Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Benediction

Written by Alexander Reams

98/100

Benediction: (noun) The utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24–26

Benedictions are almost always used in Christianity to signify the end of a worship service. The last words you hear before you go out to eat and forget everything, it is said in the hopes that these words will stick with you throughout the week until the next Sunday when you sit in your same seat and listen to another sermon. It is a constant throughout worship services in one form or another. Terence Davies’ study on the poet, soldier, and writer Siegfried Sassoon is not a typical biopic. Davies doesn’t care about informing you about the person, presenting a portrait of a man who could not be with the ones he loved, or could not find the right one to love instead, and how it affects him at different points in his life. In such, putting a benediction, or a look of hope, on Sassoon’s life.

The film begins with a reading of one of Sassoon’s poems, with archive footage of World War I in the background, providing us with his opinion on the war even before we see him on screen. Damning the war, and himself. Then Sassoon appears, not Capaldi, but Jack Lowden, who embodies this character in every frame he appears, every syllable he utters is perfect. As a Peter Capaldi fanboy, I was disappointed that his role is a glorified cameo, however that disappointment was replaced with fascination and heartbreak as Jack Lowden commands the screen in what hopefully will be his breakout role, he has been in high profile films before (Dunkirk and Mary, Queen of Scots). Never before though has he commanded such a quiet presence that riveted me throughout the runtime of the film.

It brings this writer great shame to admit that Davies is a filmmaker who I have never dived into, and after seeing his latest, I want to dive in more. His usage of Sassoon’s poems as a way to show vignettes of his life correlate brilliantly with the usage of archival footage to continually remind us that Sassoon, while he did serve, became disenfranchised with a war he saw as unnecessary and had the guts to speak out against one of the biggest empires on the planet. The film is a message of bravery while also a meditation on heartbreak.

Sassoon’s life was filled with heartbreak. After the war he had a string of lovers, however, the film only shows in detail, 2 of them. Both of them were clearly being destructive for Siegfried and I couldn’t help but feel heartbreak for him. He wants to be loved and he wants to give love, but in a time when 2 men could not love one another how they want. This love he has is one of pure truth. One that seeps throughout the film and nearly bursts through the final shot of the film. Utilizing Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis to show a simple moment but one that is the utmost profound in a film full of deeper meaning and how Sassoon was subjected to this disregard because of who he was as a person. This shot is reminiscent of Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and its use of Fantasia on a Theme is as heartbreaking as the use of Vivaldi’s Presto from “Summer” in his Four Seasons symphony.

Benediction is one of the finest films to come out this year, a meditative and personal reflection for Davies, while also breaking me emotionally to the point where I could not stop caring for Siegfried Sassoon and only wanted him to be happy in a time where he could not be. Whether due to his own personal drawbacks or the fact that being openly gay at this time in Britain was a criminal offense. I hope this film is widely seen, and that everyone who does see it comes away from it with some version of a message. I know I did, and I rarely take messages from films. Like its title, Benediction is a benediction on the life of Siegfried Sassoon, while also feeling like one for Terence Davies filmography.

Benediction was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: The Suicide Squad

Written by Alexander Reams

97/100

“We’re all gonna die”

Bloodsport

“I hope so”

Polka-Dot Man

“Oh for fucks sake”

Bloodsport

This interaction between Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) tells you all you need to know about James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. The film, and the marketing are seemingly reacting to the question “Is this a sequel or a reboot to Suicide Squad (2016)?”. The answer is simpler than you would think: yes. It is a continuation, as proved by the existing relationship between Flag, Harley, and Captain Boomerang. While also starting over, not ignoring Ayer’s film, but also paving a new path for this group of villains. The major difference in this film to Ayer’s is that everything here is turned up. The dark humor is borderline nihilistic, but never quite feels like a downer. The action is way more realistic, making you feel every grain of sand and every speck of dust that hits the screen. 

The plot is a simple one, something that James Gunn thrives in. The squad, led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Bloodsport (Idris Elba), are tasked with going to the fictional island of Corto Maltese and destroy an old Nazi research post known as “Jotunheim” (reference to Norse mythology, the planet Jotunheim was the home world of the frost giants). As you would expect the mission gets very out of hand and they get a lot more than they expected. The beauty of Gunn employing a simple plot is that he can go anywhere he wants with it (Finally Warner Brothers has seemingly decided to trust its filmmaker), and he does, quickly subverting any audience expectations within the first 10 minutes of the film. I won’t spoil what he does, because it is so exhilarating to see it without knowing anything.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 

I was excited to see this from the first casting poster, and I’m happy to report that this film not only good but fun. Such has been an issue with the DCEU thus far. They can be good, but not enjoyable (Wonder Woman), or they can be bad, but there is fun to be had (Suicide Squad, more like Good Time, if youre drunk, but my point stands). Thankfully in 2021 we have gotten 2 high quality DCEU films, this, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. If you remember I sang the praises of that film. After years of mixed to meh films, we’ve had a banner year, that brings me hope for whats to come.

The squad ends up being Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Peacemaker (A wonderfully macabre John Cena), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, my favorite nihilistic performance since Edward Norton in Fight Club), Nanaue/ King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, with in my opinion his best performance since the first Rocky), and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, the heart of the flick). This ensemble plays off of each other deftly, and Gunn gives time for each of them to shine. As well as moments for everyone to play off each other. One of the best, and one of my personal favorite moments, is when Peacemaker and Bloodsport have a kill count competition, their facial reactions and body movements elevate the scene into one of the funniest in the film with only 2 lines of dialogue.

Gunn has managed to make a multi-genre film that exists within the current DCEU and make it work. He clearly has a lot of passion for this film and these characters. With all of that behind the camera, and the borderline legendary ensemble on screen, each manages to shine throughout and leave a lasting impression on myself long after the credits rolled. From one DC fan to another, thank you James Gunn.

The Suicide Squad Trailer

The Suicide Squad was screened at Fantasia 2021 Film Festival and is currently in wide theatrical release and streaming on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

P.S.: Peacemaker has his own TV show on HBO Max, and after this, I can’t imagine what Gunn has cooked up for us, but I know I want to see it.

Paddington

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Paddington, an immensely huggable young Peruvian bear, ventures to London in search of a family after an earthquake destroys his home in the rain forest. People aren’t quite as nice or welcoming as he thought they’d be when he first arrives, but then he hits the jackpot: enter Sally Hawkins, as irresistible as ever, as Mrs. Brown, an artist who welcomes Paddington into her family’s home with more warmth and kindness than any immigrant could hope for.

Mr. Brown and his children are as skeptical as one might expect them to be about co-habitating with a bear (the daughter thinks Paddington will be an embarrassment, Mr. Brown, who’s hilarious, thinks he’s a liability to the house and kids), but eventually they come around. The whimsical and colorful design of the Brown household and the removal of walls for tracking shots from room to room are evocative of a Wes Anderson movie, but whereas Anderson deliberately distances you from the spaces he builds, Paul King invites you in. The spiral staircase at the center of the house is up against a floor to ceiling wall decal of a tree with pink leaves that you want to reach out and touch, and that you can imagine reminds Paddington of his home and relatives when he climbs the banister (instead of taking the stairs as the humans do).

Paddington’s search for the British explorer who once visited his Peruvian homeland and the threat of a taxidermist (Nicole Kidman, delightfully icy) hunting Paddington give the narrative its forward momentum, but its the time spent in the Brown household that gives the film its most memorable charm. There are a handful of fish-out-of-water (or bear-out-of-the-rainforest?) bits that employ comic timing and musical cues to great effect (such as Paddington’s first experience with a human’s bathroom, him snatching a stranger’s dog when he reads a “Dogs Must Be Carried” sign next to an escalator, the entirety of a bank heist-like sequence at a geographical society building), but it’s the image of a cozy attic bedroom that the Browns make up for Paddington, and Hawkins poking her head up through the ceiling to check on him, that distill the movie’s unique loveliness.

Paddington Trailer