By Anne Brodie
Well, you have probably watched/binged all three episodes of Harry & Meghan available now on Netflix. The final three show up next Thursday. Liz Garbus certainly closes ranks with the formerly Royal scallywags and you have reached your own conclusions as to what version of their story you like. Oddly, or in a whizbang pr move, reports appeared yesterday that the marriage is in a fragile state and even the “D” word was mentioned. Pay no heed, sounds like clickbait even if it was repeated in respected Canadian newspapers. The series raises more questions than it answers, and raises issues in us of character on all fronts, the media “press pack” as Harry Calls them, the Royal Family and its enslaving past, fathers who betray, being forced to navigate unfamiliar waters with little official help, the constant glare of the spotlight, stalkers, hate letter writers and an array of reasons to explain why H & M live in southern California. Little is made of any rifts between Harry and his brother William, his father and the late Queen. Maybe that’s to come. In any case, the pair who so despise the media have become the media, splaying it out there, all pretty and taking no blame in this their first series in a whopping $100M package deal with Netflix. Keen to see the numbers for the series, no fools Netflix. I certainly believe that Harry and especially Meghan both faced / face danger on many levels, that he reckoned he’d found his needle in a haystack as they shared common humanitarian interests, and that they got married while deeply in love and that she was the target of racists. There is a lot at stake for them so it’s only human nature to paint the best picture. Who knows what the real story is? Not us. Netflix. Volume I: Dec. 8 (Episodes 1-3) Volume II: Dec. 15 (Episodes 4-6).
Guillermo Del Toro takes on a beloved classic in Pinocchio, and his visually arresting stop-motion version is meant to be closer to the dark material of Carlo Collodi’s book, in stark contrast to the child-friendly fare created by Disney decades ago. Nazis, fascists, the thin line between life and death, suffering and pain inhabit the wooden boy’s world. Pinnochio (Gregory Mann) was carved and wished to life by Gepetto (the marvellous David Bradley) as a morbid replacement for his beloved late son Carlos, killed in WWI Italy. Gepetto brings his “son” to church but inadvertently horrifies the congregation and after a strong recrimination from the pulpit, is thrown out. Gepetto was meant to be carving a life-sized crucifix for the community, and this is what he’s doing. Making puppets? A doll of his late son? Pinnochio rebels against his father and traditional values and runs off for adventure. His journey on the road is dramatically beyond anything he could have imagined. A spirit tells him he will die many times and his wide-eyed naivete is tested. He’s lured with the promise of popcorn and hot chocolate to join the circus then enslaved to draw customers curious about this freak of “nature”, all against the background of encroaching fascism. The animation is rich and dark, even Gothic, it is a musical overwhelmed by the glorious visuals. This is the most satisfying-looking film adaptation and it’s also the scariest, the one that finds evil lurking everywhere but promises that love will prevail, no matter how painful the journey. Funny moment – hearing for the first time in a children’s film “Bugger off”. The voice cast includes Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson, and Burn Gorman. Netflix.
The outsize talent of Olivia Colman is on full display in Sam Mendes’ doomed seaside romance Empire of Light. Colman smashes a difficult part as – a theatre manager/people pleaser, an older, mentally unbalanced woman in a sexual abuse situation with her boss, and in a positive affair with a younger Black man who is subject to recurring racist violence. It’s a rainbow of selves and challenges that must seem unified in one person and she’s flawless. It’s the Thatcher 80’s, with labour unrest, the music of Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell, and angry young skinhead mobs who set upon her young lover. The setting is a wonderful deco/moderne movie theatre, the town’s jewel. Colman is Hilary, Micheal Ward is the new hire Stephen, and Colin Firth is the boss. Hilary is jolly gung ho on the job, uniting staff as they take tea breaks together and chat and tease one another. They’re preparing for the premiere of Chariots of Fire and to welcome guests Laurence Olivier, Dusty Springfield, and Paul McCartney. The staff’s excited but professional and that’s when Hilary finds herself in a tough spot with her abuser and the possibility of her young lover leaving town. She has a break and puts on an unscheduled performance, the beginning of a downward spiral. Toby Jones, the empathetic projectionist, and the rest of the staff know what’s happening. Mendes’ humane direction and Hilary’s poetic moments add to the whole with Ward, a relative known, in a note-perfect performance. Theatres.
Laura Poitras’ documentary on artist Nan Goldin, photographer, activist, and personality, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed will leave you breathless. Poirtras’ dexterity and careful building of the chapters of Goldin’s life are flawlessly measured. From heart-tugging personal archives dating back to her fifties childhood to contemporary footage of her group P.A.I.N’s anti-oxycontin die-ins protesting Big Pharma Purdue and the Sackler family that created a chain of drug use that has to date cost more than half a million lives. Poitras’ approach is strictly measured to create the platform for Goldin’s outsized personality, her passion, exuberance, and determination to bring down those who through greed and corruption created and upheld a global addiction epidemic. Goldin had a tough childhood growing up in suburban Boston. Her mother’s cruelty and dominance she later learned were in part due to mental illness, and Goldin considers her treatment of her children led to her older sister’s suicide. Goldin escaped home and enrolled in a free experimental college, a full-blown rebel and budding artist. She picked up a camera and found her calling, bringing an alternate world to light – her themes are largely LGBTQ+, sexuality, gender fluidity, and the underground social-political world. Goldin and her colleagues’ efforts paid off. Purdue and the Sacklers finally had to pay a price, not the price, but a price. This is galvanizing, heady stuff particularly the sacrifices Goldin has made to help addicts and their families. TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Canadian filmmaker Chase Joynt offers his unique way of telling stories in his fascinating trans “feature” Framing Agnes. His actors, who recreate historic trans figures starting with Christine Jorgenson, from the past, are played by trans people, who also tell their stories, so we are working on two levels, and he also plays the late newsman, Mike Wallace, re-enacting sensationalistic interviews Wallace did with trans guests. Agnes the central figure in this far-ranging cinematic study of human nature is the unifying focus. Other interviews are culled from the papers of UCLA sociologist Harold Garfinkel on his experimental gender health study back in the fifties and sixties. Archival footage of Jorgensen landing in New York from Denmark after the world’s first gender reassignment surgery is stunning. She was born a man but was now a woman and a glamorous whose popularity in the early fifties is compared to Marilyn Monroe’s. We meet via actors as individuals who went through the UCLA programme via their conversations with Garfinkel; their conversation is intimate and illuminating as are the actors’. One person got in based on a lie in order to get surgery, a Black woman tells her unique story of battling numerous prejudices at once, a woman reassigned as a man talks about sex versus gender, a teenaged boy says he knew from his earliest memories that he was not the sex he was assigned at birth. One of the most compelling interviews is with historian Jules Gill-Peterson, who wrote Histories of the Transgender Child and guides us through the shades of meaning and being for trans people. Katie Couric’s schooled when she focuses on trans’ guests’ bodies when she’s told to focus on prejudice and murders of trans people. It’s easier today to be seen, which is emancipation. Now at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Vancouver and Winnipeg and Dec 13 at Hot Docs Cinema.
A dentist working in Aurora, Ontario seems like anyone else. But the truth is, Hamed Esmaeilion is a victim of international politics. His beloved wife and little girl, Parisa and Reera were murdered when an Iranian surface-to-air missile brought down their plane en route from Tehran to Montreal. All 176 passengers including 57 Canadians aboard Flight 752 on January 8, 2020, were killed. Babak Payami’s poignant documentary 752 Is Not a Number follows Esmaeilion as he searches for truth, brushing up against dangerous politics, uncaring governments, lying officials who twist reality to avoid blame, and those who admit but take no responsibility. All this is framed by his losses and intense feelings of abandonment. He does find kindness as a stranger in Canada seeks him out to return Reera’s Canadian Health Card, a bittersweet moment if there ever was one. It took months for Iran to send him his daughter’s badly crushed iPhone, his only physical remnant. The governments of Iran, Iraq, The United States under Trump, Canada, Ukraine, and more played various roles in the event and aftermath. Eventually, Iran admitted the missiles were fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps moments after the flight took off, revealing the hit was intended and well-planned. Trump’s hand is in there as he had killed Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian major general, on January 3. Still, despite all Iran called the missile attack human error, a technical flaw, etc etc. Esmaeilion created a group for those who lost loved ones on that day and continues to demand answers, which sadly, we don’t feel are coming. Devastating. Theatres.
A life-changing romantic mixup’s at the heart of Something from Tiffany’s on Prime Video, set at Christmas time in Manhattan. Zoey Deutch is Rachel, a passionate cook and baker with a stall in Brooklyn’s Christmas market, a lively bustling place alight with holiday decorations and good spirits. And as the title suggests the renowned Fifth Avenue jeweller plays an important role too. Her boyfriend Gary (Ray Nicholson) a tattoo artist is pretty lazy in growing their relationship and she finds herself stood up a lot. To make up for his mistakes, he trundles off to Tiffany’s and buys her a pair of earrings. Also at Tiffany’s are Ethan ( Kendrick Sampson) and his daughter Daisy (Leah Jeffries); he’s buying a whopper of a diamond for his girlfriend Vanessa, in town from LA. The boyfriend’s hit by a cab and Ethan rushes to help – both drop their Tiffany bags and pick up the wrong ones. Gary is hospitalized. Ethan gives what he thinks is his ring to Vanessa and – but it’s just earrings. Meanwhile, on his recovery, Gary finds the ring and keeps it and when Ethan tracks him down, he plays dumb. Then he proposes to Rachel who says yes. What a mess! If Rachel only knew! This begins a saga of mixed messages, attempts not to hurt people’s feelings, and taking sides all set against a backdrop of gorgeous baked goods, twinkling holiday lights, and the sweet Christmas sounds of Dean Martin. It’s definitely escapist fare aimed at the holiday and it’s fun to see how things unfold. You’ll also you’ll hear Karen Dalton’s beautiful song Something on Your Mind.
From Sweden comes Food and Romance a light-hearted story of three sixty-something women embarking on an adventure they’d never imagined, and they don’t even have to leave town! Karin (Marie Richardson) and her husband are hosting their 40th anniversary with close friends; the flowers and food are exactly reproduced from the wedding. It’s a happy day until Karin discovers a naked woman in his text stream. At the party, he injures himself and is wheelchair-bound for the foreseeable. She keeps quiet and carries on doing what she’s done for forty years, servicing him and her spoiled, cranky daughter who is about to turn 40. Her besties Pia and Monika cheer her with a cooking course under a renowned chef (Peter Stormare) and it revives her long-lost passion for food, scuppered by early motherhood and the need to serve herself for once. And there is a spark between her and the chef. Pia and Monika urge her to go for it and she does until her conscience gets her. “I’m married,” she says. He helps the girls launch their own catering company and it’s a hit, Karin’s sense of self returns and she feels seen. The film celebrates female friendship, women who have their own faces and bodies, and who through the loving support of one another, can get through anything. And it shows starting over can be the best thing ever. A fun, light tonic for the winter blues that lives in goodwill and good food. TVOD.