Canadian Film Festival 2022 Selection: ‘The Last Mark’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

A self-loathing and aging hitman, Keele (Shawn Doyle), is tasked to kill a witness Peyton (Alexia Fast), but he quickly learns his new mark might be his estranged daughter. He abducts her in an attempt to keep her safe from his maniacal associate (Bryce Hodgson). Keele struggles with this new parental responsibility of keeping her alive. Whether she’s his daughter or not, she acts like a carbon copy of the person he hates the most: himself. What director Reem Morsi explores in The Last Mark is one’s ability to redefine who they are and how people perceive them. The story begins as a thriller but then sinks into the anxiety of putting on a facade for others to accept you.

Watching Keele and Peyton get to know each other through very odd circumstances, the bond between them gets interesting. From the beginning of this film and the way it is structured, Keele doesn’t want to hurt Peyton because he thinks that she is his daughter. Even though his hitman tendencies overtake him while he treats Peyton like a hostage, he slowly starts to warm up to her. Keele’s journey is really interesting because of how his connection to his possible daughter has him contemplating if this business is even worth it anymore. He doesn’t want to harm her or let anything happen to her, so he ends up protecting her from his former business partner. The story is strong and really develops nicely over the runtime.

What really worked was the build-up to the third act. Even though it mainly takes place in one location, the tension builds because of the level of trust between Keele and Peyton. Their relationship is explored, while his former partner is trying his utmost to find them and kill the girl. Peyton did witness the two of them murdering someone, and now his partner wants her dead. Realistically, what would the girl have done if she fled the scene? I’m sure she wouldn’t have said anything right after running away and having the two of them chase her. Keele and Peyton’s relationship which is solely based on learning to trust the other in such an odd circumstance really became the heart of this film and worked for a really strong ending.

The Last Mark has interesting character dynamics and an individual journey for one hitman. It had good pacing and an almost father/daughter relationship that carried the second half of this film. There was a great use of colors and lighting throughout the film to represent the dangers of being with a hitman and what they’re capable of. Plenty of reds was used to show this and it added to the chaotic atmosphere that Reem Morsi created. The third act was filled with tension and the finale was well worth the wait. Really enjoyed this feature because it felt different and the chemistry between the hitman and his possible daughter made for a fun watch.

How ‘Woman In Car’ Presents The Female Experience: An Interview With Writer-Director Vanya Rose


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman in Car premiered at the Canadian Film Festival last week. It is such a multilayered film, that dives into the female experience through relationships, trauma and deceit. It is always interesting to explore the female characters in high society because there can be so much to unpack. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. The script is well-written and Vanya Rose peels back the many layers of Ann (Hélène Joy). There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into.

Rose wanted to explore this bourgeois society because of her interest in Edith Warton’s novels. Warton always wrote about it and more importantly she questioned it, even though she was a part of it,

“We have this neighbourhood in Montreal, called West Mount which is kind of what used to be the center of money in all of Canada. Montreal was the center of everything. It was home to the richest people in Canada. And so that interested me bc it had never been explored in Quebec at all. We see a lot of the working class films, which are great, beautiful films but we don’t really see how Montreal had that historically, and it’s still there.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car
Courtesy of Thievish Films

In order to understand Ann’s internal struggle, one has to understand the society she lives in and the family she is connected to. As we see in the film, Ann’s persona is quite different around her mother-in-law Charlotte (Gabrielle Lazure), stepson Owen (Aidan Ritchie), and newcomer Safiye (Liane Balaban). She hides pieces of herself from the people she meets with. The one thing that really interested me was Ann’s sense of control. Rose wanted to give Ann a passion, so she chose archery,

“I wanted Ann to have a passion. I wanted her to have something that she had given up. What’s amazing about these archers is not only are they complete perfectionists, like to the nth degree, they’re a little bit odd these people, they have a very specific skill that they developed. It’s a skill of shooting something directly on the nose and that’s all you do over and over again. You have to have a personality type, that’s just so foreign this desire and this training that goes into that.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car

Archery has always interested Rose and it came through with the character of Ann. The way that the archery, can be interpreted through Ann’s character is that she always needs to be in control. Even as she was losing herself in her former marriage, she found something in her stepson to regain that control, even though the events made her spiral even further. She wanted to make decisions on her own but this society she was in, this family that she married into, wasn’t easy for her at all. We see that Ann has a clear shot at the beginning of the film, she was composed and reserved. She managed to hit the bullseye. Then towards the end of the film, she can’t even calm herself down in order to shoot the arrow at all.

Courtesy of Thievish Films

Ann slowly unravels as the film goes on, and it is connected to her feeling neglected, in her relationship with her soon-to-be husband. When asked about showing that kind of emotional experience and why it is necessary to show on screen, Rose said, “I think that’s what art is right, isn’t art all about showing our human experience? I think that as a man or woman, though our human experiences, there is a lot of pain and I think joy is actually a very small part of all that.” She goes on to say that we all go through hardships, whether it be relationships or even pandemics, they impact us more than the greater joys in our lives, but that is what makes those moments special.

Woman in Car is all about human connectivity and relationships. Rose explores the way people treat each other and how they can change their perspective. Rose wanted to show a little compassion in this film, especially between women, “I think that’s the key. I think women have been traditionally pitted against each other because of competition and survival. What if we got rid of that? We don’t need to follow that old scenario, get beyond it and reach out to each other.” The relationship between Ann and the women in her life is very strained. There are vulnerable moments shared between the female characters in the film, where they each gain a deeper understanding of who they are. The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

Canadian Film Festival Selection: ‘Sugar Daddy’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

A young talented musician, named Darren, dreams of making music like nobody has before. But, unfortunately she’s broke and desperate for cash. She signs up to a paid-dating website, throwing herself down a dark path that shapes her music with it. It’s true when they say, ‘art imitates life’ and artists tend to try new experiences for inspiration. They may not realize that this is the reason they gravitate towards the unknown. But it’s the creative mind that overtakes the decision-making. Darren is at a crossroads in her life, she is twenty-five, lost her job and is really trying to make a living as a musician. Any twenty-something can relate to this, but the creatives are the ones who feel her pain the most.

Darren has been trying to find ways to develop as a musician. Her sound is very different and she’s seems to be naive in navigating the industry. She has been trying to live on her own, without any help from her mother and she’s struggling to make ends meet. We see her working as a server for a catering event and she is taken by this woman who she used to know. She was once a caterer just like Darren but now she’s on the arm of an older gentlemen at the event. Darren questioned her friend and was curious about the arrangement. She then does her own research and is intrigued by the entire service. Would you go out on a date with an older man to make ends meet?

Let’s discuss this shall we? A woman is in full control of the situation as an ‘escort’ or in plain terms ‘a friend’ of the older gentlemen suitor. There are guidelines that are set prior to the date and as we see in the film, it is more of a companion than a sexual favour. Darren’s friends discuss the female agency that can be stripped away because of the price being put on her head for a night out. But even though that is what it looks like on the outside, Darren has a wonderful experience with her suitor. He understands her on a creative level, something that many people in her life don’t do. She builds this connection with him that almost feels like a father/daughter relationship… until it wasn’t.

Sugar Daddy directed by Wendy Morgan, takes a musicians creative process to new lengths and shows the connectivity between art and artist. As a creative, there needs to be some support from the people around you in order for you to grow in your field. You can find unlikely partners in your life who don’t even live near you, who will understand you on a different level. From the unique camerawork, to the interesting story and character work from Darren, the film will leave you considering the same career path. It is an in-depth psychological analysis of the scars left from childhood that many people carry into adulthood. This generation tends to focus on how to fix the issues, take accountability for their actions and attempt to move forward with a better understanding of who they are.

The film is available to stream today on VOD/Digital across Canada!

Canadian Film Festival Selection ‘Woman In Car’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman In Car is written and directed by Vanya Rose. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. It takes the female experience of Ann Lewis (Hélène Joy) as she is in the middle of getting married to her new husband. The script is well-written and Rose peels back the many layers of Ann. There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into. It is so intriguing to watch because Joy gives such a nuanced performance and carries the entire film to the very end. Her connections to other characters may be a bit confusing at times but it all pays off in the third act. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

Ann appears to have it all. But when her stepson returns to Montreal with the beautiful Safiye (Liane Balaban), Ann develops an obsession with the stranger, who she fears could destroy the privileged life she has built. Rose explores two different female characters in a sincere and compassionate way. What starts out as a defensive tact on Ann’s part turns into a very vulnerable olive branch in wanting to tell her story. The film does explore issues of class, family and deception. It is just so fascinating to watch because of Joy’s layered performance. What I found most interesting is the fact that she was an archer and she always had to have a sense of control when shooting the bow and arrow. Oddly enough, that pressure to be perfect ruins Ann’s peace and concentration when craving that form of release, while her secrets build up.

Ann had many secrets that she tried to bottle up but eventually those secrets came back to haunt her. Throughout the film, we see that Ann is losing herself to these skeletons in her closet. She is under so much pressure because of this wedding and her feelings of neglect from her previous marriage seem to creep up on her. We see how everyone can carry their emotional and mental trauma, from one relationship to another, if they feel like they are somehow being treated in the same way. If these issues are not addressed, situations tend to become worse than they already are. Ann is an incredible character because of how she internalizes her pain in order to keep the public persona of being perfect and composed. It is in an obligation in higher social class systems to always appear poised, even if something is bothering you.

The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is rooted in the culture of Montreal and dives into the social class system by showing how people who aren’t born into it, can become traumatized by their lifestyle. Woman In Car has so much tension and the build up is strong. There are such intimate, emotional moments that will make you really feel for Ann and want to see her come out on top, even though the storyline is a bit risqué. There are so many issues that Rose explores in this film and the most important takeaway is that there is so much compassion between female characters in sharing those vulnerable moments with others.

Canadian Film Fest 2020 Selection: Pressure Play Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Pressure Play is a short film that premiered at the Canadian Film Festival. The film is an in depth look of the mind of a seventeen year – old Black teenager named Fraser (Emidio Lopes), who really wants to make his high school basketball team. Fraser is very reserved and quiet, but on the court, he finds his voice and his freedom. The film is directed and co-written by Eric Bizzarri, it is a follow-up to his film Cold Hands which also deals with toxic masculinity.

The most impressive thing about the film was its sound design. It flowed really well through each scene and brought a certain edge to Fraser’s character. It’s a very internal role and it was hard to understand what Fraser was feeling at times. There was no development for his character and it felt like it was basketball or nothing for him. It’s understandable that a teenager would feel that way but his story really did not go past basketball.

The camerawork was good and the shots on the court were effective, it felt like you were in the middle of the tryouts alongside the rest of the players. There was one scene in the locker room, where players were having their pre-game conversations. They were talking about their encounters with girls and their own lives. It would have been beneficial to extend scenes like that, to understand why Fraser felt uncomfortable during those conversations. There was so much left unsaid for Fraser’s character and I wanted to know more about him. It left me with so many questions.

When it comes to showing sports in films, it somehow always comes down to the story you want to tell through the Coach’s actions. Is the Coach going to be uplifting and inspirational or stern and abusive? Pressure Play accurately shows the “tough love” approach, with unconventional tactics used by Coach Riggs (Andrew Bee) as he verbally abuses the boys on the team. It escalated quite quickly from scene to scene making Fraser’s timid demeanor, counter that of Coach Riggs. As Riggs pushed harder with his abuse, Fraser began to open up and find his voice.

Pressure Play is a film that scratches the surface of toxic masculinity but never fully dives into that subject. It shows the mental game of a young man who wants something and fights for it, even when the rules to the game come with a level of verbal abuse. It will leave you wanting to know more about Fraser and if his basketball dreams will come true.