A record of three French films open this week.  Not to be missed is THE BEASTS (France/Spain) which won the Cesar for Best Foreign film.




AS BESTAS (THE BEASTS) (Spain/France 2022) Top 10 *****
Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen


Antonio (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs) are a French couple who love the rural life, settled some time ago in a village in the interior of Galicia in Spain. They lead a quiet life ther , seeking closeness with nature, (Antonio says he loves the land and refuses to sign his land away to a turbine company) although their coexistence with the locals is not as idyllic as they would like.  A conflict about the modern windmills with their neighbours, the Anta brothers (Luis Zahera, Diego Anido), will cause tension to grow in the village until it reaches a point of no return.

The main problem between the couple and the brothers is the sale of the land to a turbine company.  The sale can only take place if votes go in the favour of selling the land.  The brothers want out of farming while the French couple refuse to sign.  The brothers use underhanded tactics to scare the couple, a few very nasty ones.

The script covers all the corners of the conflict.

One is a civilized discussion of conflict solving,  Antonio initiates a talk at the local bar, buying the brothers drinks.  The audience sees both sides of the story.  Antonio also tries to convince the brothers that the money obtained from the sale of the land is not enough for a settlement anywhere else.  The old adage goes that one cannot argue with idiots.  And the Anta brothers are clear idiots who are not only stupid but have no education nor common sense.  One of the brother’s slowness is attributed by the other brother from falling off a horse when younger.

The other discussion is between husband and wife, Antonio and Olga.  At night in bed, they discuss their options.  The wife offers valuable points in her arguments.  “We did not come here to fight.  The brothers will never change.  They are uncontrollable.”  But Antonio makes the valid point that they are out of options.  And money.  They have used their savings and need one good harvest at least if they decide to see their land.

Antonio has also made a complaint with the local police who do nothing to elevate the situation or help the couple.  All they say is: “We will talk to them.”

THE BEASTS is a gruelling edge of the seat thriller with things escalating from bad to worse to unbearable for the poor French couple.  Director Sorogoyen stages very intense confrontation set pieces with rising tensions and danger  The intensity of the situation is meticulously built up to a climax that will knock the audience off their seats,

THE BEASTS is not as  pleasant as JEAN DE FLORETTE neighbour farmer against neighbour farmer drama or even as pleasant as slasher/horror flick Sam Peckinpah’s THE STRAW DOGS.  The more harrowing fact is that the film is based on a true story, documented in Santoalla (2016) and re-written with fictional characters, with incidents feeling horribly raw and authentic.  The want for land brings out the worst in human beings.


Directed by Daniel Gordon


BILLION DOLLAR HEIST is a documentary, well researched  that would appeal to a wide audience for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, everyone loves a good heist movie.  The doc deals with cyber security and hacking.  Almost everyone these days has had an encounter with viruses and have heard news of cyber attacks.  Besides the topical relevance of the subject, there is the curiosity aspect that audiences have that they would like to learn more.  The element of danger and threat to the world is an urgency audiences cannot dismiss.  All these factors make BILLION DOLLAR HEIST an intriguing doc that many would not want to miss.  And most important of all, BILLION DOLLAR HEIST is a well researched, necessarily technical, well executed and totally compelling documentary.

Global, dynamic, and eye-opening, BILLION DOLLAR HEIST tells the story of the most daring cyber heist of all time, the Bangladeshi Central Bank theft. This feature documentary traces the origins of cyber-crime from basic credit card fraud to the wildly complex criminal organizations in existence today, supported by commentary and fascinating insight from highly regarded cyber security experts such as Eric Chien, Mikko Hypponen, Keith Mularski and renowned journalist, broadcaster and best-selling author of McMafia (which was adapted into a BBC / AMC series), Misha Glenny. A tale of epic proportions, BILLION DOLLAR HEIST shows how the key players on both sides of the law are embroiled in a global game of cat-and-mouse – with our money and security on the line.

Director Gordon also makes his doc more accessible by drawing in past virus attacks like the “I love You” virus.  Everyone remembers that virus and those who have had the misfortune of opening the email saying “I Love you”.   This doc serves as a firm reminder of how vulnerable computer users are.

Director Gordon is humble to list cyber attacks as the 4th largest problems of the humans race.  He lists the first three as: the Pandemic followed by weapons of mass destruction and followed by climate change.  But he demonstrates how this 4th largest treat - cyber attacks can create havoc on the world humans comfortably live in.

As the doc progresses, one eventually wonders how the doc would end.  Would the perpetrators of the heist be caught and brought to justice?  It might seem so, as the cyber experts seem to be able to trace and inform the audiences of how they entered the bankings system and steal and laundered the money.  But the doc does not end with a happy ending for the banking systems.  The cyber attackers got away with $81 million, just short of a billion.  The doc ends with a severe warning that the worst is yet to come.  One can only shudder in suspense and only time will tell how much more damage hackers can create in the future.  Everyone needs to be diligent and not open suspicious emails.  But it only takes one person to make the mistake to create total havoc around the world.  One wonders the reason these hackers would not decide to do some good instead of bad.  But such is the evil of man.

BILLION DOLLAR HEIST will be available to stream or own on August the 15th.



Directed by Laura Moss


BIRTH/REBIRTH tells the birth or rebirth of a dead daughter.  The birth/rebirth is the result of an experiment a pathologist conducts to her success.  It is a re-telling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein classic with a few notable differences.

Firstly it is a female re-telling.  All the characters are now female.  The doctor is still a doctor but a pathologist.  A new character, a mother is involved and the monster is also a female.  Secondly, there is more humanizing in the story.  All the characters are displayed as human beings with real emotions that matter.  Thirdly, the story takes a different direction after the ‘monster’ is created.  The monster is also not a monster but a ‘previous human being’.

Rose (Marin Ireland) is a pathologist who prefers working with corpses over social interaction. She also has an obsession — the reanimation of the dead. Celie (Judy Reyes) is a maternity nurse who has built her life around her bouncy, chatterbox six-year-old daughter, Lila (A.J. Lister). When one tragic night, Lila suddenly falls ill and dies, the two women's worlds crash into each other. They embark on a dark path of no return where they will be forced to confront how far they are willing to go to protect what they hold most dear.

Director Moss does her utmost best to make her Frankenstein tale as credible as possible. She invests the first third of the film into examining the 2 characters of her story.  She shows a diligent rather worried human being, Rose, just not a crazed experimenter.  When the two initially meet, Rose has her nose hit by the door and the following scenes show her with a bleeding nose, which causes the audience to have some sympathy for her.  Celie the mother is shown to be a caring yet desperate mother who would do anything to bring her dead daughter to life, regardless.  Her desperation into searching for her missing daughter initially also takes some screen time.  Director Moss clearly establishes the raison d’être of both women to continue the Frankenstein experiment much further.

BIRTH/REBIRTH is largely a female  picture.  The two protagonists are female, the experiment is the daughter and the director of the film is also female.  Director Moss keeps the female issues at hand, not letting them cloud the main story.  Both actresses Ireland and Reyes are totally convincing in their roles.  The interaction of the two characters, initially strangers then forced to bond together make a large part of the storyline,

BIRTH/REBIRTH is an impressive directorial debut from Laura Moss (a filmmaker from NYC whose work has screened at Tribeca, Rotterdam, and SXSW+ who has reimagined Mary Shelley’s classic horror myth Frankenstein into credible modern setting with real people with real issues.  As believable as it is, the film is more mysterious than scary with the story leading into a different ending that would also only lead to disaster.

BIRTH/REBIRTH opens Exclusively in Theatres on Friday, August 18th.



Directed by Tom Harper


HEART OF STONE is Netflix’s original blockbuster that its to compete with this year’s action blockbusters like the new INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE DEAD RECKONING PART 1.  The film aims, according to press notes, to succeed as both an action blockbuster but one with more emotions of the story’s characters.

The heroine of the story is Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot).  Stone appears to be an inexperienced tech, on an elite MI6 unit headed up by lead agent Parker (Jamie Dornan, Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST). What her MI6 team doesn’t know is that Stone actually works for the Charter. The Charter is an organization so secret that even other spies don’t know it exists. Former intelligence operatives and government officials from all over the world have put their previous political allegiances aside, and now use their skills and cutting edge technology for the greater good — a cross between the UN and International Rescue. Led by the Four Kings, the Charter steps in when other agencies fail to step up.When a routine mission is derailed by mysterious hacker Keya Dhawan (Alia Bhatt), Rachel’s two lives collide. As she races to protect the Charter and strives to beat the odds, her humanity might just be her biggest asset.

The heart of the Charter is the Charter’s massively powerful AI, capable of accessing any person or organization’s entire online presence and history, and then using that data to accurately predict future behaviour, anticipate decision-making, and even advise on responses.  This brings the film in line with the advances of AI.

The film opens with an elaborate covet mission that aims to take down a highly protected arms dealer.  The setting is the stunning Alps and of course the covert mission goes wrong, offering the chance to provide some awesome stunts and action packed scenes while introducing the story’s character.

HEART OF STONE delivers what it promises, an action blockbuster with Gal Gadot with more human characters and emotions.   The film opening on Friday August the 11th is worth a look.


PASSAGES (France/Italy 2022) ***½

Directed by Ira Sachs


The film PASSAGES explores the explosive love triangle between an established male couple, Tomas and Martin, and Agathe, a woman who enters their lives in modern-day Paris. The couple also own a home in the French countryside. Agathe is a girl whom film director Tomas meets in a bar, right after wrapping up his latest feature, also titled Passages.

For Tomas, being with a woman is a novel and an exciting experience that he is eager to explore, despite being married to Martin.  However, when Martin starts his own affair, the mercurial Tomas refocuses his attention on his husband.

Director Sachs delves into the destructive aspects of love rather than its charitable nature, a theme that has been prevalent in his previous films.  The gay couple, Tomas and Martin, are long married, but they struggle to understand each other fully and often succumb to bursts of anger despite still loving each other.  Martin cannot comprehend Tomas' new found attraction to a woman, and Tomas, in turn, grapples with his own intense desires for the opposite sex. This disparity in their understanding of love and relationships reveals their emotional immaturity, and it becomes evident that they have reached a critical juncture in their maturity as a couple.  The love triangle involving two men and a woman, rather than three individuals of the same sex, is a fresh perspective that aligns with what Director Sachs intends to portray.

The film is based on a script co-written by Sachs himself and Mauricio Zacharias, and it feels honest and authentic, drawing from the director's emotions and experiences. The lead character, Tomas, is also a film director, mirroring Sachs' own profession.

Director Sachs skillfully captures both the explosive and intimate moments within relationships, sometimes occurring within moments of each other. When Tomas confesses to Martin that he slept with a woman for the first time, they argue and fight, with Tomas even threatening to move out of their apartment.  However, in a tender moment, Martin kisses Tomas on the lips and confesses that he still loves him.

PASSAGES boasts an exceptional cast, featuring three of Europe's leading actors - Adèle Exarchopoulos, Ben Whishaw, and Franz Rogowski.  German actor Rogowski has already won several acting awards and has been seen in films like A Hidden Life, Transit, and the recent Freaks Out, which was screened at the local Italian International Film Festival.  British actor Whishaw is unforgettable in Women Talking and as the limping man in The Lobster, while Exarchopoulos gained fame for her role in Blue is the Warmest Colour.

Director Sachs skillfully brings the tale to a logical and satisfactory conclusion, creating a cautionary yet realistic film that explores the destructive effects of love and lust.

PASSAGES, shot in both French and English,  opens on August 11 in Toronto (TIFF Bell Lightbox) and Vancouver (Vancity), followed by August 18 in Montreal and Quebec City, and will be screened throughout the spring in other Canadian cities.



THE POD GENERATION (Belgium/France UK 2023) ***
Directed by Sophie Barthes


The film begins with Rachel (Emilia Clarke) waking up and getting ready for work in her futuristic looking apartment.  Instead of hearing Siri or Google , the audience hears Elena as she speaks and wishes Rachel a good morning while reminding her of her appointments and making breakfast for her.  She wakes her husband and off she goes to work.  As this is a feminist slanted film, Rachel is the soul amain bread winner of the couple, while the husband, Alvya (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a botanist does his research, as the audience see him self-pollinating fig tree as wasps are now extinct from the planet.

The pod referred to in the title of the film is a pod womb, where the mother can carry her child, instead of her natural womb.  In a not-so-distant future, AI is all the rage and nature is becoming a distant memory.  Tech giant Pegasus offers couples the opportunity to share pregnancy on a more equal footing via detachable artificial wombs, or pods. In this way, she can bear a child without the inconvenience of pregnancy.  Rachel’s company approves and supports her, as Rachel is a big contributor to the success of the company.

But at what cost? Rachel and Alvy, a New York couple, are ready to take their relationship to the next level and start a family. Rachel's work gives them a chance to fast-track to the top of the Pegasus waiting list. But Alvy, a botanist and devoted purist, has doubts. Nonetheless, his love for Rachel prompts him to take a leap of faith. And so begins the wild ride to parenthood in this brave new world with all its twists, turns, and bumps along the way.

THE POD GENERATION feels and is a feminist film in the way, being written and directed by a woman and with female issues.  Bearing a child is a strong female issue with more to discuss with regards to the concept of a sharing womb.  The company Rachel works for has more females in view than males and her supervisor who calls her into the office is female as well.  The issue discussed with her supervisor is also a female issue, one of having a child in the new future.  Besides being overburdened as a feminist film, the film touches other genres like sci-fi, romantic drama, relationships, environmental issues, social satire without really delving deep into any.  The script is repetitive in issues like the acceptance of the pod and the pod problems. 

As in many sci-fi futuristic outings, there are many scenes with decor of white and sparseness of furniture.   With this and director Barthes' creation of the pod technology, an effective creative and dystopian atmosphere is created.

 It is also strange that this UK, French and Belgium co-production has a setting in an American city - New York City.

There is a special advance screening August the 6th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, with a virtual Q&A with director Barthes.



Directed by Matthew Lopez

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is a 2023 American romantic comedy film directed by Matthew Lopez who wrote the screenplay with Ted Malawer.  Based on the 2019 novel of the same name by Casey McQuiston, the film stars Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine as the son of the President of the United States and a British prince, Prince Henry respectively, who fall in love. 

Alex Claremont-Diaz (Perez) is the son of Ellen Claremont, the first female President of the United States, who is running for re-election. During a royal wedding, he has a physical altercation with Henry (Galitzine, also seen in the gay comedy HANDSOME DEVIL), a British prince. The incident is photographed and highly publicized with both parties forcing Alex and Henry to pretend to be friends with each other to prevent it from becoming a full-blown diplomatic and media crisis that would distract from Alex's mother's (Uma Thurman) election bid. The two become close over time and start falling in love.

In comedy, timing is everything.  The adage can be observed in both this film and the recent box-office hit BARBIE.  BARBIE had good ideas like Barbie world and the origin of the Barbie doll done in the style of the apes in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, but BARBIE was just not funny.  I did not laugh out loud even once.  Director Greta Gerwig makes good films like LADYBIRD but comedy is not her forte.  In RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE however, director Lopez demonstrates expert comic timing in the first scene where the huge expensive wedding cake (the cost made known to the audience, something of the order of 700,000 quid so that the crash of the cake is such anticipated as is feared). Just before the cake comes tumbling down, there are the camera shots of faces of important guests, then of Prince Henry and then Alex, just an excellent bud upon edits leading to the great comic moment.  Nothing else in the film beats the moment, but it is the one important catalyst that spurs the relationship between the two dignitaries.  Another good comic moment is used for its full tackiness, which would elicit a good laugh-out loud moment for many.  As the Prince is going down on Alex and he pulls down Alex’s trousers, the scene is cut to show the Washington monument.

Director Lopez also excels in the dramatic moments as in the confrontation scene between mother (Madame President) and Alex.  Credit is due to the film’s source material, the novel which takes the story, indeed a great love story, into many unexpected turns, taking the audience into new emotional heights.

Director Lopez skimps on the sex scenes, though they are erotic enough and done in good taste, in comparison to the recent other gay film Ira Sash’s PASSAGES, which goes all the way. The film did earn an R rating in the U.S.

Director Matthew Lopez is an American playwright and screenwriter.  His play The Inheritance, directed by Stephen Daldry, premiered at London's Young Vic in 2018, where it was called "the most important American play of the century.”  The Inheritance is the most honoured American play in a generation, sweeping the "Best Play" awards in both London and New York including the Tony Award, Olivier Award, Drama Desk Award, Evening Standard Award, London Critics Circle Award.  It is therefore of no surprise that Lopez, openly gay, directs his film with confidence and absolute flair.

RED, WHITE & BLUE has a special screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox Thursday 10th before going on streaming on Amazon Prime.




STAY AWAKE (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Jamie Sisley


STAY AWAKE has a repeated disturbing scene where the mother is passing in and out of consciousness in the car as her sons are taking her to hospital.  The sons are singing songs asking their mother to guess the title (Film tunes are heard: “Everyybody’s Talkin’ of Me” from MIDNIGHT COWBOY for example) in order for her to STAY AWAKE.

The opening sequences show the love each family member has for each other.  The mother cooks for her children,  “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she instructs them.  The film’s initial scene has her cooking them a meal before the camera focuses on a pill, one assumes is an opioid.  The mother is overweight, which can contribute to her lack of confidence and her drug taking.  Audiences could be unsympathetic to such a woman, a drug addict and opioid user, but the purpose of the film is not to justify the use of opioids but rather to examine the effects it has on families.

The opioid addict is the mother with the two loving sons.  From the first scene, the mother character is one that everyone looks down upon.  She gets the opioid meds by pricking her finger and putting a bit of blood in her urine sample at the doctor’s.  She overdoses ever so often and has to be driven to the hospital by her sons.  Her sons have to pay for her rehab and the son’s lives are practically constrained by their mother’s addiction.   The elder son is clearly upset at her and lets her know it.  The question is why cannot she control herself and not change.  This is where the film gets deeper into the dilemma of addiction.  Or is not and the mother makes it clear that she wants to stay clean but she just cannot.  That is what addiction does to a person.  Sessions with her therapist/doctor at the rehab centre also paint an eye-opening look at the problem.  And the difficulties both the staff and patients have.

STAY AWAKE is understandably a difficult film to watch and can hardly be described as entertaining.  The film suffers during the initial 30 minutes or so with the script’s storyline dealing with addicts and their family that one has seen before in one film or another.  But the film slowly but surely invests time and care into the creation of the films three characters so that one does feel for each person, though not always on their side.

The film besides covering the mother’s addiction and strife towards recovery but also deals with the coming-of-age of each son.  The younger has a scholarship to a prestigious college and has trouble with his girlfriend.  The script is smart enough to have the mother offer solid advice, showing that the mother still can have a profound effect on her offspring.

The film clearly gets the audience to roof her characters, keeping the audience in suspense and on the edge of their seats whether the family will survive.

The film is available on VOD August the 15th.


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