Inconvenient Indian (Canada, 2020. Dir: Michelle Latimer): Inspired by Thomas King’s widely popular essay, this documentary aims to support King’s notion that the colonization of aboriginal peoples has continued through the suppression of indigenous culture and traditions. Director Michelle Latimer also shows First Nations peoples countering this phenomenon by using every available venue so they can be seen and heard. The ideas supporting this doc are sound and the visuals, inventive. Unfortunately, given the number of topics it tries to cover, the result is scattershot and a notch slight. 2/5 respectful planets.
Wolfwalkers (Ireland, Luxembourg, France, 2020. Dir: Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart): Irish animation has it going on. Following the excellent The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, here comes the superb Wolfwalkers, which may be even better. Set during the English colonization of Ireland, Robyn, a settler girl hungry for adventure, befriends Mebh, a wild child who turns into a wolf when she sleeps. The unlikely friendship is threatened by the Lord Protector, the king’s envoy who—to win over the locals— has promised to burn the surrounding forest to get rid of the wolves, perceived as a threat. The film is an achievement from every point of view: Gorgeous 2D animation, compelling and entertaining plot and doubles as a warning against populism. What’s not to love. 4.5/5 planets-slash-wolves. Distribution: Apple TV.
Nomadland (USA, 2020. Dir: Chloé Zhao): Expected to be one of the strongest titles this year at TIFF, Nomadland lives up to the hype and more. Widowed and jobless, Fern (Frances McDormand) takes the road, working part-time jobs and living in her van. Her lifestyle is more common than she imagines and soon she’s part of a community of rudderless loners who have rediscovered their humanity while living precariously. Chloé Zhao allows the story to breath and the dialogue to linger. There’s not much of a plot here, but doesn’t matter because McDormand is magnetic. She fully inhabits her character and it’s fascinating to see her interacts with others in the same boat (mostly non actors, except for David Strathairn). America’s open spaces rarely have been shot so lovingly. A must see. 4.5/5 planets. Distribution: Searchlight.
Penguin Bloom (Australia, 2020. Dir: Glendyn Ivin): Bad things happen when Naomi Watts goes to Thailand (see The Impossible). This time around she falls from the hotel roof and breaks her back. Paralyzed from the waist down, Sam (Watts) has pretty much given up on living, despite her three boys and loving husband (Andrew Lincoln sans zombies) trying to lift her spirit. At her lowest point, the family adopts an orphan magpie they call Penguin. Despite having wings, Penguin can’t fly (get it?), just like Sam and her legs (METAPHOR ALERT!). Based on real events, this movie is Hallmark-worthy at best and has the subtlety of a jackhammer. The only interesting aspect of the film is that the family pays more attention to the bird than the youngest kid and is unintendedly funny. If you like your human interest stories with a lot of cheese you could do worse. 2/5 planets that are doing just fine without help.
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Hungary, 2020. Dir: Lili Horvát):Remember Felicity? The girl with curly hair who followed the boy she liked to college even though she could have done much better? This movie is like that, only older-skewed and far duller. An Hungarian neurosurgeon (Natasa Stork) moves back to her country after meeting a man at a conference. Here’s the catch: He doesn’t recall meeting her. Is she having a mental breakdown? Is the man ghosting her? Instead of going for a thriller or a comedy vibe, writer/director Lili Horvát choses to tell the story in the most dour way possible. By the time the movie provides an explanation, I had stopped caring about half hour earlier. 1.5/5 planets who can’t take a hint.