young man is crying, begging to see his father one last time. The mourner is indistinguishable from his comforters as they all wear the same fully encapsulated protective garments. His father is already being wheeled toward a temporary morgue, his corpse zipped up in a special HAZMAT body bag, his remains a possibly infectious hazard that will be cremated unceremoniously in the nearest facility. There will be no last embrace.

We are in a hospital in Wuhan, China, the capital of Hubei Province and home to 11 million people. This is where COVID-19, first known simply as the coronavirus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was first identified as a cluster of viral pneumonia in late December 2019. Wuhan entered lockdown on January 23 2020, with WHO declaring it a public health emergency of international concern a week later, and a pandemic by March. Wuhan’s lockdown was an unprecedented bit of grace that would allow the rest of the world to prepare; it would be followed by lockdowns in many other countries the world over.

Wuhan stayed in lockdown for 76 days, and many hospitals, including this one, were simply overwhelmed by 50 000 cases of a disease they didn’t yet know how to treat. The need quickly outstrips the capacity. Doctors and nurses in thrown-together, inadequate PPE are shouting at panicked crowds of sick people, trying to get them to come in only a few at a time, hardly equipped to handle both the people and their ailments. A special ward for COVID patients was quickly separated from the rest, where fear bubbled, and impatience, loneliness, sorrow – not just the patients, but the doctors and nurses who are also locked down, isolated from their families, risking their lives to treat an unknown, highly infectious disease with a higher than average rate of death.

Directors Weixi Chen and Hao Wu try their best to tease out a few narratives from the chaos, but the film is actually at its best when the scenes are random, the pace urgent, its subjects on edge. Loud speakers throughout the city announce lockdown rules to empty streets; “Don’t create or spread rumours,” they say, with no one there to hear them. A bin full of cell phones belonging to the dead sits on a nurse’s desk, some of them still ringing.

It’s incredible that the film makers were able to piece something together so quickly, something that may one day serve as a primary document of this historical event, and even though we are still very much fighting this war and don’t yet know how or if it will end, I was on the edge of my seat watching it unfold at ground zero, where it all began. It is raw, emotional, desperate. It is a human and humane portrait of these troubling times.

TIFF20: The Way I See It

As the chief White House photographer for all 8 years of Obama’s presidency, taking intimate candid portraits of the president at work (and very, very occasionally at rest), Pete Souza has developed (photography pun!) some very solid ideas for how a president should behave.

Having also taken pictures of Reagan back in the day, Souza felt himself to be largely apolitical. He didn’t always agree with the decisions his subjects were making, but his job was to document their days, not comment on what he saw. And he never did. Top secret clearance and all that jazz.

As you can imagine, over the course of 8 years, with unprecedented access to the First Family, Souza has a bank of memories from his time with Barrack Obama, and he’s also got thousands upon thousands of photos. The two formed a friendship as close colleagues often will. Souza respected him as a man and admired him as a president.

But it wasn’t until Obama left office and you-know-who moved in that he truly started to consider how a president should behave. What a president should be seen doing. How the president’s image was a reflection of the country as a whole, and what damage it did not just to citizen morale but on the world stage as well, when a president continually insulted the very office they were elected to represent.

Pete Souza is not a politician. He’s not a public speaker or a talking head. He makes pictures, and those pictures quietly became his method of protest. Every time Trump would tweet something inane, and you know he’s spent nearly 4 years outdoing himself in the verbal diarrhea department, Souza would reply with a photograph of Obama looking dignified, personable, intelligent, presidential. He didn’t need to be any more pointed than that. The comparison was disheartening. And so over time, he has found a voice through his pictures, and a platform through Instagram. His followers call him the King of Shade, and after someone explained to him what throwing shade meant, he embraced the title and took the work even more seriously.

Dawn Porter’s documentary is a fun watch because of all the touching behind the scenes moments Souza shares with us. Obama’s absence has left a vacuum where gravitas and grace once belonged. Souza is filling that hole just a little bit. But more than that, his photos are a constant reminder of how a president can and should act.

The Social Dilemma

Should you delete all of your social medias right now? That’s the only relevant question here and YES is the only answer. For many people, though, that’s easier said than done, and most won’t even try, despite this film’s very credible, very convincing reasons. Namely that social media is having a measurably dangerous impact on our culture. It’s spying on you, it’s invading your privacy, it’s selling your soul to the highest bidder, and it’s turning the whole world into a machine meant to change your behaviours – obviously so that you spend money on products being pitched to you, but ultimately you yourself are the product, and the ability to change your real world behaviour (without even triggering your awareness, mind!) is being sold to whomever will pay – dirty politicians and their Russian counterparts, say. And fake news proliferates on a site like Facebook, and spreads 6x faster than the true stuff. Because truth is relatively boring, and lies are exciting, and can lead you down a rabbit hole, sucking more and more of your attention. So while you might give a true headline 3 seconds of your time as you scroll on by, fake news can mean you follow one link to another to another, which means that compared to 3 seconds, fake news just got 3 hours of your attention, which convinces the AI that you like this type of thing better, maybe even believe it, so it will recommend even more of them to you.

Cutting the cable isn’t so easy, though, when the software’s been designed specifically to addict you so that their algorithm can mine and extract your attention.

This film is teaching us to think critically about the apps we use and the content they contain. Capitalism is the real pandemic of our age, and if you’re not paying cash for the apps you’re using, you’re paying in some currency you don’t know about, without your consent. Social media sites use powerful AI to suggest the exact right material to you at the exact right time, presented in the way that’s most likely to catch your eye, keep your attention, and ultimately convert you. They’re implanting thoughts that will affect how you vote, what you support, how you interact with people. This is really scary stuff and the strongest vaccine is information, and a good dose of it can be found right now on Netflix.

The Devil All The Time

God may take smoke breaks but the devil sure doesn’t. Little Arvin Russell (Michael Banks Repeta) is a boy living with his parents in Knockemstiff, Ohio in the 1950s – about as rural as it gets, a place where everyone is someone else’s relation but alarmingly that doesn’t seem to stop them from coupling up. The Russells mostly keep to themselves. Mom Charlotte (Haley Bennett) was a waitress when she caught Willard’s eye. Willard (Bill Skarsgård) has recently returned from war, and when the urge to pray hits, he takes it seriously, building a “prayer log” in the backyard where he often drags son Arvin and compels him not only to pray, but to pray well, which means fervently, and loudly. Their prayers don’t work. Charlotte dies. Willard soon follows. A local police officer (Sebastian Stan) comforts Arvin and makes sure he gets to his grandmother over in equally rural West Virginia. There he grows up with a stepsister, Lenora, who hadn’t been orphaned so much as abandoned by mom Helen (Mia Wasikowska) and dad Roy (Harry Melling). Eventually Arvin (now played by Tom Holland) and Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) grow up, and though Arvin remains a humble and peaceable young man, a solar system worth of sinister characters is orbiting him, and he’s on a collision course with all of them.

This film has a deep cast. I haven’t yet mentioned Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, or Jason Clarke, some of whom don’t appear until 45 minutes or more into the film, but all them are leaving quite an impression. Holland is the real stand-out though, and well he should be, since he is the sun and the others are mere planets. Nearly all of them have two things in common: religion, and violence. There will be lots of both.

It helps to remember that the title is The Devil All The Time. Not part time. Not even full time. ALL OF THE TIME. He’s relentless. Arvin, though, doesn’t care much for religion. He’s had a bad experience with it, and you can hardly blame him. So he’s establishing his morality based on other concepts, on his own internal sense of right and wrong, one that snakes in and out of every last one of these characters, and eventually it leads him back to the town where he was born, and to the officer who once led him away from a crime scene. No matter how far you go, you always end up right back where you started.

Director Antonio Campos indulges his cast, giving them ample time and space to breathe within scenes, and who can blame him when everyone is doing such excellent, and often against-type work. The movie is bleak, and violent. It is most definitely not an action movie. The violence isn’t stylized, it isn’t fun, it isn’t entertaining. It makes you cringe, and coupled with religion, makes you think.

The film is gritty, atmospheric, its inky fingers slowly unfurling themselves, choking the characters on their own nefarious intentions, sending tendrils of shiver down your spine as the tension increases. It is not a perfect film, nor an even one. The tone suffers, and just plain cannot be sustained during the film’s bloated run-time. But I enjoyed it, overall, enjoyed the riveting performances and the interesting take on narration, performed by the book’s author, Donald Ray Pollock. It’s got some disturbing imagery and some graphic violence too, but when the film is over, it’s the issues you’ll still be thinking about, trying to tease out what it all means.

TIFF20: New Order (Nuevo orden)

Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is resplendent in a crimson suit, about to marry her sweetheart at a swanky, high-society affair at her parents’ home, if only the judge would hurry up and get there. At the gate, an old family employee is begging for money. The timing is bad, but his wife will die without surgery, and he needs cash now. Marianne’s parents have offered some but he needs more and need makes him persistent. Marianne takes pity, and since the judge isn’t there yet anyway, she has another employee, Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), drive her to the sick woman so she can get her to a hospital.

Outside the gates of her lavish family home, there is unrest. Wedding guests and their cars have been showing up bearing traces of green paint – the protester’s signature colour. The rumble of rebellion grows louder, the streets chaotic. Back home, the estate walls have been breached, the wedding overwhelmed with “uninvited guests.”* Guests are stripped of their valuables, the house is trashed, the safe cracked. The Have Nots have risen up against the Haves, forcing guests to wire vast sums of money, shooting the ones who won’t. Wealth is being redistributed. For Marianne, things are even worse. The army has “intervened,” meaning they’ve identified high-resource targets like her and including her to be held captive with dozens, hundreds, thousands more who are tortured and held for ransom, all while blaming it on the protesters.

Unapologetically and brutally violent, not to mention unrelentingly bleak, Michel Franco explores what it means when the bottom 99% decide they’ve had enough. It’s a very literal interpretation of class warfare. There are no heroes here, just multiple levels of corruption.

Franco’s film is tough to watch. It starts out boisterous. demanding, pulsating with life and its many needs. His civil uprising is sudden, visceral, vicious. But with little context and no attachment to its characters, the second half loses its way amid the chaos. Franco is more focused on making shocking statements than stories, but even the ability to shock is blunted when it’s overused.

This is the kind of movie that you hope is dystopian rather than prophetic. Although, with the kind of 2020 we’ve been having, this is not a possibility we can afford to rule out entirely. New Order has a heightened capacity to disturb because it feels possible. By keeping the details vague, you could almost imagine any industrialized nation in its place; Franco is issuing a warning for anyone brave enough to see it through. It’s Parasite meets The Purge, weighted a little more toward horror than satire, where the civil war doesn’t so much bring new order as no order, and everyone is vulnerable.

The film, which took home the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize from the Venice Film Festival, is more about awe than answers. Like an electrified cattle prod to the privates, it won’t be for everyone, but at the very least, it should serve as a wake-up call.

*Recently nominated for euphemism of the year.

I Hope You’ll Die Next Time :)

In light of the recent suicide prevention day, I would love to talk about a Hungarian movie that I think is definitely worth watching. I Hope You’ll Die Next Time 🙂 was released exactly 2 years ago, in September 2018 and I can tell you that I’ve watched it quite a few times since its initial release – especially now that it’s also available on Netflix!

Now, the title of the movie is pretty shocking on its own – who on earth would put a smiley face at the end of such a sentence? Well, I’ll not tell you the exact reason why it is there as I really do not want to drop a major spoiler but all I can say is that the smiley’s there for a good reason: this is a movie about teenagers living in Budapest, the Hungarian capital and just like any other teenagers in the world, they normally use emoticons while texting each other.

So, what is the movie is about? You may have already guessed from the title that it’s about suicide. But it also talks about other problems of teenage life such as cyberbullying, relationships with friends and parents, love and sex. And well, they’re pretty interesting topics, aren’t they?

Synopsis

I Hope You’ll Die Next Time  tells the story of a Hungarian high school girl, Eszter, who is just like any other teenage girls – she loves manga, does cosplay and she has a crush on her English teacher – okay, I am not entirely sure whether having a crush on one’s English teacher is considered to be average but I guess it’s happened to some of us in our high school years. I mean, I too had a crush on one of my teachers.

I know it may sound pretty much like a Hollywood romcom. But it’s not. Eszter’s life seems to be pretty happy but obviously something bad needs to happen. And in her case, things will start to take turn for the worse when her English teacher (Csababá) announces that he’ll leave the country for a foreign job.

Will Eszter forget him? Of course, she won’t. And I guess it will not be a major spoiler if I tell you that our teenage protagonist starts a sexting relationship with her ex-English teacher – who’s actually married by the way – and that’s when things really start going out of control.

Well, I will not carry on with the story but I think it’s pretty obvious that this whole situation will not end well. And by the end of the movie, you’ll also learn why the movie’s title is “I Hope You’ll Die Next Time”.

Oh and I think I should also mention about the beautiful visuals of the movie and about its great pastel colours (just love the atmosphere!). And another thing that I loved was that it includes video calls, text messages which make the whole thing look more realistic.

And at the end of the day, the most important thing is the message of this movie. The characters have a seemingly perfect life, living in one of the prominent Budapest neighborhoods but this doesn’t mean that they do not have their own problems such as bullying, self-esteem issues and other mental health problems. And parents often realize that there’s a problem when it’s already too late….

Where To Watch?

The movie is available on Neflix and also on HBO Go – but as far as I know, their catalog varies greatly depending on your region.

Guest post by Mark Wester. Mark is a 27 years old guy from Central Europe who has suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) for most of his life and thought sharing stories and personal experiences could help people living with the same condition. Visit him at his blog, Overcoming OCD.