By Anne Brodie
Martin Scorsese surpasses himself with the seismic, complex, malicious beauty of Killers of the Flower Moon, the true story of the Osage Indian Murders circa the 1910s to the 1930s. At least sixty and perhaps hundreds of full-blood Osage Indians were murdered or died prematurely by whites, in order to inherit or as wards, take charge of the millions the tribe earned in headrights when oil was discovered on their Osage, Oklahoma reservation. Osage County had the richest population per capita in the world. Indigenous families acquired white servants, drivers, staff, jewels, and cars, and became targets for the greedy, and unscrupulous. Robert DeNiro is terrifying as William Hale, the “King” of Osage Hills who with co-conspirators plotted to take the Osage’s wealth through various schemes. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, Hale’s nephew, whom Hale encourages to marry Millie (scene-stealing Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman whose three sisters are also married to white men. Diabetes runs in their family – “wasting disease” and mother Lizzie Q (Tantoo Cardinal) soon succumbs, summoned to heaven by an owl. The sisters begin to die off and Millie is confined to bed as Ernest administers needles for her diabetes. She had sent a message to Washington and to the Bureau of Investigation that too many deaths had taken place and soon enough agents land in town led by Tom White (Jessie Plemons). The Hale wagons circle. Scorsese’s full-throated mastery is evident in every frame – the emotional weight, historic verite, deep texture, and structure for such a complex story are faultless. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment, Scorsese’s best work to date IMHO. Three hours and 26 minutes fly by thanks to the electric storytelling and its broken-hearted audacity. I have never been so viscerally affected by a film, was a blubbering mess exiting the theatre because of Scorses’s stark portrait of wickedness and premeditated death, the betrayals and genocide, and the injustices to indigenous peoples through time in the US and Canada. Had a troubled night and slept for hours the next day. Scorsese’s film knocked me out cold. In Theatres now, and then streams on Apple TV+.
Sandra Hüller’s landmark performance in Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall is simply stunning. This is one other actors may look to see how realism and naturalism are done. Her work as Sandra, a married writer and mother of a son living high up in the French Alps throbs with essential human spirit and its multiplicities as she navigates the falling death of her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis). Their young legally blind son Daniel (13-year-old Milo Machado Graner in a surprisingly mature performance) finds Sam’s body in a pool of blood under the third-floor peak of their chalet and is the sole witness based on what he heard. Sandra tells police it was suicide but they don’t buy it; she’s indicted and it seems she has a lot to answer for. The investigation reveals a troubled, violent marriage, but she insists his death wasn’t her doing. This psychological suspense is utterly rivetting, as police, friends, and associates, Daniel and Sandra answer questions; courtroom scenes are especially fraught, difficult to watch at times, and in her case, change our early views. This brief look doesn’t begin to plumb the depths and complexity of the story and the personalities, but rest assured it’s a winner. Oct. 20, Cineplex Cinemas Varsity & VIP – Toronto, Oct 25, TIFF Bell Lightbox and expands wide Oct. 27.
Veteran documentarian Errol Morris fixes his gaze on John le Carré, the celebrated espionage novelist, a.k.a. former British spy David Cornwall, in his latest work The Pigeon Tunnel. The man who wrote thinly veiled intelligence thrillers based on real events that occurred over his time in service, and that of his friends and associates, grew up in a home of deceit and casual wrongdoing. His father Ronnie was a confidence trickster whose incredible feats were breathtakingly bold and amoral, apparently addicted to lies and betrayal. Cornwall says he was betrayed and conned from infancy, and memories of the family on the run from gangsters and victims are burned in. He concluded that there “there is no centre to a human being”. And then there was that time in Monte Carlo. Cornwall was a child and his family had come to separate rich folks from their cash. Dave saw pigeons loaded into a tunnel leading to the sea; they were forced down the tunnel and into the blinding light where hotel guests shot them. His extraordinary life spying for Britain in Russia and other Eastern Bloc countries, never being who he was, and finding a home for his “larceny” in stealing real events and turning them into bestselling novels including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. Revelation after revelation delivered via Cornwall’s exquisite use of spoken language, touching on other famous spies and the traits he and his father shared. Morris’ signature style is extraordinary; cinematic and theatrical, more psychological experience than standard fact-finding, there is currently no more consistently excellent and enduring documentarian. Quite the riveting combo. Apple TV+.
Maryam Keshavarz’s semi-autobiographical dramedy The Persian Version driven by the energy of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, follows Leila (Layla Mohammadi) the only daughter in an Iranian American family of eight brothers, and their mother Shirin (Niousha Noor) an immigrant who rules them with an iron, exacting, but loving fist. Her story emerges in the second half of the film and it is remarkable. 13-year-old Shirin (Kamand Shafieisabet) is married off in Iran and a mother at 14 discovers her doctor husband is not who he appeared to be. Now the mother of nine in New Jersey, Shirin’s displeased with Leila’s life choices, married to a woman, who becomes pregnant by an actor (Tom Byrne), and Leila’s a filmmaker, not an academic. Leila’s determined to find out why Shirin fled Iran in what is a deep, dark family secret – “a scandal”. Leila, a born rebel, (wears a bikini bottom and hijab to a Hallowe’en party!) ignores her mother’s orders to stop asking questions. Leila’s close to her Mamanjoon, who may provide the answers. Shirin’s powerful story bridges two opposing cultures and two nations as does Leila’s. Keshavarz’s tale is rousing and fun, if a tad scattershot in its storytelling, which takes nothing from the joys and mysteries it presents. Theatres.
A nod to the bad old days when women and girls who were different could be named, shamed, and burned alive, as witches, Satan’s handmaidens, capable of all kinds of evils. The Salem Witch Trials in New England have had plenty of exposure, less so, similar events in the UK. Paramount + series The Burning Girls, looks at the ages-old, religion-induced phenomenon from the current-day perspective of Reverend “Jack” Brooks. Samantha Morton is Jack and she and her daughter Flo (Ruby Stokes) arrive in remote Chapel Croft to replace Rev. Fletcher who recently committed suicide. Jack has “visitations” by two bloodied young girls said to be the ghosts of the Martin girls who were burned at the stake in 1556; she’s told they haunt the village. Jack’s on high alert, not that she believes in tortured ghosts but plenty of weird stuff takes place in Chapel Croft, to the smell of smoke – a portent. Rupert Graves is Harper, the big man in town, he’s rich and protected because his family was burned, lo, these many years ago. But there’s more – in the 80s, two village teen girls disappeared without a trace, so what is it that connects these three time periods? That’s the mystery of this spooky rural romp, shot in Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire, that the most of a thin story. Robert Eggers’ 2015 film The Witch marked the romantic, realistic, deeply disturbing witch film top-of-the-heap but this one doesn’t quite make it. The village’s foggy, darkish vibe is a pure Gothic romantic fantasy played to the hilt.
So Frasier is back and this time he’s streamable on Paramount+. Frasier Crane our favourite curmudgeon has quit his popular TV therapy show in Chicago to move back to Boston where he lived out his Cheers years. Martin (the late John Mahoney) has died, no Niles (David Hyde Pierce), Daphne (Jane Leeves) or Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin) but, nostalgically, the same opening titles and theme song. Freddie is a grown man living in Boston, as is Frasier’s best friend Harvard professor Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) – “the only girls we could cuddle up to were the Bronte sisters”. Seems Freddie turned his back on academia to become a firefighter, and there’s is tension, funny at times, with Dad; it’s been a long time since they saw each other; but can they move forward? And what ho! Frasier’s TV fame nets him an invitation to teach at Harvard. The old wit, fish out of water, and sad/ funny snobbery themes are strong as ever, and there is laughter, it’s riotous and wry, and despite Grammer’s politics, I’m glad the show is back.