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film review

Also opening: the too obvious and disappointingly safe The Hunt, and Vin Diesel wannabe franchise Bloodshot

This week’s new releases

  • The wonderful and powerful First Cow demands attention
  • Canadian drama Red Snow is an essential, but not easy, watch
  • Netflix thriller Lost Girls finds cinematic justice in a real-life unsolved mystery
  • The Booksellers opens up the secretive, obsessive and dusty world of rare books
  • The clever but vague Romanian drama The Whistlers hums its own peculiar tune
  • The Hunt is tremendously gory and too obvious
  • My Spy is a dashed off and generic family spy comedy
  • Bloodshot fits into the cinéma du Vin Diesel genre
  • I Still Believe’s forgettable faith-based cheese preaches to the choir
  • Also: Three films to stream for this March 14-15 weekend

First Cow

Courtesy of TIFF

  • Directed by Kelly Reichardt
  • Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond
  • Starring John Magaro, Orion Lee and the Titular Cow
  • Classification PG; 121 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

Quiet is an underrated aspect of cinema. As audiences, we lean toward demanding a near-constant auditory assault – that if we’re not hearing something, we’re missing something. Director Kelly Reichardt has no qualms with upending this, and other pieces of conventional cinematic wisdom with First Cow, a film that takes great care to remind us of the whisper-quiet bones of America’s history – a time when there wasn’t much to hear except what nature was telling us. The care that Reichardt puts into First Cow’s sound builds a bridge to the similar care she takes with the spare set design, the natural lighting, the stripped-down narrative, the lived-in performances, and so on, until it’s two hours later and she’s stealthily delivered a full, immersive, complete world. (Opens March 13)

Red Snow

Lily Pictures

  • Written and directed by Marie Clements
  • Starring Tantoo Cardinal and Asivak Koostachin
  • Classification 14A; 100 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

Red Snow is by no means an easy watch – but you won’t want to stop watching its actors or their performances at any point. Written, directed and co-produced by Marie Clements, the film centres around a young Gwich’in soldier named Dylan (Asivak Koostachin), who’s captured by the Taliban after being ambushed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. In the wake of his imprisonment, he recalls the pain of losing his Inuit cousin, Asana, years earlier, but his bond with the Pashtun family with whom he escapes begins to heal the pain that’s come to define him. (Opens March 13 in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa)

Lost Girls

Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix

  • Directed by Liz Garbus
  • Written by Michael Werwie, based on the book by Robert Kolker
  • Starring Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie and Gabriel Byrne
  • Classification R; 95 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

How do you make a docudrama based on a real-life mystery that has yet to be solved? That was the challenge facing director Liz Garbus as she set out to produce Lost Girls, a new film based on the investigation into the murders of more than a dozen young women in Long Island – a case that has yet to yield any convictions, or even arrests. But just as it is possible to make a compelling doc without telling an entire life’s story end to end, Lost Girls proves that you can make a substantial thriller that doesn’t rely on a comforting real-world conclusion. (Available to stream on Netflix starting March 13)

The Booksellers

Courtesy of GAT

  • Directed by D.W. Young
  • Classification PG; 99 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

Bookended by visits to the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, The Booksellers features an eccentric cast of characters who have dedicated their lives to what Nicholas Basbanes, the great scholar of bibliophile history, calls “a gentle madness.” What is it about books that has led to such obsession, both from dealers and from collectors, who hand over sometimes-obscene sums of money to feed their addiction? The Booksellers is a lovely documentary – contemplative and captivating. (Opens March 13 in Toronto, March 27 in Edmonton, and April 3 in Calgary)

The Whistlers

Vlad Cioplea/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

  • Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
  • Starring Vlad Ivanov, Rodica Lazar and Vatrinel Marlon
  • Classification 18A; 97 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

In The Whistlers, corrupt narcotics cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) is sent by the gangster he serves to the Canary Islands to learn Silbo Gomero, an ancient Indigenous whistling language unique to the area. Why he must avoid detection, and to what original end, remain unclear. To the untrained, Silbo mimics birdsong and this peculiarity is as much for absurd effect than service to story. The whistling was originally developed to more conveniently communicate across great distances and that gives writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu the perfect excuse to repeatedly frame the assorted players dwarfed by vast cityscapes and spectacular nature vistas. (Opens March 13 in Toronto and Vancouver, March 20 in Montreal)

The Hunt

Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Unive/Universal Pictures

  • Directed by Craig Zobel
  • Written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof
  • Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank and Ike Barinholtz
  • Classification R; 89 minutes


2.5 out of 4 stars

A group of ultrasensitive progressives, led by Hilary Swank’s venture capitalist or what-have-you (the script is never clear as to her source of super-wealth), have kidnapped an assortment of red-state stereotypes, let them loose on a vast property in a mysterious location, and set about to track them like the dogs of America that they are. What follows is tremendously gory but metaphorically bloodless. There are a thousand different, subversive ways to approach The Hunt’s conceit – an opportunity to mock both virtue signalling and conservative groupthink with guts and glory – yet screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof take almost none of them. (Opens March 13)

My Spy

Michael Gibson/Courtesy of Elevation

  • Directed by Peter Segal
  • Written by Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber
  • Starring Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman and Kristen Schaal
  • Classification PG; 99 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

My Spy is a fish-out-of-water comedy that pairs former wrestler Dave Bautista with a nine-year-old girl who blackmails his character, an undercover CIA agent, into dating her mother after her father was murdered by terrorists. (Yes, that’s the premise!) Unfortunately it’s a hot mess, full of more confused character motivations and emotional blackmail than the season finale of Love Is Blind. (Opens March 13)



  • Directed by Dave Wilson
  • Written by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer
  • Starring Vin Diesel, Eiza Gonzalez and Guy Pearce
  • Classification PG; 109 minutes


1.5 out of 4 stars

The wannabe franchise Bloodshot is like a lot of other Vin Diesel series. So much so that you can count the ways by the minute. At three minutes into director Dave Wilson’s new action film, we get our first shot of Diesel rocking a white tank top, his muscles bulged just so. It takes slightly longer – longer than it ever should in cinéma du Diesel – for our leading man to defy the laws of physics. But when the moment does arrive (approximately 33 minutes in), Bloodshot begins to feel like a full, comforting mug of warm stupid. Unfortunately, that scene – in which the film’s bioengineered hero treats an armoured car like a pesky recycling bin – also marks the moment that Bloodshot crosses the line from merry Diesel idiocy to dull Diesel nothingness. (Opens March 13)

I Still Believe

Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate

  • Directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin
  • Written by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn
  • Starring K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson and Gary Sinise
  • Classification PG; 115 minutes


1.5 out of 4 stars

By this point in the faith-based film boom, you already know whether you are going to love or loathe a film like I Still Believe. Arriving from sibling directors Andrew and Jon Erwin (I Can Only Imagine, October Baby), based on the life of contemporary Christian musician Jeremy Camp, the new film assumes that you are already all-in on Jesus or just about ready to be saved. There is no middle ground, despite the Erwin brothers’ many attempts to ape the saccharine beats and swoony emotions of a mainstream romantic drama.

Also: What’s new and noteworthy to stream

Three films to watch on Netflix, Crave and CBC Gem this weekend.

This weekly guide was compiled by Lori Fazari, with reviews from Nathalie Atkinson, Anne T. Donahue, Barry Hertz, Chandler Levack and Mark Medley.