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VOD Review: I Used to Go Here

August 7, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs), the main character in the new indie dramedy I Used to Go Here, is a writer in her mid-thirties who has just published her first novel, only to have her book tour cancelled by the publisher due to poor sales.

With the man she was engaged to marry no longer answering her calls, and her book performing badly, Kate is at a crossroads in her life. In light of this, she gets a phone call from her former college professor David Kirkpatrick (Jemaine Clement), whom she was crushing on as a student, who invites her back to her alma mater in Carbondale, Illinois for a book reading.

This return trip to her old stomping grounds allows Kate to reflect on her life so far, while also revisiting her university days. Kate is staying at a bed and breakfast that is across the street from her old residence, and starts hanging out with the college students who live there now. This includes a trio of young guys, Hugo (Josh Wiggins), Animal (Forrest Goodluck) and Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley, stealing every scene that he’s in), who invite her into their friend group.

Written and directed by Kris Rey, (who was formerly married to Joe Swanberg), I Used to Go Here is a very appealing film. There are a lot of nice little character moments observed by Rey, with the humour mostly arising naturally out of the awkward situations that Kate finds herself in. Rey’s screenplay is also really smart in the way that it explores how we take more chances when we are young, and how the fear of failure causes us to take less risks as we get older.

Kate knows that her book is mediocre, (a running gag has her constantly bringing up how she dislikes the crappy cover art), and that she used to be a better and more challenging writer in college. Jacobs, who is perhaps best known from her role on Community, is the key to why I Used to Go Here works so well, and it’s her performance that grounds the film. Like the movie around her, Jacobs delivers an authentic performance that is both low-key funny and also sort of sad, and her character is one that is easy for the audience to relate to.

Wiggins, a young Canadian actor who also really impressed me in the film Giant Little Ones, is a standout of the supporting cast, with a charming, laid-back screen presence that is reminiscent of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. All in all, I Used to Go Here is an enjoyable, slightly reflective mix of quiet comedy and light drama that, at only 87 minutes long, goes down quite smooth. I liked it.

I Used to Go Here is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Pacific Northwest Pictures.

VOD Review: She Dies Tomorrow

August 7, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Pitched somewhere between horror movie, psychological thriller, dark comedy, and hallucinatory fever dream, while refusing to settle for any single one of those things, She Dies Tomorrow functions as an intriguing look at anxiety and mass hysteria.

Written and directed by Amy Seimetz, an actor who starred in Upstream Color and made her feature directorial debut in 2012 with Sun Don’t Shine, the film follows a woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) who is convinced that she is going to die tomorrow. We don’t exactly know why, but when we first meet her in the film, she is drinking and very distressed.

Not much happens for roughly the first twenty minutes of She Dies Tomorrow; we simply observe Amy as she behaves oddly at home. Then things start to get quite interesting. She gets a visit from her old friend Jane (Jane Adams), who tries to help, but Amy is insistent that her demise is imminent and that she wants a leather jacket made out of her skin. It’s not long before Jane becomes convinced that she will also die tomorrow, and starts spreading this paranoia to more and more people.

It’s a premise that, on the surface, seems sort of like It Follows; a plague of sorts keeps getting passed from person to person, leading to increasing paranoia as interactions between the infected cause the disease to rapidly spread. The story itself is fairly simple, but what Seimetz does with it makes her film unique and much harder to define. The film plays vaguely as a horror movie, but it’s also not that simple, and there are multiple ways to interpret the story.

It works as a breakup movie and as an allegorical story about addiction and relapse. It also works as a portrait of the devastating effects of mental illness, and how the fallout from one person’s breakdown can have untold consequences on those around them. The elusive nature of the story keeps all of these different interpretations in constant play, and Seimetz, who made the film following a very dark period in her own life, refuses to settle for easy or decisive answers.

In short, Seimetz was previously engaged to her Upstream Color director and co-star Shane Carruth, a relationship that ended due to horrific abuse. This information was only made public recently, pushed to the forefront through images of Carruth’s restraining order against her that he “accidentally” posted on twitter. None of this should overshadow Seimetz’s film, as was possibly Carruth’s intention, but it does provide some insight into what headspace she was in when developing the film.

As Amy, Sheil grounds the film with a performance that is both sympathetic and unsettling, doing an excellent job of portraying a woman who is unravelling from the knowledge of her mortality. Jay Keitel’s impressive cinematography adds a dream-like feel to She Dies Tomorrow, as he plays with colour and light in an at times hypnotic way, including a strobing effect (any photosensitive viewers should proceed with caution) that precedes the realization of impending death.

The film also features some unnerving sound design, which really adds to the eerie feel of it all. This is the epitome of a strange, offbeat, idiosyncratic movie that won’t be for everyone. But if you are able to go along with it, She Dies Tomorrow reveals itself to be something interesting and often unsettling, as it explores how contagious the fear of death can truly be.

She Dies Tomorrow is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

VOD Review: The Secret Garden

August 7, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

First published in 1911, British author Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s novel The Secret Garden has been adapted for the big and small screen numerous times over the years, with the most famous adaptations being the movie versions that were released in 1949 and 1993.

This story, which was first told over a hundred years ago but still retains its power, has now gotten a new adaptation in the form of director Marc Munden’s film The Secret Garden, and his version certainly has a lot of star-power behind it.

It’s produced by David Heyman, who also helped bring the Harry Potter and Paddington films to the screen, and it features Colin Firth and Julie Walters in key supporting roles. This is certainly enough to peak the interest of many viewers, and Munden’s film is a handsomely mounted production.

But aside from its decent performances and assorted moments of visual splendour, this adaptation also doesn’t really offer anything new or that hasn’t been done better in the other versions. The story remains the same. Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx) is a spoiled British girl who was born in India to wealthy white parents. At the start of the film, Mary is alone. Both of her parents have died, and she is sent to England to live with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (Firth), at Misselthwaite Manor, a sprawling estate on the Yorkshire Moors where much of the story takes place.

At first, Mary rarely sees her uncle, who leaves her with strict rules about where she can and can’t go in the house, and she is mostly looked after by the older housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Walters) and a kind maid named Martha (Isis Davis). While exploring the grounds, Mary discovers a hidden garden that becomes the setting for adventures with Martha’s younger brother Dickon (Amir Wilson). One night, Mary meets her cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst), a sickly boy who is kept confined to his bed in a hidden room, and she becomes determined to bring him to the garden in hopes that it will help heal him.

There certainly are elements of this adaptation that I enjoyed. Egerickx does a fine job of carrying the film, and there are some nicely handled moments of magical realism as Mary explores the garden and discovers what it means to her family. The art direction is also impressive throughout. The halls of Misselthwaite Manor are appropriately foreboding, and the titular garden is beautifully realized onscreen, a magical place filled with exotic plants and bursting colours.

While the film takes a bit too long to get going during its somewhat meandering first act, the plot and characters do come into sharper focus as it goes along. Even if the power of Burnett’s text feels a bit muted this time around, the emotional pull of the story is still felt in the movie’s second half. The book has always been celebrated for the way that it deals with grief and loss in a way that is accessible to young audiences, and these elements are thankfully not completely lost in translation.

But the film as a whole also seems a bit stilted, and often lacks the genuine spark of magic that was needed to really justify another adaptation of this classic story. Burnett’s book has endured for the way that it celebrates the power of imagination, but Munden’s film takes a fairly unimaginative approach to retelling it onscreen. At times I was left wondering what this material would look like in the hands of a filmmaker like Guillermo del Toro, who would have mined the story for its true gothic potential.

The film never fully blooms into feeling like a full-fledged classic, and the 1993 version that I remember watching as a kid remains the superior adaptation. But The Secret Garden is still a serviceable retelling of this story for a new generation of kids, that features enough visual appeal to keep us watching.

The Secret Garden is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

VOD Review: Random Acts of Violence

July 31, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Directed by Jay Baruchel, dipping his toes into the horror genre following his 2017 directorial debut Goon: Last of the Enforcers, Random Acts of Violence explores what happens when the work of an artist starts to inspire shocking acts of real life violence.

Todd (Jesse Williams) is a comic book writer who is struggling to come up with an ending for his series, Slasherman. The comics centre around a protagonist named Slasherman, a madman in a welding mask whom Todd based on an actual serial killer who committed a series of grisly murders in the late 1980s and early ’90s along a stretch of highway, turning his victims into twisted works of art.

At the start of the film, Todd is setting out on a road trip from Toronto to the United States with his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), business partner Ezra (Baruchel) and assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson), travelling along the same stretch of highway where these murders took place. The plan is to promote the comics through a series of interviews and signings, but things take a dark turn when murders start being committed, directly inspired by the morbid drawings in Todd’s comic books.

The film, which is based on a 2010 graphic novel by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, borrows from a variety of other serial killer and slasher movies, (there are obvious allusions to Se7en and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), taking the familiar trope of bickering friends stuck on a road trip together and blossoming from there. It’s lurid and schlocky enough to work as a midnight movie, but also has a bit more going on beneath the surface to make it more interesting, asking questions about whether or not an artist should take responsibility for how people interpret their work.

While Random Acts of Violence does feel a little undercooked in parts, and I wish it had gone a bit deeper into the psychology of the characters, it’s good for a first effort. Baruchel, who co-wrote the screenplay with his writing partner Jesse Chabot, has crafted a decent and largely effective genre film, building a solid sense of atmosphere as he mixes elements of pitch black comedy, suspense and gory violence. The kills themselves are nasty and shocking, and there is a sinister bite to the film that is genuinely unsettling at times.

Karim Hussain’s cinematography has an appropriate grunginess to it, and there are also some stylish animated interludes that appear directly lifted from the pages of a comic book. The film delivers on the promise of providing sordid genre thrills, while also provocatively exploring whether violence inspires art or art inspires violence, and how the two, in some minds, are inextricably linked. It’s a high concept gambit that works well enough, and Baruchel shows promise in pulling it off.

Random Acts of Violence is being released in Canada today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms, as well as in select theatres where allowed. It’s distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

VOD Review: Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison

July 31, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Written, directed, edited, produced by and starring comic actor Romany Malco, Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison is a fairly amusing mockumentary that follows an ex-convict’s attempts to go from prison inmate to life coach.

Tijuana Jackson (Malco) is a fast-talking inmate at a Florida prison who has dreams of becoming a motivational speaker, frequently coaching his fellow prisoners and running a blog from jail where he shares inspirational advice to his followers. TJ, as he is known to his friends, becomes the subject of a short documentary that is being made by a college student named Rachel (Shannon Dang), who comes to interview him in jail.

Rachel is planning to make a ten minute short film about the lack of job opportunities for both graduates and prisoners, but TJ is too good of a subject to pass up, and her project rapidly evolves into a feature documentary. Rachel continues to follow TJ as he gets out on parole, and keeps the camera rolling as he gets caught up with his family, made up of Momma (Lyne Odums), sister Sharea (Tami Roman) and nephew Lil’ Eric (Alkoya Brunson), and has frequent run-ins with his strict probation officer Cheryl Wagner (Regina Hall).

Expanded from Malco’s 2011 web series Prison Logic, where he appeared in character as TJ offering life advice to callers, Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison builds upon the titular character and serves as an energetic showcase for its star. Unfolding entirely in a fake documentary style, the film maintains a comic tone throughout, but also scratches at the surface of some deeper themes about high incarceration rates for African Americans, and how the justice system doesn’t really help people move forward and just catches them in a revolving door.

While Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison does have a bit of a loose, episodic sketch comedy feel to it, reminiscent of its web series origins, the material here is often amusing and many of Malco’s line deliveries are quite funny. Malco is backed up by a game supporting cast, with Hall taking on the role of straight woman, and Brunson leaving his mark as TJ’s nephew and young wingman. This is overall a lightly enjoyable film that does a fine job of passing the time, and is worth it for a few laughs.

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

VOD Release: White Lie

July 22, 2020

By John Corrado

The Canadian drama White Lie, which had its world premiere at TIFF last year, is being released digitally and on demand this week on a variety of platforms.

The film, which is the best one yet from young Toronto directors Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, follows a young woman named Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl) who shaves her head and convinces people she has cancer in order to raise money for herself.

As I wrote in my review from TIFF last year, White Lie “is a dark and moody Canadian drama that is engaging and even suspenseful to watch as we wait for the truth to finally explode.” I was a fan of Rohl’s fiercely dedicated performance, portraying a character who isn’t meant to be likeable and even borders on sociopathic, as well as the gritty look of the film. Overall, it’s an intriguing character study that is worth checking out.

Film Rating: ★★★ (out of 4)

Release Date: July 21st, 2020 (VOD)

Blu-ray Review: Scoob!

July 21, 2020

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Scooby-Doo, the classic cartoon dog from Hanna-Barbera, gets a shiny new CG makeover in Scoob!, a disappointingly bland animated adventure that features some appealing elements but mostly feels uninspired.

The film, which bypassed theatres and went straight to video on demand a few months ago and is now arriving on Blu-ray today, does show some early promise, setting itself up as an origin story of how Shaggy (Will Forte) first met the talking Great Dane Scooby (Frank Welker), and formed Mystery Inc. with their friends Fred (Zac Efron), Velma (Gina Rodriguez) and Daphne (Amanda Seyfried).

From here, the plot finds Shaggy, Scooby and the rest of the gang going up against the evil, moustache-twirling villain Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), who wants to use Scooby to open up a portal to Hades and bring the three-headed ghost dog Cerberus, a classic figure from Greek mythology, into our world.

Following an encounter with Dastardly’s creepy little robot minions in a bowling alley, Shaggy and Scooby find themselves beamed onto a spaceship belonging to the Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), a vain superhero who is joined by his sidekick Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons) and his robot dog companion Dynomutt (Ken Jeong). Meanwhile, the rest of the Mystery Inc. team springs into action to rescue their friends, and they all must work together to foil Dastardly’s plans.

I actually liked the first few scenes of Scoob!, which opens with a sweet prologue showing Shaggy as a young friendless boy (voiced Ian Armitage) befriending Scooby as a puppy and meeting the younger versions of Fred, Velma and Daphne (Pierce Gagnon, Ariana Greenblatt and Mckenna Grace) for the first time. In the film’s best set-piece, the kids end up in a haunted house on Halloween, and this sequence serves as a fun way to start the movie, recalling the feel of the classic cartoon.

But Scoob! gets more generic and forgettable as it goes along, with its rote action sequences and stale jokes. Rather than playing as a straight-forward supernatural mystery, the film instead tries to capitalize on the success of superhero movies, and at this point it becomes overly busy and starts feeling less like a proper Scooby-Doo movie. With its inclusion of characters from other cartoons, the film also feels like it is trying to set up a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe that never really materializes.

The animation itself is often easy enough on the eyes, and the updated CG character designs aren’t unappealing. But the constant pop culture references that litter the screenplay do get rather tiresome, and at just over ninety minutes, the film feels stretched thin in terms of plot. While Scoob! isn’t a terrible animated film – younger audience members will likely still get some enjoyment out of it, and much of the humour is geared towards kids anyway – it’s also often disappointing in its blandness, and I found myself wanting to like it more than I actually did.

The Blu-ray also includes a blooper reel, ten deleted scenes (Shaggy and Scooby Meet, Operation Maximum Candy With Minimum Effort, Dastardly in Peru, Chef Shaggy, Inside Scooby and Shaggy’s Minds, Mischievous Mustache, Shaggy Gets a New Friend, Dastardly Kidnaps the Gang, Escape from Island, and Night Hounds) which feature intros by director Tony Cervone, and the instructional video How to Draw Scooby-Doo which finds Cervone talking us through sketching the eponymous dog.

Finally, the disc includes a pretty decent featurette entitled New Friends, Newer Villains which focuses on how the filmmakers updated classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters for the film. This is followed by Puppies!!, a very short promotional piece featuring the cast playing with, you guessed it, puppies.

Scoob! is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 94 minutes and rated G.

Street Date: July 21st, 2020

Blu-ray Review: Clueless: 25th Anniversary Edition

July 14, 2020

By John Corrado

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few days about how, despite the fact that Amy Heckerling directed two of the most iconic teen films of all time, she herself sadly isn’t really a household name in the same way that some other auteurs of adolescent cinema have become.

The first of the high school classics that Heckerling directed is the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, an ensemble character piece written by Cameron Crowe following a group of kids over several months of school in Southern California. The second is Clueless, which came out thirteen years later in 1995 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month with a new Blu-ray edition.

I just rewatched Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High over the weekend, and both films do an excellent job of showcasing how sharp Heckerling’s ability is (or was) to authentically capture the voices and feelings of American teenagers. Both films have the unique distinction of still holding up really well with their universal themes and instantly relatable characters, while also feeling like very specific representations of their respective eras, which is no small feat. Put simply, what Fast Times and the films of John Hughes were to the 1980s, Clueless is to the ’90s.

The story of Clueless is loosely based on the Jane Austen novel Emma, (which recently got a proper adaptation in the form of the delightful Emma., starring Anya Taylor-Joy). The main character is Cher (Alicia Silverstone), an affluent high school student living in Beverly Hills with her rich litigator father (Dan Hedaya). Cher is a bubbly go-getter who likes to be in control of everyone around her, with a circle of friends that includes her bestie Dionne (Stacey Dash) and new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy), whose grunge style makes Cher excitedly take her on as a “project.”

Cher fancies herself as a matchmaker, which includes setting up two of her teachers (Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan) and trying to find a cool boyfriend for Tai, but she is also struggling to navigate her own romantic life. The film’s memorable cast of characters includes Cher’s former stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd), a self-styled college intellectual who moves back in; her smooth and equally fashion-obsessed romantic interest Christian (Justin Walker), an exception to her rule about not wanting to date sloppy high school boys; and the scene-stealing Travis (Breckin Meyer), a likeable stoner who heavily channels Sean Penn’s Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Cher is pushy and self-centred but, like, in a well meaning way, and over the course of the film she must come to accept the fact that she is often just as clueless and helpless to the laws of attraction as everyone around her. Silverstone takes this character who could have simply been overbearing and makes her, well, loveable. Being herself a bright-eyed teenager at the time of shooting the film, who caught the attention of the filmmakers through her roles in Aerosmith music videos, Silverstone achieves this balance by consciously and unconsciously leaning in to Cher’s youthful naiveté.

Silverstone positively lights up the screen, perfectly embodying Cher’s mannerisms and speech patterns, and her performance is a big part of what makes Clueless so special and appealing. It’s the sort of star-making, breakout role that still feels like a revelation over two decades later. The film is, of course, also elevated by Heckerling’s incredibly witty and highly literate screenplay, which is filled with wonderfully sarcastic expressions of passive aggression (“as if,” “what-ever“), delivered by Silverstone in epic, eye-rolling fashion.

The film is chock full of dialogue and outfits, (Cher’s fabulous wardrobe is on point throughout), that permeated the pop culture landscape and still pop off the screen some 25 years later. The slang is so totally ’90s, and the cell phones have antennas, but Clueless still feels fresh. Watching it now feels like witnessing lightning that was captured in a bottle. Everything about it simply works. It’s as good as you remember and maybe even better, a sparkling, sublimely entertaining teen comedy that still delights with its sharp dialogue and has incredible replay value.

The Blu-ray also includes a solid selection of previously released bonus features, starting with the Clue or False Trivia Game, an interactive feature that offers pop-up trivia during the film. This is followed by seven very good featurettes; The Class of ’95, Creative Writing, Fashion 101, Language Arts, Suck ‘n Blow: A Tutorial, Driver’s Ed, and We’re History. Finally, the disc also includes the original teaser and theatrical trailer for the film. The content is the same as the initial Blu-ray edition that was put out in 2012, except with new cover art and the welcome addition of a digital copy code.

Clueless: 25th Anniversary Edition is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 97 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: July 14th, 2020

VOD Review: First Cow

July 10, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Acclaimed independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, one of cinema’s finest surveyors of Americana, delivers one of her finest works yet with First Cow, a film that works as both a bracing frontier drama exploring themes of greed and early capitalism, and as a compelling, understated character study.

The film, which had the misfortune of opening back in March just before movie theatres were forced to close and is now being released digitally, is loosely adapted from a 2004 novel called The Half-Life by Reichardt’s frequent collaborator Jonathan Raymond, who co-wrote the screenplay with her.

The story is set in Oregon Territory in the early 19th century, and follows a mild-mannered cook who goes by the nickname Cookie (John Magaro). Cookie is travelling with a rugged group of fur trappers, but starts to break away from the group when he meets King Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant who is on the run. The two of them become close friends, and together they hatch a risky moneymaking scheme that involves stealing milk from the first and only cow in the territory, which belongs to a wealthy landowner (Toby Jones).

The characters of Cookie and King Lu are beautifully performed by Magaro and Lee, with the former able to say so much through few words, and the latter brilliantly portraying the hardscrabble resilience of his immigrant character whose self-sufficient grifter spirit seems indicative of the so-called American Dream. The bond that forms between the two men is tender and touching. A special mention must also be given to the titular cow, a bovine named Eve who provides a calm, steady presence in the film.

The observational qualities of Reichardt’s work that have made her such a unique and vital voice in the indie film world are on full display in First Cow. She is a master at delivering these sorts of understated character studies, but she is also a master at organically building tension, and there is genuine suspense allowed to build up in the film’s second half. Reichardt, who also edited the film herself, finds a very unique rhythm, with a pace that both feels relaxed and steadily builds in tension as it goes along, keeping us fully engaged throughout the two hour running time.

The film itself in many ways feels like a culmination of Reichardt’s style and themes, combining the beautifully observed nuances of male friendship that were also found in her early 2006 masterwork Old Joy, with the period authenticity of her 2014 slow-burn Western Meek’s Cutoff, as well as the simmering suspense of her masterful 2014 eco thriller Night Moves. It’s also worth noting that, on all three of those films, along with her 2008 drama Wendy and Lucy, Reichardt shared writing credits with Raymond.

It’s a testament to Reichardt’s sure touch as a filmmaker that First Cow, which on the surface appears like a quiet period piece, becomes something that feels both moving and relevant. Christopher Blauvelt’s gorgeous cinematography, framed within a square 1.37:1 aspect ratio, helps to capture both the beauty and threat of the untamed Pacific Northwest wilderness that the film almost entirely unfolds in.

The film tells a simple yet powerful allegorical story, that is infused with both great drama and even moments of gentle humour, bookended by stunning opening and closing scenes that take on a haunting quality. This is a completely naturalistic character piece that, while set a couple of centuries ago, will surely be remembered as one of the very best movies of 2020.

First Cow is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms, as well as in select theatres where allowed. It’s distributed in Canada by MK2 Mile End.

VOD Review: Guest of Honour

July 10, 2020

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

The latest from Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, Guest of Honour unfortunately follows in the footsteps of several of his other disappointing late career works; it’s a dramatic thriller that takes topical themes and buries them in an overly complicated and melodramatic package.

The film tells the story of a restaurant health inspector named Jim (David Thewlis), and his daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira), the former conductor of a high school band. The film actually takes place after Jim’s death, and is built around a conversation that Veronica is having with a priest (Luke Wilson), making arrangements for her father’s funeral.

This is the film’s main narrative through-line, and through it we also discover that Veronica has just gotten out of jail for alleged misconduct involving two of her male students. This part of the story is revealed through flashbacks, as Jim visits his daughter in jail and pieces together the truth of what actually happened with Veronica, who is innocent but chooses to remain in prison anyway.

I don’t really want to say anymore about the plot, which plays out through a fractured narrative that unfolds across several timelines, and does provide some initial intrigue. But as more connections are revealed between the different characters and plot lines, Egoyan’s screenplay becomes convoluted to the point of getting increasingly nonsensical. This is one of those “everything is connected” films that relies upon a lot of contrivances, and it’s hard to buy how it all ties together.

The one saving grace of Guest of Honour is British actor Thewlis, who is often quite good in the film despite the pulpy material, which really speaks to his strengths as a performer. Thewlis ensures that the film is kept watchable, and Egoyan does stage some compelling scenes when it’s just his character going into restaurants and finding health infractions. But the soapy melodrama of everything around these sequences proves rather frustrating.

Guest of Honour is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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