Family Crises. Films reviewed: Our Friend, Phobic, Falling

Posted in 1960s, 2000s, Disease, Drama, Family, Friendship, Horror, LGBT, Mental Illness, Mystery, Police, Psychological Thriller by on January 29, 2021

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

It may be cold, but February is offering some film festivals to enjoy in your own warm homes. TBFF Toronto Black Film Festival is coming mid-month, showing unique and dynamic black voices in Canada. JFF Plus is showing Japanese features shorts and anime, all free beginning in a week. And Hot Docs is running its annual Podcast Festival right now. But this week I’m looking at three new movies that explore family troubles. There’s a police detective chasing a serial killer; a journalist taking care of his dying wife; and an airline pilot dealing with his father’s dementia.

Our Friend

Dir: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

(Based on an article in Esquire by Matthew Teague)

It’s the early 2000s. Matt (Casey Affleck) is a print journalist at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He’s married to Nicole (Dakota Johnson) a stage actress starring in musicals. They have two  young kids. Matt’s career is taking off, and while he’s a foreign correspondent covering wars in Pakistan and the middle east, Nicole has stayed home to care of the kids. But both their lives are disrupted by shocking news: she has cancer. They soon find the two of them can’t handle the triple threat of job, kids and cancer, never mind their own relationship. So they call for help from a good friend. Dane (Jason Segal) is an actor and a comic who has known them with for ages. His relationship is shaky and so is his job status. So he agrees to bunk at their home and help ease the burden. He soon becomes a part of the family, a second mom and dad to the kids, and a comfort to Matt and Nicole dealing with the pains of illness and the threat of death.

Our Friend is a dramatization of Matthew Teague’s personal memoir of a decade living with his wife’s cancer with the help of their friend. It’s told in flashbacks explicitly dated by the number of years before or after Nicole Teague’s diagnosis. As such, it holds very few surprises. Even when she’s healthy we all know that in a year a two she’s going to get sick and eventually die. Almost preordained. So there’s a melancholy inevitability to the story, as we’re walked through anger, denial, and stages of diagnosis, chemo, remission,  metastasis, psychosis, palliative care and finally death. This is a sentimental and sad movie told in a clean, palatable way. It’s all about family relationships and friendships. Surprisingly though it’s not a tearjerker so it didn’t give me the deep emotional purge I was expecting. Apparently, the magazine article it was based on was amazingly popular, and the acting is good enough, but this movie didn’t move me.


Wri/Dir: Bryce Clark

Riley Sanders (Jacque Gray) is a police detective in Utah. She has blonde hair a svelte body and a stern expression on her face. She’s rejoining the force after recovering from a violent incident. Her new partner is Paul (Devin Liljenquist) has a lantern jaw and soap opera looks. Is there a spark between them? They’ve never met but their fathers worked together in the past; they’re both second-generation cops. Their first case? A serial killer with a strange M.O. The victims are all found chained to a chair in a locked room. One is in a place painted red. Another with snakes writhing around his feet. What do they have in common? They were scared to death.

Turns out the victims are all patients of the same psychiatrist, a certain Dr Holden (Tiffani DiGregorio) who uses new techniques to cure “phobics” of their darkest fears. First she diagnoses them using Rorschach inkblot tests, then, through therapy and the use of a strobe light, unlocks her patients’ inner strength to conquer their irrational phobias. But she’s highly protective of her files and won’t let the detectives see them. Meanwhile, Riley has a phobia of her own, a fear of the dark. What is Dr Holden’s role in these grisly deaths? What is her connection to Riley? Are Riley and Paul a thing? And can they catch the elusive killer before the killer kills them?

Phobic is ostensibly a psychological thriller about  a serial killer that preys on the victims’ worst fears. An interesting concept. The problem is, it’s not thrilling.  It’s about as scary as an old episode of CSI. It’s too slow, clumsily directed, and badly edited. Even the props seem to be done on the cheap. The story looks promising at first but goes totally off-kilter toward the end. Sorry to say, this movie is a mess.


Wri/Dir: Viggo Mortensen

It’s the early 1960s. Willis (Sverrir Gudnason) is young man from Boonville, NY, who lives on a farm with his wife Gwen (Martha Gross). He likes hunting, horses and fishing, but not much else. On the day his son Johnny is born he says he’s sorry he brought the little stinker into this world. Fifty years later, John (Viggo Mortensen) is an airline pilot happily married to his husband Eric (Terry Chen) with their inquisitive daughter. He lives in sunny California, not far from his younger sister Sarah (Laura Linney). Willis is old now (Lance Henricksen), and Gwen is long gone, so his adult children are trying to find him a place near them to live out his final years. The problem is he’s still the same rude, angry  and violent sonofabitch they remember from their childhood. If not worse. He’s a smoker and a drinker. He’s xenophobioc, paranoid, racist, misogynistic and homophobic. He’s rude and lecherous, ogling women and swearing at men. He says all women are whores, and calls his adult son, an airforce vet, a fairy. On top of that, he’s losing it — prone to wandering away, forgetting where he is or why he’s there. How long can John keep calm and put up with his father? And will Willis ever make peace with the world… and himself?

Falling is a drama about a father and son, set in the past and the present. It jumps back and forth through memories shared by John and Willis, as their stories, and how they ended up how they are, are gradually revealed. This is a great movie, directed and written by actor Viggo Mortensen who plays John, but it’s really about Willis. It’s a fascinating and realistic character study about this hateable, but totally watchable, man and his cringeworthy but funny behaviour and motives. It’s a character study but not  a caricature. Gudnason is great as the young Willis, but Henricksen as the old Willis fighting dementia is stupendous. It’s beautifully shot among nature at a wintry, snow covered farm, and beneath the hot pacific sun. Falling is harshly funny, cruel, constantly surprising and quite touching. This is an excellent movie.

Our Friend and Phobic are now playing, and Falling opens next Friday.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website,

Le déclin de l’empire français. Films Reviewed: Run, Corbo, The Gate, Far From Men at TIFF14

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Movies, Uncategorized, War by on September 4, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

France was once an imperial power, with colonies in Africa, the Americas and Asia. But much of  it ended with terror, revolution, rival conquest, or all-out war. A chequered history at best, but one that makes for amazing movies. So this week I’m looking at four gripping historical dramas, all about men facing revolutions, of a sort, in former French colonies. One is set in Algeria in the 1950s, just before the Algerian War, another in Montréal in the turbulent 1960s, a third in Cambodia amidst the bombing and revolution of the 1970s, and a fourth in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, during the crises and war of the 2,000s.

Dir: Philippe Lacôte

A crazed, homeless man dressed in a burlap sack walks into a cathedral in Abidjan. He pulls out a gun and shoots the Prime Minister, pointblank. Who is he? And why did he do it? The film immediately starts on a patchwork of events in the man’s life, forward to the present, back to the past and further still to his childhood.

Run (Abdoul Karim Konaté) is an orphan who wants to apprentice himself to a k5wJD5_run_05_o3_8344690_1408549873master. He quietly observes an old man: a master of the stars, of medicine, of rainmaking and the supernatural. Later Run becomes an assistant to a Liberian woman he meets named “Super Gladys”. She is a glamorous performer with red-tipped hair and elaborate clothes, and she’s a big woman. She’s also a professional eater, a “mangeuse”. With Run as her MC, she performs on a stage, shoveling – with both hands! — massive amounts of rice oYvNO3_run_02_o3_8344550_1408549867and dripping chicken into her pie-hole. Viewers applaud and pay her for the privilege. (“Ivoirians don’t know the meaning of money” she remarks in her mixture of French and English.)

An ultra-nationalistic movement sweeps the country but Run survives again. He joins a paramilitary gang of thugs who attack foreigners. The gang becomes almost an organized crime faction, but one with great political pull. And still later he meets, Assa, a revolutionary (Isaach De Bankolé), and has to decide where his loyalties really lie.

This is a great look at contemporary Ivoirian history, its ups and its down, as seen through the eyes of an everyman; a man called Run.

Dir: Mathieu Denis

It’s 1966 in Montreal. Jean Corbo (Anthony Therrien) is a third-generation Canadian, a francophone, and the grandson of Italian immigrants who were imprisoned by the RCMP as enemy aliens in WWII. His dad’s a successful Italian-Canadian lawyer (Tony Nardi), a stalwart Liberal Party supporter, his mother Quebecoise. His family is rich – they live in Town of Mount Royal – and he’s sent to a Catholic private school, but he keeps getting kicked out for his political views. He likes jazz (jungle music, his family calls it) and doesn’t CORBOfeel connected to the Italian community.

Then he has a chance encounter with two “ruffians” leaving pamphlets in the school. He likes what they say… and especially the young woman, Julie, who works as a waitress in a diner.

Who are they? What do they want? It’s the FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front)! They want to overthrow their “colonial” rulers, seize the means of production, and scare away the Anglo oligarchs. They attempt to do this, first with anonymous posters and graffiti, later escalating to actual JZY7ol_corbo_01_o3_8285564_1408564843explosions. It spurred the first flight of nervous Anglos from Quebec. Jean is allowed into the cel, despite his class, and agrees to hide copies of their secret mimeographed publication, La Cognee, under his bed at home. (He’s only sixteen.)

But violence grows and people are killed. Jean, Julie and others wonder, is it worth dying for? Or killing for? Corbo is an fascinating look at the genesis of the FLQ by a first time director, retelling the true events of the summer of ‘66. Anthony Therrien portrays a passionate but confused 16-year-old, in deeper than he knows. He’s excellent, and so is this movie.

The Gate (Le temps des aveux)
Dir: Régis Wargnier

François Bizot (Raphaël Personnaz: Quai d’Orsay) is a French ethnologist living in the former colony of Cambodia. He is 1j9KJR__gate_01-TEMPORARY_o3__8248934__1406599843married to a Cambodian woman, has a daughter and speaks fluent Khmer. He collects material from Buddhist monasteries for safekeeping as the US war in Vietnam starts spreading to Cambodia and Laos. He embarks on a trip to a “dangerous area” beyond Angkor Wat, with his assistant and a young artist who asks to ride with them.

But they are captured by Khmer Rouge rebels led by Duch (Phoeung Kompheak). He is put in irons, nailed to the ground by child soldiers. He must confess to being a spy for the Americans. But he is French, he protests, not American. I am neutral, he insists. Spies must confess their crimes (after which they are executed) but how can he confess to a crime he didn’t commit. So Bizot and Duch enter a prolongued period of discussion. Both appear rational.

Ironically, Bizot turns to Buddhist scriptures for inspiration, while Duch quotes French political philosophers like Vigny. Bizot os Jesus-like, bearded and dressed in austere black cotton. Will he and his friends ever escape the torture-filled prison camp?

The film continues until the apocalyptic mayhem of the fall of Phnom Penh, and the closure of the French Embassy. Unspoken is the mass murder, the Killing Fields, that would follow. Though selective in its historical blame  (the film doesn’t deal with things like the US bombing of Cambodia or earlier French crimes in Indochina) It’s still an exciting and breathtaking (though darkly beautiful) look at the last days of Europeans in Cambodia.

X67Q6V__farfrommen_04_o3__8272631__1406819725Far From Men (Loin des homme)

Dir: David Oelhoffen (Based on a story by Albert Camus)

It’s 1954. Daru (Viggo Mortensen) is a school teacher in an isolated village. The map on the wall says France, but this is Algeria and the students are all Algerian. (Algeria was a French colony from the early 19th century, and fully annexed by France in 1948. It regained independence in 1962, after a harsh, protracted war with France.) He is ordered to take the prisoner Mohammed (Reda Kateb) — an accused murderer —  to appear before a French judge in a distant city. He refuses at first, but realizes he’s the only one stopping the ElZ8Dm__farfrommen_01_o3__8272418__1406819722lynch mobs, both pied noir and Algerian, from killing him. He urges him to escape and is angered when he insists on facing French justice. Why would any man willingly give up his freedom? Daru wonders. (Though he was born and raised in Algeria, Daru feels apart from both the French and the Arabs.)

So he agrees to accompany the accused on his journey on foot. they set off on a two-day journey. And on the way they both reveal truths about themselves, their desires and regrets. This movie is a classic study in existentialism set at the dawn of the Algerian War. But it’s also a classic Western. Their trip is filled with posses, soldiers — both French and rebel — horsemen, rifles, cliffs, ridges, deserts, and saloons. Even the background music is by Nick Cave (with Warren Ellis) the Sergio Leone of modern-day oaters. Camus meets the old west? An odd combination. But it works.

Run, Corbo, The Gate, and Far From Men are all playing at TIFF. Go to for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website,

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