By Anne Brodie
Matt Johnson’s taut, entertaining, and alarming film, BlackBerry looks at the origins of the once beloved thumb-powered device that hypnotised the 90s, created in Waterloo, Ontario. Research in Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, (Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton ) the rage-filled early edgelord /entrepreneur put the device on the map. It changed North American culture and then crashed spectacularly. Johnson’s precise and resonant script also plants seeds of tech doom. It takes place way back when, mostly in a Waterloo strip mall office space, brimming with talent, money, and a tech crew (one woman) with a highly developed sense of a fun/work balance. Lazaridis and his bestie Doug (writer and director Johnson) spin gold – a cell phone that is also a messenger and a computer. Balsillie gets wind of what they’ve accomplished, sees they are business babes in the woods, and muscles his way to run RIM. Balsillie’s methods are questionable, his nature despicable and cruel; he crosses the line repeatedly, and soon destroys the creative genius and community spirit that gave birth to RIM. Balsillie hires a thug (a terrifying Michale Ironside) to whip people into shape and protect his “stolen” power. It’s frankly odd to see scathing funnyman Jay Baruchel in a serious role like this, that he does so well, Johnson seems to be playing a version of himself and Howerton is the devil incarnate. What a great story! People loved their crackberry (I was a Palm Pilot person but watched awestruck BlackBerry people in tech heaven). Palm Pilot in the form of Cary Elwes attempts a hostile takeover, Balsillie becomes a tax cheat, Lazaridis a defeated businessman, and the Americans want out of the Blackberry business. And along comes the iPhone. Its a colossal story, a Greek myth about rage, greed, naivete, and exploitation that thuds, landing hard on the earth from a great height. Johnson’s script is sensational, his direction is mature and flawless. There is nothing to fault here, in the telling of this decidedly un-Canadian Canadian story. Apparently, it’s fictionalised. Drop everything and see it in a theatre near you.
Book Club: The Next Chapter reunites Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, and Craig T. Nelson, with a dash of Italian icon Giancarlo Giannini, Don Johnson, and Andy Garcia. The four besties are at a crossroads, as they emerge from pandemic torpor; a trip to Italy is just the ticket – they’re heading to Tuscany. What starts as a girls’ trip away becomes an extended bachelorette for Vivian (Fonda) who has accepted Mitchell’s (Garcia) proposal. Things go off the rails for them as their luggage is stolen by charming “porters” at the airport and police chief (Gianinni) and Sharon (Bergen) have a set-to that somehow follows the girls around Italy. Carol (Steenburgen) runs into an old lover while her husband (Nelson) recovers from a heart attack back in LA and Diane (Keaton) flits from situation to situation without losing her funky sense of fun and cool. Situations? Like blowing a tire in the midnight hills of Tuscany, being tossed into the slammer (Gianinni!!!), drinking way too much “wine not?”, taking indiscreet photos and deciding on a dress for Viv. The wardrobe is to die for – beautiful fabrics and cuts, especially Keaton’s whose signature style is always eccentrically swoon-worthy. The script is underwhelming, unfortunately – tossing around trite platitudes and pap. It gets sappy fast, it’s slight but harmless and has with enough blue jokes to keep you awake. A better, more complex, witty script would have gone a long way for these deserving stars. Theatres.
Jennifer Lopez’ extraordinary physicality is used to great effect in Niki Caro’s revenge actioner The Mother. She plays an assassin/spy deeply trained in the art of war, known only as the Mother. She’d been heavily pregnant carrying out a dangerous mission when assailants stab her in the stomach; the child is delivered safely and immediately taken from her for its own safety. In her work, she and anyone in her circle is under imminent threat of death. She is hunted. She has no friends – can’t place citizens in harm’s way. It’s a lonely, violent life and she moves to remote Alaska where only one person, an ally, knows who she is. Years later she discovers her daughter’s identity and that her enemies will track her too in order to get the Mother. With blistering action scenes and events that take her around the world, she is constantly under fire, followed, beaten, shot at, terrorised, but always comes out fighting. She knows her daughter, a healthy, happy teenager with devoted parents, will be next in the firing line so moves to be her shield, at her side without her knowledge. And then the real fun begins. Lopez’ world-weary deportment and last-one-standing darkness are new and intriguing. It’s a testament to her talent, skills, and wells of determination as an actor; still a phenom at 53. Now on Netflix.
Jada Pinkett Smith’s series on African Queens is an admirable and informative venture. The latest 4-parter Queen Cleopatra is a docudrama outlining the life of one of the best-known female rulers in ancient history Cleopatra (sometimes pronounced Clee-op-tra) Queen of the Nile and Eygpt. She’s a precocious child of the Ptolemy ruling family, at the same time Julius Caesar ruled vast areas from his seat in Rome. Her family is broken by infighting and power struggles; her father Ptolemy, a Macedonian and ruler Eygpt has many children and all have a chance of inheriting his power. Covert war breaks out on his death with seventeen-year-old Cleopatra vying for the throne against her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII with whom she is meant to share the privilege. She wants power alone. Younger sister Arsinoe plots her demise with her conniving aide; Cleopatra marries her brother, a ruling family custom in 51 BC and his aide also takes aim at her. Thus the stage is set for a Byzantine family war. Cleopatra begins an affair with Caesar to solidify her power and sparks feverish enemy activity. Re-enactments, mostly florid, are brought back to earth with excellent background provided by experts Professor Shelley Haley and reps from the classics, literature, ancient history, archaeology, Egyptology, and Nubian studies. It’s stunning how much detail is known about the Queen and her struggles. Cleopatra has been romanticized and idealized since her suicide in 31 BC and no wonder, hers was an extraordinary life, but much of what we know thanks to Hollywood is pure rot. The series has prompted controversy as Haley claims Cleopatra was black, and a social media campaign in Eygpt says not so fast – she was Greek. Adele James stars as Cleopatra. Fascinating historical information. Now on Netflix.
Finally, after a wait of almost seven years, the third season of Happy Valley, the ironically titled British crime series beloved by fans far and wide is here. It made an international star of Sarah Lancashire who plays Sergeant Catherine Cawood, a Yorkshire police detective whose mental acuity, palpable empathy, and keen instincts led her to save lives and solve perplexing cases. She’s a lone wolf and allowed to be due to her experience and record. She examines human remains found by a reservoir and immediately recognises a gangster’s teeth and a metal plate she knew he had, like her. Cawood mentions she’s seven months from retirement – “I’m just becoming the person I always wanted to be, I know who I am finally. I’m just coming into myself.” Meanwhile, her nemesis, serial killer Tommy Lee Royce played with dark idiosyncratic gusto by James Norton, remains in prison for raping and killing Catherine’s daughter. Her grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah) wants to know him – he may be his father. Seven months later, Cawood’s going to buy a Jeep to travel the Himalayas; her soft, easy-going sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran, who played Downton Abbey’s wicked O’Brien) will look after Ryan. Meanwhile, local pharmacist Faisal Bhatti (Amit Shah) is blackmailed by gangsters to use his shop as an illegal drug station, to sell them and pay protection money. So where does all this fit in with the body by the reservoir? Buckle up! Helluva show still, it’s won four BAFTA awards and 24 of 24 nominations and continues its winning way in S3. They say it’s the final season, I say, say it ain’t so. May 22 exclusively on Acorn TV, AMC+, and BBC America.
And another terrific British police drama. The Tower returns. BritBox‘s powerful detective series returns for a second season as the puzzle of S1 begins to take shape. Set in a poor, estate block precinct in London where the community is reeling over horrific S1 events. A policeman and a teenage girl fell /jumped to their deaths from a massive tower. Constable Lizzie Adama (Tahirah Sharif) was on the roof with them but she disappeared, leading some to conclude she had a hand in it. She eventually returns to state her case that she was not responsible and she could not stop them. The tower dominates the skyline so she is constantly triggered, but her courage and strength see her through. Local thug Mark (Charley Palmer Rothwell) abuses his wife and, Lizzie suspects, his young daughter, but she can’t make any charges stick. Her righteous obsession with him doesn’t go over well in the office – and then he goes too far. Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Sarah Collins (Gemma Whelan) is moved to homicide where the new boss tries unsuccessfully to dominate her. Her quiet fortitude allows her to do her job without caving in to his tests. The packed, provocative series is well worth catching. Last season was only three eppies, this season, four. Plus the amazing Tamzin Outhwaite goes deep as a grieving mother. May 16
Zooey Deschanel fronts a new six-episode series What Am I Eating? It looks at food groups to determine best choices for health while at home and or the store. Marketing campaign myths that gave fat, butter, carbs, and grains bad names but as we are learning, they are the basis of a good diet. Fat is not bad, cereals, once a pure and healthy food is now a sugary health risk, how to choose foods based on production method, place of origin, effects on the body and taste. It’s a crash course on protecting your health, helping build sustainability, and finding the flavour, and despite the series’ noisy, candy-coloured presentation, it’s essential viewing. Deschanel breaks down misconceptions, covering fruit, cereal, greens, grains, and a full episode on dark chocolate! Dark is packed with antioxidants and milk is the sugar bugbear, so just keep it dark and enjoy. Crave and Hulu.