February is marked as Black History month in many local movie theaters, and now on some of the streaming services too. They play significant films about the lives and struggles of Blacks and you should check what they offer this year. But note this bit of irony. The new films on regular release this week are all about a another group that's had a long struggle for equality: women. Well, except for one, and it's from a book written by a woman.

And the big film of the week, Argylle is not only from a book by a woman (we think. It's somewhat obscure) but features a woman as a central character. She goes on an international mission involving a spy-syndicate. The producers hope it'll become a franchise but I haven't seen it because they didn't preview it where I am.
Maybe no loss. The Wrap's review says it is "a bizarre hodgepodge of ideas" and at least 30 minutes too long.
More promising choices are in here:
Tótem: 4 ½ stars
The Braid: 3
Orion and the Dark: 3
Fitting In: 2 ½

TOTEM: This is a beautiful visit with a young girl who is wise beyond her years (parents and grandparents may have someone like her in their life) but who has a limited understanding of her world and her family. So from her viewpoint we see the scene evolve gradually. A birthday party is being prepared for her father. Relatives are over. The house is bustling. Minor incidents and conversations happen, just like in real life. But there's a sombre undertone that seven-year-old Sol only partially senses. Dad is resting she's told. That's why she can't go to him, not as she fears, that he doesn't love her anymore. Actually, as we learn, he's got cancer. Sol knows little about that but does wish “for daddy not to die.”

Courtesy of Films We Like

The film by Lila Avilés, from Mexico, displays an acute recognition of a child's perception. And also of the family dynamics around her which we see through a diverse group. There's an aunt fussing over party details, a grandfather who is also a cancer victim and speaks with an electrolarynx, the dad's former professor who explains that his name, Toniatuh, dates back to the time of the Conquistadors. Various others, including a caretaker who seems the wisest of the bunch and a spiritualist who's the funniest. She's there to drive out the bad energy in the house (and later says she also sells Tupperware). Comic moments like that enliven this rumination on the subject of death and help make it immensely watchable. We're moved by the warm humanity in that house. The actors are very good and young newcomer Naíma Sentíes as Sol is a great discovery.(In theaters: Toronto, Vancouver and Sudbury now; Edmonton starting tomorrow and Ottawa next week) 4 ½ out of 5

THE BRAID: This is a straight-forward, no-doubt-about-it, celebration of womanhood. And examination of the trials and difficulties they face regularly, in this case in three societies, India, Italy and Canada. It arrived as a novel five years ago, became a best seller and this adaptation is directed by the very woman who wrote it, Laetitia Colombani. She tells three stories, each strong enough that it could have stood on its own, and shows how they are similar by switching back and forth repeatedly. Oddly the symbol that links them, women's hair as indicated in the title, feels a bit gimmicky. The rest is not; it's real.

In Italy, Giulia, played by Fotinì Peluso, has to take over running the wig company her father left her only to find it is insolvent and the family house is heavily mortgaged. In Montreal, Kim Raver as Sarah, a high-powered lawyer with a corner office, is hiding the cancer diagnosis she's gotten and the surgery she's facing. In India, Mia Maelzer as Smita, a Dalit woman (formerly termed as an Untouchable) wants to take her daughter south to a holy site that may grant her wishes for a better life.

Courtesy of Sphere Films

All three cope with discrimination of one type or another and struggle to get away from it. Giula is advised to marry for money. Smita is told Dalits can't do anything, “except hide like rats”. Or this: “Better to be born a cow than a woman.” The whole film is that direct. It feels too obvious but, dedicated to “all women of courage,” it makes its point about perseverence. (In theaters) 3 out of 5

ORION AND THE DARK: A lot of kids are afraid of the dark and this film, adapted from the picture book by Emma Yarlett of Falmouth, England addresses the problem directly. But don't expect a solution. Just a wild and fun ride in an animated film scripted by that master of quirky Charlie Kaufman. Orion, age 11 and voiced by B.C.'s Jacob Tremblay has fears about “everything” ... or “every negative thing that can happen.”

Courtesy of Netflix

Darkness is at the top of the list and no wonder he reads books about nihilism and existentialism. He asks “What if life is a cosmic accident and my existence has no meaning?” He doesn't accept his sister's analysis: “Fear of the dark is an evolutionary adaptation ... to protect from predators.” That's way above your usual animated film, and many children.

Orion is visited by Dark himself (voiced by Paul Walter Hauser) to show there's nothing to fear from him.

Courtesy of Netflix

In fact he proves to be a friendly smiling being that looks like a cloud. He takes him to his associates: Sleep, Insomnia, Quiet, Unexplained Noises and a rather snarky Sweet Dreams voiced by Angela Bassett. Bringing the kid around disrupts their work, she grouses. It does, but not as much as another entity that arrives: Light, the nemesis of Dark, and a boastful, preening character played by Ike Barinholtz. There's also an out-of-place time-travel element. Co-existence is the theme, though the film becomes a noisy battle, much like many other animated films. The director Sean Charmatz has worked on several, including the first Trolls and the second Lego Movie. He made this for Dreamworks and it's streaming on Netflix. 3 out of 5

FITTING IN: I saw this described as “a joyful, comedic drama.” What? I found it rather uncomfortable for the detail it went into about a rare medical condition. It's called MRKH syndrome and doesn't seem comic at all. Women who have it don't have a uterus or a cervix and their vagina canal is small. Too small to have sex, which 16-year-old Lindy, played by Maddie Ziegler is planning to do. A visit to the doctor to get birth control pills gives her the bad news instead. She's given a series of rubber dilaters of different sizes which she's advised to use to “create your vagina. Like training.” Naturally, she cringes at the thought and spends her time reading Eve Ensler's book The Vagina Monologues for consolation.

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Director Molly McGlynn is telling a bit of her own story here and I admire her courage. She's from Montreal, New Jersey and now Los Angeles and was born with that condition. She's determined to out the syndrome and remove feelings of shame. She says for a long time she felt she was “a partial woman, a half-formed thing.” Her familiarity with it enabled her to put a realistic aura into this movie, not only about feelings of self-worth but of awkward dealings with doctors. She had a pelvic exam in front of a group of resident doctors. She used one of their comments in the film: to practice dilating with a boyfriend “unless he's well-endowed.” D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai plays him in the film but don't expect a romantic comedy. It's a medical drama that includes a few comic moments. (Has shown at several festivals and is now in theaters) 2 ½ out of 5