On Friday I returned to my column on CBC radio’s Information Morning. The Knox Office is my biweekly chance to review films on the radio, and on this edition I share reviews of three international films screening in cinemas and online.
You can go here to listen to the clip.
(And for a flashback to September and my TIFF chat with CBC Information Morning’s host, Portia Clark from Toronto, here’s a link to that conversation. )
For those of you who are, like, TL/DL, here are a few capsule reviews:
Flora & Son (▲▲▲▲△, from Irish music lover and filmmaker John Carney, of Sing Street fame) is a delightful little dramedy — it’s a movie that wants to give you a big hug with a stable of really likeable, flawed characters and a touch of romance. Eve Hewson is Flora, a single mother trying to get her teenaged son, Max (Orén Kinlan), interested in something so he doesn’t end up in juvie — he’s a regular thief and a troublemaker.
Of course, he’s not really a bad kid, and Flora’s far from a perfect mom with her own anger issues, but she’s trying. When Max rejects the guitar she gets for him, she learns how to play it herself with the help of an online tutor (Joseph Gordon Levitt).
The film threatens to be too saccharine, but it’s very sweary and the terrific Dublin location work gives it just enough grit to offset the sweetness. A highlight is a scene here where Flora listens to an archival performance of Joni Mitchell playing “Both Sides Now” and the camera just holds on Hewson — if she isn’t already a star, this should do it. (In cinemas and on Apple TV+)
In 2003 a film from Quebec called Seducing Doctor Lewis (original title, La Grande Seduction) was a crossover hit. It’s set in a northern community that’s hoping a factory will be built in town to give jobs to all the locals, but they need to have a doctor on board for this to happen, so they lure a big city doc with his own problems to town and then work hard to get him to stay — they seduce him, if you will. (This plot is a little dicey if you consider a lot of companies might provide their own medical personnel if they’re investing that far out, but anyhoo.) The doctor is handsome but a bit adrift. He loves cricket so the locals pretend to be crazy about cricket. The film is a charmer, light and heartfelt but working with a truth about small towns.
The producers must have figured this story would resonate: 10 years later, in 2013, there was an English language Canadian version, The Grand Seduction, set in Newfoundland and starring Brendan Gleeson, Gordon Pinsent, and Lianne Balaban. Since then there’ve been at least two more, one in French from France, and one in Italy, called An Almost Perfect Country. This new one, called The Great Seduction (▲▲▲△△), on Netflix, is in Spanish and is from Mexico.
Somehow, it’s just as charming. Largely a cast of seniors, they’re great, and amongst them (in the Lianne Balaban role) is Yalitza Aparicio, who earned an Oscar nomination for her part in the Netflix movie, Roma. Some of the cultural stuff has been changed, obviously — the doctor in this movie loves American Football — but it’s remarkable how many of the key plot details are the same: Rural people want to live in the small town they grew up in and are willing to do anything to stay there because it’s the most beautiful place on earth — and so they convince the city slicker it’s worth it. It’s essentially the same Canadian story.
Jawan (▲▲▲△△) is a box office smash elsewhere in the world, an Indian action extravaganza starring Shah Rukh Khan, who’s been called The King of Bollywood. I gather he took a few years away from acting, but now he’s back with a vengeance. On Amazon Prime right now you can see him in Pathaan, an entertaining but very silly superspy thriller. Jawan is on Netflix Canada, and while I thought an action movie couldn’t get more bonkers than Pathaan, this one does.
For sheer scale and energy, Jawan is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s just so desperate to entertain — it never wants to risk being boring, never pausing to catch its breath. If there’s a moment where things slow down, it’s because the film is actually in slow-motion. It’s important to note action movies from India are really multiple genres: Jawan is a thriller, a prison drama, an issue movie (with things to say about poverty and government corruption), it’s a romantic comedy, and it’s definitely a musical with so much incidental music and a couple of terrific dance numbers.
What I don’t understand is why these movies all have to be two-and-a-half-hours long, or more. It’s a little exhausting. For Jawan I filled myself full of popcorn and M&Ms and I was still worn out by the end.