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September 2022

Father Figured

Courtesy of TIFF

Prisoner's Daughter (2022)

Catherine Hardwicke is probably the least appreciated director working today. She personally revolutionized cinema with the alienated, moody “Twilight” – say what you will about it, it tapped into a deep (admittedly embarrassing) vein of teenage-girl longing and made young-adult adaptions the biggest thing in cinema for a good decade. She also has a knack for offering future stars their first big leading roles, most notably Oscar Isaac in “Nativity Story.” However, she did not direct any of the increasingly silly “Twilight” sequels, on which fellow director Lexi Alexander once sent some famously sharp tweets about how this was the perfect example of Hollywood sexism. And it must be said that Ms. Hardwicke’s films since “Twilight,” either for teenagers or adults, have not been terribly successful. From that angle this makes “Prisoner’s Daughter,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, an important movie, because if it does not succeed at what it sets out to do, it will be the end of an important director’s career. It’s pleasing to say that it does – but only just.

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Kingdom Done

Felix Vratny/IFC Films

Corsage (2022)

Early on there’s a slow-motion shot of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) and her three ladies-in-waiting (Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun and Katharina Lorenz) running up some palace stairs. The shot is slow-motion to allow the audience to realize that they filmed in the actual palace without bothering to cover up the modern trappings of the museum it has become, to the point there’s a uniformed guard in a glass ticket booth by the door. This jarring choice by writer-director Marie Kreutzer might have been an inevitable budgetary consequence – they could shoot in the genuine historical locations, or in perfectly accurate period settings, but not both – but it turns the heart of the film away from Elisabeth into the conflict we have when assessing a real historical figure with modern eyes.

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A Bitter Pill

Nan Goldin

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

There has rarely been a more effective demonstration of how the personal can be political. Nan Goldin should be mentioned in the same breath as Sylvia Plath as artists who changed the world through their overwhelmingly emotional, deeply personal art. Ms. Plath was a poet, whose work was seen through the gendered lens of “confessional” and whose suicide has unfortunately permanently overshadowed her incredible talents as a writer. Happily Ms. Goldin is still alive, despite a life equally full of pain. She is most famous for “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” a photographic slide show set to music which debuted in 1986, depicting herself and her friends going out or staying in, having sex, taking drugs, being ill in hospital or other similarly private and intimate activities. (The best version is in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, while a more British-themed version is in the permanent collection of the Tate in London.) It runs on a continuous loop and can be an overwhelming experience due to the rawness of emotion from the combination of sound and images that somehow floods the viewing room. Like a great movie, come to think.

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Lady Killer of the Night

Profile Pictures and One Two Films

Holy Spider (2022)

It’s 2001, in the Iranian city of Mashhad, the nation’s spiritual capital. At first we follow a drug-addicted sex worker (Firouz Agheli) as she leaves her little daughter asleep in bed and goes about her unhappy trade. Her only comfort comes from smoking opium with a friend; the johns she meets cheat her of money and physically abuse her. Then she is murdered in shocking close-up by a man who wraps her body in a carpet, lays it across the back of his motorbike and rides out of the city to dispose of her in the hills.

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Misery Loves Company

Carole Bethuel/Sony Pictures Classics

One Fine Morning (2022)

Pity the poor Parisian bourgeois bohemian, whose lives are full of nothing but booklined apartments, interesting careers and family nearby. Pity harder the daughters of elderly Parisian intellectuals, who must put their freelance work and artistic endeavors on pause when their daddies develop the cinematic version of old age and infirmity that requires only the most mild care. But pity the most the Parisian boyfriends of these Parisian daughters, who must provide emotional support to these women instead of just getting to cheat on their wives scot-free. This low-stakes emotional merry-go-round so beloved of French cinema can be both relaxing and irritating to watch, and as shown at the Toronto International Film Festival “One Fine Morning” breaks no new ground. At least everything is beautifully and expertly done. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love it.

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The Handmaids' Tale

Women-talking-movie-review-michelle-mcleod-sheila-mccarthy-liv mcneil-jessie-buckley-claire-foy-kate-hallett-rooney-mara-judith-ivey
Michael Gibson/Orion Releasing

Women Talking (2022)

The subject of “Women Talking,” the phenomenal new movie from Sarah Polley which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is so bleak it’s hard to talk about. We are in Canada in 2010 – the unwelcome presence of a census truck blasting “Daydream Believer” as it drives through the rural farming community goes to necessary trouble to establish this – but we could be up to 200 years ago. The women all wear modest hand-sewn dresses, with caps over their hair. There’s no technology in their farmhouses and the men are all gone. Why are the men gone? To bail one of them out of jail. Why is he in jail? Because Salome (an outstanding Claire Foy) attacked him with a scythe and he was arrested for his own protection. And why did meek farmwife Salome attack a man with a scythe? Because all the female members of the community were, over months, repeatedly dosed with animal tranquilizer (a knockout spray) and while unconscious raped by the men of the community. All of the female members of the community. All of them. Including Salome, and Salome’s four year old daughter.

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The King of Queens

Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures

The Woman King (2022)

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Hollywood blockbuster to really make for an enjoyable evening at the cinema. Fight scenes, women in peril, countless evil enemies and the right amount of nudity to maintain a PG-13 rating: “The Woman King” has it all. And better still, it uses this standard blockbuster template in an entirely fresh setting: the kingdom of Dahomey in west Africa in 1823. It’s plagued by the slave trade, where innocent villagers are kidnapped and sold to disgusting white men, here personified by the cocky Brazilian Santo (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). The new king, Ghezo (South London’s favorite son John Boyega, getting to do something different from his previous blockbuster fare and have a great time doing so), has pledged to stop selling his own people, if nothing else. And he has the manpower to put his money where his mouth is. Well, womanpower, actually. He has an elite squad of soldiers, the Agojie, all women, and all the stuff of nightmares.

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The Man With the Golden Feet

Brian Doherty/Dance Lord Productions

Blackbird (2022)

What is the point of being wealthy if not to do awesome things with your money? And what could possibly be more awesome than writing your own movie? Except maybe starring in it. And also directing it. And then also financing it, because no one else is as awesome as you. This is not a criticism, not in the slightest. It is completely and entirely delightful that Michael Flatley – you know, the guy who made “Riverdance” and then made squillions from it – decided to enjoy his retirement by writing, directing and starring in “Blackbird.” It is significantly better than any vanity project by a dilettante millionaire has the right to be. The movie was made in 2018 and only getting a release now; and it’s awful that we have been denied this joy for so long. This does not make the film any good, of course. But other critics can insult the gift horse by looking it in the mouth. The rest of us can enjoy every moment of the thing.

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