BLITHE SPIRIT (Middleburg FF 2020) – Review by Leslie Combemale

A new film adaptation of Noel Coward’s famously ‘spirited’ 1941 play Blithe Spirit is coming to a (insert however the hell we’ll be seeing movies in December) near you, starring pretty pretties Isla Fisher, Dan Stevens, and Leslie Mann, and the Middleburg Film Festival offered a drive-in screening of this fluffy farce, this celebration of cynicism, on the fest’s opening night. Screenwriter Piers Ashworth reinvigorates the story with a more female-friendly, feminist bend, and one character who is decidedly more sympathetic, although the story still takes place in the 30s, with all the attendant style and panache.

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THE WATER MAN (TIFF20) – Review by Pam Grady

There was magic at the Toronto International Film Festival when actor David Oyelowo’s directing debut The Water Man made its world premiere. A family drama with a precocious young boy at its center, this Oprah Winfrey-executive produced film is full of equal parts of wonder, charm, and heart. Oyelowo has a sure touch with his actors, coaxing strong performances from all, but what is most impressive is his handling of The Water Man‘s visual elements.

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WEEK IN WOMEN: Chloe Zhao’s NOMADLAND Update – Brandy McDonnell reports

Chloé Zhao’s acclaimed drama Nomadland, starring Oscar winner Frances McDormand, made its NY premiere on September 26 as the Centerpiece film at the 58th New York Film Festival, Earlier this month, the film was lauded with the Golden Lion this year at the 77th Venice International Film Festival and awarded the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the 45th Toronto International Film Festival. It is the first film to hold both honors.

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MLK/FBI (TIFF20) – Review by Pam Grady

Filmmaker Sam Pollard eschews talking head interviews in favor of filling the frame with archival material. The Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, the signing of the Civil Rights Act into law, and other moments, earth-shaking and intimate, are the images that unfurl on screen. The effect is arresting. Pollard doesn’t just bring history to life, but King himself. There he is: living, breathing, changing hearts, minds, and society.

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WOLFWALKERS (TIFF20) – Review by Pam Grady

Balancing a dark picture of the Middle Ages with moments of great humor and images of the magical world, the vintage animation style of this enchanting film perfectly fits its fantastic fable. Based on Irish mythology about wolves, Wolfwalkers is a film that will bewitch children and adults alike.

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GOOD JOE BELL (TIFF20) – Review by Pam Grady

To call the truth-based film a disappointment is an understatement. What might have been a compelling story of a father’s quest for redemption is, instead, a flabby melodrama that plays like one of those old Afterschool Specials. Joe Bell and his family are reduced to symbols of problems that plague society. Flesh-and-blood people deserve better.

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SPRING BLOSSOM (TIFF20) – Review by Pam Grady

Remember the name Suzanne Lindon. If her debut feature, Spring Blossom, is anything to go by, the precocious 20-year-old has a brilliant future ahead of her. Making its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, this smart, evocative coming-of-age drama reveals Lindon in her best light as a writer, director, and actor.

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AN OLD LADY (TIFF20) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

If elder abuse is a taboo subject that is rarely afforded the serious consideration and action that such horrors demand, then elder sexual abuse is even more so. There’s a sense of sadness that courageous and well executed film about such a difficult subject may pass unseen because the taboo nature of the subject may turn an audience off. But that is what makes this film so urgent; An Old Lady tells us something we don’t want to hear in a way that makes us forget why we refused to listen for so long.

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SHADOW IN THE CLOUD (TIFF20) – Review by Pam Grady

Shadow in the Cloud is like a big hit of dopamine, pure pleasure. Roseanne Liang keeps the tension high and the action flowing, but her ace is the fly girl in the turret. Chloë Grace Moretz inhabits this fearless woman with grace, athleticism, and elan. Ten years after Kick-Ass, she is still a superhero.

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LIMBO (TIFF20) – Review by Pam Grady

A Syrian refugee awaits the deposition of his asylum request in a state of discombobulation on a remote, rural island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides in writer/director Ben Sharrock’s low-key melancholy drama. This is a drama of observation, character, and mood. Sharrock turned to inspiration for his story to Syrian friends.

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