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Kingpins and killer clowns

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Drugs are bad. Mmm'kay... but they sure make for captivating TV. Netflix dropped Season 3 of Narcos last weekend, and isn't it ironic (don't ya think?) that a show about cocaine exporters turns out to be just as addictive as the notorious narcotic at the centre of it all? Betcha can't watch just one.

Super addictive, "binge" TV plays into ancient human behaviour deep rooted in the "Reptilian brain." According to communication research experts at Indiana University, our brains are hardwired to pay attention to "continuously morphing sensory stimulation in our environment." This is how we survived in the wild.

Add in our brain's tendency to squirt out happy-time endorphins whenever we're empathetically connected with characters, then place those characters into a series of cliff-hanging moments of high drama and pretty soon six hours are shot and you can't feel your legs. (Endorphins are opiates too!)

Narcos' Season 3 sees fabled kingpin Pablo Escobar dead and the Cali Cartel is ready to fill the void, but nothing is ever easy when you're in charge of a multi-billion dollar empire built on corruption, greed and blood. (Very) loosely based on actual events and people, Narcos Season 3 is 10 episodes of can't-stop-won't-stop television, and further evidence that North American audiences will watch foreign-language entertainment.

Back to school! Remember last year when random people were dressing up as "scary clowns" and hanging out at public schools for kicks? The fad seems to have subsided, but those who suffer coulrophobia will get no rest this weekend with the opening of It, a horror flick featuring a community of disappearing children and a killer clown named Pennywise. This one looks so scary actual professional clowns have been protesting the film, claiming they are losing work due to cancelled shows.

This is exactly the kind of press you want for a film with no pre-screeners, a lot of hype and a freaky-ass trailer. Based on the Stephen King novel, this is directed by Andy Muschietti, best known for his last flick Mama which was tense and moody despite a messy plot. It scares people, it pisses off clowns, and it carries a 14A-rating. It sounds perfect.

The Village 8 is also launching a new "Monthly Travel Series" this week with Passport to the World: Vietnam: In the Eye of the Dragon. Despite the eye-catching double use of a colon in the title, this one looks to be a superbly filmed and beautiful look at a country many of us probably know very little about other than Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. Good work, Village 8 — this seems worth checking out.

The Glass Castle is also playing this week, starring Brie Larson (Room), Naomi Watts (Mullholland Drive) and Woody Harrelson (who rules, but will kinda still always be mostly remembered for playing the village idiot on Cheers) in a literary adaptation about unconditional love in a highly dysfunctional family. The source memoir by Jeannette Wells was heralded as a classic but the film has not seen the same success and considering the book is almost always better than even the best films (Trainspotting and Fight Club are notable exceptions), perhaps this one is better checked out at the bibliotheque instead.

The start of September means our friends at the Whistler Film Festival are en route to the Toronto International Film Festival to rub elbows and finger the pulse. (Also, let the record show that Angelina Jolie has two films in the fest this year, and she will be in attendance, and she's single... so let's get her out here for WFF!)

Festival season couldn't have come fast enough for Hollywood. According to Variety, the summer 2017 U.S. box office is the worst in more than a decade — it only raked in $3.8 billion, a 14.6-per-cent drop over summer 2016.

The good news is that the actual movies were not that bad this summer, and there were numerous wins for films about minorities. Wonder Woman stole the summer, but both Girls Trip, starring four African-American women, and The Big Sick, a rom-com with a Pakistani male lead, performed well enough to justify more movies not totally aimed at teenaged white dudes. Even movies that were aimed at that demographic turned out ok — Atomic Blonde was better than John Wick 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming was a big bag of fun.

Download of the Week is another foreign language Netflix offering. Okja is a single two-hour film, no binge needed, but it will still get those endorphins pumping.

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