Elizabeth Lo’s Stray
By Anne Brodie Awards season not over yet, plus Royals, or ex-Royals if you prefer. Oprah interviews BFFs Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Sunday night in a 90-minute special; an interview Oprah told chum Gayle King is the best she’s ever done. Winfrey is a long-time friend
to the couple and lives near them in Montecito, California.
On the docket – Meghan and toxic media scrutiny, “lies” she claims were spread by “The Firm”, and her charitable work and Harry addresses his move Stateside, and his venture with Oprah to highlight mental health issues in an Apple TV+ series. Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special airs Sunday, at 8 P.M. on Global and CBS, and live streams on Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV.
At 8 p.m. Sunday on The CW, if you’re lucky enough to access stations in US border states, the annual Critics’ Choice Awards, given by the US/Canadian organisation of film journalists to which I’ve belonged for 26 years. It will have tough competition versus the Royals. Taye Diggs hosts. Here are our nominees:
And on Tuesday night another of my organisations, the Toronto Film Critics Association presents its annual awards in a beautifully produced, socially distanced gala available to stream free here
I’m presenting a couple of awards and hope you’ll join us at 8 p.m. Following is a list of our winners, minus Best Canadian Feature which will be announced live.
Here is your invitation to watch for free:
Robin Wright stars in, produced and directs Land, a poignant and often painful portrayal of a woman’s mysterious sojourn into the wild. Edee flees Chicago for Wyoming in a van filled with blankets and canned goods. A realtor accompanies her to an isolated cabin she’s purchased, high in the mountains (shot in Alberta) but is distressed when she gives him the van. He tells her she needs a vehicle but she’s not interested. Edee lacks the skills to sustain herself through the bitter winter and is found near death by a hunter (Demián Bechir). He’s mystified by her refusal to change her way of life, but stays and teaches her to hunt, fish and garden. Their relationship is never romantic, and he checks on her often, never asking why she’s there. She says “if I starve, it’s on me”. All is set against stupendously beautiful landscapes, mountaintops, rivers and virgin woods; she begins to come to life again and thus begins the next part of her journey into compassion and acceptance. It’s painful, bleak, and shockingly beautiful, a true grieving esthete’s meditation on life and loss . It’s not easy, but it’s soul-stirring. TVOD.
Eddie Murphy has many faces – King Akeem / Clarence / Saul / Randy Watson and more in his Second Coming to America, in search of his newly discovered son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), “The Bastard of Queens”. Lavelle’s the result of a 1988 fling between then-Prince Akeem of Zamunda and Mary Junson, played with insane comic energy by Leslie Jones. James Earl Jones’ King dies, Akeem assumes the crown and decides, to the horror of sidekick Semmi, also / Morris / Reverend Brown / Farmer 1 / Baba all played by Arsenio Hall, to fetch the boy in NYC. They return to Zamunda with Lavelle’s family in tow, a big fish-out-of-water culture clash for all, Murphy’s showcase for elaborate music and dance celebrations, eighties-style excess and nostalgia is fun, but his prime character, King Akeem, is strangely flat and weary. CtA2 is a
big-budget eye-popper and like its predecessor, PG all the way. Amazon Prime.
Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland’s 1971 satirical review Free The Army or F.T.A. that they toured through southeast Asia during the Vietnam War was filmed and released and was quickly shuttered due to its leftist, anti-war message in a strictly right-wing era in America. The film is finally restored and re-released. Francine Parker directed the film which turned the Army recruitment slogan upside down, giving the finger to Bob Hope’s USO Tours. “Fun, Travel, Adventure” became “Free The Army or F*** The Army”. Performers Fonda, Sutherland, Michael Alaimo, Holly Near, Rita Martinson, Len Chandler, and Paul Mooney put on a fun, engaging and edgy show and in the course of the tour, discovered soldiers agreed with them, shockingly young men who’d been drafted into a war they didn’t want or support. The show featured satirical songs, some Confederate, given a new leftist leases on life, skits, audience participation, with an occasional right-wing uprising. They promoted grassroots movements in each country they toured and were a huge success. Celebs join along the way and soldiers weep to know their concerns are shared. A moving glimpse into a time of social, cultural and political upheaval of 70’s USA. To stream via Toronto’s Revue Virtual Cinema.
J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye is considered one of the greatest American literary works, following a teenager’s inner journey through contemporary morality, hypocrisy and alienation. Fans were obsessed with Holden Caulfield, forcing Salinger to hide away in a farmhouse in Cornish, New Hampshire and end communication with the outside world. An exception was his New York publishing house. Sigourney Weaver plays his literary agent in Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger Year, based on Joanna Rakoff’s memoir. Publishing interim Rakoff (Margaret Qualley) picks up the phone and it’s the man himself. Weaver immediately sets to work on his secret project while Joanna answers mountains of Salinger’s fan mail. She develops a bond with the elusive “Jerry” and with his fans including a “Boy from Winston-Salem” frequently addressing the camera on behalf of Salinger- obsessed young people. TVOD.
Get out the tissues for Stray, Elizabeth Lo’s dogumentary following the lives of three homeless dogs in Istanbul, Turkey and their Syrian refugee human friends. They followed them by day and tracked them by night using GPS for two years, as they sleep in the middle of busy highways, look for bones in the garbage, go to the river to drink and wander. The star Zeytin is the heart of this piece and she’s joined from time to time by Nazar and puppy Kartal. They encounter a group of other homeless strays, human beings, boys with no place to lie down legally, no food or water security and no means of escaping their pitiful lives. Like them, the dogs go unnoticed as trucks and bikes whiz, and join in the calls to prayer. It’s a meditative and humbling experience witnessing what living beings must endure through no fault of their own, to fight to survive and accept hardship as their lots in life. Occasionally people offer them relief with food and pats, but it’s a low-down dog’s life. An interesting remark “dogs watch over humans so they don’t lose their integrity” gives pause. Stray is on TVOD now and will open in limited Canadian theatres throughout the spring.
Cloris Leachman is staggeringly beautiful in her final lead film performance, shot in Prince Edward County, Ontario, called Jump, Darling. Without a stitch of makeup and hair and wardrobe, her fierce spirit shines as Margaret, living alone and clearly losing her grip. Her grandson Russell, aka drag queen Fishy Falters (gifted newcomer Thomas Duplessie) shows up from the city, following a breakup, to check in on her and stay awhile. He’s alarmed at her deterioration and commits to helping her stay put and avoid the nursing home where his mother (Linda Kash) is so keen to dump her. Margaret’s not especially happy to see him. He’s vulnerable after his recent emotional upset and makes a failed suicide attempt, and they are united in their reluctance to carry on. Russell’s emotional release comes performing in the local college drag bar, where he meets a guy who becomes his lover. He discovers the guy’s engaged, and Russell’s mother shows up to take Margaret to the home. There’s nothing easy or tidy at the end. Jump, Darling offers an unvarnished take on familial ties, love, imbalance and the hope of healing, told without sentimentality . TVOD.
Sometime Other Than Now is a gem of a film, a soul-satisfying story of a guy and a girl, both at crossroads, who meet and find they might have a shot at happiness. Sam (Donal Logue) awakes on a rocky beach, the tide rolling in to consume him and his motorcycle; he appears to have landed there suddenly. He walks to the nearest town for help, and he’s carrying something. The local motel owner Kate (Kate Walsh) lends him a hand and notices his anxious state, turns out he’s travelled from the southwest to find the daughter he abandoned thirty years earlier, but he’s not sure he can go through with it. Kate takes him to meet Audrey (Trieste Kelly Dunne) and his granddaughter Molly (Alexa Swinton). Audrey is shocked, confused and angry; this is the man who disappeared when she was sure they were best friends. He tries to prove his worth over and over, defending a waitress from her abusive boyfriend, admitting his guilt about his daughter, asking for her forgiveness, and helping where he can. Sam and Kate try to come to terms with a potential future together but then he pulls back, concerned he’ll leave again. Besides wonderfully natural and lifelike performances, the film has a good deal of authentic heart. It’s earthy, honest, simple and true, wise and funny in its view of human nature to make the emotions stick and stay. Written and directed by Dylan McCormick. TVOD.
Donald Sutherland again! Sutherland stars opposite Tyler Posey in the thriller Pandemic available now on TVOD. Johnny Martin directs this look at a virus run amok in the downtown core of an unnamed city. Aiden (Posey) responds to reports of a violent outbreak and does everything he should do. He stays indoors and has a good supply of food and bottled water. But a glance outside and down to the street reveals an ugly truth. The citizens are infected and cannibalizing each other. Victims are now in the halls of his building; he’s set his fridge up against the door, preventing entry. Across the courtyard he sees a young woman, a blonde damsel in distress (!) named Eve (of course) who is uninfected and sane. They exchange notes in a pulley basket to stay sane as things become untenable outside. He can’t enter the hall so he knocks a hole in a wall and climbs upwards to an empty apartment that’s full of food. Sutherland’s over-friendly neighbour has also discovered the place and he needs something from Aiden. Pandemic, with its contemporary vibe, resonates; a life-changing virus is familiar territory, and Posey – Teen Wolf! – and Sutherland are working it, but a zombie film is just a zombie film, with a pandemic nod.
Season 2 of BritBox sun-drench escapist detective series The Mallorca Files is available now starring Elen Rhys and Julian Looman as mismatched detectives. Miranda Blake’s a no-nonsense Brit relocated to Mallorca and Max Winter’s a fun-loving, high spirited German partnered with her on the sunny, palm-lined Spanish island. Their job – to solve the puzzling murders that take place rather regularly – the murder of a feared food critic, the body found in
a cavern during a love opera, an historic political crime, dodgy artisan pig farms, gangsters,
a mass grave, smugglers, equestrian troubles, the works. The worlds we enter are colourful
and fun, all part of the series’ winning recipe for pleasant time-wasting.
Also on BritBox, Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide. This modern-day, well, 2003 adaptation of the Christie novel is set in the rarefied world of wealth, politics and sport. Pauline Collins and Oliver Ford are a well-to-do older couple mostly babysitting their grandchildren. It’s a problem because in reality, they are government agents investigating the murder of the rather young wife of a soccer club manager. She dropped dead after sipping champagne to toast her husband at his swanky birthday bash. Turns out, things are not all roses and nuzzles between them as she was in an affair with a top-level government official. The husband demands the guests restage the party to unmask the perpetrator but he’s offed, too. The case grows more twisted as the case climbs up and up the circles of influence.
Goethe Films: Radical is a new series offered nationally via digital TIFF Bell Lightbox that looks at the problem of violent intolerance and “the dangers of turning a blind eye”. Goethe Films promotes German culture, art and film through the Goethe Institut. The Radical programme of a feature, two documentaries and a bonus provides expert and filmmaker introductions. March 4-6, 6 pm-6 pm EST: The Renegades – A Long Way Home by documentary filmmakers Mariam Noori and Lisa Maria Hagen, stars Meral Keskin, Oliver N., Wolfgang Blaschitz, Ismail Özen-Otto and Clemens Desero and will be introduced by Lisa Maria Hagen. The story of a young Islamic German man swept into the radical jihadi movement in Hamburg is a tough one. Meral’s brother Ferhat joined ISIS and disappeared, she’s searched for him for three years, knowing he wanted to die a martyr’s death. A German man, Oliver, is a blonde blue-eyed face of the local radical Islamic group, goes to war and returns with 19 wounds, a blind eye and a wounded,
March 8-10, 6pm-6pm EST: Wild Heart (Germany, 2017, 88 min), documentary by Charly Hübner & Sebastian Schultz, starring Jan “Monchi” Grow, Kai Irrgang, Oaf Ney, Christoph Sell, and others in its Canadian premiere. Charly HübnerWild Heart will introduce the story of punk rock band Feine Sahne Fischfilet and lead singer Jan “Monchi” Gorkow. The film asks what happened in the German province of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania after reunification and the failure of the leftist movements of the 1990s.
March 11-13, 6 pm-6 pm EST: Combat Girls (Germany, 2011, 103 min), by David Wnendt, starring Alina Levshin, Jella Haase, Gerdy Zint, Lukas Steltner, and others with commentary by Elisa Hategan, a Canadian writer and educator on far-right extremism. Marisa, a 20-year-old German girl, hates foreigners, Jews, cops, and more and feels as ease only with a neo-Nazi gang. Things change when she meets a young Afghan refugee.
Bonus film series March 4-6 + 8-10 + 11-13 Exiting Extremism is introduced by Evan Balgord, ED of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. The series asks what drives people to radical right-wing extremism and what can get them out if anything. how do we maintain a civil society when fringe groups inflict damage?
For tickets go to https://tiff.net/contact
And TIFF celebrates International Women’s Day all month long with films from TIFF’s Share Her Journey Ambassadors on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox
Jean of the Joneses, dir. Stella Meghie (levelFilm)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, dir. Mira Nair (Mongrel Media)
Watermark, dirs. Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky (Mongrel Media)
Werewolf, dir. Ashley McKenzie (La distribuce de Films)
Wexford Plaza, dir. Joyce Wong (levelFilm)
Window Horses, dir. Ann Marie Fleming (Mongrel Media)
Mary Goes Round, dir. Molly McGlynn (Wilding Pictures)
Water, dir. Deepa Mehta (Mongrel Media)
New Releases by women on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox
Martha: A Picture Story, dir. Selina Miles (Circle Collective)
Exclusive digital-cinema release!
Selina Miles’ inspiring documentary tells the story of photographer Martha Cooper,
whose beloved book Subway Art became known as the “graffiti bible.”
Shiva Baby, dir. Emma Seligman (Pacific Northwest Pictures)
Exclusive digital-cinema release!
A young Jewish woman’s steamy secrets are unearthed during one emotionally frantic shiva,
in Emma Seligman’s comedy of discomfort.
Screenings & Discussions via Zoom Webinar
It’s Nothing, dir. Anna Maguire
In partnership with Sheena’s Place, TIFF will co-present a free screening and panel discussion of the short film It’s Nothing (TIFF ’19). Panellists will include director Anna Maguire, writer Julia Lederer, some of the film’s cast, and a facilitator from Sheena’s Place. The discussion will focus on film as a medium for expressing and connecting around mental health issues such as eating disorders, and the need for diverse perspectives of lived experience.