If I were to ask you who William Shatner is, you may have a different answer depending on when you were born. Most will always him as the original Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, while others may just know him as the Priceline guy who appears regularly at fan conventions around the world. But who is the real William Shatner when he is not on the screen or stage in front of us?
Writer/Director Alexandre O. Philippe sets-out to answer this question in his latest Documentary/Vsual Essay, and it starts with letting us know that Shatner prefers to be called Bill now. What follows is a journey that beams around the proud Canadian’s life from a young man growing up in Montreal, to his time on television and the stage, right up to his recent flight to space on Jeff Bezos’ rocket ship. All the while, the camera stays on Bill as he discusses the journey, sitting alone in a production warehouse with the unseen spotlight focusing on him and only him.
What Bill also discusses are his feelings on life, humanity’s relationship with nature, the dying Earth and his own mortality – all delivered in his frank, precisely inflected manner of speech (including a small aside about that often parodied but never equaled style). He is more candid and open than I ever would have thought, and YOU CAN CALL ME BILL is at its best when we are watching him in these deeper moments in the warehouse or live on stage. The tiny clips of Star Trek and television ephemera (including scenes from shows he starred in pre-Kirk) are fun to see, yet seem rather trivial while Bill is tackling the sorrow of knowing that at 91, he does not have much time left.
For all those candid comments however, YOU CAN CALL ME BILL glosses over Shatner’s personal life and his relationship with the fan community. He gets in a few anecdotal comments and then goes on to something else. More frustratingly, Philippe’s breezy, thematic structure makes the film feel a bit too jumpy and unpolished. With the exception of last year’s Lynch/Oz (which was fascinating flawed), his previous films have been focused on one scene or one film. Here he is taking on an entire lifetime of one legendary individual and all the iconography that goes with it, and it feels like he is out of his element.
YOU CAN CALL ME BILL screens at SXSW ’23 as follows:
Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) has been living in the US for 8 months. In Afghanistan, she was a translator for American troops. Now she is working in a fortune cookie factory either packaging the cookies or writing the fortunes. She is struggling to adapt to her new life in America, and has trouble coming out of her traumatized shell. So she sets out to change that.
Co-Writer/Director Babak Jalali’s portrait of this young woman living in an Afghan diaspora is not going to be for everyone. It is slow moving, droll and only sporadically funny. It has a lot it wants to say about Donya and her journey, but does not always find the time or ability to say it. Jalali cribs from the work of Jim Jarmusch here (with a slight hint of Woody Allen), spending more time focusing on Donya’s isolation and the mundane, wordless moments of her day than it does on her as a character. When she does discuss her trauma with psychiatrist Dr. Anthony (Gregg Turkington), the conversations devolve into nonsensical observations and bizarre moments involving Jack London’s novel White Fang.
Hollywood It-Boy Jeremy Allen White (who was terrific on 11 seasons of Shameless before he struck gold with The Bear) shows up for a bit part that is more awkward than anything else, but what really impressed me about FREMONT was the way Jalali frames Donya’s story. He tells it in 4:3, in stark black and white with minimal music, which is an all too blatant reflection of her less than thrilling existence. Stripped of colour, we learn more about Donya than the dialogue ever attempts to tell us. That gorgeous cinematography and production design is what kept me invested in FREMONT. I just wish the story did too.
Sarah (Lydia Leonard) is a successful building developer in London with a well-guarded secret: she is deathly afraid of flying. To overcome her crippling fear, she joins the ‘Fearless Flyers’ course alongside other individuals suffering from Aerophobia. The final test is a trip on a real plane, which happens to coincide with the day Sarah is supposed to be going on vacation with her boyfriend and his daughter. And what should be a simple trip to Iceland becomes an ordeal no one saw coming.
NORTHERN COMFORT, named after an Icelandic beverage, is a cringe-inducing comedy that will have you wincing and laughing just as often as you are absolutely terrified for these poor souls. Co-Writer/Director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson puts the whole gang through absolute hell on their journey to getting over their fear and then delights in reshuffling the deck and completely changing the game in the second half of the Film. It manages to maintain the same tone throughout thankfully, but the jarring number of subplots becomes a lot to digest, as does the fleeting directions the Film continuously wanders into. When it is simply about Sarah and her journey, the Film is fairly solid. When it diverts into showcasing the supporting characters’ half-baked agendas, it gets a little lost in the weeds (or blowing snow drifts as it were).
That said, the Cast which Sigurðsson has put together here is game for anything and relishes in the madness that ensues. Leonard does a great job carrying the Film and balances the comedy and scarier elements quite well. Simon Manyonda has a whole lot of fun as an instructor who is in way over his pay grade, while comedian Rob Delaney drops in for an eyebrow raising extended cameo. Who really lets loose however is Timothy Spall, who goes for broke from start to finish. I only really know him as a dramatic actor (and as that rat of a wizard Peter Pettigrew from the Harry Potter series), so seeing him as the radically unhinged Edward was just as wild and chaotic as all the mayhem he gets up to in the Film. He is having a blast and easily steals the show.
NORTHERN COMFORT screens at SXSW ’23 as follows:
Mar 12 at 2:00pm at Stateside Theatre
Mar 13 at 6:15pm at Rollins Theatre at The Long Center
It is the late 1980s and Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) is looking for a hit. The Video Game Designer and salesman is hemorrhaging money, but may have found his salvation in a game called Tetris. He is not the only one who wants a piece of it though, and once he learns that the IP rights belong to the Soviet Union, Henk decides he is going to travel behind the Iron Curtain and negotiate for them himself.
Did that sound convoluted? Well, there are a whole lot more rights-related shenanigans where that came from on top of family drama and light Nintendo-related nostalgia. Some of the story has been clearly embellished (particularly a bit cribbed from the Oscar-winning Argo), yet it stays grounded enough to keep your attention. I loved how Lorne Balfe incorporated the music from Tetris into his Score, yet could have done without the recurring neon-soaked 8-bit motif anytime a setting changed.
While Henk’s story is straight-forward enough, it feels like it is at odds with the bigger tale Director Jon S. Baird and Writer Noah Pink are more interested in telling: the dying days of the Soviet Union and all the corruption that goes with it. The shady individuals, the double-crossing deals, the KGB, the spying, Gorbachev, all of it is fascinating and often downright terrifying. There are a whole lot more of these elements in the Film than you might imagine – considering it is called TETRIS – and I think it suffers from having them smashed-together with Henk’s story.
TETRIS is a well-made film despite these qualms and I enjoyed watching it. Egerton is just as charismatic and committed as always, and his chemistry with Nikita Yefremov, who plays Tetris architect Alexey Pajitnov, is wonderful. Had Baird and Pink focused more on that budding friendship or made a separate movie about the inner workings of the USSR, then we could have had a much more cohesive picture about one of the most ultra-popular pieces of media ever created, rather than the messy film we did get.
PAY OR DIE follows the stories of three families who have a connection to Type 1 Diabetes and are struggling with the price of insulin in the United States. More specifically, it centers around Nicole Smith-Holt, her activism, and her lobbying to get a new health bill passed in Minnesota – named Alec’s Law after her late son who died from diabetes complications – that would force pharmacies and insulin makers to provide emergency supplies of insulin to diabetics in need for a more reasonable price.
PAY OR DIE is not so much a discussion around insulin and Type 1 Diabetes, so much as it is a full-blown Horror film. I sat, riveted in my seat, listening to the startling statistics and stories around insulin prices, Diabetics who have been forced to stretch their insulin reserves as long as possible and have survived, and the family members mourning the loss of the ones that did not. It is absolutely harrowing hearing these tales, and often flabbergasting and downright disgusting. Filmmakers Rachael Dyer and Scott Alexander Ruderman rightfully take Big Pharma to task here repeatedly, comparing the insulin prices to other countries and showing just how much they fleece from these individuals with a terminal disease. It outright includes an entire section where a mother and her 11-year-old daughter (both with Type 1 Diabetes) drive from Seattle to Vancouver to buy up supplies for nearly five-times less than what they would have paid in the US.
For someone who has a minimal understanding of the US healthcare system, PAY OR DIE is a necessary watch that will have you crying and raging in your seat. My only complaint was around the timeline the film sets for itself. It is chronological in terms of the profiles of each family, yet bounces around almost erratically between them with no real sense of what year we are in. We are at one point following a young woman navigating a recent diagnosis in 2020 alongside Covid-19, and then suddenly back in time to Smith-Holt leading rallies at Eli Lilly headquarters. It does not take away from the central message or theme of the film thankfully; it just would have benefitted from being more cohesive and cleaner edited.
Premiering at SXSW ’23 in its Film & TV program this Saturday, we get a new look at BEEF!
BEEF follows the aftermath of a road rage incident between two strangers. Danny Cho (Steven Yeun), a failing contractor with a chip on his shoulder, goes head-to-head with Amy Lau (Ali Wong), a self-made entrepreneur with a picturesque life. The increasing stakes of their feud unravel their lives and relationships in this darkly comedic and deeply moving series.
Missed it at SXSW ’23? It arrives on Netflix on April 6, 2023.
VANCOUVER Date: Saturday, March 25th Time: 4:00PM start Location: Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas
MONTREAL – ENG Date: Saturday, March 25th Time: 4:00PM start Location: Cineplex Cinemas Forum
MONTREAL – FRE Date: Saturday, March 25th Time: 4:00PM start Location: Cineplex Cinemas StarCité
Date: Saturday, March 25th Time: 4:00PM start
Location: Scotiabank Theatre Chinook
A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers undertake an epic heist to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves brings the rich world and playful spirit of the legendary roleplaying game to the big screen in a hilarious and action-packed adventure.
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Award-Winning Filmmaker Dawn Porter brings us this engrossing Documentary about one of the most influential and least understood First Ladies, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. Porter uses all-archival footage and the 123 hours of personal and revealing audio diaries that Lady Bird recorded during her husband’s administration.
Through Lady Bird’s audio diaries, we get a look into many pivotal events throughout US history. That’s because LBJ’s time in office was one of the most tumultuous and significant periods in modern American history that included the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Porter doesn’t glaze over these monumental moments but rather delves deep into the movements, protests and the bills passed. We’ve heard of these historical moments from today’s viewpoint, however, this Documentary gives insight into this important period from someone inside the White House while it was all happening.
This engrossing Documentary shows the impact Lady Bird had during her husband’s time in office. She was a voice of reason for LBJ and spoke her mind when she knew her opinion needed to be heard. It’s captivating to listen to phone calls she made to her husband informing him of how he should be handling certain situations. These conversations, and all the other times she voiced her opinion, are inspirational for women of all ages — both then and now.
The one major takeaway about Lady Bird‘s legacy, as her passion for the environment. It was due to her that Nixon form the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s clear that her focus on environmental issues proves she was a woman and catalyst ahead of her time.
Although she’s been considered one of the least understood First Ladies, The Lady Bird Diaries proves that she was an intelligent political strategist and had a deep understanding of people.
The Lady Bird Diaries screens at SXSW ’23 as follows:
Mar 10 at 5:00pm at ZACH Theatre
Mar 14 at 6:15pm at Rolling Theatre at The Long Center
Luchina Fisher‘s THE DADS is timely and important. The 11-minute Documentary Short brings six fathers together for a fishing trip in Oklahoma, but this is far from just a dudes’ getaway flick.
We learn these men are actually fathers to trans and LGBTQ+ children. Together, they swap stories of their biggest fears, including one of them whose son is black and trans, worrying every day for his safety. Another is the father of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who is 1998 was beaten, tortured and left to die. Here we are in 2023 with so much work left to do and if anything, the Film leaves us with a message of hope through the uncertainty, exploring fatherhood and masculinity through a fresh lens.
This is far too urgent a matter to be explored over 11 minutes only, but in its short screen time, Fisher‘s message is impactful. We are hoping there might be an expanded version of THE DADS to come or a follow-up to come.
Diego (Alberto Ammann) and Elena (Bruna Cusí) are immigrating from Spain to the United States in the hopes of starting a new life. They have landed in Newark with all the necessary approvals and have three hours before their connecting flight leaves for Miami.
That is how UPON ENTRY opens, with the remainder of its 74-minute running time composed of anxiety, confusion and an endlessly grueling interrogation after Diego and Elena are taken to a secondary inspection area when the authorities discover some inconsistencies with the pair. No minute is wasted as this young couple are psychologically disarmed and made to question every detail of their lives together. It is harrowing stuff that does not get as deplorable as you might think, but certainly leaves you on edge with its palpable realism.
A few ill-timed blunders and underdeveloped plot devices aside, Writer/Director team Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vásquez have crafted a picture that grips you from beginning to end. The suspense they manage to squeeze out of these characters, as they mainly sit in one cold, sterile interrogation room talking, is terrific, as is the way we learn about the characters’ histories – sometimes at the same time as they are. The minimal use of music amplifies Diego and Elena’s horrifying experience exponentially, as does the deliberate framing as they answer the immigration officers’ questions. Ammann and Cusí are dynamic in their roles, easily evolving their emotions as needed, and each delivering standout work. You never believe for an instant that these are actors and not real people. Laura Gómez (who memorably played Blanca Flores on Orange is the New Black) is just as convincing, if not even better than our two leads. She plays one of the no-nonsense interrogation officers with the dialed-up intensity of a wolf who just found its prey, and yes, she is just as scary as that sounds.