IT’S A WHIPLASH LONG WEEKEND ONSCREEN, NAUGHTY EX-PATS, SOCIAL CLIMBING, A FEARSOME PRINCESS, AND A BRILL NATURE DOC.
By Anne Brodie
Sir David Attenborough’s Profiles Plant Life on BBC Earth’ new series The Green Planet, one of the best produced and most breathtaking nature docs I’ve seen starts with this statement “Every mouthful of food that we eat, every lungful of air that we breathe, depends on plants”. From Attenborough’s study of Maple trees in Northern Ontario and Lodgepole pines in British Columbia to the vicious battles plants wage to survive the rainforests in Borneo, the Amazon, the Malay Archipelago, and Australia’s northern rainforest, estimated to be 180 million years old. The breathtaking cinematography is the first of its kind. Former US military engineer Chris Field was working on a remote control time-lapse photography, motion-controlled gizmo in his basement until Green Planet producers had him build The Triffid lifesize in Devon. Thermal cameras, macro frame-stacking, and ultra-high-speed cameras follow a fly approach a tree, finding a leaf, pass through a hole in it, through to the other side, and beyond. It can follow floods of ants countless ants carrying leaves to an underground fungus in minute detail. The fungus feeds the ants tiny mushrooms and it consumes the leaves. And every step is filmed. 96-year-old Attenborough’s glee at new discoveries is disarming, he giggles with delight as bats drink nectar from weird plants in the dark of night. We learn plants’ aggressive, competitive life-and-death struggles for food, sunlight, territory, and safety to reproduce in the most stunning ways. Sir David shows how plants care for one another through sickness and starvation, that they have memory, weapons and strategies to fight invaders, and how vines spin their tendrils blindly to find something to cling to and grow up towards sunlight, killing its host and stealing its light. Just phenomenal, mindbending information and entertainment and a call to preserve the ecosystem. The Green Planet’s five eppies, shot in 27 countries premiere July 6 on BBC Earth in Canada and on Prime Video.
The Forgiven paints an unflattering portrait of British ex-pats in Morroco that holds to the convention of historic British imperialism and classist snobbery. Matt Smith plays tech billionaire Richard whose villa is unabashedly grand, set in acres of walled High Atlas Mountain desert. Lavishly furnished and outfitted, it stands in stark contrast to the desperate lives of locals who subsist on selling fossils to tourists. A stark portrait of haves and have-nots, whose faces are constantly rubbed in their traditions by drunk, high, sex-mad, wasteful, and lax outsiders, and how those cultural and moral tensions shape the story. Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain are David and Jo, en route to the weekend bash at the villa in Asni, a 400-mile drive. He’s been drinking all day, it’s dark and they’re arguing when he strikes and kills a boy, there to sell them a fossil. They finally arrive at the villa and decide to call the police. David takes no responsibility. The servants, locals, tell the host to beware of what will happen. While horseback riding they’re pelted with rocks and watched. The servants have a crucial role in interpreting how the aggrieved family and community will react while remaining loyal to the people who pay them. An interesting moment, on the presence of fresh mangos in the desert, and the servants’ anger as they throw away the fruit, wasted by guests. The boy’s father appears at the gate and asks David to home with him. Despite the danger, he agrees, accepting that they may kill him. Meanwhile, nothing is stopping the decadent party now in its third day. What follows is a remarkable chapter, a stunning conclusion to this thriller/character study. From writer-Director John Michael McDonagh based on Lawrence Osborne’s novel. Writer-Director John Michael McDonagh, based on Lawrence Osborne’s novel, and co-starring Caleb Landry Jones, Mourad Zaoui and Marie-Josée Croze. In theatres.
Were you seduced by Bridgerton? Well, settle in for Mr. Malcolm’s List in theatres now, a period British society dramedy that’s not as overtly sexual but just as biting. in its observations. It’s 1818 and Selina Dalton (Frieda Pinto) a rural preacher’s daughter is lifelong friends with Julia (Zawe Ashton) a hopeless social climber with money and pedigree. Julia invites Selena to the city to meet her cousin as a potential husband. Selena arrives in a social whirl in which a “trifler”, “breaker of hearts” and handsome Jeremy Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù), upsets Julia’s applecart. He could have any of the elite social circle women, but sets his sights on the simple country girl. She’s not like the others who fling themselves at him. Julia is humiliated by a newspaper caricature of him dumping her to move on to his next conquest, saying “she flutters her eyelashes too much” and doesn’t meet any of his requirements for a bide – that infamous, and public list. Still, Selena is attracted to him but she agrees to Julia’s scheme to humiliate him. Theo James’s military hero shows up and changes the game. Mr. Malcolm’s List is a tasty trifle about social wars, reputation, and how a girl can get what she wants while keeping her dignity. Like Bridgerton, the enthusiastically diverse characters of London society back then is reason to celebrate. Watch for Ashley Park who appears as an hysterically funny, ridiculous woman who has lost her fortune and needs a man fast.
The always interesting Charlotte Gainsbourg does it again in The Passengers Of The Night from Mikhaël Hers. Despite the feeling of optimism and celebration on election day in France that saw Francois Mitterand come to power, Elisabeth finds herself and her children abandoned by her husband, and preparing to move from their sunny apartment to God knows where. She ponders the city of Paris from high up and soothes her son and daughter while encouraging them to move out and become autonomous individuals. One night at her job at the radio station (Emmanuelle Beart plays her boss!) she takes pity on a young homeless woman and brings her home to the cramped apartment. Talulah (Noé Abita) is a recovering drug addict and finally feels at home with the family, experiencing a positive domestic life for the first time. Their help and love provide hope a happy ending. Except this is the moment when everything must change. Gainsbourg is phenomenal. French with English subtitles at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto Vancity, Vancouver; Bytowne Cinema, Ottawa Plaza Theatre, Calgary; Cinema du Musée, Montreal, Cinema Beaubien + Cinema le Clap, Quebec CityRainbow Cinemas Golden Mile, Regina; Roxy, Saskatoon.
We just saw Antonio Banderas in the wonderful Spanish film Official Competition as he dove deep into a problematic, insecure movie star in an intense rivalry with his classical actor co-co-star, and he was sublime. Now he’s Caleb in the actioner Code Name Banshee a washed-up former government assassin with a CIA price on his head. His one-time partner’s daughter Banshee (Jaime King) went into the family business as a killer for hire and believes he was responsible for the death of her father. But she has a soft spot for him as he mentored her, and must alert him to a coming threat in dangerous bounty hunter Anthony (Tommy Flanagan) and his army. She learned her lessons well and joins him in the fight they are expecting. Banshee was a good student with extraordinary strategic, weaponry and hand-to-hand battle skills. She teams up with Caleb’s daughter Hailey (Catherine Davis) when the war comes to his remote Colonial home. Seems Hailey was also mentored by her dad and has the key to his weapons cache. So let the games begin. I’m impressed by King in a role 180 degrees from the roles she normally plays. In theatres and TVOD.
The Princess is streaming now on Disney+ so you might be expecting one thing, but this is not that thing. An original film produced by Fox offers a whiplash take on the movie idea of princesses. A royal teenager’s secret skills are called upon to save the King, Queen, and her sister’s lives, the people, and the state itself against those who would steal it by force. No, no, this isn’t a pretty pink princess who dreams of marrying her Prince and living happily ever after. No, that cliche is kicked right out of the ballpark when The Princess (Joey King) puts on her extreme warrior mantle. All is in danger when psychopathic warrior Julius (Dominic Cooper) and his equally crazy violent army breach the castle wall to take her as his wife and assume the king’s power. His charming first act is to kidnap and chain her to a bed in the tower but little does he know, The Princess who refuses him, was tutored in extreme fighting/martial arts by Linh (Veronica Ngo). Julius rounds up the courtiers and their King and Queen and lays waste to many, while The Princess slips out of her chains and makes mincemeat of guards who try and stop her. The story’s chock-a-block with gruesome murders, and high body count, so again, the stereotype is gone, and we marvel at King’s relentless energy and discipline, imaginative moves and close calls. I’ll leave it there only to add that there is room in the princess canon for a determined warrior who fights pure evil to prevent a violent dictatorship. Directed by Le-Van Kiet and most unusual.
Aku Louhimies’ Attack On Finland or Omerta offers perspectives on something we’ve learned in Russia’s war on Ukraine, that Finland is not a member of NATO (yet), so has no protection from Europe against Russia on its eastern border. Its lack of status is a factor in this story of a terrorist attack on the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland during Independence Day celebrations. The country’s elite have gathered to toast the country with the President and all levels of law enforcement are seconded to secure them. Behind the scenes, hired assassins prepare to carry out a mass hostage-taking and kill the President for, among other reasons, taking part in the illegal war and genocide in Kosovo. Two agents break into the home of Tito, a cryptocurrency mogul to steal his computer to build a criminal case against him for disinformation, and money laundering. Seems strange, because that would be an illegal seizure, but my law degree is only from watching TV, so … The house isn’t empty as expected and a boy is shot and killed. The agents are put on leave. A man visits his father a Colonel, in prison for war crimes, then joins the squad that will attack the palace; he was promised fabulous wealth. One of the targets is Gen. Morel, his father’s enemy because he called for tighter sanctions against Russia. And Anya, the mysterious leader of the squad takes out the first victims at the Palace posing as a cater waiter and from there, the movie takes off, from country to country, guns blazing. It’s ambitious and dense, a tad too long, but offers an insider’s look at the body politic of northern Europe. And makes a push for Finland to jump into NATO- aready in the works IRL. Stars Jasper Pääkkönen, Nanna Blondell, Sverrir Gudnason, Cathy Belton, Nika Savolainen, Pertti Sveholm and available on TVOD July 1st.
CBC Gem launches Sorry For Your Loss Monday, and it’s worth the time. Leigh’s (Elizabeth Olsen) husband Matt (Mamoudou Athie) dies suddenly. Her mother (Janet McTeer) pushes her to get out of bed and move forward while her sister (Kelly Marie Tran) suggests that Matt’s death and Leigh’s grieving set her recovery back. She’s incensed by their intrusions and lets them know, and her already strained relationship with his brother (Jovan Adepo) continues to deteriorate. Leigh joins a grief group and gets a lot off her chest, and empathy but it’s nowhere near enough to begin healing. And then she’s thrown another gut punch as she realises she didn’t know all there was to know about Matt. It’s raw and painful, and director James Ponsoldt makes no attempt to candy coat it for us, but it’s not overbearing either. It’s a humane look at someone in extraordinary circumstances and a reminder that Elizabeth Olsen is an extremely capable actor. Sorry For Your Loss is a Facebook Watch production.
A reminder that Canada’s top-rated BritBox show, Call the Midwife is now on the service in its eleventh season. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, it follows life in an East London maternity hospital in the 1950s and 1960s where there is no shortage of drama, joy, tears, and humour. Many major British television stars have passed through the halls at Poplar. Jenn, a baby nurse will meet a woman giving birth to her 25th child, a 15-year-old sex worker. This season excitement over the Eurovision contest, a new nurse, and lots of life.