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Ranking the Best Stephen King Movies Ranking the Best Stephen King Movies

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The Best Stephen King Movies Ranked

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With his dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories having sold more than 350 million copies worldwide, it’s no wonder that the master of horror’s work has been a mainstay inspiration for Hollywood since the release of Carrie in 1976. Though not all the adaptations produced are winners (Stephen King himself expressed disappointment at a few), some of Hollywood’s top filmmakers have taken stabs visualizing King’s particular brand, and the result has been more than a few cult favorites, and some stone-cold classics.

We here at Goomba Stomp polled our movie-loving staff to see which Stephen King movies were the cream of the bloody crop. The below list represents our picks for the absolute best, including some musts for genre fans and casual viewers alike!

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Best Stephen King Movies Creepshow

The Best Stephen King Movies #19. Creepshow

Creepshow is insanely fun — possibly the most ‘fun’ Stephen King film, with two horror legends coming together (George A. Romero directed) along with Tom Savini and a plethora of notable actors. Presented in a highly stylized and well-constructed comic book fashion, the film weaves five separate tales of terror and comedy complete with B-movie effects, screen splashes reminiscent of actual comic books such as Tales From The Crypt, and that rather stacked cast. Creepshow even features King himself as a hick farmer who witnesses a meteor crash onto his land. The five tales differ in their mixture of terror and comedy, but they all fit together well, and have a distinctly ‘King short story’ feel about them.

Whether it’s a cranky old man coming back to life to craft himself a macabre cake, Leslie Nielsen as a particularly sadistic serial killer, or the iconic tale of the centuries-old crate and its hungry inhabitant, Creepshow keeps the viewer hooked around every corner. Anthologies can often be sunk due to lesser segments, but Creepshow never falls to this, with each section having its own impact on the greater product. A sequel was made with Michael Gornick in the director’s seat and King and Romero writing, as well as the man himself, Tom Savini, starring as The Creep. It’s also a stellar product, and as long as you don’t look further down the series’ than that, they nicely round out the franchise. (Shane Dover)

Stephen King Movie

The Best Stephen King Movies #18. Dolores Claiborne

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After King saw Kathy Bates’ brilliant portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery, a very different role for her began brewing in his head. With the Dolores Claiborne novel he envisioned the titular character as being portrayed by Bates, and sure enough, when the time came for the movie adaptation, she was first in line. A powerful film portraying the strength a broken woman can muster when confronted with murder allegations and a deeply painful history unfolding before her daughter’s eyes, King and director Taylor Hackford (along with the incredible acting from the cast) craft an iconic feminist film that pulls no punches.

Of course, Stephen King is notable for his amazing ability to weave terror into any situation or concept, but his mastery of drama, grief, and trauma is often overlooked. Dolores Claiborne features no supernatural elements, no hints of horror, and only one monster (Dolores’ scumbag husband). Between the book and the film there were quite a few changes — possibly the most notable being that Dolores had three children in the book, but in the film only a daughter — but the film shifted emotional weight in just the right areas. (Shane Dover)

Best Stephen King Movies Thinner

The Best Stephen King Movies #17. Thinner

In 1985, Washington bookstore clerk Steve Brown somehow figured out that Richard Bachman, an author who had published several books — including The Running Man (1982) and Thinner (1984) — had a surprising number of similarities in writing style to Stephen King. As it turns out, he was on to something. Stephen King later admitted that the Richard Bachman books were indeed works of his own, released under a pseudonym to please the publishers who requested that he put out no more than one book per year. The Bachman books were eventually republished under Stephen King’s name, and not long after, both The Running Man and Thinner were adapted to the big screen.

This film adaptation of Thinner was directed by Tom Holland (Child’s Play) and stars Robert John Burke as an obese, corrupt lawyer who is cursed by a gypsy he accidentally runs over with his car. Thanks to the gypsy’s hex, Burke finds himself rapidly and uncontrollably losing weight — 40 pounds in two weeks. This would be good news, only it doesn’t seem like the weight loss will soon stop. Fearing for his life, he asks his friends in organized crime to help him track down the gypsy and force her to lift the curse. With every passing day, he draws closer to his own death, and with time running out, he grows ever thinner.

One of the better Stephen King-derived movies, Thinner is also one that not many people have seen, which is a shame because it’s actually quite good — that is if you’re looking for a twisted comedy rather than a tense thriller. If so, I recommend giving it a chance. Worst case, you’ll witness some good special effects and make-up, not to mention a kissing scene that will make your skin crawl. (Ricky D)

Best Stephen King Movies Running Man

The Best Stephen King Movies #16. The Running Man

Directed by former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, this post-apocalyptic science fiction yarn starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is without a doubt the most mainstream film to appear on this list. Much like The Hunger GamesThe Running Man satirizes American entertainment, deriding everything from professional wrestling to reality TV and game shows. Loosely based on a novel by Richard Bachman (a pen name for Stephen King), the story is set in the totalitarian America of 2019, wherein convicted criminals are forced to take part as bait in a hideous TV manhunt called — yes — The Running Man. Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a cop framed for massacring riotous civilians during a protest who is later picked as a contestant for the show, where he must survive a gang of skillful assassins like Subzero (Prof. Toru Tanaka) and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), each armed with unique weapons. Think American Gladiators mixed with WWE, Let’s Make a Deal, Max Headroom, and The Most Dangerous Game.

Admittedly, the commentary on America’s preoccupation with violence and game shows is heavy-handed, but what is most obvious is the set of double standards present. On one hand, the film has a plot that harshly criticizes a society that keeps the masses at peace with televised ultra-violence, while on the other, the filmmakers revel in the violence, showing little interest in exploring any intellectual commentary. Yes, The Running Man is brainless and somewhat dated, but it is still a must-see if only for the onscreen combo of Jim Brown and Schwarzenegger kicking ass. Also on display is Paula Abdul’s dance choreography, long before her days on American Idol. (Ricky D)

Best Stephen King Movies 1408

The Best Stephen King Movies #15. 1408

The best haunted houses — the ones that really have their act together — don’t just trap their victims in a spooky place and set loose the killer ghosts. They mess around a bit first, torturing their guest’s mind and exhausting their spirit. The demented hotel room at the center of 1408 is just such a seasoned pro, wringing the most out of its time with a despairing pulp writer in a way that gradually builds up to the movie’s eventual blazing finish. Of course, maybe it went a bit too far.

It’s impossible to praise 1408 as a good piece of genre filmmaking without first mentioning the performance achievement of John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a poltergeist-debunking author who ignores the warnings of the hotel’s manager in order to spend the night in its most famous (and deadly) unit so that he can pen another book mocking belief in the afterlife. The actor absolutely nails intellectual skepticism (Cusack has always been good at delivering the goods when it comes to quippy pragmatists), but he also expertly layers on an emotional cynicism — based on a tragic backstory involving the slow death of his daughter — that masterfully prevents Enslin from feeling like the guy spoiling everyone’s fun. This emotional element feeds well into what will have to happen next, and Cusack is more than up to the task of transitioning from cautiously curious, to irritated and paranoid, to outright terrified.

That nearly one-man show is backed up with exquisite visuals and staging by director Mikael Håfström, who finds variety within the small space by continuously managing to discover off-kilter angles that keep the vibe appropriately skewed. He also points his camera in ways that convey the watching presence of an unseen entity — one with a malevolent viewpoint — and great production design gives him details both big and small to focus on and warp, from mummified monsters and knife-wielding murderers to disturbingly banal paintings and sinister alarm clocks. The whole thing is pure pulp, but the top-notch craft makes for a wild evening of psychological scares. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Stephen King Movies Apt Pupil

The Best Stephen King Movies #14. Apt Pupil

One of Stephen King’s greatest strengths is his ability to connect with not just the horrors of the supernatural, but also the terrors of mankind and his nature. When high school student Todd Bowden makes the chilling discovery that a Nazi war criminal named Kurt Dussander is living in his neighborhood, he decides to blackmail the old man. Threatening Dussander with exposure, Bowden forces him to recount the gruesome details of his misdeeds, and even makes him relive his days of infamy in a purchased Nazi uniform.

What Todd doesn’t realize is that by awakening the monster hiding in Dussander, he may be putting himself — as well as the people of his neighborhood — in dire circumstances. With Dussander’s murderous inklings reemerging, and Todd tied to him inextricably, their dark bond becomes an uncontrollable force that could destroy them both. While Brad Renfro is serviceable in the role of Bowden, it is Ian McKellen’s chilling turn as the monster down the street that truly sells Apt Pupil. If you’ve ever seen  McKellen as Magneto in the X-Men films, just take that and turn it up to eleven. Stellar performer that he is, McKellen starts and stops the film every time he is on-screen, and Apt Pupil is absolutely worth seeing for that reason alone.

Even if it isn’t among the best King adaptations, Apt Pupil is a genuinely affecting and utterly chilling experiment of a film, and its unconventional nature means you’ll never know what direction the story will go next. (Mike Worby)

Best Stephen King Movies Gerald's Game

The Best Stephen King Movies #13. Gerald’s Game

Stephen King’s 1992 psychological thriller Gerald’s Game was long considered to be unadaptable with its limited setting and primary focus on a single person who mostly drives the story through internal monologue. However, we didn’t have Mike Flanagan in 1992. Before he changed the game with his brilliant television adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, he shocked horror fans with his tense and terrifying 2017 film Gerald’s Game.

The story focuses on married couples Jessie (Carla Gugino) and the eponymous Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) spending a weekend in a secluded cabin, hoping to rekindle their romance. After handcuffing Jessie to the bedposts and trying to act out a rape fantasy that she finds disturbing and begs to be put to an end, Gerald has a heart attack and drops dead, leaving Jessie all alone in the middle of nowhere, handcuffed to the bed. Now Jessie has to singlehandedly (or NO-handedly) escape while dealing with the grief of losing her husband, as well as managing the fear of dehydrating or being devoured by a hungry stray dog roaming around the cabin.

Mike Flanagan brings this survival story to life using brilliant methods, such as having Jessie hallucinate conversations not only with her dead husband, but with herself. These figures taunt her and reveal how she feels in her heart while she struggles to find ways to escape her restraints. As she delves deeper into her subconscious, she also has to finally face a trauma that has been plaguing her since childhood.

The story is a particularly stressful one because of how possible it is, and truly captures the fear of being naked and vulnerable, all while trying to race the clock to survive. Carla Gugino gives one of the best performances of her career (rivaled by her excellent depiction in The Haunting of Hill House) balancing vulnerability and resourceful resilience. This well-paced, well-acted thriller not only validates Mike Flanagan’s new standing as one of the best directors working today, but also reinforces the long-admired talent of author Stephen King. King’s books have been iconic in our culture for over four decades, and his ability to turn a simple story about a single woman alone in a room into something terrifying truly proves that he is the rightful King of Horror. (Sarah Truesdale)

Best Stephen King Movies Pet Semetary

The Best Stephen King Movies #12. Pet Sematary (1989)

When first writing Pet Sematary, Stephen King had originally deemed the story too terrifying — not only for its disturbing premise, but for its bleak outlook regarding mortality — and had considered not submitting it for publication. However, he had a contractual obligation with Doubleday, and sent it out anyway, thus publishing the novel that allegedly scared him the most out of all his iconic works. The novel was adapted in 1989, and directed by Mary Lambert.

The story follows Dr. Louis Creed, his wife, and their two kids moving from the big city to a quaint town in (of course) Maine. After being overworked with the hustle and bustle of city life, Louis believes that being in the country will cut his workload and give him time with his family. However, he almost instantly loses a patient after a grisly truck accident, and is haunted by the man’s ghost. Meanwhile, a lonely neighbor named Jud shows the Creeds the neighborhood pet cemetery, and after their cat is killed by a truck, Jud reveals that there is more to the cemetery than meets the eye.

At its core, the film is a simple depiction of the consequences of messing with the natural order of life and death. However, it also shows a very real look at the desperation of grief and the existential terror that comes with not only the inevitability of your own death, but the death of your loved ones. Louis Creed is shown as a pragmatic, skeptical man who relies on his belief in science and medicine when it comes to life, rather than any faith. When he suffers a tragic loss, all codes of ethics are abandoned in an attempt to save someone he loves.

The 1989 adaptation definitely suffers from over-the-top melodrama that you can’t help but snicker at. The dreamy music and slow motion have not aged well, to say the least. But while the 2019 film succeeded in stripping away any laughable corniness and taking itself more seriously, the 1989 film still has a certain charm to it that makes it more memorable. I’ll take Fred Gwynne’s over-the-top folksy Jud over John Lithgow’s reserved loner Jud any day. Most importantly, Pet Sematary has given horror fans one of the creepiest of the “creepy kid” genre. Watch out for your heels. (Sarah Truesdale)

Best Stephen King Movies Cujo

The Best Stephen King Movies #11. Cujo

Take a long, cool drink of water before watching this one. Exploiting primal fears of the unpredictable ferocity of nature, Stephen King’s Cujo makes viewers sweat with tension as they helplessly watch the situation deteriorate for a mother and her young son. Trapped by a rabid St. Bernard in the dusty lot of a deadbeat (and dead) mechanic, the duo slowly wilts from the oppressive heat and constant fear of attack. It’s the kind of simple setup that often makes for effective thrillers, but audiences will likely take home more than just a few white-knuckle moments.

What sticks the most in Cujo (besides the titular dog’s mangy, blood-soaked fur) is buried deep within the bat-filled cavern of our instincts. The world we live in is beautiful, sure, with innocent bunnies hopping around a sunlit meadow, but it can also turn on a dime. Any random hole in the ground or overturned rock could contain something that bites, something that infects, something that kills; even that warming sunshine can betray us by dehydrating the body and melting the spirit. Cujo himself takes on the physical manifestation of this native danger, his slobbering chops and predatory stare a clear reminder that though civilization might beat back the nastier elements of nature, they find a way to keep coming.

So does Cujo the movie, which quickly transitions from playful to deadly, then turns up the heat degree by degree. It’s the tactile qualities that linger the most — the way this place and the people in it seem rotting from the inside out. Rusted junkers litter the abusive mechanic’s arid lot, beads of perspiration amass on Donna’s forehead as she bakes inside a Ford Pinto (perfect), while her son’s skin goes paler and paler as he risks heatstroke. All the while, Cujo grows bloodier and bloodier, barely resembling the happy-go-lucky pooch he started out as. By the end, he comes off more dead than living — a zombie pet with a slasher mentality that will stalk audiences in their nightmares long after his screen death. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Stephen King Movies Green Mile

The Best Stephen King Movies #10. The Green Mile

Though Stephen King is mainly known as a horror writer, he can also pen some surprisingly heartfelt stories of redemption, loss and longing. Along with Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption comes The Green Mile, one of King’s absolute best stories. It revolves around Paul Edgecomb, who works death row at a rural prison in the 1930s — a thankless job if ever there was one. He deals with killers, lowlifes, and fellow guards, all of whom cause him nothing but headaches. One day, in walks John Coffey. A towering giant of a man, John’s intimidating visage is only dulled by his gentle manner and kindly disposition. However, this dichotomy is just the beginning. When John shows himself to have mystical healing powers, Paul must decide whether he really believes that John is responsible for the deaths of two little girls in the area. With John’s execution date looming, Paul will have to work fast if he hopes to solve the mystery in time to save John’s life.

Directed by Frank Darabont, who brought us the newly minted American classic, The Shawshank RedemptionThe Green Mile is a story filled with heart and hope in the most dire of circumstances, and the prison setting of both films only connects them further. Though Tom Hanks was long established as a marquee star by this point, the stellar supporting cast, including Sam Rockwell, David Morse, Barry Pepper, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson, and a show-stopping turn from Michael Clarke Duncan, would all go on to gain further acting cache from the success of this project.

A stirring story of men at odds with their places and roles in the world, The Green Mile is a tragic tale of a failing system. Dotted as it is with hope, however, the audience never feels so overcome with sorrow that they can’t see the sun cresting over the hills of the night. (Mike Worby)

Best Stephen King Movies Dead Zone

The Best Stephen King Movies #9. The Dead Zone

Possibly the film most embodying the mood, pacing, and underlying terror of a Stephen King novel. The Dead Zone — directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken — takes a story of the supernatural and presents it in such an incredibly well-structured way that it feels more like a character drama than a spooky tale of psychic premonitions. Despite being a Cronenberg film, he stays his hand in regards to gore and body horror, and instead focuses on Walken’s amazing portrayal of the unfortunate Johnny Smith.

After being in a car accident, Johnny wakes up five years later out of a coma with his life upside down and the sudden ability to see past, present, and future relating to those he places his hand upon. The road to — as well as the ultimate event of — the ending of the film is incredibly well crafted, and King himself felt it completed the story perfectly. It’s certainly not an unheard of work, but the film seems to have disappeared behind the more impactful few at the top of King’s cinematic history. Despite that, it is certainly worth any King fan’s time, and even worth the time of any good sci-fi or horror lover, as The Dead Zone creates an ideal blend of intrigue, character, and foreboding darkness stirring beneath the surface of suburban life. (Shane Dover)

Best Stephen King Movies Christine

The Best Stephen King Movies #8. Christine

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, Christine brings together two masters of horror: director John Carpenter, and of course, Stephen King. Unlike the other Stephen King novels that took years before they were adapted to the big screen, Christine premiered on December 9, 1983 — just eight months after the book was published. The fact that Christine was directed by John Carpenter no doubt adds to its cache, and it helped Christine find a loyal cult following despite the mixed critical reaction it has received over the years. Christine is by no stretch of the imagination the best Stephen King adaptation, but it sure deserves far more credit than some would give it.

The film stars Keith Gordon as a high school outcast who buys a beat-up red-and-white 1958 Plymouth Fury, and becomes obsessed with it. Little does he realize that the car is also obsessed with him. As the tagline reads, “She was born in Detroit… on an automobile assembly line. But she is no ordinary automobile.” John Carpenter, along with screenwriter Bill Phillips, understood that this is a story about so much more than a malevolent possessed automobile, and the film thankfully transcends the ‘killer car’ gimmick in lieu of a coming-of-age drama about high school, popularity, the distance that grows between old friends, and teenage bullies who get their comeuppance in the end — and then some.

Christine succeeds largely thanks to John Carpenter’s competent direction; the first hour is the director at his best, with beautifully arranged compositions, masterful use of light and shadows, and his trademark tracking shots. Aside from one or two outright shock sequences, the horror here is not especially graphic; like the best of Carpenter’s work, Christine coasts much more on mood, and relies on what the audience doesn’t see to instill fear. The scene where the titular car repairs herself is legendary, as is the climax in which she hunts down her victims in the pitch-black while set ablaze. (Ricky D)

Best Stephen King Movies The Mist

The Best Stephen King Movies #7. The Mist

When the announcement came that Frank Darabont, who had previously directed two of the absolute best King adaptations with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, would be taking on another King project, fans were thrilled with the prospect. However, The Mist could not be more different from Darabont’s previous adaptations.

While Shawshank and Green Mile are stories of haunted men struggling against their fates, The Mist is a far more overt horror tale. When a supernatural fog comes rolling into town, survivors gathered in a grocery store are forced to band together in order to battle the Lovecraftian terrors that have come with it. Massive tentacles, giant insects, and hulking, nameless beasts are just the beginning of the traumas visited upon these people.  Meanwhile, a religious zealot may be the greatest threat of all, as she begins to assert control, demanding atonement in order to satiate the savage creatures.

As someone who has read over half of King’s substantial literary catalog, The Mist is a truly shocking surprise of a film. Though the source material has its moments, it’s an early King work, and not one of his best. However, Darabont’s treatment of The Mist is so impressive that it wowed even King himself. The heartlessly tragic ending, in particular, had King wishing that he would have gone there himself, if only he’d thought of it.

A frightful apocalyptic tale with a talented cast (including Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, and Toby Jones), The Mist is one of the all-time great King adaptations, and its brutal conclusion has to be seen to be believed. (Mike Worby)

Best Stephen King Movies Misery

The Best Stephen King Movies #6. Misery

Kathy Bates plays Annie, a middle-aged nurse who rescues her famous romantic novelist Paul Sheldon, after he drives his car off the edge of the road somewhere deep in the snowy mountains of Colorado. Annie takes the badly crippled man back to her home with the intention of nursing him back to help only while doing so, Paul admits that he’s sick of writing his Misery novels, a series of trashy best-sellers that Annie is obsessed with. As it happens, in his latest Misery installment Paul decides to finally kill the beloved titular heroine Misery Chastain. Unfortunately for Paul, his number one fan is also a psychopath, and when Annie hears the news, she straps Paul into the bed and makes him her prisoner until he agrees to abandon his manuscript — and rewrite the story so that it indulges her fangirl whims.

Director Rob Reiner had the daunting task of bringing to life this claustrophobic tale of bed-ridden captivity but with two standout performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates, Misery remains one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date. The film is also the only Stephen King adaptation to win an Academy Award, thanks to Kathy Bates who snagged the Oscar for her sadistic, albeit charismatic portrayal of homebody Wilkes.

Reiner is clearly more interested in the dark humour and humanity than the gory detail in King’s novel, but make no mistake about it, Misery is still a tough watch. As Paul and Annie attempt to outsmart each other, Misery shifts from being funny at times to downright terrifying, with disturbing bodily harm inflicted on James Caan by sweet old Kathy Bates – including the film’s most famous and most horrific scene which finds Wilkes hobbling a helpless Sheldon with a piece of wood and a sledgehammer. (Ricky D)

Best Stephen King Movies IT

The Best Stephen King Movies #5. It (2017)

Take one of Stephen King’s most successful and talked-about books of all time — which was subsequently adapted into one of the most successful and talked-about mini-series of all time — and turn it into one of the most successful and talked-about horror films of all time. It’s no secret: It sells. After all, what horror fan can resist a vast epic about a devilish clown that torments and kills children?

King’s 1986 novel is admittedly flawed, with its clunky narrative structure, controversial sewer scene, and the occasional verbose rambling of a man clearly on a classic 80s coke binge. The 1990 miniseries adaptation (starring the always marvelous Tim Curry) is certainly not perfect either, with its unbearable melodrama and ridiculous climax. For the 2019 version, director Andy Muschietti made the smart decision to split the story into two parts, focusing only on the children in Part One. This choice makes for a compelling coming-of-age story revolving around a group of misfits called “The Losers Club” that band together to uncover the disappearance of multiple kids throughout their hometown of Derry, Maine.

It begins with a notorious scene involving a little boy named Georgie in a yellow raincoat chasing after his paper boat that fell in the sewer. There he meets Pennywise, a goofy-but-sinister clown set on luring the boy in. Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgard) is undeniably creepy, with his flaming red tufts of hair and Juggalo makeup (though he doesn’t quite capture the corny approachability of Tim Curry), and Skarsgard gives new crazed villainy to the iconic character.

Where the film truly shines, however, is with the children. The Losers Club — consisting of Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Stanley, Mike, and Eddie — exchange quips with excellent chemistry and childlike bravado, as well as vulnerability. They all have traumatic burdens and fears that are brought to light as Pennywise stalks them, but the kids also are forced to endure the horrors of real-life preteen problems such as bullies, overbearing parents, and typical hormonal insecurities. Thus, Part One of It manages to produce a chilling ghost story embedded in an endearing coming-of-age summer story. The performances are strong and the narrative structure is far more cohesive, making an excellent standalone film. Hopefully, Part Two is equally as compelling. (Sarah Truesdale)

Best Stephen King Movies Carrie

The Best Stephen King Movies #4. Carrie (1976)

This classic horror movie, based on Stephen King’s first novel and about a pubescent girl with telekinetic powers, remains Brian De Palma’s best film. Sissy Spacek stars as Carrie White, a shy, mousy teenager who is the victim of both her evangelical mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), and of her cruel high school classmates, who bully her constantly. Her mom shelters Carrie in a closed-off, claustrophobic household, due to her psychotic fear of sexuality and some twisted religious beliefs. She punishes the girl repeatedly, and prohibits her to develop friendships with other teens. As a result of ignorance and religious guilt, Carrie remains an outsider shunned by society, and the butt of practical jokes. When the school’s popular girl, Chris Hargenson (Nancy Allen), organizes a wicked prank at the school prom, Carrie lashes out in a horrifying manner, displaying her deadly special abilities in the film’s infamous climax. This landmark of cinematic horror gives us a terrifying look at high school cruelty. Many films have featured school bullies, but Carrie is one of the first to focus on the cruelty inflicted by teenage girls. This is Stephen King’s first book-to-film adaptation, and undoubtedly one of the best.

Both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received Academy Award nominations for their performances — a rarity in the horror genre. Sissy Spacek showcases her range of acting ability with her convincing portrayal of Carrie’s pain and longing for acceptance. Carrie would be less of a film without her talent and conviction; her performance is close to perfection, balancing the difficult task of playing both vulnerable and menacing. She was twenty-seven when the film was shot, but looks half her age, and her uncanny combination of maturity and innocence makes us like and fear her all at once. Meanwhile, Piper Laurie powers through the picture as the fiercely religious, sexually repressed, and unbalanced single mom. The talented supporting cast includes a young (and then-unknown) John Travolta, P.J. Soles, William Katt and Nancy Allen (later Mrs. De Palma) as the uber-bitch diva. (Ricky D)

Best Stephen King Movies Shawshank Redemption

The Best Stephen King Movies #3. The Shawshank Redemption

While effective in its portrayal of a more numbing, tragic horror (wrongful conviction will always be frightening) The Shawshank Redemption is more often than not celebrated instead for its heartfelt portrayal of rescue — not just from the bleak, stone walls that its lock inmates away from the world, but also from interior forces that would institutionalize one’s soul. The former is, of course, achieved through a harrowing, climactic journey through a river of shit, but the latter is accomplished via the film’s rich depictions of male friendship — the kind where much is left unsaid, yet a few simple words convey incalculable depths.

After all, though these guys do talk a lot, it isn’t often about feelings. The Shawshank Redemption shows the tedious ebb and flow of prison life, a rhythm interrupted by occasional bursts of ugliness or (to a much lesser extent) good fortune. The inmates simply accept the way that things are, as those forced into routine are often wont to do in order to survive, and so their conversations, for the most part, avoid anything that would remind them of the horrors of this kind of life. This could have resulted in character ambiguity that muddled audience perception of who these people really are, but the smart choice in keeping Red’s narration makes things crystal clear, contrasting tough guy exteriors with the human beings still found beneath. That additional insight turns out to be vital, and one of the best examples of film narration to be found, period.

It might be hard at first to view The Shawshank Redemption as an uplifting movie — after all, some horrific things happen, including beatings, rape, suicide, and outright murder — but director Frank Darabont smartly leans into this, oppressing audiences even further with ceaselessly grey and claustrophobic images, to the point that Andy’s escape coincides with our own. Still, while that moment of elation is powerful in its cleansing, the real victory is reuniting two old friends — brought together by a force stronger than the world that tried to crush it out of them. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Stephen King Movies The Shining

The Best Stephen King Movies #2. The Shining

Though made by perhaps the greatest master of the cinematic craft, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining may not have appeased the author himself, yet its legacy has only grown in the nearly three decades since its release. Centering on Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer, and aspiring family man, The Shining follows him, along with his wife and son, as they agree to be live-in caretakers for the Overlook Hotel’s winter season. Unfortunately, the Overlook is not as empty as it seems. Brimming with ghosts, tortured spirits, awful phantasms, and some truly frightening psychic energy, the Overlook is a surging storm of the supernatural just waiting to claim its next batch of victims.

Complicating things further, Jack’s son, Danny, is psychically attuned to the Overlook, and may be the family’s only real chance at surviving the evils of the hotel. However, as Jack’s demons begin to come out to play, the worst threat of all may come from within the family itself.

The Shining isn’t just a well-written and chilling horror tale, however; it positively shines in every aspect of the film-making craft. From the sweeping, dizzying visuals to the surging orchestral score, to the wildly in-depth set arrangements, The Shining is pure horror bliss from start to finish — and that’s without even mentioning the iconic performances, particularly Jack Nicholson’s terrifyingly entertaining take on a man who is slowly unraveling under the pressures of family and the threat of danger.

Famously lambasted during its initial run (the film was even nominated for a Razzie), The Shining has spent thirty years climbing its way to the top of the horror heap — a well-deserved resting place for this transcendental masterpiece of a film. (Mike Worby)

Best Stephen King Movies Stand by Me

The Best Stephen King Movies #1. Stand By Me

Stephen King may be a modern master of horror, but the greatest big-screen adaptation of the genre’s most popular purveyor is also the first non-horror King adaptation.

Stand By Me is the quintessential 1980s coming-of-age movie – set in Castle Rock, Oregon, over Labor Day weekend, 1959, as four twelve-year-old boys, go by foot on a trek to search for the body of a missing 12-year-old in the nearby woods of their small hometown. Unlike most coming-of-age tales, Stand By Me is one that transpires over a period of less than 48 hours as the four friends share one last moment of camaraderie and bonding, before they are pulled apart by class differences and teenage angst. It’s the last summer they spend together, but their adventure will forever change their lives.

This was the third film directed by Rob Reiner, his first of two Stephen King adaptations (the other being Misery), and it pretty much cemented his reputation as one of Hollywood’s best filmmakers. The film also made household names of actors Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell who all turn in fantastic performances.

Much like the classic Ben E. King song that it is named after, Stand By Me is one of those treasures that stands the test of time. It’s a film about the journey, not the destination and about what the characters discover along the way. Its themes are universal and like the best coming-of-age movies, watching Stand By Me makes you feel young again. (Ricky D)

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Did we miss any of your favorites? Maybe there are one or two Cat’s EyeMaximum Overdrive, or Lawnmower Man fans who are outraged right now? Let us know in the comments below!

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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TIFF

TIFF 2019: ‘Crazy World’ Brings Wakaliwood to the Masses

‘Crazy World’ is the latest Wakaliwood film from Uganda to be translated and brought to the world, containing crazy action on a low budget.

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Crazy World

With an extremely low budget and hearts of gold, the Wakaliwood movement in Uganda is a force of nature waiting to be fully unleashed on the world. Director IGG Nabwana’s Crazy World is the latest film to be translated for western audiences, having been originally produced in 2014. It showcases an international action scene that desperately needs to be seen by those who love films packed with ingenuity, comedy, and a genuine love for the medium that exudes from the screen. A fever dream of martial arts and absurdity, Crazy World is the kind of gonzo-action that can’t be denied its place in the pantheon of international action cinema.

As children are being abducted by the Tiger Mafia — led by a pint-sized leader frequently mistaken as a child himself — parents begin formulating a plot to rescue the children and get revenge on the thugs who keep destroying their village. Unfortunately for the Mafia, they’ve made the mistake of kidnapping the Waka Stars — children with can outsmart and beat up anybody when they work together. Other characters include a parent who has gone insane six months after his child was abducted (and now lives within the village dump), and of course, characters named after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan for good measure.

Crazy World

As silly as the premise sounds, Crazy World is even more absurd in employing a trademark of Ugandan tradition by incorporating narration from a VJ — or “video jockey” — who describes what’s happening, why it’s happening, why it’s bad that it’s happening, and who is about to get their heads kicked in. A side note about the midnight screening for TIFF: the narration was done live, and made the whole experience all the more delirious. But even without the live narration, what’s there is simply a staple of Wakaliwood films. The narration can have to do with the film itself, or even suggest the social and political anxieties that make the scenes all the more striking.

It’s also impossible to talk about Crazy World without mentioning the utter insanity of the action. For starters, every kick and every punch lands with the loudest thud imaginable. It sounds like a boxing match is happening, but it’s actually kids beating up grown men. The fights tend to be contained to a small set where green screen is quite obviously employed (to hilarious effect), and some of the worst special effects show buildings and vehicles being blown up. This isn’t a knock; in fact, these low-budget effects work exceptionally well because the film itself feels just as DIY and cobbled together. It’s infectious how fast Crazy World moves and how well it works, simply due to well-choreographed action.

Crazy World

Crazy World is my entry point to Wakaliwood, and there will be many who have never seen a film like this. However, those that do might find a new favourite style of action filmmaking — one that leverages its set pieces against the backdrop of regional concerns in Uganda. It’s a movie that transports you not because it’s put together well, but because it’s put together so lovingly. A hilarious romp, Crazy World is one-of-a-kind cinema that sets the bar for low-budget filmmaking.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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TIFF

TIFF 2019: ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ Examines a Criminal’s Upbringing

Justin Kurzel’s latest film boasts a great supporting cast, and applies a gritty aesthetic to one of Australia’s most renowned criminals.

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True History of the Kelly Gang

Justin Kurzel’s latest film — a fictionalized version of the story of Ned Kelly — takes an Australian outlaw and attempts to humanize and emphasize the importance of taking your life in your own hands. Bolstered by an exceptional supporting cast, another great score by Jed Kurzel, a gritty attitude, and fantastic final act, True History of the Kelly Gang is a movie that will best be remembered for its moments — not the narrative in between. Focused heavily on the character work, Kurzel delivers a satisfying enough period drama that demands a lot from its actors in order to provide nuance in a fairly standard biopic structure that builds to a blistering climax and somber finale.

A tale of criminals being the heroes to the oppressed, True History of the Kelly Gang takes its time warming the audience to who Ned Kelly (George MacKay) ultimately becomes, and why he was revered by others in the community. Beginning with his childhood (and literally featuring diegetic intertitles that state “Boy” and “Man” when their respective segments begin), the film explores Kelly’s upbringing from his Irish immigrant family, led by matriarch Ellen Kelly (Essie Davis in a very potent, voracious performance), and her many decisions that lead to Ned’s ultimate notoriety. More aptly, Ellen finds herself juggling father figures, as well as who she wants her son to become, while attempting to drown out any of her husband’s proclivities and vices.

True History of the Kelly Gang

Ned logs his adventures throughout and starts telling his own story for the ones he loves to read when he eventually passes. “Every man should be the author of his own story” is a mantra Kelly holds onto, and it frames the film for Kurzel into something more singular, only occasionally looking at how others may portray Kelly’s story. That being said, True History of the Kelly Gang flows in a very linear-fashion, and often feels like it’s just going through the motions in order to get to the next big moment. Even with early appearances from Russell Crowe (in a role that is a lot of fun to watch him chew on) and Charlie Hunnam, the film often feels like it knows where it wants to go, but has a runtime to pad out before it feels right to get there. The script surrounds Ned with violence and tough decisions, which work in the moment, but getting to them is sometimes a chore.

Moments are what keep True History of the Kelly Gang interesting. While the main villain (played exceptionally by Nicholas Hoult) keeps the film strung together as he chases Ned throughout Australia, the journey never transcends the crafting of individual scenes. Whether it’s Hoult’s character’s sly trickery and deceit that unfold and enrapture, a tough decision that either leads to violence or trouble (but never a more virtuous outcome), or the final gunfight where the visuals, score, and sound design all cascade into each other to form one of the most memorable scenes of the year, these moments don’t work because of the characters that were built, but instead satisfy due to an understanding of film techniques. The screenplay itself is solid, but never amounts to a whole as strong as the individual parts.

True History of the Kelly Gang

This holds True History of the Kelly Gang back, turns it into a very well-made film that never really justifies the time it spends building upon Ned Kelly’s character. The story could have opened with Kelly as a man, and audiences would likely not feel much different about his plight. This often is the case with Kurzel’s films, however; they know where they want to go, but don’t rarely justify the time they take to get there. Instead, beautiful visuals and a score that moves between raucous and dissonant distract from an otherwise standard telling of a man brought into a violent life, and his fight to be himself.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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TIFF

TIFF 2019: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Pleads for Love and Laughter Amidst Hatred

‘Jojo Rabbit’ brings Waititi’s signature humor to a coming-of-age movie about growing up as a youth in Nazi Germany.

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Jojo Rabbit

After directing Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi probably got carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in Hollywood. Already signed on to do Thor: Love and Thunder, the New Zealand director decided to do something almost no other director would probably consider: making a comedy about Hitler. That would be the reductive elevator pitch, which is how many will approach the film when it is officially released, but Jojo Rabbit is hardly that. Instead, Waititi satirizes hate itself, as well as all the ridiculously extreme convictions people have that hold the world back from being peaceful. It’s all done with that signature Waititi charm that makes the film a joyous mix of entertaining dialogue and lovable characters.

The hardest thing to get past in Jojo Rabbit is its initial premise. Set during World War II, just as Germany is on the cusp of defeat, the film follows ten-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) as he begins his training to be a part of Hitler’s army. After he is sent home from a Nazi bootcamp, he discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his house, and is forced to help hide her or risk his mother (Scarlett Johansson) being murdered by the Gestapo. His blind fanaticism to Hitler and his ideals puts Jojo in a precarious situation that is only further made tense by the presence of his imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler (played with Chaplin-esque exuberance by Waititi).

Jojo Rabbit

It would be easy to write off Jojo Rabbit as a farce if based on its initial set up. Easily reminiscent of the director’s first coming-of-age film, Boy, there’s a level of quirk that will likely aggravate audiences unwilling to give the premise the time of day. Hitler is not played off as menacing — he’s played off as a joke. The entire Nazi regiment is filled with cartoonishly evil devotees to Hitler, as well as naive children that join the army as last-ditch draftees. It’s easy to see these portrayals as mere jokes, but the screenplay doesn’t ever feel like it’s one hundred percent about showing Nazis as bad; instead, it goes even broader to show that hate itself is bad and worthless, by using Nazi Germany and Hitler as target practice.

Setting Jojo up as the main character, the film breaks down his staunch hatred of the Jewish race by forcing him to confront his beliefs and what they mean to the world around him. How his fanaticism affects his mother, or how it has suddenly forced him out of being a child, all contributes to Jojo as a character being torn down inch-by-inch by the love surrounding him. Jojo’s mother, Rosie, is worn out by the war and simply wants it to end, while Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf seems at odds with the ideals of the Hitler regime, and now acts as a high-ranking officer with a very lazy devotion to the fuhrer. 

Klezendorf and Rosie are characters that always exist within Waititi’s films. Klezendorf substitutes as a father-like figure to Jojo, as his own father continues to fight the war in Italy. He tries to provide guidance and love to the child while Rosie struggles to deal with Jojo’s blind devotion to Hitler — who also acts as a father-figure to the young boy. Jojo Rabbit explores how propaganda and hateful rhetoric can shape the youth into hateful people without the years spent open to the world around them. It’s an ambitious extension upon Waititi’s prior coming-of-age tales, which tend to show how negligence can affect a child’s upbringing.

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit is also one of the funniest movies of the year — not because it makes fun of Hitler and Nazi Germany (though those jokes are also gold), but because it takes aim at every form of hatred. Waititi only has sympathy for those who have the potential to love, and so he doesn’t just make everyone the subject of ridicule, but focuses on those characters who bring it on themselves. A dedicated SS officer will be ridiculed to the high heavens because he just wants to capture and kill traitors and the Jewish people; it’s the price paid for being a jerk, and Waititi simply has no time to defend every character’s actions.

Jojo Rabbit isn’t here to simply say that a time period and a certain person was bad. Waititi is making a claim that many have already made: there is too much hate in this world, so why not be a little nicer? Opening with a German version of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” there’s a constant nagging at the oppressors of the film to be a little nicer and maybe open up to another point of view. Easily the most audacious film in the director’s filmography, Jojo Rabbit successfully balances the quirky humor of Waititi’s his previous efforts with a dark subject matter. The result is a movie that not only will make audiences laugh, but will have them valuing the importance of laughter and niceties in a hate-fueled time.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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‘Nefarious’ Shows Passion For The Home Invasion Genre

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From creative horror fiend Richard Rowntree comes his newest venture, a home invasion film titled Nefarious. The Dogged director and his crew have found an angle to take on the genre to make it feel fresh and lively.

Nefarious follows a few different people in the same small town, from four roommates in trouble with a considerable debt to the wrong people, to a special needs man named Clive who has won a considerable sum of money in the lottery. The film follows multiple sides of the story as they develop, with the violent and ill-tempered Darren at the helm of the intruders. With desperation leading him and his thugs to the house of Clive and his brother, Marcus, these intruders find they’ve gotten into something so much bigger than they thought.

Nefarious kicks off with the first of many interrogation room asides that allude to the events of the film. Soon the plot gets rolling, and the story begins to be pieced together. These interrogation room scenes place characters against a pitch-black backdrop, giving off a bit of a surrealist and dreamlike vibe, and some of the most impressive shots — particularly a scene with the two detectives looking through a two-way mirror — come from this setting. The intro runs a bit long, but continues the surrealist lean, with shaky visuals ranging from violent to erotic to strange shots of different individuals.

Nefarious - Interrogation
Lou being interrogated in the dark expanse.

Whilst Nefarious is a low budget horror experience, it makes use of what it has very well. The cinematography is fantastic, with varied camera angles and creative framing, along with an attention to colour and lighting. There’s a marked step up in the lighting department from Richard Rowntree’s previous offering; Dogged did use what they had well, but with Nefarious it feels like there’s more mastery over it.

On the technical side, everything comes together nicely, not ever feeling cheap or like it’s cutting corners. In fact, the gore and action — which doesn’t really rear its head until the denouement — is quite effectively done. The one exception is a slightly stilted jab with a crowbar to end a character’s life, but it doesn’t hinder the scene at all. The sets are also incredibly well put together, feeling realistic (perhaps due to filming in real houses and locations), and one particular secret room is all the right kinds of terrifying and disturbing.

Meanwhile, the music doesn’t particularly standout on its own, but the distorted bassy beat backdropping a few scenes fits incredibly well with the tone. There’s also an off-kilter element to the soundtrack that helps keep the viewer on edge.

Nefarious - Fridge
Gross and off-putting, just how you want your frozen viscera.

The acting isn’t stellar across the board, but for the most part it’s quite impressive, with performances from Gregory A. Smith as Clive, Toby Wynn-Davies as Marcus, and Buck Braithwaite as Darren shining. Nadia Lamin also puts in a solid performance as the conflicted Lou, and there’s even a cameo from the director himself as the taxi driver.

By the time the denouement is reached, Nefarious reveals a twist more complex than one would first think. Whilst it’s foreshadowed thoroughly enough to see coming, the weight and scope still come as a surprise, and the exposed extra layers of secrecy keep us on our toes. This finale is built to fantastically, culminating in a whirlwind of brutal and sadistic action, but it does get a bit muddied by those multiple twists overlapping each other, which can make it a bit less impactful. Regardless, the great imagery, execution, and pacing through the final confrontation creates a solid finishing point for Nefarious.

Nefarious defies its budget and shows us a refreshing approach to the home invasion genre, whilst allowing itself to grow outside of it as well. There are a few hitches here and there, but nothing that takes away from an otherwise excellent and thrilling ride. The ending alone is worth the watch, though the buildup is captivating as well. Now with two full-length competent horror films under his belt, I’m looking forward to seeing what angle of the genre Richard Rowntree explores next.

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TIFF

TIFF 2019: The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is a Festival Standout

Noah Baumbach’s newest drama is a searing portrait of a marriage dissolving, and his best film to date.

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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