A STUNNING PETER JACKSON-LESS LOTR, ROMEO & JULIET, ROM-COMS, MURDER, SIMONE SIGNORET AND THERE’S CAKE, TOO.
By Anne Brodie
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is reported to be the most expensive production ever made at $1B. Every penny is on the screen. Perhaps the longest end credit list in existence and for good reason. It’s stunning; it took a lot of work and a lot of artists. And despite gobsmacking special effects, the filmmaker’s priority was practical effects that are innately gorgeous. The story is set one thousand years before the material we know; we meet new and ancestral versions of beloved characters in all-new stories predating J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s movies cycle. Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), the lead warrior of Middle Earth, and the series’ main focus is on a dangerous quest to free her people from growing evils coming their way. The journey is crowded, but no one touches her for strategic thinking and high standards in all aspects of her being and her struggle against the powers of evil. It appears in toxic black liquid in farm animals’ systems, and here and there, always on the verge of explosion. Elvish politician Elrond (Robert Aramayo) travels to the Khaazad Valley of Dwarves to seek their help in fighting the scourge; he enters the underground Hall (a place so beautiful that I teared up) and approaches Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) to ask for help in battling this threat. But Durin’s upset with him; they’ve known each other for years but complains that Elrond hasn’t been around, missed his wedding and the birth of his children – (the human touch and whimsy is a big part of the fun) so they have to work that out. There is so much life in the series so do yourselves a gigantic favour and get on the LOTR/TROP train on Prime Video now. The music of series composer Bear McCreary is splendid and brings to mind the haunting dirges sung at Princess Diana’s funeral.
So when you dream of visiting Verona Italy and the balcony where fans imagine Juliet stood when she and Romeo called out for each other, and you precisely plot out a Romeo and Juliet trip there with your fiance, life’s good. You’ve booked a hotel suite overlooking the balcony and romantic meals in the city’s leading restaurants. A dream is about to come true, except that your fiance dumps you the night before the trip. Such is the dilemma facing third-grade teacher Julie (Kat Graham). She decides to go anyway, takes the emotionally exhausting trip, and reaches the villa only to find a Brit (Tom Hopper) already in her suite. Netflix‘ rom-com Love In The Villa follows Kat as she tries to reclaim her life, the trip, and her room! The Brit’s not having it, he may be handsome and fit, as she tells a friend on the phone, but he’s danged “obnoxious” and there is no attraction whatsoever. After launching what he calls “a war she can’t win” Julie’s reduced to begging to stay the night, she’s tired and Verona hotels are full with a wine convention – the reason he’s there. She’s a romantic, he’s anything but – “you know the balcony was only built in the 30s” and Juliet never existed, he reminds her, but she won’t let him ruin her trip. They pull major pranks to drive the other out – she gives as good as she gets. As the precious week goes by, a certain thawing of relations occurs – when his actual fiancee and the guy who dumped Julie both show up! It hangs on a myth but the story is familiar and rooted in possibilities and a nice twist on a romcom in which a woman can behave just as badly as a man and win. Plus a visit to a vineyard, exploring the city gripping consecutive gelatos and a cute wardrobe.
A British wildlife photographer launches his nature series Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory in Canada on Sept. 8 on Disney+ Day and he takes a decidedly different approach to the genre. He covers the dog-eat-dog side of things, literally. Gregory, working with National Geographic is full-on tech state-of-the-art on and in the oceans, jungles, and plains to capture the natural cycle of life. He and his team capture intimate images of wildlife doing what they do – surviving – and that means hunting, catching, and eating prey. Gregory’s excitement level builds as he and the crew anticipate a kill, having saturated the creatures’ habitat with cameras and drones. His glee is enormous as the Crowned Eagle, Africa’s most powerful predator, able to kill an antelope, targets a sky full of bats on their way to roost for the night. They provide tonnes of meat for the eagle. He waits and worries, keenly aware that the camera and drone batteries are wearing out. With 4 minutes of battery life left, the eagle obliges and makes its swooping kill. Gregory is ecstatic. Many more kills and I realise I am not a person who likes watching prey and predator doing what we know they must. Gregory also follows dolphins and big cats.
Acorn‘s new series Recipes for Love and Murder combines murder, investigation, suspects, perps, cake, sourdough, homemade jams, and sweet edible seduction! I know, right? How? Well, Eden, in the Karoo region of South Africa has Tannie Maria (Maria Doyle Kennedy) an amateur sleuth, the best baker in the village, with a penchant for solving murder mysteries. She knows human nature and how easy it is to extract information from tight-lipped detectives and suspects. A local resident has been brutally murdered and suspicion falls on both her abusive husband and female lover. That’s why, armed with a chocolate cake of gargantuan proportions, Tannie Maria visits the local constabulary and jail where the lover’s cooling her heels. She manages to grill the police and the lover before she’s sent packing. Tannie Maria’s the local agony aunt columnist and knows how to get things out of people. But Tannie has a secret too. She fled Scotland to live in a home she inherited; she insists the paper not use her last name, but someone inadvertently does, and whoosh, over to Scotland where a couple has finally discovered her whereabouts. Her boss the publisher, a randy older woman with a string of young lovers, objects when she teams up with ambitious rookie journalist Jessie (Kylie Fisher) to solve the woman’s murder as they actually outperform the police. This is the kind of thing you want to watch when you’ve had enough of the horrors of the real and film worlds, it’s sweet, funny, honest, and, well, there’s cake with recipes. Sept. 5th.
Colette Cunningham, a tough veteran detective in Liverpool is a gifted investigator at the top of her game. She knows human nature and what people in crisis do and how they think and act. Redemption now on Britbox stars Ray Donovan’s Paula Malcomson as Colette. She never loses her cool, she’s the epitome of grace under pressure, that is until one day on the job she gets a call from the Dublin Garda. She’s told a woman’s body has been found, a suicide from an oxycodone overdose and it is her daughter. Colette says she doesn’t recognise the name but ferries to Ireland to identify the body. It is her daughter Stacey, whom she hasn’t seen or spoken to in twenty years. She must introduce herself to her two grandchildren, tell them the news, and care for them while the police work on the murder. She asks to lead the investigation and because of her position and the respect she’s earned, she is allowed in. I don’t think this would happen IRL. Stacey had been recently suspended from her job as a nurse for stealing narcotics, an unproven charge that Colette refuses to believe, and the case is turned over to the organised crime unit. Stacey was heavily in debt; Colette clears it and organises a funeral. And Stacey’s charming boyfriend isn’t who he appears to be. The series’ portrait of a woman in crisis is layered and complex as anyone’s in these circumstances; her grandkids don’t want her, the Dublin police don’t want her and her daughter didn’t want her. Now she’s forced to work fast and mostly alone, trying to figure out where she went wrong with Stacey and face that she may not have been an ideal mother. Compelling and compassionate this police procedural spotlights a woman who doesn’t take no for an answer.
The Burned Barns (Les granges brûlées) released in 1973 stars one of the most potent actors in cinema history, Simone Signoret as the matriarch of a rural French cattle farm. Rose oversees her mercurial son Paul, his unfaithful wife (Miou-Miou), other daughters, and their husbands who share the work. It’s deep winter, snowing heavily, an abiding symbol of hidden things and cold. The rooms are unheated, you can see the actors’ breath. Late one night the body of a woman is discovered in a snow drift just off the road, throat slashed. She’s from Paris and was carrying 7000 francs, now missing. A “judge” Larcher (Alain Delon) is called in from the city to investigate and focuses on Rose’s family, particularly Paul who appears to have serious emotional problems. Rose says he didn’t kill the woman, even after she finds the 7000 francs in his wardrobe, and her coolheaded assistance in the investigation wins Larcher’s respect. She is present in many of the interviews. Larcher uncovers dark family secrets, using his intuition and experience in tune with Rose’s in what becomes a battle of will with the locals. Thanks to director Jean Capot’s reliance on stillness to allow things to rise to the surface, The Burned Barns seems especially lifelike; it is most unusual and welcome, especially in today’s tech-dependent film industry. The richness, colour, light, and detail afforded by the use of film and the stunning, hypnotic performance by Signoret an underappreciated master of acting, embodying the knowing, fiercely intelligent Rose, feels entirely fresh. A gesture from Signoret, those magnificent expressive eyes, and the power of her intellect shine through. Delon’s quiet persuasion and focus offer balance especially against the haunting but jarring electronic score by music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre. From Kino Lorber’s Classics of French Cinema Blu-ray series.
A jury, still stuck after six weeks of deliberation in a high-profile murder case, pretty much pushes the one dissenting juror who thinks Heidi, the accused, is guilty, into changing her vote so they can just get out of that room. Did Heidi push her boss off a highrise to her death? After the Trial a.k.a. After the Verdict an Australian dramedy series on Paramount+ Canada shows us what happens afterwards when the jurors meet for a goodbye dinner. They just can’t seem to let go of the case and then Heidi comes into the restaurant. Seems the foreperson Clara (Michelle Lim Davidson), cyberstalked Heidi and knew she would. They invite her to sit with them, it’s awkward and in conversation, Clara says she wishes her estranged husband’s pottery studio, which she paid for, would burn to the ground. It does, that night. Did Heidi do it? Is she a murderer, arsonist, leveller? Were they wrong to let her go free? And thus begins a strenuous but fun game of cat-and-mouse dissecting Heidi, and soon all the jurors’ lives are threatened. Heidi becomes their advisor/leader as they try to figure out who killed her boss. They’re an eccentric bunch given to eccentricity and stalking and now they’re being stalked. Clever, funny, unpredictable and yet somehow relatable the series is about life spiralling out of control through no fault of our own, and of course because of our faults. Also stars Nicholas Brown, Sullivan Stapleton, Lincoln Younes, Magda Szubanski, and Morrison James as Ronnie the Removalist.
Jason Reitman’s Live Read is back at TIFF as an all-star event Friday, Sept. 9 at 3 pm in the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre. The Montreal-born filmmaker and son of icon Ivan Reitman – whose family donated the land on which TIFF Bell Lightbox stands – will present a surprise classic screenplay in honour of his father, read by big-name actors whose identities will be revealed over the next two weeks. Reitman previously presented all-star casts at TIFF reading Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Alan Ball’s American Beauty, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, and William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Tickets to Jason Reitman’s Live Read 2022 are on sale September 3 – tomorrow – for TIFF Members and September 5 for the public, subject to availability. www.tiff.net
James Cameron’s six-time Academy Award-winning 2009 epic sci-fi adventure Avatar, the most commercially successful film of all time returns to theatres Sept. 23 in 4K High Dynamic Range. James Cameron wrote and directed and guided much of the state-of-the-art tech needed to bring the film to a new level of visual excellence. Stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver.