It’s that time again for the Yellowknife International Film Festival (YIFF) and I’m the man reviewing the films previewed at this festival. This time, I got a chance to pre-screen the films so I can post the reviews before showtime. From a satirical take on the Standing Rock protests to a documentary of the Tragically Hip’s final concert, we got a wide variety of films this year. We get that variety in our first screening with two hour-long films that couldn’t be more different. Journeys to Adaka is a documentary about a festival dedicated to Indigenous artists. The Last Walk is a collection of short films sharing a premise of a sister’s journey to forgive her exiled sister.
VICEROY’S HOUSE – Based on the true story of the independence of India and the formation of Pakistan.
HOME AGAIN – After a bad divorce, Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) is forced to take her two daughters and move in with her mother (Candice Bergen). On her 40th birthday, she has a one night stand with Harry (Pico Alexander) a college student in his early twenties. Then, her mother lets Harry and his two friends move in with them. Awkward! To make matters worst, her ex-husband (Michael Sheen) has returned.
This romantic comedy certainly has a vibe of Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, It’s Complicated). Its especially notable with that trademark Meyers scene where the romantic interests are caught in an awkward situation. Notable examples are Jack Nicholson catching Diane Keaton naked in Something’s Gotta Give or the laptop scene from It’s Complicated. In this case, it’s Alice’s kids coming home while Harry’s still in her bed.
Of course, this similarity may have something to do with Meyers serving as producer with her daughter Haillie Meyers-Shyer serving as writer/director. Is her daughter copying her or will Meyers-Shyer find her own voice? The only way to find out is to watch the movie.
IT – Stephen King’s classic horror novel is comes to the big screen. Sure It was made into a cult classic tv movie, but this is the first time It was made for the big screen.
On the surface, Derry, Maine seems like your average American town. But within the sewers, a shapeshifting evil takes the form of Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) to pick off local children. It’s latest victim is Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Forming The Loser Gang, Nick and a small group of misfits try to figure out the origins of this monster to stop this monster once and for all. Can they face up to a monster that can take the form of their worst fears?
What I love about King’s storytelling is how he uses the supernatural to examine more personal themes. In the case of It, the theme is childhood trauma. Each kid is an outsider in his/her own way, from Bill for his stuttering or Mike (Chose Jacobs) for his skin colour. Each kid is also coping with their own trauma, which Pennywise uses to terrorize the kids. Bill in particular blames himself for his brother’s death, not helped by his parent’s emotional distance from him. Another strength of King is how he incorporates real life horror alongside with the supernatural horror. Kids don’t need to worry about shapeshifting clowns, but they do have to deal with bullies. In this case, the Bower’s Gang, led by the psycholtic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). The bullies in King’s worlds are violent sadist, so prepare for some uncomfortable moments. Bowers reveals a theme of how children inherit their parents worst traits. Through his father, he develops sexism, racism and anti-semetism, which leads him to target Mike, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff).
King’s one of those rare writers who can make teens want to read a thousand page book, myself included. But this giant book puts screenwriters in a bad position when it comes to adaptation. Even if the film were three hours, story elements inevitably have to be taken out. It is especially challenging, with the story switching between our heroes as kids and them as adults. This builds a theme of how child trauma affects people in their later years. While this works great for a novel, movies are very strict with story structure. I think writers Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation), Gary Dauberman (Annabelle) and newcomer Chase Palmer made the right choice by keeping the focus on our heroes as children. There’s a good chance there will be a sequel if this film proves to be a hit.
The film does look terrifying. This version in Pennywise especially looks creepy. I noticed in the trailers that his eyes seem to cross away from each other. But I’m going to wait until it comes out to see whether or not it will live up to the novel.
REBEL IN THE RYE – Since the late J.D. Salinger won’t let anyone adapt his stories, Hollywood’s went ahead and made a biopic about the notoriously reclusive author.
The film focuses on his years as an up and coming writer (played by Nicholas Hoult). He returns from the war suffering from PTSD, with writing serving as his one salvation. So, he takes writing classes, led by the eccentric mentor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey). Despite many naysayers and his own self-doubt, J.D. Salinger pulls through, leading to the creation and publication of Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger had been burned by a bad documentary, so there’s a lot of weight on this film’s shoulder. For an author known for avoiding clichés, this film seems to follow the usual tropes of the underdog stories, from the eccentric mentor to the endless naysayers doubting his books. What gives me hope for this one is writer/director Danny Strong, whose teamed with Lee Daniels to make the well done The Butler and created the tv sensation Empire. It could still be entertaining.