By Anne Brodie
To call Glass Onion fun is a spectacular understatement; it’s a danged blast. It’s bracing see-again fare to counter the serious and fraught awards entries. Two hours and twenty minutes whiz by at the speed of light and then when it ends, you don’t want it to end. It’s zingy, whipsmart and isn’t afraid to poke the pandemic, mock a somehow familiar, attention-seeking, infantile tech mogul, to skewer social media and generally rebel against the now. An instant star who trips herself up with politically incorrect remarks, a driven doppelganger, it gives tech its due, and hits timely, hard truth notes ping! ping! ping! At the heart of the onion, the most delicious murder mystery worthy of the best of the Agatha Christie canon. Angela Lansbury would surely have been pleased to know she made her final appearance in such a film. Writer-director Rian Johnson has outdone himself as has a worthy cast – Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista. Norton’s MIles Bron, a tech mogul who uses only fax machines in his various homes – no phones – invites his old pals every year for a special vacay. This year, to his private island home with a glass onion dome ruining the beauty of his Greek island, a tribute to himself. The world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc (Craig) shows up, unbeknownst to Miles who has planned a murder mystery game – his own murder – and he welcomes the flatfoot. How fitting! The plot unpeels itself, as suspicion falls on each member of the party – they all have reasons to hate Miles – but as its put so daintily, they are all “sucking on his golden titties” their uber-wealthy and powerful host. Kudos to Monáe for a stunning dual-role performance that begs for nominations. Short, sharp shocks bounce from character to character as the brainy plot moves forward. Wow. Well done, Netflix! In theatres now and on the streamer Dec. 23.
The Fabelmans is Steven Spielberg’s “semi-autobiographical” story of a family and high schooler Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) who develops his innate gift for filmmaking after an early fascination with a crash in the film The Greatest Show on Earth. His mother (Michelle Williams) recognises his passion; he shoots, designs, props, and splices together home movies that have real zest and genius for a kid his age. Sammy’s creative scope grows with practice; he has a natural inclination for directing actors too. The family’s disconcerted by the bounces they’re meant to make from city to city for Sam’s father’s (Paul Dano) work resulting in unhappiness. He’s a computer systems pioneer raking in the dough; they love each other but the happy family veneer cracks. Spielberg started thinking about a film on his early family life in 2004 but held off so as not to hurt his parents. Their deaths freed him to describe them and their lives, which were by no means perfect. Sammy discovers that his mother is having an emotional affair with his father’s best friend Bennie (Seth Rogen) and he’s embarrassed by her and angry with his father. The family threads weaken and break altogether, exacerbated by his mother’s undefined emotional issues. The film is dense with “story”, an epic on modern family, and dense with dialogue – a lot of talking and attempts at definitions, emotional temperature-taking, and opinions. Our hero’s suffering at the hands of anti-Semitic school bullies and a devout Christian girl who forcefully attempts to save him. David Lynch makes a sensational smoke-filled cameo as John Ford, as does Sammy’s mothers’ monkey Bennie (Crystal). The Spielberg magic positively beams forth, in its sense of wonder, that emotion-lite escapism, and his overall gentleness. No wonder he’s enchanted viewers for forty years. In theatres.
Poland’s submission for the Best International Feature Oscar EO – is not a documentary. It’s a dramatisation of a donkey wandering the European countryside, alone (except for the cast and crew standing behind the camera) encountering people places, and things the likes of which many people would never see. I’ll get this out of the way first – “no animals were harmed” is stated in the credits, aside, I guess, from frequent strobing lights and endless walking. He has distinctive black stripes on his neck, contrasting with his grey fur and two of the most soul-searching eyes ever committed to a film. The circus he labours for – and I mean labours, as in beast of burden – is shut down for debt and he’s taken away. He misses his closest friend, Magda the clown – or at least we project that on him. He escapes and begins a sojourn of wandering, capture, more escapes, repeat, encountering barking dogs, a mansion in which Isabelle Huppert and a young man who stole EO from custody “or saved you” are having a tiff, passing, and observing a photo shoot, a church service and taking a place in a horse barn wearing a collar of carrots. He’s sent to a donkey sanctuary, escapes and crosses a hydroelectric plant bridge over a massive waterfall, and wanders nighttime woods with wild animals, and joins soccer fans inside a bar. he’s injured, escapes and joins a herd of cattle. It is a tumultuous life for a donkey, teaching him that humans can be cruel, kind, and changeable, but mostly unpredictable. Meanwhile, he dreams of Magda – or so we’re led to believe. EO is a parable – a lone wanderer tested at every turn and whose placid appearance masks a whirlwind of feelings and suffering. It’s tough to watch but also impossible to look away. This wonderful creature is at the mercy of people and always looking ahead, and keep in mind it is a fictional story, not a documentary. TIFF Bell Lightbox and select theatres across Canada.
Sally El Hosaini ‘s The Swimmers on Netflix recreates the real-life struggles of two heroic young Syrian women, sisters Sarah Mardini played by Manal Issa, and Yusra Mardini, played by Nathalie Issa. Under their father’s tutelage in Damascus, Syria, a Muslim country where women are free, they become top-ranked competitive swimmers. The dream is to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics and it seems within reach, but for Syria’s civil war. Russia bombards the country when the government asks for military aid and it’s no longer safe to stay. The girls decide to flee to Germany where there’s a program in place to help refugees and bring their families to join them; their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek) will accompany them. They cross the sea in one of those familiar crammed inflatable dinghies and narrowly escape growing death. In Greece and face human traffickers, discrimination, hunger, and thirst but head north. Once in Germany, a local coach takes them under his wing. The dire situations they face, and millions like them over the years are heartwrenching, but ther courage is a beacon of hope. The girl’s astounding story brings the dire straits of those escaping certain death into sharp, overwhelming focus and the iron will that it takes to withstand the immigration experience and go on to the Olympics. The Swimmers opened TIFF this year.
The gloriously eccentric Please Baby Please opens with a rebel song n dance show by Young Gents, a leather-clad, billy club-armed street gang. It’s the 1950s when such underworld social circles were all the rage – lots of attitude, chains, hair grease, cigarettes, and cool moves. An innocent passerby gets a thorough beating. Newlyweds Suse (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling) are enthralled by the excitement; he’s drawn to the attacker, and she is spellbound by the violence of the gender-fluid gangsters, each better looking than the last one. They take them back to their dinghy apartment where her friends, a couple of intellectuals, observe and comment. Lots of posturing and preening, especially by Suse; she and Arthur seem under an erotic spell. They have come to a peculiar place – their apartment/world doesn’t seem able to hold them with their teeming thoughts and wandering eyes. Demi Moore makes a gob-smacking appearance, her throaty, coarse voice, replaced by a higher-pitched, confused and urgent tone. She delivers parables and references to being famous and makes a hell of an impression. Intriguing side characters include ultra-femme lesbians torn apart by a butch woman who then slits one’s throat. There’s a flowery drag queen chanteuse in the phone booth – funny and sweet and emotional, the killer who keeps killing as entertainment. All of this to musical and dance accompaniment and very strange and beautiful music and dance it is. The dialogue is brainy, poetic, experimental, and depending on the character, arch. My favourite line is “I’m obsessed with the lot of ya and terrified of each of ya’. There’s much to see and hear in this strange, strange trip and I recommend a look for something rather outre. TVOD/Digital on Nov 29
Netflix‘ 1899, now on the service puts a sci-fi horror spin on Immigration over a century ago when Europeans and Brits fled their homelands for the gold-paved streets of America. Some left for work, some to hide, some to enjoy freer attitudes, and some for more sinister reasons. The Kerberos steamship chugs along from the UK to New York for a week’s crossing, with its class levels, the poor huddled in the dark unclean lower floor and labourers in the hot and smoky hull. The wealthy are upstairs living the gilded age high life. Laura Franklin (Emily Beecham) is a brain surgeon, not allowed to practice in the UK, hence upping roots in America. Her dinner companions, a cynical aristocratic woman, and a gay couple passing themselves as brothers are unsettling. There’s a fun scene in which the diners pick up their teacups, sip, and set them down in unison creating a playful musical moment in an unplayful universe. Captain Larson (Andreas Pietschmann) is a drunk. His wife set fire to their three children, herself, and their house. The Kerberos’ sister ship Prometheus has been missing for four months; they pick up its signal nearby and find it, empty, and listing scary and a solve survivor, a little boy hiding in a closet. The ominous mood overtakes the passengers who suffer nightmares and strange elemental occurrences. They get stranger and the ties between the characters’ true natures come out. 1899 is an imaginative Germany USA co-pro, a good idea, a little long, but unique.
The streaming service Topic offers curated TV and film from around the globe, indie, arthouse, and period pieces, and with a nod to crime series from Europe. The murder mystery series Agatha Christie’s Hjerson, based on Christie’s classic Swedish detective Sven Hjerson (Johan Rheborg), follows an odd couple thrown together by a passion and a knack for solving murder mysteries. Hjerson is a leading criminal profiler who has retired, sick of the incompetence of the police, and gone well off the grid. The producer of a trash reality/gossip TV show needs him. Klara (Hanna Alström) wants to drag their content out of the gutter and figures getting him on board to solve a cold case would be a major coup, elevating and legitimising her work. But how to find him? He’s gone dark, with no phone, no internet, no trail, and no interest. Leave it to Klara whose naivete and enthusiasm bring her luck – she tracks him down on a ferry cruise to the Åland Islands for his mother’s funeral. She charges into his life like a bull in a china shop without stating why and they begin an uneasy truce. He profiles her in unflattering terms, ah=nd she hangs in … and then a journalist on board, accused of stealing material from a researcher, who levels an unbalanced chauvinist in the ferry bar and made an enemy of a green battery inventor is found murdered. Not long after, so is the chauvinist. Together Klara and Sven pursue the case the beginning of a mismatched duo of crime-solving partners. Dec 1.
Also on Topic, Dough another intriguing Swedish crime series follows two women whose lives intersect over a bag of 47M kroner in cash. Liana (Bianca Kronlöf ) a single mother on the fringes of the criminal underworld has a record and no money and is forced to steal to feed her daughter. She’s fired from her waitressing job for defending herself against an aggressive customer and walks into a bakery where Malou (Helena af Sandeberg) listens sympathetically. Cut to the day before – Malou is in a full psychological tailspin, she’s bankrupt, the house she shares with her son is about to be foreclosed and she is out of options. Meanwhile, Liana is on the run, hunted down by criminal associates. Malou heads to the woods to scream and cry and discovers a partially buried bag of millions in cash. Liana shows up soon after, following the tracking device in the bag, only to find it missing. It’s sheer coincidence that they meet in the bakery the next day. Malou found and tossed the tracker knowingly disabling a drug organisation finding her and the bag. She goes on a wild shopping spree, paying cash and depositing the rest in the bank. She leaves and the tellers decide to her report her unexplained windfall. She leases a bakery to launder the cash and is giddy with excitement. Liana shows up and Malou hires her, giving her the second chance no one ever gave her. And then the real trouble begins, the gangsters including Liana’s father – are on the hunt. Dough is fast-paced, intricate, full of surprises and darkly entertaining.
And kudos to Lindsay Lohan who returns to her roots, in the Christmas/holiday romance movie, in Netflix‘ Falling for Christmas. After years of scandal, exile and chaos, the onetime child star seems settled and to have had a good time shooting the movie. She’s Sierra, a spoiled Hilton-like hotel magnate’s daughter, vacationing in a swanky mountain resort. She and her equally spoiled boyfriend (George Young) offend all with their imperious, self-indulgent ways, but all that changes when she falls in a skiing accident and loses her memory. She wakes up a different person in a modest old-fashioned resort run by a down-to-earth widower (Chord Overstreet), his mother-in-law, and his daughter. They take her in and guide her with empathy; she has no clue how to make a bed or boil an egg. So they instruct her in domestic things and bring out a previously latent kindness. She hasn’t been reported missing so she’s there for the duration and developing into a nicer person. Hokey as heck, sure. The holiday bedazzling is fun, the preposterous story is easy comfort, and it’s great to see Lohan doing well.
On Nov. 29, a one-night-only global theatrical screening of Concert for George will pay tribute to one of pop music’s most persuasive and influential musicians in contemporary history, George Harrison. Shot at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Nov. 29, 2002, one year after Harrison’s death the film now features an introduction by Olivia and Dhani Harrison. Among the tribute performers, were Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, Monty Python, Ravi, and Anoushka Shankar, Gary Brooker, Joe Brown, Dhani Harrison, Jools Holland, Jeff Lynne, and Eric Clapton. Produced by Jon Kamen Exactly one year after his death, on November 29, 2002, Harrison’s life and music were celebrated during that historic evening and the forty years he created and entertained. Watch for the wonderful performance of the Canadian Mountie-themed Monty Python skit I’m a Lumberjack and I’m OK, which Harrison loved.