BYE, BYE LILY AND JANE! IT’S BEEN GRAND, THANKS FOR THE LAUGHS, MARILYN MONROE REVISITED, ELISABETH MOSS, SOPHIE MARCEAU AND A CELEBRATION OF INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARIES.
By Anne Brodie – Toronto’s prestigious Hot Docs International Festival screens in cinemas across Toronto and streams nationwide today through May 8. Check out https://hotdocs.ca/whats-on/hot-docsfor what to expect from factual fare from Canada and around the world. Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal became the first woman to open Hot Docs twice, this time with Into the Weeds, taking chemical manufacturers Monsanto/Bayer and their toxic, cancer-causing weed killer RoundUp under the microscope. Baichwal follows San Francisco Bay area landscaper Dewayne Lee Johnson who developed terminal cancer following an accident with the chemicals. Bayer absorbed Monsanto and denied culpability, stating Ranger Pro and Roundup weren’t carcinogenic despite significant lab evidence otherwise. Baichwal’s detective work and access reveal Bayer’s astounding apathy, the roadblocks they threw up against justice, and Johnson’s fate. Into the Weeds will release in theatres on May 20.
Harbourfront Centre launches Nordic Bridges, a year-long initiative fostering cultural exchange between the Nordic Region and Canada. Twenty-two films will be shown as Nordic Bridges at Hot Docs including All of Our Heartbeats Are Connected Through Exploding Stars.
In the 1950s, a young trans woman named Agnes sought help in transitioning as part of Harold Garfinkel’s gender health research at UCLA, in order to access gender-affirming care. In 2017, cases from that period were rediscovered. Framing Alice director Chase Joynt explores how medicine and media look at trans existence and experience and how reimagination and re-enactments help trans people deal – including Zackary Drucker, Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Silas Howard, Max WolfValerio and Stephan Ira.
Jackie Torrens’ jaw-dropper Bernie Langille Wants To Know What Happened To Bernie Langille is a true story so twisted it feels like a real-life episode of Twin Peaks. It follows present-day thirty-something Bernie Langille as he investigates the mysterious death of his grandfather Bernie Langille. He’d known since childhood there was something fishy about it and became obsessed with discovering what happened. He stirred up old family secrets, medical and police logs and came away thunderstruck. Grandfather Bernie Langille had been out drinking with friends one February in 1968 and came to bed next to his wife his head bleeding. Blood was also discovered in the basement the next morning, and an ambulance was called. It didn’t come for hours and when it did, the attending doctor assaulted him. And en route to a better-equipped hospital in Halifax, his ambulance was struck by a train. True, so why? Theories included a government hit for seeing something he shouldn’t have seen but the case was never solved until Bernie Langille jumped in. Whoa!
Patty Ivins Specht’s doc Deconstructing Karen looks at the anti-racism work of Regina Jackson and Saira Rao’s RACE2DINNER business to parse white women’s daily role in upholding white supremacy. Anna Paquin is an executive director on the project which looks at the role played by the huge number of white women who voted for Donald Trump, over an afternoon of conversation and wine. They discuss unconscious bias, everyday privileges, and cultural differences, meant to reveal their truths, and it may be tough for some to watch. “There is only one rule: no crying at the dinner table”.
Docs For Schools Today A series of FREE programs offered to enrich and supplement curriculum For teachers grades 5-12 across Canada. It includes Black Activism in Sport, Being Black in Canada, Black Canadian History, Environment, Indigenous, Voices to Hear, We’re In This Together. Take a look at other Hot Docs offerings:
Netflix‘ documentary The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is the closest the public has come to a definitive answer to the question of how the most famous woman of the 20th century died alone in her bed on Aug. 5, 1962. Author and investigator Anthony Summers’ definitive book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, published in 1985 raised a number of theories of a gangland hit related to her affairs with John and Robert Kennedy, the Kennedys themselves, suicide, and accidental overdose. The case was reopened in 1986. Summers was still working on the case at his home/library, boxes of case documents, in Ireland when filmmaker Emma Cooper arrived. Her film examines Marilyn’s rise to fame, her disappointment with it, and the men she says used her, particularly the Kennedy brothers. Her affairs with them began in the fifties and she knew their father Joseph, the influential Hollywood mogul and businessman. Cooper offers astounding re-enactments, lip-synched to actors playing central figures in MM’s life, from Summers’ recorded interviews over the last five decades. They include previously unheard tapes of her close friend Jane Russell, her psychiatrist and his family, her agent, publicist, mentors, studio heads, ambulance drivers, hospital attendants, mobsters, Hollywood scenesters, her photographer, and biographer, her directors, in all dozens of “names” and allies. Summers describes the tremendous activity that took place the night she died, including a helicopter, a small plane, and dozens of people. And Summers makes his case for what happened to her. Cooper’s tenacious and detailed film hopes to lay the mystery to rest and expose the web of deceit and culpability from the White House down. Absolutely astounding and heartbreaking and a must-watch.
Haya Waseem’s gorgeously executed coming-of-age drama Quickening shot on yummy 35mm film concerns a Pakistani teen raised in Toronto. Her family has money, a nice house, and a social lifestyle; Sheila (Arooj Azeem, transcendent in her first feature) studies performance but in the opening classroom scenes, her instructor tears down her floor exercise. Her mother’s convinced she’s in with bad people and urges her to hold to her cultural values, making clear the gap between them and their inability to talk authentically to one another. Ditto her often-absent father and her little brother who struggles with autism. Sheila feels alienated from family and friends but finds comfort in a romance with classmate Eden (Quinn Underwood). Eden ends the romance just as Sheila discovers she’s pregnant and Isolation and anger take their toll on her mental well-being. From there the family’s house of cards starts collapsing fast – Dad’s lost his job but won’t talk about it, they argue and she carries her secret. This is a mature, elegant, formal film with a tonal score that takes us to the inner workings of Sheila’s mind. What is true and real and where is she in the emotional storms of life? In select theatres.
Liam Neeson ups his game with a better action film than he’s put out recently. Memory concerns a hired El Paso, Texas assassin who refuses to kill a 13-year-old, unleashing the wrath of a child trafficking crime cartel and endangering himself, FBI agents investigating the cartel and local police. His character Alan Lewis is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. He records the people he’s targeting, and pertinent details on his arm and hides out in an abandoned warehouse. He disguises himself as a hospital nurse and slits a patient’s throat, and leaves without a trace. Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Guy Pearce) investigates the trafficking ring with horrific and unintended results, and the girl is taken to safety; the cartel is known for targeting children for leverage. Wealthy businesswoman Davana Sealman (Monica Belluci) and her son have a special interest in the investigation, and Lewis’ actions uncover a tidal wave of corruption. Neeson’s portrayal of an ill man working hard to do a job is touching and disturbing and changes the actioner genre. In theatres.
Elisabeth Moss and Jamie Bell lead Apple TV+ Original chilling series Shining Girls based on Lauren Beukes’ bestseller around Kirby Mazrachi, a Chicago newspaper archivist. Her bright future as a journalist was derailed following a traumatic attack by a person who remains at large. A murder occurs that bears an uncanny resemblance to her attack and she determines to find who is responsible. Veteran reporter Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura) who’s struggling with his own demons asks to be assigned to the case with her. Flashback to a young girl sitting on her stoop, approached by a teenager (Bell) who gives her a small carved horse and encourages her to pull apart a bee. Flash forward to another girl gone missing and the discovery of a body during construction. Kirby digs into the archives believing all the cases are linked to hers. She is in a strange state, everyday things confuse her, and her sense of reality is shaken off its moorings. Kirby locates a woman who survived one of the attacks – she’s changed her name and appearance and says “I didn’t see him, he’s everybody’s nobody. I remember his voice when he called me a whore”. Kirby wants to share her feelings with her remote mother (Amy Brenneman) but suddenly can’t find her apartment. It turns out to be hers, the one she shares with her husband. She doesn’t remember getting there because time and place have shifted so begins to log her differing realities. Kirby finds Polaroid photos of herself in her apartment she can’t explain and her senses are unreliable. Over time a total of eight similar cases occur as Kirby’s mental state deteriorates. Moss plays this complicated, terrified but tenacious woman with great authenticity and we’ve never seen Bell like this before. The title Shining Girls refers to the young lives snuffed out over the course of two decades in this really scary, really creepy but riveting series.
France Amazon Studios romcomdram (?) I Love America now on Prime Video finds Lisa (Sophie Marceau) upping sticks and fleeing Paris for LA. Lisa ups sticks and moves from Paris to Los Angeles, looking for a fresh start to cure her battered heart and soul. During a fun Hallowe’en party, Lisa finds herself standing on a palm-lined street in a sexy bunny costume on the phone weeping – her mother is to be taken off life support. She returns to Paris and faces her for the last time. They had a complicated relationship, her mother was a famous singer with little time for her. Back in LA, her gay best friend and drag bar owner Luka (Djanis Bouzyani) is concerned and secretly signs her up on a dating app. She gamely participates with a few dates, including a nudist. But finally, John (Colin Woodell) may be a good fit. Things are looking good despite a psychic saying she’ll never find anyone, ever. She also says her mother thank her from beyond the grave for forgiving her. These are the true experiences of writer-director Lisa Azuelos who mixes sunny and sad in a French flavoured romance.
Crave‘s fact-based murder series The Staircase debuting May 5th is the fourth iteration in the past several months of a wife and mother found dead under mysterious circumstances at the bottom of a staircase in her well-appointed home. Astonishingly, such has been the core of The Girl Before, Finding Alice, and Close to Me, so wealthy married ladies watch out! Based on a true story, Antonio Campos looks at the infamous case of the alleged murder of Kathleen Peterson (Toni Collette) at the hands of her husband, the hair-trigger-tempered Michael Peterson (Colin Firth), in Durham North Carolina. The family’s mansion appears to be filled with sunshine and light, with their blended family of beautiful, privileged children, their good jobs, and social positions. But Kathleen was found with 35 lacerations in a bloody heap at the foot of the stairs while alone in the house. That was December 2001. Peterson, an author, was having trouble coming up with new ideas and he had a lady on the side, Kathleen was a doting mother and stepmother of six but less patient with her husband. Peterson’s hysterics overtake him, and his son suspects he’s guilty but jumps in to save him. It is a long and winding road, a family in disarray, the ruse of their happy marriage now clear. It always seems tough on survivors to make films like this about despicable people and action, but they are popular and feeling morally superior is part of it. An interesting cast of international stars includes Parker Posey, Tim Guinee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Kevin Sizemore, Cullen Moss, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Dizzia, Sophie Turner, Olivia DeJonge, Juliette Binoche, Dane DeHaan, Olivia DeJonge, Rosemarie DeWitt, Tim Guinee, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sophie Turner, Vincent Vermignon and Odessa Young.
If you need some good laughs and someone to cheer for, who happens to be a manipulative liar, look no further than I Love That For You on Showtime / Crave. Bess Armstrong plays Joanna a childhood leukemia survivor whose greatest pleasure back then was watching the glamourous, hosts of the television shopping network. She’s kind of lonely, never had a beau, and dreams of becoming a TV shopping channel just like her heroine, host, and network mainstay Jackie (Molly Shannon). Using her finely honed manipulation skills, she lands a job at the network and begins her climb and keeps the “cancer girl” card in her pocket to win sympathy. She’s not a bad person, but she’s complicated and it turns out she’s a natural on air. Jackie mentors her as she holds her own against vapid, ultra-competitive host Beth Ann (Ayden Mayeri). The outstanding Jenifer Lewis goes for broke as CEO Patricia whose larger- and meaner- than life persona is terrifying. Patricia encourages Joanna to use her ongoing cancer battle as part of her on-air chatter- it sells. Thing is, Joanna does so, even though she’s been cancer-free for years. It’s a moneymaker and a big fat lie. The series is really well scripted and executed, each character’s nicely defined and also morally complicated and it skewers on-air ambitions with a wink and a nod. Naughty FUN!
Let’s end with a bittersweet goodbye. The final season of the beloved buddy series Grace and Frankie, with the incomparable Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, marks the longest-running Netflix original series – 94 episodes. Peter Gallaghers in the house, Mallory and Brianna are in a workplace battle to the death for dominance, a thief is on the loose and where is the cash? G and F see their own futures when a friend is sent to “memory care” and do their best to bounce her, Grace agrees to therapy, they become international drug smugglers, Robert has alarming memory lapses and the exes try to silence a theatre critic. Grace must finally break the ice with her estranged brother, there’s a fake funeral and glasses raised to the future whatever it may hold. Going to miss my Fonda Tomlin fixes! Thanks, ladies! You are forever in our Netflix queues.