BIRDS OF PARADISE – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Birds of Paradise treads the well-worn path blazed by films powered by the refrain that ‘everything is not beautiful at the ballet.’
The dance drama is beautifully made (even if it works the birds metaphor pretty hard) and never succumbs to the temptation to make the ballet world more “accessible” by revolving around an implausible outsider–I’m looking at you, Flashdance, and other misguided attempts to make the “stodgy” world of classical dance more relatable by focusing on a rebel whose mission is to make it less classical dance-y.

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SALOUM (TIFF 21) – Review by Maitland McDonagh

The genre-warping Saloum starts out as an action-heavy thriller and glides seamlessly into a supernatural horror tale with intense psychological underpinnings. Congolese filmmakers Jean Luc Herbulot Herbulot and Pamela Diop draw on both real-life horrors and fairytale darkness, and combined with intense performances across the board the result is genuinely disturbing. Suffice it to say that the film’s most disturbing images have nothing to do with bogeymen.

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FREELAND – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Co-writer/directors Mario Furloni and Kate McLean’s small, focused drama about changing times and the lives they roll over with chilling indifference, Freeland is anchored by Krishna Fairchild’s beautifully nuanced performance as Davi, a longtime pot farmer who’s rolled with the changing times for so long that she’s rocked to her core when they finally collide headlong with her laid-back nature.

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CANDYMAN – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Beyond its success at breathing new life into a decades’ old story, Candyman is a reminder that horror movies don’t have to be formulaic scare machines. Fun though body-count movies can be, more ambitious horror films operate on different levels, delivering the shocks and scares while exploring material that’s disturbing on a different level.

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EMA – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain’s psychological drama Ema revolves around a dancer whose icy, Hitchcock-blonde looks lie lightly over a selfish, troubled interior. Ema, who also teaches expressive movement classes to schoolchildren, and her husband, choreographer Gaston, twelve years her senior, adopted a six-year-old boy Polo and then returned him to the orphanage after the child set a series of fires.

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FULLY REALIZED HUMANS – Review by Maitland McDonagh

A low-key comedy about young parents-to-be who overthink and -talk everything, Fully Realized Humans is undermined by the fact that Jackie (Jess Weixler, who was eight months pregnant when the film was shot) and Elliot (Joshua Leonard)–the duo of actors who are both the stars and the filmmakers (they co-wrote and he directed)–is that they’re insufferable, and not in a particularly funny way. They’re like those friends of friends who seem as though they’re probably nice-enough people but never stop talking long enough for you to find out, the kind you ditch at parties by going to the kitchen for ice and not coming back.

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FEAR STREET – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Based on young-adult powerhouse novelist R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books and pitched somewhere between homage and pastiche, the three-segment Fear Street is much ado about nothing, an ostensible tribute to horror movies of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s that amounts to little more than a bunch of shallow shout-outs to movies that helped redefine the conventions of mainstream horror movies.

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NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert’s slyly pretty fable in which an interloper’s healing frees members of a miserable community from their various repressions and discontents, is slyly funny–no belly laughs, just an accumulation of weird and unexpected digressions that offset the film’s pervasive atmosphere of isolation, loneliness and slow suffocation by social conventions.

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BLOOD RED SKY – Review by Maitland McDonagh

So, here’s the high-concept pitch: Imagine Snakes on a Plane, only instead of snakes, the lethal pests are vampires and Samuel L. Jackson isn’t on board to declare, “I have had it with these motherfucking vampires on this motherfucking plane!” The surprise is that, unlike many movies whose bold strokes trump attention to detail, Blood Red Sky is both pretty bloody entertaining and surprisingly emotionally satisfying.

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OF ANIMALS AND MEN – Review by Maitland McDonagh

Much of the documentary’s narrative will be familiar to viewers who have seen or read about Niki Caro’s 2017 fiction feature The Zookeeper’s Wife, but there’s a gut-punch factor that comes with documentary footage and first-person testimony. And overall Of Animals and Men is deeply, if not necessarily deliberately, intertwined with films that demand that the viewer think hard about his or her relationship with animals.

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