The Academy Awards are there to watch on Sunday and the accepted wisdom is that Everything Everywhere All At Once will be the big winner. It's been on a roll and winning everywhere else. Its closest rival, All Quiet on the Western Front, will likely win best International Film and I review one of its challengers, Ireland's The Quiet Girl.
Sarah Polley's Women Talking has a good chance to win for her screenwriting. Here's hoping.
And other than that, it's a week for re-appearances.
The Quiet Girl: 4 stars
I Like Movies: 3 ½
History of the World part II: 3
What people are reading
Scream VI: 2
Devil's Peak: 2 ½
THE QUIET GIRL: Sometimes you want less noise. You'd prefer something gentle and easy going and heartfelt. This will do nicely. It's from Ireland, manages to avoid the stereotypes we often get from there and has impressed enough people that it's nominated for an Academy Award, in the International Films category. That means non-English-language which this film qualifies for because it's almost entirely in Gaelic. It's more than a revival though; it's a very affecting tale of a young girl who is neglected by her parents, including her mother who is expecting her sixth child, and sent to live with relatives for a summer.
There nine-year-old Cáit learns to be a little less withdrawn. Her relatives, almost substitute parents, pay attention to her. Eibhlín talks to her, gives her clothes to wear and takes her shopping to buy more. Sean sees her wilfully join in with farm chores and accepts that she's shy. “She says as much as she needs to,” he says. What a contrast to her own parents and how common it is that spending time with others brings out a different side of a personality. All that is sensitively portrayed in the film by Colm Bairéad, from a short story by Claire Keegan and featuring a very natural Catherine Clinch as Cáit. The moments are everyday, not big and melodramatic. All the more evocative and moving. (A few theaters: The Park in Vancouver, VIFF Lightbox and The Varsity in Toronto) 4 out of 5
I LIKE MOVIES: This one is very Canadian but don't turn away. It's good, it's fun and it has things to say. There's comedy, nostalgia and a tale of growing up that we can all relate to. And it pulls off a neat trick: getting us to root for a guy who is often unlikeable. Lawrence is a teen in Burlington Ontario (that's between Toronto and Hamilton) who fancies himself an expert on important cinema. He wants to go study filmmaking and not just anywhere, in New York. He takes a job in a video store (they were still around in 2003) and doesn't want to sell Shrek but steers people to movies that matter. In his mind anyway. He's opinionated and elitist.
He lets his friendship with his best pal (Percy Hynes White) lapse. They made amateur films and watched SNL together. Now he calls him just a “place marker.” He talks more with the store manager (Romina D'Ugo) thinking she's more mature. Ambition becomes off-putting in this sharp script but tied as it is to well-known teenage pretensions we understand and accept. And Isaiah Lehtinen, from Vancouver, sell it with a remarkably endearing feat of acting.
He and the film have won awards from critics circles (three in his home town alone) and the writer and director, Chandler Levack, has made an auspicious debut. She drew on her own memories of working in a video store in Burlington and caught the ambience perfectly And the love of movies, too. (In theaters now in Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, Vancouver and, of course, Burlington) 3 ½ out of 5
CHAMPIONS: The Farrelly brothers used to make films like Dumb and Dumber. Peter went solo and won an Oscar with Green Book and now Bobby is here with a personal project of his own. It's an underdog sports film but with a huge difference. The athletes all have developmental disabilities, the kind that moves one opponant to use the R word. But he's verbally slapped down pretty fast because this film doesn't mock or laugh but displays dignity and respect. The Farrellys are known advocates for disability rights.
Woody Harrelson plays a basketball coach who dreams of getting to the big league, but is foiled by his hot temper. He pushes another coach, gets fired, drinks, drives, crashes into a police cruiser and is sentenced to community service. A team of young players with intellectual disabilities needs a coach. He's the guy. They want to get to the Special Olympics. He doesn't know about that. He tries to get them to the regionals being held in Winnipeg, which is also where the film was made. And so the tough job of shaping up a team takes over. Real actors with disabilities play them. Johnny (Kevin Iannucci) is determined, Darius (Joshua Felder) won't play, Constantino (Madison Tevlin), the only girl on the team is highly critical. And so it goes. We get to know the players. There's a lot of humor, always done respectfully, and there's a heartwarming outcome you won't expect. (In theaters) 3 out of 5
HISTORY OF THE WORLD part II: Mel Brooks made part 1 back in 1981, only a few years after The Producers and Blazing Saddles. That's a long time to wait for a sequel but if you liked I, you'll like II. It's another run of spoofs of historical events. Not a few like last time. Many, performed by a huge cast of modern comedy stars and spread out over 8 half hour episodes that Disney+ posted this week. Some, like the Civil War, the Russian Revolution and the story of Jesus are visited several times, each time with a new skit and wacky situation. Anastasia is shown as a U-tube influencer. Galileo posts on Ticci Tocci and Shirley is a sit com (“filmed before a live Black audience”). Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to run for President in the US. Netflix has got a movie coming about her.
Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, Rasputin and so many others are here. Stalin sings. Seth Rogen is Noah. A baseball manager rants about Tom Brady. The Council of Nicacea does a marketing polish on the image of Jesus, you know to lighten his skin and make him look less Jewish. The highlight though is when Judas turns on him and his “band” breaks up. Brooks shows it in the style of Peter Jackson's documentary about another band and it's brilliant. Other bits are hit and miss, somewhere between Mad Magazine and Stan Freberg's comedy LP about American history. (If you can remember that one). And the three coming attractions at the end of the first film? Two made it into the second. I wouldn't binge the series but a few at a time does get you used to the inevitable groaners in there but laughing at the good ones. (Disney+) 3 out of 5
SCREAM VI: “It felt right” says one character about stabbing and shooting another. There's a blasé tone of that sort to all the killings in here and there are many. But then franchises like this have rules and about halfway through the film they are stated explicitly. One is that in succeeding episodes there must be more of everything and the film delivers on that. Just about everybody in it gets stabbed or shot, many survive, but, and this is another rule, even key characters can succumb. No word here on who does. It doesn't matter that much anyway. It's the scare factor that counts and oddly this film doesn't have that much. A couple of scenes are tense but that's all.
The rest is yet another quest to find out who is the killer called Ghostface. He's been about for almost 30 years now, unmasked in one film and back in the next. Sometimes, and it's a question in this one, there are copycats inspired by him. With that you can keep a series going forever and they may now have reached a limit. The writers have worked in so many twists, meta references and after-affects from the past that credibility is lost. They've brought back some characters, including four who survived last film, Courteney Cox as the reporter who's been in all six, and added new faces, Including Dermot Mulroney as a cop. A lot of victims and suspects. They've moved them to New York this time, which is ably portrayed by Montreal. And served, almost solely, the hard-core fans. (In theaters) 2 out of 5
DEVIL'S PEAK: Earthy is the word for this one, not only for the language you hear but also for the culture you see. It's North Carolina, in the Appalachian Mountains, where moonshine was probably made years ago. Now it's meth, cooked up by a domineering local crime lord. He's played by Billy Bob Thornton in the gruff, no nonsense style he's done many times before. He's got a son who wants to escape his control and that sets in motion a struggle to overcome family traits that come down the generations. Dad is violent, so was his dad, so why not the son?
Dad says “Life ain't worth a plugged nickel.” Mom (Robin Wright) is an alcoholic. The son, played by Sean Penn's son Hopper, wants a respectable life. He's fallen in love with the daughter (Katelyn Nacon) of a local prosecutor and candidate for governor and wants to leave town with her. You can see where the cracks will lead, and they do, just as you expect, based on a novel by David Joy (who co-wrote the script) and under the able but standard direction of Ben Young. Unfortunately young Penn isn't as strong as the rebel he's supposed to be. (VOD/digital availability) 2½ out of 5