“Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are. Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.” Widows Film Review

“Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are. Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.” Widows Film Review

widowsposterAs celebrated and talented as Steve McQueen is in the film world, I have always felt his films are the kind I can only watch once in my life. Dealing with topics like starvation, addiction and enslavement and watching his characters punished on screen is not necessarily what I want to revisit on a Friday night. That said, his previous works are definitely masterpieces worth a viewing! He’s an incredibly talented filmmaker with a lot to say but the films that test the hand of time are those that can be enjoyed over and over.

Going into Widows, I already sensed a shift in his storytelling. Working with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) as his co-writer, and adapted from a 1983 British television crime drama, I knew this film was going to be heavy but action-packed and dare I say different to the rest of his body of work. After viewing it, I can definitely say it’s more than a heist film. It’s about the resilience of four women who do what they need to do for their family and livelihood after their husbands perish in a robbery gone wrong.

The film begins with an intimate scene of couple Harry (Liam Neeson) and Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) kissing passionately in bed. This is paired with alternate scenes of three other relationships, most not so loving and nurturing as this one. Then the film takes a contrasting turn with a heist scene. Harry and three other men fleeing into a van that explodes into flames in a job gone wrong.

Veronica, now a widow comes to learn that not only has she lost the love of her life. He left her a hefty debt of $2 million. One that he stole from crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who also happens to be in the midst of a political campaign. Jamal pays a very intense visit to her penthouse and shakes up her little dog—NOT COOL MAN. He demands she liquidate her assets and gives her exactly one month to settle the debt.

Viola Davis’ performance as Veronica is chilling and exquisite. During the film, she has these intimate flashbacks with her husband showing the viewers how passionate and loving their relationship was. It almost makes us forgiving of the situation he’s left her in. There is this beautiful scene where she gazes at her reflection through a window at her home. She imagines Harry nuzzling up to her, holding her from behind as Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind” plays in the background.

But all is not lost! Veronica is given a key to a safe deposit box that holds a journal containing details to Harry’s final job. She is desperate and determined enough to execute it but not without some help. Veronica recruits Linda played by Michelle Rodriguez, a woman who owned a Quinceñera dress store that was ransacked by creditors due to her deadbeat husband gambling away her rent money. She also recruits Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) whose husband beat her and is now being pushed to market herself to wealthy gentlemen as an escort by her mother. Both women are also widows from the same ill-fated robbery that took Harry’s life. There is a forth woman, Amanda but she has a newborn baby and makes it clear she cannot help.

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Linda and Alice are fierce in their own way in the film. Neither women have experience in pulling off a heist but use their smarts, wits and in Alice’s case, looks to get what they need for the job. After all, this isn’t for fun as portrayed in other heist films. It’s out of realistic anguish to get themselves out of the financial holes they also find themselves in.

I felt completely engaged throughout the 2 hours and 9-minute film. I was just as tied to the subplots and secondary characters as I was to the widows themselves. Jatemme Manning played by Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya is Jamal’s brother and right-hand enforcer. He is as evil as they come as the villain. Stoic but sardonic and incredibly cruel, some of his scenes have that shock value that pulls you into the story that much more. There is also Jack Mulligan played by Colin Farrell who is running against Jamal Manning for Alderman. He’s the son of an elderly but incredibly powerful ex Chicago politician played by Robert Duvall. His character pretty much is deranged and yelling explicits and racist undercurrents throughout. Similar to Grandpa from The Simpsons but angrier and more offensive.

The scene-stealing supporting character of this film though has got to be Cynthia Erivo’s character, Belle O’Reilly. She joins the widow’s heist gang wanting to provide the best for her daughter as a single mother. She is the only character who can stand up to Veronica’s demands.

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With all this said there are a few criticisms I feel need to be pointed out that didn’t sit well with me. Jackie Weaver overdid it as Alice’s overbearing mother. So much so, I was thankful she was barely in it. Also as much as I respect and enjoy Colin Farrell as an actor his accent for this film was terrible! His voice went from a scratchy and sleazy Chicagoan to an Irish man trying to hold down a fake American accent too many times. It was distracting me from what was otherwise a wonderful performance. I get it, accents aren’t easy, but I need to be honest here. Otherwise, the witty dialog in general and intensely moody score by movie music master Hans Zimmer rounds out the film overall and elevates it beautifully.

Widows is packed with crowd pleasing action, audience gasping twists and some fantastic payoffs that must be enjoyed on the big screen! The acting from all the women especially Davis and Erivo are incredible. This is what I would call an entertaining, feminist heist film! Oceans 8 eat your heart out! There are even a few laughs sprinkled in between all the dread and complicated topics. The nature of modern political dynasties, gender roles expectations, police racism and socioeconomic inequality are all addressed in between the grand scheme being carried out. Only McQueen could touch on so much and seamlessly integrate it all into the main story without it feeling too preachy or excessive. Finally! A Steve McQueen film worth revisiting!

Minor spoiler alert: Rest assured the little dog is ok throughout the film. Veronica carries that little floof everywhere she goes. As a fellow pet lover, I can’t stand to see animals injured in any way on film.

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“Your not lost Clara Stahlbaum. Your place is here” The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Film Review

“Your not lost Clara Stahlbaum. Your place is here” The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Film Review

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Now that Halloween is behind us, ’tis the season for festive films coming to theatres! As always Disney starts it off with their latest The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Based on the traditional story we know and love this film provides us with a sequel of sorts as we follow Clara Stahlbaum as she sets off into a big adventure to find herself in the Four Realms.

This film picks over the original The Nutcracker and the Mouse King story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816 and the famous ballet The Nutcracker adapted by Alexandre Dumas in 1892 and creates a completely new adaption with a lot less Nutcracker. From my understanding, this story is possibly based years later from the original story. Marie has passed away. Her children Louise, Clara, and Fritz and her widowed husband now remain trying to make the best of the Christmas season without her.

It’s Christmas Eve, and each family member is mourning differently. Fritz seems too young to grasp what’s taken place really. Louise, the oldest is trying to stay strong and help her father who is insisting they carry on like normal and keep up with appearances. Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy, however, is the middle child and struggling. She is clever like her mother was and it’s assumed this made her relationship with her unique.

The film starts with Clara building a mouse trap with Fritz using the laws of physics. She’s known in the family for being able to tinker with things and figure them out. Without her mother, she feels lost and out of place. The relationship in general between the children and the father seems cold and distant. I understand that is the tone we’re supposed to gather in the beginning due to what has happened in the family. However I found throughout the film it doesn’t get warmer.

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Right before their party, they are all given gifts from their late mother. Clara is given a mechanical egg of some sort but not the key to open it. She is upset by this and storms to her room. There she finds a note written by her mother that simply states “Everything you need is inside.” This upsets Clara more until she finds the letter “D” on the egg which means Drosselmeyer (played by Morgan Freeman) made it and can possibly help her open it. It so happens it’s his party they’re attending, and he is Clara’s Godfather, a clockmaker and inventor.

Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer seems a bit out of place only because everyone in the film has English accents and Clara’s mother Marie was originally his ward. However, throughout the film, I appreciated the amount of diversity found in the overall cast.  During the party he has the children all follow strings that lead them to their individual gifts. Clara follows her golden thread to the coveted key she is seeking. It promptly disappears and leads her into a strange and parallel world called Christmas Tree Forest. It is here she meets the Nutcracker Philip (played by English actor Jayden Fowora- Knight) who accompanies Clara in her search for the key as she discovers the Four Realms.

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Each realm has a name and ambassador. The Land of the Snowflakes has Shiver (Richard E. Grant) as representation. The Land of the Flowers has Hawthorne, played by Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez.  I was pleasantly surprised to see him in this role since he has generated some fame for himself in Latinx television and has been making his crossover to Hollywood for some time.

The third realm is the Land of the Sweets with Sugarplum played by Kiera Knightly. Sugarplum is quite a different role than we’re used to seeing Knightly embody.  She resembles Elfie from The Hunger Games. She also has a sweeter, higher, baby voice than we’re used to hearing. Knightly steals the show in scenes and makes this role completely her own. It’s very cool to see her encompass a character that might feel out of her comfort zone compared to previous roles.  The Fourth Realm, formally known as the Land of Amusement is currently banished, as well as it’s ambassador Mother Ginger played by the ever so talented Helen Mirren. Mirren continues her streak of strong, sassy characters. Mother Ginger is tough of nails and is the villain of the story… or is she?

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If you have a massive phobia to rodents like myself, I heavily suggest you skip this one completely. There are a lot of “mouse king” scenes where the mice literally tower on one another to create a giant mouse monster that is terrifying if you’re musophobic like myself. It really made certain fight scenes hard to watch especially when Clara was in the Fourth Realm.

I felt the show stopper of the film and also the biggest nod to the incredibly famous ballet itself is the ballet scene. The ballet scene tells the story of how Clara’s mother Marie discovered the four realms. The dance scenes are performed by American ballerina Misty Copeland, and are stunning! It left me wanting more even though they did accompany the majority of the film with the original music by Tchaikovsky.

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I thought Mackenzie Foy did a lovely job as Clara. She’s a beautiful, young actress and physically perfect for this role. It is nice to see her in a starring role since her small ones as Renesmee in Twilight or as one of the children in The Conjuring. Clara is independent, brave and precocious and this is very much a coming of age adventure. I do feel Kiera Knightly steals the spotlight at times though. She was more a starring role herself than a supporting role.

Overall I felt the film is mildly entertaining. I can see many families flocking to this one in the coming days, but I see it having a quick in and out of theatres.  Even with the all-star cast, it doesn’t salvage the cliche’d, syrupy storyline. I felt that Disney stripped away all the darkness from the original E.T.A. Hoffmann tale, and I understand why but it’s part of the beauty of the original Nutcracker story.

As stunning as this film may look and it’s production design is quite lovely as well as the costumes deserve a nod or two I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this one. Unless I had a child who was dying to see it or I was a diehard Nutcracker fan, who by the way has an unfortunate smaller supporting role considering his name is in the title I say wait until next year when it’s on Netflix or rental in time for those holidays.

 

“No one knows where their story is going, nor who the heroes in it are going to be.” Life Itself Film Review

“No one knows where their story is going, nor who the heroes in it are going to be.” Life Itself Film Review

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I’ll be completely honest here. When I came out of Life Itself, my eyes were so puffy and red from crying. It looked like someone had kidnapped my beloved cat and left me a ransom note with rules I would not be able to complete in time for his faithful return. I had volunteered for the Toronto International Film Festival a week prior. As a perk for the returning volunteers, they had an advance screening of this film.

This was my first year volunteering, so I didn’t get invited to the screening, but many who did had said they loved the film! From the trailer I had seen and an A-list cast including Oscar Issac, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, and Olivia Wilde, I wasn’t surprised! We’re also talking about writer/director Dan Fogelman. The same man who brought us This Is Us. A show that makes me sob every episode. EVERY EPISODE!

With all this after screening it this week, I felt justified in my enjoyment of it. But that feeling was quickly shot down when I saw that just about every other critic I follow absolutely hated it. “Emotionally manipulative” and “overtly contrived” were some of the most heard complaints in many of the reviews I read. I really had to dig to find the critics who felt the same as me! Here goes my take, very different to what you will read elsewhere.

This film begins with a narrator, Samuel L. Jackson to be exact. He sets a comedic mood in a psychiatrist’s office where we meet a man who obsesses over Fantasy Football to suppress his eating disorder. We learn his psychiatrist is Dr. Morris (played by Annette Bening), who after the session goes out for a smoke and walks down the street where she meets eyes with Will (Oscar Issac). The moment is brief but sweet until Will calls out to her while she crosses the street “Big fan!” At this moment, without fully ruining the scene for you we’re quickly reminded this isn’t a rom-com at all but a fictional drama where tears will be shed and deeper, tougher topics will be touched upon. The narrator also changes to an unknown woman’s voice going forward.

I will say this, Life Itself is a little ambitious in both stories and characters. He’s unpacking a lot in 1 hour and 58 minutes. The film is told in chapters. Each one gives us glimpses of different characters that we soon learned are all tied together. Similar to the style of Paul Haggis’ 2006 Oscar winner Crash or anything from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu the film has layers. Each character’s cause and effect plays a major part in the story and the character that follows the previous one. The major plot premise in each one though is the unreliable narrator being life itself. Get it?! The viewers have to consider that the story is told from an individual perspective rather than objective reality. This also happens to be Abby’s thesis (Olivia Wilde) during grad school where she first meets Will, and they begin dating.

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During their chapter, we learn how they fell in love and all about Abby’s tragic backstory. She is described as the kind of wife any man would want. She’s beautiful, nurturing, and willing to put anything in her mouth —-at a sushi restaurant that is! But the implication here is that she’s a chill, low-maintenance kind of woman. Something of a dream woman for Fogelman no doubt. She didn’t even cry as a newborn which I agree with fellow critics is a bit too specific.

The chemistry between Abby and Will is believable. They shine as a couple through the flashbacks we’re presented told by Will. Abby and Will were also expecting a child before she left him. The reason for Will’s traumatic breakdown that has now made him the tortured drunk attending mandatory sessions with Dr. Morris. It only gets bleaker from here though.

We’re then introduced to Abby, and Will’s daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) who’s story is clouded with so much death and grief. The scene where we watch her little child face change to that of a 21-year-old woman is very cool. Personally, I don’t buy her to be as “scary’ as the narrator pushed us to believe she is. She does break a random girl’s phone and punches her out while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich shortly after. It is understandable why she’s got a tough exterior in general, but we don’t see much more than that. Her scenes with her grandfather played by Mindy Patinkin are very touching but too short. Out of all the stories, hers isn’t hashed out as well as the rest and is dull in comparison.

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Then we’re taken transatlantic to Andalusia, Spain where we’re introduced to a humble olive picker Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta)  and his boss Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas) who gives him a promotion and a place to live on the land he owns but Javier takes it all with one condition. He asks Saccione to not get involved in his personal life. Of course, as you can predict, he doesn’t abide by this. This story plays out a bit like the telenovelas I grew up with. This chapter of the story was my most favourite. Not only is the Spanish landscape breathtaking but the relationship Javier has with his boss and his wife Isabel (Laia Costa) and later son Rigo are relatable.

It’s all in Spanish with English subtitles and the tragedy and struggles that beset this family although sad, aren’t as farfetched or seem “overtly contrived” to me. It plays out more naturally. Maybe that has to do with the calibre of acting or a better-written story, but it’s beautifully done. The scene that resonates the most with me is the monologue Isabel gives to her son Rigo before he leaves for America. She tells him that in spite of what life throws at you when you fall, you must get back up. She also tells him she will always be part of him and will live on through him. His life is hers too. She encourages him to live it to the fullest for the both of them.  This monologue, as well as Abby’s thesis, really set the tone for the entire film.

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The truth is life isn’t always happy and go-lucky so why do films have to be too? Emotional manipulation in film isn’t a new concept so why are we all hating on melodramas all of a sudden? Dan Fogelman is merely giving us a story that even full of tragic nuances, the characters thrive and move forward like some of us also tend to do in similar circumstances. Whether it be an accident, mental health, death and grief or illness.  I loved the way the film ties everything together so perfectly like I would expect a completely fictional film to do at the end. What is so wrong with creating heavy subjected, tear-jerking moments in a film forcing us to feel? Especially if the end offers such an uplifting and hopeful message?

I really enjoyed all five chapters of this tale, and I can look past the uncanny 42-year time frame that may have a hole or two if you really think about it. The tears I shed during this film were very genuine. Some of the twists and shockers made me gasp audibly, and there is something to be said about anything that can bring that out of someone. Even a self-proclaimed sap like myself. Sometimes you just need a good cry and why not in the comforting darkness of a theatre and shallow lighting of the big screen?

Life Itself provides a reflection and makes you appreciative of what you have, the love of family and the strength and legacy they provide. This is a film I can take my mother to and know she’ll enjoy just as much even with its R rating. My humble advice is go into this film with an open mind and ignore all the haters. Just play along and let yourself care and feel for what Will, Dylan, Javier or Isabel endure. Sure, some of the writing has its tropes, but overall there are powerful themes of love, perseverance, and family here that are worth watching.  You may be surprised and enjoy it for what it is too!

“Violence, brutality. It’s the same story, just a different name.” The Hate U Give Film Review

“Violence, brutality. It’s the same story, just a different name.” The Hate U Give Film Review

thehateugive5I knew going into The Hate U Give that it would be a heavy one. This film doesn’t shy away from the tough topics currently being spoken about in the United States and Canada. This film further lifts the need for the #blacklivesmatter movement.  Through a tragic and beautifully, strong story the viewer is taken on a ride of the injustices that are being fuelled in between. Originally based off a best-selling novel titled Thug Life: The Have U Give Young Infants F*cks Everybody by Angie Thomas, a title based off Tupac’s song with the same name. This film is told through Starr Carter and displays the conversations, experiences and social ills that go on after a white police officer wrongfully shoots down a black teenager for grabbing a hairbrush out of the front seat of his car.

The film follows Starr Carter, played by the talented Amandla Stenberg, a black teenager who lives in poorer and rougher community called Garden Heights with her family. She calls this place home, and it was where her parents grew up as well. She describes her parents’ loving relationship, a strong one, where they are very much in love and aren’t afraid to kiss and cuddle in front of her and her siblings, a half-brother named Seven (played by Lamar Johnson) and little brother named Sekani.

Her family is a stable one that is full of love and support. They eat together, say grace and only want the best for each other.  She mentions the popular BBQ place, the local barber shop and her father’s convenience store in her neighbourhood. But when she talks about the local public school she tells the viewer, it’s “a place you go to get drunk, high, pregnant or killed. We don’t go there.” Instead, she and her brothers go to Williamson Prep, a primarily white, private school on the other side of town.

While at Williamson, she is Starr Version 2. A completely different side of herself to the Garden Heights version. One who does not give any of her fellow classmates a reason to stereotype her as “ghetto” or “hood.” She doesn’t wear her hoodie up. She swallows any aggression she may have. She also refrains from speaking in any slang despite the fact her boyfriend Chris (played by KJ Apa) and best friend Kayleigh do so without issues. It’s clear Starr struggles internally with her two different lives but feels she must keep these two different sides of her separate in order to succeed. The story sets us up for a fish out of water tale that quickly escalates into much more.

THE HATE U GIVEWhile attending a neighbourhood party in Garden Heights over the weekend, Starr bumps into a childhood friend she hasn’t seen in awhile named Khalil. After the party is abruptly cut short, she ends up driving late at night with Khalil. They share a tender moment where they kiss, and she tells him she has a boyfriend. “We’ve been together a long time, we got time,” he tells her before they are suddenly stopped by a police cruiser. The film opened with Starr’s father Maverick (played by Russell Hornsby) giving his three young children “the talk.” Not the birds and the bees talk but the one about what to do as a person of colour when you’re stopped by a police officer. Starr was only nine years old then.

Suddenly, she’s using the information she was taught years ago by promptly putting her hands faced down, visible on the dash and demanding Khalil who takes this whole encounter as a joke, to do the same. It’s a very frustrating and heart racing scene. The whole scenario further escalates to Khalil being shot several times. He bleeds to his death on the ground while a shocked Starr tries to understand what just happened to her friend before her eyes. The incident haunts Starr. We learn this isn’t her first time she’s witnessed someone die, but this time she struggles actually doing something about it.

Watching Starr unravel, forced to mature quickly and find her voice in all this is incredibly jarring, horrifying and inspiring all at once. This young woman endures so much in this film. It really shows the ignorance of those more privileged around her like her boyfriend Chris and best friend, Kayleigh. There is this amazing scene where Kayleigh tries to argue that “all lives matter.” Starr gives her a taste of what it’s like to be marginalized the way Khalil is after his death. In another scene, after Chris foolishly tells Starr he doesn’t see colour. Starr simply replies to him “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me.” Her father Maverick has always told Starr not to forget that being black is an honour because she comes from greatness.

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The Hate U Give embodies so much of what is going on in our world right now.  There were many times I felt so much anger and shame while watching this film. With recent tragedies happening all over the United States and videos of racist incidents being posted online, we are using these to bring awareness and educate. It’s safe to assume far too many white audiences didn’t know this sort of talk happened amongst POC.

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must be. Explaining to a young child that someone who you’re taught is supposed to protect you may treat you different and even hurt you just because of the colour of your skin. The way Khalil’s death is talked about and handled throughout the film, the lack of empathy from many and the sheer ignorance and blatant racism of the media valuing one life over another is hard to watch at times. We’re taken on the same wave of different emotions Starr battles within herself.

Starr’s struggles throughout are so much bigger than her. Like many, she is part of this new American generation that is unfairly tasked with solving the social sickness they had no hand in creating, but are overwhelmingly the victims of. To see all this shown on the big screen and given this kind of platform is crucial to stopping the hatred spreading in our societies. This story is not only groundbreaking but important and should be seen by everyone. Conversations should be built around this film and the book it’s based on. We should look within ourselves on how to be allies and raise awareness and bring equality to minorities and people of colour.

“This is your world. You built this. Don’t take your hate out on me, I just got here. You may kill me, but you can’t kill us all.” Assassination Nation Film Review

“This is your world. You built this. Don’t take your hate out on me, I just got here. You may kill me, but you can’t kill us all.” Assassination Nation Film Review

assassinationposterIf you watch Assassination Nation, you’re in for a wild ride! This horror-satire has the femme and queer-centric, exploitation sass similar to 1989’s Heathers with the grotesque, un-apologetic, mindless violence in America outlook like The Purge. With a satirical trigger warning montage that starts off the film, the viewer is prompted with what to expect. Things like “drug use” and “sexual content” to the “male gaze” and “fragile male egos” are among the massive list. While entertaining and action packed until the end, writer-director Sam Levinson overwhelms this story with a messy progression and worthwhile concepts not properly fleshed out.

The film is apparently based on a true story. Taking place in a town called Salem, we follow Lily played by Odessa Young and her three best friends Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). High school life is the typical for these girls. They are incredibly stylish, suffer through school together, party hard on weeknights to keep up their social media personas while Lily alludes to keeping secrets from her friends and family.

Things begin to go haywire when the super conservative mayor of the city is hacked. His less than conservative personal files and images are passed around the town. The girls discuss privacy and how the “old people” are trying to fight it while their generation embraces the reality of privacy being dead. Unfortunately, it only escalates from there when eventually half the town is hacked causing an uproar of violent mobs determined to find the person responsible for the data leak. It becomes a “witch hunt” for the town of Salem, and our girls become the hunted.

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Lily and Bex shine in this film. They are empowered, sexually liberated and badass! Throughout the entire film, they are especially objectified and ridiculed by the men and boys in the town, and it’s exciting to watch them stand up for themselves and fight back. However, Sarah and Em’s backstories fall by the wayside even though one of the best scenes in the film, a home invasion occurs in Em’s home where she lives with her single mother, Nance.

During certain points in the film, the screen splits into three vertical panels each showing different aspects of a scene playing like an insta story. It’s a very visceral motif that nods to this generation’s love of constant multitasking and filming our everyday endeavours. The film also uses overlays of the texts shared between Lily and “Daddy” a character she sends sexy selfies to and cheats on her boyfriend Mark (Bill Skårsgard) with or Lily and her friends. The film is bright and wonderfully shot. It’s bold with colour pops and a frenzied style. It keeps a vibrant, hostile tone throughout that keeps you on your feet albeit predictable at times. Things you’d expect to happen in a horror!

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I appreciate how the film makes you reconsider what’s on your phone. If this ever actually happened would I be safe? Have I ever crossed the line in any of my twitter replies? It also tells a millennial, female-centric story showing a very close and refreshing women friendship. I adore the bond these ladies have for one another and how they stick by each other’s side to the end. The lack of cattines, back-stabbing and their intelligent pool-side conversations about women and trans women experiences are also something to be mentioned and applauded.

I also enjoyed the sprinkle of meta motifs in between. When the girls are walking to class and Bex exclaims she loves this song. The friends look at each other and ask “Which song?” She snaps her fingers and says ‘This one!” and it begins playing as they fiercely walk in unison. Although Assassination Nation starts the film with a battle of the town vs. the internet, it soon morphs into a gender war that becomes too big for the film itself to handle. I enjoyed the ending of the story, but overall, it felt unfinished for me.

 It’s a visual rollercoaster that doesn’t shy away from scenes that will make you uncomfortable and rage for our protagonists. I promise you revenge is sweet and it will have you fist pumping and cheering on the young women in their gore and glory.  If you’re a Judd Apatow fan like myself, look out for his daughter Maude Apatow’s small but satisfying role as Grace. She really goes up to bat with this role… literally.

Assassination Nation overall is empowering, feminist and displays strong women who are unapologetic for who they are and shouldn’t be messed with. This film would benefit being seen on the big screen. But if you’re not into horror, dark comedies or thrillers with plenty of triggers and gore, I suggest you sit this one out.

 

“You found me when I knew nothing. You molded me to your own desires, and you thought that I could never break free. Well you’re wrong.” Colette Film Review

“You found me when I knew nothing. You molded me to your own desires, and you thought that I could never break free. Well you’re wrong.” Colette Film Review

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There are many women in history who were royally screwed over in the name of sexism. All of them worked hard and had success in their fields, but their husbands took all the recognition. The film Colette, which is part of the special presentation programming for the Toronto International Film Festival and out in theatres later this month is just one of many of these stories coming to life on the big screen! Before you roll your eyes on yet another biopic, period piece starring the period piece queen herself, Keira Knightly hear me out when I say this is worth a watch!

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t too intrigued by the trailer. However, I adore Keira Knightly in period drama roles. You can expect incredible costumes, beautiful art production and a lovely musical score that stood out to me upon viewing. The film begins in the late 1800s where Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette is just a country girl living in a small town with her parents while secretly having an affair with an older family friend who visits from Paris time to time. She soon marries him. We learn he is a published writer, entrepreneur and once sought after bachelor.

Henry Gauthier-Villars or  “Willy” as he’s known around town,  played by Dominic West is a charming, smug libertine who seems to adore attention. So naturally, when he introduces his new, young wife, Gabrielle, before her name change to Colette, at a fancy Parisian party everyone seems surprised that he’s finally settled down. Gabrielle doesn’t fit in at first, but over time she changes her name to Colette and grows accustomed to the fashion and posh lifestyle Willy insists they have despite never having enough to pay his workers.

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As it turns out, Willy hires ghostwriters to write his ideas for his published works and takes all the credit for them as part of his “Willy” brand. Eventually, he has Colette write a novel for him based off her schoolgirl stories she would tell. She ends up enjoying the task and proudly shows him her work. Unfortunately, Willy isn’t satisfied by it and dismisses it entirely until he comes across it again during a difficult time where money is tight, and repo men are visiting regularly. After a few salacious edits done with Colette, he has it published, and it’s a hit!

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Titled Claudine a l’école it flies off shelves and becomes Willy’s best selling novel. He pushes Colette to write him more novels like this. After not feeling as inspired or producing the pages he demands from her, he locks her up in a room and forces her to write 4 hours at a time. Willy is an interesting villain because although he can be cruel, unfaithful and exploits Colette throughout the film, he is also likable at times with his charm, and eventually, you almost feel sorry for him. Dominic West dazzles in this role and really sells those aspects that made Colette fall for him in the first place.

Colette’s mother is an underrated but beautiful secondary character who makes an appearance from time to time and helps Colette find her strength! In a scene where Colette returns home upon discovering the first of Willy’s many infidelities, she tells her mother Sido (played by Fiona Shaw) half-heartedly that she will just need to learn to accept this going forward. Sido, however, encourages Colette to pursue her own dreams, saying “Better to make marriage get used to you.”  In another scene Sido eventually suggests Colette leave her husband. How rare and refreshing to see a mother depicted with such forward thinking in a period piece encouraging her daughter to find her voice and live her own life in a time where women had little rights to do so.

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Colette ends up writing three more novels as part of the Claudine series. Her protagonist becomes a household name with merchandise and a play, but Colette doesn’t get to bask in the glory of her success. She doesn’t care for it at first as we watch her mature and discover other hobbies, pursue relationships with other women and find her own success as an actress. Willy and Colette’s marriage also becomes more of a business partnership as time goes on.

What makes this biopic stand out from most is that it’s funny, sexy, tasteful and never drags. Under 2 hours in length, it keeps your attention all the way through. Colette is clever, sympathetic and powerful thanks in part to Knightly’s incredible acting chops. Resembling The Danish Girl with a similar story to Big Eyes, this film displays female excellence reigning over male mediocrity.  In a time where women in film are declaring “Time’s Up” and pushing the “Me Too” movement, this is the kind of movie we need right now.  With it’s mass success at Cannes and screenings already sold out during TIFF, it’s sure to get Oscar buzz and possible nominations closer to award season.

“Corrupt judges. Dirty cops. What do I want? I want justice.” Peppermint Film Review

“Corrupt judges. Dirty cops. What do I want? I want justice.” Peppermint Film Review

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The film Peppermint is a revenge story we all have seen before in one way or another. However directed by Taken filmmaker Pierre Morel did we really expect originality? I will say this. The film kept my attention with a body count too high to keep track of and creative deaths like I would hope an action film of this calibre would. But it didn’t bring the substance in a storyline I would have liked to see backing a badass, female lead like Riley North played by Jennifer Gardner.

Peppermint opens up in a vacant parking lot with a single car, windows fogged and teetering. I’m sure your mind is supposed to wonder if something saucy is going on in there but nope! Just Riley North kicking the crap out of a gang banger! Jennifer Gardner’s return to action seems like a smooth transition for her.  She can still kick ass like she did in her Alias days and she seems to be enjoying herself while doing so. During the flashbacks, which are supposed to help us understand why she’s the merciless vigilante she is today, we see a side of Jennifer we have grown accustomed to on the big screen. She is a warm, kind mother, working hard in a mediocre bank job to provide for her tiny family.

The flashbacks are warm and fuzzy with a few laughs but soon turn sour. During a family outing, Riley’s husband and daughter are gunned down by some very stereotypical members of a Latinx cartel. Similar to the likes of John Wick the story gets worse from there. After identifying the members and a crooked legal system, Riley narrowly escapes being shipped off to a mental institution. She spends five years around the world building her strength by cage fighting, collecting military grade ammunition and plotting her vengeance. When dead bodies of cartel members begin showing up around L.A. on the fifth anniversary of Riley’s family’s death the FBI and police force work together in hopes of stopping her.

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Contrary to the insane amount of people who die by Riley’s hands, the film really tries to tie us to her maternal, mama-bear, emotional instincts with certain scenes. She interacts with a young boy on the bus with an alcoholic, deadbeat father she eventually follows into a beer store and threatens at gunpoint to clean up his act for his child—or else! The scene got a few chuckles but felt more hokey than anything else. Riley doesn’t say much during the film, but when she does, it’s cliché and overdone. But then again the overall writing in the film had its cringe-worthy moments.

At one point while discussing violent patterns in L.A, with Detective Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.), lead FBI agent Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) utters the following line: “Everywhere she goes people get dead.” Now, English isn’t my first language, but even I know how incredibly sloppy that line is. I also didn’t appreciate the many times the male characters in this film wrote off Riley North as insane or a “crazy bitch” for wanting to avenge her family. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeve’s John Wick is respected for the same reason.

Another problematic fraction in this film for me personally was how it played up the stereotypes in Latinx culture. The big cartel boss is Diego Garcia played by Juan Pablo Raba who’s nickname around these parts is “La Guillotina” or “The Guillotine” for his signature method of killing his victims by cutting their heads off. Something we really only hear about and see happen once throughout the entire film. Instead of adding depth to this character the film keeps things black and white. He is a BAD GUY, and Riley is the scorned hero we didn’t think we needed. There is no middle ground or backstory on why or how this cartel is run.

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The use of Santa Muerte to push the agenda of seedy Hispanic culture rubbed me the wrong way. She is not only a deity worshipped by criminals but by the impoverished and sick as well. One of the biggest bloodbaths also happens to take place in a piñata party store being used as a front for drug dealing where a majority of the bad guys killed are Latinx, minus the odd Korean mobster allies mixed in the body count. Of course, the sole white man working for the cartel is spared for interrogation purposes. Insert many eye rolls here.

As a Latina, I felt writer Chad St. John’s apathetic handling of these villains was slightly discriminating and only adds to Hollywood’s constant bad habit of villainizing people of colour. Considering our hero is yet another white woman, it also pushes its value of certain lives over others.  Don’t get me wrong. We are in need of a leading lady protagonist with this kind of franchise. I also enjoyed seeing Jennifer Gardner in this role. I understand this genre of film needs a big celebrity to back it for the best ratings. This story could have gained more substance if the main role was played by a minority in its own right though.

Skip it. UNLESS you’re a massive action buff or looking for something fun to see on a discount Tuesday this is more a Netflix Friday night flick. Overall, it felt a little disappointing finally getting a bad-ass female lead similar to the likes of Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills or Bruce Willis’ John McClane but without the same consideration and character build. Jennifer Gardner deserves better! The title Peppermint sounds like something the filmmakers were using as a working title and didn’t bother to come up with anything better. It’s a shame. This is an appropriately rated R action movie through and through but with such a sweet treat name it risks being overlooked entirely by those who probably would appreciate this genre.