Friends divorce, killer nurse, even worse. Films reviewed: Decision to Leave, The Good Nurse, The Banshees of Inisherin

Posted in 1920s, comedy, Crime, Ireland, Korea, Mystery, Thriller, violence by CulturalMining.com on October 29, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s Halloween weekend, with lots of good scary movies playing now, but if you’re staying home, you check out the streamer Shudder, with some of the coolest indie horror and fantasy movies out there. Or if you’re on Netflix, check out Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, his new anthology series of well-made, one-hour dramas.

But this week I’m looking at three new movies, all of which I saw this year at TIFF. There’s an Irish friendship threatened with divorce, a killer who may be a nurse, and a detective obsessed with a suspect who may be a killer… or worse.

Decision to Leave

Co-Wri/Dir: Park Chan-wook

Hae jun (Park Hae-il) is a homicide detective in Busan, Korea. He is devoted to his job, but less so to his wife, whom he only sees on weekends. She lives in Ipo, a small town with very few murders. In comparison, Busan is a veritable hotbed of organized crime, drugs and violence. But one unusual case catches his attention: a middle aged mountain-climbing enthusiast who fell to his death from an especially steep cliff. it seems to be a cut and dry accident, except for his widow’s reaction, she barely had one.  He decides to follow her, stake her out and surveil and record her every movement. The widow Seo-rae (Tang Wei) is a femme fatale, young, beautiful, and exotic in his eyes (she’s originally from China.) And unknown to him, she gets off on being followed and watched. His obsession shifts from interrogation to first-hand contact and eventually to a passionate, clandestine affair. He later moves to the quiet town of Ipo to be with his wife. But when he discovers Seo-rae lives there too, and is remarried to very rich man, his suspicions are raised. Is she a killer or just an innocent woman? And will seeing her again lead to trouble?

Decision to Leave is a fast-moving and stylish police thriller, told with an absurdist touch.  It never takes itself too seriously, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. Tang Wei (who was great in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution) has a classic noir feel to her. And Park Hae-il plays the beguiled but committed police detective very well. The movie is beautifully crafted but constantly plays tricks on the viewers. It has some of the strangest shifts in point of view I’ve ever seen, including even one shot seen through the cloudy eyes of a dead fish. Which makes the movie a bit challenging to follow, but worth it.

The Good Nurse

Dir: Tobias Lindholm

Amy (Jessica Chastain) is a single mom with two cute but rambunctious young girls. She has a woman who takes care of the kids when she works late, but her patience is running out. Amy works full time as a registered nurse at a corporate hospital in New Jersey. She also has a heart condition, which requires major surgery. But if the hospital finds out about her pre-existing condition before she finishes her probationary period, she’ll be let go. enter Charlie (Eddie Redmayne) a kindly inoffensive nurse who just transferred from another hospital. He helps her out, covering for her when she faints at work, and volunteering to help with her kids. He’s divorced with kids himself so he’s good with children.

But things start to go wrong at the hospital. Patients are dying for no good reason. And when the police come to investigate, they are stonewalled by the hospital management, who refuse to cooperate. But two of the patients died on Amy’s shift, so she needs to find out what happened. Like why did an otherwise healthy senior die of a suddenly skyrocketing insulin level? And what about a little kid? All of the patients are in hospital for a reason, but that’s not how they died. The more she investigates, the more it looks like good ol’ Charlie is somehow connected. Can she figure out why the patients are dying and who is responsible? Or will this put her and her family in danger?

The Good Nurse is a mystery thriller, based on a true story. It’s two hours long, and it doesn’t get good till near the end of the first hour. I saw this movie at TIFF on a huge screen at Roy Thompson Hall, and I found it visually oppressive. Everything is drab and dull, grey and light blue, dim and soft focussed, with an intensely boring colour palate. All you see are institutions — hospitals and police— at their most plain and mundane. Movies are meant to be a pleasure watch, why make it so a chore to look at. (Admittedly, I saw it again on Netflix on a small screen, and it didn’t bother me visually nearly as much.) In any case, the story is good, thrilling and tense, once it picks up. Jessica Chastain is sympathetic as Amy, and Eddie Redmayne is excellent as a milquetoast guy with a dark side. If you just want to spend two hours on a true crime hospital mystery with no expectations, The Good Nurse will probably satisfy you.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Dir: Martin McDonagh

It’s 1923, on a tiny, fictional island, separated by water from the Irish civil war raging in the distance. Pádraic (Collin Farrell) is a simple man living a simple life. He plays with his miniature donkey, sells his cows’ milk to the local shop, and sleeps soundly in his cottage close to his sister Siobhan’s bed (Kerry Condon). But most important of all, is his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson). They meet each afternoon to walk to the pub and chat over beer. Which is why he is shocked and confused when Colm decides one day, not to go drinking with Pádraic. Just today? No, now and forever. Colm doesn’t want to drink with him, Colm talk with him, He doesn’t even look at him. He has wasted enough time on pointless chatter, and now wants to his life worthwhile, to do something noteworthy. Colm plays the fiddle, perhaps he can compose a great work. But Pádraic refuses to allow his best friend to just walk away. He won’t leave him.  Until Colm makes a vow: If you ever speak with me again, I will cut off one of my own fingers. And if you persist, I will cut off another and another until you leave me alone.  What’s wrong with Colm? Should Pádraic take him seriously? Is this all his own fault?

The Banshees of Inisherin is a really good dark comedy, that builds from a simple disagreement to one of increasingly dramatic reactions on each side. I’m only touching on one plot — there are also subplots involving Dom (Barry Keoghan) a simpleton who has a crush on Padraic’s sister; Mrs McCormick (Shiela Flitton) a creepy, banshee-like neighbour, as well as an abusive policeman who is also Dominic’s dad.

I’m guessing here, but maybe — even though it’s never explicitly mentioned in the movie — the story is a metaphor for the Irish Civil War, with Pádraic as the pro-treaty side who wants things to stay the same, and Colm as the IRA who wants a dramatic change even if it involves violence and loss. Or maybe it’s just director Martin McDonagh having his usual brilliant, chaotic fun with great characters, some violence and a cool political subtext. He’s known for movies like Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri… maybe this one should be called The Five Fingers of Inisherin? 

Decision to Leave is starting at the Tiff Bell Lightbox; The Banshees of Inisherin opens this weekend, check your local listings; and The Good Nurse is now screening on Netflix. 

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Wives and Moms. Films Reviewed: Ticket to Paradise, My Policeman, Till

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, African-Americans, Family, Indonesia, LGBT, Mississippi, Racism, Romantic Comedy, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 22, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

With Halloween approaching, Toronto After Dark is here until Sunday night to scare your pants off. And ImagineNative continues through the weekend with in-person screenings, followed by online movies till the end of the month.

This week I’m looking at three new movies — two historical dramas and one rom-com — about wives and mothers. There’s a wedding in Bali, a love triangle in Brighton… and a lynching in Mississippi.

Ticket to Paradise

Co-Wri/Dir: Ol Parker

David and Georgia Cotton (George Clooney, Julia Roberts) are a power couple. He’s a celebrated architect, while she directs a famous art gallery. They met in University, married and brought up their only child Lily (Kaitlyn Dever). She’s 24 now, but her parents? They’ve been divorced for two decades. They rarely see one another, and when they do, their conversation consists of put downs, and oneupmanship. But Lily loves both her parents, and is excited when they turn up for her law school graduation. And loves the fact they both accompany her to the airport. She’s flying with her best friend Wren (Billie Lourd) for a one-in-a-lifetime vacation at a fancy resort in Bali, before starting her job at a law firm in the fall. 

Once there, Lily is loving their vacation, until everything changes, when she’s stranded in the ocean far from shore. She’s rescued by a Balinese guy in a boat named Gede (Maxime Bouttier, the French/Indonesian actor/model). It’s love at first sight, and a few weeks later Lily has ditched her plans to be a lawyer and wants to live on the beach forever with a seaweed farmer. David and Georgia are invited to the wedding, and fly over together, bickering all the way. Tension rises when David discovers the jet is piloted by Georgia’s much younger boyfriend Paul (Lucas Bravo, Emily in Paris). 

But the ex-couple can agree on one thing. Lily is making a terrible mistake and they must do everything they can to stop it from happening. You see, Georgia gave up a promising career at an LA art gallery when David proposed to her — but their marriage fell apart after just a few years. So they owe it to their daughter to stop her from making the biggest mistake of her life. Will their plans succeed? Or will they alienate the only one they both love? And can David and Georgia ever get along? 

Ticket to Paradise is a traditional rom-com set in an “exotic” locale with big stars and some real laughs. The plot is threadbare and ridiculous — seriously, can you imagine grown- ups thinking they can stop a marriage merely by hiding the wedding rings? And it’s shot in Australia, not Bali; there’s no Kuta beach or Denpasar or Ubud, or anywhere else that evokes the island, aside from a few location shots That said, if you’re a fan of Clooney and Roberts — and they are fun to watch — and if you’re just looking for some ultra-light entertainment, and if rom-coms are your thing… well, you’ll probably like this one a lot. And even if you don’t like any of those (like me) it’s still totally watchable.

My Policeman

Dir: Michael Grandage (Genius: my review here)

Marion and Tom (Gina McKee, Linus Roache) are a retired couple living a quiet life in a seaside home in Brighton. But their marriage hits a rocky period when an invalid elderly boarder recovering from a stroke (Rupert Everett: The Happy Prince, review here) moves into their home. Marion feels they should take care of him, since he has no living relatives, while Tom is very disturbed by the notion. Who is he to us? He asks. What do we owe him? The answer lies in the journals he brought with him. Because, in fact, way back in the late 1950s, the three of them were very close. 

Tom (Harry Styles) is a young policeman dating Marion, a schoolteacher (Emma Corrin). It’s a tender courtship and the two are deeply in love. Tom introduces her to Patrick (David Dawson) who works at the local art museum: He’s smart and sophisticated. They met at the museum when Patrick asked Tom to model for his drawings. Will Marion fall for the sophisticated Patrick over the simple, but handsome policeman? No! There is a love triangle brewing here, but Marion isn’t the fulcrum, Tom is. He’s having a secret affair with Patrick. And when Tom says he’s travelling with him to Italy to work as his personal assistant, Marion gets suspicious. Thing is, being gay (or having gay sex) was a serious crime in the UK at the time. Somehow word gets out, and Patrick is arrested. Are Patrick and Tom in love? How about Marion? Who will vouch for Patrick if he goes to trial? Can Tom remain a policeman if his connection to Patrick gets out? And over 50 years later what will happen now that old secrets are being uncovered? 

My Policeman (based on the novel by Bethan Roberts) is a low-key, bitter-sweet drama about a menage a trois, and the fallout that comes from it. It’s told in flashforwards and flashback, following both periods simultaneously. It’s a compelling story but with a weak ending. The problem is the 50s section is much more interesting and moving, while the present day is dull and uneventful, which drags down the whole story. Harry Styles — the hugely popular pop singer — surprisingly, is not bad at all as an actor. Emma Corrin is great as the young Marion, likewise David Dawson who plays Patrick like a young Alan Cumming. I like the mood and the music and all, but as a whole My Policeman is easily forgettable. 

Till

Co-Wri/Dir: Chinonye Chukwu

It’s 1955 in Chicago.

Emmet Till (Jalyn Hall) — known as Beau to his Mom and Bobo to his friends — is 14 years old. He’s a happy, middle-class kid, who likes listening to music on the radio and playing with toys . He lives with his mom and grandparents. He’s getting ready for a train trip to visit his cousins in Mississippi, and he’s dressed in his Sunday best. But his mother, Mamie (Danielle Deadwyler) doesn’t want him to go. She warns him that Black people down there aren’t treated the same way. You have to make yourself “small”. You can’t look a white person in the eyes. Emmett does a Steppin Fetchit imitation, but Mamie says this is no joke. She comes from there, it’s a dangerous place and she never wants to go back.

On the train heading south, Emmett starts to feel Jim Crow. He and all the other black passengers are forced to leave their seats and move to segregated cars. In Mississippi, all his relatives are share- croppers who pick their plantation managers’ cotton, even the kids, and spend all their money in the company store. Emmett, though, still doesn’t really get it. But when he buys some candy and whistles at the pretty white cashier, things turn from bad to worse. Three days later men bang at the door in the middle of the night and take Emmett away in a pickup truck. His lynched body, mutilated and swollen, is found floating in a river.

His mother is crushed, devastated, but, she buries her son in an open casket. It gets nationwide attention when his photos are featured in Jet magazine. And with the urging of the NAACP, she decides to return to Mississippi to seeking justice.

Till is an accurate and moving drama about this awful crime and the travesty of justice that follows. The lynching of Emmett Till served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement, but it’s also a symbol of the pervasive violence of anti-black racism. Danielle Deadwyler is stupendous as Mamie; and it’s her performance that makes this movie worth seeing. It’s told through Mamie’s eyes: before the killing, at the funeral, in the trial that follows and its aftermath.  What doesn’t work so well are the dozens of historical figures with walk-on parts. Their lines are dutifully recited but lack Deadwyler’s passionate acting; they just seem flat, and there are too many characters to keep track of. Stand-out exceptions include Darian Rolle’s powerful portrayal as Willie Reed, a surprise witness at the trial; and, of course, Jalyn Hall playing Emmett himself. Till is an important historical record that must not be forgotten.

My Policeman opens at the Tiff Bell Lightbox, with Till and Ticket to Paradise playing across North America this weekend; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Daniel Garber talks with Daniel Stamm and Jacqueline Byers about Prey for the Devil

Posted in Bulgaria, Catholicism, Christianity, Horror, Nun, Supernatural, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 22, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sister Ann is a nun who works as a nurse in a Catholic hospital. It’s a training hospital, with classes held with in its walls. There are doctors and psychiatrists there to observe and treat the patients. But there is something unique about this medical centre: the patients are possessed and treatment involves an exorcism. Ann believes she has special experience dealing with possession dating back to her childhood. And she wants to train alongside the priests — but that is not allowed. And when she attempts to help a little girl named Natalie, she is chastised by the church for putting herself and the patient in danger. Can she help cure little Natalie? Or will she end up as Prey for the Devil.

Prey for the Devil is a new horror film about possession, exorcism, the supernatural and the Catholic Church. It harkens back to classic films like the Exorcist, but this time from a woman’s point of view. The film is directed by Daniel Stamm, an award-winning German-born filmmaker and documentarian. The film stars Jacqueline Byers an accomplished actress who you may have seen at the Toronto Fringe festival, in movies and in the hit sci-fi series Salvation.

I spoke to Daniel Stamm and Jacqueline Byers in person, on site, in Toronto.

Prey for the Devil had its world premiere at Toronto After Dark on March 19th, and opens in theatres on March 28th. 

Women in trouble. Films reviewed: Halloween Ends, Tár

Posted in Berlin, Drama, Horror, LGBT, Music, Thriller, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 15, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Toronto Fall Film Fest season continues with ImagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival from the 18th to the 23rd for in-person movies, with online screenings continuing till the end of the month. ImagineNative, celebrating indigenous works from Canada and around the world, features 19 full-length films and over a hundred shorts.

And there are some real goodies to watch; here are four I really like: Slash/Back is about a group of teenaged girls who fight back against mysterious zombie aliens in Nunavut. We Are Still Here tells eight stories from Australia and Aotearoa; Rosie, set in Montreal in the 1980s, looks at a 6-year-old indigenous girl adopted by an aunt she’s never met; and Bones of Crows is an epic, 100-year-long drama about the life of a Cree woman who barely survives a residential school as a piano prodigy, later becomes a code operator in WWII, and what happens in the years to follow. Bones of Crows, Rosie, We Are Still Here, and Slash/Back or just four of the many fantastic films, videos, games and art at ImagineNative.

This week, I’m looking at two new movies about women in trouble. There’s a Berlin conductor facing increasing setbacks, and a small-town woman in Illinois facing a serial killer… and decides to fight back.

Halloween Ends

Co-Wri/Dir: David Gordon Green 

It’s Halloween night in a small town in Illinois. Haddonfield is famous for all the wrong reasons: it’s the site of repeated attacks by a demented and violent serial killer. He has terrorized the locals for half a century, wearing a white mask and carrying a long blade. But Michael Myers has disappeared, possibly forever, and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) — who survived his first incarnation as a young babysitter, and has fought him off countless times since then — is glad to see him gone. Now she lives with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) who works as a nurse at a local medical centre. With her parents (Laurie’s daughter) gone (both killed by Michael Myers, along with dozens of others) Alyson sticks around to keep her grandma company. Laurie spends her time writing a book about the essence of pure evil, based on her own experiences fighting the monster. And she also wants to stop this malaise from infecting the whole town. 

But there’s a new factor in the equation. Former college student Corey Cunningham (Canadian actor Rohan Campbell) also experienced bad times as a babysitter in this benighted town. But unlike Laurie and Allyson who emerged as fighters and survivors, Corey has a different reputation. The kid he babysat was killed one halloween night in a terrible accident that locals blame on him. Now his life is confined to working in his dad’s junkyard on the edge of town. But Laurie recognizes him as a kindred spirit and introduces herself to Corey. (Dubbed Psycho meets Freakshow by a gang of high school bullies.) Allyson and Corey hit it off — could they build a future together? But when the bullies throw Corey off a bridge and leave him for dead, and an unknown man drags him into a drain pipe, something changes in his psyche… signalling the return of the notorious Michael Myers. Can Corey be saved and will he and Laurie escape this town forever? Or has he been infected by the same evil that drives the monster? And who will triumph in their final showdown: Laurie or Michael Myers?

Halloween Ends is the final chapter in David Gordon Green’s trilogy, after Halloween, and Halloween Kills, based on John Carpenter’s original classic. This one is missing much of the humour of the first chapter and the unbelievable hysteria of crowds in the second film. This one is extremely dark, violent, bloody and gory. That said, I liked the introduction of Corey and his nihilistic, crash-and-burn relationship with Allyson. Myers plays a much smaller role, almost a cameo, this time. It also lets Jamie Lee Curtis have her final, final, FINAL Halloween showdown… well, at least in this trilogy. 

The entire film takes place in the present, but is firmly set in a retro environment: cars, houses, clothing, hair — even the soundtrack, titles, art direction, and camerawork — all come from decades past, giving it a very cool look. If you’re craving a dystopian, nihilistic “burn-it-all-down!” thriller/horror then Halloween Ends will probably satisfy your urges, but otherwise, you may find the pessimistic violence and gore too much to handle.

Tár

Wri/Dir: Todd Field

Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a musician at the peak of her career. Not only is she one of the world’s only female conductors — Leonard Bernstein was her mentor — but she’s also a noted composer. She conducts the Berlin symphony orchestra, and is working on her magnum opus — a recording of Mahler’s fifth symphony, the only one she hasn’t yet tackled — to complete her legacy. Lydia enjoys jetting around the world in a private plane, always accompanied by her assistant. Francesca (Noémie Merlant) is a doe- eyed young woman who worships the ground Lydia walks on, making sure her complex life is run smoothly. There is no husband in the picture — she calls herself a U-Haul lesbian — but she does have a family life. In Berlin,  she lives with her partner Sharon (Nina Hoss) and their young daughter. She sees Sharon at home and at work — she’s First Violin, who holds a special bond with a conductor without which a symphony can’t operate. 

But things start to go wrong when Lydia becomes infatuated with a new cellist in the orchestra. Olga (Sophie Kauer) is a 25-year-old Russian with a fiery temperament and dark hair; she’s a passionate player. She wears green suede boots and Lydia can’t stop staring at her. She wants to get to know her better. But Lydia is a conductor with all eyes on her, all the time; Francesca, Sharon, and even the entire orchestra can clearly see what’s going on. Ghosts from her past misdeeds start to appear again. A former protege commits suicide. A music student she insulted at a Julliard master class accuses her of racism. Is Lydia’s carefully-constructed image and career just a house of cards waiting to collapse?

Tár is a stunning movie that explore the labyrinthine world of classical music and the people who inhabit it. Cate Blanchett gives a nuanced portrayal of a character that walks the fine line between confidence and arrogance, creativity and uncontrolled behaviour.

Is she a free thinker or a sexual predator? A natural-born leader or an authoritarian dictator? And would she be in hot water if she were a man? The supporting actors — Merlant, Hoss, and Kauer, as well as Mark Strong and Zethphan Smith-Gneist — all portray characters as deeply developed as Blanchett’s. Tár is an uncomfortable movie but a fascinating one to watch. 

TAR and Halloween Ends both open in theatres this weekend; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Daniel Garber talks with Drew Hayden Taylor about The Pretendians on CBC

Posted in Canada, Disguise, documentary, Education, History, Indigenous, Métis, TV by CulturalMining.com on October 8, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

For years, many indigenous people have been trying to blend in, struggling to make it in a white world, to be offered the same opportunities, to be treated equally in a court of law, and to receive the benefits that everyone else in the country is entitled to. Many have hidden their backgrounds because of the pervasive bigotry and discrimination they might face.

But recently, there’s been a strange reversal, where white Canadians are trying to pass as native. Whether it’s for financial gain, as a fashion accessory, to find inner value or to help their careers, they are a factor to be reckoned with. What are we to make of these “pretendians”?

The Pretendians is a new documentary that delves deeply into the lives of some of these alleged pretend indians, their opponents, and how it affects us all.  It’s made by the well-known novelist, columnist, playwright and humourist Drew Hayden Taylor, from the Anishinaabe Curve Lake First Nation. I last spoke with Drew about his CBC series Going Native.

I spoke with Drew Hayden Taylor in Toronto via Zoom.

The Pretendians is currently streaming on The Passionate Eye on CBC Gem (S02 E03).

Smiles and frowns. Films reviewed: Smile, Triangle of Sadness

Posted in Class, Horror, Mental Illness, Psychiatry, Psychological Thriller, Psychology, Supernatural, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on October 8, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Weather changes with the seasons and so do our moods: one minute it may be sunny, the next dark and overcast. So this week I’m looking at two new movies about changing emotions. There’s a comedy about a frown and a horror movie about a smile.

Smile

Wri/Dir: Parker Finn

Dr Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is a therapist who works in the emergency psych ward at a large New Jersey hospital. She’s always prim and proper, wearing buttoned shirts, with her hair neatly pulled back from her face. She spends most of her time at work, up to 80 hours a week, but on her free time she likes nothing better than sipping white wine in her bungalow, cuddling her fluffy cat Moustache or just chatting with Trevor, her nondescript fiancé. She is devoted to helping her patients, having survived her own mother’s mental illness and suicide when she was a little girl.

It’s just a normal day when she examines a new patient in intake. Laura is a grad student showing signs of paranoid delusions. She is terrified that someone is out to get her. “I’m not crazy, I’m a PhD candidate!” says Laura (as if the two were mutually exclusive).  She’s not sure whether it’s an evil spirit, a ghost or a satanic possession, but whatever it is, it’s been haunting her since she witnessed her prof commit suicide just a few days earlier. It takes the form of people closest to her, that only she can see. And worst of all, it has a horrible smile. And before Rose can do anything, Laura violently kills herself right in front of her… with that awful smile plastered on her face. And from that moment on things feel different for Rose. 

Her nightmares turn into daydreams. She begins to hallucinate — with figures from her past, including a dead patient, reappear before her, smiling. She has very few people to talk to outside of the hospital: Trevor, and her older sister Holly, who only talks about family and real estate. She visits her own former therapist, who refuses to prescribe anti-psychotics, saying it’s just stress and overwork. But Rose knows it’s something more. Everything that happened to Laura — and her professor before her — seems to be inflicted on Rose now. She finally turns to her ex-boyfriend Joel (Kyle Gallner) for help. He’s a police detective now, investigating Laura’s death; perhaps he can find out what’s causing these suicides. Because Rose is sure she’s either going insane, or is controlled by an evil entity… or both! And if she doesn’t do something fast, she’ll be dead in three days. Can Rose figure out what’s happening to her, and stop her impending, smiling suicide? Or is she out of time?

Smile is a good psychological thriller/horror. While it’s occasionally predictable — with some dubiously freudian plot turns — it’s mainly a gripping, scary flick. Great spooky music and some cool visuals, like disorienting, upside down drone shots of a cityscape, and a delightful scene change using the camera’s iris. And lots of cute, smiley-face images popping up everywhere in the background. I’ve never seen Sosie Bacon before, (she’s second generation Hollywood, the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) but she’s quite good as Rose, gradually transforming from uptight doctor to terrified heroine. 

If you’re in the mood for a good screamer, check out Smile. 

Triangle of Sadness

Wri/Dir: Ruben Östlund

Yaya and Carl (Charlbi Dean, Harris Dickinson) are a millennial power couple. Carl is a fashion model who is featured shirtless in perfume and underwear ads. He is known for his looks. But he still has to show up for cattle-calls. Yaya, though, is an influencer — her posts and selfies are followed by millions, and sponsors are constantly sending her money and goods to promote. But their unequal status spurs an argument. Why does he have to pick up the cheque when they go out to dinner? He’s the man in the relationship but Yaya is much more famous and earns way more money than Carl. It’s just not fair. So she invites him to join her on an elite cruise ship, all expenses paid.

The boat is an exclusive luxury liner, and the passengers are some of the richest people in the world. One couple made billions selling bombs and landmines. Another oligarch, named Dimitri (Zlatko Buric) proudly says he earned his fortune selling shit — literally. He cornered the market in fertilizer. And the staff are trained by Paula, the head of the crew (Vicki Berlin), to fulfill any whims or demands of the passengers no matter how outlandish or nonsensical. And Carl and Yaya soon find out that any casual complaint or criticism of a staff member they might make may lead to their instant dismissal. But the ship hits trouble on the high seas, and the captain (Woody Harrelson), an alcoholic communist, can’t stay sober long enough to prevent a disaster. 

Later, the passengers and staff regroup on a tropical isle, situated somewhere between Gilligan’s Island and Lord of the Flies. But with a new power structure in place, who will make it out of there alive?

Triangle of Sadness — the title refers to that part of the face from the brow to the bridge of the nose that supposedly conveys happy or sad emotions — is a scathing satire about the state of the world. Told in three chapters — in the city, on a ship, and on a remote island — it follows a young couple as they navigate life among the powerful and super-rich. It also shows what could happen if existing power structures (and the money that reinforces them) ceased to exist. Did I mention this is a comedy? I found it bitingly and bitterly hilarious, though at times disgusting. For humour’s sake, it reverses many presumptions: by presenting men — not women — as sexual objects subject to exploitation; and by pulling away the curtains hiding  the transgressions of the rich and powerful.

The acting in this dark comedy — especially by the late Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson, as well as Zlatko Buric and Dolly De Leon as Abigail a former toilet cleaner who suddenly finds herself as the big fish in a small pond — is excellent all around. The story is told as a comic fable, intentionally never realistic, with settings, costumes, and music, all reinforcing its farcical nature. This is not Swedish director Ruben Östlund first dark comedy — he previously directed such great movies as The Square and Force Majeure — but Triangle of Sadness is the most extreme of all his films, one that takes his themes beyond the expected limits. Though not universally loved, in my opinion this is one great movie.

Smile is now playing and Triangle of Sadness, which played at #TIFF22 earlier this year, opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this weekend.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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