GLORIOUS CROP OF NEW RELEASES.
Rojek, Canada’s Oscars entry as Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary not only makes clear how vast is the divide between Kurdish fundamentalist extremists and Western cultures, but it also underlines the faint possibility of finding co-existence. Forty million Kurds make up the world’s largest stateless nation that seeks to establish a fundamentalist Mulsim caliphate. Kurdish-Canadian documentarian Zaynê Akyol gained access to extreme ISS/ DAESH / Islamic State prisoners to learn why violent terror campaigns against “disbelievers” are a way of life. They clearly state views few of us have heard before, ingrained in an historic, unshakeable way of thinking, the basis of ideological, religious war and death to non-believers. One prisoner says he would kill a man who asks a question about his wife and another that no one has the right to have an opinion about ISIS. Interviewees male and female cite Jinns (devils) that led them to misery, who then found salvation in extremism. It’s a foreign landscape we travel but it exists with violent primitive punishments for specific “crimes” that normalise torture and murder in daily life, One stunning reality after another in what seems to be a burning hellscape of ancient repressive laws. Akyol also followed a female military unit in Syria that fights ISIS seeking to establish an inclusive, feminist state. The filmmaker later discovers all but one were murdered. Rojek is fascinating, ugly, raw, and real; we need to know. Theatres and TVOD.
American Fiction from writer-director Cord Jefferson shows the dark path we may find ourselves travelling in a fit of pique long enough to write a book. Not just any book, the exact opposite of what you write, a book for which you have zero respect and which threatens to become a multi-million dollar bestseller. Jeffrey Wright is sublimely antsy as literature professor and author Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, whose intellectual works don’t sell. He notices a new book We’s Lives in the Ghetto by up-and-coming author Sintara Golden (Issa Ray). She’s not from the ghetto and speaks the King’s English but has crafted a book on the urban Black experience reflecting the realities of living in America as a Black person. Golden uses street patois and colourful language. Monk thinks it’s lowbrow, unlike his works, but he also notices it’s a massive hit. So he holes up secretly and writes an equally street, here-and-now Black experience book, eventually entitled F**k. It’s a hit and it is but he can’t tell a soul he wrote it. That would damage his vision of himself as mentally superior and he can’t abide that. He’s desperate for money to house his failing mother (Leslie Uggams!) but his pride nearly scuppers his only chance to help her. At once provocative, outrageous, sad, and hilariously satirical, Jefferson and Wright have pulled off a bit of a miracle. We aren’t sure what Monk will do to save himself and his reputation but he will go for broke. It’s the most fun you’ll have watching a literary thriller and a man wrestling himself to save his high opinion of himself. Also stars Tracee Ross Ellis, Sterling K. Brown, John Ortiz and a wonderful supporting cast. Theatres.
Poor Things concerns the evolution of Bella Baxter, a young suicide brought back to life by unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), many years ago in London, a female Frankenstein. It’s from the wickedly sensual imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos whose flights of fancy become heavy truths. Emma Stone is Bella, a poor thing pulled from the water, the baby she carried still alive inside her, whose brain is harvested to reanimate her brain. Godwin removes the living infant’s brain and replaces Bella’s dead one, thus re-awakening the she-creature to life, or something like it. She can’t control her movements and her intelligence is that of an infant. “God” and helpers raise Bella; they love her. But as she becomes more comfortable and alive she dreams other dreams and discovers sex, and then lives and breathes for it. God’s research assistant Max (Ramy Youssef) proposes to her, she agrees but moves on with Mark Ruffalo’s Duncan and eventually becomes a prostitute for sex and money. Bella states her needs and fulfills them, without guile, a pure soul or something like it and drives men mad, an early feminist, able to meet and surpass men. The magnificent Hannah Schygulla appears briefly as an experienced older woman, an ally for Bella as she blasts through the screen. The art direction, textures, colours, and heightened sensuality are truly stupendous. It’s unmatched as a visual experience, not as jolly as Lanthimo’s The Lobster, but exquisite, clever, reasonable, and masterful, whisking us away to new ideas, but be warned, it’s a lot. I smell plenty ‘o noms. Theatres.
Denny Tedesco’s Immediate Family is a boomer’s delight; a portrait of The Section, legendary backup musicians -drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar, and guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel – who gave character to music for a who’s who of modern American rock. Carole King, James Taylor, Phil Collins, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, Don Henley, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, The Everly Brothers, David Crosby, Warren Zevon, Jimmy Buffet, anyone who was anyone over the next decades benefitted with their support. Peter Asher (Jane’s brother), their producer was the first to credit the backup musicians on liner notes. And as Collins notes, the four names appeared on liner notes again and again and he would buy an album for them. Portions of 80 – of the hundreds – of songs they brightened and the stories behind the process over time and genres are impressive. What I thought would be a faded, dated catalogue of past glories is instead a joyous celebration of the art and creation of rock and of the unassuming four men who are still at it. They take their accomplishments in stride and throw in a lot of insider juice for us. For instance, Wachtel gave Zevon his starting point on one of his biggest hits, musing about “a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho” and the incredible lick that goes with it. Fun! Theatres.
Vera fans will be surprised and amused that there is a Christmas Special Dec 20 on BritBox; the doughty, impatient, brilliant detective played by Brenda Blethyn working the northeast coast of England, sends S12 out on a merry note. There’s a murder mystery, of course, a man is found hanged during a university reunion of five friends in a remote coastal cottage. But it’s the first Christmas special for the long-running hit. It’s mid-December and the seaside is stormy with high tides. The reunion is marred by arguments and some physical violence. The friends have known each other for decades and pass it off with a shrug, only to find the main perp dead. But did he hang himself? Seems not, there’s shoe dirt on the bed but he’s barefoot. Turns out he was deceased before he was hanged, as Vera connects him to a local crime family. His ex-wife came by under cover of night to spy on the revellers and is later found murdered. The group closes ranks refusing to admit that they killed anyone; it’s a toubling case but we’re confident Vera will crack it. Her dogged determination and refusal to back down find her in extreme danger yet she remains stoic. Meanwhile, back at the office, new hire Billy shows up, a clueless twentysomething who doesn’t know what hit him when he meets Vera. And then he’s brutally attacked. It’s a complex case, just the kind that Vera adores. The story seaside setting of the wild place adds drama, as ever, and the show continues to excel in its writing, direction, cinematography, and the magnificent Blethyn. And yes indeed Christmas comes! (no seasonal spoilers below)