By Anne Brodie
The Andrea Riseborough underground Oscar campaign – if unconventional – exists for a reason. The British actor is positively on fire in an extremely difficult, naked role in the fact-based elegy of an addict To Leslie. Made on a shoestring budget, and executive produced and financed by Risebrough, there was no money for a traditional awards season push. So a surprise last-minute word-of-mouth movement by well-known actors exploded and got Riseborough plenty of attention, including the wrong kind. Here’s the thing. Her performance makes you weak in the knees. It is deep, precise, and woundingly real. We find her character Leslie six years after winning a 190k US lottery, homeless, aimless, addicted, and an outcast. As the townsfolk say, she “put it all up her nose”. Her current MO is to find men at bars, steal and beg. Desperation forces her to call her twenty-year-old son James (Owen Teague) whom she abandoned when he was 13, to ask to stay with him. His ground rules – no drinking and she can only stay long enough to make a plan. The first day, she steals his money and buys alcohol, leaving empty bottles under the mattress; he throws her out and she makes her way to relatives (Allison Janney and Stephen Root) but that doesn’t last. Leslie hits the bars and the road and winds up with a job and room in a motel thanks to the kind manager (Marc Maron); she tries his patience sorely but tires of the disaster that is her life and decides to clean up. We have no faith in her. Riseborough’s anti-Hollywood work is a triumph of focus, subtle and harrowing. We’ve seen plenty of films with these themes but To Leslie is a phenomenon, a once-in-a-lifetime role and performance. Sustaining figurative nakedness as Riseborough does is a championship feat that could win her the Oscar. Michael Morris makes this his first feature, based on true events, based on his credits with Better Caul Saul. He is supported by excellent performances across the board. To Leslie, March 1 on Super Channel On Demand. Mark your calendars.
An unlikely love story in New Zealand filmmaker Matthew J Saville’s Juniper. Sam (George Ferrier), a troubled teenager is suspended from school, and his father orders him to stay home and look after the alcoholic grandmother he’s never met who has broken her leg. The mighty Charlotte Rampling is Ruth; she’s bruisingly mean and orders him around like a servant as she downs two pitchers of gin and water a day. She rings her buzzer long and hard when she needs to be carried to the loo; her nurse Sarah (Edith Poor) can’t handle her alone and Sam’s father (Marton Csokas) has jetted off to the UK to settle Sam’s mother’s estate, so he’s stuck with her. Strangely, they form a bond as they see value in one another; she was a war photographer and can read people; she sees Sam as a casualty of parental neglect. Her bitterness falls away and she begins to parent him in her unconventional way. Sam learns his father is indeed in the UK but with a lover. How painful and his father’s cowardly, evasive ways, considering Sam’s recent loss of his mother. Ruth opens his eyes to warm human connection, sophistication and ideas, and soon his “hooligan” friends join their circle, entranced by her. It’s a poignant and sometimes difficult look at the ways we can change if we open our minds and accept that connection and conversation can help us recover from trauma. The story’s based on Saville’s own experiences. In theatres now and on TVOD on April 4.
Idris Elba’s Luther: The Fallen Sun – a film following the TV series phenom – finds the disgraced elite London police detective, John Luther, fired from his post on corruption charges and cooling his heels in prison. He’s subjected to anti-police violence inside and tormented by his failure to catch cyber criminal and serial killer David Robey (Andy Serkis). Robey zeroes in on people’s secrets and blackmails them; he sends mothers and wives videos of missing family members screaming in agony and lures naive victims to their gruesome deaths. Police discover a house where a dozen bodies hang from the ceiling. Luther must act and breaks out of prison to find Robey, knowing the depths of his depravity. But first, he must find out who he is and his motives. DCI Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo) brings a unit to a tourist-packed Picadilly Circus where fugitive Luther’s pinged. And there, five respected citizens with no known reasons to do so, stand on high rooftops and leap to their deaths at the same moment. Robey’s cruel “prank”. Luther tracks him to a subway tunnel and the chase takes them to Arctic Norway where Robey’s holding Raine’s teen daughter. Meanwhile, Robey has a mark operating inside the detective pool. Action-packed, horrifying, and entertainingly complex, Luther: the Fallen Sun keeps us on our toes. It’s strong stuff and be warned that there’s a powerful whiff of sadism and a helluva social media diss. In theatres now and on Netflix on March 10th. It’s a doozy.
CompWare, a video game company in Los Angeles staffed by 20-something wunderkinder is horrified when a group of schoolchildren visits their workplace and one of them shoots their boss Sang Woo (Brian Yoon) to death. Late at night, a brusque mystery man Regus Patoff (Christoph Waltz) shows up and assumes control of the place but offers no proof that their late leader made any such provision. Who expects to be murdered by a schoolboy? The Prime Video series The Consultant, an Amazon Original is a twisted comedic/horrific thriller that unfolds as Sang’s assistant Elaine (Brittany O’Grady) investigates Patoff. CCTV reveals that sometime earlier Patoff entered Sang’s office where they have sex moments after a usually unyielding Sang signs a contract. Patoff smells the workers to find the vulnerable ones, somehow and fires a man whose smell offends him. The man attempts suicide. Patoff demands that Elaine come to the office at 3 in the morning, he won’t allow remote working (Hi, Elon!) and fires a wheelchair-bound woman who is one second late, because he’s a sadist who glories in creating chaos. But he has a weak spot. He’s unable to climb the see-through stairs to his office without help. And thus series creator Tony Basgallopthe lays the groundwork for a shocking tale of people; a dark view of tech billionaires, toxic workplaces and unbalanced relationships. And Elaine discovers that Patoff may have been involved in the decapitation of a man in Russia. Just who is he and what does he want? What the heck?
And now for a breather! Thank goodness Eugene Levy is back on the tube. He sums up the dilemma he faced making the Apple TV+ series The Reluctant Traveller and it’s pretty clear – he doesn’t like cold, he doesn’t like heat, he doesn’t like exploring, and he certainly doesn’t like travel. And yet, at his own behest as producer, he visits Costa Rica, Finland, Italy, Japan, Maldives, Portugal, South Africa, and the United States, bent on expanding his horizons at age 75. That’s just plain heroic. He’s pretty clear about which places he likes and which he tolerates (I’m looking at you, Finland) in his elegant, wry ways. First, out of the gate, forests, freezing lakes, weird food, hunting, and northern traditions. Later Venice and its glorious hotels (he likes to stay inside). Then a jungle trip to Costa Rica with its jungle creatures that scare him and the hotel right next to a volcano that last blew only ten years prior. For any of us having trouble getting out and about following three years of limited mobility, this is the series for you. Plus it’s fun to pretend you’re braver than Levy!