SERIOUS MATTERS, SCANDALS GALORE, HILARITY, HEARTBREAK, EARTH DAY, THE UNIVERSE, FOOD – AND MORE CANADIAN FILMS – THE SCREENS HAVE IT ALL!
By Anne Brodie – Charlotte a powerful animated Canadian film, with an impressive international cast presents the saga of German Jewish painter Charlotte Saloman. Charlotte’s family was well off in Berlin in the years leading up to the German Nazification. Her gift for painting was clear early, her style, modern, edgy, and highly personal. Among her first works, a girl in a field of flowers, her family, and tellingly, Nazi emblems that flooded the city and atrocities against Jews. At a gallery one day with her parents, Charlotte meets an American woman who invites them to her home in France’ Cote d’Azur in case of trouble – “Fortunately the world is bigger than Germany”. Despite being Jewish Lotte is accepted into a prestigious art school where her work flourishes, and then without warning, she is expelled due to her race. Her father and stepmother send her to the American woman’s home in France where her grandparents are living and she begins an artistic and emotional mission to paint her family’s history. in time she creates 1000 portraits and depictions of events including a troubling trend, called “Life? Or Theatre?”. Her abusive grandfather tells her the real story of her legacy, just as German soldiers appear in their French home. Charlotte is a deeply moving and profound film, a true story, and as unusual use of animation as politics as last year’s Flee. Keira Knightley, Marion Cotillard, Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, Sam Clafin, Henry Czerny, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Sophie Okonedo, Raoul Bhaneja, Knightley, and Cotillard produce along with Canada’s Robert Lantos and Xavier Dolan and Tahir Rana Éric Warin co-direct. In theatres.
The English certainly know their way around scandal. Some of the most outrageous, insinuating, tawdry, and junior public school examples come from its tabloids, concerning royalty, film and TV stars and our prurient interest in things we don’t really need to know. And what a doozy we are indulging in here, dredging up a toxic marriage so vile it beggars the imagination. Prime Video‘s polished rager A Very British Scandal set in the British very upper class, and a castle no less, is War of the Roses between The Duke and Duchess of Argyll, played with gusto by Paul Bettany and Claire Foy. The 11th Duke, Captain Ian Campbell, and his bride Margaret Sweeney made their first mistake – getting married. Life in a remote castle in northern Scotland with two live wires headed to disaster. Her alleged 88 affairs during the marriage 1951 – 1963, his vicious cruelty and lack of empathy, and the sex appeal of her fortune and his poverty put them in an impossible spot. The initial chemistry proved dangerous and soon the tabloids delighted in printing screeching headlines dissecting them and their divorce, including explicit photos of the Duchess, lurid accusations, forgery, thefts, betrayals, threats, physical abuse; the mind reels. And it was all a big tabloid hit. The case of the Argylls apparently hastened the Monarchy removal movement and impatience with the aristocracy. The Duke’s self-aware statement to the Duchess “The closest I’ve got to feeling alive is our battle”. He remarried five weeks after the divorce. You may need to take a nice long walk in the fresh air after to loosen its mighty grip.
Julia Roberts’ zany and spirited performance as Martha Mitchell, wife of Richard Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell is a whale of a good time. Mitchell was famous for being famous and as the object of misogynist ridicule as the Mouth from the South, a Washington wife who spoke her mind with brutal honesty and passion, and forced a reckoning at the highest levels of government. Gaslit, the miniseries on Starz on Crave co-starring Sean Penn (unrecognisable) as her husband, rips the lid off her story from fifty years ago that was not widely known. Mitchell was the whistleblower in the Watergate scandal which landed her husband, a Nixon loyalist, in hot water. He arranged for her to be kidnapped and held; she was beaten and bruised, in order to silence her, but he was, according to the miniseries, deeply in love with her. Their enthusiastic sex life is front and centre; they always made up after her outrageous public appearances and his unhinged temper tantrums. A plan from the top was hatched to break into the Democratic National Committee HQ in Washington’s Watergate Hotel and find material to bring the Dems down. It wouldn’t be espionage, just simple intelligence gathering. We all know what happened. Martha could not let this go, her actions blew back on her and her husband and all bets and her life took an unwanted U-turn. Among the many great moments – the conservative Ray Coniff singers burst into a Vietnam protest song at a Republican dinner, Martha’s masterful way of dominating news cycles, and secrets revealed that reframe her. Roberts and Penn’s sizzling chemistry contribute to the high entertainment value of Gaslit. Co-stars Dan Stevens, Betty Gilpin, Darby Camp and Shea Whigham as G. Gordon Liddy, the shambolic and manic macho guy of the Watergate enterprise. I worked with him once and understand why he got so far up the ladder despite his wonky unpredictability. He was utterly, endlessly charming.
Brian Cox, Professor of Particle Physics at The University of Manchester, The Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science, and a Fellow of the Royal Society in Britain (and former keyboardist for rockers D:Ream and Dare) launched Universe, his fifth BBC Science series in Canada this week. Cox has been to the outer edges of our solar system and the universe theoretically speaking, studying their origins, nature, and future. And what a story – our Earth developed 13 billion years ago from gases and filaments of dark matter, and says Cox, and will die out in 12 trillion years even as the universe continues to expand. His studies of quantum theory, black holes, biology, planetary science, astronomy, and cosmology and the questions about our existence they raise are endlessly fascinating. We learn there are 2 trillion galaxies, it’s so incomprehensible, that we are oblivious to it. He talks about stars hundreds of times bigger than our sun, stars that collapse and spew out heavy chemical elements, from which we’re constructed. And he posits that Elon Musk would like to conquer space for access to those dead star fossils and their life-giving elements. And this is just a tiny sample. Universe is on BBC Earth in free preview this week. And Cox brings his arena show Horizons – A 21st Century Space Odyssey to Massey Hall on May 3 and 4. Tickets are available here Brian Cox Home – Professor Brian Cox Live.
Panah Panahi’s extraordinary Hit the Road, follows a man and woman, their grown son and a toddler driving across the Iranian desert on a mission that’s never fully explained. The boy (Rayan Sarlak) son, is full of energy and exuberance, entertaining the family with his dancing, singing, and all-around merriment. The other son (Amin Simiar) drives, rarely uttering a word, while the father (Hasan Majuni) lies in the back seat, leg in a cast and the mother (Pantea Panahiha) does all the heavy work. She notices they’re being followed, and seems shocked, with no explanation as to why. Stops along the way for endless bathroom breaks and information about a place where they are to meet someone are enigmatic and often shot from a distance. Their dog’s in poor shape and dying unbeknownst to the boy. Long takes over the desert and occasional green hills are luxurious and mysterious, a few people dotted here and there. The shots are as long as the father’s unblinking stares straight into the camera; they’re unsettling. He seems dead inside. He’s been in his cast for months, a total refusal of his responsibilities. They gave up their home and car (this one is borrowed) in order to deliver their son to his destination and fate. Panahi takes his time but the film’s spirit never wanes- the journey is the centre, the setting, and circumstances fluid, but their love for one another, despite the bickering and resentments, is solid. A most unusual and fulfilling experience. TIFF Bell Lightbox now till April 28, and returning May 10.
Robin Thede, Gabrielle Dennis, Ashley Nicole Black and Skye Townsend are sensational together as a comedy troupe, and they’re back for S3 of A Black Lady Sketch Show. They take the mickey out of daily life – like the Product Purge when an army of dissatisfied women charge the drug store for refunds on products whose hype they believed but failed to deliver. They have twelve minutes to refund lousy product, no receipts required. Pandemonium ensues and guess what they do with their money? There’s a funeral ball, Charlotte’s Web of Lies like pyramids credited to aliens and not black slaves, a Wrestling Match vs Busta Rhymes Hospital, the case that black women know all about time travel because of slapping people into next week, ( “I can’t get slapped today, I have a family portrait tomorrow”), Olivia, Faye, and Vernice who founded Scientific Laps Across Parallel Time or S.L.A.P.T., ladies trapped in a condo with no door handles, trying to perform in a comedy club when a superior comedienne – Wanda Sykes – heckles mercilessly, the kiddy table at the Last Supper, and a revolt when wrong weather reports play havoc with their hair. These are seriously outrageous and imaginative riffs that go so fast your head will spin like it’s slapped. Guest stars this season include Ava DuVernay, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Raven-Symoné, Wanda Sykes, David Alan Grier, Kyla Pratt, Jemele Hill, Holly Robinson Peete, Kel Mitchell, Michael Ealy, Wayne Brady, Bob the Drag Queen, Vanessa Williams, Lance Reddick, Loni Love, Cari Champion, Shangela, Trevor Jackson, Tommy Davidson, Jay Pharoah, Jidenna, and Essence Atkins. On Crave.
Wit, hilarity, and squirmy fun at others’ expense in Ten Percent, based on the French comedy series Call My Agent is now on Sundance Now and it’s not to be missed. The targets of the frivolity are Big Game – major British celebrities and their agents. A London talent agency grapples with change when its founder suddenly dies and fear mounts that their celebrity clients will leave in droves. Here’s the cast – Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Williams, Phoebe Dynevor, Helena Bonham Carter, David Oyelowow, Jessica Oyelowo, Jim Broadbent and more. So – a client they try to brush to the side, a one-time great actor now a lush who can’t hold a job and often can’t make it through an audition is pushing for an important stage role and he’s a lurker. The agents hide from each other and their clients and they drink a bit. A feminist client (Kelly Macdonald) in her forties is strongly advised to get plastic surgery to remain relevant and word gets back to her they think she’s too old to represent. A well-known actress is in reception to hear about a role another is trying to land in their shared agent’s office- they mustn’t be allowed to see one another! Meanwhile, the receptionist wants to act, and what ho, she’s terrific. A big male star’s fed up playing Hamlet as a modern live selfie poster having to type while delivering deathless prose. A female war reporter terrifies her new agent, all just another day at the office. Nothing but fun, this one!
We’ve seen automats in films of the forties and fifties and they look so cool. Slide nickels into a slot, and a magic tiny glass door opens with your food item. Behind the wall of windows, an army of cooks and food prep folks filling the emptied windows and collecting the coins, specialising in diner food – turkey, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, lemon meringue pie, sandwiches, meatloaf, and as far as the famed fast-food pioneering chain, Horn & Hardart was concerned excellent French drip coffee that poured out of fancy gold dolphins’ mouths followed by a little cream. They opened a century ago. Automats became the hippest thing, inexpensive, fun, consistent, good food, places of acceptance and diversity before the civil rights movement, beloved by rich and poor. You didn’t have to speak English and there was no tipping. Mel Brooks, who wrote and recorded an orchestral song for Lisa Hurwitz’s documentary The Automat is a huge fan and leads the way into the rich history of the Automat. Sadly they are no more, but wouldn’t it be great if they made a comeback? Fans interviewed include Mel Brooks, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Horns, the Hardarts, Elliott Gould, and key employees. Pure fun and olde timey food! Ted Rogers Hot Docs Theatre.
In Honor of Earth Day IMAX presents special screenings in theatres across North America of the climate documentary The Last Glaciers, including Toronto’s Scotiabank Theatre tomorrow, Saturday, April 23rd. Director and Environmentalist Craig Leeson and United Nations Mountain Hero & Entrepreneur Malcolm Wood remind us that our natural resources need protecting resources – as if we would forget – with footage from the disappearing glaciers. They emphasise the steps being taken by young people to protect the earth and the glaciers which are essential to keeping our water and biosystems flowing. The film is a call to action and a sobering dose of reality over forty minutes, after which there will be a post-screening Q&A with Leeson and guests. Tickets https://tickets.imax.com and info https://thelastglaciers.com.
Netflix Canada has launched a custom collection on Netflix, encouraging viewers to discover incredible Canadian content spanning decades including 21 Canadian titles just added. Canadian National Film lIves on. The collection will be available until June 1st. Canadians and Netflix stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Robbie Amell, Marie-Évelyne Lessard and Shamier Anderson will share their faves. The list Celebrate National Canadian Film Day on Netflix With 21 New Titles – About Netflix
and some teasers:
Take This Waltz