A GOOD WEEK FOR SCREENING, STARS, STORIES AND THAT INFLUENTIAL AND DEEPLY POLARISING FAMILY OF BUSINESS WOMEN FROM LA.
Michael McGowan’s sensitive adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel All My Puny Sorrows starring Allison Pill, Sarah Gadon, and Mare Winningham follows a tight-knit family struggling with the suicide of their father/husband (Donal Logue), years after the fact. It changed the landscape of who this Mennonite family is as a unit and as individuals. Gadon’s Elf, a renowned classical pianist toys with the idea of her own suicide, excruciatingly, for her mother and sister, while Yoli (Pill) keeps a close watch while navigating her own problems with her mother, her lover, teenage daughter ( Amybeth McNulty), and flat writing career. The family is on constant high alert, always ready for an emergency with Elf, always dreading the seemingly inevitable outcome. It drains them on every level but they have to keep watching. The sisters use literature as a way to connect, talking about Alexander Solzunytsyn, Thomas Aquinas, Phillip Larkin and more, after all, “libraries are the bedrock of civilized society” and they can be called upon for wisdom on things like the end of life and responsibilities to our loved ones. Yoli’s daughter says “suffering is passed along”, referring to her grandfather’s suicide and her aunt’s ideation. His suicide was “expert”, that is, no warning signs and the family suffered 14 deaths. Maybe suffering is inherited by example and familiarity. Every performance in the film is extraordinary – Gadon’s Elf’s refusal to show outward signs of weakness, Pill’s Yoli, and her ability to withstand. Mare Winningham’s great talent and authenticity are tender as is the profound humanity in all the characters. A transcendent experience that forgives and moves forward. Theatres
Now, familial bonds as tribalism in the extraordinary quasi-mystical drama series Outer Range on Prime Video starring Josh Brolin, Imogen Poots, and Lili Taylor, and produced by Brolin and Brad Pitt. The Abbot family ranch in the Wyoming wildlands has belonged to the family for 100 years and it is under threat. Tillerson, a thuggish neighbour has trained his sons to disrupt their lives as he does; he wants a mile more along and into the property line, an aggressive and potential endless incursion. Brolin is Royle Abbott, a plain-spoken husband, father, and grandfather just as committed to preventing the neighbour from taking the farm. The scenery is breathtaking, mountains, plains, forests and as Abbot discovers one day, a massive perfectly round hole in the ground a “tear a hole in the cosmos between heaven and earth”. He’d seen through binoculars from the house the cattle startle and look up and then resume eating. He dreams a body is thrown into a hole and there is no sound of it landing, he tells his wife in mystical, literate terms. His granddaughter gives him a painting of heaven. Birds swarm and two cows go missing. Poots plays Autumn who shows up on the property and says mysteriously that she’s glad to finally meet Abbot. She sets up camp and stays. He goes to the hole in howling winds, puts his hand in it, retrieves it and a wave of memories. The FBI stops by to say they’re resuming the search for his missing daughter Rebecca. A symbolic bison shot with arrows makes its first appearance feeding on the wild grasses. The Abbot boys brawl at the local bar and kill one of the vicious neighbour’s sons, down the hole he goes. Royal saves a calf from running into the hole. The little girl draws the same symbols and rocks over and over again and one day finds the real things. People die and then are alive. The local police person(Tamara Podemski) offers relief from the Sturm und Drang as she investigates the weird goings-on and multiple disappearances. Outer Range offers a completely new take on the family story and the western, blending philosophy, religion, the sacred and profane, psychological horror, ancient and new tribalism, with an occasional nod to the Greek god Kronos.
A solid cast raises the stakes in the imagined behind-the-scenes drama series The First Lady debuting Sunday on Crave. The old saw we no longer use ‘behind every successful man is a woman” hardly begins to describe the lives of the wives of American Presidents. Season One offers a “reframing ” of the stories of Michelle Obama, Betty Ford, and Eleanor Roosevelt (Viola Davis, Michelle Pfieffer and Gillian Anderson) as they set up their own tents in the White House, leading lives of worth, integrity and struggle, like the rest of us, but in the shadows of the most powerful man in the US. Their husbands are played by O-T Fagbenle (Barack Obama), Aaron Eckhart as Ford, and Kiefer Sutherland as Roosevelt as supporting players. Right off the bat, we celebrate Obama’s 2012 victory as the Black, White House butler of 55 years is silently overjoyed. But it’s the women front and centre, Mrs.Obama’s extraordinarily masterful handling of her role and efforts to improve all lives in America, Mrs. Ford’s struggles with Washington’s hypocrisy and her fall into alcoholism, and rs. Roosevelt’s remarkable, radical work for the people. Names of scandals past – corruption, bribery, extortion, tax fraud, Ford’s dicey position not being elected to the office, but put there on Richard Nixon’s resignation, the handling of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., shameful remnants of slavery within the White House. Dick Cheney’s unmasked treachery, death threats. The series covers a lot of ground from the perspective of First Ladies who may or may not have wanted the gig. As Mrs. Roosevelt says “First Lady is not my job but my circumstance”. Mrs. Obama says “They want me to be a black Martha Stewart. I’m a lawyer and health care expert” and from Mrs. Ford “They can’t make me someone I’m not”. It’s going to be a bumpy and illuminating ride, as far as we know it to be even partly true, so buckle up.
Nicole Kidman executive produces and stars in an episode of the female-centric new Apple TV+ series Roar, a remarkable and frequently mind-bending eight-part anthology. It’s refreshingly bold and honest, and sometimes feels experimental as it journeys into different views and realms of realism where the imagination can play and the women can gather and offer perspectives on being female. Each story looks at a woman at a certain critical time in her life, an event or a situation that requires resilience, instinct, wisdom, and the ability to recognize the fluidity of life. These aren’t magical TV problems that are solved and put in their place – these are reflections of reality. Issa Ray stars in the first installment, The Woman Who Disappeared. She’s a writer flying to Los Angeles to meet with a production company to talk about adapting her book to film. Blake meets her – and she notices he’s giving off “serious coloniser vibes” despite being Black; did he change his name for his career? The reception ID camera doesn’t register black faces. She’s taken to a gorgeous ultra-mod glass home before meeting with the producers for dinner. A white guy from Maine tells her he’s “down with her” and wants to experience what it’s like to walk in her shoes. They don’t answer any of her questions. Strangely, cab drivers don’t stop for her so she walks to the producer’s home. She enters the house and no one speaks to her, they don’t answer questions about the possible adaptation. It’s like she’s invisible. She is. She’s not seen. They ask why she’s not there yet and agree it’s probably better that she’s not; their plans for the adaptation don’t mesh with the substance/vision of her book. They have a ridiculous tech trick up their sleeves. Following an incident she sees her later father – the emotional upheaval of this episode is staggering. Kidman stars in the episode The Woman Who Ate Photographs as a woman who must convince her failing but strong-willed mother (Judy Davis) to leave her home and move her into a retirement residence. She’s angry. Kidman’s dealing with a lot and suddenly reaches for an old family photo and eats it, she is flooded with wonderful, visceral memories of happier times, family at the beach, cooking, dancing, the parrots in the trees. The mother and daughter trip up the coast reconnects them and she continues to eat photos of events and feelings she wants to relive. She decided to bring her mother home to live with her family in hope. Wow. Episodes follow starring Cynthia Erivo, Merritt Wever, Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Meera Syal, Fivel Stewart and Kara Hayward.
Ah, the English and their upper-class obsessions, especially the naughty ones. Anatomy of a Scandal based on a book by former court and politics reporter Sarah Vaughan is now on Netflix and it’s serious stuff. A fictional brouhaha of hugely detrimental proportions not just to its elite subjects but to tradition and the British government itself concerns James Whitehouse a star Member of Parliament and his wife and Sophie (Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller). Whitehouse sits his wife down one night when the children are asleep and tells her about his affair with 28-year-old Parliamentary researcher Olivia Lytton. He says it’s over but only admits it because the media is going public; they only had sex 20 or 30 times! Sophie takes the news with calm and dignity and prepares for the media onslaught. She’ll be by his side. But when Lytton brings forward a rape charge Sophie breaks. She will not be the long-suffering wife, he must move out or resign. He tells her he will die for her but that doesn’t help when she’s in public, at her child’s school, etc. The Prime MInster meets James secretly in a tunnel, no less. Turns out there is something in their past that could bring everything crashing down. Michelle Dockery is Barrister Kate Woodcroft who will defend Lytton; she is fully invested in the case, her #MeToo moment, and agenda; she must be careful not to overplay her hand. Anatomy of a Scandal is pretty salacious stuff and it’s meant to be. It’s well written, witty, terse, precise, and moves at a nice pace once it gets going and the bombs go off.
The Kardashians have returned to reality TV available now on Disney +. The lavish production – includes a 2.43-minute opening drone shot whizzing through the Kardashian’s massive homes, will follow Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé Kardashian and their half-sisters, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and their mother, Kris Jenner. They’re returning after a long break from reality TV but Kendall doesn’t appear for a while, laid out by COVID 19. But little has changed. They’re richer – Kim’s wealth is estimated at $1.4B – and she’s two years into law school, Kourtney has a new fella Travis Barker, Scott’s not invited to the family BBQ for his sins as a borderline abusive husband, Kris keeps a watchful eye on the multitude of businesses her family runs. As before the focus is on appearances, one sister has had so much work done, I didn’t recognize her, displays of wealth, bubble existence, and as before endless talking about themselves. The self-absorption is astonishing – they seem removed from reality, ironically. And also unchanged, the sex tape debacle is revived. Someone claim to have unreleased footage – isn’t the timing interesting? – and Kim is both livid, lawyering up and sorry for herself. But it doesn’t stop her from hosting Saturday Night Live at the very moment the story breaks, with encouragement from Amy Schumer, another Disney+ star. I guess this is a recipe for ratings, what people like to watch. And Kanye still figures large in Kim’s life, as it was shot last year. She’s now with Pete Davidson as Kanye seethes from the sidelines.
Single Drunk Female also on Disney+ follows Samantha Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia) a young woman struggling with alcoholism. Seems an odd starting point for a comedy but lo and behold, it is entertaining and instructive. Our hearts go out to the twenty-something who is smart, educated, and ambitious but unable to stop bingeing and getting into serious trouble. Her drunken rant against her boss costs her a cool job, driving drunk against friends’ protestations leaves a path of wrecked cars and lands her in jail – again. She must live at home with her mother (Ally Sheedy) who also struggles with alcohol, work as a grocery store cashier and meat slicer to pay damages for destroying yet another vehicle, a party bus. And she must endure the happiness of her long ago-ex now who shows up with his fiancee, her former best friend. After appearing drunk in court she’s sentenced to 90 consecutive days at AA, community service, and another brief spell in the clink. Her sponsor, ten years sober uses tough love strategies, unlike others in her life who’ve allowed her to act out and encouraged her drinking – her current best friend and her mother. Can she clean up and stay clean, pay her debts and lead a better life. This is the emotional stuff, and we want Samantha to win. Despite all, it’s fun, witty and entertaining, thanks to Black-D’Elia’s finely tuned performance.
Deceit on Topic now is the true story of a brutal murder and the investigation by London’s Met Police from the point of view of Lizzie (Niamh Alga)an officer assigned to infiltrate a dangerous criminal world. She will gather evidence in hopes of identifying the man responsible for the brutal murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common; it’s five months and the police are getting nowhere. First order of business, Lizzie, now Lisa, is rounded up in a drugs den with persons of interest, and then released to describe what and who she saw. Its believed a man named Chris is responsible and will kill again so the race is one. “Lisa” will be his bait, and develop a romantic, sexual bond with him. The plan is to ” gain his trust and indulge his darkest fantasies and make him fall in love with you”. The nation’s leading criminal profiler (Eddie Marsan) is called in to wrap things up as the media’s having a field day with the sordid details and the police’ lack of success. His opening gambit of offering Lizzie a cup of tea and asking her who should stir it is a thinly disguised bid to “read ” her. Stagg meanwhile asks her for extreme favours, as police listen in. They ask her if she’s up to the task; she’s determined to see it through. Stagg is extremely damaged but she’s beginning to think he’s not their guy. It’s an extremely shocking story of one of the worst blunders in recent police history – and true.
And April 20th is National Canadian Film Day. As ever, audiences across the country will be able to screen Canadian films in their homes and neighbourhoods, in theatres, on TV and via streaming. A whopping 1000 film events are taking place on this special day. Here are some of the events celebrating indigenous film and fimmakers.
⦁ An intimate conversation with filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki) and Jeff Barnaby (Mi’qmaw) in person at the opening of the new Alanis Obomsawin Theatre at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal.
⦁ An in-person discussion in Toronto that will also be streamed online, presented in partnership with APTN and CBC, featuring award-winning filmmakers Danis Goulet (Cree/Métis), Tracey Deer (Mohawk) and hosted by Adam Garnet Jones (Cree/Métis).
⦁ A tribute to the late filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée in partnership with MediaFilm, featuring a special event in Toronto presented by Cinefranco, an event in Vancouver presented by VIFF and screenings of Vallée’s masterpiece C.R.A.Z.Y. across Canada (in twenty cities) and around the world (in seven countries).
⦁ 10,000 high school students from every province and territory will engage in RCtv, an interactive live-stream event featuring CSA-nominated Night Raiders writer-director Danis Goulet and cast member Brooklyn Letexier-Hart (Cree/Métis).
⦁ A virtual screening of The Grizzlies for New Canadians and English-language learners, presented in partnership with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, followed by a live stream Q&A with one of the stars of the film, Anna Lambe (Inuk), hosted by Ali Hassan.
⦁ The theatrical premiere of the French-language Indigenous-made thriller L’Inhumain will unfold with an in-person gala in Ottawa with director Jason Brennan (Anishinaabe), lead actor Samian (Anishinaabe), and cast members in attendance, as well as screenings in Vancouver and Montreal.
⦁ This year, NCFD and Telefilm are partnering with the Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors (NICE) to host screenings of Beans, Night Raiders, and C.R.A.Z.Y. in independent cinemas in more than 30 communities, with virtual Q&As.
⦁ National broadcasters APTN, Bell Media, Corus, Super Channel, and Hollywood Suite will offer 24 hours of Indigenous programming.
⦁ Nearly 50 international screenings of Canadian films will take place in 40 countries across five continents.
⦁ Carolina Coastal University in South Carolina will host four screenings, a reception with local dignitaries, and “Canadian cuisine” on campus. Indian Horse director Stephen Campanelli will present his film in person, while Colm Feore, star of Bon Cop and The Red Violin will participate virtually.