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By Anne Brodie

Jennifer Lopez releases her first album in ten years alongside a star-studded fantasy musical film This Is Me…Now: A Love Story reflecting her headling grabbing love life, now at 54. Dave Meyers’ film in partnership with J-Lo is an ambitious, visually enticing “cinematic odyssey, steeped in mythological storytelling and personal healing”. What does that mean? Well, bigger-is-better costumes, hair, choreography, lots of writhing, athleticism, and emotion, and that romantic life, so often the stuff of speculation. J-Lo’s as appealing and talented as ever, and with a supporting cast including husband Ben Affleck, Sofía Vergara, Jane Fonda, Keke Palmer, Jenifer Lewis, Trevor Noah, Post Malone, Alix Angelis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Alix Angelis, Trevor Jackson, Derek Hough, Kim Petras, Jay Shetty, and Snoop sets out to blow minds. It’s an ambitious, oversized undertaking meant to be intimate. The ad copy -“This panorama is an introspective retrospective of Jennifer’s resilient heart”. I admire her efforts and her work ethic, and the same goes for Madonna, but images of Taylor Swift placidly strumming an acoustic guitar and singing in front of blissed-out concertgoers somehow change the concept of the modern music superstar. Anyhoo – check out J-Lo’s fantasy fodder on Prime Video and the album. But wait, there’s more. A behind-the-scenes documentary, The Greatest Love Story Never Told, inspired by letters Affleck wrote her, releases Feb. 27. Lopez has another impressive superpower, having produced 29 films and TV shows. And she has five movies coming out.

Daisy Ridley executive produces and stars in Sometimes I Think About Dying as a lonely young woman, frightened by her own shadow, who lives alone and manages to function wordlessly in a bustling office in seaside Astoria, Washington. Fran is reliable and thorough but removed for reasons not stated. Her colleagues accept and like her as she ponders a water stain on the ceiling or stares off at the huge ship parked outside the office window. Robert (Dave Merheje) invites her to a movie one night. He asks simple questions and she is speechless; he leaves, angry and frustrated. Does he wish he could “unknow her”? A longtime worker is showered with affection on the day of her retirement; she and her husband will go on a long-planned cruise. Fran runs into her sometime later to learn her husband died and she’s devastated, rudderless, lifelong dreams smashed; they agree it’s hard to be a person. The exchange sparks an awakening; Fran brings donuts to work to everyone’s shock and delight, and later throws a successful dinner party and makes a touching confession to Robert. Director Rachel Lambert handles what could have been an off-putting character study in a frame of the support of everyday people for each other, experience as the great teacher, and the possibility and necessity of exiting the wrong path. Nothing happens but everything happens. Powerful. Theatres.

Bear with me. Director and co-writer Anh Hung Tran’s exquisite period piece The Taste of Things is a wonderfully sensual experience. It opens with Juliette Binoche as Eugénie, the personal cook and lover of a renowned French chef Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel) in France’s Loire Valley region,1889. Eugénie is training her young kitchen assistant Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire) in the art of cooking; Pauline has extraordinary gifts. They’re preparing a gastronomical feast for Bouffant’s business dinner. Cameras linger and move through the kitchen in tightly disciplined choreography as busy hands prepare dishes. The audience is offered the chance to learn recipes and preparations. It’s a sensual exercise of the highest order – washing lettuce, an early ice cream contraption working outside, making an omelet (must be eaten with a spoon), searing a lamb roast, prepping a mirepoix, and quenelles with a spoon, stewing an enormous whole fish in milk, a fish, shrimp, and scallop dish, short ribs with cubed bacon and mushrooms, with red pepper, fennel, tomatoes, oranges flamed wine, parsley and thyme, bay leaf, cumin, juniper berries, cloves, mini lobsters, and truffled turkey and for dessert a new recipe from America, Baked Alaska, a mass of meringue set ablaze around ice cream. In all, maybe twenty minutes with little conversation have elapsed as a constantly moving camera follows Eugénie’s tightly disciplined motions and the pleasure it offers. OK. Take a breather. Dodin is concerned about Eugénie’s fainting spells. As she fades, sunlight washes the kitchen and rooms. What an experience! A sensually appealing, romantic, and meaningful story of everyday life magnified in art and love. Varsity Toronto and Vancouver theatres now, Feb. 23 in Ottawa and other cities to follow.

The Polish film The Peasants is another beautiful labour of love utilising drawings and paintings by 100 animation artists in studios in Poland, Serbia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, superimposed over a live-action film. The process brings newness, strange surrealism, and beauty to a small village in the last century where emotions seem to run high at all times. A small farming community, comprised of families going back generations or centuries, eking out meager existences on their share of the land. Deep hostilities, feuds, and histories make for an overall anxiety about the place; it seems the men are always ready to fight, the women to denigrate one another and hold on to ancient grudges. In this fiercely patriarchal society, battles break out at the drop of a hat. The men kill and maim with homemade weapons, and never see justice. The place is rotten to the core. And locked in it is Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska) a startlingly beautiful young woman lusted after by abusers, and hated by women threatened by her sexual power, which she comes to see as a curse. Again and again, she’s cornered out of sight and sexually assaulted, particularly by the richest and oldest farmer Boryna (Mirosław Baka). Jagna is attracted to his son Antek (Robert Gulaczyk), and they have a steamy affair, but her family forces her to marry Boryna. Her mother says “Love comes and goes… but land stays” a cruel directive considering his known sadism. She is now Antek’s stepmother. The film’s stupefyingly beautiful imagery distracts from the everyday evils of the place but we are trapped in that hellish reality. Filmmakers DK Welchman (aka Kobiela) and Hugh Welchman based the film on Wladyslaw Reymont’s Nobel Prize-winning novel The Peasants, required reading today in Polish high schools. TIFF Lightbox, Toronto and select theatres.

AppleTV+ unleashes Constellation one of the most provocative and unsettling series this critic has seen lately. At points, you doubt what you are seeing and what you know, creating real-life anxiety and a keen longing to understand. You may rewind to see what you missed, and find you missed nothing, but still … Astronaut, wife, and mother Jo, played by Noomi Rapace, is on a research mission in space for nine months when half the rocket’s power, oxygen and air pressure are lost. Captain Paul is injured and delirious. She’s in charge but dies in a nasty accident while online with her daughter. Back on earth, the family struggles with her return. Husband Magnus (James D’Arcy) withdraws from her as she begins treatment for altitude psychosis – severe hallucinations and memory loss. Jo’s driving her daughter through a violent blizzard, police trailing her. They arrive at a cabin as her daughter Alice (played by twins Davina and Rosie Coleman) is in dire straits. Jo meets Paul in a cemetery to pay tribute to a colleague who died in space and they talk about an old timer (Jonathan Banks) he confronted to find the truth about the unsuccessful, long ago Apollo 18 mission and his part in it. And Rosie doesn’t believe that Jo is her mother. That’s all I’ll say as I leave it you to to enjoy and ruminate over the mindbending turns Constellation takes and the real-life psychological damage suffered by humans who have been to space. It undermines our expectations/confidence with limitless twists and when comprehension comes, it’s a superior intellectual and entertaining outing, in fact, stellar. Eight parts begin Feb 21. You won’t know what hit you.

The New Look now on AppleTV+ isn’t really about clothing or the designers of French haute couture in the last century, except in a sort of by-the-way manner. It’s a tough, demanding, and heartbreaking look at the designers – Coco Chanel, Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, and fashion mogul Lucien Lelong – and the parts they played during the WWII Nazi occupation of Paris. Quite the cast – Juliette Binoche as Chanel, Ben Mendelsohn as Dior, and Emily Mortimer as Chanel’s frenemy and muse Elsa Lombardi. Todd A. Kessler takes us down a dark path of oppression, war crimes, spying, cheating, and ruining others to receive benefits from enemy forces and “win” friends and business associates. Early chapters are filled with the scent of gunpowder and death, as Chanel schemes to win back her business even as the world has bigger fish to fry. As we know, she was a Nazi sympathiser and spy, in an affair with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage. She was code-named Westminster, number F-7124, and ordered to get close to Winston Churchill to wrest information to pass to Berlin. Meanwhile, Dior’s beloved sister Catharine, a Resistance fighter, is arrested and tortured by the Nazis and sent to the camps. Chanel is cast out of polite society and then she becomes truly dangerous. As the series moves forward, fashion follows. Dior and his fresh, stunning, sculptural, anti-Chanel lines soon overshadowed her strict lines that reminded people of the war. He won the top-drawer spot in Paris couture. As was her modus operandi, Chanel waged war to displace him in an unpopular, ill-conceived, and narcissistic comeback. The inspired cast includes Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Claes Bang. Canadian directors Helen Shaver and Jeremy Podeswa directed episodes on location in Paris.

Don’t know about you but I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Britain’s BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards. That all changes Sunday night via BritBox, the exclusive North American carrier of this, the 77th annual tribute to the year’s greatest filmed performances. First, an hour-long hour red carpet then the show, clocking in at approximately 180 minutes. RH Prince William, President of BAFTA, will attend while David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) hosts the star-studded affair, in which the best performances, referred to as “superlative” get their due. The categories are the same as the Oscars but the Brits also honour the year’s Rising Star. Check the BAFTAs here and the wonderfully dramatic mask award. Oppenheimer leads with the most nominations, followed by Poor Things. That’s 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. EST.



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