Remember when Gerard Butler was going to be Hollywood’s next leading man? He was in a few memorable titles in the early 2000s, exploded out of the gate with 300 in 2007, landed himself in a few action hero and rom-com flicks, and then coasted along on the most random mix of basically every genre you can think of. Witness his output from 2013-2016 – a bit part as a “Leprechaun” in the ludicrous Movie 43, the lead in the “Die Hard in the White House” thriller Olympus Has Fallen, the voice of Jay Baruchel’s Dad in How to Train Your Dragon 2, a villainous Egyptian god (which, hilarious) in Gods of Egypt, the sequel London Has Fallen and a dramatic role in A Family Man, which premiered at TIFF in 2016. I have absolutely zero recollection of its existence. I am not sure if that list shows the man’s range, his eclectic taste in roles or is a literal manifestation of Hollywood not having any idea what to do with this guy.
Wally (Lesley Smith) is a lesbian who has never been abused by a man. Unfortunately, her friends have, as have many young women they know. Tired of hearing about the pain these women have suffered and the abusers not facing any consequences, Wally starts taking the law into her own hands. As her vigilante tactics become more brazen, so too does her desire for blood.
Watching Compulsus is akin to receiving a shotgun blast to the chest — or in this case, getting the shit kicked out of you. Writer/Director Tara Thorne has composed a picture that is seething with rage. Rage for the women who have suffered. Rage for the shitty men who got away with it. Rage for the complete normalcy of gender-based violence. The fact that this film premieres at Inside Out the same week of the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial verdict is a sheer coincidence (or dumb luck on the part of the programmers), but it makes the story in Compulsus all the more frightening relevant.
The EarthX Film Festival wraps up today with its last day of virtual screenings. The festival’s in-person portion ran from May 12-15 in Dallas, Texas and virtual screenings ran from May 16-23. The festival’s mission is:
“…to bring awareness of the environmental crisis in order to create sincere action on both an individual and communal scale; to inspire local and global change on how we as humans affect our home planet and our fellow beings. We aim to include Texas, and the Southwest, in the conversation on climate change through compassionate, positive, truthful storytelling.”
While I was not in the ground in Dallas, I did have the opportunity to view two of the bigger titles at the festival: Fire of Love and We Feed People.
Stephanie Conway (Rebel Wilson) has just woken up from a 20-year coma. Prior to that, she was one of the most popular girls in high school and the captain of the cheerleading squad. Now, she is a 37-year-old woman who is desperate to finish her senior year and become the prom queen she felt she was always destined to become. Of course, things are not the same in 2022 as they were in 2002, and it will not be easy for Stephanie to just reclaim her throne as the most popular girl in school.
Hijinx ensue of course, with rivalries, potential suitors, “woke” teenagers and activists, elaborately sexual dance routines, underage drinking, Deep Impact, Steve Aoki, and the senior prom all factoring into the story powering Senior Year. If that sounds like a bit too much going on, well, it is. If it sounds like it has a “been there, seen that, done it, threw out the t-shirt” kind of vibe, then you are very much on the right track. If it sounds like the funniest film ever made, then we may need to reconsider what you think is funny.
I am still somewhat aghast when it comes to The Sadness. I watched it more than two weeks ago and no amount of cold showers can wash away the shockingly vicious images that have seared into my mind. I know that sounds like hyperbole and that just about every other super gory horror movie has struck a similar nerve in the film going community over the past decade or two. I am a fan of many of those films and watched many others strictly because I pride myself on my tolerance for films that more squeamish people would run away screaming from. Yet despite some of those titles being substantially more mortifying than The Sadness, the film still has a way of leaving you shaken and uneasy. Have you ever watched a movie and breathed a sigh of relief when it does not go as far as you thought it would? Well, The Sadness does the opposite – it goes well past the threshold of “too far” and into a realm of depravity few films have ever journeyed into.
And just so you know Writer/Director Rob Jabbaz (originally from Mississauga!) is not playing around, he makes that depraved journey multiple times. And each time is more fucked up than the last.
Based on some of the tweets I have been seeing on Film Twitter this past week, I feel confident saying a whole lot of people are going to proclaim this newest incarnation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the worst movie of the year. Maybe even the decade. Perhaps even of the entire franchise that has spanned six decades and counting. After that first trailer hit a few weeks ago, it is an easy target. The film revolves around a group of Gen Z entrepreneurs descending into a deserted, rundown Texas town they may or may not own all of the property deeds to, and selling each building to young investors looking to invest their money in an untapped real estate market. It all feels a little too on the nose and their running into Leatherface (Mark Burnham) feels all too well choreographed — and a not so subtle take on the implications of gentrification. Not one of these characters is well characterized, no matter how much time they have on-screen. With the exception of one minor individual, the rest spend the movie as lambs acting and reacting to their being led to slaughter.
So if you are hoping for more nuance, depth or a reason for this “requel” to exist…you likely will not find any of that here and should probably just skip it.
On the other hand, if you are looking to quench a bloodthirsty itch for young people getting destroyed by chainsaws and sledgehammers, well then you are in luck! Because Texas Chainsaw Massacre is extremely pleased to deliver on those fronts, by the bucket load.
Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a queer college freshman looking to make a name for herself. She overdoes it on her studies — frequently writing tests twice or three times in the time it takes everyone to do it once — and is obsessed with being the top of the pack. She joins the university’s rowing team in order to prove how much better she is than the rest of her teammates, and begins to push herself to physical and mental extremes in order to succeed. And she does not care who gets in her way of doing it.
In her debut feature, Writer/Director Lauren Hadaway has created a singular and hypnotic vision of the lengths one young woman takes to succeed. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year and was just nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Hadaway. I watched the film a few weeks ago on a whim, and found myself unable to look away from the intensely wild ride Hadaway has created. While it would be incredibly easy to compare it to Damien Chazelle’s unforgettable Oscar-winner Whiplash (and believe me when I say people have already started to), The Novice feel like it is so much more than that.
179 minutes. That’s how long Co-Writer/Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car is. I heard unanimous praise coming out of Cannes for the film — where it won Best Screenplay, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, not to mention being In Contention for the Palme d’Or — but all I could fixate on was the length. It was daunting and trying to schedule watching it during TIFF in September alongside 40+ other films was a logistical nightmare and a battle that I lost all too quickly. Instead, I just continued hearing the unanimous praise and continued seeing the film’s poster taunting me on Letterboxd as one of the “Highly rated films you’ve yet to see”.
So when the time came to finally watch Drive My Car a few weeks back, after it being chosen as Japan’s Best International Feature entry for the Academy Awards, I was filled with trepidation and anxiety. Adding to the pressure, multiple critics’ groups had started calling it the Best Foreign Language Film of the year and last week, the NYFCC straight up awarded it as the Best Film of the Year period. Could the film match what I had been picturing for months? Would I be able to watch it all in one sitting (quick answer: no)? How the hell did Hamaguchi and Co-Writer Takamasa Oe manage to turn Haruki Murakami’s short story into a 3 hour film?! All of these thoughts were swirling in my head, and continue to as I finally settle down to write this. It seemed patently wrong to dismiss it entirely because of its gargantuan running time. A film like this was too important not to watch.
While the pandemic is far from over, one of the few wonderful things that has happened is the ease of access some film festivals have created for online audiences watching from home. We no longer need to physically be in certain cities in order to see great films — we just simply need to point and click. While some festivals demand the sacred in-person experience not be destroyed under any circumstance, others have pivoted to a welcome hybrid model of in-person screenings and online on-demand screenings. The Whistler Film Festival, running December 1-31, 2021, is one such festival and is available to online audiences across Canada (an in-person portion of the festival concluded this past Sunday in Whistler). Films are available daily and can be viewed at any time before December 31, which will certain make festival planning alongside family holiday events a whole lot easier.
I was given the opportunity to sample three films prior to their online screening date, and have included a few of my thoughts on these films that could not be any more different below:
Today is the last day of the 25th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. You are likely SOL by the time you read this if you wanted to see the encore theatrical screening of the award winning Opening Night film Islands, but it is still available to view on the Digital portal.
That film centres on Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas). He is about to turn 50, still lives with his parents and works as a janitor in Toronto despite being a dentist in the Philippines. He has never really taken care of himself, and prays nightly for God to bless him with a wife and children. When his mother dies suddenly, Joshua must start taking care of his ailing father alongside his visiting cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), and begin to learn how to survive on his own. While that certainly does not sound like a wonderfully uplifting romp, Writer/Director Martin Edralin influses Islands with a raw emotional core that feels deeply personal and authentic. The film is paced slowly yet methodically, which allows for Edralin to hone in on the wonderful, naturalistic performances from Balagtas and Lotuaco — who you would never guess are both first-time actors! There are laughs, there is tragedy, and there is a whole lot of humanity coursing through Islands veins. It is moving and beautiful, and while you may not be on board initially, you will definitely come around to it all as the film progresses. Just watch out for Esteban Comilang as Joshua’s father Reynaldo. His very physical, very lived-in work is utterly devastating.
If that does not sound your speed, here are two more recommendations to watch before the festival ends: