ANONYMOUS SISTER (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Jamie Boyle
It is the addicted mother and elder sister of the Boyle family who are under scrutiny in this documentary film about opioid addiction and its dire consequences.
The doc is directed by Jamie Boyle. Jamie Boyle is a two-time Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker living and working in Brooklyn NY. In 2019, she was selected to be part of the inaugural Sundance Talent Forum & Catalyst Lab and on DOC NYC’s 40 Under 40 list. She was the editor, producer, and cinematographer of Jackson (SHOWTIME), winner of the 2018 News & Documentary Emmy for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary. Jackson premiered at the LA Film Festival and was awarded Best Documentary at over fifteen festivals. This is her family’s story,
The film begins in the 1980s, as the close-knit Boyle family is introduced through home movie footage of their lives in the Colorado countryside. As the years tick by, the youngest family member, Jamie, is drawn to the camera in early childhood, begging to operate it at any opportunity while her older sister, Jordan, embarks on what will become a prodigious figure-skating career. By the time she reaches her late teenage years Jamie is documenting, in excruciating detail, Jordan and her mom, Julie, as both simultaneously descend into opioid addiction while battling chronic pain. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Jamie was capturing the reality of the opioid epidemic long before it was acknowledged or named when it entered your home under the guise of healthcare when those to whom we entrust our lives became the greatest threat to it.
Thirteen years later finds both family members sober and Jordan newly pregnant with her first child. The pregnancy will mark her first major interaction with the medical community since getting off opioids. Jamie once again picks up the camera as her mom and sister face new hurdles in their hard-won sobriety. What she sees this time is not just a family, but an entire nation, in turmoil.
To the director’s credit, she managed to get a Pardu Pharmaceutical representative to speak in an interview. What she says, and how the company got their sales reps to monitor and improve sales just speaks for the companies in general on that all they want to do is make mopey. Their reward system is made up as such so that sales reps and CEOs often go out of their way to improve sales while breaking the law. Another plus is the candidness of the addict, telling their stories. “Doctors prescribe pain medicine. After a while, when tolerance sets in, there would prescribe a higher dosage, a stronger painkiller, and so on. What were they thinking?”
The old adage goes that an addict will not ever think that he or she is an addict. Secondly, they would think it was okay since the opioid was prescribed by a medical professional and that, unlike drinking, was not looked down upon.
The important question to ask at the end of the film is what the message is that is put across. One thing is for sure: the only way is to stop the culprits. This definitely includes the pharmaceutical companies, tobacco, chemical and mining companies. The best way is to jail the CEOs (the millionaire Sacklers) and their managers for violation. This, of course never happens, and those working down the line are normally jailed as scapegoats. The film also shows that the United States is once again the worst violator and that the country is really going down the drain.
One of the rare subjects the film touches on is addiction recovery. When the words additional recovery are mentioned, doctors shun away. The father of the family also fears the fact that after the addiction recovery of the painkillers, the pain might return. The trauma of addiction recovery is also explained in the film as how the brain reacts in terms of a fighting mechanism, that will exert itself during recovery.
ANONYMOUS SISTER is available on demand on October the 17th.
THE CONFERENCE (KONFERENSEN) (Sweden 2023) *** ½
Directed by Patrick Eklund
Variety is The spice of life as they say. THE CONFERENCE is a slasher movie but with quite a few variations making this basically typical horror flick into something quite fresh despite the recurring theme of a whodunit slasher film in which one in the group is the guilty killer.
Instead of a group of teenagers, this film based on the book by Mats Strindberg focuses on a group of adults. To add a little spice this group is a pencil-pushing employee government of some sort agency attending a retreat they’re novelly eager about. The leader complains that the group does nothing as a whole but drink coffee and fill out forms. The group claims the retreat is at the government’s expense and hopes that the one next year will have them flown to Duba. “No promises,” says one of the group organizers, The leader tries to motivate them but to no avail, creating some humour THE OFFICE style - dry and occasionally dead-pan. This is a film set in Sweden and filmed in Swedish with a beautiful Scandinavian landscape to look at. As in one of the most advanced countries in intense world, The environment is a key issue. The Kolaranjon Holiday Village where the attendees arrive for the retreat is in an area where modern development is about to take place, much to the protest of the locals. Could the locals be involved in the murders? One of the employees had just returned from sick leave. For the audience, shoe, of course, is the prime suspect.
Director Eklund’s film is humorous and amusing (not really laugh-out-loud comedy) in its first quarter or so, where no horror occurs as yet. For one the employees, much to their discontent are grouped in twos per cabin, most with another that cannot stand to work less spend the night with. When asked how the groupings came about, the Holiday Village staff says that they are grouped according to their Zodiac signs.
Added 5o the wry humour is the killer’s appearance. The killer wears a clownish mascot mask with two huge hollows in place of the eyes while exhibiting an override smile.
Netflix continues to make and screen local films from different countries around the world, creating entertainment for those who love foreign films that otherwise never reach North America. THE CONFERENCE is an entertaining Swedish horror (more pure mindless fun than anything else) that should not disappoint horror fans and foreign film cineastes. THE CONFERENCE opens for streaming on Netflix Friday, October 13th.
FAILURE TO PROTECT (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Jeremy Pion-Berlin
The phrase FAILURE TO PROTECT is a charge (by the police) given to a negative parent or guardian who failed or was unable to provide adequate supervision or protection which could lead to severe behaviour.
FAILURE TO PROTECT is a heart-wrenching documentary, especially for those who are parents. Mother will fight and do anything for their children. (Except perhaps if a new attractive man comes in the way: writer’s experience), The film follows five parents - Anna, Trish, Rheta, Ernst, and Rosa - as they fight desperately to reunify with their children taken by Child Protective Services (CPS). It’s an unwavering and nuanced look at the child welfare system where criminals have more rights than parents. Rosa has four children 2 African Americans and two Latin Americans. Most of the women have children from more than one man. Anna says she will continue tonight till the children come back. She will fight until there is no more fight and then she will still continue fighting.
Through these highly personal stories, the film explores many tough questions, such as do parents whose personal struggles compromised their children’s safety deserve a second chance. Is the CPS system biased against minorities, LGBTQIA+ couples, and the economically disadvantaged? To avoid leaving a child in an abusive or dangerous environment, do social workers remove children first and ask questions later? The film offers an unprecedented, in-depth window into the grim realities of the child welfare system through the often ignored perspective of parents.
The doc smartly also focuses on the children, as they also have an important part to say about the foster care system. The majority of the children claim that at home, the adults always put down the parents, with words such as, “Is that what they showed you?:”
The doc also shows the point of view of the care services. One is the chief director of Child Protection Services. His information is of course, alarming. In his county, he gets more than 200,000 calls a year. For one-third of these, a social worker is sent out. They claim that the services are there to protect the children and not to improve the family. What they miss out on are two things. They could also attempt both or they can be kinder in their delivery of services. When the services fail, the title.
The film shows the system being broken down, due to the reward system setup.
The families’ stories showcase the variety of circumstances that can lead to a child’s removal from the home, as well as the trials and tribulations that inevitably follow. The cases are as complex as they are tragic. They include histories of mental illness, as well as allegations of abuse, neglect, and trauma. Parents are pitted against their own children and each other. Along the way, the parents fight to clear their names and prove their fitness as guardians.
FAILURE TO PROTECT is an informative doc about the broken-down American Child Protective Services - more educational than thrilling, though director Pion-Berlin attempts to add some chartroom drama into the proceedings.
The film has screened at numerous prestigious film festivals including Phoenix Film Festival, Julien Dubuque International Film Festival, Atlanta Docufest, and Doc Boston, and has won numerous awards including“Best of Fest“ at Frozen River Film Festival, “Best Documentary” and “Best Director” at Oceanside International Film Festival, “Audience Choice Award” at Atlanta Docufest, “Best Director Documentary” and “Audience Choice Award” at First Glance Film Festival Los Angeles, “Best US Documentary Film” at Doc. Boston, among other awards. FAILURE TO PROTECT will be released on digital platforms by Porter+Craig Film & Media on October 17.
FOE (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Garth Davis
Foe is the second novel by Canadian writer Iain Reid. The book has been described as a psychological thriller and horror fiction against a science fiction backdrop. Reid referred to it as a "philosophical suspense story” and co-writing the script with director Garth Davis, the film tens towards this nature, Foe is set in the near future - in the year 2065, as the credits inform, and is about a married couple, Junior and (played by Paul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan) on a remote farm whose lives are thrown in turmoil when a stranger arrives.
The lives of a married couple are turned upside down when a stranger arrives at their farm and informs the husband he will be sent to a large space station, and his wife will be left in the company of a robot.
The film begins with opening credits setting the story of the film. It is later in the century when water and habitual lands become precious commodities. Cities will be over-populated, though the film never shows Any of the rural areas abandoned. The film is shot in southern Australia which explains the huge areas of land and sand. Director Davis shows one big strip that starts as seen from the inside of a window. The storms are supposedly caused by, obviously, climate change. New settlements are being g planned for outer space and it is this fact that the couple’s life is being altered.
The stranger, Terrance from an aerospace corporation called OuterMore. Terrance announces that Junior has been selected to travel to the Installation, a large space station in orbit around Earth. He will remain there for about two years, before returning home. Junior is deeply in love with Hen and is not happy leaving her alone. Terrance reassures him that while he is gone, he will be replaced by a biomechanical duplicate that will care for her. Junior is horrified. Terrance from an aerospace corporation called OuterMore. Terrance announces that Junior has been selected to travel to the Installation, a large space station in orbit around Earth. He will remain there for about two years, before returning home. Junior is deeply in love with Hen and is not happy leaving her alone. Terrance reassures him that while he is gone, he will be replaced by a biomechanical duplicate that will care for her. Junior is horrified. The film follows the book quite slowly with an emphasis on the psychology that comes with the change as well as the introduction of this A.I. robot which the film also calls a human substitute. To reveal more of the story would deficiently spoil the entertainment of the film, as it is slow and ponderous with nothing really much happening and the tensions between Hen and Junior come across as quite forced. It is odd that the husband and wife are played by Irish and the stranger played by a Brit for American characters.
One of the film’s flaws is the 'forced' effort put into the characters for the audiences to care for them. Hen and Junior care for each other but are isolated from the general population and form the audience.
Amazon Studios Will Release FOE Theatrically in the U.S. on October 6, 2023 and Canada on October 13
VAMPIRE HUMANISTE CHERCHE SUICIDAIRE CONSENTANT (Canada 2023) ***
(Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person)
Directed by Ariane Louis-Seize
The title of the movie VAMPIRE HUMANISTE CHERCHE SUICIDAIRE CONSENTANT (Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person) tells it all. A young teen vampire is unable to kill her victims to feed on the victim’s blood to survive. Sasha (Sara Montpetit) is a teenage vampire — well, “teenage” is relative in their world — with an empathy problem. Unlike the rest of her clan which includes her worried vampire parents, Sasha’s fangs don’t come out when she’s hungry or sensing fear; she needs to feel a personal connection to her prey. And then Sasha meets Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard), an actual teenager convinced he’ll never enjoy anything in life. She befriends him, introduces him to her world and its secrets, and he happily volunteers to be her next meal. Which would be great, except for the whole empathy thing. The film serves too, as a novel coming-of-age story. Director Louis-Seize plays her story deadpan without resorting to theatrics or cheap humour. For example in the dancing scene, Sasha and Paul just move their bodies right and left instead of breaking out into over-styled choreography. The blood and gore though present, are toned down a notch or two in this worthy and amusing take on the teen vampire genre.
ONCE UPON A STAR (Thailand 2023) ***
Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr
The traveling cinema. Cinema was enjoyed in the countryside in Asian countries like Thailand, and even Singapore back in the east had audiences sitting on benches or on a lawn watching a movie projection on a screen.
ONCE UPON A STAR, opening on Netflix this week is director Nonzee Nimibutr’s love letter to Thai cinema. It is the past and the story follows a grope of traveling pharma cinema groups as they go from village to village selling pharmaceutical products like medicine for stomach aches and other elixirs while screening their movie. There is no sound and the dialogue is dubbed, live by the traveling group. It is indeed neat to see how cinema was enjoyed in the early days. As the film claims at the start: We should learn to know what we love before we begin to dream.
Set in 1970 Lop Buri, the movie features Sukollawat "Weir" Kanarot, Nuengthida "Noona" Sophon, Jirayu "Kao" La-ongmanee and Samart Payakaroon as a local pharma-cinema team who travel around the Thai Kingdom.
Reminiscent a bit of CINEMA PARADISO, ONCE UPON A STAR is a wonderful and light film, though lasting slightly over two hours depicting the love of cinema.
ONCE UPONA STAR a slate of six original Thai titles – four films and two series. It's no secret that local reIt is also not a surprise that these same releases also do quite well in neighbouring countries, especially in a region as diverse (yet culturally intertwined) as Southeast Asia.
ONCE WITHIN A TIME (USA 2023) **
Directed by Godfrey Reggio and Jon Kane
Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and Jon Kane direct, Philip Glass scores, and Steven Soderbergh executive produces this surreal fairy tale about the end — and a new beginning — of the world entitled ONCE WITHIN A TIME.
This is an experimental film with a soundtrack of occasionally astounding Philip Grass scores, with no dialogue or lyrics to any of the music. As there are many scenes with children in clown-like kid-friendly creatures, one can assume that this is a children-friendly fantasy. The creatures act goofy and make silly choreographed moves, not that everything makes much sense at all. If the directors attempt to show the beginning of creation, as there is a scene of a male and female encountering a creature that holds an apple. akin to Adan and Eve and the serpent tempting them in the garden of Eden, once is never sure. It does not always make sense so there is no point trying to figure out what is going on. The images are different and often not something one has seen in fantasies before. This film is supposed to be a sci-fi fantasy. As for humour, it is an acquired taste. One funny moment has a primate, that looks like one taken from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY taking the big bone and hitting the ground only to retrieve a cell phone that the primate looks at with great curiosity. The film has the look of Fitz Lang’s METROPOLIS and the old sci-fi Russian films such as Andrei Tarkovski’s SOLARIS.
The film, thankfully runs 51 minutes as there can be too much of a good thing or conversely of a bad thing. Whether ONCE WITHIN A Time is for you depends on one’s state of mind. This can be considered an experimental film with a missing (or very weak) narrative that is not for the ordinary commercial moviegoer.
ONCE UPIN A TIME is playing Sunday, October 15th at 5 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
THE PUPPETMAN (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Brandon Christensen
The film introduces THE PUPPETMAN in action with a killing. A woman is preparing dinner when her husband, David returns home. A beautiful camera shot, a classic one that shows the man carrying a sharp knife with the camera pointed towards the unbelieving wife. She is stabbed and killed.
The Puppetman (which is David) is a convicted killer on death row. He has always maintained his innocence saying it was an evil force controlling his body as he slaughtered his victims. Now Michal (Caryn Richman), the killer's daughter, begins to suspect that there may be some truth to her father’s claim when those around her begin to die in brutal ways. Michal appears to be suffering from some sleep disorder that causes her to sleepwalk. All hope rests on her shoulders to break The Puppetman's curse. She goes around with a group of teen friends. This is the typical teen horror movie where the teens are done away one by one as in the FRIDAY THE 13TH and SCREAM franchises.
Nothing really spectacular in terms of plot or differences from another horror movie, except the slasher is replaced by different ways in which the puppet man strikes. Of the different killings two staged killings stand out - enough to make one flinch in terror, to the director’s credit. Beware: Spoiler alert next sentence in italics One has a girl burning herself after a book catches bonfire in the library and the other has a barbell bearing too many weights coming down on the weightlifter. But nothing as gruesome and watchable as in SAW X. An okay watch otherwise for horror fans who have no high expectations.
THE PUPPETMAN premieres Friday, October 13 on Shudder and AMC+
The film is written and directed by Brandon Christensen and starring Michael Paré, Caryn Richman, Alyson Gorske.
THE ROAD DANCE (UK 2021) ***½
Directed by Richie Adams
Ever since The Hebrides was referenced in William Shakespeare’s MACBETH, the Hebrides, way up in the north of the United Kingdom has always piqued my curiosity. This rare film, THE ROAD DANCE has the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, north of Scotland as its setting. The Hebrides is an archipelago comprising hundreds of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland. Divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides groups, they are home to rugged landscapes, fishing villages and remote Gaelic-speaking communities. The Isle of Skye, connected to the mainland by a bridge, has a colourful harbour at Portree and jagged 3,000 ft. peaks in the Cuillin mountain range. From the opening scene of the waves washing the rocks of the Hebrides, the beauty of the landscape is undeniably one of the most stunning in the world. The film was shot in the Isle of Lewis.
In a small, remote village in the Outer Scottish Hebrides, Kirsty (Hermione Corfield) yearns for adventure and another life across the ocean. Though she finds comfort in time spent with her mother and younger sister, she sees hope and a future with Murdo (Will Fletcher), an intelligent, curious poet. The two fall in love as World War I looms, and Murdo is soon conscripted to join the other men of the village to fight. As a gesture of farewell, the village hosts a road dance, a celebration attended by every resident, but this sense of community is soon shattered by an unspeakable incident that changes Kirsty’s life forever. Sensitively adapted from John MacKay’s 2002 novel, this sweeping tale of adversity and resilience captures the attitudes of the time while offering a moving melodrama for audiences of any time period.
What is worse? Watching your da dying of cancer or waiting for him, never to come home. Then there is the universal conscription of all the boys in the village. “Why are we even fighting this war?” she asks. But there is hope. “Maybe the war will end by Christmas.”
Despite the setting and period of the story, the story covers effectively the female issue of abuse and inferiority and rights. At the fault of a man, the woman frequently takes the blame. The female must always fight together for what is right and also for the family. Even though the film plays often like a melodrama, this film still works, the powerful film contains many powerful moments, a few that will bring out both tears and anger. Other issues addressed in the film include the futility of war, female and male comradeship, religion (“God will forgive you, but I won’t!” and morality.
Unfortunately, the film has a tagged-on Hollywood ending that mars what the rest of the film had built up. If the film ended 10 minutes earlier, the film would have been a much better and more credible drama.
THE ROAD DANCE, written and directed by Richie Adams, based on the book by John MacKay, opens in Theatres and on Digital October 13 in select cities and theatres and to be available to rent and purchase on all major platforms.
THE ROYAL HOTEL (Australia 2022) ***½
Directed by Kitty Green
Australia can be a nasty place. And even nastier in the remote outback, as two backpacking Canadian girls find to their dismay. After running out of cash and credit due to too much partying, as seen on a party boat at the beginning of the film, Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are forced to take jobs at The Royal Hotel, a bar in the outback. They are immediately confronted by the sea of rowdy men who fill the bar on a daily basis. There’s no varnish to their testosterone and while Billy (Hugo Weaving of PRISCILLA and other films), the perpetually drunk owner of the pub, toes the line and pushes back on the men when they go too far, he’s also enabled their behaviour in the first place. Liv tries to brush off the advances, but this only makes Hanna more anxious, as she starts to worry about her friend’s safety in addition to her own. It’s soon clear that the longer the women stick around, the more likely this continual threat will catch up to them. The nastiness is almost too much for even males to take. Obviously, the girls survive, after all, it is a female director at work href, and they do it with much aplomb and courage that is summed up due to desperation. The girls wish to go back to Bondi Beach (the one close to Sydney) even though one of them is unable to pronounce the word Bondi, but all they get is dry-blowing desert sands and a closed swimming pool. Well done though quite a gruesome grind before the girls come out victorious.
SILVER DOLLAR ROAD (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Raoul Peck
Wars have been fought over land. White people have stolen land owned by the less fortunate. These themes have been popping up currently in recent films. In Martin Scorsese’s KILLERS OF A FLOWER MOON based on a novel taken from true events, a rich white man steals land from the unknowing Osage Nation in what has been known in history as the Osage Murders In the recent sci-fi psychological thriller FOE based in the Iain Reid novel, land, and water are the only precious commodities in the world. In the recent THE BURIAL, there is a court fight over the land owned by a funeral home business and in the new Danish epic Nikolaj Arcel’s THE PROMISED LAND, the northern Danish land of Jutland is being contested.
In the black documentary SILVER DOLLAR ROAD, A Black family in North Carolina battles decades of harassment by land developers trying to seize their waterfront property. For generations, the North Carolina waterfront property known locally as Silver Dollar Road was passed through the hands of an African-American family, the Reels. Family members describe it as an idyllic spot where they could earn a living from fishing and growing their own food while isolating themselves from the violence of white supremacy.
But the Reels family’s fortunes changed in the 1970s when developers sought to drive out Black landowners and profit from the real estate. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Raoul Peck tells the story of how the Reels battled over several decades to save their land. He draws upon the in-depth reporting of Lizzie Presser, published by ProPublica and The New Yorker. Peck’s depiction of the Reels unfolds with novelistic detail, profiling the matriarch Gertrude (that is how the doc begins) in her nineties and her sons, Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels. The men lived all their lives on Silver Dollar Road, so when they’re served with a court order for eviction aged in their sixties and fifties, respectively, they choose to go to jail rather than give up their home. Their two options to give up the land or go to jail. They chose the latter. No attorney would fight for them.
It is indeed a sorry state of affairs to have the land that all your generations own, even legally as they have the paperwork, stolen from right under one’s nose because of dirty companies and illegal practices that go so far back that no one is sure what is happening. To put things in perspective, it is not this only family undergoing this ordeal. According to the film’s statistics, 90% of black people have had their land stolen.
The pain hits home when the film shows what it is like in a prison cell. The jailed family member tells of getting up in the morning, brushing his teeth, walking for two or three hours, and then doing the same again and again. Suicide is common in the cells.
Peck previously crafted an exquisite essay on Black resistance in I Am Not Your Negro (TIFF ’16). Now he develops those themes in an equally impressive family saga.