The Vancouver International Film Festival is now on, and one of the first things you'll notice is there aren't many afternoon screenings. Not on weekdays, anyway. But the films on offer — some only in theatre, most available to stream — are strong. That's judging by the few early reviews I have below. Several films deal with colonialism.

Meanwhile, the big winner at Cannes, the French film Titane, has arrived unannounced. Too late for a full review, but note that it's an intense experience, toggling between fascinating and unpleasant, and recommended for the strong only.

But first, there are these movies in general release...

The Many Saints of Newark: 3 stars

Falling For Figaro: 3

Venom: Let There Be Carnage: 2½

Night Raiders (VIFF): 3½

Returning Home (VIFF): 4

Secrets from Putumayo (VIFF): 4½

The Last Tourist (VIFF): 4

The Beta Test (VIFF): 3½

THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK: One of the most acclaimed TV series ever, The Sopranos, gets another shot, this time as a prequel and with a huge point of interest. Tony Soprano, the series lead character, is young; it's years before he becomes the mob boss, and he's played by Michael Gandolfini, the son of the actor who made him the iconic character he was. James Gandolfini died four years ago, and it's remarkable how much Michael comes across just like him. The tiny smile, the face looking down and sideways at you, the slightly stooped body.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

So much of the promotion was centred on him that it's surprising the film isn't really that much about him. It's about his uncle, his mentor, the man who he idolized and who affected how he grew up. That's Dickie Moltisanti, whose influence was often cited in the series and we finally get to see. Alessandro Nivola plays him growing tougher as events come his way and he gets more and more involved in the mob business, particularly in fighting off the competition from the Blacks moving into the neighbourhood and into the numbers racket. Tony probably noticed how decisive he was, not so much the mistakes he made.

David Chase, who created the series, co-wrote the film, and another veteran, Alan Taylor, directed. So the ambience is perfectly duplicated, down to the main emphasis — family. Terrific actors like Ray Liotta, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, as family, and Leslie Odom Jr. as the ambitious Black mobster, fill out the fine cast. Yet, it's curious that with such high-power talent involved, the film isn't as involving as it should be. The fans will find it a treat, though, for what it adds to what they already know. They get Moltisanti's story and recognition of the rising power and demands of Blacks at the time. It's the 1960s and could be today — especially in several very strong scenes of rioting and looting following a police incident. (International Village, Marine Gateway, and suburban theatres.) 3 out of 5

FALLING FOR FIGARO: As in the opera. Here's a comedy about one young woman's dreams of becoming an opera singer like the divas she watches in a theatre. She (played by Australian Danielle Macdonald) is a fund manager in London; quits her job when learns there's an eccentric former opera singer now teaching up in Scotland and goes there to learn. The teacher is bossy and imperious and played by the marvellous Joanna Lumley. Her first reaction is: “My God, you're even worse than I thought,” but she takes her on “as a challenge.” The film that follows is very funny because of her constant flow of attitude.

Courtesy of Photon Films

Lumley has another student, a young man (Hugh Skinner) who hasn't improved much in the five years he has been with her. To support himself, he works as a server, busboy, and whatever else at the local inn. That's where the two students meet and, well, you know how romantic comedies go. What can be done with their music, though? There's a contest coming. Lumley has an ingenious solution and it works. The film is light and fluffy and succeeds in stirring up a very nice feel-good mood. And there's a plentiful amount of opera singing to be heard, a lot of Verdi and Mozart, and others, with the actors doing very good lip-syncing. (Hollywood Rialto in White Rock, and video on demand.) 3 out of 5

VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE: There's a lot riding on this film. It's supposed to be one of those rare hits that may revive the movie industry. It's a sequel to a surprise (some say accidental) hit from three years ago, and it's another Marvel movie that breaks out of that company's standard output. Actually, it's more Sony than Marvel, a holdover from old contractual connections, and tries to raise the comedy above the rather dour first film. I don't think it's much better, though there are fans online who are raving about how great it is.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Tom Hardy stars again (and has agreed to a third film). He has been infected by an alien creature, a symbiote, which lives inside him, pushes out tentacles, and now and then, comes in full to give advice and observations like “Responsibility is for the mediocre.” Hardy plays a journalist who has lost his way because of all that, makes a comeback by getting an exclusive interview with a killer (Woody Harrelson) who asserts that “people love serial killers,” and with his information, solves an old case. The two are slated to battle each other after the killer escapes with his own symbiote named Carnage inside him. This story has a long and complex history in Marvel Comics dating back about 30 years. It's briskly rendered for the movie by Andy Serkis, director this time and not just a stop-action performer. It plays well, but tells an inane story. But as the fans say, if you liked the first movie, you'll like this one. (International Village, Marine Gateway, and several suburban theatres.) 2½ out of 5

NIGHT RAIDERS: It's fiction set in the future, but is really meant to illuminate the past. And it does so with chilling effect and quite a bit of action-adventure. The year is 2043. Children are made to attend a high-level school called The Emerson, which is promoted with glossy videos played on billboard-size monitors. Drones fly around looking for the ones who don't go. It's clearly an allusion to the residential schools Canada used to run where children were forced to lose their culture.

In this future, there has been a civil war. Rebuilding is going on and everyone must participate. A rebel group claims the school only enables “brainwashing, assimilation, indoctrination, re-education.” Familiar, eh?

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers plays a mother who hides in the woods with her daughter (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) to keep her out of there. An injury with a leg-hold trap forces her to join civilization to get medical help. Her daughter ends up in the school, she joins a resistance group that has a legend a saviour would come from the north to help them. They think she is it. She joins their fight against the “colonizers.” “They even tried to kill us, but we are still here,” one woman says. The parallels are clear, the statement the film makes is strong, and the writing and direction by Danis Goulet are forceful. She's a Métis from Saskatchewan, now living in Toronto. (In theatre only at VIFF on Saturday and Sunday.) 3½ out of 5

RETURNING HOME: Sept. 30's National Day for Truth and Reconciliation started as Orange Shirt Day. This film shows where all that originated. It was in Williams Lake, B.C., where Phyllis Webstad of the Secwépemc Nation described her experiences at a residential school. Hers was the third generation in her family sent there. Her new orange shirt was taken away when she was six years old and with that story, she inspired a movement.

Courtesy of VIFF

She has much more to say in this documentary by Sean Stiller about “pee in your pants terror” and the real purpose of residential schools: to break the Indigenous family. “I lost everything at that school,” she says. The film equates that loss with the decline of the salmon, which is intimately connected with her people's culture. She, a chief, and several observers describe the harm, especially the “intergenerational trauma” the schools caused. At age 10, she saw a priest in bed with a student. She has even more horrific memories and shares them with audiences. The film is a standard documentary in structure, but powerful in what it says. (Showing at VIFF on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and streaming now until Oct. 11 at VIFF Connect.) 4 out of 5

SECRETS FROM PUTUMAYO: This is a powerful and eye-opening documentary. Be careful, though, it's also a most horrific recounting of extreme abuse under colonialism. At the same time, it's a tragedy and one hell of a story. You won't ever be bored watching this one.

It tells of Roger Casement, who documented abusive treatment of Africans in a Belgian colony and then was asked to investigate reports of the same among Indigenous people working in the rubber trade in Brazil. He was Britain's consul there, and though the company he investigated was Peruvian, its shares traded on the London Stock Exchange and that could be embarrassing for the royal empire. It was. Harshly, so. What he found was stunning. It'll keep you awake at night thinking about it. The film uses old photographs to show the horror and readings from his diary by actor Stephen Rea to detail it. “God knows how this will end,” he wrote.

Changes were made, he was knighted and then tragedy followed. He took up the cause of Ireland, his homeland and England's first colony. He said conditions there were much the same as he had seen overseas. He took up the cause of independence, even appealed to Germany to help, just as the First World War was starting, and with that, ran afoul of the British government. The rest is history. His legacy, though, including his attacks on “global capitalism,” endure. (At VIFFon Thursday and Monday, and streaming on VIFF Connect every day.) 4½ out of 5

THE LAST TOURIST: Have you been missing travelling while COVID has kept you home? You might not feel so left out after you see this documentary about what tourism has become these days. Giant ships disgorge thousands of people in picturesque locations. They had a go-kart track on board. Roaming on land, they're mostly interested in taking a selfie to post so their friends can see where they've been. KFC and Burger King signs indicate they've brought their world with them and aren't there to learn. That's the reality the film starts with and observers decry. Mass tourism has led to destruction, says Jane Goodall.

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

The film by Ontario director Tyson Sadler travels to several countries and raises the horror. Animals mistreated in Thailand to be trained to entertain tourists. Villages ignored by the tour buses on the road to Machu Picchu. Package tours that earn big bucks for companies and little for the people they visit. There are many colourful scenes of tourists whooping it up, and worse, tourists who think they're doing good by going to local communities as volunteers. Often they're no help at all, even bringing about an increase in the number of orphanages in some countries. The film proceeds to promote idealistic changes towards “community tourism” and offers practical ideas we as individuals should consider. Thoughtful and important. At VIFF on Saturday (standby) and Sunday (available). 4 out of 5

THE BETA TEST: Jim Cummings, as an actor and occasionally a director, seems to know Hollywood. He's both here as an excitable talent agent and the man calling the film shots, even co-writing the script. His character is about to get married, but receives one last temptation: offering an anonymous sexual encounter, no tales told. Of course, he goes, puts on a blindfold as asked, and has sex. It is intercut with scenes from a meeting at work reminding us that he's going to have to live with the secret from now on.

Courtesy of Vortex Media

He won't explain the $10,000 charge suddenly on his company account. He thinks he sees the woman he was with at various places around town, and even in the office. Guilt is coming on. He goes to find the person who sent him the invitation that started all this. He glibly fast-talks his way to do it, sometimes impersonating a police officer. The fun for us is watching him do that and getting in on the quest. He's in for a surprise, more fun for us, and generally represents a particular type of male: confident, boasting on the outside and hiding his insecurity inside. That's a Cummings specialty judging from his previous movies. This one ratchets up the tension gradually as the lies and deceit accumulate. It's a satire in part, comes close to paranoia, and is engrossing to watch. (At VIFF on Friday and Sunday.) 3½ out of 5