Tag Archives: Canadian content

Upside Down

The only thing I can be sure about is that I WILL get this movie review wrong.

I’m of two very distinct minds:

  1. What the hell???????
  2. What THE hell!!!!!!!!!

So you see how I’m conflicted. For the first 10 minutes, you’re holding on for dear life, frankly surprised they didn’t supply a pencil and paper just to jot down notes, though the movie’s prologue moves a little too fast for accuracy and I repeatedly asked Sean to pause the movie just to see if we were understanding the same basic things.

Which are: Where Adam lives, there are twin planets with opposite gravity. If you climbed to the highest peak of your planet, you could nearly touch the outstretched hand of a person on the highest peak of theirs. But you can’t hop over because your gravity is keeping you on your planet and their gravity is keeping them on theirs.

They are twin planets but not equally prosperous; Adam’s planet is known as the “down below” and the other as the “up top,” which describes their relative wealth more than their actual cosmic positions since the other planet is always technically looming over whichever one your feet are planted on. Contact between worlds is dangerous, and forbidden. The only authorized contact is through Transworld, a big business that the Up Top uses to take cheap resources from Down Below and then sell it back to them at prices they can’t afford. A Transworld oil refinery explosion killed Adam’s parents and destroyed most of their city when he was young. He grew up in foster care and visited his Great Aunt Becky on weekends, who makes her famous flying pancakes for him using pollen sourced from pink bees which feed off flowers from both worlds. It’s a closely guarded family secret, and Aunt Becky vanishes before she can fully pass it on to Adam. He’ll spend the rest of his life trying to perfect the recipe.

When Adam (Jim Sturgess) is a kid, he meets Eden (Kirsten Dunst), a girl from the Up Top as they’re both perched on respective peaks. They’re crafty and they find ways to see each other even though it’s very much not allowed. But you know teenagers, especially star-crossed teenagers: forbidden love makes them extra horny. They have to get extra creative when it comes to makeout sessions, and you may find that it reminds you a bit of Dunst’s former life as Mary Jane Watson.

Anyway, the two are inevitably pulled apart but Adam never gives up hope that some day they will be reunited. So what we end up with is a drama / action / adventure / fantasy / sci-fi romance. Did I leave anything out? Actually, the problem is writer director Juan Solanas didn’t leave anything out. He has this rich, fecund concept, some pretty dazzling CGI, and a wonderfully bizarre and original premise, but…he fails to correctly identify the film’s core. Solanas believes it to be gravity but it’s actually weight. I know the two are related, but gravity is basically directly unobservable. It’s the magic that makes things work, but it’s weight that lends the story heft. This movie had incredible bubbles of creativity but there’s no character development and little emotional investment. Solanas went to some great trouble with his world-building, but it’s like if you took the instantly forgettable 1999 rom-com Drive Me Crazy but made it look like The Matrix. Not only is it a missed opportunity, it kind of makes you resent it for luring you in with a false promise in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

Look Again

Amit is a terrible judge of character, and also a terrible problem solver. But anyway: his girlfriend cheated on him and his business partner stole from him so now he’s going to commit suicide by lying dramatically across train tracks. Which…are not in service. Two guardian angels fly down from heaven to tell him to stop embarrassing himself and they give him a pair of magical miraculous glasses that allow him to see a person’s true aura. Well, frankly, aura’s a little generous. The glasses operate on a strictly binary system: good or bad. Which is obviously not the most ridiculous part of this paragraph, but it’s up there.

I’ll admit there’s something to this premise. Not so much the judgy eye wear as the possibility that we may learn more from failure than from success. Anyway, Amit (Anand Rajaram) isn’t interested in learning from his mistakes, or honing his own instincts, or taking responsibility for his own poor choices. He’s all about using the glasses to fast-track himself to love and money. Which is pretty stupid, because if god went to the trouble of sending you some fabulous frames, you’d better make damn sure you use them for good and not evil.

Writer-director Daniel O’Connor makes some pretty severe misjudgments. Making Amit our protagonist just makes me wish an errant train had put us all out of our misery before the movie even really began. This guy deserves to be naturally de-selected, and instead he gets a leg up from the big man himself? Boo. Amit steadfastly waves away concerns and objections from people who care about his moral fabric, he refuses to learn a lesson, and his button-down shirts are atrocious. O’Connor’s second misstep is casting Rajaram, who is nowhere near as charming as either man thinks. He plays Amit as fairly dodgy, which leaves a funny taste in the mouth considering he’s “the chosen one.” His character never deserves the good things in his life, nor is he grateful for them. And he’s so frickin obvious! He doesn’t wear the glasses, he rather suspiciously slips them on, looks at a person, takes them off, and then either nods or shakes his head. SO FRICKIN OBVIOUS! Have a little respect for the game, dude! God doesn’t want you flaunting your superpower! You may as well erect a sign that says “Isn’t it curious how well I can suddenly predict whether a temp will fit in to our office culture?” Um, yes, yes it is, Amit! It’s a little goddamned suspicious! Might it have anything to do with those hideous white glasses you keep whipping on and off like they can, I don’t know, reveal a person’s true nature somehow in a very black and white way that dangerously categorizes people as either one thing or the other, with no context or nuance or chance at redemption?

Rajaram isn’t the only problem in the cast. In fact, it would be simpler and shorter to list all the not-horrendous actors: Darryl Dinn. He plays one of the guardian angels and he has enough personality and pizzazz to brighten the screen, although with O’Connor’s script, it’s still an uphill battle, if the hill was Mount Everest and the battle was 10 000 murder hornets with a taste for angel blood. It is clearly only with a very high degree of difficulty that someone in this film can unlock the achievement of not adding to the general suckage of this film, and so I award Darryl Dinn with the Didn’t Suck Award, which I’m sure is more meaningful to him than a personalized concierge team from GOD was to Amit. I can’t be too hard on these poor actors. Judging by the film, they were likely working for a slice of soggy pizza at the end of a 16 hour day, and you know what they say: you get what you pay for.

Canadian Content

National Canadian Film Day is technically celebrated on April 22, 2020, but given our current collective situation, why not your quarantine just a tiny bit more patriotic by viewing these worthy Canadian titles.

HYENA ROAD Three different men, three different worlds, three different wars – all stand at the intersection of modern warfare – a murky world of fluid morality where all is not as it seems. Directed by and costarring Paul Gross, who’s gone full silver fox, plus Rossif Sutherland and Allan Hawco 


INDIAN HORSE Follows the life of Native Canadian Saul Indian Horse as he survives residential school and life amongst the racism of the 1970s. A talented hockey player, Saul must find his own path as he battles stereotypes and alcoholism. Directed by Stephen Campanelli, starring Forrest Goodluck and Sladen Peltier


ROOM Held captive for 7 years in an enclosed space, a woman and her young son finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay


RUN THIS TOWN An emerging political scandal in Toronto in 2013 revolving around crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford, seen through the eyes of young staffers at city hall and a local newspaper. Directed by Ricky Tollman, starring Mena Massoud, Nina Dobrev and Ben Platt 


THE SONG OF NAMES Several years after his childhood friend, a violin prodigy, disappears on the eve of his first solo concert, an Englishman travels throughout Europe to find him. Directed by François Girard, starring Tim Roth and Clive Owen 


BIRTHMARKED Two scientists raise 3 children contrarily to their genetic tendencies to prove the ultimate power of nurture over nature. Directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, starring Matthew Goode, Toni Collette and Suzanne Clément


THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS The story of people whose lives intertwine during a dramatic winter in New York City. Directed by Lone Scherfig, starring Zoe Kazan, Andrea Riseborough, Tahar Rahim, Jay Baruchel and Bill Nighy

FREAKS A bold girl discovers a bizarre, threatening, and mysterious new world beyond her front door after she escapes her father’s protective and paranoid control. Directed by Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein, starring  Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park 


THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S SPIVET A ten-year-old scientist secretly leaves his family’s ranch in Montana where he lives with his cowboy father and scientist mother, escapes home, and travels across the country aboard a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis and Callum Keith Rennie

THE CAPTIVE Eight years after the disappearance of Cassandra, some disturbing incidents seem to indicate that she’s still alive. Police, parents and Cassandra herself, will try to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. Directed by Atom Egoyan, starring Kevin Durand,  Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson


THE 9th LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX A psychologist who begins working with a young boy who has suffered a near-fatal fall finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality. Directed by Alexandre Aja, starring Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon and Aaron Paul

ASTRONAUT A lonely widower battles his family, ill health and time to win a competition for a golden ticket to space. Directed by Shelagh McLeod, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Lyriq Bent, Krista Bridges, Colm Feore


BANG BANG BABY A small town teenager in the 1960s believes her dreams of becoming a famous singer will come true when her rock star idol gets stranded in town. But a leak in a nearby chemical plant that is believed to be causing mass mutations threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare. Directed by Jeffrey St. Jules, starring Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin, Peter Stormare and Kristin Bruun

EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN Ryan, a good-natured slacker, is tempted into a money laundering scheme while working for a lottery magazine. A capitalistic comedy that asks the question – when is “enough” enough? Directed by Paul Fox, starring Paulo Costanzo


DIM THE FLUORESCENTS A struggling actress and an aspiring playwright pour all of their creative energy into the only paying work they can find: role-playing demonstrations for corporate training seminars. Directed by Daniel Warth, starring Claire Armstrong and Naomi Skwarna

TAKE THIS WALTZ A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street. Directed by Sarah Polley, starring Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman


EDGE OF WINTER When two brothers are stranded by a brutal winter storm with an unpredictable father they barely know, the boys begin to suspect their supposed protector may be their biggest threat. Directed by Rob Connolly, starring Tom Holland and Joel Kinnaman 

GIANT LITTLE ONES Two popular teen boys, best friends since childhood, discover their lives, families, and girlfriends dramatically upended after an unexpected incident occurs on the night of a 17th birthday party. Directed by Keith Behrman, starring  Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan

THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN After a chance encounter on the street, a woman tries to encourage a pregnant domestic abuse victim to seek help. Directed by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Violet Nelson, Charlie Hannah, and Barbara Eve Harris


AND THE BIRDS RAINED DOWN (IL PLEUVAIT DES OISEAUX) Three elderly hermits live in the woods. While wildfires threaten the region, their quiet life is about to be shaken by the arrival of two women – A story of intertwined destinies, where love can happen at any age. Directed by Louise Archambault, starring  Andrée Lachapelle, Gilbert Sicotte, Rémy Girard 

WINDOW HORSES A young Canadian poet with Chinese and Persian parents travels to Iran to perform at a poetry festival (animated). Directed by Anne Marie Fleming, voices by Ellen Page, Sandra Oh


WATER Set in colonial India against Gandhi’s rise to power, it’s the story of 8-year-old Chuyia, who is widowed and sent to a home to live in penitence; once there, Chuyia’s feisty presence deeply affects the lives of the other residents. Directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham and Sarala


THE GRIZZLIES In a small Arctic town struggling with the highest suicide rate in North America, a group of Inuit students’ lives are transformed when they are introduced to the sport of lacrosse. Directed by Miranda de Pencier, starring Ben Schnetzer, Will Sasso, Paul Nutarariaq, Anna Lambe,Tantoo Cardinal, Emerald MacDonald and Booboo Stewart


MAUDIE An arthritic Nova Scotia woman works as a housekeeper while she hones her skills as an artist and eventually becomes a beloved figure in the community. Directed by Aisling Walsh, starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke


BROOKLYN An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. Directed by John Crowley, starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters 


ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH Filmmakers travel to six continents and 20 countries to document the impact humans have made on the planet. Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky. Narrated by Alicia Vikander

CANADIAN STRAIN When cannabis becomes legal in Canada, boutique weed dealer Anne Banting is swiftly run out of business by the biggest gangsters in town – the government. Written and directed by Geordie Sabbagh and starring Jess Salgueiro


DRONE Ideologies collide with fatal results when a military drone contractor meets an enigmatic Pakistani businessman. Written and directed by Jason Bourque and starring Sean Bean


FALLS AROUND HER A successful singer leaves everything behind to return to her reservation to live alone. Written and directed by Darlene Naponse and starring Tantoo Cardinal

JAMES VS HIS FUTURE SELF A scientist meets a version of himself from the future who has traveled back in time to stop himself from inventing time travel. Starring Daniel Stern


LAVENDER After discovering old fractures in her skull, a photographer recovering from amnesia becomes increasingly haunted by a sinister childhood secret. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly and starring Abbie Cornish,  Dermot Mulroney, Justin Long


BEN’S AT HOME Heartbroken and cynical after he’s dumped by his girlfriend, Ben makes the unusual decision never to leave his house again. Directed by Mars Horodyski and starring  Dan Abramovici, Jessica Embro, Jim Annan

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING At the end of every month, when the welfare runs out, Catherine talks her alcoholic mother off of the same bridge. Literally. Directed by Amy Jo Johnson and starring  Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips, Clark Johnson 

Tammy’s Always Dying

Catherine (Anastasia Phillips) has spent a lifetime caring for her alcoholic mother Tammy, who has diagnosed herself manic-depressive thanks to the help of daytime television talk shows. Tammy (Felicity Huffman) isn’t a good person, but she is a good time, whooping and gyrating away in the bar where her daughter works, at least until the end of the month when the welfare runs out. Then there’s the monthly ritual of Tammy dangling off a bridge, threatening to jump, and Catherine rushing to her aid, assuring her that she’s loved and cherished and not a bad mother. Even though she kind of is, always demanding time, attention, greasy breakfasts, and cash, without offering anything back, like motherly love or pride or approval or even thanks.

Catherine is stuck in the same town where she grew up, tethered to a mother who is tethered to the bottle. She’s still fucking the same (married) guy from high school and working a dead-end job. Her only friend is fellow bartender Doug (Clark Johnson), who whisks her away to the city occasionally to live like other problem-free people for an evening. The cycle is starting to feel inevitable and unending, Catherine’s resentment growing, and she’s starting to feel like her mother’s suicide might not be the worst thing, except for the fact that it’s always been an empty threat just to elicit Catherine’s sympathy. So when Tammy is diagnosed with terminal cancer, it has a complicated impact on both of them, not to mention their dynamic now that Catherine’s become her full-time care-taker.

Tammy’s Always Dying gets off to a slow start but a strong lead performance by Phillips eventually sucks us into her world, which feels impoverished and inescapable. The mother-daughter bond is malignant, which makes for a painful reminder that we can’t always save the ones we love, or help loving those who can’t be saved. With confident direction from Amy Jo Johnson, Tammy’s Always Dying admits there are some things worse than death.

James vs. His Future Self

James (Jonas Chernick) is a geeky science guy who has largely buried himself in work. His parents are dead, he avoids his sister, and he’s too afraid to explore the outer reaches of the friend zone with the beautiful and equally geeky Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman), so there’s really no one to pull his body out from the avalanche of data he’s buried under. But one day an older man appears from out of nowhere, spouting nonsense that James has absolutely no chill for whatsoever, until the man whips out his dick.

Which, to be fair, would probably stop many of us in our tracks. But James does a double take, which under other circumstances might be rude, but in this case convinces him to listen up. Why? Because their penises (peni?) are identical, guys. Ipso facto, the old guy dropping trou is actually also James, but from the future. He didn’t initially recognize him because Future James (FJ) is older of course, and oddly also taller; time travel stretches you out, apparently. But since the penis thing checks out, and is of course a foolproof system for identifying past and future Yous, Present James (PJ) is willing to listen. He just doesn’t like what he hears. Future James (Daniel Stern) has traveled back in time to convince Present James not to invent time travel. To just drop it. Future James is responsible for the biggest scientific breakthrough in the history of literally everything, and has accomplished all of his wildest professional goals. But he’s begging Present James to choose another path. Because in the pursuit of his dream, he sacrificed everything else. Future James is miserable, and wants more for little PJ.

For a movie about time travel, it’s really kind of not about time travel. We’re not going to worry about portals or paradoxes or ripping a new one in the universe. Instead we’re going to debate whether the personal sacrifice required of any ground-breaking innovation is really worth it. And even if we accept that the best and most fulfilling path for James is to abandon his time travel research, does he perhaps owe it to the rest of humanity?

The discovery of two new elements in the periodic table and their development and application for the good of humankind made Marie Curie one of just 4 people to win a Nobel Prize in two different disciplines (chemistry and physics). Radiation therapy has saved the lives of countless cancer patients over the years, and many more have benefited from the x-ray. But Marie Curie paid with her life, dying of radiation poisoning she acquired in her lab. Would a Future Marie Curie have begged her to stop? And should she have listened? If not for her own sake and lifespan, perhaps for her daughter?

The performances are good and the direction uncomplicated. I delight in any film that makes me think, and the script, by Chernick and director Jeremy LaLonde, did just that. It manages not to come off as heavy-handed and remains fairly impartial. We wouldn’t all make the same choice, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right choice for James. I do wonder, though, that if the Future version of You suddenly showed up in your home, how would you know them? Should we all devise a secret code right now, just in case? Not only do many of us not have penises at all, but even those who do might often find theirs to be relatively nondescript. Could you pick it out of a lineup? Whipping it out makes for an awkward first encounter, and is risky enough to make a second encounter a lot less likely. After all, if you’ve traveled all that way THROUGH TIME to deliver an important message, you probably want to get on your good side. But then again, a lot of other validation methods will also come off as creepy, and stalker-ish. There really aren’t a lot of good options for the time traveler. Usually a fair dose of skepticism must be overcome, and then there’s the challenge of authentication. Plus, time travelers always seem to be cutting things pretty close, don’t they? There’s always some urgent need, probably the very fate of the universe hangs in the balance. So go ahead. Work out your secret password now and save your Future Self a lot of trouble should the need arise.

 

Run This Town

I know Americans think they have the market cornered in disgusting, unfit politicians, but before Donald’s fated presidential run, Canada was home to a mayor who made headlines around the world – and definitely not the good kind.

With all this extra time at home, we’re supplementing our movie watching with series watching, and one that recently caught our eye on Netflix (though it has been there a while – it wasn’t interesting enough in a world where we could go outdoors, but it was just good enough for lockdown) is Daybreak. It’s basically like Ferris Bueller’s Day off, but it’s also the apocalypse, and in this one, Matthew Broderick plays the principal. And the protagonist is a student who has recently transferred from Toronto (Canada). Though the kid refers to it as a “small town,” the kind in which all fathers take their sons hunting, it is in fact our most populous city. There are about 6 million people living in the GTA, so someone didn’t do their homework. Toronto is a frequent filming location for big Hollywood movies, movies that pretend they’re actually shooting in NYC, or Chicago. Very rarely does Toronto get to be Toronto, and the one time it does serves only to remind the world of that time when we were the buffoons.

2013: what a simple, naive time it was, looking back on it now. There are basically two sets of shockingly young people behind the wheels of basically everything: the mayor’s “special assistants”, led by Kamal (Mena Massoud), and the eager newspaper intern Bram (Ben Platt). Kamal’s job is basically to babysit the mayor and to minimize the collateral damage as much as possible. Bram’s job, aside from listicles, is to try to convince the grown-ups that there’s a major storm brewing at the mayor’s office, and whoever breaks it is about to earn a tsunami of clicks.

Rob Ford. There, I’ve said it. In the movie he’s played by an unrecognizable Damien Lewis. Rob Ford was a “businessman” who simply inherited a family business that was quite successful. He nonetheless saw himself as a “man of the people.” He was a conservative who loved to shout slogans and cut taxes. And also do crack.

Are you remembering him now? Every late night host loved to skewer this guy and he just kept feeding the fire. While he may not have been the first crack-smoking mayor, he was certainly the most photographed-with-a-crack-pipe mayor. He was also a very heavy drinker, and when he was good and plastered he’d sexually harass, or assault, female staffers, and, well, female anything. He was a black-out drunk who always denied it the next day, and often offered too much information in his denials. And yet 2013 was certainly in the time of smart phones. Video evidence was plentiful.

Run This Town is THAT story. The story of Kamal, a brown-skinned young man with the unenviable job of sweeping some extra-large skeletons back into some very full closets, despite the fact that Ford constantly reminded everyone he was anti-immigrant even if he thought Kamal was “a good one.” And of Bram, who knew this was a whale of a story but never got enough professional respect to do anything about it. It’s a reminder that these millennials we’re always accusing of being lazy are actually just very busy cleaning up boomer messes. Massoud and Platt are both excellent in this, and so are many others. But Lewis as Ford was not my favourite. The performance got lost behind the extensive prosthetics, which didn’t even feel accurate. Yes, Ford was a big, sweaty guy, not unlike a Chris Farley while Lewis’ look is more reminiscent of Fat Bastard.

Rob Ford is a sore spot for a lot of Torontonians, some of whom still defend him. But it’s also hard to criticize him, let alone mock him, since he died of cancer shortly thereafter, only 46 years old. And now Rob’s brother Doug is the premier of Ontario, because people refuse to learn lessons. I will say though, that while I despise his politics, he’s doing surprisingly well as a pandemic premier, his response oddly rational, and he’s taken care to distance himself from Trump’s dangerous rhetoric. So maybe there’s hope for the Fords after all?

The good news is that Run This Town tells the story fairly. It’s not a personal attack, in fact it’s not an attack at all. Rather than shaming Ford for what turns out to be a monumental addictions problem, the movie focuses on the very young people who actually had their hands on the steering wheel. Remember, this is the generation who cannot afford Toronto’s astronomical real estate prices. They are over-educated and under-paid. They can’t afford to be picky about who they work for. Their parents who prattle on about avocado toast are the very people who voted a crackhead as mayor.

 

Run This Town is now available to own or rent across all digital platforms.

Call of the Wild

This is the story of Buck, a behemoth St. Bernard and Scotch shepherd mix, a sweet pup enjoying a life of dog luxury in California when he’s dognapped all the way up to the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush. First he’s conscripted into a dogsled team for a mail delivery service, running across Canada’s northern frozen tundras until the telegraph makes his work obsolete. Next he becomes companion to John Thornton (Harrison Ford) who takes him out to the Arctic Circle where Buck can rediscover his primal roots.

Devoted fans of the 1903 Jack London novel will notice that neither Buck nor his dog colleagues closely resemble their characters in the book. In fact, the other sled dogs are also largely mutts, not the traditional Husky, and their personalities seem based upon the seven dwarfs. I’m not sentimental about the book so I don’t really mind the liberties taken with the literature so much as I mind the liberties taken with dogs. Because for a movie about a dog, and several of his doggie friends, there are no actual dogs in the movie. They’re all CG. And not only are they computer-generated, their expressions, especially Buck’s, are hyper real. Cartoonish. So they look out of place and they make it harder for me to relate to their characters. Buck and his pals get into some real danger. And of course, even out in the wilds, man is always any animal’s greatest threat. It’s likely too scary for very young kids, and yet it didn’t move me half as much as you’d expect from a bleeding heart with a recently deceased, dearly beloved dog. Because Buck’s movements and responses never feel real.

I have a slightly smaller pack now, but even with three dogs I’m very familiar with their methods of communication. If you live with a dog or a cat, and many times even a smaller pet, a bunny or a bird, then you’re likely pretty good at reading their expressions. You know what a tentative paw means, or a head tilt, or a lowered tail. You don’t need some ridiculous CGI eyebrows giving you Scooby Doo vibes. The constant reminder that these dogs aren’t real dilutes the story’s warmth and reduces our interest and empathy.

Ford is pretty solid, especially since he was almost always completely alone, perhaps acting only opposite a tennis ball on a stick that he had to imagine was man’s best friend. There’s a good story under all the effects, I think, but much like Tammy Faye Bakker, the message is lost, and the only story reported is the bad makeup.

The Healer

I have been avoiding writing this review all weekend, and it was a long weekend. Which is kind of meaningless now since February 26th. It’s all been one looooong weekend. I didn’t even mean to watch this movie but Netflix crowned it #1 in Canada so I thought I’d better hop on the snow mobile (which is the Canadian expression for jumping on the bandwagon).

Anyway, it’s super bad.

It’s about a guy, Alec (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who is both a womanizer and a gambler and he’s in quite a bit of a pickle over both of those things, but I’d hazard a guess that the Russian mobsters are the most menacing. So let’s call it convenient when a long lost uncle he’s never met (Jonathan Pryce, bewilderingly) shows up out of nowhere and offers him escape. If Alec agrees to spend one year living in tiny fishing village Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the uncle he’s never met before will pay off all his debts, solve all of his problems. Alec isn’t super keen but is also out of options, so he hops a plane to Halifax and hopes for the best.

Once in Canada, this same uncle has a home already waiting for him, and a car, so all that’s left is to set up shop with the only skill he has, fixing electronics. But the next day he finds that the villagers have misinterpreted his intentions and they’re visiting in droves hoping ‘The Healer’ can repair not their VCRs but their ailments.

This movie is insulting on many levels, not least of which is the entire Atlantic ocean’s worth of suspension of disbelief you’ll need to swallow any of it. And then you’ll be insulted on behalf of Maritimers who are quite reasonable people and would make use of our excellent universal health care rather than lining up at a strange handyman’s house, begging for him to lay hands on them, unwilling to believe it’s a misunderstanding, furious that he won’t at least try.

It’s crazy and disappointing on many other levels as well. I’m not sure why good, salt of the earth, church-going people would gobble up what’s tantamount to witchcraft. I can’t imagine why parents would leave their seriously ill child with a strange man who has a strange reputation, unsupervised, for an entire weekend. Or why anyone would use sexual orientation as a shield. Or how anyone would so grossly misinterpret the lyrics and meaning of George Michael’s Faith.

But most of all, I can’t understand the motivation behind dedicating this seemingly random movie to the memory of Paul Newman. The director assures us it’s because Newman worked tirelessly and charitably for kids sick with cancer. And this movie…suggests that the cure may be in the hands of a sexaholic with a charming British accent who apparently is just withholding it from all but Nova Scotians…because why? It’s a dangerous message to put out there: it’s not science, it’s not religion, it’s just plain old fashioned magic, and if you don’t know a magician, you’re just shit out of luck.

Freaks

This is the kind of movie that throws you into a world and a situation we know nothing about, and writer-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein aren’t in a hurry to tell us.

Dad (Emile Hirsch) has sequestered himself and his 7 year old daughter Chloe (Lexy Kolker) in their home. The drapes are duct-taped closed, the door is quadruple-locked, and no one is allowed in or out. They are preparing for or hiding from some ominous event, and the blood dripping from Dad’s eyes make me think it’s not just all in his head, no matter how paranoid and controlling this all seems.

Still, Chloe is a 7 year old girl. She wants to make a friend, to play in the park, to eat an ice cream cone. So when Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) repeatedly parks directly in front of their home, Chloe can’t resist, and all she has to do is wait for Dad to fall into one of his sleeps to make her escape.

But on the outside, it turns out not everything Dad told her is a lie. There ARE bad people – it’s just harder than she thought to identify them. In fact, Freaks is almost the flip side to The Incredibles. I know, I know, that sounds like weird comparison, but you may recall that as we meet the Incredible family, we learn that super heroes have basically been outlawed and this family has been relocated and have to hide their powers to fit in. Chloe’s family also have powers of some kind, and public fear has meant that all the special people are either hiding or relocated or dead, and the government prefers the latter to the former.

The story keeps us firmly within Chloe’s understanding of her own powers and the circumstances in which she lives. She’s understandably frustrated with her confinement and she makes impetuous, chocolate-driven decisions. The directors have crafted a horror-sci-fi hybrid that keeps us guessing, unfolding at Chloe’s pace, not mine or yours or theirs.

Freaks is perhaps a little inconsistent, but it’s boldly directed and surprisingly well-acted. There’s more character development than a dozen other horror films combined and its message is as strong as it is relevant.

The Captive

Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) is a loving husband and father who struggles to pay the bills since his business failed. He’s the one to pick 9 year old daughter Cass up from figure skating practice while wife Tina (Mireille Enos) cleans hotel rooms in Niagara Falls. One evening, he pops into the pie store off the highway for just a moment, but in the time it takes to pay for a cherry rhubarb, his daughter has disappeared from the backseat of his truck.

You and I have the privilege and the horror of knowing that she’s been snatched by sexual predator Mika (Kevin Durand), whom you’ll immediately be able to identify by his pedo mustache. But the police, including Jeffrey Cornwall (Scott Speedman), a detective newly appointed to the Child Exploitation Unit, and his boss Nicole Dunlop (Rosario Dawson), suspect Matthew to be involved. Though they never have evidence to arrest him, over the next 8 years, the strain and taint of suspicion eventually crumbles Matthew and Tina’s marriage.

Matthew resolves to find Cass on his own, which mostly involves driving slowly by every single teenage girl he comes across, while Tina is still in touch with the Child Exploitation Unit, who’ve been coming the dark web obsessively, Jeffrey posing as a fellow pedophile and trying to ease his way into a sex trafficking ring. After 8 years, he’s found an image that he suspects might be Cass, and indeed we know that even as a 17 year old no longer of any interest to pedophiles, she’s still be held and used as a friendly face to lure other unsuspecting children into the vans of predators. But since no one knows where Cass is being held, including Cass herself, a rescue mission is impossible. And as the days tick by, both Matthew and Jeffrey are losing touch with reality.

Director Atom Egoyan crafts a film that is deeply unpleasant to watch, while Reynolds’ performance adds up to heartbreak. However, the film remains difficult for other reasons, Egoyan’s murky jumps in time seemingly purposely obfuscating reality. Egoyan often plays around with time and memory, but the result is usually haunting rather than confusing. The twists and turns feel cheap and tricky and even though the outcome to root for seems painfully obvious, it also feels undeserved. Each frame taken individually is ridiculously and meticulously perfect in its composition but their combined effort is unconvincing and unsatisfying. As Dunlop says herself: “there are no happy endings in my line of work.”