THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER (USA 2023) *
Directed by David Gordon Green
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER is a 2023 American supernatural horror film directed by David Gordon Green and written by Green and Peter Sattler, from a story by Scott Teems, Danny McBride, and Green. It is a sequel to William Friedkin’s 1973 EXORCIST boasting appearances of both Linda Blair (the possessed Regan) and Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, the mother.
The parents of demonically possessed girls, desperate for help, search for the only person alive who has had similar experiences: Chris MacNeil.
The film goes to great lengths to ensure the parents are different. One is a single father and the other church-going parents. But the main character dealing with the possession and nursing is a nurse Ann (Ann Dowd, who looks hagged after losing quite a bit of weight).
There is a difference between silly and stupid. The latter adjective is the one most appropriate for this movie - so much so that is laughable, laugh-out-loud laughable in many parts. The first of these is the earthquake scene set in Port-au-Prince Haiti. The entire idea (saving the Studios a lot of unnecessary money for the earthquake effects) could have been done away with, with the pregnant mother still going through the same demise.
The clincher is the dialogue written for Ann. One is the point when Ann declares she was previously a nun. Another is at the end of the film, when she suddenly an expert in good and evil answers the question: What is Evil? She gives a monologue on what she thinks evil is. But the goriest segment is also the most absurd, with poor Chris MacNeil as the victim.
The gory scenes contain different colored, black vomit (pea soup gone bad?) that can swirl into a maelstrom. The shaking bed and crawling from THE EXORCIST original are all there.
Director David Gordon Green f***ed up the Halloween franchise and outdid the feat with THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER. The sequel to this dud THE EXORCIST: DECEIVER is already scheduled to be released in 2025. But the good news is that the box-office projection of BELIEVER is believably encouraging for the reason of the strength of the franchise that Universal Studios reportedly paid a whopping $400 million. What possessed them?
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER - twice the possession, twice the stupidity.
INTO THE WEEDS (Canada 2022) ****
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal
MONSANTO is an American company with products sold and used all over the world. The company is known to be involved with cancer-causing agents in their weedkiller as well as their improper practices of their genetically modified seeds (GMO) resulting in the reputed company being the most hated company in the world. Those who have heard of Monsanto know why as there is absolutely nothing good and ethical about the company. Monsanto makes an extremely good subject matter for documentaries and the new Canadian Doc INTO THE WEEDS is one of them taking on the chemical giant.
INTO THE WEEDS examines Mosnanto’s Roundup weed killer that contains these cancer-causing agents. The company knows it but refuses to warn customers, preferring to cause death and illness while reaping profits. INTO THE WEEDS is not the first film to tout the evils of Monsanto. The docs THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MONSANTO and PERCY VS. GOLIATH are just two other films that tackled Monsanto’s problems, more on the side of their genetically modified seeds and forcing farmers to buy their product and prosecuting those that do not. The latter film had Christopher Walken play Percy who took on Goliath - the huge Monsanto just like Johnson takes on Monsanto in INTO THE WEEDS. Monsanto the company has now been bought over by Bayer who has, by default inherited all of Monsanto’s problems and class action lawsuits.
It would be intriguing to have employees of Monsant or even Bayer talk to the camera. But often, they refuse. One must wonder about the logic of Bayer taking over such a company and inheriting all its lawsuit problems.
Jennifer Baichwal's INTO THE WEEDS opens with interviews with Dewayne “Lee” Johnson and his mother. The doc tells the powerful story of Johnson, a former Bay Area groundskeeper who takes on a multinational agrochemical corporation after a terminal cancer diagnosis. Baichwal follows Johnson through his battle, setting his personal journey against a global environmental crisis.
Baichwal is an acclaimed Canadian director with award-winning films, her most famous ones being ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH (2018) and MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (2006). Her techniques of camera work are evident in INTO THE WEEDS. Just like the camera panned rows and rows of manufacturing stations in factories in MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES, INTO THE WOODS see rows and rows of patterned crop growing.
Though beginning and ending her doc with her subject Johnson, director Baichwal diverts and centres her focus on Monsanto, and rightly so, to make her doc more effective and absorbing. She achieves a solid balance. Director Baichwal has done her homework with Monsanto with lots of clips of the employees of Monsanto lying on camera and just being unethical liars and villains. She has also interviewed on camera monetary compensated victims speaking against the company. She has crafted a well-researched documentary that rightfully angers her audience as well as informing and educating.
MONSANTO has ended up paying billions for compensation with their products now banned in many countries around the world. All this is good but many of the sick victims have said on camera, that they would rather have their health back. What should have been a better result is to see the CEO of Monsanto and other executives put into prison for these crimes against humanity.
MIRANDA’S VICTIM (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by Michelle Tanner
It was only been slightly around a decade ago when the complaint of not enough female content movies were being made or that female filmmakers were under-represented. The trend has recently not only been reversed but more remarkably so. It has changed as can be observed by a majority of female vs. male films at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
Based on true events, in 1963 eighteen-year-old Trish Weir (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped and sexually assaulted. Her assailant, Ernesto Miranda (Sebastian Quinn), confesses without legal representation and serves a two-year sentence, only to have the verdict later overturned. In the resulting retrial, a determined prosecutor (Luke Wilson) seeks to hold Ernesto accountable for his crimes, despite grueling opposition from Ernesto's defense attorney (Ryan Phillippe). What follows is a legal proceeding that forever changes the nation's justice system.
“We are now women. All the world wants is to take from us. I will protect my girls.” These are the words uttered by the mother, supposedly words of comfort to her daughter after she had been raped., even though she goes about it against the wishes of another daughter The question is how far she would go to protect her daughters, and to what cost? The daughter gets a glimpse while working that night at the local cinema of the courtroom justice drama classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD with the scene of Gregory Peck addressing the court regarding making their decision without passion. It is clear that MIRANDA’S VICTIM is a woman’s film, from the female director to the main characters all being female, as well as the key issues all being female-related.
The words ‘based on a true story’ appear on the screen at the start of the film. The film title MIRANDA’S VICTIM also gives it right away that Ernie Miranda is guilty of rape. The title is also so-called because Trish is a minor and having her name printed in the news would cause not only much disgrace but a destruction of her future life. The detailed and difficult process of identifying Ernie is meticulously captured on film, with the audience clearly put on the victim, Trisha’s side. The courtroom trial only begins at the halfway mark of the film with superior performances by Luke Wilson and Andy Garcia as the prosecuting and defending attorneys respectively. Here in the early 60’s, as evident by the two films screened at the Paramount Cinema where Trish's works are 1962 films, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. The fact that it is the 60s where women are never given the benefit of the doubt is also clearly established throughout the film. Director Tanner, to her credit, creates a solid 60’s prior mood and atmosphere.
The performances of the apt cast that includes heavyweights like Kyle MacLachlan, Donald Sutherland, Ryan Philippe and Abigail Breslin as Tosh are to be commended, keeping the film taut and in the right direction of a serious courtroom drama dealing with key issues.
MIRANDA’S VICTIM is a tense and compelling courtroom drama brimming with raw emotions, a drama that also reflects the mores and social behaviour of the times.
MIRANDA’S VICTIM opens in Select Theatres and On Demand October 6, 2023
RACE TO THE SUMMIT (Germany 2023) ***½
Directed by Nicholas de Taranto and Götz Werner
There have been dozens of films about climbers to the summit of Mount Everest, even one with a female mountain climber screened at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Lucy Walker’s MOUNTAIN QUEEN: THE SUMMIT OF LHAKPA SHERPA. RACE TO THE SUMMIT, another winning documentary from Netflix, is different. It is a race of two climbers, to break records and to beat the other on dangerous north faces of the Swiss Alps.
This sports adventure doc provides edge-of-the-seat entertainment despite the fact it is a doc. The cinematography is magnificent contrasting the danger faced by. both climbers. The two climbers are Dani Arnold and Ueli Steck Arnold is Swiss and Steck is German, which explains the doc being filmed in English and German.
Directors Nicholas de Taranto and Götz Werner devote a fair amount of equal screen time to each climber, allowing the audience to connect with each climber so that there is no favouritism for either one. No one really cares who will win, for this is not the reason for the film. The reason, one of many is to observe and celebrate human motivation.
This great media and mountaineering event of two climbers racing to the summit translates to awesome documentary filmmaking.
Netflix has had a string of winning documentaries the recent months with RACE TO THE SUMMIT being one of them. The doc opens for streaming on Netflix this week.
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.
SHE CAME TO ME (USA 2023) ****
Directed by Rebecca Miller
Director Rebecca Miller’s film is touted as a romantic comedy but it feels far from it. In a good way. SHE CAME TO ME is a quirky, often hilarious look at two families, each with problems almost unsurmountable, for a variety of reasons including past failures and assholism (a word like this does not but should exist).
Director Miller is fortunate to have one of the most talented actors in film and the honours along to Peter Linkage. He rose to prominence with THE STATION MASTER and has proved himself a master in odd characters, the best of which can be observed in one might be considered his best role, though in a comedy. In I CARE A LOT, Linkdage played a King Mafioso of sorts whose mother was taken for senior care against her wishes. This was a non-recognized non-Oscar nominated role that should have won him the Oscar In SHE CAME TO ME, Likdage plays Composer Steven Lauddem, creatively blocked and unable to finish the score for his big comeback opera. At the behest of his wife Patricia (Anne Hathaway), he sets out in search of inspiration. One of the film’s best and most hilarious scenes is when Linkdage’s character loses it completely at an opera rehearsal and reams out the opera singer. The director tells him off: “If you want us to put on a brilliant opera; then let us put it on.” He is then advised not to attend any further rehearsals.
Director Miller who also wrote this sardonic script which is best at creating asshole characters. Besides Composer Steven acting and behaving as an asshole quite a bit of his time, the other one belongs to the character called Trey, an attorney played by Brian D’Arcy. ‘We should’ve done dinner on a non-school night,” he makes the most awkward remark at the dinner table when his adopted daughter arranges a first dinner meeting with her parents. Trey also insists that food be passed to the right at a dinner table so as not to cause confusion, Trey’s adopted daughter is dating composer Steven’s son. Trey thinks that his adopted daughter has had sex with the composer’s son and wants to press charges of rape. Trey’s advice:” You have to learn to be suspicious of people.”
There are also other side plots making the story even more wicked, and more entertaining to watch.
“You know that I can’t resist a romantic story,” says Katerina, “Even if I am not in it.” Director Miller is smart enough to have her camera focus on and stay on Tomie’s face using both her actor and character’s beauty.
The story could be criticized to be a female-dominated story with the males just brushed aside. But the script is so well written and performed that the criticism can not only be dismissed but praised for how things turn out. The film’s best line from Steven: “Katrina, you are a mighty woman!”
SHE CAME TO ME opened the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival on February 16, 2023. In May 2023, Vertical Entertainment acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film. It is scheduled to be released on October 6, 2023.
STRANGE WAY OF LIFE (Spain 2023) ***
Directed by Pedro Almodovar
STRANGE WAY OF LIFE is a gay western directed by gay Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar, a film made in collaboration with Fashion House Yves Saint Laurent.
Silva (Pedro Pascal) rides across the desert from his ranch to the town of Bitter Creek, where Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke) lives. Silva and Jake haven’t seen each other for 25 years since their wild days as hired gunslingers and secret lovers in Mexico (their young selves played in flashback by José Condessa and Jason Fernández, respectively). The morning after celebrating their reunion, Jake says he knows Silva isn’t just here to go down memory lane… Jake is going after Silva’s son, who allegedly killed his brother’s wife.
Almodovar’s trademark of his use of colour is observable at the film’s start from the coloured decor and the wardrobe worn by Hawke and Pascal, which were designed by Anthony Vaccarello from Yves Saint Laurent.
But this queer western, unlike Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, is devoid of emotion and comes across as a very queer (here meaning odd) exercise. Hawke and Pascal make unbelievable lovers, so bad that they had to use younger actors Condessa and Fernandez to perform the drunk kissing scene, which, fortunately, is quite hot. Almodovar's film looks like the typical Spaghetti Western (by Sergio Leone) that comes with a shoot-out at the climax.
STRANGE WAY OF LIFE is Almodovar’s short film of 30 minutes. It will be screened in theatres together with his other 2020 short film starring Tilda Swinton entitled THE HUMAN VOICE. Both short films are filmed in English.
STRANGE WAY OF LIFE opens October 6 in Toronto (Bell Lightbox) and other cities across Canada!
WHEN EVIL LURKS (Argentina 2023) ***1/2
Directed by Demian Rugna
WHEN EVIL LURKS from Argentina, marks one of the best possession horror films in a while. One of the possessed persons is just a bundle of boils and pus and downright ugly to look at if one can bear to look at him. WHEN EVIL LURKS is one prized horror film, in fact, one of the best acquired for premiering on Shudder, the horror streaming network, The date has yet to be announced. Though the film is premiering at TIFF Midnight Madness, the film is available for preview on Shudder for Shudder press.
WHEN EVIL LURKS (an excellent title for a horror movie - one just has to love the word ‘lurks) has all the elements of a good horror film. There is lots of audience anticipation, violence and gore, evil in its vilest form and a confrontation climax where the evil is finally dealt with.
Director Rugna creates new rules for his demon possession pic. It is not the Roman Catholic church against Satan. The new rules include not turning electric lights on as the demon can hide in their shadows; no guns can be used to eradicate the possessing demon and staying away from animals which the demon can easily enter. There is also a special gadget that can be used at the end of the film to fight the demon. Though these are creative and spin a change over past rules like Dracula being afraid of sunlight or demons of the cross, it is not established where the origin of these rules or the gadget really comes from.
Pus and blood is a favourite horrific site used in horror films. LORD OF THE RINGS, a New Zealand director, Peter Jackson took this to the extreme in his horror flick BRAINDEAD (also released a cut version, direct to video under the new title DEAD ALIVE with several cuts made. I was fortunate to see the uncut version at the Toronto International Film Festival and again on video in its cut version with the pus scene modified In the original BRAINDEAD, the mother, turning into a zombie, is at the dinner table. Her ear falls off into her custard and the pus and blood from one of her boils shoots and lands in the bowl of custard of a dinner guest, who unknowingly scoops a large spoonful of custard hiding the bodily fluids into his mouth, WHEN EVIL LURKS, the possessed person, after being possessed by a couple of months is in a very sorry state. He is in this case a big pus ball, constantly emitting pus and blood through erupting boils on his face and other parts of his body. It does not help that he is also an obese person, wheezing and begging for someone to kill him and end his suffering. It gets more bloody disgusting, in a good way, if one can take it, as his huge corpse is dragged in a bed sheet out to the car outside, the sheet then ripping and the body falling to the ground. “Get a blanket,” shouts one of the bearers. This is the film’s most grotesque and best scene.
WHEN EVIL LURKS builds up extremely well but suffers a slight letdown at the end. Still, this horror flick has plenty of innovations and scares to offer.