Awards season is moving ever closer. This week New York’s Gotham awards named their candidates and Cate Blanchett’s serious music drama with its cancel culture overtones, Tár is in the lead. That’s as it should be. Aftersun, a film that has only just arrived (in three select theaters in Canada) is said to be its main challenger. It’s about a woman trying to connect with memories of her father. Sarah Polley’s film Women Talking has one nomination. That’s a surprise two ways. Only one nomination? And why even one. She’s Canadian; these awards are for Americans only. They’ll be handed out Nov 28.
Meanwhile, we have these …
The Banshees of Inisherin: 4 stars
Drinkwater: 3 ½
Decision to Leave: 3 ½
Prey for the Devil: 2 ½
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN: Here’s a must see for movie fans. It’s drawn reviews that are almost universally raves. It’s got superb acting by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, plus a fine supporting cast, and sharp economical writing and direction by Martin McDonagh. It follows his most celebrated earlier films, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri and In Bruges and ranks right up there with them. The story is engrossing and its meaning leaves plenty to talk about afterwards.
On the surface it’s about friendship. Colin and Brendan play best pals in a tiny village on a fictional island off Ireland. But suddenly one day, Brendan dumps him, won’t share a pint with him, won’t even talk to him saying he finds him “dull”. Colin is shocked, and wonders if he’s “dim”. A bit, yes, but mostly he’s “too nice” and that’s boring to Brendan who doesn’t have time for mindless chit chat. He is trying to write music and create a legacy he’ll be remembered by; a sort of immortality. He won’t accept attempts to fix the relationship and in fact threatens to cut off one of his fingers every time he’s spoken to. From that point on, the film stops being funny and turns dark. Colin stops being nice and turns angry and spiteful and incidentally shows what a fine actor he is. There are a few slow spots but this film will keep you rapt. And thinking. (In theaters) 4 out of 5
DRINKWATER: This was the audience favorite at the Whistler Film Festival, both in theater and online. It’s finally back and is definitely worth catching. We don’t find that said about a lot of Canadian films so don’t pass it up. It’s pure Canadiana , very entertaining and has an endearing and quirky sense of humor.
It’s set in Penticton where Mike Drinkwater (played with ease and style by Daniel Doheny) can’t seem to fit in. He dreams of a highschool girl (Chloe Babcook) who is totally out of his league, president of the student council, top student, beautiful, and all that. Also she’s already claimed by a self-important jock whose dad runs a car dealership.
Mike’s dad (Eric McCormack) mostly sits at home defrauding an insurance company with a work-related injury claim. Mike makes two moves though: he volunteers at the student council and trains for a marathon race in hopes of beating out the jock who brags he’s destined to win. Awkward scenes become comic, dialogue is snappy (“At least we’re not a plutocracy run by big pharma” he tells some visiting Americans) and Canadian motifs abound: Tim Horton’s, a Wayne Gretzky rookie card, a Zamboni, and songs from Loverboy, Trooper, Doug and the Slugs, Corey Hart and many others. Montreal-born but Hollywood-gone Stephen S. Campanelli directed. (It’s been playing in Penticton and Victoria and today adds Toronto, Vancouver and more) 3½ out of 5
DECISION TO LEAVE: Here’s another intriguing film from South Korea, and is that country’s submission to the Academy Awards. Veteran director Park Chan-wook already won an award at Cannes for his work on this one. He also co-wrote the script and dressed up the film with all sorts of visual tricks (zooms, pans, odd angles, etc). That’s in aid of a twisty plot that’ll keep you guessing.
It’s a film noir and a romance about a police detective (Park Hae-il) who investigates a death and suspects murder. The victim’s wife (Tang Wei) doesn’t seem to be grieving too much and goes right back to work carrying for seniors. “Living old people come before dead husbands,” she says. The detective needs to investigate this, but finds he’s attracted to her. His own wife is a nag who throws statistics at him about divorce rates and men’s depression. In fact, he suffers from insomnia and, unlike the wife, the woman he’s investigating doesn’t challenge him. But there are odd facts: she’s from China, married to a man much older than she is and has another suspicious case in her background. Is she manipulating the detective? It’s engrossing watching this story reveal itself, though its unravelling isn’t always clear. (In theaters starting Thursday) 3 ½ out of 5
DESCENDANT: This documentary started on Netflix last week, completely unheralded, as far as I can see. It should be better known so I’ll catch up to it here. It’s got a striking story to tell about an incident in the history of slavery in the US, ramifications of which still continue today and there’s even a small Canadian angle.
The US banned the importation of slaves in 1808 but over 50 years later one businessman defied the law. Timothy Meaher, a wealthy shipyard owner from Mobile, Alabama brought in 110 enslaved people on his ship The Clotilda, put them to work and hid the crime by scuttling the ship. Officially it hadn’t happened though the people who crowded into a community they called Africaville, knew better. They’ve been trying to tell their story ever since.
Their neighborhood is surrounded by sawmills still owned by the descendants of the Meaher family, although a couple of the mills are now owned by the Canadian forestry giant, CanFor. People talk about dirty air and toxic fumes and slowly that talk is turning to reparations. The Meaher family wouldn’t talk but facts are coming out. The wreck has been found, by the man who found the Titanic, DNA evidence may be recovered and big names are lined up to support, including Barak Obama, The Smithonian and the musician Questlove, who had ancesters on that ship. Margaret Brown, who made the film, grew up in Mobile. (Netflix) 4 out of 5
PREY FOR THE DEVIL: Another exorcism movie, they come failrly regularly, but two things make this one different. The director, Daniel Stamm, made one 12 years ago called The Last Exorcism, which it clearly wasn’t. The second difference here is a feminist angle. It’s not stated loudly but it is there in the story of a young nun, Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers), who wins admission to a special school the Vatican has set up in the U.S. to train exorcists and combat a rise in reported possessions. I have no idea if any of that is true.
Sister Ann finds she’s the only female in the training course and is told women are not allowed to perform exorcisms. But she has a history: her mother was possessed, and a young girl she’s looking after warms up to her. “You’re my favorite here,” she says and seems to be improving. But when Ann gets into some secret files she find out the girl has been declared an extreme case and will be shipped off to the Vatican. That she must stop. She’s also become a target herself.
“The demon is using her to get to me,” she says. Interesting stuff and in the early going it’s smoothly presented. But watch out. A weird plot twist and an overwought denoument push this one over the top. (In theaters) 2 ½ out of 5