2021 AFI Fest: ‘Bruised,’ ‘Swan Song,’ ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ among the world premieres

September 28, 2021

The following is a press release from AFI:

Halle Berry in “Bruised” (Photo by John Baer/Netflix)

AFI announced that FEST 2021 will include the World Premieres of Academy Award® winner Halle Berry’s directorial debut “Bruised” from Netflix and Academy Award®  winner Benjamin Cleary’s feature directorial debut “Swan Song” from Apple Original Films. Both World Premieres will screen at the film festival in-person at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre on Saturday, November 13 and Friday, November 12, respectively.

“Bruised” stars Berry as a washed-up MMA fighter who struggles for redemption as both an athlete and a mother. “Swan Song” stars two-time Oscar® winner Mahershala Ali as a man diagnosed with a terminal illness who is presented with an alternative solution by his doctor, portrayed by eight-time Oscar® nominee Glenn Close, to shield his family from grief. The film also stars Oscar® nominee Naomie Harris, BAFTA Award nominee Awkwafina and Adam Beach.

“Now more than ever it is important to lift up and shine a light on new voices and new stories that inspire empathy,” said Sarah Harris, Director of Programming at AFI Festivals. “Halle Berry and Benjamin Cleary are vital artists whose visions we are proud to celebrate at AFI FEST.”

The films join the previously announced titles which include Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard,” starring Will Smith. AFI FEST 2021 film festival takes place from November 10–14 in Los Angeles.

This year’s hybrid festival will feature both in-person screenings and events, as well as virtual screenings, showcasing transformative stories from groundbreaking artists. With health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 film festival will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated. Tickets and passes will be available soon on FEST.AFI.com. AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/join/.

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ABOUT THE FILMS

In “Bruised,” Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) is a mixed martial arts fighter who leaves the sport in disgrace.  Down on her luck and simmering with rage and regret years after her fight, she’s coaxed into a brutal underground fight by her manager and boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto) and grabs the attention of a fight league promoter (Shamier Anderson) who promises Jackie a life back in the octagon. But the road to redemption becomes unexpectedly personal when Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.), the son she gave up as an infant, shows up at her doorstep. The film marks the directorial debut of Academy Award®  winner Halle Berry and also stars Adriane Lenox, Sheila Atim, Valentina Shevchenko and Stephen McKinley Henderson in a triumphant story of a fighter who reclaims her power, in and out of the ring, when everyone has counted her out. The film is helmed by Berry from an original screenplay written by Michelle Rosenfarb, and produced by Thunder Road Pictures, Entertainment 360 and Romulus Entertainment.

“Swan Song” is set in the near future and told through the eyes of Cameron (two-time Academy Award® winner Mahershala Ali), a loving husband and father diagnosed with a terminal illness who is presented with an alternative solution by his doctor (eight-time Academy Award® nominee Glenn Close) to shield his family from grief. As Cam grapples with whether or not to alter his family’s fate, he learns more about life and love than he ever imagined. Academy Award® nominee Naomie Harris, BAFTA winner Awkwafina and Adam Beach also star in the ensemble cast. The film is helmed by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Benjamin Cleary (“Stutterer”), from an original screenplay written by Cleary and produced by Anonymous Content and Concordia Studio. Producers are Adam Shulman (“Defending Jacob”) and Jacob Perlin (“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary”) on behalf of Anonymous Content; Jonathan King (“Stillwater,” “Dark Waters”) on behalf of Concordia Studio; Rebecca Bourke (“Wave”); Mahershala Ali and Mimi Valdés (“Hidden Figures”) through Know Wonder.

Learn more about AFI’s annual film festival at FEST.AFI.com.

Review: ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand

September 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/A24/Apple TV+)

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” 

Directed by Joel Coen

Culture Representation: Taking place in Scotland and England in the 1600s, the dramatic film “The Tragedy of Macbeth” features a cast of white and black people representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: A ruthlessly ambitious husband and wife lie, cheat and murder their way into becoming king and queen of Scotland, but their sins eventually catch up to them with deadly consequences.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of fans of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” play, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” will appeal primarily to fans of Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand and Joel Coen.

Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Photo courtesy of A24/Apple TV+)

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” gives William Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” the minimalist treatment, laying bare the raw intensity of the story, which is masterfully channeled via powerhouse performances from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Joel Coen (McDormand’s husband and longtime artistic collaborator) wrote and directed “The Tragedy of Macbeth” as a striking hybrid of an observational filmed stage play and an immersive cinematic experience. At a relatively brisk run time of 105 minutes, the movie defies the notion that movies made from Shakespeare’s work have to be pompous, self-indulgent bores. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” had its world premiere at the 2021 New York Film Festival.

Filmed in black and white, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” stays faithful to the source material but rolls out as a more streamlined piece of art that makes this version of the Macbeth story more accessible to people with short attention spans. People interested in watching the movie probably have some familiarity already with Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” a tragic play that was first performed in 1606 and first published in 1623. Most people would agree that “Macbeth”—with its timeless themes of how a corrupt pursuit of power can destroy lives—remains among the top three of Shakespeare’s best and most well-known work.

There’s really no need to rehash a plot that a lot of viewers will know before seeing this movie. The story is essentially about a married power couple who want to rule over Scotland as king and queen, no matter what the cost. Washington portrays the title character as a man on a mission to get what he feels is owed to him after years of feeling unappreciated as a loyal lord to Scotland’s King Duncan (played by Brendan Gleeson), who is about to be viciously murdered.

The mastermind of this assassination is Macbeth’s wife Lady Macbeth (played by Frances McDormand), whose power and intelligence is underestimated by most people because she is a woman. However, behind the scenes and behind closed doors, Lady Macbeth is a master manipulator who is in many ways more cold-hearted and single-minded in her ambition than her husband is. When he has doubts about any of the dastardly deeds that she has in mind, she pushes those doubts out of his mind and motivates him to follow through with her plans.

Clawing one’s way to the top of Scotland’s royal hierarchy, without being a blood relative of a royal, means that a lot of people will have to die. (The killing scenes aren’t too gory, but there are a few non-explicit scenes involving child murder that might be disturbing for very sensitive viewers.) King Duncan has two adult sons: elder son Malcolm (played by Harry Melling) and Donalbain (played by Matt Helm), who are dutiful but unprepared for the destruction inflicted by the Macbeth couple. As the body count piles up, false accusations will fly, paranoia reaches a fever point, and certain people face a reckoning that seems to ask the question: “Was all that backstabbing worth it in the end?”

Other characters in the play that are also in the movie include Banquo (played by Bertie Carvel), Macbeth’s close ally and a general in King Duncan’s army; Fleance (played by Lucas Barker) Banquo’s son, who’s about 10 or 11 years old in the movie; Macduff (played by Corey Hakwins), Thane of Fife; and Lady Macduff (played by Moses Ingram), Macduff’s wife. Macduff is the first one in the king’s inner circle to suspect that Macbeth and his wife might be up to no good.

Just like like in the “Macbeth” play, the catalyst for Macbeth thinking he has a right to take the throne comes early on in the story when he envisions three witches who tell him a prophecy that he will become the king. However, the introduction of these witches in the movie doesn’t follow standard convention. At first, there’s the appearance of one witch (played by Kathryn Hunter, who plays all three identical witches), who is first seen with her face down in a sandy and barren area, like a vulture who’s hunched over from dehydration.

This witch, just like her look-alikes, is dressed all in black has bird-like mannerisms and even caws like a crow. She contorts her body and flaps her arms, like an ave from hell. And later, when she is joined by the other two witches, they transform into large and menacing black birds.

Washington’s portrayal of Macbeth is as a hothead who is prone to losing control of his emotions and stomping around and shouting as a way to intimidate people. Macbeth is all about short-term gratification. McDormand’s depiction of Lady Macbeth is as someone who is more likely to think long-term and see the big picture.

The difference between Lady Macbeth and her husband is that Lady Macbeth knows when to keep her mouth shut and not give away too much information. Witness the brilliant facial expressions of McDormand as Lady Macbeth in a scene where her husband Macbeth is ranting about something to a group of people in the king’s court. Lady Macbeth thinks he might let some valuable information slip, but she says nothing in order to keep up a façade of ignorance. However, the look on her face shows a brief flash of alarm, as if she’s thinking, “He better not say anything stupid!”

Lady Macbeth has a temper too. She just doesn’t show it to people who could use this “unladylike” demeanor against her. And when McDormand’s Lady Macbeth gets angry, she bellows and barks in a voice that’s deep enough to sound like a man. McDormand’s interpretation of Lady Macbeth is that she knows her own power and strength. She’s not a fussy and frilly wife but one who’s willing to blur the lines of gender roles by showing a more masculine side than how other female actors might interpret this character.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” has some recurring visual motifs that work well for a movie that was filmed in black and white and has a mild fascination with flight in open skies. First, there are multiple scenes that have a starry night as a backdrop. In a memorable moment, Lady Macbeth let’s go of a burning piece of paper, which flies out the window and into the night. And when the witches turn into birds, which happens more than once in the movie, it also exemplifies the type of flight that conjures of images of dark forces that hover and can’t be tamed.

Another effective visual technique that’s used in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is conveying the feeling of being spied on and targeted. A scene with Banquo opens with what looks like a spotlight resembling a bullseye lens. The camera zooms up to show an aerial view of Banquo in this spotlight. It’s a foreshadowing of what happens later to Banquo, because he indeed becomes a target. And later in the movie, the three witches are perched on wooden square beams, as the witches look down like vultures ready to pounce.

Because there have been so many different adaptations of “Macbeth,” Coen succeeds in the intent to offer Macbeth through the lens of living in a world where generations of filmmakers and movie audiences have been influenced by the nightmarish lighting contrasts of German Expressionism. The movie’s cinematography (by Bruno Delbonnel), production design (by Stefan Dechant) and visual effects (supervised by Michael Huber and Alex Lemke) are stark and compelling, ranging from set pieces that look like they were made for a theater stage to the majestic simplicity of a cliff that becomes a pivotal location.

And when Lady Macbeth literally lets her hair down in private moments, she can be disheveled—more frump and happenstance than pomp and circumstance. Occasionally messy hair aside, Lady Macbeth’s wardrobe and the rest of the characters’ clothes are completely on point, thanks to stellar costume design by Mary Zophres. The costumes in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” might be the only reason to wish that this movie hadn’t been in black and white. However, the film’s monochromatic pallette is understandable, in order to reflect the dark despair that permeates throughout the story.

All of the supporting actors in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” play their roles well, with Hawkins being a standout as the intuitive Macduff, a good man who loves his wife and kids and who finds himself in the crosshairs of death and betrayal. (And in case anyone is wondering, everyone in this international cast has a British accent for the movie.) It’s hard to go wrong with a Shakespeare classic, a cast of this high level of talent, and a director who consistently makes films whose quality is above-average. The “Macbeth” story is a well-worn road for enthusiasts of performing arts, but “The Tragedy of Macbeth” makes this familiar ride very entertaining.

A24 will release “The Tragedy of Macbeth” in select U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2021. Apple TV+ will premiere the movie on January 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams

September 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ben Platt and Julianne Moore in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Dear Evan Hansen”

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

Culture Representation: Taking place in Bethesda, Maryland, the musical film “Dear Evan Hansen” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Due to a misunderstanding over a typed letter, a lonely teenager in his last year of high school pretends that he was the secret best friend of a fellow student who committed suicide. 

Culture Audience: “Dear Evan Hansen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Tony-winning musical on which this movie is based, but the movie fails to capture the spirit of the stage version.

Danny Pino, Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

On paper, the movie musical “Dear Evan Hansen” seems like it would be guaranteed to have the same appeal as the Tony-winning musical on which it’s based. However, the movie’s talented cast can’t redeem this misguided mush that clumsily handles serious issues such as mental illness and suicide. Sometimes, it isn’t enough to have members of a Broadway musical’s Tony-winning team reprise the same roles for the movie. The “Dear Evan Hansen” movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Several of the principal team members who won Tony Awards for the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical came on board for the movie version of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Ben Platt returns in his starring role as Evan Hansen. Steven Levenson wrote the musical’s book and the movie’s screenplay. Marc Platt (Ben Platt’s father) is a producer. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the musical score and songs. The movie version has the same songs from the stage musical, except for the original songs “A Little Closer” and “The Anonymous Ones.”

Stephen Chbosky, who earned rave reviews for his 2012 movie adaptation of his novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” misses the mark in directing “Dear Evan Hansen,” another story about a teenage boy who’s struggling with mental illness. (Chobsky was not involved in the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical, whose original Broadway production was directed by Michael Greif.) In “Dear Evan Hansen,” Evan Hansen is a socially awkward loner, who is in therapy for anxiety and depression. In the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie, these issues are treated like “disease of the week” plot points. The movie also callously fails, until the last few scenes, to have much regard for the inner life of the person who committed suicide in the story, because the movie is all about Evan Hansen’s angst over keeping secrets about lies that Evan Hansen created.

Unfortunately, the movie missed some opportunities to have more exploration and sensitivity about what led to the suicide that becomes the catalyst for the entire story. Instead, the emphasis is on trying to make viewers feel sorry for a teenager who lies to people about being the suicide victim’s best friend. The movie doesn’t make him an anti-hero but someone who should be admired for coping with his mental health issues while under the stress of concocting elaborate lies.

In the beginning of “Dear Evan Hansen” (which takes place in Bethesda, Maryland), Evan is shown doing a therapy exercise required by his psychiatrist Dr. Sherman: writing a diary-like letter to himself. It’s an assignment that Evan has to do on a regular basis in order to ease some of his anxiety and hopefully boost his confidence. Dr. Sherman is never seen or heard in the movie, which is one of the reasons why parts of this movie look very phony and off-kilter. The self-addressed letter writing becomes the reason why Evan becomes entangled in a misunderstanding and a complicated deception that end up getting out of control.

Evan, who is in his last year at the fictional Westview High School, is the only child of divorcée Heidi Hansen (played by Julianne Moore), a nurse who works the night shift at a local hospital. Evan’s father abandoned Evan and Heidi when Evan was very young and has not been in their lives since then. More recently, Evan has been recovering from a broken left arm, which is in a cast, because he fell out of a tree.

The early scenes of Evan at high school embody a lot stereotypes of teenagers who are social pariahs. He’s ignored in the hallways and in classrooms. No one wants to have lunch with him in the cafeteria. Evan is afraid to talk to people, and when he does, he often stutters and stammers. And people usually don’t talk to him either, because he keeps mostly to himself.

There’s no indication of what type of academic student Evan is because the movie mostly cares about the web of lies that Evan ends up spinning. At home, Evan’s mother Heidi constantly reminds him to write the self-affirming letters, because she doesn’t want him to “go back to how it was last year,” which implies that Evan had some kind of breakdown back then.

As is typical for a story about a male nerd in high school, he has a crush on a girl whom he thinks is out of his league, and he’s too shy to even talk to her. Evan’s crush is Zoe Murphy (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who is two years younger than he is. Zoe, who is artistic and introverted, plays guitar in the school’s marching band.

Evan’s only “friend” at school is someone who often acts embarrassed to be around Evan. His name is Jared Kalvani (played by Nik Dodani), who makes a lot of cruel remarks to Evan, but Jared think he’s being witty and funny when he says these awful things to Evan. For example, Jared tells Evan that they are not “real friends,” because Jared feels obligated to hang out with Evan only because their mothers are friends. Jared also calls Evan a “total disaster” when it comes to dating. Jared tells Evan that he won’t sign Evan’s arm cast because Jared doesn’t want people to think that he and Evan are friends.

It’s the beginning of the school year, and Jared (who is openly gay) brags to Evan that he spent his summer vacation at a camp where he gained muscle weight and hooked up with a Brazilian hunk who’s a model. Jared is a motormouth who seems like the type to exaggerate things about himself in order to boost his own ego. Viewers will get the impression that Jared hangs out with Evan so Jared can feel socially superior to Evan.

One day in the school hallway, Evan has a run-in with a school bully named Connor Murphy (played by Colton Ryan), who is in Evan’s graduating class. Connor also happens to be Zoe’s older brother. Connor sees Evan looking at Connor while Evan gives a small nervous laugh. Connor’s temper explodes and he yells at Evan for laughing at him.

Zoe is among the people who saw this outburst, so shortly afterward, she approaches Evan and says she’s sorry for the way that Connor was so rude to Evan. Zoe introduces herself, but bashful Evan is tongue-tied and almost having a panic attack. Evan stammers something that Zoe can’t understand and then he runs away from her.

One day, Evan is in the school library, where he has printed out another letter to himself. The letter reads: “Dear Evan Hansen: Turns out this wasn’t an amazing day after all. This isn’t going to be an amazing year because why would it be? Oh, I know, because there’s Zoe, who I don’t even know and who doesn’t know me, but maybe if I talk to her, maybe things will be better. Or maybe nothing will be different at all. I wish everything was different. Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? Sincerely, your best and dearest friend. Me.”

Just as he is about to leave the library, Evan runs into Connor again. To Evan’s surprise, Connor is even-tempered and asks to signs Evan’s arm cast. After Connor signs it, he smirks and says, “Now we can pretend to be friends.” However, Connor sees the letter that Evan wrote to himself, Connor reads it, and he has another angry tantrum. Connor is upset about Evan’s letter, which Connor calls a “creepy letter” about Zoe. Connor is so incensed that he takes the letter from Evan.

The next day, Evan finds out about something tragic that happened the night before: Connor committed suicide. Word quickly spreads throughout the school. Evan is called into the school principal’s office because two people want to talk to Evan: Connor’s mother Cynthia Murphy (played by Amy Adams) and Connor’s stepfather Larry Mora (played by Danny Pino), who helped raise Zoe since she was a 1-year-old and since Connor was 3.

Cynthia and Larry found Evan’s letter among Connor’s possessions and assumed that Connor wrote the letter. Larry and Cynthia are surprised by the letter because they didn’t think Connor had any friends. At first, Evan tries to tell these grieving parents that he didn’t know Connor and he wrote the letter to himself. But when Cynthia and Larry see Connor’s signature on Evan’s arm cast, Cynthia is convinced that Connor and Evan must’ve had a secret friendship.

Cynthia in particular seems desperate to want answers about Connor’s suicide. She’s trying to find anyone who was close to Connor to help her understand things that she didn’t know about Connor. It’s at this point in the story that you have to wonder why Cynthia would think that Connor would write a letter saying that he doesn’t know his own sister Zoe, but the movie wants viewers to think that Cynthia is so overcome with grief that she isn’t thinking logically.

The more Evan tries to explain that he was never Connor’s friend, the more upset Cynthia gets. She thinks that Connor had secret email addresses and fake social media accounts to hide his “friendship” with Evan. Cynthia also asks a lot of leading questions that make it easy for Evan to give answers that she wants to hear. And so, with Evan’s anxiety starting to kick in as he faces these parents who want answers, he makes up a huge lie in this meeting, by saying that he and Connor were secret best friends. (It’s not spoiler information, because it’s in the movie’s trailers.)

The rest of the movie shows how Evan’s lies get more elaborate and how he desperately tries to cover up these lies. First, he tells Jared his secret and convinces computer whiz Jared to create fake email messages to and from Connor, so that Evan can forward these messages to the Murphy family. It makes Jared a willing accomplice to this deceit, but the movie badly handles the consequences that Jared would realistically have to face if the secret is revealed.

Cynthia and Larry want to know more about Connor from Evan. And so, it isn’t long before Evan is invited over to the Murphy home for dinner. During this dinner, Evan finds out that Zoe despised Connor, whom she calls a “bad person.” She has nothing good to say about her dead brother, and it naturally upsets Larry and Cynthia every time they hear Zoe insult Connor.

Later, in a private conversation between Zoe and Evan, she expresses some skepticism that Evan was ever really Connor’s friend. Although she and Connor weren’t close, Zoe finds it hard to believe that Evan and Connor were friends because she never saw them hanging out together. The only time that she saw Evan and Connor interacting with each other was a few days before the suicide, when Connor yelled at Evan in the school hallway. Despite these major doubts, Evan is able to convince Zoe that he and Connor just had a minor argument in that school hallway and that they were really friends.

“Dear Evan Hansen” ignores the larger questions of what kind of emotional support Connor was or was not getting at home. It’s revealed that he was shipped off to rehab on multiple occasions for his substance abuse problems. And it’s obvious that Cynthia doesn’t want to talk about Connor’s worst flaws, so her denial about his problems might have made things worse.

However, viewers are only left to guess what went on inside Connor’s home and what was inside his head to make him commit suicide. To put it bluntly: Evan’s mental health problems are given all the importance in the movie, while the suicide victim’s problems are mostly ignored. This discrepancy defeats the movie’s supposed intention to bring more understanding and compassion for people who have suicidal thoughts.

The movie also goes off on a brief and unnecessary tangent that Jared gleefully participates in Evan’s deception because Jared likes the idea of making people think that Connor and Evan were secret gay lovers. It’s an idea that falls by the wayside when Evan and Zoe become closer and eventually start dating each other. Evan and Zoe becoming romantically involved is not spoiler information either, because it’s shown in the movie’s trailers.

Zoe opens up to Evan about why she and Connor never got along with each other. Connor had a long and troubled history of being a violent bully. For example, when Connor was 7 years old, he threw a printer at a teacher. He was also cruel to Zoe on many occasions. And mental illness apparently runs in the family. Zoe and Connor’s biological father died when she was a 1-year-old. His cause of death will not surprise viewers when it’s eventually revealed in the story.

At school, a concerned student named Alana Beck (played by Amandla Stenberg), who didn’t know Connor, decides to form a support group called the Connor Project to help create student awareness for mental health. She asks for Evan’s help in launching this project, but he avoids going to the student meetings about the project. Alana finds it difficult to get anyone to attend these meetings because Connor was not well-liked, so she’s surprised and disappointed that Connor’s “best friend” doesn’t want to attend these meetings either.

And when Evan tells a lie that Connor was the one who rescued Evan after he fell out of the tree, Alana gets the idea to launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to rebuild the defunct orchard where the tree is located. She wants to name it the Connor Murphy Memorial Orchard. Alana tries to enlist Evan’s help for this campaign too. And so, now Evan knows that this fundraising campaign was created as a direct result of his deceit. Can you say “financial fraud”?

Why is Alana going to all this trouble for Connor, someone she didn’t even know? It turns out that Alana has a personal reason for wanting to launch the Connor Project: Just like Evan, she’s on medication for anxiety and depression. Alana thinks that Connor also had a mental illness that could’ve been better treated if he felt that he had a support system at school. And therefore, Alana has a lot of empathy for anyone who is going through these struggles.

One of the reasons why the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie will turn off some viewers is that the movie tries to make Evan look sympathetic because he’s a social outcast, but he actually comes across as very selfish. Would he have continued lying to the Murphy family if he didn’t think it was a convenient way to get closer to Zoe? Probably not. Would he have kept up the charade of being sympathetic to Connor’s emotional problems if this fake sympathy hadn’t raised his social status at school? Probably not.

Evan also doesn’t seem to care to understand who Connor was as a human being until something happens in the story that forces Evan to look like he’s curious about what Connor’s interests were when Connor was alive. Throughout most of the movie, Alana is more inquisitive about Connor than Evan is. Of course, in real life, this discrepancy would have set off red flags very early on—not just with Connor’s family but also with teachers and students who would know best what the friendship cliques are at the school. It’s a reality that’s mostly ignored in this movie, which makes the students and teachers look extremely gullible to Evan’s lies, which aren’t even that clever.

And there’s an icky subtext that Evan is enjoying the attention and approval he’s getting for coming forward as Connor’s “best friend,” even though Evan is supposed to feel guilty about his lies. He does feel guilty, but mainly when he comes close to getting caught and other people get backlash that Evan didn’t expect. This backlash is rushed into the story as a way to force an inevitable plot development.

It’s possible that this movie could’ve been more convincing if it had been set in a time before the Internet and social media existed. However, no one ever asks Evan for more proof that he knew Connor as a best friend, such as things Connor would’ve told a best friend about himself. Everyone just accepts the superficial and vague email as “evidence” of the friendship.

Evan claims that his friendship with Connor was mostly online, by email. However, except for saying that Evan rescued him after the tree fall, Evan never provides the dates and times of when he and Evan supposedly hung out in person together. Viewers are supposed to believe that Evan thinks he can get away with this scam with his mother, who knows pretty much everything about him and is skeptical that he had a secret best friend. But somehow, Evan convinces her too. It’s a very flimsy part of the story.

The cast members capably handle the acting and song performances. However, the way the songs are placed in the movie don’t come off as well on screen as they would on stage. There’s a very cringeworthy fantasy sequence where Evan and Connor frolic, dance and sing in a carefree manner together, as if they were best friends. Ben Platt vacillates between portraying Evan as a pitiful wimp and a troubled opportunist. Dever does quite well in her scenes as Zoe, especially when she depict’s Zoe’s conflicting love/hate emotions about Connor.

The songs from the stage musical that are in the movie are “Waving Through a Window,” “Good for You,” “Anybody Have a Map?,” “For Forever,” “Sincerely, Me,” “Requiem,” “If I Could Tell Her,” “Only Us.” “Words Fail,” “So Big, So Small” and the musical’s most well-known anthem “You Will Be Found.” The original songs “A Little Closer” (performed by Ryan) and “The Anonymous Ones” (performed by Stenberg, who co-wrote the music and lyrics) are serviceable but aren’t that outstanding. In addition, the soundtrack has Sam Smith doing a version of “You Will Be Found” and SZA performing “The Anonymous Ones.”

Mostly, the overall cloying tone of the movie is off-putting because it tries so hard to get viewers to root for Evan while he’s doing a lot of despicable lying about someone who committed suicide. Just because Evan has anxiety and depression shouldn’t be used as an excuse, which is what this movie does in a way that’s insulting to people with these mental health issues who would never stoop to the pathetic levels of what Evan does in this movie.

And it’s made even worse when it’s wrapped up in bombastic musical numbers that are intended to make people shed tears for Evan more than anyone else in the story—even though he’s not the one who lost a loved one to suicide and he’s causing more pain with his lies. This gross spectacle of a movie amplifies the deep-rooted flaws of the entire story, which might have been more acceptable to theater audiences who are more accustomed to seeing song-and-dance numbers about suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. “Dear Evan Hansen” has a lot of deluded worship of Evan, who’s got a bland abyss of a personality and who isn’t even creative with his lies.

Universal Pictures will release “Dear Evan Hansen” in U.S. cinemas on September 24, 2021.

2021 New York Film Festival: talks and panels announced

September 22, 2021

The following is a press release from Film at Lincoln Center:

Film at Lincoln Center announces Talks for the 59th New York Film Festival (September 24 – October 10). All NYFF59 Talks are presented by HBO®, supplementing festival screenings with a series of free panel discussions and in-depth conversations among a wide range of guests.

With last year’s NYFF events taking place entirely in virtual and socially distanced drive-in settings, this year’s Talks promise a much-needed and long-awaited return to in-person gatherings, with a robust lineup of spirited and engaging conversations between moderators, filmmakers, and audiences.

2021 marks the birth centenary of NYFF co-founder Amos Vogel. In recognition of this milestone, which is being celebrated with a Vogel tribute in the NYFF59 Spotlight slate, the festival will present the first annual Amos Vogel Lecture. Filmmaker Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV, NYFF54; Liberté, NYFF57), whose singular and transgressive approach to cinema epitomizes the vision of Vogel’s landmark text, Film as a Subversive Art, will deliver this inaugural edition of the lecture. The Amos Vogel Centenary Retrospective and lecture are sponsored by MUBI.

Additional highlights include career-spanning Deep Focus dialogues with director Mira Nair, star Sarita Choudhury, and cinematographer Ed Lachman on the making of Revivals selection Mississippi Masala, moderated by novelist Jhumpa Lahiri; Jane Campion in an extended conversation with Sofia Coppola about Campion’s NYFF59 Centerpiece selection The Power of the Dog and its mesmerizing exploration of masculinity; Ryûsuke Hamaguchi on his two Main Slate selections, Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy; and Apichatpong Weerasethakul in an in-depth conversation about Memoria, his first film set outside of Thailand and his first outing with an international star, Tilda Swinton.

Crosscuts returns after its successful launch last year with pairings of filmmakers across NYFF sections, genres, and styles. This year’s lineup includes conversations between Mia Hansen-Løve (Bergman Island) and Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World) as well as Silvan Zürcher (The Girl and the Spider)and Alexandre Koberidze (What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?), with more events to be announced in the coming days.

Roundtable discussions highlight thematic trends within the program and consider the films in the context of wider cultural conversations. Among these: Cinema’s Workers, which will explore past and ongoing labor movements within film and art communities with panelists Abby Sun, Dana Kopel, Kazembe Balagun, and filmmaker Ted Fendt (Outside Noise, NYFF59); and two Film Comment Live conversations presented by the reputed publication. The Velvet Underground &the New York Avant-Garde brings together Todd Haynes, Ed Lachman, and critic Amy Taubin to discuss the making of The Velvet Underground and Songs for Drella, and the enduring legacy of the historic moment of artistic innovation they so vividly capture, while Festival Report enlists a group of critics in a lively wrap-up discussion with Devika Girish and Clinton Krute, Co-Deputy Editors of Film Comment, about the NYFF59 lineup.

Talks are organized by Devika Girish and Madeline Whittle, in collaboration with Eugene Hernandez and Dennis Lim.

Free tickets for NYFF59 Talks will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis beginning one hour prior to each event at the corresponding box office. Tickets are limited to one per person, subject to availability. For those unable to attend, video from these events will be available online on Film at Lincoln Center’s YouTube channel at a later date.

NYFF59 will feature in-person screenings, as well as select outdoor events. In response to distributor and filmmaker partners and in light of festivals returning and theaters reopening across the country, NYFF will not offer virtual screenings for this year’s edition.

Proof of full vaccination will be required for all staff, audiences, and filmmakers at NYFF59 venues. FLC requires all guests to maintain face coverings consistent with the current CDC guidelines inside their spaces regardless of vaccination status. Additionally, NYFF59 will adhere to a comprehensive series of health and safety policies in coordination with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and state and city medical experts, while adapting as necessary to the current health crisis. Visit filmlinc.org/safety for more information.

Presented by Film at Lincoln Center, the New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema and takes place September 24 – October 10, 2021. An annual bellwether of the state of cinema that has shaped film culture since 1963, the festival continues an enduring tradition of introducing audiences to bold and remarkable works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent.

DESCRIPTIONS


THE 2021 AMOS VOGEL LECTURE: Albert Serra

2021 marks the birth centenary of Amos Vogel, the pioneering film programmer, author, and co-founder of the New York Film Festival. As the flagship event of NYFF’s corresponding tribute, the festival is inaugurating the Amos Vogel Lecture, to be delivered annually by an artist or commentator who embodies the spirit of Vogel’s cinephilia and brings it into conversation with the present and future of the medium. For this first edition, we are proud to welcome the filmmaker Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV, NYFF54; Liberté, NYFF57). Serra’s singular and transgressive approach to cinema epitomizes the vision of Vogel’s landmark text, Film as a Subversive Art, whose French edition features a foreword by the director. Serra’s original lecture will be followed by a conversation with the programmers of the NYFF59 Spotlight sidebar devoted to Vogel’s curatorial legacy. Sponsored by MUBI.

Tuesday, October 5, 4:00pm, Walter Reade Theater

DEEP FOCUS

In-depth dialogues with festival filmmakers & their collaborators

The Making of Mississippi Masala

Moderated by Jhumpa Lahiri

Released in 1991, Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala endures as a breakthrough work of American independent and diasporic cinema. The rare film to explore relations between South Asian and African-American communities in the South, Nair’s second fiction feature stars Sarita Choudhury as a Ugandan Indian refugee who falls for a self-employed carpet cleaner played by Denzel Washington, cueing familial and communal tensions and pitting passion against tradition. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film’s release and the premiere of its new restoration in NYFF59’s Revivals section, join us for a conversation with Nair, Choudhury, and cinematographer Ed Lachman, moderated by the writer Jhumpa Lahiri, whose novel, The Namesake, Nair adapted in 2006. Sponsored by Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

This event will take place in Damrosch Park immediately following the September 25 screening of Mississippi Masala and will be accessible to ticket-holders.

Jane Campion

Moderated by Sofia Coppola

Following her Best Director win at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Jane Campion returns to NYFF with her first feature since 2009’s Bright StarThe Power of the Dog, the Centerpiece selection of NYFF59. Known for her incisive portraits of womanhood, Campion turns her lens to masculinity in this new film, which adapts Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name. The results are thrilling: The Power of the Dog is a mesmerizing, psychologically rich variation on the American western, and a compassionate examination of repressed sexuality and the fragility of patriarchy. We are thrilled to welcome the legendary New Zealand director for an extended conversation with filmmaker Sofia Coppola (On the Rocks, NYFF58) about this latest entry in Campion’s masterful, decades-spanning career.

Saturday, October 2, 4:00pm, Amphitheater.

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Making his return to NYFF with not one but two Main Slate selections, Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Asako I & II, NYFF56) affirms his stature as a true rising star of world cinema, and one of the foremost chroniclers of the ebbs and flows of human relationships. With Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy—a pair of vividly realized and ceaselessly surprising emotional epics—Hamaguchi demonstrates his singular talent for tracing the intricate workings of the heart amid the perennial paradoxes of modern life. Join us for an in-depth conversation with the writer-director to explore the resonances and shared preoccupations of his new films and his prolific body of work.

Sunday, October 3, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

For over two decades, Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been celebrated as one of world cinema’s most original auteurs, with films that constantly refract and reinscribe the contours of narrative, reality, and temporality. His new feature—which comes six years after 2015’s Cemetery of Splendour (NYFF53)—reaffirms his peerless status even as it takes the Thai auteur into uncharted territory: Memoria is Apichatpong’s first film set outside of Thailand, in Colombia; his first English- and Spanish-language venture; and his first outing with a bona fide international star, Tilda Swinton. We are thrilled to welcome the filmmaker for a deep-dive conversation about his extraordinary oeuvre and the elliptical novelties and familiar mysteries of his latest masterwork.

Thursday, October 7, 6:30pm, Amphitheater

CROSSCUTS

Conversations between filmmakers across festival sections, genres, and styles

Mia Hansen-Løve & Joachim Trier

With their respective NYFF59 Main Slate selections Bergman Island and The Worst Person in the World, Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come, NYFF54) and Joachim Trier (Thelma, NYFF55) achieve new creative heights in their parallel trajectories as two of the preeminent European filmmakers of their generation. Both artists have spent the last 15 years interrogating, with great compassion, the moral and emotional crosscurrents that undergird human behavior, and their latest films refine these inquiries with an invigorating reflexive frankness. Join the two writer-directors for a conversation about their influences and inspirations, their distinctively personal and philosophical approaches to cinematic storytelling, and the endlessly generative themes of romantic ambivalence and evolving self-knowledge that animate their new films.

Monday, September 27, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

Silvan Zürcher & Alexandre Koberidze

In an NYFF lineup with a record number of new and emerging filmmakers, Alexandre Koberidze’s What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? and Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s The Girl and the Spider—both sophomore features—stand out for their sui generis approaches to cinematic narrative and form. Formally assured and intellectually audacious, the two films, in their own unique ways, electrify the quotidian with currents of desire, romance, and modern myth. We’re excited to bring Silvan Zürcher and Koberidze together to discuss their filmic inspirations and aspirations; their trajectories within Swiss and Georgian cinema, respectively, and in world cinema at large; and their experiences at the renowned DFFB (the German Film and Television Academy Berlin), which all three directors attended.

Saturday, October 2, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

ROUNDTABLES

Panels and discussions that connect the festival to the themes of the moment

Cinema’s Workers

Moderated by Gina Telaroli

The phrase “dream factory” has long been invoked to capture the magical, transporting allure of the American film industry, but too often, as consumers, our fascination with the dream obscures the factory: the workforce that breathes life into the movies and delivers them to audiences. Behind the glitz and glamor of cinema is the labor of seen and unseen workers across the fields of production, distribution, exhibition, and curation. As questions of labor and equity take center stage in art communities in New York and beyond, this roundtable brings together a multifaceted group of film workers to discuss past and ongoing labor movements in cinema. Panelists include Abby Sun (curator, the DocYard, My Sight Is Lined with Visions), filmmaker Ted Fendt (Outside Noise, NYFF59), Kazembe Balagun (project manager, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office), and Dana Kopel (writer, editor, and organizer).

Sunday, September 26, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

Film Comment Live: The Velvet Underground & the New York Avant-Garde

Two films in this year’s NYFF lineup take us back to the ‘60s heyday of the New York avant-garde: in the Main Slate, Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground offers a revelatory portrait of the milieu that gave rise to the eponymous band and its boundary-pushing music, while in Revivals, Ed Lachman’s Songs for Drella captures Lou Reed and John Cale in concert, paying tribute to the late Andy Warhol with riveting intimacy. Presented by the editors of Film Comment, this special roundtable brings together Haynes, Lachman, and critic Amy Taubin to discuss the making of the two films as well as the enduring legacy of the historic moment of artistic innovation they so vividly capture.

Sunday, October 3, 4:00pm, Damrosch Park

Film Comment Live: Festival Report

For the festival’s final week, a group of critics will gather together for a spirited wrap-up discussion with Devika Girish and Clinton Krute, Co-Deputy Editors of Film Comment, about the movies they’ve seen in the NYFF59 lineup. Panelists include Molly Haskell (critic and author), Bilge Ebiri (staff critic, Vulture), and Phoebe Chen (critic and scholar).

Saturday, October 9, 7:00pm, Amphitheater

FILM AT LINCOLN CENTER

Film at Lincoln Center is dedicated to supporting the art and elevating the craft of cinema and enriching film culture.

Film at Lincoln Center fulfills its mission through the programming of festivals, series, retrospectives, and new releases; the publication of Film Comment; and the presentation of podcasts, talks, special events, and artist initiatives. Since its founding in 1969, this nonprofit organization has brought the celebration of American and international film to the world-renowned Lincoln Center arts complex, making the discussion and appreciation of cinema accessible to a broad audience and ensuring that it remains an essential art form for years to come.

Support for the New York Film Festival is generously provided by Official Partners HBO, Campari, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair’sAwards Insider; Benefactor Partners Netflix and Citi; Supporting Partners Topic Studios, Hearst, and Radeberger Pilsner; Contributing Partners Dolby, Turner Classic Movies, Manhattan Portage, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and UniFrance; and Media Partners Variety, Vulture, Deadline HollywoodThe Hollywood Reporter, WABC-7, The WNET Group, and IndieWire. All NYFF59 Talks are presented by HBO. American Airlines is the Official Airline of Film at Lincoln Center.

Review: ‘Saloum,’ starring Yann Gael, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba, Bruno Henry, Evelyne Ily Juhen and Renaud Farah

September 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Renaud Farah, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba, and Yann Gael in “Saloum” (Photo courtesy of Lacme Studios)

“Saloum”

Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot 

French and Wolof with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2003 in Senegal and briefly in Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, the horror film “Saloum” features a predominantly African cast (with a few Latinos and white people) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Three Sengalese mercenaries for hire are tasked with transporting a Mexican drug dealer to Dakar, but they end up in a camp in the Saloum Delta, where they encounter mysterious and sinister wind monsters.

Culture Audience: “Saloum” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful horror movies that explore issues of fallouts from civil wars and exploitation of children.

Yann Gael and Evelyne Ily Juhen in “Saloum” (Photo courtesy of Lacme Studios)

The horror movie “Saloum” artfully poses this question: “What’s scarier: monsters on the outside or personal demons on the inside?” During this intensely suspenseful story, three African mercenaries for hire have to confront this question, as a trip to Senegal to transport a Mexican drug dealer turns into a living nightmare. “Saloum” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Jean Luc Herbulot, “Saloum” takes place in 2003, and begins with an Atlantic Ocean scenery in the African country of Guinea-Bissau. A woman says in a voiceover: “They say revenge is like a river. And our actions are the dugouts guided by the current, whose bottom is reached when we drown.” It’s revealed at the end of the movie who said these words, since these words are repeated in the movie’s last scene.

But most of the movie follows three Sengalese mercenaries who call themselves Bangui’s Hyenas. Chaka (played by Yann Gael), who is in his mid-30s, is the group leader and is the most fearless and ruthless of this trio. Rafa (played by Roger Sallah), who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is physically the strongest. Minuit (played by Mentor Ba), who is in his 60s, is the most spiritually minded and has a visually striking appearance with long white dreadlocks for his hairstyle.

The first time that viewers see this renegade trio, they are rampaging through Guinea-Bissau, where there’s chaos on the streets. According to a caption on screen: “The military declares a coup d’état. Their pledge to restore order looks more like bloodshed. First in their crosshairs is the international drug trade. Bad news for the pushers, unless you have a military plan.”

The mercenaries who call themselves Bangui’s Hyenas find several dead or dying people on the streets. Minuit (which means “midnight” in French) has a mysterious powder that he blows in people’s faces to render them unconscious. The three mercenaries burst into a building, where they emerge with several gold bricks and have captured a human as bounty.

The bounty is a Mexican drug dealer named Felix (played by Renaud Farah), who doesn’t talk much in this story because he spends about half of his screen time passed out from the powder blown in his face by Minuit. Rafa says a drug cartel is paying “a million” to bring Felix back alive. Felix insists that they take him to Dakara, the capital of Senegal.

But on the private plane ride in a small aircraft, something goes terribly wrong: The plane is shot at, and the bullets have penetrated the gas tank. The plane runs out of fuel while over Gambia. They are forced to make an emergency landing in the Saloum region of Senegal. It’s mostly a desert area.

Rafa is suspicious about who was shooting at the plane, and he wonders if they might have been set up to make this emergency landing. Chaka isn’t as skeptical because he doesn’t think that the drug cartel would risk this type of double-cross when the cartel wants Felix back alive. As a precaution, Chaka and Rafa bury their gold bricks near certain trees in the desert, while Minuit blows the powder in Felix face so he’ll lose consciousness and won’t see where the gold is being buried.

The down side to Felix being unconscious for a certain period of time is that he has to be carried through the desert. The four men, with Felix awake, eventually find a boat to use, and they end up in Baobub Camp, a isolated holiday gathering area in the coastal region of Sine-Saloum. The camp is so remote that the nearest village is 10 kilometers (about six miles) away.

These four interlopers try to pretend to be innocent tourists who are just passing through the area, in order to fit in with the other camp dwellers. They use alias to hide their identities. Chaka says his name is Cheikh, Rafa calls himself Rufin, Minuit is now known as Maudou, and Felix uses the fake name Felipe. But it isn’t long before these criminals expose how dangerous they can be.

The camp has a friendly host named Omar (played by Bruno Henry), who tells these new visitors: “Saloum is a natural sanctuary. It’s our job to preserve it.” The four guests are invited to a group dinner, where they get to know the other dwellers of the camp.

A woman in her 20s named Awa (played by Evelyne Ily Juhen) immediately stands out because she’s the only deaf and mute person in the group. She can communicate by sign language, which only a few people in the camp know. Awa is no pushover. When Rafa makes rude suggestive remarks to her, she scowls and gives him the middle finger.

One of the people at the camp notices that Chaka has gold dust on his hands. He fabricates a story about how he works in a gold mine. Chaka also lies and says that “Felipe” is a contact for South American investors who are interested in the gold. As time goes on, Minuit suspects that Chaka is being dishonest about other things, because he notices that Chaka has been acting as if his nerves are on edge ever since they arrived at the camp.

In a private conversation between Minuit and Rafa, Minuit mentions his suspicions that Chaka might be hiding something from them. It’s implied during the story that Minuit is can communicate with spirits or has a psychic side to him. At the very least, he’s the most intuitive member of this mercenary group. And he’s right: Chaka is hiding a big secret, which is eventually revealed in the movie.

Chaka tells Omar and the rest of the camp dwellers that the four men in Chaka’s group will eventually go to the Senegal city of Kedougou in three days. However, those plans go into awry when monsters suddenly descend on the camp. The best way to describe these creatures is that they look like swirling dust devils with black mop-like fur, like a Puli dog. And since “Saloum” is a horror movie, not everyone makes it out alive.

The terrified camp dwellers find out that these monsters can be killed with guns. But there’s something else that’s life-threatening: If the humans’ ears aren’t covered, they hear a distinct and dangerous sound from the monsters that causes humans to eventually get pustule infections on their bodies and they cough up blood. Headphones are used to block out this noise. Awa doesn’t need the headphones because she’s deaf.

“Saloum” isn’t the type of horror movie that doesn’t explain why these monsters suddenly arrive to plague the camp. There’s a clear cause-and-effect that conjured up the arrival of these sinister spirits. As the humans fight to stay alive, people who previously didn’t care for each other have to form alliances to help each other, while other people are left to fend for themselves.

All of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. However, the characters with the most intriguing backstories are Chaka and Awa, who are both trying in their own ways to heal from emotional pain. Awa knows the pain of being isolated because of her disability, while Chaka knows the pain of being isolated because of his dark secret. It’s eventually revealed that Chaka, who seems arrogant and fearless on the outside, is a mess of insecurities on the inside.

The monsters signify what can happen when evil intentions are unresolved and allowed to fester. “Saloum” is also a disturbing story about the fallout of war. This movie is not for people who are overly sensitive to seeing life’s atrocities, but it’s a riveting depiction of how sins of the past can haunt people in the present.

2021 Toronto International Film Festival: winners announced

September 18, 2021

 

TIFF logo

Pictured in front row: Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

 

The following is a press release from the Toronto International Film Festival:

The Toronto International Film Festival® has announced its award recipients for the 46th edition of the Festival, which concluded tonight with screenings of Zhang Yimou’s One Second at the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall.

“2021 brought an exceptional selection of films that excited Festival audiences around the world,” said Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, TIFF Co-Heads. “Our lineup showcased beloved auteurs alongside fresh voices in filmmaking, including numerous women powerhouses. TIFF welcomed guest press, industry, international stars, and directors back to the city and into cinemas. The sweeping range in cinematic storytelling from around the world is a testament to the uniqueness of the films that are being made. We’re so grateful and proud of this year’s Festival.”

Thanks to the hybrid nature of the Festival, TIFF’s Industry platform welcomed close to 4,000 industry and press professionals from around the world, both digitally and in-person. TIFF remains a site of industry activity and a key marketplace for film title sales, hosting 105 market screenings and facilitating the sales of “France,” “Silent Night,” “A Banquet,” and “Huda’s Salon,” as well as Industry Selects title “The Pink Cloud.” TIFF’s Industry Conference presented 37 digital sessions for industry and press delegates from filmmakers to advocates and funders. The Dialogues stream featured conversations with creators E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Sterlin Harjo, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and Rebeca Huntt; Visionaries welcomed Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Sahraa Karimi, Greig Fraser, Nancy Utley, and Steve Gilula; Perspectives explored narrative sovereignty with Indigenous industry leaders and hosted a discussion on dismantling toxic industry culture; and Connections highlighted conversations on funding diverse films with ARRAY and talent to watch with Telefilm. TIFF also welcomed 20 new Filmmaker Lab participants, and eight new Rising Stars, who participated in intimate development labs with programme governors and special guest speakers.

TIFF’s Satellite Screenings wrapped Monday, September 13 in the evening. TIFF’s Film Circuit partners Bell and Cineplex worked with TIFF to bring screenings to audiences across Canada, in seven cities and six provinces (Collingwood, ON; Markham, ON; Montreal, QC; Moose Jaw, SK; Prince Rupert, BC; Saint John, NB; and Summerside, PE).

Honouring the film industry’s outstanding contributors and their achievements, and serving as TIFF’s largest annual fundraiser, the TIFF Tribute Awards was broadcast this evening across Canada on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app and streamed internationally to the rest of the world by Variety for the second straight year. The 2021 event raised funds for TIFF’s diversity, equity, and inclusion fund, Every Story, and championed a safe, community-focused, and inspiring return to cinemas. During the one-hour broadcast, two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain at the Festival with “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “The Forgiven,” who will receive the TIFF Tribute Actor Award supported by the Tory Family; and Academy Award–nominated Benedict Cumberbatch who was also at TIFF with “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” and “The Power of the Dog,” who will receive the TIFF Tribute Actor Award; Academy Award–nominated French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, who will receive the TIFF Ebert Director Award and brought the epic and breathtaking “Dune” to TIFF on the big screen; award-winning documentary filmmaker, writer, singer, and activist Alanis Obomsawin, who will be honoured with the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media supported by Participant Media, also celebrated with a retrospective and premiere of her new powerful short film “Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair”; cinematographer Ari Wegner, whose stunning work was featured in “The Power of the Dog,” who will receive the TIFF Variety Artisan Award; “Cree/Métis Night Raiders” filmmaker Danis Goulet who will receive the TIFF Emerging Talent Award, presented by L’Oréal Paris and supported by MGM; and six-time Grammy Award-winning, music legend Dionne Warwick whose documentary “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over” had a World Premiere at the Festival, will be honoured with the Special Tribute Award.

Produced by Bell Media Studios, with etalk’s Tyrone Edwards and Chloe Wilde returning as hosts, the third annual awards show opened with an introduction from Sigourney Weaver and special tributes were presented by Shamier Anderson, Kirsten Dunst, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Ferreira, Gladys Knight, Phillip Lewitski, L’Oréal Paris brand ambassador Eva Longoria, David Oyelowo, Michael Showalter, and Kiefer Sutherland. Starting on Sunday, September 19, the TIFF Tribute Awards will be available to view on Crave.

New this year, the highly anticipated winners of the TIFF People’s Choice Award and Platform Jury Prize were announced live during the awards broadcast, just moments ago. Academy Award–nominated actor Riz Ahmed, head of the jury for the 2021 Platform Prize, announced the prize winner for that competition, and the 2021 People’s Choice Award winner was announced by TIFF Co-Heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente.

PLATFORM PRIZE

Arawinda Kirana and Asmara Abigail in “Yuni” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

Named after Jia Zhang-ke’s trailblazing second feature, Platform is the Toronto International Film Festival’s competitive programme championing bold directorial visions. Now in its sixth year, Platform is curated by TIFF Artistic Director and Co-Head Cameron Bailey. The Platform Prize Jury members for 2021 are Riz Ahmed (Jury President), Clio Barnard, Anthony Chen, Kazik Radwanski, and Valerie Complex.

The Platform jury provided this statement: “The jury was moved by a film that brings a fresh, intimate perspective to a coming-of-age story, marked by a subtle structure, delicate framing, and lush cinematography. For drawing us into a unique inner world too rarely seen on screen, the 2021 Platform Prize goes to Yuni, directed by Kamila Andini.”

An honourable mention from the Platform Prize Jury goes to Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), dir. Jenna Cato Bass.

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

For the 44th year, the People’s Choice Awards distinguish the audience’s top title at the Festival as voted by the viewing public. Audiences watching films at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Roy Thomson Hall, the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Scotiabank Theatre, the Ontario Place Cinesphere IMAX Theatre, the Visa Skyline Drive-In, the RBC Lakeside Drive-In, the West Island Open Air Cinema, and at home via digital screenings on the digital TIFF Bell Lightbox platform voted online. All films in TIFF’s Official Selection that screened both in-person and on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox were eligible.

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Award winner is: “Belfast,” dir. Kenneth Branagh. The first runner-up is “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. The second runner-up is “The Power of the Dog,” dir. Jane Campion.

A scene from “The Rescue” (Photo courtesy of National Geographic Films)

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Documentary Award winner is “The Rescue,” dirs. E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The first runner-up is Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, dirs. Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner. The second runner-up is Flee, dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

Agathe Rousselle in “Titane” (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award winner is “Titane,” dir. Julia Ducournau. The first runner-up is “You Are Not My Mother,” dir. Kate Dolan. The second runner-up is “DASHCAM,” dir. Rob Savage.

SHAWN MENDES FOUNDATION CHANGEMAKER AWARD

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Anna Claire Beitel, Essence Fox and Liam Diaz in “Scarborough” (Photo courtesy of Telefilm Canada and the Talent Fund)

Presented by the Shawn Mendes Foundation, the 2021 Changemaker Award is awarded to a Festival film that tackles issues of social change, and comes with a $10,000 cash prize. The winning film was selected by TIFF’s Next Wave Committee, a group of young film lovers who recognize cinema’s power to transform the world. The Shawn Mendes Foundation will also be making an annual contribution in support of TIFF Next Wave, helping TIFF deliver key initiatives to elevate young voices. The jurors for the Changemaker Award are members of TIFF’s Next Wave Committee: Norah Daudi, Sia Mehta, Saharla Ugas, Julia Yoo, Lina Zhang, Charles Liu, Naiya Forrester, Honora Murphy, Dev Desai, Elli Tripp, Michelle Kofia, and David Rhomberg.

The 2021 Changemaker Award is presented to “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. Shasha Nakhai developed Scarborough at TIFF Industry in 2019 as an inaugural TIFF Talent Accelerator filmmaker.

TIFF’s Next Wave Committee provided this statement: “This film is etched on my heart. Scarborough is an utterly captivating and earth-shattering story of three intertwined families who are no strangers to hardship. Through the charms of misfits and unlikely heroes, directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson pose big social questions while framing them in a real and affirming story of resilience, community, and love. Written and directed with power and grace, this film truly feels like home.”

Directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson offered this statement: “Thank you to TIFF for giving this film a platform. It has been a really long and challenging road to get here, and we are so grateful to the TIFF Next Wave Committee and the Shawn Mendes Foundation for this award. We’re happy folks are coming away from the film feeling moved, seen, and affirmed, with a renewed commitment to community — and what we hope is a renewed commitment to resisting the forces that seek to erase, fracture, and monetize community. We are excited to bring this film to wider audiences after the Festival, and especially looking forward to using it as a tool to support the front-line work already being done on the myriad issues that it tackles.”

AMPLIFY VOICES AWARDS PRESENTED BY CANADA GOOSE

Canada Goose embraces diversity in all its forms and definitions, including technique and passion that transports storytelling to the screen. This year, Canada Goose presents the Amplify Voices Awards to the three best feature films by under-represented filmmakers. All feature films in Official Selection by emerging BIPOC filmmakers and Canadian filmmakers were eligible for these awards, and the three winners will receive a cash prize of $10,000 each, made possible by Canada Goose.

The three Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose winners are:

A scene from “Ste. Anne” (Photo courtesy of Exovedate Productions)

Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: “Ste. Anne,” dir. Rhayne Vermette
Jury’s statement: “Rhayne Vermette’s debut feature shows us a unique vision that makes full use of all the tools of filmmaking to lure us into its emotional topography. Deeply personal yet inviting, Ste. Anne is true cinematic art made in a setting that’s often missing from the landscape of Canadian film.”

Special Mention: “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson
Jury’s statement: “With a strong sense of place, Scarborough tells a heartfelt story about community that charms with great performances from its actors, both young and old.”

Yasmin Warsame and Omar Abdi in “The Grave Digger’s Wife” (Photo courtesy of Orange Studio)

Amplify Voices Award: “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” dir. Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
Jury’s statement: “At once specific to Somali culture and universally recognizable, The Gravedigger’s Wife tells a deeply romantic tale that’s both emotionally and visually textured. With Omar Abdi as its magnetic lead, Guled’s journey captivates from the first scene to the final frame.”

A scene from “A Night of Knowing Nothing” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

Amplify Voices Award: “A Night of Knowing Nothing,” dir. Payal Kapadia
Jury’s statement: “Payal Kapadia’s unique documentary balances the personal and political with a surprising snapshot of her home country. Shocking at times, but also sweeping in its beauty, A Night of Knowing Nothing is a first feature that already demonstrates her strong voice as a filmmaker.”

The 2021 jurors for the Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose are Yung Chang, Calvin Thomas, Kaniehtiio Horn, Hugh Gibson, and Aisha Jamal.

IMDbPro SHORT CUTS AWARDS

A scene from “Displaced” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

The 2021 IMDbPro Short Cuts Awards are for Best Film, Best Canadian Film, and the Share Her Journey Award for best film by a woman. Each winning film will receive a bursary of $10,000 CAD and a one-year membership to IMDbPro, the essential resource for entertainment industry professionals, to help them continue achieving success in their careers. These awards build on IMDbPro’s nearly 20-year history of empowering entertainment professionals to discover new talent and projects, and on its ongoing commitment to supporting and collaboratively working with organizations that create greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the entertainment industry, including TIFF’s Share Her Journey campaign.

The winners of the three awards are:

IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Film: “Displaced,” dir. Samir Karahoda
Jury’s statement: “Standing out in a strong selection of films, Samir Karahoda’s Displaced captivated us with its unique look, locations, and characters that all brought to life the quixotic yet enduring dedication to a sport — and a country — that is hard to articulate, even to one’s self.”

Honourable Mention: “Trumpets in the Sky,” dir. Rakan Mayasi

IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Film: “Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice,” dir. Zacharias Kunuk

Jury’s statement: “’Zacharias Kunuk’s Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice’ is an enthralling stop-motion that encapsulates an array of textures, sound, and nuanced expressions that collectively invite you into the apprentice’s journey in learning traditional knowledge and caring for community while confronting your own fears. You can’t help but feel the questions asked of the apprentice are for us all to consider: Who are you? What have you learned?”

Honourable Mention: “Nuisance Bear,” dirs. Jack Weisman, Gabriela Osio Vanden

IMDbPro Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award: “ASTEL,” dir. Ramata-Toulaye Sy
Jury’s statement: “Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s ASTEL moved us with its powerful storytelling, beautiful shots, and a captivating lead performance that explores the complex nuances of womanhood, patriarchy, and coming of age when you least expect it.”

Honourable mention: “Love, Dad,” dir. Diana Cam Van Nguyen

The 2021 jurors for the IMDbPro Short Cuts Awards are filmmakers Sudeep Sharma, Tiffany Hsiung, and Nicole Delaney.

Today the Toronto International Film Festival, alongside the International Federation of Film
Critics (FIPRESCI) and the Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC), announced award winners for work screened at TIFF 2021.

FIPRESCI PRIZE

“We are thrilled to announce that ‘Anatolian Leopard’ has received the 2021 FIPRESCI Jury Award,” said Diana Sanchez, Senior Director, Film, TIFF. “Every year we are amazed at the creativity and audaciousness of the filmmakers in our line-up. ‘Anatolian Leopard,’ directed by Emre Kayiş, is no exception.”

Hatice Aslan in “Anatolian Leopard” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

This year’s FIPRESCI jury members include: Andrew Kendall, Esin Kücüktepepinar, Caspar Salmon, Gilbert Seah, and Teresa Vena.

The 2021 FIPRESCI jury released the following statement: “In a perfectly controlled comedy of manners, ‘Anatolian Leopard’ takes the temperature of a country torn between the old ways and modernity – not to say between honour and corruption – while offering up a melancholy portrait of a man at odds with his surroundings. Emre Kayiş shows great formal accomplishment in this measured and thoughtful film, which stood out from the competition for its singular tone and worldview.”

NETPAC AWARD

Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki in “Costa Brava, Lebanon” (Photo courtesy of MK2 Films)

The 2021 NETPAC jury members include: Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Isabelle Glachant and Elhum Shakerifar. TIFF is delighted to announce that the 2021 NETPAC Jury has selected “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” directed by Mounia Aklas this year’s NETPAC winner. The jury released this statement, “’Costa Brava, Lebanon’ – an exquisite intergenerational family story – is an ode to sustainable futures by visionary new talent, Mounia Akl from her precious and troubled country.”

Please visit tiff.net for more information.

AFTER THE FESTIVAL

This fall, TIFF Bell Lightbox reopens its doors to audiences for year-round programming with a full roster of new titles, Festival hits, and beloved favourites. TIFF programming will restart with the Festival Midnight Madness body-horror smash hit “Titane,” from director Julia Ducournau (“Raw”). “Titane” begins screening October 1 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Starting October 14, TIFF also invites audiences to enjoy Welcome Back, TIFF Cinematheque’s lineup of big-screen favourites — including Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy,” Jane Campion’s “The Portrait of a Lady,” Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” and Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail.”

Following a highly anticipated Special Event Festival screening of “Dune,” TIFF Cinematheque presents The Uncanny Vision of Denis Villeneuve, an in-cinema programme of the filmmaker’s earlier works (Arrival, Enemy, August 32nd on Earth), as well as films selected by Villeneuve that have inspired him throughout his career (David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Le Mystère Picasso”). The Uncanny Vision of Denis Villeneuve begins October 15.

Rounding out the Fall Season in-cinema lineup is In Case You Missed It, a selection of acclaimed titles from recent Festivals, starting on October 6. Audiences who may have missed their chance the first time around will now have the opportunity to have the full theatrical experience for titles like Kazik Radwanski’s “Anne at 13,000 ft,” Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” and Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” winner of TIFF 2020’s People’s Choice Award. Additional programming will be announced in the coming weeks.

TIFF is also pleased to announce that digital offerings will continue for film lovers across the country. TIFF patrons across Canada can experience Ann Shin’s A.rtificial I.mmortality, David Lowery’s The Green Knight and Heidi Ewing’s I Carry You With Me, among other titles, from the comfort of their homes via digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.

COVID-19 health and safety measures will continue as TIFF Bell Lightbox reopens for year-round operation. As of September 22, audience members and visitors entering TIFF Bell Lightbox will be required to show proof they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Masks remain mandatory throughout the building, including in cinema. Additional details are available at tiff.net/covid-19.

Learn more about the Every Story fund at tiff.net/everystory

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival ran September 9–18, 2021.

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Review: ‘Montana Story,’ starring Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague

September 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Haley Lu RIchardson and Owen Teague in “Montana Story” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

“Montana Story”

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana’s Paradise Valley, the drama “Montana Story” features a cast of white and Native American characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An estranged brother and sister have a tension-filled reunion after their father is in a coma, and the two siblings end up confronting some dark family secrets.

Culture Audience: “Montana Story” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and realistically crafted dramas about dysfunctional families.

Owen Teague and Haley Lu RIchardson in “Montana Story” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

“Montana Story” shows in nuanced and heartbreaking ways how a rift in a family can come not just from damaging words and actions but also by what’s been left unsaid. It’s an emotionally genuine and contemplative story of a tense family reunion between a brother and a sister who have not seen and spoken to each other in seven years. The movie also touches on issues of euthanasia, controversies over pipelines running through Native American land, and the daily struggles of working-class people who are a few paychecks away from financial ruin. “Montana Story”—written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel—had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie unfolds in layers to reveal the reasons why siblings Cal (played by Owen Teague) and Erin (played by Haley Lu Richardson) have been estranged for seven years. The full story of why Cal and Erin became alienated from each other comes out about halfway through the film. Cal and Erin have both reunited at the Montana ranch of their widowed attorney father Wade (played by Rob Story), who has been in a coma from a stroke and is not expected to recover. Although the movie does not name any cities where the story takes place, “Montana Story” was filmed on location in Montana’s Paradise Valley, in the cities of Bozeman, Livingston and Ringling. The movie’s cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens) of this Montana outdoor scenery is suitably breathtaking.

The ranch where Wade is bedridden in a coma is the same home where Cal and Erin grew up. Cal, who is 22, is a quiet and introverted bachelor who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He’s an aspiring civil engineer who currently works for Cheyenne’s city planning department. Cal arrives at the family home first by driving there in his own car. Cal doesn’t know it yet, but Erin is about to show up for a surprise visit.

Erin, who is 25, is a feisty and stubborn bachelorette who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. She works as a cook at a farm-to-table restaurant, and she is deeply concerned about environmental issues. Erin has traveled by airplane to go to Montana and doesn’t have a rental car. She uses a rideshare service to go to and from the airport.

It’s mentioned later in the story that Cal and Erin have two different mothers, who are both deceased. These two mothers are not shown in flashbacks but are briefly described in the movie through conversations. Erin’s mother Libby, who was Wade’s wife, died when she gave birth to Erin. Libby is described as the greatest love of Wade’s life.

Cal’s mother Connie was the nanny who took care of Erin after Libby died. Connie, who died in a car accident two years ago, is described as someone who knew that Wade didn’t love her as much as he loved Libby, but Connie loved Wade anyway. Connie and Wade never married each other, but they lived together and raised Erin and Cal.

Before Erin shows up for her surprise visit, Cal braces himself for some of the difficult but inevitable experiences of a family member who has to prepare for a loved one to die. When Cal goes inside the home, he doesn’t immediately go into the bedroom where Wade is in a coma, because it will be the first time that Cal will see his father in this condition. Instead, Cal goes into his childhood bedroom, which has been kept exactly the way he left it when he moved out of the family home to go to college in Wyoming. The way he looks around the room is the way someone might look at a mausoleum filled with long-buried memories.

When Cal does go into the room to see his father (who is hooked up to a ventilating machine), the expression on Cal’s face shows a range of emotions. It’s the look of someone who’s had a love/hate relationship with a parent and doesn’t quite know how to process that this parent is unable to communicate. How do you reconcile with someone who’s in coma?

There are two people who have been taking care of the day-to-day duties of the household. The part-time housekeeper Valentina (played by Kimberly Guerrero) has been a longtime employee of the family. Valentina has known Erin and Cal since they were children. Wade’s home care aide, who is being paid for by state government assistance, is a Kenyan immigrant named Ace (played by Gilbert Owuor). Cal and Ace meet for the first time when Cal comes home to visit Wade, who isn’t expected to live much longer.

Valentina and Ace are very kind and compassionate. Ace tells Cal that although Wade is in a coma and cannot communicate, Wade’s brain is still functioning. It’s this piece of information that probably motivates Cal to do something in one of the more emotionally powerful scenes in the movie.

Wade used to be a financially successful attorney. But something happened (some of the details are revealed but not all) that resulted in him filing for bankruptcy before he had a stroke. It’s why all of his medical bills are being paid for by government benefits and why the family ranch (which is in Wade’s name) is going to be sold after Wade dies. Wade apparently has no other immediate relatives besides his two children.

Cal has to meet with an attorney named Don (played by played by John Ludin) to gets these matters sorted. Don tells Wade that the sale of the ranch should be enough to pay for Wade’s medical bills that would have to be paid by any heirs. Don advises Cal to sell Wade’s car, since the car is no longer of any use to Wade.

The ranch used to be thriving and had several animals, including horses. There still a few remaining animals, such as chickens, but now there is only one horse on the property: a 25-year-old black stallion named Mr. T. Because of the Mr. T’s advanced age and arthritis, it’s unlikley that anyone will buy the horse, so Cal takes Don’s advice to arrange for Mr. T to get euthanized.

When Erin arrives at the ranch, Cal is in complete shock. It’s revealed that Erin had run away from home at age 18 and cut off contact with all of her family members. Cal had tried to get in touch with her, but she eventually changed her phone number and never told anyone in her family where she was.

When she sees Cal again all these years later, Erin is cold and abrupt. She explains the only reason why she’s there is to see their father one last time before he dies. How did Erin find out about Wade being in a coma? Cal asks this question and Erin tells him. (The answer won’t be revealed in this review.)

As the two siblings spend time together in an already stressful situation, long-simmering resentments come to the surface. Viewers will notice that Erin and Cal have different ways of dealing with problems. Erin is more outspoken and determined to do what she thinks is right, even if it makes other people uncomfortable. Cal is more willing to compromise and is more likey to be a people pleaser.

It’s why Erin and Cal end up clashing over what to do about Mr. T, the family’s longtime horse. Erin is livid that Cal made plans to put down Mr. T. She’s so angry about it that she insists that she’s going to buy a truck and horse trailer and drive Mr. T all the way back to New York state with her. Of course, Erin and Cal’s arguments about the horse are just symptoms of a larger problems and traumatic family secrets, which the siblings eventually have to confront if they have a chance of healing their fractured relationship.

Although “Montana Story” is centered on Erin and Cal, the movie also brings up issues experienced by the supporting characters who are feeling the ripple effects of what will happen to them after Wade dies. Valentina has another part-time job at a retail store, which has just reduced her work hours. Based on worried conversations that Valentina has, she’s in danger of being financially ruined if she doesn’t have another job lined up in time after Wade dies.

And even though Ace is being paid by the state, he too is in a precarious financial situation because it’s unknown where he will find his next home care job. In a conversation that Ace has with Cal, Ace opens up about needing a steady job because he sends some of his income back to Kenya to help his family. It’s in these quiet moments that the movie shows how lives of working-class “gig” employees are often dangerously close to sinking them into poverty under unfortunate circumstances.

“Montana Story” also includes a brief snippet of a newscast reporting that a federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The newscast mentions that this shutdown is a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which opposed the pipeline because of concerns that the pipeline would cause pollution in the water and land where many of the tribe members live. It just so happens that Vivian and her family are part of this tribe, so the pipeline is another added stress in her life.

Vivian has an adult son named Joey (played by Asivak Koostachin), who’s about the same age as Erin. Because of Valentina, Joey has known Erin and Cal for several years. Joey used to work at the ranch and now works part-time for a tow truck company, but he’s also hurting for money. Joey and Cal are happy to see each other. Joey is disappointed to hear that the ranch will be sold, but he understands why the decision was made.

Joey is also delighted to see Erin because it’s obvious that he’s had a longtime crush on her, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Erin has put Joey in the “friend zone,” which he has accepted, but his hopeful demeanor is of someone who still thinks there’s a small chance that Erin might change her mind. Another tribe member named Mukki (played by Eugene Brave Rock) ends up playing an important role in Erin’s plans for Mr. T.

“Montana Story” isn’t an action-packed movie. It moves along at a pace that’s entirely realistic for rural and isolated areas. And this isn’t a melodramatic and talkative movie where people get into arguments every 10 minutes. What makes “Montana Story” better than the average family drama is how it uses moments of silence to depict unspoken hurt and regrets.

For example, there’s a scene where Cal and Erin are driving somewhere in Cal’s car. He fills her in on what his life has been like since they last saw each other. Cal seems very eager to share this information, and there’s a sense that he wants Erin’s approval. But she doesn’t say anything in response to finding out these major updates in his life. Her lack of response seems to be partly out of spite and partly because she doesn’t really know what to say. The look on Cal’s face is of someone who is crushed by his sister’s aloofness.

And that’s why Richardson and Teague are so perfectly cast for this movie, which has just the right tone and direction from writer/directors McGehee and David Siegel. There are so many moments in “Montana Story” where Richardson and Teague convey emotions (and repression fo emotions) with their facial expressions and body language that other actors wouldn’t be able to convey, even if they had all these feelings spelled out for them in articulate lines of dialogue. Without the admirable performances of Richardson and Teague, “Montana Story” would not be as emotionally resonant as it is.

“Montana Story” could be described as understated or low-key, compared to other dramas about family members dealing with grudges and estrangement. In addition to the siblings’ issues with each other, Cal and Erin had a very difficult relationship with their father. Those hard feelings don’t automatically disappear when someone is close to death. It’s an uncomfortable truth that “Montana Story” shows in various shades and details that don’t have a single moment of “only in a movie” phoniness.

Review: ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ (2021), starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield

September 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021)

Directed by Michael Showalter

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S., the biographical dramatic film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Tammy Faye Baker and Jim Bakker rose to the top of the Christian televangelical business, only to have their empire come crashing down in the late 1980s, due to sex scandals and fraud charges. 

Culture Audience: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” will appeal primarily to viewers who are interested in exaggerated depictions of the rise and fall of rich and famous people.

Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Just like the disgraced televangelists at the center of this story, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” might have wanted to be taken very seriously, but people will either be repulsed or entertained by the campiness of it all. This biographical movie is best enjoyed if viewers know in advance that Tammy Faye Bakker is going to be presented as a misunderstood, makeup-caked, misled spouse who was both obedient and rebellious, when it came to conservative Christian beliefs. Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield give very committed performances as former televangelist power couple Tammy Faye Bakker and Jim Bakker. But when you portray people who became much-ridiculed public figures by their own doing, it’s nearly impossible to avoid becoming caricatures when acting out what it was like to be these human train wrecks.

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Abe Sylvia, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” offers a narrative that goes something like this: “Those scandals were all Jim Bakker’s fault. Let’s talk about how Tammy Faye Bakker just wanted to love everyone and be happy.” Tammy Faye (who died of cancer in 2007, at the age of 65) might have a lingering public image of a tear-soaked, sorrowful televangelist brought down by betrayals and scandals. However, the majority of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” portrays her as relentlessly perky, to a fault. The Bakkers went from doing a low-budget traveling Christian puppet show to owning a lucrative empire that included the Praise the Lord (PTL) network and related businesses headquartered in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

The 1990 TV-movie “Fall From Grace,” starring Kevin Spacey as Jim Bakker and Bernadette Peters as Tammy Faye Bakker, covered similar territory but wasn’t as concerned with casting Jim or Tammy Faye in a redeeming light. One of the biggest criticisms that “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” might get is how it mostly frees her from blame for being a willing participant in the greed that led to her and Jim Bakker’s downfall. She’s portrayed as someone who was just along for the ride and was blissfully unaware of the depth of how much people were being cheated by the Bakkers. It’s a very hard-to-believe premise, but that’s why this movie is a scripted drama, not a documentary.

However, this dramatic version of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is based on the 2000 documentary of the same name. Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (co-founders of the production company World of Wonder) directed “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” documentary, which was narrated by RuPaul. In 2009, World of Wonder and RuPaul later launched “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which went on to become an Emmy-winning hit. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” drama movie goes out of its way to depict Tammy Faye as an underrated influencer of drag queens and other LGBTQ people—and not just because of how she did her hair and makeup.

There are multiple scenes in the movie where Tammy Faye speaks up for LGBTQ people, even though she would face criticism and shunning from many conservative Christians who disagreed with her. In a scene where Tammy Faye and Jim meet powerful preacher Jerry Falwell Sr. (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) for the first time in the early 1970s, Falwell insists that their brand of Christianity should be about helping Republican politicians get elected and should be against a “homosexual agenda.” Tammy disagrees because she thinks Christianity should be about “loving everybody.” She also wonders aloud why she and Jim can’t just stay out of politics, but those thoughts are shut down by Falwell.

In another scene that takes place in 1985, on the PTL network, Tammy Faye does a compassionate interview by live satellite TV with an openly gay minister named Steve Pieters (played by played by Randy Havens), who is HIV-positive. She starts off the interview with her usual perkiness, but eventually she’s moved to tears by his story, especially when he talks about how people are afraid to touch him or be near him. “I just want to put my arm around you,” she tells Pieters. “I want to put my arms around you too, Tammy Faye,” he replies in a virtual lovefest.

Meanwhile, Jim and Falwell are seen backstage watching the interview, and they’re shocked that Tammy Faye has gone rogue on them. Falwell is predictably outraged and disgusted. Jim acts embarrassed and says he had no idea that this live interview with a gay/HIV-positive minister was going to take place on the PTL network. This backstage brouhaha is the type of melodramatic scene that looks like it was fabricated just for the movie.

The movie chronicles Tammy Faye’s childhood in Minnesota, as one of eight children growing up in a strict Christian household ruled over by their domineering, no-nonsense mother Rachel Grover (played by Cherry Jones) and her “go along to get along” second husband Fred Grover (played by Fredric Lehne), who brought his own children into the marriage as a widower. Rachel and Tammy Faye often disagree because Rachel believes in living modestly, while Tammy Faye obviously does not. In their churchgoing community, Tammy Faye was made to feel “inferior” to her siblings because she was born from Rachel’s first marriage, which ended in divorce.

Rachel endured her own stigma in their conservative Christian community for being someone who had been a divorcée. An early scene in the movie shows that Tammy Faye was aware that people in their church community called Rachel a harlot behind her back. Rachel knows it too, because she says that the only reason why she was let back into the church was because she knows how to play the piano.

The movie depicts Tammy Faye as having a flair for dramatics and wanting attention at an early age. There’s a scene where after taking her first communion, a 10-year-old Tammy Faye (played by Faye Chandler Head) begins speaking in tongues. Her mother is visibly shocked.

When Tammy Faye met Jim in 1960, they were both students at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. Their first scene together shows Tammy listening to Jim preach in a chapel to a small group of students. She seems enraptured by his preaching style and is the only one in the group to nod her head and verbally affirm what he says.

And just to put an emphasis on the narrative that Tammy Faye was treated like an “outsider” almost all of her life, she gets called a “jezebel” by someone in the group who mutters this insult, all because Tammy Faye likes to wear makeup. Jim comes to her defense. An instant attraction is sparked.

During Jim and Tammy’s first date together, she tells him that she has no secrets because she’s never done anything scandalous. He confesses to her that he originally wanted to be a radio DJ. He’s secretly a fan of rock music, which is considered sinful in the Christian society where Jim and Tammy live and grew up.

Jim also tells Tammy why he decided to become a preacher. One day, when he was driving his father’s car, he was listening to rock music and having lustful thoughts, which caused him to be distracted from his driving. He ended up in a car accident that hit a boy named Jimmy Summerfield, who suffered serious injuries. Jim made a promise to God that if Jimmy lived, then Jim would give his life over to religion instead of being a DJ.

Jim and Tammy Faye’s awkward first makeout session is filmed with a certain level of comedy, since these teenagers have been taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin. While they’re kissing and groping, they both say, “I can’t.” It’s one of the funnier scenes in the movie. And because Jim and Tammy Faye want to have sex, the next thing you know, Tammy Faye and Jim show up at her parents’ house in 1961, her mother opens the door, and Tammy introduces her husband Jim to her family for the first time.

There’s a fairly long stretch of the movie that’s about Tammy Faye and Jim’s Christian puppet show, which was the start of their career in religious showbiz. They took their puppet show on the road as a way to make money. Tammy Faye is particularly fixated on a female pig puppet with blonde pigtails named Susie Moppett, which later became a bestselling toy for the PTL network. Tammy Faye was also fascinated with Betty Boop, so expect to see several scenes of her talking in high-pitched, breathy voices.

Tammy Faye is depicted as the more creative partner in the marriage. She became famous for her singing. And she was the one who invented the couple’s puppet characters and wrote much of their dialogue. In the movie, Tammy Faye explains to her mother that the puppet show is a way to attract parents whom Jim and Tammy Faye wanted to become followers in a church owned by Jim and Tammy Faye.

Tammy Faye was also the one who supposedly came up with the idea to bring the Bakker ministry to television. When she and Jim see televangelist Pat Robertson (played by Gabriel Olds) preaching on TV, she strokes Jim’s ego by telling him that he’s much more charismatic than Robertson. The Bakkers’ plan is to eventually build a ministry that’s even bigger than Robertson’s.

While staying at a motel, Jim and Tammy Faye discover that their car is missing from the parking lot. Tammy Faye is shocked, while Jim is scatterbrained. At first, he thinks the car was stolen. But then he admits: Yes, maybe he stopped making the last several car payments, so the car was repossessed and towed away. It’s supposed to be an example of how financial matters were handled in their marriage. According to this movie, Jim was in charge of the finances, and he hid his money mishandling from Tammy.

With their car gone, Jim and Tammy Faye try to figure out how they’re going to get to their next destination. But what do you know, in an “only in a movie” moment, a man staying at the same motel just happens to walk right near Jim and Tammy Faye in the motel parking lot. He recognizes them and mentions that they should do their puppet act on Pat Robertson’s TV show. And gee, what a coincidence: This man happens to know Robertson and can make this TV appearance happen.

Jim and Tammy Faye do several appearances on Robertson’s show and develop their own fan base. When they visit Robertson’s lavish estate in Hot Springs, Virginia, for the first time in 1972, their avarice and egos start to go into overdrive when they see a lot of Robertson’s wealth on display. Jim tells Tammy Faye: “We paid for all of this, Tammy!,” as if Jim and Tammy Faye are the reasons why Robertson is so successful.

It’s at the Robertson estate where Jim and Tammy Faye are depicted as meeting Falwell for the first time during a luncheon with several guests. Tammy Faye is shown finagling her way into a men’s-only discussion at a table that includes Jim, Robertson and Falwell. She knows she’s not really welcome at the table, based on the men’s reactions. But with her toddler daughter Tammy Sue in tow, Tammy Faye uses her plucky charm to seat herself at the table and voice her opinions in their conversation.

In a hilarious moment, after the PTL network became successful in and long after the Bakkers ditched their traveling puppet show, Tammy Faye is seen on the PTL network promoting the use of a penis pump to help improve marital intimacy when a male partner is impotent. In the movie, Tammy is portrayed as being more comfortable than Jim when it came to publicly discussing sex and sexuality. The movie depicts Tammy Faye as a groundbreaking trailblazer in putting things on the PTL network that were traditionally considered taboo or too risqué for religious television.

The rest of the movie shows the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye, as well as Tammy Faye’s failed attempts at a showbiz comeback. Over time, their marriage changed from Tammy Faye being the more confident and more assertive partner to Jim being the one who was mostly in control. The marriage was affected by infidelity, although Tammy Faye is portrayed as less caught up in cheating than Jim was.

Tammy Faye is shown having just one extramarital lover, when she had a brief fling with music producer Gary Paxton (played by Mark Wystrach) in 1975. They worked together on Tammy Faye’s songs. Their affair is depicted as something that Paxton instigated because he showered a lot of attention and praise on her, knowing that Tammy Faye was being neglected by Jim.

An example of the movie’s campy side are the pickup lines that Paxton uses to try to seduce Tammy Faye. In the recording studio, he tells her after recording some of her vocals, “I haven’t been this excited about an artist since I produced ‘Monster Mash!’ We could get a Grammy!”

And later, when Tammy is eight months pregnant with her son Jamie, Paxton comes right out asks her when was the last time she was touched the way she deserves to be touched. It leads to one of the campiest scenes in the movie. Let’s just say that the movie doesn’t leave it up to the imagination on how Tammy Faye went into labor when she gave birth to Jamie.

Jim’s extramarital flings—most notoriously with former church secretary Jessica Hahn—are mentioned in conversations or shown as news headlines but not depicted in any explicit scenes. In real life, Hahn claimed that Jim and his right-hand man Richard Fletcher (played by Louis Cancelmi) drugged her, raped her, and later paid her a six-figure sum from church funds to keep quiet about it. Jim and Fletcher both denied that the sexual encounter was rape, but they admitted that sex occurred and that there was payoff money using PTL church funds.

In real life, Fletcher testified under oath that he was Jim’s secret lover, but Jim denied it under oath. There’s a scene in the movie where Tammy Faye sees Jim and Fletcher play-wrestling with each other on the ground, and she looks at them as if she silently suspects that something sexual might be going on between the two men. And the movie mentions that several men came forward to accuse Jim of making sexual advances on them.

Of course, in a movie about a marriage that goes bad, there are argument scenes between the two spouses. In “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” these over-the-top scenes are very reminiscent of soap operas that were popular in the 1980s, such as “Dynasty” and “Dallas.” Joan Collins and Larry Hagman would be very proud to see that in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Chastain and Garfield have carried on their tradition of portraying wealthy people screaming hateful things to each other while surrounded by gaudy 1980s decor.

Some choice words include Tammy Faye wailing to Jim: “I’m so sick of my faith in you!” Jim yells back: “You’re a bottomless pit!” Jim shouts at Tammy Faye: “I built you an empire!” Tammy Faye shrieks, “You built you an empire!,” conveniently forgetting her spending sprees. Tammy Faye’s descent into pill-popping hell is duly chronicled, including her being high as a kite on live TV and, on a separate occasion, having a near-fatal overdose. “I’m not a drug addict,” she insists. “I’m only addicted to Diet Coke!”

Chastain, who does her own singing in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” certainly gives her utmost in her performance in this movie. She transforms into numerous incarnations of Tammy Faye, whose physical appearance went through drastic changes over the years. Garfield gives a more restrained performance that is most chilling when showing Jim’s cold cruelty, such as when Jim forces Tammy Faye to go on their TV show to confess her infidelity and beg for forgiveness. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival) won’t get any major awards for acting. However, the film’s makeup and hairstyling will surely get award nominations.

Tammy Faye is mostly portrayed as pathetic, rather than tragic. After all, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for Tammy Faye when she’s whining about being a persecuted underdog, while she and her fraudster husband are living lavish lifestyles paid for by money that was supposed to be for their church and charitable causes. When she and Jim went on all those over-the-top spending sprees to buy luxurious personal things for themselves, she would’ve known that how they were misusing the money was illegal. The Bakkers made elaborate plans to build a religious theme park called Heritage USA, but it was all going to be funded by a Ponzi scheme.

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” screenplay is more interested in using broad strokes than in finessing details. Even though building contractor Roe Messner (played by Sam Jaeger) is in the movie as someone who helped the Bakkers with their construction plans, nowhere (not even in the epilogue) is it mentioned in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” drama that Messner was Tammy Faye’s second husband. They were married from 1993 until her death in 2007. And no one in the movie portrays rape accuser Hahn, who is only referred to in the movie as a news headline or (as Jim describes her) as an extortionist.

If people are looking for entertainment with deliberately hammy acting in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” then the movie delivers this type of comedic-tinged drama for viewers. If people are looking for a serious biography with comprehensive and thorough facts, then look elsewhere. People might or might not feel more sympathy for Tammy Faye after seeing “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” You’ll enjoy the movie more if you take it for what it is: a very Hollywood version of the truth.

Searchlight Pictures released “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” in select U.S. cinemas on September 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Terrorizers,’ starring Austin Lin, Moon Lee, JC Lin, Annie Chen, Ding Ning, Yao Ai Ning and Tang Chih Wei

September 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Yao Ai Ning and Austin Lin in “Terrorizers” (Photo courtesy of Changhe Films)

“Terrorizers”

Directed by Wi Ding Ho

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Taipei City, Taiwan, the drama “Terrorizers” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Four people in their 20s are involved in a dangerous love quadrangle.

Culture Audience: “Terrorizers” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in compelling thrillers about emotionally damaged people and love complications.

Annie Chen in “Terrorizers” (Photo courtesy of Changhe Films)

Becoming obsessed with an unrequited love has been the topic of many stories, but the dramatic thriller “Terrorizers” (written and directed by Wi Ding Ho) takes the unusual step of presenting the fallout of this obsession from the perspectives of four people who are involved in a love quadrangle. The four people—who are all in their 20s and live in the Taiwan capital of Taipei City—are affected in one way or another by this obsession, which has become violent when one of the people in this love quadrangle goes on a public rampage and uses a samurai sword to attack.

The four people who are at the center of this complex relationship drama are:

  • Ming Liang (played by Austin Lin), a troubled loner who comes from a wealthy family and who is addicted to video games.
  • Yu Fang (played by Moon Lee), a shy café worker/aspiring actress who has abandonment issues stemming from her parents’ divorce, including an absentee mother and a politician father who neglects Yu Fang.
  • Xiao Zhang (played by JC Lin), a romantic aspiring chef/restaurateur who currently works as a low-paid cook in a fast-food restaurant.
  • Monica (played by Annie Chen), an ambitious aspiring actress whose past job as a pornographic “cam girl” continues to haunt her.

It’s revealed in the movie’s trailer and early on in the movie that Ming Liang is the one who goes on the samurai sword rampage. He dresses up as a hooded ninja and then instigates the vicious attack at a shopping mall. Most of “Terrorizers” shows what led up to this violent crime. “Terrorizers” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

It would be giving away too much information to say who ends up getting romantically involved in this story. However, it’s enough to say that this quadrangle includes bisexuality/queerness and at least one person who’s dating two people at the same time. Some of the scenes in the movie are repeated, but shown from the angle of a different person in the quadrangle. Each person in the quadrangle has a unique personality and psychology, which explain many of their decisions and reactions in this story.

A revealing scene with Ming Liang and his disappointed father shows that Ming Liang has a long history of anti-social rebellion. Whenever Ming Liang got in trouble in school, his father bought his way out of that trouble. Ming Liang’s parents are divorced, and it’s mentioned that Ming Liang’s mother is an alcoholic whom he hasn’t seen in years. Ming Liang is unemployed and spends much of his time alone playing video games or riding his bicycle through the city. He also has a nasty habit of being a voyeur/Peeping Tom.

Yu Fang and Monica are in a theater group together. Yu Fang is more talented than Monica, but Monica gets more auditions because she’s better-looking and more assertive than Yu Fang. Monica has used her good looks to her advantage, and she’s become accustomed to having men pay for her expenses. She often gets sexually propositioned by men who expect her to do something sexual with them in order for them to do her a favor. Monica is more than willing to consent and go along with it if she thinks what she’ll get in return is worthwhile.

However, there’s a down side to Monica relying too much on her physical appearance to have men financially support her or do other favors for her. For example, Monica recently had a nasty breakup with a live-in boyfriend named David (played by Shang Ho Huang), a photographer whose specialty is taking nude photos of women and filming women for amateur porn videos. Monica found out that David was cheating on her, so she broke up with him.

David was paying all of Monica’s living expenses. But now that they’ve broken up, she has to move out of the apartment that they shared (the apartment is in his name) and find a new place to live. The problem is that Monica is broke and doesn’t have a place where she can go. Monica apparently doesn’t have any close friends or family members who can help her.

Monica has another problem: Not that long ago, David convinced Monica to make a sex video with him when she was working as a “cam girl” under the alias Missy. The video was uploaded and sold as part of the Monica’s cam girl work. And apparently, a lot of people in the entertainment industry have seen this video, because whenever she goes on auditions, the people interviewing her (who all happen to be men) mention her Missy sex video.

Monica usually doesn’t deny that she made the video, but she seems very embarrassed every time someone mentions it to her. She always tries to change the subject when her past pornography is brought up in a conversation. And she makes it clear to anyone who talks about the video that she’s no longer doing any porn or any “cam girl” work. She wants to be taken seriously as an actress.

In contrast to Monica getting a lot of attention from men, Yu Fang feels neglected by men, specifically her father Guo (played by Tang Chih Wei), who has put his politician career above being an attentive parent. Near the beginning of the movie, Yu Fang is trying not to get depressed because she feels she’s being “abandoned” by a loved one again. She’s been living with Guo, but he’s decided to move back to his hometown of Yilan City, because he thinks it will help his current political campaign.

Guo has also gotten married to his much-younger second wife Mandy (played by Celia Chang), who is Guo’s administrative assistant and who is currently pregnant with their first child together. Guo and Mandy’s wedding is shown in the movie. The house where Yu Fang lived with her father has been sold, and time is running out for Yu Fang to get a new place to live. Yu Fang wants to stay in Taipei City because she loves being in her theater group, which is where all of her friends are.

Yu Fang has been delaying finding a new place as long as possible, but her father offers to help pay her expenses. Guo asks Yu Fang if she would consider a roommate when she finds a new place to live. And he knows someone who might be an ideal roommate because he’s the son of someone who is one of Guo’s richest donors. The name of this son is Ming Liang. Yu Fang doesn’t really like the idea because she doesn’t know Ming Liang very well.

Meanwhile, Xiao Zhang is a friendly person who’s had a secret crush on Yu Fang. He recently quit his job as a cook on a ship because life at sea got too lonely for him, and he’s ready to settle down and start a family. The fast-food restaurant where he works is owned by a couple named Mr. Yang (played by Liao Chin Liang) and Mrs. Yang (played by Huang Jie Fei), whose rebellious, cosplaying 16-year-old daughter Kiki (played by Yao Ai Ning) also works in the restaurant.

Xiao Zhang lives with his Uncle Wong (played by Yong Yi Jyun), who owns his own barber shop. Xiao Zhang and Uncle Wong live in an apartment that is directly across from another building’s apartment, where a middle-aged alcoholic masseuse named Lady Hsia (played by Ding Ning) lives and works out of her home. Lady Hsia is not Ming Liang’s mother, in case anyone thinks that’s a plot twist in the movie. However, one of the people in this relationship quadrangle ends up getting to know Lady Hsia and turns to her for emotional support.

There are parts of “Terrorizers” that resemble a soap opera, but in the best possible ways. The twist and turns to the story are intriguing, with some plot developments being less predictable than others. The only part in the movie that seems too over-the-top in its melodrama is a scene that takes place with Ming Liang and someone at a train station. But the scene could be justified as a way of showing how much Ming Liang’s mental health is deteriorating.

“Terrorizers” writer/director Wi Ding Ho knows how to adeptly bring suspense to the story, which is intended to show how one person’s actions can have ripple effects not just on those closest to that person but also to complete strangers. All of the actors give credible performances, although viewers might have different opinions on which of the four storylines is the most gripping. “Terrorizers” is ultimately a very memorable film about how people choose different ways to seek out love, cope with emotional trauma, and deal with rejection.

Review: ‘To Kill the Beast,’ starring Tamara Rocca, Ana Brun, Julieth Micolta and João Miguel

September 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Julieth Micolta and Tamara Rocca in “To Kill the Beast” (Photo courtesy of The Party Film Sales)

“To KIll the Beast”

Directed by Agustina San Martín

Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Argentina, the dramatic film “To Kill the Beast” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old girl travels from Buenos Aires to a small town near the Argentina/Brazil border, where the townspeople are living in fear of a mysterious and dangerous beast. 

Culture Audience: “To Kill the Beast” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Gothic atmospheric movies that are more about creating moods and having symbolic storytelling rather than a straightforward plot.

Tamara Rocca in “To Kill the Beast” (Photo courtesy of The Party Film Sales)

Before watching “To Kill the Beast,” it helps to know that the movie puts a lot more emphasis on symbolism than on literal meanings. The story features a small Argentinian community that is in fear of a treacherous beast. But over time, viewers will see that this beast represents certain prejudices that oppress people in society. “To Kill the Beast” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

There’s a mystery at the center of the story, but it’s not about where this destructive creature came from or if it will be caught. Therefore, don’t expect “To Kill the Beast” to literally be centered on the townspeople going on a hunt to find the beast, although there is a search party that is shown in the movie. Viewers who are interested in abstract cinema can appreciate the “slow burn” atmospheric storytelling of “To Kill the Beast,” which is about the female protagonist’s journey of discovering her sexuality and other aspects of her identity.

“To Kill the Beast” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Agustina San Martín, who went on location in northern Argentina (near the Brazilian border) to film the movie. The story’s main character is 17-year-old Emilia Otero (played by Tamara Rocca), who has traveled from the capital city of Buenos Aires to a small, fairly remote, unnamed town. Emilia will be staying with her Aunt Inés (played by Ana Brun), who runs a small hostel out of her home. Emilia’s parents are not seen or mentioned in the movie.

Throughout the movie, Emilia repeatedly calls her older brother Mateo, because she expects that he will evenutally meet up with her at their aunt’s place. However, every time she calls Mateo at his home phone number, he isn’t there and she keeps getting his voice mail, where she leaves messages asking him to call her back. Viewers will have to assume that Mateo doesn’t have a mobile phone, because almost every time Emilia calls Mateo, the camera shows his empty house where Emilia’s calls go unanswered on a landline phone.

There are obvious signs that Mateo hasn’t been at his home in several days. On a table is a bowl of fruit that has gone rotten, with insects starting to gather around the fruit. Delivered mail is discarded outside the front door, indicating that no one has been there to pick up the mail. A German Shepherd in the house looks lonely and confused. The dog eventually is able to get through an unlocked door, possibly to look for food and whoever owns the dog.

Emilia isn’t very comfortable staying in this small town because she’s used to the hustle and bustle of a big city. It’s unclear how long Emilia plans to stay, but it’s long enough where she wants to find a job in the area. However, Inés tells her some bad news: She doesn’t have work for Emilia at the hostel. Emilia begs Inés to find some work for her to do: “I’ll do anything you ask,” Emilia pleads.

Inés eventually relents and says that in exchange for the free room and board, Emilia can do odd jobs (mostly cleaning) for the hostel. Inés also instructs Emilia on two rules that she insists cannot be broken: (1) Emilia cannot speak to a guest unless Emilia is spoken to by the guest first and (2) Emilia cannot knock on a guest’s room door to disturb a guest. As soon as Inés tells Emilia these rules, you just know that they’re going to be broken.

Emilia likes to go out to nightclubs and is active on social media. And so, she’s extremely disappointed when her aunt tells her that in this house, there’s no cell phone reception, the radio works poorly, and the television might get just one channel. Emilia also finds out that the town has been gripped with fear of a mysterious beast that roams at night. Women and girls are especially warned that they shouldn’t be outside alone during the nighttime.

There’s a search party of some local townspeople (mostly men and a few women) who have flashlights and guns when looking for the beast in the nearby woods. Inés is so frightened, she doesn’t even want to be near people who are in the search party, out of fear that they might get a spell put on them by the beast. Inés orders Emilia: “If you see anyone getting close to the jungle, don’t let them in.”

Not long after arriving in town, Emilia sees a man standing outside a storage area. His name is Lautero (played by João Miguel), and Emilia asks him if he’s seen Mateo. “Are you from the news?” Lautero asks suspiciously. Just then, a young missionary wearing a priest’s collar approaches. but Lautero wants to avoid him and quickly goes into the warehouse. When Emilia asks the clergyman if he’s seen Mateo, he just stares at her and says nothing before walking away.

Emilia eventually meets some people who are close to her age. One of the young women tells her, “They say a beast appeared in town, a week ago already. that he’s been wandering around that land. Some say it is the spirit of an evil man. Everyone’s talking about it, that it turns into different animals.”

Emilia asks, “And what does it do to you?” The woman replies, “The worst. I think you should be careful.” Meanwhile, the leader of the search party bellows things such as: “I don’t want to see any women by themselves!” and “Our daughters are in danger!” Eventually, Emilia becomes paranoid too. At one point, Emilia confesses that she’s “afraid of everything and everyone.”

“To Kill the Beast” has a few flashbacks to Emilia’s life in Buenos Aires. There’s a flashback scene of her hanging out at a nightclub with her unnamed boyfriend (played by Frederico De Elias Bevacqua), but she’s also exchanging lusty glances with a woman at the nightclub. Her boyfriend knows that Emilia is leaving Buenos Aires to live with her aunt, and the flashback scene is on one of the last nights that she spends in Buenos Aires before she leaves.

And what about Emilia’s brother Mateo? It’s hinted that he’s gotten mixed up in something sinister, possibly illegal. Whenever Emilia asks the people in town who know Mateo if they’ve seen him, they usually react with discomfort. There are clues that Mateo has a bad reputation, but what he did or where he is remains a mystery. However, at one point in the story, when Emilia calls Mateo, she gets someone named Jesus (voiced by Ariel Lorenzo) on the phone instead.

While this town has become increasingly panic-stricken over the beast, a new guest arrives at the hostel. Her name is Julieth (played by Julieth Micotta), and she’s in her early-to-mid 20s. Julieth is confident and not intimidated by the stories of the beast. Emilia becomes fascinated with Julieth. She secretly spies on Julieth any chance that she gets.

It doesn’t take long for Julieth to notice that Emilia seems to be infatuated with her. And the feeling becomes mutual. When Emilia is with her nightlife peers, she’s openly queer (there’s a scene of her dancing suggestively with another woman), but she’s still “in the closet” to her religious and conservative aunt and other people.

There are also signs that the town uses the fear of the beast as a way to restrict the freedoms of the town’s female residents. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the beast is really a manifestation of fear that can lead to oppression. The biggest clue is the comment about how the beast can take many forms.

People should not expect an action-packed thriller in “To Kill the Beast” because it’s more of an introspective story about how living in this repressed and apprehensive town affects Emilia. In Buenos Aires, she was free to openly be who she is. In this small town, she has to confront her fear of being shamed, ridiculed or shunned if she chooses to not hide her true identity. And because she’s frequently cut off from cell phone and Internet service, Emilia can’t get the social media validation that she’s used to getting on a regular basis.

All of the cast members of “To Kill the Beast” are convincing in their roles, with Rocca carrying the movie’s tone with a realistic portrayal of someone who is both rebellious and terrified of society’s pressures. With this movie, San Martín meticulously presents a teenager who has to confront her fear of not just rejection from the outside world but also fear of accepting herself. Although this story is centered on a young person in Argentina, it effectively speaks to universal and timeless truths of humanity.