Reviews-in-brief: ‘Things to Come,’ ‘The Apology,’ ‘The Other Half,’ and more!

by Andrew Parker

The weekend of December 2nd might the quietest one for large scale new releases in Canada this year, so today we’re going to take a look at six independent releases making their way to screens this coming weekend, including a film from a French master, two Canadian produced documentaries, a stunning debut Canadian feature, a bizarre bad taste horror flick (that was shot in Sudbury!), and the latest from Hong Kong action maestro Ringo Lam.


Things to Come

The latest film from French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve, Things to Come, owes a huge, but loving tip of the hat to auteur Eric Rohmer’s Moral Tales series. A clever, loving, and philosophically pointed riff on Rohmerian themes, it’s a tale of loves lost, renewed, and regained told with a sharp wit and austere eye.

Isabelle Huppert plays a high school philosophy teacher who rebounds from the dissolution of her marriage by reconnecting with her favourite student, an anarchistic academic (Roman Kolinka).

The relationship between the older Huppert and much younger Kolinka comes across as more intellectually eroticized that sexualized. Huppert’s quietly suffering and increasingly vexed professor hasn’t had an intellectually stimulating conversation with her husband or kids for quite some time, and the attention the student and teacher show for each other isn’t heartwarming in Løve’s hands, but much more genuine and thoughtful.

Things to Come is also very funny if you know anything about philosophy and the theory that madness starts whenever one can see all sides to an argument. It’s a clever, subtle film from one of the best working filmmakers today.

Rating (out of five stars): 4.5 stars

Things to Come opens on December 2nd in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox, at Cineplex Forum and Cinéma Beaubien in Montreal, Globe Cinema in Calgary, and many other select Canadian cities and towns. It expands to Victoria and Vancouver on December 9th, as well as the Mount Pleasant in Toronto. It opens in Ottawa on December 9th, Edmonton on December 16th, and Winnipeg on January 19th.

Check out the trailer for Things to Come:



The Other Half

Canadian actor turned filmmaker Joey Klein delivers a strong debut feature with the subtly wrenching romantic drama, The Other Half. Looking at mental illness and trauma in nuanced ways that few filmmakers seem capable of, writer-director Klein has made something that’s as powerful as it is delicate.

He casts real life couple Tom Cullen and Tatiana Maslany (who have wonderful chemistry that strikes a perfect balance between their characters’ temparments) as a pair of Torontonian lost souls trying to cope with their somewhat off brain chemistry together and apart. Cullen stars as Nickie, a British ex-pat who fled to Canada and far away from his parents following the unexplained and traumatic disappearance of his younger brother. Filled with survivor’s guilt and a stand-offish attitude that almost dares people to talk to him, Nickie is a man frozen in time, breathing, but basically dead to the world. One day while hanging out with the few friends he has left, he finds a kindred spirit in Emily (Maslany), a bipolar artists prone to fits of dangerous rapid cycling thoughts, but who wants to help Nickie find love and peace in his life.

The best decision Klein makes, among many exceptionally well thought out narrative and stylistic choices throughout The Other Half, is to make the more ill Emily the most stable person in the relationship between the main characters. She’s ill and prone to doing terrible things, but she’s self aware and selfless when she needs to be and when it counts. Maslany’s warm hearted performance as Emily provides the perfect counterpoint to Cullen’s subtler work as the constantly low Nickie.

Also going to great lengths to depict the home lives of Nickie and Emily by showing how their families influence their lives, Klein creates a picture of both bipolar and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that few filmmaker can attain. Emily and Nickie are people going through sometimes painfully emotional experiences that the outside world can’t see, but they also don’t exist in a bubble. It’s a moving look at trying to stay human and grounded while dealing with internal and external forces beyond one’s control.

Rating (out of five stars): 4.2 stars

The Other Half opens in Toronto and Vancouver on Friday, December 2, and don’t forget to read our interview with filmmaker Joey Klein from earlier this week!

Check out the trailer for The Other Half:



For better or worse and depending on your own personal tastes, filmmaker Danny Perez has created a film that practically dares the viewer to keep watching it with the laudably batshit gross-out horror-comedy Antibirth. I know this isn’t a film for everyone, and I’m not even sure it’s a film for me, but I knew that when I got to the gore, slime, and viscera soaked ending that I had seen something truly original and singular.

Natasha Lyonne (who also serves as a producer here) kills it as Lou, a perpetually drunk and stoned hotel maid from a Northern hamlet populated mostly by current and former soldiers who might be pregnant following a drunken bacchanal where she blacked out. Lou’s quest for answers as to whatever “immaculately conceived” young’un she’s carrying involves a potentially traitorous best friend (Chloë Sevigny), a pair of drug dealers (Green Room’s Mark Webber and Torontonian actor/writer/director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) trying to concoct the perfect cut rate high, a soft-spoken drifter (Meg Tilley, also great), and maybe some aliens or military conspiracy or something. Lou doesn’t so much care what’s inside her or how it got there as long as someone tells her how to get it out so she can once again party unencumbered.

In the vein of extreme body horror flicks like Body Melt and Street Trash – but admittedly much better looking – the grimy Antibirth is the closest thing that audiences have seen to an accomplished splatter-punk movie in ages. Perez makes every frame of his film look quite elegantly like a bad trip through a hell hole. It’s misanthropic in the extreme, especially Lyonne’s thoroughly unlikable and unreliable heroine.  Sure, there’s some subtext here about the depths of drug addiction, something vague to be said about unwanted pregnancy, and not everything will add up neatly, but the joy (or potential unease) of watching Antibirth comes from wondering just what crazed direction it will go in next. In that respect, Antibirth is a filthy success. But really this is the dictionary definition of the phrase “your mileage may vary.”

Rating (out of five stars): 3.1 stars

Antibirth opens in Toronto at Carlton Cinemas on Friday, December 2nd and at The Mayfair in Ottawa on Friday, December 9th.

Check out the trailer for Antibirth:



Theater of Life

The NFB has not one, but two documentary festival favourites from the past year returning to Canadian screens and onto wider releases this weekend, the first of which is Peter Svatek’s Theater of Life, which took home the prize of Best Canadian Feature at Planet in Focus back in October.

The film deals with the hot button subjects of homelessness, poverty, and, predominantly, food waste. World renowned celebrity chef Massimo Bottura and Italian Parish Priest Don Giuliano Savina – who operates out of the largely impoverished Milan neighbourhood of Greco – teamed up for an ambitious project. Fed up with the amount of food wasted by the Milan Expo, Bottura decided to open up a gourmet soup kitchen for those in need that operates out of the basement of Savina’s church. The idea was to bring renowned chefs from all over the world to volunteer their time in the kitchen using perfectly good food that would have otherwise been discarded.

Cooking for appreciative, marginalized people – many of whom are homeless, refugees, or dealing with addiction and mental health issues – who don’t care who’s making the food is a noble pursuit, and one that Bottura should be commended for. At the same time, Svatek’s look at this potentially groundbreaking project doesn’t shy away from occasionally criticizing how the driven Bottura and the overworked Savina conduct their business. The model created by these men is shown as imperfect, which makes the whole thing feel even nobler than it looks on the surface. It’s a uniquely human endeavor.

It’s also nice to be reminded that in a world where one billion people are overeating and wasting their food while almost an equal amount are starving below the poverty line, a single meal might not change someone’s life, but it can still give them two hours of stress free happiness and energy to carry on.

Rating (out of five stars): 3.7 stars

Theater of Life opens in Toronto at The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Saturday, December 3rd,  and in Montreal at Cinéma du Parc (in English) and Cinéma Beaubien (in French), Quebec City at Cinéma Cartier (in French), and Edmonton at Metro Cinema on December 23rd. It is slated to open at Vancity Theatre in Vancouver sometime in January.

Check out the trailer for Theatre of Life:



The Apology

The other NFB offering this week is decidedly less heartwarming and crowd pleasing than the one listed above, but it’s definitely a vital, incendiary, and eye opening piece of work. The debut documentary feature from Toronto based filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung, The Apology (which was the runner-up for the Audience Award at Hot Docs this past spring), tells the untold stories and struggles of “comfort women,” Asian women who were captured and sold into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

Hsiung follows three of the 200,000 women who experienced such injustices (one Korean, one Chinese, and one Filipino, all in their 80s or 90s) as they seek a formal apology from the Japanese government some seventy years after they were sold into slavery. For these women, the war never ended and the trauma remains, and yet they’re still largely looked down upon by Japanese nationalists who feel there’s nothing to apologize for if the atrocities happened during wartime. In fact, some Japanese politicians go as far as to say that such “comfort stations” were “necessary,” making the efforts of these women all the more important.

These women are truly inspirational and strong to do what they do, and Hsiung gets close enough to them to make the film feel not only political, but also deeply intimate and personal. There’s also a distinctly heartbreaking sense that time is running out on such an apology that Hsiung expertly conveys. It’s a pointed film about how refusing to acknowledge the past – no matter how dark and uncomfortable it may be – isn’t the right way to move forward. The Apology needs no clever blurb to underline its impact or importance. These women rightfully speak for themselves from harrowing experience in the face of almost crippling indifference and injustice.

Rating (out of five stars): 4.8 stars

The Apology opens at The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, December 2nd for a week-long run, and screens at Vancity Theatre in Vancouver on December 3rd & 4th. Director Tiffany Hsiung will be present for Q&As at both screenings in Vancouver and will participate in Toronto Q&As following screenings on December 6th and the 8th.

Check out the trailer for The Apology:



Sky on Fire

Once great Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam (Twin Dragons, Maximum Risk) attempts to reinvigorate his floundering career by resuscitating his originally groundbreaking late 1980s series of “on Fire” films (City on Fire, Prison on Fire, School on Fire, Prison on Fire II) with this silly, ponderous yarn about a bunch of warring factions, professors, doctors, and everyday people vying for control of a cancer cure.

It’s a great set-up on paper. Inside of the towering Sky One skyscraper, a shady medical research company has devised a cancer treatment – “Ex-Stem Cells” – that some want to use for good, and some want to use for its evil, potentially lethal capabilities. Or something like that. A bunch of criminal types want it for monetary value. The primary plotline deals with a man who wants to save his sister from cancer. Some of the doctors have guilt over a deadly fire several years earlier that arose from the discovery of the treatment. There’s a mysterious cargo truck everyone seems to want. Even the researchers battle over who gets to take credit for this.

If it sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about when attempting to describe Lam’s script and story for Sky on Fire, that’s because I defy anyone to make heads or tails of what’s going on here. None of it makes a lick of logical or narrative sense, piling on characters and subplots instead of sticking to one story and offering up some the kinds of action sequences Lam has become known for. As Sky on Fire shambles its way to the finish line, I was confused as to who I was supposed to root for, who was an enemy of who, and why I should care about any of this beyond that fact that a bunch of people fighting over a miraculous cancer cure makes sense in theory.

Sure, there’s some action here and there. There’s some neat close-quarter car chases, fist fights in convenience stores, and stairwell shootouts, but once Lam finally gets around to his Die Hard styled set up in the final twenty minutes, it’s a complete letdown. The action sequences simply aren’t exciting enough to make up for a film that consistently loses momentum by trying to do too much and not having a clue what to do with all of this plot and character. It’s a massive letdown for anyone hoping this would be Lam’s comeback vehicle.

Rating (out of five stars): 2.0 stars

Sky on Fire opens on Friday, December 2nd at Cineplex Yonge and Dundas in Toronto, Cineplex Cinemas and VIP in Markham, Ontario, SilverCity Riverport in Richmond, B.C., Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, and Cineplex South Edmonton Crossing in Edmonton.

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