By Anne Brodie Halftime on Netflix on June 14 marks a milestone in the life of Jennifer Lopez, who’s stayed at the top of her game for decades entertaining the fans and settings examples as a Latin female phenomenon, businessperson and performer. Lopez’ appearance during the Superbowl Halftime show the year she turned fifty was sensational. This new and intimate doc marks a symbolic halfway point in her life, behind the scenes at the Superbowl, President Biden’s inauguration, and in her roles as mother, wife, artist and person. She is tough in reputation and reality (I can vouch for that) and why not, there is a lot riding on her shoulders as a groundbreaking representative of important cultural entities. Her perfectionism has served her well. Directed by Amanda Micheli.
Want your mind blown? Then Madeleine Collins in select theatres including TIFF Bell Lightbox is this week’s go-to. Antoine Barraud’s eerie study of an imposter will floor you. A blonde woman clothes shopping in Paris faints from low blood pressure, leaves the store, is hit by a truck and killed. Cut to Judith and Margot both played as a single person by the phenomenal Virginie Efira. Judith a Swiss wife and mother, is happy and busy. She travels constantly for work as an interpreter in Poland, Spain, and France much to her lover Abdel’s (Quim Gutiérrez) and young daughter Ninon’s (Loïse Benguerel) dismay. Abdel’s mother (Jacqueline Bisset) has an intense unexplained dislike for Judith. Ever so precisely and slowly, Barraud lets unfold an astounding situation. Cut to a business trip to France, where, now Margot, she reunites with another lover Melvil (Bruno Salomone), and their two sons in the luxurious home they own. She’s carrying a history of deception, shame, and fear and is plagued by fainting spells. Barraud cleverly provides the tiniest tidbits of information, creating a path of breadcrumbs to her reality, and we ponder why she acts so. Is her need to lead two separate loves genetic? trauma-based? narcissism? And breadcrumbs turn into shockwaves in this absolutely stunning portrait of a monster.
Tahara about two lifelong friends Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah (Rachel Sennott) rips the lid off the sweetness and light commonly found in coming-of-age stories. It opens at a Rochester, N.Y. synagogue where mourners have gathered for Samantha’s funeral. She was Hannah and Carrie’s 18-year-old classmate and neighbour, a loner, unpopular, and the subject of rumours. The funeral of a friend who died by her own hand is hardly the place for a sexual awakening, but it happens, its roots in cruelty and selfishness that further divide a class of student cliques. Shows of emotion for Samantha whether real or fake is the vibe. Her sexuality appears to have threatened others and those others are there, pretending to be sad. Unempathetic Hannah can only concentrate on Tristan, her crush; she wonders if she’s a good kisser and asks Carrie to kiss and rate her. Reluctant Carrie is shocked to be stimulated and suggests they take it further in the bathroom at Hebrew school. Hannah strings her along while gazing in the mirror at her own reflection until she discovers Tristan likes Carrie. That’s when the full impact of Hannah’s manipulation turns lives upside down in an afternoon. A provocative and often funny study of teen angst that morphs into an emotional thriller, Tahara does indeed examine the symbolic preparation of a body for burial. The opening quote “You think you’re a square but you realise it’s not a square and never was” seems to apply across the board. In select theatres.
You may think the chemical murders of four suburban London young men is too tough to watch but the BritBox three-parter Grindr Killer based on the real-life “Barking Murders” is an important story. Four families were left devastated by the premeditated slayings of their sons; sons they didn’t know were gay and escorts. The story’s from their point of view as they watch local police repeatedly miss clues, dismiss good information, fail to follow up, and ignore grieving friends and families’ pleas for answers as to who killed their sons. The families weren’t told of developments, because there weren’t any. The sloppy handling of the case seems in retrospect to have been purposeful. Each victim was found sitting on the ground, slumped against a wall, dead from an overdose of G a powerful stimulant – this happened four times and police concluded there was no link. I’m no detective but …no link? The young men in question didn’t use drugs but died the same way, by injection, to the letter. The men were victimised twice, once by their slayer and again by homophobic police. Eventually, another department took over the case and solved it quickly. The murders were the work of a cunning sociopath named Stephen Port, played by Stephen Merchant who shopped gay dating apps for victims; he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The detectives who never bothered kept their jobs and won promotions. The central family figure is Sarah Sak, mother of Anthony Walgate whose tenacity and ferocious calls for justice were finally heeded; she’s played by a versatile English treasure Sheridan Smith. A sobering, true, and not-so-long ago story that needs to be heard this Pride Month.
The Responder also on BritBox starring that remarkable chameleon Martin Freeman is another example of the excellence of British police procedurals. Based on the real-life experiences of former Liverpool police officer Tony Schumacher who wrote his story, it’s a tough one about work-induced mental illness. Freeman is first responder Chris Carson who works the night shift alone. He’s a loose cannon and uses death threats and violence to control perps and suspects, even witnesses. He accepts the presence of evil, illness, and hopelessness in the world and that he has absorbed a lot of pain, but does little to help himself. He is reluctantly in therapy; his wife tells him he’s disappearing and he knows it. “The job has ruined me. I’m a shell. It’s wack-a-mole.” As if nightly calls to horrific incidents aren’t enough he’s trying to save a young addict who stole cocaine from a drug dealer, a longtime associate of his. The addict disappears and the dealer threatens Carson to hand over the girl and the stash, and then shows up inside Carson’s home where his wife and child are alone. As his crises mount he’s assigned a rookie cop to partner with him, the naive and by the book Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo) who calls him out, horrified by his violence. The white knuckle action takes place over a week; a psychological portrait of a man at the end of his tether. What makes the series so good is Freeman’s signature quirky performance, as a man racing to stay alive. He lingers.
Let’s have a little Nordic Noir with the Icelandic police series Black Sands now on CBC Gem. Young police detective Anita (Aldís Amah Hamilton) leaves Reykjavik to help with an investigation into a mysterious death on the dangerous black sands and cliffs of her remote coastal hometown. Anita’s been gone 15 years and is not looking forward to moving in with her explosive mother, and she’s recovering from being dumped by her married lover. But duty calls and she arrives at the crime scene, a steep cliff overlooking the ocean where she learns the woman is the second photographer to die falling from that cliff in the recent past. In fact, many bodies have often been found there over the years. Hobbled by lack of sleep Anita motors on with an equally exhausted local police chief. Also on the scene is Saloman, a doctor and her one-time lover and despite horrific circumstances, sparks fly again. A screaming, injured woman bursts into the police station, before collapsing, uttering “Ulrika”, the name of the dead hiker. We are right beside the police and the doctor as the autopsy is performed, it’s long and grisly. Turns out “Lena” somehow fell over the other side of the same cliff, on the same night. She’s put in a coma and on waking, says she was attacked by a police officer. The subtlety of the writing, the complex characterisations, and the fact that not one of the townsfolk has clean hands make for delicious intrigue.
The 30th annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival is underway! Helen Zukerman’s brainchild is packed with specially curated films by Jewish filmmakers from around the world, 70 titles from 16 countries, in-person from June 9 to 15 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, Innis Town Hall, Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk, and Leah Posluns Theatre, with more films available through the TJFF Virtual Cinema in Ontario from June 16 to June 26. Further in-person screenings, including closing night, will also take place from June 23rd to 26th. One notable event is a tribute to actor, TV presenter and producer Marilyn Lightstone celebrated with five free archival screenings at Zoomer Hall, at the ZoomerPlex in Liberty Village. Look back with Lightstone with these films – +From Ancient Egypt to the Hit Parade: A Marilyn Lightstone Scrapbook (1967 – 2021), Slow Dance on the Killing Ground (1967), Spoken Art: A Letter to Harvey Milk (1995), The Tin Flute (1983), and Wild Pony (1983). Also, Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel star in the comedy classic A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum (1966) in a free outdoor event at Lipa Green Grounds. Jack + Zero 4 additional titles are available online to viewers across Canada as part of the Jack + Zero tribute. Go to www.tjff.com for a full list of offerings.