Film Review: THE TWO POPES (UK/USA/Italy/Argentina 2019) ***1/2

The Two Popes Poster

Behind Vatican walls, the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

Films about popes have already been interesting, regardless if one is Roman Catholic or not.  The Roam Catholic institution has survived ages.  News and headlines about priest abuse and the selection process of a new pope have always fascinated the world.  In THE TWO POPES, director Fernando Meirelles’s (the director of the Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language film, CITY OF GOD), THE TWO POPES tells the stories of not one but two popes as they interact with each other, both with different ideals for the church and basically two highly different people.  Yet, they are good people, as they should be, with great ambitions for the Catholic Church.  They are played by two of filmdom’s finest actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, both now old enough to play the two pontiffs.

The film opens with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce) preaching in the streets in Argentina while also cheering his favourite soccer team.  The film quickly established Cardinal Jorge as  a decent man with ordinary pleasures like the love for soccer.  The film effectively closes with both popes watching the World cup final each cheering for their home teams, while making ‘human’ jokes while getting extremely excited.

Of the two popes, Bergoglio is the more interesting, only because director Meirelles devotes more time in him.  Bergoglio prefers walking or biking to limousines.  He likes to tango and watch soccer with ordinary people.  In an amusing early scene, we hear him whistling “Dancing Queen” in the Vatican men’s room.  He is clearly shown to be against sexual abuse, believing that offenders should be defrocked.  He is also against homosexuality, which clearly will anger the majority of people, but that is his belief.  No reasons are given for this belief.

Director Meirelles spends time on the process of selecting Bergoglio that went behind closed doors in the Vatican when white smoke from the chimney would indicate the decision that a new pope has been selected.

 In contrast is the opposite nature of Pope Benedict (Hopkins), who regards any change as a perilous compromise to the Church’s integrity.  Nevertheless, Benedict realizes that momentum is building for Bergoglio to succeed him, so the two men meet, break bread, and engage in a debate that reveals much about their respective pasts and divergent visions for the future.  This is perhaps the most interesting part of the film, analogous to climatic confrontation in a film drama.  The only difference here is that there is no right or wrong but differences in opinion and beliefs.  Except for the fact that homosexuality should not be condemned in the Catholic Church, an issue neglected in the film.

THE TWO POPES should be seen primarily for the performances of its two leads, Hopkins and Pryce.  Director Meirelles has also achieved the formidable task of making a film on the Catholic Church more interesting that it should be.

THE TWO POPES premiered this year at the Toronto International Film Festival.  It has a limited screening engagement at the Bell Lightbox before being streamed on Netflix.



The Warrior Queen of Jhansi Poster


A tale of women’s empowerment, The Warrior Queen of Jhansi tells the true story of Lakshmibai, the historic Queen of Jhansi who fiercely led her army against the British East India Company in the infamous mutiny of 1857.


Swati Bhise

(Blood in the Snow Film Festival(BITS)): DEAD DICKS (Canada 2019) ***1/2)

Dead Dicks Poster
After Becca receives a distressing call from her suicidal brother Richie, she rushes over to his apartment and finds him alive and well – surrounded by copies of his own dead body.

One wonders the reason that this film got selected for the Blood in the Snow film festival as there is no blood in the snow in this film.  But thank heavens the film got picked, as this film shows lots of promise.  And there are lots of blood to compensate, as bodies get chopped up and disposed in garbage bags.  

The story defies logic but it works.  Suicidal Richie (Heston Horwin) cannot die – a sort of horror GROUNDHOG DAY.  Whenever Richie kills himself, he re-emerges from a vagina on the wall in the next room.  Sister Becca (Jillan Harris) helps her brother though no help can save the day.  Downstairs apartment neighbour Matt (Matt Keyes) sees the dead bodies of Richie’s past deaths and the film gets weirder.  Written and directed by the Montreal-based duo, the film keeps audience’s interest piqued by the creation of lots of audience anticipation segments. 

 The micro-budget film showcases the budding talent of both cast and crew in this weird horror fest flick.


(Cinefranco 2019 Festival): PUPILLE (IN SAFE HANDS) (France 2019) *****Top 10

In Safe Hands Poster

Theo was born an unwanted child. The social services set out to find the perfect home for his adoption.


Jeanne Herry


Jeanne Herry (screenplay)

Marcelle Lean picked a real winner for her Cinefranco 2019 with this film about France’s adoption process.  The adoption process is shown here in all its complications and complexity with a whole lot of people involved in finding an adopted baby a good home.  PUPILLE unfolds non-chronologically as fiction though one can be sure that director Herry has done lots of research.  The story follows Theo, abandoned by his biological mother (Leila Muse) as Social Service strives through many applicants to find him a suitable and loving home. 

 The film reveals the various emotional states of everyone involved in the process from the mother, to the accepted new adoptive mother (Elodie Bouchez), to the social workers (3 of them) to the man (Gilles Lellouche) who looks after Theo before delivered to his final home.  Director has created both a heart warming and heart wrenching drama that will tug at ones emotions.  So, bring lots of Kleenex.  

 A few of the film’s parts are out of place like the emotional drama between two of the workers.  But given the film’s content, good intentions and research, PUPILLE deserves full marks.  (It has also 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes at time of writing.) PUPILLE is the term given to the ward while under the care of France’s Social Services.  The film returns ones faith in the human race.  

Trailer: (ver francais)

Film Review: DOCTOR SLEEP (USA 2019) ***

Doctor Sleep Poster

Years following the events of “The Shining,” a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as he tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.


Mike Flanagan


Stephen King (based on the novel by), Mike Flanagan (screenplay)

DOCTOR SLEEP is based on the Stephen King’s 2013 novel, that follows what happens after THE SHINING, which was made into the Stanley Kubrick horror classic of the same name with Jack Nicholson, who declined to appear in this sequel.  Flanagan is an American filmmaker. He is best known for his horror films, all of which he directed, wrote, and edited including Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013), Hush, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil (all 2016), Gerald’s Game (2017), and Doctor Sleep (2019).

It is 2011, sometime after escaping the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance, (now all grown up into Ewan McGregor and now known as just Dan) and his mother Wendy live in Florida.   He escapes his alcoholism though still scarred by his experiences at the hotel.  Danny is taught by the ghost of Dick Hallorann to lock such ghosts in imaginary “boxes” in his mind.  Meanwhile, a cult of quasi-immortals known as the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat, feed on “steam” produced by the dying moments of people with the Shining ability to slow their aging.  She recruits a teenage girl called Snakebite Andi into the cult after observing her ability to telepathically control people.

In a small town, Dan befriends Billy Freeman, who gets him a job and becomes his AA sponsor.  Dan uses his Shine abilities to comfort dying patients, who give him the nickname “Doctor Sleep” where the film title is derived from. The film’s main story which now moves to 2019 involves his dealing with  Abra Stone, a young girl whose Shining is even more powerful than his and the destruction of The True Knot group.

For those who love THE SHINING, DOCTOR SLEEP pays enough homage to the original film while still keeping it fresh with new scary ideas. There are the familiar scenes of young Danny riding his tricycle in the hotel hallways, the huge gushing of blood from the double closed doors in the hotel and characters that look like the mad Nicholson and frantic Shelley Duvall.  Yet, director Flanagan has enough ideas to keep his film original and fresh.  The beginning sequence where Rose the Hat entices a little girl with flowers is the film’s scariest and creepiest scene.  No other scene in the film tops this one.  The film has a solid climatic showdown.

DOCTOR SLEEP lacks jump scares, which are basically cheap scares that often make no sense to the plot or story but annoyingly scares audiences out of their seats.  I hate these.  Lacking these, DOCTOR SLEEP rises itself over cheap horror flicks like THE CONJURING series.  DOCTOR SLEEP works like an action horror film, that includes a big shootout showdown, western-style.  The 45 million budget allows high production values that make the film look great.  It runs a full 152 minutes or so, but director Flanagan knows how to build up suspense.  It is better to watch suspenseful segments that watching segments with lots of jump scares. (Example IT2).

DOCTOR SLEEP should keep both SHINING fans and horror fans satisfied.

Film Review: FRANKIE (France/Portugal 2019)

Frankie Poster

Three generations grappling with a life-changing experience during one day of a vacation in Sintra, Portugal, a historic town known for its dense gardens and fairy-tale villas and palaces.


Ira Sachs


Ira Sachs (screenplay), Mauricio Zacharias (screenplay)

Clearly playing a role written specially fro her, Academy Award nominee French actress Isabelle Huppert play a famous French actress like herself, who gathers her extended family for one last summer vacation.  

The film is set in Portugal’s Sintra, made even more beautiful by cinematographer Ruiz Pocas, with repeated scenes of idyllic mountainside town with lush forests.  The characters move around on cobble-stoned pavements in an ancient looking town.

There is not much story or purpose in the film except to glorify Huppert who probably does not need any more glorification.  The simple story unfolds over a day, when the audience learns around the film’s half way mark that Frankie (Huppert) has only a few months to live.  This is likely an excuse for Frankie to put her family affairs in order, which includes sorting out her son and other family members.  

Frankie’s husband (Brendan Gleeson) loves her dearly.   Director Sachs (LOVE IS STRANGE and LITTLE MEN) includes an uncomfortable love scene where Gleeson and Huppert embrace with their clothes off in bed.  (She is too slim and tanned while he too pale and large.)  To add to Frankie’s afflictions, she has other family problems.   Her ex-husband (Pascal Greggory) has moved on, her stepdaughter (Vinette Robinson) is contemplating a divorce and Frankie’s son (Jérémie Renier one of the best looking young French actors here sporting the ugliest moustache) is at loose ends.  Frankie thinks her son would be a good match for her hairdresser (Marisa Tomei), except the latter shows up with her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear).  There is nothing really urgent about these family matters, and the script by Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias does not attempt to edge the audience either.

Sachs past films have all been made or centred in New York.  This is his first film in Europe.  In one scene, the characters talk about New York when it is mentioned that the city is not what it used to be as most of the favourite restaurants have closed except for one.  Maybe you can just keep going to that one is the reply.  Maybe that is one of the reasons Sachs have ventured to Europe for this latest offering.

The film could do with more and much needed drama as well as humour.  Humour is light.  When Frankis is admonished for swimming topless in the pool, she says not to worry as she is photogenic.  Nothing really funny nor amusing about this line of dialogue.  There are lots of these going on in the movie.

Performances are best described as relaxed.  Audiences have seen Huppert and Gleeson in better films that showcase their talents.

There is no death scene or any hint of Frankie’s cancer suffering, which makes this her illness hard to believe.

The lack of material can be best observed in the closing segment where character slowly walk down a hill – the segment lasting a full 5 minutes or so.

FRANKIE debuted in competition at Cannes this year but failed to garnish much fanfare.


Blood in the Snow (BITS) film festival 2019: PUPPET KILLER (USA 2019) **

Puppet Killer Poster
While celebrating Christmas at a cabin in the woods, a group of high school students are stalked by a psychotic killer obsessed with horror movie icons.


Lisa Ovies


Kevin Mosley (screenplay by), Kevin Mosley (story by) | 1 more credit »

The premise: While celebrating Christmas at a cabin in the woods, a group of high school students are stalked by a psychotic killer obsessed with horror movie icons. There might be serious continuity problems with this film that surprisingly have won quite the few award at various horror festivals around the world.  

For one, the titles go ’10 years later’  which shows Jamie clearly in his late forties while 10 years back was a mere kid with a puppet.  (But this could be deliberately done, as all the actors playing the high school students are in their forties or thirties!)  

But for sheer cheesiness and violent gore and bloodletting, director Ovies knows how to dish out the goods.  As a child, Jamie is given a puppet by his mother that he adores.  When mother dies of cancer, the evil new father’s girlfriend (termed stepmother again, continuity problems) tears down all the posters and things Jamie loves.  

She is mysteriously bludgeoned tp death, horror-movie style which means it is likely a PUPPET KILLER is on the loose.  The best way to enjoy this horror flick is to ignore all logic and enjoy the cheesiness – which there is plenty of.  Director Ovies shows promise but her film is all over the place.