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Canada's two major documentary film festivals now have their schedules available to peruse. Toronto's Hot Docs (April 25 to May 5) and Vancouver's DOXA (May 2-12) have information on all their films and associated events on their websites and I've only just started studying it. A few that caught my eye already include:

At HOT DOCS: Never Look Away is by Lucy Lawless, TV's Warrior Princess XENA, about TV news woman and apparent adrenaline junkie Margaret Moth. Union watches labor organizing at Amazon. And Made in England, is about the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Martin Scorsese adds his praise.

DOXA opens with Adrianne & the Castle by Shannon Walsh about a man who hand-built a castle for his wife. The closing film, Any Other Way, is about Jackie Shane who was a transgender R&B singer, originally from Nashville who re-located to Toronto.

Both festivals will show Red River a study of the fascination that many people on earth have for the Indigenous people of North America and, according to the festival notes, "the profound impact Indigenous people have had in shaping modern Western culture." Should be interesting.

Meanwhile notice that a highlight from last year's festivals, The Old Oak, is now starting a regular run. It's likely the final film from Ken Loach, and a tough look as usual at a social issue, in this case prejudice against refugees in small town England. I gave it 4 stars out of 5 last fall. It's now in theaters in Toronto and Ottawa, with more to come.

Courtesy of Photon Films

And there are these ...

MONKEY MAN: Dev Patel, who was so charming as an actor in Slumdog Millionaire and the two Marigold Hotel films, multitasks here. He directs as well as stars and that may draw you in to see what he can do. Quite a bit it turns out but be careful. This is one of the most violent films of the year. It's set in India but he's picked up ideas from John Wick, Hong Kong films and particularly from Indonesia's The Raid, and its sequels. The battling is brutal and relentless. Highlight? (low light?): He sticks a knife into a guy's throat and then pushes it in further with his teeth. There's much more, before and after that.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

He gets pommelled in an underground fighting arena, wearing a monkey mask while the crowd cheers ecstatically. But through flashbacks we learn he's really after revenge to find the man who was responsible for the death of his mother. That takes him into a seedy world of high-end brothels, crooked police and politicians. There are echoes of Hindu nationalism, a la the Modi regime. There is extreme inequality. You see skyscrapers as a backdrop to slums. People are evicted when one neighborhood is declared holy land. There's Indian mythology: Hanuman, the Hindu monkey deity is cited and inspires the story. There's also a transgender religious group offering guidance. In other words, too much going on for us to keep straight. Luckily the film speeds along in its high-powered way. Trivia: it got help from a couple of Canadians: Christine Haebler is one of the producers and Aaron L. Gilbert, who's company BRON is based in Burnaby, B.C., is one of the executive producers and probably has put money into it. (In theaters) 2 ½ out of 5

WICKED LITTLE LETTERS: From rampant violence, we move on to rampant obscenities. This bristling little British comedy is tagged with “this is more true than you'd think” and pits two excellent actors, Olivia Colman and Jesse Buckley against each other spouting or reading a storm of vile invectives. “Stinky bitch” is one of the mildest. You can imagine what's stronger. They arrive in hand-written letters; the 19th when the movie opens.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Colman is Edith, religious and still living with her parents (Gemma Jones and Timothy Spall) and sure that she knows who is writing them. That noisy woman from Ireland (Jesse Buckley) who recently moved in next door, a single mother and living with a Black man. Just the kind who would do that.

They report it to the police who are not interested for lack of proof. Handwriting analysis wasn't accepted yet. Women's feelings weren't given much official attention either. A vicar warns that “women everywhere are losing their decorum.” The suffragette movement was going on elsewhere at the time. Not, it seems, in Littlehampton, England in the 1920s. The sole woman on the police force (Anjana Vasan) does investigate and has to defy the chief to do it. She knows what it's like to not be listened and comes up with a clever ruse to solve the mystery. It's a true story, a scandal at the time and, as seen from nowadays, a call for equality. Directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Jonny Sweet. (In theaters: in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal now; Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria next Friday) 3 out of 5

LA CHIMERA: My wife alerted me to the similarity this new film by Alice Rohrwacher has to the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It's not a copy but it sure is influenced by it. Orpheus went down to Hades and brought his loved one back to life (for a time). Josh O’Connor, as Arthur, has also lost a woman, we don't know how or when, and is anxious to find her. He's just out of prison and rejoins his old gang of grave robbers in Italy, which is his way of going below ground. They dig up ancient relics to sell on the antiquities market. It's a crime but does bring the past and present together in this richly-fashioned story.

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

The film condemns the crime, not through him, but through a young woman named Italia (an appropriate name, I guess). She's played by a Brazilian performance artist, Carol Duarte, another sign of past-present melding. And she leads to another, even bigger one. Her employer is an aristocratic lady in a big mansion who happens to be the mother of the woman Arthur is looking for. And, get this, she's played by Isabella Rossellini, daughter of Roberto, the great Italian director. Now and then, personified. That theme carries on as the grave robbers do their work and run into the modern world with it. The film is vibrant with ideas, mysteries and street life. (In theaters: Toronto and Montreal now; Ottawa and other cities soon) 3½ out of 5)

REMEMBERING GENE WILDER: We did that just recently when his performance as Willy Wonka was compared to the new one. Here we can recall many others: Leo Bloom in The Producers, Black Bart in Blazing Saddles, Sherlock Holmes's smarter brother and, of course, Young Frankenstein. That film was his idea and remember the genius of the Puttin' on the Ritz number? You'll be entertained with stories about how scenes like that came about, sometimes imagined spontanously. Also how Wilder got his start. Miscast in Mother Courage on stage, he met Anne Bancroft and therefore her husband, Mel Brooks, with whom he made some of his best films.

Courtesy of Kino Lorber

He worked with Richard Pryor (in the photo above), married Gilda Radner, then lost her to cancer and later became forgetful as dementia set in. We get all that but also a loving portrait of a man who was a writer, director and painter and who as an actor conveyed a simple and naive innocence but, as Mel Brooks recalls, “was a volcano” when excited. We hear his own voice telling his story from an old recording, more from friends like Alan Alda and Harry Connick Jr. and we get lots of clips, some of them outtakes. Warmly directed by TV veteran Ron Frank. (In theaters: Toronto, Waterloo and Hamilton now, Ottawa soon, and the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival April 14, after screening as the opener last night) 3 ½ out of 5

DOGMAN: This film is so weird and twisted that it's extremely engaging. There's nothing ordinary about it and that's probably what makes it so. Imagine a boy abused by his father and thrown into a cage with his dogs. Imagine that they become his friends and years later he is arrested driving a truck one rainy night dressed in drag and with a large pack of dogs in the back. A psychologist interviews him and he tells her that a child needs affection and will take it where he can get it.

Courtesy of Photon Films

The weirdness continues as we get his story in flashbacks. Dad shot him in the spine making him a paraplegic. He went into foster care and found some of that affection he craved among drag performers in a New Jersey nightclub. He performed there too, wowing the audience, first as Edit Piaf, then Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe. You don't get stories like that every day. It's from Luc Besson who's been out of the movies for some years after making some action-filled hits like Leon The Professional, The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita. What he's thrown together here doesn't really cohere except as a guilty pleasure. And in two other ways: in a terrific performance by Caleb Landry Jones in the lead and in the dogs who he seems to be able to communicate with. Take out some thugs one by one? He asks.They do it. Crazy but fun. (In theaters in Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Winnipeg) 3 out of 5