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film review

Also opening: Portrait of an angry alcoholic chef Nose to Tail, and Downhill, a lesser remake of Force Majeure

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Neon

  • Written and directed by Céline Sciamma
  • Starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel
  • Classification R; 121 minutes

Rating:

4 out of 4 stars

Passionate, elegant and devastatingly romantic, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire earns every right to slowly burn itself into your mind and heart. In 18th-century Brittany, artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the portrait of an Italian noblewoman’s reclusive daughter, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel, from Sciamma’s Water Lilies). Soon enough, the pair disarm each other and form a bond intimate and profound. Sharply subverting the male gaze at every turn, Sciamma has created an unforgettable treatise on thwarted desire. (Opens Feb. 14 in Toronto and Vancouver)

The Photograph

Emily Aragones/Universal Picture/Universal Pictures

  • Written and directed by Stella Meghie
  • Starring Issa Rae, LaKeith Stanfield, Chante Adams, Rob Morgan and Lil Rel Howery
  • Classification PG; 106 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

Canadian writer/director Stella Meghie (Jean of the Joneses, The Weekend) has delivered – right on time for Valentine’s Day – an unabashed, golden-lit, swoon-inducing, capital-R Romance, starring two of the most gorgeous people you will ever see, Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield. A romantic drama requires an obstacle to be surmounted, and this is where so many modern films stumble. But Meghie has figured out a plausible modern barrier in The Photograph – the lifelong cautiousness of Mae (Rae), an assistant museum curator in Queens, N.Y., which was instilled in her by her peripatetic mother Christina (Chante Adams), an art photographer who prioritized her work over relationships. (Opens Feb. 14)

Nose to Tail

Monolith Pictures

  • Written and directed by Jesse Zigelstein
  • Starring Aaron Abrams, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Salvatore Antonio
  • Classification 14A; 82 minutes

Rating:

2.5 out of 4 stars

With Nose to Tail, Canadian character actor Aaron Abrams (Hannibal, The Go-Getters) goes the whole hog, playing an emotionally repressed chef with severe anger management problems. A new Canadian microbudget film, Nose to Tail tells the story of Daniel, an alcoholic Toronto restaurateur operating in a sub-basement on College Street who wakes up still drunk the next morning and spends his ensuing 24 hours fighting with everyone who doesn’t cater to his whims. While writer-director Jesse Zigelstein paints an entertaining portrait of a man white-knuckling his way through a toxic-masculinity crisis – and Abrams is truly great – the movie’s slim 82-minute running time and limp antagonism from any supporting character who dares to challenge Daniel dilutes the story’s power. (Opens in Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg on Feb. 14)

Sonic the Hedgehog

Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount/Paramount Pictures.

  • Directed by Jeff Fowler
  • Written by Patrick Casey, Josh Miller (based on the Sega video game)
  • Starring Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally
  • Classification PG; 100 mins

Rating:

2.5 out of 4 stars

It can be tricky to translate a beloved video game character to a live-action film, as the makers of Sonic The Hedgehog discovered last year, when its first trailer was released. The backlash from fans was swift and sent director Jeff Fowler back to the drawing board, delaying the film’s initial November 2019 release. The plot sees the world’s speediest – and sometimes bratty – hedgehog on the run from power-hungry villains, ending up on Earth via a portal opened by the golden rings in his possession. Fans will love the homages paid to the original video game, as well as the assortment of cheesy jokes and well-crafted zingers. (Opens Feb. 14)

Downhill

Jaap Buitendijk/Searchlight Pictures

  • Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
  • Written by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash and Jesse Armstrong
  • Starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
  • Classification R; 86 minutes

Rating:

2 out of 4 stars

Why remake a movie that could not possibly be improved upon? Why sand down the edges of a brilliantly spiky film? Why cast Will Ferrell in a role that pivots on the expression of subtle shifts in mood? To quote awards season’s most valuable player, Parasite director Bong Joon Ho: “the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles.” Downhill is based on Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 film Force Majeure, in which a family on a ski holiday in the French Alps finds their equilibrium disturbed by an incident early in the trip. (Opens Feb. 14)

Love Aaj Kal

Aarjav Jain/Jio Studios

  • Directed and written by Imtiaz Ali
  • Starring Kartik Aaryan, Sara Ali Khan, Randeep Hooda, Arushi Sharma, Simone Singh
  • Classification PG; 141 mins

Rating:

1 out of 4 stars

Once upon a time, there was a director called Imtiaz Ali who made pretty good Hindi films about young Indians finding their roundabout way to love. You wish there was some sort of irony in Ali, who has been accused of telling the same story again and again, wanting to revisit his previous film Love Aaj Kal (2009) with an updated star cast and a slight twist. But judging by his convoluted script and terrible casting, it seems like an act of hubris. Or sheer laziness. Or both. Love Aaj Kal literally means Love These Days, and Ali is literally looking at how love these days differs from back in his days – or how it doesn’t. (Opened at selected cinemas across Canada on Feb. 14)

Also: What’s new and noteworthy to stream

A movie, a documentary and a show to watch on Netflix and Crave this weekend.


This weekly guide was compiled by Lori Fazari, with reviews from Aparita Bhandari, Barry Hertz, Chandler Levack, Johanna Schneller and Lara Zarum.