THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (Ireland /UK/USA 2022) ***** Top 10
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Set in 1923 on the fictional island of Inisherin, just off Ireland’s west coast, the film’s story begins with a slight. As he does every day, Pádraic (Colin Farrell in what might be considered his best role) calls on his pal Colm (Brendan Gleeson) to go for a pint. When he does not answer the door and later refuses to sit with him at the pub, Pádraic is dumbfounded. “I just don’t like you anymore,” Colm explains. He’d rather save his energy for his newfound hobby, composing music, instead of wasting the days away with Pádraic. Unwilling to accept that their friendship is over, Pádraic continues confronting Colm, until Colm proposes a gruesome ultimatum. Every time Pádraic approaches him for a conversation, he would take out his shears and cut off one finger and this he does in what might be considered a really graphic scene. The result of this standoff soon involves the whole village, with no one able to predict the lengths to which this feud will go.
The film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is so-called because it is the name of the song that Colm is composing. Not that there are any bansheers in the village but the word has an ‘sh’ with rhymes with the village’s name.
Inisherin is the fictional Irish island where the film is set. Wherever the real setting is, it is a stunning setting with a landscape that is just plain out of this world. Who cares if there are no modern amenities if the sea is right at the doorstep?
The best performance in the film belongs to young actor Barry Keoghan who plays the somewhat dim-witted young Dominic, who is most often beaten up and fiddled about by his policeman father. He has already proven himself a solid screen presence in films like THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER and it will be of no surprise if he runs away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Colin Farrell fares very well too, his career best role, dishing out a rare performance of hurt and despair.
Director Martin McDonagh captures the period setting of the small Irish island, not only from the scenery but with the goings-on of the story. The local pub is the only entertainment around. The Catholic Church and confessional also serves as the people’s conscience. And all this is happening while the IRA are fighting the Brits on the mainland, the sound of distant cannon fire reminding the folks of Inisherin that there is a war going on.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is the better, more concise and more cinematic but equally satisfying film than his Academy Award Winning and TIFF People’s Choice Award winner THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI. The only reason this film did not win (again) the TIFF People’s Choice Award is that it is the opposite of a feel-good movie - it is a depressing film of sorts. But this is here that the film excels. Clearly, from start to finish, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is a completely compelling watch, putting director McDonagh in my good books as a director whose films are always looked forward to every year.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN premiered at theToronto International Film Festival and opens this week. A must-see!
CALL JANE USA 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Phyllis Nagy
CALL JANE, a drama about abortion cannot arrive at a more appropriate time. This has been a long time coming. In 1973 the US Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal in the landmark case Roe v. Wade. Anti-choice activists and politicians have been working to overturn this decision ever since, and the U.S. now seeing the fruits of that labour. CALL JANE sees the issue from a woman’s pro-abortion point of view. So anti-abortionists and Trump supporters can best be advised to skip this film.
The film begins with the camera following Jane showing the back of her head as she walks through a hotel during an event before she sees abortion protestors outside. It is basically Elizabeth Banks’ film as director Nagy follows her throughout the film as she is in almost every frame. At times, CALL JANE feels like a horror movie with the protagonist being stalked.
The film is not without humour. The humour is deadpan though quite funny.
CALL JANE is set in Chicago, 1968. As a city and the nation are poised on the brink of violent political upheaval (there is an opening scene of violence as police beat up protestors. The protestors chant: The world is watching. Suburban housewife Joy (Elizabeth Banks), who watches on, leads an ordinary life with her husband and daughter. When Joy’s pregnancy leads to a life-threatening condition, she must navigate a medical establishment unwilling to help. Her journey to find a solution to an impossible situation leads her to the “Janes,” a clandestine organization of women who provide Joy with a safer alternative — and in the process, change her life.
The film is partially based on true events surrounding the Jane Collective, who provided thousands of abortions during a four-year period through their covert and precise mobilization.
The film also shows a side of the abortion movement seldom seen. The film dogs the after effects, physically and mentally of joy, after her treatment. Her doctor is handsome, a good one but a capitalist pig, as described y a female and shown that he is all those things. The recuperation house is run by women whose main job is to help females in distress - and not to judge for whatever reason. Joy gets more involved.
Supported by an impressive cast, Elizabeth Banks delivers a remarkable lead performance as Joy, whose determination and strength of character holds relevance more than a half-century later. Call Jane poses urgent questions about systemic barriers, the ever-shifting nature of politics, and the struggle for women to maintain control of their bodies.
To celebrate the release of the film, Sphère Films is hosting an advanced screening of the film in Toronto on October 27th, followed by a panel of women’s health professionals and advocates moderated by Elaine “Lainey” Lui.
CALL JANE, a powerful film about the resilience of women, their strength and unity, was first presented and celebrated at Sundance, and then presented in Official Competition at the 2022 Berlinale. It now opens in theatres in North America.
DECISION TO LEAVE (South Korea 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Director Park Chan-wook came away with the Best Director Prize at this year's Cannes film Festival. Known for his intense suspense murder/investigative films like OLDBOY and THE HANDMAIDEN, DECISION TO LEAVE marks a diversion from the director’s type of films. It could be for that very reason that Cannes awarded him the prestigious award for trying something different.
DECISION TO LEAVE can be described as a Korean version of a detective film noir. There is the investigative private eye character, though in this film, he is a police detective. Also present is the femme fatale, which in this film is the main suspect for Detective Hae-joon as he suspects her of murdering her husband, not once but twice (black widow?). As in most detective noirs, the dick falls in love with the femme fatale.
A few differences in the film noir can be observed. All the information about femme fatale is disclosed to the audience right from the beginning of the film. The audiences know who she is, what she is up to, unlike many of the Bogart or Philip Marlowe movies.
Director Park also pokes fun at the detective genre. “There are less murders these days.” goes the dialogue. “Nice weather, perhaps?” Director Park is also fond of closeups, as can be seen in the ants crawling on the face of the corpse after falling from the cliff. There is also a vivid verbal description of maggots on corpses. Eggs are laid on the corpses, maggots form and the maggots are eaten by birds. Detective Hae-joon is seen putting eye drops into his eyes, as if he needs to have a clearer view of things.
Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) and his wife live apart on weekdays, he working in Busan, and she in the seaside town of Ipo, where there is a constant morning mist. When Hae-joon is sent to investigate the death of a man who fell from a mountain top, he finds himself drawn to Seo-rae (Tang Wei), the femme fatale, the man’s Chinese widow who is beautiful, mysterious and seemingly un-sad about her older husband’s passing. The chemistry between the two is undeniable, with Hae-joon – a serial insomniac – now even able to get some sleep. But Hae-joon’s judgement begins to cloud. Is Seo-rae playing him or not? The story takes many twists, moving from Busan to Ipo. The characters are ambiguous, Seo-rae has varying motives for her actions. The detective also has varying motives, on the side of Seo-rae and later mistrusting her and investigating her for murder.
The translation of the Korean title is Decision to Break up, making the film title clearer. (The leave in the title could have meant the detective leaving Busan for Ipo.)
The film runs over two hours but it comes to a conclusion with all the pieces neatly tied up, despite its meandering narrative that the audiences have to be patient with.
The film premiered at Cannes followed by screenings at TIFF. It opens October 28 in Toronto (Bell Lightbox). The film also opens November 3 in Vancouver, November 4 in Ottawa, Kingston, London, Waterloo, Calgary and Winnipeg, and throughout the fall in other cities.
FORGET ME NOT (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Olivier Bernier
In the Documentary FORGET ME NOT, the film opens as 3-year-old Emilio prepares to start school, his family (the father is the doc’s director Olivier Bernier) finds itself embroiled in a challenge all too common for children with disabilities - to secure the right to an inclusive education. Cornered in one of the most segregated education systems, New York City public schools, filmmaker Olivier and his wife Hilda turn the camera on themselves and their child with Down syndrome, as they navigate a byzantine system originally designed to silo children with disabilities. Emilio's parents learn from other families who have fought against the injustices built into the educational system while they continue their own battle for their son's future. There are two issues under examination that audiences should have a knowledge of, before venturing into the film - Down’s Syndrome and the Education Inclusion Program.
Down syndrome or Down's syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is usually associated with physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, and characteristic facial features. The average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50, equivalent to the mental ability of an eight- or nine-year-old child, but this can vary widely. Down syndrome can be identified during pregnancy by prenatal screening followed by diagnostic testing or after birth by direct observation and genetic testing. Since the introduction of screening, Down syndrome pregnancies are often aborted. In the film, the mother Hilda is told, just after giving birth, as shown on camera by the doctors that the baby shows external signs of having the syndrome. Hilda’s initial reaction: “Oh no!”
The next thing to note is the relevance and importance of an inclusive educational system. Besides being a right guaranteed by law, inclusive education strengthens diversity. A diverse school that values differences becomes a better, more welcoming, and powerful environment for all people, with or without disabilities. According to the study, there is clear and consistent evidence pointing out that inclusive educational environments provide significant short- and long-term benefits to students with and without disabilities. Students with disabilities develop better academic skills, are more likely to finish high school, go on to higher education, find work, and live independently; students without disabilities benefit from the collaborative culture that becomes more prevalent, developing academically and socio-emotionally; and teachers and managers develop skills to support each student, as they reflect more on their pedagogical practices. In the United States, the law governing the rights to persons with disabilities, known by the acronym IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, provides free public education for children with disabilities nationwide and ensures that they have access to special education and support services. However, this is the exception, not the norm. FORGET ME NOT examines the educational inclusion program in the United States particularly to children with Down Syndrome. “Do I have to sue the NYC educational system every year?” says Hilda toe point, i sitting that she will.
Besides the focus on Hilda’s Emilio, director Bernier turns his camera on other children with similar problems. One has problems getting into middle school after graduation.
FORGET ME NOT is both an insightful and moving film that reveals a path to a more inclusive society that starts with welcoming diversity in the classroom from everyone, with or without a challenged child. The film truly shows that acceptance and charity form the key. The film opens this week on DVD/SVOD, just in time for Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October.
PREY FOR THE DEVIL (USA 2022) **
Directed by Daniel Stamm
PREY FOR THE DEVIL is a horror exorcism movie, so expect a lot of scenes where the exorcists are tormented by the demon and the possessed flung to the wall or crawling like a spider upside down. Audiences are familiar with such scenes so that they do not shock or scare anymore, thanks to William Friedkin’s classic THE EXORCIST that every horror fan has seen even as a kid under age back home when mother rented the video. Written by Robert Zappia, Earl Richey Jones and Todd R. Jones and directed with sufficient ‘spirit’ by Daniel Stamm, PREY FOR THE DEVIL makes several attempts to distinguish it from the norm of exorcism films.
Sister Ann (Jacqueline Byers) believes she is answering a call to be the first female exorcist… but who, or what, called her? In response to a global rise in demonic possessions, the film’s setting is 1987, Ann seeks out a place at an exorcism school reopened by the Catholic Church. Until now these schools have only trained priests in the Rite of Exorcism – but a professor (Colin Salmon) recognizes Sister Ann’s gifts and agrees to train her. There are looks of lust from the other male students and the camera shows their googling looks. Thrust onto the spiritual frontline with fellow student Father Dante (Christian Navarro), Sister Ann finds herself in a battle for the soul of a young girl, who Sister Ann believes is possessed by the same demon that tormented her own mother years ago. Determined to root out the evil, Ann soon realizes the Devil has her right where he wants her.
The first half of the film, where the film mostly works, has director Stamm creating a few scary scenarios. One is the obsessed young girl describing her weird mother Ann, as the film flashes back to the mother combing the hair of the scared child. She is shown combing the hair, at first gently before humming a scary tune and then grabbing the hair with all her strength as the child screams. “It is the voices in my head,” cries the mother. The addition of a female exorcist to the story adds to the prejudice of the Catholic Church being questioned. The film shows there is nothing to be prejudiced about having a female exorcist, who can perform the duties just as well if not better than her male counterparts. Ann is given two male assistants in the film. The head nun is bitter and opposes the change. PREY FOR THE DEVIL also makes the effort of having a relationship between the exorcist and the possessed. “We girls must stick together, “ Ann says to the child, when not yet possessed.
But alas! Despite all efforts to distinguish the film from other exorcism films in the first half, the second half of the film descents into familiar territory of exorcism, where the demon is after the exorcist with the possessed body flung to the walls and ceiling as the priests, likewise, flung around the room. At least the audience is spared from green bile spewed from the mouth of the possessed.
PREY FOR THE DEVIL opens in time, just ahead of Halloween.
WENDELL & WILD (USA 2022) ****
Directed by Henry Selick
Featuring the voices of Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Angela Bassett, and Lyric Ross, this animated comedy-adventure from BAFTA winner Henry Selick (CORALINE) follows a pair of demon brothers who ally with a goth teenager to defeat their archnemesis. The animation, so reminiscent of CORALINE is what makes the movie, from the apparent vertical movement of the camera outwards from the animated crane booths to the Burton-like nightmarish creature.
At first summoned to the depressed town of Rust Bank in order to resurrect the parents of young Kat Elliot, a troubled goth teenager (Lyric Ross) with latent supernatural abilities, the impressionable siblings instead inadvertently fall in with the town’s corrupt socialites who are conspiring to transform the community into a private prison for profit and perpetual exploitation. This animated feature is more suited to the child in adults as the plot is too confusing for the younger ones not to mention that the scenes are quite frightening. Old-fashioned stop-animation at its very best!