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(Effective French film that harnesses the fire of public outrage against a racist criminal justice system)

ARGYLLE (UK/USA 2024) **

Directed by Matthew Vaughn


Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World franchise and daughter of Ron Howard of HAPPY DAYS) is Elly Conway, the reclusive author of a series of best-selling espionage novels, whose idea of bliss is a night at home with her computer and her cat, Alfie. But when the plots of Elly's fictional books--which center on secret agent Argylle and his mission to unravel a global spy syndicate--begin to mirror the covert actions of a real-life spy organization, quiet evenings at home become a thing of the past. Accompanied by Aidan (Oscar® winner Sam Rockwell), a cat-allergic spy, Elly (carrying Alfie in her backpack) races across the world to stay one step ahead of the killers as the line between Elly's fictional world and her real one begins to blur.  Henry Cavill with outrageous hairdo and suit plays Agent Argyle in Elly’s novel.

As an action-packed comedy thriller, ARGYLL disappoints, mainly in the overuse of unrealistic CGI effects.  The escape by parachute from the train by the couple in one of the film’s key action scenes not only looks fake but looks pale in comparison to the Tom Cruise parachute escape in his recent MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING.   The CGI action sequence at the film’s start with the motorbike is also crazily out of control.  The old-fashioned stunt work done in the past in the old action films before CGI is sadly missed.

Why is the film called Argylle?  Argyll, sometimes called Argyllshire, is a historic county and registration county of western Scotland. Argyll is of ancient origin and broadly corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata less the parts which were in Ireland.  But in the film, the title refers to the name of the agent - Agent Argylle and nothing to do with the Scottish region.

There are a lot of things that make no sense in the film, like the use of the cat Alfie, used to generate laughs, that do not work most of the time.  Alfie looks cute but who needs ‘cute’ in a spy film?  The script by Jason Fuchs does not help in terms of entertaining.  For one, the story is too complicated compared to the other KINGSMAN films and the least funny.  The story feels something that Christopher Nolan could have come up with as in the spy film TENET which is almost impossible to follow - not that it matters.

Samuel L. Jackosn has a supporting role in the film and one that surprisingly does not allow him to use his trademark ‘motherfucker’ word in his dialogue.  But it is only Catherine O’Hara (from SCTV) and Sam Rockwell who shine in the movie.  Cavill is totally out of place as is John Cena.

With the overuse of plot twists and CGI-aided action sequences, the film eventually turns out to be a bore.  The film should have ended 15 minutes earlier and who cares what happens to Alfie the cat anyway?

ARGYLLE is the most terrible of the KINGSMAN franchise, the best still being the one with Elton John that was both action-packed and hilarious.This one is neither.



Directed by Simone Scafadi


Dario Argento speaks of pushing fear past the limit - into panic, hence the title of the documentary on Argento.

Dario Argento wrote his most famous films inside hotels, completely isolating himself from external reality and immersing himself in his own nightmares.  Argento is well-known for many horror Giallo films including his latest DARK GLASSES, OPERA (My personal favourite),  SUSPIRA (remade by Hollywood), THE CAT O’NINE TAILS, DEEP RED and most popular and arguably his best THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE.  After many years, advised by his agent, he decides to go back to a hotel to finish his new screenplay and to be interviewed, filmed and followed by a crew that is shooting a film about him. Within this structure, a wellness centre very far from the distressing places that characterize the cinema of the master of horror, Argento does not feel at ease and has difficulty both in finding the peace necessary to finish the screenplay, and in confiding his secrets to the crew who are interviewing him. But the demon of cinema, who has never abandoned him, will once again push him to give himself totally.

Fans of Dario Argento are in for a treat in this documentary on the Italian horror maestro of Giallo crimson slasher flicks.  The Master is also seen in many scenes in person, as he is still alive and well, working on his latest project where a documentary crew is also filming.  In the doc, the audience sees him at a hotel where he normally resides when writing for his latest film.  The man is in fine form and not without humour.

The best part of the doc is when clips of his old classics are screened with voiceover providing insight for fans and cineastes alike.  The film that is given the most attention is the slasher whodunit THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE starring Tony Musante.  This film went on to become the Italian film that became number one at the United States box office.  When the film attained such acclaim, Mutant and his producer praised Argento for the pleasure of working together.  Argento tells the audience in the doc that they were arguing with him half the time during filming and they wanted him fired from the picture.

As in all biopics, the doc includes the director’s background - from his childhood to the present.  His childhood is interesting enough - with lots of film industry background.  Dario’s mother was a photographer of the stars with clients including Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren.  As a child, Dario would watch her mother work on the stars and makeup.  His father was a film producer who would travel a lot.

Three international film directors speak highly of Argento.  The three are Guillermo del Toro, Gaspar Noe and Nicolas Winding Refn.  Noe who made the disturbing film CARNE and SEUL CONTE TOUS, both films telling the story of how a father raped his retarded daughter to prevent her from losing her virginity to a stranger.  That was a real horror film that had a quarter of the audience walking out during the last 10 minutes.  Oddly enough, Noe speaks of Argento’s relationship with his daughter in the making of THE STENDHAL SYNDROME,  Others interviewed consist mainly of family members including his daughter Asia Argento.

More interesting to fans of Giallo horror and of Dario Argento, but the doc provides an informative and deeper look at both the master’s horror psyche and his work in horror cinema.  It shows both talent and perseverance are involved.  DARIO ARGENTO PANICO opens for streaming on Shudder on February 2nd.

FITTING IN (BLOODY HELL) (Canada 2023) ***
Directed by Molly McGlynn


Most people are still unfamiliar with the intersex and non-binary community.  Many documentaries serve to educate, and many films are now made to include intersex and non-binary characters.  At TIFF 2023, two films have had two non-binary characters as the protagonists, LA VENUS D'ARGENT (THE SPIRIT OF ECSTASY) and this one, BLOODY HELL, now renamed FITTING IN to suit the tamer title.

Lindy (Maddie Ziegler)  has moved into her grandmother’s old house with her single mom Rita (Emily Hampshire) and is in the early days of deciding whether to have sex with her boyfriend Adam (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai).  Things take a turn when she is brought to the doctor’s office to get a prescription for birth control.  One physical exam later, a cold and unfeeling male gynecologist delivers news that will turn Lindy’s world upside down.   Lyndy is the equivalent of a non-binary person with the rare reproductive abnormality called Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, which means she does not have a uterus or cervix and has a shortened vaginal canal.  In short, she cannot get f***ed  properly for lack of a proper vagina.  While other high school kids are competing in sports, dating, having sex, and going to parties, Lindy is spiralling and pushing away all her previous sources of trust and comfort, like Adam, her best friend, and her starring track and field spot.

The film follows the overfamiliar Hollywood-cliched ending that one has already seen too much of.  In FITTING IN, as in all the docs and fictional films on such characters, the key point is that these people should not be considered abnormal, but normal but different.  They have to learn to accept their bodies (in 0.02% of the American population as stated in a recent documentary) and be proud of them.  Many now do and wish not to perform any surgery to have their body ‘normalized’ to the majority of the population.  In FITTING IN, the protagonist finally accepts her body and the lack of the proper female reproductive system and can announce it to her classmates without feeling any shame any longer.  She also settles with the person who loves her and gives her the sexual desire she craves - another female instead of a boy.  Though these two components of the ending are expected and run into the cliched territory, they are still well done and satisfactorily credible enough.  FITTING IN aptly deals with a sensitive and unfamiliar topic, so for audiences unfamiliar with intersex and non-binary people, the film should serve as an eye-opener.  Yes, God gave humans, these classes of people included, their bodies and bodies to be accepted and to be proud of.  The bodies should not be altered as permanent injury could result.

Both Ziegler and Hampshire deliver impressive convincing performances, especially in their confrontational scenes, the highlight of the movie.  

The film also delves deeper into Lindy’s desperation to enjoy sex like the others.  Her sexual encounter with Adam is awkward and reminds one of the sex scene in Alan J, Pakula’s 1969’s THE STERILE CUCKOO with Liza Minelli and Wendell Burton.

The film is beautifully shot around the lakes of Sudbury in Northern Ontario.



Directed by Sean Charmatz


ORION AND THE DARK follows the adventures of Orion.  Orion seems a lot like your average elementary school kid – shy, unassuming, harbouring a secret crush for classmate Sally. But underneath his seemingly normal exterior, Orion is a ball of adolescent anxiety, completely consumed by irrational fears of bees, dogs, the ocean, cell phone waves, murderous gutter clowns, and even falling off of a cliff. But of all his fears, the thing he's the most afraid of is what he confronts on a nightly basis: the Dark. So when the literal embodiment of his worst fear pays a visit, the Dark whisks Orion away on a roller coaster ride around the world to prove there is nothing to be afraid of in the night. As the unlikely pair grows closer, Orion must decide if he can learn to accept the unknown – to stop letting fear control his life and finally embrace the joy of living.

The film is touted as a fantasy adventure and who is more appropriate to write it than Charlie Kaufman who wrote the screenplay though the film is based on the book of the same name.  Kaufman is responsible for film hits like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THS SPOTLESS MIND,  BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION to mention a few.  So there is much expectation in his foray into a child’s imagination.

As for animation, this animated feature contains animation within the imagination.  Or.` on keeps a sketchbook, as advised by his counselor to record all his fears.  There are sketches found in the book,  Whenever Orion goes into active imagination of his fears, these are realized in animated sequences - hence animation within animation.

There is something  endearing about a child’s fears.  Everyone in their childhood has his or her own fears, such as the fear of talking to the first person of the opposite sex, a crush on the first day of school, or of failing an exam for whatever reason.  Most children are afraid of the dark, so, ironically, onion meets a monster called Dark at night,

Orion is voiced by Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay.  Tremblay made his film debut as Blue in the live-action animated film The Smurfs 2 (2013). His breakout performance was in the dark drama ROOM (2015), for which he received critical acclaim.  Other heavyweights lending their talents to the voice characterizations include Angela Bassett, Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks) and director Werner Herzog.

The trick is never to let fear enter your life.  These are the typical messages that can be heard in the typical Disney movie.  However, there is one reference to author David Foster Wallace, when Orion asks his parent to read him a bedtime story holding a book written by him.  Wallace was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and university professor of English and creative writing. Wallace's 1996 novel Infinite Jest was cited by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005

I know it is a bad story.  I ran out of ideas,  I do not know how it ends.  The story of ORION AND THE DARK is a story within a story - the one told by a father to his daughter to stop her from being afraid of the dark.  But Charlie Kaufman being Charlie Kaufman has good ideas in his storytelling including an intriguing timeline in which Orion meets his child, his daughter, who appears in his story -  sort of a childhood fantasy version of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.  Not all the ideas turn to that well as expected and the film could have been funnier too, especially with all the dark entities.

ORION AND THE DARK is a Dreamworks and Netflix original movie that opens for streaming on February 2nd, 2024.



LOS COLONOS (THE SETTLERS )( while 2023) ****

Directed by Felipe Gálvez Haberle



Chile, beginning of the 20th century. A wealthy landowner hires three horsemen to mark out the perimeter of his extensive property and open a route for his cattle to the Atlantic Ocean across vast Patagonia. The expedition, composed of a young Chilean half-blood, an American mercenary, and led by a reckless British lieutenant, soon turns into a “civilizing” raid.

It is a tough world of settlers depicted in the film.  It is a case of dog eats dog.  Noticeably too, is the absence of women in most of the film and story. At the 30-minute film mark, not one female has appeared on screen.  The first female appears only past the film’s halfway mark, and a beautiful cultured lady singing a song finally makes her appearance at the hour mark.  And when the latter lady opens to speak her mind, it is revealed that she is even more evil than her male counterparts,

Clearly, there are no heroes in the film.  Everyone is flawed.  If there is a villain, perhaps all the characters are as many bear bad traits.  And more so, no one can tell who the real enemy is.  Is it the Indians who are the indigenous people of the land?  Or is it the lieutenant the threat?  Or perhaps it is nature itself in the form of an uninviting mountain range covered with snow and danger.

The harshness of the land is emphasized many times.  Besides the audience constantly looking at the barren landscape, a character even remarks that nobody would want to fight for the useless land.  But the land is always a favourite topic in films, especially land that is stolen from films like THE KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON to THE BEASTS (BESTAS), two of last year’s top 10 films on my list.

Despite the straightforward plot, the script contains lots of surprises or rather, shocks.  A major supporting character, for example, can be suddenly killed off in a second  There is an expected sodomy scene that appears out of nowhere.  “Hush-a-bye, Don’t you Cry, Little Baby” is a lullaby that can be heard on the soundtrack, weird as it may be.

The indigenous people are given respect in the film.  The half-breed is given a full chapter in the film.  The half-breed is described in the film as having a delicate skull structure and would be more useful if he be educated in university and hired as an engineer than just working the land as a laborer.  The man is also a crack shot.  He remains largely silent in the film, so no one really knows what he is thinking.  There is a scene where he points his rifle at his boss who is killing off innocent indigenous Indians, but they turn the barrel up and shots into the sky

The film marks Chile’s entry for this year’s Academy Award for Best International Feature.  Despite it being a remarkable film experience, the film did not make the shortlist, unfortunately.  The film did win the FIREPSCI (the Critics) Award for Best Film at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

THE SETTLERS is unsettling but in a good way.  Solid story, with solid characters in a harsh environment where anything can happen and mostly does.  An engrossing film that is definitely worth viewing. 


WIL (Netherlands/Belgium/Poland 2023) ***

Directed by Tim Mielants


Antwerp is occupied by the Germans,  “We are the occupiers and we are winning the war,” the town folk is told.  They have two options: to be a German collaborator or be a resistance fighter and aid the Jews as they are slowly rounded up by the Germans.  The magic question the film asks is: “What would you do?”?

Wilfried Wils (Stef Sets) must survive as an auxiliary policeman during the Nazi occupation of Antwerp.  On his first duty, he and his partner accompany a German officer who needs to arrest someone for not working.  During the process, they witness considerable brutality that causes Will to kill the officer accidentally.  Rather germans then return to investigate what happened to the missing officer.  This is when the trouble starts and the catalyst to the story of the film.

The first introductory pep talk by a police chief to his men is always a delight to watch in many films, which many directors use for both humour and insight.  In Ladj Ly’s excellent 2019 LES MISERABLES about Parisian cops, the female police chief’s pep talk to the newbie cop for the suburbs was nothing short of brutal and hilarious.  In WIL, Wil’s police commissioner (Jan Bojvoet) introductory talk to the recruits informs them that their two and a half weeks of training is worthless and the most important thing is to observe (and perhaps do nothing.)  The advice could be for the audience too, to observe what goes on in this different type of cop film, a cop film set in Antwerp in 1942, in the Second World War.

Persecution of the Jews by the Germans is always shocking, whether seen in the past or the present, no matter how many times seen.  Director Ryan knows it and shows similar incidents a few times, to get the blood of his audience riling.  The tactic works as the emotional impact is gut-wrenching.  Wil is often a witness, forced to remain silent for fear of retaliation as well as fear of not knowing what to do.  Director Mielantls shows how much terror Will faces because he is helpless.

The period atmosphere of WWII is effectively captured by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert and together with director Milan’s, the film manages to work its magic.  Though the events of the evil deeds done by the Germans are not new, the film still feels fresh with new fears generated by the two policemen.

The only complaint is that what transpires on screen in this well-worn genre has been seen one time or another in films of similar genres, though the film still manages to shock and intensify the audience, thanks to excellent production aves with direction by Mielants.

WIL is a Netflix original film, a co-production of Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands and is available for streaming now on Netflix.





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