Highly Recommended and my best international film of the year AUTONOMY OF A FALL opens 25th. Martin Scorsese's epic saga of the Osage murders KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON opens. this week. These two are must-sees.
ANATOMIE D’UNE CHUTE (France 2023) ***** Top 10
(The Anatomy of a Fall)
Directed by Justine Triet
The film that both received great applause during the screening at Cannes and the coveted Palme d’Or (Best Film) is a taut courtroom drama and thriller that keeps one glued to the screen from start to end.
Great performances from all especially the lead, Sandra Huller and including the dog that vomits and has its eyes rolled and whitened.
Sandra (Sandra Hüller) is a successful German writer who lives in the French Alps with her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) and their visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner). The son had suffered a visual loss due to a car accident that the father blamed himself for. A brilliant, decibel-bursting opening scene suggests tensions in their isolated chalet, so when Samuel is discovered dead in the snow beneath one of their windows, suspicion is quickly aroused. Did Samuel take his own life, or was he pushed to his death? When the police investigation proves to be inconclusive — its varying angles hinting at the microscopic examination to come — Sandra is ultimately indicted and put on trial.
Sandra insists “I did not kill him.” But her lawyer says that, that fact does not matter and that what matters is what it looks like in court. The prosecuting attorney is understandably nasty and can twist all the evidence against Sandra, forcing her to unveil her emotions and her life. The twist near the film’s end ties all the ends tidily in what is an excellent film all around.
There are many segments that demonstrate both the director’s Triet’s mastery and cinematic verve. The scene in which the judge brings the son into her chambers to tell him that she will not allow him in the court because the trial might be too disturbing for a young kid is a case in point. The boy argues that he has already been hurt by the father’s death and the mother’s trial. When the judge insists that certain facts should not be known to the boy, Daniel replies that he will learn everything from social media and the internet. The camera moves away from the boy’s face to reveal a dilated pupil of his eye, reminding the audience that Daniel is visually impaired. The judge’s reply is not heard but the next scene shows the boy attending the trial. The segment also shows that the judge is not one that always has the correct answers. Another lengthy segment is a recording the court hears of an argument between Sandra and her husband before the accident. Director Triet has the ability to draw her audience into their argument. Their reasons for fighting are very real and something that every couple can relate to.
Director Triet’s film runs over two hours but the time flies in this compelling film. I have seen the film twice once at the Toronto International Film Festival and again with a screen prior to the film’s release. The strength of an excellent film must survive a second viewing. intriguing second viewing.
A must-see for all those who love courtroom drama and relationships/family conflict. The couple fight vigorously but “Samuel is my soul-mate” Sandra declares. ANATOMIE D’UNE CHUTE is filmed in French, English, and a little German.
THE DEVIL ON TRIAL (USA 2023) **
Directed by Christopher Holt
THE DEVIL ON TRIAL explores the first -- and only -- time "demonic possession" has officially been used as a defense in a US murder trial. Including firsthand accounts of alleged devil possession and shocking murder, this extraordinary story forces reflection on the fear of the unknown. According to the doc, there have 3 such cases in England, two involving arson and one rape all three left the defendants acquitted.
It is quite obvious the intention of the doc, just like the intentions of the couple that work as demonologists in the film - out to cash in a quick buck. The doc poses the question of whether the possession is a lie. The answer is given at the end, though there is also some room for doubt.
When the doc’s main subject, David was a child, he was possessed. The adult David speaks to the screen of the past and how does not like all the publicity that goes with it. The obvious question that comes to mind is why then is he doing the interview? This casts a shadow of doubt over what he is saying in the interview. He for one, believes he was truly possessed and gives vivid accounts of several episodes. Apparently, during his exorcism, the demon was challenged by Arne, who was present and the demon entered Arne. Later on, during one drunken night, Arne stabs and kills his landlord. Arne claims he was possessed and the trial goes on. The verdict of the trial, though quite obvious, not to be revealed in this review, occurs at the 15-minute mark at the end.
The doc gets quite preposterous at one point when it presents the different stages of possession as if it was an authority on the issue. One can only shrug at the sheer audacity of forming rash conclusions.
There are a few questions posed that will answer the question if Arne was possessed when he stabbed his landlord. Firstly, was Arne possessed? The second question is whether Arne was possessed at the time of the stabbing. It is quite obvious that the jury would not fall for the ploy. Director Holt’s doc seems more interested in creating a spectacle than anything else. He includes in the doc footage taken by David’s family, their audio recording, which the film claims are all actual recordings. But it could also be a fact that his son David is playing it up for the parents, as one segment explains the possibility. Director Holt also plays down the verdict of the trial, with the verdict not revealed at the very end, but close to the end.
THE DEVIL ON TRIAL ends up a curiosity piece, basically a tale of a fucked up family and demonologists that would do anything to make a quick buck. Director Holt appears slanted towards not believing all the possessions less the fact that One the murderer was innocent and should be acquitted.
THE DEVIL ON TRIAL is currently streaming on Netflix.
KILLERS OF A FLOWER MOON (USA 2023) ***** TOP 10
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The 3-and-a-half-hour Osage epic marks another lengthy Martin Scorsese picture collaboration after THE IRISHMAN. The film opens in a western town struck rich by oil finds elaborately staged complete with panoramic shots and epic music that sets the stage for another Scorsese masterpiece. If the first 15 minutes of the film is a prelude to what is to come, then the lengthy running time of the film should be a worthy and compelling watch. And it is. A following shot of hundreds of coloured flowers by the mountain explains the use of the film’s title as the audience is also slowly introduced to the ‘killers’ of the story.
In 1897, oil was discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation, or present-day Osage County, Oklahoma. The U.S. Department of the Interior managed leases for oil exploration and production on land owned by the Osage Nation through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and later managed royalties, paying individual allottees. The Okage Indians, the audience is told, are the wealthiest and have the highest pa capital income in America. As part of the process of preparing Oklahoma for statehood, the federal government allotted 657 acres to each Osage on the tribal rolls in 1907. Thereafter, they and their legal heirs, whether Osage or not, had headrights to royalties in oil production, based on their allotments of lands. The headrights could be inherited by legal heirs, including non-Osage. The tribe held the mineral rights communally and paid its members a percentage related to their holdings. This is the background of the story written for the screen by Eric Roth and Scorsese.
Murders were committed for the purposes of taking over the land and wealth of Osage members, whose land was producing valuable oil and who each had headrights that earned lucrative annual royalties. Investigation by law enforcement, including the Bureau of Investigation (BOI, the preceding agency to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI) revealed extensive corruption among local officials involved in the Osage guardian program.
The film is based on the 2017 book written by David Grann based on these murders. More specifically, members of the Osage tribe in northeastern Oklahoma were murdered under mysterious circumstances in the 1920s, sparking a major BOI (which became the FBI in 1935) investigation directed by a 29-year-old J. Edgar Hoover and former Texas Ranger Tom White, described by Grann as "an old-style lawman.DiCaprio) who underestimates the evil of his uncle which includes murder and more murder. FBI agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) eventually brings the truth to light.
The stellar cast provide stellar performances. DiCaprio and De Niro ship as do Brendan Fraser and Jesse Plemons.
Director Scorsese takes a risk at a surprise ending (not to be revealed here) that goes completely against the grain of his entire film. The gamble works, however. KILLERS shows the Master attempting and succeeding at diverse filmmaking.
Apple Original Films’ KILLERS OF A FLOWER MOON starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone premiered at Cannes to rave reviews and a standing g ovation opened in theatres around the world, including IMAX® theatres, on Friday, October 20, 2023.
NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Franck Khalfoun
Why is this happening to me? This is the all-important question the protagonist, Alice, the victim of an unknown sniper who has her trapped in an isolated gas station store needs to find out, in this low-budget, basically single handler horror suspense flick entitled NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (not to be confused with the noir classic Charles Laughton’s 1955 NIGHT OF THE HUNTER).
When an unsuspecting woman (Camille Rowe, NO LIMIT) stops at a remote gas station in the dead of night, she is made the plaything of a sociopathic sniper with a secret vendetta. To survive she must not only dodge his bullets and fight for her life, but also figure out who wants her dead and why.
The film opens with quite a number of clues, though one suspects that many will be false ones. The woman has just completed her company conference and is on the way the next morning to a fertility clinic. The husband on the phone ushers her on. She is picked up by a colleague in his car in the very early hours of the morning. They take a detour on Route 51 and end up at the gas station doing a fill-up. As the woman enters the gas station store to get a few what-nots, the sniper strikes. Her colleague is outside in the car, wondering why she is taking so long. As the colleague enters the gas station store to look for her, another bullet from the sniper catches the man in the jugular.
Though NIGHT OF THE HUNTED is not half bad, the premise of the sniper trapping his victim in the store has its limitations and one can only do so much with the limited scenario which means limited opportunity for suspense. Director Khalfoun, to his credit, creates quite a few little side distractions, mainly in terms of random cars entering the gas station. The sniper targets these random customers too. Director Khalfoun also adds as much blood into his feature as he can to up the angst - as the sniper hits John’s (the colleague) jugular and wounds Alice in several bloody spots. The mystery of who the killer is is also limited by the number of characters ninth story. It does not really matter who the killer is as the story is not set to be a whodunit. One hint is that the killer knows Alice very well. Another hint is the affair that might be going on between the colleague, John, and Alice. (They share the same bed at the motel while attending the conference. Yet another hint is the predator’s occupation, such he is such a good shot, hardly misses a thing. Director Khalfoun uses the night seeing at one point by Alice hits the light switch to turn off the lights in the ninth store so that the viper cannot see her. She also pushes the rack of products, using it as a shield. The film also offers lots of opportunities for product placement as Alice hides at several different areas in the store from the pop refrigerators showing various Coke products and shelves showing canned goods from Hormel and other companies.
Director Khalfoun put in his two cents worth regarding social issues like the ethics of pharmaceutical companies and the Iraq War.
NIGHT OF THE HUNTED is a Shudder original film and opens for streaming this week on the horror streaming service.
NYAD (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
NYAD tells the amazing true story of Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) who on her fifth attempt finally made the open water swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys. In Greek Nyad, means water nymph, the name her Greek father (though not her biological father), gave to her. Nyad believes the name water nymph is linked to destiny. Though hardly necessary to be shown as flashbacks, there are a few flashbacks of a young Nyad seen training in swimming with her Greek father.
Annette Bening and Oscar Winner Jodie Foster star in this film depicting the true story of Diana Nyad’s attempt to become the first person to swim from Cuba to the US without a shark cage, decades after she retires from the sport. She finally made it in the film's last reel, no spoiler here, as it is already record-breaking news,
At the age of 60, Nyad is frustrated about the way she left her swimming career behind and starts training once again to do the marathon swim she failed 30 years prior. Her best friend, Bonnie Stoll (Foster), thinks it is a little foolish, but has no choice except to jump in as her coach once it becomes clear that Nyad is not backing down. It is made known from the beginning of the film, that both females prefer same-sex relationships, and though they had dated in the past, have remained best friends at all costs. When navigator John Bartlett (a more serious Rhys Ifans), comes on board with the project, they finally have someone to guide her through the shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits. The arduous swim takes a shocking toll on her body, and Nyad’s obsession starts to wear on the team.
Running at two hours directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin make sure no stone is left unturned in terms of the torture and sacrifice both Nyad and her dedicated team (a total of 40) endure. The directors are no strangers to extreme endeavors, using their documentary background from FREE SOLO and THE RESCUE to help frame this voyage with archival material where we get to see and hear a young Diana Nyad dive into her passion.
The film includes a subplot involving the friendship of Bonnie and Diane. They have a big argument confrontation - a scene that demonstrates the power of these two excellent actors, both deserving of an Academy Award nomination - no less.
At the end of the swim and success, Diane Nyad offers three solid pieces of advice to the world. Never give up on your dreams and two other ones that will not be revealed in this review. The film ends with shots of the real Bonnie, Nyad and John Barnett, the latter who has sadly passed away.
NYAD premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival with director Chai present for a Q and A. The film opens Friday, October 20th at the TIG+FF Bell Lightbox. NYAD is a Netflix original film and will be streaming on the streaming service.
OLD DADS (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Bill Burr
OLD DADS (USA 2023) **
Directed by Bill Burr
OLD DADS is filmmaker Bill Burr’s comedic debut. He writes( with co-writer Ben Tishler), directs, and performs in OLD DDS a comedy about 3 friends who become fathers at a later age and learn about child rearing with a time context. So, they find themselves battling preschool principals, millennial CEOs, and anything created after 1987.
It is a simple premise which means there is no plot restrictions in the opportunity (in this case, the comedy comes with pervasive language, drug-use, and other warnings) of comedy. Like harlequin romance novels and such based films, there is always some obstacle to the romance that must be overcome in order for the romantic happily-ever-after Hollywood ending. The same goes for comedy. There must be some problem that comes in the way of the subjects, a problem or obstacle that must be overcome with perhaps some life lessons learned on the way. The problem with Jack (Burr) is his calling Doctor L, the principal of his kid’s preschool a stumpy cunt. he has three months to make amends as she has the power to recommend Jack’s son to the better schools. This is hard for foul-mouth, impatient, and opinionated for Jack to do. The main obstacle to a happy ever-after story in the film is Jack's anger. He cannot control his anger, especially when he is told what to do. The comedy is not as funny as Burr and his ci-writer think, but they do give the humour their best shot. But the film’s unfortunately full of cliches, so do not expect any surprises from this comedy,
“Don’t bring up politics. Don’t bring up religion. Don’t tell another how to raise their kids.” appears ti be one life lesson. This is the philosophy the 3 men have to maintain their friendship.’ The magic question in all this is whether the films are funny. The dialogue might be comedic but other components like the actors and director’s comedic timing are more important factors. The first scene has one kid beating another with a stick and the dads accessing the situation, just as the audience accesses the film. It is amusing like the movie, but nothing groundbreaking in terms of comedy. One should give filmmaker Burr full marks for trying.
The film does manage to pull off a few genuine funny scenarios, like the one where Dr. L, the lady principal that jack just cannot stand (yes, the one he had previously called a stumpy cunt) decides to guide Jack to find the proper way. When Jack brings an olive tree to the school as a peace offering, Dr. L not only claims that the plant will bring insects not compatible with the ecosystem but laughs at the fact that she believes the olive tree is a plant version of Jack. Other than that
One surprise is the appearance of Bruce Dern as a driver, his name only appears in the closing credits.
OLD DADS is a Netflix original comedy that opens for streaming on Netflix on October the 20th, 2023.
AIN HUSTLERS (USA 2023) ***
Directed by David Yates
The film introduces its protagonist Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) as an awful person. As her co-worker interviewed by the crime squad describes her; she would do anything it takes and is an awful person. But can one blame her, is the question the film seeks to examine.
So, the film paints a different picture - that of a desperate person, initially a pole dancer who tries her best to make it good for her epileptic daughter and herself. One can surely sympathize with a single mother sacrificing for her daughter, despite also caring for herself. This is all not too rare as the story is based on the real-life story of capitalism run amok in a journal article — chronicled by journalist Evan Hughes in his 2022 narrative non-fiction book, The Hard Sell.
Like the book, the film lures one into the glamour and excitement of success, however, it may be achieved. Liza Drake is a single mum working as a dancer at a bar when she meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), a greasy drug rep for a pharmaceutical startup on the verge of bankruptcy. Two desperate people meet. Desperate times call for desperate measures. With a hunch about her talent, he recruits her to peddle a new kind of opioid designed to give pain relief to cancer patients.
The film is interesting enough to show all the ins and outs of the pharmaceutical marketing business and how these companies make their money at the expense of sufferers. It is clearly the pharmaceutical company that is the villain of the piece and the film treats this as so, with the victims as innocent manipulated employees. Predictable but still entertaining. A Netflix original film, PAIN HUSTLERS is also besides being entertaining, informative and insightful with a message to boot.
THE PERSIAN VERSION (USA 2023) *** ½
Directed by Maryam Keshavarz
THE PERSIAN VERSION is a personal, semi-autobiographical film (a true story - sort of, the words on the screen tease) about a young Iranian American woman who strives to balance her two opposing cultures (American and Iranian), a story that also serves to be a universal one about mother and daughter, families and secrets.
The film begins with a humourous and light though quite lengthy introduction of Leila and her family, before moving to the present day and the business at hand. The film then moves to the Present day, 2000s New York/New Jersey. As the sole girl among eight brothers, Leila (Layla Mohammadi) leads a lifestyle that disappoints her mother Shirin (Niousha Noor) – be it her same-sex relationship (now over) or her career choice (filmmaking, not academia). Then Leila impulsively hooks up with an English actor (Tom Byrne) after a Halloween party where she dons a burkini (burka and bikini) and he wore the drag queen costume from his lead role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It seems her mother is going to be disappointed again.
Meanwhile, Leila’s father Ali Reza (Bijan Daneshmand) is getting a heart transplant. Shirin tells Leila to leave the hospital (although her brothers are there) and instead take care of her mamanjoon/grandmother (Bella Warda). To Lelia’s surprise, mamanjoon brings up a family scandal. Scandal? The scandal is the twist in the story that is revealed only at the end of the film.
The film then flashes back to the 1960s (and later to other decades) in Iran when a very young Shirin (Kamand Shafieisabet) married newly graduated doctor Ali Reza (Shervin Alenabi).
Spanning 50 years, the film offers several flashbacks, including 1985 Iran when, as a kid, Leila (Chiara Stella) was the only sibling allowed to travel there because girls couldn’t be drafted into the Iranian military. Even then, she was strong-minded, smuggling tapes of American music into the country.
The film is brimming with explosive colour, vibrant dance scenes (Persian style that looks similar to the Bollywood choreography), and lots of pop, including Cyndi Lauper’s original “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and a reworked Persian version of the song that plays over the end credits.
There are a number of reasons THE PERSIAN VERSION stands out as enduring entertainment. Among them:-
It is an international story one with the American and the other with the Iranian points of view.
It is a personal story that the audiences can root for, as well as to be able to relate to.
There are colourful characters Like the family matriarch and the grandmother as well as colourful situations (the partying; heart transplant surgery)
The easy-flowing nature of the story unfolds - within different decades, yet flows so smoothly
The film contains a few highs as well. One is the applause Leila recovers once her short film has been screened in a theatre. Another is the mother getting the news that her neck injury wins her enough money to cover her husband’s medical bills.
One of the film’s more amusing segments plays like an old Sergio Leone Italian Spaghetti Western complete with Ennio Morricone-like whistling musical score. And Leila’s aunt rides around on a bicycle reminiscent of the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” segment in George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID hit.
In 2011, the director's first narrative feature Circumstance – about the sexual desire between two teen girls in Iran – won the US Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance but also got her banned from ever returning to the Islamic Republic THE PERSIAN VERSION opens on October 20 in Toronto (Varsity & Empress Walk), Vancouver (Fifth Avenue) and Montreal!
SICK GIRL (USA 2023) **
Directed by Jennifer Cram
The new ‘female buddy’ comedy SICK GIRL is so called because the woman-child Wren has not grown up while her other three friends have, two of them having kids. “Why do people change?” Wren complains while in a jail cell after being arrested for attacking a bartender. Her friends put up with her, but just barely. “I can only have one child,” one complains.
When Wren Pepper (Nina Dobrev) feels her closest friends slipping away, she lets loose a little white lie that snowballs into a colossal, life-altering event. She claims she has cancer, to invoke sympathy and hope to get the attention missing recently from her other three friends. Hence the title of the comedy - SICK GIRL. This is Jennifer Cram’s feature film debut, a take on the price of insecurity and the rewards of true friendship. Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs), Dan Bakkedahl (Veep), Bran Another point is the question of why Wren’s three friends are so clueless on whether Wren is telling the truth about the cancer.
There are some horrific segments like the one in which the 4 girls dance, trying to look cool and funny. The comedy has degraded to pathetic at this point. So what else can happen after Wren lies about her cancer? Apparently, not much, Other desperate attempts at laughter include the automatic cost of the mini-van door and baldness related to cancer.
The story includes a slight romance between Wren and a coloured cancer patient named Leo, suffering from liver cancer from her cancer support group. The romance also increases the monotony of the proceedings
She lies in a fit of desperation, at the film’s 15-minute mark that she has cancer is the point at which one should make the inevitable decision whether to quit this sorry comedy or carry on, hoping that it will get better. The answer is left to the viewer.
So in a story like this, the truth about Wren’s lie will eventually surface. As the old adage goes: The truth will out! This is the only thing that the story heads to is what happens then.
Adele Lim’s co-wrier of CRAZY RICH ASIANS) JOY RIDE, the other female young adult comedy which co-stars Sherry Cola, also in this film looks like a masterpiece compared to SICK GIRL.
Jenifer Cram’s SICK GIRL opens in theatres as well as on digital and on-demand on October the 20th, 2023.