Rosario Dawson on DOPESICK, the Opioid Crisis and Representing – Leslie Combemale interviews.

Cast as a crusading DEA Agent in Dopestick, Rosario Dawson comments on the opioid crisis: I think this show, and why we’re in DC pushing it, is about the fact that we are not just trying to entertain people. We want this to be something that profoundly changes the game. You could feel it from every single person in the crew, because I have family and friends who have succumbed to the opioid crisis. 2020 had a record high of overdoses, and 75% of those overdoses were opioids. So we need to do something about it, and hopefully the show motivates people to do just that.

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Ann Dowd on MASS, Forgiveness and Motherhood – Leslie Combemale interviews

Ann Dowd is one of four in the ensemble cast of the new film Mass, written and directed by Fran Kranz. In it, two couples, Gail and Jay (played by Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs) meet with Linda and Richard (Dowd and renowned stage actor Reed Birney) and talk about their sons, both of whom died as the result a school shooting. Linda and Richard’s son was the shooter. Their meeting, which in Mass unfolds in real time, reveals their shared grief and complicated emotions. As parents, guilt looms large, and forgiveness, of each other and of themselves, may or may not happen as part of the proceedings.

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CAT DADDIES – Review by Leslie Combemale

At a time when many documentary and narrative feature releases darkly reflect the challenges, heartache, and cynicism resulting from a worldwide pandemic, Cat Daddies is as much a balm for the soul as a purring kitten burrowing into your hip. The film is a heartwarming charmer that shows men of diverse interests and backgrounds celebrating the unconditional love they have for their furry friends.

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AWARE: GLIMPSES OF CONSCIOUSNESS – Review by Leslie Combemale

Are plants aware, and what does that even mean? Is it true using psilocybin in a controlled environment can actually alter understanding of self permanently? What is left of us, of our consciousness, when we die? These are just a few of the universal subjects being examined in the documentary Aware: Glimpses of Consciousness, from filmmaking collaborators Frauke Sandig and Eric Black. The film follows six researchers into consciousness coming at the big questions from very different perspectives, while interspersing the dialogue with meditative, naturalistic footage relating to the discussion. The result is a fascinating look at who we are, and how we fit into the cosmos and life’s continuum.

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SILENT NIGHT (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Can you remember the first time you really knew you were going to die? You know, when you learned that every human and living being on the planet has an expiration date, including you? What if that date was Christmas, and everyone else was going to die, too? That’s the premise for writer/director Camille Griffin’s film Silent Night. The film is terrifying and as dark as a starless sky, not because of the premise itself, but because of how the story unfolds. Absolutely not for children, and not even for adults who avoid movies with children in peril, this is decidedly not a Christmas movie.

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THE ELECTRIC LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

If you have cats in your home as part of your family, you have Louis Wain to thank. He was the 19th century illustrator of cat images and he introduced Victorian London to the wonder and joy of cats. A socially inept, eccentric soul, Wain created paintings and sketches of anthropomorphized felines, though many of his images were of his beloved pet cat Peter. In Will Sharp’s The Electric Life of Louis Wain Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, along with Andrea Riseborough as one of his five sisters, and Claire Foy as his beloved Emily. The film is charming, sad, has great performances, and is visually sumptuous, with some of the best costuming and makeup you’ll see this year. It has such undeniable heart, you’ll be sure to forgive it being a little overly sentimental.

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FLEE (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Danish writer/director Jonas Power Rasmussen’s documentary Flee about Afghan refugee Amin, his arduous journey getting to Denmark, and how that experience colors his current life, is destined to become a shining example of great indie animation. It may be painful to watch Amin go through the horrors he describes, but it is also an incredibly uplifting, inspiring story that will leave its viewers with a powerful feeling of hope.

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THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL (TIFF 2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Melanie Laurent creates a compelling world in which discarded women are blithely mistreated. She has also laid out a strong case for why women of the early 20th century, as in the time of The Snake Pit, as well as women today, struggle with being heard and believed by the mental health and medical communities. The Mad Women’s Ball is the kind of layered, femme-centric and very political story we need more of, and by fearless female filmmakers like Melanie Laurent.

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THE SURVIVOR (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combebale

It’s strange to say that a film based around the Holocaust is hopeful, but it’s true. Barry Levinson’s The Survivor is based on the real life story of Hertzko Haft, a jewish boxer who survived Auschwitz by fighting 76 brutal life or death matches against other Jewish prisoners, only to carry that trauma into his postwar life. As Haft, Ben Foster is the best he’s ever been. The Survivor is hopeful, in part, because Levinson has a way of finding the balance between darkness and light in his movies, and in part because the Jews of the world didn’t come out of the Holocaust without reaching for hope.

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