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Agnieszka Holland‘s devastating Green Border lays bare the harsh, horrific realities of Europe’s refugee crisis faced by those escaping war and oppression in Africa and the Middle East. Since 2015, waves of people have undertaken journeys, mostly by foot to get to friendly countries like Sweden, unaware of the physical difficulty, starvation, lack of water, and racist, violent enforcement by border guards. It’s laid out in Holland’s 2.5-hour black-and-white opus, and based on real events. Twenty thousand refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean while countless others have died undocumented in the woods and swamps – the green border – between Belarus and supposed freedom. And it was planned. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko cynically set in place false propaganda luring immigrants to come through his country and flood Europe to stick it to the EU.  We follow a Syrian family of parents, a grandfather, two children, and a noisy baby who gives them away as they try to be quiet through the border and into Poland.  Officers find them and instead of giving them drinking water, empty bottles in front of them, and physical and verbal abuse. Horrors upon horror. An educated Afghani woman who speaks English and has a working cell phone becomes the group’s ersatz leader and remains hopeful. Meanwhile, activists find them and help the injured, bring water and meagre food, and tell them their rights. Julia (Maja Ostaszewska) a local teacher offers help, opening her home and joining the activists; she’s arrested, jailed, and humiliated by female police while an expectant father, and Polish border guards witness atrocities against the refugees then goes home to renovate the baby’s room.  So much is packed into this chaotic, heart-wrenching story that so vividly reveals this modern political hellscape of a problem. Brilliant, sometimes unbearable, and important. In theatres.

We’ve seen two-handers and we’ve seen solo characters in cabs (Tom Hardy in Locke) in internal monologues and phone conversations.  We’ve seen passengers and drivers in scenes between war strangers that are often emotionally charged.  Writer/director Christy Hall, in her excellent first feature Daddio, brings a tired trope to new life when Dakota Johnson (Girlie) gets into Sean Penn’s (Clark) airport cab to get home. She’s returning from an extended visit with her manipulative sister in Oklahoma, and she’s mentally exhausted. Adding to her upset, her married lover texts to tell her not to drop by – he has to put the kids to bed – but would she please send him naked pictures? She’s being diminished by him but plays the part, stopping short of photos. Clark strikes up a friendly conversation; they talk about foods that people died for in history, salt, tea, coffee, among other interesting subjects. But he’s guessed from her expression that she’s feeling fragile and looking anxiously at her texts. He asks if she’s dating a married man who has let her down and lays out, with kindness, and burtal honesty, what to expect from him if she doesn’t exit. He shares hard truths about men and women, and while she understands that she’s at a disadvantage, she is unwilling to get off that speeding train. He lightens the mood by asking about her visit to her sister’s and picks up more clues as to why she’s in what she thinks is a serious relationship with a much older, ineligible man. He asks questions and gives advice not out of a need to dominate but out of respect for her and the desire to help a vulnerable person.  She knows the path she’s on but won’t extricate herself. Yet.  Ever? Hall’s superb writing in this spin on an old story is sensitive and realistic, her actors nail every bit of it and creates an exhilarating experience.  Theatres.

The Brat Pack, the monicker given to a group of young actors in the 80s by a thoughtless journalist has haunted its members to this day – and worse. Disney+ presents member Andrew McCarthy’s documentary Brats catching up with Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Jon Cryer, Lea Thompson, and Timothy Hutton. Most haven’t seen one another in 30 years, and meet with McCarthy reluctantly.  Estevez is vaguely hostile when the Brat Pack’s raised, until McCarthy cools his jets. Overall, the “pack” wanted to forget the whole thing; it negatively changed their professional and personal lives and they’re “triggered”.  The name launched Hollywood’s craze for films about twentysomethings; they suddenly jammed the theatres, for the first time since the Flaming Youth pix of the 20s. The actors became huge stars but weren’t proud. Here are some quotes: “From the inside it was very different. I resented it. This isn’t who we are or the reality of our experience. We filled a need”.  “We were told we had power”. “It was a scary, thrilling, dirty time”. Molly Ringwald was “very much offended” by the term. The 1985 New York Magazine article was scathing. “It burned deep”.  Nevertheless, the actors’ fame and income soared as they and churned out movie after movie, lining studio pockets – their youthquake.  But it cost the pack jobs – they weren’t considered serious professionals, they were “trite”.   Only Ally Sheedy has good feelings about it; she says she’d been a lonely teenager and was happy to be part of something.  McCarthy captures the realities of then and now, including a fun moment when the Rat Pack collided with the Brat Pack. We see what’s become of them – look out for Hutton’s incredible new life.  And it’s a glimpse inside the Hollywood machine which in its glee to profit from a social movement, hurt and limited actors. You’ll come away with open eyes and empathy for these impressionable young adults who feel used by the machine.

Killers of the Flower Moon Oscar nominee Lily Gladstone adds another MMIWG-themed film to her canon.  Fancy Dance, set on a Seneca-Cayuga reservation in Oklahoma follows Gladstone’s Jax caught in two traumatic situations.  Her sister is missing and law enforcement doesn’t seem especially interested. She papers the town with missing posters and searches with niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) who now lives with her.  Roki insists the go to the annual Pow Wow; her mother’s never missed one.  The pair get by stealing cars, food, and other items they can’t afford, and Jax has a criminal record. Child protection officers show up and take Roki to live with her white grandparents to “protect” her from her loving aunt.  But they make off for the pow-wow as Jax continues to ask people questions about her sister.  She’s referred to an isolated camp of itinerant oilmen and to Rickie – our own Tamara Podemski in a fierce, memorable cameo – who sends her off with a rifle; she realizes she’s in very dangerous territory. A moment of stark contrast as Jax drives through a well-to-do white suburban community with its manicured lawns and McMansions. Jax is tough, strong, and smart and wary of others, and does her best for Roki and her missing sister.  This one stirs many complex emotions highlighting issues facing indigenous peoples and the common emotions that holds us together, love, mourning, fear and determination.  The triumphant feature directorial debut of co-writer Erica Tremblay also stars Shea Whigham, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Crystle Lightning, and Audrey.  Gladstone is a force of nature. Apple TV+.

Reality is indeed stranger than fiction. The BritBox original, Sherwood (the Forest) is the true story of events that took place in Annesley Woodhouse / Ashfield, Nottingham, UK in 2004.  It was the scene of two crimes, two separate murders that led to the biggest manhunt in British history. The motives were extraordinary, the circumstances ancient; the Forest offered shelter for two killers, who hid there separately within days of one another.  And what a cast, the crème de la crème of British acting – Lesley Manville, Lorraine Ashbourne, Alun Armstrong, Joanne Froggatt, Stephen Dillane, Lindsay Duncan, David Morrissey, Philip Jackson, Robert Glenister. Wow.  The starting point was twenty years earlier during the ugly miners’ strike that nearly ripped Britain apart. Margaret Thatcher sent in troops to break it up using any means necessary.  Workers who crossed the picket line ignited bitter hostilities that remain today and in 2004, when these events took place. Sherwood creator James Graham grew up in Ashfield and was well aware of The Grudge. In 2004, striker Keith ‘Froggy’ Frogson (Armstrong) was shot with a bow and arrow and butchered with a sword outside his home. His killer Robert Boyer fled to the Forest.  Just a few days later, former miner Terry Rodgers who was living in his daughter’s home, shot her four times, killing her. He fled to the Forest where both men hid for weeks. In all 900 police searched. The names are changed but the story is just as perplexingly vitriolic, and performances across the board are top-notch.  Its a breathtaking series that proves that the old maxims that truth is stranger than fiction and the mills of the gods grind slow but they grind exceeding small.  Even if it takes twenty years. 

Ever walked a 200-pound pet pig, Francis Bacon down the street without a leash?  Had a date refuse to enter your apartment because she’s afraid of your three hairless Sphinx cats? Is your cat an Instagram star responsible for your $$$ deal with Nike? Or have you had an African Giant Snail called Her Majesty climb up your body?  Well, some folks in Europe do it all the time. My Pet and Me, a revealing Dutch documentary from Johan Kramer on our relationship with our pets hits is endearing, joyful, filled with examples of interspecies bonds of love, dreams come true, the gamut of behaviours, living together, dying and mourning and recovery. Life’s experiences are writ small, hilarious, and heart-wrenching.  An autistic girl who says she has no friends and schoolmates push her away has found loving refuge in Mikey the pug with whom she spends all her time. The lonely Sphinx owner says he prefers his cats’ company to parties, Francis Bacon responds to his owner’s moods and conveys his in mutually supportive ways.  She says he’s extremely expressive, especially since her boyfriend moved out and they both miss him. This short doc represents the unnumerable human/pet bonds around us everywhere and the emotional benefits they gain from mutual love and companionship. On  TVOD/Film Movement Plus

Indulge me for a minute. When the world is overwhelming and current streaming film and TV choices  are dark and unappealing, I think many of us turn to Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  Its films are not from the turbulent now, they are from some other troubled time, for instance, World War Two, when films were made to be rallying and comforting. The Best Years of Our Lives wasn’t just comforting, it was deeply moving and recognisable as it looked at post-war trauma. Many hit film series were launched to give folks heroes and heroines to look up to. The war years films are goldmines. Thirties films tended to be entertainment-oriented, in a kind of superficial, often gaudy manner, and gangsters had their time in the sun. The twenties were obsessed with scandal, nostalgia, and after the Crash, deprivation. The circumstances behind these films no longer exist as the world marches on.

The films aren’t dated – they are glimpses into pasts we never knew, and human nature never changes of course.  Fifties soap operas about rich folk, conservative suburban life, and stepping out of, or remaining inside social boundaries. Rebels were born. Sweeping change came in with the sixties; Hollywood at first rejected the massive social and cultural earthquakes, then embraced them as moneymakers. I landed in the seventies the other day, watching The Odessa File (1974) on TCM starring John Voight. The political unrest between Russia and the West still stands, again, the threat of nuclear war, like nothing had changed in fifty years.  TCM with all its marvels and opportunities gives us the chance to place the here and now in historical, political, social, and cultural perspective and that’s a privilege.

The Odessa File mirrors the angst gripping a politically divided, doom-obsessed world, spelled out as Voight, a journalist uncovers Odessa, a secret post-war society in Germany determined to rise and reinstate Nazism.  He discovers it’s a vast, wealthy conspiracy and that he is in imminent danger.  The Odessa File is a complete list of former Nazis and their current identities, and he sets out to find it.  Thrilling stuff and as timely for its time as it gets. Political and idealogical unrest between Russia and the West still stands and the threat of nuclear war is renewed. TCM with all its marvels and opportunities gives us the chance to place the here and now in historical, political, social, and cultural perspective and that’s a privilege.   All hail, TCM!  Next up, the Boys from Brazil?



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