Tag Archives: Mena Massoud

Strange But True

Since their son Ronnie died 5 years ago on prom night, Charlene (Amy Ryan) and Richard (Greg Kinnear) have grieved differently, and separated. Charlene and her younger son Philip (Nick Robinson) still live at home and are surprised one day to find Ronnie’s girlfriend Melissa (Margaret Qualley) on their doorstep and even more surprised to hear her news. She’s pregnant. With Ronnie’s child. Yes, Ronnie who died five years ago. He’s the only boy she was ever with.

Charlene and Philip remain skeptical despite Melissa’s “proof,” ie, a recording of a psychic reading that confirmed it. Melissa’s been distraught ever since she lost her boyfriend, and has been obsessed with his death. Her parents have thrown her out because of her interest in mysticism so she lives with a sweet elderly couple, Bill (Brian Cox) and Gail (Blythe Danner), who have all but adopted her. But Bill’s health is questionable, and while Gail worries about him, we worry that Bill and Gail may not always be around to care for Melissa or her baby on the way. Meanwhile, Melissa isn’t totally healthy herself. She’s had blackouts recently and needs to take care of herself and the baby that’s growing in her belly. Shaken, Charlene has been researching furiously, but rather than learn anything useful about frozen sperm, but learns that her ex-husband Richard has been secretly been paying Melissa’s rent at Bill and Gail’s. Philip’s also holding on to his own secrets; there are so many threads to entangle that Charlene won’t be able to keep up, and frankly, neither will we.

Turns out, dead baby daddies were the least of our worries. Rowan Athale’s thriller isn’t thrilling in the traditional sense, but it did surprise and horrify me, and I did find it compelling and interesting. It’s a great cast, a little wasted, who take us to places far scarier than merely the supernatural. The film is indeed quite strange, unapologetically so, and while it is not and never was true, it is a pretty decent watch.

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 

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.